Roast parsnips and pears with thyme

I have made this first time for 2009 Christmas dinner and it worked wonderfully. The pears are lighter than other vegetables and add an extra dimension to the side dishes flavours.

Ingredients:
Serves 6-8

1kg (2lb 4 oz) parsnips
5 medium onions
6 conference pears unpeeled
juice of 1 lemon and rind of 1/2
4 tbsp olive oil
25g (1oz) butter melted

Wash the parsnips and peel if they are particularly dirty. Cutting lenghtways, halve or quarter them, depending on size. Halve the onions and cut each half into six wedges. Quarter the pears lengthways and remove the core from each piece. Toss the pears the lemon juice and rind. Parboil the parsnips for three minutes then toss them and the onions and pears in a large roasting tin (you want everything to be able to lie in a single layer) with the oil, butter, thyme and some seasoning. Turn everything over to make sure it is all coated in fat. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top and roast for 25-30 minutes in an oven preheated to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 (the roast should be out by now). You need to turn them over once or twice (once is fine if you are too busy with other dishes). Everything should be tender and slightly caramelised.

Noodle, chicken and aubergine coconut laksa

This is a summer favourite, tasty, filling but still light despite the coconut milk. I found it a few years ago in delicious magazine. The key for this dish is timing and preparation. It’s worth it.

Ingredients:
Serves 4
Ready in about 40 minutes

1/2 x 250g pack dried medium rice noodles (if you can’t find medium rice noodles, use ready-to-stir-fry rice noodles and add directly to the laksa in step 3.
1 medium aubergine halved lengthways and cut into 5mm slices
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste (I use Mae Ploy red curry paste, which is robust and perfect for this dish)
400 ml can reduced-fat coconut milk (my local Waitrose use to sell it, it can be hard to find so full fat has to do sometimes)
600 ml hot chicken stock
4 small skinless chicken breasts
1 lemongrass stalk bruised
150g sugar snap peas halved lengthways
1/2 tsp soft brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 lime plus extra lime wedges to serve
good handful of fresh basil leaves

1. In a wide bowl, cover the noodles with boilidng water and set aside for 5 minutes to soften. Drain, refresh in cold water and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to high. Put the aubergine on a baking tray, brush with the oil and season with salt. Grill for 4-5 minutes each side, until golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
3. Stir-fry the curry paste in a large pan or wok over a medium heat for 1 minute. Stir in the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and lemongrass, cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Lift out the chicken with a slotted spoon and shred (I use two forks to do this, just like you see waiters in chinese restaurants shred crispy duck.)
4. Return the chicken to the pan with the sugar snaps and aubergine. Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the noodles, sugar, zest and juice, and most of the basil and heat through. Season and ladle into bowls. Garnish with lime wedges and the remaining basil leaves.

Wine note: A Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc goes well with this as does Australian Viognier.