Category Archives: coronavirus

A busy beach, but the hills are still empty as lockdown relaxes still further

Another lovely walk on Saturday, along the beach, paddling in the sea, turning up into the hills past the cemetery, and along lovely footpaths until we emerged just above Aberdovey.  I was particularly tired after a restless night, so it was super just to drift along enjoying the sights and sounds.  There was an intensity to the light that reflected off the water, the dominating colour silver rather than blue, and anything in front of it was silhouetted.  How the weather changed on Monday!

This is the first time I’ve seen the beach with more than a couple of people on it.  It was something of a visual shock, although it is great that people are able to enjoy themselves.  A lot of second home owners are back too.  The ice cream shops were a bit chaotic, with very little distance between people in the queues, but I expect that that will be sorted soon.  Further along the beach, several people were swimming, which was a bit brave as the water was frankly very chilly.

Not just a sand castle, but an entire neighbourhood of sand castles.

 

 

Normally the jellyfish that wash up on the beach are Barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulma) but today there were none.  Instead, there were several Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella), common in the south and west during the summer, where they feed on small fish and crustaceans.  The name derives from the dark brown markings that radiate from the centre.  These jellyfish are venomous, with stinging cells all along their tentacles.

 

 

The beetle Rhagonycha fulva, common all over the UK from May to August.

Swallow (Hirundo rustica).  A terrible photograph, shooting into the sun.  I was convinced that this was a swift, because the forked tails didn’t look long enough, but the swift doesn’t have the big white breast. They are migrating birds, spending winter in southern Africa and returning to the north to breed.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) produces a beautiful perfume, particularly in the evenings to attract pollinating moths.  It climbs up and over hedges and shrubs and flowers from June to October, with petals that ivory coloured until pollinated by bees or moths, when they turn yellow.  The produce red berries following the flowering, during the autumn.

Another first for the year:  the beach at Ynyslas is covered in cars.

 

Eating well from what’s to hand – final week, week 12

This is my final post about eating during lockdown.  I feel that 12 weeks worth of me bunnying on about cooking is probably about as much as anyone truly needs 🙂  Additionally, I defrosted the freezer mid-week and found that most of the contents consists of meals that I had batch-cooked to divide equally between the plate and the freezer.  By which I mean that I ate half and froze the other half.  It’s about time I started eating those other halves rather than creating more, or there will be no freezer space left!  There will be another post in a couple of weeks about my encounters with a locally sourced cuttlefish, but unless I can source some unusual local ingredients to talk about, I think that my culinary lockdown sharing has come to a natural end, an end to absolute lockdown, and a trailing off of my learning curve.

Lockdown kicked in on 23rd March.  I was originally supposed to be celebrating my birthday a few days after that date with a small lunch party, but a couple of weeks before lockdown was announced we decided to cancel it, because it was quite clear that the tide of the Covid-19 was rolling in very fast.  One of thousands of cancelled celebrations and gatherings, minor and major.  So I cooked for myself on my birthday, and seriously enjoyed a roasted rack of lamb from the freezer, only the second meal on my Week 1 post about eating well from what was to hand.  I had realized by then that I would have to change my ad hoc shopping and cooking regime, and organize myself so that I would only have to do one relatively large shop once a fortnight.  It had the charm of novelty at first, but  a few weeks in and I was longing to go back to a less regimented way of buying and eating.  12 weeks in, and I am now accustomed to it, if not overjoyed by it.

Oregano growing in a pot in my garden

Fortunately, it has not all been about local supermarkets and the freezer.  Dropping off bags of groceries to my self-isolating father has had its own reward, mainly for the pleasure of having a long-distance chat sitting well apart in comfy chairs in the garden for a couple of hours, with ample use of hand disinfectant, but also, with an eye to my pots and pans, in the form of delicious home-grown vegetables, lettuces and herbs.  Following the small relaxation of the lockdown rules I have taken advantage of the occasional foray into both the Aberdovey and Tywyn butchers, and have loved being able to buy fish from Dai’s Shed, when the weather has allowed Dai to take the boat out.

I have no intention of visiting a big supermarket for many weeks yet.  The government may have faith in people behaving responsibly, but after one recklessly optimistic foray into a medium-sized supermarket a couple of weeks ago I walked out in serious dismay at the risks being taken.  I cannot imagine that matters will be improving as the relaxation of rules continues.

Saturday

Prawns, avocado, mushrooms and baby spinach with parmesan, cream and a Panko topping.  In Week 7, I made my first attempt to reproduce a recipe using avocados that was served as a starter in a favourite London restaurant, which closed when the owners returned to Italy.  This is a modified version.

Sometimes the Coey sells single avocados, large ones, but when I was last there there were only small avocados in a packet of two, so I used one at the end of last week and had one left to use.  I also had some button mushrooms and pancetta left over from last week’s egg-topped mushrooms and pancetta on toast.  It was clearly an opportunity to repeat, with revisions, my reverse engineering of the Venezia dish using fridge orphans.  I am unable to buy raw prawns locally, even frozen, but the Coey had cooked frozen ones in a seafood mix, and I had some raw ones left in the freezer.  There weren’t enough prawns, so I threw in some squid rings as well, and that worked well.

I fried some button mushrooms, and added a fine-chopped clove of garlic and some pancetta cubes until well cooked.  I sprinkled over some flour, just enough to help it thicken.  As before, I added a glug of white wine and some water to form a base for the sauce, but to make it a bit healthier, instead of a lot of cream, I added chicken stock and only a small dollop of low fat crème fraîche, with some grated Paremsan cheese.  I then added the cooked prawns and squid, plus two handfuls of spinach to heat through.  I left this to reduce for a couple of minutes, gave it a good stir, seasoned it with some salt and black pepper, and then, just as the sauce was reducing to the right amount, put in the sliced half avocado to allow that to heat through.  If the avocado is very ripe, be careful not to move it around too much when you put it in, or it will break up.  The avocado needs to be no more than warmed through, so must remain on the heat for only a couple of minutes on a low heat before serving or, again, it will break up.

To serve, I turned it into a terracotta tapas dish, provided it with a good sprinkling of chilli flakes, sprinkled some Panko (Japanese) bread crumbs to give it crunchy gratin topping, shaved some fresh Gran Pardano cheese over the top and put it under the grill until it began to bubble and brown.  To serve, I added some more black pepper and scattered fresh oregano over the top. Without all the cream, it was less unctuous but a bit healthier, and with the Panko topping it had a lot more texture to balance the avocado.  The chili and oregano were good additions, balancing the relative mildness of the sauce. It would go well with a side salad, but I didn’t need one.

Sunday

Leftovers frittata. This is basically a quiche without the pastry, or a Spanish omelette without the potatoes.  I had some bits and pieces of courgette, cheese, onion, spinach, bacon and parsley left over, and some eggs that were hurtling towards their eat-by-date with indecent haste.

This is such an easy dish that there’s almost nothing to say about it.  I wilted the spinach, fried the courgette and bacon and put everything else into four whisked eggs.  I heated it through on the hob and then put it under the grill to finish it off.  A quick and simple meal, but full of flavour.

Monday

Smoked sausage and sauerkraut in mustard sauce.  This is a made-up meal, one I invented a long time ago.  I only discovered sauerkraut a few years ago, in a super and very unusual restaurant in London called Zedel, when my father ordered some, having been a fan for life, and I tried his.  I had tried it when younger and disliked it, but as I have aged by tastes have changed and I loved it.

I used to be able to buy Polish kielbasa smoked sausage in my local Tesco in London, which had a Polish aisle.  It’s one of the many things that have been more difficult to acquire since leaving London.  However, at long last my father has been able to place an Ocado order, and very kindly ordered me some French smoked sausage.  As I had a jar of sauerkraut in the cupboard, some German mustard, an enormous box of caraway seeds, some baby new potatoes (any spuds would do), a bit of sour cream, some fridge-orphan pancetta (bacon lardons would be more authentic), and plenty of onion, it was a no-brainer to go for a Polish-style one-pot.  Slices of apple go well too, but I didn’t have any.  A high-sided frying pan or skillet is best for this, as it can be a bit messy when you are stirring everything together.

First, the baby new potatoes are boiled until just cooked.  I peeled them, but it’s not actually necessary, just really very nice for a change as they absorb flavours much more efficiently than if you leave the skins on.  Then I spooned sauerkraut into a bowl of water and left it to allow the preserving liquid to disseminate into the water for at least 10 minutes before draining it through a sieve and squashing out the water with the back of a wooden spoon.

The smoked sausage is cut into chunks, heated through, set aside and kept warm.  In the same pan, to take advantage of the sausage flavours, a teaspoon of caraway seeds and several good turns of a pepper mill are added.  The onion and pancetta are heated until the pancetta is crispy and the onion golden, and are removed from pan.  The new potatoes are drained and added to the pan to brown.  Then it all goes back in to the pan, with the sauerkraut and mustard, and a dessert spoon of flour stirred in to thicken the sauce.  Some white wine, stock or water are then added.  It is heated gently with a lid on for 10 minutes, with wine/stock, and mustard added by the spoonful until the preferred balance of flavours and the right amount of liquid is achieved.  Then a dollop of cream is added (whatever you have to hand) and stirred in.  I like it with smoked paprika stirred in at the last moment, chopped spring onions added over the top (partly for the flavour, partly to diminish the somewhat off-puttingly anaemic appearance) and a big dollop of sour cream on the side.  It all looks chaotic on the plate, but it is delicious.  Mine had some additional heat, because I had added a fresh chilli to the onion and pancetta, which isn’t traditional but suited me perfectly.

If you prefer a tidier and more presentable meal, you can cook the sausage whole, and in a separate pan cook the sauerkraut, onion and pancetta to accompany it, and in another pan make the mustard sauce separately. If you do it this way, you will probably need to make a velouté (my preference) or béchamel to ensure that your mustard sauce has some body to it.  I would finely chop some chives into it too.

Tuesday

Adapted Nalli Gosht lamb shank and okra curry with basmati rice and minted labneh.  I used a recipe I found on the Internet (see Maunika Gowardhan) for this, as I don’t have any Indian cookbooks, and I am useless at inventing Indian dishes.  The lamb shank came from the freezer, via the Aberdovey butcher, who kindly picked out a small one for me that was perfect for this dish.  I decided to do it in the slow cooker, which departs from the recipe on the above link, but I made very few other changes:  I used skinned and chopped fresh tomatoes and a bit of tomato paste rather than all tomato paste, I had red rather than green chillis, used cassia bark instead of cinnamon, and I changed some of the proportions of the spices to suit my own tastes, adding a lot more ginger, but otherwise followed the recipe closely.  I accidentally used smoked paprika rather than mild paprika for the marinade, but fortunately I realized the moment it hit the bowl and used the mild paprika for the sauce itself, and the smoked paprika didn’t spoil it.  I added the last of the frozen okra, and made a minted labneh to go with it.

