Chicken soup with rice

I started writing this post about a week ago. Then it got put on hold as life, or rather death, got in the way.

Normally I wouldn’t write about very personal things on this blog; it’s a food blog after all, and people come here for food. But it just felt wrong to publish a new post without marking or acknowledging in some way the passing of my mother-in-law Judith who taught me so much about food.

Judith died last Wednesday and will leave a huge hole in our family in so many ways. She’s the one who taught me the trick to Aga rice, and showed me how easy it is to make soup – I recall the revelatory feeling when during one of our family holidays in France she took one look at what I thought was a sad collection of leftover vegetables and transformed them, with the ease which comes from family cooking for many years, into a truly delicious soup. So this is what proper cooking is really about, I remember thinking.

After my first Sunday lunch at Judith’s house, meat and two veg were never the same again. It is from eating well at Judith’s table that my own values around food developed – the importance of eating as a family, buying the best ingredients you can afford and eating seasonal and locally produced or reared produce whenever you can.

The last time I saw Judith in hospital I told her about having just seen Claudia Roden at the Bath Literature Festival. I was as excited as a school girl. Of course, it turned out that Judith and her husband Tom are actually old friends of hers. I wasn’t surprised.

There is so much more to tell you about Judith. Her family, her career, her art, her love of the countryside and of walking. But this isn’t the right place for a eulogy, people come here to hear about food. So here is the post I started last week.

* * *

chicken soup with rice

There’s been a fair bit of illness in our house in recent months. The girls still have stubborn coughs they can’t shake off. It’s easy to tell when my daughters are genuinely unwell, as they normally have such insatiable appetites, my oldest daughter Jessie in particular. When they say they’re not hungry, you know something’s wrong.

This chicken soup with rice though was one of the few things that did go down well with both girls. My aunt shared some of her tips with me for feeding poorly babies over on Facebook and her suggestion of adding soy sauce and fish sauce to a simple chicken broth provided just the savoury combination of flavours to appeal to wonky tastebuds.

It might also have helped that Jessie has been on at me for ages to make chicken soup with rice. One of our favourite albums to play on car journeys is Really Rosie, Carole King’s brilliant soundtrack from 1975 for an animated short film based on stories by Maurice Sendak, including the fantastic The Sign on Rosie’s Door. There are so many great tracks on this album from the alphabet song Alligators All Around and the counting tune One Was Johnny to the deliciously comical cautionary tale of Pierre, a little boy who finally learns to care when he is eaten by a lion.

Not surprisingly, with our family fascination with food, Chicken Soup with Rice, a song to teach the months of the year, is the one we all love most.

Catchy, hey?

Ideal for using up Sunday lunch leftovers, this simple soup can be made in a matter of minutes from cold roast chicken and homemade stock. And if you don’t have homemade stock, use a really good quality chicken stock cube.

chicken soup with rice

Chicken soup with rice

Serves 4

1 tbsp sunflower oil
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
150g basmati rice
1.5 litres chicken stock
½ tbsp light soy sauce
½ tbsp fish sauce
120g cooked chicken, shredded
2 handfuls frozen peas

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the spring onions for a couple of minutes to soften.

Stir in the rice and cover with the chicken stock. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and shredded chicken and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes until the rice is soft.

Add the frozen peas, bring back to a simmer and cook for a couple more minutes. Serve with love.

chicken soup with rice

This is such a quick and easy dish to prepare, I’m entering it into this month’s Family Foodies challenge which I host with Louisa at Eat Your Veg. The theme this month is Fab Fast Food.

family-foodies

‘Count on us’ Thai green curry

Thai Curry-Recipe Card

Photo courtesy of M&S

It hasn’t been particularly healthy here on the blog as of late; rather a lot of chocolate and cake and pizza about. I swear that’s not an honest reflection of my family’s dining habits in recent weeks, but it is true that my new year’s resolutions of eating more healthily have slipped somewhat.

So when M&S got in touch to see if I’d like to review one of their new healthy eating recipes, it sounded like a rather good idea. M&S have put together four easy recipe cards for under-400 calorie meals, which means they are particularly suited to anyone on the 5:2 diet.

