I got into a discussion on Twitter the other night about how to balance the need to rustle up tasty home-cooked food when you’re short of time. I don’t believe that dashing about like a mad thing after a long day at work is the answer, so I’ve decided to make this blog post a collection of Top Tips to help you get the food you want without the rush. I’m going to concentrate on evening meals, when everyone needs to be fed quickly and properly. That being said, this will be a blog post with almost no recipes. Suggestions, guides, places to look for inspiration and help in the organisation, yes – but no actual recipes as such. What is favourite in my house might not suit everyone, but you can make timesaving versions of your own family favourites with some help from these guidelines.
I chose to name the blog Time To Cook for the many ways that those three words can be interpreted. It is a line in the sand. It is time to cook – not to press a button and zap a plastic covered atrocity in the microwave. Time to cook for yourself – because ready meals and junk food are either hideously expensive or packed full of artificial colours/flavours and frequently both. Cooking takes time, but with just a little forethought, that time doesn’t have to be intrusive or all-consuming. Also, cooking for yourself is a life skill – right up there with swimming in my opinion, and should be encouraged for all. Make time to cook and it will become a joy, because you will hve used your time well to feed loved ones the food they deserve.
Planning ahead is the key to stress-free evening meals.
- Decide in advance what you’re going to be eating and when.
- Cook meals in advance, so all that you need to do when you get in is heat them up.
- Do as much preparation as you can beforehand.
If you’re lucky enough to have a freezer, then this will make planning and organising meals so much easier.
- Deliberately make extra, with the intention to freeze some later.
- Cook specifically to freeze.
When freezing food, you need to decide whether to freeze individual portions or whether to freeze family-sized portions. Smaller portions thaw more quickly, and you can use as many or as few portions as you require, depending on circumstances. Great for unexpected or last minute guests!
I tend to be a ‘deliberately make extra’ person, so we eat some and freeze the rest, but that is because I don’t go out to work. Your own circumstances will dictate whether this approach is workable, or whether you feel happier cooking specifically to freeze.
There are certain dishes that are almost tailor made for preparing ahead. Most curries develop a much richer flavour if made one or even two days before and kept in the fridge or frozen. Sometimes one item can be used for a number of different dishes. Here are some examples:
Can be made into a big batch of tomato-based meat sauce (go full Bolognese if you like, or keep it more vague for maximum versatility), which can then be used over pasta, or made into lasagne, cottage pie, chilli, pasta bake, turnovers, pasties or pies or stuffed into vegetables. Meatballs in gravy is another speedy freezer-to-table option.
For a lot of chicken recipes, the first thing you’re instructed to do is to cook the meat, so I tend to cook whole chickens, strip the meat from the bones and portion it up into meal-sized quantities, and freeze. This gives you a head start when making it up into a meal. Add a sauce, either a plain white sauce or a veloute (half milk, half stock) and you’ve got the basis for a chicken pie (add some cooked vegetables and a pastry lid) or chicken with mushroom sauce to serve over pasta, or with a baked potato, or with rice, or with some sweetcorn, a wonderfully thick and creamy chowder. I cook the chicken (or chickens if there’s a special offer on) either in the slow cooker (see below) or in the oven. Mary-Anne’s oven roast chicken recipe: Put chicken(s) in roasting pan, cover with foil, put in oven at 120C for 6 hours. That’s it. The foil covering means the chicken stays moist and becomes fall-apart tender and the no fussing around with herbs or flavourings means the cooked chicken is deliciously chicken-y and can then be used for a wide variety of dishes. There’s even enough chicken juices to make gravy.
Pork, lamb, beef: All ideal for long slow-cooked dishes such as stew, tagine, curry, goulash, stroganoff: make extra into pies & turnovers.
Sausages and bacon
Can be made into casserole, cowboy hot pot, pie, ragu, breakfast casserole for supper, sausage gravy on baked potatoes
Remains of Sunday roast, or any other large joint of cooked meat.
Trim all fat and gristle. Cut down into bite sized portions and freeze separately on a tray, then bag – the individual cubes thaw quickly and you can grab just what you need. OR pour over the remains of the gravy to make a ready pie filling to be topped with mashed potato or covered with pastry that will be ready in 25-30 minutes.
You can make these specifically or use extra left from a meal: wrap individual slices in foil and freeze – no need to unwrap, just put in hot oven as is to defrost/heat up.
If it’s hearty enough, a soup can be a meal in itself. If you think it’s a little too light, add salad & bread. Or make toasty cheese sandwiches for dipping.
Make it both customisable and fun by having a range of toppings to hand so that everyone can garnish their bowl to their own taste:
Baked Potato Soup is great for this DIY approach, but it works with other types of soup too. Here are some suggestions of things that can be added:
- Grated cheese
- crumbled cooked bacon
- croutons – cube stale bread and bake dry, or lightly fry in oil or herb butter.
- Chopped herbs such as – parsley, coriander, mint, rosemary, chives, pepper flakes.
- sour cream, crème fraiche, yoghurt.
- mini pasta shapes, egg noodles, spaghetti, gnocci.
