The freezer drawer of doom

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Because I am ever so slightly neurotic about waste, most of our leftovers end up in the freezer rather than the bin. This, however, is where the efficiency ends, because my fridge management skills leave A LOT to be desired.

My freezer is a cryo-dumping ground – a frosty equivalent to the Universal Drawer of Toot, the place where I hoard random stuff in the genuine belief that it will come in handy one day. Odd shoelaces, keys to doors that almost certainly no longer exist, several sizes of rawl plug, some crusty old lip balm. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. Every house has one.) Here’s mine:

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My freezer is the same. Here you will find (and I use the term loosely) heels of parmesan that I will never put in a minestrone because I never make minestrone, chicken carcasses that I will never bother turning into stock, crumble topping which I will only remember about at the point of blitzing a fresh batch and salmon trimmings which God only knows what I was thinking.

Nothing is labelled so it’s pot-luck as to what I pull out. There are cling-wrapped balls of brown stuff which could be either cookie dough or burger mix and tupperware pots of more brown stuff which could be chocolate sauce yet quite possibly, beef gravy. Just the other week I defrosted a couple of portions of chilli, a tub of cottage pie filling and a vat of pulled pork ragu, before finding the bolognese I was looking for. This meant a week of eating one plate after another of brown slow-cooked slop, because, you know, throwing stuff away is BAD. My kids were not amused.

And why is my freezer’s always full to burst, no matter what, it seems, I take out? It’s as if the remaining contents morph to fill any available space. On the occasions where I am stupid enough to order frozen stuff from Ocado, a full tetris-style reshuffle is required to fit it all in. I have to squeeze the air out of bags of peas, decant chicken pieces from their packaging into freezer bags (unlabelled of course) and God help me if I’ve ordered a tub or two of Haagen Daz.

Action is required. A ruthless freezer purge is in order. I am mentally preparing the family for more defrosted brown food so I can make room for, among other things, this delicious (and brown) sausage and lentil casserole I have batch cooked. It freezes beautifully, but be warned, once frozen, it looks remarkably similar to bolognese.

Sausage, lentil and red wine casserole

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This is a great way to use up leftover sausages and half bottles of red wine that are past their drinking best. Use meaty sausages with a strong flavour such as venison or beef or any of those fennel, chilli or garlic ones you find in Italian delis. Serve with creamy mash and a glass of red.

Serves 6

  • glug of olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 150g Puy or brown lentils, rinsed
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 6-8 leftover strongly flavoured sausages (about 450g), chopped into 1 cm discs
  • 400g passata
  • 375ml red wine
  • 200ml chicken or beef stock (or water)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a large pan or casserole, sweat the onions and carrot in the olive oil for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook for a further minute.
  2. Stir in the lentils and tomato puree and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the sausages, passata, red wine and stock.
  3. Bring to the boil for a minute then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes until the lentils are tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of water, or too thin, continue cooking until reduced to the desired consistency.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in half the parsley then sprinkle the rest on top before serving.

 

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Roots ‘n’ rice

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Quick post today. This roasted root rice salad went down well with the extended family at this weekend’s annual fireworks shindig so I thought I’d share it with you here. It’s robust enough to serve as a vegetarian meal in its own right (or vegan if you omit the cheese), but is also great as a side to roast chicken, pork or indeed sausages. Use short grain brown rice to ensure a nubbly, chewy texture and serve at room temperature, not fridge cold. Autumn on a plate.

Roasted root rice salad with salsa verde

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Use whatever root vegetables you fancy (beetroot and fennel both work well) and substitute the sweet potato with squash if you prefer.

