Chicken, Olive & Potato Tray Bake

This is one of my all time favorite easy weeknight dinners. It’s one of those fast & easy meals that you can quickly whip up by tossing everything in a casserole tray & popping it in the oven. It’s easy to scale & not very sensitive to quantities, so it really doesn’t matter if you only accidentally add 1/3 cup of balsamic instead of 1/4 cup. The best bit is that it tastes even better on the second night as leftovers – so make a double batch & save yourself an extra night of cooking!

Chicken, Olive and Potato Tray Bake

Ingredients

4 large potatoes (I like to use Yukon Gold)

700g Bone-In Chicken Thighs (or wings and drumsticks – the important thing is for the bone to be there)

200g mushrooms

4 Sprigs of Rosemary

A head of garlic

Olives

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp cornflour

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)

2. Cut the potatoes in half length ways and then slice into 1cm fingers. Arrange in a large casserole dish.

2. Arrange chicken on top of the potatoes. Scatter the olives, garlic cloves, rosemary and mushrooms evenly across the casserole dish

3. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the casserole dish

4. Mix the cornflour together with a little water and combine it with the stock and balsamic vinegar. Pour the mixture over the casserole.

5. Bake uncovered for 60-90 mins (until chicken thighs and potatoes are cooked through)

Recipe Modifications

If you want to bulk it out with other things you may have in your fridge, I’ve found the following additions work well

Steamed greens (Beans, Brocolli, etc) – Steam these as you normally would & add them to the casserole just before serving. These can add a nice freshness to the dish.

Cauliflower – Cauliflower is an incredible flavor absorber and this recipe has loads of flavor!! You can put cauliflower florets in the tray to bake with the rest of the dish or make cauliflower rice & serve the casserole on a bed of cauliflower rice

Vegan\Vegetarian version – My mum makes a great vegan/vegetarian version for my dad by swapping the chicken for extra mushrooms & some firm tofu and replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock.

2019 Kitchen Resolutions

Over the last year I’ve been trying to improve my weeknight meal & food shopping organisation. In the course of trying to better plan out my meals & become more organised, I’ve noticed that during the weeks I get it right, I’m significantly happier & far less stressed. Even though I love cooking (& I’m pretty good at it), there’s something stress inducing about the evening meal especially when you get home late, you haven’t got anything planned & only have 45mins to feed & bath a toddler & get him into bed before he has meltdown & the whole evening turns into a total shitshow.

Anyway like I said, to avoid this I started getting a lot more organised, doing the shopping every Saturday morning, spending an hour or so on meal prep on the weekend & having everything ready so that cooking the weeknight meals wouldn’t take more than 15-30mins. Last year it worked well because I largely stuck to meals I regularly cook & didn’t need recipes for. This year I wanted to branch out a little more & try out some new recipes. I also want to get better at eliminating kitchen waste, trying to pick recipes that utilize similar ingredients for the week or month to minimize the amount of leftover, half used bottles of random stuff in my fridge & pantry. I’m hoping that documenting what I do here will help keep me accountable & maybe even help others out who are trying to do the same thing.

Each week I’ll post a list of meals that I’ll be making. I’ve established a rough set of guidelines for recipe selection;
– Each week I have to use up something that has been sitting in my pantry for a while, for example an old pack of rice noodles or can of beans
– Each week I have to use at least 1-2 sauces/pastes etc that are currently sitting in my fridge
– If I have to buy a new sauce or paste for a recipe, I need to find recipes to use it multiple times that month
– The recipes I pick each week should use up any fresh produce I need to buy, for example if a recipe calls for half a bunch of parsley, then I need to make some other things with parsley that week or find a way to preserve it for use another week.

I’m on maternity leave for the first few weeks of this year so will have a more time than usual to plan & prepare meals, but at the same time I really don’t want to be spending huge amounts of time prepping the weeknight meals so hopefully I can develop some good habits over the next few months that will carry me through the rest of the year.

Sewing for a new bub

I recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. One of the things I was most excited about was all of the fun things that I could sew for her, after all, as a child all of my favourite dresses & outfits were things that my Mum had made for me.

I also have a number of fabric scraps that I’d been saving over the years from past projects or from various family members collections that are really only big enough to make something for a baby or small child.

