home cooking

Salted Caramel Sauce

Sweet buttery caramel with a touch of saltiness. It’s one of those flavour combinations that take you by surprise. Sweet and salty together? I was a skeptic but when the balance is created well it really is divine.

There are a couple of keys to success when making salted caramel sauce:

1. A deep heavy based saucepan – make sure you use a very clean (no food bits at all or burnt areas) heavy saucepan when making caramel. Why? If there are burn marks or food remnants this will taint the caramel and create burnt not caramelised sugar. The heavy saucepan also ensures an even cooking and prevents the sugar catching on the side and burning in spots. Why deep? See the next point

2. Have your cream warm – cold cream plus hot caramel equals a hot, dangerous mess. Adding any liquid to hot caramel requires care and attention and having warm cream reduces the risk of the hot caramel overflowing in your pan. A deep pan will also ensure that the caramel doesn’t bubble up and overflow – and bubble up it will

3. Take your pan off the heat when adding the cream – the caramel will keep cooking even when off the heat so by removing the direct heat source you will stop the cooking process from the source and add the cream safely 

 Please though, be aware when making caramel that it become extremely hot – when it becomes caramel stage it can be at temperatures of over 110 degrees celsius – plus with caramel it sticks to the skin and keeps burning. So how do you keep safe when cooking with caramel?

1. Use a long handled wooden spoon – this will prevent the sugar from conducting heat into the spoon and will keep your hands well away from the caramel

2. Have a container of ice water ready – if you do happen to drip a little caramel sauce on yourself plunge the area straight into the icy water – it will harden the caramel and stop it from cooking on your skin

Don’t let this safety tips deter you from cooking – I just like to educate you on how to keep safe in the kitchen! 

 

Now for the recipe:  

 

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We all scream for ice-cream

Summer days are meant for ice-cream. Cool taste sensations and flavours that delight the tongue, what could be more exciting?

Sometimes though, store bought ice-cream can reveal a whole lot of interesting additives, flavours, extenders (water, vegetable shortening, wheat starch) which I prefer to leave on the shelves, not in my stomach. So how you get your ice-cream fix without the stress? The joy that is no-churn ice-cream!

That’s right, no longer do you need to pull your mix out of the freezer and bend your beaters (a lesson I learnt all too well…use the heavy duty paddle next time Luisa…). With this recipe you just mix, whip, fold and freeze. Easy. I will include the traditional recipe as well if you do own a churner as these are also fabulous and a churner does make life a lot easier when creating fantastic ice-cream creations!

So why use sweetened condensed milk in these recipes? The ingredients of condensed milk are just milk, milk solids and sugar. When making traditional ice-cream you use milk, cream, sugar and eggs so this is great for those with egg allergies and there are no thickeners, additives, colours or preservatives. The condensed milk stabilises the ice-cream mix the way eggs do in the traditional recipes allowing you to have the same smooth texture without the fuss. The only difference for me was it is quite rich so a couple of spoons will do.

When creating your own mix, don’t be afraid to get creative with flavours for exciting combinations. Here are some of my favourites:

Hazlenut and chocolate – add a generous scoop of nutella to the mix. If making no churn stir into the condensed milk, if making custard add to the milk and cream mix

White chocolate and passionfruit – for no churn add 100g melted white chocolate and 100ml of passionfruit puree. For the churn, double the amount and add the chocolate to the milk when heating and passionfruit at end.

Strawberry – to make puree blend 150g strawberries with 2 tbsp of icing sugar and strain – add to mix

Malt – for the no churn dissolve 2 tbsp malt in 5tbsp of the pure cream warmed and add to the condensed milk. For the churned add the malt powder to the milk and cream mix when heating

Stay tuned for further recipes teaching you how to make praline mix in’s, fun serving ideas and home made toppings. Yum!

So without further ado, the no-churn ice-cream:

No Churn Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 1 can condensed milk (340g)
  2. 300ml pure cream
  3. Splash of vanilla essence
Instructions
  1. Combine vanilla and condensed milk
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks
  3. Fold through cream and milk mixture softly until well combined

And if you’d like to churn your own vanilla ice-cream?

Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 560ml cream
  2. 188ml milk
  3. 210g sugar
  4. 6 egg yolks
  5. 1 vanilla pod
Instructions
  1. Bring the cream, milk, vanilla and half of the sugar to a simmer
  2. Whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Mix through the cream and milk with the yolks
  4. Place back on stove in clean pot over low heat and stir until mixture thickens
  5. Strain and allow to cool and chill
  6. Place into churner and follow your machines instructions
Cooking out custard can be a bit tricky so here are some troubleshooting tips
  1. 1. It looks like scrambled eggs – your stove was too hot and the egg yolks cooked too quickly. Never fear, the solution is to allow the mix to cool a little, then add it to a blender and whiz until smooth and strain through a fine sieve. Make sure the mixture is cooled before blending otherwise it can overflow and cause burns
  2. 2. It looks watery and you’ve been stirring for quite a long time – you may need to increase the heat of your stove – a low to medium heat works well for induction and electric, gas should work quickly on low
  3. 3. I need to churn the ice-cream in a hurry – To cool the custard quickly, place the bowl of custard over another bowl filled with ice and water and stir the custard mix until cooled and churn

The knives are out – how to choose a kitchen knife that works for you

 a chef's hands with creaning fish | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | location: Tokyo Japan | location: Tokyo Japan | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | location: Tokyo Japan | location: Tokyo Japan knife with food a knife and food

Besides what is is my favourite food to cook, what type of knife do I use is another question I am often asked. 

So how do you know what type of knife to invest in, what to look for and where to save your dollars? 

Let’s start with some basic points to consider:

1. What is the knife for and how often will you use it?

Knives whose job entails boning, filleting or cleaving may not be used very often unless they are a tool of the trade. Even as a chef I don’t often bone or fillet as the cuts we that come in in certain establishments sometimes don’t require too much further preparation. In other jobs though I might have to bone quails, fillet some fish and break down some chickens but for the most part the knife I use the most is my general chef knife.

So what is a chef knife exactly? It is usually a 20cm blade knife with a larger heel and fine point for chopping, dicing, slicing. It is almost an extension of a chef’s hand and is their best friend. 

For home cooks? This can be the weapon of choice when whipping up a fabulous meal. Having a comfortable, sharp, chef’s knife can make short work of hard task’s.

So for the knives you use most often it is worth the investment versus the little used knives that you can save your pennies on. 

knives

2. Is the handle comfortable to hold?

If you’re going to be holding the knife and chopping a storm the handle has to be comfortable. So how do you know? Grip it as if you were going to chop on a board and get a feel for it. Does it fit comfortably in your hand? What may fit well for someone else may not work for you. 

hand with knife

3. Is it the right weight for you?

I prefer somewhat lighter knives as after a long day chopping more weight can create unnecessary strain. But if a knife is too light it can make heavy duty chopping such as through root vegetables or meat a strain. Find the right balance and you’ll be chopping with ease in no time.

knife holding

4. What is the handle made of?

Quality knives either consist of one piece of steel from blade to handle or heavy duty plastic. The most important thing to consider with the handle is the ease of cleaning i.e one piece of steel or clean plastic handle as opposed to wood that can be porous and harbour germs. Quality knives also have secure joins between knife and handle that won’t crack or break which can cause injury if they break. 

knife handles

5. What is the blade made of?

Most modern knives are made of stainless steel with the better quality ones made of a higher grade composition. Some older knives may be made of carbon steel which is a great metal but is prone to rusting thus is often not found in many commercial knives as vigilance is required to prevent the rust. 

knife blade

6. What is the blade edge like?

A quality knife will have a blade edge from tip to hilt. Cheap knives will feature a thick edge that doesn’t extend to the hilt which can make it useless for chopping carrots and other harder vegetables. A fine edge will allow for precision cutting wheres a thick edge makes for clunky, difficult cutting. 

knife edge

 

7. Can you keep it sharp?

If you are going to invest in a quality knife make sure you can keep it sharp to prong its use. This is where you either need to also invest in a quality knife steel and stone or a quality sharpener. Cheap sharpeners will just shave too much of the blade off at too big an angle. A knife steel keeps an edge sharp whilst a stone hones the edge when it becomes too dull. Both are a great addition to your tool kit to keep your knives if top shape. 

knife steel

 

So taking this into consideration the short of it all is:

– Look for a comfortable knife that has a fine even blade, quality plastic or steel handle and is made of quality stainless steel. 

