Chicken Lady Chicken

While living in Paris for four years I noticed several differences in the shopping, eating and cooking habits of the French, compared with ours.

They generally don’t stock up on food in big supermarkets. Living in an apartment, as almost everyone does in big cities like Paris, makes getting groceries from the supermarket into your home a real challenge. With limited parking and, for some Parisians, no elevator, it’s much easier to shop at the local markets every few days. Buy what you need, eat it fresh, then go and buy more. Little trolleys on wheels are perfect for shopping this way. An added deterrent to buying up big is that most Paris apartments have tiny kitchens with limited cupboard and freezer space.

I reckon one of the reasons many French women stay slim is that they don’t eat a big meal every evening. Several svelte French friends told me that during the week their husbands went out for a three course lunch and were quite happy with something very light in the evening. Women who work do the same. So as I was heading home to cook our main meal of the day, they were going home to have “un petit yaourt” or “une tartine” – a slice of toast with something on it.

I also noticed that the French don’t get stuck into baguettes and French cheeses quite the way we do. I’ve watched lithesome French friends make one slice of baguette last through several courses, used as required to push food onto their fork. When the cheese course, which is served before dessert, arrived they took only a small sliver of each. French cheeses are marvellous, but they are high in calories and cholesterol.

The French also tend to be more abstemious when it comes to wine consumption, as we noted when we cleared up the empties after a dinner party for mainly French guests and compared it with the week before when we had hosted mainly Aussies.

While they regularly eat out, our French friends like to entertain family and close friends. With the limitations of a small kitchen and an equally small oven, dessert often comes from the local patisserie. With such a wonderful array to choose from, why bother cooking? There are of course exceptions. I have several French friends who make wonderful cakes and desserts, using recipes inherited from their mothers and grandmothers.

Food markets pop up all over Paris in regular spots, once or twice a week. The twice-weekly market in Boulevard de Grenelle was less than five minutes walk from where we lived. Every Wednesday and Sunday from seven in the morning until lunch time the market sells fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, fish and more to a bustling crowd of mostly French customers.

On Sundays the rotisserie chickens and roast potatoes sold at the markets are popular to take home for lunch. Today’s recipe comes from well-known cook and food writer David Lebovitz who has been living in Paris for over 20 years. He managed to persuade the chicken lady at his local market to part with her delicious recipe. Hence the name Chicken Lady Chicken. He uses the marinade for one chicken, but I found it’s enough for two. She uses white wine but I think red wine or even sherry is a good substitute.

1 or 2 1.5kg (3 lb) chickens
Marinade:
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1½ tsp salt
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs wine or sherry
1 Tbs soy sauce
2½ tsp harissa, Sriracha or other chilli paste
2 tsp Dijon or other mustard
2 tsp honey

Remove backbone from the chicken(s) by cutting along each side with a pair of poultry shears. Place chicken breast side down on cutting board and press hard with the heel of your hand to flatten it out as much as possible, then repeat on the other side. Loosen the skin a bit with your finger so the marinade can get in under the skin.

Mix all ingredients for marinade and pour over the chicken(s), rubbing it in and pushing it under the skin. Marinate for 1 to 2 days in the fridge, covered, turning from time to time. Levovitz does this in a plastic bag, but I used a shallow dish.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place chickens in a roasting pan breast side down. Cover loosely with aluminum foil then place a heavy weight on top. I used two bricks, one for each chicken. Lebovitz cooks his chicken for a total of 45 mins but I think it needs a bit longer. Roast for half an hour, then remove the brick(s) and foil and turn the chickens over, basting thoroughly. Roast for a further half hour or until chickens are well browned and cooked through.

Carve the chicken(s) and serve with roast potatoes and a salad.

Each chicken serves 4-6

Roasted Cherry Tomato and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

These scrumptious bruschettas make a perfect weekend lunch for four, or two if you’re feeling a bit peckish.

Well-known cook, food blogger and author David Lebovitz makes his own cheese from goat’s milk yoghurt for this recipe, which features in his book “My Paris Kitchen”. He calls them Crostini. To speed things up I used a packet of Aldi goat cheese and a bit of feta.

Roasted Tomatoes:
650g cherry tomatoes
3 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Handful fresh herbs (whatever you can find), roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Herbed Goat Cheese:
125g soft goat’s cheese (see note below)
Cream or plain yoghurt
1 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (eg chives, parsley, thyme)
1 Tbs finely chopped shallots (I used 2 spring onions)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toasts:
4 thick slices sourdough or other country-style bread
Olive oil
1 clove garlic
Fresh herbs to garnish

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix tomatoes with remaining ingredients and tip into a baking dish where they fit snugly in one layer. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until wilted and starting to brown a bit. Stir once during cooking time. Remove from the oven and cool. Can be made several hours and up to a day ahead.

