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.
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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.

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A RECIPE: Tuna meatballs

tuna meatballs

When Don and I first started dating, his desire to cook was infectious, if not entirely appetizing. The first meal that he ever cooked for me consisted of green pea & mint soup, and Thai green curry- I’ll never forget it. He was obviously inspired by the colour green and it coated the kitchen splash back, floor and his right incisor as he worked his artistic kitchen magic. In the years to follow the amount of time Don has spent int the kitchen has decreased dramatically. These days it’s mostly for a bagel or to heat up leftover take-out, which he ordered because I was out the night before. I can’t really blame him, he has been spoiled rotten by my fit-for-a-King leftovers from work. In any case I can’t claim to have encouraged his kitchen exploits with much enthusiasm- my new kitchen is my baby, afterall and cooking with Don is similar to a  Jackson Pollack painting.

It’s not that Don is a bad cook- in fact he has quite a few gooduns up his sleeve- when he so chooses to bring them out. One of these such gooduns are his tuna meatballs, which have become a Sunday night favourite after I’ve been at work all day and he’s left by himself to the kitchen. In our four and a half years of dating it did not take him long to realise that cleaning up before I got home would ultimately determine my mood and stress levels. He’s quite clever, really.

The meatballs started with a Jamie Oliver recipe in the Jamie’s Italy book. After managing to follow the recipe successfully several times he started to get imaginative with the ingredients. The first time he went a little overboard and couldn’t even remember what had gone in them but overtime they have developed into something truly wonderful. It’s not that Jamie’s weren’t good enough- we just found them a touch rich and so we lightened them up- made them a little more waistline-friendly without them losing any depth of flavour. I know it seems ridiculous to take an expensive piece of fish, like Tuna, hack it up and squeeze it into balls but trust me it’s worth it. I like to use up scraps of tuna, and because it’s cooked through, it doesn’t need to be sushi grade- what’s more you don’t have to worry so much about the overcooking part. You can easily buy your own tomato sauce (or make your own recipe) and feel free to omit the fennel, anchovies and capers- they’re just Don’s gourmet touch and they add a certain je ne sais quoi to what are otherwise just plain old tuna meatballs.

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A RECIPE: Sweet potato, apple & cheese tart

sweet potato apple & cheese tart

I feel like a bit of a jet-setter or late- a tour around the UK followed by a jaunt to Naples, Florida before heading to Miami for the marathon. It hasn’t been a glamorous trip- travel in piggery class, dinners on a budget, nights slept on various friends/family sofa beds and of course the marathon on Sunday will be no jaunt in the park. I did have five glorious days in the UK though. Sure, the sun only came out on day four, I worked my way through an entire box of kleenex tissues having picked up a cold from some germ-riden plane passenger and Don and I ran around from village to village making sure that everybody who needed to be seen was seen, our wedding was planned and to restock on the necessary staples. It has been a holiday of endurance testing- the way a Helm holiday always is. If it weren’t for a few days relaxing in Naples the marathon might have become the most relaxing part of the whole trip.

And whilst it has been glorious not to be at work, I’ve found myself missing my home kitchen (the leaky tap and temperamental dishwasher, not so much) but the cooking I’ve missed. Eating on the run, in the car and on planes out of Tupperware with plastic forks has such limited appeal to me. No scrap that, it has no appeal to me. The nostalgia has only been made worse from the many food magazines that I picked up in the UK all dog-eared for my return. In the meantime I leave you with a recipe from before I left, which I know sounds rather mean but after the marathon on Sunday I will be back on full blogging form.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Sweet potato, apple & cheese tart’

A RECIPE: Wintry red wine lentils

wintry red wine lentils

These lentils have become a firm resident in my fridge at home. I make a big batch up at the weekend enjoy the aromas of bacon rosemary and red wine wafting around as I potter about the apartment; satisfied that a week of good meals awaits. Not only do I love this way to cook lentils but I have started somewhat of a love affair with these little pebbles and even Don seems relatively content despite the lack of a big steak or chop on the table. It starts with the smell of pancetta filling the air as it renders it’s fat. Then the holy trinity of carrot, onion and celery meddles in the mix- that homely smell that always leads to random visitors peeking into the kitchen and then an enthusiastic glug of red wine a spoonful of dijon and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme carry the party through until the lentils are satiated. You may find it hard to believe that it’s not a beef stew simmering on the stove.

I confess, it was only recently when I,  post-run and collapsed on the sofa, that I was lazily grazing my eyes through Nigella’s Feast cookbook that I thought to cook them. This was one part curiosity, one part already having all of the ingredients and one part knowing that I wouldn’t have to leave the sofa and stand on my aching legs for very long. That’s the irony of all this running- I spend half my day Saturday running and the other half unable to move. Talk about balance.

I always knew that I liked lentils- the way they could absorb flavours, the fact that they could be saucey or dry and the way that they comfortingly fill a hungry belly. I’d always been happy to order lentils off the menu, and there was that one lentil salad recipe that I made back in cooking school that still lingers in the back of my head itching for recreation; but I’ve never actually hunted down the recipe. I guess they just never screamed make me as loud as rib roasts and chocolate cakes do. Now all they do is scream.

Lentils are far from the timely, cancel your weekend plans and plan far ahead category that I had previously placed them in. In fact lentils arrive in a whole different category of cooking and one that I assure you is quite pleasant and not half as time consuming as one would think. The beauty of this recipe is that it can either serve as the base for a more complex meal or you can eat them as they are. I’ve turned them into soup by adding extra broth and blending half of them, I’ve made salads with roasted sweet potato and feta, stirred through caramelised onions and walnuts- you get the idea.  But be warned once you start making them- they won’t stop screaming.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Wintry red wine lentils’


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