Monday, 28 May 2012

Moroccan Chicken Curry

Bubbling away...with the lentils cooking in the foreground

By popular demand I am going to attempt to provide the recipe for my  much desired but difficult to define Moroccan Chicken dish. It's troublesome, due to my proclivity to use whatever ingredients I have to hand and to alter the dish accordingly and so I must necessarily assume that the reader has some culinary competence and will be able to adjust the components as applicable.

As usual with this type of dish, the basic tenet is to build up the flavours by adding enhancing and harmonising constituents, elements that accommodate each other well, whilst at the same time retaining some authenticity in the dish.

So I'll start with the chicken - use what you like!

I use thighs because I think the meat is tastier, you may prefer breast but you could use the whole chicken, it's entirely up to you. This dish is cooked for a while so that the meat will pass beyond "just done" into the "falling off the bone" category, so please feel free to experiment.

Here is a list of the basic essentials, the ingredients that must end up in the dish in some measure.....

A medium onion, peeled and finely chopped or sliced
Garlic, two or three (or four) finely chopped or sliced
Fresh chili, de-seeded, and finely chopped
Dried sultanas, raisins,apricots,dates or something similar
Either fresh tomatoes finely chopped or a tin of chopped tomatoes (add a pinch of sugar with the latter)
Stock (chicken or vegetable)
A teaspoon of ground Cumin
A teaspoon of ground Cinnamon or a Cinnamon stick or two
A teaspoon of ground Ginger
A couple of fresh bay leaves (Dried if you have to)
As much chopped thyme as you wish
A little dollop of honey (not too much)
Chopped fresh Coriander

And of course, the chicken

Ingredients you could add or substitute:

Fresh fruit (grapes, apple, lemons, orange)
Sesame seeds or pistachio nuts
Lentils (I almost always add some of these - pre-cooked)
Fresh green beans or peas (towards the end of cooking- I usually add some to give a colour addition)
Extra chili powder
Tomato puree


Again I am assuming some knowledge here...

I use a large cast iron casserole dish.

Fry off the chicken to brown and seal - remove from the dish

Fry off the onions slowly for 5 minutes or so until translucent but not brown. 
Add the garlic and chili and sweat for another three or four minutes
Pour in the tinned tomatoes or add the fresh with a little stock
now add the spices, bay leaves a little salt, pepper and the dried fruit together with the chopped thyme.
Allow to cook for 5 to 10 minutes on a low heat to reduce slightly and co-mingle. Check the seasoning...
Add the chicken, honey and enough stock to almost cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so....

Give the dish a good stir to mix up all the ingredients and place in a medium oven for an hour or so. You'll need to check it after half an hour just to check it hasn't dried out too much - especially if you have added lentils.

It's ready when the sauce is thick, unctuous and not at all runny. Serve with the chopped coriander sprinkled on top with rice, flatbreads or both and a fresh white wine of your choice....Enjoy.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Warming up.....

A sleepy Grass Snake

After weeks of rain, murk and sunless skies, and while we were complaining vociferously about the injustices, unfairness and vagaries of the British weather, nature has followed its unstoppable inevitability and has provided us with an unchanging, unfailing certainty, exuberantly displayed in the flowers and wildlife around us in the woods. Ladies smock, dog violet, bluebell, ragged robin and the first showings of speedwell are everywhere now. The Hawthorn is a white blaze along roadsides and hedgerows and the blossom of wild damson, crab apple and rowan are strewn through the woodland paths surrounding our cottage like downy gossamer on the wind. Chestnut spikes and Sweet Chestnut flowers mingle with the purple Rhododendron goblets which top the sprawling limbs of spider growth through the network of honeysuckle, yet to reach its glory, and young eponymous birch, green in livid lime. Beech is resplendant in its bursting life, oak leaves unfurl like long, lazy cats and the palmate pads of the horse chestnut stroke us as we push our way through its fronds on our daily walks along ever changing pathways, mysterious with new life, inexplicably altered almost hourly by the accelerated growth of plant and tree.