Place cheese on a plate and mash with a fork, adding enough cream or yoghurt to achieve a thick spreading consistency. Mix in remaining ingredients. This can also be made ahead of time.

Brush bread on both sides with olive oil then bake in a hot oven for 5 minutes or until golden. I used a sandwich press which is much quicker and avoids having to turn the oven on again. If liked rub a cut clove of garlic over the toasts.

Spread herbed cheese thickly onto each slice of toast, top with the tomatoes and garnish with fresh herbs.

Makes 4 bruschettas

Note: I used a 115g packet of Goat’s cheese from Aldi and made it up to 125g with some Danish-style feta. Any soft creamy cheese will do. In South America you could use “queso fresco”.

Lemon Fluff

This is an old family recipe from my mother-in-law. She often made it when we were staying and all her grandkids loved it. Now that I’m a grandparent I find it can be a challenge to find a dessert that the kids and adults enjoy, unless you stick to ice cream.

At a recent family gathering at the farm I served Lemon Fluff and the grandkids all came back for second helpings. They said it tasted like Lemon Sherbet. There’s no cream in the recipe and the kids preferred it that way. Most of the adults added a good dollop of thick cream.

The first few times I made the recipe it separated, so now I use the freezer to avoid this, as you can see in the method.

4 eggs, separated
1 cup caster sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 3 large lemons
1 Tbs powdered gelatine
½ cup water
To serve:
Thick pouring cream

With electric beaters, whisk egg yolks, sugar and ¼ cup warm water until thick and almost tripled in volume. Gradually beat in the lemon juice. Mix gelatine with remaining water, then zap it for 30 secs in the microwave to dissolve. Cool then add to the mixture with the grated lemon rind.

Place bowl in the freezer until mixture is starting to set around the edges. Time will vary so keep an eye on it and give it a stir from time to time, to check. In my freezer it takes 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile thoroughly wash and dry the beaters, then whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Take bowl out of the freezer and use the electric beaters to give the mixture a quick mix – no need to wash them after whipping the egg whites. Using a rubber spatula fold the egg whites gently but thoroughly into the lemon mixture. Tip into one large serving dish or about 8 individual dishes. Refrigerate, covered, for several hours or overnight. Decorate with a slice of lemon and some mint leaves and serve with thick cream.

The green around the edges was achieved by blitzing a few fresh mint leaves with some sugar until green crumbs form.

Serves 8

Ricotta Cheesecake

I’ve made a lot of cheesecakes over the years and this one ticks all the boxes. The recipe was given to me by my daughter Catherine who said it was easy peasy and delicious.

Instead of topping with marmalade, you could serve the cheesecake with sliced strawberries, macerated with a little sugar and perhaps a splash of orange liqueur or brandy. Instead of marmalade I used about a cup of pureed fresh apricots, which I had frozen during summer, mixed with some home-made cumquat jam and heated to combine, then cooled. Use your imagination – this cheesecake would go well with any jam, marmalade, fruity sauce or fruit compote. Or just some fresh berries.

Use half the amount of biscuits, butter and cinnamon if you prefer a thinner crust.

Crust:
200g plain sweet biscuits
100g butter at room temperature
1 tsp cinnamon
Filling:
250g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
¾ cup cream or sour cream
2 Tbs grated lemon rind
Topping:
½ cup marmalade
¼ cup water
Icing sugar

Grease and bottom line a 22cm springform pan. Preheat oven to 170°C. Blitz biscuits in a food processor with butter and cinnamon to make fine crumbs. Tip into cake pan, spread evenly and press down. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Place ricotta, cream cheese and sugar in food processor and process until smooth. Add egg yolks, cream and lemon rind and mix thoroughly. In a large mixing bowl whip egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Scrape mixture from food processor into the egg whites and mix gently with a rubber spatula until combined. Scrape into the cake pan, then bake for 45-50 mins or until set, but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Remove from the oven, cool then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake, then remove sides from pan and dust top with sifted icing sugar. Heat marmalade and water in a small saucepan until combined, then cool and spoon over the top of the cheesecake, or serve separately in a jug.

Serves 10

Variations: use orange rind instead of lemon. Serve with fresh fruit or fruit compote of choice.

Chocolate Fig and Hazelnut Cake

This recipe caught my eye when it was published recently in Gourmet Traveller, so I saved the link. Friends coming to stay for the weekend is a good excuse to bake a cake so I thought I would give this a try. As a fan of chocolate, figs and hazelnuts it seemed to tick all the boxes. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve cut down on the sugar in the cake from 300g to 200g and cut it out altogether in the chocolate ganache. The muscat and figs are sweet, so you could try cutting down even more on the sugar in the cake, say to 150g. Maybe add a few more figs to compensate.

