Monthly Archives: February 2013

Poor man’s roast chicken

This recipe was one of those happy mistakes. Except I don’t, now, remember what I was trying to do that I erred at.

The reason it’s called poor man’s roast chicken originally came about because this isn’t a whole chicken dish, but one made of pieces and I thought that looked like a poor man’s version of a roast chicken dinner. But given that, these days you can often buy fairly cheap whole chickens, even in posh stores like Waitrose, and chicken pieces aren’t as cheap anymore, I’m not sure that still holds true.

However, it also conveniently covers up a slight, controlled fear I have of cooking whole roast chickens. Even though they were one of the first things I learned how to cook, as a child. When my mum was at work, I’d quite often start the dinner off and it was usually either roast chicken or bolognese. I’m also a bit scared of roast chicken because I never really know when it’s done (my mum was always home for that bit). If you overcook it it’s awful and like eating the contents of your shredder, undercook it and everyone dies. Plus I really HATE carving up a cooked chicken or jointing up a raw one.

So I always buy chicken pieces if I can, even though my partner always, always says “but you can buy a whole chicken, it’s better value and I’ll joint it for you”. This is a nice gesture, isn’t it? Utterly lovely. But it makes me feel wretched because I feel at once dependent and useless. Which is a hideously bad combination for me, like smocks and dirndl skirts. So when he is away, I rebel and BUY CHICKEN PIECES.

Thighs are best for this recipe because they are the tastiest meat I think. They are also not mentally expensive. But whatever you use, you do need chicken pieces with bones in. Leave those breasts for something else.

This is what you do. There are no exact measurements, sorry. Today I used six thighs and this is what I did.

Get a roasting tray with sides. The idea is to have just enough room for the meat, so not too big, otherwise you need to use a bucket load of stock. Now, put the meat in and then some lengths of carrot and celery. Over the top, pour about half a litre of stock made using a stock cube. Stock cubes scare me (there does seem a high level of fear in this post doesn’t there?), so I always, always buy organic ones, even though we’ll probably discover, in time, that they contain MDF dust. You want enough stock so that it comes about half way up the chicken pieces, no more. The idea, you see, is to keep the chicken moist. As it cooks, the stock renders down, and the whole thing goes really wonderfully concentrated.

Put it in the oven, uncovered at 200C on FAN. You want the stock to evaporate. The other beauty of this dish is that you really don’t have to be madly accurate about timings and I never am. I probably cook it for about 60 minutes, maybe even longer (don’t tell Heston). You will need to turn the chicken pieces regularly, so set a timer, and each time you do, baste the chicken. Ideally, you cook this until the stock has rendered down to a slick at the bottom of the tray – see pic above – but you may need to use your common sense here. If the chicken is starting to desiccate, you know, stop before this. But this is why you don’t want to put too much stock in.

Now, if you’re serving this up as roast chicken, serve up a piece per person or whatever. If you’re going to use the chicken for sandwiches or wraps, then take the meat off the bone, and throw the discarded bones, skin etc in a pan with whatever’s left in the roasting tin: carrot, celery, the almost not there anymore stock juice. Add about 500ml of water and simmer for about two hours. To give it even more oomph, I put in half a stock cube.

Even if you serve it up as roast chicken, when people have finished eating put all the detritus in a pan to make stock as above. And the stock you get from this is glorious stuff. However, if you serve this up as a roast chicken dish, back up a bit. When you take the chicken out of the roasting tin and you leave behind the cooking juices/carrot/celery, put the roasting tin on the hob, add a bit of water to loosen if up only if you need it, but then swirl everything around, mashing the carrot and celery up as you go. When it’s all bubbly, take off the heat and put through a sieve and serve this as gravy. It’s delicious (put through a fat separator jug if you want, so you take off the fat).

Chicken done like this is so easy and really, really tasty. It probably has posh, kennel name. I don’t know what it is.

The spawning of the sourdough

Photo ©Ben McPherson


I have now shared my sourdough amongst at least four people. Possibly more but I forget. The latest recipients were my friend Ben McPherson and his wife Charlotte, who live in Norway and are keen to get started on sourdough making.

