Home Books Recipe Stash Cooking Tips Blog About Julie Appearances Newsletter Connections

Archive for February, 2010

Life of a Peach

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Still, I had a nice free chicken, or so I kidded myself. It was going to taste better because it was free – somehow free stuff always does, doesn’t it? I’d been craving a proper meal, and in the middle of summer I really felt like a wintry comforting dish like chicken bonne femme, as in ‘the good woman’, or the farmer’s woman, as you do sometimes. So here’s how to go about it. And, I have to say, this is one of those dishes that you’ll be asked to make again and again. My kids used to beg me to make it. Quite handy as a pay-off to get them to tidy their rooms or clean up!

Chicken in a Pot

It serves 4 hungry people, or 6 if you serve side dishes. The key lies in browning the chicken slowly so it develops a wonderful nutty buttery flavour without the butter burning. Allow about 15 minutes for browning. Flaming the chicken in brandy adds layers of flavour but if you’re a tad nervous, have a large lid at the ready to put on the chicken dish in case the flames leap out of control. It’ll take about 1½ hours all up to cook the chook and get it plated.

Thoroughly rinse a size 12 (1.2kg/2¾ lb) free-range corn-fed chicken, including inside the cavity. Drain it, pat dry with paper towels and season inside the cavity with salt. Tie chicken legs together with string and loop the string around the parson’s nose, so that the cavity is closed, then take the string round the back of the chicken, then bring it back to the parson’s nose and tie it in a tight bow. This may sound complicated but all you are doing is trying to close the cavity to keep moisture inside the chicken so it can ‘steam’ from the inside and keep moist, and prevent the legs from splaying open exposing the breast meat to too much dry heat.

Heat a heavy based casserole over a lowish heat and add 1 tablespoon each of oil and butter. When the butter has melted, put in the chicken, breast down and brown it gently for 10 minutes, then turn it over and brown the underside, then brown both the sides. Gently warm 2 tablespoons of brandy in a small pan, ignite brandy and pour it flaming over the chicken. Gently shake the casserole once or twice until the flames subside. It’ll smell gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Increase heat under casserole, add 350g/12 ounces shallots and 12 peeled cloves of garlic cut in half and brown well. Transfer these to a second plate. Add 150g/6 ounces thickly sliced chopped bacon to casserole and cook until crisp, stirring often.

Return chicken to casserole, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, grind over plenty of black pepper and add a bay leaf, 1 tablespoon thyme leaves and ½ cup red wine. Bubble up then cover casserole with a lid and transfer to an oven preheated to 190°C/375°F. Cook chicken for 45 minutes then remove casserole from the oven and add shallots and garlic. Cook 15 minutes more then remove casserole form oven.

Transfer chicken to a carving board and set casserole over a medium heat. Blend 2 teaspoons soft butter with slightly less than 2 teaspoons of plain flour on a plate, then whisk the paste into the bubbling juices in the casserole a little at a time. Continue stirring for 1 minute as the juices thicken. Taste for seasoning and turn off the heat. Carve chicken into joints and arrange on a heated serving plate. Spoon gravy over the chicken arranging shallots and garlic around the sides. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley and serve it up to a round of applause! Serve chicken with grilled mushrooms and potato mash.

And, here’s a tip, if the juices have evaporated after cooking, add a little chicken stock, or if they are too thick after whisking in the beurre manie (the blended butter and flour), thin them with a little chicken stock or hot water; adjust the seasoning.

Life of a Peach

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Took the chicken back to the supermarket as I didn’t want it smelling to high-heaven in MY rubbish bin – the collection was not for 4 days – treble-wrapped in plastic bags. It was all very civilized. I fetched a nice plump fresh corn-fed free-range chicken, this time putting my glasses on to check the use-by date (just between you and me, failure to put on my glasses could have been the cause of the whole stuff-up really, although Luke told me it shouldn’t have been sold on the day it was expiring … poor chicken, if you don’t get eaten, you just expire), signed the docket and got $18.99 change. Damned good deal, really.

