Happy Healthy Hearts: Cod with Thyme and Porcini

This blog post made it to the Britmums April top 10
It's week 3 of Happy Healthy Hearts and at Pebble Soup HQ we are still eating our two portions of fish a week. Recipes have been easy to find so far, not using yet Fish is the Dish 6 weeks meal plan, I am using Fish Easy by Mitch Tonks.

As a recipe book it has a novel aspect though you don't notice at first, each recipe is ingredients listless, you just discover what you need (in bold) as you go along. It keeps it simple.

Something else, I have discovered with filleted fish, it is so much better when they are skinned and pin-boned, a task your fishmonger will be happy to do for you.
This recipe uses a technique called en papillote where by fish is wrapped in baking parchment or aluminium foil and cooked in its juices plus in this case a splash or sherry for full flavour.

 Cod with Thyme and porcini
Soak 5-6 porcini for 15 minutes, which gives you time to slice 10 button mushroms, tossed them in olive oil and thyme. place them on the paper, squeeze the porcini add to the mushrooms. Place the cod on the top, add a splash of cherry, salt, pepper, wrap well, place on a baking tray and cook in a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.




Fun Easter Eggs at Waitrose


This Easter, there is a wonderful selection of eggs in all shapes and sizes. Pebble Soup was invited by  Waitrose to a spring presentation of their spring collection including Easter Eggs .......before Christmas.
 
Though may be not the best timing as most of the focus was directed on birds rather then eggs, it was striking even then that Easter was going to be fun and in all probabilities price-wise much more reasonable than in the past.
 
Their chocolatiers have put together a Woodland Friends range: adorable chocolate characters, Spike the Hedgehog and his friends, Ollie the owl and Hop the frog (£5).
 
If I had to predict the future leading trend for years to come, I would say that the DIY chocolate eggs will become more and more popular. Afterall, chocolate Easter eggs are rather easy to make. Even easier if the egg comes in kits and here we have Mr Potato Head and friend eggs (£9)
 
Of course, there is a range of gorgeous eggs for adults too (around £10) but my real favorite this year are chocolate eggs presented in egg boxes, you will see them in lots of retailers, here is what the Waitrose  Easter pralinĂ© ones look like.....sorry two are missing due to an unfortunate case of "eating the props."
 
 

Disclaimer: Thank you to Waitrose PR for provide samples, I was in no way asked to write a review, words are my own.


Heap's of Greenwich

When I mention that I live in Greenwich, invariably I am asked, "Where is a good place to eat?" Greenwich though smallish is divided according the three cardinal points, yes we are still missing one!
 
 
North is where the 02, or the Dome as it is known locally, is. Then there is East Greenwich where visitors are unlikely to stop, as the attractions are mostly in West-Greenwich which is where there is a myriad of food places of all sorts, including food chains with their standard, nothing wrong with but unimaginative dishes.
 
The choice is vast and there are a few gems to recommend. One of them is Heap's, the sausage shop. Yes, one can get a bite to eat at the sausage shop and it's highly recommended to do so. Heap's sausages named after his creator the chef and gourmet sausage maker Martin Heap is located opposite Greenwich theater, not far from where David Day Lewis grew up.
 
 
Right from the shop front with a few tables and a cheerful layout, there is a welcoming feeling to Heap's. Step inside in a relaxed atmosphere a few more wooden tables, a large sausage bar and at the far-end of the shop a glassed-space where sausages are made from whole cuts of meat. No trimmings which results in a non-greasy, quintessentially meaty sausage in a natural case.

Cooked on site, the menu changes every season, winter 2012 saw a new range of subtly seasoned Simply Sausage along a range of flavours inspired by Martin's travels, real merguez hot and spicy, Cajun or Italian the choice is yours, in a bun on a roll or straight. They also serve a mean coffee and I am told great cakes.

Heap's sausage shop will not be the cheapest choice for a quick bite but it's certainly one of the best and while you are there you can pick up a string to cook at home, a souvenir from Greenwich.

Opened from 9-6, 7 days a week
8 Nevada Street
Greenwich
London
Tel: 020 8293 9199


Disclaimer: I am a Heap's customer but  I was also send a sample of Recipe Number 1 to cook at home.

