Lemon and Thyme Jelly

Lemon and thyme jelly

I had never made my own jelly before.  My only experience of it up until now had been from childhood or when I was dieting in my early twenties and it was the only dessert allowed.  I have been spoiled by the saccharine sweetness of these packaged cubes.

After trying my hand at jelly two weeks ago I am hooked.  My January drizzle has met its match with these intense fruity delights.  I am entranced by the beauty of the jeweled colours shimmering as the shy sun catches a slight wobble.

Lemon and thyme jelly2

My favourite jelly I have made so far has been these bouncy pots of lemon and thyme.  Bompas and Parr, the fine connoisseurs of all things wobbly explained that the acidity of the pure lemon juice would counteract the gelatine so shots of orange are also needed to help it out.  This does give the jelly a more rounded citrus flavour without losing the desired lemon tang and the thyme adds just a touch of herbal earthiness.

Lemon and thyme jelly4

This week I have been out too many times in the evening, too much wine, too many late nights and early mornings.  I can feel my head quietly pulsing.  As I reach for the refreshing sunshine burst of jelly I can feel my head clearing, the slight sharpness sending an awakening spark down my back and I feel rejuvenation is a mere weekend away.

Lemon and thyme jelly3

Lemon and Thyme Jelly

300ml lemon juice (6-7 large lemons)
200ml orange juice (about 3 oranges)
150g agave nectar or honey
2 sprigs thyme
4 leaves gelatine

  1. In a medium sized saucepan heat the lemon juice, orange juice, agave nectar and the 2 sprigs of thyme until just under boiling.
  2. Remove from the heat and let stand in the saucepan for 1 hour for the thyme to infuse.
  3. Strain the juice and pour back into the saucepan.
  4. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 mins, then squeeze out the excess water.
  5. Add the gelatine to the juice in the saucepan and warm gently until the gelatine melts, do not let boil, it should only take a couple of mins.
  6. Pour into glasses and leave to cool for a couple of hours.
  7. Add a couple of small sprigs of thyme to the tops of the jellies, pressing down slightly to submerge.
  8. Put the jellies in the fridge to set overnight.

Salmon Beetroot and Dill Gravlax

Salmon Beetroot and Dill Gravlax

These past few mornings have been particularly unhospitable for new dog walkers like ourselves.  At an ungodly hour we bundle up in hats, scarves, gloves and holey thermals to traipse round a gloomy Finsbury Park, watching as the sun lazily climbs the sky.  The puppy loves to crunch his paws on the glittery leaves as we dangerously skid after him on icy puddles.  The forty minutes we are in the park London comes alive, as the trickle of hardened joggers and committed dog walkers are soon followed by the whoosh of hi-vis cyclists tempting puppy with the chase.  By 8am a gentle stream of commuters are taking the shortcut through the park on the way to the tube.  The morning may have arrived but it has not yet brought any warmth.

IMG_3095These frosted mornings have encouraged me to seek out comfort in classic cooking.  The bright fresh unfussy influence of Scandinavian recipes has been luring me in, shown off in photographs with the natural clear light you can only get in a Nordic kitchen.  I have been to neither Sweden, Norway nor Denmark but the urge to visit has been growing year on year and 2014 I think may be the year to finally splurge across the sea.
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This salmon gravlax, a quintessential Scandinavian dish, is simple but very effective for special occasions.  It’s vastly preferred in our house to bought smoked salmon which can sometimes feel too greasy and overpowering.  But this salmon is delicate and richly flavoured and stunning with the blush of beetroot.

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If you want to scale it down for a more intimate occasion then it can easily be done with a couple of salmon fillets and less of the cure.  The preparation takes next to no time then just a few days of sitting pretty in the fridge, so don’t feel like you have to wait for a feasting occasion.   Just so you know, valentines is around the corner.

