Category Archives: Food

30 Things to Eat Before You’re 30

I’m going to be 30 tomorrow and Charles will be too at the beginning of July. I’ve just treated myself to a MacBook (which is how we’re getting a chance to post some content for you again – sorry about the absence but my old Toshiba finally gave up when Cress pushed it off the sofa and bent the charging cable), and it’s got me thinking about that whole bucket list caboodle. But instead of writing you a list of 30 things to do before I’m 30, it’s going to be 30 things to eat before you’re 30 (I mean, it is a food blog, right?!).

30 things to eat before you're 30

1.A Deep Fried Mars Bar People give these such a hard rap, but really you ought to try one. For some reason they’ve become synonymous with ‘Scottish’ cuisine as if we’re all wandering around with them on a Friday lunch time, but I’d be surprised if the average Scot has had more than three in their lifetime, if any. That said, it’s not to be missed. If you’re down with eating ready salted crisps at the same time as a square of Dairy Milk, you should really order one of these bad boys. It’s like that, only hot, and meeting in the middle. Do it. Just do it.

Deep Fried Mars Bar
Photo Credit

2. Lobster Weirdly, this was Charles’ suggestion. I say weirdly because he is both too tight to actually buy lobster and allergic to fish (apparently) so he won’t be taking part in this one. My Mum, loves lobster. It was the ultimate in 80s decadence. But it’s all a bit too much for me. If you want to cook it properly, you have to be prepared for the wriggling in its bag in the car, the going in the freezer, the squealing and then the decapitation, and after all there’s the removal from the chill, trying not to cut yourself and then attempting to serve it up as something halfway to pretty. In any event, I find it all a bit too sweet and rich. Nevertheless, it should be on this list because, really, it’s for you to make up your own mind about.

3. Caviar Again, this is Charles’ pick, although I’m not sure either of us has had it. It has such a highly regarded cultural status, though, that really we ought to give it a go. Like lobster, it’s a foodstuff that has made its way into common speech so you should at least taste the stuff, right?

4. Snails Tastes like chicken, looks a bit like mussels, generally in a creamy sauce. Do the French actually eat snails or are they just something they can flog to tourists for top dollar?

5. A T-Bone Steak This is another pretty 80s one. Part fillet steak and part sirloin with a bone in the middle, it’s verging on an average supper for Desperate Dan. My Grandad was always keen on the idea of one of these, but surely if one part of the meat is cooked well, the other steak will be all sorts of wrong? Definitely man food.

6. A Really Good Chocolate Cake There’s chocolate cake and there’s chocolate cake and if you’ve had a really good one, you’ll know it. I spent years trying to perfect my recipe and I reckon it’s getting there. You should always have a knockout chocolate cake up your sleeve.

Chocolate Cake

7. A Hendricks Gin & Fever Tree Tonic ‘Nuff said.

8. Freshly Picked Watercress I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly had watercress but Charles and his Dad rave about it. They’re from the South East of England and apparently there was once a watercress farm (?) nearby where they would be able to pick up bags of the stuff, fresh as you like, and apparently it was pretty unmissable.

9. Hot Smoked Salmon on Oban Pier This, clearly, is one of mine. My auntie and uncle used to have a holiday home on the bank of Loch Awe, nestled in the foothills of Ben Cruachan. Spectacular views, barely any TV or mobile reception and 20 minutes from the nearest Tesco. One of the highlights was a Saturday trip to Oban, where there was the most fabulous fresh fish shack on the pier. They sold tremendous langoustines, dressed crabs an wriggly lobsters, but what In remember most is being introduced to hot smoked salmon there. The texture is totally different to regular smoked salmon, given that it’s been cooked and smoked at the same time. It’s beautiful. Although I’m not sure it would taste quite the same if you weren’t pulling your coat up past your ears to ward off the drizzle while watching the ferry come in.

10. Lardy Cake More Englishness here. It’s some sort of risen bread bun type substance, packed with lard and dried fruit. Apparently it’s delicious and best eaten on the first day before it turns stale and while the edges are still crisp. I’m yet to try one, but apparently they’re much healthier than they sound….

Lardy Cake
Photo Credit:

11. A Krispy Kreme Doughnut You can love these, hate them, or feel something in between towards them but you really should try them. They’re synthetic, often too sweet and must be eaten fresh, but they’re an American import so we Brits have to go made for them. Our favourites are the Original Glazed, Lemon Meringue and Lotus Caramel Biscoff.

