Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas is coming!

So, Christmas is almost here... What have you done about it??

I'm ill and that's my excuse- my turkey and goose haven't been ordered, I still haven't made a Christmas pudding, I can't remember what else needs to be done.... But I refuse to be disheartened! I have to keep in mind what has been done and what is important. I've got my gorgeous family and some lovely friends staying for the holidays, I'm sure we'll all survive and have a good laugh along the way. Stress is hardly going to make the holiday fun and memorable! But I thought, while I'm a bit laid up on the couch with DD2 asleep on my lap (we're both unwell), I could tap away and gather my thoughts for the onslaught that lies before me.

Christmas Eve dinner will be at my house with Russian friends. This means that I'll be providing the meat (goose and possibly turkey) and potatoes (roasted) and various trimmings that will be gotten ready while the kids attend a Christingle service. This Scandinavian tradition is based on the symbolism of an orange (the world), circled by red tape or string (Jesus' blood) with sweeties on toothpicks poked in around the circumference (the good things in life) while in the top a hole holds a candle (the light of God). All the children come to the altar and light their candles, then stand together to sing the final hymn. Of course, one year- just after the hymn- the lovely Catholic Father got up and was about to start his blessing (the Anglican and Catholic churches combine for this event) when a thick Irish brogue loudly interrupted with "Jeezus Christ!!" and a mum leaped up to put out her daughter's sweater which had accidentally been set on fire by her little brother. We all were shaking with laughter and poor Father had a very hard time finishing the benediction...

On Christmas day, I'll make stollen for breakfast- as my father always has done. Its a taste that, since we only have it at this time of year, reminds me of those snowy winters growing up, sitting around the big fireplace and my grandparents and opening our stockings. Really very Norman Rockwell! Of course, these days, I can buy stollen or a Bolo do Rei (the Portugese version which is baked with a bean inside for a wish and a small figurine for the king or queen of the day) from the shops, but the homemade ones are still the best. DD1 wants bacon and eggs as well, must remember...

Christmas morning back with my family would include a party at my Aunt's house complete with Bloody Marys and rummy eggnog. Followed by pretended sobriety with the other side of the family who are teetotal- occasionally a difficult feat as the Bloody Marys are particularly potent! Here, I plan to open a bottle of cremant for mimosas (aka Buck's Fizz). Then we'll head to the other side of town and celebrate in Texan style- I'm still waiting to hear what I should bring!

Boxing Day will bring our Bridget Jones Turkey Curry party and the real reason I want to have both turkey and goose. Then we can have goose biryani- recipe from Jamie Oliver's magazine this month- and turkey curry. We'll also have some cold sliced meat and paté, chutney and pickles, salads, trifle, cookies, and probably the infamous Moro bitter chocolate, coffee and cardamom mousse. Everyone is expected to wear the ugliest sweater they own- although one friend has asked if she can wear huge pants instead- and DH will be getting a rather good one from me for his Christmas present! Sadly, I'm too cheap to have bought the truly unbelievably ugly one available on ebay, but I got a retro reindeer one that he, hopefully, can wear for skiing as well.

We have a few days of respite after this, but then we will be having a small group of friends for our New Years Hogmanay party. The Scots do New Years right and so we'll give it a go as well- smoked salmon to start, haggis stuffed mushrooms with whisky cream sauce, rib roast with mushroom sauce, stovies, and we'll finish up with my best Clootie Dumpling- a dry fruit pudding mixed with plenty of single malt, boiled in a bag for four hours then dried in the oven. Served warm with pouring cream it is one of the best winter desserts you can have! And of course, the single malt will be liberally poured at the stroke of midnight as well.

So many things to be cooked- and eaten! I do feel proud that I made my Christmas cake at the end of November and we've been generously feeding it every few days- of course, it nearly fell off the top of the cupboard when I was getting down today, the outside has become a bit slippery. I'll hope to keep it intact, else it will become Christmas cake trifle!

When this feat of feasting is complete, I'll be just about ready to return to my less indulgent lifestyle- of course, with Three Kings Day, Burns Night, and Chinese New Year just around the corner, I'll have to have a hard think...

