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Scones 4 February 2012

Posted by cath in cakes and treats, comfort food, easy, Recipes, variations.
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Quick and easy, the secret seems to be: don’t try too hard! Instead of rolling the dough, just pat down with cool hands. Also, don’t cut them too thin, 2 cm or a bit thicker is best.

Here’s the full recipe, makes 8 or 9 small scones (6 cm size cutter):

250g self-raising flour
Pinch salt
1 level tsp baking powder
25g caster sugar
50g butter, fridge cold
125ml full fat milk
1 large egg, beaten

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degC, grease a baking sheet.

Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Cut the cold butter into cubes and either rub in by hand or process very quickly.

Now add the sugar and mix briefly again. Add about half the beaten egg and process again adding the milk pouring it in slowly, or do this using a knife mixing until a sticky dough is formed. In the processor, keep going until a ball is formed. You should have a splash of milk leftover. By hand a little kneading in the bowl helps, but don’t handle the dough to much and keep those hands cool!

Lightly flour a board, using s-r flour again. Don’t use too much extra flour, you won’t need it. Turn out the dough ball and quickly flatten it to about 2 cm thick, no thinner!

Cut using a 6 cm round, press down evenly and then remove the excess dough from around the first scones. You need to very quickly press the dough back into a ball and push down again. Repeat until its all cut.

Place cut scones on the baking sheet. Add any remaining milk to the beaten egg leftover, mix and brush onto the top of the scones.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until golden and hollow when tapped on the base.

Remove and place on a rack to cool, best served warm.


This makes a basic, white, plain scone, perfect for cream tea…but anything can be added before mixing to a dough, so experiment away with savory and sweet additions. My favourite has to be cheese, a strong grated cheddar is good… and although you can add as much as you want, for this quantity about 50g of cheese/ dried fruit/ nuts etc. should be about right.

I’ve been eating my scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream – yum, and perfect with a nice cup of tea. Hope you enjoy making scones of all sorts.

Haggis, neeps and tatties cakes 26 January 2012

Posted by cath in comfort food, freeze-friendly, Recipes, specials, variations.
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Leftover Haggis and the works from Burns night? Make sure to make the most of your leftovers. Here’s an idea for eating up leftover Burns supper ingredients.
Just like fish and potato cakes, similar Haggis, neeps and tatties cakes are great.
If you have plenty of leftover mash, here’s what to do:

Haggis cakes

Add crumbled haggis to leftover mash, I think it helps the binding to keep the mixture at least 50% potato, but any leftover neeps or other root mash can also be added. You shouldn’t need seasoning as the leftovers will have been made with salt and pepper already. Mix everything well.
Shape the mixture into small, flat cakes. Pat each side with white plain flour. Leave, shaped and floured, in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up making them easier to fry.

I’m making these tonight so the finished dish photo will come later, here are the haggis cakes ready to go in the fridge.


To cook, shallow fry in a little oil (haggis and mash are already fatty so you don’t need a lot) until browned on both sides. Flip just once if you can, by giving the first side a good 5 minute sizzle. Flip over carefully as they can break up… this is where a rest in patty form can help.

Serve up with some fresh rocket leaves for a fancy supper or just some ketchup or brown sauce for real comfort food!

Here, the finished dish


Easy Cakes > Anything Goes Fairy Cakes 4 January 2009

Posted by cath in cakes and treats, comfort food, easy, Recipes.

Fairy Cakes

These are basic sponge cakes, and the best thing is that you can use pretty much any flavouring you like – it’s a really versatile recipe. Anyone can make these simple little cakes, they are easy and quick. The basic recipe here makes 12 cakes – but can be scaled up as required. In fact, the basic mix can also be divided and flavoured in different ways to bake a selection of cakes. You will need small paper cases to bake them in.

I use a food processor to make the mix, it’s done in a few simple steps and does not take long. They are made by the creaming method which involves beating butter and sugar together and incorporating lots of air, similarly with the eggs. Sieved self-raising flour is then added along with flavouring. Care is needed to keep the mixture light, so it rises – this is not a dense, gooey brownie!