Happy Healthy Hearts : Thon en Cocotte

Aaah la cocotte-minute! a ustensil, no French home would do without. I got mine when I was 17 and contemplating breaking out from the "parental siege." What am I talking about? a pressure cooker of course.
If you have spent some time in France, you will recall the strange noises emanating from flats and houses around midday, a soft, pffffffff pfffffff followed by a plume of steam on balconies that is a sure sign that somebody is using the pressure cooker and that that a French classic is about to delight a few people.
With each pressure cooker comes a book of "300 recettes", including good solid dishes. Many are "en matelote": cooked in red wine. My well battered book even contains offal recipes and a few Exotic dishes such as Pork Curry.
The introduction is worth its pinch of salt, "Now days, the good-housewives are trying to reconcile the stresses of modern life with the traditional cooking. Dishes which make our strength, not only ours but that of generations of gourmets....".
And when I needed a reliable recipe for tuna steaks and Fish is the Dish Happy Healthy Hearth week 2, I picked up my battered book and my cocotte and as a result served very moist tuna-steaks on a bed of steamed vegetables.
Thon en Cocotte
You will need:
Ingredients for 4 people
4 Tuna steaks
50 g of butter or oil
1 onion
2 gloves of garlic
Thyme and bay
1 slice of bacon per steak
1 glass of white wine (250ml)
1/2 mug of bread crumbs
salt and pepper
Method:
Make a marinade with 1 glass of oil and herbs (thyme and bay)
Soak the steaks in overnight
When you are ready to cook, wrap the bacon around the tuna.
Pan-fry in the pressure cooker with oil or butter, add the garlic and onion, cook for a couple of minutes,
Add the wine, close the cooker and let the dish cook for 30 minutes
Serve with steamed vegetables.


More recipes for Happy Healthy Hearts campaign:


Seductive Salmon at Lavender and Lovage
Fish Pie on the Rocks at Belleau Kitchen
Seafood Risotto at Farmersgirl Kitchen

Disclaimer: thank you to Fish is the Dish for providing the tuna steaks featured in this post

What's New? #3

With a blog comes exposure. Every month, I am asked if I could review products, some I like, some I don't.  When I cover events, sometimes I stumble upon something exciting. 

What's New? is a monthly product review designed to share and inform. If you come across new products you liked or disliked and would like to talk about them contact me at Pebblesoup at gmail dot com

1. Bonne Maman Peach Compote

Bonne Maman is a household name synonymous to Jam. Well known for its signature blue and red gingham lids. The Company has branched out with compotes, this time with a green lid.

The range includes apricot, cherry, rhubarb and peach. I got to taste the latter, it's fresh, not sweet at all and rather delicious. Though compotes are easy to make this is a really good alternative to home-made ones.



RRP £3.69
Verdict: Thumbs up
2 - Kettle Tortilla Chips

Here too we have a household name branching out. This time it's Kettle offering a new range: triangle shaped tortilla chips.  
It's the kind of chips better enjoyed with a dip though they are fine shared straight from the packet which is rather large (160g).
Made from ground corn, the tortilla chips are not greasy and very crispy. There is nothing wrong with them but there is nothing great either. I had high hopes for Cool Sour Cream but my favorite was Sweet Chilli Salsa.

RRP: £1.60 per bag, on Twitter
Verdict: No wow, no boo

3- Lea + Perrins and Tomato Ketchup Cheese
Clawson produces some really fine cheese. In a bold move the cie has launched a new range, some more adventurous varieties with the slogan "making the ordinary, extraordinary". The cheddar used is very bland which is OK but it means that you get an overwhelming flavour of Ketchup or Worcestershire sauce (it also exist in Tabasco flavoured). However all is not lost, with a bit of lateral thinking, grilled on toast and it all comes to its own as it works rather well.
RRP for the new varieties:
 5 x 30g snacking portions RRSP £2.39, 140g pre-packed slices RRSP £2.39, 200g pre-packed wedge RRSP £2.39 and 1.3kg deli block. 

Verdict: Not great as a snack but nice grilled.

4- Lakeland Medium Hemisphere Cake Pan
Here is another great company with a novel idea. This time, it's simply brilliant. At last a semi hemispherical metal tin which let's you bake all sorts of novelty cakes.
Bake two halves and you get the perfect sphere, think planet, football, ladybird. It's fun, it conducts the heat really well so the center is nicely cooked too despite the depth. Grease the tin and cake will come out easily. Just one word of advice being round the balance is precarious, make sure that it is not filled up to the very top.
Using this, I discovered that I am rather a good cake baker, sadly the art of decoration still escapes me, My teapot birthday cake was a picture, not one that I could share. Pebble Soup has a reputation to keep.
Exclusive to Lakeland £6.99.
Verdict: Thumbs up and a gold medal
Disclaimer: thank you to the various companies for sending me sample to review. Words and opinions are my own.

How to Cook & Freeze Mussels

Pebble Soup HQ has been invited to participate to an interesting challenge via Fish is the Dish. We pledged to eat 2 portions of fish a week for 6 weeks. A diet which will bring us enough Omega 3 to make a difference to skin and hair, vanity apart Omega 3 is excellent for your heart. More about Omega 3 oils with this cracking read Omega 3 as Easy as ABC.

