It’s Easter week 2020 and Good Friday approaches, traditionally a day to eat fish.
Last year I made a lovely fish pie, and really easy! Here’s the recipe again, great to make this Friday but also nice to make in the cooler weather for us Southern Hemisphere residents.
It’s a dish to lift your spirits at Easter in our time of trial.
I’ve been experimenting with fish pies recently, with the memory of a great fish pie cooked for me by an Englishman who clearly knows his pies and his fish. Thank you Ken, for your inspiration!
My version is quite simple – smoked fish fillets and poached fresh fish, with some braised leeks, in a white sauce. Topped off with creamy mashed potato and a liberal scattering of grated cheddar. Great on the day, and even tastier reheated the next day, too, when the flavours have developed.
These quantities make a very substantial pie for two, or would serve four with smaller portions too. Double the quantities for a really big pie.
4 large potatoes, good for mashing
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter
300 mls full fat milk
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
100g white fish
150g smoked mackerel
150g hot smoked salmon
1 tablespoon plain flour
75g cheddar cheese, grated
Wash the potatoes thoroughly and place whole into a large saucepan. Cover completely with water. Bring to the boil and cook on a medium heat until the potatoes are cooked through. Be careful not to overcook – you don’t want the potatoes breaking up. Remove from the heat and strain in a colander.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel quickly and place the still warm potatoes in a bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons butter and 50 mls of milk. Season with salt to taste. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes really well with the butter and milk, making sure there are no lumps.You can of course adjust the butter and milk amounts to personal taste and because potatoes do vary, requiring more or less butter/milk to get the right consistency.
Cover the mashed potato bowl with aluminium foil to keep warm.
Wash the leeks well and slice into ½ cm rounds. Heat 1 teaspoon butter with the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the leeks and cook over a low heat until the leeks are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Just make sure temperature is low and the leeks don’t brown. Once cooked, remove from the heat.
Heat the remaining 250 mls milk in a wide saucepan until just at a simmer. Place the white fish fillet into the milk, and continue to simmer and let the fish cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Check if the fish fillet is cooked by putting a skewer into the thickest part of the fish. If the skewer goes in easily and is also easy to remove, it should be cooked.
Remove the fillet carefully with a slotted spoon. Roughly break into chunks. Strain the poaching milk into a bowl or jug.
There’s no need to cook the mackerel and salmon, just break into chunks.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
To make the white sauce, melt 1 tablespoon butter, over a low heat, in the saucepan in which you poached the fish. Add the plain flour, and mix together to a smooth paste, making sure to use a wooden spoon. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add the poaching milk, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, combining the paste with the milk. Turn the heat to medium, bring to the boil, then reduce to low and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened, stirring regularly. Season generously with salt and cracked pepper.
To assemble the pie, place the leek slices and fish chunks in a baking dish. Gently stir through the white sauce. Top with the mashed potato, roughing up the potato with a fork for a little artistry. Scatter the grated cheddar over the pie.
Cook the fish pie in the preheated oven for a 20-30 minutes or until the potato is brown and the mixture underneath is bubbling.
Serve with a green salad or green veggies like peas, beans or zucchini. When I made it last year I served it with some roasted young garlic. Actually any veggies would do!
Strange times, strange world. It’s 1 April 2020 and definitely not April Fools’ Day. Life is too serious for jokes. But one good thing is happening, people all over the world are enjoying cooking at home, and “from scratch”.
There is a renewed interest in baking your own bread. That’s great! Bread making is a wonderful skill, so satisfying and therapeutic. You can practise mindfulness when kneading a loaf!
But yeast is in short supply (unavailable for me currently), as would be bakers raid the stores to get supplies for making bread.
The good news is you can make brilliant bread without commercial yeast, if you embrace sourdough, the ancient and enduring method of turning flour and water into a risen loaf.
So I thought I would put my sourdough recipes into one post, or at least the links to the posts. I have been refining sourdough making over the last few years, and I am now confident, actually quite chuffed, with the bread I bake today.
