Once again time has flown and I realise I haven’t blogged for an age. As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I’ve been a little busy with a new addition to the family…

Poppy Paw

Poppy Baby

Poppy

…normal service will resume shortly.

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Poached Salmon Risotto

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time now you’ll probably know that I’m a fan of risotto. I love the transformation the pearls of rice go through as they turn translucent, starchy and then swell in the pan as they meld with the other ingredients to become risotto. It’s a joy to make and a comfort to eat. And the bonus is that it’s relatively quick and cheap to make, as well as lending itself to a great variety of ingredient options.

I’ve made this poached salmon risotto a few times in recent weeks, varying the ingredients slightly as the contents of my fridge has changed. The first time I made it with spring onions, green beans and lemon juice which gave it a light, spring-like feel. Tonight I took it down a more soothing level with soft leeks and Parmesan cheese. Both were equally good. Try it for yourself and use as much creative license as you like with the ingredients.

Poached Salmon Risotto

Serves 4

1.2 litres vegetable stock
A knob of butter
Olive oil
1 leek
300g aborio rice
100ml vermouth, dry white wine or champagne
Approximately 500g salmon fillets
200g green beans
A handful of Parmesan cheese

Start by cooking the salmon. Fill a large, deep frying pan with enough salted water to cover the salmon and bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and add the salmon to the pan. Simmer it for about 10 minutes until just cooked through and then remove it from the pan, reserving a little of the poaching liquid. Allow it to cool a little until you can handle it with your hands then peel off the skin and flake the salmon, removing any bones. Set aside.

To cook the green beans bring a pan of water to the boil then add them and simmer them for about 4 minutes, until they are al dente. Remove them from the water and leave them to cool then chop them into bite sized pieces and set aside.

Heat the stock in a medium pan until it is hot but not simmering, ready to ladle into the risotto.

Add a knob of butter and a drizzle of olive oil to a large, non-stick, dry frying pan. When the butter has melted add the leek over a medium heat and sauté it until it starts to soften.

Add the rice and stir well until it starts to turn translucent then pour in the wine or champagne and stir the rice for about 30 seconds while the alcohol sizzles and burns off. If you haven’t got any wine or champagne you can use vermouth or leave the alcohol out.

Start adding the hot stock, one ladle-full at time, stirring continuously. Allow the rice to absorb each ladle-full before adding the next. Add the reserved cooking liquid too as this is full of flavour from the salmon.

Keep adding stock until the rice is al dente, not totally soft all the way through but still with a bite in the middle, and the risotto has a sauce-like consistency. Different varieties of rice absorb differing quantities of liquid so you may not need all of the stock, or you may need a little more liquid (topping it up with water is fine).

Towards the end of the cooking time add the green beans salmon to the pan and gently stir them into the rice.

When the rice is ready and the salmon completely heated through remove the pan from the heat. Add some freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste, if using, and a handful of Parmesan cheese and stir in well. Season to taste and serve straight away.

P.S. The risotto is easily halved if you’re cooking for just the two of you.

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Next up in the ‘Food Blogging Community’ series is the very entertaining, very adventurous and, if his blog is anything to go by, very hungry, Danny, the Food Urchin.

Name: Danny aka Food Urchin
Blogging since: March 2009
Location: Essex…….London…… no Essex…….oh somewhere in between

Blog address: www.foodurchin.blogspot.com

Dan

How did you get into this blogging lark?.

Robert Carrier came to me in a dream one night and told me “if I cook and write about it, they will come”.

Right…so tell us about your blog.

Well the byline for Food Urchin is ‘the trials and tribulations of a keen cook, food lover and novice allotmenteer’ which pretty much sums up the blog. Except I haven’t written any posts about the allotment for a long time (the committee took an injunction out to prevent any more lurid tales about life amongst the cabbages and beetroot going further)

But by and large, the blog is about my adventures in food, combining family life, recipes and reviews with a liberal sprinkling of humour and self-depreciation.

Have I told you about ‘Where’s My Pork Chop?’ yet?

Um, no…

Well ‘Where’s My Pork Chop?’ is a little side blogging project I’ve got going where I invite fellow bloggers to feed me in exchange for wine, lunch, produce from the allotment or whatever comes to hand. It’s a kind of foodie swap shop but without Noel Edmunds. And once I have tucked away my fellow blogger’s offering, I then give them an honest appraisal of their food. Well sort of as I do have tendency to go off on a tangent but it’s been very enjoyable so far, meeting lots of different people from all walks off life. And eating their food. It has fallen into the doldrums recently simply because I haven’t been making much of an effort to contact people but I would like to get it all kick started again soon…………….er Julia, would you like to take part?

If you can convince Noel Edmunds to host then I’m in. So, what keeps you motivated to blog?