– Spend your money on the knives you use the most

– Invest in a knife steel and learn how to use it to keep your knives honed and sharp

 

 

 

 

 

Undercover Chef Tip – Saving the Herbs

Fresh herbs are great when you are making a salad or cooking and sprinkling them in. But what do you do with them when no further recipe ideas call for them later in the week? A great way to preserve herbs is to freeze them in olive oil or stock for later use. You can just pop a stock cube into a casserole, stew or curry and your herby burst of flavour will cook into the mix.

Defrost the olive oil frozen herbs for dressings or stir into pan when cooking onions and garlic for a recipe. Not only do you get to use up your herbs but you then have some stock and oil ready to go when you need it.

Sad wilted bunches of leftover herbs in the crisper be gone. You’re welcome.

Cooking for a fussy crowd – dinner made easy

Cooking for a crowd can be a little overwhelming when you need to consider different dietary needs, possible allergies and personal preferences. It’s enough to make anyone just order takeaway and not bother!

Seriously though. how do you cook for friends, your family and everyone in between and ensure that all tastes can be met?

1. Ask some questions – if it is a dinner party and there are guests coming you don’t know very well (extended family perhaps or new partners, friends of friends) don’t be afraid to ask if there are any intolerance or allergies. Sometimes people don’t eat seafood but aren’t necessarily allergic so a little investigation can ensure a lot less embarrassment when the meal is served.

2. Do some research – with the rise in preferences for low sugar and gluten free intolerance’s there are many meals and combinations that can cater to these needs without excluding these guests from the main meal everyone else is having. Gluten free pastas, breads and dessert ingredients are now readily available, the nutritional content of many recipes are also easy to find and even vegan recipes can be a great change from the meat eating norm for a dinner party. Have a browse through recipe books in a library, check out dishes online or ask friends their favourite techniques for inspiration.

3. Have fun making variations – what if you didn’t need to make a whole new meal, what if you just changed one thing for one person? Now I know not everyone is keen on catering to meal time whimsy’s and who won’t eat what and how but you can allow personal choices with minimal effort with a little planning. How on earth I hear you say? Well here’s the clincher of this blog – how to cook pasta for two who love fettucine cabonara and two that really don’t like cream pasta. Read on and learn.

Cooking for one of my couple friends each week (we take turns doing dinner or dessert – kinda neat) has brought about some great creativity – they have different tastes, dishes, personal favourites to me and my partner. So what do you do when one of the asks for fettucine cabonara which my partner loves and myself and her partner really don’t like? You diversify – I like pasta and so does he – so solution? Just different sauces. Dinner is at their place to allow their child to have his usual bedtime which means I have the opportunity to explore my planning skills.

Cabonara in advance? Pasta in advance? How? I hear you ask. Well you can cut the onion, bacon and in our case mushroom (they like it that way) and have it ready to pan fry and add the cream too, almost like a cooking show where the bowls are convinelty at arms reach! Even better, if you want to do dinner in a hurry, you can panfry the ingredients and have them ready along with the pasta pre-cooked and cooled so if it is for a dinner party you just need to warm the mix in a pan, add the cream, dunk the pasta in boiling water and they will all come together ready in 2-3 minutes. Easy! So what are myself and her partner having? Fettucine as well but our sauce is just a simple combination of the same onion base with the addition of cherry tomatoes, spinach and olives. Cutting the tomatoes and squishing them a little in the pan with some olive oil creates a light sauce together with the salty yum of the olives and spinach creates a simple and tasty dish without a lot of effort so everyone can eat well but eat what they want.

