Fish Pies and French Fries
STORE CUPBOARD INGREDIENTS
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the advantages of stocking up on basic essentials and non-perishable items at home, but I still think it’s worth repeating here simply because it’s such a good point. In other words, if you’ve got a cupboard full of food to start with it’s much easier to put a meal together in the evening, even when you’re tired and really don’t feel like cooking.
The list below may look very long but you don’t have to buy the whole lot at once and even if you are starting from scratch, everything here is still very affordable and comparatively good value for money. Buying three or four different types of flour may seem a bit excessive if you’re not used to it, but when you remember that flour is the basis for a huge variety of breads, pastries, cakes, biscuits, batters, toppings and sauces, a large bag costs around 75p (or less) in the supermarket and can last for weeks, it makes a bit more sense.
In any case, you’ll soon get to know which items you use all the time and which ones you can do without altogether, then you can plan and shop accordingly – and start making your life easier.
Fish (sardines, salmon, tuna); vegetables (chopped tomatoes, plum tomatoes, sweetcorn, mushy peas, mixed); fruit (peaches, apples, pineapple, mixed); beans (baked, bortelli, cannellini, butter beans, broad beans, mixed); also corned beef, coconut milk, black treacle.
Fruit (apricots, prunes, sultanas, raisins, cranberries, mixed); lentils and pulses (red lentils, green lentils, mung beans, yellow split peas, chickpeas); rice* (brown, basmati); nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, mixed); seeds (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, mixed); flour (plain, self-raising, wholemeal, strong bread flour, gram flour – otherwise known as chickpea flour – cornflour); sugar (caster, soft brown); also baking powder, dried yeast, suet, porridge oats, pasta, couscous, soup mix, salt, pepper, herbs and spices.
* NB: avoid so-called ‘easy cook’ rice, which is more expensive and no easier to cook than any other type of rice. The only ‘advantage’ is that it supposedly takes a couple of minutes less cooking time – and I’m not even convinced of that.
Oil (vegetable or corn oil, olive oil, sesame oil); vinegar (malt, cider, balsamic); also lemon juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Tabasco sauce, sherry, honey, golden syrup.
Mustard (English, French, Dijon); pesto (red and green); also horseradish, sandwich pickle, chutney, jam.
Purées (tomato, garlic); also cartons of long-life tomato juice and orange juice; stock cubes, gravy browning, instant gravy granules; Marmite or Vegemite.
FRIDGE AND FREEZER
Lots of us buy pretty much the same dairy products every week according to what our own family’s favourites are and many people regularly buy a much greater variety of cheeses and yoghurts than I’ve listed below; this is really just a rough guide to the most useful for those of you who want to keep to the minimum.
Generally, you can’t beat fresh vegetables for texture and flavour, but it’s also true that frozen vegetables are just as nutritious, and a few – peas and some beans, for instance – are actually better frozen. (You’re also less likely to let frozen food get past its use-by date.) That said, some frozen fruit and vegetables aren’t so good. Spinach is one example; I can’t see the point of it when the fresh stuff is ready in about one minute and can be added straight to other dishes (stir-fries, casseroles and omelettes for example), whereas frozen spinach is soggy, lacks flavour and seems to me to take considerably longer to cook. Also, strawberries don’t freeze well, nor does cabbage, and frozen pineapple is nowhere near as good in texture or sweetness as tinned.
Cheese (Cheddar, Parmesan, Quark); fats (butter, Stork margarine, lard or Cookeen, the vegetarian alternative to lard); also milk, natural yoghurt, eggs.
Fish (white fish fillets, salmon or tuna fillets, prawns, fish fingers); vegetables (peas, French beans, broad beans, sweetcorn); fruit (mixed forest fruits, mixed summer fruits, raspberries, cranberries).
HERBS AND SPICES
sometimes tried to grow herbs and other things in pots in the back garden when my kids were younger, but nothing could withstand the hailstorm of footballs and tennis balls for very long. In fact, the one and only thing that somehow managed to survive is a rosemary bush that I still use a lot, and which serves as a constant reminder that fresh herbs really are better than dried, and – in a ball-free zone – very easy to grow …
Meanwhile, dried herbs and spices are infinitely better than none at all and still add a lot of depth and flavour to most sweet and savoury foods
The herbs and spices listed here are the ones that crop up most regularly in the recipes in this book. Assume that the curry and chilli powder in each recipe will be medium unless stated otherwise, and just adapt whatever you happen to have (mild, medium or hot) to suit yourself, adding more or less of each one according to taste.
Warm and spicy: perfect in curries, stir-fries, cakes, biscuits and soups.
Curry powder/Chilli powder:
These tend to add heat rather than flavour (this is especially true of chilli powder) and ideally need tobe combined with other spices to enhance the taste of the food.
Cumin powder/cumin seeds:
Boost the effect of curry and chilli powder and add their own flavour.
Good for meatball mixtures and marinades when you want the flavour without the hassle of peeling, chopping or crushing the bulb.
Subtly different from cayenne pepper, which is more fiery where paprika is milder and sweeter. Use paprika for a subtle flavour and cayenne pepper when you want more heat.
Great in curries, Mexican dishes, carrot and other orange vegetable soups.
A mixture – generally cinnamon, cumin, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and cardamom – used in a huge variety of curries. If you keep enough spices at home you can mix up your own versions of garam masala to suit yourself.
Good in cakes and biscuits, and as an alternative to Allspice (which is similar but sharper; tasting more heavily of cloves) in some savoury dishes – stir-fries, for example.
Sweet and spicy, perfect with apples in cakes, puddings and biscuits.