I should mention that everything I’ve learnt about sourdough has been through the books of breadmaker James Morton: Brilliant Bread, Shetland:Cooking on the Edge of the World and his latest book Super Sourdough. The latter, in particular, is an excellent guide to sourdough bread making.
Another thing to mention is that to make sourdough bread you need a sourdough starter. But it’s not as daunting as it looks, and I give plenty of instructions in the posts.
Here are 3 links to my sourdough journey. All are good recipes and procedures to make sourdough. I think Sourdough, Ultimate Bread is the best. It’s the most recent, and has some good tips and tricks, particularly in proving and shaping bread.
Here are the links. If you’re in home isolation and want to make bread, give sourdough a go. You won’t regret it!
Looking back over my blog there are several posts for granola. I love eating homemade granola – you know exactly what’s in it. Important if you don’t want added sugar. The recipe, or rather procedure, is super easy and quick. I make it every few weeks. The granola keeps well too, in a jar with a good seal like a clip top jar.
So here’s the granola recipe once more. And it’s another food staple that you can rustle up if you’re staying at home in isolation.
I usually add a variety of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins and apricots. This time I added my own version of raisins, black grapes that I dried in the oven. I had some grapes that were past their best, and reluctant to throw them out, I stuck them in the oven on a baking sheet at a very low temperature. Of course ordinary raisins are just fine! I did something similar with figs too. A quick how-to for the dried grapes and figs at the end of the recipe. I also threw in some some glacé orange slices left over from Christmas. This time I didn’t add seeds, however I have included them in the ingredients.
The proportions in the granola are really up to you. The quantities here are a guide only, feel free to add more or less of something to taste. And add different cereals, fruits, nuts or seeds to taste too!
2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of any cereal you have in the cupboard eg weetbix, corn or bran flakes
1/2 cup of salted nuts like macadamias, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts
A handful of mixed seeds like pepita, linseed, sesame
1/3 cup of honey, warmed with 1 tablespoon of water to pouring consistency in a microwave
1/2 cup of any dried fruit – dried grapes, figs, sultanas, raisins, apricots, cranberries, or even glacé fruit
Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C. You could try 160 degrees C for a quicker toasting but be careful you don’t burn the mix. Line a large baking tin with baking paper. You need to be able to spread the mix out so that all the mix is exposed to the heat.
Mix the oats, cereal, seeds and nuts together in a large bowl. Loosen the honey before microwaving with the water to make it more runny and easier to mix. Pour the warmed honey onto the mix and quickly stir it through. The mixture will be quite sticky, so stir fairly aggressively.
Spoon the mixture onto the baking paper in the tin, spreading it out so that it covers the base of the tin and there aren’t any big lumps.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the mixture is golden brown and thoroughly toasted. You will need to turn the mixture over half way through cooking, so that the underneath mixture gets its time on top and gets toasted. The oven time is a bit of guess work – just keep checking and remove when the mix is golden and not burnt!
Let cool for 5 minutes then add the fruit, combining everything well. Don’t worry if there are some clumpy bits stuck together with honey – they are a bonus!
Delicious with Greek yoghurt, milk or almond milk, or sprinkled over a big bowl of fresh fruit like stone fruit or berries.
Dried grapes are rather like muscatels in that they are more juicy than raisins. I guessed that drying grapes in the oven would work – and it did!
Take any black grapes you have that are just past their best. Pull individual grapes off their stalks or you can leave a few on stalks if you want. Lay the grapes on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Put the baking sheet into the cold oven, then turn oven to 100 degrees C. Bake until the grapes have not completely dried out, but are looking more like raisins. This process should take about 4 hours, but you can decide just how dehydrated you like your grapes.
Store in an airtight jar. You can use them in granola, or as part of a snack mix, or lovely with cheese.
Dried figs are easy to do too. Again, I use figs that are past their best. Cut them in half and place the halves on the baking sheet. Drizzle just a little bit of honey over each half. Bake in the same way as the grapes.
