Belated Valentines

Pork Chops with Braised Fennel

Wednesday was a write off, most of last week and this week has been.  My plan for Valentines dinner turned out to be the same as everyone elses – Steak, not very imaginative I admit.  Our local butcher closes at lunchtime on a Wednesday, I can still remember when a lot of shops did.  Springing a request for an ingredient needed for school cookery class on my Mother on a Wednesday afternoon was not met with joy on her part!

The baby, and myself, have definitely not been on our A game this week and so by the time we got out of the house on Wednesday the butcher would have been long packed up and gone, the next best call locally, Aldi, had completely sold out of steaks!  Walking through Aldi’s car park always brings a wry smile at the discarded waitrose coffee cups in the Aldi trolleys!  Only round here would people go to Waitrose for their free coffee and drink it whilst doing their actual shopping in Aldi!

Steakless but armed with a fennel and a plan we returned home.

The day was catching up with me and our quick and easy steak dinner was off.  A get out of jail free card in the form of bolognese from the freezer stood in for our Valentines dinner.  Thursday night I made more of an effort with a pork chop accompanied by this braised fennel dish and it was as good as any steak dinner.

I first came across this on a course I did with Rosemary Shrager, name drop moment, I did two courses with her!  The original method has been lost in the memories of time and partly adapted with a bit of Simon Hopkinson’s version.


Braised Fennel

  • 1 Large Fennel
  • 40g butter
  • Chicken or Veg stock – enough to cover the fennel, about 200ml
  • A Smallish glass of white wine – if it’s really good wine drink it and leave out of the recipe!
  • 2 good handfulls of grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Trim the very tips of the fennel and then cut the “fingers” off completely.  Slice the fennel into slices about 1cm thick.

You want a fairly flattish wide pan so you can lay the slices in a thin layer.  Cover with wine, if using and stock.  Simmer gently for 10 mins.

Remove the slices to an oven proof dish, arranging in a flat layer if possible.  Put the trimmed “fingers” and any of the tougher outerparts of the fennel in a blender, nutribullet, or a jug if using a stick blender.  Whilst doing this cut out the tough triangular core part of the slices and add these to the blender too.

To the trimmings add the butter, a handful of parmesan cheese and about 70ml of the stock.  Blitz.  If using a nutribullet or similar allow the liquid to cool first, never blitz hot liquid in a sealed container!!

Taste the now creamy liquid and season to taste.  Pour over the fennel.  This can all be done in advance up to this point. I love get ahead dishes.

When ready to cook, sprinkle over the rest of the parmesan and bake in the oven, 170 fan, for 20 mins or until golden and bubbling.

I think this goes perfectly with pork.  I was originally taught the dish to accompany guinea fowl and it’s also great with fish.  I’d eat it with most things.

Pork Chops A good pork chop needs nothing more than a rub with some oil, the rind snipping at 1cm intervals to prevent the fat curling, some salt and pepper and a hot griddle pan.  Pay attention to making sure the fat has enough contact with the pan to crisp up.  I love the fat from a pork chop, my husband does not.


Weaning is not going well with the baby, she refuses to let us spoon feed her purees, she will accept finger foods and nibble on them but not enough to actually eat anything.  She does appear to like gnawing and sucking on a chop bone though!!  (I’d checked for sharp edges) It appears we have a cavebaby!!!



The Nutrition Bit


Pork is a great meat, an unappreciated meat I think, more valued for its junk food / processed food opportunities that as a healthy alternative to chicken, beef or lamb.  So lets not be comparing pork to processed piggies!

Fats – It has more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats than saturated fats, therefore, as part of a balanced diet, pork can help lower cholesterol.

B Vitamins – it’s a good source of B vitamins, specifically B1, B2 and B3 (thiamine, riboflavin and niacin) and B12 these are all good energy regulators and help with muscle repair and growth.

Iron – half the iron in pork is heam iron, the most readily absorbed dietary iron.  When I was pregnant I didn’t have many cravings but pork was one.

Soure of Potassium, Magnesium and Zinc.


Digestion – Fennel is well know for helping ease digestive complaints.  It contains Anethol, an anti-inflammatory which reduces the chemical signals released by white blood cells which encourage localised inflammation.  Anethol is also an anti-spasmodic and carminative, reducing and regulation contractions of the gut wall making it beneficial for abdominal cramps and IBS.  The carminative properties disperse and reduce gas.

Hormone Regulator -Fennel contains phyto-oestrogens, plant chemicals which are similar to the female hormone oestrogen.  These can make the body think there is more oestrogen than there is where levels are too low or it can bind to natural oestrogen reducing it’s impact where levels are too high.  This makes it especially good for menopause and pre-menopause issues.

Diuretic – it aids the kidneys in the removal of waste and so helping with water retention and bloating.  It can also be beneficial for kidney stones, gout and liver disorders.

