Chilli chicken noodles

Chilli chicken noodle soup

Yesterday, we were wondering what to have for dinner – it never seems right to have a roast on a hot day – when Sam mentioned that we used to have chicken noodle soup all the time, but we hadn’t had it for ages.

Just so happens that I had a chilli, a lime, and some ginger (I keep the ginger in the freezer anyway) and half a pack of noodles, and it seemed the perfect, fresh alternative to full on Sunday dinner, so it was game on.

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Tagliatelle with crab, fresh tomato and courgette

I LOVE the sunny weather!  I know it’s not fun for everybody, but it’s like being on holiday at home!    The boys are hoping and praying that it lasts into the summer holidays too.  The one downside about it is that I don’t really feel like slaving over the cooker, so supper has become quick, easy and minimal fuss.  Tonight we had a lovely, fresh tasting pasta dish that takes about as long as the pasta takes to cook:

Tagliatelle with crab, fresh tomato and courgette

Good quality dried tagliatelle (generally you need to allow about 75-80 of pasta per person)

1 clove garlic

Pinch salt

Pinch dried chilli

Good quality olive or rapeseed oil

1 courgette, cut into fat slices

About 1/2 punnet of fresh baby plum tomatoes (or any tomato, frankly)

1 tin white crab meat, drained

Fresh herbs if you have them

So first bring a big pan of salted water to the boil and add in the pasta.  Stir it around and leave to cook.

Next, add a glug of oil to a frying pan (I use rapeseed) and pop in the courgette slices.  Season well – be generous with the pepper.

With a pestle and mortar, bash the garlic with the pinch of salt.  Add in the dried chilli and then a generous glug of oil.  Stir in the crab and set aside.  Don’t forget to check the courgettes and give them a turn so they brown easily.

If you’ve timed it right, your pasta will be al dente just as the courgettes and nice and golden.  Drain it off, reserving a little bit of the cooking liquid in case the mixture is a bit dry

Toss through the oily garlicky crab (also delicious spread on toast, by the way),  the courgette sliced, the halved tomatoes and a generous handful of something fresh like basil or parsley – rocket’s nice with this too.

Carry to garden and stuff into face.  Preferably with a nice glass of rosé.  Cheers!

Oven baked lemon risotto with garlic prawns

I love making risotto.  I find the half hour of methodical stirring and adding stock really therapeutic and relaxing.  I know from recent discussion on Twitter, though, that other people hate being tied to the stove for that long, so I thought I’d try out an oven-baked risotto.

This is loosely based on a Donna Hay recipe, I think from Fast, Fresh, Simple (the idea and the rough timings), but none of the ingredients or quantities are the same – apart from the stock and rice, obviously…

For the oven baked risotto:

Slug or two of rapeseed oil

1 onion, finely chopped

300g risotto rice

Juice (and a bit of the zest) of one lemon

1.5 litres chicken stock

So start (in an ovenproof dish like a Le Creuset with a well fitting lid) on the hob.  Heat the oil, add the onion and stir until translucent, then add the rice and continue to stir until well coated in the oil.  Next add in the juice of the lemon and a couple of grates of the zest (my kids don’t like it too lemony, but if you like more, feel free to add it – also see my note at the end about parmesan).  Now stir in all the stock and put on the lid.  Pop the whole shebang into a 200 degree/gas 6 oven and forget about it.

After 30 mins, remove the rice from the oven and give it a stir.  It should be perfect, but like any risotto, the quantities needed seem to differ every time you make it, so if it’s a little too liquid, allow it to sit for a while, or maybe pop it back onto the hob for a bit, or if it’s too thick for you add a bit of water.  Mine was just about right.  Check for seasoning. Often cube or jelly stocks can be a bit salty, so don’t add any in at the beginning.

Allow the risotto to sit while you quickly make the prawns:

1 bag raw frozen king prawns, defrosted (or use fresh if you’re that lucky)

Large knob of butter

1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed with a little salt

So drain the prawns and melt the butter in a frying pan.  Add the garlic, stir around, then add in the prawns.  Cook them until they are just pink and tender.  Serve over the risotto with a large handful of chopped parsley or rocket.

A little note on Parmigiano:

I usually use copious amounts of Parmigiano in my risotto, and actually find that lemon risotto benefits from the saltiness of the cheese.  Obviously with fish I left out the cheese (never a good mixture), and both my boys found the risotto too lemony.  So if you’re making this risotto on its own or with chicken, I’d recommend a couple of good handfuls of Parmigiano, grated, stirred through at the end.  If making with fish – go steady on the lemon, or maybe squeeze it over at the end, to taste.

Creamy herb and lemon linguine with chilli pan fried Halloumi

We’ve got a bit of a thing for Halloumi at the moment.  I love its squeaky saltiness.  The delicious, almost bacony savouriness of the cheese makes it a perfect foil to something a bit creamy, hence our favourite combo of herby, creamy lemon pasta topped with crisp on the outside, soft on the inside cheese…

You will need:

Linguine or spaghetti

1 pack Halloumi cheese

Pinch of dried chilli (optional)

1/2 pack green beans

1/2 lemon

About 200ml double cream

A couple of large handfuls of herbs – I used parsley, basil and mint

So get the linguine boiling in loads of salted water. I use a whole pack for the four of us but then we are really greedy.  Use less if you’re going for arty dinner party rather than ‘fat bird in front of the telly’.

Slice the Halloumi quite thickly and put the slices straight into a dry frying pan.  Sprinkle with the chilli.  Check periodically and turn them over when the first side is brown.

At about the same time as you turn, pop the green beans in with the pasta.  Then, chop the herbs, measure out the cream and squeeze the lemon and have them ready.

When the pasta is ready, quickly drain it, whack it back in the pan and add in the cream, squeeze in the juice of 1/2 the lemon (or all if you like it zingy) and add in all but a spoonful of the herbs.

Toss it all together and pile straight into bowls.  Teeter your now golden and crusty Halloumi slices on top and finish with the remaining herbs.

A fresh, summer delight which is, when you think of it, practically storecupboard-ready and ridiculously quick to cook too.



Fresh summer chicken and pea risotto with pea shoots

We have a lovely chap from a local farm who pops round regularly with fresh free-range chicken breasts and eggs.  He’s a godsend as I freeze the chicken breasts in bags of two and they’re so handy for things like this easy risotto as I just pop the frozen breasts straight into the stock and let them poach while I’m stirring.  By all means use fresh though.

Make sure your stock is well flavoured.  I’m quite lazy and if I haven’t got home made I tend to bung in a couple of stock cubes. I’d been sent these Knorr pots to try and actually the herby one tasted (and smelt) delicious so I’ll definitely buy them again.

