Chicken with Za’atar and Aubergine Yoghurt

Chicken with Za’atar and Aubergine Yoghurt

This summer our second son is getting married. The excitement is building in the family – it’s the first wedding – and we are all busy in our different ways with preparations. Busiest of all are our daughter-in-law to be and her parents but now that his Part III architecture exams and coursework are out of the way, our son has also got stuck in. He’s been painting signs and designing and printing menus and orders of service. His super-efficient future wife has drawn up lists and rotas so that we all know what we’re doing in the build up to the day. The wedding will be in a church near her family home in Cornwall and the reception in a marquee in the garden. We have rented a cottage nearby so that we can be on hand to help and also have a holiday afterwards. Our son has chosen his brothers as the best men and all being well, they have sorted out a speech and who will deliver it (maybe it will be all three of them, I don’t yet know) and who will be responsible for the ring. Our youngest son is going to read a poem at the service and one of the bride’s sisters will be giving a reading.

My husband has chosen the wines (a tough job but someone’s got to do it, he says) with the help of willing tasters like me: a light and fruity Pinot Noir (Villa Maria Cellar Selection) from Majestic Wine Merchants; a Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay) from Avery’s, Bristol; and champagne from Waitrose. The caterers are booked, so we’re nearly set.

Every single one of us will be in the marquee on the day before the wedding, laying tables and decorating it with flowers. The logistics of getting everyone to Cornwall have been complicated but we seem to have cracked that now: youngest son will be arriving there on the eve of the wedding from a week’s walking and camping on the Isle of Arran and my sisters-in-law are going to ensure that my somewhat frail 92 year old mother-in-law gets there too.

We haven’t had a “whole family” holiday for three years so I’m looking forward to this one, even though it will not involve much lazing around. It’s a very happy occasion and a great excuse for us all to be together. I’m sure we will eat out (seafood please!) but I will also cook some meals in our rented kitchen. I want to keep these as simple as possible (nothing new there!). I will miss my Aga of course and hope I haven’t forgotten how to cook on a conventional cooker.

I’ve made this delicious chicken dish by Annie Bell a couple of times recently. It is one I can imagine making in Cornwall, provided the kitchen is equipped with big enough roasting tins.

Serves 6 (I made it first for 4 and then for 3, using two pieces of chicken per person and scaling down the other ingredients)

For the chicken

  • 2 lemons
  • 150ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 heaped tsps za’atar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1.8-2kg free-range chicken thighs and drumsticks
  • 50g pine nuts

For the aubergine yoghurt

  • 2 aubergines
  • 1 small or ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • 150g natural Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus an extra couple of tbsp to serve
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander, plus extra to serve

Method

  • Slice one of the lemons, discarding the ends, and juice the other. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, onion, za’atar, cinnamon and sliced lemon in a large dish. Add the chicken pieces and coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
  • For the aubergine yoghurt, preheat a conventional oven to 220ºC. Prick the aubergines all over with a skewer to stop them bursting, and roast for 45-60 minutes (in the Aga roasting oven) until wrinkled, blackened and soft, then leave to cool.
  • Cut off the ends, peel off the skin, halve lengthways and coarsely chop
  • Place the flesh in a sieve and press out the excess liquid using the back of a large spoon
  • Briefly whizz to a coarse purée with the garlic and some salt in a food processor
  • Transfer to a bowl and stir in the yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice and parsley or coriander. Drizzle over the extra oil and scatter over some more herbs. Set aside
  • If you’ve turned it off, switch your oven back on to 220ºC
  • Season the chicken pieces and arrange, skin side up in a single layer in two roasting tins (the large Aga ones)
  • Option: if you have space you could add halved new potatoes to the tins. I did this
  • Drizzle the marinade over everything and tuck the lemon slices in between
  • Roast (in the Aga roasting oven) for about 45 minutes, swapping the tins round halfway through and sprinkling over the pine nuts after 15 minutes (I forgot to do this the second time I made this dish; it was still delicious but I recommend you try to remember them)
  • Serve with the yoghurt sauce and a green salad

 

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Warm Salad of Griddled Chicken, Freekeh, Preserved Lemon, Sour Cherries and Mint

Warm Salad of Griddled Chicken, Freekeh, Preserved Lemon, Sour Cherries and Mint

The title for this recipe is very long, isn’t it? It’s another Diana Henry one but I’m making no apologies. I wanted to try freekeh (a cereal food made from unripened wheat which has been roasted and crushed into small pieces) because I’d never used it before so I pored over my various cookbooks and this was the recipe which appealed the most on the day. It’s perfect for the summer weather we’re having now. Instead of cooking the chicken in a griddle pan, you could barbecue it outside.

