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Two recipes true to home cooking: fuss free and genuinely useful

Donal Skehan’s balsamic chicken with saffron rice, and Moroccan meatballs with harissa couscous

Home cooking: sweet and sticky balsamic chicken with saffron-spiced rice

My mum’s kitchen was where my love of cooking began. The spice cupboard beside the white 1980s cooker smelled dark and musty, and was filled equally with freshly bought spice jars and recycled ones with fading labels and grubby finger marks from dark, bubbling casseroles gone by. Bags of dried oregano, carefully carried home from summer holidays in Greece and Turkey, sat alongside the jar of birthday candles that came out twice a year, and the plastic bags of spices from the Asian market, tightly rolled up and sealed with a plastic clip.

In her attempt to hide sweets from my brother and I my mum also chose to hide bags of marshmallows at the very top of this press, which meant by time we got to eat them they had absorbed the pungency of the neighbouring jars. This was not helped by the fact that we used to open the bag and sneak one or two out, leaving the remaining ones to dry out. A game of cat and mouse that no one really won.

The next press down was the nerve centre for our family life and home to a cheat sheet of handwritten recipes and clippings stuck to the inside of the door, designed for quick reference. Jam for toasted brown bread, our breakfast before school, the never-ending supply of tinned tomatoes for a quick-fix Bolognese ragu to feed the house and a sticky bottle of ketchup, the secret ingredient for getting my brother to eat just about anything.

While I was experimenting with a new cake recipe, or generally making a mess in the kitchen, I don’t think I appreciated that without these staple ingredients that just seemed to eternally exist, our family meals would not have been.

It’s why I never regret sounding like a broken record in my cookbooks and online when I repeat the adage that good cooking starts with a well-stocked kitchen. I have loved sharing my recipes with you over the past year and half, and this week I share two recipes that are true to my love of home cooking, fuss free and genuinely useful. A sticky marinade for chicken that uses ingredients you are bound to have in the store cupboard and cheap and cheerful Moroccan meatballs that will give you the ideal excuse to raid those spice jars.

Sweet and sticky balsamic chicken with saffron-spiced rice

A dark and heady marinade made with kitchen staples, ideal for any meat but, as here, particularly delicious used to infuse chicken drumsticks served with electric-yellow saffron rice.

Serves 4
For the chicken
8-12 chicken drumsticks
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely grated

For the saffron spiced rice
1 pinch saffron fronds
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
250g basmati rice
2 tsp salt

Coriander leaves, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a large mixing bowl. Put half the sauce aside for later, then add the chicken to the rest and coat completely. Then put the drumsticks on a large baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Roast for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked through. Halfway through the cooking time, baste with the remaining sauce.

While the chicken is cooking, put a pot over a medium-high heat, add the oil and fry the onion for 6-8 minutes, until tender. Add the rice to the pan and stir through.

Top with 500ml of just-boiled water and add the saffron and salt. Bring to a steady simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until the liquid is completely absorbed. Remove from the heat, fluff up with a fork, put the lid back on and leave to sit until ready to serve.

Serve the rice with the chicken and garnish with coriander leaves.

Home cooking: Moroccan spiced sausage meatballs with harissa couscous

Moroccan spiced sausage meatballs with harissa couscous

Few recipes can boast about being made almost entirely from store-cupboard ingredients, but this one comes close. Bar a few mint leaves, some yogurt and sausage meat, the rest of the list can happily lie in wait for their moment to shine. If you choose not to use sausage meat here, a combination of pork and beef mince, or lamb, will be a worthy fit.

Serves 4

1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Good handful of mint leaves
100g natural yogurt
4 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted
Sea salt and ground black pepper

For the meatballs
500g best-quality sausage meat
1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
1 tsp cayenne pepper

For the couscous
250g couscous
400ml chicken stock, just boiled
1 tbsp harissa paste

Combine the ingredients for the meatballs, then, with damp hands, form into 20 bite-size meatballs.

Put a large frying pan on a medium-high heat and add a little oil. Fry the meatballs in batches for 5-6 minutes, or until browned on all sides and cooked through completely.

Place the couscous, chicken stock and harissa paste in a bowl and cover. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until the liquid is completely absorbed. Fluff up with a fork and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the couscous on a serving plate, the meatballs arranged on top. Garnish with yogurt, toasted almonds and mint leaves.