Monday, 23 July 2012

Can Cook, Does Cook: Home Cooking at The Barchester

Despite having an unhealthy addiction - when it comes to my bank balance that is - to eating out at restaurants here there and everywhere, I do love to cook at home. My cookbook collection is ever-expanding and if you have a look back through my posts, I'm always wittering on about my new book and which recipes I may attempt/pour over/ruin.

However I find that some of the things I cook the most come from either something my mum has made or something I've decided to try based on the extensive flicking through said books. As I've mentioned before, my mum can probably cook anything and probably has, thanks to my dad's strange and adventurous food tastes - snails, Andouillette sausages, pigs trotters... The list goes on. In fact dad once deep fried pigs ears, served them up without telling us what they were and dared us to try. Needless to say, we haven't tried that again.

My mum taught me 95% of what I know when it comes to cooking and luckily enough my parents would treat us to a lovely dinner out and about more often than me and Bro probably deserved. So my foody ways have to be blamed on them both - now they do benefit these days as I try to cook for them, with some considerable success if I do say so myself.

Mum taught me this next recipe and it's very easy and cheap. You can do it from store cupboard and freezer items - I always have a stash of sausages in the freezer because The Scouser would do almost anything for a sausage and bacon sandwich (my bribe of choice).

Sausage Ragu (feeds 4 if you aren't too hungry)

You will need the following:
1 onion
bunch of sage (or dried if you can't get it - I never can!)
6 sausages (don't need to be posh, the cheaper the better)
a few cloves of garlic (I have an obsession and so add loads)
tomato puree
little bit of red wine (normally as much as I can spare from the bottle I inevitably open)
100ml whole milk (semi-skimmed at a push, but you'll need more)
Parmesan, if you fancy it

Chop the onion, garlic and the sage - throw it all in a frying pan with some olive oil and a bit of salt. Fry this off until it's softened, but not brown. Meanwhile you need to skin the sausages - slide the knife down the sausage and peel it's skin away. Break the meat up if you can (cheaper ones can be a little sticky!) Now chuck all the meat into the sauce pan and mix it in - don't have the heat too high and try to break the meat down. You want it to be slightly larger than mince.

Once it's broken down, put approximately 2 tbsp of tomato puree in. I add a bit more but it depends on how much sauce you want. Stir and stir until the sausage meat is all covered in lovely redness. Let this cook for a minute, then throw in some red wine. I like it quite wine-y but can never bear to spare too much wine - don't put in more than a large glass. Let it cook down, turn the heat down to medium-low and add half the milk. Now this is a bit weird to add milk but don't worry - you won't taste or see it, it's to richen the sauce. Give it a final stir and let it cook for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is quite rich and thick. Serve it up on top of pasta and with some Parmesan if you're using it. Nice homely food that won't break the bank.

Mushrooms on Toast (feeds as many as you want)

You will need:
a slice per person of nice bread of your choice
some wild mushrooms if you can get them

This is not a healthy one! You don't have to use much cream or butter as somehow the mushrooms release some lovely juiciness that makes the sauce creamy - the cream is just to add a bit extra. I can get wild mushrooms from the market near my office, and as they become totes fashionable then they will be in supermarkets. Tesco do these which aren't that cheap as I can get them for £1.50/200g. I've tried this with chestnut mushrooms and it's nearly as good (and cheaper still!)

Anyway, brush off any dirt and chop up the larger mushrooms. Melt a knob of butter in a saucepan and throw your mushrooms in with some salt and pepper. They won't need much cooking, so once they've started giving up their juice, pour a little cream in and keep stirring them. Put your toast on, and once everything is warm and you have enough sauce to soak into the bread, serve it up and enjoy immediately. An easy starter or quick main if you're on your own!


Because we're totally zany and really know how to live, me and The Scouser decided to have a pizza making competition this weekend. I know, we really know how to live... I've been following the escapades of The Skint Foodie since he started his blog in December 2011. He's recently been featured in Observer Food Monthly -  a fascinating guy with a story to tell. He lives off £40 a week for food and he has some amazing recipes, I encourage you to browse. He has published a pizza dough recipe (and pizza base sauce too) so we used this for our bases. It's here if you want it

The dough was easy to make. It doesn't look like you'd get four pizzas from it but it grew! My only tip for the dough would be to roll it a lot thinner than you would like it - it expands quite considerably during cooking. We thought we would get thin crusts but ended up with deep pan!

We bought loads of toppings from Aldi & Tesco. I know, Aldi. They have an amazing selection of pre-packed meats, including parma ham, bresaola and chorizo, which is much cheaper than the overpriced Tesco offerings. As a cheese fiend, I had mozzarella and goats cheese...and maybe some cheddar. The Scouser found some spicy Mexican cheese (that was very spicy) and we got cracking...

Can you guess that mine is the cheese feast to the right of this picture? During the cooking, the cheese slid off a little - so cheese fiends, beware. As mentioned, our bases were way too thick and so could have done with a little more oven time and a little less cheese overload. But they were still tasty, the dough was so easy and this is definitely much cheaper than your generic pizza takeaway shack. Much nicer too! I'd really recommend this if you have the hour and half it takes for the dough to prove and I bet kiddies would love making their own pizza.

The other half of the dough is now in the freezer ready for the next pizza competition. It pains me to say it, but The Scouser won round one.
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