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Chicken with Lemon & Capers

Chicken with Lemon & Capers

Capers are an ingredient that I always, always have either in my larder or in the refrigerator.   I just adore their tangy flavour and the flavour boost they give to dishes that they are used in!  I had never ever heard of them prior to moving over here to the UK.  Mind you I hadn't discovered pizza until my late teens, nor Chinese food!  I had a really limited experience with food when I was growing up.  It was all simple but good.  Nothing fancy smancy, and I guess I carried that somewhat into my adulthood . . .  with a few new discoveries along the way, of course! 

Capers are the small flower buds of a Mediterranean  shrub called Capparis .  They are picked by hand which means they can be fairly pricey but they're a versatile store cupboard ingredient, and are good for adding a distinctive sour/salty flavour to many savoury dishes.  Also a little goes a long, long way flavour wise, so they are not a bad investment as they will keep virtually forever in the refrigerator so long as you keep the berries submerged in the pickling liquid if you have bought the pickled ones and salt is a natural preservative so the salted ones keep virtually forever as well. 

Really small, peppercorn-sized capers, called 'nonpareille' are available, but the slightly larger ones are more common. Capers are preserved a number of ways - either in salt, wine vinegar, brine or olive oil. The brine-pickled type has the sharpest flavour and is slightly less versatile than the salted type. For a more sophisticated caper flavour, you can try the elegantly stemmed caper berries, which are a little milder and sweeter than the standard type. I have a bottle of those in the larder, which I have yet to use.  I think they are more for dinner party garnishes, and we don't have many dinner parties. 

They go really well with mild flavoured proteins such as chicken and mild flavoured fish . . .  and they are great in tartar sauce!   They actually help to bring out the best in these things . . .  and when you mix them with lemon, it's a combination that  just goes WOWSA in your mouth! 

This dish here today is one of my absolute all time favourite chicken dishes.  I could seriously eat it every night of the week . . .  well, maybe not every night, but fairly often anyways!

The chicken is so tender in this . . . because it cooks so quickly and that sauce is just to die for.   Buttery and lemony . . . with just the right amount of salty piquancy!  I just adore this and I think you will too.  It's quick and easy and just fancy enough to be considered special.

*Chicken with Lemon and Capers*
Serves 4
This is so impressive, and yet it is quick and simple to make.  The sauce is rich and delicious.  Have all of your ingredients ready before you start and things will run as smoothly as clockwork.

12 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces divided
2 TBS finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
80ml chicken stock (1/3 cup)
1 sp sugar
3 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 tsp parsley flakes
fine sea salt
2 heaped dessertspoons of non-pareil capers, rinsed and drained
For the Chicken:
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (or use cutlets)
2 TBS grated parmesan Cheese
45g flour (1/3 cup)
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
olive oil
8 ounces (1/2 pound) angel hair pasta, cooked and drained to serve

Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally through the middle so that you have 8 fillets. Put them in a plastic baggie, one at a time and pound lightly to 1/4 inch thickness throughout. Season liberally all over with salt and pepper. Mix together the parmesan cheese and flour. Dredge the pieces of chicken in this until well coated. Set aside.

 Heat a swirl of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Once it is hot add the chicken and brown well on each side. (About 3 minutes per side. Don't overcook) Remove to a plate and then keep warm in a low oven.

Add 1 TBS of the butter to the pan. Reduce the pan to low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the chicken stock, sugar, parsley flakes and lemon juice. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. Turn the heat down to very low. Start whisking in the butter a bit at a time, letting it melt before adding more. The sauce should form a thick silky emulsion.

Stir in the capers. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

To serve divide drained pasta between plates. Top with chicken pieces and spoon sauce over all. Serve immediately.

This is absolutely gorgeous.  Just looking at the pictures makes me want to eat it all over again!  I just know you will love it too!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake

Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake

This chocolate cake is "The" chocolate cakes to end all chocolate cakes.  I always struggle with showing my chocolate bakes in a positive light.  They are incredibly difficult to photograph!  This is especially disappointing when you know what you have baked is incredibly moist and delicious!

How do other people cope with the "Chocolate" bake?  I would love to hear any suggestions you might have that would help me to take better photos.  But then again . . . 

Its all about how it tastes . . .  not how it looks and this tastes incredible. 

This has been my go-to chocolate cake for years now.  I can't remember where the original recipe came from.  I strongly suspect the back of a tin of cocoa powder . . . 

It is dense . . .  and moist . . .  and very chocolatey.  If anything it tastes even better the day after you bake it . . .  when all of that chocolate ripens and gets ooey scrummy, delish.

*Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake*
Serves 12

Moist, dark and really delicious.  The chocolate snacking cake to end all chocolate snacking cakes! 

380g granulated sugar (2 cups)
245g plain flour (1 3/4 cup)
85g cocoa powder (3/4 cup) (Not drinking chocolate)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tsp salt
2 large free range eggs
240ml milk (1 cup)
2 tsp vanilla
120ml vegetable oil (1/2 cup)
240ml boiling hot coffee 

For the frosting:
6 TBS butter
350g icing sugar (2 2/3 cups)
55g cocoa powder (1/2 cup) (Not drinking chocolate)
80ml milk (1/3 cup)
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 180*c/ 350*F/ gas mark 4.  Butter a 9 by 13 inch baking tin and lightly dust with flour, shaking out any excess.  Set aside. 

Whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Add the eggs, milk, vanilla and vegetable oil.  Beat with an electric whisk for 2 minutes on medium speed, stopping to scrape up the sides and bottom.  Beat in the hot coffee. The mixture will be very thin. 

Pour into the prepared pan.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely in the tin, placed on a wire rack. 

Beat the butter for the frosting until fluffy.  Sift together the cocoa powder and the icing sugar.  Beat into the butter, alternately with the milk and vanilla until smooth and of spreading consistency. (You may need additional milk or sugar.  Use your own judgement)  Cut into squares to serve. 

Every time I bake this I am incredibly grateful that I have neighbors and friends that don't mind me gifting them with it.  Todd is not a fan of chocolate cake at all, and I am not supposed to be eating it at all . . .  but every now and then a gal just has to do what a gal has to do.  When the kids were growing up it was never around long enough to be a problem!  You could also bake it in layers if you wanted to, just reduce the baking time to about 25 to 30 minutes if you do.  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
Testing Pastas

Testing Pastas

I was recently sent an assortment of different pastas to  try out and so we had a pasta day in our house where I cooked up a few old favourites and a few new favourites.

One of the pastas I was sent was a fabulous filled Gluten Free Tortelloni. A Tomato and Mozzarella Tortelloni.  As soon as I saw it I thought of this delicious salad that I make from time to time.

I love Caesar salad and I love pasta. It made perfect sense to me to combine the two of them.

This is a very hearty salad, but makes for a delicious light supper. It is quick and easy to throw together.

Along with the Tortelloni I add some blanched broccoli and chopped tomatoes, red onions, baby gems, some croutons and bacon bits and a good Caesar Salad Dressing.  This is gorgeous.

*Caesar Tortelloni Salad*
Serves 4

A delightfully quick and deliciously different Caesar Salad! 

1 package of refrigerated cheese filled tortellini (about half a pound in weight)
2 baby gem lettuces
a handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 of a small red onion, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 a small bunch of broccoli, separated into florets
to finish:
crisp garlic croutons
bacon bits
grated and shaved Parmesan cheese
your favourite Caesar Salad Dressing (I like Newman's own)
coarsely ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil.   Drop in the tortelloni and broccoli florets.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until done, as directed on the package.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  Drain again.  (I spread it out on a large baking sheet which I have lined with a clean tea towel.
Separate your baby gems into individual leaves, cutting any larger ones in half if necessary.  Wash and dry.  Place them into a large salad bowl.   Top with the red onion, cherry tomatoes and broccoli.  Sprinkle on the garlic croutons, bacon bits and cheese.   Toss with your favourite Caesar Salad dressing and then  grind some pepper over top.  Serve immediately.  You may pass extra croutons and cheese if you wish.  It makes a lovely light lunch!  For a heartier meal add strips of grilled chicken or beef.

Note - when using a Gluten Free Tortelloni take care to note that it does NOT need to be cooked as long as regular Tortelloni.  You run the risk of it turning to mush.  Cook only for 45 to 60 seconds. They do tend to be a bit more fragile than regular tortelloni.

Its really nice to know that people who are glucose intolerant are now able to enjoy a lot more options when it comes to eating.

  Evexia Gluten Free Tomato and Mozzarella Tortelloni are available in two flavours, Tomato and Mozzarella as well as Spinach and Ricotta.

I was also sent some of the Evexia Gluten Free Chickpea Fusilli. This has a lovely nutty flavour, and is packed with fibre and protein.  They also have a penne pasta

The Evexia range is dedicated to optimising nutritional well being. Launched late last year, its tortellini has already won gold at the Free From Food Awards 2017! The range is all suitable for coeliacs, those following a low FODMAP diet and vegetarians. The fusilli and penne are also suitable for vegans. It’s available in Sainsbury’s, Asda, Wholefoods and Ocado, with the price starting from £2.

