Resplendent Risotto & the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Tiny Little Arancini

Here we are, at the start of a brand new year, full of hope & a handful of resolutions!  After decadent December’s sparkly finale of festivities, January’s bright, crisp sunshine has been a welcome sight.  Although we’re barely into the New Year, piled up platefuls of plenty are replaced with sparse-looking salads, kale on a crispbread & some rather questionable smoothies.  Personally, I don’t go in for all that stuffing & starving yourself (there are other ways to be miserable).  As I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog, there are two things to remember: (1) your “in door” is much larger than your “out door” (think about it) & (2) everything in moderation (one slice of chocolate cake, not six).  January is not a sponge to wipe away the over-indulgences of December!  It’s still Winter & we need warming, cocooning comfort food that satisfies the appetite & fills you up, so this is no time to start depriving your body of much required sustenance!

Weekends here usually involve whizzing around on a Saturday doing chores, catching up with friends, family & phone calls, followed by a lovely lazy Sunday with the Husband, a glass or two of wine & watching old movies together while dinner’s cooking.  Sometimes, I’ll cook a roast chicken & make chicken stock at the same time (multi-tasking at it’s finest!).  Homemade stock is extremely easy to make, you know what’s in it (no hidden nasties) & is very versatile too, being the base to many soups, sauces & dishes.  It also means that we can have a rich, rib-sticking risotto on a Monday night, made with fabulously fresh chicken stock, a bit of bacon & a variety of colourful vegetables.  Here’s a link to my easy roast chicken & chicken stock recipe:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/beauty-the-baste/

Risotto is a simply sumptuous staple dish & as long as you give it your full attention (no wandering off mid-cooking to check the score or your social media), it will reward you with a rich, resplendent rice dish.  Once you master the basic recipe, you can add your favourite flavoursome ingredients & toppings.

This is a recipe I’ve been cooking for years & have found it works well every time, plus the leftovers can be made into some rather tasty arancini – risotto is a bit like the gift that keeps on giving.  Gorgeously gooey & glossy risotto is beautiful piled on a plate, adorned with shimmering roasted vegetables & a drizzle of the oil from the pan with all it’s garlicky goodness.  A tray of roasted veggies will cook in about the same time too & any leftovers are perfect on pizzas, tossed in pasta or just topping some toasted ciabatta rubbed with a little raw garlic & olive oil, creating a beautiful bruschetta anytime (I’ve usually got a jar of these in the fridge).  Ready to give it a go?  Hands washed, aprons on!

What you need:

For the Risotto:
Chicken stock (I usually have 2-3 pints in a pan heating up)
4 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon or Pancetta
3 sticks of Celery, washed & trimmed
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed & trimmed
4 large handfuls of Arborio Rice (or you can use Carnaroli if you prefer)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large glass of Dry White Wine (Pinot Grigio is good with this, but dry un-oaked white wine will do)
4oz grated Parmesan (because you’ll need some for garnish)
1oz Butter
Freshly ground Black Pepper

For the Roasted Vegetables:
Half a punnet Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes, halved
2 Peppers (each a different colour), deseeded
1 Courgette, trimmed
1 Red Onion, trimmed & outer skin removed
3 cloves of Garlic, chopped
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Firstly, get your stock ready.  If it’s already strained & been chilling in the fridge, simple scoop off any layer of fat from the top (there shouldn’t be much).  Strain into a large saucepan using a metal sieve to remove any bits in the liquid (if you’ve forgotten to do this, just use a sieve when adding the stock to the rice).  This is important, as you don’t want any gritty bits in your risotto.  Because homemade stock already has salt in it, you won’t need to add any to this recipe (there’s no added salt to the roasted veggies either – it draws the water out & makes them mushy).

Put the lid on the pan & heat gently on a low heat until nice & hot – don’t rush this, it will only take a couple of minutes.  Sometimes, I’ll add a cup of boiling water from the kettle if I’ve made a smaller amount of stock & need more liquid.  It’s best to have more than you need, just in case.

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your roasting vegetables – wash thoroughly & apart from the tomatoes, chop into chunky pieces.

Chuck them all into a roasting tin or large dish, with a good glug of olive oil & some black pepper (a little goes a long way, so go steady with this).

Chop the garlic & add to the tin, giving everything a good toss around (get your hands in there!).  If you prefer, just give the garlic a bash with the back of a knife & chuck it in the pan whole – it will flavour everything, but more delicately (plus you can squeeze it onto crusty bread later for a snack).

Put in the middle of the oven to cook while you make the risotto.  Give everything a shake after about 10 minutes & return to the oven.  Once cooked, pop them on a cooling rack (this will be when your risotti is finished, but here’s a picture to give you an idea of what to expect).

Prepare your risotto vegetables – wash them thoroughly, trim the ends & chop finely.  Set to one side.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan & using a pair of scissors, cut the bacon into small pieces into the pan.

Add the onion & celery, stir frying for a couple of minutes until softened slightly & a little translucent.  Make sure you keep everything moving, as you don’t want the onions to “catch” & burn.

Add the rice to the pan, stirring well & ensuring it is thoroughly coated in the oil (this is important).

Pour the glass of white wine into the pan & stir well (the scent of this bit is always lovely!).  Always use the wine you would drink & absolutely never anything marked “cooking wine”!

Add a couple of ladles of stock into the pan, stirring thoroughly into all the ingredients.  Keep stirring gently until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice & repeat this step.

After about 20 minutes, give it a taste & the rice should be al dente (just like pasta – cooked “to the tooth”).  The rice should be easy to bite through, yet it will still be firm.  If you think it needs a bit longer, add another ladle of stock, stir well & when absorbed, taste it again.