I opted to test drive the Thai green curry recipe, which uses a jar of count on us Thai green curry sauce. Back in the days before I used to cook much, only about nine years ago before the children came along, I wouldn’t have though twice about opening a jar of shop-bought sauce when I was making a curry. But not these days. I find most jars lack any decent flavour and are never nearly hot enough for my taste. And Thai green curry is right up there at the top of my favourite curries list. The best one I’ve had recently was at the Pan Asia restaurant in Bath, where the bling decor is as fresh and zingy as their dishes.

So M&S would have to turn out something pretty tasty to impress my husband and me.

But do you know what? It was actually pretty good. I was about to continue that sentence with for a sauce from a jar. But no, I stop there. It was pretty good, full stop. OK, so it wasn’t as hot as I’d have probably made it myself if I was starting from scratch, but I do tend to like things hotter than most and the chilli flakes scattered on top took care of that. We were very liberal. It also needed the fresh lime and coriander to create those tingles on the taste buds you’re looking for when you have a green curry.  What I probably appreciated most though was how quick it was to make. We had it one evening after the children had gone to bed, and I really wasn’t in a cooking mood, and it took less than 20 minutes.

At just 385 calories per portion, it’s definitely a winner in my eyes. I’ve got my eye on their jalfrezi sauce to try out next.

Here’s the recipe or download the M&S recipe card as a PDF.

Thai green curry with chicken and vegetables

1 tsp sunflower oil or olive oil
250g skinless chicken breast (2 fillets), cut into strips
300g assorted vegetables, eg baby corn, sugar snap peas
1 small pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
350g jar M&S count on us Thai Green curry sauce
1tsp fish sauce
generous handful freshly chopped coriander
red chilli flakes & lime (to garnish)

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok and when very hot add the chicken. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or until the chicken is
lightly coloured. Remove to a plate.

Add your choice of vegetables, such as baby corn to the hot pan, stir-fry for 2-3 minutes before adding the more tender sugar snap peas and pepper; stir-frying for a further minute or two.

Stir in the count on us Thai Curry sauce. When bubbling, add back the chicken, heat through for 2-3 minute then stir in the fish
sauce and chopped coriander.

Serve with egg noodles. Garnish with chilli flakes and a wedge of lime.

Photo courtesy of M&S

Photo courtesy of M&S

Disclosure: M&S provided me with all the ingredients for this dish in return for trying out their recipe. All views expressed are completely my own and are 100% honest.

Cherry-stuffed poussin with braised lettuce

poussin

Love is in the air with Valentine’s Day just a couple of days away. This cherry-stuffed poussin is one of the most romantic meals I can think to serve my husband, but I admit it probably isn’t a first date dinner.

Devouring a whole bird can be a slightly messy affair and getting to the best bits will certainly entail eating with your fingers. Yes, you’ll end up with juice running down your chin and hands. I can’t see a problem with that at all. There’s something rather sexy about getting messy with food.

But if you’re looking to impress your new beau, you might want to think about something a little tidier.
The idea of stuffing the poussin with cherries and nuts came from a beautiful book by Bethany Kehdy, The Jewelled Kitchen; a collection of Lebanese, Moroccan and Persian recipes.

Kehdy stuffs her chicken with albaloo, barberries, pistachios and rice. I’ve adapted her recipe a little to use dried cherries, which are slightly easier to get hold of, cashew nuts, as those are what I happened to have in, and bulgur wheat because, well I can’t seem to get enough of bulgur wheat at the moment. I really like its tender, chewy texture and use it a lot in salads. It’s particularly good with feta cheese and pomegranate seeds.

poussin

There is a hint of pomegranate in this stuffing too, in the form of pomegranate molasses, which bring a heavenly sweet and sour tang to the dish. All in all, this stuffing brings a beautifully fragrant, almost exotic, element to the poussin – just perfect for wooing your lover.

