Archive | July, 2012

Seared duck breasts with orange and chilli glaze, served with kale (and a rather delicious red wine…)

30 Jul

The last time I cooked duck was with my dad (who is an amazing cook) sometime over Christmas, for a rather fancy dinner party. When I say ‘I cooked duck’, what I really mean is that my dad told me exactly what to do while I plonked the duck here and there and somehow it miraculously ended up on the plate looking rather professional. But I’ve avoided it since……….so when the local shop was doing a 3 for £10 offer on a load of meat, I picked up the duck, put it in the basket, and walked off before I had a chance to put it back. So why was I so reluctant? Simply because meat is expensive. In fact, it can be VERY expensive, and I’ve not had a lot of experience in cooking much other than chicken, so I am always terrified that I’ll ruin it and it will all end up in the bin, along with the receipt and my eyeballs registering £££ signs.

Time to face the fear I reckon.

Whenever I have had duck it has either been Asian style, shredded in pancakes, or served with a deep dark fruit and red wine sauce, so I thought I’d try something different. I found a recipe for roasted duck fillets with a marmalade glaze, but having cooked with my dad I knew that it would be important to try and sizzle off as much fat as possible before sticking the duck breasts in the oven, so I slightly adapted the recipe. I decided that as I was trying something new I may as well go the whole hog and cook some new vegetable too; kale it was. I’ve never cooked kale but I’ve heard many talk of its superfood status. It’s packed full of antioxidants,vitamins A (good for bones, teeth and vision), C (skin, ligaments, and immune system) and K (essential for normal blood clotting) amongst others, and is a great source of fibre as well as being low in calories. Many studies have noted its use as a great cancer fighting veg, in addition to suggesting it may have anti-inflammatory properties. So, it seems like a good’un. Duck…well, let’s face it, duck’s probably a bit naughty. But it does have health benefits; it’s high in protein, and is a good source of many vitamins and minerals. So put together, I think it’s quite a balanced dinner option!

A little note: whilst I did really enjoy this dish it is quite light and the flavours can be quite delicate. I must admit I do prefer the deeper flavours which come through in some of the red wine and darker fruit sauces, and would be inclined to try using them in future. That said, the dish is wonderfully light on a warm summer day and probably also relatively healthier than some of the heavier options. Additionally it’s something very easy to put together with ingredients you probably have in your cupboards already. PD wasn’t a particular fan of the kale as it can be a little bland, so next time I’m going to try sauteeing it with a bit of onion and garlic to try and give it a bit more of a lift.

Recipe (serves 2)

  • 2 duck breasts, skin on
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 4 tbsp seville orange marmalade
  • Pinch crushed chilli flakes
  • 1 orange
  • 100g kale, shredded
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 220C (or 200C for a fan oven)

2. Make up the glaze by mixing the marmalade, the juice of half an orange, the pinch of chilli flakes and sherry vinegar in a bowl and set aside.

3. Score the skin side of the duck breasts in a criss-cross fashion and season with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down into a preheated frying pan on a medium heat. You really don’t need to add anything to the pan, enough fat will be generated by the skin! If you’re like me and prefer to get rid of as much fat as possible, keep draining the fat into a little bowl throughout cooking.

4. Cook skin-side down for around 6 minutes until the skin is brown, adding a little of the glaze to the pan, and then seal the non-skin side for about 30 seconds.

5. Place the duck skin-side down in a roasting dish and spoon over around 3/4 of the glaze. Roast in the oven for 8 minutes (rare), 12 minutes (medium) or 16 minutes (well-done), and leave to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. A note here, I like mine rare and 8 minutes plus resting time was more like medium, so it might be worth knocking a minute off the cooking time. Have a look at the cooking guidelines on the pack.

6. While the duck is resting, fill a large pan with 1cm of water and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Add the kale and cook for around 5 minutes, or until the kale has wilted and is cooked through.

