Chicken

Sweet and sour chicken

sweetandsourchicken

I hardly ever eat takeaway but occasionally I have a craving for sweet and sour chicken. Luckily our local Chinese is closed on a Sunday which is when I most hanker after one (as a salve for a hangover along with a polystyrene cup of chicken and sweetcorn soup and a greasy spring roll).

But occasionally we (should probably read Ben) will make one at home from scratch. This is much nicer anyway and although it does take a little more effort it tastes fresher and doesn’t fill you with regret and self-hatred the moment you’ve finished it.

In other news:

Keeping on the Chinese food theme I have been experimenting with homemade baked spring rolls which are a lot less oily than deep fat frying. They have been quite successful but the filling needs some work before I am happy with the recipe.

My eight year old daughter has declared herself a vegetarian. At first I vowed not to cook special vegetarian meals just for her but I am now being more supportive and have decided to give up meat for Lent in solidarity . So look out for more veggie dishes on this blog. I’ve been stalking the vegetarian aisle in Tesco and have already made a pretty tasty Quorn Bolognese but I would like to get a bit more adventurous (Ottolenghi here I come!).

I recently make some impromptu veggie sausage rolls by wrapping a frozen Linda McCartney sausage in a spring roll wrapper and baking in the oven for 30 minutes. Elizabeth loved them.

I’ve been drinking Ayurvedic detox tea, for no other reason than it tastes delicious (and makes a good caffeine free drink to have in the evening). To make it put ¼ of a teaspoon each of fennel, coriander and cumin seeds into a small tea pot. Pour over ½ a pint of boiling water and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. You can pour in extra hot water afterwards but the tea will obviously be milder.

Sweet and sour chicken

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite)

For the chicken

  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons of cornflour
  • Oil for deep frying

For the sauce

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 2 slices of chopped pineapple (tinned is fine)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato puree (or for a sweeter taste use ketchup)
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons of cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
  • If you want that authentic take-away taste then add a good pinch of MSG too

Season the chicken well with salt then dip each piece into the egg and roll in cornflour. Place on a plate in a single layer.

Fill a wok half full with oil and heat over a medium heat until nearly smoking. Drop in a third of the chicken pieces and cook for about 3 minutes until cooked through and a light golden colour. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towels. Repeat with the remaining chicken in two more batches.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok, reheat and stir fry all the vegetables (except the pineapple) for about 2 minutes. You can vary the vegetables depending on what you like. I like to keep the vegetables nice and crisp but cook for longer if you prefer.

Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, tomato puree, sugar and orange juice (and MSG if you like) in a small bowl. Stir in the cornflour mixture and mix well. Pour the sauce into the wok with the vegetables and add the pineapple.  Stir until the sauce boils and thickens slightly. Add the chicken to the pan and stir until well coated with the sauce. Check the seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.

Serve with rice.

detoxtea

Detox tea for after the mock takeaway.

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Yakitori (and other barbecued delights)

yakitori2

As regular followers of this blog will know, we are a family obsessed with all things Japanese. So when we light up a BBQ you won’t find boring old beef burgers and sausages. It’s yakitori for us.

My five year old son mentioned eating yakitori in his school diary and had to explain exactly what it was to the class. His teachers must think we’re a right bunch of pretentious ponces.

However, although yakitori sounds fancy and exotic, it’s really just little bits of chicken on a skewer (a kebab basically) brushed with a special sauce. The recipe comes from this book.

Harumi

Yakitori sauce

  • 100ml of mirin
  • 3 tablespoons of sake
  • 100ml of soy sauce (preferably Japanese)
  • 50g of caster sugar

Mix all the ingredients above together in a pan and then simmer over a medium heat until the mixture thickens (don’t let it thicken too much however or you’ll have soy sauce flavoured caramel). Set aside until you are ready to use.

Thread small cubes of chicken onto skewers. Season with salt and pepper then barbecue until cooked through.

Once cooked and still hot, brush liberally with the yakitori sauce and serve straight away.

NOTES:

Store any leftover sauce in a clean jar in the fridge. It keeps very well.

