Archive for August, 2009

Steam-baked lemon & chili chicken

steam-baked lemon chili chicken

To say I learnt nothing at University would not be entirely true. The fact that my paper qualification has been of little benefit to me now is beside the point.

University was the time when I discovered the skill of pairing flavours. I learnt for instance that natural Peanut butter on a crispy-skinned baked potato is perfectly delicious on its own, but add some Marmite and wahey! Now, there is a happy little trio. And that alone, my friends, was quite a feat; considering the kebab-loving, mircrowave-dependent company I kept.

Not discouraged by their lack of culinary prowess, I cooked myself an intricate tasting menu almost every night. (One night a week was reserved for peanuts and a bottle of wine at the pub.) On nights at home I would, for instance take a chicken breast, cut it in three pieces and cook each part in a different way. And of course, if the chicken was unique then so should be its accompaniments.

Making dinner was quite the ordeal. Anything that disrupted this indulgent ritual of mine, such as late running play rehearsals or lectures were sorely frowned upon. I’d spend two to three joyous hours a night preparing dinner for one and on occasion a few uncivilised guests.  It was my personal Yoga, complete with deep breathing and some interesting poses as I danced around the kitchen and my apathetic housemates.

They of course, thought I was nuts and didn’t see the necessity in hogging every flame on the stove and pan in the cupboard.  I ignored it all- I was at peace. Ohmmmmmm.

I didn’t have many cookbooks and at the time the Internet wasn’t the bounty of information that it is now but I picked up magazines and supermarket recipe cards- anything that I could get my hands on- for free, mind.

One of my housemates was on Weight Watchers, (a rather extreme self-monitored version) but she had a couple of cookbooks that I occasionally trawled through. One such recipe I came across was Marmite roast potatoes- which, before you judge I must top you and let you know were divine. Crispy potatoes with a reassuringly salty glaze- rather like Twiglets only with a soft, floury centre beneath the crisp outer shell. Rest assured, one of these days I plan to replicate them.

Somewhere along the line I acquired one of these books and one pre-wedding evening Don cooked from it. He carried with him the smug knowledge that if I questioned how much oil he used or complained about my dress not fitting he could whip out the evidence in book-form to support his healthy meal claim.

It’s the only thing we’ve cooked from the book since- adapting it a little each time to find the perfect balance. It’s what I refer to as a Don-approved meal- one that I can feel at ease about when he’s offered to cook dinner. No surprises.

Steam baked chili chicken

I don’t really know what the technical term is for the way this chicken is cooked, which is why I’ve called it steam-baked. It literally steams in its foil package whilst it bakes in the oven. The result of which I now believe is the one of the best ways to cook a too often dry or bland boneless, skinless chicken breast.  Being that two uninterrupted hours to make dinner are now a rarity, I particular like the fact that you don’t have to wait for the chicken to marinate. It does that all by itself in it’s the oven- whilst also providing a magnificent sauce. I love when food does the works for me- talk about delegation.

This recipe is part of the ‘In the bag’ competition run by the blog A Slice of Cherry Pie. It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the list of ingredients – chicken, garlic and red chillies. You certainly won’t think you’re dieting when you’re eating it. But you may well find you loose a little weight- if you’re counting your points, that is.

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A RECIPE & VIDEO: Lemon ricotta crostini

I am a recipe thief. Beware. You’ll have me for dinner one week, emails from me the next day and the following week your recipe will be poorly photographed up on my blog. It’s like a disease. Is there therapy for this sort of thing? Hi I’m Anna, and I’m a recipe stealer with little remorse and very little desire to be reformed. If any at all.
Lemon ricotta crostini

I should probably refrain from gloating about it. One of these days a friend is going to bop me in the nose and tell me to quit publishing their family’s secret recipes.  And then I’ll probably bop them back, because I’m not such a believer in secret recipes. Secrets are for back alleyways, passion-charged love affairs and early signs of pregnancy. Secrets in the kitchen? Pah! You must just not like to share. I’m not the only one out there who finds fault in secret recipes Molly over at Orangette has a whole chapter in her amazing  book that’s dedicated to it.

