Lettuce with cucumber, shaved fennel and raspberry vinaigrette
Maggie Beer’s chicken legs with balsamic vinegar, green olives, capers and raisins
Nigella’s chocolate Pavlova with summer berries
Do you remember those students in school? The really clever ones who actually went home and studied, who knew the answers and who after a test would say “Oh no! I hope I did Ok!” knowing full well they would pass with flying colors since they had memorized the entire book.
Well, I wasn’t one of them. Most of the time I didn’t even know there was a test. I was a terrible student, always un-prepared. For dinner parties though, the nerd in me is set free! (Where was that nerd when my mother was berating me for being such a bad student? Where I ask you?!)
I get everything done in advance. I usually take a week to decide what I am making. I do my shopping the day before. And I take all day (literally all day now that I have little L as my trouble making side kick) to do my mise en place. I marinate the chicken legs, weigh out the olives, capers and raisins. I make the chocolate pavlova. Chop the parsley. Wash the berries. Oh, here is a big one – set the table! Everything but the actual cooking.
I only lived in the middle east (Kuwait and Jordan) for about 5 years when I was very small – but the style of Middle Eastern eating is infinitely appealing to me. I really like that everyone feels comfortable enough to serve themselves – it also means that if (shock-horror) someone doesn’t like something they can avoid it, rather than try to find a household pet to feed the offending food to. And it saves the host saying something stupid like “What? You don’t like my cooking?”
I opted for chicken – actually, my hubby opted for chicken since I made it for him the night before and he liked it so much he wanted it again the next day. It’s a Maggie Beer recipe. I love Maggie Beer! I love that when she smiles she shows all her teeth and her eyes crinkle so much they practically shut. And I love that she is just so down to earth and slightly clumsy. Most of all, I love her recipes! They are so full of flavor, textures and color – and they always work.
This chicken recipe is excellent – first you marinate the chicken legs in cinnamon, rosemary and lemon peel – then you pan fry the legs with butter – douse them in balsamic vinegar before you throw in green olives, capers and raisins – the pan and its contents go into the oven for about 15 minutes. When you take it out, you shower the entire thing with coarsely chopped parsley and almonds (I left out the almonds). I served it all up with cous cous which is great for absorbing all those lovely pan juices and some rose harissa sauce from Belazu. Yummy!
For dessert, I opted to make a chocolate meringue a la Nigella Lawson. I have a friend who always makes this for her dinner parties and positively raves about it. Personally I prefer a classic Pavlova, preferably with strawberries when they are in season. But this version is very pretty indeed – quite Christmasy actually.
Maggie Beer’s Chicken Legs with Balsamic Vinegar
8 corn fed chicken legs (thigh and legs separated)
zest of 2 lemons, removed in wide strips with a vegetable peeler (reserve flesh for squeezing before serving)
5 fresh bay leaves
2 stalks of rosemary
1/4 stick cinnamon, ground or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1/2 cup flaked almonds
40g unsalted butter
1/4 cup vino cotto or balsamic vinegar
16 green olives
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup salted capers, rinsed and drained
chopped flat-leaf parsley, to serve
1. Marinate the chicken with lemon zest, bay leaves, rosemary, cinnamon and a good splash of extra virgin olive oil for at least 1 hour before cooking: overnight is even better if you have the time.
2. Pre-heat fan oven to 180°C
3. Place flaked almonds on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes or until golden, then set aside to cool. Increase oven temperature to 200°C.
4. Heat butter (I use a combination of sunflower oil and butter because butter burns quite quickly) in a large oven proof frying pan over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the pan, gently pan-fry the chicken pieces for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown all over. Transfer pan to oven and roast chicken for 10 minutes.
5. Bring the pan back on the burner, deglaze pan with vino cotto or balsamic over high heat, then add olives, raisins and capers. Return to oven for another 10 minutes (I say 15 at least) or until the chicken is cooked through.
toss over almonds and parsley, then squeeze over the juice of at least one of the reserved lemons, taste and add more lemon juice, if needed.
6. Leave to rest for 10 minutes, then serve.
Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Pavlova (Serves 8-10 although we were only 5 and no leftovers this morning)
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar
3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, sieved
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
50g dark chocolate finely chopped (I grated it on a micro plane)
For the topping:
500g double cream
500g raspberries (I used seasonal berries)
2-3 tablespoons coarsely grated dark chocolate
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
2. Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Mound on to a baking sheet in a fat circle approximately 23cm in diameter, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 150°C/gas mark 2 and cook for about one to one and a quarter hours (I cooked at 130°C for one and a half hours, her temperature seems too high). When it’s ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you prod the centre you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the chocolate meringue disc cool completely.
3. When you’re ready to serve, invert on to a big, flat-bottomed plate. Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter over the raspberries. Coarsely grate the chocolate so that you get curls rather than rubble and sprinkle that on top.