Poussin with peppers

img_2430This is an attempt to reproduce a recipe that Marlene cooks often though I don’t know how close it is to the original. It is ideal as an easy way of having a sort-of-roast dinner for one and is lighter and a lot quicker to make than full-on roast chicken. Roasting the poussin over peppers with stock keeps the poussin tender and moist, and gives you lots of  delicious vegetables and juice, best soaked up with basmati rice. The chilli and paprika give a welcome kick of heat to meat that can be a bit bland.

img_2432I cooked it for a solo Sunday lunch, with some lovely fresh cavolo nero and it fitted the bill perfectly.  The plump poussin I cooked made enough for two meals for me, but don’t count on having leftovers if you’re hungry !

1 poussin
1 tblsp olive oil
small onion
1 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli
small red pepper
1 stick celery
2 sprigs thyme
2 tomatoes
½ lemon (optional)
100ml chicken or vegetable stock

An hour before you start cooking take the poussin out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Choose an ovenproof pan that is the right size to hold the vegetables with the poussin on top. Ideally, you want an oven dish which will go on top of the stove as well, but if not – mine didn’t – you’ll need a medium frying pan to start things off. Heat half the oil in your oven dish or frying pan, season the poussin and quickly brown it on all sides, then set aside.

Put the kettle on to boil and pop the tomatoes into a heatproof bowl. Roughly chop the onion, pepper (you can use yellow or green peppers if you prefer) and celery. Finely chop the chilli any garlic (adjust the amount of chilli according to what type you have and how hot you like your food – I used one medium fairly mild one). When the kettle boils cover the tomatoes with boiling water and leave for a couple of minutes. Fish them out, run under the cold tap, score the skin with a sharp knife and it should then come off easily. Cut out the cores, and chop the tomatoes roughly.

img_2427Add the rest of the oil to the frying pan, and fry the onions gently until they are soft, adding the paprika after a couple of minutes and cooking it out thoroughly. I used less than 1 tsp of paprika, and thought it needed more, but the strength of paprika can vary, so you may want to be more cautious. Add the red chilli and garlic, fry for a minute or two, then add the rest of the vegetables. Cook until they are all softened, stirring from time to time – a good 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

By now the oven should have reached temperature. If you have been using a frying pan, turn the vegetables into the oven dish. Add the thyme (and some celery leaves if you have them) to the bed of vegetables. Put the lemon half into the poussin and lay the poussin on the top. Moisten the layer of vegetables with stock – you may not need all of it – and put into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then check: add a little more stock if necessary and turn the bird if it is browning unevenly. Now is the time to start cooking the rice.

Roast the poussin for a further 15-20 minutes until the juices run clear. Take out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Cut the poussin in half and serve with the vegetables and rice, spooning the  juice over liberally. And to be totally authentic put some Sambal Badjak on the table for those who like to add a bit of extra heat!img_2434

Mushrooms with polenta and gorgonzola

img_2389It had been a long day, it was raining and I was in serious need of comfort food – and a supper that didn’t involve going shopping first. I had some kale, the end of a packet of Gorgonzola, and a packet of chestnut mushrooms in the fridge – not very inspiring.

As soon as I spotted this recipe for mushroom ragout with polenta I knew it fitted the bill, as I had polenta in the cupboard and, unusually, a few dried porcini mushrooms too. Although I had to adjust some of the ingredients – no flat mushrooms only chestnut ones, Marsala instead of red wine, and gorgonzola instead of taleggio – my version was still really tasty – and comforting. I found this quantity of polenta rather more than I could eat, so if you’re not ravenous you might want to cook less.

