Introduction

Welcome to How to Chop a Carrot!

I was lucky enough to grow up with a mum who, while not a great chef, is a very good cook. She knows how to put together a good meal quickly, and she taught me to cook too.

Cooking is really hard to learn without a teacher! If you look at even a ‘simple’ recipe, each step in the method contains three different things to do, half the ingredients are pre-prepared, and they all seem to think you know what terms like ‘finely diced’ mean. This blog is different.

Each month I want to introduce to you a handful of new cooking techniques, as simple as “How to Chop a Carrot”, and then bring them all together in a yummy dish at the end. I’m going to share with you some of my favourite dishes that I grew up with, and some of my newest inventions. Hopefully there’ll be something for everyone.

Before we get cooking though, I’ve taken the first four posts to cover some kitchen essentials – basic kitchen equipment (here) and a little health and safety (knife, heat, and food safety). Please take the time to read them – it’s not nearly as exciting as yummy food, but it is important.

I’m really looking forward to continuing this kitchen adventure with you all; I hope you love it as much as I do!

(Updated 5/1/2019)

How to Make Dumplings

Dumplings are an old-fashioned starch that have fallen out of favour somewhat, but they’re a great alternative to potatoes in casseroles and stews. This is a slightly more advanced recipe than a lot of those here on How to Chop a Carrot, but once you’ve got the hang of them dumplings are a great addition to your repertoire!

Although I’ve given the weights in the ingredients, you don’t need any scales for this recipe! I’ll explain how to measure everything using just a couple of spoons!

You will need:

  • a mixing bowl
  • a tablespoon
  • a teaspoon

and the ingredients (for four servings):

  • 4oz/100g self-raising flour (or plain flour and baking powder)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1tsp dried herbs
  • 2oz/50g suet
  • water

Suet is a very important ingredient for dumplings. Suet is basically small lumps of hard fat, coated in flour. So, if you don’t have any, you can make a suet substitute by grating a hard, white fat (like lard) into flour. Make sure that the fat is well chilled before and after grating – it needs to melt as the dumplings cook, not before.

To make your dumplings, start by measuring your flour. Heap as much flour as you can on a tablespoon. This is approximately one ounce (oz) of flour, and you need four of these. If you’re using baking powder, add a heaped teaspoon to the flour.

Photograph of a heaped tablespoon of flour, and a heaped teaspoon of baking powder

Next, add your seasonings to your flour. A quarter teaspoon of salt, and a generous sprinkling of herbs. Stir the dry ingredients together, making sure there are no lumps.

Photograph of a mixing bowl filled with flour, with small amounts of dried herbs visible

Now measure your suet. A rounded tablespoon (where the mound above the spoon is roughly the same as the bowl underneath) is roughly an ounce of suet. Add two to your flour mix.

Photograph of a rounded tablespoon of suet

Gently stir your suet into the flour. Don’t stir too hard or fast, or you’ll squish the suet.

Photograph of a mixing bowl full of dry ingredients

Now we’re going to add the water. To get the right consistency, I recommend mixing with your hands. The exact amount of water you need can vary depending on a lot of different factors, so it’s best to add it a little at a time. You want just enough water to make your ingredients stick together. In fact, when you get it right, the dough should form a neat ball, leaving your mixing bowl and hands pretty clean. If your dough is too crumbly, it needs more water; and if it’s too sticky it needs more flour.

Photograph of a round, pale ball of dough in a mixing bowl

To shape the dumplings, start by cutting your dough into eight pieces. (I find the easiest way to do this is by halving three times.) As quickly and gently as you can, roll each one into a ball, and flatten it slightly. Unless your dumplings are going in the oven straight away, pop them in the fridge to chill.

Photograph of eight round dumplings on an aluminium tray

Dumplings are steamed, so to cook your dumplings gently float them on top of your casserole or stew. They take about half an hour to cook at Gas Mark 3 or 4 (150-180°C). To make sure they rise properly, don’t open the oven door or take the lid off your stew for 20 minutes after you’ve put them in. After this, you can take the lid off to brown the tops of the dumplings.

