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>> CHICKEN KATSU FOR THE SOUL

Chicken Katsu does not protograph well.

Lately I’ve been existing mostly on Marks and Spencer Cheese and Onion Twists. Life got pretty busy and I’ve ended up spending a lot of time out of the house at meetings, and they’re cheap and relatively filling, so I don’t feel too terrible about it. Although admittedly, that much pastry can’t be a good thing in the long run.

All that said, though, when things calmed down a bit, the first thing that I wanted to do was cook something. More than anything else, I find that cooking calms my brain. It’s good for the soul.

My first attempt was to try and cook a soufflé out of Prue Leith’s cookery course.

It failed.

I’ll write it up in a week or so – again, when things get quieter. But you don’t want to know how not to make a soufflé, do you, so I might try and crack it before I do.

Anyway, though, tonight I made this – Chicken Katsu. I first had it at a branch of Wagamama a while back as a friend of mine swore it was delicious, and the menu at Wagamama is pretty daunting anyway so I took his word for it. He wasn’t wrong. (Although admittedly, I’ve not been back to Wagamama since, but if I did I’d order this again.)

This is a knock-off version, apparently from a book called Cook Yourself Thin, but I just found it on the Channel 4 website instead and cooked it tonight, and it was wonderful – rich, flavoursome sauce and crunchy chicken. I particularly liked breading my chicken with cornflakes, too, something I’d do again, as it gave a good crunch.

So all in all, it was pretty good for the soul, all things considered. Here’s how to do it.

This serves 4.

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into thin slices
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp medium curry powder
  • 600ml chicken stock
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 bay leaf (I didn’t bother, as I didn’t have any, and I survived)
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 x 100g chicken breasts
  • 100g flour, seasoned with lots of salt and pepper
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten lightly
  • 120g cornflakes, bashed in a pestle and mortar
  • Olive oil
  • Rice

So.  Chop up your onion, garlic and carrots and then start off with the sauce – sauté your onion and garlic in a saucepan for 2 minutes, then add the carrot pieces and cook slowly for 10 minutes, with the lid on, giving the odd stir occasionally. Apparently you want to sweat the vegetables until softened and starting to caramelize, but I’d expect this to take way longer than 10 minutes – basically you just want some of the onion and garlic flavours really.

Next, stir in the flour and curry powder and cook them for a minute, and then slowly pour in the chicken stock bit by bit until combined (do it slowly to avoid getting lumps). Add the honey, soy and bay leaf then bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes. The sauce will have thickened and taken on all of the flavours, although you still need it to have a pouring consistency. Add the garam masala, salt and pepper, and then you could pass the sauce through a sieve if you want, though I preferred to keep the vegetables in.

Now get on with the chicken. Put your seasoned flour, egg and cornflakes on separate plates, and then coat the chicken breasts first in flour, then egg and finally cornflakes. Add a bit of olive oil then put in the hot oven for 12-15 minutes. Slice the chicken diagonally then serve it with rice. Happy days!

 
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Posted by on 13/03/2012 in Food, Other

 

>> PUMPKIN, CHORIZO AND MIXED BEAN CHILLI

Back to chorizo again, although I have at least chosen to do something different with it this time round. One of my housemates spotted it in the fridge and exclaimed mock-horror “do you ever cook with anything except chorizo?” I see his point, although all things considered, it does make adding flavour to things a whole lot more simple.

I made this for dinner with friends a couple of weeks back and have been meaning to write it up ever since, as it’s one of the best things I’ve made in months; however, the past couple of weeks got kind of crazy and so you had to wait. Sadly pumpkin is out of season at the moment, so it’ll cost you to get hold of it, although you might have more luck at some of the bigger supermarkets (I went to Oxford’s covered market, and so a decent-sized pumpkin cost me £4)

This comes from a blog called The Runaway Spoon, and you can find their recipe for it here. I’ve adapted it slightly, adding some hard, cured chorizo and substituting mixed beans in because I couldn’t find black beans, but it was still delicious – spicy, sweet, and really satisfying, with the pumpkin adding substance to it.

We ate this with nachos and a hunk of bread, but you could go with rice if you fancy (I don’t think it’s worth it, as the chilli itself is sufficiently filling). It’s best cooked when the weather is cold, so if we do end up having another unscheduled cold snap, I’d highly recommend it.

So, here’s what you’ll need (serves 4):

1 packet of 6 soft Mexican chorizo sausages – go to M&S or a butcher for this, but you need at least some of the soft stuff rather than the hard stuff or this won’t work
A little bit of hard cured chorizo sausage (about 1/4 of a ring), chopped into little chunks
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Chilli powder
A medium-sized pie pumpkin (get the green ones not the orange Halloween ones, as they have no flavour at all)
2 cans mixed beans, rinsed and drained (feel free to sub in black beans or kidney beans)
Salt and pepper to taste

It’s pretty simple, as you’d imagine. Here’s how to do it.

Before starting, peel your pumpkin – you might not need to use it all, but put a decent amount in – and scoop the seeds out, like you’d do with a butternut squash. Chop the remaining flesh up into bite-sized chunks, bearing in mind that you’re going to be eating this with a spoon…

Chop up your soft and hard chorizo into bite-sized bits and sauté them in a high-sided pan. Once it’s started cooking and some of the oil has started coming out, add the onion on a medium heat, stirring it until it’s soft but not browned. Add the chicken stock when the onions are soft, along with your tablespoon of cinnamon and as much chilli powder as you dare.

Add the pumpkin to the chorizo mixture, hopefully simmering by now, which should have come out of its skin now and be starting to look more like you’d expect chilli to. Cook for another ten or fifteen minutes, or until it’s starting to go soft, and then add the mixed beans. Simmer until the sauce is thick and the pumpkin is soft and then serve with an accompaniment of your choice, and some beer. And smile.

It’s a beautiful thing, and I highly recommend you try it; a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. I particularly appreciated the addition of little chunks of cured chorizo to change the texture, but you may not want to go to the effort. Let me know how you get on.

 
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Posted by on 15/02/2012 in Food, Other

 

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>> STUFFED ONIONS

I bought Yotam Ottolenghi‘s amazing book of vegetarian cooking Plenty as a well-meaning Mother’s Day gift for my mum (who loves her vegetables) only for her to confess a year later that she found it daunting and had never used it, and so she lent it to me. Whereupon it promptly spent a month and a half sitting on my shelf, because I too found it daunting.

In my defence, though, one of my housemates last year bought Ottolenghi’s first cookbook and decided to start off by cooking a loaf of Ottolenghi’s bread which promptly took her three days to make, so you can understand my caution in knowing that the same wouldn’t happen to me. I love my food, but I just don’t have that kind of time.

(Incidentally, though, how does Ottolenghi run all these restaurant chains when his stuff requires so much marinating and resting and prodding? He must be a demon at rotas.)

However, on Friday I had a friend who happened to be a vegetarian over for dinner and so this seemed like a good chance to try out something adventurous that I would never normally do. I picked stuffed onions, as I’d seen them on an old series of Masterchef, they looked delicious and I figured that they’d be pretty simple.

They were delicious, but simple they were not.

And for all the elegance of the end result, I’m still not sure if they were worth the effort. They were undeniably impressive, and if I were to hold a dinner party they’d be a great starter, but as a main course they just weren’t quite big enough. It’s difficult to separate the onion skins without breaking them when you start out, too, although admittedly it did get easier when I’d done a few.

Anyway, here’s the recipe. Give it a try, but leave at least 45 minutes more than you thought you’d need.

This serves four, allegedly, although that depends on your skill at separating onion layers.

