27 February 2017

Chestnut & aubergine stew - big, punchy flavours.

I seem to be having a bit of a Mediterranean leaning at the moment where cooking is concerned.  So much so that everything seems to have at least one red pepper in it and my olive oil stocks are depleting rapidly.

It has even crept into my Sunday dinner plans.  You see, we're currently shopping at Lidl as our primary supermarket - they've just opened a nice big store quite close by where you can get most things and what you can't get, you can either stop at Sainsbury's (if you go home one way) or Tesco (if you go home the other!) for.  Now Lidl has a regular weekly special offer on four items of fruit/vegetable and four items of meat/fish, which I keep in mind when it comes to creating the menu plan.  Hence, the pork being part of the special offer dealio was why I was focused on roast pork loin for our Sunday dinner this week.  I'm going to have to buy another piece and do a blog post on successful roasting of pork loin with rosemary and sumac, because it was by far and away the nicest piece of pork we've had in a long time.

Anyway, I digress.  I didn't want to do a standard roast pork with all the trimmings, as that is so much up and downing to the oven that I'm exhausted by the end of it.  No, this week I thought I'd couple it with delicious sweet potato and nutmeg (with outrageous amounts of butter) mash and some kind of vegetable stew.

Now I know that the name "vegetable stew" is an instant turn-off for a lot of people and understand why.  However, the stew I wanted to create wouldn't be that dull and boring.  Oh no. It was to have deliciousness like red onion, saffron, chestnuts and aubergine in there, along with the carrots and mushrooms and all in a delicious richly sweet tomato sauce.  Oh alright, it also had a red pepper.  I admit, I couldn't resist.

Now you may raise your eyebrows at the idea of humble chestnuts along with such exotic ingredients as saffron and aubergine, but the phrase "they were brought in by the Romans, don'cha know?" (the chestnuts, that is) was all the encouragement I required to place them in what turned out to be a very appropriate recipe.

You will need a fair old amount of time to create this stew because, well, it's a stew.  It needs time to hubble, to bubble, to toil and well hopefully not create trouble, but to cook all those ingredients to a stage where they're all very good friends.  It needs to stew.  It's no good throwing all the ingredients into a pot and hoping for the best, although you would get something more closely resembling a weak soup.


However, your reward for that time spent stirring (plus lifting the lid hopefully and having a wee soupcon as a taste - which is essential, of course) is such an unusual and delicious accompaniment to just about every meat and fish that's on the planet (bearing in mind I've not tried them all, but of those I have tried ...).  It would even be brilliant with eggs.  Perhaps a little odd as an accompaniment for a pineapple cheesecake, so let's just stay with the savouries, I think.

Anyway, as you will see from the photographs, I paired mine with the roast loin of pork (which I roasted for 35mins per pound, plus 35 mins, at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 covered for the first hour then uncovered for the rest, if that helps) and the sweet potato mash.  The combination made for an excellent Sunday dinner that made a lovely change from the standard roasties etc.

A closer look at that roast pork because, well, it deserves it.
So, whether you're choosing to eat it with roast pork, sausages, or salmon, I just hope that you like it as much as we did!

CHESTNUT & AUBERGINE STEW     (Serves 4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp plus 2 tbsp olive oil (used separately)
1 small aubergine, diced
1 red onion, finely diced
2 big garlic cloves, sliced finely
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium red pepper, cored and sliced
a pinch of sea salt
half a tsp ground black pepper
2 large tomatoes, tough cores removed and diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 pinch of saffron strands
a quarter of one preserved lemon, sliced into fine shreds
300ml hot water
1 heaped tsp of chicken stock powder (or 1 stock cube)
90g halved chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet brand)
5 large white mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp runny honey (if required)
2 tbsp fresh Basil leaves, torn
1 tbsp fresh Parsley leaves, chopped, for garnish.

Method :

Heat the one tablespoonful of olive oil in a large, deep frying pan or wok until very hot.  Gently add the diced aubergine and fry until quite deeply coloured on at least three sides.  Remove the aubergine from the pan and set aside.

Heat the two tablespoonfuls of olive oil to a moderate heat and add the red onion, garlic, carrots and red pepper with the sea salt & black pepper.  Cook until the onion is softened, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato puree and saffron.  Stir occasionally until the tomatoes are beginning to break down.

Add the preserved lemon shreds, hot water and stock and stir through.  Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook - stirring every so often - for around 20-30 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down completely and the carrots are al dente.

Add the aubergine, chestnuts and mushrooms and stir through.  Replace the lid and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste for seasoning and add the honey if the sauce seems acidic.

Remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate, until the sauce has become thick and is covering the vegetables and the carrots are cooked through - around another 10 minutes or so.

Finally, stir in the torn basil leaves and serve, sprinkling with a little fresh parsley as garnish.

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23 February 2017

Chicken Jalfrezi - a lighter but still tasty version!

