So I can just make this stuff? At home?

For many years, I thought that Chicken Kiev came not only fully formed, but fully boxed with instructions attached from the chiller cabinets at Marks and Spencer. This illusion was maintained on reading an article in a newspaper some years ago on Good Bad Food; that is, food that is probably bad for you, but tastes so good that you couldn't care less. Chicken Kiev was mentioned, along with its Marks and Spencer grazing ground. I bought some immediately.

Roll forward to today and on a glance through my Fabulous Baker Brothers' cook book, I see a recipe for the very dish. So I can make this? At home? When I want? Does life ever get this good? It seems so. This dish probably is still very bad for you: maybe making it at home is slightly more virtuous than buying it in store, but I doubt that somehow.

Anyway, to make your own rather generously portioned Chicken Kiev for two, you need: two garlic cloves; 100 grams of butter (the recipe says 120g, but I think that's overdoing things); a small bunch of coarsely chopped parsley; one lemon; salt and pepper; 30 grams of flour; two skinless chicken breasts; two eggs; 50 millilitres of milk; and 100 grams of breadcrumbs.

Firstly, crush the garlic in a food processor. Add the butter and chopped parsley. Zest the lemon in (I used a potato peeler rather carefully over the lemon before chopping the peel slightly and adding that to the bowl). Add freshly milled salt and pepper. Continue blending until smooth. Put to one side.

Next, get surgical on your chicken. Turn the breast upside down and, lifting up the inner fillet, make a small incision into the thick part of the fillet, giving you two flaps. Season with salt and pepper then spoon in generous amounts of your garlic and herb butter. Close the flaps and put in the fridge for about an hour to firm up.

Now it's time to breadcrumb. Dust the chicken in a bowl of flour, shaking gently to lose any excess. Move this chicken to another bowl with the whisked eggs and milk (with another pinch of salt and pepper) therein, dipping them top and bottom before moving onto the third bowl with the breadcrumbs. Again, dip them in; top, bottom and if you're feeling brave, on the sides too. Some cold butter may fall out of the chicken at any one of these stages, but don't worry: just squeeze it back in. Place them back in the fridge for another hour's firming up.

Heat your oven to 180º Celsius. While this is going on, heat a frying pan with a little olive oil and place your Kievs in carefully for a little browning. When golden, put into an oven dish inside a piece of foil. Make sure the foil is well-sealed, then bake for 20 minutes.

And there it is! Your very own Chicken Kiev. Serve with a little pasta and an enormous salad to assuage any guilt about eating a luscious, butter filled, melt in your mouth chicken dish, pouring any melted butter over the chicken. If you still feel guilty, drink a lot of water with it and go for a run after it's settled.


Porridge Cake

My mental rolodex has a few tried and true back-pocket recipes for occasions, and there are many in my life certainly, when I need to 'make' something from scratch but either lack time, creativity, patience or inspiration (or ingredients!).  In fact, I reach into that back pocket so often that I'm sure many of my last-minute meals have a thin covering of lint! Most are for main courses as, in a pinch, we can always get away with fruit, ice cream or a cream concoction of the two for pud.  Sometimes, however, one needs something baked and visibly homemade,  yet something on-the-spur either for dessert or to serve with coffee or tea when the biscuit tin is empty and tea alone seems a bit mean.

Here is one for just such an occasion.  It is quick, never fail and most of us have all the ingredients in the cupboard and fridge.  This one can be dressed up if it's for dessert.  It comes from my friend Lyn, the fantabulous cook, is great if you need something last minute and  it's so easy you can be gardening, wallpapering or making curtains and still produce this mini masterpiece.  Put simply:  if you can make breakfast, you can make porridge cake.

(Photographs again courtesy of dear Stevie.  Thanks so much!)

Cream together 4oz margarine and 3oz sugar (white or brown).  Beat in an egg.  Mix in 4oz self raising flour, 4oz porridge oats and 1 tsp cinnamon.  I imagine ginger or nutmeg would be good too.

Spread half mixture on bottom of greased and floured, round, shallow sponge tin (8" diameter).  Cover with a good layer of jam and here's where it gets fun as you can use whatever takes your fancy:  red jam, yellow jam, marmalade even, or we like Tiptree's rhubarb and vanilla jam.  Spread other half of batter mixture over jam and bake at 170ºC for about 25 minutes until browned on top and cooked through.

Serve with whipped cream, custard or ice cream.  It's lovely warm but makes nice squares to go in a packed lunch the next day - that's if there is any left and with Kit around, there never is!


Cherry tomato clafoutis

As predicted, following up my last post has been difficult.  The past month been busy, and I haven't had much time for anything more than everday cooking.  A few new things have been tried.  An easy stir fry of braised red cabbage, pancetta and peas that works equally well as a main course or a colorful side dish.  A delicious lemon curd layer cake that went over a treat with colleagues and family.  Nothing that seemed like a worthy successor to the pie chart pie, but I'll never blog again if I keep thinking that way, so I have decided to (re)start afresh with something simple that I made over the Easter weekend: a cherry tomato clafoutis.

