Steamed Chicken and Mushroom Pudding

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This is an idea that’s been rolling about in my brain for quite a long time and today was the day that I finally found out if it worked or not. I really love a steamed savoury pudding, especially a steak and kidney one, but I had chicken, mushrooms, shallots and a small amount of Stilton in the fridge so that’s what I used.

However, as ever, this is very adaptable so you could do whatever filling you like. The twist is that I’ve put flavourings in the pastry. As this was chicken I tried two different things – one had some standard stuffing mix and one had finely chopped chestnuts, a little bit of grated apple and some fresh thyme leaves. Both worked really well. On balance I preferred the chestnut one best but would happily eat either again. The stuffing one is a bit easier with less faffing about and the only real tip would be to choose a fairly basic mix, some of the posher ones – you know the ones I mean… jelly baby and hemp, that sort of thing – have quite big chunks of dried stuff in them which may not work so well. I think the chestnut version would make a fabulous Boxing Day or Day After Boxing Day lunch filled with bacon, game, mushrooms and Madeira. If you choose to put other flavourings in, keep them on the drier side of things such as herbs, maybe a little finely chopped dried fruit, chopped nuts etc. Steak and kidney would be fab with some grainy mustard in there or bacon and apple would work well with a parmesan and parsley version.

The filling goes in raw and quantities are variable, just ensure you have enough of everything to fill the size of basin you decide to use. Ideally a mixture of meat, onion/leeks/shallots and some vegetables is best. You don’t need a lot of liquid but if you are using stock, water, booze etc. then roll the filling pieces in a little seasoned flour before packing them in. I used double cream because I had the bottom of a pot going spare so didn’t need any flour.

I cooked both of them in my slow cooker. It’s a big slow cooker and they were quite tiny, but I have done a full-sized steak and kidney pudding in it too so a larger version would also fit. If you haven’t got a slow cooker then you can steam in a pan on the stove or use a pressure cooker.

Suet pastry is an absolute doddle to make – just half the quantity of suet to self-raising flour, some seasoning and cold water to bind it all together. However, I prefer the taste of butter so I freeze a block of butter for an hour or so before starting and then use a coarse grater. If you put the bowl on the scales and grate straight into the flour it is then really easy to add the right amount and then cut and mix it in with a kitchen knife.

Chicken and Mushroom Pudding

For a 2 pint pudding basin

275g self raising flour
75g dry stuffing mix or equivalent weight of other flavourings, finely chopped
175g shredded suet or grated butter
Cold water to bind

Mix all the dry ingredients together, stir in the suet or butter and distribute evenly. Sprinkle over cold water and keep stirring with the knife. Keep sprinkling and stirring and eventually everything will start come together as a dough. You want the end result to be very slightly on the tacky side, this is the secret to a good suet pastry. Sprinkle the worktop with a little flour and knead very briefly.

Butter the pudding basin thoroughly. Cut off a quarter of the pastry dough and roll out the remainder into a circle large enough to fill the basin with a little extra hanging over the edge.

Pack your chosen filling into the pudding, all the way up to the rim then sprinkle over about 4 tbs of your chosen liquid.

Wet the rim of the pudding, roll out the remaining quarter of pastry and place over the top and press onto the dampened edge. Finally fold over all the pastry and press to seal.

You need to cover the top with some silicone baking paper. Cut off a large piece, fold in half and then fold a pleat across the middle of the doubled sheet. This is to allow the pudding to expand as it cooks – there’s a reason it’s called self raising flour…

Place the pleated paper on top of the pudding and secure. I use large rubber bands because it’s much easier but you can use string instead.

Fill the kettle and bring to the boil.

Roll out a sheet of tin foil long enough to fit underneath the pudding basin, come up the sides and fasten together at the top. Fold over lengthwise several times and apply to the basin. This makes a handle to lift the finished pudding easily out of a vat of boiling water/steam.

Place the pudding in the pan or slow cooker and add enough boiling water to come 2/3 of the way up the sides of the bowl. Cover and simmer (in pan) or switch slow cooker to High – a large pudding will take around 6 hours in a slow cooker, a little less on the stove. Check the water levels occasionally and top up with more boiling water if necessary.

