Friday, July 3, 2015

Roast chicken with harissa and couscous

The last few days have been extremely hard for various reasons. I’ve been feeling exhausted, disheartened and a bit disoriented by the circumstances, and as a result, it’s been impossible to come here and share anything.

This place, however, has always been a refuge for me and it brings me joy to communicate with all of you through my food, so I decided to come here, to this beloved blog of mine, and share this dish.

This roast chicken with harissa and couscous has graced our dinner table many a time and not without good reason. S and I love spicy flavors and harissa is nothing but spicy. It is a chilli pepper paste hailing from Tunisia although versions of it can be found in other North African countries like Algeria, Libya and Morocco. Each country has their twist to it which makes it their own, but the basic ingredients are the same. Hot red chilli peppers, olive oil, garlic, salt and spices like cumin, caraway and coriander. In some regions harissa is smoked, in others it is not. The texture varies as well from region to region with the paste having a thick or looser texture, or being smoother or chunkier.

Harissa is served with all kinds of meals and snacks, on top of bread, in stews, with meat or fish, grains and vegetables. I love smearing it on top of my bread like I showed you in this post, but also in meat and legume stews. One of my very favorite, though, is this one with chicken which is simply delicious.

The chicken gets a good rub with a mixture of harissa, garlic, olive oil, lemon and honey, and is roasted in the oven on a bed of thinly sliced lemon. The result is a highly addictive chicken with juicy flesh and crispy skin —oh that skin!— with spicy notes from the harissa but also sweetness from the honey and acidity from the lemon that tempers the fiery flavor of the Tunisian chilli paste.

The purpose of the lemon slices at the bottom of the pan is not only to make the chicken juicy and aromatic but to also accompany it in the finished dish. The lemon, in small doses, provides that pleasant sharpness that complements beautifully the heat of the harissa. The mint couscous is there to soak up all the lovely juices from the chicken, provide freshness and elevate the dish.

P.S. The situation in my country, Greece, saddens me deeply. I won’t go into details. I’m just hoping for the best…

Roast chicken with harissa and couscous

I always use the authentic Tunisian harissa but you can use whatever you can find.

The general proportions for cooking couscous is 1:1 which means 1 cup water for 1 cup couscous. I, however, enjoy my couscous on the dry side, especially when I serve it with saucy dishes like this one, so I prepare it with 1 cup couscous and ¾ cup water. If you want your couscous to be softer and slightly sticky, then you may want to add a little more than 1 cup. It would be wise, though, to read the instructions on the packet as not all couscous is the same.

Yield: 2-4 main-course servings


for the chicken
1 chicken, about 1,200 g, cut into 6-8 pieces*
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1½ Tbsp harissa
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp runny honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced

for the couscous
1 cup couscous
1 cup water
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
A handful of chopped fresh mint leaves

* I always cut the chicken into six pieces; legs, wings and breasts. You can also cut it into eight pieces, separating the legs into thighs and drumsticks, but I prefer not to because they remain juicier.

Special equipment: large barking tray, plastic wrap


make the chicken
Preheat your oven to190-200°C.

In a large glass bowl, add the garlic, harissa, olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper and mix well with a spoon. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and coat them well with the mixture.

Take a large baking pan (large enough to fit the chicken pieces in one layer) and arrange on the bottom the lemon slices. Place the chicken pieces on top, skin-side up, and pour the juices from the bowl over the top.

Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast the chicken for about 50 minutes, until it takes on a golden brown color and the skin becomes crispy and caramelized. Also, if you insert a knife or skewer on the thickest part of the chicken pieces, the juices should run clear and not be reddish in color. Don’t cook for longer because the chicken will dry out and become tough.

make the couscous
In the meantime, prepare the couscous.

Add the couscous in a medium-sized bowl.
In a small saucepan, add the water and olive oil, and place over high heat. When it comes to the boil, pour it over the couscous, add the salt, stir with a spoon and tightly cover the bowl immediately with a piece of plastic wrap. Leave it like that for about 10 minutes or until it has soaked the water. Then uncover it, taste it, and if it seems a bit hard, cover and leave it for a few more minutes.
When ready, remove and discard the plastic wrap and fluff the couscous with a fork.

