Monday, April 28, 2014

Greek Lemon Chicken

This is a favourite for all the family and, my grand-daughter Leila says it is even better than party food and requests it for dinner whenever they are coming over!  Mind you, for an eight year old she does have very savoury tastes and snacks on feta cheese, olives and basil leaves!

This is one of those 'one pan dishes', very easy to make and most delicious to eat.  The secret is in the quality of the ingredients - fresh, free-range chicken is a must.

This kind of dish is served all over Greece, particularly with home-grown rooster, and lots of lemon, black pepper, garlic and rosemary for that distinctive Greek flavour.
If you recognise this shot, you have seen the movie!

In 2010, I had a special birthday with a '0' and decided to celebrate with some friends and had an unforgettable 'Mumma Mia' birthday on the Greek Islands of Skiathos and Skopelos, where they made the movie starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.  These are part of the northern Aegean Sporadic Islands and were distinctive from their neighbours in the Cyclades by being very green and tree covered. Every one of the 300+ Greek Islands are unique and, for the adventurous traveller, that's the exciting thing about them.  If you don't like this one, well, move on to the next!

While not really enjoying Skiathos, because it was too touristy, we found heaven on Skopelos at the Adrina Hotel - where the location, beautiful room and food put a smile on all of our faces.  We savoured lots AND lots of the local food and we quickly dubbed this island 'Skoffalot'.
NOTE:  If you are in this part of the world it is worth taking a trip to the next island in this group, Alonnisos - a step back (or up, depending on how you look at it!) in peacefulness and beauty and, for some reason, a favourite with Norwegian travellers.  We had a great time there and enjoyed lots walking, swimming of yummy food!
Morning swim around the island anyone - believe me, we needed it?  Adrina Hotel, Skopelos

1 free range chicken cut into pieces or simply butterflied in half
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbsp fresh chopped rosemary - you can use thyme, tarragon and oregano as well
1 tbsp of chopped preserved lemon OR shredded lemon zest
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tsp ground black pepper - this dish requires lots
1 tsp ground sea salt
Bunch of baby carrots, washed
Waxy potatoes, cut into quarters - as many as you can fit in the dish

Coming on the Skiathos ferry into Skopelos harbour

1. Heat oven on 190oC
2. Put everything in the bottom of a non-reactive casserole dish, apart from the chicken, carrots and potatoes, mix together until combined.
3.  Place the chicken, skin side down in the marinade and spoon some into the cavities in the top covering all of the chicken.
4.  Toss in the potatoes around the edge and turn them over in the marinade. 
5.  Cover with a lid or foil and place in the oven for 35 minutes.
6.  Take out of oven and remove lid.  Turn the chicken and potatoes over so that they can brown. Return to the oven for a further 20-25 minutess until chicken and potatoes are golden brown and cooked through.
7.  Have a glass of ouzo while the aromas waft around the house.
8.  Make a Greek salad to have with this deliciously 'sticky' and tangy chicken dish.

NOTE: The carrots take on a really delicious flavour from this lemony marinade - prepare for a tastebud sensation!

Greek salad, made with ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, red onion, a slab of local feta, sprinkle of herbs, salt and pepper, squeeze of lemon juice and good olive oil.  This is a salad that requires honesty - only use seasonal and good quality ingredients otherwise it will taste like all of those Greek salads offered up in fast food outlets - dead and tasteless - this is what the 'slow food' bit means in web site! 

House on Alonissos in the hilltop Kastro

Sign in the village square on Allonissos - I think of this every time I am putting the garbage out!
Greek lemon chicken - great to cook at home, but better on a Greek Island. (You can probably tell that I am not going this year so am feeling a little nostalgic!)  Kali orexi!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake - Best Ever

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake - Gluten Free and Best Ever

Happy Easter everyone - it's that time of year where everyone looks forward to a chocolate treat so I thought I had better make something to keep everyone happy - me included!

This is an absolutely scrumptious cake and, when I say best ever - I mean, apart from the scruminess, that it is 'fail' proof - as long as you follow the recipe.  This is also following along the recent theme of gluten free cakes with chocolate and hazelnut meal giving it its bulk - no flour.

Growing up in Britain in the 50's and 60's we had fairly basic repertoire of cakes that pretty much followed the fruit  and sponge cake themes - ones that filled you up, were cheap to make with easy to obtain ingredients -  tasted fine, but were hardly elegant - as this cake is (don't be fooled by the rabbit!).

I first tried cakes like this when I moved to Sydney's Eastern Suburbs in the mid 1970's, with a large population of migrants from Eastern Europe they had fortunately brought their cake baking skills and cafe culture with them.  This cake has its history in places that make chocolate and grow hazelnuts and is very similar to a traditional Austrian Linzer torte or Hungarian Dobos torte - though these would generally be iced and layered with more chocolate and cream. (If you are in Sydney you can try these at the Gelato Bar on Bondi Beach).

200g dark, good quality chocolate, chopped

150g butter, chopped

6 eggs, separated

2/3 cup caster sugar

1 1/2 cups hazelnut meal

double cream, to serve
Preheat oven to 170°C/150°C fan-forced. Grease a 6cm-deep, 20cm (base) round cake pan. Line base and side with baking paper.
NOTE: I have learned that successful cake making depends a lot on using the correct size tin for the recipe - you can't alter it and expect good results.
Combine chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
Place egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until thick and creamy. Add cooled chocolate mixture. Beat to combine. Add hazelnut meal. Beat to combine.
Place eggwhites in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form. Using a metal spoon, stir one-third of eggwhites into chocolate mixture. Gently fold remaining eggwhite through chocolate mixture.
NOTE: About whipping egg whites.  Always make sure your bowl and beaters are clean and dry.  You will have more success with fresh, free rage eggs.   The beaten egg whites act as the raising agent in this cake.  As the air bubbles heat up in the oven they expand and make the cake rise - that's why it's important to remember two things; 1. Fold the egg whites into the mix with a metal spoon NOT anything that will squash the air bubbles, 2. Make sure the cake is cooked properly before you take it out of the oven, otherwise it will collapse in the middle.
Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven. Stand in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

TO GET THAT EASTER EFFECT - the 'bunny'!  In fact you can use this simple method to decorate any cake.  Simply, use a cut-out shape and place it on the top of the cake.  Gently, sieve icing sugar over the top, particularly around the edges of the shape, then GENTLY lift the shape off the cake - hey presto!  When I was at school, in my domestic science class, we used to decorate Victoria sponge cakes this way using the pattern of a paper doily.  

I served this cake with lightly stewed raspberries and blueberries with cream.  Bon apetite.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Corn and Zucchini Bake - Gluten Free

I'm always on a quest to cook healthy, nutritious and tasty dishes with locally sourced food, and lately I've had to tick even a few more boxes by trying to work 'gluten free' in there and 'high in calcium'.  And, as we have a lot of beautifully fresh corn and zucchini around at the moment it was time to do some experimenting in the kitchen.

I help out with the local 'Stepping On' class - a fantastic free programme run by NSW Department of Health, that is, essentially, a 'fall prevention' class - it's for those folk who have had a fall or are at risk of falling.  One of our sessions is all about diet, healthy eating and the necessity of calcium for strong bones and I had promised to cook for them a couple of 'calcium rich' dishes .  It just so happened that a few of the participants were also 'gluten free'.

This is really an adaptation of my previous recipe Zucchini Bake but, I think you will agree that this is a step up in yumminess - delicious hot or cold, in fact, over the last few days, we have had this for either breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Recipe Corn and Zucchini Bake

1 cup cooked corn kernels (1 cob)
2 large zucchini grated
1 cup grated strong cheddar
1/2 cup grated parmesan + 1 tablespoon
100g feta, crumbled
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk (or milk)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 rice flour (I use brown)
1/2 cup fine polenta
1tsp baking powder
3/4 cup parsley, dill and chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tomatoes, finely sliced for decoration

NOTE:  I experimented with various flours and took advice from gluten-free experts to come up with this combination.  I discovered that too much of one or the other was unsuccessful in both taste and texture - see what you think - I think this works fine?

1.  Heat oven to 180-200oC
2.  Grease oblong baking dish
3.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flours and baking powder together
4.  Add everything else and stir to combine reserving 1 tablespoon of parmesan to sprinkle on top.
5.  Spread evenly in your dish and decorate with sliced tomatoes and parmesan.
6.  Bale in oven for about 40 minutes until firm and golden.

