Chicken and Asparagus Pie

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I have a new toy in my work kitchen. It’s an Instant Pot Duo electric pressure cooker and it is fabulous. I only had a few days to play with it before the family went on holiday so I haven’t made a lot of things in it yet – pulled pork, mashed potatoes and the filling for this pie. If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can make the filling perfectly well in a normal pan, just simmer the chicken until tender and falling off the bones then continue.

This is a large pie – it feeds 8 people – you can easily halve the quantity to make a smaller version. I make my own pastry (because it really is easy, honest) but a good quality ready made one is fine if you hate making it or can’t be bothered.

Don’t be spooked by the fact that the chicken is cooked in milk. This makes the meat deliciously savoury and tender and then it is used to make the sauce for the pie. If you don’t like asparagus you could use small broccoli florets or fry up some sliced mushrooms instead. I used fresh tarragon here because I think it really works with chicken, if you dislike the flavour of tarragon use parsley.

Because it’s not recommended to stack the pressure cooker with several layers of meat, I did this in two batches. If you are doing it on the stove then by all means put everything in the pot at once.

Chicken and Asparagus Pie

serves 8

10 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, put aside* and trim off any excess fat
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
dash of oil
2 bay leaves
Whole milk (to cover)
1 good quality (organic) chicken stock cube
2 bunches of asparagus, any woody ends removed
knob of butter
200g plain flour
50g butter, diced
50g lard, diced
seasoning
3 tbs softened butter
3 tbs plain flour
1 tbs tarragon leaves, chopped

If you are using an Instant Pot use the Sauté setting, heat the oil and soften the shallot and garlic for a couple of minutes. Nestle in 5 of the chicken thighs, cover with milk, crumble in the stock cube and add the bay leaves. Close the cooker, close the vent and set to high pressure for 6 minutes. Allow to release pressure naturally for 5 minutes then fast release.

Remove the chicken from the pot with a slotted spoon and put on a plate to cool.

Add the second lot of chicken into the pot and repeat.

While the chicken is cooling make the pastry. There are three ways you can make this:
Chuck everything into a food processor, blitz until the flour changes colour and has a sandy texture then drizzle iced water down the feeder tube until the pastry comes together and rolls around the spindle.

Put the flour in a roomy bowl and add the butter and lard. Then use a pastry blender to work the fat into the flour. Once you have the sandy texture drizzle over iced water whilst stirring with a kitchen knife. When the dough starts to form bring it together with your hands and knead lightly in the bowl until it comes together.

Do the same as above but use your thumbs and finger tips to scoop up the flour and fat and rub them together, letting everything fall back into the bowl. Eventually you will have that sandy texture and can add the iced water.

Once the pastry is made pat it into a flat cake, cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest.

Now strip the chicken from the bones, removing any remaining fat and other wibbly bits, and put into a roasting tin or large shallow pyrex dish.

Spread the trimmed asparagus out in a wide shallow pan with 100ml of water and a knob of butter. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for two minutes. Drain into a sieve over a bowl (to catch the asparagus water) and then run the sieve under a cold tap until the asparagus is completely cool. Scatter the asparagus in and around the chicken.

Using a fork, mash together the softened butter and the extra flour on a small plate or saucer until you have a paste (this is called a beurre manié, it’s a very useful thing for thickening) then bring the cooking juices in the Instant Pot (on sauté) or in a saucepan on the stove up to the boil. Once the liquid is boiling whisk in a small lump (I was going to say nugget but it made me laugh too much. Ahem. Sorry) of the butter and flour paste at a time until it is all used up. If the sauce seems too thick let it down with some of the saved asparagus water. Add the tarragon. Simmer for 5 mins. Season. Remove the bay leaves. Then pour over the chicken and asparagus.

Roll out the pastry and drape over the filling. Trim neatly and then fancy pants it up as much or as little as you like.

Bake at 180ºc for 30 mins or until the pastry is pleasingly brown.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*But Beeeee what do we do with the chicken skin???

Well. If you lay it out on oven trays and bake for a while, turning occasionally until golden and crispy then sprinkle with salt… you will end up with THIS:

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This is snack crack or chicken heroin.

One of the finest things in the universe. Make some. You will thank me.

