Nibbles #cringe


The word nibbles makes me cringe. It reminds me of gatherings with my parents and at their friends houses, things on sticks, messy, too many small plates, glasses and (at that time) fags to juggle.  As in a previous post, my preference is to throw a few things on the table when people in that have not taken an age to prepare.

The aim is to not make hard work of the ‘few things thrown on the table’  – do as little cooking as possible, keep creamy things to a minimum if you are like me otherwise there will be an unholy mess, concentrate on high flavour, low fuss – and nothing that requires last minute attention and everything must be easy to assemble.

Like what?

  • high quality crisps of course
  • a plate of charcuterie, good olives and cheese
  • stuffed peppadew peppers from a jar
  • Nino’s Sicilian olives pepped up with cumin and  chopped preserved lemon
  • chicory leaves with crumbled olive-oil slicked toasted breadcrumbs and gorgonzola
  • chick peas tossed in smoked paprika and olive oil and roasted
  • old bread toasted and cut into squares with a smear of sobrasada (creamed chorizo)
  • shop-bought rye bread cut into squares with horseradish, smoked salmon and dill leaf
  • toasted naan bread cut into squares  piled high with curried potato and pea
  • rice paper wraps, dipped in hot water and wrapped around shop bought prawns and sliced lettuce and a dab of chilli sauce
  • little cups made of tortilla wraps pressed into small bun cases and flashed in the oven to make them crispy then fill with halloumi, chopped tomato and basil
  • bowls of cornichon

After all you want to have fun don’t you? Or would you rather be a slave to the kitchen?  I have posted previously on ‘nibbles’ along the lines of Abigail’s party, and I guess someone might be doing mini yorkies with roast beef, or little quiches, or sausages, or crudite and dip. But that person won’t be me.

Anniversary Pie

I know, I know. It’s been a while. More than a while. It has been a busy  year and I apologise. I have been remiss. I have failed to post. I have been doing other things. And a bit of me wondered whether you might be bored with my persistent food blogging. So I stopped for a while.  But so many of you have said in the past few weeks “what’s happened?” “where are our Christmas recipes?” “have you given up?”.  And I realised that nothing had happened, being me I had simply filled my time with other things; the Christmas recipes are still in there. And no I haven’t given up!! When have you ever known me to give up?

So here’s a new pie that I invented and which made its’ maiden appearance at Marion and Andrew’s first wedding anniversary celebration at ours last week end.  The meat eaters had some marvellous pheasant with deep orange and pomegranate sauce. But the vegetarians had the star, which was the new raised pie. I seem to have become addicted to making wholemeal hot watercrust pastry and it is now my pastry of choice for pies and for flans. It neither shrinks nor cracks, it is very mouldable. Most of all it is easy.

8oz wholemeal flour, half a teaspoon of salt, 1 oz coarse oatmeal.  Mix these together in a bowl then add 15ml white wine vinegar, 30ml olive oil, about 60ml hot water (maybe more but you will have to judge that by the feel and how the mixture binds together). Sometimes I add some grated cheese.  Knead lightly then set aside for 30 minutes to relax (the pastry, not you!)

Wash and peel 300g Jerusalem artichoke and slice thickly then cook gently with one chopped leek in butter and garlic. Season with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Chop 300g of good old gnarly carrots and cook gently in butter, lemon juice and a tiny bit of sugar at the end. Allow to cool. Season with white pepper, then add a little chopped tarragon or basil. Not both.

Unpack one whole vacuum pack of chestnuts and dice.  Saute some field mushrooms with garlic and add the chestnuts and at the end a little bit of dark soy sauce.

Now you are ready to construct the pie – or pies.  If it’s pies then it will make 3 small pies.  Either prepare 3 empty bean tins by removing labels, washing thoroughly then grease the OUTSIDE and dust with coarse semolina before you roll out 3 circles and form the pastry by hand around the outside of the tins until it comes up the sides about 3.5cm.  Then put them on baking parchment and into the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.   Or (this is easier) use a small loaf tin, grease and line with coarse semolina then roll out the pastry into a rectangle and line the tin.  Then whether it’s loaf tin or baked bean tin, add layers of the filling – if using baked bean tins then remove the tin, obvs!!  Make sure the filling is good and moist as there is no meat in here to give you juices!  Then roll out the lids, brush the joins and tops with egg wash and put in the oven at 190C for 25 minutes and then turn down to 170 for 10 more minutes.  Take out of the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

What’s the deal with coarse semolina?  Those who follow this blog regularly know that I use it instead of flour to dust the inside of pans and tins.  For savoury dishes I use it liberally as it helps keep the crust crusty and the gravy inside!!

