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
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:
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):
Arabic Chicken Machboos (or biryani)*
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
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 :
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.
*Thanks to Nick Coffer for help with this recipe adaptation.
Now that Spring has definitely sprung and Easter Sunday is in sight, there’s been a shift in what I look forward to in my glass at the end of the day. There are a few more aromatic, ‘floral’ whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling rather than the winter-warming oaked Chardonnays and higher-than-average-alcohol Viogniers making it into the fridge. The deep, intense Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon- dominated red wines are moving over for lighter, fruitier Gamay, Sangiovese or Pinot Noir style wines. Given the unpredictability of our weather I’ll keep some of those winter warmers in the wine rack, just in case. But, with fingers firmly crossed, here are some wines that should put a spring in your step and just happen to go a dream with traditional Easter fodder:
The shops are chock-full of sparkling wine deals at Easter time so you really can take your pick of the bargains. Of course, you can go for a cheaper Prosecco but it really is worth spending a bit more on something that gets its bubbles from being fermented in the bottle a second time. If you like a lean, elegant style of Champagne – think Kate Moss pre-Pete Doherty– go for a Blanc de Blancs. That means it is only made from Chardonnay grapes. If you like your Champagne with more flesh and curves on show – think Elizabeth Hurley in THAT dress – go for a Blanc de Noirs. This means it is only made from the permitted red grapes, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. If you can’t choose between the two, go for a blend of all three grapes but make it a Premier Cru (meaning made from grapes grown in slightly higher-rated vineyards than your average Champers): Tesco do a brilliant one in their Finest range.
Red Wines ♥ Lamb
Assuming you’ve got a huge leg of lamb stuffed full of garlic and rosemary in the oven, you’ll need a red to go with it. You can try a white, but the fat (from the lamb) and the acidity (from the white) will fight and both will taste the worse for it. However, give the lamb a juicy red with some lovely supple tannins and everything will taste as it should. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and the lovely, if slightly slutty, Tempranillo grape from Spain – what Rioja is made of – are great matches for lamb. If you are doing a lighter take on lamb, going easy on the garlic & herbs, then a New World Pinot Noir will also make a great match. Try one from New Zealand or Chile (the latter being slightly cheaper).
Wine & Chocolate
I know lots of people who swear by red wine and chocolate being a heavenly match. I’m not one of them. Years ago, when working as a wine buyer for a big supermarket I developed a range of wines to go with particular foods. One of the wines on the list had to go with chocolate so, hard as it was, I tasted about 50 different wines with a variety of puddings including chocolate. Almost none of the combinations worked. Tannins, found in red wines, are not bessie mates with chocolate. The best match is either a light Moscato-style fizz or a lovely thick sweet wine like Banyuls from France.
Happy Easter x
Fellow blogger and tweeter, Ben, from Mutterings of a Fool was telling me all about the fabulous slow-roasted pork he was going to cook for his family over Christmas, so of course I persuaded him to give us the recipe (and take photos). Over to Ben, then. And no dribbling on the keyboard, now.
Soooo here comes the big day! There’s just the four of us this year, but whether you’re catering for 15 or it’s just you and your other half, the golden rule is the same as ever: Christmas day is a happy, family day. Please don’t get stressed and fall apart. Just think of it as a big roast dinner – a turkey is very forgiving and will happily rest for a good hour (and probably more), covered in foil and a tea towel or two, so there’s no need to rush anything. My one recommendation is to take ten minutes to write a rough timetable somewhere, so that when you’re a bit sozzled, you can easily work out your timings. Remember if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding as well you’ll need to time that.
And look, I love Nigella, but will I be brining my turkey in about fifteen quid’s worth of citrus fruits, various herbs, spices and maple syrupy water? Nope. It’s waaaay too much effort, and cost. I’ll be preparing as much as I can in advance so that I can have a couple of glasses of champers and enjoy a gentle potter in the kitchen on the big day.
