Indian Roast Chicken – A recipe for Linsey

I haven’t written on here since last year – it started feeling like just one more chore and I lost my motivation. Now that spring is here and the watery sunshine is cheering me on I’m making a tentative return. I think this will be a more occasional project than I attempted initially but not as ‘occasional'(i.e. never!) as it has been for the last while! I’m inspired by the encouragement of my cousin (husband’s cousin strictly speaking, cousin-in-law maybe?) Linsey who has been asking when I’d be back blogging again. I’m also prompted by a desire to say thank you to her for a lovely drawing she did of the baby.

The baby is 9 months old now and eating solid food as well as milk these days. We did baby led weaning with him and it seems to suit him pretty well. He has what we have and gets stuck in. It means any recipes I post will probably omit salt but anyone making them could obviously add it to taste. We don’t miss it.

For Christmas I got my fancy cast iron pot and then (thankfully post Christmas dinner) our oven promptly broke so it got little use until that was fixed. I luckily also received a slow cooker and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with its possibilities. Although I haven’t been writing on here I’ve done lots of cooking and learned/invented/adapted a host of new (to us) recipes. We’ve had pulled pork, slow cooked brisket, one pot slow cooker chicken dinners, various stews, curries and hot pots and I’d have to say I’m a convert. It saw us through a month with no oven admirably.

Once the oven was fixed, I was keen to get the cast iron casserole in use and this recipe for a whole pot roast chicken with Indian spices (adapted from here) has been one of my biggest successes with it so far. Roasting with the lid on initially, means the meat stays moist and tender and the coconut milk combines with the juices to make a delicious spiced gravy. My cheats ingredient in this recipe is frozen cubes of chopped garlic, ginger and red chilli from the supermarket, I love these as a time saver and it also saves me throwing away the unused bits of ginger and withered chillies that tend to end up forgotten in my fridge. If you’re chopping your own then a cube is equal to about a teaspoon full.

Indian Roast Chicken

A whole chicken
2 cubes frozen chopped garlic
2 cubes frozen chopped ginger
1 or 2 cubes frozen chopped chilli
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tin coconut milk

Allow the frozen garlic, ginger and chilli to defrost at room temperature in a bowl. Add the dried spices and oil and mix together to form a fragrant paste.
Stab the chicken all over with a sharp knife and rub the paste all over the skin.
Cover and refrigerate to marinade for a couple of hours. It’ll be ok if you skip this step, but the flavour is a bit better if you give the spices a chance to get right in about the chicken.

Put the chicken into a large, lidded, ovenproof pot and put it in a preheated oven at 190.
Cook it with the lid on for the first hour or so and then remove the lid and pour over a tin of coconut milk before returning it to the oven, lidless, for the last half hour.
Allow it to rest for 15 minutes or so and then carve and serve with the spicy coconut gravy poured generously over.
We ate it with chapattis, cardamom rice and kidney bean curry.
There was enough chicken left over to make a quick and easy weeknight tea of biryani a few days later.

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Sausage and mustard pasta

I’ve not posted on here for a few weeks, it seems like ages anyway. We all had the cold in what seemed like an illness relay race – thankfully the baby’s first cold didn’t seem to bother him too much, the rest of us were very brave too. The baby’s recently learned to sit up and should be ready for solid foods just in time to join in with Christmas dinner, which will be fun. I’ve started working, extremely part-time, but enough that I feel busy (it’s amazing how time consuming someone so small is when you’re trying to fit anything else in too!) and I’ve even managed to start a bit of regular exercise in a bid to shift the last of the baby weight. We’ve been eating a lot of stews (my older son has discovered a deep love of dumplings) which has been great when I have had the time but sometimes we need something a bit quicker to prepare.

This Nigel Slater sausage and mustard pasta fits the bill perfectly. I saw it mentioned on mumsnet and hunted the recipe down, the only alterations I made were to substitute half-fat creme fraiche for the double cream (otherwise what’s the point of all that exercise?!) and to add some chopped fresh thyme to the sausagemeat. The original recipe suggests conchiglie pasta but we had it with fresh egg tagliatelle and it worked well for us.

