Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pot Roast Chicken

"What is your favourite food, Mummy?"

Well now, there's a thing. What actually IS my favourite food?

Blue particularly seems to be troubled by my inability to answer this question - or to give him a the same answer when he asks me again...

You see my favourite thing to eat depends on so many things: the weather, the time of day, who I'm with, where I am. My favourite thing to eat in Venice on a bright March afternoon is fritto misto washed down with a glass or two of chilled prosecco. My favourite thing to eat immediately after a long walk along the North Pembrokeshire coastal path is a toasted teacake with lots of Welsh butter, washed down with a cup of builders' tea (and then some Lamb Saag Balti). My favourite thing to eat after a day body boarding in North Devon is curry. You get where I'm coming from...

The other week, Sunday afternoon, the end of a busy weekend and a late night on the Saturday, my favourite thing to eat was this pot roast chicken. It's a recipe my mum passed on to me in typically vague form, but the combination of the juicy free-range chicken, lemon-scented sausage-meat stuffing, smoky bacon, meltingly soft caramelised onions, the potatoes luxurious, essentially 'confit'-style, cooked in the fat of the chicken - it's just got comfort written all over it. It's definitely not a meal for the calorie counters amongst you, but I make no apology for that. This dish is all about comfort food. And if you were wondering about what could possibly follow this pudding-wise, I recommend some butterscotch apple pudding. With cream. Waistlines are for wimps...

Pot Roast Chicken

Feeds around 6 (although if you feed 4 with it and have some bacon & potatoes left over, it makes great soup if you chuck in a leek or 2 and some chicken stock...)


1.5kg free range chicken
freshly ground salt & pepper
100-120g sausagemeat (or around 4 decent size, good quality sausages)
1.5 tbsp breadcrumbs
small bunch of thyme stalks, leaves only
grated rind of a lemon
50g unsalted butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
300g shallots
200g bacon lardons/pancetta
1kg waxy potatoes
large bunch of parsley


Season the chicken and set aside.

Mix together the sausagemeat, breadcrumbs, thyme leaves and lemon rind, stuff into the chicken and pull down the neck skin over the opening of the cavity.

Pre-heat the oven to 160C.

Melt the butter and oil together in a large casserole with a tight fitting lid.

Brown the chicken all over in the hot fat then reduce the heat under the casserole to low.

Peel the shallots and place in a small pan with the bacon. Cover with water, bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and drain. 

Add the shallots and bacon to the casserole with the chicken, cover the casserole with the lid and cook gently for 15 minutes.

While the chicken, shallots and bacon is cooking, dice the potatoes. Once the initial 15 minutes cooking time is up, add the potatoes to the casserole and turn in the fat. Pop the lid back on the casserole and put the whole thing in the oven for around an hour till the chicken is cooked.

Chop up the parsley. Remove the chicken from the casserole dish, toss the parsely into the potatoes, shallots and bacon, then serve.

And don't forget the butterscotch apple pudding.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Lamb Saag Balti

We had guests for the weekend and for the first time we couldn''t just skip off to the beach with gay abandon and lashings of ginger beer. I mean we did go to the beach, but our expeditions required planning, waterproofs and a little more thought - mainly to prevent smaller members of the party being blown off the coastal path into the sea.

The problems would not have been insurmountable - and worst case scenario there are always the water slides at Bluestone - a heady attraction some 50 minutes drive from here - to which we have not yet succumbed to (well the weather has been too good) - but, you know, part of the reason people come to this part of the country is for the wild beauty of the coast (of course, the guests have, we hope, come to see us too), and 'wild beauty' we hope we gave them.

As is often the case, the weather forecast's gloomy outlook did not entirely prevail. Yes it was windy, but the rain held off, during the day (mostly) at least. It was warm, and occasionally there was a peek of blue sky.

On Saturday, we ventured south from  Ceredigion into North Pembrokeshire and walked the ruggedly spectacular section of the coastal path south from Ceibwr Bay to check out the Witches Cauldron - a pool accessible from the open sea via an interesting looking cave/tunnel. Something to explore in more detail on a lower tide and, we decided,as the waves crashed round us, echoing up the cliffs like thunderclaps, a calmer day... 

We refuelled on tea and cake (and milkshakes and ice creams) at the fabulous Pavillion Cafe that you should seek out in the Penrallt Garden Centre above Moylegrove should you find yourself in the area, then headed home for sausages and chunky chips for the kids, and this delicious curry for the grown ups.

I found this beauty in Simon Rimmer's book "Men Love Pies, Girls Like Hummus". Not entirely sure I approve of the title, even though in the introduction, Mr Rimmer does defend against accusations of culinary misogyny. For the record, I love pies as much as the next man (and given that the next man is the Husband, quickly followed by Blue, that means I love pies ALOT). I do also like hummus, but given the choice, I'd probably have a pie.

