Thursday, 28 November 2013

Dear Harvey Nics...

Dear Harvey Nics

One of my friends posted your advert on her Facebook page yesterday. You know the one. Promoting your range of oh so hilarious 'Sorry I spent it on Myself' range of gifts.

May be I've lost my sense of humour. I hear that you "... wanted to have a bit of fun and remind people that they shouldn't forget to spoil themselves this Christmas". So you encourage us to give our nearest and dearest elastic bands ("but elastic bands from Harvey Nicols, Dad"), paper clips, toothpicks, a plug, while we fritter away our cash on a gorgeous dress, some killer heels, a handbag (all no doubt available in your hallowed, and no doubt uber-tastefully decorated Christmas gift halls )

 Don't you think we as a race are collectively selfish enough already? It's not just about the money either - the advert suggests, whether tongue in cheek or otherwise, that it's OK to shatter the dreams of our nearest and dearest in pursuit of something material that we really want - and then to blow a raspberry at them in the process.

I find buying presents for people hard enough anyway, trying to choose something appropriate and wanted, and I'd be the first to own up to thinking dark thoughts about the whole Christmas overspend frenzy, while simultaneously handing over the card to pay for many of things that I always doubt are the right thing, when I have holes in my pants (and not in a sexy way). But Christmas is about giving - whether you have a faith that supports that or otherwise - and it doesn't have to be financial. 

If you wanted to spend the money on yourself, there are plenty of other ways you could give that would allow you to do that without rubbing people's nose in it - things they might really want. No doubt if you've got the cash for a Lanvin dress, there's some fairly high powered careers, and perhaps not much in the way of family time going on in the background. Rather than give your kid a plug, why not give him a whole day of you? No iPhone, no laptop, no nanny/childminder/boarding school. It would cost even less than the plug and you'd still be able to have your dress. Rather than give your gran paperclips, why not dig her garden for her, go and see her a little more, talk to her. Rather than give your boyfriend toothpicks, I can think of several things you could give him that wouldn't cost anything, and would put a smile on his face for days, rather than leaving a bitter taste in his mouth (although there might be a bitter taste in yours if you get what I'm on about).

Alternatively, you could do something even more useful with the money - if you're really going to spend a grand on a handbag (as I understand the Givenchy bag in the advert costs - I didn't know such things existed) why not buy people 'Good Gifts' - there are plenty of charity catalogues which give you the opportunity to make donations for specific, useful, practical things in the name of a gift for someone else - and they are really imaginative: from wild flower meadows and hedgerows to help preserve the English countryside to more humanitarian aid - goats for peace, wheelbarrow ambulances. Or just give the money you would have spent on the dress or the bag to a really deserving cause, rather than your wardrobe. 

Because, Harvey Nics, may be I'm being controversial, but do I really need a new dress? No, I don't, although granted the idea is a nice one for a moment. And would I really feel like I'd spoiled myself if I did blow the savings? Actually, probably not. I doubt I'm alone in thinking that what would really be involved in 'spoiling myself' would be the things that money can't buy - certainly not in Harvey Nics. I'd like some time and some sleep. Then I'd like a walk on a beach with the Husband, the kids and the dog. Give me that, and I tell you, I'd be happy as anything.

So when you've got that range sorted, the one that puts a warm glow into my heart instead of adding a little more to the cold hard place that this world is turning into, may be I'll come a shopping.



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Photos of food

I don't rate myself as a great photographer - of food or otherwise.

People look the wrong way when I come near them with a camera. I chop off arms, legs, the tops of heads, with scant regard for my dreams of giving out one of those glossy family calendars with a different charming picture of us (well, the kids) each month as Christmas presents: I have the same dream every year - a dream that gets ever more remote with each incomplete image that I capture.

I do try to make sure the pics I put up here are reasonable, but I look at some other people's blogs and sometimes wonder why I don't just give up now. Part of the problem may well be that I am always making food that I'm about to eat, and there's only so long you (or your family) can stand waiting for it to cool down enough to take a photo of it...

I also take far, far too many pictures of food. My camera is full of food that I have cooked but never got round to blogging about.

In the general spirit of clearing out that is upon me at the moment, I cleared out my SD card, and had a little play on PicMonkey which is a new thing I have discovered to make collages and edit photos. It's lots of fun. You probably knew about it already.

