Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Herb-stuffed roast leg of pork with crackling, cider gravy and spiced caramelised apples

Roast pork is awesome value for money - it's a lot cheaper than beef or lamb but still very flavoursome, more so than chicken. Some recipes will tell you to trim the skin off, but this is stupid because that way you don't get awesome crispy crackling on the outside. Removing the skin is beneath you; don't do it to the pork, but most importantly, don't do it to yourself. Learn to love yourself and make proper crackling.

I've seen various different methods for making crackling, such as pouring hot water on it the night before, rubbing it with cider vinegar and/or making a human sacrifice to Michael Bolton. I find you get great results doing it via this simple method. A 1kg joint will serve about 4 people.

  • Pork leg joint, boned and rolled with the skin ON DAMN YOU (1 kg).
  • Leaves from 3 sage sprigs
  • 2 tbsps parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 lemon
  • 300ml cider
  • 300ml vegetable stock
  • Olive oil for drizzling plus 1 tbsp to fry the apples
  • 1 knob of butter
  • Rock salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Seasonabl vegetables, to serve
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 Braeburn apples
  • About 1 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 1 tsp marmite


  1. Get the pork out about an hour before you want to put it in the oven. Score the fat in a cross-hatched pattern with a very sharp knife (you can use a stanley knife for this) and rub some rock salt into it, making sure you get plenty of crystals into the cracks.
  2. Butterfly the pork joint by cutting into the indent so that you can open it out (don't cut right through). Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves and sprinkle them onto the opening, along with the sage and parsley leaves, then grate half the lemon's skin onto it. Tie it back together at regular intervals with string.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  4. Peel and chop the onions into half-moons and put them in the bottom of a roasting tin. Put the pork on top, covering the onions as much as possible to stop them burning in the oven (it isn't the end of the world if this happens, it just means you won't be able to eat the onions themselves, the gravy will still be fine). Drizzle it with olive oil and pour about half or two thirds of the cider into the bottom of the tin.
  5. Roast in the oven for an hour, then whack the heat up to full blast for about 20 minutes to make the skin go crispy. It should be a golden brown colour like in the picture. There's your crackling!
  6. To do the apples, core and chop them but don't peel them. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan on a medium heat and add the butter. Add the cloves and the cinnamon stick to the pan for a minute or two until they're fragrant and sizzling, then add the apples. Sprinkle the sugar over them and toss it all around to get an even coating. Cook the apples for about 5 minutes on each side.
  7. When the pork is done, transfer it to a carving board and cover it with tin foil to rest for about 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, make the gravy: deglaze the pan, adding a little more cider if necessary, add the stock and marmite and reduce until the thickness and flavour is to your liking. Strain it into a jug, discarding the onions if they're burned or reserving them if they're not.
  8. Serve with seasonal vegetables; today I did roast potatoes to accompany it, with a little English mustard on the side. Braised cabbage goes very well with it too.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Baked pork chops with caramelised apples

Don't let me catch you grilling pork chops or I'll have you raped by a herd of gay rhinos! Grilling pork chops makes them go rock hard and crap. Cook them in the oven or on the frying pan, please!

A good quality chop is the most important thing for this recipe - that means going to the butcher's instead of the supermarket! The quality is so much better - you want a nice marbled chop with plenty of fat, which will melt and tenderise the meat while it cooks. This recipe will take no more than half an hour. My brother and I used to eat this on Sundays when I lived in Chelmsford - oh the memories!

  • 4 pork chops on the bone
  • 2 Braeburn apples
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • Olive oil, to drizzle
  • A knob of butter
  • About 2 tbsps muscovado sugar
  • 250ml cider (preferably dry)
  • Mustard mash, to serve


