Monday, 17 August 2015

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas

Sambal oelek is a spicy Southeast Asian chili sauce often found in Indonesian cooking. The word sambal simply refers to sauce made with chili peppers which may include an array of secondary ingredients. The word oelek itself or ulek refer to the pestle and mortar traditionally used to grind this flavourful sambal. 

There are many varieties of sambal oelek but the basic recipe includes red hot chili peppers, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, sugar and rice vinegar. It packs a fiery punch but you're getting more than just heat, but also delicious savouriness and acidity which makes this sauce an ideal shortcut to add to many other dishes, like soups and stir-fries.

Today, I'm using the chili sauce to flavour some chickpeas; and topping the chickpeas, pan-roasted chicken. Let's start with the chicken... I use skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs here because I prefer the dark meat; also, they are cheaper than breast meat, so what is not to like. The chicken is seared to golden crispiness on the outside and they'll continue to cook to tender perfection in the oven later with the chickpeas. 

To achieve this golden crispiness, I have a couple of notes. One, the chicken has to be pat dry by simply using a kitchen towel before seasoning with salt and pepper. This will ensure maximum crispiness. And two, do it in batches. Over-crowding the pan, and you'll end up with braised chicken.     

Now to the sambal oelek chickpeas. I use store-bought sambal that comes in a jar (my mother would not approve, but she doesn't have to know) which makes it easier. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of tomato paste. I suggest you get tomato paste that comes in a tube like a toothpaste which I find more efficient; rather than getting tomato paste that comes in a tin. 

This is so quick and easy to make and it's oh-so-good. I was having lunch in front of the TV and had to pause my Netflix show to have my moment alone with the chicken and the chickpeas. 

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas
Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons sambal oelek
125 ml water
2 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
Lime wedges, for serving
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with kitchen towel and season with salt and black pepper. Working in two batches, cook until the chicken is browned, about 5 minutes per side, transfer to a plate and set aside.

Pour off the excess oil, leaving a tablespoon. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring often. In the meantime as well, preheat the oven to 220 C. Add tomato paste to the pan along with the chickpeas, sambal oelek and water. Let the mixture comes to a boil the simmer for ten minutes or so. 

 Nestle the chicken thighs on top of the chickpeas, skin side up and transfer to the oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take around 20-25 minutes. Top with chopped spring onions and serve with cooked basmati rice and lime wedges for squeezing over. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Time does fly... I find it hard to believe that it's been exactly a year since I arrived to the Cayman Islands.  Looking back, the past twelve months have been a great and wonderful learning experience. I thoroughly enjoy my work as a baker. In fact, I love it. I absolutely love it.  

I still remember baking my first loaf of bread not too, too long ago and I was just fascinated by it. Now, I get to do it (almost) everyday.  The more I bake, read, experiment and learn from mistakes, I have become more confident and I look forward to learning more and expanding my skill set.

I have also surprised myself that I adjust well to this new environment and I could actually enjoy the island life. Friends who know me well, know that I am not keen on the sun and hot weather. I melt like butter. People say, no one comes to England for the weather, but perhaps that's one of the things I miss most from home. Anyway, the turning point was few weeks ago when I was walking home from work one late afternoon. It was a sunny day and I stopped for a moment, I closed my eyes, soak the warm sun and thinking "hmmm.... this is nice".  Strange, I know. 

Anyway, walking home from the gym today, I really fancy something hearty and so I make this barley risotto with sausage and peas.  It's called a risotto but it's much easier to make. There's no need for constant stirring around around the stove. All the liquid goes at once and let the barley cooks until tender. 

Here I use plain pork sausage meat and I add familiar gutsy Italian flavours of fragrant fennel seeds, garlic, red chili flakes, Marsala, lemon and parmesan. Not feeling embarrassed at all, I also use frozen peas here, a must-have in my freezer; and a rather large handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, because I want the parsley to almost become another vegetable in the risotto, not just a garnish.

This is great one-pot meal to serve when having friends around and it can easily be done ahead of time. On reheating, you might need to add a bit more liquid and add it the parmesan just before serving. 

Have a great one my friends...

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Olive oil, regular not extra virgin
200 gr sausage meat
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
Celery salt
1 banana shallot, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
150 ml Marsala
250 gr pearl barley
750 ml chicken stock
200 gr frozen peas
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons parmesan, grated
A big handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a lug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or pot that comes with a lid over a medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat to the pan, really breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Fry for a few minutes, or until the meat starts to colour.  

Add the fennel seeds, dried chili flakes and season with celery salt and cook over a medium heat for around 10 minutes, or until the meat becomes crisp, golden brown and begins to caramelised. 

Stir in the shallot, garlic and the dried thyme and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Then pour in the marsala wine and really scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.

Turn up the heat and add the pearl barley, mixing everything well. Add the chicken stock and when it comes to a boil, clamp the lid on and simmer gently. After 20 minutes, throw in the frozen peas and give everything a good stir around. Continue to cook with a lid on for another 10-15 minutes. Do add a little more stock or water if the liquid is absorbed before the barley is tender enough.

Remove the lid, stir in the grated parmesan, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Do also check for seasoning and serve immediately. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

Greek-ish Pork Stew with Tomatoes and Beans

Just to show that I never stop thinking about food and often find inspirations from the strangest of places, the recipe I'm about to share came to me from my morning exercise.

When I was at the gym this morning, the TV screen in front of me was showing the news on them latest talks on Greek debt crisis. Without sounding inappropriate, yes, it's a serious issue to which I hope for the best possible outcome; but whilst on that cross-trainer, all I can think about was "hmmm... I really fancy a Greek stew for lunch". Then all sorts of ingredients came to mind, lamb, pork, chicken, olives, lemon, oregano, tomatoes and so on.

