Every time someone suggests fish pie to me, or says that's what we're having to eat, I die a little inside. And it's not that there's anything wrong with it, as such. In fact, it's a rather lovely dish. Comforting and rich, and a good way to get lots of fish into people who don't particularly like it.And yet yesterday I woke up with a burning desire, a craving for it. Perhaps Bee, who seems to have a liking of it that doesn't seem normal, has been whispering in my ear repeatedly as I sleep.It is really a very simple dish, and in its favour, you can make it ahead and heat it through for supper, as I did for the children. And, predictably, Noah liked it but tried to pick out the spinach and Maya said she hates prawns (the lunatic). Bee thought it was a bit too saucy and had too much spinach, whereas I, the least enthusiastic fish pie eater thought it delicious. But then I made it.You may squeal with delight at the thought of a fish pie and having made this, I feel a little less antipathy toward it. It's something comforting, tasty and healthy. Do as you will with it. More cod, fewer prawns, not so much spinach, extra scallops, a thicker sauce with a touch more cheese and flour. It's up to you, and that is the joy of cooking, we all like things certain ways and you can't please everyone.This recipe is a good one so I offer it to you to run with. You can even add hard boiled eggs to the mix if you like. And as far as the bonito and kombu go, that's up to you too, as is the golden, warming turmeric and citrussy coriander. But it's little things like that that can make a dish just a little above the ordinary. And actually, looking at the photo reminds me, there's a portion left in the fridge...Serves: 6Prep time: 30-40 minsCooking time: 45 minsIngredientsFor the top:4 medium potatoes such as Maris Piper, skin on, quartered100ml double cream50ml milk70g butterA grating of Parmesan for the topFor the filling:175g Queen scallops250g smoked haddock or cod, cut into chunks250g prawns100g spinachA small bunch of chives, finely slicedA grating of nutmeg1tsp ground turmeric2tsp ground corianderFor the sauce:30g butter30g flour300ml milk25g grated mild cheddarA sheet of kombu (seaweed)A pinch of bonito flakesMethodThe bonito and kombu are optional in this, it's just to give it that extra kick of the sea. But if you're going to use it, heat a little of the milk to just below the boil and pour over them both in a small bowl and leave to infuse while you make the mash.Cook the potatoes in salty, boiling water until soft, but not falling apart. Drain and leave to steam dry in the colander, otherwise, your mash will be to wet.Put the spinach in a heat-proof bowl and pour over some boiling water from the kettle. Stir a little then drain and rinse in cold water. Squeeze dry and chop well.Make the white sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan and mixing in the flour. Season well and gradually whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until you have a smooth white sauce. Add the bonito flakes and milk, leaving out the kombu and then stir in the cheese until melted.Put the fish and seafood in a bowl, add the chopped spinach, turmeric, coriander and the chives (keep back a little for the mash), season well and stir thoroughly. Pour in the white sauce and mix.Heat the butter, cream and milk in a small pan until the butter has melted then rice the potatoes into a bowl and discard the skins. Add the butter mixture, season well and mix until smooth. Stir in the chives.Put the fish mix in an oven dish and top with the potato and any remaining chives. Give a twist of pepper and sprinkle over the parmesan and cook in a 180c oven for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling. Garlic green beans are delicious on the side.
