25 January 2013

Chillimage - hubby's photographic blog

Just 'cos I can, I thought I'd let you all know about hubby's new venture - a blog detailing his favourite photographic images, called Chillimage.

They are all his own work - photographs he's taken recently plus over recent years.

The blog is with Jux, which is very new - and is adapting and introducing new functions every day.  So if you can't find your way around it, or are confuddled by anything - either let me know here and we'll try to fix it for you, or hang on - because I'm sure they'll fix any problems as they go along.

It's a beautiful site, with beautiful pictures - including some of the food photographs from Rhubarb & Ginger.

https://chillibob.jux.com/ will find it!


23 January 2013

Pork tenderloin stuffed with sherry soaked prunes and chestnuts, in a mushroom cream sauce.

During our usual weekly board meeting (when we decide what to eat for the coming week), hubby stated that he had a fancy for roast pork for dinner on Sunday.  That caught my attention, as I love a good roast shoulder of pork (locally sourced in England of course) with a little bit of stuffing and apple sauce.

However, that wasn't what he had in mind.  His idea of "roast pork" is to roast a pork tenderloin.

Now you have to salt this preference with the knowledge of both his and son & heir's dislike of fat on meat.  For him, a shoulder of pork is full of (what he describes as) "globby bits" that at best just turn him right off and at worst make him want to heave.  For me, I can wade my way through any amount of said "globby bits" for some pork with lovely roasty flavour.  It's horses for courses - and as I'm in the minority, it is rare we ever have a piece of fatty pork as a Sunday roast.  However, any pork in a storm (see what I did, there?) is better than no pork at all.

During the week, I started to think about how I could make this dull as ditchwater piece of pork interesting.  Oh come on.  I know that a pork tenderloin is lovely and lean with no "globby bits" and a gentle flavour, but you have to agree with me surely - it's a bit incredibly dull as just roast pork.

It took two days (no, seriously - two days!) before I had a sudden brainwave.  Stuff it, I thought.  No, not "stuff it" as in "oh forget about it, I just don't care any more", but "stuff it" as in "put stuffing inside it".  Aha!  I was onto a winner here.

I finally decided (having gone through many permutations of stuffing in my mind) that it would be good to use up some of the ingredients left over from Christmas, plus to capitalise on the pork's tendency to be rather sweet - but without overdoing it.

So I settled on using prunes and chestnuts.  Both would go well with pork and we had both of them in the house already.  Then, though, I had the most brilliant of brainwaves - why not soak the prunes in sherry?  Ho, yes!  I could use the remaining sherry to bolster the flavour of the mushroom sauce (which was also hubby's choice) and it would add another layer of flavour to the stuffing.

The tenderloin, all stuffed and ready for the oven
Quite by accident (and I don't mind admitting it), I discovered that leaving the prunes to soak for 24 hours is by far and away the better option.  I discovered this by running out of the will to live around about the time I should have been making dinner, on the Sunday.  So we ordered in a pizza and dinner got bumped over until Monday - by which time, the prunes were softly unctuous and gorgeous and I'd recovered.  Hence, if you can remember, do put them to soak with plenty of time to spare!  It's worth it, honest.

.... and all roasted, rested, carved and ready to eat!
The other little tip I have for you, is regarding the soaked porcini mushrooms.  When you take them out of their water to chop, try not to disturb the water too much.  That way, when you come to pouring the water into the sauce ingredients, any grit that has come from the mushrooms won't have been stirred up and wind up in your sauce.  Also, leave the very dregs in the bottom of the bowl - don't add them to your sauce, for the very same reason.  I think most people hate getting grit in between their teeth - and dentistry is terribly expensive these days - so it's worth doing.

Oh, and another point is to watch how much salt you use in seasoning.  It is very worthwhile getting to know how much salt is in a stock cube, so that you can allow for it when making your dishes.  I use all kinds of different stocks - home made, cubes, jelly and powder - and it can really affect the end result if there isn't enough - or even worse, there's too much - salt in the food.  In this instance, because it is difficult to find pork stock, I've used a Knorr Pork stock cube, which are fairly salty and don't come in the low salt variety.

So what did it taste like?

The sage & onion roast potatoes - simply scrumptious!
Well, the pork could have been a little more tender, but it was perfectly nice and very edible indeed.  The chestnut & prune stuffing worked perfectly.  The chestnuts gave that earthy nuttiness while the sherry soaked prune delivered a sweet, vaguely spicy edge to a perfect triumvirate of flavours.  With the sage and onion roast potatoes - which were also designed to match up with the pork flavour perfectly - and some fresh steamed vegetables all bathed in the beautifully intense and creamy sauce, it was heaven.

I might begin to alter my opinion of pork tenderloin, if it always tasted that good!


Ingredients :

10 or so prunes, halved
Medium sherry, enough to cover the prunes
2 tbsp of dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
4 medium Maris Piper potatoes, peeled, rinsed and cut into chunks of approx 1 inch
150g shallots, peeled, topped and tailed
1-2 tsp dried sage 
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
700g pork tenderloin, in one piece
10 or so chestnuts, sliced finely
a length of butcher's string
250g chestnut mushrooms
a pork stock cube, divided into 2 pieces
a knob of unsalted butter
1 tbsp mushroom ketchup (or Worcestershire sauce)
150ml double cream
3 heaped tsp Bisto Best pork gravy granules.

Method :

1.  The day before you are due to make the dish, place the halved prunes into a small bowl and pour in enough Sherry to just cover them.  Cover with a plate (not cling film - you want them to breathe a bit) and leave to absorb the sherry.

2.  Approximately an hour or so before you are due to make the dish, place the dried porcini mushrooms into another small bowl and cover with boiling water.  Cover with cling film and leave to soften.

3.  Place the potato pieces into a large bowl and add 1 tbsp of the oil.  Add all but one of the shallots.  Season well with sea salt & freshly ground black pepper and add the dried sage.  Toss with a spoon to ensure every piece is covered with both oil, herbs and seasoning.

4.  Pour out onto a roasting tray and arrange so that the shallots are in the centre of the tray, where they will be protected from the fiercest heat.

5.  Place on the top shelf of a pre-heated oven at 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for 30-35 minutes.  You may need to turn the roasting tray part way through cooking, for an even roast.  If the potatoes are cooking faster than the pork, it is possible to take them out of the oven and keep them warm (under the grill, in my case), then put them back in 10 minutes or so before the pork is due to finish, to crisp up.

6.  So, take the tenderloin and carefully trim away any gristle or fat.

7.  Carefully cut through from the side, so that you can stuff the tenderloin - but making sure not to perforate the other side with the knife.

8.  Lay on a layer of sliced chestnuts, then a layer of soaked prunes, then a final layer of sliced chestnuts.  Sprinkle with a tiny pinch of sea salt & a little black pepper.

9.  Take the piece of butcher's string and, starting at one end, loop it at intervals and pull tight to hold the stuffing in place.  Tie off at the opposite end.

10.  Place the tenderloin into a roasting tin and pour over one of the tbsp of oil.  Pour over the remaining sherry from the prunes.

11.  Take two or three of the chestnut mushrooms and chop into small pieces.  Sprinkle them on either side of the pork.

12.  Place half of the stock cube into 200ml of hot water and once dissolved, pour into the roasting dish, then cover lightly with silver foil and place into the oven on the lower shelf, for 30 minutes.

13.  Whilst the pork and potatoes are cooking, prepare the sauce by adding the knob of unsalted butter to a saucepan.  Melt it on a moderate heat and add the one shallot, which should have been chopped finely.  Cook until soft and transparent, but not in any way coloured.  

14.  Add the remainder of the mushrooms - including the drained porcini (but reserve the liquid).  Cook until the mushrooms are softened.

15.  Add 250ml of boiling water, the mushroom liquid and crumble the remaining half of the stock cube into the pan.  Add the mushroom ketchup and stir until the stock has dissolved and bring to a gentle boil.

16.  When the pork has had its 30 minutes, remove the covering silver foil and spoon the majority of the cooking juices (including the mushrooms) into the pan containing the sauce.

17.  Replace the pork back into the oven for another 10 minutes, to gain a bit of colour.

18.  Remove from the oven and cover with silver foil, to rest.

19.  Continue to cook the sauce until it has reduced by almost half and the flavours have intensified to the point where you're thinking that it is really too intense.  Add the double cream and stir through.  Taste for seasoning - you're more likely to need pepper than salt, as the stock cube will probably have been salty.

20.  Before the sauce has time to heat back up, add the gravy granules and stir to combine.  As the sauce heats through, the granules will cause it to thicken and put a bit of an edge back into the flavour.  Set aside to keep warm while you serve.

Serve the pork sliced, with the sauce, roast potatoes and a selection of steamed vegetables.

Printable version

21 January 2013

It's never a meal plan? Yes - it is!

There you are, you see .....
We have been planning our meals all through the Christmas and New Year period - it's just that the meal plans have very regularly gone to pot as we've been either too poorly to make the things we've planned for, or just didn't fancy what we'd planned to have.

As a result, I've not been posting up the meal plans as it would be too confusing to try and follow what happened to various dishes that never saw light of day.

I have got to admit, though, that this situation hasn't improved much.  I reckon that for the seven meals that we plan, probably between 4-5 have been made just recently.  Last week was one of the better ones, but even then we've only managed five out of the seven!

... we have been eating - and rather well, too!
We're setting off on this week's meal plan with determination to see it through.  Whether this determination lasts, depends on whether either of us parents go down with the sore throat that is currently keeping son & heir from his studies at school.  We whisked him down to the doctor this morning, just to make sure that it wasn't tonsillitis he'd got - which it wasn't, thank goodness.  He's now all sorted out with antiseptic gargle and penicillin, so fingers crossed it won't last long.

Hence, of necessity, the meals for the beginning of the week are non-confrontational and designed to be easily swallowed.  So what's on the agenda?

Tues : Bacon & leek pasta
Weds : 2 sausage paella
Thurs : Lamb & mozzarella stuffed aubergines with a side salad
Fri : Gammon steak, cheesey champ, courgettes, mushrooms & peas
Sat : Pork, aubergine & porcini ragu with pasta
Sun : Beef & beetroot curry with rice
Mon : Chicken pie and vegetables.

The bacon & leek pasta is there because it is one of son & heir's favourite dinners - and just in case he might need some tempting.  It is very easy to eat and just slips down with the minimum of bother, so shouldn't be too challenging for a boy with a sore throat.  Fingers crossed!  Of course the fact that it is one of our favourite "go to" quick dinners doesn't hurt either.

Wednesday's 2 sausage paella is an idea borne of having the remaining half of a very nice chorizo sitting in the fridge looking for a home.  Hubby is planning on putting it together with some good pork sausages, red pepper, mushrooms etc. into a paella type rice dish.  Sounds like it will be lovely - and again, easy to eat for son & heir.

The Lamb & Mozzarella Stuffed Aubergines is a Peter Gordon recipe from the Good Food channel.  We're going through a bit of an aubergine (hubby's favourite) patch at the moment and as soon as hubby clapped eyes on this recipe, he was as keen as mustard to try it.  It uses Sumac, which is a new spice for us - but we have liked the little we've tried of it so far.  The recipe also makes use of all our favourite spices along with lamb mince (my favourite) and mozzarella cheese (son & heir's favourite), so as you can see, it just had to be done.

Friday's gammon steaks with cheesy champ (mashed potato with spring onion) is entirely down to a certain Mr Rod Tucker of the Good Food Good People Facebook page.  He recently posted a couple of photographs of his gammon steak dinners that made my mouth water so much, I just had to include gammon in this week's list.  We've a few spring onions that needed using up, so mashed potato became Champ, then migrated into Cheesey Champ - the idea of which is making me very hungry.  I'll make my creamy courgette & mushrooms which will provide some lovely moisture to the combination, along with some peas for colour.

Saturday is another of hubby's recipes, where he's planning a rich minced pork ragu using smoky griddled aubergine and soaked porcini mushrooms.  The combinations sound delicious and this should be really good.

Sunday is a curry recipe that I found in the BBC Good Food Magazine.  The sheer idea of marrying up beef with beetroot and curry spices is intriguing me and I can't wait to find out how it will be.  I can imagine it will prove to be sweet, earthy and rather gorgeous.  I may very well do a small vegetable curry to go with it, along with the rice.

Monday's chicken pie and vegetables is a meal that has (so far) been moved along from the Monday spot for three weeks in a row.  You never know, we might even get to eat it this week!

I daren't even make the tiniest suggestion of other makes or bakes - probably best not to tempt fate, don't you think?


20 January 2013

Persimmon & Red Berry Flan - retro loveliness.

This is a delightful dessert recipe that is just so easy to prepare - and so deliciously retro.

We were in the supermarket the other week and I spotted the sponge flan cases.  I asked hubby whether he could remember having a fruit flan for dessert when he was a kid and we set to wondering whether people use them very much these days.

Yes, I know that with the correct type of tin it is more than possible and even easy to make your own flan case.  I accept that and by all means to ahead and do so if that is important to you.  It is not, however, sufficiently retro (as we were channelling the "new convenience foods of the 70''s") so it was, of course, inevitable that we'd buy one.  Just for nostalgia's sake if nothing else. You understand, I'm sure.

We'd planned to use it for the weekend's dessert, as I try not to make "big production" desserts during the week, when we have just a yoghurt or a fruit mousse.

Persimmon - or Sharon Fruit

Coincidentally, in the days prior to the weekend, a box of Persimmon fruit arrived from Ashleigh at Red Communication.  It was almost as though it was meant to be - Persimmon being very close to plums, nectarines, that sort of thing, they'd be just perfect for the flan and the honey sweetness of them would be lovely against the tartness of the red berries that we'd planned to use.

A number of the persimmon were slightly bruised from the jostling they'd received on the way to us, but it was an easy matter to just trim out the stem, cut the bruise away and slice them up.  The whole fruit is edible - skin and all - and with the red jelly on top, nobody would be any the wiser as to the slightly odd shapes.

Now the jelly aspect of the flan produced something of a conundrum.  Do you pour it on before it has set, or wait for it to just set, or wait until it is completely set and then break it up?  Who knew?

I tried pouring it over before it was set, but of course it just soaked into the sponge, so that wasn't any good.

So I consulted my authority on all things retro - my Mum.  I felt sure she'd made these flans before in the past - and I was right.  "Wait until the jelly is nearly set" was her advice, although tempered with "but it can be a right pain to catch it at the right moment, so don't go off and leave it for hours!".  Righto then.

I don't think I managed to "catch it at the right moment" even so - I think the jelly was a bit ahead of the game there.  However, it poured onto the flan without any difficulty and spread evenly, if it was a tad bumpy instead of being millpond flat.  I think it lent character to the flan.  *cough*

A couple of notes for the aspiring flan cook - use tinned fruit that is either in fruit juice or light syrup.  Fruit in heavy syrup is just too sweet.  Also, if you need to use water to top up your jelly/juice mixture, try using some fizzy mineral water.  It adds a subtle fizz to the jelly that is fun on the tongue!

The fruit combinations you can use are endless.  I've got a peach and raspberry one planned for next time, as I've still got some raspberries in the freezer.  Cherries would be fabulous when they're back in season - can you imagine, cherries with dark chocolate grated over?  Maybe a little kirsch in the jelly?  Mmmmmn.

So now I know why these flan cases are still in the supermarkets - because they're pretty  darned delicious with the right combination of fruit and jelly.  I've got two more in the cupboard now.  Retro desserts are us!

By the way, did you know, I'm currently a "Baron of Desserts" on Very Good Recipes!  Check out the link above, to find all the different dessert recipes.

Baron of Desserts

PERSIMMON & RED BERRY FLAN   (serves 6 or more)

Ingredients :

1 sponge flan case
3 ripe persimmon, stalk removed and sliced into thin wedges
300g tin of mixed berries
135g pack of strawberry jelly cubes.

Method :

1.  Place the separated jelly cubes into a measuring jug.  Pour on 200ml of boiling water and stir until the jelly has dissolved.

2.  Add to the jelly the liquid from the tin of mixed berries.  If necessary, top up with enough water to 480ml.   Set the jelly aside in the fridge to cool and begin to set.

3.  Once the jelly has begun to set, arrange the persimmon slices onto the flan base and pile the red berries into the middle.  If there is any juice left in the tin, sprinkle it around the persimmon slices.

4.  Add the jelly evenly around the fruit and make level.

5.  Place into the fridge to allow the jelly to finally set properly.

6.  Serve with whipped cream, whilst wearing a polyester trouser suit and listening to the Beatles.


Printable version


19 January 2013

Chilli Marrakech with Lime & Chilli Yoghurt

Well, this recipe couldn't have arrived on a better day for it.

At around 3 a.m. the night before, it started snowing - and continued throughout the day.  Eventually, we had around 4-6 inches of snow on the garden - which is really quite deep for Dorset!

Now ordinarily, I'd have been having successive batches of kittens over this happening.  However, I'd seen the weather forecast and we'd been out and done our weekend's shopping the day before, so it was just a matter of having to drive son & heir to school.  I used to not really bother about driving in the snow, but since moving to Dorset where no road exists that doesn't involve either climbing up or going down a hill, it's a different matter.  One experience of sliding down a hill whilst slowly spinning until hitting the car at the bottom of the hill (and missing all the parked cars - which was a singular miracle) is quite enough and I don't mind admitting I've lost my snow nerve where driving is concerned.  Especially now I own a nice car.  The thought of stoving in one of Alfie's sides (Alfie the Amalfi Lemon coloured Skoda, that is) by crashing in snow is just terrifying.

However, all was peace and tranquillity when at 7 a.m. we had a message from school to say that the school was closed for the day.  And breathe!

That's a lot of snow, for us!
So we spent the day sitting in the warm, watching the snowflakes fall - and trash our baby Olive tree.  Yeah, thanks snow.  Poor little chap, we should have brought him in under cover, but forgot.  I don't think he's ever going to achieve "tree" status, he'll for ever be a bush instead, because of several mishaps involving dogs paws and now the snow.

What a perfect day, therefore, to have a warming Chilli on the menu.  So often, I find myself booked to make a stew when suddenly it's like the Sahara outside, or alternatively, we're booked for a salad on a day like yesterday.  For once, however, I got it right.

The Chilli Marrakech is a recipe taken from the BBC Good Food Magazine.  You can find it here.  (Thanks for pointing me to it, Angela!).  The recipe I detail below contains all the original recipe's ingredients, it has just been a bit re-organised to suit my cooking methods better.  For instance, I make sure to drain all the fat from the meat and so as to not lose too much flavour, I brown the meat before cooking the onions.  It's a small point, but it makes a lot of difference in the eating.  The lamb fat is brilliant mixed with some bird seed and left to solidify.  If you line the container with cling film before filling, it make it easier to get out.  Put it on your bird table and watch the birdies tuck in!

We all really enjoyed this dish.  It is very aromatic and a lot lighter than your usual Mexican style Chilli Con Carne.  In fact, I think to compare it to Chilli Con Carne is a bit daft as they are, really, completely different in just about all ways other than the fact that it's minced meat with spices and a bean.  In this case, it uses lamb, Harissa and chick peas to great effect.  I'm not sure how authentically Moroccan this recipe is - but it uses flavours that originate from Morocco, so if nothing else, it is Moroccan style!

Now I really like Harissa - and most especially the Sainsbury's Speciality Ingredients Harissa paste.  The ingredients are very similar to Ras al hanout spice mix, in that they include rose petals, paprika and cumin.  Obviously it differs in that it is a paste as opposed to a dry spice mix and it also contains rather more chilli - but if you know Ras al hanout, then you will know Harissa.

The recipe also includes additional cumin, paprika and cinnamon, along with fresh ginger, garlic and coriander - so you'll begin to see the kind of level of spicing we're talking about here.  Very aromatic, very flavoursome.

However, none of the spices overtook the lamb - you could very definitely tell it was lamb and not beef involved there.  The addition of chunks of sweet red pepper was great, too - as it gave interest, colour and the occasional burst of lovely sweetness - which always helps when you're eating an intensely spicy (but not hot) combination.

In fact, speaking of spicy heat, I added a pinch of red chilli flakes to my version as I felt that the Harissa just didn't have the punch that the family would be looking for from the dish.  It was a long way from the nose-running kind of hot and spicy that a good Chilli Con Carne should be, but that additional pinch just bolstered the chilli in the Harissa.

Now, the thing that absolutely made the dish - from my perspective - was the Lime & Chilli Yoghurt.  This wasn't included in the original recipe but I would very definitely recommend you make it to accompany this dish.  It only takes a moment or two to make and is just so good along with the chilli.

I didn't serve the chilli with any rice or couscous, but with some sundried tomato & onion flatbreads that came from Asda.  Yes, I know I could have made them - but I could also have wound up incapable of movement by the end of the cooking process - and I'd really like to be able to get from kitchen to chair to eat my meal!  The Asda flatbreads are very nice indeed.  I put them onto a baking tray and give them a little sprinkling of water, followed by 4-6 minutes in a hot oven - and they're perfectly soft but with a crunchy edge.  Just right for dipping and eating alongside.  Yum.

So the next time we've got snow on the horizon, off you go to Sainsbury's for lamb mince and Harissa paste!  You can't go wrong.


Ingredients :

600g minced lamb
1 onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped finely
1-2 tbsp Harissa paste (use less if you like less spicy heat)
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
1 heaped tsp paprika
1 pinch chilli flakes (omit if you like less spicy heat)
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 long sweet red pepper, de-seeded and cut into chunks
400g tin chick peas, drained (and washed, if in brine)
150ml lamb stock made using 1 stock cube or 1 tsp powder (I used Essential Cuisine lamb stock powder
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
15g fresh coriander, chopped.

For the yoghurt :

1 lime, zest and a little juice
a pinch of chopped fresh coriander
finely chopped red chilli, to taste
4-5 tbsp greek yoghurt
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  In a large saucepan, dry fry the lamb mince until the majority of the liquid has burned off and all the meat is brown.  Spoon the meat out into a bowl using a slotted spoon, so that the fat drains out of the meat and back into the pan.  Drain off all but 2 tbsp of the fat.

2.  Add the onions and cook on a moderate heat until softened.  Add the garlic and ginger, then cook for another minute or so.

3.  Return the meat to the pan and stir through.

4.  Add the Harissa paste and all the spices and stir thoroughly as it cooks, to make sure the paste is distributed evenly throughout the mixture.

5.  Add the chopped tomatoes, red pepper, chick peas and stock.  Again, stir through well to combine.

6.  If you have used a low salt stock, taste to check for seasoning and add as necessary.  Otherwise, add a pinch of sea salt and a good quantity of freshly ground black pepper to taste.

7.  Add three quarters of the chopped coriander and bring to a simmer.  Cook for around 30 minutes, or until the chilli reaches your preferred consistency.

8.  While the chilli is cooking, make the Lime & chilli yoghurt by grating the zest of a lime into a bowl.  Add a pinch of the remaining chopped coriander, the finely chopped red chilli (quantity depends on how spicy you like it - so be cautious when adding and taste before adding a little more), the juice of one third of the lime, the yoghurt and a tiny amount of sea salt & black pepper.  Stir to combine and taste.  Add more lime juice or more chilli, as you prefer. 

9.  Serve the chilli in warmed bowls with the remaining coriander sprinkled over, the Lime & Chilli yoghurt and warmed flatbreads.

Printable version

16 January 2013

Ras al Hanout Chicken & Date Tagine - my first go with my new tagine

My brother's family were kind enough to gift me with a beautiful new Tagine at ChristmasIt really is a corker - and absolutely huge.

Having spent some time just admiring it, I set to and followed the instructions for the seasoning process, to the letter.  We had to buy a big plastic bucket to put it in for the overnight soak in cold water, then it went into a low oven for 2 hours to dry out, then it got wiped over with oil.

Now the tagine is glazed - although not all over - and this caused some discussion on the Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb & Ginger facebook page as to whether it required seasoning and whether it would break into tiny pieces during said seasoning process.  Personally, I doubted whether you would be asked to season the thing, if there was any great danger of it breaking into tiny pieces during the process - but it put the idea in my mind.  Now as anyone who knows me will tell you, if you put an idea into my mind, you have to know it's going to sit there and (potentially) worry me until events prove that I didn't need to worry in the first place.   I'm happy to report that it survived the seasoning process, even though it did go through many changes of colour and the glaze appeared to have converted itself to crackle glaze at one stage.  ~shrug~

Hence, the tagine had sat on the worktop (haven't got a cupboard it will fit into until we do some cupboard juggling - and speaking of which, does anyone know where you can get pot hanging hooks from?  The ones that fit onto the wall, that you can hang your saucepans on?) ever since the seasoning process had finished.  I knew that I had to get on and use it, in order to stop worrying that it would explode into a million pieces the first time I put it in the oven.

All loaded up and ready for the oven!
I was quite excited to use it, not only trepidatious, as I've seen tagines being used in Morocco (only on the t.v. it's true) and by various t.v. chefs (Yotam Ottolenghi, for one) and it seemed an interesting way to cook.  I love kitchen wares like this anyway and am quite emotionally connected to several of my casserole dishes.  No, don't roll your eyes like that - they all have a story to tell.  Hubby was doubtful that I'd be able to fit enough food for the family into one, but having seen the way they build the layers up, I had confidence in that aspect, if nothing else.

As it turned out, the liquid quantities involved here were absolutely perfect for my tagine.  Perfect for the amount of couscous (which I was worried about) and perfect for fitting into the quite shallow bowl part.

The chicken cooked beautifully, sat on top of the couscous and underneath all the vegetables.  It obviously semi poached, semi steamed as it went along and was lovely and moist.

At serving, the couscous appeared to be somewhat overcooked - but I'm really not sure if it would qualify as being overcooked or not.  The texture had gone from being quite grainy to being soft and almost squishy - but with the spices, stock and the drippings from the chicken included in its flavour, it was really lovely.  The lemon juice and pomegranate molasses had given it a lovely sharp top note, which was filled out by the savoury stock and chicken flavours.

The dates provided the occasional shot of sweetness, while the onions gave the counterpoint of savouriness to the dish.  All in all, the flavours were quite complicated and although I was a little bit unsure to begin with, I very quickly found that it grew on me and I really enjoyed it.

Hubby could have done with a little more in the way of contrasting flavours throughout the couscous - such as some chopped apricots to provide that sharp/sweet thing that they do and maybe some browned crispy onions to provide a contrasting texture and flavour.  All of which are very valid points that I'll try and remember.

Son and heir loved the dish and cleared his plate very happily - mushrooms and courgettes included!

All in all, I would consider this a success of a first go.  It gives me more confidence to try more complex combinations in future!  Oh - and maybe I won't be constantly waiting for the bang as the tagine disintegrates, next time.  One can hope!


Ingredients :

2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 tsp Ras al hanout spice mix
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or a mix of drumsticks & thighs)
150g couscous
1 red onion, sliced
1 white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 courgette, sliced
3-4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
350ml chicken stock (I used one Knorr chicken stock pot)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
8 dates, pitted and chopped (use dried apricots as well or if you don't like dates)
a handful of flaked almonds
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped finely
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely.

Method :

1.  Pour 1 tbsp of oil into a bowl and add the Ras al hanout spice mix, a pinch of sea salt and a good quantity of freshly ground black pepper.  Stir to combine.

2.  Add the chicken and toss in the spice mix until evenly coated.

3.  Place the dry couscous into the bottom of your tagine or a deep casserole dish.

4.  Heat the remaining tbsp of oil in a deep frying pan over a high heat.  Add the chicken and brown (on at least 2 sides, if using thighs).  Remove to the tagine and arrange evenly over the top of the couscous.

5.  Add the onions to the frying pan and cook on a moderate heat until softened and beginning to take on colour.  Add the garlic and reduce the heat.  Cook for another minute or so.

6.  Add the courgette and mushrooms and cook until they are beginning to soften.

7.  Add the cumin and cinnamon and stir to combine.

8.  Add the zest and juice of the lemon, plus the pomegranate molasses, chicken stock and dates.  Bring to the boil, stirring to de-glaze the pan.  Taste for seasoning and add a little more if necessary.

9.  Add the contents of the frying pan to the tagine and distribute the vegetables evenly across the top of the chicken.

10.  Sprinkle the flaked almonds across the top and cover with the tagine lid - or if using a casserole dish, cover with foil.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 160degC/325degF/Gas 3 for the next hour.

11.  To serve, uncover the chicken and remove to a warmed plate while you serve the couscous and vegetables.  Place the chicken either beside or on top and sprinkle with the chopped herbs.


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14 January 2013

Paprika Chicken & Chorizo Bake - looks good and tastes even better!

This week has been a bit of a bumpy one for the poor old meal plan, as between one thing and another, we've had to move meals around and change them at short notice.  Amazingly, I actually planned to have meals that could be moved and changed at short notice - which doesn't happen often!

So all this shuffling around, meant that this Paprika chicken & chorizo bake dish wound up as our Sunday roast - which it did very well at.  A lot better than expected, actually!

The dish had been inspired by a Hairy Dieters recipe for Spanish-style Chicken Bake which I'd seen in the BBC Good Food magazine.  It's basically a multi-vegetable tray bake with chicken, but the bit I liked the most was that it purported to be low in fat.

Now I will admit that in the changes I made to the recipe, I included a tablespoonful of rapeseed oil.  However, having swapped their chicken thighs with the skin on, for skinless chicken breasts, I felt I was swapping the potential chicken fat for an oil that was actually really good for you.  Rapeseed oil has every good thing that olive oil does - and more.  The chicken breasts needed some oil in order to stay juicy and marinating them in it, along with the paprika and oregano, was a jolly good idea as it just added to the depth of the flavours.

I wasn't overly confident that the amount of vegetables would be sufficient for my menfolk, either.  The addition of a courgette and some mushrooms - plus the change from an indigestible (well, that's how I find them anyway) green pepper to an infinitely more digestible long sweet red pepper, made all the difference.

I served the dish with some home-made potato wedges that I'd tossed in a little Umami paste - and which were yummy.

I had the makings for a side salad, just in case it didn't look very much on the plate, but they stayed in the fridge as it was more than adequate, as you can probably see from the photographs.

As for making it, well that couldn't have got a lot easier!  I find that getting down to the oven is becoming more of a trial these days, but the 20 minute intervals weren't too uncomfortable to administrate.  Because everything is cooked in the oven you don't have to juggle the timings for vegetables on the hob to coincide with your oven baked components being done - which makes life a lot easier.

Two things are well worth pointing out from a cook's perspective.  Firstly, is the garlic.  Don't be tempted to leave the garlic out.  Now I know not everyone is keen on garlic and you can come away from a meal like this feeling like you've just eaten a garlic sandwich made with garlic butter on garlic bread - but not in this case.  The three cloves of garlic - one each - cook through beautifully and become softly sweet and gently flavoured.  Squash some out of its jacket and eat with a mushroom - and you'll know why I'm saying to make sure to include it.  Simply gorgeous!  By all means include more than the one clove each, if you really like your garlic!

Secondly, is the roasting tin.  I have a lovely, deep, non-stick roasting tin - but I always line it with non-stick silver foil.  I will admit that this was, initially, at hubby's urging as he had got fed up with trying to scrape bits of food from roasting tins whilst trying to leave the "non-stick" coating intact during the washing up.  It seemed wasteful to me, to be using a non-stick silver foil on what was supposed to be a non-stick roasting dish.  However, I do have to agree with him that it is well worth it, to be able to wash up the roasting tin in a twinkling of the time it used to take.  Very well worth it.  So it is up to you - but I recommend adopting the same approach, particularly if you have any disability or your hubby does all the dishes!

So what did the meal taste like?

Well, the chicken was just divine.  The rapeseed oil had kept it beautifully juicy, as had the steam rising from the cooking vegetables.  It was subtly flavoured with smoked paprika and oregano, which complemented the paprika in the chorizo.  The chorizo had let go of its fat, which had combined with the juice from the tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers and provided just enough moisture to keep the whole thing tasty.

The sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley not only makes the plate look extremely pretty, but adds to the flavour.  It provides that dash of freshness that lifts all the cooked vegetables and is very worth including.

All three of us, with our differing likes and dislikes, really enjoyed this dish.  There was sufficient diversity provided by the different flavours and textures of vegetable to keep our interest right to the last bite - and low fat!  You couldn't ask for more.

Oh - and don't forget, you can click on the photographs above and see them in a much bigger format.  However, you might want to avoid doing that if you're hungry.  *wink*  Hubby has been honing his photography skills!


Ingredients :

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
½ tsp dried oregano 
1 red onion, cut into 8 wedges
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled - just remove the root end
4 tomatoes, quartered
1 courgette, sliced
1 sweet red pepper, seeds removed and sliced into chunks
4 mushrooms, quartered
120g picante chorizo, sliced
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped, to serve.

Method :

1.  Take each chicken breast and lightly score across, twice, to create a diamond pattern.  Place into a bowl with the rapeseed oil, sweet smoked paprika and oregano and toss until thoroughly coated in the herbs and spices.  Set aside.

2.  Into a deep roasting tin, place the onion, garlic and tomatoes.  Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 20 minutes.

3.  When the 20 minutes is up, remove and toss the contents around to loosen them up a bit.  Add the courgette, red pepper, mushrooms and chorizo and give another mix.

4.  Place each chicken breast on top of the vegetables & chorizo mixture and season with a little sea salt.

5.  Place back into the oven for another 20 minutes.

6.  Remove from the oven and remove the chicken breasts to a warmed plate.  Turn the vegetables and chorizo mixture, then test the chicken to see whether it requires much more cooking.

7.  If the chicken is done, cover with foil and reserve to keep warm.  If the chicken requires a little longer, cover it lightly with three pieces of silver foil cut to match the size of the chicken.  This will help to prevent the chicken from drying out.  Turn the oven up to 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is done and the veggies are all tender.

8.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with potato wedges.

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12 January 2013

Soy Braised Chicken with leeks - gentle sweet flavours

This lovely, gently flavoured dish was inspired by a photograph of a similar dish that I spotted in the BBC Good Food magazine this month.

As I recall, the original recipe had spring onions in it and as I don't do very well with spring onions - my tummy sometimes rejects them - and had a leek waiting for me to find it a job to do, it seemed a fairly obvious swap.

I'm still getting back into the swing of cooking following on from a nasty bout of the flu.  Hence, I didn't really want to get involved in a long cooking procedure - so this recipe turned out to be perfect.  If you do the entire process all in one go, you could probably be in the kitchen for some three hours or more - but I split it into various instalments.  Well, it gave me a chance to have a bit of "downtime" inbetween the action.

We had bought an organic chicken earlier in the week, to have at the weekend.  However, neither of us were in any fit state to be making roast chicken, so it had gone into the freezer.  So as to make the most of the price of the chicken, I decided to joint it and make a stock for soup with the carcass.  I reckoned that I could get at least three meals from the one chicken, that way.  In fact, we've had two main meals and two lunches - with a leg still left to be used!

Once we'd taken son & heir to school, I got on with jointing the chicken (which I'm getting a lot better at!).  It's not often that I get the opportunity to use organic chicken (although it would always be my first choice, if I could afford it) and this one was a beauty.  The knife went through the breast meat like a hot knife through butter, which bode well for the tenderness of the cooked chicken.  It wasn't a corn fed chicken, but the fat was a lovely deep yellow colour.  I was surprised at how bruised the breast meat appeared to be in places - but I figure that milling around outside with its pals, I guess a chicken is bound to get bumps and scrapes.

The two breast fillets, a drumstick and a thigh went into a cling film covered bowl with the marinade and into the fridge for later.

The remainder of the carcass went into the slow cooker with a couple of carrots, some celery, an onion and a garlic clove, plus some herbs and a good quantity of water and some seasoning.  There it stayed for the day, chuckling away and making some beautiful stock.  I eventually stripped the chicken of all the tiny little bits of meat and made a Jewish-style chicken soup with the stock, which I'll blog soon.
It was a late pickup from school that day, so I needed to put the casserole together before we left to collect son & heir.

The chicken smelled wonderful as I browned the pieces in the frying pan and my hopes for a great dinner rose a little bit further.

It really wasn't a difficult procedure to get the casserole together and I finished with 10 minutes to go.  We turned the oven on as we left to pick up son & heir.  Once we got home, it was an easy matter of cooking some rice and broccoli - and serving it all up.

I had debated thickening the sauce, but looking at it, it seemed to me as though it would entirely change the character of the dish to have the sauce thick.  It was supposed to be light and fluid - and there was broccoli and rice to soak it up with, so I took a chance and left it.  Hubby would have preferred it thicker - I was anticipating that - but I was very pleased with it.

I very much liked the gentle flavours provided by the soy, mirrin and honey - which added to the flavour of the leek and broad beans, made it a balanced dish.  Or so I thought, anyway.  Hubby doesn't like broad beans much and would have preferred the sweetness of peas, rather than that slight bitterness that an un-shucked broad bean brings.  Yes, perhaps I should have shucked the broad beans, but can I refer you back to the flu comment?  Just the thought of sitting there shucking broad beans was enough to almost send me back to bed.

Son & heir appeared to enjoy the flavours, although he did agree with his Dad about the bitterness from the broad beans.  I couldn't register said bitterness at all - all I could predominantly taste was the sweetness from the mirrin and honey, with the saltiness of the soy sauce!

So, I would advise caution when making this recipe.  If your family is very anti thin sauces or bitter flavours, perhaps you should consider thickening the sauce with a little cornflour and using peas instead of broad beans.  Alternatively, you could make something completely different!

I would be very happy to have this recipe again - although sadly I doubt I'll be making it in quite the same way.  Bye bye broad beans and hello cornflour!  *wink* 


Ingredients :

2 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp mirrin
1 tbsp runny honey
a pinch of sea salt
2 boneless chicken breasts plus 1 thigh and 1 drumstick, skin on
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 leek, washed, halved lengthways and chopped
1 tsp grated ginger
100ml chicken stock
a good handful of frozen broad beans or peas.

Method :

1.  Put the soy sauce, mirrin, honey and sea salt into a bowl and stir to combine.

2.  Add the chicken pieces and stir to make sure they are all liberally covered with the marinade - then cover with cling film and leave for a minimum of half an hour.

3.  Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken pieces on a high heat.  Keep an eye on the chicken, as it will colour very quickly because of the sugars in the marinade.

4.  Once browned, place the chicken into a casserole dish.

5.  Add the onion to the frying pan and cook on a medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until softened.  Add the leek and ginger and stir to combine.

6.  Add the chicken stock and broad beans or peas.  Allow them to heat through and taste the sauce for seasoning.  If you think it is a little light on flavour or salt, add the remainder of the marinade and stir through.

7.  Decant the sauce and vegetables into the casserole dish, cover and put into a moderate oven (180degC/350degF/Gas 4) for 45 minutes to an hour.

8.  If, at the end of this time, you feel the sauce is either too liquid or not tasty enough, remove the chicken to a warmed bowl and cover with foil.  Either decant the sauce into a saucepan, or place the casserole dish (presuming it can cope with being on a direct heat) onto a gentle heat and reduce the sauce until it has reached a satisfactory consistency or the flavour has intensified sufficiently.

Serve with plain white rice and some steamed broccoli.

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