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Monday, 23 July 2012

The Saucy Fish Co. Smoked Haddock with Davidstow Cheddar & Chive Sauce

Regular readers may recall that, while this is the first time I'm trying an actual Saucy Fish Co. product, their advertising gave me an idea way back in January of this year. At that time, they were advertising quite prolifically, but their products weren't widely available in my neck of the woods.

More recently, a meagre selection of their fish-and-sauce packages have turned up on local shelves, so I figured it was only fair to give them a try. One observation I'd make straight off the bat is that the so-called 'salmon steak' that comes with their chilli, ginger and lime sauce is basically the size of a fish finger. I know good salmon is expensive, but that's just insulting, even as part of a 2 for £5 deal at Sainsbury's.

I picked up both of the other options on offer, this smoked haddock (an old family favourite that I haven't had in quite some time) and a sea bass fillet with another, similarly cheesy sauce. Their concept is just that simple, in their own words: "When you fancy a nice bit of fish, you want the right sauce to go with it. So we've matched our top-quality fillets with a delicious sauce inside an oven-ready bag - for a lip-smacking fish-dish that's ready before you know it."

Ignoring the way my teeth grated at a sentence begun with a redundant and superfluous "so", this particular package is somewhat like the Birds Eye "Bake to Perfection" range in that everything is contained within a bag that you literally just stick in the oven for about a quarter of an hour. They even go so far as to add a serving suggestions - creamy mash and peas, in this case - to make things easier still. Allergens are listed alongside the ingredients, though I'm tempted to suggest that 'fish' is a somewhat superfluous addition to that list. Then again, this is the age in which a fast-food restaurant can be sued for not warning a customer that it's fresh coffee was hot, so perhaps they're being prudent.

While their portion of salmon was miserly, the haddock fillet in this was a normal-sized thing, so I have no complaints there. In fact, the fillet was larger than the bag, and so had been folded over itself. Not ideal for something being cooked in a bag, but it worked well enough. The sauce in this isn't so much a sauce as it is a herb-y butter and, where supermarket own-brands and the likes of Birds Eye would tend to give you just one medium-sized 'knob' of their butter, The Saucy Fish Co. pull out all the stops and add four or five smaller servings which rattle about the fish in the bag. The end result seems to be more than the usual amount of sauce, but its appearance is nothing like the photograph on the packaging.

What the photo shows is a smoked haddock fillet topped with a thick, opaque sauce, something akin to the Mornay sauce used for Croque Madame Muffins. What you actually get - pretty much as I expected - is a runny, mostly transparent melted-butter-with-herbs affair. Some of the Davidstow Cheddar seems to stick to the bag and is rather difficult to remove while it's hot.

So, ultimately, this saucy fish was a bit of a let-down. Make no mistake, the fish is excellent, and the sauce does taste good... but the end result is not dissimilar enough to a regular smoked haddock fillet that's been slathered with butter and topped with herbs - the cheese component is barely there.

That having been said, once again, The Saucy Fish Co. has inspired me to try making something from scratch, adapting the Mornay sauce recipe to use Cheddar and the herbs, etc. listed in the ingredients, hopefully resulting in something that looks much more like the photo on the packaging.

I guess that's a success of a kind...

Friday, 20 July 2012

False (Home) Economy

After my recent experiments into frittata, it became quite obvious that I needed to invest in a new frying pan of a smaller circumference, but retaining the same depth. While the frying/grilling system for making a frittata has been reasonably successful in my home set-up (ignoring the fact that I always seem to miss something in the ingredients...Foreshadowing...), the outward spread of the mixture has always greatly diminished the potential depth of the frittata, and everyone knows that they're mean to be deep-pan omelettes.

So, on a recent trip to a local supermarket, I had look in their kitchen utensils section, and found something rather odd.

There are such things as 'omelette pans', which fit the bill: 20cm diameter, 4cm deep... they're basically designed for making frittatas, rather than omelettes. At least, I've always thought of omelettes as being large and fairly flat, the idea being to fold them in half - the only way you could accomplish that with such a small, deep frying pan would be to make a 2-egg omelette... but that's hardly worth the effort, right?

