Grab a Crab Today!

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ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CRAB BUT WERE TOO AFRAID TO ASK!

PLUS RECIPES FOR PREPARING FRESH CRAB, SPICED BAKED CRAB and a SUMMERY CRAB SALAD

My good friend from across the pond, Bonnie Lalley has just kindly sent me her latest painting of a soft shelled crab she recently bought in Maryland where they are now in season. For me the crab has a strong link to seaside holidays of my youth, trips to see my brother at Uni in East Anglia – Cromer Crab..mmm! Food, as ever, evokes such strong memories for me.

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Crabs like lobsters are crustacean and in their edible form are normally sold with their hard carapace, but premium process are paid for ‘soft’ crabs, when the old has shell has been discarded but before the new one hardens – on the east and south coast of the U.S., the soft blue crab is a     v. important industry. Crabs are seriously old in terms of life on this blue planet – they have been shifting sideways since the Jurassic period and they are everywhere – well not literally – that would make crossing our floor a little iffy! Of the order Decapoda – which also includes lobsters, prawns and shrimp – 4,500 of its 8,500 species are crabs. And they do not all scuttle sideways! There are swimming crabs and land crabs too – and they range from the pea-sized oyster crab to the rather scary giant Japanese spider crab which measures a healthy 3.6 meters from claw tip to claw tip! Might struggle to get that one in a pot!

What is a pity that we do not eat enough crab in the U.K. Crab is cheaper than and just as tasty as lobster, and it’s also full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help build muscle, protect against heart disease and support the immune system. The stomach-filling protein in crab sates your appetite and is used to build and repair body tissue. Crab is a great source of two beneficial long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests they help lower blood pressure, protect against heart disease, improve cognitive function, and reduce conditions such as psoriasis and ulcerative colitis. Minerals in crab, such as copper, zinc and selenium, support the immune system. So- eat more crab!

Mind you, no wonder crab rarely appears on the home cook’s shopping list in this country. The “dressed” ready-prepared sort is often chilled into taste-destroying oblivion, shelled claw meat costs a king’s ransom, tinned crab is but a shadow of the fresh article, and the prospect of wrestling with an intact armour-plated crustacean can seem daunting to most folk.

Shelling crab is actually pretty easy, and you’ll be rewarded with sweet, white claw flesh that knocks the spots off lobster, and brown meat that delivers the very essence of crustacean flavour. An easy way to deal with cooked whole crab is to break off the claws, put them in a strong plastic bag, and whack it with a rolling pin. This stops shrapnel from shooting all over the kitchen and you should then be able to pick the white meat from the shell. You can also eat the brown meat in the carapace, but make sure to remove the inedible, greyish gills first. Alternatively, use the carapace and legs to make a full-bodied shellfish stock.

Crab in the UK is generally in season from May until November. Choose crabs that feel heavy and don’t have liquid sloshing around inside them.

But whatever you do – grab a crab today! If you have not bought one in a while – or ever – go and do that today! Or as soon as is humanly possible!

Here are a few crab recipes to get you inspired!

Spiced Baked Crab

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This would be lovely baked in the crab shell, depending on whether you are using a whole crab and how big the shell is. If you are going to use the shell, wash it thoroughly inside and out and oil the outside a little.

Serves 4-6

 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

Juice and zest of 1 lime

150g creme fraiche

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1 fennel bulb, finely chopped

600g crab meat

100g fresh breadcrumbs


1 small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

15g butter, melted


Salt

 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Mix the garlic, ginger, chilli, and lime juice with a generous pinch of salt to create a loose paste. Add the creme fraiche and stir well.

 Throw in the onion, fennel, crab, half the breadcrumbs and all but a tablespoon of the chopped coriander and mix thoroughly. Season to taste.

 In a separate bowl, toss together the lime zest, melted butter, remaining coriander and breadcrumbs.

 Pile the crab mixture into the shells, or a shallow ovenproof dish, top with the breadcrumbs and bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbling and brown.

