Wednesday 8 October 2014

Recipes You Should Know by Heart ( Part One)

(My tiny kitchen)

I think I first fell in love with food and cooking when I was a very young girl.  My grandmother used to make exceptional soups, stews, preserves, roasts, breads, cakes, cookies and preserves . . . simple food, well prepared, using fresh ingredients or just whatever was in the larder.  I don't think she had a cookery book collection.  At best she might have had a community cookbook filled with recipes collected from the ladies in the community, or hand written recipe receipts given to her from friends . . .  possibly a cookbook put out by the flour companies.  For the most part she cooked from memory . . .  doing things the way her mother had taught her . . .  cooking by instinct, feel . . .  taste.

Things were simple then and there weren't really many unknown, unusual, or luxury ingredients available.  These days we are so blessed to have virtually a world of food and tastes at our fingertips.  Even so, there are some dishes which we should really know how to do from heart, without a recipe.  Oh . . .  yes, we can follow a recipe the first time we make them, but with time and experience, these are the recipes which we can become so adept at using that we rarely need to look them up again, and indeed we can put our own stamps on them.  They become recipes we know by heart, and these are mine.

 Every cook should know how to make a very basic tomato sauce.  This is how I make mine.   I can do it with my eyes closed and after many years of making it I can increase it to serve large groups and add other flavours and textures to suit the dish I am cooking.  This is the basis for many other tomato sauces, simply by adding a few herbs, some sauteed onion, perhaps bacon, mince, etc. 

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*My Favourite Tomato Sauce*
Serves 2  but can be easily multiplied
Printable Recipe

This is a simple sauce which uses fresh tomatoes when they are in season, and good tinned tomatoes when they are not.

2 to 3 large, ripe unpeeled tomatoes, cut into chunks
(Or one 400g tin of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice (14.5 oz))
1 TBS butter or olive oil
1 tsp white sugar
salt and black pepper to taste

Place the tomatoes in a large heavy bottomed non-reactive saucepan.  Cook uncovered (without any fat) over high heat, stirring occasionally, until they have the texture of a thick pulp, about 15 to 20 minutes.  When thick, remove from the heat and stir in the butter or olive oil and the sugar.  (The sugar helps to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.)  Season to taste and serve over the pasta of your choice.

My mother discovered oregano when I was a teenager and a recipe for chili con carne on the back of a tomato soup tin.   That because the basic Saturday night supper for years as my father really loved it.   A good chili is a recipe that is very easy to master and very adaptable.  Most people like it and it's quite economical.  It's also one of those dishes which tastes better for having sat over night.

*A Simple Chili*
Serves 4 to 6
Printable Recipe

Hearty, filling, tasty and low fat.  Makes a wonderful weeknight supper.

low fat cooking spray
1 pound extra lean minced steak
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and pulverized with a mortar and pestle
1 TBS mild Chili powder
1 tsp ancho chili paste
1 tsp oregano flakes
1 tsp coriander flakes
1 400g tin of black beans, drained and rinsed (2 cups)
1 400g tin of spicy mixed bean salad, undrained ( 2 cups, this is a mixture of cooked beans and corn in a spicy sauce)
2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice (about 4 cups), undrained
250ml of beef broth, lager or strong coffee
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 (100g) bar of lindt chili chocolate broken up into bits (1 3/4 ounces)
the juice of 1/2 lime

To serve:
grated strong cheddar cheese
chopped spring onions
sour cream

Heat a large deep non stick skillet over medium heat.  Spray with some low fat nonstick cooking spray.  Crumble in the beef and cook, stirring to break it apart, until lightly browned, adding the onion and garlic in the last few minutes.  Add the cumin, chili powder, chili paste, oregano flakes and coriander flakes.  Cook and stir until very fragrant.  Add the beef broth, beans (both tins) and the tomatoes.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for 35 to 45 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper.  Break up the chocolate and stir it in until melted.  Add the lime juice and stir again. 

Ladle into heated bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream, some grated cheese and chopped spring onions for sprinkling on top, along with some crusty rolls or cornbread on the side to mop up all those delicious juices! 

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A chicken, simply roasted, has to be almost any carnivores favourite meals.  When done properly the meat is moist and succulent . . .  the skin crisp . . .  along with a delicious gravy made from the pan juices.

