Ad Hoc Lemon Chicken Casserole

IMG_0364Once again, Sunday lunch crept up on me unawares. That is, I had stuff in the deep freeze and fridge but no carefully thought out “this goes with that” according to a planned schedule of recipes as recommended by guides to being a good housewife. So my preparation today was more like speed dating than matchmaking.

Chicken, that good old standby, goes with almost anything and I always have some chicken breasts for the days where I feel uninspired. There were also four mushrooms looking rather pathetic in the middle of the fridge, with beetroot, celery, broccoli, a red pepper, carrots and parsnips lurking in the veggie drawer. Fresh herbs remaining on the shelf are parsley, mint, rosemary and basil.

On the kitchen counter a dish with lemons and tangerines has been providing a decorative splash of colour for a couple of weeks, and I realised that their skins were beginning to harden. Alert: use-by date probably yesterday! There are innumerable appetising recipes for lemon chicken, mostly with chicken thighs, but as usual I ended up combining several to accommodate my ingredients. The mushrooms, beetroot and parsnips are still in the fridge, ready for another day’s dinner.

Someone recently was advertising an app for students wanting simple recipes, where you enter a list of ingredients and up pop delicious dishes. That seems unnecessary to me – Google or Jeeves will do the same and a bit of imagination can make it an individual speciality.

Our Sunday lunch was very tasty, and probably provided us with enough vitamin C to protect us against colds all through the winter. In fact, it was probably also quite low in calories, too, an additional bonus. And finally, like all casseroles and stews, washing up is kept to a minimum.

Lemon Chicken Casserole

  • 2 chicken breasts, split through the middle into butterflies
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 1 stick celery
  • 3 lemons
  • leaves of 2 sticks of rosemary
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ gas mark 6. Mix the juice of 2 lemons with the honey, oil, butter, rosemary, crushed garlic, salt and pepper, and heat to a fragrant-smelling sauce – I did this in the microwave, to save washing up a saucepan. You could also use the zest of the lemons and probably add a dollop of mustard and soy sauce. I suppose you could also add a chicken stock cube or thicken the sauce with flour. I didn’t so I don’t know if this would improve it or not.

Place the chicken pieces flat on the bottom of a roasting tin or casserole dish and pour the sauce over. Cut the 3rd lemon into 8 wedges, and place evenly around the chicken. Dice the potatoes and vegetables and add to the chicken.

Cook for at least 50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. This casserole can actually stay happily in the oven as long as you like: mine was there for almost 2 hours. I added a few broccoli florets at the end (quickly cooked in the microwave) for extra colour, flavour and vitamins.

My only problem with this dish was finding a wine to go with the strong lemon taste. Or rather, no problem: just no wine!

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Celtic Cakes

Apple trees have rewarded their owners this year with a very rich crop, so I was pleased when my cousin turned up laden like a packhorse with a heavy bag on either side, full of pickings from her trees. Nobody knows any more what variety these are, but they make very tasty baked apples, apple pies and crumbles. There were also two enormous spherical courgettes, most welcome additions.IMG_0241

I peeled, cored and sliced for a good half hour and produced enough stewed apple to make a pie, a crumble and fill a plastic container for the freezer. Being in a domestic goddess mood, I made extra crumble mixture, intending to store the surplus in a jar in the fridge until it was needed, but my good intentions were thwarted by a post on Facebook from Wales for Welsh cakes.

My crumble mixture included porridge oats and ground almonds, which are not in the original authentic Welsh cakes mix, and my mother suggested adding a drop of rum – I suppose whiskey would be more fitting for the Scottish accent, but rum goes with the dried fruit. Quantities aren’t precise. You can vary the proportion of oats and nuts, as long as you keep approximately double the amount of flour mixture to fat. I also have a heavy hand with the spices, adding extra cinnamon and nutmeg, but that isn’t to everyone’s taste.

These would originally have been made like drop scones on a griddle, and if you have one you can have fun making these. If unexpected guests turn up, especially if they have children to lend a hand, and you have no cake to offer you could whip up a pan full in no time. Keep them small, and they cook very quickly in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, but you do need an eagle eye to ensure they are turned over before they burn. If you are using a non-stick pan, the butter isn’t really necessary but it does enhance the flavour.

