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.

Roast chicken with leeks

I never knew about the existence of leeks up till a few years ago, and even then, I never actually tried cooking it. This is where the food channel (UKTV Food, or Good Food as it is known now) came in handy. Leeks were used quite frequently in various recipes, and it didn’t take long to let curiosity get the better of me.

Watching leeks being used on tv taught me something important – how to clean them properly. I never knew this, but leeks grow in sandy soil, and naturally pick up a significant amount of dirt… which makes them rather tricky to clean. One good tip I learnt is to slice the leeks down the centre (which enables the leeks to “fan” out), and then to wash them under running water. This has worked well as I have yet to come across any random pieces of sand whilst eating leeks.

This marinade I used for the chicken is our favourite marinade for roast chicken, which we use on a regular basis. It is adapted from a marinade used by  Ching He-Huang, whose food I have grown to like in the past year. I had a look at one of her cookbooks in Borders (Chinese Food Made Easy) and it looks good, with beautiful photos and simple instructions. An additional plus is the fact that her book is rated quite highly on Amazon. Definitely a cookbook I may purchase at some point. 🙂

The leeks are inspired by what I saw Jun Tanaka cooking at Taste earlier this year, which I believe was a recipe from his (then) new cookbook. He mentioned that he always tries to cook vegetables in two ways, as it adds a different dimension to the dish. And I have to say he definitely has a point!

Roast chicken with leeks

  • 500g chicken drumsticks/breasts, skin on
  • Ingredients for marinade:
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons chinese five spice powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaosing rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 leeks
  • plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • dash of white wine
  1. Heat the oven to 160°C.
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together, and rub on chicken. It can be done a few hours in advance and then left to marinade, but this is not necessary.
  3. Place the chicken in an oven proof tray (I use my Pyrex tray, which is brilliant) and cook for 1 hour, or till cooked.
  4. Whilst the chicken is cooking, prepare the leeks. Roughly chop all but half a leek into 2cm lengths, and put aside. Julienne the remaining half of the leek.
  5. Toss the julienned leeks in some plain flour (sparingly). Shallow fry these in hot oil – I use about 2cm of oil. (I’m not a huge fan of deep frying, but I’m think the leeks would taste nicer if cooked this way!)
  6. Heat another pan, and cook the non-julienned leeks in some olive oil. 1 minute before the leeks are done, add the butter and white wine (to taste).
  7. Get a clean plate, and pile the buttered leeks on one side of the plate. Place some deep fried leeks on top of them.
  8. Lastly, place a piece (or two) of chicken on the other side of the plate, drizzle with the oil from the tray, and season with pepper. Enjoy!

A question: I’ve noticed that some of my photos look somewhat ‘washed out’ on my blog/foodgawker – they look fine on my computer, and look fine when I upload them to my blog posts. But for some strange reason, the saturation seems to drop by about 30% when it’s viewed on the blog, leaving me with rather dull looking photos. I’ve tried bumping up the saturation to overcome this problem, which usually means I’m dealing with radioactive looking colours… but they look fine on the blog. Does anyone know if I’m doing anything wrong?

Coq au vin

Jun Tanaka is a celebrity chef over here in the UK, who makes fairly regular appearances on the food channel (which is also the most watched channel in my house). I met him at Taste of London this year, and it was very exciting! 🙂 He’s Japanese, but lives in the UK, and owns a French restaurant, and I’ve always found that combination rather amusing. My friends who have been to Pearl (his restaurant) have enjoyed his food, and it’s definitely somewhere I hope to visit in the not so distant future.

He made this dish on Market Kitchen last week, and it looked really good – which is why we decided to try cooking it during the weekend. It’s more complicated than the average “throw everything together” dinner, but was definitely worth it! I’ve realised that I have a soft spot for anything that is slow cooked… especially when it’s rainy or cold. 🙂

The chicken was tender and literally falling off the bone after being simmered for about an hour, just the way I like it. Jun serves it with boiled potatoes, but we served it with a baguette which we had at the time. It went pretty well together, and the bread was definitely handy to clean our plates! I do have to admit to taking many shortcuts when cooking this though.

Coq au vin
Adapted from Jun Tanaka’s Market Kitchen recipe

  • 500ml red wine
  • 4 chicken legs/thighs, skin on
  • 100g bacon lardons
  • 250g chesnut mushrooms
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 600ml chicken stock

1. Place the chicken legs and thighs in a large bowl, together with 50g of bacon lardons, carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Pour the red wine over this, and marinate overnight.
2. The next day, remove the chicken from the marinade mix, and pat dry with kitchen paper.
3. Pour some olive oil into a pan, and brown the chicken for about 2-3 minutes on each side, till golden brown. Remove from pan.
4. Using the same pan, brown the bacon lardons till the oils are released. Add the chesnut mushrooms, and marinade (from before – including the vegetables) to the pan, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
5. Pour in the chicken stock, and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked.
6. Season with pepper (to taste), and serve with baguette slices.