Anyway, here are a few of my unused photos, turned into a collage. How clever is that?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

'Mooli'-vous? Great for coleslaw (but not for soup)

Recently, our veg box has revealed mooli. 3 weeks on the trot. 

Doesn't look so offensive surrounded by other veg, does it??

If you haven't come across this before, it's a big white radish. The mooli certainly didn't do very well when veg were getting their good looks - especially obvious when the same box of veg contained the peacock of the vegetable world - the romanesco cauliflower, fractals and all. Flavourwise, well, the mooli is similar in flavour to the radish we all know and love in the UK, although not as fiery. If I was being cruel, I'd say that on balance, the mooli hasn't got a huge amount going for it.

I wasn't inspired, I have to say. 

The first week, I gave it a good stiff ignoring.

Another one arrived the following week, and I decided I had to do something with them. With all the optimism I could muster, I turned them into soup, along with a small turnip I'd forgotten about, and a bowl of left-over cooked cavolo nero kale leaves that needed eating up.

We'll draw a veil over the results of that particular experiment, shall we? 

The best Pink could come up with was "It's horrifying, Mummy" (she really said that). The Husband and I managed to force down a bowlful, but really, Pink was pretty close to the mark. It's safe to say that mooli and turnip soup won't be reappearing on the menu anytime soon in the Recipe Junkie household.

My heart sank when yet another mooli turned up the following week. I get my box from a local organic smallholder, and the option to pick and choose what you might or might not prefer in your box isn't really there as it is in some of the larger box schemes.

Determined to do something with it, I used half a delicious savoy cabbage and some of the carrots to put together a coleslaw to accompany Blue's chosen birthday tea of steak & chips. You'll be pleased to hear that the coleslaw went down much better than the soup. I made a dressing which included some horseradish - as a nod to the steak - and thinned it down with soy and rice vinegar, echoing the Asian origins of the mooli. 

All in all a much fresher option than some of the gloopier coleslaw dressings you can get, and, as I say, it all went down very well.

Veg box Coleslaw

serves 4-6 depending on age & appetite

1/2 savoy cabbage, finely shredded
3 medium-large carrots, washed (and peeled if necessary) and grated
1 mooli, washed (peeled if necessary) and grated
1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
3 rounded dessert spoons of mayonnaise
2 rounded teaspoons of hot horseradish sauce
light soy sauce - to taste
brown rice vinegar - to taste
freshly ground salt & pepper to taste

Combine the grated and shredded veg in a bowl or dish.

Mix together the mayo and horseradish, then add a good splash of soy and of vinegar, adjusting to taste and to make a consistency that will be easy to mix through the veg.

Stir the sauce through the veg, along with some salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve. Steak & chips optional.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Onion & bacon upside down pie

For reasons I will not go into here, I ended up with a massive amount of bacon and onions the other day. Not that I'm complaining, but it wasn't the result of an online shopping fail or anything exciting like that.

Sticky onions, smoky bacon. What's not to like?

I was trying to work out a good way to use it all up and hit upon a variation of Nigella's Supper Onion Pie. It's not reproduced anywhere on the web that I can find, but it's in Domestic Goddess if you are interested. I've made it before, unadulterated, and it's met with a mixed reception, but everything tastes better with bacon, so I thought I'd go off piste. Everyone loved it, there was nothing left, which pretty much says it all. It's also fairly straightforward to knock together, and fit it in around the various demands of the after school routine.

I've called it an upside down pie, because it's made alongside the tarte tatin principles - the onions (and the bacon) are cooked slowly till they are soft and a bit carmelised, then you whack a scone base over the top, and bake before flipping over onto a plate so the onions are back on top.

In my capacity as a member of the Tefal Innovation Panel, I should also say that the Ingenio pans (the groovy ones with the removable, interchangeable handle) really come into its own for a dish like this. The pan goes from the hob to the oven, so no need to get 2 dishes dirty, and the removeable handle means there's no worries about it fitting in the oven.

Spot the difference...

Onion & bacon upside down 'pie'

olive oil
4 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped up
around 700g onions, peeled, halved, and each half cut into 4
leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
250g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
100g cheddar, grated
100ml milk
40g butter, melted and cooled a little
1 large egg

Ideally, you need a pan that can go from hob to oven, but not, you need a 24cm (or thereabouts) pie dish for the oven part of this dish.

First, heat a splash or two of oil into your pan over a medium heat and add the bacon. Fry for a couple of minutes, then add in the onion chunks and sprinkle over the thyme leaves.