7. Add the left over glaze to a small pan and heat it through. Drain the kale well and serve onto plates, slice the duck breast and arrange on the plate, drizzle with the warmed glaze and serve with a couple of wedges of orange.

A note on ‘resting’: when PD taught me how to cook steak properly I used to get very grumpy that we had to wait for 5-10 minutes when the steak looked like it was ready to eat. In my mind my dinner was sat on the work surface getting cold when it should be on my fork and entering my mouth. I’ve learned to appreciate the value of resting; it ensures that the meat has time to cook through evenly and also means that the juices somehow magically stay in the meat instead of running all over the plate (I’ll find out the science behind this for you in another post). It’s worth it.

A note on wine: we enjoyed a couple of glasses of a 2009 red Chilean blend from the Colchagua valley. It’s a delicious wine, fruity, with lots of ripe red fruits and berries, and a healthy pinch of spiciness and soft tannins. To be honest it had a bit too much of a complicated and intense character to match the more delicate flavours which came through in this dish, so if you’re looking for a matching wine I’d personally choose a lighter red.


Salmon and Warm Lentil Salad

29 Jul

This is by far one of the easiest meals I have ever cooked in my life, and it was tasty. It’s a great choice for a light dinner option, perfect for days like today when it was warm and muggy – too hot for a roast dinner, but too miserable for a BBQ. I must admit though, I made a mistake. I tried to use some left over Romaine lettuce as a substitute for the rocket and although it still tasted nice, I can imagine that the rocket would add another dimension of flavour and would be able to cope with the heat of the lentils a little better than the lettuce did. I baked the salmon in the oven instead of frying it as I felt it would be a healthier option. All in all it was a pretty healthy meal, and relatively low in calories for a dinner option – coming in at around 450kcal.

The health benefits of salmon are well known: it is a fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D (important for bone health, and a good mood), vitamin B12 (important for a healthy nervous system) and is a good source of selenium (important in antioxidant function), magnesium and vitamin B6. It has been linked to reduced cardiovascular problems, joint problems (slightly controversial) and lower rates of certain types of cancer. All in all, it’s a good fish. And it tastes jolly good. Lentils are high in fibre, helping to maintain a healthy digestive system, and are important in regulating blood sugar (preventing sugar spikes and crashes). They’re also relatively high in protein (important for growth and repair of cells in the body) and iron (important in helping your blood to carry oxygen – and particularly important for women during their menstrual period, when they are at slightly higher risk of anaemia).

So, the recipe:

  • 190g green lentils
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped
  • 150g rocket
  • 1 lemon, quartered

1. Add the lentils to a pan of boiling water, with a pinch of salt, and boil for around 30 minutes stirring occasionally. Drain and leave to cool.

2. Drizzle a little oil over the salmon and season with salt and pepper. Place in a oven proof dish and bake for ~18 minutes at 180C.

3. Mix the vinegar, mustard, onion and rocket and add to the lentils. Stir to combine.

4. Serve the lentils with the salmon and wedges of lemon.

Bea’s Of Bloomsbury, 44 Theobald Rd., Holborn.

