Thursday, 19 June 2008

Lime & Onion Chicken

This is a very simple dish, great with rice and sliced cucumber/chopped peppers/etc. It is also unbelievably easy and uses very basic ingredients, and the base recipe is for 2 people. Once you have tried this, you will do this dish again and again. I promise you this! :o)


1. Chicken thighs or drumsticks or wings or any cut (skinless or with skin, it doesn't really matter), 500 gm, extra 250 gms per extra person)
2. 1 lime (or 1 lemon), thinly sliced
3. Honey

From your pantry
  • Onions (2 medium, 1 more per extra person)
  • Olive oil (3 teaspoons, 1 more per extra person)
  • Balsamico vinegar (1/4 cup, 1/8 cup more per extra person)
  • Garlic (optional)
  • Rice (1/2 cup per person)
The trick to this dish is covered heat, so please use your larger saucepan to make this dish. Oh, and use high heat again.


Cook the rice as per the following simple rules.

1. Wash the rice in the smaller saucepan until the water begins to clear
2. Drain off as much water as possible and leave rice in saucepan
3. Use the same measure of water as the rice; ie. if you put in 1 cup of rice, then now add 1 cup of water
4. Now add an additional 1/4 cup of water per full cup of rice
5. Put saucepan on cooking ring set on high heat
6. When rice is boiling hard and frothing, then turn the heat down to minimum
7. Leave for 15 mins. The rice will be perfect!

The chicken is prepared very easily.

1. Peel and half the onions and chop into slices. If you wish, finely chop up a small knob of garlic as well
2. Thinly slice half a lime (or lemon). Add 2-3 extra slices per extra person
3. Pour oil into large saucepan and heat on high heat
4. Toss in onions (and garlic) and stir around until soft
5. Chuck in the chicken pieces
6. Turn chicken pieces around until they are brownish
7. Chuck in lime (or lemon) slices
8. Pour in balsamico vinegar
9. Stir the chicken in the sauce and cover the saucepan
10. Leave for 5 mins. If you are using chicken pieces with skin on, then leave for 7 minutes
11. Stir the chicken again. They will be getting sticky in the sauce
12. Cover and leave for another 5 mins
13. Drip some honey on top of the chicken, according to taste, and mix into the sauce
14. The sauce will now get really sticky, so stir in some water to make the sauce lighter if required
15. Taste the sauce, add more honey to suit, and stir in more water if necessary
16. Cover saucepan for another 10-15 mins until chicken is cooked, stirring every 3 mins or so, remembering that pieces with the skin on take a bit longer to cook.

If you are making a big batch of chicken, then until you are familiar with the volumes, the easiest way to check if the chicken is cooked is just to take a piece out and cut it to have a look. If it is too pink, leave everything a bit longer in the saucepan. If the sauce had dried up a bit, then just add more water!

Serve with the sauce on top of rice, preferably garnished with chopped cucumbers, red peppers and, for extra taste, some chopped fresh coriander or parsley. And that's it! :o)

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Schnitzel (Wiener Art, sort of)

According to the story, schnitzels originated from Vienna and are traditionally made from cuts of veal which have been pounded flat and then breadcrumbed. Schnitzel (Wiener Art) simply means that the schnitzel is done the same way as in Vienna but not necessarily with veal. I experimented with various meats and I found, to my surprise, that one very tasty cut of meat to use is actually also one of the cheapest, and that is pork shoulder chops!


1. Thick cuts of pork shoulder, no bones (or skinless chicken breast fillet), 250 gms per person
2. Box of breadcrumbs (crusty, golden type)

From your pantry
  • Salt
  • Pepper (ground)
  • Olive oil
  • Potatoes (2-3 per person)
The knack to making a good schnitzel requires a little vigorous application of the meat hammer. Not too much, else the meat will disintegrate into a stringy mess, and not too little as then the meat will remain tough.


Start by preparing the potatoes.

1. Wash the potatoes and place them into the most suitable saucepan
2. Cover with lots of water, sprinkle in a teaspoon of sale and put the lid on
3. Put the saucepan on a ring at high heat
4. When the saucepan is boiling hard, turn the heat down until it is simmering and leave for 20-25 mins until the potatoes are more or less cooked.
5. Drain the water and leave the potatoes to cook by themselves in the saucepan.

The schnitzel itself is prepared very simply.

