Fruit, nut and seed bars

breakfast bars

These are great. They’re similar to flapjacks, but because they’ve got fruit in, you can call them “breakfast bars” and say they’re healthy.

Ingredients
Makes 16

140g light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
140g butter
250 rolled oats
150g walnut pieces
150g mixed dried fruit (I used a mixed dried berries pack)
50g sesame seeds or mixed seeds

The Cooking

It’s really easy. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas 3. Pop the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat until they’re melted. Meanwhile put all the other ingredients into a large bowl. Once the sugar, syrup and butter have melted, pour it over the rest of the ingredients and mix it until everything’s coated.

Spoon the combined mixture into a square tin (about 23cm x 23cm or thereabouts) and then pat it all down so it’s compacted. Put it in the oven for 35 minutes.

Leave it to cool completely, then cut up into bars. It’s that simple!

Peas with bacon

peas with bacon

A simple side dish that takes 5 minutes to make, to be served with pretty much anything you like, because bacon goes really well with peas.

Ingredients

Peas, frozen or fresh
Cubed/chopped bacon or pancetta, about 1/3 of the amount of peas
1/2 an onion, chopped finely
Chicken stock

The Cooking

Ok, in a non-stick pan fry the bacon to whatever consistency you like it. Just cooked or nice and crispy, up to you. Once it’s as you like it, add the chopped onion and fry until soft but not coloured (about 2 minutes), then throw in the peas, give it a stir and pour in just enough chicken stock to moisten the whole thing. Cook for a couple of minutes and you’re done! This is excellent with a nice Sunday roast.

Roast Guinea Fowl stuffed with Sausagemeat

Roast guinea fowl

Here’s something a bit different to chicken but just as easy to cook. I’ve chosen to stuff it with sausagemeat because the juice and flavour from it enriches the guinea fowl and helps keep it moist. When you stuff a bird you have to adjust the cooking times to make sure that the stuffing cooks through but the meat doesn’t overcook, which can be a bit of a balancing act, but as long as you follow these general rules it’ll all turn out fine.

Ingredients
Serves 3/4 or 2 plus leftovers

1 guinea fowl (about 2.5lb/1.25kg)
Some butter

½ an onion, chopped finely
2oz/75g breadcrumbs
150g minced pork or sausagemeat
Handful of parsley (finely chopped)
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

Mix together all the stuffing ingredients (that is, everything that’s not the bird and the butter) until they’re well-mixed. Identify the neck and bum ends of the bird and at the neck end loosen the flap of skin from the breasts. Pack about 1/3 of the stuffing mixture inside and then secure the flap of skin back down with a couple of cocktail sticks. Put the rest of the stuffing up the bird’s rear end (fnarr fnarr etc).

Pre-heat your oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the bird on a roasting tray, smear it with butter and cover it with aluminium foil. The rule is that you cook it for 20 minutes per 1lb (450g) plus 10 – 20 minutes extra so for a 2.5lb bird you’re going to cook it for about 1h 20 mins. Halfway through, smear the bird with some more butter to baste it again. For the final 15 minutes of cooking, take off the aluminium foil and increase the heat to 220C/425F/gas mark 7 to make the skin nice and brown and crispy. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes before serving. Very nice, and the stuffing is very juicy and the meat good and moist

A Magical Bread Recipe for Novices That Works Every Time

white bread

It’s so satisfying. It’s just a plain white loaf, made by hand. But it works every time and it’s ridiculously simple. If you think you can’t do bread, you can. This will work I PROMISE.

Ingredients
500g white strong bread flour.
7g dried yeast sachet.
1tsp salt
300ml water
3tbsp olive oil. Plus a bit extra.

The Cooking

Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Pour in the water and the olive oil. Mix with wooden spoon until it’s together enough to take out of the bowl.

Kneed on a floury surface until the dough feels elastic and silky smooth the the touch, and bounces back slightly when prodded. This should take about ten minutes.

Place in a warmish area and leave to rise until doubled in size. This should take about one hour.

Knock back the dough and kneed for a minute or so. Dough will be elastic and bouncy when prodded. Mould the dough into a round-ish shape or put it in a loaf tin. Slather the surface with olive oil (this will give a soft, chewy crust).

Leave to rise for another hour or so on the tray or in the loaf tin which you are going to put it into the oven.

Pre-heat oven to 220/200 fan/gas mark 7. Bake dough for 25 – 30 minutes until a nice golden colour.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Ta dah! Seriously, try this recipe. Your friends will be astonished at your baking prowess.

Roast Squirrel

roast squirrel

Let’s not be squeamish about this – I cooked a squirrel. I didn’t shoot it myself, I bought it at the farmer’s market. And why not? It’s meat, just like rabbit and lamb and chicken is meat. It’s not a LOT of meat, squirrels being quite small, but it is surprisingly tasty. And not like you’d expect – I expected it to taste gamey or like rabbit but it actually tastes like a cross between turkey and lamb.

