Week Nineteen

Menu One

Halloween Chicken with Roast Beetroot & Butternut Squash Mash with Sage (Serves 4-6)

This is a delicious roast chicken recipe, the beetroot is cooked beneath the chicken and so becomes really tasty having soaked up the chicken juices. You must serve it with the butternut squash (recipe below), as its sweetness really compliments the earthy flavours of the beetroot, plus it makes the dish incredibly colourful! Despite its name, this roast chicken recipe is not just for Halloween, it is a winner throughout the colder months!

I found this recipe on Nina Parker’s website, she is the also the author of one of my favourite cookbooks, ‘Nina’s St Tropez’.

1 chicken, approx. 1.8kg

3 red onions, sliced

5 beetroot, cut into 6ths

20 garlic cloves, skins on, lightly smashed with the back of a knife

2  lemons, 1 quartered and the other juiced

Small bunch of sage

4 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Place a few of the smashed garlic cloves, the lemon quarters, and a few sage leaves in the cavity of the chicken.
  2. Put a little olive oil in a large roasting tin and place the chicken in the centre.
  3. Place the chopped beetroot, sliced red onions and the remaining garlic cloves around the chicken. Pour over the juice of the lemon, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper – mix everything around to get a good coating.
  4. Place in a preheated oven, 190’c, for 25 minutes then turn over the chicken, and return to the oven for a further 25 minutes.
  5. Remove the tray from the oven, stir around the vegetables – remove any that are cooked and place to one side covered with foil. Turn the chicken back over to crisp up the skin, placing in the oven for a further 15 – 25 minutes by which time both, all of the vegetables and chicken should be cooked.
  6. Serve the chicken with the roast beetroot, onions and garlic and mashed butternut squash with sage (recipe below).

Butternut Squash Mash with Sage (Serves 4)

This is a recipe which I found in Leith’s cookbook ‘How to Cook’. Roasting the butternut squash instead of simply boiling it, makes all the difference – the flavour is much more intense. The browned butter (buerre noisette) gives the squash a delicious nutty flavour. This is a great recipe to remember as a side for other dishes!

1 large butternut squash (about 700-800g once peeled and cubed)

50g unsalted butter

A few sage leaves

  1. Peel, half and deseed the butternut squash, cut into 3 cm cubes and place in a bowl. Melt 10g of the butter and pour it over the squash, season with salt and pepper and mix well. Place in a roasting tin and roast in a preheated oven, 200’c, for about 45 minutes, until the squash is very tender – a knife should pass through very easily.
  2. Place the cooked squash in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Meanwhile melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan. Cook over a moderate heat to a ‘buerre noisette’ – until it is a deep golden brown and gives off a slightly nutty aroma.
  4. Slice the sage leaves finely then add them, with the puréed squash, to the butter (buerre noisette). Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Menu Two

Simple Butternut Squash Soup (Serves 4)

This really is a straightforward recipe, no ‘bells or whistles’, it simply focuses on the lovely flavour of the butternut squash. You can use either vegetable stock (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Boullion Powder) or water. To serve stir through a spoonful of créme fraiche and sprinkle with some chilli flakes and, if you fancy, as I often do, some freshly chopped sage. This is great served with either fresh crusty bread or gluten free ‘Oat Bread’ (recipe below).

1 butternut squash, about 700g when peeled and cubed

2 banana shallots, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

25g unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

About 600ml vegetable stock or water (see note above)

Salt and pepper

To Serve:

Créme Frâiche

Chilli flakes

4 -6 sage leaves, finely chopped

  1. Peel, halve and deseed the butternut squash, cut into 3cm cubes.
  2. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and garlic. Cook gently until softened but not coloured.
  3. Add the butternut squash, stir and pour over enough stock or water to just cover the squash. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes until completely cooked  and very tender – a knife should pass through easily.
  4. To blend place in a food processor or use a hand blender (if you want a ‘looser’ soup add a little milk). Check the seasoning.
  5. Serve in bowls with a dollop of crème frâiche swirled through and a sprinkling of chilli flakes and freshly chopped sage.

Oatmeal Bread

425g rolled oats

A scant teaspoon of sea salt

2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

2 tablespoons of mixed seeds

1 egg

500g natural yogurt

  1. Preheat oven to 200’c. Line a 900g/1Ib loaf tin with baking parchment.
  2. Mix together the oats, salt, bicarbonate of soda and mixed seeds.
  3. Whisk the egg into the yogurt. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Scoop the dough into the tin and bake for 50 minutes.
  5. Turn out of the tin and bake the loaf for a further 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Menu Three

Apple Gingerjack (Serves 6)

This is a great pudding that is from Nigella Lawson’s cookbook, ‘At My Table’. Being gluten free, I often find it difficult to find wheat free ‘cosy, cake- like’ puddings but this recipe uses oatmeal for the topping so is totally gluten free! It is best served warm or at room temperature rather than hot – I’ve even eaten the leftovers cold for breakfast – delicious!!

I like to serve this with either double cream or clotted cream, but of course custard would be good too!

