Salmon and dill potato gratin

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe that used canned fish, but that isn’t demonstrative of how much I actually cook with it. Canned tuna, obviously, gets quite a lot of use – either in my Japanese tuna patties, or in more prosaic pasta bakes and jacket potato toppings. Lunch is regularly canned sardines on crispbread, or tuna Niçoise, and it’s always handy as a lunch or supper for Cub. As I’ve mentioned before, canned tuna makes excellent fishcakes.

I have long loved Jannsen’s Temptation, a dish of potatoes, anchovies and cream. It’s an alchemist’s dream: much more than the some of it’s parts. This is my little version of it, using canned salmon. Bear always forgets the name of the original dish, and ends up calling it Rameses Revenge. So, my little version has been christened Rameses Revenge in The Bear Cave. The fantastic low-rent dill sauce is from Ikea, and I always buy in bulk when I go near an Ikea store – four jars at a go. It’s brill on crispbreads with canned fish, and on rye bread with gravadlax. It’s also wonderful with smoked mackerel. In fact, let’s just acknowledge that I could eat it by the spoonful. They call it Sås Senap and Dill, but we just call it Ikea Sauce.

On Twitter recently I found a company that specialises in sustainably sourced canned fish. I know that the bigger companies now make claims about their ethical practises, but Fish 4 Ever definitely seem to practise what they preach. They use selectively caught, sustainably sourced fish that aren’t endangered or juvenile; their ethical policies are laid out here. Added to that, they’re available to purchase online, which is handy for me as I rarely get go to supermarkets any more and the local shop’s selection of canned fish is minimal. I do try and use the local butcher and fishmonger for my meat and fish, and the local farms and farm shops for cheese, fruit and veg. It means I only go to the supermarket once a month for cleaning stuff and store cupboard essentials, and I’m happy with that – I don’t really want to give them any more of my money than I have to.

You can order their products online here; I’ve now placed two orders with them and they always turn up promptly, without too much excess packaging. I always order a couple of multi-packs of tuna, half a dozen jars of anchovies, and a couple of cans of salmon. That covers me for a couple of months, and means it’s one less thing to be worry about. Don’t worry, I’m not being paid to say any of this, but I think it’s important to spread the word about people out there that are doing good things. One of the reasons I started the blog was because I was so inspired by local produce and independent suppliers; I can’t think of any better way of doing this than to let you know about the people out there doing all the hard graft.

Serves 2

  • 2tbsp butter
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
    As you would for potato dauphinoise
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 213g can salmon
  • 4tbsp dill sauce
  • 350ml double cream
  1. Peel and thinly slice the onions, and set aside.
  2. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes, as you would for potato dauphinoise. Cover with water if you’re going at a leisurely pace.
  3. Use the butter to grease a medium ovenproof dish. Place a layer of potatoes at the bottom of the dish.
  4. Drain the salmon and mash lightly under a fork. Smooth a layer over the potatoes, making sure it reaches the edges.
  5. Sprinkle the salmon with the onions, again making sure that it reaches the edges.
  6. Add the dill sauce to the cream and mix to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the potatoes.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbling, and the potatoes are completely cooked through.
  8. Serve on its own or with a salad, and enjoy these ethical eats.

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Posted in Fish, Main dishes, Potatoes, Recipes, Sauces and marinades | 6 Comments

Falafel

I’ve been cooking these for years; I love them. These little morsels are essentials for me, and are a regular lunch for both us adult Bears, and my little Cub. They are so flavourful, fragrant, substantial and vibrant, and they make me feel like I’m really taking care of my body. These little homemade beauties knock the socks of their shop-bought counterparts, and they’re so quick to put together that it’s definitely worth giving these a go.

These are super-easy to make and are brilliant to do en masse. I always make sure that I do a huge batch and sheet freeze – they are just the thing for lunch, with a pitta, a little salad and a little yogurt dip.

These are always a hit when I make them for people, and they are my go-to lunch idea whenever I have friends with children round for a quick bite to eat; they have been universally adored. They’re my picnic staple; easily portable and low maintenance, they require no ovens or cutlery. If I’m ever invited to any kind of shared lunch, these are always gratefully received. In fact, I’m having a celebratory shared lunch with a lovely group of people next weekend, and this will be my offering.