 Serve with toast or warm crusty and a green salad.

Cooking a fresh crab

 You will need –

2 leeks

2 carrots

1 onion

1 celery stick

1 small fennel bulb

1 garlic head, halved

Large sprig each of basil, thyme, tarragon and parsley

20g rock salt

1 lemon, sliced

2ml white wine vinegar

2 star anise

300ml dry white wine

1 whole fresh crab

Start by making a flavoured stock called a court bouillon. Roughly chop the leeks, carrots, onion, celery stick and fennel bulb. Put in a large saucepan or stockpot with the garlic, and herbs.

Add the rock salt, sliced lemon, white wine vinegar, star anise and wine. Add 3 litres water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 mins. Cool and strain the liquid into a jug, discarding the vegetables.

Return the liquid to the pot and bring back to the boil. Lower in the crab and simmer for 12 mins per kg, then leave to cool in the pot until cold.

To prepare the crab, lay the crab on its back and twist off the front black-tipped claws. These contain most of the white meat. Put legs. Press your two thumbs either side of the eyes and push away the ‘purse’ (that is the central body part).

On the underside you will see a circle of grey feathery gills called dead men’s fingers. It is crucial to pull these off and discard. They should not be eaten. Then, using a heavy knife, cut the round purse into four. This exposes the white meat, which can be picked out.

Pull off the knuckles from the claws and pick out the meat with a skewer or small, sharp knife. Place the large claws on a worktop and cover with a clean towel. Smash down with the back of a heavy knife or mallet until the shell cracks. As an alternative method, placing a wooden board on top of the crab, then hitting the board with a large hammer, also works well. Peel off the cracked shell to extract the meat inside. There is a thin blade bone in the centre, which should be discarded – be careful, it is sharp. You can also push the meat out using your thumbs and fingers, checking at the same time for any stray bits of shell.

Pull off the 6 legs. Don’t be squeamish! Extracting meat from the legs is fiddly, so unless you really need the meat, save them for a bisque.

To check that there is no shell left in the white crabmeat, sprinkle the crab over a metal tray – you will be able to hear if any shell is left in. Using a teaspoon, scrape out the brown meat inside the main body shell, both soft and hard. Place in a sieve and rub through into a bowl using the back of a wooden spoon.

And finally, a delicious…

Summery Crab Salad!

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450g crabmeat, (a mix of two thirds white and one third brown)

200ml tub crème fraîche

Juice 1 lemon

12 cherry or San Marzano tomatoes

1 large ripe avocado

110g bag rocket, washed and dried

3 tbsp olive oil

Put the crabmeat in a glass or metal bowl. Check for any shards of shell. Tip the brown crabmeat into a small bowl. Stir in the crème fraîche and ½ the lemon juice until smooth. Lightly season, then set aside.

 Cut the tomatoes in half, or into quarters if large. Cut the avocado in half lengthways and remove the stone. Peel off the skin, then cut into thin slices. Put the rocket, tomatoes and avocado into a large bowl. Squeeze over the remaining lemon juice and the olive oil. Season, then toss until the salad is coated with the dressing.

 Arrange the salad onto serving plates. Scatter over the white crabmeat, drizzle with crème fraîche dressing and serve straight away.

Anyway…..

I hope you are inspired to go and grab a crab today – but watch out for those claws!

A crab on a bed of ice

 

 

 

The Legend that is…. the Lemon…

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The Legend that is.... the Lemon...

Bonnie Lalley has sent me this wonderful painting inspired by my lemon pudding recipe which follows. I haven’t made it for a while so now that the lemons in the market are looking so attractive, this will be on the menu again this week! It is perhaps my favourite pudding recipe and shows off this fabulous fruit to perfection. Thank you, Bonnie, for reminding me!

