Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chicken in Tomato and Sweet Red Pepper Sauce

This evening's offering is an invention involving chicken, tomatoes (the canned variety), Ramiro peppers and dry white wine. An "invention" because I had something in mind but couldn't find a recipe that really seemed to fit the bill. We had these two gigantic free-range chicken legs - far too big for two people (and which seemed perfect for a richly flavoured casserole) and a couple of (equally gigantic!) Ramiro red peppers that really wanted using. I suppose another time I might use a whole chicken. The rest of the ingredients are store-cupboard items for those of us who host a larder. So that I can refer to it later, I reproduce the recipe here - written down by Steve while we were cooking!

Here it is:

Chicken (Legs) in a Tomato & Red Pepper Sauce ("Chicken 52")


4-5 tbsp olive oil
1 free range chicken, skin on, cut into 8 pieces
(or 4 chicken thighs and 4 drumsticks, for 4 people)
2 thick-cut rashers of smoked streaky bacon or pancetta
2 medium onions, cut into eighths
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 "Ramiro" red peppers, deseeded and cut into 2cm pieces
2-3 bay leaves
1 tsp herbes de Provence
1 handful flat-leafed parsley, chopped
6 oz/200ml dry white wine (vin de pays d'Oc chardonnay)
3 tsp five-pepper mix, ground
2 tsp rock salt
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp tomato purée (paste)
3 anchovy fillets


1. Coat the chicken liberally with the salt and pepper.

2. In a good sized sauté pan, heat the olive oil until shimmering and brown the chicken pieces, in batches, if necessary. Remove with a slotted spoon when golden and set aside.

3. In the same oil, fry the onions until soft and translucent then reduce the heat, add the garlic and the bacon or pancetta and continue to fry until the onion is just golden.

4. Add the wine to the pan along with the herbes de Provence and the bay leaves. Turn up the heat under the pan and reduce the volume by half.

5. Stir in the canned tomatoes and the sugar; add the chopped red peppers and the remaining ingredients and bring up to the boil. Stir well, reduce the heat and gently simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes.

6. When the chicken is tender, remove the chicken to a plate and strain the cooking liquids into a bowl. Retain the solids, return the liquid to the pan and boil rapidly reducing by about a third or until the sauce just coats the back of a spoon.

7. Return the chicken and the solids to the pan and stir them into the sauce and warm through.

Serve on a bed of coarse old-fashioned polenta with buttered French beans.

Serves four.

Happy eating!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Happy birthday to me! Today is my birthday. How to celebrate? Well, if you're me, you want to be outdoors - but not stressing yourself too much! So we got up late, had brunch (scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and home-baked bread rolls) and set off with "No Particular Place to Go".

We walked into Fen Ditton, then back along the river as far as the Cambridge Museum of Technology, continuing along the river to Midsummer Common, returning along Maids Causeway.  We called in at the Zebra pub on the "home stretch".  It was a lovely afternoon.

As we set out, I was in the mood for colour - and I found plenty of it. Late berries, leaves, trees - all contributed to the spectral symphony. I snapped away for a while before admitting that I could never capture it all. We walked along the river, looking at the narrow-boats and wondering about the life inside them; watched the Colleges' early-arrivals get their first taste of the oars - some would go on to race in The Bumps in May, no doubt - and artfully dodged joggers and cyclists - all of whom seemed to have woken up this day and realised its potential.

Before we knew it, we'd been walking for over 2 hours. Up ahead, the Cambridge Museum of Technology was showing signs of life - in times previous,  it has seemed dormant - our curiosity got the better of us and we couldn't resist the urge to go inside. We bought tickets in the little gift shop attached to the site and went in to explore.  What an adventure it was!  We were transported to another time, another era.  The age of mechanical things; the smells of oil and gas mingled with those of the WD-40 and metal polish used to restore the titans to their former glory. It was immense and a real testimony to the art and science that was the industrial era of the 19th century.

