The Old Bake and Switch

Back in Better Baking Tips Part 1, I mentioned that the first thing to do when baking was read the recipe – ingredients and method – all the way through so you weren’t taken by surprise mid-bake.

Have you been doing so? Yes? Excellent. You would make Mary Berry  proud. You might even make Paul Hollywood proud but he wouldn’t let on since he’s been practicing his inscrutable face in preparation for the new series of Bake Off – which, did I mention is coming VERY SOON?

Mary-Berry-Paul-Hollywood-594359What’s that? You haven’t been reading through the recipes before starting? Well, OK. Let’s not mention that to Mary or Paul and see if we can’t come up with a “save” of sorts.

At the end of Better Baking Tips Part 2, we talked about what do when you have no buttermilk and how to make your own self-raising flour from the good old plain stuff. But there are all sorts of things you might find yourself running out of so here are a few more last minute ingredient saves.

Some swaps are straight one to one affairs that won’t actually change anything else. Some may result in minor changes in consistency or flavor. Some of those changes you may come to prefer. You may even want to try a a few of these just to see what happens.

  • Have you run out of baking powder? To replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder, use 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • What if you don’t have cream of tartar? Well, try this swap within a swap! For each teaspoon of cream of tartar you need, use either 2 teaspoons of vinegar or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • sugarsYou’ve looked everywhere for brown sugar and all you can find is white. Don’t worry – if you’ve got molasses, you’re covered. Need light brown sugar? Combine 2 tablespoons molasses with 1 cup of white sugar. Need dark brown sugar? Combine 3 tablespoons molasses with 1 cup of white sugar
  • Is corn syrup on the ingredient list but not in your cupboard? For 1 cup DIY corn syrup substitute, combine 1 and 1/4 cup white sugar with 1/3 cup of water
  • Need 1 cup of unsalted butter and there’s none to be found? Use 1 cup of shortening or 7/8 cup of vegetable oil
  • I can’t imagine running out of vegetable oil but I suppose it might happen – and if it did and I was baking a cake that called for 1 cup of oil, I could swap in 1 cup of applesauce.
  • Does the ingredient list call for a cup of Golden syrup that you don’t have? Use 1 cup maple syrup or 1 cup corn syrup instead.
  • Provided you don’t need to whip the 1 cup of heavy cream called for in the recipe, you can use 3/4 cup milk mixed with plus 1/3 cup melted butter instead.
  • Oh and that buttermilk swap I mentioned in Part 2? It is just one of many. You can also substitute 1 cup sour cream or 1 cup of plain or low fat yogurt for 1 cup of buttermilk. What you may notice about this tip is that there is another tip buried within in – what if you have no sour cream? Well, guess what? You can use the yogurt instead!

So – remember, read the recipe all the way through and do your best to have everything on hand. But you know – life happens. Sometimes we don’t get to the store when we mean to and other times we discover half way around the store that we have accidentally left our very carefully compiled shopping list on the counter. Don’t let these little hiccups stop you from baking up a storm. Swap and switch and bake on!

And check out the previous baking tips and tricks:

More Tips for Better Baking

The count down to Great British Bake Off continues and so does Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking. (See Part 1 here)

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking, Part 2

butterBEAT YOUR BAKE: In many cake or cookie recipes, instructions say to cream the butter and sugar. This does not mean to mix them together for just a minute or two – this means to beat with a beater or in a mixer (or stir rapidly and briskly) until the butter grows lighter in color and texture. Doing so incorporates more air into your mixture and gives you bake more lift.

FLOURY FRUIT: When making a fruit cake, you want the fruit to be distributed throughout the cake not just settled at the bottom. To help ensure an even distribution, dust dried fruits (such as raisins, dried cranberries or blueberries) with a bit of flour before adding them into the mix.

JUST WHAT YOU KNEAD: You don’t want to use too much extra flour when kneading or your dough will dry out – and that can mess up your crust formation. If the dough is sticky, try lightly oiling your hands first and see if that doesn’t make things easier. Some people find a dough scraper useful and while we have a dough scraper and it is one of the most used tools in our kitchen, ironically we have never used it on dough. Go figure.

CrackingEggGET CRACKING: I am about to make a suggestion I know will be greeted with a few rolled eye. HOw do I know? Because I had the same reaction when I first heard it. But via the hard knocks of baking experience, I’ve come around and I say to you: Crack your eggs into a separate bowl first and then incorporate them into your mixture. Even if your recipe says to add one egg at a time. Crack it into the egg bowl, the from there into the mixture.

Yes, yes, I know it creates one more bowl to wash up but trust me. You just never know when you might get a bad egg – it doesn’t happen often but it does happen. It happened to me. Using the separate bowl means that should a bad egg or utterly splintered shell come your way, the only thing you’ve lost is an egg or two, not your whole mixture. Even if you are rolling your eyes now, you will thank me later.

SO CLOSE, SO FAR: It’s frustrating when you realize that you are one ingredient away from having everything you need. Here’s some swaps that mean you can avoid the shops and still get your bake on.