Photograph of eight pale, round dumplings floating on a red casserole

When dumplings cook, they should roughly double in size. And once they’re cooked, they will sound hollow if you tap them gently.

Photograph of eight larger, golden, round dumplings floating on a red casserole

Dumplings are wonderfully warming on chilly days!

Photograph of a brown bowl filled with beef casserole and dumplings

The trick to fluffy dumplings is to make them as quickly as you can, and give them time to chill before they go in the oven. (It also helps if your hands are cold!) And to make them perfectly match every casserole you make, simply change which herb you use. Some of my favourites are sage dumplings for beef casserole, and parsley dumplings for chicken.

If you make dumplings with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to make Leek & Potato Soup

A lot of you really liked my Vegetable Soup post from last month (link), so I thought you might like another soup recipe. Leek & potato is a classic, and deliciously warm and filling on a cold day!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a large saucepan
  • a measuring jug
  • a kettle

and the ingredients (for four servings):

  • A little oil
  • one large leek
  • herbs and spices
  • four medium potatoes (about the size of your fist)
  • 2 pints/1 litre stock (link) or 2 stock cubes

 

Start by placing your saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and chop your leek. (For soup that cooks quickly slice your leek, but for slow-cooking chunks are quicker. You can find both techniques in last week’s post here.)

Add your leek to the pan, along with any dried herbs or spices you want to use. A little garlic helps to bring out the flavour of the leek, and both thyme and rosemary go great with potatoes.

Photograph of a saucepan containing sliced leeks & dried herbs

Gently fry your leeks until they’re soft and slightly see-through. Then add your stock.

Photograph of a saucepan containing sliced leeks in stock

Chop your potatoes into chunks (you can find my chopping tutorial here) and add them to the soup. If you don’t have a food processor, you might find it worth your time to peel your potatoes, but if you’re going to blend your soup at the end it makes little difference.

Photograph of a saucepan containing sliced leek and chunks of potato in stock

Put on the lid and bring your pan to a gentle bubble. Boil your soup for 20-30 minutes. I like this soup best when the potatoes are soft enough to blend into the sauce. If you don’t have a blender, you’ll need to boil the soup until the potatoes are really soft. In fact, using leftover potatoes is a great way to do this.

Don’t forget to taste your soup before serving – I find that potatoes like quite a lot of salt, though this will of course depend how much salt is in your stock.

Photograph of a white bowl filled with green soup, topped with grated cheese and thyme
A sprinkle of grated cheese and fresh thyme makes a simple bowl of soup look fancy!

You can of course add other ingredients to leek & potato soup. Green vegetables like spinach or celery are great because they complement the earthy taste of the potatoes and the green of the leeks. Root vegetables like celeriac, parsnip, or beetroot would be great winter additions too!

If you make leek & potato soup with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Leek

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Like onions, leeks are a type of allium. In fact, they taste rather like a soft, mild, onion. And they look like a giant, tough, spring onion! So if you’re already familiar with chopping spring onions (tutorial here), chopping leeks is quite easy.

Now it’s a step I’ve been known to skip with a lot of veggies, but it is important to wash your leeks. The reason is that the structure of leeks is exceptionally good at trapping small amounts of dirt. Because of this, you may find it easier to rinse leeks after chopping them.

Hand drawing of a green and white leek

To start chopping your leek, first remove about 1cm off the root end. Also remove the dried out ends of the leaves, and any dried out whole leaves. (Some people recommend removing all the dark green parts – while these are slightly tougher they soften when cooked, especially when slow-cooked.)

Hand drawing of a green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For slow-cooking, I recommend chunks of leek. Starting from the green end of the leek, simply cut off chunks about 2cm (a little under an inch) long. These chunks are perfect for roasts and casseroles, and they take about an hour to cook at Gas Mark 4 (180°, or 160° fan).

Hand drawing of a trimmed green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For faster cooking, slice your leek instead. Just like with chunks of leek, start from the green end of the leek. (This helps the leek stay together while you cut.) For most uses, I recommend slices about ½ cm thick, which you can pan-fry in 10-15 minutes. Thinner slices will cook faster.