5-a-day Sausage Tray(bake)


This is a nice, easy, comforting dish. One of those things which takes almost no effort to make apart from shoving things in the oven and a bit of frying. It can be made a couple of days ahead and kept in the fridge until needed. 

I *may* have mentioned my slattern ways and inherent laziness a couple of times so I feel comfortable sharing my way of making butternut squash mash without worrying that you might judge me. Clearly if you dislike BNS you can substitute whichever vegetable mash you prefer.  Actually, I’ve just realised Champ would be brilliant on the top of this [thousand yard stare] I must try that next time. 

5-a-day Sausage Tray

Serves 2-3

8 good quality sausages

1 large butternut squash

1 small onion or two shallots, sliced 

2 sticks of celery, strings removed, diced

1 medium courgette, diced

I bag of baby spinach

250g mascarpone

1tbs grainy mustard or creamed horseradish

Squeeze of lemon juice

Freshly grated nutmeg

Seasoning 

Oil for frying

Preheated oven 180c

Start by splitting the butternut squash in half and put both halves in a baking dish – skin, seeds and all. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the tray, cover with foil or a lid and put in the bottom of the oven. 

Next put the sausages on a baking tray, roll in a little bit of oil to prevent them sticking, and bake until a deep golden brown. 

While the sausages are baking start the onion frying gently in a little oil. Once it has softened add the celery and courgette, turn the heat up a bit and continue frying until everything is soft and golden. Tip in the spinach and let it wilt into the pan, stirring occasionally. 

Now add enough mascarpone to make the mixture nice and creamy. You may not need the whole tub – I used about 3/4 in the picture above. Add the mustard or horseradish and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and taste. If the sauce is a bit thick stir in a tbs of water to slacken.  Remove from the heat and set aside. 

Once the sausages are cooked remove from the oven, cut into chunky pieces and stir into the vegetables. Then spoon this mix into a shallow casserole dish and level the top. 

The butternut squash is cooked when you can easily insert a knife into the flesh. Remove from the oven, take off the foil and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so. 

Holding half of the squash in a teatowel, scoop out the seeds and fibres with a dessert spoon and discard. It will all come out really easily. Then scrape the soft flesh into a roomy bowl. Repeat with the other half. 

Mash thoroughly with a little butter, grated nutmeg and some seasoning to taste then spoon evenly over the sausage mixture. Brush the top with a little oil or melted butter. 

Bake for approximately 30 minutes until the top is golden brown. 

Nice with some tenderstem broccoli. Oh give over, there’s no such thing as too many vegetables. 

Cornish Cream Tea Pudding


This came about because I did an afternoon tea at the weekend and there were some scones* left over. I know. Uneaten scones. I don’t understand that phrase either. Anyway. Scones really should be eaten the day they are baked and preferably within an hour of coming out of the oven so two-day-old ones aren’t fit for much. Until now…

This is highly unlikely to be an original idea  but it might be a new idea to you so it’s worth writing it down for that very reason. This falls somewhere between a bread and butter pudding and the base in a Queen of Puddings and is really just a simple assembly job which you whack in the oven.   I have used plain scones because that’s the scone of choice in this Cornish household but feel free to use whatever you prefer. Although I’m not sure that fruit scones would work with raspberry jam. Apricot instead maybe?

It occurs to me that if you find making scones a bit daunting this is the perfect thing for those scones you buy in the supermarket, that slightly odd claggy texture would work fine here.

Apologies for the bullet points, am using my phone and can’t get it to do a single space return.

*my scone recipe at the bottom

Cornish Cream Tea Pudding

  • 6 or 7 plain scones
  • Raspberry jam
  • Butter
  • 300ml milk
  • 200ml double cream
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • Caster sugar (optional)
  • A few fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 160c

Start by slicing the scones into four or five pieces, I cut them from the top down rather than through the middle, then sandwich together with alternating layers of butter and jam.

Place the reassembled scones in a shallow baking dish squashing down to fit the space available. The one I used was roughly 30cm x 20cm.

Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream with the teaspoon of vanilla. Add a little sugar if you like (I didn’t think it needed it), then pour the custard mixture over the squashed scones and scatter over the raspberries.

