I love roast beef. I’m a bit slapdash when cooking it, but I always use the same timings and it always turns out okay for me. This step-by-step works whether you’re intending to cook a full-on roast dinner, or make the warm salad with Thai flavours that I’ve made here.
I still feel the urge to cook a ‘proper’ Sunday lunch, even though a full on roast dinner seems a bit at odds with the time of year (although it seems to have done nothing but rain recently). This tomato-based braised beef feels a bit lighter than my normal beef stew and dumplings, especially with the addition of some spring greens just before the end of cooking.
Continuing with my new menu planning obsession (honestly, it’s saving me A FORTUNE – I’ve got my favourites saved on the online shopping app and I just tweak it every week, then buy the odd bit of fresh stuff from the farmer’s market or my fab local farm shop), I thought I’d share another of my staple ingredients: puff pastry. I do quite like making puff pastry (well, rough puff), but there’s certainly no shame in using ready made, and a pack of all butter puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the fridge to make tarts, pies and much more.
Oh the rain! I just think it’s gone away and it comes back again. The pupster pings around the house like a lunatic if she doesn’t get out an about so it’s wellies and hat on and out into the wet and cold I go.
Of course, this calls for a comforting, winter dinner (any excuse) and what better than a scrummy toad in the hole with lashings of onion gravy.
If you’re looking for an easy Christmas eve supper, or something yummy to serve with drinks when you have guests, look no further than very simple to throw together sausage roll recipe. The filling is my easy apple and red onion stuffing, which can be baked separately and served along with your turkey, but also makes a lovely, moist filling for pies and these easy sausage rolls. So first, make the stuffing:
Easy apple and red onion stuffing:
(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)
225g pork sausage meat (or you can use the innards of sausages)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
375g pack ready to roll puff pastry
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice.
Now, grab a nice pack of all butter puff pastry (life’s too short to make your own, I find, although if you really want to, I’ve got a rough puff recipe here which isn’t too labour intensive).
Roll the puff pastry out to a nice big rectangle (you need the thickness to be about 1/2 cm), then squish your sausagemeat down the middle in a big fat sausage.
Now, brush the edges with beaten egg, then flap the first edge over the sausagemeat. Brush that one with egg again, then fold over the second flap, so you’ve created one big, long sausage roll. Turn that roll over so that the seam is at the bottom. For a supper dish, it’s nice to keep it whole and slice at the table, but if you’re wanting individual bite-sized ones for a party, cut them now with a serrated edged knife, then score the top and brush with egg.
Bake at gas 4/180 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown and crispy. If you’re cutting your sausage into individual pieces, they’ll only take about 20 minutes.
If you’re a regular reader, I’m sure you’ll have seen these Lean on Turkey challenges before. I’ve done quite a few and I’m delighted that the campaign recently won ‘Best Use of Digital’ at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Pride Awards. The campaign supports British turkey farmers to show you how versatile, healthy and tasty turkey can be. Of course it’s not just for Christmas, but it’s getting to that time of year and Christmas isn’t Christmas without turkey. The challenge this time was to come up with a creative way to use turkey leftovers.
This pilaf recipe is based on one I use quite a lot, with the addition of some lovely Christmassy spices and some festive chestnuts. Bart do a lovely mix that’s all ready to go called ‘Pilau’ which is perfect for this, but if you can’t find it, try 1tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp turmeric and a couple of cloves (don’t forget to fish them out before you serve). It’s a really easy, tasty one pot wonder. I do hope you’ll give it a go.
Turkey and chestnut pilaf
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Generous pinch of salt
3 tsp Bart pilau spice
1 or 2 bay leaves
Leftover roast turkey, shredded
Chestnuts 200g vacuum packed (reserve a couple for garnish)
1 litre chicken stock (or leftover gravy, diluted)
300g brown or white Basmati rice, well rinsed
To garnish: crumbled chestnuts and a handful of fresh coriander or parsley
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until translucent, adding in the salt at this stage. Add in the spice and bay leaves and cook gently – you’ll start to get a whiff of the lovely aromas. Throw in the turkey and chestnuts and stir gently until everything is coated in the spices.
