Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Miso, Ginger and Spring Onions

Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Miso, Ginger and Spring Onions

 

Another of my Easter weekend dishes was this simple chicken traybake, which is also a Diana Henry recipe. It appeared in the Telegraph’s Stella magazine a few weeks ago. I tried it then and knew my family would like it. It’s perfectly suited to Aga cooking.

Ingredients

For 4-6 people, depending on hunger levels and the size of the chicken thighs

  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 700g sweet potatoes, washed and cut into wedges
  • 2½ tbsp white miso
  • 1 ½ tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2.5cm chunk ginger root, peeled and grated or finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, halved and finely chopped (use the seeds for extra heat)
  • 12-18 spring onions
  • 3 tsp black or toasted white sesame seeds (or a mixture of the two)

For the final basting

  • 1 tbsp white miso
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp rice wine

Method

Pre-heat conventional oven to 190ºC/gas mark 5

  • Place the thighs in a large roasting tin with the sweet potato wedges (they should be able to lie in a single layer)
  • Mix together everything else except the spring onions and sesame seeds. Pour this over the chicken and sweet potatoes, turning everything over so the ingredients are well coated, finishing with the chicken skin-side up
  • Roast for 45 minutes at the top of the roasting oven, basting every so often, and turning the wedges over
  • Mix the final basting ingredients together and about 15 minutes before the end of cooking time, take the tin out of the oven and pour them over, adding the spring onions at the same time. They should become soft and slightly charred
  • When cooked, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve
  • I served ours with pak choi stir-fried in a little groundnut oil with black pepper and soy sauce

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Indian Leg of Lamb

Indian Leg of Lamb

We had a lovely weekend at home this Easter, with our sons and two of their girlfriends joining us for most of it. I tried to keep the cooking as simple (but delicious) as possible and had a cooking-free Saturday night when we went to our local Italian to celebrate my birthday the previous week.

For Easter Sunday lunch I ordered a large leg of lamb from the butcher and asked him to remove the bone and butterfly it. My thinking was that it would cook more quickly and carve more easily (although carving is my (surgeon) husband’s job!).

On Saturday afternoon I prepared the marinade, covered the lamb and put it in the fridge to be forgotten about until Sunday morning.61zmh4n5vpl

I adapted the following recipe from Diana Henry’s book, Cook Simple.

Indian Leg of Lamb

For about 8 people

Ingredients

  • 1 x 2kg leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
  • 55g blanched almonds
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • a big chunk of fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 green chillies, halved and deseeded
  • 550g plain yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsps ground coriander
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsps garam masala
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • Make deep gashes all over the meat with a sharp knife and put it in a dish
  • Blitz everything else in a food processor and spread this all over the lamb, massaging it in with your hands. It will look like this: IMG_4477
  • Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge
  • On Sunday morning, preheat a conventional oven to 200ºC, take the lamb out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. Place it in a large roasting tin and cover with foil
  • Aga users: put it in the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil for 5 or ten minutes before placing the lamb in the simmering oven until you’re ready to serve lunch. This was 2pm in our case, so the total cooking time was about four and a half hours. If you’re using a conventional oven, the cooking time is about one and a half hours, with the foil removed for the last 20 minutes or so
  • Leave the lamb to rest on a board while you reheat the cooking juices, stirring as you go, to make a delicious sauce to be served with the lamb
  • I served our lamb with a pilaff, carrots roasted with coriander and garlic and two green vegetables

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Chocolate and Gout

 

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I’m hoping the first part of the title of this post drew you in enough for you not to be put off by the second part.

I’ve always loved chocolate: the taste of it and the texture; and the undoubted cocoa solids and caffeine-induced hit it gives.  In the past, to prove to myself that I have a modicum of willpower and I’m not a complete chocoholic, I’ve given it up for Lent.

Today (Easter Sunday) I ate chocolate for the first time in several weeks, since before the start of Lent in fact.  Tomorrow I will be giving it up again, but for health reasons.  I’ve been getting joint pain for quite a few years now.  My orthopaedic surgeon husband says I have osteoarthritis and that I’ve inherited this from my father and grandmother.  They never spoke of it, but with hindsight it was obvious they suffered from it too.  My father attributed any aches and pains of his to rugby injuries which had never been properly treated, but that was probably only part of the story.

In recent years my husband has been sending an increasing number of his patients, who report to him with knee pain and a history of other joint problems, for blood tests to ascertain their uric acid levels.  If levels with a single test are high it means that the patient has been suffering from episodes of gout.

Gout is inflammation of joints and soft tissues due to crystallisation of uric acid within a joint that has been predisposed to this deposition by previous injury.  His new secretary, who used to work in General Practice, cannot believe how frequently he spots it in his patients.

