Dog days fish

A few days in August are known as the dog days because the dog star Sirius appears in the heavens. Or because our neighbour's friend arrives for a visit with her enthusiastic and very vocal Bouvier by the name of Luke. One or the other.

My husband is working flat out on renovations in our basement, and I am helping my mother prepare for a move to a much smaller flat. Everyone is a bit too hot and a bit too stressed.

Tonight, in an effort to reduce stress levels, I made one of my easy-peasy, never-fail recipes. The original version came from "The Ultimate Book of Fish and Shellfish" by Kate Whiteman. I am now at the point, however, where I just glance at the recipe, think "Oh, yes," and carry on. I never follow the rules exactly.

The recipe calls for fresh fish. I use frozen.

The recipe calls for fresh parsley. I consider it optional.

The recipe calls for sunflower oil. I use any oil that's handy.

The recipe calls for "wholemeal breadcrumbs." I throw stale baguette into the grinder and use that.


The recipe calls for fresh tomatoes. At this time of year, fresh local Ontario tomatoes are wonderful and we usually have a basketful on the counter.

All in all, a match made in heaven.The fish has the nice crunchiness of bread-crumbed fish without the wallpaper-paste starchiness of traditional batter.

So here we go.


5 or 6 medium-sized pieces of frozen cod. Or haddock. Or some other white fish.

2 or 3 fresh tomatoes.

1 or 2 lemons, from which you have extracted the zest (grated rind) and the juice.

Breadcrumbs created from whatever has outlived its best-before date in your fridge.

Oil. Your choice.

Heat the oven to 200oC or 400oF. Check to make sure you have some white wine. Put a little oil in the bottom of a baking dish and arrange the fish in a single layer. Slice the tomatoes and layer them on top. Mix up the lemon zest/rind, lemon juice, a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs, and a teaspoon or so of oil. Spread it over the tomatoes. Put the lot into the oven for 20 or so minutes. Check to see if it is cooked through. Serve with salad or reheated frozen veggies or whatever else causes the minimum amount of stress. Pour a glass of white wine for the chef and other eaters. Relax.

As usual, I never think of food photography in time to add it to the blog. So for decoration, I have a photograph that I took of an heirloom tomato that I tasted in Charlottesville, Virginia, which had been grown in the gardens of Monticello, the house once owned and occupied by Thomas Jefferson. This is the kind of tomato that ruins you for all other tomatoes, because it has about 10 times the taste of supermarket tomatoes. It was probably the best thing I tasted in the whole time I spent in Virginia.

 Now if I had one of those and a fresh fish, just imagine what the recipe would taste like!


The Devil's Fish

I don't like anchovies. I don't like how they taste or look. I don't like their inclusion on an otherwise delicious pizza. I don't like the way that their salty sharpness dominates a recipe. They are, as far as I'm concerned, The Devil's Fish. And yet... I have cooked a recipe that uses them quite subtly; one that I don't think I'll be leaving anchovies out of in future. I have found these anchovies to be... useful.

The recipe is for classic pork pies, yet another dish that I thought came straight out of a deli or fridge section of whichever chain food store you wish to mention. Amazingly, you can make them at home: this recipe is one lovingly collected from Stylist magazine's "gourmet on the go" section. I imagine that the editor must think that the cook "on the go" is a three-toed sloth, because making these pork pies took me hours. (Incidentally, I think Stylist has gone downhill a bit in recent months; I used to rely on it for my free weekly girly-fix, but I just don't find it that essential anymore. But I digress.)

In addition to a substantial amount of time, you need:

for the pastry
450g of plain flour
one egg
175g lard
one teaspoon of salt
one teaspoon of sugar;

for the filling
300g pork belly (skin removed)
300g pork shoulder
two anchovies in oil (drained)
200g smoked bacon
half a nutmeg seed (grated)
salt and pepper to season;

for the jelly
three gelatine leaves
200ml good chicken stock
100ml sweet sherry
one plastic syringe;

butter for greasing
flour for dusting and rolling
one egg, beaten with a pinch of salt for glazing.

I started on the pastry first, mixing the flour with the egg and stirring while I melted the lard in a pan of 175ml of water, adding the salt and sugar as I went. Bringing the mixture to the boil then taking if off the heat after 30 seconds, I added this to the flour / egg mixture, stirring all the time.

Once the dough was sticky, I covered it with a tea towel, letting it rest for one hour, before turning it out onto a floured work surface to flatten. I then folded the flattened dough into thirds by taking one side into the middle and pressing down, then repeating with the other side.

I flattened this into an oblong shape and placed it on a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper and put it into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Next came the meat. After dicing the pork belly and shoulder, I mixed them with the anchovies (holding them at arm's length) before whizzing the lot of them in a food processor until they were mincemeat. I then diced the bacon and stirred this in before adding the nutmeg and seasoning.

After turning the oven on to 180ºC / gas mark 4, I took out the pastry and rolled it out on a floured surface. I folded it into three then rolled it out again until it was about three millimetres thick. From this, I cut out eight 12 cm-wide circles and eight 8cm-wide circles.

