Feast or Famine

With one away on school camp, another at university and the third spreading his wings into life outside the confines of the school timetable, dinner time catering has been flipped on its head. From loaves and fishes it has become ‘how do I cram all of these leftovers back into the refrigerator that no one was home to consume but out of habit I cooked anyway?’ As such, I was peering into the chilled shelves when met with the questioning stare of some lovely marinated baked chicken wondering what its next culinary incarnation would be. Thankfully, I have tucked away, a simple and quite delicious chicken curry recipe that requires leftover cooked chicken.

This recipe has also dealt with excess charcoal chicken purchases and the unthreading of chicken kebabs that the barbeque crowd simply could not finish. Not only surplus chicken, this recipe requires fresh tomatoes – which we have in abundance right now and any opportunity I have to use them outside of pasta sauce or salad becomes a hallelujah moment. Last winter I became a serious curry cook so my spice library is fully stocked. The remaining ingredients are basically pantry mainstays so I did not need to set foot outside of the kitchen to put this one together.

Nearby on the sideboard, two plump eggplant made themselves apparent. They were trophies brought in from the garden earlier in the week and having served their admiration purpose sufficiently were ready for the pot. Madhur Jaffrey, my Indian food go to has a simple recipe, Aubergine with Nigella seeds, which my daughter has affectionately shortened to ‘black seed’. This vegetable dish is the perfect accompaniment to any curry, so that’s where those eggplants were going to perform their swan song. With these two dishes underway, all that remained was to boil a pot of rice, spoon out a fresh bowl of yoghurt and pan fry some frozen flat bread for sauce dabbing. By the time you lay all of these dishes out on the table, it appears as if a magnificent feast has been prepared. At this point, I can never resist slipping out to the garden just beyond the kitchen door and plucking a sprig of lemon balm or mint to garnish the yoghurt bowl.

It doesn’t really matter who appears at the table, as this meal seems to go around generously and anything left is further enhanced in flavour the following day as the spices are given extra time to develop. A recent purchase of a tiffin carrier means I can individually pack any leftovers and deliver them to a very appreciative grandmother who can also have her own mini feast. I have coveted these little stainless steel carriers for years, my first introduction to them being at a cricket match when Australia was playing against India. I sat behind an Indian family and at lunch break was fascinated as they unclipped each individual pot from the stack and doled out rice, curry and like to all of the family present. Our local supermarket had a shipment of these shiny wonders recently, so of course one was slipped into the trolley with the milk, oats and washing powder.

flexible chicken curry
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
½ tsp salt
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
2-3 tomatoes roughly chopped
300ml chicken stock
cooked chicken chopped into bite sized pieces
2 tbsp yoghurt

Heat the oil in a heavy based pot and fry the onion gently with the salt until softened. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the spices and cook stirring continuously for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir through for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Add the cooked chicken and stir through the yoghurt. Simmer for another 5 minutes or until the chicken is well heated through.




chicken and leek pie

Apart from the usual positives of sharing a roast dinner with the neighbours, another perk came in the form of a new idea. What usually becomes of the remains of a roasted chicken in this house, is sandwiches and dog scraps (in that order). Never has a scrumptious chicken, leek and mushroom pie ever crossed my mind as the finale for these birds.

Fortunately, I have a kitchen savvy pal living right opposite, who was not only quick to point this out, but even speedier to extract the leavings and seal them in an airtight, assuring me they were perfect for such a purpose. As we cleared and reset for dessert, she had rattled off her method, which as I scraped and stacked, I quickly committed to memory. The following night, the family received such pie – a far cry from dog scraps.

If you can keep this plan in mind after your next chicken roast, I am able to attest that the end result is going to be: happy families and disappointed dogs.

1 leek
200g button mushrooms
75g butter
2 tbspn flour
500ml chicken stock
2 big handfuls of shredded cooked chicken
2 sheets puff pastry
milk to brush

  1. Slice leek and mushrooms thinly.
  2. Melt butter in a large frying pan and cook leek and mushrooms until soft.
  3. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. You will have a thick mass.
  4. Gradually add stock, stir and cooking until you have a consistency that you like for your pie filling.
  5. Add the chicken and stir until heated through. At this point season, but be very careful with the salt as sometimes the stock contains enough. Set to one side.
  6. Line the base of your pie dish with one sheet of the pastry and prong it all over with a fork to prevent it rising. Bake in a 180 degree oven until par-cooked (about 10 minutes).
  7. Push down any risen puffed bits on the base and add the pie filling.
  8. Cover with remaining sheet of puff pastry and seal by pinching the edges together all the way around. Lightly score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife and brush with milk. Put the pie back into the oven for a further 20 minutes or until well browned. Serve.

chicken and leek pie filling

Postscript: Don’t forget, if you have a spare moment, post chicken pie, join me over here at the new Plain and Simple Facebook page.



slow roasted beans

By this stage of the season, simple is the adjective we reach for when thoughts turn to the day’s upcoming menu.

On recent supermarket visits, I notice basic items – the likes of yoghurt, eggs and honest loaves returning to people’s trolleys in an attempt to restore equilibrium after lavish seasonal feasting. Lovely as it is to enjoy the spoils of Christmas, we eventually seek out the familiar constituents our system and soul relies upon throughout the mainstay of the year.

Delectable leftovers must not be ignored either – so constructing a meal that incorporates feast remnants in a toned-down fashion, is the aim. Our succulent ham, after featuring as the celebration table hero, took a backseat to some lovely baby tomatoes and the pantry staple – beans. Here’s how it went:

750g small tomatoes
bulb of garlic separated into individually peeled cloves
200g chopped ham of the bone (small chunks, not thin slices)
salt and pepper
2 cans of beans (butter, cannellini or whatever you prefer) drained and rinsed
1/2cup chicken or vege stock
small bunch of oregano sprigs
feta cheese to serve

Place tomatoes, garlic and ham in a roasting pan, and cook for 30 minutes in a 180 degree celsius oven for 30 minutes. Season with pepper and a little salt. Once the tomatoes are shrivelling and the ham has crisped a little, add the beans, stock and oregano and cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and crumble feta over the top. Serve with warmed pita bread.

pita beans hamPostscript:Ham still in plentiful supply, any further suggestions welcome…