Chicken with Za’atar and Lemon – and a “Thank You and Welcome”!

I’ve been reluctant to embrace Facebook or Twitter. I did set up a Facebook account but can’t figure out how to link it to my WordPress blog and vice versa. People have suggested I do this to increase readership and subscribers to the blog. But despite this, and ever so quietly, over the last few months, so many lovely new folk have been joining us either Down by the Sea or Up the Mountain. It’s been wonderful to see new comments and to hear new “voices” as well as those of old friends on the blog. So I say, thank you to you all for sticking with me and welcome to all our new friends. And any advice on the Facebook button would be gratefully accepted….

So, back to the food today.  It’s been a while since my good friend Mr Ottolenghi made an appearance (at least, recipe wise) in my kitchen. A freezer full of chicken breasts (our least favourite part of the bird and what always seems to be left until last from our chicken despatch sessions) needs to be dealt with.  “Flavour, flavour and more flavour”, I say and this easy recipe (which I adapted a little due to lack of ingredients) really did the job.

Lemon Zaatar Chicken (4)

I have given both my version and Mr O’s version below.

Ingredients (to serve 2)

  • 2 chicken breasts cut into bite sized chunks (he uses a whole chicken, jointed)
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced (2 red onions in original recipe)
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • About 2 tbsp olive oil (4 tbsp in original recipe)
  • ½ tsp all spice (1 ½ tsp in original recipe)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon (1 tsp in original recipe)
  • 1 tbsp sumac (I didn’t have this so put ½ tsp of hot pimentón which is not at all similar but worked well – you could use lemon juice or zest for the lemony flavour of sumac)
  • 1 lemon, halved and thinly sliced
  • 200ml chicken stock or water
  • Pinch salt (1 ½ tsp in original recipe)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp za’atar (2 tbsp in original)

Mix the chicken with all the ingredients and leave to marinate for a few hours (which I did) or overnight. Bring to room temperature and cook in a hot oven in a dish which allows you to spread everything out. Mine took about 40 minutes to cook, allow longer for a whole chicken.

In the original recipe, the za’atar is sprinkled over just before cooking and it is served sprinkled with pine nuts fried in butter and chopped parsley.

Lemon Zaatar Chicken (2)

I served it with rice cooked with pepper and peas and the taste was beautiful, the chicken juicy and very similar in taste to a Spanish “pinchito” or little kebab and the lemon was sweet and caramelised. Definitely a dish to make again!

Griddled Cod with Oven Braised Potatoes

I’m surprised I don’t post more cod recipes, considering how much of it we eat. Typically here it’s salt cod, but sometimes we can now get hold of fresh too. Fish Lady surprised me yesterday with some beautiful (and huge) fillets of cod. Perfect for lunch in the garden.

Bacalao a la Plancha (2)

Often cod or bacalao is served over patatas a lo pobre here (slowly braised in olive oil) but it was too hot to stand over a pan of hot oil and my waistline, I knew, would thank me for cooking the potatoes another way. The oven was on as I was baking bread, wisely I was keeping cool outside. I decided to cook the potatoes in the bottom of the hot oven and then to cook the cod in my griddle pan at the last minute.

Ingredients (no measurements here, you know how much you can eat!)

  • Cod Fillet cut into portion and lightly oiled and salted on both sides
  • Potatoes cut in half then into thick half circles
  • A large onion quartered and cut into thick slices
  • About 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A cup of stock (I used chicken but you can use vegetable or water)
  • Half a sliced red pepper (or use some slices of tinned roasted peppers)
  • Seasoning

Mix the potatoes, peppers and onions with the oil and season. Put into a deep ovenproof dish, pour over the stock and cover tightly with foil (or a lid). Cook on high for about 40 minutes and then for 20 minutes with the foil removed.

10 minutes before the potatoes are ready, heat a griddle pan until smoking hot and then cook the cod filler starting with the skin side down. A couple of minutes on each side is probably fine, depending on how thick they are.

Bacalao a la Plancha (7)

Serve the cod on top of the potatoes with some fresh lemon.  I also had a bowl of home made tomato sauce which we spooned over the top. Filling but not too heavy, and only a few minutes spent in the hot kitchen….perfect!

Take One Bag of Flour

I don’t know who discovered that by grinding grains, flour could be produced. And whoever then went on to figure out that by adding simple ingredients like water and air, you could end up with a delicious loaf of sourdough bread. As for pasta, whoever had that great idea of adding an egg and a pinch of salt to make a beautiful silky dough….well, I raise my glass of wine to them.