28 Jul

An old friend of mine was around Holborn yesterday afternoon, and having not seen him in about five years I thought we ought to try to find somewhere nice to meet for a cup of tea. I’m not a fan of the big chain places as I always find them quite substandard and very predictable, and I prefer places a little bit quirky. PD mentioned Bea’s of Bloomsbury which he’d wanted to visit for a while, so I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to go and check it out. We arrived just after two and I was excited to see that it did indeed look quite unique. Although small, the space was used well, and it looked as though they were just finishing up from lunch service. We found ourselves a comfy table and ordered some nibbles. There was none of the ridiculous rushing and huffiness that you find in some coffee shops, where people are so rushed off their feet they don’t even have time to notice you. All of the servers were laid back and attentive, and friendly. I ordered the Jasmine tea (from an extensive menu of tea) and a Chocolate Kahlua cupcake, and M ordered the ‘Sweet Tea’: Earl Grey Supreme with scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam. We hadn’t realised that the ‘Sweet Tea’ wouldn’t be available until half two, but I was very excited to find that this wasn’t out of pedantic inflexibility, but rather that this would be when the scones would be coming out of the oven. Freshly made – yum! The Jasmine tea was delicious and came in its own little pot (my only complaint was that the handle of the tea pot got very, very hot, but really – that’s just nitpicking), as did M’s Earl Grey Supreme. We weren’t entirely sure what the difference was between your regular Earl Grey and the ‘supreme’ version (neither was the waitress behind the counter), but either way, I heard no complaints. The cupcake was wonderfully made and beautifully decorated, it was fluffy and full of flavour. I couldn’t quite get the Kahlua through the cake, but there was a hint of coffee. Although we had to wait about twenty minutes for the scones to come out of the oven, it was well worth it (and of course, with five years to catch up on the time flew by anyway). They were warm, well risen and beautifully light. In fact, they were possibly the lightest scones I’ve had. There’s a lot to be said for food which is fresh out of the oven, it makes a huge difference. After around 3pm most of the lunch crowd had died down and it had become reasonably quiet with more free tables, so if you’re looking for a larger table it might be worth going a little after lunch time.

All in all I’m suitably impressed. I was a little worried as Holborn was incredibly busy due to the Olympic crowd, but as Bea’s is slightly off the main stretch of road it is a little hidden from the masses. It was a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, great cakes and lovely tea, topped off with fantastic service (and brownie points for the very fresh scones). I purposefully did not have coffee as I’m leaving that to PD, but I did have a nosey at the table next to us – and I must say, the coffee did look good…….

Score: 8/10 – it would have been nice to have had a bit more space between tables, but the space was quite small and it did add to its charm. I also found it a little pricey at £3 a cupcake, but as we did sit and chat for a good hour and a half I think it was fair. On the flavour front, the cupcake needed a bit more of the Kahlua to come through.

Price range: £3.00 cupcake (£2.50 t.a.), ~£2.50 – £3.00 for tea/coffee

Would I go back? If I was in the area.

BBQ lime chicken with tomato, cucumber and red onion salad, and sweet potato parcels

26 Jul

It’s BBQ weather, and I love it. I’ve been sat outside trying to make progress with a medical essay but since starting this blog all I can think about is what to make for dinner! So seeing as the weather is so lovely we’re having a BBQ. We generally try to eat seasonally as it means that fruits and vegetables are fuller in flavour, and also tend to be cheaper, so courgettes are making an appearance.

This is a recipe which I found in a magazine but which I have adapted, so hopefully it turns out well. I used chicken drumsticks as they are one of the cheapest options available at the supermarket, and substituted the watercress for Romaine lettuce, as again – it was the cheapest. I also omitted the coriander as I’m not the greatest fan of it uncooked, and did more veggies (courgettes and peppers!) because I’m a rather fervent advocate of the 5-a-day rule.

Serves 2 (with left overs for lunch tomorrow)

Lime Chicken

  • ~7-8 chicken drumsticks or thighs
  • Juice and zest of two limes
  • 80ml oil*
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Salad 1

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1 cucumber
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • Coriander (optional)

Salad 2

  • 1 courgette (or however many you fancy)
  • 1 or 2 peppers
  • Watercress or salad to serve

Sweet potato

  • 2 small-medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme

*A quick note on oil. Although olive oil is great for dressing salads and lower temperature cooking, whenever frying, grilling or BBQing I use rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil is relatively healthy with a lower saturated fat content than other oils, and is high in omega fatty acids. It’s plus point for BBQ and high temperature cooking is that it has a high smoke point. When oils reach a certain temperature (‘smoke point’) they begin to break down and produce somewhat toxic products, so rapeseed oil is better for high temperature cooking.

