Sea Trout

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I’m finding that the cost of fish is at an all time high at the moment. I’m looking forward to reaping the benefits of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight Campaign, but alas, the price of fish doesn’t appear to be reducing, even though sustainably caught fish and the fight against discards has come along way in the last 6 months.

I love fish and whenever I go out to eat, it’s the first section of the menu that I scour to select my dish. But eating fish at home can be costly. My husband and I recently had friends over for supper and I bought some sustainable cod from my local fishmongers. It was by far superior to fish from the supermarket, but at nearly £20 for 4 fillets, I should jolly well think so too!

Searching the supermarket for a cheaper fish, I was still unable to find the cheaper discards (maybe I should change my supermarket), however I did come across some Sea Trout at a very reasonable price. This fish has a delicate flavour so requires little else to enhance it, without overpowering it. I just squeezed some lemon juice and scattered a few thyme leaves over the top and baked in the oven at 170° for 20 minutes. Meanwhile a made a salad of fennel and radish with plenty of pepper and lemon juice. Such a simple clean meal, and very reasonably priced too!


Ice Cream

Looking out of our office window at home, I see grey skies looming with the ever present threat of rain and the wind whipping against the trees causing them to bow and bend. I’m deliberating whether to wear a hat and scarf when I go out later. After all, it is August.

In a bid to shake off the summer blues (if only there were some to shake off!), I have decided to pretend that we are basking in glorious sunshine, not by wearing shorts or summer dresses I may add. I’m someone who is still having to wear bed socks to thaw the blocks of ice I call my feet. I’m talking about making the ultimate summer food, ice cream.

As I am still continuing my weekly begging session with the scales, along the lines of “please don’t shout at me to get off, please be kind, please be kind, please be kind”, the sheer calorie laden decadence of this ice cream is not for the feint hearted, or those of us who put on a couple of pounds just by saying the word ‘chocolate’, let alone actually consuming it. It doesn’t however stop me from having a spoonful of the creamy delight, just to make sure it’s suitable for the family of course!

Basic Ice Cream

300ml Double Cream
397g tin of Caramel OR condensed milk (I used Carnation)
Your choice of added extras.

Whisk the cream until soft peaks form, mix in the caramel. Add one or two of your extras; such as broken pieces of chocolate, honeycomb or Werther’s Original, small pieces of fudge, crushed biscuits, popping candy, ….the list is endless, let your imagination go wild.

Spoon the mixture into a plastic tub or loaf tin and freeze for one hour. Take out and mix then freeze overnight. Remove from the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving for a soft scoop ice cream. Enjoy!


Where’s the Kitchen

I read an article recently stating that one in six women struggle to cook, with over half of them admitting that they leave the kitchen duties to their husband. Incredibly, one in twenty women acknowledged that they don’t know how to boil an egg. To say that initially I was dumbfounded by these figures is an understatement, but having thought about today’s society, I can actually believe it.

Some of my friends cook but I would say that probably only a handful of them do so from scratch, a few more tend to rustle up the evening meal with the assistance of jars and packets but many of them either use ready meals, frozen foods that get bunged in the oven with the chips, or have takeaways. Thinking about those few who tend to cook from scratch, we do all have one thing in common…..dieting. There’s nothing quite like a group of 40 something women all attempting to reverse the dreaded middle aged spread to focus the mind on what we put in our mouth. This small group of women, including myself, who all seem to be part of a particular world famous diet club, make the time to lovingly prepare meals for ourselves and our loved ones, even those who do have hectic lives with small children.

One of the main reasons, or dare I say it, excuses, why women of my age don’t cook homemade meals, is apparently lack of time and passion. Now the passion part I do understand. I mean, I don’t play golf. Never had done, never will do. I have no passion for the pastime whatsoever and really don’t get the attraction with whacking a little ball around a field with a metal stick, unlike my husband who would spend every weekend playing if he could, providing it didn’t interrupt the motor racing of course. But lets be honest, golf isn’t a necessity (I’m ducking under the desk as I say that to avoid the barrage of expletives from hubby!), whereas food is.

