Friday, 1 August 2014


First a bit of food history. I love this stuff. Minestrone comes from the same root as does ministry, i.e. to serve. The minestras were the serving people in Ancient Rome, and what they got to eat was any leftovers from preparing meals, or food returned to the kitchen unfinished. They survived on this and so can you.

So minestrone is a "throw it all in" soup, which means there is no recipe for it. What? But I can find hundreds of recipes for minestrone online! Sure you can, and they're all different. You'll find a favourite sooner or later, but you'll also discover you can make this out of leftovers/what's on sale/what's in the garden in a glut/what needs using up in the fridge, etc.

So a question arises, when is a soup NOT a minestrone? Well, that's an argument you can have all day, but in my opinion the guideline is as follows:

Minestrone is a hearty soup, with a lot of different vegetables, possibly meat (but not essential), and definitely including beans, but also possibly pasta or rice. It usually includes tomato but that's not essential. Served with bread, it's substantial enough for a main course meal. It is also my considered opinion that as this dish originates from Italy, then flavourings should be those typically found in Italian cusine, in other words, if you used Indian or Mexican spices, it ceases to be Minestrone (but it would still be most excellent).

Because it can be varied so much, it's possible to slip this into the dinner menu weekly, or even more often, without the family crying "Oh no, not again".

Here is an example for making minestrone, using leftovers:

You can substitute to your heart's content.

Here is a totally different version, so you can see how flexible it is:

And here is a more "authentic" version, if there is such a thing:

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Sausage Rolls

I never finish learning, and today I learned that pigs in a blanket is NOT the same as a sausage roll.

Anyway, this is how you make sausage rolls.

First you need pastry. You can buy it frozen of course, or you can make your own, and there are several types of pastry suited to this. Puff or flaky pastry is increasingly popular, in fact for some people that's the only pastry they'll accept. Then there's an old-fashioned shortcrust pastry which is sturdier - if you plan on transporting these it might stand up to it better.

But we have developed a taste for a pastry that is halfway between the two, and the recipe is printed on a brand-name lard here in Canada, called Tenderflake. The Tenderflake recipe is so good, that frankly we don't bother with anything else.

You'll find it in detail here:

Tom is the pastry maker here and he says just use all the damn water, it turns out fine.

Anyway, having made that, let it sit, covered while you make your sausagemeat filling.

You'll need
1kg of lean ground pork
A medium onion chopped up very finely
1 tablespoon of parsley
2 tsps sage
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper.

Get your hands in it and mix that all up.

Now grab a lump of pastry dough and roll it out to a long, long strip about 4" wide. Then take the sausage meat and create a snake right down the centre third of the pastry. Now flip the sides up and overlap them so the meat is covered and you have a very, very long sausage roll.

First time I got Michael to do this he struggled with it, and I said to him "Call yourself a teenager, and you don't know how to roll a joint?" He was horrified.

Cut it into shorter lengths. short ones for parties, a bit longer if you're serving it for a meal. Repeat until the pastry and sausage meat is all gone. Turn them over so the join is on the bottom and line up on parchment lined pans. Slash the tops with a knife, and then paint them all well with an eggwash.

Bake at 180C for about 45 minutes.

This makes a lot, but don't do less. They freeze well, and besides, they are so good they'll go fast.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


I eat a sandwich virtually ever day. Have done my whole life. Isn't that a bit boring? No. Actually, no. Lots of variety possible.

There is something deeply cultural about it. Somehow, probably because it was cheap and easy, I grew up thinking that lumch and sandwich were synonymous. Lunchtime? Eat sandwich.

Not only that, but I refuse to eat a sandwich at dinnertime. That screams "insufficuent" to me. And somehow just wrong. And no, I don't include burgers or tacos or quesadillas in that restriction. They are not what I think of when I think of a sandwich.

And I even like those simple, somewhat plain sandwiches from childhood. That is to say a ham sandwich, or a cheese sandwich, with nothing else other than butter and bread. These will please me greatly, at any time.