As it’s quite lean, I wrapped it in bacon and roasted it for half an hour. Because it was an experiment I didn’t make a big meal out of it, just cooked it on its own. It would probably have been nicer in a casserole slow-cooked for a couple of hours. However, like I say, it was tasty and I would eat it again. Certainly if we plunge into a hideous depression and can’t afford more usual meats, squirrel could earn a place at the table. If you do happen to see one for sale, pick it up and have a go.

Creamed Leeks

This is an extremely simple side dish which is a bit more interesting than the usual peas/carrots/potato combo we always seem to end up with in our house. You can even do it low-fat by using spray olive oil instead of butter and low-fat crème fraiche instead of cream. I prefer crème fraiche anyway, it’s more tangy.

Ingredients
Serves 3 or 4

1 leek.
3 tablespoons double cream/crème fraiche (low-fat if you like, it works just as well)
A knob of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

Slice the leek fairly finely (ie, not great big chunks). Someone asked me recently whether it’s okay to eat the green bits on leeks and I reckon they’re fine to eat right up into it separates into leaves. Wash the leek carefully because there’s often mud inside them.

Melt the knob of butter in a small frying pan (or a couple of sprays of olive oil if you’re being low-fat) on a medium heat. When it’s melted, chuck in the leaks and soften for about three minutes. Now add the cream/crème fraiche and let it bubble for a couple of minutes until it’s thickened a bit. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as you think it needs it. That’s it! Serve it up. Well easy!

Creamy Honey, Mustard and Cider Pork

Creamy honey, mustard and cider pork

This is very simple and ready in less than 15 minutes – a superquick and tasty midweek supper. Good flavours, and you can make it low-fat by using low-fat crème fraiche instead of cream. I actually prefer crème fraiche to ordinary cream anyway, it’s more zingy.

Ingredients
Serves 2

1 pork fillet (tenderloin)
½ a large onion or 1 small one
2tsp wholegrain mustard
2tsp honey
3 tablespoons crème fraiche (I use low-fat)
About 100ml dry cider
A knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

First slice the tenderloin into medallions, about 1 or 2cm thick. Mix together the crème fraiche, mustard and honey in a bowl and set aside.

Put the butter in a frying pan and set it on a fairly high heat. Slice the onion finely and once the butter is frothing, add them to the pan. You’re not doing long, slow cooking here (although you could if you really wanted to), so simply soften and brown the onions, making sure the stir frequently so they don’t burn. Once they’ve got a nice colour, either remove the onions from the pan or move them to the edge. Add a bit more butter if the pan is dry and add the pork medallions.

Now don’t touch it for 1 minute. Don’t be tempted to faff about, moving them round the pan. It doesn’t need it. After 1 minute, turn the medallions over and do them on that side for another minute. Now pour over the cider and let it bubble away for a minutes or so and reduce a bit. Take the pan off the heat and add the onions (if you previously removed them) and the crème fraiche/honey/mustard mix. Stir in well, reduce the heat and put the pan back on the heat. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes, have a taste and add salt and pepper as you feel it needs it. Voila, it’s ready.

I like to serve it with rice, but you can also have it with potatoes, veg, noodles, whatever you like. Very nice.

Amazing French Onion Soup

French onion soup

This is one of the best soups I have ever made. Truly, it is tastiness in soup form. I made it using a recipe written in my notebook by a waitress in a café in Montmartre which had no amounts, cooking times or instructions. Just ingredients, and my memory of what it tasted like. So I made up how to make it, and it has worked an absolute treat.

The secret is a good stock. If at all possible, make your own stock. Chicken, vegetable or beef, whatever your preference. Mine was made with veal bones (happy, farmer’s market veal), which I roasted and then simmered with carrots, celery, a leek, an onion, some peppercorns and thyme and parsley for 6 hours. You can follow this basic method, but using roasted chicken, beef or veal bones. Ham stock wouldn’t really work here. Yes, I know making stock seems like a real faff, but I swear on my life that it’s worth it. Honestly. Trust me. You know it makes sense.

If you really don’t have the time to make your own stock, get a couple of cans of beef consommé from the supermarket. Baxter’s do a nice one. If you can’t find that, use a tub of fresh stock from the chiller shelf. And if you can’t find that and only have access to stock cubes then you’re not trying hard enough and you should go and sit in the corner.

Ingredients
Serves 4

4 medium/large onions
Butter. A slab slightly smaller than a deck of cards.
About 3 tblsps brandy
A large glass of white wine (about 250ml)
About 2 pints of stock.(see above)
Old bread, best if it’s gone a bit stale. About 2 rolls’ worth, or equivalent.
Gruyere cheese. About 200g, grated
A nice crusty baguette
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

Cut the onions in half lengthways, peel them and carefully slice them (not chopped, sliced into crescents). I say “carefully” because I’ve just bought myself a shiny new Global cooks’ knife and I slipped while slicing the onions and did myself an impressively bloody injury. Happens to the best of us. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and once it’s started foam add the sliced onions.