12. A meal at a Michelin Starred Restaurant Charles has got me convinced that this would be somewhat disappointing. And he probably has a point. Overpriced, notoriously small portions, and you can’t always pick what you want to eat. Still, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Surely it’s a life experience you really need to be open to?

13. Lasagne in Rome If you thought you knew lasagne (no matter how delicious your homemade or favourite restaurant’s version is) you won’t know proper lasagne until you’ve eaten it in Italy. It’s a food cliché in some ways, but come on – homemade pasta sheets, Italian tomatoes, cheese and fresh herbs – what’s not to like? Interestingly, the version I had in Rome was constructed with about a dozen layers of pasta and hardly any sauce at all – it was carbalicious and just shows you really need to go back to the source with some things. Interestingly, the best thing I’ve had to eat in Italy was a wild boar ragú pappardelle in Florence….

14. A Proper French Baguette If you’ve ever spent some proper time in France, you’ll be overwhelmed by just how seriously the French take their bread. It’s like a religion and it’s glorious. Fresh every day from the local baker, or from the supermarket at a push (although French supermarkets are a million miles from the ones we’re used to, stocked with shelves of beautiful fresh bread, brioche, pastries, delicate patisserie and exquisite lemon meringue pies. even service station sandwiches are something to behold. What you don’t realise, however, is that the French rarely eat actual proper baguettes (which are much narrower and crispier than the ones we’re used to here), but rather gravitate towards flutes which are broader, longer and have much more soft bready insides than their more famous cousins. And don’t start me on French butter……

French Baguette
Photo Credit:

15. Any Sort of Portuguese Pastry We’re getting into a bit of a travel theme here, but to be honest you really do need to travel to broaden your gastronomic horizons. I spent a couple of days in Portugal with my Mum a couple of Novembers ago. It was grey, wet and unbelievably cold due to a bitter wind blowing in from the Atlantic. but their Port houses are excellent and one thing I wasn’t expecting was just how good their pastries are. We went in search of shelter from the rain and a hot drink and stumbled into a cafe. Their coffee is strong and short – much like a Turkish coffee  – and it takes some getting used to, but I could eat their pastries all day. I know Portuguese custard tarts are pretty famous, but it doesn’t stop there. I had the most divine almond croissant that wasn’t quite a croissant type affair – powdered sugar on top, flaky and buttery and stuffed with almond paste. Don’t visit Portugal without trying at least a couple of their pastries. And their Port of course…

16. Greek Souvlaki Ok, a pause in the globetrotting (although my most memorable Greek food was a red snapper dish at a marina restaurant). Souvlaki looks and tastes wonderful, provided you like pork, bread and yoghurt, you’re in. I’ve made it a couple of times and it always seems a bit odd trying to make the meat turn white with vinegar and lemon juice, and it doesn’t seem like you’re packing in much flavour, but it is typically Greek with lashings of oregano, a skewer and a yoghurt dip. Try Aki’s Kitchen’s recipe for starters.

17. Your Own Homemade Bread You couldn’t expect a list of 30 things to eat before you’re 30 without your own homemade bread, surely? Bread making can take some time to master, but it’s so worth it. Try it on a rainy day and fill your home with the heady scent of fresh bread, then rip it open, barely cool enough to touch and load it up with butter and jam. Just try it. It’s a very satisfying experience. There are many things that just aren’t the same (even from a bakery) than making your own and gobbling them up fresh, and bread has to top that list.

homemade bread

18. A Spaghetti Sandwich This is probably not for everyone (or even for many!) but one of my childhood favourite lunches or snacks was a couple of slices of cheap white sliced bread, buttered and loaded up with hot Heinz spaghetti (you know the stuff that comes in a tin in that bright orange sauce?). It’s messy, it’s childish, it’s fiendishly unhealthy, but by gosh it’s moreish.

19. A Cheese Toastie This is probably one of those things that people will surprise you by saying they’ve never had before, but surely it’s the most basic comfort food. With good bread or bad bread, fresh bread or stale, cheap cheese or luxurious cheese, this is always going to be a winner in my book. Bonus points if you drizzle on some worcestershire sauce.

20. A Dominos in the car It’s not really proper pizza but it can be ruddy delicious. Eaten in the car on the way home from a long day in the city when you’re starving and a little bit chilly, it tastes even better. Or when you’re in the office on a bank holiday and you decide to treat yourselves. Bonus points if you plump for the garlic dip.

