Saucy Chicken

I attract, or perhaps am attracted to, people who love mushrooms - for example my daughter, my son’s girlfriend and 2 of my very good friends (you know who you are) really love mushrooms. I happen to be pretty partial to them myself. Combined with bacon, white wine, cream and thyme and they are simply irresistible.

There were only three of us for Sunday Dinner this past Sunday as my nephew and his girlfriend were away for a few days. I decided to cook Prosciutto-wrapped Chicken with Mushroom Sauce from Adrian Richardson’s The Good Life, a book I accidentally bought a few months ago when I was looking for a present for a friend.

Alexander thought the shallots were “hectic” i.e. there were too many; Jaime and I didn’t agree with him. I would definitely increase the quantity of mushrooms, from 200 grams to 300 grams, and I’d probably decrease the amount of cream as the sauce was richer than I am used to, although it tasted delicious.

Adrian recommends this dish be served with rice pilaf or creamy mash – I chose the latter. Despite the hectic shallots, this dish was a hit, evidenced by Alexander taking the leftovers to have for lunch during the week.

Prosciutto-wrapped Chicken with Mushroom Sauce

From The Good Life by Adrian Richardson

Serves 4

4 free-range chicken breasts

salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon roughly chopped thyme

1 tablespoon roughly chopped sage leaves

4 slices of prosciutto

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 shallots quartered

100g bacon, cut into 1 cm strips

75g butter

2 garlic cloves, crushed

200g button mushrooms, thickly sliced

150 ml white wine

100 ml chicken stock

400 ml cream

3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Season the chicken breasts all over with salt a pepper and sprinkle with the thyme and sage. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each breast.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and add the 2 breasts, frying until browned all over. Transfer to a medium ovenproof dish and brown the remaining breasts.

Add the shallots to the pan and fry until golden. Add the bacon and fry  for a further 3-4 minutes, then tip the mixture into the dish with the chicken.

Melt the butter in the pan until just foaming. Add the garlic and mushrooms and fry gently for 5-6 minutes, until the mushrooms are beginning to soften. Increase the temperature to high and add the wine. Allow it to bubble vigorously for a moment, then add the stock and cream. Return to a boil, then pour over the chicken.

Stir the sauce as best you can to mix the ingredients together. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with parsely before serving.

Soup time

Like changing your wardrobe over from summer to winter, for me this weekend marked the changeover to soup for lunch. Ever since I fell in love with homemade ricotta in January, I have been taking it to work, along with beautiful ripe tomatoes, for lunch. But good tomatoes are becoming more difficult to find now the weather is becoming cooler. It is soup time, no doubt about it.

On the weekend I made pea and ham soup. How can something so simple be SO delicious? I have been cooking Stephanie Alexander’s version of this soup for at least 15 years, when I bought The Cook’s Companion for a good friend for her thirtieth birthday only to discover her mother had given it to her. Shame I had to keep it for myself.

The only change I make to this recipe is that I use less water – 2.25 litres instead of 3 litres - I like my soup a bit thicker than Stephanie obviously likes hers. I added a zucchini to the batch I made on the weekend, just to add another vegetable to increase my daily consumption.

As I’ve said before, thyme is at the top of the list for me when it comes to favourite herbs. For this recipe I tie some sprigs together with kitchen twine which saves having to fish it out of the soup at the end – it makes for easier blending as well.

Pea and Ham Soup

adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion

Serves 6-8

400 g split peas

1 large onion, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

500 g bacon bones or 1 smoked ham hock

3 litres cold water

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 bay leaf

1 generous sprig of thyme

freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring slowly to simmering point. Set the lid of the pot a little ajar and continue to simmer for 90 minutes until the peas are quite tender.

Remove bones or hock. Discard Bones (reserve hock). Puree soup then adjust seasoning. If too thick, add more water. If using a hock, discard skin, then dice meat and return to soup.

Reheat and serve with snippets – small cubes or bread fried crisp in olive oil.

Prawn Laksa

I had a quick but enjoyable lunch with my friend Alex on Friday and she gave me  Cook with Us by Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris (of Masterchef fame) which she bought at a literary lunch she went to recently. Gary and George had signed it – “Cook with Agapi” from George and “live, love, cook, eat” from Gary.

For Sunday Dinner I chose to make Prawn Laksa from this book. It is an incredibly good recipe – the laksa soup is a beautifully rich Asian flavoured prawn bisque. It was well received by my usual 4 dinner guests.

I used 4 red chillies instead of 6 as my son’s girlfriend isn’t too keen on spicy food and, as I hadn’t made this recipe before, I was unsure about the level of spiciness. I should have used 6 chillies.

