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

 

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:

 

 

 

Glazed Lemon Cake

 

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The cake

Parliament has gone into recess, a new Prime Minister is in place and the schools have broken up, so it’s probably not too soon to say that the political scene will calm down a little following the tumultuous four weeks since the EU Referendum result.  For this news junkie it will mean more time for neglected chores but more importantly, even though we’re not going away on holiday this year, for doing nice things with friends and family.

And now is when it starts.  It’s the time of year again when I make a birthday cake for my eldest son, who is 29 today, which is hard to believe.  For the last three years he’s shared his birthday with Prince George.  Two of his brothers and I celebrated his 26th birthday over lunch in a Cambridge restaurant and I recall that they were irritated with me because I kept glancing at my phone to see if there were any news alerts about the royal baby.  It had been announced earlier that morning that the Duchess of Cambridge had gone into labour.

I can’t remember if I made a birthday cake on that occasion, but I like to bake one for all my boys’ birthdays if it’s practical.  The eldest was on an expedition in Ecuador for his seventeenth birthday and there’s a great photo of him waking up in his sleeping bag to be presented by his friends with a cupcake bearing a single candle.  He lives in Cambridge and a couple of years ago, because we weren’t going to manage to meet up around the big day, I ordered him two cakes from that great Cambridge institution, Fitzbillies.  (If you ever visit, you have to try their Chelsea Buns.)  I couldn’t decide between the chocolate and the carrot so bought both (in the smallest size).  Extravagant, but I knew he’d be sharing them with friends.

When he was small I wasn’t really into baking and anyway, was working full-time and didn’t feel I had much time in my life for it.  But I did usually manage to make some sort of sponge cake and get my husband, who is more creative than me, to cut it up and shape it into whatever the boy was into that particular year, ready for me to slather it in buttercream.  For example, we made a train when he was two and a football pitch when he was five.

This year, not for the first time, I’ve made his favourite Glazed Lemon Cake from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  It’s not particularly quick to make, what with seven lemons to zest and a lengthy icing process, but worth it for an occasion and one cake goes a long way and keeps well in an airtight container.

We are all meeting up in London this weekend to celebrate the birthday.  I will be travelling up alone on the train and have to work out a way to get the cake there without damaging it.  I know it freezes well so I’ve decided to freeze it and let it gradually thaw during the journey.  That way it will be very fresh by teatime and also not too squishy while in transit.

Glazed Lemon Cake

You will need a bundt tin, greased, or a tube tin, as it’s called in The Silver Palate Cookbook, which is American.

Conventional oven: pre-heat to 160ºC

You want the lemon zest to be very finely grated.  I find a Microplane grater is best for this.

Ingredients

  • 7 lemons (you’ll need all the zest but the juice of only 3 or 4)
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 400g granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 400g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 284ml buttermilk
  • 2 tightly packed tbsps grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon icing: see below

Method

  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition
  • Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Add lemon zest and juice
  • Full disclosure: as you know, I’m a fan of the all-in-one method and it works for this cake too.  Mix thoroughly all the ingredients except the zest and juice and fold these in at the end
  • Pour batter into the prepared tin.  Set on the middle rack of a pre-heated conventional oven or on the rack on the bottom rung in the Aga baking oven.  Bake for 1 hour 5 minutes (conventional) or slightly less time in the Aga
  • For Aga baking I check the cake after 30 minutes and turn it, and then check it every 10 minutes to make sure the top isn’t burnt.  It shouldn’t take more than 1 hour in total.  It’s done when a skewer comes out clean

Lemon Icing

  • 450g icing sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tightly packed tbsps grated lemon zest
  • Juice of about 2 lemons
  • Place the sugar, butter and about half the juice in a mixing bowl and gradually blend them using a handheld mixer.  When smooth, mix in the remaining juice and zest.  Note: this icing is a lot runnier than buttercream icing.
  • When the cake has been out of the oven for about 10 minutes, gently pierce it all over using the narrow end of a chopstick.  Spoon over about a third of the icing and allow it to sink in for about 5 minutes before turning out the cake onto a cooling rack
  • Pierce the other side of the cake all over and begin spooning over the remaining icing.  It will slide down the sides and end up on your board/work surface but you just have to keep scooping it up and pouring it over the top again.  This is the boring, lengthy bit: it could take half an hour until the icing has stopped sliding off the cake and  has mostly sunk into it.  See slide show below:

 

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