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Salmon Beetroot and Dill Gravlax

Adapted for quantities from Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke
Serves 12

1 kilo salmon fillet
6 tbsp vodka
125g granulated sugar
100g sea salt flakes
2 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
large bunch dill, roughly chopped
400g raw beetroot, grated

  1. Check the salmon for any bones that the fishmonger might have missed and remove.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the sugar, salt, pepper, dill and beetroot.
  3. Line a large dish, big enough to hold the salmon with two large layers of foil. Lay the salmon on top and sprinkle with the vodka, rubbing over to make sure it’s absorbed.
  4. Tip all the beetroot and dill mixture over and make sure the salmon is fully coated.
  5. Wrap the foil tightly over the salmon, tucking it in at all sides.
  6. Place in the fridge for 2-4 days, making sure to turn the salmon regularly so the cure reaches all of the salmon. If liquid seeps through the foil, just pour it off.
  7. Remove the foil and scrape the dill and beetroot off the salmon.
  8. Serve slivered finely with a pickled cucumber salad and rye bread.
  9. The salmon keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
salmon gravadlax

 

 

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

I love all my cookbooks equally.

Actually that’s not true at all, I definitely have some that I give a higher regard to more than others.  And some are just plain useless but they might be signed by the author or kept for sentimental reasons.  I continually cull my cookbooks, especially since I’m a bit of an impulse cookbook buyer and acquire a lot of dross, so this has to be done regularly lest my house become overrun and my husband gets grumpy.  Last week I sent another batch to the charity shop, always a sad day but it had to be done to make way for my new Christmas cookbooks, of which there are many.

Wesley reading OttolenghiI do read and use recipes from my cookbooks all the time but this January I want to make sure all the newbies get christened as soon as possible so they feel truly welcome and part of the family.  So the first one to get the royal treatment was Jerusalem, a book I have been longing for all year.  Ottolenghi’s previous cookbooks, Ottolenghi and Plenty, are my kitchen stalwarts and a first glance at Jerusalem confirms that his third time out is not a disappointment to the canon.
oranges
fennelOttolenghi’s recipes seem to made for Januarys.  The ingredient lists always feature fun new spices that you haven’t heard of before and unique ways of marrying herbs and vegetables that can inspire even the most rigid of detoxes. There were plenty of recipes I wanted to try immediately but this salad is the one that leapt off the page, purely because I had all the ingredients in and thankfully used up one of the dozens of oranges I have hanging around.
Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad2

This salad was so zingy and fresh and the method of preparing the orange was a unique way to create a fruit dressing.  I am definitely going to try the same technique with lemons and limes.  The resulting blended orange mixture was slightly bitter from the orange peel but the honey and orange juice added sweetness with a gentle infusion of saffron.  As the orange coated the warm chicken the zesty oils were released and were so delicious with the fennel and herbs.  The only thing I found in the recipe was that in the initial boiling of the orange I topped up the water a couple of times as the liquid was running too low and not covering the orange enough for it to soften.

Another great thing as well is that you yield more orange than is needed and it can easily be kept in the fridge, ready for the next batch you are going to make the following day, which I guarantee you will as it is hella good.

Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad4
Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad5

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

Serves 2
Recipe from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini, adapted for quantities

1 orange
½ tsp of saffron threads
50g honey
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 fennel bulb, sliced finely
Handful of coriander leaves, torn
Handful of mint leaves, torn
Handful of basil leaves, torn
½ red chilli, seeds removed and sliced
½ garlic clove, crushed

  1. Trim and discard 1 cm off the top and bottom of the orange, then cut into 12 wedges, keeping the skin on, removing the pips and place in a saucepan along with the saffron and honey. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 1 hour until the orange peel is soft.
  2. Blitz the orange with all the liquid in a blender until smooth. Leave to cool.
  3. Toss the chicken breasts with 1 tbsp of olive and seasoning and grill for about 2 mins on each side on a very hot griddle to achieve the char lines, then move to an oven pre-heated to 180°C for 10-15 mins until the chicken breasts are just cooked. Remove from the oven and leave for a few mins until cool enough to handle.
  4. Tear the chicken up with your fingers and place in a large bowl. Add ¼ of the orange mixture and stir to thoroughly coat the chicken.
  5. Add the fennel, coriander, mint, basil, chilli and garlic to the chicken and toss together with the olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning.
Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad3

Roasted Aubergine and Courgette with Sumac and Herbs

Roasted Aubergine and Courgette with Sumac and Herbs

Today I was very excited to make a silky warming butternut squash soup.  It was exactly what I was hankering for.  I took the stock out of the freezer last night, leered over the butternut in eager anticipation and fished out the chipotle from the very back of the cupboard.  I used a ladder and everything.  It was all systems go.  And then I smashed my kitchenaid blender.  I still don’t understand how as the glass on those things is about an inch thick.  But it briefly kissed the surface of my ceramic sink and shattered like the fragile heart of a tween.

So, basically, you are not getting soup and I’m getting a new blender.

courgette and aubergine3So stepping up to the plate is one of my absolute faves.  It’s probably the one I make the most often of a weekday.  So easy to throw together in the roasting tray straight after work.  Whack it in the oven, have a sit down with a glass of sparkling water, as it’s January, then serve with anything you like.  I have it the most with grilled lamb chops.  It might also be even better the next day taken out of the fridge and brought up to room temperature to have at your desk for lunch, I would never bother re-heating this.  I have eaten it with leftovers, with roast chicken, with garlicky yoghurt drizzled generously over and taken it to picnics.
courgette and aubergineDue to the amount of oil that the aubergine soaks up it’s very rich and so you don’t need a great deal, not that I usually let that stop me.

Oh, and the best thing about this dish… it doesn’t require a blender.

Roasted aubergine and courgette2Roasted Aubergine and Courgette with Sumac and Herbs

2 aubergines
2 courgettes
60ml olive oil
¾ tsp sumac
10g mint leaves, roughly chopped
10g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
10g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Wedge of lemon

  1. Top and tail the aubergine and courgette and then cut each one in half widthways. Halve each again lengthways and then cut into 16 wedges in total.
  2. Toss the wedges in the olive oil, sumac and plenty of seasoning and place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C. Roast for 30-40 mins, checking halfway through to give a good mix around.
  3. Once the aubergine and courgette are soft, lightly browned and slightly crispy at the corners then remove from the oven. Mix together with the herbs, squeeze the lemon wedge over and serve.

Lemon Poached Chicken with Gingery Rice

Lemon Poached Chicken with Gingery Rice

Since the New Year I have been laid low by a horrible bug.  Sickness is no fun when you enjoy guzzling yourself silly three or more times a day, especially when you are used to food being the comforter and not the antagonist.

lemon chicken with ginger rice3A recipe was called for to nurse myself back to health and there was no other ingredient to turn to than ginger.  Although scientific research is on the fence over the actually proven combative results of ginger, I am a sworn believer that a few matchsticks of fresh ginger can settle the stomach and promote general well being in the face of any adversity, especially poorliness.

The refreshing zing required a soothing background of tender lemon chicken and rice.  The vegetables needed to be cut small so they practically melted into the rice and the patient doesn’t pick out their nutrients.

Poached chicken
The chicken breast poached in stock and a dash of lemon juice adds a light protein to the dish, perfect for rebuilding energy.  I have specified below that using bouillon in this instance is fine but typically I didn’t have any so I poached my chicken with some ends of veg and herbs to impart a bit of flavour.  A stock on the go if you will.

lemon chicken with ginger rice2Lemon Poached Chicken with Gingery Rice

Serves 2

1 chicken breast
Stock for poaching, bouillon is fine to use
Juice of ½ lemon
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
½ courgette, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
30g root ginger
½ chilli, seeds removed, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
300g cooked basmati rice
1 tsp sesame salt

