Swing Your Panés!

Looking out of the window earlier this morning, the garden seemed like it had been dusted with a sprinkling of finely powdered icing sugar, as a layer of frost had settled all over.  Fresh, frosty mornings are always a good excuse to snuggle under the duvet for an extra five minutes (especially as it’s so cold at 5.00am), but every Wintry frost-filled day is another one closer to Spring.  Evenings are beginning to stay lighter,  plus we’ve had bright yellow sunshine & crisp blue skies, bringing a little hope that Winter is on the wane (although it’s been snowing up the road from here & I’m not shedding the thermals just yet).  

Here we are speeding through January, the sugar-free month of sparseness & salads, wine denial & working out, when fast food becomes forbidden.  Whether you’re worn out or just going without, it’s bound to make people a bit tetchy to say the least!  At times like these, you need food that’s quick, easy & satisfying – when you’re not feeling up to much, the last thing you want to be doing is faffing around in the kitchen.  Meals can become a bit boring if you’re not careful too.  It’s far too easy to open a packet of something or do the dial-a-dinner thing, but they don’t tend to hit the spot very often or for very long (usually resulting in ransacking the cupboards for something else afterwards).  This is where a little planning & preparation can help you have dinners done & dusted.

As you probably know by now, I’m a fan of being prepared & getting meals portioned up in pots, frozen for fast fixes of our favourite foods.  Bread is blitzed into breadcrumbs, chucked in bags & frozen, ready for these occasions.  At the weekends, I like to get a couple of chickens in & fillet them, freezing the legs in pairs (these are great for simply defrosting & chucking in the oven with some olive oil, lemon, fresh Rosemary & garlic) & the carcasses are turned into stock for risottos, soups & gravy (nothing gets wasted!).  The chicken breast can be turned into a variety of dishes – my Friday Night Fakeaway or Aisha’s Kick Ass Curry spring to mind, but another favourite of ours is my baked crispy breaded chicken.  This tasty panéed chicken dish is quite possibly the easiest meal to prepare, satisfying those cravings for fried fast food without actually being fried.  Leftovers can be frozen for future lazy suppers, lunchtime wraps with salad or even sliced & tossed in pasta with a little homemade tomato sauce & a few roasted peppers.  To pané means to coat in a little flour, egg & breadcrumbs (in my last blog, I did this with arancini to make crispy risotto balls).  The only tip I will give is you need to keep one hand for the dry ingredients & one for the wet, otherwise you’ll end up with panéed fingers!

These beautiful breadcrumbed chicken pieces can be baked in the oven & dished up faster than a takeaway can be ordered & delivered (yes, really – plus they’re much cheaper & so much healthier, with no hidden ingredients).  If you’re filleting a chicken, a medium sized one makes enough to feed four people generously, just add sides & a salad!  Ready to try making your own?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2 large Chicken Breasts (you can get 8-10 pieces from this)
2 Eggs, beaten in a shallow dish with a tiny pinch of salt
8 slices of Bread (any bread you like)
2oz Plain Flour, in a shallow dish
Zest of a Lemon (wash it well in soapy water first!)
Quarter teaspoon Sea Salt
Quarter teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
Quarter teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme or Oregano (optional)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about 2-3 tablespoons, but keep the bottle handy as you may need a bit more)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 210*C & drizzle half the olive oil around the bottom of a roasting tin.  Set aside for later.

Blitz the slices of bread, a few at a time, in a food processor until fine breadcrumbs.

Add the salt, pepper, herbs & lemon zest to the breadcrumbs, then give it a good mix.  Set aside for now.

Prepare your chicken breasts.  Using a sharp knife, slice them through the middle as if you were butterflying them – lay them flat on the board & slice across from left to right.  Remove the small piece from underneath that looks like a mini-fillet.  Taking a pair of kitchen scissors, cut out the white piece of thin tendon that will be sticking out (it won’t cook out, it will just make your chicken curl up & taste like chewy elastic).

Dip a piece of chicken in the flour & shake off the excess, then lay gently into the beaten egg.

Using your other hand (so you don’t pané your fingers), move the chicken about to coat in the egg, then shake to remove the excess.

Place the wet chicken piece into the breadcrumb mixture & coat well on both sides, patting it on to ensure even coverage.

Lay it in the roasting tin & repeat the process with all the other pieces of chicken, until all are breaded.  Wash your hands thoroughly.

Drizzle the remainder of the oil generously over the chicken portions & place the tin in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes.  Halfway through cooking, give it a good shake to loosen them from the tin & flip them over.  Because it’s thin, the chicken will cook faster & the crumb coating will stop it drying out.

When cooked, the breadcrumbs will be golden & crispy.  Test one by cutting in half – the meat should be white inside.  Transfer to a warm plate & serve immediately with homemade chunky chips & a crisp green salad or corn on the cob & minted petit pois.  That’s it!

These crispy, crunchy chicken portions have a slightly spicy kick, so I like to serve them with a bowl of my chilled homemade tomato sauce (it’s not just reserved for pasta) or a cooling Greek Yoghurt dip to soothe the tongue.  Blue cheese dip, salsa & pesto all go well with these too, so it’s up to you how you dress them up!

These breaded beauties are perfect for supper on the sofa, snuggled up with your other half & a glass of chilled wine or fizz.  If there are any extra pieces, pop them in the freezer & defrost when you need them.  Just reheat at 180*C in the oven for 10-12 minutes (poke with a sharp knife to check they are piping hot before eating), or simply layer them cold in a sandwich, wrap or salad for lunch the next day.  Try adding a teaspoon of pesto to a tablespoon of Greek yoghurt, spread on seeded bread & pile up with pieces of crispy chicken & snipped up sundried tomatoes for a luscious lunch.

So when you’re craving crunchy crispy chicken, forget the dial-a-dinner & bake a batch of my beautiful breadcrumbed chicken instead!  Stay hungry! A 😉 x

 

 

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

 

Friday Night Fakeaway!

Autumn has well & truly painted the garden some beautiful bronze, ruby & amber colours this year.  Our little cherry tree saplings seem to be in some sort of Fall foliage competition with each other, while the tomato plants are still heavy with their fruits, defiantly resisting the change in seasons.  The warm October sunshine has kept the garden blooming with bright bold colours, especially the vivid, almost flamingo pink clematis flowers climbing their frame.  Even the potted chrysanthemums have tiny buds of deepest magenta & pure white emerging from their greenery.