Allow the dish to stand for 10-15 minutes to allow the custard to be absorbed a little. Then bake for 25-30 minutes or until the custard has set around the edges but is still very slightly wobbly in the centre.

For the full-on experience serve with a dollop of Cornish clotted cream.

Scones

Ok so this is how I make scones. At the risk of sounding like James Martin this is almost exactly how my Nana made them other than I use buttermilk instead of ordinary milk. If you haven’t got buttermilk you can use plain milk or add some lemon juice to make it similar in acidity and texture to buttermilk. She would scatter in 2 handfuls of sugar which is roughly 50g or two big old fashioned tablespoons.

Preheat oven to 200c

225g self raising flour

1sp baking powder

50g soft butter

50g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

Buttermilk or milk or milk with a squeeze of lemon – enough to bind.  

Rub the butter into the flour until you have fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar and salt.

Using a blunt kitchen knife, stir in enough liquid to bring the mix together as a clumpy dough.

Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead really gently until the dough comes together. The less you knead the better but it needs to be more or less holding together.

Pat the mixture until flat and no thinner than 4 cm deep. Use a 5cm metal cutter dipped in flour to cut out the scones. Push the cutter straight down and do not twist (this can make your scones rise unevenly). Re-roll remaining bits and repeat.

I never brush with egg or milk because Nana didn’t, but obviously you can if you wish.

Put scones on a baking sheet and bake in the top half of the oven for 15-18 mins.

I regularly double or treble this quantity without any problems. This amount should make 8.

Pork and Fennel Meatballs*

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I am very partial to a meatball and these particular ones are definitely one of my favourites. The main ingredients are pork, lemon and fennel and it’s a combination which works beautifully. For the sauce you can either use a favourite jar or make a simple tomato sauce by softening finely chopped onion/celery/carrot and some crushed garlic in a few tablespoons of oil then add some tinned chopped tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes while you make the meatballs. For this amount I would use two tins of tomatoes.

Having a gold medal in laziness means I don’t bother to brown these in a pan first, it saves on washing up and the end result is perfectly fine, just plop each one into the sauce as you make it and shoogle the pan occasionally to make sure they are all settled into the sauce.

For beautifully soft meatballs you need to add some sort of bulking agent to stop them being too dense and bouncy. Traditionally breadcrumbs soaked in a little milk is used but if you can’t eat bread (or don’t have any conveniently to hand to make some crumbs) you could also use porridge oats or even some ground almonds. I’d still soak the oats for a few minutes before you start though. For breadcrumbs I buy an unsliced white loaf, remove all the crusts, cut it into chunks then blitz in a food processor. Spread out on an oven tray and allow them to dry out for a couple of hours. Then weigh out what you need and bag the rest up for the freezer. Very handy for other things like fishcakes or chicken kiev. Or more meatballs. Also if you like things a little pokey you could add a seeded chopped fresh chilli. Or two.

Pork, Lemon and Fennel Meatballs

1kg pork mince
1 onion, peeled but leave the root on
1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
150g white breadcrumbs, soaked in a little milk
50g grated parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
2 tsp fennel seeds
large handful of finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Put the mince into a roomy bowl and break it up a little with your fingers. Using the coarse side of a grater, grate the onion into a purée and add to the bowl then use the fine side to remove the zest from the lemon and grate the garlic (or use a garlic crusher) ad both to the bowl.

Then squeeze some of the milk out of the breadcrumbs and add to the bowl along with all the other ingredients.

You cannot make a decent meatball without getting your hands dirty so get your hands in and squish everything together. Try to use a fairly light hand though, again we don’t want dense and bouncy so squeezing the life out of the mixture isn’t recommended. Once everything looks to be evenly distributed it’s time to make your balls.

I use a small ice cream scoop – the old fashioned kind with a handle you squeeze, not the more modern ones with no moving parts. I find this the most satisfying way to make them because all but the last one will be the same size (the last one is always the smallest or the largest depending on how much mixture is left) I find the quickest way to do this is unroll a length of baking parchment onto the worktop then scoop all the mixture out one at a time. Then wet your hands, take each one and roll it very gently into a ball before dropping it into the tomato sauce. As I stated further up, occasionally shoogle the pan to make sure everything is settling in ok, you really don’t want to stir anything just yet because all that hard work will be undone and you will end up with a pan of mince and tomatoes.