The warm smell of cooking as you get in from school is like a blanket covering you on the sofa in winter or a hot chocolate by the fire. My favourite, the one that always said something good was on the way, was -- and still is -- garlic and onions softly sautéeing in olive oil. That, for me, was when I knew there is some proper food coming, something prepared and cooked with care and attention, something that says "you are being nurtured". You can't smell a salad, can you?I do quite often cook the children fish fingers and peas for supper; sometimes we're all on the edge of sanity and even slicing an onion may just break me. And sometimes, I'll work over a hot stove for hours, wiping my brow with the towel of martyrdom just for the children to decide on a whim they don't like something they've wolfed down countless times before. They'll never turn down a roast on Sunday though. Sometimes you can never win, and sometimes, they'll surprise you by loving sparrow soufflé with chillies. But knowing there's always a hot meal on its way, and the kitchen is a place of happiness is something we all need.This recipe is perfect to fill the house with the kinds of smells to make you feel happy. The aromatic vegetables softening, the slight spice from the garam masala, the fresh bay leaves. And the simmering broth. It's also quick, if you take into account that you can cheat by using tinned cooked green lentils. But even if you cook them from scratch, it still doesn't take forever. I've made a courgette purée to go with it -- lentils are quite filling -- but if you feel like mashed potato instead, go for it.Ingredients200g cooked ham chunks. I had some in the freezer left over from Christmas250g cooked green lentils1 carrot1 stick of celery, plus leaves1 small onionThe white of a leek you've had hanging around for a few days2 fresh bay leavesChicken stock to cover1tbsp garam masalaSalt and white pepper to seasonFor the courgette:1 largeish courgette2 shallots1 fat clove of garlicOlive oilA tablespoon or two of butterSalt to seasonMethodSlice the carrots, celery, onion and leek into dice as small as you can manage.Heat a saucepan with some olive oil and throw them in. Add the bay leaves, season and stir.Cook gently for ten minutes until softened then add the ham, lentils, garam masala, seasoning and stock.Bring to the boil for a few minutes then simmer for a further ten with a lid on.Make the courgettes by heating a sauté pan with some olive oil then adding the garlic and shallot. Season well and cook for a few minutes, until starting to colour.Turn the heat up and add the courgettes, toss around and cook until turning golden here and there.Transfer to a blender or food processor, add the butter and blend to a purée. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It probably needs more salt. And butter.Serve with the lentils and ham.
Now the Christmas tree has been cut up and put in the bin by the dead of night and the year gently settles into itself, I find myself staring out timidly from the duvet, slightly scared of the outside world.The fondue set has also been put back into storage; it is a dish we only get round to on new year's eve. This time we had thin cubes of beef fillet tail and dipped them in hot melted butter, loaded with grated garlic or a punchy, herb-laced olive oil. A game of Jenga later and we were all tucked up in bed well before Big Ben bonged.It's now back to more normal meals, things we can leave to bubble in a pan for an hour or two, or cook gently in the oven on the weekends behind the scenes for use midweek while trying to find socks for school tomorrow.In that vein then, here is a comforting bean dish that is rich, easy and nourishing. There is no need to soak the beans overnight, cook them from dried for an hour and a half, they are more flavoursome and equally as tender. You could, if you prefer, use tinned, cooked haricots, making this even quicker and easier to bring together and perhaps something you would make on a cold January Wednesday.For this recipe, I used the stock I'd made from the chicken left over from Saturday's lunch of pot roast chicken which I'd cooked on leeks, garlic, lemon and onions. A good few handfuls of cubed leftover ham went in and then to serve it, I made a roux, loosened it with the juices from the chicken and blended in a little double cream. It was rather like a chicken, leek and ham pie without the pastry, and none the worse for that. In the past, with equal success, I've used on of those little gel stock pots. Whatever you've got.You can have this with a quickly seared and caramelised pork chop, on it's own pretending you're a cowboy, or like we did this week with some shredded savoy cabbage, buttery and sloshed with lemon juice and pepper. There was a howling wind that night, and this is real food for those dark winter evenings of which we still have quite a few ahead.Ingredients100g haricot beans500-600ml boiling water1 celery stick1 medium carrot1 small onion100g chorizo180ml chicken stock2 fresh bay leavesParsley to serveSalt and pepper to seasonMethodPut the beans straight into the saucepan of boiling water with a little salt and simmer gently for an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't boil dry. Most of the liquid will be absorbed by the end. You can leave them to cool and use later, or keep refrigerated for the next day.Cube the chorizo, quite small, and fry in a sauté pan on a fairly gentle heat until the rust orange oil comes out. Add the bay leaves.Finely dice the celery, carrot and onion and add to the pan. You could blitz them in the food processor if you prefer, but I like to chop by hand, to be a little more connected to the food. There are enough machines in our lives, if you've got time to go on Facebook, you've got time to chop an onion. And to be honest, I'll let the machines do the rubbish bits like washing up.Stir well and cook gently until softened. Season a little and cook gently for about ten minutes.Add the beans and stock, bring to the boil and then simmer for about five minutes before serving with a good amount of black pepper and chopped parsley.If there is any left, you could serve it for lunch the next day with a crisp fried egg, the yolk mixing in to be scooped up with a good slice of toasted and buttered bread.This weekWatched: 'Mindhunter', a '70s precursor to 'Criminal Minds, but without the gore. 'Little Women' completely charming and emotional. I felt like I'd watched the entire series of Dawson's Creek in three hours. In a good way. The Miniaturist, which was beautiful to look at; Les Oubliées, a ten year old French 'policière' on All Four, a little depressing, but we're waiting for the new series of 'The Bridge' to start so need something European.Read: 'Quand sort la recluse', 'Oor Wullie' and 'The Broons'. Quality.Listened: 'Kiss you all over' by Exile, '70s ridiculousness; France Gall, another French treasure buried; Creedence Clearwater Revival, perfect for a steamy winter kitchen.Eat: Plenty of risotto which then turned into mini arancini the next day. I also made a huge vat of chilli with thinly sliced brisket and some pork chops with a huge layer of fat on. We eat this with a pile of homemade corn tacos and all the trimmings. Another day there were meatballs in tomato sauce with strips of red pepper sautéed and charred with garlic, rosemary and spring onions and a pile of cubed and quickly sautéed courgettes with yet more garlic. Good, real food.