Cook this gently for 30 minutes or so, giving it a stir every now and then, till the onions are soft and sticky.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

Make up the scone base - mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cheddar cheese in a bowl, then in a separate jug of bowl combine the milk melted butter and egg. Tip the liquid ingredients into the flour mix and stir together with a fork to make a dough.

Tip the dough out onto a floured worksurface, and press into a rough circle that will fit over the top of your onions and bacon. If you need to, transfer the onion mix to the pie dish. Place the dough over the onions and bacon, and press in to seal the edges.

Pop your dish/pan into the oven and bake at 200 C for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180 and bake for another 10 minutes, when the base will be golden brown.

Remove from the oven, put a late over the top of the dish and turn it so that the scone is then on the bottom and the golden onions are on the top of the pie.

Scrape up any onions that have either stuck to the pan or fallen off, and serve.

Sorry - have to use the same photo because the gannets ate it too quickly...

Friday, 22 November 2013

Ceredigion Calling - Carrot, apple & coconut cake with ginger syrup

So there I was all happy and skipping about the kitchen with a working Kenwood, and could I decide what to bake? Reader, I could not.

The thing is that in all the excitement of the big move, alot of other stuff has pretty much fallen by the wayside. I'm not saying I'm feeding the kids fishfingers EVERY night, but, you know, needs must and all that. Pasta and sauce is featuring very regularly.

Whereas before life was just normal, mad, family life busy, now it's KERAZEE busy. 

Blue is 10 at the weekend, and it's the Husband's actual 40th in a couple of weeks' time, and, oh yes, we're moving house.

There is an ever increasing list of jobs that need to get done.

Where the kids will go to school has been my main concern so far. From that flows everything else, subject only to the Husband's requirement to be within 20 minutes of his new place of work, and both of our insistence that we should live as close to the sea as possible.

I have tracked down most of the Mumsnetters based in Ceredigion (there aren't that many) and quizzed them endlessly for any information they have about primary schools in the area we will be living in. 

I have familiarised myself with a number of place names, short on vowels, long on great beaches and made a nuisance of myself on the phone to a number of long suffering headteachers. 

I have engaged in a very interesting debate with a very nice and helpful man at the responsible County Council over the existence or not of an intensive Welsh language course that the children may or may not be able to attend. 

I have worried that once I have found the perfect school, we won't be able to rent a house in the area.

As a result of my efforts, I have a spreadsheet and a series of appointments for a couple of weeks hence, when the children and I will visit these schools. Just call me Mrs Efficient.

When I am not pondering how the kids will handle being in a 'Welsh Medium' school (where the business of the school is conducted in Welsh, all of it, apart from the English lessons. As Blue's initial reaction to the whole enterprise was: "Well, I am NOT learning Welsh", you'll be pleased to hear that I have taken the coward's way out and for now have not explicitly informed either of them that this is likely to be a necessity. It will become only too apparent once we have visited the schools), I am tackling the cupboards.

The cupboards - and (to the Husband's unending irritation) the tops of the cupboards - containing the junk that I we have accumulated over the last nearly 15 years of marriage, and a few before that. In fact, not only am I Mrs Efficient, I have become Mrs Ruthless.  Mrs Ruthlessly-Efficient, perhaps? We have lived in our present house for 8 years, during which time the suggestion, nay the mere thought of getting rid of some of 'the stuff' would almost reduce me to tears. Yet here I am, chucking out the crap without a second thought.

You see for all the upheaval, the change has energised me. Not only are we lucky enough to have the opportunity to go and live in a beautiful part of the world, by the sea, with the security (as much as it is) of the Husband's job being in the same place, but the idea of starting afresh gives me a sense of purpose. Not that I won't miss our friends and the life we have here terribly. We are very blessed with the village where we are at the moment - we have some true friends, and life has been good to us while we've lived here. But ultimately, I think we're both slightly nomadic, and there is something appealing about putting down new roots somewhere else. I moved a number of times as a child, and then shuttled from Leeds to Newcastle, to France and back, then to York, to London, to Wiltshire and then to Hampshire, where we have lived in 3 different houses. I remember hitting the point 3 years back when I only had one address to put on any of those official forms where you have to state all the addresses you've lived in for the past however many years. I felt a little cheated...

