Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Simple slow cooked chicken

This is what I call 'Chicken Smug' because it's what I bung into the oven on busy days. I can happily go out, leaving it to do its thing and when I get home, there it is, cooked and ready to eat and I can dish it up to hungry mouths and feel all smug and virtuous.

It's also a very thrifty meal. The ingredients (pictured) were all from Aldi, apart from the chicken breast which came from Morrisons  You could probably get the chicken breasts cheaper (except they MUST have the red tractor logo on), but even so the ingredients for this meal come in at less than £5 and that feeds a family of four handsomely. Just serve with rice, couscous or even crusty bread for an ultra-fast meal.

  • 2-3 leeks
  • 4-5 sticks of celery
  • Splash of oil or dab of butter
  • 1 tin of soup - I usually use cheap as chips mushroom (from Aldi) and not the condensed sort (although I did here). Any old 'cream of' soup will do (I've never tried tried it with tomato though). I have used leftover homemade leek and potato soup too which worked well.
  • 3-4 skinless, boneless British chicken breasts (depending on appetite, I usually use three to feed two adults and two children)

  1. Wash and slice the leeks and celery
  2. Put into your lidded cast iron casserole (which is what I use) or slow cooker pot (or a pan if your crock pot isn't hob-friendly) with the oil or butter and leave to sweat and soften for a few minutes*
  3. Add the soup and enough water (about half a can, more if the soup is condensed) to make a nice thick sauce. The casserole won't lose much moisture while it's cooking so don't make it too runny
  4. Add extra herbs and seasoning if you wish, although I mostly skip this step (because I forget!)
  5. Add the chicken breasts whole (this is what keeps it tender) and bring the casserole up to a simmer
  6. Bung in the gas oven on the S setting (which is what I do), or similar setting for your slow cooker (I'd suggest the low setting if you're leaving it all day - but it's ages since I used a slow cooker because mine had a lovely ceramic bowl until I dropped it and it smashed. My new one is cast iron. If I drop it, it breaks the floor tiles not the pot). I have left this for just over seven hours and for as little as three (when I panicked a bit and cooked it at gas mark 2 - would that be the high setting in a slow cooker?).
  7. When ready to eat, check the seasoning of the sauce and adjust if necessary.
  8. Use something to pull/shred the chicken. I usually use a wooden spoon, it's that tender.
  9. Serve with rice (easy cook for speed)

* If you're in a real hurry, just throw the lot into the pot, make sure it's all up to simmering point and slow cook it. It'll be fine (I know, I've done it!)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Apple cranachan

Gosh it's been a while but I'm still here and I'm still cooking! I sort of fell a bit out of love with blogging for a while but I have continued photographing my culinary creations with the intention of sharing them one day.

Anyway I suddenly had a whim, about a fortnight ago, for cranachan - that wonderfully Scottish creation of oats, cream, honey, whisky and raspberries. But in a chilly April (which is still more winter than spring this year) raspberries are not in season. A quick Google for alternatives brought up two recipes - one from Delicious magazine using blackberries and apples and another from BBC Food made with apple puree and honey but surprisingly doesn't include whisky. Neither was quite what I was looking for so I combined the two and this was the result.



Serves 4-6

4 large Bramley apples
3 tbsp honey
25g/1 oz butter
75g/3 oz rolled oats
1 tbsp caster sugar
240ml/8fl oz double cream
150ml/5fl oz natural yoghurt
2tbsp whisky
1-2 tbsp light muscovado sugar


  1. Peel, core and cube the apples, put in a pan with a few tablespoons of water and simmer until they form a purée. Add the honey and leave aside to cool.
  2. Melt the butter in a small pan, add the oats and cook for about a minute. Add the caster sugar and stir until the mixture turns a lovely golden brown and smells gorgeous - like flapjacks.
  3. Lightly whip the cream, fold in the yoghurt and muscovado sugar and add the whisky - use more or less to taste. I was serving this to children and adults so I divided the mixture in half and only used 1tbsp of whisky in the adults' half.
  4. Layer up the mixture into individual dessert glasses - apple, oats then cream, finishing with a layer of cream, and top with a final sprinkling of oats.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Rhubarb Eton Mess

I made this for pudding on Sunday to follow roast chicken with green garlic and herb stuffing and a big pile of spring veg. I'll blog my lazy stuffing recipe at a later date but the pudding was a triumph so here is the recipe.

