What a year 2015 was for me! Two books, television appearances, daughter engaged, and a big building project at home all took off and took up lots time and energy. It was great fun but if I thought 2016 was going to be quieter then I am already thinking again. My lovely new kitchen was just ready enough for me to cook in it for Christmas but my supposed five-month project due to finish in November is still well and truly continuing, and I will be living with the builders (or that’s what it feels like!) for at least another couple of months yet, weather permitting and fingers and toes crossed.
But once finished it will be glorious, and I am already loving having a new purpose-built kitchen to settle into, having been working in what has essentially been a holiday home version for the last 3 years. I have already fallen completely in love with my new Everhot cooker (of which I will write more in the future), and will never ever take a good work triangle for granted again. Once it’s all complete, I hope to be running cookery workshops from here, focusing on local produce, so watch this space.
With a wedding happening in July and a party to host, getting my newly designed garden ready and planted is another priority – I just need it to stop raining a bit! I’ll be making ‘the cake’, and looking for a sutabley splendid hat, whilst starting to train as a yoga teacher in April with the wonderful Simon Low.
But most of all I’ll be enjoying cooking and entertaining friends here at home using all the best ingredients that are abundantly available here in in Kent and Sussex.
At the market this month…
January 2016 is already upon us, and who knows what lies ahead? But whatever is in store for you, here and now your resolution should be to make a regular trip to your local farmer’s market. You will eat better and also save money by shopping locally with the seasons. Add to your feel-good factor the support you will be giving local businesses and producers, and the whole thing makes perfect sense.
So where to begin this month? Short days and chilly nights mean we all crave comfort foods but after the excesses of the Christmas period, budgets are tight, and waistbands even tighter. Healthier menus are in everyone’s minds so it’s time to go minimal in the kitchen and enjoy simple clean dishes that satisfy.
And with many fish at their best at this time of year, lighter eating couldn’t be easier. Lemon sole, halibut, skate, sea bass and turbot are all good now – try them simply cooked on a griddle with a little oil to prevent sticking and a squeeze of lemon juice. Then sit back and really appreciate great fish at its very best. Shellfish fans should keep an eye out for clams, mussels, oysters and cockles. Try mussels cooked with a lightly curried sauce freshened up with yoghurt and plenty of chopped fresh coriander as a change to the more classic moules marinieres. And I’ll be making up a batch or two of the fishcakes recipe below using Arcade Fisheries‘ excellent hot smoked salmon for its wonderful rich smoky flavour.
For meat eaters, game is always an excellent choice for seasonal healthy eating. Venison is plentiful now and with its lean flesh and high mineral content great for those watching waistlines. Cook simply on the griddle or use minced for burgers and instead of beef in cottage pies. Game merchants are increasingly specifying which breed of deer they are selling and, as with beef, it helps to know which one you are eating – fallow, roe, red deer or muntjac all have their own particular characteristics. The feathered game season comes to a close around the end of the month so now is a good time to use wild duck or pheasant in a casserole or pie. Game dealers should sell game mixes that also are marvelous as a filling for a pasty. Another hearty meat to use this month in braises and casseroles is mutton, perfect in a rich comforting stew or tajine. I like to make my winter stews a day ahead and leave to allow flavours to develop, or make up double and freeze in batches. I’ll also be cooking pork this month – the roast belly pork from my Busy Mum’s Cookbook is a favourite or my favourite sausage casserole from the same book.
Recently the brassica family has thrown off its dire reputation as overcooked school fare and reinvented itsefl. Kale, Savoy cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, sprouts and spring greens have morphed into fashionable ingredients used by modern chefs. They are all full of flavour now and really don’t need to be boiled to death and they work perfectly in stir fries, hearty soups and curries, or serve simply shredded and steamed tossed with a little seasoning and knob of butter, or maybe wilted with some chopped garlic and chilli and a dash of cold pressed rapeseed oil to go with game or richer meat dishes. I also like to use kale in a corned beef hash made with sweet potato. Mark Twain called cauliflower ‘cabbage with a college education’, and it certainly is a vegetable that deserves more than just a cheesy sauce. Try it in soups, fritters, or steamed then tossed with olive oil, anchovies, garlic and chilli for a quick pasta sauce. Main crop potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, celeriac, swede and turnips provide the starch that keeps us going in the cold so mash them together to go with your meat dishes.
Local fruit is not much in evidence this month but there are still apples to be enjoyed – the storing varieties keep well until April so make sure to go on buying local when you see them. Early forced rhubarb is just starting to appear – wonderful in traditional crumbles, compotes and pies, it also goes well with rich flavoured meat and fish so serve a rhubarb sauce with grilled mackerel or spice it up with Chinese five spice and serve with slow cooked belly pork.
Hot smoked salmon fishcakes with shredded greens
Serves 4/Prepare 25 minutes/Cook 30 minutes
650g (1 ½ lb) old potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
40g (1 ½ oz) butter
500g (1lb 2oz) hot smoked salmon, flaked
300g (9oz) shredded kale, cavolo nero or spring cabbage
juice of ½ lemon
1 – 2 tsp capers, chopped
2 – 3 tbsp seasoned flour
1 large egg, beaten
50 – 100g fresh white breadcrumbs
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 15 – 18 minutes until tender then drain thoroughly, return to the pan and mash with half the butter and seasoning. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and leave to cool. Flake the salmon and stir gently into the potato.
2 Bring a kettle of water to the boil, pour over the kale and return to the boil. Simmer for a minute then drain and run under cold water to cool. Pat dry with kitchen paper. Stir into the fish and potato mixture with the lemon juice and capers. Check seasoning. Shape the mixture into eight patties (or sixteen mini ones). Place the flour in a shallow bowl and dip the fishcakes in it to coat lightly. Chill until needed.
3 Heat the oil with the remaining butter in a shallow non-stick frying pan and fry the fishcakes on both sides for 6-8 minutes until golden, turning once. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with lemon mayonnaise or tomato ketchup.
Cook’s tip: These fishcakes freeze well and I often make them if I have leftover mash and kale then freeze for emergencies. You can use any fish instead of salmon – try smoked haddock, cod or brill and just poach in milk until cooked through.
Open freeze the uncooked cakes on a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment and then pack in freezer bags. Use within three months – defrost then cook as above.