Roasted chicken breasts on the bone stuffed with spinach, bacon and mozzarella

There are so many stuffed chicken recipes available and they all look delicious!  Of course, most of them require the chicken to be skinned and boneless (which is good), and covered with bread crumbs and deep fried or baked which is not so good, when you are trying to cut on the carbs.  This recipe should make any person that follows the LCHF (#banting) diet very happy, although I could not resist adding a creamy white mushroom sauce, which the more disciplined among us can leave out, of course.

There is something very comforting about the smell of slow roasted chicken permeating through the house. It reminds me of big family dinners and a warm kitchen and puts me in the mood to invite friends over and open a bottle of wine. It is, of course, also perfect when entertaining- the chicken can be prepared before hand, popped into the oven, and give you a good hour and a half of wine and chatting before serving up.

I decided to keep the chicken on the bone to add more flavour and prevent it from drying out, and made an incision above and along the bone to form a pocket for the stuffing. I served this with a creamy mushroom sauce, but the pan juices that cook out of the chicken is sufficient as a sauce on its own. For this recipe, I only used two chicken breasts but it can easily be increased for more portions.

Stuffing:

8-10 baby spinach leafs, finely chopped

3-4 chives, finely chopped

2 slices smoked shoulder bacon, finely chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Melt the butter over moderate heat. Sauté the chives and bacon until done, and add the spinach. Sauté for another 3-4 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Remove from the heat, and add the grated mozzarella. Stir through, until every thing comes together (the cheese doesn’t have to melt completely, you just want everything to stick together). Add black pepper for taste.

Chicken:

2 large chicken breasts on the bone or 4 thighs on the bone

a dash of olive oil

1 tablespoon butter, cut into small blocks

3 small sprigs of thyme

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Make an incision above the bone along the length of the chicken breast to form a pocket. The same can be don for thighs which works just as well.

Remove any excess fat and skin.  Gently lift some of the remaining skin and insert 2 very small blocks of butter just below the skin as well as 2-3 thyme leafs. Insert a tablespoon of stuffing into the pocket, but without overfilling it.  Repeat for each chicken breast or thigh. Rub the top of the chicken with a drop of olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste and place in a prepared oven-proof dish that can be covered.  Cover the dish and place in the oven.  Bake covered for approximately 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover the chicken with any juices that has cooked out and bake uncovered for another 40 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Mushroom sauce:

125 grams white button mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup double thick Greek yoghurt

Melt the butter over moderate heat before adding the mushrooms. Fry the mushroom until softened and add the yoghurt.  Stir for another 3-4 minutes until heated through and it starts to boil. Remove from the heat.

I served the chicken with cous cous but it can be served with only a green salad on the side, and will still make for a very fulfilling meal!

 

Creamy chickpea and spinach curry

Autumn is slowly creeping up on us- leafs are starting to change colour and there is a bite in the air.  It is the perfect time to harvest the last of my spinach, pinch back the coriander and dig out the curry recipes.  This is a fragrant, wholesome vegetarian curry with chickpeas as the star of the dish.  Of course it is also a highly adaptable recipe and can be made more or less spicy to taste. You can also skip the yoghurt and still have a very delicious result.

I use double greek yoghurt instead of coconut milk-it contributes towards the same creamy taste but cost much less and is more versatile.  I still add desiccated coconut for that authentic indian curry taste.

This recipe gives four to six large portions. I served it with rice but it will go just as well with rootis or cous cous.

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked for at least 6-8 hours

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated

1-2 birds eye chillies, finely chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon turmeric

3-5 pods cardamom, skins removed

1 teaspoon ground allspice

2 tablespoon fresh, chopped coriander

2 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley

1/4 desiccated coconut

1/2 cup double greek yoghurt (bulgarian or unsweetened plain yoghurt should also work)

small bunch spinach, finely chopped

1 can whole, peeled tomatoes

water

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large casserole or pot.  Add the onion, garlic and chilli and sauté for 5-8 minutes. Add the cardamom, cumin, turmeric and allspice and sauté for another minute or 2. Add the chickpeas, tomato, yoghurt and coconut.  Stir well and allow to simmer over low heat for approximately for 45-60 minutes or until the chickpeas are cooked.  Add the cilantro (coriander) and parsley as well as salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Simmer for another 15 minutes.  It can be served as is, or with rice or cous cous.

