So this is the first time I have cooked a proper homemade, keep-an-eye-on-the timings, no-microwave-involved (well, maybe a little) meal for a family. Ever. And the fact it is my family that will be on the receiving end of my culinary blood, sweat and tears makes this even more nerve-racking.
To explain, my stepfather is the undisputed master of blunt, obscure criticism (‘are you going to get changed before we go out?’), usually cuttingly delivered as he lounges on the sofa, one eye on the tv, beer can in hand, completely oblivious to the effect his unwitting remarks have. I have observed many a fiery argument between him and his daughter with this issue as the root cause. At least, being her only child, I can rely on my mother to say nice things regardless of how foul tasting, or burnt my well-intentioned meal turns out to be. Hopefully.
Ingredients (for 4 people)
200g low-fat cream cheese
Chives, chopped finely
4 chicken breasts
4 medium jacket potatoes
8 slices of parma ham
Cheese (the amount depends on how cheesy you like your potatoes!)
Vegetables of your choice (I used broccoli, carrots and asparagus)
I largely made this recipe up from a few different ones I found courtesy of a google search and adapted it as I went along, so if you do attempt this, you may find you need to do the same! I’ll post the recipe then post details of how I found each step underneath.
1. Put jacket potatoes in oven (200˚c) for 50 minutes
(I found the potatoes still weren’t cooked after this amount of time, so I slung them in the microwave – shh… – for another couple of minutes afterwards, which did the trick)
2. Split chicken breasts down the middle, making a pocket, and spoon 120g of the cream cheese, mixed with chives, into it.
(This was bloody difficult. Far harder than I expected, especially actually cutting the chicken breasts. It was like cutting into rubber! Use a good, sharp knife, try not the puncture through the bottom, or opposite side of the chicken – like I did – and ‘spoon’ the cream cheese in with a knife…not a spoon. Thankfully, if you do go wrong, you can still be saved by the next step. I also thought putting some cherry tomatoes in the chicken would be good, but I couldn’t find any room to stuff mine in!)
3. Wrap each chicken breast in a slice of parma ham
(Now this is what the recipe officially recommends…but, especially if you’re a beginner, use 2 slices. This means you can trap the cream cheese more easily if it’s oozing everywhere! Also, be aware that parma ham is ridiculously thin, and mine broke apart continuously. In fact, it was at this point I exclaimed to my despairing mother ‘who the hell would find cooking relaxing?! I’m never doing it again!’)
4. Put chicken breasts in the oven for 35-40 minutes (make sure juices run clear)
(Relief. Now I just needed to make sure I didn’t poison the family)
5. Prepare the vegetables
(By this point I realised I had tons of vegetables and had to think of creative ways to include them on the plate. I ended up boiling the carrots and broccoli for around 8 minutes, and the asparagus for 4. Do this step just before you get the chicken out so the vegetables don’t get cold)
6. Take out chicken breasts and jacket potatoes
(Make sure everything’s cooked – my chicken was possibly a little dry because I’d been overcautious to ensure any risk of salmonella had been zapped – and my potatoes were quite undercooked. Hello microwave!)
7. Take out pulp of potato and mix with butter, cream cheese, chives, spinich and finely chopped cherry tomatoes. Grate some cheese on top, and return to oven for 5-10 minutes
(Literally, at this point, everything went wrong. The vegetables were cooking at different rates, some potatoes were still in the microwave, and I was desperately attempting to get everything mixed into the potato pulp whilst scorching my fingers and cursing under my breath. Eventually, and I hate to admit this, I had to call for assistance from my on-standby mother. However, this is the woman who purchases ready-made mashed potato from the supermarket so, even with the combined force of the two of us, I wasn’t expecting miracles)
(Thank God! It was over! I wanted to serve the chicken in a slightly more fancy way, so I placed the chicken on a bed of spinach, and arranged some cherry tomatoes around this. Then plonked the potatoes and vegetables on as fast as I could as I was starving).
So the final verdict – I’d say not a bad attempt, but certainly not a resounding success (I had to call in my mum for a start – shameful!) I found some of the filling had escaped from the chicken when in the oven (due to idiotic wrapping with the parma ham) so the chicken was slightly dry. I loved the potato concoction, this was my favourite part, although again it could have done with a bit more moisture, so possibly add some milk to the pulp when mixing (adding milk seems increasingly to be common guesswork in my recipes!) Overall, it was a nice meal, though I should point out the portion size was HUGE (not a problem in our family, we are human dustbins). But the biggest success – not one word of criticism from the notoriously critical stepfather. Not one! Unfortunately this didn’t last and, later that night my new haircut got a rather severe, classically oblivious bashing as we ate our pudding….