Perfectly chitted potatoes
At home there are many jobs that crave our attention; potatoes, perfectly chitted need to be planted and then earthed up as new growth nudges through the soil. The polytunnel is in constant need of ministration, a few days neglect can lead to hours of catching up. And, of course, the veggies need water, weeding, re-potting, thinning out and pricking out. All this for a few beans, peas, tomatoes, herbs, carrots, beetroot, salads and brassicas - one wonders if the effort is worth the produce. But only until the first carrot is snapped, the first broad bean pod opened and the duvet nestled bean removed, or the fresh peppery rocket tasted with local ham between two slices of home made bread, then the endeavour is rewarded ten fold.

My problems in the tunnel this year have been entirely down to the assiduous diligence of the neighbourhood field mice, the application of which has entirely denuded my bean and pea machinations of the very items needed for their success - the planted seeds. These mean, measly mice munched their way through an entire bed of broad beans, burrowing into the soil to reach the planted bean mere hours after I had conscientiously laid them in neat rows with anticipation of the coming season – these are always the first vegetables to be planted – strong within me.

Broad beans finally in flower

To say that these rascally rodents are tenacious would be to vastly understate their aptitude to seek, discover and consume the buried seeds, beans and peas – all of them. I had to re-start the entire programme and this seriously delayed the advent of broad beans, borlottis, peas, runner beans and green beans in the Kelly Household by weeks in the case of most, but by months as far as the broad beans are concerned, which were initially planted in October last year.

Early Purple Orchid

I’m all for the concept of sharing, the consideration of others and the spreading of surplus wealth in the community, but have I failed to appreciate the exiguous existence of the prolific and fecund mouse? Have I inadvertently overlooked the gift of mouse poo as a valid, if somewhat scant, composting material or am I being a little trenchant in my attitude to the influx of field mice in my polytunnel? I would have thought that the abundance of “proper” mouse produce in the locale would justify my vexation at having said neighbours in my vegetable plot – especially as the rabbits have eaten my Horseradish!.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)

Ground Elder in the foreground
The bane of gardeners everywhere - I find this plant an enigma; a dichotomy, since we spend most of our time trying to get rid of it, only to trot down to the nearest supermarket to buy pots of parsley. Actually, I grow my own parsley and never trot to the supermarket at all if I can help it, but the concept is the same, as I try to eradicate it from other people's gardens.

Introduced, probably by the Romans, this ubiquitous little plant is a terror. Leave one tiny piece of root in the ground and it will be back - with a vengeance. That's why Ground Elder spots are always Ground Elder spots, and why gardeners all over the country are cursing the Romans. Yet one has to admire its tenacity, its fight for survival and the best way to do this is to use it and eat it as if you meant to grow it just where it is.

It is, of course, no relation to the Elder tree, but was probably named for its resemblance to the Elder leaves and was once thought to cure gout - it doesn't - but it is a wonderful substitute for parsley and you should use it in just the same way.

Think of all the time you will save by not popping to Tesco or digging up Ground Elder.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Chickens - The Serial

Posts, postcrete and wire - £30

Well, the acquisitions have moved on - not for nothing unfortunately, some cost was involved but I did get some good bargains. The first items were the water holder and the red mite powder which were given as a gift from our neighbours whose animals we looked after for a while. Then I was given an idea about  a wood yard opposite us and after some negotiation I picked up 50 metres of chicken wire and 5 posts for £30. I was quite pleased with that, actually, especially as I had some postcrete left over from a recent fencing job. Foraging isn't just about food you know...I also forage for firewood in the woods around us and this chicken keeping project is also about acquiring things as cheaply as possible - even bartering if I can. Five posts are needed for the four corners and a door post. I intend to dig the wire in at least a foot and a half into the ground and cement it in too. The posts will be over 6 feet high and the wire will extend loosely beyond this to discourage any foxy climbing. If a cat can get in, so can a fox and I'm determined not to lose my hens to foxes.

Our eggs are being incubated by Babs right now and will be grown on for us, so I still have a few weeks yet. Two posts are in and I have to find some more concrete, but apart from the work of assembly, most of which is digging, I'm pretty close now. Updates to follow.

Water Feeder and Red Mite Powder

Monday, 14 May 2012

Chicken of the Woods with Seafood Risotto

Following on from my recent blog, I found another Chicken of the Woods fungus within yards of my front door and decided to make a risotto with it together with some lovely scallops and mussels I had in.


