Saturday, 19 January 2013

Cold outside? Need something to warm the soul? You need to cook this tonight.

I LOVE snow. I don’t think that feeling of excitement as the flakes start to fall, followed by the deep rooted anguish of ‘will it stick?!’ will ever go away. Of course the gut retching disappointment when it starts to melt, and the ‘walking with trepidation’ that accompanies a trip into town is something that we push to the back of our minds – for the time being at least.

The cold weather also ignites a certain culinary spark in you, and that’s exactly what happened to me last night. I needed something warming, soothing and slightly spicy.  Something cooked in a big pot that can bubble away without too much care and attention. The answer to this is below.  And if you’re looking out of your window, and see a white blanket of icy snow, I’d wholeheartedly recommend you make it as well (assuming to can get to the shops that is – my trip last night was a little ‘I don't know what' as the French say!).

Oh – try saying it over and over.  Or after two pints ;-)

Chipotle Chilli Chicken Stew
Serves 4 people

1tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp dark brown sugar
1 ½ tsp chipotle chilli paste (I found mine in the ‘specialist’ aisle at Sainsburys)
400g can chopped tomatoes
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs works just as well)
Salt to taste
1 small red onion, sliced thinly into rings or half-moons, to serve
A few coriander leaves
Rice or flours tortillas to serve

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until softened and starting to turn golden, adding the garlic for the final minute. Stir in the sugar, chipotle paste and chopped tomatoes and bring to the boil.
2. Put the chicken into the pan and spoon over the sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked (if using chicken thighs increase this to 30 minutes so that any remaining fat melts into the sauce). Add a splash of water if the sauce looks like it’s getting too dry.
3. Once cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and shred with two forks and then stir back into the sauce. Make sure every piece is coated with the lovely spicy sauce. Season with salt to taste. Scatter with the sliced red onion and coriander leaves, and serve with rice or flour tortillas.

As an alternative, I've also had this with pitta breads, loaded with salad, followed by the chicken stew piled on top. Spot. On.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Time to ditch the crappy shop-bought sarnie

Booooooooooooooooooo back to work.  But woooooooooooooooooooooo! for the nice food that can help to make up for the rubbish weather.

Time to think up some nice lunches to make perk up the working week.  One such option for you below – quick, easy and tasty-tastic.  Get your cook on………...

Pitta pizzas

I found these in a BBC Good Food magazine from early last year and made them one afternoon following an unexpected (yet highly appreciated) visit from my niece and nephew.  Warming comfort food in the space of ten minutes – and as I later discovered, perfect to take into the office.  Nicely does it.  They’re not particularly gourmet but then who cares?  And I think it’s entirely satisfactory to have two of these pizzas to oneself ;-)

2 x  readymade pitta breads (go for the slightly more expensive ones rather than the value ones as they tend to be tiny)
2 tbsp tomato puree
¼ tsp mixed herbs
2 x medium tomatoes
1 x ball mozzarella cheese or (lets take this old skool) 2 x tbp cheddar cheese

These are really good on their own.  But on the day I made them I just so happened to have a few cold sausages in the fridge so sliced them fairly thinly on the diagonal and wacked them on as well.  Equally you could put anything else on you fancied (though for things like peppers, mushrooms or onion, make sure they’re cooked first or they’ll end up being a bit raw).  They’re also really good with a teaspoon of pesto smeared on top of the tomato puree.

To make, just layer up, making sure you finish with the cheese and a quick drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil.  Place under a pre-heated grill for 4 – 5 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Either eat straight away – or – take to work and eat cold or heat up in the microwave.  They’re just as good and you can laugh in an evil villain style whilst watching everyone else eat their scabby shop bought sandwich.  Muhahahahahahahahah.

Christmas 2

This year I spent Christmas away with friends and didn’t come back until the 27th – so no leftover turkey or gammon for me.  It’s a bit of a shame actually as that’s one of my favourite bits of Christmas!  That is, other than watching The Snowman on Christmas Eve and the Back to the Future trilogy on Boxing Day (the latter still being the best trilogy ever made).

However, I had to see my family as well, so we decided to do ‘Christmas 2’ on the Saturday and I would cook.  There were 8 of us so, rather than going for the standard Christmas roast or buffet, decided to make something a little easier, and went for two different sorts of lasagne – a meaty and a vege.  I won’t give you the recipe for the meaty lasagne as there are hundreds out there – but a good tip (particularly if entertaining a lot of people) is to make the Bolognese base in advance so that all you have to do on the day is make the béchamel and layer it up).

 The vegetarian option was a Nigel Slater ‘mushroom lasagne with basil and cream’ and was genuinely a bigger hit on the day than the meaty version.  Try this one below and see what you think.  I served both with the standard massive mixed salad and some homemade garlic bread.  (Oh and photo coming shortly – had a few issues with uploading them).

Mushroom lasagne with basil and cream
Serves up to 6

2 x onions
3 x garlic cloves
Thick slice butter
10g packet dried porcini mushrooms
750g chestnut mushrooms
Handful chopped parsley
8 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
150ml double cream
750ml béchamel sauce (homemade or ready-made)
180g dried lasagne or 350g fresh lasagne

For the basil sauce
60g pine kernels
50g basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
Enough olive oil to make a thick, spoonable paste
4 tbsp grated parmesan

1. Peel and roughly chop the onions, peel and thinly slice the garlic and set them to cook in a deep-sided frying pan with the butter.  Cook for around 20 minutes until softened and they have taken on an almost translucent quality.
2. Whilst the onions and garlic are cooking, cover the dried porcini in warm water (barely 100ml), and leave to soak and cut the fresh mushrooms into thick slices.  Blitz the pine kernels, basil, garlic, olive oil and parmesan in a food processer (or by hand with a pestle and mortar) and add enough olive oil to make a slightly sloppy, spoonable paste (you could also take the easy option and buy some good quality ready-made pesto).
3. Stir the sliced mushrooms into the onions and garlic and partially cover with a lid. The mushrooms should colour and soften. Add the reconstituted porcini and their soaking water, followed by the parsley, 4/5 tablespoons of the grated parmesan and the cream. Season with salt and ground black pepper and simmer and stir until the cream has thickened somewhat.
4. Spread a few spoonfuls of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a large dish (40cm oval baking dish works well), then cover with a single layer of the pasta. Spoon over half of the mushroom filling, cover with another layer of pasta, then a second layer of the mushrooms. Top with a third single layer of pasta. Spread the basil sauce over the pasta, then smooth the last of the béchamel sauce over and cover with the remaining parmesan. Bake at 180C for 50 minutes until golden and bubbling.