Archive for the ‘Cooking Break!’ Category

Sadly, the samphire I recently fell in love with is no longer easily available in my area, limiting my choices for delicious seafood dinners.  However, smoked mackerel fillets are still available for ridiculously low prices and I’m determined to get as much oily fish nutrients in my system as I can while the opportunity arises.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and today I came upon another delicious pasta recipe using smoked mackerel.  You could also substitute baby new potatoes for the pasta, and it’d be just as good.

No pictures of my finished dish, as I need new batteries for the camera again (it’s a hungry camera!), but I’d love to see your own finished versions of the dish if you make it!

Smoked Mackerel and Bacon Warm Pasta Salad

Serves 2

A warm pasta salad with a simple sauce and runny egg topping, served over crisp watercress.

Ingredients

1large or 2 medium fillets smoked mackerel

6 rashers streaky bacon

1 onion

1/2 cucumber

2 cups dry pasta

2 large eggs

1 knob butter

1 tbsp dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste (note that the bacon adds quite a lot of salt – do not season until you’ve tasted the dish)

a couple large handfuls watercress

Recipe

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the pasta.  Roughly chop the onion and bacon, and add to a hot pan.  Do not add any oil, as the runoff from the bacon will be enough to prevent ingredients from sticking.  Once the bacon is basically cooked and starting to crisp up, peel the skin off the mackerel fillets, roughly pull the meat apart and add to the pan with the bacon, stirring well.  Cook for a couple of minutes, then remove from the heat.  Chop the cucumber portion into small cubes and stir into the mixture.  Remove the pasta from the hob once al-dente or cooked to your preference and drain.

Bring a second, small pot of water to the boil.  In a separate, small pan, quickly melt the butter and whisk the dijon into it.  Toss the pasta, bacon/mackerel mix and dijon butter together until well blended.  By now, the second pot of water should be boiling.  Crack the eggs into it carefully, and let them poach just a minute or two while you plate up the food.

Scatter a generous handful of watercress onto each plate and top with a portion of the warm pasta salad.  Place a poached egg on top of each serving, and crack the egg open, to allow the warm, runny yolk to ooze over the pasta.  Serve.

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So, a little while ago I posted my recipe for earl grey and lavender shortbread.  I’d been looking for ways to incorporate tea flavour into my baking for a while – infusing tea into milk worked fine for cakes, but resulted in either too little tea flavour or too moist a dough for biscuits.  Melting butter, steeping teabags in it, then cooling the butter before use was messy, often scorched the tea and greatly increased the time needed to create the biscuits, since butter sometimes takes what seems an unreasonably long amount of time to set.  I considered infusing tea into rich milk and cream, and then churning my own butter, as a way to combine the benefits of infused milk with the drier dough of infused butter, but that would take even longer than the melting method, although I will try that at some point.

It was quite a lot of googling and plotting and experimenting before it occurred to me to just dump the contents of the teabag into the mixing bowl with everything else.  Of course, it works best with teabags that contain well-ground tea, and it’s worth giving the contents a quick whiz in the blender just in case.  I’ve since wondered – lavender sugar is easy to make by simply crumbling lavender flowers into a jar of sugar and letting the flavour infuse.  Violet sugar works the same way.  Could the same be done with tea?  Could I make an earl grey sugar to add to baking, thereby avoiding the need to ever worry about infused butters and milks ever again?

My experimental jar won’t be ready to test for another couple of weeks, but watch this space!

In the meantime, the revelation regarding emptying the teabags into the mix has made me wonder – is there any reason I can’t do that with other teas?  Today I made a simple, plain vanilla shortbread dough, but enhanced it by emptying the contents of four rosehip and hibiscus herbal teabags into it.  The resulting biscuits have the sharp tartness of the rosehips, and the fruity edge of hibuscus.  I think I need to adjust the amounts, and I definitely need to add more sugar to counteract the sourness, but the result is pretty good!  Some shortbread additions to try next:

  • fennel tea
  • liquorice tea
  • ginger tea
  • chamomile tea

What’re your favourite herbal teas?  Got any that’d make a good addition to shortbread?  Let me know in the comments!

