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:
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!
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:
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):
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.
I’m sure I’ve told you this before, but once, in a small butcher’s shop in Cavan, I asked if their chickens were free range.
‘Free range?’ asked the butcher with a smirk, ‘they’re as free range as you’ll get round here’.
And yes, I get it, I really do. A small butcher’s shop in a normal town will probably struggle to sell free range chickens at €10 a pop. He’ll probably sell double the amount of €5 intensively farmed ones, and I can see why. We’re all feeling the pinch.
Sometimes we just have to buy the stuff that’s available, but if there’s free range in the shop, that’s what I’ll buy. If it costs more, we deal with the problem by eating less. We’ll have pasta one day, and maybe a butternut squash risotto. And then, when we do have chicken, it’s a nice free range one that may have cost me a bit, but at least it’s not sticking in my throat, conjuring images of poor, balding, scrawny birds stuffed in their thousands into a stinking barn somewhere. And it’s the same with beef. I’d rather have one really nice meal a week, with the leftovers used carefully, and know that the meat had come from a local, high welfare source. Everyone’s different, I grant you, but for me, it’s all about respect.
Now Friends of the Earth have waded in, commissioning a survey that shows both in a health capacity, and to lessen farming’s environmental impact, that we’d be better to eat less meat. I’m sure a by-product of that would be not only that we were healthier, as the report proves, but that maybe we’d start to care a bit more where our meat comes from. Living where I do, in a farming community, and seeing the care and hard work that goes into rearing decent beef, it breaks my heart to think that the end result could be a plastic wrapped tray of two quid value mince.
What about you? Do you consider the health aspects when buying your meat? The welfare? Or is it purely down to price?
So I might have mentioned that, along with one child, the only other stuff I could bring when we set sail for the fair Emerald Isle was whatever I could fit in the car (oh, and the Cat of Death – but you’ve heard that story). We squeezed in a few pots and pans, my scales, some cups and plates, but not a great deal else. All the rest of it will be arriving with the shippers some time the week after next.
Tuesday night found us watching the Great British Bakeoff on BBC2, and drooling as they made pies. In between shouting at the telly (he’s his father’s son) about how pies SHOULD have a soggy bottom and that was the best bit and what did that old fart know about pies and WHO IS HE ANYWAY?, The Mad Professor got a bit misty eyed: ‘ooh’, he said, ‘I love pie, though…’. ‘Me too’, said the Death Wish Child, ‘remember the turkey and ham pie you did the day after Christmas? Lush.’
After drifting off into a bit of a pie-induced reverie for a couple of minutes, I decided that the next day I would cobble together a pie if it killed me, utensils or no utensils.
The next day dawned and I had a look in my somewhat bare cupboards and thought that maybe my wine-induced pie decision of last night was a little optimistic. The first thing that was lacking was a pie dish, but still, I grabbed a big Denby soup bowl and sure enough it was oven proof so that was fine. I also had my digital scales, a bowl and a glass to roll out the pastry. Done.
So I set to work. You can make yours much more attractive, I’m sure:
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 shallot, finely sliced
2 large free-range chicken breasts (or leftover turkey, if it’s Christmas)
Couple of slices of nice ham (not oddly wet plastic crap ham purleeese)
Dash of double cream
1/2 cup chicken stock (yes I had to use a mug, but use about 200-300ml)
For the pastry:
200g plain flour
100g butter, cold
So gently fry the shallot in the oil until translucent and add in your cubes of chicken breast. Fry until just coloured (remember it’ll cook properly in the oven), then add the ham (snipped into little pieces), season well (not too much salt – the ham’s salty) and then the splosh of cream. Pour in the stock and leave to bubble away and reduce. It could do with a handful of herbs really, but all I’ve got is nettles and I didn’t want to risk it.
Meanwhile, make the pastry. Add the cold, cubed butter to the flour…
… add in the salt, and then rub in the butter gently with just your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs:
Now add in a couple of tablespoons of cold water and bring it together so it forms a lump. If you’re a top and bottom lover like we are here at English Towers, use about two thirds for your base, and a third for the lid, otherwise make a really big pie lid, or save some for another day.
