Sunday, 13 March 2011

Potty: Clarissa's One Pot Cookbook

I've been lucky enough to have received a fair few review copies from various publishers, over the last few months and one particular book has sat patiently waiting for my attention. I've had a copy of Potty by Clarissa Dickson Wright hanging around since just before Christmas, but with one thing and another, particulary the day job taking up much of my time it somehow got shelved. That said, it is not because it isn't worthy of my consideration, quite the opposite. So, even at this rather late stage, I feel it deserves my positive evaluation.

People may remember the BBC's cookery programme, Two Fat Ladies and the larger than life women zooming around Britain with their motorcycle and sidecar. Clarissa travelled in the sidecar alongside her TV companion Jennifer Paterson and together they cooked up robust butter-laden dishes at various grand locations.

Potty is a great recipe book for those who loathe washing up as everything is cooked in one pot, tray, dish or whatever. Don't be misled into thinking that one-pot cooking means stews or casseroles, as Clarissa book proves that anything from a roast to a stir-fry can be economical on the cooking implements.
I love good home cooking and this book has some mouth-watering but easy to prepare dishes. No faffing around trying to create restaurant standard food, this is honest to goodness proper stuff.

What I love about one-pot cooking is that it can often be left in the oven while I get on with something else. The slow cooking allows you to use cheaper cuts of meat that benefit from this method resulting in meltingly tender mouthfuls.

Not only are there savoury delights, but some heavenly puddings too, like the magic chocolate pudding that creates its own sauce or even a sophisticated Claret Jelly.
The recipes cover a multitude of cuisines and international influences, so there's something for everyone.
Clarissa Dickson Wright has written many cookery books and a her authoritative style has the ability to instill confidence in any cook.

Potty: Clarissa's One Pot Cookbook by Clarissa Dickson Wright is published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Hardback RRP £20.00
Order yours now

Book kindly supplied by Hodder & Stoughton

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Fit to Burst before Lent

Perhaps I'm a little late posting something long after the event, but I ate too much on Shrove Tuesday and was too stuffed to move anywhere near a computer keyboard!
Deciding to indulge my passion for Scandinavian/Icelandic food I put together some jam and cream-filled buns. They're just like choux buns but have the very naughty but nice filling combination plus they're topped in chocolate.

My pancakes went down the savoury route and I made the batter with a good slosh of cider. It's not uncommon to use beer, so why not cider?
I mixed together some flaked smoked mackerel, prawns, creme fraiche and horseradish, filled the pancakes. I drizzled them with a little cream, grated some cheddar and parmesan cheese over the top and baked them in the oven until hot and bubbling.
To offset the stodge and pangs of guilt I served them with a salad.

For those intrigued by what the Icelandic people do at this time of year read on...

Bolludagur: Bun Day
Bolludagur is a Lenten festival and takes place on the Monday, just before what we'd call Shrove Tuesday and Icelanders traditionally stuff themselves with cream-filled buns.

The custom dates from the late nineteenth century and was probably introduced by Danish or Norwegian bakers, although some edible treats would have been eaten on this day much earlier.

Much of the bun eating now takes place on Sunday, however, since Monday is a workday and there's less time for baking, well at least for those inclined to do a spot of home baking. Although, these days it is very easy to buy ready-made ones from the shops.

This day also used to be called flengingardagur (Spanking Day). In earlier and exceptionally devout times, Catholic people would flagellate themselves, to be reminded of the pain endured by Jesus. Later, this practice evolved into a comical parody of sorts and people began spanking each other!
The aim of the 'game' is try and catch someone still in bed and give them a good beating, using a special wand. Children give their parents a merciless wake-up call using their brightly decorated sticks, and for every whack of the wand and shouts of Bolla! bolla! bolla, they expect to be rewarded with a bun.

Bun Day is big business for Icelandic bakeries. It is estimated that they sell around one million buns on or around the day, which means almost four buns for every Icelander!

Sprengidagur: Bursting Day
On Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent) every Icelandic home and most restaurants flood with the aroma of salted meat (usually lamb) and peas. The name Sprengidagur refers to the idea that the individual feasts on this hearty dish to the point of bursting.

