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

The Breakfast Edit – Part 2

So this is a bold statement, but, for egg lovers, if there is one recipe you take from this blog the 2 minute jam jar hollandaise recipe in this post is the one to take!  For the non egg lovers I hope to convert you!


Last week was all about the oats and how great they are to fire the day off, this week it’s all about the eggs.  For me they are the ultimate convenience food, fast, versatile and nutritious!  Great for anytime of the day but with evidence showing a protein rich breakfast improves mental performance throughout the day these protein packed powerhouses are perfect to start the day.

Go To Work On An Egg was the slogan!

If you need anymore convincing about these little powerhouses make sure you read “The Nutrition Bit”

2 Minute Jam Jar Hollandaise

1 Jam Jar – 2 Egg Yolks – 2 Tsp Lemon Juice – 50g Butter – Black Pepper/Pinch Cayenne Pepper (optional)

  • Melt the butter and leave it to cool slightly (butter packs such as Country Life have handy markings on the pack so no scales required).
  • Put the lemon juice (2tsp is approximately half and lemon) and egg yolks in your jam jar, screw lid on and shake for 30 secs.
  • Add half the warm butter, lid on and shake 30 secs, add the rest of the butter, lid on and shake.
  • Add black pepper and/or cayenne pepper + a pinch of salt if you like and your hollandaise is done!
  • When you are ready to serve I stand the jar in a jug of warm water, not too hot or you’ll scramble the egg, it can also be gently heated in a microwave, or pan, again not to fast and harsh or you’ll end up with scrambled egg at best, a rubber ball at worst.

Obviously this is a raw egg sauce so usual precautions should be taken if you choose to take heed of the warnings.

Add tarragon and a smidge of Dijon mustard for a béarnaise sauce to serve with steak.


Poached Eggs

I love mine served over a toasted muffin, wilted spinach, poached egg and crisp prosciutto.

For a simpler midweek breakfast you can’t beat a poached egg on toast, and once you’ve got your head around poaching your eggs in advance to reheat breakfast becomes even simpler!  When I had a “proper” job there was no way I could have started my morning with the stress of poaching an egg, the will it won’t it disintegrate gamble could ruin the day before it started! So doing them the night before works brilliantly.

For a really good poached egg you need really fresh eggs, something you just cannot get with supermarket eggs which are usually a few weeks old at best!  If these are all you can get there are a few ways to stack the odds in your favour – use the little poach pods or line a small mug with some lightly oiled clingfilm, crack your egg into it, twist the cling film to seal tightly and poach this way.  I am not a huge fan of cooking in plastic but it’s an individual choice. Some say add vinegar to your water, others crack the egg into a sieve to strain off the watery part of the white you get with older eggs.

Fill a large jug or container with cold water.  Poach your eggs for 3-4 minutes, just enough to set the whites, remove and place into the cold water to stop the cooking process.  Cover your chosen container and keep the eggs in the fridge.  Your poached eggs can keep up to 2-3 days like this before reheating.

To reheat you can bring a pan of water to a simmer and add your eggs for a minute or two, or to save on the washing up I boil the kettle, fill a mug and pop the egg in there for a minute or two.  Remove and serve as you wish.

Scrambled Eggs

This really is a quick fix favourite of mine.  Two eggs does it for me, whisked up with some creme fraiche or cream cheese, plenty of pepper and a sprinkle of salt.  I think eggs need salt!  A knob of butter in a pan, add the eggs and scramble.  You can add chopped herbs, a bit of chopped ham or bacon, smoked salmon or even a little cheese.  If in a rush I eat straight from the pan!  Other days more leisurely atop some toast.

And then there are boiled eggs, omelettes and the wonderful coddled eggs.


The Nutrition Bit

Vitamin A – Retinol, great for supporting skin structures such as collagen

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin, a deficiency in this can leave skin looking dull and those dry patches start to appear.  That cracking at the corners of the mouth we get when we are run down, B2 deficiency!  I had this a couple of weeks ago which then flared up into a cold sore.

Vitamin B12 – Essential for nerve function.

Vitamin D – necessary for healthy bones and teeth

Antioxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthin – linked to reducing age related macular degeneration, loss of vision as we get older!

Choline – Helps to move cholesterol through the blood stream and aids in fat metabolism, can be helpful in reducing the accumulation of fat in the liver.  Important for early brain development, it may also improve memory in later life and help repair some types of neurological damage.  Links have been made to treatment and prevention of alzheimer’s and dementia.

Sulphur – that eggy smell!  But it’s an important nutrient for the structure and ageing of the skin!

Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Good quality eggs provide these, even more reason to avoid cheap, low welfare eggs.  Omega 3 is great for helping the body to produce its own natural anti-inflammatory compounds lowering the risk of heart disease and strokes..

Amino Acids – Eggs contain all the essential amino acids particularly tryptophan and tyrosine that help prevent cancer and heart disease.

The Cholesterol Thing – the idea that eggs are “bad for our cholesterol” has now been dismissed, in fact evidence suggests that egg proteins are converted into peptides that help lower blood pressure and most of the fat in eggs is mono and polyunsaturated fat and other fatty acids, phospholipids, which actually help reduce the absorption of cholesterol!


Eggs for Sunday Brunch?  How do you eat yours?