October 25th, 2013

Maple Pecan Chicken with Baked Sweet Potato

There is something about the time around Halloween which brings out the American flavours in me. When ginormous pumpkins are beaming at you from their orange mountains within Tesco’s doorway and witches and goblins leer out of every shop window there is something in the air that makes me want to reach across the pond. I imagine myself in a dinky New England town with kids cycling in circles around the pumpkin patch, fathers raking up leaves as moms bake cookies in between sewing incredibly ornate trick or treat outfits for their five year olds. Multiple viewings of The Woman in White when I was a pre-teen might have had something to do with that vision. Now that’s a scary film.

So when I’m itching to incorporate a little bit of Halloween in my meals in the run up to the big day I can’t help but crave toasty pecans paired with maple syrup, the real amber nectar. Apparently I shouldn’t eat sweet things all day long, even though that would be the dream, so I pile them atop tender chicken and serve with a pipingly hot baked sweet potato. Although I completely draw the line at the American tradition of putting any kind of sugary nonsense with my sweet potato. It’s sweet already, it says it in the name.

This recipe has been heavily adapted from one of my favourite and most used cookbooks, the first Ottolenghi book where the chicken was originally paired with saffron, hazelnuts and honey, just in case you were wondering.

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Maple Pecan Chicken with Baked Sweet Potato

2 x sweet potatoes
2 x chicken supremes
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tbsp olive oil
50g pecan nuts
1 tbsp maple syrup

  1. Wrap each sweet potato tightly in foil and place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 180°C. The potatoes should take between 75-90 mins to bake depending on the size of your potato
  2. Mix together the cinnamon, ginger and olive oil then rub it all over each piece of chicken. Marinate for at least half an hour before adding to the oven to bake alongside the potatoes. The chicken should take between 30-40 mins to cook thoroughly depending on the size of your chicken supremes.
  3. Meanwhile spread the pecan nuts in a shallow baking tray and add to oven to bake for 10 mins. Remove, chop roughly then mix in with the maple syrup.
  4. 10 mins before the chicken is ready, remove from the oven the spoon oven the pecan nuts, pressing tightly against the top of the chicken. Put back in the oven for the remaining 10 mins.
  5. Serve the chicken with the sweet potato, peeled out of it’s foil and a knob of butter.
October 18th, 2013

Jerk chicken with kohlrabi and fennel remoulade

There are a handful of restaurants, pubs and cafes which I go to frequently. You might even say I was a valued regular if you forget for a moment that we live in London where all you would get if you were recognised by the staff would be a knowing smirk. One of my ‘regular’ places until earlier this year was a Caribbean restaurant in Crouch End called Rhythm. It wasn’t the most happening place it’s fair to say. In fact most of Crouch End steered away in droves and went to the lively restaurant next door. Ha, I thought, more fool them, queuing for hours, eating their free popcorn. I can just turn up here at the drop of a hat, I never have to book and the food is ten times better. I was very smug about the whole thing. Until Rhythm closed as no one went there except me.

Rhythm had a limited but faultless menu. I should know, I tried everything on there, dozens of times. But the one dish that truly had me in their thrall was their jerk chicken. It gave a wonderful amount of heat but it was also packed with a truckload of flavour. The heavy blackened skin was the highlight, hot with sweet aromatic spice. Underneath, the leg meat, so juicy from hours of marinating and slow cooking, would fall off the bone, only for you to gather it up with the thick sauce pooling on your plate ready to knock your socks off again.

When Rhythm closed I was bereft, where would I get my jerk chicken fix now?  I mournfully tried other local places but their jerk marinades were either not spicy enough or too spicy with no flavour coming through.  Then under a beam of heavenly light I remembered something.  I had a kitchen.  And a tonne of cookbooks.  And the internet.  So I toiled mercilessly for days, weeks, months until I had tweaked the recipe into perfection – well, one lazy Sunday- and produced actual jerk chicken myself.  In my own kitchen.  It was a revelation.  I wonder how many other restaurants I don’t need to go to now I know I can cook these things myself.  I may never need to go out again.  Except for tonight.  It’s Friday – treat night!