The lemon is to my mind one of the sexiest fruits there is – it just looks so perfect – and it is, almost unquestionably,  the most important fruit in European cookery. As in Bonnie’s painting they cheer up any room even when doing nothing more than simply lounging in a bowl; their fragrance entices and they inspire so many ideas for dishes. The lemon partners so perfectly such foods as chicken and fish as well as making its mark in tempting drinks (citron pressé..oh my!) vinegars, desserts, jams and a host of sauces (in particular the fabulous avgolémeno sauce from Greece…and of course..mayonnaise.)

It is thought that the lemon originated in deepest Northern India and brought to the mediterranean lands by the roving Romans of the 1st century A.D. Oddly, the Romans had no word in Latin for this humble fruit. They apparently used it more as a decoration than an ingredient. The mighty Moors seem to have been largely responsible for the Med spread of the lemon. By the 4th century A.D. the lemon was well settled in such places as Sicily and Spain thanks to the Arabs. Arabic traders also took it to China. These guys worshipped this fruit – a writer called Ibn Jamiya wrote a tome called ‘The Treatise of the Lemon‘, and includes recipes for lemon syrup and preserves. By the late 1500s the Italians were in on the act big time and the use of lemon slices to garnish fish dishes was widespread. The lemon made its way to the New World – sounds so quaint that term nowadays! – via Mr. Columbus in 1493 who planted lots of lemon trees in Haiti. By the mid 1500s the Portuguese had taken the lemon to Brazil and in 1788 the first colonists to arrive in Australia were armed with stacks of lemon tree saplings!

One of the historical ironies of the transpiration of lemons by ship around the world is that the sailors often contracted scurvy on their travels – not realising that the very cargo they carried was to eventually prove an effective cure for the disease. By the early 1800s the British Royal Navy got round finally to issuing its sailors with lemon juice which cut cases of scurvy to almost zero.

The lemon is so beguiling as befits such a well travelled fruit. When I moved to New Zealand in the late 90s our first house had a stunning view from the garden – but what was even more captivating for me were the several lemon trees growing just yards from my back door. Oh for those trees now in damp Hampshire!

Look, anyway, back to the recipe – this first appeared on this blog in March last year and I make no apologies for repeating it here now – especially as it is accompanied today by Bonnie’s mouth-watering painting.

Double Lemon Pud

INGREDIENTS – 150 gm unsalted butter / 265 gm caster sugar /grated zest of 2 lemons / tsp vanilla essence / 6 eggs separated / 75 gm plain flour / 190 ml milk/ juice of 3 big lemons – / cream to serve.

And for my U.S. friends – 190 ml milk = 0.8 cup of milk or 6.5 fluid ounces      150 gm = 5 oz       265 gm = just over 9oz

75 gm = just under 3 oz.

Turn the oven up to 180c. Grease a 3 litre ovenproof dish. Cream together butter, sugar lemon zest and vanilla. Then, beat in the egg yolks….. slowly.

Fold in the flour…. then the milk…..then the lemon juice. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form soft peaks. Gently fold this in too.

Pour the mix into the greased dish. Place in a roasting tray. Add boiling water a third of a way up the roasting tray – in effect creating a bain marie…transfer..easy does it..to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top. Leave it to cool.

I love it cold but it is also wonderful warm. Serve with cream. I cannot tell you how good this is…………. just make it….!

Seared Scallop Spring Delight

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Seared Scallop Spring Delight

