4th of July Chicken

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This chicken is called 4th of July Chicken for no other reason than that I made it on 4th July, to take to a picnic that evening. There’s nothing particularly American about it – if anything, I guess it has a slight Italian influence to it. This July 4th was my first in the States – so, in fact my first July 4th full stop, because to be honest it somewhat passes us by in the UK. Not surprising, really.

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I had a very pleasant lazy day, followed by a picnic watching the concert and fireworks at Tanglewood with my friend Vicky. Vicky, it turns out, is the picnic queen, and brought all sorts of treats for us to enjoy, as well as an impressive array of picnic paraphernalia, so we were very well catered for. I brought wine and chicken. It was a fun evening, although as I watched a volley after volley of jubilant fireworks, I couldn’t help but feel you Americans must REALLY hate us Brits…

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Anyway, either way – this is tasty chicken. It’s great for a picnic – we had it just as it comes, but it would also be great to beef up a salad. It’s quick and easy, and you can make it in advance. You also get to flatten a chicken breast with a rolling pin, which is always fun. The herb mix running through the centre can be adapted to use any herbs you like or have to hand.

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4th of July Chicken 
Serves two as part of a picnic

For the herb filling:

  • Approx 1 tbsp each of basil and tarragon leaves
  • Approx 1/2 tbsp of thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Juice and zest of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

For the chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4 slices prosciutto

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F

Start by making the herb filling. Finely chop all of the herbs, capers and garlic – you can use a food processor for this, if you prefer, but I find it just as easy to do by hand as it’s small amounts. Mix with the remaining ingredients – stir well, and set aside.

Take the first chicken breast and place between two sheets of cling film/plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, gently but firmly bash the chicken all over until it is approx 1cm/0.5inch thick. Repeat with the second chicken breast. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a bottle of wine makes a good substitution…

Lay two pieces of prosciutto on the work surface, overlapping very slightly, and place one of the flattened chicken breasts on top. Spread half of the herb mixture over the chicken breast – you are aiming for a seam of herbs running through the middle of the chicken, rather than a stuffing as such. Fold any overlapping prosciutto on the right hand side of the chicken into the middle, and then gently roll the chicken into a tight roll. Repeat with the second chicken breast.

Heat a frying pan on the stove to a fairly high heat. Sear the chicken quickly on the outside, before transferring to a baking dish and placing in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Allow to cool, slice into rounds and spoon over any cooking juices. Serve at room temperature or very slightly warm.

Note:
I would have preferred to secure the rolls with a toothpick, but I didn’t have any – so I risked cooking them without. I found that one of the chicken breasts was slightly thinner than the other, and this one stayed better rolled when cooking. So, especially if you have no toothpicks, make sure the chicken breasts are nice and thin before filling/rolling.

Winter Chicken Salad with Plums & Soy

Winter Chicken Salad with Plums & Soy

Hello, hello! I am sorry about my unscheduled absence last week – I was all ready to greet the new year with a new post, but sadly the lurgy got in the way and instead I greeted the new year with ibuprofen, my duvet, and many, many episodes of How I Met Your Mother. (Including the episode with this song in it – enough to cheer anyone up). But now I’m back on my feet, and to make up for it, I have this lovely winter salad post, and… later this week or early next, a *surprise*! I know, exciting, non?

So while I leave you in that orgy of suspense, let’s talk about… commuting.

I never, ever thought I would say this, but one of the things I really miss about my life back in the UK is my commute to and from work. It’s a strange thing to say, not least because one of the characteristics of being a Londoner, and one of the things which binds us together, is regular grumbles about the transport system. In truth, it’s a love-to-hate thing, because, let’s face it, the London transport system is really quite incredible – something I’ve come to realise all the more since moving away. This isn’t why I loved my commute, though – or not the only reason.