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The only way to have jerk chicken is with a bucketful of cooling slaw to temper the firework of spices exploding in your mouth.  I love this kohlrabi and fennel remoulade as it doesn’t try to compete with the jerk, it is just happy to sit back and do backing vocals.  The kohlrabi also gives it a wonderful creamy texture instead of the sometimes too crunchy results that you can get with homemade coleslaw.  Also, kohlrabi is such a gorgeous colour, see it below getting chummy with the purple cauliflower.

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Jerk Chicken with Kohlrabi and fennel remoulade

Serves 4

Jerk Chicken

8 chicken thighs
Small handful of parsley, including stalks
Small handful of coriander, including stalks
1 scotch bonnet chilli
1 onion
2 tbsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp crushed chillies
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp agave nectar/ honey / molasses
2 tbsp muscavado sugar
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
100ml dark rum
Good glug of olive oil

  1. Blitz all ingredients for the jerk marinade in the food processor then rub the marinade all over the chicken thighs.
  2. Place in an ovenproof dish and leave to marinate for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge if you can.
  3. Place the dish in oven preheated to 180°C and cook for 50 mins until chicken is cooked.

Kohlrabi remoulade

1 kohlrabi, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1 fennel bulb, core removed, sliced into matchsticks
1 garlic clove
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 egg yolk
75ml olive oil
75ml sunflower oil
Squeeze of fresh lemon

  1. Crush the garlic clove with a large pinch of salt and bash up.
  2. Put the crushed garlic in a bowl with the mustard, vinegar, sugar salt and egg yolk and whisk together.
  3. Mix the oils together in a jug then trickle in a steady steam into the egg mixture, mixing constantly to emulsify.
  4. Once all the oil has been added and the mixture is thick and glossy squeeze in some lemon juice and add more salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Mix in the kohlrabi and the fennel to coat thoroughly.
October 14th, 2013

Roast Chicken with all the Sunday Trimmings

I read a very worrying headline in the Daily Mail yesterday, ‘A family dinner? We’d rather eat in front of the telly: How just one in 50 families enjoy once-traditional weekend meal.’ Foregoing my usual scoff at the insular sensationalism typically offered by the Daily Mail, this time I felt a pang of recognition at the topic at hand. Last minute conversations before the working day in our house are often desperately trying to organise how we’ll be able to eat dinner together. Work events, long hours and the occasional quick drink with friends can severely compromise the two of us sitting down at a table at a reasonable hour for dinner. Supper on the sofa happens all too frequently.

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The one meal we can always rely upon as a family to both cook together and eat together is our Sunday Lunch. It is absolutely sacrosanct. If we don’t have it at home then we will have it out and we are constantly grading our pubs and nearby eateries with whether they do a decent Sunday Lunch. The conversation always ends the same way though as they might do an okay one, but it is never as good as at home. Roast potatoes can be hard, gravy can be too thin and Yorkshire puddings merely crisp clouds, nice to look at but lacking the necessary pudding.

Puppy

 

This Sunday we had something extra special to celebrate as we have a new furry sidekick in our midst. A little bundle of trouble whom after only a few hours of being in our family had already joined in, nestling down between our feet as we ate at the dining table. At least he didn’t jump onto the table and insist on sleeping between the cabbage and potatoes like Alarm Clock 2.

 

Unlike the meals we have in the working week, we take pleasure in making lunch on a Sunday centre stage. Today it was the turn of the chicken which I think of as the easiest roast. There are only two things to remember when cooking a chicken; if it’s a small bird it takes 1 hour 15 mins, if it’s a large one it takes 1 hour 30 mins. Any further information is just fancy talk. But I do like to talk fancy. For our classic roast chicken we stuff the cavity with half a lemon, a handful of parsley stalks, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary and a couple of garlic cloves still in their skins. We rain down salt and pepper like a heavy thunderstorm and finally drench it in olive oil.

