9 March 2016

Chicken, mushroom & black garlic puff pastry slices - it's British Pie Week!

Now you all know, I'm sure, what a big fan I am of comfort food.  Well, when Jus-Rol (the ready made/ready rolled pastry people) got in touch with me and suggested I might like to create something to honour British Pie Week (which is their very own confection and hooray to them for it), of course I said a big "yes please!".

If you're still in the dark as to what British Pie Week is all about (not that it's likely, but just in case), Jus-Rol have a web page to answer all your questions at http://jusrol.co.uk/british-pie-week/.

I'm quite proud to say that I have been getting along quite well with making my own pastry just lately, however, there's no way on this earth I shall ever be making my own puff pastry.  It just seems like a strange kind of torture, when Jus-Rol make such a good ready made version!  It rises beautifully into deliciously light, crisp and airy flakes of golden loveliness, I am quite sure I couldn't compete - so I don't - and that is why I chose to use puff pastry for my chicken, mushroom & black garlic slices.  The choice honours both British Pie Week and Jus-Rol's reliability where both quality and flavour are concerned.

Of course, you know what I'm like by now and making a simple pie was out of the question.  Far too predictable.  I tossed various recipe ideas around in my head, but kept on coming back to the savoury slice that was the first idea to surface.  They're basically hand held (well you can try!) savoury filled, small (well they were supposed to be small) pies that aren't pasties.  The pastry flakes so much, that I would suggest when eating al fresco that you make sure you're near a duck pond, as I am positive the ducks would very much enjoy the flaky fallout - which will be fairly considerable.  Oh - and don't attempt to eat one in a high wind or you may be left with a handful of filling as your pastry flies off into the wide blue yonder.  Jus-Rol's puff pastry is REALLY puffy!

I would anticipate that just about everyone is familiar with the chicken & mushroom savoury slice.  Many have been consumed in moments of random onset hunger and they are one of the staples of supermarket pie & pastry sections.  However, you know what I'm like for wanting to give a bit of added value to my recipes and as Balsajo's black garlic is one of my new favourite things - and of course, it would be luscious with chicken and mushroom - I couldn't resist including it and hence the new chicken, mushroom & black garlic savoury slice was born.

Now if you haven't sampled black garlic, hie thee hence to your local supermarket and put that right.  Black garlic is ordinary garlic that has been aged by the use of heat and humidity until it becomes thoroughly blackened, incredibly sweet and balsamicky (is that a word?) and not like ordinary raw garlic at all.  It's just lovely and I have to resist eating it straight from the bulb, whenever I'm cooking with it.  Oh and interestingly, it doesn't set of my garlic sensitivity - which is great.

The filling for the slices might seem a bit of a faff to prepare, but in reality it couldn't be any easier.  It's simply a matter of a bit of a-chopping and a-peeling, heating up some stock and away we go with the frying pan.

It is very worthwhile making the filling several hours before you require it, so that it can cool right down.  Trying to fill puff pastry rectangles as they dissolve under a hot filling is nothing short of guaranteed disaster.  I know, I've tried it.  So don't do that - make it early and chill it down.  It's so much easier.

Also, please don't be put off at the thought of making the slices.  That doesn't get any easier either when you are using Jus-Rol's ready rolled puff pastry sheets.  Buy two, cut them into quarters and all the hard work has been done by the factory.  You can sit back and accept the admiration and appreciation of your audience, without ever having broken a sweat.  Perfect.

Now, I have a few Cook's Tips for you - it's been a while since any of those turned up, hasn't it!

Firstly, don't be tempted to add more vegetables than you need.  The slices are intended to be primarily chicken, not vegetable.  For instance, where the carrot is concerned, I say to use one small carrot, but in fact I used one third of a big donkey carrot as they have such a big carroty flavour.  However, it's entirely up to you, just keep it small.

If you have a bunch of celery to hand, dig out the small sticks from the centre of the bunch.  They are way more tender and sweet.

Now I know I've gone on rather about the black garlic, but in case you don't have any to hand, regular garlic will do just as nicely.  Finely chop one clove and add it along with the onions and bacon etc.   It will require more cooking than the black version.

