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Fish pie for the soul

Fish pie

This month has been one for comfort foods, certainly not one for diets, not that I’ve ever gone beyond thinking that it might be a good idea to cut out x or y (usually x = crisps & y = cheese) and planning how I should successfully do so, usually to fall at the first hurdle, whichever shop crosses my path that sells the finest of either. I am not unhappy about that, I’ve never approached diets or the thought of them too seriously, moderation is best in all things (with the occasional lapse of course). Life is for living, might aswell just get on with it and make the most of it, eh? Especially when food gives such pleasure.

Once in school, we made a dish called fish crisp, a baked mackerel dish topped with irish tayto crisps (I kid you not). I was 13 or so, and hated fish at the time. When my mother would grill fish I would leave the house in protest and not return until I had deemed the smell gone. I virtually fainted when I had to skin the mackerel and had to be taken outside for some air but was brought back inside to complete it, much to my horror. I adored crisps but hated fish, how was I to eat the crisps without having even a scent of mackerel from them? It wasn’t to be, there was no way of rescuing them, and save the few crumbs from the bottom of the bag, I had to abandon them. I have no memory of what happened to that fish crisp after, but I do remember the build up in excruciating detail.

I’ve been thinking of that dish lately, along with quite a few others that we made in school, including one white pudding tart that I loved and would love to make again if only I had the recipe. It was one of our teacher’s own so wasn’t in the book but I do recall some carrot, white pudding and some shortcrust, but, that’s about it. I have a few ideas for potential white pudding tarts that could work, but that’s a project for the weekend.

For tonight, I had settled on fish pie – something of the calibre of that comforting and tasty tart. It had been a while since I had eaten fish so I made up for it with 3 types – salmon, prawns and smoked haddock in a smokey and fragrant bechamel with some velvety mash on top. I poached the fish first in some milk, with some peppercorns, coarsely chopped carrots, celery and onion, adding the prawns about half way through as they cook quicker. I then used the poaching milk for the sauce and it was lovely, it had some of the flavour of the veg and the peppercorns and the smokiness of the smoked haddock – very delicate and light. It would be perfect served with greens or peas, I had neither and was too lazy to leave my flat! I split the mixture into two pie dishes about 6 * 3 inches, but really there was so much fish I could have made three. You can also make one big one, of course. Serves 4.

Here’s the recipe in more detail.

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Borough market – a sneak peek

I’ve resisted blogging Borough Market for a number of reasons. It’s one of my favourite places in London, bustling and full of treats – savoury and sweet, it has the best of all things seasonal and fresh and is packed with artisan producers willing to share their wares. I’m a purist (you may have spotted that) and I want to do it properly and give it the justice it deserves, dedicating a day to it with a decent camera, with purchases under my arm to sample at home and experiment with in following posts.

So, not to give the wrong impression, I haven’t done this and will remain true to my word – you’ll have to wait for that lengthy post. I do have some photo’s that I took whilst wandering there last Saturday though, and I’d like to share those.

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Menu for Hope 4 – Winner

Many congratulations to Alastair Bathgate who won the cookbooks that I put forward for the Menu for Hope 4 prize.

Thanks to everyone that took part – it was enormously successful raising 50% more than last year – a whopping total of $91,188.00 for the World Food Programme in Lesotho!

Info on other prizewinners available here.
Thanks to Pim and the UK regional hosts Jeanne & Joanna for organising it.

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Toad in the Hole with Roast Shallot Gravy

Or YUM! I love comfort foods like this. Especially ones that are quick and simple. Last weekend cried out for this dish. It’s January. It was grey. It was wet. It was windy and cold. Get it? I had restricted myself to zone 5 for the weekend in a forced attempt to relax. This may sound small, especially as I actually live in zone 5, BUT, I almost always go into London at some point and meet friends or wander around the markets, buy myself a foodie treat, go to the cinema. You get my drift – I am an urban girl and I forced myself to be a suburban one.

Everytime I go home to Ireland, I return to London with a mini-hamper for myself, usually consisting of selected irish cheeses, black pudding, white pudding and ispíní (ish-pee-nee). Ispíní are traditional irish pork sausages, these particular ones are made by Clonakilty Food Co. in West Cork, Ireland. I love these sausages, they are so flavoursome and evoke a memory of home and childhood that few other foods impart. These reasons apart, they are damn fine sausages that I challenge anyone to dislike. I do like those gourmet butchers ones with leeks, herbs, chillies and all other kinds of accoutrements, but, often, it’s the basics done well that are the very best and that’s certainly the case with these.

So, toad in the hole, or ispíní in the hole, or as it has an irish flavour, I could take it further and ask my fluent Irish friend to translate it for me. I did. Shamefully, my spoken Irish has slipped woefully, although that is on my self improvement list for 2008. She recommened two options and I am going for the second – cnádán sa pholl (knaw-dawn sa fowl) – roughly translated as croaker or grunter in the hole. It’s January – it’s a good fit.

Back to the food, I am meandering! This was really quick and easy and I would recommend it. It’s super flexible too – you can put whatever you want in here: veggie sausages, roast veg, chunks of pumpkin, the options are endless, just make sure you’ve loads of yummy gravy to mop it up.

