Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nigella Lawson's Italian Tray Bake

Chicken and sausage Italian Tray bake, one pot cooking, from the Tuscan Hills, I am now a fan. This is an adaptation of Nigella's Italian Traybake recipe from her Nigellissima cookbook. I was in Brisbane, and needed to cook dinner in my daughter's kitchen. Her friend Sue was coming over, and I wouldn't have that much time to devote to it. I was flicking through her great selection of cookery books, much more fun than the online version and found this recipe. What really inspired me was that there is a great Irish butcher at Annerley who has won numerous sausage making awards who I was confident could help me with authentic Italian sausages. And he did. The dish was so tasty, and so easy. Finger lickin' good as they say. How do they say that in Italy I wonder?

I think to be honest the success of that particular tray bake was the fantastic sausages  the very fresh rosemary, and of course the company. However, I have made it again since and my rosemary though perhaps a bit more woody than the supermarket version is still a fantastic Italian herb to use. My challenge at home with not living in a metropolitan city is the lack of butchers who make Italian sausages. However we have a strong Maltese community here, and for this edition of the recipe I used Maltese sausages, also from a great butcher near where I live, and from an original Maltese recipe, which whilst stronger in flavour than the Italian recipe worked well. I actually think, as Nigella also suggests, that any good tasty thick sausages would do. You can go for the milder sausages, or the sweeter or "chilli and fennel" sausage. It is all about the fusion of flavours during the cooking process. The potatoes soak up the flavours and crisp up beautifully on the edges, and stay nice and firm.

Nigella also suggests using a shallow baking tray. This is probably preferable, however I have used both shallow and deep,  and there wasn't much difference in the result.

For the full Italian experience, serve with bread or lentils, pickled zucchini, and a couple of jars of flame-roasted peppers, drained and mixed with good olive oil, red wine vinegar, and parsley.

Buon appetito! and thanks Nigella Lawson. You saved the day.


3 baking potatoes (approx. 750g. total), unpeeled and cut into 2cm chunks
8 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on ( lovely legs without skin on will also work)
8 Italian sausages (approx. 750g total) Use Maltese if Italian unavailable
Small bunch (6 or 7 sprigs) of fresh rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes or 1/2 teaspoon pouring salt
Ground pepper
4 x 15ml tablespoons of good quality olive oil

Let's cook:

Preheat the oven to 220deg C/Gas mark 7.
Put the potatoes into a large, shallow baking tray and add the chicken thighs and sausages. If using 2 trays, divide everything between them (and also swap the trays over and turn them round halfway through cooking time).

Arrange about 4 sprigs of the rosemary among the chicken and sausages, then finely chop the needles of another 2 sprigs, to give you about 2 teaspoons of finely chopped needles, and sprinkle these onto the chicken pieces. Believe me, this isn't too much rosemary.

Zest the lemon over everything, and season with the salt and a good grinding of pepper. Drizzle with the oil and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the chicken skin and sausages are golden and the potato pieces are cooked through. It's fine to let all of this stand for up to 30 minutes once cooked, prior to serving.

Best wishes



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Roast Sumac and Lemon Chicken

This recipe is taken from David Herbert's Spice Route recipe, focusing on Sumac, the ground spice from the Middle East. The chicken needs the Yoghurt sauce to bring out the flavour of the lemon and sumac in the chicken. It is a tasty dish and leftovers  taste even better the next day.

1 large free-range chicken
2 lemons, roughly chopped
3 small shallots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
2 tablespoons sumac
1 tablespoon olive oil

Yoghurt Sauce:

1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
500g pot natural yoghurt
1 long red chilli, thinly sliced
4 spring onions, sliced

Heat oven to 200 deg. C. In a bowl mix lemons, shallots and garlic with half the sumac and some salt. Spoon mixture into cavity of chicken. Brush chicken with oil and sprinkle over remaining sumac. Roast for 1 1/2 hours, or until cooked. Mix ingredients for yoghurt sauce; add salt. Carve chicken; serve with a dollop of sauce.

