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.