The process is simple, but see the above link for the unadulterated step-by-step version.  The lamb shank is marinated overnight in a blended mixture of garlic, ginger, mild paprika, and coriander powder (I had coriander seeds in a grinder).

When ready to cook, fry cinnamon stick (or in my case cassia bark), green cardamoms, cloves and peppercorns in butter and oil, allow to sizzle for a few seconds and then add the onions and chilli slices.  Cook til golden and then add the turmeric and coriander powder.  The recipe calls for the addition of the tomato paste followed by the lamb shank.  I was using peeled tomatoes, so I put the shank in first to brown, added the blended tomatoes next with a single spoon of tomato paste, and the yoghurt afterwards.  I then tipped the whole lot into the slow cooker, but the original recipe calls for it to be simmered for 20-25 minutes on the hob, with a lid slightly open. I carved the lamb shank to save faffing around with it on the plate, spooned the sauce over the top, and although it tasted great its appearance was less than beautiful.  I suggest you look at the source web page for presentation tips.

The recipe suggests serving with naan bread, but I had some plain basmati rice boiled in stock with fennel seeds, and some minted labneh on the side to balance the heat.

Labneh is simply drained yoghurt.  In a bid to eat a rather healthier diet I bought some low fat Greek yoghurt, and it was incredibly liquid so I decided to turn it into labneh.   The only equipment required is either muslin or kitchen roll, a sieve and a bowl or equivalent.  A couple of pinches of salt are mixed into the yoghurt, and it is poured into the lined sieve to drain, preferably overnight.  Once the liquid is removed, the yoghurt is malleable enough to form into balls.  I like to mix herbs or spices into the drained yoghurt before doing so, usually a Moroccan spice mix, but on this occasion I used mint.  It can be preserved in oil in a re-used jar as I have done here, flavoured with herbs and spices, in this case lemon, mint leaves and sliced chilli.  It is delicious served with curry, Middle Eastern stews, or simply on cheese crackers as a snack.

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Wednesday

Deep-fried whitebait with caper and gherkin mayonnaise and salad.  I’ve had a single remaining starter-sized portion of whitebait in the freezer for a very long time now.  I’ve been keeping them for when I really, really wanted them and absolutely nothing else would do, because I’m not going to be able to replace them until after the lockdown.  Lovely, lovely little fish, simply rolled in flour whilst still frozen, deep-fried on a high heat for a couple of moments and served with Tabasco, and a gherkin and caper mayonnaise.  I don’t actually have a deep fat fryer, so I poured Crisp and Dry into a baby wok, and heated it until one little fishy started to fizz in the oil.  Tipping the rest of them in lowers the temperature significantly, so I turned up the heat until the oil started to bubble again.  It’s a dicey business if you are heating oil in a pan rather than in a thermostat-controlled fryer, so make sure you have a couple of damp tea towels to hand in case it sets fire to itself.  It has never happened to me, but it did to a friend of mine.

I served my whitebait with a salad to make it into a main course.   I’ve never managed to make a tartar sauce that is both quick and delicious, but making a mayonnaise and then adding chopped gherkins and capers with a bit of parsley isn’t a bad substitute.  I have lovage, so added a couple of leaves of that too (lovage can be overpowering so it pays to add it just a little at a time, tasting before adding any more). 

Thursday

Griddled lamb chop, mashed carrot and swede, leek, cabbage and boiled and roast potatoes.  In pouring rain, I was craving comfort food, and this was a good match for my mood.  It was very much a case of using up leftovers (carrot and swede mash and lamb gravy from last week, taking up space in the freezer) and fridge orphans (a bit of cabbage and a piece of leek).  Although I love roast potatoes I wouldn’t heat an entire oven for them, but I was also cooking something else at the same time.  As I’ve done this a couple of times before, I won’t add more details, but I really enjoyed it.

Friday

Cold lamb chop, watermelon, feta, cucumber, red onion, mint, olives with a lemon, white wine vinegar and olive oil dressing, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.  When I cooked my lamb chop with traditional roast-related veg yesterday, I cooked two chops, so that I had one left over for this salad.  The first time I had a lamb and watermelon salad was on Kefalonia, and the only barrier to repeating it has been the immense size of watermelons (called sandía where I grew up), which are so difficult to use up.  It was therefore a fairly ecstatic moment when I walked into the Tywyn Co-Op and found that they were selling baby ones.  So happy!   Watermelon is a match made with heaven with feta, red onion, cucumber and black olives, which was very handy as I had all of these that needed using up.   The oil and vinegar might sound a little odd with melon, but in fact both, together with the lemon juice, balance the flavours beautifully.

 Conclusions

Since the lockdown began and I started shopping once a fortnight, I have learned a lot not merely about planning ahead, but also planning around the leftovers and fridge orphans that I knew I would generate. Leftovers are the remains of cooked meals; fridge orphan is a term I’ve invented for the unused odds and ends left behind after the use of their companions in the meals for which they were planned.  A few mushrooms, some potatoes, small chunks of cheese and bits of courgette are typical examples. It’s a big change from doing things the other way round, looking at what ingredients I had left in the fridge and buying things to go with them.  They now have to be used up without shopping.  With this in mind, I started to leave gaps in the meal-planner so that I could bring together leftovers and fridge orphans with items in the freezer, such as last week’s chicken pie.  That is not to say that there is never any kitchen waste, but matters are considerably improved.

Over the last 12 weeks people have commented on how diverse my tastes are, but I am regarded by family and friends as a fussy eater, on good grounds.  I am mildly but genuinely allergic to capiscum (green/red peppers), I cannot stand coconut, I abhor tinned tuna, find tinned tomatoes dreadfully sweet, and think that cornflakes are an abomination.  I dislike pulses like beans and chickpeas, (although I love lentils and black beans), I’m really not keen on offal, I simply don’t understand adding raisins or bananas to savoury food, I eat nearly all green vegetables but find 80% of them exceedingly dull, and I have tried time and time again to learn to love blue cheeses, because I know I’m missing out, but I can’t.  On the other hand, baby watermelons rock!  The picture looks disconcertingly like Pac-Man 🙂

I think that the main thing I learned is that even with a relatively confined repertoire of ingredients, truly enjoyable things can be achieved, and by using herbs and spices the same ingredients can be given a completely different character.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my culinary experiments, and particularly to those who got in touch – email is a wonderful thing.  Please continue to practice social distancing and please stay safe!

 



Rushlight (Aberdovey Community Council newsletter) June 2020

For those who are still self-isolating, here’s the latest edition of Rushlight, courtesy of the Aberdyfi butcher who supplied tonight’s delicious lamb chop.  This edition, June 2020, should be posted on the Community Council’s new website before too long at https://aberdyfi-council.wales/council-rushlight-newsletter, where all the previous editions can be found.  You can click to enlarge each of the pages below.

Eating well from what’s to hand – week 11

The weather was interesting last week.  Wind, rain, a thunder storm and bright sunshine all took their turns.   There were some days when I couldn’t wait to be outside, and other days when I didn’t bother unlocking the door.

Aberdovey continues to be quiet, in spite of the further relaxation of social distancing rules by the English government.  I watched the news yesterday morning, and saw people lining up outside Primark in Manchester and Cheshire Oaks outlet centre in Ellesmere Port, all desperate to return to non-essential shopping.  The mind boggles.  Here’s hoping that the shops are managing social distancing as well as they have promised.

My cooking last week was a mixture of new and old.  I did a chicken and leftover veg pie in pastry, which I haven’t done in years as I always find pastry too filling, but I was really in the mood for it.  A wonderful piece of lamb shoulder in the freezer was an identical repeat of something I did a couple of weeks ago with a piece of leg of lamb.  The huss was full of familiar Middle Eastern flavours, but I had never done it with aubergine before.  On Thursday I halved an avocado, had half for lunch instead of my usual slice of toast, and had the other half on Friday evening, followed by pate on toast to make up a full meal. A good mix, nice to have the variety.

Saturday

One-person chicken and leftover vegetable pie.  This pie was brought about by the spontaneous purchase of a roll of puff pastry, and the entire process was entirely ad hoc. It was composed of a chicken breast, sliced runner beans, carrot batons, diced courgette, frozen peas, finely sliced spring onion, spinach, mushrooms, parsley and a chicken and parsley stock, the latter made from bolted parsley and wild fennel stems stems.  I fried the chicken and mushrooms, whilst cooking the vegetables lightly in the stock.  Then I added the veg to the chicken, scattered some flour over the top and stirred well to mix it in.  I then added some stock a little at a time until it formed a sauce.  Meanwhile, a small pastry-lined pie dish was blind-baking in the oven, and I had the pastry lid ready to go, brushed with egg.

I almost never eat pastry, so I really enjoyed it, although it wasn’t perfect.  I had bought the chicken breasts when the shop had sold out of thighs, and I really noticed the difference.  Thighs have much better flavour, and the breasts didn’t impart much flavour to the sauce, so it was a bit bland and I wish I had added more chicken stock to the parsley and wild fennel infusion.  I also failed to blind bake the pastry for long enough, so it had a rather soft base.  On the other hand, the taste of parsley and fennel that threaded through the pie mix, coming from from the simmered stalks was great.  There was plenty of unused pastry and leftover pie mix for the freezer.

Sunday

Roasted lamb shoulder with the usual trimmings.  I have cooked a couple of other roast lamb joints since the lockdown, and this was no different, and just as enjoyable.  This was spring lamb, with the bone in.  Spring lamb never has a huge amount of flavour but with the flavour from the bone, and studded with thyme, garlic and rosemary it was given every chance to shine and was delicately delicious.  Being shoulder, it required a longer, slower cook than a similarly sized leg would have done, but was still gorgeously moist, just pink at the bone but crispy on the outside.  The trick is to either brown it in the oven on a high heat first, or brown it in a pan before placing it in the oven and then cover it with foil for the rest of its cooking time.

After scoring the layer of fat on top and studding it with the garlic and herbs, I dotted it with butter to help it along, and browned it in a pre-heated oven on high for 10 minutes and then cooked it on gas mark 3 for an hour, which was perfect.  It was very tender and the delicacy of the flavour went beautifully with a light rosemary gravy, a mint and caper sauce and the steamed sweetheart cabbage and runner beans.  The carrot and swede mash was as good as usual.  I had leftover gravy in the freezer from my last foray, and combined this with the juices that accumulated during roasting, and drained off the fat from the gravy before serving.

There was plenty of lamb left over to serve cold or freeze down, half of the carrot and swede mash to freeze down, and more gravy to go into the freezer.

