Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Cottage Pie

Cottage pie, not to be confused with shepherds pie (which is made with lamb - hence the shepherd) is a Great British Classic, always good as comfort food and to warm you up on a dull grey day. It is fairly simple to make, but can take a while. The trick is to get the potatoes on and boiling and then make the meaty sauce filling, so making the best use of your time.

There are many variations of this recipe, some with veg in, some just meat, some people add baked beans or tinned tomatoes. This is how I like it!


  • 2 onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 500 g minced beef
  • 3 tablespoons beef gravy granules
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 200 mL water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 long runner beans, topped, tailed and sliced
  • 500 g potatoes - peeled
  • Butter for mashing
  • Milk for mashing
  • Strong cheddar cheese for grating on top
  • 1 leek
First of all start by peeling the potatoes, chop them smaller if needed, and boil in salted water until cooked.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Whilst the spuds are cooking, heat the oil in a large pan on a medium-high heat, then fry the chopped onions and garlic for 2 minutes, then add the peeled chopped carrots and fry for another 2 minutes.

Now add the minced beef, and cook until browned. Sprinkle on the gravy granules and mix around well. There will be plenty of juices from the meat to mix this in with. Add in the water and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, adding the sliced beans just before turning off the heat. The sauce should look juicy yet thick, if not then reduce for a further few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, you may not need much salt if the gravy granules you used were already salted.

Pour into a baking dish like this:

Now, if you have timed this right, the potatoes should be cooked about now, so drain them, season, add the butter and milk, and mash. Be quite generous with the milk and butter as you want nice smooth, creamy mash for spreading on top of the meat filling.

When putting the mashed potato on top, you can either pipe it on, or spoon it on top. I usually just spoon it on with a spatula, building it up from around the edges of the dish, like below:

Now slice and chop the leeks. Place in a colander and rinse well under the tap. I find this is the easiest way to wash a leek, the alternative is to slice it lengthways half way through and then fan open the leaves and rinse under the tap, but I find it easier to clean the leek with it all sliced up first, like this:

Sprinkle the leeks on top of the pie, then season with salt and pepper on the top, and sprinkle the whole lot generously with grated cheese.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the leeks start to brown.

Serve straight away, no vegetables needed on the side since they are all in the pie. There should be enough for 4 people, but this will keep well in the fridge or freezer as well if you can't eat the whole lot in one sitting.

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Sunday, 27 April 2008

Prawn and Mushroom Bhuna

I do not normally eat mushrooms or prawns as my girlfriend hates them, she says mushrooms are slimy and prawns have a horrible texture, and I can't persuade her otherwise. As she is away tonight, I decided to cook a recipe with both of them in, and found this one for a prawn and mushroom bhuna, the blog it is taken from is an interesting collection of food recipes, and musings on the journey on the Number 79 bus the writer takes daily and such bizarre things as a video of him driving up a ramp to a car park in Slough!

Anyway, back to the food! I followed the recipe almost exactly so I won't regurgitate it here. The only changes I made were I used 4 fresh chillies, 2 cloves of garlic and a knob of fresh ginger instead of the frozen pastes. I also used fresh uncooked prawns and just let them cook a bit longer than the pre-cooked ones.

This is the result - it was very fiery as expected and worth cooking again!

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Thursday, 24 April 2008

Warm Trout, Beetroot and Orange Salad

This is a recipe of my own invention, and it worked out pretty well. I have had orange and beetroot in a salad before, and the addition of trout with it added a further fishy dimension.

  • 2 trout fillets
  • 500 g new potatoes1 pack fresh beetroot
  • 1 orange
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Handful flaked almonds
  • Salt and pepper

Cut the potatoes into bite size chunks and cook according to your usual method.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking chop all the beetroot, orange, tomatoes and cucumber up into bite size chunks and put in a bowl together with some salt and pepper and the olive oil and vinegar. Do not mix them together at this stage.

Cook the trout under a hot grill, skin side up, for about 3 or 4 minutes, until it is just cooked.

Drain the cooked potatoes and while still hot, mix with the rest of the salad vegetables.

Flake the trout over the top of the salad and then sprinkle with the ground almonds.

Serve straight away whilst the potatoes and trout are still hot.

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Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Minced Beef and Potato Curry

This curry is my version of a traditional Pakistani curry known as a keema. It is often made with minced lamb, but I have used beef in this one.