For the base:

15g unsalted butter

2 tablespoons golden syrup

750g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3cm chunks

For the topping:

200g Fine oatmeal (if required make sure it’s totally gluten free)

75g soft light brown sugar

4 teaspoons ground ginger, plus a extra ¼ teaspoon for sprinkling

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

250ml full-fat milk

125g unsalted butter, soft, cut into cubes

1½ tablespoons demerara sugar

Double or clotted cream, or custard (to serve)

  1. Gently melt 15g butter in a large saucepan (in which the apples will fit – not too heaped up), once melted add the syrup, stir well and then add the apples. Cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently , until the apples start to soften around the edges – have a fuzzy appearance. Pour into a pie dish.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the fine oatmeal, soft light brown sugar, 4 teaspoons of ginger and the bicarbonate of soda together, using your fingers to break up any lumps in the sugar.
  3. Using the same saucepan that you used to make the apple mixture, heat the milk and 125g butter together gently, until the butter is melted and the milk is almost at boiling point. Remove from the heat and, using a wooden spoon, stir in the oatmeal mixture beating until smooth – it will thicken a little.
  4. Pour the oatmeal mixture over the apples, spreading it out to cover them evenly.
  5. Mix the ¼ teaspoon of ginger with the demerara sugar and sprinkle over the top.
  6. Place in a preheated oven, 180’c, and bake for about 30 minutes until the apple is soft and the top has firmly set.
  7. Let it stand for about 30 minutes or more and serve warm at room temperature with double or clotted cream, or custard.

Week Eighteen

A couple of weeks ago I visited my favourite bookshop in London, ‘Books for Cooks’, as its name suggests, this shop in Notting Hill sells only cookbooks. Yes, I know I have far too many books already but now that I have started Menu Mistress I have the perfect excuse to feed my addiction. Anyway, I had a wonderful time, I spent far too long browsing the shelves (to the point that it was a little embarrassing!), but eventually I decided on three books. I’m not sure when I’m going to have time to cook all these new recipes – or even some of them, but for me, the beauty of cookbooks is that simply by reading them you can ‘travel’, not only into other people’s kitchens, but into their lives and cultures…

 One book that I bought was a little second hand French recipe book, it was printed in 1960 and the recipes (admittedly a little dated), take you on a tour of France with lots of photos of the regions, it’s almost like a tourist guide with recipes. I found myself planning a journey through France to all these culinary destinations – I’m not sure when that will happen, Covid or no Covid, but it’s a lovely dream, in the meantime I can cook my way around!

The other thing I love about cookery books, is the photography. I must admit that I always make a note to try to emulate the photos when I take those of my own dishes, the problem is, is that the dishes I prepare, unlike those made for cookbooks, are made to be eaten, so I don’t have the luxury of letting the food go cold to photograph them from every angle, not to mention that I don’t have the studio lighting! In fact this weeks photos were particularly difficult – believe me trying to make a curry and a fish pie look attractive is very difficult – even when you brighten up the ‘brown’ curry with a little chopped coriander!…Anyway my iphone camera did its best, I urge you to use a little imagination with this week’s photos as believe me, the menus are all delicious! Menu One is Chicken Korma, a recipe from Marcus Wareing’s cookbook, ‘Marcus at Home’. Whilst Menu Two is a traditional Fish Pie, it is a recipe which I found in a magazine years ago, it is perfect for cooking midweek. I also have another favourite fish pie recipe (from Gordon Ramsay), it is more elegant and creamy, however, does require more attention, so it is more suited to weekend cooking, I will share this recipe in the future. Finally, Menu Three is Spaghetti with Tuna and Anchovy, an excellent combination of flavours and extremely easy to make, hence I am also sharing it on my @Uni page.

Have a lovely week!…

…Plus, there’s a new review on my Eating Out page – we recently enjoyed a great lunch at Chez Bruce, Wandsworth Common, SW17 …

Menu One

Chicken Korma (Serves 4)

This is a really lovely, delicately spiced curry from Marcus Wareing’s cookbook,’ Marcus at Home’. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, they are mostly spices which you’ll have in your cupboard. It is important to marinate the chicken, I like to leave mine overnight as I really do think it enhances the flavour, but you could leave it for just a couple of hours.

It is a mild curry, so if you prefer more heat serve it with some chilli flakes sprinkled over. I serve this with Steamed Aromatic Basmati Rice – another recipe from Marcus Wareing. On the side I like mango chutney (I use the brand ‘Geeta’s’ which is available in most supermarkets) and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or crème fraiche, you could also serve it with some poppadoms!

This recipe does make more curry paste than you need, but you can keep it in the fridge for a quick meal another day.

*A tip: rather than peeling the ginger with a knife try peeling it with a teaspoon, just hold the spoon firmly near the base of its bowl and rub the concave side down the knob of ginger, scraping off the skin. Seriously you will be surprised how much easier it is! (Click here to see the video!)

For the Marinade:

500g skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed into 2.5cm pieces

100ml groundnut or olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated (see tip above)

Freshly ground black pepper

For the Curry Paste:

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon garam marsala

Pinch of flaked sea salt

1 garlic clove, crushed

1cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (see note above)

50g ground almonds

For the Curry Sauce:

2 tablespoons groundnut oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 cinnamon stick

4 cardamom pods, crushed

100ml white wine

400ml tin coconut milk

1 tablespoon fish sauce

Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped, plus extra sprigs to serve

