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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Chillies and Mexican Food – the Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge roundup

Fiery Roasted Red Pepper Salsa For anyone who loves chillies proper Mexican food is a real treat – the Mexicans grow and use probably more varieties of chilli than any other country, from the fiery habanero to the smokey chipotle and everything in between.  This month I am delighted to be the host of the Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge, and hope you will find some inspiration in the fabulous flavours of Mexico which our contributors showcased this month. As usual the rules were simply that the dish had to contain chilli in some form, and the style of cuisine – as this month celebrated Cinco de Mayo – was Mexican, natch.  Starting the fiesta is the queen of the Chilli Challenge herself, Lyndsey, who put forward a fiery roasted red pepper salsa of such stunning proportions I defy anyone not to want to grab one of those tortilla chips and dig in.

Tango Like Raindrop was actually the first off the blocks with this colourful mango Pico de Gallo salsa, a fruity twist on a classic recipe:

Mango Pico-de-Gallo SalsaAnother mango offering came from Janet of ‘The Taste Space‘, this time as an accompaniment to a healthy twist on a Mexican favourite – Oyster Mushroom and Black Bean Tacos

Oyster Mushroom and Black Bean Tacos‘Farmer’s Girl’ Janice Pattie went super-meaty with these Lamb Steaks with Adobo Seasoning Lamb Steaks with Adobo SeasoningChris of ‘Cooking Around the World’ took the challenge to a new level (and won the heart of my hubby, who’d tried & failed to persuade me to do the same) by making his own tortillas for these delicious sounding mini Garnachas with tomato-apple salsa:

Garnachas with tomato-apple salsaMy contribution to the month’s round-up had to be the much-maligned (in TexMex restaurants anyway) but genuinely Mexican favourite Faijitas, using a homemade version of a store-bought sauce and a variation on the classic salsa Pico de Gallo

Mexican fajitas with pico de galloAnd finishing the roundup was another contribution from Lyndsey, some delicious Grilled Fish Tacos

Grilled Fish Tacos If you’d like to take part in, or host, a future Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge you can find all the information you need here.

Mexican fajitas with pico de gallo

Mexican fajitas with pico de galloOnce upon a time fajitas made their way onto my dinner table every week and always went down a storm whenever I served them to guests. My secret? A shameful addiction to a store-bought sauce called Knorr’s ‘Stir it up’ Mexican Fajita Paste. When the paste was discontinued I was devastated and almost gave up on fajitas altogether, as no recipe I found could match the depth & spicing of this magic jar of sauce. I had always sworn that one day I’d work out how to make it for myself, and was thrilled to discover someone had in fact done it, and blow me, but it tasted almost exactly like the fajitas of my past, and it was made from 100% storecupboard ingredients! I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit from the original to better suit my tastebuds, try it and I know you wont be disappointed.  The recipe below makes more than you need but it’s tricky to scale down and keeps for months in the fridge if you sterilise the jar first.

Mexican fajitas with pico de gallo
Mexican fajitas with pico de gallo
Serves 2

Traditionally in Mexico fajitas would be made with beef, but with the price of steak as it is I actually usually make these with chicken breasts (and could happily substitute even more economical turkey breasts), and keep the steak for special occasions.

2 small skinless & boneless chicken breasts or sirloin steaks
1 bell pepper (any colour)
1 small red onion
3-4 tbsp fajita spice paste*

Pico de gallo:
Handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 large shallots, finely diced
1 jalapeno, deseeded and finely diced
Juice of ½ a lime
Handful of coriander leaves

Accompaniments:
Flour or corn tortillas
Sour cream
Guacamole
Grated cheese

Fajita spice paste:
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp oregano
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion granules
5 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
1 x 390g carton chopped tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tomato puree


To make the spice paste: Using a spice grinder or pestle and mortar crush the coriander, cumin and mustard seeds along with the oregano to a fine powder. Put the oil into a medium saucepan and add all the spices, then place over a medium heat and cook for several minutes, stirring almost constantly until it smells aromatic and has turned a shade darker. Watch it like a hawk, as the spices can go from delicious to scorched very suddenly. As soon as the spice paste is as intense as it can be without getting burnt, tip in the tomatoes – watch out, it may spit a bit! Stir in the remaining paste ingredients, stir well then leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes until it has formed a thick smooth-ish sauce, use a splatter guard if you have one as it can splutter furiously. Decant into a sterilised 400ml jar and once cool store in the fridge until needed.

