Best friends, cookbooks and curry

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?!

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…

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!

Churrasco de Pollo

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

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.

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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

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

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

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…

Pollo al Ajillo – Chicken with Garlic

Well, it’s been quiet around the blog for the last week or so. But for good reason. We’re in England with family visiting from Spain and we’ve been having a wonderful time doing family and tourist things, walking our feet off, talking our heads off and eating and drinking far more than is probably necessary…but such fun!  As a little reminder of Spain, here’s a Spanish dish which is equally good for an informal meal or a special event, Chicken with Garlic.

Ajo (the “j” is pronounced like the “ch” in the Scottish word Loch) means garlic and ajillo translates as “little garlic” which is ironic as this dish contains plenty of garlic! It’s a simple cooking technique which is used with various meats in Spain and is served as both a main dish and as a tapas (usually with the meat cut into bite sized pieces). Don’t let the simplicity of this dish trick you into believing it doesn’t taste special, it packs a lot of flavour and because it can be prepared ahead and in large quantities, it’s a fantastic dish for entertaining.

 

Pollo al Ajillo (1)

To serve 6 people

  • 1 whole chicken cut into joints (or use individual joints)
  • 1 head of garlic, about a third of the cloves peeled and cut into thin slices, the rest left in their paper skins
  • Olive oil
  • A glass of fino or white wine
  • A few sprigs of rosemary (optional)
  • Seasoning

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Season the chicken then fry in a little oil until browned all over. Now add all the garlic, the rosemary and the wine, reduce to a gentle bubble and cover with a lid. Cook for about an hour (turning a couple of times during cooking) until the chicken is cooked through). Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve with plenty of bread to mop up the juices.

For another, more elaborate, chicken dish, why not take a look at my recipe for Pollo en Pepitoria?

Lazy Sunday Roast Chicken

Oh my, the rain, the wind. It’s getting us down. But do we complain? Well…yes…we do a little bit if I’m honest. What we also do is draw up plans for building an ark and cook some comfort food. This was last weekend’s Sunday lunch and if this weather continues we may have a  repeat performance again tomorrow!

I don’t think I can really claim this to be a recipe, as it just involves chopping, seasoning and putting something in the oven. But if you need inspiration for a family meal, or a meal for 2 with leftovers for another day (or two) then look no further.

Winter Roast Chicken (6)

This was lunch for a lazy Sunday. The sun finally came out for a few hours, after rain, storm and high winds. It was still blowing a bit of a gale so we headed to a nearby park instead of the beach where the pups could let off steam.  We all got thoroughly muddy but returned home with “roses in our cheeks” and “the cobwebs well and truly blown away” (as my grandmother used to say of walks in the sunshiny cold of England). We also returned home to the delicious smell of roasting chicken and a toasty warm kitchen. Perfect!

Ingredients (to serve 4 hungry adults)

  • 1 chicken weighing about 2kg
  • 4 carrots, 2 parsnips, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper, 1 large sweet potato, 2 sticks of celery, half a fennel, a red onion, a white onion – all vegetables peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves separates but not peeled
  • About 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A small glass of white wine (or water)
  • 1 tablespoon of za’atar
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • Salt and pepper

Put all the vegetables and the garlic into a deep oven tray (line it with foil to save having to scrub the pan). Season with salt and pepper and pour over 2 tablespoons of the oil and the glass of wine and mix with your hands.

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Sit the chicken on top of the vegetables, massage the rest of the oil into the chicken then season and sprinkle the za’atar over. Rub the seasoning in all over the chicken and put the halved lemons into the chicken cavity.

Cover well with a tent of foil and cook in a medium oven (about 180 degrees C fan or 200 degrees C normal oven) for 2 hours. Uncover about half an hour before you have finished cooking to brown the skin.

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Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving and make sure to spoon all the lovely juices over the meat and vegetables when you eat.

Leftovers (you know how much I love having leftovers) went into sandwiches and a delicious chicken and vegetable soup.