Monday

Cold meat and salad.  My family always call this “cold plate.” Sometimes it consisted of Spanish, German and Italian sliced meats with salad, and at others it was leftovers.  On this occasion I had some leftover lamb from the roast, and leftover chicken breast from the pack of two that I had used for the chicken pie.  I marinated the chicken in sumac, zatar, olive oil and lemon juice and lobbed it on the griddle for a few minutes each side.  I had been walking in the dunes with my friend Caroline (maintaining a rigid six ft distance at all times) and had picked some wild fennel, so I made a wild fennel mayonnaise.  I have a tiny food processor that I use for making mayonnaise, with a hole in its lid.  I finely-chopped the fennel fronds by hand and added them to the processor with a dollop of mustard, a serious squeeze of lemon juice, a little vinegar, some sea salt and an egg yolk.  Then, whizzing, I fed light olive oil very slowly through the hole in the top and whizzed it until the mix had emulsified into mayonnaise.  The salad was much simpler than usual, without herbs, consisting of some super little gem leaves from my father’s garden, cucumber, tomato, spring onions, capers, chilli slices, feta and vinaigrette.  I don’t know how I forgot the fresh herbs, but it was good even without them.  To finish it off, I sliced some lamb and chicken and added them to the plate.  I drizzled some leftover mint sauce over the lamb, and put a good dollop of mayonnaise next to the chicken and egg.  Super, and seriously filling.

Tuesday

Huss, seafood, baby aubergine, olives and feta in tomato, spinach and herbs, served with salad.  Huss is a lovely fish, with a no-fuss central bone.  It is a beast to fillet the fish when raw, and quite frankly, why bother?  It detaches from the single central bone so easily when it is cooked.  So I usually chop it into chunks with a very sharp knife, with the bone left it.   My piece was about six inches long so I chopped it into four and cooked it in the sauce with the bone in, removing the skin before serving.  I had some baby aubergines, and that seemed like a good excuse for giving the huss a Middle Eastern lilt.

I set the slow cooker to auto, which on this machine means it starts out hot for a while and then drops to low.  I had some mashed up tomatoes in the freezer, so fried some finely chopped onions, sliced red chilli and garlic, added the tomatoes, and stirred in some smoked paprika and  when it was all heated through, put it into the slow cooker, with some dehydrated limes, and poured over a little stock before adding the fried huss. Chopped salted anchovies (for richness rather than flavour), and some sun-dried tomato pesto also went in.

An hour before serving, with the slow cooker now on low, I put in a couple of handfuls of spinach. 15 minutes before serving I griddled some halved baby aubergines, and put those and some black olives, some whole mint leaves and a small handful of oregano leaves in to the sauce.  Fifteen minutes later it was ready to serve with some chunks of feta and accompanied by a small side salad.

There was plenty left over to form a base for a Middle Eastern flavoured seafood stew, and it is ready and waiting in the freezer.

Wednesday

Garlic mushrooms, pancetta and courgette on toast, topped with a poached egg.  Mushrooms and garlic are a classic combination.  Some diced courgette rounds it off beautifully.  The mushrooms and courgettes are fried in butter until beginning to brown.  The finely chopped garlic is added, and when cooked through, some flour is sprinkled over the top and stirred into the mixture until it is invisible. This will help to thicken the stock.  At this point, a little stock goes in, accompanied by finely sliced spring onions, chopped parsley and oregano and a few turns of the pepper mill. I also like to add a slosh of sherry at this stage.  Mushrooms and sherry are a frequent combination in Spanish cooking, and work deliciously together.

You need enough stock to deglaze the pan, cook the ingredients through.  It is better to go with a little and keep adding it, so that when it is ready to serve it is well reduced but still liquid enough to serves as a sauce.  Whilst this is gently heating through, the egg is poached and the slice of rustic bread or sourdough griddled or toasted.  At the last minute, a small dollop of whatever cream you have to hand goes in to the mushroom mix, is heated through gently, and then the mushroom mix goes on top of the toast and the poached egg is placed carefully on top of the mushrooms.  Sea salt scattered over the top of it all, and another turn of the pepper mill over the egg finishes it off.

Lots of alternatives are possible.  If you have access to wild mushrooms, that makes it even better, but I used supermarket button mushrooms and that was fine.  Instead of sherry, Marsala wine, which is utterly divine in all sorts of sauces, is excellent with this dish.  It is not always easy to get hold of, and must be used with care or it takes over entirely.  If you don’t fancy toast as a base, you could cook a big mound of spinach separately and serve the mushrooms on top of the spinach – or courgette ribbons.  If you fancy something more substantial, you could add handfuls of spinach, which I usually do, or for bigger appetites it could be served alongside chicken, gammon or pork, or over pasta

However you do it, it’s incredibly filling, so I don’t serve it with anything else.

Thursday

Slow-cooked chilli con carne with black beans, rice and sour cream.  A few weeks ago I cooked a huge batch and put a couple of portions in the freezer.  This is one of those portions.  It was a simply recipe.  Finely chopped onion, sliced chillis and finely chopped garlic are fried until translucent and just beginning to brown.  The following are then added:  cayenne, smoked paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, a good sprinkle of dried coriander, some fennel seeds, a fresh or dried bay leaf and either some cinnamon or a piece of cassia bark (the latter my preference) and some dehydrated lemon slices.  Once heated through they are removed to the slow cooker.  The beef chunks are fried on high heat until browned all over, flour is sprinkled over the beef, given a good stir to coat, then added into the slow cooker, and given a good stir to mix with the other ingredients.  Peeled and chopped tomato are added together with some beef stock to cover, and the whole lot is left to its own devices for several hours for the chuck steak to tenderize and the spices to blend.  Kidney beans are more traditional, but I love the flavour of the black bean, and the ebony shine looks wonderful against the reddish mixture and the green of the coriander (or parsley if coriander is unavailable). I served it with plain boiled rice and chives, and a heavenly dollop of sour cream.

Friday

Avocado with vinaigrette followed by smoked mackerel pate on toast.  For the avocado  I simply made a vinaigrette (three parts good olive oil to one part white wine vinegar, German mustard although Dijon works just as well, a crushed garlic clove, black pepper and sea salt), gave it a good shake and poured it into the cavity left by the stone.  A perfectly ripe avocado is a beautiful thing, quite unlike anything else, and softly luscious.

By contrast, the toasted white cob was crispy, and the home made smoked mackerel pate had a spicy edge.  The recipe is my mother’s.  The smoked mackerel is skinned and then mashed with a fork.  Soft butter is mashed into it, again with a fork, and herbs and spices are added:  fresh thyme or sage (I used thyme), cayenne for heat and Tabasco if the cayenne isn’t hot enough, ground cumin, garam masala, a little white wine vinegar, quite a bit of lemon juice and freshly ground pepper and sea/rock salt.  The vinegar and lemon juice not only add flavour of their own but also bring out the other flavours.  Fresh thyme, sage or oregano sprinkled over the top and a good squeeze of lemon juice complete the flavour sensation.

Conclusions

I haven’t much to add, this week, except that it was nice to have a few dishes that I haven’t had in a while, and that being able to eat excellent quality fish once more is a delight.  A real treat was a salted caramel ice cream from the The Sweet Shop on the sea front, and another was being able to pick wild fennel, which I used in all the stock that I made.  A bit of variety is always seriously welcome.

Wild fennel growing in the sand dunes. The stalks are great for making stock, and the fronds go well in salad, sprinkled over fish and incorporated into mayonnaise.

 

Eating well from what’s to hand, just for fun – week 10

Last week’s wind and rain was a stark contrast to the sunniest spring since records began.  That amazing run of gorgeous spring sunshine was transformed, as though someone had flicked a switch, into high winds and torrential rain, and the temperature dropped accordingly.  Good for the garden, bad for the soul 🙂

The greatest happiness was that on the previous Friday Dai had managed to land an awful lot of skate, which is a fairly unusual catch in these waters.  Skate is one of my favourite fish, its flavour distinctive but delicate, its texture superb, and easily cooked.  It is perfect when floured and fried in butter, with the tips of the wings slightly caramelized.  Mackerel and sea bass are in short supply this year, but the skate more than made up for it, and Dai had huss and plaice too.  Unfortunately the poor weather for most of last week means that he couldn’t go out, so my skate and huss purchases will have to last me a while.

Saturday

Half a skate wing  with black butter sauce and capers.  Skate is one of my favourite things on the planet.  Someone mentioned to me that it was a so-and-so to fillet for serving, which seriously surprised me.  There is no need to fillet it.  The wing is made of parallel lines of cartilage, not bone, and you merely scrape the fish gently away from it.  No bones, no mess.  Delicious.  As a family, our favourite way of cooking it was always in black butter sauce with capers.   Dai (of Dai’s Shed) had been out in his boat,  and returned with a good catch of skate, which he had prepared ready for cooking.  I bought two large ones, and when I got home halved them, put two of the halves in the freezer and put the other two in the fridge for eating.

Black butter sauce is very simple, but it does need watching like a hawk.  Butter is heated in the pan and the skate is cooked through, basted regularly, about five minutes on each side.  You can flour it first if preferred, which I did (just dredge it in a plate with a shallow scattering of flour in it).  Once the skate is heated through, remove from the pan and keep warm.  Add more butter, turn up the heat and wait until it is brown, but not black (which would be burned) and add lemon juice and capers.  Heat all the way through and serve the skate with the sauce poured over the top.  Some people scatter over parsley, but I like it as is.  I served it with asparagus tips and shallow-fried potato discs.

I did far too much, and some of the cooked spuds and asparagus that I couldn’t eat were kept and added later in the week to a home made soup.

Sunday

Ham horns with feta salad. This is an old favourite, which I’ve posted about before.  The thin-sliced ham, which I had in the freezer, is stuffed with a mixture of chopped hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise and whatever suitable herb or salad greens you have to hand – parsley, coriander, chives or spring onions all work really well, and a sprinkling of cayenne or paprika goes well.  Black pepper is a must.  It is accompanied here by little gem lettuce leaves filled with tomato, lovage, oregano, green olive, capers, cucumber and feta cheese, with a French vinaigrette.  It is a simple dish, and deserves the best ham and feta available.  The Co-Ops thin-sliced porchetta is good, or the Spar’s home-cooked ham at the deli counter is thicker but has excellent flavour.  Unfortunately, the locally available feta is decidedly third rate, but it is better than nothing.

Monday

Skate Grenobloise.  I used the other half of the skate wing from Dai’s Shed to try to reproduce a skate wing (aile de raie) dish that I had in Lyon several years ago, on a truly superb gastronomic holiday.  If you cannot eat well in Lyon, you’re doing something terribly wrong.  I looked up the recipe on my return, and this was the nearest I could find to my notes.

The skate was quickly pan-fried and then poached in a fish, wild fennel and white wine stock, and served with diced lemon, diced tomato, capers and diced spring onions and, in this recipe (but not in the version I had in Lyon) diced cucumber, all gently heated through but not cooked in the poaching liquid.  It was served in Lyon with samphire, but I cannot get hold of that and my recipe recommended spinach.  Spinach turned out to be a stunning accompaniment.  Both the restaurant and the recipe agreed on peeled new potatoes cooked in chicken stock. I had only tiny baby new potatoes, and peeling them felt almost cruel, but I am glad I did as recommended, because it was excellent.  My original Lyon dish had croutons, as did the recipe, but I forgot to add them!  Next time I would add the croutons but leave out the cucumber.  The diced lemon pieces give this a wonderfully concentrated citrus hit that is quite unlike merely squeezing lemon juice over the top.

