trout gravlax, latkes and eggshell mosaic

I know, freshwater fish, potato cakes and childrens’ crafts may not be inextricably linked in everybody’s mind. And yes, I am developing something of a trout fixation. Trout ceviche last week, trout pate for lunch today, baked trout planned to go with the Easter mezze. Thanks to Pete the FishCatcher’s generosity, trout is becoming the new pork in this house. But honestly, the first two are delicious and there is an obvious connection.

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When we were given 12 amazingly fresh trout last week, I was very excited about the prospect of beetroot-cured gravlax. I adapted the recipe for beetroot-cured salmon gravlax in Diana Henry’s wonderful preserving book, salt sugar smoke, leaving the fish to cure for a much shorter time as I’d heard that 48 hours was ideal for ‘curing’ trout.

I’d tried this gravlax with salmon at Christmas and was swayed by the glorious ruby-tinged look of it to use beetroot again. Even though I have to agree with Diana Henry that: “To be honest, the beetroot only flavours the fish slightly, but makes its mark through the colour it imparts.” I have to admit it’s made it’s mark on my copy of salt sugar smoke too. But I like to think that my beetroot stained pages are a reminder of great meals – rather than my shoddy ways.

The trout gravlax was delicious. The earthy sweet and salty flavours work well with root veg salads and slithers of it are wonderful on scrambled eggs. But latkes are my favourite treat with gravlax. Especially if there’s a little sour cream or some horseradish mixed with creme fraiche /greek yoghurt on the side and a green salad. I like red mizuna leaves, easy to grow and hardy even in the current chilly weather, moroccan cress (again, easy to grow in the garden in winter/spring/autumn) and young leaves of the salad burnet that grows by our back door in the salad.  Maybe a few capers or gherkins too.

As long as you have very fresh trout, the gravlax is very easy to make and is the sort of salty, robust flavoured food that goes a long way:

beetroot-cured trout gravlax

1.2 kg trout, in fillets but with skin left on.

6 tablespoons tequilla (I had some lurking in the cupboard, it works very well, but you could follow Diana Henry and use vodka)

125g unrefined sugar

100g sea salt

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper (Diana uses 2 tbsp)

large bunch of dill, roughly chopped

400g raw beetroot, grated

Line a dish with foil and put one of the trout fillets (2 if they’re small) skin down on top. Pour over half the tequilla. Mix the sugar, salt, pepper, dill and beetroot together and spread over the trout.


Pour on the rest of the tequilla and put the other piece/pieces of trout (skin up) on top. Pull the foil up around the fish, then put some weights on top (I used some of the numerous jars of opened preserves already in the fridge, but tins, jars are good too).


Leave in the fridge for around 48 hours, turning the fillets half way through. Remove the foil, scrape the cure off the fish and slice diagonally off the skin as you would smoked salmon. Will keep, wrapped in the fridge for a week.


Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem inspired me to make the latkes. Their version includes parsnips and I like this too, it just happens that I’ve dug all of ours. And I’ve replaced the chives with my Egyptian Walking Onions as they’re bursting into life in accidental clumps dotted around the garden and I can’t resist cooking with them. In a few months time, I’ll no doubt vary the herbs.


                                           Potato Latkes (makes 12)

900g peeled and grated potatoes

a few Egyptian walking onions (or chives) chopped

4 egg whites

2 tablespoons cornflour

80g unsalted butter

100ml rapeseed oil

salt and black pepper

The Jerusalem recipe recommends rinsing the potatos in cold water, then drying them on a kitchen towel. To be honest I’ve never tried this, partly from laziness, partly because I’ve always made these at busy family teatimes so far when everybody is hungry and I need to crack on. They’re great just without this, but by all means do it properly! I mix the grated potato, egyptian walking onions, egg whites, cornflour, 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper in a bowl. Then heat half the butter and oil in a frying pan and form half the potato mixture into flat (1 cm thick) pancakes, squeezing out excess moisture as you go. Cook for 5 minutes on each side until golden brown and drain on kitchen roll while you cook the remaining latkes in the spare oil and butter. Delicious warm with sour cream and wonderful with slithers of the trout gravlax.