Once you’re happy with your risotto, add a generous handful of Parmesan, along with a couple of small chunks of butter dotted around the pan & leave the pan to one side (you can cover it up if you like).  Give it a couple of minutes to rest, then slowly stir in the puddles of butter & melted cheese.

Spoon generously onto a plate & top with roasted vegetables, dust with a little black pepper & Parmesan, then tuck in!  This rich, warming comfort food tastes lovely with leftover chicken from Sunday dinner or try topping with crispy chicken legs roasted with honey, lemon & fresh Thyme.  Have a wander around my other recipes to give you some ideas.

Due to my lack of portion control, there are always plenty of leftovers, which are perfect for creating the most amazing arancini (which literally translates as “little oranges”).  Because the amount leftover varies each time I make risotto, I don’t tend to measure the ingredients when I make these beautiful little rice balls, so these are approximate measurements below.  An ice-cream scoop comes in very handy when you’re making these & I have been known to use a melon baller on occasion, hence the title to this blog.  Ready?   Let’s get rolling!

What you need:

Leftover Risotto (cold & preferably left overnight)
Breadcrumbs (4-6 thick slices of bread, whizzed in the food processor should do it & any bread – I’ve used seeded, white, brown, whatever needs using up)
1 large Egg, beaten
2oz Plain Flour
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Tip the cold risotto into a bowl & break up any large lumps.  Using a tablespoon or an ice-cream scoop, take little heaps of cold risotto & shape into balls in your hand (yes, you’re going to get messy but that’s half the fun).  Leave them on a tray in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour (if you can leave them for a couple of hours, this will be better).

Put the flour in a flat bowl or casserole dish lid.  Do the same with the breadcrumbs.

Beat the egg in another similar dish (tip: add a tiny pinch of salt to break down the egg & make it smoother).

Roll them around in a little flour, shaking off the excess, dip in the beaten egg, shaking off the excess again & drop into the breadcrumbs.  Give them a good roll around, making sure they are thoroughly coated in breadcrumbs & put on a large plate while you make the rest.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan & gently shallow fry a few of the arancini at a time, moving them around the pan gently.  Cook them until golden all over, which takes just a couple of minutes.

Once crispy & golden, remove the arancini & place on kitchen paper to remove the excess oil (or tip them into a metal sieve & shake).

Perch these plump little treats onto a watercress salad, drizzle with beautiful balsamic vinegar & add a dusting of black pepper.  My homemade tomato sauce goes very well with these – the richness of the risotto is cut by the sweet, but tart tomato (see my meatball blog for tomato sauce recipe).  These more-ish little mouthfuls are perfect for munching, whether for lunch, supper or as a simple starter (also great for nibbling with pre-dinner drinks or curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine & a good film).

Next time you cook a roast chicken for dinner, make some stock & rustle up a resplendent risotto & itsy bitsy teeny weeny tiny little arancini!  Stay hungry!  😉  A x

Spatch the Chicken!

After a busy bustling week, we all look forward to a relaxing weekend & especially indulging in some home-cooked delights.  Although rare, sometimes Sunday mornings begin with a bit of a lie-in until at least 8am, snuggling up to the Husband while our beautiful cat snoozes on the foot of the bed, one eye open to see if we’re getting up yet.  Sundays are perfect for relaxed cooking & sometimes you just want an easy, lazy dinner that you can chuck in the oven & forget about (until dinner time that is!).  Nobody wants to be racing around the kitchen, trying to prepare a fabulous feast for the family in record time.  The best meals are those that just fit together, like the pieces of an edible food puzzle.  We tend to eat our Sunday meal at dinner time, giving us a chance to catch up with family & friends during the day, enjoy a crisp Autumn walk in the sunshine together, or simply curl up on the sofa together & watch old films.  Eating later in the day means you can just kick off your shoes, pour yourself a glass of wine & relax for the evening, especially in the chillier months.

Most roast dinners or lunches consist of a delicious, slow-roasted joint of meat or chicken, cooked to perfection & surrounded by a selection of sumptuous sides.  It’s great when you have the time, but not everyone wants to start preparing lunch first thing in the morning (especially when you should be making a pot of fresh coffee & a mini mountain of fluffy pancakes).  This is where a spatchcocked chicken comes in handy.  To reduce the cooking time of a piece of meat, it is sometimes butterflied or spatchcocked.  This bodes well for those long days at work or when you’ve been out galavanting & haven’t the energy to cook a full-on roast dinner, but have guests arriving in a couple of hours or just want to eat before midnight!  Obviously, there is some element of preparation & even a little delegation, but spatchcocked chicken is an elegant yet effortless dish that your family & guests will love.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I always have a selection of sides in the freezer ready prepared for impromptu dinners & after-work suppers (if you prep them the day before, you can pop them in the fridge, ready for Sunday).  This could perhaps be one of the laziest, most rapid roast dinners you’ll cook if you’ve done the same, so here’s a couple of links to my previous blogs to give you a bit of help:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/freezing-your-assets/  or  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-kitchen-nightmare-readymeals-set-go/

Ready to spatch the chicken?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

1 small/medium Chicken, no giblets (about 1.2 – 1.5kg approx)
6-8 rashers Smoked Bacon
1 large Lemon (or a couple of smaller ones)
Handful of fresh Thyme or Rosemary
2 tablespoons Runny Honey
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Half a pint cold Water

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  Prep your tin – get a large roasting tin, drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom & set aside.

Unpack your chicken from the wrapper & cut off the string holding the legs together.  Do not wash the chicken – any bacteria will be killed in the cooking process.   Now I’m not being the recycling police, but please wash the plastic tray in hot soapy water & chuck it in the recycling bin – or maybe use as a plant pot tray in the garden instead (great for sitting trays of seedlings on).