These are the first two things I made for the new bub.

The purple dress was made using a small scrap of corduroy I had from my husband’s grandmother’s fabric collection. I used Simplicity 1205 as a basis for this dress, however it was a pretty small scrap of fabric & I actually didn’t have enough to make the dress per the pattern, so I reduced the amount of gathers in the skirt, thereby reducing the width of the pattern piece. This ended up being a good move because the pattern recommends thinner fabrics than corduroy & I think it would have been too bulky gathering that much corduroy. I also combined the chest band with the upper shoulder portion rather than adding a decorative chest band. I added the trim around the sleeves for an extra bit of fun.

The grey dress was made using a quilted jersey I found at Joanns. I used Simplicity 8346 to make this dress & for once in my life made zero alterations to the pattern. I simply fell in love with this pattern when I first saw it – isn’t it just the sweetest little dress?! This was a lovely pattern to make – it was relatively simple & came together very nicely in a single afternoon. II wanted to make something a little more casual than what was pictured on the envelope, so the quilted jersey was the perfect fit!

Next on my list is to make McCalls M4424 in a navy corduroy.

Tropical Dream Cake

Do you ever bake a cake just to use up some odd ingredients you have left over from other recipes? I had a few egg whites left over after making the fruit mince pie pastry earlier in the week & wanted to make something to use them up. I also had a HEAP of tinned passionfruit pulp in the cupboard & some limes that were getting a little long in the tooth so decided to throw it all together in a tropical version of Flour & Stone’s Lemon Dream Cake, (you can find the base recipe for this cake here).

There were a number of changes I made to the recipe. I added the following ingredients to the cake batter;
– The juice & zest of one lime
– 70g of desiccated coconut
– An additional 20g of self raising flour

I used a single 9×13 inch tray to bake the cake in rather than two 22cm diameter cake pans & once the cake batter was in the baking tin I drizzled a 170g tin of passionfruit syrup over the batter & then added the meringue on top of that.

I cooked the cake for an additional 15-20mins because the syrup had made it very moist. I didn’t bother with the lemon curd or whipped cream though a dollop of whipped coconut cream would actually go very nicely with this cake.

The resultant cake was really quite nice, the meringue came out crispier than usual due to the longer bake time but provided a really nice textural contrast to the cake. The cake itself was super moist & almost like a drizzle cake with the passion fruit syrup soaking all the way through.  I’m pretty happy with it & will most likely make it again in the future. It doesn’t look like the most tropical cake around but it certainly tasted it.

NYE 2017

For New Years this year we hosted a big dinner party at home. Because it was New Years I wanted to go all out & make it completely over the top. I decided that in order for a dish to make it onto the menu it had to be bloody hard or very time consuming to make. I think most of my friends thought I was pretty crazy (especially since I had a one year old running round the house) but they were happy to enjoy the results.

There was a LONG list of possible dishes that I looked into trying to re-create at home from some of my favourite restaurants. I spent a few weeks researching them all. The criteria I ended up using to decide which dishes would make it was;
1. I could actually get the ingredients I needed for the dish (the Movida dish almost didn’t make it because I had a tough time finding a good quality dried beef)
2. I could make it without having to purchase any crazy expensive specialist equipment (the Croquembouche very nearly didn’t make it because of this – I ended up buying a giant traffic cone/witches hat from Amazon for $16 instead of the $200+ on a special mold)
3. I could find a recipe from a reliable source that looked like it would provide similar results, so that I wouldn’t have to make 10 trials beforehand, (quite a few dishes got crossed off the list for this reason).

Here’s what I ended up with on the menu;

Entree – Son in Law Eggs (Gingerboy, Melbourne) & Air dried beef with Truffle Foam & Poached Egg (Movida, Melbourne)
Main – Lavender & Honey Duck (Eleven Madison Park, New York)
Dessert – Croquembouche (Adriano Zumbo)

The Son in Law Eggs from Gingerboy ended up being the easiest both to make & to find a recipe for. Gingerboy put the recipe up on their website, you can find it here. I thought that these would be a lot harder to make, but the recipe was really good & provided detailed instructions on timing & temperature for the cooking of the eggs.

