29 December 2012

Nose blowing and coughing stopped play - unfortunately!

Just in case anyone was wondering, I've been struck down by a particularly nasty cold/flu bug that poor old son & heir brought back from school with him for the holidays.

It got me on Christmas Day - and I'm just now starting to be able to contemplate sitting at the computer again.

Give me a couple of days and I'll be back!

24 December 2012

Happy Christmas to you all


Here's wishing you all a very happy and relaxing Christmas,
that all your celebratory dinners go according to plan,
with no smoke (unless you planned it that way)!

Thank you
everyone, from the bottom of my heart, for being such a great and appreciative
audience over the months and years.
Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb & Ginger would be nothing without all of you.

Now ....
... who's for a Christmas kiss?  :)

23 December 2012

Herne the Hatstand (Venison Sausage) casserole

The title of this scrumptious venison sausage casserole could stand some explanation, I think!

According to Wikipedia, "In English folklore, Herne the Hunter is a ghost associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park in the county of Berkshire. His appearance is notable in the fact that he has antlers upon his head.

The earliest written account of Herne comes from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1597:
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
— William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

Robin and Herne the Hunter
Herne was incorporated into the Robin Hood legend in the 1984 television series, Robin of Sherwood. In it, Robin of Loxley is called by Herne to take on the mantle of "the Hooded Man", which Robin's father had predicted beforehand. It is Herne who encourages Loxley to become 'Robin i' the Hood' and to use his band of outlaws to fight for good against the evil Norman oppressors. Herne's appearance bears a very strong resemblance to the illustrations that previously depicted him, in that an otherwise unnamed shaman character, portrayed by actor John Abineri, dons a stag's head and tells Robin that "when the horned one possesses [him]", he becomes the spirit of the forest. Herne featured in 17 of the 26 episodes of the series and was shown to have various magical abilities. The series' adaptation of the Robin Hood mythos has become extremely influential and many of its brand-new elements have since been reinterpreted in a manner of different ways in nearly all of the subsequent films and television series of the legend".

Now, Herne the Hunter became "Herne the Hatstand" (because of his antlers) when hubby was just a lad and would discuss the previous night's episode of Robin of Sherwood at school the following day.  His reference to "Herne the Hatstand" always got a laugh from the assembled throng - so "Herne the Hatstand" he stayed.

Additionally, the Dorset Smokery's address is Hurn Court Lane - so it just had to be!  Inevitably, when trying to think of a name for this dish involving venison, the name "Herne the hatstand casserole" should be first off the blocks - and stick.

So there you are.  Now you know - and aren't you glad?  *chuckle*

We were lucky to arrive at the Smokery just minutes after Marcus had finished making the latest batch to sell - so they couldn't have got any fresher.  Everyone at the Smokery is so nice, you really must go and investigate their wares when you're in the area.  You won't be disappointed!

The sausages were just magnificent in this casserole.  I have to admit that I wasn't too keen on the flavour of the sausage unadulterated and in its pure sausage form - I think it was a bit too strong for me.  However, as a component part of the casserole, they were just majestically beautiful.  The flavours are strong and powerful, but having been cooked in the gravy with the vegetables and mushrooms, the flavours mellowed out and were just gorgeous.

Couple that with the buttery mashed potato and sweet peas and broad beans - and you've a thoroughly well balanced delight of savoury loveliness.

I am quite sure that any good venison sausage would do the same job - and most probably, so would a good beef sausage, although that would slightly change the flavour of the casserole.  However, all the other ingredients go well with beef, so I don't see why not!

I reckon Herne the Hatstand would have approved.


Ingredients :

600g venison sausage
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
1 large potato, cubed
1 stick celery, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
2 or 3 bay leaves
150g chestnut mushrooms sliced thickly
1 rounded tsp wholegrain mustard
100ml red wine
750ml veal or ham stock
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Optional :

1 tbsp mushroom ketchup
10g dried porcini mushrooms.

Method :

1.  Make up 750ml of stock and add the dried porcini mushrooms to it.  Set them aside.

2.  Cook the sausages in a large frying pan until the skins are well coloured.  You may need to cook them in two batches.  Once well coloured, remove from the frying pan and set aside to keep warm.

3.  Add the onions, garlic and celery to the pan and cook on a medium heat until softened.

4.  Now turn the heat up to high to get the frying pan quite hot before adding the red wine. Stir vigorously to deglaze the frying pan before emptying the contents into a large saucepan.

5.  Add the thyme, bay leaves and mushrooms to the contents of the saucepan.  Mix well before adding the remaining vegetables and the stock (complete with the mushrooms, if you're using them.  You will want to leave the dregs of the stock in the container, so as not to include any grit that may have come from the mushrooms).