It’s Sunday 22 March, the fourth Sunday in Lent, traditionally a time when children spend time with their mothers. This seems very apt, as many families now have to spend a lot of time together, as we go through these isolationist times.
So here’s another recipe in the series “Isolationist Cooking in the Covid 19 Era”. Last week I made pumpkin gnocchi – they were so easy – and quick to make, perfect for cooking as a family, and great to do with the kids! You can knock them up in under an hour, from preparing the pumpkin through to actually making the gnocchi dish.
Uncooked, they keep for a day or so in the fridge and freeze really well.
All the ingredients are fridge or pantry staples, except the pumpkin, and once you’ve bought some, it keeps very well in the crisper of the fridge for a couple of weeks. The aim of isolationist cooking is cooking from what’s at home, rather then running to the shops and markets for a whole list of ingredients.
Anyway, give gnocchi making a go. And once they’re made, they pair well with lots of sauces – tomato based, cream based or the one I made, brown butter sage and walnut.
125g mashed pumpkin (about 300g uncooked) 100g ricotta 185g plain flour, plus extra for dusting 30g parmesan or pecorino cheese, finely grated 1 free-range egg Salt Black pepper
Brown Butter Sage and Walnuts
2 tablespoons butter A handful of sage leaves – at least 10, more if you like sage! A half handful of walnuts, at least 10, some pieces left whole, some roughly chopped
More parmesan or pecorino, for scattering over the gnocchi
Chop the pumpkin into manageable pieces, skin on, and place in a microwaveable bowl.Microwave on high for 5 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Remove from the microwave, allow to cool until easy to handle, then peel. Mash with a fork until smooth.
The pumpkin has quite a lot of water, so you will need to drain it. Put the pumpkin into a strainer or colander lined with absorbent kitchen towels. After 5 minutes remove the pumpkin in the paper towels and squeeze out any excess water.
Put the pumpkin and all the rest of the gnocchi ingredients in a bowl. Mix well with a spoon to a firm paste.
Dust a large wooden board or the bench top with flour. Put the pumpkin dough on the board or bench top and gently pat the dough into a roll shape, using a little more flour if necessary. Be careful not to add too much flour – this will toughen the gnocchi.
Cut the roll into 6 pieces, and then shape each piece into smaller rolls. Cut each roll into slices using a sharp knife. Press down on the one of the cut sides of the gnocchi with the flat side of a fork.
At this point, you can freeze if desired, or store in the fridge. I recommend putting the gnocchi you want to eat in the fridge for 20 minutes just to firm up a bit, to make sure they stay intact in the pot when you cook them.
Put a large saucepan of water onto the stove top and bring to the boil. Carefully drop the gnocchi into the water once it’s boiled, one at a time, working quickly. Cook for 1 minute or so, or until the gnocchi rise to the surface. Have a strainer or colander handy, and put the gnocchi into the strainer or colander once cooked. (Have the straining utensil over the saucepan so you are not dripping water everywhere!)
Leave the gnocchiin the straining utensil, while you make the sauce. Melt 1.5 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan until it is foaming. Add the gnocchi and fry until they are turning brown. Add the rest of the butter, throw in the walnuts and sage leaves and cook until the leaves are just crispy. The butter will have turned brown by now, but make sure not to burn it.
Serve the gnocchi, sage leaves (saving a few for decoration) and walnuts, in a big bowl, making sure to pour the lovely buttery sauce over the gnocchi. Scatter some finely grated parmesan or pecorino over the gnocchi and scatter the reserved sage leaves over the dish at the end. A sprig of fresh sage is nice too!
I’m revisiting a recipe I blogged in 2018 from Jamie Oliver’s super simple book 5 Ingredients. All the recipes in the book are easy to prepare and can be whipped up quickly with 5 simple ingredients.
I have recently grown some lovely Roma tomatoes on four tomato plants which I have nurtured from little seedlings. I’m no gardener, so I was delighted with their first bumper crop! I have another crop ripening, so I thought it would be great to use them in this delicious supper or lunch dish.