Radishes, as you may recall if you read my blog last June, are one of my very favourite salad veg. It is a relation of the turnip, and not surprisingly given its mild pepperiness – horseradish. It has been used since prehistoric times over a huge swathe of the Old World from Western Europe to China and Japan. There was a rumour reported by the Greek writer, Herodotus, that the slaves who built the pyramids ate them whilst they worked. He actually mentions an inscription on the Great Pyramid itself to that effect – sadly it has long since been worn away. Like the thought though of them having pocketfuls – did they have pockets? – of radishes whilst they shovelled sand and shifted rocks. Pliny in the 1st century mentions radishes up to 3kg in size (clearly not cut out for salads!) in his writing and there are records of European herbalists referring to – wait for it – 45 kg radishes! Radishes appeared on these shores in the mid 16th century not long before the Spaniards introduced the humble radish to the U.S., where Florida is now the centre of the radish universe over there. In 1633, there is reference to radishes being eaten in sauces to ‘procure appetite‘ and also eaten ‘raw with bread‘. This is such a good way to eat them still! The small young spring radish, with its slightly hot taste – due to a glucoside substance within, similar to that in the related mustard plant – is wonderful when held by the green stalk, rubbed in a little butter then dipped in a little salt and eaten with a slice of good buttered bread.

And of course Spring is also a happy time to indulge in scallops. These chaps are unusual in the mollusc world as they do not crawl or burrow – instead they have a highly developed adductor muscle which allows them to propel themselves along by opening and closing their shells. Indeed the Japanese name for them means ‘full-sail fish.’ Interesting eh? And of course , they are very tasty!

I wanted to bring you a recipe that includes all the ingredients hinted at in Bonnie Lalley’s new painting and what could be better than

Seared Scallops with Sugar Snap Peas and Radishes!

I came across this dish a few years ago in an American cookbook I borrowed from a friend. I wrote it down and had forgotten all about it until I set eyes on this Lalley masterpiece!

It is simple and tasty and jam packed full of Spring.

For the salad:

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbs sherry vinegar
1 tspn Dijon mustard
1 small bunch rocket or watercress
1 good handful of small pea shoots
2 very small fresh beetroots, peeled and sliced very thinly

For the peas, radishes and scallops:

8oz sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 bunch radishes, trimmed
Unsalted butter
1 tbs water
80 gm scallops per person approx
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
Sea salt and black pepper

Ok – first make the salad: In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add the rocket, pea shoots and beetroots slices but do not toss to coat. Patience! Set aside.

Prepare the peas and radishes: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add peas, and blanch for 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove from the pan and set aside. Blanch radishes for 2 minutes, and add to the sugar snap peas. Melt a good knob of butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon water, the peas, and radishes. Cook until water evaporates and butter coats vegetables, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Next cook the scallops. Heat a large nonstick skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Season scallops with a little salt. Sear the scallops until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate to keep warm and grind over some black pepper. To the hot pan, add another knob of butter and the orange zest and juice. Cook until butter is melted and flavours are combined, about 1 minute. Pour sauce over scallops.
Now toss the salad – you waited patiently hopefully! Arrange scallops, salad, and sautéed veg on plates and serve to warm applause!

Full sail for a trio of delights – radishes, peas and scallops!

Bresaola…make your own!

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Bresaola…make your own!

When I first set eyes on this latest painting from the wonderful Bonnie Lalley, I was immediately reminded that I had not made any of my own bresaola for over two years! Not good. The time is ripe for making another – thank you for the prompt, Bonnie! Lemon and beef are such an Italian pairing – they squidge a shot or two of lemon over their carpaccio and their bresaola at will. And basil and lemon are seemingly ever present in any mediterranean kitchen – as essential for summer cooking as a bucket and spade are for a trip to the beach!

Bresaola is an air dried beef, aged traditionally for two to three months. I always use topside – it is possibly the best thing for this cut I reckon. You could use silverside too if you cannot get hold of a piece of topside.

The word Bresaola (formerly Brazaola, Brisaola or Bresavola) has uncertain origins.
Its etymology can be found in words like “brasa” (embers) or “brisa“: “brasa” were braziers used to dry air in the rooms used for seasoning process while the second one, brisa, is a dialect word for “salting”. It comes from a valley called Valtellina in the Northern Italian Alps in the Lombardy region. There are of course similar products around the world – chipped beef in the States, cecina in Spain, dendeng from Indonesia and brési from France.