So yes, where, before, the idea of sorting through the cupboards, endowing the charity shop with most of my worldy goods and (gasp!) giving away most of my back copies of the Good Food magazine (well, it's all online now, isn't it) to a good friend (although not the classic September 2009 issue), would have been something I would never have entertained in a million years, now, I'm relishing it. I actually  think the Husband is a little concerned - after I posted on Facebook a picture of my stash of currently empty jam jars* and offered them up to anyone who wanted them, I caught him eyeing me nervously, as if I wasn't actually his wife at all, but some strange alien being in possession of his wife's body. I still haven't made it to the "unalbumed photographs" cupboard - I need a couple of days and a bottle of gin for that one - but, you know, I'm making progress.

One of my other projects is eating up the produce in the freezers and all the tins of stuff that I have hoarded away in case of a nuclear winter. Otherwise, I will cry when we don't take it with us.

All the half used jars of this and that. We won't be moving till February, but I reckon I can reduce our foodbills quite significantly by actually feeding us as much as possible out of the cupboards. OK, so I guess as time goes by, the idea of chick pea and sprinkles soup may pall, but I bet I can get them to eat it at least once.

Which brings me (at last! I hear you cry) to the cake. A carrot cake, but I didn't have enough carrot, so some apple went in it. Mindful of my need to use up stuff in the kitchen, I added some dessicated coconut to the original recipe, and some syrup from a jar of opened stem ginger to flavour the syrup that I poured over the cake at the end. The original recipe is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's in River Cottage Everyday, but this is my version.

Carrot, apple & coconut cake - with ginger syrup

3 large eggs
150g caster sugar
just over 250ml sunflower oil
300g self raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g dessicated coconut
Approximately 300g carrots, peeled and grated
1 large-ish apple (approx 50g) grated
100g golden syrup
50g syrup from a jar of opened stem ginger

Lightly grease a 23cm cake tin (loose bottomed if possible) and line the base. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

In your newly repaired, and isn't it wonderful, mixer (or using a hand held electric whisker thing or other contraption - including perhaps a wooden spoon) beat together the eggs and the sugar till light, foamy and slightly thickened

Pour in the oil and carry on beating for a couple of minutes

Sift together the flour, salt and bicarb and fold this into the mixture along with the coconut.

Fold in the grated carrot and apple, then scrape everything into the prepared tin and bake for around 50 minutes till a skewer comes out clean.

Stand the tin on a wire rack over a plate, and then gently heat up the 2 syrups in a pan. Use a skewer to make holes all over the top of the cake, and slowly pour the hot syrup over it, allowing the syrup to soak into the cake.

Leave to cool.


This is lovely while still warm as a pud, with creme fraiche, but has also been going down a storm in the lunch boxes this week.

*don't worry, there are still plenty of full jam jars that will be coming with us...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Kenwood is dead - long live the Kenwood!

My Kenwood mixer.

I love it. 

I must confess to secret fantasies of other mixers. The pretty, retro (and, ahem, uber-expensive) ones. But I stay faithful.

Once I left home, despite wheedling and pleading, I could never make my mum do the decent thing and pass on her old one to me. It did eventually give up the ghost, after many many years of stirling service, and she replaced it with a newer one.

I found one on Ebay. If I remember it was £47.00. It worked for a few years, and then started smoking in an alarming manner and making some even more alarming noises.

Salavation came in Ross on Wye, where there's a little electical shop, like electrical shops used to be. We took it in while visiting the Husband's family one weekend.

My father in law called a couple of weeks' later with the verdict. "He says it's no good except for parts - but he'll give you one in exchange". So I get a 'new' (reconditioned) one and he keeps my old knackered one for parts? That sort of thing doesn't happen in Basing-grad (or 'Amazing-stoke' as more generous hearted folks occasionally refer to it). And because it was a man in a little electrical shop like little electrical shops used to be, and because I am a trusting soul, I trusted that the exchanged Kenwood would be as good.

It was.

And then - disaster! entirely of my own making. I was in a rush, put too much bread dough in the bowl to knead (I usually do it by hand) and the plate which holds the attachments split.

Bereft doesn't even begin to cover it - and the fact that it was my own fault made it even worse.
Is there a sadder thing than a broken Kenwood chef? Redundant in the corner of the kitchen, desperate to help out while it's owner gives herself whiplash beating up cake batter by hand....? The Kenwood is a kitchen workhorse, and I could almost hear her weeping in the corner.

