Chef's Table: Tuscan Chicken

One of the many problems of Valentine's day is that it takes place in the second coldest month of the year.  You need tasty food that holds its heat and makes you feel all glowy inside.  And wine to go with it.

Now, for V-day I have saved you the nearest thing I have to a signature dish.  My better half just loves it.

[box type="tick"]Ingredients:  

  • Four skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • A handful of pancetta or diced cooking bacon.
  • Half a punnet of mushrooms
  • 250 ml of Mavrodaphne sweet red wine
  • One tin of good quality chopped tomatoes
  • 125 ml of chicken stock
  • 50 ml of Worcestershire sauce
  • One ball of Mozzarella
  • And bread to go with it, I recommend either Tiger bread or Focaccia

Tools:

  • One big wok
  • Two ovenware bowls for one
  • One red chopping board and knife
  • One green or brown chopping board and a vegetable knife

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  1. Start by dicing your chicken and bacon on the red board.  Then thinly slice the mushrooms on the other board using a different knife.  If you have to use the same one, clean it very thoroughly with boiling water and a scourer.

  2. Heat the wok with a tablespoon of sunflower oil. While that is heating up, pre-heat your oven at 200 degrees.

  3. Add your chicken and bacon to the pan and stir until the chicken is white and the bacon is darker.  The fat from the two will mingle and form the base for the unique flavour.

  4. Righty then, time for a little product placement now.  Mavrodaphne is a Greek dessert wine from Patras.  It is delicious served chilled (yes, really, chilled red wine, go with me on this one) or served with a shot of Metaxas Greek brandy in the bottom.  But I also love using it in cooking. Pour out one large glass (250ml) and pour it over the chicken and bacon.  Refill the glass and drink.  Keith Floyd has never left us.

  5. Add 125ml of chicken stock and allow the mix to reduce slightly.

  6. Open the tomatoes and add to the wok.  Stir in well.  Add two good tablespoons of worcestershire sauce.  Continue to stir and let it reduce a little.  It may seem a little thin but it will thicken on it's own.

  7. Open the ball of mozzarella.  Drain the water and slice it thinly.

  8. Carefully take the wok off the heat and ladle the contents into the two ovenware bowls.  Layer the mozzarella over the top of the bowl.  Just enough to cover it.

  9. Using a thick towel, place the bowls into the oven, and leave to bake for no more than five minutes.  The cheese will melt on top and the mix will mature and thicken quickly. 

  10. Remove bowls from the oven and place them on wide, cool plates.  Add your bread to the side of the plate and serve.

The whole process takes less than twenty minutes and tastes amazing.  This is one of my classics.

Anyway, enjoy Valentine's day and I hope you like Mavrodaphne. (Check major supermarkets if your local store doesn't stock it. Or contact Nick to find out more- Ed)

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable

Setting the scene for dinner

 

Ever tried booking a table on Valentine's Day these days?  The restaurants are packed, the staff are stressy and the chef is over worked.  Save your money and do it at home instead. Turn your kitchen into your own private dining with just a few simple tips. 

Firstly, go through the cleaning tips that we went through last month.  They're important.

Sweep and mop or vacuum around the dining table and chairs.  Remove the whole lot if you have to.

  • Now, let's start with your dining table and chairs. Clear absolutely everything off them.  Everything.  Wipe the surface, and then the legs with a damp cloth and disinfectant spray. Next you need a clean, square table cloth of neutral colour.  White or red would be good.  Lay it out so that the central cross crease is in the dead centre of the table.  It's not OCD, it's aesthetic.
  •  For the cutlery,  you need half a bowl of boiling hot water and some paper towels or a clean tea towel. Take all the cutlery you intend to use and dip it in the boiling water, up to the neck.  Then polish it with some vigour to remove grease and water marks.  Hold the neck between your thumb and forefinger and do the same with the handle.  Repeat the process for every single piece of cutlery you use.   Lay out the cutlery with the base of the handle at the edge of the table.
  • Now take your salt and pepper and polish them too.  Yes, really, they pick all kinds of grease and yuck.