Happy holidays, whichever ones you celebrate!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fasting and food

And yet another year has passed with hardly any blogging... And it is an interesting moment to restart a food blog as I am currently fasting. But it has made me much more conscious of what I put into my body!

This past weekend, I spent an amazing three days with a group in Sussex, England at the Rasa Retreat created by Lisa Sanfillipo and Das Sreedharan. Lisa is an Anusara yoga teacher- a style of yoga based in the Hatha yoga tradition with a Tantric philosophy (I stole that from the official website!)- which I have been following for a few years. This was a moment of real deepening of my own practice, though, and I am so grateful that I was there. Das is a restaurant owner, philosopher, teacher and genuinely wonderful person. He taught us about traditional Keralan food and his mother's cooking and also about his own philosophy on life, business, and cooking with love. I can't imagine someone more generous than Das...

Lastly, Annie Webb, a holistic therapist, was there. I am always interested in alternative treatments and thought I'd go to her, mostly because I was going through a terrible bout of exhaustion that I couldn't shake. Annie is so cheerful and open and easy to be around that, even when she explained she always uses acupuncture, I felt very comfortable. The amazing thing was that after a few minutes, having not mentioned anything about why I was there, she turned to me and said, "You're must be tired all the time, aren't you?" "Yes!!" I nearly shouted...

How did she know? She had scanned me for energy blocks and then took my pulses (Chinese medical tradition). She felt I had very low energy in my stomach/spleen (and gave me a lot of other info that isn't really to do with the fast) and so when I came home, I decided to begin a fast between 11am and 5pm. This was due to Paul Pitchford's seminal book, Healing with Whole Foods. In this he explains that as each internal organ has a time of day when it regenerates, it needs to not be stressed at this time. The stomach/spleen regenerates between 3-5 in the afternoon so I decided to fast so that my stomach would be empty when the rejuvenation is occurring. Amazingly, I haven't been very hungry and I've had loads of energy!!

I am eating Indian Ayurvedic cooking most evening meals, mostly vegetarian with a little seafood. And this morning for breakfast I made a lovely Indian inspired oatmeal...

Indian oatmeal
1 cup of dry oatmeal (I use porridge oats rather than rolled although the steel cut is best for you!)
2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, stirring, for about 3-5 minutes, until tender.

a little more cardamom
a teaspoon of rosewater

and serve with
brown sugar or jaggery
coconut milk

I loved this, it was such a calming food to start the day with!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chinese dumplings

After virtually no posts for a year, here I am doing a third in three days! I taught a cooking class for kids this morning and when I wrote out the recipe, I realized it might be nice to post it.... so here is my family's Chinese dumplings!

Chinese Dumplings

500 g white flour
In a mixer with a dough hook, place almost all the flour (reserve a little for rolling) and, with the machine running, add water until you have a pliable but fairly stiff dough. Knead with the machine for about 5-8 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes before use- during this time, the dough will become softer.

Or place the flour in a bowl (again, reserve some flour for rolling) and incorporate enough water into the flour by hand to become a pliable but stiff dough. Knead by hand for 10 minutes and then let rest for 20 minutes.

Mix 1 kg pure ground pork (careful not to pick up the pre-spiced type that is in many supermarkets over here) with
6 finely sliced scallions
6 minced rehydrated shitaake mushrooms
3 cloves minced garlic
a 2 inch nub peeled, minced ginger
1/4cup plain oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup water
enough salt to make the mix start to smell strong and good.

Mix together until soft- it will be a softer and smoother mix than for meatballs, for example.

NOTE: this mix can be changed to suit your tastes: Try adding in corriander, grated carrot, cabbage or changing the proportions of the listed ingredients. If you have a garden and grow fennel, the fronds, finely chopped can substitute for the mushrooms and scallions and uses an otherwise wasted product! Chinese cabbage is often used, very finely shredded, and a friend in the USA recommends mixing a little peanut butter into the meat and cabbage- his grandfather's restaurant did this and was famous for their dumplings. When I was mostly vegetarian (I only ate seafood), my mother-in-law did a great mix of mashed raw shrimp, scallions, finely chopped bean thread noodles, sesame oil and salt with a little water.

