Monday, 21 May 2012

Store cupboard dinners

Ready, Steady, Cook!

One of the hardest things I find when cooking is making the most out of leftover food. It’s always nice to sit down and plan a meal from scratch, but I sometimes find myself with a fridge full of random bits that need to be eaten, normally thrown together quickly on a weekday evening after a long day at work. Although it can sometimes seem like a tricky prospect, most of the time with a bit of thought you can come up with something good. 
This ‘read, steady, cook’ style of cooking completely relies on the reinforcement of the ingredients in your store cupboards. You don’t quite need the comprehensively bursting Nigel Slater-style larder; just a few good spices, a bit of stock and some dried grain or pasta can turn something out of nothing. Most of these ingredients are very cheap and last for ages, and are definitely worth having just in case you need them.
Planning ahead is also useful to make the most out of your leftovers. If you are cooking a big joint of meat for example, that will have a lot to spare, I always get a few extra things at the same time that will make it stretch for longer. Restaurants and pubs are great at this - you will often see a cottage pie on the menu on a Monday after a Sunday roast, and arancini is used in many Italians to use up old risotto. I really hate to waste food, and leftovers give the impression of a second-rate meal, when a lot of the time they are as good as when the food was used the first time around. 
Rocket and puy lentil salad with chicken, chorizo and goat’s cheese
This salad came about after I was left with a few leftovers from some of the dishes that I have cooked on this blog so far. I found that I still had loads of chorizo and the oregano pesto left from the bream dish, and some goat’s cheese from the mushroom ravioli. As they are good ingredients, I wanted to come up with another good dish to incorporate them without having to buy many more ingredients. 

As with most salads, you can mix and match ingredients as much as you want, depending on what you have available and to your taste. Any lentil can be used, and any spare vegetables can also be roasted up and thrown in. Chicken goes really well with chorizo, goat’s cheese and pesto, and thighs hold so much tenderness and flavour (and are amazingly cheap). If you don’t have any pesto, a mixture of chopped soft herbs with lemon juice and olive oil will also be lovely.
Serves 2, very well


For the chicken:
4 chicken thighs
1 lemon, juice kept separately
4 tbsp oregano pesto (recipe in last blog entry), or herbs, olive oil and lemon juice
A few thyme sprigs if available
For the lentils:
1 cup puy lentils, rinsed well
1 litre chicken stock
1/2 glass red wine (white will also work here)
1 shallot or onion, sliced finely
1 clove garlic, sliced finely
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 lemon - juice
To finish the salad:
2 large handfuls rocket, washed
1/2 ring cured chorizo, cut into rough 2cm chunks
80g goat’s cheese (preferably soft), torn into large chunks
10 or so cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
Pre-heat the oven to 200ÂșC (fan)
First of all get the lentils on by heating the chicken stock up in a saucepan, and heating a medium frying pan or skillet on a medium heat with a little olive oil. When the frying pan is hot, add the shallot and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the cumin and paprika. Once the shallot is soft, add the lentils and stir well, cooking for another minute or two. Now add the red wine, and let it bubble up and reduce a little, before pouring in a ladle of hot stock. Wait until the lentils have absorbed the liquid before adding more stock, and repeating until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. You don’t want too much liquid left with the lentils at the end, so reduce down until it just holds everything together. Add the lemon juice, season well and put aside.

While the lentils are cooking, cook the chicken. Heat a non-stick frying pan with a little oil on a high heat, and season the chicken well. When very hot, place the chicken skin down and cook until the skin is really brown and crispy. Turn them over for a minute before removing to a small baking dish, along with the squeezed lemons and the thyme if using. Put into the oven for about 25 minutes or until cooked at the thickest part. When cooked, strip the meat from the bones, cut into bite-size pieces and drizzle with some of the oregano pesto or herb dressing. 
When the lentils and chicken have about 5 minutes to go, heat a frying pan on a medium heat with a little oil. When hot, fry the chorizo and cherry tomatoes, until the chorizo is hot and starting to crisp, and the tomatoes have slightly softened.
To construct the salad, spread a large base of washed and dried rocket onto each plate. Use a fork to scatter the lentils over the leaves, and then arrange the chicken, chorizo, tomato and goats cheese on top. Finish by adding more of the pesto in little blobs, spooning a bit of the leftover lemon juice and drizzling some extra virgin olive oil. 
Restaurant Review - The Cafe at Tate Modern
I week ago I met up with my parents to brave the rains and go to see the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern. After a horrible stormy walk through St. Paul’s and across the Millennium Bridge, we decided that lunch first was definitely in order. With much of Hirst’s work involving death, flies and ash trays of fag butts, this was probably a good decision! 

The cafe at the Tate Modern is a lovely open space, and had a very welcoming busy bustle to it when we arrived. The menu was also just as inviting, comprising of a simple yet well thought out selection including fish of the day, potted ham hock terrine along with robust looking tarts and sandwiches. I went for the fish, which was Hake on fennel with a white wine sauce, while my mum ordered a roasted squash and beetroot salad, and my dad the ploughmans. So far, so good.
Here came the first problem. It is always slightly alarming when a waiter seems to be writing an essay on their notepad, and here he was going to town. But after we confirmed our order, we sat back with content anticipation that we would be well fed. When the food arrived, mum got her salad, dad got his ploughmans, whilst I got a very gourmet spare plate. Hang on! Somehow, even after we had confirmed the order, the waiter had managed to confuse ‘hake’ with ‘plate’. I actually found the whole thing quite amusing, but although the staff were very apologetic, I was still left watching the others eat their food. 

This in turn didn’t turn out too badly, as I got to have a look at what they had ordered. Dad’s ploughmans looked great; two wedges of cheese, loads of ham, some of that ham hock terrine and homemade piccalilli. Brilliant, and I was left with a severe case of food envy. My mum on the other hand got a worse deal, with a big pile of watercress hiding the tiny amounts of beetroot and squash that had been added. Surely a roasted beetroot and squash salad should be mostly formed of that? It was nice enough, but she was left disappointed. 

When my plate/hake finally came along, I laughed quite a lot. In front of me was quite possibly the most ridiculous piece of garnish that I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing (well, it was 20 years ago) adding a small sprig of parsley or a small lemon wedge to go with a dish, but here on top of the hake they had precariously balanced a huge piece of lemon. The hake should have been the star of the show, but I just couldn’t get over how silly the whole thing looked. Aside from this, to be fair to it the dish did taste lovely, with the hake cooked well and combining with the fennel, wine and cream perfectly. 

So overall it was a very mixed bag, with my dad and I content, mum miffed by her salad, and all amused by the theatrical plate and architectural lemon. Quite apt given the setting I think.

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