  • Need self-raising flour but only have plain? Just add 2 tsp of baking powder to every 200g (8oz) plain flour and presto! Self-raising flour.
  • Need buttermilk but failed to pick it up when you shopped for everything else? Stir 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 cup of milk. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes, then use as you would do store-bought buttermilk.

As always, I hope these tips and tricks are useful should you find yourself in a baking way and I hope you’ll share your baking tips with the rest of us. I’ll be putting more up as we get closer to GBBO day.


Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

At Fabulous Foodie, we’re very excited about the return of Great British Bake Off next week.  So much so that we’re finding it hard to think about anything else. To be honest, we haven’t actually tried that hard to think of anything else. I mean, it’s Bake Off! So, having embraced our renewed obsession, we ended up with:

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

START AT THE START: I’ve said it before, I will say it again and I will keep saying it until I go to the great big bakery in the sky:  Always make sure to read through a recipe before you do anything else. Yes, from start to finish, all the ingredients and instructions. Nothing will upset the apple cart and ruin the apple cobbler like discovering mid-bake that you are missing a vital ingredient or piece of equipment.

flour TAKING MEASURE: Are you scooping your flour directly out of the bag with your measuring cup? You may not be doing yourself or your baking any good. The flour will get compacted that way. Always spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then run a knife over the top to level it.

Brown sugar on the other hand should be compacted.  One cup brown sugar means a packed cup so press down a bit to make sure you’ve got as much as possible into a level cup.  Speaking of brown sugar – have you discovered the brown sugar in the pantry has gone hard? No problem. Place it in a microwave-safe bowl with a damp paper towel on top and zap it for 20 seconds at a time until it’s softened up the way you want.

Bundt-panGETTIN’ GREASY: Want to make sure you’ve greased every nook and cranny of that baking tin with butter? Forget using a piece of butter in paper. Too easy to miss spots that way and doesn’t always make it into corners. Try using a pastry brush instead. Just run the brush over soft butter then swipe it around the tin. I find that it covers better than the paper and goes on faster.

Another top greasing tin tip — learn from my mistakes and remember that when using a bundt pan, greasing the bottom and sides is all well and good but get the center bit also. Trust me. *shuffles embarrassingly at the memory*

CHILL OUT: You’ve remembered to soften the butter but did you remember to take the eggs out of the fridge to warm up? Those of you in the UK will quite likely be wondering why on earth the eggs were in there in the first place – that’s another discussion for another time – but to those of you in the US, trust me. Room temperature eggs emulsify and combine with other ingredients much better than cold eggs. Get those puppies out of the chiller for a couple of hours.

If you forget and need the eggs warmed up quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes.

PLAY IT COOL: A lot of recipes offer cooling times, but if they don’t a good rule of thumb for sponge cakes is – leave it to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn it out onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. This ensures you don’t end up with slightly soggy edges. If there’s an overabundance of fruit in the cake in question, leave it to cool in the tin. Those fruits carry a lot of moisture and can cause “cake spread” otherwise.

I hope you find these little tips helpful. I’ll be posting more baking tips and tricks over the next few days. After all, it gives me an excuse to wallow in the Bake Off glow just that much more. 🙂 And as always, if you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share – please feel free. We’re always looking for ways to mix it up in the kitchen.

Make Mine Marinara

As I’ve stated many times before, I’m a big believer in “Big Batch Cooking”. Few things in life comfort me as much as the knowledge that-come what may, I have a big batch of my ragu, or my mother’s Poor Man’s Stroganoff, or just chicken stock, filling up my freezer, just waiting to be either heated and eaten, or turned into something else to be heated and eaten.

But as the days lengthen and the temperature warms up I generally turn away from slightly heavier fare. I don’t necessarily want a creamy stew, or even a meaty spag bol. I start to crave lighter meals. But I do still want to be prepared; to have something other than that trusty chicken stock on standby for either a quick pasta supper, or maybe just a flavoursome sauce for fish.

And that’s when I feel the urge to make a big batch of marinara sauce.

Marinara sauce, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, and herbs,” is one of the best possible standbys to have in your fridge or freezer. It is of course your almost basic tomato sauce. Marinara sauces are much lighter and fresher than you might think – at least when made at home and not laden with extra sugar and preservatives etc (no, I don’t believe in a store-bought pasta sauce).

pizza_sauce As such, it’s the perfect sauce for summer. It’s not only brilliant on pasta, but is also the perfect base for topping homemade pizzas, a delicious accompaniment to a grilled piece of chicken, fish, pork, or even steak.  What’s more, since it’s more of a staple of Italian-American rather than Italian cuisine (trust me, there’s a difference), it leaves you a lot more room to experiment since you won’t be hindered by the strictures of tradition.

Marinara is incredibly easy to make, and all from easily obtainable kitchen staples. I don’t use fresh basil in my marinara, for one very simple reason: I like my marinara to be a base, a starting point. From that base sauce, when I’m reheating a portion of it for whatever purpose, I can add that basil (which only works when fresh, and is assertive when used in any sauce), capers, dried chilies or black olives (though I almost never use black olives as I loathe them- no Putta in the kitchen, I), vodka, or cream!

sauce_makingOnce you have this basic sauce as that starting point it will save you loads of time –in the future. A good marinara does take a bit of time to make. Tomatoes, whether you use canned or fresh, take a good couple of hours to cook down properly and lose that potentially sour raw edge.

