A Scandi-style birthday supper

September 24, 2017

It’s my birthday today (happy birthday to me!), and to kick things off, I invited my best gals round for dinner last night. Most people look forward to being cooked for on their birthday, but for me cooking is such a pleasurable task, it makes my day if I have the time and space to make a really special meal for my really special friends.

As is often my way, I had one specific ingredient in mind around which I wanted to build the meal – and last night’s dinner was all about a jar of Danish pickled plums. Last week, I’d bought a punnet of bog-standard supermarket plums to make a cake with, but I ate one and it was so utterly tasteless, I couldn’t bring myself to use them. I didn’t want to waste them, though, so I dug around and found a Diana Henry recipe for Danish pickled prunes in her brilliant Salt Sugar Smoke book. I simply replaced the prunes with my plums, and followed the rest of her recipe. (I’ll definitely be making them again, so will post the recipe another time.)

I thought a fish dish would be suitably Scandi, and the gentle sweetness of smoked haddock would be a perfect match for the sharp pickle. Wanting to keep things relatively simple, I went for a one-pot recipe, and the result was baked smoked haddock and fennel, with lemon zest and chives.

I made a tomato and quick-pickled red onion salad for the side, plus some simply boiled baby purple potatoes (which I was very happy to spot at the veg shop, as they are utterly delicious).

Baked smoked haddock and fennel

Here’s the recipe for the fish:

Serves 4
600g smoked haddock (the natural stuff, if you can get it, in as large pieces as possible)
8 whole peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
400ml milk
4 bulbs fennel
zest of half a lemon
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
400ml fish stock
olive oil
1 small bunch chives

1 Put the haddock, with the skin still on, in a single layer in a large pot. Add the peppercorns, fennel seeds and bay leaf, and pour over enough milk to almost cover the fish. Put the lid on the pot, slowly bring to a gentle boil, then turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly in the liquid.

2 Heat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Trim the fennel bulbs, reserving any decent fronds. Quarter each bulb, then slice each quarter in half again. Place the fennel slices in a baking dish so they are tightly packed but in a single layer.

3 Scatter the lemon zest, chopped fennel fronds and garlic evenly over the fennel slices and grind some black pepper over. Strain 200ml of the milk the fish has been cooked in, and add to the fish stock, then pour this over the fennel. This should come to almost the top of the fennel. If you need more liquid, add some more of the fishy milk. Drizzle some olive oil evenly over the top of the fennel.

4 Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes – the liquid should have reduced by about half, and it should all be nicely browned – then place the whole pieces of haddock on top of the fennel. Drizzle a little more olive oil on the fish, and grind a little pepper over it. Taste the liquid in the dish, and if it needs it season with a little salt.

5 Bake in the oven for another 10 minutes, until the fish is starting to brown a little, then scatter with a good handful of snipped chives. Serve with boiled potatoes and your vegetable or salad of choice – and something pickled if you have it.

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Get your skate on…

January 22, 2013

When looking for somewhere to live, I have a feeling I’m led by my nose – or stomach – as I always seem to end up in areas that have a great supply of foodie wonders. And my current location is no different.

Tucked into a lovely little nook where Peckham, Honor Oak and East Dulwich meet, I’m a stone’s throw from such a fantastic variety of shops, cafés, delis and pubs that I’m never at a loss for inspiration.

The best thing is that around 90% of them are local, independently owned places, and that’s just great in this age of the Tesco Metro-type faux-local shops (which, in my opinion, are far more damaging to small independent shops than the monoliths on the edges of towns).

Last night’s dinner was a perfect storm of ingredients pretty much entirely bought in my little nook. A skate wing from a fish stall in Northcross Road; olives, tomatoes and yoghurt from the Turkish supermarket over the road; sprouting broccoli and cauliflower from Herne Hill farmers’ market (okay, a wee bit out of the nook, but still in the SE region).

Bare Cupboard gives you wings

Bare Cupboard gives you wings

The starting point for this meal was the skate wing. I really wanted to do something other than the usual caper butter with it, so when I came across a recipe for John Dory with broccoli sauce in Anna Del Conte’s Amaretto, Apple Cake And Artichokes, and remembered I had some rapidly fading sprouting broccoli in the fridge, I knew I’d found what I was looking for.

