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
Nice to be able to walk upright again and I no longer need to apply pressure from time to time causing concerned / curious looks from people! The scar matches an earlier one in length – about 5 inches, so not exactly keyhole. Combined it looks like I am inscribed with a lucky ‘7’. One more and it’ll look as if Zorro has paid a visit! Clearly after this you need carrot, sweet potato and orange soup – recipe below – and if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about (and I wouldn’t blame you) watch the video! By the way, this soup is just as good chilled – ideal for the Indian summer we are having here. Well we are today anyway.
Apparently the humorous acronyms and abbreviations below have been found written on people’s hospital notes – I don’t think any of them were on mine – well maybe the first one. The hospital was great although they did ask me repeatedly where the hernia was and got my confirmation as the surgeon marked a black cross on the spot. I think they knew really and were just testing me – good job it wasn’t something complicated, I’d hate to have to wave vaguely at an area, and say ‘it’s in there somewhere, fingers crossed’!
GFPO – Good For Parts Only.
MFC – Measure For Coffin.
ART – Assuming Room Temperature (recently deceased).
Laughter – the best medicine?
Oh, and a reminder when laughter is not the best medicine – any internal injury! I should have known better than to watch a comedy program a couple of days later…Years ago, recovering from multi fractured ribs I saw Good Morning Vietnam in Hospital. The late Robin Williams at his best and I couldn’t stop watching – never mind I watched the entire film with my arms wrapped around my torso desperately trying to hold everything in place. I did feel much happier afterwards though!
Carrot, Sweet Potato and Orange Soup
- Makes 6 - 8 portions
- 40g sunflower oil
- 45g unsalted butter
- 10g fresh ginger, chopped
- 1.5g coriander seeds, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 1.5g cumin seeds, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 600g peeled and chopped carrots
- 600g peeled and chopped sweet potato
- 2200g water
- 350g fresh orange chunks - peeled and all pith removed
- sea salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste
- Greek yogurt and lightly toasted cumin seeds
- Heat the oil and butter and when the butter starts to sizzle add the ginger, coriander and cumin
- cook gently for two minutes to release the flavour from the spices
- add the carrots and sweet potato and tumble in the buttery spice mix
- add 200g of the water, cover the pot with a lid and cook over a very low heat for 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft - check and stir from time to time, don't allow to colour
- add the remaining 2000g of water and the fresh orange chunks
- bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes
- remove from the heat and puree until smooth
- season to taste
- serve with a dollop of yogurt and a scattering of toasted cumin seeds
- 1000g of water is equivalent to 1000ml - or 1 litre. I use a very accurate set of scales and 'tare' to zero between ingredients, hence everything is weighed in grams which is the most accurate and easy to replicate method
Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.
And while we wrestle and strive,
My master, the miller, stands
And feeds me with his hands;
For he knows who makes him thrive,
Who makes him lord of lands.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (abbreviated)
For all their seeming impracticability in today’s landscape there is something wonderful about an old windmill. The gentle revolution of the sails slowly turning the massive millstones, the runner-stone on top of the bedstone, sails, belts and cogs working together to produce finely milled flour.
Lined with a soft patina of flour Whissendine mill produces only organic flour, wheat and spelt. The miller, Nigel Moon, mills slowly in the traditional way. The grains need to be kept cool when milled and speed produces friction which produces heat. Too much heat and vital nutrients are lost. Modern mills with their steel rollers are efficient only in that they are fast. Stone milled flour has been found to be higher in thiamin than steel rolled flour.
Spelt (Triticum Spelta) is an ancient grain with recorded use dating back approximately 5000 years BC. Related to wheat it is however much lower in gluten and many people who have difficulty with wheat bread and pasta find that spelt does not cause the same reaction. It is an original grain, unmodified and disease resistant. Spelt contains more protein, fats and crude fibre than wheat and its high water solubility mean vital substances are quickly absorbed by the body. It is however lower yielding than wheat flour which caused a decline in commercial popularity. In 1850 in Germany in 94% of cereal acreage was spelt compared to 5% wheat.
Nigel has been a miller all his life and has rebuilt Whissendine windmill from the 1980’s onwards. Built originally in 1809, there is always something to renovate or repair. This seemingly bucolic way of life is a labour of love, not just for milling grain but for the windmill itself.
The light inside the mill is wonderful. With three windows on each floor and soft white walls the interior has a natural sepia tone throughout. The raw images were converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro accentuating softness and subtlety and producing timeless still life images that could have been taken 100 years ago.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to change lenses once inside so used only my Tamron 24-70 f2.8. Just as well – my camera needed a really good dusting off once outside and reassuring that manufacturers stress the weather and dust sealing of their cameras – in this case Nikon D800.
But the proof of the pudding (in this case the bread) is in the recipe. Less finely milled than mass produced spelt flour, Nigel’s flour produces a deliciously nutty loaf with a wonderful crumb and texture.
Spelt Date & Walnut Soda Bread
- 450g spelt flour
- 20g honey
- 7g fine sea salt
- 8g bicarbonate of soda
- 5g cream of tartar
- 350g buttermilk
- 60g chopped walnuts
- 60g chopped dates
- pre-heat the oven to 200°C
- sift the flour into a bowl with the honey, salt, soda, cream of tartar, dates & walnuts
- make a well in the centre
- pour in the buttermilk, mixing with one hand and working from the side of the bowl inwards, turning the bowl the opposite way
- the dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky
- as soon as it holds, turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly into a bowl and place on a lightly floured baking sheet
- cut a deep cross into the top of the loaf all the way to the bottom
- bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes
- the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the base
I have a problem with vanishing apps, one minute they’re there, the next they’re not. Sometimes they just go walkabout – migrating to a different screen, or else they just vanish altogether into what I assume to be the app equivalent of a black hole. Years ago it was biro’s which vanished seemingly off the face of the planet, in the 21st century it’s apps.
I’d had enough and decided to use a screen lock. With a choice of three – pin number, draw a pattern on the screen or face recognition I foolishly opted for the latter. It seemed simple enough, just lift the phone up and let the camera recognise my face. It worked during the daytime but I’m in the habit of picking my phone up when I wake in the morning. Apparently I don’t look the same! To be fair I agree with my phone, it’s not a good look and I barely recognised myself either…drawing a pattern works in a nicely non-judgemental way and doesn’t leave me feeling depressed before I’ve even got out of bed in the morning.
If this is a downside of technology, I was reminded of the upside a couple of weeks ago when my grandson came to stay. I took him fishing – his first time – and bought him his own rod to get him started. My dad used to fish with cane rods, my first rod was a basic glass fibre job with a reel which kept me occupied more with untangling line than catching fish. M started with a carbon fibre carp whip. Incredibly light, sections just slide out and no reel. Very sensitive and perfect for catching crucian carp – which the little tinker did, by the bucketload; 50 to be precise. Not bad for a soon to be 7 year old. I’m hoping I’ve got him hooked and he will get the same mix of peace and excitement fishing has given me over the years.
When we had finished fishing we made catapults…
After he’d gone and still feeling nostalgic in a late summer kind of way Karen and I went plum and blackberry foraging to make jam. It looks like it’s going to be another good year. I’m truly indebted to Erica at North West Edible Life for tips and advice on making low sugar, pectin free jam. Last years jams were too sweet, this years are more in line with the Bonne Mamman softly set and slightly tart jams. Erica makes some great suggestions for spicing up jams too – no recipes here this time, she explains it so well there is really no point. Go blackberry picking (and anything else you can lay your hands on) and head over to her blog for spot on jamming info.
The clematis montana had finally revealed its true identity and announced its plans to take over the garden. However a swift rear-guard action with pruning saw and secateurs saw the upstart subjugated. Luckily for the clematis it is one of my favourite plants and will live to fight another day – this time heading west along the fence and over the arbour at the bottom of the garden. In fact new shoots are already breaking from old wood, this is one tough cookie of a plant. The later flowering clematis are putting on a good show; I don’t know the name of this ‘alpina’ type clematis but it’s very pretty and lightly scented too.
The demise of the clematis however has freed up 12 feet of fence between the clematis heading west and the hydrangea petiolaris and honeysuckle heading east. Which gives me an opportunity to correct a serious omission in the garden – roses; in particular scented and fragrant climbers and ramblers.
One of the very best climbers is the diminutive flowered Blush Noisette. This soft pink flower, about the size of a 50p piece packs a serious punch in the fragrance stakes! I knew I wanted this particular rose and a visit to Peter Beales stand at the Hampton Court flower show saw the job done.
Honestly I thought that was all I had room for but Blush Noisette is not such a big rose and the David Austin stand was next to Peter Beales…
Wollerton Old Hall is an outstanding climbing rose with lovely soft peony type heads in soft apricot. Repeat flowering (like the Blush Noisette) this is a ‘musk’ rose with a strong scent of myrrh.
I could just write about flowers but suddenly thought of a neat segue into food – rosewater. Some years ago we used to make Turkish Delight to add to our selection of hand-made petit fours and I always loved the softness of this recipe compared to, well the real thing if you like which tends to be firmer and have a bit of a ‘chew’ to it.
Turkish Delight appears to date back between 250 – 500 years depending on the source and like so much food history much of the information may be apocryphal. What is consistent across stories though is that the name Turkish Delight was coined by an 18th century English traveller. The correct name is rahat lokum and the etymology suggests locum is a corruption of a Turanian word meaning morsel, and rahat is a Turkish word meaning peace or contentment. A morsel of contentment then!
A confectioner named Haci (pronounced Hadji) Bekir is credited with creating rahat locum in 1777 and it is still a family business today, albeit now several shops and a factory. There is a depiction of Haci Bekir making Turkish Delight painted by Preziosi which hangs in the Louvre. The recipe has changed over the years – early versions were made with grape molasses and flour. It’s probably fair to say its popularity grew after winning a silver medal at the Vienna Fair in 1873.
Haci Bekir weighing out candy (often assumed to be Turkish Delight), painted by Vittorio Amadeo, 5th Count Preziosi (1816-1882.)
- 14g leaf gelatine soaked in cold water until soft
- 114g water
- 272g sugar
- 34g cornflour
- 100g rosewater
- 10g glycerine
- a few drops of red food colour
- cornflour and icing sugar in equal quantities to keep the cut Turkish Delight in
- heat the water and sugar to boiling point
- add the gelatine, stirring to dissolve
- add the glycerine and food colour - carefully - 3 to 4 drops should give a pretty pale pink colour
- mix the cornflour with the rosewater and add, whisking
- turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10 minutes
- skim any scum off the surface
- pour into a lightly oiled tray and leave to set overnight
- cover with cling film, but DO NOT let the cling film touch the surface - it sticks!
- the next day turn out onto a cornflour dusted board and cut into cubes
- keep in a generous amount of cornflour / icing sugar in an air-tight container, in a cool place
- will keep for several weeks but will gradually harden as it dries out - still good, but better fresh!
- although the tray is oiled you will still need to 'help' the Turkish Delight out of the tray, it won't just slide out - this is normal.
- dipping your knife in cornflour helps prevent sticking when cutting.
- makes 24 2cm sq pieces.
When I want to create a recipe for Taste and Light I begin at the shops. I’m looking for ingredients that cry out ‘take me home and cook me!’
Which is why I came home empty-handed from our local, global (if that isn’t oxymoronic) retailer yesterday. From the feeble ‘market stall’ with the name of ‘my’ local greengrocer (aka store assistant) to the asparagus from Peru and spring onions from Mexico inspiration was replaced with frustrated emptiness. What a soulless way to shop.
What is going on in the UK? I accept that there are many ingredients that can’t be grown in the UK but spring onions and asparagus? In July? Food miles was obviously yesterdays buzz-word.
So I didn’t cook that day and instead waited for the Saturday market in Oakham. With a proper greengrocer and a proper fishmonger. The Cornish mackerel looked far to good to ignore and they are always such good value.
That bit sorted I moved next door to the greengrocer stall. Corn on the cob still in its natural packaging – just right for grilling whole. The tender kernels protected by the papery leaves and the char-grilling imparting a smoky loveliness that is perfect in a salsa – summery and simple. Try doing that with neatly trimmed and cleaned sweetcorn in a plastic tray from the supermarket!
A few tomatoes still on the vine and a cracking bunch of spring onions. The parsley was an afterthought simply because it was such a fresh bunch I couldn’t resist. How much would I like? Oh, about that much please. The bunch divided my portion was put into a brown paper bag. Now that is a greengrocer!
Putting up a sign in a supermarket does not make a greengrocer, what cynicism.
I do love salsas – I had a simple tomato and fresh basil one on toasted sour dough for lunch, so simple and so perfect. This corn salsa has a few more ingredients and a touch of chilli and plenty of fresh coriander – perfect with mackerel. This salsa is low in oil too, to allow for the oiliness of the mackerel which is cooked dry, in a non-stick pan. Apart from cooking the corn (which pretty much looks after itself) it is a really quick and simple recipe.
Cornish Mackerel with Char-Grilled Corn Salsa
- 4 fresh mackerel butterflied or fillets, all bones removed
- Salsa - serves 4
- 1 fresh corn on the cob
- 1 medium tomato skinned (blanch in boiling water), deseeded and diced (concasse)
- 1 spring onion finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander (cilantro)
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 small red chilli finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- simply place the unwrapped corn on the griddle and cook gently, turning frequently for 1 hour (see photograph)
- Allow to cool, unfold the leaves and discard
- slice the kernels into a mixing bowl and add the rest of the ingredients
- leave to sit for 30 minutes before serving
- heat a non-stick frying pan
- season the fish on the flesh side only and place in the pan skin side down
- use a spatula to gently press the fish flat in the pan to give an even golden colour
- cook for a few minutes and then carefully turn over and cook the other side
- serve immediately with the salsa on the side
- Mackerel is an oily fish - using a non-stick pan allows the fish to cook in its own oils