Breadcrumbs

Nigella’s crispy cornflake chicken

cornflake chicken

I’m really enjoying ‘Simply Nigella’. I am a sad case but I look forward (with great anticipation) to my Monday night escape into her wonderful world of liquorice treasure boxes, giant walk in pantries and pretty pink tableware.

But the best bit for me is that she makes food that I actually want to eat.

Now I’m a huge fan of Carluccio’s Chicken Milanese (if you haven’t come across this it’s basically a giant middle-class chicken nugget), so when I saw Nigella make crunchy chicken cutlets (that looked very similar) I knew I had to give them a go.

First my daughter played guinea pig and I used the cornflakes as a coating for chicken without the mustard/cinnamon/garlic seasoning. She loved it. Then I followed the recipe almost to the book (but with a little less mustard) and fed it to my husband. He declared it ‘surprisingly delicious’. He was surprised because in his eyes Nigella is a crazed mad woman and he can’t get past the programme’s introduction before he has to leave the room.

The mustard and cinnamon tasted amazing and I’m going to use that idea again even if I do opt for proper breadcrumbs. There’s something gratifying about turning old bits of bread into breadcrumbs for dishes like this, but in our house of hungry gannets bread is rarely leftover any more so this makes a good (and cheap) alternative. Shop bought panko breadcrumbs are so expensive.

PS. I’ve also made Nigella’s fish tacos (8/10).

Nigella’s crispy cornflake chicken

If you want the real recipe go to http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/crunchy-chicken-cutlets or ask Santa to bring you the book (Santa it’s only £12 in Tesco!)

  • 2 chicken breast fillets battered out with a rolling pin to about 1cm thickness
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 75 grams cornflakes
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a big pinch of salt
  • Oil for frying (Nigella uses 2 tablespoons but I needed more)

Crack an egg into a shallow dish that you can fit both the chicken breasts in and whisk in the mustard, cinnamon and garlic. Add the chicken breasts and spoon over the mix. Leave to marinade while you prepare the coating.

Put the cornflakes into a bowl and crush them by hand with your fingers until they look like coarse bread crumbs, you don’t want dust. Add the salt, paprika and cayenne.

Take the chicken breasts out of the egg mixture one by one and toss them in the cornflakes until they are really well coated on both sides. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and when medium hot, fry for 3 minutes on the first side, then turn them over carefully and give them another 3 minutes. By this time the chicken should be cooked through but do check.

Serve with salad.

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Recuperation food – macaroni cheese

macoroni cheese 3

We’ve been a poorly household this week – struck down with an annoying virus that has taken us all out one by one. And in our period of recuperation some simple, soul warming food has been called for.

When I was ill as a child my mum used to give me Heinz tinned macaroni cheese as a treat. I think I’m the only person in the world who likes this. I know it smells disgusting and tastes nothing like pasta, cheese, or indeed of anything that should be eaten (the words ‘cat’ and ‘sick’ spring to mind) but even now I still find it strangely comforting.

But I think my husband would divorce me if I served it up in our house so instead I opt for a homemade version. This is very easy to make and I can just about manage it (even with a stiff neck, snotty nose and aching joints). And it is just what the doctor ordered, so comforting, creamy and soft, verging on bland, but seriously moreish.

My children gobble it all up and swear that it makes them feel much, much better.

There are hundreds of recipes for macaroni cheese but this is mine.

Macaroni cheese

Serves 4 generously

  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 500ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of English mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 400g macaroni
  • 75g cheddar cheese (grated or cut into chunks)

Topping

  • 50g cheddar cheese or parmesan grated
  • 30g breadcrumbs
  • A little paprika

Heat your oven to 200oC fan.

First put a pan of water on the hob, bring to the boil and cook the macaroni according to the packet instructions or until cooked completely through.

While the pasta is cooking make the sauce. Measure the butter, flour and milk into a saucepan and put on the hob over a medium heat. Whisk the mixture continually as it heats up and the butter melts (it won’t go lumpy as long as you whisk all the time). When the mixture comes to the boil it will start to thicken. Turn the heat down and cook over a low heat for a couple of minutes (so that the floury taste cooks out). Add the mustard, cheese, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese has melted.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour over the cheese sauce. Mix thoroughly and then transfer to a large oven proof dish, or use several smaller ones like I have in the photo below.

