Chicken with Dates

My friend Ferne passed on an idea for a quick canapé to serve with drinks – dates with blue cheese and sesame seeds. Cut through one side of each date, remove the stone, fill with some blue cheese and sprinkle with the seeds. I used a creamy blue cheese from Aldi which comes in a half moon shaped pack and black sesame seeds rather than white. They were delicious and the leftover dates went into the chicken dish below.

 

2 Tbs oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 kg chicken thighs (skinless and boneless)|
1 can tomatoes (chopped if not already)
1 cup water
3 Tbs sherry
1 chicken stock cube
2 tsp cumin
1 cup dates, stoned and halved or quartered
To serve:
Rice, couscous or mashed potatoes
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander

Heat oil in a large deep frying pan and cook onion and garlic gently, until soft. Cut chicken into chunks, discrding any fatty bits. Add chicken to pan and continue to fry, stirring, until chicken has browned all over. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for  10-15 mins, or until chicken is tender, adding a little more water if necessary.

Serve with rice, couscous or mashed potatoes, garnished with the chopped herbs.

Serves 6

Variation: if preferred use about 1.2kg of whole chicken thighs with bone in and skin on or off.

Rocket Salad with Sweet Potato, Parmesan & Pine Nuts

Whenever we go to our daughter’s in Newcastle we eat lots of rocket. It grows there like a weed. I much prefer the larger flat leafed rocket you can grow to the skinny wild rocket sold in supermarkets.

This salad is delicious with or without the sweet potato.

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 tsp olive oil
Salt
A big bowl full of rocket leaves, washed and spun dry
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Dressing:
½ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix sweet potato chunks with the oil and a little salt, then spread out on a shallow baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until starting to brown. Make dressing by shaking all ingredients in a jar with a lid.

Place rocket, sweet potato, pine nuts and parmesan in a large salad bowl. Add some dressing and mix thoroughly to coat.

Serves 4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato. Use goat’s cheese or feta cheese instead of grated parmesan.

Fish with Lemon and Broccolini

This very simple fish dish allows the flavour of the fish to shine through. Choose very fresh firm-fleshed fillets. Roasted broccolini may not look very appetising, but it’s delicious.

¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 600g fish fillets (in one piece or several), skin on
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1-2 bunches broccolini, ends trimmed
To serve:
2 Tbs capers

Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix oil, garlic, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Arrange fish fillets skin side down on the paper. Arrange lemon slices over the fish and the broccolini around the fish. Brush fish and broccolini liberally with the oil and lemon juice mixture, using it all.

Place in the oven and cook for 8-10 mins or until fish is cooked through (test with a sharp knife) and broccolini has started to char around the edges. If broccolini is ready before the fish take it out of the oven and put the fish back for a few minutes.

Serve the fish sprinkled with the capers. Boiled or steamed new potatoes go well with this dish.

Serves 3

Zucchini, Goat’s Cheese and Pea Tart

Cleaning out the freezer I found a ball of shortcrust pastry I had forgotten about. Once thawed I looked in the fridge to see what I could find to make a savoury tart, without going shopping, and came up with this. Leftovers heated up well for lunch the following day.

If you have fresh peas in the garden by all means use those instead of frozen peas.

1 batch home-made shortcrust pastry (or substitute shop bought)
4 eggs
½ cup cream or milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs chopped mint
350g coarsely grated zucchini (courgette)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
100g goat’s cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
To serve:
1 cup frozen peas, extra
Mint sprigs

Preheat oven to 180°C. Use pastry to line base and sides of a slice pan, about 20/25 cm by about 30cm. Place zucchini in a sieve and mix in a teaspoon of salt. Leave to drain, then push down on it to squeeze out excess liquid. Beat eggs with cream or milk and lemon rind. Add zucchini, peas and lots of pepper then pour evenly into the pastry case. Scatter cheese over the top then bake for 25-30 mins or until set.

Meanwhile pour boiling water over the extra peas. Leave for a minute then drain. Cut the tart into squares and garnish with the extra peas and mint sprigs.

Serves 6

Variations: use asparagus spears, thinly sliced on the diagonal, instead of the zucchini.

