Chicken with prunes and pomegranate molasses

It’s a sign of getting older when wandering around supermarket aisles aimlessly gives your heart joy. Little things, I suppose. The aisles of Waitrose yielded exotic pomegranate molasses and yuzu, and determined not to let them languish in the cupboard, I looked up ways to use them in dishes. Of all store cupboard ingredients, five spice is apparently the most underused in our kitchens. There’s a famous skit by Michael McIntyre about this which had me in stitches the first time I watched it.

I settled on reliable Ottolenghi with this cosy, comforting dish of oven-baked chicken coated with rich sauce and sweet onions. I fully vouch for its tastiness and ease of making. The original recipe calls for Charlotte potatoes as well but I left them out to go carb-free. For the life of me I couldn’t find fresh oregano anywhere except a whole plant in a pot which would have gone to waste so I resorted to dried oregano instead. I also halved the recipe to make the portions more manageable. It makes a lovely main course for a family dinner and also a great lunch for work. I put in a large handful of spinach (or any greens) at the bottom of my lunch container and whizz it in the microwave for a few minutes for a delicious midday break.

Chicken with prunes and pomegranate molasses

4 chicken drumsticks and 4 thighs, skinned (about 1kg in total)
2 large onions, peeled and quartered or a handful of shallots left whole
60g pitted prunes
15g grated fresh ginger
40ml soy sauce
45ml pomegranate molasses
1/2 tbsp maple syrup
60g sweet mango chutney
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
10g oregano sprigs or 2 tsps dried oregano

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, then tip into a large casserole dish. Cover with a lid (or thick foil), and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, and cook for two hours longer. Every now and then baste the chicken with the juices and turn them over to get an even brown colour.

When the time is up, remove the dish from the oven, baste the chicken again, cover and set aside to rest and allow the flavours to mingle.

Serve with couscous and a fresh crisp salad to balance the richness of the sauce. Or, with wilted greens for a lighter meal.

 

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Cornwall: Eden Project

Eden Project is one of the most famous destinations in Cornwall. Formerly a clay pit mine, it was transformed by Tim Smit and his amazing team into a wonderful world of ecological delight. Talk about large scale recycling. There is plenty to explore, included the two covered Biomes, making it a great day out for those rainy days that can literally be a washout on a seaside holiday. The pricey entry ticket also acts as an annual pass allowing unlimited entries for a year – great if you’re a local, not so much if you’re visiting from afar, but the blow is softened somewhat by the 10% discount you get from buying in advance online.

You start off your tour walking through a timeline explaining how plants have evolved through the millennia, with examples of ancient plants still surviving dotted all along the pathway. This leads to the open gardens section – amongst them flowering bushes galore, a massive allotment garden showcasing vegetables from around the world, a herb walk (one of my favourite bits) and a memory garden with an ornamental pool.

But of course the Biomes are the dominant features and main attractions of the site. To be honest they reminded me of frog spawn but hey, to each their own. The Mediterranean biome is filled with plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa and California and is a bright, cheery place to roam about in. The tomatoes, chillies, olives trees and grape vines are enough to transport you to a hillside town somewhere in Italy. There is even a Bacchanalian party playing out amongst the shrubs.

I love chamomile tea and had no idea the plant looked like this.

This olive tree reminded me of how J and I got lost in an olive grove on Corfu once. It was a bit of a laugh, I got a blister from wearing terribly inappropriate footwear and we used an olive leaf to wrap around my toe to help cushion the skin. It didn’t help.

We took a well-earned rest for lunch in the cafeteria area that connects the two Biomes. We brought out own sandwiches but the cafe did look quite enticing with an interesting array of food. There were several aerial bee sculptures that rotated with any slight breeze which fascinated us for a while, trying to figure out their mechanism.

Onward to the Rainforest Biome! This was G’s favourite, a totally novel experience to him, and an introduction to what he could expect on his inaugural trip to Malaysia later on. It reminded me so much of home, especially when we came upon the traditional Malaysian village house. It was so stereotypical, exactly what we would have drawn as schoolchildren.

The air was hot and heavy with humidity, just what it would be like in a rainforest in the tropics. A little air-conditioned cubicle provides respite for visitors not used to the humidity, I suspect they would have installed it after a few fainting episodes occurred.

Beauty and the Beast: Venus fly traps sharing a pot with orchids.

Again, love figs, didn’t know they grew on trees like this.