Plain Greek yogurt or crème frâiche to serve

Mango chutney to serve

  1. First marinate your chicken for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight – see note above). Place the chicken in a bowl with 100ml oil, garlic, ginger and few turns of freshly ground black pepper, mix well. Cover and place in the fridge.
  2. To make the paste, simply pound the spices together in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of flaked sea salt, the garlic and ginger. Once combined add 100ml of water and stir in the ground almonds.
  3. To make the curry sauce, heat a large saucepan over a moderate heat with 2 tablespoons of groundnut oil. Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, cinnamon and cardamom and sauté for about 5 minutes until the onion is soft but not coloured.
  4. Stir in about 4 tablespoons of the curry paste and cook for a couple of minutes to allow the spice flavours to come out. (The remaining sauce can be kept in the fridge for another day).
  5. Pour in the wine, let it bubble to reduce down. Slowly add the coconut milk, stirring. Finally add the fish sauce, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the carrot is tender.
  6. Meanwhile heat a dry frying pan over a high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess oil, add to the hot pan and quickly brown the chicken pieces all over – do this in batches as you don’t want to overcrowd the pan.
  7. Add the browned chicken pieces to the sauce and simmer for about 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
  8. Season to taste, remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, sprinkle with the chopped coriander.
  9. Serve with Steamed Aromatic Basmati Rice (recipe below), a dollop of yogurt (or crème frâiche), mango chutney and more chopped coriander. If you want extra heat sprinkle over some chilli flakes.

Steamed Aromatic Basmati Rice (Serves 4)

250g pure basmati rice

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon cardamom pods, lightly crushed with the back of a spoon

  1. First of all clean the rice by rinsing it in a bowl of water, repeat this 3-4 times until the water is less cloudy. Then cover a final time and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
  2. Drain the rice in a sieve and place in a saucepan.
  3. Add 600ml water and the salt and spices. Bring to the boil, cover and immediately lower the heat and cook gently for 10 minutes – do not remove the lid during this time!
  4. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat, keeping the lid firmly on. Leave to stand for 5 minutes.
  5. Finally, remove the lid and fork through the rice, remove the cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom pods before serving.

Menu Two

Old Fashioned Fish Pie (Serves 4)

This is a great, simple midweek fish pie recipe, I like that the fish is poached first in milk and that this milk, with the fish flavours, then makes the sauce. I like to serve this simply with peas.

4 Eggs

300ml full fat milk

200g smoked haddock fillets, skin on

300g cod fillets, skin on

50g unsalted butter

250g leeks, dark leaves discarded, the rest thinly sliced.

1 tablespoon flour (gluten free if required)

Small bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves chopped

For the Topping:

1 kg floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper

125ml hot full fat milk

Large knob of butter

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Boil the eggs for 8 minutes, drain and shell. Cut each egg into quarters.
  2. Pour 300ml of milk into a wide pan and lay the fish fillets skin side up in it. Heat gently until the fish is just cooked and the skin peels away easily. Remove the fish from the pan, break into large pieces and put to one side. Strain the milk onto a jug.
  3. Melt half the butter (25g) in a saucepan and cook the leeks until soft, then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute or so then gradually add the reserved poaching milk. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  4.  Stir in the parsley and gently fold in the eggs and fish, trying not to break them up too much. Season and place in a pie dish.
  5. Meanwhile, peel and cut the potatoes up into equal chunks and steam until cooked through. Mash with 125ml of hot milk and the large knob of butter.
  6. Finally top the pie with the mashed potato and dot with the remaining 25g of butter.
  7. Bake in a preheated oven, 200’c, for 30 minutes until golden brown. Serve with peas.

Menu Three

Spaghetti with Anchovy & Tuna (Serves 4)

This recipe is one that I found in a the book ‘Cook, a Year in the Kitchen with Britain’s Favourite Chefs’, it has recipes from many renowned chefs including this one from the Michelin starred chef, Giorgio Locatelli. Don’t be put off by the fact that he is a professional cook – this recipe is very easy, it also uses store-cupboard ingredients so is a great weekday recipe to remember.

350g spaghetti (gluten free if required)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, each cut into quarters

4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

250g canned tuna in olive oil, drained

50ml white wine

50g capers, rinsed and drained

2 tomatoes, diced

To Serve:

10 basil leaves

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the garlic and fry over a gentle heat for about 3 minutes, then add the anchovies and cook until they have melted into the oil.
  2. Increase the heat and add the tuna, stir for a few minutes, then add the white wine, let it bubble for a few minutes for the alcohol to evaporate.
  3. Stir in the capers and tomatoes.
  4. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions until al dente.
  5. Drain the pasta, reserving 2-3 tablespoons of cooking water. Toss the spaghetti with the sauce, mixing in the basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil, season to taste. If the pasta seems a little dry add a little of the reserved cooking water.
  6. Serve – how simple is that!

Week Seventeen

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that when I’m cooking, I often like to play music – hence my MenuMusic page where, for fun, I share my playlists. In addition to music I like to listen to podcasts, unsurprisingly among my favourites are those with a focus on food! This week I’ve been catching up on some past episodes of ‘Table Manners’.

This podcast is hosted by a mother and daughter team who cook a meal for their celebrity guest; guests that I have particularly enjoyed listening to include George Alagiah, Jo Brand and Ellie Goulding. Over their dinner, guests talk about their food preferences, and most importantly what they would choose for their final meal before being cast off on a desert island. This concept of the ‘last supper’ is a popular theme; another podcast which I enjoy, ‘Desert Island Dishes’, poses the same question. It always intrigues me how the guests can easily answer the question, as when I imagine myself posed with that same question, I really struggle to make any definite decision – I have so many favourite dishes, and my preference for one in particular depends purely on my mood. For instance if I’m in the hot Italian sun, besides the sea, I would almost definitely choose a Spaghetti Vongole, but on another day, perhaps in the countryside when the weather is cold and grey, I would choose Venison with Celeriac Mash and Red Cabbage. Another deciding factor is whether I would be cooking the dish or whether I would be eating out in a restaurant. Decisions, decisions!

