Paprika Chicken

You can’t beat a decent bird.  And although the evenings are gradually getting longer and lighter, there is still a definite nip in the air, driving us back indoors for pints, blankets and comfort food.  And there’s no better comfort food than a roast chicken.  Although it is delicious served simply, I’ve also been enjoying different takes on the traditional roast chicken this winter.  Just a few little twists by adding a bit of spice or sweetness, perfect for this time of year.  My Moorish (moreish?) paprika roast chicken with apricots is just the ticket for in-between days.  Or why not try a different beast altogether and roast a pheasant. I know game can seem daunting, all dark meat and heady smells, but it couldn’t be simpler to prepare, particularly if served as a one pot marvel. 
These wonderful photos are the result of another collaboration with the brilliantly clever photographer, Faith Mason.  Have a look at her website for more gorgeous shots and check back here in a few weeks for some upcoming Easter treats. 

 Pot Roast Pheasant with Fennel and Chorizo
Serves 2-3

You will need:
2 medium onions, sliced
2 large fennel bulbs, sliced chunkily
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 pheasant
150g chorizo, sliced
100ml sweet and dark sherry, preferably Pedro Ximenez


500ml fresh chicken stock, from the chiller cabinet
1 tin butter beans or cannellini beans
a few sprigs of thyme
crusty bread, to serve, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 160C.  Add a little oil to a frying pan and cook the onions and fennel slices until softened and beginning to go golden.  Add the garlic slices and continue to fry until just soft.  Remove and place in a large casserole dish or pot.  

2. Add another splash of oil to your frying pan and heat until really hot.  Season the pheasant and brown on all sides, this should take no more than 5 mins.  Nestle the pheasant in the casserole dish, sitting on top of the fennel and onion. 

3. Fry off the chorizo slices until browned and crispy.  Add these to the casserole dish as well.  Deglaze the frying pan by pouring in the sherry, simmering for about 5-7 mins, stirring and scraping the pan as you go until slightly reduced and sweet-smelling. 

4. Meanwhile, add the stock to the casserole dish and bring to a gentle simmer.  Add the reduced sherry, beans and thyme sprigs.  Cover and place in the oven for 1 hr 30 mins until the birds are cooked through and the sauce is thick and glossy.  Serve with some crusty bread for dipping and mopping, if you like.


Paprika Roast Chicken with Red Pepper, Olive and Apricot Couscous
Serves 4

You will need:
200g dried apricots
75g butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp smoked paprika
handful parsley, optional
1 whole chicken, approx 1.5kg
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 lemons, juice and zest
300g couscous
100g green olives
3 long red peppers, cut into chunks
Rocket, to serve, optional  

1.  Preheat the oven to 190C.  Finely chop about 75g of the apricots and mash into the butter along with the garlic, 1 tsp paprika, seasoning and, if you like, some roughly chopped parsley.  Loosen the skin covering the chicken breasts and generously dot the butter underneath, smoothing down as you go. 

2. Place the rest of the butter into the cavity of the chicken, along with the juiced out lemon halves.  Scatter most of the apricots, half of the olives and all of the red pepper chunks into a large roasting tin. Mix together 1 tbsp of oil with the lemon zest, juice, 1 tsp paprika and some seasoning.  Use half to toss through the vegetables and the remainder to rub or brush this liberally all over the chicken.  Sit the bird in the roasting tray, tucking in as many stray bits of vegetable and fruit underneath as possible. Roast in the oven for approx 1 hr 20 mins, until cooked through and tender.

3.   Towards the end of the cooking time, cook the couscous according to packet instructions.  I like to tip it into a large bowl, pour over boiling water, covering by at about 2 cm.  Tightly cover with cling then leave for about 10 mins.  The water should have been absorbed and the couscous soft.  Fork the remaining oil through the couscous along with some seasoning.  

4. Once the chicken is cooked, place on a chopping board to rest.  Tip the fruit and veg into the couscous along with the rest of the olives and apricots, as well as a little of the juices from the roasting tin.  Fork through to distribute then season to taste- adding a little more oil or lemon juice if necessary.  Serve with the chicken and a rocket salad.


Somerset Apples

I’ve been spending far too much time thinking about how to winter-proof my life.  I’m cycling the 12 miles into work three times a week, which has meant investing in all manner of hivis, lycra and thermals.  The list of kit requirements grows every time the mercury drops by a degree and I still haven’t found a hat that I’m willing to leave the house in.  My only choice seems to be a toss up between looking liken an elf or a toddler. 

So it’s a good thing I’ve got this distracting, sunny post to remind me of cotton, linen and short sleeves.  These photos are from a long weekend jaunt down to Somerset, just before everything started heading towards Autumn.  We were visiting Toby’s brother, sister in law and little nephew and spent a glorious afternoon with them walking up and down the Mendips before catching the last of the afternoon sun in their garden.

This is cider country, where even the tiniest hamlet has at least one, if not several, pubs and it seemed each one we went into was even friendlier than the last.  Driving through the Mendip’s valleys is a stunning experience, with clusters of thatched cottages lurking behind each bend, not to mention gorges and wild goats!   A particular treat, a belated birthday present, was a trip to The Ethicurean.  It’s been on my wish list ever since it was voted Best Ethical Eat in the Observer Food Monthly Awards in 2011, who also gave a nod to its head bartender this year.

No surprises there, their chipotle infused take on an Old Fashioned was the nicest, strongest and most unusual cocktail I’ve had in a long time.  A drink to be sipped, steadily and contemplatively well into the first course.  Toby’s cucumber beer from the Wild Beer Co. also went down a treat.  We were lucky to arrive while it was still light, so could enjoy a stroll around the gardens and the views of the surrounding hills.  The restaurant is set in a walled garden and built into a series of conservatories.  The whole thing would risk being overly twee if it wasn’t for the fact that the food and drink is so damn good, you’ve got to take it seriously.   Everything is, naturally, sourced or grown locally, which means the menu is incredibly innovative as these constraints demand a fair degree of resourcefulness. The staff were also fantastically knowledgeable and we left promising to go back.  Hopefully soon. 

We stayed at the gorgeous Longbridge House in Shepton Mallet.  This B&B only has one gorgeous room at the moment, which overlooks a quiet courtyard.  It was a lovely place to stay and not without some historical cudos- the Duke of Monmouth stayed at the house before the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685.  We were given a warm greeting by Tanya, the proprietress along with tea and homemade cake in our room, which won me over straight away and that was before I saw the enormous tub. Breakfast was cooked to order and included eggs from Tanya’s own hens.  I went for a little stroll and visited their coop at the top of the house’s tiered garden and took some snaps before we drove back to London.

We’ve both been working pretty much flat out since then and I have to admit I wish we’d had a bit longer in Somerset to rest up before the whirlwind of my new job, Toby’s recording schedule and the usual run around in the build up towards Christmas.  However, I’ve been able to produce a few recipes inspired by our few days there, all with that most autumnal and most Somersetian of fruit- the apple! 



Hearty Chicken Stew with Apple Dumplings
You will need:
For the stew:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large chicken, jointed or 8 free-range chicken thighs, bone in
2 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 turnip, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
500ml chicken stock
750ml good-quality medium English cider
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
Large handful parsley

For the dumplings:
120g self-raising flour
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
120g suet
1 large cooking apple, or two smaller ones, finely diced
2 tbsp rosemary , chopped
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten

1. Heat the oil in a large pan, season the chicken and brown in batches, until lightly golden all over.  Set to one side and drain off all but 2 tbsp of the fat in the pan.  Add the onions and fry over a medium heat until softened.  Add the cider and allow to bubble down until syrupy, about 5 min, scraping any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.   

2. Tie the bay leaves, rosemary and about half of the parsley together with some string.  Add this, along with the garlic and the remaining vegetables to the pan.  Finally, return the chicken to the pan and pour in enough stock to just cover.  Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about 1 hour, until the chicken is cooked,  the meat is starting to come off the bone and the sauce has reduced and thickened.   