Solace for one wet, weary person

a few porcini mushrooms
a large knob of butter
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Leaves of 2 sprigs of thyme
175g mushrooms, sliced
good slug of Marsala
60ml vegetable stock
25g gorgonzola

125ml milk
125ml water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
60g instant polenta
12g butter
15g grated parmesan (or vegetarian alternative)

Start by putting the porcini in a small bowl, covering with 40ml of hot water and leaving to soak for 20 mins. Put the milk and water into a saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme, and heat to boiling point. Pull off the heat and leave to infuse while you get on with slicing the shallot and mushrooms. Measure out the polenta and make up the stock. I used a scant ½ tsp of Marigold bouillon with boiling water – it would be better still if you are organised enough to have cubes of home-made stock in your freezer – I’m not there yet!

Put a good knob of butter into a large-ish frying pan. When it sizzles add the chopped shallot and cook for a few minutes. Then add the garlic and thyme leaves and cook for another minute. Squeeze out the dried mushrooms, keeping their soaking water. Turn up the heat and add the porcini, then after a minute add the rest of the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring all the time so they don’t catch, until they are soft. Add a good slug of marsala (or red wine) and let it bubble up and reduce for a minute or so. Finally add the mushroom soaking water and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and you have the consistency of a stew.

img_2385After the mushrooms have been simmering for 5 minutes or so put the grill on to heat and make the polenta (and if you’re having greens, which I recommend, now is the time to steam them). Heat the flavoured milk and water back to the boil and pour in the polenta in a thin, steady stream, stirring hard all the time. Let it cook for a minute or two, then stir in the butter and parmesan (this is not a recipe for those who are wary of butter!). Pour into an ovenproof dish and create a dip in the centre.

img_2387When the mushrooms are ready pile them on top of the polenta, dot the gorgonzola over the top and put under the grill for about 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted. I do think it is best served with a big pile of fresh greens to counteract the richness of the buttery, cheesy polenta. I think it would be a good vegetarian dish for a crowd too, as the mushrooms could be prepared ahead and gently reheated, so that only the polenta would need to be done at the last minute. It would look good served on a big platter so that everyone could dig in – just multiply the quantities up to suit.

Poulet au vinaigre

img_2371After a day walking in the countryside in glorious winter sunshine on Sunday we were ready for a proper dinner. I had noticed an interesting recipe for Poulet au Vinaigre in the Guardian’s Cook supplement – I am really enjoying the articles by Iranian-American Samin Nosrat in her residency.

As it is a classic French recipe I thought I’d have a look at other recipes too, only to find that none of my cookbooks included the dish, not even Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This may be a reflection of the fact that I have fewer classic French cookbooks than I thought (a good excuse for a trip to the bookshop?). Searching online led me to Diana Henry’s recipe in House and Garden magazine, and it was this that Irene used as a base (I was strictly sous-chef on this occasion).

These quantities are for two generous portions (don’t be fooled by the picture above – we had seconds!). We served it with parsnips rather than the boiled waxy potatoes that Diana Henry recommends, and some broccoli – a green salad afterwards would probably be a more authentic way of getting your greens. To start we had prawn and avocado salad – sounds posh but I had a few prawns left from making fish pie on Friday and half an avocado that needed eating – and berry and frangipane bake for dessert. A delicious end to a beautiful day.

10g butter
4 chicken joints
1 large or 2 small shallots
2 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
150ml dry white wine
2 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp brandy
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp tomato purée
2 tbsp double cream

Poulet au vinaigrePeel the shallot(s) and chop finely. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, which has a lid. Dry the chicken and cut away any excess skin or fat. Put the chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down first, and brown them on all sides. Add the shallots and garlic and cover the pan. Turn the heat right down and cook gently for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

After about 20 minutes put the oven on and heat to 130ºC/Fan 110ºC/Gas mark ½ – this is to keep the chicken warm while you’re finishing the sauce. Once the chicken is done, tranfer it to an oven-proof serving dish, loosely cover with foil and pop into the oven.

