Well, it’s still National Picnic week. Have you had a picnic yet? I think we can extend the deadline to include this weekend if you’re pushed for time.
A good picnic must have food that is both fun and delicious in my humble opinion. You can’t just pack up a standard cheese sandwich and expect everyone to get in the picnic mood. That won’t do at all. People expect excellent and imaginative sandwich fillings, some form of crisps and of course a scotch egg, a slice of pork pie, fresh berries (ie/’fun’ fruit) and a cake or flapjack of sorts. (I have never knowingly under-catered).
My university pals came to stay. We did that thing everyone does at Christmas with their family, where we all revert to our childhood script. Except we reverted to our young adult script.
I was always a young fogey, hating clubs and absinthe. So just like back in 1999, I sent organisational emails, picked people up from the railway station, called cabs and booked tables. I also cooked the food. I spent much of my free student time moaning that I was REALLY BUSY whilst avoiding bending the spine of the one book I had to read per week (yes, I studied English) by cooking big roast chicken dinners with all the trimmings. (Three types of potatoes anyone? Essential in my book).
Has the trifle all gone yet? Twiglets? Cheese shape thingies? What about the ham? Or the Quality Street? Phew. Thank goodness for that.
If you need something a little simpler. Easy to eat, easy to prepare and not in any way slathered in cream, chocolate or brandy then look no further.
2 minute marinade
Mix all the ingredients together and slather all over chicken thighs, breasts, legs or all of the above. Leave for 2 minutes then bake in the oven at 190°C/Gas mark 5 for 50 minutes or until the skin is crispy and the juices run clear from the thickest part of the chicken.
I serve with lots of buttered peas and a jacket potato for the antidote to Christmassy rich food.
I got chatting to a girl from Halifax the other day. It was a revelation. We found that both Leicester and Halifax have similar Christmas traditions. Now I know it’s still August, but given I am wearing ski boots and have had to crank up the thermostat so my baby’s hands don’t freeze at night I’m just going to go for it and jump straight into a Christmas blog post. Here’s the way Christmas works and me and the girl from Halifax.(Her name was Rachel by the way and she was very nice and also so young as to not remember Ally McBeal.)
You fill the fridge to bursting either the day before Christmas or two days before. You can ONLY do this by arriving at the supermarket (usually Morrisons) at approximately 6am, waiting outside with a trolley until the security guard unlocks the doors. Then you need your strategy; decide what’s most important to you. Is it the ham? Is it the sprouts? Or the double cream? Because on the off chance that something runs out you need to decide what you can most live without. Then, when you’re allowed in, you run. Run like the hills! This is it, your one chance to get Christmas food shopping right and thus earn the love and respect of your family.
You bring the bounty home and stuff it into the fridge. This often involves much sighing and repacking of said fridge. You must not be able to see the back of the fridge and food stuffs MUST obscure the fridge light. Then you set out all the treat food on a snack table. This should include either Roses or Quality Street chocolates, some form of salted nuts (cashews if you’re feeling posh, peanuts if less so), Twiglets and Matchsticks. Nobody is allowed to eat these until Christmas Day. In fact if anyone so much as looks at them the matriarch of the house bares her teeth and warns everyone off opening anything without her permission.
On Christmas Eve you order a curry or a Chinese. You have to do this as you’re not allowed to eat anything from the fridge, snack table or cupboard. Strangely this obsession with saving everything for the Big Day does not extend to booze.
When the Big Day arrives you obviously eat yourselves silly and then all stare in wonder at how you’ve over catered again. You then try and palm everyone who comes to the house off with turkey, coleslaw, cake and trifle. They refuse. They have their own food mountain to distribute. Diet starts 1st Jan.
Onto the recipe. This week it’s a very pleasing rosemary and mustard chicken stew. Now I know everyone says they like savoury recipes on the blog. I receive so many messages and comments asking for more week night suppers. But then when I do post them people vote with their feet and are less likely to share them, like them, retweet them etc. So it really is the case of people thinking they want healthy stuff, but secretly just being all about the cake, and pastry. And biscuits. So maybe make this and then try one of the other sweet recipes below. Debit, credit and all that.
Lots more recipes like this in my book, Recipes from a Normal Mum, out now… on Amazon, with The Book People, at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose (where it’s book of the month), The Book Depository and many smaller outlets.