Coffee and Walnut Fairy Cakes

Coffee and Walnut Fairy Cakes

There are some tricks to getting it right and here are my top tips:

  1. Don’t use fridge cold eggs, these tend to curdle the mixture more easily than room-temperature eggs. I also take the precaution of lightly beating the eggs with a whisk prior to adding.
  2. It’s also best to soften the butter so its a good idea to leave the butter out of the fridge as well.
  3. Pre-heat the oven, it needs to be hot, and you must put the cakes in to cook straight away, this is not a mix that can be prepared in advance (but the finished cakes will last for a few days if kept in an airtight tin).
  4. In fact beating the soft butter as a first step adds lightness to the cake mix – and is definitely worthwhile if your butter is at all cold – so if you haven’t followed tip 2 you can recover somewhat here :)
  5. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to cream the butter and sugar, I would suggest at least 5 minutes of beating on the highest setting, if not more, depending on the type of mixer you are using. Keep scraping down the bowl to ensure even mixing
  6. Once the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, it is time to add the eggs. Add them in bit by bit (e.g. add 2 beaten eggs in at least 3 additions), beat well each time. The mixture will be come quite liquid, but will still be thick and creamy looking. For extra security against curdling the mix, you can add a teaspoon of ground almonds with each addition of egg (up to 3 teaspoons).
  7. Adding the flour and any dried ingredients (nuts, cocoa, dried fruit etc.) must be done with care, quickly and without excess mixing. I use the pulse button on the processor – add 1/3 of the flour and press for a single pulse, perhaps 2 then scrape down and add the next 1/3. Add this similarly, and continue to the last addition of flour, scraping down the sides and pulsing once or twice more to ensure the flour and other dry ingredients are mixed – but only just.
  8. The mixture should be thick, and reluctantly drop from a spoon – it shouldn’t pour or be too stiff. If it falls, it is too thin and you should add a tablespoon more sieved flour to stiffen it. Or you can add a teaspoon of milk to adjust the mixture to be more fluid. Try out the recipes suggested here first and get used to the consistency of the mixture first, then experiment with your own flavours. Be careful making these additions – don’t over mix the cake now, it will reduce the air incorporates so far. Also be measured in your additions, cakes require careful balance of quantities – you won’t need to adjust these quantities much for different mixtures.
  9. When you’re done, quickly spoon the mixture into paper cases – you want to roughly half-fill them, 1 rounded tablespoon is roughly enough. Bake them straight away, in a fairly hot oven (180 deg C in a fan oven) for 12-15 minutes. Don’t take them out too early, or the sponge will not have fixed, and they may sink again. However, after 12 minutes you can safely test the middle of a cake with a skewer – it should come out clean, if not, return for 2-3 minutes and try again. Of course, if you use bigger paper cases, or overfill them, the cakes will take longer to cook.
  10. Remove the cakes from the tin straight away and leave to cool completely in their paper cases on a wire rack. You will see some condensation under the cases as you remove them from the tin – if you don’t remove them to cool on a rack, they will sweat and the cases and cakes will get damp and soggy – so don’t forget this step!


Now for the variety of flavouring you can add. There are basically three types of flavourings that can be added. Using liquid flavourings such as coffee, vanilla extract etc. demands a little more flour in the recipe to keep the mixture together. Adding dry, powdery ingredients such as cocoa powder, grated chocolate, drinking chocolate or ground nuts requires that the flour content be reduced by the equivalent weight. Chopped nuts, dried fruit etc. are easily added as an extra, without need to adjust the main quantities.

So with minimal tweaks the basic mixture can be combined to make any combination of flavours. Add icing for a sweet treat or keep them plain for a healthier snack.

The Recipe

Here are two versions of the basic recipe – this one uses added dry cocoa, and thus slightly less flour.

Cocoa Fairy Cakes


125 g softened butter

125 g caster sugar

2 large eggs

some ground almonds (3 tsp max)

110 g self-raising flour

1 small pinch table salt

15 g cocoa powder – I’ve been experimenting with using finely grated Venezuelan Black 100% cocoa bar (http://williescacao.com/) but you can use any good cocoa powder.


1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (Fan oven).