Serves 4.

To drink, a juicy young pinot noir such as the 2013 Red Fox from Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spiced Middle Eastern lamb and tomato salad

 (Photo to follow)

Spiced lamb:
500g minced lamb
1 tablespoon sumac, ground or crushed
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves


2 large ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled, diced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon harissa
4 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan, add lamb and cook, stirring and breaking up lumps, for 8-10 minutes or until meat is brown and crisp. Add sumac, sesame seeds and thyme and cook for an extra 1 minute. Season. Drain on kitchen paper.

Place tomatoes, cucumber and onion in a bowl and drizzle with half the oil. Season.

 To  make dressing, whisk together harissa, yoghurt and remaining oil. Place tomato and cucumber salad on platter, top with lamb, drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with mint leaves.

Serve in a round metal or ceramic Middle Eastern bowl.
Serves 4.

Suggests drinking a spicy young shiraz with this dish. eg. 2013 Bobar Syrah from Yarrah Valley
A Spice route recipe by David Herbert

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Amish Paste tomatoes

Amish Paste tomatoes, or Lycopersicon esculentum, originated apparently in the 1870s with the oldest Amish community in Wisconsin, Medford, USA, and became available commercially when Heirloom Seeds acquired them from the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I think this is a pretty cool history for a variety of tear drop shaped tomato, as I bought some plants this morning from the local Bunnings, a new variety that they are now stocking. I was just excited to see some healthy Heirloom tomato plants for sale. The name should have given it away, but apparently despite the Amish origin, they are also best suited for making tomato paste, salsas, passata etc. Of course they are also meant to be very palatable.

So here's hoping that in around 80 days from now, they will be ripe and  ready for harvesting, and that I will be able to start producing my own tomato pastes, passatas, relishes and dry some seeds as well. I hope they are suited to growing in the Queensland tropics but that shouldn't be an issue. There are lots of growing tips, and health and cooking tips, provided  on the label by Renaissance Heirloom tomatoes so I am hoping the plants will thrive, with adequate staking and minimal tlc. I just need to remember to feed them occasionally with Seasol and Powerfeed and tomorrow I need to add a small amount of dolomite lime to produce stronger plants. That should do it really.

At $7 a kilo for tomatoes at the supermarket today, home grown tomatoes will be very welcome again.

If anyone else is growing this variety, I would love to hear from you about your experiences. Have you seen this tomato available for sale at any farmers markets?

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 17, 2014

Comfrey tea

Comfrey tea is now brewing, not the drinkable variety, but the gardening variety. My comfrey plant needed pruning before the multitude of small grasshoppers munch through  it, and within a couple of weeks the garden and pot plants will reap the benefits of a nitrogen rich fertiliser, made from comfrey tea. Hopefully, my garden will transform into a productive vegetable patch for the kitchen. 

 Using comfrey tea is much more cost effective and beneficial than buying commercial fertilisers. Last time I did this the rapid plant growth was obvious within a week. Comfrey is easy to grow, and is easily obtainable these days from plant nurseries or friends gardens. However, in the tropics if growing it in a hot garden, it tends to die back in summer. The plant I thought I had lost, which was in the most exposed and hottest part of the vegetable garden is now shooting again with the cooler weather so that is good news. Just growing the plant is beneficial to the garden as it produces a long root which creates nitrogen in the soil. Fruit trees like having  it as a companion. My next project is to let this plant go to seed, and harvest and dry the seeds. It is a very old fashioned herb, originally used externally for medicinal reasons back in Great Granny's day, as poultices for sprains, arthritis, and a whole host of ailments.

It has been a welcome surprise to note that the comfrey flowers also attract the bees and butterflies to the garden. Some say that as a fertiliser it is better than cow manure, nicer to manage certainly, however it is quite an earthy experience collecting cow manure for the garden, don't you think? Just remember to dilute it as well. 

Beware though that when you harvest the leaves from established plants, wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants and shoes as the comfrey leaves will irritate the skin.

