Quick Dinner: Spicy Lamb and Prunes with Couscous

Lamb with prunes, served with couscous
I’m going to have to make this again to get a picture …

School is back and we really need to get back into our menu planning. Not only does it get us organised, it also means we try out new stuff.

Last week we enjoyed a prawn curry recipe which came out of one of my old Olive magazines. I’d last made it in 2004 and written it out on a card to go in my recipe box. The Olive magazine was excellent (it may well still be – I’m just not in England buying it any more!) and that inspired me to delve into the cupboard where the mags are languishing and fish one out at random.

Which is funny because I pulled out a March issue: the recipes were the antithesis of seasonal and it seemed to have a strong baking focus. I’m not sure that either treacle or bakewell tarts would have cut it for dinner.

So even though I didn’t like the sound of ‘spicy lamb and prunes on pistachio couscous’ it was my best bet. It was from a section on weeknight food, where the recipes are for 2 and promise to be ready in 30 minutes. I often find that these kind of timings are at best optimistic and at worst erratic. However, in this instance, it was pretty close to the mark. I made work for myself because my prunes were stone in and I made up my own harissa-like marinade, but they’re definitely optional extras.

I’m so glad I tried this because, despite my reservations, it was excellent. The bonus was that my butcher sold me the lamb neck fillets for just $10.99/kilo (I was expecting to be in backstrap territory but happily no!) making it a very cheap meal.

You do have to be careful cooking lamb neck. You either cook it long and slow (often on the bone in things like curries) or super-fast. This is definitely the latter. On the plate it was occasionally a little tough to cut but in the mouth it was fine.

Whatever you do, do not omit the mint. It gives the dish a fresh lift. I cannot recommend growing your own mint highly enough – it does require quite a lot of water but you are rewarded with a vigorous and easy to grow herb that has plenty of uses.

Quick Dinner: Spicy Lamb and Prunes with Couscous

Serving Size: 2

Adapted from Olive magazine, March 2004. This serves two but the chances are you will have a little left over.


  • 350g lamb neck fillet (probably around 6 fillets), cut into thick slices
  • 1 tbsp harissa (or make your own marinade with oil, garlic, chilli, ground cumin & ground coriander)
  • 100g prunes, roughly chopped
  • 150mL vegetable stock
  • 100g couscous
  • 50g walnuts
  • handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • lemon wedges


  1. Begin by mixing the lamb and harissa together in a bowl. Set to one side to marinate.
  2. Put the prunes in a mug and just cover with boiling water. Set aside.
  3. Put the couscous in a bowl, pour over the hot stock. Cover and set aside.
  4. Roughly chop the walnuts.
  5. Heat a dry frying pan. When hot, add the lamb and cook for 2 minutes on each side so it's well browned. Lamb neck does have some fat on it so you probably won't need to add any to the pan. If you do, only add a little.
  6. Add the prunes and what remains of their soaking liquid. Allow the water to bubble and scrape the bottom of the pan. This is your sauce after all! Cook until your lamb is cooked how you like it.
  7. Mix the walnuts through the couscous and stir the mint through the lamb just prior to serving.
  8. Serve the lamb and prunes on top of the couscous, with lemon wedges on the side.

Hedgehog Slice


Our local library invariably has a small display of books that are for sale. These are either former library books or (I am guessing) they are books that people have donated that the library has chosen not to add to its collection. That’s the only way I can explain why some have barcodes and some don’t. The books are always insanely cheap (20c for a paperback) and while the number and range available varies widely, it is always worth spending a minute or two perusing.

A month or so ago I picked up Basics to Brilliance: Slices Recipes, put together by Family Circle and published only a few years ago. For some reason, I have it in my head that now that Master 4 is at pre-school (and soon to be at school) slices should be a part of my repertoire. I don’t know why I think that – I’m not the type of parent who includes sweet treats in a lunch box and we certainly don’t have cake and friends all the time at home.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time poring over this book and even managed to induce some cookbook envy in at least one friend. Even though the book was only published in 2007 the recipes definitely have a slightly old fashioned feel to them. I’m not sure that had this book been produced in the 70s or 80s it would have been much different.

