Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Cheerful tray-baked chicken

I love how bright and colourful this dish is, it looks fantastic and best of all it's really easy.Mediterranean style baked chicken (3) As it's finally warming up a bit now (at last!) I felt like cooking something summery, I had some chicken in the fridge, yet more leftover pesto which seems to keep appearing! and some really good bacon. after a quick trip to the shops i also had a good selection of Mediterranean vegetables: an aubergine, courgette's, tomatoes, mushrooms and olives.
Mediterranean style baked chicken (7)
All I did was rub pesto over the chicken and wrap it in bacon. I chopped the vegetables tossed them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine, a few herbs, salt and pepper. whacked them in a baking tray, put the chicken on top and into the oven on quite high until it was nicely cooked. I basted everything every now and then to stop it going dry and it came out great and so simple.

I served my chicken with couscous and poured the juices from the tray over the top.Mediterranean style baked chicken (5)
This is such a good way to cook and has endless variations, it would be great with fish, or pork chops and any selection of veg that takes your fancy, (try to choose a good selection of colours). Asparagus and fish would be a good combo about now.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Eating well on a budget... Spanish style Pork hock and beans

After spending far too much money recently my bank balance is not looking all that healthy! So in an attempt to budget I set out to cook the cheapest meal I could without cutting down on the quality.

The answer revealed itself while I was wandering around Leicester Fish market (which also has several butchers), when I laid my eyes upon some Pork Hocks for the bargain price of 99p! I have cooked with these before and have been pleasantly surprised, not only by how much meat is on them but by how tender and succulent it is. This piece of meat is often used for soups and stocks but I have found their to be plenty of meat for three of us.

Spanish style pork hock casserole The hock is a cut taken from just above the trotter and below the shoulder. Like most of the cheap cuts of meat it requires long slow cooking. It is ideal for stews and casseroles as it adds beautiful richness and depth of flavour. with that in mind I set about making a Spanish style casserole.

In Spain white beans are a very common ingredient, they are especially good with pork too as in the Spanish dish of Fabada Asturiana. So for my casserole I used tinned butter beans which are delicious and creamy and make an excellent addition to meals such as this, they also help to make the meal more substantial.

The real Spanish twist comes in the form of smoked paprika or Pimenton. This spice is amazing, it is available in sweet or hot varieties, has a wonderful smoky flavour as well as adding fantastic colour. It is a traditional Spanish ingredient made my smoking and drying peppers, these are then ground to create the spice. I used the sweet variety rather than the hot, as I wasn't looking for any heat in my dish.

It is recommended that you blanch pork hocks before cooking them, this just removes impurities and results in a better looking and tasting end result. To do this simply boil your hock in a large pan of water for a couple of minutes, pour the water away and you're ready to go...

Spanish style pork hock casserole (5)

One of the great things about this kind of cooking is that it allows you to use up whatever you have to hand For my casserole I used finely chopped red onions and celery and a roughly chopped red bell pepper fried in olive oil as a base. Red onions are good for this as the add colour and sweetness, as does the pepper. towards the end of cooking I added my smoked paprika and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Then the hock and around two large mugs of water, a splash of white wine and a spoon of honey.

Everything was mixed together in a large casserole pan and into the oven at gas 1, and left for around 6 hours, around half and hour before serving i added some carrots. I don't add these at the beginning as the become far too mushy and lose texture.

Spanish style pork hock casserole (14) edited The final result was meat that just fell apart, I didn't even need a knife! The casserole was rich and fragrant and a fantastic red colour. It was a great success and cost about £2 to feed three of us.

Tomato and herb bread

Normally when I make a stew or casserole I would add something starchy like potatoes, this time however to go with my Spanish theme I made tomato and herb bread. I don't have a recipe as i was using what I had to hand again. I found half a jar of tomato pesto, some spring onions, sun dried tomatoes and dried basil and oregano. I added them to a basic white bread dough and this is the result...

Tomato, basil and spring onion bread (3) The perfect partner to my Spanish Pork and beans. I served it still warm from the oven, perfect for mopping up the juices.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Great Cooks Blogroll

I am really pleased to have joined the Great Cooks Blogroll, this has been created by Jill from Simple Daily recipes and is a great way for food bloggers to come together and share recipes and ideas.
You can see a list of member sites on the left of this page, I do hope you will visit some of them, their are some excellent blogs out there.
If you have a food blog and would like to join click here.

Monday, 14 April 2008

English Tea, Bakewell tarts and chocolate muffins

I have just read an article from the BBC that a new guide states that in England afternoon tea is "enacted daily" apparently at 4:00 we all stop, get out the tea pot, delicate sandwiches and fruit cake!
I'm sure anyone who is English will find this amusing, as obviously the author of this guide has never been to England, or at least not in the last century. As an Englishman I would like to make it clear that this is nonsense, I and no one I have ever met does this. However last Saturday for the first time ever we had tea...A traditional English tea refers to a meal rather than the drink, although a proper tea pot is essential. It traditionally involves delicate finger food such as cucumber, salmon or ham sandwiches, small cakes often feature as do larger cakes such as Victoria sponge or a fruit cake. Scones are also very popular and are usually served with jam and clotted cream. Although very unusual in homes now, afternoon tea is still a feature in grand hotels such as The Ritz.

For our tea I made a Bakewell tart and chocolate muffins.

Bakewell tarts were invented in the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire. They are a similar to the original Bakewell pudding which differs slightly by having no ground almonds, it is more like a custard tart flavoured with almond extract. Although not the same, the tart is derived from the pudding.Whenever we pass through Bakewell I always pick one up from one of the bakeries that sells them. There are three such bakeries each with a secret "original recipe". The shops claim that the pudding was invented by accident in the 1860's when a nobleman visited the White Horse Inn and asked for a strawberry tart, the cook poured the eggs that were supposed to be in the base over the jam and Bakewell pudding was born. This probably isn't true but they're delicious anyway!
Real Bakewell tarts are very different to what you may have tried before, there is no icing and no cherry on top, the real thing is much nicer and I do recommend you try them, you can even buy a pudding by post from two of the the original shops!

The chocolate muffins I made aren't quite so traditional, they are more American style, I should have made little fairy cakes but, I was searching for recipes and these looked delicious. The batter is a bit different to regular sponge mix as it contains a lot of milk ( 1 cup for 12 muffins) They were really tasty and the leftovers had actually improved the next day. The icing is a simple chocolate buttercream.For our tea we also had cucumber sandwiches, ham and salmon open rolls, a Victoria sponge and a selection of bits and pieces such as crisps and olives.

Unfortunately I don't have the recipes to hand, I will post them next week, but here's a similar recipe for Bakewell tart, I used puff pastry for my version which I think is closer to the original.