19 August 2014

Chicken Chow Mein - who needs the takeaway?

Who needs a takeaway?  Not me, not now I've discovered this Chicken Chow Mein recipe.  Oh boy but it was good.  Chow mein from a Chinese takeaway is always good - it's one of our favourites and so that goes without saying.  However, this chow mein was full of everything that does you good with very few things that don't - and no MSG.

Once again, I have to thank Slimming World for the original recipe (which is here) that I have taken and boosted a wee bit for flavour and interest.

Now I really wasn't in the mood for cooking this evening.  I've had a little run of cooking dinner for the last four or five days and I'm about ready for a day off.  (Hubby is stepping into the breach tomorrow, so don't feel too sorry for me - a break is on the horizon!).  I think there must be rain due sometime soon, if my knees are to be believed!  Ouch.

Because this dish is another great two-pot deal (one for the noodles, one for the stir fry), all it required was a half hour's a-chopping and a-peeling, then it was a classic case of sit there and add stuff in order, stirring as you go.  Perfect.  I most definitely wasn't feeling ready for a "dotting about the kitchen, many different processes" type of dinner.  Nuh-uh.

I will admit that I've not made too many changes to the original recipe.  I opted not to use chilli sauce for the marinade, but to chop a live chilli instead.  My tummy can sometimes react badly to the ingredients in hot sauces, so I thought I'd go for the "hot" and leave the "sauce" in the cupboard for the boys to play with.  I also left out the ginger, because Hubby can be sensitive to ginger.  Feel free to add it back in, if you like it!

I also did away with the tinned bamboo shoots, not because I don't like them - I really like them - but it just adds to the expense to be buying a tin of water chestnuts and a tin of bamboo shoots.  Yes, I know you can get tins of stir fry mix that carry them both, but bleugh - who wants tinned bean sprouts?  I much prefer water chestnuts, so I opted to go with those.  Now I also added a few mushrooms, because a stir fry isn't a stir fry without mushrooms in it.  Also, I was surprised to see that there were no bean sprouts included in the original recipe.  Again, a chow mein just isn't right without bean sprouts - so I added a couple of big handfuls of those.  I will admit to being heartily sick of red pepper at the moment, so I reduced that down to a half a pepper.  Feel free to add any of your own favourite stir fry veggies or to take any of my favourites out - after all, it's your dinner!

Now once upon a time, I would always cook a chicken breast per person.  However, I quickly realised that this simply resulted in too much chicken.  Yes, I know, is there such a thing as "too much chicken"?  Well yes, particularly when it goes into a bowl for lunchtime tomorrow, then we get sidetracked and lunchtime tomorrow doesn't happen - and it gets thrown away.  Now that is just heartbreaking.  So in these enlightened times, I generally work on two chicken breasts between three people, but then our butcher's chicken breasts are a very generous size.  I'll leave you to decide how much is enough for your family.

We loved this recipe.  Even Son and heir loved this recipe - and he has been known to dislike stir fry recipes, recipes that include red pepper, recipes that include water chestnuts, etc. etc.  So for Son and heir to tuck into his dinner without a murmur of complaint, is quite some vote of approval.  Hubby even went back for seconds - and at 355 calories (approx.) per portion, he could easily do that without upsetting his diet!

I really enjoyed this recipe.  From the first mouthful to the last, I was happy.  For all the chilli involved, it wasn't very hot spicy at all.  I loved the flavour of the noodles, the mixture of the vegetables, the texture of the chicken - it was all just gorgeous.  I served the chow mein with a little handful of prawn crackers - just to provide a different texture and a little added interest.  Yummy.

There aren't very many Cook's Tips for you about this one, just the following :

-  make sure to have done all your chopping and peeling before you start cooking.  Once you start cooking, it all happens very quickly!

-  make sure the water for the noodles is boiling before you begin cooking the stir fry, as you want the noodles ready and waiting.  The veggies won't wait like the noodles can!

-  be brave over the heat under your wok.  You need it to be at top whack, blisteringly hot, to keep everything from stewing.  Stewing would be just yuk.  Frying is what we want - so you're going to have to move fast to stop bits from burning!

-  make sure to add the sesame oil to the noodles once they're done.  It seems like a stage that could be dropped, but it makes SO MUCH difference to the flavour!

So that's about it!  Do try this one, it really is something special.

CHICKEN CHOW MEIN    (serves 3-4)

Ingredients :

4 tbsp light soy sauce
1 red chilli, half chopped, half sliced for garnish
1 tbsp Chinese rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets, thinly sliced
200g dried medium egg noodles
2 tsp sesame oil
100g mangetout, halved lengthways
100g baby sweetcorn, halved or quartered lengthways
half a red pepper, sliced finely
100g canned water chestnuts, drained and sliced
8 spring onions, sliced diagonally
3 large mushrooms, halved and sliced
2 big handfuls of beansprouts
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
thinly sliced raw red chilli, for garnish.