It really is fairly standard and, as usual, you can swap and change it with the availability of items to hand:

I sweated off some garlic in oil and butter for a few minutes before adding the arborio rice and mixing it together before adding a glug of white wine.

After a minute or two I started adding stock to the rice - I used a very light vegetable stock, and it should be hot - together with some white pepper and a small amount of salt. I also added some chopped herbs - your choice here - I used some Greek basil and coriander because that's what I had handy, but you could use a small amount of time, parsley, chervil, a little fennel or dill.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, I fried off the mushroom in a little butter and oil, adding salt and pepper and a tiny drop of the white wine. After a couple of minutes the scallops and mussel meat were added and fried until they just started to take on some colour. This was then removed from the heat and allowed to rest.

When the Risotto had cooked and was all creamy and unctuous I added back the mushroom and seafood melange and stirred until combined, adding more herbs and salt as necessary. I served it with Pecorino cheese and more fresh herbs sprinkled on top though you could use Parmesan.

Remember, Risotto is all about building up the flavours, so I used the liquid from the seafood as well as any juices left from frying off the mushroom, scallops and mussels. That's also why I used the wine, herbs and, in this instance, some peas.

The more little tasters you add the better will be the final result.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The New PAC Committee

The new PAC Committee has been installed for a fresh three year term and as a Twice Committee member (well, one-and-a-half really - and a small time one at that) I know firstly how much enthusiasm they have for their posts and, secondly, how much they're going to need it.

There are many who are foremost to complain and moan, yet last in line to volunteer, so my sincere best wishes to the new team who have had the courage to put the love of their sport above the lethargy of many, and the commitment to use their time to further the cause of Pike and Pike Fishing.

Dilip Sarkar MBE

The President, Dilip Sarkar MBE has already taken the bull by the horns - or perhaps that should be the Bear by the Balls - and shared some of his thoughts with Rob Shallcroft of The Pike Pool. In an act of selfless courage he has opened himself up to that minority of sofa critics, keyboard warriors and Moaning Myrtles who take great satisfaction in disparaging the efforts of the few who actually get off their arses to do something.

The new committee

I have written my small piece for Pikelines Magazine as a final farewell and replicate it below. As I mentioned my part was honestly a small one to play in the overall running of the club, but I enjoyed the work, the craic and the enthusiasm of many who work for no reward to protect a sport that many perceive as pointless. Long may the enthusiasm, the dedication and the tireless tenacity of the few continue to protect the minority sport of the many.

Goodbye, and thanks for all the fishing…

I’ve said this before, but I think that of all the fishing fraternities, Pikers are the most militant, the most likely to speak out against wrong-doing, the most protective of their quarry and the least likely to suffer fools.

Although hardly saints themselves in many cases, they will not sit idly by and watch while others kill pike for no reason other than a misguided belief that doing so will afford a level of protection to other species. Often, they will not tolerate fish killing at all – even for consumption.

It is said that some pet owners come to resemble their pets – perhaps this is true of fisherman and their target fish, for I firmly believe that Pike Fishermen are tenacious, aggressive and dynamic, much like the pike itself.

That’s why I love both Pike and Pike Anglers.

I have been fortunate enough to have worked with two committees and in both cases, the level of concern for the pike has been paramount. The sudden bursts into action when a threat to our fishing has been detected, and the tenacity and rugged determination to win the case has been supreme and I have every reason to believe that the next committee will continue at the same level of intensity.

I leave the Advertising in the very capable hands of Chris Liebbrandt – a well known angler of some distinction and renown – a fact which gives me great peace of mind - and I sincerely wish him the very best for the future. I extend the same thoughts to the rest of the new committee and offer my thanks to John, Graham, Tim, Chico, Mark, Colin, Chris, Mick and Skip for the wonderful work they have done. As for Steve Ormrod – well, suffice it to say that as an Editor, Designer and publisher he has been a pleasure to work with, always polite and ever efficient he is an asset to the PAC. As a fisherman – he is annoying. Clever, active and successful, he will always find triumph through determined persistence and thoughtfulness.