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A roast dinner in our house is not complete without carrot and swede mash. I grew up with my grandmother insisting on calling it carrot and turnip probably to annoy my father who was constantly correcting her but I knew what I was getting and now I would never think to let the week end without it. It is one of my top five foods of all time. I give you a few weeks before you discover the rest of that list. It won’t be difficult, the things I like, I tend to have immoderately. Carrot and Swede mash just requires you to peel, then chop the swede into large cubes, chuck it in a large saucepan with the same volume of carrots, peeled and chopped into large circles. The veg is brought to a boil then turned down to a simmer for at least 45 mins. Any less and it just doesn’t mash the same. This is no time for al dente, save that for your baby veg. As soon as a knife can fall through a cube of swede like butter then you can add copious amounts of… butter… and nutmeg and salt and pepper. Jazz it up. The time will come soon when I will beckon you to add crème fraiche but not today, today the butter will be all the dairy you need.

Carrot and Swede Mash

Roast Potatoes! Peel, chop in half, par-boil for 10 mins, drain, bash around in the colander, then throw into a baking tray with hot olive oil, garlic cloves and rosemary and roast in the oven for 45 mins at 180°C. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.

The gravy, though. Oh, the gravy. Please please tell me you don’t use Bisto? This is the one part that I’m afraid I can’t take any shortcuts on. I think of the gravy for my next roast the moment I am clearing away the one before. The essential ingredient is fresh stock and the sticky bits from today. Since I like all the components of my roast to be ready at the same time, I save the sticky bits from the bottom of the meat, put it in Tupperware and save for the next roast. The same goes for my stock, which is always simmering away on a Sunday night during Downton Abbey whilst we are gorging on pud.  This means today all I had to do was remove my sticky bits from the freezer, heat in a saucepan, add flour, a glug of Marsala, then the stock, a bay leaf and some thyme. If I start cooking this halfway through my chicken time then the gravy is rich and flavoursome by the time the chicken is taken out of the oven. This is never something I regard as a faff because as I said, in my household the Sunday Lunch is absolutely sacrosanct.

September 30th, 2013

Monday Night Soup

Weekday meals have to be as easy as possible.  I don’t want to be bouncing around the kitchen at 9pm, sautéing this, roasting that, flipping this, juggling that. I want one saucepan.  I want one wooden spoon.  I want one chopping board.  I want dinner to take 30 mins from fridge to dining table and I really want to sit down and let dinner make itself at least once.  Surely Fantasia can’t just be a pipe dream?

This soup is pretty much that.  The ideal way to make this soup is using the rest of the chicken from Sunday lunch the day before.  The chicken bones made into a rich stock the night before and the leftover meat added now.  But hey, being a Sunday night saint isn’t for everybody so good fresh chicken stock from the supermarket and chicken breasts fished out from the freezer work just as well.

I completely forgot to say as well that this soup is amazing.  Delicious.  Warming.  Hearty.  Moreish.  Tasty.  Sublime.  But you get the picture.

Chicken, Bacon and Kale soup

1 tbsp olive oilIMG_1882
6 rashers streaky smoked bacon, diced
1 leek, chopped into small rings
1 small onion, cut in half then strips
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stick, diced
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Zest of ½ small lemon
1 litre chicken stock
2 chicken breasts, diced small or leftover roast chicken – even better
100g black kale, cut widthways into strips
A knob of butter
A handful of chopped parsley

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the diced bacon.  Cook on a medium heat until the bacon is good and crispy.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Add the onion, leek, carrot and celery and let the veggies do their thing for 10 mins until they just start to soften.
  3. Add the bay leaves, thyme, garlic and lemon and give a bit of a stir around for a minute or two.
  4. Pour in the chicken stock and black kale, bring to a rolling boil then add the chicken.  Simmer for 10-15 mins until the kale has wilted slightly and the chicken is cooked.
  5. Drop in a small knob of butter, stir through.
  6. Serve with the parsley and crispy bacon sprinkled on top.
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