October 2022

Looking back over the last few months I feel I’ve been rather spoilt, after the inactivity brought on by the pandemic, like a lot of you, I’ve been taking every opportunity to get away and have enjoyed some fantastic travels. Now, having used up all of Nick’s holiday allowance (and those extra pennies we had saved over lockdown!), it’s time to face reality and October. In my mind, October has always been one of those ‘non-event’ months, and this year is no exception with the added doom and gloom that one reads in the newspapers – rising inflation, interest rates, not to mention the price of our heating bills! We definitely need to cheer ourselves up… No, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ll be taking another break, not even a short one, but I will be stepping into my kitchen to do some comfort cooking and you’re very welcome to join me! This month’s recipes are pure comfort…

Menu One is ‘Smoked and Spicy Fish Pie’, this is an unusual fish pie as it has a new potato topping rather than mash – and it’s more delicious for it. Fish pies aren’t necessarily the quickest of recipes, but now the weather is turning colder I take comfort in being in the warmth of my kitchen, pottering about, and this is one of those recipes which you can ‘potter’ to. Plus, of course, when you put it on the table it’s comforting for everyone to eat! Menu Two is another pie, but this time it’s pastry topped; Pork & Apple Pie, is the perfect pie to move into autumn with. The apples give it a subtle sweetness, making it one of our family favourites!… Menu Three is ‘Madame Renoirs Chicken’ it’s a recipe from Rick Stein’s cookbook ‘Secret France’, and is apparently the same sauté chicken recipe that Madame Renoir, the wife of painter Auguste Renoir used to cook, it’s delicious! Finally, Menu Four is a vegetarian recipe from Delia Smith. ‘Penne with Wild Mushrooms & Crème Fraiche’, is a wonderfully rich and unctuous dish – pure comfort on a chilly night!

Also, there’s new music for your kitchen ‘Music to Cook to…MenuMusic Twenty One’, is a classic mix with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin! Click here to listen to it.

Menu One

Smoked and Spicy Fish Pie (Serves 6-8)

This is an unusual fish pie, not only has it got wonderful smoky, spiced flavours, but  it has a new potato topping rather than mash – and it’s more delicious for it. The recipe is from the duo behind restaurant ‘Wild by Tart’ in London (review here!). They originally catered for TV/ film crews and this fish pie was apparently a big hit!… Simply serve with a fresh, crunchy salad.

1.5kg smoked haddock, kippers and ‘hot smoked’ salmon. Skin and bones removed, slightly broken up into chunks.

Large knob of butter

4 bay leaves

3 leeks, sliced

4 garlic, finely chopped

2 fennel, sliced

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

250ml white wine

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 lemon, zest and juice

100g baby spinach

50g tarragon, remove the woody stalks, roughly chop the leaves

25g parsley, chopped

250ml crème fraiche

500g baby new potatoes

50g bread crumbs (gluten-free if required – I use ‘Esgir Gluten Free Crunchy Crumbs’)

100g gruyere, grated

25g sage, finely chopped

25g chives, finely chopped

Glug of olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

(*a large oven proof dish)

  1. Cut the potatoes in half. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the potatoes and lightly boil for about 15 minutes until they are cooked through. Strain, return to the pan and leave to one side.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the leeks, garlic, bay leaves and fennel and sauté until they start to wilt and caramelise. Add the white wine and reduce for a minute or so.
  3. Add the cayenne pepper, mustard, lemon zest and juice, spinach, tarragon and parsley, stir to combine and allow the spinach to wilt. Then add the crème fraiche and remove from the heat.
  4. Toast the breadcrumbs by ‘frying’ them in a dry frying pan, leave to one side.
  5. Shake the pan with the potatoes in it roughly, so the potatoes break up slightly. Add the toasted breadcrumbs, cheese, sage, chives, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  6. Mix the fish into the crème fraiche mixture, carefully so not to break up too much, then place in the oven proof dish.
  7. Spoon over the potato mixture on top and place in a preheated oven, 180’c fan, for 20 minutes until it is cooked through in the centre.

Menu Two

Pork, Apple and Cider Pie (Serves 4)

This pie takes full advantage of the wonderful affinity between pork and apple. The apples give the pie a subtle sweetness – unsurprisingly it’s become a firm favourite in our household! The recipe is from Paul Hollywood’s cookbook ‘Pies & Puds’. The original recipe calls for a ‘cider pastry’, I have tried it with this, but I didn’t think it was that special and it definitely didn’t warrant the extra time needed to make it. So I use ready rolled puff pastry and I suggest you do the same!…(I’m gluten free so I can’t eat the pastry, occasionally I use ‘Jus Roll’s Gluten Free Puff Pastry’, but if I’m to be honest it’s not as delicious as the regular version, so I tend to eat the filling with some buttered new potatoes – thus leaving Nick and Felix to fight over my left over pastry!!)