On my way home, I stopped by the grocery store, hunting for lamb but with my luck, there's none left. So, I opted for some diced pork shoulder.

The stew is easy to make. Like many stew recipes, it begins with searing the meat. I have to be honest, I used to loathe doing this. It's a step that seems unnecessary and time-consuming since you're not actually cooking the protein, just browning the outsides. But with experience I learned that it actually is a really important as the searing builds amazing flavours to the stew later. Plus if you don't sear the meat, it often looks grey just like boiled meat and they don't look very appetizing. 

For me, this extra step is worth the effort and if you've never done it before, you should give it a go. To do so, here are some of my tips:

Make sure the meat is pat dry. Once you're done cutting the meat into the desirable size, pat them dry with paper towel before seasoning with salt and pepper, etc. This helps keep the meat from steaming instead of searing.

Make sure the pan is hot. You do need a high temperature to sear the meat and to get that beautiful deep brown colour. For the pan, I'd use a stainless steel or cast iron material, but not non-stick. And with the oil, a thin coating of vegetable oil (which has a higher smoking point) is all you need. 

Last but not least, don't overcrowd the pan. Depending on the size of your pan, if you have to sear in batches, do it in batches. Overcrowding the pan means the meat will braise rather than sear. And just be patient. I mean, patience is not one of my virtues; and if I can do it, so can you!

Anyway, that is Martha Stewart tip of the day. Once your meat is seared the rest is pretty straightforward. 

When I was at university, I had a Greek flatmate who taught me to add a little ground cinnamon when making tomato sauce and ever since, whenever I cook a tomato sauce based Greek inspired dish, I always add just a pinch of cinnamon. It's not very noticeable but I feel like it adds to the je ne sais quoi

Serve the stew with anything you like, rice, couscous, bulgur wheat or some chunky chips... hmmm... chunky chips... and a dollop of cool plain Greek yoghurt or sour cream, whatever tickles your fancy.

Greek-ish Pork Stew with Tomatoes and Beans

1 kg pork shoulder, cut into big chunks
Vegetable oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
250 ml white wine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A pinch of sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (425 gr) tin cannellini beans, drained
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Plain Greek yoghurt, to serve

Pat the pork shoulder dry and with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Brown the pork well in batches. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Using the same pot, turn down the heat to medium and add another tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to prevent them from burning. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chili flakes and tomato paste and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.

Pour in the white wine and really scrape the bottom of the pot. Let the wine bubble away for five minutes or so. Add the fresh thyme, dried oregano, a tin of chopped tomatoes, sugar, cinnamon and the pork along with the juices that's been accumulated. Give it a stir and let everything comes to a boil before half-covering the pot with a lid and simmer for an hour. Stirring every now and then.

When the hour is up, add the beans and let it continue to simmer for another thirty minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and adjust the seasoning. Serve with carbohydrate of your choice and a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt on top.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Chorizo and Beans Stew

Even in the Caribbean, it has to rain sometime. The past few days had been pouring down like crazy, but it is hurricane season at the moment after all. 

But this kind of weather for me is just the perfect excuse to cook up something warm and comforting, like this chorizo and beans stew. 

I adore chorizo sausage. It's utterly delicious and it adds instant flavour to anything you cook. It's heady with garlic and smoked paprika. In this stew, I fry the chorizo in an oil-less pot to release its natural paprika tinted oil; then later use the oil as the base to fry the aromatics. 

The stew takes hardly anytime to cook. I mean, you can get this done in less than half an hour. But like most soups and stews, this gets better with time. So, if you wish, you can definitely make it ahead of time and simply reheat when you're in need of comfort.  

Chorizo and Beans Stew

250 gr hot chorizo sausage, sliced into fat coins
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
A small bunch of fresh coriander stalks, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 tin black beans, drained
200 gr cherry tomatoes
500 ml chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Spicy Baked Ziti

Greetings dear blog readers... Oh my, it's been a while since I last posted. Please do forgive me. I hope all of you are doing well and eating deliciously. 

Even though I have not been posting on the blog as frequently as I'd like to, I've been posting more videos now on my YouTube channel. I've recently experimented with vlogs which is quite interesting to say the least. So, if you want to see some of the awkwardness, please head over and subscribe to the channel for more updates in the future. 

Now, let's talk about pasta. You know how much I adore pasta and it's true I could happily eat pasta any time of day. Leftover cold pasta straight from the fridge is my ultimate guiltless pleasure. Another pasta pleasure is this spicy baked ziti. It's an easy pasta dish you can whip up during the weekdays and it feeds a crowd. The spiciness comes from hot Italian sausage meat and dried chilli flakes... It is hot but just enough to keep you wanting for seconds. I, embarrassingly had 3 servings... 

To the sausage meat, I also add minced turkey which I think always go together, like making stuffing/dressing. Then to boost the Italian-ness, some fragrant fennel seeds. Here I used ziti, but you can change it to penne or rigatoni or any pasta shapes that tickle your fancy.

The ricotta here lends creaminess to the sauce, then you get the salty nuttiness of Parmesan and ooey gooey mozzarella. Hmmm....

Instead of leaving instructions on how to make this delicious pasta, you get to watch it! It is the latest video on the channel. I hope you'll enjoy watching it as much as I enjoy making it. Until next time my friends...   

Spicy Baked Ziti

2 tablespoons olive oil, regular not extra-virgin
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or grated
250 gr hot Italian sausage meat
250 gr minced turkey
2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 can (400 gr size) whole tomatoes, with juice
450 gr ziti pasta, or penne or rigatoni
200 gr ricotta cheese
450 gr shredded mozzarella cheese 
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
A handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, roughly chopped