Winter has been nipping at our heels in the Adelaide Hills of late, with a notable sartorial focus being placed by the locals on fleecy track pants, flannelette pyjamas, fluffy slippers or uggies and woolly hats. This is a time of the year when comfort takes precedence over elegance (for anyone over the age of 25, that is) and some among us begin to wonder just exactly what time is considered too early to slip into the aforementioned cosy night attire. Please be warned – anyone knocking on our door after about seven in the evening will not find us in a fit state to formally receive guests unless forewarned. This is also the time of year when winter is at it’s deepest, but this weekend saw the passing of the winter solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year – thus the summer light begins to glow ever so faintly at the end of the tunnel.
The winter solstice has much more significance in the icy northern hemisphere winters where it gets a good deal colder than here. In ancient times, winter was a hazardous and uncertain season with no guarantee that the subsistence rural communities of the colder climates were going to make it through to the end intact. Much depended upon careful planning during the harvest months and even more careful use of resources during the winter and the solstice celebrated the success of surviving the worst of it. Some communities observed it before the worst of the deep winter, making it the last of the feasting celebrations, using the fresh meat afforded by the killing off of cattle to avoid having to feed them through the winter.
The rituals associated with the winter solstice vary depending upon the cultural background of the tradition. Many pagan rituals include the use of fire to signify warmth, cleansing for the coming new season and the renewal of light . The ancient Romans kicked up their heels with feasting, gift-giving and days of Bacchanalian partying. While we complain of the cold here in the southern hemisphere, we really don’t generally do it all that tough so I stop short of celebrating with days of decadence and debauchery, but did invite some friends over for dinner.
I had some irresistibly soft and sticky Willabrand dried figs that I’d bought at Adelaide Showgrounds Farmers Market and wanted to combine them with some of the beautifully fat fennel bulbs that are in season. I surfed around on the interwebz for a bit searching for inspiration and eventually developed this chicken, leek, fig and fennel dish. It’s not the loveliest and most photogenic dish in the world, but it’s right up there for flavour and boasts something of the “wow” factor. If you can’t find fig syrup or vincotto, use honey instead, but do try to find the fennel pollen. It won’t overpower the dish with a fennel flavour, but adds a final burst of freshness that will surprise you. Add that to the fact that it is another of my simple one-dish-wonders and it’s ticked all my boxes. I hope you like it.
- 1 kilo chicken chops (chicken thighs on the bone, with or without skin - you decide)
- 1 large (or 2 small) fennel bulb, sliced into wedges with base attached to hold together
- 2 large leeks, sliced thinly
- 4 large carrots, chopped in chunks
- 250 gms soft, dried figs, roughly sliced
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup white wine
- 100 mls olive oil for frying
- fig syrup (or vincotto)
- fennel pollen (available in gourmet stores)
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Heat olive oil in shallow fry pan, season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown all over, in small batches. Set aside.
- Add more oil if needed, then add sliced leeks and sweat down until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Spread out in a large baking dish.
- Check oil again, then add the fennel wedges, browning on each side, but taking care not to break them up when turning. Distribute them in baking dish.
- Add browned chicken pieces to the baking dish, nestling them in on top of the leeks, among the fennel.
- Add the carrots and chopped figs.
- Pour over the hot stock and the wine.
- Cover with foil, place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, until thighs are cooked through.
- Remove thighs and set aside in a warm place.
- Stir vegetables gently then, leaving baking dish uncovered, return to oven and cook vegetables for further 5-10 minutes until the liquid is reduced and thickened.
- Return chicken to the dish, stir gently to coat with vegetables and sauce.
- Drizzle with fig syrup, sprinkle with fennel pollen and serve.
All of the photos used in this post were taken on my Iphone and, if you think they look familiar, were previously shared on my Instagram account. For these, and more, follow me on Instagram here.
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I’m trying something a little different today and introducing you to a couple of ladies who share my interests in good food, easily prepared, with maximum impact – both in taste and nutrition. Nutritionist Kathryn Elliot and her friend, photographer and recipe developer Lucinda Dodds, combine their skills and talents in An Honest Kitchen, a blog and e-magazine which focuses on fresh, simple, seasonal food. The three of us are so on the same page when it comes to food that when Kathryn approached me with the idea of doing a guest post I simply couldn’t resist – and who doesn’t love a roast? I’m thrilled to be able to share the knowledge and passion of these ladies with my own readers so, without any further ado – take it away, girls!
Amanda has very kindly let me, Lucy, take over her blog today to talk to you guys, her lovely readers, about the next issue of An Honest Kitchen, an e-publication that nutritionist Kathryn Elliott and I work on. It’s about cooking in an honest, healthy way with real, no fuss ingredients.
When Kathryn and I were challenged by a reader to makeover some classic recipes, to give the An Honest Kitchen treatment to some favourite family meals, we jumped at the opportunity. What a fun idea, one with a practical and healthy outcome. Our Makeovers issue was born.
A lot of traditional recipes call for very specific ingredients, but what to do if your recipe calls, say, for tomatoes and it’s not tomato season? For starters, you can rethink the recipe – is a fresh tomato sauce really an appropriate meal in the depths of winter? Maybe some roasted pumpkin, or some beetroot could take the place of those tomatoes and bring it into the moment.
