Category : Recipes

Recipe Review: The Pioneer Woman; Kicked-Up Tater Tot Hotdish


I really enjoy watching The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network.  Good wholesome food that is easy to make.  For most home cooks, not interested in gourmet cooking, this is a dream come true.

For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about; Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, is an American TV celebrity chef, based out on a ranch in America. Ree’s emphasis is on good quality, simple food that is both easy to cook and to eat.  There are quite literally hundreds of recipes on her site (see link at the bottom), including starters, mains, desserts and sharing platers.  Ree’s website contains something for everybody.

Over the years I have tried dozens of her recipes and loved every single one of them.  So why the sudden review?  Well, I ventured into the realms of the hotdish (Americanism for a casserole for those that are wondering), and for the first time, I was disappointed.

Now, let’s be clear, this has nothing to do with the recipe.  The ingredients and the method are flawless.  What it does highlight, is the distinct difference in pallets between the UK and American citizens.  Reason; The sheer amount of cheese deployed in this savory dish.  I made the Kicked-Up Tater Tot hotdish, and there is cheese everywhere.  Cheese in the meat and cheese at the top.  When you combine this with the milk, sour cream and butter, it all starts to get sickly.

Perhaps it is just my palate, but my advice would be, if you don’t go for extremely sickly savory dishes, then avoid this one.

That said, this is only my opinion of one dish.  Ree’s food is fantastic, and I would recommend anyone, and everyone, try her recipes.

As a side note:

I did love the idea of using the tater tots (which are like potato croquet if you are British) atop a meal and then baked, so I modified the concept slightly.  Having not been able to eat the Ree version, I remade it using a thick Bolognese at the bottom, then covered with the potato, then added a topping of grated cheese.  I baked the whole thing in the oven for 35 minutes and then crisped the top off under the grill.  The potato croquet made an excellent substitute for the spaghetti carbs in a spaghetti bolognese, and the whole dish was very delicious.  I served it with a side of homemade garlic ciabatta.



The Pioneer Woman Website

Kicked-Up Tater Tot hotdish- The Recipe

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Pasta / Bolognese with hidden vegetables – perfect for the kids


We have multiple children and getting them all to eat the same veg at the same time is a bit of a nightmare, so I thought I’d try hiding a whole bunch of veg in some sauce to see if I could get away with it.  I did.

All kids seem to go through the “I’m not eating my vegetables” stage, so it’s not something I worry about, mainly.  However, they do still need to consume as many of the life-boosting plants as possible.  After poking around in the fridge, I found some veg that I thought would cook down well and decided to give this sauce a go.

You can make this with, or without, the meat element.  If you use the meat, you end up a with a tasty bolognese.  However, if you prefer just a light pasta sauce, it will work just as well without.  I’ve written the recipe in such a way as you can do either.


  • 500g lean mince (optional, see below)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 leek
  • 2 peppers (red or yellow)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper
  • 300 – 400g spaghetti or penne pasta (dried)
  • A gulp of oil; olive or vegetable


  1. Chop the carrots, onion, leek and celery in pieces.  Smallish pieces, although the size doesn’t matter.  Getting everything around the same size is the most important thing here.
  2. Heat a glug of oil in a large non-stick pan and start to cook the above.  You are looking to soften these, not brown them, so an extended time over a lower heat is best.  Around 20 minutes.
  3. While these are cooking, deseed and chop the peppers and peel/chop the garlic.
  4. When the carrot, celery, onion and leek are softening, add the pepper and the garlic and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes.  Again, keeping the heat low so as not to burn the garlic.
  5. Add the tomatoes, sugar and balsamic vinegar, stir and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat down again and cook for a further 20 minutes.  The longer, the better here actually.  I put a lid on and cook for around 40-45 minutes.  If you don’t have a cover for your pan, add a little water every now and again if the sauce is looking a bit thick.
  7. While this is cooking, cook the pasta, according to the pack guidelines.
  8. Once everything is soft and melded together, blitz the mixture with either a hand blender (soup blender), or if you want a super thin hidden veg sauce, pop it in a food processor and blitz on high speed for a few minutes.  It may pay you to let it cool a bit before using the food processor option.
  9. While in the blender, or using a separate pan if you want to save time, brown the mince.  Get it nice and hot, and beautiful brown as this caramelisation adds a mass of flavour.
  10. Once you have some browned mince, a sauce and some cooked pasta, combine all in a pot and serve.