You will need:

2 litres stock (I used 2 Knorr Herb Infusion pots and one chicken stock cube)

2 large free range chicken breasts

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion

300g risotto rice

Couple handfuls of frozen peas

Pea shoots

So firstly, get your stock bubbling away in a large saucepan.  Make sure the cubes have dissolved (another bonus with the stock pot thingies as they’re just kind of jelly that melts quite easily) and pop in the chicken breasts.

Put a pan on.  I use a large saucepan with quite high sides – the thing with risotto is that you need to beat it about a bit to make it nice and creamy (it’s all about releasing the starch) so use something like that or a large saucepan so you can give it a really good mix.

Bung in your oil, then fry the finely chopped onion until it’s translucent.  Now chuck in the risotto rice and give it a really good stir around.  There is a school of thought that you should almost ‘toast’ the rice in the oil before you add any liquid.  I don’t go that far, but I do give it a really good stir before adding my first splosh of liquid (you can obviously use a nice glass of white wine here, but my pernickety youngest doesn’t like the taste).

Now just keep stirring ENTHUSIASTICALLY until each ladleful of stock is absorbed before adding another.  Don’t be in too much of a hurry.  Enjoy the process.

When you’re left with your chicken breasts just nestling in a teeny bit of stock, take them out, chop them (checking they’re cooked through) and add them to the risotto along with the last bit of stock.  Add in the frozen peas, stir and cover for a final 5 minutes with the heat off.

Finally, pop out to your tubs in the garden where you sewed your dried peas a couple of weeks ago, and pinch off some fresh pea shoots to garnish.

Yum.  Summer in a bowl, people.

Red lentil and tomato stew (enhanced with some big fat sausages)

We LOVE lentils.  The texture is almost creamy, satisfying in that way that only a big dollop of mashed potatoes is usually satisfying, plus of course they have the added bonus of being VERY good for you and low fat too.  This recipe is one of our favourites – I often make double and blend the leftovers with stock the next day to make soup.  It’s best, though, served with some big, fat, meaty sausages: our favourites being the ones from Jimmy’s Farm.  Nommers.

You will need:

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2-3 carrots, diced

1 leek, finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

150g red lentils

500ml chicken stock (or I often use leftover gravy from a roast dinner topped up with water)

Salt and pepper

So heat up the oil in a big saucepan and bung in the chopped onion, carrots and leek (any old veg will do, really).  Give them a little sprinkling of salt and a quick stir around then leave them on low for a good ten minutes to soften.  A little sprinkling of dried chilli flakes wouldn’t go amiss at this stage either.

After that you can just bung everything else in, really.  Leave it on low, pop a lid on and go and do something else for half an hour.  Oh and don’t forget to pop your big, fat sausages in to the oven – they’ll take about 30 minutes too, at 200 degrees/gas 6.

Check the seasoning and away you go.  I’ll warn you, it’s very moreish, so it’s best that you make double.



Testing… testing… substituting yogurt in recipes for Yeo Valley: yogurt scones and ice cream!

l love cream.  But with double cream containing 48% fat, it’s not exactly your healthy option.  Fine for the occasional treat, but not for every day.  So how can we still make all the lovely creamy recipes and sauces that we love whilst reducing some of the calories and producing a lighter, fresher end result?

Well, last time I was there, the Yeo Valley chaps set me a bit of a challenge: have a go at substituting yogurt in some of my favourite creamy recipes.   And you know me, I’m always up for a challenge in the kitchen.

In baking, dressings and marinades you can add yogurt straight from the fridge.  If you’re cooking with the lower fat yogurt varieties, you do run the risk, as with single cream, that they will ‘split’ (ie curdle) if you place them straight into a very hot environment.  You can counter this by using the ‘standard’ versions rather than the low fat (still much lower fat then cream) and bringing the yogurt up to room temperature before you cook with it.

I used Yeo Valley’s Greek Style Natural Yogurt which has 9.5% fat (plus a nice long sell-by date) so it’s still got a nice creamy finish and isn’t too sharp-tasting.  I’ve taken to keeping a couple of pots in the fridge as I use them at breakfast time, with fruit and muesli, as well as for cooking.

I had a go at cooking some of my favourite creamy recipes, substituting yoghurt instead. Here’s how I got on:

Spaghetti carbonara (or yoghetti carbonara – see what I did there?)

Snip a pack of smoked streaky bacon (outdoor reared, please) or pancetta into strips and fry in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until nice and crisp.  Set pan aside on a low heat (you can do this while the spaghetti cooks).

Cook 300g spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water.

Meanwhile, mix a large tablespoon of Greek yoghurt with two eggs and a splash of milk, then stir in a big handful of grated Parmigiano or Pecorino.

When the spaghetti’s cooked, drain and dump it into the bacon. Pour over the yogurt mixture and toss to combine.

The verdict:

To be honest, once we’d added Parmesan, we could hardly taste the difference.  Slightly sharper in flavour but still yummy.  Fussy Death Wish Dude didn’t even notice and hoovered it down, and the Prof said that he’d ‘noticed something a bit different’ when I told him afterwards. Success.

We also tried:

Ice Cream: AMAZING success here. We actually liked the flavour of the ice cream better with the yogurt.  Especially good with fruity and citrussy flavours and the bonus is here that you don’t need an ice cream machine.  Try folding lemon curd through Greek yogurt and adding a grating of fresh ginger for extra zing, or just fold through your favourite fruit compote (Yeo Valley do some lovely flavours) before freezing.  Take the ‘ice cream’ out of the freezer to soften up a little before serving.

As a dressing: I mixed the yogurt half and half with mayonnaise, added a squeeze of lemon and a handful of herbs and served it with smoked haddock fishcakes. Delicious.

Scones – totally yummy and the yogurt keeps them lovely and tender.


Fish on Friday! Gorgeous kedgeree

So as you know I’m involved with the Fish is the Dish project, a fabulous endeavour from encouraging families to eat more fish.  Basically I get challenged every couple of weeks to cook with a different fish ( love it when my delivery man appears at the door clutching my parcel – it’s like a fish version of Christmas).  This week it was beautiful fillets of undyed smoked haddock from Delish Fish.  The fillets were firm and meaty, and not at all yellow (remembering the smoked haddock of my youth here).

I fiddled with this recipe quite a bit, but I have to tell you, the end result was fabulous, and was woofed down by every member of the family – even the curry-hating Death Wish Dude.  English Dad isn’t sure he could eat it for breakfast (I certainly could), but it’s an easy and nutritious supper and would make a fab brunch if you have guests or over Christmas:


450g smoked haddock


2 bay leaves

1 onion

25g butter

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp turmeric

1 pinch crushed chilli

350g basmati  rice

4 hard boiled eggs

Chopped coriander

Firstly, boil the kettle (the man from British Gas told me never to heat water on the stove – apparently it’s much more energy efficient to use kettle-heated water!)