 

Cumin lentils and honey pumpkin salad

At the last moment last night, we decided to braai.  There wasn’t a lot in the fridge or cupboard to make up a side dish (it being almost the end of the month).  That, for me, is the perfect challenge and a great opportunity to be creative. I mentioned in a previous post that I have a lot of frozen Hubbard squash in my freezer (one Hubbard and two people means at least 4X 500 grams frozen portions of squash that takes a while to work through).  Some lentils, and beautiful baby Swiss chard from my garden plus a basil vinaigrette as well as the squash does make the salad!

A perfect companion to grilled mustard pepper steak, or as a meal on its own. This salad really stole the show and can easily serve four.

3/4 cup brown lentils, cooked

1 tablespoon roughly grounded cumin

1 tablespoon roughly ground coriander

2 tablespoons olive oil

350-400 grams cubed cooked squash

2 tablespoons heated, runny honey

8-10 leafs baby spinach/ Swiss chard

Parmesan slivers and chives for garnish

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place the cooked, cubed squash in a greased baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and honey.  Flavour with salt and pepper to taste. Grill for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove for the oven, and allow to cool.

In the meantime, heat a dash of oil over moderate heat.  Add the cumin and coriander and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the lentils and fry for another 5-8 minutes. Remove from the stove, and allow to cool.

Basil vinaigrette:

50 ml olive

50 ml balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

5 ml white wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

2-3 tablespoons fresh, chopped basil

Mix all the ingredients together, and whisk well.

Assembly of the salad:

Rinse the baby spinach/chard and place in a salad bowl. Add the cooled pumpkin and lentils and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Toss lightly and serve immediately.

Poached egg on a bed of spinach, feta and bacon

After all the excitement and over-indulgence of Valentine’s day and chocolate for breakfast, I had to return to the straight and narrow this morning- no carbs, some veggies and lots of protein.  I did spoil myself with some crispy bacon bits though, but it can be left out for a healthier, vegetarian option.  It makes for a filling, but light breakfast and a great start to the weekend!  And of course, it offers a great lining for the wine tastings that are to follow….

This recipe gives 2 portions:

2 large, free range eggs

15 white spirit vinager

6-8 spinach leafs, finely chopped

60 grams bacon bits

1/4 wheel feta

Heat a dash of olive oil in a large pan, and add the shredded spinach. Let the spinach wilt (it might be necessary to add a dash of water) and set aside. In the same pan, fry the bacon bits until crispy.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil with the tablespoon of vinegar. Gently break the egg into a teacup and “pour” into the boiling water. For a medium soft egg (pictured above), boil for precisely 3 minutes with the lid on. If you want it a bit harder, boil for 3 and a half minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Arrange the spinach in a plate, cover with feta and bacon and place the egg on top. A healthy, very low carb, high protein breakfast that can be prepared in 10 minutes!

Layered lentil and creamy spinach bake- a delicious low carb veggie dish

As I was whipping up a storm in the kitchen yesterday, I realised that most of my recipes tend to be developed from scratch-i.e. what’s in the cupboard/fridge/garden?  I have also started reading up on the so-called “Banting” diet, which promotes a very low-carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) lifestyle.  This diet is being promoted quite widely in South Africa at the moment, especially by Prof. Tim Noakes, who is a well-known sport scientist.  I am not going to give an opinion about the LCHF diet specifically, but a quick search of peer-reviewed journal articles shows that a low-carbohydrate diet, with either restricted or no-restriction calorie intake (Mediterranean diet; 1,2) , does result in greater weigh loss and better prognosis for blood sugar and cholesterol than a low-fat diet.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my boyfriend requested that we cut back on the carbs last year after a visit to Germany (I believed he survived on pomme frites and curry wurst).  The LCHF diet doesn’t quite fit this, because it does promote very high protein intake, and with the current cost of red meat (and even chicken) in SA, it doesn’t quite fit our pocket to dish up steaks every night.  I thus wanted to create a vegetarian (and economic) dish that fits the low-carb, high protein profile, without the high fat, and came up with this deliciously layered lentils in tomato sauce and creamy spinach dish. I replaced the white sauce with double thick Greek yoghurt (which has many health benefits of its own), and added mozzarella but this can be left out if preferred. Lentils, as I have mentioned previously, is also low G.I., very low carb, high in fibre and protein. The perfect replacement for meat!

