Malaysian Spicy Chicken

I prefer chicken thighs to breasts, both the texture and the flavour. Malaysians always use thighs to make their famous satays with peanut sauce, which we ate often at the street stalls when we were posted to Kuala Lumpur in the 1980s.

This quick and easy Malaysian recipe also uses chicken thighs. Serve it with steamed rice and a crunchy cucumber, onion and coriander salad, perhaps with some halved cocktail tomatoes added. Warm roti bread also goes well.

1 kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¼ cup tamarind paste
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs grated ginger
1 tsp five spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp cardamom
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh lime wedges
1 red chilli, sliced on the diagonal
Fresh chopped coriander
½ cup crispy fried shallots (available from Asian shops and some supermarkets)

Combine marinade ingredients, add the chicken pieces, trimmed if necessary and halved or left whole. Mix well then cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Arrange chicken pieces in one layer in a shallow baking tin and cook for 30-40 minutes, turning once, until browned and cooked through.

Transfer chicken to a serving plate, drizzle over any liquid from the pan and garnish with the limes, chilli, coriander and fried shallots. Serve with rice.

Serves 4-6

Rich Fruit and Nut Cake

I inherited my love of cooking from my Dad’s mum, a Scottish lady called Jessie who had worked as a cook in a stately home before she married. Cooking was never my mother’s favourite pastime – she preferred gardening – so when I started to take an interest she gave me lots of encouragement.

And so did Dad. He loved to walk into a house with the smell of baking wafting through. “What are you making lass?” he would enquire. And when I told him he would give me his signature combined wink/nod/smile and head off with a spring in his step.

Dad loved fruit cake so Mum did her best to make sure there was usually one on the go. When she was newly-married and unable to boil an egg, her mother-in-law taught her to make a few basics, to keep body and soul together, otherwise we might have starved. Nana taught Mum to make a “ten, ten, twenty” cake mixture, which she made for the rest of her life. Well, until Dad died and there was nobody left to bake for. The recipe used 10 ounces of butter, 10 ounces of sugar and 20 ounces of self-raising flour, plus a couple of eggs and some milk. Mum learnt to add dried fruit and spices to half the mixture and make a fruit cake she called “Cut and Come Again”. Half of the remaining mixture became an Eve’s Pudding – stewed apples topped with cake mixture, baked and served with custard. With the last quarter Mum made a dozen cup cakes (which we called buns) or a slab cake, which she iced and decorated with glacé cherries. Sometimes she made a cake from stale bread, which I learnt later was a typical Maltese Bread Pudding.

Mum wasn’t a bad cook – what she made was always tasty – but she didn’t enjoy cooking and her repertoire was fairly limited. However, when I look back, I realise that we ate pretty well, compared with the rest of the British middle-class population at that time. When my friends were invited to stay for dinner, (or tea as we called it back then), they were shocked to be served one of Mum’s “foreign” dishes such as Kedgeree, Chicken Curry or  Spaghetti Bolognese.  Believe me, they weren’t common in England in the sixties, unless of course you were “foreign”. We came to think of these dishes as normal, but our friends usually pushed the food around their plates and said they weren’t hungry.

A rich fruit cake will keep for weeks in a sealed tin, although you’ll find it disappears quite quickly if you have any fruit cake fans in the house. I’m quite partial myself to a small piece with a cuppa. I thought of Dad as I made this cake. He would have loved it.

750g sultanas or raisins, or a mixture of the two
250g pitted dates
250g dried figs, stems removed
2/3 cup brandy, rum or whisky
2/3 cup any liqueur that needs using up!
250g butter, at room temperature
¼ cup peanut butter
200g soft brown sugar
4 eggs
250g plain flour
25g (¼ cup) cocoa powder
1 tsp each ground nutmeg and cinnamon
1 cup skinned hazelnuts (or almonds or walnuts or a mix), roughly chopped

Place the dates and figs in a food processor and process (using the pulse button) until coarsely chopped. Place all the dried fruit in a bowl, mix in the two alcohols (I used brandy and Bailey’s Irish Cream), then cover and leave for a few hours or overnight. Stir a few times.

Preheat oven to 150°C. If you have the option to turn off the fan then do so. Line a 22cm (9 inch) square or round cake pan with baking paper. In a large bowl, with electric beaters, mix the butter, peanut butter and sugar. When smooth add the eggs and lastly the sifted flour, cocoa and spices. Fold in the fruit and nuts by hand, then scrape into the cake pan and smooth the top.

Bake for two and a half to three and a half hours, or until cooked. Ovens vary so test with a skewer which should come out clean when inserted in the middle. Cake should feel firm on top when it’s ready.

Cool then store in an airtight tin. Keep for a week or two (perhaps I should say hide for a week or two!) to mature.

Note: If liked, swap some of the dried fruit for dried currants or chopped dried apricots.

Vegetable Curry

This simple vegetable curry is perfect for using up all the odds and ends of vegetables from the bottom drawer of the fridge to produce a tasty family meal. I used sweet potato, pumpkin, green beans, potatoes and frozen peas. Other vegetables such as cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, capsicum, broccoli and eggplants also work well in this recipe.

If you’re not sure how many vegetables to prepare, I filled a one-litre measuring jug twice to overflowing. The quantity is flexible, but basically you need a big bowl full. If you don’t have enough vegetables, add a drained can of chickpeas.

3 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger (optional)
3 Tbs curry paste or powder
1 tsp paprika or turmeric
1 can tomatoes, chopped
1 can coconut milk
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp sugar
8-10 cups prepared vegetables (see list above)
2 cups frozen peas or 2 handfuls spinach leaves
Extra water as required
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Steamed rice
Plain yoghurt
Chopped fresh coriander
Fruit chutney

Prepare vegetables by cutting them into large chunks and pieces that will cook in a similar time. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and cook the onion and garlic gently, until soft but not coloured. Add the chilli, ginger, curry paste and paprika or turmeric and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, stock, sugar and all the vegetables apart from the peas or spinach. Simmer, stirring from time to time, for 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked. Add more water as required during cooking and season to taste with salt and pepper. Lastly add the frozen peas or spinach and cook for a minute or two.

Serve the curry garnished with coriander and accompanied by steamed rice, a bowl of plain yoghurt and some fruit chutney.

Serves 6

Note: if you prefer a non-creamy curry leave out the coconut milk and add more stock. If you have coconut cream rather than milk, that works too. This is a very flexible recipe.

Apple Charlotte

Thick stewed apples surrounded by crisp buttered toast, this is another dessert to add to my list of ones that everyone, including the grandkids, loves. When all hands go up for a second helping I know I’ve found a winner.

When I served it over Christmas it was described by family members as French Toast with Apples and Tarte Tatin with crunchy toast instead of pastry.

My version is loosely-based on one by Rick Stein which he makes in a pudding bowl. I decided to use a metal cake tin, because it makes it easier for the bread to crisp up. Increase the ingredients by 50% and use a bigger 10-12 inch tin to serve a bigger crowd.

30g butter
2-3 Tbs sugar (to taste)
1 kg apples, peeled and sliced (see note below)
Grated rind and juice from 1 lemon or 1 small orange
Optional: raisins, cinnamon, ground cloves etc
About 12 slices white bread, crusts removed
125g butter, melted (you may need more)
To serve:
Icing sugar
4 Tbs smooth apricot jam (push through a sieve if lumpy)
Thick cream or custard

Preheat oven to 180°C. While you are peeling the apples, put the 30g butter and sugar in a saucepan and cook, stirring, until starting to caramelise. Add the apples, lemon or orange rind and juice and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the apples have become thick and pulpy. Some apple varieties break up more easily than others. Check for sweetness and feel free to add a few raisins and a good pinch of cinnamon or cloves.

Melt the butter and use a pastry brush to butter an 8″ (20cm) metal cake pan. Cut the bread slices in halves to form two triangles, brush them with butter and use to line the bottom and sides of the cake tin, slightly overlapping each piece. Scrape apple filling into the tin and smooth the top. Bring the bread slices from the sides over the top and use more pieces to fill any gaps, so that the filling is completely encased. Brush more butter all over the top. Can be made ahead to this point and kept refrigerated.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until light golden brown on top. Carefully tip out onto a shallow baking tray and brush with any leftover melted butter. Put back in the oven for 10 minutes or until evenly browned all over.

To serve, dust with icing sugar. Heat the apricot jam, then drizzle over the top. Serve with cream or custard.

Serves 8-10

Tip: after removing the bread crusts make them into crumbs by blitzing in the food processor. Freeze in a plastic bag and use in toppings for recipes such as Seafood Mornay

Note: Bramley cooking apples are traditionally used in the UK  because they aren’t too sweet and cook down to a pulp. They are hard to find in Australia, so basically use whatever apples you have on hand. Rick Stein uses half Bramleys and half eating apples.

Chocolate Fondant Puddings

This quick and easy recipe for individual chocolate fondant puddings – the ones with delicious molten chocolate centres that were all the rage in restaurants some years back – is adapted from one by Australia’s best-selling cookbook author, Donna Hay.

I used individual silicone moulds, but any small containers, such as metal dariole moulds, ramekins or coffee cups, will do. To make them gluten-free leave out the flour and increase the almond meal by a quarter of a cup. Make your own almond meal by blitzing almonds, with or without skin, it doesn’t matter, in a food processor until finely ground. I made the full recipe of six puddings, but only cooked two and froze the rest uncooked and covered. They take a few minutes longer to cook from frozen.

¾ cup almond meal
¼ cup plain flour
¼ cup icing sugar
2 egg whites
100g butter, melted
160g dark chocolate, melted
12 squares dark chocolate, extra
To serve:
Thick pouring cream
Cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 170°C and grease six individual moulds with oil or butter. Place almond meal, flour, sugar, egg whites, melted butter and chocolate in a bowl and mix well with a balloon whisk. Spoon half the mixture into the six moulds, press two squares of chocolate into the middle of each, then cover with remaining mixture. Bake for 12-15 minutes until set on top. Test by pushing with your finger. Stand for 3-4 minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife, tip out and serve with cream and a dusting of cocoa powder through a sieve.

Serves 6

Substitutions: if you don’t have almonds use walnuts.

Curry Dip

I’ve been making this dip since I was at school, which is quite some time ago. Served  with a colourful array of raw vegetables it makes a healthy accompaniment to drinks. Make it the day before serving, for the flavours to develop.

250g cream cheese
1 cup thick Greek-style yoghurt
4 Tbs mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
4 tsp curry paste or powder
1 Tbs grated onion
¼ cup raisins or sultanas, chopped finely
1 tsp sugar
Paprika to garnish

Have the cream cheese at room temperature. Mix with remaining ingredients and refrigerate, covered, overnight, for the flavours to develop. Sprinkle with paprika and serve with raw vegetables or crackers.

Christmas Recipes

Whether you celebrate Christmas with a traditional hot meal of roast turkey with all the trimmings, a barbecue with side salads or a seafood spread, a lot of planning, shopping and cooking takes place at this time of year. If you’re the host or hostess, anything you can make ahead of time will allow you to feel more relaxed when the guests arrive.

Or perhaps you’re not hosting this year, but have been asked to bring something. Whichever the case, there are heaps of festive recipes on this blog which you can find here and here.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my faithful readers as we come to the end of the first decade of Café Cat. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and that 2022 will be a safe, healthy and happy year for one and all. I look forward to sharing more recipes next year.

Quick Coffee Cake with Caramel Icing

A cake made in a loaf tin is just the right size, now there are just two of us. Any bigger and it gets stale before we can finish it and it ends up going to the birds. One solution with a big cake is to put half in the freezer, but cakes are always nicer when freshly made.

I learnt to cook all the basics at Chatham Grammar School for Girls in England where I grew up. Home Economics was a weekly double class for the seven years I spent there and it was one of my three favourite subjects, along with French and Spanish. The classes took place in a large room divided into six (or maybe it was eight?) kitchens, each with its own oven and sink. When we made cakes by the creamed method, Mrs Wood would walk around to make sure we had thoroughly creamed the butter and sugar before we were allowed to add the eggs and the dry ingredients. We creamed away like demons, until our arms nearly dropped off, trying to be the first to get her tick of approval.

Nowadays I use my Magimix to do this job. So long as the butter is at room temperature this method works well. The trick is not to over mix once you’ve added the flour – just enough to combine everything. If you haven’t got a food processor, use a stand mixer or give your biceps a work out!