If you have a temperature probe the middle should be about 84ºF

Once cooked, lift carefully from the pan. Please wear oven gloves, steam burns are very nasty indeed. Allow to stand for five minutes then remove the paper lid and turn out onto a plate. Don’t worry, it will be well behaved and should drop out easily but sometimes an encouraging shoogle is required.

I served this with my new favourite thing – pea, mint and potato mash. It’s my favourite thing because my pea-phobic daughter will eat it and she’s getting vegetable goodness without whingeing.

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Mormon Funeral Potatoes

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Funeral potatoes*… I couldn’t resist the name of these. My mother would have loved this, it has her favourite culinary ingredients in it – soup and crisps – and definitely would have been considered the height of sophisticated cooking in the 1970’s. However I have changed two of the ingredients because frozen hash brown potatoes, definitely not the same thing as the odd little triangle things we can buy, is not available in the UK and the other (condensed tinned soup) is a substitute for a white sauce and we can all make a white sauce. Honestly, we can. To replicate the frozen potato I reckoned that this would be very similar to the grated potato you use for rösti. So that’s what I’ve done.

A lot of recipes tell you to mix parmesan into the topping but I’m not keen on toasted parmesan, I prefer cheddar so that’s what I used. It does need good strong flavoured cheese so use whatever you like. I ended up using a mix of extra strong cheddar, some parmesan and the end of a piece of Stilton. And I think you could take it further – add some chopped ham, or smoked mackerel perhaps and a bit of mustard. Or some chopped gherkins.

The verdict from H was ‘This is nice. Tastes a bit like the middle of a cheese and onion pie’ And indeed it does.

You will need an oven proof baking dish, lightly buttered. This amount would serve 4-6 people as part of a meal.

4 baking potatoes
1 small onion, finely diced
50g butter
50g plain flour
500ml milk
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder or a crumbled chicken stock cube
200g creme fraiche
Seasoning
150g strong flavoured cheese – or a mix of cheeses, grated
Salted Kettle Chips – about half a large bag

Put the whole, unpeeled potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring up to the boil. Then simmer for about 20-25 mins until they are just tender enough to poke with a knife. Do not cook until completely soft. Drain and leave to cool.

Once the potatoes are cool melt the butter in another saucepan and fry the onion gently until softened. Tip in the flour and stir into the onion and butter mixture. Then add the milk in two batches, whisking briskly each time. Once the milk is in, add the stock powder or cube and allow to simmer over a low heat for 2 or three minutes before adding the cheese. Stir it all together then turn off the heat and allow the cheese to melt for a few moments before whisking in the creme fraiche. Taste and season.

Grate the potatoes on the coarse side of a box grater straight into the buttered baking dish. You can pull the skins off before doing this if you prefer but I found that they mostly just fell off anyway. Discard any skins which don’t go through the grater.

Pour over the cheese and onion sauce and throughly mix into the potato. You may not need all of the sauce**

Crush up the Kettle chips and scatter over the top of the dish** then scatter with a little more grated cheddar if liked.

Bake at in the top half of a 190ºC oven for approximately 35-40 mins or until browned and bubbling. When it comes out of the oven it will be going at quite a rate so allow the dish to sit and settle for 10 mins before eating. I sprinkled mine with some cayenne pepper for a bit of spice, paprika would do perfectly well if you don’t like heat.

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*This dish is so called because it is often served at funerals in the Mormon community in the US

**In one of those marvellous twists of fate it would appear that any leftover sauce makes and excellent dip for any leftover Kettle Chips. Kismet. You are most welcome.

One Pot Wonder

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This is just so comforting. It’s a take on a classic dish called Cabbage in the Trôo Style, which is simply cabbage and sausages baked together for around two and a half hours until you have something butter-soft and utterly delicious. It seems almost impossible that just these two ingredients and a bit of butter can make something so good. But then I realised that a bacon sandwich is exactly that. And bangers and mash. And….Hey ho.

