We had pretzels for his birthday party in May, and it is apparently the Thing when it comes to birthdays. So Husband got pretzels for his birthday as well as a few other things. I’m sure I’m not the only woman out there who struggles for present ideas when it comes to birthday and anniversary time. Thank God Husband likes good food.
Every year for his birthday dinner, I try to make something special, something we don’t normally eat, something that takes a bit more effort than the normal 30-minute dinner. One year it was a multiple-course Thai feast (pre-children, obviously). Another year it was a roast dinner, and last year we went out to for a fun night at a Turkish restaurant. This year we celebrated at home with visiting friends, and then for fun I made the same meal a week later when his real birthday present arrived in the mail.
If you’re looking for a new cookbook, this is a solid investment. This book by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi has recipes of the food from their well-known London cafes and restaurants. A dear friend in Geneva gifted it to me, and everything I’ve made out of it has been excellent, and the best part is that the recipes are simple and straightforward. The salad and vegetable section is what I’ve used the most, and most of the recipes call for simply roasted veggies and then a wonderful salad dressing on top. The most commonly used ingredients are garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt (there is a ton of garlic in most recipes). My other reason for loving the cookbook is that they credit the individual chefs and people who create the recipes. Most big name chefs – and authors – don’t produce their own work but it’s created for them in the hands of recipe developers, ghost writers and the like, and it’s a commonly-known “fact” of the industry. I love people who are able to give credit where it is due – to the people who do the hard creation work.
This meal is everything I love about food – easy preparation for stellar results. The chicken takes maybe 10 minutes to prepare, and the rest of the time is spent in the oven, cooking. The veggies take more work because you have to do some chopping and dressing-mixing, but other than that, it is so simple. Perfect kind of meal when there’s a toddler and baby to attend to (and the toddler can help putting veggies on a roasting tray).
Roast Chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, p 123)
This gives something simple like roast chicken pieces a special flavour – crunchy hazelnuts, sweet honey, a bit of tang from the lemon and the hints of rosewater throughout give it decidedly Middle Eastern feel. It is so easy and tasty.
1 large organic or free-range chicken, divided into quarters; breast and wing, leg and thigh (I used all thighs)
2 onions, roughly chopped (I used one)
4 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp ground ginger (I doubled it)
1 tsp ground cinnamon (I doubled it)
a generous pinch of saffron strands (skipped this)
juice of 1 lemon
4 TBSP cold water
2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
100g unskinned hazelnuts
2 TBSP rosewater
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
- In a large bowl, mix the chicken pieces with the onions, olive oil, ginger, cinnamon, saffron, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper. Leave to marinate for at least an hour, or overnight in the fridge. (For the first round, I left it to marinate overnight, for the second round, for three hours. There was virtually no difference. Also, I didn’t use saffron, so I skipped the water.)
- Preheat the oven to 190C. Spread the hazelnuts out on an oven tray and roast for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Chop roughly and set aside.
- Transfer the chicken and marinade to a roasting tray large enough to accommodate everything comfortably. Arrange the chicken pieces skin-side up and put the tray in the oven for about 35 minutes.
- While the chicken is roasting, mix the honey, rosewater, and nuts together to make a rough paste. Remove the chicken from the oven, spoon a generous amount of the nut paste on to each piece and spread it to cover. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the nuts are golden brown.
- Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and garnish with the chopped spring onions.
Roasted butternut squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, p 46)
1 large butternut squash
4 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP pumpkin seeds
1 TBSP sunflower seeds
1 TBSP black sesame seeds or white if you don’t have black (skipped it)
1 tsp nigella seeds (skipped it)
10g sliced almonds (skipped it)
10g basil leaves
coarse sea salt and black pepper
1 medium aubergine
150g Greek yoghurt at room temperature
2 TBSP olive oil
1 1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses (gifted to me by a dear friend who was in Turkey)
3 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, crushed
- Preheat the oven to 220C. Trim the top and bottom off the butternut squash and cut it in half lengthways. Remove the seeds using a small knife or a spoon. Cut each half into wedges 2-3cm thick. Arrange the wedges in a roasting tray, standing them up with the skin underneath if possible. Brush with half the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper (I just drizzled the oil on top). Pleace in the oven for 25-30 minutes by which time the wedges should be tender and slightly browned. Leave to cool.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 180C. Scatter the seeds and almonds on a roasting tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Leave to cool.
- For the sauce, place the aubergine directly on a moderate flame on a gas hob (you might want to cover the hob top with foil before you begin). Burn the aubergine for 12-15 minutes, until the skin dries and cracks and smoky aromas are released. Turn it around occasionally, using metal tongs. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. (Alternatively, you can place the aubergine under a very hot grill for about an hour, turning it around occasionally; continue until well shriveled on the outside, even if it bursts.) I skipped this step altogether, opting to turn the lone aubergine I had into it’s own salad instead of including it in the sauce, and the sauce was fine without it.
- Make a long cut through the aubergine. Using a spoon, scoop out the soft flesh while avoiding most of the burnt skin. Drain in a colander for 10 minutes, then transfer to a board and roughly chop.
- In a mixing bowl stir together the aubergine flesh, yoghurt, oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, parsley and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper. It should be sweetly sharp and highly flavoursome. (And it really is even without the aubergine – this sauce, dressing, whatever you want to call it, is amazing.)
- Arrange the squash wedges on a serving platter, piling them up on top of each other. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil, sprinkle the nuts and seeds over and garnish with the basil. Serve the sauce on the side.