This dish is lovely with some grated parmesan on top.

I’m not a chef so the instructions may be a little awkward.  It may pay you to read through the method first and get everything done into your order.

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How to make Yorkshire puddings


How to make great Yorkshire puddings and get them right every time.

Yorkshire puddings are a simple baked batter mix with a soft and fluffy inside and a lovely crispy outer.

There are a vast number of recipes online with suggestions for how to make Yorkshire pudding.  Some of the recipes are simple; some are way too complicated.  Over the years I’ve been cooking and having tried dozens of recipe tweaks, it is now clear that the perfect pudding comes from the baking, more than the mixture.

We should get a little bit of terminology cleared up here as well.  The individual little puds that you see in the picture are popovers.  Yorkshire pudding – if you’re getting funny over the wording – is the result of cooking the same batter, but in one large pan.

Either way, Yorkshire pud is yummy with a beef dinner, so let’s crack on.


  • 140g plain flour
  • 200ml milk
  • 4 eggs (medium-largish)
  • Oil
  • Salt & Pepper


  1. Take a 12 hole muffin tin and add a drop of oil into each hole.
  2. Put your tin into the cold oven and turn it on, then heat your oven to 210C (fan) / 220C (regular) / Gas 8.  I find this a good way of making sure the pan and oil are super hot when you come to pour the batter mix into it.  A cold tin ensures a soggy pudding.  The oil should be just smoking when you get the tin out to add the batter.
  3. While the oven and tin are heating, add your eggs to the flour and beat until it forms a thick paste.  I find an electric beater always excels for this.
  4. Slowly add the milk to the egg/flour mix, still beating as you do.  You’re looking for a lump-free, beautifully smooth liquid that is similar to the consistency of the sauce you find in Heinze baked beans (which is probably a crap analogy, but it’s all I can think of).
  5. Season the batter with salt & pepper.
  6. When the oven is up to temperature, take the tin out and pour enough liquid in to fill each of the holes.  Do this quickly and evenly (don’t worry about spilling a bit).  You are aiming to have to tin out of the oven for as little time a humanly possible.
  7. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown all over.  You will see them rise up and then change colour as they cook.
  8. Remove and eat immediately.


A few notes and tips for perfect Yorkshire puddings:

  • Keep the pan as hot as you possibly can at every stage of the cooking.
  • Ensure your batter is lump free.
  • DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR at any point of the cooking.  The puddings rely on having a hard outer shell to keep them in shape.  If you open the oven door before this outer shell has formed, you will see them deflate in front of your eyes to a sorry looking squidge.  The Yorkshire puddings will NEVER recover from this.
  • You can make these Yorkshire puddings ahead of the meal, to free the oven up for the other things.  As soon as you take them out of the oven, place them on a wire rack to let them cool down, which stops them sweating in the pan and going soft on the bottom.  They’ll stay crunchy on the wire rack for a couple of hours.  If you need to leave them longer than that before eating, put them in a sealed tub to avoid going soft.  You can pop the Yorkshire puddings back in the oven for a few minutes to warm them up while plating up the rest of the dinner.
  • Once the Yorkshire puddings have cooled, you can freeze for up to 2-3 months.

I keep forgetting to mention this: If you need to have a look at a conversion chart, there are some common conversions here.

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The best blackberry crumble recipe on the internet


Now that is a ridiculously bold claim in the title, but I do believe after amalgamating several recipes for this classic English dessert, I’ve finally nailed one that I will use over and over.

Hope you enjoy it if you venture to make it.


