After a summer of eating primarily with my fingers – the occasional appearance of fork and spoon notwithstanding (as an American I really don’t do knives) – I fancy a bit of, well, fancy. A spot of elegance. Something I can’t be tempted to scoop up with a flatbread or teeter atop a crisp bread. But, if you know me you know I don’t do fancy, or neat, or any of those other adjectives one may associate with ‘normal’ food bloggers and food writers. In fact, rather than try and change I rather cling to my messiness. Fine dining is why I will go to a restaurant, not what I aspire to at home. I am essentially a home cook who happens to also cook for others, and write about it too. Continue reading
Owing to the inherent compatibility of salmon and beetroot there are probably lots of versions of this recipe kicking around. I mean, we are talking of a Rogers and Astaire-type partnership; each making the other look fabulous. I haven’t dared to do a Google search, as I am sure to find the exact duplicate, only prettier and better lit (but not dancing backwards, in heels). The ingredients and method are just too simple for me not to have been beaten to the punch/keyboard. Maybe after I press ‘send’, and this is fired out there into the Internet whateverosphere, I may just have a wee poke around. And have a little cry at my unoriginality.
Fish. Love or hate kind of food. Like mushrooms or liver, fish will either elicit an “ooh, love fish,” or an “Ugh, smelly, horrible. Can’t stand the stuff”. Well, maybe not that black and white, but nearly.
Despite growing up in Florida I didn’t eat that much fish, unless it came with a side of coleslaw and hush puppies (the cornmeal-based fritter, not the soft shoe beloved of jazz musicians and math teachers). It’s not that I didn’t like it, rather that I wasn’t exposed to good fish dishes.
By the time I started cooking properly for myself I was married and living in the UK. Shortly after moving to the UK I found that eating meat didn’t agree with me at all. At home in Florida I could polish off White Castle burgers and steak tacos with the best of them, but post-move even the plainest of meats made me feel quite unwell. The only thing I could put it down to was the fact that the beef cattle in the UK were at the time raised on a different diet to their US brethern, especially in the winter when they would get a lot of root crops (another thing I couldn’t digest well, not having eaten many before. Florida doesn’t have the weather for many root veg). It got me thinking about the fact that we eat what the animals we eat, eats. Does that make sense?
I’m hunched over my laptop while the rest of Edinburgh – and many thousands of visitors – are queueing for some of the 2542 different shows on offer during the three weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe. Like the original, more high-brow Edinburgh International Festival, ‘the Fringe’ is part of 11 official festivals that pop up annually in Edinburgh – six during the peak tourism months of August and September. One of my favourites is the Mela, a smaller southeast Asian festival with an international flair. You can watch flamenco, bhangra, African drumming and capoeira while munching on mainly Pakistani and Indian delicacies and waiting for a sari fashion show to start. Multi-culturalism at its most accessible.
But the Fringe – officially the largest arts festival in the world – is arguably the best known and best-loved of all the festivals. Comedy is definitely king in this city but serious and not so-serious theatre, music of all descriptions, poetry readings, children’s shows, cabaret, dance and physical theatre are all here as well. And you can see something almost 24/7 – great if you are jet-lagged and have no idea what time, or even day, it is.
Performers from all over the world come to Edinburgh to make their name
during these three intense, and at times overwhelming, weeks. Perhaps they have been inspired by the likes of Hugh Laurie (House), Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean), Steven Fry (polymath) and Emma Thompson (Oscar-winning actress etc), among many others who were talent spotted in this very city. Even if you never make it to a show (and locals complain bitterly in the local paper about the ‘London prices’) it is a must to at least wander around the Old and New Towns celeb spotting (John Malkovich two days ago) and watching the brilliant (free!) street performers and their eclectic audiences. It’s a real spectator’s paradise too, watching all the Lady Gaga-wannabes, perambulation-challenged fashionistas (which is amusing, as it almost always rains) and the period-costumed performers catching buses and hailing taxis. Maybe when I finish writing this up I will grab my umbrella and go do some celeb-spotting myself. But first, the salmon. Continue reading
The first time I had fish tacos was at a petrol station. Yes, you read that correctly. A petrol station. Just outside of Yosemite National Park, California, by the weirdly beautiful, faintly lunar-looking Lake Mono (if the Moon had water) stood the first petrol station for miles. An attractive petrol station with a grass covered verge scattered inexplicably with picnic tables, but a petrol station nonetheless. We stopped and filled up, but noticed that although there were lots of cars in the car park all of the people were in a queue for food. Well, it turns out that this petrol station has won all kinds of awards for its food, even getting on the cover of Gourmet magazine. We were up for a food adventure so queued for a selection of California specialities, including the intriguing fish tacos. Even though it was 11 am, and we weren’t really hungry, we still fought over the last remnants of this fresh, zingy dish that we ate at one of the picnic tables overlooking the lake. I’ve tried to reimagine our unexpected gas station meal with this recipe – with extra toppings and minus the deep-frying. If you are travelling on I-395 out of Yosemite, head towards Lee Vining and look out for the ‘Whoa Nellie Deli’at the Tioga Gas Mart – you won’t be disappointed. The entire menu looks amazing. This is one of our top five family meals, so thanks Chef Matt Toomey.
