Thursday, 29 December 2011

Chicken Saag

Now that Christmas is over (thank goodness), I really wanted to eat a healthy meal, simply because of the over indulgence during the festive period. Thinking about what to eat I decided on a curry. I can almost hear you shouting curry isn't healthy with all that ghee, but this curry only has a little oil, and has fresh tomatoes, spinach, yoghurt, and chillies. All wonderfully healthy ingredients.

This is a tasty curry, thanks to the earthy taste of the spinach. The ginger and garlic help give it a great background flavour and the chilli gives it a little kick, which is mellowed by the yoghurt. Be careful not to cook the curry on too high a heat, otherwise the yoghurt will split.

I have said use skinned and boned chicken thighs, but you can leave the bone in if you prefer however you should cook for the curry for longer- about 25-30 minutes. Do check to ensure they are completely cooked. You can also cut the thigh into smaller pieces and so you can reduce the cooking time to about 15 minutes. Again check the chicken to ensure it's completely cooked through.

If you don't want the curry to be too spicy, scrape out the seeds from the green chilli.

  • 225g fresh spinach leaves, washed (remove any very large stems)
  • 2.5cm fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 fresh green chilli, roughly chopped
  • 200ml water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1tsp chilli powder
  • 45ml plain (natural) yoghurt
  • 8 chicken thighs, skinned and boned
  • (serves 4)

Cook the spinach, without water, for 5 minutes in a pan, or if it’s in a bag microwave it following the instructions. Put the spinach, ginger, garlic and chilli with 50ml of the water into a food processor and blend into a purée. Put to one side.

Heat the oil in a clean pan then add the bay leaves and peppercorns and fry for 2 minutes. Then add the onions and cook for 6-8 minutes, ensuring they don't brown or burn.

Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the curry powder, salt and chilli powder. Stir and simmer for 2 minutes.

Add the spinach purée and the remaining water and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Turn down the heat and stir in the yoghurt a little at a time, stirring continuously until the yoghurt has completely mixed in.

Add the chicken, cover the pan and cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and tender. Serve with rice, adding some yoghurt on top.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Ham Hock and Cornichon Terrin

I've always wanted to make a terrine, after watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall making one. They do seem a lot of effort, but whenever I've had terrine in a restaurant I have also enjoyed it.

Making the terrine does take a long time- between 4-5 hours, though I'm not complaining as it gives me time to sit down with a glass of wine (or 2,3,hic), whilst waiting for it to cook and cool down.

Although I am saying you need 2kg of Ham Hock, it is actually difficult to get exactly 2kg. I needed two hocks as one wasn't enough and they came to over 2kg. Do not worry, as what is left over can go into making a great sandwich or two. Actually for me the meat didn't last long enough to make it to the bread as I was busy scoffing it as I went along. Well I needed something to soak up the wine didn't I? ;-)

When cooking the hock(s) you should boil them very rapidly for about 10 minutes and then reduce the heat so the water is barely bubbling. This is to ensure that the liquid stays clear. If the water is boiling too fast it will become cloudy.

  • 3 litres of water
  • 2kg ham hocks
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, sliced
  • 1 large onion, cut in half
  • 10 black pepper corns
  • pack of flat leaf parsley
  • bouquet garni
  • 100g cornichons
  • gelatine
  • cling film
  • 900g loaf tin

Put the water into a large pan and add the ham hock(s), the carrots, celery and onion. From the pack of parsley take out a few sprigs and add to the water along with the peppercorns.

Bring to the boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat so that the water is hardly moving and remove any scum that comes to the surface. Cook for at least three hours or until the meat is easily removed from the bone.

Once cooked remove the hock(s) and allow to cool down. Sieve the liquid into a jug and put it to one side to cool down also.

Once the meat has cooled down, remove as much fat as possible and pull the meat from the bone. With your hands pull the meat into shreds and place into a bowl.

Take the cornichons and rinse them, cut in half length ways and then chop into small pieces and add to the meat
Take the rest of the flat leaf parsley and blanch it in boiling water for about 15-20 seconds. Remove and chop finely (I used the stalks as well). Add it to the meat.