Method :

1.  Stir together in a large bowl, the light soy sauce, chilli, vinegar, garlic and five spice powder.  Add the sliced chicken and stir to coat evenly in the marinade.  Leave to marinate for 10 minutes or the time it takes to prepare the vegetables.

2.  Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions and drain well, adding the sesame oil and giving them a good toss to keep them from sticking to one another. 

3.  Using a large wok (because there's a lot to go into it!) add the sunflower oil and heat to as hot as you dare.  Add the chicken mixture and stir-fry over a high heat until all pink is gone and the chicken is beginning to brown.

4.  Add all the mangetout, red pepper and baby sweetcorn and stir-fry until the sweetcorn has begun to soften.

5.  Add the onions, mushrooms and water chestnuts and continue to cook until the mushrooms are softened.

6.  Add the beansprouts and stir to combine.

7.  Add the noodles, sweet chilli sauce and dark soy sauce and cook for a further few minutes until piping hot.

Serve immediately with sliced red chillies sprinkled over and a few prawn crackers.

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12 August 2014

Chicken and chorizo Jambalaya

Before we go any further, I have to put my hands up and admit that the bulk of this recipe came from the Slimming World online recipe book - and you can see the original recipe here.

However, having got that out of my system, I can tell you that my version of the recipe is heaps better.  LOL  No, seriously!

Okay, it doesn't accord with the Slimming World ethos - but then it was never meant to.  What I was after, was to take a recipe that had been produced with slimming in mind - and gee it up a bit with additional flavours and textures.  The end result should be that it remains a healthy meal, but has all the good things that an ordinary (a.k.a. not diet) meal would have, such as variety, flavour, texture and substance.

Well, blow me down with a feather, but it only worked.

I'm not sure how much of a "Jambalaya" it was - never having had a strictly traditional Jambalaya - but it had rice, tomatoes and chicken, not to mention heat from spice and full bodied character.  What a result.  Even better was that I liked it - which doesn't happen often with Cajun or smoked paprika dishes.  It has been a while since we've had anything with chorizo in it - and I've found myself lusting after meatballs in tomato sauce with chorizo sizzling alongside, which I took as a hint that maybe I'd come round to the idea.  While I was slicing up the chorizo - as is required of the chef - I had a little taster to establish just how spicy/hot the flavour was.  I could easily have carried on and eaten best part of the entire sausage, it was that good.  Who knows, maybe my taste buds have matured where smoked paprika is concerned!

I knew that hubby would require his Jambalaya to taste Cajun - so added the pinch of red chilli flakes, the smoked paprika and ordinary sweet paprika.  I also wanted the dish to be substantial, so added the cherry tomatoes and mushrooms.  The biggest change was the addition of the chorizo.  I just couldn't imagine a Jambalaya type dish without something big to hold it all together - and the Quorn sausages in the original recipe just wouldn't do it for me.  Not to mention that I think Quorn is disgusting.  (Sorry Quorn manufacturers!).

The final dish was really tasty - and worked out to just under 500 calories per portion - so I didn't do too much damage to the original recipe with my additions!  Whether on a diet or just plain hungry, I recommend this one to you.  It'll keep the wolf from the door, that's for sure.

Now there's a couple of "cook's tips" for you :

-  make sure you start off with an enormous, deep, frying pan.  I used my 22" Ceracraft pan and only just managed to get everything into it.  If you have something deeper but that is reliably non-stick, I'd advise using it!

-   you need your pan to be non-stick, as when it comes to the point of putting the lid on and letting it chuckle for a while, it does have a nasty habit of trying to burn the underside of the food.  Hence, a non-stick pan helps no end with reducing the likelihood of any burning - but do remember to stir and turn the contents regularly!

- using a powder chicken stock is by far and away the better approach.  A chicken stock cube will do the job, but in 200ml of water it can have problems dissolving.  A teaspoonful of chicken stock powder, however, can go into the pan with 200ml of water without any trouble whatsoever.  I recommend Essential Cuisine's chicken stock powder - it's only £3.99 a tub - and the tub last for ages.

So there we have it!  This dish would be perfect for cooking in advance, then heating up in the microwave for Bonfire Night.  I can just imagine being out in the garden with the fireworks, keeping my hands warm around a mugful of this Jambalaya and oohing and aaahing in between forkfuls.  Perfect.


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, finely sliced
100g chorizo sausage
a pinch of red chilli flakes
2 sweet peppers, your choice of colours, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 courgette, quartered and diced

4 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 large mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
half a tsp paprika
zest and juice of half a lemon
400g can chopped tomatoes
250g long grain
200ml low salt chicken stock
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a handful of fresh parsley, chopped.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a huge deep frying pan (it needs to be big, because there's a lot to fit into it!) and fry the chopped onion until softened, with a pinch of sea salt to bring out the moisture.

2.  Increase the heat under the pan and add the chicken, chorizo and chilli flakes. Cook until the chicken has lost all evidence of pinkness.

