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:

 

 

 

Chilli con Carne

 

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Saturday can be a day for relaxing and pottering.  One is refreshed after a lie-in perhaps, and the chores that need to be completed before the start of the working week can be delayed until tomorrow.  A day such as this is perfect for some slow cooking and for spending time near the Aga.

Last weekend got off to a particularly enjoyable start when we went out on Friday evening for a meal with some friends.  They introduced us to Bulrush, a fairly new Bristol restaurant, which seems to be gaining in popularity by the day.  We discovered that it had not been over-hyped, either by our friends or in the media, and enjoyed every one of the nine (!) courses on the taster menu.

It was not a late night so I felt rested on Saturday morning.  My husband went off to do a ward round, youngest son to do his paper round and I walked the dog.  Once we’d had breakfast and dressed I popped down to the farmers’ market for some sourdough bread for lunch and came home to start on the chilli I’d planned for supper.  At this time of year I love Saturday evenings when we have no plans because it means I can sit and watch Strictly Come Dancing with a gin and tonic and organise for the supper to be ready afterwards.  Chilli works well because it can be left to bubble away all afternoon in the simmering oven and all that’s required as Strictly is coming to an end is to cook some rice and make a salsa.

I suspect for many of us chilli is one of those dishes which we make from memory, perhaps using slightly different ingredients each time.  For years I’ve been basing mine on this ragù recipe; I just substitute red wine for white, add chilli powder before adding the tomato purée and finally red kidney beans about half an hour before serving.  This weekend that is more or less what I did but instead of just chilli powder, I also added some cumin and some chipotle paste.  This provided added depth and smokiness and I was delighted with the result.

Ingredients

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 1kg minced beef (full fat for flavour)
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsps chipotle paste
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 200ml milk
  • 200ml red wine
  • 500ml passata
  • 1 or 2 x 400g tins red kidney beans
  • Sour cream to serve

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and add the onion and a sprinkling of salt.  Stir to coat in the oil and leave to cook in the simmering oven, or if you’re in a hurry on the simmering plate, stirring regularly
  • When the onions are soft and translucent, add the crushed garlic, place the casserole on the boiling plate and add the mince and some salt, stirring and breaking it up with a fork as you go.  When it has lost its pink colour, transfer to the simmering plate and stir in the spices, chipotle paste and tomato purée
  • Then add the milk and bay leaves and let this cook, uncovered, until most of it is absorbed before you add the wine
  • After about five minutes add the passata, give it a stir and when it’s just about simmering, transfer, still uncovered, to the simmering oven for a minimum of three hours but it won’t come to any harm if left there for six.  Add the kidney beans about half an hour before you plan to eat
  • Serve with basmati rice, a dollop of sour cream and salsa

Salsa

I happened to use this Delia salsa recipe this time but there are many others and you might already have a favourite.  Simply mix all the ingredients together.

  • 1 large avocado, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, deseeded and the flesh diced (you can also peel them if you like)
  • About a tablespoon of chopped fresh coriander or to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • A few drops of tabasco
  • Seasoning

 

 

Norwegian Apple Cake

 

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In this post a year ago I mentioned my Norwegian grandmother’s apple cake.  It has become a Hardy family tradition to have it on Christmas Eve, but that doesn’t stop us having it at other times of the year.  I have vivid memories of evening coffee time at my grandparents’ house in Oslo when cake would often be served.

I made the Norwegian apple cake this weekend for second son’s birthday.  It’s not a typical birthday cake but I don’t think that matters.  We managed to get his brothers to come along and gathered in London for tea and cake which we consumed while watching the England v Wales Six Nations rugby match. img_6492

I don’t think my grandmother, who is no longer with us, would mind if I gave you the recipe.  It’s extremely easy to make.  You can keep it just as it is, or add cinnamon to the apples or sprinkle some flaked almonds over it, or both.

Norwegian Apple Cake

You will need a 20cm/8″ springform cake tin, greased and base-lined with greaseproof paper or bake-o-glide.

Conventional oven: pre-heat to 160º-170ºC

Ingredients

  • 4 Bramley apples
  • 125g plus 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 240g self-raising flour
  • 1 large egg