So here’s the recipe. Lovely on its own and even better served with crusty sourdough!
4 cloves of garlic
½ a bunch of fresh sage (15g)
350g ripe mixed-colour cherry tomatoes
4 large portobello mushrooms
40g Cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Peel and very finely slice the garlic. Pick the sage leaves. Halve the cherry tomatoes. Peel the mushrooms, reserving the peel.
Place it all (peel included) in a 25cm x 30cm roasting tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper and toss together. Pick out 12 perfect garlic slices and sage leaves for later and sit the mushrooms stalk side up on the top. Bake for IO minutes.
Remove the tray from the oven, crumble the cheese into the mushroom cups and sprinkleover the reserved garlic and sage*. Return to the oven for I5 more minutes or until the cheese is melted and everything’s golden then serve up.
*I added some rosemary sprigs too, as rosemary works well with sage.
There’s always a dilemma when making sourdough, that is, what to do with left over starter. I often add sourdough starter to baking with man-made yeast, for added rise and that extra sourdough flavour.
Making sourdough crumpets is another favourite. There are recipes that suggest only using starter, with bicarbonate of soda added of course. Having tried these recipes, I’m not a fan of the resulting intensely “sour” flavour of the crumpets.
So I have experimented with a few versions and have come up with a recipe that is now my go-to crumpet recipe. In fact it’s easier than ordinary recipes involving man-made yeast!
The quantities are simple: equal amounts of strong flour, sourdough starter and water, plus a little salt and sugar and the bicarb. No proving or waiting involved. And the result is beautiful, flavoursome, dense crumpets complete with those crumpet holes!
200g strong flour
200g sourdough starter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2-3 tablespoons butter for cooking/greasing
You will need a fairly large frying pan for the recipe plus crumpet rings. I used to use silicone egg rings until I invested in proper metal crumpet rings. The egg rings are fine, but I do like the stability of the metal rings.
Mix the flour, sourdough starter and water to a smooth paste. Add the salt and sugar and mix again. Add the bicarb. At this stage you will see some bubbles from the bicarb reaction. I get varying degrees of bubbles but I find that the crumpets still do their thing even when there are less bubbles.
Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and melt over low heat. Once the butter melts, use a pastry brush to carefully butter 4 crumpet rings. I use this method as it saves on melting butter separately. Add another tablespoon of butter, turn up the heat to medium and leave the rings in the pan to heat up.
Now it’s time to cook the crumpets. Several important things to remember. Clean the crumpet rings in between cooking and butter again, otherwise the crumpets are in danger of sticking. Fill the crumpet rings half to three quarters full. Half for a traditional size crumpet and three quarters for a whopper size. I like my crumpets thick but I’ve learned from experience that filling the rings with too much mixture means the crumpets spill over the top and quite frankly end up so thick they don’t fit in the toaster!
Cook the number of crumpets that can fit in your pan. In my case, I can cook three at a time. I’ve always got the fourth ring ready to go with more mixture. Keep on cooking until you’ve used all the mixture. I usually get 6-9 crumpets from a mixture.
Fill each ring with the required amount of mixture and leave for a good 6-10 minutes to cook. The crumpets should rise and have almost cooked through. Remove the rings with tongs and flip over. The crumpets should be brown underneath. (If you can’t remove the rings don’t worry, turn the crumpets over in the rings and then remove the rings once cooked.)
Cook for a couple of minutes on the second side until brown. Remove from the pan. I find that the crumpets don’t all cook at the same rate so I remove them at different times.
Use the remaining tablespoon of butter as necessary to butter the rings for the next rounds of crumpets and also to add a little more butter to the pan as you cook more crumpets.
A word on holes. When you cook the first side, after a few minutes you will see the trademark holes forming on the top. The holes develop and pop as the mixture dries out.
I give the holes a helping hand, by popping the emerging holes with a skewer. I think this is quite acceptable as the ultimate aim in having holes is to allow more butter to be absorbed!
