My patent fish pie recipe.

I love fish pie, especially one ladened with a rich cheesy sauce. However, as we all know, when you are managing weight loss, or maintaining a weight loss, things like cheese will always be restricted.

I have tried various fish pie recipes and most have been less than satisfying but today I managed to break the duck and have my sauce recipe and pie mix spot on for me.

The mash potato was my standard combo of smooth mashed potato mixed with 0% Creme Fraiche (Quark will do if you cannot get the Creme fraiche).

I used smoke haddock, plain cod and prawns for my fish mix and these were poached in milk but then drained thoroughly after it was all cooked.

This milk was used to make the cheese sauce for the family’s pie which was made the traditional way with hot melted butter and flour cooked in a pan, with milk added to make the base sauce (plus a splash of mustard powder) and then grated cheddar added.

My sauce was something else. I sprayed a good quantity of butter spray oil into a pan and then added a small amount of wholemeal flour. This was cooked a little and then loosened up with veg stock (I would have used fish stock but had run out). Stock was slowly added until a creamy sauce had been made. I now added the twist with a pile of chopped jalapeño peppers to the sauce. If I had capers I might have used these instead or as well. I have to account for a little naughtiness in the use of flour and probably for the quantities of spray oil, but not much.

The sauce was poured over my fish mix in the dish and then my new go to treat was added. This was in the form of a chopped pickled egg sprinkled over the top of the mix and then covered in mash.

My apologies for the veg mix with it. I was using up two bags of frozen veg to make space in the freezer.

The final product was, for my tastebuds, spot on. Give the Jalapeño and eggs a try to see if it works for you but you can always use a regular hard boiled egg with parsley in the sauce, capers or any other veg of your choice.

For me, this is now my go to fish pie recipe. For the first time I did not feel I had missed out because I did not have the cheese sauce.

The BBC, the best source of interesting recipes.

Keep reading beyond my soap box moment for the recipe, blink and you might miss it.

When those of us in the U.K. bemoan our licence fee we often do not realise what we get for that £150. Before I get onto food I thought a reminder was needed of what we do get:

1. Nine national channels plus some funding to Channel 4

2. Local TV news and some programming

3. Ten national radio stations

4. Local radio stations

5. iplayer

6. radio player

7. BBC sounds

8. BBC New website

9. BBC Sports website

10. And so on, and so on

One of my favourite online tools is the BBC food database. I often add an eclectic group of ingredients to find a recipe and always find an option on the site.

Last year there was a plan to strip this resource of all but the most recent recipes. I am pleased to say the outcry saved it and as a result this recipe was still available.

I won’t type it up again as you can follow the link yourself. The only difference is that I made mine using a single large squash that we had grown in the garden (courtesy of a house warming gift from John and Ann Davie). This will need cooking for a longer time than several smaller ones.

We had this one as part of a Boxing Day table of food.

Pumpkin Biryani

Whilst this is a vegetarian recipe you can easily add some chicken, lamb or other meat products if you want as well as play around the the vegetables in the sliced mix.

You need to spoon down through the mix to get all the layers.

Have fun with this one, plenty of room for of a little personal twist.

Inspiration from all quarters.

I haven’t posted for a while having had a full on Christmas. I have put on some weight but know how it get it off again. However this doesn’t stop me looking for interesting new recipes to try whilst ‘getting it off again’.

This one landed on my door step courtesy of Sally Taylor, who forwarded this link to me.

Scalloped Potato Roll

Now I am not going write out the whole recipe as the video is quite easy to follow as long as you let yourself pause and rewind every now and then.

What I will do is share how I have changed it and why. Before I do this I will let you know what the feedback from Maggie and Reuben was. Reuben was not a fan, although this is not unusual. His direct quote was ‘What’s wrong with a plain chicken breast on the plate?’ That says it all about Reuben and not a lot about the dish.

Maggie was more appreciative but felt there was two much of the spinach mix.

My main feedback is that I sliced the potatoes too thinly. As a result I used far fewer potatoes but my roll was a little flimsy. Allow your self the thickness in the video which looks like a 1.5 to 2mm. More importantly have the potato slices on the edges a little thicker than in the middle as the cook more quickly and might burn. I took. Mine out early because of this and this might have added to the flimsyness.

I would also have a thinner layer of each filling. Mine held in the middle but pushed out of the ends which suggest it was a little over filled.