This is the furthest my sourdough starter has ever travelled and I told Ben that part of the deal, now that we were sharing wild yeast spores, was that he had to keep me in touch with how his starter was doing.

You can probably tell that Ben is a writer, producer and director by this photo of his starter, which he has put in an ENORMOUS jar and obviously crouched down to take this photograph from as dramatic an angle as possible. I said that it – the starter – looked like it needed its own TV show.

Anyway, I sent it heat sealed in a very strong plastic bag and that bag was in a plastic security sealed envelope. And yet the starter burst out of the heat sealed bag (which is made to withstand sous vide cooking) and only the plastic envelope stopped it escaping further. This just shows the power of the sourdough starter.

Ben has refreshed it and will hopefully start baking at the weekend. I hope to convince him to do a guest-post soon. Maybe with sub titles.

White chocolate cream

A mini doughnut, with all sorts of gloriousness, on it and in it

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about eclairs. Which I am, now, well into. Not so much eating them (although I’m getting there…) but making them. I have just gone mental for piping stuff. I think eclairs are going to be the new macaroons which were the new cupcakes which were the new doughnuts which were probably the new eclairs.

I am slightly obsessed with thinking of new fillings and toppings. Not that I’ve got that experimental yet. But give me time.

It was my youngest child’s birthday last week, and I made her these small celebration cakes (okay, okay, they’re cupcakes, but cupcakes are so over aren’t they? I daren’t mention them…). And some bourbon biscuits with her name stamped on them. And some mini chocolate eclairs with white chocolate cream in them.

Mini eclairs with white chocolate cream.

They were delicious. But they still looked like ‘normal’ eclairs, so with a dark chocolate topping and a white cream filling. Not that eclairs have to look like this, but I wanted them to.

The white chocolate cream was amazingly good and people couldn’t quite work out what was in it but it just tasted so good.

Have I mentioned how good it tasted? So good that today, whilst making the mini doughnuts you see above, glazed with chocolate and dipped in sprinkles, sliced and with white chocolate cream PIPED inside (for I wanted to use up this wonderful stuff), I almost, almost, just stuck the icing bag straight in my mag and squeezed in the style of, probably, Homer Simpson.

But I didn’t. Time, still, for that.

So here’s how you make white chocolate cream. An idea I got from here.

For the eclair recipe here, I’d recommend 300ml of double cream (or whipping, which I will try next time, but I used double) and 100-125g of white chocolate. I only ever use Green and Black’s white chocolate as it’s fantastic.

Break up the chocolate into individual pieces and put in a heat proof bowl.

Heat half the cream in a pan, until boiling. If you use another sort of white chocolate, you may want to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract into the cream. But the Green and Black’s already has vanilla in it, so I don’t. When it’s reached boiling point stir it around for a few seconds, then take off the heat. Pour it onto the chocolate. Give it a count of 15/20 seconds then whisk together.

Chill for an hour or until needed.

When you are ready to make the eclairs, add the other cream (the one without the chocolate in it) and add to the cream with the chocolate in it. Or vice versa, just introduce them! Now whisk until firm, you know, so it’s pipe-able.

Put in a piping bag with a nozzle and pipe into your eclairs. If the piping bag happens to get stuck in your mouth, squeeze, swallow and then hide the evidence.

How to deal with nosebleeds and how to get rid of blood stains

I know. Birruva shock for a Sunday morning, and not a post involving the beating together of diabetes and cardiac arrest inducing amounts of sugar and butter.


But I have a cold. A really bad one and the incessant blowing of my nose has made my nose bleed lots.

I’ve had nose bleeds since I was about seven. I remember my first one because it was traumatic. Let me tell you about it.

Crossroads had just started. Crossroads was a very bad soap opera based in a motel. Television could be brilliant or very poor back in those days. As the opening titles finished and Benny with his woolly hat came on, like a runaway from the children’s programme Rainbow, my  nose started bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding.

My mum rang the GP who gave us the totally wrong advice to put  my head back and pinch my nose. All this did was make the blood run down my throat into my stomach. Half an hour later I still had a nose bleed but then also puked up a stomach full of blood. Which alarmed everyone. I could hear Crossroads finishing.

