Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Monday, 26 December 2011

Ideal for leftovers, and my first food love! Chicken (or Turkey!) pot pie

If you were to ask my mum what was her food memory when she thinks about me when I was a kid I would venture a chicken pie would be high up on her list. She has often told me of how, when my dad used to have Birds Eye chicken pie for tea, I would sit, not able to speak for being so young, but communicating by licking my lips until my dad gave me some, and, frankly, I adored it. And whilst I try to shy away from buying frozen meals for my kids for the reasons that I feel that the ingredients are in the main of poor quality and loaded with fats and additives, I will happily wolf down a Birds Eye chicken pie without thinking about it, because I unashamedly adore them!

So, cooking chicken pie offers some sort of satisfaction for me, as does cooking almost anything from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. In fact, I am amazed that it has taken me six months or more to include one of her superb recipes on my blog, as I cite her, along with the likes of Tamasin Day Lewis and Nigella as the inspirations to improve my cooking skills. I was firstly captivated by her lifestyle in The Hamptons and the ease in which she was able to put things together and produce tasty, appealing dishes. Her recipes have often been the ones that have been most positively received by those on the receiving end. As I am fussy about pastry, I substituted the original pastry in the recipe for what I use for shortcrust pastry, plus I had no vegetable shortening which is called for in the original recipe. For the purposes of serving, I made this in one (well two, as it turned out) 'pot' or dish, and the pastry recipe is sufficient for covering both pies. And one last thing. I left out the whole baby onions and I added mushrooms, for chicken and mushroom pie is where this love affair with the chicken pie started.

Chicken (or Turkey at this time of year!!) Pot Pie, adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Ingredients (An American recipe, so using cup measurements, fellow Brits (and others) You should invest in them; it's a liberating experience!)

3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on, or parts of the chicken that you prefer. I used a combination of thighs, drumsticks and breast because I like dark meat! You could of course use leftover cooked chicken/turkey if you have enough of it.
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 chicken bouillon/stock cubes
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup double cream
2 cups medium-diced carrots, blanched for 2 minutes
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions or a tin of mushrooms.
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

For the pastry:

8oz plain flour
pinch of salt
4oz butter
a little water, to bind.

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin.

Cut the chicken into large dice. You should have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock, or just make
up the whole of the stock from stock cubes, remembering to add two more stock cubes than you need.

In a large pot, melt the butter and cook the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick.

Add salt to taste, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and the double cream.

Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions/mushrooms and parsley. Mix well.

For the shortcrust pastry:

Mix the flour, butter, salt together, either using a food processor or by rubbing together the ingredients until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to bind.

Let the pastry rest for half an hour or so before rolling out.

Once the pastry is ready to be used, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls, or a sufficient bigger bowl or dish.

Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle, or roll out the pastry to the size that you need.

Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the pastry on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl if you wish. If you use a bigger pot I found I did not need to do this with the shortcrust pastry I use. Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick.

Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for 40 mins to 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas - the time for Apple and Cinnamon (amongst other delicious ingredients!) Milopites, or apple filled rolls.

It may not be well documented here but my love of things apple and cinnamon is well known, and this leads to the devouring of apple pie and apple crumble and apple strudel and anything else vaguely 'appley' on a regular basis. Whilst the apple itself may not be an issue, pastry can be and so I seek a way of getting the apple hit without the calorific nature of the pastry. I hate to sound like a momentous bore; it's Christmas after all and watching the weight is not what most of us do at this time, but in the back of my mind is January and how I will be trying desperately to transform myself into some sort of alluring, svelte temptress for the umpteenth time. This year I will succeed!!!!!!!!

Anyway, while rifling through the extraordinary 'Vefa's Kitchen' for inspiration I happened upon and Milopites, or Apple Filled Rolls and I decided to try them out. I had filo pastry lurking (once again) at the back of the fridge, I had some sad looking Braeburns in the fruit bowl in need of some va va voom so I set to work. I'm not convinced there is anything better than the smell of apple and cinnamon filling the kitchen, so this was always going to work for me. I hope it works for you too.

Milopites, or Apple Filled Rolls, adapted from Vefa's Kitchen, by Vefa Alexandriou.


1/4 pint olive oil, melted clarified butter or a mixture of both.
8oz caster sugar
4 tbsp fine breadcrumbs
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
A pinch of grated nutmeg
A pinch of ground cloves (optional)
2 1/4lb tart apples, peeled and coarsely grated
4oz coarsely chopped nuts. I used hazelnuts
3oz raisins (optional)
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice. (I also put the lemon rind in)
4 tbsp melted butter
A pack of filo pastry
Icing sugar, for sprinkling.


Preheat the oven to 350F and brush a baking tray with melted butter, or oil, or mixture of both.

Combine the sugar, breadcrumbs, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves in a small bowl. Then combine the apples, nuts and raisins and toss in the lemon juice (though for ease I just threw everything into my food processor bowl once I had grated the apples and then stirred the ingredients together with a spoon).