Veganuary Day 31 Chocolate and Chestnut Celebration Cake

img_8105What an auspicious day to finish my veganuary culinary adventure. It is my son Will’s 39th birthday today.  How on earth did that happen? Surely I cannot be that old? #pausesforaminute Oh! Yes. I am!

To celebrate the birthday of such a lovely man is a pleasure. That he is my son is my privilege.  And I shall see him at the week end  and we are eating at Patricias which The Guardian described as ‘a little belter’. We shall see. And so can you in my new ‘review’ section on this blog.

So I thought I would share this lovely cake with you as the final Veganuary ‘passing out parade’.  It is one of Pippa Kendrick’s recipes.  Not only does she live in Norwich and used to live next to Marion, she also writes brilliant books about food for people who have sensitivities to certain ingredients. For myself – I have few, but her recipes and particularly her cakes are simply delicious. This is one of my favourites. By the way, the photo is not of the chocolate and chestnut cake (although it was a layer therein) but of Marion and Andrew’s wedding cake.

To the cake:

You need to heat your oven to 170C and grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

Blend 4tbsp ground flaxseed with a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder and 6 tablespoons of water.  This is a totally effective replacement for eggs in cake.  Set it aside for a few minutes and the flax will swell up. You will be left with a thick paste.

Now put 110g sunflower mararine in a bowl with 150g sweetened chestnut puree.  Mix it until it is pale, light and luffy then add the egg replacement paste a little at a time, whisk as you go until it is fully incorporated into the puree.  Sift in 110g plain flour (gluten free if you are intolerant of flour) with two tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and a pinch of salt and incorporate it all using a metal spoon.  Now add 6tbsp almond, soy or rice milk.

Spoon it into the tin and bake for 35 minutes until it has risen and springy.  Remove from the oven, let it cool for 10 minutes then remove from the tin onto a wire rack.

Break 75g dairy free chocolate into a bowl and melt it in a bowl placed over simmering water.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chestnut puree.

When the cake has cooled, spread the ganache over the cake, cut into slices and serve.  Believe me. It is gorgeous. My mouth is watering.

Veganuary Day 30 Roti Canai

roti-canaiThis is an extremely easy dish. And extremely yummy.  The only new trick you  might need to learn is tempering – no, not as in ‘keeping your temper’ but cooking spices in very hot oil and adding them at to the dish at the last moment.  See? Not difficult.

Put about 150ml yellow split peas in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil then add 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric and half a teaspoon of ground ginger.  Boil away for about 10 minutes and remove the scum that forms on the top.  Now add one aubergine chopped into 1cm chunks, one chopped onion, five chopped tomatoes, one chopped carrot, a medium sized chopped potato and a medium sized green chilli (chopped). So far so easy.  Add about 500ml of boiling water and then simmer until the vegetables are soft and the whole lots looks a bit like porridge.  If it gets too stiff, add more water bit by bit.  Remember that you are then going to stir in 200ml full fat coconut milk,  so don’t make it too runny before you do this, add some salt to taste and about a tablespoon of tamarind paste.  Actually, add two. It adds a wonderful sourness. Stir it all around.

Now put a couple of tablespoons of oil into a small pan, fry a chopped onion and four or five sliced garlic cloves 1 teaspoon mustard seed, 1 teaspoon cumin seed, 1 chopped green chilli and a little turmeric powder at the end of the frying.  Fry for a couple of minutes then pour it over the dal and stir.  Check your seasoning – you will probably need to add more salt.

For the roti, either use the recipe for flatbread on this blogsite (just ‘search’ flatbread).  Or make flaky roti using 450g plain flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of sugar – mix the dry ingredients with about 300ml water then knead it (or make in a mixer with a dough hook) and cover and leave to rise in a warm place for at least a couple of hours.  Then grease the work surface with oil and oil your rolling pin.  Take a nugget of dough about the size of a satsuma and roll it out, then continue to stretch it with your hands, rubbing oil into it as you fold over the layers. What I mean by this is as you stretch it out, fold the edges to the middle as you go round.  Then roll and stretch it all out again without folding, making  sure the dough is rolled and stretched into a strip, not a circle, then ‘pleat’ each strip (ie one flatbread) into a much thinner strip (remember I said pleat not plait!).  Then roll this strip into a circle, like a Catherine Wheel,  and finally roll it out agin to form an average sized flatbread.  It sounds a bit complicated but it isnt. You are simply making the dough, letting it prove, breaking off a piece, rolling it out then stretching it into a strip that is longer than it is wide.  Then pleat it so the length has four or five layers and then roll it round from the centre, finally rolling it out into a flatbread shape again.  Cook on a medium heat on a skillet.  You will end up with a fluffy bread that flakes as you eat it.