"Recipe for Comfrey Tea"

Fill a bucket about half full of torn up comfrey leaves. It may help to place a brick on top of the leaves. Fill the container with water and place a lid on top. The leaves will rot quickly, and the lid will keep the flies out. The water turns into a dark, smelly slush, and should be stirred a couple of times during the next fortnight. The longer you leave the mixture to brew, the darker the slurry will become.

Take the tea from the container and dilute it by at least 50 per cent. I suggest you fill an 8 litre watering can quarter full with the tea, and fill the rest with water. This will give you an effective tea solution. 

The tea can  be used as a side-dressing or foliage spray. The ideal situation is to be able to fertilise the plants every 10-14 days, particularly with fruit trees, from flowering to the setting of the fruit. As a foliage spray, it should also slow the development of mildew spores.

I have read that a high nitrogen fertiliser like this one, isn't a good idea for very leafy crops such as lettuce and spinach, as the nitrogen may cause them to go to seed prematurely, particularly  in the northern summer. I think that depends on the number of plants you are growing and your yield expectations.

Happy brewing!



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pearl Cafe, Brisbane

Coffee and cake at Pearl Cafe, 28 Logan Road , Wooloongabba, Brisbane was the perfect start to the 30th birthday celebrations for our beautiful daughter, Shannon. Although spoilt for choice for  coffee spots in Brisbane,  Pearl remains the favourite, probably because of the superior cakes they have out on show on their front counter and Shannon loves cake. I wonder where she gets that from. Michael looked after us very well, and by the time we left the late breakfast/brunch crowd was in full swing.

The cafe with its exposed original brick walls  is located in such an old and interesting area of Brisbane responding beautifully to the revitalisation occurring in many inner city areas today. All of the surrounding  shop locations, including expansive antique shops have a story to tell. If the violin restoration shop two doors up with its nostalgic selection of old musical instruments had been open I would have loved to visit and explore. It is by appointment only.

On the weekends  at Pearl be prepared for a queue at the front door, however it is well worth the wait.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Classic Crêpes

Classic French crepes on Shrove Tuesday, I am sure that is appropriate. This recipe
 is dedicated to Myrtille, my son Matthew's beautiful French partner, who has entertained
 and delighted us many times with her French crepes using this recipe.

She has been forced to graciously accommodate some Australian variations to the 
original recipe by the males in our family who insist there must also be a place for
 vegemite somewhere, when eating crepes, particularly on Australia Day. 

The following is Myrtille's authentic and never fail French crepe recipe with
variations, written by her.

Classic Crêpes

               350 g flour (plain, white)
               90 g butter
               75 g sugar
               5-6 eggs
- This recipe is only lightly sweet, and thus accommodates all kinds of toppings,
savoury included. - For more rustic-tasting and healthy crêpes, replace a third of
 the flour with buckwheat flour - for Britany crêpes, replace part or all of the milk
 with beer!

Secret procedure for a lump-free mixture without the need of a sieve…
1. Place butter in a large bowl, microwave briefly until liquid hot but not boiling
 (set aside a bit if necessary).
2. Mix in eggs and a bit of milk, then sugar.
3. Add all the flour, mix the thick mixture well. If too solid, add a touch of milk.
4. Once all the flour is well incorporated with no lump in sight, add a bit of milk,
 mix, and repeat until the mix becomes a fluid (but not too much liquid,
 otherwise it will not cook well).
5. Pour a scoop in flat pan (previously lightly oiled for the first crêpe, usually not
necessary for the following ones).
6. Once the first side detaches itself easily, make the crêpes do some acrobatics
 in the air, and voilà!