When you come to make your fajitas, get your accompaniments ready first, as once you start the fajitas are as quick to make as any other stir-fry. Assemble the pico de gallo by simply stirring everything together and seasoning to taste, and get your cheese grated and your tortillas warmed. When you are ready to start cooking, slice the chicken or steak and the pepper into slim strips, and finely slice the onion. In a large frying pan or wok gently heat the fajita spice paste with a teaspoon of vegetable oil, just until it starts to smell aromatic, then add the sliced meat and toss to coat. As soon as the meat starts to lose its raw appearance turn the heat up high and throw in the peppers and onion. Cook, stirring regularly, until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables have softened just slightly (you want them to retain their crunch). Serve immediately with the tortillas, pico de gallo and any other accompaniments that take your fancy.

Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge

My ultimate hot ‘Buffalo’ wings and blue cheese dip

Ultimate hot Buffalo wings and blue cheese dipLook good don’t they?  Juicy, saucy, yet crispy….I love hot wings but so often find that you can either have them crispy, or saucy, not both; and unless you’re deep-frying them saucy usually means the skin is all soft and flabby which frankly, doesn’t appeal.  This recipe uses that top American trick with poultry – brining – to impart flavour into the meat and also, crucially, to keep the meat juicy when baked at the high temperatures needed to create a lovely crisp, dry skin which is normally impossible without deep-frying them.  To further encourage a crisp exterior I toss the wings in gram flour, which crisps beautifully when the wings are introduced to the hot fat in the baking dish, and also tastes much nicer than regular wheat flour.

‘Buffalo’ hot wings with creamy blue cheese dip
Serves 2 greedily

900g-1kg chicken wings
1/2 x 148ml bottle Frank’s red hot sauce
25g gram flour
1 tsp cayenne
15g butter

For the brine:
1 litre water
3 tbsp sea salt
3 tbsp chilli flakes

For the creamy blue cheese dip:
100g soft blue cheese (e.g. creamy gorgonzola)
100g sour cream
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 rounded tbsp mayonnaise
pinch salt

First make the brine by dissolving the salt in the water (this is easiest if you dissolve the salt first in a splash of boiling water, then top up with cold water), then stir in the chilli flakes.  Immerse your chicken wings in the brine, ensuring they are completely covered – weigh them down with a small plate if necessary – and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, make your blue cheese dip: simply place all the ingredients in a mini food  processor or in a tall jug with a stick blender, and process until smooth.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6 and place a large roasting dish in the oven to heat at the same time – the dish must be large enough to take the wings in a single layer.

When the oven is hot and the wings are brined,  add a large spoonful of fat – schmaltz, lard or ghee are best, to maximise flavour, but vegetable oil will do – to the hot roasting dish, and return to the oven to get piping hot. Drain, rinse & pat dry your brined wings. In a large bowl toss them in 2 tbsp of the hot sauce then in the flour and cayenne. Carefully place the wings in the hot fat, skin-side down and bake for 50mins-1hour until tender and crisp, turning once (carefully – the skin is fragile!).

In a small saucepan or in a microwave very briefly heat the butter with the remaining  hot sauce until the butter is just melted, then pour over the crispy baked wings and toss well to coat.  Serve with the blue cheese dip and lots of napkins. Go Nicks!

This is my entry for round 5 of the Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge – Game food.

Sweet heat chilli challenge

Chinese accompaniments: Umami-rich Egg fried rice and easy carrot pickle

Egg fried rice and easy carrot pickleTo my mind no oriental meal is complete without some rice and some pickles, and one of my favourite parts of any Chinese takeaway is the egg fried rice – for something so apparently simple it is something that has consistently gotten the better of me in the kitchen, never managing to recreate that wonderful simply savoury depth of flavour, so much so that I’d all but given up trying.

When I was planning some accompaniments to go with my Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce which I posted last week, I turned for advice to Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking and although I can never resist making a few tweaks to any recipe I follow, it turned out perfectly.  The pickles are a variation on hers too, and go wonderfully both with rice and dumplings, plus they keep for several days in the fridge so you can nibble them with anything else you have lying around – cheese or ham for instance.

Keep reading for my versions of both recipes…

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

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce

The provenance of this recipe is quite mixed – the leeks are of course quintessentially British, the soy and ginger in the dip are very Chinese (as is my accompaniment of egg fried rice), but I’ve added a touch of Vietnam too with the white peppercorns – a pungent and aromatic spice that is so different from regular black pepper, and which instantly transports me with memories of my honeymoon.  The result is, I think, a very happy fusion and quite unlike anything I’ve had in any restaurant, whether it be Chinese, Vietnamese or any other.

