My food battle with houmous

My first battle with the delicious chickpea dip is how to spell it. The above is how I spell it, and so does the supermarket I used to buy it from, but others seem to use hummus. So I alternate. I use whichever spelling takes my fancy on the day.

I have liked a certain supermarket made houmous for a while, and as is inevitable I always end up wanting to make things myself from scratch, and houmous was no exception.

So the first time, I bought tahini and tins of chickpeas to add to my already ‘stocked’ lemons, olive oil, and garlic. I was most excited to be attempting this what seemed to be a relatively simple dip.

How wrong was I! My first attempt tasted a little bitter and I didn’t like the texture, it was bitty.

Fast forward a while and I decide to have another go, but again I wasn’t happy so hot footed it off to the supermarket to buy their houmous. Hrmph.

Now. I don’t like being beaten by certain things, mainly computers and foodstuffs, so houmous was always in the back of my mind, especially as the canned chickpeas looked at me accusingly every time I opened the larder cupboard.

Here’s where the landscape changed. I heard a couple of tips and stored them in my memory bank until I had others, enough to take a good run at homemade houmous.

By the way, some say buy dried, some say it doesn’t matter. I will buy dried when I am confident enough to compare and contrast, but for now I have tinned to use up.


Tip 1: Cook the tinned chickpeas for longer. Dump them into a pan with an extra can full of water and simmer until they are as soft as you like them.

Tip 2: Peel the chickpeas. Yes, you read right. Peel those little nuggets of chickpea goodness. I leave them in the liquid they cooked in until cool enough to handle but still warm (they need to be warm), then a little squeeze and the skin slides off. It may sound daunting but it took me twenty minutes yesterday to peel the contents of one tin.

Tip 3: Mix all the other ingredients, add the whizzed chickpeas last. (Tahini can seize when lemon is added so add the lemon last of the ingredients before chickpeas as combines better)

Tip 4: Make sure the chickpeas are warm before blitzing.

So I added the tahini, olive oil, garlic, seasoning, and a little chickpea water to a bowl then mixed.

Next I added the juice of half a lemon.

Finally I added chickpeas which had been blitzed until smooth with a little chickpea water then stirred into the other ingredients.

A final check for lemon (it needed more lemon, I used the other half) and seasoning and it actually tasted like houmous!

I’ve now made the houmous twice in as many weeks, without a recipe, just going by taste and using the tips, and it’s delish. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I don’t have to wait months until I do my occasional online shop to get houmous from the supermarket, I can make it whenever I want!

P.S Sorry about the pic, I had to snap the just out of fridge leftovers because I forgot to take the pic last night. Husb had one job — to remind me to take a picture of dinner — and he failed. 😉

My food battle with houmous

Peppered smoked mackerel fish cakes

Every week I try to shoehorn oily fish into our meals and this can be problematic for a few reasons, mainly cost, and meal variation. I would love to do something with salmon a couple of times a week but salmon is costly so salmon is an occasional thing for us. I do sardines — yes, tinned sardines in tomato sauce, mushed up with a little vinegar and white pepper then grilled, delish, — on toast for lunch regularly as it feels less of a problem having repeats for lunch so if I’m struggling with getting oily fish into the meal plan – sardines on toast it is!

The jewel in the oily fish crown though is smoked mackerel, specifically peppered smoked mackerel which is uber cheap and absolutely delicious. The problem here though is what to create with it. Obviously there’s the old faithful pâté, but that’s not dinner (although it’s just occurred as I’m writing that we could have a pâté starter), then I found smoked mackerel and potato bake, then kedgeree, next a warm potato and smoked mackerel salad. That was my measly repertoire. Until recently… mwahaha 😉 I thought up a peppered smoked mackerel fish cake. Now I didn’t follow a specific recipe, but what I did do was look at a few recipes to get an idea of the potato to mackerel ratio then I just winged (?) wung (??!) it.

Additions were few, a big dollop of horseradish sauce and spring onion, because I had some in the fridge. I also baked the potatoes instead of boiling which makes for a tastier mash. If you have a potato ricer baked potato mash is a doddle (cut the potatoes in half across the width, place cut side down in ricer then squish into a pan or bowl. Pull the skin out each time in a oner*), otherwise scooping the potato whilst still hot is a little less of a doddle, and the potatoes do need to be mashed whilst hot.

To the mashed potato I added a couple of spring onions, a couple of spoons of horseradish, and the contents of a pack of peppered smoked mackerel which I think is about 200g. It needed a little liquid so I added a splash of milk before mixing well.

