Thursday, 28 January 2010

My (slightly miserable) Tuna Pasta Bake

This week has been absolutely slammed with no real time for grocery shopping or enjoying the cooking, and last night's dinner kind of showed it. I mean, it was edible, but it needs work.

Canned tuna steak (in oil, not brine, drained and rinsed)
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 courgette
Handful dry cured black olives
Carton of passata
Handful of chestnut mushrooms
Italian herbs
Mozzarella (a sprinkle)
Breadcrumbs (a sprinkle)
Spaghetti, cooked

So. In a pan, saute off the onions, adding the garlic after a couple of minutes, and then the rest of the chopped vegetables. Put the lid on and allow to soften while you put the oven on to 180 degrees and set the pasta to cook. When the vegetables and garlic are looking squidgly, add the drained tuna, break it up well it a fork, and add the passata and herbs. Allow this to cook through for a few minutes while the pasta finishes.

When the pasta's cooked, drain it well and add it to the sauce, tossing thoroughly to make sure everything's coated. Spoon about half into a pyrex oven dish, sprinkle with mozzarella, then add the rest with another sprinkle of mozzarella and a light shake of breadcrumbs for a lovely crispy top. Stick it in the oven for 20 minutes, and then eat.

I think it needs a more liquid and possibly some extra tomato puree but it wasn't bad and we were hungry.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Leftover pork

Obviously a shoulder of pork was a lot of meat for three people so we had leftovers for dinner last night. Here is what I made.

Leftover pork, with fat carefully removed
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 carton passata
1 pack of baby spinach
handful of dry cured pitted black olives
Italian herb seasoning
Black pepper
About a quarter of a lemon

First, warm a teeny glob of butter in the pan and add the pork. Warm through gently and let it get some moisture back into it. Then, add the chopped onions and sweat off gently. Next in is the garlic and the green pepper, and then let things cook together while you chop the olives- they can go in next. Add the passata, herbs, black pepper and lemon, and pop a lid on while you decide what you're having with this; gnocchi or pasta? We went for gnocchi last night but I think I'd rather have had pasta in retrospect. Anyway. Cook the pasta and when it's almost ready pop the spinach in with the sauce, stir through, turn off the heat and stick the lid on so it wilts into the sauce. Drain your pasta (or gnocchi) and stir into the sauce, et voila! We had a sprinkle of mozzarella on top, and it was a good foil for the olives and pork.

Sunday roast, and how to make gravy

Well, despite being quite an experienced cook I had never roasted a joint of pork before, so on Sunday, feeling the need for something huge to make us sleep through all the FA Cup 4th round matches in the afternoon, I set out to roast a pork shoulder.

The roasting was, of course, no problem, and the meat came out great. One question though: the gravy. My mother served us roast pork just after new year and her assertion that roast pork gravy is the best was not wrong, so I called her to get directions (just in case). Here, for all to see, are Joy Duckett's Instructions For Roast Pork Gravy.

1. You need to be making some form of potatoes to go with the gravy. You need the boiling water with all the gluey starch in it.

2. When the pork's done, take it out of the roasting tray (I've got one with a little rack so the juices run away from the meat). Put it to one side to rest. Drain the water from the potatoes into the roasting tray and put onto a low heat (obviously, no handle, so hang onto it with a tea towel or something).

3. I had some onions that I'd already sauteed with some balsamic vinegar (just a teeny splash) - those can go in, too

4. When you're ready, if you like, thicken the mixture with a cornflour/water paste; some folks like their gravy thick enough to spread (my flatmate being one of them), others like more of a jus, but both are good as long as there's no lumps!

And that is how you make roast pork gravy like my mum.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Peanut cookies


I received a replacement copy of Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, by Nigella Lawson, for Christmas - one of my all time favourite baking recipe books. Whilst slumped flicking through it last night, my eye fell on these little beauties, and they've just come out of the oven.

100g unsalted butter
50g vegetable shortening, ie Trex
1 large egg
75g light muscovado sugar, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g self raising flour
125g salted peanuts

2 baking sheets (lined)

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

In a bowl mix the butter, shortening, sugar, egg and vanilla extract til it's all creamed together. Then sieve in the flour and stir in that and the peanuts. The dough is ready!

Drop teaspoonsfull onto the prepared baking sheets but leave about 5cm between because these SPREAD. I managed about 12 per tray. Then oil the bottom of a drinking glass (I used sesame oil), dip it into the reserved sugar, and flatten each dollop a bit.

Bake for 8-10 minutes and then leave to cool on a wire rack.

Edit: These come out quite fragile, or at least mine did. Try to restrain yourself from shovelling half the batch in while you're putting them on the wire rack. I can now see why Nigella says in her book that from the point of view of sheer greediness, these are her favourite; they're GENIUS. And very moreish.

Spiced fruit soda bread

While the fridge bottom soup was cooking, this was in the oven. It's taken from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe in the 2010 River Cottage Diary, and since it came out completely perfect I'm just going to repeat the recipe here.

