Slow decent into madness| Pollo Con Salsa

And so begins the slow decent into end-of-year madness. There’s people to see, parties to attend, shopping to do, and nowhere near enough time to do it all. Why do we do it to ourselves?!

How do you handle this time of year?
Are you a list person?
Did you start buying Christmas presents in June?
Do you promise yourself every year that this will be the one where you’re organised, only to find yourself 3 days out from the big day having a meltdown in Myer? Yeah, no, me neither.

With all the demands on your time that come with this time of year, you’re going to want some recipes that aren’t too taxing on the effort front, right? Right.

This recipe comes from one of my favourite books this year – The Feast Goes On, from The Monday Morning Cooking Club. If you see it, pick up a copy. It’s so full of really comforting recipes, kind of like a food hug, that it will be a book that you go back to again and again. I’m waiting for an excuse to make the insanely magical but also filthy fried cheese pie.

You heard me.

Fried.

Cheese.

Pie.

But until that day, there’s this. A great, family friendly dinner, that’s ready in an hour. This is the kind of thing you’ll find yourself eating weekly for it’s sheer simplicity and adaptability. Throw in whatever’s in your fridge, you can’t go wrong. You’re welcome.

 

Pollo Con Salsa

From The Monday Morning Cooking Club

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large red capsicum, thinly sliced
8 skinless chicken thighs
500ml chicken stock
400g tin diced tomatoes
1 large handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

 

Heat the oil over medium heat. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, then add the onion and cook until soft, stirring, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and capsicum and continue to stir for a further 5 minutes, until the capsicum softens. Scrape from the pan and set aside. Add the chicken to the pan and brown well on both sides.

Add the onion and capsicum back to the pan, then add the stock. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Stir in the tomatoes and parsley, season, then cook for another 15 minutes until slightly thickened.

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Serve with your favourite carb.

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This would be great with rice or mash, but I couldn’t say no to Israeli couscous.

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The cure to all your problems

It took no more than 3 days after Perth’s cold weather kicked in for one of my housemates to come down ill.

The Plauge Man-flu is as merciless as it is swift and incapacitating. The sniffles and aches, headaches and sneezing; it’s truly a wonder that health organisations don’t take it more seriously. There is, of course, only one known cure for man-flu – the magic of chicken soup.

Now, before you tell me that’s an old wives’ tale, science has my back (thanks, science!) on this one. With its anti-inflammatory properties and congestion clearing super-powers, getting a big bowl of this into your belly is probably the best life choice you can make when curled up on the couch with a box of Kleenex and 6 seasons of Sons of Anarchy.

I loved this recipe because it’s packed with vegetables for nutrition, pasta to fill you up, and plenty of juicy chicken, which is everyone’s favourite part. The stock base for the soup can even be made in advance and frozen if you’re a little short on time.

So, as soon as man-flu kicked in, a pot of this went on the stove, because there’s nothing in this world that is more comforting than this soup. Promise.

 

Chicken Noodle Soup

Adapted from Jamie Oliver

4 carrot
4 sticks celery
3 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
sea salt
4 whole peppercorns
1 free range chicken (see note)
1 large knob butter
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks roughly chopped
200g fresh egg pasta
200g baby spinach
1 lemon

 

Roughly chop 2 carrots and celery sticks, then add to a large pot over medium heat with the chicken carcass, 2 diced onions, bay leaves, peppercorns and a big pinch of salt. Cover the chicken completely with water – roughly 1.5 litres. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour.

 

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While the stock simmers, dice the remaining carrots and celery into even pieces. In another large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat; add the garlic, remaining onion and parsley and gently cook until soft but not brown. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5 minutes.

When the stock is done, remove the chicken and shred the meat, setting it aside. Discard the carcass. Strain the stock, reserving the liquid and discarding the vegetables.

Add the stock to your second pot. Bring the soup base to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Add the egg pasta, baby spinach and shredded chicken and simmer for a further couple of minutes until the pasta is cooked. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Serve with a really good piece of sourdough slathered in butter. Seriously.

 

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NOTE:
So, in terms of the chicken you use, you can go two ways.
1) If you use a whole, raw chicken, you can break it down into parts following a video like this one. Breaking it down makes the chicken easier to handle once it’s cooked.
2) If raw chicken freaks you out, you can simply use a roasted chicken from the supermarket. Pull roughly 2/3 of the meat off the bones, shred it, then leave it in the fridge until a few minutes before serving – stir it though and simmer for a couple of minutes to warm it up. Add the carcass and remaining meat to make the stock in the first step.