The half term holidays are over and Noah and Maya have been pressed, polished and painted and sent back to school looking less like stig-of-the-dump and more like human children. Quite an achievement, I think.We spent the week in less of a rush than usual, a nice change to the routine and lovely to have the little blighters around more. Tuesday found us bowling. I'm sure it wasn't as obscenely expensive when I was a teenager, trying to look cool in my huge '80s clothes. Maybe it's me, or maybe every activity these days is genuinely out to fleece you for as much as possible. A child in the queue ahead of us had just vomited on the floor by the ticket desk. Whether or not that was excitement, overindulgence, or shock at the cost I'm not sure. The noise, wild-eyed children and flashing lights made me feel like doing the same.And then, 'Kidzania' at Westfield. A theme park where the children can pretend to do adult stuff and come to terms with the pointlessness of life. I think they enjoyed being window cleaners, surgeons, pilots, chocolatiers and chamber maids (Note to self: the last two sounds like a Mills and Boon novel. Possible book pitch?) They are now well prepared for working hard for almost no reward and then being ripped-off in the shops afterwards.The nicest things we did were the most wholesome (and free...). Pumpkin carving in a garden in Dalston, pumpkin carving at home, staying up late to watch Strictly with a big pile of homemade tacos to assemble yourself (spicy chicken, 'rockamoley' as Maya calls it, cajun spiced yoghurt, tomatoes, coriander and grated cheese) and eat on a rug on the floor.We've eaten quite a lot this week, having them around every day. The children helped me make a kind of brioche, poking chocolate buttons into the middle of each dough ball before dusting the top with Danish sugar crystals and chocolate flakes. We made chocolate brownies together too, sticky, gooey, dark and rich – they disappeared in a flash.One evening for supper I unleashed the Monte cristo sandwich on them. Fresh, homemade sourdough slathered in butter and filled with cheese and ham and then fried on the griddle pan. They went in a flash too, I served them with a pile of tarragon and garlic green beans on the side trying to be a little healthy. I had to bribe the children to eat those.Noah's little eyes lit up when I asked him if he'd like a roast chicken on Sunday. I covered it with Parma ham, stuffed it with lemon, garlic and rosemary and served it with red peppers and turmeric roasted potatoes that came out a deep gold, crisp all over, fluffy and light in the middle. We followed this with a rhubarb and apple crumble – the children even helped peel the apples, Bramleys bigger than their little hands could hold. I had to finish the job for them the slackers – it was a perfect Sunday lunch.Midweek, Bee and I ate more chicken, this time with asparagus grilled in Parma ham (I see a theme here) and cooked with mirepoix, haricots, pearl barley, thyme, stock and lemon zest and juice. It was hearty and slightly celebratory feeling for a Wednesday. And on Saturday lunch we had today's recipe: sausages, firm gem squash like hand grenades, cooked to melting softness, chorizo cubes and more haricots. A one pot meal perfect to help you against the cold crisp days now the clocks have gone back and it's dark just after breakfast. All Autumnal and very, very cosy.Ingredients6 nice sausages, a little herby perhaps, but not too muchA tin of haricot beans, drained and rinsedAbout 15cm chorizo, cubedA sprig of rosemary4 banana shallots, peeled and finely sliced4 garlic cloves2 gem squash, quartered300ml water or chicken stockA scattering of pumpkin seedsSalt and pepper to seasonOlive oilMethodHeat the oven to gas 8 or about 190c. Nice and hot, anyway.Brown the sausages in a frying pan with a little oil then add the shallots, garlic and rosemary.Transfer this to a roasting dish and add the remaining ingredients. Mix about a bit and drizzle with some olive oil then season well.Cook in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the squash is soft.Serve with the juices poured over.This week:Read: Still bloody reading Middlemarch. Looks like it will be the middle of March before I finish it.Ate: Fruit kebabs made by the children and each one had a marshmallow in the middle. Delicious. They hate marshmallows it turns out, so I got the lot.Watched: Crawling our way through Fargo series three and the recent Cold Feet. Both are a bit of a struggle to maintain enthusiasm with. Bee's given up on Fargo. It's been early night's and book reading a lot recently, that's how we roll these days.Listened: 'Here's the thing'. Alec Baldwin interviewing Michael Pollan for his podcast.