Serves 6+

  • 1.5 cups short grain wholegrain rice (I find using cups the easiest way of measuring the rice to liquid ratio – in the case of this rice use 3 parts rice to 4 parts liquid)
  • 2 cups salted water, or vegetable or chicken stock for extra flavour
  • 4 banana shallots, halved
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped into rough 2cm chunks
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped as above
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped as above
  • 2 cloves of garlic, flattened under the blade of a knife
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp Aleppo chilli flakes or a pinch of regular chilli flakes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped flat leaf parsley
  • salsa verde (recipe in previous post, click here)
  • goats or feta cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan).
  2. Put the rice and the water/stock in a medium saucepan, bring to the boil, clamp on a lid, reduce the heat its lowest setting – a bare simmer – and cook for 40-45 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Remove from heat and remove the lid, place a clean tea towel over pan and replace the lid. Leave to stand while the vegetables finish cooking.
  3. While the rice is cooking, prepare the vegetables and place in a large roasting tin (in one layer, otherwise use two tins) with the garlic, fennel, chilli, thyme, salt and pepper. Drizzle over a generous amount of olive oil and toss the vegetables to coat. Cook in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to one hour, tossing regularly, until cooked through and nicely caramelised.
  4. When the vegetables are cooked, remove the garlic and thyme sprigs from the tin, then toss in the cooked rice, scraping up any caramelised bits from the bottom and coating the rice in the flavoured oil. Taste and add a little more salt if needed.
  5. Before serving, stir in a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley, then dollop on blobs of salsa verde and scatter over the crumbled cheese.

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A big bowl of comfort

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I’ve had a short sabbatical, but now I’m back. It was only supposed to last the summer but then The 11yo started secondary school and all my good intentions to write more (and drink less) flew out the window along with a good portion of my sanity.

It’s been tough, for sure. Even though we’ve been through it all before with The Teen, like childbirth, I’d forgotten quite how traumatic the settling in process is. Anxious and disquieting for us, yes, but for him, absolutely bloody off-the-scale terrifying. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he was sitting on a carpet trading nits with his chums having a story read to him by a kindly teacher who shared his love of pandas. Now he has 19 different lessons in 19 different classrooms with 19 different teachers, in a school that’s double the size with not a familiar face in sight. Jeez.

But in spite of a wobbly start, he is coping admirably. Until a few days ago, I would’ve said he had it nailed, but then he went and got his first ever detention (albeit only a two minute one – for forgetting his reading book in a library lesson (erm, come again?)) and the tears returned. Huge, round, unremitting tears. Tears that, although heart-breakingly silent, said, ‘I’m trying my best I really am, but I’m only little and I’m overwhelmed and I’m exhausted and I’m scared so please give me a fucking break.’ He didn’t say any of this of course. He just looked at me with big, sad eyes and said: ‘I really miss my old school.’

We all crave comfort food at this time of year, but for some of us, it’s not just owing to a change in the weather.

Chicken and barley broth with crème fraîche and salsa verde

Adapted from a veggie version in Caravan Dining All Day, this soup is a hug in a bowl. Don’t even think about missing out the crème fraîche and salsa verde – they transform the flavour from ‘meh’ to ‘yeah’. Best served with good bread, good any old wine and good company.

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Serves at least 6

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • knob of butter
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely diced
  • 3 sticks of celery, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 100g Puy lentils
  • 200g pearl barley
  • 2 litres chicken or veg stock
  • 1 large or 2 small cooked chicken breasts (I poached mine for about 10 mins)
  • zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • crème fraîche
  • salsa verde (see below)
  1. Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan and gently saute the the onions, carrots and celery for about 10 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the garlic, bay leaves and thyme and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the lentils and barley then add the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the grains are tender.
  4. Tear up the chicken and add to the broth, stir in the mustard and lemon zest and season with plenty of salt and pepper.
  5. Serve in bowls with a generous dollop of crème fraîche and salsa verde on top.

Salsa verde

  • large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
  • large handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • small handful of tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 clove garlic, crushed or finely grated
  • 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl and add enough olive oil to give loose sauce consistency – about 50ml (add half the lemon juice first, taste, then add the rest if needed). Season to your liking.

 

 

 

Fusion or confusion?

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I may have mentioned before how irritating I find the modern-day obsession with the portmanteau – the ugly, lazy shunting together of two words to create a new condensed car-crash term. I’ve had it up to here with mansplaining, flopaganda, staycations, bromances and – the worst of them all – Brexit. Enough already.