Take 500ml of the ham stock that was set aside and place it in a pan. Heat gently but do not let it boil as the gelatine might not set very well. I am using leaf gelatine and whilst the stock is warming up, I placed 4 leaves of the gelatine (check your instructions on the pack as it may be different) into cold water. After 5 minutes remove it and squeeze out any water then add it to the stock, stirring until the gelatine has melted. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool down.

Take a long piece of clingfilm and pull it over the loaf tin, pushing it into the sides and then back again, leaving an edge on both sides. Repeat this again, so that you have four layers in the tin.

Place the ham mixture into the loaf tin, pushing down to get as much in as possible.

If you haven't got a lid for your loaf tin, take a piece of cardboard, the same size as your loaf tin and wrap tin foil over it. It will be used to sit directly on the meat.

Once the ham stock is cooler, pour it into the loaf tin, being careful not to pour too fast, otherwise the liquid spills over the top.

Once the liquid has covered the ham completely, pull the cling film over the top to over it. Put the lid on top and place in the fridge for 12 hours. You need to add some weight on to the lid so that it presses the contents down. A couple of tins of beans (or similar) should do the trick.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Mince Pies - Part 3 - Different Pastry

Okay, part 2. The first batch of making mince pies didn't go to well. The pastry was too thick, I over filled the pies, they spilt – need I go on. Although I will say they were very tasty, if a little ugly to look at. So, shortcrust pastry works only the maker doesn't!

I have found another pastry recipe and am trying this out and with the mistakes from the part 2, I am hoping that I've learnt something and that these come out better – fingers crossed!

This is a sweet pastry and with a little more research I found some good tips, including making sure you rest the pastry in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes before you use it. Also that you bring the pastry back to room temperature otherwise it will crack when rolling. Make sure you have a LOT of flour on your board so the pastry doesn't stick. Also ensure your pastry is not tot wet or too dry – nothing like conflicting tips is there?

You can use shop-bought mincemeat, but I have a recipe HERE. It will last a long time as long as you place it into sterilised jars where it will last at least 6 months. I am not saying how much you need as it depends on how much you want to fill the pies and of course how many you are making.

  • 200g plain flour
  • 40g golden caster sugar
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 125g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the caster sugar and ground almonds. Add the butter and with your fingertips blend it together until you have a consistency of breadcrumbs. If you want to speed up the process, use a food processor.

Add the beaten egg and bind the mixture together into a ball. Place the ball in to some clingflim and place it in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and let is stand until it comes to room temperature- This can take about an hour.

Place some flour on a surface and roll out the pastry until it's about 2mm thick. Cut out 12 circles with a pastry cutter and place it in to the base of a muffin/ Yorkshire pudding tin.

Add just enough mincemeat. Judge by your eye, but you don't want it too full, otherwise the pies will spilt when baking -see picture HERE - try and ensure there are no big gaps between the mixture.

Now cut out 12 smaller circles. Take each circle and place a little milk around the bottom edge. Place each on to the base and pinch together to seal in the mincemeat.

Brush some milk lightly on top and place in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.

Place into a preheated oven at 200C and cook for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

One thing I learned today, when coming to the end of the cooking time, don’t talk to a friend on the phone whilst supping a glass of red wine, as you will overcook them.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mincepies Part 2 - How NOT to make Mincepies

I did a fair amount of research on the internet on what kind of pastry to use for my mince pies, and decided to first try with shortcrust pastry - the recipe for which is readily available on the internet.

I made the pastry and started assembling the pies. The recipe I used said that it makes 12 pies and 12 lids. Well I was struggling to see how that was possible, so I decided to attempt to make 6 pies and 6 lids to see how much pastry I had left over. I put the 6 bottoms in the tray, placed in the mincemeat mixture (which I'd made previously in part 1 see HERE), started to put the lids on the pies when disater struck. I knocked the jar of mincemeat and it went flying all over the floor. So, even if I could make more pies, with the left over pastry, I had no mincemeat left.

