Tuesday, 29 April 2008

In my larder - Creme Fraiche

Creme fraiche is brilliant. It can be used for a lot of different recipes and makes an easy base for creamy sauces. It doesn't split like cream can, it can boil and it won't curdle and it is lower in fat than cream. Not that I don't like cream by CF also has a better shelf life. You can do half and half with CF and cream too.

Here are some of my favourite things to do with Creme Fraiche (in a clean way people!)

Macaroni Cheese

Tub of Creme Fraiche (small tub will do 2, large tub 6)
Pasta (100g per person)
Cheddar - grated

You can make the cheese sauce by making up a roux but this is time consuming and also sometimes I get it wrong when I am tired and home from work. You also have to build the sauce up gradually so it takes more time.

Put the CF in a pot and heat up. As the CF is heating, add the cheese. With a roux you woudl have to do this gradually but with CF just bung it in. Take a taste of eth sauce and check it is cheesey enough. Give it a stir every now and then.

Cook pasta as per packet instructions, drain, and mix in the sauce. I like to serve it with some tomatoes shopped up.

To make it interesting you can add ham to the sauce, or like I sometimes do, left over chorizo or salami. And although I use cheddar here, macaroni chese is also a good way to use up any parmesan or mozzarella - so long as you have cheddar as a base. I have also added mustard on occasion.

My favourite thing though is to have plenty of HP sauce with it!

Pesto sauce

Tub of Creme Fraiche (small tub will do 2, large tub 6)
Pasta (100g per person)

Heat the CF and add pesto to tase. You get a fantastic green sauce. Cook your pasta and mix in the sauce. Sprinkle some parmesan over the top.

Sauce for Steak

Tub of Creme Fraiche (small tub will do 2, large tub 6)
Wholegrain mustard

Heat the CF and add a couple of teaspoons of mustard. You need to let the sauce simmer away for 15-20 minutes so the flavour really gets drawn out and the whiteness of the creme fraiche looks more creamy. Taste and check if you need more mustard.

This is great poured over some nice steaks with some good bread to mop up the sauce and meat juices.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

In my larder - Tinned tomatoes

I think tinned tomatoes are amazing. Even Nigella thinks so. Who can be bothered with all of that blanching and peeling anyway? And there are so many things they can be used for. Here are two of my favourite 5 minute recipes.

Tomatoe and basil soup (good hot or cold)

Two tins of tomatoes
Red oinion
Garlic (I use half a bulb but one clove may be enough for others!)
Basil (a handful)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

In the pot you want to cook your soup in, add the oil and saute the finely chopped onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes and basil. Simmer for an hour. Add a squirt of vinegar - some might find this takes the tanginess too far. Serve with crusty bread and a dollopof creme fraiche on top if liked.

You can also make this more special by cutting some cherry tomatoes in half, tossing in olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper andn roasting them. Scatter over the top of the soup as you serve it.

Pasta sauce

Tin of tomatoes
Tomatoe puree

Heat the tomatoes in a pot, add a tbsp of pesto, thicken if needed with puree. Serve over hot pasta with some parmesan.

This makes a great base and you can add bacon, chicken, vegetables like mushrooms, peppers etc and spices and herbs like chilli and basil to create a dozen different sauces.

In my larder

You often get a section in recipe books that tells you what the author thinks you should have in your kitchen to be a 'good cook'. Now, I don't really subscribe to that idea - and it would cost a fortune to keep all of the ingredients they suggest on the go all of the time - I mean, things go off, even dried spices etc can get a bit fusty musty.

But - I am intrigued by figuring out what the basics are to make interesting, healthy and easy meals. Are there items that I can't live without? Are there things that really I keep buying but hardly use and throw out more than actually makes it into a dish?

So I am going to start listing what I keep handy and are my mainstays. At the right hand side you will see a list 'In my larder' where I will list what I keep close to me in the kitchen and I will also blog about why these ingredients or tools are important and what I discover is not so important. And maybe I will clear out my utensils drawer at some point so it is easy to shut!

Eating out - Rick's

As well as cooking in my own kitchen, I like to go out for food. So I thought I would also record places I have been to eat, and any ideas for my own cooking they have given me.

Last week I went to Rick's on Frederick Street in Edinburgh with my friend Duncan. We hadn't seen each other since January so we indulged in some luscious espresso and rum cocktails.

