Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Root Vegetable Rosti

So tonight, in reaction to all that beige last night, we're going Technicolour. This root vegetable rosti is almost neon with carrot, beetroot, apple and potato. You can spice it up with garam masala or other spices, tart it up with a sprightly tomato sauce, keep it veggie or use it as a side to meat or fish. And feel free to vary the vegetables: celeriac, parsnip, kohlrabi and swede all have their place here.

Serves 2-4

1 large potato, peeled
2 small beetroot, peeled
1 large carrot, peeled
1 apple, peeled
1 onion, peeled (optional)
Salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. plain flour

Grate the veg and mix in a bowl. Whisk in the egg and flour and season well. Add spices now if you're doing that. Pour a good covering of oil into a non-stick pan and add the veg mix, flattening it down. Leave it to cook and brown over a moderate heat for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and you feel brave enough to turn it onto a plate, then slide back into the pan to cook the other side. If you don't feel like you want to do that - and the key really is to leave it to cook long enough - do individual ones; just cook until properly golden on both sides.

We're having ours with roasted chicken thighs and some fresh tomatoes diced and cooked with garlic and a little ground cumin and coriander. These do go well, however, with some kind of pig.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Smoked Haddock Chowder - Beige Night

Digression: In 5 or even 6 weeks time - and it's wholly uncertain which - we get to move again. Third time in 3 years. This time it's just around the corner, quite literally: we can hear the diggers from our back garden. We're buying a new-build and we're putting down roots: the two aren't quite as mutually exclusive, it seems, as you might think.

Renting's an odd thing. Get the right house and you can kid yourself for quite a long time it's all good. The beige walls and carpet can be coloured up with a few wall stickers and picture, the lounge can withstand the red rug everyone hates, even you, though you bought it to cover the carpet a little and "accent" the throws you bought to lighten up the furniture. But still it comes down to the boring mantra "Don't swing/bash/colour that - it's not ours" and you all feel slightly dampened; it's not yours and you can't touch it. Hard with a small child, harder still when you just want to colour the damn beige in yourself. I'm going mad with wall stickers when we finally move in. MAD.

Anyway, tonight's dinner is also distinctly on the beige side. Tbh, I needed to use up milk, which seems to multiply in my fridge like pigweed in the night and so this, as well as the mac cheese that is no doubt coming later in the week, is just the thing. V easy and feel free to use smoked cod, or bacon as well, or different veg: this is just what we had in. Mussels make a very fine luxe version, for the weekend maybe.

Serves 3

400g or so smoked fish
300ml milk
100ml double cream
bay leaf and peppercorns
knob of butter
1 onion, finely sliced
1 leek, finely sliced
Handful small potatoes or indeed 1-2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
Frozen peas and sweetcorn (optional)
Handful raw prawns
Chopped parsley or dill
Squeeze of lemon juice

Simmer the smoked fish in the milk and cream with the bay leaf and peppercorns for 5-7 minutes or until it flakes away. Discard the skin, reserve the liquid and set the fish aside.

Sweat the alliums in the butter until truly soft and slippery. Add the potatoes and cook for a few minutes without browning, then add the milk/cream and simmer for 10 minutes or until soft. Add a little more milk or cream or even fish stock if you feel it needs topping up. This is a soup so you want generous amounts of liquid.

Add the haddock, prawns and peas and corn if using. I like the idea of corn in a chowder, MCD hates it, but I'm cooking, so ho-hum. Simmer until the prawns are cooked, then adjust the seasoning and add the herbs and lemon juice. Serve in deep bowls with crusty baguette for dunking.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Spanish-style Fish Stew

I'm not one for "family-friendly" food. I think I might have said before that this whole "family-friendly" schtick really pees me off; I'm not even sure what it's supposed to mean other than an assumption the entire family is only happy if eating gristle nuggets, limp microwave chips and bowls of ketchup. It's as patronising and demeaning as it is irritating, and even more so when you happen to have a child who - I kid you not - will order fish and chips with peas and spend happy hours peeling off the batter to get to the fish and scoffing it, eating the peas, leaving a beige collation of cold chips and batter on the side of the plate. Service staff have been known to raise their eyebrows in a questioning "Seriously?" before tentatively asking if everything was alright - because if the batter and chips are left, what could have been eaten? I tend to balk at those places, tbh.

Actually he's a fantastic eater full-stop but that's because I really believe in what I'm doing and I'm really stubborn. I don't honestly recall having bought fish fingers, nuggets or anything of that ilk, EVER, but that's not to say they're wholly bad; some - my own family included - have called me mean, as if I'm depriving him of some obligatory sensory experience necessary to validate the life of a 3 year old, but he was already occasionally having those things at school, so I don't see why I should narrow his palate profile - which sounds as if I just made it up and I did - by serving the same at home. If we have burgers, we tend to make them; we have sausages, just not with chips, and we only tend to have chips if we have steak or fish....

