Well, as fifi mentioned in her last post, Autumn is right upon our doorstep, and with it comes crisp air, the rich, musty scent of Autumn leaves, and warming food that sticks to your ribs. Count me in!
Being an American, cold-weather food for me will always have to include casseroles, and this is just one of many that I like to foist upon Fi. This one’s a bit different though; a result of a lot of tinkering with combinations, that owes a lot of its influences to Asian flavours, and on paper, doesn’t look like it should work. Trust me, it totally does, and you won’t be sorry to try it. Other Americans may be tempted to cover this with cheese (let’s be honest, it’s the go-to topper for casseroles) but, while tasty, it doesn’t need it at all. This manages to be tasty and fulfilling without needing a lot of heavy cream and the like. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!
Without further ado, then… time to get cooking!
Chicken, Mushroom & Broccoli Rice Bake
A delicious rice bake that is perfect for when the weather starts to turn.
2 medium leeks (one large white/yellow onion works too)
4-5 large portobello mushrooms
2 chicken breasts or 4-6 thighs (boneless and skinless all around)
1 small bottle (20 cl/1 cup) white wine – Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc both really suit this dish.
150 ml double (heavy) cream
1/2-1 tsp ketjap manis (or use dark soy sauce and add 1/2 tsp molasses or treacle, and mix well)
1/2-3/4 tsp Knorr chicken powder (optional, you can crush and fluff a chicken stock cube if you can’t find Chicken Powder)
couple of dashes of Maggi liquid seasoning (optional)
1 tsp Thai fish sauce
salt and pepper to season
1/2-1 tsp Tarragon (dry or fresh, but remember that fresh will be much more strongly flavoured)
oil or butter for cooking
1.5 cups of uncooked rice (long grain or Thai jasmine rice both work well, 2:1 ratio water:rice when cooking)
Other stuff you’ll need…
Wok or large frying pan
Shallow casserole dish or high sided baking tray
Rice cooker (Cooks rice perfect every time. If you don’t have one, you can cook it in a covered saucepan on stove top).
First things first, get your rice on. It’ll take about 45 minutes to cook through, in the measures given, which gives you plenty of time to get the prep done.
Pop the broccoli florets into a saucepan, and set them aside for now.
Next, finely slice your leeks (or onion), peel your mushrooms of their thick outer skin and remove the stems before cutting into slices, and cut your chicken into bite sized pieces.
On a medium flame, heat a wok or large frying pan before adding oil/butter (or drizzle a little oil over the butter, which will give you the best flavour while preventing the butter from burning). Now add the leeks/onions and season with salt (this, again, helps to stop them burning) before frying gently for 4-5 minutes, or until tender.
When the leeks/onions are cooked, add a bit more butter, and then add the sliced mushrooms. Season these with a little more salt (this helps to get the moisture out) and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
In the meantime, put the kettle on and preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
Retrieve your saucepan of broccoli florets and sprinkle on 1/2-3/4 tsp chicken powder (optional), 1tsp fishsauce and a splash of dark soy. From the kettle, add just less than 1/3 cup of hot water (the water doesn’t need to have just boiled). Cover, and steam, covered, on high heat for approximately 5 minutes.
While the broccoli is cooking, go back to the leek and mushroom mixture and add the wine to it before turning the heat up to medium/high. Reduce the liquid right down, until its about a quarter of the original volume. Stir now and again while it’s reducing down.
When the wine has reduced down, lower your heat to medium and add the chicken to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink.
By this time, the broccoli should have cooked for approximately 5 minutes, in which case turn the heat off but leave the lid on to steam cook the last of the hardcore crunch out.
Back to the wok, and season the chicken, leek/onion, mushroom and wine mixture with black pepper and approximately 1/2-1 tsp of tarragon, or to taste. Then add the double cream and stir everything in. Cook for an additional 2 minutes on a low heat before tipping in the broccoli, liquid and all. Add about 1/2-1 tsp of ketjup manis and a few dashes of maggi seasoning (optional) and stir the lot gently before turning the heat off completely.