Tuesday

Spinach, watercress, rocket, wild garlic, frozen pea, asparagus and potato soup with a grated cheddar topping.  A couple of weeks ago I made myself a spinach, watercress, rocket, wild garlic and pea soup, consumed some of it and put the rest in the freezer in batches.  When I had some leftover cooked asparagus and potatoes, I dug one of the boxes out of the freezer, whizzed up the spuds and asparagus in the food processor with a little water and stirred it into the defrosted soup with a squeeze of lemon juice, a hint of nutmeg, a bit of sea salt and a lot of black pepper.  Once heated through, I stirred in a spoon of sour cream, and grated some Somerset cheddar over the top.  Bags of flavour, a good use of leftovers, and so easy.

Wednesday

Leftover aubergine, olives and tomatoes with a courgette and cheese topping.  I had some leftover aubergine and tomato mix in the freezer, which needed using up to make room for other items.  In the fridge, my experimental purchase of mozzarella slices were also in urgent need of a swift solution, and there was a single piece of Parma ham and a rather wrinkled courgette.  There always seems to be a rather wrinkled courgette in my fridge.  The happy solution was to bung them all together, layered in a harmonious marriage of flavours.

I heated the aubergine mix in a saucepan and put it in a small pre-heated earthenware dish, topped it with a few slices of courgette, added a patchwork of torn slices of mozzarella and Emmenthal, and tore up the slice of Parma ham and scattered that over the top.  It all went into the oven for 15 minutes before being browned under the grill.  A few oregano leaves finished the ensemble, and it worked really well, slightly bigger than a tapas dish but easily scaled up for a bigger meal if required.

Thursday

Chicken Caesar Salad Plus.  This started out as a simple chicken Caesar salad, but I hadn’t eaten a thing all day and was starving, so it became a rather more elaborate affair.  I had run out of anchovies (sacrilege) but had plenty of little gem, some excellent cut-and-come-again lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, a small hard boiled egg, some faux crutons (diced toasted sourdough bread, painted with garlic-infused olive oil) and some cold chicken that I had barbecued and frozen down especially for salads. The slightly charred smokiness of the barbecued chicken is always delightful.  To add some of the salty hit of the anchovies I used capers instead, and they worked wonderfully.  I had been unable to buy a wedge of parmesan, but fortunately my illustrious parent was able to help out with a bag of an excellent grated version.  Grated parmesan can be very dry, but this was really excellent.   I didn’t have the energy to make my own sauce, so used the tried and tested Cardini bottled sauce, which is mercifully not over-sweet, and has bags of flavour.

Friday

Roast lamb with mint sauce, runner beans, mashed carrot and swede, roasties and rosemary gravy.  There’s not a lot to say about a roast.  I bought a small leg of lamb, and my father and I shared it between us.  In other words, in these times of lockdown, when I pitched up at his house with the fortnightly  food parcel, I waited outside, stealing herbs and lettuces from his garden, whilst he sawed it in half and I cooked one half here in Aberdovey and he had the other half at his home near Chester.  I simply cannot wait until we can actually eat in the same house once again!  The utterly divine runner beans were also supplied by the parent, but everything else came from Aberdovey.  I grow my own mint for the mint sauce, the spuds were Maris Pipers, the leek is an essential accompaniement to lamb, and the pile of orange stuff is a mash of carrot and swede.  I don’t like swede on its own, am unexcited by carrots, but when the two are mashed together with butter and black pepper, nothing makes me happier.  I made the gravy on the hoof with a home made vegetable stock, a lamb stock cube and the juices from the roast itself.

Conclusions

I haven’t much to add this week to any of my previous comments.  The novelty of the fresh fish was superb, but the old favourites like chicken Caesar salad, home made soup and ham horns are always welcome.

My parsley has bolted (gone to seed), which means that my supply of parsley will soon be dependent on shops until I can purchase a new plant.  Potted parsley only lasts for a couple of years, and both my plants are two years old, so I bear them no ill-will, but in the future I will make sure that I buy a new one each year, so that when one bolts, another one will still be going strong.

If your parsley does bolt, and you are left with just a few leaves and some big, coarse stalks, you can use the whole plant to make parsley sauce.  Take off all the leaves and chop as usual.  Cut the stalks low, chop them into saucepan sized pieces and simmer them gently for half an hour or so with a stock cube, and you will have a wonderful parsley-infused stock as a base for a parsley sauce (made with a velouté base rather than a béchamel) or a base for stews and casseroles.

 

Video: For absent visitors deprived of the sea at Aberdovey

A little video (four and a bit minutes), to bring back the sounds as well as the sights of the seaside at Aberdovey.  The crystal clear waters of the estuary and the sea peaceful under a clear blue sky on a very peaceful May day.  Whenever I was absent from Aberdovey for long periods, long before I moved here, it was the the sea that I most missed, so I put this together for regular visitors who may be missing it as much as I did.

 

 

Eating well from what’s to hand, just for fun – week 9

I had this scheduled to go out on the 30th May, but for some reason both it and a number of other posts failed to publish themselves.  I’ve been so busy that I didn’t notice.  Leftovers were very much on my mind when I was writing this post the week before last.  On the upside, I am accustomed to using leftovers to make stock wherever possible, and do my best to make sure that both fresh and cooked food that are leftover from the cooking of other meals are incorporated into later dishes.  However, I am by no means innocent of food waste, often being left over with bitty odds and ends that defy my attempts to come up with creative uses, and which either get lost in my freezer or are thrown away.  I try to plan my cooking so that either I use everything up in one go, or I can use ingredients over two or more meals, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Sometimes my planning can go awry and I over-estimate what I need for my meals, meaning that there are bits left over, cooked or uncooked.  Other problems come from occasionally having to buy vegetables in bags, when you only need a couple of something – like potatoes.  I know that a lot of people use leftovers for a cooked breakfast and/or lunch, but I don’t eat either.  So this week has been very much a matter of pressing leftovers and orphans in the fridge and freezer into service.  Some of my thoughts on the subject are in each day’s descriptions, others are in the Conclusions.

On Monday 25th May I was watching artist Grayson Perry’s hugely entertaining Art Club on 4+1, which is all about how different people, including artists, celebrities and the general public, respond to different lockdown themes, expressed through artworks.  This week was “Home.”  His webcam special guest  was Jenny Eclair (I didn’t know of her, but she was very entertaining and is described by Wikipedia as “English comedian, novelist and actress”).  She was asked to choose her favourite artwork on the subject of “home,” and she chose a piece by John Bratby (1928-1992), which she said struck a serious chord with her during lockdown, because of the sheer chaos in her kitchen.  It made me grin because it looked so like my own kitchen, not that I have room for a table and chairs, but the kitchen surfaces look like that all too often.  Bratby was the creator of a movement in painting known as Kitchen Sink Realism, and this often seems to get to the heart of much of my lockdown life, where objects are constantly bidding for freedom, busily filling peaceful space.  Things steal out of draws and cupboards, creeping across every available horizontal surface, conspiring in a co-ordinated offensive to achieve riotous assembly.  I have always been at war with objects but never more so than now, and the objects seem to be winning.

Saturday

Imam bayildiI had intended to have a dressed crab before the Imam bayildi (which is why it is in the photo), but by the time it came to cooking, I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I was, so saved the crab for Thursday and did a bit more of the tomato mix in the Imam bayildi instead.  Imam bayildi (“the Imam fainted”) is a well known Middle Eastern dish, and this is an ersatz, smaller version.  The proper dish uses a full aubergine, scooped out and stuffed with the tomato mixture, but this version is good as a starter or for mezze.   Slices of aubergine (about 1cm thick) are griddled on both sides until cooked through and topped with a tomato mix:  onion, garlic, tomatoes, dried oregano and thyme, and parsley fresh oregano or coriander to garnish.

First, the tomatoes are stripped of their skin (boiled in water for a few minutes and then plunged into cold water, when the skins can be pulled off very easily).  Next, onions are sautéed in olive oil until golden, and then whatever you fancy goes in.  I used garlic, halved black olives and chopped red chilli.  These are cooked for a couple of minutes before the tomatoes are added with dried oregano and thyme.  I added fresh mint and parsley just after turning off the gas, giving it all a good stir.  I sprinkled finely diced feta over the top and put it all under the grill for a couple of minutes and served it topped with oregano and capers, and drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over the while thing.  This can be served at room temperature but I prefer it hot.

Sunday

Small cheese soufflé.  With a lot of odds and ends of cheese to use up and some eggs that were drifting towards their sell-by date I decided on a cheese soufflé.  I have a tried and tested cheese soufflé recipe for a 14cm diameter soufflé dish (the one in the picture on the left) that has never failed, and which I eat as a main course in its own right, on one of a variety of bases (e.g. pancetta/bacon, mushrooms and parsley; diced tomato and onion), and I always mix finely chopped chives in to the souffle itself.  Today I wasn’t hungry enough for the full article so wanted to do one for one of my 10cm diameter x 6cm tall individual ramekins, and as my recipe is impossible to divide properly, due to an odd number of eggs, and soufflé isn’t a guessing business, I went hunting on the Internet and found a recipe for a single serving.

The WTF Do I Eat Tonight website has a one-person version that uses one egg yolk to two egg whites.  All soufflés need accurate measurements, so I followed Louise’s instructions to the letter.  I like that instead of breadcrumbs along the inner face of the ramekin she uses parmesan – it was lovely.  I used a mixture of Emmenthal and cheddar in the mixture itself, along with a seriously good shake of Old Bay Seasoning (paprika, cayenne, celery salt etc), which I buy online, but which I first bought in a trip to New York, and which gives it just a touch of spice and heat.  I usually serve souffle with a salad, but was in the mood for something smaller, so simply did a side order of sliced tomatoes and onions with chopped with lovage (I would probably have used basil instead if I had had any) and vinaigrette dressing.  Both the onion and tomato are great for cutting through the richness of the cheesy, eggy lusciousness.  Louise puts her soufflé in on Gas 6 for 18 minutes but my oven tends to run rather hot, so I left it for 16 minutes.

I laughed so much when I saw it – I was about 30 seconds away from having a disaster on my hands!  It had risen so beautifully that being left in for a little too long meant that having expanded upwards and browned beautifully, it was now also expanding rapidly outwards, and it looked rather like an enormous yellow flower in full bloom!  Nothing wrong with its texture or flavour though, so even though its appearance was a profoundly odd it was deelish, and Louise’s recipe is definitely a keeper, saved as a PDF in my computer’s Fud file.  I served the ramekin on a side plate because the pot was seethingly hot and it looked as though it might be messy to eat the “petals,” but it held together beautifully.

Monday

Dressed crab followed by baby soufflé’d omelette.  The freshly caught crab came, ready dressed, from Dai’s Shed on Aberdovey’s wharf, and I froze it down a week or so ago.  I served it with a slice of lemon, Tabasco and ground black pepper.  It was simply heaven on a plate

The cheese sauce and stiffened egg white mix that formed the basis of Sunday’s cheese soufflé was too voluminous for the ramekin, so I had some left over, stirred the leftover egg yolk into it (the souffle uses two whites but only one yolk) and put it in the fridge while I tried to think up a use for it.  So I decided to use it to make mini cheese, chive and parsley soufflé omelette to follow the crab.  As it already had cheese incorporated into it, all I did was melt some butter in a small frying pan, heat it through until the base was solid and toss a lot of chopped parsley and chives on top of it.  When the bottom was golden brown, I folded it over to serve.  It was small, fitting neatly on to a side plate, actually smaller than the dressed crab!  It was fluffy and light but with excellent cheesy flavour, and had all the freshness and bite of the chives and parsley, and worked well as a really good contrast to the crab.  A happy use of leftovers.

Tuesday

Pork chop and apple sauce with leeks, tender stem broccoli and mashed carrot-swede.  In the freezer were two very fine pork chops, wrapped together by the butcher, that I had irritatingly frozen down without separating.  So it was clear that this week would be partially porcine in character.

I had bought a baby swede on my last trip to the shops, and peeled and diced it.  This went in to a pan of boiling water with some rather elderly diced carrots, and the two were mashed together with butter and black pepper and put in bags in the freezer.  It was the same story for three leftover apples, which I peeled, cored and cut into slices and heated in a little water until they started to break down, at which point I froze them down.

Today’s simple dish was therefore a griddled pork chop with apple sauce, served with pre-frozen mashed carrot and swede, a bit of a rather battered leek, some ageing tender stem broccoli (both steamed) and a pork and sage gravy.

I brine pork because it can dry out on the griddle.  It’s a simple brine of water, sage leaves, bay leaves, cider or white wine and salt, all warmed through to release and blend the flavours and then, when it has lowered to room temperature poured over the pork and left for a few hours.

A bit of a chicken stock cube was pressed into service for the gravy, along with a splosh of white wine, a chopped new potato, the finely chopped unusable ends of  the leek that I was eating with the pork, a finely chopped shallot and the last of my father’s fresh sage.  Dried sage is a good substitute for fresh, one of the dried herbs that can actually hold its own in a stock.

This was incredibly simple, given that I had made the apple sauce and the mashed carrot and swede previously for the freezer.  The floral green head of the tender stem broccoli was going rather yellow, so I simply chopped off the tops and cooked the stems, which with tender stem broccoli is the part that has most of the flavour.  The brined pork was very tender.

Wednesday

Seafood and avocado salad.  I found the shellfish pack in one of the Co-Op’s freezers, which was better than nothing, although raw is much better.  I also had an avocado that had remained persistently solid for a couple of weeks, but had suddenly ripened fully.  I had some little gem lettuce, with attractive purple tips, and a cucumber in the fridge door, plus some tomatoes, an elderly spring onion and some capers, so had all I needed for a seafood and avocado salad.  The Marie Rose sauce is essentially mayonnaise with flavourings, so out came the mini food processor that I always use for making mayo.  Along with the usual egg yolk, a couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce, a good shake of cayenne pepper, some smoked paprika and juice from half of the lime that I intended to use in the jambalaya.  When this had been emulsified by trickling a thin stream of oil (whizzed into it), I added Greek yoghurt (should have been cream, but I didn’t have any and the Greek yoghurt worked perfectly) and a bit of tomato ketchup, and the job was done.  Seafood cocktail is usually presented in dish of chopped lettuce with a bit of other salad added for colour and flavour, but I like it split out into its component parts, with vinaigrette as a contrast, dribbled over the cucumber and tomato..

Thursday

Lamb chop with leftover Imam Baylidi, shallow-fried potatoes and mint yoghurt.  The lamb chop was from Mr Rowland, the butcher in Tywyn, salt marsh lamb and a good thick piece, with lots of flavour and good texture.  At the moment it is difficult to get hold of anything except very small chops of spring lamb, which I find fairly flavourless so it was nice to be able to buy something that held its own against the other flavours on the plate.  The leftover Imam Baylidi vegetables were delicious.  Except for the mint, which was still making its presence felt, the once-fresh herbs that went into the tomato and aubergine mix had become absorbed into the general flavours, so to restore the hit of freshness to this leftover serving , I needed to add more fresh herbs just before serving, and I sprinkled a few over the top.  I mixed more mint into Greek yoghurt to serve on the side.  I parboiled a few slices of spud (Maris Piper), drained them well and then cooked them in an inch and a half of vegetable oil.  Happy.

Friday

Pork, shellfish and okra jambalaya. I am sure that there are more subtleties to this than I have spotted, but as far as I can tell the main difference between a gumbo and a jambalaya is that with a gumbo the rice is served on the side, and with a jambalaya the rice is cooked into the sauce.  Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!  I nearly repeated the gumbo that I did a couple of weeks ago, because I enjoyed it so much, but in the interests of introducing a bit more variety into my eating habits, I went for a jambalaya instead.

The pork chop that I used in this dish had been frozen down with a companion, and I had had to defrost them at the same time, so both had to be used this week.  I sliced it into strips.  I fried pork, two tiny cooking chorizo sausages, onion, garlic and fresh chilli until the onion was golden and the meat brown, added Creole spices, which I stirred in to the onion mix before adding whizzed up tomatoes, fish stock, and a bay leaf.  When that had heated through I added long grained rice.  Just before it was ready I added a few frozen okra and part of the pack of pre-cooked frozen shellfish that I had used in the seafood salad to heat through (prawns, mussels and squid). The Bart Creole spices were a disappointment, as they are surprisingly very bland and lacked an aromatic hit, so I chucked in a substantial amount of the much better Bart Cajun spices to help out.  Fresh herbs went in just before serving (parsley, oregano and just a little mint), and I served it topped with chopped spring onion and chives, a slice of lime and, in the absence of sour cream, some creamy Greek yoghurt, which worked very well as a substitute.  It was nowhere near as good as the gumbo, but it still went down well.

Conclusions – Leftovers

  • Leftover chopped herbs can be repurposed for many different uses.  For example, they can be whizzed up, mixed into soft butter, rolled into a cylinder in cling-film and frozen, and used in slices for giving a bit more flavour to fish (e.g. dill, mint, chives, parsley, chervil, coriander, lovage), steak, lamb/pork chops (e.g. basil mint, sage, parsley, oregano, marjoram) or chicken (e.g. any of the above).
  • Another way of repurposing herbs is to add them to bottles of white wine or cider vinegar or oil, to extend the useful range of vinegars and oils both in cooking and in salads.
  • Herbs whizzed up and stirred into yogurt or mayonnaise provide excellent dressings and accompaniments to many dishes.
  • Leftover home made mint sauce can be frozen down, and although it is not as good as freshly made, is perfectly good infinitely better than shop bought, which is always cloyingly sweet.
  • Potatoes are a bit of a challenge for me, as they come in large bags and are difficult to use up, but every now and again I cannot resist so
  • I find it particularly useful to have ideas for using and preserving potatoes, because I can only buy them in big packs, and I really don’t want potatoes with every meal.  he BBC Food website has a page with 10 suggestions for using up mashed potato, and there are some very good ideas there: https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/collections/using_up_mashed_potato. In addition, home-made bread made mashed potatoes, or even with the water left over from boiling potatoes, is particularly light and well worth investigating if you have a bread-making machine or enjoy making it by hand.  I am particularly fond of fish cakes made with mash.  Mashed potato also freezes down quite successfully.
  • I also had a bag of carrots and a bag of apples, and a small (tennis ball sized) swede bought specially for the job.  The carrots and swede were diced, as was the swede, and boiled up together, mashed with black pepper and butter, and split into batches for the freezer.  I peeled and cored the apples that I hadn’t eaten, cut them into big chunks, simmered them with some butter and, when they were still chunky but soft, batched them up for freezing down.
  • Preparing other leftover vegetables for the freezer is a good idea if you want to assemble a meal in a hurry.  Ageing vegetables like broccoli or asparagus can be par-boiled and frozen on a baking tray or other flat surface (to keep them from clumping).
  • For the Imam bayildi I had a small aubergine, and took two slices out of the middle of it.  That left two useful bits of aubergine.  I covered the exposed surfaces in lemon juice, pushed them together and wrapped them in cling-film.  That kept it fresh for a couple of days.
  • The leftover Imam bayildi mix, which is very like ratatouille, can be used in all sorts of ways, including as a sauce for meat or fish, a stuffing for portobello mushrooms topped with cheese, layers for a vegetarian lasagne, a filling for French omelette, as a base for soufflé, or simply spread on toast or stuffed into pitta pockets with feta as a filling snack.
  • If yoghurt is pushing its use-by date, try making labneh, described above.  It is one of my favourite things and will stay preserved in oil for a couple of weeks.

 

Eating well from what’s to hand, just for fun – week 8

One of the things I have learned over the last eight weeks is that cooking is a lot more relaxing if I stop trying to follow recipes precisely.  I have always been one of those cooks tied to precise recipes, with all the kitchen instruments for weighing, measuring and otherwise reproducing the exact instructions provided by chefs in recipe books, be they British, American or Australian.  I have a few time-honoured dishes that I have either invented or adapted for my own needs, and those I have always been happy just make up as I go along, but generally I have usually had a recipe book open somewhere nearby.  During lockdown that has all seemed too much like hard work, and I have been going with the flow with most of the meals that I’ve cooked recently.  It has been a case of adding a bit of this, a glug of that, and a splash more of the other, adjusting flavours as I go.  I’m also a lot more relaxed about throwing ingredients together that I have never put together in a particular dish before, or making up new dishes from leftovers.  Those aspects of lockdown cooking have been fairly liberating.

Saturday

Mum’s chicken, spinach and mushroom pancake.  This is a recipe of my mother’s.  It took me a while to start cooking Mum’s recipes again after we lost her, but it feels good to revive some of the things I loved but always relied on her to cook.  Mum didn’t actually use spinach in her recipe, but I have a pack that needs using up, and I adore spinach, so in it went.  I am sure that Mum would have approved.  This is an immensely filling dish. I make one decent-sized pancake and make nothing to accompany it.  I would have done it before, but I ran out of flour.  Miraculously, I was able to pick up a bag the last time I went shopping (one of two that were left).