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium-large onion chopped

2 celery sticks, destringed and chopped

500g pork shoulder, cut into 3-4cm pieces

2 tablespoons plain flour (gluten-free if required)

175ml dry cider

175ml chicken stock

1 cooking apple, 150g, peeled, cored and sliced

2 eating apples, 225-250g, peeled, cored and sliced

6 large sage leaves, chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

320g Ready Rolled Puff Pastry (Gluten Free if required – see note above)

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of milk (for a glaze)

(*1.2 litre pie dish)

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, wide pan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and celery and cook gently for 8-10 minutes until soft but not coloured. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add a little more oil if necessary to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high, add the half the pork. Brown it well on all sides, remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining pork.
  3. Turn the heat down a little. Return all the pork to the pan along with the onion and celery. Sprinkle in the flour, stir and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add the cider and stock, stirring so that the flour is absorbed. Add the apples, sage, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  4. Spoon the pork and apple filling into a pie dish.
  5. For the pastry top, gently lay out the pastry. Cut it into a circular shape to top the pie dish. I find that by cutting strips of the remaining pastry, pressing them around the rim of the pie dish and then topping with the pastry top, helps the pastry rise. I also cut out a few leaves for decoration, but obviously, this doesn’t affect the flavour so if you’re in a hurry I’d leave this out! Lightly score the pastry with a criss-cross pattern to help it rise and make sure you cut out a deep cross in the centre to allow the steam to escape during cooking. Brush over with the egg and milk glaze.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for about 35 minutes until golden and piping hot.

Menu Three

Madame Renoir’s Chicken Sauté (Serves 6)

This recipe is apparently the chicken sauté dish which Madame Renoir would make for her husband, painter Auguste Renoir. I found it in Rick Stein’s cookbook ‘Secret France’. I would agree with Mr Stein, that what makes this dish really special is the addition of chicken livers which are chopped so finely that they become more of a seasoning than an flavour, plus their texture enriches the dish beautifully. Serve with my ‘Favourite Mashed Potato’ (recipe below) and a good green salad.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 chicken (1.8kg) jointed into 8 pieces, or 8 large chicken thighs

30g unsalted butter

2 medium onions, sliced

1 large garlic clove, chopped

Handful of parsley, chopped

A few thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

2 large tomatoes, skinned and quartered

75g button mushrooms, quartered

16 black olives, pitted

50g chicken livers, trimmed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons Cognac

Sea salt and black pepper

Persillade, to serve:

Handful of parsley

1 large garlic clove

  1. Heat the oil in a shallow casserole dish or frying pan and gently brown the chicken pieces in batches. Set aside.
  2. Add the butter to the pan and soften the onions, garlic and herbs. Season with plenty of salt and black pepper and add the tomatoes and 100ml of water. Put the chicken back in the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes. Check halfway through cooking and add a little more water if the dish looks dry.
  3. Add the mushrooms, olives, chopped livers and the Cognac, then continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  4. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Finely chop the parsley and garlic together and then sprinkle over the dish. Serve at once with mashed potatoes and a good green salad.

‘Staple Side Dish’ – ‘Favourite’ Mashed Potato (Serves 4)

There are numerous recipes for mashed potato, and yes, I have tried many, but this one is probably my favourite. It actually doesn’t contain any butter, which makes me feel that it could be healthy, although admittedly it does contain double cream! Don’t be put off by the garlic, you really can’t taste it, it just enhances the flavour of the potato. I must admit I ‘cheat’ when it comes to mashing, I am fortunate to have an amazing kitchen appliance, a Thermomix, this is a serious piece of kitchen kit; I can actually steam my potatoes in it and then mash them in seconds. If you don’t have a Thermomix you can either mash by hand, however,  for an easier option I would recommend doing as Delia Smith suggests in her ‘Winter Cookbook’ – whisk them with an electric hand whisk. When whisking them you do have to be careful – make sure that the potatoes are absolutely cooked, otherwise they will go gluey. Start off with the speed slow to break up the potatoes and then increase to a high speed to quickly whip them until smooth – don’t do it for too long, as again, they will go gluey, which is not good!

1kg potatoes (floury, such as Maris Piper)

100ml full-fat milk

100ml double cream

2 cloves garlic, sliced

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into even sized chunks. Steam until completely cooked through.
  2. Put the milk, cream and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat.
  3. Mash the potatoes (see note above) adding the milk mixture a little at a time. Season well with salt and pepper.

Menu Four

Penne with Wild Mushrooms & Crème Fraiche (Serves 4-6)

This is a lovely rich, unctuous sauce, pure comfort on a chilly night! The cooked penne is added to the sauce and then cooked for a further minute, to absorb the flavours – bearing this in mind it should be undercooked by a minute when initially cooked. The recipe calls for mixed mushrooms, but I must admit that I often make it with only chestnut mushrooms and it is still delicious! This recipe is from Delia Smith’s classic cookbook ‘How to Cook’.

500g penne pasta (gluten free if required)

450g mixed fresh mushrooms (flat, chestnut, shitake or wild mushrooms – see note above)

10g dried porcini mushrooms

250ml crème fraiche

3 tablespoons milk

50g butter

4 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

¼ whole nutmeg, grated

Lots of parmesan cheese, to serve

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. First of all put the porcini in a small bowl, then heat the milk and pour it over the mushrooms, leave them to soak for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the butter in a medium frying pan over a gentle heat, stir in the shallots and let them cook gently for 5 minutes.
  3. Strain the porcini in a sieve lined with kitchen roll, reserving the soaking liquid, and squeeze the porcini dry. Then chop them finely and add to the pan, along with the fresh mushrooms and balsamic vinegar. Next, season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Give it all a good stir, then cook gently, uncovered for 30-40 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated.
  4. About 10 minutes before the mushrooms are ready, cook the penne according to the cooking instructions but reduce the cooking time by 1 minute (see note above)
  5. Meanwhile mix the crème fraiche with the reserved mushroom soaking liquid and add to the mushroom mixture, warm through.
  6. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the mushroom sauce, stir well and cook over a gentle heat for 1 minute, so that it absorbs the flavours. Serve with lots of grated Parmesan cheese.

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