The beef with truffle foam & poached eggs was also pretty easy to make. I made the truffle foam in the morning on the day of the party & then poached the eggs just before serving. The truffle foam recipe I used you can find here.

For the Lavender & Honey Duck I found this article explaining the process they follow to make this duck at the restaurant & then tried to match a recipe to it. For the preparation & cooking of the duck itself I ended up using this gourmet traveller recipe for roast duck. To work out the ratios of the spice mix I sprinkled a teaspoon at a time of each of the ingredients onto a tray trying the match the appearance & distribution of each from the pictures in the article. Here’s the ratios I ended up with.

Lavender & Honey Duck Spice Mix
2 parts Lavender
5 parts Cumin Seeds
5 parts Coriander Seeds
2 parts Sichuan Peppercorns

The croquembouche was made using this recipe. But for some reason the Masterchef Australia website has left off the ingredients for the Creme Patisserie & Toffee, luckily though, this blog has the recipe on it. This was the dish that took most of my time & the one I was most worried about. It took me almost an entire day to make and at almost every step along the way I was paranoid it was all going to fail miserably! I’m very happy to report though that it all worked out & I only ended up with two minor toffee burns – success!

Filling all the pastries

Success! I got it out of the mold.

The finished product – complete with spun sugar!

The cooking & prep for this dinner party was seriously hard work, and I enjoyed every single second of it. It was a great way to round out the year, doing something I thoroughly enjoy to bring happiness to my friends. 🙂

Halloween 2017

This year was our first real opportunity to get dressed up as a family for Halloween. So of course, it had to be Star Wars! Our little one is still too young for trick or treating but we had a party to go to & couldn’t resist dressing up the whole family.

I was super happy about how this costume turned out, especially since two of the three costumes took next to no time to make.

The Ewok costume was crazy easy to make. I bought this teddy bear suit & removed the bow tie. Then I roughly cut out the shape of a t-shirt out of a bit of brown fabric I had lying round (I used a t-shirt of my husband’s as a guide) & sewed it together. To fit it, I put the bub in the teddy bear hat, the neckhole in the t-shirt became the opening for his face & his arms when through the arm holes. To hold the brown fabric in place all I had to do was cut slits for the ears to pop through. This took me 15mins – I was pretty impressed. The brown drape held in place really well with just the holes around the ears.

I was really worried that the bub would be really upset about being in this costume all afternoon, but he was fine. Normally he hates having hats on his head but he didn’t try to remove this one at all! It was probably because he was too busy holding the giant fake spear my husband made for him (it was cardboard).

My costume was also pretty easy to make, in that it was all clothes from my wardrobe & I didn’t have to modify any of them! The only thing that needed to be made was the helmet. My husband made this for me out of some old Amazon boxes & spraypaint we had lying round in the garage.

The real labor of love though was the Han Solo costume my husband wore. I had actually made this for him 2 years ago for a Halloween party. I’d promised to make him whatever he wanted to wear for Halloween & he’d asked for a Han Solo costume. Within a minute of agreeing to make this costume for him, my husband had inundated my email account with links to Star Wars fan sites explaining how everything had to be made just right. As this was pre-baby & I had bucket loads of time I actually paid attention & spent more time than I care to admit researching the difference between Han’s vests & pants in the different movies (yes – my husband had specified which movie’s version he wanted). The hubby was (& still is) pretty chuffed with the outcome.

In case you were wondering about the gun belt & blaster – my husband made these himself. I helped him with the patterning so it would actually look like what he wanted & hang right, but he did all the rest.

Hope you all have a super fun Halloween!

 

Polish Honey Cake

Without a doubt this version of a Polish Honey cake of my favorite cakes to make when the weather starts to cool off. There is something so comforting about the flavour of spiced honey. When paired with a nice cup of tea it makes for the perfect afternoon tea on the weekend.

The recipe for this cake comes from Belinda Jeffery in the Australian Delicious magazine (June 2010). You can find it online here.

I’ve made this cake countless times over the last 7 years & it is consistently good. The texture is soft & moist, the flavour rich & the kitchen is filled with the most beautiful aroma when it’s cooking. The honey is clearly the star of the show yet the cake isn’t sickly sweet. Instead it allows you to really appreciate the different notes of the honey. The flavour changes with different types of honey & I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with different types. My only problem is they’re all so good I can’t pick a favourite!

