Old favourites like Marmite and Worcestershire sauce still make indispensible ingredients

There's a lot to be said for tradition. Ranged on the shelves of my store cupboard are bottles, jars and tins with familiar labels whose names are redolent of British culinary history. Alongside the HP sauce is the Horlicks, the Lea & Perrins and, of course, the Marmite. The latter - along with Worcestershire sauce - has had a whole cookbook devoted to it. Many of these much-loved names were condiments invented as flavour enhancers back in a time when food was bland and sauces scarce. You might think they've had their day in our flavours-of-the-world kitchens, but it's rare that you come across a new invention that's a match for these tried-and-tested household names. OK, there are modern equivalents of the Fisherman's Friend or Gentleman's Relish, but the old chaps are with us still as well.

Since my walk-in larder was completed I have enjoyed the luxury of eyeing up ingredients and thinking of new ways to use old favourites. Tomato ketchup is always in my sights; not for squirting on sausages, but as an ingredient in sauces, dressings and marinades. In the restaurants, we've had the smartest of dishes that owe their taste to a good measure of ketchup and no one knows the difference, or would even guess it was there.

If you're in any doubt as to the popularity of these traditional tastes, then take a look at the snack market with its ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and Bovril flavoured crisps. I flew to Australia on Virgin Airlines recently and their nibbles were Worcestershire-sauce pretzels - quite delicious. Then there are those Fudge's Marmite biscuits. Don't get me started on them. But I think it's time we stopped snacking on these household names and started cooking with them.

Welsh rabbit leeks

Serves 4

Like a British equivalent of Thai fish or soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce is one of those condiments we can't do without. A good bloody Mary relies on it, as does proper Welsh rabbit. Yet who could recite the ingredients? Anyway, vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind, onions, garlic, spices and other flavourings sound as if they've come from a fusion menu gone wrong. Worcestershire sauce came about, so the story goes, one day in 1835 when the chemists John Wheeley Lea and Mr William Henry Perrins from Worcester were called upon by Marcus, Lord Sandys, on his return from a stint as governor of Bengal. Lord Sandys asked the two chemists to make him up a batch of sauce using a recipe he had brought back from India. They set to work, but the end product was pretty ghastly. They sent the bottles on to his lordship anyway and kept back a few samples just in case something remarkable happened in the bottle. And so it did. This recipe uses two other traditional ingredients, and just wouldn't taste the same without them.

12-16 young leeks, trimmed, cleaned and left whole
150g Caerphilly or Cheddar cheese, grated
2 egg yolks
3tsp Worcestershire sauce
1tsp Colman's English mustard
80ml Guinness
80ml double cream
Salt and pepper

Cook the leeks in boiling salted water for 8-12 minutes, or until tender, depending on their size then drain in a colander and keep warm.

Meanwhile simmer the Guinness until it has reduced by half, add the cream and then reduce this by half again until it is really thick. Leave to cool.

Mix together with all the other ingredients and season to taste. Pre-heat the grill to maximum. Arrange the leeks on a heat-proof dish or plates and spoon the cheese mixture over the middle of the leeks. Place under the grill for 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Eat with crusty bread or a salad.

Hearty beef and vegetable soup

Serves 4-6

Bovril was originally called "Johnston's fluid beef", by its creator, John Lawson Johnston. An early advert for his product showed an ox staring at a bottle of Bovril with the caption "alas, my poor brother".

After defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871, the French authorities decided the food it fed its troops was totally inadequate. Johnston, an Edinburgh butcher, tendered for a contract to supply a million cans of beef over three years. f When he found that cows were in too short supply to fulfil the order, he came up with the idea of the liquid cow. But for the past few years, Bovril, which is now owned by Unilever, hasn't contained any beef at all. Some people claim they can't taste the difference.

Bovril makes a simple alternative to the lengthy process of homemade, dark beef stock and, once cooked with the stewing beef and vegetables, you really wouldn't know the secret.

150g stewing beef, cut into rough 1cm chunks
A few drops of vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
1/2 tbsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
1tbsp Bovril dissolved in 2 litres of hot water
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into rough 1cm chunks
3 sticks of celery, cut into rough 1cm chunks
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into rough 1cm chunks
A few leaves of Savoy cabbage, cut into 1cm chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a few drops of vegetable oil in a thick- bottomed saucepan. Season and fry the pieces of meat for a few minutes until nicely coloured. Turn the heat down and add the onions and thyme and gently cook on a low heat for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the flour and tomato purée and mix well, then gradually stir in the stock. Bring to the boil, season and simmer for about an hour then add the carrots, celery and parsnip and continue cooking for another 20 minutes, or until the beef is tender. Add the cabbage and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Malt ice cream

Makes about one litre

In winter my gran insisted I drank Horlicks at bedtime. Though it hasn't been as popular as it was when I was growing up, I did get a sense that the malty drink was making a bit of a comeback last year. For the sauce here I've used another taste of childhood - sweetened condensed milk - to make a great caramel sauce. Although some people make this sauce simply by boiling the unopened can in water for a couple of hours, I'd recommend opening the can and caramelising the milk in a pan as below.

400ml milk - gold top, Guernsey or Jersey
150g Horlicks
400ml Jersey or double cream
6 egg yolks (save the whites and freeze them for a recipe in few weeks)
100g caster sugar
200ml can of Carnation condensed milk

For the caramel sauce pour the condensed milk into a double-boiler, put the lid on, bring the water to the boil and cook the sauce on a low heat for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it's thick and a light-caramel colour remove from the heat and beat until smooth.

Put the milk into a saucepan, bring to the boil and whisk in the Horlicks until dissolved. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together then pour the milk on and whisk well. Return to the pan on a very low heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly using a whisk, but don't let it boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Leave to cool then churn in an ice-cream machine. If you're not eating immediately, transfer to a container and freeze until needed. Serve with the caramel sauce.

Chocolate panna cotta with oranges

This recipe uses cocoa powder, something you graduated on to from Horlicks, and which once seemed a grown-up bedtime drink to be had from a mug in your dressing gown and slippers. It always used to be Cadbury Bourneville Cocoa, but now there are many others, like Green & Black's Organic Cocoa.

200ml milk
6tbsp cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
600ml double cream
3 leaves of gelatine

for the sauce

2 oranges
70g caster sugar
1tsp cornflour

Put the milk, cocoa powder and sugar into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring with a whisk until the cocoa and sugar have completely dissolved.

Meanwhile soak the gelatine in cold water for 2-3 minutes until it softens, then squeeze out the water and stir into the hot milk mixture until it dissolves. Leave to cool a little and whisk in the double cream. Pour into moulds or cups; it should make 4 large or 6 small servings. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours, or until the panna cottas are set.

This gives you plenty of time to make the sauce: peel the zest of one orange using a vegetable peeler and shred it as finely as you can. There is a special zesting tool you can buy for this job. Squeeze the juice from both the oranges and strain through a fine sieve into a saucepan. Add the sugar and zest, bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced by half. Dilute the cornflour in a little water, stir into the orange juice and simmer for another minute until it thickens, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

To turn out the panna cottas, dip them briefly in boiling water and turn out into your hand then on to plates and spoon the sauce around.

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