Butter

Onion and rosemary risotto with Marsala

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I don’t make risotto – all that standing and stirring is too boring and laborious for me. I get impatient and try to add the stock too quickly…my arm hurts. Luckily though my husband Ben is a risotto king. It has become his special dish which he makes for me with love and care when I ask him very nicely and give him plenty of notice (having first checked the weather forecast as standing stirring over a hot stove in the heat is not fun).

This very simple sounding risotto from Lindsey Bareham has become my new favourite – knocking beetroot risotto off the top spot. Prior to that it hand been a James Martin smoked haddock and black pudding one.

The combination of onion and rosemary with the sweet Marsala produces the most heavenly rich flavour. You won’t believe me until you’ve tried it.

Marsala is widely available in supermarkets, look for it in the ‘fortified wine’ section. It also makes a nice aperitif, served cold with ice.

Stirringrisotto

The master teaching the son.

Lindsey Bareham’s onion and rosemary risotto with Marsala

  • 2 ½ medium sized onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 75g of butter
  • 250g Arborio rice
  • 1 small glass of Marsala (or Madeira works well too)
  • Approximately 1 litre of hot chicken or vegetable stock (homemade is always best but a good ready made stock will still be nice)
  • 50g of Parmesan cheese, grated
  • A pinch of sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Fry the ½ of the onion in hot vegetable oil until crisp and drain on some kitchen roll. These are for the crispy onion garnish which is essential.

Melt 50g of butter in a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat and stir in the rest of the onions seasoned with ½ teaspoon of salt. Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes until limp.

Stir the rosemary into the onions. Add the rice and cook with the onion for a couple of minutes until the rice is semi-translucent.

Then add the Marsala and let it bubble away into the rice stirring all the time as it does.

Now for the laborious bit.

Add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and not adding the next ladleful until the rice has absorbed almost all the liquid. You may need to turn the heat down a bit so that you have a nice gentle simmer. The whole process will take around 30 minutes in total. At the end the risotto will have a creamy like consistency and the rice should be soft with a slight bite in the middle. If when you have used up all the stock the rice is still not cooked keep adding a little more hot water until it is done.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the remaining butter and cheese and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little sugar. Cover the pan and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with the garnish of crispy fried onions and extra Parmesan if you like.

Brandy snaps

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Brandy snaps were my mother-in-law’s absolute favourite. So eager to please (in the early stages of my relationship with Ben) I attempted to make her some as a birthday gift. After several angry hours in the kitchen and lots of wasted ingredients I ended up with THREE that were just about presentable.

I then swore that I would never, ever make them again. But that was 10 years ago now.

On another, but relevant note (bear with me here), I am having a year of rereading. This is a brilliant experience which I would definitely recommend. In many cases I am enjoying my favourite books even more the second time around. And as the books are a stable, unchanging thing, this is highlighting to me just how much I’ve changed. I am rereading the books through older, more experienced and perhaps wiser eyes.

My experience with trying to make brandy snaps again after 10 years is similar. The memory of failure has nagged at me for all these years but this time around they came out just fine with a minimum of stress and I wondered what an earth all the fuss had been about. The thing is, it’s not the recipe that’s changed – it’s me. I’m definitely now more patient (which probably goes hand in hand with being a mother). I also now except advice and don’t assume I know it all already.

Plus, the amazing teaching tool that is YouTube didn’t exist all those years ago (if my instructions below are in anyway unclear I recommend watching Mary Berry’s YouTube video).

Mary Berry’s brandy snaps

Makes 8-12

  • 50g of butter
  • 50g of demerara sugar
  • 50g of golden syrup
  • 50g of flour
  • ½ a teaspoon of lemon juice
  • ½ a teaspoon of powdered ginger

Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a small saucepan and heat very, very slowly, stirring regularly until all the ingredients are melted. Take your time here and make sure that all the sugar has dissolved and is not grainy. It will take around 10-15 minutes (put your patient head on). Leave to cool a little (for around 5 minutes).

Measure out the flour and ginger and sieve into the saucepan once the butter/sugar/syrup mix has cooled.

Give everything a good stir and add the lemon juice. The mixture should now be smooth and glossy.

Take a flat baking tray and line with some baking parchment. Dollop a teaspoon of the mix onto the baking tray. Leave plenty of space between each dollop as they will spread out massively. I recommend 4 to each sheet and doing them in batches.

Place in an oven preheated to 160oC fan to bake. They will take around 10 – 15 minutes but start watching after 8. They should spread out and turn lacy and a nice deep golden colour.

Take them out of the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. You will not be able to shape them straight from the oven as they will still be too runny.

When just firm enough, use a palette knife to carefully lift each brandy snap off the baking sheet. Then curl around a well-greased wooden spoon to shape. You can also make baskets by placing them over the bottom of a glass.

Leave to cool completely and go rock hard and then keep in an air tight container.

I prefer them unfilled but you can fill them with whipped cream if you like (you will need a piping bag and nozzle for this). Or cheat and use squirty cream. But don’t fill them until you are ready to eat or they will go soft.

Panettone ‘bread-and-butter’ pudding

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I’m not a huge fan of panettone but there is often one knocking around after Christmas and it does make a delicious cheat’s bread-and-butter pudding. This one came from the bottom box of a ‘Tower of Treats’ and was re-gifted to me in January. I was thrilled because I new exactly what to do with it.

Since there is fruit, mixed peel, butter and sugar already in the panettone you don’t need to add any extra – which is why I use the word ‘cheat’. If you have a particularly sweet tooth you can add some extra sugar to the custard if you like and I do add a light smear of extra butter to the top of each slice of panettone for a nice crispy crust.

It’s the perfect comfort food but very indulgent. Carbs, sugar, fat – it’s all in there. Sorry if you’re trying to be good. I’ll aim for a healthier recipe next time.

Panettone ‘bread-and-butter’ pudding

  • 1 panettone (mine was 500g and 20cm diametre), cut into slices about 2 cm thick
  • 30g of butter
  • 300ml of double cream
  • 600ml of milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of demerara sugar
  • Nutmeg
  • Optional – 50g of caster sugar

Lightly butter a ceramic baking dish approximately 20 cm x 30 cm (or one with a similar area).

Spread the rest of the butter thinly over the top surface of each slice of panettone and arrange in a single layer in the dish but with each slice overlapping the next (as above). If you want it to look prettier then you can cut the panettone slices into smaller pieces but I don’t bother.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream and, if you have a sweet tooth, the caster sugar.

Pour this over the top of the panettone slices, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least an hour for the bread to soak up the custard mixture.

When you are ready to cook, remove the cling film and sprinkle over some demerara sugar and a good grating of nutmeg.

Place in an oven preheated to 180oC for 45 minutes – one hour (or until the custard is set – you can test this with a knife in the middle and if it comes out clean then it’s done – and the top is a deep golden brown). Mine took 55 minutes.

Let it stand for 10 minutes (if you can wait that long) before serving. Serve with pouring cream if you like but I think it is perfect just for itself.

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It tastes so much better than it looks.

Parsley soup

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I was watching Rick Stein on one of his long weekends in Bordeaux over Christmas. He was gushing about French markets selling huge bunches of herbs and how that didn’t really happen in the UK. But the following week I went into my local greengrocers (Fred Hallam in Beeston, Nottingham) and low and behold they were selling enormous bunches of locally grown parsley just like the Bordeaux market.

I couldn’t resist buying lots of it. I added parsley to everything that week but still had plenty left over. I then remembered this soup recipe where parsley is the main ingredient (which coincidentally is a Rick Stein one). It is one of my all time favourite soups and the perfect lunch for a cold, wet January day when one is trying to be a little more healthy after all that Christmas indulgence.