To make the dumplings:
Take a lump of dough and roll it into a rope about 5 cm/1 inch in diameter. Snap off smaller than walnut size lumps and toss them in flour. Take each one and roll into a ball, then flatten with your palm. With a very small roller or a clean small jar, roll the edge only- roll to the center and pull back out, then turn to do the same to each part of the edge of the dough. This leaves the center slightly thicker than the edges. Place a teaspoon of filling on the center of the dough, fold the edges to meet in the center and pinch to form a seam. Seal in crescents or simply along the edges to make pockets, but be sure they are firmly sealed or the filling will come out during cooking.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and then add the dumplings. They are finished when they are floating and puffy- usually around 4 minutes after the water has come back to the boil. You can add a little rice vinegar to the pot for an authentic taste.

Heat a good coating of oil in a frying pan and line up all the dumpling in rows along the bottom. After a minute, add a 1/4 cup or so of water and a splash of vinegar (optional) and cover. When all the water has evaporated and the pot begins to splutter again, lift the cover and turn the dumplings onto a plate- when it is done correctly, the entire set of dumplings should come out, lightly stuck together and with a lovely brown crust, as one piece onto a plate. If not, just scrape them out with a spatula, they'll still taste great!

Line a steamer with Chinese cabbage leaves and place the dumplings on top. Steam over boiling water for 6- 8 minutes.

Dipping Sauce:
The simplest sauce is 2 parts soy sauce, 2 parts Chinese black vinegar (balsamic is a reasonable substitute), and 1 part sesame oil. We often add minced garlic, hot chili oil, chopped corriander, or chili bean sauce and sometimes remove the vinegar.

I did this with my own kids and 5 others who signed up for the class and we had a blast! The mess is still on the table, though. Better get cracking....!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The joys of overindulging

No recipes in this blog, just a celebration of great food done well- and good company! As I mentioned in my last post, I went to the Cotswolds, the lovely area at the intersection of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. This area of beautiful old golden stone buildings, small peaceful villages, rolling countryside and rivers is one of my favorite places in the world. I went with one of my favorite people in the world, my good friend Kristina, musician, Reiki-master, and fellow foodie, to eat, drink and be merrie!

We started off far too early by catching the train from Luxembourg to Bruxelles and then got the Eurostar across to Ebbsfleet International, the train stop before London. We picked up our car and headed west, trying to scoot around the jammed M25 by using country roads. I'm not sure that it worked terribly well, we joined the motorway in the end.

First stop was The Trout Inn, just outside Oxford. I had been before with my family and it was as gorgeous as I remembered. The river rushes past the back garden which was inhabited by a stunning peacock that seemed to be trying to charm us! Well, we were easy targets- we were ready to be charmed by everything at that moment! It wasn't warm enough to eat outdoors (February is warmer in the UK, but not that warm!) so we had our meal sitting in big overstuffed chairs next to the bar. I've forgotten which beer I drank, but the salad was unforgettable. A large slice of soft goats cheese was baked and placed on a salad of rocket and garnished with a poached fresh fig and some pickled onions. Really, an amazing combination of tastes- and honestly, not complicated. It was just the quality of the ingredients. Kristina had a curried smoked chicken salad with peanuts and avacado which was really lovely as well. Then it was on to find the Knights Templar at Temple Guiting!

Actually, on our way to the Knights, I should mention that my GPS took us down a very narrow lane to go to Kineton. This was fine, I lived in the UK for several years and feel quite comfortable on the small roads. However, around a corner was a ford- this means you drive through a river. Now, I've done that before too. The last time I stayed in the Cotswolds, we had to cross at a ford to get to our cottage and we did it with no problems each time. This one, though, was running a bit fast and deep, but there was no way around it except to go all the way back to the main road- and there was no sign that we saw that it wasn't passable, so we took a photo of me in our tiny rental car and then I drove through. By the time I got to the other side, my engine was smoking. After a bit of worrying smell, the smoke died down and we continued on and actually had no other problems. However, at the end of the road on the further side of the ford, we finally came upon the sign "Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles". I have to say, I'm getting tired of the trouble I get into by not being clairvoyent. Ah, well- "All's well that end's well" as the great bard said!