But the same thing is happening with food. Sparked by the success of the cronut in 2013 – a croissant-doughnut hybrid – we appear to have developed a slightly unhinged fixation with Frankenstein foods – the forcing together of (often random) ingredients to create something that is supposedly (but rarely) greater than the sum of its parts. So we have the wonut, the duffin, the brookie and the cruffin (you can work them out for yourself). We have burgers that instead of brioche buns are encased in ramen noodles or sushi rice, we have hotdogs sheathed in those revolting American Twinkie buns, we have jerk chicken potstickers, we have sushi burritos, we even have tofu edamame falafel tacos. What the actual?

I’m all for a bit of fusion cookery. After all, it’s been happening for centuries and it’s how recipes evolve. Done well, it can result in all manner of yum. Give me a bowl of barley risotto or a bânh mi (French baguette, Vietnamese salad) and I’m a happy bunny. Hell, I’ll even give a curried shepherd’s pie a run out. Indeed, one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten was Honey & Co’s cheesecake made with feta on a bed of shredded Middle Eastern kadaif pastry.

But it seems foodie hipsters the world over are tripping over their beards to come up with ever whackier food combos in the hope of sparking a new craze. It’s all a bit try-hard. And while monsters are being created, little heed is being paid to good taste, which after all, is the thing that really matters. Carbonara spaghetti doughnut anyone?

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Spaghetti doughnuts: be afraid, be very afraid Pic: POPSUGAR

Caponata with burrata and garlic bruschetta

Here is a fusion dish that makes perfect sense: a mash up between a French ratatouille and a Sicilian caponata, because while I love the sweet-sour notes of a traditional aubergine-based caponata, I like the variety of veg used in a ratatouille. Judge me if you will, but at least I haven’t renamed it craponata or tried to shape it into a doughnut.

Serves 4

  • about 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium aubergine, diced into 2cm pieces
  • 1 red pepper, diced into 1cm pieces
  • 1 large courgette, diced as above
  • 2 sticks celery, diced as above
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp capers (rinsed if in salt)
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2-1 tbsp sugar (to taste)
  • handful of toasted pine nuts
  • a few basil leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 slices sourdough, griddled or grilled, brushed with olive oil, then rubbed with the cut side of a clove of garlic
  • 4 balls of burrata
  1. Heat two frying pans and add half the oil to each. In one gently fry the onion, celery and red pepper for 10 minutes until softened. Then add the courgette and chopped chilli and fry for another five minutes before adding the garlic and frying for a further minute. In the other pan, fry the aubergine more vigorously until golden brown all over and softened. When cooked, stir the aubergine into the other pan of vegetables.
  2. Pour in the tomatoes and break up with a fork or potato masher, then fill the tomato can half up with water and pour into the pan. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until thickened.
  3. Add the capers, sugar and vinegar with a good pinch of salt and grinding of black pepper. Taste and add more salt, sugar or vinegar as required. It should be fairly sweet with an acid tang from the capers and vinegar.
  4. Serve on toasted sourdough (don’t forget to rub on that garlic – it makes all the difference), with a ball of burrata per person (or half if you’re being mean virtuous), drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and scatter over the pine nuts and torn basil leaves.IMG_3553

Normal service will resume shortly

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It’s been a while. The truth is it’s hard to know what to write when there’s so much shit going on in the real world. It seems a bit trite – distasteful even – to write light-heartedly about anything, let alone last night’s dinner, when the news is relentlessly awful. I know we Brits are supposed to keep calm and carry on and make jokes about cups of tea, but I don’t think there is anything wrong in sometimes admitting that you are sad, angry, scared even, or that there are simply no words.

The writer’s block hasn’t been helped by this week’s heatwave (I’m a Brit, I WILL talk about the weather). The only juices flowing in this house were pink in colour, served in large glasses with extra ice – and no, I’m not talking about cranberry. Yes, I could have told you all about my recent success with a slow roast shoulder of lamb or the Spanish-style pork belly I roasted with paprika and fennel, but we all know that would have been a complete waste of my and your time. No one was going anywhere near an oven this week.

So I am working on getting my mojo back, but in the meantime, here’s what I had for lunch today. It was very nice. A happy and peaceful weekend to you all.

Roasted root and goats cheese frittata

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A great way to use up leftover veg, and very quick to boot.

