Aloo Gobi – A Lovely Vegetarian Dish

This Aloo Gobi is based on a Felicity Cloake recipe. It’s fabulous.
You can get harder to find ingredients here Spices of India. This is where I buy less common spices and I bought my Methi and Nigella Seeds.
Generally, I make it with tinned tomatoes though fresh ones might be nice if you can get good ones in summer. Because of the tomatoes, it is slightly acidic. Felicity Cloake suggests adding the juice of half a lime at the end and I omitted as I felt it wasn’t needed. Your mileage may vary.
Cooking the potatoes well before adding the cauliflower is an important point, as the potatoes take a good bit longer to cook. Otherwise, the cauliflower florets can really break up before the potato cooks.
With a decently sized cauliflower, I had a good bit more cauliflower than potatoes, but this was no bad thing. That made me add some more tomatoes and some extra methi etc to balance it out the sauce. I think the quantities flex pretty freely without destroying the recipe. So, if you like it more “saucy” then increase the tomatoes, onion and spices a bit.
I like it quite “hot” and used red Kashmiri mirch chilli, it’s very good. Serving with some nice yoghurt can cool it down and the yoghurt works well with it anyway.
The methi is essential to the Aloo Gobi, the recipe usually suggests adding it at the end. Despite this I do think the curry benefits from being allowed to cool and rest in the fridge overnight after adding the methi; it really seems to develop the flavour.
The Aloo Gobi is delicious served on its own with some bread – your choice – naan, chapati, etc. Or, it is a great side dish for a wider Indian meal.
Though it’s not traditional I liked some frozen peas added for 5-10 minutes at the reheating stage.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp nigella seeds (though these look like Onion Seeds, they ain’t – they are different.)
  • 350g waxy potatoes, cut into 2cm dice (remember the larger the potato pieces the slower they are to cook. I think the smaller ones are better too.)
  • 1 cauliflower, cut into florets slightly larger than the potato
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, or 5 chopped medium fresh tomatoes and 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted in a dry pan and ground
  • ½-1 tsp chilli powder (I used 1 tsp of Kashmiri mirch, a hot powder, which also gives a reddish colour)
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2-4 small green chillies, slit along their length (I left the seeds in)
  • 1 tsp salt (the potatoes, cauliflower and tomato can all stand salt so taste at the end as you may need more.)
  • 1 tbsp methi (dried fenugreek leaves – these are an essential flavour component in my opinion.)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped, for serving
  • Yoghurt for serving if preferred

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a wide, lidded pan over a medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the cumin and nigella seeds and cook for a few seconds until they pop, then add the potatoes and sauté until golden. Scoop out the potatoes with a slotted spoon and then repeat with the cauliflower, then scoop this too out into a separate bowl.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add a little more oil if necessary, and add the onion. Cook until soft and golden but not brown, then stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for a couple of minutes. Tip in the tomatoes, ground coriander, chilli and turmeric and cook, stirring regularly, until the oil begins to pool around the side of the pan.
  3. Add the potatoes back in along with the fresh chillies and salt, bring to a simmer, turn down the heat, cover and cook for as long as it takes to cook the potatoes.
  4. Add the cauliflower only once the potatoes are cooked, and add a good splash of water, cover and cook until both are tender, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick and adding more water if necessary. Don’t overcook the cauliflower or it will disintegrate. If you think you will be re-heating then just leave it slightly al dente.
  5. Take off the heat, stir in the methi and garam masala and leave for 10 minutes
  6. Either serve the Aloo Gobi right away with coriander and yoghurt, or cool and fridge overnight, or freeze, all work well. (I really think leaving at least overnight helps massively. The methi seems to work its magic if left for a while.)

Apple Tray Bake

A nine year old harvesting apples by climbing the tree
Harvesting Apples

I always think of Apple Tray Bake as a lovely Autumn comfort treat. Basically, it is a sponge with chunks of cooking apple baked in it. The sweet warm sponge with contrasting slightly sharp apple is fabulous. We get a small glut of Bramley apples from the tree in our garden. First get a nine-year-old to climb the tree to pick the apples….

Serve this as a warm treat with your afternoon cup of tea. Or serve in portions with some warm custard on the side. Sure, you can make your own custard, but there’s not much wrong with the supermarket chilled stuff. Or, I grew up with custard made with Bird’s custard powder and until I was an adult I had no idea it could be made any other way. I loved it.

