As we are fast approaching 25th November I think it’s safe for me to mention the ‘Christmas’ word, as it’s undoubtedly on all of our minds!… This year it should be a lot more joyous than last year, as without the stringent covid rules we will be able to entertain our friends and family. With this in mind, I thought that I would share a few recipes that are relatively quick to cook and will please the fussiest of guests, leaving you time to enjoy their company!….
Menu One is Chicken with Red Grapes and Marsala, I adore cooking with Marsala wine, both in savoury and sweet dishes, as it lends a wonderful musky sweetness without being overpowering. In this recipe from Nigella Lawson’s cookbook ‘At My Table’, it is combined with grapes and chicken to make a classic dish, it is delicious served simply with steamed new potatoes. I love the uncomplicated elegance of Menu Two – ‘Hake with Capers, Saffron and Tomatoes’ is super quick and easy to cook – it really is my favourite kind of recipe! I have taken it from the cookbook ‘Memories of Gascony’ by Pierre Koffman, one of the world’s greatest Michelin starred chefs, so, without doubt, it is the type of dish that is equally good enough to serve to guests as it is to the family! Menu Three is ‘Pan-Roasted Duck with Spiced Peaches’, this is a very special dish, with a beautiful combination of flavours and magnificent colours. On paper, it seems a rather complex recipe, but it is actually straightforward!… I recommend that you serve it with two of my staple side dishes, ‘Sautéed Spinach with Garlic’ and ‘Concetta’s Potatoes’ (recipes below). Finally, this months ‘Blast from the Past Recipe’ is a recipe that I first shared last November, now that the season for game is well underway I think it’s a good time to re-share this recipe for pheasant. ‘Roast Pheasant with Whisky & Peppercorn Sauce’, would be an easy and equally impressive dinner to serve over the festive season, it is particularly good with roast potatoes and buttered savoy cabbage (I’m also reposting these recipes!). Even if you’re not entertaining, these recipes will be the perfect complement to the festive season, and will be a good addition to any Christmas cooking list!… Enjoy!…
Chicken with Red Grapes and Marsala (Serves 4)
I adore cooking with Marsala wine, both in savoury and sweet dishes, as it lends a wonderful musky sweetness without being overpowering. In this recipe from Nigella Lawson’s cookbook ‘At My Table’, it is combined with grapes and chicken to make a very elegant dish. In the photo above you can see that I used chicken supremes, which are chicken breasts with the bone still attached, they are particularly plump and juicy, however, this recipe would work equally well with regular skin-on chicken breasts (perhaps reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes if they are smaller). This dish is delicious served simply with steamed new potatoes.
120ml Marsala wine
120ml Chicken stock
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 Chicken supremes or chicken breasts with skin-on (see note above)
40 or so Seedless red grapes
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus a few sprigs for decoration
- Mix the Marsala and mustard together.
- Heat the oil in a casserole dish or deep oven-proof frying pan, fry the chicken supremes, skin-side down for about 5 minutes or until they are golden brown. Turn the chicken skin-side up and add the Marsala mixture to the pan, let it bubble up, then add the grapes and sprinkle over the thyme leaves. Bring everything to a gentle boil, then transfer to a preheated oven, 180’c fan, for about 20 minutes, until the chicken skin is bronzed and crisp and the meat is cooked through.
- Transfer the chicken and grapes to a serving plate. Place the pan with the cooking juices over a high heat and allow them to bubble away for a few minutes until they are reduced and thickened.
- To serve, pour the sauce around the chicken (avoiding the crisped skin) and scatter over some thyme sprigs.
Hake with Capers, Saffron & Tomatoes (Serves 4)
I love the simple elegance of this dish, it’s super quick and easy to cook – it really is my favourite kind of recipe! It is from the cookbook ‘Memories of Gascony’ by Pierre Koffman, one of the world’s greatest Michelin starred chefs, so it is the type of dish that is equally good enough to serve to guests as it is to the family! If you can’t get hold of hake, you could substitute it for cod steaks. This simple yet elegant dish is delicious with steamed new potatoes.
4 Hake steaks (see note above)
2 shallots, finely chopped
250ml dry white wine
A pinch of saffron
2 large tomatoes, skinned deseeded and diced
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
- Put the fish in a flameproof dish with the shallots, white wine and 50ml water, saffron and salt to taste. Bring to simmering point, cover with foil and place in a preheated oven, 190’ fan, for 15 minutes.
