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.

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. 🙂

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!

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.

Friday Night Feast – February 2017

It has been over a year since I hosted a nice dinner with friends. In between pregnancy & looking after a little bub, it just hasn’t happened. As the bub gets older, he’s beginning to form a more predictable routine, particularly in the evening, which means I’ve started feeling like I can do normal adult things again, like host a dinner party. Whilst I’m still on maternity leave & have time, I decided to seize the opportunity to host a nice dinner party with a few friends.

I did make a few concessions with my meal planning for this dinner. In order for a dish to be on the menu, it had to be possible to make it ahead of time. I didn’t want to be worried about timing of things whilst trying to look after the bub if he was upset or hungry. Normally when I have a big dinner, I plan out a timetable for the day & cook to it. With a baby that’s still nursing that approach just isn’t realistic. Instead I wrote out a list of things I had to do, assigned priorities and then started knocking them off in between feedings or playing with the bub. I also started making a lot of stuff on the Thursday.

We started with some homemade breadsticks, Italian white bean dip & some Serrano Jamon a friend brought over. The recipe for the breadsticks & bean dip were from my new Delicious cookbook, At Our Table. Both were exceptionally simple to make & quite tasty. In fact the bread sticks turned out so well my husband assumed I’d bought them at the store. I’ll definitely be trying more recipes from this book.

For mains I cooked Gourmet Traveller’s Overnight Pork Shoulder. I got the pork shoulder from Farm Field Table in Ferndale. It was quite fatty (there was a good inch & a half of fat between the skin & meat, which worked really well with the long slow cook time. Basically as the fat melted it pooled in the pan & essentially became an oil bath. So after a few hours it was basically like cooking a confit. It also allowed the fennel to stay soft & silken whilst cooking. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the pork, I forgot to tie it up & so when we tried to extract it from the pan after cooking it literally fell apart (a good thing for eating, not so much for taking a photo though). Also by this point in the evening the bub had gone to bed & I had drunk a whole glass of wine, and promptly forgot to take photos of anything. Anyway, the only real alteration I made to the recipe was to crank the heat of the oven to 220C at the end to turn the skin to crackling (what’s roast pork without crackling?!). For sides we had green beans, roasted mushrooms (a selection of different types, i.e. shiitake, oyster), and a light salad.

Finally for dessert we had a collection of small treats & for once I actually tried to make an effort to make it look nice. Normally I’m the type of person who puts a meal down & says ‘Trust me – it tastes much better than it looks’, but one of the things I wanted to work on this year was presentation, so I tried. I made blood orange & almond cakes, rolled in crushed pistachios, orange confit jelly & kulfi.

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The blood orange cakes were made using Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake recipe. I just substituted blood oranges & adjusted the cooking time for bite sized cakes.

Kulfi is an Indian ice cream made by condensing milk & flavouring with spices like saffron or cardamom. I was first introduced to kulfi in Melbourne at a restaurant called Bombay by Night. It’s still the best kulfi I’ve ever had. I don’t know what made me think of it but I thought I’d try to make it myself. I used this recipe for the kulfi (recipe is at the very end of the article). I added 5 cracked cardamon pods to the milk during simmering as I love that flavour. I think my method still needs a little work. The flavour was definitely there – the nutty, sweet flavour of the milk & the hint of cardamon but the texture wasn’t quite right – there were a few too many ice crystals & it wasn’t quite as chewy as I remember. I think I should have heated the milk a little longer & allowed it to reduce more.

The orange confit jelly was a cobbled together recipe from a few different sources, here’s what I ended up with. It worked out quite nicely with a real tang to it, which contrasted nicely with the cake & kulfi.

Orange Confit Jelly

2 oranges, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
220g caster sugar (bakers sugar in the US)
Gelatin – refer to packet instructions for amount required for volume of liquid

Strain the orange & lemon juice through a sieve & heat together with the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced oranges & simmer for 10 mins. Remove from heat. Remove the oranges from the syrup & arrange in a tin. Measure the amount of syrup remaining & follow the packet instructions for the gelatin you’re using to combine the gelatin with the syrup. Pour the jelly syrup over the oranges & refrigerate to set. 

