Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas food: fish, roast dinner and glazed ham

So I've been very busy (mainly eating and drinking) this festive holiday so just wanted to show some quick pics of the Christmas food I've had so far. I have indulged in lots of fish: salmon, calamari, trout with potato dauphinoise (and that's just on Christmas Eve!). I love to be healthy and fish being an amazing source of omega 3, it's a key aspect in the food I eat.

Christmas Day was the usual roast dinner with extra trimmings, eaten with all the family. My sister made an amazing combo of brussel sprouts, cabbage and smoky bacon as a side - it's was delicious! Thanks Zoe!

But the best thing I've discovered this Christmas is glazed ham. I've always wanted to do my own but normally ended up buying it. We (my Mum and I) simmered the ham in cola and beer (to cover it) with peppercorns and other spices (we used Chinese five spice) for two hours. We then let it sit to cool and soak over night on Christmas Day night. This morning (Boxing Day morning) we took it out and made a rub to then glaze it with. Then run consisted of Dijon mustard, soy sauce, golden syrup, Demerara sugar, ground cinnamon stick, and ground ginger. Once coated liberally on the ham, we then cooked the ham in the oven at 200 degrees for half an hour. Every 10 minutes I took out the ham and basted it with the juices so the ham took on not only the colour of the rub but also the flavour. Here it is: 

I cannot describe how delicious this ham was but let's say it was the tastiest thing I've eaten all year (and I've eaten a lot!). I think we've discovered a new family tradition - the glazed ham. No longer will I buy it - it is far to yummy to make!!! This was the feast we followed it up with, a little meat and cheese Boxing Day picnic: 

Merry Christmas to you all, I hope you've all had an indulgent, exciting few days, cooking with family and eating lots. Oh, and happy new year too!

ZP x

Friday, 20 December 2013

Plaice, potato rosti, tomato salsa, and cucumber relish

One of my quickest dinners is potato, green veg and fried fish with a caper butter. The fish I use ranges from salmon, trout, whiting, plaice or whatever the fishmonger has on offer/needs to get rid of. If I'm going all out and cooking something special then I'll get some turbot or halibut, but usually this is a mid week dinner that takes half an hour, and is really healthy (well...maybe if I used a little less butter!)

The way I cook the fish stays the same; I tend mix up the accompanying sides to make every dish a little different (it usually involves finding what in the fridge would go with the fish...).

Start with the thing that takes the longest and in this case it’s the potato. Grate potato and onion. Add mustard seeds and fennel seeds with salt and pepper and an egg. Mix well and shape with your hands into a flat disc about the circumference of a large mug. Fry in oil (I used rape seed as I got some Cotswold stuff in the local shop on offer) for 5-10 mins on a medium hot pan then flip and add a little butter for another 5-10 mins until golden.

While that’s cooking, cut up your tomatoes into small cubes (you can flash boil for 30 secs to remove the skin and seeds inside but I don’t do this if I don’t have the energy) and add spoonful of sugar, chopped fresh basil, chopped fresh parsley, 1 crushed garlic clove, oil, salt, pepper. 

For the cucumber relish, peel it with a y-shaped potato peeler (it does work!) in thin strips then marinade in a mixture of vinegar and sugar, then take out and add dill and salt and pepper. The slightly cool cucumber crunch with the soft white fish is amazing.

Rub the fish with a touch of oil, salt and pepper, and fry on each side until golden (few minutes on each side on a high heat). When you put it in the pan, don't fiddle around with it as a crusty skin outside won't form: put it in a pan and leave it to sizzle until you turn it over. Add butter at the end to colour it (capers optional). Baste it with the caper butter by using a spoon to spoon the frothing butter over the fish. Once the butter turns a medium brown colour, take off the heat and plate up immediately.

Serve on the rosti, with salsa, relish and lemon.

ZP x

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Curry: experiment with spice

This is another dish that you can use all your leftovers for. It's so easy - you can make a strong, fragrant curry or just a delicate one depending on what and how many spices you put in. For the sauce, I range from using tinned tomatoes to fresh tomatoes and also whether to use coconut milk or cream. You can experiment with all of these and much more. Even ground almonds make a great addition.

Experimenting and diverting away from recipes is the key here. You won't learn if you don't make mistakes. I've made curries too spicy, too hot, too rich but whatever I do, I always add too much so I've learned to tone down and perfect flavours to my own taste. I personally love cardamon pods and I'm not that mad on cumin seeds so I use more of one and less of the other but someone else might be the other way round; it's all personal.

By the way, this is my own recipe that I've invented - I've got no idea whether it's the way to make curries but I think they taste lovely and it's all fresh and healthy. Spices are the best way of adding flavour without the usual fattiness of butter or cream (like my Nan used to do with everything!)

In general, I start with the spice mix. I tend to mix a teaspoon of each of the following: cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric powder with 6 cardamon pods and 3/4 cloves.  I crush the green cardamon pods to get the black seeds inside as the skin isn't pleasant to eat. So, fry all the spices together (minus the turmeric powder) for 2-3 mins on a hot pan until you can smell them and they're slightly browner than before. Tip them all in a mortar and pestle and grind with a teaspoon of salt until formed a powder (preferably use man with a strong arm like I do!) or you could use one of those special spice grinder machines but I like doing it by hand. Once the curry powder is fine then put aside.