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, Herbs and Chilli

Looking for a different way to roast a chicken? This easy but delicious recipe uses a combination of flavours that works well. The skin goes crispy thanks to the lemon juice and any leftovers are nice cold.

A loaf of crusty bread and some roast potatoes or boiled new potatoes will pad this meal out (as my mother used to say) and ensure there’s enough for a family of six.

1 whole chicken
¼ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 generous Tbs chopped fresh Rosemary
1 generous Tbs chopped fresh Sage
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ to1 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
To serve:
Fresh herbs
Lemon wedges (optional)
Vegetables such as buttered spinach and glazed carrots

Using poultry shears, remove backbone from chicken and discard. Place skin side up in roasting pan and press down hard with your hand so it flattens out. Mix remaining  ingredients and spread over both sides of the chicken, rubbing it in. Leave chicken to marinate for half an hour at room temperature, or up to several hours in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roast chicken for between an hour and an hour and a half. It’s ready when a skewer is inserted into the thigh and juices run clear and skin is crispy and brown. Time will vary according to the size of the chicken. Baste halfway through cooking time with pan juices.

Carve chicken and serve with lemon wedges and seasonal vegetables, such as buttered baby spinach and honey-glazed carrots.

For the spinach, stir fry a packet of fresh baby spinach leaves (or shredded larger leaves) with a knob of butter until thoroughly wilted, then season to taste.  For the carrots, cook them in boiling, salted water until tender, then tip off the water, add a knob of butter and a teaspoon of honey and shake the pan over the heat until glazed. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds – I used black ones.

Serves 6

Notes: if you don’t have fresh herbs use dried, but fresh are best in this recipe.

Lemon Delicious Pudding

This popular Australian and New Zealand dessert was in the repertoire of all grannies and mothers in law when I got married and moved to Canberra from the UK in the 1970s. As it bakes, the pudding separates, leaving a light sponge on top and a delicious lemon sauce underneath. Many Canberrans have a lemon tree in their garden making this an ideal winter dessert.

4 eggs
50g butter at room temp
1 cup sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 cup self-raising flour, sifted
1 cup milk
2/3 cup lemon juice
To serve:
Icing sugar
Whipped cream or thick pouring cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Separate eggs and place yolks in the food processor with ¾ cup of the sugar and the remaining ingredients. Mix until combined, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Place the whites in a bowl and whip with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Add remaining ¼ cup sugar and continue beating until you have a shiny meringue.

Scrape the mixture from the food processor into the meringue and fold it all together, gently but thoroughly, with a spatular. Tip mixture into a buttered pie dish or individual ramekins, place in a roasting pan or large dish and add boiling water to come halfway up the pudding dish. Bake for 35 minutes, or until just set and golden. Individual puddings will take less time than one big dish. Don’t overcook or the lemon sauce will be absorbed into the topping and disappear.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm with cream.

Serves 6

Oeufs en Cocotte

A few weeks ago I was looking for good breakfast dishes on Café Cat to recommend to 2CC radio listeners who wanted to spoil their Mum on Mothers’ Day. As I looked through the Index I realised that, despite being into its seventh year, Café Cat had not yet published my absolute favourite egg dish, Oeufs en Cocotte, which is just a fancy French way of saying Baked Eggs.

Serve this for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper to put a smile on everyone’s face. If you’re a fan of eggs I guarantee you’ll like this one. Once you’ve made them a couple of times you will know exactly how long they take in your oven.

Other delicious egg recipes you might like to try are Salad Lyonnaise à la Madeleine and Spanish Eggs with Jamon.

30g butter
Stale breadcrumbs (about 4 heaped Tbs or so)
4 large eggs
4 heaped tsp sour cream or crème fraîche
1 Tbs snipped chives
To serve:
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot buttered toast

Preheat oven to 180°C. Make the breadcrumbs by whizzing a slice or two of stale bread in the food processor. Don’t make them too fine. Butter two half cup ramekins and put a small piece of butter in each. Heat the rest of the butter in a non-stick frying pan and cook the breadcrumbs, stirring, until golden brown. Place half the breadcrumbs in the bottom of the ramekins, then two eggs in each dish, then top with the remaining breadcrumbs.

Place ramekins in a baking dish and pour boiling water to come halfway up the sides. Bake for 15 mins, or until whites are set, but yolks are still soft in the middle. Press the tops with your finger to check.