6.  Slice the sausages to your own taste and add them to the pan.  Finally, add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, stir well and then set the heat to provide a gentle simmer to the pan.  Cook uncovered for at least 45 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.

7.  Prior to serving, if the sauce is a little thin, simply add a teaspoon or two of cornflour or arrowroot which has been slaked with cold water and stir like crazy until the sauce has thickened.

Serve with mashed potato and a selection of green vegetables.

Printable version

18 December 2012

Mince Pie topped frozen Greek yoghurt - YUM!

You may recall that, in the Turkey seasonal box from Knorr, were some mince pies.  Not just any old mince pie, but some really very tasty mince pies from Foreman & Field, that are made by pastry chef Michael Nadell.

Now, unusually for us, we hadn't - beyond the first taster - put the kettle on and snarfed the lot accompanied by a number of cups of coffee.  Oh no.  These mince pies demanded a bit more respect than that - and at £16.95 for 12, you can understand why.  So we tucked them up into an airtight container (just like your Mum told you to) and were keeping them for "best".  (Is there a "best", where mince pies are concerned?  We obviously thought so!).

Photo c/o Foreman & Field

The following day - and completely coincidentally - I was contacted by Lianne at W. Communications, the P.R. company I've been working with regarding Barefoot Wines, about another of their clients - the Chillbox Company.

Apparently, Chillbox have a newly opened outlet in Brixton Market (the first, by all accounts) where they are selling Greek frozen yoghurt.  It seems to me to be a spectacularly bad time to open - the middle of winter - when you're selling frozen goods, but who am I to judge?  Maybe the denizens of Brixton Market enjoy some frozen yoghurt after their tub of Paella and before thawing out with mulled wine.  (I have no idea whether paella or mulled wine can be purchased at Brixton Market, but I'll bet they can!).  However, to smooth their way into the Christmas market (see what I did there?), they've come up with a Christmassy mince pie topped version.

So anyway.  I like frozen yoghurt - and I'm particularly fond of Greek yoghurt.  So I was mildly interested but couldn't see any particular relevance to Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb & Ginger, as the likelihood of my getting to Brixton Market this side of doomsday was fairly negligible.  I couldn't see any samples getting to me in a fit state to test, so it all seemed a bit of a no hoper.  That is, right up until I noticed the words "make at home recipe".

Maybe not as pretty as the Chillbox version - but who cares about pretty when it tastes this good?

The "in store" version is in either natural or chocolate flavour yoghurt with buttery crumbled mince pie, mulled wine sauce with subtle hints of ginger spice and finally, for an extra flourish, some edible 23ct gold leaf.  Frozen yogurt heaven, so they say - and I'm inclined to believe them!

Churn, churn, churn - or you could just freeze & stir every 30 mins!
The "make at home recipe" wasn't anything like as showbiz as the "in store" version, but just the promise of frozen Greek yoghurt - never mind the mince pie input - was enough to spark my interest.  Of course, as soon as I saw the mince pie aspect, I knew I had a potential use for at least a couple of those lovely Michael Nadell pies.

Well, I had every intention of making the frozen yoghurt over the weekend, but one thing led to another and there we were on Monday morning, still with the yoghurt in its pot in the fridge.  So hubby set to and made it.

The recipe is simplicity itself - I've reproduced it below for your delectation - and the end result is yummy, scrummy and feels deliciously naughty.  I have to admit that we made the full-fat version, but I have no doubt that the low fat version would be just as good - particularly if you use a good Greek yoghurt.

Once frozen, the ice crystals are very small and so the yoghurt retains its unctuous creaminess.  The single mince pie that you include with the yoghurt in the mixing stage doesn't look like it will make enough of an impact on the flavour profile - but if you choose a good mince pie (and Sainsbury's are our normal favourite) then the one pie is genuinely all you'll need.

We didn't get all fancy and make a separate sauce - but I think we might for our second go at this dessert, there will be a second go, of that I'm sure!  Something rich, fruity and slightly boozy would be just lush with the frozen yoghurt, I think.  I think we might just pass on the gold leaf, though.  Don't want to get too carried away - anyone would think it's Christmas!

Here's the good bits from the Press Release regarding Chillbox and its products, if anyone is close enough to Brixton Market to want to visit :

"With double the protein, lower carbohydrates and half the sodium, Greek yoghurt is only 124 calories per 100g so there really is no reason not to spoil yourself by picking a festive topping or three!

A standard size Chillbox is £3.75 with an extra two toppings. The 23ct gold topping is charged as an extra cost and not included in the standard topping price.

