22 November 2016

Preserved Lemons - salty and intense

It has been a while, but way back some four or five months ago, I made some preserved lemons.  Of course, it has taken until now to blog about them as it would have been useless to just write about making them without being able to write about the end result!

Let me tell you, the end result is impressive.  So impressive.  Lemons on steroids.  Oh yes.

Now before I go any further, if you're new to preserved lemons let me explain that these aren't for use in a sweet capacity.  No, they're for use in fish dishes, or Moroccan tagines, with lamb or pretty much anywhere you want the full power of lemon zest, but without the sharp tang of lemon juice.

I had been dallying around the edges of using preserved lemons in dishes for years.  I even bought a jar of commercially prepared preserved lemons, used two and threw the rest away months later, having never gone back to them.  However, they always stayed on the edges of my culinary consciousness and I always intended to get back to using them with some seriousness.


Then I began reading about people having made their own.  About how easy it was and what a great result they got from being home made.  Well, they weren't kidding on both counts.  Making them is as easy as cutting and squeezing lemons - if you can do that, you're home and hosed.  As for using them, well, I've only used them in one dish as of yet but I don't need anything more than that, they're phenomenal.

If you're one of the enlightened who use preserved lemons a lot but assumed they would be tricky to make - read on.  Likewise read on if you're even just a tiny bit curious about them, as you really don't need to make a whole shedload of them.  Your only restriction is the size of the jar you preserve them in!

So, here we go :

PRESERVED LEMONS

Ingredients :

Lemons - more unwaxed lemons than will fit into the amount of jars you have available
Sea or Rock salt - expensive or economical, it's up to you, but for approximately 5/6 lemons you will need at least 200g.  Just make sure that it's salt with no additives.

Method :

Begin by sterilising your jar(s).

Heat your oven to 140degC/225degF/gas 1. Wash the jars in hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place the jars on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry completely. Allow them to cool and you're good to go.

The first step is to drop a small handful of salt into the bottom of the jar.

Next, taking your first lemon, cut a cross into each lemon so that it divides the fruit into four sections that are still attached at one end.

Sprinkle salt into the cuts, forcing it right into the deepest part of the fruit. Don't be mean about this - really cover each lemon in salt.

Then, push the lemon into the jar and, taking a wooden spoon, use the handle end to push, squeeze and flatten the lemon so that a) it takes up as little room as possible and b) a degree of its juice comes out.

Repeat with further lemons until the jar is full. I used a half and two quarters, along the line, to fill up the inevitable small gaps. Once your jar is full of lemons, check how much juice you have released. If the juice is up over the top of the uppermost lemon then that's what you want. If not, squeeze sufficient lemon juice into the jar until the uppermost lemon is covered.

Lastly, add another handful of salt and encourage it into all the little gaps.

Give the neck of the jar a good wipe clean and seal it up. Place it into a dark, cool cupboard and wait some four to five months. Every so often, visit your lemons and turn the jars over, just to ensure the juice is getting to everywhere.

At the end of the preserving time, open your jar with reverence and anticipation. You will find the juice has turned syrupy and the smell is just incredible.

To use your lemons, take as much as you will require for the dish and scrape away the flesh. Rinse the rind under a cold tap briefly to wash off the worst of the salt and chop, or slice your lemon how the recipe dictates. A good inaugural recipe is my Lemon & Caper Butter Cod, which enables you to enjoy the special flavour of your lemony efforts whilst resulting in a bit of a special dinner.

Just make sure to get a second batch on to preserve before you finish this batch. I reckon that once you've got them, you're not going to want to run out!

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13 October 2016

Quick Chicken Biryani - an "after the style of" recipe

No, this recipe is very definitely not culturally correct.  So before people go shooting me down in flames for it not being X, Y or Z, please note that I make no claim that it is correct for a Biryani.  In fact, I think it is probably closer to a Pilaff, but as "Biryani" is what we've been calling it for years, that's what it shall stay.