Dinner that night was in Stow on the Wold at The Old Butcher. It was good food, but a bit sterile and I wanted a good local beer on tap, but settled for a bottle of Hooky from Hook Norton as they had Staropramen on their tap. This is a great Czech beer, but I wanted local!! I had a fantastic piece of local lamb on ratatouille, though, and that really made up for it. The fat (yes, I know we're not supposed to eat it, but I couldn't help it!) was so crispy and the meat delicately pink and tender. Kristina had marinated British venison that really stood out for the flavor of the meat. Our starters though, were less interesting. Kristina had a Tartiflette which we know well as it comes from Alsace, just south of us. Maybe if we hadn't already known what a great tartiflette would be (potatoes, onions, and smoky lardons with very ripe Munster cheese put under the grill until brown and bubbly) we would have liked their version (almost the same, but without enough cheese and not crusty/bubbly enough- it was just kind of soft). Mine was a beetroot, smoked eel, and horseradish salad- very good, but not memorable. It took me a long time to remember what I had! Gernerally, the restaurant was good overall, but I wouldn't go with kids so I probably won't be back soon. Kids are normally part of my travel plan...

The next day, after a gigantic fry up of local bacon, sausages and eggs, berries and yogurt and homemade marmalade on toast with gallons of tea (provided by Kiloran, owner of The Wren House B and B in Donnington where we were staying- gorgeous place!!) we headed off on our walk through some of my favorite villages. We started in Bourton on the Water, a stunning town with lots of little bridges crossing the river that runs through the center. Actually, it took a while to get going as Kristina has a penguin obsession and so we had to make a detour to check out the penguins at Birdland. Ultimately, it was a great diversion as the penguins seemed to fall for Kristina and came to the glass and splashed us, jumped, dove, and generally seemed to want to charm us. Hey, is this some sort of theme of this trip...? When we finally tore ourselves away, we only had to make a final stop to buy some lime cremes- chocolate covered, lime flavoured fondants- which seemed a perfect way to help us continue on to our final destination.

We wandered out of Bourton on the Water and crossed the large road to find the Warden's Way, a lovely path that runs along a small river up to the village of Lower Slaughter. There we stopped at the Old Mill shop, a place my family always goes to in this area. I didn't buy anything this time, but I'm back in the area at Easter, so I've got plans... The path then continues to Upper Slaughter, a less picturesque village only in that is is not laid out for views. But the church was very pretty and the old Norman panels which were pointed out to us by a very agreeable gentleman who was visiting the church with his wife on their wedding anniversary were easy to miss but facinating. To touch something so ancient and feel so connected to the past!

After this, we had a harder trek. We wandered down the Warden's Way past fields and a small river, then across open pasture and a barn full of very curious cows and finally descended to see the village of Naunton through the trees. We stopped at The Black Horse pub on the edge of the village and each had a chicken, mushroom and tarragon pie. Fantastic! And a half of Hooky gold for me and a half of cider for Kristina later, we decided- walking is fabulous and we wanted a cab back to our car. So when our silver Jaguar picked us up (this is actually true- what is his second job, we wondered?) we felt rather spoiled as he drove us back around to our starting point. A bit of shopping, a nap at the B and B and we went for dinner.

Now we were getting desperate. This was to be the potential highlight meal of our stay, but could we do it? We were at The Horse and Groom in Bourton on the Hill and had heard great reviews. But as we entered, we were still full... But of course we pulled it off! Kristina had a potato and leek soup and a horseradish crusted hake that was really an interesting combination of creamy sauce and sharp taste. I had another beetroot salad, this time with grilled haloumi. However, we though that my hamburger, made from local cattle, with an onion jam- no bun, none needed- was perhaps the best thing we had that night. Absolutely tender and juicy, a few herbs flecked throughout, this was what I had been waiting for! All this and the atmosphere was lively and entertaining and the owners were there and enjoyed talking to their customers. And their beers were the best of the trip- I will certainly be here when I return in a few weeks!!