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Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

Acorn House in King’s Cross has been on my radar for sometime. As London’s first truly eco-friendly training restaurant, it has had alot of press attention, with the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler declaring that”All Restaurants should emulate” it and Giles Coren of The Times saying that it’s “The most important restaurant to open in London in the past 200 years”. It’s also less than 10 minutes from my workplace and has been recommended by colleagues and friends. In the OFM food awards in 2007 it won best newcomer.

Established by chef Arthur Potts Dawson and manager James Grainger-Smith both formerly of Fifteen in Shoreditch, it’s a social enterprise created by the Shoreditch Trust which delivers hands on training to the local community. The food is centred around health, training, community and the environment. They aim to be the most recyclable restaurant in London, by allowing as much as 80% of its waste to be recycled. In cooperation with the local councils and London Remade it will test out new waste management strategies in a restaurant environment, it offers reusable cutlery and all takeaway containers are eco-sensitive and they offer customers options of serving sizes to allow for differing appetites which creates less food waste. They have their own site for storage of dry recyclables with space for a ‘PIG’ compostor and a wormery providing soil for the restaurant and the roof of the storage area is used to grow herbs (and potentially grow insect attracting plants) in the centre of Kings Cross. Added to all of this, the restaurant and the recycling site act as an educational resource for the public, schools and a new breed of trainee chefs. When it comes to the food itself, the menus are seasonal with ingredients sourced from small independent suppliers, they buy fair trade where possible, locally and never use air freight, they have a strict fish purchasing policy and demand positive animal husbandry.

All that sounds great, truly an inspiration for other restaurants, but, what of the food? I’ve availed of their takeway lunch a number of times, usually the half panini and small soup for £5, always flavoursome and healthy. So, why didn’t I eat there properly until this week? I think it’s one of those situations where it’s just down the road and I can go anytime (even if I subsequently don’t) and, ever the procrastinator I put it on the long finger. This week, however, I finally went there for lunch with some colleagues.

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It’s Russian Tea Time in London

Last Sunday, I met up with an old friend for a bite. I’d been to the Russian Tea Rooms in Primrose Hill – Trojka – last summer, and, had had a nice time, nice food sitting at a table in the sunshine. Since then, a friend has been curious and keen to go. So we went.

This time of year isn’t conducive to al fresco dining, so indoors we went. It was very busy, a good sign, and we stood and waited for someone to seat us or advise us of a wait. Noone was forecoming so after some time, we decided that we should ask. We were coolly advised that we would need to wait and so we did. After a time, a table was vacated but noone advised us to sit there so we thought that we should ask again. So we did, and we were told to sit there. What hard work already and we hadn’t even ordered!

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End of 2007, start of 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, I’ve been a busy girl, touring Ireland for the last two weeks, spending time with family and meeting up with old friends in all corners. This involved being very festive (cough) and doing alot of eating and drinking, great times were had all round.

So, now that I am back, and starting a new year, I can’t help but think what were the highs and what were the lows for 2007? Food highs were trips to Tokyo, Spain & Paris, all fantastic places with food to match. Starting this blog and all the wonderful feedback I have had from you lovely readers, the blogosphere at large has been very inspiring. Menu for Hope was particularly great, raising a grand total of $91,188.00! Thanks to everyone who participated.

Food lows, apologies to anyone from Japan, but I don’t think I will ever quite recover from eating an octopus ball in Tokyo, it looked so delicious but just wasn’t to my taste and gave me quite a shock! I was expecting something quite crispy but contained within was a slimy octopus in what felt like raw egg. Other food lows: the first night I moved flat and couldn’t find the switch to turn on the cooker (I should be too embarassed to disclose this!) and resorting hungrily to a pot noodle, although I did wash that down with a fine glass of malbec :-)

Food news from Christmas? Unfortunately, I had a bit of an accident and tripped over running for my train on the 21st December, resulting in the loss of a fingernail and a very swollen finger, I still can’t take my ring off and that was over two weeks ago! So, I wasn’t much use for chopping but did experiment a little, instead of our usual brussel sprout puree we tried stir frying them with bacon, butter and hazelnuts with great success. Another was celeriac soup with parsley and hazelnut cream, alas, I had no camera but will make it again soon. I spent five days in Dingle in the West of Ireland with some friends, we rented a house and the 5 days involved a lot of good comfort food, like pasta amatricana and vegetarian boston baked beans. Lots of very nice wine was swilled in accompaniment.

Sadly, that’s all over now and I find myself in 2008. 2008, I know, is just a number, but it is a time for new beginings and new focus, even if I am not quite sure what that will involve yet! I am ripe for it though, who knows what’s ahead?

For now, while I gather myself and get ready for my first day back at work, I’ll leave you with some of my fave photos from my highlights of the year, mostly food related as that’s why you’re here. I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year to you all!


A Shinto wedding I happened upon in Tokyo at the Meiji-Jingu shrine


Gorgeous food at a local izakaya in Tokyo


A photo with the chef at another Izakaya, he insisted :-)

Prawn sushi in Tokyo

Tomatoes at a Parisian food market

Spices in Granada, Spain


Tapas bar in Granada, Spain

A beach in Dingle, Kerry, where I finished the year… no better place