So lay the haddock fillets in a nice heavy frying pan and pour over enough milk to just cover them.  Add in the bay leaves and quartered onion.  Poach for about 8 minutes or until the fish is beginning to flake.

In the mean time, pour boiling water over 4 eggs in a saucepan and place on the heat. They’ll take 8 minutes too.

Once cooked, remove the fish, cover and keep warm in a low oven.  Reserve the cooking milk in a jug, topping up to 600ml with stock.

Chuck out the bay leaves, but keep the onions and chop them as finely as your burning fingers will allow.  Fry them in the butter for a few minutes until softened, then add in the spices.

Pop in the rice, stir around until coated and then add the milky/stock liquid.  Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Then stir in the flaked haddock (and add frozen peas if you’re using them) and cook for about another 5 minutes or until the rice is just cooked.  Keep an eye on the liquid. You might need to add a bit more stock.

To serve, top with the boiled eggs.  And I think a nice sprinkling of coriander would be perfect.


For more information on the Fish is the Dish campaign, go to their website, check out their Facebook page, or find them on Twitter @fishisthedish.


Slow cooked leek and tomato pasta sauce: versatile and sneakily healthy

I’ve been writing on Ready for Ten recently (I would link to it but it’s not published yet – patience, grasshopper) about the age old dilemma of getting the kids to eat enough fruit and veg. I make this sauce a lot (I use it as soup as well) and although it’s got plenty of green veg in, it still looks like plain ol’ tomato which puts paid to ‘ewww – what’s that?’ – my most favourite dinnertime question. Plus, of course, there’s the satisfaction of getting one over on your kids, which is always a bonus.

Of course, even if your family will happily eat their five a day, it’s still a great tea-time all rounder.  You can:

  • add in other veg, increase the stock and serve as soup with some easy herby bread
  • tart it up with 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (put them in at the beginning) and some fried streaky bacon strips
  • add basil and pour over pan-fried meatballs
  • use in lasagnes and bolognese
  • stir into a pack of tortellini (spinach and ricotta is our favourite) and sprinkle with Parmesan
  • pour over chicken breasts, dot with torn pieces of mozzarella and bake in the oven

I could go on, but frankly I’m starting to bore myself, but you get the message: it’s incredibly versatile.  It has a lovely mellow sweet flavour too.  This quantity makes enough to cover pasta for four people and a portion for the freezer too.  Ninja costumes at the ready, then:

You will need:

1 large leek
1 large onion
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp salt
1 tin good quality tomatoes (don’t use the cheapo ones, they’re too runny)
The same amount of stock (chicken, veg, bouillon, whatever)
1 tsp sugar
Freshly ground pepper

So slice the leek lengthways and rinse under running water to remove any grit or mud. Chop finely.

Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy-based saucepan and pop in the leek. Finely chop the onion and add that in too. Sprinkle with the salt and then cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally for a good ten minutes until everything is well softened.

Add in a tsp of sugar and the tinned tomatoes. Fill the tin once more with the stock (if I don’t have any home made I just pop in a stock cube and top it up with boiling water). Add in to the pan.

Now just cover and leave it for half an hour. This bit’s really important – everything needs to be really soft to get the texture right. After that, you can remove from the heat, blend with a stick blender and test the seasoning (add pepper or a touch more salt).  You’ll end up with a really gorgeous smooth sauce and – here’s the bonus – no hint of anything green in there.

I love a bit of stealth health.  Off you go, then, team…

Hugs, dinner, Waitrose, oh and prawn and courgette pasta with fresh peas

So we’re home, then.

The last few days have been a bit of a whirl, what with the drunken madness that was the Cybermummy Conference this weekend, but we’ve got everything into the storage locker (the last few things were just hurled in, to be honest) and my long-suffering mum is looking after us until we move in to our new pad.  The Ninja Cat of Death was very good on the way over – apart from constant growling and moaning in the back of the car, there was no ‘poo of shame‘ like last time.  She was less than impressed to meet my Mum’s cat and dog, but we kept her in for a few days, and now she’s happily roaming the upstairs, coming in and out of the windows like she owns the place, and giving my mum’s poor labrador Ellie a swift backhander if she steps out of line.

So far, from my wishlist, I’ve done the following:

1. Hugged my Dad (and had a nice glass of wine and a chat with him too – AND seen the swish new orange tractor)

2. Hugged Ellie.  She still smells and is still hairy.  But I love her.

3. Been out to dinner with the hubster (we had really great food… and two bottles of wine *cough* – more of this later)

4. Been for cocktails with my lovely friends (what is it with me and ‘the claw’?  Can I not pose for a photo without it?):

5.  Been to Waitrose.  Happy, happy days.  I walked round like a grinning lunatic and came back with all sorts of loveliness.  I’m going to have to rein myself in though or otherwise I’ll be bankrupt by the end of July.  Still, they had some gorgeous prawns and FRESH PEAS!!  I spent a very enjoyable afternoon sitting in the sunshine in my mum’s garden shelling peas and sipping cold white wine.  Bliss.  Oh, and here’s what I made for tea:

Prawn and courgette pasta with fresh peas

Serves 4 generously

Good quality dried pasta (I generally reckon on 100g dried pasta per person)

1 pack large raw prawns

2-3 courgettes

As many peas as you can be bothered to shell

Splosh double cream

So first get your pasta on.  Use the biggest saucepan you have and make the water ‘as salty as the sea’ (not sure where I read that, but I always repeat it to myself when cooking it – I’m a bit sad like that).  Linguine works really well here, but I didn’t have any, so ‘tubes’ it is (I’m sure there’s a technical term for ‘tubes’, but you know what I mean).

When the pasta’s well on the way, slice the courgettes and fry in a heavy-based frying pan with a little garlic-infused rapeseed oil.  When they’re just starting to turn golden, pop in the prawns (you need to be careful not to overcook prawns or they get that horrible crunchy texture).

When the prawns go in, pop the fresh peas in with the pasta (they’ll only take a minute or two).

Now add a generous splosh of cream (double is better as it’s less prone to splitting, but you could use creme fraiche too.  Generously grind over lots of pepper too.

When the pasta and peas are just cooked, drain and add to the frying pan.  Toss everything together and serve immediately, with a good grating of Parmesan.  Noms.

This is also lovely with crab (a pot of fresh stuff or a tin of white crab meat) and some fresh, chopped chilli.

