Chicken with black olives and oregano

cooking chicken with herbs and tomatoes

The food clock: a year of cooking seasonally, 320pp.
by Fast Ed Halmagyi
HarpersCollinsPublishers, Sydney, 2012
Cooking on page 32

This is second time I have cooked from a book by Fast Ed Halmagyi. The first was his flavour-packed and huge muffuletta sandwich, which appeared in his cookbook, An hour’s the limit.

The food clock is more than a cookbook. In addition to 150 recipes, it combines short stories and sketches about a fictional Monsieur Henri Petit-Pois as he potters through the year in his garden, home and community. The recipes are simple to prepare and make the most of fresh, seasonal ingredients.

chicken with oregano and olives

Chicken with black olives and oregano

4 chicken marylands (thigh with drumstick attached)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
90g (1/2 cup) marinated black olives, halved and pitted
1/2 preserved lemon (skin only), thinly sliced
250g cherry tomatoes
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 bunch of oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

chicken browning preserved lemons fennel, oregano and preserved lemons

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then sear in a large frying pan with the olive oil over high heat for 3 minutes, turning several times until well browned.

Mix in the olives and preserved lemon, then turn the heat to moderate and fit the lid. Cook gently for 15 minutes until the chicken is firm to the touch, then add the tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes until the tomatoes are softened and the chicken juices run clear when pierced at the joint.

Stir in the fennel and chilli, scatter over the oregano, then serve immediately.

How it played out
I first heard of the chicken cut called maryland (thigh with attached leg) when I came to Australia in the 1980s. It’s not an expression I ever heard in the USA, but perhaps it has regional usage. All I know is that it’s the perfect combination for dark meat lovers like all of us. 

This recipe is easy-to-make, so I followed the instructions. That said, I cooked the chook (Aussie slang for chicken) in my Le Creuset frypan because the lid fits tightly. The pan’s enamel coating keeps the chicken from browning completely, but that’s more an appearance than flavour issue. 

The preserved lemon was from a batch my friend, Caroline, and I made last year. What a treat. Feeling brave, I used the mandolin to cut the fennel. Someday I’ll get used to that finger-slicing fiend. 

chicken and vegetable dish

While I like fennel—and am especially fond of a raw fennel salad with lemon and Parmesan cheese—I allowed the fennel to cook for a few minutes to take the edge off its rawness.

We thoroughly enjoyed the chicken, olive and oregano, but were rather disappointed with the fennel. It seemed to be an after-thought ingredient and I wouldn’t use it again in this recipe. Everything else about this recipe worked for us. 

The Food Clock cookbook

Oh, and I just realised that most of the pics don’t show much of the oregano garnish. My garden is overrun with oregano, but I took all these pics before I had sprinkled it liberally over the entire dish. Hey, these things happen.

If you’re a fan of chicken, you might like the post I did on a couple of fellows dealing with 20 kilos of chicken in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Or check out the amazing chef we encountered when we stayed at a classy campground on the banks of the Ganges River in India.

Posted in Main dish, Poultry, Vegetable | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Frozen strawberry margarita

tequila, triple sec, lemon

Mexicali rose: authentic Mexican cooking, 160pp.
by Lori Horton
New Holland Publishers, Sydney, 2009
Cooking on page 132

This is the first of two cookbooks by Lori Horton of Mexicali Rose Restaurant in Melbourne. Her second book, Mexican authentic cooking, came out last year.

Mexicali Rose has been around for 35 years. While Horton has owned it for the last 12 years, she and her family have a long history with Mexican food and cooking.

Drinks don’t pop up often on page 32s, but this book has a margarita recipe. Oh yum! Especially because it’s red and Christmas.

strawberry margarita

Frozen strawberry margarita

sugar for frosting glasses
3/4 cup (180ml) gold tequila
1/2 cup (125ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
60ml (2 fl oz) triple sec
1 cup frozen strawberries
1/4 caster sugar
8 cups ice
fresh strawberries for garnish

Place enough sugar onto a saucer to cover the base to about 2mm deep. Run a lemon wedge around the rim of each margarita glass and dip each glass in the sugar to lightly coat just the rims. Set the glasses aside upright.

caster sugar, strawberries

Pour the tequila, lemon juice, triple sec, ice, strawberries and caster sugar to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into the prepared glasses. Garnish with fresh strawberries.