So, having said that, if you've ever made my Kedgeree you'll no doubt notice similarities in the way the making of this recipe is approached.  It's basically a chicken Kedgeree with just a few differences.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that if you've got the other half of a roasted chicken with no job to do - it works very well in this recipe.  Just add the chicken after the curry paste & spices and don't bash it about with a wooden spoon too much, to keep the pieces whole.

Oh, and prawns work well here too!  If they're defrosted ex-frozen prawns, make sure to squeeze them between two sheets of kitchen paper to remove any excess water, then add them just before the rice etc.  Just give them time enough to heat through but no longer and they won't turn all hard and rubbery.


As you can see, I served ours with a few Indian style snacks from the supermarket - samosas, pakoras and bhajis.  This recipe has always worked well for us as a midweek dinner, I hope it can do the same for you!

QUICK CHICKEN BIRYANI   (serves 4)

Ingredients :

4 eggs
1 tbsp coconut oil (groundnut oil works well here too)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped (remove the seeds if you want)
pinch of sea salt
pinch of black pepper
half a tsp of ground cinnamon
25g salted butter
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced small
2 tbsp Patak's korma curry paste
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
200ml hot water
2 tbsp flaked almonds
1 tbsp sultanas
1 flat tsp turmeric
250g cooked white basmati rice, hot
1 large tbsp fresh coriander, chopped - saving some for garnish.

Method :

Place the eggs into a pan of boiling water and cook until hard boiled.  Set aside in cold water, to prevent the yolk turning grey around the outside.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic and red chilli.  Cook on a moderate heat until the onion is softened, transparent and just beginning to caramelise.  Part way through the cooking, add the sea salt, black pepper and cinnamon.

Add the butter and allow it to melt, then turn up the heat to maximum and add the sliced raw chicken.  Cook, stirring to prevent the onions and garlic from burning, until the chicken is all opaque and no pink areas are left.

Add the curry paste, ground coriander and garam masala and stir through.  Cook on a moderate heat, again stirring to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan, until the curry paste has released its oils.  This should take around 4-5 minutes.

Add the hot water and stir through, creating a thick curry sauce.  Now you will need to keep a close eye on the consistency until you combine it with the cooked rice and add a tiny amount of water each time it appears to be becoming too dry.

Add the flaked almonds and sultanas and cook on, gently simmering, for another 10-15 minutes, during which time you can peel the hard boiled eggs and quarter them.

Add the turmeric, cooked rice and three quarters of the chopped fresh coriander and stir through.

Serve onto warmed plates, with a quartered hard boiled egg on top and a sprinkle of fresh chopped coriander over everything.  If you like that kind of thing, Mango chutney goes well by the side.

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29 August 2016

Classic Victoria Sandwich Cake

Do you know, I was absolutely flabbergasted to discover that I have never blogged a recipe for a classic Victoria Sandwich cake? I still can't quite believe it. 

I have been making Victoria Sandwiches, also known as Victoria Sponge cakes, since I was about 8 years old!  It is one of my most vivid memories, walking into the living room of our house in Oakley, Basingstoke, proudly bearing my lovely Victoria Sandwich that I'd made (with the help of my Mum, of course!) for my Dad's approval and for us to have with a cup of tea.

How on earth has this stalwart of baking escaped from being included on Rhubarb & Ginger?  The answer is, I have no idea.  However, I shall now remedy this and my favourite recipe is set out below.  In fact, it is almost the same recipe as the Mary Berry Victoria Sandwich cake, the only differences being that I use 1 tsp of vanilla essence in the cake mix and always fill the cake with jam and cream (and sometimes, as in the latest one, with fresh fruit, too).



This recipe has never failed me and always turns out a lovely deep, moist sponge cake that is man enough to cope with the weight of the jam, cream and extra fruit as well as its other half, without collapsing at all.  It is so disappointing to have the bottom half of your cake flatten and compressed by the weight above it, so it is quite important to have a mix that can hold some weight!


