Inspiring Dinner Party Solutions: Delicious Roast Chicken Couscous with Fresh Herbs and Pomegranate

Introducing Part 1 of my ‘Inspiring Dinner Party Solutions'; Delicious Roast Chicken Couscous with Fresh Herbs and Pomegranate♥ I feel compelled to introduce this mini series of simple yet impressive dishes after a succession of dinner party blunders last weekend! I was throwing a reunion dinner for four of my oldest and dearest friends from school, girls that would have been entirely satisfied with no food whatsoever as long as the wine and bubbly flowed from the kitchen like the source of the Rio Grande! In an effort to test my culinary ability, I choose delectable yet laborious dishes that contained too many elements and demanded far too much time and precision. Most of the day was spent toiling in the kitchen rolling pasta to a wafer thin consistency and whipping egg whites into stiff white peaks while still making tea and conversations! I was frazzled from beginning to end; not good if you’re the host.

I’m hoping to conspire against traditional dinner party tedium and create recipes that are simple and impressive, clean and brilliant and most importantly; won’t give the chef an aneurism before service! My Delicious Roast Chicken Couscous with Fresh Herbs and Pomegranate is versatile, may be served as a starter or a main, is full of flavor and texture, tastes sweet and exotic, and most importantly, is quick to prepare. It is guaranteed to satisfy the family, impress the guests and not retain the chef in the kitchen for anymore then 40 minutes!

If you’ve never tried couscous before then I highly recommend trying this recipe. Couscous is made of crushed durum wheat semolina and is among the healthiest grain-based products in the world. Originally found in North Africa, it is a staple food throughout AlgeriaMorocco and Tunisia and is fast becoming a popular alternative to pasta and rice in Western Europe. Its quick to prepare and extremely versatile, lending itself well to savory and sweet ingredients. The infusion of pomegranate juice and seeds in this recipe cut through the eastern spices with a sweet explosion, which compliment the fresh mint, parsley and coriander beautifully.

Couscous its a nutritious grain, containing twice as much riboflavinniacinvitamin B6, and folate as pasta and four times as much thiamine and pantothenic acid. Unfortunately it has a relatively high Glycemic load compared to quinoa and brown basmati rice, but by adding walnuts to the recipe I have actually reduce the GI of the entire dish; very clever!
My new kitchen etiquette demands food that is simple and its preparation fast, this dish covers both; Dig in folk’s xx
 

Recipe creation: Caroline Murray
Food styling and photography: Caroline Murray
Prep/cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4

 Delicious Roast Chicken Couscous with Fresh Herbs and Pomegranate

Ingredients

Preparation
  1. Dry fry the coriander, cumin and peppercorn in a pan for 2 minutes or until toasted.
  2. Place in a pestle and mortar and grind to release the flavours.
  3. Add the ground seeds to the olive oil and lemon juice, season with a good pinch of salt.
  4. Rub the marinade all over the chicken breasts and leave to rest in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  6. Meanwhile, put the couscous in a bowl and pour over the hot stock. After 10 minutes or when the stock is fully absorbs, fluff up the couscous and leave to cool.
  7. Place the chicken in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  8. When the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and slice.
  9. Drizzle any remaining cooking juice from the roasting tin and onto the couscous and pile the chicken on top.
  10. Add the walnuts and mixed herbs.
  11. Half the pomegranate and squeeze the juice and the seeds onto the couscous
  12. drizzle with a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and serve.

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Food to make you happy, part 3: Spicy Pumpkin Soup and Trish’s Brown Bread

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For ten long days, I had a Crown Prince Pumpkin sitting in the middle of my kitchen table, it was slowly becoming a permanent feature. We ate around it, silently admiring its pale, flawless green flesh. I kept thinking it was too beautiful to butcher and too grand to dice or cube! It wasn’t until one afternoon, sitting in The Cake Cafe on Dublin’s Camden Street, that it occurred to me what weird and wonderful things I could do to my prince. Ultimately it is a food, an ingredient to be shaped and utilised into a pumpkin head, pumpkin pie, fritters and soups.  So I decided, to be turned into something delectable is surly a better way to go then rotting on my table top! 