Ruby loves these and has also had a strong desire to make eggshell mosaic. In the form of a fish birthday card for her Dad to be precise. So every time I’ve made these lately the yolks have usually gone into custard (often of the rhubarb variety) and the shells have been washed and saved.

Delighted when we’d scoffed enough to have a big supply of eggshells, Ruby painted each one, sort of carefully. We’re a big fan at the moment of the lovely Melissa and Doug paints that come in fab bright colours.


When dried (this took a while as some were daubed quite liberally with paint) Ruby cracked the different coloured eggshells into pots.


We drew a fish, spread it with glue and my 5 year old artist set to work decorating it with her mosaic. After a while this descended into adding the eggshells to the glue to make pink glue of course. But if there are many rainy afternoons over the Easter holiday (surely not!) I can recommend eggshell mosaic as very easy and good fun.

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glorious british grub – the fabulous baker brothers

It was the custard creams with ‘Eat me’ stamped into them that appealed when I first looked at the new book by the Fabulous Baker Brothers. They immediately made me want to start creaming butter and sugar, put the oven on and make a nice pot of tea to go with them.

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Maybe it’s the chilly, damp, in fact properly British weather we’ve been having that drew me to the cheery comfort of the afternoon tea section. But recipes for gloriously buttery home-made Custard Creams and Bourbon biscuits, and Jammies (very generous sized Jammie Dodgers that look as if they’d be wonderful with raspberry jam in the middle) would surely be tempting at any time. There’s something about the mix of nostalgia, sweet chocolate fillings and home-made jam that makes a traditional teatime such an irresistible institution.

Kate Glover of Lahloo Tea gives a great insight into the ‘Magic of Tea’ in this chapter, touching on the “terroir” of tea. She declares that:

“Tea is just what you need on a cold rainy day when you are sitting by the fire with hot buttered crumpets and a good book.”

Of course this book isn’t all about teatime; Tom and Henry Herbert take you through a day of glorious grub, from breakfast to brunch, lunch, picnics, barbecues, dinner and pudding. Finally, there are ideas for midnight snacks, for when as Tom says:

“..the people you are with are just too good to let go, these kinds of snacks will keep the party alive.”

Even here, alongside the Fiery Fish Balls (made to fuel Blackpool revelry) and Popping Candy Truffles there’s a nostalgic, comforting element with Anchovy Soldiers made with  sourdough suggested as a salty treat to go with a Scotch.

The Food in ‘Glorious British Grub’ strikes me as a combination of lashings of homely and old-fashioned food (which has a great appeal to me) and ideas with a more innovative, contemporary twist. Perhaps something to do with the fact that Tom and Henry Herbert are young foodies with a strong family food heritage.

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Hobbs House Bakery, the Cotswolds based family business that they’re part of goes back five generations. Henry runs the traditional butcher’s shop which shares a front door with Hobbs House Bakery in Chipping Sodbury, so has some great ideas for cooking and buying meat from pie-fillings to pulled pork. I particularly like his section on buying and cooking steak, which highlights some of the cheaper cuts that we’ve forgotten what to do with. Cheaper cuts that are often minced are highlighted by Henry in his ‘New Steaks on the Block’ section where he suggests cooking as steaks, cuts like False Filet, Skirt and Hanger Steak:

“Often cheaper and more flavoursome, these steaks are making a big noise. As long as they are cooked and carved right, they can be mind-blowing for a fraction of the price of the Big Flour.”