*A Simple Roast Chicken*
Serves 4 - 6

You can't beat a nicely roasted chicken.   Simple.  Easy to prepare. Deliciously succulent.    

1 large free range roasting chicken (between 3 1/2 and 5 pounds in weight)
a few knobs of softened butter
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a sprig of thyme
a couple cloves of garlic, peeled
the juice of half a lemon 
225ml of chicken stock (1 cups)
1 TBS flour     

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Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.  Have ready a nice deep roasting pan. 

Take your chicken and season it liberally inside with salt and pepper.  Stuff in the thyme into the cavity, along with the garlic, and a large knob of butter.   Rub the remaining  butter all over the outside of the chicken, pushing some of it beneath the skin of the breast between the skin and the flesh, taking care not to tear the skin.  Place the chicken into the roasting tin.   Season it with salt and pepper on the outside, and then squeeze the lemon juice over all.  Put the spent lemon half into the cavity of the chicken as well.  Pour  the chicken stock into the roasting tin around the chicken.   

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, basting with the pan juices from time to time.  When done the juices should run clear from the chicken when pierces between the thigh and the breast and the legs should feel quite loose when gently twisted.  Remove from the oven.  Remove the chicken to a serving platter and tent loosely with foil.  Allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy, pour the pan juices out into a measuring jug.  Pour a bit of boiling water in the pan and scrape up any juicy browned bits.  Pour this into the measuring jug.   Spoon about 2 TBS of the fat from the jug into a saucepan.  Discard the remainder of the fat.   Heat over medium heat until bubbling.  Whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute.   Slowly whisk in the pan juices, whisking until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken slightly.  Season to taste.  Allow to simmer over low heat for a few minutes to get rid of any flour taste.

Serve the chicken sliced, along with some of the gravy and any vegetables which you have prepared.

There is nothing tastier to make with the spent carcass of your roasted chicken than a beautiful big pot of chicken soup.  My mother taught me how to make soup and she never used a recipe.  She could make soup out of just about anything.   A soup is only as good as it's stock.   Here is my foolproof recipe for making a beautiful chicken soup that is sure to become a family favourite.   I have used star pasta in this one, but feel free to use a handful of rice instead, or some fine egg noodles.  You will soon be making this by rote and you will never be happy opening a can of chicken soup again.

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*Chicken With Stars Soup*
Serves 4-6

This is a very simple and easy soup to make.  I often use the carcass from a roast chicken to make this, saving some chicken from the roast to use as well.   As I always cut up chickens myself to use in other recipes, I usually always have bags of chicken backs and necks in the freezer as well, which are very good when used in this soup!   Its amazing what you can do with a few bones and some vegetables!  

1 spent chicken carcass (if there is not a lot of meat left on the carcass you can add a few chicken wings or a leg)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 carrot, unpeeled and cut in half
1 stalk of celery
Handful of celery leaves
1 onion, unpeeled, cut in half, root end removed
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper  

To finish:
1 carrot peeled and grated
¼ of a swede peeled and grated
1/2 mug full of Stelline Pasta (star shaped pasta, about 1/2 cup, or more as desired)  

Put your chicken carcass in a pot and cover with boiling water. Add the bay leaf, thyme, carrot, celery, celery leaves, onion and salt and pepper. Bring back to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 ½ hours to 2 hours. Strain broth into a clean pot. Discard vegetables and pick off as much meat as you can from off of the bones. Cut into small chunks. Bring broth to a boil and reduce somewhat. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If it is not very strong you can add a TBS or two of Marigold vegetable stock powder, but it really shouldn‘t be necessary.)  

Add the grated vegetables and the Stelline pasta.  Bring to the boil and then reduce to low and simmer for about 15 minutes until cooked. Add the diced chicken meat. Heat through and then ladle into hot bowls. Serve with some nice crusty bread or rolls.   

Next up I am showing you how to make a very basic stewYou can use beef cubes, or pork or lamb for this, or even venison.  This is a very basic recipe. Once you master this and can make it without a recipe, you can branch out and begin to add other flavours, such as a bit of horseradish, some balsamic vinegar, even sweet pickle juice.  You can even use leftover wine for added flavour instead of water.   All are beautiful additions.

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*A Basic Stew*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

This is the very basic recipe for a delicious stew.  You can use beef, or pork, or lamb, or venison and it will come out perfectly every time.  The secret is in the browning.