A clafoutis is traditionally a sweet dessert, most commonly made with cherries.  However, a recent edition of Good Housekeeping included a recipe for a savoury version which looked good, so we decided to try this out to accompany our barbecued chicken.  It's incredibly simple, but works very well and is aesthetically appealing (at least until you serve it - then it collapses somewhat).

Cherry tomato clafoutis

 60g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
100 ml milk
3 tbsp shredded fresh basil leaves, plus extra to garnish
150g cottage cheese
250g cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste, if desired

Mix together the flour, baking powder, eggs, milk and seasoning.  Then whisk in the basil and the cottage cheese.

Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish (that can hold about a litre), and arrange the cherry tomatoes in the mixture as you please.  You can either drop them in whole or slice them in half and add them, cut sides down.

Season the lot with black pepper and cook in an oven set to 180 degrees C for about half an hour until the egg is a golden colour and has set.  Garnish with the remaining basil and serve.  Depending on how many people are dining, this could either work as a main course, with a green salad on the side, or as a side dish to accompany meat.  Either way, it passes my mother's 'back pocket' test and will certainly be made again!


A vaguely adventurous roast chicken

Roast chicken, with all the trimmings or just by itself, is a delightful meal to cook and eat; I find that I make it at least once every two months.

I'm not sure where my liking for roast chicken started: pleasant memories of family Sunday roasts, maybe; a scene in the film "Amelie" in which a particular character cooks one every week; it could have been from an article about the book "French Women Don't Get Fat", in which one annoyingly svelte French woman talked of how she was wont to cook and eat a whole chicken by herself - and not put on a pound. In any case, I got my particular cooking technique from Nigella Lawson's "How to Eat", which has served me well both for me, family and friends. Until now.

When I cook, I'm a rule follower and am in awe of those who can go to their larder, look at what they have and conjure a delicious meal, while I am still following a recipe to the letter. Past birthdays have seen me being gifted many a cook book; I am happy to pore over them and follow their rules. However, for my birthday this year, I was fortunate enough to be given a Flavour Thesaurus that has made me take a few baby steps into what I refer to as... adventure cooking.

What follows is such an "adventurous" recipe. It isn't adventurous by long chalk really, but for me it was a voyage into the unknown that I hope will lead to greater risk taking in future. The thesaurus mentioned the excellent flavour combining of chicken and mushroom: I love both, so I felt this was a good place to start.

Anointing the chicken in lemon juice

I took a medium chicken of about 1.5kg, which I washed then smeared in the juice of half a lemon; the other half I shoved up the chicken's bottom in order to give the roast a lemony fung inside and out. Turning the oven to 190ºC, I put it in a roasting tin and placed it in the oven for an hour while I prepared my vegetables.

Mushrooms galore

These were three carrots and two parsnips, peeled, halved and quartered. And mushrooms. Lots and lots of mushrooms. About a kilo to be exact; in this case, large and small button mushrooms. If I were truly adventurous, I may have used portobello, chestnut or shiitake mushrooms, but for now quantity was the adventure. I washed these and left them whole.

Flavour combining

After an hour, I took the chicken out, basted it in its own juices then put the vegetables in the roasting tin. The chicken juices would give, I hoped, a lovely flavour to the vegetables as they roasted together.


Another hour went by with occasional basting before I took the roasting tin out. Letting the chicken rest for a few moments, I took the well cooked, yet firm vegetables out into another pot (the mushrooms retained their form beautifully) while I spooned as much chicken fat out of the roasting tin, leaving the delicious caramelised chicken juices, before placing it on a hot plate.

With the chicken juices, also left in the roasting tin was liquid from all the mushrooms and lemon juice, which I aimed to boil down to a gravy. If I had a bottle of white wine handy, I would have added a glass too, but on this occasion, I decided to make do with what I had. The heat on high, I stirred the various juices until the meat juices had dissolved into the lemony mushroom liquid.

Ten minutes later, I added this gravy to the fall-off-the-bone chicken and roasted vegetables, along with a green salad to one side. Lovely.

Well, it was a small start, but as I work through the flavour thesaurus, I can dare to imagine more improvisation or off-recipe cooking. In the meantime, I've discovered a new way to make one of my favourite dishes.

Never apologise lasagna

 'Never apologise, never explain'.  These words of my mother's still ring in my ears, decades after I was exhorted not to overly excuse or give elaborate explanations for what I was doing.  When the lady doth protest too much, people stop believing and lose interest.

And so it is with recipes.  Put down something in front of a hungry family saying that it 'doesn't  look very good but if probably tastes fine or 'sorry I sort of messed up the top' doesn't make them tuck in with enthusiasm.  When we sat down to the results of this one last week and I said 'sorry but I think perhaps....' I was shouted down with a chorus of 'never apologise, just eat it'.  And, in fact, it was good.

Everyone has their own favourite lasagna recipe.  I have a wonderful lower fat quick version which I can do without a thought.  This one is a slightly more complex version of the low fat one but it's not the all singing, all dancing, every pan in the kitchen type that can take up an afternoon.

