16 January 2019

Curried parsnip soup / mackerel ‘paté’ in pitta

I’ve signed up to some free healthier eating cookery lessons in Greenwich, kindly provided by the GCDA (Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency). They run once a week for five weeks but there are classes in different venues throughout the week with two classes (in two different places) on Monday. They also run several times throughout the year so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

The first series of 2019 began this week with the new classes for the Thur, Fri and Sat starting from tomorrow onwards. The Wednsesday classes take place at Eltham Green Community Church (nice loos! Also nice café but I was there to cook so didn’t take advantage of that).

I signed up because while I can just about cook I’m not really doing much more than heating separate food items and then combining them – it doesn’t really feel like cooking (though it is healthier than take aways!).

We all pitched in to make a curried parsnip soup and some mackerel pitta sandwiches as a side dish. More information about the recipes are below, but first the dates and locations of the free classes around Greenwich (taken from this PDF, from this page) in case you want to sign up to this municipal munificence. Ring 0800 470 4831 to book.

GCDA Cookery Club classes in Greenwich, January 2019

Info about the courses also appears in local SE / Greenwich blogs – 853 and The Charlton Champion and my own Blackheath & beyond blog. The GCDA also have a Fruit and Veg Seminar coming up at Greenwich University for people who’d “like to learn more about how to set up and run a community fruit & veg stall” on the morning of Tue 29 Jan 2019.

General recipe for curried parsnip soup (vegetarian)

I don’t want to share the photo I’ve taken of the recipe as I suspect it’s under copyright, so here is the gist of it (we’ll each get a copy of the recipe book at the end). This recipe is for 6 portions, we tripled our amounts so that we could all have lunch there immediately, then everyone would get a chance to take some home. Soup can be easily frozen (for about three months) or kept in the fridge (for about a week) so it makes sense to make the full six portions and then keep the rest for another time.

Here’s a pic of the starting material, organised by carbs, veg, dairy (it being a healthy eating cookery course!).


  1. One each of onion, parsnip, potato (+3 cloves garlic) – chopped (see a range of ‘how to chop veg’ videos from YouTube below). Also chop some parsley but don’t add until end. [If you have a blender (see point (6) you don’t need to chop very small]
  2. Big pot or saucepan with a tablespoon of oil in heating up – add in the chopped veg , stir, put lid on if you like
  3. Cook for 10 minutes or so, then add a teaspoon or two of curry powder and a level tablespoon of flour (and boil water in a kettle)
  4. Cook for another 2 mins with some more stirring
  5. Add in 2 pints water and cook for a further 15-20 mins (for nice soft parsnips)
  6. Puree – this step assumes you have a hand blender but I suppose you could try using a potato masher – then add 150ml creme fraiche (the recipe calls for low fat but I won’t tell anyone) and heat through
  7. Now’s the time to add some of your chopped parsley, then serve

Point 5 in the list above is when you make the mackerel paté and toast the mini pitta breads.

Mackerel paté

  1. Chop some cucumber (see vids below)
  2. Toast mini pitta breads
  3. Peel back the skin from a pack of smoked mackerel fillets (see video at the bottom of the page), removing any bones, flake the flesh, add a bit of low fat mayonnaise and yoghourt and mix together.
  4. Cut open the pitta pockets, spoon in some mackerel, add in some of the chopped parsley and cucumber.

Here’s the finished meal, ready to serve. It tasted lovely and the time whizzed by (we’d had a bit of chat and getting to know you beforehand so were doing one of the quicker recipes). I’m a new convert to mackerel. Thanks to Laura our tutor for a really fun session 🙂


At the end I took one of these fellows home in my bag. Turned out to be a bit of a mistake as I banged my bag when I got on a bus and when I got off it discovered that I’d knocked the lid off and some of the soup had escaped, parsnipping the contents. Oops. Fortunately there’s enough soup for a meal, and there wasn’t much in the bag.


Chopping the veg for the soup

Chopping parsnips

Chopping potatoes into chunks (from 1m 16s)

A way of chopping onions

Chopping onions faster, for the brave

How to dice a cucumber

Preparing smoked mackerel fillets

27 October 2018

[Steamer] Cod, mashed potatoes & Brussels plus parsley sauce

I’m having a bit of a steamed fish week and I remembered that a favourite student meal was boil-in-the-bag cod steaks in parsley sauce. I should get some for the freezer.