Having banged on above about being liberated from precise measurements, pancakes are simply not a suck-it-and-see item.  The relative proportions are important.  Hence, for four people, 200g plain flour, 370ml milk, 2 large eggs, lightly beaten, 1 tbsp vegetable oil and a pinch of salt.   The eggs and milk are whisked together with the oil, then poured into the flour and whisk lightly, ignoring small lumps.  After a couple of failures on the pancake front, I was told that being careful not to over-whisk the batter was important, and that leaving the batter in the fridge for a couple of hours, giving it a final stir before using, would increase the possibility of success. I’ve never had one fail on me since, but I have to pay real attention to not putting excessive batter into the pan, which makes the pancake too thick.  A thick pancake results in something really stodgy, where it really needs to be light.  Part of the trick is to make sure that the pan is hot enough to melt the butter or heat through the oil, but not so hot that the moment the pancake batter hits the pan it starts to set.  It needs time to reach the sides of the pan and spread properly before the heat is turned up to allow it to set.  I let it set well on one side before using a big wooden spatula to flip it.

To make the filling, mushrooms, spring onions and garlic were tossed in oil until they began to give off a wonderful aroma, a handful of spinach leaves were thrown in, a hard boiled egg was chopped up and thrown in (an essential in Mum’s version), leftover roast chicken was added, and some stock and crème fraîche (traditionally double cream, but the crème fraîche needed using up) were stirred in, together with some leftover tarragon and a big handful of parsley.  Last time I did this I remember thinking that the filling need to be rather oozier than the one I made, because of course the pancake itself is dry, and requires a bit of liquid to balance it.  I was therefore careful not to simmer off too much of the stock and cream.

The filling is added to the pancake, heaped in a line up the middle.  The pancake is folded to cover the filling, and then turned so that the edges are secured underneath.  Cheese is grated over the top (in my case a mix of Cheddar and Emmental) and it goes under the grill until melting.  Anything that has fallen out of the pancake during the perilous transfer to grill pan and then to plate can be served to the side of the pancake.  I scattered over some fresh marjoram leaves to provide an aromatic edge, which was wonderful.  Leftover filling can be used on toast for lunch, or served on a baked potato.

Sunday

Leftovers: beef mince, aubergine and cheese.  It doesn’t look like a thing of beauty, but it worked so well.  I had a small pot in the freezer labelled simply “beef base, needs tomato,” indicating that it had been cooked with onions and was available as a base for something that doesn’t have tomato, like cottage pie, or something that does, like lasagne.  I also had half an aubergine that needed using, and some time ago had bought, as an experiment, a pack of sliced mozzarella that I hadn’t broached. I’ve never had mozzarella in slices before and was very uncertain about it, but it had a long use-by date, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

So I added whizzed up toms and sun-dried tomato pesto, fried some garlic, orange chillis (on the change from green to red), fresh oregano, fresh mint and mushrooms and stirred them into to the mince, and at the last moment added the rest of the spinach, about half of the pack (so quite a lot) and stirred it in.  A good shake of dark soy sauce gave it some additional richness.  Leftover heaven!  I topped it with an overlapping layer of the mozzarella supplemented by a small amount of grated cheddar in case the mozzarella was tasteless.  Next, a layer of aubergine slices was arranged on top and finished off with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  I lobbed it in the oven for 30 minutes on a medium heat, removing it when the mince mix was bubbling.

Leftovers heaven.  The mozzarella was delightfully stretchy, and between that and the cheddar the cheese layer had a really nice flavour and texture.  The mince mix, with a bit of this and a bit of that lobbed in, was deeelish.   I take no credit for it – lobbing in random ingredients and hoping for the best was a roll of the dice, but I’m glad I remember what the ingredients were.  I decanted part of it from the earthenware bowl into a pasta bowl, keeping the rest for later in the week.  I ate it without accompaniment, but salad would be a good fresh counterpart, balancing the richness.

Monday

Hake, asparagus and baby new potatoes with Hollandaise sauce.  This is not an easy dish to pull together single-handed if you haven’t done it many times before (and even then I had to engage in emergency salvage of the Hollandaise on this occasion).  Each of the component parts is very easy, but each is absolutely time critical, so getting it all to the plate in perfect condition is tricky.

This is also the least healthy main course meal on the planet.  It’s definitely a special occasion dish.  This was not a special occasion, but having found a piece two pieces of hake in the freezer during the last defrost, I was dying to do something particularly nice with one of them, as I love hake.  As asparagus and new potatoes have also come into season, and the three are wonderful with Hollandaise, I blew caution to the winds and went for it.

I halved the frozen hake with a chopper, as it was a big bit, returning the other half to the freezer.  When it had defrosted and just before cooking I dragged the hake in seasoned flour.  The hake is cooked skin-sized down in butter with a little olive oil to stop the butter burning when it is on a high heat.  The cooking time depends on the size of the piece of fish.  Mine was quite small, so was done in three minutes on quite a high heat on the skin side to ensure that it crisps up (loads of flavour in the hake skin) and then flipped for another two minutes.  A good amount of butter is useful for basting the fish as you cook it.

Steamed asparagus is gorgeous at the moment and I was able to get a bag of nice large ones that are only ever worth eating at this time of year, when they are tender and packed with flavour.  It has been far too complicated to worry about concentrating on seasonal ingredients during lockdown, but it was a treat to be able to do so on this occasion.  I also steamed the baby new potatoes, which were lovely.

Looking at this, you may be thinking “Heck, that’s a lot of Hollandaise!” Well yes, it is rather. I screwed up part of the process by taking my eye off it for too long when concentrating on the fish, and had to sling in a second egg yolk to rescue it.  That meant more butter too, to thicken it up.   Any regrets when it was on my plate?  Are you kidding me?  I may need a diet of plain lettuce for a week to compensate, but never mind 🙂

Hollandaise is probably the world’s unhealthiest sauce, consisting mainly of egg yolks and butter.  I described it a couple of weeks ago, in conjunction with poached salmon.  It consists of a reduced vinegar, lemon juice and white wine base, in which shallot, bay and peppercorns provide the flavour.  This is tipped hot into a bain marie and stirred into a small cube of butter, and when the butter has melted an egg yolk (or more, depending on how many are eating) is added, and mixed in.  More cubes of butter are added until it thickens up.  Perfect with asparagus on its own (with a poached egg if fancied) or with a fish dish like this one. I like this dish with lots of black pepper ground over the top.  I don’t need a recipe for it, but I do recommend you finding one if this is your first attempt, as the ingredients, quantities and techniques (there are different approaches to choose from) are important.

You don’t need fish or baby new potatoes to serve top quality asparagus with Hollandaise.  Asparagus and Hollandaise are a marriage made in heaven, particularly if you are not seriously hungry, or are looking for a  starter.  If you’re not vegetarian, wrapping the asparagus in Parma or Serrano ham and griddling rather than steaming it is wonderful.

Tuesday

Brie and oregano on toast.  I was running around like a headless chicken all day, and by the time it came to cooking, I wasn’t particularly hungry and just didn’t want to bother.  Happily, I was in possession of a luscious triangle of Brie that I had had sitting in the warm all day, and had reached that perfect state of gooey, soft, creamy, deliciousness that defines a really good Brie.  On a slice of toasted rustic bread (just a Co-Op white cob, but very nice), with a light scattering of oregano over the top, and some ground black pepper, nothing could have been better, especially when accompanied by a rather delicious glass of white wine.

Wednesday

Aberdovey lamb chop with new potatoes in butter and chives, accompanied by mint sauce and a herb salad.  Today was simple food, very fresh.  A griddled lamb chop from the Aberdovey butcher was topped with freshly made mint and caper sauce and accompanied by chopped new potatoes and chopped spring onion, chopped chives and tossed in butter.  A salad wrapped it up.  Simple, fresh, lots of flavours.  The salad was my usual mix of shop-bought and home-grown:  shop-bought tarragon, salad tomato, red chilli, capers, feta and little gem lettuce, plus home-grown buckler leafed sorrel, lovage, marjoram and parsley.  The last of my current batch of mustard vinaigrette went into it.

Thursday

Leftovers (beef mince with aubergine and cheese topping) #2. This second helping of a meal that I cooked earlier in the week heated up beautifully in the oven.  I spooned the leftovers out of the  bigger earthenware dish into a small one, so that the topping still partially covered the mince mix, although the aubergine and cheese were a bit tangled so that the covering was not absolutely complete.  It didn’t seem to matter much, the result being a good crispy topping and a moist sauce beneath.  I am having a love affair with aubergines at the moment.  I had forgotten how wonderful they are.  I served it with a herb salad, and it made me happy 🙂

Friday

Sea bream with salad and sautéed potatoes.  I rushed into Dai’s Shed just before they closed, whilst slathering anti-bacterial gel all over my hands, and to my sincere delight was offered a sea bream.  It made my week.  Even better, I didn’t have to de-scale it myself!  Oh the gratitude.  It’s not a nice job (I always end up absolutely covered in scales), and it was so lovely to have it done on my behalf.  Thank you!   It is such a long time since I’ve had sea bream.  Such a treat.  Dai caught a lot of sea bass last year, which was beautiful, but I had actually forgotten how good sea bream is.  I hope that he catches many more, because I could see this becoming a sea bream summer 🙂

My main priority was to ensure that I didn’t mess it around and risk disguising any of the flavour, so this was an immensely simple dish.  I invented this approach for some of the sea bass last year, and it worked so well with the bream.   I par-boiled the last of the British Lilly spuds, and fried some onion, garlic and herbs.  The spud is placed on top of the onion and herbs on the bottom of a baking dish, and the fish is laid on top.  The head remains on to contribute to the flavours in the bottom of the pan, and the gutting cavity can be stuffed with parsley, lemon, onion, sliced fennel, herbs, whatever you fancy.  My fish was too big for my pan, so I chopped off the tail and laid it alongside.   A mixture of white wine and stock are poured over the top, just to cover the veg.  It takes about 30 minutes on gas 4 for the fish to reach the right stage, and is flipped over half way through.

The fish is then put under the grill for a few minutes each side whilst the spuds are left to finish off in the baking dish.  By cooking the fish in the oven over a stock and vegetable base, the fish remains moist, very like steaming.  Finishing it off under the grill gives it crispness and helps firm it up a little whilst retaining the moisture and the firm but tender texture.

The juice from the bottom of the baking dish can be used to make a sauce, which is what I did. The sauce is made with butter, capers and lemon juice, and the pan juices, all heated through until they start to bubble.  A lot of chopped parsley is then chucked in.  This is cooled off with a little warm water to stabilize it, and an egg yolk is stirred in.  This thickens the sauce, and if it is too thick just add more water.

When the fish skin was nice and crispy, bubbling slightly, I took it out of the grill, chopped off the head and lobbed that into a pan for making fish stock a bit later.  I served the fish very simply with the oven cooked potatoes and a bit of salad, with the sauce.  By the time the bream made it to the plate, via baking dish and grill pan, it was looking very battered (how do restaurants do it), but the flavour was out of this world.  It is very easy to eat on the bone by slicing down the middle of each side.  The side bones are large and don’t detach from the spine in a hurry, so you can simply fold the fish off the skeleton before turning it.  Super.  I served it with the potato, the sauce and a small side salad.  I kept the bones, head and tail, and the vegetables and herbs in the baking dish to make stock.

