Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Christmas Leftovers Mock Pizza Recipe Idea

Christmas Leftovers Mock Pizza Recipe Idea

Chances are there are still some leftovers from Christmas in your refrigerator and freezer, some of which are getting to the stage where they will need using up pretty fast.  This Christmas Leftovers Mock Pizza is the quick lunch I rustled up today after a quick rummage in the fridge.  I will list exactly what I used, but of course you can adapt this recipe to whatever you have to hand and to your personal tastes.

Quantities are obviously depending on what you have and how many you are feeding.  As a very rough guide, use more or less equal quantities of turkey, bacon and cheese, with perhaps a little more tomato: use the other ingredients in smaller quantities just to give a little extra flavour, sweetness and moistness.

Christmas Leftovers Mock Pizza: ingredients

Bread, any kind, sliced for toasting
Cooked leftover turkey meat, diced into bite-sized chunks
Cooked bacon, diced
Fresh or canned tomato, diced
Cheese, any kind, diced unless it is a type of cream cheese or similar
Garlic, peeled and finely sliced, to your personal taste
Fresh or dried herbs, quantity to your taste
A little cranberry sauce
A little cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary (leftovers may already be seasoned)
A little olive oil for frying

Christmas Leftovers Mock Pizza: method

Toast the bread, put to one side leaving the grill/broiler on a high heat.  Heat a little oil in a good solid pan, and gently fry the tomatoes until they begin to soften.  Add the diced turkey, bacon, herbs and garlic and continue to cook for a few minutes until heated through.  Add the cheese, and continue to cook for a few more minutes until beginning to melt.  Add the cream and the cranberry sauce, and stir through.  Check for seasoning, add salt and a few grinds of pepper if necessary.

Pile the mixture onto your toast, return to the grill/broiler until it begins to melt and brown a little.  Serve immediately.

If you've enjoyed your Christmas Leftovers Mock Pizza, save and adapt the recipe to anytime you have leftovers; not just Christmas.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Bubble and Squeak: Great Leftovers Recipe

Bubble and Squeak: Great Leftovers Recipe

Bubble and Squeak is a great way to use up any leftover potato and other veg, whether from your Christmas Dinner or from a typical Sunday Roast.  It can form part of a breakfast, a lunch or a supper dish.  It is economical, because you are making good use of food that may otherwise be thrown away, it is adaptable, as you make use of whatever you have, and it is also very tasty and filling.

The most basic, and some would say the traditional Bubble and Squeak is simply a 50/50 mix of leftover cooked potato and cooked greens, such as cabbage.  The principal remains the same whatever other veg you use: just make sure that 50% of the whole is potato.

From the basic, there are any number of variations, depending on what food you have leftover: you can cook your ingredients especially to make Bubble and Squeak, but that is kind of missing the point, as it is primarily a leftovers dish, and all the better for it.

The ingredients can be blitzed very fine in a food processor, almost to a puree.  I prefer to chop by knife into fairly small dice so that there is good texture.  If you have gone for the fine mix, you may intend to form the Bubble and Squeak in to one large, or several small patties; some people add a little beaten egg here so the whole thing holds together.  I prefer a more “hash” approach, so that I end up with a loose, dryish mix.

Bubble and Squeak: ingredients
(As mentioned above, your mix should be 50/50 potatoes and whatever else you are using)

Leftover cooked potatoes, any kind, either mashed or diced finely
Leftover cooked vegetables; cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, kale, onion etc
Salt and Pepper as required
A little oil and butter for frying (or lard, goose fat, dripping etc)

Optional: beaten egg to bind if required

Bubble and Squeak: method

Thoroughly chop and dice your ingredients either by hand if you like the looser mix, or in a food processor.  Once you have made your mix, taste for seasoning: as you are making this with leftovers, they may be adequately seasoned already; if not, adjust – I do believe that Bubble and Squeak should be quite heavily seasoned.  Heat your choice of cooking fats in a large frying pan, and either tip in the loose ingredients, or form into patties and carefully place in a pan.

Use a fairly brisk heat: the ideal is to get lovely golden-brown colouration without letting anything burn.  Turn the patties carefully from time to time until done, or stir the looser mix frequently until cooked through.

Once done, serve with whatever you like: it makes a great accompaniment to eggs and bacon, sausages, or any kind of meat, hot or cold, especially leftovers.  A good splash of tomato ketchup/catsup or Worcestershire sauce will add some zing.

Cook's tip: in some traditions, diced or minced leftover cooked meat is added to the Bubble and Squeak mix – it’s up to you.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Cooking Christmas Dinner Guide

I thought I'd post the link to the "Stress-Free Guide to Cooking Christmas Dinner" that I published last year, in case anyone is having last minute panics.  Try to remember that it's only a big roast dinner, and your family and friends have plenty else to occupy them if everything is a little late, or you forgot something.  Enjoy the day, and wishing you a Very Merry Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Turkey Giblet Gravy Recipe

Turkey Giblet Gravy Recipe

Leave the granules and powders on the shelf, and make yourself this delicious real Turkey Giblet Gravy for your Christmas Dinner.  It can easily and safely be done a day or two before, kept refrigerated, then reheated when needed.

It is impossible to be precise about quantities, as there are so many variables: how big your bird, and therefore your giblets, and how many people you are catering for,  how thick or thin do you like your gravy, and how strong?  Use this turkey giblet gravy recipe as a rough guide,  follow your own instincts, do plenty of tasting and you should be fine.

Giblets are the offal/variety meats of the turkey: the heart, gizzard, liver etc, and the neck.  Usually, at least here in the UK, the giblets will have already been removed from the turkey, placed in a bag and then returned to the cavity of the bird.  Many a tale has been told of the newbie Christmas cook who didn’t realise there was a plastic bag full of viscera that needed removing before roasting the turkey…

Turkey Giblet Gravy: ingredients

The giblets of the turkey, roughly chopped
One small to medium onion, peeled and roughly sliced
One small to medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
Garlic, if you like it: one or two cloves, peeled and sliced
One or two bayleaves
A few sprigs of robust herbs, such as rosemary or thyme
Enough boiling water to make the quantity of gravy you require
A very small amount of plain or olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cold Water Roux - A little plain flour mixed to a thin paste with cold water

Optional: white wine, sherry, marsala, port or another favourite liqueur

Turkey Giblet Gravy: method

Gently soften the onion, carrot and garlic (if using) in a little oil until they are developing golden brown colouration.  Remove from the pan, and reserve.  Add the giblets to the oil, and fry until they too develop a good colour.  Return the vegetables to the pan with the giblets, add the herbs and cover with boiling water.  Return to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer for at least two hours, tasting to see how the flavour develops.  Add your wine etc towards the end of the cooking time, to allow the alcohol to cook out without losing any delicate flavours.  I prefer to season toward the end as well, keeping the pepper taste fresher and giving you more control over saltiness.

Strain out the giblets, vegetables and herbs, return the gravy to the pan and add the Cold Water Roux, whisking well.  Allow at least ten minutes for the gravy to thicken and for the raw flour taste to “cook out”.   If you have over-thickened your gravy, simply add some boiling water.  If it is still too thin, add a little more roux and allow to cook out.  Remove any remaining lumps by straining before serving.

If you have made the gravy in advance, make sure it is thoroughly reheated just to boiling point, and then allow to simmer for a couple of minutes before serving.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas Leftovers Planner

Christmas Leftovers Planner

However carefully you shop, however good you are at portion control, however many unexpected extra mouths suddenly turn up at your Christmas table, you are sure to have food leftover after the Christmas feasting – probably quite a lot of it.  Some of it will of course be used up in the days following, with cold-cuts and sandwiches galore.  But cold-cuts and sandwiches get boring after a few days, so rather than throw good food away, plan now how it can be stored for later use.  There are many tasty meals to be made from leftovers, particularly Christmas leftovers with their overtones of luxury and once-a-year flavours, and it is economical to do so too.