The poussin is so delicious, I’ve served it very simply with braised lettuce. You’ll notice there are no stodgy carbohydrates in this meal, as I really don’t think you want to end up completely over-stuffed and unable to move at the end of Valentine’s Day.

poussin

Cherry-stuffed poussin with braised lettuce

Serves 2

60g dried morello cherries
80g bulgur wheat
½ tbsp sunflower oil
small red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
30g cashew nuts
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
½ tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper
2 x 450g poussins
25g soft butter
olive oil
½ tsp cinnamon
4 spring onions, finely sliced
40g butter
2 little gem lettuces
150ml hot chicken stock

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

Place the dried cherries in a cup of hot water and leave to soak for 10 minutes and then drain.

Place the bulgur wheat in a bowl and pour over boiling water to at least double the height. Leave for 15 minutes, then drain.

Fry the onion in the oil until soft. Add the garlic and fry gently for another minute. Remove from the heat. Add the cherries, cashew nuts, bulgur wheat, pomegranate molasses and cinnamon and give it all a good stir. Season to taste.

Place the two poussins in a small roasting tin and carefully spoon the stuffing into each of the cavities. Truss up the poussins to keep the stuffing inside.

Rub the skin with the butter and drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle the skin with cinnamon, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for around 40 minutes. Poke a skewer into the thickest part of a leg and if the juices run clear, the poussin is cooked. Leave to rest in the tin for 10 minutes.

In a saucepan, gently cook the spring onions in the butter until soft. Shred the lettuces and stir into the buttery spring onions. Cook for a minute or two until the lettuce is wilted, then pour in the hot stock. Simmer for five minutes or so until the lettuce is tender and the stock has reduced. Taste and season if needed.

Serve the poussins on a bed of braised lettuce, remembering to untie them first. You may wish to pull out a little of the stuffing to reveal the treats inside.

This recipe was first published in my Eat the Season column in the Wells Journal on Thursday 6 February 2014.

Poulet a l’estragon – French tarragon chicken

Poulet a l'estragon

This is the dish I associate most with being in France. I first ate poulet a l’estragon cooked by my father-in-law when we stayed with them in France some years ago. Thinking about it, it must have been more than 15 years ago, but let’s not dwell on that as it makes me feel rather old. When I ate it, I truly thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It is based on an Elizabeth David recipe and, even though those were the days when I really didn’t spend much time cooking or thinking about food, I had to copy down the recipe at once and I have made it myself many times in the intervening years.

It’s such a beautiful dish with only a handful of ingredients, but those ingredients are rather on the rich and decadent side. Perhaps not a dish you should be contemplating if you’re watching the old calories. It’s essentially a simple pot roast chicken but the addition of tarragon, butter and cream elevate it to something quite extraordinarily delicious.

We’ve been on holiday in the Dordogne for just over a week now, far away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. It’s a proper chance to kick back, unwind and spend some quality time with the family. We’re in a stunning location out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by vineyards and sunflowers as far as the eye can see.

france

Most of our days are spent in the swimming pool, playing Uno, pétanque, consequences or table football, devising treasure hunts and walking in the nearby woods. Oh, and of course cooking and eating. Yes, there’s been quite a bit of cooking and eating. Oh and lots of mini bottles of ice cold beer too.

eating al fresco

One of our first meals here had to be poulet a l’estragon. I made it for the first time without following the notes I made all those years ago on my now tatty and grease-spattered scrap of paper, and was rather pleased with myself for remembering what to do. But then it is pretty easy. And it tasted all the better for being eaten outside as the sun was starting to set after an arduous day soaking up the French sunshine.

poulet a l'estragon

Poulet a l’estragon

50g butter, softened
large bunch of tarragon, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 medium chicken
1 tsp plain flour
150ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Take two-thirds of the butter and using a fork gently mash in around half of the chopped tarragon, and give it a good seasoning with salt and pepper. Stuff most of this inside the chicken and rub the rest onto the skin on the breasts and legs.

Place the chicken on its side in a large ovenproof casserole and cover with the lid. Roast in the oven for about an hour and a half, turning onto the other side half way through and basting with the herby, buttery juices. The aroma at this stage will be quite incredible and I defy your stomach not to start growling. When the chicken is tender and the juices run clear, remove from the oven, and keep warm on the carving board while you make the sauce.

