30 April 2012

Tuna & Vegetable Lasagne - very definitely out of the ordinary!

Announcing ... hubby's truly spectacular Tuna & Vegetable Lasagne!

This recipe was dreamt up during our brainstorming session, last Monday.  Hubby had wanted to make a Lasagne since for ever and it just seemed that the time was right for the Lasagne, as we were having a bit of an Italian theme.

We picked a day when (we hoped!) we wouldn't have too much else on, so that he could give the recipe the time it required.  We didn't want him to be rushing the various stages, as when you're developing a recipe from scratch and without a recipe to follow, some times you need time in which to make changes.

As it was, he travelled through the various stages (starting in the morning, with the fennel sauce) without mishap or any changes to the original plan - and the end result was pretty darned exceptional.  It continued being exceptional the following day for lunch, too!

I'll pass you over to hubby now, so that he can talk you through the process :

As most people will already know, a classic Lasagne has several elements and cooking stages to tussle with.  These include making two sauces and then assembling with pasta sheets before smothering in cheese and then letting the oven do the rest.  In truth, one could pre-buy the sauces and then just put the thing together in a dish for a perfectly good Lasagne...but where's the fun in that eh?  This recipe adds a couple of extra tasks which aren't very taxing but do add a little to the time required.  For the sake of simplicity, I'll list all of the ingredients needed for all of the stages and then move on to the method.

TUNA & VEGETABLE LASAGNE    (serves 5-6)

Ingredients :

For the Tomato & Tuna Sauce

1 medium Onion (or three banana shallots), chopped small
1 clove Garlic, minced
2 Tbs Olive oil
1 Courgette, chopped to 1cm pieces
1 large Carrot, chopped to 1cm pieces
6 Asparagus stalks, tips removed, stems cut to 1cm pieces
185g Tin of tuna, in Water or Brine  (130g drained weight)
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
2 tbs Tomato Puree
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Basil
1/2 tsp Thyme
Dash of Worcester Sauce

For the Fennel Bechamel

1 Fennel (preferably with lots of the green frondy parts on top)
200ml good Vegetable stock  (I use Marigold stock powder)
75g Salted Butter
75g Plain Flour
2 pints semi skimmed Milk
Pinch of Nutmeg.

Additional Ingredients

1 pack Lasagne sheets
100g grated Cheddar Cheese
75g grated Parmesan

Method :

1.  Take the fennel and slice into thin strips, reserving the green frondy parts, and place in a small saucepan with the vegetable stock.  Simmer these together for ten minutes or until the fennel softens.  Drain the stock into a cup and set aside before using a hand blender to puree the softened fennel.  Put the fennel puree into a bowl and set aside.

2.  Melt the butter in a saucepan and then mix in the flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.  Take great care not to let the flour burn on the bottom of the pan or you'll have to start all over again.  A thick paste, called a roux, will quickly form in the pan.  Keep stirring for a few minutes to allow the flour to cook out before adding enough milk to loosen the roux.

3.  Keep adding more milk, little by little, making sure that it mixes in well, until you have a thick sauce.  At this stage it's probably best to switch to a balloon whisk as you continue to add more milk until the sauce gets to a nice consistency.  I aim for a bit thicker than double cream.  At this stage, season the sauce with salt (not too much, remember the butter was salted) pepper and a little grated nutmeg.  Now add the pureed fennel and the finely chopped green frondy parts.  Bear in mind, that the flour in the sauce will continue to cook and thicken throughout the whole process so you may need to readjust the consistency, by adding more milk, after adding the fennel puree.

4.  Taste to check the seasoning and add more if necessary, before setting the sauce aside. As a final point, I should mention that classic bechamel uses milk which had previously been infused with onion and cloves.  I elected not to use infused milk because I didn't want to lose the delicate flavour of the fennel.

Now go and have a nice cuppa.....your whisking arm will thank you for it.

5.  For the tomato sauce you will need firstly to par boil the carrots in just enough water to cover them until they are slightly tender before being set aside.  Keep the liquid that the carrots cooked in as this will be added to the tomato sauce, along with the fennel stock reserved earlier.

6.  Saute the onion and garlic gently in the olive oil until soft.  Add the herbs and cook for a minute or two before stirring in the tomato puree.  Allow this to cook for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes and the reserved cooking liquids from the fennel and the carrots.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the tomato sauce has thickened a little, before adding the courgette and asparagus.

7.  Cook through until the vegetables begin to feel tender and then stir in the drained tuna. After adding a dash of worcester sauce, check for seasoning and consistency, which should be a nice thick ragu-a-like, before adding the carrots and then taking the pan off the heat.

Both sauces should be allowed to cool a little before assembly, which goes  like this:

8.  Firstly place a thin layer of the bechamel on the bottom of the lasagne dish.  This layer is here purely to prevent the lasagne sheets from sticking to the bottom of the dish.  Now place a layer of lasagne sheets to cover the whole base of the dish and then top it with half of the tomato sauce.  Another layer of pasta is followed by a layer of bechamel, then pasta, then tomato, then pasta and finally a top layer of bechamel.

9.  The whole lasagne can now be put aside for cooking later in the day or frozen for cooking another time (allow an extra 45 mins in the oven if cooking from frozen).

10.  When ready to cook, sprinkle the grated cheddar evenly over the top and then the finely grated parmesan over that.  If cheese isn't really your thing (quelle horreur!) then the cheddar can be omitted....but definitely not the parmesan.

11.  Cook in the oven, preheated to 180c for 45 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through cooking.  When ready, remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 10-15 minutes. Ideally, lasagne should be served warm, rather than hot (oh, and the aroma generated will drive your family nuts....hehe).

Serve with your preference of salad.