Make sure you have plenty of freezer-proof containers in stock, preferably the re-usable type, and/or freezer bags, foil, clingfilm/kitchen wrap etc.  Make sure also that you have a pen and some labels handy – you may know what you’re putting in the freezer now, but you won’t remember in a month or two when you’re rummaging through the cold depths trying to identify anonymous frosty packages.

  • Turkey Leftovers: remove the meat from the bones as soon as practical.  Leave as much meat in the refrigerator as you are likely to use in the next couple of days.  Slice, dice and cube the rest of the meat for various future recipes, and freeze in appropriate portions.  Use the turkey carcase to make a stock, and freeze the stock in useful quantities – larger amounts for soups, gravies and adding to casseroles etc, and some into ice cube trays so that you can add one or two cubes to enrich a sauce or similar.  If it’s not convenient to make the stock within a few days, break down the carcase and freeze the bones for later use.
  • Other Meat Leftovers: as turkey, and using any bones for stock as above.
  • Leftover Roast Potatoes:  Some like cold roast potatoes, with perhaps a little relish, mayonnaise or tomato ketchup with their cold-cuts.  I don’t think they successfully reheat as roast potatoes, but roughly chopped or sliced and fried in a little oil, they do make very good sauté potatoes.  Otherwise, chop and mash any leftovers and mix with leftover greens and other root vegetables to make “bubble and squeak.”
  • Leftover Cooked Root Vegetables: Carrots, Parsnips, Turnips etc could go to make a very quick and tasty casserole with some leftover turkey and gravy.  If they are reasonably firm there is no reason why you couldn’t microwave them for a minute or two for a quick vegetable side dish the next day.  Or chop them and use them in a soup, perhaps made with some of your lovely freshly-made turkey stock.  Otherwise, mash them into your bubble and squeak.
  • Leftover Green Vegetables: far better to cook some fresh green veggies when you need them, so chop and mash down any leftover greens (cabbage, peas, broccoli etc) to add to your potatoes for bubble and squeak.
  • Leftover Gravy: of course, I’m talking about proper turkey-giblet gravy here, of course, not the kind you make from granules.  Frankly, there probably won’t be any leftover gravy in my house, certainly after a day or two.  If, however, you have made a vast amount then either add it to any soup or casserole you are making, or freeze it down in suitable quantities.
  • Leftover Christmas Cake: a well made Christmas Cake, moist and fruity, should keep well enough until you’ve eaten the last morsel, as long as kept in a cool place in an airtight tin or box.
  • Leftover Christmas Pudding: probably best refrigerated and eaten within a week or so, either eaten cold, or reheating portions in the microwave or gently fried in butter.  If you have a lot left over, freeze into portions, defrosting and reheating as needed.
  • Leftover Cheese: cheese keeps well in the ‘fridge, and, as I love cheese, I’m probably going to munch my way through it, or use it in cooking, well before it is in any danger or going “off.”  Cheese does freeze well, though, if you are left with a large amount and are not as much of a cheese-hog as me.  Grate some of the hard cheeses into suitable portions, and they can be added to sauces straight from the freezer.
  • Leftover Bread: sliced bread can go into the freezer, and used for toast as required, or perhaps used in a Bread and Butter Pudding.  You can also blitz leftover bread down into breadcrumbs in the food processor; leave to dry thoroughly, then store in an airtight container.

Remember to be safe: if you have had leftover food hanging around for a while that you are not sure of, especially if it has not been refrigerated, better to dispose of it rather than try to save it for later; the freezer will only make bugs dormant, not kill them.  Don’t re-freeze food that has already been frozen, unless you have subsequently cooked it.

Don’t forget to search this blog for delicious and economical leftover recipes, and I shall be adding as many as I can during the next week or so, particularly geared to Christmas Leftovers.  In the meantime, Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Chocolate Truffle Recipe: Very Easy and Adaptable

Chocolate Truffle Recipe: Very Easy and Adaptable

The key here is to use the finest quality ingredients: good chocolate with a high cocoa content, the finest unsalted butter and really good cream.  These chocolate truffles are incredibly rich, so a little goes a long way.  They are quite more-ish though; after half an hour, the thought “I could just manage one more…” may drift through your head.  Keep them in an airtight container in your refrigerator, if you can.

This recipe will make 35-50 Chocolate Truffles.

Equipment: you will need a saucepan of barely simmering water, over which you place a bowl in which to melt the ingredients.  Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water.

Easy Chocolate Truffle Recipe: Ingredients
8oz/225g High Cocoa content dark chocolate, coarsely chopped or broken
2oz/55g good unsalted butter
quarter pint/150ml whipping/double cream (minimum 36% fat)
(note: leave the cream liquid, no need to whip it)

Flavourings (optional): a few drops of vanilla extract, peppermint, your favourite liqueur, or any other flavouring you like.

To coat: choose between good quality cocoa powder, icing sugar, ground almonds or other nuts, ground coconut, or make some of each.

Easy Chocolate Truffle Recipe: Method

Place the bowl over the simmering water, and put the broken/chopped chocolate and the cream into the bowl.  Stir very occasionally, just enough to help it along.  Once the chocolate has melted, add the butter, and once it has melted stir just enough to mix it thoroughly (note: too much stirring may make the chocolate go “grainy”).

Remove from the heat, allow to cool a little, then add any flavourings, if using – taste after adding a few drops and thoroughly mixing to see if you need to add any more.

Put into the refrigerator until set hard (at least eight hours).  You can speed this process up, (once the mixture and bowl have cooled a little, to minimise the risk of cracking) by putting the bowl into another, larger bowl, filled with iced water, and gently stirring from time to time.  Once the mixture has cooled enough, put into the freezer, removing and stirring at approximately twenty minute intervals until firm – doing it this way, your truffle mixture can be ready in about an hour.

 Put your chosen coating ingredients in bowls/saucers/trays, and have your storage container(s) ready for the truffles.

Using a teaspoon, dig out pieces of the mixture and form into balls using the warmth of your palms – you are going to get messy, sorry: truffles are typically an oval, slightly elongated egg-shape, but they can be made into whatever shape you like.  Once you have made all the truffles, roll them in your chosen coatings, then refrigerate in airtight boxes until needed.

Cook’s Tip: I have already suggested that you can vary the flavourings as you like (or use none, as I often prefer), but you can also add other ingredients to the melted mix, such as chopped nuts, finely chopped stem ginger (the type preserved in syrup), finely chopped glace cherries, dried sultanas, raisins, currants, cranberries (chopped as necessary) or even a handful of your favourite cookies/biscuits, crumbled.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Three Easy Christmas Starter Recipe Ideas

Three Easy Christmas Starter Recipe Ideas

The traditional Christmas Dinner main course is a huge meal in itself, especially when followed by Christmas Pudding and Mince Pies.  Then there will be the never-ending rolling feast the rest of the day brings, with the succession of cheeses, the sausage rolls, the cold cuts, the pickles, the Christmas cake, even the first-of-the-season turkey and stuffing sandwiches around ten pm, after granny has gone to bed, with just another glass of something.  A starter may seem unnecessary, or even greedy, but this is that once-a-year feast; one of those few occasions where we can really celebrate at home with our family and friends.  The right starter, light and easy to prepare, sets the scene, gives us all a few moments with each other before the Big Bird and the tureens of veg come to the table, and tickles the tastebuds for the rest of the meal.

Here are three light and easy starters: one can be mostly made ahead of time (and there is an acceptable cheat to make it even easier) with a ten-minute reheat-and-cook while the turkey is resting, one can be completely made earlier and simply plated with a little garnish just before serving, and the other is just a simple assembly job that can be done in minutes, as long as you do a little bit of prep at a convenient moment beforehand.