Veganuary Day 29 Almost there (Eat your heart out Andy Williams)

Andy Williams. Thanks to

I always wanted to be the girl Andy Williams picked out of the audience, and danced with real close, at the end of his show.  Which is showing my age of course.  Listen to this if you need a reminder.  No clips of the closing sequence, but some of you will remember how it went.  Oh how I wanted to be that girl in the black and white polka dot dress with the circular skirt and the can-can petticoat.

And then – I wanted to be taller, thinner, more clever, always the one who got the handsome man.

And now – I just want to be me.  So I remain short, not thin, averagely clever but I really do think I got the handsomest man.  He is not Andy Williams. He is far better.  So I win!!

And so – this Veganuary month is almost finished and what have I learned?

  • I do not have to eat meat, I choose not to eat meat 99% of the time
  • It is not difficult or time consuming to prepare and eat plant based meals
  • I like soya milk, especially when I make it myself
  • Making soya milk is easy
  • Shops that call themselves ‘vegan’ in general have a very limited stock of ‘real’ food
  • People who come for dinner can eat for the whole evening and not notice that they are eating plants (not animals)
  • the arguments about balancing ecosystems and ‘positive’ stuff  that relates to meat production, employment and countryside management can be countered by arguments  that are just as valid about GM production, methane production, animal welfare and agri-business
  • Generally, you will eat more vegetables, roughage and whole grains in a good and well balanced vegan diet, than eating  a meat based diet
  • I feel much better for it, I really do

Today has been a busy day. Those of you who know me, will know that I cram a lot into a day. Those who know me well, know the reason for that.  However eating vegan has not affected my energy levels nor my stamina – Today I started at 8. I’ve had a tricky phone conference setting up a new piece of work, which took an hour; done two hours work at the computer, been for a march round the block, driven to Norwich and had my eyes tested, had coffee with my good friend and fellow-traveller, driven home, drafted out a report, marched round the block, sorted out the lovely man who is replacing our fence, taken delivery of a Raleigh Shopper for David’s bicycle renovation projects, ordered two dial-phones for my mum, driven back to Norwich, done a one hour radio interview, come home, lay on the sofa, checked out the child care requirements for tomorrow, written this blog.

I have not starved during this vegan way of eating, and neither has food preparation has taken hours and hours.

Today I have consumed:

Oaty porridge with pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds and figs with half a pint of soya milk

Two apples, two pears and an orange

A chilli and bean burrito stuffed with salad from the vegan stall on Norwich market

A slice of wholemeal toast with tofu cream cheese, tomato, bean and alfalfa sprouts with walnuts

About 2l of water

I am about to take a mug of hot almond milk infused with maca powder and coco nibs to bed with me.  Me and Julian Barnes have a date and I don’t want to miss it.

Ordinary life – as lived by a temporary vegan  who is considering indefinite leave to remain.

Veganuary Day 28 Different ways with vegetables


img_0871Little Gem lettuce with peas

Does your fridge suddenly ‘grow’ lettuces?  Mine does

Because it does, this little gem (sic.) came to pass. It is adapted from a Little Gem, pea, avocado and mint salad I make in the summer.

But this is winter. Take two little gem lettuce and slice lengthways into eight. Snick the bitter end off (but not too much). Chop a small bunch of spring onions including the green bits. Add a little olive oil to a shallow pan on a medium heat. Add the onions then the lettuce then two cups of frozen peas, 50ml water and a squeeze of juicy garlic. Turn the heat up high. Clamp on the lid and when it is steaming, give it 3 minutes. Then remove from the heat and stir in two tablespoons of coriander chutney (seebelow). Swirl around a bit.

It is divine.

Green coriander chutney

Take one bunch of fresh green coriander.  Two cloves of garlic.  Half a green chilli.  A teaspoon of sugar.  A squeeze of lemon juice. The thick residue of a tin of coconut milk (just drain the fluid from the tin, you should have a good half tin of coconut if not dilute it slightly with the fluid you’ve just drained).