Chill the pastry for a little while (I can’t work with it when it’s too cold, but give it 20 minutes). Now I appreciate mine looked like a dog’s breakfast, but I did my best, pressing the pastry into the bowl and rolling a lid with a glass tumbler.
Remember to allow the chicken mixture to cool slightly before you pop it into your pastry dish and top with the lid. Once you’ve crimped it, trim round the edge with a knife – you might have enough left for some ridiculously simplistic lettering like mine. Pass swiftly on to the eggy wash department for a brush with beaten egg (nope, didn’t have a brush either) and pop in the oven for about half an hour at 180 degrees.
Eat, with grateful children, and be really smug that you can live without the contents of your kitchen for a couple of weeks (y’hear that shippers? A couple of weeks or I’m going to HUNT YOU DOWN). What? Oh nothing.
Easy peasy one, this. Tomato sauce forms the basis of a large number of our meals as it’s one thing that everyone really likes. I tend to buy the large jars of passata (sieved tomatoes) as de brevren are not over fond of lumps (insert your own joke here). You can use this sauce for masses of other things, or keep the chicken, ditch the paprika, and just serve with rice or potatoes. Oh and if you need more sauce, just bung in half a pint of chicken stock.
For the roasted veg, it goes without saying that you can use what you like. The lovely Poppy’s Mum dropped in a few courgettes from her garden, so I added those. Add in what you like, though.
2 or 3 courgettes
2 or 3 onions
1 or 2 red peppers
Handful of small tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
400ml chicken stock (or veg stock, if you’re preparing this for vegetarians)
To finish: chopped mint and a squeeze of lemon
First, then, just chop up the veg into evenly sized pieces (if you really want to, you can salt and drain the aubergine, but unless it’s a bit of a zeppelin, it shouldn’t be necessary). Tumble them all onto a nice big baking tray and sprinkle over the garlic, salt, pepper and oil.
Bake at 180/gas 4 until they’re soft and starting to char slightly at the edges – about 30 minutes should do it.
While they’re roasting, make the chicken.
1 medium onion
1 pack free range chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
1 tsp paprika
1 large pinch ground cumin (pinch of dried chilli is quite nice too)
1/2 jar tomato passata (about 340g) – or just use a tin of tomatoes
Large pinch sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
So just dice the onion and fry in a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil until it starts to become translucent. Now add in the chicken and fry until there’s no raw bits visible and it’s all white.
Sprinkle over a large pinch of salt and the teaspoon of paprika. Add the pinch of cumin (and chilli if using) and stir all together.
Now pour over the tomato passata and add the sugar. Stir well, then pop on a lid and leave on a low heat and get on with the couscous.
Just measure the couscous out in a large heat-proof bowl, pour over the hot chicken stock, cover with a plate and set aside for at least 5 minutes or until you’re ready.
When you’re ready to eat, just fork through the couscous to fluff it up a bit, then throw all the roasted veg (and any juice) in. Liven it up with a squeeze of lemon and scatter over the chopped mint.
Serve with the chicken and a cheeky dollop of hummus if it takes your fancy. I’m a bit cross with myself because I forgot to get a shot of the finished article, but hey, I was busy stuffing my face.
Note: a veggie friend of mine, the lovely @MmeGuillotine on Twitter has suggested substituting Halloumi for the chicken if you’re a veggie – sounds perfect.
Ooh I love the sunshine. One of the few downsides of living in Ireland was watching the weather forecast and seeing that our family at home in the south of England were enjoying weather a good 6 or 7 degrees warmer than us.
Happily, we’re now enjoying those extra degrees (interspersed with a few proper English days of torrential rain – just to keep us in our place), plus a few more it would seem. At the weekend I popped to the shops and picked up a couple of bottles of Rosé (bit of a must on a sunny day), plus one of those mixed packs of free range chicken pieces, some new potatoes and a few bits for a salad. It turned out to be such a yummy meal. And so easy too – all you’ll need is:
1 pack free range chicken drumsticks/thighs
1 bunch spring onions
2 garlic cloves, crushed with a little salt
An inch or two of fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp runny honey
4 tbsp soy sauce
Juice of 1 lemon (or a couple of limes)
1/2 chilli, deseeded and chopped, if you like
So just mix all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, and add the skinned chicken. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for about an hour.
