Sunday, 30 November 2014

Basil Pesto with Semi Sundried Tomatoes



With the festive season upon us, Christmas drinks accompanied by fine cheeses and other accompaniments will be more popular than ever. A tasty and healthy pesto adds variety to the standard cheese platter and is so easy and economical to make, especially if you grow your own herbs.  Pesto requires a substantial amount of basil, so prevent your basil from going to seed in the heat of summer, prune it well, and use the surplus to make pesto. Or shop at  your local Farmer's Market and buy it in bunches. Leftover pesto can then be added to pasta dishes and vegetable soups, the options are endless really.

The following recipe is for a fairly standard pesto, however sometimes I love to make it more interesting by adding 1/2 cup of semi sundried tomatoes to the food processor with the basil, nuts and garlic, and by using some of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the tomatoes with the EVOO during the final processing.

If you make your own semi sundried tomatoes and basil pesto as I do, then with cheese, you have a wonderful selection of nibblies on hand to offer your guests.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups firmly-packed basil leaves, Italian or sweet basil is fine
1/2 cup good quality pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil e.g. Maggie Beer
60g parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup semi sundried tomatoes in Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)



Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 180⁰C. Spread the pine nuts over a baking tray. Bake in oven for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted. Remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
  2. Place the cooled pine nuts, basil, and garlic in the bowl of the food processor and process until finely chopped. Whilst the food processor motor is running, gradually add the EVOO in a thin steady stream until well combined and oozy.
  3. Transfer the pesto to a bowl. Stir in the grated parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to your taste and stir until well combined.
Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Pesto can also be frozen in a covered plastic or glass container by topping the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil. This prevents the top layer of pesto from darkening.

Variations:
  • For parsley and basil pesto, reduce basil to 1 cup and add 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley. 
  • For basil and almond pesto, replace pine nuts with toasted slivered almonds.
  • Add pesto to vegetable soup.
  • Add pesto to pasta.
Related links for additions to your cheese platter:

1. Make your own Mozzarella cheese:



Sunday, 16 November 2014

Lemon Crispies



This Lemon Crispy biscuit slice is a family favourite. When our children were still living at home,
we would always love travelling to visit my Mum in Rockhampton, knowing that there would be home baked cakes, biscuits and slices waiting for us on arrival. She was a great sweets cook. She used to cook this Lemon Crispy slice much earlier on and then for some reason it dropped off her repertoire. Neil and the children would continue to request it, however as she aged, her favourite few slices and cakes, which were all very nice, would reappear. Perhaps she lost the recipe or perhaps her arthritic hands found it difficult to cut crisp slices in baking tins. Unfortunately, I never thought to ask Mum why she no longer baked it, because I didn't really know what it was called, except that I knew it was lemony, and contained corn flakes, which I think is the secret ingredient.

I found Mum's recipe recently when I was perusing her old recipe books, which are amongst some of my most treasured possessions, and went out and bought corn flakes specifically so that I could make this slice. The corn flakes give the biscuit base a crispness and slightly nutty flavour, complimented beautifully by the slightly tart lemon icing. It turned out perfectly, and Neil has given it the seal of approval.

Mum's original recipe


Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups lightly crushed cornflakes
185g. butter, melted
1 1/2 cup SR flour
3/4 cup coconut
2 tablespoons coconut, extra

Lemon icing:
2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice (approx.)
15 g. butter, softened

To make the icing:
Combine sifted icing sugar with softened butter and enough lemon juice to mix to a thick spreading consistency. Keep beating the icing until very smooth and spreadable. It will spread beautifully over the hot biscuit base when cooked.

Let's cook:
1. Combine sugar, sifted flour, lightly crushed cornflakes and coconut in a bowl, and stir in the butter.
2. Press evenly with your hands or a small bottle into a greased Swiss roll tin (25cmx30cm).
3. Bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
4. When still hot, spread with Lemon Icing, sprinkle with extra coconut.
5. Cool in tin, and cut into desired sized squares when still slightly warm as it is easier to cut..

Cut into small dainty pieces, this would also be perfect served as part of a High Tea.

I wonder if everyone has family favourites like this slice that fond memories are associated with. I hope so.






