There was a steady rota of Sunday roasts: lamb, pork, beef and chicken. It was the latter I looked forward to most, because Mum would always make bread sauce (properly, the coarse crumbs left to steep in warm milk with cloves, peppercorns and bay leaves) and gravy made from the roasting juices rather than from a silver and red foil-wrapped cube. I failed to ask why she made proper gravy for chicken and Oxo for everything else.
I roast a chicken differently according to the time of year. In high summer, I stir tarragon leaves from the garden and lemon zest into the roasting juices; at Christmas I will make up a batch of reassuringly familiar onion and herb-freckled stuffing. But right now I am looking at the aromatic notes of thyme – both fresh and dried – sesame and orange zest. To the roasting juices I add vegetables such as cauliflower or spring turnips, new potatoes or the last of the jerusalem artichokes. I tip them into the roasting tin once they are already tender, straight from the steamer, then let the vegetables sponge up the toasty, caramel-coloured roasting bits from the tin.
I made muffins this week, too. Not those everlasting cellophane-wrapped American ones that taste of raising agent, but plump, spongey muffin-shaped banana cakes, with a domed top and straight sides. They were freckled with nibs of dark chocolate. I sometimes put walnut halves on top but this time each had a little coin of crystallised banana, partly for the contrast with the soft, sweet chocolate-studded cake within.
Roast chicken with thyme and sesame-roasted cauliflower
Letting the creamy clouds of cauliflower toast in the chicken’s roasting juices is the thing here. I put them back in the oven to brown a little more while the bird is resting. Serves 4
chicken 1, approximately 2.2kg
dried thyme 3 tsp
cumin seeds ½ tsp
black peppercorns 1 tsp
olive oil 3 tbsp
thyme leaves 3 tbsp
sesame seeds 2 tbsp
orange zest of 1
Place the chicken in a roasting tin and preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. In a mortar, grind the dried thyme, cumin seeds and black peppercorns to a coarse powder then stir in a generous seasoning of salt and the olive oil. Rub the paste over the chicken, its breast and legs – I like to do this by hand but the back of a spoon will suffice – then roast for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the thyme leaves, sesame seeds and the orange zest and set aside. You will sprinkle this over the chicken once it has started to brown.
Trim the cauliflower and break into large florets. Put them in a steamer basket or colander and place over a pan of boiling water and leave to cook till tender to the point of a skewer – about 10 minutes depending on the thickness of their stalks. Once the chicken has been roasting for 45 minutes add the cooked cauliflower to the pan, toss each floret in the roasting juices and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. Scatter the sesame and orange mixture over both chicken and cauliflower and continue roasting for 15 minutes. (I like to keep a little back to sprinkle over at the table.)
Remove the chicken from the roasting tin and leave to rest, lightly covered, in a warm place for 10 minutes. Return the cauliflower to the oven to keep warm and to toast a little further, then serve with the roast chicken.
Banana chocolate-chip muffins
These are muffins in shape rather than nature – the texture is softer and more cake-like than the usual. It is worth taking your time over beating the sugar and butter, so that the mixture is light and fluffy. It should be thick and creamy before you add the eggs and flour. Probably because of the banana, these little cakes keep perfectly moist for several days in an airtight box. I think I like them even better the day after they have been baked.
Makes 9 small, deep muffins
plain flour 250g
baking powder 2 tsp
light muscovado sugar 235g
ripe bananas 350g (peeled weight)
vanilla extract 1 tsp
dark chocolate 100g
banana chips 9
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. You will also need 9 deep paper muffin cases.
Sift the flour and the baking powder together. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Mash the bananas with a fork. The mixture should be lumpy rather than mashed to a purée. Stir in the vanilla extract. Break the eggs into a small bowl, beat them lightly, then add them, a little at a time, to the butter and sugar mixture. If there is any sign of curdling, introduce a spoonful or two of the flour.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces – a mixture of sizes is good but they should all be roughly 0.5cm. Mix the chocolate pieces and the mashed bananas into the batter, then gently fold in the flour and the baking powder. The mixture should be lumpy, so avoid the temptation to overmix, as this will affect the texture.
Place the muffin cases on a baking sheet or in deep patty tins, then divide the mixture between them. Place a banana chip on the top of each (I sometimes use a walnut half instead).
Bake them for 30 minutes till lightly springy to the touch. Allow them to cool before you tear off the paper.
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