The last day in the area was our Indian Head Massage and Reflexology course. So of course, we should have been detoxing, but seemed unable to start! Another cooked brekkie, and we were off for the Farncombe Estate near Moreton in Marsh. The estate is huge and runs down the valley in the green and lush countryside. We came to the place where the courses run and found our room. The whole day was wonderful, we smelled good after and had learned so much about aromatherapy as well as the massage we signed up for. Luckily, the school's lunch provided an opportunity for eating healthy and I took it! Because then we were on a mission to find a place for dinner. We had signed up to go to the Fiddle On folk instrument evening at the institute which included dinner, but neither of us really felt like staying. It was our last evening and we wanted to explore!

So we headed to Moreton in Marsh and looked for a place for dinner. We wandered the streets and found Indian, Thai, and Italian, but we wanted one last Great British Dinner. Finally, we called the Horse and Groom again, thinking that might be our best option, but, unless we wanted to eat immediately, they were full. At the last moment, we came upon the Redesdale Arms, a restaurant attatched to a hotel in the center of town. The menu looked quite good and we agreed to try. We managed to get the last table and returned a couple hours later.

A very cute and cheerful girl was our waitress and she made me laugh hysterically (hopefully she didn't think it was at her) when she offered me a Hooky Gold saying (compared to the Hooky) it was a "Ladies beer". If you've ever seen the sketch comedy show "Little Britain", you'll understand my fit of laughter, if not, check it out- unless you're easily offended! The beer was excellent, though, and I'll look for it again.

Kristina had a roasted pepper soup which seemed mild to start, but then, as the white pepper kicked in, became more intense. I had a wood pidgeon terrine which I found too mild. They served it with macerated grapes, I think with the idea they would intensify the flavour of the mild pigeon but instead they overwhelmed it. Our dinners were fabulous though. Kristina's Cornish haddock with chips and mushy peas was perfectly done and I had my first experience with the touted Gloucester Old Spot pork. It really is something unlike other pork that you might eat. Even Kristina, who only rarely eats pork, tried a bite and agreed that is something really unusual and special. The flavour is simply not comparable to grocery store meat!

Now, I have to confess, I couldn't finish. And I left.... the crackling. This is anaethema to anyone who is a devoted British food fan and my husband was really horrified. This is the salted and crispy edge of a pork roast, done well it resembles pork scratchings but still attached to the meat. And it was wonderfully done, but I simply had to choose what not to eat and it was that. So why did we decide to have a lemon merangue pie? Because this was a birthday trip for Kristina and she had lemon merangue pie instead of a birthday cake every year growing up. And it was worth it! It was more like a flourless almond cake on bottom, very eggy lemon filling next and merangue on top.

That night we paid for it, Kristina spent an hour feeling nauseous and I had terrible heartburn, but we discovered the answer to "How much can we eat in 3 days?" and it was "Just a little less than what we just did." I don't think I'll do that again, I feel much better when I'm more sensible, but it isn't often I'm off with a like-minded friend, sans kids and husband with no one to please but myself. And enjoyed every minute of it!! Thanks Kristina, and happy birthday!!

Detoxing... or how can a foodie survive like this!?

I decided to do a detox after a rather overindulgent four days in the Cotswolds where a friend of mine, Kristina Mascher-Turner, and I decided to see how much it was possible to eat and drink. The rationale being that we were doing lots of walking everyday and taking a massage course which would detox us at the end. Actually, we both had a hard time sleeping the last night due to food malaise. So I took 3 days and ate only fruit, yogurt and vegetables and seemed to recover well- but as soon as I had some wheat on the 4th day, I felt rubbish again. So I'm on a longer detox... Vegan diet, no wheat, alcohol, or caffine and limited gluten, sugar, and soy products. So what is possible to eat? Actually, quite a lot...