It's hard to go wrong with food if you add an indecent amount of cheese and butter to it. Even cheese and butter are improved by the addition of cheese and butter. Notable exceptions to this theory may be ice cream, breakfast cereal, avocados and possibly bananas.And I don't care if people say cheese and seafood are not acceptable plate-fellows. I can name fish pie, lobster thermidor, butter and cheese on bread with a whole crab stuck on top as a few examples. The last one may be made up.This risotto is for summer, when the pangs for comfort food overpower the desire for light meals in the languorous warm evenings. Usually, rich and creamy dishes are reserved for the darkness of winter when all you want is to hole up with a book and candlelight. This version though, with it's sharp fennel, refreshing cucumber and peppery pinches of radish is surprisingly light.The seaweed in the stock and the scallops, caramelised and firm are more like a hot crab-shack summer lunch than a meal eaten wearing bearskins trousers and stoking the wood on the fire. The pickling isn't really pickling as such, more a quick souse in vinegar and a dash of honey and herbs, but it gives this dish the sharpness and crunch it needs against the comforting softness of the rice.I used vialone nano rice here, I prefer its bite, but feel free to use whatever risotto you have on hand. And if you don't like scallops, well, you could use prawns too. Seaweed is easy to get hold of online and in health food shops these days and is well worth keeping in stock. I often use it when cooking fish to give sauces or poaching liquid a little more of the hint of the ocean. It may seem like there are a few bonkers ingredients here, and quite a lot of other ones, but if you get it all prepped, it's a really easy dish that is pretty impressive and tastes delicious.Ingredients200g risotto rice such as vialone nano or carnaroli1 onion, finely sliced1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped850ml water, brought to the boil1tbsp dried seaweed flakes (optional)1 piece dried kombu2tbsp dried wakameA good dash of olive oil1tbsp yuzu dressing (or lemon juice)5-6 scallops per person and butter to cook them inA large pinch of Japanese pepperSalt to seasonA handful of chopped parsleyA bit more butter than you think is necessaryA handful of grated ParmesanFor the fennel salad topping1 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced (keep the fronds for garnish)A few radishes, finely slicedA couple of baby cucumbers, thinly sliced1/2 grapefruit, flesh only, cubedSome more yuzuA few sprigs of dill4tbsp tarragon infused cider vinegar (you really should have some of this in your cupboard. It's the only vinegar to use for vinaigrette)A dash of olive oil1tbsp honeySalt and more Japanese pepperMethodMake the fennel salad first by combining the fennel, radish, cucumber and grapefruit in a large bowl and pour over the vinegar, honey, oil, yuzu, salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.Put the seaweed in a large jug and fill with the 800ml of boiling water. Leave to steep for ten minutes.Season and sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the rice and stir well until coated with oil and starting to ever so slightly toast.Add a ladleful of your hot, homemade sea water and stir until absorbed. Keep doing this until all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is tender and creamy. Taste and season. Add the butter and cheese and stir in while vigorously shaking the pan. Throw in the parsley, pepper and yuzu, stir, add a little more stock to loosen if necessary (it should be fluid, not stiff and claggy). Put a lid on and set aside while you cook the scallops.Heat some butter (yes, more) in a sauté pan and cook the scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper, on high heat on each side for about a minute.Divide the risotto between four bowls, top with the scallops and some of the fennel salad and fronds, pour over some of the pickling dressing and serve immediately with the remaining salad on the side.