  1. Place the chicken breast with the lemon juice, bay leaf and sprig of thyme in a small saucepan and enough hot stock to cover. Bring to a simmer then put the lid on. The chicken should take about 10 mins depending on the size of the chicken breast.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil with the onions for 5 mins until soft.
  3. Add the courgette and carrot and stir-fry on a medium-high heat.
  4. Peel then grate in almost all the ginger, leaving some to cut into small matchsticks for later.
  5. Add the chilli and garlic and stir for 3-4 mins until the veg is starting to brown.
  6. Add the rice and sesame salt and stir until the rice is piping hot. You might need to add a dash more olive oil if the rice is sticking.
  7. Take off the heat and serve with the poached chicken, lemon slices and the ginger matchsticks.
Puppy and Tiger

Even though puppy and my little tiger make excellent companions sleeping on my sick bed none of them have yet learnt how to whip up a chicken soup.

Goi Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Salad)

Goi Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Salad)

There are some days when nothing goes right. More often than not these days are one off instances where you can wake up the next day, brush yourself off and start anew. This week that did not happen. I am having an unprecedented run of bad luck days. Recipes haven’t worked, food has been burnt and binned and photos have looked plain bad. Never mind the time that I turned my back for one minute and my darling cat jumped on the table, upending a huge bowl of salad and garlicky dressing all over the carpet. Bless.

Food and I are in a funk. This isn’t particularly helpful if you trying to document your kitchen adventures. Here everybody, here’s a picture of my bin overflowing with half baked quinoa gluten-free biscuits soldered onto greaseproof paper. (Don’t worry, that recipe will come good one day, quinoa and I just need a time out at the moment).

There really was only one way to lift me out of the doldrums and put me back on top, by treating myself to a tried and tested recipe. A salad which I know will set me on the right course again.

This salad has known many incarnations in my life. It reminds me of our trip to Vietnam a couple of years ago where every restaurant had their own version, we even spent a brilliant day in Hoi An learning exactly how it’s supposed to be made at the Redbridge Cookery School which I cannot recommend enough the next time you are popping by Hoi An. Regularly I’m sure.

The salad also reminds me of the time I was suffering from a broken foot, I was woefully unable to stand or place any weight on the severely bandaged appendage and a wonderful friend schlepped up from Clapham laden with the ingredients to make her own version of it for me.

It has also been the feature of recent hazy nights out on the Kingsland Road, dropping into one of the Vietnamese cafés for a cheap plate of zingy salad and a bowl of rice noodles to soak up the alcohol.

Safe to say, this salad holds a special place in my heart. It also doesn’t mind if you muck around with some of the ingredients as you can substitute in whatever you have to hand, a bit of pak choi, some sugar snap peas or red peppers. You can swap the chicken for duck or beef or just plain leave it out. I would normally add a few dry roasted peanuts crushed up on top but I didn’t have any on stand by today, but do add some in if you like.

Now, I’m not really one for kitchen gadgets but there is one that I picked up from Lakeland which has slowly become invaluable and makes a bit of an appearance today. A julienne vegetable peeler. Sounds a bit fancy but it is whipped out if I want to make a quick coleslaw or grate some carrots or courgettes. If I use a normal grater I often find the vegetables turn to pulp. This is quick to use, quick to wash and only about £3. So I use it here to juilienne the carrots and the mooli but if you can’t get hold of one then you can just grate them.