  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g porridge oats
  • A punnet of blackberries (fresh or frozen)
  • Four apples (green are best)
  • Lots and lots more sugar for layering


  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (160C fan), or gas mark 4 (I think).
  2. Grab a dish.  Anything.  Pie dish, casserole dish, or anything around 1.5-2 inches
  3. Prep the crumble.  Weigh your flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until breadcrumb like flakes emerge.  This doesn’t need to be perfect, as some lumpier bits will add to the textures at the end.
  4. Add the sugar and the oats.  Again, rub this together to achieve a breadcrumb consistency.
  5. Peel your apples.
  6. Using a knife slice around the edge of the apples, the get some thin slices,  stopping at the core.
  7. Rub some butter around the dish, to stop the fruit sticking to the sides and bottom.
  8. Add one thin layer of apple to the bottom of the dish.
  9. Sprinkle with some sugar.
  10. Add a layer of blackberries.
  11. Sprinkle with sugar
  12. Keep going with steps 8 to 11, until you have used all of your fruit.  Neatness is NOT the key here,  as this is a homely crumble, not a work of art.
  13. Spread your crumbly crumble mix onto the top of the fruit.
  14. Add another layer of sugar.
  15. Cook in the oven for 35-40 minutes if you’ve used fresh blackberries, or 45-50 minutes if you’ve used frozen.  Make sure the top doesn’t burn.
  16. Leave for 10-15 minutes before serving to ensure all the juices in the fruits thicken up.

A little note about the apples.  People do say that peeling and coring the apples is a necessity.  I disagree with anybody that gives this advice.  Unless you are producing a dessert where the apples will be on display, this is uncessary.  Just peel the apples using a standard veg peeler and then run the sides up and down the slicer edge of your standard kitchen grater.  Or, you can use a knife.  Or, if you’re posh and have one to hand, you can use a Mandolin.  Any of these will do the job just fine.

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Queso Cheese Dip (Mexican Cheese Dip)

The ultimate “smother over nachos” dip.

This cheese dip is amazing.  It reminds me of the dip that comes smothered over nachos in cinemas and other places.  It has that delicious, moreish taste that you want to keep eating.

It does pay you to slowly cook the garlic and onions. I mean, slowly. I think I spent over 20 minutes over a shallow heat softening everything up.

One final note is that I like a spicy dip and with the amount of Jalopeno’s below, it is quite tangy.  You can increase or decrease this amount to taste.


  • 225 g Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 8 g butter
  • One large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 small white onion, very finely chopped
  • 375g evaporated milk
  • One small tomato, very finely diced
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 113g jar Jalapeno Peppers
  • 1/4 cup coriander/cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 – 3 tbsp milk
  • Salt


  1. Toss the cheese and cornflour in a bowl to coat.
  2. In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt the butter, then add the garlic/onion, cooking until both are soft, but neither are brown.
  3. Add tomato, juices and all, and cook for 2 minutes until tomato softens.
  4. Add evaporated milk and cheese. Stir, then add chiles and Spices.
  5. Add the cheese, stirring continuously.
  6. Add salt to taste – the amount required depends on the saltiness of cheese used
  7. Stir through the coriander.
  8. Add a splash of milk to thin down the sauce.  The sauce will thicken as it cools, so some trial and error may be required.
  9. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature – it will be soft and scoopable even when it cools.
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Gravy Recipe – Vegetarian onion, mushroom and Marmite for sausages


A great gravy for sausages etc.  Don’t go overboard with the Marmite.


  • Two small onions
  • Two carrots
  • Two sticks celery
  • 50g mushrooms (standard / wild / porcini)
  • One clove garlic (chopped)
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • Two bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Two tablespoons plain flour
  • Two teaspoons marmite
  • One tablespoon tomato puree
  • Two tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1.5 litres vegetable stock


  1. Peel the onions & carrots, then rough chop along with the celery and mushroom, then add to a large pan.  Add a splash of oil and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes until browning and soft.  Stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in the flour, Marmite, tomato puree, chopped garlic and vinegar and stir well.
  3. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil.  Then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for ten mins until reduced and thicker.
  4. Pass all through a sieve and scrape to get all of the flavours out.
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