I stopped making cake - certainly nothing that required vigorous beating. Flapjack and brownie became the order of the day. When I had to make proper cake, and some meringues to use up some egg whites, I raised the red flag on Facebook and borrowed a handheld beater.  

I was offered a Kenwood Chef, quite coincidentally, by a PR working for a big retailer. They wanted a blog post but didn't want me to say that I had been given the mixer - only that the post was written 'in association with' said retailer. I was torn, but mindful of useful advice that I'd read recently, I felt I could not accept. May be I was too scrupulous. 

But my friends, there is a happy ending to this tale. The Kenwood injury wasn't fatal. The Husband and a bit of to'ing and fro'ing with Espares, a rather fabulous internet company that can provide spare parts it seems for pretty much anything. We ordered the wrong thing first - no problem, helpful customer service, and advice about which part we should have ordered. Marvellous.

So I have my Kenwood back, I didn't have to compromise anything, and the family have cake again. 

We all win.

and just to be completely clear, this post was written entirely off my own back, and not for any payment or 'in Association' with either Kenwood or Espares. Just saying.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The chicken continued - 'paella' of sorts

So where was I before I so rudely interrupted the ramblings of my kitchen - and our life - with the big news? Oh yes. The chicken.

After the chicken pie on Tuesday last week, we had meat-free Wednesday - not as catchy as meat free Monday, granted, but I'm not going to be tied to the alliterative benefits of a particular day of the week (despite my penchant for linguistic trickery) for reducing the amount of meat in our diet. Twice baked potatoes it was - a brilliant addition to our regular meals thanks to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (in Veg Everyday, I think). So easy it doesn't need a recipe - bake your tatties, scoop out the insides and mash them up with butter, or cream cheese (Philadelphia with garlic & herbs is good), plus extras - chopped up spring onions, tinned sweetcorn, that sort of thing. While you're doing this, pop the skins back in the oven to crisp up, then whip them out, pile the skins back up with the enriched potato and pop back in the oven for 10 mins. Easy peasy and very delicious.

Thursday, though, we were back with the chicken that I cooked for the pie on Tuesday, plus the joys of the veg box, which included 3 small green peppers and some small red onions. Paella - of sorts - beckoned. Plenty of smoked paprika and some chorizo to spice things up, and unfortunately no seafood - which probably means its not paella at all, but hey, I used paella rice, so I'm going to call it paella.

A couple of other notes - if I'd had a choice, I would probably have used red pepper rather than green, and I forgot to include any garlic. It's not fatal as the chorizo is quite garlicky, but it would have been nice. I think a bit of chilli would also have been good - we got some lovely looking ones in the veg box, but I suspect they are of the firey variety, and as I was feeding the kids, I had to make do with the tabasco bottle to spice up my portion.

Easy Paella - for 4

125g cooking chorizo, cut into bite size pieces
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 small red onions, or 1 large one, finely chopped
3 small green peppers - substitute for red if you have the choice, to be honest, but the veg box yielded small green ones...
300g paella rice
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 litre of stock (if you poached a chicken to make the pie, you'll have some lovely stock to use for this)
170g cold cooked chicken cut into bite size pieces.

Heat your stock up in a pan (or, if you're me, defrost the stock over a gentle heat because you forgot to get it out of the freezer earlier...).

Heat a large frying pan and chuck in the chorizo. Cook gently til lthe oils start to run then add in the garlic, onion and pepper and cook till softening, then stir in the rice and the coriander and paprika. 

Cook for a couple of minutes, then tip in the stock, bring to a simmer and leave to bubble away till the rice is cooked. 

Stir in the chicken and garnish with chopped parsely if you have it to hand.

Serve with a bottle of tabasco on the side for those that need a little more heat. 

The rest of the chicken meat went in sandwiches, and I still have 2 litres of stock left from poaching the original chicken too. So I reckon that's pretty good value. What do you think?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

And the news is...

So, all things considered, the kids took it pretty well.

There were tears. There were cuddles. "My life will be ruined". It was to be expected. The life they know and love is about to change. It was hard to do that to them.

The Husband and I were positive and upbeat. That bit was easy, because despite it all sounding terribly ominous in my last post, for which I realise I should apologise, the news is very exciting:  we're off to the Welsh coast for 3 years. 

Of course there will be challenges. But the Husband is being transferred with work. I work freelance and can transfer what I do easily. We have the opportunity to spend some time in a glorious part of the world. We can live by the sea. What's not to be excited about?

