Friday, 29 March 2013

Wild Garlic Chicken Kiev

Spring's arrival starts for me with Wild Garlic

For the last couple of years I have been banging on about Wild Garlic and the wonderful things you can do with it and as Spring wades through streams of excess rainfall in an effort to arrive, like a soggy cousin from hotter regions unaccustomed to the British climate, I thought I might share a recipe that has been naturally adapted by me but widely recognised as a Classic.

First, though, you may wish to read my previous ramblings about this wonderfully evocative spring plant, found widely and usually discovered by its smell rather than by the sight of its verdant green leaves.
They are HERE and HERE. It is the botanical precursor to the bounty that each year brings, the start of the foraging year 'proper'.

An iconic 70's dish, along with Scampi in a Basket and Black Forest Gateaux, Chicken Kiev is, I suppose, usually bought already packaged and ready to cook or re-heat. Making one from scratch allows a certain amount of latitude to experiment, enhance and improve on the original recipe and the use of foraged wild garlic certainly changes the dynamic of this dish in a dramatic way.


Two skinless chicken breasts
Half a dozen or so wild garlic leaves
1 large egg
50 grams plain flour
50 grams butter
Salt and Pepper
I lemon

Make pockets in the breasts

First you will need to make pockets in the chicken breasts with a knife. Finely chop the wild garlic, mix it with the butter, some salt and pepper and a squeez of lemon and push half of this mixture into each chicken pocket.

Chop the garlic
Dip the breasts in well seasoned flour, then the egg - and then do that again - flour then egg, and coat them with the  breadcrumbs nice and thickly! This double coating of flour and egg helps prevent the butter leaking during cooking, and seals in the flavours and moisture, and is quite important. You might even find that you need two eggs. Remember too to make your own breadcrumbs - don't buy them!

I then put the coated breasts into the fridge for half an hour or so or until needed later in the day. This sets the covering. Gently shallow fry the breasts on all sides in a light oil until both are a lovely golden brown colour and then place on an oven proof dish in a medium oven for 20 - 25 minutes, until cooked right through. Serve with vegetables of your choice.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Miserable March?

Harry has a fish on....near Arctic conditions in March

The coldest March for 50 years? Snow throughout the month and disrupted travel again this weekend - the 23/24th? Perhaps. All I know is, it's been about 11 months since we had a prolonged spell of warm, settled weather. In fact, March and April 2012 were warm, dry months with higher than average temperatures and a drought in 5 or 6 counties. We went for almost six weeks without rain and we were all confident of a long, hot dry summer. I showed pictures of Bewl Reservoir at its lowest ever level - you can read that again HERE if you want to remind yourselves, and the Water Authorities were concerned about future supplies and low water tables. But, as we all know, from mid April on, we had the wettest Summer ever, with floods all across the UK, waterlogged fields, impassable roads and some communities suffering flooding, in some cases, three or four times in as many months.

Work on the new pond shows the amount of water lying on the fields...

Yet Harry and I ventured out into the 2 degree, end of March weather, with a cold, North-Easterly gale making it feel more like minus 5. We are a hardy lot us anglers - are we not? The good news is that Trout like lower water temperatures and are happy to feed when other, naturalised species are not. So although we were dressed like Explorers of the Frozen North, trudging our way up the hill in layer upon layer of thermal and waterproof clothing, like over-burdened advertisements for Michelin Snow wear, we at least didn't have too many problems contacting with the fish which wanted large, showy flies, shunning anything smaller than a size 10. It took me an hour or so to work that last bit out, actually; Harry had two fish before I changed flies from a small-ish nymph pattern to a large gold head olive damsel. The cold must have slowed down my thinking.

It was good to be out, but better still to get home to a wood fire, hot tea and supper, roll on Spring and at least a slightly higher temperature - double figures would be nice...

A silver bar of light on a cold day  

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Basic Apple Chutney

Unctuous and fun...

If you're going to start making chutneys then a basic recipe for a classic all rounder seems a sensible place to start. This recipe is popular, easy to make and pretty much eponymous. It's what chutneys are all about. You could just make apple chutneys for ever, varying the recipe, changing the spices extending the variations from a near Apple Sauce to a spicy, hot Indian pickle with plenty of chilies, mustard seed and even curry powder. It can be thick and unctuous, gloopy and sticky; it can be great with cheese, pork chops, mackerel and could even be used as a sweet pie filling.