I’ve no doubt it was the gorgeous atmosphere of The Cake Cafe that inspired these notions of culinary adventure. Situated to the rear of Daintree Paper Mill,  everything about this little cafe tickles the senses; the smiling staff, kooky furniture, leaking teapots and parade of mouth-watering cakes swept me away in a creative wave. Inspired by the smells and sounds, I furiously began jotting down comforting food combinations into my notebook. One of my favourite recipes from that afternoon, and one of life’s most simple pleasures, is Piping Hot Pumpkin Soup with Home made Brown Bread. It’s my belief that soup can heal both mentally and physically, in my experience, it can have the same effect on your serotonin level as a double chocolate brownie! ♥

The soup is my own creation but I can’t take credit for the brown bread, it came compliments of Trish from Mullingar. She is famed amongst her friends for her rustic brown bread and was very generous in letting me in on her baking secrets. Trish firmly believes that behind every good recipe, are good ingredients and this is why she uses only the finest Irish produce to bake her bread; Macroom Wholewheat Stoneground Flour and Howards One Way Stonegrond are combined with bran and pinhead oats to create a nutty and robust loaf. She encouraged me to play around with the dry ingredients and so I’ve added some sunflower and linseed for increased seedy goodness. The results were sublime, this recipe is simple and delicious and should definitely be attempted at least once in a life time!

What I love about this recipe is its simplicity, but also it’s adventure, it gave me ample excuse to play around with some less familiar ingredients and cooking methods. I have an abundance of sage growing in a large Belfast sink in my back garden and can rarely think of anything interesting to do with it except onion and sage stuffing and I’m not a huge fan of stuffing. Thankfully, fried sage is a beautiful garnish for pumpkin soup, it’s a strong and robust herb that marries well with the sweetness of the pumpkin. It’s also good for you ♥. The Latin for this often neglected perennial is salvia, which means “to heal”, it has been credited with the ability to relieve inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and even enhance memory. It is also reported to support digestion which is why it is commonly combined with fatty meats like pork and beef.

Another excellent reason to buy and cook a pumpkin is for its seeds. I think I may have raved on about the brilliance of these seeds before so I will briefly recap – they are nutritional gold –  25g of pumpkin seeds can provide over 20% of the our daily allowance of iron. They contain a vast amount of both manganese and magnesium which are crucial for bones, cartilage and tissues maintenance. Magnesium deficiency is also symptomatic of depression and insomnia so fortifying your diet with these little beauties will aid sleep and stabilise your mood!

As always, enjoy enjoy enjoy xxx

Recipe creation: Caroline Murray and Trish Malloy

Food styling and photography: Caroline Murray

Prep/cooking time (soup, garnish, bread): 2 hrs

Serves: 6

Spicy pumpkin Soup
Ingredients

  • 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
  • 40ml olive oil
  • 900g (2lbs) pumpkin
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 300g of ripe tomatoes, or 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 pints of good vegetable stock
  • Finely grated nutmeg to taste
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preparation
  1. In a heavy-based saucepan, toast the coriander and cumin seeds for 2 minutes, grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar and add 30ml of olive oil; reserve for baking.
  2. Wash the pumpkin under warm water, removing all dirt. Cut in half and scoop out all the seeds and soft fibre. NB: Do not discard! The seeds are gorgeous roasted, check out recipe below.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200C, cut the pumpkin into chunks and put in a roasting tin. Drizzle with the cumin and coriander infused olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, or until soft and coloured around the edges. Turn and shake the chunks once or twice during roasting.
  4. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and allow it to cool, when cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the flesh.
  5. In a heavy-based saucepan, sweat the onion in the remaining oil until soft but not browned, add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  6. Add the roasted pumpkin, chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock and simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Blend the soup until smooth and transfer to a clean saucepan. Heat the soup until piping hot and garnish with the fried sage. Serve with brown bread and real butter.
 

To garnish: Fried Sage and ground peppercorns with cumin and coriander seed
 Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp rape seed oil or sunflower oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 12-16 sage leaves
Preparation
  1. Heat the oil in a small pan, when the oil starts to bubble add the sage leaves, fry for 5/7 seconds or until crisp.
  2. Transfer the fried leaves to some kitchen towel to soak up the excess oil.
  3. Before serving your Spicy Pumpkin Soup, throw a few fried sage leaves on top of the soup.
  4. Grind a tsp each of the peppercorns, cumin and coriander and lightly sprinkle over the soup with the fried sage, this really lifts the flavour with every mouthful!