Pop the legs out of their sockets – hold the chicken breast side facing you, leg in each hand & push them back until you feel them give.

On a chopping board, place the chicken breast-side down, so the underneath & wings are showing (they are usually tucked under the body).

Taking a pair of strong kitchen scissors, cut either side of the spine all the way to the Parson’s nose (the wobbly bit of flesh at the top).  You will cut through bone, so your scissors need to be sharp.  Remove the spine & save to make stock (see my blog on preparing a chicken for this – here’s the link: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/).

Turn the chicken breast-side up again & lay in the roasting tin, splaying out the body & legs.  Give the top of the bird a firm press down, just to contact the chicken with the tin.

Layer the bacon rashers all over the breast part of the bird & legs if you like too (I use the bacon to cover any areas where the skin has split & it keeps the meat moist, basting it with it’s fat & juices).  Wash your hands thoroughly.

On another chopping board, cut the lemon into quarters lengthways, squeeze the juice all over the bird.  Lay the quarters in each corner of the tin.  If you can’t get large lemons, use a couple of smaller ones.  To get the most juice from them, give the lemons a firm roll on the board first.

Drizzle with olive oil, then season with a good sprinkling of the sea salt & black pepper.

Chuck in a few sprigs of fresh herbs, sharing around the tin to surround the bird.  Thyme or Rosemary are great for this, or you could use some of both.

Pour the water around the chicken.

Place in the lower part of the oven & cook for about an hour, until the chicken is golden & the bacon has turned a beautiful deep rose colour,  perfectly crisp.

To check if the chicken is cooked through, take a sharp knife or metal skewer & pierce the thickest part of the meat.  If the juices run clear, it’s cooked.  If not, put it back in for another 5-10 minutes & test again.

Once you’re happy with your bird, remove from the oven & strain any excess fluid from the bottom of the tin.  Drizzle the honey all over the top, legs & all.  Cover with a baking tin or foil & leave to rest for about half an hour, while you prepare the sides.  Resting the meat will give it a chance to relax & it will carve much easier.

When everything is ready, dish up that dinner!  Whether you have a few roasted potatoes & a salad, or all the trimmings, this rapid roast will feed the family & impress your guests at how quickly you pulled it together.

But it doesn’t end there, you can still make a few more meals with the leftovers.  Any extra slices of cooked chicken (& don’t forget the bacon bits!) can be used for packed lunches, crammed into pots with pasta, roasted peppers & salad, or stuffed in freshly baked baguettes, filled to the brim with rocket, fresh basil leaves & a splodge of mayo or pimped up Greek Yoghurt (just add a pinch of black pepper & dollop of pesto to a cup of the yoghurt).  Plus you can save the carcass to make stock too!  Great for rustling up a rich risotto, making a spicy soup or even for gravy.  See my “Bird in the Hand” blog link I shared above for instructions & just chuck it back in the oven to work it’s magic, while you all tuck in to dinner (multi-tasking at it’s finest of course).

Next time your Sunday is stretched, save some time & spatch the chicken!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

Comforting Conchiglioni, the Cold Conqueror!

January is always a bit of a fresh month, both in weather & starts.  The freshness outside at “OMG it’s early!” was a bit bracing this morning, as we were driving through a downpour in the darkness.  Fresh starts are also being encouraged – every which way you look, there are adverts for skinny salads, sugar-free snacks & fat-free fodder, none of which help when it’s freezing cold & you need a decent dinner to warm you through!  As you probably know, I don’t do diets & a bit of lettuce & a rice cake won’t give you much energy, especially in this weather!   It’s all about balance & there are plenty of other things to make life dull – food should definitely not be one of them!

On our morning drive, my Husband & I always discuss dinner before I drop him off – it’s a sort of ritual we have & the anticipation of what I’m cooking builds during the day, making dinner that much more enticing.  Pasta is undeniably one of my favourite foods!  It’s easy to prepare & a pleasure to eat, especially when it’s crammed full of flavoursome fillings or dressed in a rich, sumptuous sauce, or both!  When I discovered these pretty pasta shells on a random shopping trip some years ago, I had already decided what kind of fillings I would make, the sauce, the herbs, everything – all before reaching the checkout!  Now I appreciate not everyone gets excited by a bag of pasta (I have a dedicated pasta shelf in the pantry), but they inspired me to create something wholesome & filling – proper rib-sticking, colourful comfort food to warm you on a chilly day like today, without taking all day to make.  This recipe for Stuffed Conchiglioni is something we enjoy making together as a family & definitely eating together!  They can be made in advance & the best bit is there’s going to be plenty of leftovers for lunches (hot or cold) & maybe a couple of pots for the freezer, for those “can’t be bothered” nights.  So here goes – hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

500g of dried Conchiglioni (1.1lb)
400g of Full Fat Cream Cheese (the good stuff – check it’s not got locust bean gum in it – that’s not cheese) or use Ricotta if you like
4-6 slices of day old bread, whizzed into breadcrumbs
400g packet of Bacon (smoked or unsmoked), trimmed of fat & cut into about 1cm pieces (use scissors for this & make your life a bit easier)
1 large Red Onion, topped, tailed & finely chopped
1 ball of Mozzarella
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Dried Oregano
Sea Salt (for the pasta water)

For the Sauce:

4 tins of Italian Plum Tomatoes
Half a bulb of fresh Garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of Tomato Puree
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Basil (fresh or dried)
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Pinch of Sea Salt
2 teaspoons of Sugar

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  Heat a large skillet or frying pan, add a drizzle of the olive oil.

Chuck in the chopped onion & bacon pieces, stir fry for a few minutes, keeping the onion moving so that it doesn’t catch & burn.  If any liquid forms around the bacon, simply strain it off & discard.  Add a little more olive oil if needed.  Once cooked, leave to cool for a few minutes.