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauceMaking these gyoza is super-easy if – like me – you keep a packet of gyoza ‘skins’ or wrappers in the freezer. Commercially sold gyoza skins are so much thinner than anything you can make at home and are perfect for quick steamed dumplings like these (though if you want to pan-fry these you could of course make up a batch of your favourite dough – I like Ken Hom’s recipe). The wrappers take half an hour or so to defrost at room temperature (during which time you can be making the filling and the dipping sauce), but be sure to keep them under a damp cloth to stop them drying out.

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce
Serves 4-6

550g minced pork (absolutely NOT the kind sold as ‘lean’ – it’s essential to have fat in there or the dumplings will be too dry)
1 large leek, finely diced
2 tbsp finely diced fresh ginger
1 tbsp white peppercorns, freshly ground
2 spring onions, finely diced
1 tbsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
35-40 gyoza wrappers (I use Imperial Dragon brand, bought from Wing Yip), defrosted if frozen

For the dipping sauce:
125ml rice vinegar
75g caster sugar
2cm ginger, finely diced or grated
2 spring onions, finely diced
1 hot red chilli, finely diced (a scotch bonnet, though not authentic, is tastiest, use a birdseye chilli – seeds and all – for a more traditional flavour)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime

Start the dipping sauce first, as the gyoza are actually very quick to make. Start by dissolving the sugar with the vinegar in a small saucepan over a low heat, then increase the heat and simmer vigorously until it has reduced by about a third and is quite syrupy. Allow this to cool then stir in the remaining ingredients.

For the gyoza, simply mix together all the filling ingredients, then assemble them one at a time (to stop them drying out too much) by placing a heaped spoonful of filling in the centre of each gyoza wrapper, running a wet finger around the edge (this becomes the ‘glue’), then folding over into a semi-circle and pressing together gently to seal, expelling any air as you go. Place them on a baking tray and keep them covered whilst you do the rest. They keep for a day in the fridge, tightly covered with clingfilm, or they freeze well. To cook, line a large steamer basket with a sheet of greaseproof paper and lay the gyoza onto it in a single layer, not touching each other (they stick easily). Steam for 4-5 minutes until the pork is just cooked through – it is important not to overcook them as the filling will become bouncy and tough rather than tender and meltingly soft.

This recipe makes around 35-40 dumplings, a generous 4 portions if accompanied by rice and pickles, or they will obviously serve more if you are having them alone as a starter.  I served them with egg fried rice and some speedy carrot & cucumber pickles, the recipes of which will follow soon…..

Gyoza

Chili-con-Carne for even the most hardened chilli-phobe (and chilli-lover!)

Chili con Carne IllustrationOne of my friends has, despite my best efforts, a persistent and downright pesky lack of tolerance for heat. A whiff of even the mildest serrano chilli or teensiest pinch of cayenne has him running for the water trough with steam coming out of his ears. After one memorable lunch when I presented him with a chicken kebab which I promised was only mildly spiced but that had him nearly in tears, he has developed a healthy suspicion of my definition of ‘hot’.  On a cold and blustery afternoon when I was preparing to cook for 6 people whose spice preference ranged from ‘zero’ to ‘eyeball-meltingly-hot’ this recipe was developed with him in mind, having all the delicious warmth and spicing of a traditional chili, but with none of the actual – erm – chilli! It’s perfect not just for chilli-phobe adults but also kids whose palates have yet to adjust and appreciate the searing burn of fire.

Although fabulously tasty by itself, I accompany this chili with a super-spicy salsa, to be dolloped on each bite, or stirred in to taste at the table, to add fire strictly for those who wish for it. At the heart of the salsa are tomatillos – sharp green fruits that look like a cross between unripe green tomatoes and the papery lantern-wrapped physalis – but these are hard to find if you don’t spend your spare time frequenting chilli festivals (or growing your own under glass), so you can happily substitute nice ripe tomatoes, and just add a little extra vinegar or some lime juice to give it bite.  The ‘finishing butter’ adds a delicious richness and also limey freshness at the end, especially for those who are eschewing the salsa. Dried anchos are the key to the stew’s smokey depth and yes – I know they are technically a chilli – but this classification is misleading: they have the same heat punch of a bell pepper, which is essentially what they are! Pork skin may seem an odd addition to a stew (and is totally optional), but it melts down and vanishes during the long slow cooking, leaving a gorgeous richness and lending extra body to the sauce, and as pork shoulder in the piece almost always comes skin-on it seems a crime to waste it by omitting it.
Read on for the scrummy recipe……

Cola-braised pulled pork sandwiches with crispy fried pickles

Cola braised shredded ham hock sandwiches with crispy fried pickles

Despite having never yet visited America, I feel a lot of my food (or at least a lot of my tastes) are very much rooted in the cuisine of our cousin-across-the-pond, particularly in the food of the deep South. Given a choice I would probably eat hot wings, pulled pork and ‘slaw every day, but in deference to the fact that it’s not necessarily the healthiest cuisine around I limit myself to occasional forays, usually at weekends when I can really go to town and create a feast (which I think is what most people of the American South would agree it’s all about – generosity, hospitality, great big flavours – an ethos that has always been at the heart of my love for food).