With the air exceedingly BLUE, I eventually got my composure back and placed the 6 pies into the oven to see how they would come out and what they would taste like. As you can see they didn't come out well at all. The pastry was too thick, the lids didn't stick down, but they did taste very nice. So I guess part 3 is on the cards, although I am running out of time. I need to make more mincemeat and that takes 24 hours and I am out all day Friday and travelling to my outlaws on Saturday, so I need to try again either on Wednesday or Thursday. Fingers crossed that I get it right this time, but it's going to be a struggle as I'm also going to attempt to make a ham hock terrine with cornichons and pasley, as well as finish off my Christmas shopping!

The pastry recipe is fine and tasty, but you must ensure you roll the pastry out thinly and make the top and bottom of the pie stick together
  • 200g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g butter
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water

Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Cut the buttter into small pieces and add to the bowl.

Using your fingertips rub in the butter into the pastry until you have the texture resembling bread crumbs.

Add 2 tbsp of water and stir together with a knife and then with your hands bring it all together in a ball. If the mixture is too dry and you are having problems making it into a ball add another tablespoon of water.

When completed wrap in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Take out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature, which will take about an hour. This will stop the pastry from cracking when you are rolling it out.

Roll the pastry out and cut 12 circles and place into your pan. Then add the mincemeat, ensuring you don't over fill to prevent it spilling out when in the oven.

Cut out another 12 circles to put on top. Rub a little water on both parts of pastry and then pinch together, to stop them from splitting.

Preheat the over to 220C and cook for 15-25 minutes, depending on your oven.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Curried Goat

To think that I got into my all time favourite curry was by going to a local Bingo hall. To do something different some friends and I went to our local bingo hall in Cricklewood, London. They have two separate restaurants- English and Caribbean. Now I love fish and chips, omelettes and chips etc, but I was more interested in the Caribbean section. Standing in queue, I could see on the menu Jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, dumplings, callaloo and oxtail stew but decided to try curried goat with rice and peas. All I could say was OMG and have been hooked on it ever since. In fact the only reason I ever went back to play bingo was for the curry – plus it had a late night bar with cheap beer!

Now the biggest problem was where to get goat from! I've actually found this quite difficult, so I went to Brixton, London because it has a large afro Caribbean community, but I could not find goat meat- lots of mutton but no goat. I went to a famous foodie market called Borough Market and asked a few meat stalls and the best answer was I would have to order it and it would take about two weeks. What was I going to do? Easy, I just replaced the goat for mutton and have made this dish a lot using mutton and it is delicious. But a couple of weeks ago I went to my local high street and went into a local corner shop. There in the fresh meat section was goat meat. So, today I made my favourite curry with goat and here is the recipe, which serves four.

The dish is very easy to make but this recipe can take up to 8 hours to prepare and cook, but trust me it is worth it.

WARNING – if you are going to use to Scotch bonnets be careful as they are VERY hot, so you might want to remove seeds. Also wash your hands thoroughly afterwards and do not rub your eyes. You may even want to wear gloves whilst you prepare them.

  • 1kg goat meat (if not mutton or lamb will do)
  • 1 lime
  • 2tbsp all purpose seasoning
  • 2tbsp Jamaican curry powder (normal curry powder is fine)
  • 6tbsp oil (sunflower or vegetable is best)
  • 450ml vegetable stock
  • 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 1 scotch bonnet (take seeds out if you don't want it too hot)
  • 2 gloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 10 all spice berries
  • 2cm fresh ginger
  • 1 red pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 green pepper, diced (optional)
  • 2 spring onions (green part only)
  • 2tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 large waxy potato, diced (optional)

Put the meat into a bowl and squeeze the juice of the lime on top. Add the all purpose seasoning and the curry powder and mix all together. Cover the bowl and put in the fridge for about 4 hours. You can leave it for an hour, but the flavours do not marinate as well and is not so intense.