Once everything is in bring the sauce up to a very very gentle simmer, cover the pan and leave things well alone for 20 minutes or so. This will allow the meatballs to poach and set.

After 20 minutes you can stir things around and see how the sauce is doing. If it’s a bit thin, leave the lid off the pan, turn the heat up a bit and reduce the sauce to the consistency you prefer.

Meatballs are always served with rice in our house, it’s just what we prefer, but they are also really lovely with pasta or mashed potatoes. I’d sprinkle a little extra parsley and parmesan over before serving.

 

*you have no idea how many titles I deleted. I am basically still in the fifth form (in my mind)

 

Easter Inspiration

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I do a lot of baking but I don’t eat 99% of what I make because the majority is for customers or my employer and I don’t actually have a cake/bakery item craving, I just enjoy the creative process. But I do have a thing about almond flavours – marzipan, amaretto and frangipane in particular – I always put frangipane on my mince pies for example and I created Scollens for Christmas last year. I also make the finest almond slice in the world (it is official). Now I bring you this utterly scrumptious thing.

The simplicity of the method belies the delicious result, and as with lots of the things I make you can tinker about with the additions to whatever takes your fancy. In fact I’m not a fan of fruit and chocolate as a rule but the chocolate/orange combination really works here. This was originally a Simon Hopkinson tart recipe which (I think) he adapted from a Jeremy Lee recipe. I took the filling changed it to my own tastes, dropped the pastry and baked it in a dish. Such is the way with recipes – nothing is really new and everything is almost always evolving into something else. I urge you to try this. I had it with double cream but I reckon some extra thick or clotted cream would be even better.

A pet hate of mine is a recipe which states 100g of something when you can only buy it in either 125g or 150g (I’m looking at you ground almonds) so I’ve stated 125g here but if the bag you have is 150g it won’t really make any difference and you won’t have 25g of useless ground almonds cluttering up and drying out in your baking cupboard. Unfortunately a whole tub of candied peel is too much but it does keep quite well and I am extremely confident that you will make this again long before it is unusable. Likewise with chocolate chips – one of those small bags from the baking bit in the supermarket is fine but equally you could just chop up some chocolate you have lying around – aim for about 80g or so.

Other things. I happen to like pine kernels but flaked almonds or chopped pistachios would also work really well. And make sure the butter is nice and soft. If it isn’t slice it up and give it a minute or so on a low setting in the microwave. If you don’t do alcohol add a little fruit juice – pear would be good. You could also add some chopped, peeled pear if you fancy instead of orange zest. I might try that myself. Or some stoned, fresh cherries. They would definitely work.

One last thing – this can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd. I did it for 12 last night…

Chocolate Orange Frangipane Pudding

This serves a polite 4 (or 2-3 less delicate portions)

Pre-heat oven to 180ºc, butter a small ovenproof dish

100g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
50g plain flour
1 large egg
grated zest of 2 oranges
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
grated nutmeg – about a quarter
2 tbsp Marsala (be generous)
1tbs orange liqueur
½ tsp vanilla paste
1/2 a tub of candied peel (supermarket tub)
200g marzipan, chopped into small dice
Dark chocolate chips
40g pine kernels

Begin by beating the butter and sugar together for a good five minutes on a high speed until pale and fluffy.

Beat in the egg.

Lower the speed of the mixer and tip in the flour and almonds, orange and lemon zest, nutmeg, booze and vanilla.

Stir in the candied peel, marzipan and the chocolate chips.

Scrape the batter into the ovenproof dish and level the top.

Scatter over the pine kernels.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until risen and golden brown and just set in the middle when pressed with your little finger.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes then dust with icing sugar and serve with cream or ice cream.

(For the supper club I made little individual bakes and put a layer of orange curd in the bottom of each dish. And topped with icing sugar and a little bit of edible glitter – my pudding motto is when you can, ALWAYS use glitter!)

Five in Five

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This isn’t a recipe really, it’s an assembly job. Five ingredients which make a really tasty meal in five minutes. I might see if I can come up with some more – well if You Know Who (no, not Voldemort) can do it, why not me?

However, as Mr Oliver does with his 15 minute meals, you will need the kettle to have boiled and a pan already on the heat.