Mix sour cream with chives and dollop on top of the dishes, then sprinkle a few more chives on top. Serve with buttered toast and pass round a salt and pepper mill.

Serves 2

Variations: if you don’t have chives use finely chopped spring onion tops.

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

This quick cake requires no baking making it great for last-minute entertaining. Serve it with raspberries or raspberry coulis and cream. Add a dash of brandy or a liqueur to the coffee mixture for a more grown-up flavour. It’s adapted from a recipe I found in an IKEA cook book.

250g unsalted butter
250g dark chocolate
1 cup icing sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup hot water mixed with 1 heaped Tbs instant coffee
1 packet of plain rectangular biscuits such as Marie (you need 23-25)
To serve:
Icing sugar
Raspberries or raspberry coulis
Whipped cream or pouring cream

Cut butter into cubes and place in microwave-safe bowl with the chocolate, broken into squares. Cover, otherwise it will splatter. Heat for about 2 minutes on high, stopping halfway to stir, or until melted.

Meanwhile place icing sugar in food processor and process to remove any lumps, then add the eggs. When mixed add the melted butter and chocolate and the vanilla essence.

Line a loaf pan with foil or plastic wrap. If using a silicone pan you don’t need to line it. Spoon about 4 tablespoons of chocolate mixture into the pan and spread over the base. Dip each biscuit briefly in the coffee mixture before arranging them in the cake pan. Lay a single layer of biscuits over the chocolate, then continue alternating chocolate and biscuits, ending up with chocolate.

Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Remove cake from loaf pan, dust with icing sugar, then slice and serve with fresh or frozen raspberries or raspberry coulis and whipped or thick pouring cream.

Serves 8-10

Lentil Salad

Whip up this healthy salad in no time with canned lentils, or cook your own which will take a little longer. Buy a cooked chicken from your local supermarket, or throw something onto the barbecue. Fresh crusty bread and a bottle of vino, and dinner is ready.

3½ cups cooked lentils (or two cans, drained and rinsed)
1 red capsicum (pepper) diced
1 cucumber, diced
½ or 1 red onion, finely chopped
½ cup fresh chopped parsley
Dressing:
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs olive oil
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp maple syrup or honey
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Shake dressing in a jar, then mix everything together thoroughly.

Variations:

  • add a diced avocado just before serving
  • use spring onions instead of red onion
  • use coriander instead of parsley
  • add some toasted pine nuts

Scones

Scones with jam and dollop of cream, otherwise known as Devonshire tea, is a treat few can say no to.

They are not difficult to make, but as with all easy recipes – scrambled eggs for example – a lot of people don’t get it right. The secret is to handle the dough as little as possible and get the scones into the oven quickly. It’s not bread dough and should not be kneaded: over-handling will make them tough.

With practice you can make scones in just under half an hour – perfect for a last minute afternoon tea. Ring your friends, switch the oven on and as they walk in the door you’ll just be taking the scones out of the oven.

Sour milk or buttermilk works well in scones. They say it makes them rise more and I remember as a child if the milk went sour (which it seemed to do more regularly back then) scones were on the menu. You can also use fresh milk, buttermilk or a mixture of milk and plain yoghurt. Serve with any kind of berry jam – in the photo I used blackberry. The recipe is easy to double.

250g self raising flour (or use plain flour and 2 level tsp baking powder)
½ tsp salt
50g butter (at room temp)
1 Tbs sugar
About 1 cup (250ml) buttermilk, sour milk or fresh milk
To serve:
Whipped cream
Berry jam

Heat oven to 200°C. Sieve flour (and baking powder) into a bowl. Lightly rub in the butter with fingertips until there are no more lumps. Add sugar then milk, stirring with a knife, till it all comes together. It should all stick together, just, but don’t make it too wet.

Tip onto a floured surface and form into a ball, then pat into a circle 2.5 to 3 cm thick. Cut scones with a round 2.5 to 3 cm cutter. Gather the scraps together and cut out 2-3 more from the remaining dough. Arrange on a greased shallow baking sheet. Brush tops with some extra milk. Bake for about 15 minutes until well-risen and lightly browned.

Serve slightly warm with whipped cream and berry jam.

Makes about 8