Monday, July 07, 2014

Fish Fingers


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I have loved fish fingers ever since I was a kid, my mum always had a packet or five in the freezer for a quick and easy tea - fish fingers, mountain of mash and lots of peas (also from the freezer). Squish the lot onto a fork for a seriously great mouthful. Sometimes mum would add lemon juice to the mash - a great trick for accompaniments to fishy dishes - but that was pretty much the only fussing about that happened. Then about the time I was around ten or eleven there was a few weeks until we moved from the way out west town of Bourke back to the balmy seaside of Wollongong and so there was a mission to empty the freezer and pantry and eat the lot before leaving. I have no recollection of anything else we ate in those few weeks but I swear we ate fish fingers daily for a month. Sometimes for lunch, more often for dinner it was fish fingers, mash and peas. Fish fingers, lemon mash and peas once or twice then back to the original. The freezer had turned into the black hole of the kitchen and it was somehow filled with one hundred times its actual volume with fish fingers and peas - and we were not leaving till every single finger and every single pea had been consumed. Somehow we made it through, boarded our flights out and left that house behind along with Cliffy our lovely galah, over which many tears were shed. My dad followed us a week later, driving the car back across the 500 miles and, softy that he can be, brought Cliffy along for company. Jubilation!

It was a very long time till I ate another fish finger, about the time I left home and had to fend for myself while a student. I soon revisited the comforting charms of fish fingers, mash and peas - great food ready in no time. It soon became apparent that fish fingers alone was even quicker, or else stuffed into a sandwich the melted butter adding extra delight, and far less washing up overall.

The last packet I bought, a few years ago, weren't great. More crumb than fish, and fish that had an awful lot of reforming inflicted upon it. I gave them up for a while then recently wanted them again. Went to Borough Friday and told Paul, who runs Sussex Fish, that I was planning to make fish fingers for dinner. Good on you madam, he said, had some a couple of weeks ago myself and it was brilliant. He picked up a lovely piece of cod fillet I'll give you that thick section there, be easy to cut that into nice fat fingers. And so it was.

Fish Fingers

400g piece of cod fillet, check there's no bones at all
2 tablespoons plain flour, seasoned with a bit of salt
1 egg, beaten
About 50g breadcrumbs, Panko work well
Oil for shallow frying

Cut the fish into 4 even pieces -these are your fingers. Dip each one first into the flour, coat it well and shake off any excess. Next dip the finger into the beaten egg and coat well. Finally dredge the fish through the breadcrumbs so that it's covered on all sides. Put each completed fish finger onto a clean plate, and when they're all done cover with cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes or so.

Heat the oil in a heavy based pan over a medium flame, when it's hot add the fish fingers and fry for a few minutes till the underside is golden. Flip them over carefully and fry the other side till they are crisp all over.

You can serve with mash and peas but, making the most of it being summer I tossed a green salad  and added a spritz of fresh lemon. Big hunk of bread in case sandwiches were needed...



Even better than I remember!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Chard Bacon & Mushroom Salad


Click to  make full screen and see how easily this salad goes together


Have developed a real passion for chard but I must admit I don't actually know how to pronounce  the word. Is it chard like a splinter of glass or chard like a bit burnt round the edges? What's even weirder  is which ever way I say it it sounds wrong, so I try the other version and - same problem.

What I am certain of is that it is a great veg shredded and cooked down with lashings of butter for a side dish, stirred into lentils and stews for lots of added minerals and the fibre that gives it its wonderful texture, stirred into noodle soups and stir fries or eaten raw in salads like this one. The lovely Gwynnie and the clean eating brigade like it juiced - and I concur, it's a great addiction in small quantities.

Chard is also a town in Somerset with its own museum, but remains unrelated to the leafy vegetable.

I had a bag of it from my veg delivery last week - another thing in its favour is it lives happily in the fridge for a week without turning to slime - and knew salad was the way to go as joy oh joy the sun was shining. Proper balmy days. I had some mushrooms too, as well as radish I bought mostly to add a kick to my morning juice. No beetroot but this is a template, you really can use what you have so long as there's something that can be sliced and cooked and added hot to wilt the leaves a little. The hot stuff I went at with enthusiasm, because bacon is great with mushrooms and with eggs and a poached egg makes it a more substantial meal. Add crusty bread and that's dinner.

Chard Mushroom & Bacon Salad

This is such an easy recipe to adapt, use chorizo instead of bacon or leave out the  bacon altogether and cook the mushrooms in oil, use different nuts and salad vegetables, turn the bread into garlic croutons, it all works.