I realise that it's possibly not everyone's idea of a good time, but for us, it represents a bit of a dream - and an opportunity to live a lifestyle that we've long hankered after.

We've talked about it a lot today, and it's all been good. I might dare to say that the kids are on the way to being excited about it too.

Watch this space!


I've been up early.

Today, as many in the last few weeks - there's a lot on my mind.

We have news, and today's the day we tell the children.

The news must wait till after Remembrance Day parade, though. Perhaps, somehow, the message of what others have been though, and continue to go through, in the name of their country, of freedom, of stabilisation and humanitarian aid, will help them put the news, when it comes, and as they digest it over the next few days, in perspective. 

I suspect not.

I peel shallots, dice vegetables, brown meat. I take extra care to make sure the flavours are right: rosemary and bay, a couple of anchovies, wiped of oil and snipped up, hopefully to melt in to the gravy. The slow cooker is on, and there's a crumble to prepare. 

Nothing fancy:  comfort food, familiar food. 

Food that will tell them that they are loved.

Uncomplicated food that we can sit down and eat without really thinking, so we can concentrate on telling them the news.

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

101 uses for a dead chicken - #1 Chicken, leek and parsley pie

One of the books I remember from my childhood was "101 uses for a Dead Cat". Not very good taste, but quite funny, especially when you are 9 or 10. My favourite cartoon was the one where you used the cat's bum as a pencil sharpener. 

I know. 

Sorry about that.

But it sort of popped into my head the other day when I was looking at the chicken before me, trying to decide how best to cook it. Before you start to worry, I wasn't contemplating turning it into any kind of desk top toy, or anything else other than a meal, but I reckon there are at least 101 ways to cook a chicken, and maximise the meal potential from a bird.

And if you maximise your bird, you reduce waste.

Food waste is a terrible thing.

We all know it. 

And I'm not just talking about the terrible irritation that rises up when the kids turn their nose up at whatever you've put in front of them.

Food is expensive. People put lots of time and effort into growing, cultivating, preparing it and we spend our hard-earned money on it. We are extremely fortunate to live in a country where we have a huge variety of food available to us.

On the other hand, we live in a society where children still go hungry; where there is an increasing need for the food banks. It seems to me that we owe it to everyone, not least ourselves, to do better at wasting less food.

According to Love Food Hate Waste, "...We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, the majority of which could have been eaten. It's costing us £12bn a year and is bad for the environment too"

This costs an average (if there is such a thing) family £50 a month. And apparently "If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road."


So, back to my chicken. It's true that buying a whole chicken usually represents better value for money than buying jointed pieces. You can get so much more out of it. If you get the opportunity, it's worth reading Rose Prince's book "The New English Kitchen" which is a great book, crammed with ideas for making meat (especially) go further. If not, you can work on the basic principle that for a family of 4, a whole chicken will give you at least 2 main meals, plus stock for soup and bits for sandwiches. 

If you don't like 'boiling bones' as one of my friends delightfully calls it, the other way to get delicious chicken stock is to poach your chicken whole first. You can then eat it as you would roast chicken for your first meal, or turn some of the meat into a pie.

I got the idea for this pie from The Claire Macdonald Cookbook. I'm in awe of Claire Macdonald. She's a favourite of my mum's, and her recipes are really great. As a hotelier on Skye, cooking everyday, she produced 'homely dinner party' food which she hoped would be a treat for her guests to eat. I can't imagine anything nicer than spending a day out in the majestic Skye mountains or on the beaches, then coming back for the sort of food she was serving up. When I was flicking through the book, this pie seemed like just the sort of thing to serve up to the kids and the Husband after our first day back at school and work since the Italian escape. There's a good load of meat left for another meal and for some sarnies, and as a result of poaching the chicken I've got about 3 litres waiting to be used for other things. Marvellous. And don't balk at the addition of curry powder. It really works!

Chicken Leek & Parsley Pie
 for 4

1 chicken - mine was 1.7 kg
1 carrot, cut into chunks
2 small red onions (or equivalent - I used what came in the veg box) peeled and halved for the poaching, plus 2 more peeled and finely diced for the filling
2 sticks of celery
2 bay leaves
A good sprig each of thyme and rosemary
A good handful of parsley, leaves & stalks, plus another good handful, thick stalks removed, finely chopped
40g butter
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced reasonably thinly
25g plain flour
1/2 tsp mild curry powder
250 ml milk
100-150 ml stock reserved from cooking the chicken
salt & freshly ground black pepper
300g puff pastry
milk for glazing

First, cook the chicken. Put it into a large pan with the carrot chunks, the halved red onions, the bay, thyme, rosemary and the first handful of parsley, a few grinds of salt and pepper, then cover with water. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for an hour or so till the chicken is cooked. Allow to cool in the water.