I suppose technically this uses two cheat ingredients but a good ready made Thai paste is an excellent product, I buy mine from Wing Yip in Manchester and you can order from them online if you can’t buy it local to you but I’m sure most supermarkets will sell Thai curry pastes. I used Tom Yum paste but you could use any you have – green, red, yellow, Massaman etc. Be bold with the paste, a lot of them are quite poky but the coconut cream will mellow that a little and you want something lively here, Thai food is rarely shy and retiring. If you don’t like poky [looks sideways at a certain someone] then I’d suggest using a mild Indian curry paste instead. It’ll still work.

The pre-cooked noodles are just easier to use than the dried ones but should you want to rehydrate some of the very fine rice noodles – the kind you get in ‘Singapore’ style dishes – start that process before you start on the sauce. Just put two helpings in a bowl and cover with boiling water. By the time the salmon is cooked they should be ready to drain and add to the pan.

This amount serves two generously.

2 heaping tablespoons of Tom Yum paste mixed into 200ml boiling water
1/2 block of coconut cream, chopped up
1 bag of ready prepared stir-fry vegetable mix (whichever your fancy)
2 salmon fillets
1 whole pack Straight to Wok rice noodles (two portions)

Pour the Tom Yum stock into the hot pan and add the shopped up creamed coconut then stir until melted and the liquid has come up to the boil.

Tip in the stir-fry veg mix and stir to coat in the stock. Once this has come back up to the boil reduce the heat to low to medium and lay the salmon fillets, skin side up, on top of the vegetables. Put a lid on the pan. Leave the fish to poach for 3 minutes.

Remove the pan lid, and using a couple of forks peel the skin off the salmon and discard then roughly break the fish into chunks.

Add the noodles and stir. Take the pan off the heat and allow the noodles to heat through for 30 seconds or so then divide between two warmed bowls.

This is perfectly lovely as it is but I do like to throw additional things on my food – curries, soups, casseroles etc. Garnishes I suppose you’d call them. You absolutely don’t have to but I added some chopped mint and some homemade chilli jam because I’d just made some. Had I had lime zest, fresh coriander, salted peanuts and very crispy fried shallots I would have added some or all of those too. And sometimes you might want to add an extra bit of fish sauce and/or some soy, it’s all down to personal taste.

 

Two Soups and…

2017-01-08_0001…another Soup*.

It is very definitely soup weather at the moment. Vegetable soups are really easy to make and have just two or three simple steps – braising the vegetables, adding the stock, blitzing the results (optional).

For four servings of any vegetable based soup you need about 500g of vegetables, whatever you particularly like, cut into manageable pieces, some butter and any flavourings you like plus plenty of seasoning.

Heat the butter over a low to medium heat and tip in the vegetables and flavourings, then turn to low.

You must let everything sit long and slow in the butter, stirring occasionally, but at least 30 minutes and without letting anything brown. This is called sweating – I know. You would think there was a nicer term for it but there you are. If you are channeling some tv chef or other you can make a cartouche from a bit of greaseproof paper and settle it on top before putting a lid on the pan. Or just put a lid on the pan. It works either way.

Once the the vegetables have softened and smell lovely, add some stock. About a litre or so to 500g of veg. If you have lovingly prepared homemade stock this is the place to use it of course but a good quality ready made one or a decent stock cube will do perfectly well instead. Bring everything up to a simmer and let it tick away for about 10 minutes or so. You can then serve the soup as it is, blitz it all with a thunderstick, or half blitz it so that there’s still some chunky bits in there. Entirely up to you. I think soup benefits from a bit of a garnish – chopped herbs, grated cheese, slosh of cream etc. let your imagination run wild…I make a curried parsnip soup for the supper club and garnish that with tiny onion bhajis.

I like garlic bread with my soup and this is how I do mine:

1 large baguette
100g very soft butter
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
large handful of parsley, finely chopped
zest and juice of a small lemon

Slice the baguette into two long halves.

Mix everything else together in a small bowl then spread this flavoured butter along the bottom half of the baguette, place the other half on top and wrap tightly in foil.