Next, brown off whatever meat you fancy in a large pan (I've used everything from balled up sausage to chicken to pork shoulder to beef neck). When browning meat, don't let the meat touch other pieces as it will create steam which will then start to braise the meat and not brown properly. Brown meat in batched if necessary.

Take out the meat and fry diced onions (2 medium) with 3 cloves of crushed garlic, diced carrot (2 large), and anything else you fancy (maybe peppers etc) in the remaining meat juices. I then add a teaspoon of nigella and mustard seeds and then let them pop for a bit (if the pan is hot enough then they pop around the pan). Make a well in the vegetables and add the curry powder and fry this off for a few minutes. Add the meat back in and stir. Add the turmeric and stir. All this should be done on a medium heat. Then add tomatoes (2 tins worth so you could do a mixture of chopped fresh and tinned if you like) and then turn heat down to simmer. You might need a little more water if you want to simmer it for longer. I like to add fruit to my curries (chicken and mango goes down a storm) after it's simmered for 20 minutes. Allow the tomatoes to thicken up and all the spices to come together. At the end you could add a bag of spinach straight in and stir in, as well as cashews, flaked almonds, or whatever you fancy (the picture in the pan is when the spinach is wilting withing the finished curry - it take seconds).

Serve with turmeric rice (rice boiled with veg stock and teaspoon of turmeric) and a sprinkling of coriander leaves.

If you want to make a creamier curry then make it less spicy and add more coconut cream than tomatoes. The main thing is to experiment and find what your taste buds like the best. Have fun creating!

ZP x

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Using up the leftovers and keeping stock

I love to use leftovers where ever I can and having long lasting items in your cupboards/fridge is very important in getting easy dinners on the table. One of my favourites is a jar of charred red peppers. You can add them to soup, pasta sauces, pizzas, stews, the list is endless. Other things that last a long time are beetroots (either in jars or vacuum packs), butternut squashes (or other hardy root veg), and all your jars (mustard, redcurrant jelly, mint jelly etc.).

Salads are very quick to make and no washing up of big pans required. I love the mixture of beetroot and goats cheese. Pine nuts and roasted butternut squash would also go really well on top.

I've mixed one of the salads to the left with tomatoes and cucumber from my Mum's garden. She's just planted in her new vegetable plots meaning that come spring time, I'll be able to get my hands on some new vegetables ready to cook with (if she lets me have some!).

Talking of fresh veg, my lovely neighbour delivers all sorts of goodies from her father's allotment in London (see the assortment to the right). I remember making a curry with all the tomatoes. I had the figs drizzled with honey. I'm still using all of the garlic that she gave me, I actually used it last night in a sausage casserole. I'm missing all these fresh fruit and vegetables now that winter has drawn in. It's time for stews, soups, curries and hearty dishes that warm tootsies. But bring on the day when I can pick fresh strawberries from my Mum's garden again.

Also, I love roasting veg. Any veg; all veg. Here's some parsnip, the butternut squash (from the allotment shown above), and potatoes left over from a roast. I always find there's a small amount of potatoes left to grow little sprouts, so mix them up with some veg and roast them off. Here, I've put them with some fennel seeds, cumin seeds, onion seeds and a few more aromatic spices thrown in, as well as some oil to help them crisp up and get all tasty. When they've had about an hour in the oven, I eat them with mayo when I'm on my own but when guests are coming, I serve with roast chicken, steak or even blend them into soup.

Another good tip is never throw a chicken carcass away. This always hurts me a little bit to see that happen. Make some soup. Get your nose in the trails of soup steam. There is so much flavour (and probably meat) still left on the chicken so dry fry it (take off the skin and any congealed fat) to colour it all a bit and get some flavour onto it and then add water, onions, carrots, celery, leeks and any other veg. Once they've boiled for a few hours, sieve the stock. You could keep this stock as it is and take it out the freezer when you need to make a gravy but when it's winter, I like to make soup. So, to the stock, add a soup mix bag from your local health shop (usually filled with lentils and pearl barley) to give it a bit of body and also add a bit of the leftover chicken pieces. Boil until the lentils and barley are done and you can't quite resist it any longer. You're welcome to add peas, sweetcorn or anything you like in your chicken soup. Serve with bread and butter. It's the best cure for illness or homesickness in the world.

So, make the most of all your leftovers and don't throw anything away - there's always a use for'll save money and create new things!

ZP x

Monday, 2 December 2013

Mini blackberry crumbles

Now is the time to bring out the berries from the freezer picked back in summer.

You could do all sorts with berries. Duck breast with blackberry sauce, raspberry pavlova, elderflower cordial, strawberry jam, and much more. This time, I've stuck to tradition and made mini blackberry crumbles. I've mixed them with whatever I could find leftover in the fruit bowl: here, it's apricots, plums, and peaches. For the crumble topping, it's easy: it's just butter and flour mixed together with your fingertips and then sugar added. There's more related recipes here.

Serve with custard in front of the fire on a bitterly cold evening. Beautiful.

ZP x