As for prep, here’s my top tips:
Prepare in advance
Get as much as possible done 1 or 2 days in advance. Peel the potatoes, cut them into even sizes and boil for as long as you dare (the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them). Then just drain, leave to sit until cool and then open freeze on a tray before popping in a sealable freezer bag and freezing (if you freeze them straight into the bag they all fuse together in one big lump). On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from frozen.
With the veg, just peel and prepare all your carrots/sprouts/whatever and bung them in plastic bags. Don’t freeze them as this will make them a bit soggy, but store them sealed in the fridge until you’re ready, then just pop straight into the boiling water (or steam) on the day.
For the turkey
Again, do this the day before. Don’t wally about washing the bloody thing in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just succeed in covering yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria. Just unwrap it, take the giblets out (use to make stock), pluck out any stray feathers and get on with it.
I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas.
Add a few extras:
It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay, thyme or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.
For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley? Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin. Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper.
To stuff or not to stuff?:
I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better for the hot air to circulate inside it. I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting. If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.
Weighing and preparing:
Weigh your turkey and work out the cooking time. Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it. Mine’s going in a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap (heh, yeah right), I’ll pack some ice round it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).
On the day:
I take my turkey out and let it come to room temp on Christmas morning. No point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking. Just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, then stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180 for fan ovens), set your timer and go and have a glass of champers. If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all.
Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes
Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes
Remove the foil for the last 40 or so minutes to brown the top
Once your turkey is done (you can wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.
And because I ordered a turkey crown from James Whelan Butchers, I asked Pat Whelan to tell us how he cooks his gorgeous free-range turkey crowns:
Cream some butter in a bowl until very soft, then add the crushed garlic, orange rind, parsley and thyme. Beat well, until thoroughly blended. Gently loosen the neck flap away from the breast and pack the flavoured butter right under the skin — this is best done wearing disposable gloves. Rub well into the flesh of the turkey, then re-cover the skin and secure with a small skewer or sew with fine twine. Finally, cover the top of the crown with the rashers.
Place the turkey crown in the oven and calculate your time — 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes, so a joint this size should take three hours and 40 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, which should be removed about 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The turkey crown will cook much more quickly than a whole turkey, so make sure to keep basting.
To check if the turkey is cooked, pierce a fine skewer into the chest part of the crown, the juice should run clear. When cooked, cover with foil to rest and keep warm.
For great roasties
You really don’t need a lake of fat to make them lovely and crispy. Just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely and make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen potatoes. Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then whack in a nice hot oven. The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).
Easy apple and red onion stuffing
(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)
225g pork sausage meat
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice. Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge. On the day, it’ll take about 25 minutes (obviously more if you double up).
Bringing it all together:
And that’s it. You’ve got the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras. Add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and cook out before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy). For sprouts, I just blanch them for a few minutes while I’m frying some streaky bacon in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then toss them in with the bacon before serving. I also serve roast parsnips with honey and a ton of cranberry sauce, oh and peas for the fussy bugger who only likes peas *sigh*.
If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember it’s just dinner.
Every time we have a takeaway from the local Indian Restaurant, Hubby always raves about their Chicken Dhansak. It’s kind of a lentily, thick and very slightly sweet chicken curry with a powerful kick of chilli. I’ve been trying to recreate it for a while and I think, judging by his reaction, I’m nearly there. It’s great served with my cheaty flatbreads and once you’ve got the store-cupboard stuff, you’ll find you cook it again and again. Here goes, then:
1 large onion, sliced
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried chilli (more if you can take it)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp dried fenugreek
750ml chicken stock
2 chicken breasts, cubed (cooked or raw – leftover tandoori chicken is perfect for this)
200g red lentils or dal/split peas
Righty ho, firstly a little word about lentils. Generally I prefer the little red rentils that are readily available in the dry goods bit of the supermarket. This time I tried Chana Dal, which only seem to be found in the Indian section of the big, enormous, superduper Tesco-a-go-go in the next town. I found they didn’t break down as well as the smaller lentils and took longer to cook, but have an experiment and find out what’s best for you.
