August 20, 2011

Alex cooks roast chicken

Last night I was pulling a chicken out of the fridge when Alex pops his head in to show off his latest costume (he was wearing his dressing gown and declared he was spider man!). After telling him how cool he looked I then turned my attention back to the chicken. As I was pulling it out of the plastic and rinsing it off I hear "Cool mum, is that what a chicken would look like without a head?"

"Yes, it IS what a chicken looks like without a head and feathers" was my reply.

"Can I touch it?"

"Sure, but wash your hands first AND afterward..."

I don't know about you, but sometimes I am in such a rush to get dinner on the table I forget that kids are fascinated with the everyday tasks we try to complete in record time just to get them over and done with (like popping the chicken in the oven so you can then keep an eye on homework, run a bath and finish some paper work that has been staring you in the face for a good part of a week!).

It was Friday night, homework was over for the week, I was excited to have Saturday away from work and nothing was really happening so I let the boys discover a raw chicken. At first they poked and prodded the wings and thighs with the tips of their fingernails, then once they felt comfortable they went further. Max gave up after wiggling a leg around then got grossed out when Alex decided to really investigate and poked his finger down the chooks neck cavity.

With Max off scrubbing his hands within an inch of his life, Alex started in on the questions-

"What's in there?" (the middle cavity) "can I touch it?.....can I stuff it?.......can I cook the chicken?"

My first reaction which I am not really proud of was forming in my head (NO, because it would take twice as long), thankfully went with YES- after all it was Friday and he actually wanted to learn!

I have to let it be known I wasn't very happy with the position he was in when stuffing the bird but he looked at me when I asked him to stop squatting on the bench and pleaded that it was way to hard to stuff the bird while standing on the step! (I'm still trying to work out the logic to this one?)

Anyway, I cut up an onion and he delicately placed the first half in the chickens cavity, the second piece of onion was pushed in with a little more force and then the half piece of lemon was squashed in with quite a bit of force ( confidence is a wonderful tool). I gave him a branch of basil and asked him to put it in with the lemon and onion, however, he was convinced there was no room left! Once I started doing it myself he quickly took control as he was not going to be letting mummy anywhere near his bird!

OK so hard part over, I then gave Alex some dried oregano to sprinkle on top, I added the salt (he LOVES salt so never a good idea to leave him alone with the stuff) and we were just about ready to add the butter. I think his favouring part was slitting the skin of the chicken and stuffing in butter pieces...we ended up with double the amount of butter I would usually put in but I have to tell you it was one juicy tasting bird!  As you can see, I was so impressed with Alex's chicken skills I completely forgot to take a photo of the beautifully cooked bird.....this was all that was left!

A great job by my mini master chef and as he has informed me, he will cook ALL the chicken dishes from now on seeing as he did such a good job (his words not mine...but I have to agree he did an excellent job).  I'm just hoping he'll always enjoy pottering around in the kitchen and enjoy cooking for others well beyond the ripe old age of 6. Well done Alex!

August 7, 2011

Preserved lemons

I decided to try something different today.  I've been meaning to preserve myself some lemons for about a year now but just never got around to having ALL the ingredients in the house at one time. It really hurt when I was making the lamb tagine last week and I had to use fresh lemons instead. Even though I still got a beautiful lemonly flavour it wasn't nearly as intense as it could of been if I had of used preserved lemons!

So with that in mind I set about buying a bunch of lemons, a massive bag of table salt and got to work.  I am also trying to break out on my own and start opening up new branches of my website. I am in the process of writing a menu for a home delivery meal service and a few other bits and pieces so I have been trying to get a little more savvy when it comes to self promoting.....I have a long way to go, but we all have to start somewhere!

OK, so with the help of my 9 year old, I decided to video my recipe of preserved lemons and see how that went. Max, I have to say did a sterling job at videoing my efforts, however, after looking back at the video I left out a lot of info! I have added the video for a bit of a laugh, however, if you'd like some actual information on preserving lemons please read on.

