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.

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.