It is a great meal as it is all made in one pan, no need for cooking rice or vegetables on the side. I was going to put peas in it today, but instead used green runner beans as they were on Buy One Get One Free in the supermarket. Any green vegetables like peas or mange tout would work well in this dish.


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions - chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic - chopped
  • 4 hot green chillies - chopped with seeds in for extra heat
  • 1 small lump fresh ginger - chopped finely or grated
  • 500 g minced beef
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried coriander
  • 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 500 g new potatoes - quartered
  • 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 3 carrots - chopped
  • Water
  • Salt
  • 250 g runner beans - topped and tailed and chopped

Heat the oil in a large pan, then fry the onion until it starts to turn golden. Add the chopped garlic, chillies and ginger and fry for another 2 minutes.

Add the beef to the pan, and stir fry until it is no longer pink in colour.

Now stir in all the spices and fry for another 2-3 minutes, making sure the beef is well coated in spice.

Add the tinned tomatoes, chopped carrots and potatoes and stir. The potatoes should be just covered with liquid, so you will need to add a bit at a time. I used the empty tomato tin, and it required just over 1 tin to fully wet the potatoes.

Cover and simmer on a medium heat for around 45 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.

About 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, add in the green beans.

Simmer for a further 5 minutes and then serve in bowls.

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American Pancakes

I saw this recipe for American pancakes with flambeed cherries and chocolate sauce in Good Food magazine this month, as cooked by James Tanner on Ready Steady Cook (weekdays 4.30 pm on BBC 2).

I am stuck at home today waiting for a parcel to be delivered some time before 6pm, so I couldn't go out to buy the cherries or chocolate, but had the ingredients for the pancakes. So I gave them a go! You can see the results below! It worked out pretty well, and took about 20 minutes to make from scratch. I will be entering this one to the Monday Bookmark event.


  • 100 g self raising flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 2 eggs

  • 250 mL milk

  • Pinch salt

Beat the eggs, flour and baking powder together. Gradually add the milk, beating until the consistency resembles that of almost-whipped double cream. You may not need to use all the milk depending on the size of your eggs. Leave the batter to stand for 5 or 10 minutes.

Heat a large non stick frying pan and add a tiny amount of vegetable oil. To test if the pan is hot enough, drop a tiny amount of batter into it - this should make a nice sizzling sound.

Drop tablespoons of batter into the pan, keeping them separate. In my pan, I could fit three into the pan and needed to cook in two batches.

Fry for two minutes each side or until lightly golden brown, like below.

Serve dusted with icing sugar and then a topping of your choice - I used sliced banana and strawberry jam.

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Monday, 21 April 2008

How to Make Pasta

I posted a while ago about my lucky find of a bargain £5 pasta making machine in a local charity shop, and how the pasta making turned into something of a disaster. I have been a bit busy since then what with finding a new job, going away at the weekend for a stag party and just generally being too hectic to find time to do some cooking. Today, however, I snuck off work early and had another attempt at making pasta.

A few people gave some good advice and comments on the last attempt, especially Toontz of Okara Mountain, who directed me to his post on making okara pasta, and Drew of How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. I also did a bit of further reading around the subject as well and have attempted to combine all the learnings into this post.

It seems some people recommend using semolina and durum wheat flour, others just use ordinary plain flour. Semonlina and durum wheat flour have different hardness to regular flour due to the higher protein content, and some say this makes a better quality pasta. However, as I am pretty tight and did not want to waste money on expensive flour until getting the technique just right, I opted to use just regular plain white flour (Tesco value in fact).

Another interesting point is why salt is added to the cooking water. It is not only for flavouring the pasta, but actually raises the boiling temperature of the water. When water boils, it will not get any hotter. Adding salt to the water makes the boiling point higher, and the science behind this is described well over at this site. When you add the pasta, the water temperature will drop to probably around 80C or so. If the salt is added, the initial boiling temperature is higher than the normal 100C so, although some temperature will be lost on adding the pasta, it will be hotter.

Another interesting fact I picked up was that the rolling and to some extent the kneading process stretches out and lengthens the gluten molecules in the wheat, helping to improve the texture of the pasta. Too much kneading or rolling though can lead to problems like tough pasta.

After last times disaster of laying out the pasta and ending up with a rather tangled mess, I instead just cooked it straight away, although this was a lot easier since I only made enough for one today. I also did all the mixing of the flour and egg in a bowl, many places recommend putting the flour in a pile, pouring the egg into a well in the middle, and then mixing into a doughy ball but I thought this was going to end up far too messy.