Rhubarb Eton Mess

Pick a good armful of rhubarb (or one of those packs from the supermarket) and cut into cubes. Sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons of sugar and roast in a hottish oven (Gas mark 5/375 degrees F/190 degrees C) until the rhubarb is soft and surrounded by syrupy juices. Leave to cool completely.

Whip 300ml double cream with the grated zest of an orange and a tablespoon of icing sugar until stiff. Resist diving into it face first (maybe try just a little... mmm.)

Break up five or six shop-bought meringue nests (or home made if you've got them) and make sure you've got a big pot (450g) of Yeo Valley strawberry yoghurt.

Put everything in the fridge until just before you are ready to serve (except the meringue nests, of course!)

Just before serving reserve a spoonful or two of the rhubarb and combine everything else in a big bowl. Don't over mix, you want a nice melding of flavours not all churned up like cement. Spoon the saved rhubarb over the top and serve.

This served six greedy people (two children, four adults) and all of the adults had thirds (having begun with "oh, just a little" we ended up with an unseemly fight over who was to lick the serving spoon).

The suggestion was made that it could be improved with the addition of crumble, either as crumbled digestive biscuits or hob nobs but I have the rest of the cream, loads of rhubarb and another pot of yoghurt in the fridge so I plan to make another batch with the addition of a home made crumble.

Rhubarb Crumble Eton Mess

Follow recipe as above but also prepare a crumble at the same time you roast the rhubarb.

Rub together 75g plain flour, 50g butter and 50g soft brown sugar, add a little ginger if you like. Spread onto a baking tin and bake at gas mark 5 (375 degrees F/190 degrees C) for ten minutes. Leave to cool and then break up and fold into the Eton Mess just before serving.

Battenburg cake

In other news I found a packet of marzipan in the cupboard and finally achieved my ambition to make a Battenburg. Not difficult, more a feat of assembly than culinary skill, but fun to do. It was a nice addition to our Eurovision Song Contest TV picnic and it tasted delicious. I used the recipe from Lorraine Pascale's Baking Made Easy.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Chocolate spice cupcake

This little beauty is a chocolate spice cupcake. It is a thing of gorgeousness yet its looks do not even begin to describe the delight of its taste.

It's also a bone of contention. This cupcake was made by my dear husband from his family's secret recipe (for a larger cake) that he has tweaked to produce these marvels.

I accepted, during the years we were together before we married, that I was not able to have the recipe. Then we married, in 1998, and still the recipe was not forthcoming. I had his children. Still no recipe. They're now nine and seven. Still no recipe, although he has hinted that he will pass it on to his daughters. One day.

Me? Frustrated. Furious (and curious).

I have observed the baking process. It involves many processes, the separating of eggs, the mixing up of three different mixes which are combined at the last minute. It involves the careful incorporation of air, the melting of chocolate. I know what goes in but not the order. It's that which is vital.

The recipe is written in longhand in a little black book which is kept hidden from curious wives. Except last week when it lay, alluringly open, on the worktop. I considered theft. I considered this blog and the posting herein of said recipe.

Then I considered the consequences.

I quietly ate my cupcake. Well, three. Maybe one day I will get that recipe.


Friday, 11 March 2011

Cookies and Cream Brownies

These brownies were almost impossible for me to photograph. I baked them - they vanished.

They are inspired by Lorraine Pascale's recipe in her lovely book Baking Made Easy crossed with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's ultimate double chocolate brownies from The River Cottage Year.

What you do is cream 125g soft butter with 200g caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in two eggs and 50g cocoa powder.

This is where my recipe diverts with Hugh's. He melts 100g good chocolate with two tablespoons of warm milk and beats that in. I opened my chocolate cupboard and found that I had fed the cooking chocolate to the children in the form of a fondue and all that was left was a bar of Green and Black's sublime 85% plain chocolate. Now that is officially The Best Chocolate in The World and no way was I going to put 100g of it into brownies. Instead I meanly broke off a few squares (having tested it first, just to check) and I melted it with the milk and a good dollop of Tesco Value chocolate spread.

How big is a good dollop? Ah ha. I used a dessert spoon and I scooped with enthusiasm. Having cooked the brownies I can confirm it adds a certain wonderful fudginess, so don't hold back. Pause to lick the chocolate spread spoon.