Christmas Starter One: Apple and Celery Soup

Ingredients – serves four, multiply accordingly

Two medium-to-large sweet, crunchy eating apples
Two stalks of celery
A few celery leaves, shredded, and a little fresh parsley, chopped fine, as garnishes

One pint/600ml good vegetable stock (this is the cheat, you can buy this ready-made from a good deli or supermarket – but don’t make it up from cubes or bouillon powder, it just won’t cut it as the stock is too “exposed” in this recipe)

(Or, to make your own simple vegetable stock: this is REALLY EASY!
2 carrots, I medium onion, two sticks celery, 2 bay leaves, 6-8 parsley stalks, 8-10 whole black peppercorns, 1 and a quarter pints/750ml water.
Wash and peel the veg as necessary, then roughly chop, add to the water in a pan with the other ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for twenty to thirty minutes.  Strain out all the veg, herbs and peppercorns and discard them, then bring liquid back to the boil and reduce to approximately 1 pint/600ml in volume.  Add salt as required, then set aside until needed, refrigerating if necessary.)

Apple and Celery Soup: Method

Bring the store-bought or home-made stock to the boil.  De-string the celery and chop it to a small dice.  Add to the stock, bring back to boil, and reduce to simmer.  Working quickly so the pieces don’t brown, cut the apples (unpeeled) into small dice, discarding the core and pips, and add to the stock.  The soup should be ready after two to three minutes, but test a piece of celery and apple for done-ness.  Serve into individual bowls, garnish each with the shredded celery leaf and parsley – you can add a few croutons, or serve with a very small piece of french bread.

Christmas Starter Two: Fruit Medley

Serving what is effectively a fruit salad as a starter may seem strange, but it works well without being filling.

Christmas Fruit Medley Starter: Ingredients

A selection of fruit – either bite-sized, or cut into bite sized pieces: depending on where you are in the world, and the season.  Use what you like, and what’s good locally to you.  Suggestions: physalis/cape gooseberry (loose leaves peeled back), grapes (red and green, preferably seedless), cubes or small chunks of melon, strawberries halved or quartered if large.
Lemon juice and/or balsamic or raspberry vinegar
A sprig or two of mint per plate

Christmas Fruit Medley Starter: Method

Whenever you have the time on Christmas Day, do any necessary prep on the fruit; peeling/chopping etc – store in acidulated water or lemon juice until ready to assemble.
Per person: make a small pile of the mixed fruit, just off-centre of a (preferably) plain white plate.  Drizzle with lemon juice/balsamic vinegar/raspberry vinegar.  Garnish with a sprig of mint.  Serve.  Very light, very easy.

Christmas Starter Three: Smoked Salmon Pate

And this is my very own Christmas Cheat – I’m going to direct you to a recipe that I wrote and posted earlier. The quantities I give produce around a pound/half kilo of finished pate, so if served with a simple salad garnish and perhaps a slice of toast, should provide eight or so reasonable portions.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Get Ahead for Your Christmas Cooking: Planning Your Christmas Kitchen

Get Ahead for Your Christmas Cooking: Planning Your Christmas Kitchen

Christmas is coming with a rush, so I thought it would be a good time to give the links to some useful Christmas Kitchen and Christmas Cooking posts I made last year.  I’ve given a little preview for each link so you can know what to expect when you click on!

Christmas Pudding: it’s not too late to make your own Christmas Pudding from this very old and absolutely wonderful recipe.  Yes, you can make them months (even a year!) in advance, but I’ve made this very late some years and it still turns out splendidly, even without a “maturing” period.
Traditional Christmas Pudding Recipe - The First Christmas Pudding

On the subject of Christmas Pudding, last year the trend was very much towards celebrity  “mad professor” chef Heston Blumenthal’s Orange Christmas Pudding  they sold out very fast and were changing hands on eBay for ridiculous amounts.  This was my take on the idea.
Heston Blumenthal Style Orange Christmas Pudding Recipe

I enjoy my turkey on Christmas Day, and while there are always ideas for alternatives such as goose, capon, venison etc I still stick up for the big bird.  You can read why here:
In Defense of the Christmas Turkey

This is the big one and got a LOT of visitors last year, not least because it got a mention on the BBC website’s foodie pages (OK, being honest, it was me who mentioned it there, but it drew a lot of traffic!)  Here’s as step-by-step a guide to Cooking Christmas Dinner the Stress-Free Way as you can get without someone being actually there to hold your hand.
The Stress-Free Guide to Cooking Christmas Dinner

Pigs in Blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon) are a lovely traditional accompaniment to Christmas Dinner, so here’s an easy recipe and method for preparing them, along with a use for the bacon rinds.
Pigs in Blankets (Sausages in Bacon) Recipe

And finally for now, here’s my guide to the perfect cooking of Brussels Sprouts, which teaches you the sneaky chef’s and caterer’s way to pre-cook, refresh and reheat veggies – giving you really vibrant colour, taste and texture while relieving the pressure of timing yet more pots and pans on the big day!
How to cook Brussels Sprouts Perfectly

Hope the above is useful to you, and in the meantime, also hope all your planning, preparing and shopping is going well.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Roasted Tomatoes Recipe – Simple and Delicious

Roasted Tomatoes Recipe – simple and delicious

These delicious Roasted Tomatoes are such a simple recipe, yet have so many uses: serve with roasted meats, as part of a cooked breakfast, crushed onto toasted crusty bread, part of the ingredients for home-made pizza, or cold as part of a salad or in a sandwich with a good cheese.  They keep well in the fridge for a few days, so make a big batch and then use cold or reheated as you like.

The tomatoes need to be ripe but still fairly firm: of course, you will buy good, flavoursome tomatoes, and not the woolly, tasteless hothouse variety.  However, this Roast Tomato Recipe will work well even if the only tomatoes you have been able to find are of the mediocre variety: the olive oil, garlic, seasonings and herbs give punch added to the sweetness and depth of flavour of the caramelisation effect from the roasting.

Use any size tomatoes you like, adjusting the cooking time accordingly, but I would still cut them in half even if using little cherry tomatoes, as we want them to retain some of their shape and texture after cooking.  However, a very good variation on this recipe is to roast small tomatoes whole: they will burst, and generally “mush” down to a thick, very flavoursome tomato sauce, for which you will also find many uses.

Roast Tomato Recipe – Ingredients

As many good flavoured, ripe and reasonably firm tomatoes as you like, cut in half
Garlic cloves, peeled, quantity to your taste – I would suggest on clove of garlic for every one or two tomatoes
Good sea salt, such as Maldon, and plenty of freshly milled or crushed black pepper
Olive oil, enough to lubricate the pan and get a good coating onto the tomatoes when shaken around
Herbs, as available and as you like, fresh where possible.  Basil is good here, as are Rosemary, Oregano/Marjoram and Bay or a mixture.  That emergency pack of mixed dried herbs you have at the back of your cupboard will do quite well here too, as the cooking time allows the flavours to come out and develop.

Roast Tomato Recipe – Method

Pre-heat the oven to fairly hot – 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7.  Put a suitable sized roasting tin or pan into the oven to pre-heat while you prepare the tomatoes.

Cut the tomatoes in half.  Peel the garlic: you have several options here – cut the garlic into slivers and insert into little slits you make in the tomatoes, crush the garlic and sprinkle over the tomatoes in the last five minutes or so of the cooking time (any earlier and crushed garlic will burn at these temperatures) or as I often do, just peel the garlic and pop them into the pan whole, which gives a gentle garlicky flavour to the whole dish, and leaves you with lovely chewy, toffee-like garlic morsels to munch on.

