Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Daddy of Chicken Caesar Salads

caesar salad 3
I've found since leaving University that my ability to sleep in has greatly diminished. It's so frustrating! I find myself wide awake at 7am on a Saturday, my body clock fully expecting me to dash off to work, when all I want to do is embrace the joys of not having to get up and go to work. JJ does not suffer from such an affliction. He would sleep in til noon if I let him. He's one of those people that can nap anytime, anywhere. It's one of the main points of difference in our relationship, made worse by our extremely open plan flat with very creaky floorboards. Try as I might to potter away quietly downstairs, I'll end up crashing and banging around, waking him up anyway.

So to try and avoid disturbing his lie in this past weekend, I sneaked out super early to spend the day wandering around Borough market with a very lovely blog buddy - why can't I spend my whole life wandering around produce markets in the sunshine with awesome friends talking pretty much non-stop about food?? Heaven! The resulting haul included rhubarb, which will feature in the next post, some stunning Sicillian lemons (so pretty I couldn't resist but no idea what to do with them - ideas welcome!) and a rather magnificent chicken. The chicken was simply roasted up and served with Jersey Royal potatoes and English asparagus and enthusiastically devoured Sunday evening. But, given that there's only two of us, there was plenty left over for last night's supper. Enter the king of all chicken salads - the Chicken Caesar!
caesar salad 4
Salads have such a bad rap. Those lip, lifeless green leaves thrown onto a plate are the root cause of the problem - I've never really understood how restaurants get away with charging so much for them! Side salads. Urgh. Even the name is enough to make me skip the salad and order something far less healthy.

But with the wedding looming ever closer and my diet being ruined by oh so much temptation (mostly my own fault, I'll concede) it's time to get salad happy! And there are so many incredible salads out there. I've never had such praise for a meal as the one I prepared the other night of a selection of deliciously different salads. This could be something to do with a rather amazing cookbook I'm now the very proud owner of, but I'm also going to go ahead and take a little credit. (not much though... It's really all down to the cookbook!)
caesar salad dressing 2
With the left over chicken, it had to be chicken salad and, of course, there's no chicken salad quite like a chicken Caesar salad. This salad started off innocently enough - chicken, lettuce and a bit of dressing. But somewhere between the lettuce aisle and eggs aisle, we got a little carried away. So this version would, I'm sure, make Cardini roll in his grave, but I'm willing to live with that. You can, of course, par it right back and just serve the dressing on the lettuce but that's just a touch too much like a 'side salad' for my liking!
caesar salad 2
Caesar Salad
Serves 2 for supper or 4 for a starter

For the croutons:
2 slices white bread, cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper

For the salad:
1 crispy lettuce (Romaine ideally, but hey, it's lettuce. Use whatever you've got)
Half a cucumber, diced
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
Diced, cooked chicken, around 1 cup.
Freshly grated parmesan
4 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)

For the dressing:
2 cloves garlic
2 egg yolks
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 floz/125ml olive oil

Place the rashers of bacon on a tray and pop in the oven. Turn the oven to 200C. Apparently, this stops the bacon from shrinking or something...

Toss the bread cubes in olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking tray in the middle of the oven to toast, about 10 minutes or so (until golden - this depends so much on how dry your bread is so be prepared for this to take longer).

Crush the garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt. A pestle and mortar would work great here - we don't own one though so just chopping it very finely works well too! Add the egg yolks, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and dijon mustard and give a whisk around.

Continue to whisk while slowly drizzling in the olive oil. This sounds tough but I have a VERY low tollerance for hand whisking and it took no time at all. Once it's all added it should have the consistency of slightly thickened double cream. Give it a taste and season with pepper and lemon juice. I wouldn't add any more salt as we used anchovies, bacon and parmesan, but if you're not using quite such an excessive number of salty ingredients, do season to taste with salt too.

On a large platter (or individual bowls) lay the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and chicken. Add a good couple of dollops of dressing and a grating of parmesan and toss to distribute. Crumble over the bacon and scatter with croutons. You can serve with bread too, but it's really hearty in its own right. Devour immediately! The dressing will keep for about a week in the fridge but, as with any lettuce-based salad, leaves should be dressed immediately before eating.

If you're worried about the raw egg component, apparently they can be coddled before hand. I've never tried this but though as I like to live dangerously. That, and I'm lazy. But of course, this might be one of those salads to avoid if you're pregnant!

Rosy xx

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Lemon Blueberry Scones

lemon blueberry scones 1
I have a major problem I have to confess to and I hope you'll understand and love me all the same... I am totally, utterly and completely addicted to watching cookery shows. Having spent the past couple of days under a duvet on the sofa with a rather grotty cold, I've watched pretty much nothing but cooking tv for 2 days straight. Sky is amazing - whole channels dedicated to food! I don't know what it is about cookery shows and the ever perky, enthusiastic presenters, but I just can't help but watch them. Even sometimes when I'm not overly keen on the person, or even the food, I just can't seem to stop myself. Case in point, Sophie Dahl's tv series. Did I find her excessively annoying? Yes! Do I particularly want to cook what she was making? No! Was I constantly confused by the show's premise and why on earth she roasted an entire chicken to make chicken soup?? Oh hell yes! (seriously, why??!) But did I record every single episode and watch it anyway? Or course!!
lemon blueberry scones 2

There are some exceptions. Like other dear friends of mine, I love Nigel Slater. He has a way of writing about food that just makes me want to lick the page but his show just did not float my boat at all. Just couldn't watch it!!