Work the flour into the remaining butter and, over a low heat, stir this into the juices in the casserole, along with the rest of the chopped tarragon. Then stir in the cream and bring to a very gentle simmer.

Carve the chicken and pour over the tarragon sauce. I like to serve with steamed rice and a vegetable such as green beans. French beans, naturellement. Bon appetit!

Cooking-with-Herbs

As the star of this dish is undoubtedly the tarragon, I’m entering it into August’s Cooking with Herbs challenge, hosted by the wonderful Karen at Lavender & Lovage, who I’ve just discovered is only ‘just down the road’ here in France!

Review: Kerry LowLow

This is a sponsored post.

Sick of cliches about diet food? The ‘gals’ from Adland are sure to put a smile on your face!

We don’t eat a lot of processed cheese in the Bangers & Mash household, but I am trying to keep an eye on my weight so when Kerry invited me to try out their LowLow cheese spreads I was keen to give them a go. This spoof ad made me chuckle and I love the idea of cutting down on our fat intake without sacrificing on taste. Can it really be possible?

While LowLow probably won’t replace a couple of slices of a mature local Cheddar in my lunchtime sandwich, I was impressed with LowLow as a cooking ingredient and will use it again as a substitute for full fat soft cheese or maybe even cream in certain dishes.

Kerry sent me recipes for Pancetta Wrapped Chicken and Spring Vegetable Risotto and I put them to the test on my family, including my discerning mother who was over from Spain to stay this weekend. I played with the recipes a little to suit the tastes of my brood and also to make the most of what happened to be in our fridge, particularly the heaps of wild garlic and purple sprouting broccoli we have to use up.

LowLow Collage

The first dish I tried out on my family was the Pancetta Wrapped Chicken. Both my husband and mother pulled faces when they saw I was cooking with a low fat cheese spread, and I rather wished I hadn’t told them beforehand what I was up to. Personally I thought the end result was rather good. I don’t think I would have spotted the cheese was a low fat alternative if I hadn’t already known, but Jason and my mum were convinced it tasted different to normal soft cheese. However, they still ate it regardless and the children wolfed theirs down quite happily. Here’s what I did…

lowlow chicken in pancetta

Pancetta Wrapped Chicken

2 large sweet potatoes
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
low-fat spray
4 chicken breasts
125g LowLow Mature Cheddar Spread
8 sun-dried tomatoes
8 slices of pancetta
300g spring greens
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 6).

Scrub the sweet potatoes, dry with kitchen towel and slice into wedges. Place in an ovenproof dish, spray with a little low-fat oil and sprinkle with Cajun seasoning. Roast in the oven for around half an hour until soft inside and a little charred on the outside.

Meanwhile, prepare the chicken breasts by cutting a slice in each one at the thickest point, to create a pocket. Spread a quarter of the LowLow Mature Cheddar Spread into the pocket and pop a couple of sun-dried tomatoes into each one.

Wrap 2 slices of pancetta around each chicken breast, making sure to seal the pocket.

Place the chicken breasts on a baking tray and spray with low-fat spray. Season with black pepper. Cook for 20 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, shred the greens and steam for 4-5 minutes.

When the chicken is cooked through, slice and serve with the greens and sweet potatoes. Enjoy!

spring vegetable risotto

When I made the Spring Vegetable Risotto the following day, I learned from my previous mistake. This time I didn’t tell anyone I’d used LowLow when I served up this lovely fresh and creamy risotto. It went down an absolute treat with adults and children alike, and my husband and mum both requested second helpings. The LowLow gave the dish a rich cheesiness, which wasn’t too cloying, and rather good to know wasn’t piling on the calories at the same time. Here’s how I prepared the risotto…

Spring Vegetable Risotto

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
300g risotto rice
1.25 litres vegetable stock (hot)
200g spears of asparagus spears, trimmed at an angle
200g purple sprouting broccoli
100g frozen peas
125g LowLow Mature Cheddar Spread
large handful wild garlic, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add the shallots and sauté for 3-5 minutes until they are soft. Stir in the rice so it is coated with oil.

