Sunday, 10 January 2010
I have been experiencing the cook’s equavilent of writer’s block. I have been cooking, but more out of necessity than desire, and while most of the stuff I've made has been OK, nothing really excited me. Most evenings in the past week I made mish-mash sort of curries using whatever vegetables were in the fridge and a jar of Madras paste and taking the leftovers to work for lunch, or made things using from bits of a chicken.
Last weekend I bought a whole small chicken to joint and use throughout the week. This was something I’d been meaning to do for ages since I knew it was far cheaper than buying pre-jointed pieces. Even though I don’t actually buy chicken very often I thought it would make a nice change, and when my housemate came back from Asda announcing that a whole chicken was only about 3p more expensive than a pair of breasts, I decided to give it a go. (Incidently a very small free-range, corn-fed bird was only about £4.)
I jointed the chicken, which I had tried a few times in the pat and made a mess of, but it was easier than I expected. The key is pulling the leg as far away from the body as possible, until it ‘pops’ slightly and then putting the knife through the joint. Wriggle around until you feel a slight dent - you should not be putting through very much bone, and shouldn’t need to press very hard.
On Saturday, the drumsticks and thighs went into a casserole with onions, bacon, white wine, cream, and lots of parsley added at then end. I was hoping the green freshness would somehow ‘cancel out’ all the cream and alcohol.
The leftover bones, and the carcass with the breasts still attached went into a pot with a broken up celery stick, a halved, unpeeled onion (the skin adds colour to the stock - in the Second World War women used onion skins to make a dye for their legs because they didn’t have stockings). I was surprised how long the breasts took to cook when they were attached to the bone, about 40 minutes. These were cut off and put away to be used at a later date: the carcass went back in to the pot for another hour or two.
The stock and some leftover rice made a vaguely south-east Asian soup which was probably the highlight of the week. I threw a small piece of star anise, a dried chilli and a big lump of ginger into the simmering stock to infuse while I chopped up some of the leftover breast meat, finely sliced a leek and chopped a handful of (admittedly quite old and droopy) cabbage. This all went into the stock with some cooked rice and just before I ate it I added more very finely chopped ginger, parsley and fish sauce. It was soothing but sprightly.
The last of the breast meat went into leeks and white sauce made with white wine and water instead of milk, some grain mustard and the tiniest drop of Worcester sauce. Nestled under some pastry it made a rather sweet looking pie for one. Interestingly I made the pastry (just normal shortcrust) quickly without paying much attention, and used margarine rather than butter, and it was the best I'd made in ages. Is margarine the answer, or maybe the need to make it quickly meant I didn't over handle it? The pie went down well with buttery steamed spinach and a not-too-bad white wine.
Looking back on this I think I have simply been suffering from chicken fatigue. I plan to rectify this with mackerel, possibly grilled with smoked paprika; fennel, whose medicinal scent seems just right after the excesses of December; and if I can get my hands on any I really fancy some salsify.
Sunday, 3 January 2010
I am starting a new job next week but I feel like I’m about to start primary school all over again: I’m a bit nervous, I don’t know what the other boys and girls will be like and I hope I won’t get lost in the unfamiliar corridors.
There’s an ironed shirt hanging in my wardrobe and I even polished my shoes, but most importantly I have a little lunchbox prepared in the fridge. No day can be too daunting with the prospect of something good to eat halfway through it.
This salad of rice, chicken, parsley, dried cranberries and seeds seemed to be a low risk option. It can’t leak into my handbag, and it won’t smell strong (I’ll be saving the smoked mackerel and Thai salads reeking of fish sauce for when I’m a bit more settled in). Also, I find the Christmassiness of the red, white and green immensely cheering when it’s January, cold and grey, and spring is still a fantasy.
It’s loosely based on the North American salad in (I think) Nigella Lawson’s Feast made of leftover turkey, wild rice, cranberries and pecans. I had meant to include pecans in mine, but forgot to buy any, and anyway I think the seasoned seeds I used are possibly even better. I am hugely excited about these: pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds mixed with a bit of soy until they are conker-shiny, sprinkled with smoked paprika and baked in a medium heat oven until dry. Be warned - these are dangerously moreish.
Although I made this from scratch, writing the recipe out make me realise it’s the perfect way to use up leftover cooked chicken or rice. Although these sorts of salads are a good time to experiment and are best made by adding what you think looks right, try not to treat them as a dustbin by putting in absolutely anything that needs using up.
About a cup of cooked rice (sorry, I didn’t measure anything for this)
A small handful of cooked chicken - I used the meat taken from one drumstick, and dark meat is better here
One very small leek, sliced into rings
Toasted seeds or nuts, whatever takes your fancy
Flat leaf parsley - lots
Dressing - nothing fancy, I like one part wine vinegar to five of olive oil
Cook the leek in a tiny drop of water until just tender, either in a small saucepan or you can do it in the microwave in the bowl you’ll mix the rest of the salad in later, then allow to cool. Mix the rice, the chicken cut into little chunks, and whatever proportions of cranberries, seeds and parsley please you. I like a lot of parsley so it almost ressembles tabbouleh. Douse in dressing.