Coconut quinoa with salty broiled sardines

A four-ingredient, pantry-only, nasi lemak-inspired recipe with a great texture and flavour balance. One tin of sardines, one can of light coconut milk, 3/4 cup of quinoa, handful of toasted silvered almonds (or other chopped nuts) will make about 2.5 servings.

1. In a dry pan, toast the nuts until golden brown, then set aside.
2. Next, toast the (pre-rinsed) quinoa until golden and nutty-smelling.
3. Add a can of light coconut milk to the quinoa, let the mixture come to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low/medium to simmer. Season with minced/powdered/pressed garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa has puffed, about 25-30 mins.
4. When the quinoa is almost done, open a tin of (skin on, bone in) sardines in water and drain well. Split the fillets in half and set down on a baking tray that has been lightly misted with cooking spray. If the sardines are unsalted, season generously. Broil for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the sardines are crisp and nicely browned.
5. Crumble the sardines into the quinoa, add the nuts, and mix well before serving. Optional: top with dried herbs (parsley or cilantro should work well) or with plumped sultanas.

Incredibly moist, absurdly simple flourless banana mug cake

Microwaveable mug cakes have gotten quite fancy these days, which rather goes against the spirit of the microwaveable mug cake IMHO. I am especially saddened by the recipes that require flour, which seems to me to be a messy and high-commitment ingredient that nobody owns these days unless they are fairly serious about baking. This is a nice, no-fuss “recipe” that you can make with literally one fork, one mug, one banana, one egg yolk, and some peanut butter.

1. To your mug, add a forkful of peanut butter and chunks from a ripe medium-sized banana. Mash well with said fork until until no lumps remain.
2. Add the yolk of one large egg, and honey/sugar if desired. Combine well. You can also throw in chopped nuts or instant oatmeal for more texture.
3. Microwave for ~1min or until cake is done. Dust with cinnamon. Serve immediately.

Genaro’s (faster) fish spaghetti

This fish spaghetti recipe is a variation on this beautiful dish, but uses dried/prepared aromatics and a more accessible fillet (tilapia instead of grey mullet). The flavour profile is similar to other sardine/anchovy pasta dishes I often cook (such as this basic one with garlic + anchovy+ capers + heat), but is tenderer and healthier with the addition of fresh fish and fresh tomatoes. This is my favourite way to cook tilapia BAR NONE, and it may in fact be my new favourite pasta.

1. In a largeish pan, cook spaghetti according to package directions. (You can use regular, brown rice, spelt, or other lighter-tasting spaghetti here, but whole wheat won’t work as well with this delicate dish.)
2. Meanwhile, halve or quarter a small handful of cherry tomatoes, and slice the tilapia fillet into strips (half a fillet is enough for one serving).
3. When the pasta is almost done, reserve a couple scoops of pasta water, then drain and set aside.
4. Dry your pan, and return it to the stove on low-medium heat. To warmed olive oil, add a squirt of pressed garlic, just a few anchovy fillets, and the chopped tomatoes. Then add flavour with capers, chili flakes, black pepper, and dried (or fresh if you have it) parsley.
5. When the tomatoes are beginning to soften, add enough pasta water that the sauce becomes runny. Adjust the heat so that the sauce simmers gently, then add the fish.
6. When the fish is just cooked, turn down the heat, and add the pasta back to the pan and combine. Finish with more parsley for colour, if using dried.
7. Optional: serve with a side of baby arugula (dressed with a sprinkle of salt and a dash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar).

Chickpeas with herbs and parmesan

This is less a recipe than a public service reminder that you can make a hearty and decently nutritious meal out of a $1 can of beans and some pantry staples.

Drain the can, empty chickpeas into a bowl, and microwave until warm (~1-2mins; after the first minute stir every 30s or so to prevent those pesky little explosions). While the chickpeas are still hot, stir in a couple of heaping tablespoonfuls of grated parmesan. Then add the herbs and spices: lots of parsley, Italian seasoning, and onion powder; and a touch of garlic or pepper to taste.  Finish with grated lemon zest and/or a small sprinkle of lemon juice if you believe in putting lipstick on pigs.

1/10/10 chicken breast pastas

You’ve heard of the 1/10/10 method of cooking boneless skinless chicken breasts — you cook one side on one minute on medium, flip and cover and cook on low for ten, and then continue off the heat for another ten. (Or, try a 3/3/7/7 variation, where you brown both sides first.)  The method is intended to “poach” the breast in its own liquid and prevent the natural moisture in the chicken from cooking out, but I always get some delicious juices left over in the pan. Happily, you can easily turn this into an excellent, naturally flavourful pasta dish. Here are a couple of variations:

1. Prepare and cook chicken breast according to 1/10/10 instructions. (One breast is enough for about 1.5-2 servings of pasta.)
2. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a separate pot according to package  directions. When done, drain and set aside.
3. When chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside to rest for a few minutes, before slicing or shredding the amount of chicken you’ll need for the pasta.
4a. For a chicken and mushroom pasta, cook some sliced mushrooms with pressed garlic and Italian herbs in the juices, stir in the cooked chicken and spaghetti, and serve.
4b. For a wonderfully effort-free lemon-olive pasta, cook the spaghetti until it’s about three-quarters of the way done in Step 2. Add a few squirts of lemon, some sliced olives, and a bit of pressed garlic to the pan juices, and finish cooking the spaghetti in the liquid mixture before serving. Garnish with parsley and Italian herbs to taste.

Carrot and pea rotini

Two servings of pasta, a tin of sweet peas, and a large heap of matchstick carrots make three portions of this tri-colour rotini pasta salad.

