Lola and Finn's Mum
Thursday 16 February 2017
Sounds like the advice I give to the kids that I teach, or to Finn when he's complaining that he still hasn't scored this season (unglamorous job being a left back) or Lola, trying to make her way through several hours of homework for Year 6 exams instead of actually having a childhood. I don't know if perseverance does actually pay off. God knows I've persevered playing the lottery for decades and I'm still here, scratching about on this cold rock somewhere off mainland Europe instead of living the jet set lifestyle that I know I am born to live. Maybe next week that loft apartment in New York, that lake front property in Annecy, and/or that pearlescent Greek villa, hanging precariously on a hillside where the oregano grows wild and the blue sea and golden sun provide the backdrop...
Talking of Greece, and perseverance, regular readers of this blog will know that I have all but given up trying to feed fish to the fam. Fish has become a solitary eating activity, which is ok I suppose, but it would be better for us all round if we ate more fish than we do now. The defrosting of the freezer revealed some long forgotten cod, bought because it was dirt cheap, hurled in the freezer and then forgotten about. I wasn't going to throw it out. I'd make something with it and if need's be, any that was leftover I would nuke in the microwave the next day, to the despair of my fellow teaching colleagues if the smell of the last fish that was nuked in the staff room microwave (not by me) was anything to go by. But, no. It was eaten. I mean, there wasn't rapturous applause at the end of the meal, but it was, more or less, eaten. Phill even said he liked it. It may not seem like a victory, but it feels like one.
The recipe was taken from and gently adapted from 'Cretan Cooking' by Maria and Nikos Psilakis, which I bought when I was, funnily enough, on holiday in Crete, about 7 or 8 years ago now. The recipe is pretty faff free, except for the prep of the potatoes, but I found the whole slicing thing very therapeutic, so there you go. The original recipe calls for salt cod, and for that you would have to add in soaking time. Because I used 'ordinary' cod, there wasn't that issue.
Cod in the Oven with Potatoes adapted from 'Cretan Cooking' by Maria and Nikos Psilakis
Serves Mum, Dad, Lola and Finn
2lb cod or any firm white fish, cut to fit the size of the pan you are using (though try to keep the pieces of fish a reasonably consistent size to ensure even cooking).
1lb waxy potatoes
2 finely chopped onions
2/3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp of oregano
1 tsp thyme
zest of a lemon
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper
Boil the potatoes in salted water (you can peel them before hand if you like but I didn't bother) until they are almost cooked. Leave until they are cool enough to handle, and then slice into rounds about half a cm thick.
Preheat the oven to 180c.
Pour a little olive oil in the bottom of a suitable baking dish/pan that will hold everything reasonably snugly, then place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Season well, and sprinkle on some of the chopped onion, the chopped garlic, a bit of lemon zest and a little of the oregano and garlic. Repeat the process a second time.
Place the cod onto the potato layers, and season well.
Pour the tinned tomatoes over the cod.
Then, as much as is possible, place a layer of potatoes over the fish, and season as before. Repeat the process. Season, and brush over a little olive oil. It might be that you have potatoes left over - I didn't, but if I had, I'd have kept them and when I was feeling peckish, lashed them in with some beaten egg, seasoning and loads of chopped spring onions and created a sumptuous omelette cum frittata affair. Anyway, not for the first time, I digress...
Place into the centre of the oven for about 25/30 mins. You want the potatoes to be cooked and beginning to brown on the top and the cod to be flaking and yielding (a little poke about with a knife will let you know whether that is the case).
Serve with a green salad and some crusty bread to soak up the delicious sauce.
Wednesday 8 February 2017
I am a bit of a sucker for a pie, to be honest. And though this has taken a bit of a French turn and the pie has become a pithivier, it does not matter; a tasty mixture encased in golden pastry will always be a winner.
When given the opportunity to cook with Tesco Cypriot New Potatoes, I thought about how I had eaten them in the past. They don't necessarily need much attention, simply steamed with a little butter and some parsley and they are glorious. But I was thinking about what they would go well with, and then thought about a salad I had had with new style potatoes when I was in Normandy. And then I got to thinking about pies again and I kind of came up with this.
