Challenge No. 46 – Chicken and Gravy Pie

This is another challenge suggested by my lovely mum.  I don’t really remember eating pie much as a child but during my teens, I remember mum and I getting excited about having some yummy chicken and gravy pie served with deliciously creamy mash potato.  My love of chicken pie wasn’t missed by Dave and on my first birthday with him, he bought me some frozen chicken pies 🙂

I started looking for recipes a while ago but I couldn’t find the right thing.  All of the recipes I found included vegetables in the pie or where with a really creamy sauce.  But this wasn’t right! I knew exactly the type of pie I wanted but I couldn’t find the right recipe.  And then, I stumbled across a chicken stew recipe in one of my cookbooks which looked perfect.  The recipe is from The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney.  This book is great because it gives you a slow cooker version of the recipe as well as a tradition method.  I’ve had this book for a while now and every recipe I’ve made has been delicious!  I would definitely recommend it.

Anyway, the recipe I decided to use was for a chicken and beer stew.  I decided to make the stew and then pop it into a pie dish to top with puff pastry.  I’ve had a bit of a disaster with pastry recently and so I decided to make my life a little easier by using ready to roll pastry.  So for this recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:-

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 30g butter
  • 2tbsp vegetable oil
  • 750g (approx 3 large) onions, thinly sliced
  • 30g plain flour
  • 3-4 tbsp brandy
  • 500g mushrooms, quartered
  • 5-6 parsley sprigs
  • 2-3 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp juniper berries, gently crushed (I used my pestle and mortar)
  • 500ml beer
  • 250ml hot chicken stock
  • 4 tbsp double cream
  • 1 pack just roll puff pastry

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I started off by seasoning the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  I heated the butter and oil in my big pan over a medium to high heat until it was foaming.  I then added the chicken and cooked for about 5 minutes on each side until browned.  I put the chicken to one side.  

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I turned the heat down to medium and cooked the sliced onions for 10 minutes. 

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Whilst the onions were cooking, I started to make a bouquet garni with the parsley, thyme and bay leaf.

Practical tip: a bouquet garni is like a floral bouquet but made with the herbs.  Simply take the herbs and tie them together with some cooking string.

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Once the onions were soft, I sprinkled in the flour, gave it a good stir and cooked it for around 2 minutes.  I put the chicken back in in a single layer before adding the brandy and letting it come to the boil for a few minutes.  During this time, I kept spooning the brandy over the chicken.

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I added the mushrooms, bouquet garni and the crushed juniper berries.  I added the beer and the chicken stock.  Once the liquid was boiling, I put the lid on and left it to simmer for 50 minutes.

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As I was approaching the end of the 50 minutes, I rolled out my pastry to ensure it had time to settle.  I lightly dusted the work top and rolled out a third of the pack into a rectangle.  I placed the pie dish upside down on the pastry and cut round it with a sharp knife.

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When the timer went off, I pulled out the chicken and used forks to shred it.  I then returned it to the pan and stirred through the cream.

I portioned out some of the stew into my pie dish and brushed the edge with some water. I then used the cutoffs to line the edges, brushed it with a little more water and then positioned the pastry lid on top.  I used a fork to seal the edges and then used a sharp knife to put a cross in the centre.

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Practical tip: freeze the leftover stew and pastry to use another day.

I put the pastry in the oven on 200 degrees celsius for 20 minutes until the puff pastry was golden brown.

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I served up with some mash potato which I made using some of the double cream.

Ed - served up

This dish was absolutely delicious!! The pie filling was rich and full of flavour, the top was lovely a crispy and the mash was so creamy…the perfect combination.  I can’t wait to use the leftovers and I will definitely be making this again for my mum when she visits!

Coming up next, Challenge No. 47 – stollen.

Challenge No. 36 – Eggs Benedict

Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner…I really don’t care what time of day it is, I will always happily devour a plate of eggs benedict.  I absolutely love it and I cannot get enough of hollandaise sauce.  This recipe was suggested by mum and whilst I was so happy to get to eat this dish as part of Challenge 52, I was actually pretty terrified about making it.  I’ve always cheated and used a egg poaching microwave gadget and packet hollandaise sauce.  But as Challenge52 is all about learning new kitchen skills and recipes, it is only right that I made the sauce and learn to poach eggs the proper way.

I’ve actually tried poaching an egg before.  I got a pan, half filled with water, I added a splash of vinegar, gave it a stir and added my egg.  It all sounded right but the results was anything but.  The egg just spread out in the water and made a right mess.  I ended up getting out my microwave cheat and I haven’t tried again since…until now.

I found this recipe by Jamie Oliver which looked absolutely delicious! The recipe serves 2 to 4 people, however, this is a dish Dave didn’t want to try (sometimes I really don’t understand him!!) so I adjusted the quantities.  I love hollandaise sauce so I left the quantities for this bit unamended meaning I could have lots of it! I also decided to leave out the lemon from my spinach, simply because I’m not a fan of food which has been covered in lemon.