Photos: ©childsdesign 2011

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Quite a Catch

My second article published in the local magazine, Letchworth Living. (March 2011 edition) www.letchworthliving.co.uk

Cheeky Spouse finds the best of British fish on our doorstep

I absolutely love fish 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.
For those who do eat fish regularly, there is more than just cod or haddock and as these species are in decline we really do need to think about what we buy.

Recently I went to visit North Hertfordshire's only independent fishmongers, Fish at the Fox, in Willian, which opened last November and occupies the site of what used to be The Food Barn.
It is a grey and rainy day, not at all conducive to high spirits. We park the car in one of the many spaces and dash the short distance to the unassuming white door of the shop. It’s a relief to be in the dry, and the bright and airy interior soon dissolves away the effects of the British elements.

Standing behind the shiny glass counter is Marc Howard who is a great authority on fresh fish. As we're about to shake hands, Marc pauses briefly to wash his hands, having just prepared some sea bass fillets. All clean, we can now carry on with our introductions.
It is clear to me that Marc is passionate about what he sells and knows his stuff. Everything sold at Fish at the Fox is sourced from British waters where possible and Marc assures me that sustainability and seasonality are very important to him. It would be highly unlikely that you'd see an Icelandic cod residing in the counter. Endangered species are avoided completely.

The shop is open from Wednesday through to Saturday and Marc gets new stock in on Wednesday morning and every day if necessary to ensure it’s as fresh as possible. Nothing has had to come too far, either from our East Anglian or south coasts, and Marc can tell you exactly where any of his fish has been landed and by whom. I doubt you'd get that sort of detail from your supermarket. On the wall, behind the counter, pictures of the fisherman that supply the shop, are proudly displayed; a weather beaten Ben, Paul, Cyril and then there’s Richard, who keeps Marc in plenty of oysters and mussels from Brancaster in Norfolk. Seeing the men's coast worn faces really makes you appreciate how your fish gets to your plate.

Casting my eyes over the tempting fish resting on the crushed ice, I start imagining the delicious ways I could eat them. To some, the display could be a shock if you're particularly squeamish. Everything is presented whole, head on and eyes staring. Personally I prefer to see fish this way, you can see how fresh it is – bright gills, shining eyes and moist glistening skin, a confidence that cannot be gleaned from a pre-packaged fillet.

As I examine the brill, gurnard and megrim it occurs to me that I've never even tasted these varieties, not because I’ve not wanted to, but more that I've never been able to obtain them.
Fish can be ugly looking creatures, but I fell in love with the gurnards. Call me a softy, but they have an adorable puppy-like quality to their faces, weird but kind of cute.

Also today, there's a fearsome-looking but chunky hake, a huge sea bass, a prepared meaty monkfish tail, some sizeable skate wings and a group of sardines shimmering like precious silver darts. A bulging net of Palourde clams from Poole nestles at the back. The stock varies from week to week, but a quick phone call or checking on Fish at the Fox's Facebook or Twitter pages will keep you up-to-date with what's in stock.

There’s smoked fish too, from Suffolk smokeries. The kippers look very appetising, the whole fish split open has a rich tan colour. It’s properly smoked in the traditional way, a far cry from those often luminous yellow things which have been flavoured with something more laboratorial and shrink-wrapped in plastic with a pat of butter.
A richly hued side of salmon, whole mackerel and trout sit along side. My mouth is already watering and I'm adding them to my mental shopping list.
These fish have been suffused with the flavour of real smoke, the result of having been sat in a black tar-walled shed, filled with the swirling plumes from smouldering
oak chippings.

My lengthy, yet enjoyable chat with Marc reveals what a friendly and helpful chap he is. Keen to show me the latest catch he lovingly lifts the fish from the counter and describes its texture, flavour and even suggests the best cooking methods. We both agree that fish should be done simply and avoid overcooking. To assist customers, there are a number of recipe leaflets on the counter to pick up and take home. All this reflects the care and attention to the produce and the customers.

