All for one and one for all

Sat, Sep 15, 2012, 01:00

It’s easy to fall into the trap of making several different dinners for the family – here’s two recipes to suit all, writes DOMINI KEMP

IT’S A COMMON complaint that people feel they have to make several dinners to feed the family. While I was studying in Leith’s cookery school (which Prue Leith founded and then sold on) stories would often abound about her wise words and business savvy. Her foodie wisdom seemed to permeate the corridors and I remember one story in particular every time I find myself thinking about making three different dinners.

Apparently, as a young woman, she went to France as an au pair. She recalled how the mother of the house, when preparing dinner for the family, took some of the steak and some vegetables that were being served and blended it for the baby or toddler.

The entire family ate the same meal; the only difference was that it was pulsed for the little person. One meal fits all, with small concessions made only to texture.

This is one of those slightly apocryphal but entirely believable stories that always sticks in my mind when contemplating anyone fussing about dinner. Maybe it’s the insouciance of the French that’s needed to enforce a little je-ne-sais-give-a-damn-pas when demands are being made. But it’s a good one to think of if you feel yourself getting sucked into the trap of becoming personal chef to everyone that lives at home.

It’s with this in mind that these two recipes come into their own. This saffron rice with chicken can be tweaked flavour-wise to suit everyone’s taste. Some people abhor saffron. But give the flavour a chance. Cardamom is one of those amazing things you think will be deathly boring but just opens up a world of possibilities.

Chicken thighs are also very cheap. I think I got eight of them for a fiver and this fed four of us, very generously, plus enough for two extra kids’ dinners the next day. I try not to eat chicken skin as it’s so bad for you cholesterol-wise and there are much nicer types of saturated fat – like lovely cheese, or butter on your spuds – that are more enjoyable, so remove the skin and be kind to your arteries.

The banana and chocolate loaf comes from Karen Martini’s new book Feasting, another lovely book from the Australian chef.

These are dishes that no-one should turn their nose up at. And if you start fumbling with your decision-making, just remember to repeat what the French maman or papa would probably be saying, and remember, “Non means Non!”

Saffron chicken and rice

Obviously chillies and saffron can be left out or tweaked, but to be honest, the cinnamon gives such a nice flavour, all else blends in well. Ease up on the chillies for little people, but these flavours are pretty attractive, even for fussy people.

Serves 4-6

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cumin seeds

Few cardamom seeds

50g butter

500g basmati rice

650ml chicken stock

100g currants

2 tbs olive oil

8 chicken thighs

Salt and pepper

2-3 onions, peeled and very thinly sliced

6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 large piece ginger, peeled and sliced

1 chilli, thinly sliced

Good pinch saffron

2 tbsp milk

Optional bag of frozen peas and a handful of chopped coriander

Preheat oven to 180degrees/gas 4. In a large heavy-based saucepan that you’ve got a lid for, heat up the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cardamom and butter together until smelling rather delicious. Meanwhile, rinse the rice in a sieve very well, until the water runs clear, and drain it before adding it to the spices and mixing well. Cook the rice in the butter and spices for about three minutes. Add about 500ml stock and cook, uncovered, until the water has evaporated. Then remove from the heat and stir in the currants. You can put the rice aside, in a bowl, and use this same saucepan for the next bit of cooking.

Clean out the saucepan, heat the oil and then fry the chicken pieces, skin side down at first. A lot of fat will come off as the chicken skin renders down. Fry until you have really good colour and then turn over and fry on the fleshy side. Season very well.

The chicken skin should become so crisp that it starts to come away from the chicken thighs. Transfer the chicken thighs onto a plate and using a fork or tongs, pull away as much skin as you can and discard. They will still be quite raw, so you need to wash your hands carefully before and after handling them.

Leave the chicken aside on the plate and fry the onion slices in the fat in the saucepan. Cook until they are starting to go soft and a good dark brown colour. Take your time and don’t let them burn. Just brown. Then add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Mix well and season, then transfer the onions to a plate.

Put the chicken in a layer at the bottom of the pan. Pour in the remaining 150ml of chicken stock. Then top with the onions, then the spiced rice. Finally, mix the saffron with the milk and pour on top. Cook out for about 45 minutes, covered, in the oven. Let it settle for about 10 minutes and then fluff it up. I actually took out each thigh and pulled the meat away from the bones. This was dead easy and means you could eat this dish with no fussing. You can also bulk it out with some frozen peas when re-heating. Chopped coriander doesn’t go amiss either.

Chocolate and banana bread

250g plain flour

20g cocoa

2 tsp baking powder

160g butter, soft

180g demerara sugar

2 eggs

7 ripe bananas (approx 110g each)

80g shredded coconut

150g dark chocolate, chopped

You will need a 22cm x 12 cm loaf tin. Line the base with parchment. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees/gas 3.

Sieve together the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Beat the butter and demerara sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat.

Mash six of the bananas (keep one for slicing and decorating the top) and then stir them in along with 60g of the coconut and all of the chopped chocolate. Fold in the flour and then pour the cake mix into the prepared tin.

Top with slices of banana, in a line down the centre, and sprinkle with remaining coconut. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool and serve. It also tastes great the next day.

Domini recommends: Adare milk in lovely old-fashioned bottles with thick, creamy top. Nostalgia in a bottle.

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