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Basic Recipes > Cheese Sauce 13 July 2007

Posted by cath in comfort food, Recipes.
10 comments

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

Method

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.

Notes:

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

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Notes > Thai Ingredients Part 5 3 February 2007

Posted by cath in Recipes.
2 comments

Here’s some more notes about Thai ingredients – with a view to the green curry paste

 

Coriander stalk and root

Try to buy coriander at grocers and Asian supermarkets where they have bunches including a bit of root and lots of stalk. Stalk and root are basically concentrated coriander flavour and you can use them in any dish that has coriander as an ingredient.
Scrub the roots a bit, finely chop the stalk and root together. Add to curry pastes, or for other dishes, add to the pot for a longer cooking time. Then chop the leaves as a garnish (at the end of the cooking time) for more flavour and colour.

 

coriander

Coriander stalk and root

 

Kaffir Lime Peel

See this post for pictures of Kaffir Limes and their leaves. Just peel the kaffir lime with a knife or a potato peeler, they are knobbly, so don’t worry if you get a bit of pith… Here’s what you’re aiming for:

Kaffir Lime Zest

Kaffir Lime Peel (Zest)

 

Lemongrass

Chop just the lower, thicker 1/3 of each lemongrass stalk, this is the juiciest bit whilst the rest is quite woody. If you’re worried about throwing the tops away, you can make a lemongrass tea out of them – just pour over boiling water and brew for 5 minutes. This also goes nicely with mint, green tea or can be cooled as a summer drink.

 

Chopped Lemongrass

Chopped Lemongrass

 

Turmeric

Is another root, although thinner than ginger or galangal, and bright orange – it will stain your hands, chopping board etc. Still it’s wonderful for the odd occasion when you can find it. Otherwise, use powder.

 

Turmeric

Fresh Tumeric

 

Thai Curry Pastes > Green Curry 3 February 2007

Posted by cath in freeze-friendly, Recipes, thai curry, Thai food, very spicy.
2 comments

There seems to be some more interest in Thai food again, and I guess this is as good a time of year as any to have a special treat of some imported ingredients. Check out your local Thai or Asian supermarkets for the specialty items, substitutions are OK too – so it depends how authentic you want to be.

Here’s my recipe, adapted from a traditional Thai recipe from Chiang Mai Thai Cooking School (Chiang Mai, Thailand). I would definitely recommend making your own green curry paste – and this is a slightly unusual and delicious recipe. You can make the paste in bulk and freeze it in portions (for up to a year in a modern 4* freezer), it takes an hour or two to defrost and is then ready to use. However, if you want to skip the paste, buy a good quality Thai brand of paste (I’m afraid I can’t recommend any in particular as I always make my own) and skip straight to the curry recipe.

This makes 1 large portion of paste, for curry serving 4-6. I usually triple or quadruple the quantities here and blend it all together in a small food processor. If you really want an arm-muscle workout and to be 100% traditional you can pound the ingredients together in a large pestle and mortar until smooth.

Check out my notes via the hyperlinks if you need to know more about the Thai ingredients, how to recognise them and prepare them.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 inch galangal (ginza) – skin removed and chopped
  2. 2-3 stalks lemongrass – lower 1/3 only (that’s the thickest, juiciest part), chopped
  3. The zest (peel) from 1 kaffir lime (ordinary lime will also be fine) – chopped
  4. 2 tbsp chopped coriander stalk and root – you can sometimes get some root on bunches of coriander, else just use lots of finely chopped stalks
  5. 3 Thai purple shallots – chopped (use 1-2 small European shallots as a substitute)
  6. 2-3 cloves garlic – crushed
  7. 1 tsp shrimp paste (leave this out for veggies!)
  8. 1-2 inches fresh turmeric – skin removed and chopped (or use 1 tsp turmeric powder as a substitute)
  9. 1/2 tsp coriander seeds – roasted until browned, then ground
  10. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds – roasted and ground
  11. 20-40 small green birds-eye chillies (depending how hot you like your curry)
  12. 20g sweet basil leaves (about 5-6 large stalks)
  13. A pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper

Method:

Blend the ingredients for about 10 minutes in a small processor, scraping down the sides occasionally to get a smooth paste (or longer by hand with a pestle and mortar).

Now its time to make up the curry

 

 

A note about roasting dry whole spices:

It’s worth ‘roasting’ the seeds to release more flavour.

Do the coriander seeds first, they are bigger and will take longer to brown. Do the cumin seeds separately, else some may blacken whilst the coriander is yet to brown.

Do not use burnt seeds in the recipe – chuck them away and try again!

Place the seeds in a dry frying pan or wok on low heat and shake occasionally. They will gradually brown – be careful not to leave them as they will burn.

Coriander seeds may take up to 20 minutes. For cumin seeds 5-10 minutes should be sufficient.

As they are ‘roasting’ they should start smelling more aromatic and slightly darken in colour, however this can be hard to tell – especially with cumin seeds, so watch them carefully lest they blacken.

You can grind all the roasted seeds together in a pestle and mortar once they’ve cooled.

Thai Food > Green Curry 3 February 2007

Posted by cath in freeze-friendly, ingredients, Recipes, thai curry, Thai food, very spicy.
6 comments

Perhaps the most well known Thai curry in the UK. I have a slightly different recipe which recreates the hot, spicy, sweet and sour curry without as much salt as many shop-bought pastes.

Green Curry

I’ve adapted this recipe from the one I learned in a Thai cooking school. It’s interesting to note that it is not the usual recipe you see in books, the special ingredient we were taught to include in the curry paste is Thai Sweet Basil. This is a good time of year to pick up some imported items for a change – if only to avoid another portion of cabbage!

Gaeng Kiawan Gai
(Green Curry with Chicken)

Serves 4 with steamed rice as a lunch or dinner, or more as one dish in a traditional meal
Ingredients:

  • 300-500g chicken (breast works very well in this dish, but use whatever you have) – thinly sliced
  • 750mls coconut milk – separated into thick and thin (you can do this by putting a tin in the fridge and then it’s easy to pour the thin coconut milk out – the thick milk will solidify at the top of the tin)
  • 80g (3 tablespoons) home-made green curry paste (2 tbsp of bought paste)
  • 5 apple egg plants – cut into quarters (do not do this in advance as the egg plants will brown)
  • A handful of small, pea egg plants – removed from their stalks
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves – torn into pieces, discarding stem
  • 1 big green chilli – sliced
  • 1 big red chilli – sliced
  • Dash of lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • A handful or two of Thai sweet basil leaves

Method:

  1. First, heat up the oil in a pan. Then add the green curry paste and fry for about 4 minutes until the paste is cooked.
  2. Then add most of the thick coconut milk and mix in until you form a thick, smooth curry base. If your home-made paste is a bit coarse, you can liquidise this mixture to create a smoother look.
  3. Now add most of the thin coconut milk. Stir and heat to combine. (This part of the curry base can be made in advance and then left to cool until required.)
  4. Bring the curry base up to a simmer and add the thin chicken slices. Keep simmering gently for about 5 minutes until the chicken is nearly cooked through. As long you’ve cut the chicken strips thinly, this shouldn’t take too long.
  5. Cut and add the apple egg plants and bring to the boil again, simmer for about 4 minutes more.
  6. Add the pea egg plants and simmer again for a few minutes.
  7. Then add the fish sauce and kaffir lime leaves, stir and heat through.
  8. Turn off the heat, transfer into a serving bowl (if required) and garnish with big chillies, basil leaves and dash of lime juice to taste.

For a fancy finish: add a swirl of the leftover coconut milk by re-combining some thick and thin coconut milk in a small cup, pour some into the centre of the serving dish then quickly and gently stir to create a swirl of white against the green base.