It doesn't matter whether you use home made, the shop's best or a cheap as chips jam - they all work and this really is a cake to suit all pockets.  If you can't afford to use all butter, then by all means use whatever your budget will allow.  The flavour will be slightly different, but the cake will be just as well received and I bet there won't be much left!

So, be it an economy version or a ridiculously outrageous, filled with whipped cream and buckets of fruit version, I've never known this cake to be turned down.  It's as easy as winking to whip up - just bung it all in one bowl and whisk away and takes just a twinkling to bake.  In fact, the longest and most arduous part about this whole recipe is waiting for the cake to cool so that you can fill it and get stuck in!

CookBlogShare

What's this?  Well, for the first time ever, I've linked up with the 
Cook Blog Share's recipe linkup.   Hopefully, if you click
 on the following link you'll be taken to
the Easy Peasy Foodie blogwhere you will find lots of new 
and interesting recipes to consider.  Yummy!

CLASSIC VICTORIA SANDWICH CAKE   (serves 8-12 slices)

Ingredients :

4 large eggs
225g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
225g butter, at room temperature, plus a little to grease the tins
1 tsp vanilla essence.

For the filling & decoration :

150g raspberry jam
300ml whipping cream
75-100g fresh or frozen raspberries, saving 4-5 whole, good raspberries for the top
1 tsp icing sugar.

Method :

Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.

Taking two 8 inch (20cm) sandwich tins (loose bottomed ones are great for this!), cut out a circle of baking parchment to sit in on the base.  Then, using the little dab of extra butter, grease the tins, lay the parchment in and grease the parchment.

Break the eggs into a large bowl (it's as well to break them individually into a cup, then tip them into the bowl, just in case one turns out to be a bit dodgy.  That way you don't lose all the eggs at once!) and give them a light mixing.  Add the sugar, flour, baking powder, butter and vanilla essence and set to the lot with a whisk.  Whisk until just combined - don't over-whisk or your sponge will turn rubbery.  The mixture should be what's known as a "dropping" consistency, which has nothing to do with what horses leave behind them and everything to do with how easily it falls from your spoon.

Decant half the mixture into each prepared cake tin and carefully level the contents.

Gently place the tins onto the centre shelf of your oven (don't lean one on the other, or you'll wind up with a wonky cake) and bake for 25 minutes.  Don't be tempted to open the door and peek at how they're doing, or turn your hand to some panel beating beside the oven while the cakes bake - as these things will guarantee to make your sponge drop and become a pancake.  You don't want that.

At the end of the 25 minutes, the cakes should be smelling delicious and (yes, you can look now) should be coming away from the edges of the tin.  If you give the centre a little press, the cake should spring back like an olympic trampolinist.

Take them out of the oven and place onto a wire rack for some 10 minutes, to just let them get over the change in circumstances and cool a little.  If you have loose bottomed cake tins, this is where they come into their own, as you can remove the cakes from the tins without fear of calamity.

If you are baking the cakes the day before you'll need them, leave them on the parchment paper for support and once they are totally cold, pop them into a freezer bag each.  They'll keep perfectly until the following day.

Otherwise, carefully remove the baking parchment once the cakes are totally cool and place one upside down on your cake plate.

Carefully smooth loads of jam over the surface of this cake, then whip up the cream and even more carefully smooth generous amounts of cream on top of the jam.  If you're going the whole hog and including raspberries (or other fruit), now is the time to embed it into the cream.  Add a little more cream on top of the fruit (to help the upper cake stick and stop it from entertaining any ideas of sliding off onto the floor) and oh so carefully add the second layer of cake - flat side down, baked side up.

Lastly, take a tea strainer and sieve a little icing sugar all over the top of your cake and add the few raspberries that you kept back for decoration.  (Provided your son hasn't eaten them, as mine very nearly did).

Take a photograph of your cake before you alert the family to the fact that it is ready to be eaten, because it's not going to be around for long!

