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 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 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 Grate Anything (except your fingers)

A grater is a very useful piece of kitchen equipment; so much so that it made it into my top 20 (link)! It’s a great (or should that be ‘grate’) tool for quickly chopping ingredients very finely.

A grater is essentially a metal plate with sharpened holes in it. You can get a variety of shapes and sizes, but my favourite is a box grater because it has multiple sizes of holes in the one tool. Also, your grated ingredients (mostly) collect neatly underneath.

To use a grater, hold it steady in one hand. (Usually your non-dominant hand.) Hold your ingredients in your other hand, and apply gentle pressure as you rub your ingredients up and down the grater. Just keep your fingers out of the way – while graters aren’t as sharp as knives, they can still break your skin.

I think perhaps the most common ingredient to grate is cheese. Grated cheese is perfect for on top of pasta dishes, mashed potato, or in sandwiches. You can buy grated cheese, but it’s often much cheaper to grate your own, and it’s a good ingredient to practice grating. If you have, for example, a large block of cheese, you can grate quite quickly, especially if you’re not using all of it. However, the closer your fingers are to the grater, the more slowly you need to grate.

I also like to add grated vegetables (and even fruits like apple) to enrich sauces for dishes like pasta and curry. (All the flavours meld together in a blend of deliciousness!) The easiest vegetables to grate are those that are quite sturdy, particularly root vegetables like our old friend the carrot.

When grating a carrot you’ll want to chop the bottom (or ‘tail’) end off, and cut out any blemishes as usual. However, if you leave the top end on for now, you can use it as a ‘handle’ as you grate, to help keep your fingers safely out of the way. Other vegetables that come with their own ‘handles’ include parsnips and courgettes. With rounder root vegetables like sweet potatoes, you may find they need chopping into smaller chunks before they’ll fit on the grater.

There are many more ingredients you can grate, including chocolate and even some spices! But the best thing about a grater is that once you know how to grate one thing, you can grate most of the rest of them too! It’s a really useful kitchen skill.