Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Black Pudding Stuffed Potatoes

For me the weekends mean one thing: I get lots of time to cook. There’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to 1980s music on a Friday night and cooking up a small storm. The weekends also give me time to experiment. Sometimes these experiments work great and sometimes they don’t. I’ll just say that I won’t be trying cider brined pork chops again! This weekend’s experiment involved black pudding and potatoes.

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Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Black pudding stuffed Potatoes
Serves 2

2 Chicken breasts, butterflied and flattened
8 streaky bacon rashers
6 medium potatoes, peeled
1/3 Rudd’s black pudding Rudd’s Website
3 shallots, very finely chopped
Leaves from couple sprigs of thyme
Leaves from couple stalks flat leaf parsley, chopped
Butter
Sea salt & black pepper

First make your stuffings. Finely chop the shallots and divide in half.
Black pudding Stuffing: Crumble up the pudding. Melt some butter in a frying pan; add the pudding, shallot, black pepper and a pinch of thyme. Warm through being careful not to let the pudding crisp. Set aside on a plate to cool.

Potato Stuffing: Use the off-cuts from the potatoes (see below) together with one small potato, finely chopped. Bring to a boil and mash once cooked. In the meantime, melt some butter in a pan and add the shallots, some thyme and parsley and plenty of seasoning. Mix this into the potato. Also set aside on a plate to cool.

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Cut your chicken breast along the side, being careful not to cut through. Then lay it between two sheets of cling film and flatten out with a rolling pin or meat mallet. It should be around 0.5cm thick on all sides. If it comes with the mini fillet, keep aside and it can be used when stuffing the breast.

Lay the bacon rashers flat on a board, 4 rashers for each chicken breast, stretch slightly with the back of your knife. Place the chicken breast in the centre of the rashers. When cool enough, spoon the potato stuffing into the centre of each breast and fold up to fully enclose the potato. Then tightly wrap the breasts in the bacon, allowing the ends to overlap. Ensure that there are no gaps or holes for the stuffing to seep through. Place the chicken in a baking dish, pour over a teaspoon or so of olive oil and sprinkle on some freshly ground black pepper. These can be kept in the fridge for a couple of hours if you want, or you can cook them immediately. Roast in a preheated oven (170C fan/190C) for 30-40mins, depending on the thickness of the wrap.

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Now the potatoes are a little more complicated. Peel and halve your potatoes. Cut the tops and bottoms of them so they are flat. With a small knife, cut out a hole in the top of each potato. I also used a spoon to scoop out the flesh, use this leftover potato for your stuffing. You basically want a potato boat, deep enough to fit a tablespoon or more of the stuffing into. These need to be par-roasted before you stuff them. Preheat some olive oil in a pan, no more than 2tbsp, once hot coat each potato in oil. Roast the potatoes, top, bottom and sides for 10mins each side. Then remove and stuff each one with your black pudding stuffing. Press it in nice and tightly. Give them a final 20mins in the oven to fully crisp up and the stuffing to warm through.

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Serve the potatoes and chicken with any vegetables of your choice and an onion gravy.

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Roast Beef & roast veg gravy

Comfort food is possibly an expression that is overused. Lots of people use it to describe treats like crisps and chocolate. To me, comfort food is a big bowl or plate of something warm and unctuous. Something to make you feel like you’re getting a cuddle from big arms. When I was a child my version of comfort food would have been what my mother gave me when I was sick. I treated myself to that the other night as I wasn’t feeling great and my stomach wasn’t able for much. I was lucky being the youngest in my family as my mother had the time to wait on me when I was sick! I wasn’t terribly lucky, if something was to be caught I’d catch it, I’m still like that. I once cut a big chunk out of my knee, I remember the skin hanging off! I cut that same part of my knee another three times – I have a beautiful round scar as proof. Every time it healed, I fell or tripped over and opened the wound again. Anyway, when I was sick I got to stay in bed and got fed there too. From the kitchen, I could hear Gay Byrne’s radio show and the pot going on the gas ring. My mother would then produce a bowl of Rice Krispies laced with lashings of sugar and boiling hot milk. That was the first course – it would be followed by sweet tea and buttery buttery toast. I was spoilt and being sick was made more bearable by that special treatment.

