Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Chicken and leek pie with accompaniments

After a week of working late shifts and pesto pasta for tea each night, I finally got around to some home-cooking on Monday.
On the recommendation of my friend Helen, I decided to go for a pie from the reliable Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals book.
This book is like a bible in our house at the moment; we cook something from it at least once a week. Although I refuse to believe the dishes can be done in 30 minutes.
But when I have time, I pick something I’ve not done before and usually end up adapting it slightly to suit my preferences.

With the summer seemingly at an end (I’m actually wrapped in my blanket as I write this), I opted for a heart-warming and traditional chicken pie, with minted peas and baby gem lettuce, and a carrot and sweet potato mash.
I swapped the mushrooms (which I like to refer to as the devil’s food) for leeks which I know work perfectly with this type of pie.

While I went to work, I sent Paul to the supermarket with a list of ingredients, and they're all pretty simple, most of which you’ll probably already have in the fridge.
I raced home from work and put on my kitchen scruffs, plugged in the Ipod and put on an album (Them Crooked Vultures to be precise).

Once it’s in the oven you can crack on with the accompaniments and wash up before it’s ready.
As with everything I make and eat, my perfectionism kicked in and I wasn’t 100 % happy as the sauce was slightly on the thin side and the pastry was slightly thick.
But it was tasty and satisfying, and as usual with Paul, it barley touched the sides. He liked it so I’m happy, and there was enough for leftovers tonight!


For the pie…

4 skinned chicken breasts
knob of butter
bunch of washed and sliced spring onions
150g washed and sliced leeks (Jamie’s  recipe uses the devil’s food)
1 heaped tbsp plain flour (make sure it’s heaped – I think that’s why my sauce was thin) plus extra for dusting
2 tsp English mustard
1 heaped tbsp crème fraíche
300ml organic chicken stock
few sprigs fresh thyme
1/3 of nutmeg, grated
1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry
1 beaten egg

For the extras…

3 medium-sized, peeled and sliced sweet potatoes (not in Jamie’s recipe, but I love sweet potatoes so use them wherever I can)
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 baby gem lettuces, washed and sliced
I tbsp plain flour
300ml organic chicken stock
few sprigs fresh mint
450g frozen peas
½ lemon


Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Fill up the kettle, get out a pie dish and put a large wide pan on a medium heat.
Slice the chicken into chunks and fry in the pan, along with a splash of olive oil and butter, for about three minutes.
Add the spring onions and leeks with the flour and stir. Add the mustard, crème fraíche and stock and stir well. Pick the thyme leaves and add to the pan with the nutmeg and salt and pepper, then leave to simmer for around five minutes.
Transfer into the pie dish and roll out the pastry onto a surface lightly dusted with flour. Put the pastry (approx. 30x25cm) over the filling and tuck in the edges.
Lightly brush the pastry with the egg and stab a couple of holes in the pastry.
Put on the top shelf of the oven for around 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the sweet potatoes and carrots in a pan of salted boiling water, cover and simmer for around 15 minutes.
Return the empty chicken pan to the heat and add the butter and flour. Add the stock and a few mint leaves and whisk into a smooth sauce, then add the peas and sliced lettuce.
Squeeze over the lemon juice (beware of pips), add a splash of water and season, then put the lid on and leave to simmer for a few minutes.
When the peas are tender they are ready. When the carrots and potatoes are tender, drain and mash with a knob of butter, the thyme leaves, salt and pepper.
When the pastry is golden and crisp and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, it’s ready!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

I chat to Michael Caines at Bolton Food & Drink Festival

On Friday I had the pleasure of visiting Bolton Food and Drink Festival.

My excitement has been building for weeks as organisers set out to make it the biggest event ever.
And big it is, with extra stalls, cookery demos, and even more goodies to sample.
(I tasted chicken and pepper paella from the traditional market stall, and a Manchester Tart chocolate bar from The Ramsbottom Chocolate Café.)

Now in its sixth year, it’s a four-day event showcasing the best in food and drink.
Celebrity chefs are making appearances over the weekend, including star of I’m A Celebrity... Gino D’Acampo; the Hairy Bikers, aka David Myers and Simon King; and Saturday Kitchen presenter and top chef James Martin.

Yesterday, I spoke to two Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines, of Abode in Manchester, about where his love of food came from and how he copes with cooking under pressure.

“I was one of six children,” he said, “and my passion grew from growing up in a large family, sitting around the table at meal times and eating and drinking together, that’s what it’s all about. We used to grow our own vegetables and get involved with food and cooking.
“A lot of people say they don’t have time to cook, but if you prepare things the day before it can be a joy to cook, I find it very therapeutic.
“But when you do live TV, like Saturday Kitchen, you only have eight minutes, it’s live so you can’t swear and you can’t go over time.”