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Fresh Samphire

Fresh Samphire (Photo credit: Denna Jones)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Winter comfort food.  Rich beef cobblers with pickled walnuts, spicy haggis and mashed potatoes, thick, vegetable-rich bacon soup with dumplings, creamy chicken pies, and brussel sprouts and chestnuts as far as the eye can see.  But this Winter has been a long one, and it gets to a point where you want something that tastes fresh.  Something simple, that takes no time at all to cook, something crisp.

And if you’re poor like me, if the food shopping is dictated by what’s cheap and what’s on sale, maybe you’re also craving something that tastes of the sea.

My usual supermarket recently did something glorious – it started selling stripey-label smoked mackerel.  Affordable smoked mackerel.  Now, I’m a big believer in buying local and buying from small shops, but right now I am reliant on supermarkets for a lot of things.  I have a great greengrocer, but the butchers closed down and despite this being a coastal town, the fishmonger himself sells more imported, packaged fish than fresh caught local produce.  The wonderful co-ops for food springing up around the country like Catchbox haven’t yet reached my corner of the UK.  So this was BIG, for me.

What better to go with it than a punnet of delicate samphire sprigs?

Mackerel and Samphire Pasta

Mackerel cold-smoked for eight hours and then ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes simple is best, and this recipe is definitely simple. 

 

Ingredients

2 fillets of smoked mackerel, flaked, skin off

1 punnet fresh samphire

4 servings pasta

1 knob butter

4 handfuls watercress, washed and picked over

4 radishes

2″ long piece of cucumber

 

Recipe

Bring a pan of water to the boil – do not add salt.  Once boiling, add the pasta and cook until al-dente or to your preferred consistency.  Just before the pasta reaches that point, add the samphire to the pan and cover.  Drain, return to the pan and leave to one side.  Toss the mackerel in with the pasta and samphire.  In a small milk pan, heat the butter until melted.  Finely slice the radishes and cucumber.  Arrange a bed of watercress on the plate, sprinkle around with the radish and cucumber.  Spoon out a serving of mackerel and samphire pasta onto the watercress and drizzle over with melted butter.  Add a little pepper.

So I missed the Vernal Equinox.  My birthday is on the 19th, so it always comes right before or right on the equinox, which generally leaves me too busy celebrating myself to remember to celebrate the longer days and the (hopefully) approaching germination of my seedlings.  But this recipe is good for Easter, or indeed for any excuse you might find to enjoy tasty, delicately-flavoured shortbread!

Mmmm shortbread...

On a teeny, tiny plate

The recipe is simple, so simple you could easily make it with kids, and versatile enough that you can vary the ingredients considerably for a whole variety of different flavours.  There are a couple of areas where it can go wrong however, and I’ll try to cover those as I go.

Equinox Shortbread Trio

Makes 24-30 portions

Shortbread is a fairly universal biscuit.  It’s rich, tasty and there are infinite variations of it.  I’ve seen so many recipes, including some incredibly complex ones involving rice flour and cornflour and eggs, but I always say the simplest is the best, and at its core a shortbread only requires four very common ingredient.  Sugar, butter, flour and a little milk.  These shortbread biscuits are a particularly nice way to celebrate the arrival of Spring, with their delicate floral lavender, lemon and earl grey flavours.  The recipe makes three batches using a 6″ cake tin or shortbread mould, with a little left over.  The great thing about these three flavours is they compliment each other beautifully, which means you can create fantastic flavour combinations out of any of them, or even all three at once.

Ingredients – Lavender Shortbread

100g plain flour

65g salted butter

40g lavender sugar sugar

splash of milk

1/2tsp vanilla extract

extra lavender sugar, for dusting

Ingredients – Earl Grey Shortbread

100g plain flour

65g salted butter

40g granulated sugar

splash of milk

1/2tsp vanilla extract

2 earl grey teabags

Ingredients – Lemon Shortbread

100g plain flour

65g salted butter

40g granulated sugar

juice of a lemon

zest of one lemon

1/2tsp vanilla extract

Recipe

Preheat oven to 160 C.