250g plain flour
250g wholemeal flour
2.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp caster sugar
200g mixed dried fruit
1 tsp cinnamon
400ml buttermilk

Pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees first.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the centre, and pour in the buttermilk. Mix together until it makes a soft sticky dough and then turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly for a minute until it comes together into a proper ball.

Put it into the tin and bake for about ten minutes, then turn the heat down to 200 degrees and cook it for abother 25 minutes or so. It's done when it sounds hollow.

Nice eh?

Fridge-bottom soup

This sounds pretty horrid but actually it's how I use up all the ends of last week's vegetables and make lunch for the week. It's a lot nicer than sandwiches and particularly in cold weather, a welcome change.

Obviously the vegetables will change week by week but the basic premise is: everything you've got left over, plus some stock and tomatoes, plus lentils and whatever flavouring you fancy.

Today's soup consists of:

3 rashers of leftover smoked bacon
1 onion
1 sad leek
1 red pepper
1 head of celery that was looking a bit floppy
half a bag of grated carrot
1 slightly bashed courgette
half a pack of mushrooms (about six)
Garlic, plenty
small carton of passata
chicken stock
Italian herb seasoning
salt and black pepper
a bay leaf
about 300g red lentils

It's the same basic process as usual: crisp up the bacon, sweat off the onions, celery and carrots for a few minutes, add the garlic, allow it to cook in for a few more minutes, and then add all the chopped veg, pop the lid on and leave them for about ten minutes or so to get a bit tender.

Then add the passata, herbs, seasoning and bay leaf, give it five minutes and then the lentils, followed by the stock. Stick the lid on and leave it to do its thing for about half an hour, with periodic stirring - and you're done.

See, it doesn't look nearly as grim as it sounds!


Saturday, 23 January 2010

Useful equipment

I don't have loads and loads of fancy kitchen equipment.

Here's my list:

One large heavy bottomed metal pan with a lid that can go into the oven
One elderly Kenwood hand mixer that is older than me (and I was born in 1978!) and belonged to my mum
One small Braun hand blender that cost me a tenner from ASDA
Wooden spoons x 3
Set of sharp knives - vegetable knife, bread knife, carving knife, paring knife
Can opener
Mixing bowl
Chopping board
Set of scales
Measuring cups and spoons and a jug

I've also got a few Pyrex oven dishes and cheap oven trays. You don't need to get expensive ones, just get a silicone sheet to line them with for about £3 and then wash it. Bingo.

I also use a set of silicon baking moulds - no need for paper cases or farting about greasing and lining stuff. Easy.

Potato and celeriac soup

This is a work in progress but the recipe so far goes like this:

1 celeriac, peeled and diced with the bobbly bits taken off
3-4 potatoes
1-2 leeks
1 small onion
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
Garam masala (half a teaspoon)
Cumin (1 teaspoon)
salt and black pepper to season
enough chicken or vegetable stock to cover
Cayenne pepper to finish, if you like that sort of thing

Peel and chop the celeriac, onion and potatoes and halve and slice the leeks.

Start with the onion as ever, softening it for a few minutes before adding the garlic to cook down. Then add the rest of the veg, cover and sweat gently for a few minutes. Add in the stock and spices, cover and leave on a low heat until the vegetables are tender.

Using a hand blender (and in my case, goggles and a full waterproof boiler suit - you know the drill, be careful and sit the pot on a folded tea towel so it doesn't go gallivanting around the work surface), blend carefully until smooth.

Check the thickness level - if it needs extra stock, add now and mix well over a low heat. Check for seasoning at this point too.

When you're ready, serve it up with a dust of cayenne pepper on top and some nice bread if you're really starving.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Lemon drizzle cake

This has been known to make grown men cry. And salivate at the same time. It's quite exciting.

225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
225g self-raising flour

For the lemon syrup:
2 lemons' worth of juice
Enough sugar to stop you knocking your head off the ceiling - about 100g.

Heat oven to 180 and prepare a loaf tin or silicone mould.

Cream the butter and sugar together til they're pale and fluffy and then, then add the eggs, one at a time. Fold the flour in and then the lemon zest.

The cake should take about 45-50 minutes to cook but do check in a bit earlier if it's a fan assisted oven. A skewer should come out clean.

While the cake is still warm, prick it all over with the skewer and pour about half the syrup in, then leave it about 20 minutes and do it again. You should get a good lemony sugary crust on top, a soggy lemon cake that makes your teeth itch, and a request for another loaf :)

Salted vanilla cake

This cake is so delicious it's actually a danger to public health. If too many people find out about this cake we will all waddle our way into an early grave, unable to stop shovelling it in. It's the real life version of the Winter Queen's enchanted Turkish Delight from The Lion, The Witch and The short, just be warned if you're going into this blind.

The first time you make it you may want to make sure you've got an uninterrupted weekend to, you know, stay home. With your cake and unlimited access to the teapot.

Taken from Christie Matheson's Salty Sweets.

8oz unsalted butter, softened
8oz caster sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (but, you know, feel free to sneak some extra in)
3 large eggs, beaten
8oz plain flour, sifted
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
half a teaspoon fine sea salt
quarter of a cup of milk

To finish:
vanilla sugar for dusting
grinder sea salt for sprinkling
vanilla simple syrup

Preheat the oven to 170.
I used a silicone loaf 'tin' for this; the book states an 8-inch square baking dish; you get an idea of the proportions. Anyway line/grease/spray as you need to.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Add the vanilla essence, and then beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and fine sea salt. Fold in half the flour mixture first then the milk. Fold in the rest of the flour and combine until just mixed. Bake for about an hour until the top of the cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

When the cake is warm, drown it somewhat in the salted vanilla syrup*. Oh how dirty. Okay don't DROWN it. Brush it heavily and then, you know, brush it some more when it's soaked in. And then a little more. I like it damp.

Dust liberally with vanilla sugar and sea salt, then close the curtains and get busy.

*Salted vanilla syrup

half a cup of sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
salt to taste
half a cup of water

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer until all the sugar is dissolved, for about 4 or 5 minutes.

Toulouse sausages

Mm, Toulouse sausages. They're garlicky porky wine-y goodness all wrapped up in...well, I guess technically animal guts, but let's not be picky. So, the Toulouse sausage. It is of course good by itself shovelled into your mouf from the pan but you's even better with a load of other lovely ingredients shovelled into your mouf.

1 pack of Toulouse sausages (usually 6)
1 small pack of cubetti di pancetta
2 red onions, sliced finely
2 courgettes
1 green pepper
head of celery, leaves and all
garlic - as much as you like
slosh of balsamic vinegar
pitted dried black olives, chopped
small carton of passata
tomato puree
dried marjoram and parsley (a pinch of both)

Down to business.

First things first cook the sausages very gently in a pan, turning regularly so they're golden and cooked through but not burned. While that's happening you can chop your vegetables ready.

When the sausages are done, take them out and set them aside. Put in the pancetta and allow it to render a little bit, and then add the onions to soften, with a little slosh of balsamic vinegar, then the celery, followed by the garlic, followed by all the other ingredients except the passata. Let everything cook together gently for about ten minutes with the lid on. While that's cooking, cut up the cooked sausages into rounds to be added back to the pan with the passata.

When the vegetables and pancetta are looking soft and smelling good, add the tomatoes and sausages to the pan, stir and cover. Lovely.

Now you have the frankly torturous decision of how you're going to eat all this. Options:

Add stock and rice, or stock and lentils. Not risotto rice - basmati or long grain.
Add some butter beans, thicken the sauce a little if it needs it and eat over baked potatoes
Have it as is with some bread
Thicken it like a sausage stew and serve with some wintry veg - roast parsnips, cabbage, the dreaded sprouts, whatever you like

If it's all too much...freeze it and come back to it when you're in need of something to really kick your arse after a hard day. It freezes really, REALLY well.

Cold weather chicken, rice and vegetables

This is something I make a lot in winter when I've bought some cheap chicken portions and have leftover odds and sods of vegetables in the fridge, so it's normally never the same twice. However, the setup and cooking always go the same way and it typically comes out about the same. It sticks to the ribs, you can make as much as you like, and it's quite fridge-friendly so if you want to save some for lunches in the week, go for it. Poorly? Fed up? Hard day? It will love you back :)

Chicken thighs
Good fatty streaky bacon
All the vegetables at the bottom of the fridge!! Typically a combination of:
grated carrot
small carton of crushed tomatoes or passata
chicken stock
butter (sorry)

You need a good big heavy bottomed pot for this really.

Start by browning the chicken thighs in the pot. Obviously bone-in are going to give you more flavour overall but it doesn't really matter either way as long as they get that good initial browning going on. If you REALLY want it to taste nice, brown them in a bit of butter. But I never said that.

When the chicken's looking good and brown and smelling delicious, take it out and put it to one side. Then, it's business as usual - get the bacon in, chopped up small, and let it render down. Then add the vegetables - onion first, then celery, then all the others and the garlic, put the lid on, medium heat, while you make a cup of tea (and possibly drink about half of it).

When everything's looking good and soft, add the passata and whatever herbs you fancy. I think I put thyme in last time, but you know, anything you like. Then add rice and chicken stock, give it a good stir and some seasoning and either leave it to simmer on the hob top with the lid on til the water is sucked up or stick it all in the oven (lid on) for about 30-40 minutes on GM4 (180 degrees) to start with. Do check in on it though.

Spicy pork chops (to go with rice and beans)

Pork loin chops, trimmed well and then cubed or cut into strips
Jerk seasoning (I use Dunn's River) - 2 tbsp
garlic paste - a good squeeze
small carton passata
1 onion, large
fine green beans
a red or green pepper
extra thyme

Start off with the pork. If you've got time, mix the jerk seasoning with a little bit of garlic paste and some oil, possibly even a splash of white wine vinegar if you've got some. Mix the cubed meat in this paste and leave it for as long as you can.

Begin. Add the cubed, oiled, spiced pork to the pan and leave it to cook through and brown. Then add sliced onions and garlic and allow it to soften. The pepper goes in after a couple of minutes, and then the beans and any extra spice mix/thyme/chili. Let it all cook for about five minutesm then add the passata and leave it to simmer while you make some rice and beans.

When you're ready to go, serve the vegetables and meat over the rice and beans and enjoy. I tend to like to make the veg/meat dish a little bit spicy to complement the sweetness of the coconut rice, so don't be shy with the hot sauce :)

Date, walnut and banana loaf

75g plain flour
75g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
half teaspoon mixed spice
teaspoon cinnamon
100g soft brown sugar
100g butter
3 mashed ripe bananas
2 eggs
100g walnuts, chopped
big handful chopped dried dates

Cream the butter and sugar

Add the bananas

Add the flour and dry ingredients

Add the nuts and dates

Bake for about 1 hour at GM 4 which is (I think) about 180 degrees - check in after about 50 minutes if it's fan-assisted. If it looks like it's burning on top put a piece of baking paper over it with a hole cut in the middle.

Variation - pecans and blueberries instead of the dates and walnuts :)

Making everything taste nice

In my opinion the two main principles of this are:

Make sure any meat is well sealed and browned FIRST

Likewise, sweat off any vegetables before adding any 'sauce' - that way they retain their own flavour and don't cook into a mush while you're waiting for them to cook through.

Mostly everything I make follows this order:

1. If you're using any bacon, pancetta, or chorizo, saute this first, gently, to allow it to release its fat and flavour into the pan. You can either take it out at that point to be added back later, or leave it where it is.

2. Then add any meat you're using - chicken, beef, etc - and allow that to brown thoroughly. It might be that you have to do this in batches, in which case I'd take out the bacon/pancetta/chorizo first, too.

3. Onions next, and THEN garlic - not at once because the flavours fight as they cook. Let them sweat down gently until tender because they take the longest. If things are sticking add a little splash of water.

4. Add the rest of the vegetables at this point and with the lid on allow them to cook together and soften before adding seasoning, spices, stock, etc.

Thickening sauces

Generally speaking I use one of the following methods:

When you've got everything cooked as you want, if it's looking a bit thin add some cornflour paste. To do this put two heaped teaspoons of cornflour in an old mug and add a trickle of cold water to make a smooth paste, no lumps no lumps! Then stir it into your sauce/soup/casserole over a low heat. If it's not thick enough after a few minutes, repeat :) If it's a stew or somesuch you're making you can also add a teaspoon or two of gravy browning, but it's not usually necessary.

Making a roux
Heat some butter in your pan - 1 or 2 tablespoonfuls, and then add gradually the same amount of flour until it forms a ball. Cook gently so you don't get a nasty raw flour taste. Then, add your 'saucey' bits - usually I use this one for a white sauce, whether it's cheese, bechemal or whatever. The key is to make sure it's mixed in really really well.

Beat 1-2 eggs in a bowl and add a couple of tablespoonfuls of the hot stock to it, stirring carefully. The trick is not to turn it into scrambled egg by warming the eggs with the stock before adding them back to the pan. Makes a really rich sauce.

Chicken and lemon soup

This was originally made by my friend Lisa and was posted online - it was one I made a lot though so I'm posting it verbatim. It's perfect and delicious.

Today has been soup making day. It's been many, many years since I made this traditional Greek soup but today I decided to forgo low carbing and get a taste of home. :)
This is the quick version where the chicken and rice were already cooked but you can make it from scratch.

Chicken Soup with Egg and Lemon (it sounds odd but tastes fab)

1.5 pints good chicken stock (I made my own as I had a chicken carcass but a decent ready made stock will do)
1 cup diced cooked chicken
2 lemons
2 large eggs
Cooked rice.


Get your stock to simmering point.
Beat the juice of the two lemons with the two eggs until nice and foamy.
Turn the heat off under the stock and let it sit for a minute.
Add a few tablespoons of stock to the egg mixture, beating well.
Add the egg mix into the pan of stock and whisk.
Turn the heat back on but only on LOW and stir until the soup thickens.
Add in as much chicken and rice as you want and heat through.

It's lovely and creamy but with a zing from the lemon and not too fatty either.

TIP: Use the juice of only 1 lemon at first and then you can add more if you want a sharper taste.

Originally posted here.

Tomato-rice soup

My mum used to make this a lot, and still does - I don't know if this is the exact recipe but this is how I make it, retaining the key elements of tomatoey, ricey, veryveryvery garlicky.