An Arabian evening: lemon and mint cocktails, hummus and Arabic Chicken Machboos

Lemon and mint cocktail

On our amazing trip to Dubai, we were served a refreshing drink made of lemon and mint.  I got quite addicted and since coming home have found myself drinking it a lot, with the addition of a slightly less traditional little ‘freshener’ of gin.  Oh it makes all the difference.  Those little minxes at British Mummy Bloggers challenged me to vlog a summer recipe, so I cheated and did this cocktail instead.  Here’s a still from our ‘shoot':

To whip up the cocktail, you’ll need

2 lemons

1 large bunch of mint

1 tablespoon sugar

Large jug of ice

Large slug of gin

So first, squeeze the lemons into the blender.  Try to get as much pulp in there as possible.  Then add in the mint, removing the stalks so you don’t get any woody bits in there.  Add in the sugar and the ice.  Whizz for a LONG time.  Until your ears are ringing and you can’t bear it any more should just about do it.  Finally throw in the gin.  Whizz again just to mix.  Serve immediately.  But hey, just sip okay?  This one’s a bit of a killer.

Of course, if you serve it in one of these luscious Urban Bar glasses, it’ll taste much better:

Quick and easy home made hummus

Obviously to complement your zingy cocktail, you’ll need yummy nibbles.  Hummus is quick and easy and served everywhere in Dubai.  You can keep a tin of chickpeas in the cupboard for when you want to whip up a quick bowl of dippy doo.  Add in a handful of chopped mint or coriander for freshness:

1 tin chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic (I sometimes cut out the garlic and just use a good quality garlic oil instead)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pinch of salt

2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

Handful of chopped mint or coriander

Paprika to garnish

So just whizz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt up with a stick blender, glugging in enough oil to loosen the mixture.  If you like it a bit runnier, feel free to add a couple of tbsp water.  Stir in the herbs and serve sprinkled with paprika and maybe a swirl of oil, with crispy toasted pitta breads, breadsticks or some crunchy veg for dipping.

On our trip, we visited the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for a talk and lunch.  Our food was amazing:

Dubai 101

For an easy main course, look no further than this Arabic staple, Machboos.  It’s made everywhere in the UAE and is very similar to a chicken biryani or paella  (most people think this dish originates from India, but our generous hosts in Dubai claimed it as their own!).  The original is made with chicken pieces and dried limes, or loomi, which are difficult to get here so I’ve left them out  (if you find them, add two and make sure you pierce them first – apparently they explode).   Here they are at the spice market (front right):

Dubai 088
Here’s my very simple version that makes for easy entertaining:

Arabic Chicken Machboos (or biryani)*

Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion, finely chopped

Generous couple of pinches of salt

1 squeeze (say 2 tsp) tomato purée

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch nutmeg

1 or 2 bay leaves

4 chicken breasts,sliced into thin slivers, or leftover roast chicken, shredded

1 litre chicken stock

400g Basmati rice, well rinsed

Pinch of saffron

To garnish: fried onions, handful cashew nuts, handful sultanas and a handful of fresh coriander

So heat your oil in a heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until translucent, adding in the salt at this stage.  Add in the spices (not the saffron) and cook gently until they give off  their lovely aromas.  Throw in the chicken and fry gently (you might have to add a bit more oil here) until it begins to brown.

Take out the bay leaves and add in the chicken stock, rice, saffron and dried limes (if using).  Stir well and cover.  Turn the heat right down and leave to cook for about 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender.  Try not to keep lifting the lid as you want to keep all the steam inside.  I know it sounds funny but you can tell when the rice is done as it starts to make a kind of ‘crackling’ noise!  Fork it through and then keep it covered until you’re ready to serve.

In Dubai, our gorgeous biryani was served with a garnish of onions, fried to the point where they were almost crispy, cooked with some cashew nuts and a handful of raisins.  Delicious.  We also ate from enormous platters of grilled fish called Safi, a really memorable meal.  To the right is the Machboos and to the left is a really interesting spicy chicken ‘mousse’ called Madrouba :

Dubai 100

Mint tea

I’m currently lusting after Denby’s newest collaboration with Monsoon: ‘Cosmic’ – a paisley print in ‘deep blue, teal, mauve and lime’.  I want it all.  I keep smashing my Denby Reflex, so I’m trying to persuade the hubster into a new collection.  This is classic Denby quality with beautiful embellishment. What’s not to love?  This teapot would be perfect for serving some refreshing mint tea in the garden after your deliciously scented Arabic meal:

And finally, for your entertainment, here’s me getting into the spirit of things and trying on the national dress (I’m on the right *cough*).  Yeah, go on, laugh it up.

Dubai 104

*Thanks to Nick Coffer for help with this recipe adaptation.

Easy paprika chicken with garlic roasted vegetable couscous

Easy peasy one, this.  Tomato sauce forms the basis of a large number of our meals as it’s one thing that everyone really likes.  I tend to buy the large jars of passata (sieved tomatoes) as de brevren are not over fond of lumps (insert your own joke here).  You can use this sauce for masses of other things, or keep the chicken, ditch the paprika, and just serve with rice or potatoes.  Oh and if you need more sauce, just bung in half a pint of chicken stock.

For the roasted veg, it goes without saying that you can use what you like.  The lovely Poppy’s Mum dropped in a few courgettes from her garden, so I added those.  Add in what you like, though.

For the roasted vegetable couscous:

1 aubergine

2 or 3 courgettes

2 or 3 onions

1 or 2 red peppers

Handful of small tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

250g couscous

400ml chicken stock (or veg stock, if you’re preparing this for vegetarians)

To finish: chopped mint and a squeeze of lemon

First, then, just chop up the veg into evenly sized pieces (if you really want to, you can salt and drain the aubergine, but unless it’s a bit of a zeppelin, it shouldn’t be necessary).  Tumble them all onto a nice big baking tray and sprinkle over the garlic, salt, pepper and oil.

Bake at 180/gas 4 until they’re soft and starting to char slightly at the edges – about 30 minutes should do it.

While they’re roasting, make the chicken.

For the paprika chicken:

1 medium onion

1 pack free range chicken breasts, chopped into chunks

1 tsp paprika

1 large pinch ground cumin (pinch of dried chilli is quite nice too)

1/2 jar tomato passata (about 340g) – or just use a tin of tomatoes

Large pinch sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

So just dice the onion and fry in a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil until it starts to become translucent.  Now add in the chicken and fry until there’s no raw bits visible and it’s all white.

Sprinkle over a large pinch of salt and the teaspoon of paprika.  Add the pinch of cumin (and chilli if using) and stir all together.

Now pour over the tomato passata and add the sugar.  Stir well, then pop on a lid and leave on a low heat and get on with the couscous.

Just measure the couscous out in a large heat-proof bowl, pour over the hot chicken stock, cover with a plate and set aside for at least 5 minutes or until you’re ready.

