Recipe: Autumnal Sausage & Apple Pie


Earlier in the autumn, I was feeling particular autumnal, and was looking for something apt to cook one weekend and for me, sausages and apples are pretty autumnal.



So I decided to put them in to a pie. Pies are one of those things, much like casseroles, that are pretty easy to do. They are largely formulaic to the point of being boring (if it wasn't for the fact that they taste great that is!) - that’s not to say they cant be experimental, or wacky, more that if you have a solid ingredient base, then you really can't go wrong. In this case, sausage and apple being a tried and tested pairing, it was just a case of going through the motions and slapping it in some pastry.

Once again, I didn't make the pastry myself - its something I neither have the time, or any real great inclination to get involved with. Shop bought ready-to-roll works fine for my pies, and I just let the filling do all the hard work.

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Anyway, as I said, its a pretty formulaic thing - Start with a savoury base using butter and some aromatics (in this case, as often, leeks), then add some flour and a bit of flavour (whether it be tomato purée for a red meat casserole, or something else - this time wholegrain mustard, because I love mustard and pork), add the primary filling then cover with stock (or other flavoured liquids such as alcohol - even water will work though), reduce and then bang into a pie!

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Ingredients

  • 10-12 sausages (judging by the size of your pie)
  • 1 large apple (I have cooked this twice - the first time I used two apples, and it was just a touch too apple-y for my liking, so reduced the second time around), roughly chopped
  • 1 large tablespoon butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons of plain flour
  • 1 large leek
  • Pastry (make your own or shop bought)
  • 150ml cider (I do this by eye - I bought a normal sized bottle of cider, but guess it was something like 100-150 ml I added)
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard 
  • 200ml stock (vegetable, chicken, whatever. Cubes are fine)


Method

Pre-heat the oven according to your pastry - the filling will be cooked by the time it hits the oven, so we are just heating and cooking the pastry.
  1.  Cook the sausages - either in the oven or grill, pan
  2. Whilst cooking, melt the butter in a heavy frying pan and cook the leeks with a generous pinch of salt until soft and starting to brown
  3. Add the chopped apples and heat for a few minutes
  4. Add the plain flour and stir through to bring together the juices
  5. Add the mustard and stir through to form a paste with the leeks
  6. Once the sausages are cooked, add them and any juices to the pan and stir through to mix together
  7. add the stock and the cider to the pan, and simmer gently on a medium heat to reduce - once reduced to a pie like thickness (well, a bit less viscous actually, as it will continue to thicken whilst cooling) take off the heat and leave to cool
  8. Put together with your pastry and slap in the oven to cook. Serve with other vegetables, mash, whatever..
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Beef rib casserole


Having discovered the value of beef short ribs, whilst shopping for the weekend roast I took the opportunity to grab some more from the supermarket meat counter.  The meat is cheap and its marbling makes it fantastic for slow cooking - this dish took less than 10 minutes prep time and then sat in the oven all afternoon and turned out pretty great.


(If anyone can teach me how to take a good photo of what is essentially a mush of vegetable casserole and a lump of meat then please do!)

If I'm honest, it was a fairly random, BBQ inspired casserole, whilst distinctly trying not to taste like BBQ.  What I mean is, the ingredients are really just a combination of my usual BBQ ratatouille and short beef ribs, but no BBQ rubs/spices/flavours.  As you would expect with the level of marbling in the meat, after slow cooking the meat fell off the bone and was incredibly soft - I could literally cut the meat with a spoon.


Ingredients

  • 1 beef short rib (just under 500g, served two people)
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • 250ml stock (vegetable/beef/whatever)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • butter for cooking onions
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 400gram tin of chopped tomatoes


Method

  1.  Chop the onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat in the butter, untill soft (5 mins or so)

  2. Whilst the onions are cooking, chop the aubergine and set aside (on a plate/kitchen towel etc) and salt liberally - this is just to draw out the moisture and bitterness - we will wash this off later

  3. Next chop up the courgette

  4. Once the onions are soft, stir in the tomato puree and mustard and cook for another minute or two

  5. Now quickly throw the rib into the pan and brown it

  6. Wash the aubergines in cold water, layer them in the bottom of a casserole dish and then sit the rib(s) on top

  7. add the chopped tomatoes to the pan with the onions etc, mix through to de-glaze the pan, then pour the tomato mix over the rib in the casserole dish

  8. Cover and cook in the oven at 140 degrees for 4 hours or so, serve with mash, crusty bread, or whatever!


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BBQ beef short ribs




We recently celebrated older boy's birthday, and as part of celebrations we had both sets of grandparents over for another BBQ.  Once again, another opportunity to experiment, so this time I included beef short ribs - I'm not sure that I had ever tried beef ribs before, but having heard some good things I thought they could be good. The meat is great value - Waitrose sells it on their fresh meat counter at just under £7 a kilo, and you get a lot more meat on the rib than you do with normal pork ribs.


I followed a fairly simple, time-honoured BBQ pattern - dry-rub + slow cooking. The dry-rub wasn't anything special, just a few simple spices, but it worked well.

Ingredients

  • American style yellow mustard (probably a tablespoon or two, but its just got to be enough to coat the ribs)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt (sea salt or something similar)
  • 2-3 short beef ribs (obviously cook more if you want more! but you might need more dry rub if you do)
  • salt and pepper 

Method

  1. Mix the sugar & spices in a bowl until combined

  2. Coat the ribs in the yellow mustard, it doesn't have to be thick, just make sure it is coated evenly across

  3. apply the dry rub to the ribs - rub/pat to apply evenly

  4. I cheated the slow cooking, by pre-cooking them in the oven - I popped them in the oven at 110 degrees centigrade, for about 3 hours or so.  I sat the ribs on a rack sitting in the roasting tray, adding water to the roasting tray (not so much that it touches the meat) and then place a foil tent over the top of the ribs

  5. When I was then BBQ-ing, I moved the ribs to the cooler side of the grill (indirect heat) and cooked them there with the rest of the food for about an hour or so (I had smoking chips on the BBQ too)





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Sticky BBQ chicken


Last weekend was Fathers Day here in the UK, so we decided to have a family BBQ (reasoning I like to BBQ, I had a decent box of craft beers to drink and it was warm weather)



I did a few things, a standard pulled pork & coleslaw, burgers (I always enjoy burgers, and Tescos have started selling brioche burger buns again, so was a no brainer), chicken legs with oregano/sumac (this is SeriousEats fault - I happened to read a recipe they had about grilled chicken with za'atar which was basically sumac plus some other herbs, so when I then saw the sumac in the supermarket I impulse bought some) - but to be honest, it was a little bit of a let down.  The pork wasn't as good as my previous outing (I'm putting it down to a worse piece of meat) and the chicken was a little overdone. However, the one highlight was a BBQ chicken experiment.

I didn't really put any thought into it, I just thought I would slap some dry rub and BBQ sauce on some chicken legs and leave it at that - and they came out better than I expected.

They had a good contrast of the standard sweet/smoky BBQ flavour you would expect, plus a little heat and the deep red, sticky effect you have with good BBQ wings (these were legs though).


There are two elements, to it - one is a basic update to my last BBQ sauce (although either would work) and my latest dry-rub, which is pretty basic, but can be used on pretty much anything (as I have said before, stick it on potato wedges etc). The key is to apply the rub to the chicken before grilling, then 10 minutes or so before they are ready to come off, liberally brush the legs with the BBQ sauce and grill further - This will thicken up the sauce and give it the sticky consistency, but applying the sauce at the start of cooking will just result in burnt sauce.

BBQ Sauce - Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons american mustard (like Frenchs)
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • couple dashes hot sauce (something like Franks Hot Sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • salt & pepper seasoning
  • 250ml ketchup

  1. Again, really simple - stick all the ingredients except the ketchup into a saucepan and mix and then bring to a simmer

  2. Add the ketchup and a tablespoon or two of water and simmer for 30minutes or so - or until the sauce is reduced to a BBQ sauce like consistency


Dry rub

Dry rubs are really simple, just get all the ingredients and mix them together. They can happily last a few months in a jar so will last the summer - although this quantity is reduced - this probably covers a medium piece of pulled pork (1-2 kg) and 8 chicken legs or so.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional - adjust according to how hot you like)
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Recipe: Chicken nuggets & beans


Having moved on from perfecting my grilled cheese, I have a new food obsession: Southern fried chicken.  To be honest, it is something I have thought about for a while, but have always skipped making it on account of not having a deep fat fryer (and generally not wanting to deep fry things).  However, last weekend, I was planning on making some baked beans with my older boy and suddenly thought maybe we should also make some chicken nuggets. I then thought, why not make chicken nuggets but trying to get a similar taste/texture to southern fried chicken?



Now, there are two elements to the experiment:
  1. Making up a recipe for the batter/seasoning

  2. Finding the best non-deep frying alternatives

Plus, there's the baked beans.


KFC style chicken nuggets

I guess I should clarify that the title is probably more aspirational (kind of anyway, really we are aiming for much better than KFC, plus healthier) - also, as mentioned above, we were free-styling with this one and will be a work in progress)

Ingredients

  • 400 grams chopped chicken breast
  • 300ml buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons cornmeal/polenta (can be swapped for flour)
  • 1 teaspoon mixed italian herbs (can be swapped for just one tablespoon of dried oregano, basil & thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying (if you are frying)


Method

  1. Leave the chicken to rest in a bowl with the buttermilk - I put mine in the buttermilk first thing in the morning before cooking in the evening, but if you don't have time then just stick them in the buttermilk whilst you prepare the rest of the ingredients

  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in another bowl, add a tablespoon of the buttermilk to the dry mix and stir through - this is to achieve that nobbly type texture that you often get on KFC (see the picture above of the coated chicken), and I got this tip from Kenji at the FoodLab (although also apparently a known technique) - the alternative technique suggested to achieve this effect is to double-dip the chicken (buttermilk, roll in batter, dip in buttermilk then back in the batter).

  3. Cook the chicken - I tried both shallow frying and oven baking:

    Shallow fry - This was the first approach I tried, the problem was I was too conservative with the oil, and the chicken was sticking to the pan a bit, which resulted in a lot of the batter falling off every time I had to scrape it up to turn over.  I think the recommended amount is about one inch of oil.  The chicken tasted good, and the batter had a good oil-y texture, but  still seemed too fried for me.

    Oven bake - The second half of the batch went on a very lightly oiled baking tray in the oven, at about 180degrees (fan oven), cook until the chicken is cooked (I think it was probably about 20 minutes for me).  The batter remained intact, and the seasoned batter tasted good, but it wasn't the texture (or appearance) of fried chicken.
It largely tasted pretty good, and went down well, but in my opinion it needs a few tweaks:
  • It tasted too oregano-y - I will keep some Italian herbs in the mix, but probably reduce it
  • There wasn't enough black pepper.  Pepper is a big part of normal KFC type seasoning, and whilst I didn't want to replicate it completely, it needed more

My next experiment will be an updated batter, used with chicken legs but cooked on the BBQ - The BBQ seems to be pretty good at keeping chicken legs juicy, which I am hoping will provide more moisture to the batter without needing a tonne of oil.


