Friday, 19 March 2010

Chicken with coriander and spinach rice

I love rice. I grew up eating it and occasionally hating it, but I never knew as a fussy five-year-old that so many wonderful and exciting things could be made with it, nor even that rices other than jasmine rice existed. We ate it every day, with steamed fish and vegetables, the occasional bit of poached chicken and various other things. We didn't eat a lot else and I fought against it sometimes, especially when the tough old pak choi leaves would get stuck in my throat and make me gag. If we were ill and didn't feel like eating, we would have plain rice sprinkled with sesame oil and soy sauce, which was a wonderful, comforting thing. Even to this day I love the smell of it. But in general I was a terrible eater up until the age of six or seven, and mealtimes could be difficult, especially if it only involved boring fish and Chinese greens.

These days we carry five types of rice in our house at the same time and cook regularly with each of them. There is a whole world of things you can make to eat with it. But what I like best, especially when I want something wholesome, is a gently cooked rice dish with lots of vegetables in it. When I see pictures of rice with things in it, especially green things, I am sucked in every time. I like it flecked with bits of spinach and herbs, or as a mixed vegetable risotto or paella style with any old veg from the fridge thrown in and served with a wedge of lemon. So when I saw the photo of this dish (much better than mine above), I was instantly taken. I had to make it. This is the second time I've made it and it was even better this time. I don't know why. It is just lightly spicy but fragrant, and utterly moreish with the spiced yoghurt on the side. You could try making this without the chicken - maybe add half a diced onion to the vegetables for a bit more flavour instead.

This is a dish from 'Falling Cloudberries' by Tessa Kiros, taught to her by her Peruvian friend. I have adapted the recipe to serve roughly 2 people. I have used a small amount (only three thighs between two people) of boned chicken thighs without skin instead of pieces of chicken with bones in (if you want to use the latter, which would be nice, use pieces of a chicken cut into eighths and serve one or two pieces per person).

chicken (I used three boned thighs for two people. You might want more.)
1 carrot, finely diced
1/3 red pepper finely diced
a big handful of peas, fresh or frozen
1 garlic clove, chopped
50g spinach (I used frozen, and I always use more than this. I probably used nearly 100g! :-))
a handful of fresh coriander
170g long grain rice (Tessa uses short grain rice)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or if you don't have any, use half and half chilli powder and paprika)
olive oil
salt and pepper

for the yoghurt:
50ml yoghurt (that's a guess, I used three big dollops without measuring)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper

Brown the chicken pieces in light olive oil over a moderate-high heat until they are golden on the outside and nearly cooked through (this is especially important if they are on the bone or they won't cook through later). You have a choice here and it depends on your pan. I'd recommend browning it in a non-stick pan rather than a regular saucepan or something - makes your life a bit easier not to be anxious about things sticking! If the chicken has skin on you might be OK with just a regular pan. Set the chicken aside.

Meanwhile, either roughly chop the spinach and coriander in a food processor with a splash of water, or if you are using frozen spinach, defrost it, chop lightly and add the chopped coriander to it.

Now put some new oil into the pan you want to cook the rice in - a deep saucepan is good - or if you were already using the saucepan, discard the oil and add a splash of fresh oil. Add the garlic, and as soon as you can smell it add the carrots, peas and red pepper and cook gently for about 5 minutes to soften. Stir in the cayenne pepper and season well, then add the spinach and coriander mixture and stir for another minute or so. Now return the chicken to the pan, add one and a half cups of water and bring it to the boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes (you can do it for 10 if there are no bones) until the chicken is cooked. Take the chicken pieces out again and keep them warm. Add the rice to the pan, give it a stir, add one more cup of hot water and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes until it looks like the rice has absorbed most of the water. Turn the heat down to the lowest point, cover the pan and continue to cook for up to 15 minutes. Stir it only occasionally to check that it isn't sticking to the pan. If it looks dry but the rice isn't cooked yet, add a splash of water from a kettle. Check and adjust the seasoning towards the end.

Whilst the rice is cooking, mix the yoghurt, cumin and some salt and pepper in a bowl ready to serve.

Because I like my food hot, I like to put the chicken back into the pan to steam over the rice for the last few minutes. It's up to you! Once the rice is cooked and there is no liquid left in the pan, serve it with the chicken pieces on top and a big dollop of the spiced yoghurt on the side. If you like things hot, add a drizzle of chilli oil to finish.