Chillbox is located at 14 Market Row, Brixton Market, SW9 8LD.  Opening times are Tues 10 – 5pm / Wed - Sun 10 – 10pm.  For Chillbox updates follow us on Twitter - @Chillbox_uk and on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/

Chillbox is the leading frozen yoghurt franchise in Greece.

The Christmas toppings are available up to the 24th December.

Chillbox is not fat free, it contains a low 1.6% fat - not counting toppings.

Chillbox does not contain any chemical additives.

Chillbox is sweetened with fructose not sugar, making it slightly more acceptable to diabetics".


Ingredients :

900g Greek Yoghurt (low fat or full fat - your choice)
110g fructose sugar (available from most supermarkets)
125ml milk (again, semi skimmed or full fat - your choice)
1 mince pie to include with the yoghurt
1 mince pie to crumble over.

Method :

1.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients and, once fully incorporated, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to a maximum of 4 hours.

2.  Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and process for 10-12 minutes, until set the the consistency of soft scoop ice cream.

3.  Serve immediately, with mince pie crumbled over the top, or transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until ready to use.  In this case, allow the yoghurt to warm up slightly before serving, so as to capitalise on its smooth creaminess.

Printable version

15 December 2012

Cooking a Christmas Turkey successfully!

That is, in a way which leaves you with cooked, succulent, tasty meat that won't have you either reaching for the wine glass for some lubrication, or calling to God on the great white telephone owing to it being under-done.

Well, you can't ask for more than that, really - can you?

I must come straight out and say that the lovely people at Knorr were kind enough to send me the wonderful Foreman & Field box of goodies that enabled me to post up this "how to" blog post.  I have been the fortunate recipient of a number of these boxes - and would like to just say a public thank you to Knorr and to Jen Harris at Golin Harris, their P.R. people, for all the terrific produce that has graced my cooker in the past year.

I wasn't expecting such a huge box this year, but in it came with hubby buckling at the knees under the weight.  Impressive, eh?

Inside the box, there was the following :

·         SELDOM SEEN FARM TURKEY 4.5-5.5kg
·         LONGMAN’S FARM BUTTER 250g
·         1 X ORANGE
·         12 x LUXURY MINCE PIES
·         2 Knorr Chicken Gravy Pots.

Well, the turkey speaks for itself - and I'll deal with that in detail in a minute or so.

The Longman's Farm Butter is unsalted and is the most glorious, creamy butter.  I have to admit that I felt it would be a shame to use it in this way and it is far nicer enjoyed on crackers with cheese, or on hot toast, so I used a supermarket unsalted butter.  Sssssh!  Don't tell!

The Emmett's bacon is so intensely smoked, it has an amazing aroma and three rashers is very definitely all that was needed!  I have intentions of using the remainder of the bacon in a French Chicken with peas & bacon recipe, in which it should be glorious.

Now, a word about the Christmas Stuffing.  It comes already frozen, so don't try and freeze it again - and use it as soon as you can.  Last year's pack got left in the fridge for 2 days and was simply horrid - it wound up in the bin.  This year's pack got cooked off on the day of delivery and the cooked stuffing balls are in the freezer.  It has a lovely flavour, being mixed with pork sausage meat, chestnuts and cranberries - but it very definitely won't wait.

The herbs and the orange are, well, herbs and an orange.  ~shrug~  What can I say?  Oh, except to say that the Foreman & Field parsley seems to be the nicest smelling parsley I've come across to date.  It's so fresh!

The mince pies are definitely to.die.for.  There is a hint of either vanilla or almond in the pastry - can't decide which - that marries the pastry up with the mincemeat so well!  I'm going to be using two of these in a frozen yoghurt recipe.  Hopefully, I'll make that tonight.

As for the dessert wine, well, I have yet to try that one - but it's from the Tenterden Vineyards.  What's not to like?

Now the recipe below follows Marco Pierre-White's recipe which is available from here where there is a printable version.  One thing I would mention, is that my timings are slightly different from his, for some obscure reason.  I followed the recipe that came in the box - but the recipe online is slightly different.  So you might like to just make a note of the timings I used, provided your turkey is also in the 4.5-5.5kg range.


See that plastic bag peeping out?  Remove it!
So.  It's just you and the turkey.  It is sitting there, somewhat malevolently, in its wrapping, looking at you in that "go on - I dare you!" kind of way.  So you need to grab hold of any nervousness you have over the issue and throw it behind you, because - this time - you're going to win.

First job - unwrap your turkey and have a good look at it.  Is there anything that needs removing?   There may be whole feathers that might have been missed in the plucking or the bag of giblets that will be tucked into the cavity.  Believe me, roasting a bird with its plastic bag of giblets still inside, does not make for a tasty bird.  No. No.  So, for goodness' sake, just have a peep (out of one eye, if you're squeamish) and check.  One smooth move from the bird to the bin will take care of those giblets.  For those who either a) don't mind the smell of them cooking or b) have no sense of smell, put them in a bowl and use them to make the gravy with.  Be my guest.

