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I know this is will be a shocking disclaimer – and there are many people who may doubt my bona fides as a home-cook after I say this, but … I don’t like pot roast.

Yes, it’s a classic dish.  Yes, it’s a great way to feed a family.  Yes, braising is a wonderful way to cook meat and keep it moist, blahblahblah.  But, at the end of the day, I like my roast beef to be red on the inside and, well, meaty.  Not pull-apart-able and brown.  I mean … BROWN, fercryingoutloud!  That’s just over-cooked, that’s all that is.

So, because of this prejudice, I tend to see the words “pot roast” in any cookbook or magazine and happily turn the page.  Until this week, when I saw a recipe for pot-roasted chicken – then, I thought this my be totally do-able.  But, when I read the recipe for what was supposed to be a “hunters’ sauce”, I thought it needed work, so this is what I came up with and, holy Moses, is it good.  How good is it?  Let’s just say that there aren’t nearly enough leftovers for another night’s dinner for both of us.  Score!

To make this work, you need a casserole dish that is deep enough to hold the chicken and still get the lid on.

Pot-roast Chicken

  • olive oil
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 parsnips, trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 1 large carrot, trimmed peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed, halved lengthwise and diced
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, mashed and minced
  • 4 oz. button mushrooms
  • 1 wine-glass of red wine (I used a Côte du Rhone and it was perfect)
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1 whole chicken (3-5 lbs)
  • drizzle garlic oil

Preheat oven to 325 F.

If you have a flame-proof casserole dish like Le Creuset, you can do this all in one pot.  As I do not, this is how I do it:

In a very large frying pan, heat a good glug or two of olive oil over medium-high heat (this should be enough to give the bottom of the pan a thin coating).  When shimmering, add the bacon and cook until crispy.  Remove and set aside on a paper towel to drain.  If there is loads of grease, drain excess as necessary to keep the fat to just coating the bottom of the pan.  Add the chopped onions, parsnips, carrot and celery to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are lightly browned.  Add the garlic and stir in thoroughly before adding the mushrooms and cooking for another two to three minutes.  Add the wine and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan before adding the tomatoes.  Stir and cook a bit (about two minutes) to let the sauce thicken a bit, then add the chicken stock and crumbled- or chopped-up cooked bacon.  Taste for seasoning, then adjust as necessary.  Add the tarragon and paprika and stir thoroughly before pouring the lot into a deep casserole dish.  Set the chicken on top (the liquid should be about half-way up the chicken’s thighs), then drizzle the top of the chicken with the garlic oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cover with the lid and pop in the oven for an hour.  After that, take the lid off and baste the chicken with the sauce every 10-15 minutes for the next hour.

I served this with mashed potatoes and it was scrumptious.  No other word for it.  Scrump.  Tious.

Pot roast chicken

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So, I just finished my first workout in the C25K program – essentially, it’s a workout program to help you go from the couch to running a 5K in two months.  While I’m in fairly decent shape because of the walking I need to do for work – not to mention, the full commuter combat that goes on everyday on the Tube – getting on that treadmill was a rude awakening.  But, I got through it and am now set up to feel nice and smug the rest of the afternoon.

You know the feeling.

That great, self-satisfied, “I just worked out and, boy, can’t you already tell how good I’m going to look” feeling.  I love that.  I just need to make sure that I don’t reward it with a half-dozen chocolate cookies!

So, along those lines, here is a fantastic hearty soup that is low in fat but high in flavor and is incredibly filling!  This makes about four servings and is perfect with some nice crusty bread on a damp Saturday afternoon.

Curried Celeriac and Parsnip Soup

  • Good glug of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp medium Madras curry powder (I like Barts)
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 celeriac peeled and diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • small handful cilantro

In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil, onion, celery and garlic and sweat until onion is translucent.  Add the curry powder and cook another minute or two, then add the parsnips and celeriac and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the vegetable stock, then bring to the boil before reducing to a simmer and cooking for another 20 minutes, until the parsnips and celeriac are tender.  Use a stick blender to puree, then taste for seasoning.