So, to France and the reason I discovered the combination of potato and Camembert. I sat down at a little bistro, sipping a cold Chablis and after the perusal of the menu I decided on a warm potato salad, anticipating little potatoes, absorbing a tangy vinaigrette and a green salad. But the menu did not mention the slices of Camembert, which oozed pleasingly on the plate. The combination of potato and warm Camembert was sumptuous.
Fast forward to now. Once I resolved to recreate this delicious salad accompaniment as a pie, for the filling I resolved to gild the lily further by frying off some pancetta once I had boiled, cooled and sliced the potatoes. I also thought that the addition of some fresh thyme would make this even tastier. You could substitute the bacon for onions, for leeks. Maybe sub the Camembert for a piece of Brie. All would compliment the potatoes wonderfully. Wrapping the pastry around the filling is a bit fiddly. It would be a neater job to take two pieces of ready rolled pastry and seal them together around the filling, but whatever you decide to do, do not seal the pastry too tightly around the filling so that you get the ooze as you cut into the pithivier. The potatoes take on the flavours of the bacon and the thyme, and with a salad accompanying this, it makes a tasty satisfying evening meal.
Cypriot New Potatoes are available in Tesco stores right now, until the end of March.
Potato, Camembert and Pancetta Pithivier
Serves two, generously
100g Tesco Cypriot New Potatoes
1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry (2 would make a neater job but would result in quite a lot of leftover pastry, which could be used for another recipe)
1 egg, for egg wash.
Boil the potatoes in salted water until just cooked. Drain and leave to cool, then slice into rounds about 1/2 cm thick.
Fry off the pancetta in a little olive oil. Once cooked, leave to cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 190c
Take the Camembert and slice it across the middle.
Unroll the pastry and place it onto a work surface. I kept it on the greaseproof paper it came wrapped in.
Place one half of the Camembert on top of the pastry. Brush the surrounding pastry with some beaten egg.
Pile the sliced potato onto the Camembert. Scatter the pancetta over the potatoes and then add some fresh thyme leaves.
Place the top of the Camembert onto the potato/pancetta mixture. It will be precarious!
Bring the pastry up and over/around the Camembert, or if you are using two pieces of pastry, bring the edges together. Seal the edges as neatly and as firmly as possible, cutting off any surplus pastry. Brush the top with egg and season with sea salt and black pepper. Score the top, pithivier style and pierce the top to allow any steam to escape.
Carefully place the pastry onto a baking sheet and place in the middle of the oven. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and puffed up. The pastry will spread in the oven and there might be some oozing of the filling.
Leave to cool slightly, as the filling will be very hot! Serve with a salad.
Tuesday 7 February 2017
Guinness. Lovely Guinness. Wonderful on its own, and it would seem, pretty good with chocolate too, but in honesty I already knew that, as evidenced here and here.
Because Guinness is good for you, I fervently believe that these brownies will have health giving properties. It is a mere detail that they contain stuff which may not form part of a calorie controlled diet, for the reason that these are so beneficial is that I defy anyone not to sit down with one of these bad boys and a cuppa and not feel completely restored, or else just a little bit better about the trivialities of life. Here is some photographic proof of the restorative properties of Guinness, from a small visit to Dublin more years ago than I would like to admit.
This is not necessarily a shameful attempt to get in early on the whole ‘what shall I cook for St Patrick’s Day?’ internet traffic, more an encouragement for those who may be pre-disposed to celebrate the day with a pig under their arm/wear a ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ t shirt/don a snazzy leprechaun hat to do something slightly less predictable. Actually, scratch that. This blog is no place for sanctimony and so this is not the time and place to tell people how to live their lives. You crack on with whatever it is you’re planning, but make these brownies as well, because they are amazingly glorious. In fact, don’t wait ‘til St Patrick’s Day to make them. Make them now.
You’re welcome. Slainte!
Guinness Brownies, adapted from 'Baked in America' by David Muniz and David Muzniak
Makes 12 humungous ones
8oz plain flour
6oz plus 2 tablespoons cocoa
½ tsp salt (or taste the batter once it’s mixed; you might need a smidgen more)
12oz dark chocolate - I used 72% cocoa. Go big or go home.
6oz white chocolate
6oz unsalted butter, cubed
6 large eggs at room temperature
12oz caster sugar - original recipe says granulated but, not for me.