But a lot of time does not equal a lot of effort and there’s not much actual effort here. Just the odd bit of pot-watching, stirring, and some deeply pleasurable squishing. The squishing may in fact be my favorite stage. If you’ve got kids (with clean hands) this is actually a great sauce to get them to help you with.

So here’s my recipe for a good all-round Marinara (Italian culinary purists, look away now):

Marinara Sauce
(makes 6-8 servings)

You will need:

  • A couple of good glugs of olive oil
  • 1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional. I like my Marinara to have a little bit of a kick, but then the older I get, the more I get my kicks where I can)
  • 1 20 cl mini bottle (or a big glass) of good dry white wine- you can use red,and in winter that’s what I use- but I like the lightness of white in the summer months
  • 6 400g cans of peeled Italian plum tomatoes in tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:

  • In a large deep, lidded saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium low flame until it’s fragrant. Then throw in the chopped onions and a good sprinkle of salt (the salt will stop the onions from catching). Let the onions saute until they soften and turn translucent. This will take a good ten minutes.
  • Once the onions are like mushy window panes, toss in the garlic, the oregano, and the chili flakes (if using), stir, and let them cook for just a minute or two. Then raise the heat just slightly, and pour in the white wine. Let the wine simmer until it’s reduced by at least half.
  • While the wine is reducing, it’s time for the fun part! Place a colander (ideally plastic or enamel) over a large bowl, then tip in the six cans of plum tomatoes. Then with absolutely clean hands, start squishing the tomatoes between your hands until they are a messy pulp in the colander. Give them a stir with a wooden spoon to send any juice they’re holding down into the bowl.
  • Once that wine is reduced by half (the onion/garlic/oregano mixture should look like a distinctly wet slurry), tip in the tomatoes from the colander. Give them a stir in the saucepan, then add the juice from the bowl and the tomato puree. Stir vigorously for a minute to mix in the puree then let  it come to a steady low simmer.
  • Season with one more sprinkling of salt and a good grind of pepper then just put the lid almost but not quite entirely over the pot, and let it simmer away for about 2 1/2 hours, giving it the occasional stir and taste.
  • After 2 1/2 hours, the sauce should have reduced by about a third, and have a good, thickish and slightly chunky consistency, as well as a deep cooked tomato flavor spiked with just that note of onions, garlic, wine and herbs.
  • At this point I personally let the sauce cool down a bit, then puree it with an immersion blender. That’s because I find the sauce is more versatile if it’s smooth and velvety (which it so deliciously is). If you like the more “artisan” nature of a slightly chunky sauce, buon gusto!

And as I mentioned above, don’t just think of a Marinara as being a sauce for pasta or pizza; remember that grilled fish! Or that steak Pizziaola! Or go fabulously 80s retro and use it as a dipping sauce for deep-fried mozzarella!


Related Posts:

Super Easy Two Ingredient Biscuits

Have just made a batch of Two Ingredient Biscuits (that’s biscuits in the American sense). So quick, so easy that it’s almost ludicrous. I used a 2in biscuit round and made 8 biscuits.


You can make these is practically the same time it will take to read two fabulous foodie posts. Care to try it? Continue reading “Super Easy Two Ingredient Biscuits”

Investing In Home Made Stocks

Making a good stock may be all about reduction,
but it has nothing to do with “trickle down”.

Every few months I invest in a day of contemplation in the kitchen. And that day usually starts with opening the freezer door and contemplating the fact that I’ve got enough carcasses in there to give the Donner Party a run for their money.

Now before you go thinking that this blog is getting too dark for your tastes, let me assure you that I speak of chicken carcasses. Whenever I roast a chicken, I wrap the remnants in clingfilm and stuff them in my freezer, ready for when I need to make chicken stock. So every few months, when my current supply is about to run out, I invest a day in making a fresh batch.

I’ve been making my own chicken stock for a few years now, and of all the foodie habits I’ve picked up, it’s possibly the most useful and rewarding. Useful, because not only has it taught me about the patience necessary in learning to respect the processes of cooking well, but it’s also taught me to make use of the bits I might otherwise throw away. It’s also useful because it gives me that time, when I can’t stray too far from the kitchen or for too long, to indulge myself in fabulously foodie contemplations. As for the rewards, they’re perhaps like dividends; not so obviously immediate, but all the more rewarding when they do come home to roost.

Investing the Time

Now I use the term “invest” advisedly, because making a good chicken stock (or any stock, really) does take about a full day from start to finish. It’s not that making stock is difficult, or even that you have to pay it close attention throughout, but it does take a very long time to cook- about seven hours- and you do have to be around to skim from time to time, and then to sieve, and then to skim again, and finally to pour into suitable containers and freeze. Making stock is a bit like a day spent doing laundry; most of the time you’re not actually needed, but you do occasionally need to fluff and fold.

So why do I do it? Why do I give over a whole day to cooking something I’m not even going to eat that night, or the next night, or might not even use for weeks to come?

Well like I said, it’s an investment. That day will probably yield about 12 cups worth of chicken stock, which may not seem much. But those 12 cups will more than cover gravies for Thanksgiving and Christmas (not to mention any other roast chicken dinners in between), perhaps a risotto or even two, or , maybe an emergency chicken soup for a sick flatmate or friend,and most certainly a fabulous poaching liquid for chicken breasts. A poaching liquid that is not only recycle-able, but that even improves with every use. Excellent dividends indeed.

Which leads me to an excellent example of investing in stock. When I was but a college junior, before I could even call myself a foodie, I spent a summer working at an upmarket deli in Washington DC named Food & Co. One of my allotted tasks there was to poach chicken breasts. That process involved taking huge amounts of amber jelly from a tub in the fridge, bringing it up to heat,and then poaching the chicken breasts for about 10 minutes. The first time I completed the task I was about to pour the liquid down the drain when the owner (a wonderful woman named Elisabeth Siber) shrieked in horror and threw herself between me and the sink.

“I’ve been working on that stock for YEARS!”, she cried. “Do you have ANY idea what that stock is WORTH?”

It turned out she had been nurturing that stock, and using it time and again to poach more and more chicken breasts, which not only gave that bland avian white meat incredible flavor, but also served to deepen the flavor of the stock itself. Which would, in turn, yield yet more flavorsome breasts. Talk about protecting your capital. And it’s worth noting that she was by no means the only culinary professional to follow this practice. In fact the opposite is true. Probably the single most highly valued foodstuff in any decent restaurant kitchen is the stock. It ain’t there on sale or return, nor is it a high-end seasonal ingredient. But it’s the base of any good sauce, or soup, or risotto. It’s in fact the flavor backbone of such a wide variety of dishes that it is  a good stock on which most chefs depend. And so they husband their stocks with extreme care. After all, a professional stock can take five days to prepare.

Creating Culinary Value

So compared to five, what is one day? Especially when just that one day turns your culinary liabilities- that leftover chicken carcass, that last onion, those straggly bits of parsley, and that aging carrot that have been cluttering up your fridge- into fabulous liquid assets.  The only real financial outlay I ever encounter when making stock is having to buy celery, which although unpleasant, is certainly not expensive. If, unlike me, you can actually abide celery in any other context, then you probably already have some anyway! And the process of making the stock- simmering that huge pot gently for five hours or so, and then sieving it and simmering it again for another hour at a higher heat to reduce it- may leave you with less than you started out with, but if the quantity of your stock has diminished, it has actually intensified greatly in flavor. It has far greater value than when you started. We’re talking going from culinary penny to epicurean blue chip here.

veggiestockAnd you can diversify. I usually only make chicken stock because it’s it’s such a great all-rounder. But you can make vegetable stock with any leftover legumes you’ve got hanging around. Try mushroom stock! You can make beef, lamb, pork, or even ham stock from any meat you cook that still  has bones. All you need is water, heat,  those veg and herbs and seasoning and patience, and you can make culinary capital out of almost any gastronomic investment you’ve already ( made.

Yes, you can buy pre-made chicken stock (although that famous canned low sodium chicken broth that American tv cooks sing praises to is not readily available here in the UK, where the Oxo cube still reigns supreme). But why spend instead of investing? Your freezer may be small (mine is, and I share it with two others), but isn’t it better to stuff it with what you’ve made rather than what you’ve bought? After all, as a frozen asset home made stock thaws beautifully. So you can share.

Because that stock in which I’ve invested a day is all about shares. Yes, I cook for myself, and yes, I make stock for myself because I love that I can . But I know full well that when I’m glorifying in my little pots of gold at the end of the stock-making process, I will be sharing them with people I love. They will become the gravies at Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as sauces at dinners in between. Or it may become soup to share or give away. Making a good stock may be all about reduction,but it has nothing to do with “trickle down”.

So I am more than happy to invest a day, every few months, in making stock. And that day – when I have to be nearby to skim from time to time, to watch the vociferousness of the bubble and maybe turn the burner up or down a tad under the pot – that day gives me that day of contemplation I first mentioned. That day we all need from time to time, when you contemplate what you’ve got, and what you’ll make of it.

And shouldn’t we all invest a day, now and then, in taking-if not making- stock?


Looking at Leftovers: Bread, Part 1

Welcome to the first in my ingredient-focused posts in Looking at Leftovers! I figured we’d start big with bread. Why big, you ask? Well, first – bread is one of the most thrown away foods in the US and the UK. It’s a big part of the leftovers landscape.

Second – big also refers to the size of the topic. Bread itself is an enormous subject – the types, the ways to make it, the ways to use it, store it, serve it. Leftovers is also a subject worthy of considerable time and effort. So, I was unsurprised when what was supposed to be a single post decided to expand into a multi-part “series within a series.” We’ll tackle the basic issue here and discuss ideas for tackling it, then I’ll offer up some recipes and variations in the next part.

