A to Z of ingredients

A = Almonds

There are a few staple ingredients I keep stocked up in my baking cupboard (i.e. the smallest cupboard in the kitchen which releases a cloud of flour every time I open it) however almonds is something I rarely run out of. Regardless of the fact that I can’t think of a single recipe which calls specifically for almonds. Its just one of those ingredients I add of my own volition. Some ways to use them in cooking & baking include:

  • Replace some or all of the flour in a cake with ground almonds. This gives the cake a better flavour, lovely dense consistency (perfect for a lemon drizzle) & means your cake is suitable for people with gluten intolerance or allergies.
  • Sprinkle some flaked almonds into a dry frying pan & cook over a low-medium heat to toast them lightly golden brown. Be careful not to burn so shake the pan regularly to ensure they cook evenly. Once toasted add them to bulghar wheat or couscous with some parsley. Or sprinkle them over the tops or sides of iced cakes.
Nutty herbed bulgar wheat & toasted flaked almonds.
Nutty herbed bulgar wheat & toasted flaked almonds.
Birthday cake with toasted flaked almonds around the sides
Birthday cake with toasted flaked almonds around the sides

Birds-eye chillies

Birds eye chillies are very hot and small which makes them more fiddly to de-seed although I wouldn’t use anything else. I reckon birds eye chillies have a sweet fruiter flavour & although give a nice heat (once de-seeded) it isn’t too fiery.

However I recommended washing your hands immediately after handling these wee fellas. I cant tell you how many times I have rubbed my eyes, mouth or nose  several hours after handling these and I can tell you right now, the pain is not worth forgetting.

For a spicy curry I normally add 2 de-seeded chillies.

C = Creme Fraiche

Creme fraiche is the wonder ingredient of my kitchen and I honestly don’t know how I cooked without it before.  Lets look at it in comparison to cream for a moment because that is what it is often used as a substitute for.
Always buy full fat. NOT low fat. Image: Tesco.com
Always buy full fat. NOT low fat. Image: Tesco.com
Cream, even double cream, is a little too thin for my liking & asides from the odd weekend pudding I very rarely use the stuff. While it is hardly expensive it is a shame to buy a carton & throw the majority of it out after only using it for 1 meal.Creme fraiche on the other hand has the thickness I’m after, it doesn’t curdle (provided you don’t buy the low fat stuff) when added to hot sauces and it has a somewhat piquant taste to it, not dissimilar to sour cream, but milder and with a smoother, less grainy texture.

I use creme fraiche on an almost daily basis in more ways than I would use cream, sour cream or natural yogurt. If a recipe calls for either of use the majority of the time I use creme fraiche instead and nothing terrible happens. Here are some ways where it can be used up:

  • Nachos – These are my go to hangover snack. Pile some plain salted tortilla chips onto a large plate. Dollop salsa, creme fraiche & guacamole all over the chips. Top with grated cheese & microwave on high for 1 & half to 2 minutes until the cheese starts to melt. 
Hangover Nachos
  • Curries – When making any curry I either marinade the meat in the spices with creme fraiche overnight or stir it into the curry sauce before serving to make it milder & creamier.
  • Toppings – Add a generous dollop of creme fraiche on top of spicy curries, spaghetti bolognese (a trick a flatmate once taught me) or chilli.
  • Baked Eggs – You haven’t lived until you’ve had  eggs baked in a ramekin with a few tablespoons of creme fraiche. Creamy dippy egg heaven with none of the hassle of boiled eggs.

D = Debbie & Andrews of Harrogate Sausages 

Until a couple years ago I really never gave much thought to sausages. OK I favoured the supermarkets fancier brands & did experiment for a brief period with those strange flavourings (pork & leek, thai sweet chilli) but sausages were never something I thought “cor yeah!” about. That is until I tried Porkinsons sausages after reading Nigella Lawson’s epic, How To Eat first time. I quickly realised where I was going wrong my life, in terms of sausages of course. These were sausages as I had never known them before. Seasoned to perfection and they actually resembled pork! Not that grainy watery way that sausages are associated with.

And what was the cause of this dramatic boost in flavour & texture? Porkinson sausages were made with at least 90% pork meat. Whereas most regular sausages can be as low as 50-60%. So you can imagine (or maybe we dont really want to) what the other 40% is made up of.

Porkinsons sausages. If you can get em, do!  Image: womanandhome.com
Porkinsons sausages. If you can get em, do!
Image: womanandhome.com

Sadly I haven’t been able to get Porkinson sausages since but my next option is Debbie & Andrews of Harrogate. Theirs are 97% pork content, so not only do you get a better taste, but the peace of mind you are not eating unidentified junk.

Meaty,chunky & fantasticly seasoned pork sausages. Image: ittakesawoman.co.uk
Meaty,chunky & fantasticly seasoned pork sausages. Image: ittakesawoman.co.uk

E = Eggs

You’re probably sick of hearing me harp on about the quality of free range organic eggs so I shall keep this brief.

I know what I prefer to eat because I notice the difference between the two. Its like when you drink supermarket branded Orange Juice and think its fine, there’s nothing wrong with this. Then you try Tropicana or freshly squeezed orange juice &  its SO much better you cant go ever back. Neo had the same predicament in The Matrix when he took the red pill.

I wouldn’t class organic free range eggs as terribly expensive but its all relative. There are other ingredients I wouldn’t splash out on because I don’t class them as important, but I know other people would.  To each their own.

I guess the point I’m making here is that if YOU notice the difference between organic free range & regular cheaper eggs and you can afford it, then you’re more likely to buy them. If you don’t notice the difference or cant afford them, then don’t lose any sleep over it.

On a side note, here are some eggs I doodled on just to cheer things up a little. It was such a shame to have to boil them.

Cheer up your eggs with a Sharpie pen. 


F = Fresh Pasta

I love making fresh pasta & I really believe that the more you do it the better you become at it. Yeah it is a chore & can take most of the afternoon so save it for those days when you have less on. Now unless you have the strength of a wrester I really wouldn’t advise making fresh pasta without the help of a pasta machine. I’ve never been able to achieve the same degree of smoothness & thinness required with just a rolling pin.

Lime green & bursting with iron & vitamin C!
Lime green & bursting with iron & vitamin C!

The easiest rule of thumb I’ve seen when it comes to making your own pasta is courtesy of Michela Chiappa:

  • 100g Very strong white flour
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • Touch of water if its too dry

This will make enough for 1 person so you can increase the quantities according to how many you are feeding. For more informaiton on how to make & roll out pasta see my Lasagne & Sweet Potato Ravioli recipes.


To Be Continued…..

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