Thursday 27 September 2007

Microwaving veggies: try a paper bag!

Since my last post about the deliciousness of microwaved vegetables, I've spent a few hours experimenting with different cooking techniques for various lovely seasonal veggies, including fresh asparagus and broccoli, ears of sweetcorn, tiny new potatoes and frozen peas.

I've tried everything: putting the veggies naked on the turntable; placing them in a glass jug topped with an upturned plate; wrapping them in various things (clingfilm, sandwich paper, dry newspaper, wet newspaper, clingfilm); putting them in a bamboo steamer; even sealing them in a Tupperware container. All were good, but not one technique stood out as brilliant, until....

UNTIL... the white paper bag. I put a fistful of fat fresh asparagus spears into a plain white paper bag, added a tiny sprinkling of water, folded the top of the bag over once or twice, and microwaved on High for three minutes. To say that I nearly fainted when I tasted them, dipped deeply into a bowl of foaming lemon butter, is no exaggeration. Try the technique: you will be amazed at the results. The paper bag traps all the steamy flavour, allows the veggies to cook quickly, and keeps them moist and slightly springy - but never soggy. I then experimented with broccoli, sweet corn and sugar-snap peas, with the same excellent results.

Though I used white paper bags, I'm sure a plain brown paper bag would work just as well.


- Put the veggies into the paper bag immediately before you microwave them. If you leave them lying around in the bag, the paper might go soggy and split.

- Add a few flavourings to the bag. To my broccoli bag, I added a dash of Kikkoman soy sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice and a fresh garlic clove. To a paper bag of frozen peas, add a few sprigs of fresh mint and a lump of butter. A sprig of rosemary tucked into a bag of tiny new potatoes will impart a lovely resiny flavour.

- Instead of adding a splish of water to the bag, try a sprinkling of lemon juice, white wine or chicken stock.
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Saturday 15 September 2007

Are you scared of your microwave oven? Try broccoli in it

What's with this paranoia about microwave ovens? I know people who won't have one in the house, let alone cook anything in one. Presumably this aversion stems from a terror that the microwaves will seep from the machine and fry the brain and/or frazzle the pets. Or perhaps the belief that microwaving somehow damages food on a molecular level, or creates toxins or carcinogens when plastic's involved, just runs very deep. Celebrity chefs are among the worst culprits when it comes to microwave-phobia. 'A MICROWAVE OVEN?' I've heard Gordon Ramsay roar on his show Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Ok, I can understand him getting vicious about some lazy yobbo zapping everything in the microwave, but I just don't understand the general prejudice. There are certain foodstuffs that turn out better - or at least just as good - when microwaved that they do subjected to any other type of cooking. Look, it's not a long list, I concede, but if you're a home cook toiling at the rockface of family catering, the microwave really is your best friend.

Here is my list of eminently microwavable foods:

Broccoli and asparagus (method below). The tender-crisp crunch, flavour and brilliant colour of properly microwaved broccoli and asparagus beats boiling, steaming and grilling hands-down. Carrots, peas, courgettes, mielies (corn cobs), cauliflower and leeks are good done this way too.

Chocolate Chocolate melts extremely quickly and beautifully in a microwave. Why sweat with a bowl suspended over boiling water? Tips for melting and tempering chocolate in a microwave from

White sauce There's less stirring involved when you make a white/bechamel sauce in a sturdy glass bowl in the microwave, and the jug is definitely easier to clean afterwards. Don't be alarmed if lumpy clumps appear at the bottom of the jug during the process: give the mixture a good whisk to disperse the lumps and carry on microwaving it. Recipe here.

Popcorn Popcorn dry-microwaved in a paper bag is so quick and easy - and you don't get burned and unpopped bits. See my blog post with instructions here.

Microwaved Broccoli or Asparagus
Put the broccoli or asparagus in a glass or ceramic bowl or dish. Add 1 tablepoon butter (or olive oil, but butter is better). Cover with a lid, or with a piece of greaseproof paper. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and toss the vegetables well so that they are thoroughly coated. The remaining cooking time will depend on the quantity of veggies and the size of the bowl: the best method is to continue cooking the vegetables in one minute bursts, checking for doneness after each minute.