You don’t have to use chicken. You can use the sauce on other meats such as beef and pork. Or try with fish or vegetables.


Another recipe I’ve tried recently is this from James Martin. He uses beef foreribs which he cooks in the oven, however I’ve adapted it to use brisket (cheaper and easier to get hold of) and then cook it on the barbecue.

Barbecued brisket with a sticky bourbon glaze

I don’t have a photograph of this dish – sorry. It’s tasty but not very photogenic, if you want to imagine what it looks like then just think of black squares. There’s not even a picture in the ‘Saturday Kitchen at Home’ book it comes from.

For the brisket

  • a large piece of rolled brisket (approx 1.5kg)
  • 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • A small bunch of parsley
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped

For the glaze

  • 175g tomato ketchup
  • 150g chilli ketchup
  • 110ml dark soy sauce
  • 175g honey
  • 4 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of bourbon

First place the brisket in a large saucepan with the peppercorns, bay, parsley, onion and carrot. Fill the pan with water to just cover the brisket. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 hours with a lid partly on. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface.

When cooked and tender leave the brisket to cool in the stock. Drain, unroll, cut off most of the fat and cut into large wedges. You can save the stock for soup or risotto.

Place all the ingredients for the glaze in a pan and bring to a simmer. Take the chunks of brisket and dip in the sauce to coat.

Barbecue the pieces of brisket until warmed through basting with more sauce halfway through.

NOTE:

Just like the yakitori sauce, you can store any leftover sauce in the fridge in a clean jar.

Jamesmartin

Poor old James Martin. I like his recipes but he’s totally demeaned himself with those deeply embarrassing ASDA adverts.

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.

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and homemade baguettes

chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

In my small collection of recipe books there are at least four versions of ‘chicken with 40 cloves of garlic’ and I’ve always promised myself that if I ever have a bumper crop of garlic this would be the first thing I would cook.

Finally this year (after over 10 years of having an allotment) I have struck gold with my garlic and I feel as though I can spare 40 cloves for just one dish.

lovely garlic

My beautiful garlic.

But which recipe should I use? In the end I opted for the most straight forward sounding one – Alistair Little’s in Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Food’. When I found the original programme from 1998 where they cook this recipe and saw them serve it with nothing more than bread and wine, I knew I was onto a winner.

This dish is certainly delicious, but despite all the fuss (i.e. chefs falling over themselves to bring you ‘their’ version) it is basically roast chicken with garlicky gravy and some roasted garlic on the side. I do love this simplicity but the best bit for me was the bread accompaniment (see recipe below) and the smell filling our kitchen as the garlic and chicken were roasting.

Chicken with forty cloves of garlic

(based on Alistair Little’s in Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Food’ with some alterations)

Serves a family of four with leftovers for sandwiches and stock

  • A good quality free range chicken weighing about 2kg
  • A lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Some olive oil
  • 40 large cloves of young garlic (this is about 4 bulbs)
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • 250g chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 240oC. Cut the lemon in half and put into the cavity of the chicken. Drizzle some olive oil over the outside of the chicken, season well with salt and pepper, and rub in with your hands. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare the garlic. Break up the bulbs into cloves, you don’t need to peel but remove any really dry skin that comes off easily with your fingers. Take the chicken out of the oven, scatter the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves around it, lower the heat to 200oC and return to the oven for another hour.

chicken and garlic

When the chicken is cooked, tip out the lemon and remove it from the roasting tin onto a serving plate. Then use a slotted spoon to remove nearly all the garlic cloves and put those on the serving plate as well (save 3 or 4 in the tin to mash into the gravy).

Give everything left in the roasting tin a good mash with a fork (including the lemons). Then add the chicken stock and put over the hob stirring well with a wooden spoon to get all the bits off the bottom of the tin. Let it bubble away for a couple  of minutes until you have a light gravy. Strain into a serving jug and serve with the chicken.

