Thursday, 21 July 2011

Chicken, broccoli and smoked cheese pie

One of the things I love about English food is the tolerant, liberal stance on putting anything between two pastry crusts or underneath mashed potatoes or breadcrumbs, and calling it a pie. Back home, pies are generally what you have for dessert. Granted, dinner might feature an impossible pie (the brilliant creation of cooks at Bisquick) or chicken pot pie, or shepherd’s pie…but each of those is a very specific recipe and has a defining word in front of ‘pie’. You’d never tell someone “I’m having pie for dinner,” and know that the other person would understand what you mean. In England, that same statement conjures up images of yummy meat, veg and gravy mixtures that are wonderfully comforting after a long day….and it make the other person want pie for dinner too.

The other day, T decided to make a breadcrumb-topped pie with chicken, broccoli and smoked cheese. It’s based on a chicken, broccoli and cheese pie from Sweeney & Todd in Reading that we sometimes share on a Friday (or, Pie Day, as we have come to call it). It’s easy to adapt the mix as you like, just make sure the cream/milk mixture comes over the chicken/broccoli/cheese in the baking dish, so it doesn’t come out too dry.

Serves 4

1-1½lb (500-600g) chicken, cut up
1½ cups (100g) smoked cheese, cubed
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1¼ cup (300ml) light cream
1¼ cup (300ml) milk
1 cup (60g) bread crumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste

  • Preheat oven to 400F/200C*. Move rack to the middle of the oven.
  • Cook chicken with garlic, lemon juice, and black pepper. Put cooked chicken in a square glass baking dish. Add the cubed cheese and broccoli, and mix with the chicken.
  • Mix cream and milk in a bowl, adding salt and pepper as desired, and pour over the chicken.
  • Cover with an even layer of breadcrumbs.
  • Bake for 45 minutes. The mixture should be piping hot and bubbling.

*If you're cooking chips/fries at the same time, increase the oven temperature as instructed for those and put them on the very top shelf in the oven. 

Serve with peas and potato wedges...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Garlic & cheese biscuits

Last week, I celebrated my seventh Independence Day in the country we sought independence from. But, it’s hard to act too superior as none of my ancestors really had much to do with the conflict, and I much prefer the other traditions associated with the day that involve lots of food, a smoky grill and an afternoon baseball game (with the time difference, we can still watch it). I would happily include sparklers into my standard ex-pat 4th celebrations, but the ones in the shops are usually left over from Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), and little sparkle remains.

This year, we and four friends sat in our grassy backyard last Monday night and enjoyed hamburgers, potato wedges, quesadillas, chicken with barbecue sauce, cucumber salad, veggies with a homemade spinach dip and corn on the cob, followed by brownies, lemon squares and blueberry/strawberry crisp. Yes, it was a little much, but I often get carried away when there’s an opportunity to put on a good spread.

I also made garlic and cheese biscuits…though over here I suppose they’d be called savoury scones. They really weren’t needed in the end, but it was an experiment that went well, so I shall share it here.

(Makes 10-12 biscuits)

2 cups (250g) flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (213g) butter, softened
teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup (about 85g) Emmental (swiss) cheese, grated
¾ cup (175ml) milk

  1. Heat oven to 450F/230C.
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, or by crumbling it into the dry ingredients (I prefer this way), until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
  3. Stir in the garlic powder and cheese, and then add the milk. The mixture should be sticky, but leave the sides of the bowl – add a little more flour if necessary.
  4. Make each biscuit either by shaping a small amount of dough with your hands into a ½in (1.5cm) thick, 2in (5cm) diameter circle, or by using a cutter that’s about 2in (5cm) in diameter. With the latter, tip the dough onto a floured surface, and knead a few times. Roll or pat to about ½in (1.5cm) thick, and cut the biscuits.
  5. Place each biscuit onto an ungreased baking tray about 1in (2.5cm) apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Let the biscuits cool for a few minutes, then serve warm or remove them from the baking tray onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Iced chai tea

The elusive British summer seems like it’s trying to prove that it really does exist, and at a good time, too. We’re well into Wimbledon season at the moment, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the aces, deuces and set points. I don’t consider myself a tennis fan generally, but I think everyone crosses their fingers for their favourite tennis player during Wimbledon.

But, I do feel a little bad for them when they have to play in the beating sun and it’s over 90F/30C out. Monday was a particular scorcher – it was hard enough to do anything more strenuous than get up to turn the fan on, never mind chase a bright yellow ball around a white-lined lawn.

While I do know quite a few Brits who are happy to drink a hot cup of tea on a day like that, it’s something I’ve never been able to adopt. Instead, I brewed up some ice tea one morning in the anticipation of needing it by the afternoon. While mixing it later, I created this chai version…

(Notice our tomato plant forest in the background)

Black tea (I used Earl Grey)

  1. Brew some strong black tea, using hot water in a teapot or cold water in a jug that’s kept in the fridge – make only as much as you will need, as it’s not recommended to keep homemade ice tea more than a day. Use at least triple the number of teabags you would normally. Brew hot tea for at least three hours, and cold tea for at least six hours, or to taste.
  2. While the tea is brewing, add 1 tablespoon of honey per two cups of tea, or two taste.
  3. After the tea is brewed, pour it into a glass pitcher with ice to cool, if necessary.
  4. Fill a glass ¼ or with milk. Add ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon (or as much as desired), and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir thoroughly with the milk.
  5. Fill the rest of the glass with ice and cold tea, and stir.