Serves 4.

How it played out
I’ve been hanging out to make this recipe for holiday drinks and reckoned Christmas was the perfect time. Strawberries were luscious and on special at the markets yesterday afternoon, so I bought a pound of them for A$6. I used just under half for this recipe.

Made as written except that I don’t own a blender, so had to use the food processor, and I used regular tequila (not the gold version). Oh, and I was a tiny bit short of ice.

I don’t own proper margarita glasses, but I have some lovely dessert goblets that were fine for the job. They hold just over 5 ounces each (160ml), so the recipe made 6 drinks, rather than the suggested 4.

Confession: I’m not a big fan of cocktails, but I’ve always enjoyed a standard margarita with a salted rim. I wondered if this sweeter version would live up to my expectations, and I can report that it did in every way.

Mexicali Rose cookbook

We all enjoyed this festive drink. It was totally delicious, colourful and perfect for Christmas Day drinks. But, trust me, you don’t have to wait for a holiday to enjoy this.

Christmas is a time for joy, as well as sadness. It’s a chance to think of those who are no longer with us, and remember happy and sad times of the past. Syria will always have a place in my heart at Christmas. Libby, our first daughter, was born in Damascus, and had her first Christmases there.

In 2009, we were lucky enough to celebrate one more Christmas in Syria—before the war began. My heart still breaks for the people of Syria. If a Syrian family should come to your community as refugees, please welcome and support them. They are good people—whether Muslim or Christian.

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Black forest mussels with mushrooms and brandy

mushrooms, double cream and onion

The great mussel and clam cookbook, 128pp.
by various contributors
New Holland, Publishers, Sydney, 2002
Cooking on pages 32–33

Seafood was an uncommon ingredient in meals when I was growing up. It was the 1950s and transporting fresh seafood to Nebraska—smack in the middle of the USA—was a challenge. Of course, there were frozen options, but I can only recall my mother and grandmother cooking with fish fingers, tinned tuna and the fresh fish my grandfather caught in a lake during summers.

My first encounter with grilled fresh prawns was on the beach in Alexandria, Egypt. The prawns were gigantic and delicious. Near our table, a local fellow with stainless steel teeth played the bagpipes. How could I forget that?

My first memory of eating mussels was in Belgium in the 1970s, and the best I’ve ever eaten were on the mussel platter for two at The Mussel Pot restaurant in Havelock, New Zealand’s capital of green lip mussels.

I’m still trying to recreate some of the dishes from that amazing array of mussels and figured this book, which I bought secondhand at Canty’s Bookshop, might help.

Black forest mussels with brandy

Black forest mussels with mushrooms and brandy

30g/1 oz butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
145g/5 oz finely sliced black forest mushrooms or field mushrooms
1 clove garlic, chopped
1kg/2 1/4 lb black mussels, cleaned
100ml/3 1/2fl oz white wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons thickened or double cream
30ml brandy
fresh parsley

brandy and wine field mushrooms

Place butter, onions, mushrooms and garlic in a pot and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Add mussels, white wine and seasoning. Cook mussels until all mussels have opened, stirring frequently, Add cream and stir for 30 seconds. Add brandy and cook for another 1 minute. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Serves 4.

How it played out
Most Sunday afternoons I head out to the Fyshwick Markets for the blitz of specials they have before the market closes for three days. Sometimes mussels are one of the bargains.

Last week I had success and bought a kilo of black mussels for $6. There weren’t any black forest mushrooms—not sure they are even available in Australia—but field mushrooms were plentiful.

Mussel and clam cookbook

Followed the recipe as written, using double cream, St Agnes brandy (an Aussie brand) and a nice dry Blind Side white purchased through Naked Wines, which supports new Aussie winemakers.