In a small bowl, use the blender to puree the yogurt and cilantro, then swirl a bit into the soup to serve.

Celeriac and Parsnip Soup

Happy New Year!

So, got any resolutions?  I always do, but I try to keep them reasonable.  I’m going to start the C25K program this year to try to get rid of some of this excess (I’m a tad too pudding-y around the middle … this must go).  I’m also going to try to do one meat-free meal a week.  This will hopefully be good for my middle, the mister’s cholesterol and the planet.  Oh, and our grocery bills.  So, be prepared to see a few more meat-free recipes in the coming months so that we can all try to eat a little cleaner and healthier.

With that in mind, the first recipe has fish, so it’s not totally meat-free, but there is so little in it – but with so much flavor – you really won’t feel like you’re missing much!  And, it’s so flipping EASY!  The most complicated part of the recipe is boiling the pasta.  Seriously, this is a great work-day meal when you need to get dinner in front of you in under 15 minutes.  The recipe below gives a decent-sized portion for four or a big portion for three.

Smoked Salmon Pasta with Chili Crumbs

  • 1/4 lb smoked salmon, pulled or cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 lb dried pasta (I like to use fusilli lunghi, but penne would work fine)
  • 2 big handfulls of baby greens (a mix of baby spinach/chard/arugula is perfect)
  • 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • juice of 1-2 lemons

Boil the pasta as directed in well-salted water.  While that’s doing its thing, in a small saucepan over medium heat, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan plus a bit – probably around a quarter of a cup in total.  Add the red pepper flakes and swirl around to flavor the oil while it heats.  When it starts to sizzle, add the breadcrumbs and cook them in the hot oil until they start to color and toast.

Put the greens in the bottom of the strainer you will use for your pasta – you’re going to use the hot pasta water to wilt them.  When the pasta is cooked, drain over the greens, then quickly toss with the pasta before pouring into a bowl.  Sprinkle in the smoked salmon and pour in the spicy breadcrumbs and hot oil.  Finally, squeeze the lemons over everything and toss thoroughly to incorporate all the flavors and serve!  You can top with a little Parmesan if you like, but you don’t need to.  It’s lovely and light and zingy on its own.

Smoked Salmon Pasta2

This cake will change your life.

I know what you’re saying … “Change my life???!!!  Yeah, cake can be good, but come on … ”

No.  I’m serious.  This cake will make you LONG for autumn and the fresh apple harvest.  It will make you turn away from apple pie and question what you ever saw in it in the first place.  It will make you reexamine your long-held food beliefs – specifically, the one that says “if it has apples in it, it MUST contain copious amounts of cinnamon.”

This cake is dense and moist, yet really light.  It is also a nice mixture of textures with a soft crumb, the slight resistance of the fruit and a crunchy top from the demerera sugar.  All-in-all, the perfect blend of taste and texture!

Why is it Surrey Apple Cake?  Well, it’s a twist on a Dorset Apple Cake, using blackberries that I purloined from my mother-in-law’s garden and she happens to live in … wait for it … SURREY!  So, there you go.  It was either that or call it Kingston Apple Cake after the rum in it, but when you think if Kingston, Jamaica, apples aren’t exactly the first fruit that comes to mind.

Surrey Apple Cake

  • 8 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp rum
  • 1 1/2 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • pinch salt
  • 1 lb apples, peeled cored and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1 cup frozen blackberries
  • 3-5 Tbsp demerera sugar

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a 9″ cake pan by buttering it and lining with parchment paper.  Then, prepare the apples, putting the diced apples in a large bowl of cold water that’s had the juice of a lemon squeezed in so that they don’t brown while you make the batter.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter, sugar and zest until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, being sure to scrape down the sides to get it all nice and smooth.  Add the rum and mix lightly, then remove the bowl from the standing mixer.  Add the dry ingredients and give a couple of stirs before the fruit and adding it to the batter, gently folding until everything is well combined.