A search through the far corners of my fridge resulted in a rather sorry looking piece of cauliflower, so I thought I’d better use that up quick before it became too floppy to do anything with. But I needed to do something sharp and flavourful with it, otherwise I was likely to end up with a somewhat bland, sweet meal.

And then, in a moment when it felt like all the food gods were smiling on me, I found a recipe in Angela Hartnett’s A Taste Of Home for cauliflower, tomato and olive salad – all of which I had in my fridge.

Angela Hartnett and Anna Del Conte – two of my favourite cookery writers

Angela Hartnett and Anna Del Conte – two of my favourite cookery writers

The salad was a piece of parsley to make. Cut the cauliflower into smallish florets, cook until just tender, leave to cool, then mix with tomatoes and olives, and a glug of vinaigrette. Who would have thought the combination of cauliflower and olives would taste so good? But take my word for it, it does.

Cauliflower, tomato and olive salad

Cauliflower, tomato and olive salad

On to the fish.

To make the sauce, sauté a finely chopped onion or shallot in olive oil (Anna’s recipe says butter, but I was looking to make it a bit lighter) in a shallow saucepan or heavy frying pan with a lid. Using a vegetable peeler, take off the tough outer skin of the broccoli stalks, then finely chop the whole lot, leaves and all.

Once the onion is soft, add the broccoli and enough fish stock to just cover the vegetables. Simmer for a good 20 minutes or so, checking the stock hasn’t evaporated, adding more as necessary. Towards the end of cooking, I also added a big handful of parsley, just because I had some that needed using up – but it also gave the sauce a more vivid green colour.

Sautéing finely chopped sprouting broccoli

Sautéing finely chopped sprouting broccoli

Once the broccoli is really soft, bung the lot in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit more of the fish stock if it needs loosening. Put the sauce back into a clean saucepan and keep warm while you cook the fish.

The broccoli sauce, waiting for its skate wing

The broccoli sauce, waiting for its skate wing

Anna’s recipe for the John Dory says to cook it in white wine – I forgot to get any, so instead I oiled a baking dish, placed the skate in it and covered with fish stock and a good squeeze of lemon juice. I baked it for about 20 minutes at 190°C.

Another minor adjustment to Anna’s recipe was that instead of adding cream to the sauce, just before serving, I plopped in a spoonful of natural yoghurt. I’m not a massive fan of creamy sauces, and as the broccoli was quite sweet, I found the touch of sharpness from the yoghurt gave it a bit of life.

Skate with broccoli sauce, and cauliflower, tomato and olive salad

Skate with broccoli sauce, and a cauliflower, tomato and olive salad on the side

The skate wing I had was pretty huge, so half of it was more than sufficient. The other half went in the fridge and was a very tasty lunch the next day, with another bit of salad on the side.

I’m back in France at my mum’s just now, and had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Le Mans at the beginning of the week. Yes, we all know it’s where the 24-hour car race takes place, but really, there is so much more to this beautiful medieval city.

On my last morning there, I had just enough time to nip down to the marché des Jacobins (every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, from 7.30am to 12.30pm) to see what the local stall-holders had to offer. Located under the gaze of the stunning St Julien cathedral, it has to be one of the most beautifully located markets ever.

In other respects, it’s a fairly typical market, but, of course, typical rarely means boring when it comes to French produce. This is a funny time of year for fresh fruit and veg – the last of the winter stuff well and truly over, and the delights of spring not quite kicking in. But, still, the market was pretty much busting at the seams with lovely looking food.

Radishes being one of my favourite nibbles, I couldn’t resist buying a large bunch of the crunchy gems, pictured below. Just behind them is a kind of salad called mâche, something you don’t see very often in the UK. It’s one of my mum’s favourites, so a large bag of that was purchased, too. We also bought some dandelion leaves, which were dotted with tiny buds of the flower and had a surprisingly sweet flavour.

As well as the fresh stuff, there were inevitably a number of stalls selling bread. I noticed that a lot of places in Le Mans sold what was called traditional baguette, and when I tried some, I realised it was a kind of levain baguette. And delicious it was, too.