Tip the breadcrumbs into a large mixing bowl, along with the cream cheese.  Add the fried bacon & onion, mixing thoroughly to create a lovely thick stuffing.  Cover the bowl with a plate & leave while your pasta cooks.

Put the kettle on to boil the water for your conchiglioni (it saves time doing it this way).

Add a teaspoon of sea salt in the bottom of a large saucepan – it needs to be big enough to hold the pasta & water easily, so try it out dry before you put the water in.  Pour in the water & reboil the kettle if you need more – you should have enough water to reach two thirds of the way up the pan.  Use your judgement here – you’re going to have to lift this lot up, so make sure you can take the weight or cook it in two separate pans if you’re not sure.

Carefully tip in the pasta & give it a good stir with a wooden spoon.  Bring to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to separate the shells & cook according to the instructions on the pack.

When your conchiglioni are cooked, they should still have some firmness to them & hold their shape.  Strain into a colander & sit it over the saucepan.  Put to one side to cool for a few minutes, ready for stuffing!

In a large casserole or lasagne dish, drizzle a little olive oil & smudge it all over the inside of the dish (this stops your pasta from sticking).  You might want to prep another, slightly smaller dish for any extra shells (OK, there are always extra shells, trust me on this).

Then get yourself a teaspoon, your stuffing mixture (& any glamorous assistants you might have to help you) & start stuffing!  Scoop a teaspoonful of the stuffing into each shell, being careful not to overfill them (they will just overflow).  My technique is to take a shell in my hand, then gently pinch the top & bottom together, opening up the middle nicely to fill.

Lay each stuffed shell in the prepared dish, then carry on stuffing until you’ve filled them all.  At this point, you can cover them in cling film & put them in the fridge until you want to eat them – they will keep until the next day.

Now to make the sauce!  Although this isn’t our family recipe, it’s a close one & tastes just as jammy.  Usually, I have this blipping away in the background while I’m stuffing.

Into a large saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil & add the garlic.  Gently fry for a few seconds, then slowly add the tomatoes & their juice, giving them a good stir around & breaking up any large pieces (or you can just squish them in your hands before you put them in the pan).

Add the tomato puree, the sugar & seasoning to taste (you won’t need much salt, so go easy on this).  Add a couple of teaspoons of dried Basil (or rip up about half a dozen leaves of fresh & chuck them in).  Give everything a good stir & reduce to a gentle simmer for about half an hour with a lid loosely on, stirring occasionally.

Once cooked, the sauce should have thickened & reduced slightly, so give it a stir & a quick taste – it should be darker, rich & really lovely!  Adjust the seasoning if you need to.

Spoon your sauce generously all over the stuffed shells, making sure they are just covered & no bits are peeking out.  Dot chunks of Mozzarella all over the top & add a sprinkling of dried Oregano.

Then bake it in the centre of the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the cheese becomes gorgeously golden & the sauce bubbles up all around the edges (put a tray underneath to catch any drips).

Remove from the oven & let them rest for a couple of minutes (that sauce will be hotter than the sun).  Get some fresh, crusty bread, get everyone to the table & get stuck in!   Usually, my guys magically appear in the kitchen while I’m dishing up, grabbing a slice of warm bread to munch on & dunking it in the sauce.

These gorgeous conchiglioni can be crammed with whatever you fancy – try chopped spinach with ricotta & pine nuts, or sundried tomato & sausage, or maybe swap silky cheese sauce for the tomato & dust with a little grated Grana Padana.

So next time you feel the chill on a dull day, whip up some colourful, comforting Conchiglioni!  Stay hungry 😉 A x

 

Beauty & the Baste

We’re almost there & as the big day draws near, gifts have been wrapped, greeting cards are written & parcels delivered.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have most of your Christmas cooking prepared by now too (well done you!).  This part is all about the main event: a beautifully basted bird, & whether you prefer turkey, chicken or something else completely, you want it to be perfect.  It’s like a spectacular Sunday lunch, only with more people (& more wine).  Whether you’re having a full-on festive feast or not, everyone will be looking forward to spending a few days with their family & friends.

In the past, I have regularly cooked Christmas dinner for around 10-20 people (what was I thinking?!), including a turkey the size of a pterodactyl (it was a bit of a beast & needed two people to wedge it into the oven), along with joints of beef, pork & Quorn, plus a glazed gammon joint & various crates of veg – this involved several days, two kitchens & a bottle of Sherry!  Despite all the chaos, dinner would be done & I somehow managed to keep smiling – it’s a bit like being a swan on a pond, all calm & graceful on the top, but paddling like mad under the water!

Because we don’t eat turkey these days (nor do I try to feed the 5,000 anymore), I cook a large chicken on Christmas Day instead, but this method works equally well with a turkey too (probably not one the size of a pterodactyl though!).  For turkey cooking times, including defrosting times, here’s a link to the British Turkey website to help you get started:

The way I roast a chicken is actually quite easy & you don’t really need to prep the bird until Christmas morning.  You could do this just before bedtime on Christmas Eve if you really want to get a head start, just don’t add the salt or the water until you’re ready to roast.

One thing I always recommend is to get yourself some decent roasting tins!  Forget the non-stick ones – I learned the hard way that no matter how expensive they are or fabulous the guarantee is, that stuff eventually comes off on your food.  Save yourself some hassle & invest in some good, plain stainless steel ones – you don’t need to spend a fortune either, just check they are well-made & solid.  Let’s get started!