The chef cooked three dishes at the festival: vegetable and herb soup; roasted curried monkfish with mussel and saffron sauce; and honey-glazed duck with mushroom sauce.

He added: “The demos are a bit hectic but I want to make them fun and engaging, and hopefully people will go away and buy some ingredients and have a go at the recipes themselves.

“I’m so impressed with the festival this year, it’s just phenomenal. There are lots of regional producers and it’s a great location in the heart of the town. And as always you get a warm welcome when you come to Bolton and I haven’t stopped smiling since I got here.

“These events are important because they support the local economy and keep producers and farmers in business and they provide an event in the community for everybody to engage.

“At a time when some communities have been questioning the social fabric of society and times are tough, events like this give people the chance to celebrate life through food and drink.”

For details of events, visit www.boltonfoodanddrinkfestival.com

Monday, 22 August 2011

Kids' roaring dinosaur cake - perfect for the hols!

Today's blog is about cooking for fun, which in my opinion is what cooking should always be about. And one of the most enjoyable experiences in the kitchen is baking with your son, daughter, sister, brother, niece, nephew or grandchild.
You can lick the mixing spoon without any guilt, splatter cake batter everywhere, and there's no pressure at all for a perfect result, just a sugary one that gets the kids running wild.
This is my friend Carla's little boy Mason, who is four and starting school in September. He is dinosaur mad! At two-and-half years old he knew all the dinosaur names and pronounced them perfectly, and he has more dinosaur toys in his bedroom than in Jurassic Park.
Carla used a basic chocolate Victoria sandwich recipe to make a roaring dinosaur-shaped cake during a recent baking session with Mason, without the butter cream filling. And you can adapt this sponge recipe for any occasion and any style of cake as long as you have the right mould.
Mason started by greasing the mould and preparing the cake mixture, with some help from his mum, before baking it in the dinosaur tin and covering the finished cake in green, dinosaur skin-coloured icing. Carla very kindly sent me pictures of Mason baking (see below) and a copy of the recipe (see below) but unfortunately failed to send me any cake! Stay behind after class Carla and write me 100 lines: "must save cake for Sarah, must save cake for Sarah, must save cake for Sarah..."

200g softened butter
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
175g self-raising flour
25g cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a dinosaur cake tin (or any tin of your choice).
In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time and if the mixture begins to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.
Sieve the flour and cocoa then fold into the mixture with a metal spoon.
Put the mixture into your tin and smooth out with a knife. (For a traditional sandwich cake, split the mixture between two 20cm tins).
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until the cake is golden and bounces when lightly touched.
When cooled, cover with green butter icing and decorate to look like a dinosaur. (Or for the traditional version, sandwich cakes together with chocolate butter cream and dust with icing sugar.) 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

My Moroccan lamb and squash tagine with couscous

This is my cheat’s Moroccan lamb and squash tagine – it’s a cheat because it’s done like a casserole as I don’t own a tagine, and I don’t know many people who do, so the recipe is one everyone can try. It’s best done in a slow cooker if you have one so the lamb stays really tender.
The recipe uses butternut squash to give it sweetness and texture, and it makes it a healthier option too. Plus it looks pretty and colourful! Forgot to take a photo again!
Squash is coming into season now so it’s the best time to use it, or wait a few weeks and pick up a pumpkin instead – a perfect way to use them up after Halloween!   
If you have a slow cooker you can put it together in the morning and leave it for a good eight hours or more so the lamb is tender and delicious.
The best thing about these slow-cooked recipes is that you can prepare them early, stick them in the oven, tidy up and still have a couple of hours free to spend how you wish.
I decided to do this in the oven as I didn’t have time to plan ahead for the slow cooker version, and I definitely noticed the difference, the lamb wasn’t as tender. It was still very tasty though and the meat wasn't tough. Maybe I browned it for too long? If anyone has any tips, or their own tried and tested recipe, please let me know and I’ll give it a go!
I served the dish with herby lemon couscous, hummus and warm pitta breads.
It’s a recipe I’ve done before, and too be honest it changes every time! It’s one you can adapt to suit what’s in your fridge as long as you keep the basic spices the same.
This is the recipe I used…


2 tbsp olive oil
500g lean lamb, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
½ chilli powder (for easier option: use Asda’s Moroccan ‘Reason to Season’)
230g chopped tomatoes
300g butternut squash (or pumpkin), diced
350ml beef stock
50g sultanas
50g dried apricots
1 tbsp cornflour

250g/9oz couscous
Juice of one lemon
350ml hot vegetable stock
1 tbsp freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp freshly chopped mint

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees (fan assisted), or use slow cooker.
Slightly brown the lamb with the oil in a frying pan then set aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan and lightly fry the onion. Add the spices then tomatoes and cook until simmering. Put into a casserole dish or slow cooker along with the stock and squash. (Scoop out seeds from the squash, peel and cut into 2cm dices).
Cook in oven for about 2 ½ hours or slow cooker for several hours.
About 30 minutes from the end of cooking time, stir in the sultanas and apricots. Five minutes from the end, stir in the cornflour (mixed with a little water) and cook to thicken.

