Category Archives: food

Recipe: My favourite comfort food: Chicken Liver Risotto

This is a meal I make when I need comfort food. It’s not an authentic Italian-style risotto as it uses Basmati rice and the aim is not to produce the creamy nursery food dish that is the mark of a real risotto. So if that bothers you, call it “Rice and Chicken Livers”. If you use frozen ready chopped garlic and blitz the onion in the blender, it can be produced within 40 minutes on a weeknight while listening to The Archers on BBC Radio 4. Adjust proportions of rice to chicken livers as you like; just keep the ratio of rice to stock 1 to 1.

Serves Two.

Ingredients

400g fresh chicken livers (preferably free range), cleaned of any green-looking bits and chopped in half
1 large mug full of basmati rice (definitely not ordinary long grain rice)
1 fat garlic clove, chopped finely
1 onion, chopped finely
200 dry cure smoked bacon lardons
2 large mugs of hot chicken or duck stock
1 Bay leaf
Small handful each of finely chopped fresh sage and oregano/marjoram or whatever herbs you fancy (tarragon works well too)
Small handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
Half glass of white wine or dry sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
1 glug of olive oil or a dollop of goose fat
A shake or two of Barbados hot pepper sauce or Tabasco.

Method

In a suitably-sized heavy-based pan that that has a tight fitting lid: Gently fry the bacon, onion and garlic in the olive oil/goose fat until beginning to turn golden. Throw in the livers, give them a stir, then put in the rice. Stir again so the rice is coated with oil, then add the bay leaf, herbs, pepper sauce/Tabasco, wine/sherry and a generous grind of black pepper. Stir, then add the stock. Stir again and reduce to the lowest heat you can, cover tightly with the lid, then wait until the rice has softened and absorbed all the stock. If it threatens to dry out, add a little more stock or wine.  It should take no more than 15 minutes. Check seasoning, adding salt if necessary and stir in the parsley. Serve in a bowl to your grateful spouse first then scoff the rest yourself.

Good dining in Monmouthshire

Ate dinner at “The Bell” at Skenfrith with friends from London on Saturday to celebrate K.’s birthday. To call it a “gastropub” seems a little unfair as it has a standard of cooking that would not be out of place in the best of London’s restaurants. All the better then that it is a fifteen minute drive from Monmouth and set in beautiful countryside. The ambiance is classy but not stuffy or pretentious and this seventeenth century coaching inn is obviously run by people who know – and care about – high quality local food. There’s even a blackboard with the names of the local suppliers so you know who provided that venison/guinea foul/sea bass etc.

I had been wondering where the upmarket restaurants were in Monmouth. Seemingly none. Odd, when it’s obvious that there are plenty of upmarket people around with the money and tastes to support them.

Real meat, Spam and Jung

To continue yesterday’s food theme, I found The Real Meat Company after they got an airing on BBC2 last night. They offer meat which has been reared humanely and is properly hung and probably tastes a lot better. When I’m back in the earning way, I’m tempted to celebrate by ordering something nice from them.

Lycos Europe has launched a screensaver called “Make Love Not Spam” which sends traffic to the websites advertised in the junk email we all get. The idea is that the spammers’ bandwidth bills go up as the websites respond to the fake traffic. Yes, we all want to hit back at the spammers, but is it legal and does it only generate more bandwidth, slowing down the net for everyone?

If you are in a profound mood, Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 series on the history of ideas was good this morning. It was about Jung, the famous and influential Swiss psychologist who had a famous spat with Freud. He rocked the psychoanalytical boat by suggesting that sex wasn’t behind absolutely everything and believed that the natural outcome of therapy was a spiritual worldview, contrasting with the Freudian perspective which saw a materialist/rationalist worldview as the ultimate outcome of successful psychotherapy. He also influenced some of the thinking behind the New Age movement and created a branch of psychotherapy, to the extent that if you meet a shrink at a party, your opening gambit can be “Are you a Jungian or a Freudian?” And did you know, he wrote a book on flying saucers? Oh yes.