Pour the fat out of the pan but don’t wash it. Add the vinegar and stir to incorporate all the nice sticky bits from cooking the chicken. Boil quickly until you have about a third of the liquid left, then stir in the wine, stock, brandy, mustard and tomato purée, mixing well. Boil this until reduced to sauce consistency, then push it through a sieve into a clean saucepan, squashing the garlic cloves so that their soft flesh is added to the sauce. Add the cream and bring to the boil. Pour the sauce over the warm chicken in its dish and serve.

The original recipe finished the sauce with little cubes of cold butter whisked into the sauce (after  you’ve added the cream), but Irene decided that this would be a bit too rich for a Sunday supper – maybe something for a grander occasion. The dish is also supposed to have a garnish of a large plum tomato, skinned, de-seeded and cut into strips, but there were no tomatoes in the house on Sunday. It was nonetheless extremely tasty and satisfying, the tartness of the vinegar adding complexity and depth to the creamy sauce. Highly recommended.

Panna Cotta with Sloe Gin Jelly

img_2350This recipe caught my eye because my friend Sue had given me a bottle of her delicious – and beautifully bottled – home-made sloe gin. I rarely buy food magazines – on the grounds that the pile of recipes to try on my desk is already quite big enough – but succumbed to the Christmas edition of Delicious, and this was in their ‘Showstopper Puddings’ supplement. The combination of ruby jelly and snowy panna cotta seems special without being heavy, while the elegant presentation, though not essential, is striking and does make it look like you’ve made an effort.

Inevitably, I have tweaked the recipe (after following it faithfully the first time around) – I found their quantities made too much for my glasses, and instead of flavouring the jelly with a couple of rosemary sprigs I flavoured the panna cotta with geranium, inspired by Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking recipe for geranium cream. I have a sturdy lemon geranium plant which smells glorious, and so far has survived unscathed in a corner of my windy balcony. I also replaced some of the cream with yoghurt (as in this recipe for Yoghurt Panna Cotta), in a token nod to New Year resolutions, though I’m not sure this was an improvement. My caster sugar is effectively vanilla sugar as I store part-used vanilla pods in my sugar jar. This isn’t essential but if you don’t fancy or don’t have lemon geranium then flavour the cream with the seeds from a vanilla pod, as the original recipe did. My next experiment will be to try a different flavour of jelly – I think orange would taste great, and if you made it with blood oranges it would look spectacular too, so you can still make this dessert even if you aren’t lucky enough to have some sloe gin.

These quantities fit four 200ml glasses – I can’t serve it to more people as I only have four glasses that are the right size and shape! The quantities are easily multiplied if you are feeding more, and would of course taste just as good set in layers if you can’t be bothered with the (minor) faff of tilting the glasses – the main obstacle being making enough room in the fridge for four glasses plus their containers. You need to start this at least 6 hours before you want to eat it, so ideally in the morning or the night before – don’t skip the step of getting it out of the fridge for an hour before serving, particularly if it has been in the fridge all day, as this does improve the flavour and texture.

Panna cotta
2 gelatine leaves (I use Costa Fine Leaf)
400ml double cream (or 300ml double cream + 100ml Greek yoghurt
35g caster sugar (or about 2 rounded tbsps)
2 scented geranium leaves (or seed from 1/2 vanilla pod)

Sloe Gin Jelly
3 gelatine leaves
50g caster sugar
125ml sloe gin
2 rosemary sprigs (optional)

Start with the panna cotta: put the gelatine leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water. While they are soaking, gently heat the double cream, sugar and vanilla or geranium leaves in a large saucepan. Heat the cream until it is just steaming, not simmering, and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. (If you are using geranium and want a strong flavour leave the cream to stand for a while – though I found that it perfumed the cream without doing so. You will need to reheat the cream before before proceeding.) Remove the geranium leaves, then squeeze out the water from the gelatine leaves and stir them into the cream until dissolved. Add the yoghurt, if using, and leave to cool until it is just warm to the touch.

img_2349-1Now for the Blue Peter bit: find bowls in which you can support your glasses at an angle, using a nub of blue-tac to stop them shifting about. Once the panna cotta has cooled, pour or spoon it into the glasses to form a pristine ski slope of cream up to the rim of the glass. Carefully move to the fridge and leave to set – I left mine for a couple of hours.