lemon ricotta cristini

Which is why I feel justified in sharing this recipe- another of my friend Lish’s. I wish she had a website so you could pop over and tell her how wonderful these little creamy bites  are (once you try them, that is). I suppose I’ll just have to take one for the team and you can shower me with praise instead. Of course I’ll try to remember to pass the message on.  Lish is full of good ideas- which is why I’m friends with her and also why I’m always stealing from her. But I don’t feel too guilty about it because she’s usually already stolen them from somebody else. Lish is a recipe sharer. Although come to think of it she has never had me over for dinner, which seems a bit suspect to me. Perhaps she thinks I pilfer table linen too. Must make note to discuss with her. Because of course, stealing linen would be far too much hassle- recipes I can steal with my head.

lemon ricotta crostini Continue reading ‘A RECIPE & VIDEO: Lemon ricotta crostini’

A RECIPE: Peanut butter & almond granola

peanut butter & almond granolaIt is true I’ve posted something similar to this before. It’s also true that last week I said I would not  be making granola after previous issues with my snacking hand. I’m so bloody fickle.

In my defense, it was my dear husband who demanded the granola.  Of course as a good little wife I didn’t waste any time tying a bow in my apron and tottering off to the kitchen.  At least when he’s around, things don’t last long enough for me to get snacking. In any case I ran out of flour to make my usual Saturday loaf of bread, so really granola was the best I could do for him. And I must say, this is brilliant granola.

Being that I’ve recently gotten involved in the BSI (bloggers secret ingredient challenge) I thought that peanut butter granola might be just the thing to make. The peanut butter makes for a really clumpy granola- or should I say chunky? Am I the only one who picks out the chunks first? The single toasted oats are always the last dregs in the jar to go- generally I’ve lost interest by the time I get to them.  I want a couple of nuts and a few seeds bounded together by cluster of toated and flavourful oats. This provides infinite more satisfaction than flakey granola. Plus it makes less mess when you knock back a fistful before pouring some into a bowl. You also get the added bonus of a healthy cereal tasting of peanut butter for breakfast (my mother would hate this idea).

Be sure to head over to Kim’s ordinary recipes made gourmet to see the other contestants and winner.

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A RECIPE: Summer oatmeal

Summer oatmeal

I’ve had to change my breakfast preference. This hot muggy weather we’ve been having in New York has made eating my usual porridge quite an unbearable exercise.  Whilst I revel in the pleasure of an occasional curry-induced sweat, sweating over breakfast is not a situation that I delight in. Follow a sweaty breakfast with the hairdryer and a long wait on the subway platform and you are in for one sticky day. Pit stains, no charge.

I tried to switch straight to yogurt and fruit- but it just would not suffice. No matter how big the portion, an hour later and my stomach was arguing with my head that it was about bloody time it was fed again. I could not cope with this mind/body disagreement so I went back to the oats. I toyed with the idea of making my granola, but the problem that comes with granola is my right hand. Have I not told you about my right hand? It’s my snacking hand and it takes some serious reprimmanding to set it straight. Put something like granola nearby and it’s like dangling food in front of a dog- my right hand is easily distracted.

Then I remembered the Pukkola (also known as bircher museli) that Jamie Oliver used to make. When I worked on one of his TV series it was always there for crew breakfast- a creamy rich cold oatmeal with grated apple and finely chopped nuts. I put on a few pounds on that shoot and I blame a couple of those extra inches on breakfast alone.

So, this one is lightened up a bit. I prefer to use a skimmed milk or almond milk to soak the oats in- water makes a gloopy mess so don’t even go there. I added some wheat germ and flax seeds and added few nuts and the grated apple after the soaking process to give some more texture. Then, instead of finishing it off with more milk I topped the oats with fruit and Greek yogurt. You don’t have to let the oats soak over night- really an hour will be long enough to absorb all the milk- but most people don’t have that amount of time in the morning. As I’m in the habit of eating the same thing for breakfast day in and day out, the planning in advance thing really hasn’t turned out to be such a problem for me. Plus, I love finishing one meal and planning for the next. A procrastinator, I am not.