1 pound of stewing meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
(trim of any fat and gristle and discard)
salt and black pepper
flour to roll the meat in
a knob of butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 stalk of celery, trimmed and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into coins
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into coins
1/2 a small rutabaga (swede) peeled and cut into cubes
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 TBS tomato ketchup
hot water to cover
beef stock cube
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf

Season your meat and roll it in flour to coat.   Melt the knob of butter in a large heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add the meat and brown it well on all sides working in batches.   Don't over crowd your pan or your meat won't brown well.  Browning it well is the secret to a nicely coloured gravy.  Remove the meat to a bowl as it browns and repeat until all the meat has been browned.  Add the onions and celery to the pan.  Saute until softened.  Return the meat to the pan along with any juices that have accumlated in the bowl.  Add enough hot water to barely cover the meat along with the worcestershire sauce, ketchup, stock cube, thyme and bay leaf.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, tightly covered at a slow simmer for about an hour.   Add the carrot, parsnip and rutabaga.   Cover and cook for about half an hour longer.   Add the potato cubes and cover again.   Cook for a further 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the meat is falling apart.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required.  Serve hot with plenty of crusty bread for sopping up all the juices.

Note - if you wish a thick gravy you can shake a tablespoon of flour in a jar with about 110ml or 1/2 cup of cold water until smooth.  Stir this into the stew and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.  Cook for several minutes to cook out the flavour of the flour.  

Beef Stew With Herbed Dumplings

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A Simple Lamb Stew

Nothing says home more than a nice big platter of perfectly scrambled eggs in the morning. So comforting . . . and, well . . . cosy. There is nothing tastier than an egg that's been well scrambled.

A well scrambled egg . . . with soft and moist folded curds . . . along with some hot buttered toast, is bliss . . . pure bliss.

 It's not that hard to cook them properly, although some people do seem to be a bit mystified as just how to proceed, and still others seem to overcook them so much that they end up as dry little rubbery curds. What you are looking for is something that luxuriously, meltingly creamy.

Scrambled eggs are not something that you want to cook in a hurry . . . slow and steady definitely wins the race here.

First of all you need to start with a good egg. I know I don't need to lecture you on the difference between a cage grown egg and a free range egg . . . we've all heard that spiel . . . Let's just say that I prefer to pay more and use free range. For me it's more than just taste . . . it's a matter of conscience.

You want to use a skillet that's not overly heated, in other word, warm, but not hot. Then you want a nice lump of butter, softly foaming in the pan . . . and finally you want the perfect mix of beaten eggs, cream and milk . . .

You add this mixture to the warm pan, and then you just let it sit without disturbing it . . . not for long . . . just long enough that it begins to set on the bottom. Only then do you want to start moving the eggs. I like to use a wooden spatula or spoon. I commence to folding my eggs, slowly . . . from the outside edges into the centre of the pan. Not stirring . . . but folding . . . a constant, and slow movement . . . which I keep doing . . . just until the eggs are almost set, but still moist. At this point you will want to take them right off the heat. The eggs will continue to cook for a bit longer from the residual heat in the pan, but what you end up with is a lovely moist product, not dry at all.

In short . . . perfection.

Perfectly scrambled eggs make a delicious light supper with either some buttered toast or even buttered bread as Todd prefers them.  Either way, they are fabulous.

*Cheese and Chive Scrambled Eggs*
Serves 6
Printable Recipe

Fresh chives and a good strong cheddar together with perfectly scrambled eggs, create a hearty breakfast dish just packed with flavour.

12 large free range eggs
2 ounces whole milk
2 ounces cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce
2 TBS butter
4 TBS finely chopped fresh chives
4 ounces of a good farmhouse strong cheddar cheese, grated
(I use Davidstow)

Whisk the eggs, milk, cream salt, black pepper and hot pepper sauce together in a large bowl.  Heat the 2 TBS of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Once the butter begins to foam add the eggs.  Allow to sit for several minutes, without stirring, so that the eggs can begin to set on the bottom.  Begin to draw a wooden spatula or spoon across the bottom of the skillet to form large curds.  Cook, continuing to fold the eggs with the spoon slowly, working from the outside edges into the middle until the eggs are thickened but still moist.  Do not stir constantly or you will end up with small curds, you want thick moist ribbons.  Remove from the heat to a warm platter. Sprinkle the hot eggs with cheese and the chives.  Serve hot with warm toast, if desired.

