Sunday, 16 January 2011

Out with the old

I'm not particularly keen on setting New Year's Resolutions. They always seem to be things you are supposed to give up or stop doing. Instead, I like to make a New Year's To Do List - the sort of to do list that will take you all year, those big targets or those little jobs that always get put to the bottom of the list to do "if I have time", which inevitably I don't. There is definitely a feeling of out with the old and in with the new at this time of year and when you're a kitchen gardener this is perhaps a little more pressing because in just a few weeks time the first signs of spring will be here and before you know it the new growing season will be upon us.

So one of my things on my New Year's To Do List is always to empty my freezer of last year's fruit before this year's fruit is demanding its turn. Somehow I always run out of time to jam all of it before Christmas then after Christmas there is a distinct lack of urgency with no immanent craft fayres to prepare for. However, this time of year I usually find I have a bit more time available and it seemed sensible to use that for making a few preserves that would be there ready and waiting whenever the next craft fayre was scheduled.

My first job was to rummage in the freezer and see exactly what I had left. That was a job well worth doing as I discovered all sorts of things lurking towards the bottom of the freezer that I hadn't realised I had and would come in handy for meals over the next couple of weeks. There wasn't a huge amount of fruit left - a few pounds of blackcurrants, raspberries and plums plus about a pound each of strawberries and gooseberries. So during this week I made a batch of blackcurrant and a batch of raspberry jam and a spicy Chinese plum sauce.

More immediately, I used a pack of frozen chicken breast strips that I had found in the freezer to make a tasty chicken spud pie, along with a leek retrieved from the allotment. Goodness me, the allotment looked a bit bleak this week - all the brassicas have collapsed into a soggy mess after the snow and cold temperatures in December and the only thing still harvestable are the leeks. Roll on spring I say... I'm ready!

Chicken Spud Pie (serves 4)

4 large baking potatoes
Pinch of salt
A little oil
8 closed cup mushrooms, sliced
1 leek, sliced
Black pepper
1 teaspoon of cornflour
100 ml chicken stock or milk
2 cooked chicken breasts or left over roast chicken, shredded
A knob of butter

Preheat oven to 220°C, gas 7. Scrub the potato skins, pat dry then sprinkle over a little salt and rub in a little oil. Prick the skins of the potatoes then bake for an hour or microwave for 10 minutes. In the meantime, heat some oil in a frying pan then fry the mushrooms and leek for a few minutes, grinding in some black pepper as you do. Sprinkle the cornflour in then gradually add the chicken stock or milk, stirring to combine with the flour. Add the shredded chicken and cook for a little longer to warm through. Cut each potato in half and carefully scoop out the flesh, trying not to damage the skins. Place the potato in a bowl with the butter and some seasoning and mash well. Place the potato skins on a baking try and spoon the chicken mix into the skins. Top with the mashed potato then place in the oven for 10 minutes or until the mash is just browning on top.

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