Horseradish Sauce

For the first time in years I am alone on a Sunday.  Well, not completely alone since my mother-in-law is here, in her flat on the bottom floor of our house.  She’s worried that I’ve stayed behind because of her but while it’s true that she’s frail and we don’t like to leave her on her own, that’s not the case.  It was my choice and I’m enjoying the chance to catch my breath; I’ve never minded my own company.  My husband is on his annual Scottish fishing trip and youngest son’s in Cornwall with his brother and fiancée, staying with her family, and I’m just happy if everyone’s doing what they want to do.   I’ve mentioned before that we usually have Sunday lunch or supper with Granny, but she and I agreed there didn’t seem much point in doing a roast today.  I’m finding it quite liberating to be able to eat what and when I like.

So, although I’m not roasting anything myself today, I thought I’d tell you about this delicious homemade horseradish sauce I made last Sunday when there were six of us round the table for roast beef.  The same friends who gave us their homegrown courgettes had given us a piece of horseradish from their garden.  I’d never used it before and was delighted with this creamy, fresh-tasting sauce.

All you do is grate about 15g (more if you like extra heat) of horseradish and soak it in two tablespoons of hot water; drain, then mix it with one tablespoon of white wine vinegar, a pinch of mustard powder, salt and pepper and 150ml of lightly whipped double cream.

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Summer “Cooking”

Maybe I’m just making excuses to be lazy but the summer weather means I haven’t felt much like baking or cooking recently.  It hasn’t even been consistently hot and sunny but here in Bristol, even on the wet, grey days, it’s been muggy: not the sort of weather conducive to standing next to a hot oven for a few hours.

The solution is either to get your husband to barbecue or to prepare salads and light dishes requiring minimal cooking time.  I have managed to achieve both of these and thought I’d share with you some of the recipes we’ve enjoyed.

First up, this courgette tart, which was an excellent way of using up some superb homegrown courgettes a friend had given us.  The recipe is by Rose Prince and appeared in the Saturday Telegraph magazine a couple of weeks ago.  You will see that she recommends making your own rough puff pastry but I went for second best and used shop bought pure butter puff pastry.  I was not that successful at getting my courgettes to form “ribbons” but it didn’t matter that much.

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Next, burgers.  This was a very last minute supper.  It was a lovely warm evening and so we shelved our original supper plans and youngest son popped to Waitrose to buy some ground beef (not too lean) and burger buns.  All I do to make burgers is add ground black pepper and an egg, mix well and shape.  I don’t add onion or salt or garlic.  This way you can really taste the beef and get additional flavours from the sauces and other toppings you serve alongside (eg gherkins, ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes).  Sometimes we sandwich our burgers in ciabatta but, to be honest, the regular burger buns with sesame seeds work perfectly.  On this occasion, in addition to the toppings listed above, I found some red Romano peppers in the fridge which I halved, deseeded, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt for my husband to grill on the barbecue.  J invited his friend round to join us and by the time we were ready to eat it was nearly dark so we lit some candles and tucked in.  Impromptu evenings like this are very often the most enjoyable.

Once again, my latest favourite cookbook, Honey and Co., came up trumps when I wanted a simple fish recipe the other Friday.  The recipe in the book used sea bream but I could only get sea bass fillets; I doubt there’s much difference.  I just roasted the fish fillets (one each) in the Aga roasting oven for 8-9 minutes with a little olive oil and seasoning and squirted on some lemon juice at the end.  The salad ingredients are as follows (for 4 people):

  • 4 small Lebanese cucumbers or 1 long one
  • 250g red grapes
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, fronds picked and chopped
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g pain yoghurt (I used Greek style)

Peel the cucumber to create a zebra-striped effect, slice in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds.  Chop into crescents and place in a large bowl.  Wash and halve the grapes and add with the chopped herbs.  Season with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil and mix well.  Spread two tablespoons of yoghurt on each plate and pile some salad on top, ready for the fish when it’s cooked.  Et voilà.

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise is one of my favourite summer salads.  On summer holidays in France I would always order it.  But what is it exactly?