Last night I made Khichri, an Indian curried lentil and rice dish, cauliflower cooked with tomatoes, ginger, nigella, and cumin, and boiled little potatoes with caramelized onions. Tasted great!

Khichri (from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery)
1/3 cup yellow split peas (I used Urid Dhal, it only needs to soak with the rice)
2 cups of long grain rice (I used brown, it needs an extra 1/2 cup of water during cooking and an
extra 20 minutes of cooking)
3 tablespoons of oil (I used olive, although vegetable- or ghee- is more traditional)
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of garam masala (or curry powder)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
4 tablespoons of corriander
2 2/3 cups of water (3 1/3 or a little less for brown rice)

Soak the peas in water for 3 hours, drain. Wash rice several times, soak in water 1 hour (or if using lentils or Urid Dhal soak together for 1 hour). Drain.

Heat the oil in a pot on medium. When hot, put the cumin in and stir for a few seconds. Now add peas and rice. Stir and saute 2-3 minutes until coated in oil. Add garam masala or curry, salt and corriander. Stir and saute another minute or so. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover tightly and cook 25 minutes (45 minutes for brown rice). Turn off the heat and let sit, undisturbed, 10 minutes. Take off the lid and gently stir before serving.

Cauliflower (my own recipe)
1 head cauliflower, broken into pieces
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 knob of ginger, minced
1tsp nigella (black onion seeds)
1 tsp cumin
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 can cubed tomatoes
1 tsp sugar

on med-high, heat the oil and add the garlic and ginger. Stir a few seconds, then add the nigella and cumin and stir briefly. Add the cauliflower and cook for a couple minutes, stirring. Add the can of tomatoes and a splash of water. Sprinkle over the teaspoon of sugar. Cook with a lid on, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is cooked, but not mushy. Salt to taste.

Potatoes with onions
500 g small potatoes
2 onions
olive oil
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes in their skins until just done. Drain.

Slice the onions into half moons and cook on med-high in the olive oil until very soft. Add the potatoes and continue to cook until the onions caramelize. season with salt and pepper. (you can add in some cumin seeds with the onions when you start if you want a stronger flavor.)

I think we'll have fava beans and rice tonight, vegetable tagine tomorrow, and some kind of Japanese food the next night. So it is possible to survive this! We'll see how long it lasts, though!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Springtime and salads

For me, soup is a daily necessity until the weather turns warm enough to go outside without a jacket. And then salads are my daily fix. Happily, this just happened here and so I've been on a salad rampage for the past week. I've been buying a few heads of bio (organic) lettuce at the market and then washing, spin drying and storing them in the fridge so I can have a fast lunch. But what is a salad without the dressing? Or even the other additions? So here are my favorite dressings- for those of you who don't make your own, try it. Its not difficult, you just need a mortar and pestle or a blender.

First, if you are doing a dressing with garlic, always remember to grind it to a paste with sea salt as it removes the bitterness.

Typical French Vinagrette
a garlic clove, peeled
sea salt
5 tablespoons (or so) good extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons (or less) of good red wine vinegar
1 rounded spoon of Dijon mustard

Grind the garlic and the salt together, add the oil, blend, add the vinegar, blend, add the mustard, blend well. Easy.

Suggestions: substitute various sea salts, try olive oils from different countries, substitute part of the oil with walnut or pumpkin seed oil (that's the family favorite, usually without the mustard), try sherry or rice vinegar or lemon juice, change the mustard (our current favorite is a dijon with Pain d'Epices- spice bread- that my hubby picked up in Dijon) or even eliminate the mustard.

That is also my favorite dressing for spring asparagus or for salad Nicoise.

My favorite Japanese sesame dressing (from Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking)
I ususally make a batch x4 so I can have some on hand for quick lunches...

2 tablespoons of sesame paste (I use tahini)
2 tablespoons freshly roasted and ground white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons of dashi stock
1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
salt and chili or sichimi togarashi to taste (optional, I haven't tried it with yet!)

combine all ingredients well.

