Chicken Cordon Kiev

Chicken Cordon Kiev

Many years ago when I worked as a development chef for the supermarkets, every season some smart-alec sales guy would say “let’s redo the chicken Kiev. Let’s make the best, tastiest, most indulgent chicken Kiev anyone’s ever had – it’ll fly off the shelves!” and no matter how much we grumbled & begged, one of us chefs would be sent into the kitchen to come up with the ‘new Kiev’. Bechamel, bacon, butter, cream, the finest farmhouse Cheddar – we played with variations on them all, in the attempt to make this classic-turned-trash into something smart & fancy the average posher-than-Tesco-but-not-Selfridges-food-hall customer would be thrilled to pop into their overpriced basket. But every time, sure as eggs are eggs, we’d finally get a product the buyers were happy with & then they’d say “Now, about the nutritionals on this…” and that’s where the whole concept would crumble, as we’d always known it would.

Y’see – you can’t make a Chicken Kiev without butter. Or salt. In generous quantities. And a luxury one? Well then you’ll be wanting cream too, and good cheese (whose sodium quotient is almost as alarming as the fat content) and don’t even get me started on the nutritional values on bacon. And so we’d be sent back to make a Kiev that didn’t have a big fat red warning light on all its RDAs, and it’d be, well, okay, but really, it was nothing special anymore. And so the idea would get shelved for another 4 months until someone new joined the sales team….

Keep on reading, yumminess to follow…

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DIY butter – (and scones) – homemade kitchen alchemy

Homemade butterWhat’s that you say? You’ve never made your own butter? Oh daaaarlink, you simply must – it’s so easy!  I was amazed recently by how many people reacted with surprise when I said you could make your own butter in just 5 minutes, using nothing more than an electric mixer and some double cream. In fact, you don’t even need the electric mixer – if you cast your mind way back you might even recall making it in a jam jar at primary school. But unless you still have the boundless energy of a 7-year-old, or the arm muscles and equipment of a 19th century dairy maid, I strongly recommend using the electric mixer.

Homemade butter won’t necessarily taste substantially different or better than anything you can buy (although if you do it with delicious farm-fresh organic cream it will certainly knock the socks off anything Lurpak can produce), but it is just such fun – watching the transformation of a common kitchen substance (cream) changing state from liquid to solid, plus of course you get a delicious bi-product (buttermilk) which just cries out to be baked with, ideally into something you can slather your lovely new butter on.

Whilst we’re on the butter and milkmaid topic, if you fancy a cheap giggle Google ‘butter churner’ then look at the 3rd search result* (adults only!)
Read on for the recipe and more lovely illustrations!

How to cook like Heston? – Ultimate cheese sauce for lasagne

Ahh, Heston Blumenthal, a name that divides opinion more sharply than probably almost any other in the food world. Love him or loathe him (I blame the snail porridge for 99% of the haters) you can’t escape him these days, between Waitrose adverts, the ongoing debate about the merits of Dinner, scandals in the press and his various TV projects. I’d planned to try some of the recipes from Heston’s latest series anyway, and with a chance to win a tour of his lab on offer at lovefood what did I have to lose? I threw caution to the wind and rolled up my sleeves to melt cheese according to his ‘groundbreaking’ method.

How to cook like Heston? - Ultimate cheese sauce for lasagneHeston does a couple of variations on his cheese sauce (one involves infusing parmesan rinds into the wine, which I wished I’d remembered as I have a freezer full of the things) , all of which make quite a small amount, so I used a double quantity of the recipe as done for cauliflower cheese. As with other recipes of Mr Blumenthal’s I’ve tried (spag bol, chilli con carne, chicken tikka masala, all from the In Search of Perfection series), I’ve found that the predominant problem for home cooks is not actually the techniques, or even the availability of the ingredients, but the cost, and once again I was blown away with how much money he assumes the average Joe (even the average foodie Joe) is willing to spend on dinner at home. Reducing nearly a whole bottle of good quality wine (there’s no point using a cheap bottle – it’ll taste like rancid vinegar by the time it’s reduced sufficiently) to make half a pint of cheese sauce feels like a painful extravagance to me, particularly given the current economic climate (which I must assume is not affecting Bray).

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Heston Blumenthal’s ultimate cheese sauce (adapted from the original)
This double quantity made enough sauce for a lasagne to feed 6.

