Archive for the 'Main courses' Category

Lemon & thyme roast chicken with asparagus & chickpea salad

roast chicken

I’m well aware that asparagus are no longer in season but I’m hoping that you’ll forgive me. I’ve been working so hard at eating in season but a couple of weeks ago I was overtaken by an overwhelming desire for asparagus. They were talking to me loud and clearly and I felt uneasy turning down what they had to offer. I mean who says no to a bunch of glistening green asparagus claiming they would do mind-blowing things in your mouth if you roasted them in a pan or roast chicken drippings with chickpeas. I think you would have picked up a bunch too.
roast chicken Continue reading ‘Lemon & thyme roast chicken with asparagus & chickpea salad’

Sugar & spice pulled pork

boston butt

I’ve been living the life of an unenthusiastic vegetarian. Let me tell you, its been drastic. Good meat has been hard to source is West Virginia and so my team and I have decided to go veggie rather than support the likes of Perdue and Tyson or any other CAFO for that matter. Put a bunch of foodies together and snobbery tends to escalate. The only hitch is that I’ve come to discover, rather unpleasantly that dairy in my digestive tract is like a kids party on a bouncy castle. I trust your imagination will provide the more gruesome details.

Vegetarian living has involved eating more than my five suggested servings of  fruits and vegetables a day but no matter how good that makes me feel- seven weeks of eating like this and I’m bored stiff. That’s B-O-R-E-D. I would rather pour acid in my eyes than eat another carrot stick right now.

So, it goes without saying that when I spent last weekend at my parents house the first thing on my mind was to head to the farmers market and buyt a gorgeous piece of grass-fed meat. I actually drove the three hour journey after a full days shooting so that I would be there in time for the morning farmers market. That’s dedication, okay, okay- desperation.

boston butt

Having waited so long, I mustered up the willpower to wait a few more hours in order to cook my favourite slow-cooked pork. Fifteen hours to be exact- but let me tell you it was so, so worth it. Like giving up sugar for Lent and then going crazy for chocolate on Easter- I was in heaven. Talk about a food high. Crisp sweet and spicy crackling with juicy tender, oh so tender meat. Meat you don’t need a knife to cut- more like a spoon to touch before it tumbles with graceful ease off of the bone.

Like all love affairs, the pleasure of being a carnivore again ended too quickly. Before I knew it I was back in my hotel, a vegetarian.  Until next weekend, anyway.
pulled pork

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Aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto

Aubergine & courgette lasagna with a twist

If there’s one thing that invariably causes a stir when it arrives to the table, it’s a bubbling casserole dish with a layer of crispy bits and melted cheese on top. You know the kind I’m talking about. Mouths start to water, deep nasal inhalations take place and there is a buzz in the air. Rest assure a good meal is about to come.

aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto

I’ve made variations of this over the years but this is one is a little bit unusual. The rich bechamel sauce is replaced by a layer of my basil chermoula pesto folded through creamy ricotta cheese. There’s a suggestion of spice and a whole whack of of summer- basil, tomatoes, aubergines & courgettes. It will undoubtedly make you reflect on how fast summer has gone and how fast time seems to go as you get older. Sorry about that, it’s a nasty and rarely avoidable side effect- made good by the little jive your taste buds are doing on your tongue.

Anyway, don’t let that worry you- you have bubbling tomatoes and cheese to consume and that ought to leave you feeling rather smug. This is essentially a lasagna without the sheets of lasagna- slices of grilled aubergine & courgette take their place. It’s  layered up with homemade tomato sauce, ricotta mixed with basil chermoula pesto with a final topping of goats cheese, crispy breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  Hungry? I’m really wishing I still had some leftovers in my fridge.

aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto

Now, the nitty gritty. Firstly, this is not a quick dish to make. I know, I know, we all want dinner on the table in twenty minutes- trust me I want it in ten. That is why I have posted this on a Friday- you now have the whole weekend to fit it into your schedule. I’m not talking hours and hours and certainly it’s not difficult but it will take you the best part of two hours from start to finish. So grab a glass of wine, put on some crazy tunes and try not to think to much about the fact that this is the last weekend of summer.

Another note, I like to use cricket ball courgettes- the round ones people often stuff. Mostly, just because they are easier to slice and are more similar in size to the aubergine.  You can by all means use normal ones (in which case try and get ones thicker round the middle) and then slice both vegetable lenghtways rather than through the middle. When choosing a cricket ball squash for this you want to stay away from the large ones, which tend to have quite mealy middles- look for the young smaller ones. If you do find yourself with a mealy small one, then feel free to curse me, have a tantrum and then just carefully remove the mealy middles before getting on the task at hand.

Now that you’ve gone to the trouble of making this darn thing you’re going to be rather cross with me when I tell you that now you need to wait a whole ten minutes before diving in.  It’s going to be a real bore, let me tell you- but it really helps the vegetables to settle and reabsorb some of their lost juices. Don’t let it stop you from putting it on the table all bubbly- just start with a small salad and let your guests ooooh and aaaahhh in anticipation. You’ll ruin their joy if you cut into a watery mess. Patience, my friends- if you acquire some I’d love to know how.

And finally, no doubt you will find it oozing its savoury juices over the sides of the pan so make sure you place it on a baking tray in the oven. Melted bubbly cheese heading for an eager mouth is one thing- on the oven floor, is quite another. Continue reading ‘Aubergine & courgette bake with basil chermoula pesto’

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.

Continue reading ‘Steam-baked lemon & chili chicken’


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