Good simple food makes isolation more bearable

Being quarantined at home  gives me more time to cook.  I’ve been inspired to share this recipe by Orly, one of the semi-finalists for the 2020 Holman prize for blind ambition being run by San Francisco’s LightHouse organisation.  It might just cheer you up!

The ingredients aren’t too difficult to find and the result is delicious:

chicken with tarragon and lemon.

3 onions peeled and diced

5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 knob butter

10 (1kg) chicken thighs, skinned

1 large glass dry white wine

Zest of one lemon

2 chicken stock cubes

1 tablespoon fresh French tarragon leaves, chopped

3 heaped teaspoons cornflour

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste.


Sauté the onions and garlic.

Place the chicken thighs in the pan and cover with the wine, a mug of water, add the lemon zest, stock cubes, tarragon leaves and bring to a very gentle simmer.

Cook for two hours on the smallest gas ring, on a heat defuser, on the lowest setting on an electric ring or in the oven on a very low temperature.

Remove the chicken thighs.

Slake the cornflour with a little water and whisk into the juices in the pan until thickened.  Add the lemon juice and season to taste.

Pour over the chicken.

My tips:

Accompanied by some green vegetables and rice or potato, this is enough for 10 portions and freezes well to make dishes for the future when you want something  without slogging in the kitchen.  Just de-frost in the fridge overnight and then heat in the microwave on a low/medium power.

Dried tarragon will also work well but use about a heaped teaspoonful.


Wrens know how to organise.

The volume climbed at the WRNS 100 centenary lunch party while it took minimum effort to put together a great chicken dish to feed the crowd– see how we did it (

Jo, my old naval colleague, took our week in Virginia Beach, USA, by the scruff of the neck and shook it until every minute was completely occupied.  She produced a programme with military precision having co-opted a corps of collaborative cooks all ready to create their culinary magic on camera.

During one short week we managed to pack in four different sorts of bread, soup, three different fish dishes, party chicken, two desserts and the most peculiar “overnight casserole” that turned out to be a strange savoury bread-and-butter pudding!  Amidst all of this, we caught a glimpse of Virginia Beach and the huge naval base at Norfolk, managed another lunch party and a great Mexican welcome dinner.  It took all my stamina to keep up with the tight schedule but it was superb to meet so many other enthusiastic cooks.  But there was no stopping Jo: she kept teaching her Pilates classes, taking her exercise sessions and even managed to pack in a country music concert – I just tried to catch up on sleep!


Taste of the East with sweet and sour chicken.

You can watch me make this on YouTube or download the recipes here

John is used to making this straightforward sweet and sour sauce in 3 gallon vats so he scaled the whole recipe down.Penny and John ready to cook

Although this dish may not be very traditional, it is simple to make at home.

Hot rice must be treated with respect.  If you want to use later for this dish or perhaps a cold rice salad, it needs to be cooled very quickly to make it safe.  Just leaving a pan full of cooling rice is too risky.  If not cooling under cold water, spread as thinly as possible on a tray and place in the fridge immediately.

For the sauce, make it thicker than you think necessary – it will become thinner when the chicken and its juices are added.

Tasting is essential for this recipe: the balance of sweetness from the sugar needs to be balanced to your taste with the sharp sour vinegar.  Keep adjusting until it is right, adding salt and pepper too.

This seemed like a lot of sugar to me – perhaps an alternative sweetener could make the whole dish rather more virtuous?

You could add some five spice powder to the egg-fried rice and slithers of fresh root ginger to the sauce.

The spring onion garnish was fairly simple: trim to cut off the roots and about half of the leaves.  Slice the onion from about an inch from its base to the tops of the leaves once on each side (dividing this section in to four).  Place in a bowl of water with ice and the onions will curl where they have been cut.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

You can support the Holman adventure too:

Some you win, some you lose!

Watch me make them here or download the recipe

White bowl of colourful shredded leaves, sliced onions and peppers with golden mango pieces.

Smashing lettuce: a great trick to remove the Iceberg lettuce core.  Hold it firmly with the stem side down.  Smash the stem firmly on to the worktop and you should just be able to remove all the core intact.  It feels and sounds pretty brutal first time but really works.

My regular co-cook, John the taxi-driver, was madly enthusiastic about the healthy mango dressing for a summer chicken salad and the low-carbohydrate bread for club sandwiches. John and Penny close up to the frying pan to catch the smell of mango, chilli and lime.

He was absolutely right about the first: fresh and zingy chicken that is perfect for hot summer days.  So simple that there’s nothing to go wrong and so delicious that you’ll want more!

But he was hugely disappointed with the gluten-free almond and coconut flour bread –chewing reduced it to a paste that went straight in to the bin.  If I try it again, I might add some xanthium gum and yeast, herbs, nuts, seeds or anything to improve the taste and texture.  Not one of our best experiments but worth a try if you are desperate!

Club sandwich cut in half to reveal layers of lettuce, chicken tomato and bacon

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

Indian feast: Chicken Tikka Masala, Masoor Dahl with Cumin Seed Tarka and carrots roasted with cumin.

The finished article on a plate Simple and classic curry that everyone loves with some different side-dishes.

A Quick meal: it takes about five minutes the day before and, while the chicken cooks, there’s time to make the sauce, dal, carrots, rice and any other side dishes.

Just pop the carrots in the microwave to par-cook.

Having frozen portions of GGG (crushed ginger, garlic and green chilli) in the freezer makes these dishes even faster.

Using a food processor or mill instead of grating onion and pepper is much easier and far less tearful!  Just chop both roughly and process for a minute or so to form a rough slurry.

Powdered spices in a storage facility that makes it easy for me to identify themMeasuring out all the spices is simpler if they are all kept together in separate compartments in a single tin – I have one for ground spices and another for whole.Whole spices in storage that makes it easy for me to identify them

Watch me make them on YouTube or download the recipe from

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube