Saturday, 25 September 2010

Gone fishing: Smoked mackerel and bacon cakes

I'd never had fish cakes until a couple of years ago. Really. I'm not sure why or how, I guess I was more a battered fish and chips kind of child, but they are a midweek meal revelation. Meat and potatoes in one dish! You don't even need a side, it's all there self-contained in one plump little pattie. Weaning myself in on M&S ones, it was high time to graduate to making my own, step in Nigel Slater's...

Smoked mackerel and bacon cakes
Serves 4 (here I halved quanities for 2)

400g floury potatoes
150g smoked streaky bacon
3 spring onions
1tbsp olive oil
250g smoked mackerel flesh
oil for cooking
flour for dusting
lemon halves to serve

Peel and pop the potatos on to boil. While they're simmering away put the bacon and roughly chopped spring onions in the food processor and whizz until they look soft and sort of crumbly (left).

Once the potatoes are boiled, drain and mash away. Fry up the onions and bacon mix in oil until golden and tasty smelling and then tip them into the mashed potato. Flake the mackerel flesh into the mix and stir through, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper.

Now for the fun part, flour up a backing tray and with floury hand shape your patties and leave on the tray in a cool place (I went for by an open window) for 20 minutes.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. dust each cake with some of the flour from the tray and pop in the hot oil. Fry for a about 4 minutes on each side until they are crisp and golden, mmmm. Serve with the lemon half, some salad and, if you are feeling well crazy, some creme fraiche or tartare sauce. Yum.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Roon-ing around (and no nothing to do with Wayne)

It's hard not to love macaroons (macarons en Francais). Small, perfectly formed, melt in the mouth. But being an impoverish journo the one thing I don't love it the price (£1 a macaroon!! But they're tiny!!!) and they've stopped sending me free ones... So... I thought... how hard can they be to make? Uhum...

So make your own macaroons. There are plenty of recipes out there so Saturday morning and I set to work. I had two recipes: Ottolenghi and Delicious Magazine. So of course, erring on the side of caution why not combine them?! But what flavour, what flavour... the trusted Ottolenghi offered up salt peanut and caramel, lime and basil and chocolate, while Delicious opts for a myriad of flavour extracts or chocolate.... mmmm. But it had to be raspberry.

The first stumbling block came when 'the big Tescos' didn't have raspberry flavour extract. Ok, I thought, I'll get really raspberries, we'll work this.

Macaroons are essentially almondy meringue sandwiches, so the basis to the recipe is sugar, egg whites and ground almonds. Easy! Laduree, watch out.

I kicked off on the Delicious recipe (sorry, Otto, I love you really and this may have been my first mistake) but mostly because it called for bigger qualities (175g icing sugar, 125g ground almonds, 3 large egg whites, 75g caster sugar) compared to Otto's (110g icing sugar, 60g ground almonds, 2 large egg whites, 40g caster sugar) and I was greedy.

The method though is pretty much standard:

Pre-heat the over to 160 (less if you're is fan, not accounted for in the Otto recipe, error two). Sieve the icing sugar and ground almonds into a bowl.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk until thick and glossy, adding the caster sugar as the peaks form.

Of course, I couldn't resist the classic test: tipping the bowl upside down. Gingerly, very gingerly...

Phew. Fold bit by bit, either the meringue into the almond/icing sugar or the almond/icing sugar into the meringue (recipe dependant). Now add your flavouring. Working with my fresh raspberries, I decided the best option would be to blitz them in the food processor and then sieve them to take out the pips. So I added the juice which gave a satisfying pinky colour to the mixture. Now comes the fun/messy bit: piping! So armed with a icing piping bag (John Lewis or a specialist cooking shop will help you out), fill the bag halfway and then pipe only a baking paper lined tray. You're aiming for blobs about 3cm wide, about the size of a two pound coin. They don't swell like cookies when you bake them so space them but you don't need loads of room.

Bang them on the kitchen surface so they form a good 'foot' (you know that distinctive puffy, rough base). Leave for 15 minutes uncovered before you pop them in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.

While the 'bread' of the sandwich as cooking, it's time to make the buttercream filling. Having had far too much meringue mix for my trays last time, I decided to switch back to my beloved Otto (sorry I deserted you!). So 100g unsalted soft butter and 45g icing sugar mixed together until pale coloured and smooth. Then add your flavouring (more pulverised raspberries).

