Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Too Many Tomatoes

Actually you can’t have too many tomatoes, especially home grown ones. Fortunately they are so versatile that you never run out of uses for them.

There’s just the problem of using them all up before they turn squishy and mouldy, that’s when I thought about preserving some of them.

I think I’ve already perfected the technique of oven-drying them (there’s a description of how to do that in a previous post) so I thought why not put the oven dried tomatoes into a jar and preserve them in oil?

I made sure I sterilised the jar first, of course, to kill off any potential contaminants and then packed it almost to the top. Then I added a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and topped it up with olive oil, making sure the tomatoes were completely covered. Then I just tipped the jar back and forth so that any air bubbles were expelled, then sealed it with the lid.

I reckon that they should keep very well, and as long as I use them up within a month after opening, they should be okay.
I’m looking forward to using them in sauces, on pizza, in salads and who knows what else?

Buy the Jar

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Grilled Fresh Sardines with Roasted Marinated Vegetables and Gremolata

Sardines are great. It doesn't matter whether they're from a tin or fresh, they're always good. I picked up some Cornish ones the other day, and they were really fresh, smelling of the sea. Their plump silvery bodies looked so inviting.

Although sardines can be eaten whole I prefer not having to deal with any bones whilst eating them, so I set about filleting them. It was very easy as they were of a good size.

Sardines are an oily fish, so something that can stand up to that whilst cutting through the richness was needed to accompany them. Choosing to create a Mediterranean style dish, I slow roasted some tomatoes in the oven, which partly dries them and intensifies the flavour. Just halve some medium sized tomatoes and place them in a baking tray, sprinkle with a little sea salt and sugar and put in a low temperature oven for about 2 hours, or until they have shrunk to about half their original size.
I also cut some red and yellow peppers, courgette, and red onion into large chunks, tossed them in a little olive oil and roasted them in a medium oven until they had softened and taken on some charring at the edges.

The rest was easy. I put the tomatoes and rest of the vegetables into a bowl, added a small splash of red wine vinegar, a good slosh of extra virgin olive oil, a generous pinch of dried oregano, a few capers and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
This I just left to marinade all together while I made the gremolata.

I grated the zest of lemon into a bowl, then add a grated clove of garlic and finely chopped flat-leafed parsley and mixed together well.

All that was left to do was to cook the fish. I laid the glistening sardine fillets, skin side up on a non-stick baking sheet and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. There was no need for any oil – the fish had enough naturally.
Then I put them under a preheated grill on a very high heat, until the skins started to blister and crisp slightly. I didn’t need to turn them over as the fillets were thin enough to allow the heat to penetrate and cook them all the way through.

To serve, I piled the marinated vegetables on to plates along with any liquid and then placed the sardines on top and sprinkled with the gremolata.

Bread was all that was needed to mop up the sweet and succulent juice.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Oh Dear, No Skyr!

We’ve just got back from a very pleasant day on the South Bank in London – there’s a collection of photos here, if you want to look – and I have to say that it has ended on rather a low note.

The problem you see, is that we’ve become hooked on skyr, an Icelandic dairy product, and until we can get back to that beautiful country in the North Atlantic, we have to get our fix when we make the occasional visit into ‘Town’.
Only one shop sells it, or rather sold it, and that’s Whole Foods Market in Kensington High Street (see previous post).

We scoured the chiller cabinet in the dairy section for a very long time, but to no avail. Feelings of desperation set in, so we had to ask a member of staff, who apologetically informed us that they no longer stock it.

Well, we feel very miffed and dejected. Come on Whole Foods Market, what’s happened? Please bring back skyr.
I know that there are a fair number of Icelandic people living in London who are missing it too.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Plum Crumble

You just can’t beat English plums for great flavour. They’re in season now, and if you’re like me, and can’t resist the lure of a Victoria or Marjorie Seedling, this is the best and really only time to find them.
Plums can have quite an astringent taste, but I find that this is one of their best qualities. Much of that special plummy flavour is in the skin, which I like to leave on for maximum taste.
On my visit to Whitstable, I ate at a restaurant named Samphire and ended the meal with a lovely pudding, made with apples, plums and topped with crumble containing Kent cob nuts. It was so delicious that I was inspired to recreate my own version.
Letting the plums take centre stage, I opted to leave out the apple altogether and just have more plums.
I personally think that this should be served with a good crème anglais (if you want to be posh) or custard if you’re traditional like me!

For the plums
1 1/2 lbs plums
2 tablespoons water
sugar to taste
grated zest of half an orange
half teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the crumble topping
4 oz whole blanched hazelnuts
3 oz unsalted butter, cubed
3 oz sugar
4 oz plain flour

Preheat the oven to at 180 C, gas mark 4.
Halve the plums and remove the stones. Place a large frying pan over a moderate heat and add a knob of butter. Put in the plums and add the water.
Add the orange zest and cinnamon and stir gently to combine.
Cook the plums on a low heat until they start to soften and let out some of their juices.
Now add some sugar, just taste the juice to check whether it's to your liking.
Remove from the heat and tip them into an ovenproof dish.

In another frying pan, dry roast the hazelnuts over medium heat, stirring all the time, until they take on a golden colour.
When they’re ready, remove from the heat and leave to cool, before chopping them roughly.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and sugar. Add the butter and then gently work in the butter using your fingertips, rubbing and lifting, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the chopped hazelnuts and stir in.

Spoon the crumble topping over the fruit and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Pearl of Kent: Whitstable

There’s something about the sea that has an instant attraction for me. I’m not sure why, but it has a positive effect on my well-being.
Lately, we’ve both been suffering the strains of modern life, so a long weekend away was in order. Actually my husband likes the sea too so a break by the coast, somewhere, just anywhere was an absolute must.
We decided on Whitstable as it’s not too far to travel but is significantly different to where we live. Neither of us has ever been there before either, although a long time ago, I went on a school field trip to Broadstairs, which is further up the Kent coast.
Whitstable has everything I like about a costal town. It has a working fishing harbour, bringing in some of the finest seafood in the country, oysters in particular, for which it is famed. It isn’t commercialised in the sense that it has those awful amusement arcades and trashy pier attractions. There’s something left of the old days that gives it a true soul and character. I suppose it is so undeniably steeped in history.

Food and Lodging 
It is worth mentioning that we stayed in a bed and breakfast, as we wouldn’t normally choose to do so. Up until recently British B&Bs have had a notorious reputation that has, I confess, put us off in the past. We stayed at The Pearl Fisher, which thankfully blew away all those stereotypical images of old. Our hosts for the weekend, Gary and Jan Hartley-Trigg are a really lovely couple. They were always friendly and attentive but never intrusive.
Our room was tastefully decorated, complete with en-suite, and we were even able to choose a time slot for breakfast. Yes, the breakfast; absolutely fantastic. What a spread; our ‘first course’ consisted of a choice of cereal, fresh fruit and yogurt. Then the ‘second course’, cooked to order. There certainly wasn’t any skimping on the quality here, the bacon was thick and most certainly dry-cured, the sausages were of a high meat content and very tasty and the eggs were expertly scrambled to a beautiful creamy soft texture. Fried mushrooms accompanied this, with fresh grilled tomatoes and some slices of toast. There definitely wasn’t any sign of cutting corners and dashing to the cash and carry, these ingredients had been carefully selected, locally.
Replete with the fabulous Full English, we were then offered toast. We couldn’t refuse as we were itching to try some of the locally made preserves.
Well, that breakfast certainly set us up for the day!
The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us on one day; we were caught in a most torrential downpour of rain. Rivers ran down the streets and trying to shelter in shop doorways did little to keep us dry as the passing traffic sent up great splashes and soaked us even more.
We couldn’t really go anywhere now, as we were too wet! I don’t think sitting in a restaurant would have been good either for us or the proprietor! So it was back to our room via a Chinese takeaway to get changed. By a stroke of luck, our hosts offered to tumble-dry our clothes for us. Like I said, they were very thoughtful and attentive. I would highly recommend the Pearl Fisher to anyone.

Taste of the Sea 
Whitstable has become known as a foodie destination, and justly so, the seafood is first class, but it wasn’t my actual reason for going. Initially, I actually had no idea of its culinary claims, it was only the draw of the coast and it’s quaintness that attracted me. However we did sample some good food, but as I’m not really in the habit of doing restaurant reviews I’ll just say that it was all very good.
Oysters are Whitstable’s famous speciality. Everyday the boats go out to dredge for them, from the beds that are situated about a mile off shore. The catch may also comprise of other shellfish, such as winkles, whelks and cockles, which are sold fresh-caught and cooked at the quayside. It was refreshing to see children eating them, especially these days, when most kids are fussy and won’t touch anything unless it comes with fries from a certain burger chain.
Oysters, or any fish and seafood for that matter, can be rather expensive if bought in any of the restaurants, but if you're not too fussy about enjoying them outside from a plastic plate/cup, then do buy them from the Fish Market or West Whelks on the harbour. This is a sure way of saving some money and sampling top quality sea fare, plus sitting out in the open air with the smell of the sea always seems to improve the taste, I think.

Simple Pleasures
I found Whitstable to be a good place to relax. With no particular agenda to adhere to we spent our time wandering around the harbour and along the shingle beach or browsing the shops and galleries.
The town is an attractive place to artists, and I can see why, as I found it inspiring too. Occasionally, I like to paint and the quality of light and colour and quirkiness of the place has reignited my creative spark. I must get out those paintbrushes.
I get an enormous feeling of satisfaction having walked along the coast. Fresh sea air is so uplifting – you sort of feel exhausted and invigorated at the same time – so that must be a sign of it doing you some good.
Little rest stops here and there allowed us to stare out to sea, watching the windsurfers and fishing boats. Far on the horizon vast container ships, carrying cargo between Dover and Europe, moved slowly past a backdrop of wind turbines sticking out of the Kentish Flats. There’s been much controversy concerning off shore wind farms, but I happen to feel that they are not a blot on the landscape, but rather they’re an interesting feature, besides, this one is sufficiently far away so as not to be intrusive.

The High Street has many shops for those looking for something arty or designer orientated. There are a couple of 'junk' shops for the collector, bookshops and clothes boutiques. Whitstable has pretty much everything on a small scale – there are no chain stores that I could see – Canterbury, about seven miles away, is your best option if you want those.
I am fiercely jealous of this town, for such a small place it is well furnished with several decent butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and bakers. It does have two small supermarkets in the centre, but I could have easily given them a miss.
There’s also the Harbour Village, a kind of market, selling crafts and local produce. I had the impression it was larger from what I’d read, so was a little disappointed. There was, however, a stall selling Kent strawberries and plums, and one of those will be used in a crumble featuring in a future post.

Is it Worth Going Back?
To put it this way, I didn’t want to go home. Three days just didn’t seem long enough.
Now that I’ve seen what Whitstable has to offer, I’d love to return for a longer period of time and maybe stay in self-catering accommodation. I have no qualms about cooking whilst on holiday and would welcome the idea of preparing a meal made from the freshly caught local seafood.
I noticed that there is a “Hands Off Our Harbour” campaign in operation. It would appear that certain developers want to regenerate the harbour into some kind of yuppie haven. Obviously the locals do not want this to happen, and neither do I for that matter, even if I am just a tourist. So just as long as it remains as it did when I last visited, I shall continue to return.

Further Information
Don’t be satisfied with the few pictures in this post, have a look at all of them on my Flickr page here

I highly recommend The Pearl Fisher Bed & Breakfast; it has a list of consistently good reviews on Trip Advisor
You can book online:

For those looking for art and crafts and local produce try:

More information about Whitstable, on what to do, where to eat etc:

Saturday, 13 September 2008

HOW TO: Check Jam Setting Point

Achieving the right set does carry a certain knack to it. You could try using a jam thermometer but personally I find it a lot easier using a method that my maternal Grandma showed me. 
Before you start to make the jam, put a plate in the fridge. When it's cold you then drizzle some warm jam on to it and return the plate to the fridge to cool for approximately two minutes. You can tell that it has set when you run your finger through it leaving a crinkly track mark. If after two minutes the cooled jam is too runny, continue to boil the jam, testing it every few minutes until you have the right set.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Seafood Fortnight: 5-21 September 2008

It’s time again for another food awareness day/week/month or whatever. In my experience I’ve found many of these events, are paradoxically under promoted. There seems little point having an awareness week when no one is aware that it’s happening.

As Seafood Fortnight concentrates on the importance of fish, I have decided to give it my full support and attention, just in case it befalls a fate due to lackadaisical PR.
I love fish, you see, and can’t understand why us British don’t eat more of it. There we are, a group of islands, surrounded by the bountiful sea and we shun what those waters offer up.

Okay, fish and chips is supposed to be the nation’s favourite, but to some, I fear, unless the fish is coated in batter and deep fried, they’re not interested in anything else. Don’t get me wrong, good old-fashioned fish and chips are great, but there’s so much more to fish than that.

Which brings me back to the Seafood Fortnight’s approach to getting us to eat more fish. They’ve come up with 2 a week scheme which focuses on the healthy aspect of seafood. To my mind, this isn’t the way to get us all to include more fish in our diets.
Ooh it’s so healthy, packed full of protein and vitamins and omega this and that… Yeah, yeah, we all know that fish is good for us, but if you want people to eat more fish, you’ve got to sell it on merits of flavour and versatility.
I don’t think your average person is going to suddenly start eating more fish because of the health benefits.

Many people are put off fish, as they perceive it to be smelly, bony, slimy, and funny tasting and difficult to prepare.
We need to allay these piscine fears, and this is where the fishmonger comes in. It doesn’t take much to ask the person behind the counter to wield his or her knife over a fish, removing the task of scaling, filleting and any other jobs that we may find repulsive or too tricky to tackle. They can even offer cooking advice too.

I wish all the average shoppers were a little less average and more adventurous, then at least there would be more choice at the fish counter.
That said, I’ve found Morrison’s to have more variety on offer than most supermarkets. Yes, I do agree we should support our small local fishmonger – I would if we had one – but unfortunately, I’m enslaved by the supermarkets, just like everyone else.

Just please eat more fish!… and do try something other than cod or haddock.
Photo: everystockphoto.com

For more information follow the links below:

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Trouble with Food Blogging

When I started this blog back in January, I had no idea just how much it would become part of my life. Food for me has always been a source of inspiration – I’m always thinking up ideas for dinner, reading cookbooks and magazines, not to mention watching culinary television programmes. Although thoughts of food are seldom far from my mind, I hasten to add, I’m not constantly stuffing my face!

There are however certain drawbacks in maintaining a food blog. I had every intention of just doing it for myself as a hobby, but the public nature of it, leaves me feeling compelled to write about everything I create in the kitchen. I concede that I haven’t actually documented everything, and so, occasionally I have pangs of guilt when I fail to write a post. I shouldn’t feel guilty, it’s not as if I have an agent or publisher breathing down my neck because he or she is eager for me to deliver, in order for them to receive their commission. Blogging has given me a sense of duty, especially when I know there are people out there, reading it and leaving nice comments. A big ‘thank you’ to you all, by the way.

 One thing I’ve learnt, it’s actually very difficult to write recipes. I have been cooking for quite a long time now and the act of putting a meal together has become instinctive. I rarely consult cookery books unless I’m about to embark upon something new, or if I’m baking cakes etc, which is more of a science. There are probably many dishes in my repertoire that will never make their way here. It would take much analytical dissection to translate them into a workable recipe, and whilst I’m confident with the results from my kitchen, I worry that my written recipe may not work in someone else’s kitchen.

 Some things that are eaten in the Cheeky Spouse household are regular day-to-day fare. For example, one evening we had beans on toast with eggs – not quite a dish to be given a full report. This probably explains why my blog makes it appear that we eat like kings all the time! This simply is not the case. I confess that I don’t always cook every night and something pre-prepared may slip on to the week’s menu. I must stress that I do not condone the regular consumption of ‘pierce and ping’ dinners, but a certain supermarket does do very fine curries.

 I’m a firm believer in the art of visual communication – it is in fact my profession – and so, a recipe without pictures is next to useless. Chefs will always tell us how we eat with our eyes first, so a decent photograph is essential. Now, I’m not a food stylist, but I do like to take photos. Food photography is not easy when you are merely trying to grab a snapshot before the plate is transferred to the dining table.
In an ideal world, I’d like to have plenty of natural light to produce a stunning photograph, something we’re all familiar with from those beautiful cookbooks. This however is never going to happen. I don’t and I’m not about to start making dishes purely to be photographed. We eat our main meals in the evening, by which time all that wonderful light has passed. Trying to hastily photograph something under an energy-saving bulb is not going to produce the best results. I can’t be fussing around with different exposure settings either – we’re hungry and want to eat it while it’s still hot.
All this may explain why my cakes and bread etc always look better on the page – at least I can be a little choosier about when and where I shoot them. I suppose that’s where the wonders of Photoshop come in, but it all takes a lot of tweaking and time.

 I’m not sure why I did it, but this blog is listed on various social blogging websites. I should have kept it simple and stayed away, because now, there’s a certain amount of maintenance that has to be carried out. Maybe it’s not all that important, but although I wanted this to be a personal adventure, there’s still that neediness in me that wants to advertise my work. It’s my own fault. I feel that there is a certain lack of the travel element here too. That was my initial intention – to include travelogues with a food related element. The simple fact is I haven’t done much travelling lately. That said, as I write this, I will be going away for the weekend. I shall not divulge as to where just yet, that’s something you’ll have to come back for later. Let’s hope I find the time to relate my experiences!
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