Classic Bolognese/Ragù/Tomato Sauce

It was decided we would have a vegetarian dinner since we’d been having meat just a little too often, despite my O- blood group being allegedly quite meat oriented. It’s bullshit, but what the heck.

Fried Onions

We had some Quorn mince in the freezer. Quorn is not the worst thing in the world. We survived on it when my daughter went through the obligatory vegetarian phase in her teens.

I have entered arguments about what constitutes a Bolognese vs. a Ragù and this leans more to the Ragù since it has a tin of tomatoes thrown in.


We start by chopping a couple of cloves of garlic and a couple of small onions. Or one large one. Fry them in olve oil until they are translucent. At this point I also like to add a chopped green pepper sometimes, I find the flavour contrast quite nice. Once that’s all done, throw in half a cup of red wine and some tomato paste and let that reduce.

Finally, throw in 1tbsp of “Italian Seasoning” herbs, a tin of chopped tomatoes and as much Quorn (100g-200g?) as you want and 1tsp of salt and pepper.

A 1/4 tsp of chilli is quite contentious in my house. I find a little heat sets off the flavour of the tomatoes quite nicely. 1tbsp of sugar is a little less contraversial.

Let this simmer for at least half an hour to reduce some of the juice from the tomatoes. What you may find is that the Quorn is a little glutinous and made the sauce a little thicker all on its own.

Tomato Sauce

The next big question is which pasta to serve it with. My answer is: it doesn’t matter. If you serve it with any of spaghetti, penne or tagliatelle, no-one is going to come after you. Just make sure it’s good pasta. Allegedly Barilla brand is the best with Napolina More importantly, apparently, is to save a couple of tbsp of the cooking water and add it back to the pasta. The gluten in the water helps the sauce stick to the pasta. I have no evidence for this!

When serving, top with fresh basil and some grated parmesan. Serve with a nice Chianti and a side salad of choice, maybe some garlic bread.

There you have it! One of my store cupboard staples.

The flexibility of a chicken

Roast chickenSometimes you’re walking past the last day shelf in Tesco and a chicken for £2.50 just leaps out at you, you just can’t avoid it!

You think “I can get at least four meals out of it for the two of us!” And you do! As an example meal plan:

  1. A proper Sunday roast. Beautiful crispy roast potatoes, some fresh seasonal vegetables or two. I still haven’t cracked the secret to lovely crunchy potatoes here, but given a variety like King Edwards, they will still be tasty. It’s summer so we just picked up some broad beans from the farmer’s market. Don’t forget the gravy! I should pontificate at length on gravy at another point.Leftover chicken
  2. Then do something with the leftovers. In this case a chicken pie but I was too lazy to make the lid ? This one had some frozen peas, and chopped red pepper in. And obviously, that thing that makes everything better, sweetcorn. You can put in pretty much anything you like. Chop up a leek or throw in left over vegetables. Swede on the side is a nice touch, and fry up left over roast potatoes. Obviously, with the bones, you’ll get between a pint and a litre of stock. You can either just boil the bones or throw in some garlic, chopped onion, carrots, celery, herbs and so on.
  3. Then, with that stock, make soup! Possibly with some leftover gravy added for extra flavour. This soup has noodles, an egg mixed in, some veggies and a soft boiled egg. We get through the eggs in this house! Cantonese chicken and sweetcorn has been perpetrated in this house and that’s good too,
  4. Last but not least, you’ll probably have a chicken breast left over. That’s easy to dispose of: a chicken sandwich. Me, I like nice fresh bread and mango chutney. That’s the right combination of solid and savoury. The other option is to load it up with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and mayonnaise. Either way.On the bread note, we mostly make our own. Either from the components or supermarket mix, and throw it in the bread maker. Good fresh bread for half the price.

And that’s how you get four meals out of some discounted chicken!

Some good links out there:

There’s plenty you can do with a chicken: lemons, put vegetables in the roasting tin. Me, I put smoked paprika and garlic salt on the skin before rubbing with olive oil. The skin is the best bit. Or just buy the thighs and roast them!