For 2

200g chard leaves
1 tablespoon basil oil or olive oil
100g smoked bacon, cut into small cubes
150g mushrooms, wiped  clean and sliced
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Handful of radish, washed and quartered
Handful of walnuts, roughly broken into largish pieces
2 eggs
Bread and butter to serve

Tear the soft leaves from the thick stems of chard and wash thoroughly. Shred the leaves and put them into a large salad bowl then add the oil and a large pinch of salt and massage that into the leaves. Leave it for 20 minutes or so and the leaves will soften slightly.

In a dry pan fry the bacon over a gentle heat till the fat rends and turns crisply gold. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat in the bacon fat then cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes or so until the mushrooms have softened and given up some of their juice. Tip the hot bacon and mushrooms into the chard, keeping back as much of the liquid as possible and put the pan back on the heat. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar and tip the hot mixture over the salad. Toss well then add the raw radish and walnuts and toss again.

Heat a small pan of water and poach the eggs till the whites are set and the yolk still runny.

Divide the salad between two bowls, top each with a poached egg and have crusty bread on the side.




Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Veg Bag Week



I've had a good food week this week, in part because the spring veg has arrived for the bags from Local Greens. One of my reasons for signing up with this scheme is wanting to eat more vegetables generally, and also have them as the starting point for more meals and the random collection each week is quite inspiring and occasionally overwhelming. There was a seductive selection this week - and as I now volunteer with them occasionally to help pack the hundreds of bags they send out each week I am gifted the bonus of some extras from the leftovers. Thursday was mountain of veg day, and also night out at the theatre day so nothing got used except lettuce and tomatoes for crusty rolls.

Friday was better - I've been wanting fish for a week or two so bought a couple of decent cod steaks from Paul on the Sussex Fish stall and simply fried them in olive oil, then finished them with thin slivers of new season garlic and chopped parsley in the last of the hot oil. For the accompaniment I roasted a couple of pointy peppers till blackened, peeled them and added them to cooked farro, and dressed it all with sliced red onions caramelised in basil oil. Perfect summer food.

Saturday we were out all day, gorgeous lunch at A Wong and a (de)light(ful) supper at Terroirs so the only food at home was made by the man strawberry and banana smoothies with coffee and toast first thing.


Sunday breakfast was more of the same and decadent as it seems we had lunch out again, roast at The Canton, which was uncharacteristically quiet for a Sunday which is lovely for us as punters but worrying for the owners if their numbers are dwindling. I had been dreaming of clove and honey glazed ham with creamy potato salad for days as I love the new potatoes served this way so that was Sunday supper with the rest of the barley salad from Friday and lots of lovely leftovers for a few lunches. There was one small disaster too - I had a pretty little purple kohlrabi and I fancied it as a slaw just grated with carrot and dressed with vinaigrette. For some reason I decided to make the dressing with eau de vie from a bottle I bought from one of the Armagnac producers in France. Tasted like you think it would - and no, it really does not work with coleslaw. Live and learn.

Monday I still had mushrooms and kale and I fancied a big robust salad, with walnuts and things. There was a hunk of sourdough left from the weekend that I could see as cheesy crouton, and still plenty of onions and garlic to fry off for flavour. Though it is a bit of a surprise to eat raw kale - it is quite metallic in flavour and a long way from delicate in texture - I have grown to like it very much. The trick I think is to discard the hard stems and then *massage* the torn leaves with olive oil and a little salt and leave to soften for an hour or so before adding the rest of the elements. I cooked lots of sliced onions and garlic in olive oil, then added sliced chestnut mushrooms to cook down and tipped the lot while hot into the bowl of *relaxed* kale. Tossed in a handful of walnuts, some sliced tomato then deglazed the pan with a splash of balsamic and mixed to combine everything before dividing between two big bowls.


The man poached a couple of eggs till just perfectly runny and added them to the top with a crunch of crouton. Seriously great dinner. More mess than I was anticipating but a total pleasure to eat.


Far simpler and much less mess was dinner Tuesday night - just the soothing stirring of rice and stock  for mushroom risotto made rich with butter and Parmesan and finished with celery leaves and parsley. For reasons I don't understand I always sleep well after a big bowl of risotto. Plenty left for lunches for a day or two.


Wednesday was time to use up the last bits from the bag - there was still a few new potatoes, a couple of onions and half a head of new season garlic, a paper bag full of broad beans. For a sunny day a warm potato and allium frittata with a side of broad beans doused in basil oil and a crunch of salt was a delight, and easier than pie.

















I bought very little extra fruit and veg - apples, celery and more peppers for morning juice, strawberries and bananas for weekend smoothies and that was all. I used everything I had - the last of the kale and a couple of tomatoes went into the juicer mid week for extra healthy start mid week.

Don't know if the change to more emphasis on vegetables is significant or just that it's easier in summer to go for the delight of light when the sun shines, but I guess time will tell. Either way, it's a pleasurable way to eat.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Here Comes Summer!


Possibly a tad keen on my part but it was such a gloriously sunny weekend after all the rain, can't hurt  - much - to hope. Planning days out and dinners dominated by, if not delicacy, then certainly a lightness of touch seems marginally less ridiculous than usual. This positivity was enforced by an email from Sopexa enquiring whether I'd care to sample a couple of bottles of Chablis -  bien sur!

Chablis is the steely white wine produced in the Burgundy region of France. It has a slightly austere quality that is very refreshing on a warm day and means it pairs well with seafood and simple poultry dishes. Salad had pole position on the menu plan for the weekend - the verdant flavours of fresh leaves and cucumbers and, especially, asparagus have been seducing me these last few weeks. It is very definitely spring when the fat bundles of asparagus are piled up early at the market.


Loved the idea of warm roast chicken for Saturday night special, even more so with a bottle of Domaine Vocoret & Fils Premier Cru chilling in the fridge. Aiming for elegance and simplicity I planned no more than a beautiful green salad on the side, dressed with a tarragon cream sauce. I associate tarragon mostly with Italy, where it is known as dragoncello, a name that conjures for me all manner of excitements and fire. I love the mix of aniseed and light vanilla notes that judicious use confers on all manner of dishes and try and grow it in the summer, sometimes successfully.

Dragoncello Dressing



This makes enough for a generous bowl of your favourite mix of salad leaves spiked with thin slices of cucumber and chopped chives

1 medium egg, hard boiled and cooled
A pinch of smoked paprika
70ml double cream
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon leaves
Salt and pepper

When the boiled egg is cold, peel and cut in half then scoop the yolk out into a small bowl. You can discard the white or, like me, add a twist of salt and claim it as cook's treat. Mash the yolk very thoroughly with a fork and season with a little paprika. Add a teaspoon of cold water and mix well then add the cream, vinegar and tarragon. Taste and season then add to your salad and toss gently to combine and serve immediately.

This makes such a great dressing I couldn't resist making another batch Sunday to dress still warm new potatoes for a fine dinner of cold roast chicken with basil dressed asparagus and peas for green. A cool glass of Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 2012 rounded out the first weekend of *summer* delightfully.

Thanks to the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) for supplying the wine!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Little Carrot Pots


The thing about getting a weekly veg bag that is preselected by someone else is that it becomes an ever evolving challenge. To use it all in the allotted time, to make great food - new and interesting dishes with the contents as your starting point and defining guide - avoid disasters, don't let it spoil or go to waste, eat less meat all seem to be considerations. A weekly Ready Steady Cook challenge at home. It's harder than it should be!

This week I had carrots and no plan for most of them. Love carrots - all alone they can brighten your day - they taste great, have a brilliant crunch, are lovely raw, grated, juiced, steamed, mashed, useful in all kinds of stews and salads the whole year long. If they don't come from the supermarket they have the potential to be comedy shapes or the starting point of many a joke. Good for you - the World Carrot Museum summarises neatly -   
 
Let us start with a brief history of Medicine and Nutrition - 

Patient "I am sick".
Physicians responses:
3500 years ago - "Here eat this root"
2500 year ago - "That root is heathen - say this prayer"
150 years ago - "That is superstition - drink this potion"
50 years ago - "That potion is snake oil - take this pill"
15 years ago - "That pill is no good, take this antibiotic"
Today - "that is not natures way - here eat this root" 

 The recipe I settled on this week had piqued my curiosity in the weekend Guardian. It was for a dessert, a concoction of carrot  and cream, gorgeously scented with vanilla and orange then served with more cream in little pots. The man loves little pots! It comes from Thomasina Miers' article about pigs - and her pig idea project.