After a busy week of flying by the seat of my pants, Friday is a rather welcome change in pace.  Usually, I tend to cram as much into every day of the week as possible, prepping meals, writing, baking cakes for people & creating various sugar art, which means I get to relax on Friday.  Recently, my Husband took me out for a couple of lovely weekend day trips (we’ve been a bit like ships that pass in the night in the last few weeks), which involved walking for miles & indulging in some well-deserved treats, so it was really nice to spend some time together.  Friday nights are great for getting all the family together & having a relaxing dinner, but trying to get everyone in the same room at the same time can be a bit difficult, as we all work different shifts & have various commitments.

It’s not every weekend that our Son comes home to visit because of this, but sometimes he will turn up with his friends as a surprise, knowing that there will always be a mini feast (yes, I know – I don’t do mini, let’s just say I do more of a small banquet).  Sometimes I get a call en-route, giving me time to do some prep in advance – a whole chicken can be filleted,  vegetables sliced, then everything bagged up & popped in the fridge, so whatever time our Son arrives, a takeaway-style dinner can be whipped up at warp speed!   I’m not sure how other parents feel when their adult offspring come home, but for me it’s an opportunity to cook some of his favourite foods & spoil him while he’s here (for my Husband, it means he can share the truckload of treats I make & I swear I can hear his waistband breathe a sigh of relief).  The hardest decision the guys will have to make is what they want to eat (I try to limit them to about half a dozen options, because I want to eat before midnight).   Within a few minutes, we can have the whole weekend’s main meals decided, along with a few breakfast requests thrown in for good measure!

The guys love a homemade sweet & sour chicken with fluffy egg fried rice, along with a few bowls of locally bought prawn crackers (even I draw the line somewhere & the Chinese restaurant up the road makes the most lovely huge, crispy crackers, so it would be rude not to buy them).  It’s hard to resist those thinly sliced strips of brightly coloured peppers & baby button mushrooms, with wafer thin wheels of chopped spring onions & slender baby sweetcorn, all stir-fried into a sumptuously sticky, scarlet-hued sauce.  Pretty, plump pineapple chunks are sprinkled across the top, sinking into the simmering liquid like little yellow pebbles.  Then everything is tipped into a casserole dish, lid on & goes into the oven (on very low), just to keep warm while I make the egg-fried rice.   Lots of munching & crunching later, plates are empty & everyone’s full, happy & relaxed.  Mission accomplished!

This recipe was given to me some years ago & to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first (it’s got ketchup in it?!).  However, after my first attempt was rather well-received, it became a regular favourite fakeaway & perfect for impromptu last minute meals with friends.  The best bit is it takes very little time to prep & cook – you can generously feed four hungry people in well under half an hour (because Friday nights mean you want food fast!).  It also tastes amazing as a vegetarian dish & I like to make a huge pan full of the sauce – maybe add a handful of cashew nuts, bean sprouts or sliced water chestnuts too (my fave).  It’s great for freezing the sauce as it is (you can always pour over cooked chicken or prawns for the non-veggies), or pour into pots for packed lunches  – it reheats in a couple of minutes & trust me, when that microwave pings, suddenly everyone in the office wants to be your friend!  Ready to whip up a swift sweet & sour?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

2 Chicken breasts, skinned & sliced thinly
1 each of Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & sliced finely
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed, trimmed & sliced finely
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & sliced finely (I use little closed cup ones, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like)
1 pack of Baby Sweetcorn, washed & sliced
4-6 Pineapple slices, chopped into chunks (fresh or tinned is fine)
3 cloves Garlic, chopped finely
1 chunk of fresh Ginger, skinned & grated (about the length of your thumb & twice as wide)
500ml bottle of Tomato Ketchup (I tend not to go for the branded ones because they are too sweet)
2 tablespoons Runny Honey
Balsamic Vinegar (a good splash will suffice, about a tablespoonful)
Soy Sauce (a sprinkle of this will be fine)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil if you prefer)

For the egg-fried rice:
3 large Free-Range Eggs (I generally use one egg per person)
Cooked Rice (either cook dried rice, according to the instructions on the packet, or you can use microwave rice which takes 2 minutes)
1 tablespoon Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil) – for your pan

What to do:

Assemble your prepared ingredients, ready to go into the pan in order: chicken, vegetables, ginger & garlic, liquid ingredients, pineapple (if you’re adding cashews & water chestnuts, keep them until the end too).

Pre-heat a large skillet or frying pan on a medium heat & add a little olive oil.  Pre-heat the oven at 150*C too (if you’re cooking egg-fried rice, chances are you’ll need the same pan & some room on your stove top, so this is for when your sweet & sour is cooked).

Stir fry the chicken slices for a couple of minutes until opaque (no pink bits, just white).

Add the vegetables & stir fry well with the chicken, keeping everything moving (I use a good pair of silicone tongs or a wooden spoon/spatula).

Add the garlic & ginger, mixing thoroughly with the chicken & vegetables, then stir fry for a few moments. 

Pour in the tomato ketchup, all around the pan & add the honey, balsamic & a few spots of soy sauce (I prefer the light one, but you can use the dark if you like).

Taste your sauce & if you are happy with it’s sweety sourness, pop in the pineapple chunks, dotting them all around the pan & gently stir in.  Simmer everything gently for a couple of minutes on a low heat.

Take a piece of chicken out & cut in half – it should be pure white inside, moist & lovely.  Chuck it back in the pan (or eat it if you like – chef’s perks).  Turn off the heat.

If you want to use the same frying pan for your egg-fried rice, carefully transfer the sweet & sour into a large casserole dish or similar, pop some foil on top or a lid & put it in the oven to stay warm, then wash your pan out.

Prepare your rice, whether you prefer cooking it yourself or using the pre-cooked packs.  For speed, I usually open a couple of packets of microwave rice (the ones that take two minutes are brilliant for this & I use Aldi or Lidl rices – both taste great).

Heat a tablespoon of oil in the clean pan on a medium heat.

Beat the eggs in a bowl & tip into the hot pan.

Stir fry until you start to get fabulously fluffy egg pieces & then add the rice.  Stir fry everything together for a few moments to combine & it’s done!