The original recipe said to use muscat or brandy. I used a muscat-style fortified wine made in Australia by Angoves and called Bookmark Crema All’Uovo. I bought the bottle several months ago at Dan Murphy’s to make that wonderful Italian dessert called Zabaione. If I hadn’t had any of that I would have used port rather than brandy. The packet of dried figs I bought weighed 375g, so I used them all.

The original recipe tells you how to make Candied Oranges to serve with the cake. I had some candied cumquats I made several months ago, so that’s what you can see as a garnish in the photo. To make the original Candied Oranges, search for the GT recipe.

To make the cake gluten-free, use gluten-free bread for the breadcrumbs.

Cake:
1 cup (250ml) muscat or port
300-400g dried figs, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
420g hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
250g unsalted butter, at room temp
200g caster sugar
6 eggs
250g dark chocolate, melted
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
Ganache:
½ cup cream
150g dark chocolate
To serve:
Whipped cream
Candied oranges or orange peel (optional – bought or home-made)

Place muscat or port in a saucepan with the figs. Bring to the boil then simmer, stirring from time to time, for 10 minutes or until figs have absorbed the wine.

Preheat oven to 160°C. Place hazelnuts in food processor and process coarsely. Tip out. Make bread into breadcrumbs in food processor, then tip out. Place butter and sugar in food processor and process until smooth. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time, then the melted chocolate, stopping to scrape down the sides from time to time. Scrape mixture into a large bowl and mix in the figs, the ground nuts and the breadcrumbs.

Scrape mixture into a large cake pan, greased and bottom-lined with baking paper. I used a 22cm square pan, but you could use a round one. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until cake feels firm on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Err on the slightly undercooked side, as the cake will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven. Leave to cool, then remove from pan and pour over the chocolate ganache, using a knife to spread it evenly over the top and sides.

Ganache: heat cream in a small saucepan. When boiling, turn off heat and add the chocolate, broken into squares. Leave to melt for a few minutes then stir until smooth. Allow to cool for a few minutes, so it’s a bit thicker for spreading.

Serve cake as it is, or with whipped cream and candied oranges or orange peel.

Serves 16

Variations: use walnuts or almonds instead of hazelnuts, or a mixture.

Fresh Coriander Chutney

Serve this delicious fresh chutney with curries, roast meats, fish, samosas, or in sandwiches and wraps. Or simply as a dip with fresh crusty bread. There’s no end to its uses.

1 large bunch coriander
1 cup roasted peanuts
4 Tbs lemon juice
2-3 green chillies, seeds removed
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp turmeric
2 heaped tsp brown sugar

Place all ingredients in food processor and process till it looks like pesto. Scrape down the sides, add a little water if necessary, then briefly process again.

Keeps in the fridge for several days.

Makes about 1½ cups

Variation: use cashews or pine nuts instead of peanuts

Chilled Beetroot Soup

Maggie and Richard served this delicious chilled soup when we were staying them last year in St Germain en Laye, on the outskirts of Paris.

Richard, who was chef that day, said the recipe came from Honey & Co. As per the recipe he garnished the soup with roasted yellow beetroot, diced and mixed with a crushed clove of garlic, chopped fresh oregano and a splash each of lemon juice and olive oil. This made a spectacular contrast. Unfortunately I didn’t have any yellow beetroot, so just used yoghurt and some chives as a garnish.

The original recipe says to roast the beetroots on a bed of salt, but as you’re going to peel them I decided this wasn’t going to make a huge difference to the end result. I just sprinkled them generously with salt before roasting.

This soup goes down a treat at a relaxed weekend lunch in late summer.

6-8 beetroot (a bit over half a kg)
2 tsp salt for sprinkling on the beetroot
2 cups plain Greek-style yoghurt
Between 1 and 2 cups cold water
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed (2 if small)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Diced roasted yellow beetroot (optional)
Plain Greek-style yoghurt
Snipped chives

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash beetroot, but leave whole and unpeeled. Place on a baking tray lined with foil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for an hour or until tender. When cool enough to handle peel the beetroot. Grate very coarsely – a Magimix with a coarse grating blade makes short work of this.

Mix beetroot with remaining ingredients then chill until serving time. Add one cup of water first and see if it needs more. Serve garnished with a dollop of yoghurt and the yellow beetroot, if available.

Serves 4-6

Pear and Fig Chutney

Last week we flew to Queenstown with Air New Zealand for a wedding. We flew Economy class, but fortunately Gold points status with Star Alliance gave me access to the business class lounge. I was also able to take a guest, which was just as well as Matthew only has Silver status.

The lunch buffet at Queenstown airport when we were flying home included a selection of salads which we enjoyed with a glass of Esk Valley Estate chardonnay. Afterwards we had  cheese and biscuits, accompanied by a delicious Pear and Fig Chutney, made by a New Zealand company called Barkers. On return I decided to have a go at making this chutney, while the memory was still fresh in my mind. Today’s recipe is an adaptation of one I found online. It has the addition of walnuts, which aren’t in the Barker’s version. They give it a nice crunch, but leave them out if you prefer.

