The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Luxury Fish Pie.

SundayDecember10th2017.

I was never really keen on fish until I met my husband. As a child I had several experiences with badly cooked fish. This was mainly from my Nana Margaret, my Dad’s mum who was a hopeless cook. I remember the time I threw up when we were on holiday in Scarborough as she stunk the holiday flat out with her kippers. Another time she bought some haddock from the local fishmonger and it was so overcooked, it would have made a great wash leather. Every time fish was on the menu I’d refuse to eat it.

Not only that, but I have a terrible fish phobia. For years and years I couldn’t bear to even go near the fish counter in a supermarket. I know the fish are dead and they’re hardly likely to jump up at me but they freak me out. I don’t know where the fear comes from but I do remember two things from my childhood. My Dad used to keep fish and he had a tank with two massive ugly fish called Oscars in them. They looked really grumpy and were large and grey. I must have been about seven or eight when we had them and one night I had a dream that they jumped out of the fish tank, grew wings and chased me around the house. Their tank used to be in our front porch and I remember looking down at the floor so I couldn’t see them. Another incident happened when we were on holiday in Scarborough. My Dad, brother and cousin went fishing and caught several tiny plaice. They were still flopping about when Dad brought them back and he put them in the bath! My brother joked that he was going to put them in my bed and every time he went near me, he’d pretend he had the fish and was going to stick it down my neck. This fear of fish still lives with me to this day! If we go swimming in the sea on holiday my kids tease me and say “Ooh look mum, there’s a fish!” I can eat certain types of fish now, thanks to Mr SmartCookieSam being great at cooking it and he’s got me eating salmon, scallops, prawns and some white fish. I still felt physically sick though when he ate a portion of whitebait right in front of me in Italy a few years ago. The batter was so thin you could see their eyes through it. But, having said that, if I am cooking fish it can’t look like a fish to me! It has to be ready filleted with no skin on and certainly no head and tail with its eyes looking up at me!

I chose to test out another recipe from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book, this time being an Indulgent Fish Pie. This is a recipe suggestion in the New Year’s Eve chapter of the book. I remember Mary Berry once cooking a fish pie on one of her programmes and saying she always has fish pie on Christmas Eve. We don’t in our house, in fact fish pie is our traditional meal on Good Friday. Normally on New Years Eve we have a Chinese takeaway if we’re at home. On Sunday, I thought a comforting fish pie was just what we needed. I’d bought some fish the day before in our local Morrisons, although I thought the choice available was a little bit poor. I ended up buying pre-packed and there weren’t any raw prawns on the shelf. My phobia came to the fore when I also realised I would have to take the skin off the salmon to cut it up into chunks! I was really freaking out, I couldn’t even bear to look at the skin, let alone touch it! In the end I turned the fillets over so I couldn’t see the skin and cut the salmon into chunks and then the skin off the bottom. Straightaway I scooped the skin up with some kitchen roll so I couldn’t see it and threw it into the bin.

After all that drama, it was easy to make. I boiled some potatoes and mashed them. I didn’t use double cream in the mash, only a tiny bit of butter. I also made a simple parsley sauce as well as hard boiling some eggs. When these were cooled, I shelled and quartered them, mixing them in with the salmon chunks, some cod chunks and some prawns. I poured over the parsley sauce and then finally topped this with the mashed potato. The recipe uses watercress as an ingredient, which I love. Salmon and watercress sauce is gorgeous but this time I’d forgotten to get some.

The fish pie then went into the oven to bake. I didn’t want to over cook the fish or it would end up like my Nana Margaret’s wash leather haddock. I don’t pre-cook the fish anyway and as the recipe introduction says “all the flavour is released into the pie,”

I’m glad to say my husband had seconds. I didn’t, but I did have a substantial portion.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Caramelised Onion and Stilton Tart.

Thursday 7th December 2017.

I love making pies, quiches and tarts but I always worry about the fat and calorie content in the pastry and the fillings.  But nothing beats a homemade pie or tart, especially on a cold Winter’s evening.

I had planned out the meals to cook for this last week but forgot I was a day behind with what needed eating up first in the fridge.  I had some chicken breasts which needed to be used so they ended up being cooked for Thursday night’s dinner.  Being a supply teacher and at the time having no work booked in for the day after, I thought I’d prep ahead just in case I ended up working.  We’d all be starving by the time I got in from work. Not only that but the last thing I’d want to do is to start cooking something from scratch.  I’m glad I was prepared.  I ended up working and didn’t get home until 6.15pm.

The Caramelised Onion and Stilton Tart from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book ended up being our dinner along with some new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn.  It was assembled and cooked the night before and it was reheated carefully the following night.

So, back to Thursday tea time and I’m cooking two meals one after the other.  I started off with the tart and then went on to cooking the chicken breasts in a chipotle marinade with new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn.  Yes I know we had that two nights running but it was what I was trying to use up in the fridge before doing my weekly shop at the weekend.  I began with making up the shortcrust pastry which was fine.  It was chilled in the fridge for half an hour as I was cooking three medium onions in some olive oil and butter. The long, slow and low heat of cooking the onions really helps them to caramelise.

