Archive for May, 2010

April ’Meanderings’ …

All images ©’Meanderings through my Cookbook’ www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com  

Pictured (top to bottom)
North African Style Fish Fillets
Honeyed Banana Ice Cream with Nuts
Smoked Haddock, Cheese & Tomato Bake
Tropical Banana & Chocolate Crumble   

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I love fish and always consult the fish section of restaurant menus first to see if there is anything unusual on offer.  I look out for unusual fish recipes to try out at home as well so I thought it was high time I shared some more on this site.  When I checked my list I found I was spoiled for choice and there are still more to post in the future.  I am particularly interested in finding tasty, easy fish dishes for everyday meals, using less expensive types.  North African Style Fish Fillets sits on a bed of Ratatouille, a dish of Mediterranean style mixed vegetables, so my version of Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale, was my first post this month.  There is also a Rick Stein recipe, Herrings in Oatmeal with Bacon, which can also be made using mackerel fillets, where the fish takes on the flavour of the bacon previously cooked in the same pan and Smoked Haddock, Cheese & Tomato Bake a simple dish which is fast becoming a family favourite.      

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Bananas are always available in our market and sometimes I find that they have gone past their best for eating.  It is always good to know ways for using these and I have included a delicious recipe for Banana & Date Cake that came hot off the press and straight into my oven from the May 2010 ASDA magazine and some quick and easy Banana & Coconut Flapjack, of which I have since made several variations. I also cooked a Tropical Banana & Chocolate Crumble and took my ice cream machine down from the shelf to make Honeyed Banana Ice Cream with Nuts, yet another good way to use ripe bananas.      

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Our church family celebrated the birthday of the church at Pentecost with a meal together.  This is the third time we have made one of these special meals and was very successful.  We catered for more people than usual with tickets specifying a choice from three main courses (salmon, baked ham or coronation chicken) or a vegetarian option, served with a variety of different salads.  (The Coronation Chicken was delicious and I managed to get the recipe to eventually add to this site.)  There were strawberries, cream and meringues for dessert, with an alternative choice of fruit for strawberry haters.  It was a huge undertaking, bigger than before as we were catering for one hundred, but nothing major seemed to go wrong and if anything we over rather than undercatered.   

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Our trip to Paris was wonderful, falling at the very end of the month and into early June.  My favourite food memories have to be of some of our lunchtime snacks, eaten outdoors in the Parisien sunshine.  A wonderful crusty tuna filled baguette and a (shared) thick wedge of tarte Normande, filled with sweet vanilla custard and topped with apple, from a bakery in the Marais.  Still warm slices of Tarte Provencale and Tarte aux Pistou (Vegetables and a basil mixture, Pesto in Italian) followed by Tarte aux Pistache (with pear), a variation of our favourite French pear and almond pastry.  It had not occurred to me that other types of ground nut could be substituted for the almond that is most commonly used in recipes, giving a completely different finished article.  The pistachio was wonderful!  Definitely food for thought – and experimentation.     

May Recipes

Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale      

Herrings (or Mackerel) in Oatmeal with Bacon
North African Style Fish Fillets
Smoked Haddock, Cheese & Tomato Bake
White Fish with Chorizo, Butter Beans & Red Pepper  

Honeyed Banana Ice Cream with Nuts
Tropical Banana & Chocolate Crumble    

Banana & Coconut Flapjack
Banana & Date Cake  

Read Meanderings ‘a la carte’ from previous months    

‘For what we are about to receive…’ June 2010 and beyond

Food Focus – Far Eastern influenced foods & summer desserts
Recipe Book(s) used:
…from my shelf
– Amongst the many books I will be dipping into will be Hot & Spicy Cooking: Exciting Ideas for Delicious Meals with recipes by Judith Ferguson, Lalita Ahmed and Carolyn Garner.  I love this book, which has a combination of spicy meals from the Indian sub-continent and the far east. 
…from the library – I have been enjoying reading Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey and watching repeated episodes of the series.  There are a lot of delicious recipes but how many I shall actually make I’m not too sure.  I can get hold of many of the unusual ingredients and have a quite a few already, but some are just too difficult to find – or expensive.     