Soon the sun began to recede and it was time to think about winding up. We headed homeward with the intention of stopping at a pub along the way for a pint. We wound up at a place called the Zebra - one we'd passed by, on many occasions, but never gone into. It turned out to be a kind of 'ageing hippy' kind of joint - the staff and clientele ranged in age from 30's to 60's. The music was FABULOUS - The Stones, The Who, The Faces, Hawkwind, Fleetwood Mac and Simon & Garfunkel, to name but a few. Before we knew it our 'pint' had turned into two.  We left after our second pint, our steps more determined now, as our thoughts turned to our plans for dinner.

For dinner we had a couple of fantastic sirloin steaks from our trusted local butcher (thanks Andrew Northrop!!) with potatoes and Cavolo Nero from our organic box - which we decided to mash together with butter and olive oil. The result was exquisite! With this, we drank a bottle of 2005 Château Haut-Nouchet, an organic Pessac-Léognan claret. Wow.

And so, it was, that I celebrated another year gone by.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fig, Prosciutto, Orange and Parmesan

Today we woke up to a glorious Autumn morning - it was sunny and warm... a world away from the weather we'd experienced for most of the so-called Summer. We put together a brunch of prosciutto, orange and parmesan which I had bought presciently on the market the day before. Just to draw a line between the early Autumn and the late Summer mood I was feeling,  I paired the dish with a bright and summery salad of fresh, organic vine tomatoes, mozzarella, olives and basil. The olives were Nicoise olives I'd been saving from our trip to Nice last March.  All of this was accompanied by olive grissini from the shop attached to the new branch of Carluccio's restaurant that recently opened in Cambridge's Grand Arcade.  The prosciutto San Danielle was also bought from Carluccio's; the figs came from the local market.  This was Steve's first experience of fresh figs and as a result he is now as confirmed a fan of them as I am.  

It was a really fresh, lively and tasty way to start my birthday weekend!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cavolo Nero Risotto (Black Kale Risotto)

Kale Risotto
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
What! O, what - to do with cavolo nero? These organic vegetables boxes; they do try us! Okay, so today, Steve suggested this - and we also got to use some leeks from LAST week... 

Risotto With Tuscan Kale 


3 1/2 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
3 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 lb Tuscan kale (also called cavolo nero or lacinato kale)
1 1/4 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 oz)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3/4 oz)


Bring broth and water to a boil with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Meanwhile, cut stems and center ribs from kale and discard.

Stir kale into broth in batches and simmer (all of kale), stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer kale with tongs to a large sieve set over a bowl and gently press on greens to extract more liquid. Add liquid in bowl to simmering broth and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Chop kale.

Cook onion in oil and 1 tablespoon butter with remaining 1/4 teaspoon sea salt in a wide 4-quart heavy pot, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to moderate, then add garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring, 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 - 2 minutes.

Add wine and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente (it should be the consistency of thick soup), 17 to 18 minutes. (There will be leftover broth.)

Stir in kale, cheese, and remaining tablespoon butter and cook, stirring, until heated through and butter is incorporated, about 1 minute. Season risotto with sea salt and pepper and, if desired, thin with some of remaining broth.

It was a fine risotto - we used this recipe (from the web - Gourmet magazine - Sept, 2002) and modified it by adding 1 sliced leek, after the onion had softened,  Later on we pureéd a portion of the kale after softening it and adding it to the risotto after it had softened a bit. That was a good idea as it prevented the risotto from becoming overwhelmed by the leafy kale and added colour to the dish, in general. The chopped kale and the rice were both 'al dente'. It was oh-so-very flavourful - and the flavours balanced very well. We had it with a salad of lettuce, radiccho and red onion.

Yum... E A T !!!
xxx L.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Butter

Our weekly organic vegetable box is really stretching my culinary skills these days. I'm finding that, more and more often, I have to resort to recipes to be able to use these vegetables in interesting and unusual ways. This week (and the week before!) we got a butternut squash. My only experience with this vegetable is in pies - as a substitute for pumpin (and delicious, too!) - and in creamy soups. Today, I went for something completely different. I was in the mood for something like pumpkin ravioli - but wasn't in the mood to go through the complicated motions of making home-made pasta - and filling it. So I trawled the web until I found this recipe for Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Butter on the Abel & Cole website:

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

1 butternut squash, peeled
225 g peeled potatoes
1 free range egg yolk
125 g plain flour
Salt and pepper to taste
125 g butter
2 tbsp fresh sage leaves
Parmesan shavings to serve

Cut the squash and potato into small cubes and steam gently over simmering water until tender.