- mini meatballs – make sure they’re fully cooked before using: beef is fab in tomato soup, turkey/chicken in vegetable-based soups, remove the skin from sausages and roll the meat into mini balls.
- croutons baked from pastry offcuts,
Other meal-in-a-bowl soups include:
- Bacon and beans
- Leek and potato
If you’ve got a slow cooker, then it is almost priceless in terms of having a hot meal ready for you when you get in.
The obvious dishes that spring to mind are stews, casseroles (I’m never quite sure what the difference is between those two!), curries, goulash, tagines – but they are also great at cooking large joints of meat including whole chickens
Whole chicken in a slow cooker: Put 1 onion cut in half, 2 sticks of celery and 3 carrots in the bottom of your slow cooker and put the chicken on top. Put the lid on and cook on low for 8 hours. There is enough liquid in the vegetables and the chicken to keep everything moist. The chicken will be fall-apart tender. The skin will be a little pale, but we don’t eat that anyway and I always ‘dismantle’ the chicken and put the meat onto a dish to serve.
Baked Potatoes in a slow cooker: Rub each potato with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt. Wrap potatoes in foil. Cover; cook on Low 8-10 hours (High: 2 1/2 to 4 hours).
- ‘baked’ in the microwave – no crispy skin, but done in 10 minutes. Downside is that the more you cook, the longer it takes. Still quicker than an hour in the oven, though.
- Slow cooker baked potatoes – also no crispy skin but can cook during the day.
- Quick potato gratin
- Boulangere potatoes – like the above recipe, but with stock and sliced onions instead of milk.
- Mashed potatoes
- Potato cakes – like fishcakes but with seasoned mashed potato, crumbed and baked/fried
- cook and freeze in individual portions
- oven baked risotto
- Noodles and Rice – fabulously tasty, great ‘shelf life’ in the fridge and reheats beautifully in the microwave
- Cook and freeze or cook and store in the fridge overnight (must be covered to prevent drying out). Drop into hot water or microwave to thaw/heat. Mix with sauce before freezing to have a 1 dish meal all ready to go.
There are several approaches to vegetables to help with cutting down meal delivery times. Don’t think you have to chain yourself to the kitchen sink till the wee small hours preparing vegetables – turn the radio on (Radio 4 Extra has a great selection of comedies and dramas) have a seat at the table and be entertained while you work. Alternatively, take a leaf out of my mother-in-law’s book, take your bowl through to the sitting room and watch your favourite tv show – then peel/chop etc while the adverts are on. You’d be amazed how quickly it gets done!
- Wash/sort/trim the night before & leave ready to chop/slice when you get in
- Peel/chop/dice the vegetables the night before, or first thing in the morning, depending on your schedule. Store in ziplock bags in the fridge.
- Wash/peel/slice root vegetables and potatoes and keep them in bowls, covered in cold water.
- Prepare and slightly undercook vegetables the night before. In order to keep their bright, fresh colour you MUST plunge them into very cold water once done in order to stop the cooking process. When cold, bag and store in the fridge. A quick blast in the microwave will heat them up when required.
- Prepare, cook, season and mash potatoes and root vegetables the night before. Store in the fridge.
- Peas, sweetcorn, broad beans – all are prepared and frozen within hours of being harvested. Their flavour and tenderness is excellent and all cook in just minutes in boiling water.
Top Tip: I have a rather battered but still useful steamer saucepan set – a regular saucepan with two ‘colander’ saucepans that stack on top. It is great for cooking all your potatoes/vegetables in one. I put potatoes in the bottom with the water and cook the vegetables in the top two pans – usually root vegetables in the middle pan and green vegetables (that need less cooking) in the top pan. You can easily remove the pans with the vegetables in when they are done. Helps keep steam levels in the kitchen down too! I highly recommend getting a set of these pans if at all possible.
- Wash/sort/trim the night before/early morning & leave ready to chop/slice when you get in.
- Leaves should be wiped free of dust/dirt with just a damp cloth – dunking in water will make them sad and soggy.
Pasta with basil pesto was one of the first things my daughter ate after she moved onto solid foods – one day she just helped herself from my plate – although she now prefers sun dried tomato or red pepper. Throw in some sweetcorn and peas, a few shreds of chicken or ham, a sprinkling of cheese and it’s a superfast meal in minutes.
Fantastic for whipping up something quick.
Scrambled egg with salmon bits, tuna, any cooked fish – or spice things up with chorizo or Italian spiced sausage
Omelettes either plain or with fillings such as ham, cheese, bacon, cooked sausage, chorizo, salmon, herbs, vegetables
Frittata Basically, a more substantial omelette or a quiche without pastry. Great for using up all those little bits of cheese, vegetables, herbs, meat and fish from the fridge which, on their own, don’t amount to much. Chop, slice and lightly fry any vegetables, toss in any ham/bacon/fish, whisk and season some eggs and pour over, sprinkle with grated cheese/herbs and either cook over a low heat or bake in the oven until the eggs are set.
Breakfast Casserole – breakfast for supper! Prepare in the morning & then bake at night – takes an hour to bake, but there’s no mad dash round the kitchen.