  1. Get the chops out of the fridge about 15-20 minutes before you want to start cooking so that they can adjust to room temperature. Heat the oven to 210 degrees.
  2. Smash and peel the garlic cloves, then peel the onions and slice them into fairly thin half-moon shapes.
  3. Using a sharp knife, cut into the rind of each pork chop. Place them on top of the mound of garlic and onion and season with freshly ground black pepper and rock salt, making sure you get plenty of rock salt stuffed into the incisions you made (this will help to make the fat go crispy). Put a thyme sprig on each pork chop, drizzle them with olive oil, pour the cider into the bottom of the tray and put it in the oven; after 5 minutes, turn the heat down to 180 degrees and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes until done (use a rack if necessary to avoid submerging the pork chops!).
  4. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the butter. Chop the apples into slices and core them (but don't bother peeling them). Sprinkle them liberally with muscovado sugar on both sides and fry for about 5 minutes per side until they turn golden brown.
  5. When the pork chops are done, put them on a plate and let them rest for 5 minutes. Put the tray on the hob, discard the garlic cloves and herbs, and turn the heat up high. Scrape the tin to deglaze it and add a little water which you reserved from the mashed potatoes (yes I did tell you to do this, you just don't remember! :P). When the juices have reduced and the flavour is suitably concentrated, transfer the contents of the pan to a jug.
  6. Serve the pork chops with the onions, mustard mash, and whatever seasonal vegetables you like, with the onion gravy on the side!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Cottage/shepherd's pie

Some people don't know the difference between cottage pie and shepherd's pie. The difference is that cottage pie is made with beef and shepherd's pie is made with lamb - when was the last time you saw a shepherd looking after cows? Try rounding some cows up with a sheep dog and let me know how you get on.

Having said that, the recipes are extremely similar, so if you make it with lamb just substitute lamb/chicken stock instead of beef stock, and make sure you use wine rather than ale.

This serves about 4-6 people and takes about an hour in all I guess.

  • 800g good quality beef mince (this is crucial as this is a very simple recipe; Aberdeen Angus is a good bet if you're in the supermarket)
  • 200g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1kg potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 250ml red wine or good dark ale
  • 600ml beef stock
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley, thyme or rosemary leaves according to taste
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • A generous sprinkling of mature cheddar
  • Two red onions, peeled and diced
  • 1tsp English mustard
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 knob of butter


  1. Peel the potatoes and chop them into roughly golf-ball sized pieces. Put them in a big saucepan and cover with salted water.
  2. Heat the olive oil in the saucepan on a medium heat and add the butter. When it's foaming, add the onions and cook for about 15 minutes until they've softened, stirring regularly.
  3. Trim and peel the carrots, then chop them into small cubes. Add them to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until they've softened. If you prefer, you can grate the carrots into the mince at a later stage, which makes for a smoother meat sauce, but personally I like to taste and identify the carrots, and I feel it makes the recipe a bit more rustic and homely.
  4. Bring the potatoes to the boil and simmer briskly for about 20 minutes until they're tender. When they're ready, drain them and dry them out in the pan for another minute or so, then take the pan off the heat.
  5. Preheat the oven at 210 degrees.
  6. Increase the heat to a medium-high heat and add the mince, stirring occasionally. Cook it until it's browned, then drain the excess fat.
  7. Make a well in the centre of the meat mixture and add the chopped tomatoes. Keep stirring for a few minutes and add the herbs and Worcestershire sauce. Season to taste.
  8. Pour in the wine or ale and reduce by half.
  9. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer briskly until reduce by half.
  10. Mash the potatoes when they're ready and add a couple of knobs of butter and a drop of hot milk (add this slowly as you don't want to make your mash too sloppy) and season to taste. Stir a teaspoon of English mustard into the mixture.
  11. Put the meat sauce into a large casserole or roasting tin and cover it evenly with the mashed potato, flattening it with a fork. Alternatively, you can do this with a piping bag, but personally I think that's a bit poncey and it's too fiddly for something that makes little difference to the flavour, so I don't bother. Grate a generous helping of mature cheddar over it and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the mashed potato has gone crispy. If you like, you can also sprinkle a little bit more Worcestershire sauce over the cheese for added tang!

NOTE: The meat sauce is basically the same as the one you would use for moussaka or lasagne, if you fancy trying them, though in those cases I would recommend grating the carrots and perhaps leaving out the stock.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Leek and potato soup

My Mum injured her ankle the other day when she slipped on some ice, so I decided to make her some of her favourite soup. Yes, it's true, soup cures torn ligaments.

This simple but effective soup will serve about 6 people.