As, hopefully, the weather improves with the evenings getting longer my thoughts tend to turn towards lighter more summery food.  With summer comes holidays, of course, with a few days break on the Kent coast to look forward to before our annual extended visit to France in August.  I am not sure what I will be eating in Kent, but I expect that some traditional fish and chips will be on the menu one day.    

Happy Cooking & Eating!

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This ice cream is a great way to use up brown and mottled overripe bananas.  They may be past their best for eating, but they are ideal for cooking as their natural sweetness increases as they age.  Honey adds additional sweetness with the lemon counteracting this slightly.  The nuts – I used flaked almonds – add a lovely crunch.  I used runny honey rather than set, which I did not have, doubled the amount of cream (by mistake!) and used just one whipped egg white, which seemed ample.  The quantity overfilled a 500g ice cream tub.  Next time I would add just half a tub of cream as originally specified – 150ml/¼pint!

Last year I borrowed a fairly comprehensive, as I thought, ice cream book from the library and eventually bought myself a copy (Making Ice Cream & Iced Desserts by Joanna Farrow & Sara Lewis).  However, I found another book in a charity shop called, simply, Ice Creams, published by Hamlyn (there is no named author).  It contained some lovely and unusual ideas and I just had to have it as well.  This recipe is one of the first that attracted me to the ‘must-have’ slim paperback.

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Honeyed Banana Ice Cream with Nuts
(Serves 4-6)

500g/1lb bananas, peeled (a little extra is fine rather than waste fruit)
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp honey
150ml/¼pint natural yoghurt
50g/2ozs chopped nuts (flaked almonds are ideal)
150ml/¼pint double cream – whipping for Ice Cream machine (Elmlea half fat)
1 egg white

1.  Put the lemon juice in a bowl, add the banana pieces and mash together well.  The lemon stops the banana from browning.

2.  Stir in the honey and yoghurt and mix well.

3.  Ice Cream maker:
a.  Whisk the whipping cream lightly until the whisk leaves a trail when lifted but not too stiffly as it will be difficult to combine, especially if using a machine.
b.  Combine with the banana and honey mixture.
c.  Pour into the machine and churn for 10-15 minutes until thick gradually introducing the nut pieces through the hole.
d.  Lightly whip the egg white and spoon into the ice cream machine as it mixes.
e.  Tip into loaf tin or container, cover with cling film or a lid and freeze for at least 6 hours.

4. By hand:
a.  Whisk the double cream lightly until the whisk leaves a trail when lifted. 
b.  Combine with the banana and honey mixture and stir in the pieces of nut.
c.  Tip into loaf tin or container, cover with cling film or a lid and freeze until partly set. d. Lightly whip the egg white.  Remove the partly frozen ice cream from the freezer and fold into the banana mixture. 
e.  Freeze until set.

5.  To serve:
Defrost in the fridge before serving: this can take up to 1 hour depending on the type of ice cream.  Dip the serving spoon or scoop in boiling water to help it cut through the ice cream if it is a little hard.

Serve the ice cream with a sliced fresh banana and a drizzle of Dulce de Leche (pictured),  or similar toffee pouring sauce or alternatively some runny honey.

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This delicious sounding recipe caught my eye some years ago when I was leafing through a cookbook that my mother-in-law had been given for Christmas.  I think the attraction was partly due to its simplicity and partly because of the way the bacon adds extra flavour to the herring.

The book in question was Taste of the Sea by Rick Stein.  I scribbled the recipe down as it was not too complicated and we enjoyed it the following week.  I have made it on a number of occasions since, finding that it tastes equally as good when mackerel fillets, which are often a bit larger, are substituted for the herring.  The bacon really does add a lovely flavour and this recipe would not be the same without it.  It is delicious when served with a creamy mild mustard sauce or mild mustard mayonnaise (such as Dijonnaise) and accompanied with simple boiled, preferably new, potatoes, green vegetables or salad.

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Herrings (or Mackerel) in Oatmeal with Bacon
(Serves 4)

4 x  herring or mackerel fillets (around 225g/8oz each)
100g/4oz oatmeal
25ml/1fl oz vegetable oil
4 rashers streaky bacon, cut into thin strips (or 100g/4ozs bacon pieces)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1.  Fillet the herrings or mackerel.

