Monthly Archives: June 2012

Grow You Own… Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)

Basil - The ultimate sunny window sill companion.

Basil – The ultimate sunny window sill companion.

Probably one of my favourite fresh herbs, along with Rosemary, is Basil (Ocimum Basilicum in Latin).  The smell, the colour, the taste, everything about it is just heavenly and it is the true King of Herbs! I use Basil in all sorts of dishes, I rip it up and put it in pasta sauces, sprinkle it on pasta dishes at the end of cooking, put whole leaves atop pizza, grind it up with some pine nuts to make pesto… it’s just so versatile, and so easy to grow!  All you need is a sunny garden, greenhouse or window sill and you are away.

I usually buy my Basil plants ready grown in a supermarket or garden centre, so I can use them straight away and still allow the plant to grow more leaves afterwards, you can grow it from seed of course, but this isn’t a gardening site, it’s a cookery site so I’m not going to go there! Typically, the kind of Basil you find find in supermarkets will be Sweet Basil, the type most commonly used in Italian cooking, but there are other types too, Thai, Lemon and Holy Basil, which are used in Asian cooking. And while you can buy ready picked basil leaves in packets, it’s definately a better option to spend 20-50p more on a whole plant.  Look for a plant that is bushy and is a beautiful vivid green colour and you can’t go wrong.

When you get it home, pop it into a flower pot and pop it in a sunny spot on a window still such as in the bathroom or more suitably, the kitchen.  Make sure you turn the plant every other day so the leaves down grow away from you, and keep it watered, it’s important to keep the plant from wilting so use a clean spray container and give the leaves a spritz once a day when you are watering the soil.

When it comes to using the actual Basil in a recipe, more often than not you will only need the leaves, take a pair of sharp scissors and cut in the middle of the stems of those which are yielding the largest leaves. This give the stem a chance to grow back and supply you with even more lovely leaves. You can dry it if you wish, take a few stems and after switching off the oven of an evening after dinner, just pop the stems inside as it is cooling, on a piece of tin foil, they will dry out as the oven cools down and by morning you will have some lovely fresh dried herbs for cooking with, just store them in an airtight jar.  Be warned though, Basil is prone to losing a lot of it’s flavour when it is dried and also when it is cooked, hence adding it towards the end of cooking.

You can tear it, or chop it, and either way you will immediately notice the pungent odour, it’s a lovely smell and one that you will find wafting around my kitchen on many a warm day!

So that’s Basil, a wonderful addition to any kitchen window sill…

Categories: Grow Your Own!, Herbs & Spices | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quick Tomato Sauce

Quick Tomato Sauce - perfect for those Italian moments

Quick Tomato Sauce – perfect for those Italian moments

I know I’ve said before that I always use Dolmio tomato sauce in any pasta recipes I use, but I decided to go nuts and try my own, with truly fantastic results, this quick punchy sauce is just as good, if not better than anything in a jar! It goes well with anything needing a tomato sauce, meatballs, lasagne, spaghetti bolognese… the list is endless!

I have added a sprinkle of dried crushed chillies and even with only a little it does hit the taste buds, so if you don’t like heat then literally only add a pinch of chillies, more than that and your head will be on fire, especially if you don’t like hot food!!!

I use good quality tinned and peeled plum tomatoes and their juices because fresh is just so much more effort and hassle and there is nothing wrong at all with tinned tomatoes if they’re good quality or organic if you can get them. Fresh basil is also a must, don’t even bother trying to use dried, it’s not the same, DO however, use dried oregano! It just tastes better than fresh, but if you can do it, if you have the time, and if, like me, you do grow your own oregano, dry it out the day before and use it here.