Serve your sweet & sour & the fluffy egg-fried rice in separate serving dishes for everyone to help themselves at the table, or just spoon some onto individual plates, with a plentiful supply of crispy prawn crackers for dunking.  Usually this is when I have to tell my guys to wait until I’ve dished up, because they’re jostling behind me with plates, ready to tuck in!  If you do have any leftovers, either box them up for lunch tomorrow or freeze them for those lazy nights when you want something nice, but don’t have time to cook.

So next time you fancy a takeaway, rather than doing the “dial a dinner” thing, have a go at making your own fast food Friday fakeaway!  Stay hungry!  😉  A x

 

Pollo Put The Cacciatore On, Let’s All Have Tea!

After a truly magnificent Summer, the sweltering heatwave has subsided into a beautifully balmy Autumn, bringing with it an array of amber & ruby rouge coloured leaves in the garden.  Sultry Autumnal evenings require soothing, slow-cooked, substantial suppers full of rich colour too.  Working long hours or shifts, whatever your line of work or study, can have a knock-on effect when it comes to preparing a hearty, satisfying evening meal.  As  the nights start to draw in, we begin to crave richer & robust fayre to comfort us in the cooler evenings ahead.

Preparing meals in advance is a definite must for the cooler seasons, so with a little planning you can have a tantrum-free tea-time without a fuss & feel good about feeding a wholesome, homemade meal to your family.  Not everyone has the luxury of a couple of spare hours in the day to prepare food & sometimes it can all seem a bit too much, so ready meals become a regular option.  It’s easy to come home, flop into an armchair & dial up a delivery dinner, but it’s not a good idea every night.  When I worked in an office, I would prepare food at every opportunity I had – the night before, in the morning, the weekends, even during my lunchbreak on occasion!  It just needs a little organising & teamwork – I have help from my fabulous assistants (aka Husband & Son).  Whole chickens are boned & filleted, before being turned into simple suppers & frozen in readiness for rewarding after-work dinners.  Vegetables are sliced & chopped (my little food processor is an absolute treasure for this!), then popped into pans of water or stored in the fridge for when you just need a handful of veg.  Pots of stock can defrost on a cooling rack, waiting to be whipped up into a rich, rib-sticking risotto, topped with a couple of roasted, crispy chicken legs.  One of the best things about a risotto is there’s always enough left to make arancini for lunch the next day too, which means you’ve already covered meals for two days & there’s no waste!

Pollo alla Cacciatore is one of our favourite Autumnal dinners & it’s really easy to cook too.  The name cacciatore means “hunter” (so does chasseur in French too), & this dish is cooked or prepared in the hunter’s style.  Apparently, it was usual for the hunters to cook the meat, whether it was chicken, rabbit, boar or whatever they had, adding some slices of speck (a type of cured pork) or pancetta to the pan, along with a few foraged mushrooms & herbs.  Some would add wine (depending on the region, it would be red or white), some would add tomatoes & maybe a few carrots, then everything would simmer slowly in a steamy cooking pot.  Obviously, there are a few different recipes out there, as everyone has their own version & it’s down to personal choice.

My recipe is one I’ve been cooking for over 30 years (in my kitchen, I might add, not the woods!) & is always warmly welcomed on chilly evenings.  All it takes is a few minutes to prepare & an hour to slowly stew in the oven, so all the meat falls off the bone & the flavours infuse into the sumptuous sauce.  You can buy ready prepared chicken portions if you prefer & use whichever cut you enjoy.  Chicken legs & thighs are perfect for this recipe as they are much more flavoursome, especially when they’re cooked on the bone.  These portions of meat tend to be overlooked & so often wasted, yet they are a much cheaper, just as tasty alternative to chicken breast.  If you do use chicken breast, you will need to reduce the cooking time as they cook quicker & the meat can go stringy (don’t worry, I’ll remind you later on in the recipe).

Two things I will recommend are: (1) get yourself some good tongs for cooking the chicken (trying to manoeuvre slippery chicken portions in a hot pan with a spatula is a bit tricky!).  (2) If you do add wine, only use the stuff you would drink – don’t use cheap plonk, it will make your dish taste cheap (there’s no wine in my recipe, however you can add a small glass of red wine with the tomatoes if you wish).  Those dinky two-glass mini bottles are brilliant for these types of recipes.

My recipe feeds four hungry people, but you can halve it if it’s just two of you dining (I regularly do this if I’ve got a couple of spare chicken legs).  Ready to prep your pollo?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

4 Chicken Legs or 6-8 Thighs (skin on & bone in) or 4 Chicken Breasts (skin on, halved)
4-6 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon (freeze the rest in 4 rasher batches, so you always have some when you need it)
2 tins Italian Plum Tomatoes, crushed by hand in a bowl (get your hands in, you’ll wash!)
Half a tube of Tomato Puree
6-8 cloves fresh Garlic, chopped finely or crushed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (at least 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons Dried Oregano
Half a dozen fresh Basil leaves, chopped roughly (or 2 teaspoons Dried Basil)
1 or 2 teaspoons Sugar (this is to soften the acidity in the tomatoes)
1 large Red Onion, topped, tailed & chopped chunky
1 each large Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & chopped chunky
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & quartered, or left whole if small
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180*C & get yourself a large, lidded casserole dish big enough to take your chicken & the sauce (there is always more sauce than you think & you don’t want it overflowing!).  Sometimes I use two dishes & then leave one untouched for freezing.

Prepare the onion & vegetables, chop the garlic & set aside.

Prepare your chicken (if you’re doing it yourself, please have a look at my blog here: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/).  Trim off any excess skin on the underside of the legs (use kitchen scissors to save yourself any stress of chasing a raw chicken around a chopping board).

Do NOT wash the chicken – the heat will kill any bacteria, plus it’s going in a hot pan & believe me, cold water & hot oil do not mix!  Do wash your hands well though.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan, then fry the chicken portions skin side down for about a minute.  Add the bacon & fry this alongside the chicken.

Turn over the chicken portions once they begin to brown & fry the underside for another minute – for chicken breasts, ensure all the sides are sealed & there are no pink bits.  If you’re pan isn’t hot enough or your chicken portions are big, it might take a couple of minutes each side.  You just want to seal the meat here, not cook it through.

