Category Archives: Cooking Research

Courgette, Chilli & Basil Salad & Cheese plates

My Salad of the Month – possibly Year

Courgette, Chilli & Basil Salad

Courgette Salad a la Oliver/Chiappa

Boy it’s been hot the last few weeks.  Though I longed for some warmth for most of last year, I have to admit working in this heat is not a joy.  It doesn’t make one very hungry either.

We, the Dark Lord (my partner in life) & I, have taken to ‘cheese plates’ (the Dark Lord’s passion – is it possible I am shacked up with the Abyssal Wallace – and further does that make me the Fairy Gromit?).

Back to cheese plates.  I add some salad to try to counteract the fat content with some greenery.

I have found this gem from Jamie Oliver.  Lovely ribbons of paper thin courgette, tiny diced chilli, basil leaves & a mustard vinaigrette.  Heaven!  I make the dressing & keep it with the other ingredients in the fridge and just shave off a few ribbons of courgette as and when I need something that tastes sinfully good in this heat.

Here’s Jamie’s recipe (Thank you Jamie & Ms Chiappa):

I make it slightly differently because I like it all green: green courgettes, green chillis.  I also expect Jamie used a mandolin but they scare me to death so I use a potato peeler – the sort with blades that are 90 degrees to the handle.

Also quantities:  Half a medium courgette & half a chilli make enough for us two for lunch with about 1/4 of the viniagrette.

More about Cheese for budget cheeseplaters – To keep the budget from blowing up, I buy 3 different cheeses a month and cheddar more often as a back stop.  Usually I buy Brie or Camembert, Stilton & a random one other.  Stilton being the favourite of the dark force.  We have a sliver of each plus something like a slice of quiche or ham, bread or cheese biscuits, olives & tomatoes and of course a salad of my invention.

All of the above ingredients most supermarkets have in a cheap basics, essentials or savers type range.  The cheap cheese is really not at all bad.  If we are in the money, we might have one really good cheese which lifts all the rest.  I have a yen for the lovely, stinky Epoisse but that really is for special occasions.


Ratatouille & Hungarian Good Luck Lentil Soup

After my little holiday at the NHS’ pleasure, I have finally got back into cooking.  I have made two new recipes this week.  The first, an old favourite, Ratatouille.  This recipe I found in the Guardian by Felicity Cloake.  Its a delight – the vegetables are mostly roasted rather than bubbled in a pot which gives it a lovely roasty flavour.  Heaven.  Here is the original:


  • 2 peppers – whole
  • 1 medium onion – small dice
  • 8 tomatoes – 4 chopped, 4 sliced
  • 3 courgettes – sliced
  • 1 aubergine – sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic – minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 sprigs of thyme (I used dried as a substitute)
  • pinch of saffron (I didn’t have any so left this out)
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar (I added a tbsp Madeira instead)


  1. Roast the peppers at 230deg.C (20mins-ish) then leave to cool.
  2. Soften the onions with 2tbsp olive oil (8mins).  Add garlic 5mins in.  Then add the tomatoes, thyme and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  3. Peel and dice the peppers and add to the pan with the Madeira (saffron & vinegar).
  4. Put in the oven-proof dish with the other vegetables, cover with foil and roast at 140deg.C for 2 hours. Remove foil & roast for a further 30mins.

The second recipe I tried was a Hungarian lentil soup or stew made with a Hungarian paprika sausage.  I found it on a website called Starving Chef:  It made my partner very happy & nostalgic for Hungary which was my intention (risky because I have never been there and he has).  I added diced potato & mushrooms to bulk it out a bit. You could add more lentils but they are rather wind inducing.