You do however need a good, cheap parsley supply – it would cost a fortune if you had to make it with those measly 30g bags from the supermarket.

Parsley soup

  • 2 large leeks or 2 small onions
  • A huge bunch of parsley (curly or flat leaf) approximately 200g
  • 75g of butter (you can use less if you’re watching your fat content, I use about half this amount and it still has a nice velvety texture)
  • 275g of floury potatoes, chopped into small cubes (I don’t bother peeling them)
  • 1.2 litres of chicken stock (home-made is best but stock cubes or pots are fine)
  • You can add double cream if you like (the original Rick Stein recipe uses 50ml) but I don’t think this is necessary

If using leeks then discard the darker green tops and chop roughly, alternatively roughly chop the onion.

Roughly chop the parsley stalks and leaves, reserving a handful of the bright green leaves for later.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the parsley and leeks/onion and soften gently for about 5 minutes.

Now add the potatoes and chicken stock then cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Blitz the whole lot in a food processor along with the handful of uncooked parsley leaves until very smooth.

Return to the pan and season with salt and pepper (and add the double cream if you like).

Keeping it simple – Elizabeth David – rice – holiday photos

rice-and-tomato

Over the summer I read ‘An Omelette and a Glass of Wine’ and decided that I wanted to be Elizabeth David. She had a brilliant wit. She loved picnics and travelling. She liked to eat unpretentious food made from good ingredients. She also (and this is possibly the main reason) enjoyed drinking wine at lunchtime (and woe betide if you served her with, just because she was a woman, a half bottle).

I admit a slight obsession (although I am currently reading her biography and it seems there is a darker side – which I’d probably rather not hear).

I now have a long list of her recipes that I want to try.

After our holiday (where we ate lots of delicious but indulgent food) I needed a few weeks of simple eating centering around vegetables. So the first recipe which I picked out is a basic rice dish with a cold tomato sauce. It sounds stupidly simple but it is surprisingly rich in flavour. It does rely on your tomatoes being very fresh. They are very much in season now and are really good even in the supermarkets but I wouldn’t advise making this with the artificially ripened ones you get at other times of the year.

Tomato Sauce and Dry Rice

For the simple tomato sauce, slice ripe tomatoes into a bowl  and mix with olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a bit of onion. Prepare the mixture two hours in advance and immediately before serving to stir in a pinch of sugar.

For the rice, put a small dollop of butter or oil into a small saucepan over a low heat. Add half a chopped onion and when the onion is golden discard (or save for another use). Then add half a pint of basmati rice and stir until the rice has started to turn golden. Then tip in a pint of boiling stock or water. Bring to the boil, put a lid on and then turn the heat down low and cook for 15 minutes. Try not to be tempted to open the lid. Fluff up with a fork.

Serve the rice with some flakes of butter and some grated cheese with the tomato sauce separately on the side.

Gratin of courgettes and rice

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It’s the season for courgettes but for the first time ever my plants have been annihilated by slugs and snails. However, I am going to keep this recipe for other years when I have them coming out of my ears.

The idea does sound a bit odd – my family were terrified. But trust me the taste is lovely. The courgette flavour is very subtle so even my children (who do not like courgettes) enjoyed it. It was unexpectedly good cold the next day cut into wedges.

Gratin of courgettes and rice

Here I quote Elizabeth directly:

‘It was followed by a gratin of courgettes and rice. This dish, new to me, was made with courgettes cooked in butter and sieved, the resulting puree then mixed with béchamel and rice, all turned into a shallow dish and browned in the oven. A mixture with delicate and unexpected flavours.’

There were no quantities given. I used two large courgettes, cooked down with butter until soft and then pureed in the blender. I then made a very thick béchamel (50g of butter, 50g of flour and just enough milk so that the mixture would only just run from the spoon). The mixture of courgette to béchamel was 50/50 (I had leftover béchamel but saved this to make macaroni cheese another day). I then added the same amount of cooked rice (cooked with water not stock in my usual way – see above), poured the whole lot into a baking dish, dotted with butter and browned in the oven.