Tune in tomorrow for part two of Recipes You Should Know by Heart!  I hope you have enjoyed what I have shared thus far.  Cooking really isn't that difficult once you have mastered the basics!


  1. Pleased to say I can make them all without written recipes!

  2. Thanks for the great lessons! Love it and the food looks so inviting. xoxo

  3. That's great Traci! I am hoping that I can inspire some young cooks with this piece!xx

    You're welcome Valerie! I am sure these are already things you can cook too! A seasoned cook like yourself would know how! xx

  4. I can do most of these. I have never made my own tomato sauce though as we always Bolognese.

  5. This is a basic tomato Sauce Suzan that you can use as a basis for many variations! (Depending on what you want to add to it!) By adding some anchovies, black olives, chili flakes and capers you would have a Puttanesca sauce, etc. The variations are endless!

  6. Great info for everyone..I know your kitchen is tiny..but its so cute and it functions like a 5 star Michelin :)

  7. Your kitchen is REALLY that tiny??? Wow!!! I can also create the dishes you described from memory and they are well loved by my family. I'm not so sure that we are fortunate to have so many different and unusual ingredients available to us. I used to think I had to have and try them all - but the older I get, the more I go back to the ole tried and true recipes. Simple ones. I have many jars/bottles of partially used sauces/spices/herbs in my pantry that I bought to try a 'new recipe'. Found out that we prefer tried and true!!!!!

  8. Thanks Monique! it is really cute, but I have to be very organized! ssoo

    It is really that tiny Sharon! I was very spoiled when I lived down South in the cottage. I think the old tried and trues are the best. A good cook should be able to cook almost anything without a recipe, but it is nice to try something different from time to time, and it's also nice to do special things for special occasions! xxoo

  9. What does the abbreviation "wl" mean? It's in the recipe for Chicken Soup with Stars. I get the basic idea of what you're saying, I just can't figure out what words are the "w and l". Unfortunately though a roast chicken is something you will most likely NEVER find in my home. Of all the meat known to be edible on this planet chicken is close to the bottom of what will be my first choice and ESPECIALLY roast chicken. For whatever reason my father, who LOVES our special Grove family way of doing fried chicken (NOT deep fried in an oil) could not abide roast chicken. I never did learn why so I don't ask anymore. I was very happy about this as a kid as it turned me off. I think I can blame my aversion to chicken on my maternal grandmother and her sister, my Aunt Maudie. One day, I was about 9 or 10, while grandma still lived on the farm, she and her sister killed some chickens. Very normal chore on a farm. Yes, I saw the proverbial chickens "running around with their heads cut off". That IS true. That wasn't the problem though. Then, to get the feathers off they scalded them in hot water. The smell is ATROCIOUS! To this day, over 40 years later it STILL turns my stomach to smell chicken cooking on the stove. If I need cooked chicken for a recipe I use Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) and her method of roasting them in the oven. I agree with her, they have MUCH more flavor prepared this way. I used to have my mom do it for me, now I go the oven method. Isn't it amazing how one event in our childhood can impact the rest of our lives! So when I do eat chicken (my favorite part is a wing, surprisingly very few fight me for this part) the last thing I really want to taste is the chicken. I like it BBQ and in recipes where it's mostly lost, EXCEPT for our special family fried chicken recipe. Now THAT I will eat and enjoy, however, the gravy from that meal is still EVEN better. I say God Bless to the cook or housewife, probably thousands of years ago, who created the concept of gravy. You may wonder why then, after all of this WHY I want to make this chicken and stars recipe. I must eat gluten free and the standard Campbell's soup has wheat in basically every can. It's disguised under the name "modified food starch". If I can obtain gluten free pasta stars I can make my own, without gluten, and can it for future use. I don't eat a brothy soup like this often, but when I get the flu, a cold, etc., I need something like this. This would can or freeze very well.

  10. Hi Pamela. Sorry about that it should say well. Somehow I left off an e and an l. I have fixed it now! You can use rice instead of the pasta stars! Then it would be completely gluten free! It does freeze very well. Your fried chicken recipe sounds gorgeous! Not surprised the smell of boiling feathers has turned you off of roasting chicken, but I did enjoy your story! Thank you so much for sharing! xo


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