Kitchen utensils – the essentials

Kitchen utensilsIntroduction

Having the right kitchen utensils is really important. I don’t mean some fancy motorised gizmo costing £400, I mean the basics, the simple things we use every day that make our cooking slick, fast and easy, so we don’t even have to think about what we’re doing. So here is a list of tools I cook with nearly every day that make my life happy.

The essential utensils

Garlic press. Favourite utensil.

Ever since British cooking came out of the post-war dark ages in the eighties (thanks Delia!), garlic has been a staple of our cooking. This is probably a function of the Italian cooking which we love so much, starting with pizza, progressing through pastas and into the more exotic. A garlic press is something I use most nights either for crushing garlic into a Chinese dip or a simmering, gentle tomato sauce. The one I have is heavy-duty like this one though I daresay IKEA will provide you with one somewhat simpler and lighter. I just like the heft of it.



Knives are really important. So important, Amazon won’t let me build a link to them. Bizarre.

Try this link instead.

A good sharp knife is really important. I tend to use maybe three regularly: A nice large cook’s knife, around 9″ in length. The one I have replaced the one in the set which died. A small paring knife used for smaller, fiddlier jobs like boning meat or removing the seeds from chillies. lastly, a serrated bread knife. In the olden days I had a small serrated knife for things like tomatoes, but if your main knife is sharp enough, you don’t need it. I also have a meat cleaver I almost never use but have for Asian cooking completeness. Of course, being a foodie, you buy nice artisan bread so a bread knife is essential but being serrated and bread being relatively soft, sharpness isn’t really an issue.

Saucepans and Frying Pans

These are pretty important, but I would say, don’t go over the top. I’ve had IKEA’s basics, rubbish left by landlords in rented flats and decent ones. For saucepans we have a second or third above cheapest set of stainless steel saucepans with lids. For frying pans, a small and large pair of non-stick. I’ve just been told to use a heavy steel frying pan. I remain to be convinced. Woks, we have two, both just basic ones from the Chinese supermarket. As long as you can get them hot enough, you’ll be fine.

One thing to remember, I’m looking at you shakshuka, is that if you ever plan on putting a frying pan in the oven, make sure the handle is metal or else the handle can take up to a 200C temperature.

Vegetable peeler.

A device I use pretty much every evening and pretty much essential for dealing with things like, say, potatoes. They’re cheap and since they’re impossible to sharpen, I’d regard them as disposable to be renewed every year or two. Treat yourself. A nice sharp one is a delight. It glides across surfaces!


Baking tray.

These are essentials you don’t really think about. Perfect for popping shop-bought pizzas, quiches, or fish cakes in the oven, or most things that aren’t cooked in a depth of oil. I’ve several in my cupboard from really cheap, battered, tinny (and ones to more recently acquired Teflon(tm) covered ones.


Roasting dish.

Aside from the obligatory non-stick metal roasting dishes, I’d heartily recommend a good, heavy ceramic dish. I was given a lovely square Kuhne Rikon one which makes sublime roast potatoes. This will also double as a lasagne dish. There’s only two of us most of the time, so I’ve got a half-sized one as well as one half that size that’s just about right for a rhubarb crumble for the two of us.


Box grater.

Yes you can get little flat mandolin things, but the box grater gets the use in my house. The coarse side works for cheese and vegetables. I especially like it for grating carrots for carrot salad. The fine grater gets used for zesting citrus, usually lemon or lime but occasionally orange or grating parmesan. The slicer gets used for slicing, for example cucumber as a prelude to salad or pickling. The fourth side I have no idea. Suggestions welcome!

We have a food processor which almost never gets used. The last time was months ago, probably for prepping loads of root vegetables for a soup. Good job I didn’t spend much on it! Yay Morrisons!


Knife sharpener.

This is a contentious one. In a previous life I’ve had a long thin sharpening steel, but that went the way of my first marriage. I then acquired a gizmo which with a few swipes will render a knife sharp enough long enough to glide through the skin and soft flesh of a tomato. Then, somewhere along the line we acquired a whetstone. Maybe it was even an heirloom. I’m not allowed to use this. My wife was a sculptor and has very strong opinions who such a thing should be used. All I know is that afterwards a blade is sharper for longer. So I would say, well worth learning to use. 15 degrees apparently is the secret.


Sieve and colander.

These things gets a lot of use. The sieve gets used in baking, obviously, to sieve flour. Then they get used at both ends of the cooking process. At the preparation end, for holding things while they’re rinsed under the tap, then at the finish for draining and possible short-term storage.


Chopping Boards.

Unless you want to wreck the surfaces in your kitchen, you’ll want a chopping board. I’ve seen people get quite heated as to what kind of chopping board to get. Plastic ones are easier to get spotlessly clean, but wooden ones allegedly have natural compounds that keep bacteria under control. Then, if you get wood, what kind of wood should you get? And if you get wood, how thick should it be? I’ve got a couple of boards, the larger is bamboo. If you’re planning on serving charcuterie and sliced baguette on a board then go for the larger. That’s about it unless anyone has a better idea!



In following a recipe, measurement is pretty important and therefore it’ss essential to have a good set of scales . Retro folks might like mechanical scales but in the 21st century there’s no excuse for not being digital. I tend to use mine for measuring flour, sugar or butter and not just for cakes!


The rest.

The rest you’ll probably pick up in your local supermarket: cake tins, loaf tins, muffin tins, sweetcorn holders, skewers, egg coddlers and such. You can get these cheaply and easily in your local supermarket.

We mustn’t forget blenders. I have a small countertop one, but the hand blender gets more use. It just saves transferring the soup to something and back.

An electric kettle is a bonus. I’ve found the absolutely cheapest sometimes taint the water with a plastic taste so maybe get a slightly more expensive one.

If I’ve missed anything, please let me know!

Goulash London style and a heresy


A friend said he was cooking this which immediately gave me a yearning.

First thing was that my paprika was supermarket and stale, so I ventured to the Spice Shop in Brighton, purveyor of all things herby, spicy and tasty.

Then it starts getting religious: is it a soup or a stew? Sour cream or not? Served with potatoes, rice, pasta, dumpling or some form of bread? Whose grandmother is the one true queen of goulash?

Ultimately, it seems to me at least, it boils down to distinguishing it from any other beef stew and that means NO WINE and NO tomatoes, however tempting that may be. The guardian recipe recommends faffing with green peppers, I didn’t and they were fine. Use lots of onions, they cook right down to the volume doesn’t matter. For a pound of meat, at least three, fried gently. IMG_1332

Hungarian joke: “what do you want for dinner tonight to go with your sour cream?”

Having stocked up on shiny new paprika it was disappointing to find that my caraway was dead. The end result was good enough but we both thought “needed mushrooms”.

Last night I did it again my way:

  • Put in a bunch of quartered button mushrooms
  • Used most of a bottle of red wine (Hungarian! Undrinkable!)
  • Use a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Threw in a handful of pearl barley just because
  • Bought fresh caraway seeds
  • Scored beef shin from Morrisons which was fatty, marbled and so tender.
  • I threw in some garlic at the onion frying stage
  • I put a tablespoon of flour in with three of the paprika when coating before frying. Threw the unused in anyway
  • I made herby (with Greek oregano!) dumplings

I liked mine better.

Making Stock: The 10 commandments

chicken stock

Apparently I’d been doing it wrong all these years. These are the rules for making stock:

  1. Thou shall use only the finest ingredients
  2. Thou shall not over cook thy stock
  3. Thou shall not sin by adding salt to thy stock
  4. Thou shall not cover thy stock with a lid
  5. Thou shall not boil thy stock for the chef loves the simmer
  6. Thou shall remove all iniquities and scum as they form
  7. Thou shall not stir thy stock
  8. Thou shall not corrupt the flavour of thy stock with strongly flavoured spices or herbs
  9. Thou shall cool and store thy stock correctly

Keep these precepts and thou will prosper and find favour with thy chef and flavour in thy stock

I have a screen grab of this on my kitchen wall. I almost always make fresh stock for the gravy for a Sunday roast.