I had been away for the weekend so left shopping until the last minute. As a result, I didn’t use fish balls (available in the fridge or freezer section of Asian food stores) or fried tofu puffs, however I increased the number of prawns from 12 raw prawns to 30 medium raw prawns.

Instead of scooping the prawn heads and shells from the laksa with a slotted spoon, I strained the liquid through a colander as I wasn’t too keen on the thought of chewing on a stray leg or shell. I then added a few extra curry leaves to the liquid for the last 5 or so minutes. I also added a handful of green beans, cut into 3 cm pieces, to the liquid and cooked them for about 4 minutes before adding the prawn meat.

The only other comment I would make is that fewer noodles are required than specified in the recipe – I would use 300g of vermicelli noodles instead of 400g.

I am looking forward to making this version of prawn laksa again.

Prawn Laksa

Serves 4-5

12 raw prawns

1/3 cup (80 ml) vegetable oil

2 tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 x 400 ml tins coconut cream

2 cups (500 ml) chicken stock

1/3 cup fish sauce

1 tablespoon grated or chopped palm sugar

3 stems curry leaves

4 fish balls

8 fired tofu puffs

450 g Hokkien noodles

400 g rice vermicelli noodles

2 large handfuls of bean sprouts

4 spring onions, chopped

deep-fried shallots, coriander leaves and lime wedges, to serve

Laksa paste

a thumb-sized piece of galangal, peeled and chopped

1 stick lemongrass, white part only, chopped

6 fresh long red chillies, roughly chopped

4 golden shallots, chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 bunch coriander, roots only

1 tablespoon belachan (dried shrimp paste)*

1.To make the laska paste, start pounding the galangal and then the lemongrass with a mortar and pestle. Add the chilli, followed by the shallot, garlic and well scrubbed coriander roots and keep pounding. Add the belachan and pound to combine well and form a paste. Set aside.

2. Peel and clean the prawns, leaving the tails intact. Reserve the heads and shells.

3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, then fry the prawn heads and shells for 1 minute or until they turn red. Add the coriander seeds and turmeric and fry for 30 seconds to release their flavours.

4. Add the laksa paste and fry for 5-6 minutes or until fragrant, then add the coconut cream. Continue to to cook over low heat for 6-8 minutes or until the oil separates from the cream. Add the stock, fish sauce, palm sugar and curry leaves, then bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the prawn heads and shells with a slotted spoon and discard. Add the fish balls, tofu and prawn meat and cook for 2 minutes over low heat.

5. Meanwhile, blanch the Hokkien noodles and rice noodles separately in boiling water according to the packet instructions, then drain and divide among serving bowls. Pour the laksa over the noodles then sprinkle with the bean sprouts, spring onion, coriander leaves and fried shallots.

6. Serve with lime wedges.

 

* I roasted the shrimp paste, wrapped in foil, in the oven (or barbecue with lid) on about 180C until fragrant.

Creamy Ricotta

In January, we had dinner at my friend Suzie’s. Pre-dinner we enjoyed delicious bruschetta – small heirloom tomatoes with fresh ricotta and basil. It turns out Suzie made the ricotta which was creamy and sweet.

A week or so later I decided to give it a try so I called Suzie and she enthusiastically gave me the recipe, promising me that I will never buy ricotta again once I’ve made it. How right she was.

I have been making a batch of ricotta once a week ever since. The first time I made it, I added a heaped tablespoon of icing sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to a cup and a half of ricotta and served it with poached peaches. Even my very sceptical son agreed it was delicious.

Generally I give a cup or so away each week to whichever friend I happen to see. What I find most amazing is that it lasts in the fridge for at least a week which would never happen with store bought ricotta.

I have tried all sorts of combinations of milk and cream. The batch I made with low fat milk was like rubber – if I’d thrown it against the wall it would have bounced right back. My most usual combination is 300ml of cream and 1200 ml of full cream milk. The combination in the original recipe below is by far the best.

Ricotta

4 cups full cream milk

2 cups cream

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (or white vinegar or lemon juice)

Rinse a medium sized saucepan with cold water (stops the milk sticking to the bottom of the pan). Add the milk, cream and salt.

Bring to boil over medium heat.

Once the liquid comes to a rolling boil, remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Leave to rest for a minute or so.

Pour into a sieve lined with a double layer of muslin (I use a double layer of Chux, as suggested by Suzie). Leave to drain for about 15-20 mins, depending on the fat content. Remove from sieve and place in a bowl in the fridge. Once cool, remove from muslin and refrigerate.

A Chocolatey Easter

Unlike my Dad and my daughter, I have a bit of a take it or leave it attitude towards chocolate. If it is really excellent quality chocolate I’ll take it; if it isn’t, I’ll leave it. If I’m out, I’ll rarely order a chocolate dessert.

