Thursday, 27 March 2008

Birthday Parcels, good enough to eat!

Last night we cooked a meal to celebrate one of our guest Fiona's 21st birthday. We cooked:

Twice baked parmesan soufflées

Filo parcels of chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and thyme

Raspberry Pavlova

Everything was greated with reassuring oooohs, (especially the Pavlova, which was getting on for half a metre in diameter!) and all was polished off to everybody's delight.

The filo parcels are fun to make.

For each parcel you'll need to pieces of flattened out chicken breast about 8-10cm across. Flatten chicken breasts buy spreading them on a solid board, laying a piece of cling film over the top of them, and then bashing them flat with a meat mallet (or similar club-like implement such as a wooden rolling pin). Then cut them into 2 or 3 suitably sized pieces depending on the original size of the fillet and the size to which it bashes out.

The chicken breasts need to be part-cooked before being baked in the parcels as filo pastry cooks very quickly. I poached them (to keep the chicken good and moist) in a broth of water, rosé wine - white would work just as well, a large, smashed clove of garlic, a good hand-full of fresh sage leaves, four bay leaves and salt. I brought the broth to the boil and then switched it off, allowing it to steep while I bashed out the chicken breasts.

When I was ready to go, I brought the broth back to the boil and then placed half a dozen chicken pieces at a time into it and put a lid over the pan. It took a minute or two for the broth to come back to the boil, by which time the chicken was poached through. So I fished out the chicken and repeated the process with the remaining batches until all my chicken bits were poached.

All of this, I did earlier in the day. I put all the chicken pieces in a pyrex bowl and, once it had cooled, covered them with the strained broth to keep them moist and to put maximum flavour into the chicken.

At the same time as preparing the chicken, I also prepared the tomato stuffing that completed the parcels. I fried finely chopped onions, with roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms, a good bunch of time leaves and salt an pepper. As the mix softened and started to catch, I loosened the mixture with a glug of balsamic vinegar followed by a generous couple of glasses of wine. This continued to cook until all the liquid was absorbed, but the mixture remained moist. This, again, was then placed in a bowl and covered ready for later.

Variations which we might try in the future - using black olives instead of mushrooms, swapping thyme for fennel seeds, including roughly crumbled feta cheese (a good veggie version too?)

Fiona's a vegetarian, so a veggie version was prepared for her. In a heavy-bottomed pan, I dry fried a tablespoonful of pine nuts. To them, I then added around half a cupful of the tomato stuffing mix and a splash of water (as the pan was very hot and I didn't want the mix to stick). I then stirred in a tablespoonful of arborio rice and let the mix cook a little. I then added a little water and stirred it in, allowed the mix to boil until all the liquid was absorbed and then repeatedly added a little more water and boiled until absorbed, until the rice was soft. Effectively, I made a risotto without much rice in it. This too was made in advance.

In the evening, the oven went on at about 7 (the twice baked soufflées needed to go in for their second baking too) at around 180º. It then took about 40 minutes to make ten parcels. For each, you need two sheets of filo, cut in half. The first filo sheet is laid on a clean surface in roughly brushed with a little melted bitter, the second then laid at a right angle over the first. Again brush with melted butter and repeat for layers 3 and 4, this time laid diagonally to the first two layers. In the centre of this filo flower, place a chicken piece followed by a spoonful of tomato stuffing as a kind of sandwich filling, and then complete the sandwich with another piece of chicken.

Then brush a little more butter around the exposed filo and draw it up to envelope the chicken/tomato filling. Scrunch it together in a kind of rough 'bunch' at the top of the parcel. Brush on a little more butter (this sounds like a lot of butter, but it's really only smeared on) and then place on a well greased baking sheet.

Cook for between 20 and 30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.

I cooked a little extra stuffing (enough for about another tablespoon each). To this I added a tin of tomatoes that I first blitzed in the food processor. I then heated this through to make a sauce to accompany the parcels, which were also served with broccoli, green beans and chive mashed potatoes.


  1. Now that's how to get the juices flowing - tasty indeed!!

  2. Thanks CBQ. I hear you cook a bit, so give 'em a go!

    Have you heard the new Eluvium and Elbow albums, btw? Perhaps 2008 will be the year of El Album?

  3. Well now I actually witnessed an Eluvium performance recently when he supported Explosions in the Sky in Glasgow - very impressive indeed. As yet though I have no recordings.

    As for Elbow, I have all their albums except the latest but saw them on TV a couple of weeks ago playing songs from it, e.g. "Grounds for Divorce" vgood indeed.