But I'm also very fond of elaborate sandwiches, crusty French bread split lengthwise and stuffed full of all manner of salads, meat, and condiments.

Still, the topic of sandwiches can be as massive as the entire topic of food. And I can be just as fussy.

Remember: I don't believe in eating bad food. EVER. I'm not poor enough or hungry enough.

The first issue is the bread. There was a time, I swear, that white sliced bread in a bag was edible. But that was at least 20 years ago. Of course our tastes become more sophisticated with age, but this is a comparison thing - 20+ years ago, bagged sliced white bread was similar to fresh white bakery bread, just not as good. NOW? No comparison. The white bagged sliced bread has a texture of polyester quilt batting, and tastes like cardboard. It has neither the texture, nor taste of bread at all. Cheap burger buns are as bad.

So, if that is all that's available, forget it. There's nothing you can add to make it enjoyable.

But let's return now to the question of culture.

I failed "Being English" miserably. From a young age I was far too interested in foreign food/culture/travel, and new experiences. I hate tea, have no time for royalty, cricket bores me silly, and the abiding English attitude that while the empire may be long gone, anything English is automatically better just disgusts me. It's complete bollocks, and is a simmering mild bigotry. Yeuk.

Nevertheless, I was raised in a land where bread was spread with butter, and it feels like a default to me. That's the first step. After that, all bets are off, but butter my bloody bread, will you? This whole North American thing of mayo instead of butter will not do. I love mayo, oh yes I do. And I will add it to many of my sandwiches. But I still want butter first.

That's not the only problem I have with the typical North American sandwich. Why does it have to have cheese in it? You make fun of me for my butter default, but you have a cheese default. Cheese in every sandwich just ends up making all sandwiches too alike. Again, I love cheese. I love a cheese sandwich. But if I ask for a roast beef sandwich, for example, if I don't mention cheese, it means I don't want it. Otherwise I'd ask for a roast beef and cheese sandwich.

In particular I do not want ham and cheese. Yes, I know it's popular. Yes, ham on pizza is fine. But cold sliced cheese should not be adulterated with ham, and cold sliced ham should not be adulterated with cheese.

And while I'm at it, processed pretend cheese has no place ANYWHERE. If you put that in my sandwich I'll throw it at you.

Then there's the BLT. Which I don't understand. Or, to put it another way, I'll take my BLT without lettuce or tomato, thank you. A bacon sandwich is a thing of great beauty. Buttered bread, obviously, well-cooked bacon (no flabby fat), and ketchup will do nicely.

A sausage sandwich is good too. Cooked sausages, cold, sliced lengthwise, with ketchup. A hot dog is NOT good. Sausage in a bun? Sure. But not a nasty quilt batting bun (see above). Good bread. And not a nasty wiener, a good sausage. Any kind of good sausage, doesn't matter. Add ketchup, or mustard, or both, or sauerkraut. But no bloody hot dogs.

Then there's seafood. Sardines, tuna, salmon, shrimp, all will make me quite happy. I was in my 30s before I discovered tuna mayonnaise, and I quite like it now, but I'm just as happy with regular tuna, and some sliced cucumber. My husband does a beautiful salmon "salad" mix, with lots of black pepper.

Liverwurst, pâté, and potted meats (or fish) are all just fine with me too. Cucumber makes a good addition.

As for ham, so long as it's not too cheap and nasty, it's all good. What goes with ham? Well, tomato, and/or mayo, or Branston pickle, or mustard. Or a full salad. That all works. NO CHEESE.

Roast beef, add tomato or horseradish. NO CHEESE.

Chicken or turkey, only from a real roast. None of the processed deli meats quite work. White meat only, and fine just as is, with salt. Or with Branston, or salad. NO CHEESE.

And the vast majority of deli meats are nasty, especially the soft ones. Bologna, mortadella, and all that. Yeuk.