You’re going to need:

Butter to grease the dish

500ml vegetable stock

350ml white wine

4 large onions (Nonsense. Buy at least eight, or go hungry.)

3 small tomatoes

120g fresh white breadcrumbs

90g feta, crumbled (I used Lancashire Cheddar as I can’t stand feta, and it worked just as well)

80g parsley leaves, finely chopped (this is an awful lot. I put in 35g, one full bag)

3tbsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

3/4 tsp salt

Black pepper

So. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees or Gas Mark 4, and butter a small ovenproof dish.

Put your stock and white wine in a medium saucepan that you can fit three or four onion skins in and bring it to the boil. Cut 5mm (if in doubt, go for more, rather than less) off the top and bottom of your onions and then cut them in half and remove the brown skins. Now you get to the hard part. You need to separate the two or three outer layers. To do this, gently peel away the layer you’re trying to remove at its left and right edges and then after you’ve loosened it, try and get a fingernail off and simply let it peel away. Don’t do it too fast, or you’ll just break it.

When you’ve got a decent collection of these – if you’re doing it as a main course, you need at least 4 per person, but ideally a lot more – then put them in your stock and wine mixture for 3/4 minutes until just tender. Drain them and let them cool a bit, but hold onto the stock.

Make your stuffing, by grating the tomatoes with a coarse cheese grater – you’ll be left with the skin in your hand that you can chuck away. Add the breadcrumbs, feta, parsley, olive oil, garlic, spring onions, salt and pepper to them and mix with your hands.

Fill the onion layers with stuffing – Ottolenghi says “generously”, but I ran out of mixture, so you could make some more than he recommends – and fold them over into fat cigar shapes (see pictures). Put them, seam-side down, into your buttered dish, and then pour over about 75ml of the reserved stock to cover the bottom of the dish. Bake them for 45-50 minutes, or until they’re soft, lightly coloured and with the inside bubbling.

And then serve them with nice bread and salad, at least, or a fat pile of carbs, or your guests will go hungry.

PS. Ottolenghi says that you can save the onion cores and stock to make a base for a hearty onion soup – like I say, the man must be a demon at rotas. I forgot and accidentally chucked the stock down the sink. Oops.

 
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Posted by on 31/01/2012 in Food

 

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>> THE BEST CURRY IN THE WORLD

Thank the Lord for Esther Walker, writer of what is indisputably my favourite cookery blog (the superb Recipe Rifle, which I have recommended repeatedly and which you should go and read here).

This post is about the best curry in the world. I don’t see much point in reprinting it here, given that it’s incredibly long and Esther’s description is wittier than mine anyway, but it is everything that it was advertised as and more. I have others who can vouch for this too. It was certainly the best curry that I have ever made.

It’s a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe, and the dish is called Murgh Makhani (or Butter Chicken), and you should go and stock up on ingredients for it tomorrow, because take it from me – I think you’ll thank me for it.

Although the blog makes a fuss about how long the list of ingredients is, I actually had the majority of this in the house already. Even fenugreek, which it turns out is a real pain to bash up in a pestle and mortar.

I promise you. If you cook this, then you will find yourself cooking it again. People will ask you to cook it again. So go. Do it now. What are you still waiting for?

 
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Posted by on 25/01/2012 in Food, Other

 

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>> JAMIE OLIVER’S WEDDING PIE

I like the idea of a wedding pie. It’s a very British thing to do, and given Jamie Oliver’s talent for pastry art (check out the crown on the top of it) it’s entirely possible that one day, somebody in Britain will choose to propose using this pie. Although I suppose technically that will make it an ‘engagement pie’ instead.

Anyway, this isn’t a “wedding pie” per se; it’s a pie in commemoration of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I think Jamie Oliver was slightly offended that he didn’t get an invite after the wedding given that he did create a pie that most of the nation is likely to eat, but there you go.

This is a bit fiddly – it’s probably going to take you about three hours to make, minimum. I made it in about two hours fifteen as I misread the recipe, and it wasn’t unbearable, but the filling could have done with a little more time to thicken. I used shop bought pastry, and I am less skilled at pastry art than Jamie Oliver, so didn’t even manage to make a heart out of pastry for the top (it was a romantic pie, you see), but perhaps you’ll do better than I did. It is worth saying, though, that it was totally delicious.

I’m not sure how legal it is to post the recipe over here – I’d imagine that Jamie’s legal team are a bit more strident than some – so I’ll paraphrase as best I can. It’s in Jamie’s Great Britain, though, and on the website here.

So for the filling for a pie to feed six you’ll need:

• A little bit of olive oil
• A knob of butter
• Rosemary
• Thyme
• 2 bay leaves
• 3 red onions, peeled
• 600g shin of beef (get it diced – Jamie asks for the bone, but I didn’t)
• Sea salt and ground pepper
• A blob of tomato purée
• 400ml Guinness
• 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
• 1 litre organic beef or chicken stock
• 100g pearl barley
• 2 teaspoons English mustard
• 2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 60g good Cheddar cheese

I bought pastry, but here’s Jamie’s recipe if you can be bothered to make your own (it’s probably better):

• 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
• 100g Atora shredded suet
• 100g butter
• Sea salt
• 1 large free-range egg, beaten

You’ll need a big casserole style dish with a lid. Mix your herbs, butter and olive oil on a high heat, chop your onions roughly and add them to the melted mixture and then put the beef shin in, stirring it until it’s brown and there’s some liquid in there. After that, add tomato puree, stock, flour and Guinness, let it come together and then and simmer for an hour on a low heat with a lid on.

This was where I went wrong. Add the pearl barley, put the lid back on and simmer for another hour – I didn’t, so I only simmered for twenty minutes, the gravy didn’t thicken and the barley was still a bit chewy. Then take the lid off, simmer for another 30 minutes, and stir in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, finely grating in the cheese. Jamie spoons off the oil – I didn’t have a film of oil, but then I didn’t simmer it long enough, did I? Then season it to taste.

If you’re making pastry, then while the stew is ticking away, put the flour, suet and butter into a bowl with a good pinch of salt. Use your thumbs and forefingers to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles cornflake shapes. Lightly stir in 125ml of cold water, then use your hands to gently pat and push it together into a rough dough. Do not overwork it. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and put into the fridge until needed.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4, spoon your meaty mixture into a pie dish (not too deep – like 4cm apparently) and then roll your pastry out, letting it hang over the edges. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can fold it back over and make patterns; mine went soggy and I panicked. And then Jamie eggwashes the top, which gives the whole thing a lovely glaze – if i did this again I’d probably try it. But there you go.

So, give it a shot, and let me know how you get on!

 
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Posted by on 16/01/2012 in Food, Other

 

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>> CELERIAC

I’ve not blogged for about a month, and so I’d hoped that I could start again with something that would grip people’s attention. However, given that I’m apparently suffering from writer’s block and chef’s block at the moment, I’ve not been cooking or writing anything much, so instead you get a post about cooking celeriac.

(If it’s any consolation, though, I’ve not just been sitting on my hands. I have been listening to some good music in that time.)

The best thing that you can do when you hit that kind of block is apparently to write, or to cook, but I’ve not really known where to start lately and so have instead been eating my way through a pot of porcini mushroom and white truffle pasta stuff that appeared at Christmas. Oh, and I ate some steak, too, and baked mushrooms, which I cook so often that they scarcely count as ‘cooking’ for me these days.

But as a result, celeriac marks something of a breakthrough, as it’s the first real food that I’ve attempted to cook in some time, so there is hope yet. It’s apparently the root of celery and looks like a heavy white ball – Larousse describes it as being “milder than celery and having a ‘firm’ rather than crisp texture.” I cooked Celeriac Julienne the other day, which goes like this:

Peel a celeriac and cut into thick strips. Blanch for three minutes in boiling salted water, then refresh in cold water and drain. Put the strips into a pan with a knob of butter and a little sugar, to taste. Cover and sweat for about 15 minutes. Use to garnish roast meats, fried meats and braised fish, such as cod.

It was good, actually. Tasted like roast parsnips, only slightly sweeter and with a texture that was a bit more like potato. It would be great on the side of a slab of meat.

Here’s hoping this heralds a new dawn of cooking and writing. Goodbye, writer’s block.

 
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Posted by on 10/01/2012 in Food, Other

 

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>> SAUSAGE AND BUTTERBEAN POT

It looked a little bit like this - only with less tomato

There are an awful lot of cooking blogs out there, and they are a strange mixture. Some people post endless photographs of what they have been eating, demonstrating their skills in photography by portraying aubergine from 9 different angles, while others jet off on trips and record their experiences at restaurants in New York and Shanghai, which is great so long if you happen to be in New York, but not all that much use when you need to cook dinner.

But the reason they perk their blogs up with travelogues, photo journals or long, rambling monologues like the one you’re reading now, is because cooking regularly ends up being quite repetitive sooner or later (or maybe that’s just me). And I think I’m coming to the conclusion that most of us just have one main dish that we just re-do in a variety of different ways, whether we’re aware of it or not. Even Jamie Oliver does, clearly, because his new cookbook of “British classics” does look suspiciously like a number of his other books – and he was a man who I thought would never run out of ideas.

This is, then, apparently my staple dish, which involves onions, peppers, pulses and sausage of some kind, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you may have seen it before. But hey, I cooked dinner for ten last night, and nobody except a Masterchef finalist is going to even attempt to cook a decent steak for ten – let alone be able to afford one – so you get something that was cooked in a roasting tin instead.

If that doesn’t sound like it’s for you, then you can always go and read Ottolenghi’s blog instead, I suppose, but if you can afford to buy sumac and zahir on a daily basis then I’m surprised you’re even reading this, or maybe you’re just paying somebody else to read it for you…

What am I talking about? Ah yes, Sausage and Butterbean Pot. This came from The Ginger Pig Meat Book, which is incredible, but all the recipes in it take about four hours, £50 and an aga to complete, and I don’t currently have any of those things, so I cooked my staple dish instead. It was delicious, though.

Here’s how it’s done. This feeds 6, and you’ll need four red peppers, two large onions, some fresh thyme, 12 decent sausages with good flavours (buy chorizo or toulouse or merguez, because they add flavour), 500g butterbeans, which were supposed to be dried but I used tinned, some tomato puree and some olive oil.

Heat your oven to 180 degrees celsius, and when it’s hot put a roasting tin with two teaspoons of olive oil into it. Meanwhile, heat up your butterbeans in their liquid on the hob for four or five minutes and then leave them for a while.

Chop up your onions and peppers pretty finely and then put them, with the sausages, in the hot oil of the roasting tin, making sure they’re coated with a bit of black pepper and some wild thyme if you have it. That goes on the middle shelf of the oven for twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes later, turn your sausages over, add the butterbeans and their juice and some tomato puree, more spices to taste, fresh thyme and anything else you want to put in (I’m sure I put a bit of paprika, some sage and some sugar). Cover with foil, put it back in the oven.

Twenty minutes after that, take the foil off, turn your sausages, put them back in the oven for ten minutes to crisp it up – I actually put them back for 30 minutes because I wanted the sausages a bit crispier – and serve with decent bread and mashed potato.

I shouldn’t do this down, as it was actually really tasty, and didn’t taste exactly like everything I always cook – for one thing, it was a whole lot less spicy, and also surprisingly light. It was good autumn food, especially because yesterday was freezing, but it was definitely a meal to share with friends, and one that was really completed by company…

 
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Posted by on 18/10/2011 in Food

 

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