Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Colourful and tasty: Roasted Chicken with Balsamic Peppers

I think we all wanted to eat something colourful and healthy to brighten up these grim, dull, wet Summer days. It's laughable that it is nearly July and I have been considering whether or not to cook beef casserole. I really hoped that this year would be different, and that it would be meals al fresco, something light, healthy and satisfying in good weather, but the weather in Britain never fails to disappoint.

But I must persevere, not least because I am on a fridge/freezer/store cupboard emptying mission before I go find myself some proper weather and this recipe fitted the bill. In truth, I was looking for a totally different recipe when I happened across this one during a recent internet surf. It was definitely tasty, fresh, healthy and satisfying...and colourful. It's nice when a meal on a plate almost paints a picture for you, and this one does.

A couple of comments. For reasons that are too dull to elaborate upon I served this over pasta, which wasn't necessarily a mistake, but I do think that some mashed potato would be delicious. If I were to do the pasta route again, much favoured by Lola and Finn, then I would use orzo pasta because I am convinced it would carry the sauce better, or some steamed rice would be good if you are on a health kick (which I really should be...) Secondly, I do think you need to have quite a flavourful chicken stock for this to work. Using a stock cube or two is not a crime.

So enjoy! Maybe if we all eat this then the weather will sort itself out!? Yeh, right.

Roasted Chicken with Balsamic Peppers, adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad

Ingredients (using American cups)

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3 - 4  skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
olive oil 
2 cups thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 cup thinly sliced yellow/orange bell pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 1 large)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar


Preheat oven to 450°c

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat.

Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, fennel seeds, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and oregano. (I did this in a pestle and mortar)

Brush the chicken breasts with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and then sprinkle spice rub over the chicken.

Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan.

Add chicken and cook until browned. Turn chicken over and cook for another couple of minutes or so to colour..

Place the chicken breasts in a greased baking dish. Bake at 450°c for 10 minutes or until done. Check by piercing with a knife. Allow to rest.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the peppers, shallots, and rosemary and sauté for 3 minutes or so until the peppers are beginning to soften a little and the shallots are becoming translucent.

Stir in the chicken stock, scraping pan to loosen any browned bits. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or so, then increase heat to medium-high and stir in the balsamic vinegar.

Now, taste for seasoning and add 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper if necessary, or more if you prefer. Cook for a further 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve the bell pepper mixture over chicken.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Living my dream and a pudding for all weathers - Raspberry Cinnamon Streusel Tart

I was at once captivated and enthralled when on a whim I bought the cookbook 'A Table at the Tarn' by Orlando Murrin. It was one of those gems so often unearthed after a trawl through Amazon on a rainy afternoon when I have plenty of things I could be doing but am putting them off with a little 'Internet Therapy'. I was looking for something else as it happened when this book appeared in the 'Other people looked at...' section or whatever it's called. I bought it and am very glad that I did, as it is now a splattered, well thumbed copy that has seen many hours of action in my kitchen and when it is not being used to create the delicious recipes therein, it is being read for its wonderfully interesting insights about two people going with their desires and making a wonderful cooking and living experience in South West France. There's no way I would pull off such a venture like this, but I can dream, and as I get older the idea of decamping myself to France has more and more appeal. Maybe one day, when my work is done, I will get myself a little place somewhere and I can too experience a way of life which I perceive to be healthier, more fulfilling and less inspiring than living in Britain presently.

Talking of France, (and have I told you were off on holiday there shortly?) I have decided to whittle down the contents of the fridge, freezer and store cupboards in preparation for not being here for a couple of weeks or so, and it is my way of saving on the cost of buying more food when I already have enough. I am the world's worst at this, and I have decided to be far stricter with myself and cook according to the cupboard first rather than be driven by the cookbook. It is with this new found and hopefully long lasting philosophy that I decided on this recipe. I had raspberries in the freezer which were bought when very cheap and stashed away as it was clear that they weren't going to be used. Then I discovered that I had all the other ingredients. Result. It was time to get to work.

I had to alter the nuts used (see below) and the original recipe calls for creme fraiche or a sabayon ice cream to accompany it, which I am sure is delightful. However, initially I served the tart warm with some of the almond ice cream which went well, and with the leftovers  couple of days later, I used custard, and it was joyous. Custard often is. And if you are aware of the current 'Autumnal' weather we have been having here of late, this pudding and custard is proper comfort food.

Raspberry and Cinnamon Streusel Tart, slightly adapted from 'A Table in the Tarn' by Orlando Murrin and Peter Steggall

Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, twice


150g blanched or ground almonds (or similar: I didn't have quite enough almonds so subbed some mixed nuts to make up the desired quantity)
150g softened unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 large egg
250g raspberries
Icing sugar, to dust


Grease the pan, paying attention to the sides and top edge if using a fluted pan as this is where it will stick.

Now process the almonds with the butter, sugar, flour, cinnamon and egg till combined. Set half aside (if you have time, put in a bag and freeze - though I didn't).

 Spread the rest in a layer in the base of the pan, using a wet fork. I also used the rounded part of a glass to press the mixture up the sides of the pan.

Cover with raspberries and then crumble or grate over the reserved mixture. It does not have to cover completely.

Bake the tart for 40 to 60 minutes at 350°F (175°C) [325°F (160°C) fan oven]. The top should feel firm but springy and be well browned; if it begins to scorch before you feel the tart is cooked, cover with foil. In my fan oven, the tart was cooked in about 40 minutes.