21. A Proper Burger Whether you make it or eat it somewhere where they make them properly, a real, honest burger is hard to beat. It needs to be made with good beef so you can serve it up rare, and it should ideally come with bacon, cheese and maybe an egg, a brioche bun and really good chips. Ooh and onion rings. If you eat out and they won’t serve your burger rare, they’re making it with poor quality meat – get out of there!

22. A Freshly Picked Tomato I can’t stand tomatoes, but apparently they taste best when they still smell like the vine and they’re slightly warm from the sun. This one suppose you either grow your own or know someone who does.

Freshly picked tomato

23. Homemade Pasta I used to be fairly scathing about fresh pasta, but if you make your own it’s an entirely different beast from the shop bought variety. Ravioli stuffed with your choice of filling, or spaghetti cooked in a buttery, white winey, herby sauce with a little chicken stock – and it really isn’t as hard to make as you would think. You do need a pasta machine though.

24. Your Own Victoria Sandwich Much like a really good chocolate cake, a freshly made Victoria Sandwich stuffed with tasty jam is a thing to behold. Learn how to make your own and you can whip one up whenever you fancy.Victoria Sandwich25. A Freshly Baked Scone See above…. Make them big, make them fluffy and add whatever you fancy (sultanas, cheese, cherries, chocolate..), spread thickly with butter and jam or dollop on some clotted cream. Now pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey

26. An Extreme Steak Sandwich Steak sandwiches used to be in my regular rota when I live on my own. You need a decent ciabatta or baguette, in my opinion. Minute steak works if you have a screaming hot pan. Sprinkle with paprika and serve with fried onions. Charles reckoned the CAU version is about the best you can get.

27. A Meatball Sub The meatball sub is iconic – and after hearing about them on Friends (you know Joey was mad for those) I couldn’t rest until I’d made one, complete with marinara sauce and melted cheese. I’m sure it’ll be on the list if we ever make it to New York.

28. A McDonalds Everyone knows someone who claims to have never had a McDonalds. I could go years without having one and be perfectly ok about it, but really you need to try a cheeseburger, Chicken McNuggets and a McFlurry at some point in your life. Rumour has it that you get fresh fries if you ask for them unsalted.

29. Eggs Benedict This is the king of breakfasts for me. In fact anything with a muffin and poached eggs is pretty excellent, throw in some bacon and you’re right on the money.

30. Exactly What You Fancy, When You Fancy It Tonight, I made burgers and garlic bread pizza. Because we fancies it and we had the materials and ability to make such a thing. It was epic. And that’s what life’s all about.

Garlic Bread Pizza

Cheers, guys!

Alyson’s Top Ten Ingredients of 2015

The end of the year is always seen as the perfect time to reflect on the year that’s just gone by, and look forward to the next year. Since we’re a food blog, it’s only fitting that we look at the past year in terms of food and its impact on my life. So here are my top ten ingredients of 2015.


1. Garlic 

The smell of garlic has always reminded me of the best kind of home cooking. It was my uncle who first inspired me to cook, letting me sit at his butcher’s block as he chopped and fried, throwing together the most delightful array of tasty little dishes in seemingly no time at all. Now I’m older and can look back on it, I suspect he lost whole mornings making lunch!

Garlic always featured heavily in his cooking, and was the predominant smell in his house, but in a “welcome to the nourishing bosom of our home” kind of way. So that’s what got me into garlic. And I just can’t seem to look past it. If it’s a pasta sauce, curry sauce, marinade, soup, roast or stir fry, garlic is the starting point. It’s good for you and it does so much flavour work!


2. Ginger

This year has been a turning point for me in terms of food and nutrition. I’ve finally had the willpower to make a few healthier changes which have helped me to drop the dress size I wanted to shed before our wedding, as well as helping me to realise that eating healthily is a lot less difficult, and much more tasty, than you might think.

Soups for lunch and stir fries for supper have played a massive part in this, particularly when I learned that it’s pretty easy to keep stocked up with the makings of a great stir fry marinade, delicious enough to forget about those calorie stuffed sachet sauces. Ginger is a big hitter for me, and I always have a knobble in my fridge (especially since Charles told me off for resorting to ginger purée!).

3. Soy Sauce 

For similar reasons to the above story about stir fries, soy sauce has been hugely helpful in letting me throw together healthy but filling suppers, satisfying enough to stop me rescuing for a takeaway menu or a bag of pasta. Even if it doesn’t feature in your stir fry, it’s a slightly heather way to ass on your Asian food, so stick it on the table in case there isn’t enough salt on your noodles or rice.