Baked beans 

In our house, we actually call these "tomato beans" - because if you are familiar with "Reasons my kid is crying", we feared that if we called them baked beans, and then the boys ate them, they may take a grievance with the fact that they aren't actually the baked beans they might expect.

And honestly, there isn't really any recipe/reason to this one. Its just tomatoes and beans, then anything we decide to throw in.  But here is more or less what we put in the last batch (which went down well, including with my wife - which made me think they would actually go down well as a side at our next BBQ):


Ingredients

  • 400 gram tin of tomatoes (preferably whole, but doesn't matter)
  • 400 gram tin haricot beans
  • punch of sugar
  • smoked sweet paprika
  • dash of balsamic vinegar
  • tomato purée
  • squirt tomato ketchup (optional - this is just for fun)
  • any other spices/herbs you want

Method

  1. First step is what we call "messy hands" - jam the tomatoes into a bowl and squash them all up (this is why we use whole tomatoes - its more fun for the boy to squash them)

  2. Add the rest of the ingredients - this is a fun one to cook just because its all done by taste really, and the boy gets to taste the ingredients as we add them in and taste the work in progress as we go

  3. Purée the tomato sauce in a blender/food processor

  4. Add the tomato and beans to a pan, simmer on the hob until heated through
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Recipe: Barbecue pulled pork


We have now had two fairly warm/dry-ish weekends on the bounce which is enough for me to declare it BBQ season!  I decided to kick off with some pulled pork - which requires minimal fuss or BBQ maintenance, and mostly just falls back on slow cooking.



It turned out really well - better than my last pulled pork (which was still a big hit at the bbq), and people seemed to enjoy it.



The BBQ sauce


(my coleslaw/pulled pork/bbq sauce sandwich made with leftovers today!) 

I decided not to be too wild with the sauce and just create a simple sweet/smokey ketchup based sauce for the pork - it only takes 10 minutes and is super simple (plus, it can actually be kept in the fridge for a while if you make more of it - this recipe is basically just the amount needed for this amount of pork)

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • couple dashes worcestshire sauce
  • couple dashes hot sauce (something like Franks Hot Sauce)
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • salt & pepper seasoning
  • 250ml ketchup

Method
  1. Stick all the ingredients except the ketchup in a saucepan, stir together over a medium heat
  2. It should fairly quickly become a dark, tar-like substance (sounds delicious right?), once combined stir in the ketchup and heat further. It should probably be a reasonable consistency after about 10 minutes simmering, but if not then just reduce until it hits your desired thickness
  3. Transfer to a bowl/jar/bottle for serving



The Pork

It was actually a massive piece of pork that I ended up cooking - having fed 4 people for dinner and lunch, plus with about a third left over.  For the rub, I just used the end of a previous batch (see recipe here) - which is good timing as it means I will be creating a new rub pretty soon.  For reasons of convenience and time, I cheated on the cooking and did the bulk of the work in the oven.

Ingredients
  • A decent piece of pork shoulder - the piece I had was easily 1.5kg. If you have a butcher or decent meat counter at your local supermarket you can just tell them how many you are cooking for and they should be able to advise
  • Some dry rub (see here for the one I used) - enough to liberally season the pork - I probably had about 5 heaped tablespoons (going by eye)
  • A barbecue with a lid 
  • Smoking chips (optional)

Method

  1. Liberally season the pork with the dry rub and pat on with your fingertips

  2. Sit the pork in a roasting tray - ideally sitting on a rack if possible so not sitting directly on the base of the tin

  3. Add cold water to the tin to about 1cm deep (again, if using the rack, fill so the water doesn't reach the pork), then cover the tin with a foil tent

  4. Heat the oven to 110 degrees centigrade (for a fan oven - adjust accordingly for your own oven, but probably adding around 20 degrees for non fan) and put the pork in

  5. Cook in the oven for 4+ hours (depending on your time and size of the pork) - I cooked mine in the oven for about 6 hours

  6. As you are approaching time to remove the pork from the oven, start the barbecue. Once flames have simmered own and the coals are white hot, but the pork on the barbecue and cook indirectly (e.g. have the hot coals on one side of the barbecue and place the pork on the other side so not directly over the coals

  7. Add your smoking chips if using, and close the barbecue - leave to cook for at least an hour (I left mine on the barbecue for more like 3 hours), replenishing smoking chips appropriately

  8. Remove from barbecue and fork the pork to serve (making sure it is cooked properly of course!)




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Birthday cake


It was my wife's birthday recently, so I had to go on the hunt for a good cake recipe. It's fairly un-familiar ground for me, normally when looking for a recipe or technique there are one or two sites that I would be my de-facto go-to sites, but I don't really have that baseline for cake recipes.



My not-very-inspired googling lead to this site:  The best chocolate cake recipe ever and failing to find anything else that was convincing enough I used this.  One other plus of the recipe is that it is measured in cups - which is much more child friendly - with digital scales its far too easy to get precious about precise figures, but its much easier to let a 3 year old just fill up some cups and not worry than to get them to read the scales!

The cake was fine. Wife was happy that it tasted good and was very moist, but my conclusion is that I'm not really a fan of chocolate cake. I mean, of course I like brownies, and sticky fudgey goo that resembles a cake, but chocolate-y sponge-y type cakes just don't do it for me.