This delicious dish takes a cheap core ingredient (pork shanks are still nice and cheap, compared to now-expensive pork shoulder which is traditionally used in pulled pork), and transforms it into something magical.  Braising pork in cola is something Nigella Lawson introduced me to, and it really does infuse the meat with what she calls ‘the spirit of BBQ’ – perfect for when the weather isn’t quite up to al fresco cooking but you still want that kind of experience. The deep-fried pickles came about because the pork needs something a bit sharp and sour to cut its inherent richness, and when you’re cooking Southern you simply have to have fried SOMETHING. I should say that they’re not my own invention though, I follow dozens of American food blogs and almost all of them have mentioned fried pickles in concert with pulled pork at some point, so this is where I took my inspiration from.

Cola braised shredded ham hock sandwiches with crispy fried pickles

Cola-braised shredded pulled pork sandwiches with crunchy fried pickles
Serves 4-6

For the pork braise:
4 pork shanks/hocks, skinned but with the skin kept (or 4 skinless hocks and a small sheet of pork rind – your friendly local butcher should be happy to oblige)
750ml Coca-Cola
1 white onion, peeled and halved
4 cloves
Small bay leaf

For the pork glaze:
250ml Coca-Cola
3 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tsp English mustard powder

For the fried pickles:
8 large gherkins
50g matzo meal (or other dried breadcrumbs)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Oil for frying

To serve:
4-6 good quality bread rolls
Chilli sauce, mayonnaise and/or sour cream (very much optional)

Place the pork shanks in a casserole dish into which they fit quite snugly. Stud the onion halves with the cloves and tuck those and the bay leaf in around the shanks. Score the pork skin deeply and lay it on top (this helps keep the shanks submerged and you get yummy crackling later), then pour over the coke. Cover with a lid, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat right down and cook gently for 1-2 hours (depending on the thickness of the shanks) until the meat is so tender it almost falls from the bones.

Whilst the shanks are cooking, make the fried pickles. Cut the gherkins into two or three pieces to give thickish spears and pat dry with kitchen paper. Dip into the beaten egg and then into the matzo meal or breadcrumbs. Heat a centimetre of vegetable oil in a deep-sided frying pan or wide saucepan and when it’s good and hot fry the crumbed pickles a few at a time. As soon as they’re nice and brown remove with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.

Remove the cooked shanks and pork rind and drain on a rack whilst you preheat a grill and make the glaze. Stir all the glaze ingredients together in a small saucepan with a generous pinch of salt, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to medium and simmer for around 10 minutes until dark and syrupy. Whilst that’s bubbling, get your grill good and hot.

Brush the shanks and the braised pork rind generously with the glaze, sprinkle with a little more salt and place on a rack over a foil-lined baking sheet. Pop under the hot grill until bubbling and charring at the edges – you’ll need to turn the shanks a couple of times, brushing with extra glaze as you do so. The pork rind won’t go as airily crunchy as with crackling on a roast, but it gets much crisper as it cools a little, plus that juicy chewiness is all part of the textures in this sandwich.

Shred the pork from the shanks and discard the bones. Split each bread roll and stuff full of the shredded meat, drizzling with any spare glaze as you go. Add a few pieces of ‘crackling’ and a couple of pickle spears to each sandwich. Depending on your preferences you may wish to add a smear of chilli sauce, mayo, or sour cream to the roll as well. Tuck in and taste the Deep South in every bite!

Sausage and Lentil casserole

Sausages & LentilsIs there any foodstuff more comforting than a plate of sausages? Gently fried to a caramelized brown, juicy within and sticky without, they have to be one of the greatest culinary inventions of all time. With the last sunshine of the year well and truly behind us, that most British of pursuits: incinerating sausages on a barbie whilst getting horribly sunburnt, has been laid to bed and it’s all gone terribly grey and miserable here in London.

Grim weather overhead, after a sausage-making workshop with fourth-generation master butcher Keith Fisher and the lovely PR team behind the forthcoming British Sausage Week (1-5th November), what I really fancied doing with my beautifully handcrafted sausages was something altogether more warming, and this sausage and lentil dish fit the bill perfectly.

read on for the recipe….