Monday, 15 March 2010

today I'm craving...

the taste of home. My parents and sister visited us last weekend. It was lovely to see them - we don't see each other often enough. My parents made Chinese dumplings and brought a big bag of them for the freezer - whilst I will love eating them, they will mostly serve to make me jealous of my Dad's cooking and access to things like Chinese (garlic) chives, and his superior seasoning skills. He is one of those chefs who will actually taste, by licking, his pork mince mixture whilst the meat is still raw. I haven't crossed that boundary yet, nor do I think I will soon.

They love to bring me food, as if I live in some backwater where things like fish and oranges are a rare sight. My mother has a way of slipping odd things into my cupboards whilst I'm not watching, so as well as a papaya the size of a house (presented to me with much pride by my sweet Dad), we have ended up with all the chocolate and biscuits that no-one at my parent's house will eat, two random boxes of cereal and some Chinese herbal junk that I will never consume (I think it's ginseng).

What I really want, though, is a big batch of zongzi. Even better, I would love to learn how to make them. Sure, I've wrapped them at home with my parents before, but I was never taught how to make all the bits that go in the filling. Zongzi are glutinous rice parcels stuffed with wondrous things like mung beans, chicken, pork belly, dried sausage, salted duck eggs... all manner of things. You wrap the parcels in fragrant banana leaves and boil them in batches, then stick them in the freezer for those important times when you want a huge lump of stodge that will make you (or me at least) weep with nostalgia and homesickness. Eaten with a good slug of both dark and light soy sauce, they are the perfect comfort food, if a little on the heavy side. Have one of these and you'll not want to eat again for a week. (Image from Wikipedia)

Again, I am delighted by the food parallels that can be drawn right across the globe: one of the foods that I would love to try, but simply can't be found easily in England, is Mexican tamales. I have watched and drooled over Jamie Oliver (the food, not the man!) in Los Angeles being taught how to wrap them by some Mexican immigrants, but they have never passed my lips. One day!

Posting has been light here - we've not been particularly interesting people, nor cooked anything mind-blowing. Just the usual assortment of pasta and rice things, and a bit of junk too.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

just a link for today

I've been uninspired this week. Going through a busy/rough/tired patch. We have eaten lamb, celeriac mash again, some random pasta... It's not been anything to write about, anyway.

Remember I was waxing lyrical about the bánh mì we ate in New York? I've been on the hunt for good recipes ever since. I came across this site, Ravenous Couple, written by a young Vietnamese American couple, and they seem to have some good suggestions. I will try making something from this site soon, I think. I'm just being lazy!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Ricotta, spinach and courgette pasta with tomato

Well, there's no suitable short and snappy (or even vaguely Italian) name for what we made the other night. Our intention was to make spinach and ricotta cannelloni but upon discovering that we neither had enough spinach nor cannelloni tubes, I improvised something else. In order to replace the spinach I grated up a courgette and turned the whole dish into a kind of pasta bake with tomato sauce layered under the ricotta and vegetable-coated pasta. This is a travesty, a veritable joke, but my goodness it was a tasty joke. If you're going to be snooty and purist about Italian style food, look away now.

Serves 2
180-200g dried pasta (we used elicoidali - short fat tubes like rigatoni that crisp up nicely on top when baked)
125g ricotta
a good splash of milk
about 30g frozen spinach, defrosted
1 medium-large courgette, coarsely grated
a big handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
a large handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, about 25g
250ml tomato passata
1 clove of garlic, left whole but lightly crushed with the side of a knife
a pinch of dried oregano

Pre-heat your oven to 180C. Put a small splash of olive oil in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add the garlic clove. When you start to smell the garlic, add the passata, the oregano and some black pepper, and turn down the heat so that the sauce bubbles intermittently. Now put your pasta on to boil - cook it until just under-done e.g. 7.5 minutes if it says 10 on the pack. Meanwhile, defrost the spinach in the microwave, refresh it under cold water and squeeze it dry. (You can use fresh spinach, in which case wash it and place in a pan just with the water that is left on the leaves and place over a moderate heat, shaking the pan occasionally until the spinach has wilted. Cool and squeeze dry with your hands.) Grate the courgette and add it to the spinach in a bowl. Add the ricotta, most of the Parmesan cheese, a good grinding of black pepper and the torn basil leaves, reserving a few leaves for later. Mix it all together. Now add a little milk to let the sauce down a bit, just so that it's not too stiff to stir into the pasta. When the pasta is done, drain it and stir the ricotta sauce into it until they are well mixed. Remove the tomato sauce from the heat and take out the garlic clove. Now spread the tomato sauce all over the base of an oven-proof dish - a lasagne dish or something similar will do. Now tip the pasta on top of the tomatoes. Tear over a few more leaves of basil. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes until golden and lightly crispy on top. That's it! Serve it with green vegetables or salad.