Put the wrapped bread top side down onto a baking sheet and place a preheated 200ºc oven. Bake for ten minutes then turn the right way up and fold back the foil. Bake for another 5 minutes then remove from the oven, cut the baguette into thick slices and serve alongside your bowl of lovely soup.

The soups above are (from l to r) Swede, Cream Cheese and Black Pepper, Butternut Squash with Orange and Coriander, Leek and Potato.

*apologies to Victoria Wood

A Finger on the Pulse

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In keeping with a lot of cultures around the world, I have been cooking with lentils and pulses yesterday and today. Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are considered to be symbolic of money, and thus considered a harbinger of prosperity and good luck in the new year. Several of them resemble coins and the fact that they swell up when soaked in water also extends the analogy that the prosperity grows with time. Call me a bit cynical but I think also it could be that some plainer fare is welcome after the bingefest of Christmas.

In Italy they like green lentils and sausages, Germany like split peas, Japan has black beans and even the southern states of the USA like some black eyed peas with collard greens. In the Patmore household we like a bit of spicy dhal** or some soup. Both dishes are very economical, versatile, warming, comforting and easy. Perfect for this time of year.

Dutch Soup

I’ve been making this for many years. Why I decided to call it Dutch Soup is lost in the mists of time but it was a regular feature when my children were small and we didn’t have a lot of money – it fed six of us very well for less than a couple of pounds. It will double up and feed a crowd quite easily and although it doesn’t have many ingredients it is very tasty. I use the kind of sausage which is smoked, horseshoe shaped and comes individually wrapped but you could use any cooked sausage you like – good quality frankfurters work well here, or even leftover bangers. This is also quite hearty so the end result should fall somewhere between a stew and a thick soup.

To stretch it further you could serve some big hunks of buttered bread for dipping.

Serves four generously

1 large onion, sliced
dash of oil
250g yellow split peas
3 bay leaves
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 stock cube dissolved in 1.5 litres water
8 Charlotte or other salad-type potatoes sliced into thickness of a £1 coin
1 smoked sausage, sliced into thickness of a £1 coin
2 handfuls of spinach

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and gently fry the onion until softened and starting to colour.

Add the split peas, bay leaves and fennel seeds and stir for a few seconds then add the water and the stock cube and bring everything up to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the peas are just about soft and you can squash one easily between your finger and thumb. Keep an eye as they cook, stirring occasionally and add more water if you think they need it.

Add the potatoes and continue to simmer gently until they are tender.

Add the sausage slices and the spinach turn the heat as low as possible and allow the sausage to heat through thoroughly and the spinach to wilt. Serve with bread if using.

You can, of course, add any extra toppings you like. I don’t think cheese works here but maybe some finely chopped spring onions or a few chopped gherkins would be nice. Or some sliced hard boiled egg, maybe. Eggs work well with pulses.

**Due to me having some form of plague I haven’t had the energy to make any dhal yet.

 

 

Leftover Loveliness

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For me there is a certain delight in eating up the post-Christmas goodies in as many ways as possible. Sausage and Squeak, sandwiches and curry take up most of it but there’s always that ragbag of bits and bobs which, in themselves, wouldn’t make a meal but if you stitch them together and add a few judicial extras this can make one of the best meals of all.

You just need to gather up all the elements – the last of the ham, some bits of stuffing, a few shreds of turkey or chicken, maybe a sausage or two, all the ends of the cheese, onions/potatoes/veg from the rack, a bit of cream left in the pot…and away we go.

This amount served five very generously.

Start by chopping an onion or a leek and frying in a little oil and butter until transparent then add any chopped meat/sausage/stuffing and stir and fry until heated through – I used 1lb of cooked diced ham, four cooked sausages sliced up, a few of slices of chicken and about 100g leftover stuffing.

Sprinkle over about two tablespoons of flour and keep stirring and frying for another minute or so… then add a pint of milk, stir until bubbling and add enough water, a little bit at a time, until you have a nice smooth sauce. Stir in the cheese, cream and some frozen peas if you have them and allow everything to meld together into a sauce. If you have some wholegrain mustard this is the point to stir it in. I didn’t. So I didn’t. But I did chop up all the leftover parsley and added that instead.

Tip the sauce into a shallow casserole dish – I used one of those brown ceramic rectangular ones, about 40cm x 30cm – and allow to cool.

