Buffalo Chicken Wings

I went to a friend’s place for Superbowl Sunday, and, asked to bring a dish for the meal, a friend and I thought we would have a crack at some Buffalo wings. We did some online searching, and simply made what we found in a “consensus” recipe. They went down brilliantly, even with somebody there who used to own a wings store. The wings were so easy to make, and turned out so well, that two weeks later I made them again.

Uncooked Buffalo Wings

What surprised me most was how cheap chicken wings were. I paid under £2 for a 700g box, which, granted, is a lot of bone as well as meat. But one box of wings will easily feed one person, and will probably feed two, so you are getting great value. The wing is not a very useful cut of chicken, and the only use off the top of my head is for snack wings like this, so perhaps that is why they are so cheap.

The hot sauce suggested in the recipe was also surprisingly easy to find. I went along to my local Sainsbury, thinking I would find whatever was the closest substitute, and lo and behold there was Frank’s Hot Sauce. Making the wings a second time, I found the same sauce bottles in Morrison’s. Given the taste of the sauce, I would imagine that the recipe would benefit from the original product, so if you can get hold of it, I think this will be reflected in your wings.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

This recipe is based on one we found online. This should make enough wings for two hungry people. Also, you’ll need a sharp knife to cut the wings in half.

2x 700g packs chicken wings
2x 148g bottles Frank’s Hot Sauce
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 tsbp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic granules
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1. Cook the wings. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. With a sharp knife, carefully cut each wing in half. Roll the wings in flour, and place on a large foil-lined roasting tin (or two, if you are making a lot), and cook for 30 minutes.
2. Make obligatory joke about buffaloes having wings.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Add all of the sauce ingredients into a sauce pan and stir. Reduce slightly until a little syrup-y. When the wings are done, pour the sauce over, and toss and turn the wings to coat in the sauce. Enjoy.

Buffalo Wings


Fifteen Minute Meals

Flambeed Chicken Ingredients

One of Jamie Oliver’s successes has been in trying to get people to cook good food, healthily, in their day-to-day lives. Notably he’s made recipe books based on the concept of 30 minute meals and more recently 15 minute meals, which hope to give nobody the excuse that they are too busy to cook proper food. Starting from ingredients you might buy from a supermarket, you can do all of the cooking and have the meal ready in either 30 or 15 minutes, and there are a variety of recipes to keep meals interesting.

Whilst I agree with the sentiment- that nobody is too busy to cook properly, and we should be encouraged to make quick food over eating ready meals- I’m not sure I agree with the approach. I’m much more a fan of the slow food movement. Very few foods benefit from cooking quicker than you might otherwise, steak is the only one that comes to mind. Evolution has trained us to cook food slowly, to break down proteins and so reduce the cost of digestion. Many cultures in the world have key communities built around the cooking process, and I’ve often used cooking as a social event. Finally, slow food creates complexity in a dish, combining many flavours over a long cooking time, whereas cooking quickly rarely creates a dish that is anything more than the sum of its ingredients.

But slow food requires time and effort, you say. Time, yes, but effort? No. Most stews, and even more complicated dishes like cassoulet or confit, are little more effort than putting ingredients in a pot. The results are usually great, you often have leftovers that can be tomorrow’s dinner or put in the freezer, and stews don’t often matter whether you return to them after three hours or four. Even if you can’t be in the house for that long, you can use a slow cooker, or program the oven to turn itself off after a certain amount of time. So, if I’m giving advice on how to cook with minimal effort, it would be to slow cook.

Easy Red Thai Curry Ingredients

However, recently Mrs. Oxfood challenged me with coming up with some proper 15 minute meals, rather than just meals that required fewer than 15 minutes of effort, so here they are. In coming up with the recipes, the first difficulty was ingredient preparation. Meals which have ingredients which require lots of peeling and chopping with naturally take a long time won’t fit under the 15 minutes mark, unless you are ruthlessly efficient. (My favourite example for this is onion soup. If you put “1kg onions, peeled and roughly chopped” on the ingredients list, the soup takes 5 minutes. If you put “1kg onions” on the list, the soup will take 30 minutes.) The second difficulty was reducing. Many stocks and sauces require reducing to thicken, and this takes time. To avoid this, I simply used stock cube and only put a small amount of water in: pre-reduced, in some sense. You do lose flavour development, but it is hard to do these dishes in 15 minutes otherwise.

The two dishes I made were flambéed chicken, and our easy thai curry. They’re among our day-to-day recipes, but contain few ingredients, can be adapted to whatever you have in your fridge, and can be sped up easily. We really like them, and they worked fine in the 15 minute version, but the dish just isn’t as good as when we make it normally. If I’m honestly recommending how to cook them, I would suggest you use longer on the sauce reductino to allow complexity to develop and flavours to mingle. I’ll say well done to Jamie Oliver for getting people to cook more day-to-day, but I think slow food is the way to do this, not fast food.

Flambéed Chicken

Just a note to be careful with the flambéeing part here. Think about how you are going to do it safely beforehand.

