Sunday, 16 October 2011

Bloody Mary chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and chorizo

Starting a new job is an exciting and nerve wracking time, but this week I was greeted with bags of enthusiasm, interesting projects, and Jerusalem artichokes. 

No, not to work on (how to advertise the curious, knobbly tuber would be an interesting brief alright), these were given to me by our new business director, Jim. A chap who has what sounds like a big enough small holding to allow him to give some produce away, and an obsession with good food and eating it that's akin to my own. 

I arrived back at my desk after a meeting and found a pile of the vegetable in front of my laptop, I squirreled them away inside my handbag and it was then the recipe cogs began to whir. Their taste is mild but distinctive - I could see them working very well blended in a soup, made into a gratin, or for something a little different - a remoulade, using them instead of celeriac.

If you've not tried them before they've a very interesting texture - the centre of them when cooked is soft and yielding like a boiled potato (they're part of the same family) but the outer is slightly tougher and more fiberous. 

But what to make with them on this occasion? After a fun and boozy weekend I wanted to do something with very little involvement. Something that I could throw into a pot and leave in the oven whilst I took a walk to appreciate the sun shining in Didsbury (and a wander around the clothing and jewelry boutiques, you might be sure).

This dish does just that, and it greeted me with a scent so tantilising when I got home that I struggled to concentrate until it was ready. The combination of flavours marry beautifully, creating an intensly flavoured and exsquisitely coloured liquor, given an extra poke and edge through the Bloody Mary ingredients and wine - the Jerusalem artichokes really suit a boozy sauce.

I used cooking chorizo from Morrisons deli counter and have found it to be incredibly good - decent fat content and heavy on the paprika, it lends a lovely, light smokiness to the dish overall and is worth making a trip to Morrisons to buy if you don't usually shop there.

For two:
200-300 grams Jerusalem artichokes, peeled (bit of a pain but worth doing) and rinsed
6 chicken thighs, bone in or out (I used bone out) and skinless, trimmed of excess fat
3 carrots, grated on a fine setting
2 chorizo sausages (I used ones that were around 3" each in length) peeled and cut into rounds
1 red onion, diced
2-3 large ladles of chicken stock (I used homemade but a cube will be fine too) 
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 large glass of white wine
250mls pasatta or tomato juice 
A teaspoon of Tabasco
A large shot of vodka 
A generous scrunch of black pepper
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, snipped into little pieces
Around 10 cherry tomatoes, left whole
Olive oil for frying
A few pinches of flat leaf parsley, cut up 
Bread to serve

- Preheat your oven to 175 degrees
- Place a casserole pot (one that has a lid) onto a medium-highish heat and add your bacon, a slug of olive oil, celery, onion and chorizo, fry until they're colouring nicely, then add the carrot and tomatoes and continue cooking for around five minutes
- Now add to the pan the wine, pasatta and vodka, along with lots of black pepper. Place the lid on the pan and pop it into the oven for 1 hour
- After an hour remove the pot and add the Jerusalem artichokes, cover again and put the pot back into the oven for 20-30 minutes until the artichokes are soft (use a knife to see). Add the parsley to the pot and serve at the table, using some nice baguette to mop up the juices. Best eaten with some vino on the go

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Banana and pecan loaf cake with toffee icing

After three months at grandmas I can't tell you how many cakes I encountered. Every day I'd return home and there'd be at least one new cake to eat. Sometimes more than one. One day when rooting around in the 'naughty cupboard' I found six cakes. I'm not kidding - six. 

It's a good job I don't really like sweet baked goods, otherwise I could have been suffering from rotten teeth and a rapidly expanding waistline, but every now and again a little cake is exactly what's needed. And after a big week moving home and city, an easy, grandma style, restorative cake was called for.

The thing I really like about banana cake is it doesn't feel too naughty even though it is of course, quite indulgent. Fruit being in it means I can scoff the leftovers at breakfast and feel entirely justified in doing so. 

I made this cake in my food processor, this is because I lost my electric whisk in the move and I'm too lazy to do it the old fashioned way - you can make it whichever way you prefer of course, but the food processor will mean you get to eat it sooner and that might help make your decision...  