My jolly useful apple peeler and corer...from Lakeland

Producing, peeled and cored apples by the dozen

So the thing about chutney is that it doesn't just use sugar to preserve it, it also uses vinegar and this adds oodles to the flavour too. My best tip for the actual cooking of the ingredients is to cook fast. The sooner you can turn the component parts into an unctuous, thick chutney, the more flavours will remain in the sauce. I use a pan that gets hot quick and stays hot, holding the heat well, then fast boil AND KEEP STIRRING.  Do not let it burn on the bottom of the pan as the burnt taste will permeate the chutney, spoiling it. Once your wooden spoon can be drawn across the bottom of the pan and the sauce stays apart for a moment, like the red sea just after Moses had made it across, but before the Egyptians arrived, it's ready for jarring, (see HERE for sterilising jars) and it's better eaten after it has been allowed to mature for a month or so, although often I can't wait that long....

So, ingredients:

Apples (Obviously) about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 kilos, peeled, cored and chopped not quite roughly but not too finely either!
Cider Vinegar 500 mls
Onions about 600 grams finely chopped
Sugar 400 grams
(Here's where it gets interesting: try different sugars. Lighter sugar produces a lighter chutney, dark molasses sugar produces darker, richer, caramelly chutney - then there's everything in between!!)
1 Tspn Salt
juice of 1 lemon and some zest too.
Sultanas 300grams

DO NOT ADD WATER, you will only have to cook it out and this will take longer.

That's it, if you like. It will be bland, but it will keep and it will go well with pork etc, and depending on how fast you cook it, you should get 4 or 5 jars from this amount.

However, here's where it becomes interesting. In MY basic recipe I also add:

1 heaped dessert spoon of ground ginger
1 heaped dessert spoon of ground cinnamon
a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves

BUT you could add:
Cloves - ground up as finely as you can
Mustard Seeds
Dried Apricots
....and anything else that takes your fancy....

....and you can of course, experiment with the amounts to suit your own taste, but beware the stronger spices....

This is a fun recipe to learn about mixing sugar with vinegar and fruit, combining your own flavours and suiting your own tastes and needs. Apples are cheapish, so it won't cost the earth if it all goes horribly wrong, but the even better option is to wait until apples are free - then it's really fun....

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Fast, Not Street Food

Street Food in Madeira

With the continuing focus in the National Press on the food we eat it's becoming apparent that not is all as it should be. Obviously we have had the Horse Meat Scandal recently, but in this morning's papers and on the TV news are more articles about processed meats such as cheap bacon, ham and some mince and the health risks inherent in some of them.

It must be remembered that the constitution of processed meats has been tampered with, especially the cheaper range that some supermarkets provide. In an effort to give longevity, additives are included and in an effort to make up the weight, water is added. It's not difficult to assimilate - if it's cheap, it's not necessarily good and if it has been processed, it's not necessarily the natural product you thought it might be.

On a recent trip to Madeira I noticed that many teenagers, young adults and more generally, the native population steered clear of the Burger King outlet and made for the Street Food counters selling baked bread, and the local favourites, the equivalent to British Fish and Chips I guess - and while Fish and Chips is not a meal to be eaten everyday due to the high fat content, one might hope that the ingredients are at least fresh and unprocessed.

I don't understand why Brits head straight for the McDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut "restaurants" rather than cook a meal from scratch, perhaps it stems from a lack of parental education; if your parents took a box out of the freezer and called it "Dinner", perhaps their children will as well. As I said in a previous blog, one can only hope that from the recent discussions of food origins will come a better awareness of what we are eating and where it is sourced.

But street food is not necessarily fast food and in Madeira it mostly was NOT fast. The Bolo de Cacao, a bun made with sweet potato flour was cooked in front of you while you waited and if you wanted a burger with it - well you waited for that too. No Bacon sandwiches here, but the local ham is well regarded and expensive, not filled with water and chemicals, just naturally cured and tasty.

It's the "fast" that causes problems really; frozen foods re-heated, reconstituted and served quickly; foods manufactured to make its preparation quick and 'convenient', or modern, chemically enhanced food items. The best recipes are those that have been around a long time, the best foods, those that have been prepared with time and care and the best methods, those that have been in use for centuries.

Bread has been made for millenia, yet to make bread only TWO ingredients are required; flour and water, to make leavened or risen bread you'll need to add yeast, and to make a tasty risen bread you might want to add salt. All natural, all cheap, all healthy and all have been around for a very long time.

The final ingredient though, the one that causes all the problems, the one thing that makes food really healthy, tasty and appreciated? 

Take a guess....