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Category Archives: Fish

Spice, Spice Baby

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Sometimes I think to myself what a world without chillies and spice would be like, and a cold shiver goes through me. Much like The Sixth Sense, Stephen King novels and Will.I.Am rapping, the idea terrifies me. So many foods would simply be at best adequate, at worst bland and dull without a little kick, and the worlds best cuisines would be nothing. A Thai green curry would be like dishwater, chilli con carne would just be minced beef and tomatoes. Don’t take chillies away from me, I depend on them far too much! Just a quick look in my kitchen cupboards tells you all you need to know about my spice addiction, I’ve literally got more spices than I know what to do with. Space consuming it may be, but the smell that greets me every time I open my spice cupboard and the fact I’m never too far away from a spicy meal or two makes it totally worthwhile. It smells amazing too, if only this blog had smell-o-vision.
Loving spice as I do, it was inevitable that a book titled The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible (by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach) would find its way into my life. I found it in the Notting Hill shop Books For Cooks, bought it and then realised it was only 10am and we still had a whole day of shopping in London to go. Fortunately, The Boyfriend has much better upper body strength than I do so he valiantly carried the book around all day to spare my poor, puny, non existent biceps. Isn’t he great? I love this book yet barely use it. Much as I like cooking, I want everything to be on one page and to only have to follow one recipe. This book often requires the cook to make up a spice rub or curry paste and then follow another recipe to include your homemade rub/paste. Admittedly, I can be quite lazy at times in the kitchen yet if you want authentic, boldly flavoured, spicy food you have to put the effort in and mix up something that would be exceptionally hard to find in your local Asda, and if you were to find it, would taste massively inferior compared to a homemade version. Good home cooked food isn’t always going to be easy.
One of the best things about this book is how hugely varied and geographically spread the recipes are. Of course you’ve got the obvious recipes such as massamann curry (Thai), Kung pao chicken (Chinese), tandoori murg (Indian) and fish tacos (Mexican), but its also filled with unusual, rare recipes from world cuisines you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see. So there’s stuffed Maghreb chicken from Libya, groundnut stew from West Africa, cucumber salad with mustard dressing from Germany and spicy garlic mushrooms from Spain. You’ve got the world at your fingertips. There’s also a fantastic section at the back with suggested feast menus using recipes from the book. Want a Deep South styled Independence Day, Hindi wedding feast, Brazilian barbecue or Trinidad carnival feast? Then this is the book for you. Not needing a feast myself I chose just the one dish and that was Louisiana Barbeque Shrimp. I made a creole spice mix which just involved me measuring out spices then grinding them up in my granite pestle and mortar for a couple of minutes until it became a fine powder. If you want to make your own spice mixes then you’ll need either a heavy duty pestle and mortar (I had a lightweight one from Tesco once and it couldn’t turn anything into mush so was totally useless. Go for granite) or a spice grinder. I marinated the prawns in the spice then went about making the sauce. Despite the name of the recipe, the prawns are not cooked on a barbeque and the sauce itself isn’t barbeque so why it’s named as such I’m not sure. The sauce is made using beer (Budweiser seemed the right choice what with this being an American recipe) that’s reduced down with some more spices, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice etc. Once down, throw in some butter to bind the sauce and give it a rich, glossy look and stir in your cooked prawns. Easy! The book compels me to serve this with white rice and buttery bread, and who am I to ignore such carb heavy instructions? It was Friday after all. This tastes ridiculously good. Not too spicy but with complex flavours from the spice mix (did I mention it was homemade? No? It was homemade) and coated in sticky, spicy sauce which was just fabulous for dunking bread in. One of our favourite prawn dishes ever came from Bubba Gump and was Cajun prawns with garlic bread. Every now and then one of us will just say out of the blue ‘remember those Cajun prawns?’ and a satisfied yet mournful silence will descend upon us, regretful of the fact that the nearest Bubba Gump to us is in New York. We’re 60 miles north of London, England. I’ve tried on so many occasions to replicate the sauce from this dish but have never managed to quite get it right. This recipe comes fairly close although is less spicy and more sticky than Bubba Gumps’ version. I would never have thought to use beer as the base for the sauce but it gives the sauce a sweetness once the alcohol has been cooked out.
Looking through this cookbook there are so many recipes that I want to cook, not just to give a neglected cookbook a much needed airing but because I’m curious as to what a groundnut stew would be like or Libyan chicken. Travel broadens the mind but as its unlikely I’ll be popping over to Libya anytime soon, I’ll have to travel vicariously through this fantastic cookbook.