One of this week’s menus, Pork Chops with Pears & Crackling, would in fact be a dish which if…the weather was autumnal, like it is now, and I was cooking my ‘last supper’ at home, would be high on my shortlist! This week’s other two menus are also rather comforting. Menu Two is Cod with Lentils, the lentils really add a pleasing meaty flavour to this otherwise light fish dish. The leftover lentils are delicious served for lunch the next day, either as they are, as a hearty, thick soup or blended for a smoother consistency. Finally, a recipe which I will be also sharing on my MenuMistress@Uni page as everyone needs these ‘Emergency Chocolate Brownies’! This Brownie recipe is by Nigella Lawson it makes a small  portion for those days when you need a quick chocolate fix!…come to think of it, they would be great to stowaway with me on that desert island!..

Menu One

Pork Chops with Pears & Crackling Served with Mashed Potato and Tenderstem Broccoli (Serves 4)

This is one of our family’s favourites, a real ‘hug on a plate’ – a beautiful creamy dish. I found the recipe years ago in a magazine, the cutting is now rather dog-eared, as I’ve cooked it so many times! The crackling, which is made from the rind of the chops, is my personal addition to the recipe and one which, I must admit, is one of my more brilliant ideas(!); it is really worth making as it makes this dish extra special. I like to serve this with my ‘favourite’ mashed potato or, if I’m feeling a little lazy, jacket potatoes, and for some greenery I like tenderstem broccoli with lemon butter and almonds (all recipes are below).

1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

4 pork chops

4 bushy sprigs of thyme, leaves picked and chopped

2 medium pears

15g butter

200ml dry cider

150ml double cream

Sea salt and Black pepper

For the Crackling

1-2 tablespoons malt vinegar

Sea salt

  1. First of all make the crackling: cut off the rind from the chops. Score the rinds a couple of times. Pour boiling water over each piece, dry it, and sprinkle over the malt vinegar, rubbing it in, finally sprinkle with salt. Leave to one side for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, place on a baking tray and cook in the oven, 200’c, for 30 minutes until crisp.
  2. Meanwhile, lightly oil the chops, sprinkle over the thyme and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Halve and core the pears, cut into large dice. Melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the diced pear until golden and slightly caramelised on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. In the same pan brown the chops on each side over a moderate heat. When browned place on a baking tray and cook in the oven, 200’c, for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, deglaze the frying pan with the cider, stirring to dissolve any sticky residue that the chops have left behind. Boil and reduce the cider for 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add the cream, whisk lightly to mix in and allow to bubble down for a minute or so.
  7. Return the chops and the pears to the pan to reheat everything. Check the seasoning. Serve with the crackling, mashed potato or jacket potatoes and tenderstem broccoli (recipes below).

Click here to see the video of the crackling being made!

Favourite’ Mashed Potato (Serves 4)

There are numerous recipes for mashed potato, and yes, I have tried many, but this one is probably my favourite. It actually doesn’t contain any butter, which makes me feel that it could be healthy, although admittedly it does contain double cream! Don’t be put off by the garlic, you really can’t taste it, it just enhances the flavour of the potato. I must admit I ‘cheat’ when it comes to mashing, I am fortunate to have an amazing kitchen appliance, a Thermomix, this is a serious piece of kitchen kit; I can actually steam my potatoes in it and then mash them in seconds. If you don’t have a Thermomix you can either mash by hand, however,  for an easier option I would recommend doing as Delia Smith suggests in her ‘Winter Cookbook’ – whisk them with an electric hand whisk. When whisking them you do have to be careful – make sure that the potatoes are absolutely cooked, otherwise they will go gluey. Start off with the speed slow to break up the potatoes and then increase to a high speed to quickly whip them until smooth – don’t do it for too long, as again, they will go gluey, which is not good!

1kg potatoes (floury, such as Maris Piper)

100ml full-fat milk

100ml double cream

2 cloves garlic, sliced

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into even sized chunks. Steam until completely cooked through.
  2. Put the milk, cream and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat.
  3. Mash the potatoes (see note above) adding the milk mixture a little at a time. Season well with salt and pepper.

Perfect Jacket Potatoes (Serves 4)

Perfect Jacket Potatoes

I find that by lightly oiling the potatoes with olive oil before baking them, really helps crisp up the skins.

4 large baking potatoes

Olive oil

Sea salt

Butter to serve

  1. Prick the skins of the potatoes lightly with a fork. Using a piece of kitchen roll lightly wipe them over with some olive oil and then sprinkle with salt.
  2. Place directly on the shelf of a preheated oven, 200’c, and cook for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until the skins are crisp and the potato inside is deliciously fluffy!
  3. Serve with a knob of butter.

Tenderstem Broccoli with Lemon Butter and Almonds (Serves 4)

Tenderstem Broccoli with Lemon Butter & Almonds

This is a lovely fresh recipe which really takes tenderstem broccoli to another level.

200g Tenderstem Broccoli

20g unsalted butter

Juice of half a lemon

A generous handful of flaked almonds

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. First of all put the flaked almonds in a small, dry frying pan, place over a moderate heat, stirring, until the almonds are browned – toasted. Remove to a plate.
  2. Steam the tenderstem broccoli for about 4 minutes until just cooked.
  3. Melt the butter in  a small frying pan and add the lemon juice, stirring well.
  4. Add the tenderstem broccoli, stirring to give it a good coating of the butter mixture, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the reserved toasted almonds.