Carrot and Vanilla Pots

Makes 4

Use the best flavoured carrots you can get your hands on - I find if they smell sweetly carroty they taste pretty good

200g carrots, peeled and finely sliced
15g butter
40g golden caster sugar
Juice and zest of an orange (a blood orange, ideally)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla pod
175ml double cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Put the carrots in a saucepan with the butter, a tablespoon of sugar and the orange zest, and add water to cover. Cover and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the heat and cook until all liquid boils off – the carrots should be tender and glazed. Add the orange juice and vanilla extract, and whizz to a fine purée with a stick blender.

Cut the vanilla pod in half and scrape out the seeds into a clean pan. Add the cream, scraped pod and remaining sugar, bring to just below a boil, remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly, retrieve the vanilla pod then pour the warm cream into the carrot purée. Add the whole egg and egg yolk, and whizz with the blender.

Fill four ramekins with the mix. Place the ramekins in a baking tray and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until just set. Remove, set aside to cool and serve at room temperature with cold pouring cream.

 They worked a treat, very simple to do, and I'm thinking they'd be fabulous with a blow torched sugar crust - though that might be because I am hankering for a kitchen blow torch.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Wild Garlic Pesto

Lamb and barley soup with wild garlic pesto
Wild garlic is a fine harbinger of spring and definitely an unmistakable find if you're wandering happy and aimless in the woods in celebration - or relief - that winter is gone for another year. It loves damp shade - so an ideal plant - and pushes through ground cover and creates a sort of cloud of garlic perfume. Quite a surprise on a first encounter! The leaves grow to a foot or more and the flowers are quintessential spring - pretty bright white stars shine amidst the dark, they are a great garnish on a salad.

I got a big bunch in the veg bag last week and I really fancied trying my hand at pesto. I have a friend who is very enthusiastic about food, loves eating great stuff though it must be said is not the world's finest cook. The one thing she does make better than anyone else I know is pesto - she finds a perfect balance of basil, nuts and cheese and serves it generously on hot pasta. Love it. Her mastery means I have never actually made pesto in any form - it's so great, why would I? But she left London a while ago and I've not eaten pesto since. A vague hankering was beginning to niggle.

I had a few pine nuts and a few more walnuts and a fine hunk of Parmesan and that seemed as good a start as any. I lightly toasted the nuts but I think you could use all walnuts and skip that step entirely. It is a very easy thing to make - chuck it all in the blender and whizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Add oil. This makes quite a decent quantity, too much for us to eat in one sitting, but it keeps very well in the fridge for a couple of weeks so long as the top is covered with a thin layer of oil.



Wild Garlic Pesto

If you don't have the time/inclination to forage wild garlic is sold at lots of farmers markets and the occasional fruit and vegetable shop at this time of year

Large bunch wild garlic
20g pine nuts, lightly toasted
30g walnuts, lightly crushed and toasted
50g finely grated Parmesan
100ml olive oil

Wash the wild garlic and rip the leaves into smaller pieces and put into a blender jug. Whizz to make a paste. Add the nuts and cheese and whizz again to combine. Season with salt and pepper, add about half the olive oil and whizz once more. Keep adding the oil and whizzing till you have the consistency you want. Tip the finished pesto into an airtight jar or tub, cover with a thin film of olive oil and refrigerate.

I loved having this in the fridge for a week - I used it first to dollop into a rich lamb and barley broth, then a few days later into a less successful vegetable soup. I loved it best however on Sunday night mixed into hot spaghetti with extra Parmesan grated on top. Brilliant supper ready in ten.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Veg Bag A Week


I have very recently signed up for a weekly bag of vegetables from Local Greens, a south London group who work with organic farmers to provide a selection of good quality vegetables to as many people as want it around Brixton, Herne Hill, Dulwich and Camberwell. A list of what will be in each bag goes up on the site on Monday and the veg is dropped off at numerous locations around the borough on Thursday afternoons to be collected by late Friday. It is a simple, and simply great, enterprise run largely by volunteers that benefits both the consumer with good tasty vegetables at a reasonable price and the farmers who get a guaranteed market for their produce at a  reasonable price. Win Win.

I was a bit over enthusiastic with my choice of bag - I opted for the standard bag with potatoes thinking it would keep us in food for the whole week so long as I made a reasonable plan. What surprised me is that it's the potatoes I find most challenging - we don't tend to eat potatoes every week, indeed I am usually fairly specific about what potatoes I might want and now there's more than plenty to be eaten each week. Last week I roasted them all with some chicken, shallots and garlic - ate some of that hot and put the rest in the fridge for the next day. I'll change to the small bag without potatoes next month but in the meantime using the whole bag in interesting ways each week is my ambition.