When you’re ready to eat, just fork through the couscous to fluff it up a bit, then throw all the roasted veg (and any juice) in.  Liven it up with a squeeze of lemon and scatter over the chopped mint.

Serve with the chicken and a cheeky dollop of hummus if it takes your fancy.  I’m a bit cross with myself because I forgot to get a shot of the finished article, but hey, I was busy stuffing my face.

Note: a veggie friend of mine, the lovely @MmeGuillotine on Twitter has suggested substituting Halloumi for the chicken if you’re a veggie – sounds perfect.

Recipe test: Arancini (crispy risotto balls) from Jamie Magazine

Arancini (c)

So I’m pretty sure I’ve made these before, but seeing as they’re made with leftovers and we’re such utter pigs that there’s rarely any leftovers in our house, it was always going to take a while.  Yesterday, though, I made a chicken, pea and spring onion risotto and made sure I made some extra so I could give this one a go.

First thoughts: it’s damned messy.  I mean, I’m a messy cook at the best of times, but even I was shocked at how the kitchen looked like a high speed road accident when I’d finished.  Also, it will induce you to swear.  No really.  Read on.

The recipe is in a section on risotto and recommends that you make arancini with risotto that’s either overcooked (what?  It’s rice.  Just eat it) or leftover.  It didn’t, however, mention that it’s really bloody difficult to roll squishy rice into balls when there are large chunks of chicken and runaway peas in it.  Take my advice and use plain risotto for this.

Anyhoo, take your leftover risotto (about 300g for 4 people), and roll into small balls (see above re: messy.  I advise using very wet hands):

Arancini (c)

If I had read the recipe properly, I would have discovered that you’re supposed to push small squares of dolcelatte or mozzarella into the centre.  I had neither, but seeing as mine were overflowing with extra ingredients anyway, I cracked on.

Next comes the really messy bit.  You have to take your balls (stop it), roll them in flour, then in beaten egg, and then in breadcrumbs.  Obviously you need to use a light touch here, otherwise your hands start to get bigger and bigger as they get coated with more flour, egg and breadcrumbs (Nigella calls it ‘goujon fingers’), but even with the lightest of touches I still ended up looking like I’d been tarred and feathered, well, breadcrumbed, by an angry mob.

Arancini (c)

Messy stuff over, Jamie recommends that you deep fry them, but obviously I’m far too accident prone to get involved in deep frying, and to prevent first degree burns and the embarrassment of having to ring Hubby and tell him I’d burnt the house down, I settled for generous shallow frying instead.

Be warned: this is really painful.  The rice pops as it cooks, sending out scorching sprays of boiling hot oil  (‘Mummy, stop saying ‘shit,’ *sigh*, you’re such a lady’).  I really needed one of those flat, sieve-like things that my Mum’s got that you put over the frying pan to stop it spitting, but I didn’t have one so I just braved it and swore like a trooper instead.

The end result was, I have to admit, well worth the mess and the pain.  The outsides of the balls are golden and crispy, and I can imagine that the addition of a gooey mozzarella centre would made them extra delicious.  Obviously it’s a bit difficult to know what to serve with them, as more rice would be overkill, indeed, any kind of carbs seemed wrong, so I settled for some steamed veg and it made quite a nice light supper.

I’ll definitely make them again.  And you’ll be pleased to know they’ve been nicknamed ‘swearballs’ after my potty-mouthed outburst.  So much better than ‘arancini’ don’t you think?

(Jamie Magazine is out now (issue 6 Oct/Nov 09) and if you subscribe you get a free copy of Jamie’s America too.)

A Curiously clever combination: butternut squash risotto and NZ wines

Grub's up!

I love butternut squash.  I love its sweetness, its softness, and its beautiful orangey colour.  I love risotto too, and the combination of both of them is one of my favourite meals.  I happened to mention to the lovely Matt, fellow blogger and ‘Wine Evangelist’ (I love that title) at Curious Wines that I was going to knock up a butternut squash risotto and he very kindly offered to send me a couple of wines to taste with it.  ‘I can’t taste wine’, was my initial reaction, but with the promise of help and tasting notes, I felt much better.  Was I in?  Too bloody right I was.

#1’s homecoming from bleeding his Grandparents dry in England seemed a good enough time for a little celebration, so I put the vino on ice and set about making the butternut risotto: 

1 butternut squash

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

7 or 8 sage leaves, finely chopped


1 onion, finely chopped

350g risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)

2 litres chicken stock

Parmesan, grated, and some for serving 

So preheat the oven to 200/gas 6.  Peel and deseed the squash and cut into cubes.  Spread the pieces out on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over about half of the finely chopped sage leaves:

Drizzle the chunks with oil and sprinkle with sage

Roast for about 30  mins or until soft and slightly caramelised.  You can do this in advance and allow the squash to cool, if you like:

Caramelised roasted sagey butternut squash

For the risotto: allow the stock to come to a simmer in a saucepan, then keep warm on a low heat on the hob:

Chicken stock

Grab a heavy based pan, put it on a low heat and melt a tablespoon of butter.  Glug in some olive oil (about 2 tbsp should do it), then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (try my trick of adding a pinch of caster sugar to stop it browning too quickly).  Then add in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.

Add half the squash and the finely chopped sage.  Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another.  When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so – the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it.

Now add in the rest of the squash and stir in the rest of the sage (the smell is amazing).  Turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, and a handful of grated parmesan, put the lid on and leave it to sit until you’re ready to serve.  Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan, and serve:

Risotto, and a nice hunk of Parmigiano

Now to the wine.  Our first contender was the Waipara Springs Premo Dry Riesling 2006 (€12.99 from Curious Wines), and wow did this baby surprise me.  I think the last time I tried Riesling it was some medium German shocker (you can read all about what Curious Wines’ Mike has to say about Riesling here), but this was amazing – so zingy it was almost fizzy on your tongue.  We’re no wine buffs, but could actually taste something citrusy, (#1 had a sip and reckoned he could taste grapefruit – and do you know what?  It was actually on the tasting notes – he’s far too young to be this good) and the crisp, acidity was a perfect foil for the creamy sweetness of the risotto.  Yum.

Onto the next one, then.  Next up was the Tussock Pinot Gris 2007 (€14.99 from Curious Wines).  You can read Matt’s notes about Pinot Gris here.  This was a different kettle of fish.  You could see instantly that it was much darker in colour, and for those of you who might find the Waipara Springs a little too sharp, this was much softer and really, really pleasant, although still retaining a crispness that again complemented the risotto perfectly.  Try as we might, though, our dodgy palettes couldn’t make out the promised pear/apple notes – but I think that was our fault rather than the wine –  and there was a lingering aftertaste that I can’t describe (help, Matt!) but that was absolutely delicious.  Although this was lovely with food, we could well imagine polishing this one off whilst tucked up on the sofa in front of Lie to Me.

