Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Globecooking recipe : Chicken Palava aka Plasas (West Africa) #readcookeat

I first came across a mention of Chicken Palaver when reading Fractured by Clár Ní Chonghaile (click through to read my review).

p115 We had eaten thick palava sauce and fufu at a little roadside café not far from the beach where waves ended their long journey from another world by crashing exhausted on this new shore.

I debated using it as a #readcookeat recipe but, to be honest, when I looked it up on wikipedia, it didn't appeal to me, so I opted for Curried Minced Beef & Pea Samosas instead.

I did love the totally crazy description of the sauce, though : "Palaver sauce or Palava sauce or Plasas is a type of stew widely eaten in West Africa, including Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The word palaver comes from the Portuguese language and means a talk, lengthy debate or quarrel. It is unclear how this led to the name of the stew. One theory is that when the stew was first made, with long, ropey greens, people would start quarrels by slapping each other with the greens from their stew. Another is that the spices used in the stew mingle together like raised voices in an argument. It has been thought of as having the power to calm tensions, or to cause them. Other names for the dish include Kontonmire, Kentumere, Nkontommire and pla'sas."

Palava sauce apparently has many regional variations and can contain beef, fish, shrimp, pepitas, cassava, taro (cocoyam) leaves and palm oil. Outside of Africa, spinach is often used as a substitute for other greens and in Liberia, the leaves are called Molokhia or Mulukhiyah

I didn't think any more about this dish until I saw a blogpost on The Daring Gourmet blog for West African Plasas (Chicken Cooked in Peanut, Spinach & Tomato Sauce), as cooked by a friend from Sierra Leone. This dish actually looked very appetising, so I decided to use it as the starting point of a #KitchenClearout recipe, using up various odds and ends that I had in the kitchen cupboards. It is a very loose interpretation of the original recipe though because, once I'd read it through, Juliette pinched my computer for doing her homework so I had to improvise - that suited me though ! 

Chicken Palava aka Plasas

ingredients :

2tbsp coconut oil
2 onions
3 chicken breasts
1/2tsp shrimp paste
2 cans chopped tomatoes
3tbsp tomato puree
1 cup frozen spinach
3tbsp molokheya powder (optional)
3tbsp peanut butter
1 cup gado gado sauce mix (ground peanuts)
salt, pepper
a shake of chilli flakes (optional)

Melt the coconut oil in a large pan and gently fry the onions. Hmmm the whole kitchen already smells of coconuts !

Chop the chicken and add it to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is totally white and cooked through.

I had a rummage through my cupboards and found several exotic ingredients that I could incorporate but you could easily use more common alternatives : some gado gado mix for peanut sauce (just add chopped peanuts or extra peanut butter, preferably of the crunchy variety, if you prefer), some powdered molokheya (which you could just leave out or add extra spinach) and a tiny amount of shrimp paste (which you could leave out or replace with a small splash of fish sauce).

Add the shrimp paste, tomatoes and tomato puree.

One of the main flavours of this dish is peanut so I finished off a jar of peanut butter and added lots of coarsely ground peanuts which made the sauce nice and thick and gave it a lovely texture.

Give it all a good stir.

Time for the greens - I had some leftover spinach from last night's merluzzo con spinaci (cod with spinach) so I decided to use that up. I also decided to use up some of my powdered molokheya.

I'm still not at all convinced by this powdered form because it has no texture and very little flavour - I'd much rather use fresh or frozen greens, but it was sitting on the shelf (I'd received it in an Egyptian-themed Kitchen Trotter box) so it was a good way to use some up.

Stir in the spinach and molokheya then season with salt, pepper and, if you want a bit of a kick, some chilli powder or flakes.

Leave to gently simmer for 10-20 minutes for the flavours to mingle (but don't let it dry out too much or it might stick to the bottom of the pan and burn). Serve with rice, couscous or, as we did, rissoled potatoes because I had some baked potatoes in the fridge that needed using up.

Fancy cooking the books? Head over to Galina's #readcookeat challenge over at Chez Maximka.

This was a great recipe for clearing out lots of odds and ends so I'm adding it to this month's #KitchenClearout linky. I finished off a jar of peanut butter, a pack of gado gado peanut sauce mix, some leftover cooked spinach and some of my tub of molokheya powder.

