Saturday, February 22, 2014

Celery and Chicken Casserole (Judy)

This Celery and Chicken casserole is the Payne family recipe which always tastes so good when Judy cooks it for us. It is also a very economical dish to cook for a large group of people, in two dishes if necessary. The basic recipe suggests using parsley, but you can use the herbs you like and have on hand, or growing in your garden. I have also used leek and shallot instead of the onion.


Chicken legs (allow 2 per person)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tin of soup (celery, asparagus or mushroom)(I prefer celery)
vegetable of soup choice
2 chopped cloves of Garlic
2 tablsp. chopped Parsley (dried is fine)
Vegetable Oil
1 teas. chicken stock powder
Ground pepper


  1. Saute onion gently, remove and drain.
  2. Brown chicken pieces, remove and drain.
  3. Place 1/2 tin soup in casserole dish, then 1/2 onion, 1/2 vegetable of soup choice (celery), 1/2 parsley and stock powder and then chicken pieces.
  4. Repeat until all ingredients are in the dish.
  5. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Cook in a slow to moderate oven until all ingredients are cooked together and the chicken is tender.


2 teaspoons of chopped tarragon, and  1/2 cup white wine can be added to this basic recipe. If you like Dijon mustard, add 2 teaspoons of that as well. Add mushrooms 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time if you have them to enhance the flavour.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lemon Sago Pudding or Lemon Tapioca Pearl Pudding

Lemon sago is an old fashioned dessert, which Mum often cooked for us as kids, however back then I didn't appreciate it as much as I do now. Very strange!

I go shopping for sago at the supermarket, and with some help I eventually find it, however confusingly it is packaged by "LION" , based in Fremantle by the way, as Tapioca Pearls (Sago). This sounds more like something I should be wearing, or having in a Lychee drink, however I am assured it is sago by the staff member. Not convinced, I check Google, and discover that Tapioca and Sago are distinctly different in their botanical origin. Sago comes from the middle part of the trunk of the sago palm, and tapioca comes from the tuber of cassava or manioc which grows in tropical weather. I read that many misleading packages of dried sago tend to claim that sago and tapioca come from the fruit of a sago palm.

So what have I just bought, sago or tapioca. Or is "LION" using the term "Tapioca pearls" purely for marketing purposes because of its more popular connotations, with the Asian market and the younger generation. Are the contents of this packet really sago? I don't think so. "LION" states on the packet that Tapioca and Sago are both starch extracts from plants, Tapioca from the tuber of the cassava plant and Sago from the pith of Sago palm stems. "Tapioca and Sago are traditionally used in both sweet and savoury dishes throughout the world and can often be used interchangeably in recipes".

When I cook the pudding, Mr. HRK who certainly ate much more lemon sago as a child than I did, so is somewhat of an expert says it is the same as he ate at home, which presumably was the authentic sago. Were Tapioca Pearls around back then? Whilst I suspect I have just cooked Lemon Tapioca Pearl pudding, which sounds very nice, and tastes delicious, I am now searching for the real sago to test the difference. The health food shop should be able to throw some more light on the subject.

Here's the recipe anyway:-


1/2 cup sago (100 gr.)
3/4 cup Castor Sugar
grated rind of 3 lemons
3 cups of water
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of golden syrup

Let's Cook:
  1. Wash sago; soak for 2 hours in 300ml of water.  (Don't omit this step, or you will be stirring the mixture for what seems like hours.)
  2. Rinse sago.
  3. Combine sago, sugar, lemon rind, and water in a saucepan.
  4. Bring to a gentle simmer. Stir regularly over a low to medium heat for 20 mins. or until sago is translucent, soft and thick.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and golden syrup and cool for 30 minutes.
  6. Serve warm with custard, or whipped cream
This is also nice served in dessert glasses for a special occasion.

So please tell me dear reader, can you tell me if sago and tapioca are interchangeable? Should it be marketed as if it is the same thing? Does it really matter?

Thanks for reading.


Baked Layered Rice with Spinach and Lamb (Tahcheen-e esfenaj)

Tahcheen means "spread over the bottom" and the whole point of this aromatic dish is to end up with a lot of lovely golden crunch under the rice, which encases the aromatic filling.  Whilst there is a fair bit of preparation, a day in advance, it is brilliant for entertaining, as it just bakes away by itself for a couple of hours, and the end result justifies the means. It is also a very earthy dish, requiring a lot of work with your hands to work the rice, and assemble the dish, which is quite therapeutic.  This Persian recipe is inspired by an exotic book I was lent, which is based on Greg and Lucy Malouf's travels through Iran, and gives a captivating account of the history, and culture of Persia which expresses itself through their cooking. The book is called Saraban: a chef's journey through Persia. I am still captivated by the beauty of this book and the food it represents.

