Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Baked Chicken with Creamy Butternut Squash

Well if you follow me on twitter you may be aware that something very exciting happened to me the other day. Jamie Oliver, my ultimate food hero who I have loved since I was a young girl and who has fuelled and inspired my love of cooking for many years, TWEETED ME!

I was beyond delighted; he knows I exist! Oh and I went for the pork if you're interested. By the way, this is part of the reason I've been quiet on here this month; I've set myself the challenge of cooking every one of Jamie's 30 Minute Meals. I'm really enjoying doing them and feel like I'm learning a lot about timings, kitchen organisation, and what herbs/dressings go with which foods.

In honour of this I'm sharing with you my take on the first recipe I've cooked from my newest cookbook; Cook with Jamie. I hunted it down after seeing it praised on Michael's Blog; My, My Food and I, and quickly purchased it on amazon for a bargain price. A quick glance through it left me puzzled as to why I didn't already own this magnificent book. It's wonderfully thick and satisfying, really well thought out, and chock full of simple impressive recipes. I've spent hours poring over his informative sections on cuts of meat, for example, making your own pasta, and detailed descriptions of spices. It's all done in a really non-patronising way, and I've learnt so much without even having cooked many dishes from it yet. I have a feeling this could become my staple go-to cookbook, as Delia's Complete Cookery Course was for my Mum's generation.

The first recipe I tried was based on one for baked chicken; it seemed quick and simple, and we all know how much I love recipe's that involve cream. As I knew I'd be short of cooking time after school, I was able to prepare this first thing in the morning and have it ready half an hour after returning home that night.

Ingredients (Serves 4):
1 large butternut squash
4 chicken breasts with the skin left on
1 fresh red chili
Fresh oregano or marjoram
Olive oil
Grated nutmeg
Double cream
Approx 24 trimmed asparagus
Vine tomatoes

1) In the morning or the night before, slice up your butternut squash (see basic skills post here) and seal in an airtight container. 

2) Put your chicken breasts in a bowl, preferably with their skins left on (I couldn't find any with their skin on). De seed and finely chop a fresh red chili and a clove of garlic, add to the bowl with a couple of sprigs of fresh oregano or marjoram, a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss together, cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the fridge with your butternut squash slices. This little bit of preparation leaves you with a super quick tea that can be thrown together when you come home from work.
3) Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Place the chicken and flavourings into individual baking dishes or tin foil trays, and snugly fit your squash slices around the chicken. Carefully pour the cream around the squash (not on the chicken).

4) Season with grated nutmeg and salt and pepper, cook in the middle of the oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

5) With twenty minutes to go, lay out your asparagus and tomatoes on a foiled baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and season. Place in the oven with the chicken.

6) When serving, shave a little Parmesan over the asparagus to melt nicely.

I didn't think this simple dish would be that much to write home about. However, my family absolutely raved about it; they loved the fresh veg and how it complimented the unctuous creamy sauce. The chicken was also unbelievably juicy and tender, with the chili and tasty squash adding warmth and depth to the dish. I think this epitomises 'Cook with Jamie'; accessible dishes with a few well chosen ingredients, that don't seem like much on paper but really come into their own once put together. I can't wait to cook my way through it.

Basic Skills; Preparing a Butternut Squash

This is the first of my Basic Skills blog posts. They're aimed at those who've just started cooking for themselves and are maybe a little bit daunted by certain recipe instructions. You could even be too embarrassed to admit it and therefore may avoid the recipe completely. I mean who actually teaches you these things? Nobody ever told me how to poach an egg, for example! I'll admit that when I started working at about 15 someone once asked me to make a cup of coffee and I was completely stumped! I'd never drunk coffee, seen it be made, been told what goes in it. It's this presumed knowledge that I hope these posts will help with. Obviously if you have no problems with these basic skills you can move onto the recipe included that uses them.

The butternut squash is a versitile winter vegetable that can be used in dishes such as stews, gratins, pasta dishes, risottos, soups and curries to name a few. It's lovely simply roasted or mashed and served as a side dish, and goes well with earthy spices such as cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Trim the two ends of the squash, then cut it in half across the middle. Stand the two ends up and cut them in half lengthways so you have four quarters.

Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. You also need to take out a thin layer of the flesh to make sure you get all the stringy pith out, as can be seen in the picture. Apparently if you roast these seeds, after washing them and adding salt, they make a tasty snack.
Jamie reckons taking the skin off is unnecessary as it bakes to become lovely and sweet, but I prefer to remove it as I'm not keen on the texture. Carefully slice the skin off, taking as little flesh off as possible. Make sure the pieces of squash are stood sturdily before you start cutting, and that your fingers are out of the way. You may need to go back and take off any layers of pith you've left behind.

You should now have 4 de seeded, peeled pieces of squash. These can be cubed, diced or sliced however you wish to include in a variety of recipes.

If kept in an airtight container, your prepared squash can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days.