NOTE: In my books very little is said about how exactly you go about serving/eating this dish. This is what we did and whilst it wasn’t very elegant it was a lot of fun. Carve big chunks of chicken, pour over the gravy, eat with roughly cut baguettes (see recipe below) spreading the garlic onto the bread and dipping it into the gravy. Get stuck in, use your fingers and don’t forget the wine.

chicken with 40 cloves of garlic the table

Ben’s baguettes

baguettes

This is a simplified version of the recipe handed out to my husband Ben when he attended the French Baking course at the School of Artisan Food. Ben has made these many times and in our view the simplifications don’t affect the finished product at all.

I bought the course as a present for his birthday and without meaning to be selfish it has turned out to be a present for the whole family. Food-wise there are few things better than fresh baguettes for breakfast – especially when they are made by someone else.

Makes 6 small baguettes (about 30cm length), or 4 larger ones (the same length but fatter)

  • 640g of strong bread flour
  • 415ml of water
  • 10g of salt
  • 6g of yeast

Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add the water and mix with your hands until it comes together.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a bowl covered with cling film for at least a couple of hours to rise but you can leave it for up to 4. It should come nearly to the top of a large mixing bowl.

bread rising

Knock back the dough with your hands, bring into a ball and divide into 4 or 6 equal portions, depending on the size you want.

Shape each portion into a sausage pulling out length-ways at first and then rolling to even out. Don’t worry if they look a bit rough.

Now you’ll need a tea towel which is impregnated with flour (Ben has one of these set aside for this purpose). Lay the tea towel over a high sided baking tray letting it hang over the sides. Put one baguette along one edge of the tray and then make a fold in the tea towel next to the baguette so that it comes up the side. Then lay the next baguette on the other side of the fold. Repeat this for the third and fourth baguettes. The purpose of this is to stop the baguettes touching each other and to avoid having to buy a special baguette tray. It’s a bit tricky to explain so here is a photo.

baguettes in the tin

Use the same technique for the others using another tray. Allow to prove for about an hour.

Transfer the baguettes to some thin baking trays scattered with a little flour or semolina to stop them sticking. I used two with three on each. This is quite a tricky process as the dough is quite floppy. Try not to knock out the air that has been created but don’t worry too much if the shape isn’t perfect.

Slash the tops diagonally across with a very sharp knife and bake at 250oC for 12-15 minutes (for the 6 smaller ones), or 20 mins (for 4).

Allow to cool a little (if you can wait that long) and serve.

NOTE: To reheat cook in the oven at 250oC for 3-5 minutes until crispy.

Teriyaki

teriyaki

I’ve completely failed in my new year’s resolution to be a more exciting cook. Slowly I’ve crept back into lazy habits and three months on I’m cooking mainly tried and tested old staples that are already on this blog.

I’ve not yet told you about this one though. It’s a really easy way to transform any piece of meat or fish into something more exciting. You can buy teriyaki sauce ready made in a bottle but it’s much nicer (and cheaper) to make your own.

This is in memory of our epic holiday in Japan which was exactly a year ago. We just have to wait 9 more years before we get to go again.

Teriyaki sauce

Makes about 6 tablespoons

  • 120ml of mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 60ml of Japanese soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of caster sugar

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, turn the heat to medium and simmer for about 4 minutes until syrupy.

Any unused sauce can be kept in a clean jar in the fridge.

Using the sauce

Lightly season two chicken breasts with salt and pepper and fry on a medium heat with a little oil until just cooked through (I cook mine for 5 minutes each side).

Spoon over 3 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce and continue to cook for about a minute spooning over the sauce all the time to glaze the chicken. Remove the chicken from the pan and slice thinly.

Serve over rice and drizzle over any remaining sauce from the pan.

This is also nice served over a simple green salad.

NOTES

For Japanese style rice cook according to the guidance in my post Sushi rolls but omit the vinegar, sugar and salt and serve while it’s still warm.

This technique can also be used for steak, pork or fish.

Japan

A year ago in sunny Japan some geisha asked to have their photo taken with Elizabeth and Eddie. Today we’re in Nottingham and it’s raining.

Stir fried chicken with ketchup

chicken and ketchup 2

For those of you who read my last post and dismissed it out of hand because of the ridiculously long list of ingredients, I bring you another chicken and rice dish with very few.