Pour into the prepared cake pan, smooth across the top and sprinkle over the demerera sugar so that it is evenly distributed on the top, then bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until a tester comes out clean.  Let it cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes, then invert (twice) onto a plate so that the top of the cake remains on top when you dish it up.  If you serve it still warm, then it’s totally yummy with ice cream.  If you serve it at room temperature, then try it with warm crème anglaise.

Today is the Sunday of the late summer bank holiday weekend – the mark of the end of summer here in the UK as the kids start to go back to school over the next week or so.  We’ve started noticing that the nights are drawing in and the days are getting shorter.  Food-wise, it’s like summer is giving us its last of its bounty as the “late fruits” are starting to ripen – blackberries, apples, plums and pears – to get us ready for the autumn.

So, go out and forage!  Grab a big plastic bowl and take it to a park or a field that has brambles in its hedges – you’re going to get scratched up and possibly bug-bit, but the payoff is so worth it!  Big, dark, luscious blackberries that are perfect for  muffins or cakes and make lovely jams.

And, blackberries are easy to freeze so that you can enjoy them all year around!!  All you need to do is line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, then pour the berries on it in a single layer and freeze like that – it’ll only take about 30 minutes.  Once they’re frozen, pour them into a zippy bag and throw them back into the freezer.  This way, you won’t wind up with a blackberry brick, but will have dozens of individual berries.

Anyhow, this is one of those fantastic easy-peasy cakes that takes next to no time to throw together – think of it as an “anyday cake” that you don’t have to spend tons of time on.  Throw it together, toss it in the oven and you have a just-about-instant treat for family or to take to work.

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake

Cake

  • 7 oz butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups blackberries (fresh or frozen)

Syrup

  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp Chambord (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare an 8″ springform pan by buttering it and lining with parchment paper, then pour the three cups of blackberries evenly along the bottom.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar, then beat on medium until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, scraping down the sides to make sure everything is completely smooth.  Remove from the mixer to add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing in by hand to keep from overbeating.  If the batter feels stiff, loosen with two tsp milk.  Spoon over the blackberries and smooth across the top before popping into the oven for an hour, testing at 55 minutes to see if a sharp knife will come out clean.

While the cake is cooking, make the blackberry syrup by pouring the blackberries, sugar, water and vanilla into a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to the boil, the reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes until it coats a metal spoon and is nice and syrupy.  Sieve into a small pitcher to remove the seeds, then stir in the Chambord.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 30 minutes before inverting onto a plate to cool a little more – you want to serve it still a little warm, so don’t cool completely.  When you’re ready to serve, pour the syrup over the top and let soak in, then slice!

What an amazing weekend it has been!  Actually, I’ll go even farther than that – what a WEEK!!  But, then, I’m an Olympics addict, so every four years, I pretty much geek out on sports.  Our household TV is usually on anything BUT athletics, but for two weeks out of every 208, I go completely insane and inhale every bit of swimming, track and field, rowing, gymnastics and equestrian action I possibly can.  And, of course, as an American living in the UK, I feel lucky to have two teams to cheer for.

My poor mister.  The Olympics isn’t something that he’d set out to watch, but he sits and watches it with me .. and then, I saw him get excited with Mo Farah’s gold medal run last night, so I think he’s starting to get into it, too.  Add Jessica Ennis’s gold for the heptathlon, numerous medals for Team GB in rowing and the outstanding swimming at the aquatics center and you’re talking about an amazing week of athletics.  I really couldn’t be prouder of both my countries.

So, anyway, given last night’s three gold medals in track and field (out of the total of six golds plus one heartbreaking silver in rowing), I decided to have a little Team GB celebration of my own today and break out the scones with clotted cream and jam.  I also decided to shake things up a bit and play with the method of assembling – and, I have to say, the results would have made the judges smile.

