Monday, 23 September 2013

Slow cooker recipe corner: chicken cacciatore ("Hunter's stew")

I am moving back in with D this coming weekend and so looking forward to it. Glorious, glorious domesticity in all its lovely mundanity. In order to prepare, I’ve been spending the majority of the last few weekends there. D is still in charge of the kitchen at the moment which means I get cooked for which I enjoy very much – however, I suspect that will change and to be honest, I am looking forward to getting back into the routine of planning meals and cooking. I’ve been dreaming in recipes.

Anyway, Saturday night he dusted off the slow cooker and made a fabulous chicken stew that recently appeared on the Word of Mouth “Perfect” column (if you don’t read that, by the way, you really should – it’s very good). The list of ingredients is relatively short, but don’t be fooled – some sort of weird alchemy transforms these items into something much greater than the sum of their parts. We served with mashed potato and virtual box sets (we’re currently alternating between the final series of Dexter and season 3 of Game of Thrones – it’s a wonder that I have any fingernails left).

If you don't have a slow cooker I would suggest checking out the original recipe for appropriate oven temperatures and times. I would also suggest that you get one - they are extremely handy.

A word on portion size – I have reckoned on one thigh per person below, which I found more than sufficient. D went for two. Adjust points accordingly.


Tbsp olive oil
4 chicken thighs, skin on
Tbsp seasoned flour
2 heads of garlic, cut horizontally
Small bunch of rosemary
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick of celery, diced
125ml white wine
250ml chicken stock
100g tinned plum tomatoes in juice, roughly chopped
15g butter

Serves 4, 9 pro points per portion

Heat the oil in a large pan. While it warms up, dust the chicken thighs in seasoned flour. Place skin side down in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown.

Transfer to the slow cooker.
In the same pan, fry the garlic heads, rosemary, carrot and celery for a few minutes until slightly golden. Again, transfer to the slow cooker.

Pour the wine into the pan to deglaze, stirring briskly to ensure all the lovely, crusty, chickeny bits are swooped up and let it bubble off and reduce slightly before tipping over the chicken and the vegetables. Add the stock and the tomatoes to the slow cooker pot and then cook on low for six hours, at which point the chicken will be falling off the bone and the sauce will be a lovely dark brown.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and the vegetables from the pot and set aside. Pour the sauce into a pan (you could use the one from earlier if you haven’t yet washed it – I’m all for saving washing up) and heat it to a brisk boil. Allow to reduce by about a third. Adjust the seasoning and finish with the butter to give a nice gloss.

Return the chicken and veg to the sauce and warm through before serving.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Sam's Chop House, Leeds: romance and corned beef

It was the wedding anniversary that we didn't think we'd see. A second wedding anniversary is such a little thing that it only represents paper or cotton, depending on which side of the Atlantic you live.  Such a very little, throwaway thing.  But a big deal for us.

However, with a move forthcoming and a big, Michelin starred dinner coming up at the end of next month. not to mention the fact that we have had a year of supporting two households rather than one, we decided to go cheap and cheerful in terms of a meal out.  And when D pointed me in the direction of the Sam's Chop House menu I was genuinely excited by the decision.  This was the kind of unashamedly British food that I absolutely adore but it seemed a little clever, a little quirky.  Poached chicken breast with chicken liver scampi?  How amazing does that sound? 

So, why an air of disappointment pervading this blog post like an autumn fog?  Perhaps because Sam's, the day before our wedding anniversary, decided to change their USP. They phoned and left an upbeat voicemail message explaining that the restaurant had decided to "go in a different direction" and offering us the chance to cancel our booking.  But we, either lazy or optimistic in the face of PR speak, decided to stick with it.  Only to find a menu that yes, was still unashamedly British but also unashamedly a little bit dull.  I wasn't expecting fireworks for a cotton anniversary, but a bit of a sparkler might have been nice.  Sam's is not a restaurant to go to for flashing lights of any description.