Once browned, transfer the chicken & bacon to a large casserole dish.  Using scissors, snip the bacon into pieces & scatter over the chicken, then put the lid on.

Strain off any excess fat, leaving just a little of the cooking oil & juices in the pan (add a little drizzle of oil if you think you need it).

Add the chopped onion, vegetables, mushrooms & garlic to the pan, stir frying for a couple of minutes to soften slightly.

Add the tomatoes, their juice & the puree.  Give everything a good stir & then add the herbs, mixing well.  Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Season to taste with the sugar, salt & black pepper (the sugar simply softens the acidic taste of the tomatoes, so you only need a little).

Remove the lid from your casserole dish & pour the sauce all over the chicken portions.

Put the lid back on & cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes for chicken breast, or 45 minutes to an hour for legs or thighs (I usually leave it in for an hour).

To test if it’s cooked, pierce the thickest part of the meat with a metal skewer or sharp knife.  If the juices run clear & the meat is white inside, it’s cooked.

Put the lid back on & leave the dish on a wire rack or trivet for about 25 minutes or so.  Once rested, the meat will literally fall off the bone & be easy to pull apart if you want to remove the bones (please remove them if serving to young children).

Usually, while it’s resting, I’ll pop some dinky jacket potatoes on metal skewers in the oven.  By the time they’re done, the chicken will have rested sufficiently & you can dish up!

Serve hearty, heaping spoonfuls of this rich, ruby red chicken casserole into large pasta bowls or deep plates.  Add a few of the mini-jacket potatoes on the side, crushed up with puddles of butter & dusted with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan.  This goes very well with freshly baked, warm focaccia – just dunk chunks in the sauce to mop up all that goodness.

This recipe is brilliant for freezing, just spoon leftovers into individual pots or bags & freeze (lay an open freezer bag in a bowl, then fill & seal – it won’t move around & spill sauce all over if you do it this way).  Defrost & warm through when you fancy something warming (great for those evenings when you know you’re going to need a speedy supper!).  Any leftover sauce is really versatile too!  Simply freeze in single portion pots & use as much or as little as you need.  It’s lovely ladled onto well-buttered jacket potatoes, poured over a pile of papparadelle, or even just heated up & eaten as a chunky soup with fresh crusty bread!  I’ve even made a lasagne with it, layering between thin sheets of pasta & creamy cheese sauce.

When the evenings start to get chilly & you’ve had a long day, don’t reach for the ready meals – put the Pollo alla Cacciatore on & you’ll all have tea ready in no time!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

Love Love Love!

Unless you’re living on a remote island without any media, you’ll know that St Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  As we’re being bombarded with heart-shaped novelties, cheesy cards & rows of roses everywhere, the story of the real St Valentine has always fascinated me.  One legend in particular says when he was in prison (apparently something to do with secretly marrying couples against the wishes of the Emperor of Rome at the time), Valentine befriended the Jailer’s Daughter.  Just before his execution, he left her a note signed “Your Valentine”.  Maybe that was the birth of the Valentine’s card, who knows!

When you’ve got the love bug, you can’t resist showering your beloved with tokens of your affection!  All love should come from the heart & it should be personal (let’s face it, anyone can buy something from a shop), which is why a romantic home-cooked dinner à deux can be rather appealing.  Making a romantic three course dinner for your beloved just requires a little imagination & preparation time.  I’ve put together a simple menu for you, with some easy to make recipes (most of them can be made in advance too, so you can spend a bit of time pampering yourself before your date arrives).  Before you do any kind of shopping or cooking, it would be a wise idea to ask if your Amour has any food objections, allergies or requirements.  They might not like certain foods & the last thing you want to do is serve it to them!   

If you have a few minutes free, why not make a couple of floral centrepieces for your table too – half fill a couple of pretty glass jars with seashells, fill up 3/4 of the way with water & put in some herbs, a couple of roses & some sprigs of gypsophila flowers.  The seashells help stabilise the roses so they stay put & don’t move around.  Candles are fine, but you don’t want to be worrying about putting them out later (if dinner goes well, you might be distracted!).

Now because this blog is a little bit longer, I’ve split it into three sections: starters, mains & desserts.  Here’s your menu:

Bite-sized Beetroot & Feta Heartlets to start, then
Honey & Lemon Chicken Thighs (for your Honey), accompanied by
Love Apple Focaccia & Roasted Romantic Vegetables, followed by
Warm Chocolate Fondue with Raspberry & Strawberry Ice-Cream.

Firstly, starters orders!  You want something you can prepare in advance, nothing that needs stirring or that’s going to take your attention from your delightful date.  Bite-sized beetroot & feta heartlets take about 20 minutes to make & are light enough for a starter, plus the pastry cases can be baked the day before, then filled & baked just before your date arrives.  Now I’ve got a blog dedicated to this recipe that gives you all the info you need, so have a look at “Beetroot to Yourself” – here’s the link:

http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/beetroot-to-yourself/

If you don’t have any heart-shaped baking cases, just cook a regular sized tart then use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to make lots of little lovehearts!  Arrange on a large platter as nibbles to serve with a glass of something nice, or you could just pop a couple on individual plates with a few salad leaves as a starter.  A little tip for you: by adding a little more cream cheese to the mixture & less beetroot, you can make the colour a romantic blush pink (well it is Valentine’s Day!).

Next, the main attraction!  As it’s a Valentine dinner, we really should keep the courses quite light (because falling asleep after dinner with your buttons undone is not going to get you another date!).  This recipe for Love Apple Focaccia is really simple & can be prepared in advance, so that when your date arrives you can give them your undivided attention!  Here’s a bit of romantic trivia for you: tomatoes were known as “love apples” & the French called them pommes d’amour.  In history, apparently they were once considered an aphrodisiac because of their beautiful heart shape, making them quite appropriate for Valentine’s Day!  This can be baked earlier in the day & pre-pampering (you’re going to work up a sweat with this one).  Aprons on!

What you need:

500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for kneading & dusting)
15g Dried Yeast (or 12g fresh if you prefer)
Half a teaspoon ground Sea Salt
300ml Lukewarm Water (dip a finger in it & it should be just warm)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus extra for drizzling)
Half a punnet of Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes, washed & halved (you need the other half punnet for the roasted veg later)
1 sprig Rosemary (fresh or dried, chopped)
3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
Coarse Semolina (optional – for your baking tray)

What to do:

In a large mixing bowl, tip the flour, salt & yeast together & give it a good stir.