Pour the melted butter over the apple mixture, combine, taste and adjust sweetness, spicing to your preference and then set aside.

Brush the sheets of filo with the oil/butter/mixture.

Place 3 or 4 tablespoons of the mixture along the long length of the filo, then roll the filo and filling up so that it looks like a snake. Repeat.

Place the rolls next to each other on the baking tray or else coil around one another.

Brush the remaining oil/butter/mixture onto and sprinkle with icing sugar (though I used caster to be honest).

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

Allow to cool slightly before cutting into pieces and sprinkle with ground cinnamon and icing sugar just before serving.

The addition of just a little cream does not hurt in my opinion.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Making mince pies with Lola - Two recipes: rich shortcrust mince pies and rose mince pies.


Christmas. I love it lots. Yes, it starts too early, is hideously commercialised and it is like a marathon of jobs to be done before it arrives but when it finally does get here it is wonderful, and for me has been made infinitely better by the presence of my children who are at that age where the whole thing is truly magical. After years of cynically wandering about in a Yuletide wilderness where too much drink was drunk, many suspect presents given and received and the real meaning was lost amongst the wrapping paper and the decorations, the arrival of Lola and Finn has sprinkled a sense of wonder over proceedings.

Despite episodes of chaos and the odd kitchen disaster, I do like cooking with the children and I think they get a lot out of it, not least learning about food and that it is a valuable skill to prepare and cook it. I always (wrongly maybe) think of mince pies as an adult taste, with the rich pastry and the mincemeat often laced with booze and occasionally tooth aching sharpness or sweetness, but both Lola and Finn adore them, Finn particularly, who will eat them one after the other in a fashion that can sometimes be quite alarming, and whilst it is easy to sidle off to the supermarket to buy a packet of six, warm them up and dump cream on them, I think there is something quite honest and special about making them yourself and it is part of the Christmas ritual here. Buying them doesn't hold the same appeal.

I have provided two pastry recipes here. The first (and the ones that are topped with the stars) is the recipe that I always use, but the second recipe is one I discovered from Sophie Conran, via the Good Food website, which adds rosewater to the pastry. It's subtle but I loved it. And it was the type of pastry that behaves itself. Always a bonus.

Mince Pies (makes 24)

Recipe one: shortcrust pastry
340 g plain flour
a pinch of salt
200 g butter
2 egg yolks
4 tbsp cold water, to mix

Two jars mincemeat (or make your own)
milk or beaten eggs, to glaze
icing sugar, to serve


First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl, Rub in the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Mix the egg yolks with the water and add to the flour mixture. Mix to a firm dough, at first with a knife and finally with one hand. It may be necessary to add more water, but the pastry should not be too damp.

Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas 5.

Divide the pastry in half and roll one half out thinly and use it to line tartlet tins.

Cut out circles that will form the bases of the mince pies. We used an upsidedown glass.

Fill each tartlet case with enough mincemeat to come about three-quarters of the way up the pastry.

Roll out the remaining pastry and either stamp into shapes, such as stars, dampen lightly with water and press firmly but gently on top of the mincemeat or cut into circles to fit the tarts as lids. Dampen the pastry edges and press the tops down lightly, sealing the edges carefully.

Brush your chosen glaze on the lids. The milk will give a matt finish, and the beaten egg a shiny finish.

Bake for 20 minutes until light golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly on a wire rack.

Serve warm sprinkled with icing sugar. Once completely cold mince pies can be frozen in an airtight container.

Recipe 2, Mince Pies with Rose Water Pastry, from Sophie Conran on the 'Good Food' website:

Makes 12

100 g unsalted butter, straight from the fridge
150 g plain flour
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp rose water
1/2-1 tbsp chilled water

This pastry is best made the day before, but it's not crucial if you leave the pastry enough time to chill thoroughly in the fridge. Cut the butter into cubes, and put it into a food processor with the flour and salt. Using the cutting blade, blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and pulse it until mixed in. Add the rosewater and the chilled water, a little at a time. Pulse the mixture until it binds together into a ball.

Scoop it out of the food processor and dust with flour. Form the dough into a thick disc. Cover with clingfilm and chill for an hour in the fridge. Allow the pastry to come back to room temperature before using.

Butter a  and preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F / Gas Mark 7).

Roll out the pastry on a floured board, dust your rolling pin with flour too. Roll it as thin as you can. Cut into 24 discs using an upturned glass or biscuit cutter with a diameter of about 6½cm (3in).

Push the pastry discs into the muffin cups. Scoop about half a teaspoon of mincemeat into each cup.

Cut little tops for the tarts from the remaining dough in the shape of stars, hearts or the more traditional discs. Place a top on each of the pies.

Put the muffin trays in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Dust each one with icing sugar by putting the icing sugar into a sieve and gently shaking it over the pies.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Tapas time - Scallops and Chorizo

 Well, I say Tapas time and I imagine these would be pretty fine tapas too. I'd put the slices of chorizo and a scallop on a toothpick and drizzle them in the pan juices, or maybe have them as a dip of some sort, but when I had these it wasn't tapas, it was selfish, self indulgent and a special moment for me and me only. No Lola. No Finn. No Phill.