By 'eck, 'twas a buxom bird!
Next thing, is to rinse out the cavity of the bird.  Now remember, you don't want to be splashing potentially germ-laden dilute turkey blood everywhere, so have the water running fairly slowly and be careful.  Once your turkey is rinsed, pat dry with some kitchen paper (yes, inside as well - you don't have to look) and leave it on the side while you splash some sink cleaner around your sink.  Best to do that now - you never know who might come along and want to dabble their fingers in it, otherwise.

Back to the turkey.  Or in fact, back to the flavoursome butter mixture that you're going to be putting under the skin of the turkey breast, that will both flavour the bird and keep the breast from drying out in the oven.  In this instance, I'm using orange, rosemary, parsley and bacon.  Don't feel you have to do the same!  You can use whatever combination of herbs, herbs plus bacon, bacon plus fruit, an assortment of spices, BBQ sauce - whatever floats your boat, to mix with the butter.  However, the butter is a necessary thing, as that's what keeps your turkey moist.

So - assuming you're using the same as I did - get a bowl and grate just the zest from the orange into it.  Don't include any of the white pith in there, as it is bitter and nasty.  Take three of the bacon rashers and remove the rind.  Chop the bacon finely and add to the bowl.  Take the rosemary and pick the leaves from all but three stems.  Chop the leaves very small and place them into the bowl.  Cut the stems from the parsley and chop the leaves finely - and put them into the bowl too.  Add a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper and 200g of unsalted butter.  Using your hands, scrunch everything together until well mixed.

Next, decide which roasting tin you are going to use for the turkey and line it with a doubled over piece of silver foil.  I added the bacon rind and parsley stalks to the tin, just to capitalise on any flavour that was going.  I always think it's a terrible shame to throw potential flavour in the bin!

Right, so now it's time to get up close and personal with this turkey.

Take a deep breath - this won't hurt a bit!
Turn it so that its neck end is towards you (that'll be the opposite end to the legs!) and pull the neck flap out from under the string that is trussing it.  You will probably need to trim off the majority of the length of this flap, in order to gain access to the breast meat under it.  This is where poultry shears come into their own!

What we're aiming to do, is to create a pocket between the skin and the breast meat.  You can do this by pushing your fingers through the membrane that connects the two - yes, I know it's gross but it's over quickly!  I found that my little fat fingers didn't reach far enough along the breast, so I used a blunt ended tablespoon and pushed that in as far as it would reach, bowl side up.  The object of the exercise, is not to pierce the skin at all - otherwise all your butter will run directly out as soon as it melts.

See?  Short fat fingers - no hope of reaching far enough!
Make a long pocket across the top of both breasts.  It is easiest to do them separately, as the skin is joined along the breastbone and trying to pierce it there is almost impossible to do without breaking the skin.

Once your pockets are done, divide your butter mix into two and squeeze one half into each pocket.  You'll find they arrive in one lump, but by smoothing with your thumb along the top of the skin, you'll find you can encourage the lump to thin out and before long you'll have both breasts looking all buttered up and lovely.  There's just one thing left to do, which is to take a cocktail stick and use it to "stitch" the neck hole shut.  This will stop the solids inside the flavoured butter from escaping.

A fine bit of cocktail stitchery!
Cut the remains of the orange in half and insert each half into the cavity.  The orange will provide lovely orange-scented and flavoured steam which will also keep the meat moist.

Tuck the remaining three sprigs of rosemary down the side of each leg - between the leg and the breast - and tuck one into the cavity, for luck. 

Almost looks attractive, now!
The next thing is to think about what you want on the skin of the turkey.  I gave the whole bird a good coating of rapeseed oil, as a little oil helps to brown the skin and keep it crispy.  By all means use olive oil, or peanut, or just plain vegetable oil - it really won't matter.

I then seasoned the bird with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and added a final flourish with a few pinches of Sumac.  Sumac has a fresh citrus flavour and would go very well with the orange, I felt.  You could easily add more herbs, or more spices - whatever will go with what you've used in the flavoured butter.

So there you have it!  One turkey, all ready for the oven.

The last thing to do before committing it to the heat, is to place a large piece of silver foil over the top - effectively sealing the turkey in - and crimp it closed all around the roasting tin.

You should have your oven pre-heated to 220degC/200degC(fan)/425degF/Gas 7 - yes, that hot! - so place your turkey in the middle of the oven for the next 30 minutes.