Method

  • Peel, core and slice the apples and place the slices in a bowl with the juice of a lemon to stop them going brown.  Add the tablespoon of sugar
  • Place the apples in a saucepan with a little water, let’s say 3mm deep.  Cook them for a minutes on the Aga simmering plate or your hob, giving them the occasional stir with a wooden spoon.  When they’re all soft, remove from the heat and leave to cool
  • Make your cake batter by placing the sugar, butter, flour and egg in a bowl and beating the mixture.  I use my electric mixer
  • Press two thirds of this mixture into the base of your prepared tinimg_4305
  • Then spoon the stewed apples over this but not right up to the edge.  If you feel you have too much apple mixture (after all, Bramleys vary in size) save some (freeze it if necessary) to have with roast pork at a later date
  • On a floured surface very gently roll out the remaining third of the batter and then cut it into strips about 1.5cms wide
  • Arrange these strips in a lattice pattern over your cake.  You don’t have to make a complicated over and under pattern.  The dough is very soft and the strips might break as you pick them up.  img_4306Don’t worry: you can just patch them together as you place them.  As you can see from the photos, mine does not look remotely professional
  • Bake your cake until golden brown.  You can’t test it because of the apples.  I find it usually takes between 35 and 45 minutes.  I start checking it at about 25.
  • You can serve it warm (but not piping hot) or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon.  I’m not a cream person but this cake really is best served with a dollop of lightly whipped cream.img_4319

Casseroles

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Spring was definitely in the air last weekend.  It was still chilly, especially in the early morning and evening, but when the sun was shining one could actually feel the heat from it.  Early Spring blossom has started to appear on the trees in Bristol and the daffodils are very much in flower.  So it might seem odd that I chose to cook rather wintry, comfort food dishes, but I thought I’d better get them in before temperatures really do rise.

 

Lancashire Hotpot

My husband says I can’t possibly write a post about this meal because we didn’t take a photo of it, but, with apologies for the lack of illustration, I’ve decided to do it anyway.  It was a success and the ideal thing to cook last Saturday when I had plenty of time in the morning but wanted to watch England play Wales in a crucial Six Nations rugby match in the afternoon.  Honestly, as you will see, this hotpot is more or less just an assembly job.  While I was preparing it I managed to keep an eye on the Italy v Ireland match.

For the ingredients, I more or less followed Felicity Cloake again and make no apologies for that.  Here is what I did.

Ingredients

(Serves 4)

  • 6 lamb cutlets
  • 400g diced lamb shoulder
  • Flour, salt and pepper
  • 3-4 large, floury potatoes
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 300ml stock (Felicity says lamb stock, but I used a homemade chicken one because that’s what I had in the fridge, and it was fine.)
  • 20g melted butter, plus extra to grease.

Method

  • Dust the meat with the flour and seasoning.  Peel and slice the potatoes thinly.
  • Butter a casserole which has a lid.
  • Put a layer of overlapping potato slices in the bottom of the casserole, season them and sprinkle with a little thyme.
  • Put the meat and bay leaf on top, followed by the onions and some more seasoning.
  • Top with the remaining potatoes, overlapping them again.  Season these and pour on the stock, which should not come above the topping.
  • Brush the potatoes with the melted butter.
  • Put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven.  Cook for 4-6 hours.
  • Thirty minutes before serving, remove the lid and transfer to the roasting oven to brown the potatoes.

I placed it in the oven at about 2pm and then all I had to do when we were ready to eat was steam some carrots (in the simmering oven of course) and cook some cabbage.

 

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By the way, for afternoon tea on the sofa, in front of the England v Wales match, we had buttered slices of this delicious “hot cross” fruit loaf which I’d bought in the morning from the Bordeaux Quay stall at Whiteladies Road Market.

 

 

 

Simple Stroganoff

This beef stroganoff, based on Delia Smith’s recipe, has the flavours of “proper” stroganoff but the advantage that it can be made ahead instead of at the last minute; it’s ideally suited to Aga cooking.

Ingredients

(Serves 4 people)

  • 700g fairly lean braising beef
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 50g butter
  • 275 ml dry white wine
  • 250g mushrooms, sliced if large
  • 250ml sour cream
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Method

  • Cut the meat into thin strips, about 5mm wide and no more than 6cm long.
  • Melt the butter in a casserole and soften the onion in it in the simmering oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
  • Place the casserole on the boiling plate and brown the beef in batches.
  • Once the meat is browned, move the casserole to the simmering plate and return the beef and onion to it.  Season and pour in the wine.
  • Bring to simmering point, put on the lid and let it cook in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours.
  • An hour before you want to eat, stir in the mushrooms, cover and return it to the oven.
  • Taste to check seasoning, stir in the sour cream with a good grating of nutmeg.  Don’t let the cream boil.
  • Serve with plain boiled rice and perhaps some broccoli or a green salad.

Depending on the weather, perhaps my next posts will move on to lighter, fresher dishes.

Lasagne al Forno

We had a lovely weekend, apart from the weather, obviously.  As I write Storm Imogen is still raging outside and if it carries on much longer I might be raging too!

