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When hosting duties call and you’re looking for easy dishes to whip up, look to these three recipes from Midnight Chicken cookbook author Ella Risbridger.
When you find yourself hosting friends for dinner with little to no time to prep (perhaps more often than we like to admit), we call upon a very specific calibre of recipes. Ones that are equal parts flavoursome and creative, yet aren’t too complicated. In other words, dishes that look like we’ve put more thought into them than we actually have. So, when the time comes, where do we look?
London-based food writer Ella Risbridger is the perfect person to consult for a number of reasons. Not only has her first cookbook Midnight Chicken: & Other Recipes Worth Living For (£9.99, Bloomsbury) garnered her a reputation for crafting delicious recipes, but her approach to food writing as part-memoir makes the dishes all the more enticing because we know the context in which they were thought up.
Now, Risbridger brings us her second and latest cookbook The Year of Miracles: Recipes About Love + Grief + Growing Things (£22, Bloomsbury) is the same part-memoir, part-cookbook that we know and love. This time, however, the recipes reflect the changes she’s been through this year, from falling in love to losing it – and the recipes inside have just as much heart as you’d hope. Luckily for us, they also happen to be pretty easy to whip up when you don’t have much time.
Making the process of where to start a little easier, we’ve hand-picked three recipes – a starter, main course and dessert – to get started with. Next time you’re looking for easy, unique recipes to impress your guests, turn to these reliable recipes.
When you’re looking to rustle up something rustic, crusty and fresh, look to Risbridger’s impromptu green tart. Overflowing with your favourite green veggies, including broccoli and asparagus, the real pièce de résistance is the creamy burrata on top.
Giving us a spicier take on the classic chicken and rice combination, Risbridger’s cardamom chicken rice is the flavour hit spice fans will love. Think charred chicken skin mixed with saffron, cumin and sweet red onions that will go well with yoghurt.
We know Guinness strictly in the drinking sense, but Risbridger’s sticky toffee Guinness brownie pudding will show you it fits a sweet treat setting just as well. Dark, gooey and moreish, pair this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’re well on your way to a show-stopping dessert.
Impromptu Green Tart
- 1 sheet of puff pastry
- 50g mascarpone
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tbsp pesto
- 200g asparagus
- 200g tenderstem broccoli
- 4 green tomatoes
- 1 tbsp oliveoil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 x 150g burrata
These are the best versions of the ingredients, but you know what? It’s pretty forgiving. Puff pastry base, soft cheese on top, pesto on top of that, vegetables. More cheese on top for decadence. You can tweak this; I know you can.
Unroll the pastry onto a baking tray, then cut it into a square. Use the offcuts for pretty things: cut-out moons and stars and flowers. Use whatever cutters you have: I have a crab, and a heart pierced through with a blade, like a tarot card, and so many butterflies. Stamp them out and leave them to one side.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Spread the pastry with mascarpone, leaving a 2cm border around the edge for decoration later. Press the edges with a fork and brush with beaten egg. Spread the mascarpone with pesto, leaving a 2cm border of mascarpone around the edge.
With a potato peeler, sliver the asparagus and tenderstem broccoli, then set aside in a big bowl. Slice the tomatoes, reserving any delicious juices and seeds. Lay the tomatoes atop the pesto and mascarpone, fanning each one out in a line, like fallen dominoes.
Shake the tomato juices, olive oil, vinegar and salt together in a screw-top jar; toss with the slivered green vegetables. Heap onto the tart, spreading them out evenly.
Arrange the hearts and moons, the stars and flowers, and the little crab, around the edges. Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is glossy and golden, then top – as you serve – with a whole burrata, ready to spill, like a heart, at the touch of a knife.
Cardamom Chicken Rice
Serves 4 (maybe with leftover chicken, maybe not)
- Big pinch of saffron (optional; saffron is so expensive that having it as a non-optional ingredient is quite stressful)
- 2 tsp milk
- 2 big red onions
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 10 black cardamom pods (if you can’t get black, green is fine)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 8 smallish chicken thighs (skin on, bone in)
- 500ml hot chicken stock (I use a cube, obviously)
- 300g basmati rice, washed
- 30g dried sour cherries
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander
- 4 tsp sesame seeds
If you’re using the saffron – more expensive than gold (and I like that, that flowers are, in the end, worth more than metal) – soak it in the milk and set aside. Slice the onions into half-moons, and then into half-rings.
Add a tablespoon of the olive oil to your biggest oven-proof heavy bottomed skillet, and heat over a low flame. When it feels warm (hover your hand over to test – and if you’re too scared to do that because the oil is sputtering, it’s too hot), add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and cumin seeds. Toast until you can smell them: warm and inviting and familiar. My grandmother’s house smells like cumin and Imperial Leather and soil, and I miss it very much.