2.  Place the oatmeal into a shallow bowl.  Season each fillet and dip in oatmeal, pressing it onto the fish as much as possible until each piece is well covered.

3.  Heat the oil in a frying pan.  Fry the pieces of bacon until crisp. Remove the pieces from the pan, leaving behind as much bacon fat as possible and keep warm.

4.  Place the fillets, flesh side downwards, in the bacon flavoured oil and gently fry them in the same pan oil.  Turn once and continue to cook until golden brown on both sides.  Try to avoid losing too much oatmeal covering.

5.  Serve the fillets with the bacon sprinkled over the top along with lemon wedges.  Good accompanied with boiled, preferably new, potatoes with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a side salad.  A spoonful of mustard flavoured mayonnaise – or Dijonnaise sauce – is a delicious accompaniment.

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Around Easter, when I was searching for a recipe for Chocolate Rice Krispie Nests, the clearest recipe and the one I eventually used came from the Netmums site.  Another recipe there, for Banana Flapjacks, caught my eye and I made a mental note to try it out. Flapjacks are so simple to make: in less than 45 minutes I had a wonderful smelling batch cooling on a wire rack.  These are ideal lunch box fillers.  I made a mental note to make a larger quantity in the future: somehow 8 or 10 bars is not really enough for a hungry family! 

The original of this recipe, Banana Flapjacks, was contributed by Anne at NetmumsIt is certainly a great way to use up ripe bananas.  I have adapted it a little, adding dessicated coconut which we love and combines really well with the banana.  It is certainly worth doubling the original recipe.  Why not make two trays: one flavoured with coconut plus another with cocoa powder (an alternative suggested in the original recipe) or by replacing the sultanas with chocolate chips, a different dried fruit or nut.  (See additional recipe below.)

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Banana & Coconut Flapjack

(Makes 8-10 pieces)

40g/1½ozs butter
60g/2½ozs demerara or soft brown sugar
1tbsp golden syrup
225g/8ozs porridge oats
50g/2ozs raisins (halve quantity if dividing mixture to make two flavours)
2 small bananas
15g/½oz dessicated coconut (optional)

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6.  Lightly grease a baking tray around 15cm x 20cm/6 inches x8 inches.  (Foil trays from shop bought flapjacks are ideal.)

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave in a microwave proof bowl. Stir in the sugar and golden syrup. Stir well. (If using a microwave it is better to melt in several short bursts of heat until the butter is just melted to avoid overheating.)

3. Mash the bananas well.  Mix into the butter/sugar/syrup mixture along with the oats.

4.  The raisins should be added at this point. 
(Alternatively two different flavours of flapjack can be made.  The above ingredients should be doubled and the resulting mixture halved, finishing each half differently: 
To the first half add raisins and the dessicated coconut (if using).
To the second half add 1tbsp cocoa powder: with either chocolate chips or more raisins – or something else, as you wish).

5.  Spread into the greased baking tray and flatten well with a fork.

6.  Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 mins until slightly brown.

7.  Leave to cool slightly, carefully remove from the baking/foil tray, cut into squares or fingers and leave to cool on a wire rack.

8.  Store in an airtight box or tin.

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Choc-Nut Banana Flapjack
Use above recipe omitting raisins & coconut:

2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved (or more)
50g/2oz roughly chopped hazelnuts

Eat quickly as the nuts soften and deteriorate and we felt did not keep very well.

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Choc-Cherry Banana Flapjack
Use above recipe omitting raisins & coconut:

25g/1oz dark chocolate
  (chopped or chips) 
2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved
50g/2ozs chopped glace cherries




Thoughts on other possible alternative combinations (untried):

Double Chocolate & Banana – add:
2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved (or more)
50g/2ozs chocolate chips (in place of raisins)

Chocolate, Ginger & Banana – add:
2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved (or more)
50g/2ozs chopped crystallised or stem ginger (in place of raisins)

Apricot-Ginger & Banana – add:
3ozs of crystallised ginger and chopped dried apricots (in place of raisins)

Date-Ginger & Banana – add:
30zs crystallised ginger and chopped dates (in place of raisins)

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The inspiration for this colourful recipe was provided some years ago by a contestant on the BBC programme Masterchef.  The contestant did not win: actually I think that he or she may not have progressed to the next round of the competition, however we all thought the dish produced was a winner.  I cooked it the very next day and it was delicious – and then forgot about it.  Why I did not write anything down I don’t know!  Several months later we remembered it again, but not the exact ingredients, so this recipe is a guess – and I think I have remembered fairly well, though have possibly added some ingredients not in the original.  Anyway, irrespective of how true it was, we are happy with the result.