Planning two meals around sea-food is not going to be hard (but it's only week 1) there are so many kinds of fish in the sea (I've always wanted to say that).  

That's the theory but  when you are faced with a bag of Mussels what do you do?
A good thing about technology is that mussels will have been cleaned and the beard removed by the time you buy them. There might still be a bit of beard which you need to be pulled off.


If you are not ready to deal with the mussels just yet, get a salad bowl, wet a towel, transfer the mussels in they will keep for a few days, a small amount of water will drain out of them.

The only rule we need to know here is: Mussels must go to the pot live. Rinse them in cold water and they will shut, if they don't give them a tap if they are still open discard them. In the batch I had, only few went to the bin.

To cook, put a little water about a mug full in the bottom of a large pan, bring to boil add the mussels and let them steam for 5-10 minutes until they have firmed up and opened.

To freeze, cook, discard the shells and transfer to a container with some of the cooking liquid, freeze only cooked mussels, they will keep for 3 or 4 months.




Diclaimer: thank you to Fish is the Dish for including Pebble Soup in the challenge and providing the ingredients for the recipes.

Aiolis & White Bread Mayonnaise

In my French teaching days, I used to tell students to torture words: chop them, axe them to bits, they'll soon reveal their secrets. Take Aioli (pronunced I-o-lee), cut it in two, you get: Ai + oli. Being a French student you would have known that Ail means garlic and oli with a bit of imagination could be ...oil...olive. Of course it's not a perfect science but it's better than giving up before even starting, plus the context should give you the rest of the clues.

Aioli is an emulsion in the same way than mayonnaise is, a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally unblendable (lemon and oil for example).  Egg-yolk can be used to blend, mustard and garlic too have emulsion-producing properties. Therefore Aioli can be made with egg-yolk, the Provencal way, or without, the Catalan way.
There is a third way, with garlic and bread. I havn't got a clue, why in the family we called this Aioli, Greek mayonnaise. It's the perfect accompaniment for cold fish such as salmon or white fish. It's an absolute delight, not for the faint hearted as it contains quite a lot of garlic. As Pebble Soup is about to enter the 6 weeks of Fish challenge with Fish is the Dish, we had a little rehearsal with my Dad's Greek Mayonnaise.
Ingredients:
Inside of 1/2 white bread loaf
5 to 10 gloves of garlic (pressed)
1/2 lemon juice
Olive oil.
Salt and Pepper
Method:
Cut the crust off a loaf of white bread, keep the inside only 
Put the bread in a bowl and wet thoroughly with water.
squeeze all the water out
add the pressed garlic and the lemon juice
with a whisk ( I use a fork) add the olive oil until you get something which reassemble a mayonnaise in texture
Serve with cold steamed fish.
   

Prague on the Trail of the Czech Cuisine.


Mention Prague, immediately the word conjures visions of gorgeous baroque facades, art-deco interiors, Bohemian-designed and crafted crystal glasses, then think food.......did you draw a blank or did a solitary pile of German bratwurst appear?

Let try again, this time with a clue, P for Prague.......Potato.....Pork....Pickles. standard staple, not worth writing home about. Therefore after 4 years of regular visits to this lovely town, I decided that there must be more to Bohemian cuisine than meet eye. 
Help appeared in the shape a wonderful guide, Michal Van Der Laan,  who made sense of the historic core of Prague: four towns,defined in the 14th century and the inner districts densely built in the 19th-early 20th century, the lot giving the impression of a Venetian maze.
 
Personally, I often start planning a visit staring at a map, here Vinohrady is a no brainer. Though vineyards were in existence, beer is the drink of choice in Bohemia. Statistically Czechs detain the world beer drinking golden tankard, it used to be 160 litres of beer per inhabitant per year, recently dropped down to 145 litres or 1 beer every day per Czech. With beer goes heavier food.
 

Following the beer trail in Prague is easy and it will unavoidably lead you to a group of ancient streets which all bare the name of past master brewers. "The cathedral" is the smallest brewery in Prague U Fleku still brewing since 1499.


 
This proud brewery is also a restaurant and after an enjoyable guided tour, it was time to tuck in. This establishment offers another P which you will be hard pushrd to find in Prague. Prices. Lunch is the main meal so between 12 and 15 you will be able to find offers. 
 
Prague is an expensive city which 24 years ago, started its revolution and kicked away an oppressive communist past with its grey atmosphere to be on the UNESCO's World heritaged list, a place restored to its past splendour, ready for tourists.