Some of the pictures are not great unfortunately, but I was doing this single handedly and had no assistance in the form of a camera person! The good news is that it did work really well and I ended up with some great tagliatelle.

Ingredients (per person)
  • 1 egg
  • 100 g flour
  • Pinch salt

Beat the egg and salt together, then gradually mix in the flour. I added half initially, then kept adding a bit more until the consistency looked right and the pasta dough is no longer sticky. This is a sort of experimental process, and if you add to much flour and it becomes too dry and a few drops of water to get it back on track.

I used a fork to mix the flour and egg together, but a spoon or hands would work just as well.

Now I had a ball of dough, I put it onto a floured surface and kneaded for about 2 minutes.

And then it was run through the pasta machine on the widest setting.

This was the result of the first run through...

As you can see it is a bit holey and not at all smooth. This sheet was then folded in half and put back through the machine 6 times in total. I floured the pasta in between to stop it sticking to the surfaces and the machine itself.

The above picture is the pasta after being run through the machine 6 times. Now it looks nice and smooth and free of holes and lumps.

Next the roller width was reduced, one step at a time, running it through each setting once only. The pasta gets longer and thinner with each run through. I went down to the second finest setting as I wanted to make tagliatelle. Any thinner, and the result is rather soggy pasta.

The last step in the process is to run the pasta through the cutter.

Finally, the tagliatelle was put straight into boiling salted water and cooked for 6 minutes.

I served it up with some melted butter, chopped garlic and some herbs from the garden. This was just so that I could get a really good idea of what the pasta tastes like. The result was really good actually, and in total from start to eating took 40 minutes.

My next pasta will I think be some sort of ravioli or filled pasta. I am a bit put off the idea of making lasagne as the sheets would need to be pre-boiled before going into the oven dish and I can imagine this being a rather labour intensive (and messy) task.

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Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Cinnamon Toast

This is a very quick snack that I made over the weekend, perfect with a Saturday morning (hangover!) coffee. It reminds me of that cinnamon toast crunch cereal as well, but has a decidedly high class almost French pastry taste and feel about it.
The best type of bread to use I think is quite thin, soft, white bread, something like Tesco value type or similar. Thin bread works best as the sugary butter mixture soaks right through the slice.
  • 2 slices fresh white bread
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • Butter for spreading
Lightly toast your bread on both sides, just so that it is light golden brown (you don't want to overdo the toast at this stage, as you will need to return it to the grill in a minute). Now remove from the grill, and butter generously.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and then sprinkle all over the toast.
Turn the grill down to medium-low temperature, and return the toast buttery side up to the grill. Cook until the sugar is all melted and starts to bubble and maybe caramelize a little bit.
Eat straight away, dunked into your coffee or, for a really continental feel, hot chocolate.

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Thursday, 10 April 2008


Ruth of Ruth's Kitchen Experiments has tagged me for a meme. I am not usually into these email forward style of things where you pass it on to x number of friends and what not, but I will give it a go. Actually, I asked my girlfriend what she thought of me for the 6 words, as I would just say something nice about myself!

So here it is.....

1. Write your own six-word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.
3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post.
4. Tag five or six (choice is yours) more blogs with links.
5. Remember to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

6 word memoir:


6 people being tagged:

  1. Dharm from Dad Baker Chef
  2. The Gluten Free Hippie
  3. Toontz from Okara Mountain
  4. Cook Like Your Grandmother
  5. Helen from Food Stories

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Aubergine Rice

I have been looking for a way to use up my last aubergine, so I tried making this rice. It worked out quite well, and would be good as a side dish.

  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 100 g rice
  • Olive oil
  • Oregano
  • 15 cherry tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
Chop the aubergine into about 1 cm cubes, and place in a colander. Now sprinkle liberally with salt. This is because aubergines are quite bitter, the salt on the outside draws out the water by osmosis, and this takes away the bitter flavour. Leave for about 30 minutes to draw out all the bitter flavour, and then rinse well under cold water. This will remove most of the salt, for those who are concerned about eating too much salt in their diet.

Now, cook the rice according to your usual method or the pack instructions.

Whilst this is cooking, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large non stick frying pan over a medium to high heat. Fry the garlic for 1 minute, then add the aubergines and sliced courgettes.