Next beat the chocolate or the choc-spread mix into the butter, sugar, eggs and cocoa, fold in 75g of self-raising flour and then add a 154g packet of Oreo cookies broken into at least quarters. Spread the mixture into your brownie tin (approximately 15cm x 25cm) lined with baking parchment.

Bake at Gas mark 3/170 degrees C until nearly cooked - a skewer inserted into the middle will come out slightly sticky. Actually I overcooked the ones in the picture a little, but the chocolate spread kept them delightfully gooey.

Pile on a plate and watch them disappear!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Simple pleasures: Welsh cakes

This post is for Sticky Fingers The Gallery and this week's theme is simple pleasures. Yesterday was St David's Day and, as my two traditionally dressed Welsh ladies hurtled off to school, they ordered reminded me that I usually make Welsh cakes.
Yummy Welsh cakes.
Then the day ambled off like days do and I did other things. At 2.15pm I remembered the Welsh cakes - half an hour before the school run. Fortunately being a simple sort of pleasure they are quick to make. Cheap too. I learned to make them by watching the ladies cooking them in Swansea market - the secret is to cook them just enough. Too long and they'll be dry in the middle.

All you do is rub 125g of butter into 250g of self-raising flour, stir in 75g caster sugar, 100g of sultanas and half a teaspoon of all spice and then mix in a large beaten egg and enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll out as you would for scones - they should be about a centimetre thick - and cut out. I use a 6.5cm fluted cutter.

Pop them on to a preheated griddle (or frying pan - no fat) and cook on each side until golden brown and still slightly soft in the centre. Sprinkle with more golden caster sugar and serve warm with a cup of tea. Blasus!

Sizzling gently on the griddle.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Naan bread

I mentioned on my other blog about running out of LPG and necessity being the mother of invention so last night I was still without a cooker. As supper time approached and I had left over dahl from the night before, I looked at the fire and contemplated the idea of cooking naan bread on it somehow. The germ of the idea had been sown by Chris Stovell of Home Thoughts Weekly who had suggested that the sloping lid of her wood burner would be possible for such a thing.

I consulted the internet for a recipe, read several and then made up my own. Cooking methods varied from frying to grilling. I think authentic naan is slapped on the inside of a melting hot tandoor oven and if my ship ever comes in I'm buying one of these. My sister-in-law used to live in a flat in High Wycombe and my big memory of visiting her in that flat is of the tantalising smell in the evenings of all the tandoors being fired up in neighbouring homes. The aroma of the spices, curried meat and bread carried on the warm evening air was mouth-wateringly delicious.

I used my trusty Kenwood for the mixing of the dough which was my basic foolproof white bread but with slight variations. It's about three cups of strong white bread flour, a good heaped teaspoon of dried quick mix yeast, a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of plain yoghurt, a shy teaspoon of sugar, a handful of black onion seeds and enough warm milk (about two thirds of a cup) to make a soft dough. Knead for five minutes until smooth and then leave to rise in a warm place.

I then divided it into eight pieces, rolled them out into rough ovals and started them cooking on my cast iron griddle on top of the wood burner.

Four little naans in a row.
 It was hot but not nearly hot enough so (bearing in mind past experience of cooking flat breads, roti and chapattis) I grabbed the toasting fork, opened the wood burner and held the naan inside over the hot coals.

It immediately fluffed and puffed up into a very authentic looking naan bread. I was so surprised I nearly dropped it. I puled it out, ripped it open and tried it. Delicious, fluffy and unmistakably naan.

If you look closely at the one at the front on the left you can see the shape of the toasting fork.
I carried on with the other seven by which time my face was nearly melting from the heat and the dining room was like the inside of a pizza oven. Brian was stripping off layers of clothes (we're unaccustomed to warmth) and repeatedly mentioning that he was hungry (the house was full of the smell of naan bread).

It was delicious, everybody loved it and from now on I won't be buying any more naan bread. Who would have thought it could be this much fun to make? Like most other things it's nicer homemade and freshly baked too. I think I'll probably start it off on top of the stove though, I couldn't quite get the griddle hot enough on top of the wood burner, but I can see me fluffing it up on the toasting fork again - I think it was the aroma of wood smoke that really nailed the flavour.