Chicken and tarragon in the slow cooker

Recently I adopted what can only be described as a deliciously retro slow cooker from a relative.  With its orange plastic exterior and its Dow Corning cookware heating and serving dish, it’s a real blast from the past. Today’s recipe uses some cheap chicken portions on special offer at Sainsbury, and turns them into something really tasty for supper. The slow cooker is a wonderful tool for busy parents, as you can brown a bit of meat in the morning, add some stock and vegetables, and leave it bubbling away all day so you come home to a restaurant standard meal without much effort at all. Serve this recipe with rice and some steamed spring greens. Remove chicken from the bone and add 100g pearl barley an hour before the end of cooking, if you would like it to become a one-pot meal (it will resemble a fabulously unusual risotto). You can also stick it in a pie dish and put a pastry lid on it, to make a quick pie, or alternatively it would make a savoury crumble if you rubbed flour and sunflower margarine together, added a few oats, and seasoned it with salt and pepper before sprinkling over the stew and baking in the oven for 20 minutes,

Slow Cooker Chicken and Tarragon

Chicken portions are browned in a mixture of 50% sunflower oil and 50% butter (about 25g of each)

Chicken portions are browned in a mixture of 50% sunflower oil and 50% butter (about 25g of each). Add salt and freshly ground peppers if you want.

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Here are some of the browned chicken portions in the casserole dish. I pre-warmed the casserole dish on HIGH for 30 minutes. This recipe works with any kind of poultry.

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I’ve chopped two small carrots and a small onion to add to the recipe. You can use any type of root vegetable, as well as things like leeks, broccoli stalks and peppers.

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For this recipe, I will also be using about 100ml leftover white wine, 200ml of chicken stock, and a sprinkle of dried tarragon. For an alcohol free recipe, just use extra stock.

 

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Here I am frying the chopped carrots and onion in the oil/butter mixture left over from browning the chicken portions. This extracts maximum flavour.

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Use the white wine/stock mixture to deglaze the frying pan. This cleans the pan and also maximises flavour once again, adding to the recipe.

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Pour the vegetables, onion and white wine/stock mixture over the chicken portions, and add a sprinkle of dried tarragon. Season to taste.

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Cook on LOW for four hours or so. To finish off, drain off the liquid and pour into a frying pan, then boil furiously to reduce the liquid to a rich sauce, or add chicken gravy granules.

 

Quiche Lorraine and jam tarts from odds and ends

There comes a point in any week when you need to use up various odds and ends from the fridge to make a thrifty meal. Today I came eye to eye with some spare rashers of bacon, the end of a piece of Gruyere cheese, most of a pot of low fat creme fraiche, and a few eggs that needed eating up. I decided to make a simple Quiche Lorraine to make use of them. Here’s the recipe.

Quiche Lorraine

1. Rub together 200g value plain flour, and 100g sunflower margarine, or if you are feeling lavish, 50g value butter and 50g sunflower or olive margarine. For a cheaper recipe you could use lard to replace some of the fat, or a vegetarian lard alternative. When the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, add a little water to to mixture until it makes a ball that stays clean as you move it around the bowl.  Be careful not to handle the pastry too much, or it will become heavy.

 

Ball of pastry on chopping board with plain flour dusted on top.

Ball of pastry on chopping board with plain flour dusted on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Sprinkle the pastry with some of the plain flour, and roll it out until it’s slightly larger than the flan dish you intend to use (about 15-20cm diameter). If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can use a bottle, and if you don’t have a flan dish, any baking tin will do. Drape it over the flan dish, push the pastry into corner or fluting without stretching it too much, then use your rolling pin to cut it to shape by rolling it over the top of the flan dish. Save any excess pastry for later as we have a cunning plan for it.

 

Pastry rolled out ready for flan dish. If you have no rolling pin, you can use a bottle.

Pastry rolled out ready for flan dish. If you have no rolling pin, you can use a bottle. When you are making pastry, try to keep things as cool as you can, so the pastry stays light.