The most important thing is to use  a heavy duty cooking dish such as pyrex or heavy ovenproof porcelain. The lamb needs to be slow-cooked first, then marinated for a minimum of 8 hours for the flavours to develop. I think the prunes are essential and  accentuate the 'Persian-ness" of the dish.

Serves 6.


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
400g lamb (from the shoulder), trimmed of fat and cut into 2cm cubes
200g thick natural yoghurt
2 egg yolks
80ml Saffron Liquid
250g spinach leaves
400g basmati rice
12 prunes, pitted and roughly chopped
60 g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
thick natural yoghurt and pickles, to serve


Preparing the Saffron Liquid - 1 day before:

20 saffron threads
2 tablespoons boiling water

To make the saffron liquid, lightly toast the saffron threads in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for about 30 seconds. While the threads must be totally dry, be very careful not to burn them. As they crisp up, they release a wonderfully pungent aroma. Tip the saffron into a mortar and leave for a moment or two before grinding to a powder.
Mix the ground saffron with the boiling water and set aside to infuse for at least 1 hour before using. The colour will continue to develop for about 12 hours.

Preparing  the lamb - 1 day before:

Heat half the oil in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add one of the onions to the pan with the garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and spices and fry gently for 4 minutes. Add the meat and enough water to cover, then bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and simmer gently for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks and saffron liquid in a shallow dish. Drain the cooled lamb well and add it to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours.

The day of the event:

Preparing the Spinach:

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a low heat. Add the remaining onion and fry gently until soft and lightly coloured. Add the spinach and turn it about in the pan until wilted. Cook over a medium heat to evaporate any excess liquid, then set aside. When cool. squeeze the spinach to remove any residual liquid and chop it roughly.

Preparing the Rice:

400g basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt

Wash, soak, and parboil the rice. This is quite different to how we normally cook rice, but not difficult.
Wash the basmati rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch.

Strain the rice in  a fine colander, rinsing it again with warm water until water is clear.

Bring 2 litres water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the sea salt and stir in the strained rice.
Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered for 5 minutes. Test the rice after 4 minutes by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can. Please note: (I think 5 minutes was too long and the rice wasn't as hard in the centre as it should be. However, the recipe still worked. I advise to check it after 4 minutes to be sure.)

Assemble the dish:
Preheat the oven to 190deg C and butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. I used a Pyrex casserole dish with a lid. Remove the lamb from the yoghurt marinade. Mix half the parboiled rice (3 cups) with the marinade and spoon and pat it into the base and up the sides of the ovenproof dish.

Arrange the lamb on top of the rice, then cover with the spinach. Dot the chopped prunes over the spinach, then spoon in the remaining rice to cover and smooth over the surface. Cover tightly with a sheet of lightly buttered foil, cover with lid, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Have a glass of wine and relax, you deserve it.

Final stage before eating:
Remove the dish from the oven and dot the surface of the rice with bits of butter. Replace the foil and lid and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter and serve with a bowl of creamy yoghurt, a selection of relishes or pickles, and a selection of fresh herbs - tarragon, basil,  chives and parsley would be lovely.

Rena, our beautiful dinner guest. We were thrilled it turned out of the dish as it should.
A slice of Baked Layered Rice with Spinach and Lamb 
(Tahcheen-e esfenaj)

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Italian Mince Rissoles with Grilled Eggplant, Tomato, and Parmesan

Chicken Parmigiana is a perennial favourite of most people, and when I spotted this recipe on Mindfood, I thought it would be an interesting variation of the Parmigiana, using pork mince.  I also have plenty of eggplants at present so this is another very tasty and economical dish. The original recipe uses beef mince, but I substituted pork mince and used more herbs for flavour. Pork mince is a softer meat than beef, so greater care is needed when cooking the rissoles. What's that saying? Get some pork on your fork!