Stir fry for 5 minutes, then sprinkle the oregano over the top, and add the tomatoes. Stir fry for a further 10 minutes. I squished all the tomatoes then, to get a bit of juice going on in the sauce.

Finally, add the rice, stir fry for another 2 minutes, and then serve.

I added a drizzle of chilli oil over the top of the finished product just for a bit of extra spice and juiciness.

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Wednesday, 9 April 2008

How Not to Make Pasta

Today at lunch time I had to go out to the bank. On the way back, I walked past a charity shop and spotted in the window this Imperia pasta machine, unused and in the box, sparkling like brand new.

I had to go in and have a look and when I saw the price, only £5, I just had to buy it. I knew they were expensive, and checked on the internet later to find the Imperia Italian Double Cutter Pasta Machine SP150 retailing for £35 in Amazon. So I was well impressed with this.

I spoke to an Italian friend at work to get the basic recipe, 100 g of flour with 1 egg. She was incredibly jealous of my new purchase, reminiscing that every Italian child made pasta with their grandmother using one of these.

As soon as I got home, I got some flour and tried it out. Mixed together 2 eggs with 200 g flour, and made the dough. Then I had to clamp the machine to the work surface. The only way I could do this was opening a drawer and attaching the clamp inside. This turned out to be a big mistake, as what with all the flour everywhere, the majority of it ended up filling the drawer. When cleaning up the kitchen I had to then empty out all the cutlery and knives from the drawer and wash them all. Not impressed by this.

I then got round to rolling the dough down to make lasagne type sheets - all going ok so far. But I was fast running out of room to put all the sheets. Piles of pasta seemed to be appearing everywhere, along with a dusting of flour on me, the work surface, the floor and anywhere else it could settle in the kitchen!

Finally I got the dough thin enough to run through the tagliatelle cutter, and did this, but with no where to hang the pasta I ended up with a tangled mess of strands all over the work surfaces, on plates, dangling off my arms!

Next thing was to cook it, so I boiled some water, got the best strands separated out and then into the boiling water for a few minutes.

I have to admit the finished result was somewhat disappointing! Tough and chewy. I am not sure if this was attributable to the flour used (the cheapest plain flour - Tesco Value quality), or not rolling enough, or some other mistake, possibly undercooked, or maybe because it was all tangled up in a mess, so did not cook right through.

Anyway, at least I have learnt how not to cook pasta!

These are some things I will consider next time:
  • Space - lots of it!
  • Flour - 00 grade or top quality pasta flour
  • Somewhere to hang the pasta when making it
  • Learn about how to do it before actually starting
  • Read up about the science of pasta and see what is going on (geek!)
Any hints or tips will be welcomed on this! I have some ideas to make some nice ravioli, or maybe lasagne once I get the pasta making off to a tee.

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Sunday, 6 April 2008

Coconut, Pineapple and Chicken Curry

Some people cannot stand the thought of fruit in savoury dishes, saying that ham and pineapple pizza is just wrong, along with sweet and sour and apple sauce with pork. I disagree! I love having fruit in my meals.

This is a nice tropical tasting and fruity curry! This curry is not too hot, and the fruity pineapple and coconut liven it up a bit.

I added most of the vegetables right near the end of cooking, so that they stayed quite crispy and retained most of their nutrients, as it's always good to get a bit of extra vitamins where you can.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 small onions - sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic - chopped finely
  • 2 chicken breasts - cubed
  • 150 g chicken tikka curry paste
  • 2 carrots - peeled and sliced diagonally
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 1/2 pineapple - cubed
  • 1 red pepper - cubed/ chunks
  • 1 small pack baby corn
  • Couple of sprigs of fresh coriander leaves
Heat the oil in a pan at medium high heat and then fry the onions and garlic until browned.

Add in the chicken, carrots (chopped diagonally, as shown below), and curry paste.

Cook until the chicken is browned and sealed on the outside. Now add in the tinned tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

The next thing to add is the coconut milk, and the peppers and baby sweet corn.

Stir these into the sauce, and leave to simmer uncovered for another 5 minutes. Finally, add the pineapple cubes and simmer for a further 5 minutes, just to make sure the pineapple is hot but not over cooked and soggy.

Serve garnished with the sprigs of coriander, and with some rice or naan breads for dipping in the sauce.

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After reading about a rhubarb strudel we decided to get some rhubarb and plant it out in the garden. I dug a bit of a hole, mixed in some compost and then planted the rhubarb crown into the ground.