This recipe gives 4 large portions (and I am looking forward to leftovers as lunch!)

dash olive oil

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon good-quality paprika

3 sprigs spring onion, sliced

1 handful fresh basil, finely chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leafs only

1 tin tomato paste (70 grams)

1 can cherry tomatoes

1 1/2 cup brown lentils

1/2 cup water

large bunch spinach (approximately 100 grams, stems removed and finely chopped)

1 cup Greek double cream yoghurt

1 1/2 cup mozzarella

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Heat a dash of olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Saute the onion and garlic for 5 minutes, before adding the cumin, coriander and paprika. Fry for 2 minutes before adding the lentils. Once the lentils has been added, stir well, and add the tomato paste and canned cherry tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes). Add the thyme and the water, stir, and allow to simmer over low heat for 40 minutes or until thickened, reduced and the lentils are cooked through. Add the fresh basil at the end. To keep the layers separated to a degree, you don’t want the lentils to be too saucy. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

In a separate pot, add the finely chopped spinach with a tablespoon of water, and allow to cook for 5 minutes or until completely wilted. Add the yoghurt, stir through and add 1/2 a cup of mozzarella cheese. Allow to cook for 5 minutes and add salt to taste.

In a square 20 cm oven proof dish, layer the lentils and spinach. I started with a layer of lentils, followed by spinach, and managed to layers, ending with the spinach on top. I covered this with the remaining mozzarella cheese and baked it at 180 degrees Celsius until golden brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes (which lets the dish set) before serving with a side of salad.

References:

1) Brehm, B. J., Seeley, R. J., Daniels, S. R., D’Alessio, D. A. (2003) A randomized trail comparing a very low carbohydrate diet and a calorie-restricted low-fat diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism;  http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jc.2002-021480

2) Shai, I., Schwarzfuchs, D., Henkin, Y., Shahar, D. R., Witkow, S., Greenberg, I., Golan, R., Fraser, D., Bolotin, A., Vardi, H., Tangi-Rozental, O., Zuk-Ramot, R., Sarusi, B., Brickner, D., Schwartz, Z., Sheiner, E., Marko, R., Katorza, E., Thiery, J., Fiedler, G. M., Blüher, M., Stumvoll, M., Stampfer, M. J. (2008) Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterreanean, or low-fat diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 359:229-241; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0708681

Spinach, basil and mushroom stir fry

Another one of my favourite blank-canvas recipes!  Anything goes with a stir fry, and this recipe encompasses all of my favourites-fresh, colourful and flavoursome.  I had some left-over steak that I used for this stir fry, but chicken or beef strips will work just as well, whilst keeping it meat-free might work even better.

Although I am incredibly privileged to life in South Africa with our vast, open space, beautiful beaches and stunning Mediterranean climate, I envy Europeans with their fresh food markets and abundance of fresh produce without ever having to visit a mall or retail outlet.  I am specifically remembering the Great Market Hall in Budapest today, where local producers sells the most amazing, colourful variety of fresh produce and a little outdoor market in Kiel, Germany, where you can buy home-made cheeses, juicy fresh berries, and home-baked German brotchen.

In South Africa, we have the Food Lover’s market, but this is just another retailer and is often based or associated with another shopping mall. We do have smaller farmer markets over weekends, and although you can buy food and craft-beer in abundance, it is not often that you can buy fresh fruit or veggies.  As an alternative, I have started growing my own veggies (tomatoes, spinach, basil,  coriander,chilli ect,) and I am very happy to announce that this is the first meal largely comprised from what grows in my own garden!

This recipe give 3 large portions:

8-10 medium sized spinach leaves, stems included, finely chopped

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, julienne

1/2 red pepper, finely sliced

7-8 basil leaves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped

2-3 chillies, finely chopped (optional and to taste!)

2 tablespoons olive oil

5-6 button mushrooms, sliced

100-200 grams egg noodles, prepared according to packet instructions

2-3 tablespoons soya sauce (salty, so add to taste)

Left-over steak, chicken breast strip or meat of you choice if you wish to include meat. As mentioned earlier, I had 100 grams of left-over steak that I cut into thin strips and added at the end

Prepare you egg noodles according to instruction and set aside.  Heat oil in a pan over high heat, add the onion and fry for 5 minutes. Now add the carrot and allow to fry for another 5 minutes, before adding the spinach (yes, stems included if you use fresh, young spinach leaves!) and red pepper.  Stirfry for another 5 minutes, add the herbs and mushrooms and stir fry for another 5 minutes or until the veggies are al dente. I like to keep my veggies crisp and towards the fresher side.  I added my beef strips at the end to heat it through. Remove from heat.

In a separate pan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, add the noodles and stirfry for 5 minutes. Add the soya sauce, mix through, stir fry another 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Serve the stir fry on a bed of noodles and enjoy!  A quick, easy and fresh dinner (that also makes good leftovers!).

Spicy chickpea and wilted spinach salad

It is summer in South Africa!  The mercury is hitting lower 30 degrees Celsius and salads are the order of the day.