This week the bag contatined over a kilo of Valor potatoes, 2 large beetroot, a swede, 3 large carrots, some pak choy, a good sized bunch of wild garlic, a butterhead lettuce, a couple of leeks and a bunch of spring onions. Good value! I hadn't been home an hour and I'd put the beetroot on to steam for salad and I'd turned the wild garlic into pesto with the addition of some toasted pine nuts, walnuts, Parmesan and oil.


Thursday night I roughly chopped yesterday's cooked potatoes and put them into a small frying pan, added beaten eggs and cooked a frittata that was a delightfully chickeny flavour-wise and a proper dinner with a side of steamed beetroots dressed with fig vinegar and a grated carrot salad.

Friday I made a veg heavy lamb and barley soup with stock from the freezer and a sort of recipe from Mark Hix as a starting point. I served it topped with a serious dollop of the wild garlic pesto and lots of crusty bread, a glass of red and a nibble of cheese it was a good dinner.

Saturday I wanted to use the bok choy and the spring onions - those ingredients say STIRFRY most immediately and I didn't want to venture further. I had some thick slices of belly pork in the freezer with no plan attached. Checked through some Fuchsia Dunlop recipes and settled on Qing Qing's Back-in-the-Pot Pork - yes it was the great title. The pork is twice cooked - first it's simmered in water until tender then later stir fried with lots of aromatics - ginger, loads of garlic, the salty tang of black beans, chilli of course and, in my case, chopped pak choy then finished with a couple of the spring onions and sesame oil. I'd done the first cooking in the morning so come Saturday night it was quick and easy to stir fry everything and serve the deeply fragrant result over mountains of steamed basmati rice.

Sunday I had a plan. My friend Catherine told me once that she occasionally makes mashed potato pie for supper. I was nonplussed - I have never come across the idea let alone tasted one and I couldn't imagine what the texture would be like - weirdly smooth with lumps of stuff, perhaps, or crunchy shell with a claggy middle? It also seemed possible that it would be the kind of deeply rich comfort dish that the man would love on first bite and remain smitten forever. I thought no more about it until I came across Anna del Conte's recipe for tortino di puré di patate - translates as baked potato purée with salame and mozzarella - surely nothing if not an Italian mashed potato pie? Given the surfeit of potato for the month and a mozzarella that needed using I could not resist. And so it came about that I served up a smooth rich, surprisingly dense potato purée studded with chunks of toscano salami and a top crisp with golden breadcrumbs alongside a very good salad of basil dressed asparagus and peas, finished with another of the spring onions, very finely chopped.

Monday I defrosted a litre of chicken stock - yes I am still on my Sisyphusian mission to clear the freezer! - to make a vaguely minestrone style soup with lots of vegetables and a handful of tiny pasta, topped with some of the wild garlic pesto. In my mind it was a hearty dish, so thick with vegetables it was practically stew and all of it richly rounded up with the pesto. What it ended up as was an oddly sweetish dish - I think from the combination of swede and carrot and the addition of a tin of tomatoes. The pesto helped but it was a disappointing meal, the more so as I had planned to finish it Tuesday for dinner but it wasn't good enough to do twice so it landed in the compost. I hated wasting those lovely vegetables.

Tuesday then had to be better! I still had lots of beetroot salad, plenty of carrots and the lettuce so I went with something I know well and make in almost never ending iterations - stuffed pita (had some in the freezer). I bought some lamb mince and made little balls with garlic, bhaharat spice mix and the last spring onion finely chopped. I turned a tin of chickpeas into cumin scented hummous, grated a carrot and mixed it with chopped dill and a splash of oil, and shredded the lettuce added a handful of sprouts and dressed it with a spoonful of yoghurt lightened with a dash of olive oil. Fried the balls, warmed the pita and consumed it all with the kind of intense delight you get from great food that was so much better than the last meal.

Wednesday used the last of the beetroot, carrots, lettuce and hummous with warm falafel and the last couple of slices of pita. At the end of the week we the vegetable bag is empty, I've been loving the wild garlic pesto as a new thing, been converted to mash potato pie and generally eaten very well.

Next week the bag contains the first of the salad potatoes which I'm delighted about. Also carrots, spring onions, celeriac, mixed salad, spring greens, a cucumber and white mushrooms - a challenge to use it all and use it well and find something new to make too.