At that point I did my usual when making anything that you can’t taste as you go such as stuffing, meatballs, burgers, I cooked a morsel off to check flavours. With this mix I could’ve just tried a smidge as it was, but it will be different when it’s cooked. When it was to taste I divided it into 8 portions and formed into patties then coated in flour, then egg, then seasoned panko breadcrumbs. Before spraying with oil and baking at 180 degrees c until they were crispy and brown.

I served two each for a hearty dinner with celeriac remoulade and a big standard romaine lettuce salad with my favourite homemade French dressing. Who knew that fish cakes could be so exciting!

As there are two of us the amount produced meant I had four fish cakes for the freezer, which is always a bonus! I froze them after cooking and cooling, but I could have frozen them uncooked, I’m sure. They froze well and were an easy meal.

*Don’t throw away the skins, cut the squished round in half, toss or brush them with oil, season with whatever you fancy (I like chilli & dried oregano, salt, and pepper) and blast them in a hot oven for potato skins. Serve them with your favourite accompaniment. I throw them into a bag the freezer each time I do mash until I have a good amount.

Peppered smoked mackerel fish cakes

Roasted veggie lasagne

We eat meat but I do like to cook vegetarian food which inevitably means I end up experimenting, after all — that’s how we improve!

This veggie lasagne was no different. The first time I made it I carefully roasted red, green, and yellow peppers along with butternut squash, zucchini, and red onions until they had a slight char. This was certain to mean lots of flavour, or so I thought.

Next I added all of the lovely veg to the garlicky tomato sauce I had concocted and reduced until it was unctuous and silky, which meant I pretty much lost the veg in the sauce and the sauce in the veg!

The assembled lasagne was fine of course, but I wanted the individual veg to play their own lead and mixing the sauce and the veg had ruined that.

I thought about the logistics of this lasagne for a while to format a plan for the next attempt, and the following was the result.

As before I cut all of the veggies into large chunks and threw them on to a roasting tray before drizzling with olive oil and seasoning with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a little dried rosemary (I love dried rosemary on veg). After a good mix I put the tray in a preheated 200 degree centigrade oven until they had a nice char and were tender but not mushy.

Whilst the veg was roasting I made my tomato sauce by sautéing diced onion with lots of garlic (4 cloves, my default setting) in a little oil until the onion was translucent. I then added a good dollop of tomato paste and let that cook out for about 6 minutes (it really makes a difference if you use 6 minute rule on tomato paste – just ask Simon Rimmer!) before adding a tin of plum tomatoes and half a carton of passata. At this point I added a good sprinkle of oregano (my favourite dried herb) and an equally good sprinkle of mixed herbs along with SSalt and FGblack pepper. Sometimes I add a splish of red wine to meat sauces at this point, so I could’ve done here, but I probably didn’t have any open. Then the tomato sauce just has to cook out for a while.

I also made an all in one white sauce (really easy, honest!) by putting 637ml cold milk (I use uht skimmed and it still works), 30g plain flour, and 30g cold butter (I actually use oil, but that’s my preference) into a saucepan (it must all be cold) then heated gently, whisking constantly until thick and bubbling and then simmering (whisk free) for about 10 minutes. I then add 100g ish (always more, never less) of grated mature cheddar and check seasoning. I prefer cheese sauce to béchamel in lasagne. (This recipe yields a generous quantity of sauce for a 2 layer lasagne with 3 sauce layers [bottom of dish, then covering 2 layers of pasta] that produces 8 portions. Sometimes I add Parmesan too, sometimes a little mozzarella, whatever takes my fancy.)

Now, with all of the cooked components ready I got my family sized lasagne dish (after this effort I want 6 portions for freezing — and it freezes REALLY well) and put a layer of cheese sauce, followed by my no pre cook lasagne sheets. I then added enough roasted veg to cover, spooning a good eye quantity of tomato sauce on top. Next it was lasagne sheets, then cheese sauce. I repeated from veg to cheese sauce once more then sprinkled grated cheddar, parmesan, and mozzarella over the top. Sometimes I sprinkle a little dried oregano over the top but I forgot this time.

Next it’s the oven, about 160 centigrade fan (or 180 conventional) until the top is nicely browned and the rest is bubbling gently (only visible if you have a glass dish like me!), about 30 to 40 minutes.

I always let the lasagne rest for at least 5 minutes once it leaves the oven to give it chance to firm up.

