Thursday, December 30, 2010


I was sternly reminded at the Christmas table this year that overfeeding Blue Tits can make for a particularly lazy mating season. Too much pecking at the bird-feeder could result in a reduction in the number of spring-born chicks. I wonder what point they were trying to get across...

Had this person been hinting at something other than the welfare of birds, they were clearly unaware of the large and unforgiving note that reads MAKE NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION in my next year's diary.

But let's be realistic. However loud the call of abstinence from our stomachs between Christmas and New Year, from the warm dent in the sofa we cherish the days left until any solid deals are made. I know not one person who starts trimming down pre-12am on January 1st, and even then it bottles down to a strict diet of Bloody Marys.

I hail the wonderful Diana Henry, then, for her final-binge New Year's pud because January, and not a moment before, is when this tit's giving up...


following Diana Henry's New Year Entertaining recipes in Boxing Day's Stella. p. 41.
Serves 8

14 pitted prunes
100ml Armagnac/ brandy
200g plain chocolate, broken into chunks
110g unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separated
135g soft light-brown sugar
35g plain flour
75g freshly ground walnuts (ground almonds work just as well)
icing sugar for dusting

the cream
300ml whipping or double cream
2 1/2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp Armagnac

Roughly chop the prunes, and put them in a small pan, covering with the Armagnac or brandy. Heat to the boil, and reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Set the prunes aside to plump up for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F/gas mark 5. Put the chocolate and the butter into a heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until melted. Leave to cool a little.

Beat the egg yolks until pale and fluffy.

Sift the flour with the salt, add the walnuts and fold into the beaten yolks, followed by the chocolate and butter mixture. Now stir in the prunes and their soaking liquid.

Beat the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Using a large metal spoon fold 2 tbsps of the beaten whites into the mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest. Scrape the batter into a 20cm (8in) buttered and base-lined loose-bottomed cake tin.

Place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. If the cake feels firm on top and the sides have shrunken away from the tin slightly, it will be ready. The skewer-test doesn't work due to the cake's gooey centre. Leave the cake in the tin to cool completely. When cooled, remove onto a plate.

Whip the cream until it holds shape, then beat slowly while adding the sugar, vanilla and Armagnac. It shouldn't be too sloppy but sit in gentle folds.

Dust the cake with icing sugar or cocoa powder and serve the cream on the side.

A top-of-the-pecking-order cake.

Monday, December 20, 2010


We all make a furious attempt to get present-buying over with quickly and have a few days of uncluttered peace before stuffed turkeys and drunk grannies get the better of us. But with Christmas parties and yuletide drinks ahoy, the precious 'thought that counts' gets scooped up in the constant hangover.

So here's a last minute solution for curing the lingering aches, pleasing the old farts, and saving a bit of shrapnel for the figgy pudding.


80g caster sugar
1 egg
150g salted butter, chopped into small cubes
75g self raising flour
100g ground almonds
60g walnuts, roughly chopped
40g raisins
(1/2 tsp honey optional)

100g white chocolate (preferably G&B's delicious Vanilla White Chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a baking tray or two with baking parchment.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar and egg until smooth. Fold in the flour and ground almonds, followed by the walnuts, raisins and honey. make sure the nuts and raisins are spread evenly through the mixture.

With a teaspoon, scoop equal portions of the cookie mix onto the baking trays, sitting them about 1 cm apart. Put into the pre-heated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes or until they begin to brown at the edges.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water. Do not sit the bowl in the water but rest over. The steam will gently soften the chocolate. When melted, take off the heat and begin to dip half of each cookie in the chocolate. Leave to cool in the fridge for 5 minutes so that the chocolate stiffens onto the biscuit. Try one.

Take about 10 cookies per person and place carefully in a see-through container. I used old plastic pint glasses but jam jars or soup pots look great too. Cut a large square of brightly coloured tissue-paper or cloth and place over the lid of the container. Finally, tie the cloth in place with a piece of string or ribbon and cut off any excess material.

In 30 minutes you'll have yourself a gift worthy of the whole present list and a halo hovering over that throbbing head.

Monday, December 6, 2010


"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."


"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Drizzled with hot tabasco, a little chew and down the gullet in one gulp. This poem used to make me, like the Walrus, weep for the poor helpless oysters of Alice in Wonderland, but after my first shelled'n yesterday, I can only see reason in the actions of the hungry Carpenter. 'Cut us another slice' he says - how could you not?

I'm a seagirl, me, but have waited years for the opportunity of tasting an oyster to come about. It used to confuse me, the hype of oysters. What could be so out of this world about shifting down a green, spineless, globule of wetness? I must profess though, whether or not swayed by the raves of others, the two I had were incredibly special.

My habit for an oyster, I fear, will become an expensive one, but I see it only right that I make it my mission to have at least one plate a year of the wobbly slurps to make up for the decades swallowed without.

For those oyster fanciers of you, please lead me in the right direction so I can 'begin to feed' like the Walrus and the Carpenter...The best you've had, the ones to avoid and the ways to serve. And for pennies sake, those of best value.


Friday, December 3, 2010


Eat it all year round. My basil and garlic pesto.


50 basil leaves: de-stemmed; washed; dried
1 large garlic clove, chopped
60g parmesan/pecorino, chopped
15g pine nuts
large pinch salt
50ml extra virgin olive oil

Blend all the dry ingredients in a food processor or a hand-held whizzer. When mixed, stir in the olive oil a little at a time. Serve with fresh tortelloni, drizzle on hot soup or spread on warm foccaccia. TA DA!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's icy cold, my nose is lobster and I'm wearing tights under my trousers.