So, here was this small, deep pan that not only seemed purpose built for my needs, but was even named an 'omelette pan', just to hammer the point home. Perfect, right?

Wrong.

Because, just a short distance away on the same shelf was a 20cm diameter frying pan. It, too, was 4cm deep. It, too, seemed purpose built for my needs.

So, gentle reader, what do you suppose the difference was?

Well, for starters, there were cosmetic differences, such as the steepness of the curve toward the rim, the size/shape of the handle and also the composition of the handle.

The most important difference, though, was the price: the 'basic' frying pan was a whole £2 cheaper than the 'purpose built' omelette pan (£10 vs £12). That represents almost a 17% price hike between two pans which, for all intents and purposes, are the same, except cosmetically.

Being on a bit of a budget at the moment, I'm sure you can guess which one I ended up choosing.

 
The new pan (left) and old vs new (right). Not as broad, maybe, but every bit as deep... leading to...


Oh, mercy yes, that's a nice, deep-pan frittata, alright!


Sits neatly in the central recess of the plate (though it would be a better fit if I'd got it out the right way up, rather than dumping it out by holding the pan upside-down over the plate)


Doesn't that look good?
(You may notice a distinct lack of Dill - yes, I forgot it... and all the seasoning, to be perfectly honest... but I ended up solving that little gaffe by serving it with mustard and dill sauce, normally reserved for plain salmon steaks and the Filet o'Salmon Fish Fingers)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

S&M Rodeo #9: Waitrose Succulent and Meaty British Beef Sausages with Dijon Mustard Mash

I've tried plenty of Waitrose's premium sausages for this ongoing S&M Rodeo of mine, but all of them so far have been comprised largely of some kind of pork.

Not so, this time. The moment I set eyes upon a pack of eight beef sausages, I knew they were something I'd have to try, not least to further my experimentation with beef.

To accompany this sausage, I decided to do my usual thing of playing about with instant mash, but had trouble deciding how to embellish it this time round. My first thought was to mix in some grated cheese and make a proper cheesy mash, but I'm not a massive cheese fan, and wasn't sure what I had in my fridge that would suit. The second idea was to make use of some of the large tub of crème fraîche I recently picked up for another purpose... But then, creamy mash is still just mash, so I still needed to pick something to add a bit of kick to it.

Rightly or wrongly, I chose the latter option and added two tablespoons of crème fraîche followed by one teaspoon of Dijon mustard.

In retrospect, I think maybe a wholegrain mustard would have been a better fit, but Dijon worked well enough... and, thinking about it, even getting grated cheese to melt in with instant mash could have been a bit of a stretch, so it was certainly the easier and surer option.

The sausages come packaged in some kind of faux waxed paper, as you might expect with Choicest Cuts of Beef from a butcher. Also just like choice cuts of beef from a butcher, it has that authentic gory seepage of a good steak. Undeterred by this, I planned to use my usual sausage-cooking method - grill at about 180C for a total of 24 minutes, rotating every 6 minutes (half turn, quarter turn, half turn), but completely failed because I forgot to start the timer after the first turn.

And then got distracted.

Because, y'know, if I'm cooking on a timer, I can happily get on and do other stuff until the alarm goes off.

Assuming the alarm goes off.

Thankfully, 6 minutes on one side, followed by who knows how long on the other, followed by another couple of minutes back on the first side seemed to do the job fairly well. The skin wasn't quite so evenly browned and crisped, but the sausages were thoroughly cooked.

What they weren't was particularly tasty. Succulent, yes. Meaty, certainly... but minced beef in sausage form seemed to have about as much flavour of its own as the average junk food burger. Granted, most of their flavour tends to come from the salt rather than the meat, but that just makes it all the more perplexing that beef sausages, particularly from Waitrose, should taste like generic dark meat of uncertain origin.