 

Trish’s Brown Bread, Makes 2 loaves
 Ingredients

Preparation
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
  3. Add the buttermilk to the dry ingredients.
  4. Mix well, if the ingredients seems too dry, add a little more buttermilk.
  5. Grease the bread tins generously with butter and flour and divide the dough between the 2 tins.
  6. Sprinkle any remaining sunflower and linseed mix on the top, they will toast up beautifully in the oven.
  7. Bake in the oven for 1hr
  8. 20 minutes before cooking time is over, turn the loaf upside down to brown the bottom, reducing the heat to 160C, this will give you a nice crunchy crust while ensuring that the loaf is baked perfectly.
TIP: Macroom Wholewheat Stoneground Flour is widely available in artisan food shops nationwide and can be bought online from The Ballymaloe Shop in Cork for 2.95. if you either can’t be bothered or simply can’t find any Macroom flour, don’t hesitate in using Howards instead, it has a great bite and is a good substitute.
TIP: Don’t attempt to cute the loaf straight out of the oven; try to control yourself! Cutting while the loaf is still hot may cause your beautiful loaf to go ‘soggy’ inside. Give it almost 2hrs, then dig in.
TIP: If like me, you suffer from mild anxiety when removing a loaf from the oven; get a bread thermometer! The internal temperature of a cooked loaf should be 85C / 190°F. This is a worthwhile investment and will encourage you to bake more and with greater ease :)
Here’s a simple recipe to use up all those delicious pumpkin seeds, use as a garnish for sweet or savoury dishes and as a light snake for when you get peckish.

Roasted pumpkin Seeds
Ingredients

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sea salt

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Remove the seeds from the fleshy fibres and rinse under cold water.
  3. Lay the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray in a single layer.
  4. Sprinkle with sea salt and roast for 30 minutes.

TIP: it can be a bit of a job removing the seeds from the flesh! I did it by adding the mulch to a colander and massaging it with cold water, the flesh disintegrates down the drain and your left with beautiful pale big seeds to roast.

TIP: Soaking the pumpkin seeds in salt water for 24hrs before roasting them, this deactivates enzyme inhibitors in the seeds. These enzyme inhibitors can irritate the stomach and prevent the absorption of essential nutrients. Soaking the seeds also enhances their flavour as the seed becomes more porous. There are lots of variations on the typical salted pumpkin seed, try adding cinnamon or nutmeg for a sweeter garnish over yogurt and fruit or soya sauce and chilli powder for stirfrys.

 I hope you enjoyed the recipe, now get cooking!

Food to make you happy, Part 2: Miso Mackerel with a Warm Spicy Aubergine Salad

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My last post was the first of a three-part mini series looking at the physiological phenomena that is stress’, and what wonderous and vile things it does to the body. In my last entry I hoped to explained the cause and effect of negative emotion, what physically happens to the human body when we react badly to an adverse situation, and what foods can be eaten to help restore and create a balance. The message is simple and honest; health and well-being can be achieved by eliminating certain foods from our diet and replacing them with better ones; by eating natural, unrefined, unprocessed whole foods, we can actually support every system in the body, helping it to function optimally and relieve symptoms of stress and ill-health.

So it’s all about choosing foods that keep us calm and happy and avoiding the ones that and deplete us. My gorgeous Baked French Toast from the previous post is a great example of stress fighting food. It’s made with a multi grain loaf containing millet, linseed and rye which help to slow down the release of sugar into the blood stream, keeping our stress levels in check.

Another fantastic alternative to artificial sweetener and one of my new favourite ingredients in the whole wide world is agave syrup. It has a low Gi, preventing the usual psychosis induced by refined sugars AND it can help to keep our waist a healthy width.

I used it generously in my previous post to sweeten my Warm Raspberry Compote and Seed and Nut Brittle, I actually ended up adding it to last nights mashed potatoes and afterwards smothering the free range chicken with it before throwing it into the oven! It’s just so damn versatile….

In this post I want to introduce some more new and exciting ingredients that will help stave off stress while adding new dimension to your culinary repertoire. The main ingredient in this recipe is one of our most significant superfoods, caught and sold in Ireland, and available to buy in most fishmongers for about a euro; Fresh Irish mackerel. I picked mine up this morning in The Market, in Beshoffs of Howth. This is a great little eatery, they have really fresh produce and are always extremely helpful!

The nutritional benefits of eating mackerel are enormous; it prevents cardiovascular disease, strengthens the immune system, improves organ function and regulates metabolism. It’s our number one source of Omega-3 fatty acids, also found in flax and sunflower seeds. This Essential Fatty Acid improves the functioning of the nervous system, regulates hormonal imbalances such as PMT, relieves attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, even depression!

