Beef Stroganoff – A ’70s Classic

Beef Stroganoff is a really nice dish much maligned by its ‘70s reputation. There are lot’s of variants, but here’s mine. Another tip of the hat to Felicity Cloake.
Key points in this are:
  • You are preparing a sauce for a steak with onion, mushroom, stock and soured cream
  • Then you are essentially cooking a steak to your preference, with seasoning, and letting it rest before cutting into strips
  • Serve the steak and sauce together with rice or frites or sauteed potatoes.
These quantities should serve 4, about half a steak per person. Adjust quantities for your preferences.
Some of this can be made in advance, specifically cooking the onions and the mushrooms. It’s then just a case of cooking the steak and amalgamating all the other ingredients.


  • 2 medium-sized sirloin steak
  • Salt
  • Ground allspice (I think this needs to be here as a flavour element, but find your own strength preference. I like a light sprinkle on the steak)
  • 50g butter
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 300g white or chestnut mushrooms, left whole if small, or cut in halves or quarters
  • 250ml sour cream
  • 1 tbsp Sarepska or Dijon or English mustard to your taste
  • 150ml beef stock (I find the decent supermarket liquid stocks pretty good and a lot less faff than making your own. They have long shelf lives too. If you have homemade then use it. You also will get something like 500ml in the supermarket stock. Freeze the leftovers in measured amounts, say two bags of 150ml, and they can be used for future adventures.)


  1. Allow the steak to rest out of the fridge for about hour to come to room temperature (you should always do that anyway.)
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onions gently till they are soft, this usually takes 20-30 minutes
  3. Remove the onions onto a plate to the side and cook the mushrooms to your liking, also removing them when cooked and set aside with the onions
  4. Now add the mustard and soured cream to the empty pan, stirring to amalgamate.
  5. Whisk in the beef stock, slowly at first as this makes it easier to incorporate
  6. Add the onions and mushroom back to the pan and bring back to a simmer. At this stage the sauce is ready and you reduce/taste/season as much as you prefer.
  7. Before cooking season the steaks to your taste with salt and the ground allspice
  8. Now cook the steaks to your preferred amount. I like medium rare.
  9. Let the cooked steaks rest just as you would normally do for about 5 minutes
  10. Just before serving you can cut the steak up. Depending on preference you can trim the fat or leave. Cut across the steak into 1cm wide strips.
I don’t cook the steak further or add it to the sauce as this can make it chewy, in my opinion.
How to serve? It’s up to you. I like it with rice. So I serve in a bowl with plain basmati rice. Then I spoon over the sauce, and then I add the strips of beef on top so they can be seen. You might prefer the beef first and then the stock. It can probably stand a small sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley
Traditionally it’s served with a sort of straw potatoes or frites but this can create quite a bit of last-minute cooking, making chips to be crisp etc. Or buy some frites from M&S. Would also work with some rosemary roasted new potatoes I think.

Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa

Cooked Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa
Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa
Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa makes a lovely TV dinner as it can easily be served in a bowl with a slice of crusty bread and butter. The quantities below are enough for two people but can be increased very easily for a larger crowd.

The sauce is quite liquid because of the stock but this works well, especially if you use bread to mop it up.

For the harissa, you need to find the level that works for you. I like it to have a mild harissa flavour and a little spicy heat, but not too much.

I generally use Cumberland sausage, but any could work. I don’t think I’d like anything too strongly flavoured or conflicting to allow the flavours of the spicy tomato sauce to shine through. Avoid creating a competing flavour dimension because that won’t work so well.

Based on a Nigel Slater idea. There are hundreds of sausage casserole recipes and it’s hard to go wrong if you vary the ingredients a bit. Have fun experimenting.


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 large sausages
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2-3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2-3 tsp harissa (I often have rose harissa and this works well)
  • 4 medium tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed. Depending on how much you like beans you can put in the whole tin, or just a portion of the tin.
  • 200-300ml of chicken stock


  1. Brown the sausages in an ovenproof dish in some of the oil. Turn them regularly so they brown as evenly. Set the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Remove the sausages once browned.
  2. Add the remaining oil and the onion to the pan and cook till it is slightly softened and golden
  3. Add the finely chopped leaves from the rosemary sprigs to the onions with a pinch of salt
  4. Add the Harissa and the roughly chopped tomatoes, cooking them for a few minute to soften them
  5. Add the beans and the stock and bring the mix to a boil
  6. Put the sausages back in the pan, season with some salt and pepper
  7. Bake in the oven for a further 25 minutes. Best done uncovered but this might depend on how “wet” it is, probably governed by the amount of stock you added.