Then we had sweet potatoe and chilli soup to start. The soup was really good, although they are not joking about the chilli. The interesting thing though is that most potatoe based soups are thick - this one wasn't - very liquid - but in a good way. And it meant we weren't too full for our mains. Duncan had salmon which he seemed to enjoy and I had the asparagus and garden pea risotto. It was very good - the peas actually tasted like they may come from a garden rather than a factory - but as always the risotto didn't quite make it to the high standards I get at home. I think Andy uses more parmesan and garlic - and he serves cherry tomatoes and salad leaves with some bread and and olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip with it which I find cuts through the creaminess really well.

But - all in all would give it a 6/10. The bill came to £56 which for two courses, cocktails and a glass of wine each isn't bad.

The decor and atmosphere are also good - I like places that are dark enough to feel intimate but not so much you can't se your food. In that sense Rick's does well. I also liked the leather booth seats. There was a good mix of age groups but it does veer towards the upwardly mobile set.

The bar staff are also easy on the eye!


Andy is making this for me tonight. I make it a lot and taught Andy the recipe a couple of months ago. When I cook I am quite messy but have my little rituals and when I showed him how to do this recipe he laughed at the processes I go through - I like to set out all the toppings on a large plate so that when the dough is ready and rolled out they are all ready and I can add them in turn. This meticulous approach tickled Andy's funny bone it seems.

Anyway - this recipe is very easy and Andy sometimes makes teh dough and leaves it to rise while I am coming home on the train from Edinburgh. Then, when we get in from him picking me up from the station all we need to do is roll out teh dough,add the toppings and pop in the oven. Fresh, homemade pizza on a Friday night - perfect!

Pizza dough

225g/1lb plain flour
13g/.5oz yeast (or one pack dried)
half a teaspoon of salt
half a pint of hand hot water
(you can also half the water and make up with olive oil if you want to be fancy!)

Mix the flour, salt and dried yeast (if using fresh, dissolve in a little water then add).
Bit by bit add the water until you get a soft, pliable dough
Knead for 2-3 minutes until light and elastic
Roll into a ball and leave in a bowl covered with a clean, dry tea towel for an hour
Knead the dough for 30 - 60 seconds then roll out to desired shape. I like my pizza thin and crispy so use a large oven sized baking sheet)
Add toppings
Bake in oven 180-200c for 10-15 minutes

Cured meats pizza toppings

Take a tube of tomatoe purree and sqeeze it out in an ever decreasing circle on your pizza dough. Take a dessert spoon and spread the purree in half circle motions.
Thinly slice an onion and a pepper and a large portobello mushroom and sprinkle over the pizza
Add a selection of cured meats such as salami, chorizo and parma ham
Add finely slicedcherry tomatoes
Topwith grated mozzarella

Once cooked sprinkle with some parmesan grated using the biggest grate size on your grater

Rocket, parmesan and olives

In Pizza Express they do a pizza called the 'soho'. This is my version.

Take a tube of tomatoe purree and sqeeze it out in an ever decreasing circle on your pizza dough. Take a dessert spoon and spread the purree in half circle motions.
Add thinly sliced red ionion
Add black olives

Once baked top with shaves of parmesan, a handful of rocket and a generous drizzling of olive oil.


This probably isn't the real Italian way to do it but I basically take the pizza dough but instead of topping it like a pizza cover half with the toppings, foldover and crimp the dough, then bake in the oven. This is a good way to cook if you have 'sloppy' toppings like chilli beef. It is basically an italian pastie.

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Homemade chips

I don't have a deep fat fryer but I do like to make my own chips. I have three recipes that are all good and easy to do.

Sweet potatoe chips

Chop the sweet potatoes into two inch cubes. Sweet potatoes are a funny shape so I find this is the easiest way. Toss in olive oil and then place skin side down in a baking tray. Cook at 200c for 20-25 minutes.

Baked potatoe chips (1)

Cut into wedges and toss in olive oil. Place skin side down in a baking tray and cook at 220c for 30 minutes.

Baked potatoe chips (2)

These might be too spicy for some folks.
Cut into wedges and toss in olive oil, chopped garlic, wholegrain mustard and paprika. Place skin side down in a baking tray and cook at 220c for 30 minutes.

Beef Burgers

There is a bit of a story to these burgers. About five years ago I tried making my own beef burgers as my friend Damian was coming round for dinner. I sourced a tasty sounding recipe and spent the day making ahdnmade chips and burgers. I set the table all fancy and made crumble for pudding. Now, I am not precious about my cooking in the sense that I quite like rustic looking dishes, they don't need to look perfect or as if Gordon Ramsay has cooked them. But I do worry about if they taste ok and pride myself on sending folks away with a full belly - satisfied in their tummy and their tastebuds.