You will need:

1 fresh Chicken, without giblets (to feed four, I use about 1.5kg size)
(standard cooking times for Chicken are usually 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes, although I tend to cook it longer by my method)

2-3 medium/large Carrots
2-3 sticks of Celery & a couple of the inner ones with leaves on top
1 large Onion or 2 smaller/medium Onions
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
A glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Optional: 6-10 rashers Streaky Bacon (smoked or unsmoked)

Stuffing:  either Fresh Herbs – a handful of Thyme, a couple of sprigs of Rosemary & a few Sage leaves are plenty;
Or:
Homemade Sage & Onion Stuffing (see my previous blog http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bit-on-the-side/)

What you do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  Before handling your bird, wash your hands thoroughly & dry them to avoid any cross-contamination – there’s a lot of hand washing, because you don’t want people to remember your Christmas dinner for all the wrong reasons!

Take the chicken out of it’s wrapper & most importantly: do not wash it!  Trust me, no bacteria will survive in a 200*C oven – the temperature require to kill E.coli & Salmonella is 70*C (160*F), so panic ye not people!

Remove any elastic or ties & pop the chicken legs out of their sockets, allowing the chicken to cook evenly.  To do this, hold the chicken in both hands, breast side up, with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them outwards, away from the breast – you will feel them pop out easily.  Place the chicken in the roasting tin & wash your hands thoroughly again.

Wash the carrots & celery, then chop roughly into 3 inch long pieces & arrange around the chicken.  The reason we clean the veg is because you’ll be using the stock for gravy & you don’t want any mud or grit in it.  Cut the onion into half (leave the skin on if clean), or quarters if it’s a large one, putting the pieces in the corners of the tin.

Next you need to fill the cavity of the chicken – again, this helps the chicken cook evenly & it also flavours it nicely too.  There are various fillings you can use, but ultimately it’s down to personal choice – some people prefer traditional sage & onion stuffing, some prefer using a few fresh herbs & vegetables.  If you made some of my homemade sage & onion stuffing for this, simply spoon it into the cavity until full.  If you prefer your stuffing separate, bundle together a couple of thin carrot & celery sticks with the leaves on, along with the herbs (saving a couple of Sage leaves) & put inside the chicken cavity.

If you’re using bacon, layer your bacon rashers across the chicken breast, starting at the top & working your way down, with each rasher overlapping the previous one.  This is good if the skin has split on your chicken – it will keep your breast meat moist & the bacon will crisp up nicely at the end of cooking.  Wash your hands well again afterwards (they’ll be sparkling by now!).

Pour about three pints of cold water around the edge of the chicken (be careful not to splash), then drizzle some olive oil over the whole bird & legs, sprinkle a good teaspoonful of ground sea salt & black pepper over the top.   Rip up the rest of the Sage leaves, along with any Thyme & Rosemary leaves that fell off, then sprinkle them around the roasting tin.

Next, make a foil dome to go over the top of your roasting tin & capture all those lovely steamy juices.  This is the science bit that is going to save you time & effort: as the moisture heats up, the steam vapour rises to the top of the foil dome, condenses & drips onto the chicken, basting the bird so you don’t have to!  No more opening the oven every half hour to baste your bird & effectively let all the goodness escape the oven (including the heat!), nor are you going to end up with burned fingers or splashing your arms with meat juices.

Lay a couple of equal sized foil strips on top of each other, with the dull sides on the inside (the side that goes next to the chicken), then fold the top over about a centimetre all the way along.  Do this a couple of times, then mash them together well to make sure they don’t come undone in the oven. If you have a larger sheet of foil, just put a crease or fold in the middle, leaving the central part un-creased.  Put over the tin, making sure it forms a dome over the top & doesn’t touch the chicken, then press firmly around the edges of the tin so that none of that lovely steam can escape.  This is what makes your stock, infusing with the bird & veg to produce a fragrant, flavoursome fluid for making gorgeous gravy later.

Put your foiled roasting tin in the lower part of the oven & leave it there for at about two & a half to three hours – you don’t need to be too precise here, but if it’s a larger chicken than the size I have mentioned, I just add another half hour on (check the British Turkey link I mentioned before for weights & times, if you’re not sure).  As I mentioned above, standard cooking times for chicken are usually 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes, however I tend to cook it longer by my method.

Once it’s cooked, take the roasting tin out of the oven, remove the foil (keep to one side) & check your chicken.  Take a metal skewer or a small sharp knife, poke it into the thicker part of the chicken & if the juices run clear, then it’s cooked.  To crisp up the bacon & skin a bit, strain most of the liquid into a large saucepan (keep this for later), leave the foil off the bird & give it another five minutes in the oven.

When you’re happy that it’s crisped enough, remove your roasting tin from the oven & place on a cooling rack (I use a grill tray with a wire rack in it for this, to catch any drips).  Replace the foil lid & seal around the tin to protect the meat from drying out, then let it rest for at least half an hour.  By resting the bird, the meat relaxes nicely & becomes beautifully tender.  Traditionally, you should let the bird rest for the same amount of time it was in the oven, but I leave it as long as it takes to cook the accompanying side dishes.

Just before serving, transfer the chicken carefully onto a large serving plate, ready for carving (you’ll find the meat will fall off the bone easily, so you might not need to do much carving at all!).

If you’re making pigs-in-blankets, do these now – they take minutes & use up any extra bits of streaky bacon.  Simply roll short bacon strips around chunky chipolata sausages, straight or diagonally, then pop them onto a baking tray (you don’t need any oil – the fat in both of them will render out onto the tray, giving sufficient grease).  Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until crispy & bronzed, giving them a little shake halfway through.

If you’ve been following my previous blogs, this is where you grab a well-deserved glass of something nice, give yourself a pat on the back & relax, because all your sides will be prepared!  Just pop them in ovenproof dishes, then warm them through in the oven while your roasties cook (bet you’re glad you did all that prep now!).  Obviously, this is also when you tell everyone else to keep out of the kitchen while you’re working hard (on your G&T hopefully) & send them off to set tables, find tablecloths, fill glasses – anything to keep them busy & give you a five minute breather.

