30 April 2014

Sweet and sour chicken with peppers - not pineapple!

Now interestingly, I came to cook this recipe completely unintending to velvet the chicken beforehand.  However, my recent experiments with egging and breadcrumbing brought back to mind the process of "velveting" chicken before cooking.

I first experienced this technique when I did a recipe of Ken Hom's, except he used just the white of an egg.  It really bothers me, to lose the best part of an egg (the yolk) in this way and for all that our dustbins (a.k.a. the dogs) enjoy a bit of raw egg from time to time, I'd far rather use it than throw it down the dustbins.  (What a meanie of a dog owner I am!)  This is why - following on from the success of using the whole egg to make a chicken parmesan dish the other day - I decided to velvet the chicken with whole egg instead of just the white.

I'm really not sure what Ken Hom would have to say about it all, but from where I was sitting, it worked!  Of course, the drawback with this process is that it causes son and heir to doubt whether his chicken is cooked correctly, as it feels so slippery-slidy on the tongue.  He is studying catering at school and has a good understanding of the dangers of eating uncooked chicken.  I knew this was going through his mind and immediately reassured him of the fact that the chicken was indeed cooked through and safe - it was simply a technique that the Chinese use in some of their dishes.  This served to reassure him as to the safety of the dish, but he still wasn't terribly impressed at the flavours.  He never has particularly enjoyed vinegar in or on his food, but it has been a long time since he tried a sweet and sour dish - and it had coconut rice to accompany it, which he very definitely likes!

In developing this recipe, I had looked at - literally - dozens of sweet and sour chicken recipes.  Many involved that copout of a sweet and sour ingredient, pineapple.  Why "copout"?  Well, I feel that the sweetness of the pineapple is often used to boost the sweetness of the dish, with scant or no attention paid to the acidity it brings.  I think there is more than enough acidity involved with the vinegar, without bringing it along with the pineapple too.

Sweet peppers are often included - most often red pepper - and I felt that if I used a red or yellow pepper along with the more savoury notes of a green pepper, it would help to calm the often overpowering sweetness.  Along with this, it was important to not cook the onion for too long, as the more sweating off an onion receives, the more caramelised it becomes and so the sugars develop.  Instead, I cooked the onion relatively quickly - until it was softened and browned in places - and it retained a good degree of savouriness.

For me, it was important to balance the sweetness against savoury notes, so as to prevent the dish becoming more a dessert than a main course.  Yes, the vinegar would inevitably have a large hand in doing that, but even vinegar can become sweetened when it is reduced.

As regards the vinegar, I noted that in most recipes just one denomination of vinegar was used.  In one - horrors! - they even cited using malt vinegar.  ~wince~  I just can't imagine what that one must have tasted like!  Ultimately, I decided to go with a 50/50 split between the two - white wine vinegar and cider vinegar.  I felt that the tartness of the white wine vinegar would be too much on its own, whereas the sweetness of the cider vinegar would likewise be too much on its own.  However, sharing space in the recipe, they should balance one another - and so it proved.

Hubby is known for being really sensitive to acidic combinations and I was worried - right up until the last - that he would find the sauce unpalatable.  However, I was delightfully wrong and he declared this dish to be the best sweet and sour dish he'd had in a very long time.  Wow!

I served the chicken over coconut rice, however in future, I think I'd rather serve it over a fried rice or noodle combination.  For all that coconut rice is just to die for, it was a fraction too sweet to complement the chicken.  I felt something more savoury - or even plain white rice if you're in a hurry - would be a better balance.

As a cook's note, it is worthwhile pointing out that the basic sweet and sour sauce would be just perfect with other things.  For instance, I am sure that it would be divine with King Prawns and just great with pork.  A veggie combination of carrot ribbons, courgette, baby sweetcorn, beansprouts and mushroom would be fabulous, too.

Like a lot of Chinese-based dishes (I can't, in all honesty, call this directly Chinese), it is friendly, flexible and quick to make - once you've done all your cutting and a-chopping.  So, the next time you're thinking of having a Chinese takeaway, maybe try this instead!


