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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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                                           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.

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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.

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

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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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calendula, chorizo, tea on the beach and plans for 2013

Inspired by Flora’s Posts and MyCustardPie, I decided to look back over the last year. Looking at Joy Larkcom’s The Organic Salad Garden, I couldn’t resist making a few plans for 2013 too.

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It’s lovely on a grey day when the ground is too muddy to tackle, to look back at the pictures of summer abundance in the garden. Images of gigantic lovage, rampaging calendula (thank goodness you can eat the petals in salads and decorate cakes with them), and other flowers, salad, herbs and veggies growing in crazy chaos make me feel better about the neglected tomatoes and pathetic potato harvest.

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I blame Dorset for the neglected tomatoes. We went on holiday just when they needed me. And had a great time, cooking tea on the beach, using our home-made smoker to hot-smoke delicious mackerel, loving the playground entirely made from rope at West Bay. The brunch at the wonderful Hive Beach Cafe and baked goodies from Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis were fab too.

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The Three Little Pigs were great fun to have in the garden, did a brilliant job of clearing a thistle-strewn area. They were well-fed, grew slowly in plenty of space and well looked after. And now they’re feeding us very well. Once the temperature dropped, I loved making salami and chorizo and the air dried ham is still slowly drying (I hope! Better wait until I unwrap it before I start planning how to use my ‘proscuito’) while our sausages and bacon are proving to be the new jam when it comes to thanking friends for favours.

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I’ve loved seeing Ruby become more interested in cooking. Even if she is messier than her Mum (quite some feat), who often needs a spot of dusk gardening or a squirt of magic spray to recover afterwards. Decorating with violets, making wild garlic pesto, and gathering elderflowers then making them into elderflower cordial with her has all been great fun.

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As usual there’s been plenty of preserving in the kitchen too, with more exotic bottled and jarred goodies inspired by Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke.

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It all makes me very excited about attempting the following during 2013:

planting more fruit trees soon, while they’re still dormant. apples, pears, damson and greengage are planned and I’d like a morello cherry growing in the shady spot behind Guy’s workshop. Mark Diacono’s great book a taste of the unexpected, which inspires you to think again about the edible delights it’s possible to grow in a British garden has got me enthusiastic about a mulberry tree too.

camping – just the fairweather sort for me. As soon as we have sunny weather in the Spring and Summer I’d like to have a few weekends where we head off to the sort of basic but beautiful campsites where you can have campfires, paddle and cook sausages outdoors for breakfast. Ruby has her sleeping bag ready. Having read Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, I particularly fancy a campsite near Ross on Wye that allows campfires, is by a great paddling river. There happens to be a good pub very handy too. And there’s the place by the River Windrush in Oxfordshire where you can catch crayfish and swim below a ruined abbey. Will report on these during the year hopefully…

very inspired by Joy Larkcom (I had her The Organic Salad Garden book for Christmas) to be more creative about my planting. I love her defence of planting vegetables in the front garden:

“…what was more beautiful than the “‘Purple Giant” mustard, feathery fennel, deeply curled red “Lollo” lettuce or the glossy, serrated leaves of mizuna greens? What could be more productive and vibrant-looking than a small patch of pak choi, dill or golden purslane? Vegetable plots, I was convinced, can feed the soul as well as the body.”

I’m already a fan of red orache for its striking looks in the garden – it adds height and structure to planting as well as supplying salad leaves – but I like the idea of the purple-hued giant spinach ‘Magentaspreen’ reaching theatrical heights for a salad crop too. And leaving a few clumps of chicory to run to seed in their second season, seeing them grow over 6ft high with flushes of sky-blue (edible) flowers sounds great too. Different coloured beetroot, more types of hardy Chinese mustards, more edible flowers and stepover apples are on my wish-list.

taking Ruby to the Natural History Museum would be great fun – for all of us, I think.

re-visiting the Leyn peninsular in Wales would be great. Friends very generously let us use their beach chalet (very basic but in a quite remote, absolutely stunning spot) last year. Steps lead down to a wonderful horse-shoe bay, rock-pools entice Ruby (and me!), the bay is famous for its crab and nearby ‘Whistling Sands’ beach has brilliant caves and yet more rock-pools.

I do fancy keeping bees, chickens and am very tempted to have a few lambs.

cook more Scandinavian recipes and lots from ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. using plenty of home-grown and Cotswold ingredients of course!

but most importantly, I also really want to try not to fit too much in. I know I’m often guilty of trying to add a few too many things to my to-do lists. Always a tad optimistic about how much time I have, I always think I have time to cram in more than is realistic (realistic if I’m not going to have a totally chaotic home anyway). And I do think it’s important that we all have time to sit, relax and not do very much at all – it’s just sometimes tricky to fit in isn’t it? This is my 2013 way of making myself do this:

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Will let you know how it goes.

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