Tuesday, October 19

Creamy mustard chicken supper.

It isn't curdled. Really, it isn't. OK, it is a tiny bit, but it didn't affect the flavour at all. This is a super tasty chicken dinner, it just wont win any prizes for beauty. Since I myself am not likely to grace the catwalk any time soon, I am prepared to cut my dinner some slack.
This is an easy supper, the sauce is whipped up in minutes, then poured over chicken breasts and the whole lot bunged in the oven while you relax with a glass of vine and Antiques Roadshow...........nice.

Basically this is an adaptation of a Nigel Slater recipe I read on the Guardian website at work, printed, then forgot to take home. The following is based on what i could remember from the original. Turns out it was meant to have bacon in, and no lemon, but I think my adaptation is just fine, cheers Nigel.

Creamy mustard chicken (adapted from Nigel Slater)

Serves 4

8 skinless boneless chicken thighs
200 gram tub of cream fraiche
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 heaped tsp wholegrain mustard (if you only have one or other mustard, just use that)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or use parsley or tarragon if that's what you have)
Big squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Pre heat the oven to 200C. Place the chicken thighs in an oven proof casserole dish. Mix together all the other ingredients and pour over the chicken. Put in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the chicken is cooked

That's it. I served the chicken with steamed potato's tossed in some butter and dill, and asparagus  boiled in salted water for a couple of minutes, and drained. Both vege, though plain,  were lovely with the mustardy creamy sauce. The dish isn't as rich as you imagine due to the sharpness of the cream fraice and lemon. The chicken stays moist and tender, but with a crust, which I love.

I went on a brilliant writing course this weekend, with Joan Rosier-Jones through the University of Auckland's Continuing Education department. I am working on a novel (about food, how surprising.....) and it was so cool to get inspiration with a great group of like minded people. Although when we did mock promo interviews it was noted my arms waving about every time I opened my mouth to talk would be annoying for viewers. I thought it would be a cunning distraction from the 5 kg the camera adds that I can ill afford. I suspect I may be made for radio........
Reading a fab book at the moment, by New Zealand author Vanda Symon called Overkill. I started reading it last week after a trip to the Library during my lunch hour, and struggled to get back to work. Cant wait to find out who did it........

Tuesday, October 12

Gorgeous eggplant/aubergine dip......and a tiny piece of advice

My little heart skipped a beat the other day when I saw shiny firm glorious eggplants (or aubergine if you are posher than me, which is entirely likely...) at the food market on a 2 for $5 deal. Maybe this means I need to get out more, or am simply very easily pleased , or both, but I fairly skipped up to the counter.

I adore eggplant, and we eat plenty all spring and summer. The texture is great, be it grilled until tender on the BBQ or grill, fried with loads of garlic and tomato, or as in the following recipe, a delish smokey dip. Whatever you do with eggplant, give it plenty of seasoning, and do cook it well, a half cooked eggplant is grim indeed, it needs to be soft and melting........

The following dip is a simplified version of an Ottolenghi recipe (yes, again!) , from Plenty. It is easy, tasty, and has already become a fav in our house, try it.
Please don't let the Pomegranate Molasses put you off, I found this at my local supermarket, but any specialist food shop or Middle Eastern shop should carry it. I FINISHED my last bottle, it didn't just sit there until I threw it out......... It is fab in dressings, and I have a glorious red pepper and walnut dip it really peps up, I will post the recipe as spoon as I dig it out of my overflowing recipe box....if you cant find it, I would try some tamarind paste/water which is available at any Indian store....

Eggplant Dip (based on Burnt Aubergine with Tahini recipe from Plenty)

2 Eggplant
2 tbsp of tahini paste
1/4 cup of cold water
1-2 tsp pomegranate molasses
Squeeze of lemon or lime juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp chopped parsley (coriander is also great, and mint)

Prick your eggplant a couple of times with a knife, and place on a baking tray lined with foil or baking paper (if you are using foil make sure the shiny side is up so it reflects the heat). Place under a hot grill for 45 minutes or so until the skin is black, and the eggplant is collapsing. This sounds nuts, but you are not eating the skin, and this burn imparts a lovely smokey flavour to your dip. Trust me.