Bresaola can be traced back to the 14th century in Italy and like so many cured meats, it was mostly farmers and their families who ate it – it was very much a way of simply preserving meat and it only escaped from Italy in the 19th century, first being exported to Switzerland, just across the border. It seems to be available in lots of places now, though I assure you, supermarket bresaola is nothing compared to those you can buy in Italy – or off a deli counter here in the UK. or indeed to your own home made version!

It is served mostly as an antipasti – or with salads – and is often seen added at the last moment to the magnificent pizzas they serve in the Piazza Navona in Rome, with large curly shavings of parmesan and a handful of fresh green glimmering rocket, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.
(Now my mouth is watering-enough)

Right, my home cured bresaola is based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s version from his magnificent tome simply entitled, ‘Meat‘.

You will need the following:
3-4kg joint of topside beef

Then for the marinade:
1kg sea salt
12 sprigs of rosemary
20 cloves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tsps of dried chilli flakes
5 strips of orange zest and 5 of lemon
1 bottle of a decent red wine

Mix together all the ingredients in a non metallic container that will hold the joint comfortably – indeed snugly. Add the meat and turn over to coat it well. Cover and leave in a cool place – a fridge will do if you have one large enough – otherwise an out house is fine. It needs to stay there for 5 days – but twice a day turn the joint over. After 5 days, remove the joint and pat dry with a clean tea towel. Wrap it in a double layer of muslin cloth, tie up with string and hang it in a dry but cool and draughty area, such as an outbuilding or covered porch. Let it hang for at least 10 days. 15 would be even better. You will feel that it has become hard to the touch. Wonderful!

Trim before serving. Take away the outer 5mm from the bit you are going to slice. Slice very thinly across the grain of the meat. It will be browner on the outside than the centre – that is as it should be. It can be hung in a cool place for a month and used as and when you need it. If the weather gets too warm you could pop it in the fridge. Always keep it wrapped in the muslin. Never cling film! It needs to breathe. That is why the stuff you buy from the supermarket in clear air tight plastic trays needs to be opened at least an hour before you serve it.

I made my first home cured bresaola one with my daughter, Hannah, and she loved the whole process. It is a great thing to do – fun indeed for all the family! And richly rewarding!

Ciao!

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Asparagus with Parsley Vinaigrette

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Asparagus with Parsley Vinaigrette

This is a new painting by Bonnie Lalley  (blalley.wordpress.com) and it reminded me instantly of a wonderful Spring starter that I came across in Daniel Galmiche’s excellent tome, ‘The French Brasserie Cookbook.’ Asparagus is without doubt one of my very favourite veg. Asparagus is a curious plant – from the lily family – and it has almost no leaves. Most unusual. The name itself can be traced back to a Persian word asparag, meaning a sprout. The word ‘sperage‘ was in use in the 16th and 17th centuries, but was displaced by ‘sparagus‘ and by the rather cute name of ‘sparrow grass.’ Pliny the Elder described asparagus spears grown at Ravenna in heavily manured soil as being ‘three to the pound’. rather larger clearly than modern asparagus! It had surfaced in France by 1470 and England by 1538. It was not grown in America on a large scale until the latter half of the 19th century.

It is expensive in the main due to the odd way it is grown. For the first two years after sowing it is unproductive. In the third year the shoots are thick enough to be marketed and the bed will continue to yield good specimens for 2 or 3 seasons. At any given time, a grower has half his or her land in an unproductive state. The French, Belgians and Germans tend to prefer their asparagus white. In this case the beds are earthed up to keep the shoots from going green. I like both but prefer, I have to say, the green variety.

Steamed and served al dente with a swirl of olive oil and a swoosh of lemon juice, it is possibly one of the most tactile and vibrant of starters.

This dish, however, sees the asparagus served cold. It is very, very tasty and fills you with a sense, like Bonnie’s painting, that Miss Spring cannot be far away – possibly hiding in the barn or chasing foxes through the woods. This dish will hurry her up for sure.

