I have two basic default settings in the kitchen. The first is ‘all out go-for-it’ where I can throw myself with abandon into making a big roast dinner or a cake with lots of different elements. The other is ‘nah, can’t be bothered’, which usually coincides with days when I’ve been really busy working or testing recipes and I’ve just had too much kitchen time.
Continuing with my new menu planning obsession (honestly, it’s saving me A FORTUNE – I’ve got my favourites saved on the online shopping app and I just tweak it every week, then buy the odd bit of fresh stuff from the farmer’s market or my fab local farm shop), I thought I’d share another of my staple ingredients: puff pastry. I do quite like making puff pastry (well, rough puff), but there’s certainly no shame in using ready made, and a pack of all butter puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the fridge to make tarts, pies and much more.
Oh the rain! I just think it’s gone away and it comes back again. The pupster pings around the house like a lunatic if she doesn’t get out an about so it’s wellies and hat on and out into the wet and cold I go.
Of course, this calls for a comforting, winter dinner (any excuse) and what better than a scrummy toad in the hole with lashings of onion gravy.
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):
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.
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.)
So one of my happier experiments in the garden were these little beauties. They did have a name, but I’ve bloody forgotten now, although I’m sure Poppy’s Mum or GrowUp, my gardening gurus, will let me know in due course. Yesterday, then, we decided to pick one and test it out.
‘Ooh’, said #1, ‘cauliflower cheese!’.
‘Yum’, said I.
‘Bleurgh’, said the other two.
There’s no pleasing some people.
Here, then, are step by step guidelines to making your own creamy, cheesy sauce. What you do with it is entirely up to you: stir it through pasta and bake for easy mac and cheese, use it to layer through your lasagne, pile it on thick toast and grill it…. frankly, you can smother yourself in it from head to toe if you like… be my guest. Anyhoo, digressing. Here she blows, then:
Firstly, make the cheese sauce:
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp plain flour
About 200g random cheese: I used Wexford Cheddar and Parmesan
400ml milk (ish)
Salt and pepper
Okay, so I know this is all sounding a bit random, but honestly it’s pretty hard to get this wrong. Just melt a nice big tablespoon of butter in a saucepan on a low heat:
Then whop in your tablespoon of plain flour. Keep stirring over a low heat while you ‘cook out’ the flour and make a nice smooth paste (or ‘roux’ if you’re feeling a bit cheffy):
Now slowly mix in the milk, stirring all the time. As it bubbles, the mixture will thicken. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Season with a little salt and pepper (purists use white pepper so there’s no black bits) and that’s your basic white sauce. To make it into a cheese sauce, just chop up and add in some random cheese:
I used Cheddar and Parmigiano, but you can use whatever takes your fancy. Red Leicester makes it a pretty colour, and blue cheese makes a ridiculously good sauce for steak or pasta. Word of advice, here, people, courtesy as usual of English Grandma: don’t grate the cheese – you’ll end up with a big clump that takes ages to melt – chunks melt far easier (I’m a mine of useless information, me).
Now, for cauliflower cheese, blanch your comedy vegetable by plunging into some boiling, salted water until just tender:
…pop into an ovenproof dish, pour over your cheesy sauce of choice, top with a little more grated cheese, and bake in the oven at good ol’ 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until golden and bubbling:
Serve with some big, fat spicy sausages, or a roast dinner, or just on its own as an easy supper. If you’re going for the full body masque, though, go steady on the pepper.
So the ongoing battle here at English Towers is between the chilli lovers and the not-so-chilli lovers. Hubby and #1 would have us eating amounts of chilli that, frankly, would have normal people running madly around in circles, flapping their arms and making choo choo noises with steam coming out of their ears, whereas me and the small, accident-prone version can only handle a gentle amount of spice. Pizza making is always contentious with the chilli monsters wanting whole slices of red chilli on theirs, and curries, frankly are a minefield. This dhal, then, has had several incarnations – starting from the 2 tsp crushed chilli version that was truly, ridiculously, spasm-inducingly hot, to this version which is gently warming with a nice hit at the back of the throat. But hey, if you’re a chilli thug, whop in the whole 2 tsp and warn the family to take a step back – it’s got a kick like a very cross mule:
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 scant tsp dried chilli (or 2 heaped tsp if you’re a chilli monster)
2 tbsp oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp grated ginger (I keep mine in the freezer and grate it from frozen)
750ml chicken stock
200g red split lentils
1 tsp garam masala
So firstly, take a dry frying pan, put it on a low heat and put in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and the dried chilli. Let it toast very gently, stirring constantly, just until you see the very first bit of popping and your nose is filled with lovely toasty spicy smells. Watch it carefully as it burns easily (oh and feel free to go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahhh’ at my immaculately clean hob – I’d just spent half an hour removing the remnants of the rice which boiled over just to piss me off):
Bung the toasted spices into the pestle and mortar and grind them into a powder. If you can’t be arsed with this bit (which makes an excellent dinner party showing off display), just use the mustard seeds as they are and use ground cumin, coriander and chilli instead. It tastes just as nice (shhh).
