Thursday, 15 October 2015

Pollo Alla Cacciatora (or Hunters Chicken - with apologies to the hunter, the chicken, and Nigella Lawson)

Cooking to the clock - not for me. I can rarely put a meal on the table at the time I've estimated to allow everyone else to get on with other things. All these challenges - Masterchef, BakeOff - where you have to produce your finest in a set amount of time? Putting aside the fact that I don't generally watch them and don't really approve of them, I could NEVER do that. I'd be completely rubbish. May be that's why I don't approve. But I digress. 

You'll remember, perhaps, my fling with Jamie Oliver and his 30 Minute Meals? Definitely stressful, even if the dinner that resulted was rather delicious - and (here's the crux of it) NOT AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE AT ALL. Flinging stuff around, feeling up against it. Cooking is something I genuinely use to relax. It sounds so trite, but all that chopping, stirring, tasting - I love it. But the more time pressure there is on me to get food on the table, the less I enjoy it.

I have, in fact, been feeling very much up against it recently in various elements of life. Combine that with my ridiculous need to cook proper food for the kids (and the Husband, although he's away this week) every night, relaxation or not, and it's not a happy picture. In my last menu planning session, I turned, for inspiration, to Nigella Express. I haven't paid that much attention to Express apart from a rather fabulous cheesecake offering that's graced a number of our smarter occasions in the last few years. Pollo Alla Cacciatora caught my eye (it's on page 296 of my version), and onto the meal plan it went. When you're feeling under pressure, and Nigella says you can have "tea on the table from scratch in comfortably under half an hour" well - it's almost irresistible.

Of course, I had failed to have on hand some of the ingredients that meant the meal could in fact achieve that golden 30 minutes, and I added in some extras, but, as Nigella says, the fact that this is an old recipe "grants a certain amount of licence". Anyway, it was delicious. I'm sure the hunter would have approved. I hope Nigella would too. And it did only take a smidge longer than 30 mins...

Pollo Alla Cacciatora

Serves 4

Olive oil
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled & finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and quite finely chopped
100g pancetta cubes
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
500g chicken thigh fillets, cut into 3-4 pieces
salt & pepper
125ml red wine
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp sugar
6 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 x 400g cannellini beans

Add a slug of olive oil (about a tablespoon's worth) to a large frying pan, and add the chopped onions and garlic. 

Sweat the onions gently for 5 mins or so then add the pancetta and rosemary and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken and sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt and grinds of pepper, then tip in the wine and bring it up to a bubble. Bubble for a couple of minutes then add the tomatoes, bay leaves and sugar.

Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan.

Turn down the heat and simmer for a good 20 minutes or so till the chicken is cooked. 

Drain the cannellini beans and stir into the sauce. Leave for a couple of minutes to heat up


Monday, 12 October 2015

Rainbow Cake

Does the colour of food make or break a dish? I'm quite a fan of colourful food, but only in the sense that its the ingredients that have made the colour - pink from beetroot, green from spinach, rich orange from chorizo and smoked paprika... On the other hand, the seemingly inevitable brown-ness of most of the curries I make doesn't put me off. 

I don't know if I've mentioned it before but there is a family story - part of the folklore of my father's childhood, in which he produced blue macaroni cheese when it was his turn to cook. No one could stomach it and he was henceforth relieved of cooking duties.

Pink seems to be following in her maternal grandfather (Grumpy, as he is affectionately known)'s footsteps with her love of artificially coloured food. I suppose it's all part of experimenting, perhaps even the same part of her that is currently fascinated by make up and leaves me silently weeping in Boots as I try and dissuade her from spending her pocket money on slut red lipstick with out using the words 'cheap' 'common' or 'tart' - she is only 9, after all...

Anyway, I'd rather garish food than garish lipstick any day over the week. 

And on that note, on Sunday, we made Rainbow Cake

Pink did most of it - it's a pretty straightforward sponge recipe but she needed help with all the faffing about dividing mixture between bowls. From the child who used to say, when invited to bake "Just call me when it's time to lick the bowl. Mummy", this interest in baking is one I do now find myself wishing to nurture (I make no secret of the fact that I used to hate cooking with the kids). In the wake of her setting to and producing a green nutella cake single-handedly a few weeks ago -

(flat and rather solid, but strangely tasty for all that it was a rather lurid colour), this was an opportunity to let her play fast and loose with the food colours. She was especially pleased with the rainbow stripes of cream cheese frosting across the top. We followed the recipe and used Squires Kitchen gel colours - my mum had bought a set and made the same cake a few months ago for some event; and as she was never going to make it again, she passed the colours on. 

The only deviation from the Good Food recipe was that we used cream cheese frosting which included butter rather than the simple cream cheese and icing sugar frosting in the original recipe - my mum had found this frosting quite slimy and the towers of cake had slid around a bit...

Anyway, it's pretty spectacular. Doesn't taste brilliant, but, hey. Fur coat and no knickers isn't always a bad thing...

Monday, 5 October 2015

Raspberry & Chocolate Blondies

Brownies, blondies, from one bake crush to another. 

The other morning, Pink asked me if I was "On energy saving mode, Mummy?" To be fair to her, I had made a comment to the effect that I hadn't yet done something that morning (I forget what - it was undoubtedly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things), and she was relating this in the context of a discussion she had been having at school with a friend about how to counter an allegation of laziness. I thought it was quite inventive, and actually, I rather like the idea of being on energy saving mode, particularly now that the Indian Summer has come, rather abruptly, to a close, the mellow blue skies and hazy warmth of the last couple of weeks replaced by a rather fitful, sullen wind and rain that can't decide whether to spit, shower or torrential downpour (we've had all 3 today). That plus the fact that in the 2 days since Friday, all of a sudden, 6.30 a.m. when we are dragged from our slumber Monday to Friday, is now very dark. Yes, energy saving mode seems very attractive, as does curling up on the sofa in front of a fire and not doing much till Spring...

But life of course goes on, despite the onset of Autumn. There is work to be done, a dog to be walked (whatever the weather) and children to provide with packed lunches and to welcome home from school. These latter activities can of course be done without fancy kitchen activities when you have juggled enough and are 'in energy saving mode' (that's what shops are for, as I have come to appreciate). However, if you too feel like being in energy saving mode, yet also fancy a rather delicious home made bake every now and again, this is for you, particularly if you have a food mixer and can delegate the beating element. There's nothing innovative about the raspberry/chocolate combo, but let's face it, just as this is the time of year for apple and blackberry, plums and star anise, casserole and dumplings, why try to be adventurous?  And let's face it, anything with a tin of condensed milk in it has got to be a good thing.

Raspberry & Chocolate Blondies

Adapted from the Nigella Lawson recipe in Kitchen, you could play about with the chocolate/fruit combo. White choc and blackberries might be quite good...

200g oats
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb
150g unsalted butter (try and take this out of the fridge beforehand)
100g soft light brown sugar
1 tin of condensed milk
1 large egg
100g milk chocolate chips
150g raspberries

Line a brownie tray with foil or greaseproof paper

Put the oats in a bowl and sift in the flour & bicarb.

Beat together the butter and sugar until very pale and creamy then pop the condensed milk and beat that in until well combined.

Reduce the speed, then tip in the oats & flour.

Beat in the egg, then mix in the chocolate, then lastly, and swiftly the raspberries. You could fold these in carefully but I quite like the raspberry ripple effect a quick beat gives the batter. And honestly, I couldn't be bothered to find a spoon...

Scrape the batter into your tin, smooth it down and bake for 35-40 minutes. Use your judgement - as with brownies, you want to take this out of the oven before it's solid. The surface needs to be cooked, but with some (but not too much) wobble underneath which will solidify as it cools in the tin.

Once cold, you can slice it up. Apparently it freezes very well, but why would you?