The legend says that light soy is for flavour, whilst dark soy is for colour, but I just prefer dark soy sauce – it seems a little less bitter to me.


4. Honey 

Honey has been getting a bad rep, recently  – “oh it’s not as healthy as you think”, “it’s as bad for you as sugar”, yadda yadda, but everything in moderation.  A teaspoon in your marinade isn’t going to kill you, but it will give you the perfect dash of Asian sweetness, as well as the most beautiful sticky glaze to your stir-fried meat (see my Chicken Teriyaki for the evidence!).  I like to buy the runny kind in a squeezy bottle for easy dispensing, but I’m not at all fussy about brand so don’t take the photo as a specific recommendation – whichever is on offer will be the bottle which makes it into my basket.


5. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Really, I could be giving you a top ten rundown of my favourite/most eaten fruits and vegetables, so I’m afraid the title of this item will have to be as general as this!  You may remember (if you’ve followed my blog from the beginning) that one of my major resolutions for 2015 was to do my darnedest to eat my 5-a-day.  And, for the most part, I’ve achieved this (apart from the odd Saturday and Sunday, but that will change in the Brooker household).  It’s really much easier than you think.  I’m sure I’ll eventually get round to a post about the little changes you can make to the everyday to make your diet that little bit healthier, but generally melons and grapes have replaced my lunchtime packet of crisps, homemade soups and salads take the place of M&S sandwiches, apples and clementines float around my handbag in case I get peckish mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and bulking out my suppers with lots of fresh vegetables helps me to cut down on the carbs.  It can seem like an expensive way to eat, but once you’ve figured out your favourites, your weekly shop becomes a lot easier and a lot better for you.


6. Ribeye Steak

Charles has the credit for introducing me to this one.  The lovely, succulent, tasty ribeye.  It has more flavour that a sirloin or a fillet, and it’s generally pretty easy to trim out the excess fat.  It just has more…steakiness about it.  We had ribeyes from my butcher for our first supper as an engaged couple (I didn’t know we would be an engaged couple but we were otherwise celebrating heading off for a wonderful week together on Skye, it just worked out quite well) and Charles has also introduced me to the wonders of Aldi steaks.  Seriously. Try them.  They beat the butcher hands down because they are hung for a bit to tenderise and mature the beef, and yet they are sourced locally from farmers who meet the highest standards.  When I’m not celebrating, however, I love these Tesco ribeyes, which, at £3 a pop and big enough to make two stir fries, are my protein-packed best friend for a tasty midweek supper which will help my muscles to recover from HIIT and Pilates.



7. Brown Rice 

My name’s Alyson and I used to be a brown rice sceptic.  Until I bought a bag, learned that it took forever and a day to cook it, and tasted it.  It’s easier to prepare than basmati (provided you have 20+ minutes to let it simmer),it won’t turn stodgy on you, it tastes beautiful and nutty and delicious enough to eat alone, and it has a low GI, which means it takes longer to break down in your body and is therefore less likely to turn to fat.  Sorted.  Although you should definitely stock up when i’s on offer as it can get fairly pricey (£2.50 from Tilda in Tesco right now ….on the shelf you will stay).

Olive ou


8. Olive Oil

Everyone, surely, knows the benefits of olive oil.  It’s a staple. It’s always kicking around somewhere in both of our kitchens.  If I’m stir frying, I prefer groundnut oil as it can handle a higher heat without burning (be careful if you’re allergic to nuts), but olive is still a great starter for dressings, marinades, pestos, and getting a gently sweat or fry on the go.  Let’s try some new oils in 2016…

 9. Tinned Tomatoes 

Such a staple, even my Mum keeps them in the house, tinned tomatoes are a must-have store cupboard ingredient.  They’re a great start to a pasta sauce, a curry base or a casserole and they help to make an excellent minestrone.  Buy a four-pack when they’re on offer.  I used to be all about the chopped tomatoes but I think I’ve convinced myself that tinned plum tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes if you’re feeling flush) give you a better flavour and texture.


