Ovens above!

November 14, 2010

I am with oven – finally! Unfortunately, it’s not my own. I’m staying with my mum in France for a week or so, and as is expected of the mother who taught me much of what I know, cooking-wise, her kitchen is well designed, fully stocked and an absolute joy to work in.

Now that I have an oven at my disposal, I’m certainly making the most of it, and reached for the ‘on’ switch almost as soon as I had walked through the door. (I tend to do most of the cooking when staying with Mum – something that gives pleasure to both of us.)

I never have to worry about there being a lack of fresh vegetables, herbs and all sorts of foodie extras at Mum’s, and I can usually find pretty much everything I need for a recipe, no matter what it is.

Mum had some chicken legs in the freezer that she wanted used up, so, after an inspection of her fridge, I found the perfect accompaniments – a large bulb of fennel (one of my favourite vegetables, and impossible to find in Istanbul), a bag of mushrooms and some red onions. Which, in my eyes, added up to baked chicken and fennel.

So, I thinly sliced the fennel, a red onion and a handful of the mushrooms, scattered them evenly in a largeish baking dish, then added a couple of sprigs of rosemary (from the garden), finely chopped, and a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic.

I poured over enough hot stock and some white wine to just cover the vegetables, seasoned with a little salt and a fair old grinding of black pepper, then popped it into an oven heated to about 220º for 15 minutes or so. I often find that vegetables take much longer than you’d imagine to soften in an oven, so thought I’d give the fennel et al a head start.

While the vegetables were beginning to cook, I browned the chicken legs – which I’d jointed, so they wouldn’t take quite so long to cook either. Then they were added to the now semi-cooked vegetables, and placed back in the oven for about half an hour at 180º.

Once the chicken was cooked, the skin beautifully crisp, and the fennel soft and sweet, all that was left to do was steam some broccoli, and spoon up. There was plenty of juice left – in fact, I’d probably put in a bit too much liquid to start with. But, never one to be wasteful, I simply used it to make a leek and mushroom soup the next day. Both were delicious.

Tomorrow is my last night in the UK (and no, I still haven’t even started to pack yet – eek!), and my lovely little sis is taking me to Brighton’s Drakes Hotel for dinner. (I apologise in advance to the waiters for the two blubbing blondes sitting in the corner of the restaurant.)

But tonight, I made my last home-cooked meal in the UK, and it was a can’t-be-beaten British roast chicken, sprinkled with my favourite Turkish spice, pul biber – perfectly combining my past and future foodie lives.

Nuf said. See you soon in Istanbul! xx

A feast for friends

July 25, 2010

It’s reached that point in my plans for leaving London where I’ve had to start saying goodbye to friends. Although I’m having a big party next week, it’s inevitable that, thanks to the summer holidays, some people won’t be able to come.

Last week, I invited my friends Lea and Nicky over for dinner, because they decided that going to Camp Bestival was more important than waving off their dear friend who’s going to a far and distant land and may never return… Okay, I’ll drop the drama queen act. It’s fine that they’re going away for my last weekend in London, really, it is.

Anyway, back to the point of all this – the food. I decided to cook my favourite saffron poached chicken for the meat-eaters, some grilled whiting sprinkled with pul biber for the pescatarians, plus a Moroccan vegetable stew (which included baby turnips, courgettes, carrots, red onions, chickpeas, turmeric, cumin, and lots of garlic) and couscous for all of us to eat.

This is a dish my mum made regularly when I was a child, and I would always eat far far too much of it. What is it about couscous that allows you to stuff your stomach so full of it? Well, this meal was no exception, and I was left groaning by the end of the evening.

For pudding, I made Dan Lepard’s chocolate honey meringues, which was in last week’s Guardian magazine. In his instructions, Dan said not to make one big one as it would collapse. However, I wanted to slather it with mascarpone and fresh figs, in the manner of a Pavlova, so decided to ignore Mr Lepard and make it whole.

The result was a rather soft, incredibly chewy, almost brownie-like meringue, which, in my humble opinion, was delicious. And the creamy, fruity topping made it extra special.