Feeling a bit refreshed?  Good!  Right, back to work (briefly anyway) – it’s gravy making time!  If you have pre-prepared your gravy, simply pour it into a saucepan & gently warm through, before transferring to a gravy boat or jug.  If you are making it from scratch, here’s a refresher of what to do.  Grab a whisk & saucepan!

What you need:

1 pint of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 heaped teaspoons of Gravy Browning (such as Bisto powder)
A good glug of cold water (about 3 tablespoons)

What to do:

Using the fresh, hot stock from your roasted bird, simply ladle off a pint into a jug (keep the rest in the pan, put the lid on & leave to cool, then freeze).  To remove any fat from the stock (that’s the golden bubbles you can see here), get yourself a few sheets of kitchen paper & touch it gently on the top – the grease will attach itself to the paper, which you can then throw away (no faffing around trying to separate it).

In another jug, measure your gravy browning (I’ve used Bisto for years, so just use whatever you like best).  You don’t need any seasoning, because there’s plenty in the gravy browning & also in your stock.

Pour in the cold water & mix to form a smooth brown liquid, followed by a quarter of the stock, then tip into your saucepan & heat gently for a few seconds, using the whisk to mix everything thoroughly.

Add the rest of the hot stock carefully & keep whisking gently to prevent lumps forming.  The gravy will begin to thicken up nicely now, so dip a spoon in & if it coats the back of the spoon, it’s ready.

Pour into a gravy boat or a jug & that’s the gravy done!   Enlist a Little Helper to put it on the table, with a plate or saucer underneath (to catch the drips & save your table).

When everything is ready & you’re happy with it, get your Little Helpers in to distribute dishes to the table (maybe have some extra treats to reward them for their support).

That’s it!  Your festive feast is ready, everything is done & you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work.  Whatever you’re doing, whomever you’re with, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas & a fabulous New Year from my family to yours.  Stay hungry 😉  A x

 

Hob To It & Wake Up To A Bake Up!

The mornings are now fabulously frosty, so we all need suitable sustenance to start the day.  It’s been seven weeks since the new kitchen project began & we are still technically hob-less, which doesn’t help when we fancy a fry up.  It’s the simple stuff you miss when you don’t have a working hob, like cooking a proper breakfast.  Even a basic boiled egg has become a rarity, which isn’t good when it’s boiled egg & soldiers season!  All the stress of this project has taken it’s toll (obviously made worse with the hob issues), so I’ve had to get even more creative in the kitchen (I’ve been baking plenty of bread & taking my stress out on the dough!).

Initially, I had thoughts about building a camp fire at the bottom of the garden (s’mores on toast anyone?), or borrowing a barbeque so I could at least use my skillet to whip up a bacon butty, however these weren’t really viable options.  Having a microwave is essential in hob-free times, but I must admit I’m not very good at microwave cooking, apart from reheating & defrosting stuff.  My Husband is somewhat of a microwave magician though, so I’m very lucky!

After a fed up phone call to my Mum, bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t even fry an egg, she suggested baking eggs on a tray in the oven, a bit like a hot plate & it works really well (obviously, because Mums are always right).  So this Monday morning, I decided to start the day with a “bake up” instead of a “fry up”!  I defrosted a few frozen rashers of smoked bacon, laid them out on a baking tray (no oil required) & put them in the oven to crisp up.  Several sizzling minutes later, the bronzed bacon rashers had given up their oil onto the tray, ready to plop some eggs into.  Now I didn’t want runaway random shaped eggs & I don’t have any fancy cooking rings like those you see on TV shows (or the budget!), so I used a couple of stainless steel pastry/cookie cutters instead with the flat side down.  They work perfectly!  As I like my eggs cooked through (yolk should be runny, but not the white thank you very much!), halfway through cooking just after they turned white, I spoon a little hot bacon fat over them.  The rings keep it in place, making sure the tops get cooked nicely & you don’t have to flip your eggs half way through (risking a burst yolk in the tray).  Obviously, you can use whatever shape you like – dinosaur, star or flower, as long as they’re ovenproof!  Another bonus to cooking this way is that you don’t need to stand watching pans, you just chuck it all in the oven!  When I put the eggs in, I also like to place a dinky dish of baked beans in the oven too, along with a couple of croissants (a bit like posh beans on toast).  So in about fifteen minutes, we had an effortless breakfast bake up & minimal washing up afterwards – bonus!

There’s also another very easy way to do this using a patty or muffin tin to make bacon & egg cups, which is great if you’re cooking for a few people.  Line each muffin tin with a layer of bacon (no need to grease them because the bacon does that), pressing down firmly all around, pop in a hot oven for about five minutes to start the cooking process & make the bacon nice & crispy.  Then simply crack an egg into each one & bake for a few more minutes until the egg is completely set.  You can always place a hot tin or some foil over the top for a few minutes extra, just to make sure the eggs are completely cooked through.  Once they’re ready, gently ease each one out with a palette knife onto a couple of slices of warm, buttered toast & watch them disappear!  If you use ham instead of bacon, just brush each tray with a little oil using a pastry brush.

Personally, I like brown sauce with my breakfast bake up & this is my very quick version.  This little treat came from having a fry-up & discovering we only had half a bottle of tomato ketchup in the pantry.  Obviously, this would never do & so I poured a glug of good Balsamic vinegar into the bottle (about a teaspoonful or two) & shook it vigorously (with the lid firmly on) for a few minutes until it was thoroughly mixed.  Give it a quick taste test & add a little more Balsamic if you think it needs it.  That’s all you need to make luscious, lovely sauce, ready to drizzle on a bacon butty!  Squeeze some into a small cup or dish with a spoon, so everyone can help themselves to a splodge.  I’ve not bought brown sauce since & just keep a good supply of tomato ketchup handy.  There are other ways to enhance the flavour, just have a play with different ingredients using the ketchup as a base.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, just hob to it & begin the day with a breakfast bake up!  Stay hungry 😉 A x

 

 

 

 

A Kitchen Nightmare: Readymeals, Set, Go!

