Sunday, 28 October 2012

Chicken stew with thyme dumplings

Think of this dish as a culinary Shrek; what it lacks in looks it makes up for with other charms. Tasty, delicious charms.

Apologies that posts are a bit here and there at the moment. As I have previously mentioned we are moving house very soon and it's thrown things somewhat off kilter. Not that I've put a single thing in a cardboard box yet, but there is lots of reading of important paperwork (looking at home furnishings on Etsy) and phone calls to builders (looking at home furnishings on Etsy) and YAWWWWWWWN, I JUST WANT TO DECORATE AND BUY PRETTY THINGS.  Did you know that there are still places in the world where your local church can demand you pay for their roof repairs? Well apparently they chuffing well can and we're moving to one of those places. This little heathen can barely afford repairs to her own house, thank you very much, let alone The House of God. These are the sorts of treats your solicitor sends you when you're buying a house.

So cooking has reduced to basic sustenance and a dependence on all things stewy, carby and comforting around here.  In my opinion, Chicken stew is just the epitome of Autumn cosiness.  You may disagree with me, but I won't listen. For me it conjures the same feelings as tomato soup when you're feeling a bit poorly, or fish and chips at the seaside when it's started to rain and you're all hiding in the car. And dumplings, holy hell, they're the food of lardy Kings, I tell you.

This was also a splendid opportunity to use the last of my meagre balcony crop: round carrots! Yes, they are meant to be round. Heritage variety, innit.

Tune in later this week, when I will be showing you how to make your very own (sugar) blue crystal meth. You all watch Breaking Bad, right? Let's hope so, otherwise shit's gonna get weird for you.

Chicken stew with dumplings (for two)
Two pieces of chicken per person (leg or thigh)
Slosh of oil
8 shallots
4 med carrots
4 cloves garlic
Sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
Glass of white wine
Pint chicken stock

For dumplings
50g suet
100g self-raising flour
1tsp thyme leaves

Brown your chicken off in the oil, in a heavy casserole dish. Once coloured, remove from the pan, then add in your shallots and garlic until softened. Return the chicken to the pan and add in the wine. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the stock, rosemary and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer.

In the meantime, make your dumplings. Mix the flour, suet, seasoning and thyme and add water, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a sticky dough. Separate into dumplings and set to one side, on a floured surface.

Cook your stew for about an hour (check every 20 mins or so and add more stock if needed), till the stock has reduced to a nice gravy and the chicken is starting to come away from the bone. Add in your carrots and cook for another 10 mins, then dot the dumplings around the surface and cook for another 5 mins, until they have swelled up.

Serve with veg.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Slow-cooked balsamic lamb shanks

Man have I got a hunger on me at the moment.  I think it's the change of the seasons. I just want to scoff scoff scoff. A biscuit here, a chunk of cheese there, half a jar of peanut butter between emails. My body is obviously trying to get a bit of lard on to see me through the winter months, which isn't necessarily required.

As previously discussed, I think Autumn is bloody excellent, but I'm sure September was unusually cold this year.  October is going the same way.  We've got the central heating on already, which according to Twitter is a major faux pas. Apparently if you don't turn the central heating on till November it makes you a better person and harder than Chuck Norris.  I don't care, our tough Canadian neighbours - who are used to proper snow - have turned theirs on, so it's OK.

Mr Mangrove is getting totally down with the whole wrapping-up warm thing. Have you ever seen a more sarcastic looking feline? He fits in well around here.

When I get properly ravenous, I think the only thing which can satisfy me (does that sound rude? Never mind, if it gets me a few more google hits....) is mashed potato.  Bloody love the stuff - Bodger and Badger have nothing on me.  Preferably served with a hunk of meat.  Roast chicken, sausages, pork chops, they're are all adequate adversaries, but nothing can be described as a 'hunk' quite like a lamb shank. It's a cheap cut, it's as big as your fist (or bigger, if you have tiny Beadle hands like me) and, if it takes your fancy, you can grab it in-hand, gnaw from the bone and declare yourself Henry VIII.  Of course, I didn't do that....definitely not.....V childish. 

So this certainly sorted me out: slow-cooked balsamic lamb shanks, with a good old dollop (dollop isn't the most appealing adjective is it? oh well) of mash. The photo at the top of the page is my attempt at cookbook-ish, whilst the below is the real life scenario; plate in lap, pyjamas on, excessive gravy, portion of greens to balance things out. That's how autumn should be.

Slow-cooked balsamic lamb shanks

3 lambs shanks (ours just happened to come in a pack of three, so we had left-overs)
About 150g flour
Slug of olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 large red onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic
Half a bottle of red wine
120ml balsamic vinegar
1 tsp juniper berries (about 5 or 6 berries)
2 bay leafs
A couple of sprigs of rosemary

Mix a good few pinches of salt and pepper into the flour in a bowl.  Dip in your lamb shanks, until all the flesh has a light coating of the flour.  In a good sized casserole dish (which fits your shanks fairly  snugly) or heavy pan, heat your oil, then brown off the lamb shanks one by one. 