Kathryn and I go on about seasonality for all the obvious, much-touted reasons – sustainability, supporting your local economy, reducing the energy required to get food to your plate – but the overwhelming reason to do so is summed up best by our favourite cook, Nigel Slater, in his Kitchen Diaries: “Right food, right place, right time…this is the food of the moment – something eaten at a time when it is most appropriate, when the ingredients are at the peak of their perfection, when the food, the cook and the time of year are at one with each other.”
Keeping in tune with the seasons will make your cooking infinitely better.
Roasts are a real favourite for many people. The traditional roast centres on a big joint of meat with hearty sides of potatoes, pools of gravy and all the extra trimmings. It’s a heavy, stodgy meal. If you’re trying to eat healthy meals, then avoiding the family roast may seem like a good idea, but we’ve gathered some tips to help you make it fresh, lighter and an altogether healthier option.
How to makeover a traditional roast dinner
In the course of our makeovers we developed a few guidelines which you can use to revamp your own favourite roast dinners:
Use less meat: Rather than cooking a huge joint of meat, choose a smaller cut with a bone in it. This will cook in a fraction of the normal time, but you’ll still end up with a juicy and flavour-filled dinner. In our recipe below we’ve used lamb shanks which speeds up the cooking time, but also gives you an idea of how much protein you should be eating. It’s all too easy to eat far more protein with a roast than you actually need.
Don’t avoid potatoes: Roast potatoes are an integral part of the traditional roast and while they have a seemingly poor nutritional profile, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of potato. It’s all about the size of the portion you eat and what else you plate them with. Try to make the potato no more than ¼ of the space on your plate.
Make sure you add LOTS of seasonal vegetables: Roasting is one of the best ways to cook vegetables. They are simply delicious and you can easily pack a variety of vegetables into the meal. In the recipe below, we use beetroot and carrots for a warming, wintry roast, but you could make it summery by using loads of big, juicy tomatoes, some chopped peppers and eggplant in season, adding some olives and a few big handfuls of basil, stirred through just before serving, instead of the beetroot leaves. Basically, play!
Add flavour: Don’t be afraid to add unusual and strong flavours to your roast, the results can be spectacular. In the following recipe, a fresh burst of lemon juice and oregano adds a lot of flavour.
So. What does a Makeover recipe look like? Like this!
Oregano Roast Lamb with Vegetables
A Greek-inspired roast lamb, where the meat and vegetables are cooked together – so you’re only dirtying one pan – and the whole meal is served with natural yoghurt instead of gravy. To make sure all your veggies cook evenly within the time frame, try to cut them into similar-sized pieces, about 3cm. Serves 2
1 bunch beetroot – roots and leaves
400 – 450g potatoes
2 sticks celery
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
600g Frenched (well-trimmed) lamb shanks – 1 large, or 2 smaller
1/3 cup natural yoghurt
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Prepare most of the vegetables: Trim the ends off the onions and peel away the papery skin. Cut each into 6 wedges. Cut the leaves off the beetroots and put these to one side. Scrub the beetroots, carrots, potatoes and celery – don’t worry about peeling unless they’re very grubby and marked. Cut into chunks, roughly 3 cm – this is important as you want the vegetables to cook evenly. Place all the vegetables in a large baking tray. Pour over the olive oil and gently turn the vegetables over, until they are covered in oil.
Flavour the lamb: Juice the lemon, pouring the juice into a shallow bowl and putting the leftover lemon shells in with the vegetables. Add the oregano to the lemon juice and then season with salt and pepper. Put the lamb shanks in the lemon and oregano marinade and rub the mixture into the flesh.
Cook the roast: Place the shanks on top of the vegetables, in the baking tray and pour any leftover marinade over the top. Place the tray in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. At the end of this time, remove the tray and gently turn over the vegetables and lamb. Return to the oven and cook for a further 30 minutes.
Prepare the greens: While the roast is cooking give the beetroot greens a good wash. You may need to do this in two changes of water. Roughly chop into thick strips.
Rest the lamb and cook the greens: At the end of the 30 minute cooking time, take the baking tray out of the oven. Remove the lamb to a plate, cover with tin foil and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Add the chopped greens to the tray and quickly toss them in the juices at the bottom of the pan. Place back in the oven for 7 – 10 minutes, until the greens are wilted.
To serve: Once the vegetables are cooked, serve the lamb shanks and vegetables with the natural yoghurt on the side.
For more ideas on making over the meals you love take a look at our publication An Honest Kitchen: Makeovers. An Honest Kitchen is a regular publication all about real food that’s good for you. Each issue is full of simple recipes, practical cooking information and healthy eating advice. Our latest edition, Makeovers, in which we revamp popular meals is available in e-format from 11 June.
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I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel a little over the last few years. As we bid farewell to school fees (one more year, but who’s counting), school books, uniform costs, dependent offspring and their associated expenses, both The Husband and I hope to be able to do include quite a bit more of it in our future. If I assume we won’t be winning the lottery any time soon, I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to all the places I want to see, but I intend to prioritise and Morocco is going to be very high on that list.