The reason I loved my commute is because it gave me at least 30 minutes a day of unadulterated, uninterrupted reading time. There is almost never phone signal on the tube in central London, and this gives you a wonderful sense of freedom. You can’t be anywhere else, or doing anything else, while you’re on the tube – you can’t receive calls from angry orchestra managers asking why a venue isn’t open for them to load in their instruments, or pleading emails from stage managers asking if you know anywhere in central London to park a truck full of instruments (true stories, both…). In the busiest, most stressful patches of my job, these short journeys provided me with a wonderful sense of peace. True, there are days when you don’t get a seat – for that matter, there are days when you have to wait for three trains to pass through before you can get on a train, and if your journey includes getting on at Oxford Circus (among other stations), there are days, more frequent than you might imagine, where you have to wait to even get into the station. But these are the exceptions.

People do all sorts of things on the tube – some listen to music, some do their make up, some sit quietly with their thoughts, some sit… less quietly with their thoughts. I read. Mostly, I would read my book – but once a week, I would read the treat that is Stylist magazine. Stylist is a free magazine which comes out once a week, and which is distributed, among other places, at stations in London. It’s something I looked forward to every week, and which brightened my commute. It is a wonderful mix of fashion, culture and events, aimed primarily at women – they have great columnists, they do interviews with inspiring, interesting women, and they tackle important issues facing women today. They also have a weekly food column, often featuring recipes from ‘celebrity’ chefs – many of these are cut out and stuck in my recipe scrapbook, some still waiting to be made, others which have already become firm favourites.

One of these is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken with Plums and Soy – I made this a few times before I left London, it is a wonderful recipe. It’s very simple, but so delicious – the chicken is crispy skinned and tender, with a wonderful dark, salty glaze from the soy. The plums are sweet and sour, and the whole thing is pepped up by the aromatics – garlic, ginger and chili. I have always been deeply suspicious of fruit in savoury dishes – pineapple on pizza is just wrong, as are raisins in curry – but I am willing to waive these suspicions for this dish, the plums really make it.

Chicken, garlic, ginger & chili

The first time I made this, I thought it’s something that might work well as a salad – particularly with the chicken served warm, with peppery leaves such as rocket (/arugula) and watercress. Nigel Slater has a wonderful recipe in The Kitchen Diaries for chicken salad with watercress, almonds and orange – beautiful hunks of warm chicken with juicy orange and crunchy almonds, which work so well against the peppery watercress – and I wondered if I could make something similar with this recipe. In this cold weather, I eat a lot of warming, hearty, stew-type meals, and sometimes I miss the freshness of a salad. This meal has that freshness from the leaves, but still has a comforting warmth – both literally, in the form of the chicken and plums, and figuratively, in the form of the aromatics.

Toasting the walnuts

When I went shopping to make this, I couldn’t find plums anywhere, so I settled for nectarines instead – it was ok, but nothing like as good as with plums, so the recipe below sticks with plums and I would urge you to use these, if you can. Nectarines have a slightly floral note which does not work as well with the flavours – though at a pinch, it is an option. I added some toasted chopped walnuts, for crunch, which did work really well, so they’re in the recipe!

Chicken, plums & soy

Winter Chicken Salad with Plums & Soy

Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken with Plums and Soy

Serves 2

Cook time – 1 hr

Prep time – 2omins

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1/2 tbsp sunflower (/other flavourless) oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 or 2 chilies (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 inch piece ginger
  • 4 plums, halved and stoned
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 75-100g salad leaves, such as rocket, watercress or baby spinach (or a mix)
  • handful of walnut pieces
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Put the chicken thighs in a roasting tray – season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Roast for 30 minutes, turning once or twice.

De-seed the chili(es) and slice into thin strips. Peel and slice two of the garlic cloves – reserve the third for the salad dressing. Peel the ginger – you can either grate it, or slice into match-stick pieces. Reserve around 1/2 tsp for the dressing. After 30 minutes, add the chili, garlic and ginger to the chicken in the pan, return to the oven, and roast for another 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the chicken from the oven, and add the halved plums to the tray. Try to arrange everything in one layer. Pour over 2 tbsp of the soy sauce (reserve the remainder for the dressing) – if the tray is dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Return the tray to the oven and roast for another 10-15 minutes.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove to a plate and allow to cool slightly. You may find you need to cook the plums a little longer than 10-15 minutes – if so, drain off most of the liquid from the tray to a bowl, and return the tray to the oven for 5-10 minutes.

