Last night was another more than full house at New College Stamford – 19 learners, a record! However, thanks to the help of Nicola and the use of a second kitchen we managed ok I think. Feel free to leave a comment, what you liked / didn’t like and click the ‘like’ button too if you wish – that way I know someone’s reading this! Thanks also to Tracey for signing people in this week and of course Joan who did the same last week – I appreciate it. So, week two Cooking for Christmas – starters.
We prepared three simple but effective starters that I hope you enjoyed and will make again. Let’s start with the soup, and remember these recipes are guidelines – have a bit of fun and play around with different flavour / ingredient combinations to your own taste. The soup was Roast Tomato with Sweet Potato and Thyme. Grab a large baking sheet or roasting tray, lightly grease with olive oil and add halved tomatoes, small sweet potatoes in their skins, whole shallots or small onions – once again in their skins and half a head of garlic. Scatter with sea salt and drizzle with more olive oil. The picture above is a roast onion squash soup I made the other week – same principal.
Roast until the potatoes a soft when a skewer is inserted and the tomatoes have that nice golden around the edges roasted look. Scrap the flesh from the sweet potato, shallots and garlic. Liquidise with the tomatoes, roasted thyme leaves (not stalks) and add water to thin to the required consistancy. Pass through a strainer and season to taste. Serve hot or chilled with Crème fraîche , or pesto, or a drizzle of good olive oil, scatter with fresh herbs…you get the idea.
Next we made a warm chicken salad with an orange and walnut slaw (white cabbage shaved on a mandolin, spring onions, parsley, orange segments and walnuts / pecans). We made two honey and mustard dressings and hopefully you now know how easy it is to make fresh mayonnaise (egg yolk, mustard, vinegar / citrus, oil, season). We added honey afterwards and thinned with water to make a light dressing. Remember the theory – the lecithin in the egg yolk provides stability and aids emulsion. The flour in mustard helps too. Add the oil slowly, whisking quickly…Think about variations – different mustards, vinegars, citrus, herbs, roast garlic, different oils etc. Always consider the complimentary characteristic of your ingredients. Use a light hand and add more ingredients / seasoning to taste – you can always add more, but you can’t take it out!
The smoked mackerel rillette recipe is below. It goes very well with a shaved fennel and celery salad with a few capers and lightly dressed with fresh lemon and exra virgin olive oil.
Smoked Mackerel Rillettes
- smoked mackerel fillets, skin and bones removed
- spring onions, finely sliced
- chopped flat leaf parsley
- hot horseradish sauce
- lemon zest and juice
- Crème fraîche or sour cream
- combine all the ingredients together, folding in rather than beating which will create a paste
- season to taste
- this will keep for two or three days in the fridge but is best made as fresh as possible
An interesting first night with rather more learners than usual! Thank you all for your patience and I hope you took something away that will help you with your entertaining.
The French started offering canapés to their guests at the end of the 18th Century and the English adopted the practice about a hundred years later. The word canapé translates roughly as ‘couch’ and refers to the way a small piece of food was draped over a small piece of stale bread – much as a person would lounge on a couch.
A canapé is designed to be eaten in one bite and traditionally are highly decorative – and salty, to encourage guests to drink; fine if you have a horse and carriage waiting to take you home! Today a canapé is an ideal way to greet guests as soon as they arrive and should be designed to complement the drinks that are being served as well as complementing each other.
Generally speaking, assuming they are preceding a meal, varieties should be limited to three or four – six at the most. They should also offer a balance of meat, fish and vegetarian and be prepared with a light and healthy touch whilst being visually appealing. The traditional savoury butters spread on stale white bread are probably not the best way to go any more!
Literally ‘mouth amuser’, similar to a canapé but may be slightly larger and served on a plate with cutlery. An example would be a little ‘cappuccino’ soup served in an espresso cup. Amuse-bouche are served at the Chef’s discretion, free of charge, as a little appetiser.
One of the canapés we will be making tonight at Stamford College is kiwi fruit on rye bread. The photograph above serves as a recipe; it is what you see! Use a small pastry cutter to stamp rounds of black rye bread and butter lightly – this serves to ‘waterproof’ the bread. Peel and slice a kiwi fruit and using the same size cutter place on top of the bread. Using two teaspoons shape a little quenelle of cream cheese, place on top of the kiwi fruit and finish with a little ‘tongue’ of tomato and a sprig of dill. This canapé is fresh, light, colourful and vegetarian; it is important to have a balance of meat, fish and vegetarian to cater for all tastes. Four to five pieces per person one bite size, should be plenty; assuming they are preceding a meal. They should stimulate your guests appetite, not fill them up!