Serves 2

  • 4 large eggs
  • knob of butter
  • 6 sages leaves, finely shredded
  • 200g leftover roasted root veg; I used sweet potatoes and beetroot, but parsnip, carrot, fennel and/or onion would all work well
  • 50g hard goats cheese (but soft would be OK if that’s all you can get hold of)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir in the sage.
  2. Heat the butter in a small frying pan (22cms diameter – if you only have a bigger pan you’ll need to double the quantities) then add 3/4 of the egg mixture and sloosh around until it begins to set on the bottom and around the sides of the pan.
  3. Scatter in the veg then pour over the remaining egg mixture. Scatter over cubes of goats cheese then place the pan under a hot grill until the eggs are set and the cheese is golden. Served here with this beetroot, yogurt and walnut salad and dressed rocket leaves.

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Three short words

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Deep. Fried. Cheese. Mmmmm, what’s not to love? Yes, it may be the savoury equivalent of a deep fried Mars Bar, but who cares? Not me for one.

This recipe is a mash up between the fried Monte Enebro goats cheese served at Tapas Brindisa at London’s Borough Market and a baked goats cheese dish I had recently at a cool little tapas bar (Mó de Cima) in the relatively undiscovered town of Fuseta in Portugal’s Algarve.

It looks quite cheffy but is actually a doddle to make, so would be good for a dinner party starter or with a salad for lunch with the girls (or the guys for that matter)… or just when you need cheering up, which I suspect we all do this week.

Deep fried goats cheese with beetroot crisps, pickled pear, walnuts and honey

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Serves 2

  • 125g goats cheese (I used a round of chevre but Monte Enebro is delicious if you can find it), sliced into two
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • oil for frying
  • 1 raw beetroot, peeled and sliced as thin as you can (use a mandolin if you have one)
  • 1 pear, peeled and sliced into 1mm thick rounds
  • 3 tsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
  • 2 tbsp water
  • salt
  • couple of sprigs of thyme
  • small handful of good quality walnuts, broken into pieces
  • Sourdough or rye bread
  1. Combine the vinegar, honey, orange blossom water, water, a pinch of salt and a sprig of thyme in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Poach the pear slices in the pickling liquid until softened but not mushy – a few minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the pears to cool in the liquid.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat about 2cm of oil over a medium/high heat. Test for readiness by dipping the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil – if bubbles appear around it, you’re good to go.
  3. Fry the slices of beetroot until crisp (in batches if necessary), remove and drain on kitchen towel and sprinkle with a little salt.
  4. Dip the pieces of goats cheese first in the flour and then in the egg, and using the same oil, deep fry for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown, one at a time if necessary. Remove and drain on kitchen towel.
  5. Cut your bread into roughly the same shape and size as your cheese and toast or griddle, then brush on one side some of the pickling liquid. Pop the goats cheese on top and arrange on a plate with some beetroot crisps and slices of pear. Scatter over some walnut pieces and a few thyme leaves.
  6. Bring the remaining pickling liquid to the boil and reduce to a loose syrup, then drizzle this over the goats cheese and around the plate.

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Cheers Phil

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While there has been an outpouring of affection for Prince Philip following the announcement that he is standing down from public duty, I have found myself cursing the old consort (and I may not have used that word exactly). The cause of my temper is not the Duke himself (although I don’t find the man or his litany of ‘gaffes’ particularly endearing) but rather the awards scheme to which he lends his name.

You see, the Teen is just about to complete the bronze level Duke of Edinburgh award which culminates in two short hiking expeditions in the wilds of Britain (or in his case, a couple of miles south of the M25). It’s supposed to be character-building, giving our youngsters the opportunity to act and think independently, to demonstrate a level of maturity, responsibility and grit.

So when the Teen received his kit list (so comprehensive it would serve him well for a month on Bear Grylls’ Island never mind 24 hours in the South Downs) did he seize the initiative, bounding like an eager puppy to the nearest branch of Millets to stock up on duct tape and hiking socks, with a short diversion to Sainsbury’s to pick up Pot Noodles on the way home?

No, of course not.