Pour in a ladleful of stock and stir. Cook, stirring regularly until the stock is absorbed. Continue until the stock is used up and the rice is tender all the way through.

In the meantime, steam the asparagus and broccoli until just cooked, retaining a little bite.

When the rice is cooked, stir in the asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli, LowLow Mature Cheddar Spread and wild garlic. Cook for a minute or two until the vegetables are heated through and the cheese has melted. Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little extra wild garlic.

asparagus risotto

If you’d like to try Kerry’s LowLow yourself, I have five vouchers each worth £3 to give away. Simply leave a comment below saying why you’d like to try it.

A Malaysian Chinese New Year Feast

I don’t know about you, but when I was little I wanted to be less like me and more like everyone else. More like my friends with their pale skin and mums who wore high-heeled shoes. Less like me with my Chinese eyes and mum who wore hand-painted baseball boots.

Growing up in Newcastle in the 1980s, I found myself being teased quite a bit, sometimes even bullied, for being part Chinese and being the daughter of artists. Both of which I’m fiercely proud of now, but back then I’d have given anything just to be normal.

Thankfully my daughters seem proud of their Chinese heritage, although the world does feel quite a different place now. In recent years we’ve started celebrating Chinese New Year and it’s becoming one of our family traditions, a chance to bring a taste of Chinese Malaysian cuisine to our little corner of rural Somerset.

Last year I cooked up quite an ambitious Chinese banquet for our New Year celebrations. It was delicious but a little stressful preparing so many dishes for one meal, so I decided to make things easier this year. So last weekend, I chose just a few recipes from a wonderful cookbook called Nonya Flavours, an excellent guide to the cuisine of the Straits Chinese community of Penang, the Malaysian island where my mother grew up.

We had a couple of chicken dishes – a sweet soy sauce chicken and a traditional chicken curry, served very simply with boiled rice and a nourishing vegetable soup. And it was perfect, proving that a fabulous feast doesn’t need to be complicated. The curry was fairly spicy and I was rather surprised that both my daughters could handle it. Must be their Chinese blood I suppose…

Vegetable soup

2 litres water
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
3 slices ginger
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 carrots, peeled and cut into decorative shapes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water and halved
300g pak choi, shredded
salt and sugar

In a large pan, bring the water to a boil and add the soy sauce, Shaoxing, ginger, peppercorns, carrot, garlic and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes before adding the pak choi. Cook for another 10 minutes and season to taste with a little salt and sugar. Serve hot. We like to pour the soup over our boiled rice.

Sweet soy sauce chicken

2 chicken breasts, cut into bitesize pieces
20g sugar
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
salt and pepper
4 slices ginger
125ml water

Mix together the sugar, soy sauce and a little salt and pepper and pour over the chicken pieces. Make sure the chicken is well covered and leave to marinade for at least half an hour.

Pour the water into a wok over a medium heat and add ginger slices and the marinated chicken. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through – around 20 minutes. Add more water if the liquid dries up before the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately with rice.

Nonya chicken curry

For the spice paste

1 green chilli
100g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp dried turmeric
1½ tbsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 star anise
2 cloves
½ cinnamon stick
8 skinless chicken thighs
250g potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
400ml coconut milk
100ml coconut cream
salt

First of all make the spice paste. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and mince well. Then grind using a pestle and mortar – you’ll probably need to do this in several batches – until you have a fairly smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick for a minute. Add the spice paste and stir fry well. Add a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk and fry over a low heat until fragrant.

Throw in the chicken thighs and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes and pour in the rest of the coconut milk. Simmer gently until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are cooked through.

Pour in the coconut cream and stir well. Season with salt to taste. Continue to cook until the gravy is slightly thick.

Serve with boiled rice. This served two adults and two children, and there were plenty of leftovers for the freezer to provide us with an easy mid-week supper.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Middle Eastern chicken salad with hummus dressing

We get through a lot of hummus in our house, whether it’s the supermarket variety or the incredibly garlicky and insanely zingy homemade kind. The children love it. When they need a little snack in between meals, it tends to be a pot of hummus I reach for, plus a handful of chopped vegetables or breadsticks for dipping.

