How to Make Chicken & Mushroom Gratin

I’ve been wanting to make a gratin since reading sweetness & lightning… Gratin is pretty much all about the cheesy topping and, after a little experimenting, this is what I came up with. It looks quite fancy, but once you break it down it’s really quite simple!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • two pans
  • an oven-proof dish

and the ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 4 chicken (or Quorn) fillets
  • 8 medium, or 16 small, mushrooms
  • 300-350ml milk
  • roughly 1tsp cornflour
  • 1/2 chicken stock cube
  • 1 onion
  • hard cheese such as cheddar
  • crackers or oatcakes, the kind you like with cheese

 

Start by putting your chicken on to fry. (We’re using the same technique I wrote about earlier this month, so if there’s anything you’re not sure about, see my earlier post here.)

Hand drawing of a frying pan containing four pink chicken fillets

Chop your mushrooms into cubes, or slices if you prefer (you can find instructions for both here). Then, add them to the frying pan.

Hand drawing of a frying pan containing chicken fillets and chopped mushrooms

Let the chicken and mushrooms cook while you work on your sauce. (This is a white sauce, so if there’s anything unclear, check out my post on white sauces here.) You can also turn on the oven to Gas Mark 6, 200°C (180°C fan), so it has time to preheat.

Place your saucepan on a gentle heat, and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions). Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), followed by your diced onion.

Hand drawing of a saucepan with a thin layer of onion on the bottom

Give your onions a few minutes to gently fry, and soak up the oil, then add the milk. (If you want to save on washing up, you can use your serving dish to measure – you want about half as much milk as you’re going to have filling.)

Hand drawing of a saucepan filled with white sauce

Crumble half a stock cube into the milk, and add the cornflour to thicken the sauce. (Remember to mix the cornflour into a little cold liquid first to avoid lumps!) Let it gently simmer (you should see small bubbles, but no large ones) for 5-10 minutes.

During this time, crush your oatcakes or crackers. My favourite way to do this is to put them in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air, and smash them with a rolling pin. Or you could use a food processor. Grate your cheese, then mix it with the crushed biscuits.

 

Taste the sauce (this is why I like to cook it separately from the chicken). If it tastes like it’s lacking something, you could try adding a little salt, pepper, or grated cheese.

Make sure the chicken is cooked and chopped into chunks. Mix together the chicken, mushrooms, and sauce, then add to the oven-proof dish. (I like to use individual dishes for serving – to make them easy to take in and out of the oven, pop them all on a baking tray.) Try and flatten the chicken mixture roughly level.

Hand drawing of a small oven-proof dish filled with chicken and sauce

Top with the mixture of cheese and crumbs. To crisp up the top, place them in the preheated oven for 5-10 minutes. If you’ve forgotten to preheat the oven, you can do this under a hot grill instead.

26.6 Topping

And it’s done! This is quite a rich dish, so a simple side of steamed or boiled vegetables or even a salad is perfect. And if you’re looking for more variations, there are plenty! You could add blue cheese to the sauce, swap the mushrooms for bacon, or simply add a little parsley to the sauce.

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

Also, what did you think of the different style of pictures for this recipe?

How to Make Porridge

It’s not what I had planned, but after a slightly rough week I thought I’d teach you how to make one of my favourite comfort foods – porridge!

Porridge can actually be made from a lot of different grains, but for me it has to be oatmeal. Oats are quite high-protein, and release the energy they contain nice and slowly. Plus they’re really good for your gut!

My favourite way to make porridge is in the microwave. (In fact, it’s one of the few microwave dishes I can make!)

You will need:

  • a microwave-safe bowl
  • a microwave

and the ingredients:

  • porridge oats (sometimes called rolled oats)
  • water or milk

First, you need a bowl. It needs to be microwave-safe, and it needs to be bigger than you think! While everything expands when you heat it, porridge is especially prone to boiling over and making a sticky mess! I recommend a bowl that can hold at least twice as much porridge as you want to eat.

Add your porridge oats to the bowl. Porridge is very filling, so I usually only use a couple of spoonfuls.

Now porridge can be made with water or milk, or even a bit of both. Porridge made with milk is a little creamier in texture, but it tastes just as good with water. Either way, add roughly as much liquid as oats, and give it a quick stir.

Set your microwave to high power, and set a timer for 5 minutes. Unlike most microwave dishes, however, you need to keep an eye on porridge as it cooks. When porridge boils, it bubbles up and does its best to try and escape the bowl. When this happens, simply stop the microwave and let the porridge settle back down.

