There’s just no decent way to give this dish (I hesitate to say recipe) a decent title. If you go for ‘mozzarella stuffed, Parma ham-wrapped chicken breast with basil’, it’s about a gazillion miles long, but ‘mozzarella stuffed chicken’ leaves out the tastiest bits, and ‘chicken breast stuffed with chicken and basil and wrapped in Parma ham’ isn’t exactly catchy either. Anyway, I digress. This easy baked chicken is one of our favourite dinners.
Recently, the lovely chaps at Expedia set me a little challenge (and you know how I love a challenge) to create a dish based on one of their favourite destinations. The destination that I was given is Cyprus, not a place I’ve ever been, so I set about having a little dig about to find out about Cypriot food. I now REALLY need to go to Cyprus, because the food is, frankly, awesome.
I love a feast. A proper, gather round the table heaped with dishes, everyone talking at once, help yourself, kind of feast. My favourite one recently was our huge Middle Eastern feast for New Year’s Eve. when the table was heaving with all sorts of different things ready to tuck into. We talked, we laughed, we drank lovely wine, we stuffed all sorts of different things into pittas, and then into our faces. A real joyful night.
If you’ve been in Tesco recently, you’ll have seen that they’re currently running a sticker promotion where you can save up to 70% on exclusive Berndes cookware products (collect one sticker for every £20 you spend – once you’ve collected five stickers you can use them to buy the discounted cookware. Tesco very kindly send me one of the casseroles to try. They’re wonderfully chunky and heavy – perfect for soups, stews and casseroles. I tried my hand at a little one-pot cooking:
I’ve recently teamed up with Farmer’s Choice, the online butchers, green grocers and deli to help create a new recipe section on their website. Farmer’s Choice deliver free range, British meat and produce to homes across the UK and they’re keen to provide inspirational, quick and healthy recipes to their customers.
For my first recipe, Farmer’s Choice challenged me to do something creative with chicken, and I’ve started with pilaf, a popular Middle Eastern rice dish that appears in many forms across many countries and cultures. It’s an easy, one-pot way of cooking and is great for warm weather eating as all it needs as an accompaniment is a green leafy salad. It’s also an easy way to feed a crowd and you can strew it with golden raisins, or chopped apricots to make it even prettier too.
You can find this, the first of many recipes I hope – on my author page, plus lots more recipe inspiration from my fellow food-lovers!
Click here for my full saffron chicken pilaf recipe.
So summer is finally creeping up on us (I definitely saw the sun at least twice last week), and, with some fabulous fresh veg popping up in our local farm shop (I can’t resist a glossy aubergine), I felt it was time to dust off one of my favourite summer essentials: the barbecue skewer. It’s handy to have meat in the freezer (I often bulk buy meat online from Farmer’s Choice – the selection is incredible and the packs are very good value) that way, you can take it out to defrost if you wake up and it’s a sunny morning.
I favour the evil, pointy metal variety, especially when cooking meat as they do ensure that the meat is cooked through the middle – something always worth paying attention to when barbecuing. This barbecue sauce recipe is an old favourite and very easy to make. Once it’s cooked, split the quantity in half, so you can use half as a sauce at the table and half to marinade the meat as it cooks:
For the barbecue sauce/marinade:
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- About 1 tsp fresh ginger
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 4 tbsps runny honey
- 2 tbsps brown sugar
- 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsps soy sauce
- 4 tbsps tomato ketchup
- Pinch dried chilli
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
Add the oil into a saucepan, and gently fry the onion until it’s starting to go a bit translucent. Grate in the ginger (I keep my ginger in the freezer and grate it straight in), then just add in all the other ingredients. Let it simmer and thicken slightly, then reserve half for serving at the table.
For the skewers:
2 large chicken breasts
2 sweet potatoes
1 red onion
I find it’s best to give the sweet potatoes a quick blanch first, otherwise you can find that they’re a bit hard to thread onto a skewer without breaking.
Cut the rest of the ingredients into big chunks, then thread them randomly onto the skewers – pushing everything together so that everyone gets a generous portion.
Brush the skewers well with the marinade, on both sides, then place onto the barbecue or under a medium grill. Keep basting and turning until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are starting to char.
Serve with the other half of the barbecue sauce (throw the remaining marinade away) and fresh salad. Oh, and if the sun doesn’t come out? A baked potato wouldn’t go amiss.
So when I was in Jamaica on our Royal Caribbean cruise (I’m never going to tire of saying that), we spent a fabulous day riding horses around old plantation land and – amazingly – into the sea. After we’d dismounted (walking, it must be said, a bit like we’d soiled ourselves), we were served amazing spicy Jamaican jerk chicken, with rice and beans. Delicious.
Keen to recreate it at home, we popped into the little Jamaican food shop at Falmouth port to score some jerk seasoning. I came away with this little beauty:
Of course this recipe is really going to come into its own once it’s barbecue season again (I’ve got my eye on a new gas bbq from John Lewis for the summer). Jerk chicken gets a lot of its smoky flavour and deliciously crusty exterior from being grilled over the barby.
I’ve used breast here as I was slicing it into wraps with salad (and mayo mixed with the jerk sauce that I also brought home – too darned hot to use it on its own), but feel free to use the dark meat or, indeed a whole chicken either spatchcocked or cut into portions.