When the panna cottas have almost set make the jelly. Put the gelatine leaves to soak in cold water, as before. Put 150ml of water and the caster sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the sloe gin (and the sprigs of rosemary if you are using them), and cook over low heat for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, squeeze out the gelatine and stir into the mixture, stirring until it is dissolved. Allow to cool until it is just warm to the touch and then spoon or pour into the glasses. You can either stand the glasses straight at this point (as I did) or set them at the opposite angle to create a slope of jelly. Leave to set for at least 3 hours. Take out of the fridge for about an hour before serving to bring them back to near room temperature.

Delicious nut roast

Nut roast with parsnips and cabbageThis is an Allegra McEvedy recipe, that convinced her that nut roast could be delicious! It was cooked by my friend Marion for a large lunch party recently and was such a hit with vegetarians and carnivores alike that several of us asked for the recipe afterwards.

It is straightforward to make, and you can prepare a lot of the ingredients ahead, so you only have to mix everything together and put it in the oven 40 minutes before you want to eat. Dare I say, this would make an excellent centrepiece for a vegetarian Christmas dinner – and fairly stress-free even for a cook who is also roasting turkey. I can also testify that any leftovers are delicious fried up with bubble and squeak!

100g almonds, skins on
100g hazelnuts, skins off
50g pecans
1 large leek, trimmed
150g vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
splash of olive oil
1 shallot
1 heaped tbsp thyme leaves
100g Comté cheese, grated
1 eating apple, halved, cored and grated
handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
20g parmesan, grated
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/fan 170ºC/Gas 5. As it’s heating lightly toast the almonds, hazelnuts and pecans on the tray for 12-15 minutes until they smell nice and nutty when you open the oven. (If you’re preparing ahead, you can roast the nuts while you’re cooking something else in the oven. Do watch them, though – I nearly burnt mine.) Tip them onto a plate to cool. Line a 450g loaf tin with buttered greaseproof paper.

Slice the leek in half lengthways, then slice finely, wash in a colander and leave to drain thoroughly. Chop the shallot.

Blitz the nuts in a food processor until you have a mixture of fine and chunky pieces. Chop the chestnuts to a similar consistency by hand, then mix it all together in a largish bowl.

Nut Roast mixturePut a splash of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Sweat the leek, shallot and thyme for 10-12 minutes until soft but not coloured,adding a splash of water if they start sticking. (I prepared ahead to this point, popping the nuts and cooked leek mixture in separate containers in the fridge. When you’re ready to roast, remember to pre-heat the oven.) Stir the leeks into the nuts, together with the grated Comté, apple, parsley and eggs. Season well.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, packing it down as you go. Top with the grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top looks invitingly golden. Leave to sit for 10 minutes before lifting out using the greaseproof paper and slicing thickly.

Marion served this with an amazing mushroom gravy, but I opted for tomato sauce (made as in this recipe with the addition of a fat clove of garlic minced and added a few minutes after the onions).

The roast parsnips I served as a side also went down well, converting one guest who said she didn’t like parsnips! If you haven’t already discovered their deliciousness they are really simple: cut parsnips into even sized chunks – say cut across into three, then halve the thinner bottom bits and cut the fatter end into four lengthwise. Preheat the oven to 230°C and put a roasting dish with a good slug of oil to heat in it. Steam the parsnips for 6 minutes. Carefully tip them into the hot fat and roast them for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning them after 10 minutes so they brown evenly.

As the nut roast is cooked at a lower temperature, I roasted the parsnips for 15 minutes while I was mixing up the nut roast, took them out and turned the oven down to 190ºC for the nut roast and then popped the parsnips back into the oven for a final 10 minutes while the nut roast was resting. All of which you can, of course, avoid if you have a second oven!

Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad

img_2207At the farmer’s market in Marylebone last weekend I bought a beautiful big cauliflower, and then had to go on a search for good things to do with it. This Ottolenghi recipe from Jerusalem roasts the cauliflower, giving it a really nutty taste which is accentuated by the toasted hazelnuts, with celery and parsley bringing freshness and crunch. I only used half the cauliflower, as it was so big, (this is what I did with the rest of it) and have adjusted the quantities in the original recipes a little.

Eating cauliflower as a salad always reminds me of the first time I was served warm cauliflower dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette (do try it*) at the house of a friend whose mother was of French and Russian extraction;  both she and her food seemed terribly glamorous. I first had clafoutis there too.

This salad is good as a starter, as a main with, say, other grilled vegetables or chick pea salad or as the accompaniment to, for example, grilled mackerel. This quantity feeds 3 or 4 depending on how you’re serving it.

1 small or half a large head of cauliflower, broken into florets or thickly sliced (approx 450g)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 stick of celery
20g hazelnuts
small bunch flat-leaf parsley
40g pomegranate seeds (approx ½ a small pomegranate)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 dstsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp maple syrup
salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 C/200 C Fan. I tend to slice the cauliflower, after having cut the florets away from the main stem, which gives pieces with an attractive tree-shape, and avoids the difficulty of trying to get neat florets of the same size.

img_2210Mix the cauliflower with 2 tbsp of the oil in a large roasting tin, spread it out and add salt and pepper. Roast for 25-35 minutes until the cauliflower is tender, with some brown crispy bits. Tip into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool. Meanwhile trim the ends of the celery stick and slice it on the diagonal into pieces about 0.5 cm thick. Wash the parsley and pick off the leaves.

Turn the oven down to 170 C/150 C Fan. Spread the hazelnuts on a small baking tray and roast until the skins are dark brown and cracking, which took 12 minutes in my oven, but can take another 5 minutes. I usually give the pan a shake at half time, and you do need to watch them carefully so they don’t burn (really the only remotely tricky bit of this recipe). When the nuts have cooled enough to handle, tip them into a tea towel and rub off the skins, then roughly chop them.

img_2211Add the nuts, celery, parsley, pomegranate seeds, 1 tbsp of oil and the other dressing ingredients to the dish of cauliflower and turn carefully to mix. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.



  • If you want to try cauliflower in vinaigrette, just trim away the leaves and any extra stem, steam the whole head until just tender and then pour over a vinaigrette made with dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and olive oil. Much more delicious than it sounds, and it looks striking when served too.

Smoked mackerel pâté

Smoked mackerel pateHere’s a quick, easy snack or starter for you. Smoked mackerel pâté is a classy take on a humble ingredient and is absolutely delicious with seeded crisp bread or, even better, hot toast. Pumpernickel bread also goes well. It is the perfect way to use up the end of a packet of smoked mackerel.

I always used to make it with cream cheese and curly parsley, but in looking for a recipe found options with ricotta or fromage frais, which make a lighter pâté, and complement the flavour of the mackerel perfectly. If you’re using horseradish you’ll need the grated hot horseradish that you can get in a jar (or fresh, of course), rather than horseradish cream, which won’t give you that kick of flavour.

150g smoked mackerel fillets
100g fromage frais or ricotta
3 tbsps double or sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tsp horseradish (optional)
a good squeeze of lemon juice
black pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Lemon wedges, watercress or capers to garnish (optional)

Carefully skin the mackerel fillets and check for any stray bones. Break up into a bowl and mash with a fork. Beat in the fromage frais or ricotta, then the cream and horseradish. Season to taste with lemon juice and black pepper – I think it needs quite a lot of both – and stir in the parsley. Serve with lemon wedges, and watercress or capers are nice as a garnish too.