Menu Two

Cod with Braised Lentils and Prosciutto (Serves 4)

This is another recipe form J.Sheekey’s cookbook ‘Fish’ – it really is worth investing in this book as it has some great, easy recipes. The portion of lentils is very generous and you will probably have leftovers – which are great for lunch the next day as a soup – either as they are or if you want them smoother you could blend them. One of the reasons I love this recipe is that it gives me a good lunch the next day! In fact the lentil recipe is so good that I will be posting  it on my Side Dishes page, as they are great with other dishes, such as sausages.

4 slices of prosciutto

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

4 cod fillets, about 180g each

For the Lentils

250g puy lentils

40ml extra virgin olive oil

100g cubed pancetta

1 onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 leek, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked and chopped

2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and chopped

1 litre chicken stock

30g unsalted butter

½ bunch of parsley, chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. If you have time and remember, soak the lentils in cold water for an hour before you cook them. The recipe calls for this, but these days most puy lentils (I use ‘Merchant Gourmet’) don’t require soaking, but there is a theory that they are more digestible if soaked?!…
  2. Spread the prosciutto out on a baking tray and place in a preheated oven, 160’c, for about 20 minutes until crisp – keep an eye on them as you don’t want them to burn!
  3. Pour 20ml of the olive oil into a heavy bottomed saucepan and gently cook the cubed pancetta, onion, carrot, leek, celery, garlic, thyme and rosemary for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the lentils (drained if you soaked them), stir, then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until they are soft to toast – not too mushy. The consistency should be sauce like.
  5. Heat a frying pan with the sunflower oil. Season the cod and gently cook skin side down for 5 minutes. Turn over and cook for a further 4 minutes.
  6. To serve, reheat the lentils and gently stir in the butter and parsley, check the seasoning. Spoon the lentils onto plates, place the cod on top and garnish with the crispy prosciutto – delicious!!

Menu  Three

Emergency Chocolate Brownies (2 – 4 )

This is a brilliant recipe from Nigella Lawson – only she could have come up with the idea of ‘Emergency Brownies’ – the idea of a small batch for those days when you urgently need a chocolate fix!  This recipe makes 2 very generous brownies, so on a good day you’ll get 4!

This recipe is cooked in a foil appox. 18 x 11 x 5cm, so there is no need to line or grease it!

50g unsalted butter, softened

50g soft light brown sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup (or maple syrup)

3 tablespoons plain flour, gluten free if required

3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I use Green&Blacks)

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

50g walnut pieces (optional)

50g chocolate chips (plain or milk)

1 x foil tin approx. 18 x 11 x 5cm

  1. Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup into a small saucepan and gently heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  2. Mix together the flour, cocoa and salt, then beat into the butter mixture in the pan, until smooth.
  3. Whisk the egg with the vanilla and then stir it thoroughly into the pan mixture. Finally fold in the chocolate chips and walnut pieces (if using).
  4. Pour the mixture into the foil tin.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven, 170’c/ 150’c Fan, for 15-20 minutes until it is beginning to come away from the sides and the top has dried a little around the edges.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack in the tin and leave to cool for 20-30 minutes.

*Click here to see the video of this Brownie recipe!

Week Sixteen

Last year to celebrate my birthday, my girlfriends and I went to Paris for the day to enjoy lunch at a typical Parisian bistrot. The lunch was incredible and the authentic French atmosphere was the icing on the cake! The fact that we did this all in one day was rather exhilarating, it definitely highlighted one of the benefits of living in London – we left at 6am and were back home at 10.30pm (having gained an hour!). I was so impressed by this French daytrip that I repeated it a few months later with Nick. I was hoping to return again this autumn, but with Covid, unfortunately this treat will have to wait, so instead I’ve been looking through my many French cookbooks to feed my need for comforting bistrot food. I find traditional French food particularly comforting during the winter months; the generous lashings of cream and butter with the touch of cider or brandy is my heaven – indulgent yes, but we all need something to get through the winter months!

This week I am sharing a couple of my favourite ‘French style’ recipes, the first menu is Chicken au Cidre, a recipe from Normandy.The chicken is cooked in a pot with cider, and at the end of cooking the delicious cider and chicken juices are combined with crème fraiche to make a fantastic sauce! Menu Two is Duck, not ‘a l’Orange’ as is often the traditional, but with raspberries, I serve this with Dauphinoise Potatoes, a classic French indulgent dish – this menu is one of our family favourites! Menu Three is the popular bistrot dessert, Pot au Chocolate. You must try this recipe, I’ve tried many chocolate mousse recipes over the years and this is by far my favourite, very light with just the right level of chocolate! Of course I couldn’t ‘go to France’ without sharing a cocktail with you, and so to use the créme de cassis which is an ingredient in the raspberry sauce (for the duck), I thought it would be fun to share the recipe for a Kir Royale – super easy, you just need to add the champagne…it’s a great midweek pick-me-up!!

Finally, moving away from the French theme, but nevertheless very comforting, is a recipe which I am also sharing on my Menu Mistress @ Uni page, a simple midweek meal for all – Chicken, Pea and Leek traybake. Despite its simplicity it is very tasty, the vegetables are cooked under the chicken thighs so catch all their delicious juices!