Then, preheat your oven to 200 degrees/gas 6 (you can do this on the barbecue too) and pour the chicken and all the marinade into a baking dish. Bake for about 30 – 40 minutes, occasionally moving the chicken around and spooning some of the liquid over, until all the chicken is cooked through and lovely and sticky.
Meanwhile, boil the new potatoes with some mint, and leave to one side. When the chicken is ready, quickly toss the potatoes in a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise, some chopped mint and a few more chopped spring onions.
Add a big, fresh salad and a couple of glasses of chilled rosé and you’ve got the perfect summer dinner.
So during half term, my adorable twin niece and nephew, Miss Turtle and Mr Jackson came to stay with my two chisellers. We decided to have a blow-out junk food and video night and Turtle agreed to be my glamorous assistant, tearing herself away from her mobile phone and nail file (how the girl doesn’t have stumps for fingers the amount of filing she does, I’ll never know) for just long enough to knock up some yummy chicken burgers.
These burgers are a bit of a fave in our house. Not only are they really cheap, they’re very healthy too and there are endless variations. You can make little dinner party ones to serve with a nice Thai dipping sauce, you can make them into little meatballs and serve with a tomato sauce, or you can vary the flavours, say, with coriander or chilli…
Anyhoo, onto the main event. Firstly, you’ll need:
Breadcrumbs (I whizz 2 slices in the blender of doom)
1 onion, or a couple of spring onions
500g minced chicken or turkey
Firstly, then, your glamorous assistant needs to bung a couple of slices of slightly stale bread into the food processor (actually we’re using the blender – not that blender – because I broke my lovely braun Braun MR400 Plus Multiquick Handblender 300w with its handy little mini processor) until they’re fine crumbs. Put them in a bowl and leave to one side:
Next up, warn the aforementioned glamorous assistant about the perils of mixing fingers and blenders (she’s worn hers down enough as it is), then bung in the onion/spring onion and the egg. If you’re using anything else, like chilli or coriander, chuck it in now. Of course, if you don’t have an onion-phobic child and therefore don’t need to resort to this kind of stealth cookery, you could just chop them finely. Whizz until you get a strangely satisfying frothy green liquid and silently pray to the cocktail god that your next mojito won’t taste of spring onion:
Next, and this is the good bit, bung the green goo into the breadcrumbs and add the chicken mince. Season generously with salt and pepper, then roll up the sleeves of your glamorous assistant and set her to work squelching up the mixture (with clean hands and beautifully manicured nails) into an even paste:
When the mix is nicely combined, form it into about 6 patties, or smaller little cakes, or balls or whatever (and yes, they do have a slightly green tinge, but don’t let that put you off):
Put them on a non-stick tray (important that) and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 20 mins. The smaller ones will take less time, but make sure you check to see that they’re thoroughly cooked in the middle.
Now just assemble your burger. We used fresh crusty rolls and garnished our burgers with crunchy lettuce, grated cheese and a little spicy tomato salsa, but feel free to experiment.
Finally, we got out every single fattening thing we could find, including ice cream, whipped cream and a variety of chocolatey stuff, and set about having an ice-cream sundae competition (#1′s is the one that’s just a sundae dish full of chocolate):
And the winner is? Yup, you guessed it:
A funny thing happened on Friday afternoon. A chap knocked on the door and delivered an enormous wicker hamper, stuffed with every possible seasonal vegetable you can imagine. I was in the garden, and was, frankly, slightly confused when #2 came out to find me and declare that ‘some bloke just dropped off a big box of broccoli and stuff’. Anyhoo, it turned out not to be an anonymous food parcel from the locals, (bless ‘em, they’ve had to stand by, helpless, whilst witnessing my shambolic attempts at gardening), but a ‘Best in Season’ hamper from those lovely chaps at Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. So our weekend was full of absolutely yummy produce, all available right now in an Irish field near you (or a supermarket, if you’re lazy).