2. Beat the butter well until smooth, then add the caster sugar and beat until the mixture lightens and gets fluffy (5-10 minutes).

3. Lightly beat the 2 eggs together then add a bit at a time to the mixture, beating well between additions and adding 1 or 2 tsp of ground almonds with the egg (see tip 6 above).

4. Sieve the flour and cocoa together with the salt. Add 1/3 at a time to the mixture and fold in (pulse in 2 or 3 short bursts) until everything is combined.

5. The mixture should drop slowly from a spoon, divide the mixture into the 12 paper cases in a patty tin.

6. Bake in the oven immediately, for 12-15 minutes. Check they are done using a skewer, which should come out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Use this basic recipe if you want to add dry flavourings to your cakes, or try this one which uses coffee and vanilla extract as liquids for flavouring, and thus slightly more flour. This one also contains chopped walnuts.

Coffee, Walnut and Vanilla Fairy Cakes


125 g softened butter

125 g caster sugar

2 large eggs

some ground almonds (4 tsp approx.)

140 g self-raising flour

1 small pinch table salt

4 tsp strong made coffee

2 tsp vanilla extract

70g chopped walnuts – reserve some for decorating.


1. Follow the directions 1-3 above.

2. Add the coffee and vanilla extracts along with a teaspoon or 2 of ground almonds. Beat together.

3. Sieve the flour with the salt. Add 1/3 at a time to the mixture and fold in (pulse in 2 or 3 short bursts) until everything is combined.

4. Quickly mix in the walnuts using a few pulses.

5. The mixture should drop slowly from a spoon, add another spoon of coffee or vanilla if required to loosen it.

6. Divide the mixture into the 12 paper cases in a patty tin and bake in the oven immediately, for 12-15 minutes. When done, turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Use this basic recipe if you want to add liquid flavourings to your cakes.

Finishing Touches

For a sweet treat, icing the top of the cakes is easy to make. Try these basic quantities and adapt the flavours to suit your cakes.

Chocolate Icing

120g icing sugar

60 g softened butter

2 tbsp cocoa powder

Beat together all the ingredients until light and fluffy. If you use a processor, the mixture may first turn into a large ball, but persistent beating will smooth the mix into a spreadable topping. Add 1-2 tsp of strong made coffee, or milk, to loosen the mixture to an easier spreadable consistency (if required). Decorate with a sprinkle of cocoa powder or icing sugar.

Cappuccino Icing

4 tsp strong made coffee

1 tsp vanilla extract

120g icing sugar

60 g softened butter

2 tbsp finely grated chocolate or cocoa

Beat all the ingredients together into a soft, fluffy, spreadable icing. Decorate with chopped nuts, flaked almonds or grated chocolate.

Other toppings to try:

Melted chocolate – 55g cooking chocolate, broken into chunks, melted then spread on the cakes and left to solidify.

Chocolate and hazelnut spread makes a quick and easy topping.

Simpler water icing (100 g icing sugar plus a few drops of water at a time added and mixed well – be careful not to make the icing to thin, it will run! You can always add more icing sugar to thicken it again).

Many, many more…

So, experiment with your favourite flavours in small cake form – and let us know what combinations you like best!

Print the basic fairycakes recipe (opens pdf).

Cakes and Treats > The Best Chocolate Brownies 14 March 2008

Posted by cath in cakes and treats, comfort food, desserts, easy, Recipes, specials.

This is the ultimate in easy, comfort food. A treat with a cup of tea, or a delicious dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or cream. My brownie recipe has been a long search. I’ve done much researching of many different ideas and recipes. A lot of trials, tests and tweaks later, its a very good thing for my belly (and that of my chief tasters) that the quest is over, and perfection has been reached!


Chocolate and Walnut Brownie

Chocolate Brownie

Now, here are the three things that I’ve discovered are the key to making the perfect brownie:

1. Undercooking!

Don’t be tempted to cook the brownie mix as you would a normal cake. Test it with a knife and the middle should still be quite wet. The trick is to also gently press the top of the cake to check that it has firmed up slightly, but still has some give. This should give the crisp top and gooey centre typical of the perfect brownie.