I’m enjoying the weather. We’ve barbecued twice this weekend, which has been lovely. My husband was supposed to be taking it easy after a small operation on Friday, but was up to standing at the grill while I got on with preparing vegetables and salads.

For the Chicken

Serves 4

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated or crushed
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 tbsp olive oil

For the Salad

  • 100g dried sour cherries
  • 2 preserved lemons
  • 200g freekeh
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp honey (or maple syrup)
  • 3 tsp white balsamic vinegar
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • good pinch of ground cinnamon
  • laves from 10 sprigs of mint, torn
  • 10g chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

  • If you are using breasts and they’re particularly thick, cut them in half horizontally. Marinate the chicken if you have time, even if it’s only for an hour or two. Mix the garlic, seasoning, lemon juice and olive oil in a dish and lay the chicken it it, turning it to coat. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before cooking
  • Place your griddle pan on the floor of the Aga roasting oven to get it really hot
  • Put the cherries in a small saucepan and add enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then remove from the heat and leave to plump up for 30 minutes
  • Remove the flesh from the preserved lemons and discard. Cut the rind into slivers
  • Put the freekeh into a saucepan and cover with water, adding the regular olive oil and seasoning well. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then cover and transfer to the simmering oven for about half an hour, or until just tender. Drain
  • In a serving bowl mix the virgin oil, honey or maple syrup, white balsamic, lemon juice, cinnamon and plenty of salt and pepper. Add the drained freekeh and stir
  • Drain the cherries and fork them into the grains with the preserved lemon and most of the herbs
  • Place the heated griddle pan on the boiling plate and put the chicken on it (leaving the marinade behind)
  • Let it sizzle and splatter for two minutes, then turn it over. At this point you can place the griddle pan back on the floor of the roasting oven and leave the chicken to cook there for about 8 minutes until it’s cooked through. You can keep the griddle plan on the boiling plate and then move it to the simmering plate if you prefer but placing it in the oven minimises the amount of fat splattering everywhere
  • Taste the freekeh. You might want to add more lemon juice. The mixture should be moist and well-seasoned
  • Divide between four plates and serve the chicken on top or alongside, scattering the remaining herbs over. I served ours with some tzatziki

Our weekend in the garden:

 

 

 

Beef Short Ribs

Beef Short Ribs

A Bank Holiday Weekend and an opportunity to try a new recipe requiring hours of slow cooking: my sort of recipe. I bought the beef with no particular recipe in mind so I was pleased to find I’d bookmarked this one for Glazed Sticky Longhorn Short Ribs over a year ago. I have no idea if my ribs were from Longhorn cows but I bought them from my excellent local butcher, Ruby and White, which has never let me down.

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • About 3kg beef short ribs
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Seasoning

For the sticky BBQ glaze

  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 300ml passata
  • 100ml tomato ketchup
  • 2 level tsp five spice
  • 1 level tsp all spice
  • 1 level tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 level tsp Sichuan pepper
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 6 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 level tsp rapeseed oil

Method

(Preheat conventional oven to 100ºC)

  • Place the ribs in a large roasting tin, season and drizzle with rapeseed oil
  • Cover with a double layer of foil and place in the simmering oven to slow-roast for about 8 hours but can be longer. The meat will be tender and falling off the bone
  • Alternatively, if you want to eat at lunchtime, place the ribs in the oven before going to bed. Could probably leave them there until you’re ready to add the glaze (see below), but if you’re worried they will be falling apart too much (is this possible?), remove them at breakfast time and replace them, with the glaze, a couple of hours before you want to serve them
  • A couple of hours before the end of the cooking time make the glaze
  • Place everything in a saucepan, add 100ml water and stir on a medium heat/the simmering plate until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Or bring to the boil and leave uncovered in the simmering oven for at least half an hour
  • Then pour about ⅔ of the sauce over your ribs, replace the foil and return them to the simmering oven for a minimum of 30 minutes but can be longer
  • I didn’t have all the ingredients for the seasonal slaw so I served our ribs with Nigella’s Hot and Sour Shredded Salad (recipe in her book “Kitchen”) and steamed Basmati rice, with the remaining glaze drizzled over the ribs