10. Stock Cubes and Stock Pots

I’ll probably be breaking a “foodie” (yeurgh) law by telling you that I swear by Knorr stock cubes.  Chuck two or three in some boiling water and add to some vegetables in a soup pot and you’re halfway to a week of nutritious hot lunches.  They also give a great savoury backbone to sauces, and one beef stockpot added to a stew or casserole will hit all the right notes.  By all means, make fresh stock if you have leftover bones and the wherewithal, but don’t be too much of a snob to reach for reach for a helping hand from your cupboard.  Cooking loses it’s shine a little if make things too difficult for yourself, so take shortcuts when you can!

Let us know which ingredients you haven’t been able to keep out of your shopping basket this year, and have a great time at New Year!

Butternut Squash Risotto

The last few weeks have been a bit of a festive whirlwind with present-buying and wrapping sitting alongside Christmas baking and work, of course. But at last (hooray, hurrah) I’m off work until 29th December, so finally I have a chance to breathe.

Roasted squash risotto recipe

My first free evening was largely spent in the kitchen and on the floor wrapping presents, but I was feeling a bit more chilled than I have been and I’d bought a butternut squash at the weekend as an antidote to lots of meaty meals, so I thought I’d throw together a wholesome risotto for a bit of relaxation (yeah, I do actually find that sort of thing therapeutic!). This tasted so wholesome, comforting and filling without having to cook up any meat. You could so easily make this fully vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and if you use 80g of each vegetable, it can also make up 4 of your 5-a-day. Add whichever veg you fancy – it’s also great with roasted sweet potato.

Squash risotto recipes

As a bit of a warning, though, you’ll need about half an hour and a great deal of patience to make this dish. Once the liquid hits the rice, you’ll need to constantly stir it until it’s ready. Be prepared! I forgot about this part when I thought I’d be able to get a batch of mince pies ready for the oven at the same time!

How to make risotto
You will need:

Half an onion or a few shallots

1 clove garlic

Dash white wine or vermouth (optional but delightful; essential on a Friday evening)

80g carnaroli rice (or however much you care to pour in by eye – who has time for scales?!)

Chicken stock (a good cube dissolved in hot water and standing by or fresh if you’d like – I have a stock recipe coming soon)

A few florets of broccoli

Half a small butternut squash

Olive oil

A cupful of peas

1/2 tsp mild chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Salt and pepper

How to cook butternut squash

1. Pre-heat your oven to 200c, line a baking tray with tin foil and get ready to roast. Carefully cut the squash in half from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. If you need a hand with how to tackle one of these beasts for the first time, there’s a quick rundown in my squash soup recipe. Once you’ve done that, place one half of the squash on the tray, sprinkle on the chilli and cumin, season and drizzle with oil, then shove it in the oven.

Chop the onion and garlic
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic.

Making a risotto baseI
3. Drizzle a little oil into a medium saucepan and place on a medium to high heat. Chuck in the onion and garlic and allow to soften, stirring every now and then.

Carnaroli rice recipes
4. Tip the rice into the saucepan to join the rice and stir around for about 30 seconds or so, until you hear the rice start to crackle and pop, then pour in the wine.

Winter risotto recipes

5. Cook out the wine until the saucepan is nearly dry. Now comes the stock. This needs to be added a ladleful at a time, cooked out whilst stirring the rice, then repeated. This process will take 20-30 minutes – risotto is traditionally served al dente, but I would recommend tasting it before serving up because home cooking is all about what you like. The stirring process is really important because it helps the starch to be released from each grain of rice, and it’s the starch which will give you a really creamy, unctuous risotto.

Why do you have to constantly stir risotto

6. About 5 minutes from the end, cut up the broccoli into fine florets and boil it up in salted water. When the rice is ready, add the broccoli to the saucepan, then stir in the frozen peas. A couple of minutes in the risotto should be enough to defrost and cook them.

Vegetable rice recipes
7. Check the squash. It should take 20-30 minutes to cook as well. It should be tender throughout and browning on the edges.

Easy squash recipes

8. Chop up the squash into chunks. You can remove the skin before or after cooking, but, like many vegetables, a lot of the nutrients the squash offers are in the skin, plus it turns sort of sticky and marshmallowy when roasted. So yes, you definitely can eat the skin on a butternut squash!

Can you eat the skin of a butternut squash

9. Serve up the rice and add the squash chunks on top so they stay crispy on the edges. Then enjoy! If you want this to be extra creamy, you could stir in a tablespoon of crême fraiche before serving, or even grate some Parmesan over the top, however that would seriously bump up the calories, and of course remove the dish’s vegan and vegetarian credentials, but the world is your rice bowl.