As I forgot to mention in the above video, you need to leave your preserved lemons for a minimum of 10 days for a good flavour. They will last for months and months if you have a sterile jar and the lemons are always covered with salt and juice to prevent mould.
When you want to use the lemon; simply pull out a piece, wash it under cold water to remove excess salt, remove the middle and then slice up the skin as thin or as thick as you would like.

I love to use them in loads of dishes from summer salads to slow braised lamb, pork or chicken dishes. Veggie hot pots also are a winner with some chilli flakes and slices of preserved lemons added. I'll post this in a few weeks time when I can finally use my stash.

I have already opened the jar and added a couple extra lemons and more salt then pressed them down again to squeeze out a little more of the juice. Now all I have to do is leave them until needed. Have a go, you'll be blown away with the flavour it adds to your next meal.

August 5, 2011

Lamb Tagine

It was a cooking frenzy last weekend. I somehow managed to wrangle a full day off on Sunday and where do you think I spend most of my day? (bar the morning watching Max play football)- in the kitchen!

I know I cook for a living and spend a crazy amount of time around food every other day, but when I manage to have a spare few hours of peace and quiet I love to cook healthy and delicious meals for my family. Like any other parent I prefer the quick 30 minute meals on weeknights I mean let's face it, there is just too much going on to give the evening meal lots of attention when you've just come back from swimming, footy training or whatever else you have going on!
 However, a spare weekend and I can think of nothing more fabulous than making yummy food and sitting down to eat a leisurely meal with a glass of wine and that is exactly what I did on Sunday evening!

I bought a tagine a few months ago. I have always wanted one but never got around to actually buying one for myself. I was given a clay pot a few years ago (that could be around ten years I'm thinking) and used it just like a tagine with wonderful results. However, the day it got smashed on the kitchen tiles was a very sad day indeed and also time for me to upgrade to a bigger version with a little more room as we didn't have kids when I was given the clay pot.

The fact that I can cook a whole meal in one dish is a total winner in my books. Right from searing the meat and sauteing the vegetables and finishing the dish off with slow cooking Israeli couscous (the nice big round balls).

Seeing as I photographed the cooking process I thought I'd explain as you looked....something new for me.

OK so I bought about a kilo of diced lamb from my butcher and seasoned the meat with salt and pepper before I began searing the meat. Once the tagine was hot I did the meat in 3 batches to make sure I got good colouring and did not to stew the meat.

Once the meat is all seared I then added chopped veggies but to my surprise (I simply forgot to cut them) I didn't have any onion? I decided to proceed without it. I sauteed off about a cup of diced eggplant, diced green capsicum, bunch of Tuscan cabbage which they have at Harris Farm, 3 large smashed garlic cloves and last but not least a whole lemon cut in half, squeezed and then left in the dish.
When I could smell the aroma of the vegetables, I tossed the seared lamb pieces back into the tagine and stirred it around. I then added a large fresh tomato, diced and a good splash of white wine.

The juices of the meat were also added so there were a lot of yummy flavours that needed to be slowly cooked. This is when I brought it to the boil, skimmed the top of the braise, put the lid on and placed it on a smaller burner, turned the gas down to low and forgot about it for a bit over an hour. (This is when I snuck off to my room with a tim tam, cuppa tea and my book!)

After about an hour maybe even an hour and a half lift the lid and test the meat. If it is feeling like it is almost pulling apart but not quite then it's time to add your couscous. Sprinkle about 3/4 cup over the lamb then gently fold through and place the lid back on and leave it alone again for twenty minutes.
Once the couscous absorbs the excess liquid, turn off the heat and stir once then place the lid back on and leave it to rest for 5 minutes. You may need to add about 1/2 cup of extra water if you like it a little wetter but it is up to your tastes....I added the water!
The boys ate there's as is and loved it, however, for Nic and I, I added fresh coriander and chili flakes which married beautifully with the rich flavours of the tagine. 

So if you'd like to learn how to make this dish along with say some pita bread, and a few extra yummy and healthy dishes maybe you should pop on over to my website camillabaker, book a class and meet me in the kitchen!