Pot-roast chicken and chickpeas

We have been living on reduced rations this week, not because it’s January and everyone else is a) on a diet or b) broke, but because our renovation work has started and we are a) somewhat nervous about spiralling costs and b) our pantry supplies are in a series of cardboard boxes on the kitchen floor because the old pantry is kaput and the new one isn’t built yet.

I knew this day was coming so I’ve been a bit slack on the shopping front lately. Even with our recent renovation, we have the world’s smallest freezer. You can take a look at this useful content if you want to change up the looks of the kitchen for easy access. We almost always have a frozen chicken in it, so even when it looks like there’s nothing to eat we can treat ourselves to a roast chicken. But with no potatoes – and very few vegetables at all except what’s in the garden – I decided to pot-roast the chicken instead. Discovering that we were all out of my all-time favourite pantry staple, the humble tin of whole peeled tomatoes, meant a bit of creative thinking was required. This delicious pot-roast was the result.

Easy Chicken Pot-Roast With Chilli And Chickpeas

Pot-roast chicken and chickpeas
This may take an hour to cook, but it requires very little preparation and minimal hands-on time. You can add more liquid and shred the chicken before serving for a hearty, ‘bowl food’ presentation, or serve with rice and/or flatbreads to make it go further. You can always add more vegetables too. Either way, something green and crunchy is a good accompaniment.

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 small dried chillies (or a chipotle pepper)
1 free-range organic chicken, patted dry with kitchen towel
a good splash of white wine
250ml good chicken stock
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas or other white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
a handful of parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped
50g spinach or kale, washed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy, lidded pot (like a Le Creuset), then add the garlic and onions. Saute gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chillies and cook for a minute, then raise the heat to medium and add the whole chicken. Brown the chicken on all sides (as best you can) then pour in the wine and a splash of water. Let it bubble and sizzle away for a minute, then add the remaining ingredients – tuck them down the sides of the chicken. Put the lid on the pot and let simmer gently for 35-45 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated. There should be between 2-5cm of liquid in the bottom of the pot.
When the chicken is cooked, remove it to a warmed serving plate and cover with a tent of foil. Keep warm (the chicken, not you). Using a stick blender, whiz what’s left in the pot to a chunky, rustic sort of sauce. Taste for seasoning (and add a little hot water if it is very thick), then pour some of the sauce over and around the chicken, then bring the rest to the table in a jug. Serves four to six. Enjoy!

Real life with marmalade chicken

After some thought I think I’ve hit on why lifestyle cookbooks – the ones in which the authors are pictured strolling on white sand beaches in artfully creased white linen, or wearing amusingly battered straw hats while picking perfect vegetables from their charming, inner city potager – do so well. It’s because they transport us to a kind of ideal life in which there are no bills to pay, no time-consuming work to contend with and no demands on the cook except for deciding which delightful antique serving dish to use tonight.

While I cooked last night’s dinner in our somewhat messy kitchen, wearing my sweaty running kit and conducting two often conflicting conversations with two often in conflict family members, I tried to imagine what that other life would be like. Do you know, or are you more involved in the real-life after work dash? Either way, this is an easy dinner to add to your repertoire. Just don’t wipe your hands on that white linen kaftan unless the housekeeper is making another run to the dry cleaner.

Marmalade chicken
We’ve had this salty, sweet, sticky chicken twice in the last week. The first time it was borne of emergency measures – as in, oh crumbs, what are we going to have for dinner? – the second, to make sure it was as good as I remembered. On the first go, I used organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which I served with a crunchy salad and flatbreads for DIY wraps (or ‘flats’ as the Small Girl calls them). Last night I used the same cooking method for organic chicken drumsticks, served with basmati rice and some blanched snow peas, broccoli and zucchini tossed in a bit of miso-d viniagrette. Either way, it’s super kid-friendly and very easy.