The resulting lasagne with the veg prepped separately from the sauce was an absolute success. Each vegetable had its own starring role and the texture lifted the dish far above the version I previously made. It also looked really pretty, I hope you’ll agree!

Roasted veggie lasagne

Mumbo ‘Gumbo’

I know there are  at least two different ‘rouxs’.

The first I have a lot to do with when making sauces such as bechamel, and can do it in my sleep. I use a small amount of oil or butter, depending on the dish, add a little flour and cook out for a few minutes before adding milk or whatever liquid is called for. There’s only a small amount of paste created by the fat and flour, but it sits happily being stirred in the pan for a few minutes until liquid is added.

The second, on the other hand – I have read about and watched being made on television but that’s it. Which roux? The roux for a gumbo – the chocolate brown progression from its paler beginnings. I’ve been granted a camera peek into the pot by a few Louisiana chefs, and I’ve read up, but the first time I had any physical dealings was for this particular recipe for Cajun chicken gumbo.

The alarm bells should have rung at the variation, and perhaps a non Louisianan(?) recipe writer. I’m not saying a person that doesn’t hail from, can’t recreate authentic dishes from other countries, after all – I pride myself on being able to do just that, and from various curves of the globe too, but this was a variation on a Creole dish. I initially decided to give it a go because I like the idea of Cajun flavours, omission of file powder (which I don’t have), and the chicken instead of seafood. It’s easier for me to get decent chicken than decent seafood.

So… I’ve now tried twice with this recipe, and it’s very nice – but the roux is a problem. I’ll mention that the first time I made the dish I had exactly the same problem with the roux but still wanted to try again.

Fast forward to a recent late afternoon and after a busy day at work I put a small ham on to boil and prepped the onion, celery, peppers, spring onions, spices, and chicken until I had a pile of lidded containers and a heap of chicken on my red chopping board.

The recipe states, ‘brown chicken pieces – remove – fry onion – then celery – remove both – add oil and flour to start the roux’.

Now, whenever I have watched anything to do with Louisiana roux, it has always been made as a stand alone item, not as part of an ongoing dish. And at precisely this point is where the problems start. It worked out at around 2tbsp oil, plus residue in pan to 5tbsp flour. Both times of making this recipe, at this point, I started to struggle because the measly amount of paste wasn’t browning, it was just sticking more and more to my cast iron enamelled pan. I think I stirred, whisked, stirred again for over an hour yesterday trying to get that roux to turn, to no avail. Confused, bewildered, and frankly knackered I grabbed my phone with the non stirring hand and ventured on to YouTube where I found a very nice gentleman’s tutorial. Sure enough, he was ‘just making the roux’, and his ratio was a 1/1, a cup of oil to a cup of flour. In twenty minutes-ish he had cycled through the various shades needed for smothered pork, etouffee, ending up at the lovely dark roux for gumbo. He then said to decant into a container and cool, later to be used as part of a gumbo.

After listening to, and watching that tutorial I decided to just carry on with the roux as was – after all, the flour was definitely cooked – and aim to make a proper roux another day to be used in recipes. I was on my last legs and it was getting late.

After adding the spices then the liquid (stock) I had to sieve the result into another pan because the flour had cooked for that long I couldn’t whisk out the lumps, I added the browned chicken, onions and celery, and peppers then let it cook for a while, hoping it would reduce too. I added the merest sprinkle of chicken thickening granules to replace the flour that had dried.  Nearer the end I added chopped ham, parsley and at the very end the spring onions.

In the meantime I cooked rice for the middle of the bowl, but at that point I was sick of the sight of this meal so I didn’t eat much. It was good though, even if the roux was wrong, but I’m looking forward to making the roux properly and eating the difference.

Cajun chicken gumbo

I’m not sure if the recipe writer was getting their rouxs mixed up, because the order of use and the method are very similar to the way a French roux might be used in a dish with meat and a thick sauce. Or maybe they have a magic pan!

I will make this dish again because even made improperly the flavours are great, but I’ll have made the roux first… so the recipe will be tweaked to within an inch of its life! I’ll let you know how I get on!


Mumbo ‘Gumbo’

My mad weekly kitchen diary-ish

I’m sorry. I disappeared. There’s been quite a bit going on, and I’ve wanted to write this post since xmas, but I mislaid my images. Months later and hours of trawling through Twitter to find my original post with the images on here I am, finally! And not actually a diary, so there’s that too!

The dish I have been dying to post about is biscuits and sausage gravy.

I first came across this dish – well it was just biscuits and gravy – some years ago when I was visiting family in the States and it was ordered by my sister’s boyfriend at the time.

