Temperature – In The Heat Of The Kitchen

A key aspect of cooking is temperature. Whether this is checking the amount meat is cooked internally, or cooking eggs for ice cream custard so they don’t overcook, getting the temperature right is often critical.

Personally, I use a Thermapen. I’ve had one for a couple of years and wonder what I did without it. There’s a link below to the one I use, which was a bit more expensive. I’ve also added a link to a much cheaper version which some Amazon reviews suggest is pretty good, though I see some reviews questioning its longevity.

Oh, the temperature for eggs for a custard is an absolute max of 80C, about 75C cooks it nicely.

I prefer these pens to some other items. The infra-red types (there’s a link below) are great for reading the external surface temperature, but no good for sticking into a joint, or chicken, to check it’s cooked. So I’d suggest they’re not much use for cooking.

I use:

Or the cheaper item is here:

This is the infrared surface reader:

Spanakopita – A Classic Greek Dish

My brother put me on to this and it’s a tasty lunch or dinner, best veggie I think. It is an easy Greek filo pastry based pie and can be prepared a bit in advance. Serve at room temperature, or just lukewarm.
It’s really a traditional spinach and feta Greek “pie”, but can be varied in many directions. The dish is traditionally veggie but I suppose you could put some minced lamb in it and some Middle East type spices? Probably a hanging offence in Greece.
I use my loose bottomed flan dish that I also use for quiche. It works well and makes removing the finished pie much easier.
I find I have more filo than I need for one. You could get two spanakopita from a pack. Don’t think it would freeze well from a cheese/egg perspective so you’d need to eat them both from the fridge over a couple of days.
Lovely served with a nice salad.
Ingredients
  • A pack of filo pastry
  • Small butternut squash
  • 120g of young spinach, wilted and drained. Use a sieve or muslin/tea towel.
  • 200g Feta chopped up, there need to be cubes of cheese, probably about 1.5cm square
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 50-75g melted butter to coat the filo
  • Mint leaves chopped (careful not to overdo as it can be a bit too minty), some basil wouldn’t go amiss
  • Optional – some small chopped courgettes.
  • Courgette flowers for decoration or you can put some in the pie if you have enough.
Method
  1. Peel the butternut squash and cut into 2cm chunks. Coat in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast it at 180C fan for about 30-40 minutes till cooked. A bit of colour is no bad thing.
  2. Mix the cooled butternut squash with the eggs, cheese, spinach, herbs. Season well with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover the bottom of the flan dish with a sheet of filo then brush it with butter. Put on two more, coating them with butter and rotating them a bit so that all the sides of the dish are covered.
  4. Tip the filling into the dish and level out.
  5. Fold the edges of the filo base back over towards the middle
  6. Now cover with about another 3 layers and any loose scraps of filo, buttering each piece.
  7. Decorate with some courgette flowers, coating them in butter, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  8. Cook at 180C fan for about 20 minutes, more or less depending on how golden it goes
Best served lukewarm or at room temperature, probably with a Greek salad. The Spanakopita can be kept chilled overnight in a fridge. It also reheats to crisp up the soggy pastry.
The filling is easily varied:
  • Leaves could be rocket, horseradish, chard, kale
  • Cheese could be gorgonzola or any other cheese but not sure how well some would work. Experimentation carries a risk.
  • Herb could be mint, basil, thyme, tarragon, fennel, oregano, dill, parsley
  • Squash could be carrot, could add some finely chopped onion, probably cooked off slightly for best results.
  • Mix and match veg as you wish just be careful not to add something too wet, or that needs a lot more cooking. In which case, pre-cook and/or drain.

Kozani Chicken – Simple Greek Food

Kozani chicken is a Greek recipe and this based on a version from Rick Stein. These quantities serve about 4 people depending on the size of the chicken pieces etc.
It is very simple but quite tasty. A nice saffron tone, with some sweetness from the prunes. It might even stand a pinch of sugar, taste and season once it’s cooked.
I’ve made it with chicken thighs with bones in (after removing their skin) and this is probably better for flavour. Some folks can’t be fussed with the bones and if you are wanting to serve as a fork and bowl TV dinner then you might prefer to use boneless and skinless thighs. I haven’t tried with chicken breast but this might work if the breast was kept in large pieces, perhaps halved, and then poached, taking care it isn’t cooked too long.
Reducing the sauce was essential. I took out the chicken when I was reducing. In a wide pan, this doesn’t take long. While it reduced I stripped the chicken flesh from the thighs and put it back in for a couple of minutes to re-heat at the end.
Serve in a bowl with some simple boiled rice or some boiled potatoes, and a Greek side salad.
Ingredients
  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • pinch of Kozani saffron (or Spanish saffron) – I just used regular saffron
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1½ tbsp sweet paprika (that’s the normal plain paprika, neither smoked nor too hot)
  • 20 pitted prunes (The soft “ready to eat” ones are Ok but don’t need much cooking so perhaps add them later in the process so they don’t over soften)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A few turns of ground black pepper, or more if you like more kick
Method
  1. Put the chicken thighs in a large saucepan with about 1 litre water and the saffron. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and poach the chicken for 10–15 minutes. Drain, reserving the now yellow and saffron flavoured cooking liquid.
  2. At the same time heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and sweat the onion gently until very soft, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Add the paprika, cook for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken thighs, about 700ml of the cooking liquid and the prunes. Season with the salt and pepper and simmer for about 20 minutes, until heated through and the chicken is cooked. This is where pieces of chicken breast may need less time. (You could always remove the breast and sit to the side while the sauce finishes.)
  5. If the sauce is very watery, which it almost certainly will be, remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and keep warm while you reduce down the sauce so that you have enough to spoon over each portion.
  6. A sprinkling of fresh parsley might be nice.

Duck Legs with Potatoes

A tasty Italian supper. Simple and little effort from a preparation perspective. Takes about 2 hours elapsed time but this is just the length of cooking time. The duck legs end up with a crispy skin and moist leg meat, which works well with creamy roasted new potatoes, cooked in the duck fat.
Serves 4 (It’s one leg per person, adjust accordingly)
Ingredients
  • 4 duck legs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 600g new potatoes, peeled
  • Leaves from a sprig of sage
  • Leaves from a few sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 tablespoon brandy or grappa or Marsala (optional)
Method
  1. Put the duck legs in a large baking dish or roasting tin, skin side up. Season with salt and pepper and prick them all over with a pointed knife. I find a generous rub of Maldon sea salt to be perfect. It’s delicious, salty, crisp skin you’re aiming for.
  2. Put the dish in a preheated 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas 4 oven for 1½ hours. Depending on the size of the duck legs you might want to reduce this by 15-20 mins. You just have to judge, they do take at least 90 minutes to cook properly.
  3. In the meantime, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until only just tender, about 10 minutes, then drain and cut them into ½ or ¼ depending on their size. Let them steam dry before you add to the roasting tin
  4. Take the dish out of the oven. Lift the legs out on to a plate. If there is way too much fat then remove some, but with two legs, for example, I find its OK.
  5. Put in the potatoes and stir them so that they are well covered with duck fat. Return the duck legs to the tray, skin side up, pushing the potatoes to make room for them. Spoon a little fat over them, put a sage leaf or two and a few rosemary leaves under each leg.
  6. Return to the oven and continue to cook at 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas 4 for about 15-20 minutes.
  7. Then turn the temperature up to about 180C fan or 200C normal. Scatter a generous amount of chopped rosemary needles over the potatoes and duck. They need about 5-10 more minutes.
At the end of the cooking, the duck skin is crisp and brown and the meat is soft and comes away from the bone easily. Sprinkle some salt on the potatoes before serving or let each person do individually.
10 minutes before the end, if you like, pour a tablespoon of brandy/grappa/Marsala etc over each duck leg.
Warm some pasta bowls to serve the food.
Serve by putting a duck leg in each pasta bowl. Get your guests to shred the meat off the bone and discard the bone. Then spoon in potatoes etc from the roasting pan which you have placed in the middle of the table.
Variants:
  • Add a few decent sized carrot chunks to the potatoes and roast them with the potatoes
  • Add some fresh garden picked, blanched, broad beans two minutes before serving. They will be emerald pieces of deliciousness.

Kheema with Peas (Minced Lamb Curry with Peas)

Kheema with peas in the cooking pot
Kheema with peas

Kheema is a minced lamb curry with peas. You can either buy minced lamb or buy some lamb and mince it yourself. Probably best made with minced leg of lamb, but if I’m in a hurry I just buy some minced lamb from the supermarket. It does need some fat content though or it will be “dry” and a bit flavourless.