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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in American, Books, Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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You Must Be Jerking

Hear that sound, devoted blog readers? Yes, that is the sound of yours truly scraping the barrel. Not content with no blog entries for several weeks, doing barely any cooking and completely neglecting my reputation as cookbook obsessed food eater and blogger extraordinaire, I’ve now resorted to stealing titles from food products in a bid to lure you in with a witty title. Sorry.
With The Boyfriend being back its safe to say we’ve been busy attempting to get the house into reasonable shape so time for cooking has been in short supply. I’m now also ready to throw my slow cooker and George Foreman grill out of the window, so fed up am I of having to cook in them. I look back on a couple of months ago at the bright eyed and bushy tailed blogger (that would be me) joyfully stating that having no oven would force me to use my imagination and that it needn’t be a total nightmare, and cringe. What was I thinking? I’ve now reached my limits with the damn things and have spent a great deal of what free time I do have staring at recipes and photos of baked goods, so desperate am I to whip up a batch myself. The good news is we should be buying an oven at the weekend to last us until we can afford our new kitchen next year. In the words of Kool And The Gang, celebrate good times come on. Oh the possibilities!

Before I get ahead of myself though, let’s focus on what I cooked this week. I use the term ‘cooked’ very lightly. Last Friday I came home to my foodie penpal parcel (which was AMAZING by the way, and will be blogged about later this week) which happened to contain a sachet of jerk seasoning called ‘You Must Be Jerking’ from an online shop called the Spicery. Deciding to jazz up our Monday night salmon, I marinated two fillets in the jerk seasoning, left for a couple of hours then popped on the GF grill. It was delightful and considering the heat from the grill, wasn’t overcooked at all. The marinade was fiercely spicy, warm from the allspice and with an almighty zing from what I’m not 100% sure. It totally transformed the salmon and made a healthy meal much more interesting. The Spicery is definitely getting a repeat order from me; please check them out if you’re in need of jazzing up some plain meals. With a Jamaican seasoning, there was only ever going to be one appropriate accompaniment to this salmon and that was, of course, rice and peas. Not that any self respecting Jamaican would even consider using Uncle Bens Express microwavable rice like I did, which comes out a bit spongy, but it was the nearest I could get. I promise to do it properly next time I make this to do the legendary dish justice. Jerk salmon and rice & peas – salmon need never be boring again.

PS: I know the salmon looks burnt in the photo but it absolutely wasn’t, the jerk marinade is just very dark.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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Stirring Things Up

