Hello Fresh: recipe-ready groceries delivered to your doorstep!

Hello Fresh is a relatively new company which has come up with a brilliant concept: they provide you with recipe-ready groceries… and deliver it right to your doorstep. You might be thinking “online groceries? Old news.” – but hold that thought, because Hello Fresh is so much more than that.

You’ll notice that I used the term “recipe-ready” groceries – this is because all the ingredients supplied come with accompanying recipes, and all ingredients are portioned accordingly. Basically, if you are planning to cook spaghetti bolognese – you get the exact amounts of ingredients for this (based on the accompanying recipes). I think this is quite a brilliant idea, as it definitely helps minimise waste (and let’s admit it, we have all thrown something out before).

All the supplied recipes are created by chefs who ensure that the meals are delicious and balanced. More importantly, they are all easy to prepare, and can be completed in 30 minutes.

So, that all sounds great – but how much does it cost? A bag of ‘3 meals’ costs £39 for 2 people, and £59 for 4 people. (Delivery costs are included.) I know some people might think that this is a little expensive, but I think it’s a fair price as Hello Fresh provide a good range of meals, and they source good quality products. For example, my chicken/sausages were from a butcher, and not bought from a high street grocery store (because really, I could just buy those myself). There were still items that were from stores like Sainsburys though.

Oh, and Hello Fresh is subscription based and has no minimum term, with a 6 day notice period. Which means you can opt out at any time, should you wish to do so.

But enough about all that, because the most important thing is what the service/meals are actually like. I tried out the 5-meal plan. However, I only took photos of 4 of the 5 dishes though, as I forgot to take photos of the last one. I know – forgot? Totally unacceptable in food blogger world, but oh well. I’m not going to elaborate much on each recipe as I’m never very good with words, so hopefully the photos will do the elaborating.

The meals I had were:

1) Tuscan meatballs with spaghetti, fresh basil and tomato sauce

Meatballs – who doesn’t love them? This was a perfect meal to have in my bag, and my love for meatballs meant I cooked this first. I actually learnt a few new things from the recipe.. like how adding grated Pecorino & chopped Porcini mushrooms helps to enhance the flavour of the meatballs. And how rolling the meatballs in cous cous before pan frying them gives a great, crunchy finish! Never too late to learn. 😉

This was my favourite meal of the lot, and the people at Hello Fresh have kindly agreed to let me reproduce the recipe here. I have rewritten the methods of the recipe though (I never feel comfortable just copy-pasting someone else’s recipe!), as I tend to have a preferred way of writing. [Recipe at the end of the post.]

2) Sesame crusted salmon, with cous cous & cherry tomato salsa

It was great to see that Hello Fresh gives a good balance of meals in the bag – as a medic, I’m highly paranoid about eating a balanced diet (we try to eat fish twice a week, with one vegetarian meal thrown in somewhere)… so I was glad to see salmon in one of the recipes!

I often eat cous cous, but I’ve never added fried onions for flavour/texture (those are the flecks you see in the cous cous). Another trick learnt!

3) Artisan sausages with roasted garlic mash & red onion gravy

Bangers and mash. British comfort food at its best, wouldn’t you say? What I loved most about this was how the sausages were sourced from a specialist butcher, which probably explains why they are one of the best sausages I’ve tasted in a long time.

4) Thai red curry with chicken & toasted cashews

So this was the fourth day, and I totally blanked and forgot to take a photo of the ingredients as I was in a rush to cook (read: I was too hungry/greedy/insert appropriate adjective here).

This came with a pack of pre-made red curry paste (a Thai brand which I remember buying when I was in Bangkok some years ago). I hope that you all don’t scorn pre-made curry paste, because truth be told, sometimes they taste MUCH better than homemade curry pastes.

The rice that I served on the side was supplied in the pack.

5) Pea, mint & goats cheese risotto
Err yes. So this is the dish I have absolutely no photos of whatsoever. Apologies!

So… what did I think of Hello Fresh and the service they’re providing?
What I liked:
– Portioned ingredients, which helps minimise waste.
– Not having to think of what to cook for dinner (I’m very fickle and have too many ideas, so this is a good thing for me).
– Good balance of meals: I had fish, chicken, beef, vegetarian & pork.
– Good variety of cusines: I had Italian, Thai, British, (and I’m not sure what category the salmon/cous cous & risotto dishes fall under).
– Excellent, friendly customer service.