An old family recipe book.
Our old recipe book

This is one of these recipes that gets handed down. Our original version as written in our old recipe book shows its age. It’s all in ounces and tablespoons. And it uses margarine instead of butter. I grew up with pretty much all baking made with margarine but nowadays I tend to use butter. Also, I tend to use grams instead of ounces nowadays.

Times are changing. I grew up with pretty much all baking made with margarine but nowadays I tend to use butter. Also, I tend to stick to grams instead of ounces. Though I still use tablespoon and teaspoon measures. For temperatures, I use Celsius rather than Fahrenheit.

Ingredients

  • 110g Butter at room temperature
  • 110g Sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 220g Self-raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • about 300g Cooking apples
  • 80-90ml cold milk

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160-170C fan
  2. Look out a tray or ceramic dish. The one we use is a rectangular ceramic dish that is about 5cm deep and 25cmx17cm in size. Anything around this size will work. Lightly butter the dish.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon or a mixer
  4. Peel and chop the apples. Make them about 1cm thick and about 2-3cm in size. You need chunks so they don’t disappear into the sponge in the cooking.
  5. Beat the egg into the mix
  6. Sieve the flour and salt into the mixture
  7. Mix in the milk until there is a workable sponge mix, quite thick and not too runny
  8. Add the apples and stir them through
  9. Scrape the mix into your tray.
  10. Bake in the oven for about 40-50 minutes. We test it with a skewer to check it’s cooked. It will depend on the shape and depth of your tray.

Variations

  • You could reduce the apples a bit and add some blackberries, a classic combination, and the lovely purple-red staining from the berries will make it visually interesting too
  • Vanilla, it always splits opinion, you could a teaspoonful

We let the Apple Tray Bake cool till warm in the tray and then cut it into a grid of portions (they need to be a decent size, in my opinion!) and eat some warm with a cuppa. You will want to have it later for pudding, served with your favourite custard. If you have leftovers for the following day they really benefit from 15 seconds in the microwave.

Out of the Frying Pan

Three different kinds of frying pans
Three different frying pans

If you cook for yourself a reasonable amount then I think you need three different kinds of frying pan. I have six frying pans, only because I have two sizes of each type. They can be remarkably inexpensive. Or, you can spend a fortune, but I’m not sure it will make any difference to your end result.

I own three kinds of frying pan, cast iron, non-stick, stainless steel. Here’s what I use them for and this will explain why I have three types. The duplicates for size is for larger and smaller quantities, fairly self-explanatory. I use all three frying pan types very regularly depending on what I am cooking.

Cast Iron Pan
Cast Iron Pan

Cast Iron

I’ve had this pan for about twenty years. I bought it from the back of one of those old style ironmonger and hardware stores you just don’t seem to get any longer. It cost me £10. It has a thick gauge and a good heavy base. This makes it heavy to lift. But it holds a lot of heat and is fabulous for cooking things that need a good hot pan, typically steaks or searing a joint of meat, or pan frying a fish to get a nice crisp skin. Like all cast iron pans, you must look after it. It needs to be seasoned before first using, which is basically just burning a film of oil onto the pan with as much heat as you can muster (like putting it in your oven turned up to the maximum.) After seasoning, it builds up a non-stick coating.

A well-seasoned pan can easily cook things like fried eggs with no sticking.  Always wash your cast iron frying pan with hot water only. This maintains the slightly oily non-stick effect. In practice, I find washing the frying pan is very easy. Putting it in the dishwasher, or using detergent, would ruin it and you would need to start seasoning it again. It’s also unsuitable for cooking liquid type sauces that would degrade the coating. A tomato sauce will cause the seasoning to be degraded because it is quite acidic. That’s why I have a stainless steel pan.

Thick Stainless Steel Frying Pan Base
Stainless Steel Frying Pan Base

Stainless Steel

This is the pan I turn to for cooking things that have sauces that will otherwise degrade the seasoning on my cast iron pan, eg. tomato-based sauces. I cook all my wet sauces in this pan. The pan has a good heavy base and also a lid. It works really well when softening onions, or making a soffrito. I can safely put this pan in the dishwasher and it saves a lot of effort. I know that some people will season these and you can get them fairly non-stick. But if it’s non-stick I need I either use my non-stick pan or my cast iron pan.

Non-Stick

Non-Stick Frying Pan
Non-Stick Frying Pan

I think everybody needs a non-stick frying pan. It’s not something I use all the time but, for those essentials, like an omelette, they are indispensable. I have two sizes and I usually cook my fried eggs in them too. Anything that might stick a bit to my cast iron pan, like a skinless wet fish fillet, get’s the non-stick treatment. If you use wooden or plastic utensils, and don’t overheat the pan, the non-stick coating lasts a while.