Have I mentioned before that I’m a fan of Nigella? I like to keep it quiet, I don’t want to seem obsessed in any way, shape or form, but a new Nigella book is Big News in my home, much to The Boyfriends despair. So naturally as soon as payday hit last week I had to have it, as much for comfort reading as for the recipes. The great thing about Nigella is that she writes about food and life so well and while she may be minted herself and married to Charles Saatchi (net worth of £120 million), she clearly remembers what it’s like to be ‘normal’ without pots of money and fame. Plus, she loves food and sees no shame in gluttony or excess. My kind of gal then. So today’s recipe is from her new book Nigellisima which is dedicated to Italian food, which she fell in love with after spending a gap year in Italy. I’d like to say that I could have such an affinity with Italian food, what with being born and raised in a town with a huge Italian population and stuffed with Italian restaurants, but despite this I’ve never really ventured too far from the favourites the English have adopted. Well not anymore, not armed with the new Nigella tome anyway. So last night I spent my evening stirring up Chilli Crab Risotto over the hob while the rain hammered away outside. Nigella seems to think that stirring constantly for 20 minutes is quite relaxing, but I have to disagree as I just find it tiresome. However, risotto requires constant stirring so I had little choice in the matter. I really love chilli and freshly cooked crab is seriously tasty, but unfortunately the shops had no fresh crab so I had to downgrade significantly and go with canned crab. I’m not sure of the culinary credentials of canned crab, but taste wise it’s not so hot and lacks the lightness of the fresh stuff and tastes a bit too strong for my liking. Still, needs must and I was determined to cook this recipe. In general, it was a fairly good dish, with creamy rice, hints of white wine and a little bit of attitude from the chilli. I wouldn’t make it with canned crab again as it was too fishy and I can see how fresh crab woud turn the dish from fairly good to great. It was topped off with a few rocket leaves which gave a nice peppery heat to the risotto as well as making me feel a bit healthier.

Speaking of healthier, tonight I went for my fail safe ‘need to make up for an excessive weekend meal’, Greek yoghurt chicken. I use the word Greek very loosely, I’m pretty positive that a Greek person would find this severely lacking in authenticity, but it does contain Greek yoghurt so just go with it. All it is really is a chicken breast, cooked plainly in a way of your choosing (I usually grill it) with a big portion of vegetables and a tub of Greek yoghurt turned into something vaguely resembling tzatziki. The great thing about this meal being so unauthentic is that whatever you have in your fridge you can pretty much chuck in. If you have mint, cucumber, lemon and coriander you can quickly whip up an authentic tzatziki, but if you don’t have all of these then why not chuck in some spring onion, red chilli, garlic or parsley. If its a herb or spice, give it a go and chuck it in, although the mint is non negotiable. It must contain mint as this packs in a lot of flavour on what is essentially a dinner of plain chicken and veg. The yoghurt makes this dish, I can easily go through an entire 200g tub on my own when smothering my cooked chicken, but don’t feel bad about this as the yoghurt is stuffed with healthy natural ingredients. Except the sea salt, but lets live a little eh? Gradually add the ingredients to the yoghurt and taste it along the way as everyone has different tastes, I myself cram it to the brim with mint leaves as it tastes so fresh and zingy on the plain chicken. This weeks version contained spring onion, chilli, mint and lemon juice with some Maldon sea salt and black pepper. Remember too that there are no carbs in this meal so to fill up you need to pile the plate up with vegetables and salad, which will make you feel exceptionally virtuous. You’re welcome.

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The trouble with eggs

Oh mayonnaise, what are we going to do with you? You taste very nice in your little jars, but so many cookbooks and chefs tell me that homemade mayonnaise is even nicer that in the interests of tasting delicious food I feel it is my duty to make some. Trouble is that these same chefs and cookbooks also tell me how darn difficult it is to make it from scratch, hence our reliance on the good old Hellmans. In the book I’m reading at the moment, Lunch in Paris (not a cookbook but a true story about an American falling in love with a Frenchman and food in Paris, peppered with a few recipes here and there -right up my street) , the author describes meeting her new beaus family and mother who, calmly in the middle of conversation, whips up a bowlful of mayonnaise to go with lunch. She made it sound so easy, the swine, that I just knew right then that I had to try myself. The meal it revolved around was supposed to be pan fried salmon with lime and coriander mayonnaise and crushed potatoes again with lime and coriander from my new book French Brasserie. Unfortunately my attempt at mayonnaise went disastrously – I added the oil too quickly to the egg yolks so instead of a bowl full of pillowy, creamy mayonnaise I ended up with oily egg yolks that had the same consistency as grease. And I had no extra eggs to try again, so I ended up grilling the salmon in foil with lime, ginger, chilli and coriander and accompanied the fish with the potatoes described earlier. While tasty, it lacked the je ne sais quoi that I had anticipated from the homemade mayonnaise, and in my bad temper I’d seriously over cooked the salmon. Bugger. So to say it wasn’t the most successful evening spent in the kitchen would be an understatement. Nigella quotes in one of her books that she grew up making mayonnaise and never knew it was difficult until someone commented on her ability to do it. This is why I love her, so unfazed, so blasé at the tricky side to cooking, and encouraging you, as she would phrase it, to feel the fear and cook it anyway. True for life outside the kitchen too, just do it. One day, homemade mayonnaise, I will return to overcome your tricky ways.