 

  • Using the same towel, polish four side plates on top, around the edge and underneath.  Place the plates to the left of where the diners sit, and two in the centre, side by side. Place the salt and pepper on one of the central plates.
  • Change the water in the bowl for fresh, boiling hot water. Take two clean, non-chipped, matching wine glasses.  Take one paper towel or piece of kitchen roll.  Now, hold the glass by the neck with your thumb and forefinger and hold the bulb upside down over the water.  It will quickly mist up with steam.  If it does not, then your water is not hot enough.  When it is nice and misted, carefully wipe it out clean.  Repeat the same step with the base.

 Finally, candles.  If you insist on the big candelabra  thing, then make very sure that the candles fit into the holes.  If not, microwave your candles for twenty seconds and try again. I would recommend a fresh, wide based cream candle.  They just work better.

 I would love to show you how to fold napkins, but, embarrassingly, I don't actually possess any! Have a look on YouTube and search for napkin folding.  There are plenty of tutorials.

 Last things, make sure it is not too hot or to cold in there.  And music is very important.  Nothing too loud or too fast.  Chill out anthems work best in my opinion.

 Beyond that it is all down to you.  Just leave the washing up for the morning eh?

 Happy Valentines day!

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.

#ChefsTable

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Bienvenue! Wilkommen! Welcome!  

It's a busy week of mainstream releases this week and so I will dive straight in! Oooh errrr.

The Lego Movie (U)

Lego is such an integral part of my life! Many of my 30 something friends are talking about this film more than the heavyweight Oscar contenders. I share in this excitement. 

The trailer alluded quite clearly to its knowing sense of fun, a fondness for the building block and an innate love of childhood and geekery. Added to that what was a near constant laugh quotient throughout the trailer, is the film playing more to adults than children? Quite possibly. 

The other thing is that it feels like it is something that is just meant to be. A lego film just is something to be excited about!

The story follows Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) an ordinary LEGO figure who is mistakenly identified as the lego figure to save the world. He is soon drafted into a fellowship to stop an evil tyrant, a journey with hilarious consequences.

A 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes reflects a film which is looking like being both a critical and popular commerce. I cannot wait to see it.

Like lego itself, it is likely to be a film with many rewarding layers!

Her (15)

Here's another film this week which I greet with massive anticipation.

Any Spike Jonze film is something to look forward to. This beautiful looking film has been lapping up 'best' and 'top' film of 2013 lists Stateside and just from the premise, it is easy to see why.

Her does what all great sci-fis do - reflect the present! What is being presented here is something that we're pretty much close to now and poses many questions about the nature of relationships and how wedded humans are to technology. 

A computer and human falling in love doesn't seem far removed at all, does it? 

The casting also seems to only aid this. Joaquin Phoenix's quirky mannerisms are just about perfect for a role of this nature. By cleverly casting the familiar voice of Scarlett Johansson as Sam - it allows the viewer to then fulfil the 'imagination' required to see behind the voice and the computer screen.

Furthermore, by casting Rooney Mara in the ex-role, you have someone who is a sceptic of how attached humans are to technology. It provides an intriguing juxtaposition.

The film poses a question about the immediate reality of computers becoming aware - but in a bittersweet romantic way about computers embracing humanity, as opposed to a Cyberdyne systems scenario of computers (robots) going wrong/fighting back.

Being Spike Jonze, it will also be funny!  Cannot wait.

Cuban Fury (15)

A British comedy about a guy learning to tango to woo a girl isn't my first port of call but with the acting talent on display, it might just be able to work, especially with the calibre of cast on show here, led by Nick Frost. Frost is nearly always engaging and an actor an audience can relate to. This is important in a film whose premise won't relate to everyone.

This feels like an altogether more conventional affair for Frost than any of the Cornetto trilogy. Indeed, Danny Leigh on Film 2014 did an amusing comparison to Rocky - Nick Frost as Rocky, Rashida Jones as Adrian and Ian MacShane as Micky.

That alone feels broadly comic. 

Backed up by the always magnificent Olivia Colman and Chris O'Dowd, I feel that the film's calling card is the cast - and that it can possibly just count on that to guarantee audiences.