Now the winter evenings are well and truly with us, it means modern, grown up comfort food. There is one dinner that we go back to time and time again: roast beef. It is probably one of the simplest, tastiest dinners for minimum effort. This isn’t a precise recipe. The piece of beef is for four as we used the leftovers for lunch next day. So use your choice of beef cut and cook for up to an hour or beyond depending on whether you like it rare, medium or ruined.

I cut up some veg and used them as a trivet in the roasting pan. I season these with salt and pepper and pour over a little olive oil.

Place your beef on a chopping board, oil very well and then season with loads of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. This helps give the beef a nice crunchy exterior once it is cooked.

This trivet of vegetables is very important, as it serves as the base for your gravy. Once the beef is resting, you make this quick gravy. Deglaze the pan with either some red wine or water and scrape all the residue into a pot with the roasted veg. Add beef or chicken stock, your own if possible, if not there’s nothing wrong with a cube or one of those little pots, just don’t add any more salt. Let the gravy bubble away and thicken. If it is not thickening, you can add a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with tablespoon water, and bring back to the boil. Cornflour cooks out a lot quicker than a normal roux mix.

I served this roast with my version of a potato fondant Recipe Linkbut you could also just serve with roasted potatoes and with extra veg of your own choice.

My Potato Fondant

Serves 2

3 medium potatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
50g butter
Couple sprigs of thyme

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Peel and halve your potatoes. Top and tail them, making a flat surface that allows them to stand upright. As much as possible try and make them the same size and depth.
Heat the oil and butter gently and add the potatoes. Allow to brown slowly on all sides, don’t let the butter burn. Baste regularly, they should take 20-30mins or so. For the last 10 mins of cooking throw in the thyme sprigs.

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Onion Soup

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In my humble opinion, this year has had two seasons: spring straight into winter. So now we’re back to the cold evenings, the heating is on and it is time for soup. I love soup. Really I do. Love how versatile it is and how easy it is. A lot of people think soup is difficult, if you own any form of blender it is simplicity. For your multi-veg ones you can use a food processor to chop your vegetables before stewing or you can do it the old fashioned way and chop them yourself.

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I recently treated myself to a top-of-the-range knife and like the complete sad person that I am, have really enjoyed the opportunity to slice or dice anything. I had a bag of onions that were near the turn and like every good recessionista, chose to use them in a soup. French onion soup can be a palaver; there are so many variations on the recipe. My recipe is in no way traditional, far from it. It is a lighter, quicker version and perfect for reheating for work lunches. I freeze the soup in old Chinese takeaway cartons and reheat straight from frozen. If you’re eating it fresh, I definitely recommend toasting your large French crouton topped with gooey Gruyere cheese.

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My Onion Soup

Makes 6 portions

6-8 medium onions, peeled, halved and sliced
2tbsp olive oil
Knob of butter
Leaves from a small sprig of thyme
Small clove garlic, crushed
2 to 2.5 litres stock, chicken or beef
Sea salt & fresh black pepper

Heat the oil and butter very gently in a large saucepan, don’t let the butter burn. Then add your sliced onion, and gently cook for at least 20mins until soft and golden. Stir very often. It is important that you don’t let the onions catch, or else your soup will have a bitter, burnt taste. A good pinch of salt added to the onions, helps to withdraw the moisture and stop them burning.

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Once golden, add your garlic and thyme leaves. Stir into the onions and then add the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for a further 10-20mins, it really is up to you. The joy of this soup is that it can be as quick as you like. Do not season the soup until about 5-10mins before you finish it. Some stocks can be salty so it’s best to have the soup cooked before you add any additional salt or pepper.

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Variations & Tips

– I sometimes like to add a little Parmesan rind with the stock. Just remember to remove it before you freeze it.
– Before you add your stock, you can add a splash of brandy or white wine. Make sure the onions are dry and the alcohol has cooked off before you add the rest of the liquid.
– To serve fresh, cut thick slices of French loaf. Lay on a baking sheet and top with grated Gruyere cheese, or similar, and bake until gooey and golden. Drop a crouton into each bowlful of soup and slurp away.