We always used to have it for dinner with either a bacon, fishfinger, or - God help me - a TURKEY BURGER sandwich (the Bernard Matthews ones, from the freezer, oh man I'm going to have to see if they still do them!)

So the basic principle is this. You want it to be as tomatoey and garlicky as you can stand it. That's all you need to know. Some super awesome stock will make this amazing but you know what, an instant will do fine too. This was a weekly freezer staple in our house growing up and I'm sure my mum wasn't off roasting chickens to make stock all the time - both my parents worked and she would just whip this out of the freezer and reheat it (so yes, it freezes very successfully and I often make a huge batch and take it for lunch to work. It guarantees nobody will sit by me all week).

Makes one large pot to consume as you see fit :)

!-2 onions
LOTS of garlic - and I mean obscene amounts
Lots of passata, or canned tomatoes in juice - probably about 2-3 400g cans or a large (750ml) jar of passata and an extra can for luck
tomato puree - again, you're looking at about 2 tablespoonfuls
dried parsley (a pinch)
2 tbsp finely grated parmesan
salt and black pepper
chicken stock
250g rice

Start by sauteeing the onions in a blob of butter, very gently - you want them completely soft and golden but not browned. Also, they need to be very finely chopped as this is a soup you don't blend. Add the garlic when they start to soften and allow that to cook down with them.

Then, add the tomatoes, the tomato puree, the parmesan, parsley, salt, and black pepper, bring it up to the boil and then reduce down to a low, low simmer, cover and leave it for about half an hour.

Add the rice and about 750ml chicken stock, cover again and leave it to simmer. The rice needs to go BEYOND cooked and into the mushy, thick stage. Just keep checking in on it and see that it meets your idea of liquid or thick enough - it's your soup, innit.

Welcome additions if you want to fancypants it; some chorizo or pancetta right at the start with the onions, some Italian herb seasoning, name it. Chili, whatever. But I like this as is with the TURKEY BURGER SANDWICH. Actually, a good cheese one is a pleasure too.


Mum's barbecue sauce (good on baked fish)

2 onions
2 tbsp diced celery
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8oz tomatoes
1 level tbsp tomato puree
4 teaspoons soft brown sugar
2 level teaspoons mustard
1 tablespoon worcester sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Cook the onions and celery off til they're soft, add everything else and simmer for a few minutes, then slather over whatever meat or fish you're grilling and Bob, as they say, is your uncle. Except my uncles are called Brian, John, Michael and David.

Grorty pudding

This is Black Country fayre, traditionally served on Bonfire Night, but hey - it's cold.

Serves about eight milion people.

1.5kg diced stewing steak
4 big leeks, halved and sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 large onions, sliced
1 lb of groats
garlic to taste
salt and pepper
beef stock

Seal the meat well in batches in a large heavy pan and set aside.

Deglaze the pan with a splash of the stock and then add the vegetables and garlic to soften.

Put the meat back in, along with the groats, seasoning, and - initially - enough stock to cover the groats well, although you'll have to check occasionally to make sure they're not drying up.

Cover and turn down to a very low heat and leave it to do its thing for about 6 (yes, 6) hours, or until everyone gets back from the bonfire muddy and freezing. It'd be great in a slow cooker too I imagine.

Rum butter

It might be an odd time of year to add my 'festive' recipes but I'm copying them from my recipe notebook so never mind. They'll be here come December.

4oz butter
Grated nutmeg
6oz caster sugar
half a teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 a wine glass of dark rum

Mix the spices and sugar

Warm the butter and add to the spices

Add the rum, beat well, pour into ramekins and refrigerate.

Nan's Mystery Recipe

I have no idea what this recipe is for or how to cook it, but a scrap of paper with my grandmother's handwriting on it fell out of an old recipe book that my mum and I were looking through and reduced us both to tears.

Here it is, if you know what to do with it let me know.

6 oz flour
4 oz breadcrumbs
3 eggs
Black treacle
Cup of milk
Dried fruit
Chopped nuts

...that's it. I think it's some sort of steamed pudding, possibly a Christmas pudding, but there's no alcohol in it and no sugar either so I imagine it's quite an austere one. I'll have a go at it one of these days and let you know.

Lemon and asparagus tagliatelle

I test-cooked this recipe several times for inclusion in a cookery book written by one of my online friends several years ago. It's VERY good.

2 shallots
1 tbsp butter
1-2 garlic cloves
zest and juice of one lemon
1tbsp plain flour
75g mascarpone cheese
1 glass white wine
1 vegetable stobck cube
2 teasp sugar
1 tasp chopped fresh basil
asparagus - 1 pack
2 fl oz double cream
salt and pepper

Sweat off the shallots and garlic in butter and oil

Steam the asparagus lightly

When the shallots are soft, add the flour to make a roux and cook for two minutes

Add the wine, zest, juice, stock cube, and sugar

Bring to the boil and reduce to simmer for five minutes

Reduce right down and add the cheese, and then the asparagus

Finish with the cream and basil and serve over taglietelle.