Onwards, then, to the main event:
The first and most important thing is to make sure you’ve got all your ingredients ready and measured. Have all the spices ready on a plate, the ginger grated and the chicken cubed. It will make your life a lot easier:
So firstly heat up the oil in a heavy based casserole (with a lid), sprinkle over the teaspoon of salt, and fry them gently until they’re translucent (forgive the picture, my lens got a bit steamed up):
Now add in all the spices and stir around for a minute to give them a time to infuse in the oil. The mixture will become very dry, but don’t worry, just keep stirring:
Now just shove in the lentils/dal and the chicken, stir briefly to coat, and then pour in the stock.
Cover and simmer for at least 20 minutes (especially if you’re using raw chicken) for the red lentils, and up to 45 minutes if you’re using the larger dal. You might have to check and add a little extra hot water or stock if it thickens too much.
At the last minute, stir in a couple of handfuls of spinach, or coriander, or whatever you’ve got, and serve with steamed rice to which you’ve added a pinch of saffron and a few cardamom pods (warning: count them in and count them back out – nobody likes crunching on a whole cardamom!). And yes, I know this is a rubbish photo, but I was flibbin starving!:
Next time, I’m going to attempt this recipe from Aktar Islam, Head Chef of Lasan, the winner of Gordon Ramsay’s F Word’s Best Local Restaurant competition to which I was bloody riveted (although I thought the Argentinian Restaurant should have won). And no, I didn’t get free Cobra this time, but I still thought it was good (check out the video – the lady has a cat in her sink):
Er… yup, I think that’s it. Chicken dhansak: done. (see what I did there?)
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
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:
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:
For the risotto: allow the stock to come to a simmer in a saucepan, then keep warm on a low heat on the hob:
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:
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.
So being a bit of an Ebay-addicted household, lovely Ciaran the postie is well used to being mugged at the door of English Towers by eager parcel recipients. Friday was no exception, then, when my copy of Merry Kitschmas, The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D Conway finally arrived. I’ve been looking for it for ages after glimpsing it on the shelf behind someone on some tv programme or other (it might even have been a Nigella programme – I can’t remember now).
This treasure trove of the cheap and tacky is exactly what Christmas should be about. I mean, how did people survive Christmas before Michael Conway taught them how to make a Frosty the Chocoholic Snowman cocktail (above left) or a Santa’s Little Helper (above right). The one in the middle, in case you’re interested, is a Chocolate Candy Cane (1 part grenadine, one part peppermint vodka and one part Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur – garnished with a chocolate-dipped candy cane).
And for your festive food, how about a Weener Tree? It’s perfect for your Kitschmas cocktail party. Or why not decorate the table with an enormous styrofoam snowman (completely covered in white mini marshmallows) and on Christmas night, hang the Manipulative Parent’s Reversible Stocking on the mantelpiece: on one side it says ‘nice’ and on the other it says ‘naughty’. Threaten to hang it ‘naughty’ side out unless they do everything you say this Christmas.
And let’s face it: any recipe that starts with ‘3 x 3oz boxes sparkling white grape-flavoured gelatin’ gets my vote. So come on, spray that fake aerosol snow on your windows, crank up the wattage on the flashing Rudolph on your front lawn and be lavish with the tinsel. Celebrate your inner trailer trash. What? It’s Christmas.
So we ended up having an incredibly late night on Friday round C and K’s (the ones with the boat – keep up), drinking vast amounts of champagne and Chablis and tucking into a takeaway Chinese. I was completely toasted and woke up the next day at midday with a hammerdrill playing havoc with the inside of my head (I know, I know – self to blame). Happily, I saw both C and K down the shop later and they both looked like crap too.