I don’t post as often as I’d like, due to time constraints with work, family life, Twitter, laziness etc etc but it’s very satisfying when I do, that sense of accomplishment. That’s what keeps me going. And getting comments, that’s always nice. Oh and plus there’s the prospect that one day, the life of the Food Urchin will be turned into a film with Brad Pitt in the lead role. One day.

You’re a big Twit…sorry, I mean you’re a big user of Twitter; what do you think of the interaction on Twitter compared with the blog and how do the two fit together?

HA! For a second there, I thought you were calling me a twit………….oh you were? Oh.

Yes I am a big fan of Twitter and probably spend far too much time on there. Personally I like the sense of community that has grown and evolved on Twitter, especially amongst all the foodies that are on there. Plus it really is a valuable resource for sharing information and finding out stuff. For instance, if I am looking for an unusual ingredient for a recipe, Twitter is my first port of call because someone out there will have the answer and I’ll respect that opinion over a search say on Google.

There are similar parallels with blogging but obviously the immediacy isn’t there. However, the two fit perfectly when it comes to announcing and promoting new posts because Twitter gives you a captive audience.

I am going to stop there because I am starting to spout off like some social media guru. And I am not really a social media guru.

What can we look forward to on Food Urchin over the coming months?

More of the same really and hopefully more often, I would like to up the ante a bit because I do enjoy the writing. I am going to try and concentrate on a bit more on family cooking adventures and I also want to highlight what’s going on food wise in the fair county of Essex. And oh yes, I shall also be giving an account of the high and lows of running a supper club.

A supper club? Wow, that’s quite a venture, how will you fit it in with everything else?

I’ve been meaning to run a supper club for a while but as you say, it’s quite a venture and it’s not like I have loads of time on my hands. But I’ve finally decided to take the bull by the horns and so the first Food Urchin supper club which will be held at my local theatre, The Brentwood Theatre (in Brentwood, naturally) and then every month afterwards at Urchin Mansions. Details of the first night can be found here and I hope that it’s the start of something exciting. There will be an emphasis on using produce from around Essex and from the allotment once the season is in full swing. I also have a couple of interesting ideas in the pipeline, one of them being based upon a ‘buried’ theme, cooking and serving Kleftiko in proper old school style. So watch this space.

It does sound very exciting, I look forward to hearing all about it. Before we say goodbye, can you share a typical ‘Food Urchin’ recipe with us?

I am not entirely sure if there is a typical ‘Food Urchin’ recipe but here is one that I hold close to my heart which is a posh version of pie and mash (you know the East End roll aaaht the barrel type). I was brought up on the stuff and firmly believe it to be manna from heaven.

Posh Pie and Mash

Serves 2 (but there’s usually plenty left over)

For the Pie and Mash

450gms of braising steak, cut into chunks

250gms puff pastry

1 onion, finely chopped

125gms chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced

5 large potatoes (maris piper), peeled and cut into even pieces

200 mls Guinness

200 mls stock (I used Marigold vegetable bouillon)

2 small bay leaves

3 springs of thyme

1 tbs of tomato puree

plain flour

worcestershire sauce

butter

salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten

For the liquor

8 oysters, shucked (save the ‘juices’ with the oyster flesh in a bowl)

tub of jellied eels

500 mls water

large bunch of parsley, chopped

butter

plain flour

salt and pepper

1 tsp of malt vinegar

First pre-heat oven to 160 degrees centigrade then melt some butter in a casserole dish, add the onion and mushroom and gently fry until soft, then remove from the dish. Coat the braising steak in seasoned flour, add to the pan and brown the meat until well coloured.

Return the mushrooms and onions to the dish and then add the stock, Guinness, bay, thyme, tomato puree, a good splash of worcestershire sauce and any remaining flour. Stir and bring to the boil and then cover with a lid and place in the oven for 1 and half to 2 hours.

Take the casserole dish out and if nice and tender, shred the braising steak with two forks. If there is still a lot of liquid, put back in the oven for half an hour. The aim is to get a thick meaty mix that will hold together when constructing the ‘open’ pie. Put to one side and keep warm

After about an hour in of cooking the steak, place potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, bring to boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and then add liberal amounts of butter and a splash of milk, mash with masher. Put to one side and keep warm. (That just felt like teaching my grandma to suck eggs)

Turn the oven up to 200 degrees centigrade and roll out puff pasty on a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin, cut one circle out per person, making sure that it is slightly larger then the Blue Peter inspired ring. Put on a flat baking tray and brush with beaten egg and then place in the oven for 10 mins or until the pastry has puffed up nice and fluffy.

Empty the tub of jellied eels into a saucepan, pour over cold water and bring the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes until reduced by a third. Pour the stock into a jug using a sieve to catch the eel meat and bones. Then using same saucepan, melt some butter and add flour to make a roux, then gradually add the eel stock back into the pan, stirring all the time, bringing to the boil. When it starts to thicken add the parsley, a couple of twists of salt and pepper and the vinegar.