Take out the bay leaves and add in the rice and chicken stock (I use a generous amount as we like our pilaf with a bit of ‘sauce’. If you like your rice drier, keep to about 750ml stock). Stir well and cover. Turn the heat right down and leave to cook for about 30 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Try not to keep lifting the lid as you want to keep all the steam inside. Fork the pilaf through to fluff up the rice, then keep it covered until you’re ready to serve. Throw in a handful of frozen peas if you like, for added colour and freshness.
Just before serving, sprinkle over the reserved chestnuts and coriander.
My shopping list:
From the store cupboard:
Salt, bay leaves, stock cube
1 onion, 28p
Bart Pilau spice mix: £4.00 (obviously you’ll get to reuse this)
Chestnuts 200g vacuum packed £2.25
Brown Basmati rice, well rinsed (1kg bag) £2.99
Fresh coriander: 95p
From the freezer:
Total: £10.19 (slightly over but you can obviously use the rice and spice mix for many more meals)
Cooking time: About 40 minutes including prep and baking time.
For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk
I’ve recently teamed up with Farmer’s Choice, the online butchers, green grocers and deli to help create a new recipe section on their website. Farmer’s Choice deliver free range, British meat and produce to homes across the UK and they’re keen to provide inspirational, quick and healthy recipes to their customers.
For my first recipe, Farmer’s Choice challenged me to do something creative with chicken, and I’ve started with pilaf, a popular Middle Eastern rice dish that appears in many forms across many countries and cultures. It’s an easy, one-pot way of cooking and is great for warm weather eating as all it needs as an accompaniment is a green leafy salad. It’s also an easy way to feed a crowd and you can strew it with golden raisins, or chopped apricots to make it even prettier too.
You can find this, the first of many recipes I hope – on my author page, plus lots more recipe inspiration from my fellow food-lovers!
Click here for my full saffron chicken pilaf recipe.
I’ve done a few of these Lean on Turkey challenges now, supporting our hard-working British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is. The next challenge, just in time for the school holidays, is to create a recipe using fresh turkey that’s perfect for kids and picnics.
The main requirement for a picnic is that whatever you take has to be portable. We’re lazy picnickers, which generally means we don’t faff about with loads of things in bowls requiring cutlery. Puff pastry is a brilliant base for loads of different toppings and this turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart is very easy to transport, slice and eat with the miminum of fuss! Here, I’ve used pesto, but any leftover sauce will work just as well, so if you’ve got a bit of leftover pizza sauce, try that too. We’ve also tried this recipe with feta and it was scrummy.
Turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart
500g British turkey fillets
100g baby plum tomatoes
1 ball mozzarella (or 100g feta)
3 tbsp pesto
Ready rolled puff pastry sheet
Cut the turkey into smallish chunks and pop them into a bowl, then halve the tomatoes and add them in.
Chop the mozzarella into similar-sized chunks and pop them in with the turkey and tomatoes.
Measure out 3 tbsp pesto and add this to the bowl along with a good grating of lemon zest and a squeeze of the juice. Season well (if using feta, go steady with the salt).
Stir it all together and leave to marinate for a while in the fridge while you sort out the pastry.
Unroll the pastry straight onto a baking tray and cut around the edge, gently, about an inch in all the way round (don’t cut all the way through!).
Pile the turkey mixture onto the puff pastry, keeping the edge free. Brush this edge with a little egg wash if you like, just to give it a nice shine.
Bake at 200 degrees, gas 7 for about 20 minutes until the turkey is cooked and the puff pastry is nice and brown. Transport to your chosen picnic spot just as it is, covered in foil, or cool, slice and place into a storage container.
My shopping list:
From the store cupboard:
From the fruit bowl:
British turkey fillets (£5.35)
275g baby plum tomatoes (£1.99)
1 ball mozzarella (95p)
320g ready rolled puff pastry sheet (£ 1.50)
Cooking time: About 30 minutes including prep and baking time.