Salami is good though. Add mayo and thinly sliced green pepper. Maybe some olives. Cheese here is optional, but it has to be a suitable cheese.

Eggs, ah yes. Egg mayo or just sliced hard-boiled egg is fine. Add tomato. Or cress. Or just as is. NO CHEESE.

I do not eat fried egg sandwiches, because I do not eat fried egg white. I particularly dislike the weird pseudo-omelettes that fast food places put in breakfast "sandwiches". And their greasy sausage patties are vile too. I have a problem with grabbing breakfast "on the road" for this reason - these tend to be their idea of breakfast.

Peanut butter? NO. Never, don't eat it. And as for combining it with jam.......bizarre. Just bizarre.

I don't eat Marmite (see note above on failing "Being English").

And don't get me started on sandwiches with soup.

Oh, while I'm here, we must discuss grilled cheese sandwiches. First of all, the name. Because usually they are actually fried. So if we are talking ACTUALLY grilled, like panini, that's fine. I'll even mix cheese and meat then. But a fried cheese sandwich? No. Forget it. Give me a slice of cheese on toast any day, and for preference with sliced tomato on top.

Have I forgotten anything? Probably, because people put some weird shit in sandwiches.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Bechamel Battles

I was reminded this morning to do this, but I've been meaning to for a long time.

There is a........thing...........that some people do, which is to use condensed soup as a sauce.

It's not for me to tell you what to do, for a number of reasons, and if you like that, or you simply find it convenient, that's fine, just don't feed it to me. YEUK.

But if the reason you do it is fear of bechamel/white sauce/roux sauce then we can fix this.

Bechamel is a very basic sauce, and it was the first thing I was ever taught as an 11-year-old in HE at school. Although it has a French name, versions of it exist all over the world, and my guess is that it is a very old idea.

The principle behind it is to melt butter, add flour to make a sort of paste, then add milk to thin it back down to the thickness you want.

There are actually names for the different thicknesses, depending on your purpose, e.g. "Panada" for a very thick sauce. And you can look up measurements/proportions of the ingredients to predict accurately in advance how thick it will be, and your total yield. These usually keep the milk quantity stable, while adjusting the amount of butter and flour. Here's a handy olde fashionde chart to give you an idea.

Thin sauce  1/2 oz butter, 1/2 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Pouring sauce 3/4 oz butter, 3/4 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Coating sauce 1 oz butter, 1 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Very thick sauce 2 oz butter, 2oz flour, 1/2 pint milk

If you stick to these for quantities you will have consistent results.

But I rarely measure it. I do it by eye and I'm going to teach you how to do it.

First get a "knob" of butter. How much is a knob? It's described in cooking glossaries as a walnut sized piece, or about a rounded tablespoon. I've even seen it given as 25 grams, and that's just silly. Decide on your own knob, and stick to it. Roughly.

I did this by eye and it came to 28grams.

Melt this in a saucepan. You don't want it too hot, but you don't want to wait all day so on a scale of 10, 5 is a good heat. Let it completely melt, but don't let it start to burn.

Now, with a wooden spoon, stir in enough flour to make it all stick together. For this amount of butter a heaped tablespoon of flour is roughly right. There is considerable variation possible here, but I'll show you what exactly equal parts (by weight) butter and flour look like.

This is your roux. A mixture of fat and flour, that is now heating through, but again, you don't want it to change colour, so keep it moving about. Cook it in this way for about 1 minute.

Now add milk. The trick is to pour slowly and mix fast. Use your dominant hand to mix and your other one to pour. Slowly means slowly. Not a trickle, but a slow pour. Switch to a whisk as soon as you can, and mix FAST. When all the milk is added, keep whisking, as the mixture will thicken a little more once the heat stabilizes. Some people use warm milk to minimize that, but it isn't necessary.

So let's recap in brief.

Melt butter.
Add flour.
Pour milk in SLOWLY, and whisk it FAST.

That's it. That's all there is to it.