Asperges à la vinaigrette persil

500 gm asparagus, woody ends cut off and discarded
1 tsp of sea salt

For the vinaigrette:

2 tbsp of white wine vinegar
1 room temperature egg
2 tsp of Dijon mustard
100 ml of sunflower or olive oil
Small handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt and black pepper

Bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add a dash of vinegar. Lower the egg gently into the water to avoid cracking. Cook for 8-9 minutes. Drain and place under cold running water. When cool, peel and chop roughly.

Into a medium sized pan of boiling and salted water, place the bunch of asparagus tied loosely with string,, tips all facing the same way. Cook on a gentle simmer for 6-10 minutes – you want to keep a ‘bite’ to them.

Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice cold water and set aside. Put the mustard and vinegar in a bowl , season and mix well. Slowly whisk in the oil, then stir in the chopped egg and parsley.

Once the asparagus is cooked, remove the bundle and plunge it into the ice cold water bowl. Drain it, untie and arrange on a flat dish.

A stunningly simple starter, or snack. Great to eat with friends…. and with your fingers! I am eating it tonight…I cannot wait!

Right, just off to pour a sharp glass of Verdicchio…and maybe one for Miss Spring!

Winter’s warming glory…

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Winter's warming glory...

Often the simplest things in life are the most beautiful. The things we take for granted – golden leaves, a sparrow’s song, ripening berries peeping through hedgerows , snow drops peeking out from under the soil where they have slept peacefully during the dark drear months of winter.

And so it is with food – often food stuffs we overlook or turn our nose up at can provide delectable surprises. Inexpensive and warming when the wet weather whirls its way through our world.

Take the humble tin of corned beef. I loathed it as a child – all my sandwiches on school trips seemed to contain nothing else but slabs of it  and I found it hard to swallow. I remember my Granddad telling me tales of WW1 and life in the trenches when frequently the only dish on offer was tinned ‘bully beef’ as he called it. Sounded grim!

The stuff sold in cans gets its name from the corns, or grains of salt, that are used to preserve it. The beef is chopped up and preserved with salt – sometimes it was brine – and canned with beef fat and jelly. When I was young there seemed to be too much of the jelly for my liking! Today most of the corned beef in cans  comes from Uruguay or Brazil.

It was first mentioned in 1621 in a recipe of one Robert Burton in his ‘Anatomy of Melancholy‘ -clearly he too had been getting corned beef sandwiches too often in his packed lunch!

Anyway, he writes ‘ Beef…corned, young of an Ox.’ He also mentions that you could get corned pork . Corned beef in many parts of the world refers to salt beef – a wonderful cut from the brisket – we used to eat a lot of it when we lived in New Zealand. Corned beef in the UK means the stuff that comes in those trade mark rectangular cans with the pesky winding key opener.

The Irish eat a lot of it apparently, especially on St Patrick’s Day – a combination of corned beef heated through with cooked cabbage. And of course there is the traditional corned beef hash which improved my opinion of the stuff when my folks made this stew in my early teens. Great with lashings of brown sauce. Corned beef also gets used in lots of pasties sold in the chains of high street bakers.

But, my favourite way of eating it – and I have made this for many a long year, going back to my thrifty student days, is a Corned Beef Chilli.

I cannot explain how good this dish is – and I know some folk out there will be grimacing or even switching to another blog at this point – which is a pity – because, as I said to begin with – the simplest and often the cheapest dishes are the best. Right, assuming you are all still with me….! The recipe!

For 4

1 can of corned beef chopped into chunks.
1 red onion chopped
1 clove of garlic chopped
3 chillies deseeded and chopped – I use 2 red and 1 green
2 x 400gm chopped tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
A bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro)

500 gm rigatoni pasta (for some odd reason, it goes far better with pasta than rice – believe me.

In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and pan fry the onions, garlic, chillies, and cumin seeds.