Going From Bread Bin to Waste Bin

Bread leftovers are not usually leftovers from last night’s dinner or from brunch-time entertaining (though I suppose some might be). It’s basic household waste in most cases, where for one reason or another, you’ve ended up not using the bread you have before it “goes off.”

  • With sliced white or wholegrain this is largely down to the fact that sliced white loaves come mostly in one size regardless of how much or how little you want. I am seeing a few more “half loaves” these days and that helps two person households like ours avoid waste. But these half loaves are few and far between.
  • Sometimes bread is an impulse or special treat purchase – you pick up an absolutely GORGEOUS artisanal loaf on a Saturday mooch about town and use only half of it by the end of the weekend. By the following weekend, it’s rock hard and you’re thinking it would make a lovely artisanal doorstop.
  • Or maybe you’ve found yourself with leftover bread lately because you’ve been making your own bread more often and homemade bread goes stale MUCH more quickly than store bought. This should not in any way be an obstacle to making your own bread – it’s becoming hugely popular and people are often shocked at how easy it actually is. And with a few tips like those below, you will find lots of ways to use up that random third or half a loaf you find yourself tossing away.

Freezing Bread

Obviously you could freeze what you know you aren’t going to need. It is best to freeze the freshest bread you can – so if you know you’ve bought twice as much as you can reasonably use up in time, wrap half of it in two plastic freezer bags (ensuring it doesn’t get freezer burn) and seal thoroughly. It’s best used within a month. To defrost, take it out of the freezer and let thaw at room temperature for about 3 hours. But what if you don’t know how much you’re going to need over the next few days? You can still freeze the bread for straight re-use as long as you do it before it gets stale. But who keeps on top of their kitchen contents like that?

How To Use It Before You Lose It

Even I don’t, and I’m more than usually focused on leftovers these days. No, we need to keep the bread we bought in play as long as possible but also find a solution for the bread that’s left toward the end of its shelf life. So, what’s the answer?

  • Buy only what you need? Even if you could (and I can’t think of anywhere that offers such a thing) no one is going to buy slices ‘a la carte’ as part of their regular (weekly or monthly) shop.
  • Increase the variety of standard loaf sizes to allow for consumer preference? The size of loaves isn’t gonna change overnight. Those half loaves are very much an exception, not a rule.
  • Eat more bread, more quickly? We’re not going to tell everyone EAT MORE BREAD RIGHT AWAY. Quite frankly, most of us probably eat too much bread already.
  • Make smaller homemade loaves? Well, yes that might help if that is the bread you end up with as leftovers. A show of hands? Right. So not the answer for most of us, most of the time.

No, the answer is find new ways to use that bread that you know (from experience), is gonna end up either too stale or looking like a science experiment. Ways that you can use now OR later. Putting something in the freezer will make you feel a lot better than tossing it in the bin. Here’s a few suggestions you can adapt to almost any amount or type of bread you have at home.

Some use the bread up now (in possibly unexpected ways) and some extend the life of the bread by prepping it for use later.

  • French toast and bread puddings: let your leftovers go stale, the better to soak up the custard-y goodness at the heart of french toast and bread pudding recipes. As for what kind of bread – you want something sturdy enough that it won’t go to pieces after soaking but soft and spongy enough to soak up the egg mixture properly. Challah is my bread of choice (boosting the eggy-ness of it all) but brioche works well also.

  • Stuffing: use up your leftover bread AND any spare onions and bits of veg (adding chopped up carrots & celery is especially good) you’ve got lying around. Don’t need stuffing today? No worries – stuffing also freezes well if frozen after being cooked.
  • Breadcrumbs and croutons: if you have a supply of breadcrumbs on hand, you’re half way to casserole toppings, meatballs, thicker soups, cheese patties or even fish cakes. In my opinion, breadcrumbs (seasoned or plain – or even better both) in the freezer are almost as useful as stock cubes or frozen herbs. Freezing breadcrumbs is even easier than making them. Just store in sealable plastic bag, making sure to label and date each batch (I suggest doing them in 1 cup at a time so you can thaw only what you need later on). Then pop them into the freezer for up to three months. To use: move frozen breadcrumbs into the fridge until thawed, then they’re ready to use.

  • Sandwiches: I know what you’re about to say. You’re going to say “Duh, sandwiches. I could always have made another PB&J or another ham and Swiss. How is that helpful”? Well, if you want YET another ham and Swiss, then go ahead but I’m suggesting you broaden your sandwich horizons. Hot open faced sandwiches are not only a delicious, indulgent weekend lunch, they are a great way to use up leftovers from a big roast dinner. Yes, of course you end up using the leftover meat (sliced thin and stopped with a rich gravy) but you can also do a veggie version with any leftover roast veg, topped with slices of strong cheese.  No roast dinner leftovers? No worries, grab those soon-to-be-binned hamburger or hotdog rolls and make some po-boys.
  • Bruschetta: And what could be easier or more leftovers-friendly than bruschetta? Yes, it works best with crusty bread (If you’ve got some rustic type of loaf or part of a baguette lying around, these are perfect) but depending on what your topping is, almost any bread can be bruschetta-ized. Not pre-sliced white though. It’s far to thin, soft and squishy to hold up under any reasonable bruschetta topping. If that’s what you’re looking to use up. this is not your solution.

