Birthday- Part I of II

I can’t remember the last time I had a big birthday bash.  Dinner and drinks, yes, absolutely.  It’s a great excuse to get a few friends together at a favourite watering hole for a nibble and natter.  But there’s normally just a few of us.  Low key and lovely.

But, but.  This year I’ve got a bigger birthday and that merits a bit more in way of celebrations.  Three sound about right.  So I had a summer lunch with family back in Sweden a few weeks ago, dinner at the delicious Brawn on the day itself and finally a do at Wilton’s Music Hall on the following Friday.  Why not, after all? 

The lunch I made for family and friends back on the island in Stockholm was a cross cultural affair with recipes inspired by my time at Leiths mixed in with a few family favourites.   A sort of pan Moroccan-Swedish smörgåsbord with spiced lamb, tahini and aubergine meeting smoked fish, saffron and Västerbotten cheese.  I’m not saying it necessarily made any kind of logical sense as a menu, but I figured it was my party and I’d cook what I wanted to.  I’ve copied the full menu below. 

 Jasmine from the garden

Prosecco with homemade elderflower cordial
Cheese and Tapenade straws
Pea and mint mousse
 Melon and Parma Ham
Moroccan Lamb meatballs in spiced tomato sauce
Bulgur Salad with feta, pomegranate, red onion and mint
Roasted Green Peppers with Tahini Dressing
Quiche with sesame and
Västerbotten Cheese Quiche
 Chicken with Tarragon, Lemon and Olives
Smoked Fish Terrine with Saffron and Dill
Green Salad
Basil Oil Vinaigrette 
Baba Ganoush
Flat Bread
Bread Rolls
Chocolate Cake
Summery Berry Cake
Strawberries and Cream

Admittedly there was a ridiculous amount of food but in my defence, there were 23 of us! And my family are pretty good eaters, it must be said.  Luckily, I had some help from Toby, my trusted sous chef, who was particularly proud of the Moroccan meatballs he made (they have been mentioned several times since) and he insisted I post the recipe.  The quiche calls for delicious Västerbotten cheese (a tongue-tingling tangy Swedish cheese), which is available at Waitrose and Ocado, however, a strong cheddar works just as well.  For the terrine, I used a large rectangular bread tin, no need to go out and buy a special dish.  

Lemon, Tarragon and Olive Chicken

Tahini Green Peppers

Kefta Maticha 
(Lamb meatballs in tomato and cinnamon sauce)
A Recipe from Leiths Cookery Bible

You will need:
250g minced lamb
1/2 onion, peeled and grated
1.5 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp mint, chopped
1.5 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
salt to taste

For the sauce:
250g chopped tinned tomatoes
1 tsp parsley, chopped plus extra
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3-4 cinnamon sticks
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


1.  Place the mince in a large mixing bowl and combine with the onion, parsley, garlic, spices and salt and pepper.  Mix well.  

2.  Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large pan and add the tomatoes.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add parsley and cinnamon and stir.   Allow the sauce to simmer and thicken for about 15-20 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, shape the mince into meatballs.  Add to the sauce and simmer gently until cooked through.  Remove the cinnamon stick and check the seasoning, adjusting with salt, pepper and sugar.

4.  Serve scattered with parsley and accompanied by a bulgur salad and flatbreads.  

Smoked Mackerel, Trout and Saffron Potato Terrine
Adapted from the Chef’s Chef website.

For 1 large terrine mould, you will need:

600g  Smoked mackerel (whole, approx 400g if you are using fillets only)
300g  Floury potatoes
About 4 Smoked trout fillets (or two packets)
75g Butter, softened
two generous pinches of Saffron
1 tbsp Dill, finely chopped plus extra
1 Lemon


1.    Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks.  Boil in a large pan of salted water along with a pinch of saffron.  Line a large terrine mould or bread tin with a double layer of cling.  You may find it easier to do this if you lightly wet the sheets of cling first.  There should be plenty of overhang. 

2. De-bone mackerel and remove the skin, separating the flesh into fillets.

3.  Place mackerel fillets on the base and sides of the mould, packing tightly.  You should find that the fillets will easily mould to each other and can use any smaller pieces to patch up any gaps. 

4.  Once the potatoes are cooked through, drain them and return to the hot pan for a minute to get rid of any excess moisture and fluff them up a bit.  Add the butter, dill, a little lemon juice to taste.  Mix together so that the potatoes begin to break up a bit.  Season with salt, pepper and another pinch of saffron if desired. 

5. Layer the centre of the mould with the potato mix and smoked trout and close the terrine with the rest of the mackerel.

6.  Close cling film over the top of the mould and weight lightly for 4 hours minimum in the fridge, ideally weighted down and overnight.