When the veggies are just tender (ie, you can push a sharp knife tip through the thickest part of the stem without feeling any springy resistence) remove the dish from the microwave and set aside for 30 seconds. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice or whatever. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday 10 September 2007

A million ways to roast a chicken: here's mine

Roasting a chicken really is a no-brainer, and something a 10-year-old child could master with ease. But have you noticed how much conflicting advice there is out there about the best method? Cookbooks and TV programmes boast about having the BEST EVER recipe, one that produces a result far more crisp, tender, tasty and flavoursome than your pathetic attempts at roasting a bird.

My chickens, ready for the oven
Put the chicken on its front. No, put it on its back. Put it on its front, then turn it  on its back. Put it on its side for half the cooking time. Heck, no, stand it up in the oven! Put a can of beer up its bottom! But before you do that, brown it all over in a hot pan then put it in the oven.

Wrong: put it in a roasting bag. Remember to loosen the breast skin and pack in plenty of butter and (freshly plucked) herbs. Or a glug of olive oil. Or drape some bacon over the breast.

Trim off the excess fat, and the pope's nose and wing tips. No, on second thoughts, leave them on so the chicken doesn't dry out.

And what about the cavity? Put nothing it it. Put lime leaves in it. Put half a lemon in it. Boil the lemon first (Jamie Oliver). Or, put garlic in it. Or herbs. Or garlic and herbs. Or, garlic, herbs, and an old bicycle pump.

A bay leaf is essential. NO, it's not! Only rosemary will do. Rosemary? Are you a freakin' Philistine? Only thyme organically grown by Sherpa maidens on the upper slopes of the Himalayas will suffice!

Well, you get the picture.

Here is my method of roasting chicken. It works for me, but I cannot claim it is the BEST EVER.

POSTSCRIPT, 2016: I used to roast chickens at 180 °C, but - oops - in recent years I've had better results with a cooler oven temperature and more time in the oven (see amended recipe below). The longer roasting time allows time for flavour-packed sticky golden residue to form under the chicken, and the flesh remains juicy and tender.

Roast Chicken

1 fresh free-range chicken
vegetables to go under the chicken: sliced carrots, celery, unskinned onions
1 lemon
fresh herbs of your choice (thyme, rosemary, a bay leaf)
fresh garlic, plus a slice of onion
chicken spices of your choice
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 150° C. Arrange a bed of vegetables the same size as the base of the chicken in a roasting pan. Put the chicken on top, breast-side up.

Cut the lemon in half. Squeeze the juice over the chicken. Put the squeezed-out lemon halves, herbs and garlic into the cavity.

Tie the ends of the drumsticks together. Grind a little salt and pepper over the chicken and dust with spices/seasonings of your choice.

Roast for about two hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut into the thigh joint (the bone should feel very hot,and the drumsticks should move independently of the body when you give them a wiggle). Remove the chicken from the oven, cover loosely with tin foil, and rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Serves 4 - 6. 

Now that I've got that off my breast, tell me how you roast YOUR family chicken.

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Sunday 2 September 2007

Favouring Curry: Green Pawpaw and Granadilla Chutney

Try this palate-tingling fresh chutney next time you make a curry - it's quite simply delicious, with elusive and unusual flavours. It's adapted from Atul Kochhar's wonderful book Simple Indian. I saw first saw Atul cooking on the BBC food programme Great British Menu, and was so intrigued by the praise he got from the judges (Prue Leith called him 'a genius with spicing') that I bought the series cookbook and tried out a few of his recipes. After I tried his Tandoori Chicken with Black Lentil Sauce and Herb Pulao, I had to agree - a genius.

The original recipe calls for raw green mango, but as mangoes are out of season I used a green pawpaw (papaya). Atul sieves the granadilla pulp, but I kept the seeds in, for a lovely crunch.

Green Pawpaw and Granadilla Chutney
1/2 a large, green-skinned, underripe pawpaw, deseeded and peeled
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and sliced
1 green chilli, chopped (remove the seeds if you want less heat)
grated zest and juice of 1 lime or lemon
100 ml coconut cream
1 t (5ml) palm sugar, grated (ordinary sugar will do)
1/2 t (2.5 ml) salt
2 T (30 ml) finely chopped fresh mint
pulp of 1 fresh granadilla

Coarsely grate the pawpaw and set aside. Put the garlic, chilli, lemon zest & juice, coconut cream, sugar and salt into a blender and whizz to a paste. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the grated pawpaw, mint, and granadilla pulp. If the mixture is a little too stiff, add more coconut cream.

Serves 4 as a side dish. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly