Rhubarb Rhubarb

In the veggie box this week, there was rhubarb. It’s a pearly light green fading to dusky pink, crisp like celery, and smells so fresh and sharp. As a rule we don’t eat puddings, and I don’t do a lot of baking. So although my very soul cries out Crumble! and Custard! my brain is saying, no, think savoury, it came in the veggie box, after all.

I asked Twitter, and it said chutney / relish / salsa, or soup. Research into soup found some amazing Scandinavian recipes for cold soups, with herbs and cream. Mint, or dill. Those do sound fab, but the weather is still just too wintry for a chilled sharp soup.  Chutney? mmm, tempting. Something light and lemony, with a white vinegar. Or thick and dark brown, with added dried fruit.

Still not quite right, though. So I went and asked Teh Internetz Proper, and there was an underlying stream of Middle-Eastern recipes using rhubarb in pilaffs, sweet and sour sauces with meat, and tagine-type dishes. Of course, I thought, anywhere you would put preserved lemon, or lots of pomegranate, you could fiddle around with it and use rhubarb. Different texture, and you have to take the bulk of it into account.

In the oven at the moment, pootling along at Gas Mark 4, is a chicken and rhubarb dish. It started out as:

3 chicken thighs, skin browned in a plentiful amount of olive oil.

Plus:

  • 1 fat leek, chopped
  • 3 giant cloves of garlic, roughly crushed
  • Cinnamon stick, cumin seed, red chilli flakes, dried oregano, dried mint, black pepper
  • 2 sticks of rhubarb, peeled to remove any strings, and cut in  pieces, about 2 cms.

I turned the chicken over so the skin side was up, browned the other side in the now spicy oil, and added enough chicken stock to cover the veg and leave the chicken skin dry to roast it. (Which also gave it some salt.)

After about half an hour or so, I shall investigate and see how sharp it is. At that point I may add something sweet if it needs it – apricot puree, dates, straight sugar, pomegranate molasses. The leek and garlic should have mellowed it out a bit.

Or I may leave it tart, and make a sweeter couscous to go with it and balance it off.

I’ll finish it with some fresh mint, or maybe put that in a cucumber and sorrel salad.

If it works, there is more in next week’s box. I’m running through my preserved lemon favourites – duck and black olives, pork or lamb stuffed with apricots and pistachios …

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Wicked Chicken Korma

I made this on the fly for dinner the other night, and didn't write it down at the time, but it went something like this:

  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • Butter and oil, or ghee
  • 4 small boneless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
  • 2 handfuls raw shelled pistachios
  • 1 handful vanilla-soaked dried apricots (or organic apricots and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, or half a bean)
  • 2 tablespoons ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 small tin coconut milk
  • Chicken stock
  • Small tub creme fraiche
  • Ground almonds
  • 2 hard bananas
  • More butter
  • A tub of dry crispy fried onions

In a big heavy pan, melt the garlic, ginger and onion in the fat, slowly. Soften but not colour. Add the chicken, nuts, apricots, and spices. Stew gently and stir until the chicken is coated in the spices and cooked on the outside. Add the coconut milk and enough chicken stock to cover. Cover and simmer gently for up to a couple of hours, if you can, but at least half an hour. Take the lid off and mash the apricots into the sauce. Simmer again for at least another half an hour, longer if possible. Top up with water if necessary. When you're getting close to serving time, add the creme fraiche and stir in. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of ground almonds on the top and stir in well. This will thicken the sauce, let the first lot swell and do its work before adding more if you want thicker sauce. Watch it as the thicker it gets, the quicker it's likely to catch and scorch. While that's happening, chop the bananas into chunks and fry quickly in butter until golden.

Serve the chicken with the bananas on top, a sprinkling of fried onions, and some plain rice or naan bread to soak up the sauce. We had it with lamb stewed for hours in a low oven with tomatoes and hotter spices, and an aubergine and red pepper madras.

If you can't find the onions in your regular ethnic stores, try the IKEA food shop, or make your own by finely shredding shallots, frying in light hot oil until crisp, and draining well. Dry on paper towels. Or don't bother – a bit of crunch adds a nice texture but it isn't necessary.

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The Most Pretentious Menu I’ve Seen Yet

Menu from a conference dinner (the venue has a maritime / naval warfare historical connection, which may explain some of the more florid bits)
 
Warm Mousseline of Sussex Chicken stuffed with Cave Matured Roquefort and Fresh Harvested Walnuts with a Sauce of Sorrel Hollandaise and Julienne of Russet Apples
 
A Ravioli in the Colours of the Kingdom of Naples filled with Scottish Lobster, Salmon and Ginger from the Windward Islands and topped with Deep Fried Leeks
 
Cannon of English Lamb stuffed with Wild Woodland Mushrooms and Truffles, imprisoned in a pastry cage with a Sauce of Wild Rowan Berries and a Plume of French Bar-le-Duc
Black Potatoes from the Ardennes
Bundles of Vegetables gathered fresh from the garden
 
A Miniature Gateau flavoured with Liquorice from the Spanish Maine concealing a heart of liquid fire glazed with Quince Jelly and served on Lapsang Creme Anglaise with Baby Pear finished with an arabesque of purest gold.
 