There are other ways to make use of bread – panzanella makes a great summer lunch, for example. And I’ll be pointing you in the direction of some of my favourites in the next part of Looking at Leftovers: Bread. In the mean time, I’d love to hear how you use up the spare bread you’ve got going or any other leftover usefulness you might have up your sleeve. Stay tuned!

Savoring Fruit

If there’s one dessert dish I loathe, it’s a fruit salad. Soak it in some exotic liqueur, and I can just about stand it. But throw a bunch of chopped up fruit in a bowl and call it a dish, and I’m instantly depressed.  At best, a fruit salad conjures up for me Cloris Leachman as the splendidly gruesome Nurse Diesel in Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety warning that “tardy boys don’t get fruit cup.” At worst, it reminds me of the dietetic pudding option in a fading British seaside hotel.


Thing is, I adore fruit in a salad. Taken away from its “sweet” context, fruit can make a savory salad really sing with flavor.  Because sweetness is just one of the flavor notes in any given fruit.

Citrus fruits are also acidic. Green apples, and even pears, have an almost steely edge of sharp crispness. Raspberries and cranberries are as tart as they are sweet. And in the height of summer peaches and nectarines have that juicy tang underneath their sweetness that that sends you off into the dreamy fullness of a hot July as soon as you bite into them.

And what really brings out all those extra levels of flavor is not sugar, or cream, or custard, but a light seasoning of salt and pepper.

If this seems culinarily counter-intuitive to you, consider the tomato, the avocado, and the olive. All, of course, are fruits. Yet we use these fruits in an almost exclusively savory manner. Would you chop a tomato into an Ambrosia fruit salad? Some olives into a fruit crumble? Serve whipped avocado instead of cream alongside a slice of pie? (Actually there are some fascinating vegan recipes for chocolate mousse that utilize avocado, but that’s an extremely inventive response to a necessarily restrictive diet.)

No. When we cook or prepare dishes with  these fruits, or even just snack on them, we think of them as being responsive to salt and pepper instead of sugar.

So why stop with these three fruits? There are, after all many world cuisines that already use other fruits in that savory context. North African cuisine uses dates and apricots in tagines. Middle Eastern cuisine scatters pomegranates over pilafs and lamb dishes. Thai cuisine pairs dry-fried beef mince with papaya and those intensely sour little green mangoes in fabulously hot and crunchy salads. Jamaican meals of jerk pork or saltfish and ackee wouldn’t be complete without fried plantains on the side.


European cuisines use fruit this way as well. There’s the classic French salad of pear, endive, walnut and blue cheese, and the Italian salad of orange and fennel that makes a magical counterpart to any grilled fish, not to mention the classic condiment Mostarda di Frutta.. There’s also the German dish of Himmel und Erde, which brings together apple, potato, and black pudding. Even the Indian traditions of fruit chutneys and pickles have become staples here in Britain, their use moving far beyond accompanying curries to being served alongside cheese and cold cuts. Indeed the British are rightfully well known for their inventiveness when it comes to fruit chutneys.

And yet, all too often I get an almost scandalized response when I suggest salting fruit instead of sugaring it (something I’ve done since a child, but that’s another story).  I get the impression that in the Western World, we all too often segregate fruit into either that depressing dessert, a virtuous snack,  the kind of breakfast that “gets things moving,” digestively speaking, or just juice. It’s been well known for quite a while now that only drinking the juice of a fruit rather than eating it gives you all of that fruit’s sugar, and actually little of its nutritional value, so in this increasingly nutrition-conscious day and age, it’s even more important to find ways to get all that goodness back into our diets.

There are so many fruits that are far more versatile than you might think, not to mention so many pairings that, while perhaps unexpected, really dance together on your plate and your palate. Mangoes and pineapple, for example, both partner brilliantly with the fruity heat of fresh red or green chillies.  So in that spirit (and it’s most certainly an evangelical one on my part) here are but a few suggestions:

  • Leave out that predictable tomato and make a leafy salad even more verdant with halved green seedless grapes, or slices of kiwi fruit!
  • Give a ham, cheese and mustard sandwich an added layer of tart crisp flavor and texture with thin slices of green apple!
  • Throw some raspberries into a salad of spinach, mushrooms and walnuts! Even better if it’s a warm dinner salad with chicken livers!
  • Go 80’s retro by turning grilled honey-and mustard chicken into a salad with snow peas and honeydew melon!
  • Go Greek with a salad of watermelon, feta cheese, red onion and mint to accompany grilled lamb!
  • Give a chicken salad tropical zing with green chillies and chunks of pineapple! For added camp value, serve in boats carved out of the pineapple!
  • Replace tomato with pineapple for a tart, fiery, and sweet salsa to accompany grilled fish!
  • Forget your usual salsa altogether and throw together a salsa of mango and black beans to go with any grilled meat, or even just a bowl of corn chips!
  • Make a kiwi fruit salsa to accompany grilled shrimp or calamari!
  • Liven up a plain grilled or steamed skinless chicken breast with a salad of mango, radicchio and spring onions, dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette!
  • Enjoy the perfect summer lunch of nectarines, prosciutto, and mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil! Add radicchio for bitterness and crunch!
  • Stir some pesto sauce into well-mashed avocado for a light and creamy dressing for a cold pasta salad!
  • Stuff pitted dates with slices of Parmesan cheese for extremely moreish cocktail nibbles!
  • Or make the ultimate savory fruit salad of pink grapefruit and avocado, dressed with a vinaigrette made from the grapefruit juice, Dijon mustard, and good olive oil! Add shrimps or scallops to make it a full-on meal!

