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1st Candle of Advent 2018
Hello Kitty Dinners
Hello Kitty

I've been staying with Flora in Edinburgh to get out of my cold, damp boat in the run up to Christmas, during which visit Flora's lodger Wee Emma has been demonstrating meals from ingenious marketing company Hello Kitty Fresh which sends out complete cook-it-yourself recipe packs with ingredients and instructions for the culinarily challenged. And they're not half bad.
Though only one of them seems to have made it into a write-up below.
Anyway, I wish I'd thought of that!

It's a subscription service - you get to decide how many meals a week you're going to eat (all of them??), select your recipes, choose the number of servings you want, order online, then hey presto it all gets delivered to your local parcel depot while you're out. Thus removing the terrible agony of shopping for your own ingredients.
It'll never catch on.

In our Hello Kitty-free days we've been knocking up meals from whatever we can find in Flora's house, so that's been mostly duck, gin and champagne.
Chin-chin...

Grilled Halloumi Salad
salad veg
A Hello Kitty Fresh kit salad that I wasn't going to write up, and didn't photograph, but it actually turned out to be quite tasty. So here it is...

By the way the harissa seasoning in this meal comes in a sealed packet, so interpret that as you will. I'd assume it's just normal harissa paste.

Serves 2

Ingredients
Method
Put the couscous into a large bowl, bring 200ml vegetable stock to the boil and pour over. Cover with cling film and leave to soak for 5 minutes.
If you're using quinoa, cook for 15 minutes in 300ml vegetable stock.
Coat the halloumi and the courgette in pistou paste and 1 tsp of olive oil.
Heat a griddle/frying pan over high heat. When hot, add a drizzle of oil to it then fry the halloumi and courgette until nicely golden on both sides. Then set aside and keep warm.

Uncover the couscous and fluff it up with a fork.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan for 2 minutes or until golden.
Mix 2 tblsps oil, the juice of one lemon and the harissa seasoning together for the dressing, then pour into the couscous/quinoa.
Add the cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and parsley if using to the couscous and mix well.

Serve the seasoned grains topped with the grilled halloumi and courgette.
Feel free to add sliced orange and finely chopped mint.

Yet Another Pumpkin Soup or Emma's Pumpkin Soup
soup veg
This soup is significantly less pumpkiny than certain others, and consequently more delicious ;)
Good job Emma!

She actually used my pre-cooked pumpkin for this - made by frying the aniseed, then adding the pumpkin and thyme, then water and simmering until soft. But I'm sure you can incorporate raw pumpkin into the cooking as below.

Serves 4

Ingredients
Method
Heat oil in a pot and fry the aniseed until they pop and release a little of their aroma.
Add the carrots and fry a little.
Add a knob of butter, add the onions, garlic and thyme and sweat until soft.
Add the pumpkin pieces, the chopped tomato, the spinach and the green beans and cover with chicken stock.
Simmer until the vegetables are soft.
Pulse-blend until the soup still has some texture. Season. Serve.
Very tasty. If I have one complaint it was a bit bitty - either blend well and sieve, or perhaps leave half of it a bit rougher for more texture.

Honey, Orange & Thyme Glazed Duck Breasts
fowl main
The Gressingham Duck People hand out a recipe booklet, possibly whenever you buy a duck from them, and we persuaded Wee Emma to turn out one of their recipes. Unfortunately she's not always the best at taking instruction, such as the one telling you to cook the breasts skin-side down with no oil until their skin turns crispy.
Or the one telling you to reduce the sauce until it's sticky.
Or the one telling you to cut the potatoes in half.
Apparently Wee Emma has been badly cooking herself duck breasts with halloumi for long enough to know best.

So our dinner of unglazed, rubber-skinned duck breasts served on giant potatoes was a bit of a disappointment.
The Anchovy (paste!), Lemon Zest, Garlic, Olive Oil, and Capers Green Beans and the Baby Carrots Roast with Rosemary I contributed turned out well though :)

Serves 2

Ingredients
Method
Pre heat oven to 180°C, Fan 160°C, Gas Mark 4 or up to Gas Mark 6.

Peel and segment one of the oranges then zest the other orange and squeeze the juice out. Set both aside.