Roasted Pork Belly with Hasselback Potatoes, Asparagus and Caramelised Apple Jus

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I love the weekend. I love having not to go to work, getting to spend some quality time with his highness the Dog and, of course, himself. Some weekends are quieter than others: this wasn’t one of them.

Himself’s aunt was 74 on Saturday and we surprised her by turning up for lunch in a restaurant local to her. It was lovely to see her face beam at seeing himself at the end of the table. We had a lovely meal and spent the afternoon chatting and got to have a walk with no rain! Saturday night, we went to pub and, therefore, Sunday I suffered with a grand amount of tiredness and hunger. There was nothing for it only a couch snooze, a read of the papers and an amount of snacking.

I started the day with scrambled eggs and toast. That got me to lunch. After much fridge gazing, my lunch was an improvised sandwich. I had no bread, so used Little Gem lettuce leaves as the carrier for some shredded ham, scallions, grated smoked Applewood cheese and baby plum tomatoes with a sprinkle of sea salt. They hit the spot and carried me through to dinner.

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Pig featured on my dinner menu too. I’ve had some pork belly strips in the freezer for a while; it was as a good as a start as any. Himself’s father gave me a big bag of apples on Saturday evening and they were definitely going to feature. The usual suspects of potatoes and asparagus were also called to the plate (sorry, bad pun). I realise that asparagus is out of season but I had a craving for an iron-y veg, the hung-over belly must be obeyed.

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Roasted Pork Belly with Hasselback Potatoes, Asparagus and Caramelised Apple Jus

This recipe serves one, but can be easily multiplied, just ensure you use larger pots and pans.

Pork
2 pork belly strips (circa 200g)
1 medium onion, peeled and cut
in four slices
2 bay leaves
1tbsp thyme
3-4tbsp cider
1tsp olive oil
Sea salt & black pepper

Potatoes
4 small potatoes, scrubbed well, skins left on
2tbsp olive oil
Sea salt & black pepper

Asparagus
Asparagus, tough ends removed
Half tsp olive oil
Knob of butter
Sea salt

Apple Jus
1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
2tbsp light brown sugar
30g butter
3tbsp cider
50ml hot water

For the potatoes, preheat the oven to 180C (fan)/200C and place the roasting pan with 1tbsp oil in it, into the oven while it is heating. Scrub them very well and dry with kitchen paper. Then, place the potato in the spoon part of a wooden spoon. This acts as buffer for the knife when you cut into them. Cut thin slices in the potato, but don’t go all the way down, the bowl shape of the wooden spoon should stop the knife anyway. Mix the potatoes in the remaining oil and slightly prise the slices apart, in order that you can sprinkle in some of the salt and pepper. Season them very well, and place cut-side down in the hot oil. Roast for 20mins, then turning and roasting for the remaining 40mins cut-side up. The size of your potatoes, will determine the length of roasting. Let their crispiness be your guide; therefore, check them every 10mins or so once they’ve been in the oven 40mins.

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In the meantime, prepare the meat. Season the pork on both sides and sprinkle over the thyme leaves. Lay your onion slices on the base of your roasting dish. Scatter a little thyme over them and tuck in the bay leaves. Pour over the cider and oil and place the meat strips on top. Depending on the thickness of the pork, they will take anything from 40mins to an hour. The strips I used were only half and inch thick so were definitely done in 40mins, with a crispy edge to them as well.

The asparagus will only take a couple of minutes in a hot pan. Sauté in the oil and coat with the butter and sea salt to serve.

To make your caramelised apple jus, melt the sugar and butter over a low heat. Add your apple wedges and cook slowly for 20mins until the apples are golden brown and sticky. Remove from the pan, then break them up with a fork. While you are resting the meat, preheat a saucepan; add the onion pieces and some of the juices from the roasting pan. Pour over the cider and add the apples, let it bubble down for a few minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Then add the water and bubble again, until you have a very thick and unctuous sauce. If you find the sauce a bit bitter, add some extra sugar to balance the flavours. You can add a little knob of butter at the end to make it even glossier.