Heinz have a soup-er way to fight the freeze !

Baby it's cold outside ! Our weather station tells us it's currently -4°C, despite the wishy-washy sunshine doing its best to thaw out the frost, so I'm sure it must have been colder than that when we got out of bed. Brrrr !

Everyone knows that chicken soup is the best (unofficial) cure for a cold and a bowl of steaming soup is always the ultimate comfort food on a freezing day like today. In fact, as temperatures plummet across the country, Heinz is expecting sales of soup to surge as people reach for winter warmers. In anticipation, Kitt Green, the Heinz soup production factory in Wigan, is at full tilt despatching a whopping nine million cans of soup over the next week alone. It is estimated that Heinz will sell over 20 million cans in January and typically, Heinz sees a five per cent increase in demand for every degree drop during the soup season. Heinz have come up with a novel way to help London commuters fight the freeze during this cold snap : ‘Break In Case Of Emergency’ cases containing a free can of the nation’s favourite Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup !

This isn't just for those in the capital though. Throughout soup season, Heinz will be popping up in the coldest cities and towns across the UK to surprise consumers, so keep your eyes open ! According to figures, the north is the number one ‘hot spot’ for soup during the winter months, with London a close second, so I'm sure there will be more popping up in northern cities too.

I know you all love a good freebie, judging by how popular my Saturday morning "Fab freebies of the week" round-ups are, and this is much more fun than filling in a form and waiting for the postie to arrive. Let me know if you manage to find one !

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

#readcookeat recipe : Merluzzo con spinaci (cod with spinach) (A Long Ways Home)

When author Mike Martin shared my recent #readcookeat recipe for Triple Layer Vegetarian Lasagne on his Facebook page, some of his followers said that they were looking forward to me trying out the dessert recipes. Sgt Windflower is a man who lives for his food, so I have several promising-sounding recipes bookmarked from A Long Ways From Home (click through for my review), including his favourite peanut butter cheesecake. I will get there eventually but last night, I wanted something healthy for dinner so I opted for another of his fish recipes.

p46 He stopped at the supermarket along the way home and picked up a barbecued chicken, a baguette and a salad bag. That would be supper tonight and a couple of days of lunches too.
When he got home, he cut off half of the chicken breast, sliced off a big chunk of bread that he smothered in butter, and filled the rest of his plate with salad and some cherry tomatoes he found in the fridge. He ate as slowly as he could, which wasn't very slow, rinsed his plate and made a large pot of tea. Might as well enjoy the evening, he thought. He put his teapot on the living room table, turned on the Blue Jays game and picked up his Brunetti book.
He liked this book by Donna Leon, but was getting a little bit irritated by the fact that she seemed to skim over the meals in this story, instead of describing them in the great detail Windflower savoured. The food was still there, like involtini with fresh asparagus and fish dishes such as merluzzo con spinaci, but Windflower felt a little cheated when neither the author nor the diners in the book paid too much attention to what they were eating.

Well, as he said, there are no detailed descriptions as to what this recipe entailed so, after finding out that merluzzo con spinaci translated as cod with spinach, I was given pretty much free reign. I did have a look online to see if there was an official, authentically Italian version but there seem to be as many variations as there are cooks - a creamy oven-baked dish, a very refined dish of rolled cod filled with spinach, a very basic grilled cod steak on a plate of pan-fried spinach, ... Well, I had a rummage in the fridge/freezer and came up with another new version - I give you Merluzzo con spinaci à la Madhouse !

Merluzzo con spinaci

ingredients :

a pack of cod fillets
a pack of frozen spinach
2 onions
a drizzle of olive oil and a knob of butter
a handful of pine nuts
10 cherry tomatoes
salt, black pepper, garlic pepper, garlic salt
a handful of dried breadcrumbs
a handful of grated parmesan

If using frozen cod, zap it in the microwave to defrost it. Put the frozen spinach in a large pan and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, until it thaws and creates a creamy mass.

While the spinach is cooking, in a small frying pan, cook the onions in a drizzle of olive oil mixed in with a knob of butter. Don't overcook them or they will go bitter - you want them to be soft but not coloured. Toss the onions into the spinach, along with the pine nuts and mix them all together.