Starters: ham hock scotch egg was competently done - I thought the spicing of the meat was good and the egg yolk retained a moist gleam, even if it wasn't fully runny. 
Scotch egg!
I ordered goats' cheese rarebit with beetroot served on a pikelet.  I've eaten pikelets before - they are small, three bite affairs.  This was not.  The rarebit itself was fine - could have done with being a bit goatier - the pikelet was a doughy behemoth.  I adore cheese on toast, but I was a little concerned as I chomped through that it was going to have an adverse effect on my main course capacity.
Cheese on toast!
I was right to be concerned.  We had both ordered Sam's famous corned beef hash as it was the most vaguely interesting thing on the main course menu. This was a beast of a portion.  We could have shared it and still have had it coming out of our ears.  The flavours itself were good - crispy, salty bacon, soft potatoes and shards of decent beef all topped off with poached egg and brown sauce - nothing to dislike.  But, oh so much food.  And D's egg was overcooked.  Which made him a little bit cross, especially since he was still mourning the lack of chicken liver scampi.
Corned beef hash!
So I wanted to like Sam's, I really did.  It was the restaurant to which we went to celebrate the anniversary that we never thought we'd see.  But it was just a bit of a yawn.  A change in direction down one of those very neat, anodyne little cul-de-sacs, where every lawn is manicured within an inch of its life.  And if you're going to do such simple, classic cuisine then for God's sake make sure that the poached eggs are still runny in the middle. 

Still, happy anniversary D.  I love you very much and am very proud and happy that we got here.

Sam's Chop House
8 South Parade

0113 2042490

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Autumn Days

Today is beautifully sunny but there is something in the quality of the light and the feel of the air that speaks very clearly of autumn.  And that is not a problem for me as autumn is probably one of my favourite times of the year.  I like the dark nights, where you draw the curtains and light a couple of candles and put Strictly on the telly, and the cooler days and the smell of incipient winter.

Autumn, September, is also (for me at least) a time of fresh starts - the new school year.  This September is a little different as I am currently in the process of packing up and saying goodbye to this poor, maligned house.  I hope its next owners give it the love and TLC it deserves and put the splendid oven to better use than reheating ready meals.  It is all good, I am very happy and looking forward to going back to being a fulltime wife, but I intensely dislike transition periods.  Transition means unsettled and I am a creature who very much likes to be settled.

So forgive me if I am a little quiet over the next few weeks. Come October and I will be back cooking, meal planning, weighing in (there is a Saturday morning meeting just a five minute walk from my new house - I have No Excuse) and doing some sneaky non-WW-friendly eating out (we're going to Purnell's for D's birthday in October - MUCH excitement!)  Business as usual in fact.  You have been warned.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

A WW Foodie guide to Mull, Tobermory and the eating of seafood

Although it may already be receding into a happy haze of whisky and sea squalls, I did want to spend a little bit of time regaling you as to our recent trip to Scotland, not least because it is a part of the world that I have really started to fall in love with over the past few years.

We have been visiting Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of the British mainland, since 2009 and every year we have made the ferry trip across to Mull.  This year we decided to base ourselves on the island itself. 

Mull is not a big island.  It may well be the second largest of the Inner Hebrides after Skye (thank you, Wiki) but you can still cover it pretty comprehensively in the course of a week.  It is, however, an extremely beautiful one and, with a population of less than 3000, vast swathes of it are empty.  The landscape is quite stunning – great, rolling, verdant hills stitched through with areas of dense woodland and bright strips of sea appearing on the horizon round every corner.  It is rich in wildlife; we treated ourselves to an organised tour and in the course of a single day saw a family of white tailed eagles, a pair of otters and a basking shark – not to mention seals, buzzards and even a horny toad.  It is also (and this, of course, may be why it so dear to our hearts) rich in fabulous seafood – fishing being historically one of the island’s main income sources.
Views of Mull
It is not a place to go if you crave glamour and nightlife.  It is a place to go if you enjoy walking and sitting staring out to sea.  There is also culture to be found: theatre, an arts centre and even an artist's community based around the village of Dervaig.  One of their projects is the Calgary Art in Nature walk, where sculptures are scattered throughout the wooded path down to Calgary Bay.