If anyone has any information on the original Masterchef recipe or chef I would love to know – I think it was the 2008 competition initial heats. The combination of white fish, butter beans and pepper is really well complemented by the chorizo.  A little smoked or unsmoked bacon could be added as well for extra flavour.  As an alternative, the fish can be cut into pieces and mixed in with the vegetable mixture and either transferred to the oven as below or finished on the stove top. The chorizo and peppers give this dish a Spanish flavour and in the Basque country bakaiļao (bacalao – Spanish) or Salt Cod is often used, although I have not used it myself.  Salted cod should be soaked for at least 2 hours before draining and using and the dish may need little or no added salt.  See also my post on making Salt Fish at home.

100_4860 Fish w chorizo, b beans & peppers

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White Fish with Chorizo, Butter Beans & Red Pepper
(Serves 4)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
100g/4ozs bacon (smoked or unsmoked – personal preference)
50g/2ozs chorizo, diced
1 large red pepper, deseeded and chopped
400g/14oz tin of butter beans, drained and rinsed
4  tomatoes, quartered (can use tinned plum tomatoes if fresh not available)
4 pieces white fish (I used pollack, but another type can be substituted)
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
A little more olive oil to drizzle
Salt & black pepper
Chopped parsley to serve

1.  Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.

2.  Gently fry the diced onion and bacon together in the olive oil until the onion is transparent.  Add the diced chorizo, chopped red pepper, butter beans and tomatoes and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  Season to taste.

3.  Tip the vegetable mixture into a large shallow dish and place the pieces of fish on top in a single layer.  Add the lemon juice with a drizzle of olive oil and scatter over  the zest.

4.  Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through, uncovering the dish for the final 5 minutes of cooking time.

6.  Serve the fish on top of the mixed vegetables, sprinkled with a little reserved lemon zest, chopped parsley and accompanied with a side salad and crusty bread.

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At our regular church Sunday lunches, a roast dinner with all the trimmings has been followed by a ‘proper’ pudding: a selection of fruit crumbles, which are both easy to make and tasty.  It has been interesting to see what variations people have brought and one of the most unusual and popular has been a chocolate and banana crumble with a nutty topping.  (I have previously written about crumbles and have been collecting ideas for alternative toppings: see Basic Recipe: Sweet Crumble Mixtures.)

That was back in early February and a short while later I discovered a small recipe card in Sainsburys supermarket with a fairly similar recipe called Choc-banana Crumble, (also here) recommended as a Mothering Sunday treat. It was also part of the 2010 Fairtrade fortnight campaign (22 February – 7 March) encouraging consumers to change one or more shopping item in their basket to a Fairly Traded alternative, as the recipe includes Fairly Traded ingredients: chocolate powder, bananas, sugar and nuts. (The Fairtrade Foundation seeks to promote justice and sustainable development, encouraging consumers to buy Fairly Traded items to give a fair deal to marginalised producers in developing countries.)  When I made the Sainsbury version we found it rather dry but the second time I improved this by adding orange zest and juice, which also stopped the bananas from browning.  The orange, along with dessicated coconut, also added much more depth to the flavour.  Pineapple juice (not very popular in our house, which is why I did not choose it) would make a good alternative to the orange juice, making this crumble even more tropical.  The bananas need to be fairly ripe: I have used underripe bananas but they did not soften properly and made the dish seem flavourless.

