Wednesday, 25 June 2014

C is for Constance Spry (and Coronation Chicken)

I bought the biography of Constance Spry before Christmas last year, but for some reason have only just gotten 'round to reading it.

Am so glad I did...although it has now led to a few more purchases from the Amazon used book options as was inspired to find out more about her work.

Spry (née Fletcher) was a British educator, florist and author in the mid-20th century.  Her main line was flowers...fashioning bouquets for all the right aristos...although she became a huge advocate of 'Grow Your Own' during the Second World War.

After the war she'd made enough of a name to team up with Rosemary Hume (of Le Cordon Bleu fame) to found a domestic science school at Winkfield Place (now closed).

But it was in 1953 though when Spry really shot to fame when she arranged the flowers for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, and was involved in the celebratory meal enjoyed by the visiting dignitaries that was cooked by the Winkfield students.

And so, although it was Hume's recipe, its first publication was in the 1956 publication The Constance Spry Cookery Book under the far posher title of Poulet Reine Elizabeth.

And it's an excellent recipe for both a meaty salad and a sandwich filling, but I now use Felicity Cloake's recipe as it's lighter than the original.

  • 1 chicken
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cm piece of ginger, chopped in half
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of salt
  •  5 tblspns mango chutney
  • 50 grms dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 2 tblspn mild curry powder
  • 2 teaspns Worcestershire Sauce
  • 200 mls mayonnaise
  • 200 mls Greek yoghurt
  • 50 grms flaked almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2 tblspn flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped*
  • S&P
  • Some cos/little gem lettuce leaves
* You can (obviously) use coriander as per the recipe

  1. Poach the chicken in a pan of water with the peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, half the ginger, saffron and some salt
  2. Simmer very gently for 1½ hours or until the chicken's cooked (test the leg meat)
  3. Pour off the liquid, discard the spices and shred the chicken meat
  4. Toast the curry powder in a pan bring out the fragrance and finely chop the remaining ginger
  5. Mix these with the mango chutney and the apricot 
  6. Then add in the Worcestershire Sauce, mayo and yoghurt
  7. Season to taste
  8. Once the chicken is cold, fold into the sauce with the parsley and refrigerate for a couple of hours
  9. Serve on the lettuce and scatter over the toasted almonds at the last minute

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

T is for Ten Mistakes in the Kitchen

**Warning...blood mentioned in this post**

A friend of mine nearly sliced half her finger in half today.  We were sitting in her kitchen as she chopped up her vegetables and...arghh...splurt.

It's fine...she's wasn't (incredibly fortunately) as bad as it looked.  And the reason...a blunt knife.   As it was blunt she'd inadvertently put more pressure on the knife and when it didn't cut through the onion, it sheared into her finger.  Ouch.'s my starter for ten on the top mistakes made when cooking (most of which only lead to bad food).   Just note the with the English language, the exceptions prove the rule!

1. Blunt knives
To avoid the above injury, please keep your knives sharp using a steel.

There are lots of videos and guides on the web as to how to use one. If your knife is already blunt (often called dull), then go to a professional to resharpen properly (i.e. your local butcher).

2. Read the whole recipe
There's nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a recipe and then realize that your sauce is developing a skin as you chop up some more ingredients.

Reading through the recipe (actually best done twice) before you start cooking means you know what's coming up and can prep everything up front so you look like a pro.  And you can put your oven on to heat up as needed.

3. Cook food at room temperature
This especially applies to meat, fish, eggs and butter.

The meat, fish and eggs won't cook through properly if you've put them in a hot pan/oven straight from the fridge.

Butter meanwhile is a pig to mix in when it's cold hard.

The exception is a pastry (pie) case. If it's not chilled your pastry shrinks in the oven and can crack.

4. Cook at the right temperature
This applies to both the hob and the oven.

With protein (fish and meat), your pan needs to be hot so that it sears the flesh and stops the juices leaking.  With onions/leeks/garlic, you want your pan to be on a low heat to allow them to soften gently.

And what you dial your oven temperature to on the controls may not be the real temperature inside.  A cheap self-standing gauge will tell you if your oven is actually (sometimes as much as 15-20℃) hotter or cooler than you think.

5. Add ingredients to a warm/hot pan
If you add ingredients to a cold pan with the oil, the food will soak up the oil and stick more easily.  Heat up your pan. Wait till it's the right temperature and add your oil. Wait five seconds and then add your food.