1 litre quality chicken stock
600ml white wine
240g grated cheese (two-thirds hard cheese, one-third soft goat’s)
40g cornflour
40g sour cream (Heston uses soft cheese but I didn’t have any)
Knob of butter

First reduce your chicken stock to 400ml in a small pan (if you do it in a large pan you’ll be cleaning burnt stock off the sides for weeks). In a separate, even smaller pan, reduce the white wine to 60ml. This takes quite a while so get it started nice and early, but make sure it is still warm when you continue to the next step.

Add the reduced wine to the reduced stock. Mix the grated cheeses and cornflour then stir into the liquid on a low heat until melted (following Heston’s advice as given on the show I added the hard cheese first, then when that was melted I added the goat’s cheese, which just as he said doesn’t melt totally). Finally stir in the knob of butter and the sour cream/soft cheese.

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Is it worth it? Read on to find out if you should be cooking cheese like Heston….

Presto Pasta Nights #248 – The roundup

No sooner had the announcement been made that I was hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights then I had received the first entry, this stunning offering from La Caffettiera Rosa, a delicious seafood pasta with cannellini beans and mussels:

lacaffettierarosaNext up was Clarion of Preventing Culinary Amnesia with her classic Arrabbiata, a word which incidentally is Italian for ‘angry’, perfect for a dish of such spicyness:

ArrabbiataRuth, Queen Bee of Presto Pasta Nights and blogger over at Once Upon A Feast, contributed this delicious woodland-inspired ‘taste of the forest’ pasta with mushrooms, pancetta & arugula (that’s ‘rocket’ to you and me!) 🙂

Taste of the Forest Pasta Thus far all the pasta dishes have been pretty darn speedy supper recipes, but then in swept Nupur of UK Rasoi with a lovely step-by-step guide to making one of my favourite weekend meal projects: Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni:

Spinach and Ricotta CannelloniThe meatiest offering of the week came from Jules of Pictures of a princess, a spicy yet creamy Chicken Paprikash served on spätzle – the Germanic equivalent of Italy’s noodle, the name of which means ‘little sparrows’ for goodness-only-knows reason why!

Chicken paprikashShellfish got a rather glamorous makeover with this impressive entry from Tandy of Lavender & Lime – it’s time to apply for your fishing permit and do battle with the invading red signals so you can make this:  Crayfish ravioli with a bisque sauce

CRAYFISH RAVIOLI WITH A BISQUE SAUCEI’m not normally a big fan of vegan food (I do so love my cheese!) but Deb of Kahakai Kitchen might just have converted me with this scrumptious Super quick tomato basil ‘cream’ bucatini in which blitzed cashews take the place of dairy to make the sauce rich and creamy:

Super Quick Vegan Tomato Basil "Cream" BucatiniShelby, aka ‘HoneyB’ over at The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch broke with the so-far distinctly European vibe to produce this fabulous east-meets-west fusion of Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce on linguine:

Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce More globe trotting on the pasta front was going on over at Cook.Craft.Enjoy where the order of the day was a Paprika chicken stew with Pierogies – the delicious Polish dumplings that are halfway between ravioli and potato gnocchi:

Chicken Stew with PierogiesJoanne of Eats Well With Others joined in with an inspired healthy-meets-comfort food offering of Broccoli-Basil Mac and Cheese:

Broccoli-Basil Mac and CheeseWith a twist on a classic in a similar vein to Joanne, Ruth of Once Upon A Feast deserves super-praise for contributing not just one, but TWO entries for this week’s round up – her second one being her Insanely Delicious Mac ‘n Cheese with Kale:

Insanely Delicious Mac 'n Cheese with Kale And lastly, but hopefully not least, is my own contribution – an Asian cousin of ravioli – Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce:

← Chili-con-Carne for even the most hardened chilli-phobe (and chilli-lover!) Presto Pasta Nights needs YOU! → Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauceThat’s it!  I’ve loved hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights and hope you’ve enjoyed my roundup.  Next week the roundup returns to Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast.

