Monday, 16 January 2012

Paprika chicken with paprika and veggies and paprika bulgar wheat. With paprika.

I love smoked paprika.  I rotate between a couple of perfumes, my day-to-day is 5th Avenue by Elizabeth Arden, but if it was socially acceptable I would roll in smoked paprika straight from the shower in the morning, basting myself with it's sultry sexy smoky perfumey loveliness.  It would turn my skin a shade of orange not even witnessed on TOWIE* but it would be worth it.

I can't do that, obviously, my husband would probably have me sectioned.  So I get my smoked paprika fix by cooking with it a lot instead.  This gorgeous traybake is a fine example of smoked paprika used judiciously to acheive heavenliness.

Smokey Chicken, Root Veg and Wheat traybake - for four.  Play with quantities for more/less.  You know the drill.

As much chicken on the bone - thigh, leg, drumstick - as you care to eat
Likewise as much root veg as you care to eat - I like sweet potato and butternut squash, you can add white potatoes if you wish
a fennel bulb
2 red peppers
A handful of dried bulghar wheat per person
1/2-1 teaspoon of clear honey per piece of chicken (drumsticks will need 1/2, bigger bits 1)
Smoked paprika
dried chilli flakes
dried mixed herbs
1 veg Oxo cube
Olive oil

Put your bulghar wheat, 1 tsp dried mixed herbs, a pinch of dried chilli and the Oxo cube into a bowl, cover with twice the volume of boiling water, stir and put aside to soak it's way to edibility. 

Peel, deseed and otherwise make your root veg and fennel bakeworthy.  Chop into chunks, toss in oil and about 1tsp of smoked paprika and spread onto baking trays.  Pop into an oven heated to 200/180 fan and bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, deseed your peppers and chop into large pieces, setting aside.

Mix 2 tbsp olive oil with 1tsp smoked paprika, a pinch of chilli flakes, 1/2 tsp of dried mixed herbs, and stir.  Brush over the chicken to coat. 

When your root veg have had their 15 minutes, add the pepper and chicken  to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes.  Take the chicken out, drizzle with the honey and return to the oven, cooking for another 5-10 until the chicken is cooked through and the veg  is cooked through and starting to blacken and caramelise at the edges.  Stir the vegetables into the soaked bulghar wheat, adding a little more smoked paprika if you think there's not quite enough involved already.  Serve with the honeysweetandsmokeysavourycrispyskinned chicken.  Heaven.

Too much veg?  Reserve some and whizz with hot vegetable stock for soup.  Tomorrow's lunch.  Serve leftover wheat/veg mix cold with salad dressing.  Veggie?  Ditch the chicken (duh!) and cook the veg and wheat, tossing in cubed halloumi cheese just before you serve.

This would make fantastic crowd-food - up the quantities and serve a heaped bowl of the wheat mix alongside a tray of chicken hissing hot from the oven.  Offer up plenty of napkins and get stuck in.

* Jimmy Carr - "I like to shorten The Only Way Is Essex... by turning it off halfway through"

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Veg-packed lasagne

I'm wary of labelling this a 'hidden veg' dish because I don't really believe in tricking children into eating things.  However, I've got two children who will happily eat brussels sprouts and am aware not everyone is as lucky, so if this is a starting point in getting your kids to eat something plant-based, then crack on and call it what you will!

It's a great way of eking out mince to do that little bit more, it's a great source of veg and their associated goodies and benefits, but most importantly it's DELICIOUS.  Which is what counts, right?  If you have alternative veg lying around in your crisper starting to look sad, feel free to experiment.  Parsnip is especially nice and adds a lovely sweetness, and you could try very finely minced mushrooms.

You can substitute soya based mince or a drained can of cooked lentils and swap the beef stock cube for vegetable to make this a veggie friendly dish.

Don't be frightened by the ingredient list, it's not in the least bit taxing.

Veg Packed Lasagne - serves 2 adults, 2 snarflings, with enough for a tupperware lunch the next day.  Or can split into 4 portions and freeze two, for couples.