Leave the tart to cool. Then serve.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Familiar ingredients - easy food: Chicken, Chorizo and Rice Bake

Regular visitors to this blog may have gathered amongst other things that I love Spanish food and that I like food that is not faffy. Here, these two aspects meet, within this lovely recipe which I found in 'Food from the Sun' by Irish chef Neven Maguire. I happened upon him when I was watching the Good Food Channel here in the UK at a time when they use to air programmes that were interesting, rather than re runs of Man v. Food (my personal pet hate). I loved his all round cheeriness (and whilst I would not want to pigeonhole the Irish, not least because I am partly one of them, but the fact remains that I have never yet gone to Ireland and not felt cheered), his studio kitchen and his simple and gorgeous looking recipes. I bought the book and enjoyed it in much the same way that I enjoyed watching his programmes. Simple food with a smile.

We are never far from chicken and chorizo in this house, mainly because they are enjoyed by everyone here. I wasn't sure how Lola and Finn would take to the artichokes that this recipe called for but Lola was quite receptive, eating a few of the petals as they came away from the core. I told her they were flowers, and Lola being a girly girl was happy with that. Finn ate around them. I do think that you could get away without the artichokes though if you don't happen to have a tin of them around (and to be honest I don't really know why I had a tin of them). Red peppers, the ones you can get in a jar, would be an apt substitute I think.

This recipe is very easy to do; I cooked it after coming in from work one night, and it is the type of meal that you can cook whilst doing that list of mundane tasks that seem to materialise when you fall through the door of a weeknight, mostly involving lunch boxes, demands from the school for yet more money and putting the second school uniform this week into the wash because of some unidentified 'stain'.

A note (or two) on how I interpreted the recipe below. My artichokes were not in oil and so I just drained mine and added olive oil where necessary. A chicken dish is as good as the chicken you put in it so try to use good chicken (I might use chicken thighs next time; cheaper with more interesting meat) and the chorizo I used wasn't raw; it was some that I had left from my raiding of Carrefour on the way back from France recently. It was significantly cheaper than the chorizo that I buy in the UK and it also is 'piccante', which gave this finished dish a mellow warmth. I also upped the chorizo quantity by 25g as I was using the chorizo that I had left.

A good meal was had by all.

Chicken and Chorizo Rice Bake, adapted from 'Food from the Sun' by Neven Maguire

olive oil
400g tin of artichokes
25 g butter
4 chicken breast fillets, skin on if you like
1 large onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
125 g raw chorizo sausage (sliced)
350 g long grain rice
150 ml dry white wine
600 ml chicken stock
2 tblsp roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4).Add half of the butter and some olive oil to a suitable casserole then place on the hob to heat.

Season the chicken breasts, add to the dish, skin-side down, then cook for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned.

Turn over and cook for another minute or so until sealed. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil with the remaining butter to the pan and then tip in onion and garlic. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until softened but not coloured.

Add the chorizo and rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring until the chorizo has begun to release its oil and all the rice grains are well coated.

Pour the wine into the pan, stirring to combine and then add the stock and fold in the artichokes. Arrange the chicken on top, pushing the breasts down into the rice.

Cover and bake for 35-40 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the chicken and rice are cooked through and tender.

Scatter over the parsley and place directly on the table to serve.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Disguising Broccoli so that Lola and Finn will eat it: Chicken and Broccoli Gratin

Yes, how do you get kids to eat greens? The fact is, I am mostly a failure at this, and Finn, fussy eater in particular, refuses to eat anything green with the exception of cucumber, which he eats quite happily. However he does like chicken, a lot, and I wondered whether this recipe would work. Tra la! It did. He ate quite a lot of this, and that in itself is a real vote of confidence for my cooking at least. Lola also gave the thumbs up.

This recipe is a bit faffy, and it's the kind of meal that you make when you are in for the day and can decamp to the kitchen every so often to complete the process. But you could make this the day before, ready to lash into the oven as and when. And, it is great, homely food.

The recipe is from the Irish foodie institution, Avoca Cafe cookbook. A gem of a cookbook which is full of fabulous recipes. if you happen across a copy, snap it up!

Oh, and the better the chicken, the better the dish. Whilst this recipe does suggest breasts as a possibility, I think a whole chicken is a better choice. You can buy a good quality chicken for cheaper than you can buy good chicken breasts, plus you get dark meat and white meat. Lovely!

Chicken and Broccoli Gratin, from the Avoca Cafe Cookbook

Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, twice

6 chicken breasts or 1 whole chicken (I used a chicken)
1 Spanish onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
A few sprigs of parsley
1 bay leaf
A few black peppercorns
300ml/½ pint double cream
110g/4oz roux
1 large head of broccoli, divided into florets
15g/½ oz butter
110g/4oz breadcrumbs
Grated strong cheddar cheese

Prepare a roux by melting 50 grams of butter, then adding 50 grams of plain flour. Cook them over a low heat for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. preferably store the roux in a fridge for a few hours before use.

Place the chicken in a large saucepan with the onion, carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns and enough water to cover. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked - about an hour for a whole chicken; 20 minutes for chicken breasts

Remove the chicken from the pan and leave to cool. Strip the meat off the bones, dice and set aside

Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and boil until reduced to 600ml/1 pint. Add the cream, return to the boil and then whisk in the roux, a little at a time, to form a thick sauce.

Blanch the broccoli in boiling salted water until just tender, then drain and refresh under cold water.

Stir the diced chicken and broccoli into the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour this mixture into an ovenproof dish.

Melt the butter and mix in the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Spread over the chicken mixture and bake in an oven preheated to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbling


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