Hubby was back to work yesterday, which meant that the fellas and I got to have pasta – woohoo! We rounded it off with a celebratory chocolate mousse. What? Surely there’s no carbs in chocolate mousse is there?
Here goes, then:
Half a large bar (about 100 – 150g) of dark chocolate, snapped into squares (we used Bournville and it was fab)
4 fl oz double cream
2 eggs, separated
Another 4 fl oz double cream
So put your first 4 fl oz cream in a saucepan and heat it up – it doesn’t matter if it boils but don’t let it reduce at all. Take it off the heat and add your chocolate, stirring to melt it all in. Let it cool down to finger-dipping temp (you know you want to keep testing it). Meanwhile, separate the two eggs and whisk the whites until they’re at the stiff peak stage (cue stupid ‘holding the bowl over someone’s head’ routine). When the cream and chocolate mixture is cool enough not to make scrambled eggs, beat in the two egg yolks, then fold in the egg whites gently.
Put into cups or glasses or something (small portions here, people) and put in the fridge. Finally, if you’re at English Towers, where everyone feels the need to ponce about with a perfectly decent recipe, you need to whisk a second amount of cream until it’s fluffy and spoon it on top of the mousse the add grated chocolate so it looks like a cappuccino. Or even fold it gently through so it looks all marbly (we did this at the table making ooh and aah noises, but we don’t get out much).
This is such a good fun recipe to make with kids. You can slosh a bit of alcohol in the saucepan with the cream and chocolate – dare I suggest Cointreau or Grand Marnier – or a teeny cup of strong espresso. You can even make a second quantity with white chocolate and layer them up in a wine glass, or maybe pipe it onto little shortcake biscuits for a party. Did somebody say party…?
So I’ve had ups and downs with my first year of vegetable patch ownership. For example, the sweet peas went completely mental but didn’t give me a single bloody flower, the pumpkins, coriander and basil all died (too cold? we didn’t really have any sunshine) and the cucumber covered the whole plot in huge leaves and spidery tentrils, but no cucumbers (well how was I to know it was a climber). On the upside, there are two or three courgettes ready to go, the dwarf french beans have given us a sizeable crop; the fennel, parsley, mint and thyme are all huge and the carrots are surviving . In the greenhouse, the tomatoes have been fruiting like wild things, but all the fruit is green and the weather is definitely on the turn here (our morning walk was both rainy AND cold – Bert was not impressed). The aubergine has a tiny fruit but again it might all be too late.
The rhubarb absolutely excelled itself, growing to triffid-like proportions while I scoured local garden centres for one of those terracotta things to ‘force it’. My kitchen gardening guru, Mr Titchmarsh, says that by the end of summer, the rhubarb will be too tough to eat, but ours has been amazing. Sunday, then, saw us tucking into the biggest, juiciest steaks ever, complete with home grown french beans, garlic-roasted butternut squash and some very pleasant home made potato wedges (four or five medium sized potatoes, cut in half, then into four wedges lengthways, blanched in boiling salted water for ten minutes, then tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and baked in a 200 degree oven until golden brown and crispy), followed by a huge rhubarb crumble with cream.
For the crumble, then:
Four or five big fat stems of rhubarb
Big splosh of apple juice or water (say 100ml?)
Sugar for sprinkling
6 oz plain flour
Generous teaspoon ground ginger
4 oz butter
4 oz sugar
1 oz porridge oats
Handful of sliced almonds
So preheat the oven to 200 degrees. I’ve been poaching my rhubarb first as I’ve been freezing some of it, so weigh out your ingredients, then, and wash the rhubarb, chopping into inch-long chunks. Pop them in a saucepan with your splosh of apple juice and a generous amount of sugar (to taste, but remember it’s sour!). Let the rhubarb poach gently with a lid on until it’s just tender but not mushy. Mine took about ten minutes.