Ingredients :

3 skinless & boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized chunks
1 egg, beaten
3-4 tbsp cornflour
sea salt & black pepper
2 tbsp plus 1 tbsp rapeseed oil, used separately
1 large onion, chopped into large pieces
2 sweet peppers - I used a yellow and a green
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp granulated sugar
200ml water.

Method :

1.  Crack the egg into a bowl and whisk.

2.  Place the cornflour into another bowl and mix in a pinch each of sea salt and black pepper.

3.  Begin to heat the 2 tbsp oil in a deep non stick frying pan.

4.  Dunk handfuls of chicken pieces into the egg, then onwards into the cornflour.  Using a fork, pick each piece out and move it into the frying pan.

5.  When all the pieces are coated in egg and cornflour and in the frying pan, increase the heat under the pan to a moderate heat and cook the chicken pieces until they are golden.

6.  Once golden, remove the chicken from the pan to keep warm.

7.  Add the remaining tablespoonful of oil into the pan and add the onion, garlic and peppers.  Cook, stirring frequently, until they are softened and browned in places.

8.  Mix the sauce ingredients - the ketchup, white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, soy sauce and sugar - together and add to the pan.

9.  Add the water and stir through.  Place a lid on the pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  You'll need to stir occasionally, to make sure the chicken is evenly cooked.

10. When you are sure the chicken is cooked through, remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce until you are happy with the consistency.  The sauce should coat the chicken pieces and be glossy and thick.

11.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then serve.

I served the chicken with some coconut rice, but it would be as good over noodles or a fried rice dish.

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Sumac & Thyme Schnitzel. Bless you!

Believe it or not, this was the first time I'd ever tried to make anything remotely resembling a schnitzel.  I know!  Weird that it had managed to escape me for this long.

I think the main reason for it having escaped me, was that Hubby has always done the "egg and breadcrumb" dishes in the past - and I was happy to leave it that way, as his results have always been pretty spectacular.  However, it occurred to me that for all that it was great to have a successful egg and breadcrumber on hand, it would also be good if I were to master the art!

Instrumental in this decision was our new Ceracraft pan.  It's one of those ones with the white ceramic insides - and it is absolutely wonderful.  Absolutely nothing sticks to it (or nothing so far!) and it cleans with the wipe of a cloth, no matter how much devastation you leave in it.

Not worrying about how the pan is going to behave when frying, is quite a comfort if you're a bit leery about frying, as I am.  I think I might have taken the Fire Brigade's dire warnings about frying pans bursting into flames a bit too much to heart when I was younger and ultimately became too scared to break out a frying pan.

Frying was something else that Hubby used to do for me, as I was too scared to try it out (much the same as grilling things - which I've also conquered since).  So it is any wonder I hadn't tried making something like Schnitzel?  No, I don't think so!

Now, with my trusty Ceracraft pan with its fantastic well fitting lid (which I can clap on top, if ever it does decide to burst into flames), I feel confident enough to get on with the serious frying.

Neither Hubby nor son & heir are particularly enthusiastic about pork (when it's not in a sausage or rasher of bacon), so I bought just the one piece of pork for me - and a couple of chicken breasts for the menfolk.  In fact, the butcher didn't have pork steaks that day (what's up with that then?  No pork steaks?  Tut!), so we bought a pork chop and I simply removed the bone before cooking.  I don't recommend you try to hammer a pork chop bone flat - at least, not with a wooden meat mallet, anyway.  *wink* 

The chicken was simply trimmed of fat and gristle, then halved through the middle to form a "butterfly" and hammered flat.  I did the same with the pork, in that I butterflied it and smacked it one with the meat mallet so that it was roughly the same thickness.  Doing this is essential for this type of cooking, as you want the meat to cook at the same time.  It'd be no good having to wait for the thick end to cook, while the thin end is busy going dry or getting burned.  If ever I manage to lay my hands upon some British Rose Veal escalopes, you can be absolutely sure they're going to be turned into Wiener Schnitzels, quick-sharp!

So having got the meat how I wanted it to be, it was a simple matter of whipping up some eggs, seasoning some flour and working out what flavours I wanted to appear in the breadcrumbs.  I made the breadcrumbs myself, from a few slices of my lovely Polish Bakery sourdough bread that is just perfect for breadcrumbing as it is really substantial and so totally not cotton wool-ish.  A few minutes in the mini food processor and you're sorted, with perfect breadcrumbs.  I decided to season the breadcrumbs with a combination of black pepper, celery salt, dried thyme (just a tiny pinch as I really don't like it at all - but I know that my menfolk do), dried parsley and made the majority flavour that of Sumac, for its gorgeous zestiness.

The process of dipping into flour, egg then breadcrumbs was easy enough - I was forsighted enough to do this beside the sink so had good access to hand washing facilities - and Dustbin No. 1 (Jonty dog) was there to take care of the excess egg.  I was pleased to see that I'd made sufficient breadcrumbs, as it's always a bit of a lottery as to whether the breadcrumbs will make it to the end of the things you're trying to cover with them!

Following a half an hour in the fridge to firm up, they went into the pan with a mixture of goat butter and rapeseed oil on a moderate heat for around 10 minutes each side.  Make sure to not fiddle about with them - just leave them to cook and let the crumb set, then become crisp.  If you fiddle about with them, keep turning them or lifting them up, they will find it very hard to become crisp.  You can see from the very edge how they're doing - and once that edge starts to become golden, you know you're onto a winner.

I sneaked one of the smaller chicken schnitzels onto my plate, just so that I could compare and contrast.  I made these smaller ones from the chicken tenders - or inner fillets - and they were a perfect little size for a smaller appetite.   The pork version was a lot more robust and required a little bit longer in the cooking to become tender, however the flavour was a touch above the chicken versions.  The chicken ones were super-tender and very tasty - the seasoning in the breadcrumbs was more obvious with the chicken, so bear that in mind when you are choosing whether to use pork or chicken.

The flavour of both was really good - and the meat in both cases retained its moistness, largely due to the speed at which they cook and the flour/egg mixture sealing the juices in.  I can't wait to make some more, but this time I might have a go at the Southern Fried style of flavour combination.

I served the schnitzels with buttered new potatoes,  a mixed salad and a very nice minty mixed bean salad that I found in Asda.  However, for a speedier supper, I should imagine they'd be great with just chips, too!

So come on, put your big girl/boy pants on and have a crack at egg and breadcrumbing, followed by a bit of shallow frying.  You know you want to!


Ingredients :

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 3 boneless pork steaks
2-3 tbsp plain flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg (have another handy, just in case you need it)
4-5 slices of tasty bread, slightly stale, breadcrumbed
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp dried parsley
half a tsp dried thyme
1 heaped tsp ground sumac
3 tsp rapeseed oil (required separately)
3 tsp butter (required separately).

Method :

1.  Well before you require the meat for cooking, prepare it for coating with the seasoned flour, egg and breadcrumbs.  Take each steak or breast and cut through it down a long side, opening it out and effectively butterflying it.

2.  Place onto a piece of cling film - opened out in the butterfly shape - and sprinkle with a couple of drops of water.  This helps the cling film not to stick.  Using a blunt instrument - or a meat hammer on the blunt side - gently but firmly hammer the meat until just a quarter of an inch thick, or less.

3.  Place onto a plate and cover with cling film.  Continue to the next breast or steak and repeat, placing it on top of the cling film and covering with another piece of film.  Continue until all pieces are butterflied, hammered to an even thickness and stacked, then cover the lot with film and refrigerate.

4.  About an hour and a half before you are due to cook, remove the meat from the fridge and prepare the three coating bowls - which should be a decent size so as to fit each schnitzel in without overlapping the side.

5.  Into one bowl, place the flour and season well with salt and pepper.  Mix the seasoning in.

6.  Crack an egg into the second bowl and whisk with a fork.

7.  Add the breadcrumbs, a good amount of black pepper, the celery salt, parsley, thyme and sumac to the last bowl and mix well.

8.  Take the first breast or steak and gently lay it on top of the flour, then turn so that both sides are well coated.  You may need to press down a little, to ensure every inch gets a coating.

9.  Move on to the egg and lay the meat into the beaten egg, again turn to achieve an even coating, but don't wash the flour off!