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When they are ready (crispy on the outside, a bit soft in the middle, but do make sure they are cooked through) let them cool. They should keep for about a week in an airtight tin, but that is only hearsay: ours barely survived cooling, and indeed more than one was eaten still warm.

Welsh cakes with a Scottish accent

4 oz (125 g) margarine or butter
4 (125 g) oz SR flour
2 (60 g) oz porridge oats
2 (60 g)oz ground almonds
3 (100 g) oz sugar
2 (60 g) oz raisins (or any other dried fruit)
tsp mixed spice
1 egg
I tsp rum
pinch salt
little milk to bind if necessary

Mix flour, oats, sugar and nuts and rub fat in to make a crumble mixture,
Mix in currants and add egg and rum. Mix to a soft dough – consistency of short crust pastry – adding a splash of milk if it’s too dry.
Roll out to about ½ “ thick, cut into rounds with a pastry cutter and cook in a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a little butter (not too hot – don’t let them burn!) until golden brown and cooked through. About 3 minutes each side. Allow to cool on a wire grid and store in an airtight container.

Salmon with Blueberry and Ginger Glaze

This was our Sunday lunch, with runner beans and pea beans straight from our neighbor’s allotment, carrots and potatoes. Definitely one that will be repeated, and I love the fact that this recipe doesn’t specify quantities: just a couple of handfuls of blueberries, as much or as little fresh ginger as you like, and a dollop of honey. Taste as you add, and the final article stays true to itself. Easy and delicious, and one to impress guests.

The Truly Educated Never Graduate

I promise, this recipe is not as fancy as it sounds. You may be asking, “What made you pair blueberries with salmon?” Well, like most females, during the summer I start to think, “You know, I should work out more. And I should eat healthy foods too!” If you go online and start skimming the various websites on healthy foods and diets, you almost always see salmon and blueberries on the list of foods you should be eating at all times. I’d used berries in glazes before. I knew salmon paired well with ginger and ginger paired well with blueberries. And while the transitivity property of food does not always apply, I decided to give it a shot. [For those who don’t know what I mean by the transitivity property, it’s basically “if X goes with Y and if Y goes with Z then X goes with Z.” Doesn’t usually…

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Lamb Shanks Abroad

My son-in-law has pointed out that a lamb shank goes under the truly fanciful name of souris d’agneau in French: rather a large mouse, I must say, but Wikipedia tells me it’s because of the oval shape of the meat around the tibia.  I suppose the bone sticking out represents the tail.

I already knew that it bears the vaguely aristocratic name of Haxen von Lamm in German – for those unfamiliar with this language, names with a “von” in the middle indicate the higher ranks of society – or the more humble term Lammschenkel. This led me to google the cut in other languages, and to my delight I found the wonderfully unappetising stinco d’agnello in ItalianLam skank (Danish) and lamschenkel (Dutch) bridge the gap between English and German. It’s a cordero in Spanish and a ramushanku in Japanese – a clear attempt at reproducing the English name with a Japanese accent that has inadvertently turned the lamb into a ram. None of these can compete  with the French though: what a poet that butcher must have been who first thought to compare a lamb’s leg to a mouse.

Happy Eastertide

 

Image1321Owing to a slight error of communication we are sharing one lamb shank between two this happy Easter Sunday. It’s a suspiciously large one; “lamb” is defined as a sheep under 12 months of age that does not yet have any permanent incisor teeth. Since all I have is the lower thigh of this particular animal, I can’t check its teeth, but I hope it will prove to have enough tender meat between the outside fat and the inside bone to feed us both. To be on the safe side, I wrapped it in foil with plenty of vegetables – carrot, parsnip, courgette, tomato, garlic – well seasoned with herbes de Provence and extra thyme and rosemary, and it cooked very slowly in its juices with a swig of white wine and some olive oil.

It crossed my mind that if sheep had legs like humans, the cut below the knee would be a lamb’s calf – now that could lead to some confusion.

Celebrity chefs have their recipes for this, all with slight variations that they claim will make the finished dish especially tasty, and I had intended to marinate our little leg – or ankle – in wine overnight, but forgot. Not to worry: that leaves us all the more wine to drink. It is accompanied by mint sauce of course, since we are in England, and at my mother’s request a very large dollop of onion sauce and some roast potatoes.