To cook the duck breasts:
Place a griddle of frying pan over low to medium heat.
Pat the skin of the duck breasts dry with a paper towel, then score the skin with a sharp knife. Season with salt and ground pepper.
Place skin-side down in the hot pan with no oil and cook for 5 minutes or until the skin is crisp and golden. Pour off any excess fat as you cook. Flip the breast over and seal the meat for a minute.
Transfer to a baking tray and place in the oven for 4 minutes.

Meanwhile place the pan back onto heat and add in the honey, orange juice and zest, garlic and half the thyme. Reduce the sauce by half. Add in the potatoes and the orange segments and continue to simmer until loosely sticky. Set aside.

Remove the duck from the oven and glaze the skin generously with some of the pan mixture. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes for rare (cook for up to 15 minutes if you prefer it medium or well done), take out and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.

When you're ready to serve, bring the pan up to heat, divide the sauce and potatoes onto 2 plates. Carve the duck breast into 5 or 6 pieces and place on top.
Sprinkle the remaining thyme over the top and serve with your favourite greens.
Probably quite nice if you follow their instructions :)

Creamy Chicken and Bacon Pasta
pasta main fowl meat
I improved Nagi's pasta by adding a squeeze of anchovy paste pre-pasted anchovies: a new discovery - who knew?! which adds a rather nice depth of flavour umami without being fishy, surprising as that my seem.

Serves 2

Ingredients
Method
Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan. Chop the bacon into lardons about 3mm wide and fry until they begin to colour. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set to drain on paper towels.

Season the chicken and fry in the same pan for a couple of minutes on each side. Cut into slices and set aside with the bacon. Wipe the pan clean optional - this will make the sauce less brown and (but!?) less bacony.
Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the pasta and cook for the packet time less 2 minutes the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce. Reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water then drain the pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile, over a medium heat melt the butter, add the minced garlic, onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion is soft and lightly golden. Add the anchovy paste and sweat a little optional Add about ¾ cup of pasta water and the cream, stir and simmer for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir in the cheese until it melts, season, then add the pasta and toss for a couple of minutes to nicely coat.
Add more pasta water if the sauce gets too thick.

Stir in the bacon, chicken and sliced rocket or parsley reserve a little to decorate on serving, if you like. Serve garnished with more cheese and any reserved chicken, bacon or rocket.
Excellent.

Italian Herb Chicken and Pumpkin Bake
main fowl
I was looking for something to do with the last half of the pumpkin I'd cooked, so it would keep, after Hallowe'en. I had fried up some aniseeds, thrown in pumpkin pieces with a handful of thyme leaves, covered them in water and simmered them until they were soft. To use them in this recipe I just added them to the reduced tomato sauce to reheat before pouring over the chicken.

You probably want to serve with something to soak up the in my case plentiful juices. Like mashed potato.
I didn't, but I'd reserved the chicken skins after peeling the thigh joints which I didn't bother de-boning, by the way so I fried those up in the pan I'd used to brown the chicken to render their fat, and sautéed slices of bread until nice and crispy for putting under each chicken portion to absorb some of the sauce.

Serves 6

Ingredients
Method
Preheat oven to 200°C.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Mix oregano, lemon zest and 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large bowl, add chicken and toss to coat. Leave to marinate at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.

In a roasting dish toss butternut, onion, pepper and garlic with thyme or rosemary and a good drizzle of olive oil, and season. Roast for about 20 minutes or until slightly caramelised.

Stir tomatoes, sugar and vinegar together in a pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes until slightly reduced. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a good glug of olive oil.

Season marinated chicken with salt. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Brown chicken in batches on both sides; you don’t have to cook it right through.

Arrange chicken, roast vegetables and olives or capers (if using) I added capers - I thought that worked well in the roasting dish. Spoon over tomato sauce and scatter over mozzarella. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then switch to grill for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and golden. Scatter over basil leaves and serve

Not too bad, though it comes out a bit on the watery side, especially if like me you're using up some pre-cooked pumpkin in the sauce.
If you want you can also scatter with breadcrumbs before roasting to give a crunchy crust.

Hot Caramelised Pear and Stilton Salad
salad meat
You can make this if you have some of the caramelised pears left over from partridges with herbs, cider and caramelised pears, or you could make up some more pears.

Serves 4

Ingredients
Method
Mix the honey, mustard with about equal quantities of fruit juice and olive oil. Season. Dress the salad leaves.

Fry the bacon in a lightly oiled pan until beginning to crisp, set aside on paper towels.