200g dried pasta.
400g chicken breast (diced, if you can)
1 pot Tesco finest crème fraiche d’Isigny
2 tbsp dried tarragon
4 tbsp brandy
1 match
1 stock cube made up in 150ml water
olive oil for frying

1. Boil a kettle and get the pasta cooking.
2. Dice the chicken breast if you haven’t already and heat the oil in a large skillet/pan. Fry the chicken until browned.
3. Pour the brandy over the chicken and set on fire. Stir until the flames are put out.
4. Add the stock, crème fraiche and tarragon. Season the sauce. Over a high heat, stir while the mixture is reducing to the desired consistency. Drain the pasta, the pour sauce and chicken over it.

Flambeed Chicken

Easy Red Thai Curry

1 can coconut milk
200g beef steak (diced if possible)
3 tbsp red thai curry pasty
150g rice
sugarsnap peas, to serve

1. In a pan, begin reducing the coconut milk. Boil a kettle and get the rice going.
2. Dice the beef if not already done. In another pan, fry the beef until brown. Add the beef and the thai curry mix to the coconut milk and reduce to the desired consistency.
3. Drain the rice, and serve.

Easy Red Thai Curry

Chicken and Mushroom Soup

It’s surprising what you can get out of one chicken. We bought a large chicken from Tesco for around £5, roasted it, and had enough leftovers for a chicken korma and a chicken rogan josh- 8 generous portions of chicken at under a pound a portion, that is, if you don’t mind getting your fingers messy picking at the chicken after you have roasted it. And that’s also what you get- the carcass. The carcass, and any bits of meat you’ve left behind will make an excellent stock, which can be the base for a soup or sauce. With stock cubes, it’s easy to not worry about keeping a stock pot or making stocks out of leftovers,- it’s easy to make stock when you need it. But, when making the stock yourself, not only do you get something that tastes a lot better, you’re showing good gastronomic principles, using all parts of the animal to contribute to meals, and not throwing away leftovers.

If you haven’t tried making stocks before, they are actually pretty straightforward. You simply take the bones, roast them (if not already roasted), add some herbs and spices, cover with water, and simmer for a few hours. Once made, the stock should keep for around the week in a fridge, so if you are making a velouté or other stock-based sauce later in the week, you can use your pre-made stock then. Equally, which is what I have done here, you can make it into a soup. This recipe is for a very simple stock, as in my opinion chicken and mushroom soup should be a simple soup, but you can emphasise different flavours if you want. The soup is very flexible- if you like your soup more or less creamy, adjust the amount of cream, if you like it more or less mushroomy, add more mushrooms, or even leave them out all together.

Cream of Chicken and Mushroom Soup

Makes around 4 portions. Should keep for a few days in the fridge. Serve with fresh bread.

1 chicken carcass, most skin removed
1 bouquet garni (bay, parsley, thyme)
250g chestnut mushrooms
200ml double cream
A few litres of cold water
Salt and Pepper

1. Make the stock. Put the chicken carcass in a stock pot or large pan and fill with water. Add the bouquet garni, and simmer over a low heat for a few hours. Strain through a muslin and reduce the stock down to around 600ml.
2. Make the soup. Fry the mushrooms, getting rid of as much moisture as you can. Blitz them with a hand blender until as smooth as possible. Add the blended mushrooms and double cream to the stock, then season to taste.

I like my soup mushroomy.

Food and Wine Pairings II: Wines for a Wedding

Picking wines for a wedding is an interesting problem. Instead of picking what might be the ‘best’ wine; you’re looking to pick the best value-for-money wine, or the wine that works best with the food. What’s more- you want everybody to like the wine- so if the wine isn’t easy to drink, it’s not the wine you want. There are other things to think about as well, like whether or not their are facilities to refrigerate the whites, the glasses you’ll be drinking out of, and, of course, the budget you have. So when I was asked to pick some wines for a wedding I’m going to this summer, it sounded like a fun challenge, but a different challenge than I normally have with wine.

When I got sent the wedding menu, I had a few ideas of what would work, and picked up of a couple of bottles I liked. But when the main people in the wedding tried them, they weren’t particularly keen, for whatever reason. So with the opportunties to meet up and try wines diminishing, I decided that I would cook the meal they would eat on the day, get four whites and four reds that I thought could work, and try them out together with the food. We went for a ‘blind’ tasting- not to try and guess the wines- but to make sure there were no biases of choice towards which wine worked the best. We planned the meal for a Saturday lunchtime, so that those involved could drive here and have enough time to sober up to drive back.

The wines I sourced were from The Wine Society– their wines are great value for money, so this would be where we could get the most for the budget. The whites wines I picked were a German Ruppetsburg, a Chilean Zarcillo Gewürztraminer, a white Bordeaux, and a Cortese from Piedmont in Italy. The reds, a similar variety, were a Beaujolais (France), a Chilean Zarcillo Pinot Noir, a Pays d’Oc from near the Languedoc in France, and a great value Bricco Rosso from Italy. Quite a range, but hopefully they would bring out different characteristics in the food.

First Course: Melon

We only had the white wines with the melon (as the reds would have all been a pairing disaster). The melon, along with the orange and grapefruit slices, provided a nice fresh, juicy, delicate flavour with some acidity. As such, the two more acidic wines- the sauvignon dominated Bordeaux and the Cortese- created a dish with too much acidity to be pleasant. The gewurztraminer, I thought, was a little to cloying for the delicate melon flavour, not allowing it to develop properly. The Ruppetsburg, though, complemented the melon well with floral notes, low alcohol, and only a little acidity.

Winner: Ruppetsburg

Second Course: Chicken with a white wine sauce and asparagus

The chicken with white wine sauce posed a little more challenge with the fat in the sauce and meat. The asparagus, though, would provide an astrigency which can be quite punishing with a too acidic wine- which is what happened to the Bordeaux, the herbaciousness of the sauvignon blanc in it not helping things. Interestingly the Ruppetsburg seemed not to have enough body to hold up to the chicken, and the Piedmont, while it was fine, didn’t really add much to the flavours in the meal. The sweetness and body of the gewurztraminer worked well with the sauce and proved popular, especially among the women.

Winner: Gewurztraminer

Overall, we decided on the Gewurztraminer for the white. It wasn’t my choice- I voted for the Ruppetsburg- but it was a good value, easy drinking, very accessible wine, which I imagine a lot of people will like. What was interesting was the amount of variation in preference of the whites- we almost had all different variations of our first and second favourite whites. I guess you are never going to get wines everybody likes, but just how different the attitudes towards each were was surprising.

Pudding: Blueberry Cheesecake

We ended up having the reds with the pudding, as that would be the best pairing (and as the whites took a while to get through). This time, though, there was a lot of consensus- the Languedoc wine winning out on everyone’s rating- soft, fruity, and well balanced. I liked the Bricco Rosso more than others, but given it’s structure and complexity, it would have worked poorly in the context. Also soft and fruity, the Beaujolais was popular too. The pinot noir, though, was very closed and oaky, quite disappointing.

Winner: Languedoc

Overall, a lot of fun to do, and a nice way for those involved to make sure they’ll have wines they like. It was very interesting to see the variation in people’s wine choices- same wine with the same food- really showing how you won’t always get the right wine for everybody. And of course, it was a lot of fun finishing off the leftovers.

Ras-El-Hanout Lamb Skewers and Cajun Chicken Burgers

Saturdays for me are usually just as busy as other days. Working, sorting out paperwork, sports or social activities- the day always seems to fill itself up. So when I plan a barbecue, like I did this last Saturday, I don’t often have as much time to create interesting food as I would like. Now sure, I could just buy some pre-prepared food- Marks and Spencer do a particularly nice barbecue range- but buying pre-prepared food never feels right to me. As most barbecue recipes are not much more than cooking various meats, I should be able to come up with something quick and easy, but also with a lot of flavour.

Here are two recipes for barbecuing that I have used for a few years: ras-el-hanout lamb skewers and cajun chicken burgers. Ras-el-hanout is a Moroccan spice mix, typically made up of cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground chilies, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, peppercorn, and turmeric. One of the main uses for this spice mix is in the Moroccan dish tagine, traditionally made with lamb, so I’ve also paired the spice mix with lamb to try and bring out a similar flavour profile. The cajun chicken burgers make good use of the blank canvas you get with chicken, and the greek yoghurt and rocket provide contrasting flavours and textures. Both of the recipes get a lot of their flavours from marinating, so you’ll need to prepare the meat a good amount in advance, but preparing the marinades is the most of the effort required in the recipes. These two took me all of fifteen minutes: quick and easy enough for a Saturday morning.

Ras-El-Hanout Lamb Skewers

400g lamb neck fillet
2 tbsp ras-el-hanout spice mix (another Moroccan spice mix will do fine)
100ml olive oil
1 red pepper
2 red onions

1. Chop up the lamb into skewer-sized pieces. Put the lamb into a bowl with the ras-el-hanout and olive oil. Mix well, and leave to marinade for 8 hours or overnight.
2. If you are using wooden skewers, about an hour before you want the skewers, soak them in water. This will prevent them burning on the barbecue and the meat sticking to them.
3. Cut the red pepper and onions into skewer-sized pieces. Put the lamb and pepper pieces onto the wooden skewers.
4. Barbecue until the meat is well cooked.

Cajun Chicken Burgers

Ingredients (for each burger- simply scale up for more burgers):
1 chicken breast
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ciabatta roll
2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
1 handful rocket
1 sandwich bag

1. Put the chicken breast inside the sandwich bag. Use a rolling pin to flatten the chicken breast into a burger shape. Be careful you don’t break the edge of the sandwich bag doing this.
2. Add the paprika, cumin, coriander, and olive oil to the sandwich bag. Rub the spices into the chicken, and leave to marinade for 8 hours or overnight.
3. Barbecue the meat until it is well cooked. Assemble the burger by adding the cooked chicken, Greek yoghurt, and rocket to the ciabatta roll.