Like all of these dishes it works best the day after, or if frozen and defrosted later. You can keep half the methi to add at the reheating stage, or even add a bit more.
It’s also really quick to make. Chop the onions first and start them softening while you look out and prep everything else.
Methi really is an essential ingredient. You can buy it mail order here: Spices of India
Green Chutney works really well with this, and I always serve with it, and some natural yoghurt.
(At any stage if the spices or mix start to dry and catch add a splash of water to recover it and avoid burning)

Ingredients

  • 500g minced leg of lamb
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 5 green cardamom pods, lightly cracked
  • 1 large onion quite finely chopped
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½-1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (mirch), to taste
  • 200ml water, add a little more if too “thick”
  • 100g frozen peas (vary quantity as you like)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (methi)

Last minute additions

  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 chopped green chilli
  • Juice of half a lemon (optional)
  • Natural yoghurt (optional)

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a deep pan over medium heat and add the green cardamom pods for about 10 seconds.
  2. Add the onions, frying until softened and brown in colour. This will take up to 20 minutes
  3. Add the garlic and the ginger cooking for 1-2 minutes stirring frequently so they don’t catch and burn.
  4. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for another 2 minutes.
  5. You now need to cook the minced lamb. You’ve got two choices. Either fry it off with the rest of the spices (in which case you might need to turn the heat up a bit, but it’s hard to brown without burning the other ingredients, so I avoid this). Or, as I prefer to do, cook it in a separate hot non-stick pan (that way you can really brown it without scorching the other ingredients, also you can choose how much of the fat you add as some is needed to help the flavour.)
  6. Add the turmeric powder and chilli powder. Cook and stir well for 3-4 minutes until the mince is even coloured all the way through.
  7. Add the methi leaves, and the water, and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and simmer on a gentle heat for 20 minutes.
  8. Lastly, adjust the seasoning and add the garam masala, coriander and chilli just before serving.
  9. Serve warm with some lemon juice and Indian bread (naan, chapati or parathas) and green chutney. A dollop of natural yoghurt doesn’t go amiss (an especially nice contrast if you like the Kheema quite hot.). I usually omit the lemon juice if I’m using my favourite Green Onion Chutney.

Green Onion Chutney – The Ultimate Indian Side Dish

A very good Green Onion Chutney. It has a zingy flavour with a mixture of sweet and sour from the lime and sugar, and fresh herbs from the coriander and mint, the chillies add the final kick. Best eaten fresh. I’d say within an hour or two. But may keep for a few hours longer in the fridge. It is great as part of a small set of raitas, pickles, salads, and chutneys when serving Indian nibbles like pakora.
It’s particularly easy to make. I have a small food processor and find it essential for this. Just put everything in the processor and blitz, I use the Pulse feature. If you have the patience then you could chop it all finely by hand, but for me, life’s too short.
 
This chutney works with almost any curry, pakora, poppadoms etc. It’s particularly nice with Kheema.
Ingredients
  • Large handful mint leaves
  • Large handful coriander leaves
  • 2 fresh green chillies roughly chopped (I leave the seeds in)
  • 1 small (about 75g) onion roughly chopped
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
Method
  1. Tip it all into a food processor and blitz on pulse; you might need to scrape it off the sides a couple of times. Doesn’t want to be too smooth in my opinion. Some texture is required otherwise you will just make a paste.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Delicious on its own or use this as a base for any custard-like ice cream (eg. Toasted Oatmeal). Omit or reduce the vanilla depending on your intended end product.
I have to confess I now use a temperature probe (they cost a few pounds and are invaluable.) The temperature for the custard must be no more than 80C. A minimum is 70C. So I aim for about 75C. You can do this by eye by observing how the custard thickens and runs off the back of a spoon. The temperature probe approach makes sure you cook the eggs enough for safety but not enough to scramble them.
Ingredients
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 300ml full-fat milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
Method
  1. Place a container in the freezer to chill (to hold the ice cream once it’s made). Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape the seeds out with the point of the knife and tip into a pan with the milk, cream and pod. Bring to the boil, then remove heat and leave to infuse for at least 20 mins. For the best flavour, this can be done a couple of hours beforehand and left to go cold.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks together for a few mins until they turn pale and fluffy.
  3. Put the vanilla cream back on the heat until it’s just about to boil, then carefully sieve the liquid onto the yolks, beating with the whisk until completely mixed.
  4. Pour the custard back into the pan and cook on the lowest heat, stirring slowly and continuously, making sure the spoon touches the bottom of the pan, for about 10 mins until it is about 75C.
  5. Allow the custard to cool in the fridge until completely chilled. You may want to stir occasionally or keep a lid on it to prevent it forming a skin
  6. Chill the container you intend to hold the finished ice cream in the freezer. A warm glass bowl, for example, will just melt the finished product, so pre-chilled is best. A plastic container shouldn’t need to be chilled.
  7. Put the chilled custard in your ice cream maker and churn.