I was intrigued. Not intrigued enough to order it myself, because my British inner voice was yelling ‘He’s ordered a scone! And it’s got white sauce on!’ but I was interested. Fast forward a few years and the dish would pop into my head intermittently, so I decided that I wanted to make it around xmas time, which is when I try and create interesting breakfasts and brunches.

Here is where the problems started… It took a while, because most ‘recipes’ on the interwebs start with ‘open the can of biscuits’, which frankly is not a recipe, and I can’t buy biscuits in the UK. Not those biscuits anyway, and I don’t think our biscuits, for example Rich Tea or Custard Creams will do quite the same job.

I could have used a British scone recipe, but I wanted to be as near as possible to the biscuit recipe so I persevered.

Anyway, sometime last year I found a good and proper recipe for biscuits and sausage gravy so I made plans to have all of the ingredients I needed for the festive period. Luckily, I managed to get buttermilk which was the main hurdle, and as for the sausage, it wasn’t going to be American sausage but I live in Cumbria (used to be called Cumberland) so using our fabulous Cumberland sausage was a no brainer.

biscuits and gravy
Biscuits and Cumberland sausage gravy!

Now, I’m not the biggest sausage fan, but Cumberland sausage is delicious. I use it also for sausage rolls, and the stuffing for my turkey during festive period. Proper Cumberland sausage doesn’t come in links, but one length. It’s thicker than most sausages, although one can purchase ‘thin’ from certain butchers. The recipe is usually just pork meat and fat, seasoning, and maybe breadcrumbs but Cumberland sausage is quite dense so maybe not.

So… I followed the recipe for the biscuits as closely as possible, but I swapped out the vegetable shortening for lard as the hydrogenated fats in solid vegetable fat that I can buy here are worse than solid animal fat, and I used rock salt instead of kosher. Everything else was kept the same. I then flattened and cut, then threw them in the oven.

Next I started on the sausage gravy by removing the sausage meat from its skin then fried it off as per the directions, added the onion and cooked that before removing the solid stuff from the pan.

I added a little oil to the pan (I didn’t use butter as I didn’t need much) then put the sausage back in and added flour, stirring. It became very claggy as effectively what I was doing was starting a roux with added sausage. I cooked that off for a while before adding the seasoning and then the milk a little at a time. I didn’t measure the milk; I added it in stages until it was the right consistency by eye. I like my sauces thick. The aroma at this stage was amazing as Cumberland sausage always smells wonderful, but had just been elevated.

Now I must admit it was a bit of a slog for brunch because at that point in the festive period I am in ‘hardly any cooking’ mode, but it would be easy to prepare a most of it ahead, after all – I followed this recipe when there were only two of us so we had leftovers for days! And Days! And I froze some.

Can I just say, you probably shouldn’t biscuits and gravy every day, but it was absolutely a-mazing, and it will be a yearly thing for us from now on. I split the scones – sorry, biscuits – horizontally in half as per the recipe pic, and we spooned on the gravy that was still in the pan in which it was cooked in the middle of the table.

Brits… If you haven’t tried this you should!

My mad weekly kitchen diary-ish

My Mad Weekly Kitchen Diary

Okay… I’m not the biggest fan of macaroni cheese, because I’m not that keen on pasta, but occasionally I bite the bullet and make it because it fits with that week’s menu. I like to balance my week’s food as far as possible so that will include some sort of pasta.

Anyway… This was one of those days, and this day I also happened to be craving a dish my foster mum used to make which was white fish in cheese sauce, with potatoes and peas. This day, I had to use pasta though (booooo!), so I pushed my craving down and tried to come up with a pasta dish. The thought of fish and cheese sauce constantly tried to reach the surface, and ultimately gave me the idea of ‘Seafood macaroni cheese’!

I had basa fillets in the freezer along with prawns. I also had mussel meat in said freezer but didn’t think mussel meat would look very pretty.

I tend not to follow a recipe when I make a roux, I just use equal parts of butter or some such* and plain flour, then add my milk a little at a time until the sauce is the consistency I want. But as a guide, 1 heaped dessert spoon of flour/butter makes about 500ml (a pint ish) of sauce.

In this instance though, I poached the basa in milk, then used that milk to make the sauce before adding grated mature cheddar until the sauce was very cheesy. When the sauce was complete I added the defrosted cooked, peeled prawns and warmed them through before adding the basa and cooked macaroni. Once I’d piled it all into a baking dish I sprinkled panko breadcrumbs mixed with a little parmesan over the top and shoved it under the grill to brown. I didn’t want the seafood to overcook by baking.

