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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Indian Leg of Lamb

Indian Leg of Lamb

We had a lovely weekend at home this Easter, with our sons and two of their girlfriends joining us for most of it. I tried to keep the cooking as simple (but delicious) as possible and had a cooking-free Saturday night when we went to our local Italian to celebrate my birthday the previous week.

For Easter Sunday lunch I ordered a large leg of lamb from the butcher and asked him to remove the bone and butterfly it. My thinking was that it would cook more quickly and carve more easily (although carving is my (surgeon) husband’s job!).

On Saturday afternoon I prepared the marinade, covered the lamb and put it in the fridge to be forgotten about until Sunday morning.61zmh4n5vpl

I adapted the following recipe from Diana Henry’s book, Cook Simple.

Indian Leg of Lamb

For about 8 people

Ingredients

  • 1 x 2kg leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
  • 55g blanched almonds
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • a big chunk of fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 green chillies, halved and deseeded
  • 550g plain yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsps ground coriander
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsps garam masala
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • Make deep gashes all over the meat with a sharp knife and put it in a dish
  • Blitz everything else in a food processor and spread this all over the lamb, massaging it in with your hands. It will look like this: IMG_4477
  • Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge
  • On Sunday morning, preheat a conventional oven to 200ºC, take the lamb out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. Place it in a large roasting tin and cover with foil
  • Aga users: put it in the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil for 5 or ten minutes before placing the lamb in the simmering oven until you’re ready to serve lunch. This was 2pm in our case, so the total cooking time was about four and a half hours. If you’re using a conventional oven, the cooking time is about one and a half hours, with the foil removed for the last 20 minutes or so
  • Leave the lamb to rest on a board while you reheat the cooking juices, stirring as you go, to make a delicious sauce to be served with the lamb
  • I served our lamb with a pilaff, carrots roasted with coriander and garlic and two green vegetables

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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.