Summertime ~ Salmon & Leek Gratin & Elderflowers

~  Menu  ~

Salmon & Leek Gratin
A little Salad
Elderflower Cordial and Sparkling Water

I was counting all the meat in the freezer this morning (you have to make your own entertainment in rural areas) when I found a salmon fillet.  As I always have a few leeks about which are a basic for me, this enabled me to have a little gratin for my lunch.  This is something we used to have on the menu at our restaurant, The House on the Strand, years ago.  It was a popular dish.

Salmon & Leek Gratin

Serves 1 (because that’s how many I am, real man not wishing to eat such fancy cooking).

170g salmon fillet
1 small leek – cleaned and thinly sliced
15g butter
90g double cream
a girly handful of breadcrumbs

~   Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the leeks to coat thoroughly.
~   Turn down the heat and press something suitable (ie. a butter wrapper, greaseproof paper of piece of foil) directly onto the surface of the leeks.  Cover the pan.
~   Cook gently for 10-15 minutes keeping an eye on things and giving the occasional stir till very tender.
~   Place the piece of salmon on top of the leeks and cook for another 5 minutes till the fish flakes easy with the simple application of a fork. 
~   Set the fish aside, and stir the cream into the leeks.
~   Taste and season – I added a little crumbled veg Oxo.
~   Bring to a boil and cook a minute or two.
~   Remove from the heat, flake the salmon and fold into the creamy goo.
~   Turn into a heatproof dish, sprinkle with the crumbs, dot with butter and finish under a hot grill.

The elderflowers are fast fading in the lanes.  I wanted to have a go at making elderflower cordial but the caravan is just too small for such outrageous behaviour.  I’ll do it next year when we’ll be in a real house – grown up or what! 

In the meantime I contented myself with picking a few of the flowers (and learning that they don’t last long in a vase) and drinking some cordial a friend made.

Easy Cheese Straws from Pastry Scraps

~  Menu  ~

Roasted Tomato Soup
Hot Cheese Straws
Glass of Red

I made a chicken pie for my real men yesterday using the standard cheat – bought in puff pastry.  Obviously I kept the trimmings and today, whilst they were out and I could eat them all myself, I made some cheese straws. 

Handy Hint for Storing Puff Pastry Scraps

As I may have said before the best way to store puff pastry trimmings is to stack rather than munge them so as to retain the layers in the dough …

Cheese Straws

~   Roll out puff pastry scraps on a very lightly floured but rather heavily cheesed board – scattered in this case with a mixture of grated Cornish Crackler and Gran Padano,
~   Roll the pastry to “quite thin” (technical term),
~   Sprinkle more cheese on top,
~   Fold into three and re-roll,
~   Cut the dough into long strips, twist them into spirals and put onto a greased baking tray.
~   Chill till needed.
~   Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/180C fan/gas 6.                ~   Brush the straws with milk and sprinkle with crunchy sea salt  and a little more cheese,
~   Bake till risen and golden and melty and crisp and gorgeous.

I ate the straws with a modicum of Roasted Tomato Soup I made from some sad tomatoes I found lurking in the fridge.

We've had loads of rain recently but did manage to sup a few beers (well, cider in my case) a couple of days ago in our favourite pub garden at the St. Kew Inn at … St. Kew coincidentally.

Easy yet Delicious Caesar Salad Dressing for Cheats!

I have a forgetful friend who, having once tasted my Caesar Dressing asked for the recipe every few moths for several years, bless her.  I think she may have nailed it now as I haven’t had to remind her for quite a while.

Having the second half of the romaine lettuce I cooked the other day and a couple of slices of prosciutto in the fridge my sudden lunch is obvious.  I haven’t had Caesar Salad since I was last in the islands where it is a staple, due to the strong American influence (even though I lived in the British Virgin Islands!), and almost compulsory on a menu in one form or another.

I think this is a quasi cheat – I do start out making a proper Caesar dressing but then I suddenly deviate and add a good old dollop of ready made mayonnaise at the end.  I find this makes for a creamier consistency which clings to the lettuce even more deliciously than the real stuff AND there is no raw egg involved which is great if you want to keep a batch for a while or are of an infirm inclination.

Easy Caesar Dressing

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 oz shredded Parmesan
2-3 anchovies
juice of half a lemon
dash of Worcestershire sauce
good grind of black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp mayonnaise

~   In a food processor or liquidiser blend together all the ingredients down to and including the olive oil.
~   When smooth add the mayonnaise and give it a quick whizz.
~   Taste and season but I doubt it will need anything – almost definitely not salt.

Once you’ve got this in your fridge making a great Caesar Salad is a doddle.  All you need is some salad leaves (crunchy are best, romaine/cos is traditional) and a handful of croutons . To make a meal of it top with grilled chicken or crispy bacon or, as I did, a little frazzled prosciutto (just tear up some Parma ham and fry till crisp in a little olive oil).


Caesar Dressing can be used in several other dishes too! 