This recipe will yield a serving for 4 or so people, that said, I made a bolognese sauce out of it today and I had a jar left over for another dish in the week! Try and keep some clean empty jars in the cupboards, you never know when you’ll need them!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 x 400g tins peeled plum tomatoes, blended until pureed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed chillies (more if you prefer)
  • Small handful of fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon white caster sugar
  • Salt to season

METHOD

  1. On a medium/high hob, heat the olive oil in a medium sized saucepan and when hot, add the onion, garlic and chillies, stirring and frying gently until soft.
  2. Pour in the pureed tomatoes (I use the blender part of my food processor to get the job done but if you want chunkier sauce, then chopped the tomatoes by hand and make sure to keep the sauce from the tin to add to the sauce with the chopped tomatoes), stir in the oregano, vinegar and sugar and leave to simmer on a medium/low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add salt to season, tasting as you go so you don’t overdo it, then add the torn basil leaves and stir them into the sauce.
  4. Remove from the heat and store or use as required.
Categories: Sauces & Gravies | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Simple Seafood Sauce

Simple Seafood Sauce - just add prawns!

Simple Seafood Sauce – just add prawns!

Everyone loves a traditional prawn salad or prawn cocktail don’t they? Be it the middle of a hot summer or before the main course on Christmas day, it’s always a winner, but it just doesn’t taste right if it doesn’t have the best tasting seafood sauce on the top of it, and the jar mixes just don’t cut it a lot of the time. Some of the more expensive brands are pretty close, but the cheaper ones are downright horrible, tasting more of vinegar than tangy sweet seafood sauce just waiting to have a gang of prawns thrown in it!

The ironic thing is, this seafood sauce of mine has 5 measly ingredients in it, most of which you will have in your fridge or your cupboard, and if you don’t, you can buy them and have plenty left over for other recipes! If you do happen to have everything in your kitchen that is listed below, check out how much cheaper than the horrible cheap brands this sauce is… and how much tastier! Do try and use good quality mayonnaise and ketchup though, your sauce will suffer without it.

It doesn’t have to stop with a prawn cocktail or seafood salad though, I like to have this stuff as a dip for chips, on the side with a plate of home made battered cod, as a home made chicken nugget dip.. the list is endless! Make a batch, pop some in a sterilised jar and pop it in the fridge, I bet you find uses for it all within a week!

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons good quality tomato ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon or wholegrain mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon

METHOD

  1. One step and one step only, add all the ingredients together in a small bowl, mix until well blended and chill in the fridge until needed!
Categories: Meat Dishes, Sauces & Gravies | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sausage & Chorizo Roll

Sausage & Chorizo Roll - perfect hot or cold!

Sausage & Chorizo Roll – perfect hot or cold!

This is a simple dish that tastes amazing when served up with some lovely roast vegetables and a nice red wine gravy.  It’s a take on the  classic british sausage roll with a touch of class to it, helped along by the chorizo, mushroom and apple stuffing.  Delicious hot or cold this is definitely one dish that will please everybody!

As always I have used a sweet smoked chorizo here, but if you like a kick, then feel free to use spicy if you prefer.  The mushrooms are fine if they are normal white ones, but chestnut are a little nicer in my opinion, if you want a really pungent mushroom flavour then consider using porcini mushrooms. As with any dish using sausages, make sure you have at least 70% pork in there. As for the cheese, well that’s up to you too, I use a smoked cheese, because I like the flavour, but that doesn’t mean you have to! Try different combinations and flavours until you find what you like!

Oh, one more thing, don’t waste time making pastry, shop bought puff pastry is just as good and far less time consuming!

