Spiced okra

This is an absolutely amazing way of preparing okra, a dish that I can never make too often. I found it at random, when searching for a quick and tasty way of preparing okra.

Ingredients:

1/2 lb Okra
1 tablespoon Ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1 teaspoon Chili powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 cup Lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Vegetable oil (I use a lot less, for a non-stick pan)

Directions:

Mix cumin, turmeric, chili powder, salt and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add mustard and mix into a wet paste.

Cut stems off okra then split them three quarters of the way down. Split them again, dividing pods into 4 equal parts that are held together at the narrow end tip. Pour a little of the paste in to the openings, spread it lightly all over but the narrow tip. Sprinkle with salt (I never do this bit, don’t think more salt is needed.)

Heat oil in a skillet and fry okra, covered, till tender, about 10 minutes, turning them once.

I serve this with my usual turmeric basmati rice. As for meat, grilled chicken breasts always work, though have had it with roast beef and pork cutlets too.

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Pot-roast pheasant with chestnuts

This one is a keeper, from The Sunday Times magazine. I made this recipe just once this year, in November, when chestnuts abound and butchers have pheasants on offer. The red current jelly served on the side is a must.

Serves 4
2 oven-ready pheasants
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
100g smoked pancetta, cubed or cut into strips (I often get bacon rashers from local butcher and cube them)
12-15 small round shallots, peeled (or 4 banana shallots, peeled and halved) – 250g in total
1 big stick of celery, halved lengthways and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g cooked, peeled chestnuts, quartered (an easy way to cook chestnuts is to put them in a microwave, covered, for about 3 minutes)
125ml red wine
250ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
10cm strip of orange zest
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Season the birds inside and out. Heat the oil in a casserole dish big enough to hold both pheasants. Add the birds and cook for a minute or so each side, to brown the skin. Remove from the pan and put to one side. Place the pancetta and shallots in the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until they start to brown. Throw in the celery and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes more. Add the chestnuts and the birds, breast down. Pour over the wine, bubble for a minute, then add all the remaining ingredients. Stir, bring to a simmer, then cover and put in the oven for 40 minutes.

Finally, turn the pheasants breast side up. Return the dish to the oven for 15-20 minutes without the lid, to brown the breast a little. The pheasants are done when the legs pull away easily from the carcass.

Cream of fennel soup

This, together with the white bean & smoked bacon soup, has to be my favourite. Another worthwhile recipe from The Sunday Times magazine. It’s sophisticated, smooth with complex flavours, the result of combination of fennel, Pernod and nutmeg.

Serves 6
75g butter (I use about 50g max)
1 medium leek, white part only, chopped
3 large fennel bulbs, trimmed of stalks (you want about 750g trimmed weight), chopped, and fronds reserved (these really make a difference when serving)
1 medium, floury potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
4 tbsp Pernod
1 litre chicken stock
150ml double cream
Salt and pepper
Nutmeg

Melt the butter in a large saucepan (again I use my 26cm Le Creuset casserole dish). Add the leek and fennel and sweat gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften. Add the potato, stir, then pour in the Pernod and cook for a minute to bubble off the alcohol. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.

Cook until the potato is done — about 15 minutes. Add the cream and bring to the boil again, then turn off the heat and liquidise. To do this I use a handheld blender which works really well, turning the soup into lovely smooth texture. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, dusting the top of each one with nutmeg and scattering with some of the reserved fennel fronds.

Baked pears with ginger and cardamom

A wonderful dessert (from the Sunday Times magazine) for those times you don’t want to make anything too heavy or have only a few minutes to prepare. The most important about this is the right size of the tin, as pears need to be close together so all the buttery, cardamomy and gingery goodness permeates through them.

4 pears, peeled, halved and cored
75g dark brown sugar
4 tbsp runny honey
1½ tsp ground ginger (I used fresh ginger, thinly sliced using a grater)
Juice and finely grated zest of ½ lemon
4 tbsp unsalted butter
8 cardamom pods, squashed

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Put the pear halves in a small roasting pan, cut side down and in a single layer, so they fit relatively snugly. Sprinkle with the sugar, honey, ginger, lemon juice and zest. Dot with the butter and tuck in the cardamom pods.

Put the pan in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, turning the pears cut side up and basting halfway through, until the fruit is tender and the sauce is bubbling and sweet. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then serve with cream, ice cream or yoghurt.

White bean and smoked bacon soup

This is one of my winter staples. Heart-warming soup works both as a main course for a simple dinner or a starter to a bigger evening meal.

Ingredients:
250g dried cannellini, haricot or butter beans (I normally use waitrose canned cannellini or butter beans, which work perfectly)
6 cloves (I used as many as necessary to turn one onion into a hedgehog)
2 onions
handful of parsley stalks
8-12 black peppercorns
1-2 bay leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
1-2 stick celery diced
2 carrots diced
200g piece smoked bacon cubed (I use about 4 smoked bacon rashers from my local butchers or a packet of pancetta/lardons)
1 litre chicken stock or ham stock (when in a hurry I use knorr chicken cubes, no MSG or preservatives)
150ml single cream
chopped parsley to garnish
Go easy with the seasoning – the bacon means you shouldn’t need salt at all.

Put the beans into a large pan and cover with 1 litre water. Stick the cloves into one of the oinions and add it to the pan along with the parsley stalks, peppercorns and bay. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum, then partly cover. Turn down to a simmer and cook for an hour, with the lid on. Drain the beans and discard the onion, bay and parsley stalks.
Chop the other onion finely. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the onion, celery, carrot and bacon (keep back some of the bacon to fry for a garnish).
Cook gently until golden. Add the beans and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 25-30 minutes. The beans should collapse completely – press them with the back of a wooden spoon to help them along. Add the cream (if using), season with pepper and taste. Quickly dry-fry the rest of the bacon, divide it between each serving of soup and scatter with parsley.

Note: I used coriander instead of parsley on occasion and it works well too. Different stock also affects the flavour, I found that using my own chicken stock makes for a creamier, less pronounced taste compared to the knorr chicken stock cubes.

Chestnut chocolate chilled cake

Nigella Lawson’s recipe as recommended by Jackie the other day has been an umitigated success.

Ingredients:

500g (2 tins) sweetened chestnut purée (I used one can of unsweetened Merchant Gourmet Chestnut puree, and followed the instructions on the tin to make it sweet, which produced the right quantity of chestnut puree for the recipe)
175g soft, unsalted butter
300g dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
3 tablespoons dark rum

to serve:
crème fraîche
crystallised violets (didn’t use)

Beat the purée in a bowl until it’s smooth, and then add the butter, beating again to make a well-blended mixture.

Melt the chocolate and let it cool slightly, before adding it to the chestnut and butter in the bowl. Beat in the rum, and spoon the chocolate mixture into a 23 x 10cm loaf tin (I used a slightly deeper but approximately shaped tupperware box, which worked fine), lined with clingfilm, in two batches, making sure the first layer reaches the corners and sides of the bottom of the tin before you smooth over the rest. Wrap the overhanging clingfilm over the cake so that it is completely covered, and put it in the fridge to set for at least four hours, but a day or so in advance if you want.

Don’t take the loaf tin out of the fridge until you want to eat it, when you just unmould the cake, cut it into thin slices and serve with crème fraîche or sour cream.

I must say this was absolutely delicious, even without any cream.

Chicken with olives and lemons

A very delicious and light way of preparing whole chicken. One of those first time recipes that will definitely be repeated. I buy King olives in the North End road market in one of the Middle Eastern shops, probably for a fraction of price I’d pay in a supermarket or a deli. 🙂

Ingredients:
Serves 6

1 very large chicken (I used corn-fed chicken from my local butchers which wasn’t that large but was enough for 3 people plus one left over portion)
3 whole lemons quartered (I used 2 due to smaller size chicken, see above)
24 green and purple giant olives (I used about 18 olives from a jar of king olives I found a jar in a middle eastern deli in North End Road, which were fabulously flavoursome)
1 kg new potatoes
60ml olive oil (these days I use light & mild olive oil)
salt & pepper

Heat the oven to 170C / gas 3. Season the chicken inside and out, fill its cavity with most of the lemon pieces and olives and shake.

Take a large cast-iron pot and put the potatoes in the bottom. Mix the oil with the rest of the lemon pieces and olives and squash them slightly. Put the chicken in the pot on top of the potatoes and pour the oil and lemon mixture over it, letting the bits roll off on to the spuds. Season well, then put the pot in the oven and shut the door for at least 90 minutes.

Check the chicken is cooked by sticking a skewer between the legs and breast. If the juice runs clear, it is done, otherwise put it back in the oven.

When done, lift the chicken from the pot and pour all the bits from inside the cavity over the potatoes. Place the pot over a high heat and bring to the boil while you cut the chicken into big chunks. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot along with any juices, turn off the heat and take the whole lot to the table.

Everything just fit into my new Le Creuset oval pot roast dish, but any larger chicken or more potatoes would be too much in which case I would use 26 cm casserole Le Creuset. I added some green peas on the side, both for taste and colour.

I served the meal with white Burgundy: Blason de Bourgogne Montagny 1er Cru

Notes:
1. Nick adds turmeric to the dish for colour.

2. originally found in the Sunday telegraph but google search only shows the same recipe in the Times online.