I’ve just hoiked the two ingredient thing up a notch – basically it’s now five-ish – by adding some sliced onions, some sliced potatoes and a couple of other flavours to make it a one pot dish. I don’t think garlic works here but by all means use some if you wish. Just 10 minutes to prepare and then two and a half hours in the oven, but a bit longer won’t hurt if you’ve gone out to do something and left it to pootle away whilst you are busy. It’s perfect for a weekend lunch or a midweek evening meal. Serve it with other vegetables if you like but I think it’s perfect just as it is. Please don’t faint at the amount of butter, it’s necessary and adds its own particular flavour and wonderfulness to the end result. Do not, under any circumstances, use margarine. We can’t be friends if you do.

As usual quantities are a bit fluid. Don’t be a slave to this list – more or less of any ingredient won’t matter at all. If you need to feed more people, just increase the quantities and maybe up the spuds a bit. I use unpeeled baking potatoes because of the L factor and you get good coverage fast but substitute a similar weight of any potato you like.

And in case you are sceptical about this, my cabbage hating (weird) but spinach loving (?) daughter really likes it, however she prefers it with some cream in the mix because she doesn’t do spicy. I know. If it wasn’t for the fact that she is the spitting image of me I’d swear she was swapped at birth. If you think you would like it less spicy too then either leave out the chillies or temper the heat by pouring over a little double cream before you eat.

Sausage and Cabbage Bake

Serves 2

1 white or green cabbage – say about 1.5 kg
2 baking potatoes, thinly sliced. Peeled if wished.
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
6 high quality sausages, skins removed and flattened out
1 heaped tsp of fennel seeds – caraway seeds also work well
1/2 tsp chipotle chilli flakes
seasoning
100g butter, sliced

Quarter the cabbage and remove the core. Slice thickly then cut across to make chunky pieces.

Bring about 200ml of water to the boil and add some salt, then tip in the cabbage, stir well, cover with a lid and cook for 4 minutes. Then drain into a colander.

Butter an oven proof dish – I used a cast iron casserole but anything oven proof will do. If it’s wide and shallow just do one layer.

Start by adding a layer of cabbage followed by a scattering of fennel (or caraway) seeds and some chilli flakes. Dot with five thin slices of butter and lay over three flattened, skinned sausages followed by the slices (or equivalent) of one baking potato. Season with salt and pepper.

Repeat the layers.

Add more thin slices of butter to the top layer of potatoes, season with salt and pepper and cover with a lid or foil.

Bake for 2 hours at 170ºC (160ºC fan) Gas mark 3ish or until a knife goes in easily.

Discard the lid and give it another 30 mins at 200ºC (180ºC fan) or Gas mark 6 until crispy around the edges.

 

Quick and Easy: Kebab, Salad and Bread

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I do this meal regularly at the weekend – usually after a few sharpeners early doors. With a bit of organisation and two minutes of prep earlier in the day (or the night before) the whole thing can be done in around 30 minutes.

I’m a great believer in using things which make life easier and two ingredients here I use a lot in all sorts of different dishes – ginger and garlic paste from a jar and a bottle of piri piri sauce. I use Nandos but any will do fine. The trick is to get lots of flavour into the marinade and this really works well. The result isn’t particularly spicy but if you are worried about heat leave out the piri piri and add the grated zest of a lemon or lime instead. I used to use yogurt but I think mayonnaise works better, feel free to substitute yoghurt if you prefer.

The flatbread is so easy, just two ingredients (3 if you count salt). Make sure the pan isn’t too hot – a medium high heat is fine –  and don’t use too much oil, just wipe the pan with a bit of oil on some kitchen roll. If you like you can flavour it with things – garlic, sesame seeds, lemon zest, chopped fresh herbs. Whatever takes your fancy.

I like to add a bowl of salad too, mainly because I don’t think you can ever have too much veg. It’s usually a bag of leaves with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and radishes dressed in a little oil and vinegar. The cabbage and red onion mix is very similar to the ‘salad’ you get at the kebab shop.

And I always always have to have pickled chillies with mine. It’s the law.

Chicken Kebab, salad and flatbread

For roughly 16 pieces:

1 pack of chicken tenders or three skinless chicken breasts cut into pieces
4 tbs mayonnaise
2 tbs garlic and ginger paste
2 tbs piri piri sauce
1/2 tsp chipotle chilli flakes
1tbs each of chopped fresh coriander and mint

1/2 small white cabbage, stem removed, finely sliced
1/2 small red cabbage, stem removed, finely sliced
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
salt
Juice of 1 lemon

1 cup (250ml) self raising flour
1 cup (250ml) full fat Greek yoghurt
Salt

I use a large Ziploc bag but any bowl will do if you haven’t got one.

