Saturday, 30 January 2010

Smoked Fish Fritatta

The sun shines gloriously, fooling you in your cocoon that it is warm and spring-like outdoors. When you emerge, the weather nips and the air burns your lungs with its chill. So I've been in the kitchen more than usual this week experimenting with traditional Scottish winter food. It suits the weather and our sense of local and sustainable food but if you're not careful, you might find yourself eating turnip in various forms for six months of the year. Because of that, smoked fish and meat is common in Scotland, helping excite our taste buds and encouraging our winter diet to stray from the ubiquitous tunip.

This whole week has been spent in a fug of smoky air. I've had smoked haddock fishcakes, Cullen Skink, smoked salmon kedgeree and more than one flavour of fritatta. Today it smells like breakfast time in a wee country B&B. Smoked fish, whipped eggs and creamy potatoes are cooking placidly on the hob making a delicate but dense fritatta.

I love smoked fish, not just salmon but trout, mackeral, haddock even smoked mussels and crab. Only gentle cooking and some simple companions are needed to serve as a foil for its strength and showcase its gutsy flavours. This is based on a traditional Cullen Skink soup, rich, creamy and dense but, departing from tradition a little, it has light curry spicing.

Cullen Skink Fritatta
250g smoked, undyed haddock
100ml milk
6 eggs
100ml double cream
2 tbsp butter
1 leek, finely sliced
1 tsp medium curry powder
2 potatoes, cooked and diced
Salt and Pepper
Small bunch parsley

Poach the fish in the milk and enough water to cover for 4-6 minutes till lightly cooked. Drain and set aside
Beat the eggs and cream together till light and fluffy. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and saute the leeks until soft and melting.
Add the curry powder and cook gently for a minute or two. 
Add the potatoes and stir gently for a few minutes to meld with the leeks and spices.
Flake the fish into the fritatta and pour the eggs and cream into the pan.
Cook on a low heat until the fish is cooked through and the eggs begin to set.
Sprinkle with a few grinds of pepper, some parsley and a scant 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt. 
Place the pan under a preheated grill until the frittata is set and golden on top.
Serve with oatcakes and salad and a curry spiced chutney.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Perfect BLT

This is the best ever BLT sandwich, with chilli spiked dressing and a cheeky wee layer of avocado to add some health benefits! I've eaten many BLT's in my life and I love to order them at breakfast whenever I can. They vary hugely in flavour, variety and diversity depending on bread, dressings and presentation. But for me, I think the most important thing about this sandwich is the bread. If you use supermarket sandwich bread - you may as well have a bacon and ketchup sandwich - you will be happier that way.

If you are going to toy with salad greens, crispy bacon and nippy dressings, the bread has to be strong enough to do it justice. A textured sourdough maybe or a dense country white loaf would be good... I've used ciabatta, toasted and rubbed with garlic as with bruscetta and with toppings like these, how can you go wrong?

The Perfect BLT
For 2 people:
4 slices good bread, toasted
1 clove of garlic, halved
4 slices back bacon, grilled till crispy
1 large ripe tomato, sliced (not too thinly)
1/2 avocado, sliced
Handful of baby lettuce leaves

Rub the garlic on the toasted bread.
Layer the bacon, tomato,avocado and lettuce on the crispy bread then top with:

Hot Chili Mayonnaise
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp low fat yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp hot chilli sauce (not sweet thai sauce please)
Mix till well combined, taste to check the chilli is potent enough then drizzle on your sandwich.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Lanark Blue and Leek Tartlette

I love cookbooks, actually I love all books, but the more cookbooks in my collection the better. I have shelves and shelves filled with them. Some I pick up in charity shops, some were Christmas presents, birthday presents, the results of late-night Amazon shopping, others I have inherited from family and friends.

One of my many new year resolutions is to cook more from the beautiful collection of books I have, however this recipe, like so many we use regularly in our kitchens didn't come from a glossy magazine or cookbook, instead its a version of a quiche I had at a friend's house which she made from a recipe her mum passed on to her. I have messed around with it a little: I wanted small tarts to serve at breakfast, but the recipe started life as a full size quiche served with salads for lunch and would make a gorgeous starter at dinner.

