Chicken, Mushroom and Asparagus pie!!

Way aye man!! Back in the UK and desperate to cook myself a good bloody meal, whilst being knackered through being thrown straight back into my day job. Urgh!

Italy reignited my passion for prosciutto (crudo) and sun-dried tomatoes, but after two weeks of it, I was craving the diversity and wealth of flavours that English cuisine has to offer.

During my stay in the lovely La Spezia, I failed to consume a single vegetable. Something that seemed to elude the Italian diet,  or should I say the diet of those my colleagues and I were staying with. Living on a diet of meat, carbs and dry sandwiches (butter anyone?!) I craved something a bit more saucy than olive oil and balsamic dressing.

Don’t get me wrong the food was great, it just lacked the sauciness that I am beginning to associate with British food. Gravy on a Sunday dinner, Birmingham’s native Tikka Masala, stews, shepherds pie, baked beans.. in England I do believe we like our food with that lil something extra. As for Italy, I can only speak from experience to say that this is something we all found wanting in the dishes we were offered.

So I endeavored to cook something lovely, non dry and British, with some lovely vegetables sneaked in to nourish my wanting body. Nothing spectacularly creative here, just simple, hearty loveliness. I also wanted something as easy as pie (mind the pun). Exhausted much!  I did the bad thing and bought ready made and ready rolled pastry (I will not be concocting a flaky crust with any success after a hard days work)! Along with ready sliced mushrooms! They were reduced what can I say!!! Booo!!!

Many a chicken pie recipe calls for a cooked roast chicken with all the meat taken off and made into bite sized, pie filling chunks.  All well and good but when your after a quickie, skinless and boneless chicken thigh (or breast) will do.

As always my measurements are a bit scatty, I do things by eye a lot, something inherited from my mom and dad, (much to the annoyance of my partner when giving recipe instructions), I have done my best to quantify the ingredients here, feel free to do what feels and looks right, I find that often works for me :).

I used garlic powder here because I had run out of garlic. Always great to have on standby. Feel free to use fresh garlic, although it is nice sometimes to have the flavour without the bits, especially in a saucy pie, I guess it would help if I had a garlic crusher!!

All purpose seasoning again rears its lovely flavoursome head in this recipe, I use it instead of salt due to its high salt content (roughly around 75%) . By all means use salt or even celery salt in its place.

Chicken, Mushroom and Asparagus Pie

Chicken Thighs (I used about 4)

Button Mushrooms (About 50g)

1 Onion

Garlic Powder (I’d say a bit but for those who like to measure half a teaspoon).

2 tbsp Wholegrain Mustard

1 pack of Asparagus

25g Butter

25g Flour

175 ml chicken stock

2 tbsp Elmlea Light (or double cream, I like to use the light stuff so I can use and abuse the calories elsewhere)

Sprinkling of Sage

1 pack ready rolled Puff Pastry

Olive oil (for frying)

Black Pepper

All Purpose Seasoning (or salt)

Cube chicken. Coat with black pepper and all purpose (or salt).

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Fry onion in olive oil until translucent. Add chicken. Cook for a bit. Add mushrooms. Cook it all down until chicken and mushrooms cooked through. Steam asparagus for a couple of minutes. (I made a makeshift steamer with a colander over a saucepan of simmering water and a lid).

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Make sauce in separate pan. Melt butter. Add flour. Roux it up (cook slowly over low heat until colour of straw). Pour in chicken stock a little at a time.  Turn up heat and stir until simmering. Add cream and mustard and lower heat. Cook until reduced and thickened. Sprinkle sage. Pour sauce over the chicken. Add asparagus. Stir it up. Transfer to pie dish. Add magical ready rolled pastry lid. Cook for around 30 minutes. Serve with mash and broccoli. Nom Nom!!

piiiiie

Do not start watching Breaking Bad in the midst of making this pie, may cause one to forget about it resulting in burnt pastry disaster.

Easy peasy! My partner said this was the best pie he ever tasted. I do often think he says such things with ulterior motives… That is quite the accolade! I am forever the cynic!!

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Chicken Pelau (Trinidad Style!!)

I have to admit something that I am rather ashamed of. I have heretofore been ignorant of Caribbean cuisine except that from the island of Jamaica. Being lucky enough to have a father hailing from said island means I have been blessed with the gift of traditional  Jamaican food along with what I like to call a Jamaican/ British fusion (being my moms wonderfully interesting interpretation of the cuisine).