Typical problems:

#1 Too dense a roux, due to too much flour in proportion to fat. This is not insurmountable, and is sometimes deliberately done to get a lower fat sauce. You'll just have to whisk like a mad thing.

#2 Sauce comes out too thin. Too much milk added. If you are adding it slowly this will not happen. So pay attention.

#3 Sauce too thick. So add more milk. End of problem.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Toad in the Hole - Guaranteed

I want everyone to be able to enjoy this delicious dish.

It's usually thought of as a quintessential English dish, but was actually invented by an Italian, its history is documented, and it's not even that old, less than 200 years old.

When I learned this I tried it with Italian sausage and I've never looked back. Where I live in Ontario you can't get a good English sausage for love nor money anyway, so, problem solved. You can use any sausage, and those with a herb flavour are wonderful, if you can obtain them.

Anyway, there are three steps that are vital to make this dish a success.

1. The right batter.

2. A HOT pan.

3. A HOT oven.

For this reason (all this heat) this is not a recipe suitable for children. Please bear that in mind.

OK, so pre-heating that oven is critical. Turn it up to HOT. If it isn't 100% clean it may even smoke as stuff burns off the inside, vent that out if need be, LOL. So for an electric oven you need it at 450F/230C.

While it heats up, arrange your sausages in a deep dish, such as a lasagne dish. Glass is easier to clean afterwards. Bake the sausages until they start to change colour. At this point THEY are hot. It's a good idea to place this on a larger oven tray just in case.

While the sausages cook, make your batter. Yorkshire pudding batter is all based on proportion by volume so you need a couple of measuring jugs. The following amount will be enough for four people over about half a dozen sausages.

Break 4 eggs into a cup, see where it measures to.

You will need the same amount of flour and the same amount of milk.

Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl, and beat the eggs in well. Then beat the milk in slowly.

Now take your hot pan from the oven, run the fat from the sausages around the sides, then pour the batter in and put the whole thing back in the oven. 

Do be careful with the instructions in italics there. It's very hot.

It is a matter of considerable argument among enthusiasts as to whether the oven should be turned down during the cooking time. I find that it can get too dark/crispy if you don't, so I give it 5 minutes to rise then I reduce the heat to 200C. It takes 20-30 minutres or so to cook depending on the size of the pan, but don't worry, it won't deflate if you open the door to check on it towards the end. It's the START that needs that punch of heat. So after 20 minutes, you can safely look, and you don't want to burn it.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

How To Make Soup

Bizarre, I thought I'd already done this, but I can't find it, so here it is.

Soup is the most basic item of food you'll ever make. You can serve it as a lunch, a starter, a main course, whatever. You can use leftovers or you can buy fancy ingredients. None of this matters. Soup is a structural thing.

You need:

1. A BASE. That is to say, a blend of flavours that will work with anything. In classic French cookery this is a mirepoix. Cut up some onions (or leeks), some carrots, and some celery, and sauté them slowly/gently (i.e. low heat) in a fat of some sort (butter/oil/any old fat) until they are soft. Other cultures use different bases. Maybe peppers or garlic. Doesn't matter. You need something related to onions and a couple of other things. You can research/study this but you won't go far wrong with onion-carrot-celery, trust me.

2. LIQUID. This can be stock, or milk, or tomato juice, or any combination thereof. In theory it could be water if everything else is very flavourful, but you have to know what you are doing, so if you are a beginner USE STOCK. It can come from a stock cube, so don't panic. Just make sure that when you make it up it tastes fine AS IS.

3. The MAIN ELEMENT. This can be vegetables, or meat, or some of each, singly or in a mix. It could be just potato, or it could be a medley of all sorts. On Boxing Day, or the day after Thanksgiving I make soup from the leftovers. So, having done the above, I throw in turkey, roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots, peas, gravy, and even leftover cranberry sauce, bread, and stuffing. This is the beauty of soup. It can absorb anything. I have even thrown in leftover sausage rolls. You can literally make leftover soup from whatever is in your fridge. growing season you can get rid of all whatever glut you have.