Calgary Art in Nature
We based ourselves just outside Tobermory, which is the island’s capital and home to a quarter of the residents.  Tobermory is quite ridiculously picturesque.  It was the setting for a mid naughties children’s’ programme called Balamory and quite understandably so – with its row of brightly coloured buildings and sweeping, bay side street it looks as if it has fallen out of a storybook.  The main problem (if it can be called such) with Tobermory is that pretty much every other person you meet is a tourist and if, like us, you go towards the end of the season, the locals are becoming somewhat frayed.  Having lived in York for many years I can sympathise. 

Isn't it lovely?  There is not a lot to Tobermory...the main road is pretty much it, and it is generally geared towards the tourist market being primarily pubs, cafes and crafty type establishments.  There is a very nice chocolate shop and a deli that sells Mull cheddar. Tobermory also boasts its own whisky distillery, pottery and handmade soap shop.  And, let us not forget, Tobermory Cat who spends most of his time suffering tourists, posing for postcards and maintaining his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Tobermory Cat
If you stay self catering in Tobermory you should not expect to be able to purchase more than the basics once you are in situ.  There is a Co-op supermarket which can provide milk and tins, a nice deli and bakery and a fishmonger located just outside of the main town, but little else that we located.  This is not a major problem given that there at least three very nice places to eat.

The first, CafĂ© Fish, I have written about before.  It has been voted the top fish restaurant in the entire country by the Good Food Guide and that is mainly because it sources amazing produce and then cooks it with a sensitive but unerring touch.

The biggest razor clams you ever did see
Langoustines and squat lobsters
Our new discovery this year was MacGoghan’s, a pub cum restaurant located on the far end of the main street.  It is undoubtedly pub food but very, very good – D had a steak with scallops in a creamy paprika sauce.  These were not only ingredients of spectacular quality but the dish was also cooked incredibly well.  Surf and turf par excellence.

Tobermory steak: topped with scallops and a creamy paprika sauce
And of course, the fish and chip van seems to be something of a Tobermory institution.  We had our first taste of deep fried scallops this year and the combination of the sweet, dense flesh, perfectly cooked within its crispy batter was an utter revelation.  I covered mine in ketchup much to D’s disgust.

Fish, chips and deep fried scallops.  With ketchup.
If I say that no sooner had we got home then we started planning our next trip up there it will perhaps express how hard we have fallen for the West of Scotland.  As holidays go, this one was pretty much perfect.  And the fact that it ended with D asking me to move in with him come the beginning of October means that Mull will always hold a very special place in my heart as the location where a marriage was finally mended.

A collage of greed...

Monday, 2 September 2013

Sad to be back

I should be out bowling at this precise moment in time but my recent holiday has obviously led to a reduced tolerance for the workplace as I have come home to nurse a crushing headache and look mournfully at pictures of Mull instead.
Blue sky in Scotland!
So, yes, holidays.  As they go, this one was pretty lovely.  I am entirely enamoured with Scotland and plan to post a little bit more about Mull and Tobermory later this week.  In the meantime, let's touch upon the thorny subject of weight loss, or rather, lack thereof.  It turns out that I've got maintenance down - my weight this morning was exactly the same as it was in the beginning of August.  Considering there's been a week away in there in which haggis pizza may or may not have been consumed (don't knock it till you've tried it...) that's not too bad at all.

Haggis pizza!
But progress is what is now required - it's a new school year so it is time to set some positive goals.  For this week, that's just going to be about getting back into the habit of tracking and doing some proper meal planning.  Lack of organisation is a real issue for me at the moment - today all I have eaten is two biscuits, which is just plain daft.  Although they were very nice biscuits...