What your turkey should look like, once you uncover it!
Once 30 minutes are up, leaving the turkey undisturbed, simply turn the oven temperature down to 170degC/150degC(fan)/300degF/Gas 3 for another 2.5-3 hours.

I gave my turkey the full 3 hours, at the end of which you remove the turkey from the oven and remove its silver foil cover.  Baste the turkey with the cooking juices that will have accumulated in the pan (we tipped ours out into a jug and poured it over - it was a two man job, but worth doing!) and replace it - without the silver foil lid - for another 30 minutes at an increased temperature of 200degC/180degC(fan)/400degF/Gas 6 to gain that lovely golden colour.

See?  "Lovely golden colour" - I wasn't joking either!
At the end of the cooking time, remove the turkey from the oven and leave it to sit in the roasting tin for 15 minutes, to rest, covered with foil to help it keep warm.  During this time, the juices in the meat are allowed to redistribute themselves around the meat and it may well suck up some of the cooking liquid that is in the tin.

Turkey - meet platter.  Or should that be "turkey meat platter"?
Once the 15 minutes are up, decant the turkey from the tin onto a warmed platter.  Re-wrap it in its silver foil cape and leave it to rest for another 30 minutes.

By this time, it is quite right to feel as though you've been faffing around with this damned turkey ALL FLIPPING DAY!  Believe me, it is worth it though.

Just look at that and think of the admiration of your peers - this, too, could be yours
I saved the cooking juices from the roasting tin to use in the gravy making.  I just skimmed the fat off and popped it into the fridge until I needed it.  If you are serving your turkey immediately, then there's no need to do this - just use it how you like in the gravy.

Congratulations!  Your turkey is now ready to carve!

14 December 2012

Quick! The this-turkey-has-to-be-won-by-Monday-morning giveaway!

It's a sooper, sooper-quick giveaway!


You see this fabulous collection of Christmas goodies - and yes, that does include a Turkey, all 4.5kg-5.5kg of it, stuffing, mince pies and dessert wine - well get entering via the Rafflecopter widget below and who knows?  It could be yours!

So when I say it's an enormous box - it's an enormous box!
I can 100% recommend the Turkey - one from Seldom Seen Farm - as I have also taken delivery of one of these enormous boxes full of loveliness.  I roasted the Turkey yesterday and boy oh boy, but it is fabulous!  So tender and moist - beautiful.

The mince pies are divine!  So crumbly with a hint of almond or vanilla that just makes them so special.

You can either follow Marco Pierre White's recipe for Knorr - his Roast Turkey with Orange and Smokey Bacon Baste - which I did and is lovely!

Or you can use the ingredients to make your own Christmas recipe, whilst quaffing the beautiful wine from Tenterden vineyards and munching on gorgeous mince pies.

Well, it would solve the quandary of what to have at Christmas, now wouldn't it?

There are two things to note before you enter.  First is that you absolutely HAVE to be available to take delivery on the 21st December.  If you're going to be away on that day, don't enter because the delivery date can't be changed.

Secondly, if you are resident anywhere but in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, again, please do not enter.  The box contains foodstuffs which although packed with cold bags, will not sustain a safe temperature for delivery abroad.

I really am going to have to think of a competition prize for all you folks who hail from foreign fields!

The competition has now closed - but Jo Hutchinson was the lucky winner!  Congratulations, Jo!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

9 December 2012

Velvety Marsala Chicken & Mushrooms

I haven't posted a meal plan for this week because hubby's sore throat has meant that our plans have changed from day to day, depending on how he is.  After all, it's no good my spending time in the kitchen making a tomato based meal containing chilli if that would be inedible for him!

So following on from the Slow Cooked Chicken Stew with Dumplings that did him so much good, we had a bit of a diversion in the form of a Chinese takeaway.  The chicken curry contained therein was a bit frisky, but didn't affect him adversely, so I knew I could stretch the ingredients list for the next dish.

I'd had it in mind to cook a chicken dish in a mild creamy sauce, to be served with rice.  The finer details hadn't really gelled at that stage, so I began to consider the flavours I wanted to go with it.  Mushrooms were a given, as I had a bit of a glut of mushrooms in the fridge at the time.  However, should I go down the tarragon, Marsala or mushroom ketchup route?

Tarragon goes very well with mushrooms - and with Marsala wine.  So I decided to go with tarragon, whatever happened.  It would add another dimension to the dish and I could save a little tarragon to add a fresh green note and a tiny crunch, at the end.

So - Marsala -v- mushroom ketchup.   They both had promise and would be fine bedfellows with the cream in the sauce.  The mushroom ketchup would accentuate the flavour of the chestnut mushrooms and send the dish down a more savoury route.  However, the Marsala wine would be a different flavour altogether, adding to the layers of flavour that were planned already.  Plus, it was sweet - and with the Savoy cabbage and plain rice I was planning on serving it with, would provide a lovely contrast to their flavours.

