Chicken and Squash Laksa

This was supposed to be chicken and pumpkin laksa, but UK supermarkets never seem to stock any kind of pumpkin except at Halloween. Squash is basically the same thing though. We’d had a roast chicken on Sunday, and this recipe from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand is how we decided to use the leftover chicken.

Recipe wise you can probably say this one is pretty healthy – lots of veg in the form of steamed squash, tomatoes, spinach and onion. You steam the pumpkin first and make a paste out of chilli, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, lime zest and coriander stalks. Then you fry the chopped onion, followed by the paste, and then add coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring the whole thing to the boil then add the tomatoes and simmer for a little bit (Diana says 7 minutes but I got distracted and it was much longer!). Finally add your chicken and spinach, then serve the whole thing up with some noodles.

There are some great flavours here, but I regret using a regular chilli instead of a birds eye chill as the recipe states. This should teach me to heed Diana’s wise words!

Chicken Gumbo

After the tasty jambalaya we made a short while back, it seemed appropriate to make some chicken gumbo as a follow up. None of our recipe books really have much in the way of creole recipes, so we went with a recipe we found on the BBC Good Food website.

Things didn’t get off to a good start when the online shopping delivery didn’t come with any okra (they tried to offer us some pak choi as an alternative – clearly the person who packed our shop had no idea what okra was!).

I was also a bit worried when I started to read some of the comments under the recipe which said that it was bland and unauthentic. There was no need for concern though. I made the whole meal for 4 for just the two of us (some comments suggested that the recipe was a bit measly in terms of portions) and the quantities seemed to work out just right. I was a bit heavy handed with the spices too – “just in case” – and it all seemed to come together really nicely. The flavours seemed (to my British palate) pretty authentic and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

The recipe suggested serving with some rice or bread – Mark had brought home some freshly baked rye bread which, when smeared with lashings of butter, complemented the whole thing beautifully.

Courgette and Lentil Dhal

How much health can you get in a single bowl? Quite a lot, actually, when you’re using the Thrive on Five cook book. We’ve raved about this book before but the long and short of it is that it contains recipes which will give you your five portions of veg for the day in a single meal. There are a lot of nice recipes in the book (although some of them can get a bit samey – I’m looking at you, mushrooms) and we found this one we hadn’t tried before.

There’s a lot of spices and interesting flavours going on in this meal, but it upset me by requiring the use of the food processor to blitz carrot and celery (I hate anything which creates washing up!). The end result was very tasty but Mark enjoyed it more than me. Some brown rice and chapatis rounded out what turned out to be a very filling and tasty meal.

Followed by a slice of the healthy cake we made at the weekend, it’s 6 portions of fruit and veg in one sitting!

Pineapple, Courgette and Walnut Loaf

The government says we should always try to get our five portions of fruit and veg every day, and Thrive on Five is a great book for finding tasty ways of doing just that. We’ve made one of their cakes before and it was fantastic, serving up 2 portions per slice. This cake only serves up 1 portion per slice but that’s still a portion we’d have missed out on otherwise!

The list of ingredients is pretty long, and grating courgette is tedious work. Beyond that though, it’s pretty simple. Mashing the pineapple in a mortar and pestle was a bit tedious, and the recipe was unclear as to whether the resulting juice should go in the cake or not (I assumed it should, and this seemed to turn out OK).

End result is a great looking and tasting loaf – it took a bit longer in the oven than expected and nearly burned so I had to cover it with tin foil for the last 10 minutes. It’s not often you can have a slice of cake and say it’s one of your 5 a day though, so the effort is definitely worth it.

Casa Lucio’s Chicken with Garlic

Diana Henry describes this recipe as “more than the sum of its parts” and she’s right. We made it with skinless thighs rather than the bone on version she suggests, but it didn’t seem to suffer from that or the fact that we reduced the quantity substantially to feed just the two of us.

The chicken is fried in some oil first, then drained and set aside. Chopped garlic is then fried, and some sherry vinegar and sherry is added and brought to the boil. A pinch of saffron is optional, but we added it because we love the stuff.

The chicken then gets added back to the liquid and tossed around a bit until glossy. We then served it up with some new potatoes and peas.

The amazing thing for us with this recipe was how a small amount of garlic produced an amazing amount of flavour – Mark didn’t believe me when I told him there were only two cloves involved! If you’re interested in checking this one out, it’s in Diana’s book, A Bird in the Hand.

Apricot and Orange Sponge Cake

It’s been a while since I made a cake, so I had a crack at this one from Nigel Slater’s Appetite. The main recipe is actually for a lemon cake, but the variations suggested that orange could be used instead, and I love an orange cake.