Once cooked, mash together in a clean pan and place over a low heat for a few seconds to 'dry out'. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Once cool, work in the egg yolk, flour, 1/2tsp salt and pepper slowly. Mix together to form a sticky dough.

Spoon the gnocchi mixture into a piping bag (like the one you might use for icing) and fit it with a large plain nozzle.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. When the water reaches a rolling boil, cook the gnocchi in batches.

Pipe about 12 bits of the mixture into the water, cutting them from the end of the nozzle with a sharp knife. Once the water returns to the boil simmer for around 1-1/2 minutes until the gnocchi start to soften around the edges. Remove and then cook the next batch in the same fashion.

Next melt some butter in a frying pan, add the sage leaves and fry gently until the butter turns golden.

Immediately add the gnocchi and stir over a low heat for around 30 seconds making sure all the gnocchi is covered in the sage mixture. Serve immediately on bowls and sprinkle generously with Parmesan shavings.

Okay. So there were problems - (1) No piping bag and (2) a pre-conceived notion that gnocchi are usually of the consistency of a soft dough which you can roll into a snake-like shape and cut into pieces for cooking.

Sceptically, perhaps, I followed the recipe as it was written. What I was left with was a mixture that would be perfect for either icing a cake or piping into a pot of boiling hot water - neither of which I planned to do. So I looked into other gnocchi recipes and began the process of adding more and more flour (and a second egg yolk) until I'd achieved the consistency I wanted. I also added about 1/4 tsp of grated nutmeg to the mix to bring out the flavour of the squash.

The upshot of the story is I can't tell you how much additional flour went into this recipe. I'd guess something like another 2-3 cups (I didn't weigh it). I achieved a light, soft dough that I could just barely roll out gently into a snake shape. I cut the pieces out with a knife, adding flour to the top of the 'snake' to help keep the knife from sticking.

We worked in batches, adding 12 - 15 pieces of the dough to a large pot of salted, boiling water at a time. When the gnocchi floated to the top, they were allowed another minute to cook before being scooped out with a slotted spoon. They were put in a dish and sprinkled with olive oil to prevent them from sticking together. This went on for a while as we had a lot of dough!

Finally, once it was all cooked, we melted the butter in a frying pan, added the sage leaves and made the sauce. Two to 3 portions of gnocchi were added to the butter, once it had browned, and stirred around to coat them with butter. Salt and pepper were added and then the gnocchi were served out onto pasta plates and liberally sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese.

It was very good. If I find a better recipe, I'll post it.

Enjoy eating!


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Polenta with Cavolo Nero and Sausage

And this week's organic vegetable box surprise was...? Cavolo Nero!! Ding-ding-ding! (What is it? "Col nero. An Italian cabbage with very dark, elongated leaves.") What to do with it?? Consult your friendly cookbook - which in my case was the River Cafe Cook Book Green.

The recipe I used was polenta con cavolo nero e salscicce (which I'll post later in the year, when time permits). The result was a (very!) green, creamy polenta that was garlic-y and cheesy without being too rich. The sausages I used went well with it - but I would probably use a more sage-y, spice sausage next time. I compensated for the lack of seasoning in the sausage by using the full amount of bay leaves recommended for 6 servings in our 1/2 recipe. I also added some smoked pancetta towards the end because I particularly like a smokey taste with such dark green cabbage-y vegetables (my Southern American roots shining through and through!). It was delicious, certainly.

The moral of the story is, as always, use your cookbook as a guide for your cooking and always (always) make your own personal mark on everything you cook.

Enjoy cooking!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Beef Brisket Pot Roast

Beef Brisket Pot Roast
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
What a way to end a weekend - we've had quail and omelettes. home-made bread and Portobello mushrooms, and now... a beef brisket pot roast. It feels like Christmas at our place! All of this, possibly, because the weather's been bad and I've been feeling like making things...