The other week I borrowed a recipe book from the local library called Make It Moroccan by Hassan M’Souli, and came across a tasty looking salad smothered in a hummus-based dressing. I’ve never thought of using hummus as an ingredient in anything before, so thought I’d give it a go. M’Souli’s original featured falafel and haloumi cheese but I’ve used marinaded chicken breast in my version instead, and it works a treat. The chicken breast is butterflied and cooked quickly in a griddle pan, so it is beautifully moist and succulent, while the hummus, chickpeas and toasted pinenuts give the salad a lovely, satisfying nuttiness.

Middle Eastern chicken salad with hummus dressing

Serves 4-6

4 chicken breasts, skinned, butterflied and flattened (cover with cling film and bash with a rolling pin)
a squeeze of garlic puree
handful of fresh thyme, picked
juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp hummus
1 tsp cumin seed, dry fried and crushed
½ preserved lemon
1 head of lettuce, washed and roughly torn
large handful of green and black olives
large handful of sundried tomatoes
½ tin chick peas, rinsed and drained
handful of pine nuts, dry fried

Place the flattened chicken breasts in a dish and add the garlic puree, thyme, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Rub the marinade ingredients into the meat and then leave for around 20 minutes.

Whizz up the hummus, cumin and preserved lemon in a food processor with the remaining olive oil until well combined and runny. Add a little more oil if you like to get the right consistency.

Throw the lettuce leaves into a large salad bowl with the olives, sundried tomatoes and chickpeas.

Heat a griddle pan over a fairly high heat and fry the chicken pieces for two to three minutes on each side. Slice into strips and add to the salad.

Drizzle over the hummus dressing and toss it all together. Finally, sprinkle over the toasted pine nuts and serve.

And as this recipe features fresh thyme, I’m entering it into this month’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, devised by Lavender & Lovage and hosted by me, Bangers & Mash.

Magic chicken korma from The Good Stuff

Since becoming a food blogger, my family and I have been eating a much more varied and interesting diet. It’s partly due to wanting to try out new things to keep the blog fresh, but also because I’m reading so many other food blogs and being inspired to test out their offerings. It’s this sharing aspect I think I enjoy most about becoming part of a food blogging community.

And this ethos of sharing good food is what I like so much about a new blog I’ve recently discovered called The Good Stuff. Written by two dads with young children, Matt and Corpy describe their blog as “a swap shop for new parents with a passion for good, healthy food”. It’s great too to hear some male voices out there amongst the cacophony of us mummy bloggers, plus they’re both from the West Country – my favourite part of the country. As well as posting their own scrummy recipes – take a look at this pair of risottos, for example, for kids and for dads – they also share tasty recipes offered by others. I was very chuffed when they recently featured my simple fish pie recipe.

Now I’m very excited to be able to return the favour. Here is a guest post from The Good Stuff’s Corpy for his Magic Chicken Korma, which I know my family are going to love when I try it out on them very soon. Over to Corpy!

Magic Chicken Korma

Way back when we first started telling friends that we were expecting a baby, a really wise friend of mine called Oli said “one of the great things about becoming a parent is that you get to experience all the stuff about being a kid that you forget when you get older”.  He doesn’t have kids, as it happens, but he was so right.  In many ways it is exactly this sharing a journey with our kids as they discover food that got us into writing The Good Stuff to start with.

Now we’ve progressed to a stage where our baby is a toddler – old enough to get involved with stirring, mixing, tasting and generally enjoying being in the kitchen – a new insight has emerged.  Witnessing how he gets a thrill out of dough coming together or solid veg turning puree has shone a massive light on what it is I love about cooking.  When you see it through a toddler’s eyes cookery is base magic, nothing short of alchemy.  Raw ingredients, herbs and spices spell cast together into tasty meals.  Although I’d long forgotten it – it’s this wizardry that explains why cooking continues to make me smile.

So what – you might well ask – has all that got to do with the good old fashioned Chicken Korma?   Well in short there is real magic in them, there spices.

The ingredients list (although full of cupboard staples) reads like a witches brew – stick of cinnamon, cardamom pods, milk of coconut – and the way it comes together into a rich, tasty wholeness is worthy of Hogwarts.  But like all good spells, its easy if you know how…

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 150ml single cream
  • 160ml coconut milk
  • 2 carrots
  • handful of frozen peas
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 handful of fresh coriander
  • 1 glug of vegetable oil
  • 125ml vegetable stock

This is going to make about four adult portions and is perfectly freezable.

  1. Start by prepping everything.  Cut the chicken and carrots into small cubes, peel & grate the ginger, finely chop the onion and garlic.
  2. Heat a dry frying pan (with high-ish sides) over a medium heat and when it is hot add the cumin seeds.  Cook them in the dry pan for a couple of minutes – they’ll smell lovely and pungent.  If you have a pestle and mortar pour the seeds in there and smash with the other ground spices until a fine-ish powder.  If you don’t use a flat surface and a heavy rolling pin.  Next smash the cardamom pods and add them to the spice mix.
  3. Put the pan back on the hob and heat the oil.  Once hot add the garlic, onion and ginger and soften a little before stirring in the spice mix and cinnamon stick. Keep the heat moderate, try not to burn the onion or garlic, and stir into a nice paste.
  4. Add the chicken and carrots.  Cook until the chicken is browned and the carrots softened a little then add the stock, coconut milk and bay leaf,  bringing it all to the boil.
  5. Simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid has reduced down, the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are soft.  Add the frozen peas and cook for another few minutes until they are soft and tasty.
  6. Add the cream and fresh coriander, stirring all the while and trying not to let it boil too much.  Take it off the heat and carefully remove the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cardamom without burning your fingers!

Serve warm with rice or freeze for later.

Destination Penang for Hainanese Chicken Rice

We’re at the end of the third week of the school summer holidays. Can you believe we’re already halfway through? And this week we have travelled, by virtue of our imaginations, to the idyllic island of Penang in Malaysia for the next of our Around the World in Six Suppers.

Hainanese Chicken Rice is a dish I’ve been meaning to make for years. It’s a very simple poached chicken served with rice and chicken broth, which I remember devouring as a child during our holidays in Penang.  Mum would take us down to the hawker stalls, away from the more touristy restaurants, and we would eat proper Chinese-Malaysian food with the locals. My Mum was born and grew up in Penang and would always refer to it as ‘home’. Whenever she talked about Penang, the stories would invariably touch on the food at some point!

I haven’t been back to Penang since my early twenties, and hopefully I’ll be taking my own family back there next year. But in the meantime, we’ll have to make do with my favourite Penang meal.

To make sure I got an authentic recipe, I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family and my Auntie Lorene and Cousin Sisi came up trumps. Lorene now lives in America, while Sisi is in Australia – so you can see, we are a truly global family! So a big thank you to them for their help with the recipe and all the tips and advice.

It’s a wonderful dish and it transported me straight back to the days of eating it as young girl in Penang, along with the smell of frangipani flowers and calomine lotion, being taught to use chopsticks, picking fresh rambutans and mangoes from the tree, being morbidly fascinated by dead snakes in jam jars, falling off to sleep at night to the comforting whirring of the ceiling fan, and running away from my Mum, her sisters and cousins as they gourged themselves silly on stinky durian fruit sold by the hot, sticky roadside.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

A whole chicken, around 1.5kg
Kosher or sea salt
2 pieces ginger, around 3cm each
2 spring onions
3 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece ginger, around 3cm, peeled and chopped
1 litre chicken stock (from poaching the chicken)
600g rice
salt and pepper

To serve:

bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
two or three spring onions, chopped
cucumber slices
tomato slices
soy sauce
chilli sauce or oil

Start by giving your chicken a really thorough scrub with coarse sea salt or kosher salt. Rub hard to get rid of all the yucky stuff on the skin of the chicken to give you a good clear broth later on. Don’t rush this job. A little effort now makes all the difference later on. Once you’ve finished scrubbing, give the chicken a good rinse with cold water.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Rub the chicken inside and out with salt. Insert into the cavity the spring onions, bashed garlic and ginger, and carefully place the chicken breast-side down into the water. Bring the water back to the boil, skim off any foam while cooking, and turn off the heat.