This recipe will make 2 loaf cakes. For the loaf:
4 small-ish bananas, or 3 big 'uns - I like to use ones that have very dark skins, their flavour is more banana and caramel-like and their flesh is much softer
160g self raising flour
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g golden caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
2 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche
The seeds from a fat vanilla pod 
2 handfuls of pecan nuts, or use walnut halves if you prefer 
2 eggs, beaten
A pinch of salt 

For the toffee icing:
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
125g icing sugar, sieved 
A few pecan halves for decorating the top 

- Preheat your oven to 150 degrees
- Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the eggs, creme fraiche, vanilla seeds, butter, salt, bicarbonate of soda, and bananas and mix again. Then add the flour and mix for a final time. Stir in the pecan nuts by hand.
- Grease two loaf tins with butter and pour the mixture between the two tins. Pop into the oven and bake for around 40 minutes - depending on your oven this may take longer or slightly less, simply shake the tin and when the cakes no longer wobble in the centre, spear the centre with a knife and if it comes out clean then they're ready 
- Remove from the oven and turn out onto a cooling rack
- Now for the icing, which must be done when the cake has completely cooled and not before
- In a pan place the butter and both kinds of sugar and cook on a medium heat until the sugar has totally dissolved, if it doesn't completely dissolve it will leave you with icing that has a granular texture 
- Add the milk to the pan and stir into the mix, turn the heat up and continue stirring as it cooks, for a minute, then remove from the heat
- Pour over the cake and dot the top with the pecan halves, wait for the glassy icing to cool before eating. Goes especially well with a strong black coffee.  

Cupcake tortillas

I was facing a dilemma: Should I make the tortilla and fill it with peas and fluffy goat's cheese, or with piquant pepperoni and roasted peppers?

I know. In light of other (far more) pressing global concerns, my lunch is rather insignificant. But nevertheless it was a conundrum I was facing this week. Then the answer struck me - the cupcake trend may be over, but I could use their colourful silicone cases to make miniature tortillas with both fillings, no compromise required. Yes, I could have my cake and eat it (excuse the pun, I couldn't resist).  

These'd be ideal at a party, several varieties stacked high on a cake stand. Finger food that's pretty and a little bit different - and they'd also work a treat as a lunchbox snack. 

The filling ideas are vast, so if you don't like the two I made simply substitute those ingredients for others you prefer, ideas could include:
  • Crisp chorizo and Manchego cheese
  • Sun-dried tomato and fresh basil 
  • Gorgonzola and walnut  
  • Good old ham and cheese
  • Prawn and fresh chili 
For 12 cupcake tortillas:
10 eggs
100g cheddar cheese
6 rounds of goat's cheese cut off a log 
A handful of frozen peas
4 of the small orange fresh peppers, or one large red/orange pepper
Olive oil 
Sea salt and black pepper
6 slices of pepperoni - I chose a pepperoni that's rounds would fit inside the case. If you get one that's larger simply slice it up into strands
2 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche (full fat or reduced) 
12 silicone bake cases

- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees
- Lightly oil the pepper or peppers and pop into the oven for 30 minutes, you're looking for them to start to colour and really soften, not turn black 
- When it's done, take it out of the oven and leave to cool, leaving the oven on 
- Lightly oil the silicone cases with olive oil (the silicone should make them easy to come out but I've not always found this to be the case, the oil helps the process along a bit)
- Lay the oiled cases out onto a baking sheet
- In a jug (easiest for the pouring) mix the eggs and creme fraiche together with a fork until combined, then add a generous scrunch of salt and lots of black pepper 
- Using your fingers remove the stalk end of the pepper and its seeds from inside. Then tear it into strips roughly
- Now to start filling the cases...
- A handful of peas in six of the cases then a round of goat's cheese in each, and some of the roasted peppers in the other six cases and a pinch of the cheddar cheese. Fill the cases half way up with the egg mixture, then add more peas to the pea tortillas, and the pepperoni slices topped with more roasted peppers to the others. Then finish them by pouring the egg mixture into the cases again, filling them up to the top. Drop a few little olive oil dots onto the top of the cases and pop into the oven for around 20-30 minutes.
- You'll know when they're done because when you give the tray a little shake there'll be no wobble in the centre. 
- Remove from the oven and leave for 10 minutes in their cases, before turning them out onto a cooling rack. Piling onto a cake stand before eating is optional but cute.