We cook a lot of very simple meals in our house. We like dishes that don’t require long lists of ingredients, complicated preparation or a lot of hands-on cooking time (though we are a fan of slow cooking which lets the oven, stove or slow cooker do all the work).
It’s no secret that better quality ingredients create tastier end results; spending a little more often pays dividends. We like to buy a really good chicken and stretch it to several excellent meals rather than eat bigger portions of a cheap, hormone-pumped, water-logged bird that fails to excite the taste buds. A few impressive but not outrageously expensive king oyster mushrooms upgraded a regular mushroom dish to a fantastic one. Just 25 grams of smoked cheese completely lifted the flavour of feather light cheese gnocchi. And I am certain my home-made walnut brittle was even better because of the sweet and tasty walnuts, collected and dried in the grounds of a friend’s home in France.
But today, I am not talking about fresh produce. On my mind are ready-made ingredients that can be used to make simple dishes into amazing ones.
- A jar of caramelised onions made very easy work indeed of a caramelised onion and potato dauphinoise, and makes it interesting enough to go from side dish to a main in its own right.
- When I made my first (heart attack) potato salad last year, I used Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise – its egg yolk-only formula makes it much richer and creamier than regular British varieties. Fantastic Denhay bacon helped too.
- Using African Volcano peri peri marinade instead of mixing my own spice blend for my Persian-Mozambique Yoghurt Baked Rice was a masterstroke, if I say so myself, as creator Grant Hawthorne has already done the hard work of beautifully balancing the flavours.
- Similarly, Coca Cola pulls together sugar, caramel and a touch of acidity in a way that works surprisingly well as the main ingredient in Billy Law’s Coca Cola Chicken recipe, here.
- I don’t think anyone who tried my speculoos and mascarpone pancake cake would mind that it was so quick and easy to make thanks to a jar of speculoos paste, rather than mixing my own spiced filling by hand.
- Adding a stout (beer) and honey glaze to what is otherwise a fairly standard meatloaf recipe definitely raised this bacon-wrapped glazed meatloaf far above the mundane.
- Likewise, it’s good quality beer that lifts Pete’s chocolate and porter cake from just another ordinary chocolate cake into something a bit different and rather special.
Our latest such dish was a simple pasta dinner which took only minutes to make, used just four ingredients and was utterly delicious:
One of these was a flavoured mustard from famous French brand Maille. Pete and I visited their original store in Dijon, Burgundy a few years ago and were excited to see quite how many flavours were available. Maille have now come to the UK and have an attractive two-story shop in Piccadilly. Staff are happy to guide you through tasting samples and choosing products to purchase. Maille also sell online, but reserve many of their flavours for sale only in their stores.
Their “Bleu” mustard is a smooth and mild French mustard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine, both perfect accompaniments to mushrooms and cream.
Pasta with a Mushroom, Cream and Maille Blue Cheese Mustard Sauce Recipe
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 300 grams white cup mushrooms , sliced
- 25 grams Maille Bleu (mistard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine)
- 100 ml double cream
- pasta of your choice , amounts as per your usual portions
We used fresh penne rigate – a perfect shape for the creamy sauce to cling to.
It’s definitely worth experimenting with different mustards; if you use English ones, reduce the amount as they have a much fiercer kick. Of course, you can always add actual blue cheese and a splash of white wine to plain mustard if you aren’t able to find Maille Bleu.
Put a pan of water on to boil, for cooking the pasta. Add salt and a small splash of oil.
Fry the mushrooms in a the oil over a medium heat until they release their juices and then a higher heat until the juices are absorbed / evaporated. Stir regularly, so they don’t catch. We usually find this takes 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size of mushrooms and pan used.
Take the mushrooms off the heat, add the mustard and cream and stir well. Put back onto a very gentle heat to warm the sauce through.
Season to taste.
As we were using fresh pasta, we put it on to cook once the mushrooms were cooked, just before adding the mustard and cream. However, if using dried pasta, start cooking it once the mushrooms have been on for 10 minutes.
Drain the pasta thoroughly, then add the mushroom sauce to the pasta and combine thoroughly.
We seldom worry about presentation when cooking for ourselves, but if you want to make the dish look a little more interesting, you could reserve a few cooked mushrooms to one side before adding the mustard and cream, and use them as a garnish on the finished dish.
The blue cheese and mustard flavours both came through wonderfully and married well with mushrooms and cream.
I’d love to hear your ideas for using plain and flavoured mustards to lift a recipe – are there any recipes you can suggest? And are there other ingredients (such as the ones I mention above) that you like to use to make an ordinary recipe extraordinary? Please share your ideas!
With thanks to Maille for review samples of some of their mustards, dressings and oils.
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!10 Comments to "Lifting Simple Dishes Using A Star Ingredient"
I love the Maille honey mustard as a pasta sauce with sausages and sticky onions. Delicious!
Oh yes, that sounds good. Love sausages, onions and mustard in a creamy pasta sauce, so adding honey mustard instead sounds perfect!
I use a mixture of Dijon-style mustard, soy sauce, garlic, thyme, powdered ginger and olive oil to coat a rack of lamb (trimmed of all fat) before roasting it. When I first saw this recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child immediately became my food heroine – how gutsy for an American woman to use soy sauce as an ingredient in a French recipe, writing in 1961. This is a very delicious combination but using soy sauce could have subject her to ridicule at the time, since it would not be until many years later that fusion became fashionable. The mustard soy sauce mixture freezes extremely well; it is a great standby to transform plain meat into something special.
Sounds wonderful. I use honey, soy sauce and mustard mix on lamb, before grilling, usually on lamb chops.
Love that story about Julia Child, yes she was so ahead of her time, so bold and focused on taste.
I am a big fan of Maille’s Aioli Mayonnaise. It goes really well in a homemade coleslaw, russian salad or potato salad. Thank you for sharing other delights that you use in your kitchen.
I’ve not tried that but I love aioli so will look out for it. Glad you enjoyed the ideas, thanks Tina!
I agree – I absolutely love tarting up a dauphinoise with caramelised onions. Another fave of mine, if a spoonful of chilli jam in a simple pasta sauce
Ooh good idea, and I have various chilli jams and sauces in the cupboard!
Bacon jam in gravies and stews lifts them amazingly, I agree with you on the Kewpie mayo too, always have that in.
Another one is liquid smoke, a few drops can transform a dish.
I’ve never tried liquid smoke, it’s an ingredient I’d like to play with…