Be careful – it may take a few goes to get the timing perfect with an individual cooker – once you’ve got it right, remember to write it down so you know for the next time!

2. Icing Sugar (or confectioners sugar)

This definitely makes the best consistency of brownie. I have tried several combinations of sugars, from caster to muscovado. But it is fine icing sugar which definitely gives the best texture, its thanks to a recipe by Marcus Wareing (author of How to Cook the Perfect...) that I tried it.

Remember, a brownie mix is dense and fudgy, unlike cake mix that is typically beaten and aerated. Also, you don’t cook brownies for very long. So there isn’t much mixing or cooking time for the grains of other sugars to dissolve and blend properly. Go for the confectioners sugar! This recipe also adds some golden syrup helps the gooeyness along.

3. Nuts

Although they are not in all the recipes, I’m sorry, but for me a brownie is not a brownie without some walnuts (or you could use pecans). After trying a recipe by Pierre Hermé, I am also a convert to toasted walnuts. This is a very quick and simple first step and really makes a difference to the flavour, please try it! Also, as I tend to avoid scoffing all my brownies in one go, adding nuts improves the keeping time of cakes and biscuits, so I also add a few spoons of ground almonds with the flour as well to aid moistness.

OK, those are my top tips, now here is the recipe…

This makes enough to fill one round cake tin (18-20 cm wide). Which gives you at least 10-12 brownie slices, depending on greediness. I know brownies are traditionally square, but I use my favourite loose-bottom cake tin and treat it more like an un-iced cake. Also, this way every slice has some crispy outside and gooey centre – it’s the taste and texture that make these brownies the best!

(Of course, if you want square brownies, just use a square or rectangular tin. Remember to double the quantity I’ve used if you have a large rectangular tin (30×20 cm) – and you’ll also need to cook it for 5-8 minutes more.)



100g walnut quarters or pieces

150g good quality dark chocolate (I recommend Valrhona manjari, but any good quality, high cocoa content chocolate will do) – chopped/broken into similar sized pieces (aids even melting)

90g unsalted butter – diced (to help even melting)

2 tbsp golden syrup

150g icing sugar

75g plain white flour

15g ground almonds

20g cocoa powder (I recommend Divine)

2 large organic/free range eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional, try Ndali or make sure you use an extract, not a synthetic vanilla flavour)


  1. Heat the oven to 130 degC (fan)
  2. Spread the walnuts on a flat baking sheet and place in the low oven for 10-15 minutes until toasted. Put the timer on, you must not burn them! (When they are ready – they will be lightly browned and mellowed in flavour, just take them out of the oven, pour onto a clean tea cloth, wrap up and bash them against the worktop to slightly crush into smaller pieces, then open up the cloth to let them cool).
  3. Whilst the walnuts are cooking, weigh out the rest of the ingredients. Place the chocolate pieces, diced butter and golden syrup together in a medium-large glass bowl. This will be the bowl you mix everything together in, so make sure it’s big enough.
  4. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. (Make sure the bowl does not touch the water, you just need a small amount in the bottom of the pan to provide some steam). Stir occasionally with a large metal spoon to melt and combine. (See my post on chocolate crispy cakes for chocolate melting tips).
  5. Whilst the chocolate mixture is melting, sieve together the icing sugar, flour, ground almonds and cocoa powder into another bowl.
  6. When the chocolate mixture is nearly smooth and melted, remove from the heat and stir until completely smooth. Then leave to cool whilst you prepare the cake tin.
  7. Grease the cake tine and then line the base and sides with baking parchment (if you are using a loose-bottomed tin then just line the bottom). Then grease the lined base and sides carefully with some extra butter.
  8. The walnuts should be done by now, once they are out of the oven, turn it up to 180 degC (fan).
  9. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat together with the vanilla extract (if using). Just do this by hand as well, you don’t need to worry about making the mixture airy and light – you want a stodgy mix!
  10. When the chocolate mixture has cooled to room temperature (takes at least 5-10 minutes, test it if you are unsure, it can’t be hot as it will scramble the eggs – but don’t wait too long or it will be too stiff to combine with other ingredients) add the beaten eggs and stir vigorously to combine. The mixture will begin to thicken up quite quickly.
  11. Then add half of the dry ingredients and mix together vigorously until smooth, continue adding the other half, then the walnuts, beating each time until smooth. The final mixture will be thick, dark and gooey.
  12. Pour the mixture into the cake tin. If you like, you can smooth the top a little using a knife – place a metal knife in a cup of hot water until warm, remove and wipe off the water, and use to smooth the top of the mixture.
  13. Once the oven is heated up, place the brownies in for 13-15 minutes.
  14. To check they are done, the top will be dry looking and slightly cracked – carefully and gently press on the top, which should be beginning to firm but not solid. A knife inserted into the centre should come out moist. Be careful not to overcook the mixture.
  15. Leave them to cool in the tin – don’t be tempted to remove them yet! Once cool, carefully remove them from the tin – peeling off the parchment paper. Sieve the top with a little icing sugar.

