All posts by Elly

Risotto

As the nights start to get shorter in autumn, my cooking style changes dramatically. Out go the salads, pastas and lighter meals of summer and in come the thick, heart-warming dishes of winter. I tend to find cooking very therapeutic, and love nothing more than spending 10 or 20 minutes peeling, chopping and preparing veg for a delicious stew or risotto. You get into your own rhythm when doing this, and once practiced, you can do it without thinking, which gives me time to reflect on my day and clear my mind.

Cooking the risotto rice
Image by VancityAllie via Flickr

Of all the winter dishes I cook, risotto is one of my favourites. It’s a true Italian peasant classic, a way of turning a small amount of food into a dish that feeds many people – and extremely cheap to make, which is perfect in the current recession. The only ingredient that is any way “out of the ordinary” is the risotto rice – which is now stocked by all of the major supermarket chains, and I’ve even seen it in some of the larger ‘corner shops’ lately.

Risotto takes time, but once you’ve cooked it once or twice it won’t tie up a lot of your attention, so it’s a great method of relaxing into your evening. It’s also incredibly tasty and super simple – so don’t be scared of trying to cook it!

The recipe I’m giving here serves about 6 people, as this is usually the quantity I make in one go. If there’s only the two of us in the house, then we eat it over a couple of days, re-heating it in the microwave for about 2 mins, with a sheet of kitchen roll on top to stop it spitting everywhere. It’s also really versatile, as you don’t have to add your toppings to the main pan of risotto, but can simply place them on top of a portion in a bowl – which means that you can vary the taste and not feel like you are eating the same meal three times in a row!

Recipe: Turkey stew

Turkey stew with mashed spudsIngredients;

1 knob of butter
1 good lug of olive oil
1 kg turkey thigh meat, diced
1 handful of fresh thyme leaves
1 large leek, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 large sweet potato, diced
1 parsnip, chopped
2 large onions
1 handful of plain flour
1 wineglass of rosé or white wine
1 wineglass of milk
1 wineglass of water
1 small tin of sweetcorn
8 pork sausages

Serves 6-8, can be frozen

Line

Take your Largest Saucepan, and get it on a Low heat, add a good lug of olive oil and a knob of butter.

Next add your turkey meat, fresh thyme, leek, celery, carrots, sweet potato, parsnips, onions and give it about 15 minutes at a simmer, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks.

Get your pan up to a high heat and add a good handful of flour and stir it in, keep stirring for about 2-3 minutes, then add the wine, let it simmer for a minute. Then add the milk and water and stir throughly until all the ingredients combine.

Then bring this to a simmer for about 1 hour or until the leeks and onion have started to break up.

Add the sweetcorn for the last 10 minutes of the hour.

Take your pack of sausages and squeeze all the sausage meat out of the skins. Roll it into a large marble sized balls (wet hands work best). Do this with all the sausage meat and then stir fry them until cooked and add this to the rest of the stew, stirring them in well.

Serve in a bowl with a warm crusty bread roll or some mashed spuds.

Winter Stews

In the cold days of winter there’s nothing more satisfying than coming home to a nice big bowl of stew – especially if your loved one has spent hours slaving over it.

Jet over Snowy Barn
Image by ChristopherSHarrison via Flickr

In this house we regularly make steak or chicken stew, and occasionally a pot of lamb stew shows up – mainly due to the price of lamb. The vegetable ingredients are usually just whatever happens to be to hand, which means that celery, onions, carrots, garlic & parsnips are guaranteed to be thrown in the pot.

I also love to throw a sweet potato or two into the mix as they tend to disintegrate during the cooking process, acting as a beautiful thickening agent while also adding tons of flavour.

Stews are really cheap to make, especially if you have a large pot and can make substantial quantities at once. In winter we regularly just leave the pot on the stove and eat from it for several days, but you can also choose to freeze it in portions.

Today’s stew recipe is one I cooked recently. If you prefer your food more savoury then sweet, then you might want to leave out the sweet potatoes, as the sweetcorn and leeks add plenty of sweetness to the overall dish.

Dice up your ingredients to the size you want them in the final dish – some people don’t like huge chunks of carrot. This stew is very versatile, you can use it as a pie mix and top with mashed potato or puff pasty, I’ve even used it in the past as a vol-au-vent filling (make sure to dice everything up really fine for this one). Enjoy!

Kitchen Essentials: Pots and pans

As a companion series to our recipes, I decided it would be a good idea to take a look at some essential kitchen equipment that I’ve gathered up over the years, to try and explain why the pieces are so useful.

First up is saucepans and frying pans. We were lucky enough to receive gifts of Jamie Oliver by Tefal pans for our wedding which have proved to be of excellent quality. The type of pots and pan you buy will be dictated by the type of cooker hob you have as noted below:

  • Gas and radiant spiral hobs: Any pan types.
  • Ceramic hob or solid hotplates: Choose pans that have flat bottoms.
  • Be careful to lift pans and not drag them on ceramic or halogen hobs, as this can scratch the hob!
  • Induction hobs: Pans suitable for this type of hob must be made from magnetisable metal such as cast iron or steel. Pure aluminium or copper pans will not work with this type of hob unless the base is bonded with a magnetic metal.
  • Solid fuel / Aga: Choose pans with thick bases which can withstand the high temperatures produced.

It’s also a good idea to look at the symbols on the pans and manufacturer descriptions before you buy. If your pans can go from hob to oven and are dishwasher safe, then you will get a lot more use out of them over the years.

In our house, we have 4 frying pans of various sizes, up to a 26 inch – which admittedly is rarely used. The two smallest sizes are the ones we reach for most often. They are all non-stick (Teflon) which makes our food healthier as you don’t need as much oil or butter when frying and it also makes them easier to clean.

However, with non-stick pans, there are a few rules to remember! Never use anything more than a plastic scrubbie & washing up liquid to clean them, as other cleaning products could scratch the non-stick surface. If you do leave the pan to soak for more than 10 mins, just fill it with hot water, don’t add washing up liquid, as again, this could damage the surface.

As for saucepans, it’s a good idea to have at least 3 of them (perhaps more if you have a large family) for basic cooking tasks. They should be sturdy with reasonably thick bases to ensure even transfer of heat to the contents. Don’t pour cold water into hot pans, as this could warp the bottom of them and make the pans unstable on your hob.

In addition to our basic pots and pans, we also have a few “specialist” pots. One of them is a large stew pot that holds about 5 litres. This gets used for big batches of tomato sauce, soups, stews and risottos. Again, it has a non-stick interior, and can go directly from the cooker top to the oven, which is perfect for slow-cooking of stews to soften and break up the meat.

Finally, we also have a Jamie Oliver Tefal pasta pot which has a removable Stainless Steel Strainer and Glass/Stainless Steel Lid. This one was a little treat for ourselves, as the same job can be done with a large pot and a colander, but it’s the kind of thing that makes a perfect present for someone who loves their pasta!

George says…

A pasta pot is a lot easier and less messy than the alternative, plus it’s really handy for boiling the spuds 😉

The main thing to remember when buying yourself pots and pans is to choose known brands of good quality. You’ll get many years of use out of a good pan set, but a cheap one will rarely last more than five years if you’re lucky. Consider the types of food that you cook most often, and try to match these with suitable types of pans.