Pleating Fabric

Recently, I’ve been obsessed with fabric pleating. I don’t know how many videos I’ve watched of fabric pleaters making paper molds & pleating fabric. There’s something very calming about watching someone pleat fabric. I think it’s the precision & symmetry of it that appeals to me.

After a while though, I started to think, this isn’t all that hard, surely I could do this at home.

I had a skirt that I wanted a pleated panel for. I had a look in my local fabric store for pre-pleated panels but they didn’t stock many & I didn’t really like any of the colours or fabrics. Then I had a look online. There’s a lot of fabric pleaters out there, but I just didn’t want to pay a huge amount of money for a small panel of pleats.

So I decided to give it a go myself. After all it’s just making a paper mold & baking it in an oven right?

The first time I found out about the pleating process was in this blog post from Poppykettle. This Threads article explained the basics quite well so I started with that & looking back over all the YouTube videos & articles I’d save to try to work out an actual method. This YouTube video was the most helpful for the actual bake temperatures & times. Also, I learnt a bit from someone I met at a supplier workshop (part of my day job as an engineer). By chance, his hobby was folding paper to create different types of expanding designs – he had some pretty incredibly patterns & so we ended up speaking for a while about creating different paper patterns.

The Pattern
I decided on a pattern of pleats that gradually reduce in size. So I set about making the paper mold. For the paper I used painter’s masking paper from Home Depot. It seemed to be a good weight & was the right size for what I needed to pleat, but mostly it was because we already had half a roll of it in the basement that was left over from painting our house.

I drew a series of lines with a ballpoint pen to mark out where the creases of each pleat would be. There were 3 lines for each pleat, an inward facing crease, outward facing crease & an alignment line (I used a different colour for each). The benefit of using a ballpoint pen was that it also slightly scored the paper if you pushed down on it, this made the subsequent folding portion easier.

Once that was complete, I started folding. This took the better part of an afternoon, but was a very relaxing activity.

Now technically you need two copies of the same mold for this pleating method to work, so I just cut mine in half as I didn’t need the pleated panel to be too long. Otherwise I would have had to make another identical mold.

The Fabric
The fabric I used was literally just some cheap polyester I found at JoAnns. The only criteria that I had was that I wanted the same fabric in a few different colours because I wanted different sections of the pleat to be different colours (because you know, why not make my life more complicated).

The Pleating & Baking
At this point I had to go back & start watching videos again to see how professional pleaters do the actual pleating. I tried so many different ways & I just couldn’t get the fabric to sit properly or to hold the paper molds in place properly. In the end I found this video most helpful.

I borrowed the hubby’s clamps & started by clamping the first part of the paper mold down at one end. Then I stretched it out & clamped it down on the other side

I laid the fabric over the mold. Because I had a seam where I had joined two pieces of fabric together, I had to align that with a specific point in the pleat mold. I used little bulldog clips to hold it in place (it was just what I had lying around).

Next I placed the second part of the paper mold on top & aligned the pleating points of both molds. At this point I also undid the clamps at one end & reattached them to secure both molds together, (one clamp at a time so that there was always at least 3-points of pressure on the stretched mold). Finally I removed the clamps at one end & started to re-fold the pleat board together with the fabric. As I went I used bulldog clips on either side to secure the folds temporarily.

I slid a baking tray under the molds (this was to make moving it to the oven easier) & put a heavy baking dish on top to hold the central part of the pleats in place.

I baked the pleats at 180C for 25mins.

The Results
I’m pretty happy with the results for a first try. The pleats themselves hold really nicely, however my technique clearly needs some fine tuning. Firstly, I think I need to reduce the bake time – there were a couple of areas of the fabric that developed little yellow spots during the baking that I want to avoid. Secondly I need to work on alignment – particularly of the seam, this flipped & slipped when I was putting the molds together so it doesn’t look right.

Hot Cross Buns

I never made hot cross buns before moving to the US. There was no point really, they are quite a bit of hard work to make & the bakeries near me all sold versions that were better than anything I could make. Then I moved to Michigan & it turns out, there aren’t many places you can go to get a hot cross bun around Detroit at Easter. Some friends found one bakery that sells them at Easter but you have to get there crazy early to get them before they sell out.