Thisl sounds very nice, as does Jamie Oliver’s version. I’ve said it before: I can’t follow recipes, I always do something that isn’t in the instructions, or leave something out, and most of the time it works out OK. And this certainly was good!

Lamb is traditional on Easter Sunday because of the association with Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the Paschal or Passover Lamb. A few years ago, the church of which I am a member organised a Seder meal on Good Friday, with detailed explanations of each item in the Jewish tradition, and including aspects from the New Testament fulfilling the Old. It was an extremely moving experience, and well worth repeating, though too complicated to go into here. However, it has made me reflect on our traditional ways of celebrating Easter, which is retreating more and more into the pagan festival of Eostre/Ishtar, especially in the multicultural UK.

I have eaten my portion of Easter lamb, and am now turning my attention to a chocolate egg and a bunny, symbols respectively of new life and fertility. Happy Easter, everyone

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Magic Mushroom Or Toxic Toadstools?

Morchella – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MorchellaMorchella_conica_1_beentree

It began with a filet mignon de veau aux moreilles. My introduction to this ugly but delicious fungus in a restaurant in Geneva, almost 40 years ago, was a rather memorable occasion. I was teaching English as a foreign language to a group of architects, designers and engineers from a Swiss company that had been commissioned to build a new palace for the Shah of Persia somewhere on the mosquito-ridden shores of the Caspian Sea. A reasonable working knowledge of English was a prerequisite, so we were providing an intensive course.

They were a very pleasant bunch of guys, and for some reason they had been mixed with two executives from the major Swiss bank UBS. It may have been to avoid having two small groups, to keep the two groups from talking shop, or it could simply have been to lighten the ambience of a class consisting solely of bankers. Whatever the reason, the group dynamics were excellent. Everyone got along and they made surprisingly good progress in their English.

In order to keep the linguistic immersion intact, we all went out to lunch together and only English was spoken. Geneva has a plethora of good restaurants, and as their companies were footing the bill, we had no compunction about going to a decent one near to the school. This was back in the mid nineteen-seventies, when the economy was booming and there was no thought of austerity. I suppose in the end it was the Shah who was being billed for our meals.

On this particular day, one of the group announced it was his birthday and brought a bottle of champagne along “for the aperitif” at the end of the morning session. Consequently, we were already quite cheerful as we arrived at the restaurant. The guys immediately ordered a couple of bottles of wine, glasses were filled and already emptying by the time we came to order our meals.

I had never heard of moreilles, so I asked for an explanation. The dictionary translation didn’t help, as I had also never heard of morel mushrooms or Morchella. My gentlemanly entourage made attempts to draw pictures of this mushroom to enlighten me, all collapsing in giggles as their efforts became more and more phallic as the wine flowed ever more freely. Finally, assured that this strange mushroom was indeed a delicacy and as I am always curious to try foods I don’t know, I ordered the filet mignon de veau aux moreilles. I was not disappointed: if you are going to try a dish for the first time, it’s a good rule of thumb to try it in a good restaurant. This one was really very good.

Alas for me, however, I hadn’t kept an eye on the quantity of wine I was imbibing. In Switzerland, it’s considered impolite to let a person’s glass become empty, so as soon as there is only a centimetre or so left in a glass, it is refilled. My so-called gentlemen students were also playing a game of which I was unaware, namely to drink the teacher under the table. By the time I realised what they were up to, I was well past caring and downed a Benedictine, finding it as funny as they did.

We returned to our classroom after this carousal, and it was clear that I was in no fit state to teach. Pangs of conscience then struck my students, who tried to sober me up with coffee, but to no avail. Half an hour after the lesson started, I was fast asleep. Guilt and loyalty kept the class there until the lesson officially ended at 5 pm, when they managed to wake me up. Being basically decent chaps, they apologised – though they still found their prank amusing – and one of them drove me home, propped me against the doorpost, rang the bell and ran.

Since that day, whenever I have come across morel mushrooms on a menu, I have ordered them. They aren’t in the same category as truffles, but in my opinion come a pretty close second, and they are not terribly common.

To my surprise this morning, my neighbour drew my attention to some “funny toadstools” growing in her garden. She allowed me to remove one to have its photo taken, and this is what it looks like:Image1313

Is it, or isn’t it?

Nobody is about to try them to find out. But …..