Roasted butternut squash risotto
I’d love to hear about your favourite risotto and your favourite way to prepare and eat butternut squash.

Teriyaki Pork

 Let’s clear something up before we start. I stir fry a lot. I know, I started this blog to help me keep out of my food rut, but there’s just something about a stir fry. In fact, there’s a lot about a stir fry. They’re quick, easy, light, healthy, packed with freshness and flavour and so so versatile. Provided you like a couple if types of vegetable, know how to cook a variety of meats/fish/tofu (I suppose, but why would you?!) you could probably whip up a different stir fry every day and still enjoy it. In fact, one of my colleagues eats chicken stir fry every night, though that’s a very different situation and the sauce comes out of a sachet.   

There’s not a huge amount wrong with that either, I suppose. I used to be a huge fan of the stir fry sauce sachet (and in fact still have a few lounging about in my cupboard – should probably check the use by) but they are packed with all sorts of E numbers and preservatives, not to mention calories, and really there’s nothing in them that’s terribly good for you. So once you’ve mastered frying up some chicken and vegetables and boiling up (or microwaving, I suppose; those microwave rice sachets are pretty good, albeit terrible value for money) some rice or noodles (preferably without cutting or burning yourself), you should definitely try to make your own sauce. Though to call it a sauce is actually a bit grand. As long as you can cook meat to the point that it’s safe to eat but still juicy, you don’t really need a sauce, you just need flavour. A sort of hot dressing, if you will. Trust me, it will taste so much fresher and more vibrant than a sachet. Plus it means that nice you have the ingredients in the house, you can throw something like this together whenever you need it for a quick home-cooked meal without necessarily having to shop. 


You will need:

1/2 onion

1/2 red pepper

1 medium carrot

A few florets of broccoli 

1 piece pork tenderloin (about 1/3 of a fillet)

1 clove garlic

1 3cm piece ginger 

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp honey

Dash groundnut oil 

1. Slice the onion, and pepper, peel and chop the carrot into small pieces. Chop the broccoli into little tiny trees, bearing in mind that the only cooking they’ll get is in the wok i.e. with no water. 

2. Grate the ginger and garlic into a bowl then add in the soy and honey. Stir it together and that’s your sauce made!

3. Thinly slice the pork, add to the marinade and set-aside to flavour and tenderise.  

4. Hear the oil in a wok and chuck in the onions and carrots. Allow them to start to cook down a little then add in the broccoli and peppers. Turn the heat down to medium. If you’re having noodles, get those ready to go on. Boil them for a few minutes in salted water, as per the packaging; I used soba noodles here. 

5. Use your spoon to hold back the pork while you pour the extra marinade into the vegetables, and stir. 

6. Set a medium frying pan on at a very high heat and add a dash of groundnut oil. Once the pan is screaming hot (but please don’t test this with your fingers) add in half of the pork. Sear on both sides, then remove and replace with the remaining pork slices.

7. Add the pork to the wok with the remaining marinade that’s left in the bowl, add in your cooked noodles, and heat everything through,making sure your pork is just cooked. 

Serve and enjoy!

This recipe can be repeated with chicken, turkey or beef, and is great with salmon if you bake it in the oven for 7 minutes instead of frying it. 

If you’re having rice though, put that on while you’re chopping your veg, especially if it’s brown rice!


Saucy Tips

As you may have realised , I am no expert but have picked up a few things that might be helpful to you. Most of them are mainly common sense but a some were a bit of a revelation to me. I will update this page when I come across new gems of information, which I will no doubt learn from making a pigs ear of things! More importantly, please leave a comment if you have any of your own.

Be patient – A sauce splitting is because you have either heated it too quickly or added things too quickly. The same with lumps, if you take your time you are much less likely to have a problem.

The longer the better – Similar to being patient, the longer you can cook a sauce the stronger the blend of flavours will be. Try and let a sauce simmer as long as possible. It is the best way to make a good sauce a very good one. Keep an eye though.

Thickening – If you want to thicken a sauce, there are a couple of options. The easiest is to just it reduce with heat but this can take an age and you have to keep it moving or there will be sticking/burning issues. The other option is to add flour as a thickening agent. Adding flour (plain or cornflour) straight to the pan will lead to a lumpy mass of disaster so the trick is to mix a paste of a little flour – a little goes a long way – then gradually add a little water and stir to a paste. Add a bit more so it becomes a bit wetter and then pour this into your sauce. Make sure you cook it out for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste and it will take a minute or two to thicken the sauce so don’t be disheartened!

