March 15, 2015

Roasted Chicken with Mandarins & Ouzo (Plus: International Bento: Jerusalem)

One of our Christmas gifts this year was the gorgeous cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I've been petting the pages for weeks now, but finally got it together to make something from it. This was a wow-factor recipe, turning simple chicken parts into a feast.

As I didn't have a lot of time to source Arak, the ingredient in the original recipe, I went with ouzo (mentioned as an acceptable substitute, and super cheap in these parts) and have zero regrets. I didn't have true clementines, but the Spanish mandarins were a bit tart, and a surprisingly good substitute.

I served this with an easy version of jewelled basmati rice - cooked basmati stirred through with butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, raisins, and a pinch of salt, and it played very nicely with the flavours of the main dish (and, mixed together the next day with some of the leftover fennel and orange slices (chopped up) it made a fantastic salad, too.

The original recipe calls for a whole, disjointed chicken, but I went with three whole chicken legs, and simply divided them into drumstick and thigh pieces.

Wonderfully, this dish can be prepped in advance, so you just need to tumble the marinated chicken into a prepared (ie. lightly oiled) roasting tray (a BIG one), and cram it into the oven.

Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Ouzo

Serves 3-4

100ml ouzo (or arak, per the original)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons raw sugar
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed (fronds reserved)
3 whole chicken legs, thighs and drumsticks separated
3 mandarin oranges, sliced (unpeeled) into thin rounds
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, half-crushed
salt and pepper
Fennel fronds, to garnish

Combine the ouzo, olive oil, orange juice (I just squeezed some of the extra mandarins), mustard, and sugar in a bowl, and mix well to combine.

Slice the fennel bulbs (each one into 8 wedges) and the mandarins, and place them in a big bowl with the chicken pieces. Pour the marinade over the chicken, fennel, and orange pieces, and then sprinkle with the crushed fennel and fresh thyme. Turn everything about to get it evenly coated, and then cover and let sit for a few hours (or overnight).

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spread the chicken pieces (skin side up) and the fennel and oranges in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Pour the extra marinade evenly over the pan, then sprinkle the whole dish lightly with coarse sea salt (or kosher salt).

Bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the chicken and other solid items to a platter, and pour the juices from the tray into a saucepan or small skillet. Cook over high heat until the juices are reduced and become a syrupy textured pan sauce. Serve the chicken with the fennel and orange pieces onto individual plates, and drizzle with the pan sauce. Decorate with reserved fennel fronds, and a good grinding of black pepper. I served this with a slightly fancy rice, but a plain one would be beautiful, too. Couscous would probably also work very nicely.

Reheats wonderfully the next day (it's a good idea to remove any meat from the bones before putting leftovers away), as in this international bento below:

March 08, 2015

Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Dressing

This wonderfully veggie-packed, one-pan meal was inspired by a number of different online recipes, including Smitten Kitchen's Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad and also generally by the amount of reading I've been doing about tahini (aka tahina)and the growing realization that I really, really like the flavour of sesame.

There's a bit of prep and chopping involved, but you can also do that part in advance and hold the prepared vegetables in the fridge for a day or two, ready to be seasoned and put in the oven. Doing the prep ahead of time makes this a reasonable dinner to make on a weeknight when you might be wanting something both easy and healthy. The above iteration was made using Hokkaido squash (aka Red Kuri), but butternut is also really nice (and a bit less intense).

You could probably describe this as "steam roasted", since there's a bit of liquid in the roasting pan, which hastens the process of the vegetables becoming tender. You could make this without that bit of liquid, also, simply omit the water from the instructions relating to the squash and cauliflower. You may, in that case, require a little longer of a roasting time (ten minutes or so).

Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Dressing

serves 3-4

1 small butternut squash or Red Kuri/Hokkaido squash
1/2 head cauliflower
400 grams cooked chickpeas (1 small can)
1/2 red onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon your favourite curry powder
coarse salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
toasted sesame seeds for garnish (not shown)

Tahini Dressing

3 tablespoons tahini
2 big cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
big pinch of salt
Enough water to make a smooth sauce

Prepare the squash by cutting in half, removing the seeds/strings/guts, peeling, and dicing into bite-sized chunks. Store in the fridge in a bag or freezer-type carton if not using immediately.

Prepare the cauliflower by cutting into medium-small florets. Store in the fridge in a bag or freezer-type carton if not using immediately.

When you are ready to cook, turn your oven on to 400 F/ 200 C, with a rack in the middle. Get a large, open roasting pan prepared with a thin film of olive oil.

