Saturday 29 January 2011

When boiled chicken is better than roast

My husband's not been feeling too good the last few days - some strange bug that's made him feel a bit queasy - so I decided to make him some boiled chicken. How unappetising does that sound - or indeed look? You have to say there are no comparisons between the colour and aroma of a roast chicken and the slightly pallid, slithery looking appearance of a poached one.

Get over that, however and you've got yourself a feast. I covered the chicken - a basic free-range one from Tesco (oops, sorry, but it's been hectic this week) - with water, added a cut onion, two carrots, a bayleaf and a few white peppercorns, brought it to the boil, skimmed it then put it in the Aga simmering oven for about 50 minutes. Breast side downwards for the first 20 minutes then I flipped it over. You can obviously do it without an Aga but don't let it boil. The cooking liquid should barely tremble.

I cut up a leek, two more carrots and a stick of celery and put them in a shallow pan with a teaspoon of bouillon powder and a ladleful of the chicken stock and half-boiled/half-steamed them, adding extra ladles of stock as the stock evaporated until the veg were just cooked. I prefer that to putting them in the cooking liquid as they they get too soggy. Once they were done I added about half the remaining chicken stock, fished out the onion, sliced it and added it to the veg and chucked in a handful of parsley.

I took one of the breasts off the chicken and cut it thickly on the slant, put the slices in two shallow bowls and spooned over the fresh veg and stock. Meal one which would have made four portions (or seconds if we'd been hungrier).

Last night I skimmed the rest of the stock and added a finely grated chunk of ginger, a large grated clove of garlic, a small red chilli, some finely sliced coriander stalks and a finely sliced spring onion brought it to the boil, seasoned it with a little soy sauce and set it aside to infuse.

I took all the meat off one chicken leg and shredded it and cut one of the carrots into fine strips, cooked them in a little of the broth then added them back to the soup. Then I added the chicken, a shredded spring onion, a good handful of coriander leaves and brought the soup to the boil, simmered it a minute then served it. Again, a meal that's delicate on the stomach but full of flavour. Enough for 2-4 helpings

Finally I chopped the meat from the other leg up finely, added a finely sliced spring onion and stick of celery, a dollop of mayo, a bit of chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon and voilĂ  a sandwich filling for two large sandwiches.

So from one five pound(ish) chicken (£5.35 actually) I got 10 servings which isn't bad. You get less shrinkage from boiling a chicken, more moistness and certainly better flavour for these kind of dishes. And perfect food if you're not feeling 100%!

Sunday 16 January 2011

How to make 2 meals out of a 15p bag of carrots

One of the problems of buying cheap veg, particularly ones that have neared their sell-by date is that they don’t taste of much. Which means they’re not going to taste that exciting raw or steamed. There’s also the challenge of ringing the changes enough not to tire of them, particularly if you’re catering for one.

The best way to overcome that, I reckon, is to apply fierce heat to them - i.e. roast, grill or fry them over a high heat - and/or spice them up. That’s exactly what I did with a bag of carrots I picked up in the Co-op for 15p.

I roasted enough to make two recipes - a roast carrot and chickpea soup and and a roast carrot houmus recipe I’d been eyeing for a while in Alice Hart’s Alice’s Cook Book.

I don’t think the carrots had quite enough flavour for the houmus - or else the tahini I was using was too strong but the soup was great. Here’s how I’d go about the two recipes another time:

To prepare the carrots you need
450-500g carrots, peeled and sliced thickly on the slant
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into eighths
1 rounded tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp sunflower oil
Pre-heat the oven to 400°C/Gas 6 (or better still use it when it’s on for something else). Put the carrots and onion in a small roasting tin with the oil and cumin seeds, mix well and roast for about 25 minutes until the carrots are tender and beginning to colour. Set aside and cool for 5 minutes.

For the roast carrot and chickpea soup (enough for 2 bowls)
a quarter of a 400g can chickpeas
half the roast carrots and onion
375ml vegetable or chicken stock
a pinch of turmeric
salt and pepper
Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put the roasted carrots, onion and chickpeas in a blender with just enough stock to blitz to a smooth paste. Gradually add the rest of the stock and whizz until smooth. Tip into a pan, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of ground turmeric and bring to simmering point. Leave over a low heat for 5 minutes, season and serve.

For the roast carrot houmus you need (enough for 4)
the other half of the roasted carrots
the rest of the chickpeas
about 2 tsp tahini paste
1 tbsp plain yoghurt
a clove of garlic, crushed
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste
Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste adding a little more tahini or yoghurt if you think it needs it. I'd serve this with wholemeal pitta bread.

For more ideas about what to do with carrots check out this post

Do you have any favourite ways of using up carrots or other cheap veg?

Saturday 8 January 2011

Which three recipes would you pass on?

There's been a huge stir this week about US food writer Mark Bittman's post on 'Three recipes to change your life and the world'.

Bittman, a columnist for the New York Times and author of How to Cook Everything (also available as an App, incidentally) starts from the premise that no-one is cooking any more and that many see home-made food as more expensive than ready made meals. Which to be fair it can be but largely because we tend to eat way too much protein.

His argument is that anyone can master three simple recipes and that "the more we cook the healthier we and the planet will be." A great idea, simple to communicate but the crucial question is which recipes?

He chooses a stir-fry, a chopped salad and - this is the odd one - lentils with rice - all straightforward, wholesome and healthy but to be honest not that appealing to the average red-blooded male - or woman - going through one of the harshest winters in recent memory.

Having written a number of student cookbooks I've given quite a bit of thought in the past to this and I think mine would be:

A simple tomato-based pasta sauce to which you can add any number of other ingredients

A basic vegetable soup which can be adapted into all kinds of soupy stews

And, yes, perhaps that stir-fry

What would be yours? Remember they have to be simple, healthy and cheap. Not necessarily vegetarian but using a minimum of meat or fish.

If you want to see Bittman in action making his dishes there's a video of him on the Today show here.

Saturday 1 January 2011

What I made with my bargain buys

First of all a very happy new year to you all. I hope you had a good Christmas and have managed to wade through the leftovers!

You might indeed wonder what I got round to making with my bargain buys - or even if I ended up chucking them away (no, I didn't!)

The turkey was roasted and kept us in cold turkey and fry-ups with madeira-spiked gravy (our youngest son's favourite way of eating it, devised by his dad) for days. (I should say our youngest is 25.)

I made a turkey and leek pie filling with the last of the white meat which is sitting in the freezer. I prefer to make it as a filling so we can have it how we choose - with a pastry lid, with rice, with potatoes or even as a pancake filling though that seems like a bit too much hard work right now after Christmas. And there are two big tubs of turkey stock in the fridge for a reviving bowl of noodles or broth.

But the £4.94 leg of lamb was the big triumph. I made a Lebanese recipe called Ouzi from Claudia Roden's Arabesque which involved rubbing the lamb with spices (cinnamon, allspice, cumin and cardamom), roasting it for 20 minutes then adding half a head of garlic, an onion and a litre of water to the pan and cooking it very slowly for 3 hours. Result, amazingly tender, delicately spiced meat with a delicious fall-apart texture.

It was served, as recommended with a dish of mince, rice and nuts using many of the same spices plus some nutmeg. The only downside was that it was all rather brown so I cooked some multi-coloured carrots I'd bought from the local greengrocer with a little ground coriander, folded in some chopped parsley and piled them up on the platter too (as seen in the quickly snatched and rather blurry shot above).

It's one of those dishes that can be cheap or expensive depending on what you have in the storecupboard. I didn't have to buy any extra spices and had the recommended pinenuts so the only extra expense was some pistachios which were ironically about half the price of the lamb.

As I've said before it is easy to feel you must go out and buy the ingredients recommended in a recipe but you have to think about why an ingredient is there - for texture or flavour. Nuts and spices would obviously be fairly cheap in the Lebanon but they're not here. If pinenuts, say, are too pricey you could use cashews. If you can't get whole almonds at a reasonable price you could use flaked ones. And I'm not sure that you really need the mince. But I am a believer in having a wide range of spices you can use to jazz up inexpensive ingredients (best bought from a specialist shop rather than a supermarket).

I reckon you could also make the dish with shoulder of lamb which would normally be cheaper than a leg.

Anyway my new year's resolution - or one of them - is to try and go through some of the food in my freezer and storecupboard this month rather than keep buying new stuff. What's yours?