Let the chicken sit in the pot, covered, for around 40 minutes. To check if it’s cooked, poke the thigh with a skewer or fork. If the juices run clear, it is done. If not, leave for another five to ten minutes.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and place in iced water to tighten the skin. Reserve the stock for cooking the rice and for the soup to accompany the meal. Rub a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil into the skin, before chopping through the bone into serving pieces.

In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil and a tablespoon of sesame oil over a medium heat. Fry the shallots, garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add the rice and stir until lightly toasted and the oil has been absorbed. Pour in a litre of chicken stock and season with salt to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender – about 20 minutes.

Heat the remainder of the stock for your soup, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkling with chopped spring onions.

To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving platter, and garnish with fresh coriander, spring onions, cucumber and tomato – although Sisi says her son and husband hate coriander, so she leaves it out! Serve with the rice and soup, and small bowls of soy and chilli sauce.

So simple and so delicious.

As this is another wonderful family recipe, I’m entering it into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge – which aims to raise awareness of this amazing fostering and adoption charity working with some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people.

Elly’s Nonya Chicken Curry for the Care to Cook Challenge

My little sis Elly with our Mum Cheryl (left) in Penang in the early 80s, and again with me (in the days when I was still bigger)

Our next entry for the Care to Cook Challenge comes from my little sister Elly. I say ‘little’ but must admit that Elly has towered over me for many years now, despite being five years my junior.

Elly has a very sweet tooth and I assumed when I asked if she’d submit a favourite recipe for this challenge, her contribution would certainly be a cake or pudding. But no, she’s gone and surprised me with this amazing looking Nonya Chicken Curry. My little sis is all grown up and is cooking very grown up food!

Nonya cuisine comes from the Malaysian island of Penang, where our Mum was born, and is now seen as one of the earliest examples of fusion food. Penang is a melting pot for different cultures and food from the Nonya kitchen is influenced by Chinese, Malay and Thai cooking. My sister Elly will tell you more…

I make this for my partner Kelvin and to this day he still says it’s the best chicken curry he’s ever had, which from a Malaysian is pretty high praise. And if we think perhaps he is a little biased, I also made it for his father (a lovely man but one of very few words) who told me, “It’s good.” I almost fell over – hehehe!

The method is pretty short so makes it look likes it’s going to be quick but if you really make it from scratch (ie grind and pound all the spices with a mortar and pestle), it’s quite a lot of work and you’ll end up with muscles. However, it is worth it and even just thinking of it is making my mouth water!

Here we go:

Nonya Chicken Curry

4-5 tbsp oil
1 star anise
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Spice paste (ground)

7 dried chillies, soaked
200g (20) shallots
3 cloves garlic
20g belachan (shrimp paste), toasted
20g (2cm) turmeric
3 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp fennel

1.5 kg meaty chicken pieces
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
400ml thin coconut milk
100ml thick coconut milk
salt and sugar

Heat oil over a medium low flame and saute star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick. Add in spice paste and stir-fry well. Add 2 to 3 tbsp thin coconut milk (if it is too dry) and fry over low heat until fragrant and oil separates.

Add chicken and fry for a minute. Add potatoes and pour in thin coconut milk. Simmer until chicken is tender and potatoes are cooked.

Lastly, add the thick coconut milk and season to taste. Continue to cook until gravy is slightly thick. Serve with boiled white rice or roti.

Elly with her gorgeous daughter Loella

Do you have a favourite family recipe you’d like to contribute to TACT’s Care to Cook Recipe Challenge? Share a link to a post on your own blog or email me your recipe to be featured here on Bangers & Mash. The winning recipe will receive a copy of TACT’s cookbook signed by the charity’s patron and celebrity cook Lorraine Pascale. The closing date is 12 August – more details are here.