Saturday, 21 March 2009

Easy arrabiata

Everyone should know how to make a basic tomato sauce for pasta. Dolmio and Ragu are the spawn of Satan, and it was only when I tried making my own pasta sauce that I realised I actually like it! Arrabiata sauce has a little bit of chilli in it but besides that it's just a "normal" tomato sauce.

Traditionally you're supposed to use penne for this recipe. I used conchiglie because it's what I had to hand, though it doesn't really make any difference. I've also seen different herb combinations used - parsley also works well. If you want something a bit more substantial you could try serving this with chicken or tuna.

This recipe will serve about four people.


  • 300g dried penne or similar pasta
  • 2 400g tins chopped Italian tomatoes (I think!)
  • 2 red chillies
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 red onions
  • Leaves from a handful of thyme sprigs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Flaked parmesan, to serve


  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan on a medium heat.
  2. Finely chop the garlic and chillies and dice the onions. Fry the garlic and chillies for about 30 seconds before adding the onions and continuing to cook them for a further 5-10 minutes until they've started to caramelise.
  3. Meanwhile, weigh the pasta and put it in a saucepan. Pour a liberal quantity of water from the kettle into the saucepan and add a little salt. Bring it to the boil and then simmer briskly for about 7 minutes until the pasta is al dente (that is, it's cooked but not overcooked and it still offers slight resistance when you bite it).
  4. Once the onions are caramelising nicely, add the chopped tomatoes, raise the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Season the sauce and add the herbs while this is going on.
  5. Drain the pasta and mix it into the sauce. Cook it for a couple of minutes and then serve with a garnish of flaked parmesan.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Victoria sandwich/jam sponge

This cake is special to me for three main reasons: firstly, my Grandma has made it for the stereotypical afternoon tea thing that my extended family has done every sunday for the past 450 years, and it always disappears in seconds; secondly, it was my contribution to a special Christmas party with my Erasmus friends, to which everyone brought something from their country; and thirdly, it tastes like pure awesome.

This, like most of the recipes on here, is ridiculously easy. My little twist is putting a bit of vanilla extract in the sponge. The only big pointer I would make about this recipe is that a really good quality jam (I used Bonne Mamman strawberry preserve) will make a big difference.

  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 2 tbsps vanilla extract
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 225g butter or good margarine
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tbsps strawberry or raspberry jam


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter/margarine and sugar together in a big mixing bowl. If you're using real butter, let it warm up in the room first so that it will actually mix in.
  3. Beat the eggs thoroughly in a jug and stir them into the mixture.
  4. Sieve the flour into the bowl along with a pinch of salt and mix it all together until you have a smooth mixture. Mix in the vanilla extract if you're using it.
  5. Get two evenly sized round cake tins and line them with a little butter and some baking paper or kitchen foil. Spoon the mixture into each tin in equal amounts and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes each until they've turned golden brown on the outside.
  6. Carefully put one of the cakes into a plate, upside down. Spoon some jam over the top (leave a little space at the edge as you don't want it to spill out) then put the other cake on top of it.
  7. Give everyone a generous slice!

TIP: a lot of people like making this with whipped cream as well as jam. Personally I find that makes it too sickly when the cake is certainly rich enough, but do what you like. At the end of the day, it's your life. Stay true to yourself. Don't let others tell you what to do.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Pan-roasted parsnip salad with honey and mustard dressing

If I were a vegetarian, I'd eat parsnips all the time. Fortunately I'm not, but still, I love parsnips. So do you.

I always hated parsnips at school (the dinner ladies used to cut them up so that they looked like chips!) but as I've grown up a bit I've started liking them. This nice, simple salad will serve four people.

Salad ingredients:
4 parsnips
4 tomatoes, preferably on the vine
1 large lettuce
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsps olive oil
A few rosemary sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Honey and mustard dressing ingredients:
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsps wholegrain mustard
3 tbsps runny honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Start off by making the dressing. Crush the garlic cloves and mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. NOTE: I can't remember the exact quantities I used for my dressing as I was playing around with a recipe I found somewhere else, so it might be an idea to check out another recipe for that and then play around with the quantities to see how it tastes. This should keep for ages in the fridge.

2. Top and tail the parsnips, peel them, cut them into quarters lengthways and put them in a pan of cold, slightly salted water. Bring it to the boil and simmer briskly for 3-5 minutes, then put them back on the ring for a minute to let the moisture evaporate as you would with potatoes.

3. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on a medium -high heat. Crush the garlic cloves and put them in the oil for about 30 seconds to allow them to infuse, then put the parsnips in. Pick bunches of leaves off the rosemary sprigs and scatter them over the parsnips. Season them and roast them for a couple of minutes on each side until they're golden brown.