The other four canapés we will make are little savoury muffins, chicken teriyaki, salmon tartare and little filo pastry nests with creamed leeks . The muffins freeze well and can be made well in advance – do serve warm though, not cold. The chicken can be marinated a couple of days in advance and grilled at the last moment – serve warm if possible. The salmon needs to be prepared within an hour of being served.
The chicken marinade for the chicken teriyaki was garlic, ginger, honey, saki and soy sauce. Although we only marinated these for 20 minutes, this can be done several hours in advance. Drain, pan fry and when golden pour over the marinade, reducing to a glossy glaze. Alternatively, grill, reduce the marinade in a pan and brush the glaze over the chicken.
Little filo nests were a strip of filo brushed with melted butter and ‘scrunched’ into a little nest. Baked for 10 minutes until crisp and golden with some blue cheese. Leeks (green only) were finely shredded and cooked ‘etuvee’ – in a little water and butter and cooked until just dry. Add a little crème fraîche and season. Mound on top of the filo nests and decorate with a little red pepper triangle.
For the salmon tartare finely dice very fresh salmon. Squeeze over fresh lemon juice and leave to ‘cure’ – not longer than 2 hours. Drain and gently fold in a little crème fraîche, some chopped chives and season. Mound onto little toasts – we baked this crisp in the oven first and then lightly buttered them to create a ‘waterproof’ barrier between the salmon and toast.
The muffin recipe is below.
Remember also the alternative ingredient combinations we discussed – the recipes above are guides only!
- Savoury Muffins - makes 30 small muffins
- 50g streaky bacon cut into fine strips
- 50g unsalted butter
- 25g button mushrooms, chopped
- 150g self raising flour
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped herbs - chives, parsley etc
- 25g skinned, chopped tomato
- 50g Gruyère, grated
- 1 egg, beaten
- 100g milk
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- Savoury Muffins
- blanch the bacon in boiling water, drain thoroughly and fry in 5g of the butter until crisp
- add the diced mushrooms and fry with the bacon until the mushrooms are golden
- sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the remaining butter
- add the bacon/mushroom mixture, the herbs, tomato and cheese
- combine the egg with the milk and season
- stir into the flour mixture until evenly combined
- fill greased miniature muffin tins and fill ¾ full
- bake in a pre-heated oven 220°C for 10 minutes until risen and golden
- the bacon can be left out of the muffins to make them vegetarian
- generally speaking, different herbs, cheese, citrus, spices can be substituted with all three recipes - play around!
Images taken from a recent pheasant shoot at Morkery Wood. The first one I’ve been on and some great photography opportunities. I learnt the hard way that the best shots are with the guns – not getting tangled in brambles with the beaters! I would normally use my Nikon D7000 for something like this but I was aware that I might want to crop quite hard on some images and the greater resolution of the D800 would be useful. I used a Tamron 24-70 f2.8 lens with vibration control. It’s a good solid, fast lens and I used it mostly wide open at 2.8, occasionally stopping down to 5.6 for a bit more detail and balancing the ISO to keep a fast shutter speed.
On the wish list – a fast 70-200! Nikon do a f4 which looks good – the equivalent Tamron and Sigma models have a faster fixed aperture of 2.8 (Nikon do one too) but are quite a bit more expensive and I think f4 will be fast enough whilst still giving a nice shallow depth of field when required. Best buy last month? A Case Logic camera strap from Fotosense. This great (and inexpensive) strap fixes to the side of the camera enabling safe and comfortable hand holding. It makes it easy to switch between landscape and portrait too. With kit as heavy as a Nikon D800 and Tamron 24-70 f2.8 the standard neck strap is useless – worse than useless in fact as it really can’t be used and continuously gets in the way.
I think many of these images work particularly well in black and white, adding drama and tension. The crisp sunny weather created lots of contrast too between sunlight and shadow which adds real depth. I just about got the shot I really wanted – a dog retrieving a bird but I’m saving that one to enter into a competition!
Now fish cookery at Stamford College has finished my thoughts have turned Autumnal. The colour as the leaves have turned has been spectacular and the sweet chestnut tree in the park has been laden with fruit this year. A few well-informed locals (myself included) have been making the most of this free bounty. The walnut tree in my road has also been very generous with its harvest, but I haven’t decided what to do with them yet.
A serendipitous moment arrived in the form of my neighbour bearing a brace of partridge – he beats for a local shoot. I decided to make a pie with them because, well, that was what Karen said she would like – so of course I did!