Firstly, apologies for the delay in writing my blog, as we are in the process of having a new kitchen fitted (week three, yay!).  As you’re probably aware, the kitchen is my sanctuary, my haven of foodliness & culinary creativity.  It’s one of my favourite places when life gets stressful, where I go to take my mind off things & create sweetness when there is none (or knead the crap out of some dough for a bit to de-stress).  When I can’t cook or bake, I tend to get a bit tetchy!  I started the first week like SpongeBob on his first day at the Krusty Krab (“I’m ready!”), but rapidly transformed into Donna Corleone by the end of the second.  It’s never straight-forward when you’re having building work done, even a small kitchen & no matter how organised you think you are, you’re not.  As I discovered, even the most perfectly planned projects can go a bit awry & bring out your inner DeNiro.

Growing up, I learned from my parents how to do a range of tasks around the home – building a fitted kitchen with my Mum, digging out footings & laying a wooden floor, building a conservatory, learning basic car & motorcycle mechanics from my Dad (plus how to remove oil with sugar & washing up liquid).  My ex was also rather fond of renovating houses, so I learned to plaster, install a bathroom (at 6 months pregnant, I was lugging a steel bath up a staircase with him) & build various furniture (he would come home with a stack of wood & say “I’m making a pine bed”).  So I was quite prepared for a modicum of mayhem during this project.

Until Friday morning of the second week, there was no working sink, no oven, no hob, no washing machine in place & no wine, which even for the most patient of people starts to get a bit much.  None of this was made easier by sharing our lounge with most of the large kitchen appliances (which was everything but the fridge), a dining table & six chairs, along with all the usual furniture one has in a lounge & everything the cat owns too (along with one rather disgruntled cat, who was having to share with “the staff”).  The kettle, microwave, toaster & slow cooker were all perched rather precariously on the dining table & washing machine, just across from the sofa.  It was very cosy!

Unfortunately, the kitchen supplier (a rather large, well-known company who shall remain nameless) & their kitchen designer let us down, causing a few headaches for us & the builders.  Cue a few trips to the store across town – we drove there on one occasion because I got bored of being on hold for half an hour & they answered just as we pulled up outside.  At last count, there have been 17 telephone calls (most of them with me in my best “I’m so disappointed” Mum voice), seven emails with almost a dozen photographs sent to the supplier, mostly asking what part of “like for like” didn’t they get & then there was the tile incident.  Trying to explain that a subway tile is not a floor tile was like Father Ted explaining the difference between the cows in the field & toy ones (“these cows are small, but those are FAR AWAY!”), until we met the fabulous Jas (who they should promote immediately, because she is brilliant!).  I’m pretty sure the Duty Manager has bought a one way ticket to a remote island somewhere with no wifi, just to escape me (I bet he’s got a kitchen that works though!).

As you can probably imagine, my tetchy-o-meter is now wacked right round into the red & like the smile I’m forcing, it’s not good.  As we are midway into week three, with various as yet unresolved issues (such as a gaping chasm in the ceiling where the old oven fan used to be, no hob as yet & a couple of minor head injuries from the low oven vent, which has a tea towel on to cover the blood), you can imagine that we’re getting rather vexed & I’m suffering from serious Spaghetti alla Carbonara deficiency.  Note to self: remember wine next time & double it, with a few whiskey chasers!

Before the chaos began, I prepared a few meals in advance & filled the freezer with lots of luscious treasures to keep us going.  Firstly, I made my staple Italian favourite: an enormous lasagne al forno.  This was baked using a rich, slow stewed meat ragu & my hand whipped cheese sauce (it’s all in the wrist!), then cut into eight portions & frozen individually.  It’s important to do this, because I guarantee that not everyone will want to eat what you do on the same day.

As I was making a cheese sauce for my lasagne, I decided to make double (two pints) & use up the cauliflower, broccoli & carrots in the fridge before they walked out in protest.  This really easy recipe is a favourite of ours & I used to make it for my son when he was a baby weaning onto solids (many moons ago!).  Cut the cauliflower & broccoli into chunky florets, slice the carrots & then steam them all until cooked but still firm – usually five or six minutes.  Spread the veg in a dish (a lasagne dish is good for this), pour the hot cheese sauce over & grate a couple of ounces of cheese on top – whatever cheese you have that needs using up!  I’ve mixed chunks of Gorgonzola with grated Grana Padana, a bit of Parmesan & Cheddar, which works really well.  To give it a crispy topping, roughly grate half a crust of bread over the top & spread liberally.  It can be chunky or fine, it really doesn’t matter.   Sprinkle a pinch of Oregano on top, some freshly ground black pepper & bake it in the middle of the oven at 200*C for about 20 – 25 minutes.  It will be crispy on top, the cheese will go golden & all that gooey cheese sauce will plump up the veg, infusing them with cheesiness.  Leave it to go cold, slice into portions & freeze in individual tubs.  This tastes amazing on it’s own too & is quite filling (we had it with chips from our local Chinese takeaway – gorgeous!).

The next day, I prepared a couple of fresh chickens by filleting, skinning & cutting them into portions.  This provides four chicken breasts, four legs & two carcasses with the wings on.  Have a read of my article “A Bird in the Hand is Worth Ten in a Dish” if you need help here.   The key is to take it slow,  at your own pace – there’s no rush.  The legs were used in a Cacciatore, fried with a bit of smoked bacon before being cooked, then frozen individually.  The carcasses went into the oven with some veg, herbs & water to make stock (which was also frozen for future risottos when we have a hob).  The chicken breasts were divided into two to make chicken pies & kievs, stuffed with homemade garlic & smokey bacon butter.