~   Try it as a dressing on potato salad, maybe with a little more mayonnaise
~   Use as a sauce in a chicken sandwich or wrap
~   Drizzle over baked fish  
~   Mash some into baked potato
~   Use as a dipping sauce for crudités

The other day my friend Carol had quite a lot of leftover melon and as, like me, she doesn’t like waste so she had an inspiration … give it to me!  

I left it in the fridge for a while, forgetting about it for large stretches of time, till yesterday when I realised that I was in a use it or lose it situation.  I made a sudden sorbet.  This is what I did, it seems to have worked.


Cantaloupe & Lime Sorbet

350g coarsely chopped cantaloupe melon
90g caster sugar
zest and juice of 1 lime

~   Purée the lot all together, bung in a plastic container and freeze.
~   Every hour or two take the sorbet out of the freezer and mash it with a fork.

That’s it – if you don’t mash it you’ll have a granita which is OK too. For a lot more info on making sorbets and granitas see my very cheap and appropriately named little ebook "Sorbets & Granitas".

I had a smidgen of this as a palate cleanser, as one does, after my salad but I think it would also be good with a spoonful of ginger wine poured over it OR the same mixed in with it before freezing which would make it more softly scoopable. 

~  In Other News  ~

The Hounds of Geevor

I often see these chaps when I’m wandering round Padstow so thought I’d give them a mention. 


Geevor in West Penwith was one of the last deep tin mines in Cornwall and it closed in 1991. Talented recyclist David Kemp used the discarded miners’ wellies to create a pack of hounds; the Hounds of Geevor (cannus stannus geevoritii) who, rumour has it, wander the cliffs of Cornwall looking for a proper job.  (That is a Cornish joke which may not be understood by most people – sorry!)

Toast on Eggs!

~  Sudden Lunch Menu  ~

Toast on Eggs
Charred Asparagus
Glass of my Secret Red Wine

I love preparing eggs this way; it makes such a change from eggs on toast!  Seriously it is a different way of getting crunch into my meals (something I insist on) when I only have untoastworthy scraps of bread. 

I also love asparagus and usually prefer to roast rather than steam it for a more intense flavour.  The other day, however, I saw Jamie Oliver char some in a ridge pan and thought if it’s good enough for him its good enough for me.  It was a delicious combination - I knew it would be.  

Years ago, when my sister and I had a restaurant, The House on the Strand, at Trebarwith in Cornwall, we used to buy a lot of asparagus in June under the pretense that we were going to sell it but instead we usually ate the lot ourselves, dipped into soft boiled eggs.  We’ve always been bad. 

This is how my lunch looked just after I’d made it …

chargrilled asparagus and toast on eggs with a glass of wine

… and this is how it looked just after I started eating it, you’ll see that at this stage that I used up the leftover crusts too.

eggs with crunchy breadcrumbs and grilled asparagus

This doesn’t really warrant a recipe but here goes …

Toast on Eggs ~ per person

Not enough bread for eggs on toast? Try toast on eggs!
15-20ml olive oil (or bacon fat if you are running low on cholesterol) plus a little extra
a handful of soft breadcrumbs – approx 1 standard slice of bread, crumbled
salt and pepper and any other seasoning you fancy 
2 eggs

~   Drizzle the olive oil over the breadcrumbs and stir to moisten.
~   Season to taste.
~   Dry fry the crumbs in a hot pan (i.e. no need for any more oil) stirring them about till they are crisp and golden.
~   Set aside, wipe out the pan and use it to fry a couple of eggs in a little oil.  
~   Sprinkle over the crumbs and serve.

I cooked the asparagus in a dry ridge pan for a few minutes per side till starting to go brown in places, then added a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Cornish sea salt and tossed it around a bit.  I think Jamie Oliver added lemon juice but I didn’t fancy it with the eggs. (Actually I think I'll go back to roasting!)

Whilst I was serving the asparagus I dropped a piece on the floor and this, grumpy old woman that I am, made me think “tsk – young people today”. When I was younger we used to have a 5 Second Rule which meant that if a bit of food was only on the floor for 5 seconds you could still use it.  These days it is called the 6 Second Rule – lazy or what?


Incidentally these crunchy cooked breadcrumbs are known as pangrattato and are a great way of improving almost any meal.  


“Plate to Pixel” by Hélène Dujardin – a review

I start this post with a slight blowing of the old trumpet – my article on an extremely easy “alternative” way to make ice cream is in July’s Vegetarian Living – OUT NOW!   

I say “alternative” in that tone of voice because although it is not a traditional custard based recipe it makes exceedingly good ice cream.  

When I was cheffing in the Caribbean there was an erratic electricity supply, minimal catering equipment, and no high quality ice cream product available so I used this method to develop all sorts of yummy ices and desserts.  

Here’s a pic of one I made earlier – Cherry Bounce Ice Cream (Cherry Bounce is made the same way as Rumtopf) – and either this picture is not as good as I think it is or it’s a fluke … read on.

I have written a whole book, Luscious Ice Creams without a Machine: ... or much time or effort or having to mash the stuff as it freezes, about this lovely no-churn way of making ice cream, no ice cream maker needed! In it I give 100+ recipes together with ideas, serving suggestions, anecdotes, ancillary recipes and every useful piece of useful information I can think of.  There are even a few photos. 