Removing the seeds from the cardamom pods was a fiddly job, so if preferred add a different spice such as a teaspoon of chilli powder, cayenne pepper or ground cumin. Most chutney recipes call for fruit, onions, brown sugar and vinegar, but they all vary and are very adaptable when it comes to the spices. Add whatever takes your fancy.

I’ve been on flights where you have to pay for any drinks or food. And I’ve been on flights where they give everyone a meal. This was somewhere in between. When it came to lunch time we were all prepared to say “No thank you” as the flight attendant handed us a tray. Much to our surprise she looked at our seat number, glanced at her clipboard, gave a tray to the guy sitting next to us on the aisle and headed off. Clearly we’d bought the Absolutely No Frills tickets and he hadn’t.

1 kg ripe pears, peeled and chopped
375-400g dried figs, de-stemmed and chopped
375g sharp apples such as Granny Smiths, peeled and diced
375g onions, peeled and diced
Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
350g brown sugar
500ml cider vinegar
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbs toasted cardamom seeds, crushed
125g walnuts, chopped

Place all ingredients except the walnuts in a preserving pan or very large heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour or until thick. If it gets too thick before the apples and onions are cooked, add a little water.

Place 8 clean normal sized jam jars or more smaller ones in the microwave, without their lids and zap on High for 2 minutes.

Lightly toast the walnuts by stirring them for a few minutes in a non-stick frying pan over moderate heat. When the chutney is ready stir in the walnuts and tip into the hot jars. Use a wide funnel or a small jug. Go all round the edge of each jar with the blade of a knife, hitting the bottom, to remove any air bubbles. Seal, label and store in a dark cupboard. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes about 8 jars

Note: if available use Bramley apples which are common in the UK but hard to find in Australia unless you grow your own.

Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb grows like a weed at our farm so I’m always looking for new ways to cook it and I give away what we can’t eat.

This recipe can be adapted to use other fruit and is perfect to serve with a cuppa or as a dessert. I used wholemeal flour in the pastry, because I had some which needed using. Anything that hangs around in our pantry for too long is an attractive target for pantry moths. They especially love flour, nuts and, as I discovered recently, dried chillies!

1 shortcrust pastry case
800g rhubarb, washed and cut into 3cm lengths
¾ cup raw sugar, or to taste
125g butter, at room temperature
125g (½ cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp almond essence
Finely grated rind 1 orange
1 cup almond meal
3 eggs
To serve:
Icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt

Go to the link for the pastry. Bake the pastry case as instructed, with foil and something heavy like dried beans or corn, to stop it rising. Remove foil and beans and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave the oven on 180°C.

Meanwhile, cook rhubarb in a saucepan with the raw sugar for 10 minutes, or until tender but mostly still whole. Stir often so it doesn’t stick or burn. Cool then spread into the pastry case.

If you used a food processor to make the pastry there’s no need to wash it out before you make the filling. Place butter, sugar, vanilla, orange rind, eggs and almond meal in food processor and process until smooth, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Spread evenly over the rhubarb. Bake for 40 mins or until well-risen, golden brown and firm to the touch.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt.

Serves 8

Variations: use ground walnuts or pine nuts instead of the almond meal. Use cooked apples or pears, tinned pears or peaches, or a punnet of berries mixed with a cup of jam instead of the cooked rhubarb. You could also use frozen berries.

Pumpkin Soup with Caramelised Pumpkin Seeds

It’s often the garnishes which make Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes unique. This soup, with its unusual crunchy topping of caramelised pumpkin seeds, is no exception.

They can be used to garnish any soup and are a delicious addition to salads, so you might like to double or triple the recipe. They keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ottolenghi cooks the seeds in the oven, but I prefer to use a frying pan where I think you have more control. I have a bad track record of burning nuts and seeds in the oven.

You need about 750g of vegetables which can be all pumpkin, all carrot, or a combination of the two.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
550g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 tsp saffron fronds or a pinch of saffron powder
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tsp grated orange zest
6 Tbs sour cream or crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
60g pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs maple syrup or honey
½ Tbs soft brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Put the pumpkin seeds into a non-stick frying pan with the other ingredients. Stir over moderate heat for a few minutes, or until starting to colour. Cool. If they stick together it doesn’t matter as you can break them apart when serving.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion then cook over high heat for a minute or so, stirring all the time. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, but not very dark. Add the pumpkin, carrot, saffron, stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until pumpkin and carrots are almost tender. Add the orange zest and simmer for five minutes longer. When vegetables are thoroughly cooked, blitz the soup in a food processor or blender, or with a stick blender. Add extra water or stock if it is too thick. Season to taste.

Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the caramelised seeds.

Serves 4