  • 1 large baking potato
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 litre good vegetable stock (no cubes or granules please!)
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter
  • Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on a medium-low heat and add the butter.
  2. Peel and dice the onions and fry for about 15 minutes until they've gone transluscent.
  3. Peel and chop the potato into small cube-like shapes. Thoroughly wash and chop the leeks. Add them to the pan and fry them for a few minutes until they've softened.
  4. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer until the potato cubes are tender enough for you to squash them with a spoon.
  5. Using a ladle, put batches of the vegetable and stock mixture into a blender and blitz until completely smooth. Put the liquidised batches into a clean saucepan. By doing it this way you can control how thick the soup is by adding no more stock than necessary.
  6. Reheat gently and stir in the cream and seasoning.
  7. Serve hot with a crusty buttered roll for each person.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Beer-battered haddock with oven chips

You knew it had to happen sooner or later! Because I love to take care of you all, I've avoided traditionally deep-frying anything in this recipe; that's not to say it's a leafy green salad but still, it's a bit healthier, and it tastes great! You could use pollack, haddock, skate or of course cod instead if you wish. Chip shops here generally serve very large portions so feel free to have just half a haddock fillet if you have a smaller appetite! The beer batter is lovely and crispy, while the fish inside is still soft and delicate.

This will serve four people and takes about 45 minutes at the most (including preparation). If you're really pressed for time you could deep-fry the chips, in which case it will take only a few minutes, but I suggest you don't. Bear in mind that supermarket-bought oven chips will take about the same length of time to cook and not taste anywhere near as good. As for supermarket-bought haddock fillets, well, they take about 30 minutes in the oven whereas doing it from scratch takes 4, so don't buy them unless you're trying to punish yourself for some sin committed in a past life.


  • 4 boneless haddock fillets
  • 250ml good beer
  • 250g plain flour
  • About four large potatoes
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Groundnut oil
  • Parsley to garnish
  • 1 Lemon


  1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees.
  2. Peel the potatoes and chop them into eight evenly sized chips. Put them in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for no more than five minutes, then turn off the heat, drain the water and put them back on the ring for a minute to allow the remaining moisture to evaporate (if you have a gas cooker, put the heat on the lowest setting for this as they cool down more quickly).
  3. Put the chips into a roasting tin; if any are stuck, carefully dislodge them with a fish slice. Drizzle them generously with groundnut oil and put them in the oven for half an hour.
  4. Heat about 4 tbsps groundnut oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high heat. In the meantime, sieve the flour into a bowl and mix in some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Make a well in the centre and pour in the beer, a little at a time. Keep whisking until you have a smooth batter. Coat the haddock fillets in the batter and fry in the pan (skin-side down first) for about 2 minutes on each side; you may have to do this in batches.
  5. Serve with a lemon wedge and a generous spoonful of tartare sauce for each person, with malt vinegar, salt and tomato ketchup on the side.

NOTE: Some people like to put breadcrumbs in the batter, along with herbs or even a bit of mustard. Experiment and see what you like!

Tartare sauce

This is a nice accompaniment to fish and chips or fishcakes.

  • 3tbsp finely chopped gherkins
  • 3tbsp chopped capers
  • 200ml mayonnaise (preferably homemade)


Mix it all together and refrigerate!

Home-made mayonnaise

Making your own mayonnaise might seem a bit excessive but it's worth it, especially if you eat a fair bit of it, and it's very easy to make. Just ensure you use free range eggs so that you don't get salmonella. If you're very intolerant of salmonella then stay away as it contains raw eggs like all mayonnaise.

This recipe is so simple I'm not going to divide it in the usual way! Put three egg yolks in the bottom of a bowl with a teaspoon of mustard. Whisk thoroughly. Measure out 300ml groundnut oil and SLOWLY (i.e. a trickle - you don't want it to split) pour it in whilst whisking thoroughly. When all the oil is in, mix in a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate the mayonnaise in clean jars for no more than 3 days.

Stay tuned for a recipe using this mayonnaise!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Spangly balls

Marianna has generously given me another sweet recipe, this time for Greek truffles (troufakia)!

NOTE: we're not *entirely* sure of the precise quantities for this one...


  • 10 chocolate digestive biscuits
  • 20 normal digestive biscuits
  • 10 tbsps brandy
  • 100g walnuts
  • 25g coconut truffle
  • 25g butter
  • 180ml condensed milk
  • About 300g hundreds and thousands


  1. Blitz the biscuits and walnuts in a blender.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients besides the hundreds and thousands together in a bowl and roll into a dough.
  3. Make small balls with the dough and roll them in the hundreds and thousands to get a generous coating.
  4. Chill and then eat!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Marianna's sweetness

There were two things I particularly liked about Greece - the food and the women! This is a recipe from a Greek girl so naturally I felt it warranted inclusion! I haven't tried making it myself yet but it's not a million miles away from things I have tried e.g. apple crumble so I'm sure it will taste awesome. Also, this is the first pudding on the page, and apples are very appropriate for this; their natural awesomeness means that very little effort is needed to make them into something really special.