This wonderous fish also contains large quantities of Magnesium; 85mg, in every 100g of mackerel, this mineral is an EFA helper which means that it improves the absorption of omega-3 fatty acid into the system. Magnesium is also essential for energy production and hormonal regulation and is widely prescribed as a supplement to individuals with depression and insomnia.

I’m serving my mackerel with a Warm Spicy Aubergine Salad, a side dish that goes beautifully with oily fish. Aubergine is now in season and available to buy in farmers markets all over the country. They are a great source of B-complex vitamins and contain lots of dietary fiber which is essential for healthy digestion. They also contain many minerals such as manganese, copper, iron and potassium as well as phytonutrients such as nasunin and chlorogenic acid which protect us against free radicals.

I’m using two variety of aubergine in my dish; ‘black beauty’ have a smooth, dark, glossy skin and are widely available in supermarkets all over the country. The second variety is not so common but can be found in farmers markets nationwide; they are sometimes refered to as the ‘graffiti’ aubergine and are smaller than their contemporaries with a wider base and pinky purple skin streaked with white, really pretty and really tasty.

Recipe creation: Caroline Murray
Food styling and photography: Caroline Murray
Prep/cooking time: 90 minutes
Serves: 4

♥ Warm Spiced Aubergine Salad

Ingredients

  • 3 large aubergines
  • 50ml rapeseed oil
  • 1 chilli, deseeded and finely diced
  • 1 tsp of fennel seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic peels and finely chopped
  • 3cm cube of ginger, grated
  • 100ml rice wine vinegar
  • 100ml mirin
  • 3 tbsp soya sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • handful of coriander, chopped
  • 4 spring onions chopped

Preparation

  1. Cut the aubergine into 2cm cubes and sprinkle generously with salt.
  2. Double over some kitchen towel and lay the salted aubergine on top, leave for 20 minutes.
  3. Pre heat the oven to 200C
  4. Remove all the moisture from the aubergine, place in a large baking dish, then toss in 25ml of rapeseed oil.
  5. Roast in a pre heated oven for 40 minutes. Give them a good mix every 10/15 minutes to ensure they dont burn.
  6. Heat the remaining rapeseed oil on a low heat in a large frying pan and add the ginger, chilli, garlic and fennel. fry for 5 minutes ensuring they don’t burn.
  7. Add the roasted aubergine to the pan and mix well.
  8. Combine the mirin, vinegar, soya and seseame into  a little bowl, mix and add to the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Serve with some chopped coriander and spring onion.
 
♥ Grilled Miso Mackerel
 Ingredients
  • 4 whole mackerel, gutted, do not cut off the head and tail
  • 3 tbsp of miso paste
  • 100ml of mirin
  • 2 tbsp of agave syrup

Preparation

  1. Using a sharp knife, score the mackerel and both sides, .5cm deep should do it.
  2. Heat the mirin in a small frying pan, when it starts to boil, turn down the heat and add the agave syrup, mix well.
  3. Gently whisk in the miso paste and allow the marinade to cool down to room temperature.
  4. Next, rub the fish inside and out with the marinade, and leave to sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Once the fish is infused with the flavours from the marinade, pre heat the grill to the maximum temperature. This dish requires the grill to be piping hot!
  6. Place the fish under the grill for 3 minutes, turn and do the other side for another 3 minutes until the skin is charred.
  7. Remove from the grill and serve with the Warm Spiced Aubergine Salad.

TIP: Things to look out for when buying fresh mackerel; the eyes should appear bright and clear and the gills should be clean. Fresh mackerel will also have moist, translucent flesh. If in doubt, ask your fishmonger, failing that; use your nose! When you get home, remove the fish from the bag, wash under cold water and place on a plate. Cover with foil and refrigerate in the coldest part until your ready to cook it!

TIP 2: I used Clearspring Organic Japanese Brown Rice Miso, Clearspring Japanese Rice Mirin and Clearspring Japanese Toasted Sesame Oil. Probably because I spend far too much time in health food shops but mainly because it’s as close to nature as your going to get. They use the highest quality ingredients that have gone through minimal processing to ensure great tasting products. I highly recommend them BUT there are plenty of very suitable alternatives that can be picked up in any supermarket so feel free to substitute any of the above with whatever is handy!

As always, enjoy enjoy enjoy x

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