Thursday, 31 March 2011

Spring chicken.

I'm desperate to get Mr Meat eating salad. I know I sound like a really bossy lady but I hate the thought that he misses out on such a lot of lovely dishes, because salad is not just about leaves. The change of season has made this clearer to me, because no-one wants to eat stews when it's warm! Today's dish is a spinach, potato and pea salad, served with chicken.

I don't know whether it's the parmesan, the herbs or the white wine vinegar on the salad, but there's something very fresh in the flavours of this dish. Everything balances beautifully, the flavours just seem to work.

I implore you to try this. It's a really nice way to prepare chicken breasts, (which seem to have got cheaper lately, or is it just me?), and they cook really quickly under the grill.  It's a great dinner for when you're tired or in a hurry, because it only takes about 25 minutes to do.

So without any further ramblings...

Parmesan chicken with spring salad.
Adapted slightly from the BBC Food iPhone application.

Two chicken breasts
1 egg
A few grates of parmesan
A handful or two of fresh spinach
A handful or two of frozen peas
Enough new potatoes to feed you both, (I used about 6)
A glug or two of olive oil
A glug of white wine vinegar

First, get the potatoes on to boil, give them 10 minutes. Break the egg into a bowl and whisk it up, seasoning with salt and pepper - I added herbs de provence too - and grate the parmesan onto a plate. Dip the chicken breasts first into the egg, then into the cheese, then whack them under the grill for 6 minutes on each side. The cheese will turn beautifully golden and the meat will feel firm to the touch.

Once the potatoes have had 10 minutes, add the peas and give it all another 3 minutes together. Drain them and pop them in a bowl, along with the spinach. Glug in the olive oil and the vinegar and sprinkle some salt and pepper over, then give it all a good toss, (you tosser!). Pile it onto a plate with the chicken on top.

By my reckoning, this meal costs £4 to make, pretty tasty! And just look at the colours, what a difference something green makes. Mr Meat loved it, I was chuffed!

A substitute summer.

I have had a manic week. It's been mental. Luckily, the beginnings of spring has cheered me and I'm feeling very positive. Isn't it amazing that a few buds on the trees can make everything suddenly seem so achievable? It's marvellous.

If summer's coming, then it's time for a picnic!

When Mr Meat and I were first together, he worked late shifts. We could only see each other in the evenings after ten o clock. During a rare heatwave, Mr Meat complained to me that he was missing the summer. Because I was feeling romantic, I decided to surprise him with a night picnic, with loads of picnic type treats laid out on a blanket in my living room. He said that it was the nicest thing that anyone had ever done for him, which may have been an exaggeration, but it made me happy. It was a nice thing to say.

Because it's not very warm in the U.K. yet, it's not quite time for a park-picnic, so I've settled for a carpet-picnic for now. Hopefully it's warm enough where you are to enjoy a picnic outdoors, here are some of my suggestions for nice picnic fare.

My perfect picnic foods

Fried halloumi
Tomato salad
Crusty bread
Pizza muffins
Cured meats
Chopped up fruit

How to make them

Fried halloumi

Cut the halloumi into slices about a centimetre thick and fry them in a good glug of olive oil. Squeeze lemon juice over the top while it's cooking, if you like.

Tomato Salad

(Really nice served with the halloumi and crusty bread.) Just chop up some nicely ripe tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.


Fry some king prawns in butter with a couple of crushed garlic cloves and a chopped up chilli.

Pizza muffins

200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
2 eggs
A few big glugs of olive oil
A pinch of salt
A few tomatoes, maybe 3 or 4
Some dried oregano
Half a mozzarella ball
A few grates of parmesan
1tsp tomato puree

Preheat your oven to 180c. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and oregano, before beating in the eggs and enough olive oil so that everything starts to loosen up. It'll still be thicker than normal muffin mix though, so I added a couple of tablespoons of water. Just keep going until you get the right consistency, (which should be like thick double cream). Once that's done, tear up the mozzarella, chop up the tomatoes and add them to the mixture along with the tomato puree and a couple of grates of parmesan. Mix it all to incorporate, pour into a muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes, until they're beautiful and firm and golden.

These things make up my perfect picnic, which I think is a glorious thing. What a treat.

Happy summer.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Birthday cake?

Baking a cake always reminds me of a childhood friend. Our games growing up always seemed to involve food. We'd buy a load of sweets and chocolates from the corner shop and make some sort of concoction with them, or, more often, we'd bake a cake. When I'm baking these days, I always think about the moment when my friend said these fateful words: "Why do we need to follow a recipe? Just put in a bit of flour, a bit less sugar, some eggs, some butter, mix it up until it looks right, then bake it in the oven."

And lo, my style of baking was born.

I knocked one together last night for a fellow lover of Germany, Justine, whose birthday it was. I'm convinced that there's no nicer cake than birthday cake, and I think that she was pleased with it!

Baking is incredibly simple - don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


125g Flour
125g Sugar
125g Soft butter
2 Eggs
Vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to about 180c. Mix all of the ingredients together in a big bowl with a wooden spoon. Pour into a greased cake tin, or two greased sandwich tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden and shrinking away from the edges of the pan.

That is how easy it is to make a cake. I iced mine with strawberries. For the filling I whipped up half a pot of cream and a couple of tablespoons of sugar, then I folded a few chopped strawberries into it. For the icing on top I mixed one tablespoon of jam, two or three tablespoons of icing sugar and some boiling water.

Baking your own cake is such a fun and rewarding way to cook. It's really easy and cheap to do too, so why not do some baking on your next day off?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Leftovers Lasagne.

I love lasagne. Something about the combination of rich and oozing cheese sauce and the tart umami flavours of the ragu is just so satisfying and calming. This is a dish which is really easy to sneak extra veg into, and since the meat is shredded, it's easily bulked out with lentils. 
Since moving in with Mr Meat, I've been thinking up and researching ingenious ways to use leftover meat, in order to develop recipes that are rich in animal protein, but go easy on the wallet. One of my tactics is to serve a big roast dinner on the weekend, something like chicken or pork, and use up the leftovers to make cheap suppers later in the week. That's how I get milage out of my meat.

My favourite way to use up leftover roast pork is to shred it up and use it in a ragu, which I put into lasagne. The texture is so much more chewable and satisfying than an ordinary lasagne made from minced beef, and the flavour is meatier and more savoury.

Please forgive me though, dear reader, for not using fresh basil in this dish. Sainsbury's didn't bring me any on the last few online shops that I have done. There is no basil in my house, otherwise it would be included. If you've got some, then rip it up and add it to the ragu sauce. Lovely.

Don't be tempted to use a jar of sauce here, by the way. A jar of "Classic Lasagne" from Dolmio costs £1.90.
£1.90 for a load of oil and sugar? No thanks. Spend 30p and buy a tin of tomatoes instead, then feel smug that you have cooked your dinner all by yourself.
As for buying white sauce in a jar? Don't get me started. White sauce takes less than ten minutes to cook.

This lasagne is one of my favourite dishes, you won't be disappointed. It's delicious.

Jen's leftovers lasagne.

1 Onion
A few cloves of garlic
Leftover vegetables, (I used chopped red cabbage, which added a lovely colour and texture, but you could use anything really)
Leftover roast pork, (or mince if you have no leftovers)
Lentils of some kind
1 tin of tomatoes
Balsamic vinegar
A glug of red wine
About a tablespoon of butter
Two tablespoons of flour
About a pint of milk (though probably less)
About a two square inch piece of a cheese of your choice, (I used gloucester)
Lasagne sheets

Chop your onion up and get that frying on a medium heat until it's soft and golden, then throw your garlic, finely chopped, in there too, along with your leftover veg. Let it all cook for a few minutes while you shred your pork. Simply lay it on a board and chop it as finely as you can, until you have a reasonable amount of meat to use in your ragu.

When your meat is ready, add it to your pan along with your tin of tomatoes, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a glug of your red wine. Get this up to a simmer and cover.

While your ragu is simmering, make your white sauce. Pop your butter into a small saucepan, melt it down and add some flour. It should form a very thick paste, almost a dough. Cook it for a few minutes until it turns straw coloured, and add your milk. You need to do this bit by bit, stirring all the time, (I use a whisk), as the mixture is prone to lumps. Bring the liquid to a simmer for a few minutes.
If it's looking too watery, simmer it until it thickens. If it's too thick, just add some more milk. If you're worried about it because it's got loads of little lumps in it, try not to panic too much. Adding cheese to the sauce helps the lump situation, and remember that you're baking the whole thing, so any mistakes won't be too obvious!

Once you get your sauce to the consistency that you want, (it should be lovely and thick, like double cream), add the cheese, salt and peper. Stir it all through until the cheese melts into the sauce and give it a quick taste. Add more of anything if you think it's needed.

Check on your ragu. Is it nice and tomatoey, are the vegetables tender and are the lentils cooked? Yes? Then add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. If the sauce is too watery, simmer it for a few minutes with the lid off to thicken. You definitely don't want a watery sauce in there!

Preheat your oven to 180c; you're ready to build your lasagne.

Cover the bottom of an oven-proof dish with about half of the ragu sauce,  ensuring that it's completely covered. Layer lasagne sheets over the top. Pour just under half of the cheese sauce over the lasagne sheets and grate a little parmesan over that, then arrange a pile of spinach on top. Cover the spinach leaves with the rest of the ragu sauce, using every last morsel, then pop some more lasagne sheets on there. Finish with the rest of the cheese sauce, some more grated cheese, salt and pepper, and pop into the oven.

After about 45 minutes, you should have a beautiful, golden, bubbling dish of pasta, tomatoes, cheese and meat. What a joy to behold.

This meal feeds Mr Meat and I handsomely for two nights. The overall cost of the whole lasagne is around £3.50, which works out at £1.75 per meal! I reckon that's pretty frugal. Well done me.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Roast pork and all that came after.

I'm not feeling very well today. The combination of great friends, great music and disgusting amounts of alcohol has resulted in quite a delicate and slow paced Sunday.

I suppose that's what Sundays are all about.

Lots of love to the girls, there are three of them. The girl who got bled on, the girl whose camera was stolen and the girl who disappeared. It was a pleasant evening.

Perhaps the night was such a success because I began it with a fantastic dinner. Start as you mean to go on.

Pork shoulder is pretty affordable. It's normally about £4, but there are loads of leftovers. This little piggy will make sandwiches and a lasagne before it's done. This roast is delicious too, I hope you like crackling.

Roast pork with gravy
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe.

A pork shoulder joint
Salt and pepper
Red wine

Score the skin of your pork: make cuts about an inch apart that aren't deep enough to reach the meat. Rub salt into the skin and grind some pepper on. Season the underside of your pork as well.

Now heat your oven to 220c and pop the piggy wig in for half an hour. After that time is up, cover it with a double layer of tin foil, turn the oven down to 160c and pop it back in for four and a half hours. After this time the meat will be falling apart. Remove the foil and put it back in the oven again for another hour.

Aah, beautiful melting meat. Hello.

Take the pork out of the roasting tin and lay it on a serving plate, cover it to keep warm while you make the gravy and sort out the other bits and bobs that you'll be serving for dinner.

Pour a some boiling water into the roasting tin and try to get all of the browny black bits scraped up, add about a teaspoon of flour to this and give it a few minutes to cook off, then transfer into a saucepan. Pour in a good glug of wine and a bit more boiling water and bring the gravy to the boil. Allow it to reduce down to the consistency that you want it, season and serve.

In 6 hours, you have turned an ordinary piece of meat into something beautiful. Enjoy.

I like to serve pork with red cabbage, because it reminds me of Germany, a country that I love.

Red cabbage with apple.

1 onion
1 eating apple
Half a red cabbage
Balsamic vinegar
Apple juice

Fry the onion until it goes soft and golden, then chuck in the apple, peeled and cut into cubes, and the cabbage, cut into chunks. Give it a few minutes, then add about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, about half a cup of apple juice, salt and pepper. Turn the heat down, plonk the lid on and leave for an hour or two. It will turn from this:

To this:

It's delicious, I promise.

Now you have something truly spectacular to serve with a nice mound of mashed potato, I can't think of many things that are better.

Now that, reader, is a dinner and a half.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Memories of India.

A couple of years ago, I went on a cooking trip to India. It was incredible. I was inspired by the amazing apititude for food that the people there seem to have. Everything that I ate during those weeks seemed a thousand times more flavoursome than anything that I ever had back at home. I can't wait to go back.

This child knew how to eat a mango.

I spent a lot of my time in India in Beena's kitchen, watching her cook. Beena was my cooking teacher. She didn't really speak any English and so most of my lessons were conducted through the art of mime.

Although we didn't talk much, I liked Beena. She enjoyed cooking and she was really very comfortable around food. She laughed at my attempts to make chappati; I had nothing like her effortless ability.

I think about Beena every time I cook Indian food at home, mainly because I still use the beautiful spice box that she gave me, but also because I feel a little bit guilty that my dishes are not as authentic as I know that they should be. That's why I've used the word "style" in the name of this dish; because I know that what I've cooked is not quite chicken tikka.

It's still pretty good though.

I made this curry this morning using the thighs and legs from the whole chicken that I bought and jointed earlier this week. It's such a cheap way of eating chicken, if you want to try it, there are instructions here.

I've packed this dish into a lunchbox to eat while I do the late shift tonight at work. I left lots in the fridge for Mr Meat to heat up when he gets home. Is he lucky or what?

Chicken tikka style curry.

Chicken thighs and drumsticks
Tomato paste
Garam Masala
Sunflower oil
1 Onion
3 Cloves of garlic
Cumin seeds
Coriander powder
Chilli (I use frozen but fresh is obviously better)
A tin of tomatoes
Sweet potato (I normally put normal potato into a curry but I was feeling flush this week)

Marinate your chicken. Put the bits that you're using into a tupperware box or into a bowl, mix together a few tablespoons of the yogurt with the tumeric, garam masala, the tomato paste and about a tablespoon of sunflower oil and pour the lot over the chicken. Close the lid on the tupperware and give it a shake, or if it's in a bowl, stir it around until everything is coated.

Leave that in the fridge overnight for best results.

When you want to cook your curry, finely slice the onion and chop the garlic. Fry in the sunflower oil on a low heat until it all goes golden and caramelised. While you're doing that, pop the marinated chicken into a hot pan to brown and turn your oven on to 180c.
The skin needs to be crispy and flavoursome, give it plenty of time on each side and don't move it around too much; you want the meat to pick up gorgeous singed bits.

Lovely. By now, your onions and garlic should be ready. Pop the cumin seeds, coriander powder and chilli in there, along with a little bit more garam masala. Fry for a minute to allow the oils in the spices to warm through, the kitchen will smell really nice now. Pour the spiced yogurt that you marinated the chicken in into your onions and spices and cook off for a few minutes. It will start to look like it's splitting, but trust me, it'll taste brilliant by the time you're done with it!

Throw your tin of tomatoes in there, if they're not chopped ones then break them up a bit. Add about a cupful of water, a handful of lentils and your sweet potato. Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer.

Is your chicken looking lovely and brown and finger-licking? I hope so. Chuck it into an ovenproof dish and cover with foil, shiny side down, before putting it into your pre-heated oven. Leave it in there for about 30-40 minutes while your sauce simmers, just to make sure it's cooked through. You can't be too sure with chicken, and the marinade will help to keep it moist.

When the time's up, you're ready to serve. Spoon some sauce onto a bed of rice and lay the chicken on top. I like a bit of plain yogurt with my curry so I always pour some over, followed by some black pepper.

Beautiful. This meal costs around £3.19 if you joint a chicken for the drumsticks and things. If you buy them, it'll cost around £3.69, I reckon.

Chicken soup for the soul.

I seem to always be cooking heavy, rich meals to fill my man's belly. He says he likes "shovel-able" food; stuff that takes little effort to take from plate to fork to mouth. That's all well and good, (very satisfying, in fact, during the cold winter that we've been having), but with the scent of spring in the air and the beginnings of leaves on the trees, I wanted something fresh to fill my bowl.

Chicken noodle soup is a meal that lifts my spirits. The zingy citrus kick that comes from the lemon juice, the deep savoury flavours that come from the sesame oil and the soya sauce... This is a thing of beauty.

As usual, this is also a meal of frugality. It makes me quite angry to think of all the households across the world that throw away the carcass of the bird that they ate for sunday lunch. How wasteful. They obviously have never been taught how to make stock! It's the simplest thing, and yet it's so rewarding.

The result of this process can be used in countless different ways. Use the stock to make a casserole for a really meaty flavour, or to make a risotto that's so much more thick and glutenous than anything you could  achieve with a cube.

You could always simply use the stock to make an incredible soup, full of flavour and goodness. That's what I've done with it on this occasion.

I am not suggesting by any means that we should always use real stock in the place of a  cube when cooking, as that would make so many dishes arduous and expensive to make on a weekday. Some things, however, really need to be made with real stock. For chicken noodle soup, the broth is the focal point of the meal; it's where all of the flavour lies. Even with the best ready-made stock that you can buy, you'll never find anything as satisfying as the one you that make yourself. So roll up your sleeves guys, it's soup time!

Chicken noodle soup.

Two chicken breasts, skin removed
Soya sauce
Sesame oil (not really crucial but does give an authentic flavour)
A few cloves of garlic
Two onions
A few bay leaves
About 8 peppercorns
Chinese five spice
Chilli, (either fresh or frozen, I use frozen)
Any veg you fancy, (I used mushrooms, frozen peas and fresh spinach)
1 nest of noodles per person
A chicken carcass, leftover from your roast chicken

Find your biggest saucepan and put your chicken carcass in there. Add one onion, halved (don't bother with peeling; you won't be eating it, it's just for flavour), a couple of bay leaves, a few peppercorns, if you have them, and some salt. You can put anything else in there that you like, or that you have lying around: celery, leftover leeks, leftover carrots, tomatoes, lemon halves. I actually put the rind from a block of parmesan into this batch, it's a good way to use it up and lends a great depth of flavour to the stock.

Fill the pan up with water and set it to boil, then turn the heat down. As the lovely Nigel Slater says: "this is important - the liquid bubbles only very gently. What you should hear is a blob, blip, blop rather than hubble bubble." Well said Nigel! Follow this advice and leave the pan for about an hour and a half or two hours. The liquid should be a clear amber colour and should smell richly chicken-y. You can do this a few days in advance if you like. I sometimes set my stock boiling while I'm watching a film or something, it's a really low maintenance thing to cook.

Marinate the chicken. Pop the breasts into a normal soup bowl and add a tablespoon or two of soya sauce, another few tablespoons of sunflower oil and a teaspoon of chinese five spice. Mix that up and put it in the fridge for an hour or two until you need it again.

Once your stock is nearly ready, or whenever if you made the stock the night before, start preparing the veggies for the soup. Slice your onion and your garlic and put them into your second largest saucepan with a glug of sunflower oil. Fry them on a medium heat, stirring often, so that they turn a beautiful golden colour. Chuck your veg and the chilli in there, (apart from frozen peas and spinach if you're using them, as they're best to go in last), let it all cook for a few minutes. Once it's looking lovely and flavoursome, add some chinese five spice and some sesame oil. It'll start to smell lovely now.
Pour your stock in there and mix it all up. Get it boiling and add some soya sauce, before throwing your noodles in too.

Give your noodles a few minutes to cook, mine needed 4 but check the instructions on your packet. Your soup is nearly ready! Let it simmer while heat up a griddle pan - or a frying pan if you don't have one, it's only to make pretty ridges in the meat.

Thank you to Mr Meat's mum for the beautiful Le Creuset griddle pan that she bought me. It goes to excellent use.

One your pan is lovely and hot, carefully lay your chicken breasts into it and don't touch them for a few minutes. You don't need to put oil in the pan, you put oil in the marinade, remember?

I don't know about you, but I find it really hard to judge when chicken breasts are cooked, so I tend to err on the side of caution in terms of timings, and I cut into the meat just before serving to check that it's not pink in the middle.

After about 5 minutes, turn the chicken over, if you're using a griddle, it should have beautiful lines on it. I put a little slice of lemon on mine to impart a little bit of flavour. Plus it looks pretty in a photograph.

When your chicken is cooked through, put your last minute vegetables into the soup, if you're using any. Things like spinach will only need a couple of minutes. Take your cooked breasts and lay them on a chopping board, slice them thickly with a sharp knife - this is a good time to check that there are no pink bits in there.

Take a few forkfuls of noodles and put them into a shallow bowl, lay your sliced chicken on top and cover the whole thing with a couple of ladlefuls of broth. Your delicious dinner is ready. Enjoy!

I make this meal out to cost £5.77. The chicken breasts are the expensive part, without a doubt. There are a few ways around that.

  • You could use leftover shredded meat from a roast chicken. 
  • You could use any cut of chicken, including thigh which is very cheap.
  •  You could do what I did: buy a whole chicken on sale and joint it yourself. 
My whole chicken was £3, therefore the breasts come to about £1.50. The real cost of this meal for me was £4.27, and there are plenty of leftover noodles for my lunch today.

I wonder if Mr Meat enjoyed his dinner?

Ah. That'll be a yes then.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A simple supper of glory.

Some dishes are just right. They sometimes hold childhood memories, they sometimes epitomise comfort, sometimes a dish is simply what you want.

Spaghetti bolognese was all of those things and more for me last night. It seemed that I really needed the comfort of the buttery pasta and the ray of sunshine that comes from the tangy and fresh, yet deeply savoury sauce.

I'm sure that spaghetti bolognese was a childhood favourite of yours too, and I'm sure that you've made it before. According to the daily mail, 48% of us eat spag bol at least once a month. The reason that I'm posting this recipe is that it's perhaps a tiny bit different; I like to emphasise the umami flavour of the tomatoes with a splash of balsamic vinegar, and of course I bulk the meat out with plenty of vegetables.

If this is a staple dinner in your home, but you usually make it out of a jar, I hope to convert you to home cooking with this recipe tonight. Not only is it cheaper, but the home cooked bolognese sauce is much less fattening and miles tastier. I hope that you agree.

Spaghetti Bolognese.

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
Any leftover veg that you have lurking around, (I used a leek, some mushrooms and a few red lentils)
1 pkt beef mince (Sainsbury's always seem to have a 2 for £5 offer on)
1 tin tomatoes, (I use peeled tomatoes because they're normally cheaper)
1/2 a stock cube
A glug of red wine
A splash of balsamic vinegar

Warm a good glug of olive oil up in a nice deep frying pan and slowly fry your onions and your garlic until they soften. If you're using a leek like me, chuck that in now too.

Once everything is starting to look lovely and soft, put your packet of mince in there. Break it up and get it nice and brown. Chop up your veg and pop them in the pan. Give it all a few minutes and then add your tin of tomatoes. If you've gone for peeled ones, just break them up as the sauce cooks.

Give it all a stir to incorporate, add your wine and your vinegar. (If you have to only use one, I would go for the vinegar.) Pop about a cupful of water in there too, and the crushed up stock cube. Give it all a stir and allow to simmer and reduce...

After about half an hour, or perhaps a little longer, it will start to look beautiful and rich and it will smell fantastic. Give it a quick turn of salt and pepper and your dinner's ready! Serve the sauce on a bed of spaghetti, as is standard. I like to melt a little knob of butter on top mine. That's the way it was served to me on holiday in Italy once and it was lovely.

Of course, we all know what the perfect accompaniment to this dinner is...

Garlic bread?!
(Watch this video if you don't get that reference.)

A small baguette
About 4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp soft butter
Salt and pepper

Chop the garlic up very small and beat it into the butter, then season the mixture well. Slice your baguette into a sort of concertina: make cuts half an inch apart nearly to the bottom of the bread but not quite, so that it stays together. 

Shove a knifeful of the garlic butter paste between each slice of the baguette. Wrap the bread in tinfoil and bake it in the oven on high for about half an hour. It will be golden, crunchy and glistening. You will never buy ready made garlic bread again.

Doesn't that just look gorgeous? Garlic bread from a packet costs £1.50. A small baguette costs 40p. The other ingredients would probably be in your kitchen anyway.
My spag bol costs around £3.58 to make and it fed us for two nights. Yes please.

Seriously, would you say no to that dinner? No, you wouldn't. Nor would Mr Meat.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Chicken pie and exhaustion.

It's been a mad week. I am completely wiped out. I made leftover chicken pie on Thursday night and I've only just got around to writing about it. My apologies, oh imaginary audience.

Leftover chicken may possibly be nicer than roast chicken. The cold, leftover meat is always delicious, it always seems to be even juicier and more flavoursome than the first time around!

One of my favourite ways to use up leftover chicken is to make a pie. It feels like such a wholesome thing to do and it's always so satisfying. The recipe below is inspired by Jamie Oliver's leftover turkey pie: as seen here. I've adapted the recipe though, bulking it out with lentils and removing the bacon element, which I felt added too much expense to the proceedings.

As Jamie says, if you've got enough time to make puff pastry from scratch, you really need to get a job. Even though it's fairly expensive, (£1.79 in it's ready to roll form), I really feel that it's worth it for this meal. You could easily make this pie with a mashed potato topping if you wanted to save money though.

Lovely chicken pie.

Leftover chicken, (about a cupful if possible, or as much as you have)
Two leeks
One onion
A handful of lentils, (I used puy, but any would do)
A handful of spinach
Leftover gravy
1pt chicken stock
A glug of white wine, (if possible)
1pkt ready to roll puff pastry
About a tablespoonful of double cream
An egg, to glaze the pastry, (or milk if you like)

Slice the onion and the leeks and pop them into a pan with a lid. Make sure it's nice and hot, and that there's a glug of olive oil in there. One they're sizzling nicely and starting to soften, add a tiny bit of water and put the lid on, turning the heat down to low. Give them half an hour, until they're soft and squashy looking. Tip your leftover chicken in there too.

Add a handful of lentils and a tablespoon of flour and give everything a couple of minutes to cook together. Keep stirring so that it doesn't stick. Chuck in the wine and allow the alcohol to cook off, then add the leftover gravy and the chicken stock. Keep stirring, bring it to the boil, then turn the heat down and allow it to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Throw the cream and the spinach in there and stir until the spinach has wilted and the cream is nicely incorporated into the sauce. Taste for seasonings and add as much salt and pepper as you think the dish needs. 

Now for the magic part. Sieve the mixture, keeping the strained liquid aside, (do it over a jug or something). This liquid is your gravy to serve with the pie. Doing this means that the pie filling is thick and dense and delicious, and that you have a tasty gravy to moisten your potatoes with!

Put your pie filling into a rough, thick pile in the middle of a roasting tray, I like to grate some extra black pepper over at this point. Unroll your puff pastry and lay it over the filling, tucking the edges under, making a couple of scores over the top to let the steam out. Beat your egg in a cup and brush it over the top of the pie, or just brush the milk over if that's what your using. 

Your dinner's nearly ready! Just pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes.

I love cooking meals like this, I feel so frugal and wholesome. This dish costs very little to cook, I estimate about £4.23. The pie did two teas for us though so that's £2.11 per meal. Bargain. Especially for something as gorgeous as this:

And with that, dear reader, I leave you. Until next time.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Roast Chicken, my favourite thing.

Aah roast chicken. I can't get enough of it. I'm almost glad that I didn't get to have it on Sunday, because I'm so looking forward to it tonight!

A whole chicken is not just a delicious and indulgent treat, it's actually a very frugal dinner to have. My chicken tonight cost £4.10. It's not a free range one, (Sainsbury's had run out officer, honest.), but it is corn-fed and freedom food endorsed, which is the best I could do. I never buy cheap meat, I always spend as much as I can afford to in that department and go super cheap for everything else.

So, a few weeks ago, my parents visited from Scotland, we did nothing but eat good food and drink good wine from the minute they met me at the station until the minute I put them back on the train.

I love family visits.

We went to this gorgeous place one their last day. They served us whole chickens, bread sauce, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. It was amazing. A highly recommended Sunday lunch. The chickens themselves were tiny little things - each was enough to feed one person - and they were stuffed with bay leaves, garlic, lemon and onion, all chopped up small. Perhaps it was because the chickens themselves were so little, or maybe it was because the stuffing was chopped and intermingled, but the meat was flavoured incredibly. It was fragrant and delicate and moist. We all went home more than satisfied.

When cooking chicken, we always need to remember that it's not a very moist meat, so we need to help it out a bit. That's why stuffing it with something like onion or lemon is a good idea; it imparts some of it's moisture to our chicken. If you don't have time/can't be bothered to chop everything up in the way that I describe here, just cut an onion in half, (no need to peel) or cut a lemon into rough quarters, and shove it into the chicken's cavity. It'll make all the difference, I swear.

Oh, and sorry for posting a recipe for roast chicken, you probably already know how to make it. This version really is killer though.

Roast chicken.

A whole chicken, (buy one that's had as nice a life as possible please!)
An onion
Half a lemon
A few bay leaves, maybe three
A couple of cloves of garlic

Chop the lemon and the onion up and pop them in a bowl, halve the cloves of garlic and put them in too, tear the bay leaves and add them to the mix.

Get your chicken out of his plastic wrapping, put him into a roasting tin and cut the string that's tying him up off. He's already dead, let's not humiliate him. Let his legs roam free! You're not supposed to wash poultry anymore because the act of doing so spreads so much bacteria around the kitchen that it's safer not to bother, so just put him straight into your roasting tin. Put the chopped bits and bobs inside his cavity, but don't fill it right up, definitely leave some room in there for circulation as it will allow the chicken to cook properly. Keep some lemon pieces aside, they're nice to squeeze over the outside of the chicken.

Once the stuffing's in there, rub some leftover lemon bits over your chicken, tucking them in between the legs and the breast, to flavour and moisten the meat. Pour some olive oil and grind some salt and black pepper over and your chicken is ready for the oven! I hope you were keeping your hands nice and clean while handling him. Don't touch things in your kitchen with chicken-y hands.

Whack Mr Chicken in a hot oven for about 90 minutes, more if he's bigger. I normally just do 90 minutes and then check. He should look golden, bubbling and beautiful. He should smell delicious and his juices should run clear if you pierce in between his thigh with a knife and push his leg up against him.

Yes, £4.10 is a lot of money to pay for just one element of a meal, but if you keep watching this blog in the next few days, I'll be putting up recipes using the leftovers. I plan on getting three more meals out of our chicken friend, which works out as a pretty good deal in my book I reckon.

Now onto the second part of this blog, and equally as important.

The gravy.

I hope that my Dad doesn't mind me including our secret ingredient in the recipe here. It adds such depth to the flavour of the gravy, it takes it from ordinary to mind blowing. You'd be a fool to miss it out. See if you can spot it in the following list of ingredients.

Juices from the chicken
White wine
Hot water (preferably some that you've just boiled vegetables or potatoes in. You only need a ladlefull or so)
Soy sauce

Add a tiny bit of boiling water from the kettle to your roasting tin to melt all of the caramelised juices from the bottom of the pan. Go for those deep brown bits that look almost burned. That's where the real flavour lies. You want your gravy to be rich and chicken-y don't you? I thought so.

At this point my Dad usually pours the juices into a fat-seperator like this, but that's because his fat-intake is limited. I don't bother, I just pour the worst of the fat into a glass, it's pretty easy to do as the fat floats on top of the juices, so the fat pours away first. As soon as the clear liquid that you're pouring away becomes brown liquid, stop, because you're throwing away all of your flavour!

Put your chicken juices into a small pan, adding a tablespoon of flour or so to thicken it. Don't over-do it with the flour, the mixture in the pan should be a sort of a greasy paste, delicious. 

Give the flour a minute or two to cook off, then chuck a generous splash of wine. It makes all the difference here, enriching the gravy and adding great flavour. Keep stirring and slowly add the hot water, once the wine has cooked off. You might want to use a whisk here, as you're at risk of lumps. If your gravy is looking too thick, add some more water. If it looks too thin, boil it off a little bit.  Keep going until your gravy is at the thickness that you want it, I like mine really thick. Shake in a few drops of soy sauce and season with black pepper, give it a quick taste to see if it needs any more of either and you're ready to serve!

Whenever I have roast chicken, I think about my darling friend Lauren, because this is her jug. Thank you Lauren, and sorry for pinching it. But know that I think about you when I'm eating my favourite tea.

Honestly, is there anything better in the world than a roast chicken with gravy? I normally serve mine with rice and broccoli. The rice thing is a family tradition, it comes from a few trips to singapore, where roast chicken is served with rice. It goes really well with gravy, try it one Sunday.

I've succumbed.

Good morning! Before I leave the house, I have a confession to make: I've joined twitter. Oh no? Oh yes! I'll be tweeting new blog posts so why not follow me @TheMeatMaiden? If you've seen this blog and liked it, why not spread the word? I'll be posting a roast chicken recipe tonight, including a family secret, so keep 'em peeled!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A chicken disaster.

I did something terrible last night. Or rather, I forgot to do something, the result of which is terrible. I didn't defrost the chicken. Now I am cooking off piste, as it were, as I am now off the meal plan. I'm in unchartered territory, what am I going to do?!

Well fear not, oh frugal followers, because it was recently my birthday. This means that I have a packet of king prawns in my freezer and a box or two of arborio rice! Yes I know it's that these ingredients are not low-cost, but since they were already in my store cupboard, they count as a bargain dinner in my book, and in the nick of time too, my tummy was starting to rumble! Time for some of my Dad's Thai Prawn Risotto I think... It's a good job Mr Meat is partial to a prawn or two!

Due to his cholesterol, my darling Papa can't eat saturated fat. This means no butter, cheese or cream is allowed. Unfortunately, butter and cheese are two of the key ingredients of risotto, one of Dad's favourite things. Rather than face a risotto-free existence, he decided to reinvent the dish to suit his new diet. With no cheese or butter, an authentic risotto was out of the question, so instead Fa uses chilli and lemongrass to add flavour, and he uses thai fish sauce to add richness and depth. The result, I believe, is staggering. Bravo Pops!

Dad's Thai Risotto with King Prawns

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 stick lemongrass (dried or fresh, I use dried but only because that's what I've got. If you're using fresh then remember to bash it a bit with the back of your knife before using.)
A couple of kaffir lime leaves
1 chilli, deseeded and chopped (I use frozen chilli, because it's cheaper and less wasteful than buying packets of fresh chillies all the time and not using them up)
Arborio risotto rice, about a handful per person
A packet of king prawns (Sainsbury's often do a 2 for £5 on these)
About a handful of frozen peas
A glug of white wine
Enough stock to cook the amount of rice you're cooking, (check the packet)
Nam pla (thai fish sauce) to taste

Chop up your onion and get it frying nicely in a good glug of olive oil, put the garlic in there too, don't bother to chop it, just squash it with the flat of your knife and take the papery skin off. Get it all lovely and soft and golden, then chuck in the kaffir lime leaves and the lemongrass. Let them warm through and  add your arborio rice. Let it cook a bit, give it a bit of a bash around on a high heat to let some of the starch out.

Add your glug of wine, (be as generous as you can afford to be, as this will add richness to the gravy and you'll appreciate it later), allow that to evaporate and add a splash of your stock. At this point, shove a slice of lemon in there along with your chilli, the flavours will really marry and it'll be amazing.

 If you've cooked risotto before, you'll know the drill. Keep stirring and add another splash of stock once the previous splash has all boiled away. One your rice begins to look really good, have a quick taste and see how it's cooked. It should be soft but with a tiny bit of bite to it. Add the prawns and the peas, (they cook so quickly you won't overcook the rice by adding them now).

Shake in a couple of drops of fish sauce, maybe a teaspoonful. I know that fish sauce smells really grim, but you won't regret adding it to your risotto, I promise. It adds a great depth of flavour and a very Thai sort of taste. Season with a bit of pepper and some salt if you used proper stock instead of a cube. Congratulations, your dinner is ready!

The estimated cost for this dinner is £4.70, which is really not that cheap in my book. However, it would make it onto the "Feed your Family for a Fiver" campaign, which is guess is not bad going.
Hopefully I will remember to defrost the chicken one day. If that happens then I'll post some delicious chicken-y recipes soon.

Sausage, mash and a lovely frugal dinner.

So, here I am, writing my very first blog post! Starting a blog is quite a scary experience for me. Thank my friend Nell for that, as she encouraged my endeavour with the comment, "blogging's for wieners." Thanks pal.

So forgive me please if I'm quite jumpy at first, and try to be gentle with me, dear imaginary reader.

I thought that I would begin this blog, with which I plan to chart my attempts to satisfy Mr Meat's hunger, with the recipe for sausage and mash. This is the first dish that I ever surprised myself with. I first made this sausage supper of sin when I was around 16. Never before had something that I had cooked myself make me actually groan when taking the fist bite. It was one of those "I'm a genius" moments that we all have from time to time. I hope that it has the same effect on you.
This is also a meal that can be done reasonably cheaply, the only expensive item being the sausages. I tend to buy the best meat I can afford and spend as little as possible on everything else, so here I bought the premier supermarket line of sausages, and took the "no frills" route for the rest of the ingredients, (apart from the herbs, unfortunately Sainsbury's Basics don't yet cover juniper can do without them though).

Sausage dinner of glory.
Taken from Nigel Slater's Appetite, (an amazing book, buy it at the next opportunity.)

Enough really nice butcher's sausages to feed everyone generously, (I used Sainsbury's Taste The Difference ones, and I certainly did taste the difference. They were on offer.)
A couple of onions per person
A few cloves of garlic
A tablespoon of flour
A few bayleaves
A few juniper berries
A couple of glugs of wine, or, (according to Nigel) marsala will also do.
About a pint of stock, from a vegetable cube is fine.

Find a large pot with a lid that can go on the hob and in the oven, which should be preheated to about 180c. I have learnt the hard way, gnawing my way through chewy sausage skins, that it's really important to brown the sausages nicely before beginning on the gravy, so pop them all into the pan with a nice lug of olive oil.

Once the sausages are reasonably brown but not cooked through, (as Nigel reminds us, they will never be evenly brown on all sides), remove them from the pan and put them on a plate. Dump the sliced onions into the hot sausage-fat and lower the heat, adding a few drops of water if they need it.
After about ten or fifteen minutes, they'll start to look soft, wilting and beautiful. Now's the time to increase the heat and caramelise those babies! Don't take it too far, but brown them rapidly until they look even softer and a lovely golden brown, gorgeous. Chuck in the bay leaves, squeeze the juniper berries to release the flavour and throw them in too.

At this point, turn the heat to medium, add the tablespoon of flour and stir to coat the onions. Give it a couple of minutes to cook off, and then add the wine, stirring quickly to avoid lumps. As it starts to thicken, add the stock bit by bit until it looks like a lovely gravy, but a bit thinner than you'd like.

Put the sausages back into the pan, ensure that the gravy comes at least halfway up the sausages and put the whole thing, covered, into the oven for about 45 minutes or an hour, depending on how thick your sausages are.
Whilst in the oven, the sausages will finish cooking and infuse their meaty goodness into the gravy, which will be bubbling away happily, reducing and concentrating the flavours. After an hour you will have a lovely, warming dinner to put on the table, or to feed your hungry, meat loving man with.
I always serve this with mash. This time I sneaked some spinach in there for added goodness, I think I got away with it...
I estimate the total cost of this meal at £2.97 not including the mash. I would say that for a meal that feels like a really special treat, we've done well costwise. And Mr Meat did not complain of an empty tummy!

Join us next time for more thrilling and thrifty meaty dinners!