  • 10 sweet red apples e.g. Pink Lady
  • 7 tbsps liqueur (your choice!)
  • 7 tbsps brandy
  • 1 stick of cinammon
  • 1/3 tbsp cloves
  • About 7 tbsps white caster sugar (according to taste)


  1. Peel and core the apples. Chop them into four pieces.
  2. Put all of the ingredients in a saucepan with no more than 5 tbsps water and simmer for 30 minutes on a very low heat. Do not stir them as you want to keep them whole for this particular recipe.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Money-saving chicken soup

I love you guys. No, really. So, not only have I shown you how to make fresh chicken stock to take care of your pennies during the credit crunch, I'm going to show you how to make a nice chicken soup with it. This is the soup that will bring Britain out of the recession.

This is quite a rough recipe; it's designed to make use of what you've got to hand so the quantities aren't all exact. It should serve about 4 people.

  • 1 litre fresh chicken stock (see below)
  • 1 leek
  • 1 medium-sized potato
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • Chicken scrapings (see below)
  • 1 sprig of tarragon
  • Crusty bread rolls, to serve
  • 1 onion


  1. Before you make the stock, scrape or peel whatever flesh you can from the chicken, put it into a bowl and then put the bowl in the fridge until you need it. Also try to reserve some of the bits of carrot, leek and garlic if possible; this will help to thicken the soup.
  2. Thoroughly wash a leek and chop it roughly. Also peel and chop the potato into smallish lumps, and dice the onion. Fry in a large saucepan on a medium heat for a few minutes until they've softened.
  3. Pour the stock into the saucepan along with the reserved vegetables (if you're using them). Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are all tender.
  4. Pour the soup into a blender and pulse until everything has been liquidised, adding more water if it's too thick and gloopy, then pour it back into the saucepan and reheat it(preferably without boiling it). Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and the English mustard (this gives the soup a nice kick, but a whole teaspoonful may be too harsh for some people). Chop in some tarragon leaves using scissors and simmer for a few more minutes.
  5. Serve with a buttered bread roll for each person.

A quick note on chicken stock

Chicken stock is worth making from scratch as it tastes far better than anything you can buy in a packet. You will particularly notice the difference in simple recipes such as those shown on this blog. It takes a good couple of hours to make, but you can make it in advance in a large quantity and then freeze or refrigerate it (no more than a couple of days in the fridge). It will also make the money you spent on your chicken go further.

I use Gordon Ramsay's method:


If you scrape whatever flesh you can from the carcass before you cook it you can then add it back into a saucepan full of stock along with some veg to make a hearty soup.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Beef and ale stew with dumplings and cheddar cheese

It was a cold evening tonight - perfect for a nice bit of stew! No Michelin-star award winning cooking techniques here, just a tasty, hearty, warming meal. I used lemon thyme here because it was the only fresh herb I had to hand, so although it certainly went nicely, you may want to experiment with parsley, normal thyme and/or rosemary. It was inspired by a couple of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipes. Stews take a long time to cook but they're actually very easy, and once they're going you just leave them until the time is up. This will feed about four people and takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. I didn't have any streaky bacon to hand, but Hugh recommends it in his recipe and I'm sure it would taste awesome! If you use it, brown it in the pan and then transfer to the casserole just before you fry off your onions. In future I might try putting the stew mix in a pie with some puff pastry, with some mashed potato on the side.

Stew ingredients:
  • 1.5kg stewing beef
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 250ml dark English ale (I used Wychwood's Goliath)
  • A few lemon thyme sprigs
  • 2 large white onions
  • 50g plain flour
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 2tbsps olive oil
  • A couple of knobs of butter
  • Salt and pepper

Dumpling ingredients:

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 200g breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil to mix
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • About 1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated mature cheddar to garnish
  1. Get your beef out of the fridge about 30 minutes in advance. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan at a low heat, then add the butter.
  2. Chop the onions in half, peel them and cut off the shoots. Slice them into half-moon shapes and fry them in the pan for about 15 minutes until they've softened and started to turn golden, then put them into a casserole.
  3. Mix the flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss your meat in it (cue incredibly mature jokes here). Turn up the heat in the pan to about medium, then add the beef (you'll probably have to do this in batches), sealing the pieces on all sides before transferring to the casserole. This seals in the juices and flavour.
  4. When all your beef is cooked, pour a little ale into the pan to deglaze it, scraping the bottom (use a wooden spoon if you have a non-stick pan so that you don't scratch it to hell) to dislodge the sediment. Pour all of this into the casserole, then add the rest of the ale, the Worcestershire sauce, the beef stock and the lemon thyme, which you should tie into what is known as a "bouquet garni" (not as poncey as it sounds, just tie them together with an elastic band). Bring it to the boil, then partially cover it and reduce to a simmer for about 2 hours and 30 minutes. If the meat becomes exposed, add a little hot water to recover it so that it doesn't dry out.
  5. In the meantime, start on the dumplings. There's no point sieving the flour so don't bother. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl (apart from the cheese), make a well in the centre and pour in two-thirds of the beaten eggs. Add olive oil in small increments as you mix until you have something a bit like a bread dough, then divide it into 10-12 large rugby-ball shaped lumps. Put these into the stew for the last 45 minutes of cooking.
  6. Serve the stew into bowls or pasta dishes and try to get the dumplings on top. Grate some mature cheddar over the dumplings (I don't know the exact quantity, just guesstimate!) and stick the bowls under the grill for a minute or two, which will warm up the bowl a bit and also melt the cheese. If you have an oven-proof casserole (which, on this particular occasion, I didn't) then you can probably do this while the stew is still in there.

Enjoy with a nice pint of ale! Cheers!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Cupboard essentials

When I started cooking as a hobby I knew very little, and I still consider myself a beginner really. But, although I don't cook anything really complicated anyway, recipes are a lot less daunting if your kitchen is well stocked with various general supplies. Your confidence may also improve as you find yourself using and understanding these core ingredients over and over again in various recipes. The more you cook for yourself properly, the less you will rely on pre-packeted pasta and curry sauces, so don't worry, this won't work out being expensive.