800g of mince serves 4 and makes 12 rissoles. Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35-40 minutes


500g lean pork or beef mince (quantities can be increased to 800 g depending on how much eggplant you use.)
1 tblsp oregano, chopped
1 tblsp tarragon, chopped
1 cup grated carrot (optional)
1 cup fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves
3 tblsp olive oil
1 very large or 2 smaller eggplants cut into 1 cm slices
500g jar tomato pasta sauce (or use your own)
50g Parmesan cheese,  freshly grated
Steamed greens, asparagus, baby carrots to serve or roasted vegetables

  1. Preheat the oven to 180degC. Combine the mince with oregano, tarragon, and garlic. Form into 8-12  rissoles, depending on meat quantities, then chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat a char grill  or the BBQ to high. Brush the eggplant slices with 2 tbsp of the oil and cook, turning regularly for 2-3 minutes or until well coloured. Line the base of a large roasting dish with the grilled eggplant slices.
  3. Brush the rissoles with the remaining oil and char grill for 2 minutes on each side until well coloured. (I found it easier to cook the pork rissoles in a non-stick pan over a high heat.) Assemble the rissoles in the roasting dish on top of the grilled eggplant slices, cover with tomato pasta sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes or until the rissoles are cooked through and the cheese and sauce are bubbling. Serve with vegetables.
They taste even better the following day when eaten as leftovers, with a crusty Italian bread roll.

Best wishes


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Queen of Sheba's Chocolate and Almond Cake

Mahjong resumed yesterday, and to launch the event our hostess cooked a delicious and extremely light chocolate cake, modified from a recipe originally published by the amazing Stephanie Alexander. The egg whites create a beautiful crusty topping, which sets this cake apart from many others.The colourful  "Art Nouveau" china enhanced the occasion and was a talking point over afternoon tea. It appears we all have various sets of lovely crockery we have acquired over the years either as an inheritance or from purchasing ourselves. What to do with it all? Keep it for the next generation, sell it off to an antique shop for next to nothing, display it, or just use it whenever possible? 

 Always interested in the history of food, apparently this recipe is based on the French classic reine de Saba or Queen of Sheba's cake. This is an exotic chocolate cake which isn't too sweet, perfect for any time of day. 


125g chocolate (70%) Cadbury, chopped       
1 tablespoon whisky or brandy
1 tablespoon espresso coffee
100g unsalted butter
110g castor sugar
100g ground almonds
3 eggs separated
icing sugar

Let's bake:

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C. Butter an 18 cm round cake tin and line it with baking paper. (A sturdy springform tin can be used as the cake is quite fragile and may crack when turned out.)

Combine chocolate, brandy and coffee in a bowl over water or in a double boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar. Mix well. Add ground almonds and stir very well.

 Lightly beat egg yolks and stir into bowl off the heat. Beat egg whites until firm. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of egg white, then fold in the remaining whites very lightly and spoon mixture into prepared tin.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will still test a little gooey in the centre. It will have developed a crust and be very fragile. Cool completely in the tin, then carefully invert onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

This cake would also be perfect served as a dessert with thick cream and some raspberries.


So dear Reader, are you using all of that old, precious crockery that you own, or are you storing it away and still wondering what you are going to do with it? Do your family want it? Are there antique shops out there who will take it off our hands for a reasonable price? What do you think?

Best wishes


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Easy and Healthy Chicken Pilau

I am always looking for healthy one pot  recipes, incorporating lots of vegetables, a reasonable amount of protein and of course brimming with flavour.  This recipe was sent to me today by a Mindfood post and I was excited as I was committed elsewhere for the afternoon, was looking for a relatively easy dinner to cook,  and needed to use up some vegetables. I also had a can of soup in the pantry. I think this could be one of those recipes which can easily be modified according to what you have on hand. Also, an interesting and adaptable recipe to keep in mind when travelling or camping.

I added fresh tarragon and thyme to mine for a burst of flavour as I have it growing in abundance at home but any herbs on hand could be added, or not if you don't have them. I also think that white wine could be  partly substituted for the cup of water for more interest. However, Mr. HRK really enjoyed it,  he loves tarragon, and it complied with our health regime, for today anyway.

I also think this would work to take for lunch and eat cold.

Preparation time: 15 mins    Cooking time: 25 mins
Serves 6

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons mild Indian Curry paste
1 skinless chicken breast fillet or equivalent thigh fillets, cut into 1 cm dice
1 cup Basmati rice
1 cup water (or 1/2 cup white wine, 1/2 cup water)
1x500g can creamy chicken soup ( or creamy celery soup)
800g mixed diced vegetables such as capsicum, carrot, zucchini, celery etc.
1 cup peas (or 1/2 cup peas and 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)

  1. Heat oil in a large non-stick saucepan. Add curry paste and chicken fillet. Cook for 2 minutes until beginning to brown.
  2. Add rice and toss to coat. Add water, bring to the boil, stir then cover and cook over a very low heat for 6 minutes. Be careful here, and keep an eye on it so that it doesn't stick to pan.
  3. Stir in creamy chicken soup or celery soup and vegetables and cook a further 8 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat, stir in peas and mushrooms, recover and stand for 5 minutes.