Meanwhile, rub your butter and flour together (not too fine – a lumpy texture is better), then stir in your ginger, sugar and porridge oats. Spoon the rhubarb into an oven-proof dish, cover it with the crumble mixture and finally, sprinkle over the sliced almonds. All you’re doing is cooking the top so it should only take about 15 minutes to come out all golden and bubbling.
There you have it, then: good, fresh food, quickly prepared and happily scoffed. I had the leftovers with yoghurt for breakfast then next day too. Mr Atkins wouldn’t like it but hey, them’s the breaks.
So we were all in need of a bit of comfort food last night. And this packet of 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!
So we’ve got a house-load this weekend. Me Mam’s over with my twin niece and nephew (The Fleas). The house has echoed to the sounds of thudding little feet, MarioKart wars, raucous laughter and (occasionally) indignant argument. Cries of ‘I’m hungry!’, ‘ow, get off!’, ‘it’s my turn!’ fill the air, and I’ve yet to sleep in past 7am (6am this morning with the clocks going back).
But it’s lovely to see them and fantastic for my two as they miss them loads. So this morning we had a huge, final breakfast with croissants, pains au chocolat, baguettes and these yummy little fruit soda breads, adapted from Rachel Allen’s recipe which I must have tried ten times and just couldn’t get to work for some reason.
1lb (450g) plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
350 – 400ml buttermilk (or just sour some normal milk with juice of Â½ lemon)
So first, whack your oven on as high as it’ll go and weigh out your dry ingredients. Make sure you sieve the flour, salt, and bicarbonate of soda really well. If you don’t, little bits of soda will show up in your finished scones as green lumps. Not very appetising. Then stir in the sugar and sultanas.
Crack the egg into a jug and give it a whisk, then add your buttermilk (or if you’re not using buttermilk, remember to add the lemon juice to the milk), topping it up to about 400ml altogether. You might need a bit extra but I never do.
Pour the milk mixture bit by bit into the flour, stirring with a fork. You’ll probably find you won’t need all the liquid but that’s fine as you can use it to glaze them at the end. It’s a bit messy but be patient as it’ll come together into a nice soft dough. Turn out on a floured board and pat into a big flat squareish shape. Cut into 9 or 12 or whatever, depending on how big you want them. Brush with the leftover milk mixture and sprinkle with crunchy brown sugar.
Stick your little soda breads on a baking tray (non stick preferably) and bake them on the high setting for about eight minutes (I had to turn mine round half way through as my oven doesn’t cook very evenly). Then after the eight minutes turn them down to about 200 (gas 6) for the last five or six minutes. Watch them just in case as the smaller the buns the less time they’ll need. They’ll sound hollow when you tap them if they’re done.
Serve warm with lots of butter to melt into them and enjoy the (brief) silence.
Now I’ll confess I have a tendency to fiddle with recipes. Usually this is just a personal taste thing, or sometimes it can be because they’ve got too many ingredients and I can’t be arsed to put them all in. This time it’s because I live in the middle of bloody nowhere and couldn’t actually find some of the ingredients. The original recipe from my mate 73 (he adds 3 tbsp bran and 2 tsp wheat germ, as well as the odd handful of nuts or seeds) is linked here and is incredibly good so please try it out. Here’s my pared down tinkered-about-with version of Mr 73’s proper Irish brown bread which we scoffed, in its entirety about 5 seconds after it came out of the oven
300g coarse brown flour
200g plain white flour
Â½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp black treacle
450 – 500ml milk
Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the black treacle then enough milk to combine into a lovely pasty mess.
Butter a loaf tin then bake in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes at gas 6 (200º), then another hour at gas 3 (170º).
It’s a testament to the simplicity of this recipe that one of my kids turned the oven off by accident half way through cooking. When I discovered, I quickly turned it back on and it still came out perfect. It makes a beautiful, moist, dense loaf, which is crying out for a thick covering of butter and some really good jam. Nice one, 73.
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.
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