Jen's Kitchen offers a fresh approach to home cooking with exciting recipes and blog posts that emphasise hands-on cookery using local and organic produce.

Quick Chicken Pie

Sometimes all you want is a bit of comfort food, even in the middle of summer (What Summer??). Chicken pie with a Parmesan and breadcrumb crust is very quick and easy.  And involves very little hard work.  But tastes so good, you need to make twice as much as it will be devoured. The chicken should be free range if possible, but at the very least Irish. It can be just tasteless otherwise, never mind the adverse affects of cheap chicken imported from goodness knows where.

EASY CHICKEN PIE

Serves 4

Ingredients  

4 Chicken Breasts, diced

1 Onion, peeled and chopped

Bread Breadcrumbs

Grated Parmesan Cheese

Some Herbs

Black pepper

200ml cream

50g butter

50g flour

Method

Put the diced chicken breasts in a large saucepan with some black pepper, herbs and the onion.
Chicken Goujons
Add enough water to cover.

Bring slowly to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken, chop into pieces and place in an oven proof dish.

Chicken Pie
Sieve remaining liquid back into pan and reduce until its approx 1 pint in liquid.

Meanwhile melt the butter until frothy, add flour and mix to a paste.”ROUX”.  Cook this for at least 1 minute.

 

Add the roux to the stock liquid, whisking over a medium heat, it will thicken after a few minutes.  Add cream and simmer for 3 minutes.

Pour liquid over chicken pieces.
Chicken Pie

Mix breadcrumbs and cheese together, sprinkle over the chicken in the dish.

Chicken Pie
Put into a medium oven (180oC) for 20 minutes until brown and bubbly.

Chicken Pie

Chicken Pie ready to serve

This pie is particularly delicious with some potatoes to mash into the sauce, but a green salad or some crunchy french beans would also go well in flavour with the pie. Me? I like it with a glass of white wine and a salad.  With maybe some roasted fruit and ice cream for dessert.
Chicken Pie

Take a Gondola up a Mountain… but walk down

I thought we were mad, taking a gondola up a mountain but not down.  But it’s the done thing apparently. Although a large number of intrepid travellers took their mountain bikes up with them to cycle down. But I’m not THAT adventurous.  Mind you, the lads were, and really enjoyed it, even if it was very tricky underwheel at times.

So in theory, I was fine with it.  But I’d never been in a gondola.  And of course it was only when I was in it- sh*tting myself that I realise why it’s named “gondola”….. it’s like the boat.  It rocks!!! Course Nigel and Jords were in the complete knots laughing at me. Both of them had been in one before, so knew what to expect.  Thankfully I’m not afraid of heights, so that part didn’t bother me.  And as long as noone rocked the boat- so to speak- I was fine!

The trip up was truly spectacular.  You can get a three day pass, entitling you to use gondolas in Switzerland, Austria and Italy.  We were lucky enough to be only 30 minutes from the borders of Italy and Austria.  Which was good as the prices of everything is prohibitive to any spending Switzerland, but as we had bought the pass in Austria we were still able to use it in Austria, Switzerland and Italy.


We got up to the top successfully, and then we embarked on the long trip down.  As “Seasoned” orienteerers we expect to take a map and follow our bearings.  But there was no map, just general signposts that point generally down!

Gondola Station at the top

Gondola Station at the top

So off we trotted.  And trotted, and trotted.  It was a bit of a hike to be honest.  But we only went wrong once.  Thankfully.  As there was a lot of thunder in the distance and we really didn’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm!

The flowers were truly beautiful, like they had been for the duration of our trip.  I wish I brought my Webb with me. (Remember THAT book!)

Switzerland

Alpine Flowers

We eventually got on the right track, and let’s be honest, ultimately you really only have to go down!
Gondola

Course there was wildlife too- in the form of cows with BELLS.  Who doesn’t like cows with bells??
Gondola

It’s a great way to pass a few hours, not overly strenuously, in beautiful scenery.  Makes you feel good about the world.  And a little bit small in the grand scheme of things between all those mountains.  Bringing perspective to our lives. And maybe a little poetry.