10.  Straight away, lay the meat onto the seasoned breadcrumbs and lightly press down to convince the crumbs to stick.  Once again, turn and repeat to achieve an even coating of crumbs.

11.  Place each schnitzel onto a plate or baking tray (I covered a tray with cling film and used that) and refrigerate for an hour.

12.  Once it comes to cooking, take a large frying pan - non-stick are best - and heat 1 teaspoonful of the oil on a moderate heat, adding 1 teaspoonful of the butter just before you add the schnitzel.

13.  Once the butter is frothy, add the schnitzel to the pan and leave it alone!  Don't be tempted to shuffle it around the pan, or to turn it too soon.  You want the coating to achieve a crispy shell before you turn the schnitzel and cook the other side.

14.  Cooking usually takes around 7-8 minutes each side, but to check simply cut through the thickest part of each schnitzel and pull the edges of the cut aside so that you can see a) what colour the meat is, and b) what colour the juices are.  If there is any sign of any pinkness, turn the schnitzel and continue cooking until all traces of pink have gone.

15.  Place onto some kitchen paper and keep warm whilst you cook the remainder of the schnitzels.  It is best not to stack the schnitzels or the ones at the bottom of the stack will go soggy whilst they are waiting.  Keep them separate to retain the crispiness of the coating.

Serve with new potatoes, or potato salad and a garden salad.

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8 April 2014

Beef, ale & cheese soup - hearty flavours!

Are you, like I was, looking at the concept of a soup containing beef, ale (beer) and cheese and thinking "erm .. well how does that work, then?".  If so, then it works very well, surprisingly well in fact.

I'd seen various incarnations of this idea appearing on recipe sharing websites for a while and have to admit that I'd thought it was just one of those fads that occurs from time to time.  Like cheese stuffed meatloaf, prosciutto wrapped chicken breasts and cakes decorated with maltesers.  You know the sort of thing - not something that's going to last, a bit of a fashion thing - a flash in the proverbial pan.

However, I'm not sure if it was familiarity with seeing it turn up so regularly or just sheer curiosity that did it, but whatever it was - I succumbed, tried it out and it works.

Now you'll know that I'm rarely keen on a recipe that involves lots of procedures, lots of ingredients (well, except maybe for curries) and lots of faffing about.  You'll also know that my hubby isn't keen on "bouncy meat" and any type of beef requires a long, relaxing bath in the slow cooker in order for it to gain the thumbs up.

So when I began seriously considering how to make this warming wintery gem, I started from those two standpoints - simple and slow cooker.

Now it's soup we're talking about here - not stew.  So I had to choose a liquid base that would be interesting enough in flavour to be there in quantity plus also able to withstand a long cooking time.  Now obviously, beef stock would have done the job on at least one of those counts.  However, I didn't want the soup to be too weighted to one ingredient or the other.  I was after an amalgous whole.  An affinity between ingredients.  I also didn't want it to be too "gravy" flavoured.  Too much of a "gravy" flavour would be too stew-like.

Tomato passata was out, as it took everything down too much of an Italian route.  Creaminess was out, too.  Nobody wants a beef soup that is creamed.

Inevitably, the ole grey cells turned to alcohol.  After all, I'd done a fair few "in cider" dishes and knew that they worked.  I'd also cooked with ale a few times and knew what a lovely savoury end result you wind up with.  Yes, that was the thing - a light ale.  After all, beer and cheese were made to go together.  Light enough to still be there in the flavour profile, but without dominating either the beef or the cheese.

I knew that building up the flavour in layers is often the way to go - so what vegetable matter to put in there.  Some for flavour, some for texture, some for thickening.  Onion was a given and it would have to be fried so as to avoid that horrible raw onion flavour overpowering everything.  Celery is a good one, but no carrots, not this time.  I didn't want it to be a stew, remember?  Garlic always helps savouriness along, so that was a definite.  As for herbage, I was torn between parsley, thyme and oregano.  Son and heir had complained recently about everything having parsley in it, so I restrained myself to providing a mere sprinkling of parsley as garnish and decided to go with thyme.  Well, oregano was going too far down the Italian/pizza flavour route again.  I had declared myself done with thyme just recently, as it seemed to go in everything and I had got distinctly fed up with it.  However, there was just no alternative - and it went very well.

