Archive for June, 2009

Chicken arrabiata

We’re trying to use up things in the freezer at the moment and needed some way to use up a lone chicken breast. We reasoned that it would probably stretch furtherst in a pasta dish and decided upon making an arrabiata sauce to go with it.

A quick Google search tells me that our sauce wasn’t entirely authentic, but we just chose to make up a spicy tomato sauce and go with it!

Chicken Arrabiata
Serves 2
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins

1 chicken breast
160g pasta (we used conchiglie, but would have used penne if we’d had any!)
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, minced (red’ll do too!)
1tbsp tomato purée
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried oregano
olive oil
salt & pepper
Grana Padano/Parmesan, to serve (optional)

1. Put the chicken breast in a pan and cover with boiling water. Bring to a slow boil and poach for 10-15 minutes or until cooked. When cooked, remove it from the pan and leave on a plate to rest.
2. Meanwhile, soften the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes before adding the crushed garlic and minced chilli. Cook for a further minute.
3. Add the herbs and then stir the tomato purée through. Leave it for 30 seconds or so before adding the chopped tomatoes. Season to taste and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.
4. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to the instructions.
5. When everything is ready, shred the chicken with your hands (or a couple of forks if it’s still too hot!), drain the pasta and then mix everything in together before serving with a sprinkling of Grana Padano/Parmesan.

This was the first time we’d poached chicken and it worked really well, cooking it through whilst keeping it soft and moist. The sauce had a pleasant warmth from the chilli (if you want more of a kick, you’ll want to add more) and was all in all a really nice, quick and easy meal.


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Bubble & squeak with a simple Greek-style salad

Erika and I wanted to watch the tennis last night so didn’t spend too much time either thinking about or making dinner. In the end we ran into the kitchen at the start of the third set and were back not too many minutes later, just as it started to get interesting.

Whilst I made some bubble and squeak with leftover cabbage and mash from Sunday night, Erika prepared a simple salad of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, feta and croutons which she dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oregano. We had the bubble and squeak and salad alongside a hard boiled egg, some sliced mature cheddar and plenty of crackers and rice cakes.

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Melon and pomegranate salad

We had a small melon still in the fridge from our Abel & Cole delivery that, over a week on, was starting to look a little sorry for itself. It stuck in the back of my mind as we were doing our weekly shop this afternoon when I spotted some enormous pomegranates (about the size of small melons themselves) and knew I had to have one – I’d think about what to do with it later.

When I was younger, a friend’s mum would often give us pomegranates to hack at for the best part of an hour or so and making a terrible mess on fingers and clothes – no wonder I’ve always loved them! Thankfully, the grown up me now knows the secret to de-seeding a pomegranate with no mess and no wasted seeds – a simple bowl of water.

How to De-seed a Pomegranate

1. Cut the pomegranate into quarters
2. Pull away the areas of skin and pith that come away easily
3. Transfer the piece of pomegranate to a bowl of water and remove the seeds – it will be surprisingly easy to do so
4. The seeds will sink to the bottom, whilst the pith will float to the top. Scoop the pith out of the water with a sieve and then drain the water – you’ll be left with a glistening pile of beautiful pomegranate seeds.

There was also a lone orange in the fruit bowl and half a lime from Ted’s fajitas last night and so, a light summery dessert was born.

Melon and Pomegranate Salad
Serves 2-3
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: None

1 large pomegranate (2 standard-sized will do!)
1 small melon (any variety other than watermelon will do)
1 orange
1/2 lime
25ml vodka (optional)

1. De-seed the pomegranate (as described above), cut the melon into slices, remove the skin and cut into chunks. Grate the rind of approximately half of the orange onto a separate dish.
2. Cut the orange in half and juice both halves into a cup/small bowl then add a couple of squeezes of lime juice (to taste). If you fancy a bit of an extra kick add the vodka now!
3. Put the pomegranate seeds, melon chunks and orange rind into a bowl and mix well with your hands. Pour over the juice and mix again, then serve.

I really liked this. The crunchy pomegranate seeds and sharpness of lime provided a wonderful contrast to the sweet, soft melon – a delightfully refreshing dessert that was much needed in the desperate-for-a-storm heatwave we’re experiencing in SW London. We tried this both with and without vodka and I couldn’t really decide which one I preferred so will leave that decision entirely up to you!

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Roasted peppers stuffed with rice, vegetables and feta cheese

Rob and I don’t always eat together as one of us may be set on having a particular meal, but the other’s just not interested! Tonight, Rob wanted fajitas so I let him go ahead while I set about trying to create something.

I fancied something that felt fresh and light and feta cheese came to mind, this reminded me of the feta-stuffed romano peppers we’d had and I decided that I’d stuff some peppers with a savoury rice, top it with feta and then bake it in the oven.