Roul-roul partridges would dart in an out of the vegetation, some with little chicks scurrying behind their parents. They were adorable, and would come out at the most unexpected times.

Up the path to the canopy walkway which gives a bird’s eye view of the rainforest from above. When we were there they were building an extension called the Weather Maker which could recreate clouds and rain.

And then it was out to the welcoming cool of the outdoors again. The WEEE man (waste electrical and electronic equipment) is a stark reminder of how much household equipment we throw away instead of recycle. The average British person throws away 3 tonnes of equipment in their lifetime.

And last but not least, a rather moving sculpture showcasing our attitudes towards climate change – the older figures markedly ambivalent and the children optimistically looking forward to positive changes in the future. The sculpture was initially installed in the Thames, where the rise and fall of the tide reflected rising sea levels.

Photo from edenproject.com

We didn’t have time to explore The Core and some of the outdoor gardens, but that’s just more excuse to make a return trip. After a little wander through their excellent gift shop, we made a mad dash in the oncoming shower to our car and went back to our B&B to chill out for a bit before heading out for dinner at The Stable on Fistral Beach. It’s located just above Rick Stein’s takeaway and serves much better food. We had the excellent deal of pizza, salad and drink for £10. They were flexible enough to allow us to order pizzas off the set menu with a little surcharge. I had the King Crabber, a most delicious pizza redolent with the briny aromas of white and brown crab meat mingled with chilli, crab and lemon topped with creme fraiche. I can’t remember what G had but it was rich and meaty and spicy and he liked it.

And that ends an epic day out and post. More Cornish posts to come!

 

 

 

 

 

Siew Yoke (Roast Pork Belly)

G tried chicken rice for his first trip to Malaysia recently but didn’t get the chance to try roast pork belly that’s also served with the rice. And he loves pork belly. So I thought I’d combine this with the chicken rice to fill that little pork belly-hole in his tummy.

This recipe’s modified from this website, and it was the simplicity that appealed to me. My slab of meat was about 700g in weight so I didn’t use all the dry rub. Do try and get a slab rather than strips as the latter can toughen quite easily in the oven. Drying out the meat prior to cooking and resting the meat after will ensure optimum flavour. White distilled vinegar is not distilled malt vinegar as I discovered. White vinegar can be found in Asian supermarkets and is quite literally diluted acetic acid (5% to 8% acetic acid in water). This step is essential in obtaining a crisp rather than chewy crackling.

The siew yoke turned out absolutely delicious. Crispy crunchy crackling with soft moist meat interspersed with fat that melted in your mouth. Utterly moreish. And so simple to make even my mum was tempted to have a go!

Siew Yoke

Serves 4 (more if serving with other dishes)

Ingredients
900g slab of pork belly with skin
2 tsp table salt
1 tsp five-spice powder
½ tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp white distilled vinegar
1 tbsp fine sea salt

  1. Dry the skin with kitchen towels if it’s damp. Pierce the skin all over with a fork or a sharp knife. Take care not to pierce through to the meat.
  2. Flip the pork belly over. Using a knife make cuts along the length of the meat, about 1/4 inch deep and 1 inch apart.
  3. Mix the table salt, five-spice powder and white pepper together. Pat the dry rub on the meat and sides, avoiding the skin.
  4. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil. Turn the pork belly over skin side up and place on a wire rack over the baking tray. Refrigerate uncovered overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celcius.
  6. When ready to roast, brush white vinegar over the skin and sprinkle liberally with fine sea salt.
  7. Pour water into the tray until it comes up to a couple of inches high, without wetting the bottom of the pork belly. Roast for 50 minutes.
  8. To crisp the skin, change your oven setting to grill (medium to medium high heat) and move the tray to the uppermost shelf of the oven. Alternatively, I used my separate grill to do this step. Leave the oven door slightly ajar. This step will take between 20 to 30 minutes. Watch it like a hawk. The skin will start blistering and browning quicker on the sides and corners so a nifty trick is to tear off bits of aluminium foil and cover the bits that are browning quicker. Turn your tray and move it around under the grill to get the best coverage.
  9. Once cooked, remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes (the meat, not you!).
  10. Turn it over skin side down and slice in bite-sized chunks with a large sharp knife.

We had the pork with some chicken rice, tofu, stir-fried choy sum, sliced cucumber, chilli sauce and ginger sauce. I’ll do another post for the rice and sauces soon!