Coming together

I love it when things just seem to come together in the right way and its one of the things that I’m starting to love about blogging and tweeting. You swirl around the blogosphere, you play about on Twitter and suddenly a whole bunch of influences collide to make you spot a new dish that resonates for you or triggers fond memories of something you haven’t had in simply too long.


And so it was earlier this week that the influences of Browners’ National British Sandwich fun, Fran39’s watercress post and the #livelocal challenge came together to make me think of a lunch I hadn’t had in probably 10 years (yes really)  – chicken and watercress with mayo on really good bread.

So I plotted a treat, my husband is not a fan of watercress he pulls a face at the very word, the ideal opportunity was to have said sandwich on a day when I was working from home. Mmmmm. I made fresh bread rolls yesterday to have with burgers and I’d found some red watercress in the supermarket and at 11am I was roasting 2 chicken legs with a dousing of lemon and olive oil.

At the appointed lunch hour I moseyed to the kitchen, sliced open a couple of rolls, slathered them with my favourite mayo, piled in freshly roast chicken and topped with watercress, squidged on the top.

And tucked in. Heaven in a bun.

Just for the record

Those who have been following carefully might wonder where the very last of the roast chicken went.

You’ll be please to know that the cat didn’t get it but instead it ended up as a quick lunch in a fresh white lovely soft floury roll with lemon mayonnaise (or salad cream for one of us) and tomato. It was breast meat – perfect.

So in these credit crunch times lets see whether overall we got value from the chicken. We had 4 meals (for 2 people each time) using the meat (roast, curry, pie, sandwich) and about 5 pints of stock, which will make 10 potions of soup or risotto or whatever. The chicken cost £11.32 – you can do the maths anyway you want but that means it cost £1.42 per portion if you ignore the stock and 63p if you don’t.

Not bad going whatever angle you peer at it from.

Almost the end of the chicken

After cooking up a good batch of stock on Friday afternoon it was then time to use up most of the rest of the roast chicken leftovers.

Subconsciously I must have known it was ‘British Pie Week’ (as created by Jus-Rol the makers of ready to roll pastry!) as I’d been thinking creamy chicken pie with mushrooms or leeks for a few days. And to do credit to Jus-Rol it was their pastry I used – there was a half packet near the top of the freezer leftover from a previous pie-making moment that was begging to be put to good use – and so out it came to be defrosted.

Now I know you can say its not exactly home cooking to use ready made pastry and if it had been shortcrust that was needed I might have made my own as I’m finally quite good at it. I used to be rubbish at pastry but I think your hands just get colder as you get older so you get better without trying – at least in relation to making shortcrust pastry ;). But I find that a hot meaty pie needs a puff pastry top because really I love the way it gets all crispy on the top and soggy next to the filling without ending up too heavy or stodgy. Plus we have to remember that sometimes a few quick cheaty bits in the kitchen help to deliver a different dish – if I’d thought I’d have to make puff pastry myself, something not attempted since domestic science at school (such a great name to inspire teenagers to cook –what were they thinking) then there’d have been no pie.

So cheats pastry it was (come on, Delia cheats what can be wrong with it?).

To the pie filling. This was an amalgam of having read many recipes over the years and just thinking through what I wanted. Creamy but not too creamy; so crème fraiche instead of double cream. I wanted the mushrooms to play as big a part as the chicken – well I would they are in my top 5. And that was pretty much were I was coming from. 

So chop an onion and sauté in a little butter (for me onion just adds 

a nice tangy sweet flavour to any savoury dish – its a staple ingredient). I also added a couple of rashers of bacon chopped up small – because I had some thereto use up. Then add the mushrooms chopped into medium chunks or left whole if they are tiny. I used some big portobello’s and some small chestnut mushrooms to get to different textures – the portobello’s are softer the chestnut ones quite dense. Cook down a bit until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Add the chicken cut into bite sized chunks, a splash of white wine bring to a simmer and add the crème fraiche. Cook it down a little so it’s thickening up. Putit in the pie dish (remember you need a pie funnel if the dish is deep).
Roll out your home made (swot) or cheaty pastry (top marks for thinking ahead) to a good inch larger than the pie dish. Cut off about ½ inch of this extra and use it to create a pastry rim round the dish – even if you don’t need one it means there’ll be some extra crispy crust. Moisten the pastry rim and the lid and apply lid to rim. Pinch together with your fingers then knock up the edges with a knife to help give some extra lift. Cut a slit to allow the steam out. Apply decorative pastry patterns with any remaining pastry. Into the oven it goes – gas 6 (200C/400F) for around 30 minutes to cook the pastry.