Now, take a heavy-based pan and pour in the 2 tbsp oil. Bung in the sliced onion, sprinkle with the salt and fry gently until softened. Now add in the spice blend along with the turmeric, sugar and grated ginger, stirring well until it’s all pasty and combined.
Pour in the chicken stock and add in the red lentils. Bung a lid on and leave to cook for about 20 minutes by which stage the lentils will be soft and fragrant. Stir in the garam masala and taste for seasoning.
Serve with some easy cheaty flatbreads, or for a more substantial meal you can add the tandoori chicken and some basmati rice too. Some nice raita made with plain yoghurt, grated cucumber and a handful of chopped fresh mint wouldn’t go amiss either.
This is another healthy recipe (blimey, that’s two in a row) and the veg quota can be easily oomphed up with, say, a couple of handfuls of spinach (I buy those bags of baby spinach and bung them straight in the freezer) or some chopped tomato. I did it the other day with some roasted butternut squash and it was very nice indeed. Just go steady with the chilli if you don’t want your guests doing the locomotion around the garden (whoop whoop!).
Righto, then, following swiftly on from the butternut squash risotto, here’s another curry that is used in so many different guises here at English Towers, I’m struggling to know which photos to use. As you know, I’m a big fan of butternut squash, so here’s the basic recipe used with squash, but it’s equally good made with potatoes or cauliflower:
1 butternut squash, peeled and deseeded, cut into chunks (mine weighed about 700g)
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp dried chilli (or 1 tsp fresh chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped for extra zing)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp grated ginger (I grate mine straight from the freezer)
200ml chicken stock
1 tsp garam masala (don’t put this in until the end though)
1 tin chickpeas
Fresh coriander, roughly chopped
So heat the oil in a pan until very hot. Add the onion along with all the spices (not the garam masala, this is more of a seasoning and should be added at the end). I’m a bit random with the spices – I think this is roughly what I use, but I’ll see the Cumin seeds in with the spices and think ‘ooh, I’ll bung a few of them in’. Still it always tastes okay…
When the onion starts to turn brown, add the chicken stock (or veg stock, obviously), and the chunks of squash (or potato or whatever), stir around and cover. Turn the heat down low and leave the squash to soften for around 15 minutes.
Now stir in the drained chickpeas. Leave to cook for five more minutes, then stir in the garam masala, sprinkle with the coriander and serve.
This basic spice mix is really versatile. Leave out the squash and bung in a tin of tomatoes and a couple of handfuls of baby spinach, plus a can of any old pulses, or substitute dried lentils instead of the chickpeas (add at the same time as the squash, plus 100ml more water), or any other canned beans or pulses (or just leave them out and serve as a plain vegetable curry). Here’s one I made with borlotti beans (I know, a weird Indian/Italian mixture, but hey, it tasted nice and I didn’t have any chickpeas):
There you have it. On the subject of curries, anyone else have any favourites recipes?
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.
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.
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.
Sunday lunch, then, and even though I say so myself, this one was rather a cracker. Given a unanimous 10/10 (unheard of in our house) and with the added bonus of being one of the easiest too. First up then is the main course:
Roast lamb with creamy layered potatoes
½ leg lamb (about 1kg)
1 kg potatoes
300ml milk or cream
So for the lamb, just preheat the oven at about 180/gas 4, rub all over with a generous slug of olive oil ( a clove or two of smooshed garlic wouldn’t go amiss here either – or a handful of rosemary if you have it) and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Now just bung it in the oven and forget about it for about an hour and a half . For a whole leg, or a joint any larger than a kg, allow 1 hour per kg, plus ½ hour for well done meat (I know, I know, but I just can’t prefer not to eat my lamb pink – sorry and all that).
Remove from the oven and reserve somewhere warm, covered in foil. Place the roasting tin on the hob, add a dessertspoon of plain flour and whisk all the juices in with the flour. Now, add 500ml stock, transfer to a saucepan and let it bubble away gently until you’re ready to eat. Oh, and season to taste.
For the potatoes (I hesitate to call them Dauphinoise – I think they’re probably more cheesey), peel and weigh them, then slice thinly (aim for about 5mm slices, but don’t amputate your fingers trying):
Butter an ovenproof dish, then arrange the slices into a thick layer on the bottom of the dish. Dot with butter and season generously with salt and pepper:
… then continue with the next layer, again dotting with butter and seasoning well. Continue until you’ve used up all the potatoes. Pour over the milk or cream (or combination of both, or even chicken stock if you’re off diary), dot with the remaining butter, season well and cover. Stick into the oven next to the lamb. It should be ready at about the same time (an hour and a half). If it’s not quite there, remove the lid and continue to bake while the lamb is resting.