- Transfer the fish to a serving dish, keep warm. Place the dish over a medium/high heat and allow to bubble to reduce the cooking juices by half. Whisk in the butter and then add the capers and tomatoes, check the seasoning.
- Pour the sauce over the hake and sprinkle with the chopped parsley to serve.
Pan-Roasted Duck Breast with Spiced Peaches (Serves 4) – Served with Sautéed Spinach and Concetta’s Potatoes
This is a beautiful looking dish, the colour of the peaches totally lifts the plate. Despite looking like a rather complex recipe it is actually very straightforward; you just need to have two frying pans on the go and read the recipe through first! If you are serving it to guests it is a good idea to prepare the peaches, sauce and duck beforehand (to stage 6) and then when your guests arrive, just oven cook the duck and finish off the sauce. You could use nectarines if peaches aren’t available. This is a recipe which I have taken from Daniel Galmiche’s cookbook, ‘French Countryside Cooking’. I like to serve this dish with my staple side dishes, ‘Sautéed Spinach with Garlic’ and ‘Concetta’s Potatoes’ (both recipes are below).
100g caster sugar
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick, broken
4 unripe peaches or nectarines
4 duck breasts
2-3 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns
50g unsalted butter
1 shallot, chopped
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
125ml chicken stock
Sea salt and black pepper
- First place the Szechuan peppercorns in a dry frying pan over a high heat and ‘roast’ for a few minutes until aromatic. Then crush using a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
- Cut the peaches in half (I find it is easier to skin them if they are cut them in half before cooking). Put the sugar in a large pan with the cinnamon stick and 750ml water, cook over a medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the peaches and poach for about 5 minutes. Remove the peaches and reserve 125ml of the syrup. When the peaches have cooled, skin them, removing any stones, cut each half into slices. Set aside.
- Season the duck breasts on both sides with salt and pepper, then sprinkle the crushed Szechuan peppercorns over the skin. Place the breasts in a dry frying pan, skin side down, over a low heat to render down most of the fat, this may take as much as 10-15 minutes. When the fat is rendered, turn up the heat to crisp up and brown the skin (about 2 minutes). Finally, turn over to sear the underside for minute or so. Remove the duck breasts from the pan to a baking tray (keep to one side), pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the frying pan.
- To make the sauce, return the pan with the tablespoon of duck fat to the hob, heat gently over a medium heat, then add the shallot and cook for 5 minutes until softened, then pour in the sherry vinegar and deglaze the pan, stirring to remove any caramelised bits on the bottom. Add the stock, bring to the boil, then simmer, stirring for 5 minutes until reduced by half. Set the pan to one side.
- In another frying pan, melt 25g of the butter over a medium heat. Add the peaches and cook for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally until they are golden brown and slightly caramelised. Remove and leave to one side. Add the cinnamon and the 125ml of reserved poaching syrup to the pan. Cook over a medium heat, until then syrup turns a caramel colour and has slightly thickened. Return the peaches to the pan, toss gently in the syrup, then remove from the heat – cover with foil and leave to one side.
- To finish cooking the duck breasts, place the baking tray with the duck, in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for 8-10 minutes (depending on their size). Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes, before cutting into thick slices.
- Meanwhile return the pan with the peaches and syrup to the stove and gently reheat. Remove the peaches from the syrup, put to one side and keep warm, reserving the syrup.
- Finally, gently reheat the sauce (with the shallots), then add the remaining 25g butter, swirl around to make a shiny sauce and add the juices of the rested duck and the reserved peach syrup, bring to the boil so that it thickens slightly.
- To serve, place each sliced duck breast on a plate surrounded by the peach slices and with the sauce spooned over.
‘Staple Side Dish’ – Sautéed Spinach with Garlic (Serves 4)
2 large bunches of baby spinach (washed) – about 400g
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
Sea salt and black pepper
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute until the garlic is beginning to brown.
- Add the spinach, turning it over to coat in the olive oil. Place a lid over the pan and cook for 1 minute. Remove the lid and stir. Return the lid and cook for a further minute.