Nigella’s Hot and Sour Shredded Salad

Serves 6

  • 3 carrots
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 long red chilli
  • 1 long green chilli
  • 20g/small bunch coriander

for the dressing:

  • juice of 1 lime (if you don’t have one, a lemon will do)
  • 4 x tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • Cut the carrots into long slices and then julienne them (i.e. cut into matchstick-like strips)
  • Trim and halve the spring onions and julienne as well
  • De-seed the chillies and cut into juliennes
  • Finely chop the coriander
  • Mix all of the above in a bowl. In another bowl mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and dress the vegetables with this

Green Beans And Vinaigrette

 

Look away now if you don’t approve of buying those packs of fine green beans imported from Kenya and Zambia because of the air miles involved in getting them here.  We like them in this house so I do buy them.  In the last few weeks Waitrose has been stocking homegrown ones which seem a little fatter but are full of flavour.

One of my favourite ways of serving them in the summer is as a salad in a classic vinaigrette.  I cook the beans, drain them, plunge them in cold water so they retain their colour and drain them again.  And then I toss them in the vinaigrette which I make as follows:

  • Put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in your salad bowl
  • Add a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 tsp of sugar
  • Add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
  • Using a small whisk mix this a little and then slowly pour on extra virgin olive oil, continuing to whisk all the time.  I cannot tell you how much oil I use.  It emulsifies gradually and somehow I just know when it’s enough.  I taste it too of course: if it’s still very tart I might add a little more oil

You may prefer to make your dressing in a jug or small bowl, or in a jam jar by placing all the ingredients in it, putting on the lid and giving it a shake.  I find it easier to make it in the salad bowl and have got used to knowing how much dressing I need for the amount of salad I’m making.  Sometimes I vary it; for example, I might omit the mustard and add red wine vinegar instead of white, a little crushed garlic and some chopped flat leaf parsley; or, to avoid a too strong taste of raw garlic, I’ll peel and flatten a clove slightly and leave this in the dressing but remove it when it’s time to serve the salad.  This provides a mere hint of garlic flavour.

Making the dressing in the salad bowl takes me back to one of my first stays in France as a teenager.  I was 15 and went to stay with the family of Sophie, whom we had hosted the previous year.  Sophie lived in the heart of Burgundy country in a stunningly beautiful house which seemed to me like half a chateau.  She must have found our house in England very small.  It was a very hot summer and all meals were taken outside with rarely fewer than about ten people at each sitting.  Sophie’s father ran his own business and always came home for lunch, sometimes bringing a couple of colleagues with him.  We girls occasionally helped their maid, Lily, in the kitchen and that is where I learnt to make vinaigrette.  Another memory is Sophie’s father taking his lunchtime red wine (Burgundy, obviously) with ice cubes.  My father was astonished when I told him this.  I returned from that holiday with much improved French, new friends and feeling very worldly wise.

Summer “Cooking”

Maybe I’m just making excuses to be lazy but the summer weather means I haven’t felt much like baking or cooking recently.  It hasn’t even been consistently hot and sunny but here in Bristol, even on the wet, grey days, it’s been muggy: not the sort of weather conducive to standing next to a hot oven for a few hours.

The solution is either to get your husband to barbecue or to prepare salads and light dishes requiring minimal cooking time.  I have managed to achieve both of these and thought I’d share with you some of the recipes we’ve enjoyed.

First up, this courgette tart, which was an excellent way of using up some superb homegrown courgettes a friend had given us.  The recipe is by Rose Prince and appeared in the Saturday Telegraph magazine a couple of weeks ago.  You will see that she recommends making your own rough puff pastry but I went for second best and used shop bought pure butter puff pastry.  I was not that successful at getting my courgettes to form “ribbons” but it didn’t matter that much.

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Next, burgers.  This was a very last minute supper.  It was a lovely warm evening and so we shelved our original supper plans and youngest son popped to Waitrose to buy some ground beef (not too lean) and burger buns.  All I do to make burgers is add ground black pepper and an egg, mix well and shape.  I don’t add onion or salt or garlic.  This way you can really taste the beef and get additional flavours from the sauces and other toppings you serve alongside (eg gherkins, ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes).  Sometimes we sandwich our burgers in ciabatta but, to be honest, the regular burger buns with sesame seeds work perfectly.  On this occasion, in addition to the toppings listed above, I found some red Romano peppers in the fridge which I halved, deseeded, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt for my husband to grill on the barbecue.  J invited his friend round to join us and by the time we were ready to eat it was nearly dark so we lit some candles and tucked in.  Impromptu evenings like this are very often the most enjoyable.

Once again, my latest favourite cookbook, Honey and Co., came up trumps when I wanted a simple fish recipe the other Friday.  The recipe in the book used sea bream but I could only get sea bass fillets; I doubt there’s much difference.  I just roasted the fish fillets (one each) in the Aga roasting oven for 8-9 minutes with a little olive oil and seasoning and squirted on some lemon juice at the end.  The salad ingredients are as follows (for 4 people):

  • 4 small Lebanese cucumbers or 1 long one
  • 250g red grapes
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, fronds picked and chopped
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g pain yoghurt (I used Greek style)

Peel the cucumber to create a zebra-striped effect, slice in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds.  Chop into crescents and place in a large bowl.  Wash and halve the grapes and add with the chopped herbs.  Season with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil and mix well.  Spread two tablespoons of yoghurt on each plate and pile some salad on top, ready for the fish when it’s cooked.  Et voilà.

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise is one of my favourite summer salads.  On summer holidays in France I would always order it.  But what is it exactly?

Last weekend I decided to make it when my son W and his fiancée were home, but realised I’d never used a recipe and always just made it up as I went along.  Browsing some of my cookery books, magazine cuttings and Google, I realised that there were many different versions of this salad.  I consulted Twitter too: there were as many people declaring potatoes were definitely not to be added as there were those who insisted on them.  What to do?  The wonderful Felicity Cloake had of course done the research in this article in her “How to make the perfect” series, but her “perfect” recipe was not my perfect one.  In reading about the salad, I was surprised at how many chefs, including Felicity, did not include tuna.  For me, this salad is one of the best vehicles for tinned tuna.  I was also surprised that green beans were not a regular addition.  I liked the raw broad bean idea but it would be more time consuming for this fairly lazy cook.  (I also didn’t skin or deseed my tomatoes: what of it?)

In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a an agreed upon, universal recipe for Salade Niçoise but what does it matter?  Make a salad with the the ingredients you like and which you have to hand.  On this particular occasion, mine was made with new potatoes which I added to the vinaigrette (some say mustard is a no no but I’m not one of them) while still warm, green beans, cooked and refreshed in cold water, tomatoes, tinned tuna, black olives, anchovies (essential) and hard boiled eggs.  I also added cucumber but this was a mistake: too watery.  It may not have been authentic, but with crusty ciabatta to mop up the dressing, it made for a delicious Saturday lunch.  And next time I make it, it might well be completely different.

 

A No Aga Day

There is nothing sadder than an Aga which isn’t on.  Today my Aga has been cold and consequently – I know it’s silly, especially since it’s summer, allegedly – my kitchen seemed a rather uninviting place.  The Aga was turned off last night to give it a chance to cool down before its annual service today.  It’s just been switched back on and with a bit of luck will have enough heat for me to cook supper on it tonight.

Some Aga owners (sensibly) turn theirs off during the summer months and use their alternative oven.  The trouble is, I don’t have an alternative oven.  It was a deliberate decision when we had the Aga installed in our new kitchen ten years ago to be a full-time Aga cook and also not to use up space unnecessarily; instead, I have plenty of cupboards!  Admittedly it can feel too hot if ever we have a spell of proper summer weather (ie not often) but our Victorian house has large sash windows which can be opened wide, and also, the Aga can be turned down and still be used.

It’s a pity the Aga service hasn’t coincided with some really hot weather like we had a couple of weeks ago, when it would have been a relief to have a cooler kitchen. It’s grey and wet out there but mild: it’s definitely summer rain we’re experiencing.

Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t tell you a little about what I’ve been making in the kitchen lately.  It’s the season for salad and soft fruit, neither of which necessarily requires cooking.

A delicious salad in my new favourite book, Honey and Co., is fatoush.  As far as I can tell, there exist many versions of it, but this is the first one I’ve come across which includes pomegranate.  If I was making it today I’d have to add the pitta without toasting it, because I don’t have an electric toaster.

Fatoush

Ingredients

  • 1 pitta, cut in half to make two thin pieces
  • olive oil
  • 1 head of Little Gem lettuce
  • 250g mixed tomatoes
  • 150g feta
  • 2 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked (if you don’t have any fresh, use a little dried oregano in the dressing)
  • 2 tsp za’atar
  • 2 heaped tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds

Dressing

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • a little freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Peel the garlic, place it on a chopping board and press down on it with the back of a knife until it’s crushed but still in one piece.  Mix it together with the other dressing ingredients in the bowl you want to serve the salad in, and leave to infuse for about an hour at room temperature
  • Brush the pitta pieces with a little oil, place them on a baking tray at the top of the roasting oven for a few minutes until they’re golden and crisp.  You can do this under a grill or in a regular toaster too.  Break into bite-size pieces
  • Separate the lettuce into leaves and cut these into strips
  • Cut the tomatoes in two or three different ways (slices, wedges, chunks) to give the salad some texture.  Crumble the feta but not too much
  • When you are ready to serve, remove the garlic clove from the dressing (it was only there to add a hint of flavour) and add all the salad ingredients to the bowl and toss them gently together

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At the 21st birthday party we went to recently, our hostess served this strawberry dessert which was absolutely delicious.  This is not a precise recipe; I’ll leave you to adjust quantities to your liking.

Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar with a Mascarpaone, Fromage Frais and Vanilla Cream

  • Hull and halve or quarter your strawberries, depending on size, and place in a bowl with some sugar and balsamic vinegar.  I used a couple of tablespoons of balsamic and just a sprinkling of caster sugar for about 600g strawberries.  Leave these to infuse for a couple of hours.
  • Serve with the cream made up of 50% mascarpone and 50% fat free fromage frais, and a little vanilla extract and some caster sugar to taste
  • Serve the strawberries in individual bowls with large dollops of the cream on top

Apologies for not having a photo of this dessert but here are some strawberries anyway.

 

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Middle Eastern Cooking

Pomegranates have been featuring regularly in our meals at home recently and this week I read this about their possible anti-ageing properties, which was interesting and encouraging.  And the great Ottolenghi gives us these useful tips about them.  I love his books, Plenty and Plenty More, which my sons gave me for Christmas the year before last, but it is true that the recipes are often quite complicated with long lists of ingredients.  This is fine if you have time and the inclination but there are days when you have neither but still want to eat well.  This is where two other favourite Middle Eastern recipe books of mine come in: Persiana and my newest book, Honey & Co.  I have cooked quite a few things from the latter in the last few weeks and every single one has been a gem and just right for summer (such as it is) eating.

I commend one to you in particular which is so good I made it twice in a week.  It’s:

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thigh fillets

(serves 4)

Marinade

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad

  • 200g bulgar wheat
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 50g shelled pistachios, roasted and coarsely chopped (half reserved to sprinkle on top)
  • 75g currants
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 50g fresh pomegranate seeds (1 tbsp reserved to sprinkle over the top)
  • 1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped

Method

  • Mix the marinade ingredients together and use to coat the chicken all over.  Cover and keep in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours to marinate.  You can do this overnight.
  • Preheat conventional oven to 200ºc/180ºc fan
  • Place the bulgar wheat in a large serving bowl/dish with the salt and oil, pour over the boiling water and cover with cling film for 5 minutes
  • Uncover and fluff up the bulgar using a fork
  • Add all the remaining ingredients except those you have reserved to use as garnish, and stir well
  • Place the chicken thighs on a large roasting tray lined with bake-o-glide and season with salt and pepper (non Aga users: fry on the hob for a few minutes each side and finish off in the oven)
  • Roast near the top of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through
  • Serve the chicken on top of the salad and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and pomegranate seeds

 

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