Luckily only one mussel didn’t open, so Poor John and I could have a real feast.

I served this with buttered slices of my homemade sourdough rye bread. It’s not on any page 32, but I’m happy to share the recipe if anyone is interested.

A yummy and light meal. Still not quite as good as any of the dishes we had in Havelock, but still well worth repeating whenever mussels are on special.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue my attempts to recreate a memory.

Christmas is nearly here. We’ll be having a lamb roast on the 24th and a spread of seafood on Christmas Day. That reminds me of our Christmas in Brazil’s Pantanal. We started the day fishing for piranha—they are so easy to catch—and then ate the catch for lunch.

mussels and mushrooms


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Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns and lemon

beans, garlic, oil

Cooking at home, 250pp.
by Karen Martini
Penguin Australia, Camberwell, Victoria, 2008
Cooking on page 32–33

I’ve always liked Karen Martini’s recipes. Although not found on any page 32, her Spanish-style spiced almonds are a family favourite, which I’ve tweaked a bit over the years. They’re better than anything you’d buy.

Her career in Australia’s food industry began at age 15 at Mietta’s in Melbourne. And she’s gone on to head top restaurant kitchens including the Melbourne Wine Room, Sydney’s Dining Room and her own artisan pizza restaurant Mr Wolf. She’s also been food editor of the Sunday Life magazine.

After she had her first child in 2006, she’s thought a lot about creating recipes that can be put together at home quickly and simply, and with great effect. This cookbook is the result.

Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns and lemon

Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns and lemon

200 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slice, plus 1 extra clove, peeled and left whole
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 400 g cans cannellini beans, drained
500–600 ml stock or water
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves chopped and ground in a mortar and pestle with a little sea salt
1 lemon
8 thin slices baguette or 4 large slices rustic bread, cut in half
5 large green (raw) prawns, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, torn

cooking beans mashed beans

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook for 3 minutes, then season with salt. Add the cannellini beans, stock or water and rosemary and cook for about 8 minutes or until the beans are very soft. Remove from the heat and drain (reserve the liquid).

Mash the beans with a fork or the back of a spoon (add some of the reserved liquid if the paste is too dry) and drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Toast the bread and rub generously with the whole garlic clove. Spread with the mashed cannellini beans.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chopped prawns and cook until they just change colour. Season, then add the parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Spoon the prawns over the beans and season with a generous grinding of black pepper.

Serves 8 as a starter or antipasto.

How it played out
I made half a batch, using one can of beans, vegetable stock and a total of 3 tablespoons of oil (or about 45 ml instead of 100 for half a batch). I used 1 1/2 tablespoons to fry the garlic and then another 1 1/2 tablespoons to finish off the beans. I didn’t need to add any of the reserved liquid.

I bake bread a couple of times a week, so used a couple of slices of a nice rye instead of baguettes. One of these days I’ll get around to making my own baguettes. Anyone got a good recipe?

Karen Martini

Super easy to make. The cannellini mixture was so completely delicious that I ate a few spoonfuls of it before spreading it on the toast. The chopped prawns on top were nice, but not essential. I reckon the beans on toast plus the chopped parsley would make a great starter (appetiser) or antipasto offering.

You’ll notice from the photo below that I added a bit of cocktail sauce to the finished toast—just to add a bit of zing to the prawns.

P.S. Poor John and I each had two largish pieces of toast and there was enough leftover for a good-sized third serving. A bit of yum for tomorrow!

Some of you may know the musical properties of beans—as in ‘beans. beans, musical fruit’. Here’s one of our South American experiences with beans.

Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns, lemon and cocktail sauce

Posted in Appetiser, Fish and seafood, Snack | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Fettuccine al gorgonzola

gorgonzola and ParmesanMargaret Fulton’s book of Italian cooking, 95pp.
by Margaret Fulton
Octopus Books, London, 1983
Cooking on page 32

Margaret Fulton was Australia’s first cooking guru, and she has gone on to be an influential food writer and commentator.