Once the oven and pan are to the required temperature, put the cut tomatoes in the pan with the garlic (see previous paragraph), the herbs, the salt and pepper, and a good slug of oil, shaking it all around so all is well-coated.  Put into oven, and have a look after fifteen minutes.  Depending on the tomatoes you have used, they could be done by now, but most likely will need further cooking.  Turn the tomatoes as necessary, then return to the oven until done – probably around twenty five minutes in all.

Cook’s Tip: if the tomatoes are not particularly sweet (taste one before you start!) you can add a little caster/confectioner’s sugar along with the herbs and seasonings.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Brussels Sprouts: The Right Way to Cook Them

Brussels Sprouts: The Right Way to Cook Them

Firstly, Brussels Sprouts are not just for Christmas: they are a useful autumn and winter vegetable, and are widely available.  Secondly, Brussels Sprouts get a bad press. Cooked incorrectly, they are limp, soggy and smell of sulphur; hardly the most attractive addition to any meal.  However, it is very easy to cook Brussels Sprouts the right way, so they retain bite and develop a delicious nutty flavour.

The method I’m recommending uses the professional chef’s technique known as “refreshing,” which can also be used in the preparation of many other vegetables. Not only does it take the hassle out of your timings, as the main cooking is done well in advance at your convenience, but it also preserves the colour, flavour and texture of your veg to perfection.

Note that I do the initial cooking of the Brussels Sprouts (and most of my other vegetables) in UNSALTED water.  I prefer to add salt either at the final cooking, at the table, or not at all.  I have done numerous tests over the years, and believe that the presence or not of salt makes no difference to the colour.  To get a pleasing saltiness into the vegetable needs so much salt in the cooking water that it is both wasteful and uneconomical.  Far better to add whatever salt you need later, when it will be far more effective.

Buying Brussels Sprouts: Quantity Guide

You will lose around 10 percent of the vegetable in the trimming, so buy a little more of the raw, unprepared weight than you will need per portion, which will of course depend on your appetite and what other vegetables you are serving.

Cooking Brussels Sprouts: Method – Pre-Cooking and Refreshing

Cut any stalk away from the sprout, and remove any loose or discoloured outer leaves.  If the sprouts are large, cut a cross into the stalk end, which will help the heat penetrate, keeping the cooking time down and therefore leading to a perfectly cooked and non-soggy sprout.  (I suppose I should say here that some cooks and chefs completely disagree, and claim that the cut cross is MORE likely to lead to soggy sprouts!)

Bring a large pan of unsalted water to the boil, plunge in the Brussels, return to the boil then reduce the heat to a busy simmer – the sprouts should be able to cook fairly quickly, but not so agitated that they bash about in the water, thus loosening too many of the outer leaves.

After around three minutes (depending on the size of your sprouts) take one out of the water, cut in half and test for done-ness.  The tip of a sharp knife should penetrate reasonably easily, and/or the Brussels should be cooked through and piping hot in the middle, but still firm to the bite (al dente).  If not ready, continue to cook and test in two minute cycles until done.

As soon as the Brussels Sprouts are cooked to your liking (or preferably a fraction undercooked) strain the veg, and run under the tap until quite cold.  This prevents them from any further cooking due to residual heat, and preserves the maximum flavour, texture and colour.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cooking Brussels Sprouts: Method – Reheating and/or Second Cooking

The two simplest methods to reheat your Brussels Sprouts (and any other vegetables you have prepared using the pre-cook/refresh method) are to either plunge them into a large pan of boiling water for a minute or two, or microwave, moistened with a splash of water and covered in kitchen film, also for a minute or two, until piping hot.

The method I prefer, which really brings out the nutty flavour of the sprouts, is only a little more complicated.  Put a good knob of butter and a tablespoon of water, along with a generous seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper onto a medium to high heat.  Once the butter is foaming, but before it begins to brown, tip in the Sprouts, continuing to shake and agitate the pan so the vegetables are well coated in the seasoned butter.  The small amount of water generates steam, which helps the Brussels reheat, and also helps to stop the butter burning.  Serve immediately the Brussels Sprouts develop a few golden brown patches and produce a wonderful nutty aroma, which takes a couple of minutes.

To really bring out the nuttiness, you can also add a few pinches of flaked almonds to the pan – be very careful not to let them burn.

If you were put off Brussels Sprouts in the past from them being overcooked, flabby and sulphurous, I hope this method will convince you to give them another try, and discover just how delicious these mini-cabbages really are.  Like I said in the introduction, Brussels Sprouts are not just for Christmas (although they will certainly accompany my turkey) and are a tasty winter vegetable for so many meals.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Fish Head Stew – Economy Recipe

Fish Head Stew – Economy Recipe

There are so many reasons why I include this recipe for Fish Head Stew, even though I realise that the title alone may make some readers recoil in horror.  Stick with me though, and I’ll explain why Fish Head Stew, and the right kind of Economy Recipes are a good thing, whatever your budget.

First of all, though, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not asking you to go rootling around in bins for rotten old bits of fish that the cat wouldn’t look at.  We are going to use very fresh, perfectly good fish here; just some of the bits that would often be cut away and discarded.

Although the main thrust of The Guerilla Griller has always been to encourage new, inexperienced and nervous cooks into the kitchen, my secondary agenda is that good food need not, in fact most often should not, be expensive. 

This recipe is indeed all about buying (or saving, or reusing, or begging) the good cuts or bits of the fish (and the beast and the veg patch for that matter) that do not achieve premium prices at the market, but are none the worse for that – we are looking for the undiscovered gems, if you like; the perfectly good ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away, or at least sold very cheaply.

This recipe for Fish Head Stew works, and is delicious if you follow the ingredient list and method, but that’s not really the point.  By all means go to the fishmonger, or a fisherman friend if you have one, and see if they have a Conger head and tail, as I did.  If not, see if they have any other suitable large fish heads, or ask them to save them for you when next they are filleting or cutting steaks.  Or buy a nice whole fish or two for another recipe and keep the head(s) and tail(s) for this one.

And, forgive me for banging the drum one more time: it’s not even necessarily a fish recipe.  Use the same principles for anything else that may either be sold very cheaply or even thrown away but that with the right cooking could give you a good meal.

I used Conger Eel here, but you could use other large, meaty fish, preferably cut so there is a good “collar” or “shoulder” of meat.  As I know some of you will live in parts of the world where “large” could mean you couldn’t fit it into your car to get it home, let alone fit it into your pot, as a rough guide, I’m talking a head and neck around the size of a man’s clenched fist and wrist.  Rather than list species, any off-cut with a decent amount of meat left on will do – but do make sure to descale the fish if necessary.  As I have no idea what you’re going to use, timings are of course approximate.

The recipe feeds two, but multiply/adapt to your needs, and the size of the fish heads you have found.  There is not much meat (if any) on the part of the Conger tail that is usually off-cut, but it will add flavour to the stewing juices as they develop.

Fish Head Stew recipe: Ingredients

One or two Conger Eel Head(s) and Tail(s)
Two or three medium carrots, peeled and sliced into chunky rounds
One medium leek, cleaned and cut into rounds as carrots, discarding the toughest part of the green end
Four plump cloves of garlic, peeled but otherwise whole
Enough hot stock to cover the veg (fresh veg or fish stock if you can, but a dissolved cube or bouillon powder will do if that’s all you have)
A pinch or two of mixed dried herbs or fresh herbs of your choice
A small splash (about a tablespoon) of oil
Plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fish Head Stew recipe: Method

Heat the oil in a large pot and fry the prepared veg for a few minutes until they begin to take on a little colour, adding the garlic last so it doesn’t burn.  Add the stock, bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add the herbs, and stir well.  Place the fish head(s) and tail(s) onto the veg and cover the pan with a lid.  After ten minutes, turn the fish upside down.  The fish and the vegetables should be ready in another ten minutes.

Double-check that the flesh is cooked right through: if not, cook for a little longer.

