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.

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: enough pasta for 2-3 people; some olive oil; one onion; 2-3 cloves of garlic; a couple of handfuls of mushrooms; Worcestershire sauce; black pepper; a good dollop of double cream; and some milk if necessary.

1. Set the pasta to cook in a pan of boiling water.
2. Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion and garlic and fry them gently in the oil.
3. While the onion and garlic are getting started, finely slice the mushrooms, then add them to the pan with some extra oil if need be. Add the Worcestershire sauce and black pepper and turn up the heat.
4. Stir the mixture until the mushrooms start to look fried, then add the cream.
5. By now the pasta should be about cooked. Drain it thoroughly and add it to the creamy mushroom mixture, stirring gently to combine all the ingredients. If need be add more cream and/or milk till you get something that looks yummy.
6. Serve with parmesan and black pepper.

Makes enough for 2-3 people, which in our house means me and Baby M with seconds all round. (Pasta is the one thing she will always have seconds of!)

VEGETARIAN’S TIP
You probably already know this, but Worcestershire sauce has anchovies in it. If this bothers you, get a veggie alternative (available from your local health food store!)

Take: 1 small cauliflower; a good sploosh of olive oil; a small handful of flour; some milk; a big handful of grated cheese; black pepper; and 1 hard-boiled egg (optional).

1. Turn the oven on to pre-heat – to about 200 C.
2. Cut the cauliflower into florets, wash it, then place in a saucepan, cover with water and set it to cook. This should take about 10 minutes or so.
3. Meanwhile warm up the oil in another saucepan, then turn the heat right down. Add the flour and mix thoroughly until it is cooked (i.e. it looks like paste), which should take about half a minute at the most.
4. Add the milk, little by little, stirring all the while, as vigourously as need be to avoid lumps. Each time you add the milk, mix it in thoroughly before adding any more. Stop adding milk once you get to the consistency of a thick sauce.
5. Add some pepper and stir in most of the grated cheese, taking the sauce off the heat altogether.
6. By now the cauliflower should be cooked. Drain the water away and put the florets into an oven-proof dish. Add pieces of chopped hard-boiled egg and pour the cheese sauce over, sprinkling the remaining grated cheese on the top.
7. Put the dish in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so, until the cheese on top has started to go brown.

You can serve this either as an accompaniament or as a meal in itself. Baby M and I polished off the lot in one go, but it will do 4 people if you are having something else with it.

COOK’S TIP
Wholemeal flour may be healthier, but it doesn’t half make the sauce look strange. I suggest using white flour if you’re fussy about such things.

Take: 4 good-sized onions; one miniature head of garlic from your garden, comprising eight of the smallest, cutest little cloves known to woman; some olive oil; 1dsp of flour; 2pts of seasoned brown stock*; and some grated cheese (gruyere for preference, although I just used cheddar since that’s all I had).

* Easy way: crumble one stock cube into some freshly boiled water, stir until it dissolves, top up to two pints with more of the hot water, add some black pepper and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, with a couple of drops of gravy browning if you didn’t use beef stock.

1. Peel and finely slice the onions. Peel and chop the garlic.
2. Add the onions and garlic to a saucepan with a dollop of oil and cover. Fry them gently at first, then remove the lid and increase the heat once they start to smell nice.
3. When the onions are nicely coloured (but before they burn!) add the flour and stir for a minute or so while that cooks.
4. Add about half of the stock a bit at a time, stirring all the while. Then pour the rest in, in one go.
5. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
6. Serve with lashings of grated cheese sprinkled on top. You are supposed to do croutons but I can never be bothered – the cheese is what counts.

Makes about 3-4 servings.

COOK’S TIP
The important thing is how you cook the onions. Not too gentle as you want them to colour up nicely, but not too fierce as you definitely don’t want them to burn. Ideally they should soften and cook whilst gently browning. Also: you could use shop-bought garlic if you forgot to plant any home-grown in your garden last autumn [grin] – in which case 2-3 cloves will do.

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