Over the last few months, my hubby has slowly taken agin the curry pastes that are widely available for home made curries.  He's begun to find them very one-dimensional but more importantly to him, they don't taste of curry. Now this curry flavour is a very definite thing that we have yet to quite pin down, but this Jalfrezi got the closest to it in any curry for a long time.  We're still not quite there, but as I liked this recipe a lot for its flavour and use of fresh vegetables, I thought I'd pass it on to you all.

This recipe doesn't result in a heavy, thickly sauced curry but one that is a lot lighter in texture and without the pools of oil that characterise so many curries these days.  Oh and I'm really not sure how much of a Jalfrezi it really is, but I'm hoping that it is close at least.  As it uses curry powder, my first word of warning is to make sure you are using a good curry powder.  One which has a number of different flavours to it is by far and away the best.  I have yet to find - and yes, I will admit that perhaps there is one somewhere - a supermarket own brand curry powder that would even remotely fit the bill. My favourite curry powders come from our local ethnic shop, where I'm hoping that the curry powders on offer are close to the "real thing", but are certainly a long way from bland.


Secondly, make sure to use tomatoes that have flavour.  Vine ripened are the best of the supermarket choices, but it is worthwhile throwing in a few cherry tomatoes just to boost the profile a bit.

Lastly, make sure to leave yourself enough time.  Once the tomatoes get cooking, you need time for them to cook down, then time for the juice to reduce and intensify the flavour.  If you take the pot off the heat and think it's finished too soon, you'll just have a vaguely spicy tomato stew and not a curry.  So, give yourself and your curry time to chuckle, burp and spit tiny blobs of curry into random spots in your kitchen, you'll be glad you did even if the clean up is tricky.  (Of course, I could have got out the splatter guard which would have made sure no blobs escaped, but I was comfy and would have had to have moved.  What can I tell you?  ~shrug~).

From first putting the coconut oil into the wok, to calling everyone to attention in order to get them sat down and ready for the meal, my curry took around 50 minutes (with a good 30 minutes of chopping beforehand).  So it's not an earth-shattering amount of time, but if you only have half an hour, you're going to be in tomato stew land.  So leave sufficient time.

I really liked this curry.  Hubby wasn't so enthused, but I've already told you about the quest for curryness that we're on there.  When cooking it, I was concerned that it didn't have enough curry character, but as our son came home from college and immediately knew it was curry for dinner, I'm assuming it was just that my nose had got used to the aromas.  It tasted good right from the off and really came together in the last 10 minutes, once the liquid had reduced and the proper curry sauce texture arrived.  It was amazing the difference that reduction made to the overall flavour.

So, enough blathering and on with the recipe!

CHICKEN JALFREZI  (serves 4)

Ingredients :

2 red peppers, one roughly chopped into chunks, the other sliced
1 large onion, half roughly chopped into chunks, the other half sliced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
a pinch of sea salt
4 heaped teaspoonfuls curry powder
1 heaped teaspoonful garam masala
a quarter of a teaspoonful of ground black pepper
2 very large sweet tomatoes, chopped
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp chicken stock powder (or 1 stock cube)
150ml hot water
1-2 tsp runny honey (optional)
10g butter (optional)
15g fresh coriander, chopped (reserve a little for garnish)
cooked white rice to serve.

Method :

Begin by placing the chunks of red pepper, the chunks of onion and the garlic into a food processor and blitz until a purée is achieved.  Set this aside.

Next, heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan or wok until really quite hot and gently add the sliced chicken breasts and sprinkle with the sea salt.  Spread the pieces across the pan and leave them to achieve a little colour, then turn and do the same again.  The slices do not need to be cooked through at this stage.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a bowl and reserve.

Add the sliced red pepper and sliced onion to the wok and cook, covered, for 5-6 minutes stirring half way through, until they have gained a little colour and begun to soften.

Add the puree to the wok, along with the curry powder, garam masala and black pepper.  Stir well to combine and fry, stirring occasionally, until the juices are released and the mix has dried out considerably.  This should take around 10 minutes if your wok heat is high enough.

Add the chopped tomatoes and stir through, along with the chicken stock and the water.  Once combined, add the chicken pieces and stir through.  Now this is where the patience is required.  You need to have the pan hot enough that the tomatoes will cook and release their juices, then the juices (and the chicken stock) will reduce and the full flavour be created.  You will start with a quite considerable quantity in the pan, but once everything has cooked down and reduced, the sauce will thicken and the liquid will evaporate.

Marginally before the sauce reaches its final few minutes, taste for the salt level and add a little more if necessary, but remember that there will be a little salt in the butter that if you're using, should be added now.  Taste also for acidity and add the honey to your preference to correct that.  If you consider there's no sweetening required, then don't use the honey.

Once everything is combined and happy to be there, the sauce is thick and there are no pools of water on the surface of the curry, then you're ready to serve.

