Food matters


Take: some leftover mash*, a fillet of rainbow trout**, a little flour, a handful of mushrooms, plenty of olive oil, lime juice, black pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

[* Mine comprised neeps - i.e. swede - well bashed with assorted herbs, black pepper, a little milk and plenty of parmesan cheese. You could use any kind of mashed root veg including, if you feel boring, potato.]

[** You can probably use some other kind of fish. Rainbow trout just happened to be what was in the "Whoops!" pile at Asda :) ]

1. Slice the mushrooms.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan with lime, pepper and W sauce.
3. Coat the trout in flour and put it upside down in the pan. After a couple of minutes turn it over and turn the heat down. Add more lime, pepper and W sauce along with the sliced mushrooms.
4. While the fish is cooking (about 10 minutes) get the mash warmed up (gently so it doesn’t burn). Stir the mushrooms a bit and occasionally lift the fish to help avoid sticking / burning.
5. As soon as the trout is done – serve! It is quite funky to make a nice bed of mash on the plate, stick the trout on top and sprinkle the mushrooms around over that. Garnish with fresh green stuff if you feel really in the mood.

Serves 1.

FOOD POISONING TIP

If, like me, you only ever buy fish when it has been reduced because it is up against the sell-by date, you will probably want to be absolutely sure that the fish is cooked right through. Just insert a knife and prise the flesh apart so you can see the colour. If it looks cooked, it is. This doesn’t make for the best presentation (see photo) but I’ll take broken fillets over a night in the bathroom every time.

I have made haggis – although not the offal kind ;)

First up, a vegetarian haggis. I followed this Vegetarian Society recipe almost to the letter. Almost-ish. I was not especially exact with the quantities* and anyway I didn’t have everything so there were a few substitutions.**

[* Who weights out 4oz of onion, 2oz of carrot or 1.5oz of mushrooms? Surely anybody normal would just use 1 onion, 1 carrot and a few mushrooms?!]

[** I didn't have any ground peanuts or hazelnuts so instead I used a good dollop each of peanut butter and hazelnut butter; nor did I exactly have "fine oatmeal", I just used porridge oats... Ho hum.]

Considering that there was no offal in there at all, I was quite impressed as I was cooking it at how realistic it seemed. At the pre-oatmeal stage it looked and smelled revolting. At the post-oatmeal stage it began to take on a dubious aura of edibility. By the time it was on the plate I wanted seconds… Yes it turned out delicious :)

(Even though we didn’t have bashed neeps, or mashed swede to the uninitiated. Although we did have seriously bashed neeps yesterday, which is to say that we had neep soup. Today, however, Ariel was totally not going to eat that haggis thing not nohow I just want baked beans please mummy. So we had it with baked beans. She ate it all up. Although in fairness I had to bribe her with an offer of cake for pudding, at which point she made a counter offer to the effect that if I spoonfed her she would eat it and then have a big piece of cake with lots of icing fanks mummy… Ho hum.)

(I can report that it tastes nice cold as well.)

(These parenthetical wanderings are beginning to be reminiscent of Virginia Woolf.)

Oh, there was another haggis too. This one!

It is a bagpipe haggis, sporting the smallest operational bagpipes in the world. When I say operational, of course, I don’t mean that they actually work. But there is a squeaker inside so if you squish the bag you do get a sound that is at least as pleasant as the sound of piping outside your window first thing in the morning…

In case anyone was wondering, this haggis-o-mania has been brought about by the fact that I’ve been invited to a Burns night party later this month. I will certainly be taking the bagpipe haggis with me, and possibly also Mark 2 of the edible one. :)

Gloucester, today at 1pm – this stream is normally a trickle at the bottom of a two metre deep cutting (sorry, don’t have a “normal” picture to share!) I’d never seen it as full as this before, not even in July last year when we had major flooding here.

Gloucester, today at 4pm (photo edited but only so that you can actually see what the picture is of – it was much darker than this in real life). As you can see, after only another 3 hours of rain the water was considerably higher. Shudder.

PS – No, I don’t know what that midstream floating green stuff is either.  

Take: 1 onion; 3 cloves garlic; 1 large wrinkly swede; assorted flavour enhancing stuff (I used, more or less at random – sage, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, garum masala, chicken stock powder); and about a cupful of frozen peas.

1. Chop the onion and garlic, place in a large saucepan, fry gently in some oil with the lid on the pan.
2. Peel and chop the swede. Cut it into pretty small pieces as it will cook quicker this way. Add the pieces into the pan along with your seasoning. Just cover with water. Cook until the swede is nice and soft, which will probably take 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Blend. (I use my little hand-held whizzer and do it in the pan – after the mixture has cooled for a couple of minutes, in case of splashing! Sometimes it is easier if you use a potato masher first to start breaking up the lumps.)
4. Add the peas. Add a little water if necessary to thin the soup. Stir, and cook for a few more minutes until the peas are done.
5. Serve, with grated parmesan sprinkled on top.