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Pastry laid over flan dish. I have gently eased it into the fluting and also pricked the base with a fork so it doesn’t rise up during cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Cover with foil, and bake in the oven at about 175C for 15 minutes.

4. While you are doing this, mix up 250ml of milk, or double cream, or creme fraiche, with two or three eggs and an extra yolk (keep the white to one side as you will need it later), 50g or so of grated hard cheese (Cheddar, Red Leicester, Gruyere, and Emmenthal are all suitable), and some chopped bacon rashers that you have fried in a bit of olive oil. Add some black pepper. For a veggie version, try adding chopped up broccoli stalks, celery leaves or grated carrot instead of the bacon.

 

In this recipe I used 3 large eggs, about 75g Gruyere cheese, 6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, and about 250g of cream fraiche that was suitable for cooking. You can vary the quantities a little depending on what you have available.

In this recipe I used 3 large eggs, about 75g Gruyere cheese, 6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, and about 250g of cream fraiche that was suitable for cooking. You can vary the quantities a little depending on what you have available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Remove the pastry case from the oven and spread the inside of it with the spare egg white. Put it back into the oven without the foil for about 2-3 minutes until the yolk has set.

6. Take the pastry case out again and pour in the egg and milk/cream mixture.

7. Put the whole lot in the oven, again without the foil, and cook for about 20 minutes until the mixture has set. Be careful the pastry doesn’t burn – if you think it might do, it’s fine to put a bit of foil around the edge to protect it.  The mixture will puff up a lot as it cooks and then will settle again as you take it out of the oven.

 

Here is the quiche going into the oven. Cook at about 175C for 20 minutes, or until the mixture is set.

Here is the quiche going into the oven. Cook at about 175C for 20 minutes, or until the mixture is set. The flan tin I used has holes in the base to help the pastry bottom stay crisp.

Completed quiche fresh from the oven. I used a loose ring base so I could serve it on a pretty plate if I wanted to.

Completed quiche fresh from the oven. I used a loose ring base so I could serve it on a plate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the leftover pastry? Make a dozen jam tarts like this. Roll out the pastry as before, and cut out some circles that fit your pre-greased bun tin. You can use a pastry cutter, or the lid of a jar. Put a spoonful of jam into each one and a teaspoon of water over the top of the jam. Cook in the oven at about 175C for about 10-15 minutes or so, until the pastry is a little brown. Lovely with a cup of tea.

 

You can grease your bun tin with sunflower margarine and then sprinkle flour on it, but I have started using this product for jam tarts, and prefer it.

You can grease your bun tin with sunflower margarine and then sprinkle flour on it, but I have started using this product for jam tarts, and prefer it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Put a spoon of jam into each pastry circle with a spoon of water over each spoonful of jam.

Weekend Cook Fest 3

Scouse, lamb curry, shepherd’s pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs cubed lamb or mutton
  • 1 pint lamb or beef stock (or use a stock cube)
    ½ diced swede
  • 1 lb old potatoes, mashed with a little butter and milk
  • 1 lb minced lamb
  • 3 large onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 lb carrots
  • 2 lbs potatoes
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tsp curry powder
  • 2 fl oz (50ml) yoghurt
  • 1 oz plain flour
  • Bay leaf
  • Handful chopped herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, or oregano.

Technique and organisation:

STEP 1 Scouse

Finely chop a large onion and fry in a little sunflower oil until transparent. Add 1 lb of cubed lamb or mutton and brown the meat. Pour on 1 pint lamb or beef stock and add a handful of chopped herbs and a bay leaf. Add 1 lb sliced carrots, ½ diced swede, and 3 peeled and cubed potatoes.  Simmer for about an hour, until it starts to thicken. Then transfer to a baking dish and top with the remaining potatoes, sliced and arranged attractively. Bake in a hot oven until the top is browned.