Put the garlic, chilli and coriander in a small food processor or Nutribullet.  when finely chopped add the sugar, lemon juice and the coconut.  Whizz madly.  Check to see if it needs salt.  Pour about half of it onto your Little Gem with peas.  Keep the other half for when you have a curry tomorrow!

Stir fried sprouts

Slice your sprouts into 1cm thick slices.  Chop some onion and a clove of garlic.  Grate the rind from half a washed lemon.  Heat some oil in a wok or wide pan until it is smoking.  Add the onion first, swirl around for about 30 seconds. Then add the sprouts.  Add the garlic last. Stir around for no more than a minute. Then add the lemon rind, seasalt and lots of black pepper.  Take off the heat. Add a little more olive oil.  Serve.

Carrots with caraway

Sweat half an onion in the bottom of the pan in olive oil (be generous).  After five minutes add carrots cut into chunks, a dessert spoon of caraway seeds, half a teaspoon of sugar and half a chopped preserved lemon.  Don’t add salt.  Pour in a cup of water and bring it all to the boil then put a ring of greasepeoof paper on top of the carrots (it’s called a cartouche) and then the lid.  Now turn the heat to barely on and cook for about an hour either on the ring or in the oven.  Don’t remove the lid or the cartouche until you are ready to serve.  The carrots will be meltingly soft and suffused with sweetness, countered by the bitterness of the lemon and warmed by the caraway.


I love cauliflower but this is one of my favourite ways of cooking it. (No, it is not cauliflower ‘rice’ although that has its place, to be sure).  This cauliflower is roasted.  Take a whole cauliflower and break it into large-ish florets.  Then cut each floret into slices about 1.5cm thick.  The idea is that you want to make them lay flat on the surface of a baking sheet.  Put the florets in a bowl and mix with the following:  5ml seasalt flakes, a good grind of black pepper, two teaspoons of cumin seed, one teaspoon of turmeric powder, one onion chopped (but not too fine), a few chilli flakes, 30ml olive oil or rapeseed oil. Mix well.  Put a sheet of greasproof paper on the baking tray and pre-heat in the oven set at 200C.  Then turn out the contents of the bowl onto the baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes.  Some of the florets should look a bit charred – this adds to the flavour in my opinion.  If you don’t like ‘a bit charred’ then take out of the oven a bit sooner.


We get through a lot of courgette but I don’t ever give them the star treatment.  They are a good workhorse in the kitchen. And sometimes they have to stand alone as a vegetable.  Chop courgettes into rough chunks.  Don’t make them into smooth circles, but alternate the direction of your chopping so you get irregular shapes. Try and make them a good 2cm at the thickest part.  Dredge with seasoned coarse semolina.  Put a little oil in a wide pan and heat it smoking.  Then add a small chopped onion, lots of chopped garlic, fresh thyme leaves. Have some chopped fresh parsley and chopped fresh basil ready.  Then throw in your courgettes and keep moving them around so they stir fry but never ‘catch’.  After four minutes or so, add cherry tomatoes that you’ve cut in half.  Toss these into the pan and leave for two minutes.  Then add seasalt and black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Take off the heat and then add the parsley and basil.


So many ways with celeriac.  One of my favourite and simplest ways is to make mash with equal amounts of potato and celeriac.  Or to slice it into 2cm thick slices, slather it with oil, chilli flakes and coriander powder then roast it till it is soft on the inside then slightly charred on the outside.  Eat it as a burger, slapped in a bun with red slaw and horseradish.


Veganuary Day 27. Burnt aubergine with black lentils

In my kitchen
In my kitchen

Sorry about the no-show on Day 26.  We went to our first djembe drumming lesson.  I came out totally confused but having had the best time!
Easypeasy supper thanks to Yotam. Roast an aubergine rubbed in oil either under the grill, on a gas ring or with a blow torch. Roast deep and hard till the skin is charred and the insides are soft. Put aubergine in a sealable sandwich bag. Yes, really!

Chop equal proportions of celery, onion and carrot. Sweat in rapeseed or olive oil till soft with half a chopped chilli plus seeds then squeeze on a clove of garlic and sprinkle on half a teaspoon of ground cumin. Pour 25ml red wine vinegar on the sautéed vegetables and boil till almost gone then add a packet if Merchant Gourmet black beluga lentils, chopped fresh parsley and 150 ml vegetable stock. Cook gently till most if the stock has been absorbed then season with a little salt and lots of black pepper. Keep warm.