Menu One

Chicken with Cider (Poulet au Cidre) (Serves 4)

This is a classic dish from Normandy and Brittany, the apple growing regions of France. The sauce, with the apples, is perfect for an autumnal evening meal. This recipe is taken from a  French recipe book I have had for many years, ‘The Food of France’ .

8 chicken thighs, skin on

2 dessert apples, such as granny smith

Juice of ½ lemon

60g butter

½ onion, finely chopped

½ celery stick, chopped

10g plain flour (gluten free if required)

80ml Calvados or brandy

375ml cider

100ml créme frâiche

  1. Peel and core the apples. Finely chop one half of one apple and cut the rest into 12 wedges. Toss in the lemon juice (this will stop it browning).
  2. Heat half the butter in a large frying pan and brown the chicken thighs, skin side down. Turn over and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the chicken. Pour away any fat and heat 20g more of the butter in the same pan. Add the celery, onion and chopped apple. Fry over a moderate heat for 5 minutes until softened but not browned.
  4. Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour, stir, then add the calvados (or brandy). Gradually add the cider, stirring.
  5. Bring to the boil, return the chicken to the pan, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (make a cut on the underside of the thigh beside the bone to check).
  6. Meanwhile heat the remaining butter in a small frying pan and fry the apple wedges over a moderate heat until browned on each side, and tender.
  7. Remove the chicken from the pan, keep warm. Skim off any excess fat from the sauce. Add the créme frâiche, bring back to the boil, and boil gently for 3-4 minutes until the sauce it slightly thickened – enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Check the seasoning.
  8. To serve, pour the sauce over the chicken with the apple wedges on the side. I like to serve this with Green Beans and Concetta’s potatoes (recipe below).

Staple Side Dish – Concetta’s Potatoes (Serves 4)

Concetta’s Potatoes

4 large potatoes – such as Maris Piper (roasting potatoes)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried sage

Sea salt and black pepper

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Olive oil

  1. Peel and slice the potatoes, and parboil in boiling water for 4 minutes.
  2. Place in a roasting tin, sprinkle over the rosemary, sage and garlic, season with salt and black pepper and drizzle over some olive oil – mix well.
  3. Place in a preheated oven, 200’c, for 35-40mins until crispy and well browned.

Menu Two

Duck Breast with Raspberries, Dauphinoise Potatoes and Tenderstem Broccoli (Serves 4)

Duck breasts are a great midweek meal as they are so easy to cook – just brown in a frying pan to render the fat, then place in the oven for about 10 minutes! The raspberry sauce in this recipe is lovely, as it has a slightly sweet, tangy flavour which compliments the rich meat of the duck perfectly. I like to serve the duck breasts quite pink, so if you prefer them more well done cook for a little longer than I have specified in the recipe. For a really special meal serve this dish with Dauphinoise Potatoes, I also like to serve Tenderstem Broccoli as it cuts the sweetness. The sauce calls for crème de cassis, which is something that you may not have lying around the house, but it is something which will keep for a very, very long time in your cupboard; I’m sure like me you’ll make this recipe again plus having it in the house gives you the perfect excuse to make a Kir Royale cocktail (recipe below!!). This duck recipe is also from my well used edition of  ‘The Food of France’.

4 duck breasts

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons demerara sugar

250ml red wine

150ml crème de cassis

1 tablespoon cornflour

250g raspberries (defrosted if frozen)

Black pepper

  1. Score the skin of the duck breasts, through the fat but not all the way through to the skin.
  2. Place the breasts in a dry frying pan, skin side down, over a low heat to render down most of the fat, this may take as much as 10-15 minutes. When the fat is rendered, turn up the heat to crisp up and brown the skin (about 2 minutes). Finally, turn over to sear the underside for minute or so. Remove the duck breasts from the pan, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Keep this pan to one side to make the sauce.
  3. Meanwhile mix together the sea salt, cinnamon and demerara sugar.
  4. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the browned duck skin, pressing it down with your hands. Season with black pepper.
  5. Place the duck breasts on a baking try and place in a preheated oven, 200’c for 10 minutes.
  6. To make the sauce, mix together the red wine and cassis in a jug. Pour about 100ml of the liquid into a small bowl and mix in the cornflour, then pour this back into the jug and stir.
  7. Return the pan (with the remaining 2 tablespoons of fat) to the heat and pour in the red wine and cassis. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until it has thickened and some of the alcohol has burned off. Add the raspberries and simmer for another minute to warm through. Check the seasoning, remove and keep warm.
  8. Remove the duck breasts from the oven. To caramelise the sugared skin place under a really hot grill for a minute or so (don’t leave them too long otherwise you will overcook the duck meat – I actually use a kitchen blowtorch to caramelise them, so if you have one, I recommend using this).
  9. Finally slice the duck breasts, serve with a little sauce over the top and the rest served separately in a jug. Accompany with Dauphinoise Potatoes (recipe below) and Tenderstem Broccoli.

Dauphinoise Potatoes (Serves 4)

The French seem to be split over the recipe for Dauphinoise Potatoes, some call for the addition of Gruyére cheese, whilst others, lament its addition!…I like it both ways, I think there is a time and a place for both versions; the version without cheese is great for a more relaxed meal, whilst with cheese, being more unctuous, it is more suited to a rich dinner party meal – I particularly like it with a roast rack of lamb. This version is the one without cheese which is perfect for a midweek treat, I will be sharing my cheese version in the future…!