Thursday, 13 November 2014

Easy Baked Chicken Casserole

Chicken casserole lends itself to easy, healthy, weeknight meals, created in one dish. This one is baked in an open dish, and can then be placed in a casserole dish to serve and be kept warm. I am realising more and more however, how important it is to buy good quality organic, free range chicken fillet, as the chicken is definitely more tender and tasty after being cooked. It isn't as risky cooking with thigh fillet which tends to be more tender,  however we are all becoming more conscious about the fat within and are opting for the more health conscious chicken fillet. This is a recipe which can be adapted according to your individual taste. I have kept it as nutritious and fat free as possible for this recipe.




Preheat the oven to 180 deg. C (350deg.F Gas 4)
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 free range chicken fillets halved lengthwise or 6 chicken thighs, fat removed
3 carrots, chopped
1 red capsicum, finely diced
4 shallots, or 1 red onion chopped
3 cloves garlic crushed (optional)
3 stalks celery chopped

Sauce:
400g tin chopped tomatoes or homemade tomato sauce
4 tablespoons white vinegar or white wine (of course I prefer wine)
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar or good quality honey
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus extra to serve
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons salt-reduced soy sauce

Let's cook:

Place the chicken in a baking dish which has been sprayed lightly with olive oil and scatter the fresh colorful vegetables over the top to cover the chicken. In a large jug, combine the remaining sauce ingredients and carefully pour over the chicken.

Bake in a moderate oven, uncovered for 1 1/4 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are soft. Serve garnished with extra parsley, ground black pepper,  roasted slivered cashews or almonds, a green salad,  and brown rice.

Enjoy and feel guilt free!!





Thursday, 6 November 2014

Low Fat Coconut Butter Chicken


SERVES 4

1 large onion, diced
25g coconut oil (Use instead of ghee or butter)
2-3cm knob of ginger, grated or chopped or use 1 tsp. ground ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cardamon (opt.)
1 tsp. ground coriander (opt.)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp garam masala
1 fresh chilli, chopped
1 tomato, diced
3 tbsp. reduced salt tomato paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
700g chicken breast (preferable to chicken thighs for low fat content although thighs have more flavour)
400 ml light evaporated milk (or coconut flavoured evaporated milk) )use instead of coconut cream
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves  to serve

Method:

1. In a frying pan over medium heat, cook onion in coconut oil until translucent, stirring regularly (about 15 minutes).
2. Turn heat down to low and stir in the garlic and spices (ginger, turmeric, and the garam masala). Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add chilli and tomato, cook until pulpy (about 10 minutes).
3. Add tomato paste and chicken. Coat chicken and fry, stirring for about 10 minutes.
 84. Add evaporated milk, lemon juice and stir, turn down heat and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes until chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened
5. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Take mixture off heat and garnish with coriander.

Be adventurous with your vegetables and try okra, eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, pumpkin, sweet potato or Asian water spinach.



Healthy Macaroni Cheese


Macaroni Cheese is a favourite dish of most people, and the ultimate form of comfort food. Unfortunately, eating too much of the traditional recipe which includes bacon and cream isn't really a healthy option.

The following recipe substitutes ham for bacon and light evaporated milk for cream, and is still tasty. You won't really notice any difference.

This is also very easy to cook when you are travelling.

Serves 6.

200g lean good quality ham (replacing 8 rashers bacon)
1 onion, diced
450g macaroni
1/2 cup reduced fat cheese, grated (replacing parmesan cheese)
300ml light evaporated milk (replacing cream)
Black pepper
Spray oil (instead of 2 tbsp. oil)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)

Method:

1. Chop the ham into chunks.  Fry ham in pan over medium heat with the onion until crispy, remove and then drain on a paper towel.
2. Boil a large pot of water and cook the macaroni for 9-10 minutes or until al dente. Drain the macaroni in a colander and return to the pot to keep warm adding a small amount of the drained liquid to keep the pasta moist.
3. Mix the cheese and evaporated milk in a bowl, add the mustard, then add the ham and onion. Pour over the pasta in the pot and toss gently with tongs.
4. Return the pan to a very low heat and cook approximately for 2 minutes, or until sightly thickened. Season with black pepper.

If you are feeling a little indulgent, add a small serve of grated parmesan over the dish for extra flavour, not that the dish needs it.