Olive oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced
300g fresh egg tagliatelle
4-6 sausages (I used a supermarkets ‘premium’ range which were 85% meat)
About a tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
a dollop of smooth mustard, such as Dijon
a dollop of grainy mustard, such as wholegrain
150ml half fat creme fraiche (half a supermarket small tub)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Add the oil to a hot, shallow, large pan and fry the onions until they are very, very sweet. They want to be soft, not crisp, so put the lid on so they steam as well as fry, say a good 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions.
When the onions are caramelised, skin the sausages, mix through the chopped thyme and then rip the meat into good sized chunks and add to the onions and cook for a few minutes.
Add in the parsley (saving some to sprinkle over at the end) and stir in the mustards. It’s up to you to add as much or as little as you like of each. A tablespoon of each is usually enough.
Stir in the creme fraiche and check the seasoning, adding more mustard if you want. Drain the pasta and add to the pan and toss about till its all coated and mixed. Serve immediately with an extra sprinkling of chopped parsley.

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Turning a meal into a feast

It’s often too easy for me to lose perspective and forget gratitude. Life is busy and full and sometimes it feels overwhelming. I all too easily forget how fortunate I am, that my life is busy and full because of the many lovely people and opportunities that have come my way in the last few years. I forget how much I prefer it this way to a life that often used to feel lonely and empty. I start to feel that life is one set of problems after another demanding my attention. When I feel like this I need to slow down, look around me and look again for the things that I am thankful for and there are plenty. I find writing gratitude lists a useful habit at times like these and can recommend it to anyone feeling a bit underwhelmed by what they feel they have and overwhelmed by what they feel they have to cope with. My lists change from day to day, they generally include the big things like health and family along with an ever changing appreciation of small things that make the world more lovely like unexpectedly bumping into a friend or a new tablecloth or a sunny autumn afternoon.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie

I’ve had a week where I felt almost swept away by worry and confusion. Thankfully a friend’s good counsel has got me back on track and everything in my head has once again begun to assume its proper size. I sometimes worry I sound smug on here, I hope not, I’m just very thankful that my life is the way that it is today. Anyway, today I’m grateful for a lovely, supportive husband, a freshly painted kitchen, people taking the time to read this blog and the discovery of a dish that pretty much combines stew and scones – two things I already liked very much individually.

Creamy chicken cobbler (adapted from here)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, sliced and washed
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 375g pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • ½ chicken stock cube
  • 300ml boiling water
  • 300g frozen peas
  • 75ml single cream

For the cobbler

  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 small free-range egg, beaten
  • 75ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan200°C/gas 7.

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat.

Add the onion and leek and gently fry for 5 minutes, until soft.

Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Add the chicken and thyme and brown the chicken all over.

Stir in the flour, cook for 30 seconds, then crumble the 1/2 chicken stock cube into 300ml boiling water and stir in the peas and cream.

Season well.

In a bowl, mix together the cobbler ingredients and season.

Turn out onto a generously floured surface and gently roll to about 2cm thickness.

Use a cutter to cut rounds (just like if you were making scones) and sit them on top of the chicken stew. Brush the cobbler pieces with milk and then bake for 15-20 minutes, until cooked and the cobbler is risen and golden brown.

Of dad and dumplings

(There has been a bit of a break between my last missive and this one, we are in the process of redecorating our little kitchen. I have finally managed to finish writing this sitting at my dad’s old computer at my parents’ house, where me and the boys are staying while Barry, the dashing decorator, paints the kitchen).

When I sat down to write this I was struck by a memory. When I was a wee girl and dressed up for a party or some other occasion my dad would look me up and down and say “you’re as pretty as a picture…” there would be a pause “…a picture of a dumpling”. It was one of those comforting family rituals, a joke between me and my dad, just for us. The origins of the joke are lost, I always meant to ask him about it, perhaps I even did and have forgotten what he said. I can’t ask my dad about it now, he died in May of this year. It seems that this is what his death means for me really, a repeated absence at times when in the past connection would have been possible. I miss him.

‘Dumpling’ remains a term of affection I use often with my own children and even occasionally my husband (he’s less keen to be fair!).

I think my dad would have liked this blog, he was a good cook himself and a far better writer than I. His blog, Wee Jokes, is still there and contains the amazing, powerful, unflinching poetry he wrote in his last few months. Go and have a look, I’d like that.

Beef stew and dumplings

I’ve made beef stew lots of times but dumplings were something I had never attempted before and I was apprehensive that they would turn out heavy and lumpen. A light touch with the dough and using self-raising flour meant my worries were unfounded. Leaving them peeping out of the stew and cooking them uncovered meant they had a lovely crunchy top. Proper rib sticking wintery fare.