My other strategy is to buy a medium quality pan. The really cheap pans often lose their coating very quickly and then they are only fit for recycling. Equally, I think that some of the very expensive pans don’t really last much longer than the medium quality pans. So my approach is to buy a reasonably durable medium priced pan and be prepared to simply replace them when they start to fail every few years. The fact that they just slot into the dishwasher nicely is another virtue.

Chicken Risotto – A Simple Italian Classic

This is a really fabulous Chicken Risotto. It’s worth taking the effort to cook a whole chicken and use the stock and meat to make the risotto. It’s not really that much work and depending on the number of portions you need you might have a left-over poached chicken breast for a fabulous sandwich on the following day.
In my opinion, you want to avoid strong partner flavours for this Chicken Risotto to allow the chicken flavour to shine through. Some folks think there is cream in the risotto but this would be a crime. It’s the mantecatura that makes the difference.
The texture and wetness of the Chicken Risotto is important. There is nothing worse then claggy, stodgy risotto. Equally, you don’t want it too soupy. If, when it has rested it seems too “dry” then adding a ladle of the remaining stock can loosen it up just before serving. Risotto really must be made and served as soon as it has rested for 5 minutes. If you keep it hanging around the rice will overcook, and absorb more liquid, and “dry up”, becoming a fairly unpleasant sticky, claggy, mess. Likewise, it’s not much good for leftovers that can be reheated.
Ingredients
  • A small to medium chicken
  • Some carrot, celery and onion to add to the chicken stock
  • Thyme
  • Bay leaf
  • 1-2 tbsp Olive oil, I just use plain olive oil, again to keep the flavour simple
  • 1 medium onion very finely chopped
  • Risotto rice, 80-100g per person
  • A glass of white wine or white vermouth, I generally use Noilly Prat
  • The chicken stock, there should be enough, but start using boiling water if you run short.
  • 100g frozen peas (optional)
  • 100g Parmesan, finely grated, adjust to taste
  • A decent bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped just before you use it
  • 25-40g cold butter, cubed
  • The cold chicken meat, torn by hand into decent sized chunks. The chicken pieces need to be small enough to eat in one bite but should be as large as can be managed. Small shreds will just get lost and also be a bit fibrous to eat,
Method
  1. First, cook the chicken. Do this on the morning of the day you will have the risotto if you can, or the previous day if you chill the chicken and the stock in the fridge after cooking. Put the chicken in a pot or casserole suitable for the stove top. It should be tight fitting. You should add some carrot, celery and onion, a bay leaf, and some sprigs of thyme (a few peppercorns won’t go wrong.) Then top it up with water to just cover the chicken. Do not season at this stage. Bring it to the boil and poach at a very gentle simmer for between 60-75 minutes to cook the chicken.
  2. Cool the chicken, till it can be handled, in the stock to keep it moist
  3. Remove the chicken to a work board to pick the meat off the chicken, storing the cooked chicken in the fridge. Keep the breasts whole, you can tear them apart later when you put in the risotto.
  4. Drain the stock through a sieve into a pot. You will use the stock to cook the risotto, giving the chicken flavour to the cooked risotto.
  5. To make the risotto start by softening the onion gently till it is soft. This can take 10-20 minutes. You don’t want colour, no golden onions here. I don’t add celery to this risotto to keep the flavour simpler.
  6. Put the stock pot beside the risotto pot and warm it up till it’s at the gentlest simmer, put a ladle in the pot.
  7. Add the rice and stir until the grains are properly hot and well coated in the oil. You don’t want to brown them, but this tostada stage is important. They will begin to feel like they are sticking to the base of the pan and it’s essential to keep them moving. Once they are nicely hot then move on.
  8. Add the vermouth or wine and let it simmer down, the alcohol will burn off
  9. Add some salt, probably about a teaspoon, you can adjust at the end. Remember the butter might be salted.
  10. Now ladle stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time, into the rice. Stir the rice more or less continuously until the stock is mainly absorbed, then add some more of the stock, and continue. The stirring brings out the starch and creates the creaminess of texture.
  11. You have to test the grains to see if it is ready. Cooking will take 15-20 minutes. When the rice grains are just losing their dry firmness in the centre they are ready.
  12. If using frozen peas add them now and stir for a minute or so till they are heated
  13. Now for the “mantecatura”, which is simply making it creamy. Add the half the parmesan, the parsley and the cold butter cubes. Beat these in with a wooden spoon for a minute or so till all is incorporated and creamy. Remember that you don’t want to overpower the flavour with parmesan, too little is better than too much.
  14. Stir in the chicken and set the pot somewhere warm to keep hot for about 5 minutes.
  15. Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of parmesan, parsley and freshly ground pepper.
Some folks add finely chopped celery at the onion cooking stage. I prefer a slightly less intense flavour to allow the chicken flavour to shine. If I was making Porcini Risotto I would probably add finely chopped celery alongside the onion. You can add more chopped thyme with the rice if you like a more herby flavour. The peas are fine because they maintain their shape and are lightly cooked so become little pea flavour pods in the finished Chicken Risotto.
For a nice textured Chicken Risotto with lumps of chicken, stir the chicken in last to avoid breaking it up by the mantecatura stage.