What I thought could be improved:
– Giving customers the opportunity to choose the recipes/meals that come in the pack. Or at least, the chance to state particular ‘main’ ingredients that you dislike e.g. aubergines (which could potentially be the main ingredient of a vegetable curry). It would be a shame if someone got a pack with something they didn’t like, which would mean a high chance of throwing it out = wastage.
– The green on black text on the recipe cards weren’t great contrast wise, I can imagine it would be a little hard to read in poor lighting etc. White text on black might work better? I also thought the recipes were a little wordy, but I suspect this is a personal preference.
– Expanding the service outside of London (they currently only deliver to London addresses).

Basically, Hello Fresh is a service that aims to give you a convenient way of eating home cooked dinners. It’s great if you can’t be bothered to figure out what to cook, and don’t have the time to hit the shops in time to get groceries for dinner.

Would I pay for this service? Yes. But only once every so often (because I do enjoy experimenting and not sticking to recipes – ha!), and I’d go for the 3 meal plan vs the 5 meal plan.

* I received a bag of 5 meals courtesy of Hello Fresh, but all the opinions expressed above are my own. 

Tuscan meatballs with spaghetti, fresh basil & tomato sauce
Recipe courtesy of the Hello Fresh chefs (with some modifications)
Serves 4

  • 500g beef mince
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 3 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tsp porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes, then finely diced
  • 40g pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)
  • 4 Jacobs crackers, crushed to resemble breadcrumbs
  • 6 tbsp couscous
  • 2 Eschalion shallots
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • bunch basil leaves (approx 30g), roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 500g spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions until al dente (you can do this in a pot whilst you’re making the meatballs)

1. In a large bowl, mix the beef mince, garlic, porcini mushrooms, crushed Jacob crackers, grated Pecorino, and salt/pepper to taste. (I used 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp pepper). Using your hands, mix the ingredients together until they are well incorporated.
2. Form the meatball mixture into 2-3cm balls. Roll each individual meatball in cous cous. Set the meatballs aside.
3. Place a non-stick pan on medium heat, and gently fry the diced shallots in olive oil until they turn fragrant.
4. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan, and simmer on medium heat. If the sauce starts becoming too dry, you can add some water to the pan to thin it down.
5. Whilst the tomato sauce is simmering, heat a non-stick pan over high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides until they are cooked through (this should take around 6 minutes). If you’re unsure if they are cooked through, cut one open – this is the best way to tell!*
6. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce (which should have reduced down nicely by now). Add the chopped basil leaves to the sauce, and season with salt and pepper (to taste).
7. Serve the meatballs/tomato sauce mixture over spaghetti. Top with grated Parmesan, and eat!

* To cut down on washing up/having too many pans on the go at one time: cook your meatballs in the oven. If you choose to do this, I’d advise not rolling the uncooked meatballs in cous cous (as you won’t get the same ‘crisp’ from the couscous without pan frying – i.e. there’s not much point). Bake the meatballs in a 180’C oven for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. You can then add the meatballs to the tomato sauce, as in step 6.

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‘Nduja puffs

‘Nduja. What is it? Well, up till about a week ago I had no idea, but now I know… and I’m hooked.

‘Nduja (pronounced n-du-ya) is basically a ready to eat spreadable spicy sausage, made with pork. It is unique to the Calabria region of Italy, and is said to be the Calabrian version of salami. The name ‘nduja originates from the French word “andouille”, which means “sausage”.

Photo courtesy of Unearthed

‘Nduja is made with various parts of pork (including the shoulder, belly, tripe and jowl) and hot red peppers. The abundance of red peppers make the ‘nduja rather spicy, but thankfully it doesn’t make your mouth feel like it’s on fire… on the contrary, it has a rather pleasant aftertaste of pepper heat.

There are many ways to eat this spicy sausage – as it is spreadable, it can be used as a spread for bread or crackers (or you can eat it with a spoon, like I did). However, it is much more than a spicy sausage spread – it can be used to season a range of foods, and I’ve even seen it used as a crust for baked fish!

Unearthed kindly sent me a sample of ‘nduja, and invited me to take part in a ‘nduja recipe challenge. Along with four other (very talented) bloggers, I had to come up with an innovative way to cook ‘nduja…. and I definitely had fun trying to figure out what to do with it (apart from snacking on it, that is)!