Add the olive oil & the lukewarm water, giving everything a firm mixing until all the ingredients form a soft, sticky dough.

Tip onto a lightly floured worktop & knead for ten minutes (your arms will be lovely & toned!).  The dough might need a little extra flour occasionally as you’re doing this – be careful not to overdo it, otherwise it will alter the recipe & not be very pleasant.  Remember, the effort you put into the kneading now will result in a fluffy, risen bread later, so give it some elbow grease!

Once kneaded, sprinkle a little flour into the bottom of the mixing bowl & pop your dough back.  Drizzle a little olive oil onto a sheet of clingfilm & loosely place over the top of the bowl, put that on a tray & place in a draught-free place to rise for an hour (I usually put mine in the airing cupboard).

Preheat the oven to 220*C & prepare a large baking tray by sprinkling a little coarse semolina across it or just a little flour, or a little of both.  Your oven will need at least an hour to get hot enough.

When your focaccia dough is ready, it will have doubled in size.  Simply take the oiled film off & tip your dough onto a lightly floured work surface, making sure you scrape any remnants of dough from the bowl (you’ve put a lot of work into this, so don’t waste any!).

To knock out any large bubbles that may have formed, give it three good throws onto the worktop.  Then roll out & stretch until it is the size of your tin & about half an inch thick.

Carefully place your dough into the tin & drizzle olive oil across the top, gently smoothing it across with your hands.  Using your knuckles, make indentations all over the top of the dough.

In these little indentations, place half a tomato & dot them all around your focaccia dough, spacing them out evenly.

Sprinkle the chopped garlic all over the top, along with the Rosemary, a bit of black pepper & a pinch of sea salt crystals, sprinkled on top like sparkly shards (everyone likes a bit of sparkle).

Bake in the top of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until the bread has risen & turned golden, with crispy, dark tomato skins.

To check if your focaccia is cooked, lift it up carefully at one end & tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!  Remove from the baking tray & place on a wire rack.  While it’s still warm, drizzle with a little more olive oil & leave to cool.  Try not to eat any before your date arrives!  When it’s cooled, wrap in clingfilm to keep it from going stale.

Now, onto the other elements of your main course – let’s start with preparing the roasted vegetables, ready for later.  If there are any here that you don’t like, just replace them with ones you do like.  Ready?  Here goes!

What you need:

1 each of Red & Yellow Peppers, deseeded
1 large Courgette, top & tailed
1 Red Onion, top & tailed
Large handful of Mushrooms, wiped & clean
Half a punnet of Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly ground Black Pepper
A little Sea Salt
Oregano (dried is fine)

What to do:

Get a large roasting tin.  Prepare the peppers first – wash, deseed & chop into chunky pieces.  Chuck them in the tin.

Next, prepare your courgette – wash, top & tail, then slice on a slant into quarter inch thick slices.  Cut these slices in half lengthways & add to the peppers in the tin.

Wash & dry your baby tomatoes, cut into halves & add to the tin.

Wipe the mushrooms, trim the stalks & cut into quarters or halves if smaller.  Add them to the tin!

Top & tail the onion, take off the outer skin, then cut into thick slices & cut these into chunky pieces.  Again, add to the tin.

Drizzle all over with a little olive oil & give everything a stir, so that all the veg mix together.  Sprinkle some pepper on (don’t go mad here – you only need a little) & add a couple of pinches of dried Oregano across the top.  Really important bit:  do not add any salt until you are just about to cook it, otherwise your veg will become watery, mushy & un-roastable.  Just add a pinch before it goes in the oven.

Cover with cling film & leave in a cool place until later – you can always pop it in an airtight container in the fridge until dinner time, then tip into the tin just before roasting.  If you’re going to present your main course in the roasting tin with the chicken, you could put some of the veg onto metal skewers at this stage, so you can place them around the chicken when cooked.  That way you can serve your date at the table.

Finally, it’s time to prepare your chicken thighs.  This is one of those “chuck it all in a dish & bake” kind of meals & doesn’t need you to stand over it.  Hands washed & apron back on!

What you need:

6-8 Chicken Thighs, skin on & bone in (yes, 6-8 because … leftovers!)
1 large Lemon (make sure it’s ripe – the riper the lemon, the juicier it is)
4 cloves Garlic
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Sprig Fresh Rosemary (or fresh Thyme sprigs, just use a handful)
Sea Salt & Black Pepper for seasoning
2 tablespoons Runny Honey

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 200*C.  Get yourself a large roasting tin & put the chicken thighs in, skin side up.  Usually, I get a pair of scissors & trim off any excess skin.  Drizzle the chicken with a little olive oil.

Cut the lemon into quarters & give each one a gentle squeeze over the chicken pieces, then put in the roasting tin around the chicken.

Get the unpeeled garlic cloves, give them a bash with the back of a knife & chuck them in around the chicken.

Rip up the Rosemary into four smaller sprigs & chuck that in with the chicken too.

Season the chicken with the salt & pepper, then put the roasting tin in the middle of the oven & roast for about 25-30 minutes.

At this stage, take the chicken out & it should be crisping up nicely on top.  Use a spoon to drizzle honey over the chicken pieces & return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes or so.  When it’s cooked, stick a metal skewer or sharp knife in the thickest part – the juices should run clear.

 

Remove from the oven, place on a rack & cover with foil, giving it a chance to rest.  It is important to rest any roasted meat after cooking, so that it becomes tender.  Generally, you can leave it to rest for the same length of time it took to cook.

While that’s resting, turn up the oven to 220*C & put the vegetables in to roast, adding a tiny sprinkling of sea salt just before you do.  These

take about 20 minutes, just give them a shake about halfway through cooking.

If you want to add something extra, why not thread a few baby potatoes (skin on) onto a couple of metal skewers & roast them directly on the rack with the vegetables (they take about the same time, maybe five more minutes, depending on size).  Just pull them off the skewers when ready – give them a gentle squeeze & they should be soft on the inside & crispy on the outside, then serve with splodges of butter for mashing in.