Put the chicken, mayonnaise, paste, sauce, chilli flakes and chopped herbs into the bag or bowl and squish or stir until the chicken is evenly coated. Zip the bag closed or cover the bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

Mix together the cabbage, onion, lemon juice and salt. Cover and set aside.

Mix the self raising flour with a pinch of salt, then work in the yoghurt. It will be quite a claggy mess to start with but after about 30 seconds it should come together. If it’s really sticky sprinkle over a little more flour and work it in. Cover the dough and allow to rest for 20 minutes or so while you cook the chicken.

Preheat the grill to its highest setting.

Place the chicken pieces on an oven tray and grill on both sides until deep golden brown. If it goes black in a few places that’s absolutely fine, it all adds to the flavour. Turn off the grill but leave the chicken in there to keep warm.

Put a nonstick frying pan on a medium high heat and wipe with a little oil on a piece of kitchen paper.

Divide the bread dough into four pieces and roll out thinly, sprinkle with flour to stop it sticking if necessary. Cook each one for a minute or so on each side or until golden and cooked through.

Put everything in the middle of the table for people to help themselves.

Enjoy!

 

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

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There are two ways to make this thing of loveliness. The easy way or… the hard(er) way… [dramatic music]

It combines two of my favourite things – sweet pastry and essentially panna cotta. If I’m honest, I’d stop right there. But a lovely friend gave me a shed load of rhubarb, so here we are.

The easy way is reasonably quick to assemble, uses top quality ingredients from your local super market and involves a bit of soaking, some gentle stirring and *bites lip* oven poaching…

The hard(er) way involves making things and chilling and the risk of curdling. But hey. Using shortcuts is never a crime.

I used Sniff The Difference ready-made custard from the supermarket, the ‘posh’ one (allegedly) with Madagascan vanilla – the pale looking one, not the bright yellow one. It is in fact quite a nice product so don’t feel guilty about not making your own custard. If you would rather make your own I will put a recipe and method at the end of this blog*.

I also used a ready-made sweet pastry case. Mainly because I was away from home and didn’t have my own familiar tins available. But also because I may have mentioned that I’m quite lazy and when there is a viable alternative I will use it. If you would rather make your own, then again, I will put a recipe and method at the end of this blog*.

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1 sweet pastry case from the supermarket
300ml of good quality ready made custard
1 sheet of gelatine
4 sticks of rhubarb
Sugar
100ml cranberry juice
2 tsp cornflour

Put the pastry case on a baking sheet and pop it in a 180ºc oven for about 10 mins to perk it up a bit.

While the pastry case revives put the sheet of gelatine in a bowl of cold water and leave to soften for 10 mins.

Remove the pastry case and put on a rack to cool.

Heat 3 tbs of custard in a jug in the microwave until beginning to boil. Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out any excess then drop into the hot custard and stir until dissolved. Whisk in the rest of the custard. Put aside but stir briskly occasionally as it cools.

Put the fruit into a small roasting tin and scatter lightly with some sugar. You really don’t need to bury it in sugar, I know it’s tart but you can add sugar if you need to afterwards. Pour over the cranberry juice and cover the tin with foil. Roast for 15 mins at 180ºC and check to see if the rhubarb is tender by poking it with the tip of a sharp knife. In truth it will probably be obvious because some pieces will look like they have been blown up and some will still be whole but tender. If you want to place whole pieces on your final offering, now is the time to carefully remove them.

Drain the rest of the rhubarb into a sieve and save the juices.

The custard should be setting up quite nicely now. Spoon it into the pastry case and level the top.

Heat the juices from the roasted rhubarb, slake the cornflour in a little bit of water and whisk in. Once the glaze has thickened and come to a boil, set it aside.

Decorate with poached rhubarb.

Spoon over the glaze then chill for an hour or so.

Serve with a little pouring cream, if liked.

 

 

*When I get round to it.

Right Sides Together

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If you are feeling lazy (yep I know, I will stop doing those wry looks to camera. Eventually…) then I am your saviour. Sometimes all you need is some simply cooked protein – steak, fish, chicken, tofu etc. – and vegetable dishes like this.