Sadly though, many women feel cooking is not a luxury pastime, but simply another item in the long list of household chores that needs to be ticked off with efficiency and speed. Some I’m sure only feel this way so they have time to plonk themselves on the sofa after a stressful day in the office or with the children, in time to escape with the latest instalment of Corrienders, with a glass of Chardonnay. But some do genuinely have little time in between tidy the house, walking the dog, bathing the children, doing the laundry, reading the bedtime story, more tidying up, feed the cat….you get the picture.

Now I’m not going to preach, and as many have said before me, a meal can be cooked from scratch in the same time it takes to order and have your pizza delivered. Enough said.

So what price do we pay for the ever decline of home cooking, of experimenting and sharing recipes and more importantly, of passing cooking and baking skills to the next generation?

My 16 year old daughter appears to have little desire to cook, although occasionally she does enjoy covering my kitchen in flour and icing sugar whilst baking. I can only hope with the ‘mother daughter time’ we have, she one day suggests we cook up a storm in the kitchen so she can learn and experiment and in later years have happy memories and a plethora of recipes which she can pass down to her children. I can’t force her to share my passion, but I do worry that when she eventually leaves home she’ll live off marmite on toast and fairy cakes!


Rhubarb and Custard Cake

With the rain lashing down and the wind blowing a gail, I took our dog out on his daily walk. Soggy jeans and the 80’s windswept hair look doesn’t invoke images of summer, however this is how our July appears to be evolving this year. To take my mind off the grey dreariness of the trudge through muddy puddles I reminisced of bygone summers that really did feel as though they’d last forever. Sweltering heat, hosepipes left on purely for the benefit of the squealing children dashing across the lawn, ice-cream soda’s and tingling sun-kissed skin. Oh how things are different this year!

Summer produce that always makes this season complete for me, come rain or shine, are juicy fat strawberries, plump raspberries and tart rhubarb. I am in a privileged position of being kept in constant supply of the beautiful champagne rhubarb, by my daughters Grandfather. He has been growing it in his garden since I have known him, and every year without fail he provides me with bags full of the pink and green delight. My latest delivery was put to good use in our family favourite – Rhubarb and Custard Cake.

I’ve tried a few variations of this, but I do keep coming back to this one by Jane Hornby. Drizzling the custard on the cake before baking, along with mixing it with the batter, seems to give a better balance of custard and rhubarb. Other recipes I’ve tried omit baking the custard and use the custard as an optional extra when serving. Baking the custard ensures you get the best of both in one bite, even if you’re taking the cake in a packed lunch.

Rhubarb and Custard Cake

To start with you need to roast your rhubarb:

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Rinse 400g rhubarb and shake off excess water. Trim the ends, then cut into little-finger-size pieces. Put in a shallow dish or a baking tray, tip over 50g caster sugar, toss together, then shuffle rhubarb so it’s in a single layer. Cover with foil, then roast for 15 mins. Remove foil. Give everything a little shake, roast for 5 mins more or until tender and the juices are syrupy. Allow to cool.

1 quantity roasted rhubarb
250g pack butter , softened, plus extra for greasing
150g pot ready-made custard (not the chilled kind; I used Ambrosia)
250g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g golden caster sugar
icing sugar , for dusting

Butter and line a 23cm loose-bottomed or springform cake tin. Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.
Reserve 3 tbsp of the custard in a bowl. Beat the rest of the custard together with the butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla and sugar until creamy and smooth. Spoon one-third of the mix into the tin, add some of the rhubarb, then dot with one-third more cake mix and spread it out as well as you can. Top with some more rhubarb, then spoon over the remaining cake mix, leaving it in rough mounds and dips rather than being too neat about it. Scatter the rest of the rhubarb over the batter, then dot the remaining custard over. Bake for 40 mins until risen and golden, then cover with foil and bake for 15-20 mins more. It’s ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin, then dredge with icing sugar when cool.


Peanut Butter Cake

I first saw this recipe back in 2009 in the Good Food Magazine, but it’s only been this week that I’ve eventually got round to making it after stumbling across it on a Good Food Cakes App. It was surprisingly easy to make and although I haven’t eaten any (still battling with the bingo wings and thunder thighs, not to mention being wheat intolerant) but from what little is left in the cake tin, and going from the ‘mmmmm’s’ and ‘yuuuuumy’s’ coming from the family whilst they sampled the delight, I’m guessing this was a big hit.

The cake is gloriously calorific and laden with peanut butter and dulce de leche, which seem to work beautifully together. The roasted salted peanuts which were caramelised and scattered on the top gave balance to the sweetness of the cake, just enough so it wasn’t sickly.

200g butter , softened, plus extra for greasing
3 tbsp smooth peanut butter , plus 2 tbsp for the middle (or more if you like)
4 large eggs
200g golden caster sugar
150g pot natural yogurt
200g self-raising flour
50g salted roasted peanuts
1 tbsp icing sugar
100g milk chocolate , roughly chopped
2 tbsp milk
3 tbsp dulce de leche (or carnation caramel)

Butter 2 x 20cm non-stick sandwich tins and line with circles of baking paper. Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Using electric hand beaters, beat the butter, 3 tbsp peanut butter, eggs, sugar and yogurt together until smooth and creamy. Fold in the flour, then split the mix between the tins, using a spatula to get every last bit. Bake for 30 mins until risen and golden.
Meanwhile, toss the salted peanuts and icing sugar with ½ tsp water until well coated and claggy. Spread over a non-stick baking sheet. When the cakes are ready, leave them to cool for 5 mins in the tin, then turn onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Turn the oven up to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6, then roast the nuts for 10 mins, tossing them a couple of times until golden and coated in a shiny caramel. Tip onto a lightly buttered plate. Make the topping while you wait: melt the chocolate and milk together in a pan over simmering water or microwave on High for 1 min, then stir to melt. Leave to cool.
Put one of the sponges onto a plate, spread with 2 tbsp peanut butter (or more), then dot with the dulce de leche and spread with a palette knife. Sandwich the second sponge on top, then spread with the chocolate topping. Scatter with the caramelised peanuts to serve.

This is definitely one to do again, and again, and again!

Pass The Salt

Most of us are aware of the dangers of too much salt in our diet and what it can possibly lead to; high blood pressure, stroke, water retention, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, swelling, difficulty breathing and heart failure to name but a few. So why do ‘celebrity’ chefs still add copious amounts of salt to their delights, like confetti over a bride? A good pinch here, a generous sprinkle there, it all adds up to, well, heart failure.

Now the reason I’m singling out celebrity chefs is because the usual suspect such as food manufactures and fast food restaurants (I use the word restaurant in the loosest of terms when alongside ‘fast food’) get a regular bashing by the press and the government for all the ‘hidden’ salts in the produce, whereas chefs appear to be unregulated so have managed to crawl under the radar, (not to mention just having seen Mr Ramsay pour a small salt mountain into his fish paste). Not only that, but you can’t switch on your television without a familiar face being at home, in a market kitchen or in a hell’s kitchen primed and ready, steady to cook. Some of us look up to these chefs, admire them, are inspired by them, yet aren’t they luring us to go against the recommended guidelines which could lead to damaging our health?

Of course we have the ability to make our own choices in life, whether it be to add or not to add, to pinch and sprinkle or abstain. But celebrity chefs should be setting an example, especially to all the new comers to cooking who haven’t yet discovered the delights of other flavourings and seasonings. Surely they should be setting an example for the next generation of chefs and cooks as well?

Could it be our favoured chefs are dwelling on our past, after all salt has been used for many thousands of years? Historically salt was prized. Its reputation can be found in phrases like, “Worth one’s salt,” since people, especially the Romans, were often paid in salt. The word itself is derived from the Latin salarium, or salary. Historically, Roman’s lived to 48 years old though; maybe a poor diet was a contributing factor to their early demise!

Don’t get me wrong, salt has it’s place in moderation, as far as I’m concerned. We need salt, it’s vital for the smooth running of our bodies. My jury is still out though on how much salt actually enhances the flavour of a meal. I can remember my Gran, thus same Biscuit Tin Gran, adding salt to her tomatoes and hard boiled eggs, and I also remember liking it when I tried it, but not because it enhanced the flavour of the tomato or the egg, but because I liked the saltiness and the tingle on my tongue. For me, it did nothing but detract from the actual flavour of the food. Why would you want to add salt to a tomato and suppress the natural sweetness of this fruit?

You’ve probably guessed, but I don’t add salt to my cooking and I’ve not had any complaints yet! My family aren’t polite enough not to give their constructive criticism on any meal I cook, so be assured, I would have been told by now if salt was a requirement. Instead I use various ingredients to add flavour, such as fresh herbs, spices, citrus fruit, vinegar and garlic.

Salt is by no means a banned substance from our house, and very occasionally I will use salt if I really feel it is necessary; I’ve also been known to overindulge on salt and vinegar crisps, you know the ones, once you pop…..oh so true! A little of what you fancy is a saying I adopt when necessary and it acts as a great get out to be able indulge in a little wine, a little chocolate, a little cheese. But for me I think I’ll pass on the salt.

That is of course, until I visit a celebrity chefs restaurant!

Radishes Remembered

Do you ever have those moments when the sun is shining, the evenings are warm and light and an impromptu weekday BBQ seems to be the order of the day? Well this is what happened to me yesterday. However my fridge on a Thursday tends to look undernourished and doesn’t start groaning with the abundance of all the food groups until the supplies are delivered on a Friday.

So what delights were left in the sparse fridge in order for me to conjure up a family BBQ? Some cod fillets and a piece of steak from the freezer, that will do nicely. Now for the sides. Some beautiful field mushrooms, a pack of feta cheese, a rather lonely looking kohl rabi, that seems to always be left in the bottom drawer, some lettuce and the ever faithful potatoes. With the usual suspects I always have in stock, garlic, ginger, lemons and limes, chilli’s and soy sauce, I set about concocting a feast fit for, well, fit for the family at any rate.

Feta, garlic and chilli stuffed mushrooms, a green salad with toasted almonds and a dijon dressing, potato salad with whole grain mustard and yogurt and a kohl rabi and onion coleslaw. Not much colour going on there, so it was out to the garden to see which of the home grown vegetables were ready willing and able to be plucked from there muddy damp home. The carrots won’t be ready for sometime yet, but the blushingly bulbous radishes were singing to me “pick me, pick me” like teenagers in a talent show.

A couple of weeks ago, prior to the aforementioned being ready for consumption, I purchased some radishes from the supermarket. This is not something I make a habit of and will not be doing so again. I remember radishes as a child being an acquired taste, almost fiery with a peppery kick, providing a tingling sensation on the tongue akin to pepper sherbet – if it ever existed, if it doesn’t, it should do! Not these little pink roots. They tasted what can only be described as……water! No kick, no tingles on the tongue, nothing. What a disappointment.

So the expectation for my homegrown variety had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately they failed, not totally, but a fail all the same in my book. Although containing more flavour and actually tasting of a radish, they still lacked the zing I was reminiscing about. Or at least I thought that was how I remembered them to be. I’m beginning to wonder if my memory is fast diminishing now I’m passed the big 40, or maybe my taste buds were more sensitive in my youth (I pick the latter!).

Needless to say though, the look of my radishes outshone the shop mass produced variety hands down, although they certainly wouldn’t pass EU regulation!

So I finely sliced the not so perfect yet radiant radishes into the kohl rabi coleslaw type dish (no mayonnaise until Friday!) and as far as I’m concerned they complimented the soft pale apple green of the kohl rabi beautifully. Add to that some lime juice, grated ginger, wet garlic, white wine vinegar coriander and plenty of seasoning – extra pepper to compensate – and there you have a version of coleslaw, in the loosest sense of the word.

It actually went down well with the famished family and complimented the soy marinade I used on the fish and steak perfectly.

A great sigh of relief took place when the food order was delivered and my ever faithful organic vegetable box turned up today. The fridge is yet again struggling to keep it’s door shut and hide the plethora of goodies inside. No more do my husband and daughter open the fridge, peer inside, shut the door in disgust and utter those slanderous words – “there’s nothing to eat in here”. I for one beg to differ.