Now if I want to eat Hot Cross Buns at Easter, I have to make them myself. Every year for the past 3 years I’ve tried making hot cross buns. After a couple of years of making rock hard on the outside, doughy on the inside hot cross buns, I FINALLY made some this year that were close to the soft buns I remember from Australia.

I use this recipe from Gourmet Traveller.

The changes I’ve made so far are:-
– I kneaded the dough for just over 15mins instead of the 10 recommended. I used the window method to check the dough & make sure it had been kneaded enough
– For the second proof, I covered the tin with plastic wrap instead of a damp tea towel

These changes seemed to lead to a softer, smoother crust. Also spending hours watching the Great British Bake Off while I was on maternity leave probably helped too!

This year I made two types, dried fruit (my favourite) & chocolate (my husband’s favourite). The chocolate ones weren’t as good I think it’s because of when I added the chocolate chips & the temperature. I added them before the first proof which I think was a mistake. My friend Jacqui (who always gives me best baking advice!) suggested next time to add them after the first proof & to also freeze or refrigerate them before adding them to help the hold their shape & not end up with streaks of chocolate everywhere. I think it’s a good idea & I’ll give it a go next time!

Kyivskiy Dream Torte Take 2

So last week was my husband’s birthday & so to celebrate I took another swing at this Kyivskiy Dream Torte idea of mine & tried to address some of my concerns from the first iteration.

I was pretty happy with the results, there are still a couple of tweaks I want to make but all in all I think this version will be pretty close to the final version.

I didn’t think I changed that much until I sat down & read everything & realised I changed almost every element! Let’s start with the easy one, the chocolate hazelnut cream. In the last cake I first whipped the double cream with a whisk attachment in the stand mixer & then added the Nutella. This lead to the mixture almost looking curdled. So this time I took a different approach, I used the beater attachment instead of the whisk, I started by beating the hazelnut spread until it was a little smoother & less stiff. Then I started very slowly adding heavy whipping cream to the mix. This lead to a much softer, silkier dare I say more luscious chocolate hazelnut cream. I’m really happy with this part of the cake now so I’m going to leave it as is on future attempts.

For the cherries, unfortunately I had to use bottled Morello cherries in this cake so the flavor wasn’t the same as the fresh ones, but it’s winter in Michigan so I’ll have to make do. For this part I made the syrup the same way as last time but added xantham gum at the end to thicken the syrup & turn it into more of a sauce. This was the first time I’d ever used xantham gum so it took me a couple of attempts to get this right (I will admit my first attempt turned into a mucusy mess that was in no way appetising). In the end, because of the small amounts required & because I don’t have very accurate scales, I found the easiest way to control this was to first measure out a maximum amount – for me this was 1% by weight & this represented the amount of gum that would create a real mucus texture – then I slowly added a little bit at a time from that 1% & used a blender to mix it in. This way was much more effective for me to control the texture. I think I ended up with a ratio of around 0.5% but it wasn’t easy to tell. I was much happier with the texture of the sauce this time, but I think the flavor still needs a bit of a tweak for the bottled cherries.

Finally the meringue cake… I kept the meringue recipe from the original Lemon Dream Cake recipe, but for the cake version I went for a whole new recipe. I used this recipe for a Swiss Hazelnut cake. I really liked the flavor of this cake & it had a much more comparable cook time to the meringue cake so that helped. This recipe was mostly flour with a little bit of toasted hazelnut meal. The toasting process really helped to bring out the flavour of the hazelnuts without having to add a lot of them. This meant it wasn’t as heavy or as wet as the batter from the last recipe I used. One problem though was that this recipe was a sponge & so I had to be really careful when adding the meringue on top before baking so that the meringue wouldn’t sink in the cake batter. It came out pretty well, though I did over bake it so the meringue was overdone & cracked. Next time I’m going to be more diligent with the cooking time – I think I was just paranoid about the cake being raw.

I think I’m pretty close now. We have some friends coming over for dinner tomorrow, so I’m going to try to nail the flavours & textures in tomorrows version, then I’ll just have to work on the decoration! If all goes well I should have a recipe up on the blog next week.