Anyway while I do know how to make parsley sauce (it’s basically cheese sauce without the cheese and parsley instead) I spotted a nice shop-bought one from M&S so am trying that (it’s delicious). I’m sufficiently rubbish at cooking that doing too many things at once will generally result in grumbling and heading out for takeaway! Know your limits 😉


  • Cod fillet (raw)
  • Portion of new potatoes, eg half a 500g pack
  • Portion of Brussels sprouts (eg 10, cut off bottoms, peel off outer leaves)
  • Parsley sauce
    • Optional – milk and butter / marg or creme fraiche for mashing the potato & veg


  • Steamer with two steaming ‘stages’, lower one for the veg, upper for the fish, water in the bit right at the bottom of course
  • Smaller saucepan for the parsley sauce

Plan of action

  • Boil some water in a kettle or in the water bit of the steamer with lid on.
    (Once boiled add the first steamer basket so it can get nice and warm for the potatoes)
  • Cut potatoes in half – this means they cook for 15 mins. They might need 20-25 mins if kept whole, so adjust timings to suit
  • Add potatoes to steamer basket and set timer for 7 minutes
  • Prepare the Brussels sprouts and add the second steamer basket so it gets warm for the fish
  • When 7 mins up, add Brussels and put timer on for 8 minutes and add the cod (it probably won’t take 8 minutes so you can slow down a bit for this!)
  • At the end switch off power to the steamer and heat up the parsley sauce in the saucepan – keep it very low on temperature while mashing the veg/potato (milk and margarine / butter optional)
17 October 2018

Salmon, mashed potato & Brussels sprouts – but with a steamer

Rather than applying hot water directly to two of the three items (the salmon was already cooked) as in this version – Salmon, mashed potato & Brussels sprouts – I’ve decided to cook all three (uncooked salmon fillet this time) in a steamer.

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Salmon fillet, Brussels sprouts and new potatoes steamed


    I’ve got
  • New potatotes – going to cut them in half, they need about 15 mins steaming (longer if not cut in half)
  • Brussels sprouts – going to cut them in half too (they need more like 8 minutes)
  • Salmon fillet – 8 minutes needed in the steamer
  • A steamer with two layers: potatoes and Brussels for the lower layer and the salmon in the top but for the veg-only part I just use the lower layer + lid.
  • Marg
  • Creme fraiche


  1. T0-6 = Gather items from the fridge, boil the kettle, hot water into the bottom bit of the steamer and get it boiling, lid on
  2. T6 = Cut the potatoes in half
  3. T7 = put potatoes add in, starting a timer for 6 mins
  4. T13 = put the upper steamer layer on top of the potatoes to warm, cut the Brussels sprouts in half
  5. T14 = the potatoes have now had 7 mins, add the Brussels sprouts to the bit with the potatoes, also add salmon to upper bit and put timer on for 8 mins
  6. T21> = the potatoes have had 15 mins, the Brussels and salmon about 8 mins. Test if cooked, plate.
  7. Total cooking time = 15 mins Total prep time = about 22 mins

Where I went wrong – airing of grievances

Everything was tasty but room for improvement in appearance and practicalities.

My fridge appears to have frozen the new potatoes so they were a bit solid when I cut them in half, one was enrobed in a solid covering of ice! I wondered if that would mean they’d take longer to cook (they didn’t, in fact I now wonder if the effect mushed them up a bit more – but the taste was fine). I might need to check my fridge! Using the info in these pages (could just be temperature setting) or (could be a refrigerant leak).

As the veg were steamed there was no moisture and so no draining. To avoid dirtying the steamer further I decided to tip them onto the plate (didn’t look very inspiring) and add the margarine and creme fraiche, then the salmon. Once it all got melted in my plate was a bit swimmy with marg and creme fraiche which tastes fine but looks unlovely. Next time I’ll just deal with them in a bowl so that I can shoogle them about and get coverage, then transfer them to the plate to lose the melted bits.