I know that stir frying with ketchup does sound a bit odd but I promise you that it works and the taste/effort ratio is very good. My husband (who hates ketchup and gave me an evil look when I told him what was for dinner) was extremely surprised by how tasty it was. In essence it’s a cheat’s version of sweet and sour chicken and it apparently has the same Manchurian origins.

This Mark Bittman recipe is from the Cooking section of the NY Times online which is fast becoming my favourite lunchtime read. I’ve converted the cup measurements to grams, and added my usually ramblings (in brackets), but have changed little else about the recipe.

Mark Bittman’s stir fried chicken with ketchup

Serves 2-4

  • 680g of boneless chicken, which is roughly three breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks (Mark uses dark meat but I prefer whiter meat for quick cooking)
  • About 60g of flour, plus more as needed
  • 4 tablespoons of neutral oil like groundnut
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of slivered garlic (roughly 6 large cloves)
  • ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 225g ketchup (I used my favourite Polish Pudliszki ketchup – which they sell in Tesco)

First, toss the chicken with flour so that it’s lightly dusted. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick frying pan and turn the heat to high. When the oil smokes, add your chopped chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (For this amount of chicken with a 23 cm based frying pan I needed to cook the chicken in two batches to avoid over-crowding the pan).

When the chicken browns on one side, toss it over and cook until just about done (for me this was 5 minutes). Remove to a plate (and cook the second batch of chicken with an another 1 tablespoon of oil). Turn off the heat and let the pan cool for a moment.

Add the remaining oil to pan (2 tablespoons) and turn the heat to medium high. Add the garlic and cayenne pepper and cook (for about a minute until the garlic browns slightly, stirring all the time so that it doesn’t burn).

Add the ketchup and stir. Cook until the ketchup bubbles, then darkens slightly (this took me 3 minutes, if in doubt have a taste, if the sauce still tastes like ketchup then keep cooking, when it’s ready it will taste completely different – caramelised and sweet with just a hint of sour).

Return the chicken to the pan and stir to coat with sauce. Serve with rice (I used my usual Delia method with the addition of two star anise – for the recipe see my post ‘Nice Rice’).

Mr Hallam’s tamarind chicken curry

tamarind chicken curry large

The curries I cook tend to fall into two categories – ones that you slow cook for hours and hours (which tend to use cheaper cuts of meat), and super quick ones that you cook just long enough for the meat to be done.

This curry falls into the second group, but whilst it’s quick to cook there are a truly staggering number of ingredients so it’s the shopping that takes a while. This did put me off at first but I assure you that it’s worth it, and once the spices are bought and stored snugly away in your spice rack you can conjure up this meal in just 20 minutes.

This recipe came from my friend Ben who was given it by his father who has become a granddad this week. I think this fragrant, luxurious curry is the perfect dish to celebrate the birth of a new baby.

Tamarind chicken curry

  • 4 chicken breasts chopped into pieces about 1 inch square

For the marinade

  • 4 tablespoons of tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon of tamarind paste
  • A thumb sized piece of ginger, crushed
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of chilli powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of desiccated coconut
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of poppy seeds

To cook

  • 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil)
  • 8 curry leaves
  • ½ a teaspoon of nigella (onion) seeds
  • 2 dried red chillies
  • ½ teaspoon of fenugreek seeds (or powder)
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved (or half a tin of chopped, tinned tomatoes)
  • A handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 fresh green chillies, chopped (optional if you like a lot of heat)

Put all the marinade ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir well to blend everything together.

Add the chicken pieces to the mix and stir until they are well coated with the spice mixture.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok and when hot add the curry leaves, nigella seeds, dried red chillies and fenugreek seeds and fry for about 30 seconds. Lower the heat to medium and add the chicken pieces along with the sauce.

If you are using tinned tomatoes then add them at this stage and simmer gently for about 12-15 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through.

If you are using fresh cherry tomatoes then add these once the chicken is done along with the coriander and green chillies.

Serve with rice (if you need a recipe for cooking rice then see my post ‘Nice Rice’.)

Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts

chicken with cashew nuts

I had a plan to try and feed my family on my butcher’s £20 meat for a week pack (which is really only designed for two people) and post the recipes on this blog. That was my middle class idea of tightening my belt and jumping on the economical cooking bandwagon.

But I was bought down to earth when I read about Jack Monroe’s attempt to live on £1 a day for the ‘Live Below the Line 2014’ challenge*. Now I like to think that I can produce tasty dishes even with cheap ingredients, but reading Jack’s shopping list and diary of meals it made me realise how much I rely on my store cupboard of spices, oils and sauces to make inexpensive ingredients taste good.

Jack Monroe was only able to afford lemon curd, stock cubes, chicken paste and tomato puree to liven up her meager dishes and some of the combinations she came up with in desperation sound truly disgusting. Like soup made with vegetable stock, chicken paste, rice, egg and lemon curd. I thought about the things I would use without thinking…oil, salt, pepper…but these would eat massively into a £1 a day budget.

I think if I had to live off such a tiny amount I’d lose heart with trying to concoct anything tasty (or healthy) and just eat plain rice and smart price baked beans.

Now I’m not like Nigella with her walk in store cupboard of Za’atar, lavender herb mix and pumpkin puree. And I do try to keep the cost of my store cupboard down. For example, I’ve just been on my biennial trip to the oriental hypermarket where you can buy huge bottles of store cupboard essentials like soy sauce and fish sauce for the same price as a tiny bottle in Tesco.

In light of the Jack Monroe piece I’m not sure this is in the best possible taste, but here’s a quick stir fry dish that celebrates my newly replenished store cupboard and makes me feel truly grateful that I don’t have to cook on a budget of just £1 a day.

PS. To appease my guilt I’m going to start contributing to a food bank every time I do a Tesco shop. This is my written pledge.

*For the full article see http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/may/01/jack-monroe-one-pound-a-day-below-the-line

Chicken with cashew nuts

This is based on a recipe in my little Chiang Mai Cookery School book but it’s actually Chinese in origin.

  • 2 chicken breasts (approximately 350g), trimmed of any fat or sinew and sliced thinly
  • 100g cashew nuts
  • 200ml of groundnut or other flavourless oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • A pinch of chilli flakes or 1 fresh red chilli
  • 125ml of chicken stock or water
  • 4 spring onions or welsh onions (which I have growing wild in my herb bed)

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of palm or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of whisky (Don’t leave this out, it’s only a teaspoon but it really enhances the dish. You don’t need a fine single malt just whatever you have to hand or can buy cheaply from the supermarket)

First of all shallow fry the cashew nuts by placing in a frying pan with 200ml of groundnut oil heated to a medium heat. Put the cashew nuts in the pan and stir until they turn a golden brown (this should only take a minute). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil. Set aside.*

Put two tablespoons of the oil you used to fry the cashews into a wok and place over a high heat. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds then add the chicken and sliced onions. Stir fry for about 3 minutes stirring regularly until the chicken and onions start to brown and the chicken is nearly cooked through.

Add the water/stock and sauce ingredients and boil for another 2 to 3 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about a half.

Add the cashew nuts and spring/welsh onions and stir well.

Finally, remove from the heat and stir in the whisky.

Serve with plain rice.

*Don’t waste the oil, you’ll need two tablespoons to cook the chicken but the rest can be strained and used for other dishes.

storecupboard

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo

spanishchickenrice

I don’t know about you but I always get terribly confused in the period between Christmas and New Year. Today I’ve got absolutely no idea what day of the week it is – all I know is that New Year’s Eve is tomorrow (but only because my friend just phoned to remind me of the party details). Football matches are on Thursdays and Sundays, not Saturdays as usual. Even the order of the day is a blur as we’re not eating proper meals at normal breakfast, lunch and dinner times but rather grazing throughout the day on bits of cheese, chocolate and other rubbish like small cold sausages. And then there’s the drinking, not as much as when we were childless, but at least a little every day and not just wine and beer but whisky, champagne, port and other headache inducing beverages. It’s sort of fun but then part of me (the grown up part) is desperate to get back to some sort of normality on January 2nd.