2 Tbs instant coffee
¼ cup boiling water
200g butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup condensed milk from a 400g can
3 eggs
2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
½ cup milk
Caramel Icing:
The rest of the condensed milk
2 Tbs Golden Syrup
60g butter
To decorate: 
Walnut or pecan halves (optional)

Grease and line a loaf pan with baking paper. Or use a silicone one which doesn’t need to be lined. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Mix coffee with boiling water. Place butter, sugar and condensed milk in food processor and mix until smooth and creamy, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs, sifted flour, milk and coffee and mix just enough to combine all the ingredients, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Scrape into the loaf pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until well-risen, golden and a toothpick or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool, then ice and decorate with nuts.

Icing: place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until thick and golden. Cool slightly before using.


Roast Pork Belly with Plum Sauce

I recently gave away my deep fat fryer, to make room in the cupboard for a newly-acquired air fryer.

Deep fried food isn’t good for cholesterol levels and I never knew what to do with all that half-used oil. I put the deep fat fryer on a local Facebook “buy nothing” website and a friendly Turkish man collected it within an hour. Better his cholesterol than ours.

I bought a smallish 5 litre air fryer for under $100. It has a five litre capacity which is big enough to make a family-sized batch of chips (French fries) when the grandkids come, or as a treat for us – steak and chips or fish and chips for dinner never fails to put a smile on Matthew’s face.

Since it arrived a couple of weeks ago I’ve tried my new gadget on chips and calamari rings – the ready crumbed frozen ones you buy in a supermarket – and suffice it to say, I’m hooked. They took less than half an hour to cook from frozen and were perfect. There are only two settings to deal with on the model I bought – temperature and time. You can pull out the drawer at any time to give the food a shake and see how it’s doing. No. 1 son was impressed and put it on his Xmas Wish List.

Last night it was time to put the machine to the ultimate test – crispy roast pork belly. As you can see from the photos, it was amazing and all done in less than an hour. Two big pluses with an air fryer are firstly that the kitchen stays cool (this will be great in mid-summer) and secondly the oven doesn’t get spattered with pork fat. I haven’t done a whole roast chicken yet, but that’s on the list.

800g – 1kg boneless pork belly, with skin
2 tsp salt
Oil spray
Plum Sauce:
6 medium plums, stoned (see note below)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ red onion, chopped
2 Tbs tamari sauce (or substitute ketchup manis or soy sauce)
1 tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
Sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste

Preheat air fryer to 200°C for three minutes. Cut through the pork skin with parallel cuts in two directions. Rub all over with salt, place in the air fryer basket and spray the skin with oil. Cook for 25 minutes, then lower the heat to 160°C and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until cooked to your liking. Serve with the sauce and a steamed green vegetable.

Sauce: Place all ingredients except sweetener in a medium saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes or until everything is soft. Cool then blend until smooth. Sweeten to taste with a little sugar, honey or maple syrup. I used a tablespoonful of sugar.

Serves 4

Note: Freeze stoned plums during the season, six to a bag. They are useful to make this recipe, or to add to fruit crumbles. The plum sauce keeps in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for several months.





Smoked Salmon with Ricotta and Asparagus

I’m always on the lookout for tasty, low carb lunches which can be made quickly. During the asparagus season we often have this easy combo. Aldi sells a fresh creamy ricotta in a 500g plastic container like a sieve, which we really like. It’s enough to make this recipe two or three times. Often the simplest of recipes are the best.

The smoked salmon rolls are quite filling, so if preferred use only two slices and less ricotta filling, to make them smaller.

6 slices smoked salmon
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (or substitution see below)
2 Tbs chopped chives
Balsamic Glaze
10-12 spears of fresh asparagus
Kewpie mayonnaise or butter (optional)

Place 3 slices of smoked salmon on a chopping board, slightly overlapping, to make a rough circle or square. Mix the ricotta with the chives and season if you like – I don’t find it’s necessary. Place half the mixture on the smoked salmon in a sausage shape in the middle, then roll up into a neat package. Repeat and place one on each of 2 serving plates. Meanwhile cook the asparagus for about 6 minutes in boiling water, drain and pat dry. Arrange asparagus on the plates. Drizzle a little balsamic glaze over the smoked salmon packages. Serve with kewpie mayonnaise or butter on the asparagus.

Serves 2

Substitutions: soft goat’s cheese, queso fresco in South America, cottage cheese.