Perhaps it's one of those situations where some kind of herb addition to the meat would bring out the flavour better, but I was certainly glad that I hadn't decided to keep the mash plain and simple on this occasion. I may take the remaining sausages and fashion burgers out of them... Then, at least, I could add a slice of cheese (processed, natch), or some kind of pickle and slap the result in a bun.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Croque Madame Muffins (à la Khoo)

It's ever so slightly shameful that it's taken me a full month since I got Rachel Khoo's The Little Paris Kitchen recipe book to actually get round to trying one of the recipes. Of course, the distance between "I'd like to try some of these recipes" and actually getting off my arse and doing one has been somewhat magnified of late by real-world responsibilities... except that's a terrible excuse because of my habit of wasting time when I have it.

But anyway.

Over the weekend, I went out food shopping with the deliberate intention of buying some supplies for trying one of the simpler recipes from the book, which comes with so many already-cut-corners it appealed to my laziness. The only actual cooking part of this recipe sounded quite simple - melting, mixing, reducing and more mixing in a pan on the hob. After that, it's just a case of bunging it all together into a muffin tray and baking it for about a quarter of an hour.

So... A really simple recipe... How did it go?

The first point to consider is that the instructions aren't necessarily written in chronological order. That is to say, the beginning concentrates on the cheesy sauce and completely neglects the prep-work for the later stages. Maybe it's just me and my kitchen panic (one of these days, I will actually get over it and begin cooking with confidence), but I like to get as much as possible ready ahead of time... Perhaps it would have made more sense for me to re-read the instructions thoroughly before starting, but part of the point of this exercise - and, in fact, every one of my attempts at 'cooking to a recipe' - was to follow the recipe as written, or as near as dammit.

The net result of this is that I was frantically preparing the slices of bread while the sauce was still on the hob because I didn't want it to cool and congeal before I'd filled the 'muffin' cases with their dose of ham and egg. Naturally, delicate timing being what it is, I ended up trying to stir the sauce with a metal spoon held in buttery hands, and I now have a slight burn on one finger

Note to self #1 - in future, use the right tools for the job.

By the time I was done cutting up ham and cracking eggs, the sauce had come off the hob and had become quite gluey, but was still easy enough to scoop on. Even so, I really wish I'd dealt with the 'muffin' cases first of all, and had them ready before even starting the sauce.

And, in the spirit of not-being-in-a-sensible-chronological-order, my main problem with the sauce was the nutmeg. When I went out shopping, one of the things I needed to buy was nutmeg. I had one of those bizarre and unbelievable events where I could have sworn I'd picked up a box of ground nutmeg but, when I opened it up to add the half-teaspoon the recipe demands, I discovered I'd actually bought a box of nutmeg pods.

Whole pods.

Pods that needed grinding.

Oh well, it means I've made use of my mortar and pestle... I was beginning to think I'd wasted a few quid, there...

There's a point in the recipe that gives and example of the sort of consistency the sauce should take when it's almost ready and, to be honest, mine got to that stage after the cheese was added, not before. Other than that, it probably went a lot better than I thought it was going at the time.

I must also add that nutmeg smells completely amazing. Must find additional uses for that stuff...

They turned out pretty well... the contrast between the heavy, pungent Gruyère and the light, fragrant nutmeg was quite curious... I'm really not a cheese kind of person, generally (my main exceptions being the occasional cheese on toast with very mild Cheddar, processed cheese slices in my filet o'fish fingers and as many bacon and brie sandwiches as I can possibly stuff into my gob without breaching propriety) and Gruyère isn't a cheese that I would ever consider normally, but it really suited this particular dish. Of the six I made, four got polished off... I'm not sure if I'll try to eat the remaining two for lunch tomorrow, or just throw them out for safety's sake, but this is certainly something I'd try again if I was having company.

 
Are they not gloriously cock-eyed?
Just be glad I didn't take a close up of my gob as I was eating one.

Yeah... I'll leave you with that image. You're welcome.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

S&M Rodeo #8: Wall's Microwave Sausages with Iceland Cheesy Mash

Well, if you thought Sausage & Mash couldn't get any easier, think again.

Quite some time ago, my mother introduced me to Wall's Microwave Sausages. It sounds like a terrible idea - everyone knows that microwaves are quick, but don't really cook anything in the traditional sense, none of the pleasant browning or crisping - but the good news is that Wall's have sensibly pre-cooked these freezable sausages, so it's really just a case of reheating them. Microwaves are ideally suited to that task, so the only concerns are whether or not it can sufficiently reheat sausages from frozen, and whether or not it can do so without drying out the sausages.