Examples of classic great toppings (most are best directly placed on the crêpe
in the pan while the second side is still cooking):


“Cheese & herbs”: cheddar, Italian herbs, fresh basil

“Double decker/the Lot”: eggs (+S&P) on folded crêpe (made first, slightly cut
egg white for firmer quicker),  on top of ham + mushrooms + capsicum + fresh spinach 
+ cheese on a second crêpe

“Honeyed goat”: Goat cheese (the firm type) + honey
“French-English Wars”: Ham + Jam 
“Die-hard Aussie”: Butter + Vegemite

“Suzette”: sugar + a touch of Cointreau or Grand Marnier, or simply squeezed
   lemon juice
“Chocolate-almond”: shaved almonds + cooking dark chocolate
“Chocolate-banana”: sliced banana + cooking dark or white chocolate
“Plombières”: ice cream (kirsch flavoured, otherwise vanilla/cherry) + candied/glacé
   fruits and just by themselves:
-  Nutella, (real) maple syrup, fruits, etc…

Bon appetit!
This article and photos are Copyright (c) 2014 by Hope Pauline McNee, All rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Zucchini Pickles

Zucchini pickles, a delicious revelation. I found this recipe on the wonderful Not Quite Nigella website, under Gilli's Zucchini Pickles. Now that I have had a recent birthday ending in 0, and am retired from work, but not life, it is time I started pickling. I have now made two batches, as zucchinis have been in season,  and it is so rewarding and delicious. To my surprise however,  celery seeds were not available from the normal supermarkets so I improvised with the first batch and substituted celery salt instead and omitted the extra teaspoon of salt ingredient. They still tasted great. I have since found celery seed at the local Asian supermarket in Mackay, NQ, which is fantastic, so it is in the second batch which I think is more aromatic. What I love about this pickle is that the zucchini still maintains a delicate crunch and texture, and the pickling liquid is delicious married with oil to make a salad dressing.

Preparation time: 10 minutes with a mandolin or use the slicing function on your food processor

Waiting time: 4 hours (2 hours x 2)

Cooking time: 10 minutes (5 minutes x 2)

  • 1 kg / 2 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced, about 4 very large zucchini
  • 2 medium onions, white or red (thinly sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 level teaspoons yellow mustard seed
  • 1 level teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 level teaspoon turmeric
Tip: when dealing with this much zucchini and onions, use a mandolin to slice both as it will save considerable time and effort. Just watch your fingers, use the guard. I bought a mandolin especially for this recipe.

Step 1 - Combine the zucchini, onions and salt and stand for two hours. Rinse well and drain. You will be surprised at the amount of liquid.

Step 2 - Mix the vinegar, sugar, salt and spices in a large saucepan with a lid and bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and onion and stand for two more hours turning the zucchini over to marinate in the pickling solution. Reheat and boil for 5 minutes. 

Step 3 - Cool until warm and place in hot sterilised jars. Fill the jars to the top as the mixture packs down very well. Seal tightly and turn upside down for 15 minutes. Turn right side up and you should have a seal.

Neil is now using the pickled zucchini on his pizza, with cheese platters, with salad, and it all works well. It will also be delicious with Middle Eastern food, or just enjoy with a delicious goats cheese (my favourite) but any cheese will do, and with sliced pear.

This recipe makes about 9 jars of pickles.

Best wishes, 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cattleya Bowringiana

In my kitchen today I have my beautiful Cattleya Bowringiana Orchid, a consistently autumnal flowering orchid. It tried so hard to open for my birthday on 19th February, had it been sunnier it may have, however it was a beautiful surprise on the 20th. This orchid has been flowering since 2002, has been repotted a couple of times, and valiantly survived a move from Rockhampton to Mackay, North Queensland. This species is named after an English orchid grower who lived in the late 1800s.

I visited my friend Felicity this morning, and could tell her that her beautiful flowering orchid on the verandah is also a C. Bowringiana. However, I am by no means an expert. I inherited all of my orchids from my Mum, Hope,  five years ago and since then have added to them gradually and learned a lot. I have just been reading that it is one of the easiest orchids to grow, fantastic for the beginner, however can exceed all expectations if in the hands of an expert grower. Possibly I sit somewhere in between.

A flowering orchid makes for such a happy kitchen.