Like their current TV series, this book is based on the baker brothers travels around the country over the last year; they visited six popular sightseeing hotspots, meeting great food producers (a passion for good ingredients is evident throughout their recipes), getting inspiration for some glorious british grub and encouraging cafe and restaurant owners to get back to proper cooking with proper local ingredients. This may include cooking dishes with mackerel and beef when visiting Exmouth or taking part in a scone-off in Bourton-on-the-Water.

I have to admit that the more gimmicky recipes developed to be eye-catching on the TV series such as ‘Shakespeare’s Codpiece’ (pulled pork with a spiced filling and filo pastry) or the Blackpool inspired Pleasure Cake (a big cake with smashed rock and popping candy, topped with candy floss and LED lights) didn’t immediately appeal. Not that I’m a kill-joy when faced with a fabulously decadent dish – the rhubarb knickerbocker glory with pistachios is on my list to try very soon.

And I obviously like the fact that the pulled pork (I love the recipe for this alone without adding the fussiness of the filo pastry) is spiced up with Elizabethan inspired ingredients. It’s a good point that although some of the seasonings in tempting dishes like roast beetroot with puy lentils or goats curd and mint salad sound both exotic and to add a contemporary twist, British cooks have actually been adept in using spices since the Crusades.

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It’s just that when I read about the grandpa Wells inspired Bacon Porridge,  ‘Overnight Porridge’, home-cured bacon with juniper berries and coriander or even how to make a proper Cornish pasty, I decided that I prefer the simple dishes that show that this butcher and baker duo may be very charismatic on telly but they also really know their stuff food-wise. In fact, back to their bakery background again, some of the bread recipes are the ones that I’m keen to make first. They’re perfectly chosen to go with the dishes they accompany, from the wheaten bed with hot-smoked trout pate to rotis to go with lamb. And they may even make an appearance in my kitchen before the custard creams.


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 I received a review copy of this book from Headline. All photos in this piece are by Chris Terry.

Posted in Books, eat, reviews | Tagged , custard creams, Glorious British Grub, Henry Herbert, overnight porridge, The Fabulous Baker Brothers, Tom Herbert | 9 Replies

trout ceviche


Tea and Toast in bed was very lovely yesterday morning. As was going for a swim with Ruby and coming home starving to bacon sandwiches. I thought Mother’s Day couldn’t get much better. Then twelve trout turned up.

Perhaps spending an afternoon gutting and fileting fish may not be everyone’s idea of a Mother’s Day treat, but I was thrilled with my beautiful fish and full of ideas for how to make best use of them.


Our trout were incredibly fresh, caught yesterday morning by Pete the Fish catcher, who truly lived up to his name. And left, while we were swimming, at the very cosy Ebrington Arms pub. The landlord kindly kept them in the fridge until we turned up, resisting the urge to add them to his menu.

I’d been wanting to try trout gravadlax as soon as I had access to freshly caught fish, so this was the first thing I tackled. Will report on this later in week when it’s ready. But while I trimmed the fish filets for beetroot gravadlax, another idea came to mind. I spent a great day a couple of years ago on a River Cottage Fish course (a fantastic 40th birthday present from my family) and we used the trimmings from sea bass filets for ceviche.

I turned to the recipe in The River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Nick Fisher for black bream/sea bass ceviche and adapted it to suit my trout. Well, to suit what I had to hand too, to be honest. It was very quick and easy to mix together, delicious to eat a few hours later. And the trimmings of the trimmings were very much enjoyed by Mog and Tiger. Nothing wasted!

Ruby was quite fascinated by the whole process too, bringing a chair over to watch. For a short while, anyway.


Trout Ceviche

250g very fresh trout fillets

Juice of 3 limes

1 small red onion, sliced thinly

1/2 green chilli, sliced

1/4 teaspoon soft brown sugar

pinch salt

(In River Cottage Fish, paprika, cayenne and chopped coriander are added and lemons and orange substituted for some of the limes. I’ve tried this and it’s great, but this time simple lime and chilli flavours seemed right with the trout)

The fish needs to be skinned and cut across the grain into 0.5 – 1cm thick pieces. Mine were cut from filet trimmings.

Combine the lime juice with onion, chilli, sugar and salt in a non-metalic container. Add the fish and mix gently, making sure it’s completely submerged in the liquid. Put in the fridge to marinate for between an hour and 12 hours. We ate ours after 3 hours and it was perfect. The flesh becomes opaque as the juice ‘cooks’ it.

As I’d found a bottle of tequila in the back of the pantry for the gravadlax, we had a little shot with the ceviche. It went very well – and it was Mother’s day!


And Pete, if you’re reading, huge thanks for such lovely fresh fish. Chorizo and gravadlax heading your way.




dandelion buds and chocolate cobnuts

FORRAGING_034When I visited Liz Knight at her cottage in the hills near Abergavenny, I was immediately tempted by the smell of chocolate and chestnut cake baking. Then I noticed the preserving pan of haw berry ketchup on the hob and couldn’t help being drawn to the russet jars of amber coloured medlar and heather jelly and the bottles of rose syrup. It was a grey, bitterly cold morning and on my drive up the hill it seemed as if Spring had yet to arrive. Yet as Liz poured us coffee she talked about the abundance of salad ingredients outside her door; mustard flavoured chickweed, wood sorrel or pennywort to add crunch and texture. Pennywort grows in cracks in walls and is excellent in a green sauce too.

I’d left my own garden looking pretty bare and with the typical Spring ‘hungry gap’ dearth of tasty edibles, but talking to Liz gave me the impression that there were rich pickings all around us. She recalled helping friends clear an allotment ready for Spring/summer planting : “Everyone was busy weeding up things that they could eat.”

Liz says that she “grew up interested in picking things and in plants, I was always blackberrying on local commons,” and set up her business Forage Fine Foods following her redundancy from a successful career in IT sales. When she described how “every time I put a suit on, I knew it wasn’t me” I felt I’d me a kindred spirit! Very similar to my days in financial recruitment when, after a week of commuting I couldn’t wait to get on my bike at the weekends or make a batch of chutney.

Liz now forages for wild foods in the wonderful Herefordshire countryside and creates amazing concoctions in her remote cottage kitchen. She sells her syrups, preserves and spice mixes at farmers markets and to local food shops. Clearly very capable, Liz is often foraging, cooking and delivering her produce with a child at her hip. A mum of three children under the age of five, she has some enthusiastic tasters.


Both unusual but traditional, Forage goodies include violet syrup and a wild herb rub which is inspired by the amazing pasture outside Liz’s kitchen window. Pontack is a spiced elderberry and cider vinegar sauce based on an ancient recipe, but adapted to suit contemporary tastes. I can’t wait to try it with venison.

By the fire, while we scattered Liz’s home-made sweet rose Dukkah (made with rose petals dried by Liz) over our chocolate cake and drizzled some of her rose syrup over it, Liz talked to me about the salads and sauces that could be made with the dandelion roots and buds and wild greens in plentiful supply.


 I love foraging but was in awe of the abundance of unusual ideas that Liz has for using wild ingredients. While I make elderflower cordial each year and had felt adventurous making pickles and tipples with elderberries last year, Liz goes one step further. She mentions lots of lovely ideas for using elderflower buds before the flowers make an appearance; apparently they have a smoked thyme flavour and are wonderful with trout.
In between talking knowledgeably about wonderful recipes using honeysuckle shoots, Liz manages to casually cook a stew for her girls with some mountain lamb which has grazed the wild pasture below her cottage. She often serves a wild herb rub or whimberry and heather conserve with lamb; both are inspired by the same wild pasture.
Liz is getting so many members of her rural community involved in wild harvests too, young and old – she uses proper old-fashioned piece work to produce the concoctions which she sells to delis and at farmers markets. Other Mums visit (often with their children), pick up a basket of wild herbs or a box of local cob nuts to crack and take them home to jar up, or join Liz in a group making session in her kitchen.
Local schoolchildren have been shown by Liz how to tap sap from Birch trees, collect rosehips from the hedgerows and make dandelion bud sweets and chocolate cobnuts.

I was totally inspired to be more adventurous in my wild harvests.

Some of my favourite Liz Knight tips for foraging:

– Try making pesto with wild garlic and English cobnuts

–  When weeding, keep the roots of dandelions and the buds (just before flowers appear) then pick dandelion petals and use in a cake. Blanch the roots for 30 seconds, slice and fry in oil with garlic, add a handful of buds. Make a sweet balsamic dressing and dress young dandelion leaves, toss with cooked roots and buds and sprinkle over crisp bacon or cobnuts for a lovely salad with nutty, sweet and slightly bitter flavours.

–  Honeysuckle flower tips are great to make into summery syrups and heavenly with tarragon. Pick just the flower tips, removing the green part, which is bitter. See this great recipe on Liz’s website for Honeysuckle and Tarragon sorbet.

– Try picking dandelion leaves, that pesky perennial weed ground elder, sorrel and wild garlic for a Wild Spring Salsa Verde.

– Elderflowers are great for cordials, but before the flowers come out, the buds have a wonderful smoked thyme flavour and are great sprinkled on salads or with freshwater fish. Later, try using the flowers in savoury dishes, maybe adding sparingly to stuff a trout before cooking.

bees and boats, ships and narwahls

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What treasures do your daughters hoard in their pockets? Would it be exquisite sea-shells, pine cones, sweets or unmentionable smelly things? When I met Bread and Jam founder Sofia Dyson I really wanted to know the answer to this question.

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I first saw these simple, gorgeously retro little girls dresses several years ago and it was the pockets I was drawn to. I couldn’t resist buying one as a birthday present for my niece at the time, and knew my daughter would love them. But I think there’s something about the gloriously nostalgic feel of Bread and Jam that also transports me back to a time when I would’ve loved to climb trees in a comfy yet pretty dress like this myself.

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So it was great to meet with Sofia and talk about what led her to design dresses featuring teacups and bees, ships and narwahls.

Sofia created Bread and Jam with her best friend from university, Lisa Swerling. Both wanted to create pretty but robust dresses that would wear well and wash well for their own daughters. They studied engineering and economics at university, but Sofia says, “We’ve been discussing how to find the loveliest clothes,” ever since their student days. Years later, the discussions turned to clothes for their children; they both loved sourcing gorgeous fabrics and had an idea for a shape of a girl’s dress, so decided to get a few made.

This is where I was a little reassured. I have memories of lovely smocked dresses that my Mum made for my sister and me when we were little. In an ideal world, where I could actually sew, the beautifully simple ‘A’ line style Bread and Jam dresses are the sort I’d love to make for my own daughter. I keep lusting after haberdashery too. If you look at the lovely selection of buttons and trimmings at bedecked, an enticing little shop in Hay on Wye you may understand my fixation. But I know I would ruin copious amounts of gorgeous fabric if I attempted such a thing.

So it was quite comforting to hear Sofia admit that, “we always shared a love of fabrics and had lots of ideas for the clothes we wanted, but we’re both hopeless at sewing.”

Sofia and Lisa designed their pretty, cotton runaway dress and pick-a-pocket dress (needlecord, roomier and great for layering with long-sleeved t-shirts in the winter) sourced beautiful materials and had two or three dresses made in each fabric. A friend let them use her flat in London for a  ‘tupperware” type party but with dresses and a washing line. The pretty dresses hung from the washing line and as friends arrived they soon started discussing who was going to buy which one, worried that their favourite prints had already sold. Sofia says that “it got us thinking about the limited edition thing” and even when they’d launched a website and had many loyal customers, they kept production small.

This suits Sofia’s aspirations to keep her business a cottage industry while her own daughters, Matilda (9) and Alice (8) are young: “I’m intentionally unambitious. I don’t have time to do any more, I work during school hours and in the evenings when the girls are in bed, but I really enjoy being able to have time with them too.”

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Sofia works from home sourcing materials and working out what goes together. She often gets her daughters involved in the final shortlisting of fabrics for each season, as she’s found from experience that their choices often turn out to be bestsellers. Keen to have her dresses made in the UK, Sofia found “some lovely ladies in Wales to make them” and runs are small.

So these are everyday dresses that you’re unlikely to see other children in. Unless you live in the Oxfordshire countryside near to Sofia. As it seems Matilda and Alice wear their Bread and Jam dresses all the time and Sofia says she’s often accosted at swimming classes and the supermarket by Mums asking where her daughter’s dresses are from.

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The Runaway dresses for Spring/Summer 2013 are now on sale and are a really fresh, colourful collection featuring teacups and barbecues, narwahls and boats as well as a smattering of retro florals. Sofia is clearly pleased with them; in fact it’s difficult to know who’s more excited about the new dresses, Mum or daughters. Matilda and Alice are allowed to choose two dresses each but making a decision is proving tough. There have apparently been tears at bedtime.

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When I ask if any of the dresses are kept as party dresses, for best, Sofia immediately answers with conviction that she’s “anti keeping children’s clothes for best!”

I totally agree, knowing how frustrating it is when children grow out of clothes before they’ve been worn lots. Great to see that these beautiful dresses are robust and are clearly made for climbing trees, running across fields and having adventures in.


And I did get an answer to the pocket question. Apparently the breadandjammers often visit the Isles of Scilly where the girls love wearing their dresses for beachcombing: the pockets are where all the shells go. Generally though, Sofia says that, “One daughter has interesting smooth stones in her pocket. The other has unidentified smelly stuff.”


work and play

The lovely sunshine on Saturday afternoon lured us all outside for the rest of the weekend. It may have been duller and a tad chilly today, but the Spring weather yesterday had already got us enthusiastic about gardening, trampolining and lighting the bonfire. There was a fallen tree that had to be climbed before it’s logged up for the woodburner as well as paths to be made. All of course punctuated by plenty of food and drink beside the woodburning stove.


We were keen to add some structure (this sounds a bit formal for clearing a few beds for flowers and vegetables radiating out from a curved lawn, making steps from bits of stone we’d saved and creating paths) to the area cleared by the pigs last year before I’m desperate to plant out lots of seedlings. Luckily, we had some good help:


The grass seed planted by Guy and Ruby last September has grown really well, although Mr Mole has made lots of appearances. And the areas I cleared ready for planting were so easy thanks to the piggies who had thoroughly rooted out all the tough weeds – I just needed to dig out the recent, surface weeds and take them to the compost heap. While Ruby was happy and very useful (for a short time anyway!) with a bowl of soapy water.

It was great to sit outside for a tea break yesterday. Today, we needed regular warm-ups though and the woodburner beckoned. As did bacon popcorn with coffee/apple juice for brunch.


I know, bacon and popcorn aren’t often seen in the same bowl. But I was inspired by soulemama to try it, even using home-rendered lard to cook with, and honestly, it’s a yummy treat. Apt that we were enjoying our piggy produce in between working on the area they’d cleared and fertilised for us?

It’s been so lovely having a whole weekend to play and work together at home. The Spring sunshine has also got me looking forward to the Easter holiday – 5 year olds are so much fun and the half term holiday went so quickly; roll on the next time when I have more than a weekend to enjoy playing with my daughter. We have a weekend away planned during the school holiday in Devon at Mazzard farm:

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The converted barns at Mazzard farm are surrounded by acres of orchards and woodland, I can’t wait to explore the surrounding countryside and the nearby beaches at Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth. And I think there are some great artisan food producers nearby too. Even more time to play together, with no distractions!