Her early recipes encouraged Australian homemakers to alter their routine menu of ‘meat and three vegetables’ and to be creative with food. She also brought them international cuisines from exotic places such as Spain, India and China thorough her articles in the Women’s Day magazine.

I bought this book, featuring her Italian recipes, for $1 at the city’s recycling centre. I have plenty of Italian cookbooks, so I’ll return this one so they can resell it.

Fettuccine with gorgonzola

Fettuccine al Gorgonzola

375 g (12 oz) fettuccine
salt and pepper
30 g (1 oz) butter
5 tablespoons milk
125 g (4 oz) Gorgonzola cheese, diced
½ cup cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1–2 tablespoons chopped basil (optional)

cream, milk, fettuccine pasta with gorgonzola

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain thoroughly. Meanwhile, but the butter, milk and Gorgonzola cheese into a flameproof casserole. Place over a moderate heat and mash the cheese to a creamy sauce. Add the cream, and salt and pepper to taste and heat to simmering point.

Stir in the pasta, Parmesan cheese and basil if using. Toss until the pasta is coated, then serve immediately with extra Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4.

How it played out
It was easy to choose recipes when Ralph, a 15-year-old French exchange student, was staying with us earlier this year. He exercised hard—jogging, skateboard, mountain bike, gym—and loved pasta. The fact that he loved all kinds of cheese made it even easier.

Italian cookbook, Fulton

I had all the ingredients on hand, so made this as written, using a lovely Gorgonzola, which is an Italian blue-veined cheese. Turned out I was a little short on basil, but had enough to impart the right flavour.

Poor John and I each had a serve and Ralph polished off the rest. 🙂

A great recipe for a busy day. Super easy to make and calls for ingredients that I usually have on hand. Confession—I don’t always have Gorgonzola in the fridge, but it keeps well so I often buy a pack, knowing I’ll use it in something within a few weeks.

Try this for dinner, lunch, a side dish or even an afternoon snack for hungry teenagers.

P.S. My dear friend, Ken, says he makes a similar recipe and often adds crumbled bacon and, when in season, some chopped asparagus. Oh yum!

It’s been years since we visited Italy, but we’ve had plenty of encounters with cheese. Check out the ropes of dried cheese we saw last year at a market in Bhutan.

pasta with cheese


Posted in Cheese, Dairy, Main dish, Pasta, Side dish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Menenas with dates

Menenas ready to bake

Cooking from the heart: a journey through Jewish food, 320pp.
by Hayley Smorgon and Gaye Weeden
Hardie Grant Books (Australia), Richmond, Victoria, 2012
Cooking on page 232

I bought a 1.3-kilo bag of dates on special so headed to the library to find a page-32 recipe that called for a lot of dates. This book delivered the goods.

It’s a collection of recipes and stories that have been gathered from 27 Jewish people who have migrated to Australia from all parts of the world.

The recipe here is from Myriam Romano, who came to Australia in the 1950s from Egypt (via Italy). In her story, she recalls experimenting in Australia with all types of recipes, and remembers the Greek delicatessens were the best sources of ingredients she knew.

Menenas with dates

Menenas with dates

500 g pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
icing sugar, for dusting

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
250 g butter, melted
1/2 cup water (or 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup milk)
2 tablespoons orange blossom water

melted butter flours and butter dough to refrigerate

To make the pastry, combine the flours in a large bowl, then pour in the melted butter and mix using your fingers. Slowly mix in the water and orange blossom water with your whole hand, until the dough is malleable. Roll the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Put the dates in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 165°C (Gas 3). Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Process dates in a food processor with the cinnamon until mixture resembles a paste. Roll out some of the dough on a lightly floured surface, into a 20 x 15 cm rectangle. Spread with some of the date paste, then roll up the pastry from one end to form a Swiss roll. Cut the roll into 3 cm slices. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Place the slices on the baking trays, not too near each other. Bake for 20 minutes, but be careful not to brown the pastry as it can become too hard.