I was a little bit worried that a lot of these flavours were "top end" and there was nothing really backing up the garlic and beef at the "lower end" of the flavour spectrum, until I remembered I had a few mushrooms.  Perfect.

Now potato was a given as it tends to disintegrate and act as a thickener.  I needed something else though, something that had inherent sweetness that would counteract the bitter, hoppy flavour of the ale.  There in my veggie drawer of the fridge, was sat a half a butternut squash.  Again, perfect.  I peeled it, cut it into cubes and in it went, providing colour, beta carotene and the desired amount of sweetness.

With the combination of mature Cheddar's tangy, salty flavours and the Red Leicester's softer tones, the cheese was relatively easy to pin down.  I felt they both worked very well, although perhaps a medium matured Cheddar might have been better for my palate.  If you can cope with the big flavours of a tangy, salty, matured cheddar then go ahead with it, if you're a bit wobbly about cheese, I'd recommend a medium matured Cheddar.  Just don't reduce the quantity, as it makes a huge difference to the texture of the soup.

Now, what Cook's Tips can I offer you?  Well, apart from the type of Cheddar used (as above), I really don't think the type of beef that you use matters all that much.  Quite obviously, you wouldn't want to be using rump steak, nor a sirloin roast.  However any of your stewing, casserole, braising types from brisket right down to good old shin, would work.  Just adjust the cooking time to suit.  I used a stewing type of beef that had already been diced - not my favourite type of beef to use, but we were fortunate in that it turned out to be just perfect for the job.  I suspect it was probably a combination of shin with a bit of braising steak mixed in, as there were two very different textures of meat in there.  However, I'd use it again as it was really good.  It had around 8 or 9 hours in total on high and was absolutely as soft as butter and completely delicious.

I served the soup with some lovely sourdough, rustic bread from our local Patisserie Mark Bennett bakery.  You need bread with some "oomph" alongside the soup, but if you haven't got it don't worry.  The soup is the star!

BEEF, ALE & CHEESE SOUP   (serves 4)

Ingredients :

3 tbsp plain flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
750g braising or stewing beef - I used shin - trimmed of fat and cut into chunks
1 onion, chopped small
2 stalks of celery, chopped small
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
1 large garlic clove, crushed and chopped finely
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into cubes
half a butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into cubes
half a teaspoonful of dried thyme
500ml bottle of light ale beer
500ml cold water
a teaspoonful of low salt veal or beef stock powder (or a low salt stock cube)
100ml single cream
200g grated cheese - I used 50/50 Cheddar and Red Leicester
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish.

Method :

1.  Place the flour and a pinch of sea salt and half a teaspoonful of black pepper into a large plastic bag and toss to combine.

2.  Add the cubes of beef and toss well to coat the meat.

3.  Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan on a high heat, then place in handfuls of the beef to sear.  Take care to not overcrowd the pan, which will lower the temperature and so cause the beef to stew instead of sear.

4.  As the beef sears, remove it with a slotted spoon to the slow cooker and continue to sear the next batch until all the beef is done.

5.  Add the onion, celery, mushrooms and garlic to the pan - you may need a little more oil - and reduce the temperature.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and coloured a little.  Decant into the slow cooker and turn it on to Low.

6.  Add the potato, butternut squash and thyme to the slow cooker, stir to combine and replace the lid.

7.  Pour the light ale into the frying pan and add the stock powder, plus 500ml of water.  Stir to combine, making sure to deglaze the pan and heat until simmering point, whereupon you can add the contents of the pan to the slow cooker, turn the heat to High and replacing the lid.

8.  Cook for a minimum of 6 hours on High and a maximum of 8 on Low - or until the beef is tender and the vegetables are cooked.

9.  Remove the slow cooker's lid and stir in the cream and the grated cheese until the cheese has melted.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

10.  Serve into warmed bowls, adding a sprinkle of fresh parsley to garnish and crusty bread for dipping.

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Chicken, asparagus & tarragon risotto - light, fresh and lovely

This, dear reader, is a blog post of note.  Not because the risotto under discussion was particularly brilliant - although it actually was - but because of who thought it up and who cooked it.