For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk
This last week of term is such a slog isn’t it? We’re looking forward to a summer of travel: sunbathing, restaurants, al fresco eating and fun in the sun. I’ve slightly scuppered Sam’s plans to get away with his friends by booking us back-to-back on various trips right up until September. Still, not the worst thing a mother could do, I’m sure. They’re trying to squeeze in a group trip to Skiathos, where one of their friends has family with a hotel, which, judging by the photos, is absolutely beautiful. To make him feel better, I made him a lovely Greek-inspired dinner:
Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 level teaspoon sea salt
1 or 2 cloves garlic
2 slices bread, cut into cubes then soaked in a little milk
500g minced lamb
Salt and pepper
With a pestle and mortar, grind the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, salt and garlic into a paste. Fish out the bread – don’t squeeze it too hard, but too much excess milk will make it a bit sloppy, making it impossible to stick on the skewers – then add it in and squish (technical term) until combined.
Put the lamb in a large bowl, add the spice/bread mixture and the egg, plus the salt and pepper.
With clean hands, squish the mixture together well.
Squish the mixture around some metal skewers in a rough sausage shape. Grill (or barbecue) until golden on the outside (the metal skewer will ensure that the middle is cooked through) – about 10 – 15 minutes should do it, depending on the heat of your grill.
Quick and easy coriander hummus
Hummus is quick and easy although I recently saw Simon Hopkinson painstakingly taking the skin off every single chickpea before making it (go ahead if you’re that way inclined!):
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic (I sometimes cut out the garlic and just use a good quality garlic oil instead)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
Handful of chopped mint or coriander
Paprika to garnish
So just whizz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt up with a stick blender, glugging in enough oil to loosen the mixture. If you like it a bit runnier, feel free to add a couple of tbsp water. Stir in the chopped coriander and serve sprinkled with paprika and maybe a swirl of oil.
About 1/2 cucumber, deseeded and grated
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 pot thick Greek yogurt
Mint leaves, chopped
I don’t mind the peel on the cucumber, but it’s a bit much iFirst, make sure that you’ve
This morning the postie knocked on the door and handed me a weird, squishy parcel. Intrigued, I ferreted around, removing several layers of packaging until – finally – arriving at the rather pleasing contents: four beautiful looking (and perfectly packaged) 21 day aged rib eye steaks, courtesy of the lovely chaps at Farmers Choice.
I find that steak is a bit ‘Marmitey’. You either absolutely adore it, or you’re not really that keen. Sometimes I wonder if the people that aren’t that keen are the ones that have had a grey slab of chewy, leathery well done steak in their past. How else could you explain such take-it-or-leave-it-ness about such a cracking, and frankly delicious, piece of meat?
Everyone cooks steak differently, but here’s my guide to cooking your perfect steak.
First things first: start with your steaks at room temperature. Rub them very sparingly with oil (I use rapeseed – just enough so they don’t stick) and sprinkle generously with lovely sea salt and black pepper. Get your (dry) pan really hot – this is an excellent way to get the delicious caramelised crust (the best bit).
Pop the steak into your hot pan (hear that sizzle? yeah, now we’re cooking) and press it down with your spatula for a minute to encourage that delicious crust to form. Flip it over and do the same with the other side.
Rare, medium-rare, medium or well done?
I’m not telling you what to eat, or indeed how to eat, but honestly, a well done steak just isn’t brilliant. If you absolutely love it and you feel your jaw’s happy with the amount of chewing a well done steak necessitates, then go you.
Generally, we aim for medium-rare: not bloody and oozing, but soft and pink in the middle. Because I don’t pay attention in the kitchen – especially if I’m on the wine – we often end up with steaks of various different stages of doneness and then engage in a mad plate-swapping thing at the table until we’ve all got our perfect steak. It’s a difficult thing to judge, but it’s best to do it with your finger. Keep pushing on it – as it cooks it will firm up. Very squishy, like marshmallow, and your steak is rare – rock hard and your steak is well done. You need to aim for something in the middle.
Some people advocate that weird thing where you put your index finger and your thumb together and feel the fleshy bit at the bottom of your thumb – the thinking being that as you move through the fingers from index to little finger, the squishiness roughly equates to rare, medium rare, medium and well done being your little finger. I can’t do that. Remember, you’re not cooking in a restaurant. If you feel the need to cut into the steak and have a look, do it. Rather that then get it wrong and waste your beautiful steak.