When cool, dust the pastries with icing sugar.

Makes 20–25.

rolled out dough date mix on dough

date mix spread on dough

How it played out
I made the pastry and filling as written, and then it came to rolling out the dough. So let’s get into a little mathematics. Don’t be scared. This will be easy. And it will help you to get the best out of this recipe.

One side of each piece of pastry dough is 20 cm and the other is 15 cm. No matter which way I roll the dough, I’m never going to end up with a total of 20 to 25 pieces.

This is because if each slice is to be 3 cm wide, I’ll get just under 7 slices from the 20 cm side, and only 5 slices from the 15 cm side.

I filled each of the two pieces of dough and then rolled them so I could cut along the 20 cm side. I managed to get 8 slices from each roll, for a total of 16 slices.

If I had rolled the sheets of dough into larger rectangles, say 30 by 15 cm or more, I could easily have had a total of 20 to 25 slices. I’d have also had menenas with a better distribution of filling to dough.

I’m guessing the printed dimensions for the sheets of dough are wrong, and should be larger as I suggested above. I suspect this mostly because I’ve lived in Egypt and know how menenas ought to look.

My fat slices also took longer to bake than the suggested 20 minutes.

Cooking from the Heart

Once you sort out the measurements for this recipe, I think you can have an excellent result.

Knowing menenas, as I do, I thought there was way too much filling per slice, but this got excellent reviews from two groups of people. Petra’s work colleagues loved it, as did my friends at our monthly morning tea at seniors’ gym.

That said, when I make this again, I’ll roll out the dough to a larger size so I can get 20 to 25 slices. I may even need to double the dough recipe, or halve the date mixture.

We travel extensively—we’re in India at the moment—and food is am important part of our experiences and enjoyment of new destinations. A favourite stop was at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Mussoorie.


Posted in Baking, Dessert, Snack, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Peppered chicken

Onions, peppercorns, capsicumThe complete stir-fry cookbook, 256pp.
edited by Jane Price, Family Circle Kitchens
Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2000
Cooking on page 132

This book is used regularly in my house. I bought it when it first came out and it’s been a wonderful resource.

I confess that I don’t so much follow the recipes, but instead use them as a guide for deciding on a sauce that will go with the protein and vegetables I have on hand.

After a busy day, I grabbed this book for ideas. Turns out I didn’t have enough of the ingredients for page 32, but had everything for page 132. I promise to get back to page 32 one of these days.

Peppered chicken

Peppered chicken

1 tablespoon oil
2 chicken breast fillets, cut into strips
2 1/2 teaspoons seasoned peppercorns
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 red capsicum (bell pepper), cut into strips
2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

Heat a wok over high heat, add the oil and swirl to coat the base and side of the wok. Add the chicken strips and stir-fry for 2–3 minutes, or until they are browned.

Sautéing chicken and vegetables Chicken and vegetable stir-fry

Add the peppercorns and stir-fry until they are fragrant. Add the onion and capsicum and stir-fry for 2 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened slightly.

Reduce the heat and stir in the oyster sauce, soy and sugar. Toss well to thoroughly combine before serving.

How it played out
This was an empty-part-of-the-fridge recipe. I had two chicken breasts and a capsicum (bell pepper) that were near the end of life, so I got to work slicing them.

I didn’t have seasoned peppercorns, but I did have separate bottles of black, white, Szechuan (Sichuan) and green peppercorns, so it was easy enough to create my own mix.

Followed the rest of the recipe as written. Served with noodles, broccoli and a salad.

Stir-fry cookbook

So quick and easy to make and so full of flavour. The peppercorns make this dish and we especially loved the addition of the Szechuan and green versions.

I’ll keep this handy for busy nights because I almost always have these ingredients on hand. Yummo!

We’re travelling in India at the moment—enjoying enormous quantities of spicy and memorable dishes. Wish I could take home one of the cooks. At least I’ve bought a couple of cookbooks.

Posted in Light meal, Main dish, Poultry, Vegetable | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment