Archive for March, 2011

Don’t you just love those rare days, when you have absolutely nothing to do?  Of course, days like that don’t really exist.  But, if you’re anything like me, you can just procrastinate* and think up reasons why things can be left till tomorrow.  It’s about the only way I can allow myself to unwind (and doubles my stress when the other deadlines approach, but it always seems worth it at the time).

It was on a day like this, when I decided to tackle my Achilles Heel of the cookery world.  Something that I failed so miserably on at my last attempt, and filled me with shame in the knowledge that I’d fed it to people…

… my basic, run of the mill pastry pie.

After the eye-watering disaster of my previous pie attempt, I tackled the mission with my usual determined stubborn-ness.  This time it’s going to be a fabulous pie, goddamnit.  This time, it’s going to be a Chicken & Sweetcorn Pie.

First, I bundled up all my ingredients:

Ingredients (Serves 4)

3  chicken breasts (or 575g), diced

2  leeks, chopped finely (I don’t like big chunky bits, but it’s your call if you do)

300ml  boiled water with 1 chicken stock cube dissolved

340g shortcrust pastry (I used frozen and let it defrost at room temperature for 1 hour before use)

1 tin of sweetcorn, drained

1 tbsp dried thyme

1 tbsp dried rosemary

3  bay leaves

3 tbsp plain flour

30g butter

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 very heaped tbsp soft cream cheese

1 egg, beaten


I pre-heated the oven to 200 degrees.

Into a casserole dish, I put the chicken, leeks, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and chicken stock.  I seasoned it generously with salt and pepper, stirred, then popped into the oven for 1.5 hours.

Taking the casserole out of the oven, I carefully sieved into a measuring jug (twas very hot), separating the juices from the filling.  I discarded the bay leaves and set both aside for the time being.

I melted the butter in a pan, then added my flour.  I stirred until it formed a paste (or a roux):

On a low heat, I gradually added the casserole juices and whisked, until it formed a smooth, thick consistency.

I added the rest of the casserole ingredients to the pan, along with the mustard and tin of sweetcorn.  I turned off the heat and stirred in a big dollop of soft cream cheese.

At this point, it’s important to taste it and season, if necessary.

I cut my pastry in two and rolled them out on a floured surface; into rectangle shapes just bigger than my pie dish.  I pressed the first layer of pastry into the dish, trying to make sure it came over the sides, and poured in the filling.

I placed the 2nd layer of pastry over the top, trimmed the straggly bits around the sides of the dish and embraced my romantic side with the leftover pastry.  Awww…

I brushed the beaten egg over the top and made two slits within the heart to let the air escape (that sounds incredibly violent and gory!), and popped into the oven (200 degrees) for 40 mins.

Ahhh the golden wonderment… shame I had to attack it with my knife!

You could easily make this pie ahead, at various stages (up until it’s been casseroled, or once it’s assembled but before it goes into the oven).

It’s also a great pie for using up leftover chicken – just skip the casserole part and saute the leeks & herbs until soft, then set aside and start at the roux stage.

I thoroughly recommend you serve it with some fluffy, buttery mash and honey glazed carrots.  Yummaaay!

 Enjoy 🙂 x

* don’t procrastinate.  It’s very, very, very bad for you.  I’ll tell you why tomorrow…

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When having a meal, how many of your senses do you really use? 

Of course, there are the obvious ones; taste and smell.  If you wanted to be pernickety, you could argue that sight, touch and sound all have their place in the dining experience.  But have you ever had a dining experience that focuses exclusively on exploring the senses?  Probably not, if you haven’t attended the Ubiquitous Chip’s event: Ingr3dients.  It claims to be the World’s first sensory dining experience. 

The event was created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant, situated within Ashton Lane, at the heart of Glasgow’s West End.  This charming lane is filled with character and very pretty to look at.  But if, like me, you enjoy wearing heels… be prepared to stagger along the cobbles looking like you’ve had one too many cocktails!

I was kindly invited to experience it for myself, and asked Irene to be my ever faithful companion.  On the invitation, the event was described as “combining fine food and cutting-edge digital art, including Alasdair Gray’s first digital artwork”.  I don’t know much about cutting edge digital art, but I do love my food!

The decor in the Ubiquitous Chip made for tranquil surroundings.  Soft lighting, provided by millions of teeny lights, along with an abundance of plants and a gorgeous water feature in the corner of the room, making a relaxing trickling sound.

On the table, there were 3D glasses waiting for us.  Safe in the knowledge that everyone was going to look as cool as us, we donned our attire…

One of the waiters pointed out the interactive sea bed, on the way to our seats.  It was so cute!  There were fish, crabs and lobsters etc, scurrying around the floor from a projection on the ceiling (I assume).  When you stood within the “sea bed”, they all scurried towards you.

Throughout the event, there were various digital art displays, running in a concurrent theme along with each course.  The first image was of a giant fish, darting around the screen and zooming in at you (in what Irene found to be a hilarious fashion; she was cackling away to herself!).  We were henceforth presented with our first course: A Tassie of Cullen Skink.

This creamy soup was so moreish; it was so thick and luxurious, with delicate chunks of fish and potato.  I could easily devour a massive bowl of this, and intend to recreate it soon!

Next up, there was a visual display of 3D shells.  With our glasses on, they looked beautiful and intricate.  This was to introduce the next course: Seafood Trinity.

This consisted of:

Queen Scallop, Dulce and Mirin Ceviche

Black Bottle and Beetroot Cured Organic Salmon

Crab, Pear and Celeriac Choucroute

I have to admit, I was apprehensive about this dish.  I’m a complete seafood novice; having never tried scallops or crab and not being very keen on smoked salmon.  But, in the spirit of adventure (and being able to talk about the food here!), I tried it.  The scallops weren’t as scary as I thought, but they didn’t taste of much.  The crab had a lovely texture, and I will try it again.  The only gripe is that I felt it was overpowered by the taste of mustard.  The salmon was a nice surprise for me; the whisky and beetroot gave it a lovely taste, and I ate the lot!

Whilst we waited on our next dish, the display showed a flock of birds, flying in an erratic fashion and in a sequence that was quite hypnotic.  We didn’t even notice the waiters coming up to us with our next course: Pressed Perthshire Game Bird Terrine, with Warm Puy Lentil and Shiitake Salad, Sherry and Walnut Pickled Enoki Mushroom.

If I was apprehensive about the seafood, I was terrified of the game bird terrine!  I didn’t start eating vegetables and fish till my early twenties, so this is a big hike from my picky days.  And I’m delighted to report; this was one of my favourite dishes of the evening!  I cleared the plate entirely and I kept interrupting my meal with outbursts of “this is delicious“, and Irene wholeheartedly agreed.  The terrine was pure meaty goodness.  The mushrooms complimented it wonderfully, and the salad was sweet and fresh; perfect for lightening the dish.

As we made way for our next course, we were greeted by a massive Highland Cow, strolling across the screen lazily and grazing on nothing at all.  This indicated our next meal: Rioja Glazed Shin of Beef, Marrow Beignet, Shallot Essence, with Potato and Sage Gnocchi.

I could have used a spoon to cut through the beef; that’s how tender it was.  The Rioja glaze was outstanding.  Irene’s favourite wine is Rioja, so she was especially delighted.  She did find the shallot puree rather salty, but I couldn’t agree.  The waiter told us the gravy was made using a reduction of the meat juices with some wine and chicken stock.  It was incredibly flavoursome; if I were serving this up myself, I’d have flooded the plate with gravy (one of the many reasons I’m not a chef!).  The marrow beignet was scary in theory (I tried to convince Irene it wasn’t bone marrow), but we reluctantly admitted it was very tasty.  The potato and sage gnocchi was the star of the show for me, out of EVERYTHING.  The only criticism is that there wasn’t more of them on the plate.  Considering the large portion of beef, I feel more gnocchi would have given a better balance (or less beef, but always more potato if I can get it!).

There was just enough room for our last course; dessert: The Chip’s Famous Caledonian Oatmeal Ice Cream, with Caramelised Banana, and Angostura Rum Fattened Golden Raisins.

I’d never heard of oatmeal encrusted ice cream before, and after tasting this, I’m surprised I haven’t.  It’s absolutely gorgeous!  It creates a lovely texture, as do the glazed bananas that practically snap when you bite them.  Irene wasn’t crazy about the raisins, but I loved them.  For the second time that night, I cleared my plate. 

I tried to take pictures of the 3D show, but they just looked blurry, as if through the eyes of a drunken fool.  It would certainly not have done the artist any justice for me to post them here.  I couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty about these images of the animals we were essentially tucking into.  Me being a hardened carnivore as well!  I mentioned this to Mal Young, the man who controlled the images, and he alleviated my conscience by explaining the images were more about exploring the locally sourced produce (which Ubiquitous Chip is renowned for), rather than having little animals zooming in at you, with pleading eyes, crying “don’t eat meeee”.  I’m sure it wouldn’t placate the vegetarians out there, but it’s good enough for me.

Overall, it was a wonderful night.  As much as I love having a gab between courses with my fellow diners, I absolutely adored the 3D animations and believe it did enhance the meal on the whole.  The restaurant clearly puts a lot of effort into creating an excellent atmosphere, and the staff really do make a fuss over you (in a good way; not in that intrusive way that I detest).  If I were to sum up the food in one word, it would be Magnificent. 

If you’re looking to take someone for a fancy meal, or have a special occasion coming up, I would thoroughly recommend Ubiquitous Chip.

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I’ve decided to invent a monthly theme within my blog, in order to discuss some of the food related issues that are happening in the world today (in the hope that it might spark some healthy debate and get us all gabbing!).  By calling it “Monthly Musing”, I’m forcing myself to adhere to it on a monthly basis.  This is to get a) some routine for the blog and b) some discipline for myself!  I was originally going to call it “Monday Musings”, but if life has taught me anything, it is to be realistic!

I’ve been inspired to do this, after reading this Forum post on the UK Food Bloggers Association website.  Inspired not only by the subject matter, but also by a blogger who commented on it, saying that she contributes to a “Thoughtful Thursday” theme, vaguely similar to what I intend to do with my Monthly Musings. 

Image taken from Flickr

So my first topic is about the rumoured plans to scrap cooking lessons in secondary school.  According to the Sustainweb site, who are heading the “Keep Kids Cooking” campaign:

“The coalition Government is now conducting a review of the National Curriculum.  We are concerned that in a drive to “slim down” the curriculum, this small but valuable provision to ensure that children are taught the skills they need to live healthy lives may be lost.  Without basic cooking skills, people are forced to rely on processed ready meals or fast food which is often unhealthy.”

I really dislike this wording.  Are there only two other options in life? Processed ready meals and fast food?  What about the healthy school meals that were tirelessly campaigned for, by celebrity chefs etc?  And is it just me that thinks the above statement is doing nothing short of accusing every school child’s parents of having the inability to prepare nutritious meals?

As much as I love cooking now, I had absolutely no interest in it when I was at school.  Hardly surprising considering the dull, bland selection of recipes we had to choose from.  On one of our first cooking classes, we spent 2 hours preparing a cheese sandwich and a strawberry milkshake.  Granted, that’s over a decade ago (oh my… I feel elderly), but at no point whatsoever, did I go home and recreate ANY of the dishes we made in class. 

The most prominent memories of cooking classes (or “home-eccies” at our school), were the food fights afterwards, at the Green Bridge down the road from school, with the fruits of the pupils’ cooking labour.  It was especially gruesome when it was Soup Day.  Today’s campaigners for not wasting food would shudder in horror!

I can understand why this campaign might be popular.   And, as someone who is obsessed with food, it would be understandable if I spouted the virtues of learning to cook, but I can’t.  In principle it sounds like a worthwhile cause.   The loss of the cookery classes has been described in the Forum as “a disaster”.  The prospect of children learning how to cook nutritious meals, then recreating them at home for all the family is a lovely idea.  I can’t, however, feasibly see this becoming a reality.  Neither can I detect any genuine correlation, as suggested, between learning how to cook in school and obesity levels.  Do you know many school-aged children who prepare the family meals?

In January, I spoke about my support for a campaign called “Growing Food In Schools“.  Although it would be easy to put these two campaigns under the same umbrella, I think the “Growing Food In Schools” campaign is a lot more beneficial (the initiative says “teaching children food-growing skills can help encourage children to lead healthier lives, through physical activity outdoors and inspiring children to eat the fruit and vegetables they have grown.  It could also raise educational standards and improve behaviour, particularly for those less comfortable in a classroom setting”). 

Personally, I would prefer to see more time being spent on core education, such as English, Maths and the Sciences (as I’m pretty sure the next generation will only be able to write in abbreviated words!).  There is a campaign for making Financial Education compulsory in schools, which I think would be fantastic for the students (and subsequently society) in the long-term.  Can you imagine the horror of all the credit card companies and banks once they realise people are able to handle their money more wisely?
I personally am satisfied that the “healthy school meals” initiative is sufficient effort for the schools share of the responsibility.  The rest is up to the parents.

One objection is that it may result in the loss of staff, who currently teach the cookery classes.  This would be an awful consequence of the many cuts that are all around us today, and yes, it would be dire for them.  It’s dire for all of us who have felt the effects of cutbacks.  But if you think of the greater good, I don’t believe it is a justified expense in context, when cuts need to be made.

If, however, you think the campaign is a wonderful idea, you can show your support here

What are your thoughts? x

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I am a big fan of the MoneySavingExpert site (although I’m a silent lurker), and I could honestly spend HOURS on their Complete Cooking Collection .  Ok, I admit it. I already have spent hours on the cooking collection, plenty of them.

There’s a forum thread where people post recipes that cost no more than 50p for two people*.  You’d think that would be quite difficult, but nay, there are 16 pages worth of suggestions!  That’s where I found the recipe for this potato, bacon and onion bake.  You can find the original recipe here, but I have scaled up my recipe to feed 3 greedy potato fiends:


4 baking potatoes, sliced thinly

8 rashers bacon, unsmoked (I cut the fat off cos I hate the texture *boak*)

2 onions, slices thinly

200ml milk, I used semi-skimmed

As you can see, I went to town with my Mandolin slicer; it’s BETTER than sliced bread, I tell ye.

I layered them in the following order: Potatoes (season with salt & pepper), onions, bacon.

I done that twice, then finished with a layer of totties:

I poured over the milk, seasoned, then baked this at 170 degrees for about an hour and 15 mins.  I would recommend the slower baking, as it really intensifies the flavour!  I covered it with foil about half way through as it was getting burnt on top (next time I’ll cover it with foil from the start, then remove for the last 15 mins or so):

So, do I serve the delicate purple sprouting broccoli?  The medley of Julienne vegetables?

Of course not.  This type of dish deserves baked beans, and plenty of them.

This is cheap, cheerful, extremely easy and utterly tasty.  There’s a time and a place for fancy food.  This is comfort food at it’s best.

You could substitute the milk for cream if you want to increase the richness, or top it with cheese to make it more indulgent.  It doesn’t need it though.  The salty bacon seeps through and flavours everything beautifully and the potatoes are deliciously moreish with a light crispiness.  I salivate in remembrance. 

Next time, I’m making enough leftovers for lunch the next day.  I’d never tire of this.

Try it 🙂 x

*The thread was started in 2006, so 50p probably wouldn’t apply these days with the inflation.  But still great value for money!

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