However you like to cook your fish, do not neglect to try sea bream if it comes your way.  It is superb.

Conclusions

  1. Last week’s roast chicken proved its value as a base for other meals both last week and this week.  The remainders, having been sliced up and put in the freezer, stretched to another two meals this week – the chicken and mushroom pancake and the hot and sour soup.  Including the roast itself, that was five meals in total.
  2. Fresh marjoram and oregano are very easy to buy in garden centres, and give a real edge to many dishes.  They have a wonderful aromatic quality that works well with so chicken, pork, fish and mushrooms but I find that they work well with cheese too and is superb in salads.  I imagine that this type of aromatic, savoury flavour would also be absolutely perfect with eggs – for example in a quiche, scrambled egg or omelette.  It is worth looking up species that are particularly noted for their flavour.
  3. Sea bream, asparagus, new potatoes and last week’s crab have reminded me how great seasonal ingredients are.
  4. When cooking with egg yolks, egg whites are left over.  They freeze perfectly, so don’t need to go to waste if you don’t have an immediate use for them.
  5. Sea bream rocks.

 

Eating from what’s to hand, just for fun – week 7

By the end of this week’s cooking I was more than tired of my own efforts, not to mention my own company.  Planning and shopping ahead means that it is difficult to be spontaneous and go off piste with fridge and freezer ingredients, because that will leave various orphans in the fridge that don’t obviously match anything else and will probably go to waste.  Twice this week I really didn’t fancy what I had planned to eat, and as I was desperately trying to avoid cooking randomly, in order to avoid food waste, I simply chose one of the other items on my personal menu.  I had built in enough variety to make this possible, but I am beginning to long for the ability to eat what I want when I want it and not feel tied in to something that I had decided on a week before.

I’ve also realized that even though I have always loved one-pot cooking, and have enjoyed what I have done over the last few weeks, I have done far too much of it.  This is mainly because the dishwasher is currently broken and my kitchen is so tiny that not having the dishwasher in which to stack things is a nightmare.  The state of my kitchen during the cooking of the roast chicken and veg just had to be seen to be believed.  I hadn’t realized that my dishwasher actually acts as another cupboard – it is either full of clean stuff or is being filled, which takes the pressure off the rest of the kitchen.   So I am longing to get the dishwasher fixed, to recover some of my kitchen space.  When we went into lockdown I was looking at how best to organize myself to live within the new confines; now I find myself planning what I will do food-wise the moment lockdown ends.

Saturday

Slow cooked brisket with mushrooms, back bacon, carrots and and mashed potatoes.  I had half a brisket hanging around in the freezer and a bottle of Bishop’s Finger ale in the kitchen, for cooking with.  That seemed to decided a one-pot meal of slow-cooked brisket with button mushrooms, dried shiitake mushrooms, carrots, with flavourings of crushed juniper berries, thyme and bay leaves.  Brisket is full of flavour, but is as tough as old boots, so needs a long slow cook to tenderize it.  I browned the piece of brisket first, and then put everything into the slow cooker to sort itself out for a couple of hours, with half of the bottle of Bishop’s Finger (the rest went into the freezer for future stew) and some beef stock to give it a lift.  Fifteen minutes before serving, I took out the piece of brisket, sliced it fairly thinly, and returned it to the slow cooker.  I served it with potato, parsley and spring onion mash, with butter and cream mashed in to give it a creamy, rich texture and flavour.  I can’t remember the last time I had mash, and it was a great change, made with the rather splendid British Lilly spuds.  Probably the most inelegant meal that I have turned out so far, but it was packed with flavour and was very comforting.  A slow cooker is not required for this menu – just cook in the oven, in a very well sealed pan, on a low setting.

Sunday

Watercress, spinach, rocket, leek and feta soup.  I needed to use up a mixed pack of watercress, spinach and rocket, which I had bought to use for salad, but hadn’t needed because of the number of herbs in the garden.  It was ageing rapidly, so I decided to turn it in to soup, with the help of some leek, red onion, garlic, stock and feta.  I wilted the contents of the pack in boiling water for three minutes and drained through a sieve over another pan so that I could re-use the flavoured water.  Into this pan I put the the ends of a  chopped leek, leaving the middle part to use on another day.  The wilted and drained spinach mix was then put into a bowl, and the leeks were then added.

In a little butter I then cooked some diced red onion, garlic and some more leek, allowing it all to go golden before adding a few cubes of feta cheese.  I put a little boiled water with a little chicken stock over the top to loosen it up and provide a little more flavour.  Whilst that was cooling down, I stirred in a table spoon of crème fraîche into the spinach, watercress, rocket and leek mix, which I put through the food processor (a blender would be much better).  I then added the onion and feta mix to the food processor, and let it whizz for several minutes (it would require less time in a blender).  On tasting, I also added some white wine vinegar, and quite a bit of salt and pepper.  It hit the spot perfectly, very nice with some grated cheese on top and served with a bit of rustic bread.   I had it as a meal on its own, and put the other half in the freezer.

Monday

Roast tarragon chicken with leeks, tender stem broccoli, carrots and roasted potatoes.  I was able to pick up a very small roast chicken when I last went shopping.  Whole chicken is always a good option, because I will take off what I want to eat and then use the leftovers for chicken Caesar salad, for chicken, mushroom, carrot and pea pie, and I use the skin and chopped carcass for stock.  I always forget, when doing a roast, to just do the vegetables for one, so there were far too many on my plate, but they went into the stock.

I stuffed the chicken cavity with chopped onion, leek and a lot of tarragon and pushed tarragon and a little garlic with some butter under the skin of the breasts.  There no were Maris Piper spuds in the Tywyn Coey when I last went shopping, so I picked up a bag of “British Lilly,” which turned out, when peeled, to be a lovely shade of yellow.  I chopped a small spud into four, and boiled the pieces for five minutes (seven minutes for bigger pieces) whilst duck fat was melting in a pan in the oven.  When the spuds had been drained, they were tossed in the duck fat and the pan was returned to the oven.

I had used up all my fresh stock, so whilst the chicken and spuds were roasting I had to improvise with a low salt stock cube simmered with a lot of chopped leek tops, a big handful of tarragon, a spring onion and some parsley, with a glug of white cooking wine.  When the chicken was not far off being heated through, I drained the liquids into the stock and then removed the pan to allow the fat to rise to the top, at which point it was drained off.  I then made a roux in another pan, and strained the stock through a sieve, little by little, into the roux.  It was desperately anaemic so I added some browning to it, but it could have done with a bit more colour.  The flavour was great, with loads of tarragon.  I steamed the vegetables together for ten minutes to serve.

The whole thing was a really nice change, a bit of a treat as I always consider doing a roast for one more than a little lavish, even though every part of the bird is used for other meals and for stock.  I had the top slice of one of the breasts with the skin, which was wonderfully brown and immensely thin and crispy (achieved putting butter over and under the skin and by roasting the chicken on high for 20 minutes when it first goes in the oven).  The chicken was moist and had a lovely taste of tarragon.  I was particularly taken with the British Lilly spuds, in spite of the seriously daft name.  They roasted beautifully, brown and crispy on the outside, yellow and fluffy on the inside.  They were delicious, slightly sweet and a beautiful colour. I hope that I’ll be able to buy them again when things go back to normal.

If you have chicken left over, and I had a lot even with a small bird, just run it under a cold tap in a sieve to ensure that the fat drains off.  A roast chicken is inevitably very oily, even if you don’t butter the top and put some under the skin (which I did), because as the skin crisps up, the fat drains all over the chicken.  If you make stock with the carcass, I recommend chopping all the bones so that all the goodness of the bone marrow flows into the stock.  When the fat is drained off and it is left overnight in the fridge, it becomes jelly-like and wobbly, and has to be spooned into a tub for freezing (as above), a sure sign that it has acquired some good flavour from the bones.

Tuesday

Lamb, aubergine, olives and feta in tomato, spinach and herbs.  This is a favourite of mine, and I often do it  after a big meal the day before, served in a small earthenware dish without accompaniment.  I do this in the slow cooker, but it could go in the oven on a low setting perfectly well.  It is a great way of using up odds and ends that have been used in other meals, like olives, feta, spinach, and even bits of salad like rocket. Courgette can be used as well as or instead of aubergine, and par-boiled sliced potato can be used to supplement or substitute for both.  It can be done with any type of meat that can be converted into chunks, it goes brilliantly with firm fish that holds its shape, or you can have a vegetarian version by adding extra aubergine, olives, spinach, and feta, and other ingredients like artichokes, okra, hard boiled eggs and of course capsicum (green/red/yellow peppers).  I always forget about capsicum because I am allergic to them.

I used a lamb chop, griddled it and cooked it whole in the sauce, cutting it into chunks before serving.  I had some mashed up tomatoes in the freezer, so threw those into the slow cooker, fried some finely diced onions and garlic and threw them in with two slices of dehydrated lemon, and poured over a little stock before adding the griddled chops.  Capers, chopped salted anchovies, olives and some sun-dried tomato pesto also went in.  An hour before serving, with the slow cooker on low, I put in a couple of handfuls of spinach, some whole mint leaves and some oregano.  Don’t mistrust the mint – it is utterly divine in this sauce.  15 minutes before serving I griddled a couple of aubergine slices and put those in to the sauce, at the same time removing the lamb to cut quickly into chunks before returning them too to the pan. I like my aubergines with nearly-burned stripes, which has to be done on a very high heat and requires constant monitoring.

I served the finished dish with a sprinkling of coarsely torn basil over the top, although coriander would work too.  A grating of parmesan goes superbly with the aubergine if you’re not using feta.  For me that was plenty on its own after previous day’s roast, with loads left over as a base for another sauce, but rice, cous cous or a salad would go well.

Wednesday

Chicken Caesar salad with grilled croutons.  Caesar salad is one of my favourite dishes on the planet, when it is done well.  The best one I have ever had was in the British Museum’s Great Court restaurant, which served (probably still does) stunning dishes, often themed around the museum’s temporary exhibitions, and it was a favourite place of mine when I lived in London, either for meeting with friends or eating on my own.  One of the few restaurants in London where lots of people are at tables for one.  Having a lot of leftover roast chicken just yelled out for a Chicken Caesar, and it’s one of those dishes that gives a lot of flavour in return for just a few ingredients.

I was going to have a go at making my own salad dressing after watching an episode of Rick Stein’s series about his travels in Mexico, when he visited the restaurant where Caesar salad dressing restaurant was created (Caesar’s Restaurant in Tijuana, now managed by well known chef Javier Plascencia) and talked through how it was made (shown here on the MENU website, if you’re interested).   But after a particularly long walk and a late arrival back home, I really couldn’t be bothered to do anything remotely resembling cooking, so fell back on a bottle of Cardini Caesar salad dressing, which I bought a couple of weeks ago in the Aberdyfi Village Stores. 