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25 August 2016

Persian lamb & vegetable stew - worth every second it is in the oven!

The blame for this recipe lies fairly and squarely with my birthday.  You see, I was lucky enough to be given "The Saffron Tales" by Yasmin Khan, which fired up my already well established liking for and curiosity about Persian - or Iranian - cuisine.  As you'll probably have gathered, I really like lamb and saffron and pomegranate molasses is no stranger to my ingredients cupboard, plus I love using fresh herbs in my cooking, so I was part way there already.

Having lapped up every word of the recipe book, my imagination had been captured.  I wanted to make something for dinner that would encapsulate some of the cooking techniques and flavours I had read about.  Right up there on that list was lamb, which was a fine if somewhat expensive place to start.  However, I discovered that Asda do a bag of frozen diced lamb which gave sufficient quantity for the right price.  I just hoped that the quality would be good enough!  (Which, as it turned out, it was!).

Dried limes at a market in Bahrain c/o Wikipedia
The second essential was that this dish should include Iranian dried limes.  I was SO curious about these little black apparently hollow little ping-pong-ball-alikes.  I really like lime - which helps - and using these odd little creatures was a curiosity all of its own. What would they smell like? (Vaguely liquorice-like).  What do they taste like?  (Aside from the obvious citrus effect, I have never tasted anything quite like them to be able to give you a "tastes like" point of reference).  What effect would they have on a stew?  (A quite incredible and delicious effect, as it happens!).  So they had to be done.

The third essential was that this stew had to use fresh herbs and lots of them.  I'd seen the Gormeh Sabzi, which is a stew made almost exclusively from an assortment of herbs such as parsley, leek, coriander and fenugreek which looked great, but I was a bit nervous about diving straight into a herb stew.  I felt that something a bit more familiar - meat with vegetables and herbs - would be a little less of a challenge to the family.

As a result, I incorporated the best bits of two recipes in order to make this one.  I took the cooking instructions for the lamb from this recipe from House to Home and took the vegetable and herb influences, along with the dried lime cooking advice, from this Ottolenghi recipe.

My only regret was that they both used turmeric instead of saffron, but hey - you can't have it all and turmeric is so good for you!


So it turned into a three stage, three hour process.  Oh boy but it was worth it, though. Each stage is achieved relatively easily and if you do all your chopping and peeling to begin with, that makes the process a whole lot easier.

I was so curious to taste the gravy at the end of the first hour and a half of cooking, as the soft herbs had all gone into the pot for this stage.  Mmmmnn, I could easily have just thickened that gravy and eaten the lamb as it was.  It was tender, the gravy was delicious and the herbs had amalgamated with the spices (turmeric, cumin, chilli) into incredible layers of exotic flavour.  You can only imagine how butter soft the lamb was by the end of three hours!  I had to resist though, as the dried limes had yet to be included.

Now nobody had mentioned how, even though you poke a thousand holes into each dried lime - to let the gravy in and the flavour out - they insist on bobbing about on the top of the casserole's contents and will NOT submit to being submerged.  In the end, I decided to give the contents a stir at 45 minutes, in the hope that they would have softened enough to sink.  They did - so there's a tip for you!


With the addition of the vegetables - and most especially the butternut squash - the gravy began to sweeten somewhat.  (Yes, I did have a taste at the 45 minute mark - well, it was for research purposes as much as anything).  Now the interesting thing is that with the addition of the lime juice (you squeeze each lime against the side of the casserole dish before removing it) which is gloriously flavoured and mahogany coloured, it doesn't wipe out that sweetness.  Yes, there is a citrussy element to the flavour of the dried lime, but it just adds another layer to an already multi-flavour layered concoction, without knocking any particular flavour out of the melange.  Their astringency also has the effect of cutting through the richness of the fatty (no matter how hard you trim it, it's still fatty) lamb.  I am seriously impressed with these dried Iranian limes and can't wait to use them again - perhaps in some rice to accompany a curry.