An extra layer, at this time of year, is what I like to call a necessaccessory. I'm not just talking about hats, scarves and gloves but a full winter coating of my very own whale blubber. This means following a strict routine of hearty stews, gristly stodge, plenty a mug of tongue-burning cocoa and no holding back. Last night kicked off with a two course bloaty supper; an unforgettable start to fighting off the cold and putting a little fire into an otherwise frozen belly.

Portobello Mushroom stuffed with Parmesan Creamed Spinach.

1 large Portobello mushroom
1 large handful baby spinach
2 tbsps creme fraiche
2 tbsp grated parmesan
pinch ground black pepper
small pinch nutmeg

In a sieve over a pan of boiling water, lightly wilt the spinach. Transfer into a bowl and mix with the creme fraiche, parmesan, nutmeg and pepper. Spoon the spinach onto the underside of the mushroom and place under a hot grill for 5 minutes, or until the creme fraiche has started to brown and the mushroom has wrinkled slightly.

Cut in half and serve for two, or have whole for one. No fuss.

Nigel Slater's Sausage with Lentils
(Taken and lovingly adapted from my most loyal cookbook: Penguin 60s Nigel Slater 30-Minute Suppers)

125g small brown or green lentils
85g smoked bacon, roughly chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, sliced
handful fresh parsley, chopped
pinch black pepper
200g chopped tomatoes
4 good pork sausages (spicy sausages very good)

Rinse the lentils in a sieve under cold running water. Fry the bacon in a pan until the fat runs. Add a little oil if necessary. Fry the onion in the fat or oil for 4-5 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic, cover and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the lentils and enough boiling water to cover them by an inch or so. Cook over a moderate heat and simmer for approx. 20 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, almost all of the parsley and black pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes, and let the liquid evaporate off. As Nigel so geniusly says 'test for doneness'. If they still have a bite, simmer them for another couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the sausages in a pan with a little oil. When they are entirely cooked through, slice and serve on top of a few ladles of the wamed lentil mix in hot bowls - how I like it - or on plates, with a garnish of the remaining parsley...

No need to move but for the cocoa.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


If the bread in the basket is warm and grainy when I go to a restaurant I know I should order a light meal. With a knob of salty butter melting into the holes and dips, there's no holding back and frankly, how could anything that follows be better? I love soggy bread too. Bread and butter pudding, pappa al pomodoro, and another hunk of fresh bread to soak up the soup. And nothing beats cutting into a fresh loaf.

As much as I love bread though, it's easy to forget the effort involved. Hours spent mixing, kneading, waiting, and it's all disappeared before you know it. Which is why Soda bread is my favourite kind of bread; Still the same heavenly smells, still the tingly toes, still the desire to eat it all in one go...but in half the time. No need to knead, leaven, re-knead and re-leaven, just mix and put in the oven.

Cook it just before a dinner party and not only will your guests be fainting from the smell but they won't even notice your starter is shop bought and your main is burnt.


INGREDIENTS for one medium loaf

500g malt bread flour
2tbsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsps grape nuts
1 tbsp oats
200ml milk
300g natural yoghurt
handful mixed seeds

1 small apple, sliced, skin on
1 tbsp demerera sugar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C or 500 degrees F. Prepare a medium sized loaf, rubbing the bottom and the sides with unsalted butter and a dusting of plain flour.

Mix the flour, the bicarbonate of soda, the oats and grape nuts evenly in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the yoghurt and milk. With a fork, mix in the wet with the dry. The mixture will be sticky and wet still but this is how you want it.
Take half the mix and spread it into the bottom of the tin.

Now, lay the sliced apples on top and sprinkle with the sugar. When cooked with the bread they will soften slightly but not lose their shape. Pour over the remaining dough and sprinkle with the seeds.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, checking it at half time by pushing a clean knife or skewer through the middle. At the end of the baking time, it may still be slightly wet but take it out and let it rest for 30-45 minutes before breaking loose and diving in.

This bread is fantastic with savoury dishes as well as a good jam - try a apple soda cheese on toast for a lovely fromage/pomme combination, or with salted butter and marmite.
Warning: It may bring a tear to your eye.

Friday, November 5, 2010


for the squash
1/2 medium squash, roughly chopped; skin on
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tbsp runny honey

for the risotto
1tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
150g Arborio risotto rice (roughly 75g/person)
2 glasses white wine
500ml chicken stock (or vegetable for veggies)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, de-stalked
3-4 large handfuls spinach leaves
200g soft welsh goats cheese
roughly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180° C. Having chopped the butternut squash with a sharp knife and a bit of welly, lay evenly on a baking tray and drizzle with the groundnut oil and honey. Leave the skins on; they will become soft and edible once cooked. Bake for 20 minutes or until soft. Toss regularly and check for burning edges. When cooked, leave to rest until needed.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the chopped onion. Stir with a wooden spoon and put a lid on the pan to soften the onion. Do not brown.

In a jug prepare the stock. Fresh stock is always far more subtle and delicious than cubes so use this if you can, but one cube with 500ml water works well too. Stir so the cube has dissolved.

Add the Arborio and fry until the rice becomes almost translucent. Turn up the heat a touch and pour in the white wine. The wine should hiss as you put it in the pan and will bubble with the rice until the alcohol simmers off and the liquid is reduced.

