Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Last night's tea

I've been thinking for a while that I haven't put any food on here yet, and last night's tea seemed the perfect opportunity to remedy this - a very easy but tasty main course and a delicious pudding made entirely by the children. The only trouble with me putting food things on here is that, just as with sewing I don't really do patterns, with food I'm not very good at recipes and precise amounts! So, if you are a precise recipe person, then this may drive you mad! But here goes:

Chicken and Bacon Pasta Bake

Cooked chicken
Good chicken stock
Pasta - preferably 'orzo'
If not using 'orzo' then something to 'thicken' the sauce - eg cornflour
Parsley - optional
Grated cheese for topping, if desired
This is great for using up leftover chicken. The 'amounts' (!) I used were enough to feed my lot. I started off with a cereal bowl of chopped, cooked chicken, and about half as much chopped, cooked bacon - but both these could vary according to your tastes or just what you have available.

I love using 'orzo' pasta for this dish - it looks like rice but is actually pasta. I used to have to stock up on it whenever we went up to London, at the amazing local shops there that sell everything, but we have just discovered it in our local, big Tesco as well - in their 'Finest' range, 500g bags, in with the rest of the pasta. The good thing about it in this dish is that you don't have to boil it up beforehand, you can just cook it in the oven in the chicken stock and it soaks up all the flavours and it all sort of cooks and thickens slightly in one go. It's great for young children too, because the pasta pieces are so small.

So, you just need an ovenproof bowl big enough to feed your number of hungry people, tip in your uncooked orzo (I need a bit more than a 500g bag for my lot - maybe about another 100g I reckon - it obviously swells up when cooked and is quite filling), add your chicken and bacon and give it all a quick mix around. I also stirred in a good handful of chopped parsley last night, which I love and I have lots at the moment, but this is completely optional. The other thing you could add would be a vegetable of some kind - tinned sweetcorn works well,  probably peas or chopped courgettes would work too. Or maybe chopped leeks? We had fresh sweetcorn cobs so I didn't add that and my lot are too fussy with their veg for them all to be happy with other options - some like peas, some courgettes, some leeks...

Here it is all in a bowl - almost forgot the grated black pepper too. I don't add any salt because the chicken stock gives all the flavour I want there.

Then just pour over your chicken stock, I'm afraid I've no idea how much I put on last night, it was my saucepan full! But you need to just cover your orzo and other ingredients, and then you'll probably need to top it up a bit later so make sure you have some left.
Here it is immediately before it went in the oven.

Pop it in a reasonably hot oven - about 200 degrees, and leave it to cook for about 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes, carefully get it out, give it a good stir around and top up the stock again if need be. We don't like it too dry so I always tend to just cover the pasta again at this stage, but you can adjust this according to your tastes, and also according to how many ingredients you added - if you had lots of vegetables in there too you'll be more likely to need more stock. If you like, also grate some cheese over the top at this stage - we like!
Just before it went back in the oven

Pop it back in the oven for a last 10 minutes to finish cooking and brown off the top. Then out it comes - all delicious and ready to eat!

If you can't get hold of 'orzo' then use any old pasta. You'll have to cook the pasta beforehand and also thicken up your chicken stock a little beforehand (cornflour), otherwise it will stay much more liquidy. But I'd definitely recommend the orzo, it makes it very easy. You can have everything ready in advance to go in the oven - perfect for when you get back really late after an afternoon at the beach/river, and it cooks away on its own while you sort out all the sandy swimming things/wet suits/towels!

Right, now for pudding. While the pasta was cooking in the oven and I was sorting out all the sandy swimming things etc, Theo and Venetia were busy creating the pudding. You will need:

Double cream
Sponge fingers - the kind you use for trifles
Orange juice

In a bowl, mix together the mascarpone and the double cream - equalish quantities, we used a 250g tub of mascarpone and roughly the same amount of cream, it doesn't need to be exact. Add some sugar to taste, just to sweeten it slightly - Theo added a tablespoon and was very happy with the sweetness! Mix it all in together well.

Spread a little of this yummy, creamy mixture over the bottom of a serving dish. Put a small amount of orange juice (just from a carton is fine) in a shallow bowl, one at a time pop a sponge finger in the orange juice, just for a second, turn it over - again just for a second, then take it straight out and lay it on the creamy layer at the bottom of your dish. If you leave it in the orange juice too long it will fall apart. Continue like this until you've covered the bottom of your dish in a single layer of the fingers - it really doesn't need to be too neat. Spoon a big dollop of the creamy mixture on the top and gently spread it around to roughly cover the fingers.

Now you need the strawberries - washed and roughly sliced, or chopped in half or however the children have managed to cut them really. Put a single layer of strawberries all over your creamy layer.

Then just repeat the sponge fingers layer next, then one more creamy layer and finish off with the strawberries on top - and hope your little ones haven't eaten them all before they get to this stage!

And here it is!

It really is a very child friendly pudding, they can just completely do their own thing with it. And it tastes delicious! Hope that all makes sense - if it doesn't let me know!

That's it for today, back tomorrow, Sally.

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