Just before serving, check the seasoning and sprinkle with the chopped mint.

When the chicken is ready, serve in dishes on top of the couscous, not forgetting to pour over the whole dish the delicious juices from the pan. Also, do not forget to add a couple of lemon slices from the pan to each plate, which will give that pleasant acidity to temper the spiciness of the harissa.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Homemade Petits Beurres with strawberry buttercream filling

I’ve been on a pastry and cake baking bender these past few weeks and this blog has, unintentionally, turned a bit into a pastry blog. Now that summer fruits are making their appearance at the market one after the other, I can’t say I’ll be able to stop making sweet things. Let me assure you, though, savory dishes are still my number one love, but as I’ve said so many times in the past, good things need to be shared, therefore I couldn’t not share these strawberry filled petits beurres.

Petits beurres are butter biscuits originating from France. They are famous around the world and in Greece we not only dunk them in our morning or afternoon coffee but we also use them in all sorts of desserts. They are not too sweet, they are very crispy, a hard type of biscuit really, and that is why they are perfect for dipping.

Their signature rectangular shape with the scalloped edges, the small holes on the top and slightly burned corners is difficult to recreate if you don’t have a specific cookie cutter and, luckily, a few months ago, I had bought one in the hope that one day I would make these cookies myself. I finally did.

I remember when I was little, I loved petits beurres so much that I used to take the whole packet to myself. I’d start eating one after the other, always starting from the little scalloped edges all around the cookie and then, reluctantly, eating the center. I never would have thought then that I would make them myself one day.

They are so easy to make that I thought I’d fill them up with something scrumptious to make it more of a challenge so I chose to make a strawberry buttercream because strawberries are everywhere at the moment. The buttercream is not too sweet, due to the pleasant acidity of the strawberries, it’s smooth, fluffy and gets firm in the fridge, and, of course, incredibly tasty because, c’mon, strawberries!

I love filled biscuits in general and these really make my heart sing. The thing, however, in this case, is that given that petits beurres are hard biscuits, it’s a bit difficult to eat them without the filling squirting out from the sides. But you can do what I have always done with filled biscuits. Perhaps an unorthodox way of eating them but a successful one is to split the cookie and eat each filling-covered half on its own.

Of course you could make just the biscuits and eat them any way you like. Oh and the buttercream, you can use it to frost cakes and cupcakes. It’s up to you. Just make sure to have fun when you make them.

Homemade Petits Beurres with strawberry buttercream filling
Adapted from here

If you are wondering if it’s worth making these since you can buy them everywhere, let me tell you, they are so easy and quick to make and they’re so delicious, you’ll forget the store-bought ones even exist. Or maybe it’s just me. Because, you know I’m a sucker for making anything from scratch.

You can use other fruits instead of strawberry in the buttercream. Cherries, raspberries and blackberries work great as well as blueberries, but make sure you sieve the fruit purée in order to get rid of seeds and/or skins.

The recipe yields a little more buttercream than needed to fill the biscuits, but you can keep the rest in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks to use in any sort of cake or cupcake.

If you don’t have a petit beurre cookie cutter, cut the dough in small rectangular shapes and make small holes on top with a toothpick, or cut the dough in whatever shape you like.

Yield: 24 petits beurres (12 filled)


for the petits beurres
100 g caster sugar
100 g unsalted butter
60 ml water
¼ tsp salt
250 g all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder

for the strawberry buttercream filling
100 g fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
100 g unsalted butter, cut in cubes, at room temperature
75 g icing sugar
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

Special equipment: rolling pin, two baking sheets, baking paper, cookie cutter, small food processor, fine sieve, stand mixer or hand-held mixer, piping bag and 1-2 cm round nozzle (alternatively use a Ziploc bag)


for the petits beurres
In a small saucepan, add the sugar, butter, water and salt and set over a low heat. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously until the butter has melted completely. Then pour into a medium-sized bowl and let stand for about 20 minutes or until slightly cooled, stirring every 5 minutes with a spatula.