Simple Tomato Sauce – A Freezer Essential

This is based on a Rick Stein suggestion and works very well. It’s a great simple tomato sauce which freezes nicely in portions. I always have portions in the freezer.
It’s flavoured with bay leaf and having fresh bay leaves really helps. Every garden should have a bay tree, they are easily grown in pots by the back door. It can be jazzed up by adding basil or oregano (dried or fresh) when using to add a different flavour edge.
I use tinned tomatoes and they work well. If you have fabulous ripe fresh tomatoes they would work too (you need to skin them) but I don’t think it will work so well with supermarket water balls…. This is probably a good way to use up that tomato glut at the end of the season if you grow your own. If using fresh from the supermarket, you might find some tomato puree helps the colour and flavour a bit. The tinned approach is tasty, easier and less work.
Did you know that most tomatoes sold in our supermarkets are grown in water (a system called hydroponics)? This is where buying organic can make a difference. The Soil Association certify what is organic, which they do by certifying the soil. So tomatoes that are organic have to be grown in soil.
It’s quite possible to grow all the ingredients in your own garden (assuming you have somewhere like a greenhouse for the tomatoes.) The onions, garlic and bay leaves are all grown easily at home. Get started with some garlic, it’s the easiest.
I find this sauce useful for:
  • Being the tomato base to smear on top of a pizza before adding other toppings
  • As a sauce for pasta. A simple cooked pasta with this sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan with fresh basil works really well.
  • As a basic sauce, it’s acceptable to most kids with pasta as it doesn’t have any “bits” or anything green.
  • Great with homemade ravioli, perhaps stuffed with ricotta and herbs.
  • Rick Stein uses it in a Spanish lamb stuffed aubergine recipe which is really nice. So can be added as a bit of a cheat to some minced beef or pork to make a quick ragu for that emergency guest situation.
Oil… yes, it’s a lot of olive oil (no need for extra virgin) but it gets blended into a smooth sauce and emulsifies nicely. Trust me, it’s fine.
I usually make a bigger quantity and freeze portions in labelled freezer bags. One piece of work, many meals.
Ingredients
Single
Double
Olive oil (don’t waste extra virgin)
125ml
250ml
Onions
250g
500g
Garlic cloves
2
4
Tinned tomatoes (400g tins)
1
2
Bay leaves
3
6
Water
150ml
300ml
Salt
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Sugar
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Method
  1. Sautee the onions in the olive oil till soft. Do not brown/colour/crisp, so a low heat works best and this will take 15 to 30 minutes. Start this first and then look out the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Make the garlic to a paste and add to the onions for the last 5 minutes to cook off.
  3. Now add everything else and bring to the gentlest of simmers.
  4. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the sauce and oil have cooked together and reduce to be a bit thicker.
  5. Remove the bay leaves
  6. Allow to cool and then blend in a food processor or blender. You end up with a slightly orange looking tomato sauce that tastes delicious.
  7. Make in advance and freeze or fridge till needed.
Portion Thoughts
For an 8-year-old, I find that 80g of dried pasta and 140g of sauce works well. That might leave room for that essential scoop of ice cream afterwards.
For an adult 120g of dried pasta, you might want about 180-200g of sauce, depending on how wet you like your pasta and what else you are adding. Eg. pan fry some courgette chunks quickly and add to the sauce along with some fresh oregano.
The 140g portion size works well with a portion of 6-8 homemade ravioli.
Oh, if you’re defrosting from a freezer bag then don’t put the bag of sauce in the microwave. The oil in the sauce will melt the bag and you will have an awful mess. Just sayin’.
If you run the bag under the cold tap you can remove the sauce from the bag quite easily and either melt in a pot or heat in a microwaveable bowl.