Archive | October, 2013

The wonders of home-made pizza

18 Oct

The wonders of home-made pizza

This is a little campaign of mine, to encourage people to make their own pizza! My daughter loves take-away pizza, and to me it is the best way of getting ripped off with a take-away, and that is even before we start to discuss the culinary merits of the home-made version!

I think that take-away fish and chips can be pretty good, and it is more trouble to make at home, if you want the whole affair with battered fish and deep-fried chips. On the whole, I do a simpler version of fish and chips at home, say cooking the chips in the oven and certainly not battering the fish. With the take-away you get a nice generous-sized piece of fish. What do you get with a take-away pizza? A bit of dough with quite a meagre topping, and at a greatly exaggerated cost.

The pizza in the picture took about an hour and a half to make, but much of that is in the waiting time. I leave my dough to prove for an hour, but you can do something else whilst that is happening. My tip for rolling out the dough really thinly is to roll it on baking parchment – I saw a chef on television do this. It means that you can easily pick up your pizza by the sheet without the danger of it falling apart and getting left on your worktop. I then place the whole thing on a baking tray. I don’t have a pizza stone, and I have not investigated using baking parchment with one of those, but it might work.

I make a tomato sauce using onion, maybe with the addition of garlic, and one 400g can of tomatoes. This sauce would cover 2 pizzas – not too much sauce. I reduce the sauce by simmering it rapidly, and also add a squeeze of tomato puree, some seasoning and chopped, fresh herbs such as parsley and basil. I cover the pizzas with this, not going quite to the edges. If I am adding vegetables such as fennel, mushrooms, courgetttes, peppers or aubergine, I always cook them first. My pet hate is practically raw vegetables on pizza; oh and no sweetcorn or pineapple please! I preheat my oven to the hottest it will go and cook the pizzas for about 12 minutes. Forgot to mention the cheese – if I am using cheddar or slices of goat’s cheese, these go on the topping and cook for the 12 minutes. If I am using mozzarella, I prefer to cook my pizza, add the cheese, then just put it back in the oven for about a minute. I find otherwise the cheese burns and is too rubbery.

The pizza in the picture has some rocket and other peppery leaves added to it after baking.


Chicken Soup and some thoughts on stock

18 Oct

Chicken Soup and some thoughts on stock

I love soup, particularly chicken soup, and although my recipe is very different from a traditional Jewish recipe, it does seem to soothe all ills and just be the ultimate comfort, simple meal. This article also brings up the topic of stock, and why so many people, chefs included, rave about the wonders of buying stock and even using stock cubes. Personally I never buy either, and no I don’t spend hours making stock. Anyway, first the recipe.

This recipe is fairly loose, and does not include exact quantities. It is more to give you an idea of how you can create wonderful chicken soup, whether you are using up left-over roast chicken, or planning to make a big batch, so buying a whole chicken to feed a crowd. On this occasion, I used a left-over chicken. The one in question weighed almost 3 lbs. It was first served up for a family roast for the 3 of us. A couple of days later, I made myself some chicken sandwiches. Then for the soup: I cut the rest of the chicken off the carcass. There was only a small bowlful left by now. My method ensures maximum chicken flavour even without masses of chicken flesh. I like to make stock from bones, and I’ll talk about this later, but on this occasion I just wanted to make the soup, so I used my quick method. I fried some onions, a couple of sticks of celery, 3 carrots and 2 maincrop potatoes. After cooking this mixture for about 5 minutes, I put the chicken carcass into my pot and added enough water to cover the chicken, probably a couple of pints. I then added freshly chopped herbs and a spoonful of dijon mustard, plus salt and pepper. I brought it to the boil and then simmered it for about half an hour. After checking that the vegetables were soft, I removed the carcass and discarded it.

I am a fan of creamy soups, but not ones which are completely pureed. Also, I do not like pureed meat in soups, but this is all personal taste. So my next step was to part blitz my soup using my stick blender. In fact it is quite difficult to completely blitz soup using a stick blender – I always seem to miss a few bits, so this style of soup is easy to make. I then added the pieces of chicken to the soup and a dollop of creme fraiche.

This made enough for about 4 people, depending on appetite size. I tend to keep it in the fridge and have it over a few days, only heating up the quantity required at the time. It is amazing the difference it makes cooking the bones in the soup. It is like making your stock and soup all at once, and the chicken flavour is so much more intense.

On the subject of stock, I detest stock cubes. The list of ingredients is alarming for a start! I want my food to taste of the food I am cooking, not a list of e numbers. Also, I so often see recipes suggesting the use of gluten-free or low-salt stock. Well when I make stock it contains neither salt nor gluten. Basically stock is for added flavour – you might want to make chicken stock or fish stock. I don’t believe in long and complicated stock-making methods. I sometimes buy a whole chicken and joint it for recipes, as it is more economical. As my family is fond of breast off the bone, that gives me the opportunity to take the breasts off the bone and boil them up with carrot, celery, parsley and peppercorns for a simple stock. Or if I am roasting a whole chicken, I sometimes take off the wing tips and use those as a basis for stock. Fish stock can be made from fish shells, so I sometimes buy prawns in the shell, shell them and boil up the shells with some flavourings.

For gravy with the Sunday roast, I always save any vegetable water accumulated from par-boiling potatoes and other vegetables. If you put a lemon inside the chicken, wonderful juices come out of the chicken which can be used. For pork, I often roast apples, plums or nectarines to create extra juices. And with beef, as it so lean and does not create as many juices, I tend to sit the joint on a pile of chunky onions. These can be used to start the gravy. To my gravy, once I have started it off with the enhanced meat juices and added the vegetable water, I then add other flavourings such as home-made jelly preserves, mustard and wine of either colour.

All of this ensures that the flavours of the food shine through, and that I am not adding extra, alien flavours with stock cubes and gravy mixes. It has always worked for me anyway!


Fig, Mozarella and Basil Salad from Waitrose Magazine September 2013 issue

11 Oct

Fig, Mozarella and Basil Salad from Waitrose Magazine September 2013 issue

I had this for my lunch, as Paul is not a fig fan. We do in fact have fig trees in the garden, but we have not found a satisfactory way of harvesting them without a ladder. When they are ripe, they fall splat on the ground! So these figs are from Waitrose. I love these flavours and this salad would make a really good first course. I had it with some freshly made sourdough bread which I had taken from the oven an hour earlier.

A lovely salad which worked well with the rocket, one of my favourite salad leaves.


Is this the best that Monet can buy?

10 Oct

Is this the best that Monet can buy?

On our way back from Provence this summer we visited Monet’s house and garden at Giverney. A wonderful place which was very inspirational and for me it was a dream fulfilled as I have always loved his paintings. This view is of the gift shop, and you could spend a small fortune here if you are not self-restrained!


Chipotle Steak buns with Pickled Onions from Sainsburys Magazine September 2013 issue

10 Oct

Chipotle Steak buns with Pickled Onions from Sainsburys Magazine September 2013 issue

Paul and I had these for dinner one night, and we had mixed feelings about them. Firstly, the flavours were really excellent. The chipotle paste is really hot and punchy, so was divine mixed with mayonnaise and used as a topping in the buns; it is a good way of making a modest amount of steak go a long way. However, neither of us is keen on raw or pickled onions. I served them on the side, so that they would not dominate the flavour of the steak. I was still not convinced, and saved the rest to cook another time. In fact, the onion mixture probably would have suited us fine if cooked – but that is a matter of personal taste.

Also we prefer meals on the whole without buns, even though I chose lovely ciabatta ones. So another time I might cook the steak with the extras, cooked onions and serve the dish with home-made chips or jacket potatoes.