Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Chicken and Grapes...

 If there’s one thing more embarrassing than leaving a Hansel and Gretel style trail of your very frilliest knickers in a perfectly straight path from the washing machine to your bedroom in your first week in your brand new house share; it is being caught red-handed (and very red-faced), on your secret mission to stealthily take photos of every morsel you rustle up in the shared kitchen, for the food blog your new housemates don’t even know you have...

Yup, I am of course speaking from experience. Ever since I moved in with 5 (lovely) strangers 2 months ago, achieving this mission without my unassuming co-habitants considering re-listing my room (and shelf in the fridge) on Gumtree, has become my Everest. Now, it would be OK if it was just a quick snap on my phone; it’s weirder if you don’t Instagram every crumb of food that comes in to your eye-line these days, but arranging a board, on a patterned tray, draped with a piece of fancy material and finished with an artful scattering of crumbs before a plate is even slightly in the picture, is a little more unusual.

Add to this scenario the slightly strange creations that come from my fridge-raiding, use everything before buying ANYTHING approach to budgeting, and you have what I can only describe as a very cringe-worthy Tuesday night-in.

Indeed; on the Tuesday in question, my nightly treasure hunt produced an unlikely shopping basket consisting of some red grapes (at an almost raisin stage of ripeness), bacon, some green beans, a few new potatoes and a couple of chicken thighs. To some, this might seem like the slightly ill-advised shopping list of a contestant on Junior Masterchef, but to me, this was an operation well executed.

When roasted with a splash of olive oil, some lemon wedges and a good sprinkle of tarragon; the grapes produce an almost syrupy sauce for the chicken, bursting with fruity sweetness and just enough sharpness to cut through the salty, smoky pancetta.  Add the golden skinned chicken, a good kick of garlic, crunchy potatoes and a good bottle of wine to get over the embarrassment, and this is a good’un for any night of the week. Go for it; grapes and garlic, who would’ve thought...

Chicken with Grapes and Tarragon (Serves 2)

4 chicken thighs

100g pancetta, cubed

A few handfuls of grapes (red or white)- some halved, some whole

6 or so new potatoes, halved

Half a lemon, cut into wedges

3 garlic cloves

A good glug of olive oil

Dried tarragon

A handful of green beans

Preheat the oven to 200oc

Fry the pancetta in a small saucepan until crispy

Arrange the potatoes, garlic, lemon wedges and grapes, before drizzling with olive oil, seasoning well and sprinkling generously with tarragon. Mix to get everything involved in the delicious seasonings

Nestle the chicken thighs into the dish, drizzle the skin with olive oil and season well

Put into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, before adding the green beans into the dish and giving everything a good shake around

Pop back into the oven and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked, the potatoes tender and the sauce syrupy.

Serve with a crisp green salad and an even crisper glass of white wine...

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Overcoming Pesto Paranoia- A Very Middle Class Problem...

I just don’t get Pesto Pasta. I know this is a bold statement; a bit like saying I don’t fully understand the concept of Ant and Dec, or can’t get my head around Miley Cirus and PVC hotpants (actually, that one’s true), but I just don’t see it. I know, I know; the combination is as synonymous as Simon Cowell and a pair of high-waisted stonewash jeans, but there is something about the oily gloop of slightly muddy looking green goo that means the gold-topped jar in question remains firmly at the back of the fridge.

Now, I have tried- I was a student, for goodness sake, but it’s simply not happening. Give me beans on toast any day I reckon; take your pesto and boil me an egg. But, saying all that, last night, I had a bit of a groundbreaking moment with the green stuff (no, not that green stuff, don't panic...) Yes, during my nightly staring blankly into the fridge ritual, I stumbled across a slightly limp bag of Kale stuffed in the back of the salad drawer. In need of something quick and easy-as-peas and gravy, I made this drop-dead delicious, fresh and zingy version, faced my green spaghetti based fears and discovered that, actually, it’s not all that bad.

In fact, it was bloody good. With kicks of chilli, fresh lemon and chunks of walnut, this super-healthy creation is well worth digging out the blender for. Swirled into fresh pasta with a spoonful of ricotta, the result was a creamy, gorgeous revelation (and, coincidentally, a dinner of the exact shade I would like to paint my bedroom walls- Not sure how Dulux would feel about colour matching a string of spaghetti, though...)

But the crowning glory of this 15 minute dinner was not only the realisation that I have another running-out-the-door dinner in the bag, but the crunchy pancetta, rosemary and walnut combo that I (very generously) scattered over its top. Crunchy breadcrumbs and walnuts provide just the right amount of crunch to contrast with the soft, creamy pasta; add some smokiness from the bacon, fragrance from the rosemary and freshness from a scattering of lemon zest and you have an absolute winner in the bag. Or, should I say, in the bowl. Well, it changed my mind, anyway...

Kale Pesto Pasta with Pancetta and Walnut Crunch
Serves 4

So easy, and quick enough to make even scrambled eggs look like hard work. Leave out the nuts, add more chilli; just make sure you keep the delicious crunchy topping...