Everyone might know this tip, but it's worth passing on just in case.  Whenever you are cutting puff pastry, make sure to cut directly vertically downwards.  Lift your knife and make the second cut and so on.  When you draw a knife through the pastry, it bends the layers and can make the rise uneven.

Lastly, when egg washing, remember to paint liberally with your egg wash and THEN cut the steam holes.  This prevents the holes from becoming clogged by cooked egg, which can make your slices burst at the seams.

I was so very pleased with the flavours.  The chicken is right up there - as it should be - and softly tender.  The mushroom has a definite presence, with the remainder of the vegetables acting as a harmonious choir in the background.  The black garlic is subtly sweet and adds delicious umami to the whole.  The pastry is light, crispy and tastes just great.  I'm only pleased that there's just three in this family and there are four slices. That's lunch tomorrow sorted, then.

So there you are.  No need to wait until next British Pie Week - get your slice on!


Ingredients :

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Knorr chicken stock pot
200ml hot water
1 tbsp olive oil
10g salted butter
half a medium onion, chopped finely
2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped finely
1 small carrot, diced finely
3" stick of celery, diced finely
half a tsp dried rosemary
sea salt & black pepper
1 mushroom, chopped finely plus 4 mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves of black garlic, chopped
1 heaped tbsp of plain flour
1 tbsp single cream
2 320g packs of Jus-Rol Puff pastry
1 beaten egg.

Method :

To make the filling, cut the two chicken breasts in half along their length, in order to reduce their thickness.

In a medium sized saucepan, add the water and chicken stock pot and heat until the stock pot has melted.  Add the chicken and poach until just done.  Remove the chicken to a bowl and reserve the stock.

In a frying pan, add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter is melted.

Add the onion, bacon, carrot, celery and chopped mushroom and fry over a moderate heat until softened but not coloured.   Add the rosemary and season with a pinch each of sea salt & black pepper.  Add the sliced mushrooms and black garlic and continue to fry until the mushrooms have softened slightly.

Sprinkle over the plain flour and stir in.  Reduce the heat under the pan, then add the reserved stock in small increments, stirring well in between each addition.  You are looking for a thick sauce that coats the vegetables to a dropping consistency, but not runny, so you may well have unused stock left over.

Take each piece of chicken and, with two forks, shred the meat.  Make sure to leave some of the chicken in small chunks, for texture.  Add them to the pan with the vegetables as you go.

Stir the chicken into the sauce and add the single cream.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Decant the filling into a bowl and refrigerate until perfectly cool.

Taking the two sheets of pastry, cut each into four equal sized rectangles.

Place two rectangles each onto baking trays that have been lined with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.  

Paint the edges of the four pastry rectangles with beaten egg, then pile a quarter of the chicken mixture into each of these rectangles, taking care to spread the filling evenly across each piece.

Take an unfilled rectangle of pastry and place it over the chicken mix, making sure that the edges meet evenly.  Press down lightly around the edges.  You may wish to just trim off the corners, to give a rounded appearance.  Crimp the edges together, or seal by pressing a fork into the pastry to leave a nice pattern.

Egg wash the tops of the four slices and don't forget to cut two little holes in the top to let the steam escape.  Decorate the tops with a light sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.

Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/gas 4 for 40-45 minutes, until the pastry is risen and evenly golden brown.

Serve with baby potatoes, vegetables of your choice and a yummy chicken gravy.

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3 March 2016

Pressure cooker poached quince - delightfully fudgy and exotic

A few days ago, hubby came home with two gorgeously voluptuous, golden and deliciously fragrant, huge quince.  He found them at our local ethnic shop and they are certainly a whole other story to our native English quinces!

I pondered, for a while, what to do with these two lovelies.  Hubby was keen to make a small batch jam with them, but I realised that he wouldn't have a chance to do that in the foreseeable future, purely from a time restriction point of view.  I have baked with our little English quinces in the past and wanted to do something different to that, so decided to just go ahead and plain old poach them.  We love poached pears, so I knew I was onto a good bet.

