Gorgeous Greek Fish

It’s a while ago now since I published my book Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen so I don’t run through the pages that often. And strangely I find I use it just like any other recipe book on my shelf. I find myself looking for a good recipe when friends are coming round and look for inspiration from the shelf only to find one from my book that I had loved enough to write about but had forgotten. I think that’s the problem of having a) a LOT of cookery books and b) not being able to make a decision. 

This came from a hand-written recipe book from the 1990s I don’t know the name of the author sadly, but she did often add the names of the people who gave her the recipes, there are quite a few recipes from Dick, Mary and Hilary. The book came with an envelope stuffed with newspaper cuttings and lots of notes on pieces of paper where he/she had jotted down recipes on the first piece of paper which came to hand.

Anyway with Norma and Mike coming round I needed a nice fish dish and found the perfect answer in my book. I’m not sure why I don’t eat this every week because I love it so much and it is so easy to make. 

Mary’s Greek Fish

1 large tin of peeled tomatoes

Bream, haddock or cod for 4

Large handful of fresh parsley and oregano

2 large onions

1 clove of chopped garlic

½ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180oc/35of/gas 4

Place filleted fish in a flat oven dish with a lid. Fry the chopped onions in olive oil very gently until transparent add the garlic and continue cooking for a few more minutes.  Add the tomatoes, then when mushy add the chopped herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the fish and bake in the oven for around 3/4 hour.

This doesn’t need anything with it apart from some crusty bread to soak up the last juices.

Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen

Community recipes – reflecting how people eat

Food is about sharing, whether that is the family at meal times, extended family and friend to mark a special occasion or communities getting together to cement community spirit.

Sharing recipes has been the way to pass on everything from family heirloom recipes and regional specialities to teaching new cooks how to master that basic arts since people started to cook.

I have been looking through some of the community cookery books I have. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and I love how they reflect not only the communities, the countries and regions of origin but the times in which they were produced. Even more than cookery books they reflect exactly how ordinary people cook in good times and lean, using the ingredients that come to hand locally. I love the (and I hate to sound stuffy) amateur and spontaneous approach, which comes from real people producing something. Such as the  booklet produced by Charlestown School (I have no idea where Charlestown is) with illustrations by children at the school and recipes from parents and friends and some celebrities they had written to, with recipes like Mushrooms Tuscan Style from Sally Brigham (obviously a family favourite).

Many of them are also used to raise money for local causes like schools and hospitals and some to raise money for global needs. A special book is Fare-ye-Well with Ladies of the Realm, a book produced during WW2 to collect money for Comforts and Medical Supplies for the Children of Soviet Russia with recipes from titled and ‘well-connected’ ladies of the time including Springtime Vegetable Pastry from Lady Beverage (or her cook?) 

Some are a bit unusual – The Alcatraz Women’s Club Cook Book produced by the wives of guards at the prison who also found themselves and their families ‘imprisoned’ and isolated. Or the Jim Collin Congressional Cookbook produced to fund the republican candidate for congress in 1962 with recipes from members of congress and their wives including Congressional Bean Soup. 

Some are produced by recognised community groups. I have one from a group local to where I live, the West Sussex Women’s Institute, from 1972 and What’s Cooking in the City produced by the City of London Red Cross with recipes from the Court of Aldermen and the Livery Guild of the City of London. I learned a lot about how many guild and trades there. It included such delights as Consomme Beluga from The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, who knew about them?

So from around the world, Cherokee Cooklore produced by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, to the close to home but much older Samaritan’s Cookery Book from Edinburgh these books are a delight and a real spotlight on local social history. Along with a chance of learning some new recipes from real people (or at least their cooks).  

Find some from your neighbourhood at local fairs, fetes and sales where they usually end up. They are a bit of a local treasure.

Zero waste for a 100 years

As I rambled about in my last blog, I have been working on a project about food and food availability locally during WW1. As part of the research we looked through lots of cookery books and magazines of the time, just the job for me I loved it.

At the outset of the war the main issue was reducing waste and being frugal. Although they never expected the war to last for over four years they did expect a tight winter. Books, government posters and magazines promoted the reduction of waste and came up with some canny ideas. As the war continued these recipes became part of everyday life.