As I said, these are but a few suggestions. They’re all incredibly easy and quick to prepare, and utterly delicious to boot. Recipes for all of the above abound on the internet and elsewhere, so there’s really  no excuse for not being a tad adventurous and turning that grim fruit salad into something spectacular to surprise yourself and anyone else you’re feeding.

So go, go now, and savor your fruits! It really doesn’t take much labor.




Solitary Suppers: Quick Grilled “Greek” Pork Chop

If ever there was a meat that has been routinely misunderstood and cooked incorrectly, it’s got to be pork. Known in the US as “the other white meat” since that famous ad campaign in the 1980s, we tend to think of pork as being the same as chicken. It’s riddled with hideous diseases and has to be cooked, and cooked, and cooked, until there’s absolutely nothing left in it that could possibly kill us, except possibly blandness-related ennui or death by choking on a protein hockey puck.

porkchopThe truth, however, is that pork is not at all the same as chicken. For a start, it’s the flesh of a mammal, not a bird, so it bears no textural resemblance at all to the meat of a chicken. And even more importantly, the fears surrounding the dangers of eating pork are, in this day and age, largely mythical. I am of course speaking of trichinosis, the disease caused by the trichinella spriallis flatworm larvae, and which we all associate with pork. It’s certainly true that in times gone by, eating under-cooked pork was  an almost sure-fire way to catch this terribly unpleasant (and often fatal) disease. But times have changed.

For not only is trichinosis now easily treatable, it’s been all but completely eradicated from the Western world. And that’s because strict rules have changed the way  commercially farmed pigs are fed.  The trichinella  larvae’s gateway into our food supply existed so long as pigs were fed scraps of raw meat. But legislation both in the US and Europe now mandates that pigs are fed on a grain and vegetable diet, so those nasty bugs can no longer make their way into our food chain. The US Pork Board estimates that your chances of catching trichinosis from under-cooked park are about 1 in 154 million, and the UK has not recorded a single case of pork-related trichinosis since 2001. Most recorded cases of trichinosis in the US and Europe have been found to be caused by the consumption of wild game, such as boar in Europe, and bear  in the US.

What this means for  pork, is that you can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to cook, particularly when grilling it. Now I’m by no means suggesting that you attempt a porcine ceviche, or that you serve it “black and blue” like a steak. Instead, think of pork as being similar to lamb, in that it can be a little pink in the center. Cooked through, certainly, but not served “well done”. You can rest assured that the days of cooking a pork chop until it is entirely devoid of moisture are behind you.

To wit, I give you my recipe for a quick grilled “Greek” pork chop. It’s something I cook  very often, as it’s so simple and virtually effort-free. The recipe comes under a genre I like to call “Fauxmage”, in that while I’m going for the flavours of a traditional Greek Souvla (garlic, oregano, lemon),  it’s not based on any actual Greek recipe. It’s the product of rooting around my cupboards one night after a long day at work.  Incidentally, this means that you don’t need any fancy ingredients, or even fresh herbs. Oregano, which features here, is one of the few herbs that actually works better dried than fresh. I cook my pork chops under the oven grill, or what those of you Stateside may call the broiler, and the resulting chops are tender, juicy, and full of fresh Mediterranean zing. I  image it would be even zingier- and more Hellenic-on a barbecue.


You will need:

  • 1 pork chop (or pork steak, it matters not.)
  • A mortar and pestle
  • A good pinch of course salt
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, peeled.
  • 1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano.
  • 1 scant teaspoon dried chili flakes.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • a squeeze of lemon juice

First, if your chop or steak has a lovely rim of fat on the edge, don’t get rid of it, but instead slice into the fat to the meat a couple of times. This will prevent your chop from curling up on itself as it cooks.

Now sprinkle the coarse salt into the mortar and add the garlic clove. Bash away at the clove with the pestle until it starts to break down. Then add the oregano and chili flakes and grind them all together with the garlic until you get a thick dryish paste. This should only take a minute or so. once you’ve got the paste, stir in the olive oil and mix together. Loosen the paste with a squeeze of lemon juice. You should have about two tablespoons worth of a loose and aromatic paste now. Brush the paste onto both sides of the pork chop and leave to marinate for as long as you wish. You don’t even need to marinate it at all, but I find letting the chop sit in the marinade for a few minutes (or up to half an hour) helps develop the flavour and tenderize the meat. Just don’t, please, put the chop in the fridge while it marinates. Nasty things happen to oil at low temperatures, and chilling the meat right before you cook it is not a good idea either. If like me, you’re cooking this right when you get home from work, that bit of time for meat marination means time for you to get changed, have a cup of tea, or whatever it is that helps you wind down from a day in the trenches before you face your nightly rations.