4. Chop up the lettuce leaves and tomatoes in whatever way you wish and serve in a salad bowl with the parsnips on top and the dressing in a bowl on the side.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Stuffed chicken and ham parcels with sautéed potatoes

I read a recipe in one of Gordon Ramsay's books (get it, it's called "Healthy Appetite" and it rocks) for a chicken breast stuffed with ricotta and herbs and wrapped in prosciutto. I liked the idea of this, but I fancied taking advantage of the market once more by making an anglicised version.

This recipe is a great one for impressing people as it's very easy; a retarded gibbon with an addiction to glue sniffing could make it.

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 4 knobs of butter
  • 1-2 tsps English mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • A few thyme sprigs
  • 8 large slices of good smoked ham (not plastic crap)
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsps olive oil


  1. Butterfly the chicken breasts by cutting into them from the side, but not all the way through, so that you can open them out like books.
  2. Crush the garlic and chop it finely. Mix the butter with some chopped sage leaves and a little salt and pepper, then spoon the butter into the middle of the breasts and close them.
  3. Brush or smear (depending on whether you like getting your hands dirty!) the mustard over the breasts. I left the skin on, but you can remove this if you like.
  4. Lay out the ham slices so that they're slightly overlapping. Put the chicken breasts in the middle, put a sage leaf on top of each one and wrap them in the ham, covering as much as possible, then wrap them tightly in cling film and put them in the fridge for 1-2 hours to firm up (if you're worried that this will take too long then you can just do it the night before and leave them in there until you need them).
  5. Take the breasts out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to cook them, so that they can adjust to room temperature, and preheat the oven to 180 degrees. While the oven is heating up, put a roasting tin in there to let it get hot.
  6. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick pan on a medium-hot heat and put the breasts in - make sure they sizzle upon contact, if they don't then just take them out and let the oil heat up properly. Brown them for a couple of minutes on each side, then put them in the hot roasting tin, garnish them with thyme sprigs and put them in the oven for about 15 minutes until they're cooked all the way through. Leave them to rest for a few minutes once they're cooked.
  7. Meanwhile, peel your potatoes and chop them into thin slices (use a mandolin if you have one). Fry them in the pan for a few minutes on each side, adding a little more oil if necessary, until they've turned golden brown; try not to flip them too much or this will take longer.
  8. If you want to look cool, serve the potato slices in a circle in the middle of the plate, carve the chicken breasts on the diagonal and place them on top of the potatoes.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ultimate Burgers of Beefage with Potato Wedgeage

Simple though it is, the humble burger can be fantastic. There's a great market here in Norwich, so I got some excellent minced beef with which to make these burgers. They're also easy to make, which is nice. Experiment with different kinds of mustard or herbs (rosemary also goes well) or try adding some chopped chilli.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (but not your Dad's broken New Seekers record that plays "I'd like to teach the world to sing-sing-sing-sing" etc.) I'm going to remind you to get good mince for this recipe. Go to the butcher's! Now, damnit! OK, you can read the blog first if you want, then you can go.

This recipe will serve 4 people and takes about 40 minutes, all in all.

  • 500g minced beef
  • About 4 medium-large potatoes
  • 2-3 rosemary sprigs
  • Leaves from 4 thyme sprigs
  • Handful of parsley leaves
  • 2 red onions
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tbsps tomato ketchup
  • 3-4 tsps wholegrain mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • 2 tomatoes
  • A few lettuce leaves
  • 4 white burger buns


  1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees.
  2. Thoroughly wash the potatoes, then chop them into 8 even-sized wedges. Put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a pinch of salt, bring it to the boil and simmer briskly for 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of the wedges.
  3. Drain the water and put the saucepan back on the ring for a minute or so with the heat off/very low so that the water can evaporate, shaking regularly to help stop them from sticking. Put them in a roasting tin, skin-side down. Chop four of the garlic gloves into quarters and sprinkle over the wedges, along with bunches of rosemary leaves plucked from the sprigs. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in the top shelf of the oven for 35 minutes (most recipes will tell you to do them for 20 but I find they always take longer).
  4. Meanwhile, make the burgers. Dice the onions, finely chop the remaining two garlic cloves, roughly chop the parsley. Mix them all together with the meat, mustard, ketchup and seasoning. Create four balls with your hands and flatten them into burger shapes.
  5. Heat a little olive oil in a reasonably hot griddle pan. Put the burgers in the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the burgers.
  6. Serve in toasted buns with torn lettuce leaves and tomato slices.