The kitchen fills with a fug of steam as these emerge, the tang of leeks hangs in the air and the salty pungency of strong blue cheese makes your mouth water as they cool. These are a Scottish take on a traditional French recipe.

Lanark Blue and Leek Tartlette
200g shortcrust pastry
1 egg, beaten (for sealing pastry)
2 leeks, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
50g butter
2 eggs
100ml cream
1 tbsp grainy mustard
100g Lanark Blue Cheese (or other strongly flavoured blue cheese)
Freshly grated nutmeg and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C .
Roll the pastry out as thinly as possible, cut 12 rounds and line a muffin or tart tin with them.
Allow the pastry to stand higher than the rim of the cups to allow for shrinkage.
Prick the bases and brush with beaten egg.
Blind bake pastry for 8 minutes until lightly cooked.
Cook the leeks and garlic gently in the butter until tender, around 10-15mins. Do not allow the leeks to colour.
Beat the eggs, cream and mustard then add leeks and blue cheese.
Season to taste with a few grinds of nutmeg and pepper, the blue cheese should add enough saltiness so no salt should be required.
Spoon the mixture into the tart tins then bake for around 15 minutes until golden and puffed up.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Fresh Raspberry and Vanilla Jam

Scotland is known for its prolific berry farms. Brambles, tayberries, blaeberries, blackcurrants and raspberries both grow wild and are farmed throughout - the cooler summers and long days apparently encourage their sweetness. This week I am clearing out my freezer, which mostly means a week of eating portions of frozen chilli and left-over curry. However, hidden deep under the frozen spinach are two bags of raspberries picked and flash-frozen at the height of season last autumn and crying out to brighten this winter's day.

This is no jam in the traditional sense of the word - fruit boiled up for an age and preserved in jars (lovely though that can be). This fruity concoction is somwhere between a fruit compote and a fresh sauce that will liven up any breakfast with only a few minutes work.
Don't expect this raspberry jam to last forever, without the boiling process, it is not preserved! If it is not eaten within hours (which in my house it invariably is), it will keep in the fridge for about a week. Do expect it to be a little runnier than traditional jam - it needs a spoon rather than a knife to spread but the fresh zingy raspberry flavour is more than worth the minor inconvenience. If you are using frozen raspberries, defrost before cooking.

Not so much a recipe but a suggestion for: 
Raspberry and Vanilla Jam
Equal quantities of raspberries and caster sugar
For 2 punnets of raspberries (approx 200g) you will need either 1 vanilla pod or 2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160C.
Place the raspberries in an oven proof dish.
Place the caster sugar in another oven proof dish.
Heat the raspberries and sugar in the oven for around 10 minutes until warmed through.
Watch carefully to ensure the sugar does not burn.
Remove both from the oven and whisk together with the vanilla seeds or extract.
Allow to cool then store in the fridge for a week.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Mango and Prawn Summer Rolls with Garlic Chilli Dipping Sauce

I swear I am going to contract scurvy soon if I don't start piling on the vegetables. I have loved every bit of cold weather food - and will very probably be back eating it later in the week if the icy conditions don't dissipate but right now I am dreaming of spring - of being able to see my garden under the blanket of snow, of eating crisp salads NOT root vegetables. I think the best way to deal with that craving in deepest darkest mid-winter is with strong flavours, eye-watering aromas and naturally light food.

These summer rolls tick all the boxes, the are crammed with fresh vegetables and are low fat, packed full of flavour and incredibly filling and moreish. They can be bulked out with vermicelli noodles, chicken, pork or any other flavour you would like to add. Even kids love them, especially if the are allowed to make them up themselves (although my boys perfer plain soy sauce for dipping).For me, I love them with seafood and salad- the simpler the better.

Summer Rolls with garlic chilli dipping sauce
8 sheets of rice paper
16 cooked prawns or an assortment of mixed seafood
1/2 mango thinly sliced into batons
a handful of fresh lettuce leaves
fresh mint, basil or coriander leaves
very thinly sliced vegetables - any of the following:
peppers, mange tout, carrot, cucumber

Fill a bowl with warm water and dip each sheet of rice paper for 30 seconds until soft. Set aside under a damp tea-towel. Don't allow them to stick together. 
Place a couple of prawns, a few strips of mango, a little lettuce and herb and a mix of the fine vegetables down the middle of each rice paper. Roll up tightly and slice in half on the diagonal. Serve with Garlic Chilli Dipping Sauce.

