Poached Salmon Fishcakes

16:47


Going home to the Isle of Wight for a few days over the summer meant that I had the chance to learn and steal some recipes from my super-cook mother. My passion from cooking definitely has a lot to do with the delicious food that I was brought up on. Pretty much all of Mummy Mence's cooking is done from scratch, including making bread almost every day for about 20 years until buying a bread-maker. 

A tried and tested recipe in our house are Homemade Salmon Fishcakes. They are chunky on the inside and breaded, seedy and toasty on the outside.  One of the best things about these fishcakes is that the fish is poached beforehand and the potatoes too, so that when it comes down to cooking them, they just need to be heated through and crisped up. Great served with a simple salad, dollop of mayonnaise or sweet chilli sauce.




Homemade Salmon Fishcakes:
INGREDIENTS:
- 2 medium pieces of salmon
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 peppercorns
- 4 medium waxy potatoes
- large slice of bread or ready-made breadcrumbs
- handful of sesame seeds
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp capers
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- handful of roughly chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- Oil for frying

METHOD:
- Poach the salmon pieces in water for about ten minutes. Remove the salmon and take care not to over flake it.
- While the salmon is poaching, chop the potatoes, skins on, into 2cm pieces and boil in salted water for 12-15 minutes. When they have cooled down, mash roughly with a fork. There should be about the same amount of fish as potatoes. Add the potatoes to the fish.
- Add the capers, cayenne pepper, parsley and mayonnaise to the fish and potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and mix everything together lightly.
- If using bread rather than breadcrumbs, put the bread in a food processor and whizz it until it forms breadcrumbs.
- Add the breadcrumbs to a shallow bowl, mix in the sesame seeds and season with salt and pepper. 
- Take a shallow bowl and beat the egg lightly.
- Form patties of the fish mixture using your hands and then dip them first into the egg and then the breadcrumb mixture.
- Put a heavy-based pan on a high heat and heat up the oil. Add the patties and cook until nicely golden brown on both sides. 

Serve with mayo, salad or sweet chilli sauce. 

Porcini Picking and Wasps

23:34

Val di Sole

I feel very lucky to have been able to experience mountain life, as the locals do, on more than one occasion. The house I visit is in the Val di Sole situated in the Dolomites. The literal translation from the italian would be 'Sunshine Valley'. When I visited this summer, it didn't quite live up to its name; we got very rained on. Word is going round that this summer, in Italy, has been the worst on record since the 1930s and I definitely got a better sun tan on the Isle of Wight this year!

One very good thing to come from all the rain and bad weather this year is the amount of mushrooms popping up all over the place. We went up the mountain in style in an old American army Jeep that had no seat belts, no doors or windows in the back and no cushions on the seats. 
  

On our way up the mountain, the heavens opened and we got absolutely drenched to the bone. This didn't dampen our spirits (pun intended) and we sheltered in a mountain refuge for half an hour to warm up with a coffee and warm our hands over the wood-burning stove.

Once we finally set off looking for porcini, the rain calmed down a bit, and our wait was worthwhile as we found LOADS of them. They were everywhere we looked! With fruitfulness came disaster and I managed to step on a wasps nest. Not just any wasps, angry mountain wasps in their underground lair. 5 good stings and a lots of screaming, running around in circles in a state of panic with at least 50 wasps circling me later and we were off porcini picking again. 



Watch this space for a porcini themed autumnal dish...

Brunch

16:18

Breakfast Muffins

I love the weekend as much as the next person, but for one reason in particular. Brunch. Getting up slowly and having time to eat breakfast is one of my favourite things. However, getting to work during the week for 08h00 doesn't allow for a relaxed and lazy breakfast. Sundays are definitely my most successful brunching day and if it isn't pancakes with bacon and maple syrup or freshly made bread rolls with apricot jam, it has to be muffins. 


Once upon a time I thought that muffins were a lot of effort (probably because muffin papers were harder to come by)and I didn't bother, but the reality is that muffins can be started and cooked within half an hour. Just whack all the ingredients together, don't over mix, spoon them into the papers, shove them in the oven and without any effort at all, you have a very satisfying brunch.