Remove the chicken from the stock, and then strain it through a seive. Reserve what you need for the pie (100-150 ml) and put the rest aside for soup, risotto, or whatever you have planned for it.

Strip the meat off the carcass, and put a layer of chicken pieces in the bottom of your pie dish. I used the meat from the 2 legs (thighs and drumsticks) and some more of the 'brown' meat. The rest of the meat can be used in another meal. Watch this space.

Pre heat the oven to 220C

Melt the butter in a pan, and add the leeks and finely chopped onion. Cook gently till soft and transparent then stir in the flour and curry powder, cook for a minute or so, then stir in the milk and stock, and bring to the boil and cook till thickened. Add salt and pepper and the chopped parsley. Cook the sauce out for a few minutes, then pour over the meat and stir it all together to combine.

Cover the pie with the pastry, decorate as you see fit (pastry leaves are always a winner in my book, I don't care if anyone says they are naff), brush the pastry with milk, then bake for 20 minutes before reducing the temperature to 180 for another 20 minutes.

Serve the pie to your family. They will love you even more.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Lunch to Remember - Agriturismo Tenuta Monte la Guardia

You know those "amazing food places" that you dream of finding - the kind of place that someone else you know, or a friend of someone you know has been to and raves about? Agriturismo Tenuta Monte la Guardia is one of those places.
While England was battered by storms, we swanned off to Italy for half term and soaked up some very welcome sunshine. Staying first with friends just outside Rome and then in Naples, we were mainly there to see some old friends, and for 'culture' of the child friendly 
variety, but on our first day, we had the most wonderful, foodie experience.

We drove through the Nutella hazelnut groves, skirted the shores of Lake Bracciano and passed the castle where Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes. You'll be pleased to hear that our visit had a far more auspicious end than the ill-fated Cruise/Holmes union - LUNCH!!

Eventually, the road petered out to a dirt track on the edge of the village of Castel Giuliano, and at the end of the track: Agriturismo Tenuta Monte la Guardia. 

Piggies. (Actually these are boar, and were behind a fence. The piggies were too quick...
It's a little compound of buildings, pretty 'rustic' with some rather cute families of pigs (yes really!!) running around. You can stay here, and there's also an organic restaurant where, for a fixed price, you can sit down and get what they are serving up. No menu, just what they are cooking. And all utterly fabulous.


 The owners are much in evidence, really friendly, and it's a lovely place to eat. While my university friend who we were staying with took us, her husband came on a little later with their daughter (so she could have a nap before we ate) and this was all perfectly acceptable and easily accomodated. The presence of the pigs in the garden, giant acorns to be gathered, and the relaxed Italian attitude meant that the kids could get down and run around when they needed a break, leaving us to enjoy the chat, the food and the wine.


We kicked off with antipasti of bruschetta, salami, cheese with a kind of fruit jam smeared on it, and slices of a rustic savoury tart reminiscent of a Greek spanakopita. There were also 2 delicious dishes, one a barley salad and another a dish of bread, cabbage, onion and cheese, that sounds like nothing but is just the sort of thing Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would weep for joy over. 


This was followed by the pasta course - tagliatelle with a delicious sausage sauce, then the  meat course: 2 dishes, one a mouthwatering, rare roast beef, sliced wafer thin, the other a divine venison casserole, flavoured with lemon and juniper, plus some beautiful fennel roasted potatoes. Just wow. 

There was of course wine and water to wash it all down. We also had puddings (not included in the fixed price, but oh so worth it) - a choice of 3 and between us we sampled the chocolate brownie tart - rich and luscious - and also a local loaf cake/pudding which was a bit like soft biscotti, packed with nuts and fruit. Both came with cream and strawberry jam, a combination I intend to repeat.

Mmm - which would you choose?

When we felt like we could move again, we spent some more time admiring the pigs, then took a slow meander through the woods, just starting to hint at the possibility of Autumn...

down to a nearby waterfall. 

Pretty much the perfect day.