When the fish is ready, you have the choice to plonk the head on the plate, surrounded by the veg and its juices, and hack away at it at the table with your knife and fork, which will be very primally satisfying, if a little messy.  You can be a little more refined and carve away the meat from the head on your chopping board.  Check all round the head for meaty bits; some fish have really worthwhile “cheeks” and other pockets of flesh that you don’t want to miss.

I hope you get over any squeamishness you may have about Fish Head Stew (it’s looking back at me!) and realise that it is simply a very cheap (even free) way of getting some very tasty fish onto your plate.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe

Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe

This Salmon and Broccoli Bake recipe is delicious and very easy, although the preparation takes a while, as you have to pre-cook the salmon and broccoli and make a cheese sauce.  The results are worth it, though, as you can do the prep and assemble the bake way ahead of time (even a day or two before) and then have it all ready to pop in the oven when you need it.

I have given the ingredients for one person, so just multiply as required.  Use any suitable oven-proof dish whether metal, heatproof glass or ceramic.

Fish can lose 10-20% of its raw weight when cooked, so take this into account when buying your ingredients.

You can use left-over cooked salmon for this recipe, or simply cube skinned and boned raw salmon, and poach in simmering water for five to ten minutes until cooked through.  To pre-cook the broccoli, cut into small bite-sized florets and put into boiling water for three to four minutes.  As soon as it is al dente (cooked, but still with a bite) run under the cold tap to preserve the colour and to stop any further cooking from residual heat.
Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe: Ingredients for one person – multiply as required

4oz/115g cooked salmon (see above) all skin and bone removed.
4oz/115g cooked, cold broccoli florets (see above)

For the Cheese Sauce:
half ounce/15g butter
half ounce/15g plain/general purpose flour
half pint/290ml milk
2-3oz/55-85g full flavour grated cheese (such as cheddar, gruyere, parmesan or a mixture) to taste
salt and white pepper to taste

To sprinkle on top before baking:
1-2oz/30-55g of dry breadcrumbs or pinhead oats
finely chopped fresh parsley – quantity to your taste
a little more grated cheese – quantity to your taste

Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe: Method

Cook salmon and broccoli as in introduction, or use leftovers.

To make the cheese sauce: (in-depth white sauce recipe and method here)
Either in a microwave, double boiler or heavy non-stick pan, melt the butter and flour together, and cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally until the butter and flour look almost dry and a little like breadcrumbs.  Add about a third of the milk, stir or whisk well to remove any lumps, and continue to cook for a few minutes longer.  When smooth, whisk in the rest of the milk, and continue to cook until thickened – this may take twenty minutes or longer, depending on your chosen method.

Remove from the heat, and add the grated cheese, stirring until it has melted into the sauce.  Add the pepper, and if necessary salt (cheese can be quite salty) and whisk well.

Break up the salmon a little (not too finely) and mix with the broccoli florets in your chosen baking dish.  Cover with the cheese sauce, leaving little islands of broccoli poking out if you are feeling artistic.  Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs/pinhead oats, a little more grated cheese to your taste (don’t swamp it) and a pinch or two of the chopped parsley.

You can now store this in the refrigerator for use in the next day or two, or cook right away.

Put in a medium oven 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for twenty five minutes or so.  Test the middle with a temperature probe or skewer to make sure it is thoroughly heated through and piping hot.  If you wish, place under a hot grill for a minute or two to brown the top.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe

This Bacon and Avocado Omelette recipe is one of those great flavour and texture combinations that really work: we know how eggs and bacon compliment each other, and here the creamy avocado chunks add another dimension.  As usual, I’m going to emphasise the quality (and morality) issue – use free range eggs and proper dry-cured bacon from pigs that have been outside-reared.  If your grocer/butcher/supermarket can’t assure you of this, spend your money elsewhere.  Make sure the avocado is ripe, but not over-ripe.  You want it to (just) be able to hold its shape when you cut it into chunks and cook it.

How to prepare the avocado: cut down to the stone with a sharp knife, then run it around lengthways until you have “completed the circle” and can lever the avocado apart.  The stone will almost always remain attached to one half.  Gently cut a little way into the stone with your knife, and then you should be able to remove it with a twisting action.  Take care removing the stone from the knife; avocados are slippery. Now make six to eight cuts through the flesh right down to, but not through, the skin.  Make another six to eight cuts at ninety degrees to the first; you should now have a sort of diamond pattern.  Turn the skin inside out, and you will be able to easily remove the avocado chunks.  If you are not using them immediately, put in a bowl with some lemon juice to stop them turning brown.

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe: Ingredients

Two rashers of your favourite bacon (I use unsmoked streaky) cut into dice or small strips.
Two to three free-range eggs, depending on their size and your appetite, beaten
Half an avocado, in small chunks as above
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little oil
A little butter (optional)

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe: Method

Heat a heavy based non-stick pan, and add a little oil.  Put in the bacon pieces, and cook for three to five minutes until the bacon fat is running and the pieces are turning golden brown.  Add the avocado pieces to the pan, and continue to cook for a minute or two, stirring as necessary – adding a little butter at this stage will help the colour and add even more richness.  Season the beaten egg with salt and pepper, then add the eggs to the pan.  Turn the eggs with a fork until the ingredients are well amalgamated.  When the omelette is firm enough, fold it in half.  If you like your omelettes very moist, turn out now onto a warmed plate and serve, otherwise continue to cook (flipping over after a minute or so) until it is done to your liking.

The Bacon and Avocado Omelette can be served as a breakfast, lunch or supper dish, with the accompaniments of your choice.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pan-Fried Courgette or Zucchini

Pan-Fried Courgette or Zucchini

I don’t know why we Brits call them courgettes while the rest of the world calls them zucchini, but there you are.  Either way, and by either name, I never used to be much of a fan; I found them bland and uninteresting.  Steamed or boiled, they are watery and insipid, and I only ever used them, reluctantly, as a kind of bulking vegetable, in pasta sauces and ratatouille.  And then I came found this method; cooked this way, they have become one of my favourite vegetables.  So, here’s how to cook the perfect pan-fried zucchini, or courgette.

The essence of the dish is to fry very slowly, so that much of the wateriness is cooked out, and so that the courgette/zucchini can absorb the buttery, garlicky flavours while gently developing golden, caramelized patches.

You will need a frying pan wide enough to accommodate all the courgette slices in one layer.

Pan-Fried Courgette or Zucchini: ingredients

Two or three Courgettes or Zucchini, unpeeled, sliced into rings about the thickness of a typical biscuit or cookie.
Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, with some more in reserve.
Butter, a tablespoon or so
One to three cloves of garlic, depending on size and your own taste, peeled and crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A tablespoon or so of finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice: tarragon, thyme or basil suggest themselves here.

Pan Fried Courgette or Zucchini: method

Put the pan onto a gentle heat, add the oil.  Once the oil has heated through, add the courgette/zucchini slices in one layer.  Turn from time to time, adding a little more oil if necessary, until the vegetable has begun to soften; this may take twenty minutes to half an hour.  Now add the butter, the garlic, the herbs and the salt and pepper.  Continue to cook for another ten to fifteen minutes until the courgette/zucchini is really soft and almost falling apart.  Juggle the heat if necessary so that golden, toasty, patches develop, but take care not to let the butter or garlic burn.

Serve as a side dish, or on toast, or cold as a dip.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe

I’ve given a home-made meatballs recipe before, with emphasis on the Greek/Turkish Kofte style.  This one is slightly different – more general, if you like, to be adapted to pretty much any kind of meat or fish you wish to use.  There were two inspirations for this post, the first involving a kind of “guilty pleasure” revisiting of a favourite store-cupboard standby of my youth, which then reminded me of the kitchen concoctions of an old friend, of which more below.