Not really much of a recipe today, more an acknowledgement that good food doesn’t need to be complicated or sophisticated. Ingredients, as long as they are fresh and good can produce the most incredible tasting meals with just a little effort and time invested. Oh yes, and love. Good food needs to be made with love.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (4)

Lunch the other day was a homage to simple ingredients. Home made pappardelle (thick pasta as opposed to thin as the pasta cutting attachment on my machine has died, so I had to cut by hand) served with a (home grown vegetables) tomato and vegetable sauce with anchovies. Home made bread, dipped in our own olive oil and a glass of not home made wine. I’ll leave that to the experts!

Slow Cooked Vegetable Sauce with Anchovies (serves 2-4)

  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half a courgette (zucchini) coarsely grated
  • One carrot peeled and coarsely grated
  • One stick of celery, finely chopped
  • Half a red pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 cup (or can) or chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning
  • Herbs (I used basil)
  • A small glass of red wine
  • About 4-6 fillets of salted anchovies

Hand Cut Pasta

Start by slowly braising the garlic, courgette, celery, carrot and pepper (but don’t brown them) until they start to soften. Add the tomatoes, the purée, the wine and the herbs and bring to a gentle simmer. Season lightly and cook slowly for about an hour (or longer). If the sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of water. When nearly ready, remove the herbs if you have kept them whole and stir in the anchovies (leave these out if you want a vegetarian dish). Check for seasoning (you probably won’t need more salt) and serve.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (3)

Home Made Pasta

I use (per person as a main course) 100g strong plain flour, 1 egg, a tiny splash of olive oil and a tiny pinch of salt. Mix together by hand or in a machine and knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes soft and silky. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. Check out Chgo John’s excellent recipe for more tips and help.

Cherry Sourdough Cake

Yes, the sourdough madness continues. I hate to throw food away and whilst I can’t always use my sourdough starter, especially when I have to remove half to feed it, I am now finding ways to bring it into other recipes.

We’ve had bread, and pizza, so now it’s time for something sweet. I’ve noticed too that there’s not too much fat used in these recipes, and I tend to use olive oil rather than butter, so I’m finding lower fat alternatives which has been a bonus.

As I was playing around with my cake recipe, the lovely Teleri at Olives & Artichokes, very kindly weighed, measured, baked and posted a gorgeous almond cherry cake made with olive oil (I’d asked her about her baking!). Thanks Teleri, this one is being baked today Up the Mountain!

Cherry Sourdough Cake (2)

I found several recipes for cakes on line and decided to be brave and adapt, mix and match. What was the worst that could happen? The chickies would have had cake for breakfast. Luckily for us, and unluckily for them, my first attempt worked well, so no Cherry Chickie Cake this time.

The texture of the finished cake was somewhere between a sponge cake and a scone (US biscuit). We ate it cold and it was lovely, not dry at all and not heavy (which I was concerned about). I think this would also be good warmed slightly and served with cream or ice cream. Or both.

Ingredients (cake serves 8-10 slices)

  • 1 cup of sourdough starter
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • ¾ cup sugar                          
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 cup of chopped, stoned cherries

Mix together the starter, the oil and the egg. Add the dry ingredients and mix in well and then add the cherries.

Put into a greased and floured cake time and bake for about 45 minutes at 180 degrees (until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake is lightly browned).

Cherry Sourdough Cake (3)

This cake doesn’t rise much, but my next experiment will be to make the batter with self raising flour and then leave it to rise to see how the texture of the cake varies. Oh the things I do for you….

For more cherry recipes, click here or here.

Sourdough Pizza Base

I confess, I have been gripped by sourdough fever, and am now searching the internet for ways to use my starter.

A logical place for me to veer off to was a pizza base. We do enjoy homemade pizza here Up the Mountain on a fairly regular basis, and toppings usually involve a fridge clear out with half the pizza (I always make a big rectangular one, the same size as my oven tray) topped with meat and the other half vegetables. You all know I’m not a veggie, but one of my little quirks is that I’m not crazy about meat or fish on my pizza. So there!

When are the other 8 guests arriving?!
When are the other 8 guests arriving?!

Ingredients (dough)

  • 1 ½ cups of starter
  • 1 ½ cups of plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Mix all ingredients together and knead for a few minutes (I used my mixer with the dough hook). No need to leave to rise but if you don’t want to use it immediately, put into an oiled bowl and cover with oiled cling film. When you are ready to make the pizza, knock back the dough and roll out as thinly or thickly as you like.

This amount would make 2 large pizzas, I think I could have made less (using a cup each of flour and starter) as my pizza was thicker than I normally make it. Instead of being sensible (and healthy) and using less of the dough, I just left it more thickly rolled out than usual and made it fit my oven tray (heated) before spreading with home made tomato sauce, peppers and mushrooms on one side and jamon on the other and sprinkling with cheese before backing for about 25 minutes in a very hot oven.