STEP 2 – Lamb curry

Brown 1lb lamb cubes in a large frying pan. Add a chopped onion and some crushed garlic, and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and some curry powder, and cook gently over a low heat until the lamb is soft and tender (30-60 minutes). Finally take off the heat, allow to cool for a moment and then stir in the yoghurt. Serve with rice or naan bread.

STEP 3 – Shepherd’s Pie

Fry a chopped onion in a frying pan, and brown 1 lb lamb mince. Stir in 1 oz plain flour and cook until thickened. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce if you like, and/or a few gravy granules. Transfer the mince to a baking dish. Peel the potatoes and boil until soft. Drain and mash with a little butter and milk. Spread the mash over the top of the mince and put into a hot oven for a few minutes until browned. Lovely with a steamed green vegetable.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stop press – completely free children’s meals in Debenhams!

Until 27th April, you can feed your kids in Debenhams for free (no adult purchase necessary).

More details here:

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/debenhams?utm_source=MSE_Newsletter&utm_medium=oneliner-five&utm_term=15-Apr-14-lt&utm_campaign=deals&utm_content=2

Welcome to the Miele Silence Plus S8390 vacuum cleaner box opening. Oh Yes.

At 7.30am this morning (that’s 0830h German efficiency time) I opened the door to take delivery of a free vacuum cleaner from the people at Miele. Mainly to amuse my teenage offspring, in a cool-ironic-parent fashion, I thought we ought to have what is known in the trade as a ‘box opening’ post. Normally this is what young men in t-shirts do when they take delivery of a new games console or smartphone ahead of the pack. Whereas in previous generations they might have been marching around a square doing National Service, or hefting an axe down a coal mine, now they spend their time sharing their experiences of gadgets with other young men in similar t-shirts. Indeed, to achieve a proper box opening, an entire day of their lives is invariably spent opening said box and fully evaluating the contents, whilst filming it for posterity on YouTube. A distinctive feature of the box opening is the improvised narrative, recorded in a lugubrious semi-monotone, disguising their insane excitement at the new and shiny gadget. Fortunately, today you will be spared such a narrative.

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Very long cable, pole and pipe all cut down workload.

So what do we have? Well , the outside of the box has lots of shiny pictures promoting the features. Most of the little pictures make sense, and paint a picture of a brighter, cleaner domestic world if you only buy their vacuum. One of the pictures remains elusive though – something called ‘Dynamic Drive’ with a red arrow pointing up and down, which doesn’t appear to correspond to any part of the vacuum I can see.

 

2014-04-16 08.50.23Suddenly I notice that my son has put his fingers on his lips in an imitation of the cherubic unisex child on the box. A feature of this product is supposed to be that it is so quiet, you should be able to vacuum while your children sleep. As an experienced parent, I hope you will not attempt this too often, as my position is that when children sleep, parents should generally also be resting (or at least having a sit down with a cup of tea and a fondant fancy). However I accept occasionally there may be a need for running the vacuum around – for example if a visit from one’s mother-in-law is imminent. But I do think the Miele chaps have missed a marketing trick here. The main reason for making a vacuum quiet is because an unreasonable proportion of children are terrified of the noise they usually make, and anything to calm the situation down can only be a good thing in terms of flogging the product to parents. (Of course, the reason the vacuum is so quiet is apparently because they have redesigned the motor so it uses less than half of the wattage of many of their other products, which also saves energy).

Upon opening the box to a mental, if not literal, fanfare, I find a smaller box with pipes and accessories.

2014-04-16 07.41.23I am pleased to see that there is a telescopic pole, which makes hoovering a lot simpler for anyone over 5 foot 4, and allows remotes cobwebs in the corner of ceilings to be dealt with effectively, if one is trying to avoid a Dickensian ‘Miss Faversham’ domestic chic.  Accessories are the normal ones – upholstery tool, crevice nozzle (Ooh, Matron!) and a dusting brush. We also have instructions and an invitation to pay for a 10 year warranty for £50. As Miele vacuums are nigh on indestructible unless you go berserk with the annual Christmas tree needle offensive (as I found out to my cost in the past), I am not sure I will need to do this. In fact the people at Miele have calculated that if you hoover for an average of 45 minutes a week, this beast will last 20 years.  (Worryingly such a statistic also indicates that the average woman will spend something like a total of 15 weeks hoovering during their lives unless they live in a equality-minded household where they share the task. A better reason for feminism I do not know).