Anyway, enough of this silliness. Whether you approve of the title or not, I first stumbled across Simon Rimmer in the form of "The Accidental Vegetarian" when I was looking for inspiration and veggie food to serve to my mother in law that is colourful and full of flavour - not just brown and over-salted - and have been a bit of a fan ever since. 

I hadn't heard of this book, but I picked it up in The Works when I was looking for something else entirely, and it was only £2.99 - bit of a bargain really when it is full of absolutely rocking dishes. Corned Beef Pot Pie, Wild Boar & Coriander Burgers with Sweet Roasted Peppers, Beetroot & Celeriac Filo Pie (mother in law is visiting again soon), Pork Empanadas and Baked Cuban Spiced Chicken with Rice have all rushed onto my 'must try' soon - like really soon - list.That's the things with cookery books, isn't it? There are some which are beautiful, listing wonderful dishes, gorgeously photographed, that in reality are never going to make it on to your table, and others which you know you will cook from time and time again. Nigella's Kitchen is one of these for me, as is River Cottage Every Day. Of course, which books fall in to which categories will change depending on the cook and his or her circumstances at the time, but Men Love Pies, Girls Like Hummus is absolutely spot on for me right now.

I used lovely Welsh lamb from one of the butchers in Cardigan, and the amazing chilli the Husband grew. I also made this on Friday and left it overnight - I think curries and casseroles often benefit from this as the flavours develop, and also I didn't want to be tied to the cooker once our friends had arrived and there was wine to be drunk...

Lamb Saag Balti

Serves 4 (along with dahl, rice and poppadums - we'd had a lot of fresh air, OK?)

1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
1 large green chilli (check out this bad boy)
1 tbsp each of cumin and coriander seeds
2 cardamom pods
6 large tomatoes
750g diced lamb shoulder
1 tsp turmeric 
I lamb stock cube 
300g baby leaf spinach (or normal spinach, stalks removed)
Vegetable oil for frying

Peel & quarter the onion, peel the garlic cloves, peel and roughly chop the ginger and depending on the heat of your chilli and how much you like, deseed it - and then roughly chop it.

Blend the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli to make a smooth, wet paste.

Dry fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan for a couple of minutes till they smell delicious and fragrant, then grind up in a pestle and mortar and set aside.

Bash the cardamom pods a little, then quarter the tomatoes, removing the tough core bit.

Make up the stock cube with 300ml boiling water.

In a large pan,  heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and then brown the meat in batches. Set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan and gently cook out the onion paste till the liquid has evaporated - it will take 10-15 minutes. Stir regularly and make sure the paste doesn't burn.

Once the paste is cooked out, return the lamb to the pan along with the dry seeds and turmeric, the tomatoes and the stock. Bring the pan to the boil, then reduce the heat as low as you can to ensure a gentle simmer and leave to cook for 45 minutes - 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

If you're serving straight away, add the spinach about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. If you're serving the next day (or another day entirely) leave the curry to cool and keep in the fridge over night, or freeze. Gently reheat, add the spinach leaves and cook for 5 minutes till the spinach has cooked.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Gammon Cawl and Cheesey Garlicky Scones

So those of you who may have become just a teensy weensy bit sick of the photos I keep posting up here of the clear blue skies and sun-kissed beaches of the West Wales coast during what has been, on anyone's view, an absolutely fantastic summer, will be pleased to know that as I write (07:36 on a Sunday morning) the wind that has been howling around the house for the last 36 hours is still doing a good job of trying to blow us off our hill, the rain squalling in torrential downpours. The stormy - and post stormy - skies have their own special appeal, but granted it's not everyone's cup of tea and I haven't exactly welcomed the reappearance of my waterproof trousers into the daily dog walking routine with joy...

The change in the weather is not all bad (honestly!) - it's like that bit that Nigella writes in, Domestic Goddess, when she talks about the Norwegian Cinammon Buns -  "I've always thought that bad weather has its compensations, most of them culinary."This is a view I subscribe to wholeheartedly. While I'm all for tasty salads and delicate desserts in their place, my cooking comfort zone is in soups and casseroles, big dishes of crumble, jugs of custard... Summer and hot weather can be something of a challenge for me in the kitchen, so bizarrely, while I'm (mostly inwardly) weeping at the inability to get the washing dry and gnashing my teeth at having to pull on waterproof trousers and wellies to walk the dog instead of slopping about in flipflops, my kitchen heart sings for joy as I pull out the slow cooker and stock up on bay leaves...

