Ten Basic Recipes You Should Know by Heart

Thursday 10 December 2020


A few years ago I did a short series of posts entitled Recipes You Should Know By Heart.  They were compilations of recipes which I thought every capable cook should know how to prepare without having to crack open a book. 

Tried and trues.  Family Favourites.  That kind of thing. 
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.  Back in those days people rarely used recipes. They cooked by feel and by using methods and traditions that had been passed down from generation to generation.

There were not a lot of cookbooks available.  Many recipes were kept in handwritten notebooks, with  most being only lists of ingredients, relying instead on the cooks capacity to know what they were doing. Cooks cooked from memory . . .  doing things the way their mothers had taught . . .  cooking by instinct, feel . . .  and 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.  

A Basic Tomato Sauce

*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. 

Making Bechamel

Bechamel Sauce is the basis for many other sauces. It is a creamy white and rich sauce.

A good bechamel is the basis for many dishes such as souffles, or macaroni and cheese.  The foolproof way to achieve a perfectly smooth sauce is to have the milk hot when you add it to the butter and flour.  It uses an extra pot, but perfection is perfection.    

Once you have mastered a bechamel sauce you have opened the window to many other delicious things such as Creamed Peas on Toast or Broccoli and Cauliflower Cheese. 

Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheese

*White Sauce or Bechamel Sauce*
Makes 225ml or one cup

I think this was one of the first things I learned how to make in home economics at school.   When well made, this simple sauce has a proper place in homey, creamed dishes, often making leftover stretch or giving cooked foods a new life.

2 TBS butter
2 TBS plain flour
285ml of hot milk (1 1/4 cups)
freshly ground black pepper  

Melt the butter in a heavey bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly until the flour is cooked out and bubbles a bit.  Do NOT let it brown.   This will take about 2 minutes.   Whisk in the hot milk, slowly, whisking constantly until the milk is all whisked in and the sauce thickens.   Bring to the boil.  Stir in the salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to very low and continue to cook, whisking, for an additional 2 to 3 minutes longer.   Remove from the heat.  If you are using the sauce later, cover the top with a round of baking parchment to prevent a skin from forming.  (You can also pour a very thin layer of milk over top which works in much the same way.)

Thick Cream Sauce - Use 3 TBS of flour to 225ml/1 cup of milk.  This is the consistency needed for soufffles and meat, poultry or fish crouquettes. 

Lemon Cream Sauce - Just before serving, beat in 2 large egg yolks, 6 TBS of butter (1 TBS at a time) and 1 TBS fresh lemon juice 

Cheese Sauce - Stir in 60g/1/2 cup of grated Cheddar cheese during the last 2 minutes of cooking, along with a pinch of cayenne pepper. 

Mornay Sauce - Add 2 TBS of grated Parmesan Cheese and 2 TBS of grated Swiss cheese during the last two minutes of cooking.  Stur until blended.  Just before removing from the heat, beat 2 TBS of the sauce into 1 lightly beaten egg yolk.  Stir the yolk/sauce mixture back into the sauce and add 2 TBS butter.    Continue to cook, stirring, for one minute longer.  

Basic Pancakes

I wish I had a dollar for every pancake I have ever cooked in my life. They were a pretty standard weekend treat for my children the whole time they were growing up. Of course you can use a mix, but really nothing beats the deliciousness of a homemade pancake.  They are so simple to do as well. I can do them with my eyes closed. 

Once you have mastered the art making a good basic pancake, you have the ability to play with the recipe and create many other options!

Basic Pancakes

*Basic Pancakes*
Makes about 16
Printable Recipe 

The amount of milk you use will determine how thick these pancakes will be.  Start off with the smaller amount which is suggested and add more only if the batter seems too thick.  I try to have all of my ingredients at room temperature before starting and as with most quick breads, take care not to over beat.   A few lumps are quite acceptable.  You can make lighter, fluffier pancakes by separating the egg yolk and white, adding the yolk with the milk, and then beating the white until stiff and folding it in last of all.  Serve with maple syrup or honey.

120 to 150ml of milk (1/2 to 3/4 cup)
2 TBS butter, melted
1 large free range egg
140g of plain flour (1 cup)
2 tsp baking powder
2 TBS white sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Beat the milk, butter and egg lightly in a mixing bowl.  Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and add them all at once to the wet ingredients, stirring just enough to moisten the flour.   Lightly butter or grease a griddle pan or non stick skillet.  Set over moderate heat and heat until a few drops of water sprinkled on the pan sputter lightly.  Drop the pancakes  using 2 TBS of the batter for smaller cakes, or 1/4 cup of batter for larger ones, onto the hot pan.  Bake on the pan until the cakes are full of little bubbles all over the top and golden brown on the underside.  Turn with a spatula and brown the other side.  Keep warm in a slow oven (100*C/200*F) until you have cooked them all.


Buttermilk pancakes - use buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt in place of the milk and substitute 1/2 tsp baking soda for the baking powder.

Whole wheat  pancakes - substitute one third of the flour with an equal amount of whole wheat flour.   If you wish you may sweeten the batter with 2 TBS of molasses or honey instead of sugar.

Oatmeal pancakes - Heat the smaller amount of milk and stir in 40g/1/2 cup of quick cooking oats.  Let stand for 10 minutes then proceed as above, reducing the flour to 2 TBS.

Blueberry pancakes - Add a handful of fresh berries to the batter.

Free Range Eggs

If you have a carton of eggs in the refrigerator, you have the makings of a quick and easy meal.  We all  have days where we don't really feel much like cooking.  Those are the kinds of days which are made for a simple supper of scrambled or fried eggs on toast or even an omelet.

Knowing how to scramble, fry or make an omelet are very basic skills that anyone can pick up quite easily. 