First thing’s first, the oven needed to preheat to about 200c. For the rice, I sweated off half a red onion (diced) with a crushed clove of garlic, a large flat mushroom (chopped) and seven quartered cherry tomatoes. When this had all softened I added 1/3 cup of rice (65g) and then 2/3 cup of water along with a sprinkling of vegetable stock powder. I gave it a quick stir and then brought it to the boil before reducing the heat as low as it would go and covering the pan. Ten minutes later, I took the pan off the heat and left the lid on to allow the rice to steam for a further 10 minutes (without the veg, this has been my foolproof method of cooking rice since I first discovered it a few years ago). Once the rice was cooked, I added some leftover cabbage and carrot from last night’s dinner, stirred through some chopped fresh basil and fresh thyme leaves along with a generous grind of black pepper.

At this point the rice smelt very strongly of mushrooms, which I hadn’t really wanted – I was after tomato more than anything. It didn’t taste too mushroomy though, but neither was it particularly tomatoey! I considered adding some tomato purée but concluded that this could just ruin it completely and settled for more quartered cherry tomatoes.

I halved two medium-sized red peppers lengthways and removed the stalk and seeds before stuffing them with the rice, topping them with cubes of feta (65g in total) and placing them on a baking tray (there was still enough rice left for a further two peppers – I’ll have it for lunch tomorrow). They were then baked for 30 minutes until the edges of the peppers were getting soft and crinkly and starting to get a little charred.

When I took the peppers out of the oven I was a little disappointed and wasn’t particularly looking forward to eating them, expecting them to be a little dry and really needing something to accompany them. I’m happy to tell you that I was wrong! The peppers themselves were sweet and juicy (I think roasted peppers may be one of the most delicious foods around) and the extra tomatoes I’d added had oozed into the rice to give the extra moisture and flavour that it needed. The feta was crisp on the outside and soft and creamy inside and lifted the rest of the dish from good to really really good.

P.S. The photo shows two pepper halves, but that portion was for aesthetic reasons only and I finished off both peppers!

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Roasted monkfish with thyme sprigs

We’ve been quite busy recently. Erika and I both have the week off work and have been out of the flat more than we have been in so there’s not been much to write about. This afternoon we found ourselves walking past a fishmonger and asked for some inspiration for something to go alongside some bits from the veg box – Jersey Royals, carrots and cabbage.

After a quick chat with the knowledgeable chap in the fishmonger we left with a wonderfully fresh piece of monkfish and a recipe:

Roasted Monkfish with Lemon and Thyme
Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus 1 hour marinating)
Cooking time: 15 minutes

2x 130g monkfish fillets
2tbsp olive oil
juice and zest of half a lemon
10 sprigs of thyme
salt & pepper

To make the marinade, place the monkfish in a dish and add the olive oil, lemon zest and juice and the thyme. Season, mix well and leave in the fridge for up to an hour. In good time, preheat the oven to 200c.

Heat a dry frying pan over a high heat and add the fish, cooking for a couple of minutes each side until nicely browned. Add the leftover sprigs of thyme along with any remaining marinade and then place in the oven (still in the frying pan) for 6 or 7 minutes until the fish is cooked through.

We served the monkfish with Jersey Royals, carrots and cabbage – all simply boiled so we could really experience the flavours – from the veg box that Able & Cole delivered last Friday. I was a bit skeptical about the vegetables staying fresh after nearly a week; we’ve bought things from farmers’ markets before and they’ve not lasted the weekend, let alone seven days. Surprisingly, most of it had lasted well with just a few floppy carrots and one or two potatoes that were starting to go bad. Once cooked, the potatoes and vegetables tasted wonderful. The Jersey Royals were much better than those we’ve recently bought from supermarkets and the carrots and cabbage were full of flavour, again far superior to anything from the supermarket.

The fish itself was gorgeous. The outside of the fish had a delicate flavour of thyme whilst the inside was juicy and succulent. Monkfish is a firm, meaty fish and it handled the marinade well, despite having quite a mild flavour it was still able to hold its own against the flavours of lemon and thyme – altogether a delicious combination. Neither Erika nor I have had monkfish before but we’ll certainly be having it again (although perhaps not too often as it carried a hefty £38.99/kg pricetag!). Lesson learnt: speak to your fishmonger!

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Table setting at Tallula's Tea Room, Brighton

It’s quarter past eleven on a Sunday morning and our train has just pulled into Brighton station. We’re breaking up our journey back to London having spent the previous evening at a party some miles along the south coast and the guard ushers us through the gate. We leave the station and set off at a brisk pace down Queen’s Road, paying no heed to Trafalgar Street that runs beneath the bridge and is the gateway to the North Laine, with its bustling bohemiam streets crammed full of little cafés, bookshops and trinket treasure troves. We reach North Street where a left turn would bring us into close proximity of the Lanes, a tight maze of tiny streets and tinier walkways lined with jewellery shops, boutiques, quirky independent retailers, restaurants and cafés: instead we turn right. We’re now walking down Western Road towards Hove. Churchill Square, a shopping centre like many other, doesn’t even get a second look and the infamous Brighton Pier edges further and further away. As we walk past the roads that run perpendicular south from Western Road we catch quick glimpses of the almost-midday sun dancing on the surface of the sea. Finally, a right turn takes us into Hampton Place and we’ve reached our destination: Tallula’s Tea Rooms.