Put the oil into a casserole dish or thick bottom pan and bring up to a very high heat. Then add the goat meat stirring to cover all the meat with the oil. Once completely covered lower the heat and cook the meat in the oil for about 45 minutes, occasionally stirring to ensure that the meat is not burning.

Add 150ml of stock to the pan and cook for about 45 minutes, again stirring occasionally. Add another 150ml of the stock to the pan and again cook for about 45 minutes.

Then add all other ingredients apart from the potato and cook for two hours. Then add the potato and until cooked. Then serve with rice and peas.

All I do for rice and peas is to bring the (easy cook) rice to the boil add a tin of red kidney beans (including the water) and cook until tender.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Mince Pies Part 1 - Mincemeat

I hate Christmas. There you go I said it out loud. It's over-hyped it’s too commericalised, too expensive and really just for children. But, I do love eating all that food being the hog that I am! Although I don't like the traditional fare of turkey, brussel sprouts, Christmas pudding etc, only because it's the same every year. It would be nice just once to have goose or duck or something different...Malcolm are you getting the HINT.....? :-)

This year I am going to the outlaws for Christmas and was going to make piccalilli but didn't realise that it took so long to mature. So I have decided to make mince pies. I was going to cop out and buy all the ingredients and just put it all together, but then I thought no, you talk about food, so you should really make it all from scratch.

I am writing the mince pie recipe in two stages because I am also making the mincemeat, which is very easy, but you should marinade it for at least 12 hours before you cook it. It is also good to keep it stored in a dark cupboard for as long as possible so the flavours have more time to enhance.

There are a lot of ingredients but apart from the brandy (optional but it does help the flavour) all you do it throw them all together, mix it and leave it to stand for 12 hours before cooking. How easy is that?

The mixture of sultanas, currants, raisins and candied peel is up to you, depending on what you prefer. In our local Waitrose supermarket I found a 500g bag of a good mixture of these ingredients, with very little candied peel, which is fine for me as I am not a fan.

  • 500g mix of sultanas, currents, raisins and candied peel
  • 225g Bramley apples
  • 175g dark brown sugar
  • 110g shredded suet (you can use vegetable suet)
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 25g ground almonds (optional)
  • 2tsp mixed ground spice
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 5tbsp of brandy (optional)

You will also need 3 x 350ml jars or 1 x 1kg jar. To sterilise preheat the oven to 120C, wash the jar(s) in hot soapy water then rinse in clean water. Dry off with kitchen paper (do not use a tea towel) then place in the oven for 5 minutes. Take the jar(s) out to cool down. Do this before you are ready to store the mincemeat.

Put all the ingredients (apart from the brandy) into a bowl that can eventually go into the oven and mix together. Place the mixture in the fridge for at least 12 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 120C and place the bowl in and cook for three hours.

Once cooked let the mixture cool down, mixing occasionally as this will help mix the suet into the mincemeat to help it stick together.

Once cooled down add to your jars and keep in cool dark place until needed. You can of course use the mixture straight away.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


In a previous posting I mentioned that I took a cookery course to make three different desserts and this is the recipe for panna cotta with almond crumble and Clementine. I am not a big fan of desserts and so haven't made many and in fact over the years I have become nervous making them due to the lack of practice. But, If I do have dessert in a restaurant one of my favourites is a plain panna cotta; the tasty vanilla flavour in that soft white cream is delicious. So, when my friend Lyd and I decided to do the dessert course it was the panna cotta that decided it for me.

This recipe is for 6 people, as that was the amount of people on the course. I don't mind making too many as I'll have four and my partner can have two, if he so wishes. If not it’s more for me so no complaints!

This recipe leaves the panna cotta in the ramekins, but if you wish to place the panna cotta onto a plate a little tip our chef told us, was to put some cling film in the bottom of each ramekin and then pour in the liquid and then place in the fridge. When it's firm it's easier to take out of the ramekin as all you do is gently pull on the film.

