Mexican Chicken Lasagne

My Chilean friend Pia made this for one of our Spanish conversation monthly lunches. It’s similar to an Italian lasagne, but with Mexican flavours.

1 large onion diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red capsicum, deseeded and cut into strips (optional)
250g mushrooms, sliced (optional)
2 Tbs butter or oil
500ml cream
1 packet soft tortillas
Meat from 1 cooked chicken, diced
2-3 Tbs chopped fresh herbs of choice
2 cobs fresh corn (or use canned or frozen kernels)
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped, or 1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 cups grated cheese e.g. cheddar

Preheat oven to 180°C. In a large frying pan gently fry onion and garlic with mushrooms or capsicum, or both, in oil or butter until softened, but not browned. Remove kernels from fresh corn, or drain off the liquid if using canned. Add to pan with cream, herbs, chicken and tomatoes. Add chilli if using and season to taste. Cook, stirring for a few minutes to thicken a bit, but not too much as you need the liquid which will soak into the tortillas.

Cover the base of a greased lasagne-type rectangular, oval or round dish with one layer of tortillas, cutting to fit. Spoon half the chicken sauce over and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Then arrange another single layer of tortillas, followed by the other half of the sauce and another third of cheese. Finally arrange a third layer of tortillas over the top. The top can get a bit dry and crunchy so I suggest you dip the final layer of tortillas in water or milk to moisten them before arranging on top, then top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 30-40 mins or until golden and bubbly. Stand for 10 minutes then cut into squares or wedges and serve with a salad.

Serves 6-8

Five Favourite Sandwich Fillings

Everyone likes a good sandwich made with good quality bread and a tasty filling. When offered a mediocre sandwich – the sort you get in hospitals or on planes – I would sooner say no thanks.

I don’t eat a lot of bread, so when I do it has to be worth it. While I’m usually a grainy bread kind of person, I think some sandwich fillings go better with white bread. Egg sandwiches for example. For those who are gluten-intolerant there are quite a few gluten-free options available in supermarkets and bakeries.

These are my five favourite sandwich fillings. They’re not OMG, amazing, wow recipes. Just old-fashioned  fillings I’ve been making for decades to serve at weddings, christenings, funerals, birthdays and other gatherings. Put a plate down at a party and see how fast they disappear. I haven’t put quantities because it depends on how many sandwiches you’re making.

The salami sandwich is a bit more rustic and harder to eat delicately while continuing to make polite conversation, so it’s probably best reserved for family lunches. I have a few more favourite fillings – rare roast beef with cold roasted veggies, smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers and onion and prawns with mayo and lettuce. But these five are the ones I make the most. For the family leave the crusts on the bread. To make them daintier for entertaining cut them off and cut the sandwiches into fingers, triangles or squares.

Homemade mayonnaise is a staple in our fridge.  I use it instead of butter when making sandwiches and it forms the base of other delicious sauces such as Seafood and Tartare. But if preferred, butter the bread before filling the sandwiches. All the fillings are mixed except for the Salami and Cheese, which is layered. Garnish the plates with some fresh herbs or nuts. In the tuna photo the bread has been lightly toasted.

Tuna
Canned tuna, drained
Finely chopped celery
Finely chopped red onion
Enough mayonnaise to bind (preferably homemade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Salami and Cheese
Sliced salami
Sliced Swiss cheese
Rocket Leaves
Sun dried tomatoes
Red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
Mayonnaise to “butter” the bread

Curried Chicken
Cold roast chicken, diced
Fruit chutney, chopped a bit if too chunky, bought or homemade
Finely chopped spring onion or chives
Enough mayonnaise to bind (preferably homemade)
Curry paste or powder to taste (mix into the mayo)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chicken and Walnut
Cold roast chicken, diced
Finely chopped celery
Finely chopped walnuts
Finely chopped spring onion
Enough mayonnaise to bind (preferably homemade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Egg and Chive
Hard boiled eggs, roughly mashed with a fork
Finely snipped chives (lots) – use scissors
Enough mayonnaise to bind (preferably homemade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Pasta with Pesto and Avocado

After all the rich food of the festive season you’re probably ready for some simple but satisfying recipes to please the whole family. This pasta dish hits the spot.