Now for the changes . The first and most obvious of these is the amount of oil. The recipe cooked absolutely fine with spray oil. This also goes to prove that oil is often over used in cooking.

I also added no salt. It is thrown in at every opportunity in the video. I rarely add salt to my cooking and in my opinion this did not need it. Your taste buds may still be reliant on the salt so you can allow yourself a little if you wish.

I was very precise about the amount of cheese as I was serving three from the roll. I used 45g of Parmesan and 50g of mozarella. My third of this was what I can allow myself when losing weight (like after Christmas). I replaced the ricotta with quark which is a tasty, but fat free, alternative to other soft cheeses when cooking.

As part of my aim to use less meat I also used only 150g of minced beef and added 7 medium sized mushrooms chopped into small pieces. This is a technique I have shared before and always works well.

Overall mine involved smaller quantities as I was making a smaller roll but you could easily feed four with my version with a good selection of vegetables alongside it. Apologies that this final picture is poorly orientated. I am sure you will cope this however.

I will try this again making the changes suggested but will also look for alternative fillings as things like a spicy chilli filling would work really well with this.

If you give it a go please show me the outcome and maybe share alternative fillings.

Comfort food can be healthy food.

If we are all honest, comfort food is often not something that should be a continual part of our daily diet.

I have always been a bit partial to a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Chew Chew ice cream. By a tub I mean one of the 500ml tubs and I also mean downing it at one sitting. and with no help from others. Come near my tub and you risk losing your fingers.

Scotch eggs, sausages rolls, fish and chips and the list goes on. Now life would be sad without these things every now and then and I can probably still get away with the full tub of ice cream every now and then.

Portion size also tends to be an important part of enjoying comfort food.

However if we stick to these obvious things we forget some of those dishes that provide real comfort and can be both healthy and tasty. These are the dishes of your childhood; hard days on a budget when you are first working or a student. If you have a think, now, and make a list I am sure you will come up with your own list.

My list for the last couple of days is as follows:

1. Baked Potato with Chilli Con Carne on top.

Now I tend to use stewing beef these days for my chilli and I did this time. I did stick to my current aim of reducing the meat we eat. So this chilli for up to four people only used 300g of lean stewing beef.

It was topped up with mushrooms, roasted peppers, onions, tinned tomatoes and, of course, kidney beans.

All that was needed was a well baked potato. You can do these in the microwave of course but given the time I prefer them oven baked having been sprayed with low calorie oil and with salt rubbed into the skin. You cannot beat the rich crisp skin you get at the end and as I use no salt in my cooking I can allow myself the salt tang that goes with this.

Of course there was not butter on the potato but you know what, I didn’t miss it and it didn’t need it when it had a huge wallop of chilli plopped on top. You can play spot the potato now.

The added bonus is there was chilli left of for another day (the sequel will follow next, so no need to wait).

2. Jalapeño and Spinach Omlette, stuffed with left over chilli.

This one is exactly what it says on the tin and made a superb lunch. The omelette I have shared before on Facebook. It is just a three egg one, seasoned with black pepper. Once it is cooking in the pan I add the chopped jalapeño pepper and chopped baby spinach leaves (these cook down as the omelette cooks). I had plenty of spinach because I love it.

I zapped the left over chilli in the microwave and just before the omelette was cooked dolloped it in the middle and folded over the omelette. The only thing that would have improved this was a pile of salad and some air fried chips. However it was more than enough for a full lunch.

3. And finally Cottage Pie.

Shepherds Pie or Cottage Pie are a must for most homes and today was no exception. Cottage Pie (with beef rather than the lamb of Shepherds Pie) was on the menu. Again the meat content was reduced using 250g of lean beef mince.

Added to softened fine chopped onions and browned, padded out with a pile of frozen mixed veg (supermarket own brand) and given a tang with a healthy slop of Worcestershire Sauce a perfect mix developed. Knowing that Reuben, my youngest son, is not a fan of tomato in anything I went to his comfort zone and added a little naughtiness in the shape of two tablespoons of gravy granules and then water to make a thick gravy and finished off with a pile of chopped mushrooms.

The topping has to be mashed potato, mixed with no fat Creme fraiche, seasoned with black pepper and then sprinkled with some squirts of butter low calorie spray.

Finished off in a hot oven to crisp the top and and balanced with some lightly boil broccoli, where can you go wrong.

Still banging on about meat.