Unfortunately there is no healthy version for this dish, so it needs to be full fat cream. This is because half fat doesn't have the flavour and also doesn't set as well. Also if you’re using vanilla seeds then they will sink to the bottom. So next time you have panna cotta in a restaurant and you can't see any seeds they have skimped on the ingredients and used vanilla essence. What ever you do, do not use vanilla flavour, it's cheap for a reason and doesn't taste as nice. Always use vanilla extract.

For the panna cotta

2g gelatine leaves (3 whole)
600ml double cream (must be full fat)
1 vanilla pod
70g caster sugar
8 Clementine (or just use any citrus orange)

For the crumble

50g plain flour
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
50 unsalted butter

Place the gelatine into a bowl of cold water.

Put 200ml of the double cream into a pan. Using the back of the knife drag it down the vanilla pod to squash it. Run the knife down the pod to cut, trying not to cut fully through to the other side, then drag the back of the knife down the cut pod to drag out the seeds. Add to the pan.

Bring the cream to the boil, ensuring you stir constantly and keeping a eye on it so it doesn't boil over. Once the cream starts to boil and rise in the pan, turn off the cooker and remove from the heat.

Take the gelatine from the water and squeeze out when excess. Once squeezed add it to the cream and then add the other 400ml of cream and stir for a few minutes.

Pour the mixture into six ramekins and place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.
Whilst the liquid is in the fridge preheat the oven to 200c. Place the unsalted butter, ground almonds, plain flour and caster sugar into a bowl. Gently rub the mixture bewteen your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet and transfer to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

When you’re ready to put everything together, remove the skin off the Clementine and divide into segments. Take the panna cotta out of the fridge and place the Clementine segments into the ramekin, then place some of the almond crumble on the top. Then serve and enjoy......

Monday, 12 December 2011

Cookery Courses

When I decided to come to Dubai my friend Lyd talked about doing some cookery courses! This is not something I would think of doing as it's a holiday and I like to wallow on the beach or around a pool with a gin and tonic in my hand. We both searched the internet to find some short courses as I didn't want to spend my whole holiday cooking. With this remit we found a short course on desserts which was run by a company called L'atelier des Chefs where we made pannacotta with oranges and almond crumble, chocolate mousse with an almond crunch and a tiramsu emulsion (for some unknown reason we didn't make the crunch or emulsion and we didn't think about it until we looked it up on the course details later) and a pear tarte tartin with pistachio crème angliase, three things I've never made before as I am more of a savoury person and because it always seemed difficult to make, how wrong I was there.

The course was only 90 minutes long, so I did wonder how we could make so many dishes in such a short time, but it all became clear as we walked in because all the ingredients were weighed out for us and all the dirty dishes were washed for us. This has now caused me an issue as I need someone to come to my house and do all this for me, lazy or what!

The course was very great in teaching me new techniques with each dish. For the pear tarte tartin, we were shown how to prepare the pear (cut in half, remove core and cut on an angle three ways with each half), how to make caramel ensuring you don't burn it (ensure you have the sugar spread evenly around the pan and when melted add the butter). With the custard (crème anglaise) I am used to buying just ambrosia custard in a pack, as it's much easier, again how lazy, but making the custard was surprisingly simple. With the pannacotta we prepared the cream to boil which must been watched at all times so it doesn't burn or boil over which is very easy to do. We then used gelatine which was also new to me, but again very simple to use, why was I so nervous. The easiest dish was the chocolate mousse, as you only need to boil the cream, which we tried earlier. The one thing I did learn about using chocolate was to ensure you use only cooking chocolate because with eating chocolate the makers add extra ingredients that can ruin the texture of the chocolate when melting.

Our chef was very knowledgeable about all the ingredients, his explanation of each recipe was clear and concise and answered on going questions with ease without using complicated cooking terminology. I was also pleased to find out that they run courses in London and will be going to more of them. I do have another course which is Spanish theme and am looking forward to it.

It is great to do something completely different on holiday and I might even look at a cooking holiday at some point in the future. I am also tempted to do a pasta course, as would love to be able to make my own pasta. When I get home I will be doing these recipes again and will write them up then.