Saturday, 26 October 2013

Kiev us a break - my recipe for the perfect Chicken Kiev

Ahhh... the good old Chicken Kiev, that parcel of processed chicken hiding a pocket full of sickly butter rich in stale herbs and raw garlic all wrapped in an ersatz-orange crumb (which would look more comfortable on a fish finger)... I am sure that many of us remember it with some fondness, in the same way that some people call M&S Food ‘St. Michaels’ as it was once known. How we marvelled when children at how, when the Kiev was cut, the buttery filling spilled over the plate tainting everything it touched! Those were the days... 

Let us also not forget its hideously more-ish offspring, the ‘mini kiev’, a mainstay of the Great British drinks party since the 1970s? Conjuring up images of a convivial room reeking of cheap white wine and thick with garlicky fumes. The number of Christmas parties I have been where these little critters have caused a cacophony of recurrent belching amongst guests doesn’t bear thinking about. 

This indeed is a sorry state of affairs and, although in recent years a number of suppliers and supermarkets have started to ‘sex-up’ their Kiev lines by using whole chicken breast rather than reconstituted meat, the sickly butter still remains to ensure that this is not a meal you cook if you a) happen to be going out or b) are entertaining someone you want to impress (romantically or socially). Must the Kiev be confined to the doldrums of solo dining?

I think not! For one thing, they are incredibly easy to make (if time consuming), offering an impressive dish which will make guests go wow. Additionally it is a fantastic meal to prepare for a date or romantic liaison, deliciously seductive... ;-)

My recommendation would be to serve your Kievs with some steamed long grain rice and a punchy green salad with a vinegary dressing with plenty of dijon mustard added. To drink a chilled, crisp Gavi de Gavi or Pinot Gris would be perfect to this rich and luxurious dish

Ingredients - Serves 4

4 large chicken breasts 
250ml Groundnut oil

For the filling

1 pack unsalted butter
large handful of finely chopped parsley, tarragon, thyme and chives
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the coating 

Plain flour for dredging 
4 eggs beaten 
500g dried breadcrumbs 
sea salt

  1. Prepare the filling by thoroughly mixing the butter, herbs, mustard, salt and pepper together in a bowl. Form into a loaf shape and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare the chicken by removing the mini-fillet on the underside of the breast then, using a sharp knife, carefully create a horizontal pocket in the side, making sure not to pierce through the flesh.
  3. remove the butter from the fridge and slice into four portions which must then be stuffed into each cavity, pursing down the pocket entrance and using some of the egg for the coating to seal the gap. 
  4. dredge the chicken in flour, dip in the egg and roll thoroughly in the bread crumbs until thoroughly coated.
  5. Place on a tray and put into the freezer for 15 minutes, then repeat step 4 once more. 
  6. cover the Kievs with a tea towel and place in the fridge for 30 minutes or until ready to use. 
  7. pre-heat the oven to 220°C.
  8. Heat the groundnut oil in a heavy based sauté pan until hot enough to shallow fry.
  9. Using two forks, carefully brown each Kiev in turn until the sides turn golden. 
  10. Place each kiev on an oiled baking tray and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes. 
  11. Serve straight from oven with rice and a crisp green salad. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sketches from a Cigar Smoker's Album IX (Part 2): Autumn Reflection...

The second part of a moody collection of sketches, written after the style of my favourite writer and hero Ivan Turgenev...

The muddy river and steel grey sky provided an ominous setting for a smoke on the banks of the Thames. On this occasion I had nothing to write home about, half a tin of Cafe Creme Blues to amuse myself with as I ambled aimlessly along the South Bank.

It was a proper Autumn day and the cold, damp air whipped wearily, scattering a few dead leaves hither and thither, creating ripples on the surface a river which had once seen great fleets pour down its estuary to fight wars in Northern Europe, set up trading posts in far flung reaches or discover new lands. If the depths could talk I'm sure they would throw up more than just a few lampreys and a couple of Salmon.  

Leaning over the strudy railings of the embankment, under the imposing gaze of the Hungerford Footbridge, I listended to the industrial sounds of trains shunting in and out of Charing Cross and became somewhat pensive...

Had it really only been a week or there about? A week of what? one might ask... of good news and bad, that you can be sure of, but not things to be shared in the gentle text of this sketch. 

I turned my back to the clammy breeze and cracked open the tin of these all too familiar cigarillos, deftly shaking one out, placing it between cold, dry lips and lighting up. 

A billow of cheap smoke went heavenwards but nobody seemed much to notice, so busy were they continuing on with their lives, wrapped up in moments which I was not supposed to share. As I puffed away, pigeons scrambled for scraps of food, young miscreants risked life and limb in an urban skatepark and chain restaurants were doing a roaring trade. But even with all this hubbub happening around me it seemed that I was in perfect isolation, alone in the crowd. Autumn has that effect, a transitional limbo between summer and winter where life seems to place itself into perspective and long put-off decisions have to be made.