2014-04-16 07.41.41The main brush is quite clever and has different setting for carpets and hard floors, that you adjust with your feet  as you shift from one surface to another. Retro fitting accessories from earlier vacuums is possible, so from time to time, I will probably be using my well loved Miele turbo brush, the Ferrari of vacuum accessories. Being a bit of a housekeeping nerd (WHO KNEW?) I also have a mattress attachment and an extra long crevice nozzle that I bought from Miele in the past, which I use periodically. (These people take hygiene seriously. I noted with amusement when I ordered my bits and pieces that they also supply attachments so you can vacuum your computer, car, or even horse, repeat horse. Sadly they don’t seem to do attachments for vacuuming children yet).  The main brush clips onto the body of the vacuum for storage, and the other accessories sit inside it so they are readily to hand as you pootle about with the vacuum.

Another significant feature is that this vacuum has a HEPA filter. This stands for High Energy Particulate Air, and is a medical grade filter which in this case removes dust and pollen from the air. If you have an asthmatic in the family, or someone with a serious allergy to pollen, a HEPA filter will make a lot of difference to your symptoms. You will need to change this every few months, depending on how often you vacuum.

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All the accessories fit inside the lid.

Is this vacuum a good Austerity purchase? It’s actually quite expensive in the first instance (around £250), but it did win a Which? best buy award, as it’s clearly a highly effective and well engineered vacuum. The low energy quiet was unnerving to us at first, as we are used to associating dramatic motor noise with effective suction, but it was clear to us it worked well on linoleum, wooden floors and carpets, and on the quiet setting it really was, well, quiet. So if you have a family house, and an allergy sufferer in the family, the Miele Silence Plus S8390 may well be worth saving up for.

Weekly cleaning schedule

The following grid lays out a typical cleaning schedule for a family with a couple of school-aged children once again, with one parent around for an hour or two during the day and able to do some cleaning.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
1. Remove bedclothes and put clean ones on
2. Wash  bedclothes (take them out of the tumble drier as soon as they are ready, and fold them, to reduce ironing time) 

- wash whites at 60C with whites washing powder and fabric conditioner

- wash light coloureds at 40C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

- wash dark coloureds at 30C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

Note: All laundry can be done at 30C if there are no stains, to be more environmentally friendly.

3. Put away  bedclothes neatly in airing cupboard
4. Dust and vacuum bedrooms, including underneath and behind beds
5. Vacuum mattresses once every month or two to prevent dust mite building up
6. Launder duvets and pillows at least once a year, preferably on a hot summer’s day when you can get it all outside to dry easily
7. Empty bedroom bins
Tuesday
1. Dust and vacuum living room (including windowsills, sofas, tables, TV unit, and tops of cupboards)
2. Throw away any dead flowers and water plants
3. Tidy toys, bookshelves and insides of cupboards as necessary
Wednesday
Big clean of family bathroom and downstairs WC
- clean bath, toilet, sinks
- clean shower, shower screen and mirrors
- clean taps (using descaler if necessary)
- make sure there is spare toilet roll and soap
- change towels and flannels and launder old ones
- dust tops of cabinets
- hoover and mop floors
- empty bins
Thursday
1. Wash your clothes – to prevent a washing mountain, only get as much washing going in one day as you can wash, dry, fold/iron and put away that day, or at the very latest the next.
2. Take everything out of the tumble drier as soon as it is ready, and fold it all, straightaway to reduce ironing time to practically zero) 

- wash whites at 60C with whites washing powder and fabric conditioner

- wash light coloureds at 40C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner, Consider using colour catcher sheets for mixed washes.