Serve with a flourish but hope that it doesn’t collapse like mine did, the filling was a long way below the pastry – still tasted great though.


Leftover roast chicken – lets make stock

The stockpot is on. And in a good few hours there’ll be a fresh batch of chicken stock to use in soups, risottos or casseroles.

There is nothing quite like making stock (chicken or any other type) to make you feel virtuous, in fact there’s a danger of becoming smug about the whole thing. You’re getting maximum value from something in a way that would make your grandparents proud and you’re going to get extra special compliments on all the dishes you use it in; not because people know, but because they really can taste what it adds to the dish in its wonderful background way (kind of like a book printed on particularly nice paper). Soup made with proper stock really is on another level – anyone who ever says in a soup recipe use stock or water as if there is little difference is absolutely missing the point in my book.

But before you get carried away with the idea of stock making let’s just check in with some basics.

Do you have a big enough pan? If you only have a small saucepan then I’m sorry but making stock is not on the cards for the time being. You need something large enough to hold the broken up chicken carcass along with the vegetables we’ll be adding and up to around 3 litres of water. So pretty big – roughly 22-24cm in diameter or more. The pan in the pictures below is 28cm in diameter. There’s lots of lovely pans out there but there’s also no need to go mad. A great pot will last you for years and will be really useful for pasta, big batches of chilli, ragu and casseroles. As an example IKEA do a 5l stainless steel pot for about £17 and I’m sure there’s plenty more reasonably priced options out there – as with any kitchen kit though do go for the best you can afford today.

Have you got enough space to store the stock? You’re going to end up with between 1.5l and 2.5l (about 3-6 pints) of stock so think about where you are going to keep it. The ideal choice is to freeze most of it but if you’ve only got an ice box rather than a freezer then it could prove a little difficult. It will keep fine in the fridge but you’d need to use it within a week.

Have you got time? In many ways it doesn’t take long and you don’t have to constantly attend to it but on the other hand it will need to be simmered for at least 2 hours so don’t decide to make it when you know you need to go and collect the dry cleaning in half an hour. Anyway you won’t want to go out once its cooking because the smell will be so delicious you’ll just want to stay in and do some more of that ‘stock smug’ feeling thing.

Have you got something to strain it through? A colander is fine if that’s what you’ve got – it’ll take out the big/medium debris. Some people like to strain it through something finer, even muslin to get the smaller bits out and create a clearer stock. A fine gauge colander or a sieve you won’t be using for flour is good. 

Okay so lets get going.

Get the chicken carcass and any bones you’ve saved from using up the leftovers so far. Strip all the good useful meat of the carcass but don’t be too fussy about this – leaving some meat on the bones will add to the flavour of the final stock. Bung all the bones, any really scrappy meat, the carcass and the skin i.e. anything chicken-y, into the stockpot.

Next add the vegetables and herbs that are going to help flavour things. Read any cookery book and even if they tell you that you shouldn’t be using leftover roast (ignore them, they are wrong, stick with me, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall) they will tell you to add the pretty much holy trinity of onion, carrot and leek – so do that. One medium onion (in quarters), a couple of reasonable size carrots cut in chunks (no need to peel unless you can’t manage to get all the soil off any other way) and a leek (all of it except the very bottom – no throwing those green tops away) again cut into chunks and rinsed so you don’t get sandy soil in the stock. Also good to add is celery – a couple of stacks – chunks again. On the herb/spice front you need some whole black peppercorns (6 or so), a bay leaf or two and a spring of parsley or thyme.

Pour on the water so everything is just covered – the tighter you pack the pot the less water you’ll need and the richer the end result. Less than 1.5l and you’re likely to have missed something out from the pot (so check because no chicken carcass = no chicken stock), more than 3l and its not really going to be that flavoursome.

Bring it up to the boil. You might get some horrid looking scummy froth rising up – scoop it out. And then cover and simmer for anything from 2-5 hours depending on the richness you want to achieve and the time available between starting and needing to do something else – like sleep or use the stock to make your dinner.

That’s pretty much it for a while. Check up on it every now and then and top up the water if it’s looking a bit low.

Once it’s done, allow it to cool and strain it – maybe straight into the tubs you’ll freeze it in. Use the size of tub that you’ll need your stock to be in later. Quite good are the tubs that fresh soup comes in at the supermarket – eat the soup, wash the tub, refill with stock, confident that you won’t need to be buying soup from the supermarket again anytime soon.