I just used the sponge recipe, and only made one tier and then used a chocolate icing recipe from Peggy Porschen - which for me was the highlight. Although, to be honest, I'm not sure that any recipe that is made up of cream, cream cheese, sugar, chocolate and butter could be anything but amazing.  The original was taken from her Boutique Baking - I amended the ingredients for convenience (enough to easily cover a cake)

Ingredients

  • 225 grams sifted icing sugar
  • 100 grams unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 70ml whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 80 grams choc chunks
  • 180 grams cream cheese (this is more than needed, but I just jammed in the whole tub of phillidelphia)

Method

  1.  Heat the cream on a medium heat, once it brings to simmer take it off the heat and pour it over the choc chunks and caster sugar in a bowl. Mix together until smoothe and glossy. Set aside to set at room temperature.

  2. In another bowl, whisk the cream cheese until light and creamy

  3. In a final bowl add the icing sugar, butter and salt - cream until light and fluffy

  4. Once the choc mix has set, probably only 10 minutes or so - I didn't have to wait around whilst doing the other bits - add a third of it into the cream cheese and mix through

  5. Next, add the remaining choc mix to the buttercream, mixing as you go. Once fully mixed jam in the choc-cheese mix and combine again.
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Recipe: Chicken, bacon & tarragon pie


So this is what happens when International Pi day and Mothers day fall on the same weekend.



As it was mothers day, we had to cook something, and with my twitter feed largely be filled with Pi/Pie related content it seemed like this was the inevitable outcome.


I was originally planning on making a beef and mushroom pie - which would have probably ended up just more-or-less being the same as my slow cooked beef casserole recipe as a pie filling. However, this time, time did not permit so I switched to a faster cooking chicken option.  Most of this recipe is just random connections - I know chicken and leek pies are a thing, and my wife has made some nice chicken and tarragon soup before. And then bacon. Doesn't bacon go well with most things?  (as it turns out the bacon provides a nice smokey savoury taste that compliments the tarragon nicely)


Ingredients

  • 500 grams diced chicken
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 leeks, chopped
  • 4 rashers smoked bacon, diced
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • 170 ml double cream (well, 100-200ml, the tub i bought was 170ml)
  • 3-4 sprigs of tarragon
  • Puff pastry (how ever much you need for the pie dish!) - bought or make your own.


Method 

You can pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees  (fan oven) if you want, but ideally you will want to cool the fillings before putting in the pie - so if you are doing the filling in advance, don't bother pre-heating now!)
  1. Melt the butter in a pan and then add the leeks and cook until soft

  2. Add the chicken and seal the meat

  3. Add the bacon and cook for a minute or two - it needn't be long

  4. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer

  5. Add the double cream, stir through

  6. Finely chop the tarragon and add to the filling, stir through

  7. Reduce the sauce on a medium heat until it's reduced by about half - it should be fairly thick, so it's not too runny in the pie

  8. Line pie dish with pastry

  9. Leave the fillings to cool, then spoon into pie dish and cover the pie with more pastry

  10. Cook in the oven for around 30minutes at about 180 degrees (the filling is cooked, si we are just cooking the pastry, so just keep an eye on it and make sure the pastry is browning ok, and not burning etc

I served with cheesey mash.
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Recipe: Slow cooked smokey chilli


My parents came to visit again this last weekend, which once again provided the opportunity/necessity to cook something nice, whilst not spending too much time locked away in the kitchen. So no surprises, I once again turned to slow cooking with my trusty casserole dish.



The weekend before, The Guardian had featured in their food pullout a piece on the top 10 chili recipes - as it happens they were almost all non chili-con-carne recipes, and mostly jams and stuff. Anyhow, it put chili in my head, so eventually the subliminal messaging came out when I cooked.

I made chili-con-carne lots of times whilst I was a student, and younger, but it was never much to it - some mince beef, chili powder, cumin and tomatoes - quick, cheap and easy.  But this time I decided that there are probably a lot more satisfying chili's to be had.  As always, I wanted it to be rich, but I also decided I wanted a really smokey flavor, invoking images of slow cooked chili on damp fire coals.  So I set about reading.  I had an idea for some things that could go in (chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano) but decided to do some research, and ended up whittling away quite some time reading lots of them, noting the bits that I liked or thought might work - as you might expect, recipes for great chili are quite divided! Pork or beef or both? mince or steaks? tomatoes or not?  I was originally planning on using liquid smoke to provide the smokey flavour, but didn't get a chance to pick any up, so have used smoked paprika instead.

Anyway, from my scribbled notes, and what I then didn't forget to buy from the supermarket, here is the recipe..


Ingredients

Serves about 4-5 people 

  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped/minced
  • 400g mince pork
  • 400g mince beef
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 400g tins of tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional - and adjust to taste)
  • 1 large red Romano pepper
  • a knob of butter


Method

Preheat fan oven to about 130 degrees
  1. Chop the onions, throw them in the casserole dish with the butter and cook over a gentle heat until translucent and soft

  2. Throw in the garlic and cook for a few more minutes

  3. Add the pork and beef - continue to cook until browned

  4. Stir in the tomato puree - cook for a further few minutes

  5. Mix in the sugar and herbs/spices

  6. Mix in the tinned tomatoes and the chopped red pepper

  7. Fill up one of the empty tomato tins with cold water and mix that in

  8. Cover and stick in the oven - cook for anything from 2-6 hours!(this can be adjusted to your schedule)  Stirring occasionally - if it gets too thick then add a bit more cold water, if it isn't reducing fast enough then turn up the oven (slow cooking is very forgiving - nothing happens too fast and its unlikely this will get over cooked)


I served with lime-cilantro rice (rice with fresh lime and chopped corriander) and easily went to 5 people.
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Recipe: Shop bought tomato & basil pasta sauce


So a few weeks ago, my wife came back from our new local Waitrose (a supermarket) with a tub of fancy organic tomato and basil pasta sauce.  We don't normally eat fancy tomato sauces, but having watched Eat Well for Less on TV that week and seen a bit they did on how much sugar was in brand-name pasta sauces she decided to buy something fancy and organic.