It always amuses me that they are so well liked when they are based on such a humble ingredient: the chickpea. I don’t think I’d get nearly the same result if I made a chickpea salad and took it along to gatherings. But that is the wonderful alchemy of foods – very often, it’s not about the individual components, it’s about the finished article.

I serve this with pitta or flatbread, salad and sometimes hummous, if I fancy a double-chickpea situation. I always serve it with a cumin-mint yogurt – just mix 100g yogurt, 1tsp ground cumin, 1tbsp chopped mint and a squeeze of lemon. More often than not they’ll be a little drizzle of chilli sauce. They are wonderful with the aubergine puree I made to accompany my lamb keema; in fact, they’d be good with the flatbread too. And I love serving them as part of a mezze  style affair – with herbs to stuff into the pittas, sweet little cherry tomatoes, sometimes some radishes, and salty olives. When I can find them I serve a little bowl of those wonderful pickled chillies that are so ubiquitous in the high street kebab shop. This delicious spread feels like a real celebration, and is just the ticket for when lunch needs to be just a little… more.

As these are so small they defrost in a barely an hour, which makes them ideal for preparing lunchboxes. They can be served warmed from the oven but they are equally delicious at room temperature, which makes them perfect for packed lunches or your work bento. As one would expect from the down-to-earth chickpea, they are reliable little things.

Makes approximately 50 falafel
I always make this large amount. To freeze, cover a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and then lay these out on top. Freeze them for 30 minutes to an hour, and then transfer to a box with a lid, or a freezer bag. Sheet freezing them like this ensures they don’t stick together and means you’ll be able to take as few or as many as you need when the time comes

  • 3 cans chickpeas
  • 1 red onion, grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 2tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 4tbsp chickpea flour
    This is also known as gram flour, and is easily found in any Indian grocers. I use it a lot in Indian cookery, and it does feel more authentic to use it in this recipe. You could substitute with plain flour
  • ½tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large bunch coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 50g white sesame seeds
  • 50g kalonji seeds
    These are also known as black onion seeds, or nigella seeds
  • 4tbsp rapeseed oil
  1. Using a hand blender or a food processor, blitz the chickpeas until they are a paste, but still with some texture. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, spices, flour, bicarb, egg and herbs. Mix well until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Using your hand, shape into little patties of approximately 3cm.
  4. Mix the sesame seeds and kalonji seeds in a shallow bowl and lightly press the falafel into the seeds.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the falafel in batches, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
  6. Serve immediately with the accompaniments of your choice. Alternatively, leave to cool to room temperature and eat, or pack into your lunch box for delayed gratification. Either way, enjoy this wonderful use of the underrated chickpea.

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Posted in Beans, pulses and grains, Main dishes, Recipes, Sauces and marinades, Side dishes, Starters and snacks, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Pasta with butternut squash, bacon and ricotta

Do you love butternut squash? Well, I’m sure butternut squash loves you too. But she also has some other loves: savoury parmesan, salty bacon, spicy chilli and creamy ricotta. So it made sense to make it all into a little pasta-based orgy, and eating it was definitely a party. And, for me, butternut squash is the star of the season – my autumn choice, so I’m very happy to present this dish.

This is not only a party, it’s also a hug in a bowl, so it should definitely be in your repertoire for when you need a little comforting and a little cheering up. The flavours compliment each other so well, none of them are vying for your attention; rather, they all work in tandem to soothe you as you eat. The presence of chilli is so uplifting and the smell of frying bacon can smooth even the most furrowed brow. So this dish will not only console you, it also do it’s damndest to make you a jolly sight happier.

It’s an easy peasy dish but you will need a hand blender; a potato masher just won’t get the smoothness that you need to make this dish everything it should be. As they are only a couple of pounds from any supermarket or electrics shop, it’s a pretty wise investment.

I used giant conchiglie pasta, as I love the way it scoops up the delicious sauce. You could also use wholewheat pasta, which has the feeling of being healthier; it’s more substantial and it’s robust enough to stand up to exciting, strong seasonings. Another option would be to use orechiette – those odd little ear-shaped pasta pieces are man enough to face off with the other ingredients and come out evens.