500g pasta (shell or penne)
2 ripe avocados, roughly mashed
1 cup pesto (preferably homemade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To serve:
Grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain then mix in the avocados, the pesto and salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with parmesan cheese and a drizzle of oil.

Serve with a simple green salad.

Serves 3-4

Deux Baguettes S’il Vous Plaît

When he was eleven I asked our eldest son James to go into a bakery in a ski resort in France and buy “Deux baguettes s’il vous plaît” while I was double parked outside. I had been round the block twice and there was absolutely nowhere to park.

We sat outside the bakery for what seemed like a very long time with me saying come on you can do it and James saying he really didn’t want to. His more outgoing younger sister wanted him to hand over the money so she could go. But she didn’t need a confidence booster and I wanted him to do it. Eventually James went into the bakery and came out, beaming from ear to ear, one baguette under each arm.

I had completely forgotten this incident until James (now married with kids of his own) reminded me. He says he remembers it whenever he has to do something challenging, like speaking in public.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to use the No Knead Bread recipe to make deux baguettes instead of the usual round loaf you make in a Le Creuset pot. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but decided to give it a go. Well the baguettes were amazing and I’ve made them three times since. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside, the recipe makes two small baguettes or one very large one, which probably wouldn’t fit in my oven.

3 cups plain flour
1 heaped tsp salt
1 Tbs olive oil (optional)
¼ tsp dried yeast
1½ cups very hot water from the tap
Extra flour
Sesame seeds (optional)

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with the blade of a knife. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and leave for a few hours. The amount of time you can leave it is flexible and varies a bit according to the weather. In the middle of summer it will be ready to go to the next stage in about three hours, but it’s okay if you leave it longer. When ready the dough will have doubled in size.

Sprinkle extra flour on work surface and scrape out the dough. Using a little extra flour as necessary, form dough into a non-sticky round, then cut in two and form each into a sausage shape about 30cm or 12″ long. Place side by side on a lightly greased oven tray, sprinkle with sesame seeds if liked, then leave aside while the oven heats up.

Heat the oven to 220°C. Bake bread for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp all over. Cool on a cake rack. Bread freezes well.

Makes 2 small loaves or 1 large

Jam Doughnut Muffins

Who doesn’t like doughnuts? The only trouble is you have to cook them in deep hot oil, which puts a lot of people off making them at home.

This recipe combines the flavours of a doughnut in a muffin which is baked in the oven. Quicker and easier than anything deep fried, but they are brushed with melted butter, to help the sugar stick, so I’m not sure about them being healthier! A perfect treat for the kids when they come home from school.

2 cups self-raising flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Red jam (e.g. strawberry, raspberry)
To serve:
125g butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 12 hole muffin pan with one third cup capacity holes. Place flour, sugar, salt, oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla in food processor and whiz to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides, or use electric beaters. Fill each muffin hole a bit over half full. Place a heaped teaspoon of jam in the middle of each, then divide remaining mixture between the muffins. I made 10 but they could have been a bit smaller to end up with 12.

Bake for 20 mins or until well-risen and golden brown. Cool in the pans for a few minutes, then remove. Mix sugar and cinnamon. While still warm brush each muffin all over with melted butter then roll in the sugar. Best eaten on the day they are made.

Makes 12

Variations: use lemon curd, chocolate chips or Nutella in the middle instead of red jam.

Den Bosch Lemon Pudding

Den Bosch is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. We spent a couple of days there recently and one night had tapas for dinner at a wine bar.

The food was very good and the waitress was kind enough to give me the recipe for the dessert. I have a cheesecake recipe which is very similar to this, but the addition of a little vinegar really makes a difference. The method is also slightly different.

