Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Days like these...Indian Summer, Oak smoked Peppered Mackerel Salad with Blackcurrant Syrup and Toasted Pumkin Seed Oil Dressing...


The weather is weird. Spring was awesome, summer nothing to write home about, but now that autumn's here it feels like spring again. Chilly mornings but bright dry days.  We had a funky super moon. I came down at 2am one night this week and thought someone had left an outdoor light on. It was as though magical fairy lanterns were illuminating the garden. I hung around a bit, then Ahmad came down and we stayed to watch a lunar eclipse. It gradually darkened until we could just see a baby finger nail moon...Amazing. 

So we've been making hay, trying to catch up on outdoor jobs. Painting the windows and shed. Sorting out overgrown weedy beds and generally getting the outside ready for winter. 

I started making pies so that I could use my little vintage pie funnel. I made a chicken and mushroom one and the pastry was truly crispy and delicious...No soggy bottom. So the funnel did work, but it does make it harder to cut nicely shaped slices of pie. I want to make some more of these pasties next.

And I want to show you some my other vintage kitchen finds too. On a rainy summer weekend we went with Hannah to the Aardvark Bookery. It's a bookshop, cafe and shop in an old barn. It's an unusual place, the antithesis of my favourite organised comfy Booth's. It's very higgeldy piggedly and disorganised. (You can see in the photos.) There are piles of books everywhere and it's almost impossible to find what you're looking for. It has a cosy cafe wrapped around a wood burning stove and like Booths there are old chairs and sofas to sit on although they do look a little bit more like ones that someone left out in the rain. But they do the job, and it has a nice busy atmosphere. There was a brocante...French flea market and a band playing on the day that we went. The French market was amazing and very cheap I picked up two more old ladles to go with the ones one in the kitchen for just a few pounds each. Perfect for soup. 

Did you see my blender on the window sill. I'm so pleased with it. It only cost  £6 for an old glass and stainless steel Cordon Bleu liquidiser in the local village charity shop. It's P.A.T tested and in good working order. Think how quickly I'll be able to make all those blended smooth soups like Borscht or butternut squash now. Oh and breakfast smoothies...I can't wait. 

Since Hannah first requested the espresso coffee cake I made another. It's very good but as the icing is made purely from butter, icing sugar and cocoa, I can't make it too often. But my baking mojo is definitely coming back. 

I've almost finished Ahmad's sweater. I just got a bit stuck at the wrap and turns and had to watch the video linked to here to help remind me how to do them. (please ignore any adverts that come up first)

Learning how to do it I got a bit side tracked. I found the lovely Staci Perry's videos. They are so clear and easy to understand  and I swear I must have spent at least two hours Sunday evening watching them. Probably even four. She seems such a nice fun person and has that cute little accent like Drew Barrymore. 

Oh and did you see the quilt. I found that on The Purl Bee after browsing at the pinterest page over here. I think it would look cool made from old vintage shirts. 

I even managed to do a bit of reading. Another Louise Penney, Inspector Gamache novel. A bit of comfort reading. I do still get annoyed at her use of triple or quadruple metaphors to explain one thing. But I love reading about Quebec and the snow and her descriptions of tasty food eaten by blazing fires in homely delis or friendly bookshops. Despite the murder and mayhem it all seems so cosy. 

Well best get on with my knitting. It's Ahmad's birthday tomorrow and if I manage to finish his sweater it would make a cool extra gift...

Oak smoked Peppered Mackerel Salad with Blackcurrant Syrup and Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil Dressing

Ingredients for two people:

  • Two fillets of smoke mackerel
  • One medium sized plum tomato
  • Half a medium sized red onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • Ten or so radishes, topped, tailed and sliced finely.
  • A similar number of green olives
  • A handful of pomegranate seeds (about half a cup)
  • Two boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
  • Half a yellow bell pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
  • A small red chilli sliced finely
  • Blackcurrant or any other sweet/sour/fruity syrup. Blackberry, pomegranate or cranberry would be good examples. I make my syrup with the blackcurrants plus a sweetener usually either honey or maple syrup. Adjust to your taste. I like it quite sour. Once cleaned and de-stalked I cook them in a saucepan until the liquid reduces. I then strain the liquid to make a clear syrup. I love this for salad dressings or with pancakes, breakfast cereal, ice cream etc.
  • Toasted pumpkin seed oil.

  1. Wash and prepare all the fruit and vegetables.
  2. Break the leaves off the lettuce and place in a serving dish.
  3. Add the sliced tomatoes,bell pepper, radish and olives.
  4. Toss and then top with the sliced onions. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and chopped chilli. 
  5. Finally remove the skin from the fish, break it up into largish chunks and place on top of the salad along with the egg quarters. 
  6. Serve the salad and then trickle with the dressing. 
I love the combination of the salty/peppery fish with the cool crunchy radish and lettuce, the heat of chilli and sweet/sour nutty flavoured dressing. This works perfectly for me in the same way that sweet sour plum sauce works with unctuous duck but you may like to use and alternative dressing. 

n.b. COOKS NOTE...I had a mini blackcurrant syrup eruption after a bottle that I stored in a slightly warm cupboard exploded! I think it must have fermented. It's best kept in the fridge...

Bye for now,

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Late summer salad days

It's all a bit mad again here. It's busy and a bit disorganised and there's no real routine. But it's good. Ahmad's brother is visiting from Denmark and Hannah's been home for a while. The garden's still fruiting and flowering and needing attention that it won't get for a while. We eat from it every day. Not on a grand scale but now that the first flush of radish and spinach and lettuce is over, maybe a few sprigs of herbs or fruit grace part of the food table; whilst we wait for the potatoes, onions, squash and carrots to grow big enough to harvest. We just shared the first fig from the garden...I never thought I'd be able to say that in England. A SWEET BIG BROWN RIPE FIG...IN MY GARDEN. Just one of two on the plant. 

Building work, well carpentry, is still happening but it's almost finished now. Soon we will be able to do a big clean up, all the final decorating and organising, unroll the carpets and nail up pictures. Let everything find it's own special place. Then I can open up my little Etsy shop for treasures that I've been buying in the auctions for it. Maybe start making things, even do some artwork again.

I'm looking forward to autumn and winter in our old house. I've been stocking up on projects for Christmas. Influenced by this special weekend I'm imagining dusky pink pompoms decorating everywhere. I bought this book (it's sold out on Alycia's shop but I managed to get it on amazonand this one too and tried to order this pattern  but it wasn't quite ready for the UK yet so the money was refunded and I have to re-order it later. I've actually started knitting the cobblestone sweater again...I know it's not very exciting but do you know how good it feels to sneak a bit of time to do so.

We've been taking it in turns at cooking...and even got a bit competitive. Hannah made the best fruity salad with freshly peeled orange segments and grapes, spicy rocket and baby spinach leaves, spring onions(scallions) and salty feta. The freshly squeezed orange juice combined with the cheese to make a creamy dressing that we ate with spicy chicken that she panfried.  Then Ahmad made a crunchy salad with celery and apple . It was my turn next. Theirs' were amazing...No pressure...

Hannah's back in Bristol now and I've mislaid her recipe (along with one for an amazing butternut squash and lentil curry)..but here's mine for now:

Pomegranate and Summer Greens Salad with Baked salmon parcels



  • One ripe pomegranate. I prefere Turkish or Iranian ones than the paler Spanish one. The deeper red ones seem to have much more intense flavour. But any will do.
  • Runner beans five or six beans per serving
  • Mange toute (snow peas)(similar amount as beans)
  • salad potatoes, two or more per serving depending on you appetite
  • Watercress, baby spinach and rocket leaves or any salad leaf mixture of choice
  • A little chianti vinegar or any other light vinegar
  • Olive oil or alternative
  • Sea or rock salt and black pepper
  • A little runny honey or Maple syrup

  1. Scrub the potatoes well and peel if necessary. leave tiny ones whole, halve slightly larger ones and cut even bigger ones to the size of smaller ones so that they will cook uniformly. Cover with cold water and season with sea salt. Place on the hob, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for about ten to fifteen minutes until tender. Drain when cooked.
  2. Whilst these are cooking prepare the pomegranate. I find the best way to do this is to score a section of the skin in the shape of an orange segment. Cut this bit out and pull it away with the seeds attached. Then remove these by hand, making sure that no little bits of yellow pith are attached as they are very bitter. Work your way around the fruit in this way until all the seeds have been removed. Put the seeds to one side.
  3. Prepare the green beans and mange toute by top and tailing and then pop them into a saucepan of boiling salted water. You can add them to last few minutes of cooking the potatoes. Allow them to cook a little but still remain crisp and green.Drain and keep to one side.
  4. Wash and prepare the salad leaves and place in a serving dish.
  5. Make a dressing by crushing a small handful of the pomegranate seeds in a mortar with a pestle. Trickle in a little olive oil, season and taste. The pomegranate will add freshness like lemon and depending on the fruit also sweetness, you may like to add some runny honey or maple syrup if like me you like a more sweet sour dressing. 
  6. Assemble the salad on the bed of leaves. Add the potatoes, runner beans and mange toute. Mix carefully and top with some of the pomegranate seeds. Dress and serve.
Oven baked salmon

Ingredients per person:
  • One salmon fillet 
  • One clove of garlic 
  • One spring onion
  • Sea/rock salt and black pepper 
  • Half a lemon
  • Baking parchment or foil to make a parcel

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
  2. Take a piece of baking parchment or foil for each serving and place onto a baking tray. Place a fillet of fish onto each one. 
  3. Season. Top with a crushed or slice clove of garlic, a little grated or sliced ginger. The zest and juice of half a lemon. You may also like to add some chilli if you like it more spicy.
  4. Make each piece of foil/parchment into a mini parcel. Bake for twenty to thirty minutes until the fish is opaque and tender.
  5. Serve with the salad. 

nb. Pomegranate juice is a natural dye, I've been told that not only does the pomegranate motif often appear in Persian carpets, that they are also used to dye them. You will be caught red-handed if you don't wear gloves when peeling them and be extra careful not to splash any white walls as you will end up with purple polka dots. I have...lots of times...