Saturday morning, we had a lovely big fry up, along with a huge stir-fry of big, fat tomatoes, lovely fresh mushrooms and some sliced red and yellow peppers. Saturday evening, we had a big pot of leek and potato soup, with some home made cheese bread, and today I set to work making the mother of all pies. So start with the filling then. You’ll need:
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, diced
4 chicken breasts
1 head of broccoli, split into florets (or 1 leek, which are also fabulous at the moment, sliced)
1 tbsp flour
300ml chicken stock
Slug of double cream
Grab a heavy-based casserole or frying pan, pour in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then throw in the carrot, onion and celery. Fry gently until the vegetables soften, then add in the cubed chicken breasts. A sprinkle of thyme would be lovely here, unfortunately I managed to kill mine. Season well and continue to fry until the chicken starts to go opaque (it doesn’t need to be cooked through), then sprinkle over the tablespoon of flour. Carry on stirring while you pour in the chicken stock and add in a big slug of double cream:
Now leave the chicken on a low heat to bubble gently and reduce a tiny bit while you quickly blanch some broccoli in some boiling salted water and make the pastry.
A Pastry Pep-talk
Now, I feel a little word about pastry is called for here. Let’s face it, pastry’s a pain in the arse. Frankly, EVERYONE is crap at pastry. It falls apart, or it’s too dry, or it sticks to the board… but that’s kind of the point: it’s supposed to look homemade, so if it’s a bit wonky, or you have to patch it or whatever, who cares? It’ll still be a pie that you made with your own fair hands, and infinitely the better for it. There. I’ll get off my soap box now.
There’s no big ‘secret’ to pastry making, although keeping everything cool and using a light touch definitely helps. For a basic shortcrust pastry ‘pie lid’, you’ll need:
115g plain flour
Pinch of salt
60g cold butter, cubed
Couple tbsp cold water
So weigh out the flour, add in a pinch of salt, then throw in the butter.
Now lightly, with just the very tips of your fingers, start to break up the lumps of butter, rubbing them gently into the flour until you get a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs:
Now, sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons of very cold water, and with a knife, start to bring the mixture together:
If it’s a little dry, sprinkle on a tiny bit more, until you can gently bring it together into a ball with your hands:
If you’re doing the pastry in advance, wrap it in clingfilm and leave it somewhere cool (I find it gets too hard in the fridge, but it’s up to you). Otherwise, sprinkle with a little more flour and roll out, turning 1/4 turn with each roll and making sure it’s not sticking, until it’s slightly bigger than your pie dish or casserole.
Back to the chicken, then. Now just drain the broccoli and add in to the chicken. Don’t worry if there seems to be a bit of excess liquid as some will disappear during cooking. Now just roll your pastry lid over your rolling pin and unroll it over the top of your pie. Because I’m lazy, and let’s face it, this is just home cooking, I just leave it in the casserole and fling the pastry lid on top, tucking over the edges, but if you’re entertaining or whatever, you can put the contents into a pie dish and neatly crimp the edges, brushing with a little milk to glaze the top.
And that’s it. Bung the pie in the oven at gas 4/180 for 20 – 30 minutes until it’s golden brown, and serve with more seasonal vegetables (we had honey roasted parsnips, carrots, peas and creamy mashed potato), then just sit back and bask in the glory especially reserved for people who make their own pies.
Go on, you deserve it.
PS: Big, huge thanks to Bord Bia for all my lovely fresh goodies. If you want to know what’s in season now, check out Best in Season for ideas, recipes, stuff for kids, and links to some rather fantastic food blogs *cough*.
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.
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*
I love baking. Especially a nice pie. Okay, so it’s a bit of a faff, but give it a try; it’s worth it for the wow factor when you cut it at the table. And you know what Oscar Wilde said: ‘one should try everything once. With the possible exceptions of incest and morris dancing’.