So Where's the Calcium?
  • All fresh herbs are highly nutritious and parsley particularly so - handful of fresh herbs added to your meal is going to make it worth eating!
  • Half a cup of parsley contains 54% of your daily vitamin C requirements, 14.5% of vitamin A, 11% of folate and iron, and roughly 5% each of copper, potassium, calcium, magnesium, fibre, and 3% of zinc, phosphorus, vitamin B3, B1 and manganese - wow - and it's only 11 calories!!
  • 1 cup of parmesan, cheddar cheese and feta each contain, roughly, 35% of your daily calcium needs.
  • 1 cup of milk contains about 25% of your daily calcium needs and each egg 3% 
  • Leafy green vegetables are also rich in calcium - e.g. watercress, rocket, Asian greens, kale and broccoli.  Also on the list are fish with bones e.g. whitebait, sardines, anchovies and canned salmon.
Time for lunch - guess what I'm having?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Comfrey - The Gardener's Friend

Symphytum sp.
Comfrey, Russian Comfrey, Knit-bone, Bone-set

Comfrey growing next to the compost bin

Comfrey is a real friend to the organic gardener and one of the most useful plants you can grow.

Gardeners need to be growing this Russian variety (Symphytum x uplandicum) and not the one that commonly grows wild in Europe (Syphytum officinale) - which has been used for centuries as a herbal remedy.  Russian comfrey is distinguished by large, hairy leaves and tubular, mauve flowers borne on tall stems (S.officinale is a a smaller plant with pink/white/yellow flowers).  If you have ever grown borage you will see that it is a similar looking plant to comfrey in fact, they are in the same family.

NOTE: Both the Russian and wild varieties have medicinal properties - it's just that the Russian one is better for our use as organic gardeners - it's a larger plant with bigger leaves.

Herbalists grow comfrey for its many healing and medicinal properties - and have been doing so for centuries.  A common wild plant native to Europe, comfrey is known as 'knitbone' for it's usefulness in reducing swelling, bruising and for setting bones.  It contains allantoin (a cell proliferant), in other words, it speeds healing.

NOTE:  When I was a child, in the 1950's, I used to relish our holidays away from smoggy London to my uncle's farm in Hampshire.  It was another world and the folklore of the country was very much alive.  For example - falling out of the trees in the orchard seemed to be a regular occurrence for my brothers and I, and any bruises and bumps were treated, by my aunty Joyce, with a poultice of comfrey leaves plucked from the hedgerows that grew around the farm.  I can tell you that it worked! (Or, it may have been the thick slice of warm, homemade bread, topped with strawberry jam and clotted cream!)

Farmers have traditionally used comfrey for animal fodder as it is rich in protein and minerals particularly, nitrogen, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.  Chickens are pretty smart at knowing what's good for them too and comfrey is the first thing they go for if they are foraging around the garden.
TOP TIP: Plant comfrey around the chook house.

How is comfrey used by gardeners? 
Why use comfrey?
  1. It has a high content of the three plant macro-nutrients NITROGEN(N), PHOSPHORUS(P) AND POTASSIUM(K).  Comfrey is higher in nitrogen and potassium than farmyard manures, garden compost and about the same for phosphorus.  Plants need nitrogen for healthy leaf growth, phosphorus for root growth and potassium to produce healthy flowers, fruit and seeds. (See previous post on understanding soils and pH) so it makes a lot of sense for organic gardeners to be growing comfrey - it does the work for you!
  2. Comfrey leaves have a relatively low carbon to nitrogen ratio.  This means there is no risk of nitrogen 'robbery' when comfrey leaves are dug into the soil (which is what happens when you put fresh manures and lawn clippings on the garden).  It also has a low fibre content which means comfrey leaves decompose rapidly.  That's why it makes such a fantastic mulch plant - it quickly revitalizes the soil - you can quite happily pile the fresh leaves on the soil and watch them decompose into the most fantastic, richest mulch you will ever see!
  3. Its low fibre content and high nutrient content means it breaks down quickly when added to water - releasing all those wonderful nutrients to make perfect liquid fertilizer.  (See previous post on how to make compost tea)
  4. Adding a few comfrey leaves to your compost heap will help it break down more quickly.  Because it is so jam packed with nutrients it stimulates activity in the heap - that's why it known as a 'compost activator'.

Fresh comfrey leaves as mulch on one of my veggie patches
TOP TIP:  Have one comfrey plant next to your compost heap so you always have a few leaves to add every time you put in a load of something else - like kitchen scraps - it helps to break it down quicker.  Plant it in the 'dead' spots in your garden where is isn't taking up useful garden bed space.

To Propagate
  • Divide large clumps at any time of the year.  Beware - the smallest root will produce a large clump. 
  •  It also grows very rapidly - one plant giving up to 2.5kg per cut then regrowing to give up to ten cuts per year.
  • Anyone can grow comfrey and is easy to establish on most soils.
  • Comfrey rarely suffers from any serious pest and disease problems.
And You Thought Gardening Was Boring?
Researching topics leads me to trawl through the dusty shelves that is my library and I came up with this from a book By Robin Page called 'Cures and Remedies the Country Way'.  And I quote.  "Marriage - once again this is not an illness (although some would disagree)..............
For the girl who has lost her virginity she has great problems in concealing this from her prospective husband.  It is an old belief that she can conceal her past from her husband-to-be by having a long bath on the eve of her wedding in hot water and comfrey.  This will do-up whatever has been undone"

Girls - I would not rely on this if I were you but, I hope the rest of it has been useful!

SEE PREVIOUS POSTS:  Composting.  Hot Composting.  No-Dig Garden Beds.  Compost Tea

Friday, April 4, 2014

Nasi Goreng - Fried Rice

This is right where I would like to be cooking and eating nasi goreng - in my friend Victoria's open air kitchen on her front verandah in Ubud, Bali.  Victoria is a marvelous gardener and cook (she is also very clever with photoshop!).

You will find this Chinese inspired dish all over Indonesia, with regional variations, and for many people, me included, it is real comfort food.  I could eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner in fact, when I come to think of it, I probably have!

I make it all the time - it's a very nutritious and simple way to use up yesterday's cooked rice just by adding a few simple ingredients.  You can make it with whatever you have to hand, but it is usually made with the inclusion of a little chicken, a few prawns, tofu - or simply vegetarian.  Today I am making it with green prawns.  This will feed 3-4.
  • 250 g green prawns, peeled and cleaned
  • OR 250 g chicken thigh fillet, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp peanut or coconut oil
  • 1 small brown onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 long red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2-3 cups finely shredded greens.  I am using kale and amaranth from the garden (bayam) and a few snake beans, plus some finely chopped cauliflower and a couple of mushrooms - because that is what I had! You could use any Asian greens or cabbage. Oh, I also had some cooked corn which I used.
  • 1 tbsp kecap manis (Indonesian thick, sweet soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup - this is the secret ingredient and differentiates Indonesian fried rice from Chinese.
  • 1 egg per person, lightly beaten with a few drops of sesame oil.
  • 2 cups steamed rice., preferably a day old
  • NOTE:  Nasi goreng is traditionally served with a fried egg on top - particularly for breakfast, but when you are making it for a few people I like to include the cooked eggs in the finished dish.
Method  Nasi goreng is very quick to make - the time is taken in the preparation - a few, cheap metal mixing bowls really help!
1.  Beat the eggs together with the sesame oil.  Heat your wok with a little of the peanut oil and quickly cook the egg - flipping it over so it gets a little brown on both sides - don't overcook.  Tip back into the bowl you beat them in to add at the end.
2.  Put chopped onion, garlic and chilli in a small bowl.
3.  Have all your other shredded vegetables in a separate bowl.
4.  Wash out and dry your wok (important it has no egg residue on it), add remaining oil and heat.
5.  Add onion, garlic and chilli to wok and stir fry for one minute.
6.  Add prawns (chicken, tofu etc) and toss on high heat for another minute.
7.  Add the bowl of shredded vegetables with the kecap manis, fish sauce and tomato ketchup.  The liquid will quickly evaporate - this should not be a 'wet' dish or your rice will go gluggy!  Toss for another minute.
8.  Add the rice and stir through.  Toss for another minute.
9.  Now it's done - about 4 minutes.  All you have to do is stir through the finely sliced egg and garnish with some fried shallots (you can buy them in a packet from Asian stores).

I used to be useless at making this, what is essentially, a very easy dish - that is until my daughter's friend, Anton, came to stay from Java, Indonesia.  He would make this every morning for breakfast and I would watch with interest and then eat the leftovers!
1.  You can use any rice, but long grain is best that has been washed a few times prior to cooking(removing some of the starch prevents this dish from being pudding-like)
NOTE:  I have just discovered a local, long grain, rain-fed brown rice that makes perfect fried rice.
2.  It's best to use rice that is a day old and not overcooked.
NOTE:  There have been recent press reports about the health hazards of keeping cooked rice.  This only applies to rice that has not been refrigerated.
3.  Have all your ingredients pre-prepared so that you can make it quickly.
4.  Use kecap manis and not ordinary soy sauce.
5.  Anton's secret ingredient (and famous Indonesian cook Janet de Neefe's) tomato ketchup!

Salamat makan
The backstreets of Ubud where I have spent many happy hours eating nasi goreng!