Garlic Chilli Dipping Sauce
1 large clove of garlic, chopped finely
1small, hot red chilli, chopped finely
1 spring onion, chopped finely
Juice of 1 lime (approx 2tbsp)
1 Tablespoon of sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce

Whisk all the ingredients together and serve alongside the summer rolls.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Baked Chicken with Cider and Apples

...or Back In The Swing of Things Chicken. I am trying so hard to get back to normal after our extended christmas holidays, back to quick weekday meals, back to the treadmill of after-school sports classes and back to the routine of shopping, cooking and eating after weeks snowed in and living on lentils.

We are still in the depths of winter and rich, warming, satisfying, comfort food is all I want to eat despite all my new year healthy-eating resolutions. Sometimes I think the new year should come in March when the weather is lightening up, the days are getting longer and resolutions seem so much more achievable. I do love winter though, all this rain, sleet and snow allows us to enjoy the central heating of a soothing casserole without too much guilt.

I first ate a version of this in Normandy in France, all the specialities of that region feature: thick creme fraiche, local cider, crisp apples and free-range chicken. I have more recently found it in pubs in Scotland and restaurants in Devon -a recipe created wherever the apples are crunchy and the cream is fresh.

Baked Chicken with Cider and Apples
25g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 chicken, jointed (or 6-8 portions of chicken)
2 onions, cut into eighths
4 apples, peeled and sliced into wedges
300ml dry cider
100ml cider vinegar
1tbsp fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
100ml creme fraiche

Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the butter and oil in an flame-proof casserole, then saute the chicken portions till golden brown all over. Transfer the chicken to a plate then add the onions and apples to the pan and saute for a few minutes until they begin to colour. Return the chicken to the pan and add the cider, cider vinegar, bay leaf and thyme and heat till simmering. Place the casserole in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken, apples and onions and reduce the liquid by simmering gently to about half its volume. Stir in the creme fraiche then return the meat, apples and onions to the sauce and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Serve with new potatoes or rice.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Cold Hands, Hot Pastry

The snow has been falling for weeks now, my car has disappeared under driven snow. Between snow showers, the world freezes, the sky becomes clear blue and your breath is like fog. Beautiful maybe but I can not escape the village to break out to the shops and we are living entirely on storecupboard concoctions.

My hands have not warmed up since I ran to the logpile for firewood this morning. My fingers are numb so I am carrying my own winter warmers with me when I go out to play. Wrapped up in foil, hot and crispy with a delicate chilli hit, I'm hoping they will take the sting out of the cold and make it easier to hang out sledging and igloo making in the garden without needing to come indoors and cuddle a radiator every ten minutes.

Versions of these turn up in every bakers throughout Asia. Made with puff pastry or samosa pastry, they are breakfast fare in Malaysia and tiffin in India but I like them baked not fried, and although they can be filled with anything from spiced chicken to minced lamb and vegetable, I am having a post Christmas, vegetarian week so hot potato curry it is. 

Curry Puffs
2 large baking potatoes
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 cm ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp hot chilli powder
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
100g frozen peas
2 balls of frozen spinach
Small bunch of fresh coriander
1 package filo pastry
2oz butter, melted

Peel the potatoes. Chop them into small dice and boil till just cooked then drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Fry gently till soft and aromatic.
Add the cumin, coriander seed, garam masala, chilli, mustard seed, spinach, peas and potatoes and cook together on a low heat for 5 minutes until well mixed. Remove from heat and add a good handful of finely chopped coriander.
Cut the pastry into long strips, approx 6cm x 25cm. Place a teaspoon of the mixture at the top of a pastry strip and fold over to cover the potatoes and make a triangle. Keep folding the triangle over until you reach the end of the pastry sheet and your filling is well enclosed. Brush the filled triangle with melted butter.
This makes around 20 pastries which can be frozen uncooked and baked from frozen. Bake 180C for 8-10  minutes until golden brown (10-12 minutes if frozen).
Serve with raita and fruity chutney.