I was inspired by one of my favourite Malaysian snacks when trying to figure out how to use the ‘nduja – the humble curry puff. Curry puffs are small ‘pies’/puffs filled with a spicy curry chicken and potato mix. They are traditionally deep dried, and are not all that dissimilar to empanadas. I think most Malaysian kids grew up snacking on these, and it’s definitely something that reminds me of home. I do seem to be more sentimental about home lately – and as a result always try to cook things that remind me of home.

But I digress. Back to the ‘nduja. Instead of using curry powder and chillies to flavour my puff fillings, I used ‘nduja… and I must say that it turned out really well! I also happened to have some leftover roast chicken in my fridge, so I added it to the potato and ‘nduja mixture.

I must admit to sneaking quite a lot of the puff fillings in the process of making these ‘nduja puffs – it was ridiculously addictive and I kept on dipping my spoon into the bowl to eat more mouthfuls of the spicy potato mixture. Thankfully I’d intentionally made more filing that I would need, maybe I foresaw my snacking! 😉

But yes, ‘nduja and me, we have become fast friends. If you haven’t tried it, do look out for it the next time you’re grocery shopping (I believe the Unearthed ‘nduja is currently available in Waitrose, you may also find ‘nduja in specialty Italian delis) – I suspect you’ll like it as much as I do. 🙂

And of course, if you do like my recipe, please vote for it on the Unearthed Facebook page here. Thank you! The prize is a selection of Unearthed goodies and a KitchenAid blender – something I’ve been yearning for for a long time now!

‘Nduja puffs
Makes approximately 30 puffs

For the filling:

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced into 5mm cubes
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 60g ‘nduja (I used Unearthed ‘nduja)
  • 30g cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp corn oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the pastry:

  • 500g puff pastry (storebought)
  • 1 egg, beaten (for glazing)

To make the filling:
1. Heat oil in a pan over medium high heat. Fry the diced onion until they start to brown and become fragrant.
2. Add the diced potatoes and smoked paprika. Fry for 10-15 minutes, until they start to soften.
3. Add the ‘nduja and chicken (if using) to the pan. Use your spatula to break up the ‘nduja into smaller pieces to ensure they are distributed throughout the potato mixture. Cook for a further 5 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through.
4. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Set aside. The filling will need to cool before the puffs can be assembled.

To assemble the ‘nduja puffs:
6. Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 5mm. Cut 3 inch circles from the pastry until all the puff pastry has been used up.
7. Hold a pastry round in one hand, and place 1 tablespoon of the ‘nduja/potato filling in the centre of the circle of pastry. Fold into a half moon shape, and press the edges together to form a tight seal.
8. Crimp the edges of the pastry.
9. Repeat until all the puff pastry is used up. If you do not wish to eat all the puffs in one go, you can refrigerate or freeze them for future use.

To cook the ‘nduja puffs:
10. Heat the oven to 190’C.
11. Lightly beat an egg in a bowl, and glaze the puffs lightly with egg.
12. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry puffs up and turns golden brown. Eat warm.

New York: Lobster rolls, Korean fried chicken, Burgers, and Arepas!

I ate a lot (and I do mean a LOT) when I was in New York, but one of the most memorable foods I tried was the lobster roll at Luke’s Lobster.

I mean, just look at that baby. Chunks of perfectly cooked lobster, sandwiched between the lightest bread roll imaginable – and they even fry the roll in butter so it’s perfectly crisp. They keep it simple at Luke’s, and the roll is simply seasoned with a dash of pepper and some mayo – but my goodness it’s good. It was utter perfection. I’d heard a lot about lobster rolls (mostly from Catty), and now I know exactly why she was raving about them.

The only bad thing about those lobster rolls are the fact that I can’t get them here. Hawksmoor Seven Dials do have lobster rolls on their menu, but I honestly cannot stomach paying £25 for a lobster roll, especially not when it only costs $15 in New York. Sigh. Luke’s Lobster has absolutely spoilt me, for life.