This will be a quick post. This table, from several on the BBC website this morning, shows the impact of different food sources on the composition of atmospheric air. Making good food choices is healthier for my body and healthier for the planet and therefore healthier for everyone.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46384067

Depending on whether you are a Flat Earther, Donald Trump or an average human being you can decide whether this is a significant factor in global warming.

The one table I have extracted makes the case that even if I were not to give up meat completely but did reduce or eliminate beef from my diet, I would be making a small difference.

A little more about mixing meat up with alternatives.

Since my last post I have been a little quiet as Tricia reminded me today. I have been photographing food regularly but have been a little diverted by Brexit rants on Facebook.

To give my Facebook friends a rest I thought I would come back to the issues in my last post by looking at some of the recipes I have tried, using meat alternatives.

My favourite currently uses aubergine. My confession is that I don’t really like aubergine. However I am realising that is mainly because I have only experienced it in the Moussaka type dishes.

I get cooking ideas from many sources and then adapt those I like to suit my tastes, our tastes or our waistline needs. I recently saw a Nigella episode and she made a chilli and tortilla dish using a mince and aubergine mix. It look stupendous and converting the main chilli mix to a healthier version would be pretty straightforward.

The technique is easy. Instead of using 500g of low fat minced beef to make a chilli I used 250g of minced beef and, once the beef has browned, onions softened etc, I added an aubergine chopped into small cubes and my tin of tomatoes. You will all have your own chilli recipe and so I will not give details on spicing, beans and other veg used. It is just important to note that the aubergine does not go in with the mince at the beginning.

What you get is a chilli with a richer flavour, slightly softer texture and plenty for four people.

Other dishes using minced meat are equally easy ones for reducing the quantity of meat with out losing the flavour you want.

These burgers and meatballs were made using 300g of pork mince and 300g of beef mince. These were put in a food processor with a large chopped onion, a large roughly chopped courgette, two eggs and some salt and pepper. I always blitz my mince mixes for these sort of dishes so that I get a smoother and well mixed finish.

The mix easily made 8 burgers and 20 meatballs (two meals for four people).

You can add other ingredients like fresh coriander, grated carrot, chopped mushrooms and roasted peppers (and anything else you fancy) to get different flavour combinations. Also don’t forget chillis and tomato purée. Using the food processor then smooths out the mix.

I do often use alternatives to rice and pasta. This is partly because I quite enjoy them but also when I have an indulgent couple of days it helps me get back on track.

The last one for today is using finely chopped mushrooms (mushroom mince) alongside minced beef to make cottage pie. I have also used mushrooms as a complete alternative to meat when the fancy has taken me. The mushrooms add a really meaty flavour and a good level of texture. This version also used sweet potato mash which is a tasty alternative to potato mash for anybody trying to reduce the number of regular potatoes they eat or just because you like sweet potatoes.

The mushrooms were not as finely chopped as I normally do but it worked just as well.

It is worth noting that I also use meat stock cubes/pots to add flavour as well as healthy levels of herbs, spices and ground pepper. These are obviously done to your personal taste and the dish you want to make.

Don’t get sucked into buying ready prepared chopped veg. This is a very expensive way of doing things, it doesn’t take that long to prepare. A large box of ‘wonky’ mushrooms can be pulse zapped in a food processor in a few seconds to make enough mushroom mince for two meals mixed with mince.

Eating meat, an ethical dilemma.

It would be very fair to say that I enjoy eating meat in most of its forms.

Now I don’t include offal in this as this is not for me. All the offal I have tried hits the back of my throat, after accosting my sense of taste and texture, and just wants to return from whence it came.

To put this in context when I was fifteen a Burmese ( as it was then) lad started at my school and we became quite good friends. This resulted in an invite to his house for some food. I had always been offered a rich and varied diet at home and was certain that I would enjoy the meal to come.

What arrived were a number of dishes with vegetables on a couple, a bowl of rice, a bowl of sauce and…. a dish of cooked chopped liver. At this point I probably wished I was a vegetarian but as I wasn’t, had not declared I was or was rude enough to claim it out of expediency I had to have a go. A small amount of liver came to my plate with a good pile of rice, veg and sauce.

In turn a small piece of liver went on a fork with a good quantity of all the other ingredients piled on it in the hope I could disguise the taste and the awareness in my brain that liver was about to enter my mouth.

The fork boldly went where no liver bedecked cutlery had gone for a very long time. This was followed by an attempt to rapidly pass the concoction beyond my throat and down to my stomach without pausing to alarm my various senses on the way through.

Despite the delicious sauce, crunchy veg and perfect rice my automatic defence system kicked in and repelled the encroaching food in a mixture of coughing and spluttering, scattering rice, veg, sauce and the offending liver across the table.

Apologies folks, I was diverted then by a memory that was not part of my original plan. I do the same when in conversation and often bemuse the listener as I jump in with a comment that appears to have nothing to do with the subject in hand and so back to the subject in hand, eating meat.

As I said I have always enjoyed eating meat in most of its forms. It can be red or white, have walked, flown or swum. I have chopped it, minced it and cooked it whole. I have pan fried, barbecued, put it in a pie and even eaten it raw. Vegetables often accompany it but the meat tends to be the star ingredient. This is the norm. If you read any menu a dish will often be described as some form of meat, how it is cooked and then what veg or pasta/rice is served with it.

Why not try Pan Fried Sea Bass with Ratatouille and Basil

And Sizzling Steak Stir Fry doesn’t even acknowledge the range of vegetables involved in the dish.

I have always enjoyed any food that is tasty and have no issue eating both vegetarian and vegan food. However my choice will usually include meat.

As I have adapted my diet, and more recently looked to reducing the meat I eat for sustainability reasons, I have learned to appreciate the vegetable on the plate as much more of an equal party in the equation and often more of a leading light.

This Lamb & Six Vegetable Dinner Bowl could easily be A Bowl Of Spiralized Butternut Squash, Green Beans, Broccoli, Courgette, Brussel Sprouts and Creamy Mashed Potato with Lamb Ribs & Gravy.

This has caused me, within my head and no further, to ask myself why I still eat meat.

The easy answer is that we are omnivores so are designed to eat meat as well as vegetables and this is true. However We are also predisposed towards survival of the fittest instincts, like all our animal kin. However I accept that the sick will be treated, aspire to ensuring the weakest are supported and that resorting to violence and intimidation are wrong unless in the defence of others and only then when there is no alternative.

I have flown in planes, gliders and helicopters. I have travelled on the sea rather than through it and watched people travel into space. These all defy my physical nature as a human but are drawn entirely from human intellect, the key aspect we say separates us from the animal kingdom and has given us supremacy over much that is on our planet.

Now this human intellect has also shown that we can meet all our dietary needs without eating meat. It has also demonstrated that breeding creatures to feed our population is both inefficient and damaging to our planet.

We seem to be evolving to overcome our nature rather than be limited by it.

The logical, and intellectual thing to do is therefore to stop eating meat entirely and rely on the wide varying alternatives diet options available to me in living in a rich and advantaged country.

If I then pass by logic and still eat meat I face the moral challenge , the one that has taken most people I know to vegetarianism. I am a pacifist at heart who also knows there are times when war is unavoidable and justified. Killing another person is also justified if it is in self defence and prevents my likely death. If someone harmed my family I would probably also have a different opinion on what a suitable punishment would be.

Allowing a living creature to be killed, to meet my choice to eat meat is therefore questionable at best and potentially hypocritical. When it is a hunter posing next to an elephant shot as a trophy I am both appalled and angry. Hunting for pleasure is morally objectionable for me, unless you eat what you kill.

How can I therefore continue to eat meat knowing each time an animal has been killed to allow me to meet my desire for self gratification in the form of a plate of food. No matter how an animal is killed it can never be argued as humane. A bolt to the temple in a secular abattoir, a sliced throat in a kosher or halal abattoir or a crab dropped in a restaurants pan of boiling water are all equally inhumane.

So far I have found the logical basis for continuing to eat meat less than sound. The ethical reasons are almost non-existent. All that is left is that nagging desire for gratification through the food I eat.

I am therefore forced to ask if this is a good enough reason to eat meat. Do my personal desires outweigh the logical and ethical reasons to not eat meat. Can I justify my reliance on meat contributing to this.

I think I know the answer. I am not yet ready to accept that answer but I wonder how long this can continue. With the meat fest of Christmas approaching I cannot imagine Christmas without turkey, pigs in blankets, ham and all else that comes with it. in other countries the Christmas table may have an even greater meat weighting. Look at this one from Hong Kong.

Will I be able to imagine moving to a vegetarian option in the future I do not know. Maybe…

For now I am faced with a dilemma that I have not yet resolved. What do you think.