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


It's not that hard to cook scrambled eggs 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. 

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. 

 Perfectly scrambled eggs make a delicious light supper with either some buttered toast or even simple buttered bread.

*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. 

Roast Chicken with Melting Potatoes

 Nothing screams Home Sweet Home more than a delicious Roast Chicken. I could easily roast and enjoy a succulent Roast Chicken every Sunday.  Done properly it is a thing of beauty and a properly Roasted Chicken affords you so much more than just the roast on the day, depending on the size of your chicken. 

For the smaller family a roast chicken is a delicious alternative to roasting a large turkey at the holidays. This year due to the pandemic, many of us will  not be able to travel to our family's during the holidays, so having a roast chicken only makes sense.

Leftovers are great for sandwiches or casseroles and then there is always that lovely carcass ready to be used for stock and soups. 

I always choose to buy the best chicken that I can afford. Free range and corn-fed are the best, but you need to make this choice according to your budget.  

How to Prepare a Chicken for Roasting 
It goes without saying that when you are spending a bit of money on a nice piece of poultry you will want to treat it with respect. Here are my tips for making the perfect roast chicken! 
Before you roast the chicken, you will want to pat it dry with some paper kitchen towelling. This results in a crisper, tastier skin. I like to tie the chicken’s legs together after stuffing it with anything I might be stuffing it with, prior to roasting. This helps the chicken to keep its shape during its roasting. 
If you are roasting a chicken on its own, it helps to place the chicken onto a greased rack I the baking dish. This helps to prevent the chicken from sticking to the dish. Pouring a small amount of liquid in the baking dish helps to create steam which helps to keep your roasting chicken moist. You don’t need much, only about ¾ of a cup. This can be stock or wine, or both. 
Once your chicken has roasted and has been taken from the oven, remove it from the roasting dish to a platter, tent with foil and allow it to “rest” for about 15 minutes. This helps the juices to settle back into the meat and will reward you with a much more succulent finish. Cutting into it too soon will release all those lovely juices that you really want to retain.  

Roast Chicken

*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     

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. 
Chicken Soup

Now that you have a roasted chicken and have eaten all that you want from it, you will want to make yourself a delicious soup.  Its not at all very hard to do and can really help to make your hard earned dollars go a lot further. 

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.  

Chicken with Stars Soup

*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.

Another thing I like to make from scratch rather than from a box is Stove Top Mac and Cheese. My sister gave me this recipe many years ago and it has been an old stand by ever since.  Why pay a premium price for a boxes Mac and Cheese when making your own is such a simple thing and so much tastier!  

Stove Top Mac and Cheese

*Stove Top Mac and Cheese*
Serves 4

So easy to make and incredibly tasty!

2 cups (480ml) water
2 cups (230g) dry macaroni
1 cup (240ml) milk
2 TBS butter
2 cups (245g) grated strong cheddar cheese
2 TBS finely grated parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat and stir the water, macaroni, milk and butter over medium heat for 15 minutes until the macaroni is al dente stirring frequently. Should take about 15  minutes.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the cheeses until the cheese melts.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve immediately. Delicious! 

Baking Powder Biscuits

Who doesn't melt at the sight of a warm plate of Baking Powder Biscuits.  They were one of the first things I learned how to make.

These are one of the most basic of the quick breads and I have never known anyone to turn a well made biscuit down.   The important thing to remember about biscuits is to use a light touch with them.   Over working them toughens them.   

Pat them out gently and cut them out with a sharp cutter, using a very sharp quick straight up and down motion and your biscuits will always be perfect!
Baking Powder Biscuits

*Baking Powder Biscuits*
Makes 16
Printable Recipe

Golden brown and crusty outside, meltingly tender inside.

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1 TBS sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup of  milk

Preheat the oven to 220*C/425*F/ gas mark 6.  Grease two 8 inch cake tins. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar together in a bowl.  Drop in the shortening and cut it into the flour mixture with two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the milk all at once and stur just until the dough forms a ball around the fork.  Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead about 14 times.  Pat out to 1/2 inch thickness.  Stamp out rounds with a 2 inch biscuit cutter, giving it a sharp tap straight down and up again.  Do not twist.  Place touching each other in the cake pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

If you like biscuits with crusty edges all around, place them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet to bake instead. 
Beef Stew


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. 
Beef Stew


*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. 
Basic Dumplings

 Now that you have the stew made you are going to want to make some dumplings to drop on top and enjoy with your stew.  When I was a child it was always a great day when my mother made stew and dumplings.

They are quick and easy to make. Just try not to peek into the pan when they are cooking and you will be okay!
Basic Dumplings


*Basic Dumplings*
Serves 6
Printable Recipe

Quick and easy and oh so tasty.  A must with some soups and always with stew.

2 cups (280g) all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup (240ml) milk

Quickly whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the milk all at once and mix only to combine. Let rest for a few minutes.

Make sure your soup or stew mixture is bubbling. Drop the dumpling mixture on top of the hot stew by the spoonful, trying to keep it on top of any vegetables and meat. Cover tightly and cook for 10 to 15  minutes without lifting the lid.  The dumplings are done when you can insert a toothpick into the centre of one and it comes out clean. 

So there you have it. Ten basic delicious recipes that everyone should know how to make by heart.  These are my ten basics. What are yours?  I really want to know! 

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  1. What a great list and good recipes. You're right -- cooking by heart is a wonderful skill. Last night we made (again) your chicken curry casserole. I'm getting to know that one by heart, too. I always double the rice so we'll have leftover rice. Tonight it'll use it to stuff acorn squash!

    1. Thansk Jeanie. I love that chicken curry casserole myself. Mmmmm ... love stuffed acorn squash. That Rick is a lucky guy! xoxo


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