Owning hens isn’t as simple as you might think. I am embarrassed to say that in the social hierarchy that is our household, the hens sit proudly at the top, even beating the wilful dog to the head of the pecking order. They are spoilt rotten, getting to roam freely throughout the garden, eating crops and wreaking havoc by digging up my mum’s newly planted beds. Yet, all seems to be forgiven the instant they provide us with eggs.
In the past we have always named our hens, but when it comes to naming, my brother and I seemed to have very different approaches. While I called two very pretty, black-blue hens Grace and Bardot after beauty icons, Matt named a trio Pringles, Mustard and Onions after three Durham cricketers, and the lot that followed were John, Paul, George and Ringo. After this I think we gave up. It never seemed to have much use anyway as now the hens are labelled with identifiers instead. The dearly departed Gammy was so named after her dodgy eye, but she was a sickly hen and quickly grew into her nickname. While clinging onto the threads of life for over a year in a constant state of “will she make it through the week?”, she was re-named Lazarus after an instance where she was lying on her back, moments from death, and yet miraculously recovered to live another several happy months. A real trooper in my eyes.
While eggs are, naturally, always on hand at home, they are also a staple in my cupboard at uni. They don’t go off, don’t take up fridge space, and can be used in a myriad of savoury and sweet recipes. You can’t beat them!
Spaghetti carbonara needs no introduction- so, let’s just get cooking. My carbonara is vegetarian, partly because I rarely buy meat at uni but also because I don’t believe it needs it. Instead, crispy slices of mushrooms add a smoky, more earthy flavour and peas bulk it out. Obviously, if you really crave a bit of bacon it could be added.
To make enough for one, crack open two eggs and discard the whites. Egg white freezes really well so save them for the pavlova later on. Stick the pasta (preferably ribbon variety), with salt, into boiling water for as long as the packet recommends. Mix the egg yolks with a generous splash of milk, salt and pepper and 30g of hard cheese, grated or cut into tiny chunks. Meanwhile, thinly slice a handful of chestnut mushrooms, leaving the stalks on, and place on a sheet of foil under the grill. If you don’t have a grill you can simply fry them on the hob. Leave the mushrooms to toast and crisp up in the oven while you cook the pasta. Once done, drain the pasta, aiming to catch some of the starchy pasta water- this water will prove invaluable to obtaining a nice glossy sauce. Then, toss the spaghetti into a frying pan lined with oil and tip in the egg and cheese mixture. Cook this over low heat, stirring constantly, so that the egg starts to cook and the cheese melts. Keep adding splashes of pasta water as you go so that the egg doesn’t scramble and the sauce is the right consistency. When you’re happy with it, add a handful of frozen peas, the mushrooms and stir through until warm.
When owning hens, occasionally you get to the point where you have more eggs than you know what to do with. Making a Spanish omelette is a great way to get rid of them and yet doesn’t need such an excuse.
Start off by peeling and thinly slicing four medium sized potatoes. Add these to a well-oiled frying pan and cook, making sure they don’t stick, and cook until soft. Add a sliced white onion, some chopped chorizo and a sliced pepper, or a handful of mushrooms. While this is cooking (I usually find a friend to stir while prepping the rest) beat five eggs with a splash of milk in a bowl and pour over the contents of the frying pan, turning down the heat to cook the eggs slowly. Once the edges start to come away from the sides, I sprinkle over half a bunch of chopped spring onions and 25g of grated cheese and place in the oven at 150⁰C for five to ten minutes until cooked through. Serve immediately, with a side of salad or bread should you need extra sustenance. While I could say I make this so often because of how tasty and easy it is – which is true – the best bit is only having to wash up one pan!
Chocolate and Hazelnut Pavlova with Frangelico Cream
As I worked my way through countless carbonaras last term, I collected multiple tupperware pots containing one or two egg whites in the freezer. By around fourth week, I had six egg whites needing to be used up, so I defrosted them all and made a pavlova. This earned me a lot of brownie points with my friends, and my floor who were thankful to be able to see light in the freezer again. I cannot recommend my uni method as, without an electric whisk, it was a bit of a slog that required knocking on several doors for assistance as my arms gave up. But, with the aid of a bit of machinery, egg whites and sugar can be transformed into a pudding that not only looks impressive but takes no time at all.
The pavlova recipe I use is from Delia’s Complete Cookery Course which you can find here, but if you have a trusty meringue recipe feel free to use that instead. Pavlova can be adorned with whatever you like. The classic whipped cream and raspberries combo was my fourth week procrastination pavlova, and was cheap too, but since coming home and having access to the drinks shelf and chocolate (two of the things making home life bearable at the moment) I thought I would share a much more luxurious twist.
To make the boozy cream, tip the contents of a tub of double or whipping cream (roughly 300ml) into a bowl alongside two tablespoons of Frangelico liquor. Frangelico is an Italian liquor made from hazelnuts and I was given a bottle for Christmas a couple of years ago- it seems I have always had an expensive taste, of which my grandma approves. Others such as Amaretto, Kahlua or even Baileys would also be delicious. Whip this until it forms soft peaks and layer over the cooled meringue. I then sprinkled chopped hazelnuts over the top and drizzled with a chocolate sauce that I served alongside it. The chocolate sauce was half a bar of dark chocolate and around 25g of butter heated over a pan of simmering water until melted. As it cools, it begins to thicken and so I added two to three tablespoons of milk to make a glossy, smooth ganache. A couple of spoonfuls of this are almost enough to make you forget about the current situation, and if not, just go straight to the Frangelico.