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

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.

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.

Vegetarian Paella

I was inspired to have a go at making this delicious Vegetarian Paella after lunching with friends at Muse Cafe, located at the East Hotel in Canberra. When you’ve eaten something in a restaurant, but don’t actually have the recipe, you have to use a certain amount of guesswork, but the end result was delicious.

Muse calls this dish Calasparra Paella – calasparra being a variety of rice especially suited to making paella. It’s not sold in any of my local supermarkets, but if you look online you can find a couple of specialty grocers who sell it.

Arborio rice is a good substitute, but you need to use less liquid and stir it less, so it doesn’t go creamy and start to break down. Calasparra needs three times the volume of liquid to rice, whereas Arborio only needs about twice the volume.

As you can see in this photo, I roasted the tomatoes with the other vegetables. They ended up a bit overcooked, which is why I have amended the recipe to add them halfway through the cooking time. I also roasted the beans and asparagus with the other vegetables, which unfortunately meant they lost their vibrant green colour. So again I have amended the recipe to cook the green veggies in water rather than in the oven. Either way works, it’s just about the colour.

1½ cups Arborio rice (or Calasparra)
3 cups vegetable stock (4½ cups if using Calasparra)
2-3 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron threads or powder
Knob of butter (optional)
About 12 cherry tomatoes
About 6-8 asparagus spears
About 12 green beans
1 onion
1 small red capsicum
1 small sweet potato
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
To serve:
2 avocados cut into cubes
Micro herbs or any small fresh leaves (basil, marjoram etc)
4 Lime wedges
Extra Virgin Olive oil

Heat half the olive oil in a heavy-based large saucepan, add the rice and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the stock, letting it be absorbed before adding more. Stir from time to time, but not too often or too vigorously. You may need slightly more or less stock as rice varies. When al dente add the saffron, chilli flakes and salt and pepper to taste. If liked, add a knob of butter, then cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile roast the vegetables. Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut the onion, sweet potato and capsicum into 1-1.5cm squares and place in a bowl with the rest of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well then spread out on a shallow oven tray lined with baking paper. Bake for about half an hour, or until cooked. Halfway through cooking time give them a stir around and add the tomatoes. Meanwhile cut the asparagus and beans into 1.5cm lengths and cook in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes then drain and refresh under cold water.

Mix all the vegetables into rice and arrange on 4 serving plates, using a large stacking ring if you have one. Garnish with avocado, herbs, olive oil and lime wedges.

Serves 4

Note: I made a large main course sized stacking ring by cutting the top and bottom off a large can of tuna with a can opener. Place in the middle a dinner plate. Fill with the paella and press down the top, garnish with avocado and herbs, then lift off carefully and serve.

Variations: use eggplant, zucchini or peas instead of one of the vegetables.

Roast Potatoes with Harissa and Garlic

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of my favourite chefs and this is another of his scrumptious recipes. These spicy potatoes roasted in duck fat with confit garlic have an unbelievable crunch, achieved by adding semolina. The best roast potatoes I’ve ever eaten.

Use Harissa, Sambal Oelek or any chilli paste you have and adjust the amount, according to how spicy you like things. If preferred, use olive oil instead of duck fat.

Don’t be tempted to halve the recipe, they’re too good.

2 large heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
130g duck fat
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2kg roasting potatoes, peeled and cut into 5cm chunks
40g ground semolina
2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and lightly crushed (I used cumin seeds)
1-2 Tbs Harissa (Sambal Oelek or another chilli paste)
2 tsp Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 150°C. Put garlic, duck fat and herbs in a small ovenproof casserole with a lid. Cover and roast for 40 minutes, until garlic is caramelised and soft. Remove from the oven and strain fat into a large heatproof bowl. Put garlic and herbs aside.

Increase oven temperature to 200°C Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add potatoes and parboil for 10 minutes, until half-cooked. Drain into a colander, shaking the potatoes to fluff up the edges, then leave to dry for 10 minutes.

Mix potatoes, semolina, caraway or cumin seeds, harissa and two teaspoons of Maldon salt into the bowl of reserved fat, then spread out on a large oven tray. Roast for 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until golden-brown, then stir in the confit garlic and herbs and roast for 10-15 minutes more, until potatoes are dark golden-brown and crisp. Serve hot, sprinkled with some extra salt.