I think it best to part roast game birds for a pie, it keeps the meat moist and tender. For partridge this means about 12 minutes in a hot oven (180°C). Let them rest (10 minutes) and then remove the breasts and legs. Both breast and legs must still be pink.
Separate thigh from drumstick and remove the thigh bone. Chop the drumsticks and carcasses and use to make stock and then gravy. The breast meat can be thickly sliced and this helps to keep it tender when cooked again in the pie.
I’ve forgotten how much
fun what a chore it is peeling chestnuts, the slitting, roasting and peeling, but they had a wonderful taste; sweet and mealy. I put quite a few in each pie (I made three individual ones) and covered them with spelt flour rough puff. This was an experiment and not completely successful. The flour was a little to heavy to make a light flaky pastry, but I love the flavour of Nigel’s spelt flour from Whissendine windmill and wanted to try. The taste was really good.
My neighbour turned up again on Friday – this time with a brace of pheasant – happy autumnal days!
Over the last four weeks we have poached, steamed, pan-fried, braised, skinned, trimmed, gutted and filleted round and flat fish. For this last session at New College Stamford we are going to be baking fish – a smoked haddock souffle in fact.
A sweet soufflé is usually made with a pastry cream base, although fruit puree can be used too. We are making a savoury soufflé because I think it is more versatile – the sort of dish that actually you could make for a light supper; which Karen and I did :). We also had a few boiled potatoes and a tomato and chive salad on the side.
A savoury soufflé has a Béchamel base and in this case has natural smoked haddock lightly poached in the milk first. Many people find the idea of making a soufflé a daunting prospect and whilst many chefs will tell you how easy it is, I actually fall somewhere in the middle. It is easy, provided a few guidelines are followed. The first one is to line the mold or ramekin properly – this called to ‘chemise‘. I’ve added a link to save you googling through lots of lingerie sites – the culinary term is not the first option but you’ll understand where the term originates!
Butter carefully twice, chilling in the fridge between coats. Use soft butter, not melted, and use upwards brush strokes. Don’t neglect the rim – an unevenly risen soufflé means the mold has been greased unevenly – simple! Dust the buttered ramekins with fine polenta, very fine breadcrumbs or finely grated Parmesan cheese; tap out any excess.
The egg whites must be whipped to a soft peak – no further, they become grainy and difficult to fold in smoothly. Fill the dishes to the top, level with a palette knife if the mix is thick enough and very gently run a finger around the inside of the dish to separate the mix from the edge of the dish. Do not scrape away the butter!
Oven temperature must be precise – I checked mine with a separate thermometer. Stick to the time in the recipe and do not open the door until the correct time has elapsed. The soufflé should have a slight ‘wobble’ when risen indicating that it is not over-cooked. Serve ‘tout de suite’ an expression I have had shouted at me more than once in a busy kitchen; it means ‘immediately’! A soufflé waits for no man, women or child!
Provided these simple rules are followed, it is easy. Bon courage :).
And a special thanks to Graham – I think the Sauvignon Blanc is a great choice and just what I would have recommended
PS – I’ve amended the recipe slightly – the quantities here are correct for 3 ramekins.
Smoked Haddock Souffle
- Makes 3 X No 1 ramekins - this is a first course size
- 12g butter (+ extra for greasing the ramekins)
- 125g natural smoked haddock
- 1 bay leaf
- 150g whole milk
- 12g plain flour
- 25g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
- 3g English mustard
- 2 eggs
- freshly milled pepper - you may not need salt, taste first
- Pre-heat the oven (assuming fan-assisted) to 160° C
- butter the ramekins twice with softened butter, chilling in the fridge between coats
- half fill with fine polenta and turn to evenly coat the sides and base, then tip the excess into the next ramekin and repeat - keep the ramekins in the fridge
- place the milk, haddock fillet and bay leaf in a pan and bring to the boil
- remove from the heat immediately, cover, and allow to cool - the fish will cook as it cools
- melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour - stir to make a roux
- strain the milk gradually onto the roux stirring, and then whisking to produce a smooth sauce
- add the cheese and mustard
- cook the sauce very gently for about 10 minutes and remove from the heat
- season to taste
- flake the smoked haddock discarding the skin and any bones
- separate the eggs - ensure the bowl for the egg whites is clean - a squeeze of lemon juice and dry with a kitchen towel is a good idea - any grease and the egg whites will not whisk up
- add the egg yolks and flaked haddock to the sauce, stirring well
- whisk the egg whites to soft peaks
- add a ¼ of the whisked whites to the sauce, stirring them in (this helps to loosen the mix making it easier to fold in the rest
- fold the rest of the egg whites into the sauce using a gentle 'up and over' motion - it's essential to keep all the air in the egg whites
- Fill the ramekins to the top ensuring the mix is just free of the edge
- Bake for 16 minutes - do not open the oven door during this time!