  • Onions - onions are simply awesome ingredients. They have a robust flavour that goes with all kinds of dishes, whether you want to make a roast, a lasagne or a curry. They have a nice sweetness to them as well, particularly red onions (which can also be eaten raw as part of a salad, though they have a very sharp taste if eaten this way). Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have an obsession with caramelising things, and onions are particularly good for this. Shallots are very nice too but I find their use is more specific.
  • Garlic - Another very versatile ingredient, garlic adds tang to food.
  • Ginger - this is an essential ingredient for oriental cooking. Fresh ginger root has a much nicer flavour than the powdered, packeted stuff. Keep it covered in the fridge though as it can go dry or mouldy.
  • Rice - I like to keep packets of arborio (for risottos) and basmati (for curries) lying around. Thai cooking often uses Jasmine rice, although - at the risk of re-emphasising my amateurish skill level - I can't really tell the difference taste-wise.
  • Pasta - I won't insult your intelligence by explaining this! All I'll mention is that there is actually nothing wrong with dried pasta as opposed to the fresh stuff. If you're really into Italian cooking you can have a go at making your own, however.
  • Tomatoes - Plum and cherry tomatoes are nice for making salads with or for putting in sandwiches with a bit of cheese. However, for cooking, I normally use tins of Italian chopped tomatoes as the British climate isn't as conducive for growing flavoursome tomatoes. If you have plenty of these tins lying around then it really isn't much aggro to make a variety of cook-in sauces, especially basic tomato sauce for pasta which you could do in your sleep! Tomato puree is also handy to have around.
  • Potatoes - I like to use floury old potatoes like Maris Piper for roasting or mashing. In spring, new potatoes like Jersey Royals come into season, and these are good for boiling.
  • Carrots - not a lot to say here really, again they just go with quite a lot of dishes.
  • Cheese - for English dishes (and for making sandwiches) I like to use mature cheddar. Parmesan is a good subsitutute when you make shepherd's pie and is a no-brainer for authentic Italian cooking - it's more expensive than cheddar but since you only grate a little bit at a time it's not that bad.
  • Stock - a good stock is one of those ingredients that can take a dish from being "meh" to being "whoa!". As well as adding moisture to a dish, it also strengthens the flavour of the meat, which is particularly important (in my humble opinion) if you're cooking meat off the bone. In an ideal world you should make fresh stock; it takes a while but it's not actually hard, you just leave it boiling until it's done, do something else in the meantime, and refrigerate or freeze it; I will show you how to make this in another post. Failing this, you can buy packets of liquid stock in supermarkets; I recommend Knorr and Tesco Finest as they have all natural ingredients and no added preservatives. I would only use stock cubes as a last resort, and I wouldn't touch gravy granules with a barge pole; it might sound snobbish, but if you try fresh stock in a simple recipe like sausage and mash then you'll see what I mean.
  • Mushrooms - these things have such a great, mellow flavour. I'm not an expert and there are many different varieties you can get (including wild ones). Porcini, flat cap, button and chestnut mushrooms are quite versatile in my opinion.
  • Alcohol - as well as adding depth of flavour to dishes and getting you into a nicely inebriated state whilst you cook (always a good idea when you've got pans full of hot oil - try it), alcoholic drinks are used to help deglaze a pan - that is, to help dislodge the sediment at the bottom of a pan that you've fried or roasted something in. The general guide is that stout and ale go well with beef, red wine goes well with red meat and poultry, white wine goes well with white meat, poultry, fish and vegetables, and cider goes well with pork (although I've heard some people use it with chicken and turkey). You don't generally need really good wine for this so don't be afraid to just buy a cheap bottle of plonk to use for cooking.
  • Vinegars - balsamic for salads, malt for chips, rice for oriental cooking, cider/white wine/red wine/sherry for various other bits and pieces. On a related note, it's worth getting light and dark soy sauces (yes they are different!) and Worcestershire sauce.
  • Flour - the type you need varies depending on what you're making. If you want to make bread, you may be surprised to hear that the flour you need is called bread flour (I'll just let that sink in for a moment). Plain flour is good for general cooking and pastry, and it or cornflour can be used to help make things go crispy or thicken, although for the latter purpose I would be careful as you don't want to make your sauces taste too pasty. Self-raising flour will go lumpy if you put it in gravy or whatever, but it's what you use for making cakes.
  • Fat - you are actually supposed to have a little bit of fat in your diet, just don't go overboard with it! Different fats have different flavours and also different burning points. Butter has quite a low burning point so if I'm frying I often put a little bit of olive oil in the pan first to prevent it from burning. Olive oil is flavoursome and quite good for you (although this isn't a license to go overboard - calories are calories!). A lot of people buy extra virgin olive oil because they think the higher price = higher quality. However, I *believe* extra virgin has a lower burning point, and even top chefs like Gordon Ramsay will tell you to stop wasting your money and use normal olive oil for frying. You can buy more upmarket brands of normal olive oil if you're really determined to spend more for higher quality; just use extra virgin for drizzling on salads etc. For curries or stir-fries, use groundnut, vegetable or sunflower oils, as these have high burning points and no flavour.
  • Herbs - dried basil and oregano are nice to have hanging around for emergencies, but fresh herbs are where it's at; I really miss the multitudinous bunches of lovely fresh herbs in Greece. If you have a patch of soil in your garden or space for a window box, some nice parsley, basil, thyme, sage, rosemary and coriander will take care of most dishes. As long as you can keep them growing then you basically have a constant supply of fresh herbs, which is a lot cheaper than buying them in packets. You also want to get some bay leaves.
  • Spices - if you have a pestle and mortar (which I do, because I'm cool) then you can buy whole spices rather than ready-ground ones, so they will last a lot longer. Cumin, garam masala, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, fennel, fenugreek and chilli powder are good ones to have lying around. Mustard is also great in reasonable quantities for adding flavour to meat dishes; you can buy mustard seeds, mustard powder, or pots of English, Dijon, American and wholegrain mustard, of which everyone seems to have a favourite (mine is English, maybe I'm biased!). Not everyone can handle very hot mustard; American is the mildest.

Basic side dishes

Here are a few side dishes that I like to have. I recommend using organic veg if possible as the flavour is much stronger and fresher, though to be fair it doesn't keep quite as long.