To make the lavender shortbread, blend the butter and lavender sugar together.  Add the flour and blend until crumbs form.  Add the vanilla.  Beat the mixture continuously while adding milk, no more than 1tsp at a time, until the crumbs are just barely moist enough to come together.  If the crumb is too moist, the resulting biscuits will be soft, whereas we want them to have a pleasing, crisp texture.  To test, take a small handful of the crumbs and pinch them together.  If they just stick together to form a dough, the mixture is ready.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, dust with a little more flour and roll out to about 1/4″ thick.  Grease and line your 6″ cake tin, or just grease your shortbread tin.  Cut a 6″ round out of the dough and place into the tin.  Pierce all over with a fork, and bake until just barely starting to turn golden at the edges.

Remove the tin from the oven and, using a sharp non-serrated knife, score the shortbread round into eight segments by scoring in half, then in quarters, then into eighths.  Slide the round out of the tin and turn right-side-up onto a rack, and sprinkle the top with lavender sugar.  Allow to cool.  If the biscuits are turned out onto a flat surface, the underside may turn soggy as the biscuit cools.  Turning it out onto a rack ensures the underside stays dry and crisp.

To make the earl grey shortbread, do as above, but use granulated sugar, and add the contents of two earl grey teabags at the same time that you add the vanilla.  For the lemon shortbread, omit the milk.  Add the lemon zest with the vanilla, and gradually add the lemon juice a tsp at a time instead of using milk, until the crumb reaches the correct consistency.

Allow biscuits to cool fully before serving, as they tend to still be quite soft straight out of the oven, but will harden as they cool.  Serve with a lovely cup of tea – earl grey if you like, but any good tea will do.  I quite like a cup of something herbal and refreshing with a slice of lemon with mine.

Variations

If you want to combine flavours, note that you can make lavender earl grey shortbread by simply adding the earl grey tea to the lavender recipe.  You can make lavender lemon shortbread by adding lemon zest to the lavender recipe and replacing the milk with lemon juice, and you can make earl grey lemon shortbread by omiting the milk from the earl grey recipe and replacing it with the lemon zest and juice.  You could also make a lemony earl grey shortbread by using the standard earl grey recipe, but adding some dried bergamot flowers to the mixture.  Some earl grey tea blends come with earl grey and bergamot already blended together.

For a particularly pretty presentation, candy some fine slivers of lemon peel and the heads of a few lavender flowers and press these gently into the baked biscuits while they are still cooling, or ice the shortbread with a thin, simple icing and use this to make the candied peel and lavender adhere.  If doing this, do not dust the biscuits with sugar.

You’ll notice that the three flavours each come out of the oven looking a little different, with the earl grey in particular being noticeably darker.  An attractive way to present the shortbread for an Equinox feast would be to cut a crescent-shaped segment out of the uncooked rounds and swap these, leaving the lavender with a crescent of lemon, the earl grey with a crescent of lavender and the lemon with a crescent of earl grey, pressing the edges gently together so that, when cooked, they appear as a single thing.  This could then be lightly scored, or just left whole with pieces snapped off at desired when served.

The recipes used here involve pressing the dough into a mould, but the dough is consistent enough that you could cut festive, seasonal shapes from it using cookie cutters.  Try cutting butterfly, hare, flower and egg shapes and letting kids decorate the cool biscuits with icing and candied edible flowers.

Lavender Sugar

Blueberry Lavender Sugar

Lavender sugar is ridiculously easy to make.  Simply take the heads of a healthy bunch of lavender – make sure the lavender has not been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals – and a bag of granulated sugar.  For every 100g of sugar, take about a teaspoon of lavender flowers and crumble them up, then mix into the sugar.  Store in glass jars for at least a month before using.