Pour in enough stock to cover the rice, and stir. You only want a little at a time. The next slosh should be added when the stock has been absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pan. Do this each time until the stock runs out and the rice is soft. It should have a small bite to it, but you don't want to be breaking teeth - slightly more cooked than al dente should do it.

If the rice is still hard after all the stock has gone in, keep adding more stock or water to get the right texture to the risotto. The trick to any risotto is to stir and taste the whole way through cooking. It may seem a bore, but a perfect risotto needs nurturing.

When the rice is cooked and the sauce is thick and glossy, add the spinach. The spinach will wilt almost immediately. You want to fold it in so it weaves evenly through the rice. Then add the squash. With the wooden spoon or a fork mash half the cubes into the rice and leave the rest whole. This will give a lovely peachy colour, a soft texture and a sweet taste to the risotto - you want the honeyed squash to come through from first to last forkful, not just when you bite into a large bit. Finally, mix in a tbsp of goats cheese, and it's almost ready to serve.

Serve into bowls and spoon a quinelle of the goats cheese on top. Sprinkle each dish with a generous helping of black pepper, and a sprig of thyme.

A wonderful one to warm you next to the bonfire, or feet up on the sofa. Autumn hug food at its finest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The construction of a real Bloody Mary cannot be sniffed at. I would take hours - if it took that long - stirring, dripping, toil and troubling if it meant that our terribly sweet and slightly dull tomato juice could be more than just sieved fruit.

I like a Bloody Mary to fix me, whether it be a hangover, tiredness or gloom. It needs to sting and flare my nostrils at first whiff, pinning my eyelids up to my brows as if sleep were forever forbidden. Or as if to warn other drinkers to tread lightly before taking a long slurp.
I'm cruel when it comes to pub pourers and brutal when it comes to home-concoctions...
So what goes into my Bloody Mary? The secret is I don't have a recipe - I pour by taste and mood and ALWAYS with 11 vital ingredients, all kittens and bows when served alone, ferocious when mixed together:
TOMATO JUICE; glassful of
HORSERADISH; spoonful of
CELERY SALT; sprinkling of
VODKA; gushes of
SHERRY; glug of
TABASCO; splashes of
BLACK PEPPER; crackle of
LEA IN PERRINS; dashes of
CELERY; stick of
ICE; chunks of

...A bit of whoooaaaaa there nessy and...eye of newt, why not?
So here's a toast to the best Halloween cocktail around. We'll certainly be drinking it on the 31st, probably out of pumpkins, with devilled mackerel, and death by chocolate cake, just because we can - so if anyone has a recipe that they think tops the lot then please post below and I'll make - only bloody scary bloody mary's allowed. None of this tame stuff.

If it doesn't bite, it ain't right.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Working in a cookery bookshop makes you hungry. All day.

The nostril-tickling smells of the cafe; the good-enough-to-lick-if-I-could pictures in the books; the cooking hot line which seems to hit promptly on a Wednesday morning as if by clockwork, flipping open the recipe book in the back of my brain, wishing I could be eating what they're cooking. But there's no complaints here.

It's one of those jobs that, in the best possible way, stays with you after hours. From the haven of the sofa - half of me engrossed in the long slow camera shots of The Song of Lunch, zooming into a large glass of much-needed red wine; and the other tied to my new orange and pink Madhur Jaffrey Curry Easy book - I can think only of my stomach. Again. There's no escape.

Fortunately, for risk of becoming belly-bound, Miss Jaffrey's book opens on a page which gives me the satisfaction of full-flavour but with half the gluttony. Her curry is light, perfumed and completely un-greedy but leaves you feeling perfectly full - enough to say no, I think I'll leave it, to the dry naan bread in the centre of the table.
Having forgotten to buy the ginger, I added a few more ingredients to soften and sweeten the spice.

BANGLADESHI-STYLE CURRY adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Easy

Serves 2-3

3 large hake fillets
2 medium sized shallots
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tbsp crushed ginger
2 tbsps olive/mustard oil
1 tsp red paprika
1/2 tumeric
1/2 cayenne pepper
3 kaffir lime leaves
half a lime
250ml water
1 tbsp honey
2 handfuls of fresh coriander
1 handful of mint leaves
300g basmati rice

In a large, deep frying pan, heat up the olive oil. Add the shallots and fry gently until a soft brown colour. Meanwhile, mix the ginger, garlic and spices with 3 tbsps water into a paste.
Boil a pan of water and add the rice, having rinsed it through with water to remove excess starch. Cook for 20 minutes or as the packet advises. When cooked add half the coriander and the mint.
Add the spice mix to the shallots and simmer off the water. Then add the 250ml water and simmer adding the lime and kaffir leaves to infuse into the sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes. Pour in the honey. Gently lie the hake fillets into the pan and cook on a gentle heat. Turn over after 2-3 minutes and cook them for another couple of minutes until cooked through.
Put the rice in bowls and place the fillet on top, pouring over the sauce, and distributing the shallots in equal measure for each bowl. Garnish with coriander and serve with a spoonful of natural yogurt.
If you like more sauce, add a tin of coconut milk just before adding the fish, and follow the process as normal.

This would work well with any other white fish, or chicken if you prefer two legs to no legs. A quick and detoxifying treat for the under-nourished and over-fed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

GUEST BLOG:Alice Brady

Dance to your Daddy with Alice's dive into the world of fish pie...

In Pursuit of Perfection

It has become apparent to me of late that I am officially an addict. I have seen it occur in so many friends; that first try and taste hooking them in instantly, an inability to break away from it and try new things. My drug of choice: the fish pie. It started with my auntie’s classic version; creamy, rich and filled with perfectly cooked meaty white fish. Since then I have embarked upon my own journey of discovery by attempting to create my version of the perfect fish pie.

This is definitely easier said than done. A friend of mine has been perfecting macaroni and cheese for a good ten years now. With each version come new ideas and combinations, all of which reveal themselves to be delicious concoctions, yet how do you decide on the ultimate? I fear there is no ending to this task. Don’t get me wrong, I am thoroughly enjoying the process; what could be better than the excuse to cook and eat your preferred dish on a regular basis under the disguise of research? What worries me is that I shall go off the dish due to over indulgence before having achieved perfection!

Anyway, enough of my fears, lets talk about fish pie. I am truly at the starting line as this is only my second attempt. The first was a taste if not an aesthetic success; I learnt my lesson about sticking to measurements and using the right equipment, as the “pie” took on the effect of having been pureed due to a too thin roux and the use of a metal roasting tray in place of an oven dish. The taste however, saved me; freshly shelled summer peas, smoked haddock, large succulent prawns, dill and a touch of Dijon mustard. All in all, a job well done.

My second attempt this evening did in fact exceed my own expectations. I gently cooked leeks in a small amount of butter, salt and pepper and layered them on the bottom of the dish (I was lucky enough to be given an earthenware dish for my birthday, perfect for these experimental evenings, from one of the guinea pigs of my first attempt). I poached smoked haddock in milk and white wine and left it to cool whilst I made the roux. Having used the correct measurements I managed to create a lovely think consistency using the milk the fish had been poaching in and adding double cream, a few good dollops of Dijon mustard, a little more white wine and fresh parsley. Once I’d folded the fish and the prawns into the mixture I spooned it on top of the leeks and let it sit for a while. Apparently, leaving it to cool for a time makes it easier to spread the mash onto it (thank you Diana Henry). Of course, as the purist that I am, the only thing this could be topped with was a wonderfully creamy, fluffy mash. The next thirty minutes proved to be torture as we could smell it and hear it bubbling way in the oven. When it finally emerged the potato had taken on a lovely golden colour whilst the sauce had just started to bubble out of the sides. Yummy!!!!!

I am not one to blow my own trumpet so I therefore urge you to try it at home and discover the wonders of a good home made fish pie; perfect for a wet, autumn evening with a few friends and a bottle of wine. If that one doesn’t appeal I have been working on the next concoction involving sweet potato mash. I’ll keep you updated.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Got some plums from Portobello market last week; 10 juicy, round, purple little devils for a mere £1. Shared them round, oohed and aahed and took the rest home.

I would have finished them all that day had it not been for the last minute decision to escape London for the weekend. The lovely plums were left lonely and neglected in my empty and dark flat and, out of spite, turned tasteless and over-ripe in time for my return.

It's not in me to throw things away without trying to revive them first, so with a mind on recycling, I breathed a heavy kiss of life into the wrinkly old dears, dolloped on a knob of butter and drizzled them with honey for an under-the-grill, Nigella-style evening snack. The skins slid off to reveal a vibrant contrast of October colours, crumpling into rose-shaped hats.

This works with any old fruit, literally. And with a spoonful of creme fraiche, alongside cheescake for a real pud, or on porridge the next morning, you'll never throw anything away ever again.
5 over-ready plums.
Cut in half.
Drizzle with two tablespoons of honey.
Small knob of butter to replace the stone.
Under a hot grill for 10 minutes.
Serve and eat. Cold or hot. Easy as plum.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Anchovies. Little bone ridden creatures, sea bound until on the plate, and all too similar to the feel and taste of a cat's fur ball.

Until recently, the word 'anchovy' was one of those which, along with 'custard' and 't-t-t-trifle', would make me shudder at the mere mention. I'm not fussy, but who can trust eating a hairy fish, something you can walk on without sinking, or cake mixed with jelly with said wobbly, yellow slide? Not me.

But since working at Books For Cooks, anchovies have miraculously - just like that - been wiped from the list. I see them no longer as a water vermin but as salty delights to be gobbled at every opportunity. They are too, as I am often persuaded, an almighty hangover cure.

So to show my new love for anchovies, here is a recipe inspired by a Sicilian dish I ate last year, where sardines replaced the anchovies, and by Clara's Mum's special anchovy and broccoli spaghetti. This dish is a great way to ease you in lightly; the anchovies are hidden, cleverly melted into the onions. If you're a hater, it'll turn you; if you're a lover...well, need I say more?


200g broccoli, stemmed
300g good spaghetti
100g pine nuts, roasted
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
50-75g anchovy fillets in olive oil
100g raisins
handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Boil a pan of water and throw the broccoli in for 3 minutes, or until it has a very slight bite. Add the spaghetti and cook for 8 minutes or as packet advises.

Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a frying pan until golden. Remove from the pan to a bowl to add to the sauce later on.

Using the same pan, heat up the olive oil and soften the onions and garlic on a low heat. Then add the anchovy fillets. With the end of a wooden spoon chop the fillets until they become a paste with the onion mix.

Add the raisins and the toasted pine nuts and mix. Blend half of the mixture with a hand blender or magi-mix. Drain the spaghetti and in a separate, warmed bowl, and fold in the blended sauce and broccoli. Serve on hot plates with the remaining, unblended sauce and a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley.