Three years ago: Teacher’s pet chocolate and hazelnut oaty biscuits and Spelt loaf
Four years ago: Restorative chicken and leek risotto
Rosemary & Dijon chicken stew
Serves 2 – 4 depending on hunger
This recipe is easy and adaptable so do as you wish with it – add stuff, take stuff out, just keep the rosemary and mustard.
Heat the oil in an oven and hob proof casserole dish (I used my Le Creuset wedding present one) on your hob. Also preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Fry the chicken thighs skin side down in the oil until lightly browned then add the onion and mushrooms. Stir and allow to brown for 5 minutes or so on a low to medium heat. Add the olives, garlic, pepper, rosemary and potatoes and stir well. Boil the kettle then pour over the chicken and veggies until it just covers the top. Add the mustard and stir. Remove from the hob and leave to bake in the oven (with the lid off) for 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and tender and the water has reduced. Do keep an eye on it and have a poke at regular intervals as some ferocious ovens will render the chicken rather chargrilled (see pic).
I served this with green beans and it was frankly, really rather lovely.
Some great tips on how to carve your chicken like a pro.
This is not a recreation of a chicken dish one might buy from the takeaway. This is in fact chicken that is made using leftover takeaway. Blergh I hear you sound. Not bleurgh. And not a health hazard. All will become clear.
I have an aversion to throwing ANYTHING away. I mean anything. Things I do to avoid waste:
Anyway, make this when you have zero time and want masses of taste. It’s zingy and fiery and could possibly ward off colds.
Preheat the oven to Gas 5/190C and take a lidded casserole dish big enough to easily fit your chicken into. Pop the onions onto the bottom of the casserole dish and place the chicken breast side down on the top. They act as a kind of rack for at least some of the cooking. Then mix the other ingredients (except the rice) together in a bowl and pour over the chicken. You could massage with your hands but I decided against this move for fear of chilli hands. Put the lid on the casserole dish and place in the oven for about 90 minutes. Give the chicken a prod and a stir every 30 minutes to make sure the mango marinade works its magic.
Once the juices are running clear turn the heat down to keep warm level and then put the basmati rice on to boil. Once it’s done, drain and put back into the saucepan. Then add a load of the oniony-mangoey-chilli mixture from the casserole dish, put a tea towel over the saucepan, then the lid and leave for 7 minutes. Take the lid off, fork through the rice gently and serve with the chicken. If you have fresh coriander then chop and scatter to add some healthy green colour.
Mr B battles through the snow every evening (and any other weather condition thrown at us throughout the year) to make sure he’s home for doing bath time. Given that by 6pm I need either a stiff G & T or a hour without children, this makes him my hero. And on an especially cold evening like last night he deserved something warming and spicy and sweet.
This is my completely inauthentic version of a chicken tagine and Mr B said it was rather good. Serves 2 – 3 dependant on hunger. In fact could serve 4 normal people.
Preheat the oven to Gas 6 (200C/400F) and put the chicken thighs onto a metal tray skin side up in the top of the oven. In the meantime make the sauce.
Fry the onion on a medium heat in the oil, mixed spice, ginger and cinnamon stick for about 5 mins. Add the tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, apricots with 1tbsp of juice, carrots, olives and sugar and continue to cook on a medium heat for about 20 mins. The mixture should reduce a little but not too much. If it looks like it’s reducing too much turn it down and add a little water.
Remove the chicken thighs from the oven (they should be browned and sizzling with lots of juice swimming about in the tin.) Now, if you’re a healthy type you can discard the chicken juices, but we are not, so I added it to the sauce on the hob. Next put the thighs into a large casserole dish with a lid, pour the sauce over the top and then top up with boiling water until the ‘tagine’ is covered. Pop back in the oven on a high shelf and turn the heat down to Gas 4 (180C/350F.) Leave for about an hour or so.
I made my ahem, Ainsley Harriott cous cous with the ‘tagine’ sauce and then added some flaked almonds to disguise this fact. Pour the chicken stew over the cous cous and serve with a glass of something equally warming but alcoholic.
I love using up leftovers. I think it’s the culinary equivalent of having a disco nap in the afternoon before you go out, waking up and feeling like it’s morning again. 2 days for the price of 1. Or rather in this instance, 2 meals for the price of 1.
Anyway, for me the important thing about leftovers is that they should never feel like a not-quite-as-good-meal as the original they came from. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they should usurp the original meal in a needy, ‘love me’ fashion.
These little pot pies were conjured up from leftover roast chicken. I bloody love roast chicken and find it hard to improve upon, however adding a sausage hit to pretty much anything can only make it better in my humble opinion.
Preheat the oven to Gas 5 and pop a baking tray onto the top shelf. Heat the teaspoon of butter in a frying pan and add the onion. Fry gently until soft, then add the sausages and continue to fry until browned. Just before you take them off the hob turn up the heat and add the mushrooms giving the whole mixture a quick flash of intense heat. Set aside.
Whilst the sausages and onions were gently frying you can make the mustardy sauce. Melt the 25g butter in a small saucepan, add the the flour and whisk on a medium heat until it looks yellow and thick. Then add the milk, a little at a time, stirring furiously to avoid lumps. Keep the temperature medium to high. Add milk until the mixture looks like thick gravy, then add the wholegrain mustard and a bit of salt and pepper if you like.
Add the sausage mixture and chicken to the sauce, then divide between two pie dishes. Next top your pies! I used some leftover mashed potato and swede for one (Mr Bs) and some frozen wholemeal breadcrumbs for the other (mine, in an altruistic fashion.)
Pop onto the baking tray (to avoid spillages in the oven and also to conduct heat a little better to the bottom of the pies) and leave in the oven for around 25 mins until the tops are browning and the sauce is peeping out over the topping and bubbling up. Serve with peas or green beans or something else that offsets the sausagey pie naughtiness.
I really loved my pie. Mr B may not have been as keen. He commented that he’d never had sausage in a pie before. I commented that he’d never lived. Next time he’s getting chicken and mushroom and I’ll have sausage and sausage. A girl can never have too much sausage.
So, the kitchen is still unfinished and I am still pregnant with not very long to go at all. Two things that make for grumpiness and general disatisfaction at Bell Towers. We have quite literally survived on takeaways and the kindness of family and friends for nearly a month. I know, I know… I could have rustled up nutritious salads and utlilised the microwave to steam veggies and rice. Put simply, I couldn’t be arsed. I’m too big and fat and full of aches and pains and moans. I’m so moany I’m bored even of hearing myself moan. Anyway, I digress (into a mirage of moaning.)
To set the scene, rather than crave nutritious food stuffs when preggers I tend to crave McDonalds burgers, McDonalds sausage and egg McMuffins, takeaway Chinese, takeaway Indian and of course non alcoholic shandy. And then one evening recently I started to crave fried chicken. Even I couldn’t do KFC. It’s just not right. As anyone who’s ever read a red top knows, they fry beaks and heads and all sorts. (McDonalds would never do such a thing of course…) Luckily the kitchen is back to a semi working condition so an experiment was called for.
Having run out of frozen home made breadcrumbs I decided to experiment with ground almonds and the result was frankly, really rather nice. The almond crumb is dry and crispy but manages to completely encase the chicken so that it almost steams in the almondy jacket leaving it tender and moist and lovely. We ate it with cous cous but it would be equally good with chips and some tomato sauce. Or spicy rice. Charlie liked the chicken dipped in strawberry flavoured yoghurt but then he’s gone a bit Heston on us recently. He did offer me a try but I declined.
Preheat the oven to Gas 7 and find a baking tray. Pop it on the top shelf of the oven to heat.
Same rules as per any battering of fish, chicken etc – get a production line going. You need three small plates. One with the flour on, one with the beaten egg and one with the ground almonds. Be prepared for your hands to end up in a sticky mess.
Take a strip of chicken and dip in the flour first, then the egg, then the almonds. Make sure the strip is completely covered in almond – no little naked areas anywhere. Then pop on a large clean plate. Continue until all the chicken is gone. Then take the preheated tray from the oven and place the strips on it ensuring they don’t touch. Pop back in the oven on the top shelf and wait for about 10 mins. The strips are cooked when the almonds start to go a little brown in parts and when prodded they feel firm, rather than rubbery like raw chicken.
If serving to toddlers/babies let them cool first. They seem to hold their heat more than regular breaded chicken you see. Mr B and I felt that there’s scope for the flour to be played about with. Perhaps with a little ground chilli or smoked paprika or some tarragon. Depending on how Eastern your accompaniment is of course. Would be yum with home made ketchup too. Or good old Heinz failing that.