Serve with fresh steamed Thai fragrant rice

Variations

Fish, prawns or beef all work well in the green curry. All meats and fish can be cooked in the same manner, with some variation in cooking time:

  • Beef steak, cut thinly can be used much like chicken, or cooked for even less time as you prefer.
  • Prawns take a very short amount of time and therefore should be placed in the curry sauce last, for 1-2 minutes to cook.
  • Monkfish is excellent in this dish, and needs less cooking than meat, add the chunks of fish about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Other white fish also works well.
  • Left-over roast meat (beef, chicken etc.) can also be used, just thinly slice and add to the sauce for 1-2 minutes to heat through at the end.

Pork benefits from a 30 minute pre-cook in thin coconut milk, see the panang recipe for more details.

Add other vegetables as well as or instead of Thai aubergines.

Vegetarian options:

Green curry makes a good vegetarian option, although you will have to miss out the fish sauce and replace this with soy sauce for strict vegetarians. Also make sure you miss out the shrimp paste from the curry paste.

Try different combinations of vegetables, depending on the time of year:

Baby corn, mange tout, courgette, purple aubergine, carrot, potato, cauliflower.

Vegetables > Spiced Red Cabbage 17 January 2007

Posted by cath in easy, mildly spicy, Recipes, variations, vegetables.
1 comment so far

Roast Pork with Red Cabbage

Spiced Red Cabbage with Roast Pork, Parsnip, Mash, Apple Sauce

Cabbage is easy to get hold of this time of year. This is a nice way to cook red cabbage. The cooking method can be used with various herbs, spices and flavours in the cooking liquid. It can also be adapted for other cabbages, with different amounts of liquid and length of cooking time.

This recipe is for red cabbage with ginger, apple and nutmeg in a port and wine vinegar sweet and sour glaze. It’s all in one pot, and takes up to an hour to cook slowly followed by a quick simmer to reduce any excess liquid to a syrupy sauce.

This makes a large quantity (using up a whole cabbage) – but it keeps well in the fridge for 5 days. Reheat batches in the microwave for about 5 minutes or in a small pan on a low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 red cabbage – shredded (less than 1cm thick strips)

1 red onion – thinly sliced

1 bramley apple or 2 tart smaller cooking apples – cored and sliced finely (no need to peel)

2 inches grated fresh ginger

1/4 of a grated nutmeg (don’t use the pre-grated stuff, it doesn’t provide enough flavour – buy whole nutmegs)

Salt and pepper

Butter and olive oil.

For the cooking liquor:

2 tbsp port

2 tbsp wine vinegar

1 cube frozen home-made chicken stock (or equivalent)

2 tbsp dark brown or muscovado sugar

4-8 tbsp water (as required)

Method:

Heat some butter and oil (roughly equal proportions) in a very large pan (large enough to fit all the shredded cabbage and other ingredients!) – use just enough so that it covers the bottom of the pan well.

Cook the onions on a low-medium heat until they are translucent but not browned, then add the apple and cook for a few minutes, stirring around.

Add the ginger, nutmeg. Stir through and cook for a minute more.

Rinse the red cabbage in a colander so that it is damp, add half of it straight to the hot pan and stir well. Then add the rest of the cabbage.

Add the cooking liquids.

Don’t worry that the liquid doesn’t cover the cabbage, it only has to provide steam for the cooking process. Any extra liquid you add will have to be reduced at the end of the cooking time, so keep it to a minimum. When you stir the dish occasionally during the cooking time you can add a splash or two of water if the pan is drying up.

Season well with pepper and a touch of salt.

Cover and simmer on a medium heat for 10 minutes until the cabbage had wilted. Then stir well to combine.

Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 30-50 minutes (depending how well done you want the cabbage and how thick you cut it), stirring occasionally.

Finally, when the cabbage is cooked remove the lid and turn the heat up to reduce any left over cooking liquor, stirring to coat the cooked cabbage in the thickened glaze.

Spiced Red Cabbage

Spiced Red Cabbage

Enjoy cookalicious cabbage! Great with sausages, roast pork, spicy chicken drumsticks…all kinds of things.

