I’m old enough to remember the traditional British menu plan. Roast on Sunday, cold meat and fried potatoes on Monday, cottage pie on Tuesday…etc, etc… fish on Friday.

Try as I might to avoid this myself, I find, from time to time, my menu plan centrifuges down to a woefully small number of dishes. When I find we’re getting round to spaghetti Bolognese every five days I try to take action and spread my wings a bit. This week I decided it was time to try some new flavours.

I have special difficulty thinking about British recipes. I get stuck with a traditional Sunday roast, which really isn’t one of my favourite meals. I was impressed with the Hairy Bikers’ Scotch broth, and decided to try it out. It was delicious. The thyme and bay leaf gave it a really rich scent which permeated the whole house, and the lamby soaked pearl barley was sticky and gorgeous.

The lamb was soft and moist, and there was plenty left over to make some minty rissoles which I tried to give a real Mediterranean kick by serving with Couscous and my own version of hummus.

Then I blasted the tastebuds with a completely different set of flavours from Japan, with my Lottie Sushi, followed by the Hairy Bikers’ Poppy Seed Tempura with Soba noodles and dipping sauce. It was lovely – really different flavours! I particularly enjoyed making some ‘shichimi’ (ground chilli, schechuan peppercorns, sesame seeds and orange peel) for sprinkling on the noodles. Wow! The Japanese like their heat in a truly original way – in hot pockets in amongst lots of bland rice! It’s a digital approach to spicing – either on or off!

Tonight we’re having Tuscan bean and squash soup with Cornbread. I’ve never made Cornbread before, so that should be interesting.

I thought I would get this lot blogged for the next time I get stuck in a three recipe rotation. Life’s too short to be bored.


Pizza Brixhamara

Pizza with Brixham fishing boat

The best of life in Brixham!

This is my kind of meal! Everything fresh, grown, recycled, found or gifted!

At this time of year, sprats are fished in the area. The seagulls know what time the boat is coming back in (how do they know?) and go out to meet it, so I was ready with my camera when I saw them flocking out to sea. Sure enough, within a few minutes, the sprat boat hove into view, complete with every seagull in Brixham in tow.

Actually, if the sea were warmer, I would be following the boat too, like a large seal!

We’ve been lucky and have occasionally been given a mixed bag of sprats, anchovies and herrings. And when I say ‘bag’, I mean shopping bag held under the boat hopper and filled with about 20 pounds of quivering silver beauties!

This time the herring were full of roe and I was able to have a delicious fried roes on toast for lunch, as well as a freezer full of fish.

Anyway, back to ‘Pizza Brixhamara’, which is more of an idea than a recipe.

My greenhouse tomatoes are still ripening – amazing when it’s nearly December! I had about a kilo, which I chopped and sweated with a couple of cloves of garlic and olive oil until they were well broken down (about 20 minutes). I pushed this mixture through a sieve. That’s essential at this time of year because the tomato skins are very tough, and if not removed they roll up and stab your throat like pine needles. Not nice.

I returned the ‘passata’ to the pan, added a splash of Balsamic and a teaspoon of brown sugar, and simmered until reduced down to a thick sauce.

I used leftover mashed potato to make two bases. I added 1 egg, then self-raising flour until I achieved a pastry-like consistency. This was the pushed and patted into pizza bases and cooked in a hot oven for 10 minutes. I then spread the tomato paste on the bases. I had way too much, so I put half of it on, then gave it a blast in the oven for 5 minutes, took it out, added the rest of the sauce and blasted it again for a further five minutes. These little miracles are VERY tomatoey!

Pizza base, ready to freeze

Pizza base, topped with tomato that has been reduced and double baked to make it even MORE tomatoey!

At this point I cooled one of the bases down and froze it for future use. To the other I added sliced mozzarella, fileted fresh anchovies and capers*, then drizzled it with some anchovy paste which I’d loosened with some olive oil. Whack it in the oven for a further 15 minutes, and serve. It’s a perfect mix of crisp, sweet, salty, and creamy, with a taste of the ocean. I always think I’m only going to eat half of it, but I usually go back for seconds and end up eating it all.

* Actually, my capers were pickled nasturtium seeds that I’d rescued from my hanging baskets. They’re not entirely successful this year, having a great flavour but being a bit crunchy!

So, a real taste of Brixham, which only cost me the price of the mozzarella (Sainsbury’s Basics, 41p). That titillates my tightwad taste buds!

‘Artisan’ bread – and other clichés

I saw on TV how they make those little textured patterns on posh breads – they use a basket!

I chucked the two-year-old pot pourri out of a suitable looking basket in our house, gave it a bit of a wash, and here is the result:

A round loaf with patterns on it.

Could have been rounder!

The bread is 1 sachet yeast, 100g Canadian extra strong white flour, 150g wholegrain flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp honey, a splash of olive oil, 180ml water, on the ‘pizza dough’ setting on my bread machine. Then I knocked the dough back, modelled it into a round, and put it onto the basket to rise after VERY HEAVILY flouring the domed surface that was going to be in contact with the basket. (I wonder if I should have oiled the basket as well?) Let it rise for 45 mins, then turn onto an oiled baking sheet and bake in a hot oven (220°C) for 30 minutes.

I’ll be a bit more careful with the transfer to the baking sheet next time, as the loaf isn’t particularly circular.