Vietnamese chicken salad

 

Goi Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Salad)

4 chicken thighs with skins
2 tsp 5-spice powder
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
½ small mooli, julienned
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
3 leaves of chinese leaf, cut into very fine strips
2 handfuls of beansprouts
2 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp chopped dry roasted peanuts

for the dressing
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp fish sauce
½ red chilli, seeds removed and diced

  1. Coat the chicken thighs with the 5-spice powder and the olive oil and roast on a roasting tray in a pre-heated oven at 180°C.
  2. Put the onion in a small saucepan and cook on a low heat for 15 mins until crispy and caramelized, set aside.
  3. Mix together the mooli, carrots, chinese leaf, beansprouts and herbs in a large bowl and set aside.
  4. When ready, remove the chicken from the oven and leave for about 5 minutes until cool enough to handle.
  5. Meanwhile you can make the dressing. Just add all the ingredients together and give a good stir. Set aside whilst you finish off the salad.
  6. Tear the meat and the skin off the chicken into chunks and tip into a bowl, pour over the sticky bits from the roasting tray and mix it all up which will add a bit of juiciness to the salad. Then mix all the chicken into the salad ingredients until the meat is evenly dispersed and pour over the dressing. Serve with the crispy onion and the peanuts scattered over the top.

Oxtail and Sweet Potato Pie

Oxtail and Sweet Potato Pie

On a Saturday my husband will kindly offer to go to the butcher to get our meat for the week, usually so he doesn’t have to watch another Vampire Diaries episode. On his return I am treated to the grand presentation whereupon 85% of the items he brings back actually featured on the list he was given. Invariably there is a surprise or two to thoughtfully throw me off course. A more resigned edition of Ready Steady Cook which then usually involves a separate trip to the shops to buy whatever is needed to help prepare it. There are certain things which have been banned from this game, one of which is wild rabbit, which was greeted with stony silence after the third time it was produced out of the butchers hat in a matter of weeks.

The chefs special this week though was oxtail which was an excellent addition to our menu. Oxtail is definitely a weekend cut of meat as it takes a while to get really soft and juicy so benefits from a really slow braise. The results are always worth the wait and a little of it can go a long way due to the richness of the meat. I needed then an accompaniment to cut through the dark intensity and decided to make cottage pie but using sweet potato to make the end result a bit lighter. This was a new recipe which worked better than I had hoped. The melting meat bubbled up underneath, caramelising with the fluffy topping and making the edges all chewy. Adding a lot of dijon mustard at the beginning of the oxtail braise also helps to thicken the gravy without the addition of flour and imparts a creamy depth rather than a strong mustard flavour.

Just as the pie came out of the oven the sky suddenly opened up outside. Now I’m not saying that the rain is an essential element to this supper but it really was rather wonderful forking the piping hot pie into my mouth whilst looking out of a drowning window, the water thundering down onto the pane.

Oxtail and sweet potato pie

1 kilo oxtail
2 tbsp olive oil
2 sticks celery, diced
1 large onion, sliced thinly
2 large carrots, diced
1 litre stock
100ml dijon mustard
2 x bay leaves
2 x sprigs thyme
2 x cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp salt
1 kilo sweet potatoes
30g unsalted butter
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

  1. Rub salt and pepper over the oxtail then in a large casserole pot heat up the olive oil on the hob and add the oxtail.
  2. Braise the oxtail for about 10 mins until browned then remove.
  3. Add the celery, onion and carrots to the casserole pot and heat on a low heat for about 10 mins until softened. Remove from the casserole and set aside.
  4. Add the oxtail back into the pot, then pour in the stock, the Dijon mustard, bay leaves, thyme, garlic and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 2 hours then add back in the carrots, celery and onion and cook for a further 1½ hours until the oxtail is falling off the bone and the gravy has thickened.
  5. Remove the bay and thyme leaves and the oxtail bones. Make sure you remove the hard caps which may have fallen off the oxtail bones as they can be a surprise when you bite down on them.
  6. Pierce the whole sweet potatoes several times with a sharp knife.
  7. Wrap each one individually in foil then bake at 200°C for about 1¼ hours until the potatoes are softened.
  8. Scrape the each potato from its skin and then mash the bright orange flesh with the butter, nutmeg and salt and pepper.
  9. In an ovenproof dish, layer all the oxtail the add the sweet potato mash on top, dragging a fork over to allow the mash to crisp up in the oven.
  10. Bake in the oven for 30-40 mins at 180°C. Serve piping hot.