Despite being pretty restrained with our purchases, once Mum and I got home, we realised we did have rather a large amount of lettuce-y type things to munch through. So, for lunch today, I made a large salad of mâche, dandelion leaves, radishes, chicory, celery and cherry tomatoes.

I rustled up smoked salmon omelettes, with herbs from Mum’s garden, to eat alongside the salad, and, with the sun shining and temperatures heading towards 20 degrees, we sat outside for what felt like the first summer lunch of the year. Lovely.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (okay, I’m showing my age – a scratched CD), as fantastic as the food markets are in Istanbul, the selection can get a little repetitive at times. So it’s always a bit of a surprise when I see something new – especially when it’s an item I just don’t associate with Turkish cuisine.

This week that item was jerusalem artichokes. They are currently in vast, knobbly abundance at every market stall and local greengrocer around here, so I’m assuming this is the season for them.

Now, I’m very fond of jerusalem artichokes, and, luckily, so is Süleyman, but what I really didn’t want to do with them was make a soup. That seems to be a surefire way of suffering those well-known side effects of this particular vegetable. (Parp.)

After some mulling, I came up with idea of combining them with potatoes and making a kind of rosti with them. So, I chopped up the artichokes and potatoes into large chunks and placed them in cold water along with plenty of salt, a couple of bay leaves, a few whole peppercorns and one roughly chopped onion.

The idea was to par-boil them before letting them cool, then grate them for the rosti. Unfortunately, I took my eye of the stove and let them cook a little longer than they should have been. So, when I got round to the grating bit, the veggies just crumbled into a slightly mushy mound.

Still, I wasn’t going to let that deter me. They’d just be patties instead. And, because of that, I decided to make a few individual patties, instead of the one big rosti that you usually see in recipes. Plus, I was making beefburgers to go with them, and thought they’d look nice on top of the patties. (Forget how they taste, as long as they look good, eh?)

So, that’s what we had for dinner. Jerusalem artichoke and potato patties, with homemade beefburgers, and a tomato and cornichon salad with a mustard and parsley dressing. The delicious nuttiness of the artichokes went very well with the comforting sweet flavour of the potatoes, while the burgers and tomato salad added just the right tangy taste and crunchy texture to make it the perfect winter supper.

And, I can confirm, with no unpleasant after-effects.

Sounds meh, tastes mmm…

November 11, 2010

I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to Bare Cupboard & Claudia, after the Julie & Julia film. After all, I seem to be blogging my way through Claudia Roden’s The New Book Of Middle Eastern Food in much the same way that Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.

And today was no different…

I actually made this dish for the first time last week in Istanbul, when I found a bag of seriously softening carrots in the bottom of my fridge. I did what I always do in this situation, and that’s head for the index of a few cookbooks to see if I had enough other ingredients to make something interesting with whatever it is I want to use up.

In this case, I found a recipe that, I have to admit, sounded like something Nanny would have forced upon some sorry Dickensian school-children. Boiled carrot salad. But once I’d read the list of simple ingredients, I had a feeling it was going to taste much better than the name suggested.

Fortunately, I was right. Unfortunately, the photos I took made it look as though Nanny had had a punch-up with the mashed carrots – and lost. Best left for another time, I decided.

And the ‘other time’ presented itself to me today. I arrived at my mum’s in France yesterday, a stopover on my way back to London (only a visit – I haven’t fled Istanbul altogether!), and after a quick rummage in her well-stocked fridge, I found some similarly floppy carrots. Boiled carrot salad for lunch, then.

So, the first step is to, er, boil the carrots. In salted water, with a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic. Once the vegetables are super-soft, mash them with a hefty pinch of cumin seeds (I usually just crumble them between my fingertips, rather than grind them to a fine powder), a teaspoon of harissa paste (I used pul biber the first time I made it, and actually thought it tasted better), a splash of wine vinegar (either red or white will do), and a good glug of olive oil. I found that it also needed a bit more of a seasoning with salt and pepper. Don’t mix’n’mash too thoroughly, as it’s tastier when a bit chunky. Leave it to cool a little, then scatter with a few more cumin seeds, a little cayenne pepper (or, in my case, pul biber), and another glug of olive oil.