4. SEASONING. Depending on your stock you may need to add salt. You will definitely benefit from a little pepper. Taste as you go. Herbs? Depends on what is in there. If it's tomato, then basil is good. If it's pork? Add sage. If it's chicken? Thyme or tarragon is good, etc. If you like it you can add spices, including curry spices (potato soup and curry spices are a marriage made in heaven.) Fish? YES FISH. Fish soup is amazing...add parsley. Etc. What do you normally add with this item?

5. THICKENING. If you are seeking a thick soup and your soup is runny, then add potato or flour. If you want to make it a main course soup you can add rice, pasta or something trendy like quinoa. These can be blended as can any/all of the above. If you add flour, stir it into a little cold liquid first or you may get lumps. Then add this mix while stirring.

That's it. That's soup. Any soup you ever enjoyed was made this way. Sure, you can use cream/yoghurt/sour cream at the end, or wine or vinegar to change the flavour, but this is basically it. Leftovers? They go in as #3.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014


I often get corrected on my spelling, but I make lasagne, not lasagna. I have nothing against lasagna, but I met lasagne first, so that's what I make.

Lasagna originates in Italy, and although the version most people outside of Italy is slightly different, it's based on a recipe of a tomato-based sauce, usually with meat, and a soft cheese, interlayered with sheets of pasta.

On its travels from Italy lasagna went through France, where a different way of doing it arose. It got a new spelling, courtesy of the French, and then it travelled onwards to Britain. And, the big flat sheets of pasta were sold there in the 1970s with the French recipe on the box. Which was where we met, you see. That's where/when I learned to cook.

When I make lasagne for my Canadian friends, they seem to really enjoy it, and some have copied it for variety. So here's what we do in this house:

First we make a meat and tomato sauce, adding any vegetables we happen to have. For example last night we used green peppers and mushrooms. Zucchini is very good in this, as is spinach, but frankly you can use anything.

What Tom did last night was typical:

Brown ground beef, pour off the fat, add diced onions and garlic, green pepper and mushroom, sauté until veggies are tender then add tomato sauce (plain or flavoured, whatever you like) along with some black pepper, and Italian herbs. As its April and I don't do dried basil we also added some pesto. You can add a glass of red wine at this point, if you like.

Then make a fairly thick béchamel and add a goodly amount of grated cheese. Last night we used all old cheddar, but you can use a blend, and do include some parmesan or romano (we were out).

Layer so that you end up with the cheese sauce on the top and bake until it looks like this

ALWAYS make more than you need because something magical happens to leftover lasagne. When reheated for lunch the next day it's not just better but ten times better.

Opinions of what salad to serve with lasagne vary, but I prefer to serve a garden salad with no dressing. Yes, you heard me, no dressing. Lasagne is so rich I like that freshness to counteract it.

Saturday, 5 April 2014


I can't believe I haven't already done this.


Quiche is a staple food in my family, and we eat it year-round. I do mini quiches when I'm entertaining, in a muffin pan. You can too, but here I'm showing you regular pie-sized quiches.

Now the thing about quiche is that it doesn't matter what the filling is. You can use anything. Seafood is good, veggies are good, spicy sausage is good, etc etc.

But my default quiche is bacon, onion, mushroom, and tomato. As follows:

First you need a pastry crust. I have Tom, who makes the best pastry outside of France. You can make it, buy it pre-made, buy it frozen, or whatever, but you need a pastry case. Tip: roll it out slightly thicker than usual as the filling is runny to begin with.

Use any type of pie dish you like:

The nest step is to fill it with whatever you like. I begin with cheese. When I say cheese I mean old cheddar, that's my default cheese:

Then add onion, we used a mixture of white, red, and green:

Bacon, partially cooked:


And now we need the substance of the thing, which is a custard of egg and milk, with salt and pepper to season. There is no absolute amount here, the object is to cover the other ingredients, just remember to use 3 eggs to every cup of milk. (But, cream is better, use any cream you have. If it's the thickest types, add another egg). DO NOT fill it right to the top. Egg rises.

