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Best friends, cookbooks and curry

16 Feb

Best friends who know too many secrets about you are worth holding on to. If they share a history with you going back to school days, consider yourself very lucky indeed. Especially if they also believe that you can never own too many recipe books. My best pal, Ria, does a grand job each year of fuelling my obsession with  cookbooks and Christmas or Birthday (and sometimes both…I’m not complaining) a new book will find its way to me and I’ll enjoy months and then years of experimenting with new recipes.

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We talk most days on the phone, which Big Man finds both incredible and hilarious (“what on earth were you talking about for the last half an hour?”…”oh, nothing much, this and that”). Our conversations invariably end with “so, what’s for dinner tonight?” and we’ll happily chat for a further 10 minutes about what we’re cooking, planning to cook, wishing we had the energy to cook, or what we took out of the freezer put by from when we were more organised with our cooking a couple of weeks back.

Lately, I’ve been cooking up a good few curries from my birthday present cookbook. Curries from all over the place and this chicken curry from Pakistan really was fantastic. Definitely dinner party quality, but also simple enough for a family meal. The description of the recipe explains that it was a Special curry because in the fifties and sixties,  if you were invited to dinner and served this, you would know the hosts had spared no expense in your honour because chickens were hard to obtain and expensive.  Luckily for most of us, this is no longer the case, but if your purse runs to it, buy the best you can.

Desi Murgh Curry – Special Chicken Curry (serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp each of garlic and ginger paste
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (or use tinned, as I did)
  • 50g plain Greek style yogurt
  • 1 ½ tsp hot chilli powder (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 large cardamom pods (the recipe calls for black ones but I used green)
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 chicken approx 1.2kg, skinned and jointed (I used 8 skinned chicken thighs, bone in)
  • Chopped coriander to garnish

Heat the oil and fry the onions until golden brown, take your time doing this, it’s worth it. Remove the onions and when they have cooled slightly, grind them to a paste. I did this using my stick blender with a splash of water added to the mix.

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Add the ginger and garlic pastes to the oil and fry gently for a few minutes then add the tomatoes and next the yogurt. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the onion paste, the spices the bay leaf and a little salt.  Continue to cook gently until the oil separates out.

Put the chicken pieces into the pan, spoon the sauce over and add about 500ml of water. Cover the pan and cook slowly for about 50 minutes until the meat is cooked through and tender. You may need to add a splash more water so keep an eye on it.

Remove the lid, check for seasoning (adjust the salt if necessary) and continue to cook for a few more minutes without the lid until the oil separates out again.  Garnish with coriander, and serve. Don’t forget to call your best friend to tell her how good it was and you’re sorry there’s not a portion waiting for her in your freezer as you ate the lot…oops!

Mung Bean Dhal (9)

If a veggie curry is more your thing, hop over to take a look at my Mung Bean Curry.

Where did January go?!

26 Jan

Normally a quiet month, a little flat after the excesses of Christmas. Not so here, it seems to have been busy and bright….and I’m not complaining.

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We have been pretty good about eating lighter, and eating less meat, but I have turned to an old standby favourite this month. Tray baked chicken  (although I used an oven dish!).

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It’s a quick dish to throw together using whatever is nestled in the fridge and although I mostly use skinned, bone-in chicken joints, it’s great with fish fillets or just veggies.

Peel and chop potatoes into large pieces, add vegetables like peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots and a full head of garlic. I haven’t given quantities as this dish is great for one, two or a dozen people. Just judge how much your crowd will eat, add a little extra as they will always want to go back for more, and find an oven dish or tray to fit the quantity.  Put all the ingredients into the dish, preheat the oven to about 180 degrees.  Pour over some olive oil, season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper then customise any other seasoning to whatever takes your fancy. This time I used some dried oregano from our garden in Spain, a little smoked pimentón and half a finely chopped lemon.

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Mix together well, hands work best for this to ensure everything is well coated, and add a good slug of white wine,  stock or water.  Cover tightly with foil bake for about an hour then remove the foil and bake for about 20 minutes more until everything is starting to brown nicely. If you want to add some tender vegetables (I used some chopped kale) stir into the dish about 10 minutes before you’re finished. Then it’s  straight to the table, perfect one pot cooking!

We’ve been enjoying the winter sunshine and taking walks along Bexhill beach.  Then a quick trip across the channel to stock up on wine (stocks were dangerously low) and a lovely night in Le Touqet were enjoyed last weekend.

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And little Alfi,  one of our pups, has started on a course of hydrotherapy to build up his leg muscles after an operation on his hind leg in November to repair a damaged cruciate ligament.

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He’s not a water loving dog so is highly unimpressed with being put into a warm pool then shampooed and blow dried afterwards. I’d be delighted at the opportunity of such pampering but there’s just no pleasing some pups….!

