Monday, 31 August 2009

Parmesan crusted chicken with tomato and basil sauce

Right now is probably my favourite time of year, the weather is good (well most of the time), the days are still long(ish) and best of all there is good fresh food in abundance.

I took a trip down to my local market recently to see what looked good and was really spoilt for choice. There were plump and juicy Victoria plums, bright red tomatoes on the vine, lettuces, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, fennel, cherries.... You get the picture.

While I wobbled home from the market having bought far more than I should I came up with an idea for a dish that would use up some of my newly acquired tomatoes. I was going to encrust a chicken fillet in parmesan and serve it with a tomato and basil sauce. Not only did it seem like a great way to use some of the tomatoes I had bought (way too many really) but I knew it would be delicious too!

The first thing I did was made the sauce by gently simmered cherry tomatoes with olive oil, crushed garlic, salt and a little sugar until they were very tender but still holding their shape. To prepare the chicken I bashed the chicken fillets flat with a rolling pin, a fantastic way to releive stress! I cooked the chicken on a lightly oiled very hot griddle pan for a couple of minutes on each side. To serve I put a fillet on each plate, stirred a large handful of roughly torn basil into the sauce then spooned it over the chicken.What I really like about this dish is how quickly it all comes together, it's the perfect after work dish. I'm sure I will be making this reguarly from now on, for as long as I can get beautiful tomatoes from the market anyway...

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Scottish butter tablet

First off I should apologise for not posting as reguarly as I would like to and not visiting all your blogs and leaving comments as much as I want to. It's been a busy few weeks recently and I've not had a lot of time to do much of anything, hopefully I'll have a bit more time soon!. I did however find time to make one of the most delicious sweets you could ever make, Scottish tablet....

Scottish tablet is a traditional Scottish sweet made from sugar, butter, cream, vanilla and that most wonderful of ingredients, condensed milk. With that list of ingredients you just know it's going to be good, right?Tablet is very sweet and very rich similar to fudge in almost every way except that tablet has a crumbly rather than smooth texture. Eating it reminds me of my childhood holidays, it's the kind of thing you can pick at seaside stalls and gift shops, I used to buy it as a holiday gift for my Grandma out of my pocket money!

One of the things I was most worried about when I first made this was that it just wouldn't set, that I'd be left with a sickly sugary gloop in a pan rather than crumbly cubes of butter tablet. I needn't have worried, it turns out this recipe is almost foolproof, as long as you cook the mixture for the full length of time and never, never leave the pan and stop stirring then I give you my guarantee that this will set.The traditional, and my favourite flavour for tablet is pure vanilla but you could add other flavours if you really want to. Whisky would work quite well or you could try chopped nuts, or dried fruit.

The recipe is adapted from Barbecues And Grilling by Antony Worrall Thompson, I'm not really sure what it has to do with barbecues but it's a good recipe! I've adapted his original recipe, changing the quantities slightly, I also added some sea salt, I just love the combination of salt and caramel flavours.

  • 1 can of condensed milk (397g)
  • 150ml of milk
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 450g Demerera sugar
  • 100g butter, diced
  • A good pinch of sea salt
  • Grease and line a 20cm square tin
  • Split the vanilla pods and scrape out all the seeds, put the pods and seeds in a large saucepan along with all the other ingredients.
  • Place the pan over a medium heat stirring all the time, the mixture should start out golden and gradually become darker. Cook for 15 minutes stirring continuously.
  • After 15 minutes remove the pan from the heat and beat the mixture for about 5 minutes, this will give your tablet it's wonderful crumbly Texture.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and leave until completely cooled before cutting into squares.
  • Enjoy!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Spanakopita - A foray into Greek cuisine

Although I really enjoy Greek food I very rarely cook it. Greek food is simple and healthy using fresh vegetables and herbs, fish and meat, it shares many of the characteristics of my favourite cuisine of all -Italian- most notably it's wide use of olives and olive oil.

Clearly something had to be done about my lack of Greek cooking experience, and what better place to start than with one of Greece's most famous dishes, Spanakopita.Spanakopita is a spinach and feta pie made using filo pastry. Filo, meaning leaf or sheet is a type of pastry that unlike other pastries comes in wafer thin sheets which are layered up before being filled and baked. The resulting pastry is very light and wonderfully crispy and crunchy.

Normally I would make my own pastry but when it comes to filo there's no shame in buying it ready made. For the filling I used spinach, feta, spring onions, dill, eggs and a little nutmeg, it's probably not very authentic but hey, it if tastes good...

A packet of filo pastry
olive oil
A couple of handfuls of spinach blanched, chopped and excess water squeezed out.
A small bunch of dill chopped
2 eggs
2oog feta crumbled
5-6 large spring onions/scallions, chopped
A grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Tip: Once you have opened the packet of filo you should keep it covered with a damp tea towel to stop it drying out - it dries out really fast!
  • For the filling mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, season and set aside.
  • Take a baking dish and lightly brush with olive oil, lay a sheet of filo on top and brush with oil. lay another sheet over the first and continue to layer up. Filo sheet, oil, filo sheet, oil until half the pastry is gone.
  • Fill the lined dish with the spinach mixture and top with the remaining pastry brushing each sheet with a little oil as you go.
  • Bake at a medium heat about 180c until golden and crispy.
  • Serve with buttered new potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Salmon steaks with lemon and caper butter sauce

I awoke last Friday morning to find that a large white box had mysteriously appeared on my back doorstep, it took me a while -I was still half asleep- to work out it was the salmon that Able and Cole had sent me to try.Inside the box were two pristine organic salmon steaks surrounded by ice packs to keep them cool. I could tell it was top quality fish the moment I looked at it, the two steaks were perfectly cut and prepared, they looked really fresh too.

When I have ingredients of this quality I like to prepare them simply so as not to mask their flavour. For these steaks I prepared a lemon butter sauce from lemon juice and zest, butter, capers and salt.I gently fried the steaks in a little olive oil, I was worried they might break apart as I cooked them but in the event they held their shape perfectly. The flesh was succulent and tender, the flavour which was mild and delicate was perfectly complimented by the lemon sauce. I served the fish alongside some dill potatoes, quite simply boiled new potatoes tossed with chopped dill and butter.

Overall I was really impressed by the service and the quality from Able and Cole, as sadly few of us have access to a proper fishmonger nowadays it's good to know that it's still possible to buy expertly prepared fish and with the added bonus of it being delivered to your door. My only criticism -and it's only minor- is that for the price it would have been nice if they had cut the steaks a little thicker.

Salmon with lemon butter sauce and dill potatoes
  • 75g Butter
  • A shallot or half a small onion very finely chopped
  • A large juicy lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 tbsp chopped capers (rinsed if packed in salt)
  • Salt
  • 1 Salmon steak per person
For the potatoes
  • New potatoes
  • Butter
  • Dill finely chopped
  • Salt
  • First make the sauce. In a small saucepan melt the butter and cook until it just begins to brown at this point add the chopped shallot and lemon zest and mix well.
  • Next add the lemon juice and capers to the pan, stir the sauce and taste it should be quite sharp. Season with salt if you think it needs it.
  • For the salmon heat a little olive oil or butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Season the steaks on both sides then add to the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side turning halfway through cooking. The time will depend on how thick your steaks are so check they are properly cooked before serving, they may take longer or less time than mine did.
For the potatoes:
  • Boil some new potatoes in salted water until cooked.
  • drain and add the butter and dill, mix well and serve.
Serve the salmon steaks with the sauce poured over the top and the potatoes on the side.