Rub the aubergine around in the bag till the charred skin is loosened then remove from the bag and pick out most if the black bits. Put the squishy – and it must be squishy – aubergine in a bowl and mix till roughly puree’d. Season with black pepper, add a bit more oil, a little smoked paprika and some chopped almonds.

Pile the lentils into a dish, top with aubergine and dairy or soya yogurt sprinkled with chopped coriander and nigella seeds.

Yum yum with flatbread.

Veganuary Day 25 The day I fell off the wagon

img_7448Only a brief post on this bitingly cold day.  Just to say that today, I fell off the wagon.  It’s all Gail’s fault. She was coming round. We were going to hatch a plot.  Then she cancelled.  I did my walk, then settled down to work, the final push quality checking a big document.  Lit the woodburner.  But I could feel those wintry icicles outside and and I neede warmth.  I needed comfort. Oh well, I thought, I was going to make some scones for Gail anyway. I’ll make them and David can take them to work tomorrow.  So out with the flour and the butter and the eggs.  As they cooked the house filled with   a heavenly buttery warm-cake smell.

Hardly were they out of the oven than I had eaten one, all crumbly and moist and fragrant. Steaming it was.  Plus a large mug of tea.

In penance I took some round to Jas and Dick next door, with a jar of black currant jam.

I cannot tell a lie. I fell off the wagon.  I only ate one.  But it was all Gail’s fault.

Veganuary Day 24. Lasagne

img_3817So you remember the tofu pasta?  Well half of it was languishing in the freezer. So here goes another experiment….. frozen pasta. In lasagne.

I decided after the first attempt that the pasta needed to be cooked before adding to the dish.  So I poached the sheets gently in simmering water for about 3 minutes then drained them on kitchen towel.

Before that I made a good batch of David’s tomato sauce and in a separate pan I sautee’d mushrooms with garlic and then some whole leaf spinach and left it to cool.

Then it was simply a matter of layering it up – sauce, pasta, spinach and mushroom, lookey-likey soya mozarella (yes, I know, but I thought I’d give it a go), pasta, sauce, pasta, sauce, lookey-likey cheese.

It has just come out of the oven (45 minutes at 190C) and I am leaving it to reduce from scorchio to tolerable before dishing up.  With an extremely healthy salad that includes my home spun sprouted seeds and a very garlicky dressing.  I’ll be crocheting macrame saucepan holders next!  If it looks good when I slice it I will post another picture.  If you don’t see one here, it didn’t hold together that well!

40 minutes later……..

So.Here it is. Held together nicely.  These are the lessons learned:

  • tofu pasta freezes well
  • the lasagne sheets benefit from ‘poaching’ before use
  • use plenty of sauce because it will be absorbed by the pasta
  • season everything really well because the pasta will ‘dull’ the seasoning
  • dont bother with the looked-likey tofu mozzarella – it didnt add anything
  • have at least four layers of pasta then it will hold its shape when you cut it.



Veganuary Day 23 Udon noodle supper

01efdaebb89cc7048904e1cc5986b0ddc9eed5c90aTo be honest, a bowl of udon noodles with mushrooms is not the prettiest dish on this planet.  So here’s a lovely bright photo of Spain instead, to cheer you up.

This supper, or a version of it (depending on what’s in the fridge), is a regular.  It’s quick, uncomplicated and very tasty. Although it is a bit brown. Hence the ‘cheer up’ picture.

To serve two, you will need onion, garlic, mushrooms (a variety would be good, but if you only have a few chestnut or button mushrooms kicking around in the bottom of the fridge, they will be just as good).  Plus onion, garlic, chilli flakes, cornflour, soya milk and/or soya cream, mushroom ketchup, fresh herbs, the other half of the jar of Seitan from the other night, pak choi.  I haven’t given precise weights of ingredients simply because this is so simple you should practice doing it by eye instead of weight! Call it the Rees method.  Approximate.

Chop the Seitan into smaller chunks and marinade in two tablespoons of soy sauce. Sweat the chopped onion with garlic and chilli flakes.  Then add chopped mushrooms and cook till just done. Add the Seitan and its marinade. a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes and a couple of tablespoons of mushroom ketchup.  Combine all the ingredients then take off the heat.  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of cornflour over the contents of the pan and add about 100ml of soya milk and about 50ml of soya cream. Combine and then stir till it thickens. Check the seasoning but remind yourself that the soy sauce and the mushroom ketchup is a seasoning in itself, so you probably won’t need any extra salt.  Add chopped fresh basil leaves.

Meanwhile, cook the Udon noodles as per instruction on the packet and simultaneously (steady now!) steam the pak choi that you’ve quartered.  It will only take three or four minutes.