The crumpets, as is traditional, need to be toasted. Don’t be tempted to eat them untoasted just because they are freshly made!
I make these crumpets whenever I have left over starter after bread making and sometimes I top up my starter just to make a batch of crumpets.
They also freeze beautifully – I always have a few packs of crumpets ready to unfreeze and then toasted.
I serve them with lots of butter and good quality honey or jam. In the photos I served them with my homemade strawberry conserve, recipe here.
If you’re a dedicated sourdough bread maker, this is the perfect recipe to use that precious starter you have worked so hard to develop and want to put to good use.
I’m a sourdough evangelist. And I will preach to anyone who will listen – to which my friends will testify!
The power of natural yeast to change flour and water into a beautiful, intense flavoured loaf of bread is a wonderful thing. I began baking sourdough bread a few years ago, but this year I have embarked on a journey to develop my skills and come up with the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s no such thing, but every loaf has its value and provides a lesson in what works and what can be improved.
I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I’ve come a long way in my journey. So I thought it would helpful to write up my current sourdough process. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy this latest account, and perhaps will be inspired to make their first – or next – sourdough loaf.
And here I should say that I have developed my sourdough skills through reading and following the procedures, advice and hands on experiences of the baking doctor James Morton. He is the high priest of sourdough, and his latest book Super Sourdough (Hardie Grant Publishing) is an instruction manual and bakers’ bible in one.
It’s also full of commonsense and incredibly helpful advice and excellent recipes. I really recommend it.
Here is the sourdough process that is producing well risen, beautiful tasting and relatively consistent loaves for me, based on the James Morton method.
An important aspect of making sourdough is the baking component. I use the cast iron pot method, of which much has been written, particularly on the internet. The principle seems to be that baking the bread inside a pot creates steam which helps the bread to rise.
A note on a sourdough starter. I’m including a method suggested by James Morton that has worked for me. My starter is incredibly active and makes my dough rise really well. There are many methods around for starters, and I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to say definitively which ones are best.
Sourdough starter Put 100g wholemeal flour and 100g fruit juice into a glass jar and mix. Leave for about 5 days or until it develops lots of bubbles. Feed with equal amounts of flour and water, at least as much flour as is already in the jar. After the first feed, you will need to discard some starter, to maintain a reasonable size starter in the jar. The starter can be used to make bread once it consistently grows in size after being fed.
If you’re not making bread everyday, and therefore using up starter, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed once a week.
Ingredients 450g strong flour 150g sourdough starter 325g tepid water 10g salt
Mix Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the sourdough starter and the water. Don’t add the salt just yet. Mix very roughly just enough to incorporate the ingredients.
Autolyse Cover and leave for 30 minutes so the mixture can autolyse. I use a clear plastic shower cap as a cover, as it fits nicely over most sized bowls. A plastic bag is fine too.
Knead and Prove Add the salt to the mixture. Now you can choose to knead the mixture using a dough hook in an electric stand mixer, knead by hand or use the stretch and fold method, essentially a no knead way of developing gluten in the dough. If you want to knead by hand, that’s fine, but I don’t, so I won’t describe here. There is plenty of information out there about ways of kneading!
If using a mixer, mix the dough for 6 minutes on the lowest speed, then 4 minutes on the next speed up. The dough should be lovely and stretchy, and pass the windowpane test if you pull and stretch a small section – it should be translucent. Cover the bowl again and leave the dough in a warm place to prove for about 4 hours. The advantages of this method are less work and you can leave the dough alone for the 4 hours.
The stretch and fold method is great if you don’t want to knead and if you haven’t got an electric mixer. Remove the cover from the dough. You need to wet your fingers for this method, to stop your fingers sticking to the dough. Gently grab one of the edges of the dough and fold over into the middle. Repeat, turning the bowl around so you have lifted up all of the dough and folded into the middle.The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this stretching and folding of the dough about 4 or more times, covering the bowl again after each stretch and fold. The whole stretch and fold method should be done over 4 hours.