I use no salt or pepper in this recipe as I think the anchovies give it enough seasoning, but do add to your own taste. Replace the pine nuts and raisins, Clara style, with oven roasted cherry tomatoes and chilli flakes for some-a-bit-o-spicy-time. (For anchovy novices, add more chilli. No need to plunge in with the ladle before the spoon).

Monday, September 13, 2010


This blog is dedicated to my dish de la semaine. I've cooked it three times this week and it continues to excite me...who knew that wee green petit peas could be so wonderfully versatile?




large knob of salted butter
6 sleeves of prosciutto
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped and pasted
200g petit pois
40ml chicken stock
2 tbsp double cream (optional)

Fry the proscuitto in the butter until almost crispy. Remove the pork form the pan, saving the fat. Saute the onions in the fat until soft and salty. Add the garlic with the peas into the onions. Do not burnt the garlic. Add the stock and simmer until the liquid is all absorbed. Stir in the pork and add the cream. Pour hot from the pan into a warm bowl.

I had mine with a poached egg, and I recall groaning a little once the last mouthful went in. If cooked well, you will taste every ingredient that has gone in with the peas. Sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy...The fresh, sweet little garden pea is given a wild and creamy varooom, and you just can't get enough. Think hoppy grasshopper meets roaring hippo.

Try with sweet cure bacon, broad beans and mint for extra bite.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Has Autumn officially struck do we think? Wake up and it's sunny; go home and you wish you'd brought your woolly jumper? Leaves get stuck to the bottom of your shoe, your leisurely stroll unexpectedly skids into an awkward run, that excruciating laugh 'It's fine! Ha ha ha...', an autumnal shade of burnt umber rising up to your roots? I'd say it has.

Which is why I've chosen to cook Georgie's recipe for her Snobrod: the perfect nibble for those days when we're just not sure which season we're in. This authentic Danish recipe is originally cooked over the fire in the great outdoors, but can just as easily be baked in the oven for a bit of warmth if the weather's turned all umbrella.

Just before I left for life int smoke, I cooked this for friends on the beach. Not only did it cuddle our cockles then, but it's warming mine now just thinking about that first stringy bite.


200g flour
100ml water
1tbsp sugar
pinch salt
secret ingredient of your choice
(I used up some of our last Isle of Wight green figs, roasted and wrapped round with the dough)

'This is a recipe I used to cook with my sister as a little girl in is called 'Snobrod'.

'All you need is 200g flour, 100ml water, 1 tbsp sugar and some salt. Knead all the ingredients together to make a dough, divide into 4 portions and roll each portion into thin sausages.

'Wind each sausage securely around a stick (any stick that is lying around, normally best to pull the knobbles off them first!), and cook by turning the stick over the open fire until the Snobrod is brown and crispy.

'It is very basic, but it is tres can add any bit of magic to make it more exciting. Perhaps chop olives, raisins and cinnamon or parma ham into the mixture for extra flavour...'

A wonderful one. Thank you my dear Georgie.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Last week, I had the best ragu I've ever eaten out of Bologna. In fact, it may have even been better than Da Mario's - a lazy Sunday afternoon risto just outside the old Bologna walls where we'd talk and drink, and eat steaming bowls of spaghetti ragu.

A couple of months ago, I ranted on how there is no Bolognese anymore...or at least, no one really knows the true recipe. This could-be Italian version was built up and simmered down to a soft and livery texture which melted as soon as it touched the tongue. So I think I take what I said back on this account. We shared a small amount between nine but the flavour was so spot on that it was all we needed. You know you've hit a good one when you're happy with savouring just a little (unless you've hit a bad one and you'd rather have none).

Trying to recreate this beast of a recipe in my own way, I switched beef for pork and apple sausages which slightly sweetened the rich sauce, but still held the fantastically earthy flavour of the original. I uuurrrrge you to try this. It takes a while to get it really good, but you can - though it would be a crime to - skip the slow-cooking. A perfect way to spend a day-off, and by the time you eat it, your house will be dripping with good smells, enough to make you want to lick the wallpaper.

REAL RAGU: Sausage style.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12 large pork and apple sausages, meat removed from skins
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml chicken stock
1/2 750ml bottle white wine
100ml milk
pinch of grated nutmeg
pinch of oregano

1300 HOURS: In a large heavy based pan or casserole dish, gently fry the onions in the olive oil until soft. Add the garlic. Having removed the meat from the sausage skins, add to the onions and break up with a wooden spoon. Fry until the meat has become crumbly and light in colour.

1330 HOURS: Pour in the wine and turn up the heat so that all the alcohol burns off. Be careful not to let the meat stick, by stirring gently. Add the chopped tomatoes, stock, milk, herbs and spices. Place a lid on the pan and leave to simmer on a low heat for as long as possible, or place in a low heat oven or Aga.

1900 HOURS: Leave it to rest an hour before you eat, and spoon off some of the excess fat which will have risen to the top of the pan.

2000 HOURS: Serve with spaghetti or large penne cooked to al dente, a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan and a large glass of something good.

If seven hours seems daunting, you can take it off and carry on the next day. Or leave it, have lunch, read a book, make pudding, have a snooze, go for a...and it'll be ready for supper. Good from frozen too, but I doubt you'll need to.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's raining sideways in a typically late-August way. I have my best selection of over sized autumnal-coloured clothes on, giving up but not forgetting the summer that has just swept past us. This always happens after my birthday. Tuesday was all bright sunshine, windy but warm; presents were unwrapped in the garden and dinner was crammed into a open-windowed, open-doored wooden hut, with candles and wine the only fire to warm us through. Next day, and the sky has well-and-truly let loose.