Yellow lentil dhal

I remember eating this with brown rice a lot when I first moved out on my own and was very poor. It's still a favourite though and goes with any kind of curry (see the potato curry recipe), chicken or meat, nan breads, rice, you name it.


250g yellow lentils
1.5l water
garam masala
chicken stock cubes
lots of black pepper
Kalongi black onion seeds (2 tbsp)
4 chopped fresh tomatoes, deseeded
4 cloves of garlic
4 onions
bunch of fresh coriander

Bring the water to the boil with the stock cube and spices in it, and add the lentils.

In another pan, caramelise the onions and garlic SLOWLY in some butter, they need to be a rich dark brown but not burnt.

When the lentils have absorbed all the water, add the browned onions and garlic and any juices from the pan, along with the onion seeds, chooped tomatoes and coriander.

Serve with cooked brown rice, mango chutney, cucumber and yogurt and some lemon slices for a really good dinner.

Adding rice and stock to a one-pot meal

Because I tend to have a one-pot rule in the week, I'm a big fan of adding the rice and/or pulses and stock to the meat/fish/vegetables for a complete meal. I generally use a chicken stock, but a vegetable one is fine and of course if it's a lamb or beef meal then a lamb or beef stock is best. Chicken stock's fine with pork though as is vegetable.

I am not great at quantities as it varies according to how hungry you are, but here are some rough guidelines.

Allow approximately 70-80g (dry weight) of rice per person. All you do is add the risotto to the meat/vegetables that are already cooked - and if you're adding wine to a risotto, add that before the rice, too - and then just cover the risotto with stock before stirring in and leaving to simmer (checking regularly). If you DO need to add more stock, do it a ladleful at a time. I know it's not the 'proper' way but it never fails for me.

Long grain or basmati rice
The general rule here is double the amount of liquid to the amount of rice, so 200g rice = 400ml liquid. Anywhere between 80g and 100g (for Absolutely Starving days) is a reasonable portion, erring on the 80g side.

A note on stock
Stock, generally, tends to get made with instant bouillion powder unless I've made a roast at the weekend, and that's fine. However making stock is dead easy. Just strip all the meat you want to eat off the carcass and then put it in a deep saucepan with one onion, halved, 3-4 sticks of celery, a carrot, a couple of bay leaves, some salt and black pepper, and a lemon (I like lemons). Bring it to the boil and then stick the lid on and simmer for a couple of hours at a low heat. When you're ready, strain through a sieve, skim if necessary and if you like you can reduce it down for more flavour. Especially awesome at Christmas - if you don't make stock from the turkey you'll be sorry, because it makes the best stock of the year.

Stock HAS to be hot when it goes in or it'll knacker the whole dish.

Super awesome rice noodles with everything

One of my favourite Chinese restaurants in Birmingham does these amazing spicy rice noodles with a bit of everything in. After various attempts this is my own version and it's really Rather Good Indeed. Not a cheap midweek one as you need quite a lot of nice ingredients but it's great for a treat and it's REALLY GOOD. Even if I do say so myself.

Diced chicken breast
Prawns - big or small, you choose
one red pepper - if they're in season go with one of the lovely pointy sweet fire ones
one smallish onion
4-5 spring onions
good healthy squeeze of garlic paste
1 pack of oyster mushrooms
unsalted peanuts or cashew nuts

Soy sauce
Chinese Five-Spice powder
1 chopped chili (optional but good)
Sesame oil

To serve - fine rice noodles

Begin by heating the sesame oil in your wok so you can smell it. Add the chicken, along with a sprinkle of five spice - just a sprinkle though for now. Let the chicken cook most of the way through as you don't want to risk it :)

When the chicken's sealed, add in the onion and bell pepper, along with the garlic, and let it cook for two or three minutes. Then, the mushrooms, prawns, and seasonings (five-spice, soy sauce, chili).

While that's doing, boil a kettle and soak the rice noodles according to the instructions til they're soft.

When you're satisfied that the veg/chicken/prawns are done and they're not too wet (you need to let any juices reduce down a bit as best you can), add the noodles to the wok with another sprinkle of sesame oil, along with the nuts, spring onions and (optional but good) some coriander leaf, chopped.

Once everything is combined, eat straight away to get the lovely texture of the noodles and the crunchy nuts.

My mum's onion, celery, courgette and mushroom 'risotto'

I have memories of my mum making this with both risotto rice and basmati - I think it's up to you really, whatever is to hand. Either way keep an eye on things.

Quantities are variable depending on hunger levels/people eating, but you need:

1 large onion
1 heart of celery
1 pack of nice mushrooms
2-3 courgettes depending on size
a good squeeze of garlic paste, or 2-3 cloves

chicken stock
glass of white wine
rice of your choice
black pepper/salt to season

To serve: plenty of good, sharp cheese

So. Sweat off all the veg til softened and tender. Add the wine and let the alcohol cook off. Add your rice of choice; if it's risotto, just cover it with the stock, and if it's basmati or long grain you want a bit less than twice as much stock as you've got rice, ie: 200g = 350ml stock, etc. You've got about 200ml white wine in there already don't forget going towards the liquid count :) Anyway, stick the lid on and let it simmer til all the liquid is sucked up, stirring occasionally and being careful not to let it stick.