Put the couscous in a bowl and add lemon juice and stock. Cover with clingfilm and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Season and stir in the fresh herbs.

Serve with hummus and pitta breads. (Drizzle olive over breads, season, wrap in foil and put in oven for 10 minutes.)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

When all is gloomy do not fear, instead turn to your favourite foods for comfort

Well what a crazy week it’s been... we’ve had violent riots and looting across the UK, debt crisis in America and the halting of the French economy.
The weather has been miserable here in the North West of England, as I’m sure it has across the country, making a lot of people quite frankly rather glum.
And when it’s dark and gloomy, one of the nicest comforts we have is food... whether it be a hearty Sunday supper with the family, a box of choccies on the sofa or a naughty McDonalds, nothing beats a good old tingle of the taste-buds to lift our spirits. (Failing that, a few gin and tonics usually do the trick!)
I have to confess, I’ve barely cooked this week due to busy week at work and getting home feeling shattered. Plus, when my other half cooks up a Thai green chicken curry from scratch one night then a classic spaghetti bolognese the next, why bother?
Probably the tastiest thing I’ve had this week (Paul’s dishes aside) was a fresh Pea and Mint soup from Marks and Spencers, with chunks of my homemade soda bread and butter dunked in. It was think and creamy with a rich flavour but not too heavy, and jam-packed with tender sweet peas, making it the perfect lunchtime meal and a healthy option too.
In fact, it inspired me to think about trying some new soup ideas, particularly as the weather is getting cooler.
On Simon Hopkinson’s The Good Cook last night on BBC1 (which was filmed in Bury, Lancashire, just 15 minutes from my hometown), the writer and restaurateur made a potato soup. It sounded a little bland to be honest, but reminded me of my favourite soup, leek and potato.
I’ve yet to attempt to make a version myself, but I will endeavour to do so, just as soon as I can find a spare hour! And of course, I will report back!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Argghhhhh I need a bigger kitchen!

Today I baked soda bread, which would have been easy-peasey if it wasn’t for our pixie-sized kitchen. It’s probably the simplest bread recipe I’ve come across but you knead (ha ha… Okay lame I know) a lot of surface space for stretching it out, and unfortunately we lack that here in our little Leigh palace. Anyway, back to the bread… For those who don’t know (and I didn’t until recently) the soda in the name comes from the bicarbonate of soda. I’m a bread-making virgin and I nicked this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on Ch4’s River Cottage. (I chose it as opposed to normal bread because I don’t eat yeast.) It’s just three ingredients: bicarb., buttermilk (or live yoghurt) and plain flour. And it’s super quick to prepare, but be warned it’s a messy affair. The dough is extremely sticky so it’s best to use one hand if you can and keep the other free. This being my first time, I went in double-handed and got completely covered in gloop, at one point looking like I’d been attacked by Slimer from Ghostbusters.
But with a sprinkle of flour it seemed to come together okay and I got it in the oven. To be honest cleaning the kitchen down was the hardest part, as the flour and dough had got everywhere. It takes 40-45 minutes in the oven and then you have to wait patiently whilst the top cools and crusts before you can dive it. It looks pretty average and I didn’t do the cross deep enough, but it smells fabulous and I can’t wait to tear some off and top it generously with butter and jam for breakfast yum yum!

If you want to have a go, here’s the recipe. Let me know how you get on!

500g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground sea salt
Approx 400ml buttermilk of live yoghurt
A splash of milk

Preheat oven to 200 degrees (fan-assisted). Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, stirring as you go. To bring the mixture together, add a tablespoon of milk. (It should form a sticky dough).

Tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly for about a minute to pull it together into a loose ball. Put the round of dough on a lightly floured baking sheet and dust generously with flour. Mark a deep cross in it with a sharp, serrated knife, cutting about two-thirds of the way through the loaf. Bake in oven for 40-45 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it underneath.

Cool on a wire rack for a crunchy crust, or wrap in a clean tea towel for a softer topping.