Variations:

Try using cinnamon, cloves, even dried chillies to make a fiery, extra spicy cabbage dish. You can use garlic, leeks or more onions instead of ginger too.

You can use almost any liquid. If you don’t want a sweet and sour effect using vinegar and sugar, just use more stock, water or wine instead.

For a savoy cabbage dish which is great with sausage and mash, try this which uses the basic method above with reduced cooking time and different flavours:

1 savoy cabbage – shredded (as above)

1 onion – finely sliced

1 stalk of celery – finely sliced

3-5 cloves garlic – finely chopped

1 glass white wine

Oil, butter, salt and pepper

Cook the onion slowly in oil and butter, then add celery and finally the garlic – do not brown, cook until soft. Add the cabbage, season with salt and pepper and pour in the wine. Cover and cook on medium heat for 5-10 minutes until wilting nicely. Then reduce the heat and cook for up to 20 minutes until the cabbage is soft but not mushy. You may have to remove the lid to reduce any excess liquid in the pan for the last 5-10 minutes.

Garlic Savoy Cabbage
Garlic Braised Savoy Cabbage

Basic Recipes > Sourdough Bread 11 January 2007

Posted by cath in bread, freeze-friendly, Info and Cooks Notes, Recipes, specials, variations.
1 comment so far

Here’s a new bread recipe for the new year.

 Sourdough - Toasted

Sourdough Toast

 

Sourdough Experiment 1 – Prooving slowly in the fridge for 3 days.

This is something I’ve been meaning to try for a while – sourdough.

I’ve read that this is best made by using a small piece of dough kept wrapped in the fridge from the last batch of dough and kneading it into the next. Now, I haven’t got that far yet, although a small ball is currently fermenting in the fridge for the next sourdough experiment!

Meanwhile I tried a long, slow proove of half of my weekly dough batch to see if I could get a slightly sourdough effect. I was very pleased with the results.

Here’s what to do:

Day 1: Make a large batch of your favorite dough. I made two loaves with this amount of dough – 1 for immediate use, 1 for sourdough, so each loaf was 300g baked in a small bread tin (otherwise I would freeze the extra dough for use another time).

Try this mixture for 2 small loaves (cook one and keep one to try sourdough):

300g strong wholemeal and 300g strong white flour, 1.25 tsp dried yeast, 1.5 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp milk powder, 1.5 tsp salt, 420 ml water and 3 tbsp walnut/olive oil mix (instead of butter) with 4 tbsp pumpkin, 2 tbsp sunflower and 1 tbsp linseeds). See my bread recipe for other options and more details. For full instructions in making dough see this post.

Now for the new stuff… Prooving dough overnight in the fridge makes the loaf a slightly different texture, so I wanted to experiment with that effect.

Dough does rise in the fridge (albeit slowly), so put the dough in a medium bowl (at least twice the size of the dough ball), covered with oiled clingfilm (oil-side down) and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Day 2: In the morning, the dough should had risen, so push it back down into the bowl – effectively knocking it back and removing the air. Then place back into the fridge. Repeated that in the evening and again in the morning of Day 3.

Day 3: Turn out the dough onto a floured surface (use bread flour again) and knead it for a minute by hand to remove the air bubbles. Then push the dough ball into a flat, roughly rectangular shape the length of your bread tin. Roll it up like a Swiss roll and place in the oiled tin.  This should gives a perfect size and shape to fit the bread tin.

Replace the oiled clingfilm loosely and put it back in the fridge for 4 or 5 hours (minimum) where it will slowly take shape. Remove the bread from the fridge to warm up to room temperature and finish prooving before banking, this will take an hour or two –  don’t let it puff up too far. Once it has shaped, put it in a pre-heated oven (at least 210 deg C) for about 20 minutes (longer for larger loaves) until it is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

The bread should be dense and heavier than a typical loaf. It should also keep a little better.  It will also freeze well (try cutting slices to freeze so you can toast straight from the freezer). It makes lovely, crispy toast too. Hope you enjoy – and lookout for experiment 2 with my fermenting ball of dough…

Baking Tip:

For a crispier crust on the base and sides, try removing the bread from the tin for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time – excellent if you’re checking the bread for hollowness and it’s not quite done.