Chop 2kg of maris piper potatoes into small cubes then place into a large saucepan, cover with cold water, bring up to the boil and simmer until just tender. Drain. Add a couple of knobs of butter to the pan and shake the potatoes until roughly covered in melted butter – some will be, some won’t.

Tip the potatoes onto the mixture in the casserole and spread out evenly. Dot with additional butter and sprinkle with extra grated cheese (from the New Year cheeseboard if necessary) and bake at 200ºc until golden brown on top and the filling is bubbling.

Allow to stand for 10 minutes. Then serve with a dressed salad/coleslaw/extra veg/baked beans (no judgement)

 

 

Rice Noodle Salad

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This is truly lovely. The ingredients are pretty straightforward and it is a simple assembly job once you’ve fried the first lot of noodles – add the cold cooked noodles and the dressing and it’s delicious. It goes really well with the Speedy Thai Salmon but it does make a lovely light meal on its own – you could add some poached chicken, king prawns or a bit of cold poached salmon if you like.

I used Sainsbury’s own brand rice noodles, which come in neat cakes about the size of a decent fish cake. If you are using the ones that come in a pillow (like a huge Shredded Wheat) I’d use three large handfuls – or really as many as you think you will need, but just use one handful (or cake) for the crispy bit. Also, I quite like cold rice noodles which is why I rinse the soaked noodles in cold water before draining. If you prefer them warm then drain them quickly and assemble the salad immediately. Sometimes that hot/cold thing works really well – maybe I’m just weird and like cold rice noodles… Quantities are as specific as possible in this recipe because people like that but as ever, it is a moveable feast. You can up some, remove others or add whatever takes your fancy.

 

Serves 2

Salad:

3 x ‘cakes’ of fine rice noodles

1 carrot peeled into ribbons

2 x 4cm pieces of Cucumber, quartered, seeds removed, cut into slim batons

8 mini corn cut into slim batons

4 spring onions, cut into 4cm lengths and then into batons

10 button mushrooms, thinly sliced

Thinly sliced sweet red pepper rings – about one long thin one

Baby spinach leaves – small bag

Pomegranate seeds

Watermelon cubes

Shredded mint leaves

Shredded coriander leaves

(finely sliced chilli, chopped peanuts, toasted coconut, Thai basil, King prawns, cold roast chicken –  would happily add all of these)

 

Dressing:

2 tbs dark soy sauce

1 tbs sesame oil

1 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs sweet chilli sauce

Juice and zest of a lime

 

You will need a deep fat fryer or a wok/saucepan with an inch of oil in it

Prepare all the vegetables and put into a bowl. Reserve the watermelon until ready to serve because it is very juicy and can spoil the rest of the salad if added too early, then toss it in at the last minute.

Make the dressing – simply combine everything together. I always use an old jar and shake everything like billy-o (?) but a small bowl and a fork or small whisk would work just as well.

Make the crispy noodles. Heat the oil in the wok, saucepan or deep fat fryer to 190ºc and crumble about a quarter of the noodle cake into the hot oil. The broken noodles will puff up and go white almost instantly, scoop them out immediately and tip onto some kitchen roll. Continue with the rest of the noodles then scatter them all with a good pinch of caster sugar and a good pinch of salt. Toss to combine.

Put the rest of the noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 4 minutes then drain. If you prefer the noodles cold, rinse thoroughly in cold water. Once drained thoroughly, snip through them with scissors once or twice – it makes them easier to eat with a fork. Toss the noodles, hot or cold, with a couple of teaspoons of sesame oil to stop them sticking together.

To serve: put some dressed noodles on each plate, add salad and any extras then top with the crispy noodles. Use a fork to scatter the dressing over, it is quite strongly flavoured so use sparingly until you get an idea of how much you like –  it is essential to the final dish so add as much as you like once you have tasted everything together.

 

 

I love it when a plan comes together…

I often think of combining things to make something new. Sometimes it’s less than successful, sometimes it’s a bit of a triumph. This was a triumph. 

I’ve called these Scollens – a cross between a scone and stollen. Quick and easy to make and infinitely adaptable to your own dried fruit likes and dislikes. I would say though that if you dislike the flavour of almonds, they probably aren’t for you.