Presto pasta nights

Chicken, ham, leek and cheese pancake bake

Chicken, ham, leek and cheese pancake bakeI racked my brains trying to think of a way to photograph this in a manner which conveys its utter deliciousness, but somehow soft, slippery, filled pancakes with copious amounts of creamy gooey sauce just don’t photograph all that well (and tend to fall apart a bit when you take them out of the dish), so I hope you’ll take my word for it when I assure you that this tastes sooo much better than it looks!

This is a simple yet indulgent dish perfect for either lunch or supper, and despite the fact that it uses rather more pans than I normally want to utilise for a weeknight dinner, it is extremely quick to prepare.  To save on washing up I confess I often use shop-bought pancakes (not something I’d dream of using for a dessert, but somehow perfectly okay in a savoury bake); but if time is not against you, you could of course make your own – I suggest a half quantity of Delia Smith’s foolproof recipe.  A punchy, sharp cheddar and proper smoky ham are essential here to stop the dish being simply soft creamy goo.

Chicken, ham, leek and cheese pancake bake
Serves 4

8 pancakes (shop-bought or homemade)
8 thin slices smoked ham
a large knob of butter
5 thin leeks, trimmed, sliced & rinsed
1/2 tsp mace
125g cream cheese
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
125g mature cheddar cheese, grated
2 cooked chicken breasts, roughly chopped
250g creme fraiche
Handful of parmesan, grated

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/Gas 6. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the leeks and sweat gently until they are tender. Stir in the mace, cream cheese, mustard and two-thirds of the grated cheddar, plus salt and pepper to taste. Take off the heat, stir in the cooked diced chicken and set aside.

Mix the creme fraiche and remaining grated cheddar in a small saucepan, and heat gently, stirring regularly until the creme fraiche has thinned and the cheese is almost all melted, then season with salt & pepper

Take your pancakes and lay a slice of ham on each. Spread an eighth of the leek mixture in a line down the centre of the pancake, then roll the pancake in a cigar shape around the filling. Place each rolled pancake into an ovenproof dish in which they will fit quite snugly, then pour over the creme fraiche mixture. Grind over some black pepper and scatter with parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes until golden on top and bubbling underneath. Serve with crusty bread (the ‘crusty’ is important as this dish is all soft and tender – you need some crunch!) and a green salad to cut the richness.

Whole baked pumpkin with Comté & cream

Whole baked pumpkin with cheese & creamPumpkins are, of course, most closely associated with Hallowe’en but just as puppies are for life not just for Christmas, so I believe that pumpkins, gourds and squashes should be celebrated for much longer than a single candy-fuelled day of ghosts, ghouls and dressing up like a slutty witch (c’mon – have you seen the sort of costumes marketed at women these days?).  Most of the pumpkin/squash/gourd (for brevity’s sake I’ll just say ‘pumpkin’ from now on) genus Cucurbita is in season from the end of September until mid-December and during those months I wolf down as many as I can – I hated pumpkin as a kid, and as an adult I’m making up for lost time with this gorgeous fruit-cum-vegetable that skates the boundary between sweet and savoury.

Pumpkins are at their very best when baked – a high, prolonged heat makes the flesh meltingly tender and turns its sugary flavour into something more mellow and savoury.  Combine that with a heapload of dairy (in this case both cream and cheese) and you have heaven in a spoonful – sweet, savoury, rich, creamy, tangy – all at once.  This is another of my super-indulgent seasonal dishes (like my unctuous sauce for sprouting broccoli) that I only do once or twice a year, as the calorie count is through the roof, but believe me, it’s worth every gram of fat.  In theory this is a soup, although that hardly does justice to the rib-sticking nature of the feast involved – use your spoon to crape tender pumpkin flesh through a sea of creamy goo for every mouthful, and have some good hearty bread to go with it – wholewheat or spelt are best – you can smear spoonfuls of pumpkin on the bread and then dunk in the centre for the ultimate treat.  It’s easiest (and quickest) to do individual pumpkins for everyone, but you can also do one show-stopping large pumpkin for 4-6 people, in which case it will need to be cooked for much longer and serving is a bit messier.