500g lean beef mince
1 onion, finely sliced
splash olive oil
1 courgette. grated
1 large carrot, grated
1 red pepper, finely sliced
1 beef stock cube
1 tsp each smoked paprika and italian seasoning/mixed dried herbs
2 cloves garlic, a bit of ready jarred garlic or a tsp of garlic granules
pinch dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 small can tomato puree
1 can/carton chopped tomatoes
1 carton passata.
approx 8-10 lasagne sheets, white or verdi
150g cheddar, grated

You will also need to make some white/bechamel sauce, which you can find directions for here.

Heat the oil in a large pan and chuck in the onion,   Cook for 3-4 minutes until it starts to brown and look a bit translucent.  Add the beef to the pan, stirring to break up clumps.  Cook until the beef is evenly brown in colour then add the courgette, carrot and pepper to the pan.  Cook for a few minutes until everything is softening nicely.

Crumble in the beef cube, add the seasonings and balsamic vinegar and stir thoroughly.  Tip in the puree, tomatoes and passata, stir well to combine, reduce the heat so that it just blips gently and happily, and let it cook with the occasional stir-poke for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, whip up your sauce, and when it's reached the requisite creamy loveliness, add a pinch of crushed black pepper.  To make your sauce you could opt for an olive oil based spread suitable for cooking, and semi or 1% fat milk, if you wished.*

Layer your pans of yum into an ovenproof dish - beef mix, lasagne sheets, white sauce, beef mix, lasagne sheets, white sauce is how I roll.  Top the final layer of white sauce with the grated cheese.  Pop into a 200 degree-ish oven for 20 minutes until it's golden, bubbling and looking delicious.  Portion, serve and eat.  Without guilt!

* a note on cooking with lower fat dairy products with small children - in the interests of balance I make this dish with semi skimmed milk and it works fantastically well.  I've also made it with 1% fat milk on occasion and not noticed any difference.  It's up to you whether you choose to only use full fat products when cooking for small children, and I'd suggest you ask your Health Visitor for guidance (if s/he is any cop).  Personally, my smallest small person is nearly 2, has a good appetite and consumes a good selection of full fat dairy foods, and I have no compunctions about using semi skimmed in the occasional dish.  How you work it is up to you.  Just don't use skimmed, it doesn't cut it!


Hola blogfans.  Happy new year!

Have you made any resolutions?  Do they involve expensive gym subscriptions, muchos salad, and the necessary purchase of a grapfruit fork?

So much is made of the importance of being 'healthy', particularly with regards to food, that I think we've lost sight of what it means.  We see food as being 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'.  Fat, sugar - those are bad.  Things that are fat free, vegetables, salad - those are good.  But if we lived on nothing but 'healthy' foods, would that in turn make us really really healthy?

I have spent years struggling with my weight and with an unhealthy, destructive relationship with food.  I have spent a long time mulling over what constitutes healthy.  I'm sharing my philosophy in the hope that some of you can embrace it.

Everything is healthy.  EVERYTHING.  In roughly the correct proportions. There are no bad foods.

Good huh? I shall expound.  Healthy is an attitude.  Healthy is a hearty appetite and the ability to take real pleasure in what you eat, eat enough of it to satisfy you, no more, no less.  Healthy is knowing that our bodies need a certain number of calories, a certain amount of fat, to stay alive and vital.  Healthy is prioritising REAL food, taking pleasure in cooking something delicious from raw ingredients and knowing exactly what you're putting in your mouth.  Healthy is knowing there is a time and a place for a meal made from a jar of sauce, and it's ensuring those time and places are few and sparse.  Healthy is not eating things you don't like, making yourself miserable and hungry, or pumping yourself full of 'fat-free' processed stuff that's packed with sugar and other additives to make it taste remotely like it was supposed to before they took all the fat out.

So resolve to be healthy with me this year.  Embrace food, don't shun it.  Learn to make it sing, learn to love proper, homecooked food that tastes like food is supposed to taste.  Find a balance that allows you to eat what you enjoy without demonising or canonising anything.  Stop when you're full.  Learn to cook a new meal every once in a while, push your taste boundaries, enjoy every single meal, every mouthful.  Be friends with your food again.  Have trifle after dinner on a Wednesday just because you fancy it.

Join me.