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A RECIPE & VIDEO: Zucchini cake

zucchini cake

I love the word zucchini– it sounds so much more enticing than courgette. Romantic even. It’s so satisfying the way it hums off the tip of your tongue. Zzzzzzuuuuuu….. Anyway, this is more about the cake than the name. Not only is this a fabulous way to use up summers bounty but it looks so much more appealing than most sponge cakes. I dallied with the idea of jazzing it up with a simple icing sugar and lemon mixture- but personally I like it as it is. No jazz required. Don disagreed, but then he didn’t really taste it properly. His tasting was more apt to a pelican swallowing a fish than a process that required any thought. It may even like a traditional carrot cake frosting. Still, you can decide for yourself.
zucchini cake

The cake itself is not airy and light- it’s full of zucchini how could it be? But there are ways to maximise or minimise the amount of density to your liking. White sugar gives you a lighter cake- but it’s still spongy whereas brown sugar gives much more of a brownie-esque texture- it’s denser and richer. With brown sugar it could easily pass as pudding straight from the oven and dolloped with crème fraîche. I also altered the flavourings for the respective sugars- for the white cake I used lemon zest to match its more delicate nature. For the brown sugar one, which would have completely dominated the lemon zest I used something with a bit more oomph to stand up to it- cinnamon.
zucchini cake

One piece of advice I can give you is not to mix the zucchini with the flour before adding to the eggs and sugar mixture. The water from the zucchini leaches out and you’re left with what can only be described a goopey mixture- and all you will taste in the final cake is flour. I tried this, thinking that by coating the zucchini it would evenly distribute itself in the cake. It did not. Do not make the same mistake. There’s really no need to dry off the zucchini just make sure that you work quickly- measure all your ingredients out before you start mixing. No need for stress after all this is zzzzzzuchini cake and love is in the air.

Keep reading to watch me making the cake and for the recipe
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A RECIPE: Watermelon, tomato & goats cheese salad with lemon truffle dressing

watermelon tomato & goats cheese salad

Don and I threw a party this weekend for all those guests who could not make the trip across the pond for our recent wedding. IT was such a different evening to that blissful day in June- no white dress, no hair and makeup, no top hats and morning suits and most obviously no body else doing the work for us!

I adore having a good party but I have this unavoidable tendency to make things harder for myself than they need to be. I lie awake thinking of all the things I could make and then stress about how much time it will take, the money it will cost and how I frequently I will have to rush to the kitchen during the party.

So, this time I set rules for myself. It was really the only way to contain and restrict my wild fancies.

Rule #1 Five different nibbles only- no adding extras at the last minute. Pick five stick with five. Follow the rules, Helm Baxter.

Rule #2 No hot nibbles- Saturday was predicted to be the hottest day of the year and our 650 sq ft apartment was struggling to stay cool without having to fight with the oven. Everything would be cold or room temperature. First thing off the list mini Yorkshire puddings.

Rule # 3 Only one nibble was allowed to be an attention seeker. All others had to be pre-made and pre-assembled- pre-party.

Rule # 4 No more rules, rule inhibit creativity.

Rule # 5 Even though you hate rules, there are only three real rules. So STICK with them.

Rule # 6 Rename rules as guidelines as clearly the words rules and cooking in the same sentence are a cause for deep concern.

It was hard. Almost as hard as it was to stop myself from drooling on my keyboard over this. I broke the first rule guideline and ended up with six but I left one of them for my guests to assemble themselves.  Ah ha! An extra point awarded for delegation- I think so! And excluding the Pork butt I had in the oven for eighteen hours before the party I managed to keep the oven pretty much entirely in the off setting save for a few nuts toasting and croutons crisping, which was all done pre-party. Success! This party thing was suddenly becoming a whole lot easier.

On the menu we had

  • Smoked salmon & cream cheese spirals you can find here although I added some rocket leaves and forgot about the lemon. Hey- there were no rules about sticking to recipes!
  • Union square nuts– can’t claim credit for these but they are so good!
  • Crostini with ricotta, lemon, hazelnuts & honey- recipe coming soon!
  • Pulled pork (slathered in a mixture of chili flakes, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and soy and cooked for 18 hours at 225F). These I left for the guests to assemble themselves with rolls, applesauce and bbq sauce on the side.
  • My delicious guacamole with spicy pita chips- always a crowd pleaser
  • Watermelon, tomato & feta skewers with lemon truffle vinaigrette (the unplanned hero)

watermelon tomato skewers
Which leads me nicely, almost as if I planned it, to talking about the salad and the skewers you see photographed. I am a huge fan of adding fruit to salads and as salad combinations go watermelon, tomatoes and goats cheese make a perfect little trio. They are such good buddies that when I had left overs from Saturday’s lunch I decided to stick them on a skewer. The perfect solitary bite ready to pop in your mouth in one go and hence, nibble number six came to being.

watermelon tomato & goats cheese salad

This is a salad I’ve been making for the past  two summers- and for some reason I’ve never gotten around to blogging about it. I’m not sure why- too lazy to weigh a watermelon, I suppose. But then this weekend I did- weigh the watermelon that is and everything else and then just for good measure I’ve thrown in the added bonus of two recipes for the price of one reading. Am I the most generous girl around, or what?!