  • Add any root vegetables you prefer, you might want to reduce the beans a bit: potatoes, carrot, parsnip, turnip, fennel
  • Other vegetables could make an appearance eg. some sweet red pepper
  • Stir in some baby spinach when you remove the casserole from the oven. It will incorporate in a minute or two.
  • Some herbs might work well, specifically flat leaf parsley, perhaps some oregano.

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.


  • 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


  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.


  • 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


  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.


  • 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 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.
  • 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,
  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.
Olive oil (don’t waste extra virgin)
Garlic cloves
Tinned tomatoes (400g tins)
Bay leaves
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
  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.

Carrot Sultana Salad

Lovely carrot sultana salad, based on one from my Lebanese book. Works well with middle eastern dishes and Indian. For me it’s actually got a Chinese sort of flavour, I think because of the toasted sesame seeds, ginger and spring onions.
Quite simply, it works with everything. Great with barbecues where you want a range of salad types and textures, with grilled meat or fish.
The modern plump “ready to eat” sultanas/raisins that are not fully dehydrated work well.
Quantities are approximate as with all salads you will want to vary to taste and preference.
  • 5 medium carrots
  • 100g of nice sultanas, you could use raisins
  • Chopped coriander to taste
  • 2-3 teaspoons of grated ginger
  • 3 spring onions
  • Drizzle of balsamic vinegar to taste
  • Teaspoon of runny honey
  • A Generous tablespoon of sesame seeds, which you have toasted in a dry frying pan.
  1. If you have one, use a mandolin to julienne half of the peeled carrots, then grate the rest coarsely. You could just grate all of them, it depends what sort of texture you want. I like the crunchiness of the little carrot julienne in my salad. Texture is important.
  2. Add all the other ingredients and mix
  3. The finished salad needs to stand for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to get to know one another, don’t rush it.
For your carrot sultana salad to work you really just need to adjust the ingredients to taste. I think it needs a bit of vinegar and a bit of sweetness. If it’s too sweet add a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, too sour add a bit more honey.
Some toasted peanut, cashew, or pistachio might be a welcome addition.

Macaroni Cheese

Macaroni Cheese, or Mac Cheese to most, makes a great Saturday evening pasta bowl dinner while catching up with that DVD backlog or the latest “Strictly…”.
This probably serves 3 people or a very hungry couple with some leftovers for supper or the following day’s lunch. (I have to say that microwaved leftover Mac Cheese is definitely a good thing.) Personally, I like Marshall’s small macaroni pasta tubes though some prefer a penne size where more sauce can get into the tube.  Cheese-wise I like the slightly milder Gruyere, though there’s nothing wrong with a cheddar. I like it fairly traditional and simple. If you think pre-seasoning the milk with bay and shallot is a load of old cheffy guff, then don’t. I sometimes put a small amount of thinly sliced tomato on top and then sprinkle the grated cheese, tomato haters won’t. If things like chive are anathema to you then leave ’em out.

  • 60g plain flour
  • 60g butter
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder, or 1-2 tsp of dijon mustard
  • 850ml Milk (I use semi-skimmed but any should do)
  • Bay leaf
  • Nutmeg
  • 250g Macaroni pasta
  • Gruyere cheese 200-300g to taste
  • 1-3 tbsp chopped chives (to taste)
  • Seasoning (salt & pepper)
  • Tomato (optional)
In summary, you make a roux, to make a béchamel sauce. Cook the pasta. Combine with the béchamel (into which you put three-quarters of the grated cheese). Sprinkle with cheese and oven bake for 15-20 minutes. In detail….
  1. Up to an hour before warm the milk with the bay leaf (and some peppercorns, if you like, even a few slices of onion or shallot wouldn’t go amiss) and leave to infuse for 60 minutes. This adds a nice warm bay/savoury flavour to the milk.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C Fan
  3. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil in preparation for the pasta
  4. Melt the butter in a pan, and then whisk in the flour to make the roux. Let it cook off on a low heat for 4-5 minutes. This prevents the béchamel having a floury taste.
  5. Make the béchamel by slowly adding and whisking in about half to two-thirds of the milk. (Making it too milky at the start means the milk might burn on the bottom of the pan. You can add the last of the milk later.)
  6. Simmer the béchamel very gently for about 5 minutes, again this cooks out a flouriness. Add a pinch of salt and a good twist of black pepper. Also, grate in a decent amount of nutmeg. I find about a third of a whole nutmeg is OK. Find what works for you.
  7. Put the pasta on, 10 minutes is fine. Keep stirring the béchamel as it continues to simmer so it doesn’t burn.
  8. Grate the cheese, a coarse grate is Ok, and it’s quicker.
  9. Add the last of the milk to the béchamel to warm up
  10. One minute before the pasta is ready put in about three-quarters of the cheese to the béchamel, so it begins to soften and melt into the sauce, taking the pot off the heat.
  11. Stir in the chopped chives if you are using
  12. Drain the pasta and put in your oven dish
  13. Add the cheesy béchamel and stir gently to mix through
  14. Add tomatoes on top or any other garnish if using. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and a smirr of Nutmeg
  15. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes
  16. If it’s too pale on top turn the heat of the oven up to max for 6-8 minutes to brown the top slightly
Remove it from the oven and let it stand for at least 5-6 minutes to settle and cool slightly. Serve in pasta bowls, which you won’t need to pre-heat as it’s such a hot dish.
  • You could add some browned pancetta to the béchamel sauce
  • Mix some breadcrumbs with parmesan and layer the top with this to form a crunchy texture