Some time last year, hubby made some wine with our home grown rhubarb.  He still has several bottles in the shed and when I was pondering what to include in the simple syrup, I was initially intending to include Marsala wine.  Right up until he cracked open a bottle of his rhubarb wine and I had a little taste.  Wow.  LOTS of alcohol, but behind that there's a lovely flavour.  Not particularly rhubarb, but a lovely flavour nonetheless.  So that was the wine component sorted.

As for additional flavours, well I knew that green cardamom was a definite.  I liked the slightly exotic, middle eastern kind of vibe that would fit well with the quince.  I was pondering other, similar, spices when I suddenly remembered the pomegranate molasses I had in the cupboard.  That would continue the theme perfectly!

The quince can be quite a challenge to peel and core - I recommend having both a sharp peeler and knife!  Just take your time and make sure not to let either gadget slip, as the fruit will change colour to a rich amber without the addition of your blood to help it on its way!

Make sure to put the peeled and cored pieces into some acidulated water, to prevent them discolouring.  I simply filled a bowl with cold water and added half a lemon's worth or slices and juice.  Cut each quince into quarters.  Two quarters makes for a perfect dessert serving, accompanied by some cream or Greek yoghurt.

Once the fruit is prepared, combine all the other ingredients in the pressure cooker.  Once they are nicely mixed and the sugar has dissolved, add the quince pieces and on goes the lid.

Bring the pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for around 20 minutes if the quince is quite ripe, slightly longer if it appears to be a little under-ripe.

At the end of the cooking time, I removed the quince pieces and the cardamom pods and boiled the remaining liquor until it had taken on a lovely syrupy sheen and had reduced by a little more than half.  Taste it as it reduces, then you'll know when to stop concentrating the flavours.  Pour the syrup on top of the fruit and cardamom and leave to cool.  The cardamom will continue to infuse into the syrup until such time as you are ready to serve.

I served ours with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt and it was utterly divine.  The fruit takes on a beautiful deep amber colour and has the consistency of a good clotted cream fudge, but with a slight graininess that is reminiscent of pears.  The flavour is just so good.  Intensely fruity, with a slight toffeeness and that gorgeous botanical, floral bouquet.  My son described it well, in that it tastes like Witch Hazel smells.

I've got one half quince left, which I'm intending on including in some chocolate fruit baskets for a sweet choice as part of an afternoon tea.  If it works well, I'll add it on to the blog!


Ingredients :

2 large ripe quinces, peeled, cored and quartered
250ml sweet white wine
500ml warm water
40g granulated sugar
5 whole cardamom pods
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses.

Method :

Having peeled, cored and quartered the quinces, make sure to place them into acidulated water as you go, so as to prevent them from discolouring.

Mix all the remaining ingredients together in the pressure cooker, ensuring that the sugar has all dissolved.

Add the quince and place the lid onto the pressure cooker.

Bring up to pressure, then reduce the heat to just enough to keep the pressure constant.

Cook for some 20 minutes for ripe fruit, slightly longer for fruit that is not so ripe.

De-pressurise the cooker gently and remove the lid.

Test the fruit, which should be soft but still holding together.

Remove the fruit using a slotted spoon and place into a bowl.  Remove the cardamom pods and include them in the bowl with the fruit.

Bring the cooking liquor up to a lively boil and cook until it is reduced by at least half and becomes syrupy.  Taste the liquor before you begin to reduce it, then as it reduces, so that you will be able to choose when to stop the reduction.

Pour the syrup over the fruit and spice and leave to cool.  The cardamom will continue to infuse the syrup with flavour, so it is up to you when you decide to remove the pods.

Serve at room temperature, with cream or Greek yoghurt.

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28 February 2016

Caraway & Lemon Sponge Cake - deliciously light as a feather!

I can't remember why I suddenly had a notion to make a caraway seed cake, all I know is that I'd been trying to make one for the last week or so.  Well, when I say "trying to" what I mean is trying to find time, rather than trying to and failing in a welter of eggs, butter and flour!

It has been an absolute dog's age since I last made a caraway seed cake and I recall the last one was very successful.  I've used caraway in various savoury recipes (braised red cabbage, that sort of thing) and had plenty to call upon in the cupboard - which always helps.