For the Pesto-

150g kale, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ red chilli

Small handful of walnuts

3 tbsp Olive oil

50g parmesan cheese, grated

Juice 1 lemon

For the Crunch-

Olive oil

100g breadcrumbs

50g pancetta, chopped

Sprig of rosemary, leaves chopped

Small handful crumbled walnuts

Zest 1 lemon

To serve-

400g cooked pasta

3 tbsp ricotta

To make the pesto; blend all of the ingredients in a food processor, adding enough oil to make a thick but loose paste and season well.

To make the crunch; fry the pancetta in a glug of olive oil until crisp. Add the breadcrumbs (and a little more oil, if needed), coat in the delicious bacon oil and fry until lightly golden and crisp.

Add the crumbled walnuts, rosemary and lemon zest and cook for a minute or so more, being careful not to let the mixture burn. Season well with salt and pepper.

To serve, stir the pesto and ricotta into the cooked pasta, adding a spoon or two of the cooking water to loosen.

Pile into bowls and top with the crunch pancetta mixture. Enjoy!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The 99p Store-Cupboard...

Well, doesn’t time fly? It is now 2014 and looking at this sorry, neglected blog; I have not posted since the middle of LAST YEAR?! Seriously, how on earth did that happen? I feel like I have just popped out to the shops and suddenly half a year has gone; leaving you all with taunting reminders of sun-drenched Barbeques and balmy sips of ice-cold rosé, as you look out of the rain-splattered window and wonder if it is even worth drying your hair before it gets the all too familiar, slap in the face drowned rat treatment, and you throw yet another totally ruined umbrella into the overflowing bin...

But I do have some kind of measly excuse- As I have threatened to do since I left University 3 whole years ago (again, whaaaat?!), I have finally left the bike rides, car boot sales and endless fields of Suffolk behind and moved to the Big Smoke. Swapping tractors for the tube, the general luxury of Mum’s cooking and my own bed for what feels like a lifelong subscription to Tesco Value and a budget that makes a self-styled haircut with my nail scissors look like a very attractive option; I am actually threatening myself with the prospect of being a grown up. I have an actual real-life job, a house (well a room in one, good enough for me...) and, most importantly at this point, a colour coded, frighteningly in depth chart to track my increasingly depressing budget.

Yes; I have gone back to the endless tins of value chopped tomatoes, the toast, the shampoo-rationing and the sorry-looking cupboards stuffed with lentils and all other things dried and tasteless of my Student days. I freeze everything that sits still long enough, eat leftover like there is no tomorrow and currently spend so much of my time doing high-speed laps of the 99p Store that I am genuinely tempted to cancel my gym membership. Nobody would mind me bicep curling out of date baked bean tins in the cut-price Tuppaware section, surely?

But, I have to say, that I am strangely enjoying the never-ending treasure hunt of eating on a budget. There is something satisfying about creating a dinner that uses every last cherry tomato, leaf of spinach and grating of cheese that is left in the fridge. Every night is like a low-budget episode of Ready Steady Cook; without the shimmying of Ainsley and, usually, entirely consisting of the same, slightly withered ingredients as every single night of the week before. I mean, honestly, the excitement of finding a half-price pack of chicken in Sainsburys? Totally off the scale. I don’t even need to go out with thrills like that in my life...

It was on one of these fridge-raiding sessions that I created this absolute gem of a dinner. Making full use of my purse-friendly friends chorizo, tinned beans and a jar of roasted peppers from my new partner in cash-saving, the afore-mentioned 99p store; this was an absolute winner. Akin to my very favourite breakfast of Huevos rancheros; this Eastern inspired spicy bean and new potato hash, bursting with the paprika smokiness of chorizo, crowned with glistening eggs and scattered with salty feta and fragrant coriander, was a creation that would have had me voting Red Tomatoes without a second thought. Bursting with ridiculously fresh, vibrant flavours; delicately spiked with a punch of Harissa and fragranced with fennel seeds, this is a budget dinner with bells on.

Leftovers Harissa Hash, with Eggs, Feta and Coriander.

Eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between; this delicious one pan creation just shows that eating on a budget doesn’t just mean beans on toast...

Splash of olive oil

1 onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

½ red chilli, finely chopped (use more if you like it hot!)

1tsp Harrisa paste

1tsp sweet paprika

1tsp fennel seeds

50g chorizo, diced

100g roasted peppers (from a jar)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin butter beans, drained

100g cooked new potatoes, thickly sliced

Splash of balsamic vinegar

1tsp sugar

1tbsp tomato puree

4 eggs

Feta cheese and coriander, to serve

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion over a medium heat until slightly softened, before adding the garlic, chilli, peppers, potatoes and spices. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomatoes, butter beans, tomato puree, vinegar and sugar. Season and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until reduced to a thick sauce

Using the back of a spoon or ladle, make indents in the sauce and crack in the eggs. Season again, cover and cook for 4 or so minutes, until the eggs are set.

To serve, scatter the hash with crumbled feta, and some coriander leaves. Serve with pitta bread, steamed kale, or just as it is...Enjoy!