Nigel describes this cake as incredibly easy, but I’m afraid I don’t agree. It’s easy, yes – if you’re using a food processor. By hand? Not so much. First up you have to cream the butter and sugar until “white and fluffy” – this takes a really, really long time by hand. I also found Nigel’s technique to be misleading – the next step described is to zest and juice the fruit… but he actually expected you to NOT add them to the bowl at this point. I realised too late, and because I’d used an orange rather than a lemon I had quite a lot of juice… this began to dissolve the sugar so I was going to lose all the air I had worked so hard to incorporate.

I decided to add an extra bit of raising agent in the form of a teaspoon of bicarbonate. I chose this over baking powder because I believe the latter includes bicarb and acid – but with all the acidic orange juice in the mixture, I decided that would be enough.

Nigel also says you need to chop some apricots until almost like a paste – again, that’s an easy task for a machine but not by hand. Fortunately I have a mezzaluna (this one, in fact) which made things easier than they may have otherwise been.

Once I was done with all that hassle and stress it went into the oven and actually rose really nicely. It sank a little in the middle afterwards, and a bit of the butter separated out in the middle making it look a bit greasy but – all things considered – it’s a bloody nice cake. We had some warm on the first night with raspberries and a blob of skyr, and then some more the next day after keeping it in the fridge. I think it was better for being in the fridge, and Mark prefers his with Greek yoghurt rather than skyr.

If you’ve got a food processor, try this one out. If not, give it a go anyway but make sure you read the entire recipe through before you begin and be prepared for some hard work!

Puttanesca Style Haddock Stew

The official name of this recipe is “puttanesca style monkfish stew” but the supermarket didn’t have any monkfish and we ended up going with haddock instead. It’s another recipe from John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients. As such, it’s another pretty straightforward recipe – although I think using anchovy stuffed olives is a bit of a cheat to get down to the give ingredient minimum; I’m pretty sure you could use separate olives and anchovies to make this.

The first bit is really easy – just bash together chopped garlic, chopped chilli and stuffed olives in a mortar and pestle. Then fry the resulting paste until it becomes aromatic and add the chopped tomatoes. Bring it to the boil, turn down to a simmer and sit the fish on top. Cover the pan with a lid and leave it for about 10 minutes.

To serve, I added some plain cous cous on the side for a bit of carb. For such a simply recipe it makes a good puttanesca sauce with a great flavour.

Tomato and Bacon Quiche

I’d love to post the recipe for this, but it mostly comes from one of those recipe cards you can pick up in supermarkets (it was Waitress for this one).

The recipe calls for a pack of shortcrust pastry, but we followed the techniques picked up from John Whaite and made our own.

The filling was chopped cherry tomatoes and some slivers of streaky bacon which had been fried. Once the pastry had been blind baked, these were added to the tart case. I then mixed 4 large eggs, 150ml of double cream and about 100ml of milk and poured this into the tart case over the other ingredients.

Into the oven at 190ºC for about 35 minutes and it came out looking beautifully brown on top with a little bit of a wobble. We had to hefty slices for dinner and there’s more left over to reheat tomorrow.

Years ago, before I really started cooking, supermarket bought quiche was my go to “I can’t think of anything to make” dinner. Not any more!

Kachin Chicken Curry

What I was thinking choosing to make a curry on one of the hottest days of the year so far, I’ll never know. It’s apparently a Burmese recipe – that’s a cuisine I’m not familiar with, but it comes from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand and she’s never let us down so far.

Diana says this is a mild curry, but I didn’t have access to the dried chillies suggested so I used chilli flakes instead. Because it was the end of a jar, there was a lot of chilli “dust” and this ended up being significantly hotter than expected!

Considering the relatively short list of ingredients, the most exciting thing about this meal was the fact it smelled and tasted so authentic – normally I’d associate curry with a long list of ingredients but that’s not the case here and the meal doesn’t suffer at all.

Chicken Jambalaya

I’ve loved the food of the deep south for many, many years and every now and then I get a hankering for some good old jambalaya. Over the years I progressed from jars of sauce bought in supermarkets through to actually making things myself, but I never really found a recipe I was happy with. Tonight though, the hankering was back so I decided to give a new recipe a try and I found this one on Delia Smith’s website.

That said, I wasn’t overly impressed with the presentation of the recipe on the website. It broke the cardinal rule by listing ingredients in a different order to the one in which you need them, and there was also a mistake in that the Tabasco sauce was listed as part of the garnish when it’s actually an ingredient.

I also thought the amount of liquid added was wrong – it took much longer to reduce than the recipe said (and the recipe said leave the lid on; we ended up leaving it uncovered).

But the end result was well worth it – I’m not saying it was 100% authentic, especially given we were using chorizo instead of andouille sausage… but it was a damn good approximation.