“Our lives are Swiss,

So still, so cool, Till, some odd afternoon,

The Alps neglect their curtains,

And we look farther on.

 

Italy stands the other side,

While, like a guard between,

The solemn Alps,

The siren Alps,

Forever intervene!”

Emily Dickinson (1830 1836)

 

 

‘Tis the Season for Courgettes

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Courgettes.  I love them as they are such a great and versatile vegetable.  And I hate them as they come in a glut.  Too many all at once causes courgette overload.  And soup, always an option, isn’t that inspiring after the fifteenth batch.

Courgettes

Courgettes fresh off the vine- they come in every shape and size

It’s a little cheeky to call this a recipe at all- maybe a posh kind of canapé! As really there’s only three ingredients, and a small bit of slicing.

The trick is to cut the slices about 10mm thick.  I know this sounds very accurate for a recipe with just three ingredients- but trust me on this one.  Any thicker and they don’t cook properly.  Any thinner and they just melt.

Courgettes
The next crucial point is not to be stingy with the Parmesan.  And although I am a purist when it comes to grated cheese (I prefer to grate it myself- over processing dislike disorder)- in this case, if you are catering for a large crowd, feel free to buy your Parmesan grated.

Of course in America this would be called Zucchini.  Which sounds quite posh, and this variety of vegetable originated there- so it’s rather apt, although the name (zucchini) came about when it arrived in Italy.

Courgette and Parmesan tastes

Ingredients

Olive Oil

Parmesan Cheese

Courgettes

Method

Preheat oven to 200°C.  Lightly grease a couple of baking trays.

Slice the courgettes into rounds approximately 10mm thick.

Brush with olive oil and lightly season with black pepper.

Top carefully with the grated parmesan and put in the oven for about 15 minutes.  Watch them carefully- you want the cheese to be a rich golden brown.

Try not to eat them all before you get to them to the guests!

Parmesan Courgettes

Parmesan Courgettes

What do I do?

You know yourself, you meet someone in any kind of a social context and invariably the question comes around to “What do you do?”.  It’s something I struggle to answer.  Not for any reason except I’ve a *a few* career changes over my life.  And as I heard the ponderings on the radio about the Leaving Cert results today, I started thinking about my own journey.

My Dad worked in his job for 46 or 47 years, can’t remember which.  And for 99% of the time, he just loved it.  But times have changed and people move jobs for different reasons these days.

In my case I moved away from full time pharma as they were being inflexible with regards hours.  And I loved Micro.  There was no such thing as job sharing or flexitime at that stage.  And as I chatted with my best friend on the phone yesterday, we both remarked we might still be there if they had been a little more accommodating.

Food has always been in our lives- and I even did a short stint on the telebox with it- in Heat. Don’t mind the pic- it’s shocking- how they managed to get a picture of me not smiling is BEYOND me- maybe they stole my chocolate fondant….

But we’d moved to Waterford and set  up an IT business.  I’d NO CLUE what we were getting into.  And probably wouldn’t have done it if I knew what I know now. But I have just loved it, course I’d no clue about accounts.  (And 15 years later I’m wondering what I’ve actually learnt LOL).  It’s so different from a clean room and a microscope.  But some things are the same- paperwork, systems, computers.  So I was able to use my skills learnt all those years ago. There’s been fun times too-

Do - Sage Summit if you get a chance

Do – Sage Summit if you get a chance

And then as I was exploring my passion for food, I decided to fulfil a long time dream of doing the Ballymaloe 12 week certificate course.  So I suppose you could technically say I’m a chef.

Me doing something I REALLY love

Me doing something I REALLY love

But I’ve other *jobs* too- taxi, guidance counsellor, farmer (a very loose term!), gardener, bottle washer, diplomat, secretary, social secretary…….. just because not all jobs are paid work doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

What do I do??

Enough!