Of course, this sort of effort is completely up to you. For me I was chopping up the onion, bacon and mushrooms anyway so a little slice of tomatoes and shred of spinach wasn’t anymore effort really. When the pasta is cooked I just divided it in two and one went in with the cream, the other the tomato and dinner was served. Easy peasy 🙂

So what other variations can you make:

1. No seafood –  divide sauces (pasta or curry) in two and one half can have prawns for seafood lovers and the other chicken. Same sauce, different protein. Same with salads or sides. Same same but different protein.

2. Crumbles/tarts/pies – make individual ones so gf can have their variation without fuss

3. Vegetarian/vegan – have a meat protein on the side to add to the dishes for the hardcore meat eaters i.e grilled chicken, fish or a steak can be added to a salad, pasta or casserole

4. Sugar free or low sugar – check what they can have and create accordingly either for them or for all i.e sweet potato mash instead of plain potato, wholemeal flour for pasta etc etc

It does take a little planning but that planning means a lot less frustration and effort later and then you will create you own repertoire to have on hand when the moment arises if you least expect it. Let me know what variations you have discovered and how you cater for different tastes or food requirements in you household. Happy cooking!

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Shepard’s Pie the chef way

Sous vide. Two simple words that either have you drooling at the thought of luscious proteins or have you going sous what?? Sous vide cooking for clarification is: sous vide

suː ˈviːd/
adjective & adverb
 
  1. 1.
    involving or denoting a method of preserving food by partial cooking followed by vacuum-sealing and chilling.
    “a convection oven can be used in sous vide operations”

Thanks wikipedia! Now we have that clarified (sort of) it essentially entails the slow cooking of proteins in a sealed bag in a water bath of a  maintained temperature not usually exceeding 65 degrees Celsius. Sounds complicated right? it is actually so much simpler than it sounds. I have also heard good things about slow cooking in general and this is sort of another notch up from that. The idea is the low temperature slowly coagulates the proteins and create a soft, unctuous mouth feel as opposed to the quick heat of pan frying or grilling which can toughen proteins if overcooked. My foray into the sous vide method came from Aldi (gotta love it) have a slow cooked/sous vide on sale with a vacuum sealer. Lucky me snatched the last one up on a Wednesday afternoon but I had to order my vac sealer online as these were all gone. Being winter casseroles and stews are always a winner but I have to admit I sometimes feel the meat just kind of cooks and goes a bit, well you know…nothingy. The sauces are always amazing but I just felt the meat could be a bit tastier. So here we were. Me, some diced lamb, a vac sealer and a sous vide. I admit, I had a complete brain fart when sealing the bag…I forgot the whole vacuum part vacuums the contents…including moisture…so a little hint when sealing a bag for any purpose – vacuum when it is just a fillet or protein on it’s own fine – vacuum when you have put a little stock and butter in..not so fine. Just seal. Don’t vacuum. Messy lesson learnt! So now to the fun part. I used diced lamb from a butcher, added some beef stock (not homemade but I have found a range of free range stocks called Momo’s Meal’s which are as true to home made as I have ever seeen), butter, rosemary and garlic and set my temp at 60 degrees for about three hours. The result? Deliciously cooked, soft buttery lamb pieces. Amazing. So how did I turn this into a Shepards pie? Keep reading dear followers and I will reveal how to make Shepard’s Pie the chef way! 😉   IMOK_lamb with blackboard   Shepards Pie (serves four with vegetables on the side or two very hungry people)

Shepard’s Pie the chef way
Recipe Type: Dinner
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 30 mins
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 500g diced lamb
  • 6 cloves garlic (reserve four for roast garlic – see notes)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 750ml beef stock
  • 2 stalks of rosemary
  • 100ml milk
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 4 potatoes
Instructions
  1. In a vacuum bag place 2 cloves of garlic, lamb, 250ml of beef stock, 2 tbsp butter, salt and pepper
  2. Seal and set at 60 degrees on sous vide for about 3 hours
  3. Remove lamb from bag, strain and keep liquid from bag
  4. In saucepan bring remaining stock to a boil, take out about 3 tbsp and mix into flour to form a paste
  5. Stir paste back into hot liquid and whisk to remove any lumps and thicken
  6. Add juices from bag
  7. Reduce heat and allow sauce to simmer and thicken. Adjust seasoning to taste and cook for about ten minutes over low heat
  8. Whilst sauce is cooking, peel and chop potatoes into cubes. Place in a saucepan and just over with water, salt water
  9. Allow potatoes to come to a simmer and cook until a fork can be pushed through easily
  10. Strain and place in a saucepan with milk and remaining butter. Mash with fork or masher until smooth and hot, add roast garlic
  11. Add lamb pieces back to sauce and allow to simmer for a minute or two
  12. Spoon lamb mix into either individual ramekins or large bowl and top with mashed potato
  13. Cover with foil and grill for two minutes then remove foil to allow to golden under grill
  14. Serve with your favourite green vegetables and enjoy!
Notes
To make roast garlic without having to have the oven on, slice the garlic and simmer in water until just soft. Drain water and add vegetable oil to pan. Cook over gentle heat until golden. A low heat is essential to avoid burning the garlic. The pre-boil allows the garlic to cook before gaining the colour
 