Mini Quiches – Line a cupcake tin with shortcrust pastry and drop in any suitable fillings – ham/cheese, diced and cooked vegetables, salmon trimmings, cooked sausage. Whisk some eggs, season them and pour over the fillings. Bake for 15 minutes at 180C Fan.
You can taste the time taken in cooking – the richness of caramelised onions, slow-roasted vegetables and gravy made from slow-cooked meat juices. So having these to hand means you can create the wonderful depth of flavour of a meal long in the making – in just a matter of moments. Save and freeze whatever you have extra, or when you have the time, make batches and freeze in small portions – ice cube trays for example – then bag the frozen cubes for later use. The small size means they de-frost quicker.
Food building blocks suggestions
- Grated Pecorino/Parmesan cheese in the fridge – a little goes a long way and having it ready grated is a real time saver.
- Tomato Sauce – useful for sauces, soups, pizzas
- Unmixed pastry – Just flour with the fat rubbed in to breadcrumb size. It can be used as is for pastry (just add water), or add sugar and oats for a crunchy crumble topping.
- stewed/cooked fruit
- breadcrumbs – for toppings on pasta bakes, macaroni cheese etc and for thickening casseroles that are a bit watery.
- chopped sautee’d veggies – Great time-saver. I use the same basic formula to jump start batches of soups/sauces/stews/casseroles, but it can also be varied according to season and preference. Also fab for sneaking in extra vegetable content to soups and sauces. Just remember 1, 2, 3, 4 – 1 onion, 2 carrots, 3 celery sticks, 4 cloves of garlic. Whizz everything in the food processor (or chop finely by hand) and tip into a large pan with 2tbs oil. Cook over gentle heat until you no-longer see steam rising from the pan – this means that all the water has evaporated and all that is left is concentrated, delicious flavour. Cool, then pack into ice cube trays and freeze, decant into a large freezer bag when frozen. Other vegetables to include or swap in: parsnips, swede, turnip, courgette, aubergine, leeks, parsley, sprouts, cabbage,
- caramelised onions
- stock – I find 300ml (1/2 pint) batches the most useful size
- grated cheese – freezing makes cheese crumbly, and having it grated means it’s not too noticable. Freezing also alters the texture of the low fat cheeses like Edam, which makes them a bit more palatable – improves the flavour too. If you find your frozen grated cheese has stuck together in a lump, just give the bag a couple of whacks on the counter top to loosen it up.
Where to find recipes
The internet is your friend – use it to find recipes that can be scaled up easily
The following sites are searchable collections of recipes. The bonus is that the recipes are rated by the people who make them – no need to fret over whether an untried recipe is good or not, when in doubt, do what I do and go for the most popular version!
Not quite as wide ranging, but still good and with rated recipes is
The following two recipe sites are great if you’re seeking inspiration – gorgeous photography from the people who make the dishes themselves. The recipes aren’t rated, so in effect, you’re just going by the photo/blog post – but there are options to see the most popular submissions of the week/month/all-time, which helps.
How to make this happen
Organisation and preparation are the two main factors in getting good food to table quickly. All of the above might seem daunting, but here’s a suggestion on how to go about making a start.
Making a start
- Download the meal planner chart and print off 2 copies: Meal Planner
- Fill in the month and number the days with the correct dates. Do this for the following month as well, so you can still be planning ahead as the month draws to a close:
- Investigate what you currently have in your fridge/freezer and if you already have some meals, pick a day when you’re going to serve them and write them onto the planner. Start with the current week, but there’s no need to cram everything onto the planner as soon as possible. Just having made the decision on what to have on a particular day will eliminate a lot of stress and help focus your mind on that particular day.
- If there are any odds and ends that won’t make a meal in themselves, add them to the ‘Freezer Extras’ section. It’ll act as a reminder to plan something that will use them up.
- Stick the planner on your fridge/freezer where it’s easily seen.
Filling the gaps
Now decide how you’re going to fill in the gaps.These are examples only – choose what your family likes.
- Pick a family favourite to make a large batch e.g. Bolognese sauce.
- Decide how many batches you’re going to make (e.g. I would make 4, because I have some large saucepans) and write them in on the planner. A double batch of a regular recipe is probably easier. If you don’t want to eat it every week, then write it in every other week – this is where having the second month already printed out comes in handy.
- Make the planned batch. I’d put 2 portions in the freezer and make 2 portions into lasagne. Don’t forget to label clearly.
- Repeat until most gaps are filled in.
- Write in the side dishes (potatoes/vegetables/salad) so that you know what to set aside/defrost when doing prep work.
If you’ve got the time/energy/inclination, you can have one massive cooking session over a weekend and get a huge number of meals prepared in one go. This might be too exhausting, so take things gradually. Your fridge/freezer stock-take will hopefully have given you a bit of breathing space in order to get some meals into the freezer. While you’re pondering, boil some rice and/or cook some pasta for the freezer. Caramelise some onions – it’ll take about 45 minutes with occasional stirring – the smell is amazing.
Suggested meals and their follow-ups.
- Roast chicken (oven or slow cooker) -> Chicken and ham pie/ chicken in mushroom sauce/Chicken Divan/ chicken fried rice/Chicken and Corn chowder.