7.  Remove from the tin and from the cling.  Cut into generous slices and scatter with dill. 

Sesame and Leek Quiche
From Allt Om Mat
You will need:
(1 large quiche)
For the pastry:
250g flour
100g sesame seeds
125g butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt
For the filling:
1 large leek
2 onions
4 shallots
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
75g Västerbotten Cheese (or strong cheddar), grated
2 eggs, beaten
200ml double cream
1.  To make the pastry dough, combine flour, sesame seeds, butter and salt in a large bowl.  Use your fingers to crumb these together to breadcrumb consistency.  Press together into a ball of dough and use to line a 25cm pie dish, ideally loose-bottomed.  If you find that the dough is greasy or it is a particularly hot a day, chill for 15-20 min before using it.  Once you’ve lined the pie dish, refrigerate for 30 min.
2.  Preheat the oven to 200 C. Rinse the leeks and chop finely along with the onions and shallots.  Crush the garlic cloves. 
3.  Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a frying pan and fry the leeks, onions, shallots over a medium heat until soft but not coloured.  Add the garlic, salt, sugar, pepper and thyme.  Set aside. 
4.  Prick the pastry case all over with a fork then bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Alternatively, you could blind bake it by lining it with parchment and filling with baking beads or some dried beans and baking for 15-20 min until the sides are set and it is golden in colour. 
5.  Once the leek mixture has cooled slightly, add the cheese and taste to season.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and cream together. 
6.  Remove from the oven and fill with the leek and cheese.  Pour over the eggy cream and return to the oven for a further 25 minutes until the filling has cooked through but still wobbles a little.   Serve warm or cooled with a green salad and mustardy vinaigrette. 

Look who I found hanging out by the cake…

Tricky tagines

Whenever I’ve been to Morocco I have eaten an awful lot of tagines.  Tagine for lunch, for dinner and all over again the next day.  Lamb, beef, seafood or chicken, from Tangier to Casablanca to Marrakesh, they were always absolutely, addictively, delicious.  However, combined with the country’s wonderful pancake-like breakfast breads, there was inevitably a lot of lying down required between meals, which rather scuppered any sightseeing.  Not to mention the diet of salad and watery soup needed for at least a month after my return home.  I later read that a tagine (read ONE tagine) should basically be your meal for the day, so no wonder. 

Even so, a traditional tagine is perhaps best saved for a special occasion or when you are really, really hungry.  There are hundreds of different versions (the tagine or tajine earned its name from the pot it is cooked in rather than from a specific recipe), depending on the combination of meat, fruit, nuts and vegetables.  However, most conventional recipes do often call for a lot of spices, such as the famous ras el hanout (worth picking up if you are ever in Morocco).  A traditional tagine also needs a fair amount of time to cook, preferably something like a whole day, emerging all unctuous and gooey, meat slipping off the bone.

This is a good cheat’s version.  It still has those undeniably Moroccan flavours, but it is quicker, lighter and has a relatively short list of ingredients.  So although I may have borrowed my flatmate’s tagine pot for an authentic-looking photo, make no mistake- I bluffed my way through this one.

I am always quite sceptical of a stew that doesn’t rely on at least half of (if not a whole) bottle of wine, but this recipe really doesn’t need it, the sauce is still strong and deep.  I was also pretty delighted to finally find a use for all those preserved lemons.

Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons

You Will Need:

 Olive oil, preferably extra virgin
2 onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Spice- saffron would be preferable (about 1/2 tsp of the powdered stuff) but if that is too expensive (and it is), try some paprika.  Also ground ginger (1.5 tsp), salt and pepper.
Chicken pieces on the bone (thighs, legs, wings as you prefer)- about 750g-1kg
Juice of 1/2 lemon
A bunch of coriander
A bunch of parsley (flat leaved)
1 Preserved lemon
15 green olives


 1.  Get out your very largest cooking pot.  Heat up about 3 tbsp of the oil and then add the onion.  Sauté until softened, before adding the spices and garlic. 

2.  Add the chicken pieces, a large pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Continue to fry over a medium heat, until the chicken has got some colour.  In traditional tagines the meat is not usually browned, but I feel for this one it both adds flavour and speeds up the cooking process.

3.  Pour about 400ml of water into the pot and leave to simmer, turning the pieces of chicken every so often when you remember.  It should take about half an hour to cook, and for the water to turn into a thick, stocky sauce. 

4.  While it is bubbling away, prepare the preserved lemon.  For this recipe, I only used the peel, sliced thinly, and discarded the pulpy flesh.   Stir this, along with the lemon juice, chopped coriander and parsley into the sauce. Finally add the olives and leave the stew to simmer for a further 5-10 minutes. 

5.  At any stage of the cooking process, you can add more water to the sauce if you feel it is going to be too dry or thick.  Alternatively, if you feel it is too liquidy, remove the chicken pieces at the end of the cooking process and put to one side while you let the sauce reduce over a higher heat.  

6.  Return the chicken to the pot and serve with, couscous, naturally.