You see, the problem that I have is that I am the only person here who adores fish and seafood. Whilst some of our number will happily post fish fingers until the end of time, and there are those who enjoy fish and peas from the chippy, I am, essentially, alone when it comes to the love of fish and it is such a shame. Our diet could be far more fresh and varied if I could convince everyone that fish is just delish. At the moment I am failing but I still hope that one day I will share a fruit de mer with one or all of my family sat in some harbourside cafe in Honfleur or somewhere. And if it doesn't happen, then I'll eat it on my own, like I do now. When Phill is away or not home for dinner, I give Lola and Finn their pasta fix and then I cook a very special meal for one, always involving fish or seafood, always simple and quick. This recipe, from Nigel Slater, was a triumph.

This is a lovely dish, cooked in around 10 minutes and marries the salty, spicy, smokiness of chorizo with creamy sweetness of scallop. The chilli provides subtle background heat the honey caramelises beautifully and makes the chorizo taste even more amazing, if that's possible.

Scallops and Chorizo, from Nigel Slater's Simple Cooking


3 fresh chorizo sausages, sliced into rounds the thickness of a pound coin

4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced

2 red chillies, thickly sliced

24 scallops, cleaned (with 6 shells reserved and cleaned if you can get them)

2 tbsp runny honey

Heat a heavy griddle pan over a high heat. Fry the chorizo until it is browned and some of the juices are running in the pan. Add the spring onion and chilli and fry for 2-3 minutes.

Add the scallops and fry for 2-3 minutes on either side or until cooked through. Drizzle over the runny honey and stir to coat. Divide the scallops and chorizo among the six scallop shells (if using) and serve.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Inspired by the past - Coconut rice pudding with pineapple sauce

One of the (many) things that puts a smile on my face is thinking about things to do with the past. I don't live in the past, despite my love of family history, but I do think about times gone and allow my memory to indulge itself in a remembrance of times gone. It might be a piece of music, a smell, a taste that takes me back to a place that is a little fuzzy around the edges.

So, it was opening a tin of coconut milk back in present time to make Nigella's speedy Thai curry (no doubt appearing at a blog near you soon, now I have reminded myself of it) and the waft of coconut took me firstly to holidays and bottles of Hawaiian Tropic and lazy days amongst the sea and sand and lovely warm sun. Then I was reminded of the bottle of Malibu that a school friend and I used to have stashed in her bedroom which became notably our tipple of choice as we ventured out clubbing for the first time at far too young an age. (Notice how the goalposts have changed; when I was 15 it was fine, when Lola is 15 and behaving in the same way I will be wringing my hands). That bottle of Malibu became the theme of those evenings, and because we knew no better, Malibu and pineapple became our drink of choice and when we had exhausted our funds, we would flutter our eyelashes at any blokes in the hope they would keep our glasses full until about 10 minutes before the end of the night we would disappear, before things got complicated.

Even though |I got old, Malibu and pineapple didn't, (neither did its similarly schoolgirly tipple of that time, Cinzano and lemonade) and I have in the not too distant past bought a bottle of Malibu in a fit of nostalgic reverie and poured myself a suitably large one and laced it with a dash of pineapple, and it is from this combination of flavours that this pudding 'evolved'. I'd thought about coconut ice cream with pineapple jelly forgetting that pineapple and jelly is really not a good idea if you would like the jelly to set, though I think there may be a time where I consider a cool double hit of coconut ice cream and pineapple ice cream, which may turn out to be the summer version to this essentially winter pudding. The thing I love about this though is the creamy coconut rice with the sweetly acidic edge of pineapple works for me, totally, and whilst it might not transport me totally back to Falcon's Crest circa 1989/1990 it makes me smile nevertheless. I hope it makes you smile too.

Coconut rice pudding with pineapple sauce


Serves 4, plus Lola and Finn

8oz pudding rice
A tin of coconut milk
Milk, measured out in the empty coconut milk tin plus about 200ml extra 
About 2oz sugar (add more to taste if you have a sweet tooth)
a dash of vanilla extract or a vanilla pod

Half a pineapple, or a tin of pineapple (chunks or rings, your call) but I think fresh pineapple is sweeter.
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp icing sugar (or to taste)

To make the rice pudding, add all the ingredients to as suitable pan (I use my cast iron pot) mix well, then taste. You may want more sugar, but go easy.

Cover, place on the stove for about an hour, checking carefully to make sure it doesn't dry out. If it's looking a little dry, slacken it off with either some cream or milk.

Meantime, make the pineapple sauce. Blitz the pineapple with a handheld blender or a mini processor. Add the cornflour to thicken the mixture and then add icing sugar to taste. Place into a pan and begin to warm through gently until the cornflour thickens the mixture and the icing sugar dissolves into the pineapple. Set aside.

When the rice pudding is ready, ladle some into bowls, then dollop the pineapple sauce in the middle.


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