- wash dark coloureds at 30C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

Note: All laundry can be done at 30C if there are no stains, to be more environmentally friendly.

3. Big clean of kitchen
- clean oven using cream cleanser on washing up sponge (if reasonable) or oven cleaning gel (if bad)
- clean hob with cream cleanser, or use a special blade if it is ceramic
- wipe extractor fan with cream cleanser on washing up sponge, and rinse off
- Wipe worktops and tiles, including behind toaster, microwave, kettle, etc.
- Hoover bits off floor and then mop
- Polish sink and taps, using descaler if necessary
- Empty bin, wipe down outside and put in new bin bag
- clean tops of cupboard and light switches at least twice a year
Friday
1. Wash, dry and put away children’s clothes
2. Do any mending that’s needed
3. Iron some of the children’s clothes if necessary and make sure there is enough uniform ready for next week.

Weekend Cook Fest 2

Lemon roasted chicken, chicken risotto, chicken soup

 

Ingedients:

  • 5 lb/2.5kg chicken (largest one you can find)
  • 3 large onions
  • 2 lemons
  • Herbs
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • Bundle fresh or dried herbs
  • Bay leaf
  • Swede
  • 1 oz porcini mushrooms
  • 2 oz grated parmesan
  • 7 oz risotto rice
  • Swede
  • 1 oz vermicelli or stellini pasta.

 

Technique and organisation:

 

STEP 1 – Roasted lemon chicken

Take a normal roasting chicken, put a peeled onion in thecavity along with a lemon cut into quarters, squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top, rub softened butter on the breast, and sprinkle with dried herbs (preferably lemon thyme) and freshly ground black pepper. Roast according to weight (20 minutes a pound plus 20 minutes in a hot oven), until the bones easily come away from the body and the juices run clear or straw-coloured. Serve for Sunday lunch.

 

STEP 2 – Chicken stock

After lunch, take all the remaining chicken off the bone, including the little patches underneath, and reserve the meat. Put the carcass into a large saucepan with 3 pints water, a chopped carrot, some chopped celery, some fresh or dried herbs and a bay leaf tied in a little bundle, and a peeled onion cut into quarters. Seasin with salt and pepper. Boil this up for about an hour to make a stock, skimming any foam as necessary. When it starts to taste good, strain, cool and put into the fridge (it also freezes well, incidentally). You need at least two pints (1 litre) stock for the following two recipes.

 

STEP 3 – Chicken risotto

To make the risotto, an hour before you would like to eat it, soak a 1 oz packet of porcini mushrooms in water according to the instructions on the packet. When the mushrooms are soft, strain and reserve the liquor. Then fry 7 oz of risotto rice in a large, deep frying pan in a little sunflower oil, until the rice is glistening and coated. Pour in a mixture of 2/3 chicken stock and 1/3 mushroom liquor little by little, allowing each bit to be absorbed before adding more. In total you should have added 1-1.5 pints liquid. Once the rice is cooked, and all the  liquid has been absorbed, toss in about 4oz of chicken pieces, the chopped porcini mushrooms, and about 2oz grated parmesan. You can also add a handful or two of frozen peas if you like, and a slug of white wine. Heat through thoroughly and then serve immediately.

 

STEP 4  – Chicken soup

For the chicken soup, just before you would like to eat it once again, finely chop an onion and fry in a little olive oil until transparent. Add 3 sliced carrots, 2-3 sliced celery sticks, and some small cubes of swede, and some crushed garlic to taste, and sweat the vegetables for a few minutes until they start to soften. Then add 2 pints of chicken stock and any remaining cooked chicken pieces you have to hand (if there’s none left, just use vegetables). Cook for about 20 minutes before adding the pasta, wait until the pasta is soft to the bite, and then serve immediately.  You can puree the soup with a hand blender for a more sophisticated presentation.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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