The potatoes are a riff on dauphinoise, very rich and therefore should be served with caution. No one should be sitting alone with a big spoon, scraping the crusty bits off the edges of the dish and thinking that all the wine previously drunk will turn the fat element into some sort of magical arterial-scrubbing vinaigrette. I would never do that.

Plus the best dauphinoise hack ever.

Anyhoo…

 

Stilton and Potato Gratin

You will need:

Enough thinly sliced King Edwards potatoes or Maris Pipers to fill your non-metal dish.
Some crumbled Stilton for scattering between the layers
Double cream

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible. A food processor is the tool you need here, or a mandolin. I know that I will remove my fingerprints on a mandolin so I use a food processor. A sharp knife and patience also works. I rarely bother to peel the potatoes, they are so thinly sliced and the skins on your average KE or MP are not exactly choke-inducing. However, if you are using spuds with a thickish skin then by all means consider peeling first. There’s no real need to lay the slices out neatly, just shovel them into the dish and build the layers.

Layer potatoes with a scattering of cheese, some seasoning and a slosh of cream. Finish with a layer of potato.

Dot with butter, season with salt and pepper. Cover the dish with clingfilm and microwave for 10 mins on full power. Yep. Trust me. Also works with any other kind of dauph.

Remove the clingfilm and pop into a 220ºc oven until the top is beginning to brown and the edges are bubbling.

Allow to stand for 10 mins. Serve.

 

Courgettes and Wilted Salad

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The veg dish is genius if you hate salad. Honestly. A massive bag of salad leaves becomes about 2 tbs of green. And it serves FOUR PEOPLE. Anyone can eat 1/2 tbs of wilted green. Even Claire.

A glug of oil
1 banana shallot, finely diced
4 courgettes, sliced
1 bag of salad – I used one with bits of beetroot in it
Juice of half a lemon
Salt

Heat the oil in a shallow pan.

Add the shallot and soften for a minute or so.

Add the courgettes and fry until golden on both sides.

Dump in the bag of salad and stir for roughly 15 seconds until every thing has wilted.

Squeeze over the lemon juice and sprinkle with salt.

Enjoy.

Versatile Meat Sauce


One Christmas Eve many years ago my mother-in-law made a pasta sauce from a recipe given to her by an American friend. It involved the usual minced meat and tomatoes which you made into the sort of thing we often refer to as ‘bog sauce’ in our house. The difference was that once the sauce was made you plonked a joint of pork in the middle of it and then slow cooked everything until the pork was butter soft and delicious. The pork was then removed and served separately and the sauce was used to dress pasta. 
I have never forgotten the moment I tasted that utterly delicious meal. Up until that point my only real encounter with ‘bolognaise’ was my mother’s version which involved boiled mince, a packet of Knorr minestrone soup mix and some powdered garlic puffed out of a plastic garlic bulb. 

In recent years I’ve tried Heston’s version although not, I confess, the full three day effort which has more than a whiff of over-gilding imo. Judicious corner cutting is employed but it does result in something really very tasty. 

However, lying in bed yesterday morning and musing over what to eat I remembered the MIL’s pasta sauce. Now, when she made it there were about 10 of us so a big lump of pork seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to cook for eating as and when over Christmas. Clearly this wasn’t going to be practical for two of us. After a bit of pondering I reckoned that belly pork would work and it did. Deeply savoury and quite delicious – and I much prefer the flavour to that you would get with bacon. I use some (possibly) unconventional ingredients but end result is lovely and I’m not claiming this is authentically Italian, it’s just authentically mine. I start this in a large pan and then chuck everything in the slow cooker, around 2 hours on high and 6 or so on low. You could also make this in a casserole or ovenproof pot in a low oven or even on the hob in a large pan. Just remove each step to a plate and then put it all back into the pot, pan or casserole and cook it long enough and gently enough so that the pork is lovely and soft and the sauce is thick. 