The sauce was nice. Simple, as you might expect, but expensive (also as you might expect) - at £3.50 a tub (which fed my Wife and I, plus a child size bowl of pasta for elder son) it seems pretty nuts to me.

Anyway, having heard the price, and then having read the ingredients (tomato, garlic, onion, butter) I decided to reverse engineer it. I have made lots of tomato sauces, but usually just basic tomato/vinegar/sugar type things - normally something to compliment other meals (in a lasagne for example) which is usually fine, but they don't really provide the same shop bought taste (not that this is a bad thing - but pasta sauces from a jar are never just tomato, they have a lot of other crap going on).

So yesterday afternoon whilst I was making pizza with my eldest son (following on from our welsh cakes) I had to make a tomato sauce for the base so decided to have a first pop at this sauce.  It was a few weeks since we have had the fancy-organic sauce, so honestly can't remember what that tasted like - but this sauces tastes good, and my wife agreed that it definitely tastes reminiscent of a fancy branded pasta sauce (in a good way) - plus there is no crap in it!


Ingredients

  • half an onion, fairly finely chopped
  • a clove of garlic, finely chopped (or crushed)
  • a carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 100 grams of butter (I guess - this was by eye - but a chunk to cook the veg, then a chunk at then end - you could prob go with two decent sized tablespoons)
  • Tomatoes - I used 680 ml plain passata, but that was because we had that and no tinned tomatoes, if we had tinned I would have used those. You could probably use a 400 gram tin of chopped tomatoes and not adjust the other components and get pretty similar results to be honest.
  • tablespoon tomato puree
  • handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped


Method

  1. Melt half the butter in a saucepan
  2. Add the chopped onions, and cook on a medium heat until soft and slightly translucent
  3. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another minute or so
  4. Add the chopped carrots, and cook until soft - you can take you time with this
  5. Add the tablespoon of tomato purée and stir through - cook for another 2-3 minutes
  6. Add the tomato passata and cook for 10 minutes or so. Don't reduce it so much that it gets thick, you want it still fairly liquid at this point (we will blend it later, so it needs to support the blended solids from the veg) - if it is getting thick just stir in some cold water whilst cooking
  7. Transfer the sauce to a liquidiser/blender and blend until smooth (and, well, the consistency of a shop bough sauce)
  8. Add the second half of the butter - buzz it again in the blender to mix that through - this will bind the sauce and give it a richer, glossier finish
  9. Add the chopped basil - If finely chopped you could leave it at that, but I blended it again to finish off.
  10. Serve with pasta, like you would your favourite tomato & basil shop bought sauce.





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Recipe: St David's Day Welsh cakes


As it is St David's day today, and as the Welsh rugby team were playing yesterday (they won!) I decided making Welsh cakes would be a fitting activity for me an elder son to do.




I had never actually made Welsh Cakes before, so I googled, and the top result was this BBC article so decided to go with that, with some alterations, as always, based on what we had in the cupboards/could be bothered to buy.

It's a good recipe to do with children, as its really just measure out the dry ingredients, then rub in the butter, then roll and cut out - all of which can be done with pretty much any age children (elder son is 3 1/2 and he helped with all steps).


Ingredients

  • 225 grams plain flour
  • 85 grams caster sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg (this and the cinnamon was in absence of all spice, where as we had these, so i just jammed these in)
  • 110 grams unsalted butter
  • 40 grams raisins
  • 40 grams choc chunks
  • 1 large egg


Method

Lightly grease a heavy base pan
  1. Chop the butter up into small-ish cubes

  2. Weigh out dry ingredients and rub in butter

  3. Add raisins and choc chunks

  4. Add the egg and combine until you have a smooth dough

  5. Flour a surface and roll out the dough so about 1 cm thick

  6. Cut the welsh cakes to whatever shape you want (as you can see, we had hearts, stars, circles and gingerbread-men shapes)

  7. Cook them in batches on the pan, roughly 3-5 minutes each side (until lightly browned)

  8. Take them off the heat, sprinkle with caster sugar and eat whilst still warm

  9. Watch Wales win in the Rugby
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Awesome macaroni cheese


Well, still to sign of healthy or lighter food around here.  I guess whilst the weather is still cold I might as well make the most of it and continue to cook ridiculously un-healthy, stodgy food. I was looking for something a little different yesterday, but in the end I didn't have long before the rugby started today so just went with what I know.



Mac & cheese is apparently recovering from a bad reputation of bad school dinners and generally poorly made meals, but I'm not really sure how. It seems to me that making a good macaroni cheese is as simple as using good cheese.  This recipe has a few components, but really if need be it can be boiled down (not literally) to just the cheese sauce.


The cheese sauce is thick, smooth and cheesy, which works well with the leek & bacon. I serve/eat it with cherry tomatoes to brighten it up and provide some much needed acidity to the rich cheese sauce.