By the time your vegetables are roasted, your chicken will be rested nicely & ready for serving.  Time to get your gorgeous courses to the table!  Slice the focaccia into thick, fluffy fingers & place on a plate with a small dish of extra virgin olive oil & a few drops of balsamic vinegar in for dipping.  Then plate up your chicken with a generous spoonful of the roasted vegetables on the side (or a skewer of veg if you’re serving at the table), with a few buttery, baby baked potatoes.

After all that luscious loveliness, you will need a delicious dessert that can top it off with ease & this dessert duo will get you plenty of Brownie points with your date (it’s essentially finger food), plus it can be prepped well in advance.  It’s a hot & cold dessert – warm, silky chocolate fondue & frosty fruit ice-cream!  Here’s the first stage – you will need your blender for this, a couple of plastic tubs with lids & space in your freezer. 

What you need:

500g Greek Yoghurt
250g frozen Raspberries
250g frozen Strawberries
Juice & Zest of half a Lemon (unwaxed & washed)
1 or 2 tablespoons Runny Honey

What to do:

Put the fruit & yoghurt in the blender & pulse a few times to break up the fruit.  The strawberries may cause it to clog, so get a plastic spatula (not a metal one, or your date might end up being a Paramedic) & give it a stir around between pulsing if necessary.  It will thicken up pretty much immediately, so take it steady.

Add the rest of the ingredients & whizz up to create a creamy, frozen flurry of fruitiness!  Tip into a couple of plastic tubs – only fill up to halfway, leave the lids off & put them in the freezer for half an hour.  Lick the spoon (because you need to taste it & it’s Chef’s perks).

Remove from the freezer, give everything a stir through with a fork to break up any pieces of ice that may have formed, then put the lids on & return to the freezer until dessert time.

Take a tub out of the freezer about ten minutes before serving, so that it softens slightly.  Here’s a tip for serving:  boil the kettle & pour a little hot water into a mug, stick a serving spoon in for 30 seconds & scooping your ice cream will be so much easier.

Now onto the second stage of your delectable dessert:  gorgeously gooey chocolate sauce to make your fondue!  I make jars of this to spread on toast & for decorating cupcakes.  It keeps for ages in the fridge (well, if you hide it in the veg drawer it does).  This one just needs a saucepan & a spoon.  Let’s get chocolatey!

What you need:

4oz softened Salted Butter
8oz Chocolate
14oz can of Sweetened Condensed Milk

What to do:

Put everything into a saucepan & heat gently to melt, stirring carefully until fully combined.

Once everything has melted into a dark, delectably dense pan of silky deliciousness, it’s done.  Store any leftovers in a sterile jar in the fridge & spread on toast when you fancy it.  As this sauce takes about five minutes to make, you can prepare it just before your date arrives & pour into a serving bowl to cool slightly (nobody likes being served a bowl of molten chocolate).  Place your bowl of beautiful chocolate fondue on a plate, surrounded by bamboo skewers of strawberries, marshmallows & pineapple pieces, ready for dunking & drizzling onto refreshing scoops of softened strawberry & raspberry ice-cream.  You could pile ice-cream into wafer cornets & drizzle chocolate sauce on top, or dip strawberries in & feed them to your Amour.  It’s your evening, so share the chocolate!

Now that’s the dinner done, there’s just the dishes (but they can wait, there’s kissing to be done!).  Have a fabulous Valentine’s Day, Lovers!  Stay hungry 😉 x ❤ x

 

Back to Work, Back to Reality!

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope you all had a fabulous holiday & you’re feeling refreshed! The festive season has finally finished & so has over-indulgence of all varieties.  January always brings everyone back to reality with a bit of a bump.  As I write this, people everywhere are making rules for themselves under the guise of “New Year’s resolutions”, vowing never to drink anything alcoholic ever again, not to let anything sugary pass their lips, or to dance in fountains in a fairy costume (which is a bit dangerous in this weather & makes your wings soggy).  December always seems to be used as an excuse for excess, leaving January to pick up the pieces (as long as they are small & fat-free apparently).

Now I’m not going to start admonishing people for being a bit generous with their portion sizing (that would be the pot calling the kettle), nor am I going to jump on the juicing wagon (think of your teeth people!).  There are two things to remember if you want to look after yourself:  (1) your body’s “In” door is a lot bigger than it’s “Out” door (I’m being polite here), & (2) that age old saying: everything in moderation.  Personally, I don’t do diets & prefer to simply eat until I’ve had enough, leave what I can’t finish & never deny myself anything (within reason obviously).  So, if you’re looking for fat-free dinky diet recipes, you’re going to be slightly disappointed here!   

Food is the fuel to our body’s engine & some get it revving up more than others!  Working lunches are usually a wilted, mystery sandwich from the local shop, accompanied by a packet of crisps, something posing as a sweet (that actually tastes like chocolate-coated cardboard with a bit of birdseed) & a diet Coke.  You’re probably thinking about lunch right now – maybe your day started with a bowl of cereal & a bucket of coffee, so the dragon in your stomach is starting to growl.  Rather than reaching for a rice cake or some other such food of the devil, a bit of prep the day before will sort you right out!  Who bought bags of salad to go with the mountain of cheese over the festive season?  Still in date & probably unopened?  Thought so.  And did you also have a roast dinner on New Year’s Day?  Leftovers languishing in the fridge (with those veg you didn’t cook) are just waiting to be transformed into luscious lunches to keep your motor running.  Right, get your hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

Half a bag of dried Pasta, about 250g (all those leftover bits you’ve been saving will do!)
1 jar Green Pesto
1 ball of Mozzarella or a tub of Bocconcini, drained
200g Pine Nuts
A couple of large spoonfuls of Roasted Veg (recipe further down)
A couple of handfuls of Salad Leaves (Rocket, Baby Spinach, etc – whatever’s in your fridge)
A couple of handfuls of leftover Roast Chicken (optional)
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Sea Salt (for the pasta water)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the Roasted Veg:

1 each Red, Green & Yellow Peppers, deseeded & chopped chunky
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth & halved
1 Courgette, topped & tailed, sliced chunky
1 Red Onion, topped & tailed, outer skin removed & chopped chunky
1 punnet Cherry Tomatoes
2-3 cloves Garlic, chopped finely or left whole (to be smudged onto a slice of warm, thick, fresh bread later maybe)
A few slices of leftover French bread, ripped into chunks
Dried Oregano
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly ground Black Pepper

What to do:

Firstly, pre-heat the oven to 220*C.