I greased eight metal pie moulds, dusted them with flour and lined with the 12cm pastry circle, leaving a little over-lapping. To each, I added one eighth of my pork filling, before placing the 8cm pastry circle on top, crimping the edges as I went.

After brushing them with egg wash and skewering a hole in the top, I placed them in the hot oven and baked for 40 minutes. Once out, I placed them on a rack to cool for two hours.

Now for the jelly. I soaked the gelatine in water for two minutes then squeezed out the excess water. This gelatine was added to the heated chicken stock and sherry and I stirred until it was dissolved, before cooling until it was thick enough to pour... fun and games were approaching.

I've never added jelly to a recipe like this before. The instructions stated using a syringe and, considering that I didn't know where the nearest needle exchange was situated, found myself in Sainsbury's buying a syringe for adding icing. (This, for reasons about to be made plain, may not be the best instrument for such a task. If you can think of a better one for next time, please let me know.)

I filled the syringe's body with the jelly and squeezed it into the hole I'd made in the top of the pastry. While a fair amount made it into the pie, a good deal of the jelly made it all over the work surface. Most annoying. I placed the whole lot in the fridge overnight, although eight hours would have been enough: I think I'd had enough of the process by this time.

However, when I took the pies out of the fridge the following morning, I was most pleased with the results: a lovely, crumbly pastry with a firm, meaty filling and a pleasant jellied surround awaited me as I sliced into the first pork pie. I added some mustard to the second slice; a little brown sauce to the third. They were lovely, providing me with a pleasant lunch for the next few days, when consumed with a large salad.

As to the Devil's Fish, I thought it blended in quite nicely. Will I try it again?


Victoria (well Lyn, actually) sponge

God save our gracious sponge!

Well, we've almost made it.  Here we are, contemplating the Closing Ceremonies in a few hours when the curtain will come down on an absolutely spectacular Olympics, and very probably the last one in which I shall take more than a passing interest, unless one of my children or grandchildren go in for sports in an Olympic way.  The former have missed the mark in terms of age.  There is no latter and with no sport genes in this family, the chances are about as great as me taking gold in show jumping.  One member of the family made it onto the Olympic stage for the Opening Ceremonies and I couldn't have been prouder but I suspect that was the beginning and end of it.

That said,  I've felt more patriotic pride in the last two weeks than I've felt in my entire life.  And it's pride for a country where my  family roots on both sides are firmly anchored, and yet one in which I came to live in the fourth decade of my life. A number of people have asked me if my loyalties have been divided between the Union Flag and the Maple Leaf.  My answer is a resounding 'no'.  I live here now, my reference points are all British and have been for years and while I retain a huge affection for and pride in what was 'my home and native land' for many years, my loyalty and allegiance go to the red, white and blue which we've all watched fluttering in the thousands in the stands or adorning the shoulders of the 40-odd British athletes who've done their country proud along with the many others who've placed in the rankings and the scores who've worked their socks off in training for years and got this far but simply not been able to put themselves on the board.  They are the undecorated heroes of the Games and we should be very proud of all who've given it their best shot, even if they go home with memories not medals.  Well done, Team GB!!

What better way to mark the finale of a splendid season of Jubilee and Games than with a quintessentially English tradition:  Victoria Sponge.  Oh, I know, most of you can make these while doing the crossword and texting your friends.  Victoria sponge is to Great Britain what pancakes and maple syrup are to Canadians and anyone who holds a British passport should, I feel, master this national teatime treat.

So now I have to kneel and confess that I've never made a true sponge.  I've made pound cake which is similar and also very English, a wonderful American chocolate cake called 'Wacky Cake' which I might add to this blog in a future post simply for the fun of making it and dozens of spice, lemon, orange and assorted other types of cake.  But not sponge.  And embarrassingly, it's the easiest of the lot and as it's in the oven now, I'll refrain from adding the 'never fail' tag, for that will surely blight my first attempt.  But like boiling an egg or making toast, it would be a pretty poor cook who couldn't get this one right.  With only 5 ingredients it's a no-brainer.

I don't expect a single one of you to make this for I'm sure the English cooks among you all have a tried and true sponge recipe but if you ever fancy a change, then this one gets my vote for an alternative.  Like  many of my favourite recipes, this comes from the kitchen of the talented Lyn who is so generous with all her culinary knowledge and any recipe which she's found and had success in producing.

Weigh three eggs.  Place the same weight each of margarine and caster sugar in a bowl and combine well.  Add the eggs and a few drops of vanilla.  Finally beat in the same weight of self rising flour and beat for a couple of minutes so that the batter is light.  It's not called sponge for nothing. Voilà.  Turn into two greased and floured sponge tins and bake at 160º C for about 30 minutes or until done.

Cool on a rack before turning out of the tins.  A true Victoria should have red jam methinks, but you can personalise in any way you choose and fill with fresh fruit, or any curd or jam and for special occasions top with whipped cream.

Start with a Pimms and then the main course could be bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, toad-in-the-hole or bubble and squeak.  Nice cuppa at the end of the meal and you will be singing Rule Britannia before bed time.