I often marinate chicken before cooking in buttermilk or yoghurt – left for half an hour or so before cooking, it tenderises the chicken and leaves it deliciously moist. Oh, and if you don’t have buttermilk, don’t despair. Use milk and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. A quick stir, et voila, buttermilk.
250ml buttermilk (or milk + lemon juice)
4 pieces of chicken (breast, leg, whatever)
So firstly, if you’re using chicken legs, it’s best to get rid of the skin as you lose half the flavour if you don’t eat it. With chicken breasts, just drop them straight in to the buttermilk with a pinch of salt. Leave the chicken marinating for about half an hour. Preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.
Fish the chicken out and place on a baking tray. Sprinkle liberally with the spice, remembering to do both sides. If some of the chicken breasts are very thick, it’s worth slashing them a couple of times with a knife so that they all cook at the same time.
Cook for about 25 minutes (make sure you cut into them to make sure they’re cooked through before you serve). If barbecuing, I’d probably give them 40 minutes.
Of course if you don’t have jerk seasoning, this recipe works really well with other spices too: look out for different rubs and coatings (Cajun, curry… whatever), or make your own – there are loads of recipes for spice rubs online. I have cupboards stuffed with all sorts of herbs, spices and flavourings at the moment but will soon be investing in the convenience of a spice rack to sort myself out.
Oh, and while I’m here, I’d just like to say that if you ever get any leftover Parmesan going a bit hard or whatever, whizz it in the processor, or grate it and stash it in the freezer. Do the same with bread, and stash in the same bag. Then, instead of spices after the buttermilk marinade, you can push your chicken into the cheesy breadcrumbs, bake, and parmesan chicken can be yours.
Over the long Diamond Jubilee weekend, we had several family get-togethers, so I was delighted when Farmer’s Choice offered to send me one of their frozen food deliveries for review.
What we got:
Diced beef 750g
Steak mince 750g
Diced turkey breast 750g
Diced lamb 750g
Minced lamb 750g
Leg lamb half boned and rolled 1400g
Diced pork 750g
Leg pork boned and rolled 2000g
How we used it:
For our jubilee party, I defrosted three packs of the diced meat overnight in the fridge, then marinated them in various different flavours (the lamb in mint and rosemary, the turkey in soy sauce, honey and garlic and the beef in spicy plum sauce), threaded them onto pre-soaked bamboo skewers and grilled them. They were all delicious – the beef went down particularly well.
I mixed the minced steak and lamb together with breadcrumbs, an egg, mustard seeds, cumin and coriander with some crushed garlic, salt and pepper, and formed them into burgers. Oven cooked, then stuffed into burgers with some Manchego cheese they were beyond delicious.
The chicken was defrosted and used in my patented ‘lemon up the bum’ roast chicken recipe for Sunday lunch. It was utterly delicious (see my note below).
What we liked:
The free range chicken was fantastic. I usually avoid frozen chicken as I think it alters the texture, but cooked from fully defrosted the whole free range chicken was plump and juicy.
Not really, only that some information about how to defrost specific items would have been helpful. I had no idea how long it takes to defrost a chicken and had to defer our roast chicken dinner an extra day!
For more information, click on Farmerschoice.co.uk
I’m not completely sure where I first saw this recipe. Rest assured it wasn’t my idea – I’m thinking maybe Martha Stewart or somewhere like that?
Anyhoo, if you’re entertaining on bonfire night, these little beauties are a great talking point. If you don’t fancy chicken, just fill them with your usual minced beef recipe, or even just squeeze sausagemeat out of the casing to fill them.
The teenagers, you’ll be delighted to know, took me to task over my original ‘scary’ description in the title, and said that it should be ‘grumpy’ or maybe ‘ugly’, so ugly it is, but if you want to make smiley ones go for it – they’re your pies, after all.
You will need:
3 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
Ham, cut into small chunks
1 tbsp flour
Chicken stock (about 200ml)
Making the filling:
So sauté the onions in a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil. Add in the chicken and fry until it’s lightly browned. Bung in the ham, then add in a tablespoon of flour, salt and pepper, and about 200ml chicken stock. Stir well and cook gently for a while, just until the ‘rawness’ of the flour disappears and the sauce looks creamy. Add in some thyme here if you like. It’s my favourite flavour with chicken.
If you want to make your own pastry, rub 200g of cold butter into 400g of plain flour, then add in 3 or 4 tablespoons of cold water until it just comes together. If you’d rather buy it, that’s fine too.
Preheat your oven to gas 4/180 degrees. Roll out your pastry and line a 6 hole yorkshire pudding tin (or individual little pie dishes) with pastry.
You don’t have to blind bake these, but the bottoms will be crisper and they’ll hold together better. Up to you. Scrunch up some squares of greaseproof paper, then smooth out and pop on top of each pastry base – pour in baking beans (I use some old dried haricot beans that I keep especially for blind baking) and bake for about ten minutes. Then remove the beans and give them another 5 minutes.
Making the pies:
Now roll out the rest of the pastry and cut out your scary faces (I cut round a saucer, then used a piping nozzle for the holes). Fill generously with the chicken mixture then top with the pies. A quick pass through the eggy wash department and your ugly faces are ready for the oven.
Bake for about 15/20 minutes until golden. Pair with mini baked potatoes and maybe some roasted butternut squash soup and you’re good to go. Have a great bonfire night. Oh and be careful out there!
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.
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 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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