As soon as the noodles are done, drain and put in individual bowls.  Pour the mushroom and Seitan sauce over them, and top with the pak choi.

It’s slurpy. It’s yummy. It’s quick (15 minutes start to finish). It’s easy. So what are you waiting for?

Veganuary Day 22 Green pie

Green pie

img_3809What a great evening!  Old friends.New friends.Good food.

Good food usually means lots of prep but I was going for scrumptious but simple.

So, for the green pie, be kind to yourself.  Take one pack of filo pastry.

Cook 500g of spinach and 500g of kale in separate pans and a scant amount of water in each. Take the spinach off the heat before it turns to mush. Drain into a colander lined with kitchen towel.  Cook the kale for a bit longer then drain in the same way and then strip the leaves from any chunky stems.  When cool, chop the kale and the spinach into smaller pieces and only then, season with sea salt.

Meanwhile, sweat two chopped onions in olive or rapeseed oil and when very soft, add two grated cloves of garlic and a grating of nutmeg.

Prepare a 21cm springform cake tin by greasing it and dusting liberally with coarse semolina.  Have a pot with oil and a pastry brush close to hand.

Clear as much work surface as you can. Ideally you would have a run of about 1200cm. Lay out sheets of filo in a strip, overlapping on the short side and brush the joins with oil – so you have one long line of filo.  Spread the onion and mixed greens in a line about 2cm wide along the length of the pastry, and about 1.5cm from the bottom edge. Chop a large handful each  of mint and basil and sprinkle over the greens. Then sprinkle with nutritional yeast flakes (in a non vegan version I would add crumbled feta cheese).  Then brush the remaining exposed pastry with a little oil and roll up from the bottom so you end up with a long sausage. Coil it tightly inside the tin and brush with more oil.  Cook in the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes till golden brown.

Bulgar with walnuts (Kisir)

Put half a cup of water in a bowl with two cups of boiling water.  Cover with two cups of boiling water.  Chop or crush half a cup of walnut halves.  After 30 minutes the bulgar will have absorbed the water.  Mix with the walnuts, chopped spring onions, two tablespoons of tomato purée, chopped fresh dill and a good slug of pomegranate molasses.  The final ingredient is the most important in terms of flavour….. half a preserved lemon – removing the pulp and finely chopping the flesh.  Dont add more salt because the preserved lemon is salty.

Roast red peppers with black garlic

img_3810Slice three red peppers and remove the white pith.  Remove. 4 cloves of black garlic from its skin and chop into pieces. Roast in olive oil for about 20 mintes.  Allow to cool then put in a bowl with one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

Serve with a luscious salad of avocado with bitter leaves and a basket of flatbreads.

Veganuary Dawn 21. Aquafaba Blood Orange Cake

Blood orange cake
Blood orange cake

I am always on the look-out for blood oranges in January. Their season is relatively short and they are so juicy and the flesh and juice such a rich colour, that they are impossible to resist.  They look pretty innocuous in the farm shop – indeed there weren’t that many around as the harvest – particularly in Spain – has been affected by snow and frosts.  So I had the last half dozen in the farm shop and wasn’t tempted by the hybrid on offer.  I had a taste. But it wasnt the same and had a much thicker skin.  No. I like the thin-skinned originals.

There are eight for dinner tonight and I am cooking  Turkish.  Herb pie, flatbreads, duk-kah, roasted red pepper with black garlic, cucumber and fennel pickle salad, aubergines in pomegranate molasses.

What I am really looking forward to it the experiment with the ubiquitous clementine cake, which I have adapted using blood oranges and aquafaba, and which we are having for pudding.

Put four blood oranges (or six clemetines and a lemon) in a saucepan so they are a snug fit, cover with boiling water and boil away for a good hour.  Let them cool and then whizz to a pulp in the food processor.  Take five tablespoons of aquafaba (the water from tinned chickpeas – see previous posts – or search ‘aquafaba’) and a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and whisk until frothy not foamy – so it looks like well-whipped egg whites. The aquafaba takes the place of the eggs in the original recipe.

Put 200g ground almonds, a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, 30ml unflavoured oil and 175g soft brown sugar in the food processor with the blood orange pulp and combine at high speed, then pour into a clean mixing bowl.  Gently fold in the whipped aquafaba with a metal spoon then pour the batter into a 21cm round springform tin that you have oiled and dusted heavily with coarse semolina.  Put in the centre of the oven, pre-heated to 180C, to cook until firm in the middle.  Note that these proportions are smaller than the previous recipe so I would check it after 30  minutes and then lay a double thickness sheet of baking parchment over the top, then leave for 10 more minutes.  It should be done by then.