It was the added dimension that the Marsala would bring, that swung it for me.  Now, if you don't have any Marsala wine and want to have a crack at this dish (it was simplicity itself to make), a medium Sherry would be just perfect as an alternative.

I just knew that the velvety creaminess of the savoury/sweet sauce would go so, so well with the Savoy cabbage.  However, I opted not to tell the chaps about the cabbage aspect of the dish.  *wink*  I knew there'd be objections, if I did - but I also knew that if they just gave it a go, there was every possibility that they'd like it a lot.  Which they did!

In the event, I did have a bit of a waver when preparing the cabbage and decided to include a few peas, just in case one or both of them really didn't like the cabbage.  I felt the presence of a pea or two might have just meant the difference between rejection or acceptance.  I know.  It's unlikely - but there you are, that was the way I was thinking at the time.  Well, it made me feel better!

As it was, this dish was an absolutely corker.  (For those of you who might not know what "a corker" is - it's "something above average".  So in other words, it was flipping lovely!).  The chicken was cooked perfectly and still moist and juicy.  The celery and onion had disappeared into the sauce - just as I had planned it - leaving their flavour behind.  The garlic wasn't in evidence beyond adding to the savoury nature of the sauce and the Marsala/chicken stock/cream combination was just divine.

One of the best parts of the dish was the combination of the velvety sauce with the Savoy cabbage, hence I thoroughly recommend you include some Savoy when you make it.  The rice was very welcome as a plain counterpoint to the richness of the sauce.   Mashed potato would have been too buttery and just tipped the flavours too much into the rich & fatty.  As it was, with its accompaniments, it was perfect.

Everything prepared and ready to go - so that you can see how small to chop!
Now, a couple of notes for when you cook the dish.  The combination of butter and oil to fry the chicken, is very necessary for the flavour, so don't be tempted to drop the butter part.  The butter is the starting point for the development of the flavour in the sauce.  The oil is there simply to stop the butter from burning at a high temperature - so don't be tempted to drop the oil either, or you'll have horrid black specks in your sauce!

Where the chicken stock is concerned, you will see I use an entire Knorr stock pot (usually dissolved in 400ml of water) for 150ml of stock.   This is entirely intentional, as you need the intense chicken flavour for the sauce.  Only using half a stock pot (or cube - your choice) will result in a lacklustre sauce.

Lastly, for all that I have said to use 150ml of double cream, be ready to have some left over.  It is good to have that little bit of cream there, just in case you are delayed in dishing up and your sauce becomes too reduced.  Just add a fraction of water and a drop more cream, stir well and your sauce will be restored.

The sauce - it is there, honest! - is hiding beneath the cabbage.

It would be possible to use a low fat creme fraiche and gain similar results, while reducing the fat content of the dish.  However - do not allow the sauce to boil (or even simmer rapidly) once you have added the low fat creme fraiche.  This is most important - or you will split the sauce and wind up with horrid flabby lumps floating around!  Cream, because of its high fat content, will emulsify with the liquid of the sauce and be fairly stable.  Low fat creme fraiche, only emulsifies at a lower temperature.  So you have been warned!

So there you have it!  I thoroughly enjoyed this dish - and my menfolk did too.  You can't get better recommendation than that.


Ingredients :

2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
a large knob of butter
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
6-7 large chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
150ml sweet Marsala wine
150ml chicken stock (using an entire Knorr stock pot or stock cube)
fresh tarragon , to make 2 tbsp when finely chopped
150ml double cream.

Method :

1.  Take a large deep frying pan and heat the oil together with the butter.  Once the butter is foaming, add the chicken and turn the heat to high.  Make sure the chicken doesn't crowd the pan, as you want it to fry and not poach.  Brown the chicken in batches, if necessary.  Season the chicken and leave it to gain a golden colour.  Just turn the chicken the once, as keeping on turning it doesn't let the colour develop and the chicken will overcook before you've gained the right golden brown colour on at least two sides.  Once browned, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve to keep warm.

2.  Add the onions to the pan and stir lightly to coat in the oils.  Allow the onions to fry, stirring occasionally, until transparent and just turning golden.  You don't want any brown or black onions for this dish.

3.  Add the garlic and stir to combine.  Fry for approximately a minute, then add the celery and continue to stir and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

4.  Add the sliced mushrooms - you may need to add a little more butter at this stage, as mushrooms will drink up the oil in the pan.  However, don't overdo the butter because as they cook, they will release a certain amount back into the pan again.  Cook the mushrooms until they are softened.