4 chicken breasts
500ml good chicken stock
Couple of stems of fresh thyme
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, sliced
Handful frozen peas
1 tsp butter and 1 tbs plain flour to thicken
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
So start with the chicken – get the stock bubbling away on the stove, snip the chicken into bite-sized cubes, and pop it into the stock along with the thyme, peppercorns, carrot and onion (I always leave onion in quite big pieces as #2 likes to irritate me by picking it out). I know you’d probably normally chuck thyme on top of roasting stuff, but trust me, it really adds a little something here. So leave the chicken to simmer away and get on with the pastry. You know my view on pastry – don’t ponce about, if you don’t like making it, just buy it, but if you’ve got a food processor, whizz the flour and butter together until breadcrumby, then just whizz in the egg and generous pinch of salt. When it starts to come together, squish it into a ball, then wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge.
When the chicken’s completely cooked through (probably 20 minutes, depending on your chunk sizes), fish it out and reserve it while you reduce the stock (make sure you fish out the thyme and peppercorns at this stage too). It would benefit from a splash of cream here (ooh, lovely with some sliced mushrooms…yum), but Hubby’s not a fan of creamy sauces so I left it out. If you like a thicker sauce, mush together a teaspoon of flour with the same amount of butter and whisk it in. Season to taste. Add back your chicken, along with the frozen peas, then turn it off while you roll out about 2/3 of your pastry and line your pie dish.
If you can be arsed, it really helps to blind bake the lined pie dish to stop your pie having a soggy bottom(altogether now ‘and nobody likes a soggy bottom’). Put some greaseproof paper loosely in the dish, then pour in some baking beans (or just any old dry beans) and bake it for about 15 minutes. Remove the beans and greaseproof paper, and brush with beaten egg to seal, returning to the oven for 5 minutes. But if you don’t want to, don’t bother; I won’t tell.
Now roll out the pastry lid, place it on top of the pie and crimp it artistically. Brush with beaten egg, then put the whole thing back in the oven until the top is golden brown. Remember you’re only cooking the lid really so 20 minutes should be fine.
It’s a standing joke in our house that #1 (aka A A Gill) will always find something not quite to his taste at the table. The roast potatoes are never quite as good as Auntie Jen’s (curse you, Jennifer, what the hell did you do to them?), the sauce will be a tad salty, the rhubarb a little too tart. All this will be commented upon whilst enormous quantities of the slightly sub-standard food are whooshed into his mouth, along with seconds, and often thirds. Still, nothing’s ever completely up to scratch. This one, though, actually shut him up. Yup, we all waited with baited breath, but no, not a single comment. Things must be looking up.
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*.
So you’ll like this. My car’s been knackered most of the week, so shopping has been a little difficult. Hence, an uninspiring bag of chicken breasts in the bottom of the fridge was all that greeted me yesterday, on a mission to prepare something yummy for Sunday lunch. More rummaging produced a ball of mozzarella, still in date, half a butternut squash and a couple of onions. Oh. Undaunted, I set to work and the result wasn’t half bad. Good enough, in fact, to share with you. Brace yourself:
Chicken with Tomato, Olives and Mozzarella
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 large onion, cut in half then finely sliced
6 chicken breasts cut in half, or this would be lovely with big fat pork chops
1 tin plum tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
Ball of buffalo mozzarella, torn into pieces
Couple of handfuls black olives, roughly chopped
So heat up the oil (I like a knob of butter in there too, it smells so nice) in a large, heavy-based casserole (oh, for Le Creuset’s new teal range – I love it so). Bung in your chicken breasts (or pork), season with salt and pepper and just brown on either side. Remove them from the pan and throw in your garlic and onions, frying until translucent. Put the chicken breasts back in, adding the olives and the tin of tomatoes. I quickly whizz the tomatoes with a handheld blender first, purely because #2 doesn’t like big lumps of tomato.
Quick moan here: buy a decent tin of whole plum tomatoes like Napoli or something. Don’t buy those dreadful tins of chopped tomatoes – they’re so watery and you want a nice velvety sauce with this.