As an eater rather than a gardener - as much as I try from my flat window - I have never quite appreciated nor liked the phrase: 'Oh yes. We've been needing this rain'. How could anyone truly think that? Surely England could do with more sunshine than anything. The harsh reality is, if I am to continue being the eater that I am, it is well-worth training myself to nod happily at the heavy downpour, because as we all know, what we eat needs to eat too.

So, in my oatmeal jumper, red shorts, grey tights, thick socks and brown boots, I am slowly warming to the arrival...ahem, sorry...continuation of big rain.

To celebrate the almighty rainstorm, as it turns plums from green to red, and brings blackberries to the bushes, here is my recipe for:


ingredients for

80g softened butter, unsalted
80g light brown soft sugar
enough halved plums to cover the base an 10 inch tin. (approx 15 small Victoria plums)

250g softened butter, unsalted
125g dark brown soft sugar
125g light brown soft sugar
4 medium free range eggs
juice of half a lemon
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
80g ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

In a large cake tin, preferably a 10 incher, paste the base with the softened butter and sugar. Having halved and stoned the plums, place them side-by-side, skin side up, on top of the butter mix. Depending on your harvest of plums, try to fit in as many halves as you can as the fruit makes the cake. If your plums are not fully-ripe don't panic. Mine weren't. The slight sourness complements the sweetness of the batter and the plums will be caramelised by the sugar and butter beneath them.

In a large bowl mix the sugars with the butter until light and fluffy. Crack in the eggs one at a time, mixing in each one thoroughly before adding the next. The mixture will be wet and ready for the flour.

Sieve in the flour, baking power and salt and gently fold into the egg mix with the ground almonds. Do not over-mix. You don't want the flour to stiffen the other ingredients.

Carefully pour the contents of the bowl into the tin to cover the plums. Place into the oven for 50 minutes. If the cake starts to burn on top cover with a grease proof baking sheet. Test with a metal skewer - if it comes away clean, bingo. If not, whack it back in for a bit. Turn carefully onto a wire rack and cool. Serve warm.

The rain will be enviously tapping on the door for some before you know it...A serious cockle warmer.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


The figs are just coming into bloom on the Island now; the flesh soft, sweet and earthy.
Breaking into them raw seems risky, clenchingly persuading oneself that the pink giblets in the centre are not worms, just the fruit. 'Whatever's in there will have only been eating fig anyway': words that are thrown confidently across the table. Oh what a relief we are eating by candlelight.

Few and far between the figs fall: some already eaten, and still being eaten by god-knows-what, some picked unripe from the tree by little hands trying to help harvest the sparing yield. Every year they are savoured. They'd be wasted on jam; 'FRESH AND FRESHLY BAKED ONLY'.

Apart from eating them as they come - unwashed, unpesticided, unchecked - there is another way to eat the figs that, in a whisper, taste better than the original. Eaten for breakfast with fried bread and bacon, or for pudding with marscapone, I welcome whole-heartedly the season for...


Serves 4.

2 large GREEN figs
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to a low-medium heat - about 100 degrees C.

Slice the figs long-ways and lay them on a baking tray. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar, then drizzle over about 1 1/2 tbs worth of good balsamic vinegar. You don't want to drown the flavour of the figs - there should be just enough tang to complement the natural flavour without ridding it altogether.

Place in the oven and cook for 5-7 minutes until the balsamic turns sticky. Turn the figs over, and cook for another minute. The figs will be soft in the middle, slightly sticky and truly scrumptious.

We ate ours with smoked streaky bacon on fried white bread - toasted in the bacon juices - and a dollop of creme fraiche for a second breakfast at midday... Ever so naughty.

Monday, August 9, 2010



Usually braving the waves in Easter, this year I am treading water in warmer seas. No, nothing as daring as 'out of the UK', but going West to the wondrous British holiday destination that is Cornwall.

We're heading down to the beautiful home of Rodda's clotted cream, blow-your-socks-off Rattler cider, and the one and only Padstein. And yes, last year I did get good old Steiny to sign my much-loved Seafood book, only to be sympathetically chuckled at when I requested a recipe to cook on my caravan hob...

This year, Rick would have a field day - crrrryyy with laughter, wet his knickers. We're tenting it. HA IMAGINE. Dinner for two under a cramped and smelly tarpaulin. How very romantic.

But it's not going to be soggy sarnies and salty tea. I've got a gas cooker, pans, a kettle and, boy!, am I going to show them some Cornish love.

But I need your help please. Your suggestions, if you would be so kind, of where to buy, what to cook and where to eat it. We have no plans apart from to roam the winding roads of the Northern Regions of Cornwall (Padstow and around), so by the end of the week I want to have fished and chipped (homemade style) in every little Cornish nook and cranny I come across. Don't hold back on the restaurants either - it will rain.

So while you unload your thoughts underneath this blog, here is a fishy recipe to whet your jealousy and imagine you''ll be in Cornwall with me!


Recipe adapted from Skye Gyngell's Crab cakes


3 free-range egg yolks

½ tbsp Dijon mustard

juice of 1 lemon

250ml mild extra-virgin olive oil


250g fresh salmon

squeeze of lemon juice

4 new potatoes, mashed

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

50g fresh white breadcrumbs

200ml very clean, neutral-tasting oil such as sunflower or corn

lemon wedges, to serve

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Bake the salmon fillets for about 20 minutes until cooked through.