Place the cauliflower, cumin, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of water into a large bowl, and gently stir until the cauliflower is lightly coated with the oil/water/spice mixture. Carefully spread the cauliflower out on one side of the roasting pan. Pour any liquid in the bowl over top the cauliflower.

Rinse out the bowl, and place the squash chunks, curry powder, pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of water, and gently stir until the squash is coated. Spread the squash out on the other half of the roasting tray. Pour any liquid in the bowl over top the squash.

Roast the veggies for 20 minutes. You can prepare the chickpeas and onion while the vegetables are roasting:

- Drain and rinse the chickpeas
- Peel the red onion, and slice into short lengths (I slice thinly in one direction, and then cut into thirds, crosswise)

After the vegetables have roasted for the 20 minutes indicated above, scatter the chickpeas and red onion evenly over the cauliflower and the squash. Put the tray back into the oven and roast for another 10 - 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower pieces are tender, the chickpeas are heated through, and the sharp edge is off the onions.

Once everything is in the oven for that last 10 minutes or so, make up the dressing. Crush the garlic (or press, or pound with a mortar and pestle), and add it to the tahini. Add the lemon juice, the olive oil, and a good pinch of salt. Stir well. You will notice that the mixture starts to become thick and then appears to separate. Do not panic! Simply add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, as needed, stirring until the mixture become smooth and silky. Taste, and decide if you want to add more salt or lemon juice.

Once the vegetables are out of the oven, drizzle a third of the dressing over the pan, and gently stir to (partially) coat the vegetables with the dressing. Dish up into bowls, and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Scatter a few toasted sesame seeds over the top for texture and visual appeal (not shown, sadly).

Leftover reheat very nicely in the microwave.

March 01, 2015

Pasta & Cauliflower with Brown Butter and Sage

Sometimes really great dishes come simply out of the desire to avoid wasting food. I can't remember quite what I was cooking last week, but I do know that I turned my back on it for a moment, and the butter I was melting turned nutty and golden brown. Which was exactly what I didn't want. While inventing new curse-words, I poured the hot, browned butter off into a shell of tinfoil, wiped out the pan, and started again. Then later, when I was cleaning up, I looked at it and thought - there's got to be a use for that.

There's rather a lot of browned butter recipes flying around on the internet - everything from muffins to frosting to ice cream, but I wanted something simple - something I could do on a weeknight, when I get home at seven o'clock, starving and wanting easy answers. Pasta naturally sprang to mind.

Pasta with brown butter sauce (and sage) is a classic Italian dish. In my experience, it is almost always long noodles that are served this way, and that was my original plan, too. Then I realized that I had a half-head of cauliflower that was quietly aging in the crisper, and decided to go for a short, chunky pasta instead.

It's a pity you cannot see the sage in this - it seemed to mostly drift to the bottom of the skillet (probably because I shredded it), and what didn't hide beneath the pasta and roasted cauliflower, quickly got snowed under with a thick blanket of parmesan. If I had been less hungry, I might have arranged it more attractively, but nope.

This was a dish that used up leftover cauliflower (freshly roasted), accidental brown butter, and a weird pasta shape that I had already lurking in my refrigerator. The fact that it was also delicious made it into end-zone dance category.

I also served this with lamb cutlets (not pictured), because it seemed like a nice combination. They were delicious, but probably unnecessary. If I were serving this as a a vegetarian entree, I think I might add a few toasted pine nuts, as well, for heartiness (and delightful crunchiness).

Pasta & Cauliflower with Brown Butter and Sage

Serves 2

100 grams short pasta
2 tablespoons browned butter
1 small handful fresh sage leaves, in chiffonade
1/2 small head of cauliflower (freshly roasted with olive oil and a good pinch of salt)
parmesan cheese for finishing

Cut up the cauliflower until the pieces are just slightly chunkier than the pasta you are using. Toss well with a little olive oil and a big pinch of coarse salt, and roast at 400 F for 20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork (and ideally, golden brown where they touch the pan - a metal pan works best for this).

While the cauliflower is roasting, heat up the water to boil the pasta, and warm the browned butter (or, starting from scratch, brown the butter) in a medium skillet. Add the sage leaves to the butter once the pasta is almost cooked.

Cook the pasta to your preference (remembering to salt the water), and then, using a wire skimmer/spider spoon it into the brown butter and sage. Stir well. Add the roasted cauliflower to the pan, stirring gently but thoroughly to get everything coated with the browned butter. Dust thoroughly with freshly grated parmesan, and serve.

Leftovers reheated beautifully in a microwave.