Orange-baked chicken thighs with perfumed rice and nutty broccoli

Not your everyday chicken and rice, once you tasted both cooked in freshly-squeezed orange juice you’ll wonder why you never tried it like that before (at least, that’s what my friends said when I did this dish for them!). When I was growing up mum regularly used to roast me chicken breasts with fresh orange, an idea she got from a recipe in a battered old Marguerite Patten book called ‘Five hundred recipes for chicken dishes’, and this is a great way to jazz up a very simple midweek supper.

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Orange-baked chicken thighs with perfumed rice and nutty broccoli
Serves 2

2 large chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
40g butter
3 large oranges
½ a chicken stock cube (a good one please – Kallo Organic for preference)
5 cardamom pods
125g basmati rice
1 small head of broccoli
20g flaked almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Pat the chicken dry with kitchen towel and place skin-side up in a small roasting dish.

2. Squeeze the juice from 1 orange and pour over the chicken into the roasting tin. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper (particularly with pepper) and dot with half the butter. Bake for 30-40mins or until golden brown and cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, juice the remaining oranges and make up to 250ml with water. Bruise the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife. Place the rice in a medium saucepan, add the diluted juice, crumbled stock cube and cardamom pods and cover with a tight fitting lid. Separate the broccoli into florets and set both rice and broccoli to one side.

4. 20 mins before the chicken is done bring the rice to a boil on a medium heat, stir once with a fork, then re-cover and simmer on a low heat for 10-12 minutes until cooked through.

5. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the broccoli for 3-5 mins until tender. Drain the broccoli and return the empty pan to the heat. Add the flaked almonds and cook on a medium heat, shaking regularly, for 1-2 mins until golden. Add the butter, allow to melt, then add the broccoli and mix together.

6. Serve the baked chicken with the cooked rice (don’t eat the cardamom pods), the broccoli, and the juices from the roasting dish spooned all over.

Cheaty cheapy roasted tomato & pepper soup with basil oil

As much as I love tomato soup I’m often horrified by the cost of making it at home. It’s common for recipes to call for a minimum of 1.5kg tomatoes for a few portions, that’s pretty darn expensive to buy, and even when I have a glut in my garden I’ll be hard pressed to provide that more than once a season.

Tomato Pepper Soup

So to satisfy the penny pincher in me (and to acknowledge that for yet another year in a row there’ll be little to no sunshine and my tomato harvest is likely to be nil) I’ve created a tomato soup that delivers all the flavour for a fraction of the cost, the tomatoes being bulked out a little with peppers and carrots, and a shot of concentrated tomato puree gives an extra boost of tomatoeyness. The basil oil isn’t strictly necessary, but I do think a homemade soup deserves that little extra dressing up, and it means you can make this in the winter (or our ‘summer’ equivalent), with hothouse-grown tomatoes, and still feel like you’re in the Provençal sunshine.

Roasted tomato & pepper soup with basil oil
Serves 4

500g cherry tomatoes
2 red peppers, quartered and deseeded
Half a red chilli (in the piece, not chopped)
3 small carrots, peeled
a small knob of butter
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, bruised and peeled
pinch of celery salt
3 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
500ml vegetable stock

For the basil oil
15g basil leaves
olive oil

Toss the tomatoes, peppers and chilli in a tiny drop of oil (just enough to stop them sticking), then roast at 200˚C/Gas 6 for 40-45 minutes. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool before skinning. If you can be bothered, pinch the skins from the tomatoes too, but don’t be too fastidious about it.

Finely grate the carrots (use the finest side on a box grater, or a microplane), then sweat in the butter with the onion, bruised garlic, celery salt and tomato puree until meltingly tender. Add the roasted tomatoes, skinned peppers and the chilli, plus the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, simmer for just a minute or two, then blitz and season to taste.

For the basil puree, whizz the basil leaves with a pinch of salt and just enough olive oil to form a smooth paste (using a stick blender or mini processor). Serve the soup drizzled with the oil.

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

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

Runner bean spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Runner bean spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Late summer is a time of abundance for British gardeners, the time of year when a vast majority of homegrown crops are at their peak and when keeping up with your edible bounty can be downright difficult! Runner beans have been a staple crop in my household since I was a child, and in good years we eat them almost every day, the plants putting out fresh batches of beans practically overnight.

Even if you aren’t growing your own, runner beans are everywhere now so it’s a great time to get some toothsome airmile-guilt-free food whilst it’s dead cheap.  This is a delicious and simple dish which is easily scaled up or down, depending on the number of people needing serving (and how big your glut of runner beans is!).  I wouldn’t bother cooking less than half of the tomato sauce – simply because it’s so easy and tasty you can use any spare sauce for other pasta dishes, stews or even on homemade pizzas. It keeps in the fridge for several days, or in the freezer for months.

Read on for the recipe

Vietnamese Caramel Pork

Vietnamese Caramel Pork Continuing my theme of easy suppers entitled ‘Chris’s Dishes‘, this is one of my favourite weeknight meals, and because hubby doesn’t love his pork in quite the same way I do, it’s the one I treat myself to most often when he’s away. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I can eat this whole quantity by myself in one sitting – it’s that good.  Caramel and pork may not seem to be automatic partners in the kitchen, but its classic Vietnamese, and although this South-East Asian cuisine can appear scary and/or complicated to the uninitiated, this is actually a super-simple tasty dinner.   Vietnamese food is characterised by the use of three key things: fresh herbs, fish sauce and sugar.  Although this recipe is missing the first as it’s one of my ‘storecupboard staple’ recipes made from what I always have in the kitchen, it’s got plenty of the other two ingredients, and is my version of a classic dish.