  • 1 tin green lentils
  • 2 carrots – thickly sliced
  • 3 medium potatoes – peeled & diced
  • 2 large mushrooms – sliced
  • 2 celery stick – thickly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic – crushed
  • 2 medium red onions – diced
  • 1 Gyulai Hungarian dry sausage – sliced (Needs to be a paprika based sausage if you need to substitute.  I found some ‘Hungarian Pepperoni’ which was the closest I could find.  I suspect Spanish Chorizo would also work)
  • 1/4lb Kolozsvari bacon – diced (I used British bacon)
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 stalks rosemary
  • water (I added about about 3mugs full)


  1. Saute the sausage & bacon till its brown and crispy (~5mins) & remove from pan
  2. Add all the vegetables, rosemary, bay leaves & lentils and sweat for about 5mins then add the puree & water. Season as necessary and simmer for about 50mins.
  3. Return the bacon & sausage and cook for another 10mins.

Roast Duck a la Wareing

I made Roast Duck using a Marcus Wareing recipe today – delicious, lovely and moist.  Thank you Mr Wareing.

Mr Wareing’s recipe:

I did have to depart a bit as I was missing a few ingredients.  Some I wished I had, especially the Madeira.

  • Madeira – I substituted white wine and a little brandy.  Madeira would be better.
  • Leek – I added extra onion
  • Star Anise & Cinnamon sticks – I substituted two tsps of 5 spice.  Whole spices better but 5 spice contains both.
  • Garlic & Ginger – I used a squeeze each of the fresh purees.  Obviously fresh pieces would be better.
  • Chillies – Added a punch of course ground dried red chilli.

The liquor didn’t thicken enough to glaze the duck for the final roasting – I suspect because there was not enough sugar without the Madeira – but it was a joy to eat:  Moist with a slight kick of spice and a crispy skin.  We had a weird ‘crown’ roast – poor thing was missing its back legs and arse but its going to last one more meat meal for two of us and then the bones and left over bits will make a nice soup or stock.  I also have enough duck fat for a few weeks – looking forward to the roast tatties.  So my £5 special offer bird will have made 6.5 meals.  A lovely treat from not much more than a chicken.

Christmas Ham

I love my family tradition of a sugared ham on Christmas Eve followed by mince pies and mulled wine and accompanied by the King College choir singing Carols. It all gets me in the mood to brave the cold and the wet, not to mention the scrum to get a seat at midnight mass.

This year a ham seemed out of our budget but thanks to a little internet research and a life saving recipe from Nigel Slater, our first Christmas just the two of us was really quite like Mum used to make (and still does).

I discovered and really should have known that there is no difference between ham and bacon, though bacon can be a lot saltier. So instead of a £10 kilo of ham, I bought a £4 kilo of bacon, unsmoked. It was very salty and had no rind and very little fat on the outside to sugar.  Nigel saved the day on both fronts: his recipe calls for boiling the meat for an hour and a half in apple juice and for adding a crust of sugared bacon for the final blast in the oven.  Thereby giving us a reduced salt ‘ham’ with sugary crust and with lovely ‘appley’ gravy to boot.

Nigel Slater’s Ham (Thank you, Nigel)

Temp fig. Closest image I can find of what it looked like – wasn’t quite as hammy but almost – I will take a photograph next time I cook it

3tblsp Maple syrup
3tblsp Black treacle
Bacon rashers (I used about 6-8 rashers fine cut. I was also a bit meaner on the syrup & treacle)

Bottle of Apple Juice
Ham joint (or bacon joint – Mine was 1kg)
Whole onion pierced with few cloves (I cut my onion in half to fit in the saucepan)
Handful of whole black peppercorns
a Bay leaf
2 Star anise (I didn’t have any so added a heaped teaspoon of 5 spice that has star anise in)

1. Marinate rashers of bacon in Maple syrup & black treacle
2. Add apple juice to a pan. Put in the ham, spice, bayleaf & onion.
3. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour & half
4. Cover joint with the marinated bacon, spoon over a bit of the marinade
5. Put in the oven at 225deg.C for 15minutes
6. Use the apple juice liquor for the gravy.

Mum’s Mince Pies
(The secret to Mum’s mince pies is to be Scottish. Don’t make the pastry fancy or sweet and roll it thin.  The mincemeat is sweet enough to make anyone have a diabetic hypo.)


Temp fig. Closest image I can find of what mine looked like – these are right shape but pastry slightly too thick, no steam hole so mincemeat bubbling out the sides, no egg glaze & could do with a minute or 2 longer in the oven.
– I will take a photograph next time I cook them.

The Pastry:
200g plain flour
100g butter , diced
pinch salt
2-3 tblsp Water

Prep time: 5-10mins + chilling
(Tip: You can make the pastry the day before)
1. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.

Proportions Top Tip:
To make more or less, remember the proportions – half fat to flour – and don’t add too much water or the pastry will be hard. For best results, make sure the butter is cold. If other dry ingredients are included in the recipe, add them at the same time as the salt.

The Mince meat:
(You can make your own but good bought mincemeat is fine – especially if you doctor and feed it for a month or two before the Christmas pie season.)

1 Jar of mincemeat (makes about 36-48 pies)
For feeding: Brandy, sherry
For adding: Nuts, dried fruit, compotted fruit, citrus zest
(You can add any combination of the above or anything similar you can think of. My sister adds dried figs. I like to add extra roughly chopped nuts, orange & lemon zest & juice of half a tart orange. I feed with brandy – best quality I can afford.)

1. I add the dried ingredients straight away and the fresh, up to a week before. Usually the day before when I make the pastry as I forget.
2. I buy the mincemeat at least a month before and try to get about 4-5 capfuls of brandy into the jar before my first batch of pies.  (I don’t know what the health and safety rules are on open mincemeat jars.  Use your own judgement or ask a professional. I leave it out of the fridge so that the brandy infuses the ingredients better, in the hope that my cleanliness and the excessive sugar in the jar will keep everything safe to eat. So take your own line any users of this recipe.)

To make mince pies:

Chilled Pastry
Flour for rolling out
Beaten Egg to glaze the top of the pies

1. Butter the indents of a tart tray (Could use a muffin tray at a pinch but the sides are too steep really). Turn on the oven to preheat to about 220deg.C
2. Flour surface & rolling pin & roll out pastry as thin as you can.
3. Use a bigger round cutter (frilly edged for choice) for the bottom than the top and cut out one of each for each indent on your tart tray.
4. Push the bottoms gently into the indents, add a small dollop of mincemeat. (Half a heap teaspoon is plenty.  A small amount goes a surprisingly long way. If the pies leak they stick to the tin, making them hard to remove.) Cover with the small cut-outs and press down around the mincemeat, like putting a blanket on a baby.
5. Make a small hole in the centre of the lids to let the steam come out and give each pie an egg-wash to make it shine. Then pop straight in the oven.  They take about 10 minutes to cook.  They are cooked when the pie tops are a nice golden brown and there is no soggy pastry on the bottoms.
6. Take the pies out of the tin as soon as you can without burning yourself and leave to cool on a rack.

You can dust with icing sugar if you want.  Serve with double cream or brandy butter or both!

Was looking for chocolate biscuit cake like they made for birthdays at school – think this one may do very nicely – love the idea of the condensed milk.

Cake in the country

Ok I know its been ages, and I’ve been having photo upload problems lately, but in the meantime I am going to give you a lovely simple recipe that everybody will request. I picked this up working in a restaurant and it was always a hit. I kinda jazzed it up with a few choice additions like rolos though. (Rather proud of that one actually)

What you need

  • 3 x 100g bars of dark chocolate. (In the restaurant they used wonderbar cooking chocolate, I use a mix of milk and 50-70% depending on mood)
  • 1 tin of condensed milk
  • 18 digestive or rich tea biscuits, broken into medium sized pieces
  • Optional: 2 packs of rolos, maltesers or muchies
  • Optional: about 10 large marshmallows
  • Decoration: White chocolate
  1. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt over a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water
  2. When the chocolate is melted…

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