Resting the meat (the science bit)
Once your steak’s perfect, remove it to a warm plate and cover it with foil to rest. *Science klaxon* this is the bit that makes it tender as it allows the fibres in the meat to relax, and redistribute all the juices that have been forced to the centre of the steak by the fibres nearest the heat contracting. At least five minutes, but ten is perfect.
A quick pepper ‘pan’ sauce
In the meantime, slosh a bit of stock (it’s really handy if you keep an ice cube tray in the freezer full of stock – you can just use one or two cubes) and a slug of cream into your pan and add a bit more pepper. At the last minute, add the resting juices from the meat too.
Serve with the sauce and – our favourite – some oven baked sweet potato wedges – add a crisp green salad, or some green beans and it’s really all you need.
And the verdict on the Farmers Choice steaks? Absolutely spot on. A good marbling of fat through the meat, a lovely deep red colour and creamy coloured fat at the edges. They cooked beautifully and were absolutely delicious.
Click here to check out the selection of steaks at Farmers Choice
So summer is finally creeping up on us (I definitely saw the sun at least twice last week), and, with some fabulous fresh veg popping up in our local farm shop (I can’t resist a glossy aubergine), I felt it was time to dust off one of my favourite summer essentials: the barbecue skewer. It’s handy to have meat in the freezer (I often bulk buy meat online from Farmer’s Choice – the selection is incredible and the packs are very good value) that way, you can take it out to defrost if you wake up and it’s a sunny morning.
I favour the evil, pointy metal variety, especially when cooking meat as they do ensure that the meat is cooked through the middle – something always worth paying attention to when barbecuing. This barbecue sauce recipe is an old favourite and very easy to make. Once it’s cooked, split the quantity in half, so you can use half as a sauce at the table and half to marinade the meat as it cooks:
For the barbecue sauce/marinade:
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- About 1 tsp fresh ginger
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 4 tbsps runny honey
- 2 tbsps brown sugar
- 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsps soy sauce
- 4 tbsps tomato ketchup
- Pinch dried chilli
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
Add the oil into a saucepan, and gently fry the onion until it’s starting to go a bit translucent. Grate in the ginger (I keep my ginger in the freezer and grate it straight in), then just add in all the other ingredients. Let it simmer and thicken slightly, then reserve half for serving at the table.
For the skewers:
2 large chicken breasts
2 sweet potatoes
1 red onion
I find it’s best to give the sweet potatoes a quick blanch first, otherwise you can find that they’re a bit hard to thread onto a skewer without breaking.
Cut the rest of the ingredients into big chunks, then thread them randomly onto the skewers – pushing everything together so that everyone gets a generous portion.
Brush the skewers well with the marinade, on both sides, then place onto the barbecue or under a medium grill. Keep basting and turning until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are starting to char.
Serve with the other half of the barbecue sauce (throw the remaining marinade away) and fresh salad. Oh, and if the sun doesn’t come out? A baked potato wouldn’t go amiss.
I’ve done a few of these Lean on Turkey challenges now, supporting our fabulous British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is. The first challenge for 2013 is ‘pizza and pasta’ and I just had to go with pizza as, with a houseful of teenagers, it’s a bit of a staple.
This pizza went down so well it’s been requested again already and has affectionately become known as the ‘jurkey’ pizza. The best thing about pizza is that you can personalise it, so if you want, you can jazz it up with peppers, red onions… even jalapenos if you’re a real spice-fiend.
You can buy pizza bases, but it’s really easy to make your own, so I’ve done a little step by step in case you haven’t done it before.
Likewise with the tomato sauce. It’s so easy to do, it’s almost not worth buying it.
Here’s how to do it:
For the pizza base:
- 350g strong white bread flour
- 1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 2-3 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 225ml warm water
Put the flour, yeast and salt into a bowl. Mix 2 tbsp oil and the warm water together. Add the water to the flour, bringing it together until you get a soft dough. You might not need all the water so don’t just chuck it all in.
Now, you can either roll your sleeves up and knead it by hand (it’ll need about 10 minutes), or you can put it in the food mixer with a dough hook and it’ll take about five minutes.
