mrspao’s Comforting Chicken Casserole

I’ve been a bit awol this week as there is lots going on and we had an unexpected house guest arrive on Monday and she just left yesterday perhaps to return today or tomorrow. I did have a nice day out yesterday at an antiques fair at Detling with my friend Rachel and now I’m catching up with laundry and housework etc today. There are high winds and lots of rain today and pao is still unwell (Warning: only click on this link if you have a strong constitution) so that is my excuse for being like Merlin and refusing to go outside. It is also the kind of weather for a long slow casserole which will fill the house with a lovely smell and being warming and satisfying.

mrspao’s Comforting Chicken Casserole
(Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry everyone is)

1 pack chicken thighs (6 in total)
1 glass white wine
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock (I have a frozen lump of homemade in the freezer and a whole load of cubed stock when I made some stock with some old veg and chicken bones a while ago. You can also use ordinary powdered stock)
Springs of oregano
Sprigs of thyme
2 tins tomatoes
1 onion, halved and sliced
2 tbsp of chutney (tomato relish or sundried tomato puree could also be nice)
Pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat slow cooker on high. If you don’t have a slow cooker, preheat oven to 140-150C.

Brown chicken thighs in a frying pan and add to slow cooker. Melt stock cube (or lump of stock in my case) in juices from the chicken with white wine and onion. Add herbs (I used fresh ones) and pour all on top of chicken pieces in the slow cooker. Add tinned tomatoes and tomato chutney (or relish). Leave to cook slowly for several hours until meat is tender. You might want to put in some potato or cornflour to thicken up the sauce according to your own tastes. Serve with rice, mashed potato or chunks of fresh bread to mop up the juices.

I would normally put some veggies in with the chicken to cook like carrots or broccoli or cauliflower but as I mentioned it is pouring with rain outside and I don’t feel much like going out.

Move over, Phoebe – there’s loads of room next to that radiator.

Champion sleeper

Merlin is a champion sleeper. I wish I could sleep as peacefully as he does at the moment. I woke up at 4.30 this morning and have had a lot of trouble sleeping peacefully lately which is very sad 🙁 I think I’m just a bit worried as there is a lot going on at the moment.

It’s about the taking part

I love love love the Winter Olympics. If only I didn’t have to go to work and I could stay up all night and watch the events live and knit. Unfortunately, I do have to go and have to get knitting in when I can.
Day 1 : I completed 2.5 inches which I am rather pleased with as I did spend a long time trying to figure out where I was with the pattern (it has a 32 row repeat and I couldn’t remember where I’d started recording from which is why I left it in the first place. Now I have a notebook with numbers and colours and am organised which was my Olympic training exercise.

Day 2: wasn’t easy but I knit a dozen or so repeats. I had a bit of trouble as I’d been tired when knitting the last rows of the evening so I forgot to click the kacha kacha so started off on the wrong row and had to rip a couple of rows which slowed things down. Luckily, I’d started the day by putting in a lifeline so it wasn’t a complete disaster. I did manage to lock the stitchmarkers in again though. Luckily, I have received some lovely stitchmarkers from friends so I can probably afford to forget again 🙂 They look rather pretty and it is nice to think of the givers when I look at them – like a cheer squad in my knitting.

Bearing in mind the mistakes I’d made when tired, I took two rest days for Days 3 and 4. I’m not long back from doing some filming and recording in London and I didn’t sleep too well for worrying about equipment not working properly. It did all work ok (I think I still need to play it back to check) so I’m off to bed to watch more Winter Olympics. I kind of figure that it isn’t about finishing but taking part as it certainly has made me get the stole out for some WIPs Dancing 🙂

Locket of love

I had been much admiring the beautiful lockets that Emma had been making and pao agreed I could have one for Valentine’s Day and he would choose and put the photos in it. I didn’t even take a peek when the postman arrived with it and handed the whole packet to pao to deal with. He handed me this sweet little box with a lovely hand drawn bird on it on Sunday.