Well, Damian and Andy ate the burgers but when I asked them what they thought their response was 'a bit bland - could have done with more seasoning or spicy-ness'. My confidence was dented and I was put off the idea of making my own burgers for ages. Then I found a really saliva-inducing recipe in my Nigella Express book and figured five years was long enough for the wounds to have healed. Again, Damian was coming round for tea, so I figured this was as good a time as any to exorcise the first unsuccessful attempt at burgers.

The basic recipe is (serves 3 if you have two burgers each - we are greedy!):

500g lean minced beef
3 teaspoons natural yoghurt
3 teaspoons soya sauce
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons carmelized onions

Nigella says to use a jar of caramelized onions but I ouldn't find any and then Andy pointed out it couldn't be that hard to make them - surely its just butter, onions and brown sugar? - he was right - after a quick search on the BBC food website I got a recipe that gave me the basic theory. As I like red onions that is what I used although all the resipes I saw said white onions.

2 red onions
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 oz butter (roughly - i just chopped a big bit in that looked about right)

Hat teh oil and melt the butter. Cook onions - finely chopped - until soft. Add sugar and stur and melt until caramelized. Add red wine vinegar and cook for another few minutes.

For teh burgers - whack the mince in a big bowl and add all the ingredients and mash it up. You want to mix it until all the ingredients are combine and the mince isn't 'squiggly' anymore but is like pink mashed potatoe.

I drained the excess liquid from the onions out of the frying pan but didn't wash it, added some oil, and then fried the burgers. This meant the flavours all got used up. Yum! I make my burgers thick - about an inch - so fried on both sides for two minutes then put on a low heat for 8-10 minutes. If you like it rare I would half that.

I just used oven chips as I was feeling lazy but I often make sweet potatoe chips or baked potatoe wedges.

For toppings I mixed grated cheddar and mozarella and sliced up some tomatoe - it was finger licking good and the boys gave it the thumbs up!

A wee tip - I get wax discs from Lakeland Limited - they are great if you want to make the burgers up a few hours or the night before and leave them in the fridge. The discs mean the burgers don't settle and stick to your dish and makes them easy to handle when you are transferring them to the pan. I imagine they are also good if you want to freeze the burgers.

Blog you might want to read

I am so lax at keeping up with my blog that I hadn't realised I had a comment under my apple crumble from Carolyn who runs The Cooks Journal which is a forum that has lots of cooking related info - it's really good for a potter around and to pick up some hints and tips. A recipe I spotted which I think I will try is Leek and Prosicutto Pasta - based on a Jamie Oliver recipe - it sounds really tasty.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Cheat's dinner - Chicken Pesto Pasta

Making meals from scratch taste better and will be more healthy than processed food, but sometimes you are short on time and even just too tired to think about ingredients and cooking times. For such occasions I use what I call my 'cheat's dinner' recipes. These often combine ready prepared food with some home cooking - creating a meal that isn't as bad as a TV dinner but is quick and easy to pull together.

Every so often I visit my friend Mac at his flat in Edinburgh. We often go out for dinner but when we are feeling a bit skint, we take turns to bring round food and cook at his place. I stay a couple of nights a week in Edinburgh so it's fun to go round to someone's flat and cook a meal, have a glass of wine and have a good gossip.

This dinner came about when I was flailing about in the aisles of the Marks and Spencer outlet at Waverly Station - a place I spend too much time in - as it was my turn to cook and I was running late.

Bag of fresh pasta (I used tagliatelle but any would do)
Pot of green pesto
Packet of chicken breast pieces (I think they are meant for sandwiches but they are like bite sized pieces of chicken breast)
French loaf
Bag of salad leaves

Cook the pasta as per the instructions. Drain and add back to the pot adding the pesto and stir over a low heat. Slice the tomatoes up and add to the pasta.

For the salad, put the leaves in a bowl, add some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. If you have it, I like to add some wholegrain mustard. Toss and serve with the french loaf and some butter.

Check the pasta is fully combined and serve (I like to serve it in a bowl).

This all takes about ten minutes but is very tasty and looks like it takes longer. For a proper full-on home cooked version you could make this on a Monday night using the roast chicken from a Sunday dinner and make your pwn pesto. But as a cheat's dinner it is pretty good.

Chorizo Stew

I was visiting my sister a few weekends ago and she made this for our dinner. It is a great dish because it is a one pot meal, you can increase the quantities easily if you are feeding a lot of people, it isn't very expensive, and you can make enough to do two nights - it seems to get better overnight being left to marinate in its own juices.