Sadly, after finishing two bottles of wine between us, I can’t read many of my notes and lost one of the pieces of paper, but the Waipara Springs definitely came in the winner with an impressive score of 16/20.  So that’s it, then, my first ever wine tasting.  I’d like to thank Mike and Matt for their patience, copious notes, encouragement… and the free wine, oh and for the slightly giggly game of poker that followed.  Bless you.

Now whose turn is it to wash up?

Chicken and asparagus risotto


Ah, Mother’s Day.  A day for eating cremated bacon sandwiches whilst smiling broadly and going ‘mmm, delicious!’, drinking the half-cup of dodgy tea that was delivered to your bedside whilst secretly worrying how long it’s going to take you to remove the other half that’s been slopped up the stairs, and being the recipient of approximately fifteen hardly squeezes and twenty five sloppy kisses every five minutes.  I love it.  I got some beautiful flowers, some pink and blue furry (yup, furry), sparkly cards, a lovely set of aromatherapy smellies and a chocolate fondue as well.  I made teeny meringues to dip in the chocky and a lubly day was had by all.

In other news, the Death Wish Child seems to have recovered well from his recent face-first encounter with the tarmac at school (teeth through top lip – ouch), and his subsequent head-butting of someone else’s knee in a footie match.   Deciding, then, that he might like some comfort food, I whipped up a little risotto.  I like making risotto.  There’s something really therapeutic about standing at the stove stirring – it makes me feel all efficient and homely (that’s a first):

2 pints chicken stock (cubey stuff is fine)

2 chicken breasts (free range, natch)

50g butter/slosh of olive oil

1 onion, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped

350g risotto rice (carnaroli or arborio are easily available)

Handful of frozen peas

Bunch of asparagus

Parmesan cheese to taste

So make up your stock (or if you’re really efficient, reheat your home-made stuff), and pop the chicken breasts in to poach – you can add some herbs or an onion or whatever too, if you like.  Grab a heavy based pan, put if on a low heat and melt the butter.  Glug in some olive oil, then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (little tip here – a pinch of sugar will stop it browning).  Then bung in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.

Stir the rice until glossy

Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another.  I tend to leave the chicken breasts wallowing in the stock until I’ve nearly used it all, which means they get at least 20 minutes’ poaching.  Take them out and shred them, then add them to the risotto along with your frozen peas.  Meanwhile, get another saucepan going with some boiling salted water to blanch your asparagus.  When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so – the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it. 

Now turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, put the lid on and leave it to sit while you blanch the asparagus for about 6 to 8 minutes (add the heads last so they don’t get soggy).  When just tender, drain and reserve.

Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan and the asparagus.  Of course this is nice with the asparagus incorporated into the risotto, but with #2 being ill already, I don’t want to scare him any further by serving him up anything green that isn’t a frozen pea.


Pork meatballs with borlotti beans and peppers


So our local butcher (well, I say ‘local’, he’s a half-hour drive away) does some really nice finely minced pork.  I usually make meatballs in tomato sauce, but since I’ve done both chicken breasts and lamb shanks (simmer for 2 hours until the meat is falling off the bone) in this sauce recently, I thought I’d try something different.

For the meatballs:

500g minced pork

2 slices bread

Parmesan cheese

1 large egg

Dried oregano

Salt & pepper

For the sauce:

1 red pepper, sliced

1 red onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 glass red wine (and one for the cook)

4 or 5 ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks

1 tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed

Chilli flakes

Handful basil leaves

So bung the minced pork in a bowl, whiz up a couple of slices of bread in the food processor (I’ve got a little attachment on my hand blender which is really handy for this).  Oh, and if you’ve got some – add a chunk of parmesan in the blender with the bread too.  Add the cheesy breadcrumbs to the mince then break in an egg and add a pinch of dried oregano (perfectly acceptable dried herb, honest) and season generously with salt and pepper.  Squish together until well mixed, then roll into meatballs – I go for lots of small ones but if you want cricket balls that’s fine by me.

Fry the meatballs in a heavy-bottomed frying pan (they tend to release their own oil, but if you have very lean mince you might need a splash).  When they start to brown, add the sliced pepper, garlic and onion.  Continue to cook until the onions become translucent and the peppers start to soften, then add a nice big glass of red wine (or stock if you’re virtuous) bubble away a bit and then add the tomatoes, beans and about half of the basil, along with a generous pinch of dried chilli flakes.  Pop a lid on and continue to cook for another ten or fifteen minutes (longer if you’ve got massive meatballs – ahem) while your rice or pasta is cooking.  Season to taste.

Just before serving, sprinkle over some more fresh basil and grate over some parmesan.  Serve with pasta or rice and the rest of the red wine if you haven’t already drunk it all.  Hic.

Hubby’s Evil Chilli Couscous

So last night we all sat down for a nice family meal to celebrate the end of term/prizes/the promise of good reports to come (#2 looked slightly green at the mention of those), etc.  I made little meatballs with my lamb kebab mixture, which I baked in the oven, along with some of #1’s famous tomato sauce.

Hubby, generally a stranger to the kitchen (unless there’s scrambling of eggs or anything to do with chillis) contributed this exceptionally good couscous recipe (well, come on, couscous is hardly cooking, to be fair).

8oz couscous

1/2 pint chicken stock

4 tbs olive oil

1 tbs sultanas (or very finely chopped dried apricots would be good, I think)

Couple of sliced spring onions

1 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley

2 tbs chopped mint

4 tbs good olive oil

2 small finger chillis, deseeded and finely chopped (Hubby used 6 and we’re still breathing fire)

Salt and pepper to season

So once your meatballs (or whatever you’re eating this with) are nearly cooked, put the couscous in a bowl along with the sultanas and pour over the hot stock.  Stir, then cover the bowl with cling film or a plate or somethng and leave for five minutes.  Meanwhile, heat your oil in a pan and bung in your very finely chopped chillis.  Swirl around so that the chillis release their oil, then you can turn it off.  After five minutes, when the couscous has absorbed the stock and the sultanas are all plump and lubly, fork the couscous through to fluff it up and pour over your chilli oil.  Add the chopped herbs and spring onions, season to taste and if you want to go mad, serve with a little sprinkling of chopped pistachios. 

Enjoy.  Oh, and an added bonus is that you get lovely minty burps afterwards.  See, not only do I provide you with lubly recipes, but you get fragrant indigestion into the bargain.