There are several branches of Luke’s Lobster around New York – I went to the one in the Upper East Side, as well as the one in East Village. Whilst the Upper East Side store has more seats and had a better atmosphere, I preferred the East Village one. This is primarily because there was an excellent arepa bar right next to Luke’s Lobster East Village…

Luke’s Upper East Side
242 East 81st Street (southwest corner of 81st St and 2nd Ave)
212.249.4241

Luke’s East Village
93 East 7th Street (northeast corner of 7th St and 1st Ave)
212.387.8487
www.lukeslobster.com/

So Luke’s is next to an arepa bar. But what are arepas? I won’t lie, I had no idea either. Stephane mentioned Caracas Arepa Bar to me, and I was intrigued by it as its definitely not something I’ve seen in London. They are very popular in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. The best description of arepas are probably found on Caracas’ website:

Pale gold arepas, made from scratch daily, they have been described as “dense yet spongy corn-flour rounds, pitalike pockets, corn muffins, cake-swaddled mélange, white corn cakes, Latin sloppy Joe, sandwiches of a flat cornmeal patty, soft and smooth within, golden crispiness, tasty treats, burrito-killer, panini-killer, wheat-free, gluten-free crisp on the outside, steamy-soft in the middle…”

Their menu is divided into several sections: Arepas, Empanadas, Salads, Plates, Sidekicks, Beverages and Desserts. The arepa section of the menu is designed for quick ordering and serving, and are coded A1-A20.

Papelón con limón ($3.50) This was a refreshing blend of dehydrated sugar cane and limes – this was very good, and brought me back to my younger years *cough* where I used to drink it (I fondly remember it as “air tebu”).

We also tried Yoyos ($5.50), which were described as fried sweet plantain balls stuffed with white cheese on the menu. It sounded so strange that I simply had to try it. I mean, plantains and cheese? Really?? But you know what, it wasn’t bad at all! Taste wise, it reminded me of kuih kodok, a Malaysian kuih made from bananas and flour.

But of course, I was here for the arepas – which were delicious. We tried a a few different flavour combinations, but my favourite was the A20 – La Sureña ($ 7.50). This arepa was filled with grilled chicken and chorizo, paired with avocado slices, and topped with enigmatic spicy chimi-churri sauce. Caracas also has a special sauce which can be used with pretty much everything you order – and you know what, it was seriously addictive. I have no idea what was in it, but I suspect it was a mixture of herbs and possibly mango/papaya. R loved the sauce, and liberally doused his arepa in it.

A15 Los Muchachos ($7): grilled chorizo, spicy white cheese with jalapeños and sauteed peppers

A18 La de Pernil ($7): roasted pork shoulder with tomato slices and a spicy mango sauce

A word of warning though – arepas are NOT date food. It gets messy, especially if you order an arepa with a stew based filling. So yes, not a good place for first dates. Otherwise its a total win.

We also tried an empanada, just because. The De Carne Mechada ($5.75) was filled with shredded beef, and was pretty good. I have to admit that my favourite bit of the the whole thing was the crispyness of the perfectly deep-fried pastry. So calorific, but oh-soooo-good.

Caracas Arepa Bar (Manhattan)
93 1/2 E 7th Street (corner of 1st Ave)
212.529.2314
http://www.caracasarepabar.com/

One of the other things I was really looking forward to trying was Korean fried chicken. I’d been told to try Kyochon, and so I did. And I almost cried with joy (and heat) when I took my first bite of their delicious DOUBLE fried chicken wings. That right people, double fried. These were by far, the best fried chicken wings I have had. Ever. The double frying process makes for a very crispy chicken wing, and I wolfed everything down, skin and all. I usually try to not eat too much chicken skin, but Kyochon chicken skins were too good to not eat. After all I couldn’t let R have all the fun now could I?

The chicken wings come in two flavours, Soy & Garlic and Hot & Sweet. You can either get them in Regular ($17.99) or Large ($25.99). I honestly cannot remember how many wings were in the Large box, if anyone knows please let me know. There were at least 20, I think. But yes, the flavours. I am forever grateful to the lady at the counter who suggested we order half and half (we were going to get an entire box of spicy wings), because the hot wings were very, very spicy. I was tearing up, my nose was running, and my mouth was on fire. So if you’re not someone who can tolerate ultra spicy things (I love chilli, but this was honestly too much for me!), I would highly recommend going for the Soy & Garlic version. Much more enjoyable when you’re not feeling like you might just burst into flames at any moment.

I believe Kyochon also sell some other food items, but I have no idea what they are. All I wanted (and tried) was the chicken wings. There is also Bonchon (just a few steps away) that serve Korean fried chicken, but I didn’t get a chance to try their version. They *so* need to bring Korean fried chicken to London….