Despite what the rather misleading title of todays blog would have you believe, I’ve also had a successful crack at the eggs this week. This success came from Nigella Bites, which is one of my favourite offerings from The Lawson. When a cookbook has chapters like ‘TV Dinners’ and ‘Trashy’, you know you’re going to be eating well. Favourites from this include the chocolate fudge cake (simply amazing, if you only make one recipe from Bites, this is the one) and the meatballs and pasta. I got Bites from EBay secondhand when I first moved out of the parents home and I really love that there are splashes of food on some of the pages. The Boyfriend thinks its gross, but being the dreamer that I am I just think of the happy meals a family or couple had using this book. Or maybe they weren’t such great meals if they ended up selling it on eBay. Hmmm. Dinner tonight from this gem was masala omelette with coriander chutney and chapatis, which is in the breakfast section but between you and me, this ain’t no breakfast. What it is though is tasty with a big chilli smack in the face which I very much appreciated after a tiring day of work. The omelette is taken up a notch with chopped spring onion, chilli, garlic and some Indian spices, and eaten wrapped up in chapatis with a big dollop of coriander chutney. So easy and ridiculously tasty. The chutney provides most of the spice, which is sharp and nasal clearing but not the sort of spice that turns your mouth into a volcano. It’s manageable. The chutney just involves chucking a few chillies, herbs and coconut cream in a blender with some lime juice so is very simple, and likely to not even be a chutney at all. It contains my two favourite herbs which are mint and coriander. God, I love them. They smell glorious and transport me to tropical shores every time I get a whiff of them. They also taste stunning, alone or together, and I’m rather partial to eating them on their own while waiting for something to cook. What a freak. The time/flavour ratio for this dinner is off the scale, it takes no time at all yet delivers a really flavourful meal that wakes your taste buds up. The perfect recipe then, to get me amped up and excited about the release of Nigella’s new cookbook next week. This is an obsession I’m happy to continue for a little while yet!

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Spice up your life… or at least your salmon

So the healthy eating continues. Its been three days now and there’s been no let up in my attempt to eat more wisely and get back to exercising. You may think “three days, is that it?” but for me, three days of avoiding junk and snacks is an achievement. In case you failed to notice, I love food, and my favourite foods are the ones that do my arteries and muffin top no good. Friends keep telling me to leave the bad food, walk away before I get hurt, but like any toxic relationship, this ones tough to give up. Not that I’m seriously comparing my love of food to a bad relationship, because that would be crazy (right?), but things that are bad for us are the hardest to abstain from. Luckily for me though, I’m allowing myself some indulgence at the weekend, because total abstinence would drive me nuts, and harsh, punishing dieting programmes are hard to keep up and hey, you only live once. I read a great article by Jay Rayner in the Observer Food Monthly yesterday, where he observes that all his favourite foods (sausages,bacon, BBQ food) are likely to give him all sorts of cancers. However, food is his only vice and what is the point of prolonging your life to the age of 120 if you’ve been miserable and not enjoyed the foods that you salivate over? Now neither of us are saying go out and binge on processed meats and sticky ribs, but I frankly would feel that I’d wasted a large portion of my life if I constantly denied myself delicious food, and all I had to show for it was a few extra years in a care home. I don’t smoke, or drink heavily, I exercise regularly and I try to eat sensibly most of the time. Therefore, if I want to eat a huge curry or bake brownies then I bloody well will. I realise that this little rant has completely ruined the moral of todays blog which is ‘eat healthily guys!’, but life is too short. Enjoy yourself.