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Tropical Banana & Chocolate Crumble
(Serves 6) 

6 Fairtrade bananas, fairly ripe – reserve a few slices to decorate
100g/3½ozs plain flour
80g/2½ozs chilled butter, cut into small cubes
40g/1½oz Fairtrade drinking chocolate
25g/1oz Fairtrade Demerara sugar
50g/2ozs Fairtrade Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
50g/2oz Fairtrade Dessicated coconut
1 large orange, juice and zest – reserve a few strands of zest to decorate

1.  Preheat the oven to 190ºC/170ºC Fan/370oF/Gas 5.

2.  Put the sifted flour, chilled butter, drinking chocolate and sugar in a bowl. Using fingertips, rub the mixture together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the nuts and half of the dessicated coconut.

3.  Peel and slice the bananas and reserve a few slices for decoration. Arrange them in the base of a large shallow ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle with orange zest (reserving a few strands to decorate), the remaining dessicated coconut and pour over the orange juice.

4.  Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the bananas.  Decorate with the sliced banana and zest strands

5.  Bake the dish for about 20 minutes or until piping hot.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. 

6.  Serve with crème fraîche, cream or warm custard.

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Every so often there is a good recipe on the back of a packet of food that is worth trying out.  This is just such a one.  It proved to be as straightforward as it seemed and was an instant hit with my family: we ate it two weeks running after a repeat was requested.  This is a very colourful dish and has plenty of flavour, with the strong flavour of the smoked fish delicious in combination with the onion and tomato, while the rosemary gives an unusual fragrance.  Actually, the flavour was not unlike the smokiness of bacon.  Smoked fish is often served at breakfast or brunch and this would be an unusual and interesting recipe to serve at that meal. 

The original recipe for Smoked Haddock, Cheese and Tomato Bake came from a packet of Youngs Smoked Haddock and a visit to Youngs Seafood website, advertised on the packaging, led me to a host of other good recipes. I have amended some of the quantities and proportions of ingredients in the original recipe but it is broadly the same.  I do not think the recipe needs any additional salt, but be aware that this depends on the saltiness of the fish and personal preference.  The recipe also recommends using very ripe plum tomatoes if they are available as they give added sweetness to the dish, though other varieties can be used.  I usually add a half teaspoon of sugar to savoury dishes which contain tomato as this helps to counter any acidity in the tomatoes and also gives a little extra sweetness, although this is not detectable.

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Smoked Haddock, Cheese & Tomato Bake
(Serves 4)

375g/12ozs skinless & boneless Smoked Haddock Fillet
3-4 red Onions, sliced
6-8 ripe Tomatoes, Plum if available, quartered
 ½tsp sugar
2 Garlic Cloves, peeled & crushed
2-3 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
½ of a 125g/4oz ball Mozzarella cheese, sliced (freeze remainder for next time!)
50g/2ozs grated Mature Cheddar Cheese
Olive Oil
Freshly ground Black Pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.

2.  Gently sauté red onions, garlic and tomato quarters in olive oil in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes until tomatoes have softened.  Stir in the sugar and season lightly with black pepper.

3.  Pour the onion and tomato mixture evenly into the bottom of an ovenproof dish.  Place the pieces of Smoked Haddock on top. Season with a little more black pepper.  (Salt can be added, although this is not really necessary as the smoked haddock has already been salted.)

3.  Place the pieces of Mozzarella evenly over the fish and then sprinkle the grated cheese generously over the top.

4.  Place the sprigs of Rosemary evenly top and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

5.  Stand the dish on a baking tray.  Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes covered and then a further 10 minutes with the foil removed, or until golden brown.

6.  A Cucumber & Mint salad makes a refreshing accompaniment and is good as part of a larger green leaf and tomato salad.  Serve with crusty bread.  Alternatively serve the with peas and some minted new potatoes, plus the the cucumber & mint salad.

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It is rare for me to walk into a supermarket on one day, pick up their free magazine, then make one of the recipes the next.  I usually have so many other recipes in mind that any new ones take their place in the inevitable queue.  However, I had been planning to make a Banana Cake for some time so when I saw this I not only had the intention but also all the ingredients, including some very brown bananas.  These overripe ones are ideal for baking: their natural sweetness develops as they age and mine were well past their eating best.