The final three flourishes - some chopped fresh tomato, currants soaked in lemon juice (I hadn't been able to source any barberries) and the very last minute addition of spinach leaves - were sufficient to just add a freshness to the dish.  So often, casseroles cooked long and slow can become a little muddy-flavoured as they progress.  Not this one - and with the last minute additions, it makes sure of it.


Tasting the stew as it progressed through all the different stages was a real education in flavour development and I encourage you to do the same.  I think by doing so, you will understand how each ingredient is working with the others a lot better than just sampling the end result.

I wasn't brave enough to attempt the traditional Tahdig (golden saffron flavoured rice that forms a crisp crust in the making), I'll leave that for another day.  Instead, I served the stew with simply cooked white basmati rice and a hearty dollop of plain yoghurt.

It really doesn't describe the dish sufficiently to call it a simple "stew", as being English that evokes thoughts of thick gravy and dumplings.  However, I'm hoping that the "Persian" in the name will stop such thoughts in their tracks and send you down more exotic lines of thought!

As my first even half-serious voyage into Persian (Iranian) cuisine, I'm feeling quite satisfied that I did it some justice.  I just hope you will feel the same way.

PERSIAN LAMB & VEGETABLE STEW   (serves 3-4)

Ingredients :

2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used rapeseed)
500g diced lamb
1 large onion, diced
pinch of sea salt
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
half a tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp tomato puree
20g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
10g fresh dill, roughly chopped
10g fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
1 litre of lamb stock, made using two stock cubes
1 whole red chilli, pierced all over
4 dried limes, pierced all over
1 large waxy potato, peeled and diced very small
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
4-5 mushrooms, quartered
3 vine ripened tomatoes, pips removed and chopped
15g barberries or alternatively currants soaked in lemon juice
a large handful of baby spinach leaves.

Method :

Pre-heat your oven to 140degC/275degF/Gas 1.

Heat the vegetable oil (I used rapeseed) over a high heat in a large frying pan until almost smoky hot.  Add the lamb (gently!) and sear on at least two sides.  Using a slotted spoon remove the lamb to a lidded casserole dish.

Reduce the heat under the frying pan to moderate and add the onion, sea salt, garlic, turmeric and cumin seeds.  Fry until the onion is transparent and just beginning to caramelise but stir often to prevent the turmeric from burning on the bottom of the pan.

Add the tomato puree and stir through.  Cook on for another 3-4 minutes, until the ingredients are well combined.

Gently stir in the lamb stock and add the three fresh herbs.

Decant the mixture into the casserole dish, give everything a stir, whisper some words of encouragement and put the lid on.  Place the casserole dish into the oven and forget about it for the next hour and a half.

Remove the casserole dish from the oven and remove the lid.  Give the contents a stir and have a taste of the cooking liquid, to check for seasoning and to admire how it tastes at this early stage - seriously lovely.

Add the red chilli, the dried limes (which will insist on bobbing around on the surface, because they're so light), potato, butternut squash and mushrooms and stir through.

Replace the lid and put the casserole dish back into the oven for another hour.

At the end of that hour, retrieve the casserole dish and remove the lid.  Stir in the tomatoes and barberries or currants.  Replace, uncovered, in the oven for the remaining half an hour.  (The sauce is fairly thin and of a broth-like consistency, but amazingly flavoured.  If you prefer your sauce thicker, simply stir in a little cornflour mixed with water at this stage, which will thicken the sauce).

Ultimately, once you have finally removed the casserole dish from the oven (and cooked some white rice to go with it), stir in a big handful of baby spinach leaves and serve along with the cooked white rice and a healthy big dollop of plain yoghurt.

Tuck in!

Printable version

24 May 2016

Chicken with mushrooms - the name belies the flavour!

It sounds so simple that it is hard to believe it could be so tasty.  However, never underestimate the power of a tablespoonful of vinegar to the flavour of a dish!