Cawl is very much back on the weekly menu these days. You may remember a couple of months back, I took the opportunity to wax a bit lyrical about how fantastic the kids had been in the immediate aftermath of the move here. Having spent most of the summer term going to a language centre to be taught on an intensive Welsh course, they are now speaking Welsh with what appears to be alarming fluency (especially when they are bickering), and well versed in all manner of Welsh customs, including bursting unprovoked into renditions of Sosban Fach and Ar Hyd y Nos, Blue will be off to the Millenium Stadium to watch his first international rugby match in a few weeks' time wearing a Welsh rugby shirt...

They are loving their school, and the dinners continue to be a big hit. They enjoyed the school dinners at their old school, but they always came home ravenous. Here, though, there are seconds and thirds on offer. It is not unusual for them to refuse the treat that I meet them with from the bus because they are still full from lunch. So my longheld dream of being able to provide an easy tea on school dinner days is realised. And while making scones is not everyone's idea of an 'easy tea', bear in mind that while the kids would be happy with the cawl alone, I also have the Husband (and myself) to feed, and a little fiddling about in the kitchen is actually quite enjoyable, especially when the majority of the meal is in the slow cooker.

Gammon Cawl

500g piece of unsmoked gammon
150g soup mix (dried beans and pulses)
1 large onions
2 carrots
1 leek (it is Wales after all)
1.2 litres vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 cloves

The night before, remove the gammon from the packaging and put in a bowl. Cover with water and leave to soak. Measure the dried beans and pulses into a measuring jug and add 5 times the volume of water. Leave both overnight.

In the morning, get out the slow cooker and heat to high.

Peel and chop the onion and carrots, and wash and slice the leek. Drain the pulses.

Put the chopped veg and the pulses into a pan, add the stock, bring to the bowl and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, scooping off any scum.

Meanwhile, remove the gammon from the soaking water and add to the slow cooker. Once the stock has boiled for the requisite time, pour the contents of the pan over the gammon, chuck in the cloves and bay leaf, pop the lid on and leave till dinner time.

When you're getting close to dinner time, make the scones.

Cheesey Garlicky Scones

100g plain flour
100g spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp English mustard powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1 clove of garlic, mashed up
50g unsalted butter diced quite small
150g mature cheddar cheese, diced quite small
1 large egg
4 tbsp low fat natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flours, baking powder, mustard powder and smoked paprika into a bowl and combine, then stir in the salt, sugar and garlic.

Add the butter and begin by 'cutting it in' to the flour mix with a knife, then move on to rub the butter in with your fingers till it has almost disappeared.

Stir the cheese through the flour mixture, then whisk together the egg and yoghurt, and combine this with the flour to make a soft dough.

Flour a work surface and your hands, then shape the dough into a rough rectangle/oval (I'm not fussy) about 4 cm thick, then cut into 6 pieces.

Use a palette knife to transfer the scone pieces onto the baking tray and mak sure they have a bit of space between them to expand.

Bake for 25-30 minutes till golden.

While the scones are baking, remove the gammon from the slow cooker to a board or large plate and pull the meat apart using a couple of forks.

 Once shredded, return it to the pot ready to serve.

Serve a steaming bowl of cawl with some cheesey garlicky scones on the side. Rainy day dinner time heaven. 

Enjoy with a side helping of Welsh folk songs. Take it away, Cerys...

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Thai Monkfish Curry

So I may have moaned more than once on here that I never win anything. Well, not since I won 12 bottles of gin via a competition in an 'in-train' magazine on what used to be called the East Coast Mainline...

Well, that streak of not winning was recently broken when I entered a fish recipe into a little competition that Pembrokeshire Fish Week were running earlier this summer, and knock me down with a feather (or a wet fish) - I won!

You can read my winning recipe here - but what I want to tell you about is my prize.

A fantastic box full of delicious fish and shellfish from Claws Shellfish, a Pembrokeshire based .family run seafood company.

After a bit of to'ing and fro'ing, I picked my box up in Haverford West on a Friday afternoon. We had friends coming for the weekend, and I was stressing that I hadn't got the chicken I'd intended to knock up a Thai chicken curry with, out of the freezer.

But I didn't have to worry, because as well as some fresh fish that I could pop straight in the freezer, my box included a dressed crab, a pot of mackerel pate, 4 scallops, some smoked salmon and a cooked lobster. I needed little more than some bread, salad, some chorizo to cook the scallops with (always in my fridge - the chorizo, not the scallops) and some stuffed mini peppers (and a bottle or 2 of white wine) and we had a feast.

The box also included monkfish, salmon, and a lovely piece of haddock all of which went in the freezer at the time, but has been much enjoyed since. I used the salmon in a version of the quickest (and most delish) fish pie ever, using sugar sap peas and full fat creme fraiche for extra creaminess and comfort.

The monkfish was fantastic in a Thai inspired curry recently. It's a fairly firm fish which can take robust flavours and responds well to quick cooking, perfect in this kind of easy but tasty meal.