Peel and core the pear, cut into smallish pieces. Melt the sugar in a pan until lightly caramelised. Add the vinegar and let bubble for a minute. Add the pears. Toss until caramelised
Cut up the stilton, mix with the pears and the bacon and toss with the salad.
Serve.
Rather tasty.

Creamy Pasta with Chorizo and Tomatoes
pasta main meat
Both simple and delicious. What's not to like?

I had a heel of blue stilton, a hunk of rapidly drying ubriaco rosso and a chunk of grana padano. So that's the cheese I used.
I also had a weird pasta mix of fusilli and farfalle, which I don't particularly recommend.

Serves 2-3

Ingredients
Method
Heat a generous amount of olive oil over a low flame in a frying pan.
Add a pinch of chilli flakes and fry until they fizz a little optional.
Add the garlic slices and fry gently until they turn golden but without them burning.
Add the chopped chorizo and thyme leaves and stir through.
Add the tomato purée and stir through.
Add the quartered tomatoes and stir, cook gently until they begin to collapse.
Pour in a ladleful of the pasta water and the cream. Simmer a little until thickened.
Add the blue-ish cheese and stir through until melted. Season.
Boil the pasta according to packet instructions, drain, season, dress with a glug of olive oil then mix in the rocket and herbs.

To serve - ladle the sauce into shallow pasta bowls, heap the pasta into a mound in the middle and grate over some extra hard cheese.
Hmmmm, Creamy. Cheesy. Meaty. Tasty.

Mussels and Brussels
Cabbage and mussels, basically
fish starter
Now this I couldn't resist!
At Loam restaurant in Galway one of my (many) courses was a savoy cabbage stuffed(!) with mussels, and it was absolutely gorgeous. So when I was looking for something to do with the brussels sprouts left over from our first meal of advent and came across this brilliant idea from Nigel Slater I couldn't resist!

We'd thrown the leftover brussels and bacon (which I'd fortunately forgotten to drizzle with balsamic vinegar) into the partridges' oven dish along with half a head of roast garlic, herb stalks, and a coating of the cream and cider sauce. I sliced up the brussels (already halved - they were quite big) into three or four, and re-heated everything in the dish in a low oven while I cooked the mussels. Then I popped out the garlic, discarded the skin and the few stray herbs and stirred in the shelled mussels and juice.
If the brussels hadn't been so creamy from the partridges I'd have been inclined to make up some hollandaise sauce to go with them.

You'll probably want at least a couple of mussels per brussel - when you've sliced them up they go a surprisingly long way.

Serves 2

Ingredients
Method
Scrub the mussels, discarding any that are broken or fail to close when tapped. Cut the bacon into small pieces about 2cm square. Trim the stalk and outer leaves from the sprouts then cut into thin slices, about 4 or 5 to each sprout.

Warm a large pan over a high heat, add the still wet mussels and cover tightly with a lid. Let the mussels cook in their own steam for 3 or 4 minutes or until their shells have opened. Remove as soon as they have opened then, when cool enough, pull the mussels from their shells. Reserve the cooking liquor.

Warm 2 tbsp of olive or peanut oil in a heavy frying pan, then add the bacon and cook for 3 or 4 minutes over a moderate heat, until the fat is just starting to colour.

Peel and finely chop a clove or two of garlic then add to the pan and stir in the sliced sprouts. Let them fry in the oil and bacon fat for 5 or 6 minutes until bright and tender. Then add the shelled mussels and some of the strained juices from the pan.

Leave to bubble briefly then serve immediately (they don't keep).
Absolutely gorgeous. As expected :)

Spicy Sweet Potato Gratin
side veg
Giving a sweet potato gratin a bit of a kick seemed like a good idea.
Though better if it's just a hint - you can have too much of a good thing :)

Serves 4

Ingredients
Method
Into a large bowl:
Peel and thinly slice 2 sweet potatoes.
Thinly slice a half dozen cloves of garlic.
Slice a little chilli, or sprinkle dried chilli flakes. Just a little. Two birds eye chillies is too much!
The leaves stripped from a good handful of thyme.
A good drizzle of olive oil, a generous grind of salt & pepper.
Mix thoroughly, then stir through enough double cream to coat the potato slices.

Fill a baking dish, arranging the slices so they lie neatly, then bake at 200°C/Gas Mark 6 until bubbling and the sweet potato is tender; 30-40 minutes.
Cover with grated cheese and bake or grill until the cheese is melted and golden.
Delicious. Probably even better if you don't overdo the chilli :)

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