Who knows whether this is the correct way but inspired by the following words I’ll leave you to experiment.

‘I think that the ideal cookery writer is one who makes his readers want to cook as well as telling them how it is done; he should also leave something not too much perhaps, but a little, unsaid; people must make their own discoveries, use their own intelligence, otherwise they will be deprived of part of the fun.’ – Elizabeth David


A random aside – holiday photos

I have to admit it. As much as I love them, my children (now six and eight) are no longer cute.

One is toothless, bespectacled and likes to play the fool. The other is toothy, a complete scruff bag and has a slightly crazy look in her eye. They no longer enjoy posing for photos but just see it as a good way to wind me up.

So my holiday photos these days are less about the kids and more about the food (although the children are usually in there somewhere).

If you read this blog then I’m assuming that you like food, so I thought I’d share some of my food focused holiday photos with you.

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Giant breaded meatballs with a liquid sauce centre, served with salad or ‘stoemp’ (mashed potato with carrot) at Balls & Glory. A great idea and totally delicious.

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Classic Ghent cuisine – shrimp croquettes with Westmalle Dubbel (a strong, dark, beer)

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This is a bad photo but it’s all about the ‘Kouign Amman’ here (that little pastry on the left) which was the most amazing thing I have eaten in a long time. Buttery, sugary – pure heaven with a strong coffee. I think they once made them on Bake-Off.

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The children try snails for the first time in Alsatian restaurant Bosso in Luxembourg. We also had ‘Alsatian pizza’ or ‘Flammeküeche’ and the best potato rosti ever.

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Elizabeth’s eighth birthday treat – a ridiculously expensive rose flavoured macaron filled with rose petal cream.

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Another sweet treat at ‘Stoffels’ in Liege. This is ‘La Soliel’ – layers of raspberry coulis, creme anglais and then Italian meringue on top. AMAZING.

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You can’t go to Belgium and not have frites with Andalouse sauce.

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A very good beer.

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Rich chocolate cake

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About two years ago my husband made his very first cake. It was this ‘rich chocolate cake’ and it got such a great reception that he hasn’t bothered to try any others since. Whenever he makes a cake (which is not often) it is always this one. It blew Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness cake completely out of the water and my children now hail it as the ‘best cake in the world ever’. This is slightly annoying (since I bake lots of different cakes, all the time) but I have to admit that it is very delicious (hence the reason for this post) and I’m not usually a fan of chocolate cake.

This recipe doesn’t contain flour, so providing you use gluten free chocolate you can make it for your gluten free/coeliac friends. And if you don’t like almonds (like me) don’t worry – the rich chocolate completely disguises any almond flavour.

It’s not the easiest cake to make as there are quite a few processes involved (note how many times I use the words ‘carefully’ and ‘gently’ below). However, if (like my husband) you only bake cakes two or three times a year, you might as well go to a bit of effort.

It’s also not a showstopper lookswise. Don’t bake this if you want to make a grand cake entrance and wow your friends. It does however have a depth and richness on tasting that will quietly impress – rather like my husband really!

Rich Chocolate Cake – from the amazing Peyton and Byrne book – ‘British Baking’*

*I saw this in a charity shop recently and couldn’t believe that anyone would give such a brilliant book away.

  • 160g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 160g of cold butter, cut into small cubes (about 1cm squared)
  • A pinch of sea salt (not necessary if you use salted butter)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 120g of caster sugar
  • 160g of ground almonds

Set your oven to 180oC.

Butter and line a 23 cm diameter cake tin with baking parchment.