Much of Sunday was spent pondering the prospect of an empty nest.  Owing to the wide age range of our sons (the eldest is 11 years older than the youngest), it feels like we’ve been raising children for longer than everyone else.  I have friends who no longer have any children at home and some whose youngest child is only just starting secondary school.  Most of my emptynester (is that even a word?) friends still see a lot of their children (some of them have boomeranged back from time to time) but life has inevitably changed for them.  I’m in no hurry to reach the same stage but we’ll be there before we know it and I’m not at all sure how I feel about it.

The reason for musing on all this is that at 7 o’clock on Sunday morning my husband took our youngest son to the station to join his fellow French A-level students and their teacher who have all gone to Bordeaux for this half-term week.  The students will spend the mornings in classes at the Alliance Française and the afternoons doing sightseeing and various interesting activities.  They will have homework to do too.  They’re all staying with families, most of them in pairs, but my son was pleased to find that he’d be on his own because he felt it would force him to speak French more.  It will no doubt help that his host family has teenage children.

He’s been on trips before but as far as I can remember, this will be the first time it’s been just the two of us (three if you count Granny in her flat downstairs) for a whole week.  Son texted (in French, bien sûr) to say he’d arrived safely and that the family is “très gentille”.  He has an ensuite shower and wifi access.  Not bad.

I’m not sure why but lasagne seems like the perfect dish for a Saturday night supper.  I made one this weekend, fitting the various stages in between other tasks and watching the Six Nations rugby.

The recipe, by Tamasin Day-Lewis but based on Marcella Hazan’s version, is one I use all the time.  As Tamasin says, a good ragù should have a mellow and gentle flavour, which is why you add milk.  And don’t even think of using lean mince: you need fat to make a good, sweet ragù.  I’ve been using this recipe since before I got my Aga, but it’s perfect for Aga cooking because it can be left for hours and hours in the simmering oven.  It’s great with tagliatelle or spaghetti but on Saturday I went the whole way and made lasagne al forno.

You will need:

  • 2-3tbs olive oil
  • Knob of butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1kg ground beef with plenty of fat
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 200ml milk
  • 200ml white wine
  • 500ml passata
  • 1 litre béchamel sauce, made with a bay leaf and nutmeg
  • 2 packs lasagne sheets, the sort you don’t need to pre-cook
  • Freshly grated Parmesan

What you do:

  • Warm the oil and butter in a large, sturdy pan or casserole (on the Aga simmering plate)
  • Add the onion and sauté gently until softened and translucent.
  • Add the celery, carrots and garlic, cook for another couple of minutes, stirring to coat well.
  • Move to the boiling plate, add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper.
  • Stir until the beef has lost its raw, pink look.
  • Return to the simmering plate and add the tomato purée, bay leaves and milk and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the meat has absorbed the milk.
  • Add the wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the passata and stir thoroughly.
  • Cook at a lazy simmer (in the simmering oven), with just an intermittent bubble breaking the surface, uncovered, for a minimum of three hours.
  • Pour just enough béchamel to cover the base of a greased baking tin or dish, then add a layer of lasagne, followed by a layer of the ragù, a layer of béchamel.
  • Continue with two or three more layers (the more, the better, in my opinion), finishing with béchamel and a good grating of fresh Parmesan on top.
  • Bake in the middle of the roasting oven (conventional 200ºC) for 30 minutes.
  • It’s ready if it’s bubbling and golden all over and a knife slips easily through the lasagne.

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Sitting down to eat this with a green salad and a glass of red was a lovely way to end a day which got off to a bad start; we discovered our shower was leaking into the living room below.  Thankfully my husband is handy and managed to fix it.

While he did that, as well as making my ragù I had another go at making the ginger cake that went so badly wrong last time: it was better this time but the batter rose over the edges of the tin.  [Insert expletive here]  Next time, I’ll use a bigger tin and if it works, will let you have the recipe because it does taste good.

Italian friends came over to watch the Italy v France Six Nations match with us.  Because C is a marvellous cook, it was with some trepidation that I served them the cake but they pronounced it delicious.  Phew!  They then left us to watch England v Scotland without them.  Well done England!

So, Sunday felt rather strange.  We had a Sunday roast as usual and I’m sure we’ll continue with that tradition, at least for as long as my mother-in-law is with us, but I wonder what we’ll do after that.  Will we lead a more fancy-free life with no fixed meal times?  I just don’t know.  I cooked slow-roast shoulder of lamb (the butcher was happy to cut a shoulder in half for me: a whole shoulder would have been far too big) but I’m not going to write about it here because it was a very similar recipe to the one I posted on my tumblr here almost exactly a year ago.

Incidentally, it’s Shrove Tuesday tomorrow and I will be making pancake cannelloni with the leftover ragù: just make crêpes, roll them up with ragù inside, lay them side by side in a dish and pour béchamel over the top, finishing with some grated Parmesan.  Bake in a hot oven.