3. While the stew is cooking, make the dumplings.  Mix together the flour, breadcrumbs and suet.  Add the herbs and seasoning and then slowly beat in the egg to form a wet mixture.  Stir through the diced apples and then divide into roughly 12 even sized balls.  Add these to the stew about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time so that they just sit on top of the chicken.  Cover and allow to steam until soft and cooked through.  Divide into large bowls and scatter with the remaining parsley. 

Somerset Jam
(From Diana Henry’s ‘Salt, Sugar, Smoke’)
You will need:
1kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
600g blackberries
400ml cider
800g granulated sugar
50ml Apple brandy (Somerset, preferably of course, but I only had French), plus a little extra
1.  Put the apples and blackberries into a large pan or a preserving pan with the cider and slowly bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the fruit is completely soft and mushy, adding a little water if it is looking too dry. 
2.  Add the sugar and continue to cook on a low heat, stirring to help dissolve the sugar.  Then, turn the heat up to and cook until the jam reaches setting point.  You can test for this by placing a saucer or small plate in the fridge, then putting a tsp of jam on it.  Allow to cool before ‘pushing’ the jam across the plate with your finger.  If it wrinkles up, the jam has set. 
3.  Finally, stir in the brandy and pour into warm, dry sterilised jars.  Leave to sit for about 7 minutes, then pour in a another slug of brandy into each jar.  Cover, seal and leave to cool before storing.  Keeps for a year, refrigerate once opened. 

Apple and Blackberry Loaf Cake with Almond Crumb Topping
You will need:

150g butter, softened
250g self-raising flour
1 apple, like Bramley or similar cooking apple, cubed
2 plums, cubed as best you can
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
100g caster sugar
75g raisins
3 eggs, beaten
75ml milk

For the topping:
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar
25g butter
Handful flaked almonds


1. Preheat your oven to 180C.  Butter and line a 2L loaf tin with some parchment.  Place the flour, sugar and spices in a large bowl and stir in the butter.  Stir the eggs and milk together and gradually mix into the the dry ingredients.  Finally, stir through the chopped fruit and raisins until evenly distributed. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.

2. Rub the butter sugar and flour for the topping together in a small bowl.  Add the flaked almonds and mix together with your hands, breaking the almonds up a little bit.  Sprinkle over the loaf and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.   Cool before tucking in while still slightly warm.

Straight forward.

Stuck for a supper idea this weekend?  Try this flavoursome combo.

A couple of fennel bulbs, olives, orange zest and juice.  Some chicken thighs.  A few crushed garlic cloves, a sprinkle of parsley, a little sea salt, and pepper and a swig of olive oil.  180 degrees in an oven for 20 mins.  Bish, bash, bosh, supper. 

Summer Chills

I had a cold last week, which left me full of snivels this week.  Summer colds don’t make any sense to me whatsoever, but because I haven’t been ill in ages, I suppose it was rather overdue.

Is it starve a fever, feed a cold? I can never remember.  To be honest, when I’m ill, I seem to be hungry all the time either way, but all what I want is quite simple, nourishing food.  Chicken soup is, of course, my first port of call, preferrably with plenty of buttered crackers.   I made this lemony version for dinner to satisfy my craving for that bland simplicity.  It’s incredibly light with a very clean and refreshing palate- perfect to heal what ails you. 

The broth can easily be made with any vegetables you may have lurking in your fridge- leek, spring onion, courgette, squash.  I would avoid potatoes, though, as they will make the soup a bit too starchy.  I’ve kept the seasoning quite simple, but if you were feeling adventurous you could add juniper berries, fresh or dried herbs or to spice things up, chilli, ginger or lemongrass (which would be gorgeous, I’m sure).  

Lemon and Chicken Broth 
(serves 2)

You will need:

2 carrots, peeled
1 1/2 white onions
2 garlic clvoes
1 large parsnip
2 bay leaves
salt, pepper corns
6 chicken thighs and/or legs
1 packet rice noodles
juice of 1 lemon
handful of mint


1.  Place 2.5 litres of water to boil and add the roughly chopped carrots, onions, garlic and parsnip.  Bring to the boil and add the bay leaves, salt and a tablespoon of peppercorns.  Reduce to a gentle simmer. 