Once again Sam Bilton who runs the Repast Supper Club came to our rescue and translated some of these old recipes in a cooking demonstration. Here is one which will stand up to the needs of  Zero Waste Week. I make this all the time now.

Stock Made from Vegetable Trimmings

Mrs C. S. Peel The Daily Mail Cookery Book (1918)

Ingredients: The well washed peelings of potatoes, carrots, turnips; the green tops and outside leaves of celery, cauliflowers, cabbage, lettuces (if not decayed), apple or pear peelings and cores; parsley stalks.

Method: Add water, or the water in which macaroni, rice, haricots, potatoes etc have been boiled. Bring all to the boil then simmer for 30-40 mins. Strain and use as a base for thick soups, sauces etc.

Cooks Comments: This is a very economical way to make what is actually a tasty stock. I kept a largish bowl in the fridge in which I put various vegetable peelings and onion skins as described above over a few days until I had accumulated around 500g or so of trimmings (although an exact weight is not really an issue). When I was ready to make the stock I also saved the water I had used to cook some potatoes and topped it up to around 2.5 litres. If you decide to include onion skins they will give the stock a brown hue, which is something to consider if you are planning to use the stock in a white sauce or summery soup 

Rose petal sorbet – again!

l summer is definitely here. The roses in my garden are coming into their own, the scent is outrageous and I need to make that edible treat that is Rose Petal Sorbet. Back by popular demand this heavenly recipe comes from 100 Great Desserts, Sweet Indulgence… by Mandy Wagstaff. This book stays firmly on my kitchen shelf. The book recommends roses with a sweet scent and a vibrant colour, I made this with the petals from Gertrude Jekyll roses from Terry’s garden, which are not so deep pink but are so perfumed it is heady. If you prefer your sorbet to have a lighter texture add the egg whites, otherwise just use the syrup.

Rose Petal Sorbet with Summer Fruits in Rose Syrup

110g (4oz) fragrant rose petals

570ml (1 pint) water

200g (7oz) granulated sugar

zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 egg white (optional)

225g (8oz) mixed summer fruit

Method

Trim and discard the white tips of the petals. Place the water and sugar in a pan and bring slowly to the boil, dissolving the sugar before the boiling point is reached. Boil for 2 minutes then remove from the heat and add the rose petals along with the lemon zest and juice. Stir well and leave to cool. Refridgerate overnight.

The following day, pour the syrup through a sieve lined with muslin. Reserve 6 dessert spoons of the syrup and set aside. Transfer the remainder to the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. If using the egg white, whisk to a firm peak then add to the syrup when semi frozen. When frozen spoon into a chilled container and freeze until needed.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker put the syrup into a plastic container and into the freezer, then stir briskly with a fork every hour or so until it is frozen.

Prepare the fruit according to their type. divide them into six glasses, add a spoonful of syrup to each glass then add a scoop of sorbet.

This truly is food of the gods. Thank you Mandy.

want to see the book? click here

When the garden sends you broad beans…

Well the allotment is starting to take off on the picking front with broad beans, courgettes and runner beans and as usual I can’t keep up, so the broad beans are getting a bit big and I like them small and sweet.

The following recipe is not just something to do with an overload of broad beans, it is a reason for growing them! Thick, garlicky (is that a real word?) and herby.

Broad Bean Dip from The Taste of Health by edited by Jenny Rogers

This recipe calls for dried beans but I used fresh of course.

 

 

 

Ingredients

250g broad beans (removed from their jackets and peeled)

1 small onion

6 garlic cloves

A bunch of fresh thyme and a sprig of sage

2 bay leaves

110ml olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon or 1 lime

Salt & pepper

Method

If using dried beans soak them for a few hours or overnight otherwise just carry on with the recipe.

Put beans into a saucepan and cover with water.  Tie the 3 garlic cloves, the onion and the herbs loosely in a muslin bag and add to the pan. Simmer until the beans are tender then discard the muslin bag and water.

Put the beans into a processor with the olive oil, lemon/lime juice, salt & pepper and the the three remaining garlic cloves and process until they are a smooth paste.

yum yum

click here for the book

It’s Pancake Day – Try Scarborough Fair Pancakes

Looking for a savoury pancake to celebrate Pancake day?

