Saturday, 28 February 2009

Mackerel Fishcakes

I decided to treat myself while on my weekly trip to the supermarket. In order to keep my running costs down and force myself to buy from local producers, I've been limiting the meat and fish that I allow myself to buy during my regular trip to a certain out-of-town retailer. Meat is expensive so, although I'd never describe myself as a vegetarian, I tend to live off vegetables and pulses which the odd big of bacon thrown in for good measure. When my budget allows and my cravings get too much, I'll try to buy from the most local butcher to me. However, this week some smoked mackerel caught my eye during my usual trolley race so in it went! More often than not, smoked mackerel, for me, is a summer purchase that is eaten with salads so I was a bit lost for ideas after my first meal. Then it occurred to me: fishcakes! Here's my concoction for you to try:

Mackerel Fishcakes

Ingredients (to make eight fishcakes):
250g smoked mackerel
250g potatoes
1 beaten egg
1 tbsp plain flour

- Peel, quarter and boil potatoes until cooked through and mash.

- While this is cooking, flake the mackerel taking care to remove any bones.

- Mix the mackerel, mashed potato and about 1tbsp of beaten egg (to bind) in a bowl and form into small patties. You can do this by dividing the mixture, rolling it into balls and then flattening them slightly.

- It is probably best, at this stage, to refrigerate your fishcakes for at least half an hour to firm them up which makes the next step easier. However, if you're in a hurry, you can always skip this.

- Prepare three large plates or bowls with: a sprinkling of plain flour, the remaining beaten egg and another with breadcrumbs.

- Sparsely coat each cake with a little flour on each side, then with egg wash and then with breadcrumbs.

- Fry the fishcakes in a little oil over a medium heat for three to four minutes, turning every so often to cook evenly. The outer breadcrumbs with brown slightly. If they start to burn, lower the temperature.

This, of course, would work with tinned tuna or salmon if you don't have mackerel. I chopped up some peppadew peppers and added them to the mixture to add some spice. You could also try a touch of dried or fresh chilli. A teaspoon of ready-made thai green or red curry paste and/or some finely chopped lemon grass or corriander would give a pleasing thai flavour. Red or green pesto could also work well.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Review: Rococo, Oxford

Today, I was lucky enough to lunch with two friends to nourish us before an afternoon of dancing; perfecting our ceroc skills. One of the aforementioned had booked us a table at a little place called Rococo, which wasn't far from his home but is situated on the other side of Oxford to my usual stamping ground. It was nice to see a part of Oxford I'm not familiar with.
Rococo can be found tucked away in the Westway Shopping Centre in Botley and isn't a particularly assuming place. The clientelle was mixed and it was busy enough for us to sink into a corner and discuss politics to our hearts content. The service was satisfactory but not particularly attentive though this suited our needs. It was relaxed and friendly with a nice enough menu - specials were mainly crepe/pancake based and a member of our party enjoyed a delicious looking savory crepe with mushrooms, cream and ham. I went for a Reine pizza with arrived topped with mushrooms, ham and wonderfully fat green and black olives which went down a treat while supping their take on a St Clements - orange juice, lime cordial and bitter lemon over ice. We all finished with puddings and coffee. I went for my staple - tiramisu - which was very good though not the best I've ever had. I didn't get a chance to see the bill but it seemed, from the menu, that everything was reasonably priced. Would definitely return if I was in the area - doubtless I'll be getting a craving for their pizzas simply because of the olives in the not so distance future!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Culinary Valentine

In a slight break from tradition, we decided to spend our pennies on ingredients rather than a meal out. Our (admittedly somewhat limited) experience of the hospitality trade around this time of year is not exactly positive and can be summed up in three words; expensive, contrived and unromantic. .

Consequently, Valentine's Day saw us crammed into Oxford's bustling and popular Covered Market. We collected fresh mussels and shell-on prawns from the fishmonger; shallots, apricots, an avocado and vine tomatoes from the greengrocer; a camembere from the cheese shop; olives, paté and a selection of cured meats from the deli and semi-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh anchovies (a particular weakness of my Valentine) and yet more olives from Fasta Pasta. This was supplimented by a bottle of white wine and a loaf of ciabatta (as the entire market had been cleaned out of bread that morning!) from the local supermarket.

This was deftly crafted into a delicious anti-pasto of cured meats, olives and bits and pieces to nibble on while I roasted the camembere and caramelised shallots to drizzle on top. This was intended to be a starter but we were so full and wanted to do full justice to our seafood main course that we skipped straight to pudding. Heavenly!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Chocolate Pudding for Two

In need of a naughty chocolate fix for Valentines Day? This makes enough delicious mixture for two but not to worry if you're single; all the more for you! It's not too expensive (especially if you buy your chocolate from somewhere like Lidl) and you can always leave out the alcohol if you're really strapped for cash.

Chocolate pudding

160g dark (70%) chocolate
130ml single cream
50ml (if desired, or to taste) Baileys (or similar)
2 tbsp sugar syrup

- Melt chocolate in a bain marie, a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water until smooth. Remove from heat.
- Add cream (ideally at room temperature) and stir thoroughly to combine.
- Add Baileys or similar alcohol and sugar syrup to the mix and stir well again.
- Allow to cool slightly for a few minutes until less liquid then pour into two glasses (or one big one!).
- Refrigerate until needed.

