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 a White Sauce

A white sauce is a sauce made using milk. It has a mild, creamy flavour that complements a range of ingredients, including mushrooms, chicken and fish.

The first thing to decide when making a white sauce is what kind of milk you want to use. If you’re using dairy, using skimmed milk will give you a very thin sauce, so I would recommend at least semi-skimmed. If you’re using a non-dairy milk, you need one with more fat and protein than sugar. This means that soy and nut milks will work, but things like coconut milk won’t. And, if possible, use an unsweetened milk.

The next thing to decide is how to flavour your sauce. I like to start a white sauce by gently frying some diced onion (cutting tutorial here) or crushed garlic in a little oil before I add the milk. You can also add a stock cube directly to the milk as you heat it – try and match the flavour of the stock to the ingredients you plan to put in the sauce. You could also add a little grated or cream cheese for richness, nutmeg for a little spice,  or some dried parsley.

Finally, you’ll need to thicken your sauce. There are two main techniques you can use here.

The classic technique to thicken a sauce 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 onions, rather than directly into the pan. After a few minutes of frying, you can add your milk. 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 or milk. 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!

Whichever method you use, a white sauce is really versatile. You can use it with all kinds of fish, in pasta dishes like lasagna, or in a chicken and mushroom pie…

One final thing though – if you have leftover white sauce you may find that it sets when chilled, especially if you used cornflour as a thickening agent. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean the sauce has gone off; it will go right back to liquid when you heat it up again.

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 Chop an Onion – 2 Ways to Dice an Onion

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link) Please remember to give onions special consideration because of their shape, texture, and tendency to make your eyes water!

We’ve been gradually reducing the size of our onions – going from onion chunks (link), to onion slices (link), and now diced onion! Dicing onions is a great way to get a lot of flavour out of them in a short cooking time.

This tutorial contains two different methods to dice an onion. The first method is simpler, but it does take a little time. The second is so fast your eyes barely have time to water, but it is a more advanced technique.

Method 1

Start by chopping your onion into slices. Just follow the tutorial from last month (link), although you can skip cutting the onion into quarters and just slice the halves.

Once you have your slices, lay them down to dice. I like to cut a sort of lazy grid pattern, but you could also cut it into triangles (sort of like a mini pizza; see picture below).

Hand drawing of two onion slices with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

To save time, you can cut through multiple slices at once. I would recommend you start with just one and work your way up slowly to find how many slices you’re comfortable chopping at once. Make sure if you’re stacking slices that you have the largest one on the bottom and the smallest on the top – it’s important that your stack doesn’t fall over during cutting.

 

Method 2

I actually learned this second technique from the anime sweetness & lightning. It’s a little tricky, because it involves breaking my second rule of knife safety (see my earlier post here). But it’s so much faster that I’ve diced onions this way ever since.

To start, remove the skin and top of the onion, but leave the root end on. (This will help the onion stay together as you chop it.) Cut the onion in half.

Hand drawing of half a red onion, peeled but with the root end still attached

Next, cut into the onion towards the root end. You don’t need to cut all the way through, but you’ll need to use your non-knife hand to steady the onion.

Hand drawing of half a red onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Now cut downwards. You don’t need to cut right to the edges, because of the layers in the onion. I usually find just three cuts is plenty.

Hand drawing of half a red onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Finally, cut as if you were slicing the onion. Perfectly diced pieces of onion will simply fall off the end!

Hand drawing of half a red onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

As you get towards the end of the onion, you may find that it starts to fall apart a bit. Hold it together if you can, but you can always deal with those parts that do fall off separately.

This technique definitely takes a bit of getting used to, but if you can master it it’s so worth it!

 

Diced onions can be used to add flavour to a huge variety of dishes, including stews, soups, and curries. They’re especially great in dishes where you want a little bit of everything in every spoonful.

You can fry diced onions in about 15-25 minutes, although it rather depends on how soft you like your onions! Onions can be eaten raw, or very well-done, so it’s really a matter of taste.

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!