20 February, 2009

no vampires in MY house

How much garlic can one family of three eat on a Thursday evening shortly before the spring solstice? I'm sure there is a formula for working this sort of thing out, but I'll make it easy for you. A LOT. Suffice to say, the contents of this lovely dish you see before you? Gone, along with almost an entire baguette and a whole baked chicken. I'll explain.

Sometimes my meat-veg-starch plate arrangement at dinner gets me down. How many different ways can you present a potato, especially when a baked one has been banned from your dinner table because your poor child was forced to eat one every day of her life at school for a year? And rice isn't very popular in my house either, while couscous gets eaten but with a marked lack of enthusiasm. Then yesterday, while idly leafing through Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories (another book I would marry if I were single), I came across this gem (I've adapted it slightly for quantities):

Baked Garlic With Creamed Goat's Cheese
(how many it serves is entirely down to you and your fellow diners: I counted on one head of garlic per person and it was about right)

4 heads garlic
4 tbsps olive oil
4 thyme sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
4 bay leaves
1 lemon cut into 6 wedges
salt and pepper

For the creamed goat's cheese

6 oz goat's cheese (a nice simple one without rind or ash)
3 oz double cream
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes

Preheat oven to 400F, 200C. Slice the tops off the garlic heads about a quarter of the way down. Pack into an ovenproof dish in one layer. Drizzle over the olive oil and tuck the herbs and lemon around the heads, giving a squeeze of each of the lemon wedges as you do so. Season with salt and pepper. Place in oven and leave there for 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 250F, 170C for another 50 minutes. When the garlic comes out of the oven, tip the dish so you can spoon the now lusciously flavored oil over the heads. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, cream the goat's cheese with the cream, add the chili flakes and salt and stir well till mixed thoroughly.

To eat, serve with nice chunks of baguette. Dig into the heads of garlic with a little fork or spoon and spread the garlic onto the baguette, topping with the goat's cheese mixture.


Now, two things stand out as being imperative truths about this dish: you and your guests have to be potty about garlic, and you ALL have to eat it. I couldn't tell if we stunk to high heaven, just because of this last precaution. The texture of the garlic is soft and silky, the flavor is gentle and permeated with the heady thyme and rosemary, and the lemon adds a bit of bite. Somehow the combination, along with the seriously self-indulgent creamy cheese, is heaven.

With this we had one of my favorite chicken dishes, invented by my dear mother in a rare display of culinary interest:

Mama Nel's Chicken
(serves 4)

1 whole chicken, cut into legs, breasts and wings
4 tbsps flour
1 tsp each: thyme, basil, garlic powder, paprika, lemon pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil

I've become quite adept at what is called here "jointing" a chicken, simply taking a whole bird and cutting it up, partly because it is unbelievably inexpensive to do this, and partly because unless you have a real butcher, you will not find chicken breasts on the bone with skin left on in this country. Nor are your typical supermarkets keen on whole legs, preferring in general to separate the thighs from the drumsticks. I myself hate the look of a chicken drumstick, feeling it has a Flintstones look about it, a caveman sort of desperation.

Now, in a recycled supermarket plastic bag (I used to use Ziplock until I saw the ungreen error of my ways), mix the flour with the herbs, then shake the chicken pieces in this until nicely coated. I suppose you could get all Martha Stewart and dip the pieces in egg or milk first, but my mother did not bother and so nor do I.

Line a 9x13 ovenproof dish with aluminum foil (a great aid to cleanup) and pour in the vegetable oil. Lay the chicken pieces skin side down and bake at 400F, 200C for half an hour, then turn the pieces over and bake for another half hour. Simplicity itself.


If you're being terribly credit crunchy, you may toss the back and rib bones from your clever jointing into a stockpot, throw in some carrots, celery and onion, season it all well and cover with water, then simmer for a couple of hours and voila: chicken soup.

I must dash: we are off to see War Horse, a play that has received almost unprecedented fabulous reviews, both before Christmas and in its current revival. Have some garlic, brush your teeth, and I'll be back with a review...


Foxi Rosie said...

The garlic, goats cheese and baguette sounds like a perfect dish for our choosing tea in May. At least if we ALL eat it no one will mind.

I agree with your Mom. I rarely ever egg and milk as occasionally if you rest it in the fridge before cooking, the crust can form a type of armour when cooked. The flour only approach has more appeal.

Kristen In London said...

Gladly, Foxi, I'll make the garlic and goats cheese dish! We all loved it. And would you believe: the leftover creamy goats cheese, cut with a lot of lemon juice and a tbsp of mayo, made the perfect dressing for the next evening's potato salad with lemon grass and pancetta... another tempting item for our tea!