The slow change from vivid green to red, yellow, orange. And then how quickly the trees become bare and the glorious colours give way to brown and grey sludgy streets.In the seemingly few hours of daylight we have over the winter months we celebrate the warmth of the fireside. Scarves, gloves, hats and thick woolen jumpers wrapped around us keep us cosy when we venture outside, often leaving and returning home in the dark.I welcome the smells from the slow cooker more than any dog's wagging tail as a greeting. And here we are, only at the gentle tip of the cold months, yet it feels like it's the time for stews. Meat falling from bones into rich and thick broths, individual flavours combining like the instruments in an orchestra to create one symphony.A cast-iron pan with a lid in a very low oven does just as well as a slow cooker, and if you're happy leaving the oven on all day it's the perfect way to cook. However, you may not fancy chopping and browning chunks of meat while drinking your morning coffee and wondering why you have to ask the children twenty times to put a sock on. I have neither the time nor inclination, getting out of a warm bed is tragedy enough. In which case these are best done the night before, or on a weekend when you have a more leisurely start to the day.Of course white potatoes work just as well as the purple ones, which may be a little tricky to find; crushed Anyas would be a real treat. Whatever you use, nothing quite beats the deliciousness of all those juices soaked up by the buttery potatoes. This really is one of those meals that feels like you're back home in the warmth of the family.Tarragon adds a little last of the summer sparkle to the flavours, hinting with its warm aniseed at the comfort to come. If you don't have any, a good handful of chopped parsley running through would be just as nice.Ingredients500g ox cheek, cut into chunks1 onion, roughly choppedA thumb of ginger, chopped1tbsp oregano1tbsp flour1/2 a bulb of garlic1 red pepper, chopped2tbsp tomato purée500ml beef stockLarge pinch of dried mushroomsSalt and pepperPotatoes to serve, cooked and crushed with butter, spring onion and some shredded tarragon.MethodHeat a heavy sauté pan with some oil and sear the beef well until browned. Try not to smoke out the kitchen and set of the smoke alarms in a panicked succession as I did. And sear the meat in batches to avoid boiling rather than caramelising it.Add the flour and stir well, coating all the meat. This will help thicken the sauce. Add to the slow cooker or casserole. Deglaze the sauté pan with a little water or wine and add the juices along with the remaining ingredients.Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours in the slow cooker, or eight hours in a very low oven. (140c. Gas mark 1) Serve with the potatoes and perhaps some broccoli or garlic green beans.
Another carb-free week goes by and I'm fine. I don't miss bread as much as I thought. Basmati rice though, is a little harder to give up, we had lunch at Lahore Karai in Tooting the other day and the children tucked into a big plate of it without loosening their belts.This week I've made a few dishes that are more springlike. A confit tuna Niçoise, a spring minestrone, smoked salmon with avocado and eggs, and a light spinach and apple soup among other things.Last night though, with a breaking boiler and the cold weather still biting, we fancied something cosy and comforting: risotto. Rice is out of the question, but I've been using buckwheat a lot recently. I used buckwheat flour to make the children galettes the other day for lunch and I also used it to make soba noodles to go in a prawn and tofu miso soup. In the past I've toasted it in a frying pan before cooking it, making kasha to serve with salmon steaks. So I used it in place of my favourite Vialone Nano rice to make this simple mushroom 'risotto'.IngredientsFor two150g buckwheat1 small onion, chopped1 clove of garlic, crushed1tbsp powdered, dried porcini mushrooms (you can make your own in a grinder)150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced400ml chicken or vegetable stock. I used homemade chicken stock.Olive oilSalt and pepper2tbsp butterGrated parmesanChopped parsley to serveMethodSauté the mushrooms in a little oil and set aside.Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the onion and buckwheat. Cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent and the grains are beginning to toast a little.Add the garlic, mushroom powder, season a little and stir well.Add a ladleful of the stock to the pan and stir well. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the buckwheat absorb the liquid before adding the next. Keep on doing this until the stock is finished or the buckwheat is soft, but with a little bite.Add the cooked mushrooms and stir.Now for the 'mantecatura'. Add the butter and Parmesan and vigorously shake the pan while stirring with a wooden spoon. Put a lid on and leave to rest for a few minutes. Stir through some chopped parsley and serve with more Parmesan.