Monday, 5 August 2013

Summer in the city

Why does a summer morning feel like every other summer morning? Walking to the tube at 7am on Sunday, streets quiet, concrete breathing the promise of heat - my commute this weekend sent me straight back to sleepy starts in Paris, to the early shift at summer camp, to the times when you're the first one awake on holiday and you take it upon yourself to go out and buy the bread and milk and croissants. That hum of anticipation that cities do best. London is blustery today and we are still internet-less in our new house, so I am writing this camped out in a coffee shop at the end of our road. So far managing to resist the exquisite-looking patisserie (watch this space), if only to avoid the price-tags. In my last post I wrote about being flat broke. Forget that - last time I checked my bank balance, I was practically flat-lining. Oh well - nobody said moving to London would be cheap ... This city might be swallowing my money, but I couldn't be happier. I have now officially moved in (and no longer paying two rents!)

It's definitely true that you learn something every day. I learnt a lot of things last week, and one of the most useful was how to actually enjoy tequila. Forget the salt and lemon: line up a shot of tequila and a shot of apple juice. Tequila, juice. I promise that you will never want to drink anything else. Other things I learnt: sometimes it's worth paying extra for the bubbles. Thanks, Julia. Saying goodbye to this girl was one of the reasons I was sad to leave Surrey after all.

Julia and I used to work together and while we know how to work hard, we know how to play hard too. (If scurrying away from a potential night-club to get a doner kebab at 1am can be counted as playing hard ...) We certainly know good pancakes when we see them. 

If you find yourself in Guildford before 12 noon, please make your way to Bill's and order their buttermilk pancakes. You won't regret it. 

I have a recipe for you today, too. It involves cream and parmesan so before I post it, here are some of the healthy things I have been eating lately ... 

(Butternut squash chips with a very random salad - wafer thin ham and roasted courgette, two boiled eggs, beetroot, and Dijon mustard)

(Wonderfully cheap strawberries from Acton market)

(Halloumi salad courtesy of Megz and Dani)

Okay, now we've got that out of the way, on with the recipe. I missed my dear friend Rishi's birthday this year. I have missed most of his parties over the years due to being abroad, but this year my excuse was even worse, and I spent the weekend of his party in bed with a stomach virus. To make it up to him, I threw him a little dinner party. A few ideas were floated, but then we almost simultaneously came up with the inevitable choice - the meal that Rishi used to dish up for often vast numbers of people in his tiny Paris apartment - Jamie Oliver's mustard chicken with dauphinoise potatoes. I'd love to say I worked out a way of making this dish healthier. To be honest, I wasn't planning on eating the dauphinoise potatoes, but when I pulled them out of the oven, all my good intentions melted along with the cheese, and I decided I'd found a new use for my weekly points ... 

I have such fond memories of this meal from Paris. If anyone tries to tell you you can't make dauphinoise potatoes without an oven, then they're wrong (although it does help). Basically taken from Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals, with a few tweaks...

Mustard Chicken with Dauphinoise Potatoes (serves 4)
You'll need:
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
600g potatoes
1 x 300ml tub single cream
Parmesan cheese
fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

4 chicken breasts
3 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
2 large leeks
3 cloves garlic
75ml single cream (taken from the tub for the dauphinoise)
2 tsp wholegrain mustard

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Peel and finely slice the onion and garlic. Wash but don't bother peeling the potatoes. Slice them as finely as you can. Tip into a large roasting tin with the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in about 1/3 of the tub of cream. Tear in a handful of rosemary and about 1 tbsp of grated Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil. Mix it all together and pour in about 150ml boiled water. Put the tray over a medium heat on top of the oven, cover with tin foil. (This stage starts to cook the potatoes so they don't take so long in the oven.) They'll need to cook in this way for about 10 minutes probably. Take off the tin foil after a while, peek inside and stir it so it doesn't burn. 

Dice up the chicken breasts into generously sized chunks. Put them in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil (although I do always use Fry Light these days - have never noticed any taste difference when frying food, and you do save points if you're following Weight Watchers.) Toss both types of mustard into the pan, along with more chopped garlic. Start to cook the chicken. Stir it occasionally while you chop the leeks into small rounds (or enlist the help of a friend to stir or chop). After about 5 minutes of cooking the chicken, chuck the leeks into the pan as well. At this point you'll probably want to take the tin foil off the potatoes, grate some more Parmesan over the the top, and put it into the oven. You'll know the potatoes are done when they're golden-brown and bubbling on top, and they're cooked through (nothing worse than crunchy dauphinoise!) That will take about 15 minutes. Keep cooking the chicken until it's white all the way through. When it's almost done, pour in another third of the tub of cream. 

Serve up with some kind of green vegetable (we had green beans but anything like kale, cabbage, chard, would be lovely - you need something fresh-tasting to cut all the cream and cheese.) 

In my opinion, a birthday isn't a birthday without a cake. Luckily our friend Yosola obliged last night with chocolate swiss roll. You'll have to imagine the first twenty candles. 

(Telling an unemployed twenty-something to make a wish is always a dangerous move ... one candle each for a Masters, a job, and a house - it's not like we're asking for much, after all.)


  1. I've put this recipe on my noticeboard!

    1. It's VERY good although not at all hairy dieters!!