Insert risotto pun here. 

I’m at a loss. Risotto does plenty for my appetite, but fails to inspire a decent title for this post.  In risotto’s defence, it is a superb dish for using up ingredients, and that’s good news towards the end of a week.

Is it a regular on our menu at home? Nope.  Risotto doesn’t lend itself to nightly meals with children around.  Like children, it requires close attention and this alone relegates the dish to weekend cooking.  Take your eye off the pan and the rice will begin to crisp and burn without more stock.  The resulting crust, which is sought after in a paella, ruins a risotto completely.

Slow, slowly.  Risotto is not something to be rushed.  Choose ingredients carefully and add them at the right time for a satisfying result.

Chicken and Parmesan risotto

3 chicken thighs (cooked)

250g arborio rice

125ml white wine

4 slices smoked ham (cut into strips)

A couple of handfuls frozen peas

1 onion (finely chopped)

Grated parmesan

Chicken stock

Extra virgin olive oil 

Butter

Sea salt

Black pepper

The ingredients listed here do not all contain measures because the risotto can be altered to suit tastes. For example, I love black pepper and always add more than some people would like.

Start by removing all of the meat from the cooked chicken thighs and cutting it into smaller pieces for the risotto. I tend to discard the skin.  Set the chicken aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan and add the rice. Stir until coated with the oil and cook on a low heat.  Add a little butter. When the rice is opaque, add the onion and stir well again. Add the wine and cook for two minutes.  As the onion softens, pour in some of the stock and stir.

Continue to add stock as it is absorbed. Don’t let the rice burn. Stir gently and add the frozen peas and the ham.

Keep the heat low and add the chicken pieces and some seasoning.

Taste the rice every now and again to see if it is cooked through. Add more seasoning and butter if necessary. When the rice is soft, take it off the heat and stir in the grated Parmesan. Beautiful!




Advertisements

Sinfully simple snacks.

It was with some surprise that I finished reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and looked around for something to do.  The story ends rather abruptly, so I wasn’t expecting to be staring at the clock and wondering when my family would be back to break the silence.  The back of my edition is full of notes and reviews from Oscar Wilde’s contemporaries which makes the book look longer than it actually is, hence my surprise at the sudden end to this tale of youthful vanity and sin.  What I needed now was a snack that was quick to make.

Dorian Gray is a young man who wishes that all of his vices are passed onto a portrait of himself rather than his handsome face.  Over time, each of his sinful acts mar the portrait and age it beyond recognition while Dorian himself remains beautiful for all to see and envy.

In the same situation, I think my portrait would be a bloated chap with a chocolate milk moustache, cake crumbs on his chest and buttery fingers clasping a cheese and ham toastie.  It would be a truly grotesque display of gluttony that I’d hide away in the attic lest anyone should see my greedy soul laid bare on the canvas.

Back in my 21st Century kitchen, I was already throwing ingredients onto the worktop and keeping an eye on the clock.  There was just enough time to get some Cheddar and Parmesan biscuits into the oven and tidy up before my little boy burst into the room and cooking became a real challenge.

These little, cheesy biscuits are so easy to make and would work with different cheese and even a selection of herbs.  Try them when you feel like baking, but don’t want anything complicated or messy.  They’re small too, so you don’t need to worry about your portrait becoming hideous after you’ve eaten a few!

Cheddar & Parmesan biscuits

100g plain flour

85g mature Cheddar (finely grated)

50g butter

40g Parmesan cheese (finely grated)

2 egg yolks

2 tblspoons double cream

1 tspoon dried oregano

sea salt

1 egg yolk (beaten for the glaze)

In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, flour, two egg yolks, oregano and all of the cheese.  Season with a few good pinches of sea salt.  The mixture should come to a stiff dough.  Add the double cream and work the mixture gently with your hands.

Wrap the ball in clingfilm and refrigerate it for half an hour.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about half a centimetre thick.  Use a small cutter to make little discs and place them on a tray lined with baking paper.  Add some beaten egg yolk to the top of each disc using a pastry brush.  This will give the biscuits a lovely glaze.

They need to go into the middle of a pre heated oven at 180C for about fifteen minutes.  Keep checking them.  They’re ready when slightly risen and a beautiful, shiny, golden colour.

 

No bake chocolate cake.

I can only apologise for the delay in food action this week.  Preparation for my baby boy’s baptism have given me little or no time to get close to my beloved oven.

There’s no way that I can resist making something, so it was a real guilty treat to knock together my no bake chocolate.  Essentially, it is nothing more than melted chocolate and some tasty bits, but it does the trick.