Serves 6-8

The Tomato Chutney Dowry

My father left the Royal Air Force after the War, to help his father run the family nursery, which he eventually took over. To earn pocket money I worked on Saturday mornings in the shop where we sold all the produce. Grandpa sat in the corner and appeared to be dozing. In fact he was watching me like a hawk. The tomatoes were weighed to order and the adding up was done in your head – quite a challenge for an 11 year old. “You put one too many in that last pound of tomatoes. If you do that every time, you’ll put us out of business,” Grandpa would say.

Dad’s mother Jessie, who was from Falkirk, just outside Edinburgh, was an excellent cook. Grandpa met her when he was in charge of the gardens at Battle Abbey in Sussex and she was running the dairy. I often wonder how a young Scottish lass ended up working nearly 500 miles away from home, but by the time I wanted to ask she had been dead for many years.

My mother grew up in Malta where her father was stationed during the War with the Royal Engineers. Strict rationing meant she was never allowed to cook, in case she ruined precious ingredients. Before they married Dad asked his future bride if she could cook. She said no and he thought she was being modest. She couldn’t boil an egg.

From working in the dairy of Battle Abbey my maternal grandmother had learned many skills, including how to make butter into swans for afternoon tea. In the early years of marriage, my mother grew sick of hearing my father waxing lyrical about the swans. “If you want swans made of butter you’d better go back,” she would say, teasingly. Fortunately, Nana took Mum under her wing and taught her to make a few basic recipes, so we wouldn’t starve. Not the swans, but more practical things.

Once a year Dad would bring in a couple of boxes of  ripe tomatoes from the nursery and the whole family helped turn them into tomato chutney, using an old family recipe.

Matthew and I met in Geneva when he was working for the Australian Mission to the UN and I was working for the British FCO. He had recently broken up with a long time girlfriend and I was also footloose and fancy free when a mutual friend invited us to a tramps and tarts party. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not long afterwards we rented a ski chalet in La Clusaz for a week with a group of friends. It was self-catering so everyone brought some food. Unpacking my box of contributions, Matthew came across a jar of tomato chutney. Despite living in a tiny bed-sit with only two hotplates I still made a few jars each year as I consider it a staple. “What’s this?” he asked, so I told him. Before you could say Jack Robinson he had unscrewed the lid, eaten a spoonful and hidden the jar in one of the top cupboards. “Too good for that lot,” he said “they’ll polish it off in one go.”

Matthew and I met in October and married the following May. He always says he married me for my tomato chutney, amongst other things. Needless to say, running out of tomato chutney is grounds for divorce in our house.

Over the years I’ve only made two slight adjustments to this very old recipe. I use cider vinegar instead of dark malt vinegar and have cut down a bit on the sugar and salt. It’s crucial to use vine-ripened, very red, tasty tomatoes. The hard, orange, tasteless ones you buy in supermarkets in winter will produce a very mediocre chutney.

Tomato chutney goes well with cheese, ham and other cold meats.

Tomato chutney with cheddar cheese on crusty sourdough bread

Tomato Chutney

3 kg ripe tomatoes
1 kg peeled green apples (see note below)
500g peeled onions
500g seedless raisins
750g dark brown sugar
4 tsp salt
600 ml cider vinegar
2 rounded Tbs pickling spices (see recipe below)
4 Tbs whole yellow mustard seeds

You will need a large preserving pan with a heavy base for this recipe. Mine is stainless steel and has a diameter of 33cm and a height of 15cm. It holds about 7 litres. Alternatively make half the recipe in a large heavy-based saucepan.

Pour boiling water over tomatoes and leave for a couple of minutes, then remove skins and chop. Core and chop the apples and chop the onions. Place pickling spices in a muslin bag or tie them in an old cotton handkerchief. Place all ingredients except mustard seeds in preserving pan.

Cook for about an hour at a steady boil, until thick. Stir regularly to prevent sticking, especially towards the end. Meanwhile place sufficient clean jars (without their lids) in the oven set to 120°C. Or you can zap them in the microwave on High for 2 minutes. How many jars you use will depend on the size of the jars.

When chutney is cooked remove pickling spices, squeezing the bag so any juices go back into the chutney, then discard the spices. Stir in mustard seeds and pour into the hot sterilized jars using a small jug. Poke a knife down right to the bottom of each jar, all the way around the edge, to remove any air bubbles. Seal jars with the lids and store in a dark cupboard. Keeps for at least 12 months.

Note: Apples which go mushy when cooked, such as English Bramleys, are best, but they are hard to find in Australia. We’ve planted a tree and should get our first crop in a year or two. Alternatively use Granny Smiths, although the apples will stay in pieces when cooked. Sultanas can be used instead of raisins, but they are not quite as nice.

Makes 6-8 standard jam jars

Pickling Spices

1 tsp whole cloves (1 Tbs)
2 Tbs broken up cinnamon sticks (8 Tbs)
2 Tbs dried bay leaves, broken up (8 Tbs)
1 Tbs whole black peppercorns (4 Tbs)
2 tsp crushed dried birds-eye chillies (2 Tbs)
2 Tbs whole pimento (allspice) (8 Tbs)
2 tsp fennel seeds (2 Tbs)

Mix and keep in a jar. If the cinnamon sticks are very hard you may need to hit them with a meat mallet to break them up. I usually make 4 times the recipe at a time for which quantities are in brackets. Pimento (also known as Allspice) look like very large black peppercorns.

Mid-week Pork Stir-Fry

Try this delicious mid-week stir fry. Easy peasy and adaptable. I forgot to put the chilli on top for the photo. Leave it out for kids or anyone who doesn’t like things spicy. I’ve made this once a week for the past month and each time varied the recipe a bit. It’s always good. If preferred, leave out the noodles and serve with steamed rice.

 

600g pork, thinly sliced
2 Tbs brown sugar
1½ Tbs soy sauce
½ tsp Chinese five spice
2 tsp fish sauce
200g dried Asian noodles (e.g. rice noodles)
2 Tbs oil
1 red or white onion cut into eighths
1 Tbs grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red capsicum, thinly sliced
1 carrot, halved and sliced
200g snow peas, trimmed
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup roasted cashews or peanuts or a mixture
1 small red chilli, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)

Combine pork, sugar, soy sauce, five spice and fish sauce in a bowl. Cook noodles according to packet instructions and drain well. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a wok or large frying pan and stir-fry the pork over high heat in two batches for 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add remaining 1 Tbs oil to the wok and over high heat stir-fry the onion, ginger, garlic, capsicum and carrot for 5 minutes. Add pork, snow peas, stock, oyster sauce and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Mix in the noodles and a dash of water if it’s a bit dry. Serve garnished with the nuts and the chilli.

Substitutions:
– beef or chicken thighs instead of pork
– broccoli florets, green beans, spinach, asparagus or bok choy instead of snow peas

Caramelised Chicken Kebabs

 

If you like sticky Asian chicken dishes you’ll like this one. I used less than half the amount of sugar in the original recipe (which I thought was a bit over the top) and it worked well.

1.2 kg skinless, boneless chicken thighs
2 Tbs Asian fish sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs lemon juice
Glaze:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs Asian fish sauce
3 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs honey
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
To serve:
2 Tbs white sesame seeds
2 Tbs black sesame seeds
2 Tbs flaked almonds
Thinly sliced spring onions, or chives
or chopped parsley

Cut chicken into 2.5cm (1 inch) chunks. Mix with the fish sauce, brown sugar and lemon juice and marinate for an hour or two.

Place all ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes to thicken.

Thread chicken onto 8 bamboo skewers which have been soaked in cold water. Cook on a grill or BBQ for about 8 minutes, brushing regularly with the glaze, or until cooked through. Cook for about 2 minutes on each of the four sides.

Place sesame seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat for a few minutes or until golden.

When kebabs are cooked place on serving dish and brush again with the glaze. Sprinkle with the sesame seed mixture and the spring onions or herbs. Serve with steamed rice and a cucumber and onion salad.

Serves 4