So what should follow now is a recipe, but I started this post a good 3 weeks ago and forgot to write down the exact ingredients. What I do know is what the photos tell me - which is that I used courgettes and mangetout peas, and served the curry on noodles.

I can also remember that I made the sauce by frying off a couple of tablespoons of shop bought Thai curry paste, adding a tin of coconut milk, and then adding bits of tamarind paste from a block that I bought not long after we moved to Wales, to taste. The paste that I should have used to cook a curry for our friends, but fed them lobster instead...

The addition of the tamarind paste took the edge off the slightly artificial flavour that my (cheap, inferior, bought in a supermarket in a moment of madness, to be honest) Thai curry paste had. I'd been quite worried about dinner before adding the paste in, and frankly, it rescued dinner and created a sauce worthy of the monkfish.

So this serves to tell 2 tales. Firstly, that Claws Shellfish sell fantastic fresh fish and shellfish, and if you have the opportunity, you should visit their stalls in Haverford West or St Davids Farmers Markets, or anywhere else you find their produce. Secondly, that having some tamarind paste in the fridge is a good idea if you are prone to panic buying jars of cheap Thai curry paste.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Smoky sardines and tempting tuna

Of course every one knows that the very best way to eat a tin of sardines is to carry it to a deserted beach on an early Autumn morning. Spend the morning running round, skimming stones, playing chicken with the waves.

As lunchtime approaches, light a fire, open the lid slightly, empty out some of the oil, then soak some kitchen paper in the rest of the oil and stuff it in the top of the tin. Place the tin on a flat rock next to the fire and light the oily kitchen paper. Allow the sardines to get hot and smoky, then eat hungrily...

Granted, this is something that our present location makes more possible for us than it does for others, but even if you're not close to the sea, this is well worth remembering for those occasions when beach fires could be on the cards...

We made good use, then of the tinned sardines and mackerel fillets that were included in a box of goodies that arrived from John West a couple of weeks' ago. 

I guess perhaps we should have done something more adventurous (in a culinary sense) with them, but there's some salmon and tuna left for that - I'm thinking fishcakes - perhaps with some Asian spicing as suggested in the helpful recipe booklet that accompanied the goodies.

What I was more interested in in were the tins of John West Infusions - tuna lightly drizzled with flavoured oils - and the 'Steam Pots' - couscous with a tin of Infusions to stir in after the couscous has been plumped with boiling water - that I received. 

I'm not one for buying 'quick food fixes', tending to go for the raw ingredients and making it from scratch - and any food you might buy with the word 'Pot' in the title has me naturally eyebrow raising, due to associations (intended or otherwise) with MSG-laced noodle affairs, the kind of which you won't catch in my kitchen - no siree...

Tuna Infusions first - in a number of flavours, chilli & garlic, basil, soy & ginger, lemon & thyme, coriander & cumin. These are really really tasty - the tuna is meaty and succulent (although I usually buy tuna in spring water for calorie reasons, tuna in oil really is lush) and the flavours that infuse these pots of loveliness are tasty - not overpoweringly so but give the tuna genuine 'zing', and importantly for me, taste very natural. The Husband and I really enjoyed these, and surprisingly, so did the children. They've never really embraced tuna, but both of them gobbled down these infusions (basil for Pink, Chilli & Garlic - yes, really - for Blue) on top of a jacket potato and pronounced them delicious. Big hits then, and definitely something I'd consider buying again.

The steam pots are essentially pots of dried flavoured couscous plus a complimentary infusion pot. So, Tuna Infusions with Chilli and Garlic and Spicy Red Pepper Couscous, and Tuna infusions with Basil and Sun Dried Tomato Couscous. You get the idea. 

In terms of creating your lunch (or dinner, or whatever) you just add hot water to the couscous and leave to soak for 5 minutes, then stir in the tuna. And despite my misgivings, they are pretty good - and satisfying. I'm a fan of couscous anyway, although wouldn't normally add tuna to it, but the Tuna Infusions work very well in this context. My only gripe is that unlike the Infusion itself, there are far more ingredients creeping into the couscous. Things like potato starch, tomato powder - and quite a lot of sugar and salt. To be honest, I probably wouldn't buy these as a complete package - although I might well buy Tuna Infusions to eat with my own couscous in future - but they are a world away from the noodley horrors that sprang to mind when I saw the name Steam 'POT' - so don't let that put you off.

So there you go - tinned fish has just taken on a whole new dimension for me. And even if my favourite way to eat it is still on a wild, Welsh beach, I'll bet that a few Tuna Infusions start creeping into my cupboards...

Disclaimer: I received a box of various John West products in return for writing this post, but was not required to mention any specific products, and all views expressed are my own, honest opinions.