My other favorite dressing (from one of my all time favorite cookbooks, Moro)
Pomegranate Molasses dressing
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon of water
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of caster sugar (optional)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

mix in the cinnamon and pomegranate molasses to the garlic paste. Add the water and then whisk in the olive oil until it emulsifies.

I love this on fall or winter salads with blue cheese, fresh walnuts and apples or with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Moro recommends it with fish, quail or braised spinach as well- I just haven't gotten around to trying it!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fish pie, Welsh stylie...

On a recent tour, our quintet was in Wales. As it is near the ocean, my good friend Kristina decided some fish pie would be delicious. I went for some Cawl, Welsh lamb and leek stew and Dave had some suet pudding with beef and onions (he had wanted a light meal, I'm glad he didn't want something heavy, I don't know what he could have been satisfied by!!) When the fish pie arrived, it was lovely with mashed potatoes covered in melted cheese, gorgeous! But the fork went in and out came... bones. Then more bones, then a fish head, followed by an eyeball. some strange black stringy things, spine with part of the tail.... Kristina tried eating it, thinking it was the Welsh style of fish pie, but in the end she was defeated. So I took the pie back to the counter for her. The conversation was...
Me: Excuse me, but my friend couldn't really eat this.... (pointing to the head and the one eyeball we had found)
Barman: Oh my god! I am so sorry!! (looks pale, then bursts into hysterical laughter at what looks like a slaughter on the plate)
Me: Thats fine, things happen- we thought maybe this was Welsh style fish pie?
Barman: (when he stops laughing) um, no
Me: Only thing is, she's kind of gone off fish pie at this point... (He starts laughing again) Could we have some dessert instead?
Barman: For that, you can have 3!

So we got Apple and Rhubarb Custard Tart, Cheesecake, and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Real Fish Pie
1 small onion, halved
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
600 ml (1 pint) milk - this means 1 1/4 cups, Americans!
300 ml (10 fl oz) double cream- and this means 3/4 of a cup
450 g (1 lb) cod fillet
225 g (8 oz) undyed smoked haddock
300 g (9 oz) peeled prawns (shrimp), cooked
100 g (4 oz) butter
45 g ( 1 3/4 oz) plain flour- sorry, I bought a scale so I can't tell you this in measures!
5 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1.25 kilos (2 1/2 pounds) peeled floury potatoes (like Maris Piper or baking potatoes in the US)
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Stud the onion halves with the cloves. Put the onion in a large pan with the bay leaf, 450 ml (15 fluid oz) of the milk, the cream, cod and smoked fish. Bring just to the boil and simmer until just cooked through. Strain the fish and let cool on a platter. Strain the liquid into a pitcher. When the fish is cool enough, flake it into large chunks into a large casserole, mix through the prawns (shrimp).

Make a white sauce with 1/2 the butter, the flour and the strained cooking liquid, reserving 1/2 a cup of the liquid. This means, melt the butter over medium, slowly add in the flour blending the two together completely after each new sprinkling of flour into the pan. When the paste is very thick, add the liquid bit by bit, incorporating it completely between each addition or it will become lumpy. Let it cook long enough to take away the raw taste of the flour and to thicken it. Remove from the heat and add in the parsley, salt and white pepper and taste for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the fish and let cool while you make your potatoes.

Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain, mash and add the rest of the butter with the rest of the cooking liquid and enough additional milk to make a soft mash. You can also add a bit of cheese into the potatoes or grated on top, if you like.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F. Spread the potato over the fish evening the thickness and leaving peaks in the mash as these will turn toasty brown and lovely! Bake about 40 minutes.

Optional: you can slice some mushrooms and fry them with a finely chopped onion in the butter for the white sauce, then create the sauce around the vegetables and continue as stated.

One last mention about the story, we were drinking Brains, the Welsh national beer, but I preferred the Double Dragon while Kristina liked the Celtic Gold. Give them a go!

Next time, Sticky Toffee Pudding