The salmon looked a bit sorry for itself, came away very easily from the ‘skin’ bit at the bottom which is now stuck to the upper steamer and sitting in water waiting for me to clean it off. Not sure how to avoid that, perhaps smearing the upper layer with a bit of marg before putting the salmon in… a sort of non-stick thing. Not sure if it would work.

Like so many meals I make it would be a very sad thing without marg or creme fraiche.

I used the info in this  WordPress shortcode advice page to try and make this look recipe-ish but I can’t get the image to show up, no idea why – so I’ve added one in manually.

17 February 2018

Vegan chocolate cake

Vegan Chocolate Cake

  • Servings: a few
  • Print

In the early 90s I had a couple of vegan friends (one was a pal from uni, the other his wife), sadly lost touch with them but they were great fun and introduced me to Food For Thought in Covent Garden (sadly closed due to rising rents), mushroom paté in a tube (yum) and weird vegan cheese (less yum). We also occasionally had little stalls on a Sunday at Camden Market selling painted glass stuff.

Anyway I picked up this vegan recipe for chocolate cake but I don’t know where it came from so as always a bit worried that I’m pinching someone’s content – if you know its provenance please let me know so that I can give credit. I’ve made it (once, 20 years ago) and it was delicious but I remember a bit early on in the making when I was convinced it was going to fail because it curdles at one point (the recipe notes this), but it all worked out well in the end.

This recipe was written on the back of an envelope for the Youth Hostels Association – it might have been around the time I went to Florence with a friend and stayed in a youth hostel there, 1995 or thereabouts.

Vegan Chocolate Cake


  • 115g sugar
  • 115g soya margarine
  • tablespoon syrup
  • 1/3pint orange juice
  • teaspoon baking soda aka bicarbonate of soda aka sodium bicarbonate
  • 215g flour
  • tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt



  • Mix syrup, sugar and margarine together
  • Measure orange juice, add the baking soda and mix in – it will curdle, do not be alarmed
  • Add the remaining dry ingredients
  • Mix and put in the oven for 30 minutes at 180°C or Gas Mark 4 or 350°F

27 December 2017

Coconut cupcakes

This excellent and delicious recipe comes from a website that has disappeared, however there is a cached version here. I don’t really like ‘stealing’ recipes but I wanted to trap a copy in case anything happened to that one!


The oven will be at Gas Mark 4, 180°C. They’ll need about 25 mins to half an hour to cook through nicely. I tend to cook for 15mins then swivel the tray through 180° (no relation to the temperature!) and cook for another 10. Then test with a cocktail stick / skewer – if it comes out cleanly they’re cooked. For full-size cakes that also works or you can tap on the bottom and if it sounds hollow it’s cooked.

You’ll need a mixing bowl, mixing spoon and a couple of spoons to distribute the mixture among 12 cupcake cases OR you’d need a couple of cake tins (I need to have a think about the measurements).

photo 2(4)

Freshly baked cakes, cooling, awaiting icing

Ingredients – CAKE(S)

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 175g spread or softened unsalted butter
    Cream these two together first
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
    Always crack your eggs into a fresh bowl and check all is well before adding them in to your mix. With all other items you can check the packaging for any spoilage but eggs are a mystery until opened – you can check if an egg is bad by floating it in water. If it floats, it’s not good – a fresh egg should sink and bob gently on the floor.
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 25g cocoa powder (sift into the bowl with a sieve)
    Stir everything well then weigh out
  • 150g plain flower and
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    Then add these (will also need sifting with sieve) into mixture and stir well.
  • and if it needs it a bit of milk or water (‘3 tablespooons’).
    With cake mixture you’re generally aiming for a ‘dropping consistency’ such that if you scoop some up with a tablespoon and turn the spoon half over it should start to plop off the spoon but not be too liquid. It should fall nicely into the cupcake cases without resisting too much.

Don’t forget to lick the bowl (unless you’re pregnant cos I suppose you have to be a bit careful with the eggs, and possibly the flour too).

Ingredients – ICING

I only ever use plain icing sugar and spread to make mine cos I can’t really be bothered with mascarpone but the original icing instructions are reproduced below.

  • 150g mascarpone
  • 1 tablespoons icing sugar
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 25g desiccated coconut soaked in a little milk

These were the original instructions: “Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper cases. Cream together the butter and sugar in the large bowl until pale and light. Add beaten eggs and mix well. Add cocoa powder and coconut.

