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!




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I will raise you as my own.

The English have big love for pies.  Sweet or savoury, pies are well represented on English plates.  I’ve made fruit pies sprinkled with sugar and I’ve made pies filled with meat and gravy, but I’ve never attempted a pork pie.  The classic buffet and picnic pie of choice for the English has always been something of a mystery to me.  Probably made by wisened old artisans whose knowledge of pie-making has been inherited and protected with the kind of secrecy alluded to in low-brow Templar fiction.  Or are they mass-produced vehicles for the less palatable parts of a pig?  It was time to learn something new and in the process, perhaps make something special.

First of all, what’s the appeal of a good pork pie?  The pastry is special.  A golden brown with an attractive glaze and a crumbly promise of savoury comfort.  Okay, too poetic, but pork pies are made with a hot water crust that contains lard.  This makes it tasty and gives it a wonderful texture upon baking.  The pastry is pressed against the sides of whatever it is baked in to form walls.  The walls get higher until they are ready to be filled.  Raising the pastry in this way produces what is known as a hand-raised pie.

Secondly, pork pies are good when they’re hot and even better when they’re cold.  Pickles, chutneys and relishes are fantastic with pork pies and the fact that their contents doesn’t ooze out makes them a perfect travel companion.

I looked at a few online recipes for the pastry before I attempted to make it.  In the end, I chose to use Delia Smith’s recipe for the pastry.  The contents of the pie, however, were a very successful little experiment and as I type, I’m finding it very difficult to contain my pride.  If you want a treat, go and buy a Melton Mowbray pork pie.  If you want to experience the joy of creating something tasty and beautiful (in the most rustic of ways), then it’s about time you made your very own hand-raised pork pie.

Hand-raised sausage & bacon pies

(Pastry adapted from Delia Smith)

225g strong white flour

75g lard

25ml milk

pinch of salt

black pepper

1 egg yolk (to glaze)

(For the filling)

275g sausage meat

6 slices smoked bacon

150g smoked ham

1 tspoon fish sauce

half tspoon ground allspice

half tspoon ground mace

black pepper

pinch of salt

It’s best to make the filling first so that you can work quickly with the pastry before it dries out.

I fried the bacon until crispy and then mixed it with the rest of the ingredients until well combined.  If you want to check the seasoning, you can fry a little of the filling and taste it once cooked.

As in Delia’s recipe for the pastry, begin by heating the milk and lard in a pan.  Add 25ml of water and bring everything just to the boil.  Pour it into a bowl containing the flour and use a wooden spoon to combine everything.

Now it’s time to build up the pastry crust ready to be filled.  I used little stainless steel pudding moulds.  I pressed a little ball of pastry into the base and began adding more pastry and forming the sides of the pie.  When I got to the top, I overlapped the edges and filled the pies with the filling, making sure that I pressed down firmly using the back of a spoon.  Once level, I folded the edges of the pastry in and made a little hole for steam to escape through during baking.

I used the beaten egg yolk to glaze the top of each pie before sliding them into the oven at 180C for half an hour.  I then carefully removed the pies from the molds, glazed the sides with more yolk and put them back on a baking tray to finish in the oven for another twenty-five minutes.  This made the crust golden and firm.

The pie filling looks quite pink in the photographs, but this is just the bacon.  I can assure you that the pies were firm and fully cooked through.  Their spicing was just right and the crumbly pastry was delicious.  I ate mine with lots of Branston pickle.  One thing’s for sure, I’ll be making these at Christmas and serving them with lots of chutney, cheese and some strong red wine.  Then in the spring, they’ll be coming with me to the beach and the park for some picnic action.  All in all, I’m glad I tried my hand at making these.  You will be too!

Don’t shoot the chef!

Today I had one of those moments when everything was perfect and I didn’t want time to move forward.  Curse you Father Time!  Have you ever been eating something that was so good that you stopped eating for a moment to take it all in?  The taste, the texture, the aroma?  Everything being just the way you want it and sadly coming closer to ending with every bite?  What else can you do, but continue eating and be thankful for the pleasure?  Boy, oh boy, was I a silent and contented eater.  I felt like Johnny Depp in that film where he eats the best puerco pibil he’s ever tasted and shoots the chef when he’s finished because “it’s just too good.”  Relax, no food bloggers were harmed in the making of this dish.  Ah, the dish…

A few years ago, I happened to catch a bit of a Gary Rhodes programme that was showing seasonal recipes.  If you’ve ever watched Gary Rhodes cook, you’ll know that he’s a perfectly nice chap with reliable recipes.  He also tends to be quite linear in his approach to food.  Let’s just say that Gary probably considers wearing odd socks to be a rebellious act.  Despite this, I was captivated by his recipe that day.  I immediately took to the kitchen to prepare my own take on what I considered to be a very promising little dish.

Me and N were hooked after that.  I made the dish regularly and tried different ingredients for fun and variety.  It’s been almost three years since I made it, but this week, I bought some duck eggs and my thoughts turned to the recipe I’d fallen in love with three winters ago.  It was time to make ducky egg pots.

Ducky egg pots (adapted from Gary Rhodes)

4 fresh duck eggs

200ml double cream

1 leek (sliced)

100g Cheddar cheese

4 slices prosciutto di Parma

butter

sea salt

black pepper

First of all, you need some ramekins.  This recipe will comfortably make four servings, so you need four ramekins.  Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and have your ramekins ready to fill.

Fry the sliced leek in butter on a medium heat until softened, but not browned.  Season the leeks to taste.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Next, pour just enough of the cream into each ramekin to cover the bottom.  Tear up the ham into little pieces and divide between each ramekin (one slice of ham per portion).  Divide the leek between the pots after that.

Press plenty of grated cheese on top of the leeks leaving at least a centimetre at the top of the ramekin for the egg to be poured in.  I like to grind some black pepper onto the cheese before cracking the egg onto it.  If you press the centre of the cheese down to make a little dent, the yolk will sit nicely in the middle.  (It’s doesn’t affect the cooking, but it’s pleasing to the eye).

So, without further ado, crack your duck egg into the centre.  Finally, pour some cream over each egg until it reaches the edge of the ramekin.  The cream forms a barrier over the egg to stop it cooking too quickly.

Place on a foil-covered baking tray and slide into the centre of the oven for about fifteen minutes.  My fan oven cooks the egg pots quite quickly, so I check on them every few minutes.  The top should be bubbling away and the yolk and white cooked through.  Test one if you’re unsure, by gently digging a teaspoon into the white.  Don’t worry of some of the cream bubbles over the top.

It’s okay to let the egg pots cool for a couple of minutes before serving.  The content will be gooey and hot.  The delight that you’ll get from digging through the creamy layers and letting the yolk and cheese ooze onto the leeks is immense.  The salty ham seasons the cream in the bottom of the pot and in return, the cream stops the ham drying out.  Everything becomes one indulgent dairy dance.

Yes you can dunk bread into them.  Yes you can be playful and make buttered soldiers for them.  Goodness, you could even mix it up with Chorizo in the bottom instead of ham and parmesan or your favourite cheese instead of Cheddar.  Truth is, this is my favourite incarnation of the dish.  I prefer it with duck eggs because of the rich flavour that you get from them, but eggs from hens work well too.

It’s taken a lot for me to share this recipe with you.  I have to admit that I thought about holding out on you, but I just couldn’t, dear reader.  These little ducky egg pots are just too good.  All I ask is that if you decide to try them, and you too have that perfect moment, you won’t come looking for me!