Sometimes the best things are the ones you make up in times of need. A variation on this would be to use some tinned tuna and a handful of peas, or blanched, chopped green beans, or sweetcorn if you like it. Or try cooked salmon and broccoli chopped into small florets and parboiled.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Risotto alla Toscana

It's been a sadly quiet food week this week - hence the lack of posting. And I've been super-busy with work so have had very little to say for myself. It is starting to feel like spring here - even though we woke today with a frost heavy on the ground. The sunlight has taken on a different slant, a warmer hue and I get the feeling that things, weather-wise at least, are on the up. It has been a long winter - I think all the snow we have had since December has made it seem even harder than usual.

A couple of weeks ago now, when the skies were leaden and it was freezing and wet outside, the husband attempted this meaty Italian dish - something really rich and wintery. The Tuscan risotto is a cold-weather dish and certainly not for the non-carnivore. It is pretty challenging even for meat-eaters - with liver and about three other meats (I think I'm exaggerating here), it tastes richer than it actually is but has a real meaty punch that means you won't want to eat a lot - but for that time of year it was perfect. The picture looks horrible - blame the unnatural lighting! Taken from the January section of Twelve, by Tessa Kiros, here is our version, adapted for two.

Risotto alla Toscana
(serves 2)
500ml stock (she recommends meat stock, we used a light chicken stock)
7g dried mushrooms
85ml warm water
70g chicken livers
olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 small garlic clove, crushed
50g minced (ground) beef
1/2 Italian sausage, skinned and crumbled (OK, so we can't find stuff like this for love or money where we live, so we used a small garlicky sausage instead)
85ml red wine
170g risotto rice
20g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, reserving some for serving
a small handful chopped parsley

Make the stock and keep it warm over a low heat.
Soak the mushrooms in the warm water for about 10 minutes. Strain the water and set aside. Chop the mushrooms. Clean the livers and chop into 1cm cubes. Heat some olive oil in the risotto pan.

Add the onion and sauté until soft. Add the garlic, beef and sausage meat and sauté until golden. Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Add the mushroom water and mushroom together with the rice and chicken livers, and stir for a couple of minutes to coat the rice. Add a ladleful of stock and season with pepper (we don't add salt because the stock we use is salty, but feel free to add some now if you like).

Lower the heat and continue to cook, adding the stock gradually as it is absorbed by the rice. Keep stirring it to prevent it from sticking and to make the risotto creamy. It should take about 20 minutes to cook the rice - taste it after this time and see if it is ready - it should be soft but firm in the middle. When the rice is done, stir in most of the Parmesan cheese (Tessa adds 18g of butter at this point, we do not!). Turn off the heat, place a lid over the pan and let it rest for a minute or two. Serve it sprinkled with parsley and the rest of the Parmesan.

This is not for the faint-hearted, but if you want something really wintery, this is just the thing. Thanks again, Tessa!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

not much going on

The husband is in Italy, we have run out of the bottled gas that we use for our gas hob and I have been eating soup from the freezer (my old friend the jerusalem artichoke again), salad, bread, cheese, toast... all because, with my silly weak body, I can't safely lift a full bottle of gas. So there have been very few food adventures since last week. We were away at the weekend where we had some lovely wedding food (prize-winning bangers and mash! Wonderful!) but not much else of interest. Maybe I'll cook something once our hobs are back in use and I have a husband to cook for/with. Until then, I leave you with a proliferation of speech marks courtesy of the BBC News online last night. What's going on with that?

Plus I have noticed a proliferation of people, journalists that is, misusing the word phased when they actually mean fazed. God, are people educated at all these days? Spellchecker isn't infallible, you know. (Sorry to get all hoity toity but it pisses me off!)