Coconut Chilli Chicken Noodles

So noodles then.  Unfortunately with noodles, we’re a family at war.  We all love them, but #2 likes stir fried chicken noodles with frozen peas (‘and NO juice’), #1 likes chilli, Hubby likes chilli and lots of soupy stock, I don’t mind chilli but prefer them with coconut milk… Oh the dilemma.  This latest edition, then, is a kind of mixture of stuff that everyone likes.  It went down quite well:

1 pack fine egg noodles
2 chicken breasts or some leftover chicken, shredded
2 tbsp oil

2 cloves garlic, grated
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped, or 1 tsp chilli flakes
Juice of a lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce (Nam Pla)
2 tbsp brown sugar or honey

1/2 tin coconut milk

1 pack Pak Choi, sliced and washed (can be gritty)
Couple of spring onions, thinly sliced

To garnish: Salted peanuts, chopped coriander

So first boil up a big saucepan of salted water and chuck in your noodles.  Mix up the marinade ingredients (don’t put the coconut milk in yet).  Heat the oil in a wok and snip up your chicken breasts into strips.  Bung them in along with the marinade (you can marinate it first but frankly I can’t be arsed unless I’m making kebabs with it).

Stir fry until the chicken’s cooked and the marinade is starting to reduce.  Now add the coconut milk and your chopped spring onions and Pak Choi.  Stir until it’s just wilted then drain your noodles and tip them into the wok, mixing them all in with the chicken and the sauce. Serve sprinkled with chopped salted peanuts and some coriander.

If you’re a fan of coconut milk, you can always add more (I would if it was just me).  And if you are just marinating chicken to make kebabs or just to grill or whatever, bung the coconut milk in with the marinade.  It’s yum scrum pig’s bum (bless my children and their wordy ways).

Kid-friendly Lasagne with no bits


Little Italian interlude today then.  Hubby’s away so we’ve been stuffing ourselves with pasta (which he hates) and all thoughts of a Sunday roast were quickly discarded as we were all suddenly overtaken by an inexplicable need for lasagne.  This, by the way, contains #1’s tried, tested and patented recipe for tomato sauce, which is the only one that his brother will eat, considering that English Towers enforces a strict ban on sauces in a jar (ew).

#1 is a bit of a whiz in the kitchen.  Being older, his problem is less the safety aspect (#2 is permanently trying to separate his digits from his hands) but more his penchant for odd ingredients.  Still, if you don’t mind the odd peanut butter, chocolate and jelly baby muffin for breakfast, you’re quids in.  I’m keen that by the time they have to fend for themselves, they’re more than capable of making a few basic recipes in order to stave off any yearning for Pot Noodles.  #1 is a big pasta fan, and taking into account his little brother’s hatred of lumpy sauces, has created this easy sauce: which works for everything from pouring over penne, to making pizza.  You can even add some vegetable stock and a couple of cans of butter beans or chickpeas and make it into soup.

For the ‘bolognaise’ sauce:

1 large onion

1 clove garlic

1 tin good quality tinned tomatoes

Handful of basil leaves

Generous pinch of dried chilli flakes

Salt, pepper and sugar to taste

So first slice the onion, finely chop the garlic and fry gently, along with the chilli, in a pan with a splosh of olive oil, adding a sprinkle of salt until soft and slightly golden.  Leave to cool while you open the tin of tomatoes, then blitz them until smooth in the blender.  Add your onion and garlic mixture, plus the basil leaves and blitz again.  Of course, if you’re normal and don’t care about lumps you can omit the blending bit and add the meat straight into the onions.  Back to the pan, then, bung in a little olive oil and then add your mince, frying until brown.  Then add back the blitzed tomato sauce and add salt and pepper and sweeten to taste with the sugar.  Let this bubble away while you make the cheese sauce.  If it seems a bit thick you can always add a bit of beef stock (remember the pasta will absorb some liquid).

For the cheese sauce:

1 fat slice butter (about 1oz should do it)

About the same quantity of flour (a heaped tablespoon I’d say)

1/2 to 3/4 pint milk

Handful grated Wexford mature cheddar

Handful grated Grana Padano (my current fave) or Parmigiano Reggiano

Plus, obviously, a pack of dried lasagne sheets

Melt the butter on a low heat and add the tablespoon of flour.  A little whisk is indespensible here – whisk it until it makes a lovely smooth paste.  Now you can start gradually adding your milk, stirring all the time to make a smooth bechamel sauce.  The amount of milk you need will depend upon how thick you like your sauce.  Just judge it by eye.  Now add all but a little smidge of your cheeses (reserve a bit to sprinkle on top). 

Now gather up all your bits and pieces (steady) and in your lasagne dish (deeper is better than wider, I find, as you can create more layers).  The trick here is to start with a thin layer of cheese sauce, then just layer it up with lasagne sheets, then cheese sauce, then bolognaise, then lasagne, then cheese sauce, then bolognaise.  Finish with a thin layer of cheese sauce and sprinkle on your reserved cheeses.  Bung it in the oven at around 180 degrees for about 20 minutes and serve with a fresh green salad, some garlic bread and a big smug grin.

Chicken, mushroom and bacon risotto

So we were all in need of a bit of comfort food last night.  And this packet of bloody Carnaroli rice has been sitting in the cupboard glaring at me every time I go in there for a tin of beans.  Me and risotto have a chequered history.  It’s not that I don’t like it, oh no, it’s just that every time I make it, I get that kind of ‘hmmm’ response from my lot that means ‘yeah, it’s okay’, not the more favourable ‘mmmm’ which translates to ‘wow, that was fabulous’.  My best effort was Jamie Oliver’s pea and prawn risotto which is rather nice.

Anyhoo, I was in the mood for a bit of messing in the kitchen (keep it clean, people) and this is the result:

2 pints chicken stock

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic

300g carnaroli or arborio rice

3 or 4 large flat mushrooms

1 pack streaky bacon

2 chicken breasts (free range, natch)

Handful of frozen peas

Parmesan cheese to taste

So first things first, get your stock bubbling on the hob and plop your chicken breasts in to poach.  Get a nice heavy based pan and chuck in a big slice of butter and a glug of olive oil.  Finely chop your onion and garlic and let it soften on a low heat.  Snip up the streaky bacon and add to the pan along with your sliced mushrooms.  Keep it cooking until the mushrooms and onions are starting to look a little golden, then add your rice and stir around.

Now you can start to add ladles of your stock, one at a time, making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another.  It takes a while but the stirring is really therapeutic.  When the stock’s nearly gone your chicken breasts should be ready, so chop them up and add them to the risotto as well.  Finally, bung in a final knob of butter, stir it through and leave it to sit for 5 minutes with a lid on, just to get even creamier.  Taste, season, and pile into big bowls to eat in front of the telly.

A little fresh thyme would be lovely with this, but I didn’t have any.  Enjoy!