1. Place a pork shoulder chop on a chopping board on top of a solid surface
2. Whack the meat with the meat hammer, reducing its thickness by 40% or so, not more. So, if the piece of meat was originally 1 inch, then after beating, it should be 0.6 inch thick.
3. Repeat 1 and 2 until all the meat has been tenderised by the meat hammer
4. Sprinkle ground pepper over the meat, then sprinkle salt over the meat, and rub it in
5. Turn the meat over, and repeat step 4
6. Pour the breadcrumbs out onto a large flat plate or chopping board
7. Pat the seasoned meat into the breadcrumbs until it is fully coated
8. Heat some olive oil (about 3 mm deep) in a frying pan under high heat
9. When the oil is hot (ie, when wavy patterns appear on the surface of the oil), use the kitchen tongs to gently and CAREFULLY put as many slices of meat as will fit in the frying pan
10. Fry uninterrupted for about 2-3 mins, then check under the meat to see if it is golden crusty. If it's not cooked, then leave for another minute or so
11. Turn over with the tongs and fry until the other side is also golden crusty
12. Remove from the frying pan and place the meat on some kitchen paper to drain.

Serve by slicing the potatoes (with the skin on) onto a plate, then place a schnitzel on top. If you like, garnish it with some fresh crispy vegetables (which you can buy in packets in a supermarket) and scatter some of CC's Salad Dressing on top. And, er, that's it!

Sesame Oil Chicken

This is a very satisfying dish to make and it is amazingly simple and tasty. It comes from an old Cantonese recipe which I have adapted over the years and it works practically every time. It also does not take long to make this dinner dish.


1. Chicken leg quarters (or mixed chicken quarters) with bone, around 300-400 gms per person
2. Small bottle of sesame seed oil (must be oil from roasted sesame seeds)

From your pantry
  1. Ginger (minimum is about the size of your whole thumb, add half thumb size more for additional persons)
  2. Soy sauce (light)
  3. Sweet sherry
  4. Rice (for the staple), half a cup per person
  5. Pepper (ground)
The secret to this dish is heat - you will need to cook everything very quickly under pretty high heat from your gas or electric ring. The flavour comes from the interaction between the bones and the sherry and soy sauce. If done correctly, a lot of the ginger would also have "melted" into the sauce giving it a unique piquancy.


Start by cooking the rice, as follows:

1. Wash the rice in your smaller saucepan until the water runs a little clearer (use half a cup per person)
2. Pour off water and add back clean water in roughly 1.25:1 proportion, ie. if you used a cup of rice, now add 1 1/4 cups of water to the WET rice
3. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and cover saucepan
4. Put on gas or electric ring at high heat, until rice boils hard, then turn it down to minimum. Rice will be cooked in 15 mins more.

Now here is how to do the main dish, which you can start once the rice has started to cook. Remember, once you start cooking, leave the cooking ring at a high temperature throughout:

1. Cut off the inedible leg end bits from any drumstick pieces. This is to release the marrow inside the bones so that it can flavour the sauce
2. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces (optional)
3. Chop the chicken pieces across the bones into 4-5 cm chunks (it doesn't need to be precise) You will now realise the advantage of having a good sturdy knife!)
4. Peel any dirty bits from the ginger (you can leave the rest of the ginger skin on if you like)
5. Finely chop the ginger into 1 mm slices, across the grain
6. Using a high gas/electric ring setting, heat around 4-8 tablespoons of sesame oil in your larger saucepan (minimum 4 tablespoons, add 1 extra tablespoon per additional person)
7. When the oil is just starting to smoke, CAREFULLY throw in the ginger slices and stir vigorously around the oil
8. When the ginger is just starting to turn brown (1-2 mins), CAREFULLY throw in the chicken pieces. sprinkle over the ground pepper, and stir fry for around for 2 mins
9. Cover the saucepan for 2-3 mins
10. Splash in 1/4 cup of sherry and 1/4 cup of soy sauce, and stir chicken pieces around the sauce
11. Cover the saucepan for 2-3 mins
12. Again, splash in 1/4 cup of sherry and 1/4 cup of soy sauce, and stir chicken pieces around the sauce
13. Cover the saucepan for around 3-5 more mins
14. Stir the chicken pieces around the sauce one last time
15. Cover the saucepan for just 1 more min
16. Do not open the cover of the saucepan. Just turn the heat off and leave for 5-10 mins.

Note: If your cooking ring is not hot enough, then allow some extra time for the periods when the saucepan is covered, say an extra minute or two. You must learn to adjust according to the cooking equipment you have available.