I love to cook: I wouldn’t waste my or your time with this blog if I didn’t.  However, I will admit that sometimes I am too busy, or just too lazy to cook “properly” and, like any normal human being, will turn to the take-away or convenience foods.  Not so long ago, I was on my way home.  It was late, and I was hungry, and the only food shop open was the little metro supermarket.  I walked round, fairly uninspired, until my eye fell on the tins of meatballs.  I used to love these as a kid, so I paid up, took them home, and had them on my plate ten minutes later.  Frankly, they weren’t very good, and I knew that I could do better.  One good thing came from the meal, though: I had no convenient veg other than a small tin of sweetcorn kernels.  I tipped these in with the meatballs, and, although the meatballs themselves were poor, the combination of flavour and texture was promising.

It was this late-night combination of tins that reminded me of my old friend Tim’s culinary exploits.  We were in a band together, and as he lived quite some distance away, he would often stay over at my place after rehearsals or gigs, and he always came prepared to feed himself – always with three random tins in his bag.  One would be some kind of meat, such as frankfurters, meatballs or corned beef; one would be beans of some kind, and the third usually small potatoes.  All would be tipped into a pan, heated until ready, then wolfed down.  We came to call it Timmie’s Bean Bake, and Tim himself got a new nickname as “The Kennomeat Kid” (for those not from the UK, Kennomeat was a well-known brand of tinned dog food).

I am pleased to say that I have generally long moved on from the days of eating out of tins, and these meatballs are much better than anything you can buy in a can.  They freeze well, so you can make up a big batch, and never need to open a tin again.

Meat-wise, you can use any meat (or fish) you like, and leftovers are fine.  However, just as with home-made burgers, I think it is a mistake to use meat that is too lean; a little fat helps to lubricate the meatballs, and to keep them flavoursome.  If you are using leaner meats such as chicken, turkey or rabbit, for example, then add around ten percent by quantity of minced/ground belly pork or streaky bacon.

Do season well with salt and pepper, and use whatever herbs you like.  You can use breadcrumbs or bread paste, as in the kofte recipe if you like, but I have omitted them here to give a firmer, denser, more “chewy” texture.

Nothing beats fresh corn straight off the cob, but I think that sweetcorn does work fairly well when canned or frozen, and is a useful store-cupboard staple.

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe: Ingredients

1lb/450g minced/ground meat – either raw, or leftover cooked meat
4oz/115g sweetcorn kernels, stripped from the cob, from a tin, or defrosted from frozen
1 small egg, beaten (you may not need all of it)
Finely chopped herbs to suit the meat and your own personal taste
Plenty of salt and pepper

A little plain/general purpose flour for dusting
A little oil for shallow frying

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe: Method

Using your hands, combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a big bowl – use just enough of the egg to bring it all together; you may not need it all.  Dust some flour onto your work surface, flour your hands, and divide the mix into around sixteen pieces, rolling them into walnut-sized balls.

Gently fry the meatballs, turning until golden brown and cooked through – ten to fifteen minutes.

They can be served in so many ways, either plain or with a sauce or gravy; in a sandwich, or with pasta, potatoes, rice, or with a salad.  These home made meatballs with sweetcorn are pretty good cold, too.

Monday, 26 September 2011

French Press or Cafetiere Coffee: Best Method

The Best Way to Make Coffee in a French Press or Cafetiere

The French Press, also known as a Cafetiere, Coffee Press, Coffee Plunger etc is a very popular way to make coffee, both at home and in restaurants and cafes.  Trouble is, most people use it incorrectly, and not just the amateurs: the last pack of ground coffee I bought had the standard, but unsatisfactory, method printed on the side.

Real Coffee versus Instant Coffee

I, too, used to get it wrong.  I love “real” coffee, and any freshly made coffee is vastly superior to instant (which, in my view, is not really coffee at all).  Not having the space or the disposable income for one of the fancy professional espresso machines, my favourite ways of making coffee were in a stove-top moka machine, or in a filter.  My Cafetiere came a distant third, yet got a fair amount of use because it’s quick, convenient, and pretty easy to clean.  Despite its advantages, I was always vaguely disappointed with the result; it was somehow missing the fresh, clean bite of good coffee.  Although the press kept almost all the grounds from my cup, the coffee still tasted a little flat and muddy.

Around a year ago, I was doing a little research into coffee, with a vague plan to blog about it, when I came across a method of using a coffee press that was just a little different to the usual.  Intrigued, I tried it, and Voila!  Pretty good coffee.

So you ask – what’s the secret?  Surely, you boil water, put some scoops of ground coffee in the press, pour the water, let it brew, plunge the filter, pour the coffee.  Apart from variables such as the blend and grind of the coffee (which, after all, is down to personal preference) what is there to change?

The Secret of Making the Best Coffee in a French Press or Cafetiere

The simple answer is that you don’t brew the coffee.  Pour on boiling water, and plunge immediately.  Why?  Because unlike tea, coffee doesn’t need to brew – it releases its flavours and aromatic oils as soon as the boiling water hits it.  Let it hang around, and secondary, less desirable flavour develop – that slightly flat, muddy taste I was talking about earlier.  This is why the very best coffee is made in those “out of reach for the home budget” professional espresso machines – they pump steamingly hot water at high pressure right through the grounds, taking all the good stuff with them, and none of the bad.  The home versions usually can’t cut it, being unable to develop enough pressure, hence my use of the moka, filter or French Press.

So now you know not to let it brew, you’re hopefully off to try the method and see what you think.  First, here’s some more tips for getting the best out of your Cafetiere/French Press/Coffee Plunger.

Coffee-Making Tips for French Press or Cafetiere

  • Empty the kettle of all dregs, fill with the required amount of freshly drawn water, put on to boil – this ensures that the water is oxygenated, and gives the best result.

  • Meanwhile, make sure the French Press is scrupulously clean, then rinse it with hot water (from the tap, or half-boiled kettle) just in the way you’d “warm the pot” for making tea.

  • Measure in your coffee – everyone’s taste is different, but for the record I use three heaped dessertspoons of medium fine ground Italian blend, for enough coffee to fill a typical mug.

  • At the instant the water boils (keeping the oxygen), pour it into the Cafetiere/French Press, swirl the jug so the coffee grounds are well-distributed, then plunge immediately, and pour into your cup or mug right away.  If the plunger "sticks" on the way down, don't force it, or you will most likely get boiling coffee up your arm!  Instead, just withdraw the plunger a little way, then continue to plunge.

Try it, and see what you think.  I am convinced that the above “no brew” method produces better coffee – and, hey, it’s as quick as using instant “coffee” (which is really coffee at all, remember?).

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Chicken Casserole Recipe: Easy and Inexpensive

Chicken Casserole Recipe: Easy and Inexpensive

The weather is turning Autumnal here in the British Isles; we’re still getting some sunny days, but the winds are picking up and the rainy spells increasing.  This is the time of year when my thoughts start turning to warming stews and similar, and this Easy Chicken Casserole is a typical example of the dishes I want to cook now: it is still quite light, but the flavours are deep and the warmth gets into your bones on a chilly evening.

It is also a good example of how you can use the cheaper cuts of good meat to make a very economical dish: I am, as always, asking you to use free-range chicken here, but by using the thighs you get all the taste and flavour without busting the wallet.  In fact, you should get four to six tasty and satisfying free-range thighs for less than the price of a rubbery broiler house bird.  Better for your wallet, better for your tummy and taste buds, and better for your moral conscience.

Similarly, I have also asked you to use proper dry-cured bacon: you do not want to use the vacuum packed, brine-pumped stuff soaked in artificial chemical smoke flavourings – a little of the real stuff goes a lot further than the flabby imitation, thus again giving you better quality and saving you money.  I have said two to four rashers, or the equivalent in lardons, to depend on how much bacony, smoky taste you prefer.

The theme of The Guerilla Griller since the start has been to encourage kitchen beginners and the less confident or experienced cook, and, as long as you follow the simple steps given below you will find this a very easy, as well as extremely tasty, chicken recipe.