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Undercover Chef Tip – You say potato, i say keep it fresh

Do you ever wonder how restaurants have the time to make mashed potatoes, fries, wedges, frittata’s and all forms of potatoey goodness in one day? Well here’s a little secret. We get the potatoes ready ahead of time. Peeling and cutting them and storing them in water allows potatoes to retain their clean white colour. This time saving tip means you can have your potatoes peeled and cut in the quiet times so all you need do is grab them from the bucket and them chop or slice them for a recipe in the busy times. The same idea can be applied to a dinner party. Guests coming over on Sunday? Peel and cut up your potatoes on Friday or Saturday so come Sunday all you need do is drain them, cut them how you like and cook away. Simple!

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie!

Dean Martin, I am sorry for using your song as a blog title. Well, not really to be honest because I tragically love that song to death and can often be heard singing it at home. To myself. Shamelessly.

But really, who doesn’t love pizza? When friends are coming over it can be easy to become frantic and wonder what to cook that is easy and sociable at the same time. My solution? Home made pizza. With the abundance of decent pizza bases make your own at home can be a fun experience as you create a topping bar and each guest makes their own pizza ensuring they are happy with the topping and there is a sense of fun to the experience instead of just dialing a number and waiting for a delivery of usually sub average take away pizza.

The great thing about pizza is that the toppings are limited to what you have on hand or really enjoy. Of course, nothing beats tradition such as pepperoni, four cheeses, prosciutto and rocket or margarita but when you are cooking at home I will look the other way when you break the rules, don’t worry.! 😉  I like to keep it simple with my toppings with prosciutto, rocket and Parmesan being my simple go to. My partner is a fan of the everything possible school of pizza toppings but again, this is where compromise is a beautiful thing in that we both get to have pizza our way by making our own.

Home made pizza bases are very simple to make. You can even freeze the excess dough before proving it  to have a quick mid week meal without fuss. Just roll the dough into individual sized balls, wrap well in cling film and freeze for about a fortnight or so before use.

So crack out the mixing bowl and roll up your sleeves to knead as you create you own pizza bases and have a great night in!

Home made pizza base

Ingredients

600g  of flour

1 teasp salt

1 sachet of dried yeast

1 teasp caster sugar

60ml olive oil

375ml lukewarm water

Method

1. Combine salt and flour in mixing bowl

2. Empty yeast sachet into warm water with sugar and mix. Allow to sit for about 5 mins or until mix is foamy and yeast is activated

3. Add olive oil to yeast mix and create well in middle of flour

4. Pour in liquid mix and using a knife cut the flour into the mix until well combined

5. Place rough dough onto floured bench and knead for about ten minutes until the dough is smooth and firm. Alternatively if you have a mixer with a dough hook, place inside and knead on low speed for ten minutes

6. Remove from bowl and place in large clean bowl with oiled sides. Place in warm area and cover with cling film

7. Allow to rise and prove for about 30min – 1 hour until doubled in size

8. Knock back and knead again, separate mix into appropriate size to cover your tray. Usually about 100g of mix will cover a 20cm round tray thinly which is how I like my bases

9. Top with your favourite ingredients and bake at about 180-200 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the base is golden

10. Cut up and enjoy!

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Undercover Chef Tip – How to stop it becoming a sticky situation