While you can serve the chicken by just ladling the sauce and chicken onto plates of rice, it is often nice to garnish it a little, so why not slice up a washed cucumber and ring that around the rice. Oh and you can also use some chilli sauce as well. Simple and very tasty!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

CC's Salad Dressing

This is a very simple dressing and you can make lots in advance and keep it in a bottle in the fridge to use to scatter over salads whenever you like. I made this up when I saw the price the supermarkets were charging for bottled salad dressings! It was outrageous and to make it worse, the bottled dressings had loads and loads of E numbers and one golden rule is that if you don't understand an ingredient, don't eat it!


1. Small bottle of Japanese mirin

From your pantry
  1. Olive oil
  2. Mustard
  3. Balsamico vinegar
  4. Garlic (small piece, around the size of the top joint of your little finger)
The secret to this simple tasty dressing is the mirin. If you can't get mirin, then use sweet sherry or sake. Even though sherry or sake can be a little sweet, you will need to stir in some sugar until it tastes a little *too* sweet, so around a flat tablespoon of sugar to 3 tablespoons of sherry or 2 tablespoons of sake.


1. Chop up garlic finely or use electric chopper to whizz it until it's in little bits
2. In a bowl mix chopped garlic with a teaspoon of mustard, 5 tablespoons of mirin, 5 tablespoons of olive oil and 5 tablespoons of balsamico vinegar
3. Pour mixture into a little glass bottle and shake each time before use.
4. The salad dressing will last at least 3-4 weeks in a fridge and you can keep topping it up.

And that's it!

Example of use

Get a packet of ready-chopped salad from the supermarket, a packet of sausages and some pitta bread.

Fry the sausages. Then toast the pitta bread on frying pan or in a toaster. Open the pitta bread, stuff some salad inside, and scatter some of the salad dressing inside, add the sausage, shake on more salad dressing and that's a great snack!

If there are no sausages you fancy, then use bacon instead. Or fried tofu. Or chop up a chunk of cheddar and use that instead. Use your imagination!

Basic Pantry Ingredients

This website is meant to introduce recipes that use less than 5 ingredients. By that, I actually mean 5 shopping ingredients to complement the basic dry or canned stuff you should already have in your kitchen pantry or cupboard. So, fresh chicken would count as an ingredient, but salt won't. And neither will the following items which I expect you must have in your kitchen pantry ALL the time. Else you really won't get very far at cooking anything!

But don't worry - all I want you to include in your pantry are items which you can get from any little grocery shop or supermarket. Nothing is exotic or hard to find at all.

So, the dry and canned ingredients that should always be in your kitchen pantry are:
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Olive oil (extra virgin would be best)
  • Flour (not self-raising)
  • Soy sauce (light)
  • Mustard (Dijon is best)
  • Rice
  • Tinned coconut milk (or packets of powdered coconut milk)
  • Balsamico vinegar* (treated as described below)
  • Bottle of sweet sherry
The total cost of all the above is never going to be more than £15! By the way, I recommend olive oil from either Greece or Spain. Not only are they tastier, they are usually cheaper than the Italian olive oils which are often grown in Greece or Spain anyway but then imported and rebranded as Italian. I use olive oil because I like the taste and it is also a monounsaturated oil which is healthier.

* The top balsamico vinegars are slightly sweeter than normal balsamico, so you can "fix" your bottle of balsamico by mixing in a few teaspoons of honey into your bottle and shaking it up. Add one or two teaspoons at a time, drip and shake into the vinegar and taste it. The moment you can taste a hint of sweetness, then stop!

In addition, the following "pop-in" ingredients (mainly vegetables and spices) should also be added to the list, as they are items which are always available for you to pop into your shopping basket whenever you do your food shopping. So actually, there's no real need to get the "pop-in" ingredients unless the recipe requires it.
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Ginger
Although you don't always need the above "pop-in" ingredients, what I would suggest for convenience is to buy a small supply each month anyway, and just top up the bits that have been used. They are not at all expensive and will keep easily for 4 weeks or so, if kept in a cool place.

And so now you have your basic equipment, and your basic ingredients. So, let us start with cooking with not more than 5 ingredients!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Basic Equipment

To be comfortable while cooking, you need just a few basic bits of equipment. Lots of people get flustered in the kitchen because they just don't have the basic hardware they need and because of that, cooking becomes much more hard work and that puts them off after a while. So the message is simple: get your basic equipment right, and it will make things so much easier.The first thing to get is, yes - that's right, a knife. Not any old cheap flimsy knife but a good sturdy knife that you might feel happy to use to chop off small branches. Make sure it is not serrated or fancy-shaped with funny prongs at the end or anything like that. You just want a simple solid knife made of good steel because then you can use the same knife for chopping, cutting through small bones, slicing, etc. I recommend a 20 cm long blade but you can get a smaller 15 cm blade if you feel a little insecure at first. This is just the blade - the handle will add around 10-15 cm to the total length of the knife.