  • 750g stewing steak, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned plain flour
  • A small turnip (or what Scottish people, like me, call a turnip – a swede? The one with the yellow flesh not the tiny wee white kind. I’m not the first to ponder this as this rather amusing article proves…)
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 large onion
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

For the dumplings

  • 100g self raising flour
  • 50g suet (or grated, frozen butter works too, my mum says)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 5 tablespoons cold water, or thereabouts

Preheat the oven to 170 c/ gas mark 3/ 325 f

You will need an ovenproof casserole with a lid (ideally one that can go from stove top to oven…)

Toss the stewing steak in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess.

Brown the meat in batches.

If you are transferring the stew to a casserole to put it in the oven then deglaze the pan with a little of the stock and pour it into your casserole dish so you don’t lose any of the nice meat juices and flavour.

Chop all the vegetables into rough chunks and add to the casserole along with the browned beef.

Add the vinegar and the Worcestershire sauce to the stock and pour it over the meat and vegetables.

Tuck the bay leaves and the thyme into the middle.

Put the lid on and stick it in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours until the meat is tender.

To make the dumplings mix the flour, suet, salt and herbs together in a bowl and add water until you have a soft, pliable dough. Take small lumps and roll them into balls using floured hands. This amount should make about 8.

Pop the dumplings on top of the stew, mainly submerged but with the tops peeping out and return the dish to the oven without the lid for 20-25 minutes.

When it is done the dumplings will be bigger and lightly brown and crispy on top. As pretty as a picture.

Good company and an inspiring challenge

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Today’s been a lovely day. My friend Jo and I took our littler ones and went for a long walk in the autumn sunshine. We first met when we were both pregnant with our older children, both boys and both now in their first year of primary school. Jo now also has a wonderful, bright, chatty daughter and I have my sweet wee 4 month old baby boy. Good company and conversation built on the solidarity of shared experience meant that our walk was over all too soon and I’d managed the excellent trick of exercising without noticing.

A new Greek deli has opened at the bottom of Byres Road and we had a lovely chat with the friendly owners. I bought a spanakopita to munch as we walked and chatted. It was delicious even if the baby, strapped to my front in his carrier, ended up covered in a light dusting of filo shards. He’s fairly used to it – an occupational hazard of being carried everywhere. Further on we stopped for coffee and a scone at Kember and Jones and I coveted every one of the loaves. I resisted until another day as I knew we would never eat it today and it would be a tragedy for bread that nice to go to waste. Nearing the end of our walk we stopped into KRK in Woodlands Road where I bought some beautiful little aubergines for the curry I was planning.

It does me good on so many levels to get out in the sun and walk and talk. As the dark of winter starts drawing in I know I need to get out in the daylight as much as I can, to shore me up against the long nights that are coming. Sunshiny food, fragrant and warming, was the perfect end to the day.

Aubergine, coconut and tomato curry

Some of my best friends are vegetarians. Really. They’re kind enough to persist in reading my recipes on here and encouraging me despite the fact that for those amongst us who don’t eat meat it’s a bit of a thankless task. I had been feeling vaguely guilty about this anyway when my pal Fi commented on my last meaty blog post to Facebook “I dare you to make something vegan!” What could I do but accept that challenge?

I almost completely succeeded – until I added a dollop of natural yoghurt right at the end! To be fair, this was for the boy’s portion (he’d made me promise that next time I did a blog he’d get to “eat the photo”) and it worked well to cool it down a wee bit for him. It’s entirely optional so if you’re vegan rather than vegetarian it’ll still be good without it.

I won’t ever give up meat entirely but I would happily eat less. Making this recipe has inspired me to introduce my household to at least one meat free evening meal a week. I’m crazy for anything that’s a pulse at the moment so some brown chickpeas (also in my chicken double chickpea curry) made it in here too. Pulses are a fantastic veggie source of protein and with them in there I didn’t miss having meat at all.

About 600g of aubergine – I used 1 large and 8 smaller ones but 2 large would be fine
2 medium onions
2 generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes – about 250g
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin brown chickpeas
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
2 fat cloves of garlic
1/2 – 1 chopped chilli depending on how hot you want it
1 teaspoon of medium curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
8-10 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Finely chop the onions, garlic and ginger and fry them in a little oil over a low heat. Once they are started cooking, put a lid on and leave them on the heat to soften for 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile cut the aubergine into large chunks and cook it on a griddle pan or under the grill until it starts to brown.
Smash open the cardamom pods to get the black seeds from inside. Throw the outsides away and use a pestle and mortar to crush the seeds slightly.
Make a space in the middle of the onions and add the cardamom, cumin seeds, turmeric and curry powder to the pan. Let the heat toast them until the fragrance begins to release then stir them through the onions.
Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan along with the tin of coconut milk and the chilli.
Add the aubergine to the pan and cook with the lid on for half an hour until the aubergine is lovely and soft.
Add the drained, rinsed chickpeas and cook with the lid off for a further five minutes.
Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with rice and Indian bread.