Except daughter reminded me that I hadn’t quite paid my dues and that $18.99 was really hers. How’s that, I asked? Our deal is that if you get a B+ or more in an exam you get a little payment as a reward for your hard work and as an incentive to carry on the good work. I’d paid up for the A’s but somehow had missed the B+. She hadn’t, and pounced when she saw her chance. Cash being a rare thing in our household these days.

Life of a Peach

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Daughter was going out. So could I PLEASE make dinner early? Well, I approached the kitchen all well-intentioned, but then we had the chicken incident and so there was no dinner. A quick scrabble in the fridge produced eggs, peppers, celery, spring onions, chillies, fennel, salami, salad, limes and lemons. Enough inspiration for a thousand meals. But we’d wanted chicken. Chicken in a pot. Chicken with pancetta. Chicken with baby mushrooms. Chicken with shallots. Chicken with white wine. Chicken with herbs. Chicken with all of these things – yes, chicken bonne femme, as in ‘the good woman’, the ‘farmer’s wife’, fat of the land, old-fashioned French country goodness served by a plump rosy-cheeked maman (that was going to be me, plump and rosy-cheeked from the heat of the oven!). But to no avail. The chicken was off, off the menu, sure, but literally off. Flung in a bin. Until I remembered the cost, $18.99, and dug it out along with the receipt from the supermarket from whence it came. It shouldn’t have been for sale on its expiry date. Phoned the manager. At 5.55pm. And got him. He thought someone could possibly drop me a fresh chicken on their way home and took my number and promised to ring back. He did ring back, in a matter of minutes, but unfortunately, no one was coming my way, so he offered to bring it himself, but it wouldn’t be for 30 minutes. So he offered me a deal: he would drop me a fresh chicken in 30 minutes (meaning dinner would not be ready before daughter had to go out and I’d have a whole chicken bonne femme to myself at 9.00pm) or I could collect a fresh chicken at my convenience AND get my money back for the dead chook providing I had the receipt and brought in the dead chook. He rescinded and said I didn’t have to bring in the dead chook, realizing how whiffy it could be given an extra 24 hours. I thought that was a pretty damned good offer from Luke at Takapuna Foodtown. He knew me just as Julie.

* *

But the problem with dinner was not solved. We looked at the collection of bits and bobs, celery, spring onions, salami et al, and I’m not sure if she sighed first or if we sighed in unison. It was sad. All shruggy shoulders and down-turned lips. Appetite gone. I proposed resurrecting the leftover pasta with fresh tomato sauce (the tomatoes were from the garden so one couldn’t grizzle) and making pasta fritta (fried pasta) and that was going to do, for her, but you know, when the thrill goes out of it, your energy goes. Then I remembered the sourdough bread. Thank GOD for sourdough bread. Because sourdough bread is a saviour, an absolute saviour, a meal on its own, something you could curl up in a corner and just chew on, slowly…. and not share.  Bean puree, she said, fried eggplant, I said, and away we went. The richest, satiating, sensational bruschetta yet. 10 minutes work, max.

Here’s how:

Puree a can of cannellini beans in a food processor. Tip them into a small pan in which you have 2 crushed or minced cloves of garlic, 1 Tbsp of chopped rosemary and 2 crushed tiny dried bird’s eye chillies melting in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Stir the puree around until hot, add a few splashes of water if it is too thick. And there you have it – a superior bean puree.

Slice some thick chunks of sourdough bread and drink in the yeasty sour smell  (smelling is nearly as good as eating). Char the bread on a grill or in a dry ridged frying pan. Rub each slice with a cut clove of garlic and slather with bean puree, then top with chopped slices of fried or barbecue eggplant and scrunch a bit of rocket on top, pour a glass of full-bodied red wine, sit with daughter, munch, slurp, mop dribbles, laugh and giggle. Stuff the chicken.

Life of a Peach

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Chicken in a Pot

I’ve just scoffed, and I mean, SCOFFED, an industrial-size plate of bruschetta. Now we all know how to say this Italian word don’t we? There’s no brewshetta around my place, thanks, here it is brewsketta, with a roll on the r, not sounding exactly like brew as in brewing a cup of tea, but not just a plain ‘bru’ either. Oh, does it matter…