So for my slightly adjusted recipe, you will need the following:-

  • 2 spring onions
  • olive oil
  • 200g baby spinach
  • 1/2 a whole nutmeg, for grating
  • Salt and pepper (missing from my photo!)
  • 1 English muffins
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 1 large slice of ham
  • For the hollandaise:
    • 100 g unsalted butter
    • 2 large free-range egg yolks
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1/3 tbsp lemon juice (this is also missing from my photo!)
    • white wine vinegar

Edited - ingredients

I started by making the spinach topping.  I finely chopped the spring onion and added it to a pan with some hot oil.  I gave it a stir and then added the spinach.  It was near enough spilling over the side of the pan so I decided to let this cook down slightly before I grated over half a nutmeg and seasoned it with some salt and pepper.  I then gave it another mix together and let it cook until all the moisture was cooked out.  This actually took quite a while and at one point I decided to squash the spinach to release some of the water and then tip this out of the pan.  Eventually I had a lovely smelling and dark spinach mixture which I transferred to an oven proof dish, covered with foil and popped it in the oven on a low heat to keep warm.

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Practical tip: my research told me that hollandaise sauce doesn’t reheat very well.  However, to make the sauce and poach eggs at the same time is not easy.  So I dug out a thermal mug, filled it with boiling water whilst I made my sauce.  When the sauce was done, I poured the water away, dried the mug and added my sauce.  I put on the lid and put it to one side whilst I poached my eggs.  It worked perfectly!   

With my thermal flask heating up, I got on with the hollandaise sauce.  I filled my small pan with some water and put it over a medium to low heat.  I then separated the egg yolks and put these into a heatproof glass bowl.  At the same time, I measured out the mustard and lemon juice ready to be added to the eggs. 

Edited - eggsWhilst the pan was coming up to heat, I melted my butter.  The recipe says to do this in a pan on the hob.  However, I don’t have enough pans for this so I decided to melt it in a jug in the microwave and it worked perfectly.

Edited - butter

Once the pan of water was just bubbling, I put the bowl with the eggs in on top (making sure the water didn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  I started whisking the eggs, poured in the mustard and lemon juice and whisked it together.  I then very slowly added the butter, being sure to continue whisking constantly.

Practical tip: keep an ice cube to hand and if the mix starts to split add it to your bowl.  I didn’t have to do this but apparently it helps.

When the sauce started to thicken up, I added a splash of white wine vinegar and gave it a taste.  It was delicious! So I emptied and dried the thermal flask before pouring in the hollandaise sauce to keep warm.

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I sliced the muffin in half and popped it under the grill whilst I poached my eggs.  I half filed a large pan of water and bought this to a simmer. 

Practical tip: make sure the water isn’t too hot.  It should be just simmering, but definitely not boiling.

Edited - simmering water

I put a drop of white wine vinegar into a small jug and then broke in one of the eggs.  I whisked the simmering  water with a balloon whisk to create a vortex before carefully pouring the egg into the centre.  I did this very slowly, dipping the tip of the jug into the water to help with a smooth transition.  I then covered the pan and let it simmer for 3-4 minutes.  I fished out the egg with a slotted spoon and put it on some kitchen roll to drain off.  I then repeated this with my other three eggs.

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Once these were done, it was time to assemble everything.  I topped each half of the toasted muffin with some ham, the spinach mixture, a poached egg and finally some of the lovely hollandaise sauce.  Time to tuck in 🙂

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Oh my gosh! This was absolutely amazing! I am so proud of myself for the poached eggs.  The first one was slightly over done but the other two were perfectly runny.  And the hollandaise sauce was so rich and quite frankly so much nicer than the packet stuff I usually use! I can’t believe I’ve never made this before.  If you are a fan of eggs benedict I would encourage you to give this recipe a go!  I’ll definitely be making it again and again.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 37 – panna cotta with fruit coulis

Challenge No. 31 – Battenberg

On the week that Great British Bake Off returns to our TV’s, this seemed like the perfect challenge for me to make.  I’m so excited to see what’s in store for this year’s contestants and to get lots of inspiration for future bakes 🙂 We’re even having our own bake-off at work.  We each have a contestant and the week the contestant goes out the competition, you have to make a cake for the office.  I’ve got to get my thinking cap on so I can make a great cake and I’m hoping my contestant (Paul) does well! I’ll be sure to post a picture of my cake when he goes out or (hopefully) wins!

For now though, it’s back to Challenge 52 and my first attempt at battenberg.  This challenge was suggested by my colleague Dean.  Unfortunately, I messed up my planning a little bit and have made this challenge on a week when Dean is on holiday! I sent him a message to apologies and his love of battenberg is so strong that he told me my P45 was in the post! Thankfully he was only kidding but I’ve still promised to make it again for him in the near future.  Luckily it turned out to be really yummy so I’m more than happy to make some more (as it means I get to eat some too!) 🙂

For this challenge, I decided to make everything from scrap, so I spent Sunday making apricot jam, marzipan and the sponges before putting it all together to make a beautiful battenberg treat.  I used one recipe for the jam and another for the battenberg.  I then adapted the recipe from Challenge 15 Simnel Cake for the marzipan.