Whole baked pumpkin with Comté & cream

Per person:
1 x 900g-1kg pumpkin (for a main course; go much smaller for a starter portion)
100g Comté or Gruyère cheese, grated (the nuttiness works well with the sweet pumpkin)
75-100ml double cream
salt, pepper, nutmeg

1. Preheat your oven to 200˚C/fan180˚/Gas 6.
2. Just as if you were making a carved pumpkin/jack-o-lantern, use a very sharp knife to cut a small lid from the pumpkin and use a large spoon to scrape out all the seeds (bake or fry them with chilli & salt for delicious pre-pumpkin nibbles) and any excessively stringy flesh.  Trim the flesh from the lid so it’s no more than 1.5cm deep, finely chop the spare pumpkin flesh and throw it into the cavity.  Add the cream, grated cheese and plenty of salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.  The pumpkin should be around three-quarters full (adjust the quantities to suit your pumpkin – they all vary!).
3. Replace the lid and place your pumpkin(s) on a foil-lined baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for around 1 hour.  To test if the pumpkin is cooked, lift the lid and carefully poke the flesh with a small knife – it should sink in as easily as into butter.  Serve whole in shallow bowls, so as to catch any spillage whilst eating.

Spaghetti with roasted cherry tomatoes and feta

Spaghetti with roasted cherry tomatoes and feta As the dominant cook in my household (hubby CAN cook, but works evenings most of the time, and besides that is a typical male cook – every pan in the house, mess everywhere, two day’s worth of washing up left ‘to soak’), I’m all too aware of how tough it can be coming up with something tasty for dinner day in, day out. Snatching time between work, social life and household chores to put something tasty on the table every night can be tricky, but it’s well worth it, and it’s something I try hard to do (the odd takeaway notwithstanding).

Recently my friend Steph challenged me to come up with a selection of recipe ideas, not for herself but for her long-suffering boyfriend Chris, who as it happens is a student at Southampton alongside my own dear sister-in-law (the world is tiny, really!). Chris is a trainee doctor, so his hours are long and unsociable; and to add to the challenge he is also a fitness fanatic, running marathons and basically spending all his spare time pummelling his body in gruelly workouts and sports activities. I enjoy a challenge, so here is the first in a series of recipes I’d like to call Chris’s Dishes.

Simple to make and tasty to eat, this is the food I love to have when I get home from work, and I hope it will inspire you to try something new rather than reaching for the takeaway menu next time your dinner muse goes AWOL.  Not all of them can be done in 10 minutes, but if it can be assembled in five and then shoved in the oven for an hour, sometimes I think that’s the best of all – prep as soon as I get home, tuck it away in the oven or to the back of the hob, then get on with little bits and pieces until it’s ready (or just flop on the sofa with a glass of wine!).  We will begin with that stalwart of easy suppers – pasta.

Spaghetti with roasted cherry tomatoes & feta
Serves 1 hungry marathon runner or 2 regular people

1 pack cherry tomatoes (approx 335g)
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or a big pinch of dried will do, so long as the jar hasn’t been in the back of the cupboard for two years)
150-200g spaghetti (you know how hungry you are)
75g feta cheese

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/Gas 6. Cut your tomatoes in half and pop into a smallish baking dish or roasting tray. Add your crushed garlic and herbage, season with salt & pepper, then drizzle over a generous amount of olive oil. Toss together briefly, then chuck in the oven for 30-45 mins until the tomatoes have shrivelled a bit and charred in places.

When your tomatoes are nearly done, bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt it generously (it should taste like sea water) and cook your pasta. Most kinds will take 10-12 minutes, check your packet for timings. Remove your tomatoes from the oven and splash in a spoonful of water from the pasta, and stir gently to loosen all the delicious goo from the bottom of the roasting dish. Drain your pasta and add to the tomatoes, tossing to coat the pasta in all the delicious oil and juice. Serve with the feta crumbled over the top. Buon appetito!

Topless Tart: Roasted baby tomato and pesto tart with a Parmesan crust

Roasted tomato & pesto tart with Parmesan crustIt’s been a long time since I took part in a food blogger event, but I couldn’t resist joining in with this month’s cheekily titled ‘Topless Tarts’ Monthly Mingle, hosted by one of my favouritest bloggers, Jeanne of Cook Sister!