As I am yet again overloaded yet again with fruit, my muffins of choice this morning were spiced plum ones. My fruit bowl is full of plums that aren't quite ripe enough for eating, so this was a great way to start using them up, as they loose a lot of their tartness when cooked.


SPICED PLUM BREAKFAST MUFFINS

makes 10 muffins

250g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
120g muscovado sugar
4 large plums
1 free-range egg
50g butter
175ml milk

-preheat the oven to 180C
-wash and cut the plums into small pieces
-weigh the flour, spices, sugar and most of the plums into a bowl
-melt the butter
-in a measuring jug, mix the milk, egg and melted butter
-combine the dry and liquid ingredients, without over mixing
-spoon the mixture into muffin cases and place some of the remaining plum pieces on top
-bake for 25 minutes


Seasonal Fruit

16:27

APRICOTS

The time has come again for the fridge to be stuffed full of ripe, juicy, seasonal fruit. The riper it is, the cheaper it is, and it is hard to resist over-buying. Right now, apricots are enormous and perfect for eating fresh, stewing, jamming and definitely for cooking. 

Just like last year, I have so much fruit at home that I risk letting it go bad. My favourite way of using up surplus fruit is to make tarts. It is such an easy and quick way of making the most of fruit when it is at its best and so delicious at the end of a meal, enjoyed with yoghurt or cream, when steaming hot. They are so simple to make and the messier they are, the more rustic they look, which takes away all the stress of having perfectly trimmed pastry edges and worrying about holes.



Individual apricot crostatas 

I always use Ottolenghi's sweet pastry recipe as it is by far my favourite.

Sweet Pastry

165g plain flour
50g icing sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
90g cold butter, cubed
1 free-range egg yolk
1tbsp cold water

-Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the butter, rubbing between fingers until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs
-Add the egg yolk and cold water and mix until it just comes together
-Remove from the bowl and knead briefly before forming a disc shape and wrapping it in cling film
-Use straight away or keep in fridge until needed



Apricot Filling

12 ripe apricots 
1 tsp cinnamon 
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
generous squeeze of lemon juice

-Cut the apricots into small pieces
-Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well
-Leave to rest while rolling out the pastry

Assembling the crostatas

-Preheat the oven to 200C
-Flour a clean surface, cut the pastry into 8 equal portions and then roll them roughly into rounds
-Spoon the apricot mixture into the middle of the pastry rounds, leaving at least an inch of space all around
-Fold the sides of the pastry up and pinch folds so that it holds
-(optional) brush the pastry with a beaten egg yolk
-Place on a baking tray with baking parchment and bake for 20 mins or until bubbling and golden







Tigelle

12:00

Market Finds

Italy is full of great markets, ranging from very smart antique ones to cheapy, bargain-bin ones. I have been managing to stock my kitchen with appliances that I already had in the UK and that I have brought over in dribs and drabs in my luggage, with spoiling presents (my ever-loved KitchenAid), with hand-me-downs from other peoples' kitchens and with finds from the brilliant markets that Italy has on offer; the most bizarre gadget being a chip-cutter that threatens to cut your fingers off as you ram its grid of blades over a potato.

This strange appliance is used to cook tigelle. It weighs a LOT as it is made of very heavy metal which provides a perfect cooking environment for the small bread disks. 

Tigelle are typical of the Emilia Romania region of Italy, specifically Modena. They are made from a simple yeasty dough which is allowed to rise for an hour before being rolled out and then cut into disks with a glass and cooked quickly in the hot metal device. The tigelle are eaten while still hot, being cut in half and stuffed with cheeses and salumi. A great way to enjoy simple food with a group of people.

Traditional recipes often include lard. The recipe that I used left this out:

Tigelle

25g fresh yeast
500g 00 flour
100ml milk
2 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
a generous glass of water

- Weigh the flour into a large bowl
- Crumble the fresh yeast into the flour
- Heat the milk until tepid and then add it to the flour mixture
- Add the oil and salt
- Start mixing the ingredients while adding water until it comes together into a stiff but malleable dough
- Knead for about five minutes
- Place in a bowl, cover in cling film and leave to rise for at least an hour, until doubled in size
- Flour a surface and roll out the dough until it is about 3mm thick
- Take a small glass and cut out disks in the dough, repeating until all the dough is cut out
- Heat the tigelle pan directly on the hob, on a high heat for five minutes on each side
- Place the dough disks into the pan and close the lid, allowing them to cook for about eight minutes
- Slice the tigelle in half and eat with cheese and salumi

Fried and Frazzled

11:18

I spoke too soon...