Next item to get is a frying pan. There is a great range of pans available but it's best to just
get a known brand or one with a thickish base. I would advise getting a pure stainless steel frying pan if you can, even though most pans come with a non-stick coating. The size depends a lot on the cooking ring you have - it should be a maximum of around 5 cm larger than the flame range of the cooking ring you intend to use, not more, else the heat will never cook food at the rim of the pan, or you have to stir around a lot more. Alternatively, you can also use a carbon-steel wok, but please get one with a flat bottom as that is more flexible for cooking.With the frying pan, you need a couple of saucepans, with lids. One should be largish, say around 4-6 litres or so, the other can be smaller, say 2-4 litres. Don't get those small milk pans as they are pointless for real cooking purposes. I really prefer steel pans without the non-stick surface as one should not ever burn food in a saucepan, and even if it does happen, it's really easy to clean a pan with steel wool, provided it does NOT have a non-stick surface. It may be cheaper to buy a set of stainless steel pans (including a frying pan), especially in a sale. And I don't recommend ever using aluminium pans because, well, I just don't like the idea of cooking with a metal that's associated with mental health problems.
You'll also need a couple of wooden spatulas and a pair of kitchen tongs as well. Don't get tongs with those plastic/silicon grips which are expensive and tend to slip - just get a largish sized cheap pair of tongs which are made only from steel.
Then you need a colander, to drain off the water from pasta or to wash vegetables. Get a fair sized colander as the bigger ones are more useful.

In addition, you need a small sieve. You can get a plastic or metal sieve and it doesn't need to be big - just enough to sift flour or pressed grated herbs through.Then you need a grater. Get a metal one with both large and small grating surfaces if you can, or 2 separate graters with different size holes. Just don't get a box grater as they are messy to clean on the inside - you just want simple flat graters. You can use the larger grater for cheese and the smaller one for zesting fruits or grating vegetables.

Oh, and you need some chopping boards, say around 3 or more. Get plastic ones if you can as
they can go in the dishwasher. They will be very useful for preparing and organising ingredients when you cook. Don't bother about picking pretty-looking boards as they will get rough and marked as you use them, so just pick good-sized practical boards to suit the size of your kichen.One more useful tool you will need is a meat hammer. This is very good for tenderising rougher cuts of meat and actually it makes even nice cuts of meat taste even better!
You will also need a sharpening tool for your knife. I use simple roller sharpeners from Kitchen Devil or WMF. There is nothing worse or more dangerous than a blunt knife when you are cutting meat or vegetables, so do get one, or at least get a sharpening stone.A very nice piece of equipment to have is an electric chopper, so go get one! This saves you hours of time chopping and dicing vegetables and is so much fun to use. For example, you can soak cashew nuts overnight and then puree them to make cashew nut milk. Why would you want to do this? Ah, you will just have to wait to find out!Oh, and since I try to use stainless steel cookware rather than ones with the non-stick coating, you will also need some balls of steel wool to clean them. Believe me, you will prefer this to thinking about eating bits of teflon which have scraped off the bottom of your non-stick pans (which might be carcinogenic) and I really recommend this highly.

And, that is it! With the above, you can do all the dishes which I will populate on this website over time. None of the above items are going to be expensive, especially if you hunt down the sale items. So to summarise, you will need (with estimated costs):

  1. Solid knife (15-20 cm blade) - £15
  2. Steel frying pan or flat-bottomed wok - £18
  3. Big saucepan - £15
  4. Smaller saucepan - £10
  5. Wooden spatulas - £1
  6. Kitchen tongs - £2
  7. Colander - £1
  8. Sieve - £1
  9. Dual-sized grater (or 2 graters) - £4
  10. 3 or 4 chopping boards - £8
  11. Meat hammer - £2
  12. Knife sharpener - £5
  13. Food chopper - £15
  14. Steel wool - £1
So, all in all, a total spend of less than £100 will fully equip you for life in the kitchen! And you don't need to get it all straightaway. Just watch out for any sales in department stores and buy them when you can. Some stuff can be easily bought for practically nothing at discount shops. Or you can get them off Amazon if you're too busy.