15g butter

1kg floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper

400ml double cream

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Rub a gratin dish liberally with the butter.
  2. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the cream, garlic, nutmeg and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes in this cream mixture.
  4. Layer the potatoes in the gratin dish, spreading them flat and evenly, pour over any remaining cream.
  5. Place in a preheated oven, 160’c for 1 – 1 hour 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes or so press the down the potatoes with a spatula to stop them drying out. The gratin is ready when the top is golden and bubbling, and the potatoes are tender. You may want to turn up the oven to 190 -200’c for the last 5 minutes of cooking to achieve an extra golden crisp.

Menu Three

Chocolate Mousse – Pot au Chocolate (Serves 6-8)

In my opinion, this is absolutely the best recipe for chocolate mousse, it is extremely light with the perfect balance of chocolate – not overly rich. The recipe calls for brandy, don’t be put off by this, as you really can’t taste it, it just balances the chocolate. This recipe serves 6-8, which may be more than you need, but believe me you will eat it (and it will keep in the fridge), so I wouldn’t bother to half the recipe!..

300g plain chocolate (I use Lindt 70% cocoa), broken into small pieces

30g unsalted butter

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons brandy

4 egg whites

5 tablespoons caster sugar

500ml double cream

25g plain chocolate, grated to serve

  1. Put the chocolate in bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl doesn’t touch the water (a Bain Marie). Gently melt the chocolate.
  2. Stir in the butter, until melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan, allow to cool for a few minutes.
  3. Add the eggs and brandy, stir (the mixture may look a little scrambled at this point, but don’t worry it will smooth out later with the egg whites!)
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites, adding the sugar gradually, until they form soft peaks.
  5. Whisk one third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then fold in the remaining whites.
  6. Whip the cream to medium peaks and fold into the mousse mixture.
  7. Pour into glasses or small bowls, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  8. To serve sprinkle with some grated chocolate.

A Little Treat…A Kir Royale

A Kir Royale

This isn’t really a recipe as such, but I thought I’d post it, as if you’ve made this weeks ‘Duck Breast with Raspberries’ (recipe above), you will have some creme de cassis in your cupboard which gives you the perfect excuse to make a Kir Royale!

For one glass:

1 tablespoon of creme de cassis

Champagne

  1. Simply add the creme de cassis to a champagne flute and top with champagne!

Menu Four

Chicken & Pea Traybake (Serves 4)

This is a great, quick midweek meal, and because it is so easy to cook I am also sharing it on my MenuMistress @Uni page. I found this recipe in Nigella Lawson’s ‘At My Table’ cookbook, a great book full of tasty recipes which are also very straight forward in that very special ‘Nigella’ way. The peas and leeks are cooked underneath the chicken thighs, so soak up all their delicious juices while the leeks become beautifully caramelised. The original recipe called for dill, however, I prefer tarragon so I use this but you could, of course, use dill if you prefer!

8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in

900g frozen petit pois

400g leeks, cut into 3cm slices

2 fat cloves garlic, crushed

4 tablespoons dry white vermouth or white wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons sea salt flakes

Small bunch of tarragon, roughly chopped (or dill – see note above)

  1. Place the peas in large roasting pan, large enough to give space between the thighs. Add the leeks, garlic, vermouth (or wine), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and most of the tarragon. Mix everything together.
  2. Arrange the chicken thighs on top, skin side up, then drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
  3. Roast in a preheated oven, 180’c, for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and give the peas a stir, so that any on top are mixed into the liquid and are not drying out too much. Don’t worry about the leeks, as you want the bits peeking out to caramelise.
  5. Put back in the oven for a further 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through with a golden and crisp skin.
  6. Scatter over the remaining tarragon and serve with some simply steamed new potatoes!

Week Fifteen

It hardly seems possible that it’s October this week! Time, under Covid, flies by even more so than before the pandemic – well done us for having lived with Covid conditions for 6 months now! Since starting MenuMistress just over three months ago, I am finding that time is flying by even more as I am forever looking to the future, thinking about what menus we can eat in the coming weeks rather than days! I must admit that my ‘control freak’ gene loves this forward planning, and indeed I have been looking forward to October for some time now as I have been wanting to share some of my favourite recipes which are rather autumnal – my taste buds prefer the more comforting flavours of recipes which are more suited to the colder climate. This week’s first menu is a Leg of Lamb which is cooked with cider – sounds strange I know, but trust me the sauce that the cider makes with the juices of the lamb are delicious! The second menu is a beautifully spiced Lamb Byriani, which uses the leftovers of the leg of lamb – yes, it seems that my new MenuMistress@Uni page for students is having a frugal effect on me!  Finally, a slightly lighter menu, Chicken Escalopes with a Lemon Sauce (al Limone), a recipe which I am also sharing on my @Uni page as it is super quick and easy.

Menu One

Roast Lamb & Cider served with Flageolet Beans (serves 6) 

Cider with lamb may sound like a strange combination, but believe me it works beautifully and is absolutely made for these more autumnal days. Like all of the recipes I share, this is very easy to cook – making it possible to cook midweek if you fancy. This recipe is taken from ‘Pure, Simple, Cooking’ by Diana Henry (yes, her again!); she recommends that this dish is served with flageolet or cannellini beans – and of course she is absolutely right!