This set me to musing about the trend for food clichés. ‘Artisan bread’. What’s that all about? I suppose you can also have ‘artisan cheese’, but you never hear the word attached to other products. ‘Artisan Jams’? ‘Artisan Digestive Biscuits’?

Another one I find amusing is ‘rustic’. You only have to see a TV chef starting to knock up a lumpy pie, or be generally making a mess on a plate to know that you are going to hear the word ‘rustic’ very shortly.

Finally, can anyone ever use pomegranate seeds in anything without it being ‘bejewelled’?

Anyway, I’m having my ‘artisan’ bread with my ‘slow roasted’, ‘rustic’ tomato and basil soup, which will likely be ‘bejewelled’ with little blobs of olive oil. So there.

Pumpkin dumplings

Another way with pumpkin!

Pumpkin needs to be roasted to caramelise the sugars in it and give of depth of flavour. This week I roasted a whole tray full of pumpkin chunks with olive oil, then pureed the lot. I made these dumplings two days running. Day one I used them to top a beef in beer stew, day two I had them like pasta, with a sauce made of garlic, bacon and blue cheese. Great both ways!

0.5 pint of pumpkin puree
1 egg
plain flour
salt, pepper and nutmeg

  1. Season the puree well. Break and egg into it, mix thoroughly, then add enough plain flour to make a soft, dropping consistency.
  2. Fill a large pan with salted water and bring to the boil. When there is good rolling boil, drop dessertspoonfuls of the mixture in, in batches (don’t let them touch and stick together).
  3. They are done when they rise to the top, after a minute or so. Remove with a slotted spoon, then drain.
  4. Fry the dumplings in a little olive oil, then either add to the top of a stew and bake in the oven for a further 20 minutes, or whip up a quick, cheesy pasta sauce to douse them with, with a good scraping of parmesan.

TIP: Pumpkin, as a savoury dish, goes brilliantly with nutmeg, sage, bacon, garlic and cheese, in any combination!

Steve’s winnings

We had a great time at Brixham Fishstock and stayed until the end. And what an end! The tail end of Hurricane Maria came lashing in with a storm that the tropics would be proud of. The last band in the main tent must have thought they were wildly popular as all the remaining attendees squashed into the tent to get out of the rain.

It wasn’t going to stop so we headed towards the gate. It was raining so much that we abandoned the dash and sheltered in the acoustic tent. There was a slight lull so we zigzagged across to the RNLI tent, then finally piled into the Dockmaster’s office.

Meanwhile hubby Steve had been flagged down by some anxious stall holders who were trying to pack up and needed help lifting their gear into the van. They needed help with a large barbecue/grill device. after lifting that in, Steve stayed on and helped them with the rest. What a lovely bloke! As he went to leave they gave him a whole chorizo sausage as a thankyou.

That’s what I’m getting round to. I made a dish with it last night that worked out well, and I must get it blogged before I forget!

Pan fried chicken and Chorizo lentils

Bottling battles

‘Why do your bottles have too much airspace at the top?’ says hubby.

‘I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to matter,’ say I.

‘Why don’t you process them in the pressure cooker, then open them up and add some more liquid?’ says hubby.

‘Because that’s NOT how preserving is supposed to be done!’ snap I. ‘You don’t understand the preserving process! You’re supposed to seal it, then sterilize it all thoroughly by heating it, then let it cool, SEALED, so no contaminants can get in.’ Grump grump.

Sometime later…

‘You did WHAT?!’ shouts hubby, with some alarm.

‘I filled the bottles right up, then put the lids on tightly so none of the juice would come out during processing, and you wouldn’t be able to complain that my bottles weren’t full enough.’

‘Don’t you understand the heating process? Things get BIGGER! You’ve probably cracked all your bottles because the pressure would build up too high inside them,’ grumps hubby.

‘No – I heated the bottles, lids and all the contents, so everything was as big as it was ever going to get,’ I replied, with a somewhat wavering conviction.

Sometime later – I slipped the top off the pressure cooker, with trepidation.

Yeah! I was right! All is well. Everything has to be really hot before you start processing with the pressure cooker, and I’m now working my way through bottling the huge sack of pears we picked from our dinky little pear tree.

Bottled pears and cook books

Bottled pears and a couple of my preserving 'bibles' - 'Jams, Preserves and Chutneys' by Marguerite Patten, and The River Cottage Handbook, 'Preserves' by Pam Corbin.

Spring rolls/samosas/etc with a dip!

Came up with something simple and fantastic last night. I had some spring roll pastry left over (My spring roll pastry: 200 g strong flour, BIG splash oil, made to a soft dough with boiling water, kneaded until workable and rested in cling film for half an hour). I had a thin sheet left with no filling; my eyes came to rest on a bowl of sweet, yellow cherry tomatoes and garlic. So I assembled thin slices of garlic and whole cherry tomatoes, each one on a 6cm square of pastry, pulled the dough up round to make a swirly-topped dumpling, painted them with oil and cooked them in a hot oven for 10 minutes.
Couldn’t believe it worked! The tomato should have exploded into hot liquid and made the dough into gunge, but it was great! I served it with my ‘Vic Sin Sauce’, but any dipping sauce would do!

Tomato bites

Little yellow tomatoes in thin pastry, brushed with oil, baked.