I’ve been cooking and have some recipes to share with you soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the last few days of the month.

When life gives you pomegranates…

15 Nov

Big Man was born in the beautiful province of Granada. In Spanish, the word Granada means “pomegranate”. The capital city is decorated with many pomegranate symbols from stone bollards to metal work and even man hole covers. Just over the border where our little home is, in the province of Málaga we get to enjoy the real thing in the shape of fruit. The pomegranate plant (which grows into a sizeable tree) produces stunning red flowers, similar to a hibiscus, which then become the beautiful and delicious fruit.

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We’re pretty spoiled as when it’s pomegranate season many neighbours gift them to us. Huge,  beautiful, deep red on the outside, sweet, juicy and ruby coloured jewels on the inside. In England we have to buy them. Sometimes we get lucky and one or two of the little fruits will be sweet, but they’re never quite the same…or as big! You never know what a pomegranate is going to taste like until you get to taste it. And as for peeling a pomegranate…I’ve tried every new way.

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To make the most of a less than sweet fruit, I came across a wonderfully simple recipe using chicken and ras-el-hanout. The slightly acid taste works well with the warm, rose-scented spice. And I’m sharing with you another way to peel a pomegranate. Cutting it in half and bashing it has never worked for me. Usually I end up with a worktop covered in juice and the little pips of fruit stubbornly refusing to drop out. This method still involves a little work separating the pips but it does seem to make the whole job a little easier and much less messy.

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Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course)

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs,  diced into bite sized pieces
  • 1 onion (red, if you have it) peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of ras-el-hanout
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 350g bulghar wheat
  • The fruit of a small pomegranate
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint, to serve
  • Olive oil for frying

Toss the chicken in half the spice mix and fry in a little olive oil until beginning to brown. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and continue to fry gently until the onion becomes transparent. Add the remaining spice mix and season lightly. Fry for a minute then pour in the stock.

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Bring to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes. Add the bulghar, stir, turn the heat off and cover the pan. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes when the stock will have been absorbed. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir through the pomegranate and garnish with the fresh mint.

An easy dish with just a few ingredients. Unless you’re still doing battle with your pomegranate…

If you enjoy the challenge  of pomegranate peeling, take a look at this lovely recipe using lamb and quince. Note the difference in colour of the fruit in this recipe which was made with a pomegranate bought back from Spain compared to the one in the photos above!

Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Stew

9 May

Regular readers will know that in our house, pulses rule supreme and we often bring supplies of chickpeas and lentils grown locally in Spain, over to England. In a tidying up frenzy the other day (family are visiting from Spain soon!) we came across further supplies that we had forgotten about. Result.

I decided to try something different from our regular Puchero and came across various recipes using Moroccan inspired spices which I adapted to suit us. I included chicken in this version, but I feel sure that you could quite happily leave it out which would give you an amazing vegan main course dish.

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Feel free to play with the spices, next time I’ll double the harissa to give more of a kick. I used my slow cooker but this could easily be cooked (covered) in a low oven, braised gently on the hob or even in a pressure cooker (although I don’t own one so can’t offer any advice on cooking times). If you prefer to use ready cooked, canned beans just skip the soaking stage and use double the volume in the ingredients list which will give you roughly the same quantity as the dried ones after soaking.

Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course)

  • Approx 400ml of dried chickpeas (measure by volume) soaked overnight in plenty of cold water with a pinch of bicarbonate then drained
  • 4 chicken thighs or drumsticks (optional)
  • Approx 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of peeled and crushed or chopped garlic
  • 1 level tablespoon of harissa (or chili powder to taste). Use more if you like a little tickle (and who doesn’t?!)
  • 1 teaspoon each of paprika, turmeric and ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and cinnamon
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes (mine was 390g)
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • About 220 ml of water (If using a slow cooker, make sure everything is covered by about 2cm of liquid).  You may need to top up with more liquid if cooking in the oven or on the stovetop. Just keep an eye on it and add more hot liquid if necessary.
  • Salt (season after the dish is cooked to help the chickpeas soften when cooking)
  • To serve – a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some finely chopped radish, coriander and red onion.

Heat the oil gently ad add the onion and garlic. Cover and soften then add the spices and cook (uncovered) until the spices release their aroma.

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Add the chicken (if using) and the tomatoes, tomato puree and liquid. Bring to a boil and cook on high for 10 minutes. Now put everything into whatever you use to cook (casserole dish, slow cooker etc) and cover. I cooked mine on slow in the slow cooker for 6 hours and the chickpeas were soft and creamy with the chicken cooked through and still holding to the bone. Stovetop should take about 2 hours and a slow oven about 4 hours. Add salt to taste once the dish is cooked.