- Beef joint -> cottage pie/beef and mushroom pie(top crust only)/turnovers and pasties/Beef fried rice.
- Lamb joint ->shepherd’s pie/lamb pasties/lamb risotto/curry
- Pork Joint ->pork turnovers & pasties/pie with gravy/pork fried rice
More suggestions for filling in the week’s suppers. As you can see, each ‘theme’ can be interpreted a number of ways, which keeps the family thinking you’re eating something different each night. Together with the above suggestions, there’s more than enough to ring the changes for a whole month. If something comes up and you don’t eat what has been planned (spontaneous take-away/meal out – I’ve heard they do sometimes happen in the magical land of NotInThisHousia), be sure to re-write the meal in on the planner for a later date:
1. Mince – in gravy, as a pasta sauce, dry curry, meatballs in sauce or gravy
2. Eggs – frittata, omelettes, mini quiches, scotch eggs, breakfast casserole
3. Fish – baked/fish pie/fishcakes (made with extra cooked potato)
4. Sausages/fish fingers/burgers – grilled, casserole, gravy
5. Cauliflower cheese/macaroni cheese/oven baked risotto
6. Home-made Takeaway: pizza/curry/stirfry/chicken nuggets
7. Meal-In-A-Bowl Soup with DIY toppings and/or toasty sandwiches
There’s bound to be errors and mistakes, things that need some extra explaining, so PLEASE leave a comment – helpful suggestions too! This is going to be very much a work in progress, and it will only get better if you tell me where I’ve messed up.
Hope this helps! M-A 😀
It’s a two-fer this week, with two versions of the same recipe that’s sure to be a hit whichever one you try.
Banana loaf is awesome, because the very best tasting versions actually depend on you being a little slack in the housekeeping department. Banana loaves made with firm, bright yellow bananas, whose stems crack as you bend them and whose skin comes away with the almost-crunch of pert freshness….. are a complete miss.
Blotched and blackening bananas whose stems actually fall off as you try to pick them up are absolute gold for making rich, moist, indulgent banana cake. Black gold, I call them – ignoring my husband’s look of horror at what appears to be the makings of a compost heap in the fruit bowl.
As the bananas ripen, their natural sugars develop and deepen, so the riper and darker a banana is, the softer and sweeter and more rounded the depth of flavour. Banana loaf made with ‘ripe’ bananas isn’t very banana-y, but made with bananas when the skin is virtually black, are rich in both flavour and taste and are incredibly moist.
I love this recipe in particular because it used a LOT of bananas, so the flavour and moistness is outstanding. Only got one over-ripe banana? Not to worry, throw it in the freezer – skin and all – until you’ve stock-piled enough for a batch of banana bread.
As if this recipe for banana loaf weren’t already amazing, just a slight tweak can tip it over into Awesomeness – make it a chocolate banana loaf. This gives me an opportunity to pass on a fast and dirty Baking Top Tip for turning something chocolate-y. Got a favourite cake mix, or crisp biscuit, or scone? Don’t waste time searching for a delicious chocolate equivalent, simply chocolatise (is that a word?) your tried and tested recipe and get stuck in!
Baking Top Tip: You can adapt a recipe into a chocolate version by simply replacing some of the flour content with an equal amount of cocoa powder.
For this recipe, I usually substitute 3-4 heaped tablespoons of flour with cocoa for an intense chocolatey-ness that stands up well to the banana. The density of the loaf, in combination with the richness of the banana makes this seem incredibly indulgent. The moisture from the bananas means that it can also be enjoyed much longer than a sponge cake – great for the week’s packed lunches. Unfortunately, it tastes so amazing, it’s rarely around long enough to demonstrate it’s excellent keeping qualities.
Using cocoa powder as opposed to chocolate or chocolate chips also means it’s lower in fat and by using blackened bananas, their incredible sweetness means less sugar is needed. Which all in all, makes it practically a health food in my book!
Enough blabber. On with the recipe!
300g plain flour – for chocolate version, take out 3-4 heaped tablespoons and replace with cocoa powder.
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
113g unsalted butter
150g dark muscovado sugar 
2 large eggs
4-5 mashed blackening/black bananas – about 500ml by volume
- Preheat oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
- Lightly grease and line a large loaf pan (24cm x 13cm) with parchment paper.
- Sift together flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
- In separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs one by one, mixing well in-between.
- Stir in mashed bananas.
- Fold in flour mixture until combined. Don’t over-mix.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for between 50 minutes and 1 hour until the sides of the cake have visibly drawn away from the sides of the tin, and a toothpick/cake tester/skewer comes out clean of wet cake mix.
- Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes to firm up, then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
- When cooled, wrap in parchment/foil to store.
UPDATE: You can bake this mixture in cupcake cases (NOT muffin cases) for Banana Buns and Chocolate Banana Buns. A full batch makes 24 buns. Bake for 15 minutes.
 I prefer dark muscovado for the softness in texture, which makes it easy to cream with the butter, and the caramel flavour, which really compliments the bananas. Don’t get obsessive about it though – any brown sugar will do, or even white. Go with what you like/have.