Now for English Mum’s Mum’s creamy rice pudding (hmm, might have to work on that title):
100g pudding rice
800 ml milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
To cook on the hob (I had no room left in my oven): mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down low and let the rice pudding simmer very gently for about an hour. Don’t cover it, and do watch it. Mine boiled over all over my hob and caused an almighty mess. I really must get myself a diffuser. We have bottled gas that comes rocketing out like nobody’s business and it’s difficult to get a really low heat.
Me Ma’s original recipe calls for all the ingredients to be placed in a buttered ovenproof dish and cooked in a low oven for a couple of hours. It’s honestly much nicer this way, although you have to stir the skin in occasionally (sorry there, skin haters).
Serve with fruit compote (I used frozen berries warmed up with a tbsp sugar and a big slug of blackcurrant liqueur) or a big dollop of raspberry jam.
This is really nice made with coconut milk as well (thank you, Bill Granger!). Just as a matter of interest – this amount serves 4, but we could easily have eaten double. If you’re greedy sods like us then I suggest you double up.
There you have it. Now retire to your sofa with a fat greyhound and the Sunday papers, while your willing, full-up peasants do the washing up. Bliss.
So I sometimes think my little carpet monsters don’t know when they’ve got it good. Take last week: #2 went out shopping with D-next-door and seriously, dearest reader, you’d think he’d won the flipping lottery:
‘D gets curly fries! And chicken nuggets! And spicy wedges! And we walked straight past the fruit and veg without buying anything!! And we got chocolate fingers!’, all said in the breathless manner usually reserved only for conversations about Slash and Rooney.
‘But hang on’, says I, bristling somewhat, ‘you get lovely, fresh home-cooked food every day!’
‘Yes, but Lou and Little C get to eat curly fries! And nuggets from the freezer. Not like your ones’.
See what I have to put up with? D-next-door of course thinks all this is hilarious, but actually (with plenty of nagging coaching from me and Mrs Lovely) he doesn’t do too badly, and recently cooked leeks, LEEKS, I tell you. He was darned pleased with himself too. Anyhoo, digressing. So right, I thought, I’ll cook him nuggets and wedges, if that’s what he wants. I’ll just do them my way:
4 chicken breasts
2 slices stale bread (or crusts, whatever)
The nice heel bit left over from the parmesan (or a 2″ chunk)
Splash of milk
So first, preheat your oven to 200/gas 6 and cut the potatoes in half, then cut each half into three or four wedge shapes. Bung them into a pan of salted water and bring them to the boil.
Meanwhile, cut each of your chicken breasts into three or four pieces. Whizz the bread and parmesan together in the food processor until they’re crumby, then add a generous pinch of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Whisk up the egg with a splosh of milk and dunk each piece of chicken first in the egg, then toss in the cheesy breadcrumby stuff.
Drizzle some oil on a baking tray and put your coated chicken pieces on it. Drain the now-boiling potatoes, and spread them onto a second baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and a generous pinch of chilli. Bung both trays in the oven and leave for 20-30 mins until both your potatoes and chicken are golden brown. The timing will of course depend on how big the pieces of chicken and potato are. You might have to put one to the bottom of the oven or whatever – you know the drill.
Serve with a nice green salad, or some buttered frozen peas and some sweet chilli sauce. Or mayo. Or both. Bung it on the table and pretend it’s Captain Birdseye’s. *Tsk*
All this talk of recession has done me no end of good, y’know. For one thing, I’m trying to use up all the stuff we had left over in the freezer since Christmas (I’m down to two massive bags of frozen prawns and the kids are sick of them, but needs must, eh. Green Thai prawn curry anyone?). And I’ve hardly been out shopping at all, save for a couple of trips for school essentials and the invitations for the blessing. The rest of the time I’ve stayed in as I’m too terrified of allowing my inner splurger to come to the fore. I’m even recycling in the kitchen. For instance, the other day I made this bubble and squeak for Hubby (he had a sudden urge. For bubble and squeak, you animals) with some sprouts I had hanging around in the fridge. Now before you start, I know that a lot of people can’t stomach sprouts. But this is a really nice way to eat them. Think of them as teeny, tightly packed cabbages, if you will. If you really can’t do it, then cabbage, or broccoli or anything remotely green can be bunged in with the leftover mash. Here goes, then:
Leftover mashed potato
Leftover green stuff (or fresh, simmered until tender)
1 egg, beaten
So just cook your sprouts or cabbage or whatever until just cooked (if it’s broccoli, put the stems in first otherwise the tops will be mushed).