Me.  This was my first ever main course risotto.

Yes, I do realise that dear Hubby is the Risotto Chef Extraordinaire of the family.   However it occurred to me that it was all very well him knowing how to produce a good risotto, but perhaps it would be a good idea if I knew how to, as well!

Just as an aside, I did have an additional motivation, which was that poor Hubby has hurt his back and can't spend ages in front of the cooker stirring a risotto.  I miss my risottos - they're another comfort food and you all know how much I love my comfort food.

In fact, this recipe began life in my head as a pie.  Chicken, asparagus and tarragon pie - sounds good, eh?  Well, that's what I thought.  Then I had something of a tummy conniption (knew I shouldn't have had chilli con carne, followed by curry the next day!) and have had to steer clear of spicy or particularly fatty foods and let my poor old tummy settle.  So that was the pastry option out of the equation - and when you start thinking about what else you could do with chicken, asparagus and tarragon, it's a short step to a risotto.

Whenever I'm thinking about a recipe that involves chicken, I immediately find myself being resistant to the idea of cubes of chicken meat.  I haven't a clue what a cube of chicken meat has done to deserve it, but I really don't like it cubed.  Cubes or chunks are okay for curries and some casseroles, but not for everything.  Thin slices are good for stir fries and small chunks work in a pie.  Risotto, however, now that demands shredded chicken.  Don't ask me who made these rules, I'm sure I didn't.  ~whistles innocently, whilst dragging one toe in the dust~  

The chicken flavour I could imagine in my concept risotto, was a gentle, fresh chicken flavour.  Not pan fried, or roasted.  Too heavy.  There was really only one choice left to me, which was poached.  Now I've never poached a chicken breast before - well, there are so many "firsts" involved in cooking! - and had no idea how the flavour would wind up, but if my imagination was saying it would be just the job, ~shrug~, I'd go with it.  I'd poach the chicken in the stock I was going to use for the risotto until just cooked, then shred the meat.  That way, I'd be saving and using every ounce of flavour it was possible to achieve, from the chicken.

It is true to say that the most important ingredient in a risotto, is the stock.  It is the stock that flavours the rice - and not just by providing the moisture around each grain, but by soaking into the rice and flavouring it from inside to outside.  Thus, it is of paramount important that every flavour you want to be uppermost, is reflected in the stock.

I had the chicken flavour from the use of chicken stock (I used the fabulous chicken stock powder from Essential Cuisine, my favourite stock people) and poaching the chicken.  The asparagus flavour is boosted by the addition of the offcuts from each asparagus spear, which are broken up so as to access all the flavour available.  The addition of several full stems of fresh tarragon with leaves attached (plus the bald stems that you've taken the leaves from) makes sure that the three primary flavours are right up there.

If I relied upon the addition of the asparagus and tarragon at the end of the dish, the flavours would be nothing like as pronounced or established.  Both ingredients do not have long enough in the pan to make sufficient impression upon the flavour of the whole.  Hence, it is very well worth that little bit of extra work to include them in the stock.  It is true, it does make finding the asparagus tips a bit like fishing in the undergrowth when it comes to blanching them - but it is worth it! 

Now, let's discuss the basic stock.  For goodness' sake, if you're going to use a commercially produced stock, don't use anything other than a reduced salt stock powder or stock cube.  The pinch of salt that you add to the stock is sufficient and much, much less salt than you will get from a full-salt version.  Bear in mind that the nature of a risotto is to absorb and reduce the stock.  If you're reducing a full-salt stock, that can get hellishly salty - and once over salted, it is impossible in the time you have available, to bring it back.

So get yourself a good quality low salt stock - and if you're using home made, you might like to reduce it by boiling in a pan for a while, so as to achieve good, highly flavoured chicken stock.  Oh, and when using home made chicken stock, you'll need to use your knowledge of how much salt is in it already, to decide whether you'll require the pinch or not.

A quick cook's tip, is to blanche your asparagus tips for no longer than 2 minutes or you stand the chance of losing the bright green colour when you re-heat them, prior to serving.