Prooving Help!

Accidentally left your dough to rise and puff up too much in the tin? Don’t panic! Just push it back in, removing all the pesky air bubbles and then wait for it to reshape again…just try to check on it more regularly to avoid it going too far. Your aim is always to double the size of the shaped dough that you put in the tin. The great thing about dough is that it doesn’t mind the odd hiccup, it will just need time to rise again.

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)

Method:

  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.

Easy Dinners > Using Home-made Tomato Sauces 6 December 2006

Posted by cath in Recipes.
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Pasta

Pasta with Tomato and Mushroom Sauce

 

In winter, when the local tomatoes have all gone, your roasted tomato sauce and tomato/onion and garlic sauce will come in very handy.

 

Try the following:

1. Just defrost the tomato, onion and garlic sauce overnight. Then add any other ingredients you’d like (i.e. fried mushrooms, or sliced chorizo), heat through and serve with pasta topped with a little cheese and parsley.

2. Try mixing a little of the sauce above with a spoon or two of concentrated roasted tomato sauce for an extra special tomato sauce combination.

3. For the roasted sauce, add a cube or two of homemade chicken stock, a small cup of water and heat for a rich tomato sauce.

4. A big sauce made from roasted tomato puree can begin by frying up some onions and garlic, then adding the sauce and stock or water, followed by the other ingredients.

5. Add your homemade tomato sauce instead of tinned tomatoes in bolognese, curries, stews etc. Just dilute with water where appropriate (particularly for the puree, or for very well reduced sauces in the freezer)

 

Roast Tomato Sauce

Roasted Tomato Sauce – ready to make into a pasta sauce or add to other dishes

 

Remember, you can make this sauce into just about anything. Add any other ingredients you have on hand:

 

  • dried meats such as chorizo or salami
  • sliced up cooked sausages
  • mushrooms – fresh, fried and added, or boiled in the sauce, or dried (re-hydrated, plus the mushroom liquor instead of stock and water)
  • spinach or other seasonal vegetables
  • herbs

A jar of Passatta (sieved tomatoes) can come in handy when you’re running out of your frozen sauce, or can be added to make your sauce go further. Of course, you can always use tinned tomatoes instead.

 

Cooking Chinese 6 December 2006

Posted by cath in Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, Recipes, shopping notes, stir-fry.
3 comments

A Note About Chinese Supermarket Goodies

If you enjoy stir-frying, then you’ll definitely want to pick up a few essentials from the Chinese Supermarket:

Shaoxing rice wine

Shaoxing Rice Wine

You can try using white wine, or if you happen to have some dry sherry, that would be better…but really there is nothing better than the real thing – it keeps well once opened.

Dried Shitake Mushrooms

Shitake Mushrooms - Dried

Really useful for more than just Chinese food…You only need to soak them for around 10 minutes in warm water, then chop and add to the dish. Some cooks suggest removing the more fibrous stalk – but it’s never done me any harm!

I also add chopped, soaked mushrooms them to risotto – and soaking a mixture of dried porcini, chanterelles and shitake for half an hour or so makes a fantastic mushroom stock for the risotto too.

I would also consider them as a substitute for fresh mushrooms in other recipes too.

Sesame oil

Sesame Oil

Also good for marinades and to add some nutty flavour to noodles.

Dried Noodles

Noodles

You can get a vast array of Chinese (and Japanese) style noodles, quick to cook so that always means fast food!

Oyster Sauce

Oyster Sauce

Excellent for a variety of marinades and sauces (including Sweet and Sour Sauce). Keeps (for ages, and I mean literally years) in a cold cupboard or in the fridge.

Vegetarians, look out for a mushroom version, which is very similar in style to this sauce and makes a good veggie substitute.