NOTE: I recently used a 20 cm square cake tin instead. This produced a slightly thicker cake which I liked much better. It needed 5 minutes longer in the oven however (30 minutes total). ZS 25/09/16

Put the chocolate (and salt if using) in a bowl and melt over a pan of barely simmering water. Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the pan and tip in the cubes of butter. Let the mixture sit until the butter starts to melt, then give it a quick stir and leave it for another few minutes.

Meanwhile, in another scrupulously clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks with a whisk. Then add the caster sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. An electric whisk makes this much easier.

Stir the chocolate mixture until all the butter has melted and whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time. Then fold in the egg white mixture as carefully and gently as you can.

Now lightly fold in the ground almonds being careful not to knock the air out of the mixture. It will have the texture of shaving foam at this point.

Pour into the tin and level off carefully with the back of a spoon or a palette knife. It will not spread and rise very much so it is worthwhile taking your time to do this carefully.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out and serving.

This is best eaten as fresh as possible and is amazing served slightly warm with a small scoop of mascarpone. If you can’t eat it on the day then cut the cake into slices and blast in the microwave for a few seconds before serving.

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Afternoon coffee (mid-century style) in the Marvellous Furniture shop

Peanut butter cookies

peanut butter cookies

If you think sugar and salt are evil then turn away now.

These cookies have both in abundance but they are absolutely delicious.

And I do apologise to anyone on a diet because there has been a bias towards sweet recipes on this blog in recent weeks. Believe it or not I do have some health food blogger followers, because I do occasionally post a recipe with kale in it.

Anyway, talking of sweet treats, hands up if you knew it was National Dessert Day on Wednesday. I didn’t until the University of Nottingham tweeted about it like it was something real that should be taken in all seriousness.

In a household where we nearly always have pudding, I struggle with the concept of ‘National Dessert Day’. Does it mean that you can only have dessert on that day, or does it mean you should have double the amount of dessert? Either way, for me, these national/international days of whatever some marketing bod fancies are a load of old tripe (but then this is coming from someone who doesn’t do Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day).

But let’s give a big cheer for pudding (or dessert if you must) because it makes life worth living. And if you’re NOT on a diet then do try these cookies. I challenge you to only eat one.

Peanut butter cookies

Based on a recipe from the NY Times website (I’ve changed the name from ‘Salty sweet peanut butter sandies’ because that’s a bit too American for me)

Makes about 24

  • 115g of butter, softened (add a large pinch of salt to the recipe if you’re using unsalted butter)
  • 75g of granulated sugar
  • 85g of light brown sugar
  • 205g of peanut butter, smooth or chunky
  • 1 egg
  • 125g of plain flour
  •  1 teaspoon of Maldon sea salt and 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar for sprinkling

Heat your oven to 170oC and line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy (in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, with an electric hand mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon).

Add the peanut butter and egg, and mix. Add the flour and salt and mix until well combined.

Put heaped teaspoons of dough onto the baking sheets. The original recipe uses a cookie scoop but I’ve never heard of one of these. The cookies will not spread much when they bake so they can be placed quite close together, but leave room for air circulation so they can brown.

In a small bowl, mix one teaspoon of Maldon sea salt (or other flaky sea salt) and one of granulated sugar. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with this mixture.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown.

Carefully lift the cookies off the baking sheets with a palette knife and cool on wire racks.

Try not to eat too many in one go.

Brownies with cheeky beetroot

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I’m still on a mission to use up copious amounts of home grown beetroot.

I have a fridge shelf dedicated to jars of pickled beetroot and a whole freezer full. I was running out of ideas and then I did what I always do when I’ve run out of ideas – I stick vegetables into cake.

I have experimented with  lots of vegetable cakes in the past – carrot cake (dull), courgette cake (not bad), even a parsnip cake (a bit wacky and actually not very nice). And the first time I made a chocolate beetroot cake was the day before I gave birth to my daughter. My mind was clearly on other things because I forgot the sugar.

