How to Chop a Spring Onion

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

Spring onions (also called green onions) have a much milder flavour than mature onions. They’re less likely to make your eyes water, and they’re perfect for salads and sandwiches.

To prepare spring onions, start by chopping ½cm or so off the root end. Also, remove the dried out ends of the leaves.

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

If you have a whole leaf that’s dried out (like the top one in the picture above),  simply peel it off the onion.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion

Now depending on what you want to use your spring onion for, you may want to cut strips or slices.

 

Strips of spring onion are my first choice for sandwiches, and they’re good for stir-fries too.

Start by chopping your spring onion into sections, the same length you want your strips to be.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Then simply halve each section twice lengthwise. Because of the layers inside the onion, you’ll get lovely thin strips.

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

 

Slices of spring onion are great for mixing in with salads, and I like them in soups too. Simply cut off slices about ½ cm thick. I recommend working from both ends into the middle, to help the onion stay together while you cut it.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

There are so many cold dishes that benefit from a little spring onion, including mixed salads that I wrote about here. They’re also great in potato salad and coleslaw! For hot dishes like stir fry (recipe here), I’d recommend no more than 5 minutes on the heat.

One last thing about spring onions – they don’t tend to keep as well as mature onions, so make sure to use them up!

How to Make Pasta Salad

Pasta salad has long been a favourite summer side dish of mine. It’s full of rich tomato flavour, but it’s light enough to eat even on the hottest days!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • 2 saucepans

and the ingredients (for four portions):

  • A little oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • mixed herbs
  • basil
  • pasta

Start by placing your larger 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: onion)

Add your onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs and basil. (A little dried garlic also helps add to the flavour.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs

Gently fry the onion until it becomes translucent, and a slightly golden colour. (A little splash of vinegar can help speed up this stage.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs. The onions are now slightly golden and translucent

Add your tinned tomatoes. (Remember to wash out the tin with a little water so as not to waste any.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mixed of diced onion and tomatoesHeat your sauce to a gentle simmer (a constant, quiet bubble), and let it bubble away while you cook your pasta. (If you’re not sure how to tell when your pasta’s cooked, check out last week’s post here.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing cooked macaroni pasta

Taste your sauce. The great thing about this sauce is that you can cook it really quickly and keep the flavours of the individual ingredients, or cook it long and slow so it all blends together. (Just make sure to put a lid on it, and make sure it doesn’t dry out.) I usually cook it for about 20 minutes, then add a little tomato puree (or ketchup) for richness.

Once you’re satisfied with your sauce, mix together the sauce and pasta. You could also add some chopped olives or pickles, if you want.

Photograph of a saucepan containing macaroni pasta in a sauce of tomatoes and onions

And it’s ready to serve! Perfect for picnics and barbecues!

Photograph of a white bowl containing pasta salad, with a single olive on top

This is quite a simple recipe, so it’s a great one to experiment with! Why not try adding paprika or chilli along with the herbs, or adding some bell peppers in with the chopped tomatoes?

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

How to Make Quinoa Salad

This was one of my first inventions that I was really proud of! It’s a great summer dish, and a really satisfying salad.

You will need:

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

and the ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 200-250ml quinoa
  • 1 stock cube
  • garlic
  • coriander / cilantro
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • frozen peas, such as petits pois
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • cucumber

Start by washing the quinoa and leave it to drain. (I wrote in more detail about quinoa here, so if there’s anything that’s unclear please check it out!)

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), then your diced onion, garlic, and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion, coriander and garlic powderBoil a kettle and mix together the stock, according to the instructions. Add the quinoa, then the stock, to the saucepan. (Remember: use three times as much liquid as quinoa.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, stock, quinoa, and seasoning

Dice the carrots (you can find more detailed instructions here), then add them to the saucepan.

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, carrot, and quinoa

Put a lid on the saucepan, and let it boil gently for 20 minutes.

While the saucepan is boiling, dice your tomato and cucumber. (You can find more detailed instructions here: tomato, cucumber.) Put the frozen peas, and the tomato, in a large mixing bowl, but keep the cucumber separate for now.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl with diced tomatoes and peas in

Once the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, it should be cooked.

30 Quinoa salad (18)

Add the cooked ingredients to the mixing bowl. This will thaw out the peas, and cool the quinoa mix at the same time. Finally, add the cucumber.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl containing quinoa, peas, diced carrot, tomato, and cucumber

I like this salad best when it’s just made and still slightly warm, but if you’re not going to eat it straight away remember to chill it in the fridge.

I originally designed this recipe as an accompaniment to falafel, but garlic and coriander are such versatile flavours that it goes with nearly anything! You could add some beans, have it with a burger, or even diced ham!

Photograph of a white bowl filled with quinoa salad, topped with diced ham

If you make quinoa salad 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 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!