While I'm there some customers do arrive, and one particular man is so over the moon to pick up his order of crab and oysters, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Perhaps I'm a little strange to be so sentimental, but it is touching to be in the company of people who appreciate good produce.

For those not able to make it to the shop, Fish at the Fox now offer a local delivery service. If you live in the Letchworth or Hitchin area and your order is over £15, Marc will deliver for free, bringing fresh fish direct to your door. Now that's a personal touch.


Photos: ©childsdesign 2011

Featured on The Artisan Food Trail

Fish Stock

On my visit to Fish at the Fox, Marc gave me a big bag of fish heads and bones to make stock. It really is worth asking your fishmonger if he has any trimmings like this, as homemade stock far surpasses anything you can buy in the shop.
The heads did look rather gruesome, especially the hake head. My slightly morbid curiosity (and interest in biology) took hold and I examined the heads, peering into their mouths, the hake had particularly fearsome teeth, so I kept my fingers well away.

You'll need a big, okay very big pan for this. Rinse the fish heads to remove any blood as this can make your stock slightly bitter in taste. Put the heads and bones ( about a kilogram's worth) into the pot and add a chopped onion, a chopped fennel bulb, about 100g sliced celery, 100g chopped carrot, 25g sliced button mushrooms and a sprig of thyme. Pour in 2.4 litres of water, place on the stove and bring it to the boil, then turn down to a low simmer for about 45 minutes.

Strain the stock through a muslin cloth-lined sieve and store as required. I like to freeze mine in 250ml portions for ease.

Photo: ©childsdesign 2011

Hake Bake

Thinking about what I was going to do with two thick juicy hake steaks from Fish at the Fox, I decided they would be best cooked in the oven. I want to make a whole meal but in the simplest possible way without lots of washing up afterwards and on previous occasions found tray baking to be the best option.

What I like about this method of cooking is that it allows one to be imaginative with flavour combinations with the minimum of fuss.
First you need to find a large roasting tin and get your oven good and hot. Put the tray in the oven to make that very hot too.

Have a rummage around the kitchen and get together a selection of tasty things that go rather well with fish, I chose some chorizo, new potatoes, fennel bulb and some red onions. I cut them into rough chunks, dropped them into a big bowl, tore some tarragon leaves over, seasoned with salt and pepper and tossed them in a good drizzle of cold pressed rapeseed oil.
Remove the hot tray from the oven and tipped in the vegetables and it started to sizzle immediately. Put the tray back in the oven and roast until, turn the vegetables over occasionally until they're cooked all the way through and start to take on some golden edges.

When they're done remove the tray from the oven and sprinkle in a little white wine, place the hake steaks on top and spoon over some of the vegetables juices. Pop back in the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until the fish is done.
Meanwhile make a garnish by finely chopping some flat leaf parsley and lemon zest, stir in some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Serve the fish with the vegetables on the side and sprinkle liberally with the parsley and lemon.

Photo: ©childsdesign 2011

Monday, 7 March 2011

Rabbit Pie

I’ve seen various recipes for rabbit pie and this is my version, which in one way or another is probably an adaption of those recipes.
I thought it very apt to make it, in celebration of British Pie Week and have included some flavours that conjure up the British countryside, wild rabbit, of course, apples and cider. For an old-fashioned feel, I perked up the sauce with mace and mustard.
The pastry is very short, as in the ratio of fat to flour is quite high, but it makes the pastry so melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous.

Please do try to use wild rabbit as I’m sure it has had a better life before being killed, plus a diet of wild grass and herbs can only improve the taste.
Wild rabbit is easy to come by these days – you’ll find it at your farmers' market or, dare I say, even in the supermarket.

For the pastry
225g strong white flour
half tsp salt
100g unsalted butter
50g lard

For the filling
knob of butter
small amount of vegetable oil
300g boneless wild rabbit
1 tblsp plain flour
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
generous pinch ground mace
150ml cider
sprig thyme
half tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper
2 tblsp creme fraiche
half an eating apple, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
25g mushrooms, sliced
1 tspn fresh tarragon, chopped
beaten egg or milk to glaze

First make your pastry.
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and cut in the fat and rub in lightly with your fingertips until the mixture resemble coarse breadcrumbs.
Add a very small amount of chilled water. The less you add, the better as this results in a light crumbly pastry.
Stir in with a knife until the pastry just starts to stick together. Form into a ball.
This process can also be made in a food processor, just whiz together the flour, salt and fat until combined an while the machine is still running add the water a tiny bit at a time until a ball magically appears.
Wrap the ball of pastry in some cling film and put in the fridge.

Now make the filling.
Preheat the oven to Gas4 / 180C / 350F.
Cut the rabbit into 2.5cm pieces. Place in a bowl and sprinkle over the flour. Stir and shake the bowl to evenly coat the meat with the flour.

Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan and put in the rabbit pieces. Fry gently until they take on light golden colour. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to a lidded casserole pot.

Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary and add the onions, carrot and celery. Fry gently until they soften but do not let them burn.
When they have softened transfer them to the casserole with the rabbit.

Return the pan to the heat and pour in the cider and bring to a simmer, scraping ap all the bits on the bottom and sides of the pan and stir well.
Tip the cider into the casserole. Add a sprig of thyme, the mustard, mace and some salt and pepper. Mix well to combine everything.

Put the lid on the casserole pot and place in the oven for 1 hour.
Remove from the oven and retrieve any thyme stalks and discard. Add the apples, mushrooms and creme fraiche and stir well to combine.
Transfer to a pie dish and allow to cool.

When the filling is cold, preheat the oven to Gas 6 / 200C / 400F.
Knead the pastry slightly, and roll our fairly thickly, so it’s big enough to cover the pie.

Moisten the edges of the dish and place the pastry on top. Press the edges down lightly on to the rim and trim.
Roll out the trimmings to make a decoration for the top.
Brush with the egg or milk to give a lovely golden glaze.

Cook in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes.
Photo: ©childsdesign 2011

Sunday, 6 March 2011

British Pie Week

Get ready for the British Pie Week, starting tomorrow, it's a time to celebrate all things encased in pastry, a true honour of what's a great British culinary institution.
What will you be making for pie week? I'd be interested in seeing what everyone's up to this week.

Do you make your own pastry?
Do you prefer savoury or sweet?
Have you made or eaten a very unusual pie?
What's your favourite pie?

You could leave a comment at the bottom of this post or even better, visit my Facebook page and post something there.
Thanks and I'm looking forward to it and have high ex-pie-tations of you all!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Douwe Egberts Aromettes®

I was offered the chance to try out a brand new coffee product from Douwe Egberts and being a coffee lover, I thought why not, even though it is a well-known brand.

From the look of the packaging you may be forgiven for assuming that it's instant coffee, but it is fresh ground coffee cleverly pressed in to one cup portions.
It can be tricky getting the amount right to achieve the perfectly flavoured cup, but the handy coffee bean-shaped pellets can be dropped into your cafetiere or filter machine and used just as you would loose ground coffee.

As each Aromettes® is a tightly compressed bundle of coffee, all the aroma is firmly locked inside, only releasing its fresh roasted taste as soon as it's hit by hot water. The Aromettes® broke down instantly and were really easy to use and as there was less chance of me spilling ground coffee all over the place (which often happens) they were less messy too.

I was sent two varieties, smooth aroma and intense aroma, the first being a lighter roast suitable for everyday drinking and the second a richer, deeper roast, perfect for after dinner or if you need a pleasurable caffeine kick.
I do like the flavour and it is what I would expect from Douwe Egberts. It isn't an out-of this-world gourmet coffee, but if you're looking for something to please all palates, then it is a safe choice.
With its fun-shaped portions, is it a novelty? Well that depends on how you conduct your home entertaining, but it is practical, simple and the results are good.

Douwe Egberts Aromettes® are available exclusively from Tesco. RRP £3.69
Thanks to The Bottom Line Consultancy for supplying the samples
Photos: ©childsdesign 2011
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