Monday, 26 April 2010

Chicken and fennel tagine

I'm loving the new Jamie Oliver 'Jamie Does' series on C4 - even though he used to really annoy me what with his years of monkeying around on that moped and getting all his 'mates' on camera for 'spontaneous' lunches and high jinks, not to mention those cheesy Sainsbury's ads peppered with cliched Mockney-isms - he really redeems himself in this programme. Throughout his travels to Morocco, Spain and so on, he shows nothing but total respect for the people he meets along the way and good humour when people take the piss out of him. Which of course they do, a lot.

Which is such a contrast to Gordon 'potty mouth' Ramsay, who horrified me with his arrogance and total bad manners in his recent series Gordon's Great Escape where he travelled around India, or should I say shouted his way around the country like some boorish show-off. If it weren't for the fact that his recipes are usually amazing, I'd like to give him a slap.

Anyway, I digress. Jamie made an incredible looking chicken and fennel tagine during his trip to Morocco. Annoyingly, you can't get this recipe online yet, which will force you to buy the book of the series when it comes out. But we couldn't wait - we wanted to make it now. So my husband N made up his own version, which you can enjoy below. It's bloody delicious and so easy to make. Obviously it helps if you own a tagine, though! (er, how bloody middle class did I just sound then, but you can buy them in all good cookshops now...) N's dad and step-mum gave him the one below for Christmas, and in our tiny kitchen we've designated it its own special shelf because we love it so much!

Chicken and fennel tagine

Serves 4 - 6

You will need:

1 tagine (or you could you a heavy based casserole with a tight fitting lid)

1 large 2kg jointed organic freerange chicken - if you buy it in a butchers, ask them to joint it for you and cut it into bits
Olive oil
2 bulbs fennel, cut into quarters
1 large onion, cut into rings
1 med onion, diced
3 - 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
2 pinches saffron
1/2 tsp paprika
1 heaped tsp Ras el Hanout (a Moroccan spice mixture)
1 tsp ground coriander
300 ml chicken stock
10 fat green pitted olives
1 preserved lemon, pips and flesh removed, rind chopped into 4 large pieces - a good brand is Belazu
Generous handful each of chopped fresh parsley and coriander

Brown the chicken pieces in oil for several minutes until they have a nice golden colouring. Put to one side, then pour a couple of tablespoons of oil into the base part of your tagine (or your cookpot). Chuck in the onion rings, then mix the chicken pieces in a separate bowl with the diced onion, garlic, grated ginger and spices. Put the chicken, onion and spice mixture into the tagine base and add half a cup of stock.

Put the fennel quarters, chopped preserved lemon rind and olives around and on top of the chicken, squeezing them into the gaps. Everything should look roughly like this:

Now put your tagine base with all its bounty on a low heat (using a heat diffuser under your tagine is a good idea so that everything cooks evenly) and put the conical hat lid on and simmer away (the lowest simmer possible) for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender and comes away easily from the bone and the fennel is tender. Sprinkle with the fresh chopped parsley and coriander.

Serve with couscous to mop up all the delicious juices. Enjoy the sense of drama when you remove the lid of the tagine at the table...

Monday, 19 April 2010

Geetie's dark chocolate pots

If you haven't heard of Geetie Singh, well, she's pretty much a legend on the UK organic food circuit. She's like the lone ranger of organic restaurant eating - not only is she a female restaurateur (in a very male-dominated trade) but she founded and still runs the UK's only existing Soil Association-certified gastropub: The Duke of Cambridge, based in Islington, north London. You will find her regularly in the pub chatting with staff and suppliers, often accompanied by her baby daughter and chocolate coloured labrador. She grew up on a commune where they grew all their own veg and made all their own bread, and grew her pub business from nothing. She's a cool dude!

It's really tough running an organic restaurant - not only is every morsel of food sourced to the very strictest of Soil Association standards, but the chefs cook according to the seasons, changing their menu twice daily. They only use small independent producers with impeccable credentials. And the pub - wow, it's lovely! Really cosy and warm, with wonderful food that is both hearty yet sophisticated. The chefs make all their own bread, ice cream and pickles.

Geetie has just published her first cookbook, co-written with her head chef Sara Berg, and I made the chocolate pots recipe at the weekend. It's rich, chocolate heaven: tastes eye-poppingly decadent yet is easy to make.

Geetie's dark chocolate pots - from 'Geetie's Cookbook: Recipes from the kitchen of the Duke of Cambridge organic pub'

Serves 4

You will need:
170g 70% dark chocolate (I used Green & Black's)
200ml double cream
110ml milk
2 egg yolks
100g icing sugar

Put the chocolate in a bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. While this is melting, mix the cream, milk and egg yolks in a large bowl. Sieve the icing sugar into the cream mix. While the chocolate is still hot, add this to the cream mix and whisk. If it does not thicken up, place back over simmering water for a few minutes while whisking. Pour into ramekins, cups or glasses, and put them in the fridge. Serve on their own with biscotti.

I served mine with soft almond amaretti where I substituted the orange zest and orange flower water with ground cardamom, which goes really well with chocolate.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Roasted tomato soup

I'm hooked on the new BBC cookery programme The Delicious Miss Dahl, where the jaw-droppingly beautiful Sophie Dahl cooks up rustic dishes and bats her big cartoon eyes at us over the hob of a very gorgeous kitchen* decorated with shabby chic. Sometimes she goes a bit twee and wistful, reciting poetry while gazing out of a window, but altogether you sense that she's just a lovely person with impeccable artistic credentials (her grandfather was children's author Roald Dahl, don't you know) and a wicked sense of humour. I didn't think I was going to like the programme at all - I worried it would be really irritating and that I'd want to stab Sophie in the eye. But she's just too nice! And boy, even though she is a 7ft towering giraffe of a supermodel, she loves to eat - you sense that she really tucks into the food off camera instead of sipping a herbal tea and having an anxiety cigarette. Love 'er!

I made her roasted tomato soup at the weekend - it doesn't contain cream, but tastes so rich and smooth that after a bowlful you feel as though you've eaten something quite decadent. It's very easy to make. I've added a few chillies to spice things up...

Roasted Tomato Soup, based on the recipe by Sophie Dahl.

You will need:

2kg ripe organic tomatoes (if possible use UK-grown)
2 large red onions, quartered
Several sprigs fresh thyme
1 large bulb garlic cut in half horizontally
2 red chillies, sliced vertically (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chilli infused extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C. Cut all tomatoes in quarters and lay out in a couple of oiled roasting trays. Add the onions, garlic, chillies, thyme and season with salt. Drizzle across a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly, remove the thyme sprigs. Press the soft garlic cloves out from their skins with a fork (discard the skins) then whizz up the tomato/onion/chilli/garlic in a blender until smooth.

Taste and season if necessary with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with chilli-infused olive oil and a hunk of bread. If you'd had the flu recently (like moi) this will make you feel really good!

* Apparently the gorgeous house where the series is shot is in north London and is for sale for a cool £1.45 million!