Now gather your other stuff together:
Drain the veg and mash it in with the potatoes, seasoning well and then forming the mixture into little patties. It’s probably best here, if you have time, to pop them in the fridge for half an hour or so. It makes them easier to work with.
Dunk the little buggers in the beaten egg, then toss them in the breadcrumbs – all of the time building the amount of eggy breadcrumby goo on your fingers to epic proportions. Then just heat up some oil or butter in a frying pan and fry until golden.
Serve with a nice, runny egg on top (I know this one looks a bit cremated, but Hubby’s got a thing about eggs being well done on the outside and runny in the middle. Quite tricky I can tell you) and even a few rashers of crispy bacon. Serve hot with a nice green salad and Bob’s your auntie: a nice healthy meal on the cheap.
Unlike in England, where you’re lucky to find an out-of-date Twix and maybe a curly-edged sandwich, the petrol stations in Ireland are a haven for the half starved motorist. Practically every one will have a deli selling not only the ubiquitous ‘breakfast roll’, an artery-busting ensemble of sausage, bacon, fried egg and maybe even some black pudding, all levered into an enormous half of a french stick, but that most beloved of items in my children’s eyes: the hot chicken baguette.
Every time we get petrol, there emanates from the back seat of the jeep the most pathetic begging and pleading, and no matter how much I quote Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and give empassioned speeches about the miserable fate of intensively farmed chickens, it all falls on deaf ears. They don’t give a toss if the chicken was free range, nor even if it was miserable, or even a tad depressed – what they want is a chicken baguette – and when they want it is now.
So faced with this irritating chirruping today, I decided that what my children needed was action and not words, and set about teaching them to make a kinder, healthier alternative to the crap they crave. It just so happens that the fridge at English Towers generally contains the odd bit of cold chicken, either left over from the Sunday roast or from when I get a large pack of chicken breasts, poach them and use half for chicken noodles. So when we got home, I cattle prodded them into the kitchen and set them to work:
Splosh of milk
Leftover cooked chicken
2 slices bread
So first, crack the egg into the bowl, whisk in a big splosh of milk and then slice each chicken breast into three and dunk in the eggy mixture.
Meanwhile, set a small child to work with the food processor button (safety first here people, children with stubs for fingers will never make Booker prize winners) reducing the slices of bread to fine breadcrumbs. Season the breadcrumbs well.
Next, whip the chicken out of the egg mixture and into the breadcrumbs. Toss until both chicken and child are liberally coated with breadcrumbs.
Finally, heat your oil along with a knob of butter until nice and hot, add your breadcrumbed chicken and fry until golden.
Stuff into a baguette and serve with coleslaw and baked beans. Yum scrum pig’s bum and a bloody sight kinder than anything Spar can offer. Hugh would be proud *sigh*.
What is it about Heinz tinned soups? They’re actually pretty disgusting – I mean, how do they get that gelatinous texture? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And the mushroom flavour, which is #1’s preferred choice, is frankly revolting. Too creamy, oddly grey in colour and, well, mushrooms don’t really taste like that, do they. And then there’s the tomato flavour. It’s bloody orange, for goodness sake. If there’s a power cut you could just crack one open and bingo – you’d all be able to see by the luminous orange glow emanating from the tin. But hey, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, sometimes only a tin of soup will do (I favour Baxter’s curried vegetable and lentil one personally) and I often whip up these little beauties, which are actually more scone than bread, to dunk in a revoltingly bad mannered way, into the bowl.
8 oz self raising flour
1 1/2 oz butter
4 oz cheese
1/4 pint milk
So put your flour into a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, then rub in the butter just like you would for, say, a crumble or whatever until it looks breadcrumby. Grate the cheese and stir into the flour mixture with a fork until well blended (you don’t want big lumps of cheese). Then measure out your milk in a jug, add the egg and whisk until combined. Pour slowly into the floury cheesy mixture, mixing until it just comes together and makes a soft dough. You can reserve any leftover egg/milk mixture to brush onto the top before baking.
So tip it out and give it a gentle knead just until it comes together in a nice ball. Flatten it out until it’s about 2″ thick and vaguely circular and then just divide it into six or eight wedges. Brush with the leftover milky mixture and bake at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes. Eat warm with your weirdly gelatinous soup, or with a nice salad, or with cheese and pickle…mmmmmmm…
By the way, if you’re having a posh dinner party, these are amazing made with, say, half and half cheddar and parmesan and a sprinkle of chopped rosemary, or with snipped chives and a teaspoon of mustard, or any other flavourings you can think of. Chopped sundried tomato and fresh basil would be lovely with a fresh tomato salad. Much easier than baking bread rolls and with a lovely soft texture.
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.
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!
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