9 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ingredients :

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

Method :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 March 2016

Pressure cooker poached quince - delightfully fudgy and exotic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ingredients :

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

Method :

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

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

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

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

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

De-pressurise the cooker gently and remove the lid.

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

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

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

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

Serve at room temperature, with cream or Greek yoghurt.

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