Mix together the flour and baking powder and fold it to the butter-egg mixture, and mix until smooth. Divide between the paper cases and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 minutes until the cakes are golden and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the frosting, mix the mascarpone, icing sugar and lime zest until smooth. Add coconut. When ready, sprad an even layer of the mascarpone mixture over the top of each cake and sprinkle with coconut.”

15 November 2017

Salmon, mashed potato & Brussels sprouts

I hadn’t made mashed potato for ages so I thought I’d better check and see what’s new in potato-mashing. According to this YouTube video below I’ve “been doing it wrong” all this time and if I want super-creamy mash I should follow their instructions.

Happily I’m after a more gravelly mash (skins on, don’t have a potato ricer) so I carried on, wrongly 🙂

The thing with mashing is that apparently you want a fairly starchy and non-waxy potato so that it falls apart on cooking and almost mashes itself. Fortunately there are lists of suitable potatoes. For mashing you cook the potato for a lot longer than you would for just normal boiled potatoes, and start with smaller chunks too – at least I do. I went with a Marfona potato – they also feature quite a lot in my microwave ‘roast’ potato, baked beans and cottage cheese recipe.

For my recipe you would need

Salmon, mashed potato & Brussels sprouts

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  1. a potato – the final mash volume will be slightly greater than what you start with if you expand it with milk and butter
  2. some Brussels sprouts, I went with 8 big ones
  3. Hot-smoked Arbroath salmon thingy from M&S, the one I got comes in a pack of 4. It seems cooked (not a fan of ‘smoked salmon’ which always seems… not quite right).


The potatoes need about 25 mins, the Brussels between 8 and 10 mins (nearer 8 if you cut them in half)

  • Boil kettle, or put pan of water on to boil
  • Halve the potato lengthwise then slice (lengthwise again) into four then turn 90° and chop again
  • After 10 minutes or so…
  • …prepare the Brussels (I just take the bottoms of and the outer leaves, you can cut them in half too if you like), and get the water boiling ready for the last ten mins.
  • After 15 minutes you’ve got 10 mins left so best get the Brussels boiling soon as anything less than 7 minutes probably won’t do. They get a bit too mushy for me after 10.
  • At the end drain the potatoes and return to pan but don’t put back on the recently-hot hob. Drain the Brussels too (don’t leave them sitting in the hot water while you mash the potatoes). I have a fantastic metal sieve which the Brussels can sit in.
  • Mash: add a bit of spread or butter and some milk and wallop them with a masher.

Serve with a bit of crême fraiche. It was delicious and very straightforward.

2 May 2017

Salmon fillet (steamed) and rice with green beans

I’m filing this under tolerably pleasant and probably healthy but not exactly something I’d get terribly excited about. Salmon (fish generally) isn’t really a favourite of mine but a salmon fillet is very easy to cook in a steamer in about 8 minutes above a pan of cooking rice, so why not. I don’t mind pre-cooked salmon fillets either, used in salads but I draw the line at smoked salmon.

The packet instructions for the rice suggested just covering Amount X (I went for 80g) with cold water, bringing to the boil and simmering. Other advice suggested a ratiometric thing going on with the relative amounts of rice and water. Presumably because draining sodden rice isn’t likely to be much fun so perhaps you want to reach the end of the cooking period with minimal water.

After a few minutes of cooking the rice I noticed a burning smell and realised I’d not arranged the flame sufficiently for a gentle simmer and the pan was drying out. I added some more water, brought it to the boil again and turned the gas down.

In total the rice had about 18 minutes (the packed recommended this) in hot water, some of it boiling, mostly simmering and I added the salmon to the steamer bit after ten minutes of rice cooking so that it cooked for the final 8 minutes. At two minutes before the end I zapped a pack of pre-sliced green runner beans in the microwave – perfect.


  • 80g rice, I used something that had wild rice in it as well. Didn’t bother rinsing it – possibly I will regret this later if I develop stomach ache 😉
  • One salmon fillet
  • Pack of green runner beans
  • Creme fraiche which, if I’m honest, probably saved the meal by ‘connecting’ the ingredients together (literally and figuratively) in a way that it was lacking somewhat.