Add about 1/2 pint of chicken stock (I’m certainly no stock snob, I just bung a cube into the empty tomato tin and fill up with boiling water), season again (I know, but it needs it), sprinkle over the sugar, then give it a stir, cover it and put into a moderate oven (180 degrees) for about 20 minutes (30 if you’ve got fat pork chops).
Just before serving, stir through the torn mozzarella and sprinkle over the basil. As you serve it, try not to get too cross at the big strings of mozzarella chewing gum that tangle across the plate. Slurp.
EDIT: I tried this recipe with lamb shanks tonight – increasing the cooking time to two hours and leaving out the mozzarella. It was incredibly nice.
So noodles then. Unfortunately with noodles, we’re a family at war. We all love them, but #2 likes stir fried chicken noodles with frozen peas (‘and NO juice’), #1 likes chilli, Hubby likes chilli and lots of soupy stock, I don’t mind chilli but prefer them with coconut milk… Oh the dilemma. This latest edition, then, is a kind of mixture of stuff that everyone likes. It went down quite well:
1 pack fine egg noodles
2 chicken breasts or some leftover chicken, shredded
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped, or 1 tsp chilli flakes
Juice of a lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce (Nam Pla)
2 tbsp brown sugar or honey
1/2 tin coconut milk
1 pack Pak Choi, sliced and washed (can be gritty)
Couple of spring onions, thinly sliced
To garnish: Salted peanuts, chopped coriander
So first boil up a big saucepan of salted water and chuck in your noodles. Mix up the marinade ingredients (don’t put the coconut milk in yet). Heat the oil in a wok and snip up your chicken breasts into strips. Bung them in along with the marinade (you can marinate it first but frankly I can’t be arsed unless I’m making kebabs with it).
Stir fry until the chicken’s cooked and the marinade is starting to reduce. Now add the coconut milk and your chopped spring onions and Pak Choi. Stir until it’s just wilted then drain your noodles and tip them into the wok, mixing them all in with the chicken and the sauce. Serve sprinkled with chopped salted peanuts and some coriander.
If you’re a fan of coconut milk, you can always add more (I would if it was just me). And if you are just marinating chicken to make kebabs or just to grill or whatever, bung the coconut milk in with the marinade. It’s yum scrum pig’s bum (bless my children and their wordy ways).
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!
There are some days when I practically sprint into the kitchen first thing in the morning, then have to be wrestled out again last thing at night. I’ll often be found in the nice, sunny spot at the kitchen table reading recipe books, or pottering about watering my herbs or baking something fattening. Today though, has not been a good day and the thought of making a roast dinner made me feel more ‘ugh’ than ‘wehay’. At my base level I’m a lazy cow and although I hesitate to call this a recipe exactly, it’s an easy way to get Sunday lunch on the table with very little effort (God I’m sounding all ‘Nigella Express’ – I’ll be pouting at the camera and licking my fingers next). I did cook a lemon drizzle cake for pudding, but that’s just because I’m greedy.
4 large chicken breasts
2 red onions
2 large parsnips/carrots/turnips/whatever
4 or 5 large baking potatoes
Couple of fat garlic cloves
Basically then, just peel the potatoes, parsnips and whatever other stuff you have lying around. Quarter the potatoes (or smaller if they’re enormous) and cut the other stuff into roughly the same sized chunks. Put them all in a large pan on the hob in some salted water and bring them to the boil. Meanwhile, get out a large baking tray and drizzle in a generous glug or two of oil before bunging in your chicken breasts, red onions, garlic cloves (don’t bother to peel them) and half the lemon (I used a whole one but the kids said it was too lemony). Leave this to one side until your veg has had time to parboil (about ten minutes), then throw it all in the baking dish, mixing it up with the chicken breasts, etc with a couple of wooden spoons.
Bung in the oven at 190 degrees (what’s that, gas 5?) for 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a serving dish, then put the tray on the hob, adding a pint of stock and a sprinkling of flour. Whisk and bubble until your gravy is slightly thickened then serve with the chicken and vegetables. Oh and frozen peas if you can be bothered. Bribe children to wash up and retire to sofa with crossword and stupid dog.
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.