Friday, 8 March 2013

Easy chicken-in-a-pot with greviche

This 'one pot' recipe for boiled chicken is a great stress-free alternative to roast chicken. The greviche makes a delicious, tangy accompaniment and is a refreshing change from bread-sauce. The ingredients below are just a suggestion - be creative! The beauty of cooking the chicken like this is that the vegetables are all cooked in the pot and only very roughly chopped - no worries about getting everything ready at the same time. It's proper, hearty peasant cooking - and I mean that nicely!
It is worth spending more on a better quality chicken if you can afford to; to me the meat always seems to go further with a free-range bird. Left-over cold chicken is a favourite with all the family, we pretty much fight over it!

Ingredients, serves 4:
1 large, good quality chicken (I always buy the biggest I can)
1 packet of stuffing mix or make your own (I'll write about this tomorrow).
2 slices smoked bacon
1 onion (essential), quartered through the base so the quarters stay together
Seasonal vegetables - I used:
1 stock cube
Bunch of spring onions, trimmed
4 carrots, peeled
1 savoy cabbage, quartered
Potatoes, enough for four people, peeled and cut only if needed.

Leeks, shallots, garlic and pretty much any vegetable would also be delicious.

1 hard boiled egg
1tbsp capers
1 tbsp cornichons / mini gherkins
1tbsp parsley
Mustard to taste - French or English

First make up the stuffing according to the instructions and stuff the chicken. Press it in firmly but no need to be neat. Put the chicken (breast down), bacon, onions and stock cube in a large pan (it will need a lid later). Add boiling water so that the chicken is submerged, it may float a bit, don't worry. Chuck in the carrots and spring onions. Bring to the boil on the hot plate of the aga or hob, then put the lid on and put the pan in the top oven for about 40 minutes. 180 degrees C in an electric oven.
Start making the greviche if you are going to - see below!
After 40 minutes check the chicken and add the potatoes and cabbage (or any other veggies that won't appreciate being boiled for an hour). Return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Check again, if the potatoes are cooked get the chicken out and place on carving board and check if it is done, pull the legs away from the body, the juices should be clear. Stab a knife into the breast and check if the juices are clear. If the chicken needs more time then return to the oven. If you are worried that the potatoes are going to overcook, scoop them out and place in a dish covered with tin foil to keep warm. I sometimes give the chicken a 10 minute blast on a roasting tray in the top oven to 'finish it off' and crispen the skin.
Once the chicken is done scoop out all the vegetables and serve from a large, warm serving dish. It's a great 'help yourself' dish - make sure you tell everyone what veggies they are looking for! You may like to use plates with quite high sides or even pasta bowls. Carve the chicken and serve - don't forget the stuffing! A good dollop of the greviche and some homemade sourdough bread to mop up the juices go perfectly. There will be masses of liquid left in the pan - great for making stock!

To make the greviche:
Simply whizz all the ingredients except the mustard to form a smooth paste. Add the mustard a little at a time, mix, taste and add more if needed. Don't add to much to start with - you can't take it out but you can increase it!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Rainbow fairy cakes

I've had a busy week getting ready for my eldest daughter's fifth birthday party. She was keen to have a rainbow theme so I've been having lots of fun sourcing colourful decorations and doing some very colourful baking.

These rainbow fairy cakes are very simple but take a little more time then regular fairy cakes. The children (and grown ups!) loved them. Because they are so colourful I kept the icing simple, with retro-style 'wings' but you could ice them and have the colourful sponge as a surprise.

Rainbow cakes - ready to eat!
Ingredients: (makes 14 - 16 cakes)
150g self raising flour
150g softened butter
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs (or eggs equal to 150g, a bit over won't hurt at all).
1/2 tsp baking powder
food colouring gel or paste - I used red, blue, green and purple

Couple of tbsps icing sugar
Hot water
food colouring

Arrange cases in fairy cake tin. Beat all the ingredients with an electric beater until it is pale and fluffy.
Divide the ingredients equally between four bowls (or however many colours you are using).

Gradually add food colouring to each bowl until you get the colour you wish - it will go darker when cooked. Be careful not to add too much, especially if you are using gel, or you will make the cake mixture too wet. If you are using eggs from hens fed on grass the yolks will be very yellow so you will find it difficult to get a true blue colour, mine were quite greenish.

Now to fill the cases! Use about half a teaspoon of each colour, in separate blobs in each case. I like to weigh each case as I fill it to get cakes of an even size, I used a total of 25g of mixture in each case, about 6g of each colour. If you are a carefree and relaxed baker do it by guesswork! I always take a minute to check that the cases are flat on the bottom of the tin and a nice round shape, if not the cakes will be uneven.

Bake for about 8 minutes until firm and springy but not browned. 180 deg C (fan) or top oven of aga with the deflector sheet on the top rungs.