Fry your onions, until soft, then add in the garlic cloves and give it another minute.  Return the lamb to the pan, then add the remaining ingredients. The shanks should be about half covered by the liquid, so add a bit of water if needs be (or more wine, if you're feeling extravagant).

Put the casserole dish in the oven at gas mark 4. Then, sorry, but you've got three hours to wait. It'll give you time to peel ten tonnes of potatoes and make mashed potato mountain. Or you could read a book, or dick around on instagram, or annoy the cat. I'm pretty sure I did all of these things.

Every 30 mins or so, check how things are going. Baste and turn the meat, add more liquid if needed.  You'll know it's done when the meat is starting to fall off the bone and the juices have reduced/thickened.  Have a taste and see if it needs more seasoning, or watering down a bit. Then devour.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Chicken liver, parsley and walnut salad with warm mustard vinaigrette

Bit poncy sounding eh? Well I went to Waitrose this week, so I've gone up in the world.

I bloody love that place. I think I've got a serious problem (but they say the first step of addressing a problem is admitting it, so IN YOUR FACE, PROBLEM).  For the first year of living in Norfolk I'd managed to keep its location secret from myself - refusing to google the exact spot - but then, the other day, I came across it by accident.  UH OH.  Immediately I started itching for their fine selection of cured meats, jovial customer service and easy car parking. Turns out it's right on my way home from our Cambridge office - "Splendid", says my bank manager!

I fell off the Waitrose wagon and I fell off it hard.  In I turn, into a car parking space which doesn't make me embarrass myself.  I cruise through the door, smiling at all the pleasant, non-harassed looking people, and I thank the lords that I am wearing a lanyard and a Barbour, as apparently those are THE THINGS to wear in Waitrose at 6pm on a Thursday.  I grab a trolley (first mistake, ALWAYS just get a basket), off I speed, and then.....then I spend all of the fucking money. 

It was meant to be a post-work dash - looking for a simple dinner - but I came out sixty quid lighter and severely lacking in dinner.  What I did purchase was:
Edamame and wasabi dip
Vacuum packed chestnuts
Iberico ham
Very smelly cheese
Umami dust
Organic chicken livers

It's like Dr Jekyl and Mrs Hyde, but instead of turning into a murderous monster, I turn into a frivolous, gun-ho, food ponce. To bring things back to earth, my evening ended with me sat on the sofa with a bag of grated cheese (left-over from a work thing, I should add; I may be a lazy fat arse but I draw the line at pre-grated cheese), as I had neglected to buy actual dinner.

The thing is, if you just stuck to doing the regular shop, I don't think it'd cost you much more than Tesco - and you'd hate yourself less - it's just there's so much good stuff to tempt you, which you don't have to worry about in the lesser supermarkets.  The two big things in Waitrose's favour, however - when trying to justify my devastation of the joint account - are: 1. Their general more ethical approach (they stock decent quality, free-range meat/they treat their staff well/they sell more British produce) and 2. They really know how to reduce stuff; if it's approaching sell-by it comes down to about a quarter of the price. They also don't sell milk from badger culling farms, so me shopping there is basically solving all of the world's problems. 

The main crux of the issue is that I really can't afford to be going to Waitrose right now, as we happen to be buying a house.  I  realise when I said in my last post that we 'own' a pub, it might have sounded like we're terribly rich, but far from it, we only lease the building for that, don't own it.  This house will be the first stack of bricks that Ben and I have ever owned and the mortgage will probably outlive us both. I can't work out whether it's terribly exciting or absolutely terrifying, but the one thing it definitely is is expensive, so I really shouldn't be dicking about in Waitrose. 

The one meal worthy thing that I bought on this ill fated trip was the chicken livers. Now me and liver haven't always seen eye-to-eye.  Lamb's liver is still a definite no. But chicken livers, it comes and goes. When I was strolling through the aisles of Waitrose I thought, 'Hell yeah, I'm the sort of person who likes chicken livers!'.  When I got home and had to eat them I wasn't so sure. That's not to say that this dish isn't good, you just need to definitely like liver - there's no sitting on the fence with this one.

Chicken liver, walnut and parsley salad with warm mustard vinaigrette

Chicken livers (generally you'll get a pack which'll serve 4 for a starter, 2-3 for a main, but you can tell by looking how much you want)
1/2 a finely sliced red onion
Handful of walnuts
About 20g butter
4tbsp olive oil/rapeseed oil
2tbsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp dijon mustard
Small bunch of parsely
Salad leaves

Firstly, fry your walnuts in a dry pan for about a minute, until they are starting to brown, then put to one side.

Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the livers, about 1-2 minutes each side, depending on how rare you want them. Put to the side to rest. In a seperate pan, heat your oil.  Now when I say heat, you just want to warm it up, as if you get it really hot (as I did), you'll have an oil explosion when you add the vinegar.  Once warm, add your vinegar, then dijon mustard and whisk until incorporated and you have a nice glossy dressing.  Add seasoning.

Make a bed of salad and parsley leaves, plonk the livers on top, scatter with walnuts and onion and drizzle over the dressing.