When I worked in a Brighton a few years ago a colleague lived on Hampton Place, just a few doors up from Tallula’s. “You have to come and try the pancakes” she once enthused, inviting me to meet her there (a good 25-30 minute walk from where I lived) one Sunday morning and now I say the same to you.

American pancakes and maple syrup at Tallula's Tea Room, Brighton

Tallula’s is a bright and welcoming tea room with a number of tables inside and a further two outside on the pavement, serving breakfast all day, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, Sunday roasts and afternoon tea. There are 20 “teas & herbal infusions” on the menu priced at between £1.80 and £2.75 per person and ranging from a classic English breakfast (organic) to Ceylong Broken Orange Pekoe, Gunpowder, Fukujyu Sencha and Lemon Verdena. Furthermore, there are 11 varieties of coffee that are served in individual cafetières and are priced at between £1.80 for the organic house blend and £3.95 for the Jamaican Blue Mountain.

Alongside a £6.45 full English, breakfast options include a ‘Scottish’ breakfast consisting of Lorne sausage, bacon, eggs, Haggis, black pudding, potato scone, baked beans, mushrooms and toast at £6.95, a vegetarian breakfast at £5.95, eggs Benedict at £6.25 with optional spinach or smoked salmon (+£0.70), oak smoked kipper at £6.25 and, of course, those pancakes!

I opted for three American-style pancakes with maple syrup (£5.95 – the less greedy option is two for £4.95) with a pot of English Breakfast, whilst Rob went for the ‘American’: two pancakes, two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs and maple syrup (£6.95) and a cafetière of the house blend. We were told there would be a wait of about 10 minutes for the pancakes as they had to be freshly made (of course!).

The drinks arrived first; my tea came in a small white teapot with a strainer resting on the cup to catch the leaves (there’s not a teabag in sight here) and a small jug of milk. The tea was brewed to perfection and tasted delightful. Rob’s coffee was strong and full-bodied, perfect for the morning after the night before!

American pancakes, bacon, fried eggs and maple syrup at Tallula's Tea Room, Brighton

When our food arrived, I was slightly taken aback by the size of the pancakes – while many naughty treats seem to shrink over time (hello Mars bar!), I’m pretty sure that Tallula’s pancakes were never quite this generous at 6-7″ in diameter. On the other hand, the maple syrup now arrives in a small dish where previously entire jugs were placed on the table. That said, more maple syrup was quickly forthcoming when requested. The pancakes themselves were thick and light and so terribly-moreish that I couldn’t bear to leave even one last bite despite the fact that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand up again. Rob’s ‘American’ was his first experience combining bacon, eggs and maple syrup, but he was pleasantly surprised at how well the flavours complemented each other; however, he did comment on the lack of crispiness of the bacon.

The bill came to a very reasonable £16.55 and we remained nicely full until well into the evening. I’d been meaning to take Rob to Tallula’s for quite some time and was very glad that the standard of food and service hadn’t dropped over the years so that it easily lived up to the expectations I’d been setting.

Tallula’s Tea Rooms
9 Hampton Place
Brighton, BN1 3DA

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Chicken, broad bean and pea risotto

Upon leaving the flat this morning, Rob was greeted by something we’d been looking forward to for the last week: an organic fruit and veg box sent to us to sample by Abel & Cole. We rushed to open it and were delighted to find apples, fairtrade bananas, broad beans, carrots, a cucumber, a green cabbage, a large green lettuce, Jersey Royals, a small melon and some spring onions. This box would usually set you back £15.95 with a 99p delivery charge – at a guess, I’d say you could match this at the supermarket (though most things wouldn’t be organic) for about £10. Obviously, the former will win in the ethics stake, but how about taste? Everything looked and smelt wonderful and fresh and I instantly started to think about what we could cook, but we had to get to work so each grabbed an apple to enjoy during the day.

Making a perfect first impression, the apples were delicious – sweet, juicy and crunchy, exactly how an apple should be (but often isn’t!).

The thing I really like about the whole idea of these veg box deliveries, is that it’s not unlikely that you’ll end up with something you haven’t cooked before. For us today this turned out to be broad beans, so I decided they would be the first thing we used!

I found a recipe for broad bean risotto on the very apt Veg Box Recipes. I followed the instructions for the broad beans down to removing the skin; unfortunately the 400g or so of broad beans we’d received only produced 100g of actual beans (and even less once the skins were removed). This was definitely disappointing as I would have liked the beans to be the focus of the risotto and was instead forced to pad it out with peas. Along with the broad beans and peas we added some chicken breast that had been diced, well-seasoned and fried.

Rob said the risotto was the best we’d ever made and the broad beans were a delicious addition. I couldn’t resist picking at them a little once I’d removed the skins – they tasted so fresh and would have worked just as well as the highlight of a simple salad as they did in the risotto.

First impressions of our fruit and veg box have been very good. Stay tuned over the next week or so to see how the rest fares!

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