I started the brisket yesterday - it all started, in fact, at the butcher's when I asked for the brisket and it was provided. We got plenty of it thinking that it would make great leftovers (and that's still in the cards...)

To make this we had nearly a kilo of meat, which we browned thoroughly to seal. We added 3 peeled carrots, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces, 1 large onion, cut into 6 pieces, a bouquet garnie (2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of thyme, several stalks of parsley), 12 pepper corns, 3 bay leaves, around 600 mls of water, 1 beef stock cube, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 cloves of garlic (crushed) and 2 star anise. All of this was brought to the boil and then transferred to the oven and cooked, slowly (at about 100-125 ˚C) for approximately 6 hours. It can go longer - in fact I find it's the perfect thing to leave in a very low oven, overnight.

Well, it's been a blast - I hope to repeat it soon... Have a great week!

And happy cooking... xx

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Ham and cheese omelette

Ham and cheese omelette 2
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
This morning we took two of our three cats to the vet for their annual boosters and physical exams. Tomas (15) and Sofie (6) meowed in the taxi for all of the 5 or so minutes it took the taxi to get us to the vet's office. Their exams went very well, thank goodness and, as is usual while we are at the counter paying for the service, I wished there was an NHS for pets!

When we got back home we were ALL famished so while Steve was feeding the felines I cooked us some omelettes with cheese and ham and served them with a little of the left-over mashed potatoes from last night.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Pan-roasted Quail stuffed with Sage and Speck

Today we were lucky at the butcher's and walked away with four fresh quail. It's game season again... hooray! After the initial flush had passed, I began to worry about what I was going to do with said quail. Predictably, I turned to Google and tapped in the appropriate key words. I found several kind of boring recipes, several very complicated-sounding ones and one that seemed just right. Interestingly, the recipe was on someone's Flickr page - he'd cleverly made a set of the photographs that went with the recipe and used the set description area to write out the recipe. Clever! I'll fill in the name of this wonderful person when I find it again!

That said, it was a very simple recipe - stuff the quail with pancetta (in my case, speck, a smoky, air-cured ham similar to Parma) and sage (growing wild in my garden), season and pan fry until brown, add 1/2 glass of white wine and cook an additional 20 minutes partially covered and keeping an eye on the liquid in the pan. While this was going on, my husband Steve prepared some of the most fluffy mashed potatoes imaginable and I prepared some quickly sauteéd spinach* with garlic which I dressed with olive oil and a very nice balsamic vinegar. The spinach and potatoes were from our organic box and tasted fantastic. The spinach was a variety I'd never seen before with both yellow and bright red stalks that were crunchy and sweet to eat. Awesome! (Well, um, that's because the "spinach" was chard, actually - thanks Anja...)

Happy eating! xx

Scrambled eggs, provalone, speck, home-made bread

Today we got up late - and hungry. Saturday mornings are usually bread-less as we've usually devoured all the bread made during the week by that time. Last night, however, I experimented with preparing the bread dough the night before, using both yeast and sour dough starter. Instead of my usual very energetic kneading of the dough, I simply brought it together and kneaded it very briefly - only until the ingredients were well incorporated. Then I covered the bowl with cling film and left it to rise over night at room temperature (about 23˚C for about 10 hours).
The next day, when I could wrest myself from the bed, I scraped the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and turned the oven on high - about 220˚C. Then I divided the dough into eight pieces and 'cloaked' each piece by drawing the edges of each piece into the middle while rotating the ball on the counter. Then I placed each ball on the seam created by the previous treatment (sort of like a 'navel', really!) and allowed them to rest for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, I put two trays in the oven to pre-heat and sprinkled corn meal onto two additional trays to be used as make-shift peels. I flattened some of the balls to form buns and stretched and rolled (very gently) others to form baguettes.
By this time, the oven was ready so I sprayed the insides of it with water to create steam for the crust and popped the dough inside. I left them for 20 minutes while I prepared the eggs and mushrooms.

Then we ate it!  It was a nice breakfast...