Monday, 28 July 2008

Enter the Dragon

Remember Levi Roots' Reggae Reggae Sauce on Dragons' Den? Well, my hubby does, and for weeks has been driving me crazy with borderline-racist faux Jamaican requests for "some of de Reggae Reggae, man". Today I gave in and bunged some chicken thighs in the sauce to marinade, before swiftly going out shopping and visiting friends, thus avoiding the risk of having to listen to jokes which are just not funny. Sorry, hon, the truth hurts.

Having to eat the resulting meal, however, absolutely did not. I've never liked secrets anyway; now I feel vindicated by how right Mr Roots was to share his old family recipe with all of us. I can't even begin to describe the gorgeous smell that wafted from the kitchen while the chicken was cooking, nor how delicious it was. If you're not yet a convert - and tonight, to a man, woman and two children we were - then get out and buy some of, as they say, that wonderful stuff.

To go with the chicken, I was going to cook just some plain rice, but then I got my cooking mojo on and made this Caribbean-inspired rice and beans dish. Flavoured with coconut, it was (almost) as much of a hit as the Reggae Reggae chicken itself.

Red Beans & Rice

I used brown rice because that's what we have in the house, but use white if you prefer.

butter and oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 - 3 tsp lazy garlic
250g rice (and see above)
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1/4 tsp powdered chilli
50g dessicated coconut
400g can red kidney beans

Heat a little butter and oil in pan with a lid and fry the onion and garlic together until soft. Add the rice and turn it in the fat to coat the grains. Stir in the herbs and chilli, the add 450ml boiling water from the kettle along with the coconut and drained, rinsed beans. Cover the pan, then bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Fluff it all up with a fork, then serve.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Pre-prandials: Put a Sling in your Step

For as long as I can remember, I've had this postcard on the wall in my kitchen and, just like Will Young in the fridge, it's become somethingt of an institution. Simple then, to explain just why the Gin Sling lists among my very favourite cocktails. Being a cocktail drinker inevitably carries with it a certain air of kitsch that is, in my opinion, to be embraced and played up to at every opportunity - even if my only audience is the cat!

The Gin Sling, however, needs none of your faffing about with shakers and blenders, nor any elaborate garnishes à la Piña Colada. Perfectly simple; a lovely, long drink for a very warm and humid evening. Although, personally, I can never resist the pull of the ubiquitous little maraschino, waiting sweetly at the bottom of my glass.

Gin Sling

I tsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
double measure (50ml) of gin
soda water
maraschino cherry, if you like

Add the sugar and lemon juice to a hi-ball glass and pour in the gin. 'Muddle' together with a stirrer or long-handled spoon until the sugar is more or less dissolved. Top up with soda water and pop (in) your cherry.

Lovely, that - I might have another...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Top o' the Mornay to ye...

It's been back to reality with a serious bump today - we got back from Mum & Dad's on Thursday, then yesterday the children and I were booked on a day trip to Folly Farm. Today I had to get down to the serious business of restocking the house with food. Just what Hubby's been living on while we were away, I can't be sure - but there are a lot of suspicious-looking cartons in the bin! So this morning I baked bread and made some gingerbread, then the boys and I went out shopping...

(Much later) We spent the afternoon in the garden, as summer seems to have finally decided to put in an appearance. The sweet peas are out in abundance and, just in case you're wondering, he did mow the lawn!

Tonight's dinner was based on a half-remembered childhood favourite of Karl's. As with so much, he didn't go into any kind of detail - just that it was "chicken in a cheesy sauce with a crispy topping".  'Crispy' is a simply ludicrous word, in my opinion, but I let this pass for the sake of marital harmony... and in the end I did use potato crisps, so I suppose it might count as 'crisp-y' just this one time.

Chicken Mornay

6 skinless & boneless chicken thigh fillets
40g butter
40g cornflour
1 pint milk
1 tsp mustard
100g grated cheese
2 packs ready-salted crisps, crushed
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Put the chicken pieces in an ovenproof dish and bake at 180­°c for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put the milk, butter, mustard and cornflour in a pan and bring to the boil, whisking until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and beat in three-quarters of the cheese. Take the chicken out of the oven and carefully whisk any juices into the sauce, then pour the sauce over the top of the chicken in the dish. Mix the crushed crisps with the remaining cheese and the parsley, then scatter this mixture over the surface of the sauce. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

We ate this with some (brown) rice and steamed baby corn and broccoli. It wasn't quite how Hubby remembered it from his youth, but very good all the same. Judging by the amount he packed in, I think little James has a new favourite dinner!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

If you go down in the woods today...

As I don't have girls, I need to get my girly kicks when I can. Normally this restricts me to filling my life, magpie-like, with as much colour and sparkle as possible. Just occasionally, however, a better opportunity comes along...

Today I went to visit a friend in order to (among other things) help her decorate her daughter's birthday cake for the weekend. I made the cake last night and took it over there with me, along with my box of tricks; paste icing colours, brushes and the like. Oh, and a rolling pin. Huddled in the kitchen, leaving the kids to play together for a bit, look what we did. Look what we did!

We're so pleased with it - has there ever been a better cake for a little girl's "Teddy Bears' Picnic" party? Even if the only plate we could find to put it on said 'Merry Christmas', there's always the option of covering it with foil before the big day.

Right, I've now got to get on with packing bags for the boys and me - as I've already said, we're off to my folks' for a few days, leaving Hubby to revel in wife-and-childless bliss for a bit. Just as long as he mows the lawn, eh..?

Monday, 14 July 2008

Bring it On...

And she does it again! Top tip of the day - twice. I can't tell you how (unreasonably) this has boosted my self-esteem. Today's tip was one that becomes a great favourite when we have weekend after weekend stacked up with guests (usually over the summer), "How to cook a cooked breakfast without making a mess".

The self-esteem boost was much-needed as we're currently mired in what I think are the 'end-of-term blues'; we've all been down, one by one, with a tummy bug and I'm certain that this is the long term (due to Easter being so early this year) finally taking its toll. Just a few more schooldays to go - for us in Wales, anyhoo - then I can be off to my parents' house for a bit of a break. Yes, that's right folks - I need my Mum!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Cor! -onation Chicken

Last night, I was soooo organised and made a really nice lunch to take out to a friend's house today. I shook off any potential food-snobbery and tried out some frozen cooked rice for the first time. I was not disappointed; it allowed me to assemble this rice salad easily and in next to no time at all. You just weigh out the required rice, pop it in a basin with a little water and microwave ever so briefly. Because I wanted it cold, for a salad, I cooled it fast by putting it in a sieve and running it under the cold tap.

Coronation Chicken Rice Salad

225g frozen rice, 'cooked' and cooled (and see above)
2-3 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp curry paste
100g cooked chicken
50g sultanas
1-2 tbsp chopped chives
watercress, to serve

Combine the mayo, curry paste and about 50ml water to make a creamy curried dressing. Mix in the rice, then stir in the chicken, sultanas and chives. Serve on a bed of watercress for the full 'coronation chicken' experience...

Ooh, it was lovely - might have to have a repeat performance soon!

Monday, 7 July 2008

A Dab Hand in the Kitchen

Although sometimes that's debatable, hmm. Any
how, when we were out shopping, Christopher exclaimed excitedly that he'd "found our dinner, Mummy", then showed me some nice-looking dab on the fish counter. I couldn't resist. Well, I was so impressed that a three-year-old, without any outside influence, would choose something like that for dinner that I decided to ignore hubby's general squeamishness about fish and picked up three fine specimens (exceptionally good value at under £2 the lot) for tonight's meal (one each for we adults and one for the two nippers to share).