Obviously you could use shop bought jam and marzipan but if you fancy a go at making the full shebang, you’ll need the following ingredients:-

  • Jam
    • 500g apricots, halved and stoned
    • juice of half a lemon
    • 250ml water
    • 500g caster sugar
    • Small knob of butter
  • Marzipan
    • 112 g icing sugar
    • 87g caster sugar
    • 175g ground almonds
    • 1 large egg
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract
    • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Cake
    • 175g butter
    • 175g caster sugar
    • 175g self raising flour
    • 3 large eggs
    • 65g ground almonds
    • 3/4 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract
    • Pink/red food colouring

Edited - ingredients

I started off by making the jam.  The recipe will make far more than you need for the battenberg (I filled one large jar and one small jar) but it tastes so yummy and will keep in the sterilised jars, it doesn’t matter.

I washed the chopped apricots and then put them in a large pan with the lemon juice and water.  I put the pan over a low heat and slowly brought the liquid up to a simmer.

Edited - chopped fruit Edited - jam pre sugar

Practical tip: when juicing a lemon, pop it in the microwave for around 30 seconds to warm it slightly as this will help release more juice. 

Once the liquid was simmering (careful not to boil it at this stage!) I set the timer for 15 minutes and waited patiently.  When the timer went off, I took the pan off the heat, poured in the caster sugar and stirred until this was fully dissolved.  I then added the butter, returned the pan to the heat and turned up the temperature slightly. 

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Once the mixture was boiling I set the timer for another 15 minutes and put a small plate in the fridge to chill.

When the 15 minutes was up, I used a teaspoon to put a small amount of the jam on the chilled plate.  I waiting 1 minute and used my finger to push the jam.  It was still a little runny so I left the pan bubbling for another 4 minutes.  I then tested it again and decided it was practically there.  I put the jam into my sterilised, hot jars and put the lids straight on.  I also put a little jam into some tupperwear to use for the battenberg so I could keep the jars sealed for another day.

With the jam done, I got started on the marzipan.  I sifted the icing sugar into a bowl and added the caster sugar and ground almonds. I mixed it all together and then made a well in the centre.   

I put the egg, almond extract and lemon juice into a jug.  I then poured it into the well in the dry ingredients and started to bring it all together with a spoon.  It then reached the point where I needed to get my hands dirty and I finished mixing it by hand until I had a ball of paste.

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I dusted my worktop with icing sugar and kneaded the ball of marzipan until smooth.  As mentioned above, I used this marzipan recipe when I made my Simnel cake and at this point the marzipan kept sticking to the worktop.  This time round I used a little more icing sugar when I dusted the worktop and I didn’t have the problem of it sticking 🙂

I put the marzipan ball into a bowl (dusted with icing sugar) and covered it with cling film.

Edited - resting marzipan

Whilst the marzipan was resting for 2 hours, I got started on the cake.  The recipe uses the all in one method. So I started by putting the caster sugar, flour, ground almonds and baking powder into my bowl.  I added the softened butter, the eggs and vanilla and almond extract.  I gave it a quick mix with a wooden spoon to start bringing it together and then finished the job with my handheld electric mixer until combined.

Edited - cake mix

I then separated the mixture into two separate bowls; using the scales to try and make sure it was roughly even.  I added some food colouring to one of the bowls and mixed until the colour was even throughout.  In hindsight I should have added a touch more colouring as my pink cake was not very pink but its one to remember for next time.

I don’t have a battenberg cake tin so I followed the recipe to separate my 20cm tin into two halves.  A bit of foil, some baking paper, some special folds and I was done.  It wasn’t as neat as I’d have liked and my sponge ended up a bit wonky but because I had to trim it down anyway, I wasn’t too worried.

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I put the different coloured mixtures into each side of the tin and popped it in the oven on 180 degrees celsius for 20 minutes.  I then checked the cake and left it in for approximately another 7 minutes.

Edited - ready to bake

Once the cake was cooked, I left it in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

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I waited until the cake was completed cool before trimming it into 4 equal oblongs. 

Practical tip: be sure to trim off the top, bottom and sides of the cakes before cutting in half lengthways. 

I then started to roll out my marzipan.  I positioned the slices of cake together to check whether I had rolled it big enough and had to make it a little longer.

Edited - rolled marzipan

Practical tip: put the marzipan between two pieces of baking parchment to roll it out.  This stops it from sticking to the worktop or your rolling pin but also means you won’t risk ruining the texture by adding more icing sugar.

I them heated up some of my jam and started to put it all together.  The recipe says to push it through a sieve but I decided not to do this as I didn’t think it was all that necessary.  I brushed the sides of my cake slices and put them together in a chequered pattern.

Edited - jam on sponge

I put the cake onto the marzipan and rolled it over to cover.  I used my fingers to gentle press the join together.  I trimmed the edges and used the back of a knife to score a pattern into the top.

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And there it is, my first ever battenberg. Oh my gosh was this delicious! I love cake, jam and marzipan…put them together and it’s like heaven on a plate.  A good cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg; definitely the best of British 🙂

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Coming up next week, Challenge No. 32 – leek and gruyere quiche. Hope to see you then.