I chuckled to myself as I lit another cheap cigar. I was meant to be meeting some people a little later on but there's a time for socialising, drinking and gambling and then there's a time for the simplicity of smoking, introspection and quiet pondering. It was in this mode that I could be found, blue tweed jacket against a slate backdrop in which the light was fast-fading and the buzz/hum of sodium lights was starting to kick in. 

It was on days like this that you just couldn't beat London, with its indomitable spirit, splendid reserve and its multitude of places to quietly reflect in the day's gloaming...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sketches from a Cigar Smoker’s Album IX - Rushmere and other pond-side tales

Rushmere is an iconic feature of the borough of SW19, a pond occupying some of the open space of on the South West end of the Common, adjacent to Wimbledon Village. Originally dug out in in medieval times (according to the Wimbledon Common website) it is a most ancient of ponds, there are certainly records dating back to the Tudors. Even in times of severe droughts it has not been known to dry out, providing one of the few constants in this ever changing patch of South London. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter it sits placidly as a home for all sorts of migrating birds and a rugged feature of the landscape for locals and visitors to enjoy in turn. 

Gone are those heady days of the Empire when Victorian/Edwardian pleasure seekers would dip their toes in these waters on a rare day of blazing sunshine. In turn, the council’s stringent health and safety policy has now meant that it is no longer possible to ice skate on this body when has frozen over, as I was sometimes wont to do as a child. Now it is the reserve of Golden Retrievers and Weimaraners, those once great hunting dogs, now reduced to the angry shouts of their owners as they naughtily frolic in the bracing waters. 

I write this as I sit looking over this majestic mainstay of my hometown, an old friend who has offered a welcome place to reflect when deep thought was needed. My cup of strong black coffee steamed away under the watchful eye of the mild, October sun as I took a bench facing away from the encroaching presence of period houses and out the the wooded slopes which stretch down as far as the Vale of Putney. One can picture the youthful Henry VIII chasing a hart across this expanse with his barons and a pack of loyal talbots on a grand hunt, the likes of which we will never see again. 

Those woods... I like to imagine a mysterious, and once wild area, the reserve of mushroom pickers, poachers, robbers and bandits. A place pock-marked with dank taverns and mysterious old caves housing zealots and hermits; dark, quiet spaces full of the smell of horse chestnuts and rotting leaves... I probably romanticise, but that is the effect that a gentle pondering by Rushmere with a mellow Jose L.Piedra Nacionale has.

Purchased from a newsagent with a well placed humidor (something that all vendors should well consider purchasing to encourage my custom), Piedra are not in the top flight of the great cigar producing houses, but they provide a very pleasant and protracted smoke. Not too heavy and not too light, like Baby Bear’s porridge, it was just right. A perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee it is also admirably matched with spirits such as blended whisky, eau de vie and chilled vodka.

I smoked away, ever drawing looks from disapproving parents who weren’t content that I was smoking in one of the most open spaces in London well out of the way of sensitive nostrils. But no matter, I became lost in my thoughts as the smoke pleasingly curled up and dissipated into the wider atmosphere. 

Like one of my heroes, the novelist Turgenev, I pondered a myriad of problems both social and personal: heartache, longing, work, the socio-political situation of the United Kingdom... in my mind it was all very profound, yet I am sure that others would find fault with my contemplation. Like ‘The Wanderer’ in Caspar David Friedrich’s seminal painting of the early 19th Century (another favourite of mine) I surveyed an area of land integral to my development and one which had changed little in the last 26 years.The clink of scaffolding rang out in the distance as the autumn fun fair was being set up, conjuring in the mind a mythical tradition of an annual gathering on the common akin to something out of a Thomas Hardy novel... complete conjecture but a pleasant idea all the same. 

As the cigar burned down further, releasing some richer, wood-like notes and my coffee was on it’s last dregs, I sighed at how fleeting everything was as a lone House Martin swooped over Rushmere’s stillness, supposedly to grab an insect from the spindly rushes that line the banks. Would Rushmere be around in 100 years? I hope so, and I hope that there will also be someone else sitting by its banks, cigar in hand, trying in their own way to set their world to rights in a paradoxical world of love, loss, success and above all hope. We all need our places to hideaway and enjoy our own company (even, ironically, in wide open spaces) and I do hope that everyone has a Rushmere of their own. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