Check the 'breads' regularly though (third mistake), you want them raised and hard but leave them too long and they'll go golden and overcooked. They should also be cooked enough that they come easily off the baking sheet and there's no meringue goo still holding them on. Mine were almost there but somehow both slighty over-and under-cooked.

Leave the meringues to cool before assembling the macaroons with a small spoonful of buttercream holding the sandwiches together, then leave somewhere cool to set.

So the verdict? Ok, so they're no Laduree, more homely than haute-caketure but they still disappeared between me and the Boy in ooh two days. Twenty of them. But for next time? Work on the meringue mixture (I think I might need a more precise scale). The flavouring needed to be a bit more intense... it was kind of like roses to rose water in terms of the raspberry flavour. And I need to play with the oven temperature and time (a constant battle with my oven). And oh, one last thing, I think they would've been better with a jam-y filling rather than buttercream. But apart from that they were deeeeeeeeelicious. And very much less than £1 each.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Pick your own, make your own

There are certain childhood memories that are hold a mythical status in your mind - for me going to pick your own fruit is right up there. Rows upon rows of raspberries glistening in the sun, as much as you can eat straight from the branch... well that might not technically be the point of pick your own, but it was for me. It was like the Willy Wonka Factory but instead of chocolate there were raspberries, everywhere. Until I was quite possibly sick.

So sunny bank holiday weekend and I did my best child like pleading. 'Peeeeeeeeeete, please can we go pick your own pleeeeeeeeeeease. You prooooooomiiiiiiiised.' It worked. And off we piled in the car to Garsons in Esher - the very same pick your own farm as I went to as a kid. Oh it was too good to be true.

Now, many things that were immense as a child shrink under adult eyes. Cinema pick'n'mix tastes a little less sweet. Slides are so much shorter and lower. Swimming pool wave machines no longer house sharks, but are just bars at the end of the pool (is that just me?). But the pick your own farm was still as huge as I remembered.

'We need to get some punnets.' I informed the Boy as we drove past field upon field.

'I think we need to find something to pick first.' Good point, it turns our August isn't prime picking period, oops.

We stop at the corn fields first. I hate to admit but I'd never really knew that corn grew out the bottom of the erm, corn on the cob plants... but we selected two plump looking corns 'for starters'. But I was really here for the fruit. Some sad looking blackberry plants were either overpicked or under-ripe and a good 20 minutes of picking only yielded a handful of berries and some scratched wrists. Onward. Carrots, onions and marrows didn't really have the immediate hit (uhum, eat) appeal...

'Maybe if we got some apples we could make a crumble,' said the Boy. Good plan.

Apples were much more fun to pick, giving a satisfyingly weighty plop into your palm when you twisted them off the tree.

But apple picking wasn't what I was here for really. Back in the car in search of the sweet fruit. And just before we got to the exit: berry nirvana! Raspberries, strawberries, ripe and ready to go. I hadn't imagined how fun this was after all. Pick one, eat one, pick one...

Back home it was crumble time. One of my favourite quick-fire recipes is peach, raspberry and ginger crumble from Gordon Ramsay's Cooking for Friends. It's dead simple and won over the Boy's grandmother so it's a keeper. I'll give it to you whole before today's adaptation, becasue it is yum and the stem ginger is an amazing addition.

Peach, raspberry and ginger crumble

For the filling:
8 fimr but ripe peaches
250g raspberries
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp icing sugar
2 stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped

For the crumble:
50g plain flour
pinch of salt
40g diced butter
35g rolled oats
50g demerara sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
30g slivered almonds or crushed hazelnuts (or both!)

Heat the oven to 190. To make the filling: Cut the peaches into wedges and toss in a large bowl with the raspberries, lemon juice, icing sugar and stem ginger. Spread them evenly in a large butter baking dish.

To make the crumble: put the flour and salt in a bowl and add the diced butter. Rub the butter into the floru with your fingers until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the oats, sugar, cinnamon and nuts and sprinkle over the filling. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until crumble is golden brown and then stand for 10 before serving with ice cream (of course!)

To turn this beauty into late summer fruits crumble: make the filling with one large sliced cooking apple, a handful of blackberries and a handful and a half of raspberries. Toss with the lemon juice, icing sugar but replace the ginger with a covering of ground cinnamon. Crumble and bake the same and voila, from field to bowl in one day.