Prep your veg as above & chuck them in a lasagne dish or similar (a large pie dish will do).  With the cherry tomatoes, halve them or at least poke a knife into them to make a vent (this is handy if you’re eating them hot – you don’t want exploding molten lava tomato in your mouth!).

Chuck in the chunks of bread (if it’s a day or two old, it’s brilliant for this).  Drizzle a good glug of olive oil over the top, sprinkle on the garlic, pepper & Oregano, then get your hands in & make sure it’s all covered nicely.  You don’t need salt for this, because it will just draw all the moisture out of the veg & leave it in a puddle.

Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, giving everything a turn halfway through with a spoon.

Once cooked, leave to one side while you prep everything else.  These can be also kept in an airtight container in the fridge or frozen (great with some fresh focaccia & a bit of Balsamic vinegar drizzled on top).

In a dry frying pan, toast your pine nuts.  Be very careful here & don’t have the pan too high.  Keep moving the nuts about until they change from a creamy colour to golden.  Put them on a plate to cool.

Fill the kettle & put it on.  Once boiled, pour it into a large saucepan, chuck in some sea salt (about a teaspoonful should be sufficient) & give it a quick stir with a wooden spoon.  Add the pasta & bring to a rolling boil, cooking according to the instructions on the packet.

Once cooked, your pasta should be firm to the bite.  Strain & put back into the pan with a glug of olive oil.  Give it a shake & a stir (the oil will stop it going into a big pasta lump).  Set aside to cool for a bit (especially if you’re making it the night before work, otherwise you’ll just have a pot of steam & soggy stuff for lunch).

Get your lunchboxes ready – you can buy packs of those resealable little plastic tubs from your local supermarket or Wilkinsons & they are perfect for this!

Now, here’s where you can make different pasta salads for some variety (because the same thing will be boring).  Get four or five lunchboxes or bowls & divide the pasta equally into them all.

Tip the whole jar of pesto into the pasta (yes, all of it).  Give it a good stir around, completely coating all the pasta.

Drain your Mozzarella & rip up into small, bite-sized pieces (sometimes I use Bocconcino, which are little Mozzarella balls).  Chuck some into a couple of the pasta lunchboxes.

In two other lunchboxes, add a couple of spoonfuls of the roasted veg & mix in gently.  If you’ve got roast chicken in the fridge that needs eating, rip some of that up & add some to the pasta without Mozzarella.

Grab a couple of handfuls of salad leaves & put in each pasta box you want them in.

Sprinkle pine nuts over them all, adding more where you want & less where you don’t (it’s your lunch, so make it how you like it).

Dust them all with a few grinds of the black pepper, then cram the lids on top (I usually get my hands in & gently mix it up beforehand).  Put in the fridge until you need it.

In the morning, just grab a box before you leave & that’s lunch done!  Plus you might save a bit of money too (always a bonus).

There are lots of variations that you could try, so just raid the fridge & cupboards, use your favourite foods to give you a bit of inspiration & get creating!

So let’s start the New Year with a shot of colour & a luscious lunchbox of flavourful pasta!  Stay hungry 😉 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

 

Snacks & The Green Stalks

It’s almost here!  That sparkly, sugar sprinkled season where everyone becomes all warm & full of fuzzy feelings, children become (loudly) obsessed with the latest toy or gadget, while credit cards are maxed out & the balls of your feet burn from trudging the streets to find that “special gift”.  Well this is my special gift to you!   I’ve split this blog into four shorter ones, mostly because I want to make life a bit easier for you, plus you’ll probably get bored or stressed (or both) scrolling all over the place & you really don’t need that (remember Rachel in Friends & that beef trifle?!).

As a child, I adored the whole thing – Santa, sparkly shoes & Spangles in my selection box (they were sweets in the 70’s if you didn’t know).  I remember being at my Grandparents’ house, sitting cross-legged in a pretty dress by my Mum’s chair, with the twinkling tree lights shimmering their kaleidoscopic colours around the room.  My Grandma would give me a posh glass, half-filled with lemonade & a Marraschino cherry on a stick.  The childlike allure of being with family, eating a wholesome meal together (& probably too many Quality Street!) while watching old films, Morecambe & Wise, The Two Ronnies & playing cards for matchsticks – it was blissful & I absolutely loved it!  This is also the time of year my Husband & I met, so we always celebrate our first date (it involved a large Harley Davidson Sportster, a couple of hundred bikers delivering Christmas presents & rather a lot of tinsel!). 

Because I like to spend time with everyone, catching up on their news & sipping a glass of something nice, I don’t want to be faffing about in the kitchen!  My Christmas dinner is a simple affair, because most of the prep is done ages before & I really just want to be with my family making memories.  For a stress-free Christmas, you need to be strict with your time & delegate – don’t take “no” for an answer!  Explain that everyone will want to eat on the big day, you can’t do it all on your own (I know, I’ve tried) & the grand prize will be a relaxing day together with minimal mayhem in the kitchen!  If you have to resort to bribery here, so be it!

First thing’s first, pour yourself a stiff drink (important bit this – do it before the delegating & maybe afterwards too, but only if you’re not driving anywhere otherwise it’s a strong espresso!).  You are the Chef – your kitchen, your rules!   Each blog will cover prepping the following:

  1. Snacks (even shop-bought nibbles need a bit of love).
  2. Sides.
  3. Desserts.
  4. Bird.

Let’s start with some simple snacks, which can be done way before Christmas Day.  Some of these multi-tasking munchies can even be used as a starter, so make a few extra (which is my mantra, as you probably know by now).  One of my favourites (& apparently everyone else’s!) are baked cheesy biscuits – you can serve them simply on their own or with a dip, or even pipe some cream cheese on them & decorate with chopped chives.  They are really easy to make & the recipe is in my blog called “Grate Expectations” – here’s the link for speed:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/grate-expectations/

The next snacks are really easy too & can be served with a salad as a starter: very stuffed mushrooms.  Make them ahead the day before & stick them in the fridge, covered in cling film.  Just warm them up in the oven when you want them.  If you don’t like mushrooms, use tomatoes with the seeds scooped out instead.  Food processor at the ready!