Cook the new potatoes in pan until soft. Remove the skin, and mash with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile make the mayonnaise. This will go into the fish cake mix to make them suupppper moist. Whisk the egg yolks with the salt, mustard and lemon juice. Trickle in the oil, very slowly to begin with, whisking all the time. Continue until all the oil is incorporated. You should end up with a lovely, bright yellow, bouncy mayonnaise.

Once the salmon has cooked and cooled slightly, break into small flakes with a fork. Squeeze over the lemon juice and add the chilli, the mashed potatoes and a large pinch of salt. Stir in 100ml of the mayonnaise until evenly mixed in. Cover and place in the fridge for an hour. This will harden the mixture slightly and make it easier to roll into fish cakes.

Spread the breadcrumbs evenly on a clean work surface. Shape the salmon mix into evenly sized patties or balls. Roll in the breadcrumbs, making sure the surface of each cake is well covered. Return them to the fridge for another half an hour.

To cook the cakes, put the sunflower oil in a shallow, heavy-based saucepan and place over a low to medium heat. Heat the oil gently until it reaches about 60°C (check with a thermometer). Gently - and CAREFULLY - drop the cakes into the oil in small batches and cook for two minutes on each side; they should be golden and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve with fresh chilli oil, the remaining mayonnaise, and a wedge of lemon. Devour either as a starter, with a warm Nicoise salad - soft boiled eggs, spinach, peas, new potatoes - or serve in brown paper for a Gourmet take away (much like what I hope to be doing on my Cornwall camping escape).

Might I briefly add that it is always VERY wise to turn OFF the heat when the cakes are cooked...I managed to set the pan alight. Nicht gut. That's enough of that memory -but the fish cakes were worth it.

Enough scoffing, now for your beachside, camp fire, pub bench tips.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


It's Turkish Delight, it's strawberry sherbet and it's diving into a pool of Daiquiri...

That's what happens after you eat James Ramsden's Pork Madras Curry, turn beetroot into muffins, and crane your unswan-like neck through your window to hum at the sunset. All powerful, all highly recommended, all rather narcotic. Time for bed.


A bizarre combo, an experiment, I know, but beautiful little cheese-boards, surprisingly scone-like and damn fine with a chutney and red wine.

Makes 6

75g softened butter
150g self raising flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 egg, whisked
1/2 orange, zested and squeezed
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 medium raw beetroot, grated
1/2 carrot, grated
75 ml milk

Preheat the oven to 165 degrees C. Wipe a little butter around the muffin moulds if not non-stick.

Rub the butter, flour and baking powder between the fingers until you reach a crumbly /pre-pastry like consistency. Beat the egg, orange juice and zest into the mixture, and stir with a blunt knife. Then fold in the sugar, beetroot, and carrot. Finally pour in the milk and quickly mix until all combined. The muffin dough should not be too wet, nor too dry.

Equally divide the mix into the moulds. You want them to fill just over half way.

Place them in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Check with a thin skewer to see if cooked. If it is sticky, the muffins need a little more love, if dry, they are ready to gobble.

Leave to cool slightly and serve with a good cheddar, and some in-season fig chutney.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


The West of Ireland. What a place.

It feeds us, it waters us, it drenches us. And any ray of sunshine is welcomed with open, if not wary and suspicious, arms. Pouring with rain and it's 'a good day in Ireland!' Wellies just aren't done - you get stuck in with the wet and that's that.

There's one thing that is as solid as a rock though; never changing, always reliable. In five minutes of sparing sunshine or wet feet up by the fire, Guinness is the guy who'll warm your toes. An Irish Barry White, if you will, drowning out the sound of force 8 Atlantic winds and sideways rain, with his smooth, melodic gulps.

So what happens when Guinness steps out of the glass and into the saucepan? Surely it's just not done. Never changing, I said. Always reliable.

I meant what I said. Even as the can of Guinness is poured out of its comfort zone into a pan of warm custarding cream, the flavour stays put. Mix it with honeycomb and chocolate, and freeze it into ice cream, and you'll be shouting 'Aim for a FROZEN Guinness!'


6 egg yolks
125g Light Muscovado Sugar
300ml single cream
225 ml Guinness (we added more - and sipped the rest)
2 x 40g Crunchie Bars, broken

Whisk the eggs yolks lightly and melt with the sugar in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water - you want only the steam to melt the ingredients. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat.

In a separate non-stick pan, heat the cream and Guinness to just below boiling point. Pour the cream over the egg yolk and sugar mixture, beating well with a balloon whisk. Drink the rest of the Guinness to whet your appetite. Chef's rights.

Return the mixture to the non-stick pan and cook over the lowest possible heat, stirring constantly, until the custard starts to thicken and coats the back of the spoon. This will take about 10 to 20 minutes.

Pour the mixture back into the heatproof bowl and leave to cool completely. It's delicious on its own as a custard, so make sure you don't accidentally 'test' it too much. Stir in 1 1/2 of the crumbled Crunchie bars - You want to leave half a bar to chop over the ice cream on serving. Some of the chocolate may melt slightly and ripple through the ice cream - this is no bad thing.

Turn the ice cream into a shallow plastic container and freeze for 2 hours, then remove it from the freezer and stir well. Return to the freezer until completely frozen.

When ready to serve, remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to soften before serving. All agreed that it tastes better soft and melting. Sprinkle over the remaining chunkily chopped Crunchie bar.