1 tsp vanilla extract
16fl oz Guinness, at room temperature
9oz milk chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 190c
Grease a 12 x 9 x 2 inch pan really, really well. I then line it with foil, in a bit of a cradle style so I can lift the brownies out afterwards.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients – the flour, the cocoa, the salt.
Place a heatproof bow over a pan of simmering water and melt the white and dark chocolate and the butter. Don’t allow the bottom of the heatproof bowl to touch the simmering water or you risk the chocolate seizing. Set aside to cool a little. You don’t want it so hot that it will ‘cook’ the eggs when you add them.
Talking of eggs – in yet another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture becomes light and creamy and the beaters/whisk leave a ribbon like trail when you pull it out of the mixture.
Put the mixer onto medium and carefully add the melted chocolate mixture, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Ensure that the mixture is completely amalgamated together. Reduce the speed to low, add the vanilla and then add the flour mixture in stages, allowing the flour to mix completely into the batter before adding more. Do not overbeat.
Finally, continuing with the mixer on low, add the Guinness, and mix until everything is well combined.
Carefully pour the batter into the prepared tin, giving it a bit of a shake so it all levels out and fills the corner of the tin. Once the mixture has settled, scatter the chocolate chips over the top.
Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre emerges with set crumb, not raw mixture. Do not overbake. The mixture will probably shrink from the edges of the pan.
Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting into big slabs/removing them from the tin. I put mine in the fridge to speed the process a bit. I have no idea if this is correct but patience and Guinness and chocolate have never really gone together in my life, so….
Sunday 5 February 2017
It’s a lifelong intention to try to persuade those that I share a house with to eat more fish. But they won’t. One won’t entertain it. Two of them will eat it in batter. Annoyingly, one of those two eats moules frites like they are French. Or Belgian. But, no, we’re not having fish. No sirree. No. Never. Non.
This child eats moules
This child doesn't (eat anything remotely fishy at all. Ever)
Only if it's in batter and I can give him a no bone guarantee...
Which is why I now eat it on my own as a special meal for me. I am determined for the eating of fish not to be solely the domain of special occasions, when I go out for a meal somewhere swanky (it’s rarely swanky). I will eat it when Phill is not here and I can palm Lola and Finn off with something involving pasta.
And whatever fish I decide to cook, it’s fast. Faster than the meal that I might hurl together of a weeknight between the filling of lunchboxes and the loading of the washing machine. It’s the fish and something lip smackingly good to accompany it, like this punchy salsa verde to accompany one of my favourite fish, hake.
This recipe has been gently adapted from ‘Modern Spanish Cooking’ by Sam and Eddie Hart. Even if I am a Brit, brought up on stodge and spuds, I think I could quite happily live with the food of Spain, punctuated with the odd chip butty. And maybe a pie. I imagine that this dish would be elevated to ambrosial heights, eaten whilst sat in the warm evening sun, a glass of Albarino in hand and the sound of Aranjuez hanging in the air, but for the present, the surroundings of my kitchen on any given weekday evening, with a cup of tea and the sound of Lola and Finn bickering over who is putting the washing on the maiden will have to suffice.
Hake with Salsa Verde adapted from Modern Spanish Cooking by Sam and Eddie Hart
Note: The quantity of salsa verde would suffice for six portions. I like salsa verde. Lots. I made a bigger batch so I could have it with this and then use it the next day, drizzled over chicken or over tomatoes. Yum.
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, and two others.
Six pieces of hake, mine were about two cm thick.
For the salsa verde:
150ml extra virgin olive oil
50g baby spinach leaves
30g flat leaf parsley
10g mint sprigs
1 oregano sprig, leaves stripped
20g capers, drained
2 tsp Dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 to 1 whole lemon (to taste)
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
Make the salsa verde first. Put the olive oil in to a blender and add the spinach and herbs. Then add the capers and the mustard. Lastly add half the lemon and then begin to taste for seasoning. I added the other half of the lemon juice because I wanted more zing. Set aside.
Cook the hake. Put a little olive oil into a frying pan and swirl the pan to ensure the base is covered with the oil. The pan needs to be hot.
I seasoned the hake pieces each side and then placed them, skin side down, into the pan. Cook for a few seconds and then reduce the heat to medium. I cooked my hake for about two minutes on either side.
Remove the fish from the pan and allow it to rest a little, then serve with a puddle of salsa verde. I also added a few baby potatoes for a bit of ballast!