Good with spinach, bananas, spicy cakes and biscuits.
Sprinkled over tomato, potato, egg, cheese and fish dishes.
Omelettes, potato salad, vegetable dishes.
roast lamb, shepherd’s pie, some chicken dishes; also good with roast potatoes.
Great with pork, sausages and onions; also home-made stuffing.
Some fish and most chicken dishes.
Bolognese, tomato dishes and pasta sauces.
Herbes de Provence:
A good all-round substitute when you know you want to add a little flavour to something but you’re not sure what to use.
If you buy chillies in packets in the supermarket the labels should give you all the information you need. In a nutshell, the little long, thin green ones are used in Asian curries; Scotch Bonnet chillies, which are small, round, crinkly and can be any colour from pale yellow or green to orangey red, are used in Caribbean cooking, while mixed red and green jalapenos are mostly for Mexican-style recipes. As well as fresh chillies and dried spices you can also buy chilli flakes in jars in most supermarkets.
Chicken and turkey carcasses are perfect for making stock, as are beef, lamb, pork and gammon joints and knuckles. All you need to do is bring the bones to the boil in a pan of fresh, cold water with a bouquet garni, bay leaves, black peppercorns and a couple of onions and/or carrots if you have them. The stock should be skimmed to remove any fat from the surface after 2–3 hours, and can be re-boiled the next day, kept in the fridge for up to one week or frozen for up to three months.
Vegetable stock is also easy to make from a variety of peelings and leftover stalks, and needs only to be simmered for about half an hour. (However, Brussels sprouts have too strong a flavour and tend to overpower everything else so you’re better off leaving them out, and don’t use red cabbage leaves unless you want your finished stock to be blue.)
Fish stock can be made from scraps of fish with some onion or pale vegetable peelings, but never use fish bones; they make the stock taste bitter and render it completely useless.
The quantities of vegetables and seasoning in lots of these recipes are approximate and can be adjusted any which way you like. (In some recipes specific quantities aren’t given at all.)
Because I like recipes with lots of leeway I’m not very precise about quantities generally and only include them for one of the following reasons: as a starting point for anyone who hasn’t cooked the dish before; because it’s helpful to know in advance how many portions you can expect to make with a certain weight or volume of food or liquid, or in cases where the amount of any ingredient in the recipe will directly affect the end result.
All eggs are medium unless a recipe specifies another grade and, needless to say, to be able to judge a handful all you need is your own hand and a bit of common sense, not a certain-sized hand (as somebody once suggested to me – honestly). Similarly, where I’ve said a mug or a cup you’ll know exactly what a regular mug or cup looks like.
Where a ‘standard’ tin is mentioned this refers to the average, most common size, although the weight or volume given on the tin could say 410 g, 400 ml or 14 oz. And where a recipe mentions just ‘a tin’ this either refers to the standard size, or it means the quantity simply doesn’t matter so you can use any size tin you like.
I never give specific amounts of butter and oil for frying because everyone has their own idea of what’s right. A generous amount of butter to me would be about 1 oz (25 g), but another person may use even less than that, whereas somebody else could easily double it, so err on the side of caution to start with; you can always add more as you go, but once you’ve got too much oil sloshing around in a pan full of food there’s not much you can do about it. Also, I opt for butter and certain kinds of oil (or a combination of the two) in each recipe according to what feels right to me, but if you have a better idea and prefer to use different oil or another kind of fat altogether, that’s fine.
I know it’s usual to give a rough indication of how many people each recipe serves, but because this is a family cookbook you can safely assume that every recipe will serve at least four people – and usually more – unless stated otherwise.
For some recipes – usually the puddings – you will have to weigh the ingredients, but once you know what an ounce (or 25 g) of something looks like, you’ll probably find you can do without a set of scales most of the time and measure everything with a tablespoon. One tablespoon = 1 oz (25 g). (Use the same-sized spoon every time and you’ll soon get the hang of it.)
I still think of everything in ounces, pounds and inches rather than metric, so although you shouldn’t have problems with either system, there’s the tiniest possibility that the imperial measurements will be slightly more accurate. And if you’re still not sure about the size of something, fill a tin or pudding basin with flour and weigh that (e.g. a 2 lb loaf tin will hold 2 lb of flour), and for liquids fill the bowl or tin with water and pour it into a measuring jug.
The oven temperatures given here should at least be accurate enough for the recipes, and in most cases are ideal. In any case, as long as you’re familiar with your own oven you’ll soon be able to tell if you need to turn the temperature up or down a notch or two without making any drastic changes to the cooking times.
Some people love kitchen gadgets and I can appreciate a gorgeous, expensive set of saucepans as much as the next person, but if you can’t afford anything better than the bog standard basics, it won’t make the slightest bit of difference to your cooking, believe me. It’s certainly true that you’re better off buying two or three goodquality knives than a whole set of cheap ones that don’t cut anything properly (except your fingers) but all the mixing bowls, casserole dishes, saucepans, cake tins, measuring jugs, whisks, spatulas, spoons and other bits and pieces can be bought dirt cheap from the supermarket or pound shop.
An electric hand whisk is perfect for making cakes, among other things, while a food processor or blender (preferably 2 litre plus) is good for mixing, beating and liquidizing anything and everything. You should still be able to find these things for sale at around £5 for a hand whisk and £20 for a food processor. Hand blenders are also very useful, especially if you want to purée food for babies or make lots of soups and sauces. Finally, I should point out that in many of these recipes you could just as easily use a food processor instead of making dough or squishing meat mixtures together with your hands. I hardly ever do because I’d rather get my hands dirty and make less washing up, but the choice is yours.