Hand drawing of a trimmed green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

When cooked, leeks become soft and translucent, just like onions do.

Leeks are great for giving a milder, sweeter, onion-y taste to dishes. They’re especially good with potatoes – why not try frying some sliced leeks in butter, and mixing them in with mashed potatoes? They’re also great in casseroles!

How to Make Gravy

As the weather cools, I’ve started thinking about more autumnal dishes like casseroles, soups, and pot roasts. And what goes better with a roast than a steaming boat of gravy?

Just like stock, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago (link), gravy is easy to make from a powder. But, just like stock, it’s surprisingly easy to make your own too!

Like stock, gravy is essentially flavourful water. However, gravy tends to be thicker and richer than stock.

To thicken your gravy, you can use flour – either wheat flour (in a roux), or cornflour. I wrote about both these techniques in my post on How to Make a White Sauce (link), but for convenience I’ve copied it below.

The classic technique to thicken gravy is called a roux. A roux starts by frying a spoonful of wheat flour in a little butter or oil. You have to be careful at this stage that the flour is cooked, or the resulting sauce will taste floury. You also have to be careful to avoid lumps – one way to do this is to add the flour to chopped onions, rather than directly into the pan. After a few minutes of frying, you can add some stock. To avoid lumps (again), you need to add it very slowly at first, and keep stirring!

It can be quite easy to get a roux wrong, so the thickening method I prefer is cornflour. Simply mix together one spoonful of cornflour with one spoonful of cold water. Then, add the cornflour mix to your sauce. The great thing about this method is that it can be done last-minute, there’s no floury aftertaste, it’s a lot easier to avoid lumps, and it’s even gluten-free!

To make your gravy rich and flavourful, start with some stock. This can be from a stock cube, or just the water you used to boil the vegetables. In fact, using ingredients like vegetable water is a great way to make sure your gravy really suits the meal you’re serving. You can also add any meat juices that are released during cooking, or even leftover oil from roasting vegetables!

Of course, you can also use herbs and spices to add flavour to a gravy. Rosemary, sage, parsley, and thyme are great classics to start with, but you could also try making a mint gravy to go with lamb, or basil for a slight Mediterranean twist.

You can even use other sauces in your gravy – if you’re serving turkey why not melt a little cranberry jelly into the gravy? Or you could add a spoon of honey and a dash of mustard to go with pork or chicken.

Gravy is a great part of a meal to experiment with, especially since it’s often made using ingredients that might otherwise simply be thrown away. Why not give it a go next time you make a roast?

How to Make Vegetable Soup

As the weather cools down, I’m looking forward to cooking some more warming dishes. And what’s better on a cold day than a hot bowl of soup?

There are so many different kinds of soup, that I thought it would be good to start with the general technique. If you’d like some more specific recipes, let me know!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a large saucepan
  • a measuring jug
  • a kettle

and the ingredients:

  • A little oil
  • onions
  • herbs and spices
  • vegetables
  • stock (link) or stock cube

 

Start by placing your saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and chop your onion. (For soup that cooks quickly, dice your onion (like this), but if you’ve got a bit more time slices (link) or even chunks of onion (link) are fine.)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any dried herbs or spices you want to use. I like to use garlic and ginger in most dishes, and the other spices I use depend on what vegetables I’m using. For example tomato and basil is a classic combination, as is carrot and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices

Gently fry your onions until they’re slightly golden and see-through. Then add your stock. You need about as much stock as you want soup – I recommend about 250ml or half a pint per person. Put the lid on, and bring it to a gentle boil.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices, and stock

Chop your vegetables and add them to the soup. So that everything cooks evenly, start with the vegetables that take longest (like carrots), and end with the vegetables that need the least cooking (like green vegetables). If you’re not sure how long something takes to cook, check out the Techniques tab here on How to Chop a Carrot.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced vegetables and stock

Once all the vegetables are soft all the way through, your soup is cooked. But if you want to make it thicker or stronger, you can leave it cooking for a bit longer. Before serving, make sure to taste your soup and add any salt or fresh herbs you want to add.