Preparation is key – If you measure things out first then it is just a case of throwing them in. While it might create a bit more washing up it will save you losing track of time while chopping and scorching something. Or in my case, rummaging around in a cupboard trying to find something.

Don’t pour straight from the pot – When adding herbs or seasoning, I always pour things into my (clean) hand first. Not only does this act as a measuring method but also it prevents an unscrewed lid disaster. Also, it prevents condensation getting into pots of herbs and it all getting gummed up and disgusting.

Tried and tasted – Taste whenever you think you should. Don’t miss an opportunity to add more of something because you didn’t try it.

Match your sauce to the dish – If you are cooking a fillet steak the sauce should compliment it and not overpower it. However if you are using something cheap or less flavoursome you might want the sauce to be the focus of the dish.

Experiment – Everyone’s taste is different. If you see a recipe you like always ask “what would make this better for me?” Unless of course you are doing something classic, messing with the classics will upset the food gods!

Fat isn’t the end of the world – While it isn’t overly healthy, a bit of fat is needed in things. It adds flavour and also plays a part in texture. As they say, everything in moderation. A bit of butter as a sauce is nearly finished will give it a healthy gloss.

Waste not want not – You might not be making a sauce that day but you might have some water you have boiled veg in or some juice from some meat. Pour it into a bowl and put it in the fridge. Things will last a few days and will be better than any stock cube.

Cheat ingredients – Everyone has their own cheat ingredients. Marmite is one of my favourites. I often use it as a substitute for salt as it adds a savoury boost giving things a bit extra. Some use smooth peanut butter or a squeeze of honey. HP Sauce is a good one for BBQ Sauce. My aunt swears by a teaspoon of mayonnaise in soup just before serving. Mushroom ketchup is amazing in small quantities, it adds something that you don’t notice what it is but it is good.

Frisky Chicken Fricassée 

I indulged myself when I made this on Sunday, I have to admit. I was feeling pretty lousy, so a luxurious few hours in the kitchen (not just making this, don’t worry!) was just what I needed. I could have made this more quickly, but I really enjoyed the calm preparation. There are so few ingredients but it’s packed full of flavour, and it can be served in so many different ways. A perfect winter warmer. 

If you don’t like chicken thighs, you could absolutely make this with chicken, either baked in foil in the oven for about 20 minutes and then dressed with the sauce, or sautéed in large pieces for around 10-15 minutes. Personally, I think the slower cook works better. The thigh meat is more tender, and cooking it on the bone adds lots of natural flavour. 

If you don’t like brandy, you could use white wine, but honestly the strong alcohol flavour cooks out either way so you don’t really taste it, but it definitely improves the sauce.

You will need:

1 pack chicken thighs – I bought 8 with their skins on and bones in for £3 and this made 3 meals for me (or your preferred chicken cut)

3 rashers smoked bacon 

3 cloves garlic

1 punnet chestnut mushrooms 

50ml brandy 

100ml chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs of fresh 

Good crack of black pepper 

1. Trim off any excess skin and fat from the underside of the chicken thighs. I find it easiest to do this with a clean pair of scissors. 

2. Add a little oil to a large saucepan/casserole pot/sauteé pan (whichever you have or prefer; I used my big non-stick soup pot) and put onto a high heat. Once the oil is nice and hot, add the chicken thighs, skin down, and leave in until the skins are nice and crisp, then turn over. I did this in batches of 4 to try to keep the moisture in the pot down to make sure the skins can brief nicely. Flip over each piece to brown on the bottom. 

Once you’ve done the first batch, set aside on a plate. They will be cooked through later so don’t worry too much about that. I then dried off the pot a little, carefully, using a piece of kitchen towel held by my kitchen tongs. This helps to get rid of any excess fat and water. Then repeat with the second batch and set aside on the plate. 


3. Chop, crush or grate the garlic then slice the mushrooms. Remove the fat from the bacon then chop it up into nice even small pieces. I know I’m breaking a hygiene rule by cutting raw meat and vegetables on he same board but they’re about to go to the same place! 

4. Brown the bacon in the pot you used to brown the chicken, then throw in the brandy and garlic, and turn down to medium. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side up, and add the herbs and bay leaves.   

 5. Leave the heat at medium, and carefully add in the chicken stock. This should just simmer away at the bottom of the pot, otherwise you’ll risk the skin going soggy. 
6. After about 20 minutes of simmering, add the mushrooms, trying to keep them down in between the chicken pieces so they can’t throw out too much water into the chicken. Add in batches if this is easier. Cook for another 20 minutes, adding a little more stock if it starts to go dry. 

7. Check the chicken is nicely cooked through and serve! If you’re using chicken breasts, these can be gently browned on both sides as for the chicken pieces at stage 2, although it will take less time if you use skinless breasts (or skinless and boneless thighs!), then make the sauce and let it simmer away to itself for around 20 minutes before adding the chicken for the last 10 – 15 minutes so it can cook but won’t dry out. 

Serving suggestions!

Because I’m trying to eat healthy, I actually decided to skin and bone my chicken after going to the effort of browning the skin (like I say, I was in the mood for cooking!). It doesn’t look as pretty but it’s much easier to eat. Traditionally, I think you would just serve up a couple of thighs per person with some if the sauce and perhaps some potatoes and vegetables. 

The first night, I added a couple of ladles of this deliciousness to some cooked penne, added a spoonful of crew fresh and mixed together, before serving it with broccoli.

The next night, I plumped for brown rice. And broccoli. 

Last night, I served it up again with some wholewheat spaghetti and broccoli (this is what happens when you live alone) and I honestly enjoyed it equally each night. I’ll definitely make this again! 


Why write a food website/blog? 

Well, I used to write a football blog for the team I support when I graduated from university and was looking for a job. It was relatively successful and getting about 5000 hits a day but as I got busier with real life things I found the level of abuse people gave if you had a slightly different opinion to you was totally irrational and gradually lost enthusiasm for it as the blogosphere got more and more saturated I just let it slip away. Since then I have had a few articles published on sites and fanzines but miss writing. My wonderful fiancée Alyson started writing a blog a few months ago and I am sort of jumping on the bandwagon, it means I can justify spending more money on photography equipment and tech – and of course it is something we can do together when we get married and live together.

Cooking is something I enjoy and while I wouldn’t say I was the world’s best chef – I wouldn’t say I was a chef actually – I seem to be able to produce things that people quite like but I make a solid promise that I will try to avoid anything too pretentious. I am certainly not the sort of person who goes around describing myself as a “foodie” I hate that term. I just want to share good recipes and help make people make good food. I live in a beautiful part of the world but we lack the endless farmer’s markets and delicatessens that you find in bigger towns and cities so don’t worry, you won’t be having to scour the back streets of tuscany for bizarre cheeses or to Mexico for some obscenely rare chilli pepper. Almost everything will be available from supermarkets or relatively basic Delicatessens

Why Sauce?

Sauces are great. Take some chicken, spring onions and peppers. On their own, they are ok, but it is the sauce that defines them. The same basic ingredients can be transformed from Chinese, to Chilean or anywhere between. They give your food an identity.

Sauces are the key to a great meal, they can raise a cheap cut of meat to be excellent or complement the finest Aberdeen Angus fillet steak. Hell, I know you shouldn’t talk about McDonalds on a food site but I admit it, I have a guilty pleasure, ‘The Big Tasty’, I know it is a burger made of the standard of beef that can barely be considered meat, but I love the sauce – I am also quite partial to Big Mac sauce too. But it just shows what a sauce can do!

The great thing about sauces is that nothing is particularly complex, any cook can produce almost all sauces with a bit of knowhow and the right direction, without requiring elaborate equipment like blast chillers etc.  also things are so easy to customise, it isn’t like a cake that will collapse if you make the tiniest adjustment. It is the intention of The Source of Sauce to help create idiot proof, well balanced recipes that can enhance just about every meal.

The other great thing is that the majority of sauces can just be knocked together with things that will last for a while – vinegars, oils, herbs and spices can sit on the shelf dormant for months ready to jump into your food and transform them.

It is surprising how much people will pay for pots of sauce, pumped with all sorts of flavour enhancers and yet they never taste as good as something you can knock together in a few minutes with the added satisfaction that it is home made and you know what is in it!

I will try to create a system of recipes that will work for everyone whether you operate in millilitres, fluid ounces, cups or gallons to make things easy. All things being equal, we can keep the scales in the cupboard as long as possible and keep washing up to a minimum and that really is a victory.

We won’t just focus on sauce, but also:











And maybe even Soups and things, lets see how things go!

I hope you enjoy reading but more importantly, I would love it if you could comment with suggestions. I would also love to build up a bit of a social media community. If you have any recipe requests let me know too!