Time for some indulgence and also a sort of Deja Food – bonus!
Remember back in the days of long ago November, I posted a recipe for Crunchy Oat Slice?
They were rather popular at the time, even earning a new name from one visitor of the blog – Jay, over at Cake Box Leeds of JamJacks (which is a fab name, and one I might well steal, as soon as I can come up with a suitably cunning plan 😀 ).
Today’s recipe is the Jam Jacks’ slightly richer cousin – the Apple Crumble Cheesecake Slice! Same basic recipe as before, but instead of jam, we have additional creamy cheese and tart apple butter layers.
Still a tray bake, still ridiculously quick and easy to whip up, still full of healthy oats, with the added bonus of delicious apple…. Can you tell I’m just trying to put a positive healthy spin on this excuse to eat cheesecake in the morning?
I used apple butter (a kind of apple jam), but any fruit puree or spread will do. As with the Crunchy Oat Slice I prefer something with a bit of sharpness to contrast the creamy cheese and the crunchy oats.
There’s slightly more attention needed with the baking, but the results are well worth it!
To save you the bother of switching between pages, I’m going to shamelssly copy/paste from the Crunchy Oat Slice page and tweak the recipe to incorporate the changes.
NB You can use just half of the cheese filling if you’d like an extra dazzle on your halo 😉
Apple Crumble Cheesecake Bars
90g demerera sugar
125g wholemeal flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
125g rolled oats
500g cream cheese
2tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
icing sugar to taste
250g fruit puree
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Grease a 20cm square cake tin or slice tin (my favourite tin has internal measurements of 20cmx25cm), and line with baking parchment.
- Put all the dry ingredients except the oats into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks like rough breadcrumbs. Add the oats and pulse once or twice just to break them up slightly – you want to keep some texture in there.
- Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared cake tin and press down firmly.
- Bake for 10 minutes until the base has firmed up and is slightly brown.
- While the base is baking, whisk the cream cheese, vanilla, and eggs together until smooth.
- Add icing sugar to taste – as a rough guide, 3 or 4 tablespoons should be enough, unless you want it to be extremely sweet.
- When the base has cooked for 10 minutes, remove the tin from the oven and pour over the cheese mixture.
- Return the tin to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until the surface has set.
- Remove the tin from the oven and spread over your fruit topping. Partially cooking the cheese filling makes it easier to spread the topping and keep it as a topping (rather than a ‘sinking’).
- Sprinkle over the rest of the oat mixture and pat down lightly with your fingertips.
- Return the tin to the oven for one final baking of 15 minutes, until the oat topping is a nice golden brown and there’s just a slight wobble to the cheese layer in the centre of the tin.
- Allow to cool.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the fridge before
eating the entire batch for breakfastcutting into bars.
- Keep (good luck with that! 😉 ) chilled.
And a Merry Christmas to All!
Now, I know I said the Stuffing recipe was going to be the last pre-Christmas post, and originally, I WAS going to post this on Christmas Day, but then I got to thinking that some advance notice of a recipe idea for Monday might lessen the frazzle levels of some households out there.
Christmas lunch is traditionally a big celebration – of food, family and friends – but it takes a lot of work to pull it all together at the right time so that everything is piping hot and cooked to perfection. So the last thing any hostess (or host!) needs is to have to do it all again the next day.
Cue a rousing John Williams superhero refrain, for this is where I swoop in and save the day with my Turkey Encore (which could work equally well if you’re having something other than turkey on the 25th) – a little Deja Food dish that can be rustled up super fast on Boxing Day.
As with most Deja Food, it’s more assembly instructions than strict recipe quantities – go with whatever vegetables you have to hand from the previous day, with one or two fresh items thrown in to perk up the overall taste. It comes together really quickly, with all the taste and flavours of a full roast meal, but with a fraction of the time and effort. I love this so much, sometimes I specifically cook vegetables the day before I want to serve this, for that true Deja Food taste (cooked the same day just doesn’t taste the same) and use turkey mince.
A selection of cooked vegetables, e.g.
boiled diced swede
fresh cranberries (dried is fine also)
1tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
cooked turkey and a little stock (or 500g turkey mince)
- Measure out equal quantities of the cooked vegetables (I use a large mug), celery and stuffing, keeping them separate from each other.
- Chop them so that they are all approximately the same size. I usually halve or quarter the sprouts, halve the parsnip slices and leave the diced swede as is.
- Use the same measure for the fresh cranberries. If using dried cranberries, use about 1/3 of the quantity.
- Gently stir-fry each of the vegetables separately in a little vegetable oil. You want them to be warmed through and to pick up a little caramelisation as well – which adds such a wonderful flavour and is why Bubble and Squeak is such a favourite. The sweet parsnips and nutty sprouts are especially lovely with this ‘just-caught char’.
- NB The secret to keeping the visual appeal of this dish is to re-cook each vegetable gently, tip them into the one dish to keep warm – a roasting tin with a foil ‘lid’ is excellent. Keep it in a medium (140°C/120°C Fan) oven between batches of vegetables. Toss everything together only right at the end. Keep a light touch.