Anyway, listen to the programme again here or download it in MP3 format and burn it to a CD for your in-car listening pleasure.

Wales meets Spain in a wok

Today, I thought I would share with you what I conjured up for dinner this evening. It will probably score points with the low carbs diet brigade as it is substantial and tasty but has no starchy ingredients like potato or pasta. The quantities of ingredients and cooking times are approximate – you’ll just have to adjust to suit your taste or what’s in season. This particular dish came about because I found some very cheap organic leeks and turkey on sale at the cheaper of the two Monmouth supermarkets:

Ingredients

2 Turkey Breasts – you could also use a similar quantity of chicken I suppose – cut into chunky strips
3 or 4 organic leeks – yes, yes, you can use non-organic, but go with the pretentious flow here – cut into half inch segments at a 45 degrees slant. (Leeks are the national vegetable of Wales.)
6 unusually large (I mean an inch across at the bulb) spring onions cut to 3 inches long and halved lengthways
4 or 5 tablespoons of flour
A liberal sprinkling of dried Herbes de Provence
6 er.. inches of chorizo sausage cut on the diagonal into slices
Dry (at least Amontillado) Sherry
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and a pepper mill to hand.

Method

1. Use the Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper to season the flour. Coat the turkey strips in it. Mix the remaining flour with a splash of sherry and a little water to thicken the sauce later.
2. Heat about an inch of the olice oil in a wok and when very hot, fry the turkey in batches until they just begin to brown. Put the turkey aside.
3. With some fresh oil, but only a little this time, caramelise the spring onion halves in batches on both sides and put aside
4. Stir fry the leeks and chorizo. Once softened, lower the heat and add a generous splash of sherry.
5. Throw in the turkey and spring onion halves. Stir gently and cover to allow to braise for about three minutes.
6. Stir in the flour and sherry mixture and allow to thicken for a minute or two. Grind on some black pepper and salt if necessary.
7. Serve with a glass of Spanish red wine to hand.

Note: Be careful about the timing – the vegetables should be softly sweet and al dente, not slimy (overcooked) or crunchy (undercooked).

Instead of sherry, and interesting variation might be to use a dry white vermouth. I can report that this works very well with leeks, so it’s a safe bet that it would be a success.

Curry and an ex-Cabinet Minister

Spent the weekend in London.

We indulged in a curry just off Chiswick High Street. The food was reasonably good. Each dish was actually distinctive in flavour and didn’t appear to have been made by using the “one pot” method of just adding cream/almonds/coconut/sundry spices to a ladleful of curry-ish sauce that forms the basis of all dishes. Maybe, however, that was because we chose the house “specials”, for which the cooks had to make a little more effort.

Our hors d’oeuvres were marred by a slightly posh middle-aged man demanding to know why he was still waiting for his take away when another customer who came into the restaurant after him had already received his order. “I mean”, he ranted, “Did I order something that’s particularly hard to cook?”. The put-upon waiter checked and explained that that particular customer had ordered over the phone quite a while ago. Ranting middle-aged man shut up at that point, but three minutes later rejoindered “Now wait a minute: that’s not true!”. So on it went, spoiling the enjoyment of my lamb tikka and K.’s prawn poori.

I know that there is a good book to be written about the peculiarly British ritual of the visit to the curry house.

Walking back to mum’s place through Chiswick, I was nudged and whispered at conspiratorially by K., who insisted that the small, bearded man carrying a takeway in a paper bag a few yards ahead of us was Robin Cook. I’m still not completely convinced but can’t deny that whoever he was, he did look remarkably similar to Tony Blair’s former Foreign Secretary. This put me in mind of the time I followed Kate Adie, the BBC foreign correspondent as she pushed a trolley around Chiswick’s Sainsbury’s. It’s hard to tell famous people from behind.

I have just remembered that blogs are supposed to have links to cool websites, so here’s a site I visit regularly:

World Wide Words