Chicken Biriyani

SpicesComplete biriyani 2

Spiced chicken in an onion-enriched tomato sauce on a bed of fluffy rice. Chicken biriyani – it has all the components of comfort food, but it’s a little bit special, with all those fragrant spices: cinnamon, saffron, cardamon and cloves. It certainly doesn’t have to be chicken,  you can use prawns, fish, vegetables, cubes of toasted paneer or lamb instead. The toppings also vary wildly, I’ve seen french fries, fried onions, toasted cashew nuts and boiled eggs cut in half. The chicken is cooked in an onion-based sauce and the rice is partially cooked separately. Then the two are layered together in a dish and cooked again in the oven for the flavours to meld and come together. It is a fairly long-winded process, but so worth it.



2 large onions/3 medium

2 sticks of cinnamon

4 cardamon pods

6 cloves

1 chicken, boned and cut into pieces

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

1 can of tomatoes, blitzed

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground corriander powder

1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric

powdered and fresh chilli, to taste

salt, to taste


2 cups Basmati rice, washed and soaked for half an hour

Cucumber raita:

250g yoghurt

1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped

Salt and cumin powder to taste


Using a food processor, chop the onions until they are about the size of a kernel of sweetcorn. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to a large pan and add the chopped onions, along with the cardamon, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Fry these on a low/medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, it’s a long time, but as they are cooking, you can get on with cooking the rice. Stir constantly, and you should end up with lovely caramelised onions that are almost dark brown.

Once the onions are done, add the tomatoes, ginger, garlic and all the spices, remembering to taste (and an optional step: blitz this whole mixture with a stick blender, if you want a smoother sauce). Then put the heat back on to low/medium and pop in the raw chicken. Cover and cook for about twenty minute-half an hour, or until the chicken is completely cooked through.


Put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large pan, on a medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the cumin seeds and fry for a few minutes. Add the washed rice and fry (like you would for risotto) for five minutes, and then add water from a recently boiled kettle, until the rice is just covered. Once that water is almost evaporated, lower the heat, add more water from the kettle to just cover the rice, and cook covered on a low heat. Check every few minutes and add water if needed. The rice needs to be just undercooked (75% cooked through), as the whole dish will cook again the oven.

Once the rice is done, assemble the dish. In an oven-proof dish add a layer of rice, using a third of what you have. Then add a layer of chicken in sauce, more rice, chicken again and then rice. If using saffron, soak a few strands in water for a few minutes and then sprinkle over the dish. Also, if using toasted cashews and deep-fried onions, add now. Put in the oven (300 F/150 C) and cook for half an hour.

Serve with raita or plain yoghurt.


Thanksgiving Lunch

I’ve been in the here in the States for more than two years now, and I think it’s a bit of a disgrace that I only just had pumpkin pie for the first time. I’m not sure why I resisted before, but here I am, about to give my first every proper grown-up lunch, for Thanksgiving, pumpkins and all. Well, actually, it’s a bring-a-dish-kind of thing, so not as scary, but still… I thought I’d share the things I learned from the day and show a few of the hastily-taken pictures, which do not do justice to all the lovely food people brought along. We had pies, zesty cranberry sauce, amazing biscuits/savoury scones, homemade beer and hazelnut and caramelized onion butternut squash, yum.




Hot apple cider (don’t ask what happened here, a beautiful SIX CUP pot of spicy cider completely untouched, because I forgot that I had made it!)

Rosemary, gin and Cava cocktail, as above. Might I add that this picture does not do the cocktail justice, I found it on Jo Goddard’s blog, A Cup of Jo, and it is perfect if you want something light, a bit naughty (we are talking gin and champagne here), with levers for those who like sweet (rosemary syrup) and those who like it sour (lemon juice). The fresh rosemary garnish finishes it off beautifully. Some may turn up their nose at pre-mixing, but I mixed a whole jug’s worth and it kept nice and fizzy for a couple of hours and there was no faffing around with making individual drinks.



Lemon, proscuitto and thyme-butter flavoured roast chicken, from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnuts

Roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, again adapted from Jamie Oliver’s roasted vegetable medley recipe

Broccolli with lemon and garlic

Hazelnut and mushroom stuffing, in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have made this as it was too similar to the veggie nutloaf below and a tad dry, but still a handy stuffing recipe

Lentil and cashew veggie nutloaf: more delicious and tangy that it sounds, you will never feel like the cheated vegetarian guest again! Cheese, breadcrumbs, toasted cashews and lots of yummy veggies bound together.



Pumpkin and coconut pie: what a lovely twist on the classic I found on 101cookbooks, where evaporated milk is replaced with – I think the superior – coconut milk. I must say I would have liked a bit more of a Bounty moment with a hit of coconut, so when I make this again, I shall ramp it up and perhaps top it with toasted coconut shavings.

Tarte Tatin (which I am not brave enough to make yet, bought in and damn good!)

Blackberry Galette. This is a fantastic dessert, because you can do practically all the prep a couple of days before, make the pastry, make the frangipane filling and then on the day, roll out and bake. I did change the original baking instructions, by blind baking first alone, and then filling with frangipane and berries.

Pecan Pie. What’s there not to love about pecan pie? It is sweet, and you will go into a coma if you have too much, but we tempered this with whipped cream, so no worries. I have found a really good, robust recipe, where you blind bake a paté brisée shell and fill with a mixture of sugar, corn syrup(!), butter, water, eggs and pecans.

Conclusion: The lunch went well, and I think everyone went home full! The moral of this tasty tale is that you can prepare an awful lot of things beforehand:

-toast any nuts, chop them and keep them sealed. I also toasted the bread for my stuffing and stored it in a plastic bag.

-make simple syrups, cordials for cocktails, prepare garnishes

– make biscuits or cookies like macarons which will keep fine in the freezer

-make pie dough, I used paté brisée for the pumpkin and pecan pie. Granted, that the pastry had an off-gray hue when I was rolling it out the next day, but hopefully that was some weird oxidization going on, rather than anything more sinister…

-make things like frangipane, which keeps for up to a week in the fridge

Then the day before:

-we made the proscuitto/lemon/thyme butter, which isn’t difficult at all, but requires lots of faffing around with lemon zest etc, so good to have it all done.

– made the actual pecan and pumpkin pies and let them sit in the fridge, uncovered, overnight (DO NOT leave this as the last thing that you do, otherwise, like me, you’ll end up half asleep in a freezing kitchen, window open, trying to cool the just-cooked pies down, not the best thing!)

– washed, chopped and peeled most of the veg (not potatoes), ready to be cooked the next day


– well, as above shows, planning all the stages of the recipes and how much you can do in advance really helps

– don’t worry too much, it’s not going to be perfect, it’s not a sit-down dinner for two

– remember what drinks you have and serve them!