Chicken & Mushroom (or Leek) Pie

A completed Chicken and Mushroom Pie with Golden Pastry
Chicken and Mushroom Pie

I love chicken and mushroom pie. Substitute some leeks if you don’t like mushrooms. I particularly like this as it has a good chicken flavour. Some people might argue it’s not a pie because it only has a pastry lid, but it’s a pie to me.

A well-flavoured stock is the secret of a nice chicken pie. And the poaching of the chicken leaves the meat soft and succulent. I like the chicken cooked in advance.

It’s a great one to do in advance all up to the pastry stage. The chilled filling can be in the fridge (well chilled, this is better for the pastry which must go on a cold filling, anything warm partly poaches the pastry before it rises, and makes it very soggy) in the dish just waiting for its pastry lid. Indeed, to save even more last-minute fuss, the pastry lid can also be added when the filling is cold and kept in the fridge, so the pie just needs glazed and then 30-40 minutes in the oven to warm (remember, the chicken is already cooked.)
  • Chicken big enough for the size of pie you want
  • Onion, carrot, celery, herbs (tarragon/parsley is nice) for stock
  • Milk or cream (I use semi-skimmed milk and it’s just fine. A lot of cream makes it heavier)
  • Portobello mushrooms, enough for the pie depending on how many mushrooms you like. If it’s autumn and you get wild mushrooms then use them.)
  • More herbs for the sauce (tarragon and/or parsley)
  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • Nutmeg for grating
  • Shop bought rolled puff pastry (life’s too short to make puff pastry)
  • Beaten egg to glaze
  1. Cook the chicken gently in a casserole of water with herbs and veg. Don’t make the casserole to big in relation to the chicken or you get a weak stock. A tight-fitting casserole is best, you only need about 500ml of stock. Cover the chicken and cook for about 60-75 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. The stock should just blip gently on the stove, it doesn’t need a hard boil.
  2. Drain, sieve and reserve the stock from the cooked chicken, you will use this to make a sauce for the pie
  3. Once cooled pick the chicken meat from the carcass and cover. You may want to keep it in the fridge if you won’t use it soon. Discard the carcass as the flavour has been removed when you made the stock.
  4. Sauté the mushrooms and set aside with chicken
  5. Reduce the stock, if required, with the herbs to about 500ml to concentrate the flavour
  6. Make a roux of the butter and plain flour
  7. Add the stock slowly and in small batches to make a sauce
  8. Add a splash of milk
  9. Season the sauce with salt and plenty of pepper, and a grating of nutmeg
  10. Add the sauce to the chicken and mushrooms, mixed together in a pie dish and chill in the fridge until properly cold
  11. Once cool add the pasty top, glaze with egg and make a hole for steam
  12. Cook for about 30-40 minutes at about 180C fan, until the pastry is golden and the filling hot. If it’s getting too dark you can turn the temperature down 10-20 degrees to allow the filling to fully warm. A temperature probe is brilliant for checking it’s fully warmed through by sticking it in the steam hole you made.
  • Try some sautéed leeks instead of the mushrooms
  • You could try adding some rehydrated porcini mushrooms but watch you don’t overpower the flavour of the chicken
  • You could add some leftover cooked ham to make chicken and ham pie