I really should get back to the food and away from the lecturing. Last night I cooked harissa salmon with couscous and vegatables from the same magazine I used for the fennel salad. (Delicious, August 2012). The magazine had a section devoted to 2012 recipes, eg, 20 recipes that took 12 minutes to cook. Nothing at all to do with the London 2012 Olympics but everyone else has been cashing in on The Games so why not food magazines? Unlike Mr Oliver and his ridiculous 30 minute expectations, this 12 minute dinner genuinely only took that amount of time and was fairly tasty. Nothing surprising about it really though, the salmon tasted like salmon but with a bit more kick from the harissa paste, which I believe is from the Middle East and widely available in the shops. Couscous tasted like lemon and coriander which is funny, because I added lemon and coriander to the mix. The recipe didnt call for any vegetables but I felt it needed to be a bit more nutritious, so while cooking the salmon I chucked in some red pepper and red onion with the fish. It was filling and healthy and had a nice spicy edge to it, which for a mid week dinner is a pretty good result. Expect me to fall off the wagon hard at the weekend though, I’m just itching to get baking. I also had another mini Amazon binge this week thanks to payday, so I’m currently awaiting the arrival of 3 books, all about French cooking or eating in Paris. The low fat French cookbook I had clearly wasn’t cutting the mustard, so I’m now waiting for The Little Paris Kitchen, French Brasserie, and Lunch in Paris. It’s safe to say I have been thoroughly inspired by my recent trip to Paris and am dying to try to cook some amazing French meals. Hurry up please postman!

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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Cooking, Fish, Food, French

 

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Hangover Breakfast

This week I seem to have turned into an all singing, all dancing version of myself. I spring out of bed in the morning, twirl the cat around and hum some delightful made up songs (“I don’t like tea, so I will make coffee” being just one of many examples) while boiling the kettle and pouring some fruit juice. My cameo in Glee is surely inevitable now, Hollywood- call me! You thought Gene Kelly could sing in the rain, well you ain’t seen nothing yet. Have I lost what little sanity I had left? Realised my true calling as a musical star? These could all very well be true, despite the fact my voice is a little rough around the edges, but in actual fact it’s because The Boyfriend is finally coming home and I only have 4 more sleeps to go until we are reunited! Very good reason to act like a cast member of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest without actually being sectioned. So yes, naturally I am very excited and impatient for Thursday to roll around. Being apart for so long is obviously very hard and not ideal, but it’s worth it to feel this happy and excited to see him in person and to act like a child in the week before Christmas. When your boyfriend coming home from work makes you this giddy, you know it’s meant to be. I’ve been telling everyone approximately every 20 minutes that he’ll be home soon, which must be very irritating, especially when I’ve had a few drinks and tell everyone every 5 minutes instead. So I’d like to apologise to the friends who had to put up with me acting like a lovesick puppy all night.
Speaking of last night, I decided I’d make myself a nice, filling breakfast to help recover from my hangover. Any normal person would have some bacon in the fridge and some fresh bread on the side to calm the hangover, but not me. Believe me, at times while making breakfast I was thinking why oh why hadn’t I just made a bacon sarnie like a normal, non cookbook obsessed person would? Apparently though, I don’t like to make my life any easier, but in the interests of new tastes and mixing things up a bit I persevered. Breakfast was haddock kedgeree from my cook book of the moment, Jamie’s Great Britain. It starts with boiling some rice and eggs, which is effortless, and chopping some garlic and onion, whose fragrance is a comforting way to clear the head of alcohol fuzziness. To be fair to the recipe, nothing in it is hard or taxing, but you need several pots and pans and the whole thing takes an hour to put together, which is a considerable nuisance when your tummies rumbling and your eyes are drooping with the lack of sleep. But ever the professional, I got it finished and impressively, cleaned some of the kitchen while waiting for the fish to poach. My favourite part of making the kedgeree involved peeling the shells off the hard boiled eggs, something about removing the crisp shell from the wobbly but firm eggs is very satisfying in a stress relieving way. I’m not sure what a psychiatrist would make of that, so let’s not ponder on that for too long, shall we? Although it was a faff to make first thing this morning, eating it really did the trick and was restorative and filling. Only the English would come up with a breakfast whose ingredients include curry spices, boiled eggs and smoked fish, but bless us for inventing it as its warming and tastes great. It also looks very pretty, with the bright yellow of the turmeric stained rice and near fluorescent orange from the egg yolks. In typical fashion, I made way too much so it looks like I’ll be having this for breakfast for the rest of the week. Life’s hard sometimes!