Serve with cream or ice cream for a delicious dessert, or just with a cup of tea or coffee for a decadent snack.



The Finished Brownie Cake


Basic Recipes > Cheese Sauce 13 July 2007

Posted by cath in comfort food, Recipes.

macaroni cheese

Here is a very old fashioned (slightly labour intensive but foolproof) method of making a cheese sauce – basically a white, bechamel sauce with a hard cheese like cheddar or Gruyere melted in.

Use it for making Lasagna, Cauliflower cheese, Macaroni cheese, Moussaka and more.

I never use the quick and easy methods, as I find my method is worth the hard work because it always has a smooth and velvety consistency, never has the taste of raw flour and generally is an old family tradition that I am only too glad to pass on.

This recipe will make a large quantity of sauce – I like to make enough for 1 large lasagna (4-6 person) and 1 large cauliflower/macaroni cheese (4 portions) in one go. The finished dishes freeze well, and also keep for a few days in the fridge. But if you don’t want this much, reduce the quantities – use a smaller pan, this will also have the benefit of not taking so long to cook.

You will need:

1 litre full cream milk (straight from the fridge)

80g butter (or marg – I prefer butter, but my mother always uses marg.)*

100g plain flour (try to find superfine, type ‘OO’ flour to get the best results)

250-300g grated cheese (cheddar, gruyere, parmesan, or any local hard cheese that you like)

salt and pepper


First melt the butter or marg in a reasonable sized saucepan, non-stick is good for this sauce. Use a moderate heat, and do not burn or brown the butter!

Once the butter is melted stir in the flour and combine (use a wooden spoon). You should end up with a fairly thick paste, which comes together – almost into a ball. This is the roux (pronounced ‘rue’).

You need to cook the roux on a low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes, continually stirring briskly. It will start to become glossy as the flour begins to cook and break down into the fat. Add a little twist of salt and pepper (purists use white pepper – I use my 5 peppercorn mix as I don’t mind the odd black or red speck in my sauce, but that’s up to you).

Then remove the pan from the heat and begin to add some milk. For the first addition, just cover the bottom of the pan and gently stir in, then return the pan to the heat (keep it low-medium).

Once each addition of milk has combined with the roux you can add a little more. Adding milk very gradually takes time, but ensures no scary lumps form. Each time the milk will combine and quickly thicken up into quite a stiff sauce. You should beat this sauce for a minute with your wooden spoon over the medium heat before adding more milk.

Sometimes the sauce will look lumpy for a minute or two after adding more milk. Don’t worry, the lumps will melt into the sauce and once it has thickened to a stage that it coats the spoon. At this point it will be quite easy to beat for 30 seconds to a minute and achieve a thick, velvety smooth sauce.

Continue this process: add a slug of milk (bigger slugs each time), stir well, heat, beat until thickened and smooth…then add more milk, stir, heat, beat etc. until you have added all the milk. This way it will probably take ten or more additions but the sauce will be already thickened and nearly ready by the final addition. A large pan may take nearly half an hour to make this way.

The key to this sauce is to make sure that you have cooked out the flour. To do this, the sauce must be brought to a very gentle “rolling boil”. This is when the surface of the sauce gently undulates. Allow this to continue using very little heat for a minute or two.

Now your basic sauce (bechamel) is ready. Don’t let it boil (when the bubbles break on the surface).

For the cheese sauce, you can now add handfuls of grated cheese. Melt them in gently. Again, do not boil. You simply need the cheese to melt and stir through the sauce. Add as much cheese as you like, to taste, but you will want to reserve some to sprinkle on the top of your dishAdd any extra salt and pepper to taste. Be careful tasting as the sauce is very hot and thick, but it is very important to taste your sauce and check for cheesiness, seasoning and to make sure there is no taste of raw flour (this will mean that you have not cooked it for long enough).

Now the sauce is ready to pour onto cooked (al dente) macaroni, cauliflower, broccoli or used to layer between meat and pasta sheets for a lasagna, moussaka or cannelloni.

The sauce can be served immediately, it is thoroughly cooked. But you may want to cook the dish in the oven for 20-30 minutes to combine and brown the top, or simply grill the top to brown and crisp the cheese crust. This will depend on your final recipe.


Wow – that sounds like a lot of hard work! Isn’t there an easier way?

Yes, basically you have two choices – this long, old fashioned way, or a the same method done with less stages – say by adding the milk about 1/5 of a litre each time (except the first, smaller addition).

Here are some tips on how that would work…I also occasionally use this method when I’m cooking up a bolognese and cheese sauce at the same time (e.g. for lasagna), or if I’m doing a cauliflower, broccoli and macaroni mix all on my own and there is too much going on to concentrate on the sauce alone. But then, remember that I have literally been making this sauce this way from the age of around 10 years old! (OK some of you don’t know how old I am, but I can tell you its a fair amount of experience!)

The basic difference is that if you add larger amounts of milk, lumps will undoubtedly form in the sauce to begin with. As there is more liquid the sauce will not be so quick to thicken. This means it will be a while before you can beat out these lumps. But DON’T PANIC (even I worry at this stage)! The lumps will disappear, it just takes frequent stirring (although not necessarily continual) and heating of the liquidy sauce so that it thickens to a stage where it can be beaten easily. Once it has begun to thicken, the lumps will almost magically vanish as you begin to stir more vigourouly. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil, or stick to the bottom of the pan.

For the beginner, it can be a long and scary wait while this thickening happens. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat too high as this will scald the sauce, or make it stick to the bottom of the pan and burn (a non-stick pan can help in this regard, but you will still need to give it a quick stir quite frequently to avoid this).

As long as you’ve used nearly as much butter (fat) as flour, the sauce will become thick and smooth. You can use a whisk rather than a wooden spoon if you find that easier.

Note about Bechamel Sauce

* If you want to make bechamel sauce (white sauce) WITHOUT cheese, then you will want to use equal amounts of butter and flour. For cheese sauce I reduce the butter content as the cheese will make up for the lower fat quantity, and should provide enough excess fat for any last few lumps to disappear, particularly if it is getting cooked again in the oven.


Cauliflower and macaroni cheese, ready to cook

Cauliflower & Macaroni Cheese

(Feeds around 8 people)

1 large cauliflower

400g macaroni

Cheese sauce made with 1 litre milk (as above)

Grated cheese and sliced tomato for the top

salt and pepper.

Cook the macaroni al dente (depends on your pasta, but for small macaroni about 7-8 minutes).

Steam the cauliflower in large chunks for 5-8 minutes (depending on the size) when you can smell cauliflower, it is usually ready. (You can also use broccoli, romanesco, other mixed vegetables as long as they are not too delicate).

Combine the veg and pasta in a large oven dish, pour over half the sauce and mix thoroughly getting the sauce through all the. Then pour over the rest to completely cover the top of the dish. Sprinkle on grated cheese, place some sliced tomatoes on top, season them with salt and pepper.

Place the whole thing in a hot oven 180-190 degC for 20-30 minutes, until crisp and browned on top and bubbling through. If you want to get it to the table quicker, you can alternatively grill the dish under a hot grill for 5-10 minutes until browned.

Leave to stand for 5 minutes and then serve.

Accompaniments and Variations

Try this with some sausages for a very comforting meal.

A crisp salad, steamed greens or lots of fresh tomatoes make a healthier option.