I did attempt the beetroot/chocolate combination again with these brownies (writing in the margins, in giant letters, ‘DON’T FORGET THE SUGAR’). They are very nice and the beetroot can hardly be detected – it just adds a moist earthy sweetness. Although my daughter (who has astute taste buds) declared them ‘delicious’ and then asked what the “little bits that tasted of soil” were.

These are good brownies to make for friends with nut allergies, or for small children (like my son) who don’t like nuts or, for that matter, beetroot. He ate them perfectly happily until my tell-tale daughter revealed the cheeky ingredient.

Chocolate and beetroot brownies

(Based on the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday)

Makes 16-20

  • 250g butter roughly cut into small cubes
  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 250g of cooked beetroot, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g of self-raising wholemeal flour (or plain wholemeal flour with 1 teaspoon of baking powder)
  • A pinch of salt

To cook the beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible. Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (this is the time for medium sized beetroot). The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and grate. You can also boil the beetroot until tender (about 20-30 minutes) if you prefer.

Preheat your oven to 180oC. Line and grease a 23 x 33 cm baking tin with baking parchment so that it goes all the way up the sides.

Put the butter and chocolate into a heat proof bowl and melt in short 10 second bursts in the microwave, stirring after each until smooth. Or you can do this in the more traditional way over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar and then add the melted chocolate and butter. Mix well and then lightly fold in the flour and salt with a metal spoon. Finally add the beetroot and stir to incorporate but don’t over mix.

Pour the mixture into the baking tray and spread evenly.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is set but the middle still has a very slight wobble.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

For me these are best served warm and it is fine to reheat them in the microwave for a few seconds.

They are great served with ice cream or mascarpone.

Fiskekaker (Norwegian fish cakes)

Norwegian fish cakes

It may seem perverse to come back from holiday and attempt to recreate dishes that you didn’t even try whilst there, but that is exactly what I’ve done this week. I saw these fishcakes for sale in Bergen, and I really wanted to try them, but I didn’t because my penny pinching reflexes kicked in and I couldn’t bear to part with £££s for them.

On another note, I’ve been lusting after newly published cookbooks recently, but for before-said miserly tendencies I’ve made a resolution to revisit cookbooks that I currently own but never use instead. So I was reading Elisabeth Luard’s ‘European Peasant Cookery’ (which is a great hulk of a book, which I put on my birthday list 7 years ago, received and then promptly ignored) and one of the first recipes in the book was for Norwegian fish cakes, or fiskekaker. This tweaked my interest having been in Norway recently and I decided to try making them.

I wish I had tried the authentic version to compare them with, but what I can say is that mine (or rather Elisabeth’s) were delicious in a subtle, comforting way – almost like nursery food. I make fish cakes a lot but these are refreshingly simple with fish being the star of the show. Unsurprisingly my children loved them and I think they will become a regular feature on our weekly menu.

Fiskekaker (Norwegian fish cakes)

From Elisabeth Luard’s ‘European Peasant Cookery’

Makes about 12

  • 500g of filleted white fish (haddock or cod will do but make sure it’s as fresh as possible)
  • 1 small cooked potato, mashed, or 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 6 tablespoons of single cream or full cream milk
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt
  • A good grinding of white pepper
  • Butter for frying

Skin the fish and remove any pin bones. Roughly chop the fish flesh and pound this either with a pestle and mortar (hard work but traditional) or finely mince in a food processor. Stir in the potato, cream and seasoning. Beat until you have a smooth doughy mixture.

Melt a good dollop of butter in a frying pan and heat to medium.

Using a dessert spoon dipped in water, scoop out a spoonful of the fish mixture and add it to the pan. Press it down with the back of the spoon. Alternatively shape into small cakes with wet hands. Continue until the pan is full. Brown on one side before flipping over to cook the other, about 5 minutes on each side. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the others.

I served mine with dill butter, a beetroot salad and rice. More traditional would be to eat them just for themselves or with boiled potatoes.