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Posted by on July 22, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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Salad for Summer days

Right, enough pussy footing around it weather, just give me, and the whole of sun starved Britain, some summer already. In a futile attempt to feel more summery and kick start the pitiful British summer (massively overestimating my abilities to change the weather), I cooked a summery salad of salmon and new potatoes from Jamie’s Great Britain. It’s getting plenty of use at the moment, I could lie and say I’m feeling really patriotic because of the upcoming Olympics, but actually this book is full of some good looking recipes which I’m more than happy to dive right into! But sure, bring on the Olympics too, I guess.

This salad is perfect for me because it’s pretty much as far removed from a salad one can be while still technically being a salad. No soggy lettuce, no shredded veg and no raw tomatoes (I hate raw tomatoes), just salmon, potatoes and a herby yoghurt dressing. Plus I L.O.V.E salmon, so extra bonus points for Mr Oliver. Now, I’m going to go off on a bit of a foodie rant here, I’ll apologise in advance for it, but if I can’t get a foodie rant out on my own food blog then where the hell can I? Basically, people who say they don’t like fish get right on my nerves. I’m sorry, I know plenty of mates who say this, and I love you all, but come on! You’ve ruled out an entire food source, and I’m willing to bet lots of money that they are basing this dislike either on a childhood hatred that they’ve never bothered to overcome as a grown up, or have tried one type of fish that they didn’t like and have assumed all fish taste very similar. Ridiculous. It’s like disliking cucumbers (which really are disgusting) and therefore deciding you hate all vegetables. So maybe salmon wasn’t your bag, fine, how about haddock/seabass/trout/bream/tuna/sole/eel/mackerel etc… Plenty of fish in the sea, as they say. Move on from your childhood dislikes,man up and try something new. If you try it and don’t like it, fine, but at least give it a go before ruling it out completely. It’s healthy, plentiful, light, tasty and apart from some farmed fish, you couldn’t get more free range, they’ve got the whole ocean! OK, rant over, although don’t even get me started on people who eat fish fingers but not actual fish.

Let’s get back to the salmon salad shall we? It was light and tasty, which is all you can ever ask from a salad, and for the first time in my entire life I managed to not over cook the salmon. This is a breakthrough, I finally took it out of the oven in time despite believing it needed another 5 minutes, and lo and behold, it was perfect. I should probably start taking on board the advice bestowed upon me in these books by professional chefs, rather than ignoring them and then wondering why the salmon is dry and tasteless. The yoghurt dressing added a good punch of mint and dill tang to the dish and complemented the salmon very well. Only problem now is that an hour after eating it, I still feel pretty hungry. Must. Resist. Chocolate.

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PS: Best way to learn to love fish is to do this: get on a boat tour off the coast of Portugal on a sunny day, with a tour guide who, while you’re swimming in the sea a mile off the coast, will cook sardines caught that morning on a BBQ, ready for you to eat once you’re done swimming. If this doesn’t convince you that fish is amazing, then I’m afraid there’s no hope for you as it doesn’t get better than that. It certainly worked for me as a fussy 10 year old, and I still remember it 16 years on.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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