Kyochon
319 5th Ave (corner of 32nd Street)
http://www.kyochon.us/

And of course, I could not have gone to New York and not tried the burgers at Shake Shack. I’d checked out their menu beforehand (because that’s exactly what food obsessed people do) and was particularly intrigued by the Shake Stack.

I’m not surprised I was intrigued by the sound of it. The Shake Stack ($8.50) is one of the BEST burgers I have ever sunk my teeth into. It was essentially a cheeseburger served with a crisp fried portebello mushroom, topped with melted muenster and cheddar cheese. There was also the usual burger toppings – lettuce, tomato and their very own ShakeSauce. I always choose to add a portebello mushroom to my burger when I’m at Byron (I like the extra meatiness it brings to the burger), and having it deep fried with a crisp crust was simply a-ma-zing. I thought the beef was good, but not as good as the beef at Byron – but when it comes to the topping/crispy portebello mushroom/cheese stakes…. Shake Shack wins. Hands down.

We also tried the Cheeseburger (Single $4.00, Double $6.50). One thing I noticed about the burgers in New York was how good the cheese was. I’m not sure what cheese they used, but there just seemed to be more of it, and it seemed a lot more flavoursome than the cheese we get in burgers back in London. This cheeseburger was no exception. Whilst it was good, it just didn’t have a crispy portebello mushroom…

Shake Shack also do Frozen Custards, which is a mix of soft serve and ice cream. They cycle the flavours, and there is a daily special – which means you could go there every single day of the week and get a different flavour each day. I must admit that I didn’t get a chance to try this, but I will definitely aim to try it the next time I find myself in a Shake Shack. That is the down side of constant snacking… there’s less space for heavy duty things like shakes.

Shake Shack (Theater District)
691 8th Avenue (southwest corner of 8th Ave and 44th St)
646.435.0135
http://www.shakeshack.com/

I also have to mention Five Guys Burger, which was only a few blocks away from our hotel. Whilst I didn’t think they were as delicious as the Shake Shack burgers, what I liked was how you could personalize your burger. When ordering, you get a whole list of toppings to choose from, and you can pick as many/as little as you like. So beware if you order a cheeseburger, and say “no” to toppings – that will mean you don’t even get lettuce with your burger!

The best thing about Five Guys Burger was their Cajun Chips. Perfectly fried chips, with a delicious spiced powder blend doused liberally over them. There were hints of paprika, cumin, and probably at least 5 other spices. We got a regular serving of fries (which was HUGE), became full halfway through, but still continued eating them because they were too good. And then proceeded to feel absolutely stuffed for the next 2 hours, but it was worth it. Also, I don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t feeling stuffed in New York anyhow.

Five Guys Burger
36 W 48th Street (between 5th and 6th Ave)
212-997-1271
http://www.fiveguys.com/

I think I need to start planning my next trip to New York… soon.

Persian chicken with walnut and pomegranate sauce

I never really knew of the existence of pomegranates till about 2 years ago. Ignorance? Quite possibly. In fact, I never realised that it was a fruit that was sold in Malaysia. I highly suspect its because I spent most of my time stuffing myself with  durians, rambutans, mangosteens and mangoes.

Now that I’ve discovered the pomegranate, I can’t seem to stop myself from using it. From drinking it as a juice, to utilising it as a cooking ingredient – I do it all. There’s just something about the crunch of pomegranate seeds (especially the pleasurable burst of juice that greets you each time you bite into a seed) that appeals to me.

I’ve recently come to learn of the usage of pomegranate molasses in cooking. Primarily used in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean dishes, it is essentially a thick reduction of pomegranate juice made by boiling the juice down until it achieves a sticky and syrupy consistency. It keeps extremely well, and as such is a handy thing to have in your pantry.

So when I saw this recipe for Persian pomegranate and walnut chicken, I knew I had to make it. I order something similar when we eat at Persian restaurants, except that the restaurant uses duck in place of the chicken. I’d always thought it’d be a bit of a fiddle to cook, but it was surprisingly easy.

I used a recipe I found in Meals in Heels, by the lovely Jennifer Joyce. For those of you that don’t know her, she’s a food stylist by profession, but is also a fantastic cook. I am forever grateful to her for sharing her cucumber pickle recipe with me! But as I was saying, her cookbook is aimed at those who want to entertain with style and ease. There aren’t any photos of the food, but there are wonderfully drawn graphics to make up for it. Jennifer also has a blog where she features recipes from the book, and posts a photograph or two to illustrate the dish.

