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.