Sticky lemon chicken with broccoli and cashew nuts

I have been feeling rather uninspired when it comes to cooking recently, which is why things have been a bit quiet around here lately. I’ve not really cooked anything new or exciting; in fact most days it’s been too hot and/or muggy to want to cook anything at all. Oh we’re also in the process of buying a house, which seems to be a complete time sap! But when your big brother calls you from New York and tells you to make more blog posts, you know you’ve left it a while.

I decided to end my boring rut of meals and headed straight fallback source of new ideas: the BBC Good Food website. I was browsing on a Friday afternoon for something delicious to make for dinner and stumbled upon this recipe. The reviews were good and it was just the kind of thing I was after, so I went and bought some chicken after work and gave it a go. It was completely perfect; sticky, flavoursome, light, quick and healthy. I tweaked the recipe a little, but I will definitely be making this again and again!

Sticky lemon chicken with broccoli and cashew nuts

Serves 2

1 tbsp groundnut oil or sunflower oil

2 chicken breast fillets

2 garlic cloves , sliced

8-10 stems tender-stem broccoli, halved if very long

100ml chicken stock (I just used liquid stock from concentrate)

1 heaped tsp cornflour

Pinch dried chilli flakes

3 tbsp clear honey

Zest and juice of half a lemon

A large handful of roasted cashews

Rice, to serve

Method

First, make sure you’ve got everything prepared. Slice the chicken breasts into fairly chunky strips, chop the garlic and cut the broccoli in half if the stems are very long. Put the kettle on to make the stock.

Heat a small, dry pan and toast the cashews until golden. If you’re making rice then you can put this on to boil at this point. Steam the broccoli over the cooking rice for around 5 minutes until just tender. (The original recipe said to stir fry the broccoli with the chicken and cover the pan to steam, but I don’t like my veg TOO crunchy so I steamed it before adding it to the wok).

Meanwhile, put a wok or frying pan to heat. Add the oil once the pan is hot. Fry the chicken for around 5 minutes until it’s turning golden. Once the chicken is almost cooked, add the garlic and chilli and continue to stir fry.

Whilst the chicken is frying, combine the chicken stock, 2 tablespoons of the honey and cornflour together to make a thick sauce, then pour over the chicken and leave to bubble for 5 minutes or so. When it’s reduced by about half (after about 3 minutes), add the broccoli and cashews and continue to simmer for a further few minutes. Before serving, add the last tablespoon of honey (this just makes it super-sticky!) and the lemon juice and zest and stir through.

Serve with the rice and enjoy!

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Piri piri chicken

Last night I went for a personal training session with some friends from work. It was HARD WORK. I had previously planned to just cook some pasta thing for dinner (most likely with lots of cheese), but I was feeling particularly glowing and virtuous after my workout, and decided I didn’t want to ruin all my hard work by stuffing my face with cheese (I KNOW, I never say that).

Instead, I decided to stop off at the supermarket on my way home to stock up on nice healthy things. My endorphin rush coupled with the nice warm weather meant that I wanted something light, fresh, and healthy. There is nothing I loathe more than bland low-fat food, so in order to avoid all trace of blandness I decided to grab the ingredients for piri piri chicken.

The recipe below is taken from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals. However, I don’t cook the chicken in the same way and don’t make the same accompaniments as he does. Basically I just used the recipe for the sauce, and improvise the rest!

I served this with sweet potato wedges, guacamole and slices of cucumber. It turned out to be the perfect meal for my mood; I love it when that happens. Also the guacamole uses up most of the things you have leftover from the sauce (the chilli ( if you’re like me and use hardly any) the red onion and the lemon) – how economical!

Piri piri chicken

Serves 2

2 skinless chicken breasts

½ small red onion

1 clove of garlic

1 bird’s-eye chilli (I actually used half a normal red chilli)

1/2 tbsp sweet smoked paprika

Zest and juice 1/2 lemon

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

A bunch of fresh basil

A splash of water

Guacamole:

1 ripe avocado

1/4 red onion

1/2 red chilli

Juice 1/2 lemon

Sea salt

Sweet potato wedges:

2 sweet potatoes

Olive oil

Method:

First thing I do is cut the sweet potato into wedges, drizzle them with olive oil and put on a baking tray and into the oven, heated to about 200 degrees.

The next thing, add all of the ingredients for the piri piri sauce into a food processor (except the chicken, obviously) and blitz until it’s a pulpy paste. Take the chicken breasts and score them with a knife through to about half the thickness of the meat. This will make sure the flavour really gets in there. Then arrange the chicken in a roasting dish and pour over the sauce, working it in to the cuts you just made.

Put the chicken in the oven, and leave to roast for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through.

For the guacamole, cut the avocado in half, remove the stone, and scoop out the flesh. Put it in a bowl and mash it with a fork until it reaches the consistency you want for your guacamole (some like it chunky, some like it almost smooth). Chop the chilli and the red onion very finely and add to the mashed avocado with a good pinch of sea salt and a good squeeze of lemon. Mix everything together and have a taste – if it needs more of anything then tweak it until it becomes a party in your mouth.

The chicken is ready when the meat is cooked through, and the sauce has thickened into a kind of paste. Serve it with a good spoon of the sauce over the top, the wedges and the guacamole and cucumber slices. You could, of course, have some sour cream as well but it wouldn’t have fit in with my good mood!

I also managed to make an amazing lunch by boiling some new potatoes and roasting half a red pepper, and mixing them with leftover chicken, some leftover sliced red onion and some cucumber chunks.  I’ve also saved some guacamole, and we shall be enjoying some special alone time together later. Yummmmm.

Chicken, leek and bacon pie

This is a recipe that I’m slightly obsessed with at the moment. For me, the combination of chicken, leeks and bacon is a complete winner – the leeks are sweet and soft, the bacon is smoky and salty and the chicken provides some chunkier texture which pulls everything together.

If you’re not sold on it just by seeing the words CHICKEN, LEEK and BACON together, then maybe the recipe will sway you. It’s really easy and doesn’t really require any specific measurements. I just kind of throw it all together and put as much in as looks right!

Sometimes I think I could eat the entire pie, but really this serves 2 greedy people, with maybe a bit to spare for lunch the next day

Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie Filling

4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs (Sainsbury’s do good free-range ones and they’re super cheap)

A few rashers of bacon

2 leeks

A few carrots

A few tablespoons of plain flour

A large knob of butter

A tablespoon of dried thyme

1/2 glass white wine (optional)

Glug of liquid chicken stock or stock cube

Salt & pepper

Pastry

I use the half-fat-to-flour method that my nan used, and for the fat part use half butter and half vegetable fat (my nan used lard, can’t bring myself to use it though)

I use about 80g of butter to cover an enamel pie dish around 20cm in diameter so 160g of plain flour, plus a pinch of salt. If you want to make the pastry richer you can use an egg yolk but I only tend to do that for sweet pastry cases, the butter makes this rich enough for a savoury dish, in my opinion.

Method:

Heat a small amount of oil to a saucepan or casserole, and snip the bacon into the pan and leave to get crispy (if it doesn’t go crispy now it never will, I can’t stand that wobbly white fat on bacon, yuck)

Meanwhile,  chop the leeks finely (I usually cut them in half lengthways, in half again, and then finely slice) and add them to the pan with a large knob of melted butter to get soft in all the bacony juices. Peel and chop the carrots into 1.5cm -ish chunks.

When the leeks are soft, snip the chicken thighs into the pan (I barely ever use a knife to cut meat!) and fry until it’s all turned white. Add the carrots in and stir. Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper (not too much salt, the bacon will be salty), and a good tablespoon of dried thyme. Stir in with everything else until the flour has combined with the buttery juices to make the roux which will thicken your sauce.

Add a generous glug of liquid stock, or a stock cube crumbled, and add enough boiling water to cover the mixture. Then add the white wine, and stir everything until combined. Simmer the mixture for around an hour or until it’s a nice thick consistency. The chicken should fall apart easily and the leeks will have almost melted into the rest of the sauce.

While the pie simmers away, you can get on with the pastry. One thing I will say: PASTRY IS EASY. Honestly. Do not fear it, especially if you have a food processor as it makes the whole thing incredibly easy and fast!

Just make sure the butter is really cold, straight from the fridge. Weigh it, and cut it into cubes. Add it to the processor with the flour (don’t need to sift, woo) and salt. Run the processor until the flour and butter look like breadcrumbs. While the motor is runnng, slowly add cold water until the mixture starts to come together into a dough in the processor. Then turn it off, take the dough out, squash it all into a ball, form it into a patty and wrap it in cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for half an hour. This method is great because it involves little handling of the pastry so it keeps it cool.

If you don’t have a processor you can still do it by hand. Just dice up the butter nice and small, and add to the flour and salt. Rub the two together with the tips of your fingers, until you reach the breadcrumb consistency. Then slowly add the cold water until it comes together as a dough, and then squash it together, make the patty, clingfilm and refrigerate as usual.

When the pie mix is cooked, add it to your pie dish, and then roll out the pastry. I usually just roll it out into a rough circle and then squash it into the tin (nothing fancy here) and trim the edges. Then just lightly slash the top (not all the way through the pastry) with a sharp knife and make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Brush the top with a beaten egg or some milk and put in the oven for 20-30 mins until golden and crisp.

I usually eat this with loads of green vegetables (it is especially good with the new season asparagus). Enjoy!

First post: Cooking vs. baking and one of my favourite meals

Much as I love baking sweet things, I take much more pleasure in cooking a meal. Maybe it’s because I don’t ever really bake anything particularly complex, but I find it much more of a challenge to cook a really nice meal. There is just so much more to get right – seasoning, depth of flavour, making sure the flavours work together, texture etc etc. In baking, it’s not really hard to get a nice fluffy, moist sponge or something really rich and chocolatey, as long as you have the right recipe.

I think with cooking, I tend to use a recipe and then ‘freestyle’ certain parts of it, mostly because I have to substitute ingredients that I don’t like (I’m quite a fussy eater) or don’t have. So when I find a recipe that works, I tend to add it to my repertoire and cook it a lot. Which brings me on to one of my favourite recipes of all time, which is so so simple but tastes amazing. I always feel like a bit of a cheat when I cook this for others because I get so many compliments on it but I haven’t actually done much. And I have to say, it’s the perfect meal for a dinner party. Without trying to sound pretentious, it has a kind of sophistication in its sheer simplicity, and the combination of ingredients and flavours works so incredibly perfectly. It also only really takes 10 minutes of effort right at the end to bring everything together which makes it perfect for cooking when you have guests and would rather be chatting (drinking) with them rather than faffing in the kitchen.

Every person I’ve ever cooked this for has asked me for the recipe, and I’ve cooked this for almost all of my family and friends, so that has to be a good accolade, no? What follows is hardly a recipe: it’s from Nigella’s How to Eat and I’m not even going to copy it out of the book, but just type it out as I would cook it.

Tagliatelle with Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken

Tagliatelle

Sultanas

Pine nuts

Fresh rosemary

Seasoning

Olive oil

Roast the chicken as you usually would (I just put the chicken in an oval cast iron casserole, smear some butter on the top, season, shove half a lemon into the cavity and roast, covered with the lid/foil, for 30 minutes per 500g and then take the lid/foil off and roast for a further 30 minutes uncovered so the skin goes brown).

Whilst the chicken is in the oven, toast a handful or so (as many as looks about right for the amount of people you’re feeding!) of pine nuts in a dry pan until they go golden brown. Soak the sultanas (again, as many as you think appropriate)  in boiling water for at least 30 minutes until they are plumped up and soft.

Take the chicken out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes. Keep the pan with the juices in to one side. Put the kettle on to boil water for the tagliatelle. I usually allow about 100g per person, and then make a bit extra.

Once the tagliatelle is boiling, start to pull the meat off the chicken. Don’t carve it like a sunday roast, but rather pull the meat off in chunks. Make sure you get all the leg and wing meat too! Wrap it in foil if the pasta isn’t quite done when you are.

Heat up the juices from the pan you roasted the chicken in until simmering and hot. I add a glug of liquid chicken stock if my chicken hasn’t yielded a lot of juices, or you could crumble a stock cube in and add a tablespoon of water to help it dissolve. Add the sultanas and pine nuts to the juices and stir around. Finely chop the rosemary (not too much, probably a tablespoon when chopped to serve four people, you don’t want it to taste soapy) and add that to the juices, fruit and nuts.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it but not too much, so a little of the water remains around the tagliatelle. Add it to the pan, along with the chicken and toss everything together well to coat all of the pasta in the juices and other nice bits.

Serve! I usually serve with a green salad and bread. Enjoy!