Sprinkle a mixture of grated cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs (seasoned with a little paprika and pepper) over the top of the macaroni and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling.

macoroni cheese before baking

Before baking.

Note: I sometimes add a couple of handfuls of frozen peas into the cheese sauce before mixing with the pasta if I’m trying to get some ‘green’ into the children (there’s no need to cook them first, they will defrost and heat up in the oven).

The quantity of cheese I use results in a mild cheese flavour, if you really like your cheese then it won’t upset the recipe to up this to 100g, or you can use a mixture of cheddar and parmesan.

My mum used to place slices of smoked back bacon on top of the pasta instead of breadcrumbs and cheese. Providing the oven was hot enough the edges of the bacon crisped up and bacon juices dripped into the pasta – it was absolutely delicious.

Stay at home pub food – Scotch eggs

scotch eggs

Last weekend Jay Rayner wrote a piece in the Guardian about Pizza Hut’s 2,880 calorie cheese burger crust pizza. I just couldn’t believe the photo – surely food-wise things couldn’t get any worse.

But then my local (which has reached a new low since being taken over by the Flaming Grill Pub Company and painted bright orange) topped this by advertising their new ‘Trash Can Challenge’. For £19.99 you can consume a whopping 3763 calories and 219g of fat with a:

giant rack of ribs
double up cheese and bacon burger
beef chilli sundae
chicken skewer
onion rings
corn on the cob
smokey BBQ baked beans
peas (for just the tiniest bit of green)
a TRIPLE portion of chips

All presented in an actual bin lid. If you can’t quite imagine how much food this is then here’s a photo http://www.eatingchallenges.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014-02-12-15.40.21-Large.jpg.

I just wonder who is sneaking off to the Bluebell pub in the rather lovely village of Attenborough to give this dish a go. On the plus side it makes me feel a lot better about some of my own unhealthy guilty pleasures, such as my love of scotch eggs – previously the unhealthiest pub food I could imagine.

Now I will eat supermarket Scotch eggs when I have a hangover but I do worry about the standard of meat and eggs, so if possible I prefer to make my own. The bread crumbing is a little bit messy and the deep fat frying part is a bit of a faff, but they are not that difficult to make and they are just so deliciously unhealthy.

If you fancy trying to make your own too then here are my two Scotch egg recipes, one for a traditional pork sausage meat scotch egg, and another for a smoked fish version (a fairly recent experiment, vaguely based on a Richard Corrigan recipe which turned out really well).

Scotch eggs

Makes 4

  • 5 eggs (4 for hard boiling, one for bread crumbing)
  • 6 good quality medium sized pork sausages (about 300g)
  • Breadcrumbs (I make my own from leftover bread which I blitz in a food processor and then dry out and store in jam jars until needed. But you can buy breadcrumbs and if you’re feeling really fancy you can now buy Japanese Panko breadcrumbs from most large supermarkets which give a really crunchy crust.)
  • A little plain flour
  • 3 litres of sunflower oil

First hard boil your eggs. I start with the eggs in a pan of cold water then bring to the boil and time for 8 minutes from boiling. This results in a just hard egg yolk (if you like the yolk to still be a little runny then only cook for 5 minutes). Run the eggs under a cold tap and then leave to cool in a pan of cold water for about 5 minutes. Once cooled peel the shells from the eggs, pat dry and roll in a little flour.

Remove the sausage meat from your sausages. I use about one and a half regular sized sausages for each egg. You can season the sausage meat and add additional herbs but if your sausages are from a decent butcher then I don’t think this is necessary. Dampen your hands slightly and take the sausage meat in your hands and flatten it out into a circle, then place the egg in the centre and wrap around the egg smoothing with your hands until there are no gaps. Circle the sausage covered eggs in the palms of your hands as if you were making a ball of pastry – I find this helps to get a nice even thickness of sausage meat. Leave on a chopping board dusted with a little flour while you prepare the rest.

Now for the bread crumbing. Take a shallow bowl and beat one egg with a fork until well mixed. Take another bowl and empty in some breadcrumbs (I season mine with a little paprika which gives a pleasing orangey colour).