Tamarind Chicken Noodles

So you’ll like this one. Hubby, being a bit weird, can’t eat pasta at all – makes him gag, apparently (oh the drama). But he loves noodles, which as far as I’m concerned are exactly the same as pasta so I just substitute one for the other. When he comes home late from work I often put some noodles on as they’re quick and knock this chicken up, or sometimes I just do the chicken and mix it with a supermarket bag of leaves. I’ve messed about with it an awful lot but I reckon it’s just right now and last time I made it I managed to remember to write it down. Oh, and regarding the tamarind, give it a go. I had baked sea bass with tamarind in a Thai restaurant and really loved it so I bought a little jar and I’m quite addicted now. It’s an odd, sweet/sour sort of flavour, but really tastes nice in this:

1 pack fine egg noodles
2 chicken breasts or some leftover chicken, shredded
1 pack Pak Choi, sliced and washed (can be gritty)
Couple of spring onions, sliced

2 cloves garlic, grated
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped, or 1 tsp chilli flakes
Juice of ½ lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce (Nam Pla)
1 tbsp brown sugar or honey
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp tamarind paste

So slice up a couple of chicken breasts into strips, mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl and add the chicken, turning it over so it’s all combined. Leave to one side while you boil a saucepan of water, salt it and bung in your noodles.

Heat a wok or large saucepan and throw in the chicken together with all the marinade (it’s got oil in so you shouldn’t need any more) and the spring onions. Stir fry until the chicken’s cooked, it doesn’t take long. Add your chopped Pak Choi near the end – this really needs to just be warmed through, it’s horrible if it’s soggy – and toss together.

Drain your noodles and tip them into the wok, mixing them all in with the chicken and the sauce. Serve sprinkled with chopped salted peanuts and some coriander.

By the way, if you want to make this more like chicken noodle soup, boil the noodles in 1 litre of made-up chicken stock, cook the chicken separately, then add it all in to the noodles at the end. Spoon into bowls and eat it making shameless slurping noises in front of the telly.

Kind of Chinese

We had a right laugh yesterday. C&J came to dinner and I decided to rustle up a dodgy approximation of a Chinese meal. Actually, it went really well and although not particularly authentic, it tasted okay. I had that last-minute flap when everything suddenly either became ready or needed doing at the last minute, but that’s the beauty of having friends round, because they either don’t care, or they’re too polite to say anything. Either way you’re on to a winner.

So, quick menu (recipes at the bottom):

Five Spice Chilli Cashews
Teriyaki Chicken
Sweet and Sour Chicken Skewers
Red Thai Curry Prawns
Chinese vegetables in oyster sauce

I also did some steamed rice (supposed to be with lemongrass but they didn’t have any in Tesco), and I also planned to do a noodle dish with spring onion and chilli, but in typical ‘doh!’ fashion, found them still in the fridge after dinner. Ah well. We teamed it with a nice, chilled bottle of Chenin Blanc, then J brought along an absolutely to die for cinnamon crumble cake and a chocolate one too for my poor, chocolate addicted children, and we spent rather too long afterwards indulging in a lovely bottle of Hardy’s Crest Cabernet Shiraz and playing mad games on the Wii (still think it’s a stupid name).

So, for the Five Spice Chilli Cashew Nuts (just a little appetiser): heat 300g cashew nuts in a dry pan for 1-2 minutes until toasted. Sprinkle over 1/2 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder (actually, I found some Thai seven-spice powder which was really nice), 1 tbsp salt (omit if you’re using the salted kind) and 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, stir for another 30 seconds and Robert’s your Uncle.

For the Teriyaki Chicken, which turned out to be particularly good and very easy, I nicked the idea for the Teriyaki sauce recipe off another one for Crispy Duck Teriyaki Noodle Salad from Ashbell McElveen, who did it on UKTV Food, but then (as usual) bastardised it to my own liking. Basically you just bung 8 tbsp of Teriyaki Sauce (Kikkoman do a good one) in a bowl with 4 tbsp soy sauce and a tbsp Sesame Oil (the recipe calls for 6 tbsp but I was making a healthy version), plus 2 tbsp clear honey, the juice of a lime, one fat garlic clove (grated) and an inch piece of ginger, also grated. Put in your fillets of raw chicken and leave to marinate for a couple of hours. Finally, just grill the chicken pieces until cooked through, basting them with the marinade a couple of times during cooking (obviously don’t serve the marinade uncooked – Salmonella Teriyaki is never going to be a winner).

For the chicken skewers, I just threaded chunks of chicken breast onto pre-soaked wooden skewers, grilled them then served them with the wonderful Ching He Huang’s Sweet and Sour Sauce

For the Thai Red Prawn Curry, I used my Thai Green Prawn Curry recipe but added a sliced red chilli and substituted the red curry paste for the green one.

And finally, for the Chinese vegetables, just chop a couple of Pak Choi and a head of Chinese Leaf, then quickly cook them in the wok with a splash of boiling water (so they basically steam) until just tender, then drain and at the last minute stir in a tbsp of Oyster Sauce. Yum.

There you are, that should keep you busy. Needless to say, when J&C left, Hubby and I were in such a good mood (oh, the joy – adult company that doesn’t include each other!) we ended up carrying on drinking. Sore heads all round today then.

Chaos and Carbonara

#2 has a friend to stay this weekend. The house is in chaos: this being Saturday there’s the usual festering rugby kits humming by the back door, and now there’s running sucker-gun battles in the hall (thanks for those by the way, Dad) and the lounge is a sea of lego. We’ve already had arguments over whose turn it is on Star Wars and over who is James Bond. My nerves are completely frazzled and the dog and her lampshade are gibbering quietly to themselves under the kitchen table. Cheery texts from Hubby who is coincidentally very busy today at work have been met with a veritable smorgasbord of expletives. Salvation has appeared in the unlikely form of son #2 himself, who being a bit of a budding Gordon Ramsey has decided to take charge on the catering front, which is fine with me. He’s quite keen that I post his recipe for your delectation, and measuring not being his strong point, we’re working in handfuls, so here goes:

#2 son’s kid-friendly spaghetti carbonara

1 pack streaky bacon
1 pack spaghetti
Frozen peas
2 eggs
Splash of milk

Boil a big pan of salted water, then add your spaghetti and a couple of handfuls of frozen peas. Meanwhile, snip the bacon into strips and fry. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a good slug of milk and whisk.

When pasta is cooked and bacon is crispy, drain the pasta then quickly bung in the egg mix and the bacon. Mix up so the eggs cook, then serve with loads of grated cheddar.

For an adult version, I would use cream instead of the milk, parmesan instead of cheddar and maybe even pancetta instead of the bacon. Yummy whichever way you do it though. Now all I need to do is find the kitchen again under all the pans, packets and utensils. Happy days..