P.S. In case you were wondering, the bub behaved perfectly. He smiled at everyone when they arrived at about 6:30, I started his bedtime routine at 7 & I rejoined the party at 7:30. Then he slept for 10 hours! I have no idea how I got so lucky.

Hazelnut & Blood Orange Cake

This Gourmet Traveller recipe has been on my ‘to try’ list for a ridiculous amount of time. The problem was always the scarcity of the two main ingredients here in Michigan. Blood oranges are available here around January & hazelnuts are hard to find reliably (at a reasonable price), let alone hazelnut meal*.

However recently my friend told me that Trader Joes stock raw hazelnuts on a pretty regular basis, so this year when I saw blood oranges at the supermarket I decided to give this recipe a whirl.

I’m glad I did, this was really a lovely cake to make. It was super easy to make & tasted fantastic. I followed the instructions exactly. My only note is that I probably poured too much of the syrup into the pan before putting the butter on, it didn’t really affect the cake so much, but because I had a springform pan it leaked a little & left a bit of a gooey mess on the drip tray. I also didn’t have much syrup left over to pour on the cake to serve which is a shame because it was pretty tasty.

The end result was a very moist cake, not too sweet & not too tart – a perfect treat for afternoon tea. I’d happily recommend this recipe & will definitely be making it again next January.

*To make hazelnut meal myself, I just blitz hazelnuts in a food processor. It doesn’t come out as fine or as soft as a commercially bought meal but for most recipes it does the trick.

Kyivskiy Dream Torte

Fresh cherries are always a part of our families Christmas meals in Australia. So when my in laws brought back a box of fresh sour cherries from the Red Hill Cherry Farm two days before Ukrainian Christmas I had the perfect opportunity to experiment with a version of one of my favourite cherry cakes, a Kyivskiy Torte. Basically it’s hazelnut meringue layered with cherries and chocolate buttercream. Whilst you can get versions of it in Detroit, none of them come close to what we used to get from Cakes of Fantasy in Ormond (Melbourne, Australia), and as a result I’ve been missing it terribly.

I didn’t really want to recreate that cake exactly, (it’s a lot of work) but I did want something with similar tastes and textures. 

I started with this recipe from Gourmet Traveller for a Lemon Dream Cake and this recipe from The Women’s Weekly for a hazelnut cake.

There was a mismatch between the cooking times of the hazelnut cake and the original cake. So I tried to offset this by cooking the cake by itself for a little first. This also helped with the differences in consistency of the cakes, the dream cake batter is much stiffer and easier to spread the meringue on, while the hazelnut cake batter was quite sloppy.

Unfortunately this step, meant that the meringue didn’t really ‘stick’ to the top of the cake like it does with the dream cake. The other problem was that I used tins that were probably a little small so the cakes were VERY thick and took longer than expected to cook through. It was also not possible to layer them how I normally would.


Instead of layering the cakes with the cream and cherries in between I chose to fill the area under the meringue with cream and cherries. Unfortunately this meant the ratio of cherries and cream to cake was a little low.


For the cherries I simply cooked fresh sour cherries together with sugar and water (1 tsp of sugar for every 4 cherries). I also added a little gelatine to thicken it but I didn’t want it to be jelly so I didn’t add too much. I think next time I might try using something like Xantham gum for a better mouthfeel. I want it to be more like the texture of a lemon curd but don’t want to make a curd as the butter and eggs in the curd make it a little rich. If you have any suggestions for how I can best achieve this let me know in the comments.

For the cream I mixed double cream with a bit of nutella. Next time I think I’ll just use regular whipping cream as this mixture ended up a bit thick. I might try a couple of different ways of combining them together too so I can get a nice smooth texture.

On the whole this was a pretty good experiment. For all the issues I listed above the cakes tasted quite nice, I just need to to a little more work to get the ratios and textures right. The flavours were definitely spot on so I was really happy with that. I’ll definitely be making this one again sometime soon.