When the pastry was chilled for long enough, I got it out of the fridge and rolled it out to fit it into my tart tin.  There was enough pastry to overhang the edges. I filled the pastry case with baking parchment and my ceramic baking beans so I could blind bake it.  After 12 minutes I had to remove the paper and the beans then pop the pastry case back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

As the pastry case was baking, I mixed together the filling.  I mixed together two eggs and another egg yolk, along with some double cream, some grated Parmesan Cheese and some crumbled Stilton.  I was also meant to add pine nuts to the mixture but when I looked in the cupboard I’m sure I couldn’t find any.  So I left them out altogether.  I’m sure walnuts would have gone well in the tart as well.

When the pastry case came out of the oven, I mixed the filling, along with the caramelised onions together. The mixture was poured into the case and I popped the tart back into the oven.  I always put the tart case onto a flat baking tray in case it leaked out all over the oven floor.

The following day, when we chose to eat the tart, I asked Mr SmartCookieSam to put it back in the oven to reheat through for half an hour.  The result was absolutely delicious.  I’m sure it was hugely calorific, what with all the cheese and cream in the filling not to mention the butter in the pastry as well.  But it simply melted in the mouth.  What’s more is that as the tart was so big there was enough left over to eat cold the next day for lunch. It was a big hit and a recipe I’ll definitely be making again.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Spaghetti Carbonara- Midweek Meal. 

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I’m all on for a quick mid week meal. As with any working parent, the last thing you want is to have to make something complicated and time consuming when you’re exhausted after a long day.  I’m very lucky in that when I have full time work placements in my role as a supply teacher, Mr SmartCookieSam is great at cooking and having dinner on the table.  But even then there are times when he’s late himself or away working. Or there are days when I’m not working myself. On working days I love meals like Spaghetti Carbonara as it’s quick to make and everyone in our house likes it.  I know it’s one of my son’s girlfriend’s favourites as well.

I’ve tried lots of different carbonara recipes but it was the first time I tried Mary Berry’s version in her “Cooks The Perfect Step By Step” book. Her “My New Spaghetti Carbonara” had added mushrooms and bacon to it, as well as garlic. So it wasn’t an authentic Carbonara, but it still tasted amazing.

While my spaghetti was cooking in my large saucepan, I fried a packet of bacon lardons in their own fat.  Once these had started to cook and crisp up, I removed the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and added a tablespoonful of olive oil to the pan.  Then I fried two crushed cloves of garlic and some quartered closed cup mushrooms.  (Mary suggested chestnut mushrooms, but I don’t like them!) These were then cooked for about 3-4 minutes.

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When the pasta was nearly ready, I combined  2 large beaten eggs and some parmesan cheese, along with  4 tablespoonfuls of double cream in a measuring jug. The pasta was then drained and added to the frying pan with the mushrooms, garlic and the bacon all at once. At the last minute I tipped in the egg mixture, taking the pan away from the heat so that the eggs didn’t become scrambled.

The result was delicious and made four very generous servings of Carbonara.  The whole thing only took about 20 minutes to make from preparation to putting on the table.  Quicker than ordering a takeaway around where I live!

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Love Sam xx

Sun Dried Tomato and Mozzarella with Spiralised Veg (Mary Berry Everyday)

I have a massive addiction to Lakeland. It’s very hard for me to come out of one of their stores empty handed. I see so many fantastic products on their shelves that I wish I just had the money or the room for in my kitchen.

At half term week I met up with my mum at Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield.  My mum and I both love cooking and baking. I’ve been trying to lose some weight and so far have lost 1 1/2 stone since last July.  I know I need some carbs in my diet but I would like to reduce this.  One way I can do this is to use a vegetable spiralizer instead of using pasta.  Ar first I thought, what’s wrong with a bit of pasta>  But then after going to a restaurant and trying courgetti for the first time, I actually found I liked it.

Since then I’ve been keen to get a spiraliser. There were about 5 or 6 different ones to choose from on the shelf in Lakeland, ranging from a hand held simple one to a massive one which had different interchangeable blades.  The one I chose sits comfortably on the work top. It  stays put with suction pads and has four different blades of varying thicknesses.  I thought that I would get a lot of use out of it, especially when my daughter is back from uni in her holidays.  Once I got the hang of using the spiralizer I was really enjoying it.  My first attempts were a bit messy and both the courgettes and carrots came out in short strips instead of the curly, long spirals I had seen on other peoples’  Instagram and Twitter pics. I made far too much for one person really as neither Mr SmartCookieSam or my teenage son like courgettes. Though I did mix in a few carrot spirals in with their spaghetti.

I decided to make Mary Berry’s Sundried Tomato Pasta sauce from her new Everyday book which is just out.  Not a success at all.  I didn’t chop the sun dried tomatoes up enough and Mr SmartCookieSam pushed them to the side of his plate. After that he said “I can’t eat this, sorry,” and put his knife and fork together.  I agreed with him but not only did the pasta dish taste vile, it looked vile as well.  The mozzarella was meant to be cut into little pieces on top of the sauce but it was so grainy and bitty that it was in large clumps.  It wasn’t the spiralised veg, they were lovely. It was the disgusting sauce.  So sorry to say this time but this is the first Mary Berry recipe which didn’t go down well in our house.

After we had tipped the disgusting food in the bin I went and found the biscuit tin. Mr SmartCookieSam asked for some cheese and crackers. So much for trying to eat healthily and cut carbs. I had four cream crackers with Brie on top.  Ooops, better luck next time!