There are two exceptions to this: bacon and duck.  Both are fatty and bringing the pan to temperature with the food in them (no fat needed, duck skin side down) means they start to render their fat before browning/being seared.

6. Season as you go
The best food flavours are layered.  So add salt and pepper at the beginning of cooking.  Spices are added quite quickly to allow their flavours to develop.  As food cooks, taste and add more seasoning to suit.

Add herbs at the end so their freshness isn't obliterated.  Then, just as you come to serve, taste again and season again if necessary.

7. Use the right amount of water
If you're boiling potatoes, they need to be covered otherwise the bits sticking out of the water don't cook.

If you're cooking broccoli or asparagus, try to keep the tips out of the water so they steam and don't go mushy by the time the thicker stems are tender.

Bring pasta to boil in plenty of salted water so that it has space to swell and not just stick together.

Add the amount stated in the recipe when cooking rice so you don't end up with uncooked rice or a (even worse) watery mush.

8. Don't overcrowd pans
If you put too much food in a pan, it gives off the water from within and your food stews rather than browns.  This applies to meat and fish, but also to mushrooms and any other food that you want to allow to caramelize a little.

9. Cook food for the right amount of time
While this sounds like a simple one, factor in the time that something may sit in the hot pan while you finish off other things or thicken your sauce.  What were perfectly cooked vegetables and pasta have now steamed for another five minutes and are now soggy.

I also have two timers in my kitchen.  One is built into the cooker and one is a magnetic one that I can carry around with me.  Perfect if I have a fruit cake in the oven that takes two hours and I've started doing something else.

10. Rest your meat
I know this is often spoken about, but the number of people that I know that don't factor this into their timeline and so pull the meat out of the oven just as the rest of your food is cooked to perfection... You know who you are!

Also the time for resting is often under-estimated.  A steak needs a good 5+ mins to rest even if it's only taken 4 mins to cook.

A joint can rest up to half an hour so that the meat relaxes properly.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

S is for Soy Sauce

When I am writing recipes, I specify the type of soy sauce I use.  However lots of recipes don't and the people don't understand why their recipes aren't quite right.  It may be down to the soy sauce.

I only keep three types of soy sauce.  I keep two Chinese soy sauces (light and dark) and a bottle of Kikkoman.

I tend not to bother with the flavoured ones as I am using soy as a base and prefer to add my own fresh flavours through the ingredients.

Dark Chinese soy sauce is used for dishes where the sauce will caramelize.  Think hoisin ribs, char sui (barbecued pork)... It's also found in lots of Shanghainese (red) dishes.  You can use dark soy sauce when stir frying rice but I often finds it overpowers more delicate flavours like egg.

You need to cook dark soy sauce to get the flavour going and so while you do see dark soy sauce in some dipping sauce recipes, again I find that it overpowers the dumpling/roll you're dipping without really bringing out the correct flavour.

Light soy sauce is a younger, less fermented version. It is also saltier than its dark sibling which is already pretty salty.  If a recipe doesn't cite which type of Chinese soy sauce to use, I would always use light.

Both of types of Chinese soy sauces have bran when being made to add to depth of taste.  This is where my bottle of Kikkoman comes in.  As it's a lot more expensive, I tend to reserve this one for my sushi (where I'm only mixing in a little wasabi) and in broths where I want only a very light touch of the salty soy taste to come through.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

F is for Father's Day 2014

In 10 days time, Father's Day rolls around again and I'll actually be with my father that Sunday!

So am planning a fiesta with a bit of spice i.e. some dishes that my mother doesn't cook to make the day a bit special using the Mexican menu I drafted in my printables post at the end of April.

This menu comes from Real Simple and is very easy although I switch the red rice for wild rice.  The dishes are really colourful and it's quick to make them look appetizing.

But to make it all a bit more special, I drew up some other (free) printables for the occasion to complement the menu.

So I made some place cards to match...

And while these are available in the download, I have left them blank so you can write your own guests' names in.

And some disposable napkin rings which you can cut out and snip as per the dotted lines to slot together to form a ring.

They're just a bit of fun and package a bundle of serviettes which is useful given you need to use your hands for the tacos.

And if you want to go over the top, you can also cut out the confetti to scatter across your table.  Now, to go and buy a piñata...

If you would like the menu or the place cards in the original file formats, please message me.