I have long had a passion for the flavours of Moroccan and Middle Eastern food, neither of which is a cuisine commonly found locally to me. Thanks to some excellent sources of supply for the requisite spices, I like to think I do a pretty fair job of preparing my favourite dishes at home, but I long for the opportunity to lie around on some sort of cushioned arrangement, in a gloriously tiled courtyard, wearing something loose, drapey and flattering, listening to the gentle splash of a small fountain, while sipping freshly made, sweet mint tea and enjoying authentic Moroccan food. As you can probably tell, I’ve got the complete fantasy worked out – the whole lying around aspect is very attractive to this lazy woman.
Moroccan food is not difficult to make if you have the right spices – and they are readily available these days. Try to avoid buying the supermarket spices if you can – their flavours are often not really very good. I buy mine online or at gourmet stores and it is well worth the small extra expense. This delicious chicken tagine, served with steaming piles of golden couscous, is quite simple to make and so wonderfully fragrant that you will be very impressed with yourself – even my ungrateful teens enjoyed this meal and took the leftovers to school the next day for lunch.
One tip for the couscous – the boxed stuff is pretty ordinary, but will absorb surprising amounts of liquid and will reward you handsomely if you spend a little more time over it. Traditionally couscous is steamed three times (being rubbed between each stage) over the cooking stew and, in reality, that’s easily enough done if you have the right equipment. But if not, try this method. Place 2 cups of couscous in a wide, shallow dish with an equivalent amount of very hot (or boiling) stock, give it a stir with a fork, then cover for 5-10 minutes. Remove cover, melt 100 gms of butter, pour it over the couscous then, with clean (or gloved) hands, gently rub the couscous through your fingers to separate it, making sure the butter is distributed evenly. Cover again for 5 minutes, then fluff up with a fork (or fingers) before serving.
- 700 gms chicken thighs (on the bone if possible)
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into large cubes
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 Tbs Ras el Hanout
- 50 gms butter
- 30 ml olive oil
- 1 litre chicken or veg stock
- 1 can chick peas, drained
- ¾ cup prunes, stones removed
- zest of 1 orange, cut into strips
- orange blossom water
- ¼ cup flaked almonds
- Melt butter and oil together in a heavy based saucepan over moderate heat. Add Ras el Hanout and cook gently for a minute or two, until fragrant.
- Add chicken to spiced oil and brown quickly. Set aside.
- Add onions to spiced oil and cook over moderate heat until softened and golden.
- Return chicken to pot, add the sweet potato and stock to cover, stir to combine. Cover, bring to boil, then turn heat down to a slow simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
- Add chick peas and prunes and simmer for 10 minutes more, then stir in orange zest and simmer a further 5 minutes.
- Serve on couscous, drizzling with a splash of orange blossom water and sprinkled with almonds.
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Excitement levels and blood pressure are rising in our house as it is only three more sleeps until I take off with my eldest daughter, the Cupcake Queen, for Vancouver to pick up the youngest from her student exchange. After spending a few days in Canada, the three of us will have the girls trip of our dreams traveling down the west coast of the US to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. We will be leaving behind the two blokes, husband and son, who will have to fend for themselves – and keep the dogs, cattle and poultry alive – for three weeks. The last time I left the family for any length of time I spent a week cooking and freezing multiple meals. In retrospect, I think that little burst of domesticity was fueled by guilt and a misplaced sense of my responsibility for their nutritional and culinary well-being. I’m very happy to say that I’ve grown so much as a person in the last few years that neither of these conditions are an issue for me at all now. 😉
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Spring – it’s everyone’s favourite time of the year surely?! We all perk up a bit after huddling round the fire for months, shed a layer or two of clothing (and of fat, if we can) and cast a glad eye over the fruit and vegetable stalls at the markets as the new seasons produce starts to appear. It’s time to air out the house, the dogs and the kids, see what clothing still fits from the last bout of warm weather and review what we’ve been eating in order to fit into a few more of last years outfits (or is that just me?). Good intentions proliferate, inspired by the gorgeous, fresh harvest available now and visions of fabulously healthy, tasty and low-fat dishes dance about in our heads and even occasionally actually appear on our tables at family mealtimes (or is that just me again?).
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For quite a lot of Australians the transition between seasons can slip past without a great deal of notice as the climate in large parts of the country is very mild for most of the year. Here in the Adelaide Hills this is not the case, though. Summer is still hot here, but the nights are much cooler than down on the plain, and we slide into autumn with a riot of reds, burgundies and browns as the introduced trees which grow so well up here prepare for the coming chills. Winter is generally cold, wet and foggy, but worth it for the glories of spring. The blossom trees are breathtaking in their beauty and the dormant gardens start to kick into a life that is teeming with activity. The slightly warmer weather rouses all sorts of living things, not all of them welcome – brown snakes come to mind, from their repose and the atmosphere comes alive with birdsong and the satisfied buzz of what I like to think of as my own, personal bees as they go about the business of pollination and honey making.