INGREDIENTS

  • Packet of puff pastry
  • 250g pork sausage meat
  • 100g chopped chorizo
  • 100g chopped mushrooms
  • 50g chopped apple
  • 1 celery stick, chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
  • 2-3 slices smoked cheese
  • 5-7 sage leaves, chopped finely
  • 1 egg, mixed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas Mark 5.
  2. In a large non stick frying pan heat the oil on a medium heat and add the celery and garlic, followed a minute later by the chorizo, Liquid Smoke, apple and mushrooms.  Stir every 30 seconds or so and add the sage leaves. Take off the heat after about 5 minutes, when everything is soft and well cooked and leave to one side.
  3. Prepare your pastry – if it’s in a block, then roll it out until only 3-4mm thick and in a rectagular shape. If the pastry is ready rolled, all the better because you don’t have to do anything! Lay it out on a lightly floured work surface and move on to the next stage.
  4. Take your packet of sausage meat and cut it in half. Take the first half and flatten it until it is a long rectangular shape, roughly 2-3 inches wide and 6-7 inches long. Place the sausage meat rectangle into the centre of the pastry.
  5. Next take your fried mixture and spoon it generously on top of the sausage meat layer you just placed on the pastry. On top of this, lay all of your cheese followed by the other half of the sausage meat, in the same rectangle shape as the bottom piece. Then, brushing the edge with egg, fold the sides of the pastry up and over, making a sausage roll shape, press the far ends down firmly and place the whole thing, seam side down (so basically what WAS the top should now be the bottom) onto a greased baking tray before brushing all over with more egg mixture and slicing 3 or 4 times in the top to allow steam to escape during cooking.
  6. Pop the tray into the oven and allow to bake for about 35-45 minutes until the pastry is golden brown all over. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into thick slices and serving.
Categories: British Dishes, Meat Dishes, Pork Dishes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Toad In The Hole

Toad In The Hole - the ultimate British comfort food

Toad In The Hole – the ultimate British comfort food

Who doesn’t love a good old fashioned Toad in the Hole, cooked together with creamy mashed potato and a good onion gravy?  It’s the ultimate comfort food, admit it! In this recipe I use a herby yorkshire mix, and plain pork sausages, though you can easily leave out the mustard and herbs and if you want to use different sausages, that’s entirely up to you!  It is a good idea to check with your butcher when buying the sausages to ask what the pork content is, anything less than 70% is not a good sausage, if buying from a supermarket, it will tell you the amount of pork used in the sausage in the ingredients list on the back of the packet. I’ve also included my own recipe for a good onion gravy.

INGREDIENTS

  • 285ml milk
  • 115g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon mustard powder
  • 3 thyme sprigs, leaves stripped and chopped
  • 1 rosemary sprig, leaves stripped and chopped
  • 8 pork sausages
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
  • 500ml beef stock

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas Mark 7
  2. Firstly make your yorkshire pudding batter by tipping the flour into a large mixing bowl and stirring in the mustard powder and a good pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre of the dry mixture and crack in the eggs and a dribble of the milk.
  3. Stir with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating more and more of the flour, until you have a smooth batter in the well. Add more of the milk and continue stirring until all the milk and flour has been mixed together and is a smooth lump-free batter the consistency of double cream. Tip the batter back into the jug you had your milk in and stir in the chopped thyme and rosemary leaves before leaving to stand either in the fridge or in a cool place for 15 minutes.
  4. Use a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the links between the sausages if there are any, then throw them into a 20 x 30cm roasting tin.  Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, shaking the tin and coating both the sausages and the base of the tin thoroughly, then roast in the oven for 15 mins.
  5. When the sausages are nicely browned, remove the hot tray carefully from the oven, and quickly pour in the batter.  It will sizzle and bubble a little when it first hits the hot fat but that is exactly what we want here, if it doesn’t do it, then something isn’t right!  Put the tin back into the oven, and bake for 30-40 mins until the batter is cooked through, well risen, golden and crisp. If you poke the tip of a knife into the batter in the middle of the tray it should be set, not sticky or runny, if it is, pop it back in for a while with some tin foil over the top to prevent burning.
  6. While the tin is in the oven use the time to make your gravy, to do this, soften the onions with the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large non stick frying pan on a medium/low heat for about 15 mins, stirring often, until they are golden brown.  Sprinkle in the sugar and cook for another 5 mins. Add a tablespoon of plain flour, then simmer, stirring constantly for 2 mins, so the onions are well coated and there is no dry flour left at all. Gradually pour in the stock a bit at a time, stirring well all the time to make a smooth sauce.
  7. Turn the heat up a little and allow the gravy to bubble and thicken for 4-5 mins, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve everything together with some creamy mashed potato for some ultimate comfort!
Categories: British Dishes, Dishes of the World, Meat Dishes, Pork Dishes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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