Also - and I will get to the recipe in a minute but bear with - I have to tell you about a recent triumph which has everything to do with persistence and patience and nothing to do with bourgeois snobbery AT ALL. MCD Jr has always loved smoked salmon, to the point he used to make my sister gag with the alacrity with which he shoved it down, but over the last year decided he no longer liked it. So we said nothing, kept buying it occasionally, offering it and telling him the story of how he ate it "when he was a baby" and hoped he'd change his mind. Finally, a few weeks ago, I was putting some out for lunch and asked him as usual if he'd fancy some. MCD Jr thought solemnly about it for some seconds then asked if he could. Then ate a slice in much the usual fashion before announcing it was once more acceptable to his palate and he now liked that AND little prawns. Next challenge: mussels.

So the thing I cooked last night was not "family-friendly" but it was the sort of thing I tend to cook and expect everyone to eat or go hungry, which is sort of the rule in our house. It was Spanish-style because I had some chorizo from Aldi and some Serrano ham and I wanted to do fish because I always want to eat more fish. I found some Cape Hake in M&S which was marvellous, but you could use any firm white fish. Also feel free to lose the ham and add mussels, clams or even bacon if you want. The meat is optional but you need to substitute the flavour punch. Also, add olives and capers if you like it really piquant. I just always have to fish them out onto my plate and last night I couldn't be bothered.

Also, I know it's a bit odd to only use 2 tinned toms out of a can but I didn't want exactly the same richness of tomato as we had in the pasta. You could use chopped fresh tomatoes instead quite easily.

Olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 courgette, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
8cm piece of chorizo, finely sliced
1-2 slices Serrano ham, finely chopped
Glug of white wine or even dry sherry if you have it
Handful small new potatoes, quartered
400g tin butter beans, drained
2 tinned tomatoes (save the rest of the tin for a pasta sauce or something....)
300-400ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
300g white fish
Parsley, chopped

Sweat the vegetables in olive oil until golden and soft, then add the paprika, chorizo and ham and cook until the fat runs and turns it reddy. Add the wine, potatoes and beans and stir well and simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the toms and chicken stock and bay leaf, season and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Chop the fish into decent sized chunks and slide in for 10 mins or until cooked. Check the seasoning, sprinkle with parsley and serve in deep bowls with good bread.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Um.... Hi... It's been a while....

So, erm, Hi. Again. Sorry, I keep doing this - ducking in and out, avoiding commitment, scared someone will ask me for a key if I stay too long. However, this time, I'm going to try to stick around a while, so we'll take some time to settle in, get used to each other again.

God, this is embarrassing, but anyway, an old friend asked me to resurrect the blog because apparently my Twitter (yeah, I'm on Twitter now too) updates on what I am feeding MCD Jr are interesting suggestions, but what with the word count and all, there's no recipes and now you people want recipes. Want, want, want.... Anyway, I'm going to try to keep up with that because I happen to think it's really fucking important what we feed our children and even if this only helps my friend get through the long lonely winters of Minnesota, then that's one person who's reading and that's ok. Alright, Sar....

So, we'll start with an easy one. Well, it is easy in that it's a meatball pasta bake, but the cool part is that a) there's no less than six vegetables in it and b) it's a classic make-ahead/freeze/expandable and adjustable recipe that you can substitute whatever you like in. For example, I used veal mince but that's because it was on offer in Sainsbury's - you could use pork, beef, lamb or turkey if you wanted. Everything else is non-negotiable. Well, sort of. The veg are kind of non-negotiable.

This serves a healthy 4-6 people. I am anticipating meatball sandwiches tomorrow.

450g mince
4-6 balls frozen spinach, defrosted and really squeezed
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tbsp. Parmesan, grated

Mix together the above ingredients into small balls not bigger than walnuts really. Or golf balls. Just something you can pop right in and will look nice. Add a little olive oil to a really nice wide pan and fry the meatballs in batches until really browned on both sides, setting aside in a bowl when done. Then whizz...

1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 stalk rosemary, leaves only a food processor and fry in the leftover oil in the pan until soft. This will add real sweetness and depth to the sauce. Then add the meatballs back in and add...

a gurgle of red or white wine (I had about 100ml red leftover - optional)
1 can tinned tomatoes
200ml chicken or beef stock
2 sprigs thyme

... and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced enough that you can see it saucing the pasta comfortably and it tastes good. Season it, for god's sake. The sauce will taste quite rich and grown-up. If you think it needs sugar, add a pinch.

Meanwhile, cook enough pasta (I go with 80g per adult, 40g per child) and drain, then toss it all together, strew with sliced mozzarella and bake in a good hot oven for about 25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

You could up the veg content more or make it veggie but adding aubergine and courgettes and even peppers. Parmesan is nice added after cooking. Garlic bread is unnecessary but thanks to the friend mentioned above, I seem to make it far more than I should.

Have a go, let me know what you think. Or not.