I used the fusilli to make another favourite of ours. (Well mine, really as you know Todd is not fond at all of pasta although I do get him to eat it every now and again.)

This is a recipe that is very quick to throw together (and even quicker using the fresh pasta fusilli.)

I have added bacon to the dish because we like bacon and it goes very well with peas and cheese!

But if you wanted to keep it totally vegetarian, you could just leave out the bacon altogether and maybe add another vegetable.  There is plenty of protein in these fabulously tasty chick pea fusilli anyways!

*Fusilli and Peas, with Bacon and Cheese*
Serves 4 to 6
(Depending on appetites) 

A basic stove top mac and cheese filled with lovely bits of crisp bacon and sweet English petit pois! 

340g of uncooked fusilli (3 cups)
450ml of milk (2 cups)
1 TBS butter
2 TBS plain flour
240g of grated cheese mix (2 cups)
(mine was a mix of strong cheddar, gouda, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses)
120g of red leicester cheese, grated (1 cup)
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste
8 slices of lean streaky bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped coarsely
a mug of frozen petit poits, unthawed

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Whisk in the flour.  Cook over medium heat for about a minute before whisking in the milk.  Cook, whisking constantly, until it bubbles and begins to thicken.   Whisk in all of the cheese, whisking until it is melted.   Season to taste with cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Set aside and keep warm. 

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to the boil.  Cook the pasta according to package directions, adding the frozen peas during the last minute.   Drain well and then add to the sauce along with the chopped bacon, tossing to mix all together well.  Serve immediately.

Note - Using the refrigerated chick pea fusilli, means that your pasta will be cooked in 3 minutes maximum of time, so do bear that in mind!

I was also sent a selection of the new Dell' Ugo latest Pasta Plus Range. The Pasta Plus range consists of five gorgeous fresh, filled pastas all with a delicious accompanying butter. The reason behind adding the butter is to create the perfect meal all in one without having to pick up any extra ingredients. I was sent a pack of the Goats' Cheese & Beetroot with Mint Butter and the Ricotta & Spinach Ravioli with Sage Butter. 

The Dell' Ugo Goats' Cheese & Beetroot Fiorelli with Mint Butter is a free range egg pasta filled with goats'cheese and beetroot which comes with a small pot of mint butter to toss with cooked pasta.  This specially infused mint butter has been developed to go deliciously with this filled pasta.

I really enjoyed this one.  It is filled with a mix of goat's cheese, mascaropone cheese, beetroot and beetroot relish.  No surprise here as I adore beetroot.  The mint butter went beautifully.  I did add a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese as suggested and a generous grinding of black pepper.

The Dell'Ugo Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli with Sage Butter, contains more of the free range egg pasta, filled with leaf spinach and ricotta cheese, and then a delicious herb infused butter made especially to go with the spinach and ricotta.

Luxurious and silky, this was also a perfect combination of flavours.  I again, topped it with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a hefty grinding of black pepper.  I also quite enjoyed this one, but of the two my favourite was the one with the beetroot. 

The same love and care goes into every pack of Dell'Ugo pasta made today, just as it did when Luigi Ugo sold his first packet back in 1929. This new range of fresh pasta has been uniquely developed by Expert Chefs using British free range eggs and the finest ingredients from around the world. ​ The butter used is  freshly churned Somerset milk. Just melt on and enjoy.

Other options available are an Asparagus and Mozarella Fiorelli with a Lemon Butter, and a Butternut and Squash Ravioli with a Garlic and Herb Butter.  All can be purchased at Waitrose/Ocado for approximately £3.99.

If I had any criticism of these at all it would be that the package is purpoted to serve two people, but only fed a greedy me.  😛

Many thanks to both Evexia and Dell'Ugo for sending me these pastas to try out!

Note - I was sent the pastas free of charge for the purpose of review, but was not required to write a positive review in return. Any and all opinions are my own.
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Marie Rayner
Heavenly Ham & Cheese Hots

Heavenly Ham & Cheese Hots

Every Monday evening the members of our church hold what is known as Family Home Evening. It is a time which is expressly set aside to spend time together as a family  and will usually consist of a prayer, a spiritual thought, a fun activity and something tasty to eat.  These Heavenly Ham & Cheese Hots make the perfect "something tasty" to eat!

They are so simple to prepare and you can make them up a few hours ahead of time, brushing them with the butter mixture just before baking.

They are so very simple to make.  I buy soft dinner rolls that are attached and I leave them together, without breaking them apart.  Like one big soft roll composed of smaller rolls.

I then use a sharp serrated knife and cut them horizontally through the middle, trying to keep them as intact as possible.  The bottom half gets put into a buttered baking dish.