Make sure the heat is fairly low – you want the onions to soften slowly and not burn. This is to draw out some of the sugar in the onions. Leave the onions to soften for quite a while, giving it a stir every 5 minutes or so. It might take up to 45 minutes for them to get really lovely and translucent and sweet. Keep the faith, it’ll get there. Once they’re all juicy and soft, add the brandy and cook for another couple of minutes, then add the wine and cook for another 5 minutes just to take the edge off the alcohol.

Add the stock and bring the whole thing up to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add half the grated gruyere and the old bread, broken up into chunks.

onion soup

Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so until the bread has almost dissolved. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as you think it needs it.

Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Put thick slices of baguette on top as croutons and then sprinkle over the rest of the cheese. Put the bowls under the grill on a high heat for 4 minutes or so until the cheese starts to bubble and turn brown. Serve immediately. Moan with pleasure.

Low-Fat Fish Pie

fish pie

Fish pie is a bit of a struggle in my house because Mr B doesn’t like prawns or smoked haddock and will not countenance the inclusion of peas or hard boiled eggs. If it were up to me, I would include all those things. You, of course, can do if you wish. Instead I include spinach, which goes very nicely with fish, and have peas on the side.

This is a good low-fat version – no cream or cheese, but very tasty nevertheless.

Ingredients
Serves 4

About 700g mixed uncooked fish – choose from cod, haddock (smoked or unsmoked), Pollack, salmon, John Dory. Include prawns if you like them.
½ pint milk (skimmed milk for lower fat)
1 leek, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
A large bunch of spinach
2 tablespoons cornflour
A small handful of parsley, finely chopped
A knob of butter

1kg/2lbs floury potatoes like King Edwards or Desiree
Some more milk
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

First peel and potatoes and put them on to boil in some salted water. This should take about 15/20 minutes.

Meanwhile you need to poach the fish in the milk. In a non-stick pan, heat up the ½ pint of milk and the mixed fish (excepting prawns if already cooked) and let it simmer on a low heat for about 8 minutes or until the fish breaks up and flakes easily. Drain the fish, keeping the milk. Break up the fish into chunks – but be gentle, you don’t want to mash it up.

Put the oven on to pre-heat at 180C/360F.

In the same pan as you did the fish (you could use another pan, this just saves on washing up), melt the knob of butter and gently fry the leak and onion until they are soft but not browned (takes about 4 minutes).

Pour a little of the milk into a mug and mix it with the cornflour. Mix together the fish, leaks, onions and all the milk including the cornflour bit. Add a little salt and pepper and the parsley. Pour the mixture into your pie dish. Scatter the spinach on top of the mixture.

By now the potatoes should be done, so drain and mash them with a little milk (and butter if you like). Don’t make it too wet as it will absorb liquid from the pie filling. Once mashed, spoon it over the spinach-topped pie mixture, covering it evenly. Using a fork, drag the tines along the top of the potatoes in rows to make ridges – this is so that it crisps up nicely in the oven.

Pop the whole lot in the oven and in about 10 or 15 minutes the top will have hopefully gone a nice crispy brown. It’s ready! Serve with peas.

fish pie

Beef Stroganoff

Bit of a retro classic this one, and very simple to do for a quick weeknight dinner. You could go posh and use an expensive steak but there’s no need really. I’d rather use a cheaper cut here where its flavour is encouraged by the cream and mushrooms and save an expensive steak for a special occasion.

Ingredients
Serves 2

However much steak you like. I did 250g of frying steak for 2 people.
About 200g mushrooms, sliced (I used frozen pre-sliced ssshhhhhhhh don’t tell anyone)
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
100g soured cream or creme fraiche (low fat for those of that persuasion)
1tspn mustard
A large splash of sherry or vermouth or white wine
Salt and black pepper
1 tbspn oil

Rice to serve. You know how to make rice.

The Cooking

Heat up the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the sliced onion and mushrooms for 3 or 4 minutes. Slice the steak into strips (I don’t know why strips, this just seems to be how stroganoff is and who am I to say different?). Add the garlic, fry for another minute, then add the steak. Turn up the heat and fry for 5 or so minutes until it’s got a bit of colour. Add the mustard, the salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

Put the rice on now.

Add the large splash of sherry or equivalent, let it sizzle for a minute, then turn down the heat and let it simmer. If it’s a bit dry, add some water.

Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the cream or creme fraiche and bring it back up to a simmer. Once the rice is done, it should all be ready. Serve it up. Simple.