Last weekend I decided to make it when my son W and his fiancée were home, but realised I’d never used a recipe and always just made it up as I went along.  Browsing some of my cookery books, magazine cuttings and Google, I realised that there were many different versions of this salad.  I consulted Twitter too: there were as many people declaring potatoes were definitely not to be added as there were those who insisted on them.  What to do?  The wonderful Felicity Cloake had of course done the research in this article in her “How to make the perfect” series, but her “perfect” recipe was not my perfect one.  In reading about the salad, I was surprised at how many chefs, including Felicity, did not include tuna.  For me, this salad is one of the best vehicles for tinned tuna.  I was also surprised that green beans were not a regular addition.  I liked the raw broad bean idea but it would be more time consuming for this fairly lazy cook.  (I also didn’t skin or deseed my tomatoes: what of it?)

In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a an agreed upon, universal recipe for Salade Niçoise but what does it matter?  Make a salad with the the ingredients you like and which you have to hand.  On this particular occasion, mine was made with new potatoes which I added to the vinaigrette (some say mustard is a no no but I’m not one of them) while still warm, green beans, cooked and refreshed in cold water, tomatoes, tinned tuna, black olives, anchovies (essential) and hard boiled eggs.  I also added cucumber but this was a mistake: too watery.  It may not have been authentic, but with crusty ciabatta to mop up the dressing, it made for a delicious Saturday lunch.  And next time I make it, it might well be completely different.

 

A No Aga Day

There is nothing sadder than an Aga which isn’t on.  Today my Aga has been cold and consequently – I know it’s silly, especially since it’s summer, allegedly – my kitchen seemed a rather uninviting place.  The Aga was turned off last night to give it a chance to cool down before its annual service today.  It’s just been switched back on and with a bit of luck will have enough heat for me to cook supper on it tonight.

Some Aga owners (sensibly) turn theirs off during the summer months and use their alternative oven.  The trouble is, I don’t have an alternative oven.  It was a deliberate decision when we had the Aga installed in our new kitchen ten years ago to be a full-time Aga cook and also not to use up space unnecessarily; instead, I have plenty of cupboards!  Admittedly it can feel too hot if ever we have a spell of proper summer weather (ie not often) but our Victorian house has large sash windows which can be opened wide, and also, the Aga can be turned down and still be used.

It’s a pity the Aga service hasn’t coincided with some really hot weather like we had a couple of weeks ago, when it would have been a relief to have a cooler kitchen. It’s grey and wet out there but mild: it’s definitely summer rain we’re experiencing.

Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t tell you a little about what I’ve been making in the kitchen lately.  It’s the season for salad and soft fruit, neither of which necessarily requires cooking.

A delicious salad in my new favourite book, Honey and Co., is fatoush.  As far as I can tell, there exist many versions of it, but this is the first one I’ve come across which includes pomegranate.  If I was making it today I’d have to add the pitta without toasting it, because I don’t have an electric toaster.

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Ingredients

  • 1 pitta, cut in half to make two thin pieces
  • olive oil
  • 1 head of Little Gem lettuce
  • 250g mixed tomatoes
  • 150g feta
  • 2 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked (if you don’t have any fresh, use a little dried oregano in the dressing)
  • 2 tsp za’atar
  • 2 heaped tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds

Dressing

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • a little freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Peel the garlic, place it on a chopping board and press down on it with the back of a knife until it’s crushed but still in one piece.  Mix it together with the other dressing ingredients in the bowl you want to serve the salad in, and leave to infuse for about an hour at room temperature
  • Brush the pitta pieces with a little oil, place them on a baking tray at the top of the roasting oven for a few minutes until they’re golden and crisp.  You can do this under a grill or in a regular toaster too.  Break into bite-size pieces
  • Separate the lettuce into leaves and cut these into strips
  • Cut the tomatoes in two or three different ways (slices, wedges, chunks) to give the salad some texture.  Crumble the feta but not too much
  • When you are ready to serve, remove the garlic clove from the dressing (it was only there to add a hint of flavour) and add all the salad ingredients to the bowl and toss them gently together

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At the 21st birthday party we went to recently, our hostess served this strawberry dessert which was absolutely delicious.  This is not a precise recipe; I’ll leave you to adjust quantities to your liking.

Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar with a Mascarpaone, Fromage Frais and Vanilla Cream

  • Hull and halve or quarter your strawberries, depending on size, and place in a bowl with some sugar and balsamic vinegar.  I used a couple of tablespoons of balsamic and just a sprinkling of caster sugar for about 600g strawberries.  Leave these to infuse for a couple of hours.
  • Serve with the cream made up of 50% mascarpone and 50% fat free fromage frais, and a little vanilla extract and some caster sugar to taste
  • Serve the strawberries in individual bowls with large dollops of the cream on top

Apologies for not having a photo of this dessert but here are some strawberries anyway.

 

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