Almost Arroz a a Cubana

It sounds so exotic doesn’t it…Cuban Style Rice? Well, sorry to disappoint, but it’s not at all! Arroz a la Cubana is a store cupboard, go-to dish. Often served in restaurants as part of the mid day “menu” and eaten by impoverished students all over Spain. What is it? Simply rice with tomato sauce and a fried egg on top.

As with many simple dishes, they can be comforting and filling. And they can be dressed up too, if this is what takes your fancy.

I almost always have some home made tomato sauce in the fridge. In the summer our little huerto provides me with tomatoes to see me through most of the year, and even though we missed the end of the summer in Spain, I managed to freeze plenty of tomatoes which will keep me going for a month or so until this season’s vegetables are available to me.

Solomillo con arroz a la cubana (5)

There may be a different way of making Arroz a la Cubana, this is my method which gives you a slightly soupy textured rice, almost like a risotto.

Ingredients (for two as a main course)

  • 1 cup Spanish paella rice
  • 1 ½ cups of water
  • 1 cup of tomato sauce (sofrito) Recipe below
  • Salt and pepper

Start by bringing the rice and (salted) water to the boil, reduce the heat and continue to cook slowly until most of the water has evaporated. Now add the tomato sauce, check for seasoning and continue to cook for a few minutes more until the rice is almost done. Turn off the heat, cover the rice and leave to stand for 5 minutes, by which time the rice will be done.

Typically served with a fried egg on top, a great veggie meal, I added some cooked green beans and topped the rice with griddled loin of pork. Delicious with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Chica’s Quick Tomato Sauce

  • About 5 fat cloves of crushed garlic
  • 500g of crushed tomatoes
  • A tablespoon of tomato purée
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh basil or oregano (stalks and leaves, not chopped)
  • A glass of red wine
  • About half a teaspoon of sugar

Put the garlic into a few tablespoons of olive oil (do not heat the oil first, we don’t want the garlic to brown) and cook slowly for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Now add the tomatoes, the tomato purée, the wine and the herbs. Season lightly and simmer for about 30 minutes until thickened. Check for seasoning and if it is a little sharp, add the sugar (this is not always necessary). Cook for a few minutes more, remove the herbs and you’re done.

Third Time Lucky – Sourdough Loaf

Yes, my sourdough starter is now up and running and ready to make bread with. Apologies for the length of this post, it’s hard to explain what I did in just a few words, so if you’re not interested in the process, have a look at the photos and come back again soon for some quicker recipes – you’re always welcome here!

Third TIme Lucky Loaf!
Third TIme Lucky Loaf!

First up I tried a recipe from the very good River Cottage Bread handbook, but it involved proving the bread 4 times (yes, 4 times!) which felt rather too much like a chore to me. The gas oven did not behave well and the recipe also involved trays of water and spraying the bread.

I did get a lovely tasting loaf, but the process was amazingly labour intensive. A recipe from the lovely Moro Cookbook involved very little work but my brain told me as I did it that it wasn’t going to work for me. And it didn’t. Flat as a very thick pancake bread.

I would have liked more holes in it, but it tasted wonderful...
I would have liked more holes in it, but it tasted wonderful…

I also struggled with proving and baking trays and came across a few folk who had used oven dishes with lids (or casserole dishes or Dutch ovens). Some dusted them with oatmeal to stop the bread from sticking and one person used greaseproof paper. I wish I could track her recipe down to acknowledge properly, but I can’t find it again…..apologies to the person who had this great idea.

Sourdough 2 (2)

So, with no further ado, I used a recipe from the River Cottage website, with a few tweaks of my own and the oven dish/greaseproof paper method of baking. Result? A beautiful looking and tasting loaf of sourdough bread. Now, if someone can advise me on how to make the bread denser and more sour tasting I’ll be a very happy bread baker!

For the sponge

•About 100ml active starter

•250g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)

•300ml warm water

 

For each loaf

•300g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)

•1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (optional)

•10g salt

The night before you want to bake your loaf, create the sponge: take about 100ml of your active starter, and combine it with 250g fresh flour and 300ml warm water in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands, or very thoroughly with the handle of a wooden spoon, then cover with clingfilm and leave overnight. In the morning, it should be clearly fermenting – thick, sticky and bubbly.

Moby Dick - a beast of a sourdough starter
Moby Dick – a beast of a sourdough starter

Now make your loaf: add a fresh 300g flour to the sponge, along with 1 tbsp oil, if you like (it will make the bread a touch softer and more silky, but is not essential), and 10g salt (which is essential). Squidge it all together with your hands. You should have a fairly sticky dough. If it seems tight and firm, add a dash more warm water. If it’s unmanageably loose, add more flour (but do leave it as wet as you dare – you’ll get better bread that way).  I did this and the next stage in my mixer with the dough hook.

Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. This takes in the region of 10 minutes, but it can vary depending on your own style and level of confidence. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it so it gets a light coating of oil. Cover with lightly oiled clingfilm, or put the bowl inside a plastic bag, and leave to rise. Don’t expect it to whoosh up to twice its original size in an hour, as a conventional loaf does. Sourdough rises slowly and sedately. The best thing is to knead it in the morning then simply leave it all day (or knead in the evening and leave overnight) in a fairly cool, but draught-free, place, until it is more or less doubled in size and feels springy when you push your finger gently into it. Knock it back (deflate it) on a lightly floured surface.

The dough has risen - hallelujah!
The dough has risen – hallelujah!

You now need to prove the dough (i.e. give it a second rising). You are also going to be forming it into the shape it will be for baking. If you have a proper baker’s proving basket, use this, first dusting it generously with flour. I lined a bowl (which was roughly the same size as my oven dish) with greaseproof paper and sprinkled it with a little flour). When the dough had doubled in size (it only took a couple of hours as it was a warm day) I lifted the bread out with the paper and placed both the paper and bread into the oven dish (which I had heated for about 20 minutes) slashed the bread with a sharp knife, sprinkled it with a little flour and put the lid on the pot.

I cooked it on the high temperature the entire time for about an hour and removed the lid for the last 20 minutes of cooking.  Leave to cool completely (it’s hard to resist, but your bread really will have a better texture if you allow it to cool), enjoy!

Olive Oil Pastry – So simple, even I couldn’t mess it up….

I love pastry but am mostly too lazy to make it. Except at Christmas, when I make Clara’s Shortcrust Pastry. And sometimes I use it to make quiche.

Perhaps I don’t make it that often because

  1. In Spain, getting hold of butter and keeping it fresh before it reaches my fridge is a saga in itself
  2. In England, I’m either too busy ripping out nasty bathrooms or it’s easier to pop to the supermarket and buy it ready made (oops, did I just admit that in public?!)

Enough of this nonsensical pastry avoidance, Chica. Pull yourself together and make it with olive oil! So of course, I did. And you know what? It’s so easy, and so tasty, and so silky and forgiving should you break it (what, me?!) that I suspect we’ll be eating a lot more of it in the next few months. And also, with only 2 tablespoons of oil in a 4 person serving, it really can’t be bad for you, can it?

Veggie Garden Pie with Olive Oil Pastry

Ingredients to line a 24cm (9.2 inch) flan tin with enough left over to make a few cheese and marmite nibbles (my grandmother always used to make these as a treat with the leftover scraps of pastry), this is what you need:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 2 tbs olive oil (30ml)
  • Up to 4 tbs iced water (60ml)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

I made mine in my food processor, but if making by hand, follow the same steps, it will only take you a couple of minutes longer.

Blend the flour and salt together then add the olive oil and blitz (or rub with your fingers) for a few seconds. Slowly add the water with the motor running but stop as soon as the mixture clumps together.

Press the mixture into a ball and chill (optional) for half an hour wrapped in cling film.

Cheese & Marmite Nibbles

You can roll this pastry out really thinly if you like, it behaves well. Use it to make your favourite quiches and pies. I made a vegetable pie with a filling of sautéed peppers, onions, tomatoes and blanched runner beans which sat on top of a mix of 2 tablespoons of cream cheese with one beaten egg, and topped wth sliced tomato.

And because pastry is rather dull to look at (never start a sentence with the word “and” Chica), I thought I’d show you a lovely photo from New Zealand, taken way too many years ago!

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Baked Sardines with Oranges and Mint

Summer keeps taunting us here Up the Mountain. And then the grey and dismal part of Spring rears its head again. A bit like me, the weather has been neither here nor there.

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Time for some summer cooking, we dragged out the barbecue ready to grill some sardines and pretend we were on the beach. Of course, in typical English weather fashion, the wind whipped up, the grey clouds sailed overhead and it all went pear shaped. Oh well, we turned on the oven which also took the chill off the house and all was well.

Ingredients to serve 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter

  • About half a kilo of sardines, descaled and gutted
  • One orange halved and thinly sliced
  • Sprigs of mint
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Smoked Pimentón

Simply place your sardines (or you could use herring or mackerel) in an ovenproof dish and place slices of orange and sprigs of mint between them. You could stuff them if you prefer.  Sprinkle with salt and pimentón, drizzle a little oil over and any juices from the orange.

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Bake on high for about 15 minutes until the juices from the sardines run clear. And at least you won’t have to worry about sand in your shoes….