  • Mix oil, crushed garlic and the juice of one lime in a bowl and add the chicken. Coat thoroughly and leave to marinate for an hour or so.
  • Peel the sweet potatoes and slice them thickly. Brush with oil and sprinkle with the fresh thyme and salt/pepper to taste (I added a few chilli flakes too!). Keeping the pieces together, reassemble the potato and wrap tightly in silver foil. Cook on the BBQ for around 45 minutes, turning occasionally (NB I cooked mine at 180C in the oven for about 40 mins and then finished off on the BBQ for the length of time it took to cook the chicken).
  • While the potato is cooking, make the salad. Slice the red onion thinly, slice the tomatoes and halve the cucumber lengthways and slice. Drizzle with a little olive oil and one tablespoon of lime juice, and mix, adding coriander if using.
  • With BBQ on medium heat, cook the chicken for 5-6 minutes on each side until brown and cooked through. Use a spoon to baste the chicken with the left over oil mixture while cooking.
  • Meanwhile, slice the courgettes and peppers and griddle on the BBQ with a little oil, until cooked through.
  • Sprinkle chicken with a little lime zest and serve with the sweet potato, cucumber, tomato and red onion salad, and mixed leaves for a healthy, no fuss summer dinner.

Note for next time: Slice the courgettes lengthways as some of them slipped down into the BBQ! Also, I found that the sweet potato wasn’t as crisp as it may have turned out if done on the BBQ for the full 45 minutes. 

The sun’s out – any excuse for ice cream!

25 Jul

Ice cream is one of my biggest weaknesses, especially when it’s hot outside or I’ve had a really good work out and feel like a treat. PD bought me the Ben and Jerry’s dessert recipe book a couple of years ago, coupled with an ice cream maker. For some reason I’ve only used it a couple of times – possibly because throughout the making process I am forced to come to terms with the naughty ingredients which go into the joy that is the finished product.

The book is fantastic, and the recipes are very easy. If you are a fan of home made ice cream I would highly recommend an ice cream maker, they can be picked up reasonably cheaply in many places and really make the whole process a lot less arduous. I was a little sceptical that the recipes would taste anything like the tubs in the high street stores, but I was pleasantly surprised. The first time I made ‘cookie dough’ ice cream it was gone within a few days. I told myself I would have only one spoonful, but then one spoonful inevitably became one bowlful and so the story went on…

A couple of tips for the cookie dough ice cream, whilst it was wonderful to be able to make everything from scratch it is rare that I would have the time these days. Most high street stores sell ready made cookie dough which works just as well. Additionally, add the cookie dough pieces to the ice cream after taking it out of the ice cream machine, otherwise it can really slow the machine down (especially the smaller ones).

So, onto the recipe of today. I have recently discovered that a friend of mine shares my guilty secret, and as she may be coming to visit on Sunday and as the temperatures are reaching high twenties, I thought it was a super excuse to try a new flavour or two. Unfortunately, the supermarket only sold double cream in the wrong proportions…so I had to make two flavours. It was simply economical. I decided on chocolate and coffee, two friends which go so well together.

Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 4 oz dark chocolate (I used Bourneville)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt

1. Melt chocolate in a bowl over hot water (make sure water doesn’t touch the bowl). Gradually whisk in the milk and heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

2. Whisk eggs until light and fluffy, and then whisk in the sugar a little at a time until completely blended. Add cream, vanilla and salt and whisk to blend.

3. Pour the chocolate into the cream mixture and blend, then pop in the fridge for 1-3 hours depending on how cool your fridge is.

4. Transfer to the ice cream maker and freeze according to the maker’s instructions.

Coffee Ice Cream

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp instant coffee

1. Whisk eggs until light and fluffy, and then whisk in the sugar a little at a time until completely blended. Add the cream, milk and 2 tbsp coffee and whisk to blend.

2. Transfer to the ice cream maker and freeze according to the maker’s instructions.

3. About 2 mins before the ice cream is done add the remaining tbsp coffee and continue to freeze until the ice cream is ready.