Finally, top with tomato:

And put it in the oven (175C, 350F, I have no idea what that is in British gas). Cook until top is golden, and filling is set (test with a skewer). It will set a bit more as it cools, but don't take it out of the oven if it's still runny. It can take up to an hour, depending on how deep it is, but we cook 4 at a time, after 20 minutes we swap them around in the oven, top to bottom and vice versa. After 40 minutes, check for "doneness".

Quiche is intended to be served COLD, but I have family members who prefer it warm, so I humour them. I like it next day, fully cold, and served with a salad. It gets better with age, within reason, and I'm told it keeps for 5 days in the fridge, but it never lasts that long here.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


A friend needed a ratatouille recipe so I thought I'd do it here so I can share it again easily.

Ratatouille is a southern French vegetable stew. This is true peasant food, which means there is no single authoritative way to do it. Some people get very preachy about ingredients and methods, which I find rather silly. It's almost foolproof, you simply cook down the veggies until they are soft, it's probably the simplest thing you could make. You COULD just dump it all in a crockpot, it'd be perfectly edible. But it's better with a bit more care.

Here's how I do it, and the results are fantastic. Tweak to your heart's content.

I dice up equal parts of

Green Peppers
Red Peppers

And I fry them in a little olive oil, not too much (you don't want greasy veggies). You could grill them, or even bake them. You just want to brown them slightly, it brings out the flavour.

Then I add to this mixture enough diced/ground tomatoes (passata is fine, fresh is fine too, but do skin and core them first) to cover the rest of the veggies. You are looking for a stew texture.

Add as much garlic as you like, and herbs of your preference,  such as basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary etc, I prefer to use fresh, but you can use dried (just don't use dried basil, that stuff should be banned, buy a basil plant, or a jar of pesto if you have to). A little salt and pepper.

This can be cooked in a saucepan, crockpot, or casserole. It takes quite a long time on a low heat, so if you want it for dinner, start prepping after lunch.

I serve it with fresh bread, and with a bit of cheddar cheese or parmesan grated on top. Cheese is absolutely the best finishing touch for this dish BUT, it's optional so this is a perfect dish for Vegans and those trying to lose weight. You use up more calories making and eating it than you get from it (hence the bread, under normal circumstances).

It can be spiced up and made into a vegetable curry.

It can be used instead of tomato sauce in a lasagne (with or without meat)

It is amazing with fish.

It is endlessly adaptable and always good. You will love it. Children love it. It's fantastic.

And now I want some......

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Also known as "Anything Goes" pasta. This is a last minute dish, which can include leftovers.

First cut everything up. A typical selection would be bacon, onions, green peppers, and leftover peas. Cook what needs to be cooked, all together, stiry fry style, and heat through any leftovers at the end. There are endless alternatives possible here, and I'll list some of those afterwards.

Meanwhile boil the pasta, and grate a generous amount of cheese. I use mostly cheddar with a little parmesan, but you can use mozarella if you want that stringy thing going on, or any cheese you have really. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, stir in a knob of butter, then the cheese. The knob of butter is vital, or the cheese will be lumpy. Add herbs or spices if desired.

Combine the stir fry with the cheesy pasta and serve.

Suitable meats include (but are not limited to) ground beef, ground pork, chopped up cooked roast meat, sausages, ham (fresh, leftover, canned, you name it), diced chicken or turkey, shrimp, and of course tuna or salmon.

Veggies include mushrooms, zucchini, green beans, canned beans, olives, corn kernels, peppers of any kind, including hot if you like them, brussels sprouts (yes really), broccoli, spinach, and more.

Many "named" pasta dishes are really versions of this.

A slightly fancier version is to make a cheese sauce instead of just melting cheese on the pasta.