I do not cook only for myself (I would very happily only munch on lettuce if I had a choice!), but I can imagine that my boyfriend will complain if I had to feed him only so-called “rabbit food”. Hence, when I make salad for dinner I “beef” it up by adding some low-GI carbs and proteins. I would thus like to introduce you to chickpeas.  Chickpeas are very under-rated but can form the staple of an incredible amount of dishes (think falafel, humus and tagine). They can be spiced, cooked, mashed or bought in a tin, ready to serve.  Many recipes ask for the tinned version.  It is quick and easy as the chickpeas are already prepared and can be served, heated or used as required with as little effort as opening a can. I, of course, like to take the hard route.  It is much cheaper to buy dry chickpeas but they require work (or careful planning!). Also, you can prepare only as much as you require whereas an opened can is an opened can.  Another disadvantage of canned chickpeas are their soft consistency- it turns into humus when trying to blend them in order to make falafel (read failed dinner but interesting experiment).

To prepare dried chickpeas you need to soak them overnight.  Being an impatient cook, I usually only soak my chickpeas on the day that I use them, and have realised that 6-8 hours is enough. Pop them in a container with water before going to work-they’ll be ready when you get home. They do still need to cook which takes another hour. Chickpeas have a low glycemic index (G.I) and is high in protein, so it is definitely worth going through the effort to prepare them.

This recipe serves 2 large or 4 small portions

1 cup dried chickpeas, covered in water and allowed to soak until double their original size (6-8 hours).

Rinse chickpeas and place them in a pot on the stove over moderate heat. Again cover with water, cover the pot with a lid and bring to boil. Cook chickpeas for an hour or until soft and ready. Remove from heat.

Spicy chickpeas and wilted spinach:

1 cup dried chickpeas, cooked and prepared as mentioned above

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2-3 fresh chillis, finely chopped

1 brown onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

100 grams fresh, chopped spinach

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a pan over moderate heat. Add the onion and brown for 5 minutes. Add the cumin and chilli and fry for another 3-4 minutes.  Now add the chickpeas and fry for another 5 minutes. Add the spinach, stir well and fry for another 5-8 minutes until the spinach has wilted and is mixed through.  Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.

Salad assembly:

Previously prepared chickpeas and spinach, cooled

2-3 cups fresh, chopped lettuce of your choice (I use mixed lettuce as well as Iceberg)

1 tomato, sliced in wedges

1/2 green pepper, sliced

3 chives, finely chopped

1/2 wheel feta

10-12 olives

Assemble you salad according to your liking. I first add my lettuce and then layer my salad with the tomato, peppers and olive. I end with the chickpeas, and lastly crumble my feta over.  This is really a scrumptios low G.I, high protein salad that is satisfying for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

Spinach, bacon and feta quiche with a savoury shortbread crust

This is one of my favourites to make-another blank canvas recipe!  You can make any filling of your choice and add ingredients to your liking.  You can of course easily go completely vegetarian and only use veggies.

It took me forever to learn how to make a decent quiche. The trickiest part for me was the crust. This crust recipe is a savoury shortbread recipe, and was actually designed to make tiny shortbread biscuits that can be served with any topping of your choice as a delicious canapé. If you have leftover crust, roll it into a sausage, slice it into slices and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 15-20 min, top with a dollop of cream cheese and nibble on it whilst waiting for the quiche.

For the crust:

1 1/2 cup cake flour

80 grams butter, cubed

100 gram cheese (I used a halal white Gouda that doesn’t contain any animal rennet)

a pinch of salt

Add the flour to a mixing bowl (no need to sift) together with a pinch of salt. Now add the butter, and gently work the butter into the flour until the flour resembles course crumbs or cous cous. Now add your cheese. Using your fingers and hands, work the cheese into the flour until it al comes together into a dough. This should take about 5-10 minutes.  The dough will still be crumbly but you should be able to handle it, and press it down into a greased standard pie dish.

For the filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil

250 grams washed, chopped fresh spinach

1 brown onion, chopped

100 grams diced bacon

50-80 grams feta

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 large eggs

3/4 cup greek yoghurt

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsuis. Heat the olive oil over moderate heat in a pan on the stove. Add the onion and sauté for 5-8 minutes, add the bacon and fry for a further 5 minutes.  Now add the spinach and stir fry until wilted. Add black pepper to taste. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool before adding the feta. Whisk the eggs and yoghurt together in a separate container. Once the spinach mixture has cooled down, place it in your prepared pie dish, cover with the egg mixture, gently mix with the spinach without damaging the crust, and cover with 50 grams of cheese of your choice if you should prefer.  Bake for 40 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius (a knife should come out clean of you pierce the quiche), and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving (it will continue setting as it cools). Serve with a fresh green salad and enjoy!