For me, a homemade tart is all about the pastry. There’s no end of clever and tasty fillings for a tart, and shops have sold most of them at some time or another, but where a homemade tart can beat shop-bought hands down is with carefully made, fresh from the oven, tender, crumbly pastry – there’s just nothing to beat it! The key to good pastry is twofold: keep everything cold, and work fast. For the serious cook with time on their hands, I would advise a one-to-one session with an expert, exploring all the nuances of the words ‘chopping in’, ‘pecking’ and ‘frasiering’ – pâtissiere terms for the three delicate manoeuvres used to create top quality pastry in restaurants. For the more everyday, I would recommend a Magimix. The food processor will work far faster than you ever can, and by not touching the pastry yourself you avoid the pastry getting hot and greasy. You can even chill the blade in advance (if you’re that organised!) for even better results.

With most types of pastry, chilling it before rolling, and again after lining the tart tin, protects against shrinking during cooking. The hefty amount of Parmesan in this crust means some shrinking is unavoidable as the cheese melts, so make sure you use a deep tart tin and line it all the way to the top, so when it is cooked it will still be several centimetres deep.

Read on for the recipe…

Hot blue cheese sauce with bacon, honey and thyme (to accompany sprouting broccoli)

Hot blue cheese sauce with bacon, honey & thyme (to accompany sprouting broccoli)Purple-sprouting broccoli is one of my favourite seasonable vegetables, and it’s just as well that it’s seasonal, ‘cos if it was available year-round I’d eat it with this sauce more often, and would consequently be the size of a house. As I’ve mentioned previously on my post about Blue Vinny tart, this sauce is the lovechild of two early River Cottage recipes to accompany sprouting broccoli – crème fraiche with honey and thyme, and hot blue cheese & bacon. It really is divine, and as well as turning a plate of broccoli into a substantial lunch or supper, it is delicious tossed through pasta (with or without the broccoli!).

Originally devised with Dorset Blue Vinny, this sauce is just as good when made with a good Stilton, or even some Shropshire blue (though the colour will be rather different!).  If you want to make this dish vegetarian it still tastes yummy without the bacon, but bear in mind that many blue cheeses (the good ones anyway) are made with rennet, which is an animal product – you may need to shop around a bit to find one without it.

Hot blue cheese sauce with bacon, honey & thyme (to accompany sprouting broccoli)

Hot blue cheese sauce with bacon, honey & thyme

NB. This sauce isn’t what you’d call low-fat and it’s not meant to be. Don’t be tempted to use low-fat crème fraiche, as heating the sauce high enough to melt the cheese can cause reduced fat products to split and go grainy.

3 rashers smoked streaky bacon
1½ tbsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp honey
300ml crème fraiche
100g blue cheese, crumbled

Finely dice the bacon and fry it in a small saucepan with a little olive oil for a minute or two until just cooked but not yet crisp. Add the chopped thyme and honey, stir well and fry for another minute or two until the bacon is crispy and the herby aromas are released.

Stir in the crème fraiche (be careful – it may splutter!) and heat through gently before stirring in the blue cheese. Keep stirring on a low heat until the cheese has melted into a lovely smooth creamy sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (some blue cheeses are saltier than others, it may need none), serve immediately.  The sauce thickens quickly as it cools, but thins out again if reheated gently and whisked.

Makes enough for four people to dunk a generous portion of sprouting broccoli, or to coat pasta for six.

Divine cheese and ham pie/tart

This isn’t a recipe so much as a formula, designed for leftovers. We still have a whole fridge shelf full of cheese from Christmas, plus the last of the Boxing Day ham, so I put them together in this super-indulgent tart/pie/turnover which is the absolute antithesis to the defacto January health food and diets. Yes it’s rich, but how often will you eat something like this? A little of what you fancy does you good……….

Cheese & ham tartTake 1 block all-butter puff pastry and roll out to a large rectangle (to fit your baking sheet), about 4mm thick. Brush the border of the pastry with milk, then brush with Dijon mustard all over the centre, up to the milk border.

Cover the bottom half of the pastry with a layer of finely grated cheese – I used Ossau-Iraty and Emmenthal – then top with shredded ham. Dollop small blobs of creme fraiche (if you have it in the house), or mayo (more likely!) at intervals, all over the ham. Grind pepper over generously. Top with slices of brie and any remaining grated cheese.

Fold the pastry top over the bottom half, and seal the edges with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes if you have time, then brush with more milk and bake at 200C/Gas 6 for 25 minutes or until golden all over.

Serve with a little something to cut through the richness – some tomatoes and pickles, or a fresh green salad with sharp vinaigrette.

Serves 4 people.