I know the recipe looks terribly complicated, but it really isn't - it's just that each stage took a lot of description, but is really quick to achieve!  The end risotto is a lovely, light but satisfying, bowl of comfort food that - for once - doesn't leave you feeling all heavy and bloated.  Now there is a place for heavy and bloated, I'll not deny that, but there is also a place for a lighter texture of comfort food.  Food that gives you a big hug, whilst still letting you fit into your trousers, or behind the wheel of your car.

Having said all that, I won't go into too much detail about the ice cream, home made rhubarb jam, blueberries and amaretti that we had for dessert.  ~kof~  (It was lovely, though!).

CHICKEN, ASPARAGUS & TARRAGON RISOTTO   (serves 3 for a main course)

Ingredients :

2-3 tsp low salt chicken stock powder (or sufficient low salt stock cubes) made up to 1 litre stock
a pinch of sea salt
a large pinch of ground white pepper
1 bunch (7-8 stems) asparagus
4-5 full stems of tarragon, plus 1 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves
2 skinless & boneless chicken breasts
1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
a large knob of butter
2 banana shallots, peeled and chopped finely
300g arborio rice
100ml white wine (any kind, sweet works as well as dry)
a handful of defrosted frozen peas
grated parmesan cheese, to taste and for sprinkling.

Method :

1.  Make up the chicken stock into a saucepan and place on the heat.  You are aiming to bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently.

2.  Take the thick, woody ends off of the asparagus and smash by laying the side of the knife on top, then hitting with the heel of your hand.  Add them to the stock pot, along with the tarragon stems (which should still have their leaves attached), salt and pepper.

3.  Remove the tips from the asparagus and set aside, then cut each spear into small pea sized logs.

4.  Cut each chicken breast into three evenly sized pieces and add to the hot stock.  Cover the pan and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through.

5.  Remove the chicken pieces, retaining the stock, and shred the chicken.

6.  Place the asparagus spears into the stock and blanche for 2 minutes, then remove and set aside.

7.  Into a deep pan, add the oil and butter and heat gently.

8.  Add the shallots and cook on a gentle heat until soft and yielding.  Do not allow them to colour.  Remove using a slotted spoon so that the majority of the buttery oil falls back into the pan, and set aside.

9.  Increase the heat under the pan to high and add the rice.  Stir the rice well, making sure every grain is covered in the buttery oil.  Allow the pan to reach as hot a temperature as you dare, without burning the rice.  Each grain should be taking on a slightly golden hue and screaming for mercy, whereupon you add your first ladle of stock.

10.  The first ladleful will disappear in a great exhalation of steam from the pan, so be ready with a second.  Stir the rice gently but constantly, allowing it to absorb the stock and release the starchy creaminess that epitomises a risotto.

11.  Add the white wine and the cooked shallots and stir through.

12.  Once the rice has just about absorbed all the stock, add the next ladleful.  Stir, stir, stir.  Risotto is not something you can leave to cook while you read a book.  Continue in this vein - ladleful of stock, stir stir stir, pan dries out, ladleful of stock - until the rice is soft yet al dente.  Patience, that's the key!

13.  With your last ladleful or two of stock, add the chicken, tarragon leaves, asparagus logs and the peas.  Place a lid on for a minute or so, then stir, replace the lid, then stir, replace the lid, until the asparagus has lost its raw crunchiness (but is still firm and bright green) and the chicken is heated through.

14.  Put the asparagus tips back into the stock pot, to heat through and finish cooking for their last minute.

15.  Add some grated Parmesan cheese - to taste - to the risotto and stir through.

16.  You can adjust the texture of the risotto by adding a little more stock if you think it requires it - and having had a taste, adjust the seasoning by adding a little more white pepper or a pinch of sea salt, if required.

17.  Finally, add the asparagus spears and serve with a light grating of Parmesan sprinkled over.


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1 April 2014

129,000 - yes, you read it right! - page views in March!

You know, I didn't think it could get much more intense
than the 80,000 page views that was our previous record
here on Rhubarb & Ginger.

Then ..... you took the record to 129,804 last month, in March.

One hundred and twenty nine thousand, eight hundred and four.

Just .... wow.

Thank you.

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