Caesar’s Restaurant serves the Romaine lettuce and the sauce without accoutrements, except for one big crouton (a sliced piece of baguette-type bread, deep-fried) and some shaved parmesan.  My mother used to do Caesar salad with the addition of chicken pieces, wedges of hard boiled egg, and little cubed croutons.  Having walked past the Coast Deli on the way back home, and inhaled a great noseful of wonderful aromas, I was starving, so I added some leftover roast chicken, half a boiled egg (halved again), two pieces of Romaine, two salted anchovy fillets and some little cubed croutons.

I like little bits of crouton sprinkled around rather than one big one, so did it the way that Mum used to.  Rustic bread that’s a couple of days old is cubed (about 2cm in all directions) and then rolled in olive oil.  They then go under the grill for a couple of minutes, turned regularly.  You have to keep a seriously close eye on them, or they can burn horribly, but as this is the only cooked component in the dish, you can afford to stand and watch them.  They emerge crispy but with a bit of give.  The last thing to be done is to spread each romaine lettuce leaf with the sauce to coat it, which I did with the back of a table spoon.  It’s important to do it at the last moment so that the lettuce doesn’t go limp.  It is put on the plate with sliced chicken, the croutons and anchovies are added, and more parmesan is shaved or grated over the top of it.

Thursday

Dressed crab from Dai’s Shed followed by prawns, avocado, mushroom with parmesan and cream.  I only ever eat more than one course when I’m in a restaurant.  But when dressed crab is available from Dai’s Shed, I usually either have a salad with it or do something relatively small to follow it. I bought my dressed crab frozen because they had run out of fresh, which I had never done before, but there was nothing to worry about – it was wonderful.  I like it with loads of salt, pepper, lemon juice and Tabasco, and it tasted so much of summer.  In terms of “living from what’s to hand,” it is of course a cheat.  I found that Dai’s Shed was open quite by accident on one of my longer daily walks, and the crab was a spontaneous, happy purchase, although it broke my once-a-fortnight shopping rule.  Dai’s Shed, by the way, wash all their coins at the moment.

My second course was a copy of someone else’s work.  When I first moved to Surrey Quays in London, there was an Italian restaurant nearby called Venezia.  It was there for about 15 years, and although it was modest in its ambitions, its decor a little on the Chianti-in-a-basket side, the food was exceptional and it was one of my favourite restaurants in London.  During the delivery of an important project at work over a 9-month period, I used to eat there when I came back very late from work at least once a week.  I was right at home there, and got to practice my Spanish, as one of the waiters was actually from Madrid.  Then, with no warning, the owners went home to Italy whilst I was on holiday in France.  Oh the misery!   I wish that I had had the chance to ask for at least three of the recipes before they left.  One was a starter that they used to turn into a main course for me, consisting of button mushrooms, prawns and avocado slices in a creamy sauce topped with parmesan and finished off under the grill.  I’ve never tried to reproduce it, but why not?  So this was first attempt to reproduce that recipe.  As I also had my dressed crab from Dai’s Shed to eat, I did a starter-sized portion in a tapas dish and to be honest, given the amount of cream and the oil in the avocado, it should probably only ever be served as a starter.

This is the simplest dish ever.  I was surprised to see avocados for sale in the Coey, but it was an opportunity to try this dish, which I was thinking about last week, so I jumped at the chance.  I was unable to buy raw prawns, but the Coey had cooked ones (“ready to eat”) in the freezer, so I used those.  I fried some button mushrooms, and added a fine-chopped clove of garlic and some pancetta cubes until well cooked.  I sprinkled over some flour, just enough to help it thicken, added a small glug of white wine and some water to form a base for the sauce and stirred in some crème fraîche, followed by a glug of double cream and some freshly grated parmesan.  I then added the cooked prawns to heat through.  I left this to reduce for a couple of minutes, gave it a good stir, seasoned it with some salt and black pepper, and then, right at the last moment, put in the sliced avocado to allow that to heat through.  The avocado was very ripe, so I really didn’t want to move it around, and left it to heat very gently.  If is more than warmed through, it will break up, so it only needs to be in the sauce for a short time.

To serve, I turned it into a terracotta tapas dish, grated some parmesan over the top and put it under the grill until it began to bubble and brown.  I added no herbs or spices, because I wanted to try all the ingredients without distraction, but when I tried it I added more black pepper and a good sprinkling of chilli flakes and I think that fresh oregano or marjoram over the top would have been a distinct plus.  It was just as I remembered it and I will now be adding the copied dish to my repertoire, but next time I’ll try to find some low fat crème fraîche instead of the full fat version, which I was unable to source last time I went shopping.

Friday

Chicken salad with a herb sauce.  A lot of chicken in one week, but it didn’t bother me at all.  This was more of my leftover roast, and it went down very well indeed.  The salad was simply diced tomato, cucumber, lovage and purple onion with capers and a handful of rocket, all topped with a German mustard vinaigrette.  The sauce was basically a herb mayonnaise with sour cream stirred in to make it go further, rather than making twice the volume of mayonnaise.   A low fat fromage frais would be better from a healthy perspective, but I couldn’t find any.  Make sure that the mayonnaise is really thick before stirring in fromage frais or sour cream, as whatever you stir in will instantly loosen it.  You can choose whatever herbs you like, and if I had tarragon I would use oodles of that with chicken, but I had a bottle of tarragon mustard (bought – the Maille brand) and some tarragon vinegar (fresh tarragon shoved into a bottle of shop-bought white wine vinegar for a few weeks), so used them in the making of the mayo, and it worked brilliantly.  Alternatively, marjoram or dill would go really well with poached chicken, as would parsley and chives and finely diced spring onions.  I added fresh chives and parsley.  I squeezed a lot of lemon juice over the whole lot.

Conclusions

  1. I love cucumber.  Although I keep it out of the fridge during the winter, as the seasons heat up I transfer it to the fridge but I used to find that it had a tendency to go soggy in the fridge.  In a fridge-full-to-capacity crisis a couple of years ago, I placed one vertically in the fridge door between bottles.  It worked really well, and I find that cucumber keeps much better when stood up in the fridge door.
  2. A whole chicken goes such a long way.  As well as the roast, I got two other meals out of it this week and have enough left over for two more next week, and I used the skin and bones to make a chicken and leek stock for the freezer.
  3. Good quality bottled sauces and packet pastes and gels really are helpful, and although I’ve usually tended to avoid them on an everyday basis, I often have something of the sort in my kitchen cupboards as a fallback.  My chicken Caesar salad sauce would probably have been better with freshly made ingredients, but the bottled version saved me time on a night when I was running late.  I always have curry pastes in the cupboard, as well as a particularly excellent hot and sour soup gel that I will be doing next week.
  4. Why, oh why do I keep forgetting to label things I put in the freezer?  It’s soon going to be like living out of a tombola.
  5. I have been enjoying the challenge or pre-planned cooking and eating, but I am craving a return to a less rigidly organized and more spontaneous regime, and a less over-stuffed fridge and freezer.
  6. The dressed crab from Dai’s Shed was such a treat, not merely because it was terrific in its own right, but because I so welcomed eating something prepared with such skill by someone else!  And I would seriously love to eat someone else’s cooking for a change.  A raspberry ripple ice cream in a cone, from the newly re-opened Sweet Shop (practising strict social distancing, and using masks and gloves), felt like a very special occasion.  The fact that Coast Deli and Dining and Walker’s Quality Fish and Chips are now offering phone-and-collect ordering on certain days of an evening is very promising.
    The light that I’m waiting for at the end of this particular tunnel is the ability to go to a favourite restaurant, where all the lovely dishes are delivered by a friendly waiter or waitress accompanied by some seriously nice wine, and one can mellow out until ready to drift home.

Village opening times following the relaxed lockdown announcement

I walked down into the village for my usual circuit down Gwelfor Road and back up Balkan Hill yesterday (Saturday) and checked out some opening times.  There were more people in Aberdovey than I’ve seen before since the start of the lockdown, and it was a matter of crossing the road several times to maintain the 2m distance, but the car parks are still very quiet.  The opening times below are offered in good faith, but they may change at any moment depending on the experience of individual shops.

The Abedyfi Butcher continues to be open Monday to Saturday 8am to 2pm. You can visit the shop (there’s no room for more than one person inside at a time) but they are also happy to take orders and payment over the phone, you can then pick up your order from outside the shop if you’d prefer (you can pull up in your car right outside the shop) and they will bring the order out to the car for you.  01654 767223

Walkers Quality Fish and Chips is now open during evenings on Friday and Saturday preferably for telephone orders and you will be given a slot, but they will also allow a maximum of four people at a time in the shop for drop-in purchases.  Enter by the side entrance (up the alley between the fish and chip shop and the building to its right) and practice strict social distancing.  Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Walkers-Quality-Fish-Chips-407214866695428, 01654 768098.

The Sweet Shop, with its wonderful ice cream, is now open 1100-1400 from Thursday to Saturday.  The front door is barred by an information sign and instead the huge open window is used to serve the ice cream, with all the usual cones etc available.  A blackboard listing all flavours available is propped on the side of the window.  Masks and latex gloves are used by the staff, and social distancing is strictly observed.  https://www.aberdyfiicecream.com, Hello@AberdyfiIceCream.com, 01654 767 222.

Dai’s Shed is open for seafood from 1100 – 1400, Thursday – Saturday, and you can phone them to find what’s available.  Huss, flounder, mackerel, crab and lobster have all been available recently, but it depends what Dai manages to catch when he’s out on his boat, so it’s a case of seeing what’s available, and you can phone to find out.   Dressed crab is usually available frozen if fresh is not available, and I can recommend it. http://www.daisshed.co.uk, 07944 264821.

The Coast Deli and Dining is now offering a take-away Call and Collect menu from 1700-2015 from Thursday to Sunday, and a copy of the menu is both on the website and in its window showing starters, main courses and desserts and a range of drinks.  Orders can be placed by email or telephone.  The gorgeous aromas emerging when I passed made me absolutely starving. https://www.coastdelidining.co.uk, croeso@coastdelidining,co.uk, 01654 767470

Both the Aberdyfi Village Stores (Facebook https://www.facebook.com/aberdyfivillagestores/, 1654 767451) and the Spar (01654 767415) continue to remain open, certainly in the mornings, but I forgot to check the afternoon closing times, and the Aberdyfi Village Stores Facebook page says that their opening times may be subject to change.  Both practice a strict rule of allowing a maximum of two people in the store at once.

The Post Office has continued to remain open throughout the lockdown, practising strict social distancing rules, with only two people at a time in the store, whether that’s for the Spar or the Post Office.