Friday
Aug152014

Jewelled Persian Rice with Smoke & Honey Chicken (gluten free, dairy free, egg free)

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching in the last few months.  Things have happened, changes, people, situations - everything has been a bit transient.  I’ve stepped back, had a bit of a tantrum and then dealt with it all.  I felt in the wrong space, slightly trapped, surrounded by the wrong people, doing the wrong things and so I’ve taken some time off (sorry for the silence), I’ve tried to do less of what I’ve always done, I’ve shaken myself up, made a new shape for my life, taken a different approach and I’ve done a lot of reading.  And you know what? It seems to have paid off, things are coming together nicely, I actually feel like I’m getting somewhere again, I’m happy and I’m enjoying myself!

I’ve had an eclectic pile of books by my bedside, veering between a shiny new copy of Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life – I loved it, you must read it, it reminds you of all the people you could be and reassures you that what’s going to happen will happen regardless – beautiful.  There’s a ragged copy of Jilly Cooper’s Octavia (no judgement, Cooper rules, like valium in book form).  I’ve sceptically browsed Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map – though I secretly adore a bit of self-transformation, plus she’s a bit mad with good eye-make up and enough confidence to start her own pageant. I’ve also savoured each page of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries 2 – god, that man can write, and cook, and write about cooking, like no other.  I’d actually forgotten just how exceptional he is and this particular book has single handily sparked my love of cookery again in a way that no cookbook in the last few months has or could. 

So there’s been a lot of reading and writing and other stuff too.  I began a new project called Superfood Suppers: delicious recipes each packed full of ingredients rich in nutritious bang for your buck, gluten free, dairy free and egg free, too, of course.  I’ve been playing with a much larger project too, and I hope to be able to share that with you at some point.  In the meantime, I’d thought I’d share a recipe from my Superfood collection, Persian Jewelled Rice with Smoke & Honey Chicken – it’s become a favourite of mine, all these sultry summer nights have needed cooler, fresher, tangy suppers and I’d say this fits the bill: lots of orange and lemon, mellow saffron, smoky tea flavour, honey, dried fruit, earthy rice.  It’s really very simple but looks very pretty so definitely the sort of dish to make for friends as well as family.  It also included the best and easiest method of poaching chicken that I know, so worth reading for that tip alone.  Mostly though, it’s just delicious and pleasing, and that’s what life should be about – things that make you happy, whatever they may be.

A note about poaching the chicken: there are a few tips for this.  One is that the chicken should really be at room temperature, if you take it straight from the fridge and chuck it into just boiled water you will get tough chicken.  Secondly, this method really works best if the chicken breasts are about the same size.  If you wanted to just poach two chicken breasts for this recipe or any other then follow the exact same method but leave in the water for only 25 minutes.

PERSIAN JEWELLED RICE WITH SMOKE AND HONEY CHICKEN

Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, roughly the same size if possible and at room temperature

3 lapsang souchong tea bags and 1.5 litres of water

175g brown basmati rice

A large pinch of saffron

The zest of 1 orange

The zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp runny honey

4 spring onions

100g cranberries and raisins and sultanas (golden if possible)

50g pine nuts

50g blanched almonds

A large bunch of coriander

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Tip the rice into a large saucepan with lid, pour over 500ml of water, add the saffron threads, cover and bring to the boil.  Once boiling reduce the heat to a minimum and leave covered to cook for 30 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid.  Set aside to cool down.

Bring the water, tea bags and the stalks from the coriander to boil in another large saucepan.  Take the saucepan off the heat, add in the chicken breasts, cover and then leave to stand for 50 minutes – this will allow the chicken to poach in the residual heat from the tea.

Meanwhile, take the zest from the orange and lemon and place in a small saucepan with the honey and lemon juice.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes – the zest will caramelise slightly, which is good.

Next, toast the pine nuts and almonds in a dry frying pan until lightly golden.  Finely chop the coriander leaves and the spring onions.  Once ready, drain the chicken breasts, discarding the coriander stalks and the tea bags and cut the chicken into ½ cm slices. 

Transfer the cooked rice to a large serving bowl, add in the sliced chicken, dried fruit, toasted nuts, spring onions and coriander and then pour over the caramelised citrus dressing along with the extra virgin olive oil.  Toss together and then season to taste before serving.

 

Thursday
Jun052014

Carrot and Citrus Cake (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free, Vegan)

When times get tough and life seems a bit of a slog there are always a few things you can do.  I know we each vary greatly but in my experience I know of few ills that aren’t at least lessened by a)  walking the hills until you feel cleansed by fresh air and exercise (dog for company optional but preferable) b) disappearing into a book, a cup of tea in hand c) phoning your best friend, putting the world to rights and lamenting that not enough people think just like you (note: you can only do this with your best friend, everyone else will think you’re an idiot) d) cooking up a storm, more specifically, baking up a treat and even better if you’re baking for someone special.  If there is one thing I feel sure of is that a gift of cake never goes down badly and bringing pleasure to other people is a sure fire way of making your own day better.  Cake making is a methodical, meditative practise and whether it’s baking, decorating or eating them, there’s always a stage of the process that just feels lovely.  Personally, I enjoy the slow, steady progression of making cakes the best, though I’m not adverse to a cup of tea and a bite of something sweet, really the joy is in the mixing, spooning and that unbeatable sweet/spice fragrance that wafts around your kitchen.  For all of these things and more this cake is the winner: grated apple and carrots, caramel syrup and brown sugar and a delicate ripple of mixed spice make it deliciously aromatic and moist – the lemon icing is just the proverbial cherry on top.  Despite a bit of melting, grating and folding it is incredibly easy to make and keeps really well (I opt for an airtight tin or if pushed, a big freezer bag clipped over a plate) making it a real cut-and-come-again type bake, ideal for a friends and family do or a weekend when you know lots of people will be coming by, or if necessary, ready for a quiet moment when you want to slow down, take stock and think of the happy things in life.

CARROT AND APPLE CAKE WITH LEMON ICING

Serves 8-12

You will need an 8 inch/20 cm cake tin with removeable base for this recipe

150g dairy-free margarine

100ml golden syrup or agave syrup

200g soft light brown sugar or coconut sugar

250g carrots

1 eating apple

100g apple puree

250g gluten-free self raising flour

3 tsp baking powder

½ tsp mixed spice

25g ground flaxseed

 

For the icing

150g icing sugar

2-3 tbsp lemon juice

The grated zest of 1 lemon and orange

 

Preheat the oven to 180c and lightly grease and line the cake tin.

Place the margarine, syrup and brown sugar (or coconut sugar) into a saucepan and heat gently over a low heat, stirring every now and then, until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Take off the heat and pour into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Trim the ends from the carrots and core the apple, finely grate both – I don’t worry about peeling either the apple or carrots (though I do give them a good scrub first) but please, feel free to peel both if you want to.

Spoon the apple puree into the syrup mixture and stir together, sift over the flour, baking powder and mixed spice and fold together.  Next, add the grated apple, carrot and the ground flaxseed and fold together until completely combined and fragrant.  Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and then bake in the oven for 1 hour – 1 hour 10 minutes or until risen and golden and firm to the touch.

Leave the cake to cool in its tin for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Place the icing sugar into a mixing bowl and add the lemon juice, bit by bit, until the desired consistency.  Spread over the cake and scatter over the lemon and orange zest.