While the chicken is cooling, prepare the salad. Put the walnut pieces in a dry saucepan over a medium heat, and toast for 2-3 minutes – watch them carefully to make sure they do not burn. Spoon off the fat from the juices from the pan – discard the fat. Crush the remaining garlic clove, and add to the juices with the chopped ginger. Add a small amount of sesame oil – it is very strongly flavoured, so add it a little at a time and taste as you go. Add the reserved soy sauce, again, tasting as you go, and top up with a little sunflower oil. Stir together to create a dressing.

Arrange the salad leaves in a bowl. Remove the chicken from the bone, and cut to bite-sized pieces. Arrange the chicken, walnuts and plums over the leaves, and top with the dressing. Serve with crusty bread.

A sunny soup to chase away the blues – Thai-style squash soup

Thai-style Butternut squash soup

It’s nearly Christmas! Here in the orange kitchen household, we are preparing for our first American Christmas, and, for that matter, our first Christmas together, which happens also to be our first Christmas without either set of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles etc… This will be the first Christmas in four years together where Noel and I open our presents to each other on the day itself – normally, we open them together early before I jet off to see my parents or he makes the trip to see his family. It feels pretty… momentous. And slightly scarily grown up. Not so grown-up, though that we won’t be watching Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve – a Pantcheff tradition for as long as I can remember.

So in the midst of this Christmas-tide, I bring you… soup. Not a Christmas soup, but a delicious, warming, sunny soup. Sunny because it is a glorious gold colour, and is spiced so as to warm and brighten. It is also wonderfully easy to make, and a great standby to have in the fridge or freezer over the festive period.

Roasted squash

I love butternut squash, but it is a pain to prepare. I find the skin is usually so tough before cooking that I feel as if I’m a lumberjack attacking a tree if I try and peel, or even dice, it before cooking – and I find this boring and frustrating. So – almost every time I use butternut squash, I roast it, whole, before doing anything else. After even 20 minutes in the oven, it is so much easier to deal with – and if you can spare 30 minutes to roast it, it will reward you by yielding to your knife so easily. It also means that the cooking time in the soup itself is reduced, which can be handy. Of course, if you have more patience than me, you can prepare the squash when it’s raw, but if you happen to have the oven on (because, for instance, you’re making this incredible braised short ribs recipe…) then this is an easy way to cut down the effort involved.

Spice base

My recipe below uses a base of coriander, ginger, lemongrass and chili along with the more usual diced onion and garlic – I also use a small amount of shop-bought thai curry paste. If you don’t have the fresh ingredients readily available, feel free to increase the amount of curry paste – the soup will come to no harm as a result. When I made it, I chopped the ginger and lemongrass fairly roughly, as I knew I was going to blend the soup later – this meant that when I ate the finished product, I would come across small pieces of both which ‘popped’ in my mouth and were so delicious – however, if you don’t like the sound of this, you can chop everything more finely or use a food processor.

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Small bunch of coriander (leave and stalks), roughly chopped, plus leaves to garnish
  • 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, and roughly chopped
  • 1 small chili, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1-2 tsp thai curry paste
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 1 pint / 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime

Heat the oven to 400F/200C and place the squash in the oven, directly on the racks. Roast for at least 20 minutes, preferably more like 30.

While the squash is roasting, heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until it is starting to soften – around 5 minutes. Add the coriander, ginger, lemongrass, garlic and chili, season well with salt and pepper, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Stir in the thai curry paste, and allow the base to cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat until the squash is ready.

Once the squash has roasted, remove from the oven and once it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds. Dice into 1-inch pieces, and add to the spice mix in the pan – bring the pan back up to heat if you’d taken the spice mix off. Add the tin of coconut and the stock – bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the squash is tender. The time this takes will vary depending on how long you roasted it for – it will take at least 15 minutes, and could take up to 40 minutes if your squash was only roasted briefly.

Once the squash is cooked, turn off the heat and use a stick blender to blend the soup to your desired consistency – I like mine smooth, but you can leave chunks of squash, if you prefer. If the soup is very thick, add a little more stock or water. Check the soup for seasoning, and add lime juice to taste.

Serve garnished with coriander leaves.