Now set your grill (or broiler) on a medium high heat and set your grill pan so that the chop will be about two inches away from the heat source. Once the grill is at temperature, toss the chop onto the grill pan  and set it cooking. I find the pork chops I get are usually about an inch thick. Based on that, I cook the chop for no more than five minutes a side.. In fact, I usually cook five minutes on the first side, then four minutes on the other. If your chop is two inches think, I wouldn’t double the cooking time, but just add a minute or so on either side. Do remember to use a kitchen timer for this, or the pork will dry out and the garlic in the marinade will start to burn. Once the pork is cooked (and you can test this by poking it gently with your finger- there should be a bit of resistance), take the chop out and let it rest under loosely tented foil for five minutes or so before you eat it.

Then dig in! You will be enjoying a very tender and moist chop, not a Greek sandal. I usually serve this to myself with just a green salad, but occasionally I do leave the grill on, and while the chop is resting quickly grill some thinly sliced zucchini to eat alongside the pork.

featureporkEither way, it’s a surprisingly light (though grilled meat usually is surprisingly light) and summery way to enjoy a pork chop, at any time of year.

If you want to make this even more quickly, you can opt for a sprinkle of garlic powder, salt, oregano and chili flakes on the chop, then brush with the oil. It’s by no means as zesty, but on an especially knackered night, it’s an acceptably flavoursome substitute.

Just please, please, remember that you do not have to incinerate pork any more. Learning to cook it a little bit less will help you love this delicious meat a little bit more.


Lots of Love for Leftovers

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how no one cooks anymore, more folks depending largely on take-away. I’ve no problem ordering pizza or Chinese now & again. I love the time-saving genius of my microwave. But everyday? The cost aside (my wallet weeps at the thought), sodium content alone gives me pause – it makes my hands feel puffy just thinking about it. But yes, sometimes I don’t want to cook or shop; I’m too tired or busy or broke.So I embrace the leftovers and the basic building blocks found in my kitchen cupboards.

Quick No-Cook Meals from Leftover Chicken and Standby Staples:

grilled chickenChicken looms large in the menus at TransAtlantic Towers. Chicken Pesto Pasta, roast chicken pieces, chicken stews, etc. We always have breast or thigh fillets in the freezer and keep an eye out for particularly good bargains during our regular shop). As a result, we quite often have c0oked chicken in some form left over and while I’m perfectly content to grab a cooked chicken breast and nibble away as is, it’s nice to jazz it up a bit too.

If you have some left over chicken, why not shred it and use it in:

  • Chicken Salad: Combine chicken, diced roasted red peppers, mayonnaise and mustard; spoon your mixture into pita. I prefer whole wheat pitas – to add an extra layer of flavor – but any kind works.
  • Chicken Fajitas: Top tortillas with slices of chicken breast, green bell peppers and red onion; serve with sour cream and salsa. Cannot stress enough how handy it is to keep tortilla around. Useful for wraps, Tex-Mex night, making your own chips and even breadcrumbs.
  • Asian Chicken: Coat chunks or shredded chicken breast with hoisin sauce; toss with water chestnuts and chopped celery. I confess I do not keep water chestnuts around but that’s purely personal preference. If you have a particular passion for Asian food and Chinese take-aways, keeping ingredients like water chestnuts around will help you whip up some faster, cheaper healthier alternatives to the food at the end of the phone.
  • Barbecued Pulled Chicken: Combine shredded, cooked chicken and barbecue sauce; serve on whole-grain bread or sandwich roll. This is equally awesome with leftover pork or brisket

Other Quick No Cook Meals from Common Pantry Supplies: What if I am out of chicken but still need something to keep the tummy rumbles at bay?


  • Moroccan Couscous: Add boiling water to whole-wheat couscous; let stand 5 minutes. Add chopped mixed dried fruit (dried cranberries are a favorite of mine), ground cumin or cinnamon, sliced almonds and a squeeze of lemon juice and one of orange juice. I like using the giant couscous, sometimes called Israeli couscous which is neither couscous or Israeli (not unlike a Jerusalem artichoke).
  • Hummus: Puree together chickpeas, garlic and lemon juice; serve with baked tortilla chips or whole-wheat pita wedges. I have been known to do this with white bean mash as well. I cannot say enough about my love for white bean mash.
  • Spicy Salmon or Tuna: Combine canned salmon or tuna, diced pickled jalapenos, mustard and mayo. Awesome as a wrap filling or even as a topping for pasta salad
  • Mexican Beans: Combine three-bean varieties (black, white, pink), canned tomatoes, diced yellow bell pepper, chopped fresh cilantro and chili powder.
  • Fruit Smoothie – left over fruit salad and yogurt into a blender and voila! Creamy, fruity smoothie.