3.  Add the thyme, smoked paprika and paprika and stir to combine.

4.  Add the peppers, courgette, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, lemon juice and zest. On the same high heat, cook but stir gently so as not to break up the vegetables, until the vegetables have begun to soften and reduced in size.

5.  Add the tinned tomatoes, stock cube and 200ml of water. Stir to combine and bring to the boil.

6.  Add the rinsed rice, stir through and bring back to the boil. Place a lid on the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook gently - stirring occasionally to prevent any burning underneath the mixture - until the rice has cooked and is tender.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

7.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

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5 August 2014

Lamb & fennel meatballs with rag pasta

Well this one is hot off the press!  We had this for dinner this evening and it was so good, I had to commit the recipe to the blog before I forgot what I'd done.  Yes, it's a Jenny Eatwell original, so mind you remember that when you're telling all your friends.   *wink*

In actual fact, the germ of inspiration came from a news article regarding an Italian restaurant.  I forget where the restaurant was, but in the article they showed a dish of meatballs with "rag" pasta.  This one was completely new to me and required some further investigation - and it turns out that recipes involving "rag" pasta are all over the internet.  It is only a wonder that I haven't tripped over one before!

So what is "rag" pasta?  It's such a simple thing!  You take a fresh lasagne sheet (egg pasta preferably) and cut it into random shapes.  Tadaaaaa!  Rag pasta.  Now I do remember seeing Gennaro Contaldo making something with randomly shaped flat pasta in the past, but hadn't connected it with "rag" pasta.  I decided to cut mine into triangles, but you can be as random as you like, so long as the shapes are roughly the same size so that they cook at the same speed.

I will admit, however, that once I combined the pasta with the sauce it looked rather flat and uninviting.  Hubby was looking at it most dubiously and I suddenly lost all confidence in my lovely tasty sauce that I'd been quietly rhapsodising over only minutes before.

I made the mistake of serving it on flat plates - it would have looked so much better in a bowl with a little sprinkle of some herb or another - parsley probably - to give a brighter green.  Everything looks inviting with some parsley sprinkled over it!

Having dashed off the three photographs (why didn't I take more?) I ventured into the sitting room where hubby and son were tucking in.  Well?  How was it eating?  "Do you know," said hubby, in amazement, "this is actually really very good!".

Really?  I mean, there, I told you it would be lovely.  ~Koff~  He was right, as well.  It ate very nicely indeed.  The pasta wasn't chewy, or flabby, the meatballs were just right size wise and yes, you could taste the fennel seed.  The sauce was just the right consistency and perfect amounts of it.  Gosh!  I'd only gone and conjured up a family favourite.

So here I am, dashing off a quick blog post so that you, too, can enjoy some "rag" pasta with your families.

Now, for the cook's notes, I've a couple :

-  firstly, make sure to use full fat creme fraiche.  Low fat just won't work and will split once you bring it up to the boil.

-  Secondly, any old stock will do (other than fish, of course!), so don't worry if you don't have any lamb stock cubes or powder in the cupboard.

-  It is very worth crushing the fennel seed before adding it to the meatballs, as getting a seed stuck between your teeth can ruin the best of meals.

For those who might be counting calories, this amounts to roughly 1,161 calories per portion (which is the entire amount divided between three people).  However, it is an entire meal on the one plate, so long as you make sure to have a light breakfast and lunch.  Of course, you could always serve it with a salad and split it between four people, which would reduce the calories a bit!

Happy munching!


Ingredients :

500g minced lamb
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp sumac
half a tsp garlic granules
1 large banana shallot, one half chopped finely, the other sliced finely
1 tbsp olive oil
200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
200ml lamb (or veal, or chicken) stock
300ml full fat creme fraiche
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
half a tsp dried thyme
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
300g fresh egg lasagne pasta sheets, cut into 2" triangles
50g tenderstem broccoli
20g peas.

Method :

1.  With a pestle and mortar, crush the fennel seed with a pinch of salt.  Then into a large bowl, mix together the minced lamb, crushed fennel seed, sumac, pepper, garlic granules and the finely chopped half of banana shallot.

2.  Wet your hands and shape the mixture into small meatballs - about the size of a cherry tomato.

3.  Heat a deep frying pan and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the meatballs and fry on a high heat until lightly browned, but just cooked through. Remove from the pan and reserve. Tip away all but 1 tablespoonful of the oil.

4.  Add the remaining finely sliced half of banana shallot and sliced mushrooms and fry gently until softened.

5.  Return the meatballs to the pan and add the lamb stock, creme fraiche, Worcestershire sauce plus thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil and reduce until you have a thickened sauce (around 10-15 minutes).

6.  In the meantime, bring a deep pot of water to the boil and once boiling, add the pasta pieces. Cook until tender - approx. 3-4 minutes.

7.  Add the tenderstem broccoli to the sauce, making sure to submerge it so that it cooks evenly. Cook for around 7-8 minutes, then add the petits pois and cook until heated through and tender.

8.  When the pasta is done, drain and add the pasta to the sauce. Toss in the sauce to coat - and serve into warmed bowls.

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