Notice I’m not giving precise weights and measurements here: if you’re a beginner, you may think you want closer guidance, but this kind of recipe is not like that.  How big are the chicken thighs?  Maybe the greengrocer has only monster onions and baby leeks and carrots.  Learn to think on your feet while at the shops, as well as at your chopping board.  Generally, if a recipe has called for four oz of diced carrot and my carrot produces five oz, well, it’s all going to go in the pot – after all, what am I going to otherwise do with an ounce of diced carrot?

Depending on the size of the available thighs, and the size of your appetite, you may want one or two per adult – I’ve given quantities for four thighs, but this is a very forgiving recipe, and the proportions of the  ingredients are completely adaptable to availability and your own tastes. The method here is more important to the finished result than exact proportions.

Easy Chicken Casserole: Ingredients

Four plump free-range chicken thighs
Two to four rashers of dry-cured smoked streaky bacon or pancetta (Italian smoked bacon), any gristly bits removed, sliced into thinnish strips, or two to four oz/55 to 115g smoked lardons (diced bacon)
One small to medium leek, rinsed well of grit, sliced into thin rings, discarding the tougher part of the green end
One small to medium onion, peeled, halved from stalk end to root, then sliced into semicircles to a similar width as the leeks
One or two carrots, peeled and cut into small dice or batons as you prefer
Four cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced in half
Two bay leaves and two sprigs of fresh thyme if you have them, or a couple of pinches of dried mixed herbs if that’s all you’ve got in the cupboard
Approximately half a pint/290ml/10fluid oz of chicken or vegetable stock, preferably fresh and home made, but good quality cubes or powder if you must, dissolved in boiling water to the above quantity
Enough white wine or vermouth (say half a glass) to deglaze the pan (see method)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

A tablespoon or so of oil for the initial frying

Easy Chicken Casserole: Method

Put a large, deep saucepan or similar (I use a cast iron pot) onto a medium to high heat on the stove top, and put in the diced bacon.  Stir frequently, until it is starting to go golden and some of its fat released: you may or may not have had to add a splash of the oil to help it along.  Adjust the heat as necessary if everything seems to be happening too quickly.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.  Add the oil, then put the chicken thighs in the pan.  Again, adjust the heat in you need to.  Using tongs, turn from time to time until the skin is golden brown – this will take around five to eight minutes, as we are not trying to cook the chicken here, just colour it and to get some of the lovely caramelisation flavours going.  Remove the chicken from the pan, and put to one side with the bacon.

Now add the vegetables, including the garlic, to the pan and allow them to soften a little and begin to go golden in the bacon and chicken flavoured oil – stir frequently.  Remember, we are looking for golden brown colouration, not black!

Once the veggies have cooked for five minutes or so, tip in the glass of wine or vermouth (or plain water or some of the stock, if you don’t like or don’t have the booze handy) and quickly stir up any of the flavoursome crusty bits from the bottom of the pan.  Before it quite boils dry, add the rest of the stock and the bacon pieces – the liquid should just cover the vegetables; add a little boiling water if needed.  Add the herbs and salt and pepper, stir well, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Bring back to the boil, add the chicken to the pan, cover with a lid, and bring the heat down to a gentle simmer.

After about eight minutes, give the vegetables a good stir, and turn the chicken so that the side that was in the liquid is now on top.  After another eight minutes, check the chicken for done-ness – either use a temperature probe thermometer to make sure the internal temperature at the thickest part is at least 75C/170F, or poke a skewer in and make sure that after ten seconds the tip is too hot to touch to your lip and/or the chicken juices run clear.  If the chicken is not cooked through, then pop back into the pan and check again every couple of minutes until it is ready.

The point of that last paragraph is that you have to make sure that chicken is cooked to a safe temperature, but only just – don’t overcook it.  It is a fallacy that meat cooked in stock will remain moist – not so: the juices from the meat are drawn out into the cooking liquids.

As soon as you are happy that the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the casserole to rest: cover with a (warmed) bowl or kitchen foil, and cover this with a cloth or towel to keep warm -  you will get a juicier, more tender result by doing this, and five minutes will do the trick on these cuts.

While the chicken is resting, check the rest of the casserole – if you think it is too liquid, (the vegetables will have released some of their own moisture) then bring to the boil, and allow to reduce.  Check for seasoning, then serve onto suitable plates or bowls, resting the chicken on top.

You may wish to cook some fresh veggies, such as broccoli or cauliflower, to go on the side, and serve with the carb of your choice: spuds done any way you like, noodles, rice or just chunks of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Ploughman’s Lunch: Recipe

The Ploughman’s Lunch as the term for what is essentially a meal of bread and cheese is not as ancient as many think. It was, in fact, coined by the Milk Marketing Board in Britain in the 1960’s as a promotional device to boost the sales of cheese, in which is was very successful. So, although the name conjures up bucolic images of a weatherbeaten ploughman letting his horse graze while he sits on a tree stump munching his lunch, washed down, no doubt, with a mug of ale or cider, the term is less than fifty years old.

Of course, people have been eating meals of bread and cheese since their invention, but the original Ploughman’s Lunch has a few “traditional” accompaniments and garnishes, and as a pub lunch throughout Britain today you will find many variations on the theme. Some Ploughman’s Lunches will be wonderful, some will be dire, and sadly too many will just be mediocre.

I wrote about how even a simple sandwich can be raised to the sublime in my first ever post as The Guerrilla Griller, “The Cheese Sandwich Concept” which you can read here. The same rules apply for your Ploughman’s Lunch: only use the really good ingredients (which does not have to mean the most expensive) – good bread, good cheese etc. Don’t buy plastic cheese and fluffy supermarket sliced bread: they aren’t saving you money, they’re ripping you off.

Ploughman’s Lunch: Recipe

(I find it a little odd calling it a recipe, as it’s more an assembly on a plate, but here’s the “proper” selection.)

Good Bread – a chunk of crusty baguette or good bakers bread
Butter (not gunky spread, and don’t pre-butter the bread)
Good Cheese – Cheddar, Caerphilly, Cheshire, Stilton, or a favourite local cheese from your part of the world. One, or no more than two, varieties on your plate – it’s not supposed to be a cheese board. Break or cut the cheese into good chunks, not measly slices.
Pickled Onions – only if you can get really good, tangy, crisp ones
Other Pickle – a dab on the side of the plate, or a couple of spoonfuls in a ramekin or similar. Any pickle you really enjoy, such as sweet pickle, piccalilli, pickled walnuts: whatever tickles your appetite.
A good crisp Apple

Optional Additions: (Use some, not all of these, or you’re basically making a cheese salad, which is fine if that’s what you fancy eating today, but won’t strictly be a Ploughman’s Lunch)

A tomato or two, quartered.  A spring onion/scallion, or a few thin slices of raw onion.  A stick of celery, sliced if you like.  Perhaps a few leaves of crisp lettuce.

Ploughman’s Lunch: Method

To be a true Ploughman’s Lunch, it should all be piled (sorry, attractively arranged) on one large plate per person. If you’re eating in company, I don’t think anyone would really mind if you put the bits in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves, but it’s not (ahem) “traditional”.