Soy Sauce – Light and Dark

Soy Sauces

A must have – and definitely worth buying these large bottles at the Chinese supermarket they are much cheaper than supermarket equivalents.

The Light version is usually added to cooking and to season the finished dishes.

The Dark version more often used in marinades.

Stir Fry > Spicy Sweet and Sour Pork with Vegetables 29 November 2006

Posted by cath in mildly spicy, Recipes, stir-fry, variations, vegetables.
2 comments

Sweet and Sour Pork - Cookalicious Style

Spicy Sweet and Sour Pork with Vegetables

 

This isn’t the battered pork balls that you may think of when you think of sweet and sour pork – instead, this is a Thai/Chinese fusion of healthy, local, in season vegetables, with lean pork, stir fried in a spicy sweet and sour sauce.

I like to try and encourage home cooking, and all in one dishes are a popular choice. The stir fry, although Asian in influence is made with mostly local produce – carrots, courgette, Savoy cabbage, sprouting broccoli, onions, garlic, mixed mushrooms, tomatoes and fresh coriander. The only imported ingredients are my chillies and ginger – not bad.

Any lean pork will do, here I’ve used tenderloin – that’s like the fillet of beef in pork. The meat has a mini-marinade before cooking. This is often the case with Chinese recipes and can be done for as little as 5-10 minutes, or you could leave it longer but not overnight. I usually prepare the meat first then leave it to marinade for a bit whilst I chop the vegetables.

 

Preparation

The sauce is easy – I’ve used it before.

  • 2 tbsp pineapple juice (from the tinned pineapple)
  • Juice of a lime
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 3 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • a dash of tomato puree for colour.

Just mix it together in a bowl and set aside.

 

Sweet and Sour Ingredients

The ingredients

(Clockwise from Top-left: Sweet and Sour Sauce, Pineapple pieces, coriander, chili and tomatoes, chopped courgette and cabbage, carrot and broccoli, sliced onions, garlic and ginger. Bowl of mixed mushrooms in the centre.)

 

  1. Thinly slice the pork and combine it in a bowl with 1 tbsp dark or light soy sauce, 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (or you can use white wine or dry sherry if you have it) and 1 tbsp sesame oil with 1 tbsp of cornflour.
  2. Chop the vegetables – carrots, courgette into thin sticks, cabbage thinly sliced, small sprouts of broccoli trimmed, slices of mushroom. You can chop more than you need for one night and keep half aside for an even quicker meal the next day. (If you have this dish with noodles rather than rice that also makes it quicker).
  3. Chop the base ingredients – thin slices of onion (red or white as you like), garlic and ginger.
  4. Chop a couple of tomatoes if you still have some from the “summer”, some chillies (2 large red chillies is a good heat) and some coriander stalk and leaf.
  5. Drain a tin of pineapple (natural juice or fresh if you can get it) and chop into bite-size pieces.

 

Cooking Instructions

When you’re ready to cook, start with the rice. The stir-fry will take only 5-10 minutes to complete, so when you’re ready to begin cooking, heat up the wok with a little oil (groundnut is good) in the base. Heat it up well, then add the sliced onion, followed by garlic and ginger. Stir fry for a few minutes but do not brown (particularly the garlic). You can add some chillies here if you want it hot and spicy.

Then add the marinaded pork and stir fry on a medium high heat for 2-3 minutes until nearly cooked. You can choose to remove the pork, onions etc. now if you like – to stop the meat drying out and to give you more room for the vegetables – remove and leave on a warm plate.

Now add the carrots, mushrooms, then broccoli, cabbage and finally the courgette (add them in the order of size and crunchiness – carrot usually takes the longest unless it’s been grated.) Use the remaining pineapple juice and water to loosen the stir fry rather than adding more oil.

 

Stir fry until all the vegetables are cooked. Then put the pork back in the wok with the sauce and stir through, heating the sauce. Finally, add the pineapple, tomatoes and decorative chili slices. Sprinkle fresh coriander on the top and serve with the rice.

Yum!