After seeing our national treasure Jamie Oliver (hi Jamie!) make this garlic butter on TV, I thought I’d try it & it’s really quite fabulous.  Once a month, I buy a big pack of smoked bacon, split it into 4 or 6 rasher batches & freeze them, so I’ve always got smoked bacon for risotto or cacciatore – now I have it for garlic butter too.  I have also used Proscuitto di Parma when I have leftover slices – it crisps up perfectly  when fried.  It makes more sense to make a large batch of the butter, rather than faffing around with piddling portions just for two kievs.  The measurements are general here, depending on how much garlic you like, so go easy if you’re unsure.

Use a regular sized 250g block of butter (salted or not), remove the wrapper,  & leave it in a bowl to soften slightly (cut it into chunks to speed the process up).  Fry four rashers of streaky smoked bacon in a dry pan – you want the fat to render out & make the bacon crispy.  Once it’s crispy, remove from the pan & lay on a chopping board to cool.  Chop the bacon into tiny fragments, then add to the butter mixture.

Snip some fresh Parsley into the butter, about a teaspoonful should be enough.  If you don’t like Parsley, try Oregano (it works well).  Chop or crush about half a bulb of garlic – about 7 or 8 cloves is sufficient.  Also, I prefer to chop garlic as I think it tastes better (plus I’ve crushed more than my fair share of garlic crushers!).  Tip this into the butter with the Parsley & bacon.  Mash everything together with a fork until everything is evenly distributed & have a little taste – be careful, raw garlic can be hot!  If you think the balance is right, then it’s ready to be rolled.

Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on the worktop, about the size of an A4 notepad.  Dollop the garlic butter into a sausage shape about an inch above the edge of the paper, leaving a couple of inches either side to twist together afterwards.  Roll away from you & keep it tight, smoothing the paper with your fingers to make a sausage of butter, tucking the edge of the paper underneath it.  Roll evenly until completely rolled up & twist the edges together.  Wrap in clingfilm & twist the edges again.  Pop it in the top freezer drawer & leave it to set for at least an hour.  This will become firm & easier to slice.  Once ready, cut a couple of slices & put to one side ready for stuffing, then put the rest in back in the freezer.  When you need to use it again, leave it out of the freezer for about ten minutes to soften slightly before slicing.

Next, prepare the breadcrumbs – you don’t need expensive, pre-made breadcrumbs.  It’s a doddle to make your own & use up those crusts that everyone says they like, but always end up on the bird table.  Leave a couple of crusts on a plate, unwrapped for an hour to dry slightly – any bread will do (I use whatever I’ve got – seeded, baguette, whatever needs using up).  Chuck them in the blender & whizz them up until fine.  Job done!  If you’re not going to use them straightaway, pop them in a bag, flatten to remove the air & freeze.  They’re always handy to have & there’s no waste.

Take two skinless chicken breasts & cut across the thickest part to make two equal sized portions.  They may look small, but once they’ve been stuffed & breadcrumbed, they will be a lot bigger!  Make a small incision (about an inch long) in the side & create a larger cavity inside to make a pocket.  Push a slice or two of the garlic & smokey bacon butter into the cavity, then close up the opening with your fingers.

This is the messy bit:  you need to panée the stuffed chicken to make them into proper kievs.  To panée is a French term meaning to breadcrumb – for example, de la poulet panée means breaded chicken.  However, you need to concentrate & keep one hand for the wet dip, one for the dry.  This sounds simple enough, although many times I have panéed my fingers because I forgot which hand went where!  You need three dishes: one with a beaten egg, one with a couple of tablespoons of plain flour & one with fine breadcrumbs in it (a shallow one or a plate will do).

Roll the stuffed chicken breast in the flour, making sure it is coated everywhere, then shake off the remaining flour.  Using your other hand, dip the chicken in the egg then drop it into the breadcrumbs.  Using the same hand you did for flouring, sprinkle & pat the breadcrumbs onto the chicken, ensuring it is thoroughly coated on all sides.  Shake off the excess & place in a plate (sprinkle a few breadcrumbs onto the plate before you do this).  Repeat this process for the other chicken kievs, then cover the dish with cling film & put in the bottom of the fridge for an hour or so – raw meat should not be next to cooked or be above anything else, so I always use the bottom shelf.

This is where I do things a bit differently, because I prefer not to fry the kievs.  Preheat the oven to 220*C.  Get a roasting tin & lightly drizzle some olive oil in the bottom, then place the kievs on top.  Drizzle the tops with a bit more olive oil, chuck in a sprig of fresh Rosemary & bake them in the centre of the oven for about 20-25 minutes.  Halfway through cooking, grab some tongs & turn them over carefully, replacing them in the oven to finish cooking.   Once cooled, pop a couple in a tub & freeze (pour over any escaped butter & crispy bits from the tin too).  They reheat well once defrosted too – just put them in a dish in the oven at 200*C for 20 minutes or so.  Make sure they are piping hot before dishing up – stick a metal skewer in the centre & if it’s hot to the touch, they’re ready.  They go great with a huge salad & proper chunky chips.  If you’re not keen on bacon or garlic, try using different stuffings in your chicken – maybe some sundried tomatoes, a couple of slices of Mozzarella & some fresh Basil leaves, or shredded spinach, Ricotta & chopped pine nuts.

Have a go at making your own ready meals & even if you’re not having building work done, sometimes it nice to have a freezer full of pre-prepped dinners for when you’re working late or can’t be bothered to cook.  A x