But the one show I could (and indeed do) watch over and over again is Barefoot Contessa. I get the impression that Ina Garten is super well known in the US - on a par with Nigella and Jamie over here. But to us Brits, she's relatively unknown - indeed, if it weren't for the wonder that is sky tv (and aforementioned food channels) I wouldn't have the faintest idea who she is. But I'm so so happy she came into my life! Oh how I adore her. Incredibly informative but never condescending, and she genuinely seems to be the loveliest person ever. And her kitchen! Wow. Just wow. What I wouldn't give for her pantry. And I LOVE the way she gives so much thought to the table! There’s one episode where she hosts a lunch for a group of carpenters and she uses tools rather than flowers as a centerpiece. Seriously had me in stitches (in the best possible way). Oh and Miguel! How JJ and I love Miguel’s guest appearances.
lemon blueberry scones 3
The part I love her for the most? The recipes. I don't think I've made a single recipe that hasn't worked and they're always so so packed with flavour. This one, though a modification on her cranberry orange scones, is no exception. A very American scone - buttery, sweet and fruity - rather than the typical (I'm going to say it) bland British scone, so no adornement in the way of butter or jam is necessary. More of a pastry in its own right. Breakfast, a sweet treat or afternoon tea, it doesn't matter - these are just perfect.

Rosy xx

Lemon Blueberry Scones
Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe
Makes about 20 large triangles – halve the recipe if you’re not feeding an army!

500g flour plus 30g extra
100g sugar*
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp grated lemon zest (ca. 3 lemons)
345g unsalted butter, diced and cold
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
240ml double cream
About 2 cups fresh blueberries
Egg wash for the tops (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water)

For the glaze:
Juice 1 lemon
Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the 500g flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Add the cold butter and mix on low speed until the mixture resembles coarse sand, with butter in pieces no larger than peas. This takes a bit of time – maybe a couple of minutes or so – so have patience and it will happen.

Combine the eggs and cream. With the mixer on slow, gradually pour in to the flour mixture. Mix until just blended. Combine the berries with the 30g flour (to stop them sinking apparently) and carefully mix until blended. I do this by hand to prevent the berries getting smooshed.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface – it’s quite sticky! Pat or roll to around ¾” thick. Keep the dough moving so it doesn’t stick to the surface and use more flour if necessary.

Flour a cutter or knife and cut to your desired shape – I like triangles. There’s no reason for this, other than you don’t have scraps left over to re-roll out which can affect how flakey the scones are, much like pastry. Plus I’m lazy that way.

Pop the scones on parchment lined trays and brush with the egg wash. You could sprinkle with sugar if you’re not going to make the glaze, but I highly recommend the glaze!

Bake for 20-25 mins until the tops are nicely browned. They will be firm to the touch and the undersides should be golden too. Allow to cool for 15 mins before glazing.

To make the glaze, mix the lemon juice with icing sugar until the desired drizzling consistency is achieved – Ina recommends ½ cup plus 2 tbsp icing sugar to 4tbsp juice. I don’t really weigh this bit – I just stir until it looks right! Drizzle over the scones.

As I've modified the recipe, so too could this be switched and swapped to your heart's content - orange choc chip, anyone??! Ooo, or raspberries....

*This is twice the amount quoted in the original recipe, following on from some commenters' advice. It needs it! They're really not that sweet, even with double. I would think the original amount of 50g would hardly make them sweet at all.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Almond Rocket Pesto and a Tart

goats cheese tart 2
I'm on a bit of a pesto kick at the moment - especially the more random combinations. We've had a great recipe for regular pesto that's been on almost weekly rotation for a while now but basil and pine nuts can be expensive. And hey, it's always fun to mix things up a bit! So this time it's almond (because they were lying around) and rocket (because, um, it was lying around). And? So good!!! I think I may be obsessed. So many different flavour possibilities!
rocket almond pesto 3
Pesto's one of those things that's just great to use in a huge variety of dishes. I think stirring it into pasta has to be one of my least favorite things to do with it (although, of course, we still eat it that way a whole lot). A recent discovery was aubergine wrapped halloumi with a smear of pesto on the inside - absolutely delicious but oh so ugly! The photos really don't do it justice so I shall have to make it again and pay a little more attention to its visual appeal before sharing it with you. JJ was close to tears it was so good. Or that might have been the quantity of garlic used... No, it was the halloumi, I'm sure!

Anyway, no matter what kind of pesto I have on hand, I LOVE to use it in tarts. Especially vegetable tarts - it really ups the flavour and helps contrast the sweetness of the vegetables. In the winter, it's a blind-baked tart shell, a coating of pesto, a heap of roasted veggies and a basic quiche filling. But I really don't feel inclined to roast up vegetables in the spring, especially when the season is all about the vibrant greens of new life rather than the dusky reds and russets of autumn. So, very much inspired by this recipe, I went for a substantially lighter, cleaner tart with a thin layer of filling - something that I'll definitely be doing again! Makes the whole thing much lighter and the eggy base doesn't overwhelm the other ingredients.
goats cheese tart 6
All in all, this was incredible. I'm ashamed to say that I managed to demolish the whole thing before JJ even got a look in (over two nights, mind - I'm not that bad. I did have to physically restrain myself from eating it all on night one though...). This pastry is surprisingly forgiving - I struggle so much with pastry but I've made this countless times. This time, I really thought I'd done it when I carried on messing around with it but it was just as flakey and perfectly savory as always. Now to perfect my sweet pastry...
goats cheese tart 4

Recipes - I will add them later this evening as I totally forgot to copy them down before I left the house this morning!! Oops... But the inspiration for the tart can be found here.

Rosy xx