Oh, and one more thing for my American friends:  scones are not a breakfast treat, despite what certain coffee chains have sold you.  They are for the afternoon with a nice cup of tea, to be served with clotted cream or lemon curd and jam. This has been a public service announcement in my bid to help transatlantic relations.

I’ve included measurements in both weight and volume below – as this is a bread, I recommend that you invest in a digital scale and do this by weight for better accuracy.  The recipe is based on one from the silver fox, himself, Paul Hollywood.

Scones

  • 500 g — 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 large eggs (plus one for the egg wash)
  • 75 g — 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 30 g — 2 rounded Tbsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 75 g — 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, very cold
  • 230 ml — 1 cup milk
  • good handful of golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 425 F and line a baking tray with parchment powder.

In the bowl of a food processor, quickly blitz the flour with the baking powder, salt and sugar to give it a quick sift.  Add the cold butter and pulse a few times until it’s fully incorporated into the flour.  Add the two eggs and milk, then give it a couple of quick pulses to begin bringing it together before you pour the lot into a large bowl with the raisins.  Gently mix with a wooden spoon, then knead to bring everything together, but don’t overwork it.  Just so you know, the dough will be sticky – not wet, but definitely sticky.  Dust your work surface well and tip the bread out, folding it a little and turning it over a couple of times, then pat it down to about 2″ thick (if the top is tacky, dust it lightly with flour).  Use a 3″ cutter to cut out your shapes and place them on your prepared tray with about an inch in between.

Now, some people say that you shouldn’t try to reuse the scraps, but I hate waste – so, gently bring them together and pat them into  2″ depth then continue to cut out your shapes until you’ve used everything.  These may turn out a little raggedy, so set them aside as a chef’s treat if you don’t want to serve them (hey, they’re all good eating, right?)

Anyway, lightly beat an egg with a dash of milk, then use a pastry brush to across the top of the scones, being careful not to let the egg wash to go down the sides.  Pop them in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown on top.  Serve warm but not hot out of the oven.

Finally … FINALLY … we’re starting to have some real summer weather here in the UK – after 40 days and 40 nights (and then some) of rain, we’re seeing gorgeous sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s just in time for the Olympic opening ceremony!  It’s enough to make one want to call in sick and head to the park with a good book and a picnic!

Since I have a few things I actually have to do today, pulling a sickie just wasn’t an option.  So, I did the next best thing, instead, and took a nice walk through Green Park on the way to the office this morning.  I thought it might be nice to capture for you a little of what London is like when the weather is nice.  I’ve always loved the park culture of renting one of their green stripey chairs and lazing about to catch some sun – so here it is, the calm before the onslaught of office workers who will take an extra-long lunch later today:

So, anyway, what better time to enjoy a nice, summery salad?  This one is actually adapted from Leon‘s Tuk Tuk salad – and, since every travel documentary I’ve seen about Thailand shows scores of mopeds, I decided to upgrade the name as well as the recipe.  Serves 4 comfortably.  And, of course, if you want to keep this totally vegetarian, then leave out the chicken.

Moped Salad

  • Medium bunch salad greens of your choice (I like arugula, but the mister doesn’t, so we compromise on watercress, which works well here)
  • 3-4 chicken breasts, cooked, and cut into cubes (I like to add them still slightly hot, but they’d be just as good cold)
  • 1 package microwave brown basmati (I like Tilda, but use whatever brand you prefer), cooked per directions
  • 2 large carrots, trimmed peeled and grated
  • 1 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips
  • 1 bunch spring onions, chopped
  • 1 large bunch cilantro roughly chopped
  • 1 medium bunch mint, finely chopped
  • 3-4 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish

Moped Salad Dressing

  • 4 Tbsp lime juice
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 red chilli pepper, trimmed, seeded and finely minced

Before making the salad, make your dressing to let the flavors mingle as much as possible and set aside.  In a large bowl, toss the greens with the herbs then add the warm rice (it will really intensify the flavor of the herbs).  Toss with the chicken, carrots, tomato, bell pepper and spring onions, mixing throughly, then top with the dressing and toss well.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.

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