The recipe comes from the May 2010 edition of the ASDA free instore magazine: if you hurry you may still be able to pick up a copy, but I find they disappear like hot cakes (ho! ho!) and I often have problems getting hold of one.  Never mind, this recipe for Banana & Date Cake is also available online, along with a selection of other delicious sounding ideas for cooking with bananas.  For the record, I increased the amount of banana slightly without any problem.  I’m not keen on rum so I used the alternative of orange juice for soaking the dates: my husband suggested using Southern Comfort, which is an interesting idea.  This is a recipe I shall be making again (and again) so I think an alcoholic version would be good.  I have made banana and walnut bread in the past so I would like to try adding nuts or other dried fruit in place of the dates or even chocolate chunks (omitting Stage 2, the heating and soaking, of course).  I used my favourite loaf tin in place of the originally suggested square pan, however I felt that the cake was a little undercooked in the centre while being quite dark in colour outside, though not too bad.  (Next time I will reduce the oven temperature a little and allow a longer slower cooking.  Please be aware of this: I will update the instructions if I find an improvement.)  The cake is supposed to be cut into 24 pieces but they would be rather small: 14-16 pieces is more realistic.

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Banana & Date Cake
(aprox 14-16 pieces)

150g/5½ozs dried stoned dates
4tbsp/60ml orange juice or dark rum 
200g/7ozs very ripe banana (peeled weight)
125g/4½ozs butter, softened
125g/4½ozs sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
2 large free-range eggs (or 2 smaller ones and a yolk)
175g/6¼ozs self-raising flour

1.  Preheat the oven to 180oC/170oC Fan/350oF/Gas 4. Line a 2lb loaf tin or a deep 18cm square cake tin. (See note above about cooking time – may need longer & lower.)

2.  Check that each date has been stoned and cut each into four using kitchen scissors.  Put the date pieces in a small pan, cover with the orange juice (or dark rum) and gently bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat and leave to cool. 

3.  Mash the banana in a bowl with a fork and set aside.

4.  Beat the butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, along with a tablespoon self-raising flour with each one.

5.  Sift in the remaining flour, along with the mashed banana, the dates and their cooking liquid.

6.  Pour the mixture in the lined cake tin, making sure it goes into the corners and the top is level.  Bake for 45-50 minutes.  When it is cooked the top will spring back when it is lightly pressed.

7.  Turn out of the tin, removing the paper and cool on a wire tray.

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Ratatouille Niçoise or Provençale, is usually associated with France, in particular the region of Provençe, however its ingredients and flavours are commonly found throughout the Mediterranean.  I find it makes sense to make an extra large quantity as it freezes well.  This very convenient recipe can use freshly made or frozen (and completely defrosted) Ratatouille.  It can be assembled quickly using frozen white fish and fresh spinach plus the flavourings and seasonings.

The recipe, originally called Moroccan Fish Fillets, was printed on a Sainsbury’s free instore recipe card in the Feed your family for a Fiver series.  I have no idea whether the original recipe is authentically Moroccan, but it did not include any of the seasonings I usually associate with the region.  This is my adaptation of the original recipe adding some of these flavours, hence the name change.  I substituted spinach for the leafy spring greens that were originally suggested, but in a smaller quantity, plus I used home made Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale (with our usual favourite added dried orange peel) in place of the tinned version. (As the home made Ratatouille already contains Herbes de Provence adding mixed herbs is unnecessary.)  Additionally, I added Pickled or Preserved Lemon and Ras el-Hanout spice mixture (my home made version), with sumac powder and fresh coriander to serve.  The original recipe also included a tin of chick peas to be mixed with couscous as part of an accompanying side dish.  This recipe is good when accompanied by my own recipe for Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad.

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North African Style Fish Fillets
(Serves 4)

1 bunch of Spinach (original used Spring greens)
Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale, quantity to feed four
½-1tsp Ras el-Hanout
4 pieces of frozen (or fresh) white fish fillet: pollock, cod or haddock
Slices of Pickled or Preserved Lemon, plus a little of the preserving juice
Olive oil
Salt & black pepper
Sumac powder to sprinkle (to taste)
Fresh coriander, chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/Fan 190oC/400oF/Gas 6.

2.  Chop the spinach, rinse and place, without precooking, in a large ovenproof dish.

3.  Stir the Ras el-Hanout into the Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale and pour over the spinach.

4.  Top with the pieces of frozen fish (no need to de-frost) and top each piece of fish with one or two slices of preserved/pickled lemon.  Spoon a little of the juice from the jar of lemons over each fillet along with a little olive oil. 