 

Bananas about Baking

Everyone has bananas hanging around the house. And banana bread is always a fall back option.   But sometimes it’s good to change things up a little.  These could almost pass for breakfast. Almost. There’s oats, very good for you- bananas, lots of vitamins and minerals and chia- one of my favourite additions to give an extra dose of omega-3. Give them a try- easy baking to do with your little darlings aswell.

Bananas

Sure it looks like breakfast???

 

Using  up Bananas Tray Bake

Ingredients

225g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

225g light brown sugar

150g porridge oats

150g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons of chia seeds

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 bananas, chopped

Method

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Lightly grease medium sized baking dish with butter and line with greaseproof paper. (I say medium as really, the banana bake will be either flatter of higher depending on the size of the dish, and I don’t want to put anyone off baking this as they don’t have the right size).

Bananas
Mix the porridge, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Whisk the  brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla in another large bowl until mixture is smooth. I use my Kenwood for this. But it doesn’t need an electric mixer really, I was just being lazy!

Slowly add the butter into brown sugar mixture, whisking constantly until well blended. Add the bananas and chia seeds to the dry ingredients; toss to coat. Stir into brown sugar mixture. Spread this into the prepared dish. Bake until the cake is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely in dish. Cut into bitesize pieces.

Bananas

Super Easy Banana Bake

The Healthier Roast Dinner

Who doesn’t love a roast dinner? We regularly have a Roast Chicken dinner as a treat.  And depending on the time of year, may of may not have “all the trimmings”.  In the summer I try to add fresh salads instead of stuffing, and new boiled potatoes instead of roasties.

  • Choose your meat carefully

A Roast dinner is like any meal really- you can choose to make it healthier with just a few simple changes.  The one thing I don’t like to compromise on is the meat.  I’m not a fan of buying leaner meat to reduce the fat.  Cook it with the fat on to give it the taste, but you don’t have to eat the fat once it’s cooked- except if it’s pork crackling- then you do.  It’s the law. And if you do buy a lean joint.  Wrap it in some good quality prosciutto or failing that back bacon, it needs the fat to help the flavour!

Chicken PrepIn this case I’ve taken a free range chicken (organic is just out of my budget unless it’s one of our own- and they aren’t really suitable for roasting.)  Sprinkled a little flaky sea salt and some freshly cracked black pepper, and added the slightest drizzle of some super duper special olive oil.

  • Make sure the balance of vegetables on your plate is right.

This means in essence- make sure you have more vegetables/ salad on your plate than everything else. And yes, I know we are all trying to be conscious about portion sizes.  But in this case- as long as there’s no hidden dressings or gravy over it all- go for broke.

  • Sauces

Speaking of sauces- they are often a key addition to any Roast dinner.  If you really have to have gravy- make it yourself- and be careful of the amount of salt you add.  Also it’s ok to have a little gravy, the spuds don’t have to be swimming in it!  The same with the salad dressing- make it yourself- or even just sprinkle over some good quality extra virgin olive oil.

But in this case we’ve gone with simple. Some homemade coleslaw, my super salad and some boiled new potatoes.

Healthy Roast Chicken Dinner

Healthy Roast Chicken Dinne

Now I’m off to watch the olympics….

 

 

 

My Super Salad Recipe

There’s always a buzz around making “Super Food” but for me, sometimes it is as simple a task as making a nicely boiled egg, served with some homemade brown bread.

My kind of Super food

My kind of Super food

Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet!

A single large boiled egg contains

  • Vitamin A: 6% of the RDA.
  • Folate: 5% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B5: 7% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B12: 9% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B2: 15% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 9% of the RDA.
  • Selenium: 22% of the RDA.
  • Eggs also contain decent amounts of Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium and Zinc

The Term “superfoods” has no scientific basis whatsoever.  It’s a marketing term designed to sell products. There are not often many facts to back up some of the bold claims made every day in the media, and on food packaging.  The current hype behind “Super” foods is population driven, as we all strive to have healthier lifestyles.

And some foods do contain lots of what we need- eggs (as discussed!), blueberries, acai berries and pomegranate, to name but a few.  But the problem with the science bit, is that a closer look reveals the difficulty in applying the results of these studies to real diets. This is because the conditions under which foods are studied in the lab are often very different to the way these foods are normally consumed by people in their everyday lives.

