Well the time has finally arrived. My daughter’s GCSE exams have started, so as you can imagine the stress levels in our house are through the roof. It seems hard to comprehend that she has come to this point already. Through my happy tears at her Leavers’ Assembly, I found it hard to process the fact that she has become this rather wonderful young adult when it seems like yesterday that she stood proudly in the playground on her first day at school, with her unruly hair in braids and fiercely clutching her brand new book bag.
I have asked several friends how to cope with the stress and what I should be doing as a parent to alleviate the symptoms, though clearly I can do nothing about the cause. I read somewhere that whatever you say as a parent will be wrong. If you seem very caring and interested in what they are doing and get involved in revision, you are stifling them and poking your nose in and you couldn’t possibly understand. If you try and stay out of it you are accused of not caring. So parents should just accept that whatever you say will be wrong and get used to the sound of slamming doors.
My friend Sue from the Lemon Tree explained that her strategy with her son Harry was just to feed him. That was the best thing she could do to support him with his workload. This sounded like a good idea to me so I am planning to cook all the things that Lily likes and that I think will help her work and function as effectively as possible. We’re always told that fish is great brain food, and it’s not always the easiest thing to get our children to eat, so I thought I would share my family fish pie recipe with you. It’s got all that lovely fish, but couched in a wonderful cheesey mash and a silky parsley sauce which makes it one of my all-time favourite comfort foods too. I’ve used white fish, salmon and prawns in my recipe, as the children are not mad-keen on smoked fish, but some lovely smoked haddock in the fish mix also works a treat.
Here’s the recipe for you. If you are one of those households supporting stressed-out, exam-crazed teenagers, give it a go and hopefully it will allow them to relax for a minute, get some good fuel inside them before they launch back into the study and revision. Good luck to them all!
Ingredients (serves 4)
300g salmon fillet
300g white fish (cod or haddock)
125g raw large prawns, peeled and de-veined
1 small onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
50g plain flour
handful of finely chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
200g washed baby spinach (optional)
1 kg potatoes (Maris Piper or King Edward are best)
50g grated mature cheddar cheese
- Heat the milk in a large shallow pan. Heat the milk to just short of boiling – you should just see a few small bubbles around the edges of the pan. Add the fish in large chunks (approx. 4cm) along with the onion and bay leaf and 4 black peppercorns. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8 mins, turning the fish once during that time. Lift the fish onto a plate and strain the milk into a jug to cool. You will need approx. 450ml milk, if there is slightly less top it up with fresh milk. Flake the fish into large pieces in a large ovenproof dish. Then add the raw prawns and mix thoroughly.
- Make the parsley sauce. Melt the butter in a pan very slowly then add the flour and stir well until you have a paste. Add the reserved milk from poaching the fish very gradually, stirring briskly all the time. Keep the heat on and keep stirring until the sauce thickens, this should take about 5 minutes. When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon you can take the pan off the heat, season with salt and pepper and add the finely chopped parsley.
- Scatter the spinach leaves on top of the poached fish, then pour the sauce over the fish mix in the baking dish, making sure the fish and spinach are completely covered in the sauce. Now preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
- Peel and chop the potatoes into big chunks the cook in salted, boiling water until soft and cooked through. This should take 25-30 minutes. Drain off the water and allow the potatoes to dry off in the open pan. Then mash with the butter and 50ml of milk and season well with salt and pepper.
- Finally add the mashed potato to the top of the fish, scatter over the grated cheese and bake in the oven for 40 minutes until golden and bubbling on top. Serve with peas or any steamed green vegetables.