Like the pampered pooch that he is, he handed the list straight to me, with all but two days to go, instructing me that I had to buy EVERYTHING on it lest he fail, oh and could I get some pasta with a stir-in sauce (NOT Dolmio), some crispy bacon and a pack of biscuits while I’m at it, tailing off with ‘what even is a Brillo pad, mum?’

So by day I have been frantically scouring South London’s outdoor retailers and hardware stores for a new wardrobe made entirely of nylon, a head torch, a first aid kit that would make a St John’s ambulanceman swoon and, very specifically, a triangular bandage with the dimensions 90cm by 127cm. By night, I have lain awake, troubled by such questions as, ‘how long can a human survive solely on custard creams and beef jerky?’, ‘do people still use Brillo pads?’ and ‘I wonder if Ocado stocks Kendall Mint Cake?’

And as I stare at the pile of rancid clothing he’s dumped by the machine on his return, the boots that have half of England caked on their soles and the mud ground into the hallway carpet, I have but one thought. It might be our teens who must endure the lengthy treks, the British weather, the tent building and – the horror – a weekend without access to a screen, but it’s us mums who deserve a medal.

Chicken shawarma with chickpea mejadra

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Despite consuming a gazillion calories from all the crisps, chocolate bars and biscuits he managed to find space for in his rucksack, the Teen returned from his first trek absolutely ravenous. He’s off on his second expedition later today, so last night I made this, his current favourite supper, so he could fill his hiking boots as it were.

The recipe for the chicken is adapted from Berber & Q which owns the brilliant Shawarma Bar in Clerkenwell’s Exmouth Market. You will need a griddle pan or a barbecue but it’s worth the effort because it is absolutely delicious – just make sure you have a teen on hand, armed with a couple of Brillo pads, to help with the washing up.

The mejadra, a Middle Eastern dish of rice, lentils and onion is based on a recipe in Jerusalem by Ottolenghi/Tamimi. I didn’t have any lentils but the chickpeas worked just as well.

Serves 4

For the chicken

  • 4 large boneless, skin-on chicken breasts, 8 thighs or 1 whole chicken jointed
  • 100g natural yogurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 1 level tsp each of paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander and cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp each of sumac and cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp each of ground cardamon, allspice, ground nutmeg and ground clove
  • 1 tsp salt

For the tahini sauce

  • 1 tbsp natural yogurt
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 clove of garlic, crushed
  • salt
  • cold water

To serve: pomegranate seeds; toasted pine nuts, pistachios or flaked almonds; chopped mint, coriander or parsley.

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together in a large bowl then add the chicken, stir to coat thoroughly, cover and marinate for at least four hours (overnight would be even better).
  2. Stir together the tahini sauce ingredients then add enough water to produce a consistency of thick double cream.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan). Heat a griddle pan over a high flame (or fire up your bbq) and cook the chicken – in batches if necessary – skin side down for about four minutes until golden with discernible char marks. Turn over and cook for another couple of minutes then remove to a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes more, until the chicken is cooked through.
  4. To serve, drizzle over the sauce and scatter on nuts, pomegranate seeds and chopped fresh herbs.

For the mejadra

I’ve used cup measurements for the rice and water as I find this easier and as long as your ratio is two parts rice to three parts cold water, your rice will always be fluffy.

  • 2-3 red onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1\2 tsp salt
  • flavourless oil for deep frying
  • generous knob of butter
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 200g cooked chickpeas
  • 1.5 cups cold water
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 level tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • pinch of sugar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toss the sliced onions in the flour and salt and deep fry in batches in an inch of oil in a medium saucepan until golden brown and crisp (about 6 minutes). Drain on kitchen towel and sprinkle over a little more salt. Set to one side.
  2. Discard the oil, wipe out the pan and add the butter. Fry the cumin and coriander seeds for a minute then add the rice, the rest of the spices, the sugar and seasoning and give it a good stir. Add the chickpeas and water, bring to the boil, clamp on a lid and turn the heat down as low as it will go, then simmer for eight minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid and cover the pan with a clean tea towel then replace the lid and leave to stand for five minutes.
  3. When ready to serve, stir half the onions into the rice with a fork, tip onto a serving dish and sprinkle over the remaining onions.

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