Total cooking time is 18 minutes.

  • Pour the rice into the pan, add 160ml (I tried double) cold water and bring to the boil. If you’re doing it correctly this is the point at which you turn down the heat so it simmers, if not after stuffing it up a bit you’ll have to add a bit more water, bring that to the boil and try again with the simmering. Let it and add the steamer unit on top plus the lid to keep all that lovely steam in.
  • After 10 mins add the salmon fillet to the steamer and replace the lid quickly.
  • After another 6 minutes have elapsed (16 mins in total) microwave the beans, or peas or whatever.
  • I used a slatted spoon to collect the rice, it had absorbed most of the water to be honest – pleasingly not a watery mess. Salmon fillet on top, beans next – then a dollop of creme fraiche to knit it together. I felt it needed it.
  • Next time I make it I’ll take a photo but I can’t get too excited about this recipe and already have some bacon in the fridge to make this much more exciting – but probably far less healthy – recipe 😉
1 May 2017

Crudités – things to dip in hoummous etc

Current crudité options include anything raw that I can dip in hoummous. I’m adding them here as a reminder (I use this blog a fair bit when I’m in shops as I often forget something delicious that I once enjoyed eating) rather than instructions for making crudités 😉

  • 🥕 Carrot (peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced vertically into several bits)
  • Sugar snap peas (can eat the whole thing)
  • Radishes (topped and tailed)
  • Celery (cut in blocks lengthwise, then halved vertically)
  • Hoummous


23 April 2017

Couscous, tomato, brie, mint etc

Couscous is definitely the easiest pasta*-related thing to cook. I have some dried couscous in a packet – I’ve no idea if it exists in other formats.

Instructions for cooking couscous

  • 80g of couscous makes a pretty decent sized portion once cooked, put it in a bowl (I used a glass Pyrex one because of the boiling water)
  • Add 100ml boiling water, stir, cover the bowl with clingfilm for five minutes.
  • Once cooked stir it with a fork.

Things to add to couscous

  • tomatoes (I added 3 vine-ripened tomatoes cos they have quite a nice sharp taste for this)
  • mint, chopped
  • sesame oil (I tend to add it to salady things)
  • drizzle of lemon juice
  • some small bits of chopped brie

IMG_3949.JPG*[Wikipedia] Couscous is made of small steamed balls of semolina… and semolina is the coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat mainly used in making pasta and couscous.

Picture shows the couscous with just tomatoes, mint, sesame oil and lemon, brie added last. Tomorrow’s lunch 🙂

17 April 2017

Tuna and mayonnaise

Less a recipe, more a reminder to me to eat this occasionally cos it’s delicious but I tend to forget about tins of tuna. And because I eat this so infrequently I tend to find that my mayonnaise has gone off when I come to use it so I’ve been buying mini mayo packs from a local pie and chips shop.


You will need

• Tin of tuna (I like the chunks in brine but flakes are fine too)
• Mayonnaise
• Tin opener

How to prepare it
Drain the tuna so it’s quite dry, then cut it up with a knife and fork to your mulch-preference level – mine is a bit pate-like. Gradually add some mayo and mix, mostly with the fork. I use just enough mayo so that I can shape the mix into a sort of ‘cake’. After that it’s up to you what you want to do with it, can be used in sandwiches or given a salad accompaniment. Avoid adding those awful little capers though, why would you do that to a meal?

A note on tin openers
There are obviously many different kinds of tin openers but I think of them as being either ‘innies’ (top opening) or ‘outies’ (side opening), much like tummy buttons. Innies cut the lid so that it sits within the tin after being cut around – I prefer this kind for tuna because then I can press on the lid with my thums to get rid of the fluid (pressure slightly better than just draining in a sieve, but that’s fine too if your thumbs are a bit arthritic). Obviously I’d recommend rinsing the end of the tin you’re going to open, as the tin’s lid will come in contact with your food.

Outie tin openers cut around the outside of the tin and cut off the top, the resulting cirle of metal will not slot inside the tin (without bending) and so can’t be used to squeeze out any fluid – this sort of tin-opener is fine for anything where you want to keep the full contents, liquid and all.