You will find that a lot of the restaurants are located in converted cellars previously used for storage. Italian cuisine  has started to be fashionable as it offers more vegetables, let's face it cabbage is a must in Czech cuisine. With time, Bohemia is driven towards a lighter diet. River sish, such as carp, a home-cook favorite is making an apparition on restaurants menu.
 
But you can't really imagine the culinary traditions changing, fast dumplings are a big favourite, use to swipe away the sauce of various dishes such as beef in cream or as eaten as a sweet with sugar. In the words of Miguel, "People like dumplings very much."
 
 
All my gratitude to the staff at the Czech Tourism Office who organised my stay so that I could make the most of my visit. 


Abricotines

I've got an Italian uncle. Tonton Tony. This tonton of mine has a theory related to cakes and national traits. According to him, you only have to look at a baker's window to appreciated the national distinguishing features. Say for example, Italians are light and airy like their Panettone. Where does that leave Britons with their scones and bread-puddings? a friend suggested rich and spicy.
 
 
If you study a French boulangerie's display, you will notice brioches, pains aux raisins, pains au chocolat and abricotines, the last three share the same pastry base, puff pastry. If we apply Tony's stereotyping theory, we would quickly arrive to the conclusion that the French like variety but only at cosmetic level and deep-down they have a one-track-mind?
 
 
Making your own puff pastry will definitely change the taste of your pastries, on the other hand it's time consuming, so cheating is justified. While we are on the subject of finding an easier way, the same goes for custard, I often use powdered custard which I better with good vanilla. Baring this in mind, making Abricotines is doodle.
 
Cheat Abricotines
 
Makes 6.
 
Ingredients
150g ready to use puff pastry
Tin of abricot halves
custard
1 egg to brush
 
Method
Preheat the oven to 210C
roll out the puff pastry to a large square 30cm x 30 cm
divide into 6 squares of 10 x 10
turn any 2 opposite angles so that touch in the middle so that you obtain a rectangle with pointy ends
When your custard is ready, leave it to cool and spread a good amount on the rectangle.
Place two abricot halves on the custard.
Bring the pointy ends back.
Brush with the beaten egg.
Cook in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes.
 
 

Home-Made Chocolates : Spoons

It all started with  a masterclass where I was taught how to make hand-made chocolates filled with ganache (that's the soft bit in the center). The end-products didn't last long. First there was the taxi-driver on the way back. He really believed that Greenwich would be under terrorist-attack during the Olympics, he definitely was in need of hand-made chocolates therapy. 

 
Then, followed a flurry of friends, some who had "a difficult day", others with "work problems" and last but not least those without any excuse but who simply lust over chocolate and had heard about my stash. Result: 2 kilos of hand-made chocolates gone in two days.

Of course, everyone marvelled on how nice the chocolates were. Personally, I didn't think much of them, he was not a great fan either and the entire episode got forgotten....until Christmas where I attended a chocolates gifts swap.
 
Displayed among the home-made gifts were Kate's as in Turquoise Lemons' handmade chocolate truffles. Despite the noise, you could have heard the penny drop: give chocolates to the ones you love and you will never go wrong; hand-make chocolates and you will be elevated to god/dess status.

So when it came to write my first recipe for our beloved free local newspaper on Valentine's, the choice was narrowed down to two recipes: marshmallows, because in France St Valentine's is nicknamed marshmallows day, and red chocolates lips, for obvious reasons. I went for the latter which involved some research in silicone moulds. This is how I came across Lakeland chocolate melting pot.

One of the problem with melting chocolate resides in the pouring. Bain Marie is the classic technique to melt chocolate but then, what? Do you use a spoon, a pipping bag?. What ever the solution is, it's never satisfactory. Therefore a silicone pot made sense. Though, the new kitchen is not equipped with a microwave, next door's is.

The experiment had to happen there. First we broke, the squares and found out that if we had broken them in small pieces, it would have been quicker. As it was, it took longer to melt in the microwave than in the Bain Marie but on the other end it was a doodle to pour. Often hand made chocolates require precision pouring therefore having a spout to work with is ideal, this was starting to be a really good tool.
 
Until Neighbour had a gripe with waste, indeed we had to run a spoon to get it all the chocolate out, but don't worry none of it was wasted.

As for the silicone spoon moulds, it worked out perfectly. It was great fun and will make a brilliant activity for kids as demonstrated by Maison Cupcake Mother and Son team. Lakeland is celebrating their chocolate week from the 11th March, Next, I'll be making chocolate eggs, I can't wait.
 
For more recipe ideas have a look here
 

Many thanks to lakeland for sample products
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