Now add the cooked rice to the wok, and stir until the rice is evenly coated with everything. Ideally, you want the rice to be a bit wet with the sauce rather than bone dry, so you may not need to use all of the cooked rice.
At this point, transfer the rice mixture into a shallow casserole dish or a high side baking tray and use the back of a wooden spoon to spread it out to an even thickness. Cover the pan with tin foil and bake for 12-14 minutes. I find that covering the dish with foil helps to prevent it from drying out, and cooks it through more quickly.
I love Mexican food. Maybe it’s because I’m an American, and we’re deluged with fantastic eats from our southerly neighbours. Or maybe it’s because I lived in Texas for awhile, and really came to love the Tex-Mex flavours you get down there. I like to think, really, it’s because Mexican food, done right, makes the best of fresh ingredients and gives you a dish that zings with flavour.
Fifi, on the other hand… Let’s just say that it’s been a trial getting her, shall we say… accustomed, to my enjoyment of Mexican food.
So, I bribe her with this guacamole. Maybe that’s cheating, but when you’re married, sometimes happy compromise involves being the sneakiest little bugger you can be, and finding every advantage you can. Thus, a bowl of this stuff.
It’s amazingly zingy with lime, and has a light freshness with coriander and tomato. Enjoy it with tortilla chips, or with your favourite Mexican food – we served it here with an impromptu lunch, born of having too many black beans for dinner-burritos, which I made into rather-nice-if-I-say-so-myself quesadillas.
But, without further ado, here’s the recipe. It really is simplicity itself.
Rustic homemade guacamole, all zingy with the lime. Definitely one of my favourite things!
1 medium tomato, peeled. (Cut a cross into the top and bottom, immerse into boiling water for about 20 seconds, then just peel the skin away with your fingers. Cut into small cubes.)
½ – 1 red chilli, de-seeded (also excellent when roasted!)
1 tbsp sour cream
As the avocado will begin to brown when exposed to air, juice your limes first. One juicy lime will usually be enough, but often it takes 1 and ½ to 2 before you have enough.
Add a pinch of salt to the lime juice and mix, this will help the seasoning get through all of your guacamole.
Cut your avocados in half length-wise and remove the stones. Then take a spoon to the flesh and just scoop out spoonfulls of avocado straight into the mixing bowl. Pour your lime juice and salt mixture over the avocado to keep it fresh.
Now coarsely chop a good-sized handful of coriander and add to the bowl.
Next add your garlic, ideally put through a garlic press, or chopped very finely, followed by the tomato, red onion and chilli.
Take a potato masher and give everything in the bowl a good bash. Follow with a fork and use that to do a bit finer mashing, while still keeping things fairly thick.
Next, add a bit of sour cream - you don’t want a lot as this can dilute the flavour. About 1 tbsp with these proportions works great, and adds a bit of tangy creaminess that, I think, really compliments the guacamole blend nicely.
All that's left is to decant into to a smaller container, cover, and give it some time to chill in the fridge. I usually do it for a few hours, but its fine to eat after just an hour if you can’t wait (fifi usually can’t!)
Don’t be tempted to do any of this in a food processor, it just doesn’t work, and you really want it to have a nice ‘rustic’ feel to it with random chunks of avocado in amongst the mash. It’s also much better for scooping onto tortilla chips that way.
A break in the weather allowed fifi and I out this morning, and we decided to take advantage of the clear skies while they lasted. As it was a nice morning, and we were up early, we decided to take a trip to the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market.
I can’t say enough good things about the producers who sell and share their goods here, it’s all seriously good, top-quality, and best of all, locally produced stuff. From meat, fish and dairy, to fruits and vegetables, baking and sweets, juices, drinks, and other speciality products, there’s something for everyone. And don’t forget the whole hog roast while you’re there. Heaven on a bun!
But, I digress. I want to post today about a fantastic cheese I picked up at the market this morning. Let me preface this by saying that, while I love cheese of all kinds, I don’t tend to get excited about blue cheese. I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s never grabbed me and said HEL-LO. Until now, that is.