What makes food taste better than good?

There are things you can do that makes food taste better. I mean, better than normal.

Slow cooking, for one thing. Having someone else cook for you. MSG and salt. Being hungry – have you ever noticed that everything tastes AMAZING when you’re starving?

I’m personally of the opinion that eating with your hands goes firmly on that list. Think about it! How good are burgers, or pizza? Picnics! Hotdogs! CAKE, BECAUSE CUTLERY BE DAMNED.

Of course, Mexican and it’s various subsidiaries fall into this category too. It’s fun on three levels:

  1. Most of the names are ridiculous to pronounce. Quesadilla what?
  2. Eating with your hands is pretty much mandatory
  3. You get to make it up as you go! Personally, I like cheese and hate guac.

The other thing that’s awesome about Mexican, is that it’s stupidly quick and, if you make it yourself, fresh. Done in 30 minutes or less, this dish wastes absolutely no time getting on your dinner table, leaving you with more time for the important stuff. Like stuffing your face.

Coriander chicken with pico de gallo

Adapted from Good Taste

3 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 tsp sea salt flakes
2/3 cup chopped fresh coriander
4 garlic cloves
2 fresh jalapeño chillies, finely chopped
80ml lime juice
2 tbs olive oil
800g chicken breasts
4 tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Tortillas, warmed

Place cumin, ground coriander, oregano, salt, 1/2 cup chopped coriander, 3 garlic cloves and half the chili in a mortar or blender, and blitz until it forms a paste.

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Add half of the olive oil and lime juice. Season with pepper to taste. Pour the marinade into a bowl, then add the chicken, rubbing the marinade in well. Set aside for 10 minutes.

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Toss together the tomato, onion and what’s left of the garlic, coriander, chili, lime juice and oil in a bowl; set aside.

Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan on high, then add the chicken and cook for a few minutes each side until cooked through. Slice thinly, then serve with the tortillas and pico de gallo.

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I might be wrong, so please correct me if I am, but I’m pretty sure you could even blitz up the marinade, coat the chicken and then throw it into ziploc bags to be frozen.

Did I just make this super easy dinner even easier? Uh, I think I did. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Jerk, and learning the hard way.

Have you even had one of those moments where you discover (usually in a highly embarrassing social setting) that you have known/been doing something wrong your whole life?

People look at you incredulously and you get asked ‘why don’t you know that?!’

I have a friend who genuinely believed unicorns existed, and that they were just extinct. You know, like dinosaurs.
Or another friend who thought polony came from the ground, like peanuts.
One who thought leprechauns were just midget Irish people. He learnt he was wrong the hard way, in a pub on St Patrick’s day, with a punch to the face.

I had someone tell me it was weird that I brush my teeth in the shower. Still do it though. I consider it efficient.

Don’t even get me started on the argument on whether toilet paper hangs over or under on the holder (for those of you playing at home – it goes over. What is wrong with you?).

When I discovered that I could use a thermometer to tell me that my baked chicken was done, rather than cut it open… I thought I’d pretty much discovered life on Mars. I may have hummed Chariot of Fire to myself and ran a victory lap around my kitchen. In fake-slow-motion. Then, I told someone else my genius trick. I was met with That Face, and ‘Um, yeah. Everyone knows that. Didn’t you?’

*sigh*

If there’s anyone left who didn’t know (join my support group – we meet at the bar), get yourself a digital meat thermometer. They’re cheap, and actually rather handy contraptions. Chicken, when pierced through its thickest part, should be about 80*c or 170*f when cooked properly – no more dry chicken. Booya.

Jerk Chicken with Tabbouleh Couscous Salad

Jerk Chicken
From 30 Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver

4 chicken breasts
4 spring onions
small bunch fresh thyme
3 fresh bay leaves
ground cloves
ground nutmeg
ground allspice
6 tbs rum
6 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs runny honey
1 Scotch bonnet chilli
4 cloves garlic

Heat the oven to 220*c.

Drizzle chicken breasts with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and give them a good rub all over. Place the chicken in a frying pan on high heat.