This dish was delicious (I had it with some wholegrain couscous), and had a real heartiness to it that I enjoyed – the walnuts thickened up the sauce very nicely, and gave it a nice richness to the whole stew. I sprinkled some pomegranate seeds over the top, simply because I cannot resist their delightful “crunch”.

Persian chicken with walnut and pomegranate sauce
Inspired by a recipe in Meals in Heels

  • 1kg chicken thighs and drumsticks, skin on (Jen uses chicken thigh pieces)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • olive oil, for browning chicken

For the sauce:

  • 200g walnuts
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 150ml pomegranate molasses
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar

For garnishing:

  • seeds from 1 pomegranate*
  • parsley leaves

1. Place walnuts in a mini (or full-sized) food processor, and process until the walnuts form a fine powder. Set aside.

2. Season the chicken drumsticks and thighs with salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat, and brown the chicken, in batches, until they turn golden brown. Set aside.

3. Using the same pan, fry the onion over low heat for 15 minutes, or until soft and golden.

4. Add the cinnamon powder to the onions, and cook for a further 2 minutes.

5. Add the pomegranate molasses, stock sugar, chicken and ground walnuts to the pan, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

6. Transfer to a serving bowl, scatter over the pomegranate seeds and parsley, and serve!

* A tip (courtesy of Nigella Lawson) for removing pomegranate seeds: Cut pomegranates in half, hold a half over a large bowl and beat the back of the pomegranate with a wooden spoon. All the seeds will come tumbling (or flying) into the bowl – much easier than picking at each seed individually.

Bill Granger’s coq au vin

It’s not often I look through a cookbook and mentally bookmark at least half of its recipes. Knowing that it can be whipped up fairly easily, and not be left to a day where I have hours to spare in the kitchen. But when I flip through a Bill Granger cookbook, I know that it is something I can do. Plus his recipes ALWAYS work for me. Always.

Some of you probably know about my unadulterated love for Bill Granger. Meeting him was one of the highlights of my 2010, and not one I will forget in a hurry. In fact, meeting the man in the flesh has made me love him more. He’s exactly as you see him on the television, in fact – he might even be nicer! And so, so smiley.

Watching him on Bill’s Tasty Weekends has reminded me that I had this dish sitting in my evergrowing pool of backlogs. As winter is quickly coming to an end, I figured that I should probably blog about it before it became too warm to even contemplate such a dish!

This coq au vin recipe is taken from his latest book Bill’s Basics. As the title suggests, the theme is “basic” food which is easy to cook, yet not bland. He has tried to simplify cooking techniques, minimise ingredient lists, and give classic dishes a more modern twist. The only thing I can criticize about the book is that I much prefer the photography in his older cookbooks, which were done by the amazing Petrina Tinslay.

Bill’s explanation of this dish totally won me over, and as such I’m quoting it here (because let’s face it, I’ll never be able to do it as well as he does):

Traditionally made with red wine and cooked overnight, classic coq au vin always seems to take forever and loses the thing I love most about chicken: the crispy skin. In this version you roast the chicken with lardons, then add white wine and finish off with freshly pan-fried mushrooms. That way you get both the lovely wine and herb infused juices, and the crispy chicken skin with non-flabby mushrooms.

And you know – whilst this is not a “traditional” coq au vin, it was still absolutely delicious. I love chicken skin (I  know, totally unhealthy but I can’t help it!), and this dish definitely brought out the skin in all it’s crispy glory. What made this dish for me was the combination of crispy chicken skin and soft, rich mushrooms. Contrasting textures always work, for me anyway!

If you’re interested in a different take on coq au vin, do try this recipe. It’s very forgiving, and you can add more/less of each individual ingredient as needed (for example, if your pancetta comes in 150g packets, just use the whole amount. Mine comes in 140g packets).

So, who’s your “Bill Granger”? I would love to find out, so let me know!

