Saturday, February 12, 2011

You've got to love Delia

You've got to love Delia, well at least before she released - How to cheat at cooking (more about this later). She was the first British celebrity chef.

Her Seasons collection was my first TV experience of real cookery - not cooking for necessity but cooking as a passion; cooking inspired by ingredients; cooking by the seasons.

Her clipped Britishness, her poshness, her kitchen were exotic to me. It was food with beauty and I was inspired by it. It made me want to cook.

So when looking for something to cook last Saturday night, something simple, something easy; I asked myself, what would Delia cook?

Chicken and leek pie
You'll need:

4 small chicken breasts (I just picked up a four-pack from Waitrose)
3 leeks
3 carrots
A bottle of cider
Some fresh thyme (go for 3-4 sprigs)
Two small bay leaves (or a large one. I have a small plant in my small kitchen)
Packet of store brought short-crust or puff pastry

Like most of Delia's recipe, there is a beautiful simplicity to this recipe. You start by placing in a saucepan, the carrots, thyme, cider, bay leaves, and simmer for five minutes.

As I said, you have to love Delia's understanding of the simple and by this I mean her pairing of favours. In this instance, the sweetness of the cider with the carrot and leek.

Then add the leeks that you have washed thoroughly - think all that grit that you want to avoid. Also add the chicken that you have prepared into pie-sized pieces. Cook for ten.

Once the chicken is cooked, drain, making sure that you collect the cider that the vegetables have cooked in.

Place this broth (for want of a better description) back into the saucespan and reduce. Delia's says to reduce to about two tablespoons. I didn't do that but I did reduce it by a least half.

At this stage, turn on your oven to 200 degree or what Delia calls gas mark 6. I was fascinated by gas mark metrics when I watched her shows as a teenager- we didn't have such ovens in Australia.

White sauce ingredients - straight from the larder
275 ml of milk
20 g plain flour
20g of butter
25g of parmesan cheese

Again, we return to Delia's simplcity in this white sauce. Forget the melting of the butter and swift adding of flour and the juggling of pouring milk and whisking. Instead it all goes in there at once (except the parmesan, salt and pepper) and whisk like crazy. The result much to my surprise is a smooth white sauce.

Once you finish the white sauce, add the parmesan and season. Gently mix the pie mixture into the sauce. The result is a wonderfully sweet and fragant filling.

Next use your store pastry and cover each dish. I went for the short crust. From the ingredients, I made a medium-sized pie in a souffle dish and two individual pieces. I folded the pastry into folds and then brushed with milk. Place in the oven and cook for twenty minutes. The result - a fabulous pie, warming, simple and absolutely, Delia.

One final word...

It's about the cheat book. It's a tough one, as I get where Delia is coming from. When most children don't even know what a vegetable is or where food comes from, then the basics shift a little or a lot.

There is no denying that it's probably better for people to cheat and sit down with their kids and eat food than buy pre-made food from a supermarket.

Living in London and being on a London wage, it's easy to forget, some of the harsh economic realities of how people live in Britian. I've always presumed that it is cheaper to buy fresh ingredients and cook them than it is to live on take-away. The reality is... it probably isnt.

What I miss about Australia is the availability of fresh, good food. You don't have to go to a farmer's market, you just go to your local fruit and veg. Here in London at least, I've never really found one. There's Broadway market and Borough market but these aren't cheap.

So is Delia so wrong I ask myself.... what do you think?

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