A pun that will no doubt be resonated from many a critic is how much Latin passion exists in this film. Will it be an amiable affair or a clunky cinematic extension of Strictly? Let's find out.

The Monuments Men (15)

The Monuments Men is Clooney's new action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II team, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners.

So much about this film should work on paper - a great World War plot context, an amazing cast etc. Indeed, given who is attached to it, the expectations are going to be nothing but high, and delivering something less than good is always going to be massively disappointing.

I was really anticipating something great, yet the initial reviews have called the film laboured, forced, slack, stifled and some other less than complementary metaphors.

So despite its best intentions, the film is not delivering critical success although this won't probably stop it achieving box office success.  

One wonders how the film might have worked if someone like Soderbergh directed instead. This is definitely not an indictment of Clooney's very able skills - as he writes, produces, directs and stars and he is usually a guarantee of something good/great.  It sounds like tonally it could have used someone of Soderburgh's approach or just a 'sleight of hand' to bring it to a consistent level.

Endless Love (12A)

Out on Valentines Day (surely not a coincidence), the story is of a privileged girl and a boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart. Got that? Yep.

Two likeable leads, Pettyfer and Wilde, will no doubt help to sell this film to a younger audience, trying to indeed appeal to the Nicholas Sparks crowd. The question of the film's qualities will lie in how it tells the story and doesn't 'tell' the audience how it should be feeling, which is a problem of so many of these sorts of films. Initial reviews haven't been great.

Elsewhere... If Valentines, or rather anti-Valentines is your bag this weekend, then head to the Electric for what they promise will be the 'darker side of Valentines', a sneak preview of the new Jim Jarmusch vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive and a special Shock & Gore showing of 80s thriller Fatal Attraction

Slightly more romantic offers are on show at the Mac with a special Valentines meal/treats and movie deal for the film Casablanca. The mac are also re-running Philomena, perfectly timed for the BAFTA award weekend, and also doing a limited run of Buster Keaton's iconic silent comedy The General.

Finally, check out my At The Flix bonus edition offering up some alternative (anti-) valentines films here.

Ok, that's it from me. Be sure to add your comments on appropriate or inappropriate Valentines Day films too and drop me a line (@timmy666 on twitter).  

Films for an Alternative February 14th

Welcome to an extra-special bonus anti/alternative Valentines edition of At The Flix.

I'm an incurable romantic. I can get soppy and teary like the next man (I'm not alone, am I?) but frankly I'm also romantic about cinema itself, and why force romance into a commercial sap fest like Valentine’s Day? So, Richard Curtis and Nora Ephron, please stand aside! I want to revel in the romance of cinema (and my girlfriend) 365 days a year. 

Here's a Valentines selection of five films which focus on a selection of somewhat crazed women, determined either to exact their revenge, destroy the men who wronged them or get even with, men who were unfortunate, sexually deviant or silly enough to get involved with the women in the first place. I am not sure what the editor will think of this selection!

A few films can be considered classics, others a bit trashier and one distinctly B-movie-ish. 

1. Body Heat (1981) Lawrence Kasdan's knowing and deliberately derivative take on the 1940s film noir, Double Indemnity, is a veritable kitchen sink of a film - a film about manipulation, money, power and heat (in every meaning of the word!). 

Kasdan brought out such scintillating performances from  William Hurt as Ned Racine, a Florida lawyer who is smitten by Matty Walker, a brilliant Kathleen Turner, a rich housewife with a husband (Richard Crenna) she hates, and wanting to break free. Before you know it, the husband is dead, he's in jail and she's on holiday. It's the sheer devilish and erotic energy in which it all unravels. Kathleen Turner is a truly great femme fatale. This film is also notable for great support casting including unknowns at the time like Ted Danson and a young Mickey Rourke and a big nod also to John Barry's most brilliantly effective score too with his trademark power string session pushing the film in narrative terms.