I was browsing at the Arran’s Cheese Shop stall, and the lovely lady behind the counter was offering samples of everything she had on sale. Now, as fifi’s not a big cheese fan (she mumbles about it being a Chinese thing), I was certainly up for having a go. They had an award winning blue on offer, and I decided I’d try it.
Wow. Arran Blue – which I’ve since discovered seems to come from Arran’s Bellevue Creamery Cheeses, is one exciting cheese. It’s a rich, soft, young blue cheese with a reserved aroma that lacks a lot of the overly pungent (or stinky, as fifi would call it) smell of stronger blues. On the tongue there’s that first bite of salt that you expect from a good blue, and then it blooms with the wonderfully musty hint of the veining, and mellows into creamy happiness. Very moreish, very highly recommended.
I paired this with some fantastic oatcakes from Wooleys of Arran, but this would also be great in a salad, or crumbled onto a nicely-rare bit of steak. If you can find this, and you should, enjoy! It’s well worth seeking out.
A few times a year, Marks and Spencer takes stock of these fantastic King Strawberries. They’re naturally sweet and juicy, which is surprising given their size — you can’t tell from the picture, but they’re each about the size of a large egg!
They’re so good that you can (and should!) happily eat them on their own, but fifi and I have always really enjoyed them dipped in a bit of melted chocolate. As a bonus, you can easily dip plenty of other things in any leftover chocolate you might have. Some personal favourites included marshmallows, chunks of brioche, candied orange or lemon peel, and banana slices.
If you want to try this yourself, it couldn’t be easier!
Chocolate-Dipped King Strawberries
Any strawberries will work, but these King berries really take it to another level!
Fruit (or marshmallows) for dipping (almost anything works so long as it’s dry on the surface)
A few large bars of your favourite chocolate (dark chocolate really is best, 70% or higher)
White chocolate for drizzling (if you can find some with vanilla bean, it’s even nicer)
1-2 tsp vegetable oil (a flavourless oil is vital here)
Chop fruit / brioche / etc into bite-sized pieces. Don't do this if you're using the King berries.
If you’re using berries with stems/leaves, make sure you trim the greenery back from the fruit a bit so that the leaves don’t stick in the chocolate. For long-stemmed berries, trim the leaves and retain just the stems.
Ensure that the bain-marie upper pan (or the bowl on top of your pan of water) is dry inside. This is absolutely essential, as water has a nasty habit of seizing up chocolate.
With your fruit prepped, fill the lower pan of your bain-marie (or a saucepan) with water and get it hot enough that it’s steaming but not boiling. If you’re using a bowl on top of a pan of water, make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, as it can get too hot this way, and result in chocolate that’s clumpy or too thick.
Break up the chocolate and add it to the upper bowl along with a drizzle of the vegetable oil. This is to keep the chocolate silky smooth and make it easier to dip your fruit into. If the chocolate gets too thick, then add the oil a little bit at a time, mixing as you go.
It’s important that you don’t add water to your chocolate ever. This will make the chocolate ‘seize up’ and solidify, and it’s rather disheartening. We all make that mistake at least once…
Once about ¾ of the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat and keep stirring the chocolate until you have a smooth, shiny mixture. Turning the heat off at this point will help prevent it from burning or overcooking.
Transfer the melted chocolate to a smaller, deep bowl that you’ll be able to dip into. Now you can get started with the fun part! Hold the base of your fruit or treat and just dip into the chocolate, shaking gently or spinning to rid any excess chocolate. Set each piece aside on the sheet of wax paper, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes to set.
Once all of the fruit is dipped, you can melt the white chocolate (using the same method as above), and instead of putting it in a bowl, pour it into a squeezy bottle (or pastry / plastic bag). Snip off one corner if you’re using a plastic bag, and just gently drizzle the white chocolate back and forth across the fruit.
Give the fruit another 10 minutes or so for the white chocolate to firm up, and transfer the fruit gently to a tray or plate and chill for at least two hours. You can take the fruit out of the fridge after it’s chilled, a bit ahead of time, if you don’t want to eat it cold. Easy as that!