Dust the sausage covered eggs with a good covering of flour over all sides. Dip them into some beaten egg and then into your breadcrumbs making sure that you press the breadcrumbs into the surface to get a total covering. Place the Scotch eggs back on the chopping board until you are ready to fry (if this is a while away then you can keep them covered with cling film in the fridge but bring them back up to room temperature before frying).

Take a large deep pan and decant a whole bottle (3 litres) of sunflower oil into it. This is a horrifying amount of oil but you will be able to strain and reuse it a few more times. Heat the oil until a single bread crumb sizzles immediately on entering the pan and turns golden but does not burn.

Lower your eggs into the oil with a slotted spoon and cook until golden brown, this usually takes 5-8 minutes. I then cook them in the oven for a further 10 minutes at 180oC just to make sure the sausage meat cooks through (this is because I once served some up as a dinner party snack/starter and the sausage meat was raw).

You can serve these hot or cold. I prefer to eat homemade Scotch eggs warm when the outer coating is still nice and crunchy.

Smoked fish Scotch eggs

scotch egg fish

These are made in exactly the same way as above, however instead of the sausage meat you use a mixture of smoked fish and a little mashed potato. You can use any smoked white fish such as cod, haddock or pollack.

Ingredients as above except replace the sausage meat with:

  • 350g smoked white fish
  • 2 medium floury potatoes (roughly 150g peeled weight)

Begin by making mashed potato. Quarter the potatoes and cook in salted boiling water for 12-15 minutes until a fork can easily be poked through the potatoes. Drain the potatoes really well (you want them to be as dry as possible) and then mash. Do not add any butter or milk.

Steam the fish in a steamer or in a lidded pan with a splash of water until just cooked through (3-5 minutes should do it). Leave to cool, pat dry and then skin and flake the fish into a bowl making sure to remove any bones. Add the mashed potato and mix thoroughly until you have a smoothish paste. Check the seasoning. The smoked fish is very salty so you probably don’t need to add salt but you may like to add a little pepper.

Now follow the recipe for traditional Scotch eggs above only use the fish mixture instead of sausage meat.

Again, serve hot or cold. They taste really good with tartar sauce (bought or homemade).

Bobotie – a South African favourite

bobtie2

This dish with apparently Indonesian origins seems to have become a (white?) South African classic. When we were travelling in Southern Africa we stayed with some relatives in Johannesburg and this was dished up to us several times by different family members wanting to offer us a ‘real’ taste of South Africa. I think, like chili-con-carne or spaghetti bolognese here every South African household has their own version of this recipe passed down through the generations. I copied this one from my Auntie Sue’s recipe book before travelling back to the UK.

I admit to being rather contrary when it comes to fruit in savoury food. Apple and pork is fine but pineapple on pizza is a definite ‘no’ and banana in curry is simply the devil’s work. Usually raisins and meat would send me running but I have to admit that it does work nicely in this dish. There was an option for tinned peaches instead of apple in Auntie Sue’s recipe but for me the tangy tartness of apple is preferable to sweet tinned peaches.

There’s something rather baby food like and comforting about Bobotie. It is very mildly spiced and sweet with a light savoury custard topping. It goes down very well with my children served with lots of rice. It also works well as a hot buffet dish  as you can increase the quantity with very little extra effort.

Auntie Sue’s Bobotie

Serves 4 with left overs

  • 675g steak mince
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • 4 teaspoons medium curry powder
  • 2 small dessert apples
  • 75g sultanas
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chutney (I use mango)
  • 35g breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • 450ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 4 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 180oC fan.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the mince and fry on a high heat until brown. Add the garlic, onion, curry powder and apple and cook for a couple of minutes over a medium heat stirring until all the ingredients are well combined.

Add the sultanas, chutney, breadcrumbs and seasoning and stir to combine. Pour into a lightly oiled oven dish.

Beat the eggs and milk together and season with salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the meat and place the bay leaves on top.

Bake for 45 minutes until the custard is set.

Serve with lots of rice (see my post – Nice Rice). I like to flavour the rice with saffron and turmeric.

NOTE: Don’t be tempted to leave out the breadcrumbs (which I did do once) they are vital for the overall texture of the dish. Some versions seem to use slices of white bread cubed and then soaked in milk and stirred into the meat instead of breadcrumbs. This may be an option if you don’t have breadcrumbs to hand but I’ve not tried it myself.

bobotie into dish

bobotie custard topping

bobotie out of the oven