After the first prove of 4 hours the dough should have increased in size by at least 50%.
Pre-shape Now comes the interesting part of the process for, getting the dough into a shape that can then be shaped for baking. I was very nervous of pre-shaping initially, now its my favourite part of bread making!
Carefully remove the dough from the bowl with help of a dough scraper onto an unfloured work surface. Definitely no flour needed! I use an oversized wooden board, but a bench top will work too. The dough will be stretchy, and quite delicate, so no rough treatment. Slide the scraper underneath the dough, lifting it from underneath. You will feel the scraper catch the dough as it lifts it up. I try not to remove the scraper, just move it round all of the dough in a circle. Sometimes the scraper sticks, and you need to pull it out, remove the sticky dough, and then go under again, but the more you move around the dough, the tighter the dough becomes and the less likely to stick. Do this circular movement with the scraper a few times until the dough forms a round, wobbly ball that roughly holds its shape. Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the gluten relax.
Shape I shape my sourdough loaves to fit the 2 cast iron pots I bake in. One is round, perfect for a boule shape. The other is oval, which is fine for a batard shape.
It’s important that you are super careful with the shaping. The dough is delicate and you don’t want to damage the dough you have worked so hard to develop.
For a round boule: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the round of dough is a clock face. Take one edge of the dough at 12 o’clock and gently pull towards you, and fold into the centre of the dough. Move the dough around to 3 o’clock and pull and fold again. Move to 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, pulling and folding. Do this process a few times until the dough feels tight and a little bouncy. Turn the dough over. Scoop the dough into curved hands and rock the dough backwards and forwards, until the dough feels tight and smooth.
For a batard: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the dough is sort of square shape. Take the two sides of the square shape that are opposite each other and gently stretch away from each other. Fold these stretched bits over each other in the centre of the dough. Turn the dough round 90 degrees and do the same with the other two sides of the square. Now that you have folded the 4 sides of the square, fold 2 of the opposing corners in the same way, and then fold the other opposing corners. Take any side of the dough and roll up like a Swiss roll. Press the seam to seal.
For either shape, carefully move the dough into a proving basket, round or batard shaped, with the smooth side of the dough on the bottom and the seam side on top.
Second Prove While you can prove your dough for 2-3 hours at room temperature, I advocate the retarded or fridge prove, and this method serves me well. Leave the dough at room temperature for an hour then place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Doing this at night works well as it allows you to bake your bread first thing the next morning.
Score and Bake For the pot method, pre-heat your oven to really hot – 250 degrees C. Put the pot in when you begin to pre- heat, and leave for 20-30 minutes. The pot will certainly be really hot after half an hour – and perhaps this is a waste of energy – but I sometimes want to be completely sure the pot is hot, so I go the extra 10 minutes.
Turn your dough out of the proving basket onto a thin flat baking tray or peel, well dusted with semolina. The pretty side of the dough is now on top. Open the oven and carefully take the lid of the pre-heated pot off. You can then slide the shaped dough into the hot pot.
At this point you can score the dough using a lame or razor blade or sharp knife. For a boule, scoring with a cross is good, however, I sometimes score with 2 parallel slashes, giving the bread more of an oval shape. For a batard, score with 1 or 2 long cuts down the length of the dough.
Pop the lid back on the pot and close the oven door. Turn the oven to 220 degrees C or 200 degrees C fan-forced. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 20-30 minutes with the lid off. I have experimented endlessly with this latter cooking time, and have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes gives a lighter brown loaf, softer in the middle, while 30 minutes gives a richer, browner loaf not quite as soft.
Remove the bread to a wire rack or board and leave to cool for an hour before cutting.
That’s it. I have tried to explain what works for me. There are infinite variations on the how-to of sourdough bread making. This is just one method. I can only encourage you to try this method, or any other, to discover the joys and pleasures and the huge satisfaction of turning flour and water into a magnificent loaf of bread.