When you’re ready to serve (and it’s even better the next day), ladle into deep bowls and serve with the garnish and your favourite bread. Enjoy!

Bluebells (6)

PS. Because the photos of the stew weren’t great (although the stew was…photo quality is due to a desire to eat quickly!), I have included some gratuitous shots of a recent walk we took in a Bluebell Wood nearby, do hope you enjoy a little burst of English springtime.

If you enjoy chick peas and North African inspired spices, why not try this soup?

Churrasco de Pollo

12 Jun

Churrasco in Spain, Portugal and South America generally refers to meat that has been grilled over an open flame. Often it has also been marinated in something, in Andalucía it’s typically a spice mix used to make Pinchitos Morunos (Moorish Kebabs) little skewers of meat, usually pork. They’re typical fiesta food and very popular.

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At home meat can be rubbed in the spice mix (which is bought ready made) which is made up into a paste with olive oil. Generally about 3 teaspoons of mix to every kilo of meat. The meat is then cooked on a hot griddle pan or over a barbecue. We’re just back in England, so I’ve made sure to bring a supply of spice mix with me to remind me of this dish.

If you can’t get hold of the spice mix (which is almost like a mild curry powder), you can make your own. The meat I used was a 2 boned thighs and drumsticks and it was cooked on the bbq – delicious!

Ingredients

1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp garlic granules
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried yellow mustard
pinch of ground Spanish saffron

Turn your favourite Latino music up to top volume, serve with an ice cold beer and enjoy!

A return to the simple life

20 May

Although our time in Spain will be limited to about a month (a long “holiday” some might think, but for us it’s a case of changing one home for another for a short while) we need to make the most of our time here. Sorting out a house and garden that have been looked after but not lived in for many months. Catching up with family and friends. Running around and sorting out paperwork and the dealing with the “officialdom” that invariably comes with it.

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The plan had been to eat out frequently – a menú del día (a daily set menu in many restaurants) is not expensive in Spain – and not to spend hours in the kitchen. So far, I haven’t spent too many hours in the kitchen, but the lure of fresh, local ingredients which are quick and easy to prepare has been irresistible. Add to that the fact that we can also cook outside and it’s mostly quicker to just get cooking while multitasking with the gardening.

We’ve eaten chicken (reared by a pal who gifted us two hefty chicken thighs and drumsticks) cooked in one of our cazuelas with peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil and wine.

Pollo a la Cazuela (1)

And rabbit, marinated in a paste made of thyme and rosemary from the garden with our own olive oil and lemon and a neighbour’s garlic then cooked on the barbecue.

Conejo a la Barbacoa (1)

The weather may have gone from 40 degrees to grey and miserable, but with full bellies and a glass of wine, who can complain?!

Chicken Thighs with Pomegranate Molasses

25 Apr

The Curry Monster came knocking at my door recently. Does he visit your house too? If I allowed him to, he’d take up permanent residence with me but I don’t think Big Man would be overjoyed. He likes curry, but doesn’t have quite the same love affair with it as I do. Fair enough, two’s company, three’s a crowd! Sometimes I come across a dish like this which presses all the buttons for a curry lover and a curry liker alike. If you’re still with me, I’m sure that makes perfect sense…

The Curry Monster told me that he also fancied the tang of pomegranate molasses. I know, it just gets weirder and weirder. None of my old favourite books could help, so I went a-googling and I came across not only a fabulous recipe (which I adapted a little) but also an amazing blog. Do pop over, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Chicken with Pomegranate Molasses (4)

Ingredients (to serve 2-3 people)

  • 6 chicken thighs, skin on
  • 200mls thick yoghurt/ Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp gram flour/ chickpea flour
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • ½ tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (or less if you want a mild flavour)
  • 110mls pomegranate molasses
  • ½ tsp garam masala powder
  • Salt to taste

Add the gram flour and the yoghurt in a bowl. Mix well to get rid of any lumps to form a thick paste. Next add the ginger and garlic pastes, chilli powder, molasses and the garam masala powder and salt. Add the chicken and mix well making sure to coat them well in the thick marinade. Leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200c/ Gas mark 6. Line a baking tin with foil and put the chicken and marinade in. Roast for approx 40 mins (until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced) basting half way through cooking. I found that I had lots of lovely sauce which I love, Big Man less so. I drained the sauce off and gave the meat a further 5 minutes in the oven then served the chicken sprinkled with chopped coriander and the sauce on the side.

Serve with your favourite Indian bread, plain boiled rice and whatever else the Curry Monster tells you to cook.

Slow Cooked Mustard and Cider Chicken

30 Nov

Beautiful Bexhill on Sea (ok, I’m biased!) has a wonderful library, housed in a very lovely Victorian Building which, I understand, was once a school.

Bexhill Library (I came across this photo on the internet – happy to acknowledge if it’s yours!)