Mum and I ate it with an avocado salad, some crunchy baguette, and a glass of delicious Muscadet. We both agreed that it was very tasty, and could easily become rather addictive. Nanny would be proud…

Feeling a bit fresh

September 25, 2010

As wonderful as the fresh produce is here in Istanbul, because the markets very much rely on local, seasonal vegetables and fruit, there is often not much choice in the actual variety of what’s on offer.

Yes, I love the full-flavoured tomatoes, sweet red peppers and deep purple aubergines, but I have been craving a bit of a change in my diet. So, when I spotted a large pile of gorgeously bright green broccoli piled on a market stall a couple of days ago – something I hadn’t seen for sale here before – I grabbed as much as I could carry.

It’s always been one of my favourite vegetables, and I could have easily have just munched my way through the stuff raw. But today, for lunch, I made the next best thing.

Lightly steamed, I combined the broccoli florets with shredded raw red cabbage and carrot, then piled the lot onto a mixture of lettuce and rocket, and dressed it with a vinaigrette made with some Turkish “grape vinegar” – essentially Balsamic vinegar, but as it doesn’t come from the Balsamic region, I guess, technically, you can’t call it that.

On the side, is a simit – a ubiquitous Turkish snack, usually described as bagel-like. There are men with little carts on virtually every street corner selling these bread rings, and they are really tasty. Before baking, the rings are dipped in molasses, then coated in sesame seeds to give them their unique flavour and texture.

Afterwards, still on my fresh and raw tip, I decided to cut into another new find for me – a teeny , tiny melon. I’m not sure what kind of melon it grows up to be, but they are sold as small as 3-4in long, and when I showed it to Süleyman, he said, “Mmm, yummy.”

Unfortunately, he wasn’t around when I decided to eat it. I say unfortunately, because I actually really didn’t like it. It kind of tasted like a cross between a cantaloupe melon and a courgette, but not very strongly of either.

In fact, I just couldn’t eat it at all, so put the untouched half into the fridge for Süleyman to finish off later, and decided to have something I know I like – fresh figs.

Now, this is when the seasonal thing comes into its own in Istanbul. It’s the perfect time of year for fresh figs, and I’m stuffing myself silly with them at the moment. My favourite way to eat them is with a great dollop of yoghurt on top. Which is exactly how I finished my lunch today.

So fresh and so healthy, it made me feel rather virtuous!

New markets…

August 18, 2010

Wednesday is market day in Turkey, and Istanbul is no exception. So, despite a hot, humid, sleepless night, I managed to drag myself out of bed and get to our local pazar in Sultanahmet early enough to avoid the crowds and the daytime heat.

And what a joy it was. I felt like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop – especially when it came to the many and varied salad leaves at one stall. As well as a bunch of gorgeous crisp rocket and the biggest cos lettuce I’ve ever seen, I got a bunch of something the name of which is a mystery to me, but looks like nettles and tastes like nasturtium leaves.

The other intriguing purchase at the salad stall was a bunch of purple basil (on the left in the photo above), but rather than used as a flavouring in a cooked dish, its subtle flavour means it can be used in great handfuls as an addition to a salad. And, I can tell you, with the current high temperatures in Istanbul, I have appetite for little more than a fresh pile of green stuff!

Although, ironically, something I just couldn’t resist were these tiny round chillies (pictured above left). Apparently they are super-hot, but as Turks generally don’t like spicy food, I’ll take that with a pinch of salt. Süleyman rolled his eyes at them, so I reckon I’ll be the only one eating them.

Food is still very much seasonal and local in Turkey, with very little imported. And, boy, can you tell the difference in the quality of fresh produce. At the moment, at the height of summer, there is an amazing array of fruit and veg available (one of my current faves are the huge, plump purple figs sold on every corner), so, if there’s one thing I won’t be feeling homesick about, it’s clearly the food.

A big tart

July 14, 2010

The other day I got a marriage proposal. Not from the man currently awaiting my arrival in Istanbul. But from the lovely Lene, my friend whose spare room I’m currently occupying.

We’d spent a very profitable but tiring morning selling off my excess baggage at Chiswick car boot sale, then returned home to make tea for our friend Helen and her two kids, Eric and Agnes.