The resulting Seafood mac and cheese was delicious, and it definitely upped my enjoyment rate!

Seafood macaroni cheese
Seafood macaroni cheese

*Sometimes I use sunflower oil instead of butter because I’m melting it anyway.

My Mad Weekly Kitchen Diary

My mad weekly kitchen diary

Just a weekly bit of fun whereby I can natter about any culinary ‘inventions’, successes and disasters in the kitchen.

If ever I talk about a dish that you want more info on, let me know and I’ll do my best to elaborate!

So… after an enforced break because I had to do the year end paperwork for the business I’m just pulling some meals I cooked from the last few weeks, hopefully the more interesting ones!

Larger image below
Larger image below


Any day

I have always wanted to make my own paella. I’ve been to Spain a lot, but only eaten proper paella once at a party. It’s difficult to order at a restaurant because you have to order in advance, and it’s for more than one person, but husb never fancied it. I dream of that one time I ate it as I love rice dishes! Anyway… I haven’t got a proper paella pan but I decided to ignore that point and use my super duper pan with ears (two teeny curved handles) instead.

I don’t know what I was searching for this day, whether I was looking at pans, or searching for a recipe, but I came across a paella pan site that had a really interesting recipe with very good instructions so I made plans to make it.

Firstly I blackened my own red peppers under the grill; then put them in a plastic food bag to steam for a while then peeled the charred skin off with my fingers when I could handle it. Some people rinse the pepper under the tap, but that must wash away a lot of flavour.

The recipe is long, so I won’t go into all of the detail because you can see it above, but I’ll mention any important stuff, first of which is… at the time I didn’t have paella rice… so I used carnarolli (risotto) rice.

I also paid particular attention to the ‘sofrito’ which, in all my years of hunting down paella recipes, has been missing, and I think is the key. I used thigh meat, which has much more flavour, and I resisted the urge to stir the paella when instructed not to when creating the ‘socarrat’ (not a rodent that plays football, it’s a crust that forms on the bottom), it felt like a long time, and I didn’t use foil because my pan has a lid.

The finished result was excellent, and I credit the detailed recipe instructions. I’m dying to cook the recipe again, and now I have paella rice too!



C wanted a pie on a Friday, and I like to do a curry on a Friday, so I thought I would make a lamb keema pie, a proper pie with a top and a bottom in a bid to accommodate the two thoughts. I made the keema using my special spice mix, and made sure I split the oil at each stage then when ready I cooled it; then filled the lined pie dish, adding a lid when it was full. When it was time I just shoved it in the oven for about forty minutes. I served it which Bombay mashed potatoes, and mushroom pea curry.

The pie was very tasty, but it was too dense, it was absolutely packed full of the keema, I needed to make more of a gravy, next time he can just have his English pie!


One day

Last week at some point I made Cumberland sausage toad in the hole. Now… don’t believe everything you read about toad in the hole, there’s not bread or fried eggs involved. Toad in the hole is sausages in batter!

Most people will buy bog standard sausages for this dish, but we believe it deserves award winning Cumberland sausage, so that’s what we used. If you’re unfamiliar with authentic Cumberland sausage, it doesn’t come in links, it’s just one long sausage that the butcher will weigh, cut, and then coil so we don’t need a really long bag and a lorry to get it home!

Anyway… I used a 5, 5, 8 ratio to make the batter. This was new to me and mixes metric and imperial. So (I think) it was 5 eggs, 500g flour and 8floz milk. She mixed metric and imperial so it would be easy to remember, but I can’t remember if the 8 is milk or flour, so that worked, didn’t it! Anyway… I made the batter beforehand, and added a little grain mustard for a bit of zing. Nearer the time I cut the sausage into large pieces, put them in a baking dish with a little sunflower oil, and roasted them for about fifteen minutes until the top of the sausages were starting to brown and the dish was very hot. I then whipped it out of the oven and poured in the batter as quickly as possible before shoving it back in the oven. It took about half an hour to cook, and was well risen and golden when I pulled it out.

I served the toad in the hole with vegetables and onion gravy. The batter was quite heavy, next time I’ll replace some of the milk in the batter with water, if I follow the 5,5,8 again.

Chicken, choizo, & roasted red pepper paella, lamb keema pie, Cumberland sausage toad in the hole.
Chicken, chorizo, & roasted red pepper paella, lamb keema pie, Cumberland sausage toad in the hole.


My mad weekly kitchen diary