Rub some oil round a clean bowl and pop in the dough. Roll it around a bit, then cover it (I use a hotel shower cap, which I nick on a regular basis to refresh my supply) or just use clingfilm. Pop it in the airing cupboard or somewhere warm for about an hour or until it’s doubled in size.
While it’s rising, make the tomato sauce:
- 1 red onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 2tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes
So just chop up the onion and pop it into a saucepan with a slug of oil. Sprinkle the salt over the onion then cook it gently until it’s translucent. Add in the sugar, red wine vinegar and tomatoes and cook it gently until it’s thick. If you’ve got fussy ones you might need to give it a quick whizz in the blender to get it smooth.
For the toppings:
- 1 pack turkey breast steaks
- 1 ball Mozzarella cheese, grated
- Small amount of Parmesan, if liked
- Smoked streaky bacon, chopped
To make the jerk chicken, just slice the turkey thinly, then fry in a little oil. Sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons of jerk seasoning and cook until just opaque (remember it’s going to get a good blast in the oven).
Now, get the dough back and punch it down, then divide it in two and roll each one out until it’s nice and thin. It’s easier to pop it onto a floured baking sheet, then add the toppings from there. Remember to pre-heat your oven as high as it will go.
Spoon the tomato sauce over, then add your toppings: grated Mozzarella, snipped bacon, pieces of turkey, and anything else you fancy, then just pop into a hot oven. Watch the pizza as it cooks quite quickly – 10 – 15 minutes should do it.
Serve with a salad and maybe some coleslaw, and that’s all there is to it!
My shopping list:
From the store cupboard:
Red wine vinegar
From the fridge:
Yeast: 98p (for six sachets, so about 16p)
Tin Napolina tomatoes: £1.25
Waitrose Essential turkey breast steaks (450g) £4.59
Waitrose Essential smoked streaky British bacon £2.39
Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes including prep and rising time.
For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk
Well, it was a mental weekend, what with the boy’s 18th birthday party, then dinner out with friends on Saturday followed by waiting up until 1am to pick Sam up from doing the bar at a local event. Knackered doesn’t even cover it. Sunday dinner, then, was a chilled affair – luckily I’d remembered to defrost the racks of lamb that I took home from the Asda meat masterclass so we had roast rack of lamb, rubbed with a little garlic, just served simply with some veggies and some little rosemary roasted potatoes.
Rack of lamb is the easiest thing ever. The butcher will trim it all up for you, then it’s just a case of scoring the skin in a criss cross pattern, then squishing some garlic with a pestle and mortar and adding whatever you’ve got handy: rosemary, mint, parsley, anchovies, capers, etc in with a glug of olive oil to make a thick paste. Rub this all over the meat and whack it into a really hot oven. Turn it down to 200/gas 6 and leave it for about 20 minutes if you like your meat pink, 30 if you like it more well done. (If you’re less lazy then me, you can crisp that skin up by pressing it into a hot pan before it goes in the oven, but we don’t eat it, so I don’t bother).
If you’re clever, you can boil some cubed potatoes (about ten minutes is enough), toss them in olive oil and rosemary while they’re still hot and chuck them in at the same time as the lamb. It will all be ready by the time the lamb’s had a little rest. Easy peasy. Now for a nice quiet week…
So this week I was lucky enough to be invited up to Asda House in Leeds for a meat masterclass just in time for Easter, with the amazing (and rather Sean Bean-like) Jim Viggars, 30 year Asda veteran and the supermarket’s Head of Meat Quality.