Undercover Chef Tip - Sticky ingredients

 

Honey, treacle, golden syrup, glucose….all a bit of a pain to measure out for a recipe without making a sticky mess or losing half of it to the sides of your cups. So how do you make sure you have all your measured ingredients into the mix without fuss? Running the cup or spoon under hot water or spraying it with some cooking oil will allow it to be measured and pour with ease. This way your ingredients will flow easily and you will end with the mix in the bowl not in the cup! Wonderful 🙂

If you like pina-coladas and getting caught in the rain…

Don’t worry, this isn’t a personals ad or even a rendition of that song, it’s my tongue in cheek intro to the very in vogue fruit of the moment, the Pineapple. From kitchen to decor, this versatile fruit has a lot going for it.

The cool chill in the air doesn’t exactly conjure images of tropical paradises but there is one fruit that can give you a little slice of beach life and that is our spiky friend the pineapple. Pineapples are a great dessert treat but many are put off my having to tackle the less than appealing hard spiky skin. My advice is to clean up the pineapple as soon as it comes home in your market bags to ensure that when you are after a quick snack it is ready to go and doesn’t become neglected.

Pineapples are also able to be dried easy and their sweetness is intensified for a surprisingly different garnish and dried fruit snack.

My favourite way to enjoy pineapple in winter is to pan roast them with a little butter and sugar as a compliment to ice-cream or even as the offsider to a panna cotta. Of course, a little blended into a pina-colada cocktail never hurts either! The combination of coconut and pineapple is a tropical party combo just waiting to cheer up your winter blues. I have two recipes below, one for a really easy egg free pina-colada ice-cream and the second with a coconut panna cotta and roast pineapple. Take your pick and enjoy them whilst dreaming of sunnier days with your toes in the sand. Enjoy!

Pina-Colada Ice-Cream

Ingredients

700g sour cream

250g icing sugar

440g crushed pineapple (drained)

250ml coconut cream

100ml coconut liquor or essence

150g shredded coconut toasted

Method

  1. Whisk sour cream, coconut cream and icing sugar until well combined
  2. Fold through pineapple and essence/liquor
  3. Lightly fold through 100g of the toasted coconut
  4. Place in bowl and freeze, taking out every hour or two and giving a stir to aerate
  5. After stirring twice, place in loaf tin lined with glad wrap or a brownie tray and freeze until firm
  6. To serve, cut into slices and roll edges in remaining coconut and plate with some fresh diced pineapple and mint or fruit of your choice

NB: If you have an ice-cream churner, follow method as above but fold through the pineapple and shredded coconut at the end before freezing to avoid damage to churning arm

Coconut Panna-cotta with Roasted Pineapple

Now, I have to admit, I went a little retro on this one with my choice of moulds. I have some old school jelly moulds rolling around in the cupboard but they work a treat. They have a seal to stop them from leaking when putting them in the fridge to set and a removable bottom to help poke them out if they are a little shy. As is often said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! and these little babies certainly do the trick to behold my slightly retro version of the panna cotta.

Ingredients

Pannacotta

300ml coconut cream

200ml cream

1 cup icing sugar

5 gold gelatine leaves (see packet for quantities if not sure) soaked in ice water to soften

 Roast pineapple

1 pineapple cut into rounds

20g butter

1 tbsp sugar

Method

For pannacotta

  1. Place cream and coconut cream in a saucepan with sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer
  2. Remove from heat and add soaked gelatine, whisk well
  3. Pour into moulds and allow to cool slightly before refrigerating for at least four hours or overnight
  4. For pineapple, warm a frying pan on a gentle heat, add butter and sugar and allow to caramelise, add pineapple to pan and colour on both sides, leave in pan and remove from heat and allow to cool
  5. Serve cooled pineapple under pannacotta and top with dried pineapple and mint leaves

NB: I used a sunbeam food dryer for my pineapple. I just sliced in finely and dried over night. You can use an oven but it needs to be a very low heat and overnight.

An easy way to prepare the pineapple is to cut into the rounds and use an apple corer to remove the hard centre whilst keeping the circular shape