The PAC is in very good hands.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

This is a fine, delicate woodland plant, the discovery of which always gives me great satisfaction as it is such a lovely wildflower to encounter. On warm spring days it can be pleasant to nibble on one or two of its leaves or a flower perhaps - refreshing the mouth like a sour toothpaste. Weird? Try it, I think you'll agree.

This fabulously delightful little plant has elements of oxalic acid which give it the lemony, acid taste that compliments fish dishes and salads wonderfully well. But don't confuse it with the more ubiquitous clover, this flower is much more refined and elegant by far, it only opens fully in the sunshine, hanging its noble white head when the  sun refuses to come out - and clover doesn't taste very nice either. 

Just scatter a few leaves or flowers in your salad or chop up the leaves finely to use in a light sauce for your fish dishes - or just chew a couple as you wander through the woods, it really is an enchanting discovery.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphereus)

High up in an oak tree - The Chicken of the Woods 

I like mushrooms. I like their look, I like their tenacity and I like their taste (the edible ones).

There are around 4000 species of mushrooms large enough to eat in the UK and about 25% of those are edible. Most of this last quarter are either tasteless, tough or too small to bother with and so we're left with about 100 or so that are sought after and only about 25 or so that most foragers bother with.

Of that original 4000 species, about ten per cent are actually poisonous and only 20 are dangerously so. I say only, but please do not take any chances at all. If you don't know which mushroom it is - do not eat it.

I have tried a couple of the nasty, hot mushrooms which prevent you eating more almost instantly due to the horrid taste left in the mouth. But there are a few lovely and innocuous looking specimens that will leave you in hospital and worse. Please be careful. Most though will give you gastric uncertainty and discomfort by way of diarrhoea or will give you visual uncertainty by way of hallucinations. Neither are pleasant so be sure of what you eat.

This week I found a fungi which I usually start to find later in the summer, but it can be found earlier depending on the humidity - this spring has been particularly wet.

High rainfall has brought this one out early....
It has a wonderfully evocative name, a stunning colour and is one of the best mushrooms to cook with. It has a pleasant mushroomy flavour as daft as that sounds, and a solid texture which means it is perfect for curries, casseroles, omlettes and risottos. When you cut into its flesh it is like carving chicken breast. It's also very easy to identify and therefore safe, but it doesn't agree with everyone according to some books, so if it is your first time eating this solid bracket fungi then try a little at a time.

It is found mainly on oak and usually on decaying or damaged oak, but I have found it on beech and ash. Do not eat any if it is growing on a yew tree - this will almost definitely be poisonous.

I expect you're thinking "Gosh all these warnings, is it really worth it?" Well, yes, I think it is. It's great food, it's free and it's a smugly satisfying thing to find and cook your own food. This is a great mushroom to start with, but do cook it first. There, the final safety warning.....try it and enjoy the countryside.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sausage Cassoulet

The great thing about this recipe is its simplicity;  it's made from ingredients you should usually have in your cupboard, and if not - well just use something else...

It's quite difficult therefore to list the ingredients you should use for this dish as it's a moveable feast, so to speak. However, this is exactly how I did this particular dish today.


A pack of six sausages of your choice chopped into one inch chunks  - I used Sicilian.
Some chorizo sausage - I used a six to eight inch piece, chopped up into one inch chunks.
A medium onion - I used red.
two cloves of garlic - finely chopped
1 small chili - finely chopped
two carrots - chopped
1 Leak - chopped
1 or two small potatoes - chopped
1 tin of baked beans
1 tin of borlotti beans - these just happened to be the ones I had - but I've even used lentils if I had no beans.
A handful of chopped thyme, parsley, Greek basil, marjoram - or pretty much anything green!
1 very large teaspoonful of smoked paprika - this one thing is pretty much essential - and worth having in...
a dollop of tomato ketchup
a teaspoonful of sugar
salt and pepper to taste.
(You could also add a can of chopped tomatoes, some cumin, peas at the end or any other greens if you wish)

Sounds like a lot of ingredients? Well. it's not really, but each part adds a layer of flavour.