Stevie was the photographer so even if the recipe doesn't appeal (ooops, there I go again) the pictures will be of a better standard than usual and I'm including them all as she takes great food shots.


9 lasagna noodles (get the kind that don't need precooking)
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
500 g turkey mince (any other is fine but turkey has the least fat)
750 ml passata or tomato sauce
175 g sliced fresh mushrooms
2 tsp Italian seasoning
good grinding of black pepper
pinch of garlic powder
250g chopped fresh spinach but I used lamb's lettuce equally successfully.
500 ml low fat cottage cheese
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
500 g grated sharp cheddar or mozzarella

Heat olive oil in frying pan over medium heat.  Cook onion until softened but not browned, then add turkey and continue to cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until lightly browned.  Add tomato sauce, mushrooms, and seasonings, stir together well and simmer for about 10 minutes.


 In another bowl, combine spinach, cottage cheese and nutmeg.


Now layer the casserole in a 9x13 baking dish:  sauce, spinach,  noodles, cheese, sauce, spinach,noodles, sauce and top with cheese.  Any variation of this is fine but noodles need to be next to the sauce so they cook and the top should be a layer of cheese.  Play with it as you would any layered casserole to get it right for your own tastes.

Bake at 180ºC for about 20 to 30 minutes until sauce is bubbling.  Cool for a few minutes before serving.



Recipe for spring cleaning day

Traditionally, the Saturday before Easter is a day for cleaning house, to get ready for the festival. However, we had invited a lunch guest on the Saturday, so we moved the schedule up a bit. For once, I didn’t have to sing on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, so I blocked off the two days and got to work.

Thursday I scoured my home office. Fortunately, Norman was at a meeting in Fort Erie, because as these things go, it has to get a lot worse before it gets better. I stashed boxes in the hall to create a place to sort things out. Piles of paper for the recycling. And a lot of dead technology.

Remember floppy disks? I found quite a few. One non-functioning modem. CDs with software for laptops I no longer own. Cassette tapes. Videotapes. By the end of the day, the office was unnaturally tidy, and I was nearly as dead as the technology. Dinner was turkey burgers on onion buns with thick slabs of tomato and a considerable quantity of red wine.

Friday morning I was better prepared. For one thing, we had been invited out to dinner in the evening by a neighbour. This is highly recommended. Nobody really wants to cook after spring cleaning. Also, since handling a lot of paper and cardboard dries out your hands, I had a plan for that too. 

Here is my recipe for spring cleaning day:

Heavy-duty hand cream
Disposable snug-fitting plastic gloves (similar to surgical gloves but cheaper and thinner)
Lemon pasta
Muscle-relaxing bath salts

First, remove any rings, cover your hands with hand cream, and put on the gloves. It feels a little squishy at first, but you get used to it, and does keep your hands from drying out.

Then, head down into the seventh circle of hell. In my house, this is familiarly known as the furnace room. This space lurks in furthest recesses of the basement. There are shelves along one side, crammed with junk left over after the Flood. Not the one with Noah, the one we had in the basement in 2009, when everything was removed from the basement, put in storage, later brought back and put any which way on any available surface.

As you work, turn on some good music to work by. Since it was Good Friday, there were things like the Allegri Miserere on the radio – good penitential stuff for the sins of clutter. The opening chorus of Bach’s St John Passion has a rhythm like a motor and is good for getting moving.

Work furiously for a couple of hours.

Lunch: After brushing off the cobwebs and removing my gloves, I rummaged in the fridge. Not a lot there – we were planning to go to the farmer’s market early on Saturday, and supplies were low. But there were some lemons and some Parmesan cheese. There is always some dry pasta in the cupboard and a cube of chicken stock. So we had lemon pasta.

Chicken stock cube
2 cups of water
6 oz of dry pasta
1 lemon
1 tsp mustard (optional)
Parmesan cheese, grated

Put the cube and the water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Use a microplane on the lemon until you have a nice pile of grated lemon rind. Then squeeze the lemon. Add the lemon juice to the pasta and the mustard. Keep an eye on the pan and add water as necessary, but in small quantities. You want just enough liquid to make a lemon sauce – you are not going to drain the pasta at any point. Add the lemon rind towards the end, so it adds flavour but doesn’t cook. Serve in bowls with lots of grated Parmesan.

That provided enough fuel for us both to do another couple of hours of cleaning. The bins (rubbish and recycling) outside are now quite full. We also have a special option for recycling. We live on a street full of houses that leads down to the edge of Lake Ontario, where there is a park and a boardwalk for strolling. On a sunny day (it was), dozens of people walk by our house on the way to the beach.

We put a box containing music cassettes and CDs, and even a couple of movies on videotape in a box marked “Free – Help Yourself” and placed it near the sidewalk. They were gone in a matter of hours. Easier than lugging them to a charity shop.

Finally, I used the bath salts while I soaked for a while with a good book. I put on clean clothes. I’m ready to party this evening.

And here are the results of my work in the office. The basement is still a work in progress.