Halve the cherry tomatoes and add them to the mixture. Shake in a little garlic salt and stir.

Grind some fresh black pepper over the fish and add some garlic pepper and/or garlic salt.

Transfer the spinach to an ovenproof dish and lay the fish on top.

Scatter over some breadcrumbs and parmesan.

Put in the oven at 180° for about 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through (and flakes easily). Feel free to pop it under the grill on a high setting for 1 minute to add some colour.

Use a slotted fish slice to remove a portion of the spinach with the fish on top and serve on a bed of rice (we used coconut rice which was lovely).

Fancy joining in with the #readcookeat challenge? Head over to Chez Maximka.

Hijacked By Twins

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Cass Art Challenge - #BeInspired with DAS Modelling Clay

As I told you yesterday, we received a fabulous package of DAS goodies in order to take part in the Cass Art Challenge. Our first brief eased us in gently : create new and exciting content for the #BeInspired campaign. They explained : "We want to see what inspires your practice and the materials you use. Do you seek creativity from artists, galleries or materials or are your influences more organic, drawn from your surroundings or encounters with others? Wherever you find your flow, we want to hear about it."

One thing I've noticed about the Madhouse kids (and, I think, all kids) is that they have endless ideas when it comes to arts and crafts. As soon as we got all the equipment out, they were off without a second's hesitation !

Within minutes, Juliette had created this cute snowman. I would guess her inspiration was a bit of wishful thinking, as there was a forecast of snow earlier in the week and it bypassed us - we had a heavy snowfall overnight but the ground was wet so it didn't lay at all.

While Pierre was deep in concentration, putting the finishing touches to his masterpiece, Juliette started experimenting with the DAS Idea Mix, mixing red or blue into the clay, for a uniform or marbled effect.

Juliette often seems to draw her inspiration from things we've seen or done in the last few weeks so I was hardly surprised when she decided to create a butterfly - last week, we'd discovered a butterfly in the house (in January ?!!) when we came back from our geocaching adventure.

The natural world is always a great source of inspiration and we frequently come back from nature walks, armed with acorns, feathers, twigs and leaves that can be incorporated into various crafts projects, either for their shapes, colours or textures.

Pierre, on the other hand, draws principally from his exuberant imagination, as was proved when he proudly revealed his creation - an alien spider !

However, he is also like a sponge, soaking up other people's ideas and giving them his own twist, so when I invited him to look through some of the other posts in the Cass Art Challenge by googling the #BeInspired hashtag, he used some of their ideas and techniques as a starting point to make these "heart kebabs" ! He used a heart-shaped cookie cutter both for cutting out the shape and also imprinting the wavy lines pattern.

As the kids were busy, I glanced around the room and my eyes fell on our collection of figurines representing typical costumes from Dunkirk carnival, a crazy, colourful celebration featuring gigantic crowds of men in drag and other fancy dress.

Several years ago, I paid for this totally personalised model to be created by a local artist, Dominique Mouftier, from a photograph of Madhouse Daddy in the get-up he wore back then. These days, he and his friend dress up as Uncle Sam, popularised in the "I Want You for US Army" posters. I wasn't at all sure that I'd manage to pull it off but I thought it would be fun trying to recreate that !

I started off with a very rough human figure and used cocktail sticks to help hold it all together. I used some of the uniform blue clay to completely cover the figure, and leave a cape-style flap at the back, as this is the colour of their long-tailed jacket.

I next lined up thin sausages of red and white clay before pressing down on them so that they all stuck together. I cut strips off for the stripey hat and trousers.

I added extra cocktail sticks for support and decided to go for an upright figurine with a stand.

I was actually really pleased with how it came out ... even if I didn't have time to make hands or feet !

The kids were very impressed (probably because they've seen my previous attempts at being artistic !) and instantly recognised that "I'd made Dad" !

As the clay is air-drying, there was no need to bake them, but I did put them on the radiator to help them dry out.

We had loads of fun with this project and were really impressed with the results - if we can manage it, anyone can, so hopefully, we've helped you to #BeInspired !

Disclosure : We received a mystery pack of art supplies in order to take part in the Cass Art Challenge. For more information about the brand, head over to