For those of you who are as disorientated as me, but who would like to eat at least one proper meal over the Christmas period, I offer you this delicious and terribly easy dish. It has the comfort factor of a risotto but with absolutely no stirring.

This is for my very good friends Claire and Ed who I fed well and then poisoned with Speaker Bercow’s whisky. I hope you are feeling better now.

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo

Serves 4

  • 3 large skinless chicken breasts cut into quarters
  • 1 sweet pointed red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 100g chorizo, cut into smallish chunks
  • ½ an onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • ½-1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
  • 860ml chicken stock
  • 250g paella rice
  • 1 large tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Take the pieces of chicken and marinade with ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon of salt, half the juice of one lemon, a dash of olive oil and a few twists of the pepper mill. Cover and leave in the fridge for the flavours to mingle. I like to do this for at least an hour but if you’re in a rush then you could leave for less.

Heat the oven to 180oC fan.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a broad shallow pan (mine is a cast iron and oven proof Le Creuset 26cm in diameter). When the oil is very hot add the chicken and brown on all sides. You don’t need to cook the chicken through but you do need to make sure that it is a nice golden colour. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the peppers and chorizo to the same pan and cook until the fat starts to run out of the chorizo and the peppers start to soften. Then add the onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and chilli flakes. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Pour in the rice being careful to distribute it evenly around the pan. Then add the chicken pieces evenly over the top. At this stage the pan will be very full so be careful not to spill the stock as you transfer it to the oven. Cook uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve scatter with chopped parsley and the remaining lemon juice. Don’t miss out this part as it really elevates the dish.

Note: If you are feeling fancy and have access to nice fresh seafood (which is unfortunately difficult for us in Nottingham being about as far away from the sea as you can get) then you could add prawns, squid or mussels before putting in the oven.

Elizabeth’s chicken curry

chicken curry with Elizabeth

My daughter Elizabeth is a good eater at home but she doesn’t really like school dinners. I think they’re a rite of passage so I make her have them. It may also be because I just can’t be bothered to make sandwiches every morning and, if I’m totally honest, I think I take some vain pleasure in the fact that she talks about how they just don’t compare with mummy’s cooking.

There is one school dinner however that she raves about – chicken curry. And I have to say that this really got under my skin because she would never eat my curries. So in a mindless attempt to compete with Nottinghamshire County Council’s catering department I set about trying to emulate the school dinner curry from her vague description. I knew that it must be very mild so I had to really hold back with the amount of spice I would usually use. I waited with baited breath for Elizabeth’s verdict. She wolfed it down and then declared that my version was even nicer that school’s…but only because it had coriander on top.

As a curry loving adult this recipe is still very nice, especially if you’re in the mood for something mild and creamy. It would be a good dish to cook for the type of people who say they like curry but only eat Kormas.

Elizabeth’s chicken curry

Serve 4

  • 3 large chicken breasts, cut into largish chunks
  • 100ml of lentils, cooked in 400ml of water. Bring to the boil then simmer until soft (about 30 minutes). The lentils will absorb the water so there is no need to drain them. You can do this part well in advance if you like.
  • ½ tin of coconut milk

Marinade

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of mild or medium curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon of ground coriander
  • The inside of 4 cardamom pods crushed with a pestle and mortar
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tiny onion, grated
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste

To serve

  • A good handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Put the chicken in a bowl with all of the ingredients for the marinade. Give it a good mix, cover with cling film and leave for at least two hours I usually do this in the morning ready to cook for dinner.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the chicken. Cook over a high heat until the chicken is brown making sure to turn each piece over so that it is nicely brown on both sides. It doesn’t need to cook completely through at this stage.

Add the lentils and coconut milk and simmer for about 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with a handful of fresh coriander and lots of rice (to cook rice see my post Nice Rice).

Chicken browning in the pan - you want to get a nice golden colour.

Chicken browning in the pan – you want to get a nice golden colour.

A close up of the finished dish.

A close up of the finished dish in an adult’s bowl.