My dads cooking style is very traditional and not very experimental, home cooked food passed down through generations is at the heart of his cooking.  Just the other week he asked my mom and I how to roast a chicken and what to accompany it with. Something that astounded me coming from a 60 year old man who is a wholly competent cook and has resided in this country for over 40 years, surely cooking a roast comes with the British package. I guess he has always had my mom for that.

The Islands of the Caribbean are actually very diverse. They each have their own varying culture, cuisine, music and are even seperated by different languages, which explains our previous lack of Caribbean cuisine creativity (excepting my mothers mixed bag that is our family personified in food). Each island is distinct from the other yet can be linked by certain factors, the cricket team being a perfect example of this.

The inspiration for this dish stems from a lazy day off at my mothers house with nothing to do aother than flirt with the different T.V channels searching for a companion for the afternoon (somewhat a novelty for me due to the lack of such a device at home). Flicking through channels I naturally landed on the Food Network with Jonathan Phangs camp take on Trinidadian cuisine.

It opened my eyes to a cuisine I had never previously considered, with ingredients that are familiar friends (thyme, coconut milk, scotch bonnet) but with a refreshingly different approach.The Chicken Pelau caught my eye due to its delightful simplicity as a one pot wonder, using ingredients that I mostly already own, keeping my purse at a weight I could handle at this time of the month.

To start me off on this culinary adventure of tasty proportions, the back bone of my Pelau (and so it seems to many a Trinidadian dish) is the somewhat refreshing,  green seasoning. This is something so versatile it can be used in anything you fancy, from soups to stews and one pots for that extra depth of flavour (this is through personal experience having already used it a fair few times).

I have found a magical formula for making this now indisposable seasoning paste (as no two recipes for it are the same).  This can be used as a rule and adjusted to your tastes.

O + G + GH + E = GS

Onion + Garlic + Green Herb +  Extra ingredients  = Green Seasoning

It is worth noting, the onions tended to be of the spring variety in many a recipe I happened upon. I choose to go one further and use a mixture of onion and spring onion for extra oniony freshness. The green herb section can be made up of as many as you choose, the very nice lady Mr Phang visited used sage and tarragon as well as thyme. I would say thyme is a must as it is an essential ingredient to many a Caribbean dish- it would be rude not to! I added coriander leaf alongside this for its fresh, cooling citrussy notes and due to previous existence in my fridge,  quite frankly I do not have the money to be throwing around indulging in a catalogue of herbs that are not readily available in my house, convenience anyone! Note to self, must plant herb garden!!

The extra ingredients are, but not limited to,  hot chilli pepper (Scotch Bonnet being the chilli pepper I choose due to its prevalence in Caribbean cooking and distinguishable flavour) and celery (used to lend to the seasoning a lovely peppery dimension). Many recipes include the addition of a sweet pepper (Pimento pepper being the usual suspect) to the seasoning as an extra ingredient. I left this out a) because I have no idea where to lay my hands on the elusive pimento pepper (it was nowhere to be found in my locals) and b) because I was feeling too stingy to buy any of the sweet peppers ASDA had to offer, roll on payday for unrestrained pepper purchases!! Pumpkin also seemed to rear its orange head in many a recipe, but not being the season I didn’t bother to open that can of worms.

The end result was something fresh and green that gave the dish that extra somethin’ somethin’. My own recipe is just a guideline, it really is just down to your own taste. I may tweak and change it for my next batch  and for research purposes but this one worked a treat.

Green Seasoning

1 onion (chopped)

1 bunch Spring Onions  (chopped)

2 Scotch Bonnet Chilli Peppers (chopped)

12 Garlic cloves (chopped)

1 stalk of celery (chopped)

A handful of coriander leaves (chopped)

As many thyme leaves as you can be bothered to pick mine was about two handfuls

Blitz in food processor till nice and pasty.

Out of focus picture courtesy of Blackberry

Out of focus picture courtesy of Blackberry

This can be refrigerated for about a week (or until it looks fousty), or frozen, I try to freeze in portions so as to not have to take an ice pick to break off individual chunks.

On to the Pelau. This was inspired by Mr Phangs recipe with a few tweaks, he uses curry powder, whereas I choose not to, as from what I can gather it is not traditionally included in the dish.

Hot pepper sauce can be found in the Caribbean section of your local Tesco, Sainsbury’s or shop self respecting enough to include this wonderful ingredient. I keep it in my cupboard to add a subtle or not so subtle kick to any dish, including cheese on toast. Nom Nom!

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Scotch bonnets are also widely available and are very hot! When selecting remember that the red peppers are the hottest with the greens the least fiery (I don’t know if this is really obvious but it wasn’t to me)! Caution to be advised when handling these beasts as with all chilies.  I had really tingly, oddly burning skin post hand washing after using these. Need to wash thoroughly. And then do it again! Keep away from eyes!

Trinidadian Chicken Pelau

2 tablespoons veg oil

2 table spoons brown sugar

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into sizeable chunks

1 onion (chopped)

2 garlic cloves

Sprinkling dried thyme

Hot pepper sauce (about 1 tsp or to taste)

1 tsp worcestershire sauce

1 tsp dark soy sauce

1 carrot (chopped)

Fresh thyme

A good bit of ginger

300g easy cook long grain rice (sorry another of my approximations I used enough for 3 people)

250 ml coconut milk

375mi chicken stock

2 tomatoes (chopped)

Can of gungo peas (or kidney beans if you so wish)

Heat oil in (large) pan. Add sugar. Cook until bubbly and dark brown. Add chicken. Stir to coat. Cook for approximately 2 mins. Stir in green seasoning. Add onion, garlic and season with both types of thyme, hot pepper sauce worcestershire sauce, dark soy sauce and hot pepper sauce. Add rice and ensure each grain is incorporated with lovely stuff. Now add coconut milk, chicken stock, gungo peas and tomatoes. Bring to the boil then bring down to simmer. Put lid on pan and listen to stomach rumble as lovely smells fill house. Cook until rice absorbs liquid and chicken is cooked (about 25 mins).

Lovely fun

Lovely fun

The result is fresh and wonderful. One pot dinners are a weekday winner, when work has whittled away the will to wash up.

Watch Fire in Babylon for an excellent insight into the West Indies cricket team!!

Chocolate crunch/Chocolate concrete!!!!

Another school classic! My food over the last week or so has been the closest I will get to a time machine, transporting me back to those innocent years prior to adulthood corruption . This was the crowning glory of school dinners, served with pink, strawberry flavoured custard, chocolate crunch was the treat that defined those treasured formative years.

Understandably, I underwent feelings of pity, shock and dismay when I found that my manfriend  had never heard of the stuff! Scandalous! Being 3 years younger than myself I thought that perhaps this was one of the things that Jamie got rid of in his butchering of the typical canteen style school dinner. Upon further investigation (in the form of words had with colleagues, friends and family about said subject), I found this to be an invalid conclusion. Those of a similar age to my partner had also experienced chocolate crunch at school with its famous pink partner in crime, some even mention a green peppermint custard companion, something I was never bestowed with.

This led me to thinking. Is chocolate crunch a regional phenomenon? Is it just a Brummie thing? With my manfreind being from Nottingham, further probing of friends from outside of Birmingham found that they had also never heard of it. This explanation was beginning to seem more and more likely. Eventually, further investigation exposed this as an untruth (a friend from the same side of Birmingham had also never heard of it).

Curiouser and curiouser!

This travesty in the form of the depravation of one of childhoods most treasured puds could only be fixed through an accurate dedication to chocolate crunch replication.  I was too lazy to make my own custard so the plain (non pink) tinned stuff would have to do.

In all honesty my friends deprivation was a mere excuse for rustling this up. The truth of the matter is, I wanted something easy and chocolatey that could be whipped up in the time it took for my dinner to go down, this literally takes 30mins from start to finish!

A four ingredient wonder, that is too easy to be true. For those who have never tried it, is not unlike an amalgamation of a cake and a biscuit. I assume granulated sugar should always be used to boost the crunchy texture.

Best eaten warm with custard, but can also enjoyed as a cold crunchy snack!

Chocolate Crunch/ Concrete

200g plain flour

200g granulated sugar

100g butter (melted)

50 cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 180.  Line tin with baking parchment (I used 20cm square tin). Mix flour, sugar, cocoa. Finger mix (scrunch) until crumbly. Pour mixture into tin. Pack it down until compact (as with shortbread I like to punch it down because its fun). Cook for 20 mins. Once removed sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.

Bad quality photo courtesy of Blackberry

Bad quality photo courtesy of Blackberry

Please note, this is more crunchy when cold, if you like it softer eat straight from the oven!!!

Steak Glorious Steak! Co-Starring, roasted broccoli, spiced potato wedges and garlic mushrooms.

I apologise in advance for my lack of exact measures, with meals like this I don’t tend to work like that, so any measures I do give are approximations. I usually just rely on eye adding if needs be and being stingy with things like salt that wield the power of ruining a meal with one shake too many, tasting as I go along.

So anyway I shall kick off with a lovely simple meal, rather a treat for my manfriend and I the ubiquitous Sirloin Steak!! (This sumptuous piece of meat wholly deserving of the capital letters it has acquired!)

The Sirloin is of course one of the greatest cuts of Steak one can acquire, and is without a doubt one handsome piece of meat. Something often eyed up, but seldom purchased due to the ever present lack of funds that usually besieges me. But not this week! The window shopper (food perv) in me was delighted to find fifty percent off in my local Co-Op, thank you there is a god!

After getting the steak home and eyeing it lovingly as it rested on my counter (bringing it down to room temperature ready to be cooked), I prepared my sides, which are of cause lesser in comparison, but just as important to the success of my meal. If I’m going to eat steak I’m going to do it properly!

First of all a couple of red skinned potatoes for some spiced potato wedges. I say spiced, in this case I am using my one stop, go to spice mix for these which is Caribbean Everyday Seasoning (or All-Purpose Seasoning depending on the brand). This seasoning saves a lot of dishes from the throwaway fate of the bland, perking it up with a mixture of salt, chilli, paprika, onion, celery, coriander and cumin (in no particular order). This should, however, come with a disclaimer as it can easily be overused, it is generally around 72% salt and so one should not be too liberal with this. I often mix it with extra paprika if I am going to use it for potato wedges, which I have done in this case. I have in the past made my own version of the spice mix in order to have control over the salt content using the spices listed above.

I recommend red skinned potatoes for everything!! They are especially great for wedges.

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Spiced Potato Wedges

3 tbsp Olive Oil

Carribean Everyday Seasoning

Paprika

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

couple of potatoes chopped into wedges

Put oil into largish bowl. Pour in seasoning (to taste). Mix to create seasoning coloured oil (red in this case). Add chopped potatoes. Dig your hands in and get messy until all potatoes are evenly covered. Transfer to baking tray in single layer. Cook on about 200 for at least 20 minutes. Poke with sharp object to check if cooked.

Next in my line up of sexy sides is roasted broccoli. This bits pretty simple just wash it, cut it, put it on a baking tray, drizzle with oil of choosing and roast until looks done, after about 10-15 mins (I am a little ad-hoc with these things but usually seem to get it right without looking at my watch, some might call it intuition, I call it a nose for smelling the almost burnt). Roasted broccoli is something only recently discovered by myself and has been gracing many a plate of mine ever since. This takes broccoli to a whole new level that I didn’t even know existed, silly me.

My final addition to this extravagant for the likes of me meal is a classic player in the sides game, the somewhat obvious choice, garlic mushrooms. Mushrooms and steak go together like, well mushrooms and steak, no analogy needed here to explain my choice, its pretty damn simple, yet always effective. Nevermind the fact that mushrooms are full of lovely nutrients such as selenium, copper, potassium and vitamin D and magically manage to retain them whether fried, grilled or microwaved, Oh My!

Garlic Mushrooms

4 tbsp Butter

Mushrooms, (about half a punnet)

2 Garlic Cloves

Parsley (fresh or dried, in my case dried)

Celery (or table) Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Slice mushrooms. Melt butter in pan. Add Garlic (crushed, or in my case grated due to lack of a garlic cutter). Add Parsley Add salt and pepper. Fry for a bit. Smell the nice smells. Add mushrooms. Stir until coated. Cook for around 5- 10 mins on low to medium heat (for me this is number three on the biggest ring of my electrical hob) until done.

Now for the Steak. This was cooked in a griddle pan so I could achieve the lovely liney effect Burger King is so good at. The griddle pan was then placed on the hob with the heat on high (about 5). I stroked my (room temperature) beauties in a little Everyday Seasoning and black pepper (black pepper will do if no Everyday Seasoning graces your cupboards). When the pan was hot I mercilessly threw my lovelies in and cooked them until medium rare. This is said to be around 3 mins on each side but a trick  as suggested by Harold McGee in his miraculous work of food reference and general knowledge, On Food and Cooking, is to turn the steak frequently in order to prevent overcooking, as this ensures neither side has the time to absorb or release large amounts of heat. This method unfortunately did not bode well for my of fancy lines (doh) but it does produce excellent results every time.

Steak glorious steak. A perfectly cooked Sirloin Steak is enlightenment ingested.Image