1½ cups (375 ml) whipping cream
1 can condensed milk
Grated rind and juice 2 large lemons
2-3 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, to taste
4-5 plain or ginger biscuits
slivers of lemon rind to garnish

Whip cream with electric beaters until thick then continue whipping while you add the condensed milk, lemon rind and juice and vinegar. I used a Kenwood standing mixer, but you can use hand held beaters.

Spoon into 8-10 small glasses. Chill several hours or overnight. Garnish with crushed biscuits and lemon rind.

Serves 8-10

Variation: Fold through the pulp of 3-4 passionfruit before spooning into glasses.

Sweet and Sour Pork or Chicken

Growing up in the UK, the only foreign food we were exposed to was Chinese, bought as a takeaway for special occasions, or when my mother was too busy to cook. Occasionally we went to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate one of my parents’ birthdays. Sweet and Sour Pork was always one of the dishes we chose.

This Chinese food was not very authentic, but at the time we loved it. In some parts of Britain Chinese restaurants served chips with everything, in order to keep the locals happy. Maybe they still do.

When our kids were growing up they loved the Sweet and Sour Pork I made at home, although they preferred it made with chicken. The recipe works well with either and I make it when I feel like a bit of nostalgic comfort food. The original recipe came from the Australian Women’s Weekly Chinese Cookbook.

500g lean pork or boneless chicken thighs
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs cornflour
1 red capsicum
1 green capsicum
1 medium onion
3 canned pineapple rings
½ cup cornflour, extra
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cloves garlic
Sauce:
3 Tbs vinegar
3 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs tomato ketchup
4 Tbs water
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cornflour

Mix soy sauce, egg yolk and cornflour. Add chicken or pork cut into 2.5cm cubes, cover and leave aside while you prepare the other ingredients. Seed peppers and cut into 2.5cm squares. Peel onion and cut into eighths, then separate into slices, cut pineapple into cubes.

Add extra cornflour to chicken or pork and mix well. Heat about 2.5cm oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry chicken or pork pieces for 4-5 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Drop them into the hot oil one at a time. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour off oil, leaving about 1 Tbs. Add crushed garlic, peppers and onion and cook over high heat, stirring, for 3 mins. Add chicken or pork, pineapple and the sauce and stir until it thickens and boils. Serve with plain boiled rice.

Serves 4-6

Scandinavian Potato and Salmon Casserole

A couple of years ago we went husky dog sledding for a few days in northern Finland, near the Russian border. We stayed in a timber house by a frozen lake, miles from anywhere.

Each evening, after a few hours of sledding, we dined with the couple who ran the place. This delicious potato and salmon casserole was served one evening and I asked for the recipe. Our hostess explained that there are variations of this dish all over Scandinavia. Everyone makes it the way their mother made it and the only common ingredients are potatoes, salmon and dill. Quantities are flexible and the recipe can easily be adjusted to feed more people, so nobody measures the ingredients. In the frozen north they use a lot of frozen vegetables in winter, although we visited a big supermarket in the closest town, Kajani, which had pretty much everything.

This is a holiday for anyone who likes an adventure. While it was very cold outside, we were well rugged up and cosy in the house at night. Twenty-eight dogs lived outside in kennels, while three lived in the house, because they were elderly or unwell. My favourite, Serek, a handsome black dog with a white ruff, was convalescing from a tummy upset. He wouldn’t come near us when we arrived, but by the time we left he was up on the bed watching us pack our suitcases.

Each morning 28 dogs started howling “Please take me” but we were only able to take fourteen each day. Daylight was from 9.30 am till about 3.30 pm, so we went sledding from about 11 till 2pm. On return we got changed before trudging through the snow for about 50 metres to the sauna hut, where we spent an hour or so in our birthday suits, thawing out and sipping cold beer. Our host said he had made a hole in the ice so we could jump into the lake after the sauna, to cool off. We declined.

Soon after our return home we bought a golden retriever puppy and named him Serek, in the sure knowledge that nobody else in the doggy park would be calling out that name.