Serves 4

  •  240g pasta
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut in 2” cubes
    Butternut squash (and all pumpkin type veg) have a double skin so you can’t peel it with a vegetable peeler; you will need to use a knife
  • 1tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 250g ricotta
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small dried chilli or 1tsp dried chilli flakes
    You’ll see from the photos that I used some chilli sea salt that we brought back from holiday but, if you don’t have any chilli sea salt lying around, then season lightly with salt and add one of the options above
  • 8 strips streaky bacon, chopped
  • 3tbsp grated fresh parmesan
  • A few tablespoons milk – optional
    I used a couple of tbsp just to thin out the sauce. Use as much or as little as you want for the texture you want, or cream if you’re feeling really decadent
  1. Boil the butternut squash in salted boiling water, until tender. Drain and blitz with a hand blender, or in a food processor. Add the ricotta and stir to combine.
  2. Cook the pasta in well salted water, according to packet instructions.
  3. In a frying pan, heat the oil and saute the onion until soft but not coloured.
  4. Turn the heat up and add the bacon. Let the bacon sizzle and spit until it’s nicely crisp. Add the chilli.
  5. Add the bacon and onion to the squash mix and mix. Add the parmesan and check for seasoning. You need a light hand with salt (the bacon and parmesan are salty enough) but it will benefit from a good amount of freshly cracked black pepper.
  6. Depending on the size of your squash, the sauce may be a little thick so you can add a little milk if you think it’s necessary; I used about three tablespoons.
  7. Add the pasta and quickly toss to combine, until all the pasta is well coated with the thick sauce.
  8. Serve with extra parmesan, and enjoy the culinary embrace.

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Posted in Cheese, Main dishes, Pasta, noodles and rice, Pork, Recipes | Leave a comment

Cheese and chutney bread and butter pudding

What do you do with a glut of something? Why, you make chutney of course! But, hang on, what do you with a glut of chutney?! Well, you make this actually.

Last year I helped out with my friends’ allotment and I LOVED it. I got a huge satisfaction from growing things, and scratching around in the dirt. And, of course, the ultimate satisfaction came from taking home some of the veg. One of life’s little gifts to me has been a love of courgettes – I could eat them every night, and not grow bored. I am the perfect person to have around when there’s a surfeit of courgettes.

I felt a bit like Bubba in Forrest Gump, listing the different ways to eat shrimp. Grilled courgettes, griddled courgettes, courgette fritters, courgette soup, ratatouille, cannelloni, a salad, a quiche, a bread. And… chutney.

The traditional and reliable way of using up a glut, I knocked up a big batch of this last year. Through the year it’s been added to sandwiches, mince, ratatouille and baked eggs. But there were still four jars left, taking up space in our tiny little kitchen. And the new courgette glut is now upon us, so there’s more chutney to be made.

Well, cheese and chutney sandwiches are really good, aren’t they? And bread and butter pudding is really good, with savoury versions starting to become more mainstream. Well, it makes sense that they would be really good together.

And they are! Hallelujah! In truth, this is nothing more difficult than making a big batch of sandwiches (if you spent your childhood, like me, making cricket teas, then you’ll be well-trained), making a quick raw custard, throwing them together and throwing them in the oven.

You’re rewarded with a quirky, comforting, satisfying dinner, perfect for a big family meal or to feed a gaggle of friends. As the weather cools and autumn announces its presence, a dish like this is great to have in your repertoire – quick but impressive, low maintenance in terms of ingredients and washing up, easy to scale up or down, perfect for dinner for two, or twenty.

Serves 8

  • One loaf white bread
    This is one of those times, like bacon sandwiches, where regular white sliced bread works well
  • 100g butter
  • 300g cheddar, coarsely grated
  • 200g chutney
    You could use any chutney. This courgette chutney was wonderful. Tomato chutney would be great. I imagine a bit of Branston’s pickle would work just as well!
  • 600ml milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 4 eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c and butter a large ovenproof dish with a little of the butter.
  2. Lay out the bread and spread all the slices with the rest of the butter.
  3. Spread half the slices with chutney, and top with the grated cheese.
  4. Use the plainly buttered slices to make sandwiches.
  5. Cut the sandwiches diagonally into two triangles. Then cut half these triangles in half again to make two smaller triangles (essentially, three triangles per sandwich).
    This will ensure your bread and butter pudding will be crowned with as many sticking-out corners on top to go lovely and crisp
  6. Whisk the eggs and add the milk and cream. Whisk again until you have a rich, smooth custard. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Arrange your sandwich triangles in your ovenproof dish, alternating between one large triangle and then two, smaller, upturned triangles. Squish all the sandwiches in so they are good and tightly packed.
  8. Pour over the custard, ensuring that all the sandwiches are covered with the liquid.
    You can leave the bread and butter pudding at this stage for an hour or so, so that all the sandwiches have a chance to soak up the lovely liquid.
  9. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until soft and gooey underneath, and crisp and golden on top.
  10. Serve with a salad, and enjoy this ode to the humble sandwich.