So this cake is actually a collaboration between Saint Delia Smith of hallowed baking and cooking fame and myself.  You see, I took Delia's Caraway Seed Cake recipe (just click on the link to see it) and adapted it with somewhat spectacular results.  It's often an extremely dodgy thing to do, adapting something like a cake recipe, but I've always been a tryer.

Because I'm me, I just had to consider a bit of a spin on an old favourite and decided to pair lemon up with the caraway.  It seemed to me to be a compatible pairing.  Delia's recipe uses ground almond and I didn't want that, so out that went and I simply replaced it with the same amount of flour.  To up the lemon influence, I added a small amount of lemon essence along with the lemon zest.

Oh boy, what a team we make, Delia and I.  The cake baked well, rose beautifully and smelled divine.

The addition of the lemon juice drizzle icing is perfect in that it adds a yummy zing to the cake and the caraway comes in once the lemon calms down, adding a deliciously warm aromatic element to the flavour.

The texture of the cake is just perfect, if I say so myself.  Light as a proverbial feather, it dances across your tongue like a deliciously cakey zephyr, leaving mouthwatering lemon and comforting caraway flavours.  Mmmmmn, get the kettle on Mother, I'll cut us another slice!


Ingredients :

225g self raising flour

175g salted butter at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
3 rounded tsp caraway seeds
zest of 1 lemon
half a tsp of lemon essence
3 large eggs
4 tbsp milk (I used skimmed goat milk).

For the icing :

3 tbsp icing sugar
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half a lemon.

Method :

Pre-heat the oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.

Prepare a 2lb loaf tin by lining with either a pre-formed tin liner or with baking parchment.

Take a large mixing bowl and add all the cake ingredients (not the icing ingredients!).

Now, using an electric hand whisk, mix the lot up until you have a smooth, creamy consistency.  It really is as easy as that.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.  Take a moment to level the surface to achieve a more even bake.

Place into the oven on a low shelf for 60-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  It will be worthwhile checking the cake at around 40 minutes and placing some baking parchment over the top (we know this as "putting a hat on it!") if the cake looks particularly brown.

Once done, let the cake cool in the tin for some 10 minutes, then remove onto a cooling rack.

Once the cake is cool, mix together the icing ingredients in a small bowl and drizzle the icing over the top of the cake.  Allow some time for the icing to dry - and tuck in!

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20 January 2016

Turkey and apple curry - a variation upon a theme

If, perhaps, you have come here via the Recipe Index page of this blog, you may well have noticed that I have two recipes for turkey curry.  This is owing to the fact that today I decided to make the already existing, part Marco Pierre White, part my own, authored curry - but it turned into something else.  Oh it is still very much a curry - but a very different tasting one to the original.

This one is sharper, more zesty, with a smoother coconut flavour and without the butter or cream.  So, potentially, better for you I suppose!

I also started off differently, using raw turkey breast (which is enticingly priced in the shops, at the moment) instead of Christmas roast turkey leftovers.  I think I sort of freestyled thereafter!

I thoroughly enjoyed the lighter nature of this curry and the menfolk all cleared their plates, so they obviously agreed.

All I can suggest, when trying to decide between the two curries, is to look at each recipe's ingredients list and decide which one you like the look of the most.  Or alternatively, which one you already have the most ingredients for!


Ingredients :

2 tbsp sunflower, peanut or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 sweet white onion, cut into large chunks
2 big fat cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 red chilli, chopped finely and de-seeded if you prefer your curry milder
half a tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of sea salt (use smoked if you've got it)
500g raw turkey breast, cut into bite sized chunks
1 Braeburn (or similarly tart) apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 large tomato, diced
3 tbsp Patak's Korma curry paste
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 Knorr chicken stock pot (a chicken stock cube will do, but the more chickeny the better)
2-300ml water
1 good tbsp of lemon juice
1 tsp ground turmeric
30g creamed coconut
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander.

Method :

In a large, deep frying pan, heat the oil until a piece of onion will sizzle.  Add the onions, garlic and chilli and fry for 10-15 minutes over a moderate heat until the onions are beginning to turn golden.  Keep the contents of the pan moving, so as to prevent the garlic from burning.

Add the cinnamon and sea salt part way through the frying.

Push the onion mixture to the side of the pan, add a little more oil and increase the heat.  Add the turkey breast pieces to the empty side of the pan and fry until golden on at least three sides.  Mix the onions in with the turkey.

Reduce the heat back to moderate and add the apple and tomato and cook on for a few moments.

Add the curry paste and tomato puree and stir through.  Continue to fry and stir until you can see the oil beginning to separate.

Add the chicken stock pot (minus its pot, obviously), water, lemon juice and ground turmeric and stir gently through.  Allow the mixture to simmer - stirring regularly to prevent the curry catching on the bottom of the pan - for a good 15-20 minutes.  Keep your eye on the fluid levels, you should be aiming for a slightly wetter mix than you would want to serve.

Finally, add the creamed coconut and chopped coriander and stir through.  The sauce will thicken as the coconut cooks, you can add more water if it becomes too stiff.  Once the sauce is at your preferred texture, your curry is ready to serve.

Serve with hot white basmati rice and a sprinkle of chopped coriander as garnish.

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18 January 2016

Chicken La Mancha - well this is something different!

I have no compunction in owning up to the fact that the original recipe for this truly wonderful dish, came from my favourite BBC Good Food website, here.  However, don't think that I'm stealing their thunder, because although I did make some slight changes to the recipe, that's not the reason why I'm recording it here.

I'm recording my "adjusted" recipe here because it was so flipping good, I don't want to lose it!  You know what websites are like - they can up and disappear overnight - and I'd hate to lose this one.

Now this recipe really is something a little bit different.  It is basically a Spanish sweet and sour chicken recipe - but don't think oriental at all.  Instead think saffron, orange juice, chilli and olives.  It also has the benefit of not involving any sweet peppers at all.  Not that I have a problem with sweet peppers, it just makes a pleasant change to not have to put them into something "Spanish".   What makes it "sweet and sour" is the combination of sherry vinegar (my first time using that - and I love it!) and runny honey.  Now I will say, you do need to like saffron for this one.  Happily, I love it - it's by far and away my favourite of all the spices.  If you're going to be picky, then Spanish La Mancha Saffron is the best type to use for this recipe.  However, don't break your neck trying to find some - any old saffron is better than none, but do try to use the saffron threads rather than ground saffron.

The recipe is simplicity itself to both prepare for and make - it's another of my favourite "sit in one place and add ingredients to a pan in the right order" recipes.  I like those.

It is most important that you reduce the sauce down to a syrupy consistency.  It tastes good in the early, wetter, stage - but once you've reduced it down to being syrupy, my goodness but the flavour becomes so intense.  I had a hard job to not taste it too often!

The next time I make it, I may very well include some sliced mushrooms - so you'll see I've included them in the recipe.  The original recipe uses some toasted pine nuts and fresh coriander by way of garnish, however I didn't bother with either of these - I just sprinkled on some chopped parsley.

I served mine with plain white rice, but it could easily have taken some broccoli or green beans as a side dish, or been served with a side salad and some bread to mop up the sauce.

CHICKEN LA MANCHA   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

a large pinch of saffron (Spanish saffron, ideally)
½ chicken stock cube, crumbled into 100ml boiling water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1 red chilli, chopped and seeds removed if you prefer
2 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
half a tsp of ground cinnamon
150ml orange juice
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp clear honey
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 courgette, quartered and diced
4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
6 stoned green olives, halved
1 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish.

Method :

In a small bowl, add the saffron to the hot stock and leave to soak.

Heat the oil in a good sized frying pan and cook the onion, garlic and chilli until the onion is soft and just beginning to turn golden.

Push the onion mixture to one side of the pan and add the chicken. Cook on a fairly high heat for a few minutes until the chicken is browned all over.

Reduce the heat, add the cinnamon and stir through.

Add the saffron stock, orange juice, vinegar, honey, tomatoes, courgettes, olives and raisins. Increase the heat to bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for ten minutes or until the sauce is reduced and the chicken and vegetables are cooked through.

Serve with a scattering of chopped fresh parsley for garnish.

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