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Lamb hot pot and pans envy

I’ve been suffering from serious pans envy recently. This time of year puts me in the mood for hearty, slow cooked dishes that warm you up when it’s cold outside. I have one cast iron le Creuset casserole which I use all the time (as you may well have spotted!) but it’s a shallow pan and while it’s ideal for some things I want a bigger deeper version. We are about to repaint our kitchen in a lovely 50s blue(well, Barry is) and I am already looking at blue le Creuset casseroles and putting one firmly at the top of my Christmas list. (Did I mention Christmas there?? – sorry!!!). One of those casseroles would be ideal for this recipe. It would allow you to brown the meat in the same dish that you put into the oven so you didn’t lose any of the lovely flavour from the bottom of the pot. I don’t have mine (yet!) but I do have a beautiful heart-shaped stoneware casserole which we were lucky enough to get as a wedding present. You can’t use it on the hob but it is a thing of beauty all the same.

Lamb hot pot

  • 600g lamb shoulder
  • 2 Tablespoons plain flour
  • 3 large potatoes – about 600g
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 medium carrots – about 200g
  • 1 big stick of celery – about 100g
  • A generous sprig of fresh thyme
  • A bay leaf
  • 500ml of lamb stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter
  • Oil

You will need a deep casserole with a lid.

Preheat the oven to 170.

Toss the lamb in seasoned flour so it is lightly coated. The easiest way to do this is by putting the seasoned flour in a zip lock bag and adding the lamb and jumbling it about.

Heat a tablespoon of oil over a high heat and brown the lamb well then remove from the pan and set aside.

Slice the onions and fry them in the same pan until they are soft and just beginning to brown at the edges.

Slice the carrots thickly and chop the celery roughly.

Place the browned lamb and all the vegetables into your casserole.

Pour the stock in and tuck in the thyme and the bayleaf.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into thick slices.

Layer the potato on top, overlapping the slices.

Dot the potatoes with butter and season with salt and pepper.

Put the lid on and cook in the oven for an hour and ten minutes.

Remove the lid and cook for a further 50 minutes.

Serve with something green. We had sliced greens but cabbage would be good, or peas.

Nigel Slater – culinary hero

For most of my twenties I had the unadulterated luck to work in a bookshop, sadly now gone but in its day one of the biggest and best in the world. In the course of my job I got the chance to meet many authors but the person I was most excited about meeting and getting to sign my books was Nigel Slater. He writes about food passionately but in such an unpretentious way that it feels accessible to all and my well thumbed copy of Appetite was one of the first cookbooks to get me really excited about cooking. He visited the shop to do a stock signing for Toast which I had read in one sitting and had loved for its humility and humour. He was very kind to me as I babbled at him and good naturedly signed all my grease-spotted, floury copies of his books, as well as writing a dedication in a copy of Toast I was getting my dad for Christmas. He was and is a culinary hero of mine.

My good friend, Fi, seeing that I had started this blog, gave me a copy of the film of Toast which inexplicably I have never seen. So today I made a version of Nigel Slater’s lentils with sausages (I scaled it down a bit because there’s only two of us here) and tonight, while Barry’s out, I’m going to sit and watch Toast.

There’s something very beautiful about green lentils, uncooked they remind me of chips of some exotic semi-precious stone. Cooked they promise something hearty but not heavy and the contrast between the orange of the carrots and the green of the lentils in this dish satisfies my long neglected artistic side.

Lentils and sausages after Nigel Slater

  • Olive oil
  • 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 carrot, diced roughly
  • 1 stick of celery, diced roughly
  • 200g green lentils
  • 750ml chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 big pork sausages
  • Chopped parsley

Fry the bacon in a heavy pan with a lid over a medium heat until it’s lightly coloured. Add the onion and let it soften for a minute or two while you chop the carrot and celery. Add them in too and let them soften but not colour. Add the lentils, stock, bay leafs and sausages. I made each of the big sausages I had into two smaller ones first by squeezing them in the middle, twisting them then cutting them in half. Bring it to the boil then turn it down to a simmer and cook it with the lid on for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, season and serve.