Despite having got up at the ungodly hour of 3.30am, we quickly made cake, scones, sandwiches, salads and dips – and it was our impressive teamwork that led Lene to suggest I should not, in fact, move to Istanbul, but stay in London and marry her instead. I told her that if things didn’t work out with Süleyman, I’d definitely consider the offer!

And I’m certainly loving the way we’ve just clicked living together – easily sharing the cooking and household chores, and having someone to talk to when the practicalities of moving to Istanbul become a little overwhelming. In return, I’ll make sure I’m around to cook for her boys when she wants to go out (and to send Dexter to bed before he falls asleep in front of the television with his Xbox in his hand).

Which is what I did last night. Lene, being a bit of a yoga bunny, headed off for an evening of bending into strange shapes, while I fed Dexter (Wesley still making very rare appearances, thanks to a summer of parties stretching ahead of him).

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dexter is a pretty adventurous eater (especially considering he’s a young vegetarian), and is always willing to try new dishes. But it’s still something of a challenge for me to come up with veggie meals that he and the rest of us will enjoy.

So, a trawl through my trusty folder of cut-out recipes came up with this delicious-looking French tomato tart, which I’d seen on David Lebovitz’s blog. I decided to buy the tomatoes from Lina Stores, the lovely old Italian deli on London’s Brewer Street, and thought, rather than the French goat’s cheese David suggests, I’d stick with the Italian theme and try some of that country’s cheese instead.

A chat with the lady behind the counter resulted in me buying a nice big chunk of flavourful Fontina, which I thought would be the perfect foil to the sharp mustard base of the tart. (Dexter tried a slice of it while I was preparing the tart, and declared it his second favourite cheese, after brie!)

The beautiful, plump plum tomatoes combined with some fresh herbs direct from Lene’s garden gave the tart a truly summery flavour. So, on the side, I kept it seasonal and made a crunchy radish and gherkin coleslaw with mustard mayonnaise, and one of my all-time faves, cauliflower, fennel and celery salad with a lemon dressing, from Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food. We also ate several slices of my latest loaf of sourdough bread, slathered in lots of butter.

This is the kind of food I could just eat mounds of in the summer – and, luckily, Dexter felt the same. Although, we did manage to leave a few morsels for Lene…

For a couple of years now, I’ve been in the habit of taking my lunch into work with me every day. Usually, it’s a fresh salad of some description. But, now I’m making a more determined effort to clear my cupboards, I’m simply making larger quantities of my evening meal, eating the leftovers the next day.

We don’t have a microwave in our office, so the food I take in has to either be eaten raw or taste okay cold. And not all leftovers are very nice cold, so coming up with dishes that work the next day is an added challenge to my culinary skills.

However, tonight’s supper worked in every respect – as a tasty hot meal and as a cold extra to my lunchtime salad tomorrow.

Artichokes are one of my all-time favourite vegetables, but they can be a bit of a hassle to cook fresh if you don’t have a lot of time, not to mention quite pricey. The tinned ones can taste a little briny, but with the right flavour additions, they’re just as delicious as the fresh ones.

So, for a really quick pasta sauce, fry some onion and garlic until soft. Add a drained and rinsed tin of artichokes, some frozen peas, fresh parsley, mint, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and simmer for just a few minutes until the peas are cooked through. I made the sauce quite dry, so it wouldn’t waterlog my salad the next day, but if you’re just making it to go with pasta, then I’d suggest adding a little water.

So, another day, and another recipe to lower my store-cupboard and freezer stocks…

A spring-loaded salad

April 20, 2010

I recently read a news story about how the long, cold winter we’ve just had has affected the English asparagus crop. And, although you’d usually expect it to start making an appearance about now, this year we wouldn’t be seeing anything until May.

So, as a big fan of this vegetable, I was more than a little pleased to see a great basketful of lovely, fresh green asparagus at the Secretts Farm stall at last Saturday’s Borough Market.

I eagerly grabbed a small handful of spears, and although it wasn’t cheap (it came to nearly £4 for about ten spears), I just couldn’t resist. They found their way into yesterday’s lunch – a salad with, among other things, oak leaf lettuce, and topped off with a nice, soft boiled egg.

Spring, as far as I’m concerned, has properly arrived!