Serve with lashings of grated cheese - this is one that's absolutely great by itself or would sit well with chicken, fish, sausages, whatever you like really.

Lemon and coriander rice with courgettes

(Or zucchini, if you're from the states). Another WW wonder, but still a favourite - goes well with chicken, fish, prawns, whatever you like. Also good with a big salad.

1 onion, diced
2 courgettes, diced
good squeeze of garlic paste or 2-3 cloves, crushed
1 unwaxed lemon, halved and then cut again into 8 pieces
130 basmati rice
350ml chicken stock
black pepper
as much coriander as you like, chopped

Sweat off the onion, garlic and courgettes

Add everything else except the coriander, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally

When the rice has absorbed all the liquid, turn off the heat and add the chopped coriander.

Chicken and bean casserole

This is from my old recipe book that I wrote everything down in. It looks like it's from the Weight Watchers days as I've measured the rice in WW 'Points' portions.

Serves 2 hungry, 3 normal :)

2 chicken breasts
trimmed bacon
2-3 leeks, halved and sliced
1 red onion
1 yellow pepper
plenty of garlic, crushed
1 can of borlotti beans, drained
generous shake of dried thyme
lemon juice to taste
black pepper - be generous
160g rice (large portions) 120g rice (small portions)
475ml chicken stock (large portions) or 350ml chicken stock (small portions)

Start by crisping the bacon up in the pan (chopped), and then the leeks, let them soften down.

Add the chicken and seal well.

Add the onions, garlic and pepper and cook down with the lid on for about fifteen minutes.

Finally add the beans, lemon juice, black pepper, rice and stock - turn the heat down, put the lid on and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice has sucked all the stock up.

Chicken in a bra (Chicken Basque)

Amy always calls this 'chicken in a bra'. I remember this being something my mum would make for special occasions and is probably the first time I ever tasted chorizo. She was forward thinking my mum :)

Adjust the amount of chicken and rice depending on how many folks you're feeding.

Chicken breasts
Chorizo sausage, about a forefinger's worth each
1 large white onion
garlic - a healthy squeeze of paste or about 3-4 cloves
tomato puree - a good dollop
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
2 red bell peppers
sun dried tomatoes - probably allow about 3-4 each, just see what quantity you get
risotto rice
chicken stock and white wine

Start by gently sauteeing the chorizo in a smear of oil so it releases some of its fat and oil. Then add the onions, peppers, and garlic and allow to sweat gently until the vegetables are getting a bit soft.

Add the cubed chicken and allow it to seal.

Add the smoked paprika, tomato puree and chopped sundried tomatoes. Let it all sit and cook down together for at least ten or fifteen minutes.

Then go with the rice - allow about 70g per person and first add the wine so the alcohol cooks off, then barely cover the rice with stock and stir well. Put the lid on and keep revisiting to check if it needs more liquid. LOW HEAT at this point obviously :)

Rosemary and cinnamon chicken risotto

Also known as the Man Lure. This one's for special occasions.

Serves 2

2 chicken breast supremes
Chorizo sausage - allow about a forefinger's length each
1 pack of asparagus
1 large onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp brown sugar
fresh rosemary
black pepper

chicken stock
white wine (about a large glass)

Ive not put exact quantities for the risotto part because you don't know how hungry you'll be but a good dried weight to start with is about 70g per person; add the wine and then enough chicken stock to cook it, you'll have to stand and watch it.

Fry off the onion and garlic

Add the cinnamopn, chorizo, black pepper, brown sugar and rosemary and cook for a few minutes to let the flavours get together

Add the chicken - you can cube it or leave it whole, your call - and seal it off.

Add the rice to the pan and then, using the wine first (and let the alcohol cook off before you add the stock), just barely cover the rice with liquid. You need to be hanging around watching it now, stirring gently and checking if it needs more liquid. When the risotto is almost done, gently saute the asparagus in a little bit of butter and salt.

When it's all done, add a few more snips of rosemary to the risotto, serve it with the asparagus on top and some more of your wine, and wait for the compliments to start. Ha ha.

Pork meat loaf

This is one that tends to get made when the self-imposed ban on processed sandwich meat gets too much to bear and a meaty sandwich for work is in order. Will do sandwiches for two for about three or four days depending on how greedy you both are (ie, how many sandwiches you want). The harder you press everything together, obviously the firmer it is and thus the easier it is to slice thinly.

I always make this in a silicone loaf tin so there's no sticking but honestly it'll be fine in a regular one as it shrinks away from the sides.