A lack of plaice at the weekend means that the photographs will be from tonight’s lesson at New College Stamford should be fun, I’m not the best multi tasker in the world!
Whole plaice will be the first flat fish we have worked with and the skills we will be learning are trimming, skinning, leaving one half whole to braise in the oven and filleting the other half.
The half to be braised will be placed in a buttered dish with chopped shallots and cider. Covered with buttered grease-proof paper the fish will take about 10 minutes to cook in an oven at 180°C. We can tell when the fish is cooked by carefully inserting a small knife at the head end and gently easing the fish away from the bone. If it still clings a little, that’s fine – we need to keep it warm whilst we finish the sauce and it will carry on cooking as we complete the dish.
The sauce is a simple reduction of the cooking liquor by about half. Single cream is added along with a little chopped parsley (or tarragon, chives etc), a little wholegrain mustard and seasoned to taste. Don’t forget to add the juices that will have come out of the resting plaice. We are aiming for a quite thin, light sauce (which is why we are using single cream, Crème fraîche would be a good alternative) that doesn’t overwhelm the mild flavour of the fish.
We are serving leeks étuvée with the fish – cream and mustard go well with leeks too and cooking them gently in a little water and butter does wonders for the taste. It’s also worth mentioning a good tip for washing leeks. Once sliced, immerse them in a bowl of warm water – this helps to loosen the dirt from the leaves much more easily than cold water. Don’t tip into a colander to drain – instead, carefully lift the leeks out into a colander leaving the dirt behind at the bottom of the bowl.
It’ll be interesting to see how the photographs turn out – teaching, cooking and photographing at the same time? Mmmm, we’ll see!
I was delighted to have my autumnal image of hedgerow fruits used as this months cover for Market Harborough Living magazine. The fruits were all picked within a seven mile cycle through Rutland’s bucolic lanes.
The berries are: wild plum, crab-apple, sloes, hawthorn, guelder, rowan, rose-hips, bramble and elder. They all have a culinary use – but some are better than others! Wild Food School has some useful information here.
Although this looks like a large bowl of fruit, I actually used a cereal bowl. The crab-apples in particular were tiny, not much bigger than the blackberries!
At Stamford College tonight we will be preparing a favourite of mine – salmon ‘in parchment’ (en papillote). This method of cooking fish is a great way of locking in lots of flavour as well as providing a bit of theatre when the salmon is served.
The timings need to be quite precise however; the aim is to have ‘just cooked’ fish. The vegetables and herbs provide additional layers of flavour and help provide the steam needed to cook the fish and inflate the parcel.
Steaming is beneficial and fun
Heat from the steam is gentle and uniform. It slowly diffuses through the food and lets the fish cook in its own juices thus helping to retain texture and flavor. Valuable nutrients, vitamins and minerals are retained as well. The food will also be moist and fresh – and best of all, kitchen mess is minimal!
I like to used tin foil on the inside – it provides a better seal than just parchment, but foil on its own doesn’t look very attractive when served at the table. The idea is to cut open the parcel at the table so the beautiful aromas that steam out can be fully appreciated. A good seal is also essential to ensure the bag puffs up and browns slightly on top – this looks so much more attractive when served than just a scrunched-up foil packet.
The vegetables need to be finely shredded so that they cook quickly – they need to be ready when the fish is. Tarragon goes well with salmon – but fresh basil, chives, dill, fennel or thyme could also be used successfully.
Salmon En Papillote
- 140g skinned salmon fillet
- 10g unsalted butter
- 25g julienne leek
- 25g julienne carrot
- 25g celeriac
- 20g finely chopped shallot
- 2g fresh tarragon
- 30g dry vermouth or dry sherry or dry white wine
- pre-heat the oven to 225°C
- cut a piece of tin foil and grease-proof paper a little large than the diameter of a dinner plate
- place half the butter on one half of the tin foil
- put the chopped shallots on the butter
- place the salmon on top of the shallots and season
- put the julienne vegetables on top of the salmon
- top with the tarragon and dry vermouth
- put the remaining butter on top and seal the parcel
- place on a baking sheet and put in the centre of a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes
- open the parcels in front of your guests and let them enjoy the aromas!