Roast chicken leftovers parts 2 and 3 – get ready

Today its time to use the rest of the roast chicken. Its going to be a chicken and mushroom pie for dinner and a big batch of stock.  So off to get any missing ingredients and prepare for a lovely afternoon of cooking (and delicious aromas filling the house). 

Come back later to check on how things are progressing.

Roast chicken leftovers (Tuesday night is curry night)

So what have we done so far with our roast chicken leftovers (apart from store them safely in the fridge of course)?

Well one of the favourite options is to rustle up a quick curry – always good whether you go for a creamy or a tomato based option. Probably not very authentic but WAY BETTER than anything you’ll get in a supermarket heat and eat; and believe me I know, I’ve tried a lot of heat and eat curry in my time searching for one that’s vaguely good. They are few and far between. Even if the supermarket recipe started out more authentic it’ll never taste quite as fresh and zingy as something you do yourself. So next time you’ve some leftover chicken gives this recipe a whirl and your taste buds a treat.


We went for a tomato based option and did a side of chickpeas and purple sprouting broccoli (because we happened to have a few bits of the latter lurking in the fridge drawer).

First the chicken curry…..

(enough for two – scale up with the chicken meat for greater numbers and add some water if there’s 4 of you, more tomatoes if there’s six – we could have made enough for six with the meat we had left but decided to save it for later in the week). 

The pan: we always use some kind of low sided sauté type pan for curry as this helps the sauce thicken faster than a regular sauce pan would – which is quite important.

The onion: we pretty much always start by frying up an onion fairly finely chopped so its starts to colour but not get too dark (it can get bitter if it over colours though I have found a great curry recipe with really crispy onion but I’ll save that for another post).

The spices: then we add the spices which are a mix of mostly freshly ground and a few ready prepared; we just go with the flow of what we fancy taste wise and how hot we want it to be (this last point always being up for a bit of debate as I’m a bit of a curry wimp when it comes to the chilli content). This time we used coriander and cumin seeds, ground turmeric, dried chili flakes and a chopped fresh red chilli. We toss the spices with the onions for about a minute to start to release the flavours – boy does it start to smell lovely.

Tomatoes: we add a tin of chopped tomatoes and raise the heat so it all starts to simmer down.

The chicken: as the tomatoes begin to bubble quite vigorously we add the chicken meat, which I’ve pulled off from one of the legs and cut into smallish chunks.
We leave this to bubble away fairly rapidly, keeping an eye out and stirring every so often to prevent it catching on the pan bottom. 

While that’s working its curry magic we get the chick peas and sprouting broccoli on the go, cutting the latter up into small florets and tossing with the chick peas, a tiny bit of water and a few twists from a garam masala spice mill plus a good dollop of greek yoghurt to coat everything. This cooks away and thickens whilst we pop on the basmati rice and get some bowls warming.

The chicken curry needs a good 20- 30 minutes of swift bubbling to get the chicken heated through and the sauce nice and concentrated, the chick peas and broccoli need about 15 minutes cooking (thought they’ll survive more if the timings go a bit awry) and the basmati needs 10 minutes boiling and few minutes after its drained to help fluff up.

Then its into the waiting bowls, to the table and dive in for a tasty curry experience. Pretty good all round authentic or not. 

Oh and there still at least two meals left on the chicken before we even get to thinking about maybe making stock.

Roast chicken II

Did last nights chicken live up to expectations?

YES definitely.

It was tasty and moist, a good crispy skin and the stuffing was nicely spiced – although my husband thought we were having a rice stuffing in homage to the cricket (England v West Indies) – quite!

Cooking time wise it had 25 minutes at Gas 7 (220C/425F) followed by 90 minutes at Gas 5 (190C/375F) being 20 minutes per pound/450g of weight excluding the stuffing. I’ve found this method works well and with a large chicken comes out pretty spot on each time. A smaller chicken (less than about 3lb) may need up to 20 minutes extra, but I’d always recommend going for the largest chicken you can get so you have plenty of leftovers.

We carved it by first removing both legs and then taking off one side of the breast meat in one piece and then slicing it cross wise, this is trick my husband picked up from a Jamie Oliver TV show and is much easier than slicing the breast in the traditional way. On this size of chicken we shared this one side and that leaves us 2 legs, the other breast and the carcass for all sorts of goodies later in the week.

No pictures of it plated up sorry but was too keen to dig in and eat :)