Add the flour and the baking powder and mix with a spatula until you have a smooth and soft dough. Empty it onto a clean work surface and knead slightly with your hands to form a flattened disk. Then flatten it even more with your hands to create a thinner rectangle. This will make it easier to roll it out later. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Place it on top of another baking sheet. This will protect the bottom of the cookies and they will not burn.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and discard the plastic wrap and place dough between two large sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to 3mm thickness. Using the petit beurre cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place them, spaced 2 cm apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 12-13 minutes or until they take on a golden color and the edges have browned. They shouldn’t feel soft to the touch on top.

Remove them from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

for the strawberry buttercream filling
Place strawberries in a food processor and process until you have a smooth purée. Sieve the purée into a bowl to remove the seeds and discard them.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract, and beat with the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, for about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, start the mixer at a low speed and as it is beating, slowly add the strawberry purée. Mix until it is just blended. If the buttercream splits when you add the strawberry purée, do not fret, there’s a way to fix this. Fit the stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until it comes together. It will take about 2 minutes.

assembling the filled petits beurres
When the biscuits have completely cooled, line pairs of them on a wire rack and, preferably using a piping bag fitted with a 1-2 cm round nozzle, pipe lines of buttercream on the bottom of one of the two biscuits of each pair. If you don’t have a piping bag, just use a Ziploc bag. Cut one of the corners to make a hole from which you can pipe out the buttercream.
Sandwich the two biscuits together and you’re set.

At this point the buttercream will be soft and it will be difficult to eat the filled cookies. Place the cookies in an airtight container and place them in the fridge. The buttercream will set and it will be easire to eat the biscuits. You can keep them there for 2 weeks.

If you only make the petits beurres without the buttercream, keep them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Light lunch

Sometimes I get in a rut with what I eat for lunch or as a snack. Even though there’s plenty of inspiration around me, I always end up having the same avocado and egg toast, or a ham and cheese toast, fruit with nuts etc. and my belly, and taste buds, is getting tired of them. Do you have the same problem? Eating the same thing over and over?

So, as I am trying to find ways to change things up, I thought it would be a good idea to post these options here too in case any of you out there are in the same predicament as me. Most of the time, they are not going to be exact recipes with precise ingredients, but rather more like guides and ideas about a super easy, light lunch or snack made with few ingredients and minimal effort.

I have shared some of these in the past that would definitely fit into this category, like the open-faced sandwiches with pasta elias (Greek olive paste) and tomatoes, or the ones with figs, mascarpone and prosciutto, and you can find all of them here.
Hope to inspire not only myself but you too along the way. Tell me what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

So, let’s start with these two open-faced quick sandwhiches, brushette or tartines, call them what you like. They are made with whole-wheat, multigrain bread, Greek yoghurt, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs and a spicy sauce. I used harissa (a Tunisian hot red chilli paste) because I’ve been obsessed with it for a long time now—I actually have one great recipe with harissa that I plan to share with you very soon—but you can use the Indonesian sambal oelek, the Serbian ajvar or the Korean sriracha too.

Tomatoes and yoghurt with harissa on multigrain bread

Dark multi-grain bread, sliced
Greek yoghurt, full-fat (I used one with 10% fat)
Ripe tomatoes of any kind, I used baby Roma tomatoes, sliced or halved
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil

Smear the bread slices with a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt. Arrange the tomatoes on top. Dot with some harissa depending how you handle heat. Sprinkle with the parsley and season with salt. Drizzle some olive oil on top.

Cucumber and yoghurt with dill oil on multigrain bread


for the dill oil
A large bunch of fresh dill, about 15 g
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt

Dark multi-grain bread, sliced
Greek yoghurt, full-fat (I used one with 10% fat)
Cucumber, unpeeled, thinly sliced
Fresh dill leaves, chopped


for the dill oil
Pick the leaves from the dill and discard the stalks. Place them in a small food processor and add the olive oil. Process until smooth and add the salt.
This yields a good amount of dill oil. You can keep it in the fridge, in a glass jar, for a couple of weeks. You can use this flavored oil not only on top of this tartine but also tossed in salads or on top of baked or barbecued fish.

Smear the bread slices with a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt. Arrange the cucumbers on top. Drizzle some dill oil on top, sprinkle with the chopped dill and season with salt.

PS. Sorry you can’t see the dill oil in the photos I took because, silly me, I drizzled it on top of the yoghurt instead of on top of the cucumbers. It is similar to the mint oil I made a few years back for this tomato salad.

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