Ingredients

  • 250g pasta (I went with amori pasta this time)
  • 250g strong (mature) cheddar - I suspect it goes without saying, but the stronger the cheese, the stronger the sauce!
  • 65g of smoked cheddar (this quantity is made up, as usual, based on the amount of smoked cheddar I had to hand, but having cooked with smoked cheddar before, if you put too much in you will have an overwhelming smoked cheese flavour - so I would recommend sticking to not much more) I used Applewood smoked cheddar.
  • 500ml milk (semi-skimmed, whole, whatever)
  • 6 rashes smoked bacon
  • 2 medium size leeks, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (1 for the cheese sauce, one for the leeks)
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • 1 slice of bread
  • parmesan for topping (optional)
  • Tomatoes & salad to serve


Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  1. Cook the pasta in slightly salted water (however long the pasta says, normally about 10 minutes or so)

  2. Cook the leeks with one tablespoon of butter over a medium-high heat, until soft. Add the chopped bacon and cook until soft

  3. Melt the other tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Once melted add the flour and whisk into a paste.

  4. Slowly add the milk to the paste (still over the heat), whisking each time - the first half of the milk or so you should be able to whisk the sauce in to a fairly smooth consistency

  5. Add the bay leaves to the sauce and bring to a gentle simmer over a low heat (stirring occasionally)

  6. Once the sauce is at a slow simmer gradually, remove the bay leaves add the grated cheese, stirring in until melted each time. Once the cheese is added, stir in the mustard

  7. In an oven proof dish, mix the drained pasta, cheese sauce and bacon and leeks, mix through

  8. Over the top, sprinkle breadcrumbs and grated parmesan (I use a cheese grater to create quick breadcrumbs for the top - just grab a slice bread, hold it pretty compacted and grate)

  9. Add to the oven and cook for 20 minutes or so (or stick under the grill, whatever)



I served it with chopped cheery tomatoes to brighten up the meal, and add some much needed acidity to the thick cheese sauce, but also works well straight from the pan.




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Recipe: Lemon & mustard Sausages


So here's what happened.  Yesterday, my older son kept going on about how sausages were his favourite food. The last two dinner times, the question of whether we were having sausages (and why not) came up, with yesterday's dinner resulting in him marching to the freezer to get them out for himself.

Fast forward to this morning, and I wake up with sausages on my mind.  You ever been to some catered event with canapés, where they have little wholegrain mustard cocktail sausages? That's what I was in the mood for.  Not having either sausages or mustard in the house, I had to go shopping.



I can't take much credit for this recipe, as it is largely based on a pork belly recipe from Nigel Slater's Real Cooking book.

The pork belly recipe is a fantastic slow-cook casserole, with the fat from the pork belly acting as lubricant and the meat slowly turning melt-in-your-mouth.  However, that recipe assumes 1) you have 4+ hours cooking & prep time 2) you have pork belly (and some other fancier ingredients).  I had sausages and approximately 40 minutes to get food ready, so needed some tuning.

The only real constraints I had was that I wanted mustard sausages, but remembering the Nigel Slater pork belly, and how well the lemon cuts through the mustard & pork I figured it was worth a punt.

It tastes good. And for those adverse to mustard, it isn't actually that mustard-y, well not, hot mustard-y anyway.


Ingredients

  • 8 pork sausages. I just used supermarket standard sausages
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard 
  • 1 lemon


Method

Preheat the oven to about 170 degrees (I just went by what the sausages said for cooking, so do that)
  1. In a casserole dish, melt the butter on the hob, once melted, chuck in the onions and cook on a medium heat until slightly translucent and soft.  In the pork belly recipe, Nigel Slater starts by oven cooking the onions and some garlic in the oven for 25 minutes. If you have the time and the inclination, you could do this too (I happened to have 15 mins before the sausages had to go on so having initially cooked the onions in the butter on the hob, I then stuck them in the oven whilst I chopped potatoes)

  2. Stir in a heaped tablespoon of wholegrain mustard. You could always go 1 1/2 tablespoons if you wanted.  Then chop the lemon in to 4 and squeeze in the juice. Stir, the mustard, lemon juice, onions and butter together

  3. Add the sausages, and mix up a bit so the mustard-lemon-onion-butter sauce is coating the sausages. Then add the 4 lemon quarter shells on top. Stick in the oven and cook for 25mins (again I was just going by the sausage cooking times) - I had my pot covered for the first half, but its not really going to make much difference in this time frame

  4. Once cooked, discard the lemon shells and serve. I served with mash potato, but it would be awesome with crusty bread - especially to mop up the mustard-lemon-onion-butter (in fact I have saved some of the juices and 1 sausage from the left overs for lunch tomorrow!)
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Recipe: Slow cooked ragu


Not much creativity this week I'm afraid, and if you have tried/read the slow cooked beef recipe then you will notice quite a few similarities between the two.  The end result is quite different, but both share the rich, sticky reduced quality of slow cooking, possibly this one even more so on account of the addition of tomatoes to the recipe.



Before hitting the shops yesterday, I was planning to use diced lamb - partly for the flavour, but also because I was planning on flaking/forking the meat after slow cooking so it would disperse in the sauce more. But no joy - they didn't have diced lamb in the supermarket (elder boy was with me, so couldn't pop to the other shop as he was getting bored by this point).  I was also planning to serve with pappardelle  but was also out of luck on that front, so went with fresh tagliatelle (but can be served with anything really!)