- Cook the fresh cranberries: in a dry pan, toss them gently over medium heat until they pop. Add to the rest of the vegetables. If using dried cranberries, add directly to the vegetables.
- Stir-fry the celery. You want it to soften slightly, but still retain a little crunch. Cook the onions until softened. Add both to the rest of the vegetables.
- Cube the stuffing and stir-fry gently until crunchy on the outside.
- The turkey. If you’re using cooked turkey, heat the pan and then add cubed meat, the herbs and the stock at the same time. The stock will boil and the resulting steam will both heat the meat and keep it moist. If you’re using turkey mince, then heat 2 tbs vegetable oil in the pan and add the turkey mince. Sprinkle the herbs, season with salt and pepper and stir briskly. There is sufficient moisture in the raw mince, so no additional stock is necessary. Continue cooking the mince until the moisture has evaporated and the meat has started to brown in places NB ‘no longer pink’ is NOT the same as ‘started to brown’ – you want the pan to be dry of liquid and to be able to see brown patches on the cooked meat. Add to the rest of the ingredients.
- Tumble together and enjoy at once.
 If you’ve never roasted chestnuts before, the easiest and best way to go about this is to follow the great how-to instructional video from Chef John of Foodwishes.com HERE.
Time for a switch from sweet to savoury, and today we have another recipe that I have managed to rehabilitate from my own personal catalogue of food horrors to become a real favourite.
When I was a child, I can recall seeing versions of this dish being sold in tins on the supermarket shelf. Salad in a tin! *shudders* Although I might be remembering a variation called Macedoine Salad (equally shudder-inducing), involving soggy overcooked vegetables chopped into tiny pieces and drowned in a huge glop of salad cream or some sour, watery mayonnaise wannabe. Not sure where the aversion came from (as if the description wasn’t enough!) – we never bought it in tins, and it wasn’t something I’d have had for school meals. Maybe the picture on the tin was enough.
Anyhoo – just as with the Ratatouille, I got to thinking that if I could only research the original dish, I might be able to recapture some of the original appeal.
The dish we in the west call Russian Salad is known in Russia and also in, somewhat oddly, Iran, as Salade Olivier. Invented in the 1860s by the owner of the Parisian-style Hermitage restaurant in Moscow, Monsieur Lucien Olivier, the recipe was kept a closely guarded secret, and was prepared only by the chef . M.Olivier called his dish ‘Game bird mayonnaise’, but the original recipe bears little resemblance to the classic dish we know today. Chock full of expensive ingredients such as grouse, crayfish, tongue, caviar, capers and olives and dressed with a Provencal sauce of oil, vinegar, mustard and spices, the exact recipe was kept a closely guarded secret, and went with M. Olivier to his grave. Two variations survived: Ivan Ivanov, a sous chef, allegedly managed to glimpse the chef’s workstation one evening when Olivier was called away, guessed the dressing ingredients and promptly left the Hermitage for a rival restaurant where he began serving a similar salad called ‘The Capital.’ Another version was recreated from the memory of a loyal Hermitage customer.
The Soviet era was instrumental in the salad’s evolution, with the expensive game and seafood being replaced with chicken and ham. As austerity measures began to take hold, these simplified ingredients were reduced futher, eventually being replaced with cooked sausage and the home-made Provence sauce by store-bought mayonnaise.
This salad is still a classic of Russian cuisine, and a staple on the tables for most family celebrations, but especially at New Year. It’s a great winter salad, and also a great Deja Food dish. It’s a delicious way of stretching a relatively small amount of protein into a main course salad. The smokiness of the sausage, the sweetness of the carrots and peas, the creamy dill dressing and the sharpness of the gherkins make every mouthful a different delight. I’m really pleased with this version, and happily enjoy it as a meal in itself.
A few pointers:
- Cook the vegetables to order if you like, but its much quicker if you can start with some already cooked (but not soggy!) from a previous meal.
- Don’t cut everything too small, otherwise they’ll disappear into a mush. You still want to be able to see each separate ingredient.
- Make sure the gherkins are pickled in brine, not vinegar.
- Include chopped cucumber to add a fresh dimension to the flavour if liked.
- Don’t overdo the dressing – a light covering to gently bind is sufficient – don’t want any drowning vegetables here.
spring onions (optional)
1 U-shaped smoked pork sausage
4 hard boiled eggs
3 large brine-pickled gherkins
1 bunch fresh dill
salt & pepper
- Prepare the carrots, potatoes, beans, sausage, eggs and gherkins by cutting them to a uniform size. Don’t make them too small. 2cm square is ideal.
- Slice the spring onions.
- Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut each half lengthwise, and then slice.
- Cook the peas in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Drain and then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. When cold, drain from the cold water.
- Mix the ingredients together. The proportions should be roughly equal.
- Mix the dressing: Equal proportions of mayonnaise and yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper. Snip the dill into the dressing to taste.
- Toss salad gently in the dressing to coat.
Are you puzzling over the title and the suggestion of pies for Sunday lunch? Well the twist with today’s recipe is this: it’s not pies FOR Sunday lunch – its pies MADE OUT OF Sunday lunch!
