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Happy Chickens Moroccan Style (Day 5 of The spendthrift’s challenge)

22 May

Todays Menu  

  • Breakfast. Cereal and yoghurt and fruit
  • Lunch. Wraps with cream cheese for the kids. Leftover pizza heated in toaster for mummy
  • Snack. Banana Iced Yoghurt
  • Dinner – kids – chicken thighs with couscous and broccoli
  • Dinner adults – Spicy chicken legs, chickpea and coriander couscous, morrocan style carrot salad.

 

 

 Banana Iced Yoghurt  

Did you know you can freeze bananas? I didn’t until I had a glut last year and threw a few in the freezer to see what happens. They freeze brilliantly. You can even leave the skin on. It will go black, but keep them all pristine inside, and ready for action when you want to bake banana bread or, some banana iced yoghurt.  

While I was rummaging in the freezer looking for inspiration for dinner, I came across some long ago frozen bananas. So, when the kids wanted a mid afternoon snack, it was delivered, courtesy of the blender.  

INGREDIENTS  

  • 4 medium sized bananas, broken into chunks (they should break easily, no kit needed)
  • 200ml plain yoghurt/greek yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • juice of half a lemon
  1. Blitz banana using ice function on the blender.
  2. Add yoghurt/vanilla and juice until you have a slightly melting ice cream consistency.
  3. Serve

    Slightly melting Banana Iced Yoghurt

     

  

Total prep time. About 2 minutes. From the taking of the bananas out of the freezer to the placing the used blender in the dishwasher. Now that’s what I call fast food! The bananas are so sweet you don’t need to add sugar. My kids love this as a snack. I tell them its ice cream, while secretly feeling quite pleased that they are eating just a piece of fruit with some pro-biotic yoghurt.  

DINNER  

The food stocks are getting low, as is this weeks kitty, so I was getting a bit concerned about dinner. Then I remembered one of my staple after work meals when I was working. Seasoned chicken legs, Couscous, Salad. Very little prep time required, and on the whole a very thrifty dish. M&S quite often do a promo on their organic chicken legs at 4 for a fiver, so not really a budget buster. In fact, this is a great dish to serve up if you are feeding a large group, as the preparation is minimal, and the ingredients are not too expensive.  

Happy Chickens  

Chicken with Ras El Hanout

 

I was vegetarian for over 20 years until about 5 years ago. When I gave up meat, ‘free-range and organic’ were nowhere to be seen in my little corner of South-West London. When I finally started to eat meat again I vowed only to eat meat where the animal welfare standards were high. That raises a bit of a dilemma when you are invited to lunch and are asked if you have any special requests. Its sounds a more than a little picky and snooty to say ‘I’ll eat your meat but only if it’s up to my standards’. So unless I know people well, I either say I am veggie or offer to bring some food along.  

Which brings me on to todays food. Happy Chickens. The Organic Free Range kind are not cheap. So when I see them on offer I tend to stock the freezer. Obviously I took this step 9 months ago, with a batch of chicken legs that I found, this morning, lingering in the back of our ‘spare’ freezer. Sell by date 29 August 2009. Eaten by date, today 21 May 2010!  

If like me, you are using previously frozen chicken, do make sure it has defrosted fully. I left mine out on the worktop today (I am sure the health inspectors would be tutting) and it was still cold but thoroughly defrosted.  

I have a selection of spices in the cupboard like Cajun, Sumac, and todays choice, Ras El Hanout. Its a lovely, fragrant moroccan spice blend. To prepare the chicken you need do nothing more than to rub a little oil on the chicken legs. Sprinkle with the seasoning. Cook for about 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees. Thats it.  

The couscous  

I love couscous. I always keep a supply of this in the cupboard. Boil the kettle. Pour on water. A few minutes later and its ready. What could be easier? Today I decided to add a few ingredients and flavourings from the cupboard, but it was simply an add, mix and cover with boiling water exercise.  

I have made this, and variations of it so often, that I tend to just add, mix and taste rather than following any strict recipe.  

INGREDIENTS  

  • Couscous. Enough to fill the bottom of a soup bowl by about 1cm. Maybe 300g
  • Vegetable bouillon. A dessertspoon. Add and mix
  • Raisins. A large handful
  • Chickpeas. A standard tin, drained and washed.
  • Cumin (seeds not ground). 1 dessertspoonful
  • Pine nuts (toasted if you have time) 25g
  • Chopped coriander (from freezer)1 tablespoon
  • Butter. About 25 g

METHOD  

  • Mix all ingredients in bowl
  • Pour over boiling water until mixture is just immersed a little in the water
  • Agitate mixture with a fork
  • Cover with a cloth or plate for 5 minutes or so
  • Fluff with a fork and serve

Moroccan Style Carrot Salad. Inspired by Stephanie Alexander.  