This amount made about 15, easily halved 

450g self-raising flour

40g golden caster sugar

200g ground almonds

150g very cold butter (I put it in the freezer for half an hour before I start)

200g marzipan 

100g mixed dried fruit – I used cranberries, cherries and blueberries

1tsp almond essence

2 large eggs, beaten

about 100ml milk

a little extra flour

Preheat oven 180c/gas mark 7

Put the flour, sugar and ground almonds in a roomy bowl and mix together thoroughly. 

Take the butter out of the freezer and use the coarse side of a box grater to grate half of the butter into the flour mixture then use a kitchen knife to cut and mix the butter into the flour. Try to do this lightly and coat each strand in flour – ideally you want to avoid compressing the butter into lumps.  Repeat with the rest of the butter.

Then do the same thing with the marzipan but I would do this bit in three or four goes to prevent the marzipan from clumping together too much. 

Once that is in stir in the dried fruit. 

Whisk together the eggs, almond essence and about half of the milk. Then use the kitchen knife to cut and stir the liquid into the dry ingredients. Now get your hands in the bowl and start to bring everything together adding extra milk as needed. The dough should be a bit claggy and there will probably be a few scrappy bits in the bottom of the bowl. Worry not. 

Tip everything onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly and quickly to bring everything together. This is not bread dough so only knead enough to ensure everything is more or less sticking together. The less you handle it the lighter your scones will be. 

Pat the dough into a circle. I never ever roll out scone dough, just pat it into shape keeping it 4-5cm deep. You can very lightly use a rolling pin to level the top if you wish, but lightly – no flattening!

Use a 5 cm cutter to stamp out the scollens, dipping the cutter in flour between each one to stop any sticking, then place them on a baking sheet. When you use a cutter try to push it straight down without twisting and then shake the dough out without prodding too much. This ensures the end results rise more evenly in the oven. Glaze with milk or a beaten egg if liked then bake for 15-18 minutes until nicely risen and golden brown. 

These are gorgeous served warm with butter. Or clotted cream. Or black cherry jam. Or indeed, all three. 

Basics: Roast Potatoes


Everyone has their own way of doing roast potatoes, this is mine. I like a high ratio of fluffy to crispy and never ever use a waxy potato. Nor do I like mine coated in semolina or polenta – I really don’t like the oddly tough outer this creates. For me it has to be Maris Piper or King Edwards (same with mashed potato). I’m not saying this is the absolutely ultimate roast spud method just that this is what I do. I’ve made these using vegetable oil, olive oil and butter combined, duck fat, goose fat, lard or beef dripping. Works perfectly well with any of them. 

Pre heated oven 170c

You need one potato per person plus an extra one or two depending on how many you are catering for. Choose potatoes roughly the size of a lightly clenched fist, peel, then cut into four evenly sized pieces and rinse.

Place in a saucepan, cover with cold water, add a generous amount of salt and bring up to the boil quite slowly over a medium heat. 

As soon as the water starts to boil turn the heat right down, put a lid on the pan and cook very very gently until completely tender. This will take around 20 minutes or so. Test with a skewer or a cocktail stick but go gently because they are likely to break apart if you are heavy handed. 

Once tender drain slowly and very carefully then gently return the potatoes to the pan. Allow them to steam in the pan for a couple of minutes. You may notice the odd corner of a potato lifting up – this is good, nothing to worry about. 

Now pour over your chosen fat, about a generous tablespoon per potato then gently swirl the pan to partially coat each piece. Don’t worry about getting it evenly distributed. 

Spoon each piece of potato onto a non-stick baking sheet. There should be some fat left behind in the pan, use the spoon to trickle a little of this remaining fat over each potato. Floury potatoes are by nature a bit fragile and one or two may break apart. Worry not, just press gently back together and anoint in the same way as the others. As you get to the last dregs there will be potato crumbs making it sludgey. This is A Good Thing. Keep spooning until it has all been used up. 

Roast in the oven for about an hour turning over after 40 minutes or so. I use a palette knife and a fork to do this, easing them off the tray if they have stuck slightly. 

When written down it sounds a lot faffier than it actually is. Have faith in the fact that you don’t need a lake of oil to roast potatoes and rejoice in what this means when it comes to the washing up.