29 April 2012

Honey Sauced Chicken - simply scrummy

Last Wednesday was a bit of a busy one for us, as we'd fixed to go over to my parents' place in Hampshire (just the next county - not a million miles away!) to collect their compost bin.  As they are getting on in years, Mum (the gardener of the family) has decided that the sheer muscle power required to distribute said compost is just too much for her.  She won't let my Dad do that job (quite rightly!) as he's waiting on heart surgery this year.  So, they had a lovely big compost bin - complete with trapdoor at the bottom for ease of access, going spare.

We had to pick a day when son & heir was at school, as we weren't sure whether we could get the bin and the boy in the back of the car at the same time!

So, off we went - and were treated to some completely gorgeous home made soup for lunch.  It was a bacon & celeriac soup which went down very well indeed - and I shall pick up the recipe for it next time we see them.

As a result of all this, I didn't want to be spending a lot of time thrashing around in the kitchen making dinner that night.  I had chosen a recipe from www.mmmcafe.blogspot.com for Honey Sauced Chicken.  Initially, I had thought I'd use the slow cooker (crockpot) method that she detailed - right up until I realised that our slow cooker was just way too big for the amount of sauce she was talking about using.  I'm quite sure it would have shrivelled up and died, over the course of the day.

So then, I thought I'd go down the oven cooking route that she had detailed, right up until it occurred to me that you want the chicken to be completely covered in the sauce mixture, which should be thick and shiny - almost a glaze.  I wasn't completely convinced that I could achieve that with it out of sight in the oven.

Which is why I went completely off piste with the recipe and cooked it on the hob - with tremendous results.

Cooked this way, it became one of my most favoured quick and easy "sit and put things in order into the pan, hey presto, dinner!" recipes.  Well, except for the sacrilege (put your fingers into your ears people) of microwaving some frozen special fried rice to go with it.  Oh, for goodness' sake!  Surely you're not telling me that you don't use convenience foods like that from time to time?  No?  Oh well, I must just be a failure then.  *chuckle*

I agree to some extent - and given another day when I hadn't been so busy during the day, I'd have cooked the special fried rice from scratch.  Feel free to do so, by all means!  However, on this day, I was jolly glad to just heat up some frozen versions.

Son & heir was incredibly suspicious about this recipe.  He was convinced we'd already tried it - and he didn't like it - but I know that he's thinking of a stir fried recipe from quite a while ago, that contained vinegar.  He seems pathologically averse to vinegar in all its guises, shapes and forms.  In fact, the only vinegary thing that he does like - to my knowledge - is pickled onions and then only really nice ones.  I thought that we should be okay with this recipe as it didn't contain vinegar (note the "didn't").  In fact, because of the rampant honey sweetness that was partly balanced by the saltiness of the soy sauce, yet had no sourness to help combat it, I included a little cider vinegar which helped no end.  He declared the recipe "okay", by which I take him to mean "I ate it, wouldn't want it again tomorrow".  Fair enough.

Both hubby and I absolutely loved this dish.  I would quite happily have it again tomorrow, given the chance - and can see it becoming a good fall-back recipe for when son & heir is away on sleepover.

Next time, I think I'll include some kind of vegetable matter with it - maybe some steamed Bok Choi, or something along those lines.  Something that makes it more of a complete meal, as I can't help but miss my vegetables!


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin slivers
sea salt & black pepper
quarter of a tsp of freshly ground black pepper
100ml of runny honey
50ml soy sauce
half a red onion, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp of tomato ketchup
1 tbsp of cider vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
a quarter of a tsp red chilli flakes.

Method :

1.  In a small bowl, combine the freshly ground black pepper, honey, soy sauce, tomato ketchup, cider vinegar, garlic and chilli flakes.  Stir to ensure everything is evenly mixed.

2.  Heat the oil in a wide bottomed frying pan, then add the onion.  Cook on a gentle to medium heat until softened but not coloured.

3.  Add the chicken.  Sprinkle with black pepper and fry on a high heat until obviously browning - not just changing from pink to white.  You will need to stir well, but also leave the chicken to sit and brown, then stir well again to prevent the onion from burning.

4.  Once browned well, add the sauce and again stir to combine.  Turn the heat down to  medium and allow the sauce to simmer and bubble, reducing as it goes.  Keep stirring the chicken to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan.

5.  Reduce the heat still further and allow the mixture to just chuckle gently in the pan until the sauce reaches a consistency that you are happy with.  Once the chicken is cooked through and tender, you can put a cover over the pan and turn the heat off while you get the rice onto the plates.


Printable version

Sausage & Saffron Risotto - a delicate delight!

I know you're all thinking "sausage risotto, delicate?".  I thought that, too.  I am very pleased to report that it was indeed delicate and - as with all risottos - warming, comforting and very very satisfying.

Now, as ever, I didn't make this one.  The Risotto Whiz - hubby - was in full charge of the stock pan and was seen to be standing at the cooker, muttering quietly and peering into the biggest of our saucepans, looking a little worried and more than a little mystified.

All of which was because, apparently, even though this recipe originates back to the Godfather of Italian cooking (alright, maybe not "the Godfather", but he's pretty old these days!), Antonio Carluccio, it all happened in a different order to risotto cooking as hubby knows it.  This is not a good thing, as it rocks a Risotto Whiz on his foundations and makes him mutter at his risotto.

However - and perhaps this only goes to prove what a true teacher Antonio Carluccio is - the risotto came together with no apparent evidence that it had been put together in a different order to the usual.  I think congratulations should also be sent hubby's way, that he didn't panic when he realised that things were happening differently in the recipe, but carried on stoically through to a delicious end result.  It would have been very easy to have panicked and trashed the lot, I'd have thought.

I'm afraid I still have a complaint about the sausages though.  We used Asda's "Extra Special" Traditional Pork Sausages, which are 90% pork.  Now you would think that they'd be lovely, wouldn't you?  For me, they were hard, dry and relatively tasteless.  Why the heck don't sausage makers include more sausage fat in their sausages?  Yes, I know, the fat is bad for you, blah, blah, blah - but it is where the FLAVOUR is!  For goodness' sake, there's no point in putting 90% meat into a sausage if you can't taste it!  Reduce the meat content a fraction and add a fraction more fat so that we can get back to the juicy sausage that bursts in your mouth with gorgeous porky flavour.  *sigh*  The majority of fat renders out of a well cooked sausage anyway, so there's really no problem.  These sausages were so lean that they hardly made any fat in the cooking and were hard, dry and relatively flavourless.

I'm sure that if it hadn't have been for the fact that they were broken into small pieces (so there was a greater surface area ratio going on when fried), accompanied by the saffron (which is relatively highly flavoured) and some very good chicken stock, the whole dish would have failed on the flavour front.

Even with the sausages doing their best to scupper the whole show, the risotto turned out to be delicately flavoured and gorgeous.  The luxuriousness of the saffron offset the ordinariness of the sausages, which coupled with the flavour of the white wine, parmesan and the good stock, combined in an excellent forkful of delightfully creamy, cheesy goodness.

Another example of how just a few ingredients can have such a terrific result.


Ingredients :

2.5 litres chicken stock
300g good pork sausages, stripped of their skins and broken into pieces
a good pinch of saffron threads
1 large onion, finely chopped
100g unsalted butter
100ml white wine
500g risotto rice
60g freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Method :

1.  Bring the stock to the boil and keep it simmering in a pot on the stove, next to where you are going to make the risotto.

2.  Toast the saffron strands in a dry pan for a few seconds, but be careful not to burn them.  Set them aside.

3.  In a large shallow pan, fry the onion in half the butter, then add the sausagemeat and cook for around 10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid any burning.

4.  Add the wine and let it evaporate for a couple of minutes, while you stir and deglaze the pan.

5.  Pour in the rice and stir to let it coat with the wine and butter mixture.  When it is starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, begin adding the hot stock in ladlefuls.  Start stirring and as soon as the first lot of liquid is absorbed, add some more - but not so much that the rice begins to drown.

6.  After some 10 minutes, add the saffron threads and some seasoning.  Continue with adding the stock and stirring until - after some 18-20 minutes - when you taste a grain of rice, it is al dente.

7.  Once the rice is ready, stir in the remaining butter and half the parmesan.

8.  Serve with the remainder of the parmesan for sprinkling to taste.

Printable version is here 


28 April 2012

Voting begins for the Sainsbury's "Best Family Blogger" Award

Vote, vote, vote! says the baby Stoat
Yes, folks, it's time to get your voting hat on and go and vote, vote, vote, like a baby stoat!

If you feel like supporting Rhubarb & Ginger in the quest to become one of the ten shortlisted blogs for the Sainsbury's Best Family Blogger Award, hie yourself along to this link where you'll be able to register your vote.

The ten shortlisted blogs get tickets to the Sainsbury's Jubilee Family Festival in Hyde Park, with the ultimate winner receiving an iPad3.  Exciting! 

27 April 2012

Tamil Coconut Chilli Chicken - a revelation!

Prior to cooking this recipe, I've not had a great deal of cause to pay much attention to the Tamil Nadu area of Southern India.  However, since tasting this amazingly gorgeous dish, I've been on a bit of a "seek and ye shall find" exercise.  So now I still don't know much about the place - as there is just so much to know - but I know a bit more than I did and can at least picture its wonderful carvings and temples!

I was attracted to this recipe because it struck me as having all the hallmarks of an interestingly flavoured dish as it contained chicken, onion, garlic, ginger, chilli etc., all the traditional base flavours to a curry.  However, thereafter it went off on a different tangent, involving black peppercorns, coconut milk and lime juice.  In fact, there was no mention of curry powder or curry leaves and although the spices included coriander, cumin and turmeric, it still wasn't saying "curry" to me.

In addition, the recipe spoke of using two tablespoonfuls of flour mixed with some of the coconut milk, as a thickener at the end of the dish's cooking time.  Well, of course, I've used flour as a thickener at the beginning of a recipe (as in a beef stew) for the same reason, plus I've used cornflour at the end of a recipe as a thickener (although I'm not keen on the texture of cornflour).  I was a bit concerned that the flour wouldn't cook out in the time it had available and the sauce would wind up being quite floury tasting.  However, it was quite the opposite.  The mix was bubbling away in the pan - quite obviously requiring thickening - and so (being on the cautious side) I added half the mixture and stirred like crazy.  Wowser - instant thickening.  I gave it a couple of minutes to cook out and tasted the sauce - as gorgeous as it had been and with no sign of any flouriness.  What magic was this?  As the sauce still wasn't thick enough, I added the last spoonful.  Again, instant thickening and no trace of flouriness.  Well.  You learn something new every day!

Now I've seen a technique where a very thick roux (just the butter/flour mixture - no milk) is made and stored in the fridge.  Pieces are broken off and used to thicken gravies and soups, so I assume this is very much along the same lines, except that the flour isn't cooked out until it hits the wet sauce.  In my head, this uncooked flour method shouldn't work - but it quite categorically did.  I've tucked the method behind my ear and shall try it out on other sauces that require thickening.  If it works on an assortment of different sauces, then it might be the key to hubby's "pond water" problem with sauces!

As for the method of making this wonderful revelation of a dish, it doesn't get a lot easier.  Hubby very kindly acted as my sous chef on the day, however, it really only requires you to chop three or four ingredients.  After that, it's just an assembly job accompanied by varying degrees of heat!  For me, that equates to a perfect recipe.  I'm not required to move around the kitchen much (as I can really only stand for 2-3 minutes at a time) and I can just park my chair by the cooker and get cracking.  Perfect.

Oh yes, there's a difference in the cooking method for the spices too.  Every other "curry type" dish I've made involved your frying off the onion, followed by the garlic and ginger, then adding the toasted spices, whatever meat you're using, followed by the liquid.  This one did everything the other way around!

You begin by toasting off the spices in a dry frying pan, which is usual, except for the fact that you include the ground turmeric - which has always previously been added at the stage when you add some liquid to the pan.  In this instance, the toasted turmeric changed colour to a much deeper gold and tasted amazing.  Cooking the onions in butter that is mixed with the toasted spices created such a mouthwatering aroma, too.  In fact, the dish just went on getting better and better the more stages you followed.

One point that is well worth making, is the decision to use butter, ghee or peanut oil.  I wound up using 50:50 butter and peanut oil.  I reckoned that the onions would be lovely cooked in butter and it would give the dish a nice richness.  After that, I used the peanut oil, which will give the dish a subtle sweetness and the nuttiness of the oil will only blend well with the coconut milk.

I was very curious as to how to the lime juice would interact with the sauce and - long before the lime juice was due to be added, I cheated and put a little sauce on a teaspoon, along with a teensy tiny bit of the lime juice.  Oh yes!  I understood where the entire dish was going, after that - and felt much more confident about it.

You know, there are recipes that are successful in that they deliver what you are anticipating.  Then there are recipes that are successful because everyone enjoys them.  Then, there are recipes that deliver something so delightfully surprising - and everyone loves it - that they just transcend successful.  This is one of those.  If you can cope with curry spices (and the dish wasn't so spicy hot, not even with black peppercorns, ginger and two green chillies in it.  Although, having said that, I only put 1 tsp of ginger in, as hubby can be sensitive to ginger), then please give this recipe a go.  I promise you, you won't regret it.


Ingredients :

4-6 tbsp butter or peanut oil (I used 50:50 butter and peanut oil)
2 onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
5 cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated (I used ready prepared ginger - 1tsp)
2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
3 skinless chicken breasts, diced into chunks
250ml boiling chicken stock or water
450ml canned coconut milk
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp plain flour
a large bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
Roasted spices:
1 tsp crushed dried chillies, bruised
1 tbsp coriander seeds, bruised
1 tsp black peppercorns, bruised
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp ground turmeric.

Method :
1.  To roast the spices, put the dried chillies, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds and turmeric in a dry frying pan and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until aromatic.
2.  Push the spices to one side.  Add a good knob of butter to the frying pan and as that melts, add the onions and sautĂ© for 4-5 minutes, mixing in the spices as you go.
3.  Add a little peanut oil to lubricate the mix, then add the garlic, ginger, the green chillies and the chicken. Stir-fry for about 8-10 minutes on a high heat - alternately stirring and resting to allow the chicken to brown - until the chicken is nicely golden.
4.  Put the flour into a small bowl and add around 5ml of the coconut milk to it.  Stir to make sure all the lumps are gone, then set aside.
5.  Add the stock and the bulk of the coconut milk to the pan.  Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about about 20-30 minutes, depending on how big you've cut the chicken.
6.  Stir in the lime juice, then add salt to taste.
7.  Stir a good teaspoonful of the flour mixture into the sauce and stir like crazy, increasing the heat if necessary, until the sauce thickens evenly.  If the sauce needs more thickening, just repeat with the remaining flour mixture.
8.  Stir in the chopped coriander leaves and serve with other Indian dishes such as coconut rice or chapatis.
Source: Chicken from Maryland to Kiev by Clare Ferguson (Ryland, Peters & Small)

Printable version here.

A "how to" guide : Roast Chicken with Lemon & Herbs

Hubby and I were pondering on what to have for Sunday lunch the other day, when it occurred to me that there has to be more than a few people out there who really don't know where to start with preparing a Sunday lunch.

This is why we thought we'd work our way through various Sunday roast joints over the course of the year and prepare a "how to" guide for them as we go.  I'll also include various vegetable side dishes such as roast potatoes etc. too.

So for those of you who know how to roast a chicken, don't think I'm patronising you.  This post is not for you.  ~wags finger~  For those of you who have found your way here to find out how to roast a chicken, read on!

Roasting a chicken is one of the easiest Sunday Roasts you can opt for.  Chickens are really quite forgiving things, so long as you don't leave them in the oven for way over the recommended time and dry them out - or alternatively, take them out too soon and serve pink chicken (which could land everyone up in hospital).  Undercooked chicken really is one of the most common causes of food poisoning - so it's worthwhile ensuring that your chicken is cooked through.  Once upon a time, you were told to pierce the meat of the thigh and observe the colour of the juice which emerged.  For me, this isn't a good enough test.  I much prefer to pull the whole leg away from the body and peer into the gap to see what colour the juices are.  If there is any slightest hint of pink - put it back in the oven for another 15 minutes.  If there is the slightest doubt as to whether there is pink there or not - put it back anyway.  You so don't want to be visiting A&E accompanied by a bucket.

I must say a few words about stuffing, as we're talking about food hygiene here.  If you're a novice at roasting a chicken, prepare your stuffing and cook it in a separate dish.  It tastes just as good and doesn't come complete with globby bits of cooked blood, the sight of which used to turn me over when I was a child - and doesn't do much for me now, either.

The difficulty with stuffing a chicken is that because the stuffing fills the body cavity, the hot air from the oven can't penetrate into the chicken so easily.  Hence, it takes a good half an hour longer to cook than an unstuffed bird would.  That half an hour can easily make the difference between a lovely juicy chicken dinner and some dried out chicken sawdust for dinner.  If you must put something inside your chicken, make it a couple of bay leaves, a small bouquet of herbs or a lemon.  Better still, why not make hubby's recipe below, which just can't help but be succulent and gorgeous!

Now then, let's assume you've roasted your chicken and had your roast dinner.  On your worktop sits the remains of the chicken, glowering at you.  Don't throw it in the bin!  Oh my heart is having palpitations at the very idea.  No, no, get yourself a bowl, a sharp knife, a freezer bag and maybe a dog bowl if you own a dog, plus some kitchen paper with which to wipe your hands.  Separate off any - and I'm talking any - meat from the carcass, to put in the bowl as even little tiny scraps of meat can go into a sandwich or into some soup.  Remember to look under the chicken, as there are two choice pads of meat to be found under there (known as the "oysters").  As you find pieces that you recoil at eating (such as skin), you have to decide whether to a) put them in the dog bowl, or b) put them into the freezer bag with any bones you come across.  Don't give the dog roast chicken bones (other than wing tips and the parson's nose) as they can splinter and damage your dog's throat and digestive tract.  That freezer bag full of bones and yukky bits can be hidden away in the fridge until the following day, when you can chop up a celery stick, an onion, a clove or two of garlic - and make some gorgeous chicken stock.

The bowl of leftover chicken can be used for a myriad of recipes - not just a sandwich or soup - such as Coronation Chicken, Chicken Wraps, Spicy Chicken Rice - the world is your leftover chicken oyster.

So, enough yapping about it, let's get on and make that roast chicken :


Ingredients for the herb butter :

60g salted butter at room temperature
6 Sage leaves
1 Sprig of Rosemary
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp Thyme
half tsp Chives
half clove Garlic

Simply mince the herbs and garlic as finely as possible before combining with the butter. Form the mixture into two patties, cover and chill slightly in the fridge, taking care not to let them get hard.

Ingredients for the Chicken :

1 Medium Chicken
Herb Butter
1 Lemon
2 Bay leaves
Salt and Pepper

Ingredients for the Gravy :

Chicken Juices
One and a half tablespoons plain flour
A splash of Sherry
150ml boiling water.

Method :

1.  Wash the chicken, inside and out under cold running water.  Pat dry with kitchen paper, then using your fingers, gently make a pocket over the chicken breast by easing the skin away from the meat.  Try to make the pocket as large as possible but take care not to tear the skin.  Insert the herb butter patties into the pocket, easing the butter as far over the breast as possible.

2.  Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice all over the skin on the chicken before inserting both halves and the two bay leaves into the chicken's cavity.  Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper but do salt the legs as this can make them dry.

3.  Place the chicken into a lightly oiled baking dish, cover with baking foil and then put into an oven, pre-heated to 180 degrees C.  Cook for 30 minutes before removing the foil and returning to the oven for a further 45 minutes (or more, depending on the size of the chicken).  During this second phase of cooking, baste the chicken every 15 minutes or so with the cooking juices.

4.  At the end of the cooking time, pull one of the thighs away from the body and check that the juices in the gap are running clear.  Any sign of pink and return the chicken to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Assuming all's well, take the chicken from the roasting dish, place on a carving board and cover with foil for ten minutes to rest.

5.  While the chicken is resting, spoon out the worst of the fat from the roasting dish, then place over a medium heat and bring the juices to a simmer.  Add a splash of sherry or white wine to deglaze the pan and then stir in one and a half tablespoons of plain flour.  Stir vigorously to remove any lumps and then add 100ml of water or chicken stock.  Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth before transferring to a small saucepan.  While simmering and stirring the gravy, add more water or stock until your preferred consistency is reached.  Season to taste and then pour into a warmed gravy dish.

6.  Carve and serve the chicken with a selection of vegetables and of course, Yorkshire puddings.  Stuffing can be prepared and cooked in a separate dish, if required.


24 April 2012

Pork chops with wine and garlic

Sounds a fairly innocuous type of title, doesn't it?  The end result is a very long way from being bland and uninteresting though - it most definitely registered with me as being total satisfaction on a plate.

It wasn't so much the enormity of the pork chop (which was fairly impressive), nor the rich flavour of the wine (which was very apparent) - it was the sheer depth of flavour involved in the sauce.  That sauce was just the embodiment of umami (which for those who may not know, is "savouriness" - one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty).

The sauce begins life with the flavour of the pork as it sears in the hot pan, then there's a soft roundness of well cooked garlic - both fried and poached, the red wine and hint of bay leaf, the beef stock (yes, beef!) and all brought together finally by a tablespoonful of balsamic vinegar and that last knob of butter.  Oh holy gravy, Batman, but it's good.

I still can't quite believe that those few ingredients made such a stellar sauce.

On the menu planning post when I first talked about this dish, I was a little bit concerned about the garlic, as I can be quite sensitive to raw garlic.  I had been a bit nonplussed by the sight of "18 cloves of garlic" in the ingredients list - but then realised that the original recipe fed 6 people, so promptly halved the quantities.  At 3 garlic cloves each, it doesn't seem quite so scary.

On the other hand, though, I was quite keen to use our lovely plump "jumbo" garlic that we'd picked up - quite by accident - recently.  As soon as the cloves went into the pan and began to soften and turn golden, I started to see where the whole garlic thing was going.  Once they are softened and golden, they are then poached in the red wine and stock until butter-soft.  There's no trace of raw garlic left, by then, just beautifully sweet, gentle garlic that went fantastically well with the baked Jelly potato I served it with.

Everybody loved this dish - even hubby, although he had some issues with the fluid nature of the sauce, preferring his sauces to be more robust in consistency.  Son and heir ate his way through his dinner uttering appreciative "mmmmn's" and "ooooh's" at appropriate moments.

As an easy to prepare meal for a special someone, or for a dinner party (perhaps not with a jacket potato though!), this one ticks all the boxes.

I'm not sure whether the recipe originated with www.tastykitchen.com or with The Pioneer Woman - but whoever it was, they deserve my applause and thanks!  Do, please, try this recipe.  It is honestly one of the best I've tried and if you're yearning for something that is really meaty and especially savoury, it will deliver that in spades!


Ingredients :

2 whole pork chops
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
9 peeled garlic cloves

1 glass red wine (standard wine glass size)
1 glass hot water
1 beef stock cube (I used oxo)
1 whole bay leaf
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp additional butter.

Method :

1.  Heat butter and oil in a wide-bottomed frying pan over a high heat.

2.  Pepper both sides of the pork chops (use salt only if you're using a low salt stock cube) and sear on both sides until they are nice and golden - about 2-3 minutes each side.  There is no need to completely cook the chops at this point).  Remove the chops and reserve somewhere to keep warm.

3.  Reduce the heat slightly, then add the garlic cloves.  Keep them moving so as not to burn, until they are golden and softened.

4.  Add the red wine and bay leaf.  Stir it around to de-glaze the pan and let it reduce, increasing the heat if necessary.  Continue to cook until the sauce is nice and thick.

5.  Add the water and crumble in the stock cube.  Mix well.

6.  Return the chops to the pan, getting as much of the meat to submerge as possible.  Allow the sauce to bubble around the chops until you are sure that the meat is on the verge of being cooked.

7.  Add the balsamic vinegar and shake the pan to distribute it evenly.  (It's almost impossible to stir, with the chops in there too!).  Cook until the chops are done.

8.  Remove the chops from the pan once more (keeping them warm) and let the sauce reduce further if needed, until it is rich and thick and the garlic is butter-soft.

9.  Add the final knob of butter and stir it in as it melts.  Season to taste and serve.


The family Eatwell brainstorm this week's menu plan

Hubby and I have decided that we seem to do quite well when we brainstorm the menu plan. What I mean by that is, we go through various recipes that I've collected and he's discovered via Pinterest and either develop them in ways to suit our tastes, or use them as inspiration to go completely off-piste and inevitably, come up with something completely different.  Quite apart from anything else, it's a nice way to spend a Monday morning.

Fascinating ... pray continue ..
I'm sat at my computer desk with my recipe folders spread out on the bed beside me, notepad and pen in hand.  Hubby, meanwhile, is on the other side of the bed fending off Jack Russells who want to join in the filing of last week's recipes.  In this way, we do lots of pondering, a little bit of arguing, a lot of discussing, some disagreeing and occasionally come up with a potentially brilliant idea.

This week's brilliant idea is a Tuna Lasagne - but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's have a look at the menu list for this week :

Tues : Sausage & Saffron Risotto
Weds : Honey sauced chicken with special fried rice
Thurs : Tuna Lasagne with green salad
Fri : Spring time Pasta and meatballs
Sat : Smokey chicken with warm corn & potato salad
Sun : Roast Pork Fillet with fennel, rhubarb sauce, butternut squash and petit pois
Mon : Eastern Spiced Chicken with chapatis.

That's an interesting list!

Tuesday's risotto is an Antonio Carluccio recipe that you can find here.  I suspect that, rather than follow it to the letter, hubby will freestyle a little here and there - but certainly, this is the base recipe.  Son and heir has been asking for another of hubby's risotto's for a few days now - so one involving sausage should go down very well.

We're going to be busy bunnies on Wednesday, as we have to pop over to my parents' place and collect a compost bin some time during the day.  As a result, the dinner that night has to be an easy one - and the Honey Sauced Chicken which hubby found via Pinterest on www.mmmcafe.blogspot.com is perfect for that.  It's a recipe that can be either made in the slow cooker or in the oven - and given that our slow cooker is so huge and I suspect the ingredients would rattle around in it, I've opted for the quicker oven method.

To make life that little bit easier, we've opted for some frozen Special Fried Rice to accompany it.  Well, it's quick and easier on me - and I suspect I'll probably be a bit tired by then!

Photo c/o www.fizzleout.com.au
Thursday is hubby's Tuna Lasagne.  He's got great plans for this one and will be making it from scratch, no jarred sauces or packet mixes - just fresh veggies and tuna from a tin.  You didn't think we could afford fresh tuna, did you?  *snort*  I wish!

Such a lot of Tuna Lasagne recipes that you see, don't seem to contain any vegetables at all.  Of course, there may well be a very good reason for that, but we were thinking down the "Mediterranean" route, so he'll be adding some courgette, asparagus and petit pois to the standard tomato, onion & carrot sauce.  I'm looking forward to it and reckon it'll be a meal all on its own, never mind the accompanying salad!

Friday is a lovely simple "variation on a meatball" pasta recipe, using a few ingredients cooked and presented simply.  The meatballs are going to be made from pork mince and I'm tempted to add a little fennel seeds to the mix.  The original recipe came from the BBC Good Food magazine, but it is available online here.  Having read the comments, I like the idea of cooking the pasta in stock - so will probably pinch that idea.  I'll bet a crunchy lettuce like Little Gem - sliced into ribbons - would be lovely added in at the last minute, to just wilt down into the sauce, too.

Saturday's Smokey chicken depends entirely upon whether we can source any Sweet Smoked Paprika in the meantime.  We've drawn a blank in both shops that we've looked in so far.  Having had a look at the comments on the original recipe here (which claim the chicken can come up bland), I reckon I'd be okay to use the Hot Smoked Paprika and just tone it down a little with some straight unsmoked paprika and seasoning.  I'd like to make this dish as I absolutely love cooking on the griddle pan and I've never cooked chicken on it before - just veggies - so it would be an education.  I absolutely love the sound of the warm new potato and corn salad too.  I'll try to get hold of some muddy Jersey Royals (rather than the bagged-up, all the flavour washed off them, type) for it, too - and the whole lot will be sat on top of a spinach-based salad that can wilt interestingly as the warmth penetrates it.  Yum!

We spent quite a bit of time discussing what sort of roast to have this coming Sunday.  Hubby has taken on the mantle of "Sunday Roast Chef" and (I think) is quite enjoying the new challenges this brings.  We were having trouble coming up with something suitably interesting, when bingo! I found the recipe for the Roast Pork Fillet with Fennel.  Don't tell him, sssshhh!, but the recipe originates from the Weightwatchers website!.

The recipe involves marinading the fillet in a combination of garlic, ginger, red thai curry paste, soy sauce, muscovado sugar and sesame oil - which sounds completely divine.  It is then roasted on a bed of sliced onion, fennel and red pepper - which also sounds gorgeous.