1. In a pot of quite generously salted water, cook two servings of tri-colour rotini according to packet instructions, along with a large handful or two of matchstick carrots.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the vinaigrette: 2-3tbsp olive oil, a few drops of vinegar, 2-3 squirts of pressed garlic, salt, pepper, onion powder, and Italian seasoning.  Thin with a few tablespoons of pasta water if needed.
3. Drain the pasta and carrots in a large colander. Open a tin of peas, and pour directly into the colander as well. Mix well and drain thoroughly.
4. Toss the pasta, peas, and carrots with the vinaigrette. Divide into three portions and chill before serving.

Easy puttanesca ;)

Uses sardines in tomato sauce instead of anchovies for more protein. A full tin of sardines will make enough sauce for two servings, and the second portion keeps well for the next day.

1. Boil spaghetti, drain, set aside.
2. For the sauce, fry garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add chili flakes (a good amount) and Italian seasoning; then mash in tinned sardines in tomato sauce, and then capers and black olives. If desired, stir in tomato paste or any red pasta sauce for further tomatoness, and/or loosen the sauce with pasta water or leftover white wine.

Two-ingredient caramelised banana “Jaffa cakes”

This baked variation on the two-ingredient banana pancake recipe takes a little more cooking time, but gives you more control over the caramelisation process, as well as a denser, less mushy end product that’s about the size and texture of a Jaffa cake — crisp-chewy at the edges, tender in the middle, and gorgeously sweet.

You’ll need: 3 overripe bananas, an egg, cooking spray, a muffin tray, and about 30-40mins of time where you’re able to check on the cakes periodically.

1. Pre-heat oven to 370F. (~360-390F is the caramelisation zone, so you can increase the temperature to speed up the process or lower it to prevent burning as long as it stays within that range.)
2. Using a large fork, mash bananas in a large plate or flat-bottomed bowl until no solid chunks remain. I used three medium bananas, which was enough for a dozen cake discs.
3. In a separate bowl, beat an egg. (I used one medium egg, but will substitute two yolks next time to see if that will improve firmness.) Combine with the mashed bananas and mix well.
4. Grease the cups in your muffin tray with a fairly generous amount of cooking spray, and distribute the “batter” evenly into the cups. One large, slightly heaped tablespoon of batter should be enough for each cup.
5. Bake.
5a. At around the 10-15min mark, or when the edges have begun to crisp up and the cake discs have shrunk slightly and more or less solidified, remove the tray from the oven and move the cakes a little with a silicone spatula and/or tablespoon to make sure there is no sticking or burning. Return to the oven and continue baking for another 10mins, or until the bottoms are golden brown.
5b. When the bottoms are browned, flip the cakes using your spoon/spatula and bake for another 15mins, or until they are firm and brown on both sides.
6. Serve warm.

Crispy roasted chicken thighs

Basic instructions for getting crispy-skinned chicken thighs in the oven — just as good as fried, but with much less oil and mess.

1. Pre-heat oven to 425F.
2. Season the chicken with salt only (this prevents burning during the broiling stage;  you can add other spices later).
3. Spray a baking pan with the slightest amount of baking spray, and place the chicken skin side down.
4. Bake for 20-25 mins or until the meat is cooked through.
5. Broil (500F) for about 2 minutes, or until skin is crisp and golden brown. Then remove cooked chicken from oven and season with any other herbs/spices desired.
6. If serving with salad, grains, etc, set aside the chicken to rest, and toss leaves, cooked grains or noodles in the juices at the bottom of the pan for an instant sauce or dressing.

Carefree coq au vin

This incredibly forgiving version of coq au vin uses the cheapest cuts of chicken, works with leftover red or white wine, and admits all manner of imprecision in the execution. All you do is brown things in layers of fat, and layer sauces on top of that.

You’ll need: skin-on chicken thighs, mushrooms, leftover wine, and pantry staples (onion, garlic, bacon, tomato paste, chicken broth or stock, and dry spices). Optional: matchstick carrots or fresh parsley for colour. And you’ll want nice crusty bread to go with the sauce (or serve over mashed potatoes if you feel like extra work).

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside so it gets up to room temperature.
2. Clean and dry the mushrooms (crimini are best), and cut into halves if they’re unusually large. Dice half a large onion (or use pearl onions if feeling fancy). Also smash and roughly chop several (5-6?) cloves of garlic. Finally, dice a few slices of bacon. (If using carrots, get them down to a fine dice here too.)
3. Fry the bacon in a largeish saute pan (or large skillet). When the bacon is crispy and well-cooked, set it aside in your serving bowl, leaving the drippings in the pan.
4. Fry the chicken in the bacon fat (high heat, ~3-4mins a side, don’t move it around too much), until the skin is golden brown on both sides. Set aside (but not in your serving bowl as it isn’t completely cooked yet).
5. Fry all the vegetables in the chicken and bacon fat. When they have begun to caramelise, add several generous squirts of tomato paste and stir for thirty seconds or so until that is caramelised too.
6. Add the wine and deglaze the pan. Cook on high for a few minutes so some of the alcohol boils off; then add chicken stock or broth. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pan and let simmer for several minutes, seasoning with generously with thyme, rosemary, parsley, black pepper, and barbecue sauce (yes!), and adding more wine, stock, and/or tomato paste to taste. Cook down until the sauce is nice and thick, and the chicken is cooked through.
7. Top with the crisp bacon bits (and optional fresh chopped parsley for more colour) and serve in a large bowl.