Ingredients

  • 500g diced beef (or lamb)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes (400g)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 red onion
  • flour
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 100ml red wine 
  • parmesan (optional)
  • a splash of cream/milk
  • salt & pepper for seasoning

Method

Open meat and salt generously before hand. Preheat oven to about 150 degrees.
  1. heat the butter in a pan, add the chopped onion, carrot and celery. As before, slowly cook those over a medium-high heat until soft and slightly browned

  2. Add the beef to the pan and brown. Then remove meat (I just stick the meat in the casserole dish for later)

  3. Add the tomato puree, oregano to the pan and cook for a minute or so. The oregano and tomato puree will have made the vegetable base fairly thick already, but sprinkle a little flour to really bring it all together

  4. Add the tinned tomatos, 200ml cold water & red wine to the pan and reduce until it starts to thicken (probably around 5-10mins

  5. Pour the tomato sauce base into the casserole dish (assuming your beef is already in there), and stir through. Then top up with boiling water, so all the meat is submerged

  6. Cover the dish and cook in the oven for 3-4 hours, stirring every hour or so.

  7. By about three hours it will probably be reduced to a fairly thick, tomato goo (in a good way) - if it is reduced too soon, then just top up with boiling water from the kettle.

  8. Add a handful of grated parmesan (if using) and then add a splash of cream/milk - this will just bind the sauce together and off set the acidity/decadence of the tomato/wine sauce!

  9. Serve and eat. With more cheese probably. And bread. And Pasta. Whatever..


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Recipe: Raspberry & white choc cookies


There are two reasons I decided to work on a cookie recipe:

  1. I am building up to making breakfast cookies (read: cookies with bacon in) and wanted to nail a good oatmeal cookie recipe (feels like a breakfast cookie should be more oatmeal-y no?), and didn't have any bacon.

  2. As mentioned, my parents were up this week, and seemed like a good early morning activity with my older boy before they arrived.


Raspberry is one of my favourite chocolate-complimenting-fruit - works well with big white choc chunks in cookies/cakes/muffins and also works amazing well with dark, dark chocolate.



This recipe is another example of being based massively on availability - there are basics when it comes to cookies - sugars, butter, flour (baking powder), but variations around these that make varying levels of difference to the end result.  The result is a classic american-style cookie, with a brittle crunch to the edge and a soft chewy centre (even better when warm)


Ingredients

  • 170g unsalted butter
  • 125g self-raising flour (this was because I didn't have any plain flour - normally I would use plain flour + baking powder, but being as that is basically what self-raising flour is, meh)
  • 125g rolled oats (porridge oats) - flour is more tightly packed than oats, so if converting to cups then make sure you take that into account
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (also called baking soda)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 160g light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract(optional - I often forget this one)
  • 200g white choc chunks
  • 7g freeze dried raspberries


Method

Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Makes about 15-25 cookies, depending on the size you go for
  1. Mix the flour, oats, salt and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl

  2. Add the sugars and butter in a bowl (ideally of a freestanding mixer, but whatever) and mix well - for a few minutes with the paddle attachment if you have one, but again, whatever. Just mix it well so it is smooth and well beaten

  3. Add the egg and beat/mix again for a minute or so until well combined. Add the vanilla if using it.

  4. Add the flour mixture and beat until combined and formed a cohesive dough. If you are using a free standing mixer, then increase the power slowly, as if you go straight in fast then you will get covered in flour. This has happened more than once to me.

  5. Chuck in the choc/raspberries (or whatever other choc/filling you are using) and mix for another 30sec-1min



  6. Wrap the the dough in clingfilm and stick it in the fridge to cool - probably an hour or so (see after thoughts on this point)


  7. Once cooled, chunk the dough into small fist size balls and place them equally spaced on a baking tray and cook for about 15minutes, or until  they have melted into cookie shapes and lightly browned.



  8. Take them from the oven, let them cool for a bit- they will sink down and start to look like the familiar, classic cookie look - kind of cracked across the top




After thoughts

  •  I didn't nail the oat-cookie ratio. I will try upping the oatmeal ratio next time. It wasn't bad, and you got the oatmeal bite a little, just not like you would on a proper oatmeal cookie. Will up it to 75% oatmeal to 25% flour ratio next time

  • I didn't have either of the sugars listed above - so I substituted caster sugar for granulated and demerara for the light brown sugar. Caster sugar is still granulated, but generally a lot finer, so from a scientific point of view this makes a difference to absorption rates/speed but on this scale, it doesn't make much difference. Same for the brown sugar swap - they are different sugars, and clearly a very different make up (dip your finger in each type and taste it - the granule size, taste etc) - but again, didn't seem to make much difference here

  • My freeze dried raspberries just don't seem to be up to the job. I will try with an alternative on the raspberries.

  • If you make the cookie-dough balls smaller, about the size of a table-tennis ball or smaller, you will get a crunchier, biscuit crunch right the way through the cookie. If you go for balls about the size of a golf ball and bigger you get the classic crunchy-around-the-outside-chewy-and-soft-in-the-center cookie (which I prefer!)

  • The length of the time you keep the dough in the fridge for also effects cookie texture - if you split the dough in half and cook one half after a few hours in the fridge and leave the other half for a day or more, you will notice a difference - the latter being tougher and more crunch throughout

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Recipe: Slow cooked beef casserole


We had my parents come to visit on the weekend, which inevitably means an opportunity to cook something different.  It was all fairly last minute, and it wasn't really an opportunity to spend several hours in the kitchen (that would have been pretty rude!) - but it was an opportunity to make something different.

Having popped down to the new Waitrose that had just opened (also very exciting in itself) just before they arrived, we picked up some food and I opted for a simple slow cooked beef casserole.  As I have mentioned before, my preference is for richer, indulgent, stick-to-your-ribs type food, especially in the colder months, so this seemed good.

I was so busy concentrating on ingredients, I forgot to photograph the food until it was all eaten.


It's really simple, and something that I had created once before. Well, more-or-less anyway. I don't really remember what I put into things in detail - so this time, with the blog in mind I made sure to try and guess-timate the amounts I was putting in of everything. That said, if you are just cooking for yourself at home, then it probably doesn't make much difference, you can swap ingredients/quantities based on what you have. Most of my recipes will be based on availability!