- The spinach should now be wilted, add a drizzle of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
‘Staple Side Dish’ -Concetta’s Potatoes (Serves 4)
I have named these after our Italian friend (and chef), Concetta, who gave me the recipe many years ago; they are simply sliced baked potatoes with garlic, rosemary and sage.
4 large potatoes – such as Maris Piper (roasting potatoes)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried sage
Sea salt and black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Peel and slice the potatoes, and parboil in boiling water for 4 minutes.
- Place in a roasting tin, sprinkle over the rosemary, sage and garlic, season with salt and black pepper and drizzle over some olive oil – mix well.
- Place in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for 35-40mins until crispy and well browned.
‘Blast From the Past Recipe‘
Roast Pheasant Breast with Whisky and Peppercorn Sauce, Roast Potatoes & Savoy Cabbage (Serves 4)
If you have never cooked pheasant before, I urge you to cook this recipe, it is super easy. Pheasant meat can easily dry out during cooking, but by cooking bird whole and then removing the breasts, the meat remains juicy. I like to serve this with buttered savoy cabbage and roast potatoes (recipes below)
1 onion cut into 4 wedges
Small bunch of thyme
40g butter, softened
800ml chicken stock
300ml whipping cream
3 teaspoons finely chopped green peppercorns
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- Place the pheasants in a roasting tin large enough to have at least 4 cm between them. Stuff each cavity with a wedge of onion and a few sprigs of thyme. Smear the butter over the breasts and legs and season with salt and pepper.
- Roast in a preheated oven, 190’c fan, for 45 minutes, basting twice during cooking.
- While the pheasants are roasting, pour the stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce by a third – you need about 500ml.
- Pour the whisky into a large frying pan, warm through and then carefully light with a match – flambé to allow the alcohol to burn off. Pour in the reduced stock, followed by the cream and leave the sauce to simmer gently until it is reduced and just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Finally stir in the chopped peppercorns and check the seasoning.
- Meanwhile when the pheasants are cooked, cover with foil and leave to rest for 10-15minutes.
- To remove the breasts from the bone, carefully run a sharp knife down one side of the breastbone and ease off the whole breast.
- Place each breast on a plate, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and pour over the whiskey and peppercorn sauce, and serve with buttered cabbage and roast potatoes. (as you will notice from the photo, I often place the legs on the plates too, more for decoration than for taste as there isn’t much meat on them).
Buttered Savoy Cabbage (Serves 4)
Such an easy and useful recipe to have…
1 Savoy cabbage, trimmed and finely sliced
25g unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper
- Place the finely sliced cabbage in a saucepan of boiling water for 2 minutes to blanch it. If you are not using straightaway, immediately refresh with cold water and drain well.
- When you are ready to serve the cabbage, melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the drained cabbage and season well with salt and pepper. Toss over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes until the cabbage is just tender. Serve at once.
A Staple Side Dish – Perfect Roast Potatoes (Serves 4)
Everybody has their favourite roast potato recipe. I must admit that having tried various recipes, I have always returned to the one I found years ago in Delia Smith’s ‘Winter Collection Cookbook’ – you can’t beat it in my opinion. I use either olive oil or goose fat (I buy it in jars), depending on my mood. The olive oil gives a lighter, cleaner taste, whereas the goose fat has a richer flavour – both crisp up the potatoes equally well.
1.8kg Maris Piper or other floury, roasting potatoes
110g olive oil or goose fat (see note above)
- Place the fat in the roasting tin and place in the oven, 190’c fan, on the highest shelf so that the oil preheats whilst you prepare the potatoes.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into evenly sized pieces.
- Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and add the salt. Simmer for 10 minutes until the outer edge of the potatoes is fluffy – test with the points of a fork.
- Drain the potatoes well and return to the saucepan. Place a lid over the pan and shake it vigorously. By shaking the potatoes in the saucepan in this way the cooked edges will become floury and fluffy – perfect for crisping up in the oven.
- Remove the roasting tin from the oven and place the potatoes in the hot fat – careful as the oil may spit! Baste them well and return to the oven for about 40 minutes until they are golden brown and crisped.
- Sprinkle with salt and serve straightaway – do not allow them to sit around otherwise they will loose their crunch (if they are cooked before you are ready, turn off the oven and leave them inside – but with caution, they don’t like to wait!)