Yes, if it’s not too awful a pun – it’s the return of Deja Food! *jazz hands*
I shall also be including a walk-through on making shortcrust pastry and contradicting Delia Smith, so its all go here today!
Whilst I am all in favour of time-saving and see nothing amiss with buying ready made all-butter(v. important detail) puff pastry when the need arises (rarely) – making shortcrust pastry is not difficult at all. If you can make pastry, you will have taken a major step on the way to baking independence – no longer will you need to rely on ready-made packets or cardboard posing as pre-baked pastry. Once learned, you can then start making tarts, flans, quiches, pies, turnovers, pasties, oggies, bridies, empanadas, pierogis, bierocks, strudels, samosas, puffs, piroshkis, runzas… you get the idea.
If you’re apprehensive about pastry due to disasters with pre-made pastry, where they stuck to the pan and then broke up into a crumbly mess when you tried to rescue them, then I have 2 things that might just cheer you up: a theory and a tip. My theory is that the poor quality ingredients used in ready-made pastry actually contribute to baking disasters, and is based on the following: the last such time for me (mini pies that refused to come out of the tin), I took a long hard look at the ingredients on the packet and saw that it was made with hydrogenated oil. Still needing a batch of pies, having promised them for a party, I started again and made the pastry from scratch using pure, natural ingredients (flour, butter and lard). When I took the finished pies from the oven and tipped over the tin – every single one just fell out with perfectly baked pastry crusts. So unless someone can tell me different, I’m going to stick with the natural ingredients that produce the best results, and I think you should too. The tip is to use baking parchment (a kind of belt-and-braces, can’t-be-too-careful tactic – see recipe for details).
These pies can be eaten straight from the oven, or baked and then frozen for later. They’re ideal for picnics and packed lunches – although they’re probably best eaten warm. You can also freeze them to cook later – if cooking from frozen, add about 5 minutes to the cooking time to ensure they’re fully cooked.
Shortcrust Pastry – What you need to know.
Four little words: half fat to flour.
That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Those four little words tell you the ratio of fat and flour needed to make shortcrust pastry. Whatever the total amount of fat you have, you need double that weight in flour. Armed with that little nugget of information, you have no need for any recipe and are free to make as little or as much shortcrust pastry as your heart desires, in less than a minute with the aid of a food processor.
- Flour: Use plain white – that is, with no raising agents added. Leave experimentation with flours for the moment – you want to be comfortable with the basics before getting adventurous.
- Fats: For best results, use a combination of half butter and half lard. Butter for flavour, lard for crispness. Fats should be at least fridge cold – the colder the better.
- Binding agent: Ice water. Again, the colder the better. I always have a large bottle of chilled water on hand in the fridge (not mineral water or anything nearly as posh – it’s just a large plastic bottle filled with tap water).
Controversial method: Here’s where I’m going to do what some in the UK might think of as heresy – in that I am going to contradict Delia Smith’s assertion that it is not possible to make good shortcrust pastry in a food processor. She does concede that a food processor can be used to incorporate the fat into the flour (linky), but unfortunately this is after she has recommended softening the fats to room temperature, so it’s not really the best advice – remember, cold, cold, cold is the order of the day with pastry. Delia then recommends adding the water by hand – both messy and unnecessary in my opinion. I use pastry to bake for my family 2-3 times a week (is my halo dazzling you?), and quite frankly, I have neither the time nor the inclination to faff about like this – so its into the processor – bish bash bosh – job done.
300g plain flour
- Tip the flour into the bowl of the food processor fitted with the chopping blade.
- Cut the fats into cubes and add to the flour.
- Blitz until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs (30 seconds – 1 minute)
- Bring it together with water. Now don’t just slosh it in – please use the following method to help achieve the perfect consistency. If you’re puzzled at the lack of quantity, the reason is given at the bottom of the recipe.
- Pour some ice water into a cup and put it next to the food processor.
- Get a tablespoon measure and put it next to the cup of water.
- Turn the food processor on to medium speed.
- Use the tablespoon to add water to the mixture. DO NOT pick up the cup and hold it next to the pouring funnel. Keep adding water one spoonful at a time until the pastry comes together in a lump. Why? – the delay between each spoonful of water allows time for the flour to absorb it properly, and reduces the risk of ending up with overly wet pastry. When sufficient water has been added, the mixture will come together into a solid mass. When this happens, stop the machine.
- Tip out the pastry and press it together into a ball.
- Wrap the pastry in plastic and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Now for the pies. There are no quantities given, because it very much depends on what you have available. You can make as many or as few as you like/have ingredients for. You can freeze the cooked pies – or indeed the uncooked pies – and any leftover pastry.
Sunday Lunch Pies
The remains of Sunday lunch – cold, cooked meat, vegetables, potatoes and gravy.
Frozen peas (optional)
Fresh parsley/mint/sage (optional)
1 egg, beaten
Deep cupcake/muffin tin
Suitable cutters 
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Cut parchment into 10cm squares – I suggest 12, because then you know you’ll have enough for next time, even if you don’t use them all this time.