There you have it: Pub versus pud. And bloody good too, so it is.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Dessert is usually the piece de resistance when it comes to fine dining. When it's good, the whole meal becomes memorable.

Time, effort, patience and skill are written all over a truly good pud. But perfection doesn’t always need to be so demanding. These white peaches are already beautiful – served just as they are they are fantastic – but when simply poached in syrup, and peeled, they naturally produce a glossy sheen which instantly makes them irresistible.

They produce the most delicious flavour –an equal balance of natural fruit juices and sugary sweetness, and out of this world when paired with ginger ice cream, or posset.

Must stop drooling.

This recipe is inspired by Skye Gyngell's Nectarine and posset recipe featured in the Stella magazine last week. I loved these uniquely shaped peaches and they work really well with her nectarine instructions. They are less plump but the fruit is still soft and juicy.



400g (7oz) caster sugar

950ml (17fl oz) water

8 ripe white peaches

Start by making the syrup. Put the sugar and water in a pan large enough to hold the peaches. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. When it is dissolved, plunge the nectarines into the syrup and cook for one minute, no longer, as they need to be as pure in flavour as possible. Remove with a slotted spoon, carefully peel off the skin, then leave to cool. Place in the fridge to chill.

Keep the sugar syrup - it may need a little longer to thicken; it should have turned a soft pink colour from the peach skins. And serve the peaches whole - they look fab!

Monday, July 5, 2010


WOW. Thanks Tim. Anyone else?

(Published in Times newspaper 05/07/2010. Back letter regarding troublesome times with Weetabix from 2009)


Wonderful in a wild flower bouquet, superb in an bath oil, sleep-lulling in a pouch under your pillow, and pretty good in a cream frosting. Lavender is one of Britain's all time favourite smells; instantly recognisable, a comfort, a breath of fresh air...

...but all this seems a little precious for such a versatile flower. A little 'Hyacinth Bucket' (booookaaaay) if you ask me. Which is why I wanted to find some way of giving it a new lease of life - a daring step out of the airing cupboard and into the drinks cabinet.

Mum was given a copy of Sharon Shipley's The Lavender Cookbook a few years ago. In it, 182 pages of lavender fueled feasts. It seems our purple headed friend can be a seasoning to almost anything we cook... So much so that the thought of working through it, recipe by recipe, leaves a undesirable soapy taste in the mouth.

So, to narrow it down, I went straight to the 'Beverages' section, for something to serve to friends on a midsummer eve.

And there, amongst Lavender Chicken Breasts and Lavender marinated Goats Cheese, was the jackpot. Lavender Margaritas. ARIBA!

(adaptation of Sharon Shipley's recipe, p. 74 The Lavender Cookbook)

Serves 10-12 generous helpings.

I made the sweet and sour mix and the salt rub the day before the drinks were to be served, so when it came to serving all you had to do was salt the glasses and pour in the tequila and cointreau! The sweet and sour mix needs to be a perfect mix of sticky syrup and sour citrus. I prefer a little more of the sour for an extra kick!

Lavender Sweet and Sour Mix
600g caster sugar
500ml water
1 tbsp dried culinary lavender buds
400g freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, water and lavender. Bring to a boil over a high heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain into a pitcher or large jar. Add the lime juice and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until cold or until use the next day.

Lavender Salt Dry Rub
1 tbsp culinary lavender buds
100-150g (salty to extra salty) coarse sea salt.

For the glass rim - an essential ingredient for that oh-so-gorgeous face squirm as salt hits the tongue. It equalises the sweetness of the cocktail. And this is where the Lavender really makes its mark.In a pestle and mortar, pulse the lavender until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl and toss with the salt.

The Final Touch
40cl Tequila (any type will do)
200ml Cointreau

Combine the sweet and sour mix with the tequila and cointreau. Add lots of ice.

Rim the glasses with lime - use wine glasses or tumblers if margarita glasses are out of reach. Place the salt rub onto a plate and gently turn the outside edge of the rim into the mix. Pour two centimeters from the top of the glass. Serve with a wedge of lime.

The ground lavender stands out against the salt; a dark and edgy contrast to the smooth lemon coloured cocktail.

The lavender taste saves itself to the end - a faint but unbeatable hint of good times in the bath!

They went down VERY well. A perfect compliment to my dinner party in the garden. And like the lavender, the guests were head to toe in fancy dress and barely recognisable...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mr Lobster and Mrs Crab

After a body-crumbling week's work at Glastonbury's hottest campsite (in every sense of the word), my fellow team of Heidi Hi, happy campers and I were spoilt beyond our wildest dreams with a celebratory supper to die for...

No longer was it hole-filling potato pies and stretchy faggots to struggle with, but platters laid high with super fresh, coral lobster and enormous rusty crabs carefully and skillfully crushed, scored and dissembled by Son of a Fisherman come Trailer Dude, Jim.

We watched as he removed shell from flesh, dodging the unpredictable crab juice as it flew metres from the broken, salty morsel. He reminisced of his childhood days at Billingsgate fish market with his father, taught us the best way to dress a crab, and educated on how to tell the female from the male.

Every single piece of meat was extracted, the white, the brown, the eggs, the claws, delved into with one enormous knife and the end of a teaspoon. No struggle on receiving this plate of food, apart from to keep drool in mouth and eyes in sockets; a concept highly impossible when breaking off the rich smooth and pink meat and dressing it with a simple squeeze of lemon...Dribble...

Now, who said British festivals had to be all rain and no sun?