Fish Tacos with Three Toppings
The ingredient and equipment list looks a bit of a chore, but I promise it’s just a matter of organising your ingredients and doing some therapeutic chopping. To get you in the mood for your Cal-Mex feast kick off your work shoes and prise open a bottle of Dos Equis. If you have children who would like to help, perhaps have them mix together the chopped ingredients for the slaw and salsa, really diving in with their hands (!). They might also like to try their hand at coating the fish.
What You Need
1 lime, juiced
1 tbsp mild chili powder (I use ancho from my friend the Chile Queen)
2 tsp dried oregano
500g/1 lb filleted, firm white fish, such as red snapper or black bream, cut into 8 cm/4 in strips (approximate)
50g (+) /1/4 cup maize meal/cornmeal, or fine semolina (maize meal is preferred)
½ tsp salt (low sodium salt is fine)
Rapeseed oil for frying to a depth of 0.5cm/0.25 in
8 small sized corn or flour tortillas, wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven (about 180C/350F for 5 minutes) OR pre-made taco shells, heated as directed
100 g red and/or green cabbage, finely shredded/sliced (as thin as possible)
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 1/2 lime, juiced (divided)
1 tsp poppy seeds (blue-black ones for preference)
2 tsp – 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger (according to your taste)
1 mango, peeled and diced
1/2 pomegranate, seeded
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 avocado, diced
1 green chilli, diced (deseed if liked)
30g/1/4 c coriander, chopped and divided
4 tbsp lower-fat sour cream/creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
hot sauce or chilpotle in adobo sauce, to taste
Equipment Needed: Various mixing bowls and one wide non-reactive dish (such as Pyrex), good knife, cutting board, large plate, frying pan, spatula, paper towels, measuring spoons, baking tray
What You Do: First of all make the accompanying toppings. In a medium bowl mix together the cabbage, carrot, poppy seeds, half of the lime juice, half of the coriander and all of the ginger. Set aside. For the salsa, mix together the mango, pomegranate, onion, avocado, chilli, remaining lime juice, coriander and some salt and pepper, if desired. Set aside. Lastly mix together the sour cream and hot sauce, to taste, and season as you like with salt.
For the fish, mix together the chili powder, oregano and lime juice; add the fish and marinate for 10 minutes to half an hour, turning halfway through. When you are about ready to eat, pour the maize meal on a large flat plate and mix in the salt. Heat the oil in a frying pan until a fleck of flour sizzles. Pat the fish pieces into the maize meal and fry the coated pieces (in batches) until golden and cooked on both sides – about 7-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Drain on kitchen roll and keep warm on a baking tray in the oven with the tortillas. I have also very successfully baked the fish: heat an oiled baking tray and slap on the coated fish; bake at 200 C/400F for five minutes, flip, and bake for a further five minutes (depends on fish thickness). We like to use the crunchy taco shells for the baked fish tacos, and the soft, non-fried tortillas for the fried fish but you, of course, do as you wish. Both are delightfully messy and fun to eat, especially for children.
To serve, Put a few of crunchy fish strips down the centre of each taco, garnishing with the three toppings. Serve with extra salad and maybe some sweet potato wedges baked with cumin seeds and olive oil if you are really hungry.
Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa) is having its moment in the sun, so to speak. Ranked highly in the healthy foods hall of fame, creamy-coloured, crunchy quinoa has gone from ‘keen what’ to ‘keen wow’. This ancient Andean staple is used like a grain but it is in fact a seed (scientific name Chenopodium quinoa Willd. Yes, it is two ls). And, unlike cereal crops such as wheat, oats, rye and barley, quinoa is a gluten-free complete protein, making it invaluble to vegans and coeliacs alike.
Its fabulousness doesn’t stop there: quinoa is lower in sodium and higher in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and zinc than wheat, barley or corn. Full of satiating fibre too. I don’t want to be a nutrition geek, so if you want to know more about this versatile, tasty and nutritious seed, click here.
I will be a prep geek, however: rinse the grains well before cooking and ignore your packet’s cooking instructions. Trust me, unless you want quinoa porridge (which is actually quite interesting, cooked in apple juice), keep your fast simmering time to ten minutes and, with the lid still on, kill the heat and steam for a further five minutes. The ratio of quinoa to liquid that I use is 1:2. Should be perfect. When cooked the tiny buff coloured beads swell delicately and sprout a tail. That’s when you know it’s done. Quinoa has its own harmless bitter tasting natural pesticide on the surface. So, before you cook the quinoa pour your measured grains into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse for about 20 seconds, rubbing the grains between your fingers. Although much of the bitterness is removed during processing it’s still wise to give it a good rinse. Those who complain that quinoa tastes weird probably haven’t rinsed first. Sorry about the bossiness – you can tell I am a mother.
The recipe below is a low GL take on fishcakes, with the added bonus of affordable smoked mackerel in place of more expensive crab or salmon. I make the cakes with cold leftover quinoa but you can of course make some up specially, cooling it before making up the cakes. I have used capers in this version but a heaped teaspoon of grated horseradish (English Provender Co. is good) and little dinky cubes of pickled or grated beetroot taste great and look pretty too. I use quinoa quite a lot so I hope to post some of our family and Maggie’s Centre favourites in the near future. This is my daughter’s favourite.
Quinoa and Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes
What You Need
300g/10.5 oz cooked quinoa (or use 150g raw quinoa and boil with 300 ml water, as directed above)
200g/7 oz smoked mackerel, skin and any hard end bits removed
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 courgette (zucchini), grated and squeezed of excess moisture (optional)
3 heaped tbsp capers (rinsed if in salt), chopped
zest and juice of one lemon (preferably unwaxed)
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, or 2 tsp dried dill
about 75g/3 oz (+) maizemeal, polenta or cornmeal (they are all more or less the same thing – dried, ground corn)
rapeseed oil, to fry
What To Do: I usually do this in a food processor, quickly pulsing the mixture so as not to get a sticky mush, but you can certainly do it by hand – literally, squidging it all up with both hands. Pop the mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for half an hour. This cooling time makes it easier to form into cakes.
Now, form little cakes – mine are usually about 9 cm/ 3 in in diameter and 4.5 cm/1. 75 in thick but it’s up to you. If you do them my way you should get about eight or nine cakes. Pour the maizemeal onto a plate and, as you form each cake, pat it into the maizemeal, gently rolling it on its side to completely coat. Place the coated cakes on a cool baking sheet or plate. Now, heat up enough oil to coat the bottom of a large frying pan generously but not more than a few millimetres. Sprinkle in a few grains of maizemeal and, if they sizzle, you’re good to go. Put some of the cakes into the hot oil, making sure not to crowd them as this reduces the heat and makes for soggy cakes. Cook the cakes until they are very golden brown; turn carefully to prevent them breaking. Because the fish and quinoa are already cooked you don’t have to go too dark. When this batch is done pop them onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet and into a warm (120C/250F) oven. Cook the remaining cakes. Serve with a sharp green salad, some oven-baked sweet potato wedges and the following simply-prepared sauce.
Dill Cream Sauce
200ml/7 oz half-fat crème fraîche/sour cream
juice of half lemon
1 tsp grated horseradish or wasabi paste
100g/3.6 oz cucumber (English/hothouse), finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill or good pinch of dried dill
Mix well and serve with fishcakes.
This is my first post of my first blog (late adopter!). Thanks for visiting and I hope you come back soon to see if I get any better. I think I’ll do a late winter soup next. Until then, make it homemade.