Photograph of a white bowl full of soup

A hearty bowl of vegetable soup is great with melted cheese and a slice of toast, or why not spice it up and serve with egg and noodles?

Soup is such a versatile dish; it’s great for using up leftovers. (Even those half-used jars of sauce lurking in your fridge.) You can even blend everything together after cooking to make a really thick, smooth soup.

If you make soup with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

 

 

How to Make Stock

It’s back to basics this week with a common ingredient for adding flavour to dishes – stock. You probably already know how to make stock from a stock cube, but did you know it’s surprisingly easy to make from scratch?

Stock is, quite simply, water with added flavour. Whenever you boil ingredients in water, some of the flavours (and nutrients) mix with the water. In fact, when you boil vegetables you’re pretty much making vegetable stock at the same time!

Most stocks, however, have more flavour than vegetable water. You can make stock more concentrated, in other words stronger, either by putting in more ingredients or by boiling off more water.

Let’s start with what kind of ingredients you can use for stock. As I said above, you can boil vegetables in water to make a vegetable stock. You can use any combination, but a classic is onion, carrot, and celery (known as a mirepoix).

You can make fish, chicken, or meat stocks by using the parts you might otherwise just throw away – the skin and bones. In fact, making stock is a great way to get the most out of your food.

Now for the method.

Start by chopping your vegetables. The smaller you chop them, the faster the flavour will mix with the water. However, if you’ve got plenty of time for your stock to cook, chunks of vegetables (about an inch on each side) are fine. Bones and skin usually don’t need chopping.

Cover your ingredients with water, and a lid, in a large saucepan or slow cooker. At this stage, it’s better to have too much water than too little. Too little water and your stock can burn, but you can always boil off excess water later.

Boil your ingredients for at least half an hour. As long as there’s enough water left, there isn’t really an upper time limit for making stock. It will just keep getting stronger the longer you boil it for.

Drain your ingredients. Remember to save the water – that’s now your stock! If you don’t think your stock has enough flavour yet, you can put it back in the saucepan and boil it very gently without a lid. (The fancy name for this step is reducing down.)

You can use your stock as soon as it’s cooked, but if you won’t be using it for a while, pop it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

And that’s it! Why not try it the next time you have some ingredients going spare? And come back later this month to find out how to turn stock into soup, or gravy!

How to Make Coleslaw

This is the last of my trio of summer side salads. Coleslaw is a simple mix of carrot, onion, and cabbage in a creamy sauce, but they complement each other perfectly!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a mixing bowl
  • a spoon or two

and the ingredients:

  • carrot
  • cabbage
  • onion/spring onion
  • mayonnaise
  • salad cream (or vinegar)

Start by slicing your onion as thinly as you can. (You can find my cutting tutorial here.) If you find white onions too sharp, red onions are milder, and spring onions are milder still.

Thinly slice your cabbage (tutorial here), and grate your carrot (grating tips here). Put your sliced onion and cabbage, and grated carrot into a large mixing bowl.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, and grated carrot in a stainless steel mixing bowl

(Save the carrot for last because, once cut, it can oxidise and turn brown. It’s still perfectly edible, but it doesn’t look as good. The sauce, which is the next step, will prevent air getting to the carrot and so prevent oxidisation. )

The sauce for coleslaw is very similar to that for potato salad (you can find my potato salad recipe here). Simply mix equal parts mayonnaise and salad cream. Alternatively, use mayonnaise and a little vinegar for a tangy sauce.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, grated carrot, two large dollops of mayonnaise and a splash of vinegar in a stainless steel mixing bowl

Mix everything together really thoroughly – using a fork will help break up the onion and cabbage. And it’s ready to serve!

Photograph of coleslaw in a white ceramic dish

Coleslaw is a really refreshing dish, and even though it’s a classic it’s fun to play with too! Try using different types of cabbage, or even brussels sprouts! Or you could add beetroot to complement the carrot, or some finely chopped nuts to make the sauce even creamier. And of course, you can add herbs and spices to make it even more flavoursome!

If you make coleslaw with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!