Scarborough Fair Pancakes makes 8 large pancakes or 16 small

This recipe comes from The Artful Cook, Secrets of a Shoestring Gourmet by Richard Cawley published in 1988.Reflecting the spirit of the age when chefs were realising that food could be beautiful as well as tasty. This book has some excellent recipes.

8oz plain flour, 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder, salt & pepper, 9 fl oz milk, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh, sage, rosemary & thyme. Oil for frying

Mix together pancake ingredients. Stir in chopped herbs. Drop tablespoons of the batter into a lightly oiled frying pan and cook over medium heat for 3-4mins turn over once until golden on each side.

Strangely these can be eaten sweet or savoury. For a sweet option serve with yoghurt,  soured cream or maple syrup. For a savoury option serve with goats cheese and salad they also make a good alternative to breakfast pancakes. I also tried them filled with steamed asparagus (of course with a little butter and ground pepper)

A Palm Oil Free Alternative to Nutella

It’s World Nutella Day and if like me you don’t want to join in because of the palm oil in Nutella, here is an alternative.

From Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen this is a chocolate spread, however if you add finely ground hazelnuts (around 1/2 tablespoon) it turns into a nutella-ish spread.

Betty’s Chocolate Spread 

I had to add this homemade chocolate spread, although it is perhaps too nice for my waistline. I did add more cocoa to make it chocolatier (is that a real word?). Easy to make and scrummy.

1 tablespoon soft butter

1 tablespoon icing sugar

2 tablespoons dried milk

2 teaspoons cocoa powder

1 tablespoon boiling water

Method

If the dried milk you are using is the granulated rather than fine powder type give it a whizz in the coffee grinder or smash it in a mortar, this makes it easier to mix in.

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl then add the boiling water and mix well, mashing it with the back of the spoon. It never is quite as smooth as the bought variety but that doesn’t affect the spreadability or taste. Put it in a jar or small covered dish and keep in the fridge. I don’t know how long it lasts as it hasn’t got past a week in my house.

Not Just Recipe Books

Over the Christmas holidays I had the chance to actually read some of the books on my shelves. One of the sad things about my job is that I am surrounded by the books I love but hardly get a chance to enjoy them.

And while I was discovering new recipes and jotting down which ones to try over the next few weeks I also really enjoyed having a good old read.

How many people actually read cookery books rather than just dip in and out for recipes? Those that don’t are missing out on a treat. Cookery book writers are passionate about their subject and this overflows into their creations.

Some books are written to be more than just recipes books such as The Settler’s Cookbook by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown with the experiences of her family in their moves around the world.

Of course the Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries epitomise the ‘blooming good read’ category of cookery book and I have read each one from beginning to end like a novel, and enjoyed cooking the food even more because of that. 

As the books I have go back back over 200 years (and in one case 400 years) it means that the style of writing changes drastically from one book to another. Each one assumes that the reader is of there time and is familiar with the subjects of their text and can identify with their ideals for the perfect food and in these I have found some fabulous ‘bon mots’ a few a which follow.

From the the foreword in what first appears to be a most uninspiring book – The Cold Table by Helen Simpson – while giving a potted history of chilled foods, includes the following  passage about Roman feasts.:-

‘But that the Romans did have such feasts I maintain: firstly on Blake’s theory that anything that can be imagined must be true; secondly, arguing from an undoubted proven fact that there were gourmets amongst the Romans, and to the man whose palate is his darling there is no pleasure more immediately more exquisite that a sudden frost upon the tongue’

In fact the whole intro is great and I immediately loved the recipes more.

Chapter One of Kitchen Ranging by Pearl Adam has always been a favourite opener. Entitled The Animal Who Cooks, it begins – ‘Man is the greatest animal of all, the animal who cooks’ He is also, it is thought, the only animal who has weighed the stars, invented handwriting, or discovered dressmaking’ A few of my favourite recipes come from this book including Ginger Apples.

And also found during this cookery book read in is the following, Found in the Souvenir Cookery Book of Leeds Maternity Hospital 1905 – “Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and Circe, and of Helen and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves, and savoury in the meats. It means carefulness, and inventiveness, and willingness, and readiness of appliances. It means the economy of your grandmothers, and the science of the modern chemist; it means much testing and no wasting; it means English thoroughness and French art and Arabian hospitality; and, in fine, it means that you are to be perfectly and always – loaf givers.” Ruskin.

A fine sentiment for the beginning of 2016.

Happy Reading and don’t just look at the recipes.

The Staff of Life at Christmas

While we are planning our Christmas food the basics sometimes get forgotten. Don’t get me wrong I am planning my midwinter feast now, but while I was making the bread yesterday I realised that I hadn’t put bread on the Christmas food list.

Somewhere between Delia’s Mulled Wine Sorbet and Nigella’s Clementine cake I hadn’t given a thought to what I was going to make in the way of loaves and rolls.

This was mainly prompted by a review of a great video of Andrew Whitley’s DO Lecture on Bread – Why Bread needs Time. It was this lecture that started me down the bread-making road and I am so grateful, I love making bread and eating your own home made bread beats shop bought by a mile, unless you are lucky enough to have a good local real bakery.

I don’t want to sound holier than thou, I am definitely not a domestic goddess. Making my own bread doesn’t make me a better person but it does make me happy when I eat it. I like to make it by hand, the kneeding time with a bit of music in the background gives me time to think and gaze vacantly out of the window. My brother in-law on the other hand has  been converted to make his own bread by a bread machine, he made a lovely nutty, seedy loaf last time we stayed, great stuff. 

Bread really is the staff of life and by making it yourself you know what the ingredients are and where they come from, you can give the bread time to rise, you can be sure it has taste (something sadly missing from supermarket bread) and you can be sure that it will be digestable. Take back this staple and make it yours! Let’s be  nation of home bread makers rather than soft pappy bread eaters.

So back to Christmas, this year why not give someone (or yourself) a bread making book, or a bread machine or a course on bread making? You’ll reap the rewards next year.

 

 

and don’t forget to watch the video http://www.breadmatters.com/andrew-whitleys-do-lecture 

Oh and we will be having cinnamon rolls for breakfast and sourdough spelt loaf for sandwiches on Christmas day.

want some good baking books? click here

What no pictures?

As the saying goes – there are two types of people in the world…

In this case those who need to have pictures to follow and those who don’t - I’m talking about cookery books here.

Personally I come in the second group I am happy to follow recipes whether there is an illustration or not. To my mind there is less disappointment when the recipe doesn’t look like the illustration and it gives me more licence to make changes, add ingredients (or take them away).

My brother, on the other hand, wouldn’t buy a cookery book if all the recipes didn’t have a photo outlining exactly what the final article should look like. To his mind, you need a guide so that you can see if you have got it right.

Not being competitive, like my uber competitive brother, I don’t mind if I get it ‘wrong’ as long as it tastes good and  a picture won’t tell you that and I’m not disappointed when the dish doesn’t ‘look like it supposed to’.

You can see where this argument (I’m sorry I mean discussion)  is going. I love to mull over a good cook book with beautiful illustrations. It makes your mouth water and spurs you on to try something new, a picture of food does indeed paint a thousand words. But, and it is a big BUT, these lovely pictures are often taken in a studio, using foods that haven’t been cooked using the recipe given, in fact sometimes not even using food.

When I was writing Recipe for an Unknown Kitchen I took the photos myself, mainly because I didn’t have the money to pay a photographer but also I liked the idea that the whole book would be my creation. So I borrowed a book from the library on photographing food, how fascinating that was and what an eye opener! Maybe I was a bit naive but I honestly was amazed by ice creams that were in fact made of candle wax, painted fruit and vegetables and polystyrene biscuits. So what chance do you have trying to meet those standards?

One reader commented that my photos weren’t very professional. I don’t mind, they weren’t it’s true, but they were actual photos of the food I had cooked moments before to the recipe in the book that I was happy tasted the way it should and let’s face it, there are enough disappointments when closely followed recipes don’t taste good or fall apart because the recipe hasn’t been tested properly.

So while I still love to salivate over food photos in books and magazines, and I can tell you I spend a lot of time drooling over cookery books, I don’t take any notice of the illustrations. And to answer the argument, how do you know what the dish supposed to look like – look at the plate!