Bill’s Coq Au Vin
Slightly adapted from Bill’s Basics

  • 1.2kg chicken drumsticks
  • 140g pancetta
  • 10 shallots, diced
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
  • 250ml white wine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • small knob butter
  • 400g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed

1. Preheat the oven to 220’C.
2. Arrange the chicken drumsticks in a roasting tin, and scatter with the pancetta, shallots, rosemary, thyme and chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with some olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes.
3. After 20 minutes, add the white wine to the tin, and roast for another 20-25 minutes (until the chicken is cooked through). Remove from the oven and set aside.
4. Heat the butter and olive oil in a pan, and cook the mushrooms and garlic over medium high heat for 5 minutes till they are nicely browned.
5. Add the mushroom/garlic mixture to the roasting pan containing the chicken, and you’re done! Serve with crusty white bread and/or a salad.

 

An Evening with Bill Granger

When I was younger, I always used to wonder what it would be like if I had a chance to meet a celebrity. I still remember watching Friends and wishing I could be part of the live studio audience. I mean, how cool would it have been to meet the cast of Friends, and see Central Perk and Monica’s apartment in real life?

Anyway, as time has gone by, I’ve found that the celebrities I’d like to meet have changed – not surprisingly, a number of them are celebrities in the cooking world. For those of you who are regular readers, you probably know that I adore Bill Granger. This naturally means that he is one of the people I would love to meet. So, when I found out that Bill would be hosting a promotional event for his new cookbook in Selfridges, I knew that I *had* to go, because who knows when I would next get a chance to meet the man in all his smiley-ness?

And you know what – I’m so glad I decided to go, because I had a blast (and so did R and Mowie, whom I brought along with me)…

The event was held at Mark Hix’s restaurant in Selfridges, which is on the first floor and overlooks the shopping area. It was actually rather strange to see people shopping in the background whilst we were eating our food! It was co-hosted by Bill and Mark, who appear to be pretty good friends. Despite it being the first event held in the restaurant, it went very well, and there was lots of banter between the two chefs which made for a very enjoyable evening.

The food that was served on the night was based on recipes in his new cookbook Bill’s Basics (which of course, I brought along in the hope of getting it signed).

Warm bread and butter that we snacked on whilst waiting for the appetizers to appear. The staff were quite strict about not allowing people to be seated until 7pm, and as such there was a short period of waiting whilst everyone was shown to their seats.

An appetizer of Maldon oysters with fresh coriander and chilli dressing. Now, I was slightly apprehensive when I saw this on the menu, because I am not a huge fan of oysters. Call me strange, but I find them a tad too slimy for my liking. However, after a bit of ooh-ing and aah-ing, I decided to try one anyway – and it actually tasted rather good! All credit to the coriander and chilli dressing which managed to make the oyster taste a lot less fishy.

A starter of lobster and saffron risotto. This was one of the dishes in Bill’s Basics that stood out for me, and I’m so glad that it was included in the menu. The risotto was beautifully cooked, and the wonderful aroma of saffron wafted up my nose with every mouthful. And of course, the lobster was a very welcome addition – it was cooked well, was very fresh, and complemented the saffron risotto. I’ve since tried to recreate it at home, stay tuned for that blog post!

And then the mains appeared – roast chicken with chestnut stuffing. The star of the dish was by far, the chestnut stuffing which (according to the cookbook) contains fennel, pancetta, chestnuts and sourdough bread chunks. Fennel is such a revelation, I have only recently started to cook with it and am loving its versatility. The chicken was lovely and tender, but unfortunately did not have crispy skin – something I always look out for in my roasts. But the roast potatoes – they were amazing. I’m a massive potato fan (I have an entire cookbook dedicated to potatoes), and these were done extremely well. Crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.

Autumn slaw – one of the two sides served with the roast chicken. I’m not a huge fan of coleslaw (never have been, and never will be), so this was just an “okay” side for me. It did have a nice twist of having raisins in it though.

Everyday green salad – this was a standard green salad, nothing exciting but I admittedly wasn’t expecting all that much from it anyway.

I always look forward to dessert, and I could not wait for this brown sugar pavlova with figs and blackberries to come to the table. In between the main course and dessert, our friendly waitress told us that the pavlova looked amazing, and that she was hoping that there would be some extra plates for the staff post-event. (I hope she did manage to try some, because she was terrific.) I think I let out a little gasp of delight when this was served because it was plated so prettily. A great dessert: crispy pavlova shell giving way to a soft fluffy interior, coupled with the sweet blackberries and figs = heaven. The figs weren’t as sweet as they could have been, but that was the only thing I would want to change about this dish.