All in all, it was a pretty indulgent evening, and hopefully I have left Lea and Nicky with some happy foodie memories of me until we see each other again.

Inspect my gadget!

May 1, 2010

I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to kitchen equipment. Give me a good sharp knife and a wooden spoon, and I’m happy. However, I have recently been introduced to the delights of the mandolin.

Now, all I previously knew of this gadget is that it regularly slices off the ends of chef’s fingers. But when the nice people at Oxo Good Grips sent me one and I tried it out once or twice, I did wonder what I’d been doing all these years without it.

This one has a very useful wedge-y bit at one end, which hooks over the edge of the bowl you’re slicing into, so it’s super-steady. Plus, my stress levels at using this dangerous kitchen weapon were somewhat reduced by the grip thing that sticks securely to whatever you’re slicing – so your fingers don’t have to go anywhere near that scary-looking blade.

And, most importantly – it’s really fun!

Last night, I used the mandolin to slice some marrow, which I sautéed with mint, lemon zest, pul biber (a Turkish red pepper spice) and lots of garlic.

Once soft and a little browned, I chucked in a grated carrot that needed using up, some leftover roast chicken I’d had in the freezer, plus a handful of parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. A little salt and pepper was all that was needed to make a delicious, fresh, tangy supper, that conveniently used up some more of my freezer stocks.

Last night was the turn of my friends Nick and Kerry to help me clear my cupboards. In the spirit of my self-imposed challenge to use up as much food as possible before I move out of my flat next month, I set out to make a meal that involved only dry goods and store-cupboard essentials that I already had – buying only fresh stuff. And I pretty much succeeded.

So, clockwise from the top, the menu consisted of chicken poached with saffron and cinnamon, baked saffron cauliflower (both of which I’ve written about in previous posts), spicy Iranian potato croquettes (from good old Claudia Roden’s New Book Of Middle Eastern Food) and, lastly, a recipe of my own, spicy tomato and spinach couscous, which is flavoured with my Turkish pul piber/tomato paste and some fresh oregano.

We also ate our way through a fair amount of the rosemary and nigella seed sourdough I wrote about in my last post, accompanied by a piece of lovely strong Spanish cheese (another recommendation from my friend over at The Aubergine Files, the name of which I can’t actually remember – but hopefully he’ll let me know what it was…).

Pudding was a concoction of crème fraîche, Greek yoghurt and raspberries, topped off with some of my lemongrass and ginger biscuits (I had some of the dough in the freezer, left over from the last time I made them).

So, as well as getting through good amount of spices, dry goods and bits and bobs from my freezer, I also served up a pretty cosmopolitan selection of dishes – with elements from Iran, Turkey and France, Greece, Thailand and Spain, it was a veritable world tour in one kitchen.

Quite often I find myself with one ingredient that I want to eat and I’ll base a meal around it. Last night, it was a green pepper.

Green peppers usually mean Spanish food to me, so I turned to a cookbook I often wax lyrically about, and that’s the Moro one. And, yet again, it came up trumps.

In it, I found a recipe for a chicken and prawn paella, all of the ingredients for which I had – except the prawns! So it became merely a chicken paella, and it certainly didn’t lack anything for not having the seafood in it.

An Easter chicken

April 5, 2010

London at Easter is surprisingly quiet, and actually becomes pretty enjoyable for the rest of us who haven’t fled to damp cottages in Cornwall or are stuck at Heathrow airport with increasingly grumpy families.

So, after working up an appetite with a long walk along the Thames yesterday, I came home to cook a large roast chicken, which I bought on Saturday at Wyndham’s in Borough Market. They sell a wonderful free-range chicken called Label Anglais, and although it’s not cheap, it’s absolutely worth splashing out on every now and then.

Wyndham’s also gave me a bag of giblets (see pic below), and, as a long weekend off work is just an open invitation for me to cook even more, I made the effort to make some chicken stock, which is now in the freezer for a quick soupy supper later in the week.