No oven, no special techniques or weird ingredients.  Just plenty of chocolate and a gorgeous cake in no time at all.  Been promising to try a recipe out, but not had the time?  Perhaps this is the one for you.  Enjoy!

No bake chocolate cake

250g dark chocolate

230g butter

200g chocolate digestive biscuits

60g demerara sugar

4 tblspoons black coffee

100g pecans

100g glace cherries

100g mini marshmallows

half tspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter, chocolate and sugar together in a pan and then stir in the vanilla extract.  Crush the biscuits, but not too finely.  Plenty of biscuit chunks is what you’re looking for.  (Plain digestives work just fine, but I’ll take any excuse to get more chocolate into the recipe!)

Stir the biscuits and cherries and pecans into the chocolate.  Add the marshmallows last so that they don’t melt into the chocolate, but keep their shape.

Tip the mixture into a lined loaf tin and place in the fridge until it is set.  Cut thin slices and serve with coffee.

 

And now for something completely different.

It had been a while since I had eaten something for the very first time.  Standing in the fish mongers’ with the baby screaming his head off, I spotted a small box of what I recognised as samphire.  This green and salty marsh plant has been something of a trendy ingredient in recent years and I’d seen it make appearances on food shows that visited coastal towns.  Apart from having what I think is a cool name, samphire really holds no other outward appeal to me.  Having said that, as I collected my change from a purchase of squid, the fish monger followed my gaze towards the samphire resting in a box on the gleaming ice.  “Samphire.  Wanna try some?”  Above the screams of my boy, I said, “Yes, please!” and picked a little to chew on.  Salt, fresh grassy notes, something nearing asparagus?  I quite liked it.  All it needed was butter.  “I’ll have that box too, please”, I shouted nodding at the green strands of something not quite sea and not quite land.

Samphire does not keep for long.  The pressure was on to make (good) use of it.  I had some nice basa fillets which I was sure would be a good starting point.  Basa is Vietnamese cat-fish and is sustainable.  I passed the boy (now quiet) to N and started to unpack my bags.  N was happy when she saw the squid.  She’d asked me to make some more spaghetti and squid, but she had a puzzled look on her face when I pulled out the box of samphire.  “What have you got there?” she said, frowning.  “Samphire!  It tastes of the sea and I’m gonna cook it for us tomorrow!”  N looked at me like I’d just exchanged our only cow for some magic beans.  Yup, the pressure was on to make very good use of the samphire.

Simple is best.  I made a samphire and lemon cream to pour over the basa fillets after I’d steamed them.  I fried the rest of the samphire in butter and served it all with some boiled vegetables.  Apart from the large amounts of butter, it was a well-balanced meal.  Samphire really does love butter.  N was very impressed with the samphire. Probably fearing it would be disgusting, she was pleasantly surprised.  I was quietly smug because the samphire and lemon cream had been perfect for the fish and my decision to make it up as I went along had really paid off.  Now all I need to do is figure out how to stop my son screaming in public and I’ll be living the dream.

Basa fillets with samphire & lemon cream

Basa fillets

150ml double cream

2 tblspoons finely chopped samphire

1 lemon

65g butter

sea salt

black pepper

Drizzle a little olive oil onto a piece of foil large enough to make a parcel around the basa fillet.  If you love olive oil as much as I do, place the fillet on the foil and drizzle a little more on it.  Grind a little black pepper on the fillet.  Place it on a baking tray in the centre of the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for twenty-five minutes.

Meanwhile, melt half of the butter in a milk pan and add the chopped samphire.  I’d already rinsed the samphire a couple of times in cold water before chopping it to make sure that there wasn’t any sand in it.  Cook the samphire for a few minutes before squeezing the juice of half the lemon into the pan.  Next, stir in the double cream and add some pepper.  Taste it.  Samphire can be very salty, so you may not need to add any salt.  I added a little salt because the cream was too bland at this point.  If you need more lemon, add that too.  A little at a time is best.  Taste it after each addition.  You can’t take it out once it is in, but you can always add more (I can hear my mum talking there).

Keep the heat gentle and stir the cream until you’re happy with the taste.  Add the other half of the butter to the sauce and stir it until completely melted.  You can add more butter if you like, but your arteries may not thank you.

The creamy sauce is actually quite light and doesn’t overpower the flavour of the basa.  I served the fish with some samphire lightly fried in butter for two or three minutes.  Yesterday, I read a post over at kidandkitchen about samphire and egg which was great.  I think I might pair it with egg next time.  What do you think?  Have you tried samphire before?