To make the sauce, trim and chop the spring onions and throw them into a blender with thyme, bay leaves, 6 tablespoons each of the rum and vinegar, 1 of honey, 2 teaspoons of salt and a large pinch of the cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Remove the top and seeds of the chili, then add it to the blender. Lastly, crush and peel the 4 garlic cloves, add them to the blender, then blitz until smooth. Add some more olive oil if it needs it.

By now, the chicken should be golden. Pour the sauce into a baking dish, then place the chicken on top, golden side up. Pour a tablespoon of honey over the top of the chicken, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the thickest part reaches 80*c with a thermometer when pierced through the thickest part.

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Tabbouleh Couscous Salad

From Saveur

1 cup couscous
3 tbsp. fine bulgur
450g ripe tomatoes, cored and minced
3 ½ cups minced flat-leaf parsley
1 ¼ cups minced mint leaves
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
4 spring onions, thinly sliced crosswise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook couscous according to instructions (or, add equal parts couscous and boiling water, plus a little chicken stock for taste into a heatproof bowl, cover with cling wrap and let sit for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork once cooked).

Chop the herbs and tomatoes, and mix all of the ingredients, including the couscous together. Season with salt and pepper.

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Note: If you don’t have bulgur, don’t worry about it too much. And for the herbs… Just use whatever you have. Don’t worry so much about the ratios. It all works out in the end.

Welcome back, by the way. How was your Christmas and New Year? What did you eat and do? I’d love to hear about it!

Leaves and Autumn and Pie! Oh My!

I’m beginning to get what people see in Autumn.

I didn’t really get it at first, it was this kind of nothing season before all that beautiful winter rain kicks in. I’m a fan of lounge room fort building, weekends in pajamas and jumping in puddles. At least I would be, except every time I wistfully proclaim that I want a pair of wellies, Wade says no. Totally not a team player.

Taken out the front of work last week…

But this Autumn thing has stuff going for it. I’m beginning to enjoy the briskness in the evenings (not in the morning. Makes it hard to get out of bed, thus making me late for work. Sorry, Boss), but still warm in the middle of the day. Pretty things to wear in the shops. Boots. Adding blankets. Changing colours on leaves. It’s all rather lovely, when you think about it.

The other good thing is, of course, the change in the kinds of food you’re craving. It’s a little less of the clean, light flavours, they start to deepen, become richer. Slow cookers are being dusted off, shanks and roasts are being purchased, robust flavours are starting to take over.

I set about this evening to make pie. Who doesn’t love pie? They’re both big and little, sweet and savoury. There’s no flaw here, only pie-filled winning. Huzzah. The best part about this one is that it’s ‘free form’. Calling something free form, or ‘rustic’, is the fancy, foodie way of saying that we can’t be arsed making it look perfect. This is a win for you playing at home because it means you don’t have to learn some ridiculous presentation technique. However it comes together for you, that’s how it’s meant to look. Run with it.

The flavours here aren’t complex, nor do they have that winter heaviness. The herbs are perfect companions for chicken, and the chorizo kicks it up a notch. The perfect stepping stone for the winter yet to come.

Chicken, Chorizo & Potato Pie

From Australian Good Taste Magazine

400g potatoes, cut into 4cm pieces
2 tsp olive oil
500g chicken thighs, diced
1 chorizo, sliced
1 leek, trimmed, thinly sliced
2 sprigs frest thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemart, leaves picked
2 sheets puff pastry
1 egg, whisked

1) Place the potatoes in a pot of boiling water. Cook until just tender, drain and refresh in cold water.

2) While the potatoes boil, heat the oil in a fry pan. Brown the chicken in batches for a couple of minutes. Set the chicken aside in a large mixing bowl. Cook the chorizo for a couple of minutes each side, until golden. Throw the leek, rosemary and thyme into the pan and stir until the leek softens. Add the potatoes and cook for 1 minute, stirring to combine all the ingredients. Add the leek and chorizo mix to the chicken, season with pepper and combine. Set aside to cool a little, about 30 minutes.

3) Heat the oven to 200*c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place one sheet of pastry on the tray, and spoon half of the mixture into the middle, leaving a border of about an inch. Fold up the sides around the mixture and brush the edges with egg yolk. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry.

4) Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Note: Only brown the chicken, it will finish cooking in the oven. I’d recommend chicken thighs over breast, as the breast dries out pretty quickly. Be generous with herbs, as always. I also threw in a handful of mushrooms, just because I had them and I could.

What do you love about Autumn? Or are you not a fan?