2. Fatal Attraction (1987) I think this film personifies the notion that cheating lead to graphic violence - and for me, it has always been to the movie's detriment that the last 20-25 minutes of this film has been remembered most and parodied with its bunny boiling and slasher movie credentials. The film's main premise up to that was that of an 'un'romance, a film all about dissatisfaction and guilt. At the heart of this is Dan (Michael Dougles) cheating on a one night stand/affair with Alex (Glenn Close) which comes back to haunt him. I've always liked to have seen more of the film from Alex's perspective, as she's the most interesting character. Instead we see most of it from Dan's perspective and for those reasons, the ultimate reveal as a deranged psychopath she becomes by the end, set something of a blueprint for slasher style violent denouements. See below.

3. Dangerous Liaisons (1988) Still in the 80s universe, albeit a costume drama set in Ancien Regime France, Stephen Frears' brilliant film is a lesson in how love worked in cruelest ways in the French aristocracy - much passion and tragedy. Glenn Close (on form again!) plays amoral Marquis de Mertueil who treats her Vicomte de Valmonte (John Malkovich) as her personal toy by pulling a highly Macchiavellian stunt involving the honour of the virginal Cecile (played by Uma Thurman). It ends in death, but the film delves right into the heart of a bored aristocratic playing French court politics, and of which romancing plays a large part, in the form of blackmail, betrayal and bribery. 

Glenn Close's character is one we can actually have a little sympathy with, especially in which large parts of the French court portray her - and which in part leads her to do what she does. The film's multi-faceted characters are one of the joys of its repeated viewing. Check out the film's very effective modern twist remake, Cruel Intentions (1999) too - I know a number of people who prefer it.

4. Single White Female (1992) The plot says everything - a young woman (Bridget Fonda) places an ad for a new roommate but becomes concerned when the applicant she chooses (Jennifer Jason Leigh) begins to emulate her to an excessive degree. I don't think its a particularly amazing film as it follows quite a bit of convention, but it does a very effective job of increasing the stakes and the sense of madness as the film rolls.  Suspend your disbelief and the slightly predictable way it pans out, and revel in Jennifer Jason Leigh who is frighteningly convincing in this film. Director Barbet Schroeder knows how to keep it over the top. The denouement is a bit of a slasher replay of the Fatal Attraction kind, but it does make you think twice about who your room mate might be! 

5. Basic Instinct (1992) Here's the film which made great license of ice picks, dubious lesbian killer subtexts and a blink or miss it crotch shot masquerading as female aggression. Despite the film's many indulgences and questionable subtexts, director Paul Verhoeven plays the film for kicks and if you go with its ridiculousness, much enjoyment can be derived. At the heart of the film is Sharon Stone's scene stealing performance as Catherine Trammell whose cat and mouse promiscuity with Michael Douglas's cop-meets-sexual deviant is at its film's heart.  The film's technical specs including Jan De Bont's great cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith's score only add to its glossy and seedy madness. The film's iconic interrogation scene is up there in the DeBont pantheon. The film is summed up from the line, "he got off when he got offed!", in reference to a climax one victim was not expecting.

What do you think? Any glaring omissions?

As always, drop me a tweet @timmy666 with your thoughts.

In the meantime, have a great Valentines Day, however you wish to spend it!

Valentine's Day Cocktails in Birmingham

With Valentine's Day upon us, have you considered how to spend what they call the most romantic day of the year? And there's no better way to spend it than with an evening of cocktails, cocktails...and more cocktails!

Ginger's Bar has a special cocktail available over Valentines weekend with a Strawberry and Rose Caviar Bellini. This exciting creation is launching their latest venture into the use of spherification and molecular cocktail mixology at this popular bar!

Dine in Bodega's restaurant and order one of their three Valentines sharing cocktails. Love Shack - a treasure chest of fresh flavours with lemon, cucumber and strawberries, and an added kick from tequila and sparkling wine. Or order my personal favourite, Lady in Red, a deliciously fruity blend of summer fruits, citrus juices, cointreau, red wine and Brazilian spirit cachaca. Then head downstairs to Sugarloaf for latin music and a selection of £5 Valentines cocktails; You Had Me at Hello, Hold Me Like You Did By The Lake and Paint Me Like One of Your French Girls.