In between all the dishes, Bill was a perfect host and worked his way around the room. He went to every single table, shook everyone’s hand, and had a short chat with each person at the event. He also took the time to sign copies of his new cookbook – and it wasn’t just a plain old signature, because he took the time to personalise it. How can you not love him?

There was also an informal Q&A session during the course of the evening, where we found out that this was the first cookbook that he’d written entirely in the UK (and that he’d been living here for the past year!!). He also said that the best question he’d ever been asked was “Are your teeth real?” – to which the answer is “yes”.

My signed copy of Bill’s Basics – I smile every time I open the book to see this! (that’s not sad, right?) He also very kindly signed my copy of Bill’s Open Kitchen, which was the first ever Bill cookbook I owned.

Mowie, Bill, and me! 🙂 I was so excited that we managed to get a photo with him that I even sent a copy of this to my parents, who don’t really know who Bill is… oh well. Now they know.

All in all, it was a fantastic night – great service, delicious food, and Bill Granger. Now I can cross one person of my “to meet” list!

p.s. I think Bill is currently in Australia on a similar promotional event blitz, so if you’re a fan, I highly recommend attending one of his events! You won’t regret it.

For those of you living in UK/US/Canada – have you entered my CSN Stores £50/$75 gift voucher giveaway?

Caramel chicken

My friends often ask me how I find the time to cook dinner as often as I do. The usual reaction is “but cooking is so tedious, how can you do it after a long day at work?”. Well – I do two things. One: I cook in bulk. And when I say bulk, I mean bulk. There are only two of us at home, but I usually cook for at least 4. Occasionally I cook for 6 – I kid you not! This habit originally stemmed from my inability to estimate quantities… and then I realised it was a good thing. Sort of.

The best thing about this is that I either get to freeze leftovers (like these meatballs), or I have a day or two days worth of leftovers in the fridge. Believe me when I say that leftovers are something I’ve learnt to appreciate over the years, as it means I can still eat home cooked food even when I work late. And of course, some dishes taste better as leftovers! Think soups and stews…

And number two: I cook simple food. By this, I mean food that takes no more than an hour from start to finish. I reserve the more complex meals for the weekend (in fact, I try to cook something new every weekend), but weekdays are for simple and fast meals. This caramel chicken dish is one of those simple and fast meals. Inspired by none other than the oh-so-smiley Bill Granger (who has fast become one of my favourite chefs), this dish is easy to whip up and keeps well in the refrigerator.

As always, I tweaked the recipe. Bill’s recipe calls for chicken, onions and garlic. I added peppers and cashews so I could make it a one-pot meal (plus rice). Bill also browns his chicken at the start of the cooking process, then removes it whilst he cooks everything else. I cooked everything in one go – the main reason for this being I didn’t want to wash an extra bowl. It’s terrible that I have such an inherent inability to follow recipes.

Anyway. This dish turned out well, and I really enjoyed the sticky and slightly sweet sauce that coated each piece of chicken. Despite the word “caramel”, this dish is not overly sweet so don’t get too worried! The cashews and the peppers added a nice crunch to the dish – I’m a huge fan of multiple textures in dishes. If you choose to not use cashews/peppers, serve the chicken with a side of vegetables and it should work equally well.

Caramel chicken with peppers and cashews
Based on a recipe in Bill’s Open Kitchen

  • 500g chicken thigh fillets (skinless), cut into bite size pieces *
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil/corn oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup uncooked cashew nuts
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced thinly
  • 1/3 cup kicap manis
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • pepper, to taste

1. Place a large pan over high heat. Put the oil, sliced onion and sliced garlic into the pan, and cook until fragrant. (Cooking the onion and garlic in non-piping hot oil reduces the risk of it burning – something I’m prone to doing.)
2. Add the chicken, and cook for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. You’re aiming for half cooked chicken at this point.
3. Add the peppers, and fry for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add the kicap manis, fish sauce, brown sugar and pepper to the pan. Stir to ensure all the ingredients are covered in the sauce.
5. Lastly, add the cashews and fry for 1-2 minutes. At this point, your sauce should be rich, dark and syrupy.
6. Serve with steamed rice.

*optional: To make the chicken tender (think Chinese restaurants), add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the uncooked chicken. Leave for 2-3 minutes, then wash off. I know washing raw meat may cause some of you to gasp in horror, but if you’re careful and confine it all to the sink – it’s not all that bad. But as I said, it’s optional.