2 packs of pork mince, which is about 900g-1kg
1 large onion, grated or chopped very finely
1 large Bramley cooking apple
1 garlic clove, crushed
half a tsp salt
ground black pepper to taste
dried sage, to taste (but be generous)
sea salt flakes (ie Maldon) to top

Mix everything together in a large bowl.

If you're using a metal tin, give it a wipe with some oil or a light going over with some spray oil, but don't sweat it too much.

Cook for about 1.5 hours on GM 6, around 200 degrees. Allow for fan ovens speeding it up. Do check it at about the hour and ten mark, but be careful when fishing it out of the oven because all the fiendishly hot meat juices and fat will be around the loaf in the tin. Don't worry, you get rid of those later.

When it's cooked, allow it to cool down in the tin and then gently turn it out onto some kitchen paper to drain/cool fully. Then it's up to you really - it can be wrapped in foil and kept very well in the fridge for several days.

Serving suggestions:

On sandwiches with any kind of pickles (onion relish is awesome though)
Warmed through with scrambled egg
Cubed and added to tomato sauce with pasta

....yeah, it's a keeper.

My Dad's tuna bake

This was something of a legend in its own lunchtime when I was growing up, namely because it's the only thing my dad ever cooked...

Dad's notes:

For 3/4 I tend to use 2 cans of tuna and a lot more cheese than they say. Also I don't use the breadcrumbs as Mom says that it dries the sauce too much.
Talking of which don't make the sauce too thick, the cheese and then the baking will do that anyway. Sorry meant to say that I do the milk and onions bit of the sauce, ie before the thickening, so that it can stand for a long time to absorb the flavours before straining it.


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Coconut and cherry cupcakes

I am not very well and wanted something that reminded me of some of the things my nan used to make when I was little.

Basic cupcake mix (makes 12)

3 medium eggs, beaten
175g self raising flour
175g caster sugar, or golden caster sugar, doesn't matter
175g softened butter

vanilla essence (as vanilla-y as you like)
Approx 100g natural glace cherries, halved

For the icing -
Dessicated coconut
Icing sugar
Splash of water

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla essence, beating as you go.

Fold in the flour and the cherries - to stop them sinking roll them in a little bit of icing sugar before you add them.

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for approximately 15 minutes but keep an eye on them.

When they are cool, mix the coconut, icing sugar and water to a thick paste and top the cakes with it - decorate with a whole cherry :)

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sausage and apple casserole

This goes with potatoes, veg, over rice, whatever you fancy.

1 pack of pork and apple sausages (I used Supreme Sausages Wild Boar and Apple but any will do)
2-3 rashers of bacon
2 smallish Bramley apples
1 heart of celery
1 large leek
1 courgette
1 green pepper
1 onion
Small sprinkle of sugar (if necessary - the apples might be super sharp)
scant teaspoon dried sage
small squidge of garlic

Start by cooking the sausages, slowly, in a pan, turning often, don't let them burn.

While that's doing prep the veg and apples and get them ready to go. Chop the bacon up into little slivers.

When the sausages are done, it goes like this.

Take the sausages out and put to one side. Pop the bacon into the pan, and let it crisp up a bit. Then add the onion and celery and sweat down. Add the garlic, followed by the other vegetables. Allow them to sweat with the lid on for a few minutes. Then add the apples and sage and finally the now-cut-up sausages. Lid on, job done.


Add a tin of butter beans or haricot beans
Add stock and lentils and eat as is
Stuff squash with it
Eat it over baked potatoes
Eat it with rice...whatever you like.

Potato curry

3-4 medium potatoes
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 courgette
1 small carton (300g) of passata
good slug of garlic paste
1 heaped tablespoon medium curry powder
1 good teaspoon cumin
1 heaped tablespoon dried coriander leaf

Start with the potatoes - peel and dice finely into 1cm dice (sounds a pain, isn't really). Add these to the pan with some butter or oil and start them cooking while you slice the onion (add it next) and while that's doing, chop the pepper and courgette and add those too. Stir well so it's not sticking, put the lid on and give it a few minutes on a medium heat so it everything softens. Add the garlic paste next and do keep poking the potatoes until they're soft and cooked, but not mush. When they're mostly done, add the passata, spices and coriander and give it another five or ten minutes, and Bob's your uncle - serve with spiced lentils or rice or whatever you like :)

Spiced lentils

2 large onions, sliced into rings
a good slug of garlic paste
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2 teaspoons of cumin
2 teaspoons of garam masala
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons of black onion seed (nigella, kalongi - all the same thing)
chicken stock

Start by sweating the onions slowly slowly in some butter for as long as it takes. They want to be completely brown and floppy but NOT BURNED. When that's done, add the garlic and allow it to cook for a few minutes before adding the spices and some water to make a thick paste. Allow this to cook for a few minutes more.

Then add the lentils. About 200g will make 2-3 big portions as a main course; you should barely cover the lentils with stock and then hover, stirring regularly, until they're soft. Add more water if it looks like it's going dry.