The Jekyll and Hyde are hosting an Eat Me Drink Me Valentine's Special of their infamous gin and food fusion menu. For only £35, guests receive a tutored gin and tonic tasty, 3 course meal, and entry into a couples special Family Fortunes style quiz. The winning pair gets to go behind the bar and make their own cocktail with one of their gin specialists, making for a memorable and unique evening!

Head over to Malmaison in The Mailbox where Brum Faves readers can take advantage of an exclusive offer; phone up on 0121 246 5030 to book a table for your party of two and quote "Birmingham Favourites" to receive a free Malentines cocktail*. Choose from Rose Petals and Dreams - Eristoff Vodka, Rose Petal Liqueur, Amaretto, Grenadine and double cream. Or go for a fruity explosion of flavour with Honeymoon in Caribbean - Sailor Jerry spiced rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, lime juice, orange juice, passion fruit syrup and gomme.

By our cocktail specialist. Taylah Catlow. Contact via @taylahc25 or find out more on her blog.

*Based on minimum of 2 people for a special four course menu £49, Thursday to Sunday.

Recipe: Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto

Can’t face the rush of booking a table for Valentine’s day?  We don’t blame you, I mean, few can afford such extravagance! Instead, we have a very simple, recipe for you to wow with.

Firstly, remember, Valentine’s day cannot be done by halves.  Find yourself a decent, clean table-cloth and spread it so the central crease is in the middle.  Place the salt and pepper over this, and how about a small flower in a vase or candles in a strong base?

You need two decent sized, clean plates and clean, well-polished cutlery.  You can even check the table is stable and the  chairs and floor are clean.  These things matter, trust me.

So, onwards and upwards. You need:

  • One hour’s cooking time.
  • One punnet of closed cap mushrooms, chopped and diced.
  • Vegetarian stock cubes (I recommend Knorr)
  • risotto  rice
  • Two sticks of celery and a large white onion
  • One large free range egg
  • Three sticks of asparagus
  • One teaspoon of Pesto
  • Vinegar, and seasonings.

Nick Gilmartin risotto cooking collage

Method

  1. To start with, take a deep, thick based pan and put on to heat.  Add a very small amount of oil.
  2. Dice the onion thinly, along with the celery and the mushrooms.
  3. Fry the onions and celery first, until the onions are brown and the celery is soft.  Add the mushrooms and continue to fry.  You may wish to add half a cup of water to give a little steam.
  4. Boil a pint and a half of water, place into a jug with two stock cubes.  Stir them and break them down with a spoon.  Add to the pan and allow to simmer.  If it starts to boil, reduce heat immediately and keep stirring.
  5. Now add a cup and a half of Risotto rice.  It might not look much at first but it expands quickly.  It also absorbs a lot of the juice.  If the Risotto looks a little claggy, add a few drops of water.  But it will need to be firm.  Stir in a teaspoon of Pesto and green herbs, such as oregano, if you like
  6. Boil a second pan of water, add a little salt and place three sticks of asparagus in it.  Cook them until they are just a little soft.  When they are nice and soft, dry them off.  First, cut off the woody ends.  Then cut the stalks in half.  Place to one side, somewhere warm.  Take the boiling water off the heat.
  7. Using the same water and pan, add 50 ml of vinegar and carefully break an egg into the centre of the pan.  Stir very carefully so the egg poaches.  You know it is poached when it is firm, but not hard.  When it is done, place it on  saucer and dry very carefully with a paper towel.  Just dab it.
  8. Take the plate and warm it slightly.  Place a wide cookie cutter or collar in the centre of the plate.  Carefully ladle the risotto into the middle of the collar and spread it down with a spoon so that it completely fills the space.  Place the base ends of the asparagus stalks in a triangle shape around the risotto and remove the collar.  Carefully, using a spoon, place the poached egg on the flat top of the risotto.  Top this with half a twist of black pepper.  Finally take the top ends of the asparagus and prop them up against the risotto at an angle.  (If this does not work, just lay them down flat)

And, enjoy!

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.