Sunday, 11 March 2007
Something Fishy (and easy)
As the year advances, I will be throwing myself into working with Expochef, AKA Mr Mark Earnden (http://www.expochef.org/). A truly inspirational guy who has taken the North East by storm with his healthy, nutritional and easy educational roadshows, I cannot wait to become more involved. To get out amongst the schools and see children loving every minute of an interactional lesson that involves cooking and tasting. To sit with some of the general public who are having a tough time, a loss of self esteem due to their situation in life and helping them with some quick and easy recipes. This is the kind of involvement with the subject that I love that drives me on, inspiring me as I hopefully inspire others.
Lots of the children and adults that we present to have extremely poor diets. A simple dish of cous cous with roasted vegetables and mackerel is often 'yukked' at. A cold rice pudding made with yoghurt, honey and fruit is sometimes 'yakked' at. It is equally baffling, sad and challenging at the same time. Clearly, a lot of the people we speak to have a one dimensional attitude to food which is a disturbing glimpse into the problems that are already ingrained into our society. Some people are addicted to salt, sugar, crisps, cheap fast foods, you name it the signs are there that health problems are alive and kicking in the U.K. It is depressing, and the government really do have their work cut out if they want to halt this decline quickly. But thanks to Expochef we can at least help to change the attitude of the nation.
We present dishes utilising everyday store cupboard ingredients in an effort to show to people how easy it is to cook and eat tasty food. Often it is mind over matter, a question of changing a perception or attitude to enable somebody to realise that they don't need tons of salt or sugar or fat in their diet. Changing that perception or attitude is the difficult bit, but via every body's need to eat food, it at least gives us a platform to work on. If we see a child, just one child from 200, eating a salad with a zingy and interesting dressing or slurping on some butternut squash soup, food stuffs they may think that they despise, it makes it all worthwhile. And that is why I love being involved. No pretension, no frills or need for flair and prettiness, just inspiration and motivation.
Each week I aim to present to Mark a quick, easy and healthy dish that we could use in our presentations. Of course it isn't always that easy for us. Working on a portable hob with large numbers of low attention span children staring at you becomes a great challenge in it's own right. It needs to demonstrate simplicity each time otherwise the people we are trying to convince will never buy our philosophy. The majority of the adults we speak to think that they cannot cook. But we think anybody can cook. It's that mind over matter situation again. Cooking can be simple and fun. You don't need to be a professional chef with an overblown ego to make a brilliant plate of food.
So here is a familiar recipe I have adapted that anybody can make. Fish pie is the kind of food that the general public buy pre-packed in their droves. The preference to buy a tiny portion of salty and not too fresh insipid square of sloppy potato covered grey fish, over the option to dedicate 30 minutes of your time to make a very filling healthy classic food that fills the whole family, is a baffling one. No need to poach and drain, to sieve and marinate, my easy peasy fish pie is a dream, comfort food at it's best. If you prefer cod over haddock, hate prawns, or prefer salmon over both, use whatever fish you want from the list below. I've mentioned this before, but I have the perfect test base for my cooking in my daughter. 2 year old she is, and she adores this fish pie. She has a voracious appetite and is happy and healthy. That is the tick of appreciation that makes me feel good, that I must be doing something right and that food can be simple, healthy and very very easy peasy.
Easy Peasy Fish Pie
To serve 4
1kg Potatoes, the floury kind like Maris Piper please
500ml milk, semi-skimmed will do the job
125g cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp Dijon mustard
500g mixed fish, cubed (cod, haddock, smoked haddock, naturally smoked and not the luminous yellow painted stuff, salmon)
100g fresh or frozen uncooked prawns (optional)
100g frozen peas
Small bunch of flat leaf or curly parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6. (At our lessons we would omit the baking of the pie and cook the fish for longer, topping with mash).
2 - Peel and chop the potatoes. Place in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and cook until soft. Mash thoroughly, add a splash of milk and stir until you have a superbly smooth mash for topping your pie.
3 - In a saucepan, melt the butter and pour in the flour. On a medium heat, stir continuously for 1 minute. Gradually add the milk, again stirring continuously, until you have a rich and smooth white sauce. Stir in 100g of the cheese and the teaspoon of mustard to make a mild mustardy cheese sauce.
4 - Tip in the fish, prawns and peas. Bring to the simmer then stir in the parsley. A good grinding of pepper will suffice, no need for salt as it is present in the cheese and the smoked fish.
5 - Pour into a 3 pint oven proof dish then spread out the mash on top. Decorate with a fork if you are feeling arty, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and cook for 20-25 minutes. Serve with broccoli and carrots, or any vegetable for that matter.