It’s very useful being married to a doctor but, quite rightly, they do not like to treat family members.  The way it works in our family is: someone describes their ailment and my husband decides whether they need to a) see the GP, b) go to A&E or c) go directly to a colleague.  It means we probably spent a lot less time in GP waiting rooms when the children were small than most parents.  Anyway, having had so many patients come back with a positive test for gout, my husband suggested that I ask my GP to order a blood test for me, because if my uric acid levels were high, or near the upper limit of normal, something could be done about it and it would reduce the episodes of pain I’m experiencing in my hands and feet.

The blood test came back as “normal” but my levels were at the upper end of the range and my husband said it would only take one meal of high purine foods to tip me over the edge.

Purines from foods and tissue turnover are the precursor of uric acid which some people are unable to excrete, especially when exposed to our rich Western diet.

He gave me a very useful chart listing almost every food you can think of with those high in purines at the top.  At the very top of the chart the substance with by far the highest purine levels was theobromine, which is found in cocoa.  I jokingly said to my husband that in that case I’d give up chocolate and solve the problem.  To my surprise he agreed.  So I stopped eating chocolate overnight and after six weeks went back for another blood test and, to my astonishment, my uric acid levels had dropped considerably.  My symptoms haven’t changed but my husband says that will take at least 6-12 months.

I have written this post to raise awareness.  Not very much appears to be known about gout, but 1 in 40 of us have it and many suffer without a confirmed diagnosis.  It seems to affect young men and post menopausal women.  My GP did not think it necessary to test my uric acid levels but was happy to do it when asked.

I will miss chocolate, but will allow myself a small amount from time to time.  It seemed easier to give it up than to have to think about purines every time I cook a meal for the family.

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Simnel Cake

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Why not make this delicious fruit cake for Easter?  As you probably know, simnel cake was originally baked for Mothering Sunday in the middle of Lent; girls in service would make one to take home to their mothers. I love it because it’s a fruit cake and lends itself to being baked slowly in the Aga, which makes for a very moist cake. Then there’s the marzipan which I adore almost as much as chocolate, and that’s saying something.

Last year my son’s lovely girlfriend made us a simnel cake, so we had two. No-one was complaining. The only problem for me was that she raised the bar and made her own marzipan, and now my youngest son says he doesn’t like shop-bought marzipan at all and suggested I make mine too. It really isn’t difficult and actually doesn’t take very long if you have a food processor.

Marzipan

This will make more than you need for the cake but I adore marzipan and was happy to have some left over. Disclosure: marzipan quantities given here are approximate. The balls on top can be as big or small as you like. The top circle can be as thick as you like. If you don’t want to make your own, I suggest you buy a 450g packet of marzipan.

  • 450g icing sugar
  • 450g ground almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsps brandy
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • Simply  blitz all the ingredients in a food processor until it’s come together nicely
  • Tip this out onto a dusting of icing sugar on your worktop and knead it for a bit
  • Flatten it slightly, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it

 

Simnel Cake

I used a Mary Berry recipe except that instead of placing a circle of marzipan in the middle of the cake, I folded small pieces of it into the mixture, à la Delia’s recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 100g natural glacé cherries
  • 225g softened butter
  • 225g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 225g sultanas
  • 100g currants
  • 50g chopped candied peel
  • Zest of a lemon (MB says 2 lemons, but I didn’t want it too lemony)
  • 2 level tsps mixed spice
  • 200g marzipan, cut into small squares or rolled into balls and tossed in a little flour

Topping:

  • 225g marzipan
  • 2 tablespoons of apricot jam
  • 1 large egg, beaten, to glaze

Method:

  • Pre-heat a conventional oven to150ºC/Fan 130ºC/Gas 2
  • Grease a 20cm deep round cake tin, then line the base and sides with baking parchment or bake-o-glide
  • Put the cherries in a sieve, rinse under running water, drain and dry on kitchen paper. Cut into quarters
  • Measure all the cake ingredients into a large mixing bowl, except for the fruit and marzipan, and beat well until thoroughly blended. (I used my KitchenAid.) Fold the fruit into this mixture and then finally the pieces of marzipan.
  • Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin and level the surface.
  • Bake in a conventional oven for about 2.5 hours or the Aga simmering oven for 4-5 hours. This really depends on your Aga. The important thing is the cake is coming away from the sides a little, is well risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 15-30 minutes. When the cake is completely cool, brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out marzipan to make a circle to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate. (You will see from my photos I made a bad job of this. You will do better.) Mark a criss-cross pattern on the marzipan with a sharp knife. Form the remaining marzipan into 11 balls (representing the apostles minus Judas).
  • Brush the almond paste with beaten egg and arrange the balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg and then place the cake in the roasting oven (or under the grill) for 3 or 4 minutes, near the top, to turn the marzipan golden.