This happened. What was once my lush, green kitchen balcony, is now a collection of boxes and pots scattered with dry, brown leaf remains. 


I went away to the UK for a week and the temperatures in Italy jumped from the high twenties, to the high thirties and into the forties. The sunshine may be great for topping up a tan, but it definitely doesn't lead to successful salad growing. At least I managed to enjoy it while it lasted!

Homegrown Goodness

11:08

Pick your own salad

Before this year, I hadn't eaten anything that I have grown, not including the bushy basil and coriander that has been flourishing on the balcony. When I mean eat, I mean picking something of substance and enjoying it on my plate before scoffing it down. 



This has now happened. I was sent back from England over Easter with handfuls of seed packets. One of these being 'cut and come again' salad leaves. It couldn't have been easier to sow, grow and now pick. The speed at which the leaves come through is extremely satisfying and exciting; they sprout up within days and resemble salad leaves within a week or two. My box of leaves just keeps getting bushier.



I have been taking it one step at a time with my plants as I am terrified of killing them. Once I manage to conquer one packet of seeds, I move onto something slightly more daring and see if I can succeed. Thanks to the speedy result of the salad leaves, my next victim will be rocket, with the aim of spicing up the salad bowl a bit.

Rosebush's Bushes

23:19

Terrace Gardening


 I am no plant expert. Growing up with green-fingered parents meant that gardening has always seemed simple, easy and embarrassing to fail at. Last year I worked out the hard way that it isn't so simple or easy and I definitely felt embarrassed failing at it. The last house had such little light that I didn't even manage to grow basil seedlings taller than my thumb. 

This year, with a lot more outside space and a few welcome tips, my terrace garden is FLOURISHING!

I have so far managed to grow tomato plants, sweet peas, sunflowers, coriander, parsley, basil and salad. It is SO exciting.






Easter Treats

23:02

Sausages, sea and sisters


Going home to the Isle of Wight is becoming more and more of a treat. The sunsets seem more beautiful and barbecued sausages more delicious. 


The perfect recipe for barbecued sausages:

You will need:
-a bucket
-charcoal
-matches
-sausages





Easter Biscuits

Easter wouldn't be Easter if we didn't make biscuits. Over the years we have managed to get a great collection of biscuit cutters, buying one or two a year, and the excitement of making them still hasn't worn off.



My favourite biscuits to make are gingerbread, but they aren't as fitting at Easter as they are at Christmas. One of the best, simple biscuit recipes that I have used is the Hummingbird Sugar Cookie one. Their recipe calls for Cream of Tartar; I found a VERY old pot of it in the larder with a best before date from about 2002. I opted for a hefty tsp of baking powder instead. 


HUMMINGBIRD SUGAR COOKIE RECIPE
200g unsalted butter 
280g caster sugar 
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
400 g plain flour
a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

- Preheat the oven to 170°C 
- Mix the butter, sugar and vanilla extract together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well.
- Add the flour, salt and cream of tartar and mix well, without overmixing. 
- Lightly flour a surface and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Cut out shapes with your choice of biscuit cutters. 
- Arrange the biscuits on prepared baking trays and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. The biscuits should be very light golden on the outer edges and paler in the centre. 





Bigger and Better

20:29

Moving House

Last year was an extremely busy one. I graduated university, moved to Italy, changed city, got a job, moved in with the man and changed house. All in one year. Busy busy busy.

It was sad moving out of a house that holds such special memories from my Erasmus year in Ferrara and the start of living here this time around. We are, however, moving on to bigger and better things. 


The new house had to be gutted after many years of grubby students being grubby in it. Peeling back the sixties wallpaper, the painter unveiled newspapers dating back to that time, which were great fun to look at; with old-fashioned pictures and dodgy headlines.



The most exciting part about the new house is without a doubt the ample outside space; a kitchen balcony and terrace. 


My dream of growing my own herbs so that I can cook with them is now seeming likely...if I don't kill them all. Watch this space!