You will need:

2 punnets Mushrooms (closed cup for nibbles or flat mushrooms if you’re making a starter)
4 thick slices of Bread (a day old at least, or leave it to dry out for an hour uncovered – use the crusts if you can).
5-6 Sundried Tomatoes, snipped up
1 tablespoon of the Oil (from the Sundried Tomatoes)
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1oz grated Parmesan Cheese or 1oz grated Grana Padana (or half of each) & a little extra for sprinkling on top
A handful of Pine Nuts for topping
1oz salted Butter
Freshly ground Black Pepper

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C (if you’re cooking them now), then make the breadcrumbs.  Rip up the slices of bread, put them in a food processor (only a couple at a time, don’t fill it further than half way or it will jam) & whizz them up until fine crumbs.  Tip them into a bowl & then whizz up the next lot of breadcrumbs, but leave them in the food processor.

Into the processor, add the chopped garlic, snipped up sundried tomatoes (use scissors – please don’t chase a wet tomato around a chopping board, there are no fingers in this recipe!) & a tablespoon of the tomato oil, grated Parmesan and/or Grana Padana, plus a small sprinkling of the black pepper (don’t overdo it, you just want to season them).  You don’t need salt, because the Parmesan will provide all the salty seasoning you need (bonus!).  Whizz the whole thing up, adding the other breadcrumbs gradually as you are doing so.  If it’s too dry, add a drizzle of the tomato oil as you whizz again.  You should end up with a nice, moist crumble mixture.

Tip the mixture into a bowl if you’re going to use it straightaway, or you can actually pop it in the fridge in a sealed bag for later (great when delegating, because it’s already done & they only have to do the assembling).  Set aside while you prep the mushrooms.

Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth or use a pastry brush, removing the stalks (keep these for stuffing or making leftover pies).  Get a couple of lasagne dishes or similar, but don’t use tins to cook these in or they will burn.

Heat a skillet or frying pan & melt the butter in it.  Add the mushrooms, frying them for about 30 seconds each side.  You only want to coat them in the melted butter, so they should stay pretty light coloured.   Gently remove each one & lay them side by side, cup side up, in a lasagne dish, ready to be filled.

Scoop spoonfuls of the breadcrumb mixture into each mushroom – be generous & keep going until every mushroom is crammed full, then sprinkle with a little more cheese.  Any leftover breadcrumb mixture, chuck it in the fridge for later (someone always turns up late or you might fancy a midnight snack).  Scatter a few pine nuts over the top (these are gorgeous & have a sort of popcorn taste to them).

If you’re preparing them in advance, cover in cling film now & pop them in the fridge until you need them (they keep until the next day at least).  Otherwise, bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden & gorgeous.  These are great hot or cold, either on their own or with dips, or just with a green salad as a starter.

So that’s a couple of baked snacks done & stored, ready for Christmas!  You should be feeling pretty good by now, because you’re getting organised & should be looking forward to relaxing a bit on Christmas Day (obviously, I can only help you with food – my name isn’t Merlin, so I suggest hiding the TV remote in the laundry basket & the batteries in your pockets, just in case you have to barter for some peace).

Next thing is the snack sticks!  Slender slices of lovely veg are the easiest things to prepare, especially if you get these done a couple of days before & delegate too!  Cooling cucumber, carrot & celery can be prepped by one of your Helpers a few days before, then stashed in the fridge in airtight containers or bags, ready to be whipped out with a delicious dip anytime!  If you fancy something different, try raw crunchy cauliflower florets (one of my faves), sliced peppers, sugarsnap peas & mangetout.  Give them a good wash, trim the ends & stand them in a cup.  One thing I don’t do at this time of year is make dips – I really cannot be bothered & what with all the other stuff to do, just buy some nice ones & store them in the fridge until needed.  Simply scoop them into individual tea cups with saucers & dinky spoons (saving your table from splodges), rather than leaving them in a plastic tray – even if they do have one of those optimistic re-sealable tops, dips always disappear first!

Ready for some more?  Another favourite of ours are these spicy chicken strips & these crispy morsels have a bit of a kick to them!  These are really easy to make, even easier if you get a Little Helper involved & you can make these well in advance, freeze them & use them when you want to.  Aprons on!

What you need:

2 large Chicken Breasts, cut into about half an inch thick strips
1 large Egg
2oz Plain Flour
4-6 thick slices of Bread, whizzed up into fine breadcrumbs
Tip of a teaspoon of ground Cayenne (1/8th teaspoon approx)
Quarter teaspoon each of Turmeric, Cumin & dried Coriander leaves
Zest of a Lemon (if your lemon is huge, use only half the zest)
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper for seasoning
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a roasting tin or baking tray.

Measure your spices into a cup & carefully mix together.  (Sometimes, I only use half this mixture & sprinkle the rest over chunky raw potato slices, drizzled in olive oil, to make spicy wedges in the oven – bake at 220*C for 25 minutes).

Tip the flour, breadcrumbs & lemon zest into a shallow bowl or plate, adding a little sea salt & black pepper to season.  Add the spices & mix everything together.

Beat the egg in another shallow bowl or plate.

The tip here is to keep one hand for the wet dip, one for the dry, otherwise you end up with breaded fingers & it’s not pretty (they look like little drumsticks!).

Take a couple of pieces of chicken, coat them in the egg & shake off the excess.  Chuck them in the breadcrumb mixture & pat this onto the chicken to ensure it’s coated well.  Place them into the roasting tin & repeat until you have coated all the chicken.  Drizzle more olive oil over the top (drizzle, not drown).

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, turning over halfway through.  Once cooked, they will be crispy, fragrant & gorgeously golden.  Test they are cooked by cutting a strip in half & it should be white, not pink at all (salmonella is not a Christmas gift).  Obviously, you should eat this one (if it’s cooked through) because you’re the Chef & need to make sure they’re nice.

Spread them on a huge plate for people to help themselves – turn it into a starter with a salad, a couple of potato wedges & a yoghurt & mint dip, or leave them to cool before freezing them in a bag until needed.  Job done!

Hope that’s helped you out a bit & now you can have a selection of snacks & stalks ready in advance.  So put your feet up & have a cuppa with your “Hungry Helpers” – you deserve it!  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