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Let the onions soften, then add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a good simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes on a low heat.

Then add the corned beef and stir around gently. Now add three quarters of the bunch of coriander chopped. Stir again. Let it simmer whilst you cook your pasta. It can happily sit there for another 40 minutes or so, getting thicker and hotter.

Serve the pasta in bowls and spoon over the corned beef chilli. Add a sprinkle of chopped coriander to each bowl.

It is like no other chilli you will have tasted and everyone for whom I have cooked it has been amazed at the flavour and deliciousness of this dish.

Thanks, Bonnie, for the inspiration. A wonderful painting to go with a wonderful winter warmer of a meal!

Snowed in? You need a warming fish dish…!

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Snowed in? You need a warming fish dish...!

And they do not come better, or more warming, than…

Smoked Mackerel Dauphinoise!

When I saw this latest painting by Bonnie Lalley – she has been enduring arctic temperatures and blizzards over where she lives in the States, poor thing! – I was put in mind of one of my favourite comfort fish dishes – one to curl up by the fire with and watch the snow fall outside – or in my case the pouring rain – and savour for its benevolence.

For 4

600 gm potatoes peeled and sliced – not too thinly!
250 gm smoked mackerel – skin removed and flaked
2 bay leaves
200 ml milk
300 gm double cream
Black pepper
1 tbsp grain mustard

Arrange the potatoes in a shallow baking dish. Mix in the mackerel. Add te bay leaves and a good grind or two of black pepper.

Mix together the milk and cream and pour over the potatoes and mackerel.

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Bake in a preheated oven – 190c – for about 50 minutes to an hour. The cream mixture should be bubbling and the potatoes pierced easily by a knife.

Serve with rocket and baby salad leaves with a swirl of balsamic over them and a little olive oil.

The picture below does not do the dish justice – but last night it warmed us to the core – it is a dish that brings an instant sense of well-being to all gathered around the supper table.

And there is a serene simplicity to this dish, just like the painting of the American farmstead snowed in.

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A fire in my hand…

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A fire in my hand...

I am excited today…excited at the prospect of a new venture and a new partnership…a partnership with a wonderful artist and illustrator called Bonnie Lalley from the States. I feel,just like the painting, that I have fire in my hands! We have both been inspired by each others work – so much so that Bonnie will send me a painting inspired by my recipes or I will write… inspired by a painting she has sent me. So here we go….

When I first set eyes on this piece of work by Bonnie I was suddenly transported to Spain. I am heading out to Valencia in the summer – land of the late harvesting princely Valencian Orange. Sweet, juicy and warm in every sense, This hand is holding on tight to this precious cargo and no wonder…it is one of the demi gods of the citrus world.

I was put in mind of a salad I had a few years ago out in Northern Spain….a simple yet satisfying and sensual salad centred around the Valencian Orange.

Valencian Orange and Walnut Salad with Olive Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
10 finely chopped small black olives – kalamata or hojiblanca would be ideal
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 garlic clove – skinned and crushed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A grind or two of sea salt
Chopped walnuts or almonds or both!
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Salad:
3 Valencian oranges – or any good juicy types
1 seriously large handful baby of rocket
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Right, for the vinaigrette pop all the ingredients into a small bowl. Whisk well and set to one side.
Peel the oranges. Cut each orange in half, remove the pith and cut crosswise into 8 segments. Set aside.
Divide the rocket onto four plates. Top with the orange slices. Add a few sprinklings of the chopped nuts-you could toast them too. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Finish with freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Oranges are a gift from God and a fruit we take for granted. We must not. We must hold them close and cherish them.

And I want to end with a truly beautiful poem…a favourite of mine..and one that goes so well with this painting.

Oranges
By Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted –
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

I hope you enjoy our collaboration…who knows where it will take us!

Thank you ,Bonnie..here’s to a good year. Please, please visit her site…she is on my blogroll..(No 40 on those I follow.)