Monday, 30 June 2008

Chicken Licken

I'm always on the search for a recipe that will be a winner with my daughter. Whether it is tinkering with a tried and tested recipe or taking some inspiration from the ridiculous amount of food shows on the TV, my goal is always to work out a family friendly recipe.

Anybody that has children will know how hard it is to keep your kids happy when it comes to food. Surrounded by aggressive advertising from the fast food giants and our Western taste buds tainted with over-salting from such foods, it is always a challenge to make sure that they don’t slip down that slippery road of convenience food addiction.

My latest inspiration came from none other that Gordon Ramsay on his show a few weeks back. I'm not one for rushing for a pen and scribbling things down. If I like it, it stays in my head for approximately 3 days and then if I still haven't made it, it disappears from memory. This is a chicken and mozzarella dish which I'm sure is an Italian classic. I've no idea if it is how he made it, it certainly won't be as classy, but like all of the best things in life, it is simple and there to be experimented with.

The main point is it is another recipe I can add to the growing list of things that work with little Cerys. And there is nothing better that putting a winning smile on her face and seeing her clear her plate. And a well fed contented child means that life will continue to be sweet, another challenge that needs to be constantly worked on. Cheers Gordon.

Mozzarella and Tomato Chicken
Feeds 4

4 medium sized chicken breasts
2 eggs, beaten
Plain flour
4 tbsp olive oil
1 small punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 shallots, sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
A handful of fresh thyme or rosemary, finely chopped
2 balls of mozzarella
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
2 - Take a sharp knife and 'butterfly' your chicken. Simply carefully cut centrally across but not right through, then open out so that you have a wider thinner piece of chicken.
3 - Put the eggs in a bowl and the flour in another bowl. Season the flour. Heat up the oil in a non-stick frying pan.
4 - Dip the chicken into the egg then into the seasoned flour. Place into the hot frying pan and cook for 1 minute each side or until beginning to brown. Remove and put into a baking tray.
5 - Heat a little more oil in a pan. Add the shallots, garlic and tomatoes and quickly cook down until softened. Stir in the herbs and a little seasoning.
6 - Place a small pile of the mixture onto the chicken. Then put slices of mozzarella over the chicken until covered. Place onto a high shelf and cook for 15 minutes until cooked through, bubbling and golden brown.
7 - Serve with sautéed potatoes and a fresh salad.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Oh Crumbs

There are great puddings, and then there are fruit crumbles. No messing about, just the simplicity of a chewy topping over a little sea of your fruit of choice. Nothing could be easier to make. And in this modern day 'throwaway' society, it is also a great way of using up some of your old, bruised and well past it's sell by date fruit.

My daughter Cerys gets pretty excited when it comes to making a crumble. Insisting on helping out, it becomes her creation at the tender age of 3. Well, with a little help from her dad of course.

We knocked up what has quickly become the Cerys Crumble tonight. All of her favourite fruit; strawberries aplenty, apples and pears, and then topped with muesli. We have been making our own muesli for a while, one that changes each time. This one had oats, bran, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sultanas, apricots and pistachio nuts in it. Hang on, does that qualify this as a healthy dessert? Who cares? It is delicious.

The Cerys Crumble

250g of strawberries
3 apples
3 pears, peeled and cut into chunks
5 tbsp runny honey
1 vanilla pod

For the topping
200g muesli, home made or shop bought
50g wholemeal flour
1 tsp ground ginger
A small pinch of cinnamon
100g Demerara sugar
100g butter or low fat margarine

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM4.
2 - Place all of the fruit into a pan. Split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and tip into the pan. Pour in the honey and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the fruit softens and release their juices. Tip into an ovenproof dish.
3 - Pour all of the topping ingredients into a large bowl or individual bowls or ramkeins. Mix together with your fingers, rubbing between your fingers until it is thoroughly combined and begins to form large 'crumbs'.
4 - Pour onto the fruit and shake to level it. Place onto the middle shelf and bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.
5 - Allow to cool for 10 minutes then serve with custard, cream or yoghurt.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

May The Best Sting Win

This weekend is the start of officially the most dangerous food competition in the United Kingdom; The World Stinging Nettle Eating Championships. I've mentioned in a previous post my first experience with a nettle as a naked 7 year old lad. If anybody had asked me and my Calamine Lotion covered body back then what I would think of such a competition, I would have certainly continued to cry. Now, I love them. Not enough to enter a nettle eating competition mind. I'll leave that to the pro's.

In celebration of our delicious and common wild herb, I've made a little tart that would certainly make a good discussion point at any dinner party. They look pretty and taste delicious. If you are lucky whilst out picking nettles, you will find lots of wild garlic or ‘ramsons’ in woodland at this time of the year, distinctive by their white flowers and mild garlic smell. Experiment with the cheese. Try and get hold of a Cornish Yarg, a cheese which has been matured wrapped in nettle leaves. And if you still can't get your head around the fact you are eating something that might sting you if not prepared properly, use spinach instead.

Nettle, Wild Garlic and Egg Tart
Makes 4 individual tarts or one large tart

For the pastry
100g plain flour
100g wholemeal flour
100g butter or margarine
Pinch of salt
Water

250g nettles
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 handful of wild garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
100g cheddar cheese
1 tbsp natural yoghurt
Half tsp mace
Salt and pepper
4 eggs

1 – In a large bowl or food processor, combine the pastry ingredients with a little water until you achieve a stiff dough. Wrap in cling-film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM4.
2 – With rubber gloves on, wash the nettles thoroughly, picking over the leaves and ensuring that any tough stalks are removed. Place into a saucepan on a medium heat and allow to wilt for 2-3 minutes, stirring now and again.
3 – Drain the nettles in a colander or sieve, allow to cool then squeeze out the water, roughly chop then set aside.
4 – Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the shallot and garlic. Soften without colouring, and then stir in the chopped nettles, cheese, yoghurt, mace and seasoning. Take off the heat and combine to a loose paste.
5 – Roll out the pastry and line your tart cases, pricking a few holes with a fork. Trim off any excess then allow to rest in the fridge for 10 minutes, before lining with baking parchment and filling with baking beans. Blind bake on the middle shelf for 15 minutes, remove the beans and paper and bake for a further 5 minutes.
6 – Fill the cooked tart cases with the nettle mixture making a dent in the middle with a spoon for the egg to sit. Break the eggs individually into a cup then gently pour into the tart. Sprinkle with a little finely grated cheese and a grinding of black pepper.
7 – Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Serve whilst still hot with a simple salad.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Broad Shoulders

Happy Father's Day hard working dedicated and loving dads of the world. I sincerely hope that you all enjoy being a dad; it is the best feeling in the world when you can make your kids happy. I'm not usually one for these corporate days of celebration for the benefit of the card making industry. That is until father's day comes along of course! So here I am, grasping my bar of 80% chocolate and Alnwick IPA which Cerys delivered to me in bed this morning. These will be snaffled in a rare moment of solitude and indulgence later on this evening. I can't wait.

Yesterday I managed to get my hands on some amazing broad beans from a neighbour. What a true treat of early summer broad beans are. I once tried and failed to grow some when I lived in Leeds. The aggressive nature of them darn Yorkshire slugs meant that it failed in a huge way. But broad beans have always been a thing of beauty to me. Fresh from the pod when they are young ensures a delicious sweet vibrant green bean. Leave them until late summer and they grow up to be slightly bland with a tough skin. So I prefer the little ones that are available right now.

They need nothing more than a 2 minute blanch in hot water then scattered amongst a salad with left over roast meats, peppery leaves, torn mozzarella and perhaps a ripped juicy peach or plum. Their delicate flavour blends perfectly with sharp lemon and mint too and if you can spend a bit of time popping a load of pods, a bowlful of steaming broad beans delivered to the table will more than impress your guests.

A simple lunch is on the cards for Cerys and I today. A few blanched and cooled beans will be tossed into a pan where I am going to quickly cook a sliced fillet of lamb and a chopped shallot. Into the mix will go a handful of roughly chopped mint, fresh lemon juice and a nob of butter which will be poured onto a slice of toast. A very easy lunch for easy-to-please dads everywhere - just like me. All the best boys.

Broad Beans, Lamb and Mint
Feeds 2

A dozen broad beans, podded
1 lamb fillet, sliced
1 shallot, sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
A handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
Juice of half a fresh lemon
A nob of butter
Salt and pepper

1 - Bring a pan of water up to the boil and add the beans. Cook for 1-2 minutes depending on how small they are. Drain and cool immediately and keep aside.
2 - Heat up the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the shallot and lamb and briskly cook until the lamb is golden but still pink in the middle, approximately 1 minute.
3 - Throw in the beans, lemon juice, mint, butter and seasoning. Heat through for 30 seconds. Serve this on toasts or just as it is with good bread to mop up the juices.

Monday, 9 June 2008

A Good Thing

With a brand new 'Geordie Tan' established after exposing my poor white body to the elements at the weekend, I can safely say that the good weather does appear to be here. Ooyah.

Whether or not it is consistent is another matter. I've learned to make the most of a good thing over the years and hot weather has to be a good thing. It seems to make people happier, gets people outdoors and best of all, the air is filled with the unmistakeable smell of burnt sausages and burgers cooked by enthusiastic husbands in comedy aprons. The good thing being that men seem to want to cook food, burnt cheap bangers or not.

The BBQ is still to make it's debut in our garden this year. I'm too busy enjoying all of the new salad ingredients, especially the pepper hot radish and spring onions from my in-law's garden which I can never get enough of. The weekly delivery is still producing some amazing sweet deep orange carrots which gave me an idea for a cold soup to fill our stomach's and cool down our lobster-like bodies.

A quick pan roast of a load of chopped carrots and tomatoes to give a caramel edge would be the basis of a kind of gazpacho, my favourite of the classic cold soups. But instead of the fire of garlic you get with a gazpacho, I wanted the heat to be more mellow which is what a bunch of spring onions did. Nothing more than a handful of oregano, balsamic vinegar, seasoning and iced water were needed to make a delicious quenching soup that I think celebrates a few stars of the current season. And it went a long way to soothing our Geordie Tans.

Chilled Carrot and Spring Onion Soup

Serves 4

6 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
4 tomatoes, chopped
12 spring onions, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
A splash of balsamic vinegar
A handful of fresh oregano, but any fresh herb such as parsley or marjoram would be great
500ml fresh cold water and a handful of ice cubes
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat up the oil in a pan. Add the carrots and tomatoes and cook, stirring, until coloured and beginning to caramelise.
2 - Reserve a couple of spring onions and add the rest along with the balsamic vinegar. Heat up and combine thoroughly then remove from the heat.
3 - Add to a blender along with the herbs, water and ice cubes. Blitz until thoroughly blended. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Serve chilled in bowls with a few slices of spring onion and a grinding of fresh black pepper.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Packing A Punch

Watching Gordon Ramsay's F Word last week, it was great to see a high profile chef promoting healthy food as a feature on his entertaining show. To see Ricky Hatton (a supreme athlete in the 3 months leading up to his fights and a self-confessed slob for the rest), being transformed and convinced was inspirational. It is amazing still how many people class healthy food as something which is a chore, something which is boring or lacking in flavour or food that is never going to fill you up in a million years.

I'm a big lad myself and love my food, all of it, and in the past 18 months I've trimmed down significantly simply by following the subject that I teach; simple to prepare, healthy, tasty and balanced food. No diets (spit), not cutting back on the amount that I eat, just learning each and every day ways to make food more and more exciting without having to pile in the salt and excess fat. Oh, and eating my beloved suet puds, cakes and biscuits in moderation!

A good friend of mine in Leeds, Scott, is following a similar regime. Last week us two big northern food loving blokes compared recipes and discussed the subject at length. How times and subjects have changed. After treating his family to my Thai beef salad, Scott produced a few tried and tested recipes which follow this philosophy; big tasting, gut filling healthy food.

A simple south Indian curry recipe was there for the taking and it took me no time on returning home to experiment and make it even tastier. I love south Indian food, specifically Keralan, with their combination of fish, fruit and coconut based curries. The recipe called for tamarind of which I had none, but a quick call into the Asian food expert Wil assured me that the ageing mango sitting on my windowsill would indeed work perfectly as a fruity replacement. Lots of lime added sourness and a good dose of Nam Pla turned it into an India/Thailand hybrid.

One final addition were a couple of handfuls of new season samphire which added a welcome crunch. Vegetarians could replace the fish with sweet potatoes, squash, aubergines or mushrooms. All in all, it was up there with the best curries I have made and ticked all of the relevant boxes; incredibly tasty, filling and healthy grub which is so simple to prepare. Food that makes you feel good to be alive and puts a smile on your face. Not faddish or diet food, this is 100% food loving northern bloke territory. And to that I say whey aye to healthy food. Cheers Scotty.

Fish, Samphire and Mango Curry
Feeds 2

1 tbsp groundnut or rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
A thumb size of ginger, grated
1 large red chilli or 2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
1 tsp cumin, coriander and turmeric
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 400ml tin of coconut milk
2 fillets of firm fish, cubed (I used salmon but the usual suspects, cod and haddock, would do)
A couple of handfuls of prepared prawns
A couple of handfuls of samphire
1 mango, skinned and flesh pureed
1 tbsp nam pla fish sauce or soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh coriander

1 - Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, ginger and chillies. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
2 - Add the spices and mustard seeds and cook for a further 2-3 minutes until the seeds begin to pop and the spices become fragrant.
3 - Add the coconut milk, bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes.
4 - Blanch the samphire for 2 minutes then drain and cool.
5 - Add the fish and prawns and simmer for 5 minutes. Finally stir in the mango, samphire, fish sauce and lime juice. Heat through and taste for seasoning. You may want to add more fish sauce, soy and lime juice. You want it sweet, sour and salty.
6 - Serve with fresh coriander and your rice of choice.