1 Leg of lamb (approx. 1.8kg -2kg), trimmed of excess fat

2 large cloves garlic, cut into slivers

2-3 sprigs thyme

50g unsalted butter, softened

250ml dry cider

A good slug of calvados or brandy

570ml chicken or lamb stock

175ml crème frâiche or double cream

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Make small incisions all over the leg and stuff with a slivers of garlic and a little thyme. Rub the butter all over, stuffing some down the incisions as you do so, season generously.
  2. Place in a preheated oven, 220’c, roast for 15 minutes then turn down the heat to 200’c, and continue to roast for another 45 -50mins.
  3. Remove the lamb to rest in a warm place covered with foil for about 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile pour the cooking juices into a jug and skim off the fat and discard.
  5. Set the roasting tin over a medium heat, add the cider and calvados, boil to reduce by two-thirds. Then add the stock and the reserved cooking juices, reduce this  by two-thirds, then add the crème frâiche (or cream). Boil until slightly syrupy.
  6. Serve the lamb, sliced, with the sauce in a warm gravy boat and the flageolet beans on the side (recipe below).

Flageolet Beans with Lemon and Parsley

Flageolet Beans with Lemon & Parsley

So simple, yet so delicious!

400g tin flageolet beans (or cannellini beans), drained

A generous slice of butter

Half lemon

Handful chopped parsley

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Place the drained beans in a saucepan, gently heat with the butter.
  2. Add the parsley, season with a squeeze of lemon juice and the salt and pepper.
  3. Serve!

Menu Two

Lamb Biryani (Serves 4)

This is a lovely ‘one pot’ recipe, great for using up leftovers – you could make it with other roast meats such as chicken, beef or pork. It’s definitely a recipe that you will want to make again and again, an easy Monday option!

200g basmati rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

2cm piece ginger, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 handfuls baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon plain flour (gluten free if required)

2 tablespoons mango chutney

200g leftover roast lamb, or whatever you have left (see note above)

1 cup lamb or chicken  stock

50g almond flakes

50g butter, melted

Sea salt and black pepper

Greek natural yogurt to serve

Fresh coriander, chopped, to serve

  1. Cooke the basmati rice according to the instructions on the packet, and set aside.
  2. Place the oil, ginger, garlic and onion in an ovenproof dish and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Add the curry powder, flour, chutney, and the chopped lamb, season with salt and pepper then stir well. Pour in the lamb stock. Top with the reserved, cooked rice, sprinkle with the almonds and drizzle with the melted butter. Cover with a lid (or tin foil) and place in a preheated oven, 200’c.
  5. After 20 minutes remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes.
  6. Serve topped with the yogurt and the chopped coriander.

Menu Three

Chicken Escalopes with Lemon Sauce – ‘Pollo al Limone’

A classic Italian recipe, often made with veal escalopes as well as chicken. One of my staple dishes, as it is really easy to ‘whip’ up. It’s delicious with baby roast potatoes (recipe below), but more often than not I serve it with plain white rice as when I make this I’m normally in a hurry and rice is quick and simple to make – also I like the way it mops up the lemon sauce!

By marinating the escalopes in the lemon juice for 30 minutes before cooking it tenderises the meat, you will notice the difference, but if I’m in a hurry I must admit that I often omit this part.

I normally cut my chicken breasts into three or four pieces, lengthways, and then flatten them out into escalopes by covering them with clingfilm and hitting with the base of a saucepan – not the most elegant way but it works! Alternatively you could ask your butcher to do it for you. Because you are flattening out the breasts, I find that they go a long way, so rather than 4 chicken breasts for 4 people you could get away with less depending on how hungry you are. If you haven’t any white wine to hand you could use all chicken stock, but the addition of wine does enhance the overall flavour.

3-4 chicken breasts (see note above)

8 tablespoons of lemon juice, plus a little more to taste (about 2 lemons)

40g butter

150ml dry white wine

150ml chicken stock (or 300ml if not using white wine – see note above)

1 teaspoon softened butter

2 teaspoons flour(gluten free if required)

1 lemon thinly sliced to serve (optional)

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Cut the chicken breasts into 3 lengthways, cover these slices with clingfilm and flatten by hitting with the base of a heavy saucepan (see the video of me doing this here!).
  2. Sprinkle the escalopes with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and leave aside for 30 minutes. Then dry with a piece of kitchen roll and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the escalopes, fry on each side over a fairly high heat, until they are evenly browned. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
  4. Pour the remaining lemon juice and the wine and stock into the pan and bring to the boil. Boil for about 3-4 minutes, until the liquid it reduced slightly.
  5. Meanwhile mix the softened butter with the flour to create a paste – a ‘Beurre Manié’.
  6. Add the butter paste (Beurre Manié) to the sauce, mixing well until the sauce is smooth (I often use a whisk for this). It will thicken the sauce. At this point check the seasoning, you may want to add a little more lemon juice, I sometimes add an extra knob of butter at this point – just go with your taste buds!
  7. Return the escalopes to the pan to reheat, sprinkle over the chopped parsley.
  8. Serve the escalopes with the sauce and the sliced lemon for decoration, and either baby roast potatoes (recipe below) or on a bed of white rice.

Staple Side Dish – Baby Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary (serves 4-6)

Baby Roast Potatoes

900g unpeeled new potatoes washed and cut roughly into 1cm cubes

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons of olive oil

sea salt and black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven 200’c. Put the olive oil in a roasting tin and place in the oven to heat up.
  2. Place the potatoes in a clean tea towel and dry them thoroughly.
  3. Remove tin from the oven and carefully slide the potatoes into the hot fat. Sprinkle over the garlic and rosemary then stir around.
  4. Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper before serving.