Ruby rhubarb - we've now got a Ruby 2 as well!
We decided on some spicy roasted Butternut squash pieces to go with it, as well as some petit pois for a little "green".  It then occurred to us that it would need a sauce or gravy of some kind.  Hubby has been keen to use Ruby (our rhubarb plant) in any and every way possible, this year - so decided to develop a suitably spiced rhubarb sauce (along the lines of a plum sauce), which I think sounds completely divine and suitably "off the wall" to appeal to my sense of the ridiculous.  Watch this space!

Monday seems to have become "curry day".  I suspect it is because curries tend not to use too many vegetables, which fits in perfectly with a Monday - being the last day before we shop next, when all the freshest salad and vegetables have been used up.  This one (which I have no idea where I found it) is an interesting lightly spiced chicken dish that uses toasted fennel, mustard and cumin seeds.  It also contains red kidney beans (substituted for black beans) and chick peas (love them!) and relies upon yoghurt for its thickening.  Having seen how brilliantly a couple of tablespoonfuls of plain flour mixed with "whatever you're making your sauce with" thickened the Tamil Coconut Chilli Chicken last night, I'll have some of that on hand too - just in case the sauce needs to be made a bit more robust! 

So there you are.  I'm very definitely looking forward to this week's menus!

As for additional cooks, well, we've got intentions of making a Rhubarb Chutney (just need to develop a recipe for it) and I'm getting nearer to making that cake.  I just need to decide what sort of cake!

Oh, incidentally - I made the Rhubarb & Strawberry Pie last Sunday - and I shall leave you with a photograph.  If you haven't made one, you just don't know what you're missing out on ....

23 April 2012

Salmon & Asparagus Quiche - glorious rich indulgence

Just about reaching the end of my brain's tether, I placed a fervent plea on Twitter for someone to think of something that I could make for dinner.  I had just the one day left to fill on my menu plan and couldn't think of anything.  Brain was a complete blank.

Loads of interesting suggestions came in, but unfortunately, I'd done a lot of those recipes only recently.  Then came a suggestion for a fish pie - which started the whole "moaning how fish is too expensive these days" rant off again.  However, the fish idea stuck in my head and I began to think along the lines of "making something that doesn't require much fish, but that is still fishy".  Hmmmn, now that's not easy - because if something's got fish in it, then my chaps like it to have a LOT of fish in it, not just a token bit here and there.

One of the best ways I've discovered lately, of using up just a little bit of something, is to include it in a tart.  I didn't much fancy a puff pastry tart, though.  We've had a few of those recently.  What about a quiche , though?  Haven't made one of those for ages!

What fish goes well in a quiche?  Smoked haddock.  Yes, it's an idea - but any other, better, ideas?  What about salmon?  Ah, now you're talking (or thinking) - but how much would you need, for a quiche?  Cue firing up the old computer and looking at a few recipes for quiches involving salmon - whereupon I found a recipe from Simon Rimmer on bbc.co.uk/food which sounded lovely.  Now that only required 200g of salmon - which should be infinitely affordable.  Off I went to consult Asda online.  It turned out that they do a little "microwave in the bag" portion of fresh, lightly smoked, salmon for £1.28 for 105g, so two of those would cost £2.56.  Except, at the time, they had them on rollback (reduced price) for £1 each.  Perfect!  A 220g piece of fillet would have cost me £3.48 - so it was a real bargain.

I liked the idea of asparagus with the quiche too, as the English asparagus is just hitting the shops - and English is by far and away the nicer of all the types available.

So there we are -  had my "fish thing" all planned out, with help from Twitter.

However, upon reading through the recipe, I noticed a couple of inconsistencies in the ingredients list.  It included "1 tsp chilli flakes" and "1 lemon, juiced and zested".  Strewth, on both counts!  One whole teaspoonful of chilli flakes would blow your head off - and the other ingredients were so subtle and delicate!  No, no - it can't be right.  The same goes for the quantity of lemon, too.  I could see how a hint of lemon on the fish would be lovely, but a whole lemon zested and juiced?  Surely not!

Now I do know that Simon Rimmer - bless his heart - can come up with some radical and "out there" flavour combinations sometimes.  In fact, this is a rare beast in that it is a Simon Rimmer recipe (seriously tweaked) that worked.

With the best will in the world, I couldn't put an entire teaspoonful of chilli flakes into such a rich and delicate flavoured quiche - so I didn't.  Nor could I stamp all over the flavour of the asparagus, cream and nutmeg, by including a whole lemon - and I was right.  I included the zest from a quarter of a lemon, which was quite enough to provide a hint of lemon whenever you encountered a piece of fish, yet not enough to overpower anything.  Son & heir thought that the lemon was too obvious, even so.  It's just as well I didn't trust the recipe, or it would have been inedible.  (By us, anyway!).

As it turned out, this tweaked recipe proved to be a deliciously rich and indulgent quiche.  The lightly smoked salmon cooked perfectly and the blanched asparagus was a lovely foil for it.  The hint of lemon just lifted the earthiness of the salmon flavour and saved the quiche from becoming too heavy.

I served the quiche with a tomato salad made with a selection of tomatoes, red onion, cucumber and beetroot for those who like them.

This would be a terrific recipe to make to take with you to a family gathering, a barbecue or a church supper.  It would travel well and be suitably "special" so as to make everyone feel a little bit spoiled.  Which isn't a bad achievement, for a little quiche!


Ingredients :

200g shortcrust pastry (separated into two halves)
1 egg for the pastry, plus 3 eggs for the filling
200ml double cream
pinch of nutmeg
200g lightly smoked salmon
200g asparagus spears, cut into quarters

half a red onion, chopped finely
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
a quarter of a lemon, zested
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas4.

2.  Take a large saucepan and fill it a third full with water.  Add a large pinch of salt and put it on the heat to boil.  Once boiling, add the asparagus pieces and cook for 3 minutes.  Drain and add to iced water to stop the cooking process and retain the lovely green colour.  Once cool, set aside.

3.  Roll out one half of the pastry and line an 8" flan dish.  Trim to size.  Line the pastry with baking parchment and cover with baking beans.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

4.  Separate the egg yolk from the white and retain the yolk in a small dish.  When the pastry comes out of the oven, remove the baking beans somewhere to cool and then paint the inside of the pastry case with the egg yolk.   Place back in the oven to cook for a further 10 minutes.  This, effectively, seals the pastry case and prevents the liquid filling escaping or turning the bottom layer of pastry soggy.

5.  Reduce the oven temperature to 150degC/300degF/Gas 2.

6.  In the meantime, prepare the ingredients for the filling. 

7.  Take the fish and cut into delicate bite sized pieces, then mix with the lemon zest.

8.  In a bowl, combine the cream, nutmeg and seasoning, but don't add the eggs until the pastry case comes out of the oven or the salt will begin to break down the structure of the egg and you will lose the lovely thickness of the filling.

9.  Sprinkle the fish over the base of the pastry case, followed by the asparagus pieces, taking care to make sure they are evenly placed.

10.  Add the eggs to the cream mixture and mix with a balloon whisk until you are satisfied that the egg is incorporated evenly.  Gently pour the mixture over the fish and asparagus, taking care not to disturb the placing.

11.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set.  Remove from the oven when there is a slight wobble in the centre of the filling and leave to cool, whereupon it will set completely.

Serve with a tomato salad.

22 April 2012

Potato, cheese & leek "Pie"

Absolutely the first thing to be said about this dish, is that is quite categorically is NOT a "pie".  Not in the commonly understood definition of a pie, anyway.

I can quite understand the difficulty over what to call it, however.  It is, after all, just mashed potato, layered with buttered leek, covered with grated cheddar cheese and a decorative sliced tomato.  Everything that describes it better, sounds too "clunky".  Baked cheesy leek potato, sounds like a baked (or jacket) potato.  Baked mashed potato with cheese & leek doesn't sound appealing enough.  Cheese & leek baked mashed potato is the closest I could get - but it's still not great.

What we need, is a name all of its own.  Like "Cullen Skink", or "Kedgeree", or "Spotted Dick".  I know what hubby would want to call it, but we won't go there, okay?  Maybe Solanum Cheesyleeks?  (Solanum being part of Solanum Tuberosum - the species from which all cultivated potatoes originate).

Fresh from the oven and ready to serve

Oh well, whatever you decide to call it - so long as you really like mashed potatoes - it is indulgently delicious and reminiscent of the sort of thing your Mum would make for your evening meal when you were a child.  In fact, my Mum was always very aware of our waistlines and didn't cook anything like this dish - but my Aunty Renee would and it made visiting her house even more of a treat.

I will admit, in my own defence, that when I saw the picture of this dish my saliva glands went into overdrive but I didn't realise that it was simply mashed potato with extra goodies and baked.  I believed, erroneously as it turned out, that it was a mashed potato topped pie.  Even when I got my sweaty paws on the recipe, I still didn't twig.

However, when I sat and read the recipe just before I made the dish, I had a sinking feeling where hubby was concerned.  His dislike for all things potato is well known, but I hoped that the reputation of the Jelly potato would assist in making the whole thing more acceptable for him.  Well, it made it edible - but it didn't make it enjoyable for him.

Son and heir and myself, however, well we were in little mashed potato heaven.  If you add to that the feeling of intense satisfaction that copious quantities of Springfield (our local butcher) bacon brings about - and you've got a picture of what we felt about the entire meal.

That bacon is the very epitome of fab'lous, dahlink.  Yes, it does contain an element of water (although it didn't up until very recently), but the very size and thickness of each rasher is sufficient that it balances against the water content and, when grilled, the water evaporates very quickly.  It's the flavour that sets this bacon apart from all others.  Supermarket bacon just doesn't taste the way Springfield's bacon does.  Full flavoured, deliciously smokey and with just enough salt, it is the perfect bacon for a butty - or to serve with Potato, cheese & leek pie.

Where simplicity is concerned, this is about as simple as you could ask for.  You even get a chance to do the washing up that you've created, as the pie heats through in the oven.  However, it is strictly for mashed potato lovers.  I can verify that the leftovers, cold the next day with a couple of slices of ham, were almost better than the heated original.  That's how much I loved it.


Ingredients :

4 medium to large mashing potatoes (Jelly is a great variety - available from Tesco), peeled and quartered
2 knobs of butter
2 tbsp milk
a medium sized leek, trimmed & washed, halved and sliced
a ridiculously enormous pile of grated mature cheddar cheese (approx 150-200g) divided into two thirds and a third
a vine ripened tomato, sliced
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas4.

2.  Taking a large saucepan, half fill with water and bring to the boil.  Add some salt, then add the potatoes and cook until they drop easily from the point of a knife.  Drain well.

3.  Add one knob of butter and the milk, plus a little seasoning and mash well.

4.  While the potatoes are still hot, add two thirds of the cheese and fork through until it has melted.

5.  While the potatoes were cooking, melt the other knob of butter in a frying pan and gently cook the leek, without browning.  Once the leeks are soft, set aside.

6.  Take a standard 8" pie dish and pat one third of the potatoes into the bottom.  Spread with a half of the leek mixture, then pat a second third of the potatoes on top.

7.  Again, spread with the leek mixture and pat the remaining third of the potatoes over, this time fluffing up the surface so that it catches the melted cheese, to hold it and prevent it overflowing the edges.  Sprinkle the potato with the remainder of the cheese and arrange the tomato slices in a pretty pattern.

8.  Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the cheese has melted and browned slightly.

Serve with rashers of bacon and garden peas. 
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