Moroccan Style Carrot Salad

 

If you have not yet discovered the cookery genius that is Stephanie Alexander, then you have been missing out. I was introduced to her only last year by my foodie friend Annmaree. This is not a glossy, picture filled cookery book. It is a tome. A reference book filled with a lifetime of cooking knowledge.  It is arranged alphabetically by ingredient (why aren’t all cookery books organised that way?). So, when you have a weird or wonderful, or perhaps just a very boring ingredient that you want to use up, look it up, and Stephanie will provide you will a selection of ideas and recipes for it. Today I was wondering how best to use the carrots in the fridge, when Stephanie came to the rescue, and gave me the inspiration for this dressing.  

INGREDIENTS  

  • about 500g carrots, grated
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 dessertspoon toasted cumin seeds
  • 1 dessertspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Large glug of olive oil (1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1 dessertspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chopped chillis

METHOD  

  1. Place cumin, garlic, salt, sugar in pestle and mortar and crush to a paste
  2. Add olive oil and lemon juice. Mix until you have a glossy dressing.
  3. Check taste and adjust seasoning
  4. Grate the carrots.
  5. Add the coriander and chilli and mix throughly
  6. Add dressing making sure salad well coated
  7. Serve

The biggest effort today, was not the cooking. Each dish probably took about 5 minutes preparation. The real effort was putting a little thought and imagination into the food available, and making an appetizing meal from it. The carrot salad exceeded all my expectations. It was not something I had tried before, but will definitely be one to use again.  

Dinner is served

 

DAY 5 SUMMARY  

A great use of some very neglected food from my freezer. 2 days of the challenge left. I am missing chocolate, and not at all optimistic that I wont go over budget. Food (or chocolate) donations anyone?  

Chickpea Couscous

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Fast Feast

4 May

This is not, as the title might imply, a recommendation that you eat quickly. This is my combination of a few recipe ideas, that represent a template for a simple yet sumptuous buffet that will comfortably feed a crowd, without sending you into a stressed host(ess) meltdown.

These tried and tested recipes can be prepared ahead, and require only minimal supervision in the kitchen, allowing you to join the party and share a drink and nibbles with your guests while the main course is cooking.

This particular menu was borne out of my usual knack of over scheduling our weekend. We had planned to meet friends for brunch, on the same day that I had offered to host my brother’s 30th birthday get together for the entire family later in the day (8 adults and 6 children ranging in age from 11 to 4 months old). As I was short on time, I decided to provide only one main course that would be suitable for all.

As we were going to be out for a good part of the day, nearly all of this was prepared ahead. In total (aside from cooking times) the preparation took about 1 hour.

PARTY MENU

FOCACCIA WITH A SELECTION OF ANTIPASTI

RICOTTA AND HERB STUFFED CHICKEN, NEW POTATOES, GREEN BEAN SALAD

3 TIERED CHOCOLATE BROWNIE ‘CAKE’

SARAH’S LIME AND GINGER CHEESECAKE

The amount of food that I prepared here, was far too much. I do however, follow Nigella’s mantra of ‘never knowingly undercatered’. And there is a distinct upside to over catering. The leftovers will provide a couple of meals that can be assembled in moments for a couple of days after the party, freeing you from the shackles of the seemingly endless meal preparation production line.

FOCACCIA AND ANTI-PASTI

I have for the past few weeks, been making focaccia at home. I used to go to the farmers market and buy a fairly small oblong loaf, studded with rosemary, or tomatoes, or onions, paying £4.50 a time. Obviously if you are feeding a crowd, this can be a pricey addition to the menu if you need 3 or 4. After discovering how easy it is to make, I have not looked back. This takes less time to make that it would for you to find your credit card, coat and keys and leave for the supermarket. The recipe I follow is not my own, but provided by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, provided in his book River Cottage Everyday. For obvious copyright reasons, I have not re-produced it here, but if you want to make your own, there are numerous versions available on the net. You simply measure out the flour, dried yeast, water etc, leave it in the mixer with a dough hook for a few minutes, then leave it to rise. If, like me you are going out and wish to make this ahead of time then you can put it in the fridge for a few hours where it will rise slowly. When it is ready to go in the oven, stud the top with whatever you have to hand (I did cherry tomatoes and rosemary on one, and red onion chutney and goats cheese on the second), then a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt. 15 minutes in a hot oven later and it is ready.  You may have neither the time or the inclination for this step, in which case most of the supermarkets offer this bread in one form or another.

RICOTTA AND HERB STUFFED CHICKEN

This is dish that both Jamie Oliver and Bill Granger offer a recipe for. I was a bit pushed for time and therefore didn’t have time to look up a recipe, but here is a link to Bill’s version if you want something more specific to follow.