5.  Sprinkle with a little sumac powder and season with some salt and black pepper.

6.  Cover with aluminium foil making sure the dish is completely covered so the flavours are sealed in.

7.  Bake for 45 minutes, until the fish is completely cooked through, removing the foil for the last 5 minutes or so.

8.  Serve with a little more sumac and chopped fresh coriander (not dried) sprinkled over, accompanied by couscous.

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Ratatouille Niçoise, also called Ratatouille Provençale, is a traditional dish from the Provence region of France, originating from the Mediterranean town of Nice, after which it gets its proper full name.  Mostly, however, this is shortened to just Ratatouille.  I cannot give a particular source for this recipe, but anyway I consider this version my own!  As with my personal combinations for Chilli con Carne and Ragu Bolognaise, this recipe has altered over the years into the combination of flavours we currently enjoy and it may well continue to develop.

However, following a suggestion in the book Cooking in Provence by Alexander MacKay & Peter Knab my most recent addition has been dried orange peel, which evokes the scent and flavour of the Mediterranean climate. (See information about orange peel in my section on ingredients.)  I once read that true Herbes de Provence should have a little culinary lavender added as well, so if I have some available I add just a little.  (A word of warning: Lavender is said to induce labour and therefore should not be served to anyone who is, or may be, pregnant.)  MacKay & Knab also add cayenne instead of ordinary pepper, which even if used sparingly, gives a gentle spicy kick.  Ratatouille mixture can be eaten as a vegetarian main course on its own, topped with grated parmesan cheese or as a side vegetable dish with grilled meat (gammon steak or pork chops are good).  I also use it in North African Style Fish Fillets, a North African style recipe where the Ratatouille is layered in the bottom of a serving dish as a bed on which fish fillets are baked.  Ratatouille freezes well so it is worth making a larger quantity to store for another time.  It is also surprisingly good cold and the flavours develop more if left overnight in the fridge.  Left over Ratatouille can also be included in a home made mixed leftovers soup, a tasty and economical midweek lunch.  All quantities given in the recipe below should be considered as a rough guide and can be altered to suit personal taste.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Special Ratatouille
(Serves 4-6 depending on size of vegetables)

1 large aubergine, quartered lengthwise & cut into chunks
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, red or white (more if you like onion)
2 cloves garlic
4ozs/110g mushrooms, quartered or sliced depending on size
2 large courgettes, quartered lengthwise & cut into chunks
1tbsp tomato purée
14oz/400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped
8ozs/225g fresh tomatoes & a little water
1tbsp herbes de provence
1tbsp dried orange rind
½tsp sugar
2 peppers – red, yellow or orange are preferable, sliced
½tsp chopped fresh basil plus a little to garnish (optional)
Salt & ground black pepper (or cayenne pepper)

1.  Layer the aubergine slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt.  Cover with a plate that fits within the colander, add a weight (a tin of beans or fruit) and leave to one side.

2.  Halve and slice the onion(s) and finely chop the garlic.  Cook the onion, garlic and mushroom in olive oil over a low heat until the onion is transparent and soft.

3.  Mix in the tomato purée and well chopped tomatoes (plus a little water if using fresh tomatoes).  Stir in the herbs, dried orange rind, sugar and, if using, lavender and/or cayenne pepper.  Bring to the boil.

4.  Stir in the courgette and peppers with the rinsed courgette.  Add the fresh basil if using.  Season to taste.  Reduce the heat, cover and cook gently for at least 30 minutes. 
It is often considered preferable to cook Ratatouille in the oven with a longer cooking time recommended to allow the flavours to fully develop.  Rather than cooking on the stove top, Ratatouille can be transferred to an lidded ovenproof dish and cooked in a low oven at 170oC/325oF/Gas 3 for about 1 hour.  It is important, though, for the individual pieces of vegetable retain their shape rather than turning mushy. 

5.  However it is cooked, check from time to time adding a little extra water if necessary.

6.  Check seasoning.  Drizzle with a little extra olive oil, garnish with chopped basil and some strands of dried orange rind before serving (optional) .

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