While the cakes are cooling make some simple sugar icing. Place a couple of tbsps of icing sugar in a bowl, gradually add hot water (from the kettle) and stir until you have a smooth, thick paste. Colour as required.

When the cakes are cooled slice the tops off in a neat circle and cut in half, put half a tsp of icing on the cake and stick the two halves a cook top back on tilted up to look like wings. Put some sprinkles on the 'body' if you wish.

These cakes are best eaten within 24 hours - not that you'll have any left over anyway!

Monday, 18 February 2013

why has my chicken laid a very small egg?

Here is this afternoon's offering:

 I guess there may be a problem with one of the chickens! They tend to lay very small eggs like this at the begining or end of their productive lives. My hens have all been laying for a while so I don't think this is a good sign!

dealing with an egg surplus

My beautiful eggs!
A week ago my hens weren't laying - no surprise after such a cold spell of weather. I had a few cakes to bake for various cake sales so I bought a dozen eggs. The days are getting longer now, and a bit warmer; the hens have responded to the increased hours of daylight by going into egg overdrive with the result that I now have 15 eggs - and that's not including those used in pancakes on Shrove Tuesday,  the eight I used in a Spanish omelet at the weekend or the quantity of boiled eggs my girls have eaten. Luckily a boiled egg is a great treat for them!

I need to think of more ways to use them up. In the meantime it's important to store them properly. Always write the date on eggs - pencil is best for this. They shouldn't be stored in the fridge as they are too humid, an ordinary kitchen cupboard is best. If your eggs are a bit grubby it's tempting to wash them but you really shouldn't do this, getting the muck wet might allow bacteria to pass through the porous eggshell. If you must clean them them a wipe with a very slightly damp cloth is the best thing to do. Of course the best way of keeping the eggs clean is to make sure that the hens nest box is regularly cleaned and the straw or sawdust replaced. I find fresh eggs easily keep for a fortnight.

I use the freshest eggs for boiling, scrambling etc and the older eggs for baking. If you want to hardboil and peel eggs it's easier to use eggs that aren't completely fresh - they will be delicious but very difficult to peel as the white will be almost crumbly (in a wet sort of way!). The egg white gets much rubberier as the eggs get older.

I think I'll be making some cakes this week and maybe a Queen of Puddings - a really delicious eggy pudding! The hens seem to think spring is coming so maybe there is an end in sight to this long, cold winter. My five year old found a daisy flowering yesterday which she thought was a great 'sign of spring'.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Beef and ale pie with suet crust pastry

This hearty pie makes a supper for a winter evening. We like it served with baked potato and steamed curly kale. The filling makes a great casserole on its own if you are trying to cut down on the carbs. The ingredients below make enough filling for two pies - I always cook in large quantities and freeze half, it's so handy to have easy suppers ready in the freezer. So much nicer than a horse lasagne! The pastry doesn't keep so the ingredients below are for one. I have tried making and freezing these pies with the pastry already on but it's never as nice and the pastry is so easy there's not much point.

The key to success is long slow cooking of the casserole, this means you can use cheaper meat that has a higher fat content which stops the meat from drying out. You really do need to cook it for a long time to enable all the fat to melt out of the meat though. If you cook it faster and at a hotter time you'll run the risk of the meat drying out.

Filling / casserole (for two pies):
1kg stewing steak, large cubes (2 - 4cm)
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped into 1cm pieces
50g flour
6 onions, roughly chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
8 mushrooms, sliced
2 handfuls button mushrooms
beef stock cube
2 cans beer (not lager!)
tbsp tomato puree
bay leaf

Suet Pastry (for one pie):
225g self raising flour
110g vegetable suet
cold water

Make the filling,
Fry the onions and bacon in a large casserole dish on the simmering plate (for agas) or over a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring often, then add the mushrooms and stir in the flour. Meanwhile brown the steak in batches in a frying pan. Add the steak to the casserole dish and then the carrots, stir. Add the beer and watch it froth! Stir in the stock cube and tomato puree. Add water if necessary - most of the ingredients should be submerged with just a few bits poking through. Cook in the bottom of the aga overnight. Last time I did this I cooked it for 20 hours; the meat was so tender.

If you want to make your pie immediately then put the filling into your pie dish and freeze the rest. If you are going to assemble the pie later put the dish in the fridge when cool enough. Don't assemble the pie until you actually want to cook it, suet pastry doesn't like hanging around!

Make the pastry,
Put the flour and suet in a bowl, stir. Gradually add cold water, stirring after each little addition, until all the flour is incorporated and you have a single blob of rather sticky pastry. Take care as the pastry can easily get too wet if you add too much water! Then put the pastry onto a floured board and stretch to shape. No need to roll. Moisten the edge of your pie dish and put the pastry on top. It should look rustic and bumpy rather than smooth. Make a little hole in the middle and even up any big lumps and bumps with your fingers. Cook in the top oven for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the pie is sizzling. Serve immediately!