And while we are looking at studies on the ‘healthfulness’ of foods it is important to note that many researchers study foods in isolation. Given that people normally consume combinations of foods, picking out a single one to study does not really reflect real human diet. There is strong evidence to suggest that in some cases co-consumption of foods can actually increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The beta-carotene in carrots and spinach, as an example, is more readily absorbed when eaten together with a source of fat such as salad dressing.  So have a bit of butter on your spud!

I know I joke about quinoa, and my eldest is very reluctant to eat it regularly as he consumed so much of it in Peru- but I can across a very simple salad that I call my “super salad”.  Quinoa is gluten free, and has a high protein content, which makes it pretty good for you, it is also easy to digest so suitable for everyone.

Quinoa & Bulgar

And the best thing is- you can add what you want.  I don’t think it even needs a dressing.

Quinoa Super Salad

Ingredients

300g un cooked Red Quinoa

2 peppers, yellow and red preferably

150g feta cheese

a handful of fresh herbs

Method

Cook the quinoa according to the instructions- I normally boil for 14 minutes.  Then drain and run through cold water to help reduce the stickiness.

Transfer to a serving dish.

Finely dice the peppers and stir into the quinoa, also crumbling in the feta.

Stir well and add some fresh herbs before serving, this dish is best served cold from the fridge.

Quinoa Super Salad

 

A Restaurant in the Sky

I was privileged and excited to be able to fly Business Class with Aer Lingus on a recent work trip to Chicago.  To be honest we were probably more excited about this then the actual trip….

The first thing that you very much appreciate is the check in process.  Usually the queue is a mile long and can take up to an hour to get through.  We just walked up to the desk.  Handed over the travel agents documents and ta dah- that was it.

We very much looked like children in a sweet shop, and the lovely service agent joined in on our enthusiasm.  And sent us on our way to the “pre-clearance lounge”.

It was around lunch time, and I (as always) was a little peckish- so loved seeing all the goodies!

Hols 2016 013

The Aer Lingus Lounge Restaurant

I had some cheese, crackers and a sneaky glass of wine, while my better half tried the minestrone soup.  There was a fantastic array of drinks- both soft and otherwise and snacks to try.  Like any good restaurant the fridges were well stocked.

We were both conscious of the time it can take to get through American Security.  The visa etc were all in order, and to be fair, all the Aer Lingus staff we had met had said we would be called in plenty of time.  But eager beavers that we were we headed down in plenty of time.  These lines and officials are always a bit daunting.  But we faired ok, and took the option of not doing the self service, which meant we got to speak to a real person, with whom we had a nice chat about Waterford.

Of course in our heightened level of excitement we had only half heard that there was a second Aer Lingus Lounge.  the new (only open THAT WEEK) 51st & Green lounge was really a step up.  With truly panoramic views of the runway it was spacious, and airy. And the food- oh my- better than any airport restaurant food.

Hols 2016 020

Loved this light in the new Lounge

Of course I was thrilled to see my favourite biscuits featured- the Lismore Food Company.
Hols 2016 018

Mind you all of the other food looked to be sourced from small Irish food companies- take a bow Aer Lingus, take a bow. And all beautifully presented.

The 51st&Green Restaurant offering

The 51st&Green Restaurant offering

And then it was onto the plane. Tara was our flight attendant and was the nicest person you could meet. There’s buckets of space, especially for short legged creatures like me.  And after a glass of champagne (yes on the way out!) we were off.

A long time customer of ours is featured on the menu, and we were only dying to see what food there was.  Needless to say the food was excellent. Pat Whelan’s beef is always great, and now we know it travels well too.

Hols 2016 038

Some Canapes

My smoked salmon starter was lovely, and it came with the CUTEST bottle of salad dressing I’d ever seen.
Hols 2016 043

Hols 2016 044

Dolls House size Condiments

Hols 2016 051

Sorry about the dodgy picture- my hands were shaking with excitement LOL

Hols 2016 052

Of course I got a bit carried with the important stuff like eating.  And forgot to take photos of the main courses.  But honestly, pudding is what you really want to see? And the profiterole cake really good.  I nearly regretted our decision to each get something different at that point, but the cheese was delicious too.

