THere there was a constant rotation of Sunday roasts: lamb, pork, beef and chicken. The latter was what I looked forward to the most, because Mum always made bread gravy (actually, the chunky crumbs steeped in warm milk with cloves, peppercorns, and bay leaves) and gravy from the gravy rather than from a silver cube wrapped in red foil . I didn’t ask why she made proper sauce for chicken and oxo for everything else.
I roast a chicken differently depending on the season. In midsummer I stir tarragon leaves from the garden and lemon zest into the gravy; For Christmas, I’ll be making a reassuringly familiar Onion Herb Freckle Filling. But right now I’m looking at the aromatic notes of thyme – both fresh and dried – sesame and orange peel. To the gravy I add vegetables like cauliflower or spring beets, new potatoes or the last Jerusalem artichokes. I tip them into the roasting pan when they’re already tender, straight out of the steamer, and then let the veggies float out of the roasting pan into the roasted, caramel-colored chunks.
I also made muffins this week. Not those forever cellophane-wrapped, leavening-tasting American ones, but thick, spongy muffin-shaped banana cakes with a cupped top and straight sides. They were sprinkled with nibs of dark chocolate. Sometimes I put walnut halves on top, but this time each had a small coin of crystalized banana inside, partly for the contrast with the soft, sweet, chocolate-covered cake.
Roast chicken with thyme and cauliflower fried in sesame
Roasting the creamy clouds of cauliflower in the chicken gravy is the order of the day here. I put them back in the oven to brown a little more while the bird rests. Served 4
chicken 1, about 2.2kg
dried thyme 3 tsp
cumin seeds ½ tsp
black peppercorns 1 teaspoon
olive oil 3 tbsp
thyme leaves 3 tbsp
Sesame seeds 2 tbsp
orange bowl of 1
Place the chicken in a roasting pan and preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. In a mortar and pestle, grind the dried thyme, cumin and black peppercorns into a coarse powder, then stir in plenty of salt and olive oil. Rub the paste over the chicken, its breast and legs – I like to do this by hand, but the back of a spoon will do – then roast for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the thyme leaves, sesame seeds, and orange zest and set aside. You will sprinkle this over the chicken once it starts to brown.
Clean the cauliflower and divide into large florets. Place them in a steamer basket or colander and place them over a saucepan of simmering water and let them cook up to the tip of a skewer – about 10 minutes depending on the thickness of their stems. Once the chicken has roasted for 45 minutes, add the cooked cauliflower to the pan, toss each floret in the pan juices and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. Scatter the sesame and orange mixture over the chicken and cauliflower and roast for another 15 minutes. (I like to hold back a bit to pass around the table.)
Remove the chicken from the roaster, cover lightly and leave to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes. Return the cauliflower to the oven to keep warm and roast a little further, then serve with the roast chicken.
Banana Chocolate Muffins
These are more molded muffins than natural – the texture is softer and more cake-like than the usual ones. It is worth taking your time when beating the sugar and butter so that the mass becomes light and fluffy. It should be thick and creamy before you add the eggs and flour. Presumably because of the banana, these cakes will keep perfectly juicy for several days in an airtight container. I think they taste even better the day after baking.
Makes 9 small, deep muffins
plain flour 250 g
baking powder 2 Tea spoons
light muscovado sugar 235g
ripe bananas 350g (peeled weight)
vanilla extract 1 teaspoon
dark chocolate 100 g
banana chips 9
Set the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. You will also need 9 deep paper muffin cases.
Sift flour and baking powder together. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Mash bananas with a fork. The mixture should be lumpy rather than pureed. Stir in vanilla extract. In a small bowl, crack the eggs, beating them lightly, then gradually add them to the butter and sugar mixture. If there is any sign of curdling, add a spoonful or two of flour.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces – a mix of different sizes is fine, but they should all be around 1/4 inch. Mix the chocolate chips and mashed bananas into the batter, then gently fold in the flour and baking powder. The mixture should be lumpy, so avoid the temptation to mix too much as this will affect the texture.
Place the muffin cases on a baking sheet or in a deep loaf tin and spread the mixture over them. Place a banana chip on top of each (sometimes I use a walnut half instead).
Bake them for 30 minutes until slightly springy to the touch. Let them cool before tearing off the paper.
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