This can be made a few days in advance and can then be heated up slightly (in the microwave or in boiling water) for a tasty, naughty chocolate sauce or serve from the fridge with fresh fruit.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Review: The Mission, Oxford

I'm no expert but I've liked most things labelled "Mexican" that have been wafted under my eager nose. I'm not sure if it's the spices or the richness but it's always a winner with me. Since I was small, my Mum has made the best guacamole ever (much better than the pre-made stuff, I shall have to dig out the recipe!). Now I'm at uni, one of my 'signature dishes' is nachos which are easy, tasty and a great sharing food (another recipe post sometime!). So when my housemate suggested we try out The Mission in central Oxford, I thought it was worth the bus ride in.

I've passed by their warm doorway several times since they opened but there's always been a sizeable queue, often out the door. Obviously, this is a great sign but not conducive to me stopping in. We arrived at about 7.30pm and although there was something of a queue, we joined the throng. A chicken burrito with lots in it costs less than £5, which can't be argued with considering how full it leaves you. Definite value for money! Plus, it's delicious and tastes nice and fresh. They do several different wrap options with different fillings, which are mainly meat based but they do a vegetarian option too. Seating can be a bit of a problem as it's only a small establishment and you just have to sit where you can but this adds to the casual social feel.

All in all, a great place to eat. Worth popping in even if it's busy, especially if you're in need of a quick takeaway fix. Good value, lots of options to keep everyone happy and very tasty.

Walking home that evening, it was suggested that burrito soup could be a tasty addition to my recipe book so that's something that I might need to experiment with in the future!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Roasted Peppers with Goat's Cheese

On my recent excursion to the Covered Market in Oxford, I bought some rather lovely peppers. I picked them out of the green grocers basket, choosing only the plumpest, cutest (can capsicums be "cute"? I hear you ask. Well, yes. Yes they can.). Here's one easy recipe...
(See? Aren't they cute?!)

Roasted Stuffed Pepper's with Goats Cheese and Pinenuts
Serves 2

2 large bell (capsicum) peppers
1 handful (cherry) tomatoes (or a can of chopped tomatoes)
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp (dried) rosemary
100g goats cheese
50g pinenuts
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Half each pepper long-ways through the stem and carefully cut out the seeds.
- Rub with a little olive oil, season and roast for about twenty minutes or until softened and crispy on the edges.
- Meanwhile, finely chop onion and garlic. Sweat in a pan with a little olive oil.
- Quarter cherry tomatoes and add to the pan with half a teaspoon of rosemary.
- Allow to cook through and soften. If this becomes ready before the peppers, simply put to oneside.
- Remove peppers from the oven and fill with the tomato mixture topping with crumbled goats cheese and a sprinkling of pinenuts.
- Return to oven for a further ten minutes to melt the cheese. Serve with salad or vegetable rice.
Subsitute goats cheese and pinenuts for:
- mozzarella and fresh basil. Add oregano to the tomato mix
- feta cheese topping and chopped olives in the filling

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Further Seasonal Eating

After my rant just the other day, I wanted to pass on another link. If you're in need of some inspiration about seasonal produce, you can find lots of ideas and information on the BBC's In Season website. You can look at what is naturally available this month but also look to the year ahead to plan. There is also a bit about each seasonal ingredient with half a dozen or so recipes for each one. Useful!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Potato Wedges

In need of an easy snack for an evening in front of the box? Try these out. They actually couldn't be simpler and I can almost guarantee that you have all the ingredients you could need in your cupboards right now.

Potato Wedges

Potatoes (one per person with one or two on top for luck)
Sunflower oil
Cajun Spice Mix
...or any herbs or spices you fancy!

- Preheat oven 180C
- Cut potatoes into wedges; don't worry about peeling them just cut in half then into segments by cutting each into quarters longways. Put them into a bowl.
- Drizzle with two or three tablespoons of oil. You don't need much, just enough to thinly coat the potatoes.
- Add a teaspoon of each spice and mix everything around (ideally with your hands).
- Spread the wedges out on a baking tray and bake for about thirty minutes (turning halfway through) or until soft and crispy around the edges.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Eat Local

With the newspapers full of doom and gloom with recession talk, it got me thinking about the knock-on effects for food. You know that lovely little restaurant that does everything just how you like it? The one-off ever-so-special unique eatery that you love? Chances are, if it's not part of a franchise (or, lets face it, even if it is) it might well be feeling the pinch at the mo. There are an awful lot of people out there who are out of work at the moment but the reality is that there's also a large proportion of the population that is managing just fine. If you're solvent, consider your local businesses. I'm not suggesting going out and ordering huge meals but do your bit to help Britain's smaller businesses. If you're finding times hard, why not recommend your favourite restaurant, café or supplier to friends and family? You could even have a look to see if they're listed on any review sites and take a few minutes to write a short review.

On this subject, now is a time to eat seasonal local goods if you can. Yes, it's great to eat what you want when you fancy it but consider where the produce is coming from. Tomatoes from the Canary Islands? Not great for your food miles. Now, bear with me. I'm honestly not a raving hippy. It makes sense to be more conscious of what you're buying at times like this. It'll make your food bill cheaper too as seasonal (ideally locally grown or produced) foods are abundant so they're easy to get hold of. Not sure what's in season? I don't blame you. I'm not much of a gardener myself so I rely on Eat the Seasons, who kindly send me a weekly email to tell me whats in season with lovely recipe ideas too. You get one email a week and they don't clog up your inbox with junk. What are you waiting for, eh?

And one more thing... Tesco. They're not going to go out of business in a million years. They have their grip filmly in our highstreets and out-of-town developments. Tesco are happy bunnies. While I wouldn't be able to get all my shopping away from the main supermarket brands, I am trying to buy as much from smaller outlets and markets as I can. They appreciate it, the quality is good and they're real people just like me and you. Yes it's a bit of a gamble but try them out even if it's just for one week.
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