There is one thing I do have to confess though, I’m not much of a pasta fan. But luckily this would be fantastic on a baked spud or with some steamed courgettes. Or with chips. Or mash. Or in a pie. Ooh… or in a toastie…

Don’t make it just for pasta. 
Versatile Meat Sauce

500g beef mince

250g (2 good slices) belly pork, any rind removed, sliced into small chunks

1 carrot

1 large banana shallot

1 celery stick

2 star anise

100ml red wine

100ml milk

2 tins of chopped tomatoes 

Freshly grated nutmeg – about a quarter

A slosh each of Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce

1 heaped tbs chargrilled pepper purée 

1 heaped tsp garlic purée 

Pinch each salt and sugar

Ground black pepper
Finely dice the carrot, shallot and celery and fry over a medium heat in a little oil until softened. Tip into the slow cooker. 

Turn up the heat, add a little more oil and brown the pork really well on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the vegetables. 

Brown half the mince and add to the pot. Then begin to brown the other half. Once this is looking about done pour in the wine and bubble furiously until almost gone. Add to the pot along with all the other ingredients. 

If slow cooking leave on high for two hours then switch to low and cook for another 6 hours, stirring occasionally. 

Otherwise follow the instructions given above. 

Raspberry and Sour Cream Cake


A quick end of the week cake to see you through the weekend. This came about because I had one of those ‘I need to use up this 3/4 of a pot of sour cream’ moments. Using light soft brown sugar and sour cream makes this a lovely fudgey textured cake. I happened to have raspberries but you could use any berries you have or fancy – blueberries would work well and I’d mix the granulated sugar with a little cinnamon before scattering over the top if using them instead. 

This would also be very nice served with a dollop of Greek yoghurt. 

You will need a greased and base lined deep loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin

Raspberry and Sour Cream Cake

200g softened butter

300g light soft brown sugar

250g self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

200ml sour cream mixed with 50ml water 

2 eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

150g fresh raspberries

Granulated sugar

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. 

Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the sour cream mixture. 

Mix the salt into the flour. 

Add half the flour and half the egg/cream mixture to the creamed butter and sugar and whisk briefly until combined. Repeat with the rest of the flour and eggs/cream. Fold in about half of the raspberries. 

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. 

Decorate the top with the remaining raspberries and scatter with granulated sugar. 

Bake on the middle shelf at 160°c (fan) 170°c conventional oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until the cake is risen, golden brown and the middle has just set. 

Allow to rest in the tin for 10 minutes then removed from the tin and place on a wire rack until completely cool. 

Guinness and Stilton Scones

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Contrary to what you might think looking at the ingredients list, these scones are light and delicious. They don’t particularly taste of beer but the Guinness gives them a nice colour and the froth helps keep the crumb tender. They aren’t overwhelmingly cheesy either but if you hate Stilton you can use whatever cheese you like. Plus in this instance wholemeal flour is absolutely the right thing to use.

Follow the usual scone rules – don’t over handle the dough, don’t roll too thinly and if you use a cutter go straight down and don’t twist. You don’t need a lot of Guinness so hopefully you will enjoy drinking the remainder or know someone who will. Unfortunately I don’t so I’m pondering on what to do with the rest. Cheese scones usually have mustard powder or cayenne in them, I didn’t think it was necessary here. If you switch out the Stilton for a different cheese you may need to add a little of one or the other.

This amount made four 5cm square scones but you can easily double the mixture if you want more.

Guinness and Stilton Scones

225g wholemeal self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
50g butter, cubed or grated
100g Stilton crumbled into tiny pieces
Guinness

Whisk the dry ingredients together.

Add the butter and rub into the flour until you have a fine, sandy texture.

Stir in the crumbled Stilton.

Make a well in the middle and using a kitchen knife gradually stir in enough Guinness to bring the dough together. Err on the side of slightly damp and tacky, it will help keep the scones from being lumpen and heavy.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for about 10 seconds, just to bring everything together, then pat into a 10cm x 10cm square and use a sharp knife to cut into four evenly sized square scones.

Place onto a baking sheet which has been lightly dusted with flour, brush with a little milk and sprinkle with a little more Stilton.

Bake at 200ºc for 18-20 minutes until they have risen slightly and are golden brown.

I served these warm with homemade chilli jam and some whipped mascarpone. You could use anything you fancy – any chutney, greek yoghurt, sour cream, candied bacon slices, pickled chillies, flavoured butter, that fabulous butter with salt crystals in it… whatever you like. And preferably the filthier the better.

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.