To serve, top each potato with a little butter, and pour the jus over the pork strips. Any remaining can be served on the side.

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Lorraine Pascale’s Jam Tarts

This weekend I had absolutely nothing to do. Saturday morning brought the carpet man to the house and he fitted the new lush stairs and landing carpet. The dog has since tried to mark his territory on it; I take it as a sign of approval! I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a baker but I continue to try. I recently bought Lorraine Pascale’s latest book (Link: Fast, Fresh & Easy Food). I love her cookery show, she doesn’t make things look complicated and having seen her doing the jam tart recipe, I thought I would give it a go. The recipe uses a sweet pastry and I chose to use strawberry jam as the filling. Lorraine also recommends lemon curd as an alternative filling.

These take no time to make in the food processor, which made the recipe even more enticing to me. You have to cool the pastry in the fridge for half an hour and then it easily rolls out. Halfway through the rolling-out process, I remembered a simple fact: I didn’t have a star shaped cutter. ‘I’ll improvise,’ I thought as I pulled the scissors from the drawer. Yes reader, I cut the top of the tarts in the required ‘star’ shape. This wasn’t exactly pretty, but I tried and then gave up half way through.

My handiwork:

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After twenty minutes or so, the little beauties are ready to go. What have I learned from this baking experience?

1. I didn’t roll out the bases enough; therefore, they were too mini, when they should have been higher up the sides of the muffin tin.
2. The recipe calls for 1tbsp of jam in each tart, this is too much. The jam crept up and over the edges of the tarts. I refer you to Point 1; this could be the cause too.
3. I can’t cut stars, or any shapes for that matter, I refer you to the photographs.

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The tarts are delicious teatime treats and are nicer if you let them cool a little, but not go completely cold though. I will definitely be adding this recipe to the list of ‘to be done again’.

Baked eggs with balsamic tomatoes

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Eggs! A gift in their versatility and endless uses. I love eggs and I will readily admit that I only really learned to fry an egg after I met himself. Scrambled eggs I could manage no problem, but fried eggs were a no-go for me. Himself showed me his sure fire way, and at last I could treat myself to the sometimes necessary crispy fried egg. All you need to do is use the smallest frying pan you have, heat a tbsp of oil (I use olive oil as I like the flavour) and once the oil is shimmery add your egg and cover with a saucepan lid. Leaving the egg alone for the couple of minutes it takes, is the secret to the perfect fried egg. It should take no more than 3 or 4 mins for a soft runny yolk, for the white to be cooked with a slightly crispy base. Eat it between soft white bread, or on toast with a nice sprinkle of sea salt on top. It is time consuming, but whenever I do the full breakfast, I always do the eggs individually, they are worth waiting for!

But back to my baked eggs. On the days when I get the house to myself, I like to treat myself to a nice lunch. These baked eggs are particularly good for those days when you don’t get the chance to have a proper breakfast and end up starving. This recipe serves one.

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 slices of cooked ham, of your choice

Butter

Sea salt & Pepper

Pinch of chopped fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C.  Grease two ramekins with some butter and line with the sliced ham, being careful not to poke any holes in the meat. Gently break an egg into each ramekin. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over some of the chives, then dot a little bit of butter on top of each yolk. Bake in the oven for 12-15mins, until the white is softly solid but there is still a wobble to it and the yolk. Serve with the tomato salad.

Balsamic Tomato Salad

10 on the vine cherry tomatoes, quartered

Some red onion, very finely chopped

1tsp extra virgin olive oil

Half tsp balsamic vinegar

Sea salt & black pepper

Pinch of sugar

While the eggs are baking, mix all the ingredients for the salad together and leave it sit for a little while.

Once the eggs are baked, carefully remove from the ramekins and serve with the tomatoes. If you want, you could serve with some thick toast or fresh crusty roll.