Toasted Oatmeal Ice Cream

The basis for this ice cream is a classic vanilla ice cream, with a crumbled oatmeal praline added at the end.
Lovely served with a raspberry coulis or for luxury some red berry fruits preserved in an alcoholic liquor, the kind that’s often common in the shops around Christmas time.
Ingredients
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 60ml water
  • 50g pinhead oatmeal
  • One amount of the classic vanilla ice cream
Method
In summary, you make a crushed oatmeal praline, then make a simple vanilla ice cream, adding the crushed praline just before you put in the freezer.
  1. Read the vanilla ice cream recipe. There are preparatory stages that you may find useful to do first and then use the waiting time to make the praline.
  2. Make the oatmeal pralines: Toast the oatmeal in a dry pan until it has a nice toasted smell and colour. Critical that you avoid burning as this will have a dark bitter flavour. Once toasted tip the oatmeal onto a cool plate to stop it getting darker.
  3. Lightly oil a baking sheet to receive the praline.
  4. Make a caramel. Dissolve the sugar in the water. Turn the heat up and let it bubble until it becomes a dark golden colour like rich clear honey.
  5. Immediately stir in the oatmeal and quickly pour the mix onto the baking sheet. Spread it to be a layer about 5-6mm thick. (It’s very hot watch the surface below the sheet does not get burned.)
  6. Let it cool thoroughly. This should only take 30-40 minutes max.
  7. Break up pieces of praline and put a few at a time in a mortar and pestle. Grind and crush them till they are like biggish salt crystal size, bits of oatmeal are no bad thing as they give the finished ice cream some texture, you don’t want a fine dust. Do in batches and tip the ground praline into a bowl as you go. Once all is ground cover the bowl with cling film or a lid to prevent steam/moisture making it go sticky while you make the ice cream. Putting it in the freezer till the ice cream is ready for it might help.
  8. Make the vanilla ice cream. You may care to reduce or omit the vanilla according to taste.
  9. As the ice cream becomes ready, tip in the praline and let it mix through.
  10. Dispense it to the pre-chilled bowl.

Red Cabbage – An Easy Autumn Classic

Red Cabbage is another autumn/winter favourite.

It’s a very useful side dish which has many virtues:
  • it can be made a few hours in advance
  • it can be spiced up and made as “festive” as you like. A thin slice of orange peel might make a festive flavour.
  • it is easy to do and hard to go wrong
  • it’s quick and simple to cook.
You must use eating apples as they will keep their shape when cooked. Cooking apples, like Bramleys, will just go to mush so should be avoided.
Ingredients
  • knob of butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely sliced or chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 x 600g red cabbage, shredded finely using a food processor (white core discarded)
  • 3 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 100ml red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
Method
  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large lidded saucepan.
  2. When the oil is hot, add the onion and fry gently until softened.
  3. Then stir in the spices. Add the cabbage and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glossy.
  4. Stir in the sugar, apples and red wine vinegar. Cover with a lid and let it cook gently for 30 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust salt/sugar/vinegar, and cook longer if needed, as you prefer.

Venison Casserole

Venison casserole is a great autumn classic. As with all these things, you can put in whatever root vegetables you have to hand. Just be careful with longer cooking times.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed or sunflower oil, or dripping/lard (I use lard)
  • 250g home-cured bacon belly, or bought pancetta, cut into 1cm lardons
  • 1.5kg venison neck and shoulder meat, stewing cuts, cut into large chunks
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • A few whole small shallots are nice if you have them
  • 2–3 large carrots, cut into 3cm chunks
  • 2 Celery stalks, sliced finely
  • 1 Swede (Turnip or Neeps to us Scots) diced into 2.5cm chunks
  • 200g Chestnut mushrooms sliced or cut into chunks
  • 6–10 juniper berries, bashed slightly
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A large sprig of thyme, some rosemary would also be OK
  • About 500ml beef, venison, chicken or game stock
  • 350ml red wine
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C fan
  2. In a large casserole soften the onion, celery, shallots and pancetta
  3. After a few minutes add the carrots, mushrooms and saute on a lowish heat till the liquid from the mushrooms is gone
  4. If you like a thicker sauce then you can add a dessert spoon or table spoon of flour to the pan while is just has the fat, to make a thickening roux. If you do this watch it doesn’t catch and burn while you brown the meat.
  5. Meanwhile brown the venison in a hot pan in small batches and add to the casserole as they are browned
  6. Deglaze the browning pan with some of the red wine
  7. Add the red wine to the casserole and turn the heat up to reduce the liquid by half
  8. Add the juniper berries, bay leaves, and herbs as a bouquet garni
  9. Add enough stock to just cover the ingredients, add a little water if you need it.
  10. Add some salt and a decent twist of pepper, you can finalise the seasoning after cooking
  11. Put in the oven for about 3 hours, longer if it needs it.
  12. After the first hour put in the swede. (If you put it in at the start it can almost dissolve.)
Fabulous with red cabbage and mash.