Fish only needs simple treatment so I put them in an ovenproof dish with some lemon slices and fresh bay leaves, ground over black pepper and seasoned them with a little salt, then baked the at 180­°c for 20 minutes, during which time I steamed some new potatoes and cooked some green beans. Including preparation (and putting water on to boil for the steaming pan), this meal was ready in about half an hour. In the end, hubby didn't eat all of his (it was 'too fishy', apparently - go figure), but the rest of us, and subsequently the cat, dined very well tonight, thank you.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Nifty Nachos

Here's a quick idea for a fab lunch. The other night there was a portion of chilli con carne left over after we'd all eaten supper. As usual I put in in a plastic box in the fridge to be eaten, by someone, at some point. Today I was stuck for a nice 'hot lunch' idea for the boys and as my gaze lighted upon the languishing chilli, I remembered the half-bag of tortilla chips still hanging around from the same meal and inspiration struck. NACHOS!

I piled tortilla chips into the bottom of a smallish ovenproof dish and spooned the chilli, over and around, in non-too-tidy dollops. I finished off with a layer of grated cheese and baked the dish at 200­°c for about 10 minutes until everything was piping hot and the cheese all melted and gooey. The boys tucked in, which was just as well - we went to a fête this afternoon and some serious exercise was had on the bouncy castle!

Leaving a Tip...

Have you discovered the site 'Top Tips for Girls'? It's a mine of useful tips on just about every subject imaginable and one of my first go-to sites for general life support. You can also post problems if there are no tips to cover your specific question.

I particularly mention it because I was gratified to find that one of my own tips, "What to put in a handbag to be equipped for any situation", had been made today's 'Tip of the Day'. Result!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Friday Night Noodles

Of course, you don't have to cook them on a Friday night but I find, more and more, that we have them as a kick-off to the weekend. I do the shopping towards the end of the week, so there's always a good selection of vegetables to choose from. The recipe is only a blueprint; I vary the veg according to what we've got and rotate between chicken, turkey, beef and pork depending on what I fancy when I'm shopping or what someone else fancies when I'm planning the week's meals and making the shopping list.

Kinda Chow Mein-ish Noodles

200g dried egg noodles
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2cm piece ginger root, peeled and minced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
400g diced turkey thigh meat
4 tbsp dry sherry
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cornflour
2 carrots,
1 stick celery
1 x 225g can bamboo shoots
1/2 green pepper, sliced
1/2 yellow pepper, sliced
100g sweetcorn, defrosted if frozen

Soak the noodles in boiling water from the kettle until soft, then drain them and separate the strands. Put the garlic, ginger and spring onions into a large pan with the cold oil, then heat up until sizzling. Add the turkey meat and stir-fry until sealed all over. Meanwhile, whisk together the sherry, tomato purée, soy sauce and cornflour. Pile the vegetables and noodles into the pan, then pour over the sauce and mix well. Add 200ml water and cover the pan. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the turkey is cooked through, the sauce has thickened, and the vegetables are just tender. Give it a good stir and serve straight from the pan.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Cow Pie

Call me childish, but when I had some pastry trimmings left over from making tonight's Minced Beef & Onion Pie, the nostagia bug bit me and I decided that it should be a 'Cow Pie' in honour of Desperate Dan. My tomboy tendencies as a child made me an avid reader of 'The Dandy' and a particular fan of Dinah Mo, though I also read 'Bunty', just to prove that I've always been one to want a bit of everything!

Cow Pie

400g flour
200g butter
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
250g beef mince
150g mushrooms, chopped
beef stock cube
1 tsp cornflour

Make some pastry and set it aside while you prepare the filling. Fry the onions until soft, then add the mince and brown it. Add the mushrooms and crumble the stock cube into the pan, mixing well. Stir the cornflour into 200ml water and pour this into the pan. Bring to the boil and let the mixture bubble gently while you roll out the pastry and line a pie tin or dish. Fill the pie case, top with the pastry 'lid' and (if you're as juvenile as I am) use the trimmings to make two 'horns' and a 'tail'. Affix these with a leittle beaten egg, then glaze the pie crust and bake for 20 minutes at 200°c. I tastes really good, believe me - especially with mashed potatoes and peas, though tonight I decided to forgo the mash and just cook a vat of peas with plenty of mint from the garden.

Aunt Aggie would be proud of me...


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