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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Post the Twentieth(in which our heroine has a restless night)

I'm bleedin' shattered, so I am.  Was awake pretty much the whole night, and the few scraps of sleep I did manage to snatch were those horrible, feverish ones where you're not actually sure if you're asleep or awake anyway.  It was also really, really warm last night, and even with the window open I spent the whole night sweating like a pig.  Not cool.  I finally gave up the ghost and got up at 6.30, knowing full-well that I'd be wrecked later, but at least it got me out of bed in time for France V Japan.

I was actually whistling dixie when I got up at 6.30, went back to bed at about 12 for an hour or two, and woke up with a hangover.  What's that about?

So, dinner last night was one of those ones that you think is going to take about an hour and a half, but ends up taking about twice that.  I blame one specific component - the baked onions.  A) I had never made them before and B) they're a Jamie Oliver recipe and as much as I love his food, he tends to, well, lie, about how much effort goes into some of his recipes.  Sorry Jamie.  In the case of the onions, he neglected to mention that the feckers are slippier than wet bars of soap coated in castor oil once they've been boiled, and chopping them without losing several of your fingers takes friggin' FOREVER.  It is also clear that Jamie is not a man who has had to clean his own kitchen in quite some time.  I've been caught out by him in this regard before, on the memorable occasion when I decided to make pasta from scratch.  This was right back at the start of my cooking "career" and I didn't know to dispense with some of Jamie's arsier foibles - to wit, not putting the flour in a bowl, but making a big "volcano" directly in the middle of the counter and just cracking the eggs into it.  You can imagine how that went.  It took me about an hour with a wallpaper scraper to restore the counter-top to its former glory.

Having said all that, don't be put off trying this recipe.  If I'd started the onions at the same time as the chicken went in the oven, I'd have been laughing, but I foolishly went and chillaxed on the couch with a glass of wine and generally dilly-dallied far more than was advisable.

Anyway, dinner consisted of three dishes - Chicken in Milk, Baked Onions and Roasted Garlic Mash.

Now look, you're going to read the recipe for the chicken and go "Eeeeuuuwwww!", but believe me, it's really, really, really good.  Live a little and give it a try.

Also, I know times are tight and everyone's watching the pennies, but I implore you to always buy free-range chicken.  Yes, it's more expensive, but believe me, it's worth it from an animal-welfare point of view.  How battery farming hasn't been outlawed is beyond me.  And if you can stretch a bit further, go organic.  But I'll be happy with free-range.  Same goes for eggs, obviously.

Chicken in Milk - serves 4

1.4kg fresh chicken                  Pint of milk
Zest of two lemons                   Handful of chopped, fresh sage
10 garlic cloves, skin on            Oil & butter, salt & pepper

1. In a casserole or roasting dish, heat a glug of olive oil and a knob of butter.  Season your chicken all over with salt & black pepper, and brown on all sides.  Remove & set aside.  Pour the frying liquid away, but don't clean the dish.  (I keep the oil to go over my dogs' dry food, they love it.)

2. Put all the other ingredients into the dish, and give it a good stir to scrape up all the lovely sticky bits from the bottom.  Pop the chicken back in, baste with the milk, cover and stick in the oven at 190C for an hour.  After the hour is up, remove the lid, baste again, and continue to cook, uncovered, for another half an hour.

3. When the chicken is done, remove to a warmed platter to rest for ten minutes.  With a slotted spoon, fish out the garlic cloves and squeeze the pulp out of the skins.  Reserve a few for your mash.  You'll see that the lemon zest has caused the milk to split, but that's all part of the charm.

In the meantime, you can be getting on with your...

Baked Onions - makes 4 (although I only did 3 last night, cause I knew Emmet would only eat one)

4 tennis-ball sized onions, peeled                     2 fat cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 tbsp cream                                                   40g parmesan, grated
4 slices streaky bacon                                     4 springs rosemary, lower leaves picked & chopped

1. Boil the onions for 15 minutes until just tender.  Drain and allow to cool enough so you can handle them.

2. Trim the stalk end of the onion enough so it will sit flat on a baking tray.  Cut the top inch off the root end and discard.

3.  This is where it gets tricky - you want to take most of the centre out of the onions, while leaving the "walls" intact.  I found that the easiest way to do this was to pinch the outer two layers together (depending on the thickness) and push the remaining centre bits out from the stalk end.

4. The even trickier part - chop the centre portions of the onion as finely as you can.  This is easier said than done, as the membrane between each layer (the bit everyone had to mount on a slide and examine under a microscope in first year science) is unbelievably frickin slippy and slimy.  I found that the pieces of onion kept shooting out from under my fingers, like particularly aromatic tiddlywinks.  Once you get them roughly chopped, just keep going over them with your biggest knife until they're chopped nice and fine.

5.  Wrap a baking tray in tinfoil (cause they leak all over the place).  Wrap each onion in a slice of bacon and, if your rosemary is "woody" enough, secure by skewering with the rosemary stalk.  If not, use a cocktail stick and push the rosemary down in between the layers of the onion.

6.  Heat a little oil in the same pot you boiled the onions in (I'm allllllll about keeping the washing-up to a minimum).  Add your onions, garlic & rosemary and sauté for about 7 minutes, until nice and soft.  I lashed in a bit of white wine too, just cause I felt like it.  Add the cream, then remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan.  Season with plenty of black pepper, but very little salt, as the cheese is quite salty already.

7.  Fill each onion with the cheese mixture, and bake for approx. 25 minutes, until the cheese is golden & bubbling.  Serve on a warmed plate.

I'm not going to tell you how to make mash, cause, you know, it's fairly obvious.  However, for this mash, when you've drained the potatoes, put them back into the pot with a few tablespoons of the milk from the chicken and the reserved garlic cloves and mash the whole lot together.  Check the seasoning and serve the whole lot in the middle of the table, allowing everyone to help themselves.

Today's Top Tip: Office workers - avoid distraction from your important paperwork by making "blinkers" out of two Post-It notes, one stuck to each temple.

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