Makes – lots. I would guess, enough for four people, as long as they aren’t too cold and hungry!

CREATIVE TIPS
You can use different vegetables e.g. parsnip, carrot or potato instead of swede and/or sweetcorn or pre-cooked chopped peppers instead of peas.

You could also add cream at the end for a richer soup, or if that sounds like too much, milk. I actually used rice milk now that I come to remember :)

Take: 1 batch of sweet pastry; some mincemeat; a little milk or eggwash; icing sugar.

For the mincemeat, you can use ready-made – about half a normal-sized jar is enough – or make your own. We used a recipe (my Dad’s) which involves putting all the following ingredients in a big bowl and mixing it up: 4oz each of suet (vegetarian if you prefer), mixed peel, raisins, sultanas, currants, finely chopped apple*, and brown sugar; the zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon**; 1 wineglass each of brandy and rum***. This recipe makes easily enough for at least 3 dozen mince pies. Conveniently, what is left after making 1 dozen will just about squash into a pudding basin.

(* We just used 1 apple, I assume it was about the right amount.)
(** We used a couple of tbsps of lemon juice because we didn’t have a lemon.)
(*** We used a couple of tbsps of brandy and some orange juice, because I didn’t want a drunken Ariel. I think if you follow the recipe it would be very very boozy…)

So much for the ingredients. To the pies.

You will need one of those baking trays with 12 hollows in. I think they are called muffin trays.

You will also need two pastry cutters of different sizes, depending on the size of the hollows in your tray. We have what I assume is a standard sized tray, and used 88mm (3 and 7/16 inches) (what kind of size is that!) and one that didn’t have the size written on but which I would guess is have measured (!) and is about 70mm (about 2 and 7/8 inches…). Crinkle-edged cutters are nice, but not compulsory :)

Oh, and a pastry brush!

So much for the equipment. To the pies.

1. Put your oven on – about 200C.
2. Divide the pastry into two, in about a 60-40 ratio.
3. Roll out the larger lump of pastry on a floured surface and use the larger pastry cutter to make 12 bottoms. You will have to re-roll to get 12 bottoms.
4. Place the bottoms carefully in each hollow, use your fingers to gently push the pastry into the hollow, then put about 1 dsp of mincemeat into each bottom.
5. Roll out the smaller lump of pastry, and use the smaller cutter to make 12 tops (again, you will have to re-roll).
6. Place the tops carefully on top of each pie and press down the edges gently onto the edges of the pastry bottoms.
7. Use a pastry brush to brush the milk or eggwash over the top of each pie.
8. Sprinkle icing sugar extravagantly over the lot.
9. Bake for about 20 mins (until golden brown) then take them out of the oven and carefully transfer them to a cooling rack. Don’t eat them immediately as they will be too hot and the pastry too soft – you have enough time for a bath :-)

Makes – 12, silly.

TIPS – eat as many as you can before anyone else gets the chance. I’ve already had 3, and it would have been more if they weren’t so far away from my desk ;)

Pastry is so much easier to make than you might expect. Remember that it needs to rest before you can use it, so you will have to plan accordingly if you are working to a deadline (ours is usually bedtime…)

Take: 8oz flour; 4oz butter; 2oz sugar; 1 egg.

1. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut up the butter into small pieces (say 1cm cubes or thereabouts) and add to the flour.
2. Rub the flour and butter together* until you get a sandy texture.
3. Put the egg and sugar together into a separate jug (or mug or whatever) and mix them together until the sugar is dissolved.
4. In the mixing bowl, make a sort of well in the centre, then pour the egg/sugar mix in. Use a dinner knife to gently combine all the ingredients. You are there when it goes all lumpy and horrible-looking.
5. Squash and knead the lumps together to make dough. If the dough is a little too sticky, add flour. If the dough is a little too dry, add a little milk (a very little).
6. Put the dough into a reusable plastic bag (or wrap it in clingfilm if the planet is no concern of yours) and bung it in the fridge. It needs to chill and rest for at least half an hour but will keep for a few days if you want to make it in advance.

(* By this I mean use your fingers – not your whole hand – to pick up flour together with floury buttery lumps – and then rub your thumbs over your other fingers. The idea is to rub the flour into the butter until, eventually, you get a sandy texture. You have done this when there are very few lumps left, and the lumps are small and generally doughy rather than buttery.)

That’s it!

These quantities will make enough pastry for 12 small tarts or 1 larger tart. If you are making a covered pie (e.g. mince pies or a large fruit pie) you should be able to manage with this quantity if you are used to rolling out pastry efficiently but beginners might want to make a little more (say: 12 oz flour, 6oz butter, 3oz sugar, 1 egg, and 1 tbsp milk – NB treating the milk as an extra bit of egg).