I spread this with a mix of mayo and ranch dressing and then begin layering on thinly sliced ham and thinly sliced cheese . . . then the top halves get put on top of everything.

A mix of melted butter, mustard, brown sugar, poppy seeds, onion powder and worcestershire sauce gets brushed over top and you pop them into the oven to bake . . .

Until they are heated through and the cheese gets all melty and the buns are golden brown and toasty.  Then all you have to do is cut them into individual sandwiches and serve.  You can do everything but brush the melted butter mixture over top well ahead of time, which makes them perfect for things like Family Home Evening!  I serve some potato chips on the side and maybe some pickles and everyone is a happy camper!

*Heavenly Ham & Cheese Hots*
Makes 12 sandwiches 

Nothing new here, just some tasty hot sandwiches that are great for pot lucks and game nights!

175g butter, melted (3/4 cup)
1 TBS creamy Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soft light brown sugar, packed
1 TBS poppy seeds
1 tsp onion powder
12 soft dinner rolls, unseparated
110g mayonnaise
110g ranch dressing
1/2 pound thinly sliced baked ham
1/2 pound thinly sliced emmenthaler cheese (swiss) 

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.  Butter a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. 

Whisk together the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, poppy seeds and onion powder. Set aside.  Whisk together the mayonnaise and ranch dressing. Set aside. 

Keeping the rolls as much in one large piece as possible, cut the in half through the middles.  Place the bottom half (halves) into the prepared baking dish.  Spread with the mayonnaise mixture.  Lay the ham slices evenly over top.  Place the cheese slices over top of the ham and place the tops of the rolls on top of the cheese.  Brush the butter mixture all over top, pouring some down the sides of the dish, etc.  Use it all up. Cover lightly with foil. 

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, uncover and bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer, until golden brown and the cheese has melted.  Cut into individual sandwiches to serve.  Serve hot!

These actually work very well for any type of get-together.  Game nights.  Bon-fire night.  Halloween.  They are so tasty, you might be tempted to have a get-together just so you can make them!  Bon appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Smoked Sausage & Cabbage Skillet Supper

Smoked Sausage & Cabbage Skillet Supper

I confess most Sundays when we get home from church I am absolutely starving.  It will have been at least 8 hours since I have gotten up and probably about 6 since breakfast so about that time I could just about eat anything.  If I have been smart and planned ahead, I will have dinner waiting for us in the crock pot.  If I haven't, I will have to resort to looting the cupboards and refrigerator to see what I can come up with quickly. You might feel the same way any day of the week actually, especially if you have been out working or shopping all day! You want something to eat and you want it now!

I had a grandmother who could make a meal out of just about anything.  I'm happy to say I have inherited her ability to do the same thing.  I had a package of smoked sausage in the refrigerator, a white cabbage, a bag of new potatoes, and some onions in the cold storage beneath the stairs.

I chopped up the cabbage along with some onion, in nice large chunks, and then I cut the smoked sausage into half moons.  I peeled the new potatoes and popped them into a saucepan of lightly salted water and brought them to the boil. (If you are really feeling lazy you don't need to peel them, just wash them really well.)

I heated a splash of light olive oil in a skillet and then threw in the smoked sausage, browning it all over.  I scooped it out to a bowl, and added the cabbage and onion to the pan, along with some seasoning and garlic. I stir fried this until it was crispy tender.  In the meantime the potatoes were boiling.

Once the vegetables were crispy tender, I threw the smoked sausage back into the pan and added some vinegar and mustards, an almost Germanic touch. By the time the flavours had all melded together nicely,  the potatoes were done and ready to drain.

I tossed them with some butter, seasoning, a bit of dried parsley flakes and voila!  Dinner was ready.  A meal fit for a king . . . and ready in not much more than about half an hour.   I'd call that a result!

*Smoked Sausage and Cabbage Skillet Supper*
Serves 4
A  wonderful  autumnal supper.  Simple, easy to throw together and quite, quite delicious!

2 pounds of smoked Sausage, fully cooked,
cut in half and sliced into half moons
1 TBS olive oil
1 medium head of white cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped
1 large cooking onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grainy mustard

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet.   Add the smoked sausage.  Cook and stir over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.  Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onion, cabbage, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper to the pan.  Toss to combine.  Cook and stir for about 10 minutes, until crispy tender.  Add the vinegar and both mustards, along with the browned sausage.  Cook and heat through for a further couple of minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required.   Serve hot with some boiled new potatoes and crusty bread.

I love simple meals like this, and if you are a regular reader of this blog, I know you are too.  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner

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