Variations on The Ploughman’s Lunch

As noted in the first paragraph, Ploughman’s Lunch was originally a marketing device for cheese, but travel the length and breadth of Britain, visiting many pubs as you go (good idea) and you will find Sausage Ploughman’s, Ham Ploughman’s, Roast Beef Ploughman’s, and somewhere probably a Chicken Tikka Masala Ploughman’s Lunch too. As long as you stick to the only truly important rule, which is to use really good ingredients, you’ll have a great meal. And Ploughman’s Lunch doesn’t have to just be for lunch – I’ve had Ploughman’s Breakfast, Ploughman’s Supper and Ploughman’s Midnight Snack before now.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Home Made Burger Recipes

Home Made Burger Recipes

If you are lucky enough to have a good, local butcher you may be able to buy high quality burgers “off the shelf,” so to speak.  More likely is that you buy your burgers from the supermarket chiller, or worse, from the freezer.  Burgers are very easy to make at home, giving you have total control of the ingredients, and thus the quality and flavour.  I am giving three home made burger recipes here, all using minced/ground beef, but you can of course use any meat you like, such as lamb, pork, chicken, rabbit or other game etc.  Do make sure to add some minced fatty meat, such as pork belly, if you use very lean meat as the basis of your burger; perhaps around ten percent of the total weight, otherwise your burgers will be too dry.

You can also add any herbs or other flavourings as you like to the mix.

You can form the burgers by hand, as in the first recipe, or buy moulds from caterer’s suppliers or kitchen shops.  I have managed over the years to accumulate a small collection of plastic lids from party-sized jars of peanuts etc which I use: one gives a pretty perfect quarter-pounder when packed tight.  Whatever mould you use, line it with cling film/kitchen wrap, leaving plenty of overhang.  Stuff it tight with your burger mix, complete the wrapping, tip out and re-line for the next one.

Although some people prefer their burgers quite rare, remember that with mince you are distributing the outside of the meat (where any bugs may lurk) right through the burger.  Better safe than sorry; cook thoroughly – if you’ve used good quality meat with a reasonable fat content, your burgers will remain succulent.

Simple and Easy Burger Recipe


Minced/ground beef (1lb/500g for four quarter pounders, for example)
Plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper
A little oil if frying or barbequing

Tip: to check that you have the seasoning correct, take a tiny portion of the finished mix, and fry it in a little oil.  It will only take a minute or so, then you can taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.  I like these burgers quite heavily seasoned, but it’s up to you.


Thoroughly mix the seasonings and meat.  Divide into four equal portions.  Shape by hand, firstly into balls, and then flatten them into a patty shape between your palms, tidying up the edges with your fingers if necessary.

Grill, pan fry in a little oil, or smear a little oil on them before barbequing.  I prefer to use a medium to high cooking temperature, so the outside are nicely caramelised/lightly charred by the time the burgers are cooked through: so, if you also like yours done this way, turn on your extractor and/or open your windows wide.

Use the highest quality bun you can find (or even chunks of crusty baguette): don’t spoil your lovely burgers with a cheap bun made of plastic fluff.

Chef’s Burgers

This recipe (and quantity) is the one we used when I worked in a fine-dining restaurant that also made lunches for the adjoining pub, where these burgers were very popular.  It makes around sixteen burgers, so is ideal if you are having a barbeque or similar (or run a pub with quality food!).  If not, adjust the quantity proportionally, or make the sixteen and freeze the ones you can’t use immediately.  Even frozen, these burgers will be far, far better than anything you can buy in the shops.


4lb/2kilo highest quality minced/ground beef/steak, not too lean
4oz/120g dry breadcrumbs, preferably home made
1 to 2 tablespoons to your taste of good made mustard, such as English or Dijon
1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup/catsup
2 eggs, beaten
Plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper


Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly.  Divide into sixteen by hand, or by using the mould as suggested in the introduction (doing it this way you may even get seventeen!).  Check for seasoning and cook as in the method for the Simple and Easy Burger recipe above.

Serve on a good bun with your choice of relish and sauces, perhaps with a side of chips/french fries and a salad.

Boeuf Hambourg or Bismark - Haute Cuisine Burgers

This recipe is lifted directly from the English language edition of “Le Repertoire de la Cuisine”, the guide to the cuisine of Escoffier and the French Classical Kitchen.  This extraordinary little book contains the instructions for over 6000 dishes in a tight, concise form and is sometimes known as the Chef’s Bible.  It is certainly worth seeking out a copy; although it may take time for the non-professional to get their head around some of the instructions, it tells you exactly how to create pretty much every classic dish you have ever heard of.  It is especially useful for its first section “Fonds De Cuisine” which explains all the basic foundations, stocks and sauces.

I was quite surprised to find what is essentially a burger recipe in there, but here it is, verbatim.

(Beef) “Hambourg, or Bismark.  Chopped raw, seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Add raw egg, chopped onion tossed in butter, mix together, divided and shape like a Tournedos, flour and cook in clarified butter.”

That’s all there is: you can see what I mean by tight and concise.  It is pretty easy to follow, even for the non-professional, but here’s a few hints and tips from me.

This is not supposed to be made with standard butcher’s minced/ground beef, but rather with a good quality steak such as rump, trimmed of gristle, tendon and excess fat, minced by hand with a very sharp knife until you have extremely fine dice.

If using, for example, 1lb/500g of steak (trimmed weight), I would use at most 1oz/25g very finely diced onion, gently softened/sweated in a pan with a little butter until it begins to go golden – don’t allow the butter or onion to burn; a dash of plain oil in the pan helps here.

For this quantity, I would use no more than half a beaten standard egg (no, I don’t know what you’re going to do with the other half an egg, either) or the finished burger will become spongy.

To clarify butter:  gently melt butter (eg 4oz/120g/1 stick) in a pan on the stove top, or even in a jug in the microwave.  Remember the word “gently” – we are just melting it, not cooking it.  The solids will fall to the bottom.  Carefully tip off or otherwise decant the clear liquid – this is clarified butter.  Discard the solids.  Clarified butter will heat to a higher temperature without burning, and gives a cleaner, but still buttery, taste to the dish.

And as for “Tournedos” – well, that’s burger-shaped to you and me.

If you are going to attempt this recipe, then do follow it exactly, only making adjustments in proportion if you are using different quantities; don’t, for example, substitute oil for the clarified butter, because it seems too much fuss.  The whole point of classic recipes is that they are followed EXACTLY – it is the tiny little twists, followed to the letter, that make the dish what it is.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Smoked Salmon Pate Recipe

Smoked Salmon Pate Recipe

This Smoked Salmon Pate recipe is very easy, and the result is quite delicious.  Serve as a starter for a dinner party, or just keep in the fridge to spread on toast for a light lunch or supper.

Do buy good quality ethically sourced smoked salmon: it’s not as expensive as it was, as most is now made with farmed salmon, but you can make the recipe even more economical by buying smoked salmon offcuts, which are usually available from fishmongers, deli counters, and supermarkets.

You will need a blender or food processor, and a suitable mould such as a small terrine, or you could use individual ramekins or similar for portion-sized servings.  You will also need some clingfilm/plastic wrap to line the moulds.

Smoked Salmon Pate: ingredients.

8oz/225g smoked salmon
4oz/120g butter (preferably unsalted)
3oz/100g cream cheese
Grated zest of a lemon, plus a few drops of the juice (too much, and the pate will not set)
A pinch or two of dried dill weed (to your preference)
A good grind or two of black pepper (to taste)
A drop or two of red food colouring (optional)

You shouldn’t need any salt, as it will already be present in the smoked salmon.

Smoked Salmon Pate Recipe: method

Whiz the salmon in a food processor until you have achieved the texture you like.  I prefer mine to be not quite a smooth paste, but it’s up to you.  Melt the butter, either in a pan or in the microwave: it should be just liquefied, but not “cooked”.  Add the butter with the cream cheese and all the other ingredients and blend until thoroughly mixed  (The red food colouring is optional, but the pate can look a little pale without it).  Taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary.

Line the mould(s) with clingfilm/plastic wrap, leaving plenty of margin overhanging.  Fill the mould(s) with the pate and smooth down with a palette knife or the back of a spoon.  Complete the wrapping with the overhanging bits of film, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Once the pate has set, you can tip it out of the mould and cut into slices as you like, or you can just spoon it out and spread it on your bread or toast.