Anyways, on with the food..

Ingredients

  • 2 Large leeks (as usual, interchangeable with onions if you don't have leeks. But I prefer leeks), chopped
  • 2-3 large carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of unsalted butted
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 800g braising steak (or whatever casserole meat)
  • 1-2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 bay leaves
  • salt & pepper for seasoning

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees
  1. Get your meat out of the fridge, open packaging and season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large pan (I used a large heavy based frying pan, but you can do this directly in your casserole dish if you want to cut down on washing up) melt the butter, then over a medium heat throw in the carrots and leeks.  Cook these for a while until they are soft and browning. To borrow from Nigel Slater, these will be the savoury base of the meal, so if you can, take your time with this.  Apart from anything, slowly cooking leeks in butter over a medium-high heat smells awesome.
  3. Add the tomato puree and mustard to the leeks & carrots and stir in well, and cook for a minute or so
  4. Add the meat to the pan and cook until lightly brown/sealed. Once meat is cooked sprinkle over the flour and mix - this will make sure we get all the juices/butter/fat/flavour from the dish
  5. Transfer everything so far to the casserole dish - pour over the made up beef stock. Then top up the dish with boiling water so that all the meat is covered. Stir and throw in the bay leaves
  6. Cook covered in the oven for a few hours - the oven will do the hard work for you here, and the sauce will reduce to a rich, sticky sauce. The longer and slower you cook it, the better (the meat will be softer for it), but if you don't have long, keep an eye on how it is reducing, and then try uncovering slightly for the last 30mins cooking time to speed up that bit.

Serve with anything really, bread, mash, vegetables..


(I'll try and get some photos next time, I promise)





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Recipe: Southern comfort BBQ sauce


Continuing the recipe theme, I also created a bbq sauce last summer. It's a sweet, tomato sauce based recipe, and went down pretty well when I served it.



Ingredients

  • 400ml tomato sauce (I just used sainsburys own brand)
  • 50ml Southern Comfort (optional)
  • 1 table spoon yellow mustard (just normal hot-dog mustard, like Frenchs)
  • 1 table spoon chilli powder
  • 80g sugar
  • 60ml cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 60ml Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Just slam the ingredients in a sauce pan for a while and reduce to a bbq-sauce consistency.
(to be honest, you can knock out a quick "cheats" bbq suace in two minutes that will go down pretty well - as above but reduce the ketchup to roughly 250ml, sugar to about 60g and then just a few glugs of cider and a few of worcestershire sauce and mix it up - tweaking ingredients to taste and it should be ok!)

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Recipe: Last summer's dry-rub


So here we are. At last. My food blog. Let's see how this goes.. to kick things off - here is my dry-rub recipe that I created in the summer for the tail-end of BBQ season (originally appeared on my tech blog in 2014).



Last year, most of my bbq involved my variation on Kansas-city dry rub (will dig out the recipe and post that sometime). And a few weeks ago, I decided to make a new dry rub for this summer - but was in the mood for something more herb-y. Initially I planned to experiment with jamming in some oregano, thyme etc - but in the end, on discovering I didn't really have any of these things to hand, and finding a jar of this:

It was due to expire later this year, so I decided to cheat and just stick that in, and see how it worked out (ingredients listed were: Sage, Marjoram, Thyme, Oregano, Parsley, Basil  - no mention of ratios though).

It was pretty good - I based the measurements purely on the amount of the mixed herbs I had left, and made about a jar.


Ingredients


  • 3 table spoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 table spoon salt
  • 1 table spoon smoked paprika
  • 4 table spoons sainsburys mixed herbs
  • 1/2 table spoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 table spoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon all spice
  • 1 table spoon light brown sugar



Basically, just measure the ingredients in a bowl, mix them up and stick them in a jar.

It tasted pretty good - a nice mix of sweet but herb-y.  I have since used it on an adhoc roast-potato/tomato/bake thing as well, which worked pretty well (generally, I have found most dry rubs work well as adhoc seasoning of potato wedges/chips/etc.) and of course a mandatory bbq'd chicken (left half new rub, right half the old kansas city variation):

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It's not Jilly's West




I have been writing a tech blog for some time now, and last year I added a few bbq related posts to it, saying at the time that really one day, maybe I would start a new blog just for food stuff.  So being as it's a new year I figured why not give it a punt?  Cooking is one of the things I still get a little time to do amidst work & two young children (on account of it being kind of essential) so I guess might as well write a bit about it.

One of the bigger problems with trying to blog about recipes and stuff is that I generally just wing it most of the time, and a lot of the quantities are going to be trial and error, adjusting to taste - along the lines of a dollop of this, then a bit more, then another dollop - but lets see.


During the summer, chances are the recipes will be dominated by BBQ recipes, the rest of the year will likely be everything else.  The kind of things I enjoy to cook are generally very rich and indulgent - the kind of things that taste good on cold evenings and where de-glazing the pan afterwards is always the best bit of the meal. Rich, tomato sauces, slow-cooked casseroles, cheesey-tomatoey-creamy bakes.  That and cookies. I like cookies.


Inspired largely by the kind of food writing & recipes that Nigel Slater writes, or Kenji & Serious Eats are famous for. I love the science, experimentation and explanations from Kenji and the FoodLab guys, and love the warm, indulgent, no-fuss approach that Nigel Slater takes. Theirs are the books I can (and frequently do) pick up and re-read over and over again.  They make great coffee table books and great reading at any time, regardless of whether you have the time and inclination to cook.



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