Tip on rolling out pastry – my Dad says never* roll pastry more than twice. That is, you roll it, take what you can, roll it again to cut out more, and after that it is playdough (too much flour gets into the pastry and it gets all tired, or something, so is no good for cooking). This is why beginners might need more pastry, because they haven’t yet got the hang of rolling it out efficiently – it might be too thick, too thin, it might accidentally break or stick to the surface, or it might be the wrong shape – and you just might not get as much out of it before you hit the “two rolls and you’re out” limit.

(* Possibly “never” is an exaggeration. Only my Dad never exaggerates…) 

CREATIVE TIPS

You can add flavourings to the mixture (see Shortbread for ideas) to make flavoured pastry.

If you are making a covered pie, you can use remaining scraps of pastry to make decorations e.g. an apple shape for an apple pie or a holly leaf for a mince pie (kiddie cutter collections rule!) and put these on top of the pie.

If you want to make a covered pie but you don’t quite have enough pastry, you could try a lattice pie. Just use a sharp knife to cut out long strips of pastry and lay these over the pie filling in a lattice effect. This is also a good one to do if you are worried that you might otherwise have a high pastry-to-filling ratio…

Take: a loaf of bread (or equivalent quantity of whatever bready/caky stuff you have lying around that needs using up*, total weight about 1lb); half a pint of cream; a pint of milk; 6 eggs; some vanilla essence, cinammon and nutmeg (about 2tsp each); raisins.

[*We used a stale chocolate muffin plus a brioche loaf from the reduced section at the supermarket.]

1. Put the oven on, to about 180C (or 200C if your oven is as wonky as mine).
2. Chop or break the bread / cake / whatever into small pieces – doesn’t really matter but no smaller than, say, 1cm cubes. Maybe a bit bigger than that is better.
3. Put the bread into a large ovenproof dish e.g. a lasagne dish. Sprinkle raisins in amongst the bread cubes. Squash it all down tight. Squash, squash, squash.
4. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them up, then add all the other ingredients and mix them up.
5. Pour the custardy stuff over the bread. Admire the little bubbles that appear as the liquid percolates down to fill in any remaining airspaces.
6. Stick it in the oven for about an hour, until a skewer comes out cleanly.

Makes enough for – 9 good sized pieces. (We have a square dish, so 9 is a good number….)

CREATIVE TIPS:

Add cocoa powder or grated chocolate to the custardy stuff, or dollop chocolate chunks into the custard (see picture), or mix choc chips in with the bread cubes, or use actual chocolate cake (stale, otherwise you’d just eat it, right?) or some combination of any or all of these – hey presto, chocolate bread pudding!

Add booze to the custardy stuff, and/or use raisins that have been soaked in booze – boozy bread pudding! Or add orange zest to the custardy stuff, use cherries as well as raisins, try different kinds of bread and cake – our minipud shown below was made with old gingercake and was looooovely… The world is your oyster :-)

Another variation is to make small bread puddings in ramekins or (as in the picture below) a homemade clay pot that your dad gave you in a fit of pottery-related enthusiasm. These will only need to cook for about 30-40 minutes or so.

This is the easiest biscuit recipe in the world. You don’t even need to write it down -

Take: 12oz flour, 8oz butter, 4oz sugar. Possibly a little milk.

1. Sieve / whisk the flour and sugar together.
2. Cut the butter up into small pieces and mix it into the flour/sugar.
3. Rub the ingredients together. The idea is to break up the butter so that you end up with a sandy / crumby texture with no remaining lumps of butter.
4. Squash the crumby result into a dough. You may need to add a little milk to help it stick if it is a bit too dry. You may need to add a little flour to make it more manageable if it is a bit too sticky.

That’s it, folks!

To make biscuits, you now just roll out the pastry on a floured surface, and cut shapes to go on a greased baking tray – or, my new toy, a silicone baking sheet which doesn’t need greasing…

If you want you can now use a fork to put holes in them (helps even cooking), decorate them, or whatever. Then bung them in the oven at about 200C for about 10-15 minutes, until they start to turn golden. Take them out and carefully transfer them to a cooling rack (use a palette knife is best). They will be a bit soft at first but will harden as they cool.

These quantities will make 2 trays of biscuits (depending on the size of your biscuits and trays, I would guess up to 24 biscuits). NB You can multiply this recipe very, very easily – just think of Dusty Bin and you’ve got it (3-2-1). :-)

SUGGESTIONS:

Add flavourings to the mixture as follows:

  1. For chocolate shortbread, add 2-3 dessert spoons of cocoa powder to the flour/sugar mix right at the start.
  2. For vanilla shortbread, add a few drops of vanilla essence just as you are starting to squash the crumby mixture into dough.
  3. For citrus shortbread, add some orange / lemon / lime zest to the mixture just before you start to squash the crumby mixture into dough, and/or use lemon or lime juice instead of milk.

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