Bring the heat down to simmer and place the oysters along with the juices in the liquor to poach for 3-4 minutes

Now it’s time to plate up. Place the ring in the middle of the plate and spoon the mashed potato up about till half way, smoothing the surface over with the back of the spoon. Then add the thick steak mixture until it reaches the top, again smoothing over. Slowly and surely lift the ring up, leaving the meat and potato firmly in place. Gently place a puff pastry lid on top.

Remove the oysters from the pan and position around the outside and then pour the remaining liquor around the outside of the open pie and over the oyster, tidying the rim of the plate if necessary.

Serve with a liberal dashing of extra vinegar and white pepper.

Thanks Danny!

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I fear that I’ve been a bad blogger. In that, well, I haven’t actually blogged. For almost a whole month. I have been around, saying ‘hello’ on Twitter and on Facebook every now and then, but the door to my blog has stayed ajar – not closed, only ajar – just as I left it, with the light shining through, until I was ready to walk through it once again.

You see sometimes life throws you off balance and you need some time to center yourself again. Sometimes you need a little break, even from the things you enjoy the most. A little space, a little time for yourself, to clear the cobwebs, to breathe and just be. I know you know this; it’s part of living, part of being human, after all.

But then you wake up one day and you find that suddenly you’re ready to dip your toe into the water once again and you know that it’s time to come home. And so here I am. Home.

IMG_4737

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Birthday Cupcakes 1

When my friend Cheryl asked me if I would bake some cupcakes for her daughter’s 12th birthday with ‘Happy 12th Birthday Megan’ iced on them I hesitated for a moment. Fairy cakes (as I knew them when I was a child) are easy to make and I’ve made them enough times before but those glorious cakes with billowing buttercream icing so perfectly iced sitting prettily in the shop cabinet, they were a different matter. Megan had her heart set on cupcakes for her birthday, her mum told me, and I suddenly felt the enormity of the responsibility; would my 2nd rate cupcakes ruin a little girl’s big day? Eek!

But, of course, I would do anything to help a friend and I do love to bake so I set about the task with enthusiasm. My biggest worry was the writing and so I asked my friends on Twitter for advice. The best came from 5am Foodie (aka Michele) who told me she pipes letters with melted chocolate onto baking parchment and can easily peel them off to place on the cakes meaning that if she messes up she doesn’t ruin the cakes. What a great idea! So that was my plan of action until, whilst shopping in a local supermarket for the cake ingredients, I spotted a set of letters and numbers made from icing. ‘Would it be cheating if I were to buy them?’ I pondered for a nanosecond before looking left and then right to make sure no one was watching and quickly flinging them into my basket before walking off innocently whistling.

I made my usual fairy cakes rather than the larger sized cakes more usually associated with cupcakes but I decided to really go to town on the buttercream icing, doubling my usual recipe. I don’t usually pipe the icing on, instead I spoon it on and use a knife to smooth it out and so the icing I use is quite thick. I knew it would be too thick to pipe so I added milk to give it a nice piping consistency. This, however, made it taste a little milky so I added vanilla extract which took the milk taste away nicely.

Having made my icing and mixed up the colours the next step was the biggest challenge: the icing. I rolled up my sleeves and loaded up my weapon of choice – a basic icing bag with a large nozzle I believe is called a star – with girlie pink icing. Nervously I approached the first bare little cupcake which I’m sure I saw quivering in as much apprehension as me, and started piping. I held my breath as I piped round, carefully, steadily, and thrilled at how easily the icing was coming out. All was going very well…and then the cake started to move as I piped it! Round and round it went as I chased it with the piping nozzle. I just about managed to finish the cake off and then I stood back to admire my handywork. Actually it wasn’t bad, not bad at all! After chasing several more cakes as I iced I worked out a knack of trapping them by the wire rack so the little suckers couldn’t move any more. Once I’d done that and iced a few more cakes I got into a rhythm and – dare I say it – found it quite easy and enjoyable. I do think the trick is getting the consistency of the icing right so that it pipes with ease – then you’re home dry.

Birthday Cupcakes 2

Birthday Cupcakes 1

As luck would have it I needed 22 cakes to spell out ‘Happy 12th birthday Megan’ which left 2 over – one for Rob and one for me as my reward, which I felt I’d truly earned.

Cupcake 1

Now that I’ve learned a new trick I’m looking forward to making cupcakes again and experimenting with different flavours and decorations. Watch this space!

The best parts of making the cakes were the joy on my friend’s face when she saw them and the surprise phone call I got from her daughter thanking me for them. I was as pleased as punch after that call (or should that be as chuffed as a cupcake?).

Cupcakes (Fairy Cakes)

Makes 12
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
125g self-rasing flour, sifted
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/fan 180˚C.

Place the butter and sugar in a medium mixing bowl or the bowl of a food mixer and cream them together until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract and then the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with each to help prevent the mixture from curdling. Mix in the milk then fold in the remaining flour until completely combined, don’t beat or mix it in.

Line a 12 hole patty tin with paper cake cases and then spoon the mixture evenly into them. Bake the cakes for about 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden and springy to the touch. If your oven cooks unevenly, as many do, turn the cake tray around halfway through the cooking time. Once cooked, transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool.

Buttercream Icing for Piping

Enough for 12 cakes.

500g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Approximately 3 tablespoons milk
Food colourings of your choice

Place the icing sugar and butter in a medium mixing bowl or the bowl of a food mixer and cream them together until light, fluffy and very pale, almost white. Mix in the vanilla extract and approximately 3 tablespoons of milk until the mixture reaches the desired piping consistency. Divide the icing among little bowls and add a few drops of different coloured food colouring to each, and mix it in well. Put the icing into a piping bag and pipe it onto the cakes.

Birthday Cupcakes

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2010 really was the most incredible year for me. It saw me realise my dream of writing a cookbook and after several years of hard work I finally got to hold my very own published work in my hands. It doesn’t get better than that. You told me how much you enjoyed the book when you read it and cooked from it and that means the world to me. As I wrote it I thought of you, thinking of you curled up with it in bed or wrapped in a throw in a favourite chair on a cold winter’s day, and splattering it with batter as you cooked from it in your steamy kitchen. And so to hear your lovely feedback is overwhelmingly wonderful.

It was a year of success and joy but also one that has shown the bittersweet side of life and the year drew to a close with the sadness of bereavement. As we all know, life is a journey, with its ups and its downs, its twists and its turns, and the best we can do is buckle up and ride with it, enjoying the exhilaration of the good times and holding on tight through the bad, trusting that this too shall pass. I’m ready now to accelerate into 2011 leaving a colourful trail of smoke behind me.

For you, I wish a sparkling year full of love and joy and happiness. I wish for you to dream wonderful dreams and for everything you hope for to find its way to you.

And now, as per the tradition it has now become on this blog, please join me in looking back over the last 12 months…

January

Julia_Parsons_Snug

I made the most of this snow day with hot chocolate and crumpets and slow roasted belly of pork with Puy lentils.

Pork Belly and Puy Lentils

February

Book Image 1

In February it was all steam ahead with the cookbook and I gave you a sneaky peek inside.

March

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Always up for trying something new I couldn’t resist these pig’s trotters when I saw them in a local supermarket. But what did I make of them? Read on to find out…

April

Popcorn 4

Who doesn’t love popcorn? Especially when it’s smothered in toffee.

May

Lamb Cutlets

Succulent lamb cutlets with a herb crust featured in May and they will definitely be featuring in my summer cooking again this year.

June

Kavey 2

In June I moved to WordPress and re-deisgned the blog which enabled me to do things such as starting a series showcasing all the talented food bloggers out there. Look out for many more to be featured this year.

July

Sardines with Basmati and Wild Rice

In the midsummer I was enjoying lots of simple fresh fish dishes such as sardines with basmati and wild rice.

August

Tuscan Style Bean Soup

Rainy days in August demand Mediterranean influenced soups such as this Tuscan Style Bean Soup, don’t you think?

September

Figs with Maple Syrup

I welcomed in autumn with a drool-worthy pudding of baked figs with maple syrup and vanilla ice cream. Definitely one to try.

Another highlight was being asked, along with Tom Aikens, Alex James and Liz McClarnon, to contribute to the book ‘When You Entertain’, a modern twist on the original Coca-Cola recipe book from 1932, which was written by the legendary American Hostess Ida Bailey Allen.

October

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These colourful winter squashes inspired an autumnal dish and put me in mind of a seasonal friend, The Pumpkin King.

And I had the honour of my blog featuring in the book ‘Foodies of the World’ featuring the world’s best food blogs.

October also saw me cooking at the Salone del Gusto in Turin where I cooked my creamy sausage pasta from the cookbook for 30 or so Italian guests!

Garofalo_Julia_2

November

November was a very special month, seeing the release of my very own cookbook. As much as I love food blogs and my own little corner of the world wide web here on this site, there’s something very wonderful about holding a book in your hands, smelling the paper and turning the pages.

Cherry Pie Book Pile

But the cooking didn’t stop and as the weather got colder I warmed myself up with a Orange and Stem Ginger Crumble and I told you about my feasting at the witching hour at Halloween when I made ghoulash (yes, you’re read that right!).

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December

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The UK saw the worst December snowfall for but us Brits kept our stiff upper lip and I kept on cooking. Rabbit stew with a cooks treat of offal on toast was just the thing.

Wild Rabbit Stew

I’m looking forward to creating another year of memories and I do hope that you’ll join me.

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