Serve with plain white Basmati rice and sprinkle with the reserved chopped fresh coriander as garnish.

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22 February 2017

Tomato & Bacon Bruschetta - majorly epic flavourness

Is there such a word as "flavourness"?  If not, then there needs to be, if only to describe truly epic loveliness in the epicurean department such as this tomato and bacon bruschetta.  Oxford English Dictionary - in the words of the inestimable Captain Picard, "make it so!".

There now, having dealt with that, let's have a closer look at this Italianised bacon & tomatoes on toast.  Because that's what it is, really.

It all came about from our weekly staff meeting (that is, hubby, myself and the dogs) when I posed the question "what would you LIKE to eat, if you could".  Having got around the "lark's tongues in aspic" and "T-bone steak", not to mention "a Pavlova as big as my head", we came down to things that were rather more achievable.  Hubby mentioned the griddled sourdough that we had a little while ago, (that time with Coronation chicken on board) and we promptly had a bit of a brainstorm as to what you could put on griddled sourdough.

Well, the end result of pan fried, chopped bacon rashers with roughly chopped raspberry tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, all cooked in olive oil, just made my mouth water.


Now, if you're tempted to give this a go (and why wouldn't you be - it's beyond fab!), don't be put off by the fact that you can't source any raspberry tomatoes.  Just find the best flavoured tomatoes you can - any combination thereof will work.  Raspberry tomatoes are approximately the same size as a big old beefsteak tomato, but with 100% more flavour.  I reckon three or four normal sized vine ripened tomatoes would equal one raspberry tomato, if that helps.  If your tomatoes wind up being a tad acidic, never fear, just add a teaspoonful of honey to the pan and they'll taste like they were picked in the middle of summer.

It is important to drizzle the sourdough bread with a tasty extra virgin olive oil and rub it with garlic, but don't worry if you don't have a griddle pan.  Just toast it under the grill and it'll do the same job.  I adore my cast iron griddle pan and grab any excuse to use it, but I do appreciate that not everybody has one.

I paired our bruschetta up with an avocado based salad because it was served as a dinner.  However, this bruschetta recipe is perfectly adequate as a lunch without the salad.  A glass of something refreshing alongside is all you're likely to require for a fabulous lunch.

My favourite thing, apart from the gorgeous bacony, tomatoey, garlicky olive oil flavours, is the relationship between the sourdough and the tomato juice.  The toasted sides along with the chewy crust maintain the integrity of the bread whilst the gorgeous tomato juice just soaks, willy nilly, into the centre and shuffles around causing the bread and garlic to instantly fall in love with it.  Chunky salty bacon and sweet tomatoes on juice soaked garlicky toast with flakes of parmesan cheese on top.  Serious, extra large deliciousness.

TOMATO & BACON BRUSCHETTA  (serves 3)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
345g smoked back bacon, chopped into chunks
2 extra large raspberry tomatoes (6-8 vine ripened tomatoes would do), chopped into chunks
6 sweet cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small garlic clove, sliced finely and 1 large garlic clove, left whole
half a tsp of freshly ground black pepper
half a tsp of dried basil (oregano is good, if you don't have basil)
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp runny honey (just in case your tomatoes need help in the sweetening department)
3 good, thick, slices of sourdough bread
extra virgin olive oil
shards of Parmesan cheese
finely chopped fresh parsley
a mixed salad, to serve.

Method :

If you are serving salad alongside, prepare said salad before you begin to cook the bruschetta, as it really doesn't take long.

Heat the olive oil (not the extra virgin olive oil) in a frying pan and, once hot, add the chopped bacon.  Fry on a moderate to hot heat, so evaporate any water and begin to caramelise the bacon.  Once the pieces have begun to take on a golden colour, add all the tomatoes, the sliced garlic (not the whole garlic), black pepper, dried basil, tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce and stir from time to time as the mixture cooks.

The juice will escape from the tomatoes, which is good.  However, you want this liquid to reduce so as to intensify the flavour so keep the heat fairly high and stir regularly.  You are aiming for a fairly thick, chunky tomato sauce kind of texture.  When the tomato liquid has reduced by at least half, taste for acidity and add the teaspoonful of honey if necessary.

Once the consistency of the bacon & tomatoes is to your liking, reduce the heat to a tickover and turn your attention to the toast.

Taking the whole garlic clove, rub both sides of each slice of bread liberally with the clove.  Make sure to rub around the edge as the crust will help to shred the garlic.

Next, drizzle generously with the extra virgin olive oil on both sides.

Heat your griddle pan (or grill) and toast each slice on both sides to your own taste.

Place each slice of toast onto the plate you're going to serve them on and pile the bacon & tomatoes on top.  Make sure to catch the juice as you're piling as that's where a lot of the flavour is.

To finish, sprinkle the top with shards of Parmesan cheese and finally with the chopped parsley.

Serve with your pre-prepared salad and a glass of something refreshing.  Be happy!

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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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