This take it or leave it approach to chocolate also applies to Easter eggs.  When my Mum lived in Sydney, and even when she lived in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, she gave us Easter eggs each year from Belle Fleur at Rozelle. They were absolutely delicious.

A couple of weeks ago I made some chocolate cookies and gave them to some appreciative clients. In fact, the client I gave them to is an absolute domestic goddess when it comes to baking – she makes the most fantastic honey cake – so I felt a bit like I was giving ice to an Eskimo! She assured me that Eskimos don’t always like having to get their own ice. The cookies were a big hit, even with those who usually aren’t attracted to sugar.

This week I decided to make the cookies using a couple of the Lindt dark chocolate Easter eggs I was given. The recipe comes from Joy Wilson’s new book Joy the Baker Cookbook. I really enjoy Joy’s blog, Joy the Baker. She has such a terrific sense of humour and a great attitude. Her recipes are also pretty good!

Chocolate Brownie Cookies with White Chocolate  and Roasted Macadamia Nuts

Makes 2 doz cookies

230g bittersweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chunks

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup plain flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup caster sugar

1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 large eggs

3/4 cup white choclolate chips

3/4 cup macadamia nuts, roasted and salted

Place racks in the upper third and middle of the oven and preheat oven to 165C. Line 2 cookie sheets with baking paper.

Gently simmer 5 cm of water in a medium saucepan. Place chocolate and butter in a medium-sized heatproof bowl and place the bowl over, not touching, the simmering water. Melt the chocolate and butter together until the butter is melted. Remove the bowl from the simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk the sugar, coffee powder and vanilla extract into the warm chocolate mixture. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add the chocolate mixture, all at once, to the flour mixture. Fold to incorporate. When flour just begins to disappear into the chocolate mixture, add the white chocolate and nuts. Fold thoroughly. Batter will feel thick.

Dollop batter by the tablespoon full onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 11 minutes (the cookies are best slightly underdone). Let rest for 5 minutes  on the baking sheet before removing to a cooling rack.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container, separated in layers by a piece of waxproof paper, at room temperature for 5 days.

Italian Lamb with Egg

I love my Le Crueset cast iron casserole dish. It was given to me by my mother about 18 years ago. Mum had 2 – she gave this one to me and the oval one to my brother. They must now be close to 40 years old. I have wonderful childhood memories of the meals produced in these yellow casseroles – osso bucco, moussaka, pot roast chicken to name a few.

Whenever I look at it, I think of osso bucco – definitely one of my favourite meals – which I cooked on Saturday night. For Sunday Dinner this week I cooked Lamb with Egg and Lemon, from the Italian Regional Classics Cookbook included with the April 2012 Australian Gourmet Traveller.

The dish didn’t look that great but the lamb tasted fantastic. Next time I would take more care when adding the eggs and cheese - the eggs instantly curdled when they hit the liquid because it was so hot. I should have added a ladle of the liquid to the eggs first, before adding the eggs to the dish, so that the mixture became a custard. Nevertheless, it tasted fantastic so I’d like to give it another go.

I also cooked the lamb for longer than the recipe suggested – I always find it takes longer than 45 minutes for lamb to become tender, even if it is good quality lamb shoulder. The pecorino cheese I used was organic fresh pecorino from the markets – delicious on its own.

This week we had my nephew’s girlfriend returned after a long absence – hooray! She liked the lamb so much that they took the leftovers home to have during the week.

Lamb with egg and lemon

Serves 6-8

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

100 g mild pancetta, diced

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 boneless lamb shoulder (1.6 kg), ciut into 6cm pieces

250 ml white wine

500 ml (2 cups) veal or chicken stock

3 rosemary sprigs

4 eggs. lightly beaten

90 g each of finely grated pecorino and parmesan

180 g (1/1/2 cups) frozen peas

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over high heat, add onion, pancetta and garlic, stir occasionally until caramelised (10-15 minutes) and transfer to casserole.

Wipe out pan, add lamb and remaining oil in 2 batches and turn occasionally until lamb is browned (3-5 minutes). Transfer to casserole.

Deglaze pan with wine, add to casserole with stock and rosemary, season to taste, cover and braise in oven until tender (mine took about 75 minutes). Transfer lamb to a bowl and keep warm. Turn oven down to 180C.

Add half a cup of the hot cooking juices to the eggs and whisk to combine. Add 75g of each of the cheeses and add the mixture to the casserole with the peas. Stir to combine, scatter with remaining cheeses and bake, uncovered, until custard is set and crust is golden (15-30 minutes).

Serve with lemon wedges and a green salad.