Still my nose bled. Eventually of course it stopped. But I learned something useful.

You don’t stop a nosebleed by putting your head back. This is how they always show it on TV. That’s about as helpful as showing women labouring on their back. I think it’s about camera angles.

If you have a nosebleed and you have no other health problems, like suffering from haemophilia then the way to stop it is to lean forward. Pinch the affected nostril hard. Not at the top of your nose, the fleshy part so you close that nostril. Wait for about three minutes, by which time your natural blood clotting soldiers will have come in and fought the battle.

What you may then find is a big clot coming out of your  nose. Don’t panic. This is normal. At least, it’s normal for me and those whose nose bleeds I’ve observed.

I’m so adept at dealing with nosebleeds now I mostly get on and do other things when I have them. Unless I get a simultaneous nose bleed in both nostrils, like I did when I was pregnant and when I have colds. That’s not so fun, but the same principles apply. I’m so confident now that when my nosebleed has stopped, I gently blow it to get the clot out and carry on with my day.

Eeuww. But look this might be useful one day.

Now then: blood stains. Obviously you can’t deal with huge ones this way, well not without spending all day spitting. But this morning I got a bit of blood on my sheets as I was trying to stem the nose bleed from both nostrils. Damn I thought, I’ve only just changed the bed. Then I remembered a trick I picked up from when I used to write the Dear Annie columns.

Your saliva, apparently, has enzymes to dissolve your own blood. Or something like that. So I spat – or to put it another way, transferred saliva – onto the stain and the blood disappeared like magic. Really it’s incredible (the fresher the stain the more effective the saliva is). It only works on your own blood though, so if you’ve killed someone, you can’t get rid of evidence this way.

Anyone fancy a sleepover?

Waitrose Bottom Butter, a really good cleanser: for your face

£2.89. Bargain.

I am a huge fan of oily cleansers. They seem counter intuitive but they work to dissolve dirt and make up and also don’t dry out the skin. My favourite such cleanser is Eve Lom‘s, but it starts at £40 for 50ml. The Eve Lom cleanser is thick and solidy but melts when in contact with your skin. It’s main ingredient is mineral oil and it also contains parabens. I can’t afford it anyway so I use Simple Cleansing Lotion, which probably also contains all sorts of things I’d rather not know about.

But now I’ve found a cleanser to rival Eve Lom’s. That delivers that same, solidy at room temperature, melts on the skin quality. That leaves skin feeling soft.

This is the balm close up, I hope you’re enjoying my photos.

It isn’t actually a cleanser at all and I didn’t actually discover it. It’s a balm for baby’s bottoms and my nine year old discovered its cleansing properties.

Waitrose Bottom Butter was in the news a few years ago as lots of people found it to be a great moisturiser for adult faces too. I don’t really like it too much as that, it’s too oily for me but my nine year old uses it as a moisturiser and in fact it was her who discovered it’s great cleansing qualities.

My eldest suffers from occasional eczema and dry skin. Like a lot of people with children with eczema, we’ve tried many things. When the seasons change from autumn to winter, her skin can get especially dry so I give her a little facial twice a day, along the lines of the great Dr Erno Laszlo’s principles (which uses hand-hot water splashing to get the blood to the skin).

One day she said she wanted to try this little cleansing regime on her own, so she did and she used the Bottom Butter as a cleanser.

This got me thinking, so I tried it. And it is indeed brilliant.

I wouldn’t use it on my eyes, but if you are a fan of cleansing with water and flannel (as many people are, and as opposed to wiping cleanser off with cotton wool, which I think is a useless way to cleanse), give this a go.

Just apply it as a cleanser, massage it in really well (which is also good for the skin as it gets the blood to it), then wipe off with a flannel dipped and wrung out in hand hot water (repeat this a few times). If you like the Laszlo method of splashing, too, you can do that. It’s brilliant in hard water areas, as it doesn’t dry your skin out. Then just carry on with your usual routine. I’d recommend using eye make up remover on your eyes.

(It’s also really helpful if you get dry skin in the shower or bath, apply a thin layer before you go in.)

All thanks to my eldest.

This bottom butter contains only only olive oil, hydrogenated olive oil, vanilla and chamomile oil. It smells lovely.

And it costs £2.89 for 125ml.

Jam tarts for a Monday

My jam tarts. The orange ones are apricot jam, the darker yellow ones are the Duchy Originals lemon curd, the bright yellow the Waitrose lemon curd.

As I look at the list of things I’ve written about on here recently, I see it’s a lot of food stuff.

And here’s more.

Jam tarts. I don’t often eat them, because the shop bought ones are like cheap jam spread on layers of newspaper. But they seem so easy to make. Except the last time I made them, they were a disaster. It’s too long ago now to remember what happened.

On Thursday I was looking through my recipe books, deliberating what to cook for Sunday lunch (I menu plan in a fierce way, this keeps spending under control and I can also make sure we have a good balance of food during the week in terms of ‘have we eaten enough fish?’ etc. You can hate me if you want, but I AM that organised).

I skimmed through Jamie Oliver’s Best of British and found a recipe for jam tarts that didn’t just say “shop bought pastry, jam”, so I tried them.

They were delicious, a bit superior in fact. The pastry is chewy. Jamie says to use all different coloured jams, and I’m sure that’s a great idea if you like a rainbow effect on the serving plate (he does indeed call them “Rainbow Jam Tarts“, p. 178 of Jamie’s Best of British). But I found that, in reality, some are more popular than others.

And let’s face it, no-one likes a green jam tart.

My children really liked the apricot jam ones. Me and their father shoved down the lemon curd ones as if we were trying to hide evidence.

A word about lemon curd. I used the Duchy Originals one and the Waitrose own make. No comparison. The former was vastly superior, a darker colour (more natural looking), a far nicer taste: rounded and subtle, the Waitrose one was too sharp, ringing that “I’ve got lemons in me” bell a little too shrilly. The curds also acted differently in cooking. The Waitrose one exploded out of the tarts, the Duchy one was all well behaved and stayed put.

This made 24 tarts for me:


250g plain flour
250g icing sugar (try not to think about how much sugar that is)
125g unsalted butter
pinch of sea salt
1 large egg
The rind of a lemon or an orange, I used orange
A splash of milk

For the filling you will need a heaped tablespoon of your favourite jams or curds.

You need a jam tart tin, which is to say one of those shallow 12-hole tins. Not a deep one like you’d use for muffins or cupcakes. The sort you’d probably make mince pies in.

I greased mine very lightly.

Now, put the flour, sugar, salt and butter into a food processor and pulse until like breadcrumbs. Although in truth because there’s so little butter to dry ingredients, this will look more like what it is: lots of flour and sugar, rather than breadcrumbs. Crack in the egg, grate in the zest and pulse again, adding just enough milk to bring it all together. You’ll have a soft dough, flecked with zest.

Rest it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or until you’re ready to use it later.

Now preheat the oven to 180. Dust a surface with some flour, roll out the pastry to about 0.5cm thick (don’t make it too thin or they will collapse when cooked as they’ll be too thin to take the weight of the filling) and cut with a fluted cutter to a size bigger than the holes in the bun-tray. Place each circle in, gently push down.

Then add tablespoons of the jam/curd in: about one heaped tablespoon per tart. Don’t overfill but don’t be mean with it either. About half a cm below the top of the pastry shell should do it. Now, gently  spread the jam/curd around so it lies flat and fills the shell. Don’t just leave it in a blob as fell off the spoon as it won’t spread out whilst cooking, the pastry rises to fill the gaps and you’ll end up with something less than perfect looking.

This won’t do.

Put into the oven (you may need to cook in batches if you only have one tray, but that’s okay cos the pastry can sit in the fridge for a day or two). Cook for 12-15 minutes. You want the tarts golden round the edges.

Leave in their tray for a few minutes before prising out. Mine came out quite easily although the ones with the lemon curd were the hardest to take out. The ones with the Waitrose lemon curd in were the hardest of all and broke up quite easily (I am never again buying this lemon curd).

If it interests you, these are also really easy for children to make. I didn’t let mine near it as it was my self-soothing project.