Mashed potatoes

If you're cooking for about 4 of you, use about 1.3kg potatoes if you want to make sure everyone has enough. I always use Maris Piper potatoes, although I also hear good things about Desirees and King Edwards. Wash and peel them, then cut them into roughly even sized pieces (about the size of a golf ball). Put them into a saucepan with enough cold water to cover, add salt and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down a bit so that they simmer briskly rather than letting the water flow all over the place for about 20 minutes. To check if they're done, skewer one with a sharp knife - if it slides off easily, then they're done. Drain the water out and put the saucepan back on the ring on a very low heat for about a minute so some of the water can evaporate. Mash up with a potato masher (well, what did you expect to use, a tennis racket?) and add about 50g of butter. Heat a small drop of milk in the microwave and CAREFULLY add just enough to the potatoes to make the mixture smooth but not sloppy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Personally, I like to add a bit of English mustard, but some people add spring onions, herbs, cheese or even apples (the latter goes well with pork).

Roast potatoes

The daddy! Peel, chop and boil the potatoes as above, but this time only for about 5 minutes - don't cook them completely yet as they will just fall to bits in the oven otherwise. In the meantime, heat the oven to 210 degrees and put a tray with a splash of olive oil or goose fat in so that it heats up. When the potatoes are done, drain the water as before (although you may want to reserve it to make gravy) and let the water evaporate a bit. Next, get a fork to fluff up the edges and sprinkle some flour over them - this will make them go nice and crispy in the oven. Put them in the tray and roast them in the hot oven for about an hour and a half, turning every half hour or so to ensure an even coating of crispy awesomeness. For a bit of extra flavour, try adding garlic cloves and rosemary leaves.

Potato wedges

I'm no health freak by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't like deep frying things if I can help it and since these wedges are very tasty without the mahoosive fat content I don't see the point of making normal chips. Put the oven on at 210 degrees. Wash your potatoes, but don't peel them. Cut them in half, then half again, then half again until you have 8 chips. Boil them in some water for about 5 minutes (no more) then put them on a baking tray skin side down (this helps them to cook evenly), season them, drizzle them with olive oil and put them in the oven for about half an hour until they're golden and crispy. You can add herbs to this for added flavour; the last time I made them I used rosemary sprigs and smashed garlic cloves, which turned out rather nicely!

Yorkshire puddings

For my non-English readers, Yorkshire puddings are basically just big puffs of batter served alongside a roast. They should be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle to soak up the gravy. To be honest, the best recipe I've tried for this is James Martin's, which can be found at online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/yorkshirepudding_81824.shtml. If you don't have dripping like he recommends, or you want vegetarians to be able to eat them, then use sunflower oil, vegetable oil, groundnut oil, or basically anything that has a high smoking point (olive oil or butter will burn like last night's curry so don't even think about it!). Also, don't worry about a little bit of smoke while they're cooking, though obviously you should use some common sense!

Braised cabbage

This is a much tastier alternative to the school-dinner style crap that's been boiled beyond mortal comprehension. I like Marcus Wareing's recipe for it that he made on the BBC series "Great British Menu" http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/lancashirehotpotwith_81803.shtml, although when I made it I used a couple of tbsps' Worcestershire sauce instead of bay leaves because I didn't have any to hand and it turned out fine. Some people use cinnamon and/or whole cumin seeds when they make this, so see what you prefer. This side dish goes particularly well with roast pork, in which case I recommend using white wine vinegar or cider vinegar instead of red wine vinegar, depending on what kind of gravy you're making.

Honey roast carrots

This is another alternative to school-dinner vegetable annihilation. Trim the carrots by cutting off the tops and the very bottom tips, then peel them. Put them in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Boil them for about 5 minutes. You can cut them up first if you like but personally I don't bother, I just chuck them in whole! Next, heat a bit of olive oil with a knob of butter at a medium-high heat and put the carrots in, adding a generous glug (technical term there) of clear, runny honey. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for about 30-40 minutes, turning frequently to prevent the honey from burning too much (it will happen a bit but that's unavoidable, it doesn't matter as long as it's only a little). Serve garnished with fresh parsley leaves.

Plain boiled rice

Obviously this is more for Oriental food than British, but on the other hand, oriental food (or at least food inspired by it) is very popular in the UK - did you know that chicken tikka masala is actually Scottish? You want approximately 75g of rice per person if it's part of your main course. Soak it in water for about half an hour before you start. Cook it in 1.5 times as much water as rice; bring it to the boil, then turn the heat right down and cover and simmer it for about 10 minutes. Drain any remaining water, then fluff it up with a fork and leave it to rest for another 10 minutes before serving. You can mix in a little bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice as an optional extra.