To balance the sweetness of the caramel, the pork is also flavoured with lots of spicy chilli, sour lime and vinegar, and punchy fish sauce.  Don’t be scared of the fish sauce – it makes the dish taste deliciously savoury, not fishy!  Crispy, crunchy meat full of mouth-popping flavours, and thrown together in just 15 minutes: heaven.  This needs nothing more than a heap of basmati rice*, which can be cooked in the same amount of time as the pork.

Vietnamese Caramel Pork
Serves 2, with leftovers

500g minced pork (not the kind sold as ‘lean’ – you need some fat!)
75g caster sugar
2 limes, juice only
1-2 hot red chillis, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
3 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 spring onions, roughly chopped

Put all the ingredients apart from the pork and the spring onions into a medium saucepan along with 2 tbsp water and bring gently to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and boil for a couple of minutes until it has reduced and gone slightly syrupy.

Meanwhile fry the mince in a big splash of oil in a large frying pan. Keep the heat high and don’t move the meat about too much, so that it has a chance to brown thoroughly. It will go from quite soft to super-crisp very suddenly when the excess moisture in the meat cooks off: at this point stir in the caramel, cook for one minute more and taste for seasoning – careful, it’ll be hot!

Serve with white rice*, and a scattering of spring onion.

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*P.S. I always follow Delia Smith’s recipe for cooking rice, and have never had anything other than a perfect result. You can find the method here

My fridge shame (and a puff-pastry pizzette)

I think it was probably my mother who instilled in me a fanatical horror of waste and subsequently a terrible habit to hoard.  My grandfather, her dad, was the same – in fact he was worse, something we only fully realised after he died – the man had a whole room of copies of Reader’s Digest spanning decades, and a garage full from floor to ceiling with tat he’d picked up at the local jumble sale and never used.

For me, hoarding is mostly focussed on food – I get twitchy if my cupboards aren’t full to the gills, I can’t stand getting rid of (‘wasting’) anything that is still edible, and combine that with my love of discovering new products and devotion to condiments in particular and you have a recipe for one hell of an overloaded fridge!

When I recently opened the fridge door and realised not only was there no room for the milk I’d just bought, but also that I had NO idea what was taking up all the space, I decided it was time for a major clear out.  Here is my shameful roll-call of the contents…

bread rolls celery white miso
gentlemen’s relish barley miso Swedish mustard
English mustard baby capers ground coffee
dill mustard tamarind chipotle chutney curry roux
coconut cream hot pepper jelly chilli sauce
mint sauce condensed milk fast-action yeast
pickled radish ghee No.5 umami paste
cheddar garlic mayo red leicester
eggs bacon lemons
dill corn cobs young garlic
tomatoes oranges limes
ginger red chillis damson jam
tom yam paste mojito cocktail mix horseradish
mango chutney tikka paste strawberry jam
schmaltz garlic butter 1/2 pck puff pastry
goat’s butter sweet chilli sauce mayonnaise
cornbread parmesan more cheddar
1/2 red onion cherry tomatoes unsalted butter

Ridiculous isn’t it?  See what I meant about loving condiments?  And this is not to mention the things that I had to bin which had gone mouldy whilst hiding at the back: streaky bacon, spring onions, pickled chillis, marmalade, mushrooms.  Binning those has earnt me at least a month in the circle of hell reserved for people who wantonly waste precious resources….

This clear out was a real wake-up call, I certainly can’t afford to waste all this food, so what was I going to do with it?  Well firstly, I made a resolution to use up ALL the items in my fridge.  When cooking as many eclectic cuisines as I do it’s easy to end up with dozens of jars opened for just a tablespoonful in a recipe, but I’m going to make it my mission to use up all the existing ones before opening new.  And secondly?  It was time to make use of those fresh ingredients whilst they’re still good.  And thus I present my puff pastry pizzette:

Puff-pastry Pizzette
Perfect for students, late-night fridge raiding dinners, or anyone who wants to use up the odds and sods in their salad drawers.  Quantities are up to you, and should be varied to use up whatever you have in the house.

Puff Pastry Pizzette
Serves 2

Puff-pastry Pizzette
– Take half a 500g block of puff pastry (the other half can be frozen), cut it in two then roll out on a floured surface into two rectangles (or squares, or circles) about 5mm thick, and transfer to a baking sheet

– Smear a generous blob of tomato puree or passata over the bases, leaving roughly a 1cm border around thPuff-pastry Pizzettee edge

– Top with whatever you like – I used thin slices of chorizo (skin removed), 1/2 a red onion finely sliced, a red chilli, and quartered cherry tomatoes

– Scatter over a handful of grated cheese: anything the melts well is suitable, cheddar and parmesan is a nice mix.

– Add a sprinkle of dried Italian herbs (oregano, thyme or similar) and a grinding of black pepper, and finally drizzle with a little olive oil

– Bake in a hot oven (around 200C/Gas 6) for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Serve with a generous pile of salad to cut through the richness of the pastry and cheese, if you happen to have any!

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!

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.