Remove from the oven and onto a cooling rack (still in the tin). After half an hour, run a round-edged knife round the tin and invert the cake onto a wide plate.

Whilst the cake is cooking, thinly slice two or three more blood oranges.  Put 100g soft brown sugar in a wide shallow pan with 150ml water.  Bring to the boil and reduce a bit then add the slices of orange and any juice that is on the cutting board.  Cook in the pan until the syrup is thick and the oranges are almost sticking to the pan but not quite. Remove from the heat.

When the cake is cool, arrange the oranges on top of the cake and pour the syrup over the top. Sometimes I add more syrup. There is often some in the fridge.  Earlier in the year it was quince and lime syrup. At the moment it is Seville orange syrup that I drained from a batch of Seville orange and quince marmalade that would not set.

This cake is a complete experiment on my part. I am eager to see how the aquafaba works.  The cake itself looks great at the moment.  But we’ve not eaten it yet! I will report in later!


Veganuary Day 20 Soya milk and Pesto

img_3806Yesterday’s ‘cold’ in my head and the achy joints that threatened to interfere with weekend plans, have receded a bit.  Probably helped by the kill-or-cure approach to finishing off the massive wood pile on our drive. We had a convoy (of two) barrows going from front to back, and with every circuit I managed to sort out in my head what needed to be done in the back garden in a few weeks time.  It’s the ‘garden’ equivalent to my ‘swimming pool’ meditation where similar issues get processed.

Anyway. In between barrows, helping out a neighbour, reading the paper and making a trek to Tesco to find some Mamade for my mum (more about marmalade another time) I made some soya milk, experimented a bit more with aquafaba in a cake that’s tomorrow’s Day 21 post sorted) , some pesto and some soup.

When I re-read what I have written on these blogs I often wonder why I rarely do one thing at a time.  I dont know the answer but I think its something to do with running things in parallel means you get more done. Rarely is there sequential activity going on.  It must be the project manager in me. I shall ponder more on that in the swimming pool.

Soya milk – making your own

The first lot of soya milk going through the muslin

First the soya milk.  I actually like it. Some people don’t and prefer nut milks. I am happy with both.  I haven’t made any tofu yet but I think Marion has a batch going at the moment so I will ask her to do a guest blog. I use organic and GM free soya beans from the wholefood shop.  If you want to read a bit more about the soya production/consumption debate you could google it of course, or you could start here.

Put 125g soya beans in a bowl and cover with 500ml boiling water.  Soak overnight.  If you

Squeezing it out!

are not that keen on the taste of soya beans in the milk then discard this water the next day, rinse the beans, then put in a large and powerful blender with 750ml water.  Blend on high for a good 30 seconds then lay some muslin in a colander (knew I kept those baby muslins for something 35 years ago) and pour in the contents of the blender.  Squeeze the liquid through the muslin and return the dry-ish residue to the blender with another 500ml water.  Blend again and go through the same sieving process.  Pour into bottles or containers that are scrupulously clean and have been scalded with boiling water.  Put the lid on that’s it.  About 1.25l of soya milk.  Some people add a little sugar. I don’t. Some people flavour it with vanilla. I don’t.

The final product

Walnut and basil pesto

This is, of course, an adaption of traditional pesto which contains lashings of parmesan.

Walnut and basil pesto

In a pestle and mortar, completely crush one fat clove of garlic with half a teaspoon of seasalt.  Then add half a dozen walnut halves and crush to a pulp.  Then add few large fresh basil leaves – probably about 10 and about 10ml of any oil. I used rapeseed.  Keep pounding it till it becomes a mush.  Plonk a teetering teaspoonful in the middle of a bowl of some home made leek and potato soup and tell me it’s not gorgeous.  Of course, other nuts are available, and other herbs. You could invent your own blend.


Veganuary Day 19 Pie, there must be pie!

Seitan pie before its lid is on

It is cold and I want to get warm. Me and three year old Otto have had a busy day.  Trampolining. Playing Octonauts.  And moving logs in our wheelbarrows.  Him one log at a time.  Me a barrowload at a time.  And we both have colds. So after the gym pick up for Monty (6), by the time I got home I was hungry as a hunter but achy in the back region and with a very dull head.  To be honest, I was tempted by temptation itself and called in at Asda (also looking for MaMade for my mum) where I was momentarily seduced by Linda McCartney pies.  They even morphed into my basket, as if by magic.  Then I read the label and muttered ‘No Dawn. Walk away from the pies’.  Such a wholesome image.  So many ‘safe’ additives.