Winter is coming

And then that day came that we were all simultaneously expecting and dreading.

Winter is upon us. The cold, the rain, the frosts. Gone are Perth’s beautiful long summer nights, and we welcome the excuse to bundle up and hibernate. Bears have the right idea, with their carb loading and epic nap schedule.

Dinners are turning from grilled meats and fresh salads, to slow cooked delights heartier feasts. Stews, roasts, casseroles and soups are all the order of the season and the season’s vegetables are the best place to showcase winter’s flavours.

My favourite corner of the earth at the moment is the Subiaco Farmers Markets, held every Saturday morning from 8am until noon. Fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, pastries… Basically, if you’re into food (and real food), you needn’t set foot in Coles or Woolworths again. I’m sure I don’t need to tell how that that’s a good thing. Everything is local, fresh and good. Oh, and did I mention cheap?

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I couldn’t resist all the beautiful winter vegetables that were starting to appear in the stalls. Organic tinned vegetables stood in for the things I couldn’t buy; Maggie Beer’s chicken stock actually contains chicken. I make a point of saying this, because many stocks don’t contain the things you’d think they would. All of these beautiful ingredients were going to combine into the perfect winter soup, filling, nutritious and not overly liquidy because I can’t be trusted not to spill it.

Chunky chorizo, chicken and vegetable soup

Adapted from Gourmet Traveller

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 onions, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 potatoes, diced
1 chorizo, diced
4 free-range chicken thigh fillets diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
400g can chopped tomatoes
750 ml chicken stock
1 cup rigatoni or other small pasta
1 cup green peas
2 zucchini, cut into 1cm dice
400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
50g spinach leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
finely grated parmesan

1) Over medium to high heat, warm olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add onion, carrot and cook for 10 minutes, softening. Throw in chorizo, chicken and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until chicken changes colour.

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2) Add tomato and stock to the mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste Bring to the boil then reduce to medium. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

3) Add the pasta, zucchini beans peas. Increase the temperature to medium-high and cook, covered, for 10-12 minutes.

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4) Remove from heat and add the spinach, basil and remaining olive oil. Serve with grated parmesan and a good crusty sourdough.

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The perils of being a grown-up

It’s a Monday.
I learnt everything I needed to know about Mondays very early on in life, thanks to Garfield.
Quite simply, they suck, and should be avoided at all costs. Sadly, being a ‘grown up’ prevents me from spending Mondays curled up in bed with macarons and reading Game of Thrones. Personally, I feel that being and adult is ridiculous and over rated.

My respite on Monday evenings is yoga. I spend all day hunched up at my desk, come home to hunch over my laptop; then sleep in all manner of weird positions. The opportunity to stretch out and disconnect for an hour is one that I relish, even though the cracking noises my joints make freak out the other attendees.

However, yoga is smack in the middle of dinner prep time. There is no way I’m starting to cook at 8pm when I get home. However, having to leave by 6pm doesn’t  leave me with much time. This is, without a doubt, one of the fastest and easiest recipes in my repertoire. It seriously takes no more than 20 minutes (less time than a macca’s run – Newport, I’m looking at you!) and most of the ingredients are probably floating around in your pantry.
For those of you who are chili phobic and think curry = tears – fear not. Red curry paste is big on flavour, not on heat. Also, the vegetables (because yes, as an adult, you still have to eat them!) are easily interchangeable for whatever you like or have on hand.

Easy Red Chicken Curry

Ingredients:
600 grams diced chicken thighs
2 tbsp red curry paste
400g coconut milk
1 red capsicum, cut into strips
1 bunch of broccolini, stalks trimmed
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp peanut butter
coriander leaves, to serve

1) Heat a large saucepan. Stir the curry paste for a minute, until fragrant. Throw in the chicken, making sure it is coated in curry paste.

Add the coconut milk and stir for 2 minutes or 3 minutes. Keep on a medium heat to prevent the milk from boiling and separating.

2. Stir in the fish sauce, sugar and peanut butter. Stir until the peanut butter melts into the sauce. Toss in the capsicum and broccolini. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the chicken is done.

3. Serve with steamed rice and coriander leaves

I promise, I’ll take it easy on the chicken for a little while. Perhaps I’ll teach you how to cook a steak. Or ceviche.
Unless I get given a reason to cook a turducken. In which case, I do not apologise for the poultry overdose. In fact, you may need to come around and help me eat it.
Deal?