Archive | May, 2012

Comfort food – chicken and beetroot in white sauce

30 May
CDC beets

CDC beets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my top comfort dishes from childhood sounds unlikely, but it’s scrumptious, and rather pretty.


1 chicken

several raw beetroot (beets, in US)

white sauce



Simmer the chicken in water until the meat almost falls off the bone, and you have a good chicken stock as well.

Cook the rice (when I was a kid, it was white long-grain, but I now prefer brown basmati) as per packet instructions.

Cook the beetroot – boil it (scrubbed but skin on) or roast it (peeled and coated in olive oil and herbs). This takes the longest (over an hour), especially boiling. Put the beetroot on at the same time as the chicken.

Make the white sauce (what the French call Sauce anglaise): oil or butter in a small pan, with enough flour to soak up the oil/butter. Cook gently over a low heat for two or three minutes till the oily flour mix bubbles and looks like a honeycomb. Add milk and whisk to blend it with the flour and butter. Keep adding milk as the sauce thickens, until you get to the consistency of double cream. Season with a bit of salt, black pepper, perhaps a few chopped herbs eg basil and thyme. Keep stirring and if you get lumps, whisk in the pan till smooth. If the sauce is ready before anything else, you can turn the heat off and leave it till it’s all ready to serve.

Once the chicken, beetroot and rice are done (all very forgiving if your timing is a bit out of sync), take chunks off the chicken (carving is a bit redundant as it’s so eager to part with the bone), put on a bed of rice with a serving of beetroot, drizzle white sauce in an artistic fashion (or, as I call it, a blanket), and eat. Green salad makes it look even prettier.

Not low-carb or low-anything much, but the beetroot’s fabulously good for you, and it’s a meal that leaves you comforted and cheered.

The chicken stock is brilliant for soups and sauces for several days. The juice from boiling the beetroot is full of minerals, so drink it, or add it to veg soup. Don’t waste it!


Fridge lunch – Italian flag salad

30 May
Thymus serpyllum, Mother Of Thyme

Thymus serpyllum, Mother Of Thyme (Photo credit: KingsbraeGarden)

What to eat? I raid the fridge and ponder. No lettuce. But… cucumber, tomato, red (bell) pepper, spring onions (salad onions in US), mozzarella, feta. Ho ho.

Who needs lettuce? There’s greenery outside the door. I step outside into the drizzle and search my lawn for goodies. Some Good King Henry, a few leaves of sorrel, wild thyme flowers, Fat Hen or orache – can’t be sure which it is – and from the pots: parsley, basil, chives.

Back inside – wash the wild leaves and the herbs, and chop up. Chop up all the other ingredients and fling all into big bowl. Squeeze juice of half a lemon and throw into mix with glug of olive oil (or walnut oil, if you’ve got it, but it’s quite pricey). A few grinds of black pepper and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.*

Toss well, cut a bit of good sourdough bread or a couple of oatcakes, and eat. Wonderfully healthy – especially the wild stuff – much fuller of vits and mins than the cultivated stuff – and low carb (except the bread), and vegetarian. Substitute tofu or nut butter for the cheeese, and it’s vegan.

Bull’s eye. Healthy, quick, cheap and very delicious. Ker-ching.

* toasted sesame seeds: buy a bag of raw sesame seeds and toast them – spread on baking tray and put in oven for about 10-15 mins. Keep an eye on them and don’t let them go more than a middling tan. Toast the whole packet and keep in a tin.

Fridge supper 1 – hammy cabbage

30 May

crunchy and tender spring cabbage

Are you one of those organised people who shops for a week of planned meals? So you know what you’re going to be eating that week?

I admire you, but I’m FAR too lazy and disorganised for that. So I buy what catches my eye, or what’s being flogged off as cheapo bargains, and the usual things I like to have in the fridge… and then see what I fancy when hunger strikes.

Sometimes I have a hankering for, er, chicken with beetroot in white sauce, so I buy what’s needed. Or my lurgy-ridden body is screaming for Vitamin C and anti-oxidants, so I yield to the demand for a truck-load of fruit.

But usually, it’s make it up as aI go along. Last night’s fridge supper was as follows.


1 fresh drumhead (early green) cabbage [the kind that squeaks when you cut it, and is almost as tender as lettuce. Needs very little cooking.]

Chunk of ham and/or salami

Spoonful or two of garlicky cream cheese OR sour cream OR fresh double cream

Paprika and (if desired) a bit of cayenne


Chop ham and/or salami into little chunks (about 1cm cubes. ish.) Throw them in a deep saucepan with a bit of olive oil, a heaped teaspoon of paprika, a shake or two of cayenne (depending on your chilli tolerance) and may be a half teaspoon of turmeric if you fancy it.

Let the ham sizzle for about five mins on a gentle heat, while you chop the cabbage.

In the spring, new cabbages are fabulous – all crisp and tender and bright green and flavoursome. You can do this perfectly well all year with different kinds of green, white, red, savoy, sweetheart cabbage, kale, sprout tops, turnip tops, etc – experiment!

Anyway – I’ll eat half a small one, because they wilt down quite a lot (not as much as spinach). Chop into little slivers (say, two inches by quarter of an inch, or 4cm by half a cm. You don’t have to be precise! But easily eatable, anyway.

Dump cabbage into saucepan on top of sizzling ham, add a tiny bit of salt (less than half a teaspoon), and stir well to mix the spices, ham and cabbage. Put the lid on and leave it for 5 mins. Stir, taste, and if still too crunchy for your taste, put the lid back on for another minute or two. When happy with crunch/soft balance, tip into bowl and eat with dollop of cream cheese, sour cream etc on top, with crusty rye bread.

Healthy bulletin: What’s good about this, apart from the taste? The sulphur in the cabbage (we western folk don’t get enough sulphur in our diets, on the whole), the fibre, anti-oxidants, all the goodies in cruciferous veg, the calcium etc etc in green leafy veg, the lutein and lubricants in the extra virgin olive oil, the vits and mins in the spices (turmeric, cayenne and paprika all stuffed with good phytochemicals). The low-carb GI index is pretty good, too. Downside – the preserved pork and the shop-bought cream/cheese aren’t so healthy, but you’re only eating a little bit, and the flavours are delicious.

Vegetarian/vegan option: instead of the meat, you could sizzle mushrooms and/or peanut or cashews, perhaps.

Low-cal fruit fondue (still licky-fingered)

28 May

The DIY pud has proved rather popular, but a couple of people have suggested it’s not waist-friendly. My initial reaction is ‘nuts to that – with added choc’, but there are folk who don’t share my ‘to hell with it’ attitude. So for the chocoholic, calorie conscious, healthy-eating, vegan people out there, here’s a variation.

Ingredients and method as before, BUT

It’s got to be unsweetened, and organic. Heavenly brown dust!

Instead of chocolate bars, with all the sugar and delicious gunk that makes them wicked, use organic, unsweetened, preferably raw, cocoa powder or nibs (tiny chunks). This is the healthy bit of chocolate, and it is phenomenally healthy and good for you. This is where the feel-good chemicals are found, and the heart-healthy ones, and the dark delicious flavour.Add a third bowl, with a little brandy (or whisky, sherry, liqueur of choice).

Now spear your fruit, dip it in the booze, then the cocoa, then the nuts. Eat with halo very nearly untarnished and feel all those lovely natural phytochemicals doing the rumba inside you.

DIY fruit fondue

24 May
Fruit Platter

Fruit Platter (Photo credit: Kenski1970)

My friends love a bit of DIY nosh at the party table. This is an easy pudding to put together, and your guests take the components and assemble the finished product to their own specifications. This has a touch of the mud pie about it, with the subsequent licking of fingers and scraping of plates. If there’s anything left on the serving plate – er, I’ll eat it.


Fruit in season, preferably home-grown, from the WI or your local greengrocer/market stall. Bananas, apples, pears, strawberries, melon, grapes, cherries, plums – whatever’s available and delicious.

Mixed nuts (not salted or roasted) chopped fine

Chocolate bars (half per person): good dark chocolate and/or milk chocolate, whatever you like best.

Milk (two tablespoons per person – ish)

First, toast the nuts. In a hot oven, put a baking sheet with the mixed chopped nuts spread out in a single layer. No oil, no salt, no sugar, just the nuts. Let them toast for 10 mins, then check to see how they’re doing. They can suddenly burn, so don’t leave them too long. Lightly toasted is fine – a bit of colour is enough to get that lovely flavour. When they’re done, let them cool, then tip them into a bowl and put them aside.

Next, chop the fruit to bite-size (about 2cm cubes) pieces; turn the fruit in the juice of an orange to keep it from going brown.

Last, break up the chocolate and put it in a non-stick pan with the milk. Heat it gently, stirring every few seconds; the milk will stop the chocolate from burning and going all grainy, and it will all suddenly thicken, at which point take it off the heat and pour into individual dishes (ramekins are ideal).

To serve, put a little dish of chocolate on each plate, and put the bowl of nuts in the middle of the fruit on a platter or two, depending on numbers. Each guest has a fork or a skewer: they spear a bit of fruit, dip it into the chocolate, then into the nuts, then into their mouths. Repeat till the fruit’s gone, then run finger round chocolate dish and lick finger. Mmmm.

Sweet, wicked and green

24 May
Pere Kermanns Absinthe

Pere Kermanns Absinthe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want to surprise your guests (and no children, for heaven’s sake), then this is an easy pud to make, with a stunning effect.

Make lime (green) jelly as normal (Americans, this is British jelly which I think you call jello), but when you pour in the cold water, substitute a shot glass of absinthe for the last 50ml of water (per 1 pin tjelly packet). I should make it in small glasses, as even a small hit of absinthe is enough if you’re new to it.

For an extra visual kick, drop a blueberry or two into each glass before you pour in the liquid jelly.

Do warn your guests that there’s alcohol in the jelly, or you could give a nasty surprise to any recovering alcoholics or teetotallers.

White heaven

24 May

Yoghurt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1979 I went to work in Athens for a year; on the first Friday I was presented with a white lunch. Turned out Fridays were fast days in the household, which meant a plate of plain boiled rice and plain yoghurt. White food, white plate. What the hell is this? I thought, not thrilled at the sight.

But when I took a mouthful, I discovered that white was wonderful. The saltiness, heat and texture of the rice with the smooth, cold, tangy, fresh, creamy yoghurt (this is the full fat miracle that is proper Greek yoghurt), was heavenly. I promise you, it’s utterly delicious.

How simple do you want? Boil long-grain (preferably basmati) rice in salted water until done (grains separate with a tiny bit of bite in the centre, not soft or mushy). Drain, serve on plate or in bowl with a large dollop of Greek yoghurt (not the strained stuff, the fresh lemony-tasting creamy stuff) on top. Eat. 

Tell me how you find it. I’ve eaten it ever since 1979, and never get tired of it. You could try it with brown basmati rice for a change – you’d lose the white factor, but the taste would be even better. You could chop some fresh chives, parsley, coriander or basil on top, if you like, or a sprinkle of paprika or cayenne; some toasted sesame seeds or flaked almonds.

But the whole point of this is the apparent blandness which disguises a taste sensation.

What’s your favourite fasting dish?