Well sort of. One’s a recipe, the other is just common sense. I know it’s Monday but please tell me you can cope with that? Here’s a few guidelines (by no means rules!)- cut the watermelon into small-bite-sized pieces slightly bigger than half a cherry tomato and a piece of feta (goats cheese is better but harder to skewer) and then put on a toothpick interspersed with Thai or regular basil leaves . I made about 50 skewers with 1 punnet of cherry tomatoes and 2 lbs of watermelon (weight with the rind on) one block of feta and 1/2 a small bunch of Thai basil. Drizzle with a little vinaigrette before serving. Easy as can be.

If you’re not having a party then you really ought to try this salad. In fact even if you’re having a party then you ought to try this salad. Today in fact would be a most excellent time. Why? Because it’s mid-August and summer will soon be over and tomatoes will be imported and bland and the watermelon will be mealy and you will be cold and wanting something hot. So go! Quickly! No, wait! Rule #1 read the recipe first!

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Watermelon, tomato & goats cheese salad with lemon truffle dressing’

A RECIPE: Buckwheat & poppy seed muffins served with sour cream & brown sugar

buckwheat & poppyseed muffins

I’ve never really been a muffin-for-breakfast kind of girl. Oats– yes, multi-grain bread– yes, yogurt and fruit- yes please, croissants- oh, well I really shouldn’t but maybe just this once. Eating a muffin for breakfast has always struck me as rather a strange thing- like doughnuts. Muffins and doughnuts are sweets- the things you eat at tea-time or you at least have the decency to wait until elevenses for. Before that and my mind just boggles.  Like raiding the biscuit tin and calling it breakfast on the go- wickedly fun, perhaps but sensible no.

It’s confusing times like these when I’m reminded that despite my adoption of many Americanisms (eating with just a fork, walking on the right, sticking one finger up at traffic rather than two) I remain quintessentially very English. Especially when it comes to matters of food.

I confess I am yet to find pleasure in the likes of a street side hot dog, or nachos with fake cheese at the cinema, oh and I recently discovered that iced coffee makes me retch. Of all things American though, what I cannot get my head around, utterly refuse to get my head around is muffins for breakfast. Until today. Well, sort of.

Today, I made muffins with buckwheat flour- they are speckled with poppy seeds peppered with cinnamon and ever so plain. That’s plain not dull or flavourless, mind. No, perhaps plain really is the wrong word. They taste of what they’re supposed to- of buckwheat and poppy seeds with a hint of cinnamon and the warmth of brown sugar- plain and simple. Oh, geez- can anyone help me with a word other than plain here? They are the kind of muffins that demand to be cut in half and sandwiched with a sharp slab of cheddar. At tea time they are quite a different beast. They want to be lavished with a mixture of brown sugar and sour cream- tart and complex sweetness blended in holy matrimony.

buckwheat & poppyseed muffins

If ever a muffin was warranted permission to be served at an English breakfast table then I believe it would be this one. Not because of the plain part because we all know that English food has leaped heaps and bounds from its past reputation. In any case I adapted the recipe from one of Dorie Greenspan’s– a most reputable American baker. So, one could hardly call these English.

This was however, no easy task. The first batch I made turned out dry- crumbly even. So, I made a few adjustments- an extra egg and swapping the milk for sour cream. Abrahkadabarah! A moist delicate crumb- and one that tastes even better the next day.  They have very little sugar- 4 oz to be exact divvied up between a dozen. What? Did you think I was going to eat a sweet muffin for breakfast? Brown sugar has so much more depth in flavour than white- and I think you’ll find these have plenty, especially if you serve them with the topping. Plus, I’m saving my sugar cravings for these or I have to say I rather fancy the look of these. At more appropriate times, mind.

This recipe is to be entered into the Bloggers Secret Ingredient competition- head over to The Sophisticated Gourmet to see the line-up on Sunday!

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