2.  In the meantime, roast the chicken.  Strew with salt and pepper, a little olive oil and place in a 180 degree preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the juices run clear.

3.  Once the chicken has cooled a little, de-bone and chop the meat into smaller pieces.  Place to one side.  Add the bones and a little of the chicken fat to the pan.  Simmer for a further 20-30 minutes, until your broth has a light, chicken-y flavour. 

4.  Strain the broth and return to the heat, discarding the veg and chicken bones.  Add the cooked chicken pieces and juice of half the lemon.  Cook the noodles according to the packet’s instructions. 

5.  Add the noodles to the broth and spoon into soup bowls.  Serve with another squeeze of lemon and some torn mint.

Tricky tagines

Whenever I’ve been to Morocco I have eaten an awful lot of tagines.  Tagine for lunch, for dinner and all over again the next day.  Lamb, beef, seafood or chicken, from Tangier to Casablanca to Marrakesh, they were always absolutely, addictively, delicious.  However, combined with the country’s wonderful pancake-like breakfast breads, there was inevitably a lot of lying down required between meals, which rather scuppered any sightseeing.  Not to mention the diet of salad and watery soup needed for at least a month after my return home.  I later read that a tagine (read ONE tagine) should basically be your meal for the day, so no wonder. 

Even so, a traditional tagine is perhaps best saved for a special occasion or when you are really, really hungry.  There are hundreds of different versions (the tagine or tajine earned its name from the pot it is cooked in rather than from a specific recipe), depending on the combination of meat, fruit, nuts and vegetables.  However, most conventional recipes do often call for a lot of spices, such as the famous ras el hanout (worth picking up if you are ever in Morocco).  A traditional tagine also needs a fair amount of time to cook, preferably something like a whole day, emerging all unctuous and gooey, meat slipping off the bone.

This is a good cheat’s version.  It still has those undeniably Moroccan flavours, but it is quicker, lighter and has a relatively short list of ingredients.  So although I may have borrowed my flatmate’s tagine pot for an authentic-looking photo, make no mistake- I bluffed my way through this one.

I am always quite sceptical of a stew that doesn’t rely on at least half of (if not a whole) bottle of wine, but this recipe really doesn’t need it, the sauce is still strong and deep.  I was also pretty delighted to finally find a use for all those preserved lemons.

Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons

You Will Need:

 Olive oil, preferably extra virgin
2 onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Spice- saffron would be preferable (about 1/2 tsp of the powdered stuff) but if that is too expensive (and it is), try some paprika.  Also ground ginger (1.5 tsp), salt and pepper.
Chicken pieces on the bone (thighs, legs, wings as you prefer)- about 750g-1kg
Juice of 1/2 lemon
A bunch of coriander
A bunch of parsley (flat leaved)
1 Preserved lemon
15 green olives


 1.  Get out your very largest cooking pot.  Heat up about 3 tbsp of the oil and then add the onion.  Sauté until softened, before adding the spices and garlic. 

2.  Add the chicken pieces, a large pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Continue to fry over a medium heat, until the chicken has got some colour.  In traditional tagines the meat is not usually browned, but I feel for this one it both adds flavour and speeds up the cooking process.

3.  Pour about 400ml of water into the pot and leave to simmer, turning the pieces of chicken every so often when you remember.  It should take about half an hour to cook, and for the water to turn into a thick, stocky sauce. 

4.  While it is bubbling away, prepare the preserved lemon.  For this recipe, I only used the peel, sliced thinly, and discarded the pulpy flesh.   Stir this, along with the lemon juice, chopped coriander and parsley into the sauce. Finally add the olives and leave the stew to simmer for a further 5-10 minutes. 

5.  At any stage of the cooking process, you can add more water to the sauce if you feel it is going to be too dry or thick.  Alternatively, if you feel it is too liquidy, remove the chicken pieces at the end of the cooking process and put to one side while you let the sauce reduce over a higher heat.  

6.  Return the chicken to the pot and serve with, couscous, naturally.