The ingredients are:

New/baby potatoes (small bag)
Chorizo (I just judged at the deli how much I needed)
Onion (two)
Tinned tomatoes (chopped) (three)
Tomatoe puree (half a tube)
Paprika (one teaspoonful)
Chilli (half a teaspoonful)
Garlic (haf a bulb)
Basil (I had a handful left over from another recipe so chopped it and added that too)
Slug of olive oil

I par-boiled the potatoes and while they were cooking bashed up some garlic, finely chopped the onions and chunky chopped the chorizo. I drained the potatoes and then just used the same pot to saute the onions and garlic in some olive oil until the onions were soft. I kept some of the potatoe water in case the sauce got too thick later on but I found I didn't need it. Then I added the tins of tomatoes, basil and spices. I brought that to a simmer and added the chorizo and the potatoes. Covered and simmered for about two hours - although one would do. I added some tomatoe puree at the end to thicken the sauce.

My sister also added chick peas, fried bacon and fried the chorizo before adding it. I didn't have any chickpeas so just upped the potatoes and we had had a bacon buttie for breakfast so figured we didn't want more bacon in our dinner. It made a great Sunday dinner with some homemade bread and there was enough for dinner on Monday night. The chorizo gives it such a lovely smoky taste and the potatoes when cut were fresh and white against the tomatoe-y sauce.

Wholemeal bread

I like baking bread but hardly ever get time to do it. Kneading bread is very therapeutic and the smell of it baking is amazing. The best bit though is slathering a freshly baked slice with butter and jam....mmm....

I was inspired to bake some bread by an article I read in the Guardian about the lack of quality in today's shop bought bread by Andrew Whitely. The article is called crust of living and is a good read. And it reminded that a while back I bought Whitely's book, bread matters, but hadn't read it or used any of the recipes from it. So, I decided I would have a read and also see if there was a recipe for some wholemeal and sturdy bread I could use for a chorizo stew I intended to make for the Sunday dinner.

The book contains a good history of bread making and explains about how the bread we buy from the supermarket shelf is so full of chemicals to make it taste good and last longer but in a way that is quick to turnaround and get it into shops that it has stripped the bread of the ntrional value and fantastic taste you get from a bog standard home baked loaf. In fact, the industrial bread making process probably contributes to the rise in things like ceoliac disease and stomach problems.

The recipe I used is the first one in the book and is a basic wholemeal loaf recipe. I cadged some fresh yeast from the Tesco bakery staff - the shop itself doesn't stock it and they don't sell it from the bakery - they gave it to me for free. You don't need fresh yeast (dried is fine) but I wanted to bake with it to see what it was like.


600g stoneground strong wholemeal flour
5g sea salt
8g fresh yeast
400g water

Put the flour and salt in a bowl. take a quarter of the water in a small bowl/jug and dissolve the yeast using your fingers. Add the yeasty water to the flour and salt. Hold the bowl with one hand and with the other mix the ingredients - I imagined my hand was a like a big spatula. It will take a few minutes but the dough will start to form. When it does, lift it out of the bowl and knead for ten minutes. Whitely says you don't really need to flour your work surface, which is true, but if you have a surface that scratches easily I would suggest you either use a large chopping board or stop every so often to take the sticky residue that forms off the surface. Otherwise its a fair old elbow grease job at the end that could scratch your work surface. If you have solid marble worktops then good on you and feel my jealousy!

The pop the dough back in the bowl and cover with a plastic bag. The dough should rise in two hours - if it gets very high, just knock it back by folding it over itself a few times. You need to make sure though that the plastic bag cover 'stands up' from the tin a bit as you don't want the rising dough to stick to it - so make it pointy as though its a wizard hat sitting over the tin.

Grease your loaf tin and then start on making the dough into a loaf. Whitely uses a particular techniquie of making a long sausage out of the dough and folding it over three times, repeating with a shorter sausge and folding over twice. I don't know what magic property this might give your loaf. I did it and it worked out fine but no different to my usual kneading-it-about-a-bit and making it into a shape that will fit the loaf tin.

Whitely also suggests the dough should reach about halfway up the tin. To be honest, my loaf came out a bit small so either I didn't knead enough, my tin is a bit bigger than I thought or - which is what I will do next time - I need to make a bigger dough. I think I will add an extra 200g of flour and ratio the other ingredients up as the bread itself was fine to taste.

Cover the loaf tin with the plastic bag and leave to 'prove' - I usually wait until the dough is rising above the tin. Pop it into a preheated oven at about 230C and turn down to 200C after ten minutes. 30-40 minutes cooking time should be enough.

The bread is great for mopping up gravy and cooking juices and I served it with chorizo stew. I liked the recipe and the book gives you lots of hints and tips and certainly makes you wonder about shop bought bread. In a way it doesn't really take that long to make your own bread but even then I am not sure how you would manage to bake bread yourself all the time. But I think I will try to do so a bit more often.