Speaking of books and pictures the main focus of today’s post is, Plate to Pixel – Digital Food Photography & Styling by Hélène Dujardin (what a pretty name – Helen of the Garden) which I have just purchased. 

Until recently I have had no more than a passing, holiday snap kind of interest in taking pictures but now I've started blogging and writing it has suddenly caught my attention in a big way.  

Unfortunately this new enthusiasm is not as yet apparent in the images I produce no matter how hard I try.  Undeterred I am sometimes cheeky enough to submit pictures to the foodie photo sites who are all quite stringent about the quality of the photographs they accept.  The ones I have tried include FoodGawker, Tastespotting, Tasteologie, Dishfolio and Kitchen Artistry all of whom have  accepted a a few of my photos but I'd like to be more certain of the quality of my pictures every time I take them.  Hence my purchase of this lovely book.

One of the first sentences I read, on flicking through when it arrived, was “… you may think that this book applies to people with a dSLR camera, that it’s not for those with a Point & Shoot.  But that’s not the case” (OK – 2 sentences).  This gladdened my heart because I do have a newish P & S (photographer talk – see it’s working already) which I’m really pleased with.   

The second chapter of the book, after basics, deals with camera settings which really cleared up a few matter for me; how, when and why to adjust white balance, what ISO means (concerning light sensitivity) and how to work with it, apertures, depth of field etc.  At first it seems a little hard to take in but I found it much easier to understand whilst actually looking at my camera and its manual. 

Lighting is next, how to work in natural and in artificial light, and I learnt a lot – I’m excited to start trying out diffusion and the bouncing of light when I’ve got a bit more space.  A small caravan is not the ideal place for photographic experimentation so some of my learning will have to be deferred for a few weeks when we will be moving.

I did have a bit of a play; here are some photos I took of freshly baked shortbreads, I’m reasonably pleased with them - both the shortbreads and the photos.

The trouble is I don’t know which I like best and in any case I can’t remember what I did for each picture; I shall avail myself of a notebook for my next try! 

After the technical info the book moves on into exciting chapters on composition, styling, getting ready for “capture” (as we photographers say), props, fabrics, etc.   Hélène Dujardin does stress the importance of understanding the technical matters before getting into the creative side of things but I couldn’t resist a look especially considering my limitations space wise at the moment.

The final chapter touches on photo editing, storage, photo sharing and gives some useful resources.

Hélène Dujardin’s tone of writing friendly and informal yet very easy to understand.   Like me she got started in food photography when, as a chef, she took photos of meals to show kitchen staff how to present dishes.  There the similarity ends!

The book itself is very attractive – lovely pics, obviously - a nice heavy paperback and the only criticism I have is that it is not an easy shape to read lying down whilst sipping a brandy.  Probably just as well anyway; as I said above to really learn I think it needs a bit more involvement.

Plate to Pixel” by Hélène Dujardin, which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who, like me, needs a little help in the photography department, was published in paperback by John Wiley & Sons in May of this year.  Here are the relevant numbers … 
ISBN-10: 0470932139  ISBN-13: 978-0470932131 

Quinoa - a revelation!

~  Menu  ~

Quinoa Pilaf
A selection of cheeses
Freshly picked salad greens
Chicken Liver Pâté
Roasted Garlic Jam
Toasted Breads
2 large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc
2 warm Chocolate Brownies and Cream

I am ashamed to say that I have never ever tasted or even met quinoa before.  Having admitted this to my friend Debbie she invited me to lunch and on the way to her house (she picked me up and delivered me home too!) she entertained me with strange talk of The Rings of Saturn, belly buttons and wiggly white things all of which apparently pertained to quinoa – pronounced keenwah.

The weather today has been gorgeous and we ate outside her lovely house in her lovely garden and had to shout over the birdsong and sound of the river burbling in the valley below. 

As Debs set the lunch on the table ..

… her husband quietly hosed down the toaster, which was on fire …

 … and then we set to.  Lovely food, great company, chilled white wine, glorious weather, beautiful setting, nice old dog – perfect.


This evening I have looked into quinoa and discovered the following ...

~ Quinoa is related to spinach and chard and is of the goosefoot family, whatever that is! 
~ It is a seed (but does have a very grain-like attitude).  
~  Native to South America it was considered sacred by the Incas. 
~  Quinoa comes in a variety of colours, I have only tried white but understand that whilst white quinoa cooks up fluffier, red quinoa and black quinoa doesn’t stick together so much and is crunchier. 
~  It should be soaked or rinsed before cooking (unless already treated in which it should say as much on the packaging) to remove indigestible saponins.  
~  The tiny “grain” is best cooked by the absorption method 1:2 grain to water (or stock) the same way as rice for about the same amount of time 15 minutes or so.
~  It is ready when pale brown and translucent with a white ring round it and/or a white curlicue (or stickie outie belly button) poking from it.  

This was my first taste of quinoa but certainly, certainly not my last – I’m very impressed. It is nutty, slightly chewy and delicious and reading about it I can see that it has loads of potential. 

News from the Future