When my girls come back to stay, I always like to cook a lot of interesting meals so that I can show off my skills (and feed them up a bit).
Here's one of the dishes I made last week:
(I suppose I should mention here that I weigh and measure nothing. I don't think that measures are particularly useful, other than being a rough guide. For example, you might add more tomatoes than I did. That will make it more 'tomatoey', but it won't make it wrong. The same applies to seasonings e.g. salt. The correct amount of salt is the correct amount of salt, found by TASTING. It won't be a pinch or a teaspoon, but it will be the correct amount.)
Grilled lemon poussins with tomato-stuffed peppers, braised lettuce with peas, chasseur sauce and home-made focaccia.
I made this for 6:
Cut the poussins in half along the breast and backbone. Line a grill pan with foil. Squeeze some lemon juice over the halves, season with salt and black pepper, drizzle with a little olive oil and grill on a rack under a hot grill, turning every 5 minutes until done. Add squeezes of lemon at each turn, basting with some of the pan juices. Check for doneness by piercing the top of the thighs with the point of a knife. The juices will run yellow when the poussin is ready. Add a little water to the contents of the foil, scrape the contents of the foil into a small pan and skim off as much fat as possible. When you plate up the poussins, spoon a little of the pan juices onto them.
Cut each pepper in half from top to bottom. Scoop out seeds and white pith. Cut cherry tomatoes in half from top to bottom and pack them into the peppers, cut side up, until the peppers are packed full. Drizzle over olive oil, salt and black pepper with some strips of fresh basil. Bake in a 160 Celsius oven until the peppers are softening and the tomatoes take on some colour.
Braised lettuce with peas
Cut a romaine lettuce into large chunks and put into a pan containing a knob of butter, a handful of peas (fresh or frozen) and a splash of water. Heat gently for a couple of minutes until the lettuce begins to wilt. Remove from the heat.
Finely slice an onion and soften it in olive oil over a medium-low heat. Add strips or chunks of pancetta (italian bacon) and stir for a minute or so to release the fats from the bacon. Add some finely sliced mushrooms and stir to soften slightly. Add a glass of white wine (I used Sauvignon blanc) and some tomato puree or passata. Season with black pepper. Allow to bubble for 20 minutes or so and then add some fresh basil leaves.
I used a variant of Paul Hollywood's recipe, which is very demanding in terms of bread-making skills. Basically, the dough is extremely sticky and cannot be handled safely at any point in the process. The resultant loaves, however, are extraordinarily light and contain both large and small bubbles: the sign of a good focaccia.
500g/1lb 2oz strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
2 sachets dried easy blend yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
400ml/14fl oz cold water
olive oil, for drizzling
rough sea salt
1. Turn off your phone (your hands are going to be extremely sticky for a while).
2. Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 300ml/10½ fl oz of the water into a large bowl, keeping the salt as far away from the yeast as possible at the start. Gently stir with your hands to form a dough then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes, gradually adding the remaining water.
3. Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the centre, turn the bowl a little and repeat the process for about five minutes.
4. Tip (pour!) the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading with oiled hands for five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size.
5. Line two large baking sheets with oiled greaseproof paper. Tip the dough out of the bowl and divide into two portions using a large knife. Flatten each portion onto a baking sheet with oiled hands, pushing to the corners, then leave to prove for one hour.
6. Preheat the oven to 220 Celsius. Drizzle the loaves with oil, sprinkle with rough sea salt and some rosemary then bake in the oven for 20 minutes, turning over after 15 minutes to cook the base.
When cooked, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve hot.
In terms of timing, start the bread first. The peppers can be prepared ahead of time and put into the oven about 20 minutes ahead of the focaccia. Allow 30 minutes for cutting and cooking the poussins. The sauce could be prepared ahead of time or made while the bread is baking. The lettuce and peas take only 5 minutes.
That's the kind of food that makes me giggle when I eat it.