 When the eggplant has cooled down a little, split it in half and scoop the soft insides into a colander.
You can biff the skin, it has done it's job.
 I know it does not look terribly appealing at this stage, but bear with me.
Let the eggplant flesh drain for about 20 mins or so, and place into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix together, then taste and check the flavour.
The pomegranate gives a lovely sweet sharpness, while the tahini adds depth, adjust adding a little more or less depending on how you like it.

We have had this a couple of times recently, once as a yummy creamy topping for lamb pita pizza's....

and once as a delish side for some lamb kibbe patties I made, experimenting with bulgur wheat. I have not perfected this recipe yet, but when I do I will post it toot sweet........

On another note entirely, can I offer you a friendly piece of advice? If you are tired, and cooking Mac n Cheese, because you require comfort food, and a recipe you can make without actually engaging your brain, BE AWARE! Testing your little pasta shapes for al denteness can result in a hidden pocket of boiling water bursting out and dribbling down your lip and onto your chin..........this can then result in much swearing, burning, tears before bedtime and general unhappiness. And some clown at work asking if you have a cold sore. No, I have a severe pasta burn............and it isn't funny pal.
Lets be careful out there.

Monday, October 4

Chicken breasts, the black pants of food?

Excuse the slightly odd analogy, but as I cleared out my wardrobe to make way for Spring , I counted four pairs of black trousers, enough for every day of the working week (and jeans for casual Friday) .........yawn! I know they are not very imaginative, but that dependable go with most things, make me look slimmer (has science ever actually proved this, or is it an urban myth?), wont show the odd mark reputation, make black pants boring but omnipresent. A bit like chicken breasts.

I stood by the poultry counter at my local supermarket the other night and watched (I pretended to be checking my shopping list, lest I look like a total weirdo....). Chicken is the first meat you come to after produce, and my is it popular. How many shoppers had visions of excitement further along with beef or lamb I could not tell , they capitulated at the first sign of a skinless boneless breast. It is curious because lets be honest, no one thinks yippee, pale, prone to dryness piece of very mild tasting flesh for dinner, rock on! This isn't steak or oysters, or lobster, it wont offend, but it does not really scream yum, does it?
So how to introduce the wow factor, this is the Black Pant challenge........

I think a big part of food is texture, so for me, adding crunch in the form of a crispy coating is a no brainer. For this may I suggest Panko? The link takes you to a neat little You Tube clip showing how panko breadcrumbs are made. Panko originated in Japan during WWII, when bread dough was cooked using electrical current rather than heat, then ground, to produce a light, flaky crumb, that cooks like a dream, and produces a lighter crisper coating than traditional breadcrumbs. A bag lasts for yonks, is not very expensive, and is available at my local supermarket. Otherwise try an Asian store.

I have mentioned in a prior post about bashing out your chicken breast, to get an even texture and thickness. At the risk of repeating myself, it really is worth doing. Just shove the meat in a small plastic bag, and bash with your rolling pin, or something similar like a wine bottle . This gives you a nice even thickness to cook, and saves dry indigestible ends while you wait for the thicker part of your meat to cook through....

Take your flattened meat, and coat with the following crumb mixture. This is enough for 3-4 chicken breasts

Herb and cheese crumb

2 cups Panko crumbs
2 tbsp chopped herbs, I used thyme, rosemary and parsley
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To crumb I set up 3 plates. One with about a cup of seasoned plain flour, one with a beaten egg and one with your crumb mixture. Dip your chicken in the flour to coat, then into the egg, and finally into your crumb mixture, making sure all the meat is covered.
It sounds much more complicated and messier than it is, the whole process for three chicken pieces took me about three minutes, and the meat can be coated in advance and left to sit in the fridge before you fry it off.
To cook heat a frying pan big enough to hold your meat in a single layer, and add enough oil (I use Canola, but whatever oil you like would be fine) to just coat the bottom of the pan. Heat on med until the oil is hot, and cook your meat for about 5 minutes per side, until the crust is brown and crispy and the meat is cooked through.

The crumb provides a textural elementt that is so lacking in a skinless piece of meat. As a kid who didn't eat the golden crispy skin , before it became the kind of socially unacceptable behaviour practiced alone in the privacy of your own home?? It also provides protection to stop the meat drying out, which can happen over the heat of frying.

I served my chicken with some simply steamed asparagus, a green salad, and a quick mayo, thinned with water, and plenty of lemon juice. Simple, but delicious, and not at all boring!