About 400g salmon (fresh, tinned, smoked, or a combination)
About 600g potatoes, peeled
2-3 handfuls fresh spinach or use one packet of frozen spinach
1 onion, chopped finely
1 Tbs butter or oil or a bit of each
100g bacon or prosciutto, chopped (optional)
2 Tbs chopped fresh dill (or use parsley or tarragon)
1½ cups grated cheese (cheddar or anything that needs using up)
About 1 cup cream (depends a bit on the weight and variety of the potatoes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh salmon, remove skin and any bones and cut into 2cm cubes. Drain canned salmon. Boil potatoes in boiling salted water until cooked, but not overcooked. Cool then slice about 1cm thick. Fry onion in butter or oil until soft but not brown, adding the bacon or prosciutto (if using) after the first minute or two.

Grease a casserole dish then layer up the ingredients, starting with potatoes and ending with potatoes topped with cheese. Season as you go, then drizzle over the cream. While the layers will vary according to the size of your dish I put half the potatoes, then half the salmon and dill, followed by a sprinkling of cheese and fried onion, then seasoning. Then all the spinach (chopped if leaves are large), the rest of the salmon, dill and onion, the remaining potatoes and cheese and lastly the cream.

Bake for 40 minutes at 180°C or until golden brown on top. Serve with a salad or green vegetable.

Serves 4

Variations: 

  • use frozen peas or broad beans instead of spinach
  • add a layer of sliced or quartered hard-boiled eggs
  • use a cup or so of white (Béchamel) sauce instead of cream
  • add a few prawns
  • use ham instead of bacon

Harissa Carrots

Since the first of his seven cookbooks hit the shelves in 2008, Yotam Ottolenghi has brought vegetables to a whole new level.

This recipe from his latest book Simple is a real winner.  He sprinkles fresh pomegranate seeds over the carrots just before serving, but I didn’t have any. They’re still delicious just as they are.

Who would think the humble carrot could taste so amazing?

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp honey
2 Tbs Harissa (or another chilli paste such as Sriracha)*
20g unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbs olive oil
¾ tsp salt
1 kg baby carrots (or regular carrots cut in halves lengthwise)
To serve:
Juice of ½ a lemon
1-2 Tbs chopped coriander leaves
Seeds from 1 pomegranate (optional)

Preheat oven to 200°C. In a large bowl mix the cumin, honey, harissa, butter, oil and salt. Add the carrots, mix well, then spread out in one layer on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast for 25-35 minutes, or until cooked al dente and beginning to brown a bit.

To serve, drizzle with the lemon juice and sprinkle with the coriander and pomegranate seeds, if using. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8

* use less chilli paste if you don’t like things hot and/or you’re serving kids

Salted Caramel Slice

This recipe is adapted from one by David Lebovitz. One of those sweet, sinful snacks you have to hide, to avoid overindulgence. Trouble is, I know the hiding place.

When a friend emailed to ask for the recipe I wrote back asking if she also wanted contact details for Weight Watchers. She thought I was suggesting she was fat so I said she would be if she ate too much of this. It’s something you might describe as moreish, a word which I see has made it into the English dictionary and which has nothing whatsoever to do with Moorish, used to describe things with an Arabian flavour.

About 6 sheets Salada crackers (called Saltine in other countries)
250g unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
Large pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla essence
250g dark chocolate
1 small piece of Copha (vegetable shortening) the size of a large walnut
1 cup flaked almonds (optional)
Salt flakes

Line a shallow baking sheet approximately 28x42cm with baking paper. Or use two smaller tins which come to about the same total area. Cover with the crackers, breaking them as necessary to cover the whole area like a jigsaw puzzle.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan, then boil for 3 minutes, stirring all the time. Add salt and vanilla then pour over the crackers, spreading evenly. Bake for 15 minutes, watching carefully that it doesn’t burn.

Melt chocolate and Copha in a bowl over boiling water, then spread evenly over the caramel. If using nuts, toast them lightly in a dry frying pan over moderate heat then sprinkle over the chocolate. Sprinkle with a few salt flakes. Cool.

To serve, break into uneven sized pieces
Variations: use milk chocolate or a mix of half milk and half dark