Sunday, June 29, 2014

Scrumptious spicy chicken

I don't always save the recipe pages from the Listener, but I was really glad I saved the one from 24 May. Lauraine Jacobs was featuring a new book by UK-based, multi-award-winning food writer Diana Henry: A Change of Appetite: Where Health Meets Delicious. I have a small problem with that title - it does make it sound as if "healthy" and "delicious" don't normally meet, when surely they very often do. But But the recipes sound very good, and recently I made one of them for myself. It was so easy and tasty and realtively inexpensive that I made it again as the main course for a visiting friend last week.
         I did tweak it a little bit. Even though iI was cooking for two instead of four, I used the same amount of flavouring ingredients - naughty, I know, but there still wasn't a lot of sauce and I like spicy food. I left out the star anise, because I don't like aniseed flavour at all, but I've left it in the recipe because most people probably would like it.
         One of the few foods I dislike is cooked pumpkin, so I used kumara instead, and I thought that worked really well. For the two of us, I cooked four large chicken thighs and two large kumara. I didn't have any spring onions, so I cooked ordinary chopped onion with the garlic.
         If you are making it with pumpkin I suggest that you first chop it into large chunks and then microwave it for just long enough to soften the skin. This makes it much easier to peel. As you can see from the photo (which is the one from the Listener - once again I forgot to photograph mine!) - the pumpkin or kumara chunks should not be too large, so that they cook through in the same time as the chicken.

Chicken and pumpkin with soy and star anise
(Diana Henry, courtesy of Lauraine Jacobs in the Listener, 24 May 2014)
Serves 4.

1 Tbsp peanut oil
8 bone-in chicken thighs
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp soft dark brown sugar
1 red chilli, deseeded and shredded (I used chilli flakes)
2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
8 spring onions, trimmed and chopped on the diagonal
900g pumpkin or squash, cut into chunks, peeled and deseeded, or kumara, peeled and cut into chunks
3 strips of orange zest
1 star anise
2 Tbsp orange juice (i used a bit more, and less water)
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C (or 170 fan-forced).
Remove the chicken skin if you prefer (I used skinless).
Heat the oil in an oven-proof casserole dish or saute pan that can go in the oven (large enough to lie all the chicken in a single layer).
Brown the chicken on both sides. Don't try to turn the thighs until they are easy to move, as pulling will tear them. Take them out of the pan and set aside.
Pour the fat out of the pan into a cup. Mix the soy sauce, vinegar and fish sauce with the sugar and stir.
Put 1 Tbsp of the reserved fat back in the pan, heat it and add the chilli, ginger and garlic. Keep some of teh greener bits of spring onion back for garnish and add the rest to the pan.
Cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is golden, then add the soy sauce mixture. Return the chicken to the pan, with any juices that have seeped out, plus the pumpkin, orange zest, star anise, orange juice and 3-4 Tbsp of water.
Grind on some black pepper. Cover the dish and put in the hot oven for 40 minutes in total. After 15 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over. (It helps to turn the pumpkin or kumara over too.) Cover again and cook for another 15 minutes. Then uncover the dish and return to the oven to cook for another 10 minutes. (The sauce will reduce to a lovely stickiness. But keep an eye on it to make sure it isn't hardening.)
Scatter with the reserved pieces of green spring onion and serve. Accompany with brown rice, quinoa or wheat berries tossed with lots of chopped coriander leaves and lime juice.
Recommended wine match: Chardonnay.

At my age I don't need masses of carbohydrate, so I didn't add the rice - instead I made a shredded carrot and cabbage salad with a small amount of Asian flavoured dressing, using lime juice, fish sauce , soy sauce and a little sugar. If I'd had any coriander I would have used that too.
          I thought this was a really successful dish, not too strongly spiced, so you get the full flavour of the chicken and pumpkin/kumara, but spicy enough to have you licking your lips with huge appreciation. Thank you, Lauraine and Diana.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Light lemony pancakes

One of the many good things about Moore Wilson is their little stacks of free recipes. Ages ago I picked up one for Lemon Cottage Cheese Pancakes. At home I stowed it neatly away and forgot about it, but a fortnight ago I came across it again, and decided to liven up Queen's Birthday by trying it out on a willing friend for brunch.
      I always wonder if people like the Queen ever get to indulge in such simple pleasures. Does she just stick to the same routine, or does she ask her kitchen staff to surprise her with something new? Somehow I don't get the impression that she's terribly interested in food anyway. I learnt very early on that her actual birthday is 21 April, because that was Mum's birthday too.
       Anyway, the recipe worked so well that I made it again today for my neighbour, who told me she loved pancakes and hadn't had them for years. This time I made bigger ones, but that wasn't quite as successful - a large hotcake size seems best.

Lemon cottage cheese pancakes
 (Moore Wilson)
Makes 6 smallish pancakes, really only enough for 2 people. Double it for 4.

3 large eggs
1/4 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup plain cottage cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
Butter for cooking (the recipe doesn't say this, but I think it cooks and tastes better with a little butter)

Set the oven on 75 degrees or the warm setting, and put in two large plates.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large bowl and the yolks into another large bowl.
Mix the yolks together with the flour, cottage cheese, butter, sugar, salt and lemon zest until well blended. (Don't over-mix it - the little lumps of cottage cheese are fine.)

Beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Fold the whites gently through the yolk mixture.
Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add a lump of butter, enough to lightly coat the pan.
Pour 3 large hotcake size dollops of batter into pan, keeping them separate.

Cook gently for about a minute and a half. When little bubbles rise through and the pancakes are nicely browned underneath (lift a corner to see), flip them over and cook the other side.

Place the cooked pancakes in the oven on a warmed plate. Cook 3 more.
Serve with your choice of:
crispy bacon, runny honey, maple syrup, lemon juice, cream, yoghurt (or a whipped mix of both), poached fruit. I had ready a mix of rhubarb, feijoa and pear, cooked with brown sugar and a little lemon syrup.

As you can see, I just managed to get a photo before they started to be eaten. Both my visitors went on at gratifying length about how light and delicious these were. They're a kind of cross between a traditional pancake and a really good pikelet, but the cottage cheese and lemon add something special. Maybe I'll try to invent a savoury version...