INGREDIENTS

3 free range/organic chickens, spatchcocked. (you do this by cutting out the backbone, the squashing it flat. If you are a bit squeamish about this part, then buy from a butcher and get them to do it for you)

2 x 250g tubs ricotta

2 tbsps chopped chives

2 tbsps chopped parsley

1 tbsp thyme leaves

zest of half a lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Mix herbs, salt and pepper with ricotta. Using your fingers (or a wooden spoon if you have sharp nails) loosen the skin over the breast and thighs. Push ricotta mixture under skin over breast and thighs. Drizzle chicken with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. I cooked this hot and fast. The cooking times are much more reliable if you cook from room temperature. You can make this ahead but I would advise taking it out of the fridge about an hour before you cook it. I started it off with about half an hour on 210 degrees then turned it down to 180 degrees for the last 15 minutes. If the chicken looks like it is browning too much, then cover with foil.

The first time I tried this method I was hooked, so I would urge you to try it at least once. The result is tender juicy moist chicken, complemented by the light, delicate taste of the ricotta and herbs. I left this to rest under foil for 15 minutes once out of the oven, then served on platters, with carving knife and forks for guests to help themselves.

The new potatoes were steamed then dotted with a little butter and salt and pepper.

The green bean salad, is another recipe from Bill Granger. You can, as I did, make this ahead then leave in the fridge, then dress it at the last minute.

BROWNIES AND CHEESECAKE

Dessert I prepared the evening before. I made Sarah’s Lime and Ginger cheesecake, and a double batch of my five-minute brownies.

To serve I arranged the brownies on 3 glass cake stands, placed one on top of the other like a tiered wedding cake, then added a few candles.

The best part of this meal for me, was the fact that I had the chance to relax and join in. And, the children all loved the chicken and cleared their plates.

And, you may have guessed that I used banqueting roll to cover the table, so when the party was over, the table was cleared in moments, and the dishwasher (and Mr Mummyinahurry) did the washing up, giving me a chance to put my feet up and read this month’s copy of delicious magazine.

Home made focaccia bread

Three tiered brownie 'cake'

Pizza Pronto

24 Apr

Today has been one of those days when I have quite successfully done nothing much at all for the entire day.  Tea time for the children was looming, and I couldn’t even be bothered to call for a takeaway. That is where little store cupboard staples like tortilla wraps come in. Perfect for packed lunches and, as it turns out, little pizzas. These are so quick, in the time it takes you to choose from the takeaway menu, they will be ready for the oven.

We are lucky enough to have a couple of pizza stones. I cannot recommend them enough. I don’t just use them for pizzas. They are fantastic for baking any type of pastries on and we have ended up using ours so much more that I expected.

I find that the trick with these is to get the oven as hot as possible and to heat the stones before you use them.  Then the pizzas themselves will usually cook in under 5 minutes, so keep a close eye on them.

A mistake that I frequently made in the past was to put far too much topping on my pizzas. This meant they were always a bit too gloopy and the base stayed soggy. I find that by keeping the toppings light, the pizzas will be crisp and light and ready in a flash.

Todays toppings were a random selection of whatever we had left in the fridge and the whole operation, including help from the toddlers took around 5 minutes. We had fresh pesto wtih tomatoes and mozzarella, salami and mozzarella, and my personal favourite red onion chutney with halloumi. I love the contrast of the sweet chutney with the saltiness of the halloumi. And it works very well with a sprinkle of rocket on top when you get it out of the oven.

A drizzle of olive oil on top before it enters the oven will ensure the finished product glistens invitingly when it is golden, crisp and ready to eat.

METHOD

Heat oven to 230 degrees and leave pizza stones in to warm up.

Break open a packet of ready-made tortillas

Rummage in the fridge for cheese/ham/veggies/pesto/chutney for pizza topping

Assemble to taste. Go easy on the toppings.

Place on pizza stones and cook for about 5 minutes

Pizza Pronto

? Which ?

23 Apr

One of my secret pleasures is the monthly arrival of Which? Magazine (like I said, doesn’t take a lot to keep me happy these days).

I used to think it was a bit middle-aged, but after a recommendation by a friend, I signed up for a trial period.  It’s brilliant. When you are pushed for time, this will guide you in the right direction for almost any purchase related to the home, be it big or small.

I find that consumer choice these days can be throughly overwhelming, and when you are juggling a million different things, often the last thing you have time to do is then spend hours wondering which new washing machine is the best value/most reliable etc.

Which thoroughly product tests and review everything that is featured in their magazine. Quite a random selection. Best supermarket, new kitchen products, cars, lipsticks, washing powder, electrical goods, big and small, baby stuff. The great thing about them is they are completely impartial and funded by subscribers not adverts, and they have a convenient online tool that you can use to check past reviews so you don’t have to search through all your old magazines when you need a new washing machine but can’t remember which month had the review in. Quite often they offer a free or £1 trial of the online service.

If you haven’t tried discovered it yet, then give them a whirl. What have you got to lose?

http://www.which.co.uk/