For about 500g boneless, skinless chicken thighs or drumsticks
4 Tbsp marmalade
4 Tbsp good soy sauce
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
a good grating of fresh ginger

As soon as you get in the door, turn the oven to 200C and take the chicken out of the fridge. Then kiss your spouse/child/pet hello. Take off your coat and put down your handbag. Wash your hands.
Line a baking dish – a smallish roasting pan is good – with two layers of foil. This is important as it will save on washing up later. Don’t skimp!
Put the chicken in the roasting dish, leaving a little bit of space between each bit. Mix the marmalade, soy and oyster sauces and garlic together in a small bowl, then pour this over the chicken. Turn the chicken pieces so they are well coated in the mixture. Grate over a bit of fresh ginger, then cover the dish with foil.
When the oven is nearly at 200C, put the dish in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes (use this time to get the other meal components ready) then take the foil off, turn the chicken pieces over, and bake for another 10-15 minutes (use this time to have a shower, or a gin and tonic, or both). Check the chicken again – if it’s not cooked, turn it over and blast it for another five minutes until nice and crispy.
Serve as above, spooning the cooking juices over the meat. Be careful not to pierce the foil or all that hard work will go to waste. Serves four.

Have a good week, everyone!

The perfect chicken sandwich

Quite apart from the hijinks of Fashion Week (hey, it wasn’t exactly Milan, but you have to take your excitement where you find it in this life), we seem to be on the party circuit at the moment. These are the sorts of parties that involve fairy bread, sausage rolls, cake smothered in pink icing and at least one participant in tears before last orders.

Since we have a birthday party of our own coming up in May, I’m beginning to get quite nervous. It was bad enough last month, trying to keep up with the play when my father-in-law had a bash to mark a significant birthday. I rashly volunteered to make sandwiches, then had to talk my mother-in-law out of them being complicated club affairs involving several fillings and an anxious amount of cutting. “Let’s just have classic chicken and tarragon,” I said airily, before remembering I was in a place where tarragon was harder to come by than gold bars. Instead, I whipped up what I thought was the perfect chicken sandwich while small children ran amok in the kitchen and old ladies waged war in the living room. Here’s how I did it.

The perfect chicken sandwich
This isn’t so much a recipe as a set of general guidelines. To me, a good sandwich has different textures, balanced flavours and good bread.
The cornerstone of these chicken sandwiches is a good mayonnaise – and by that I’m afraid I mean a real one. Trust me, making mayonnaise is easy and much faster than a trip to the shop to buy a jar of Best Foods’  finest. The other trick to good sandwich making, especially for a party situation, is preparation. Get everything ready and set yourself up like a miniature sandwich bar. It’ll be a good skill to have when the revolution comes.

1 batch of homemade mayonnaise, to which you have added 2 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
four handfuls of spinach, finely shredded
1 large cooked chicken breast (poached or roasted), cut into 1cm dice
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted and cooled
1 cup green grapes, halved
salt and pepper
12 slices from a loaf of bread – light rye is good
Put the diced chicken breast in a small bowl and fold through 3-4 tablespoons of mayonnaise. It should be lightly coated rather than drowning in the stuff. Toss through the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Lay six slices of bread on a clean worksurface and spread with mayonnaise. Grind over some black pepper. Cover each with the chicken and spinach mixture, then scatter over the grapes and almonds.
Spread the remaining six slices of bread with mayonnaise and put on top of each sandwich. Press down lightly, then trim off the crusts. Cut each sandwich into elegant fingers and arrange on a plate. Cover with a damp cloth if not serving immediately.

What do you put in your chicken sandwiches?

Cheers to 2012

The end of 2012 hasn’t so much crept up on me as snuck in, wearing a balaclava, to bash me over the head with a baseball bat. Or a rolling pin. Or both. This year has been the best of times and the worst of times in all sorts of ways; most of the time it was about putting one foot in front of the other and keeping going.
So I don’t have a triumphant list of achievements to tick off – I didn’t climb a mountain or win a race (though I did run two half-marathons). I didn’t write a book or learn a language. I haven’t grown anything spectacular in the garden, unless you count letting all the silverbeet go to seed (it does look pretty impressive when it’s 6ft tall). I had lots of good ideas and acted on very few of them.

I was beginning to feel the year had been a complete write-off when I remembered my list of  culinary resolutions for 2012. Let’s see how they went…

The Nibbly Tea – one of 2012’s greatest hits

1. I will learn to sharpen knives…. Well, my brother did give me a lesson and I did try, but I’m still not very confident about doing it. More importantly, I have found a man with a little knife-sharpening shop and I think it will do us all good if I support him in 2013.

2. I will learn to carve a
turkey/chicken/poussin/quail properly… Done. We haven’t eaten any turkeys, poussins or quail, but I can carve a chicken like a pro now, despite my lack of razor-sharp knives.

3. I will buy a
slotted spoon… Done. Thanks to my lovely cousin Rebecca, who bought me one. It’s a thing of beauty and I think of her every time I use it.

4. I will wear gloves to do the
washing up and remember that wet teatowels are of no use whatsoever when
handling hot oven trays…. Needs work.

5. I will delve into the piles of
recipe cuttings and cull them ruthlessly… Needs work.

6. I will buy a tart
tin with a removeable base so we can eat more pies…. Done! And I have an amazing book, Pie, to help me make more of them.

7. I will sit down to
eat… I am trying, honest.

8. I will not sit down to eat at my desk, if I can help it. Fail. Epic Fail. But there is no time at work to do anything else.
9. I
will just say no to the enormous glace cherry-topped macaroons sold at the
supermarket… Done! I bought one in the middle of the year, ate it in about two bites and realised the spell was broken.
10. I will remember how lucky I am to be able to have food in my fridge
and family and friends to share it with. Done. Often.

The best sponge in the world – see Frankie issue 50 for the secret recipe!

On that note, tonight we’re having six people for dinner, plus two excitable children. I’m going to see out 2012 in the way I spent most of it – apron on, oven whirring, dishwasher loaded, holding two conversations at once, glass in hand.

Thanks for your support this year. I’m looking forward to more fun and games in 2013.

Chicken Tonight?

Recently at work I was up to my elbows in depressing statistics about New Zealanders’ lack of cooking skills and food knowledge. The research showed, among other things, that young people couldn’t tell the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber, had no idea where pumpkins came from and mostly ate alone, accompanied by a mobile phone, computer or TV.
I was appalled by this – and thankfully so are lots of our readers, who are all now contributing their own recipes in a bid to ‘get New Zealand cooking’.
Even so, I’ve got a strong hunch that the re-imagining (via reality TV) of food and cooking as entertainment has made a lot of people think that cooking is a hard task best left to the experts. When, really, anyone can do it. At least, anyone can make this easy chicken dinner. If there’s someone a bit oven-shy in your household, let them loose on this.

The easiest chicken dinner ever TM
Only the most rudimentary cooking skills are required for this dish – if you can turn on an oven, open a tin and do a bit of light chopping, you’ll be able to manage it with ease. This can be varied to suit your supplies and your palate. Suggested additions include a bit of chopped streaky bacon and some capers, or chopped sundried tomatoes.

For four people:

2 Tbsp olive oil
8 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 red onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, thyme or oregano, if you have it
1 cup black olives, stoned
1 400ml tin of chopped Italian tomatoes (I’ve used a tin of cherry tomatoes in the dish pictured)
a splash of wine

Heat the oven to 180C. Drizzle the olive oil over the bottom of an ovenproof dish big enough to take the chicken in one layer. Sprinkle over the onion and garlic then put the chicken on top. Scatter over the herbs, if using, and olives, then pour over the tin of tomatoes and a splash (about 100ml) of wine. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Add a splash of wine during the cooking if the sauce looks a bit dry. Serve with crusty bread or couscous.

What advice do you give people who are scared of cooking?