And stuffed to the gills we settled back to watch some TV.

Roasted Cauliflower- honestly- it’s a good thing

I know it sounds chic and what not- and if I’m being perfectly honest a little pretentious.  If I saw it on the menu at a restaurant, it might be one of the last things I’d consider ordering- after quinoa salad.  But it’s good.  A pretty spectacular vegetarian dish that’s easy to prepare and looks good presented on the table.

cauliflower

Originally from Cyprus, the cauliflower was introduced to France from Italy in the 16th Century.  Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying that cauliflower is simply cabbage with a college education.

Of course JUST cauliflower would be a teeny boring and not sufficiently colourful for me as a meal. So I added a warm sweet potato salad.

Roast Cauliflower & Warm Sweet Potato Salad

Ingredients:

1 large Cauliflower

4 Tablespoons of Olive oil

Some spices of choice- I like using garam masala, turmeric and coriander- ½ teaspoon of each

2 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and chopped into small “chips”

½ Teaspoon of Chilli Flakes

2 red onions, peeled and quartered

1 can of chickpeas, drained

200g of cherry tomatoes, halved

Fresh Coriander, torn

1 avocado, peeled and sliced into cubes.

Method:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, with a pinch of salt.  Add in the washed and de-leafed cauliflower. Simmer, whole for 8 minutes. Remove to the side after this time.

Heat a large roasting tray in the oven at 200oC.

Toss the red onion, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and chilli flakes in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Roast for 20 minutes.

Mix the remaining spices with the remaining olive oil, and then spoon this over the cauli.  Add it to the roasting vegetables and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Cauliflower

The Addition of Herbs

Remove from the oven, move the cauliflower to a serving dish and gently toss the coriander, avocado and tomatoes through the roasted vegetables. Serve slices of the cauliflower with the tasty roasted vegetable salad.

Cauliflower

French Bean Pasta

Trying to come up with different interesting and nutritious vegetarian dishes every day for large quantities of people with limited ingredients is a challenge. And although pasta is great for numbers it’s something that you don’t want to give every meal.  But in this case it’s gorgeous.

French beans are in season at the moment. sp are the veg du jour. They are hugely versatile as they can be boiled, fried, blanched, baked, and stir fried.  I’m kind of in love with them to be honest, especially as they are easy to prepare. They are also really easy to grow.

They are thought to have originated in South and Central America where their cultivation was started around 7000 years ago. When Christopher Columbus returned from his second voyage to the New World around the year 1493, he brought the French bean to the Mediterranean region. At that time French beans were considered rare and therefore expensive but very soon became one of the most commonly used beans. They were introduced to France in the year 1597 by the Conquistadors.

French Bean Pasta

Ingredients:

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or minced

500g French Bean

1 aubergine, cubed

1 courgette, cubed

200g fresh small leaf spinach

150ml Crème fraiche

Fresh herbs- usually flat leaf parsley

pasta of choice

Method:

Prepare the required quantity of french bean by topping and tailing them.  Then blanch them for 5 minutes by putting them into boiling, salted water for 6 minutes, then immediately cooling them under running cold water, or into iced water preferably. Slice into bite size pieces.

Bean Pasta

French Bean slices with the aubergine


Sauté the onion and garlic gently in the olive oil until translucent. Add the courgette and aubergine and continue to cook, stirring for about ten minutes until both of these vegetables are cooked.  Add back in the beans, and the spinach and cook until the spinach looks droopy!

French Bean Pasta

Copious amounts of vegetables!

Meanwhile cook the pasta, drain reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid or “liquor”as it’s known in the *trade* (LOL). Mix in the veggies, and the crème fraiche.  Season very well, and serve immediately. In this case I did not have spinach to hand so used rocket instead.  This makes the sauce quite highly seasoned which suits the creamy crème fraiche sauce.

french bean pasta

French bean pasta