Brown off the sausages in the pan with some oil then put aside with the chopped chorizo.
Now in the same pan add some butter and sweat off the onions, garlic, leaks and chili.
After five minutes or so add all the chopped carrots and potato and let them soften up for another five minutes, then add the baked beans. Stir these in and then add the drained tin of borlotti or other bean of your choice. Stir in the ketchup and paprika, herbs and seasoning. If it still looks a little low on liquid levels I usually wash out the baked bean tin and add more water that way - or you could add a can of chopped tomatoes.

Take off the heat and cook in a lowish oven for an hour or so.

Serve with wine and bread/rice/pasta (I usually just have a piece of bread to soak up the gravy.

As I mentioned it's a very versatile dish and can be adapted as needed. It also tastes better if you have any left over the next day,

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Herman The German - Part Two

As previously promised HERE I would like to give one or two alternative paths to take with the Herman Friendship cake mix that you may have been given or may have started yourself. Ideas that will help you make the most of your gift if you have friends or perhaps bring you friends when you pass these ideas on….

Firstly, one of the things you can do is to split the mix of bubbling dough in two and turn one half into a bread sourdough. However, first I should, perhaps explain the concept of sourdough itself.

Although it’s likely that your “Herman” mix was initially started with a packet of yeast – definitely so if you made it yourself – it will have accumulated ‘natural’ yeasts over the days/weeks/months of its existence. These natural yeasts are all around us and real sourdoughs are started without cultured yeast at all but just by mixing the flour and water, with perhaps a touch of sugar, in a normal environment, probably your kitchen. These natural yeasts then permeate your mix, react with it and begin the fermentation process. The “sour” part of the name probably comes from the musty smells that emanate from this natural fermentation but it does give bread radically different properties, taste and texture.

But it is a wonderful bread to bake.

So, split some of Herman into another bowl and feed with Strong Bread Flour and water only – no sugar and then cover in the normal way. This mix will need feeding every other day – again with just bread flour and water.

When you’re ready to bake bread – actually 12 hours before ideally – pour a ladle full of your bread Herman, making sure that it is bubbling well, into a mixing bowl. Add half the strong bread flour you would normally use. For example, if you were baking a 500 gram loaf of bread add 250 grams of the flour and all the liquid you would normally use – so 300 – 325 mils of water – mix well, cover and leave overnight if you can. This is called the ‘sponge’.

The next stage is to mix in the remainder of the flour and a teaspoonful of salt and kneed for 10 minutes or so. If using a dough hook in a mixing bowl – 5 minutes will do. Leave it to prove for eight hours or so, it will take this long to see a rise. Knock back the mix and mould into a bread shaped ‘round’ on a baking tray and cover for another few hours -overnight works well for me. The bread should rise nicely over this time, I usually turn the oven on as soon as I wake up. Just before you bake it in the usual way, slash the top with a sharp knife in an artisan fashion and slip it into a hot oven….In fact check out this previous recipe from a my blog and follow it from the kneading stage. Also this YouTube clip will give you a good idea.

Sourdough bread is an excellent loaf for your repertoire. It’s a stronger flavour, but once you’ve baked one you will find yourself longing for the next one. I think the best ‘test’ for this loaf is that once you have tried it, you’ll want to share it. What better recommendation?

Next time I’ll try to give a few recipes for cake recipes that differ from those generally given with your Herman instructions.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Jack-By-The-Hedge (Alliaria petiolata)

Looking very like a nettle, Garlic Mustard, Hedge Garlic or Jack-By-The-Hedge is another fine foraging find when out on your rambles. There is no aroma until the leaves are crushed but then it gives off a delicate garlic smell - a cross between spring onion and wild garlic.

Now is the time to pick it - just as the flowers start to appear - much later and the plant will taste a little rank, but it's easy to find. In the picture I have included some nettles in the foreground for comparison - but this plant has no sting and is easily identified when the leaves are crushed. Use it in soups, salads, and as a delicate addition of  flavour depth to one pot dishes.

As an aside, my apple blossom is now out. I planted my trees a year ago when the Royal Wedding was on TV and Will and Kate kindly gave me a day off to dig them in. Five of the six trees took and I'm hoping for at least a dozen apples this year.