Same with the mash, really... It comes in a plastic sachet not unlike Uncle Ben's microwave rice but, very much unlike the rice, you're required to decant the contents into a microwave-safe bowl, which is then to be covered over with cling-film. Strangely, the film - which is there to trap as much moisture as possible to prevent the mash drying out - must be pierced so, naturally, what starts as fork-prick holes inevitably widen into gaping tears. I did wonder if it could be made to work by opening the sachet by about the same amount as an Uncle Ben's rice (2cm), but the instructions suggest stirring the mash halfway through, which would make leaving it in the sachet rather impractical.

Still, I hadn't actually read that part of the instructions, and so blasted my mash for the full 5-ish minutes in one hit.

The end result of all this fiesta of irradiation?

Well, my experience of the microwave sausages has always been good... I mean, they're Wall's, and they're good, simple pork sausages of the sort you'll have in your local greasy spoon's All-Day Breakfast. They are succulent, with a skin that's tough enough to hold together, without being overly chewy and rubbery. Also, the advantage to microwaving is that you don't have to time it all perfectly to get them cooked without burning the skin. They're exactly the kind of sausage I really like, and yet have a really hard time finding. My mother initially found them in her local Iceland, and tried to keep a good stock in her freezer. Some time ago, they suddenly disappeared from the shelves and, as far as I know, that local branch has never had them since. They've appeared elsewhere, so she's been able to get more once in a while, but it was only this last week that I found Wall's Microwave Sausages in my local Iceland, when they'd never been there before... it's almost as if Iceland is trialling them by rolling them out in different territories for a few months at a time.

The mash was a bit of a let-down. The quantity is good - probably enough for two, but I quite like lots of mash with my sausages, so I did use the whole lot in one go - but, for something described as 'Cheesy Mash', it really isn't very cheesy. I detected a subtly Cheddar-y note, but it's more 'creamy and smooth' than properly cheesy.

I'm no stranger to the concept of microwave mash - my mother regularly uses one that's frozen in little discs that you just load into a bowl and blast for a few minutes - and it's certainly far easier (not to mention less wasteful) than making it from scratch, though possibly not as good as mixing up some instant mash to one's own preferred consistency (and adding butter, milk, cream, etc. as required).

And considering my usual S&M Rodeo would have a sausage with added herbs, spices, veg or even other kinds of meat, the whole idea of this was to have completely plain sausages with a mash that was interesting and yet easy to prepare...

Still, for a quick S&M fix (we're talking under five minutes for four sausages, without any turning or fussing of any kind), this is probably ideal if you have easy access to a microwave, but no kettle and/or no inclination to go to the 'effort' of making up some instant mash, even though that might actually be quicker.
Is it just food... or is it a work of art? You decide...

On Merchandise

Absolutely ages ago, I was planning to do a T-shirt for this blog, featuring my little feline mascot and a range of terribly witty captions. That particular plan hit a bump in the road, but is still going to happen... eventually...

For the moment, though, I'm working on an alternative...
The idea behind this is that far too many supermarkets were describing Key Lime Pie as a cheesecake, rather than what it really is. I can understand supermarkets being reluctant to stock a product that essentially contains raw egg yolks (particularly considering my experience of many supermarket custard tarts, but that's another story), but it wasn't just the supermarkets getting it wrong.

When I first went looking for recipes for Key Lime Pie, virtually every UK-based foodie website said Key Lime Pie was made with cream, marscapone and all the other things you'd associate with cheesecake. It seems this has now changed (I wonder how many of these changes came as a result of people finding this very blog, probably while searching for someone in particular) but my point, expressed here in cartoon form, still stands.

In lieu of a 'proper' snacks & the single man T-shirt, I think this one would work out nicely... and the QR code leads to my recipe for 'Off-Key Lime Pie', so it gets people here one way or another. Feedback always appreciated - either here, or on Facebook, or even on deviantART.
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