I’ll often rub the skin of my chickens with something spicy, but as the weather here is actually resembling spring at long last, I decided to stick with some fresh, herby flavours. So, into the chicken cavity I put a quartered red onion, three or four squished cloves of garlic and plenty of fresh thyme.

As always, I used my trusty chicken clay pot to cook it in. As I’ve mentioned before, the advantage of using the clay pot is that it retains loads of moisture, so keeps the meat really tender.

I also do a little trick that the food editor at the magazine where I work told me about. I cook the chicken upside down for the first half of the cooking time, which means all the juices flow into the breasts. Then, for the last 20 minutes or so, I turn the bird the right way up, and continue cooking wthout the lid on the clay pot, to crisp up the skin a bit.

So, dinner was delicious, juicy roast chicken with mashed potatoes and braised spring greens and peas. Inevitably, there was plenty left over, so I bagged the meat up into convenient little portions and stuck it in the freezer for future lunches and suppers.

Splat!

February 26, 2010

Whenever I discover a new ingredient or cooking technique, it reminds me of just how much variety there is out there in the world of food. It also makes me realise that, despite having been cooking for nigh on 30 years, there is still so much to learn.

Last night, I decided to finish up some cabbage and flavour it with fennel seeds and a sprinkling of paprika (a delicious taste combination I’ve picked up from various Spanish recipes). And I really fancied something simple and meaty on the side.

Now, I rarely eat chicken breast, as it is usually rather bland in flavour, and no matter how carefully you cook it, I find it often ends up slightly dry. However, for some reason, last night I decided to give it another go.

I have no idea why this popped into my head, but it occurred to me that flattening the breast into a kind of escalope might help. It’s supposed to make the meat more tender, and my thinking was that, as it would be thinner, it wouldn’t need to be cooked for so long, and may end up being less dry.

So, I stuck the breast in a plastic freezer bag and gave it a good bashing with a rolling pin (quite a satisfying thing to do, actually). And, you know what? It worked! I griddled it in my Le Creuset griddle pan, with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, on a very high heat. It cooked through in a matter of a few minutes, and still retained its moistness.

This is definitely going to be my favoured method of cooking chicken breast from now on – so expect a spate of recipes coming soon!

Okay, as promised last week, here is part 3 of Adventures With An Onion Squash… Last night, my little sister was staying with me again, so I thought I’d introduce her to the delights of this new discovery of mine.

I’d spotted a Nigel Slater recipe in a recent Observer Food Monthly for roast partridge with pumpkin, and thought my chicken legs and onion squash were close enough replacements.

I took two chicken legs, jointed them (so they would cook a little bit quicker), and browned them in a little olive oil. I also chucked in about five whole cloves of garlic, with the skin still on.

Once browned. I placed the chicken pieces on top of the deseeded and sliced squashes in a large ceramic baking dish. A few sage leaves were added, plus a good amount of seasoning, then I poured in enough water to almost cover the squash slices.

Into an oven heated to gas mark 5 it went, for about 35 minutes, and out came a beautifully coloured, garlic-scented, sweet pile of chickeny-squashy yumminess. With it, we had some boiled pink fir apple potatoes, and the last of the cabbage, simply braised. And it was absolutely delicious – even if I do say so myself.

Clay-pot chicken

January 23, 2010

Quite often, if I’m home on my own on a Friday night, I’ll cook something a bit special for dinner. And, as yesterday was pay day (hurrah!), I thought I’d go the whole hog and roast a chicken.

I posted a while ago about my ancient clay pot for cooking chickens, which is what I used for my meal last night. I rubbed the chicken with a grated clove of garlic, a teaspoon of pul biber (the Turkish red pepper spice I’ve mentioned before), a teaspoon of ground cumin seeds and some olive oil.

If you must have crispy skin on your roast chicken, I wouldn’t bother with this clay-pot method. It may produce the most juicy, succulent meat, but it doesn’t do much for the skin. Which is why I often take off the lid and turn the oven up high for the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking, so it has at least a little colour to it.

With the chicken, I had some braised leek and courgette, seasoned with more garlic and parsley, so that – in the spirit of this blog – I had an empty fridge, ready to be refilled this morning.