Rosemary butter cookies

lavender biscuits

Despite having my own blog I don’t follow many others, but I’d like to tell you about two of my favourites, just in case you don’t know about them already.

Recipe Rifle

The first is Recipe Rifle by Esther Walker (she’s the wife of Giles Coren but don’t let that put you off). There’s usually a recipe but the bit I like most are the introductions – hilarious and honest stories about her life with young kids. If (like me) you are often exasperated by your children, do trawl through the archives of this blog – you’ll feel as though you’ve found a friend. Esther eloquently tells it how it is – putting in words what many of us really feel about motherhood whilst outwardly smiling and telling our friends how much we’re ‘loving it’.

Cupcakes and Cashmere

In complete contrast is smiley Emily who writes ‘Cupcakes and Cashmere‘. This blog is the epitome of shallow but it’s beautiful presentation lures you in like, well just like a pretty cupcake. She writes posts like ‘How to style your bookshelf’ (you mean there’s another way apart from alphabetically?). Her food is always tiny, and immaculately presented and often includes stars, hearts and sprinkles. Despite becoming a new mother recently (when surely it should have all gone to pot!) she continues to look elegant wearing tiny skirts and beautiful shoes. There are no photos of sleep deprived/puffy eyes, there is no whinging, just lots of sunshine and all American positivity. I should hate her but Emily is so likable and sweet – like a Disney Princess. Reading her blog I feel as though she genuinely wants to show me a better way.

But Esther is now finishing her Recipe Rifle blog which I’m gutted about, but on hearing her disarmingly honest reasons perhaps it’s for the best.

‘When I was in the eye of the storm I was a better person, I thought more deeply, I was more sensitive, attuned and intellectually alive. Now all I think about is my career and clothes. That’s it. I chase the high of a new commission and the high of total, sheer, vanity.’

It seems that Esther fears turning into Emily, or rather she fears that ‘Recipe Rifle’ will become like ‘Cupcakes and Cashmere’. From my point of view I don’t really want to read one without the counter balance of the other, so I’ll probably give up blogs entirely and read Victorian novels and Elizabeth David cookery books instead.

Anyway, despite food being a key part of both of these blogs, I have only ever tried one recipe from either. It was this Martha Stewart one which Emily recommended, accompanied by some photos of her own version which were, of course, more beautiful and perfectly formed than the original.

Mine were ugly but tasted delicious. I also had the idea of adding lavender instead of rosemary to half the batch. This was with my son Edgar in mind. He hates ALL fruit but eats lavender straight off the plant without blinking an eye.

Rosemary (or Lavender) Butter Cookies

Makes about 30

  • 225g of soft butter
  • 170g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 312g of plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary OR lavender flowers
  • 3/4 of a teaspoon of coarse sea salt

Mix the butter and the sugar together until pale and fluffy. I used an electric hand whisk for this bit but you could probably just use a wooden spoon.

Mix in the egg and vanilla extract, then add the flour, salt and rosemary OR lavender. Mix until well combined.

Halve the dough and shape each into a log with floured hands.

Place each log on a square of baking parchment and roll up into a log about 3 3/4 cm in diameter twisting the ends to keep the shape. Put in the freezer  for an hour to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 190oC.

Cut each log into 1 cm thick rounds and place on a flat baking tray lined with parchment. You will need two trays and probably two batches for this amount.

Bake until the edges are golden 15-20 minutes (mine were pretty well done after 15).

Cool on wire trays and store in an airtight container.

Options:

Martha recommends using a loo roll around the log to hold the shape while freezing. I didn’t think this was necessary.

She also paints the logs with egg white and rolls in sanding sugar before cutting into rounds. I still don’t know exactly what ‘sanding sugar’ is (they don’t sell it in Tesco so I think you may need to find a specialist cake decorating shop). I used granulated sugar instead on half the batch but to be honest preferred the ones without.