Lemony roast chicken

There are few things I like more than a good roast (well, actually, one or two things do spring to mind, but it's not that kind of website). Rather than masking the flavour of the meat with a bujillion flavours, you emphasise it to make it beautiful, juicy and flavoursome. Chicken is probably the most popular kind of meat to roast in England, probably because it's fairly cheap. Please buy free range chickens though - it's worth the couple of extra quid for something that tastes better, is better for you and was raised in a far more ethical way.

So here's how I made mine today (it will probably serve 4 people, depending on how fat or hungry you are, and takes a couple of hours):


  • A whole chicken - 1.5kg
  • A lemon
  • 100g butter, plus a little extra for basting
  • A good few springs of parsley and lemon thyme
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • A leek
  • A large onion
  • Two carrots
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • A generous splash of red wine


1) Get the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before you want to start cooking; this will let the meat adjust to room temperature so that it doesn't shock and toughen when you put it in the oven. In the meantime, chop up a couple of garlic cloves and about 2 tbsps parsley leaves. Put them into a small bowl with about 100g of the butter and about 1tbsp of thyme leaves. Grate some lemon zest (about half the lemon's skin) into the bowl, mix it all together, and put it in the fridge to let the flavours infuse before you start.

2) Put the oven on at 220 degrees.

3) Peel and roughly chop the carrots, onion and leeks and put them into the bottom of a roasting tin, then add some red wine (this will provide a base for your gravy).

4) Thoroughly wash your chicken and pat it dry. Break the wishbone at the neck so that it's easier to carve. Carefully slide your hand inside the slight gap between the skin of the breast and the breast meat itself, and gently and slowly slide your hand in (take your time). Next, put the garlic and herb butter into this gap with your hands and massage it to a roughly even spread once it's all in. Pierce the lemon a few times with a sharp knife and shove it into the large cavity between the legs along with a few lemon thyme sprigs and quite a lot of parsley sprigs. Put the chicken's ankles inside the skin of the cavity and truss it into place using either the string it came with or some cocktail sticks so that the lemon etc doesn't fall out. Finally, rub some butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the chicken, put it on a rack resting on the roasting tin with the vegetables, and put it in the oven.

Note: the point of all of this stuffing is that you add some subtle, complementary flavour to the chicken and keep the flesh nice and moist while it cooks. There's nothing worse than dry chicken, apart from maybe Limp Bizkit.

5) Turn the heat down to 190 degrees and roast it for one and a half hours. Don't be a gimp and cover it with foil, the skin and the stuffed ingredients will keep the flesh moist enough and without the foil the skin will go nice and crispy. Baste some of the juices in the bottom of the roasting tin back over the chicken with a spoon every half hour.

6) The easiest way to check that the chicken is done is to get a meat thermometer and stick it in the thickest parts of a breast and a thigh; it should be about 180 degrees. If you're too tight to buy one of these very cheap things then you can just pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a knife or skewer; if the juices run clear then the chicken is done. Place the chicken upside down on a chopping board so that the juices run back down into the breasts, cover it with foil, and leave it for about 10 minutes while you do your gravy - don't worry, the chicken won't go cold in that time, this will simply allow the flesh to relax.

7) Put the roasting tin on the hob on a medium-hot heat. Using a whisk, scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the sediment, which will add flavour to your gravy. Add two tbsps of Worcestershire sauce (and more wine if need be) and let it reduce slightly, then add a fair splash of water from the saucepans that I'm assuming you used to do the accompanying vegetables. Using a potato masher, mash up the ingredients in the pan as it reduces, which will help to thicken it, then once it tastes OK (taste it using a small teaspoon) strain all the liquid into a jug via a sieve. For non-Brits reading this, what you now have is a simple but delicious sauce called "gravy" which you can and should pour over your nicely roasted meat and veggies. For Christ's sake, do NOT use stock cubes or gravy granules, they taste like arse in comparison to the real thing; and if you use beef stock cubes/granules, I will personally come to your house and turn you into something resembling a Cannibal Corpse album cover.

Now you can carve and serve your bird! Today I served mine with roast potatoes and honey-roast carrots, but you could also use cabbage or mashed potato; I'll do separate posts on these side dishes.

TIP: When you've finished with the chicken, don't throw it away! The remaining flesh can be used to make pies, risottos, curries, pasta dishes and all sorts. Furthermore, you can boil the carcass in some water in a pan with a few other bits to make a delicious stock.