Toss the onions into the skillet and stir them through the spices. Cook for a long time. Longer. We’re talking at least 30 minutes just on onions, 40 even, maybe closer to an hour if you’ve got an hour. Anyone who tells you to cook onions quicker than that is wasting your time, and making you eat bad onions. Stir them occasionally to stop them sticking, but they’ve got oil, and should be fine. Just keep an eye on them.
When the onions are ready – a bit caramelised, a bit sticky – add the remaining olive oil and then the chicken thighs, skin side down. Let the skin get crisp and golden, then flip them over and brown the other side. This is an annoying bit, but necessary: lift the chicken out of the pan, and set aside; it just can’t be done any other way without getting dry rice stuck to the crispy skin. I am sorry.
If using saffron, stir the saffron-infused milk into the stock. Add the rice to the skillet and stir thoroughly. Add the cherries and stir again. Make little hollows in the rice for the chicken thighs (it’s probably eight of them?) and sit them in, skin side up. Pour the stock directly over the rice, around the chicken, then cover tightly and cook over the lowest heat for about 20 minutes.
Taste the rice. Is it tender? If so, a quick grill, and you’re there. If not, leave for 5 more minutes and try again.
Brush the tops of the chicken thighs with sesame oil, and bash the skillet under a hot grill for 4-5 minutes, or until the chicken skin blisters and chars. Scatter with the parsley, coriander and sesame seeds; serve directly from the skillet.
Sticky Toffee Guinness Brownie Pudding
Serves 4 as a dessert with plenty left over
- 100g dried dates
- 150g prunes
- 200g Guinness (I measure this in grams, not millilitres, because it’s easier, simpler and more accurate)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (not essence, never essence!)
- 100g darkest-possible chocolate
- 100g, plus 50g unsalted butter (I know; I almost never use unsalted, but this gets… salty)
- 4 eggs
- 100g ground almonds
- 50g dark brown sugar
- Big pinch (like, a TV chef pinch, three fingers) of flaky sea salt
- Ice cream, to serve
Stick the kettle on.
Weigh out your dates and prunes: I have given measurements, but you can adjust the proportions to suit what you have in, if you’re the kind of person who has both dates and prunes in. Put them in your largest saucepan and pour over the Guinness. Add the vanilla extract and set the saucepan over the lowest heat you have.
Take a second saucepan and pour in boiling water from the kettle to about 2cm deep: you’re going to set a Pyrex bowl over the top, and it absolutely must not touch the water, so you might need to fiddle with this a bit; I always do. Turn on the second-lowest heat you have and put the saucepan over it.
Weigh out, straight into the Pyrex bowl, the chocolate and the 100g of butter, and put the bowl over the saucepan. This is, basically, a bain-marie. (I am often wrong about things with cooking: that’s what comes of mostly teaching yourself, and doing it piecemeal. I don’t think it matters too much: it’s OK to be wrong. It’s all right to make mistakes. It took me a long time to learn this lesson, and I still am, but cooking’s as good a school as any.)
Stir the butter and chocolate occasionally, and make sure it’s not going too quickly: otherwise the chocolate risks going grainy.
When the butter and chocolate are melted and combined, you’re ready to go. Turn off both burners. Dig out your hand blender, and whizz the date/prune/Guinness/vanilla mixture to a smooth-ish paste: the important thing is not to have any big lumps of prune. Nobody wants to encounter a lump of prune in their pudding. (This smells like Christmas, and is totally divine, in the most lovely sense of the word.)
Then pour the lovely buttery chocolate into the prune paste, find a balloon whisk and whisk for one hundred strokes. (Really, a hundred. I know. It’s important.) Crack in two of the eggs, then carefully separate the other two, transferring the yolk between the shell-halves until you’ve shed all the white. Add the yolks to the pan and whisk for another hundred strokes.
Add your ground almonds and whisk the batter for another hundred strokes. (Oh God, I am so sorry. Your poor arms. The incorporating is really important here and I promise you, it’s worth it). You could 100% do this in a stand mixer, if you had difficulty whisking; I just can never bear the thought of having to wash up another bloody bowl.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Now tip the water out of the bain-marie saucepan, then dry it. Weigh out the sugar and pop it over a low heat with the 50g of butter. Stir continuously until it all melts together. This will smell divine – it’s a kind of rough caramel.
When it’s one glorious, melty mixture, tip it into the batter and stir it lightly: you don’t want to incorporate it, just to wave it through, like those pictures children make with washing-up liquid and ink.
Pour into a buttered skillet, scatter with sea salt, and put in your hot oven for 35 minutes. (If you have no skillet, feel free to do this in an ordinary 30cm x 20cm tin, as you would for brownies.)
Eat warm, with ice cream, but really this is excellent cold for breakfast and any other meal you care to name.
The Year of Miracles: Recipes About Love + Grief + Growing Things by Ella Risbridger (£22, Bloomsbury) is out now
Photography: Haarala Hamilton