NOTE: Many recipes will tell you to add beaten egg and/or breadcrumbs to the mixture to help it bind. In my experience, beaten egg is counterproductive as it just makes it sloppy. As for breadcrumbs, I've never found it necessary to add them, but then I always make my burgers in a griddle pan or a George Foreman grill, so if you wanted to put these burgers on the barbecue or under the grill some breadcrumbs might help.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Chicken tikka masala

A common misconception is that chicken tikka masala is an Indian dish - it's actually British! An even more common misconception is that anyone really cares. I'm rather proud of this curry as I've been experimenting with different versions for a couple of years and this is now the one I make every time! The spices add plenty of flavour and heat but not so much that the taste of the chicken is overpowered.

I strongly suggest you use chicken leg pieces on the bone rather than the breast fillets that everyone seems to use; it takes a bit longer to cook this way but the improved flavour and moisture is well worth it. This recipe will serve about 4 people.

Chicken marinade ingredients:

  • 1.5kg chicken leg pieces (thighs are the best)
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsps coriander seeds
  • Juice of half a decent-sized lemon
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric

Other ingredients:

  • 1 400g tin of chopped italian tomatoes
  • Handful of fresh coriander leaves
  • 1/4tsp garam masala
  • 1 5cm piece of root ginger
  • 2 green chillies
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cinnamon shards
  • About 2 tbsps groundnut oil
  • Plain flour for dusting
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 red onions
  • Plain boiled rice and/or naan bread, to serve


  1. Toast the dry marinade ingredients lightly in a frying pan for about 10-20 seconds until they're fragrant, then transfer them to a pestle and mortar and crush them into a mixture. Mix in the lemon and rub the mixture into the chicken pieces. Cover them and leave them in the fridge overnight.
  2. Get the chicken out of the fridge, ready to adjust to room temperature.
  3. Heat the oil in a large non-stick saucepan on a medium heat. Peel and dice the onions. Peel and chop the garlic and ginger finely, then chop the chilli. Add the whole spices and cook for about a minute until they're fragrant, then add the ginger, chilli and garlic to the pan for about 30 seconds. Add the garam masala for a further ten seconds before adding the onions. cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes.
  5. Turn the pan up to a medium-high heat. Dust the chicken pieces with flour and season them with a little salt and pepper, then place them skin side down in the pan. Brown them on all sides (should take about 3 minutes per side - try not to disturb them too much while this is going on). Chop the coriander leaves finely, stir them into the mixture and carefully pour boiling water into the pan until the chicken is almost covered.
  6. Bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce it to a simmer, cover the pan and let it cook for about 30 minutes until the chicken pieces are cooked all the way through and the sauce has reduced.
  7. Serve with fluffy basmati rice and/or naan bread.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Bangers and mash

Another pub classic! For my non-British readers, "bangers and mash" basically means sausages with mashed potato, usually served with a rich onion gravy. In the olden days when there were cave paintings of people killing woolly mammoths (also known as the Bradfield Village News circa 2009) sausages tended to explode (hence "bangers") so you needed to prick them with a knife before cooking. Today, British sausages are of a much better quality so this isn't necessary.

Ingredients (to serve 4):
  • 12 good sausages such as pork and leek, Cumberland, Lincolnshire, or (even better) from your local butcher!
  • 2 large red onions (you can use white ones but in my opinion red ones are nicer)
  • 250ml good dark ale (I used Black Sheep)
  • 500ml good beef stock (i.e. not cubes!)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1kg good potatoes for mashing e.g. desiree, King Edward or Maris Piper
  • 1 generous tsp wholegrain mustard
  • Leaves from a couple of thyme sprigs
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 knobs of butter
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Splash of milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, and heat the olive oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the butter.
  2. Peel the onions and chop them into half-moons. Put them in the pan with the olive oil and butter. Peel and crush the garlic and add it after a couple of minutes. After a few minutes, turn the heat down fairly low and cook gently for about half an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking, until the onions have caramelised nicely.
  3. Meanwhile, peel your potatoes and chop them into golf-ball sized pieces. Put them in a large saucepan with cold, salted water. Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until they're tender (they will slide off the end of your knife easily when this has happened). Drain the water well and put them back on the ring for a minute to let the remaining moisture evaporate, shaking the pan frequently to prevent the potatoes from sticking and burning, then remove from the heat.
  4. Add the ale to the saucepan and bring it to the boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge the sediment, and add the Worcestershire sauce and thyme leaves. Once it's reached boiling point, reduce the heat to a brisk simmer and reduce the ale by half.
  5. Put the sausages on a baking tray and drizzle them lightly with olive oil. Cook them in the oven for about 15 minutes, then add them to the gravy for ten minutes until cooked through.
  6. Pour in the stock, bring it to the boil and reduce it by half, making sure the sausages are cooked through before serving. Season to taste.
  7. Mash the potatoes with the butter and season to taste. Heat the milk in the microwave and add a little splash of it into the pan. Mix it into the the potatoes until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the mustard.
  8. Serve generous portions!