Cauliflower cheese (without the pasta) makes a lovely accompaniment to a roast dinner.

The addition of other vegetables, e.g. carrots, beans, mushrooms, and either rice or pasta makes a colourful and rich vegetarian main meal.

The sauce layered with lasagna sheets and a meaty (or vegetable) bolognese makes a fantastic lasagna – it can be cooked in the oven immediately or kept in the fridge or freezer to be cooked later. Freshly made it may take 30 minutes to cook – from frozen probably 40-45 minutes again at 180 degrees C.

cauliflower, macaroni and mushroom cheese

Basic Recipes > Gravy 10 December 2006

Posted by cath in comfort food, general info, Recipes, specials.
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 Onion Gravy

Onion Gravy

Home made gravy is the best. Much trial and error has gone into my gravy creations over the years, but even my least successful gravy beats those Bisto granules hands down. There are several things to consider when thinking of making your own gravy…

Gravy for a Roast

If you’re making a roast, then making some gravy is quite easy and is definitely worth a try, it’s a good place to start building up your gravy-making skills:

  • A swift de-glaze of the roasting dish (with half a glass of wine, port, a dash of brandy, stock or water)
  • Add a little flour (1-2 tsp) if the juices left in the dish are very fatty (and it will give a thicker gravy)
  • Then add the meat juices from the rested joint and heat well, stirring or whisking to combine
  • Add some fresh or dried herbs such as thyme or rosemary
  • Add more water and continue to boil together rapidly until the consistency is as desired (preferably use water reserved from cooking the vegetables as this will have more flavour)
  • Taste and season with pepper, adding sweetness with a pinch of sugar if necessary.

Your gravy will probably be thinner than the instant stuff, but as long as you keep tasting it and have a good flavour, don’t worry about the thickness too much.
Keep practicing – you’ll soon become the gravy expert.

Advanced Gravy

But what if you want some gravy for sausage and mash, or haggis, neeps and tatties – you have no roasting tray and no meat juices…the answer is that you have to start with a base (i.e. onions), and some freezer store items come in very handy.

Here’s how you do it:

You will need…

  • 1 sliced onion (white or red)
  • A dash of white or red wine, or port, or brandy (or water)
  • 1 ice-cube home made beef stock (all my making stock tips are from Rose Prince and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – so check out their books) dissolved in a few tablespoons water (or a splash of concentrated store-bought stock, more if it’s diluted)
  • 1 teaspoon roast tomato puree (I have 1 tsp portions of homemade tomato puree frozen in ice cube trays for this, you could use shop-bought rather than homemade)
  • Vegetable (cooking) water – if you’re boiling potatoes, reserve some of the starchy water – this is perfect for gravy, but any other vegetable cooking water will also work
  • Pepper, dried herb (thyme or rosemary is best – you can use fresh if you have some)


  1. Fry the onion on a low-medium heat in a small frying pan with very little oil (1 tablespoon is plenty for a big onion) until soft and browned (at least 10-15 minutes to make sure it is well cooked).
  2. A few minutes before you need the gravy, turn the heat up in the pan and add the alcohol (or water) to de-glaze the pan, and reduce to a thick glaze.
  3. Add the stock and a bit of water and again reduce well on a high heat.
  4. Stir in the tomato puree and allow to bubble.
  5. Sprinkle in some freshly ground pepper and 1 tsp dried herbs.
  6. De-glaze any other frying pans with a splash of water and add this to the gravy (e.g. if you’ve been cooking sausages in a dry frying pan, it’s a good idea to get the caramelised juices from this pan into the gravy).
  7. Taste the gravy. Don’t be tempted to add salt! But test it for flavour and consistency.  As the gravy reduces on the heat, you may need to add more water – use the potato (or vegetable) cooking liquor at this stage if you can – add a few splashes at a time, checking the consistency until it is runny but not watery.
  8. Adding sugar, balsamic vinegar, pepper, more herbs, lemon juice or a very tiny splash of soy sauce can help with flavour if needed – but the more caramelised juices you can add, the less likely this will be necessary.
  9. Pour the finished onion gravy into a jug and serve.