They might, break and they might fall... ‘Duck Rock’ (1983) - Malcolm McLaren

Occasionally there comes an album that breaks all the rules. One which is marketed by the cocksure impresario who put it together as the panacea to the doldrums of modern music. This is Duck Rock... an unimpressive sounding album I’ll grant you, but one that has afforded a massive amount of listening pleasure throughout the years. A true aural experience in every sense of the word, it combines some of the great electronic, hip hop and world musicians of a generation to create a collage of the music that was emerging in the early 80’s. 
First, let’s establish the late Malcolm McLaren, a man known mainly for his involvement with ‘alternative music’ and the punk scene, notably through his association with The Sex Pistols and his former girlfriend, fashion legend Vivienne Westwood. A highly creative ‘fellow’, following the collapse of the fad-ish punk and the emergence of new cultural streams like new wave, electronic, hip hop and dance this ginger-headed genius decided to put his thinking cap on and come up with something that would really capture the imaginations of a generations, a project that would be as ambitious as it was (it turned out) prolific. 

The blueprints of the recording are shrouded in a sense of legend, mystery and a whole bunch of bullshit but one thing is certain, McLaren was able to put an album together, and with some of the best names in the business. Step in the dynamite combination of crack producer Trevor Horn (ABC, Yes, Grace Jones, Seal) and a two top-flight engineers: Anne Dudley and J J Jeznalick (Art of Noise) without whom this album would not have come together. For anyone interested in music production and studio work, this album is a must because it is so complex, textured and layered; choc full of samples it is an odyssey through the power of a good ear and a good mixing desk. 

In addition, the masterful production is supported by both the Soweto Zulu Choir, a South African group who give a harmonious and bravura performance on so many of the tracks. This is in direct opposition to The World Famous Supreme Team (WFST), a radio based rap troupe who MC the whole album, provide the continuity and occasionally rap where appropriate to McLaren. When all is said and done, this is definitely an album of the 80s but punctuated by the beat of tribal drums and African guitars, and it is at this juncture that I think we should take a closer look at the album: 

Oblata: One of my least favourite tracks on the album, this is an odd mix of Zulu drum beats and ambient music which might appeal to some. Certainly at the time it was probably quite revolutionary as I am sure that no one had ever heard an opening like it but... it’s not for me. 

Buffalo Gals: Everyone who has ever listened to Eminem with have heard his homage to this song on his smash his ‘Without Me’, but this is the original, a pioneering track that apparently helped bring hip-hop to the mainstream. Drenched in drum machines and samples it is a great song with Malcolm McLaren stamping his mark with the signature refrain as well as a short but sweet rap by the WFST.

Double Dutch: There are few songs that could be based on a skipping craze but this one is. Preceded with some recordings from the WFST’s radio show it descends into a gospel infused dance track incorporating a healthy amount of South African sounds to create a hugely uplifting and thoroughly groovy track to get down low to... all I’ll say is Skip they do's the double dutch, that's them dancing. 

El San Juanera: This is an intermission of sorts, a short skit from the WFST on the back of their cult radio show. Not much to say about this but a nice cultural snippet. 

Merengue: Definitely a homage to latin music, with McLaren adopting a camp tone and singing in Spanish to the intense beat of South American drums and aggresive backing vocals. It rises to something of a climax and, production-wise, has Trevor Horn’s stamp all over it. Not my favourite. 

Punk it Up: One of the flagship tunes on the album and a tribute to the people that McLaren met in Soweto as well as his association with The Sex Pistols this could not be further from the awfulness of the aforementioned band in its glorious, uplifting spirit. A joyful but ‘anarchic’ track! 

Legba: Another weird ambient interlude, punctuated by percussion, it is in these moments that you see the birth of another band which would rise from the ashes of this project: ‘The Art of Noise’. This has the bands blueprints written all over it. 

Jive My Baby: If I every had a daughter this is the track I can imagine dancing embarrassingly to at her wedding (if this was on the DJ’s playlist)! It is one of my favourite tracks on the album and one which brings a smile to the face through its sheer exuberance, all I can say is ‘Set alight the lights, jive my baby!!’. 

Song for Chango: An intense track of pure tribal music from South Africa, this seems to break up the continuity of the album until it slips into a bizarre soundscape of keyboards and synthesizers and then reverts to the original... just bizarre, but strangely pleasing. 

Living on the Road to Soweto: A protest song of sorts, giving at one moment the bleak picture of the fraught township at the centre of South African politics in the 1980s and also a song of hope and joy celebrating the culture, dance and music of the country. 

World’s Famous: My favourite track on the album comes as a highly incongruous and woefully short piece which pits the legendary Anne Dudley and the WFST in an incredible meeting of minds (which should have been an album in itself). This is Art of Noise meets rap, a funky, electronic exercise that suits many a late night drinking session for it’s wonderful signing of quality... it should have closed the album. 

Duck For the Oyster: Just shit... a terrible end to a fantastic, innovative album!