- the salmon should be slightly opaque when cooked
- cooking 2 parcels together won't affect the time but 3-4 parcels will need 3-4 minutes longer
Sea bream is one of those meaty fish that really benefits from being cooked with the skin on. Whole is great, but filleted gives the opportunity to get a really delicious crunchy skin.
New College Stamford.
This is what we will be cooking tonight at Stamford College for week two of my fish cookery course. Not quite so easy to fillet as last weeks mackerel – the bones in sea bream are stronger and of course there is that spiky dorsal fin to remove first – painful if one of the spines stabs you!
Preparing Sea Bream.
Because we will be eating the skin we need to remove the scales. It is much easier to do this when the fish is whole and before gutting. It’s one of those messy kitchen jobs that can have you discovering fish scales in strange places for days afterwards! One way to control the scales and prevent them getting airborne is to place the fish head first into a carrier bag and scrape the scales towards the head (with a blunt knife) and into the bag. I won’t pretend it’s completely fiddle free, but it helps.
Once filleted the key to a crispy skin is to pat the fillet dry with kitchen paper, heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan (non-stick is best – you won’t need so much oil) and place the fillet in skin side down and then leave it alone! Let it cook on a medium heat almost completely on the skin side and resist the urge to poke, prod or otherwise disturb the fish. Leaving the fillet alone gives the skin a good chance to stay in one piece – continually moving the fish can tear the skin and have bits sticking to the pan. Just flip the fillet over at the end for a few seconds to seal the top and you’re done.
Cooking fish this way really suits robust flavours and this combination is one of my favourites. Essentially a quick stir fry of that trinity of Chinese ingredients – spring onions, ginger and garlic, flash fried with a little chilli (or red pepper) and finished with a generous dash of soy sauce. I like to use Kikkoman’s but Japanese tamari shoyu is wheat free if gluten is a problem.
Sea Bream with Fresh Ginger & Soy
- 60g (approximately 3) finely sliced spring onions
- 3g thinly sliced garlic
- 5g thinly sliced red chilli
- 15g thinly shredded fresh ginger
- 30g (2 tbsp) sunflower or groundnut oil
- 30g soy sauce
- heat the oil in a pan
- just as it starts to smoke throw in the spring onions, garlic, ginger and chilli
- stir fry for just a few seconds
- remove from the heat, add the soy sauce and pour immediately over the fish
- quantities are approximate - you might prefer more, or less, of chilli, garlic etc
- have the fish ready to serve on warm plates before you start
- ideal served with steam rice and tender-stem broccoli
Tonight is the first night of Cooking Fish Made Easy at New College Stamford. We start by learning how to fillet a round fish – in this case mackerel – and what to look for when buying fresh fish. Filleting is a lot easier than most people imagine and only takes a few minutes with a bit of practice.
Being able to tell the difference between a really fresh fish and one that is a little older is very important. Unfortunately most of us have to buy our fish from the supermarket and whilst in itself this is not necessarily a bad thing, the usual response to the question ‘how fresh is it?’ is answered by ‘it came in yesterday’. Great, but when was it caught? This is what we need to know – not when the store took delivery.
So, we must look for bright, glossy, shiny eyes that look fresh and have not shrunk into the skull. Gills that are bright, red and have a little slime on them. A firm body with shiny scales and a coating of slime – not dry and limp. Usually you can see all of this without having to touch the fish and you can ask the counter assistant to show you the gills.
The method of cooking tonight is lightly poached. By which I mean bring a shallow pan of water to the boil, add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a bay-leaf. Turn off the heat completely, add the fish and leave for five minutes. The fish will be beautifully cooked, moist – not dry.
We will make a simple dressing to complement the mackerel – red grapefruit, fennel, shallot and tarragon with a little olive oil, sea salt and freshly milled black pepper. Very light and colourful and the acidity balances the oiliness of the fish, which is further reduced by poaching. Oranges would work equally well as would dill instead of tarragon. A light, healthy and economical dish.
Poached Mackerel with red grapefruit
- serves 4
- 1 mackerel per person for a main course
- 1 red grapefruit
- 1 small bulb of fennel
- 1 banana shallot
- small bunch of tarragon
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly milled black pepper
- Make the dressing before poaching the fish.
- carefully segment the grapefruit and cut each segment into 3
- slice as thinly as possible, or shave, the fennel
- peel and slice as thinly as possible the shallot
- gently combine grapefruit, fennel and shallot with olive oil to taste - you don't need a lot
- *this can be done up to 3 hours in advance*
- whilst the fish is cooking season the dressing to taste and divide between 4 plates
- scatter the tarragon leaves and place two fillets of mackerel on top
- one fillet is enough for a first course
- serve with new potatoes for a main course