We started with drinks and nibbles (well, Laura and I actually started by trying to check in to the wrong hotel – turns out there are two Hiltons in Leeds city centre – but that’s another story). I was impressed by the red wines on offer, both from Asda’s Wine Selection: a rather delicious Argentinian Malbec and a beautiful, deep purple Marques del Norte Rioja, both full of fruit and perfect with roasted meat. Next, it was in to Asda House’s very impressive new demonstration kitchens for a full-on masterclass on lamb:
Jim talked us through Asda’s buying process – what they look for in lambs, how old they should be, their quality standards and how they support farmers, etc, before going on to demonstrate a fabulous recipe for a leg of lamb: criss crossed, spiked with shards of garlic, and – preferably – slow roasted with loads of rosemary. You can buy this leg of lamb in store this Easter for a tenner, which we thought was really good value. We had a little prep competition – here’s my (ahem) prize-winning leg:
Jim also taught us how to prepare a French cut rack of lamb. Asda trim the bones of these slightly as they add weight but nothing else of benefit, which I thought was a nice touch to keep costs down. Here’s Laura demonstrating how to cut between the bones, complete with her chainmail glove and EVIL boning knife (I managed to cut myself twice, even with the chainmail):
Jim also hefted a lump of beef the size of which you’ve never seen before in your life onto the demonstration area, and showed us how you would divide it into different cuts. I didn’t take any notes, being somewhat hindered by chainmail, a slab of lamb, and a very sharp knife, but you’ll have to take my word for the fact that Asda are thinking creatively and providing meat cut in different ways that prove better value AND quality. They’ve also removed a lot of their products which they thought weren’t giving good value and/or quality for whatever reason. We were impressed.
Next it was into the demo kitchen to visit Head Inspiration Chef, Mark Richmond, who talked us through cooking the ultimate Easter roast. Mark had some really clever ideas, including pre-prepping shallots and garlic in oil to make for a easy base for loads of different sauces. Mark used this base with chopped fresh green herbs and – interestingly – a sprinkle of lavender, which was surprisingly delicious. He also showed us some easy vegetable dishes to complement the roast lamb, including a luscious carrot and squash mash made with fresh carrot juice instead of water, really bringing out the sweet carrot flavour of the dish. He also showed us a delicious dauphinoise potato dish and a delicious roast cauliflower with a tomato sauce. After all this concentration, we were well ready to sit down and feast upon all the scrummy stuff that Mark had shown us.
Indeed, instead of hitting the town as planned, we ended up waddling back to the hotel and conking out. The sign of a good evening, I’d say.
Massive thanks to Asda for looking after us and for the ENORMOUS delivery of meat I received the next day! Click here for more information on Asda’s butcher’s selection.
Click here for my recipe for slow roasted garlicky leg of lamb with rosemary potatoes. Perfect for Easter!
So when I was in Jamaica on our Royal Caribbean cruise (I’m never going to tire of saying that), we spent a fabulous day riding horses around old plantation land and – amazingly – into the sea. After we’d dismounted (walking, it must be said, a bit like we’d soiled ourselves), we were served amazing spicy Jamaican jerk chicken, with rice and beans. Delicious.
Keen to recreate it at home, we popped into the little Jamaican food shop at Falmouth port to score some jerk seasoning. I came away with this little beauty:
Of course this recipe is really going to come into its own once it’s barbecue season again (I’ve got my eye on a new gas bbq from John Lewis for the summer). Jerk chicken gets a lot of its smoky flavour and deliciously crusty exterior from being grilled over the barby.
I’ve used breast here as I was slicing it into wraps with salad (and mayo mixed with the jerk sauce that I also brought home – too darned hot to use it on its own), but feel free to use the dark meat or, indeed a whole chicken either spatchcocked or cut into portions.
I often marinate chicken before cooking in buttermilk or yoghurt – left for half an hour or so before cooking, it tenderises the chicken and leaves it deliciously moist. Oh, and if you don’t have buttermilk, don’t despair. Use milk and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. A quick stir, et voila, buttermilk.
250ml buttermilk (or milk + lemon juice)
4 pieces of chicken (breast, leg, whatever)
So firstly, if you’re using chicken legs, it’s best to get rid of the skin as you lose half the flavour if you don’t eat it. With chicken breasts, just drop them straight in to the buttermilk with a pinch of salt. Leave the chicken marinating for about half an hour. Preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.
Fish the chicken out and place on a baking tray. Sprinkle liberally with the spice, remembering to do both sides. If some of the chicken breasts are very thick, it’s worth slashing them a couple of times with a knife so that they all cook at the same time.
Cook for about 25 minutes (make sure you cut into them to make sure they’re cooked through before you serve). If barbecuing, I’d probably give them 40 minutes.
Of course if you don’t have jerk seasoning, this recipe works really well with other spices too: look out for different rubs and coatings (Cajun, curry… whatever), or make your own – there are loads of recipes for spice rubs online. I have cupboards stuffed with all sorts of herbs, spices and flavourings at the moment but will soon be investing in the convenience of a spice rack to sort myself out.
Oh, and while I’m here, I’d just like to say that if you ever get any leftover Parmesan going a bit hard or whatever, whizz it in the processor, or grate it and stash it in the freezer. Do the same with bread, and stash in the same bag. Then, instead of spices after the buttermilk marinade, you can push your chicken into the cheesy breadcrumbs, bake, and parmesan chicken can be yours.
(By all means skip the waffle and scroll down for the recipe)
It’s my fervent wish that when my offspring finally leave the nest and head out into the wide world, they will be able to feed themselves. I’m not talking pot noodles here either – I’m just talking about good, basic food. Recently, we were watching the Comic Relief version of the Great British Bakeoff and one of the challenges was lemon meringue pie. ‘Pfft’, muttered my youngest from behind the screen of his laptop, ‘easy’. Because the thing is, he’s done it before – yes, with me helping, (and I’m not for one second bigging them up, here – they’re the laziest sods ever, and I tend to be quite stabby in the kitchen, I like my space) but they’ve done enough cooking (even if a large percentage of that is getting the munchies and making themselves chocolate brownies) to know their way round the kitchen and – more importantly – be able to follow a recipe.
So, if you’re kitchen-phobic, new to this cooking lark, or just plain curious to see how someone else makes it, here’s a step by step guide to one of the best basics you’ll learn. From here, the world is your oyster.
Moving on from cottage pie
Stir in a tin of tomatoes and a tablespoon of tomato purée and you’re well on the way to spaghetti bolognese (and not far at all from lasagne). With the tomatoey version, add a tablespoon of chilli powder while you’re cooking the onions, maybe a finely chopped red pepper, and a tin of kidney beans five minutes before the end of cooking, et voila, chilli con carne. Oh, and if you use lamb mince, then you’ve made shepherd’s pie – so there’s another one to add to your repertoire right there.
Personalising your pie
Loads of recipes start by frying the onions, a couple of chopped carrots and maybe a stick or two of celery, also chopped. But I think the carrots are too ‘mushy’ after the 45 minutes cooking time, so I just serve carrots with it. Personal preference is king – if you want to chuck them in with the onions, feel free. You can also add a tablespoon of tomato purée… tomato ketchup… Worcester sauce… have a fiddle until you find the flavours you like.
Buying your mince
As usual, buy the best mince that you can afford, but don’t buy stuff that’s too lean – you need a bit of fat in there for flavour AND texture.
Easy Cottage Pie
1-2 tablespoons oil (I use rapeseed)
1 large onion, finely chopped
500g minced beef
1 tablespoon plain flour
About 300g beef stock (cube is fine)
For the mash:
About 1kg floury potatoes
Butter and milk
First, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and sort out an ovenproof dish to hold your pie.
It’s actually easiest to start with the potatoes, so get them peeled, chopped and cut into even chunks and put them in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water, add a teaspoon or two of salt, and get them on the heat. Bring them to the boil while you’re cooking the mince, then turn down to a simmer.
For the mince, start with a heavy based frying pan. Add the oil, then pop in the chopped onion (plus carrot and celery if you’re using them). When the onions start to soften (they don’t need to brown) add in the mince, breaking it up and stirring it around. Colour equals flavour here so try and get it nice and brown.
Give the mince a season with some salt and pepper, then sprinkle over the flour – this will thicken the finished gravy. Stir this round to cook out the ‘raw’ taste of the flour. Add in a few dashes of Worcester sauce here if you fancy it. Stir in the stock, then transfer the meat to the dish.
Now, drain the potatoes and mash them well, adding a couple of knobs of butter and a good slosh of milk. Pile the mash on top of the mince and level the top. Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is lovely a crisp and brown.
Mince really does need this cooking time as otherwise it can be a bit chewy, which is often where people go wrong with a shepherd’s pie – bunging the mash on and serving it straight away. In fact, English Dad’s famous ‘dad mince’ (the only thing he ever cooks, and only when I’m away) gets a good couple of hours in the oven, and is deliciously tender and savoury as a result.
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