Friday, August 31, 2012

Trials and Tribulations


I must confess: when it comes to cooking and blogging about cooking, I'm a bit rusty. Getting back into the swing of things has taken a bit longer than I anticipated. In the kitchen, I feel disorganized, out of sorts, like I've misplaced whatever meager skills I once possessed, perhaps accidentally discarding them in the compost bin like so many vegetable peelings. It's not that I'm not into it; more the feeling that I suddenly don't know what I'm doing anymore. So it totally makes sense that I'd try to take on two recipes at the same time on a weeknight.

This week was D's birthday (happy birthday!) and my plan was to cook her a nice dinner on Thursday, including a dessert that, while very simple, required at least a day's advanced prep. Meanwhile, with D. out with friends on Wednesday, I had to feed myself. I was catching up on What Katie Ate, where I saw this great-looking (they always look great) salad recipe. It too required a bit of advanced prep, but my thinking was, with all this stuff done ahead of time, it would just  be a matter of assembling things when the time came.

Maybe I was right and my degraded skills made this a lot harder than it should have been, but I honestly felt like I spent an entire hour just chopping stuff. Then the chickpeas wouldn't crisp up like I wanted. Then the broiler set off our dicky smoke alarm, which always scares the beejesus out of both me and the cat (who hid for more than an hour god only knows where, emerging later covered in cobwebs and dust). Finally I got distracted managing the chicken and missed a crucial step in the dessert (which turned out okay, but I suspect it would have been better had I paid a bit more attention). In the end, everything tasted delicious: only downside being that by the time I had finished making dinner, I wasn't hungry anymore; thank goodness this salad it holds up as a lunch for the next day. Plus I learned (or perhaps re-learned) some valuable lessons about planning ahead, reading the recipe through

Chickpea and couscous salad with harissa chicken (adapted from What Katie Ate)
Serves 4
6-8 free-range skinless chicken thighs, excess fat removed
For the marinade:
4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice and zest 1 large lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon harissa paste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, very finely minced

For the salad:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup chopped, toasted almonds
4 scallions, thinly sliced (including some green parts)
Handful fresh flat-leaf parsley basil or and mint, finely chopped
A fistful of arugula
1/2 cup chopped dried dates
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup couscous
3 lemons
1 1/2 tablespoons plain natural yogurt
Olive oil

Mix marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the chicken thighs, season with a good pinch of crushed sea salt flakes and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and stir to coat. Cover bowl with cling wrap and chill in the fridge overnight.

In a large frying pan or skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon ground cumin, stir together and warm over medium high heat. Add the drained chickpeas and toss to coat in the flavoured oil. Cook for 5 minutes then add the seeds and nuts and season with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Continue to cook, tossing often to ensure everything gets evenly toasted, for a further 3-4 minutes until everything is golden and slightly crisp Turn off heat and allow to cool.

Preheat broiler or warm a grill pan over high heat until very hot. Broil or fry chicken until slightly charred and cooked through (about five minutes each side). Remove chicken from pan, drizzle with the juice of one lemon and set aside.

To cook the couscous, place into a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before fluffing up with a fork and drizzling with a 1 teaspoon olive oil.
To make the yogurt drizzle; simply combine yogurt with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and a small squeeze of lemon juice.

To assemble the dish: combine couscous, cooled nut/seed mix, scallion, dates and chopped herbs, mix thoroughly using a large spoon then drizzle with the juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Combine again then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to individual plates and serve with the chopped chicken scattered over and drizzle with yogurt sauce.


Basil-Mint granita with peaches (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Serves 4
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons grated lime peel
1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice
1 1/4 cups water
4 medium ripe peaches
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves plus 8 fresh sprigs for garnish

Mix sugar, chopped mint, basil, and lime peel in medium bowl. Mash with wooden spoon until herbs turn dark green, about 3 minutes. Stir in lime juice and 1 1/4 cups water. Let stand 1 hour. Strain into large bowl, pressing on solids. Transfer about ¼ cup lime syrup to small dish; cover and refrigerate. Pour remaining lime syrup into 13x9x2-inch metal baking dish. Place dish in freezer. Stir syrup with fork every hour until frozen, about 4 hours. Cover and keep frozen.

Halve and pit peaches and slice. Divide slices into bowls and drizzle with reserved lime syrup. Scrape granita into flakes with fork and spoon over peaches. Sprinkle with sliced mint leaves, garnish with mint sprigs, and serve.

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