5.  Increase the heat under the pan and return the chicken to the pan.  Add the Marsala and allow to frizzle, which will help to burn off a percentage of the alcohol.  Reduce the temperature of the pan so that the wine returns to a simmer and cook for another few minutes, until reduced by a third.

6.  Add the chicken stock and two thirds of the tarragon and stir through.  Continue on a lively simmer until reduced by half.  Taste for seasoning and add more if necessary.

7.  Add two thirds of the cream and stir through.  Continue to simmer and reduce - without boiling - until the sauce has achieved your preferred consistency.  In this instance, I like the sauce to be at double cream consistency - sufficient to coat the back of a spoon.  Add the remaining tarragon and stir through.

Serve on a bed of Savoy cabbage and peas, with plain white rice.

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7 December 2012

Slow-cooked chicken stew and dumplings

This completely scrummy, hug-on-a-plate loveliness was born of a necessity to find something non-confrontational but nutritious that poor old hubby could eat while he had a horrid sore throat.

He hadn't eaten very much at all for the previous two days - just drinkable things like soup and tea, really - and his blood sugar levels were all over the place.  Needless to say, this wasn't helping him to feel any better.

He quite obviously couldn't eat the Woodman's Casserole that I'd got in mind, as it contained tomato, paprika and some hefty sausages.  So that got shelved while I thought hard about what to provide that would do the job.

Of course, the age old remedy of chicken soup was at the forefront of my mind, but even home made wasn't quite good enough, as he was obviously needing to fill his tummy with some good nutritious food that would keep the blood sugar up with slow release carbohydrates for several hours.

A short step from chicken soup, was chicken stew.  However, it needed to be very well cooked, so that the vegetables would be soft, yielding and just slip down with the tiniest of effort - and no aggressive spices!  The slow cooker was the obvious choice.  However, don't feel you need to have a slow cooker before you can make this stew - on the stove top or in the oven, or both, would do just as well.

The stew needed to be filling, with plenty of vegetables and devoid of things like lentils - which although full of protein and fibre, aren't for hubby.  Not at all.  He doesn't like them in the slightest (although I can get away with using red lentils in a curry, as they tend to dissolve and if they don't, they're roughly the same colour so hide very well!).

Pondering on how I was going to cook the stew, I remembered the success I'd had with the finely chopped mirepoix of vegetables for the Cottage Pie and Shepherd's Pie recently.  Those tiny morsels of veg. just disappeared in the cooking process and added heaps of flavour to the gravy, so that seemed to be a great way to ensure lots of tasty flavour in the stew.

It was about then that I hit upon the idea of using some of the same vegetables in both the finely chopped form and bigger, chunkier form.  The echoes of flavour carried through the gravy and into the larger pieces of vegetable sounded like a very good idea.

I felt the stew was missing something though.  What would we eat it with?  Crusty bread was out - too aggressive for a sore throat.  Potatoes were in there already.  Pasta was do-able, but not preferred - and the same went for rice or couscous.  Well, the obvious thing was dumplings.

Because of the parsley and tarragon in the stew already, I decided against going down the herby dumpling route and opted for plain "salt & pepper" dumplings, as we call them.  They were lovely.  Light as a fluffy cloud and as comforting as a big warm duvet, they did the job perfectly.

Hubby had no difficulty in eating his stew and if the appreciative murmers were anything to go by, the fluffy dumplings were very welcome.  I like to think that he felt an awful lot better following on from dinner, that night!

The vegetable components of this stew are open to your own interpretation.  Anything would be just fine if you don't have a sore throat - red pepper, sweetcorn, peas, broad beans, dare I say - lentils - the world is your veritable oyster.

You will notice, from the ingredients list, that - unusually - I have not detailed ther how each item should be prepared.  This is because I have dealt with some ingredients in two different ways, so I have gone through the mise en place (preparation process) in detail in the recipe.  All the peel and skins from the vegetables can be used on your compost heap, in some instances kept for stock or soup, or alternatively thrown away.

If you are preparing this stew without the slow cooker , simply cook it in a large stovetop to oven casserole dish, or large heavy based saucepan that will go into the oven, or alternatively in a large saucepan, decanting into a casserole dish before putting in the oven at 160deg for approx 2-3 hours.  In this instance, you will need to brown the chicken then remove and keep it warm until all the vegetables and the gravy are ready, then replace the chicken before putting it in the oven to cook.