Sausage, mash, veg and onion gravy

Pure winter comfort food:

Sausage, mash, cabbage, carrots and onion gravy!

Other options:

Have you tried cooking sausages in the oven? You can sometimes buy huge Cumberland sausage rings which work best cooked in the oven – and better on a trivet of unpeeled, halved onions. You can also try this with normal sausages – the larger the better.

Adding onions and their skins to the roasting pan gives you another flavour for enriching the gravy and enhancing the colour. Once everything is cooked, remove the sausage and onions from the roasting pan, de-glaze (as above) and then squish and work in some of the roasted onion as you make up the gravy. Roasted garlic similarly imparts a great flavour into gravy.

For roasting joints of meat, onions, garlic and carrot make a good trivet and a fantastic tasting gravy.

My Specials > Posh Edinburgh Baked Beans 15 September 2006

Posted by cath in comfort food, Recipes, specials.

I’ve been checking out some recipes for Boston Baked Beans, and they always look very tempting but so far I’ve never been organised enough to get some haricot beans on to soak the night before…so here’s a recipe I’ve made up with canned haricot beans and a few alterations which hopefully later on will make a special sausage and beans for Colin who is getting married tomorrow…


Baked Beans in the Pot


  • 1 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Butter
  • 1 Onion – finely chopped
  • 1 stick Celery – finely chopped
  • 1 Carrot – finely chopped
  • Pancetta or Unsmoked Streaky Bacon – thinly sliced
  • 7-8 tomatoes – roughly chopped
  • twist of pepper
  • 2 bay leaves – stalk removed
  • 3-6 small onions – peeled but left whole
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 ice-cubes homemade vegetable stock (I’m using pea and bean made with peapods…)
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp mustard powder
  • 2 cans haricot beans – drained


  1. Fry the onions, carrot and celery in the butter and olive oil in a casserole dish over a low heat until soft.
  2. Add the garlic and pancetta and fry until the pancetta is browned.
  3. Add the tomatoes, stir and add the pepper and bay leaves and stir well.
  4. Place one clove into three of the whole small onions and add them all to the dish with the vegetable stock.
  5. Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours on very low heat, stirring occasionally.
  6. Gently stir in the beans, be careful not to crush them. Adjust the amount of sauce by adding a bit of cold water if necessary.
  7. The immediately switch off the heat. Leave everything to mingle for as long as you can (ideally, a couple of hours as the dish cools will allow the canned beans to soak up some of the sauce and flavours – but if you’re pushed for time you can just skip this bit).
  8. Heat through for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Serving suggestion: Serve my posh baked beans with Piperfield Pork sausages and crusty bread.


Close up of the finished Baked Beans


Enjoy my Edinburgh baked beans! They should last a week or two if sealed and placed in the fridge – but I expect we’ll be eating them all tonight! (Update: Yes, sadly not a drop left – it was a resounding success!)

I’m going to try Boston Baked Beans from scratch with dried Haricot beans one of these days…but my cheating version worked better than I could have hoped. The sauce was tasty and the canned beans worked well, the short cooking time suiting them as they didn’t disintegrate – be careful how vigorously you stir them though!

Cooks Notes:

Using lots of veg as a base to this is more like a bean stew than traditional baked beans, and all those extra vegetables are good for you!

But, if you’re not keen on the idea, leave out the carrot, or cut it up much finer than I have done here so that it disappears more into the sauce. The onion and celery make a great base for the sauce so I wouldn’t leave them out.

I had reasonably sized onions for the ‘small onions’ so only used three, but I think smaller ones (and more of them) would have been good too.

My Peapod stock: I just put the pods from a bag of shelled peas, some bean and carrot trimmings in a big pan of water and simmered it for 1 hour. Then I strained the stock and reduced it down, putting the final stock reduction into an ice-cube tray in the freezer. You can use it 1-2 cubes at a time to add some flavour to all kinds of dishes.

Final note – this recipe is an example of how you can adapt other recipes to suit your time and ingredients. I was inspired to try this by checking out a couple of different Boston baked bean recipes, and some Italian bean stews…a bit of juggling and careful consideration of cooking times and voila, a new recipe is born!