I was looking for a simple, no frills, mid week chicken dish that could be served with a couple of different vegetables, to balance up the low veggie dishes that were already on the menu plan.  As ever, when feeling a lack of inspiration, I turned to my recipe bible - www.bbcgoodfood.com.  Flicking through the dozens of recipes, I recognised one that I'd liked on a previous occasion but hadn't got around to cooking yet - the chicken with mushrooms.  For all that the name sounds singularly uninspiring, the photograph alongside looked really quite enticing.  Nice golden fillets of chicken with mushrooms and green peas in a light and not creamy, sauce.  It looked perfect for the job.


I had to make some alterations to the original recipe though, as I wasn't going to pay for pancetta (so I used Asda's misshapes smoked bacon for cooking), nor a bottle of white wine vinegar that I might not use again for months (so I used sherry vinegar, which I had already got).  

I also didn't bother with dirtying a bowl by dredging the chicken with flour (which would probably have stuck to the pan and burned anyway) and solved the problem of a too-thin sauce by adding just two teaspoonfuls of Bisto Best roast chicken gravy granules.  All three of these changes worked perfectly, so hence the recipe appears in its altered form in this blog.  If I didn't write down what I did, I just know I'd forget when it came to the next time!  However, if you want to stick to the named ingredients in the original recipe, you go right ahead - it's fine by me.

The keys to this recipe's deliciousness are as follows :

a)  the cooking of the chicken.  You must make sure that your chicken gains a lovely golden hue before you add liquid.  This is the real foundation of your dish's flavour.

b)  the bacon.  Don't be tempted to leave out the bacon.  The flavour profile needs it's intense savouriness and saltiness - but be careful about the addition of sea salt, just a tiny pinch!

c)  the vinegar.  The addition of the vinegar gives a lovely tang of acidity to the sauce.  Not as much as sweet and sour, but enough to give it a lift above a straight gravy.

d)  the late addition of the fresh parsley.  Don't be tempted to chuck it in early.  The sauce needs the freshness of the just wilted parsley.

e)  the reduction of the liquid in the sauce.   Don't be tempted to hurry it along and serve before the sauce has had a chance to reduce by half to two thirds.  It makes SUCH a difference to the intensity of the flavour!  Taste the sauce as you go along and you will see what I mean.


This is one of those recipes that is as good a mid week family dinner as it is a relaxed dinner with friends.  The flavour is so much more than its title!

CHICKEN WITH MUSHROOMS (serves 2)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
3 rashers thick cut smoked back bacon, diced
2 large eschalion shallots or 4-5 small shallots, chopped
150g button mushrooms, halved
2 chicken breasts, each cut in half lengthways to create 2 thinner fillets
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
250ml warm water, containing 1 low salt chicken stock cube
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp Bisto Best chicken gravy granules
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
50g frozen peas.

Method :

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan, then add the bacon and shallots. Cook over a moderate heat until the shallots are softened, all the liquid has left the bacon and it has begun to turn golden.

Add the button mushrooms and continue to fry, stirring regularly, until the mushrooms have begun to soften.

Remove the bacon, shallots & mushrooms from the pan using a slotted spoon and reserve to keep warm.

Increase the heat under the pan and add the chicken breast fillets and season with sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Leave them undisturbed to gain a lovely golden colour, then flip them over, season and cook the other side in identical fashion.

Once both sides are deliciously golden, return the bacon, shallots & mushrooms to the pan.

Add the water, stock cube (broken into pieces) and vinegar and stir gently until everything is combined. Bring to a steady simmer and cook for a further 15 or so minutes, turning the chicken half way through.

Once the liquid has reduced by half, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly then add the gravy granules and stir quickly to prevent them clumping. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened.

Add the fresh parsley and frozen peas and taste the sauce to check the seasoning. Add a little more if necessary. Bring back up to simmering point, turn the chicken once and cook until the peas are tender but have not lost their fresh green colour.

Serve with new potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

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