We have access to books in Spanish for Big Man, books about Quilting for me, novels, internet, and pretty much everything you’d expect from a good library. We have a particularly good section of cookery books which allows me to try out ones I’m thinking of buying and to check out ones I’d never previously come across.

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Because of my recent new love affair with my slow cooker, The Slow Cook Book caught my eye. What I like about this book is that apart from some really good recipe ideas (soups, stews, casseroles, tagines and curries) it details two ways to cook each recipe – both in the slow cooker or in the oven or stove top if you don’t have a slow cooker. What a great idea!

Most slow cook recipes are pretty flexible and forgiving, so you don’t need to follow them slavishly. The main thing to remember is that slow cookers don’t need quite as much liquid as conventional cooking as this cooking method tends to conserve most of the liquid.

A mustard chicken casserole caught my eye and as Big Man is a fan of English cider, I thought I’d add that in as the flavours would work well together. It was a simple dish to pull together, with a little preparation before putting it into cook and then forgetting about it for a few hours. It tastes even better made a day ahead.

Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tbsp English mustard
  • 2 tbsp runny honey
  • 8 large chicken thighs, skin on
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large onions, halved and sliced (not too thin)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved lengthways
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 300ml or chicken stock mixed with 300ml of your favourite cider (or use just stock) which you need to warm – this is sufficient for the slow cooker. For the conventional cooking method you will need 900ml of liquid.

Mix the mustards and honey, season the chicken thighs and smother them with the mustard mixture. Leave for at least 30 minutes (or prepare ahead and leave overnight).

If cooking in the oven, preheat to 160C/325F or Gas 3. Heat half the oil in a frying pan and on a medium heat, fry the chicken in batches until it is browned all over. Put the chicken pieces in the slow cooker or a casserole dish.

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Add the remaining oil and fry the onion and garlic until the onion starts to turn brown, Add this with all the sticky bits from the pan and any marinade that remains from the chicken, plus the hot liquid to the slow cooker/casserole dish. Add the time and stir everything gently before covering and cooking in the slow cooker on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours or in the oven for 2 hours.

When prepared, taste and adjust the seasoning and serve with mashed or boiled potatoes and steamed or lightly boiled greens.

Roast Chicken

20 Oct

Yes, a delicious chicken rubbed in za’atar, stuffed with a lemon and roasted with onion and perfect potatoes cooked in goose fat. So what? I hear you say, nothing special about that. Well, a roast chicken can mean only one thing – AN OVEN!!

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Yes, although the full refurb of our new home is still only in the planning stages, the dismal cooking arrangements have moved into the slightly more modern era with the purchase of a very nice, temporary, second-hand oven.

Hurrah, almost normal service will be resumed. If I don’t smoke us out (no extractor) in the meantime…

Slow Cooked Spiced Lamb Shanks – and some spartan cooking arrangements

2 Oct

So, you know how the cobbler’s children historically had no shoes? Well, the property developing, building and renovating couple currently have a crappy kitchen with no oven in their new home. Can you imagine how that makes me feel? It’s a bit weird though as in Spain I often go the whole summer without turning on the oven, but when you don’t have something all you can think about is that one thing. Here’s a quick glimpse of my current cooking arrangements.

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I am making do for the moment with a small camping sized electric hob, my now well-loved giant slow cooker and an electric plancha. All I want to do is bake cakes and oven roast meat but it’s not to be, for a while at least.

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And just to explain the even more dreadful than usual photos of the finished dish, you can see that I am hardly “blinded by the light” in the kitchen. Boo hoo. But hopefully all this explains why I am posting less recipes than usual!

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A perfect dish to get rid of cooking frustrations is a slow cooked pot of lamb shanks. This can be done just as easily in a low oven, reducing the cooking time to 3-4 hours. You will be rewarded for your patience, whichever method you choose!

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp harissa paste
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or black treacle)
  • 4 dried apricots, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to season

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Heat the olive oil in a frying pan (or in an ovenproof dish if you are going to oven cook) and brown the lamb shanks all over, then transfer to your slow cooker (or put onto a plate).

Gently fry the onions and garlic until softened then add the spices and tomato and bring to a simmer. Pour in the stock, add the molasses, apricots and season. When it’s bubbling again pour over the lamb shanks in the slow cooker (or add the lamb shanks to the pot), cover and cook on low for about 10 hours until the meat is tender and falling off the bones.

When you are ready to serve (with mashed potato is a good idea), take the meat out and keep warm, pour the sauce into a pan and reduce on a medium heat until thickened to your liking. Pour over the meat and enjoy!

Any leftover sauce is wonderful served over pasta and easily heated up on your camping stove (but do feel free to use a regular one too)!

(Inspired by a recipe from the BBC Good Food site)

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