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Coconut, Pineapple and Banana Smoothie

This smoothie was inspired by the Innocent smoothies one of a similar flavour combination! Initially I did not really like their coconut, pineapple and banana one as I thought it tasted of sun tan lotion, but I have now come round to the idea.

It is a much needed taste of sunshine, summer, and beaches (especially with snow in April, what's that all about!). I can imagine sitting on a beach somewhere in the tropics sipping one of these. It is a kind of non-alcoholic pina-colada. Unless you fancy adding a bit of rum yourself as a summer treat.

The other half said this smoothie was tastier than the Innocent one - maybe as it was freshly made, and had loads of ice in as well to thicken it up. A good review anyway!

  • 1/2 pineapple
  • 2 bananas
  • 200 mL orange juice
  • 12 ice cubes
  • 100 mL coconut milk
Peel and core the pineapple, chop all the fruit into small chunks and place everything into a blender.

Whizz it up for about 2 minutes until really smooth.

Serve in glasses with a cocktail umbrella in to get a real taste of the tropics!

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Chickens Feet and a Box of Frogs

So this is not a recipe as such! Or at all, in fact it's some pictures of a holiday taken in 2006... any idea where? As well as enjoying food, cooking and eating, I love travelling and especially the food experiences you get in foreign places.

I have a photo shuffle screensaver set up, and when I came to my PC just now this picture was on display... a box of live frogs! As seen in a market in this mystery destination.

The market contained many foodie delights, most of then live in some way or another! This guy I found very interesting - he is cutting the claws off chickens feet - taking them from the box by his lap, cutting the nails, and then chucking them in the bucket by his feet.

Now some more market life shots - such a great array of food stuffs! This one is a little bit blurry but you get the feel of the market all the same.

Whoever guesses the location first wins a prize. The prize I think will probably be a post of more food related photos, if it proves popular enough!

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Saturday, 5 April 2008

Roasted Pepper, Tomato and Aubergine Pasta Sauce

I picked up some aubergines and peppers at a market today, not locally as we only have Tesco near us, but made a trip further afield to the next town (what an adventure)! It was one of those special offers where they sell any bowl of fruit or veg for £1, and I can't resist a bargain. So I then had to find something to do with them!

I was inspired by Helen at Food Stories with her recipe for Broccoli and Anchovy Pasta with Roasted Aubergine Sauce. I am not (yet) adventurous enough to try making my own pasta, and besides I have not got a pasta maker! But her sauce provided the inspiration for tonight's dinner. The resulting sauce reminded me of some Lloyd Grossman sauces in jars that I used to eat as a student very regularly, it was really rich and tomatoey, with a nice sweet flavour which I think comes from the roasted peppers and the roasted garlic. I kept half the peppers and the courgettes whole, rather than blended, to add a chunkiness to the sauce.

This recipe is very easy to make, and you can get on with drinking wine whilst the roasting is going on as well. There should be enough sauce for 4 portions of pasta.

  • 1 aubergine (egg plant)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • ~6 large cloves garlic
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 good handful cherry tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
First, halve the peppers and de-seed them. Place in a roasting dish with the aubergine (whole), cherry tomatoes, courgette (whole) and cloves of garlic. Don't peel the garlic first! Drizzle the whole lot with olive oil quite generously. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper/

Roast the vegetables in the oven for about 45 minutes at 220C, turning a couple of times throughout cooking, or until the aubergine looks done. It should resemble something like in the picture below, where the skin has sort of collapsed and gone wrinkly and the whole thing feels soft to the touch.

Whilst the roasting is going on, put the tinned tomatoes in a pan with a bay leaf, and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes to reduce them down and make into a really rich tomato sauce base.

Now, let the roasted veg cool for 5 minutes or so. Or if you are like me, burn your fingers on them whilst trying to do the next part.

Cut the aubergine in half, and scoop out the flesh into a blender. Add in half of each of the red and yellow pepper (keep the other halves to one side, along with the courgette). Squeeze the garlic cloves into the blender and discard the skins - the flesh should be really soft and just pop out of the skins now.

Add the roasted cherry tomatoes, and the olive oil from the bottom of the roasting tin. Pour in the cooked tinned tomatoes, add the herbs and blend using your trusty blender until all smooth.

Roughly chop the remaining peppers and courgette. Mix this with the smooth tomato sauce, and gently heat before serving. Season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Serve over your favourite pasta, maybe with a bit of green salad as well. And this is what my finished product looked like...

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