And that is a good thing – there’s a reason why classics are classics. Some things just work and taste good. And don’t need trend driven labels attached to them.

Last weekend we were heading to my cousin’s house for my aunt’s birthday celebrations and we were planning on taking a plate of charcuterie with us. However, a quick check meant my cousin requested something sweet and, on very limited time, I consulted the book and found the hedgehog slice.

Many slice recipes are a bit time consuming because you have to deal with layers. Not so the hedgehog and it has the bonus of being a refrigerator cake – no oven and perfect if you are wanting an activity to do with a small child. If you are really pushed for time then you can skip the ganache topping.

Hedgehog Slice


  • 125g unsalted butter
  • ½ cup caster sugar
  • 125g plain, sweet biscuits (I used a plain shortbread)
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ½ cup coca powder
  • 1 egg
  • ganache
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 30g unsalted butter


  1. Line a 20cm square tin with foil. If you only have a larger tin - don't worry. The hedgehog mixture is very thick and will stay in one part of the tin.
  2. In a pan, heat the butter and sugar until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved.
  3. Lightly crush the biscuits. Put them in a freezer bag and give them a gentle beating with a rolling pin.
  4. Chop the walnuts. I did this in the food processor - you want them reasonably chunky so with a knife would be fine.
  5. Lightly beat the egg.
  6. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, reduce the heat to low and add the biscuits, cocoa and walnuts. Stir well and then remove from the heat.
  7. Allow to cool a little and then mix the egg through thoroughly.
  8. Pour into your pan and flatten off. Put in the fridge to set.
  9. Once the hedgehog is set (this will only take half an hour to an hour), make the ganache. Melt the chocolate and butter together (in the microwave for speed and ease) until smooth, allow to cool and thicken slightly and then spread over the hedgehog.
  10. Using a fork, create a wavy pattern if desired.
  11. Refrigerate again. When ready to serve, cut into squares. It should make around 16-20 pieces.
  12. Best served straight from the fridge.

Roasted Chicken with Garlic and Herbs


How appetising does this look?

I think this recipe does rather count towards my healthy eating project. It’s cooked with a minimal amount of additional fat, and it’s easy to add plenty of vegetables. However, I didn’t choose it because of that.

I chose it because we are overrun with limes and I knew it was something I could prep in advance and just deal with the chicken at the last minute. We have recently extended our home grown herb selection to include oregano too (it’s an a pot and not only is it thriving, it looks great too!) so I liked that I wasn’t going to have to head to the shops to spend $3 or $4 on a packet of sad looking fresh herb.

The original comes from the excellent and reliable Delicious (UK) site. I substituted a lime for the lemon which I think is a good call, as even if you’re not drowning in limes, lemons can end up overpowering dishes like this whereas lime is a much more subtle flavour. Rather than using a whole head of garlic, I used a few cloves (skin on) and added carrots to my pan. We were going to steam some broccoli to serve as a side but you could also pop some broccoli florets in the pan for the last 10 or so minutes of cooking.

The beauty of cooking like this is that you do not have to worry about making a gravy or sauce to go with your meal. That magic just happens for you.

While this is not a true one-pot dish you could make it so by not bothering with browning the chicken. However, I urge you take the time to do so because not only does the finished dish look more attractive, I think it tastes better and the flavour of the self made gravy/sauce is much improved.

Roasted Chicken with Garlic and Herbs


  • 3 or 4 potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 2 carrots, cut into quarters
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, skin on (as many or as few as you want, really)
  • 1 lime, sliced (about 4 or 5 slices)
  • 2 sprigs of oregano
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • handful of pitted kalamata olives
  • ~ 100 mL dry white wine
  • olive oil
  • 4-5 chicken thighs


  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C (180°C fan).
  2. In a large, lidded baking or roasting dish, drizzle a little olive oil and then arrange the vegetables and herbs on top. This can be done in advance.
  3. On the stove, heat a pan with a little oil, season the chicken thighs and brown them on both sides.
  4. When the chicken thighs are browned, place them on top of the vegetables. Put on the lid and place in the oven.
  5. Cook until the chicken juices run clear and the vegetables are done - this will probably be about 30-40 minutes.
  6. Serve with additional steamed vegetables on the side and the sauce from the pan poured over the top.