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, arrives they take 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

Gluten-Free Lasagne

When I told No. 2 son I was making a lasagne without pasta he was skeptical. You’ll be trying to get rid of the leftovers all week, he said. But it was a great success. Different to a traditional lasagne, but still delicious.

It comes from a new book called Simplicious which is all about using things up. It uses rice paper sheets instead of lasagne sheets and the sauce is thickened with cauliflower instead of flour, making it gluten-free and low in carbohydrates. But if you don’t have any rice paper sheets use any kind of pasta you have in your pantry – cooked in boiling water, unless it’s instant lasagne.

I’m not gluten intolerant, but you don’t need to be gluten intolerant to enjoy this recipe. It simply caught my eye because I had some rice paper sheets and nori (seaweed) sheets which had been sitting in the pantry forever and needed using up! I added cumin and sugar to the sauce and used mushrooms instead of grated pumpkin. Below I’ve offered a few other suggestions for varying the recipe to suit what you have on hand. It’s that kind of recipe – very adaptable!

Gluten-Free LasagneMeat Sauce:
1 Tbs oil
1 onion, finely chopped
500g minced beef or lamb
2 cups chopped mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp cayenne pepper or chilli powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp sugar (optional)
1 cup water
Cheese and Cauliflower Sauce:
1 cauliflower cut into florets
40g butter
½ cup milk
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
To assemble:
9 rice paper sheets
2 nori (seaweed) sheets, torn into pieces
2 cups baby spinach leaves
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large frying pan and cook onion, mince, mushrooms and garlic for 5-7 mins, stirring often and breaking up the mince. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 15-20 mins until thickened.

Meanwhile pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cook cauliflower in boiling salted water until tender then place in food processor with butter, milk and Parmesan. Whiz till smooth.

Grease a 22cm springform cake pan and line the bottom with baking paper. Spread a third of the meat sauce over the bottom, then 3 rice paper sheets, then a third of the cauliflower sauce. Next goes half the spinach leaves and half the nori. Repeat this again then finish with remaining meat sauce, rice papers and cauliflower sauce. Top with grated Parmesan. Bake 40 mins or until browned. Stand 10 mins then remove sides of pan. Serve with a mixed salad.

Serves 6

Variations and Substitutions:

  • Use a baking dish instead of a springform pan,
  • Use grated cheddar instead of Parmesan.
  • The original recipe uses 2 cups of grated pumpkin – I used mushrooms instead – you could also substitute grated carrot or zucchini (courgette).
  • To make a vegetarian version use 500g eggplants (aubergines) cut into small cubes instead of the mince.
  • If you don’t have any nori (seaweed) sheets just leave them out.

Wild Mushroom Salad with Parmesan and Prosciutto

We recently spent a week in Slovenia – two days in the capital Ljubljana and 4 days in Bled. If you haven’t been to this part of the world I recommend you put it on your list. Amazing scenery with dominating mountains, crystal clear turquoise blue rivers and majestic forests. The neat little houses each had a neat little woodpile and a well kept veggie garden. Everything was spotlessly clean and well-maintained. A good way to see some of this beautiful scenery is to arrive in Ljubljana by train from Vienna, which takes between 5 and 6 hours.

In late summer and early autumn farmer’s markets in continental Europe sell a variety of wild mushrooms – porcini and ceps to name two that I am familiar with. One of the culinary highlights of our stay in Slovenia was a salad made with wild porcini and garnished with shaved parmesan and crispy bits of prosciutto. In Australia you can’t find wild porcini (well that’s what I thought, see below) so I used a mixture of shitake and enoki mushrooms to recreate it back home. It was not the same but still delicious.

After doing some research on the internet I discovered that wild porcini mushrooms have recently been found growing in parts of South Australia and Victoria. Their location is a well kept secret and any that are sold are snapped up by top chefs for between $60 and $120 a kilo. They apparently like similar growing conditions to truffles and can be found under pine and oak trees.  I have thought about blitzing some dried porcini in the food processor and sprinkling the powder under a large oak tree in our garden. Might work?

Wild Mushroom Salad with Parmesan and Prosciutto6 handfuls rocket and/or baby salad leaves
Olive oil and lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 tsp honey (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
400g wild porcini (I used enoki and shitake)
olive oil and 1 clove garlic, crushed
200g shaved Prosciutto
100g shaved Parmesan cheese
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Lightly dress salad leaves with a simple dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice or white wine vinegar, a little honey and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on four serving plates. Slice or cut  up the mushrooms and mix them with a little olive oil and crushed garlic. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Pan fry the mushrooms in a non-stick pan over high heat, stirring, for 3-5 mins or until lightly browned. Divide mushrooms between the four serving plates. Cut Prosciutto into small bits (I used scissors) and add to the pan. Cook over high heat, stirring, until crispy. Divide amongst serving plates, top with Parmesan and pine nuts if using – I didn’t in the photo but they would make a nice addition. Drizzle some olive oil around the salad and sprinkle with some coarsely cracked black pepper.

Serves 4

Lamb and Date Tajine in a Slow Cooker

The two most popular posts on Café Cat are both made in a slow cooker, so I thought it was time to post another recipe.

While I probably only use it four or five times a year, a slow cooker is great for winter, when we eat more casseroles. It’s also perfect when you want something which looks after itself as it cooks.

This Lamb and Date Tajine came from my friend Kien who lives in Amsterdam. I’ve cut down a bit on the liquid which is all you need to do to adapt any recipe for a slow cooker. I couldn’t find any really small onions so I used nine larger ones and cut them in half. As with all casseroles, the leftovers were even better when reheated two days later.

