Turning 40 in Rome

Last week I turned 40.  It wasn’t awful.  Partly because, well, that’s how old I am, and partly because I did so in Rome.  It took the edge off… 😉

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Nashville Hot Chicken

We fell in love with Nashville last summer.  Oddly, it was David’s choice of destination on the trip.  I’m the country music fan but he was the one that suggested it and continued pushing for a visit, even though it was out of our way.  So visit we did and we loved it.

Nashville’s a good looking, laidback town with great food, super friendly folk and an unbelievable music scene.   The latter may seem like a rather obvious statement but we couldn’t get over just how much good music was available all over the city, all the time.  We’d go back in a shot.

Nashville Hot Chicken is a must-eat when you visit.  Moist fried chicken with a blow-your-head-off coating placed on a slice of white bread and served with pickles.  I knew I had to learn to make it when I returned and that’s exactly what I’ve done.  My waistline may never recover.  😉

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Nashville Hot Chicken 

Serves 4

8 chicken legs and thighs 

200ml tabasco sauce

2 tblspn brown sugar

Plain flour

1 litre vegetable oil

1 tblspn chilli flakes

2 tblspn cayenne pepper

1 tspn smoked paprika

1 tspn garlic powder

1/2 tspn cumin powder

1-2 slices of white bread per person

Dill pickles

  • The day before you eat, make the brine.  Add the sugar, tabasco and two heaped tablespoons of salt to 1.5 litres of water.  Heat gently on the stove until the sugar and salt have dissolved.  Let cool.  Once completely cool, add the chicken, ensuring it’s completely submerged.  Pop in the fridge over night.
  • For the hot oil coating:  Add 100 ml of oil to a small frying pan.  Stir in the chilli flakes, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika and cumin along with a teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of pepper.   Heat gently until the oil warms up and the spices combine – do not over heat, you just want the oil to become aromatic.  Set aside.
  • Remove chicken from the brine and pat dry with kitchen roll.    Warm an oven to 50oC.  Tip plain flour into a shallow bowl and season well with salt and pepper.  Heat the rest of the vegetable oil in a large pan (it should be about 3″ deep) until 175oC.  Cook three pieces of chicken at a time by dredging them in the seasoned flour, shaking then placing in the oil.  The chicken should cook for 10 mins then be turned.  Highly recommend that you read and follow these instructions for perfect fried chicken.  Place cooked chicken on a rack in the warm oven while you cook the rest.
  • Once all the chicken is cooked, gently heat the oil again then brush generously all over the chicken pieces.
  • Serve chicken on slices of plain white bread with plently of dill pickles.  I like to have a small jug of the spiced oil available for those of us who like our hot chicken extra hot.  🙂

 

Cornbread and Beans…

We ate a lot of cornbread this summer and not all of it good.  Often I found it too cakey and extremely sweet . When it was good, however, it was fantastic.  Stand out cornbread experiences included my friend, Nanette’s kitchen, the dining hall of the Folk School and an excellent brunch in Marché Artisan Foods, Nashville.

Since returning I’ve made this version by Anna Jones several times.  It’s a coriander and chilli spiked version made with cornmeal and fresh corn.  Not very traditional, perhaps, but a cracker of a recipe.

PS If you don’t know Anna Jones, I highly recommend her cookbooks.  All dishes are vegetarian and I’m yet to find one that underwhelms me.

Red Currant and Almond Muffins

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I forgot we had red currant bushes. In years past, what little crop was produced was eaten by the birds.  Not sure what happened this year but we have more red currants than we can handle!  Red currants have topped salads and cereals and they’ve been made into jelly and cordial.  The best way to eat them is by the handful straight from the bush but these muffins are a close second for me.

Red Currant and Almond Muffins

150g plain flour
100g ground almonds
3 tspn baking powder
Pinch salt
50g caster sugar
1 egg
225ml milk (plus extra if required)
60g butter melted
1 cup red currants
1 tblspn almond extract

  • Preheat oven to 190oC and butter a muffin tin.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl then stir in the red currants until evenly distributed.
  • Briefly whisk together the wet ingredients and add to the bowl. Use a large metal spoon to fold ingredients together. Do this briskly and do not over mix. Add a little extra milk if required.
  • Spoon batter into tins (approx ⅔ full). Bake for 25 mins until risen and golden on top.

Spiced Chickpea Puffs

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I’m off to North Carolina this weekend to teach another cooking course at the John C Campbell Folk School.  Cannot wait to return.  It’s a beautiful place, in every sense: a peaceful, creative, supportive environment in the tranquil, green Appalachians.  They run all kinds of craft based courses – ironmongery, weaving, painting, wood turning – and students come from far and wide to study for a week or two and soak up the mountain air.

This year my course’s focus is baking.  My students and I will be making cakes and biscuits and scones and puddings.  And there will be pastry too.  Pastry is the diva of the food world, I think.  A stunning performer but there’s no rushing it and it must be handled just right.  I’ve been practising different short-crusts and rough puffs for months now and have found the recipes that work for me (Leith’s and Dan Lepard, respectively).

Last week, however, I decided to give proper puff pastry a bash.  I’d always heard that even professional chefs don’t make their own and assumed it was going to be highly technical, time consuming and, ultimately, not really worth it.  Good puff pastry is available in the shops, after all.  But I was wrong on almost every count.

Following the Bourke Street Bakery recipe (superb book, by the way), it turns out that the process of laminating the butter into the flour is pretty straight forward.  It was time consuming in that I had to start 24 hours in advance and for the first few hours I was rolling  for a short time every 20 minutes, but it wasn’t labour intensive and I could potter about whilst the dough was resting.  And the end result?  Well, it was phenomenal.  Light, buttery, crisp and flaky pastry.  I will most certainly be making it again.

I used the pastry to make the following Spiced Chickpea Rolls (based on another recipe from the Bourke Street book) and they were a big hit with everyone who tasted them.  Even the most committed carnivore admitted they were better than their more common sausage counter part.

Shop bought puff pastry would work perfectly well here but should you feel the desire to try making your own, instructions can be found here.

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Spiced Chickpea Puffs

Makes 10

800g puff pastry

Olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 red peppers, chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tins of chickpeas

1 heaped tspn cumin

1 heaped tspn coriander

½ tspn chilli flakes (optional)

250g fresh spinach

Juice of one lemon

½ tspn salt

3 tblspn tahini

Handful of chopped coriander

1 egg white

Paprika

In a large pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over a medium high heat.  Add the onion and saute until starting to soften.  Add the peppers and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the garlic.  Cook for two more minutes before adding the spices and chickpeas.  Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes more.  Stir occasionally and add a tiny bit of water if the mixture sticks at all.  

Stir in the spinach and pop a lid on to allow the spinach to wilt.  Once wilted, remove from heat and add the lemon juice, tahini and salt.

Spoon half the mixture into a food processor and whizz until a rough paste is formed.  Return to pan and mix to combine with whole chickpeas (you want a varied texture).  Stir through the coriander and let cool for an hour.

Heat the oven to 200oC.

Gently roll out the puff pastry to 5mm thick and cut into rectangles (slice – don’t press down), approx 15cm x 30 cm.  Spoon the mixture onto one side of the pastry then fold over and crimp edges together.  Place on baking tray.  Repeat until all pastry has been used. (There may be mixture left over – it makes a nice veggie burger.) Brush rolls with egg white and dust lightly with paprika.

Place in oven and turn temperature down to 180oC.  Cook for 30 mins then remove from baking tray and place on wire rack in oven.  Cook for another 15- 25 mins more until pastry is crisp on top and bottom.

Allow to cool slightly before eating.