This was the lovely locket I’d picked out. I’d been saying to Emma that I wasn’t able to see it when it arrived (and quickly too – just a day after I’d ordered it).

pao had a little trouble rescaling and printing the photos he had selected so I had a go with a combination of Photoshop and InDesign which I use for such things at work and managed to print out one of the two photos he’d chosen as I didn’t have the file for the other to hand but I did pick out a photo of the two of us at Niagara Falls which I knew he’d been looking at for the second window. What a great gift – the handmade flower and little beads really compliment the book locket. Emma is a very skilled jewellery maker! I love it. Thank you, pao!

pao is still in a lot of pain so spent yesterday doped up on painkillers so I spent the day listening to codeine-induced snoring, knitting and looking at my lovely locket (when the kitten wasn’t trying to attack all three of the above).

Winter Waiting

We had a mad amount of snow yesterday which was rather surprising as we aren’t often blessed with any snow at all. Twice in one year?! Wow. I think it was snowing because I’m starting my Knitting Olympics Challenge this weekend. I don’t have the stamina to stay awake until 1.45am to start my challenge project so I’ll leave you with some snow photos I took this morning on my way to work.

I like passing this pond – in the spring there are bluebells. It is so pretty with the snow around it.

I found this interesting pattern in the snow. I wasn’t sure what it was at first but I’ve concluded that it was a bird who had extended its wings.

Closer inspection of the surrounding area revealed some foot prints. The bird looked like it was slightly dragging its feet as it stepped.

I do love seeing leaves and snow.

Evidence of bunnies. Normally they are out and about and quite busy but they were staying in. I did see one bunny but he didn’t stick around the be photographed. I don’t blame him. It was quite cold.

Just the weather to curl up with a good book. pao’s reading the Wallander book. We’ve been watching the BBC series of Henning Mankel Wallander novels which are really good.

More UFOs than Roswell?

I thought it was about time to stop and look at the languishing UFOs in order to spur myself on to finishing them particularly since we’re teetering on the eve of the Knitting Olympics. I’ve joined Team Teadrinkers 🙂

Old WIPs

WIP 1 Silk Scarfette. No progress on this – so far but the colours are so pretty that I am inspired to pick it up again. This is going to be my Winter Olympics challenge as there is a lot to do but I figure if I work on nothing else or eat, drink or work I should be ok.

WIP 2 Odette Cardigan
Finished the back and I’m now working on the left front. There is still a long long way to go on this one. Another present from pao, given to me in Easter 2008 instead of a chocolate Easter egg. I thought might have even made this a Winter Olympics challenge but I have worked on it recently so it would have been against the rules.

WIP 3 Seasilk Shawl
I have been working on this and I reckon I’m almost half-way finished.

WIP4 Adriana cardigan
I think the crochet bit has scared me. I’d quite like some crochet lessons which I think would give me some confidence and help me to get up the courage to finish it off.

New WIPs

Trapeze Jacket
All sewn up just need to finish knitting the collar. I started this in July 2009 as it was an anniversary present from pao so it would be nice to have it finished off.

Yorkshire Socks
I love this yarn and these socks. They are just travelling around in my bag for knitting emergencies 🙂

I am struggling not to cast on anything new (apart from socks) so I can start knocking these WIPs off my list but there are so many lovely things to knit and not enough time to knit.

Apricot Jam Flapjacks

(adapted from Mum’s flapjacks from A London Foodie in New York)
Makes about 18 depending on how you cut them and how many you eat out of the pan before they make it to the plate.

225g/8 oz margarine (I used Stork in the plastic tub)
140g/50oz golden syrup
425g/15oz rolled oats (I used Waitrose organic jumbo oats)
1 jar of apricot (actually you can use pretty much any jam – I used Bonne Maman which has large lumps of apricot in which makes the flapjacks rather yummy)

Heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line tin with greaseproof paper.

Combine margarine and golden syrup in a large saucepan and melt togehter over a gentle heat. Pour in oats and combine.

Spread half of the oats on the baking tray then carefully spread a layer of jam on the top of the oats. Finally, spread the rest of the oats on top of the jam.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cut when still warm and leave to set in the pan. They will be a bit crumbly but the pan crumbs are a delicious cook’s treat.

Notes: I cut out the sugar from the original recipe as I was adding jam. I forgot to put the flour in but that doesn’t seem to have harmed them. They might have been slightly less sticky if I’d put flour in but they are still very tasty. pao said that he likes them better than the flapjacks I normally make as they are chewy rather than hard. My friend April said she liked the jumbo oats as they made the flapjacks even oatier. Even though I was tempted to keep them in the oven a bit longer, I’m glad I decided not to.

The jam is a nice surprise. But kittens who jump out at you and pounce on your toes with claws extended aren’t so nice.

mrspao’s Margarita cupcakes

I obviously hadn’t read the recipe too carefully when I decided to make these Margarita cupcakes. There was one ingredient that we decidedly didn’t have readily available over this side of the Atlantic: white cake mix. I also thought that it was cheating a bit so I googled a bit and found a recipe I liked from the Creative Pot blog for adapting.

Mix up in a jug 300ml Margarita mix (I used the Jose Cuervo mix) and 100ml tequila (I used the premium Jose Cuervo). You will only need half a cup of this so you can drink the rest over ice. I liked this bit from the original recipe 🙂

1/2 cup pre-mix Margarita
1 cup milk (can use soy milk)
1/4 cup vegetable or sunflower oil (I used sunflower)
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 lime
1 1/3 cup self-raising flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 180C
2. Mix pre-mixed Margarita, lime zest, milk, oil and sugar until combined
3. Add dry ingredients and mix until there are no lumps.
4. Spoon in cake cases in cake tins. Batter will be liquidy and slightly puffy.
5. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden brown on top and cooked through (when a skewer is inserted it will come out clean)
6. Leave to cool and prepare the icing.

Lime buttercream and margarita icing

3 cups icing sugar
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tbsp Margarita mix (if you haven’t drunk it all) if you don’t have any left use lime juice
Zest of 1 lime

Mix all of these together until you have a smooth paste and smooth on cooled cupcakes.

Add a crystallized violet to make them pretty.

Eat daintily and avoid getting frosting all over your fangs.

Garden playing, erm, planning

Whilst I was in the hospital trying not to listen to the harbinger of doom other patient, I concentrated on thinking about our garden. When we got home I thought I ought to gather all the seed we had together and sort it all out.

It wasn’t long before I had a small helper.

He loved the rattle of the seeds and shiny papers

and there was much pawing of packets to make them rattle and dive-bombing to make them slide.

Luckily he ambled away for long enough for me to organise my seeds tidily and safely into two tins.

pao is going to look through the seed catalogues and work out what we need from what we picked out and put in our order before the end of his convalescence. He’s doing ok – not as well as before as the general anaesthetic has completely worn off so he is in quite a bit of pain. Hopefully it won’t last too long.

Lime and Violet and Lego

I decorated the lime and coconut cake I made yesterday today. I got the buttercream icing recipe from this recipe and added a load more lime juice, sugar, butter and zest. I do have a lot of frosting so may have to make Margarita cupcakes. I like the Margarita cupcake recipe as it makes enough Margarita mix with some left over for you to drink whilst you are making. I’d better buy some more limes!

I thought the cake looked a bit bare after I’d frosted it so I dug out some crystallized violets I had in the cupboard to provide a contrast. I chuckled a bit as I did think about one of my favourite yarn knitting podcasts Lime and Violet.

I wanted to be around to help pao but I didn’t want to be a pest so I organised for a friend to come over with her two boys. I spent most of my day giving the kitchen a thorough clear out. Normally it is too dark to see properly in the evenings so I took advantage of the daylight to have a good clean and clear and reorganise. Hopefully pao won’t forget and try and put his toast in the coffee maker. It was good to have visitors to look forward to and Ed and Harry cleverly built a fortress in Lego which we are enjoying. Sirius really enjoys playing with young children so he was very interested in the Lego box and what the boys were doing.

pao is making good progress. The anaesthetic is wearing off slowly and he gave in and took some painkillers this afternoon. Even though I don’t like looking at it, his eye does look better than it has done normally of late.

Doesn’t he have mischief written all over his face?