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Posted in Bread, Cheese, Eggs, Main dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Lemongrass and coriander meatballs with noodles in an aromatic broth

This is the dish you should make when you’re not sure about the world. If you’ve been a bit battered and knocked about, this soup should restore you to your former glory. Fresh, vibrant, zesty, rich yet light, this soup will give you hope again.

A bold statement, but this is a heavenly bowl of soup. Yes, it does have the bold and assertive flavours of ginger, garlic, chilli and sesame, but it is also subtle and gentle. The noodles are rice noodles, which delight the mouth with their springy, bouncy texture. The porky meatballs are flavourful and meaty, but not too heavy. And the raw vegetables, just cooked in the steaming hot broth, are a textural sensation.

This has a lot of the same qualities and ingredients as the Vietnamese pho, but is distinct as it doesn’t use the flat rice noodles, and it doesn’t use the spiced stock that takes a while to perfect.

But the point is that this meal can be made quickly on your return from work, rather than requiring the preparation that would come with making the right stock. In any case, this stock is a worthy base to this soup; an ‘ordinary’ chicken stock made aromatic by steeping with ginger and the trimmings of the lemongrass and chilli. It’s a perfect ‘cheat’ for a dish that can be made in half an hour. Which makes this dish a perfect dish for when the day has just been a little too much.

And this soup will make you feel that you’re giving your body a little bit of an internal pampering. If you’ve had a weekend of heavy meals and ample drinking, this is just the ticket for Monday night.

Trust me, this will be a really good start to your week.

Serves 4

For the meatballs

  • 500g pork mince
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves removed and tender insides finely chopped
    Reserve the trimmings
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
    You can remove the seeds if you like, but it’s not overpowering to keep them in. Reserve the trimmings
  • Half bunch coriander, chopped
  • 4tbsp rice crumbs
    These are gluten free version of breadcrumbs and work really well in this dish. If you can’t find any then panko breadcrumbs or dried breadcrumbs will work well too
  • 1tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1tbsp sesame oil
  • 1tbsp rapeseed oil
    For the broth
  • 1ltr chicken stock
    Homemade will make a real difference here so use it if you can
  • 5” ginger
    You don’t need to bother to peel it, just cut it into slices
  • 1tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tbsp fish sauce
    Extra points if you use Vietnamese fish sauce. However, I only had Thai so I used that
    To garnish
  • 240g rice noodles
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 300g bag beansprouts
  • 1 chilli, finely sliced
  • Half bunch coriander, roughly torn
  • 3 sprigs mint, leaves picked and stems discarded 
  1.  Warm the chicken stock through and add the lemongrass trimmings, chilli trimmings and ginger. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the pork mince with the spring onion, garlic, lemongrass, chilli, coriander, rice crumbs, sesame seeds and sesame seeds. Squish the mix between your hands to thoroughly combine. Season lightly.
    You won’t need to use much salt, due to the soy sauce and fish sauce in the broth
  3. Working quickly, shape the patties in your hands.
    I made 16 patties, which was perfect for 4 people. I find slightly flattened meatballs easier to fry
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the patties for 3-4 minutes on each side, until cooked.
  5. Sieve the chicken stock, discarding the trimmings, and return to the heat until piping hot.
  6. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions (approximately 4-5 minutes). Drain and refresh in cold water. Divide between four large bowls.
  7. Divide the beansprouts, red onion, chilli and herbs between the four bowls.
  8. Add four meatballs to each bowl and top with the piping hot stock.
  9. Serve immediately, and enjoy this restorative elixir.

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Posted in Main dishes, Pasta, noodles and rice, Pork, Recipes, Soups | 11 Comments