Ingredients :

2 tbsp rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil
3 large skinless & boneless chicken breasts
1 large onion
1 garlic clove
2 large celery sticks
2 large donkey carrots
6 chestnut mushrooms
3 small Maris Piper potatoes
1 medium turnip
1 medium parsnip
a small handful of chestnuts
5 stems of curly parsley
3 stems of tarragon
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
a Knorr chicken stock pot (or chicken stock cube of your choice)
a glass and a half (300ml approx) of white wine
1 tsp chicken stock powder
hot water
2 tbsp plain flour
a large knob of butter
3 tbsp self raising flour
1.5 tbsp vegetable suet
a small amount of milk.

Method :

1.  Mise en place - or preparation.

a.  Take each chicken breast and trim the fat and gristle away.  Chuck these bits either in the bin, the stock supply pot or the nearest dog.  Cut each breast into 5 or 6 chunky pieces and set aside.

b.  With a clean knife and on a clean chopping board, take the onion and remove the top and tail, then halve it and remove the brown outer layer and - if necessary - an underneath layer, until you reach clean good onion.  Chop the onion into fine dice and place on a small plate, leaving a spare space for the garlic.

c.  Take the garlic clove and remove the tail end and skin.  Chop the clove finely and place onto the small plate, taking care to keep the garlic separate from the onion as they will be cooked at different intervals.

d.  Wash the celery sticks well and remove the tops and tails.  Taking the first celery stick, cut into one inch pieces and place into a large bowl.  The second celery stick should be diced finely and put into a smaller bowl.

e.  Remove the tops and tails from the carrots and peel them.  The first should be cut into chunky pieces on the diagonal and placed into the large bowl with the celery.  The second should be diced finely and go into the smaller bowl.

f.  Clean the chestnut mushrooms and trim their stalks.  Do not peel them.  Take three and quarter them, then add them to the large bowl.  Finely dice the remaining three and add them to the smaller bowl.

g.  Peel the potatoes and take care to remove any eyes or blemishes.  Rinse in running water to make sure the potatoes are clean, then chop into chunky pieces and add them to the large  bowl.

h.  Take the turnip and trim off the top and tail.  Placing it flat side down onto the chopping board, take a sharp knife and cut from top to bottom along the edge to remove the peel, which can be discarded.  Cut the peeled turnip into chunky pieces and add them to the large bowl.

i.  Take the parsnip, trim off the top and tail and peel it.  Again, cut into chunky pieces and add to the large bowl.

j.  Take the chestnuts and cut each into two pieces and add them to the large bowl.

k.  Chop the parsley (stems and all) and the tarragon (removing the woody part of the stem) roughly and add to the large bowl.

Cooking :

a)   Heat the oil in a frying pan until quite hot, then add the chicken pieces and season.  Fry until golden brown on at least two sides, then using a slotted spoon to retain the oil, decant into your slow cooker.  Replace the lid and turn the slow cooker on to medium.

b)   Add the onion to the frying pan and cook until softened and just beginning to take on colour.  Add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute.

c)  Add the contents of the smaller bowl (all the finely chopped vegetables) and stir to combine.  You may need to add a little more oil at this stage, but no more than a teaspoonful.  Continue to cook until the vegetables have softened.

d)  Add all the chunky vegetables and herbs from the larger bowl into the slow cooker.  Replace the lid.

e)   Add the chicken stock pot to the frying pan - clear a space in the vegetables so that it meets the surface of the pan - then add the wine.  Increase the heat under the pan until the wine sizzles and boils.  Allow it to boil for 2-3 minutes until slightly reduced and the majority of the alcohol has burned off.

f)  Add the chicken stock powder and sufficient water to bring the liquid level in the slow cooker up to approximately one third of the way up the contents.  You'll have to guess the amount at this stage, but you can easily add a little more water once you've decanted the gravy into the slow cooker.  Don't overdo adding the water at this stage, as it is much more difficult to reduce it, than add it!

g)  Stir and simmer until the stock and wine have amalgamated nicely, then taste for seasoning and add a little more if necessary.

h)  Decant into the slow cooker.  Add a little more water, if necessary.

i)  Replace the lid and cook for a minimum of 4 hours.

j)  Turn the slow cooker to high and, in a small bowl, mix the butter with the plain flour until well combined into a smooth paste.

k)  Add small amounts of the paste to the slow cooker, stirring gently, until the gravy has thickened to your preference.  Give a final taste to check the seasoning and add a little more if necessary.

l)  In a small bowl, add the self raising flour, suet and some seasoning.  Add a small amount of milk and stir to combine.  Keep adding the milk in small increments until you have a sticky dough.

m)  Take the dough to the slow cooker and add a teaspoonful at a time, dropping the dough into the gravy.  Take care to leave each dumpling where it falls and try to prevent their connecting with one another.

n)  Replace the lid, turn the slow cooker down to slow and cook for another 45 mins to an hour.   The dumplings should be softly fluffy all the way through, with no evidence of any stickiness or suet.


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