- Remove pastry from fridge, cut in half and roll one piece out to the desired thickness. I would suggest about 3-5mm – you want them to be robust enough to hold all the filling, but not so thick as to become the main component of the pie. Cut out the bases and lids for the pies. Put each base circle of pastry on a square of parchment and stack in a pile.
- Grease your cupcake tin.
- Keeping the pastry circles on the parchment, line each cupcake hole with pastry. The parchment will keep the pastry from tearing as you press it into the sides and will make lifting the cooked pies out much easier. The pastry will fold a little on the sides (see photo) – but I think it looks nice and reinforces the ‘hand-made’ aspect. If you prefer a neater look, check out the method for making a template in the Banoffi Pie cupcake recipe here.
- Prepare the filling. Trim all fat from the cold meat and cut into small pieces, 0.5cm-1cm. Cut vegetables and potatoes to a similar size. Mix all together in a bowl. NB If you think your filling looks a bit dull, quickly zap some frozen peas in the microwave and stir in – the bright green will really raise the eye-appeal. Similarly, if you have some fresh herbs, chop those and sprinkle 2-3 tbs through (parsley for chicken, mint for lamb, sage for pork).
- Spoon the filling into the pastry cases until full.
- Warm the gravy and pour over the filling to moisten – you will only need about a tablespoon for each pie.
- Moisten the edges of the pastry with water and cover with the pastry lids. Press/pinch the edges together to seal. You can crimp the edges by hand or using the tines of a fork if you’re feeling artistic.
- Brush the tops with beaten egg and use a knife to cut a small steam vent in the centre of each pie.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes until the pastry is browned and the filling is heated through.
- Remove from the oven. Lift the pies out of the tin by holding the corners of the baking parchment. Cool on a wire rack. NB The parchment squares can be reused many times.
Cost (pastry only): £0.79 (August 2011)
 Every bag of flour has its own unique level of water content, and consequently, will absorb differing amounts of liquid. This is true not just for pastry, but for all recipes – and is also why you should not be slavish in following a recipe to the letter – use your own judgement and experience to help guide you. If you’re wailing “But I don’t have any experience!”, fear not – in this recipe the food processor will do this for you, provided you follow the method of adding water.
 You will need two different sized cutter for the tops and the bases. The cutter for the base is going to be quite large – about 10-11cm in order to give enough pastry to seal the edges. Don’t go rushing out to buy a special cutter, just have a look around your kitchen for something of the right size. Personally, I use the top of my sugar jar. The cutter for the pie lids should be about 1cm larger than the holes in your cupcake tins.
 It’s easier to work with 2 smaller pieces of pastry than one large one. You can move the pastry around easily and the chances of it tearing are greatly reduced.
Today we have one of my favourite types of recipe – Déjà-Food!
Betcha thought I was going to say Indian?
Déjà-Food is my preferred way to describe the cunning use of the leftovers from a previous meal. I’ve always disliked the word ‘leftovers’ as it might conjure up images of plate-scrapings, whereas in actual fact, it’s the food that was cooked but never served. It’s obviously a play on words stemming from the French phrase déjà vu (literally meaning ‘already seen’), but it also manages to avoid any negative conotations of that dreaded word ‘leftovers’.
Another reason why I’m such a big fan of Déjà-Food is that it means less work for me in getting a meal together. Cooking potatoes, for example, can take up to an hour to boil, if you’re cooking them whole. With cold, cooked potatoes from yesterday’s supper, this dish can come together in no more than 15 minutes.
I’m such a fan of Déjà-Food, if I’m planning ahead (I’m rarely that organised, but occasionally it happens) I will now deliberately cook extra, specifically to use the following day. There are lots of reasons for making use of leftovers, not least the financial, but not many recipes or TV programs actually go to the trouble of showing you just how easily it can be done. Saying “….and you can use the leftovers to make more great family meals” isn’t very helpful if you’re not feeling particularly inspired. Here’s hoping this recipe helps.
There are lovely big bags of baby spinach leaves in the shops at the moment, and spinach is so very good for you, you could feel doubly virtuous by whipping this together. Use green chillies by all means if you prefer, I just think the flecks of red look so pretty with the green.
Of course, this is just one suggestion for the hundreds of recipes you can make with cooked potatoes – we’ll get to the others later. Maybe start a national campaign. I’d call it “Got Spuds?”
Saag Aloo – Indian Spiced Potatoes and Spinach
50g ghee or 3tbs vegetable oil
5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
4 cloves of garlic
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 red chillies, de-seeded
500g cooked potatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp salt
250g baby spinach leaves, washed
- Put the ginger, garlic, onions and chillies in a mini food processor and blitz until finely chopped.
- Cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks and microwave in a covered bowl for 2-3 minutes until heated through.
- In a large pan over medium heat, add the ghee or oil and then the ginger garlic mix and stir for 2 minutes.
- Add the spices and salt, stir briefly, then add the potatoes. Turn the potatoes over gently until coated with the spice mix.
- Add the spinach leaves and remove the pan from the heat. Gently stir until the spinach leaves are wilted but still bright green. The heat of the pan and the potatoes will provide enough heat to achieve this.