Lamb and Date Tajine in a Slow Cooker1kg lean lamb cut into 2cm cubes (shoulder, leg)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp fresh ginger, coarsely grated
Pinch of saffron
1 Tbs olive oil + extra
18 whole small onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs plain flour
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
450ml lamb or beef stock
4 Tbs chopped fresh coriander
Rind of one preserved lemon, diced (see note below)
100g dates, sliced
1 Tbs honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Marinate meat with ground coriander, ginger, saffron and olive oil for 24 hours in the fridge. Brown lamb all over in 2-3 batches in a non-stick frying pan over moderately hot heat – there’s no need to add any oil as there’s oil in the marinade – then place in slow cooker.

Add a little oil to the pan with the whole baby onions and cook until lightly golden all over, then add to slow cooker. Add garlic to the pan and cook gently for a minute or so, adding a little more oil if necessary. When soft add flour and continue to cook for a minute or so, stirring. Add stock gradually, stirring until thickened, then add to slow cooker with the cinnamon stick and tomato paste. Cover and cook on High until it starts to bubble, then turn to Low and cook for 6-7 hours or leave it on high for 3-4 hours. It might suit you to cook it for longer if you have to go out. Cooking times vary from slow cooker to slow cooker.

When meat is tender add honey, dates and preserved lemon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Preserved lemons are salty so you probably won’t need any salt. Cook for another hour or so. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with couscous.

Serves 4-6

Notes: While lamb is more authentic in a Moroccan tajine, cubed lean beef also works well in this recipe. Preserved lemons are sold in some gourmet shops. They give this recipe a distinctive flavour, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them next time you’re in a gourmet shop. One jar is enough for several recipes. Or you can make your own as I do.

Fettuccine Primavera

I’ve been asked to write a guest post for Café Cat because Mum’s currently in Chile on a business trip. With a bumper crop of both broad beans (also known as fava beans) and snow peas in my garden, I thought I’d share a recipe for Fettuccine Primavera.

Crop of broad beans and snow peas
As with most things I cook, this is a hybrid of recipes found online and from cook books, picking and choosing the bits I thought sounded good. Since making it last week I have cooked it again making a few variations, including adding smoked salmon, and will add it to our summer rotation as a delicious way to use any green legumes.

Fettuccine Primavera
500g fresh fettuccine
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tbs wholegrain mustard
1 lemon (zest and juice)
200ml thickened cream
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, then halved
100g snow peas, trimmed, thinly sliced
½ cup broad beans (fava beans), peeled
½ cup frozen peas
4 yellow squash, trimmed, thinly sliced
3 shallots or chives, thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese, shaved

Boil salted water for pasta in large saucepan. Fry garlic in olive oil before adding lemon juice, zest and mustard, combine before stirring through cream. Season to taste, then leave to simmer gently. Cook pasta as per directions. Two minutes before pasta has finished cooking, add vegetables to allow them to cook, but remain crisp. Drain and return to saucepan before stirring through sauce and half of the shallots. Serve with remaining shallots and sprinkle with cheese over the top.

Serves 4

Salmon and Asparagus with Preserved Lemon Mayonnaise

This is an easy and delicious recipe from Donna Hay’s book No Time to Cook.  Ready to serve in no time at all, it’s perfect for a mid-week dinner.  The recipe calls for chervil but I substituted dill which is more readily available.

Salmon and Asparagus with Preserved Lemon Mayonnaise

2 x 180-200g salmon fillets, skin removed
1 bunch asparagus – 8-10 spears
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Baby cos lettuce leaves, washed and dried
Mayonnaise:
½ cup mayonnaise (home-made or bought)
2 Tbs finely chopped preserved lemon (see note below)
1 Tbs finely chopped dill

Mix mayonnaise with remaining ingredients.  Place salmon and trimmed asparagus in a dish and add oil, salt and pepper and turn several times to coat thoroughly.  Preheat a char-grill pan or a non-stick frying pan to medium-high heat and cook salmon and asparagus for 2-3 minutes each side, or until cooked to liking.  Asparagus should be al dente.  The salmon will still be rare inside so if you like it well-done cook for longer.  Arrange some lettuce leaves on two serving plates, then the asparagus and salmon.  Serve with the mayonnaise.

Serves 2

Note: lemons preserved in salt are a Middle Eastern ingredient available from specialist shops.  Remove and discard the pulpy part and just use the lemon rind.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Everyone has a recipe for spaghetti bolognese, or “spag bol” as it’s fondly known in our family. My Mum taught me to make it when I was about ten, so I could probably make it with my eyes closed.  This version includes lots of mushrooms, which in my view are an essential ingredient.  I know it’s a bit “retro” to use an oxo cube, but it’s one of those recipes I’ve been making forever, it works, so why change it?  I usually double the recipe which makes enough to freeze some for another day or you can use the leftovers to make a small lasagne.

Spaghetti Bolognese

2 Tbs olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
250g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
500g minced beef
1 400g can peeled tomatoes, chopped
water
1 beef oxo cube or beef stock cube
1 Tbs tomato paste
3 tsp dried oregano or 1 Tbs fresh chopped oregano or marjoram
3 Tbs dry sherry or red wine
1 tsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large frying pan and cook onion and garlic until soft but not brown.  Add mushrooms and continue to cook and stir for a few minutes until the mushrooms have softened and are starting to brown.  Add the mince and continue to cook and stir, breaking up any large bits, until the meat is browned all over.  Add tomatoes, a can of water (using the empty tomato can) and remaining ingredients.  Simmer the sauce, stirring every five minutes or so, for 30-40 minutes, adding more water whenever the sauce gets too thick.  You will probably use about 3 cans of water altogether.  Serve with cooked spaghetti or fettuccine, grated cheese (Parmesan or cheddar or a mixture) and a mixed salad.

Serves 4