Once porridge has boiled, it’s cooked and ready to eat. If you’d prefer softer porridge you can of course put it back in the microwave. Just be aware that it will boil up very quickly the second time.

Plain porridge isn’t the most exciting flavour, but you can add a whole range of things to it. Two of my favourites are golden syrup, and raisins. In fact both dried and fresh fruits go well with porridge. Or if you want something more savoury, why not try a little ham or bacon?

How to Make Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie (made with beef) and Shepherd’s Pie (made with lamb) are classic British dishes, made of a rich, meaty filling topped with creamy mashed potato.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid
  • a saucepan with lid

  • an oven-proof dish

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • A little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 500g beef, lamb, or Quorn mince (a.k.a. ground meat)
  • 2-3 carrots
  • tinned chopped tomatoes or passata
  • tomato puree
  • mixed herbs
  • salt
  • 3-4 potatoes
  • butter or margarine
  • a splash of milk
  • hard cheese such as cheddar
  • frozen peas or broccoli

My favourite way to make cottage pie is by combining savoury mince (you can find last week’s recipe here), and mashed potato. It’s a lot easier to make sure everything is cooked properly, because you can’t really stir a cottage pie! You can also make this recipe using leftovers, but I’ve written out the full process here.

Start by chopping your potatoes into chunks (tutorial here), and putting them on to boil in your saucepan. If you want really smooth mash it helps to peel your potatoes, but you don’t need to.

Photograph of a saucepan containing chunks of potato, roughly covered by water

While your potatoes cook, make your savoury mince.

Place your larger pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your diced onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs. (Adding a little garlic can help bring out the flavour of the meat, but it’s optional.)

Photograph of a wok containing diced white onion and mixed herbs

Add your mince, and stir it gently while the meat browns.

23.4 mince

Grate your carrots, then add them to the pan. (Remember to leave the top on while grating to save your fingers – you can find more tips in my tutorial here.)

Photograph of a wok showing mostly grated carrot

Add a tin of passata or cooked tomatoes. Remember to rinse out the tin to get all the flavour out of it. Stir everything together and leave it bubbling gently while you make the mash.

Photograph of a wok containing savoury mince

 

Now you can check on your potatoes. If they’re ready for mashing, they should feel nice and soft when you poke them with a fork. Drain off any water, then use a fork, masher or even a food processor to mash them. You can add a splash of milk to make the mash softer, butter or margarine for richness, and a little salt for extra flavour.

Photograph of a saucepan containing mashed potato (and a masher)

Your savoury mince should be ready by now, so taste the sauce. If it tastes like it’s lacking something, try adding some more tomato puree (or ketchup), or a little salt.

Now it’s time to assemble the pie!

Pour the savoury mince into your oven-proof dish, and smooth it roughly level with a spatula. (You may want to preheat the dish; you can pop it in the oven for a few minutes, just remember to wear oven gloves!)

Photograph of an oval glass dish filled with a smooth layer of savoury mince

Add the mashed potato on top of the mince.  Make sure you add it a little at a time, or you’ll make a big dent in your mince. If you smooth out the mash with a fork, it gives you little ridges that go all crispy in the oven. Plus they look nice! Finally, add a little sprinkle of grated cheese.

Photograph of an oval glass dish filled with a layer of mashed potato, topped with grated cheese

Finally, crisp up the top of the pie in a hot oven (Gas Mark 6 or higher), or under the grill. Once all the cheese is melted, it’s ready to serve!

Photograph of a generous serving of cottage pie and peas on a white plate
Serve with a generous helping of peas or broccoli!

Like all my recipes, there are a lot of ways to make variations on cottage pie! You could try any of the different variations on savoury mince for the filling, or why not top with sweet potato instead? Or, if you want to impress your dinner companions, why not bake individual cottage pies? Just use a small oven-proof dish for each person (and a baking tray to make them easier to take in and out of the oven!)

Photograph of a small, oval, glass dish topped with sweet potato on a white plate with a serving of peas

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

How to Make Savoury Mince

The dish we call savoury mince in our house is super versatile. It’s quite similar to bolognese, but with subtle variations you can turn it into, chilli con carne, lasagna, or cottage pie!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • A little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 500g beef, lamb, or Quorn mince (a.k.a. ground meat)
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2-3 carrots
  • tinned chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • frozen peas or spinach
  • mixed herbs
  • salt

Start by placing your pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs. (I often also add a little bit of garlic, but you don’t have to.)

Photograph of a wok containing diced red onion and mixed herbs

Next, add your mince. Stir everything together, and break up any clumps of mince that are sticking together.

Photograph of a wok containing diced red onion and Quorn mince

Dice your pepper (you can find the tutorial here: pepper), then add it to the pan.

Photograph of a wok containing diced red onion, Quorn mince, and diced red pepper

Grate your carrots. (Remember to leave the top on to use as a handle while grating – you can find more tips in last week’s tutorial here.)

Add your grated carrot to the pan, followed by a tin of tomatoes. To make sure you’re not wasting any tomato-y goodness, rinse out the tin with a splash of water.

Photograph of a wok showing mostly grated carrot and chopped tomatoes

Mix everything together, and put the lid on. This helps the pan heat up quicker, and keeps the moisture in.

After 5-10 minutes, add a generous dollop of tomato puree. This makes the sauce richer; if you don’t have tomato puree you can use ketchup instead.

Photograph of a wok containing mixed vegetables and mince, with a roughly tablespoon-sized dollop of tomato puree on top

Your dish is nearly done, so make sure to taste your sauce. If it tastes like it’s lacking something, try adding a little salt or some more tomato puree.

Five minutes before serving, add your frozen peas or spinach to the pan.

Photograph of a wok containing savoury mince

Make sure to mix everything together before serving!

Photograph of a bowl of savoury since on top of pasta, with a sprinkle of cheese on top

This version of savoury mince is perfect with pasta. But if you have any leftovers, it also makes great nachos!

Photograph of a plate of tortilla chips covered in savoury mince and melted cheese

Remember, this recipe is only a base, so feel free to play around with it! Try adding chilli or paprika to spice it up a little, or using some different herbs. You could add a tin of beans along with the peas, either to complement or replace the mince. Or you could try using different vegetables – why not add some mini broccoli florets, or even try parsnip instead of carrot?

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

How to Make a Mild, Creamy Curry (with Rice)

There are a huge range of curries, from countries all over the world! Curries can be hot, mild, rich, creamy, or light. This curry is both light and creamy, with variations to satisfy vegetarians and carnivores!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid
  • a saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • 1-2 cups rice
  • A little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2-3 carrots
  • ½ a cauliflower
  • frozen peas
  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • coconut milk
  • ½ tsp garlic
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • coriander
  • cumin
  • fenugreek
  • turmeric
  • salt

 

To start, wash your rice and put it on to boil. This will then boil while the curry cooks; you can find more details on cooking rice here.

Place your wok or deep saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your diced onion to the pan, along with your ginger, garlic, and dried spices. I tend to cook by eye, so it’s difficult for me to give precise measurements for how much to use. A light sprinkling to roughly cover the onions tends to yield good results. Be generous with the coriander, but sparing with the turmeric and fenugreek as these can be bitter if overused. If you don’t have the individual spices, you can just use a generic curry mix.

Photograph of a pan with a layer of diced onion and spices in the bottom

Dice your carrots (instructions here), and add them to the pan. Add enough coconut milk to just barely cover the onions and carrots. Once the pan is boiling, make sure the lid is off so that the sauce will reduce down. (Reduce down is the culinary term for sauces losing water and getting thicker.) There should always be a little liquid left during cooking – if it’s all gone, add a little more milk.

Photograph of a pan with a layer of diced onion and carrot, with a little milk showing through in places

Cut your cauliflower into mini florets (tutorial here), then add them to the pan.

Photograph of a pan with a layer of diced onion, carrot, and cauliflower in the bottom

Drain and rinse your tinned chickpeas.

Five minutes before serving, add your chickpeas and frozen peas to the pan.

Photograph of a pan full of diced onion, carrot, cauliflower, peas, and chickpeas

Just before serving, make sure to taste the sauce. If it tastes like it’s lacking something, try adding a teaspoon of salt. For a creamier sauce, you could add ground cashew nuts; if you want a sweeter curry, try adding dessicated coconut or raisins!

Photograph of a white bowl on a bamboo serving mat, filled with rice and chickpea curry

 

This curry is delicious with just chickpeas, but if you’d rather have meat, chicken also goes well with this recipe. Simply add chunks of chicken (roughly 2cm cubes) along with the onions.

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

How to Make Stir-Fry (or should that be Steam-Fry?)

We love stir-fry in our house, in fact it’s kind of the default meal option! Now a proper stir-fry is cooked hot and fast, and preserves a lot of the vitamins and minerals in your food. This dish that we call stir-fry is really more of a steam-fry – it starts with a little frying to really get the flavours going, then gently steams the vegetables in their own moisture.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • a little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 bell pepper
  • beansprouts
  • leafy green vegetable such as baby spinach
  • frozen prawns or unsalted cashew nuts

 

Start by placing your pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and slice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any spices you want to use. This recipe gets plenty of flavour from all the lovely veggies, but a little ginger or Chinese five spice is also nice.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of sliced onions, lightly sprinkled with powdered ginger

While your onion is gently frying, cut your carrots into sticks, then add them to the pan. (More detailed cutting instructions here)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of carrot sticks on top of sliced onions

Once you’ve added your carrots, put the lid on so the vegetables can steam. The dish will take about 20 minutes from this point.

Cut your bell pepper into strips (chopping tutorial here), then add them to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of red pepper strips on top of carrots & onions

While your other vegetables are cooking, check your beansprouts and leafy greens over for any that don’t look tasty.

Five minutes before serving, add your prawns (if you’re using them) and beansprouts to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of prawns on top of red pepper, carrots & onions

Photograph of a wok with a layer of beansprouts on top of prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Finally, add your leafy greens. (You could use frozen peas instead, but they’re harder to pick up with chopsticks!)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

The stir-fry is cooked when the greens wilt down ever so slightly, and turn a brighter shade of green – this usually takes less than 5 minutes.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Stir everything together before serving. If you’re using cashew nuts instead of prawns, add them now.

Photograph of white bowl filled with stir-fried vegetables and cashew nuts on egg noodles

This dish looks like a rainbow on a plate! I like it with rice or noodles, but it’s also delicious just as is. Serve with soy sauce; you can add some during cooking but I think it’s nice to let everyone season to their own tastes.

If you want a sweeter dish, try adding a tin of pineapple along with the beansprouts. And if you fancy a little chilli kick, some sweet chilli sauce goes beautifully!

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

How to Make Friday Fish Supper

The market near where I live has lovely fresh fish, which makes for a great meal. But the thing I find tricky when cooking fish is timings – getting everything on the table at the same time. This recipe combines the oven-baked fish technique from last week (link) with some good, basic, potatoes and veggies.

You will need:

  • aluminium foil
  • a baking tray
  • an oven
  • oven gloves
  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • 4 fillet(s) of fish
  • a little lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 potatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • half a head of broccoli

Start by turning on your oven to Gas Mark 4, 180° (160° fan).

Wrap each fillet of fish in foil, with a little lemon juice and salt. Start with oily fish – they take longer to cook. (More detailed instructions here: oven-baked fish) Place the finished fish parcels on a baking tray.

Photograph of three foil parcels on a baking tray

Cut your potatoes into chunks, and your carrots into slices. (You can find more detailed instructions here: potatoes, carrots) Place them in a saucepan, and mostly cover with cold water. Put the lid on, then heat gently on the hob.

Photograph of a saucepan half-filled with carrots and potatoes; water covers most of the vegetables but some are still poking up above the water line

If you’re use oily fish, put them in the oven now. (They take about 20-25 minutes to cook.)

While your other vegetables are cooking, cut your broccoli into florets. (More detailed instructions here: broccoli)

If you’re using white fish, put them in the oven now. (They take about 10-15 minutes to cook.)

 

Five minutes before serving, put your broccoli in with the carrots and potatoes. You can either put it directly in the saucepan (it doesn’t need to be covered by the water), or use a metal sieve inside your saucepan as a steamer.

Photograph of a saucepan (containing carrots and potatoes) with a metal sieve full of broccoli inside
If you line up the handle of your sieve with the handle of the saucepan, you’re less likely to knock it over

Make sure to check your fish and vegetables are cooked through before serving!

Photograph of a piece of smoked haddock; boiled potatoes, carrots, and broccoli; and fried leek and pepper on a white plate
My family loves veggies, so I added some fried peppers and leeks to this dish!

This meal is a bit harder than the one-pot recipes I’ve written so far, but it’s a great staple meal in our house! You can use a wide variety of fish, and for a bit of vegetable variety try replacing the broccoli with frozen peas or tinned sweetcorn.

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