Anti-Parasitic – The volatile essential oil, anethol, can be effective against worms and parasites.

Coughs and Colds – used in a syrup fennel can help ease coughs and colds by thinning mucous.

Milk Production – fennel is thought to help with milk production for nursing mothers.

Source of Potassium, fibre, vitamins B and folate.



Dish Of The Month Challenge – January


IMG_0223A few years ago in another life, on another blog, I took part in a Nigel Slater dish of the month challenge.  The challenge was to cook a dish from each month from his Kitchen Diaries II book.  I made it as far as June.  Since then, and this also goes back a year or two, I was gifted, by my brother, Nigel Slater’s A year of good eating book, Kitchen Diaries III.  At the time I had a fairly good look though it, I hold my hands up I didn’t get round to actually reading it and certainly didn’t cook anything from it.  So, this year I am challenging myself to complete the dish of the month challenge, this time with The year of good eating book.


I nearly fell at the first fence when I realised I only had a day left of the month, and I realise this post will hit February.  Picking a January recipe was easy, the smoked mackerel and beetroot fishcakes were definitely one to be tried, not least because I had all the ingredients!  I’d bought the smoked mackerel with an idea to make a potato and egg salad for lunch one day and the beetroot for a kale and beet smoothie one morning.  Beetro

ot redeployed I’m now off the hook for the smoothie!!!  I didn’t have fresh horseradish so used a teaspoon of the creamed horseradish I had in the fridge.

I love fishcakes and have had probably as many misses as hits when making them in the search for the ultimate fishcake.  This version, definitely a hit!  A keeper!  I probably needed to dry out my grated beetroot a bit more as despite heeding the instructions to only briefly fold in the beetroot to avoid turning the mash pink, my mash was pretty pink.  And his advice not to move the fishcakes in the pan for the 6 minutes a side should be followed, I turned one too soon to my cost.

I’ve never had a pan big enough to produce enough fishcakes for us both at the same time so I alway

s brown them in the pan first then transfer to a baking tray, brown the rest and then heat them all through together in the oven.

There are various suggestions for sauces but as I was going off what I already had in I mixed some natural yogurt with some of the creamed horseradish.

As if being quick and easy to make and incredibly tasty isn’t enough reason to try these check out the benefits of beetroot and smoked mackerel!

The Nutrition Bit


  • Beetroot offers great support for the liver, so perfect to pack into our January diets if you’ve overindulged during the festive period!  The deep, purple pigment, betacyanin, helps to stimulate a process called “phase 2 detoxification” breaking down toxins more efficiently.  It can also help in the production of bile which can further help the removal of toxins, although be careful if you suffer from gallstones.
  • Supporting liver function also benefits our skin, if the liver is overburdened the skin is used as an alternative to eliminate toxins, aggravating conditions such as eczema.
  • Beetroot also has a beneficial effect on blood pressure.  It is high in natural nitrates which the body converts into nitric oxide, a powerful vasodilator which widens the blood vessels.
  • There is also a school of thought that it is an anti-cancer food, increasing the production of the body’s own cancer preventing chemical, glutathione-s-transferase protecting cells from damage.
  • It contains a compound, zeaxanthin which protects our fatty subcutaneous tissue from free radical damage helping to prevent the skin from becoming saggy and dull.
  • B Vitamins helping to improve nerve function.
  • Iron and antioxidants purifying the blood and improving oxygen uptake, good for anyone suffering with anemia.
  • Antioxidants – have you heard of the ORAC score? this is used to measure the total antioxidant power of foods.  Beetroot comes in at 840, higher than red peppers, oranges and carrots, but trumped by blueberries, strawberries and spinach.
  • Potassium – modern diets are throwing out our sodium/potassium balance leading to water retention and hardening of the blood vessels.  Tipping the balance in favour of potassium can have the opposite effect.


  • Mackerel is incredibly high in omega-3 fatty acids, these help the body to produce its own anti-inflammatory compounds making it great for arthritis, eczema and asthma sufferers.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids also have a positive effect on cholesterol and can protect blood vessel walls from damage.
  • reasearch has shown Omega-3 fatty acids can have the same effect as the anti-depressant Prozac by increasing serotonin.
  • There is some evidence eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids three times a week can help with Alzheimer’s
  • it is high in vitamin D, vital for the body to utilise calcium and so it is good for the prevention of conditions such as osteoporosis.
  • Vitamin D has also been shown to play a role in mental and emotional functions, immune regulation, fat metabolism and protection against some cancers.  The main source of vitamin D is the conversion of cholesterol when our skin is exposed to sunlight.  A regular intake of oily fish during the winter months can therefore be very beneficial!
  • Also contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, E and K.  Calcium, potassium, selenium and magnesium helping to regulate metabolism and therefore blood sugar and cholesterol levels