Glazed Normandy Brie with Wild Mulberries and Bath Oliver Biscuits
 
Coffee and Homemade Truffles
 
I had to look up Bar-Le-Duc, it's a French preserve named after a town in Lorraine, traditionally made with whole redcurrants which have had the seeds extracted by little old ladies using a goose quill. I would normally spell Spanish Main without the "e", but otherwise there were no spelling mistakes – too many capitals but consistently used. On the whole though – YUCK – over complicated, and generally a right mess. Apparently the dessert was a sponge with something like a malteser in the middle, which in turn had a brandy liqueur centre. It wasn't popular. And the Brie was glazed with a sugar topping, so two desserts.
 
One idea worth playing with might be the Lapsang custard with a poached pear, that could be an interesting combo. 

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Chicken Parsnip Apple Thing

Tonight we were due to have sesame chicken salad with spinach and ginger dressing, but it just wasn't the weather for a fresh salad, especially with the clock change and stuff. Something more in the nature of a winter warmer was called for. So I took some things that were hanging about:

  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 medium parsnip
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 2 breast fillets of chicken
  • chicken stock
  • 2 tsps mango chutney, no lumps
  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • 1 large Bramley cooking apple
  • 1 bunch chives

Cooked the onion and parsnip in the oil until the onion was soft. Added the spices and the chicken, cut into bite sized pieces. Cooked until the chicken was seared, added enough stock to cover, the chutney and lentils. Stewed slowly on top of the stove until the parsnip was cooked and the lentils turned to mush. Added the apple, chopped but not peeled, and stewed again until the apple had softened completely and made a thick sauce – helped by occasional vicious stirring. Added a bunch of chopped chives at the end to give a bit of a lift.

Sweet, tart, warming. Because of the apple sauce content it was hot hot hot, beware initial mouthburns. Might up the carb and spice content a bit more next time, I'm starting to feel hungry again. No idea what the calorie count was, but it can't have been too high. If I wasn't looking out for that, there'd have been some creme fraiche and crispy fried onion garnish on the top.

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Kemmy’s chicken

Evesham hotel – a breast of chicken stuffed with apricots, rolled in almond breadcrumbs and pan fried.

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Asian-spiced fish with mushrooms

This is v odd. From BBC Good Food, Christmas 2005, article by Ainsley Harriott. Suggests 201 calories per serving, before any rice or noodles. For 4 servings:

  • 25 gms butter
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 lime, zest grated
  • 1 mild red chilli, cut into rings
  • 4 x 6oz firm white fish fillets, boneless, skinless
  • 200 gm pack mixed mushrooms, trimmed
  • handful of coriander leaves

Heat oven to Gas 6.

Melt the butter, stir in soy sauce, lime zest and chilli. Marinade the fish in this mixture for 10 minutes.

Drain the fish (keeping marinade) and spread on a baking tray. Toss the mushrooms in the marinade and scatter around the fish, drizzling on the remaining liquid. Roast 6 – 8 minutes, until fish is tender and mushrooms are sizzling.

Scatter with coriander and serve with rice or noodles.

Asian fish for people who aren't used to cooking Asian food, what's with the butter? I'm not sure even at Mark 6 that the mushrooms would be "sizzling" after 6 – 8 minutes, especially if you hadn't sliced them up in any way, or pre-heated the baking tray. Article also suggests using chicken breast fillets instead of fish, roasting for 15 minutes before adding the mushrooms. Or marinading large raw prawns and stir-frying in a hot wok for 2 mins, then adding mushrooms for a further 1 min, stirring in last bits of juice just before serving.

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Spinach Salad with Ginger Dressing and Sesame Chicken

This is a drgourmet recipe, which I've adapted for British (well, Waitrose) packet sizes. It's really lovely. The original recipe says serve with brown bread and orange marmalade, but it's fine on its own.

390 cals per serving, makes 2 dinners and a lunch for later.

Strain a 454 gm tin mandarin oranges in juice, or two small tins. Keep the juice (the original recipe says frozen concentrate, and assumes that you can only get mandarins in syrup).

Make a dressing with 2 Tbsps grapeseed oil, 1/4 cup of the juice, 1/8 tsp each salt and pepper, a handful of parsley, and a handful of chives (or a spring onion if you can't get chives). Whizz them all in a blender with 2 Tbps of Ming Ginger, not the sugar coated crystallised ginger cubes, but the less sweet dried slices. If you just pulse it in the blender you'll get small bits of ginger left in it, not a smooth smooth dressing that loses its oomph. Chill.

Toast 3 Tbsps flaked almonds, and slice half a red onion really thinly.

Heat a heavy pan and sprinkle with a tiny bit of olive oil. Add a pack of mini chicken breast meat strips, about 350 gms. Sprinkle the upside with a very little salt and 3 Tbsps sesame seeds. (Recipe says black sesame seeds, which I have used, but they oozed black colouring all over the chicken. Yuck.) Cook until done on the bottom, turn, and cook again until done all the way through and the sesame seeds are dark golden and well crunchy.

Put 2 bags baby spinach salad in a big bowl and toss with the dressing.

Lay out 2 plates and 1 lunch box. Start with the spinach, then the onions, orange pieces, and almonds. Top with the chicken, seeded side up.

Yummity yum yum yum.

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