So when I got home I was determined there would be pie. I needed pie. It had to be made.

Turn the oven on to 190C.

First the pastry.  Four tablespoons of plain wholemeal flour, one of plain white flour and two of fine oatmeal.  A little salt.  Rub in about 40g  mararine.  Dont shout! I know.  But it was avocado oil margarine. With no canola or palm oil.  Then add a tablespoon of olive oil.  Bring it together with a little water then leave it to rest while you do the rest. Why, you might ask, why the oatmeal.  I have done a lot of experiments with wholemeal flour in order to get the right ‘feel’.  As with so many things re vegan and vegetarian, you really have to adjust a lifetime of eating habits. And that includes tasting habits too.  The oatmeal gives the pastry a more open texture without adding more fat.  And in my opinion it solves the age-old wholemeal pastry problem which is that it tends to be hard as bullets unless you load it with fat. However, if you add about 10% oatmeal it will be softer.

img_3795Next, wash and quarter some average sized potatoes (unpeeled).  Put in a bowl with black pepper and two teaspoons of turmeric, a slug of oil and a tablespoon of coarse semolina. And a sprinkle of seasalt flakes before they go in the oven.

Sweat chopped onion, garlic, celery, celeriac and squash in a shallow wide pan in some rapeseed oil, or similar.  I only use a little oil, so keep an eye on it then add half a glass of water when it looks like its just beginning to stick. This saves  you using more oil than is necessary.  Season with sea salt, black pepper and thyme – fresh if you have it.  Cook for another five minutes with the lid on, till the vegetables are on the firm side of soft.

Seitan marinaded in light soy sauce

Meanwhile open a jar of Seitan.  Now I’ve talked  about this before in other posts – essentially it is the total protein of wheat grain and it comes in a jar in chunks. It looks disgusting and the last time I posted about it I couldn’t bear to expose it for public scrutiny! Or derision! I used about a third of a jar, sliced it into smaller chunks and marinaded it in light soy sauce and a grated clove of garlic for a few minutes.  Then I added the seitan and the marinade to the vegetables, stirred them round, put the lid on and started a quick and easy sauce.


The pie as it came out of the oven

Put one teaspoon mustard powder in a bowl with two teaspoons of tomato purée, half a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes and about 150ml water.  Mix it round then add to the veg and seitan in the pan.  Heat gently till it thickens. Take off the heat. Allow to cool with the lid off for about 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust if you need to.  Then pour it into a dish and pop the little singing bird in the middle to stop the middle bit of the pastry dipping.  Top with the pastry and brush with oil. Put the pie in the oven on the bottom shelf and the potatoes on a hot baking tray on the top shelf.  Swap them over after 20 minutes and cook for a further 20.

Yummy.  Ready in 5 minutes starting from……… NOW!

A slice of pie anyone?




Veganuary Day 18. Aquafaba yorkshire puds

img_3776Day 17 explained what aquafaba is and told you how to make mayonnaise with water and no eggs.

Today we have further aquafaba antics in the form of Toad in the Hole. With no eggs.

Put six tablespoons of chick pea water in a bowl.  Gill tells me this is equivalent to two eggs.  Add 10ml cider vinegar.

Now let me introduce you to Elvis.  Elvis is my 25 year old electric hand mixer.  When we could still be bothered to put it back in its Elvis box it sat the top shelf.  Now the Elvis box is long gone.  However Elvis is still here.  Why Elvis?  The serial number on the box was ELV15.  When Anna saw it she called it Elvis. And Elvis it remains.

Anyway.  Whip up the bean water and vinegar until it looks like whipped egg white.  Then sift in 120g self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. Whizz it madly until combined, adding 175ml of soya milk as you go. Now you are required to make a judgement call.  Does the batter look thick/thin enough?  Compare it in your mind to other batters your have made.  If you think it is still too thick, add more soya milk – up to another 75ml.  This is the mistake I made this evening when I made it for the first time. I added the liquid all at once and it was too thin.  Bear that in mind.

Whilst I was gathering the batter ingredients together, I turned the oven on to warp factor 200C and quickly roasted the chestnut sausages straight front the freezer till they were just done.  When I took them out of the oven I turned up the oven to 220C, and added a slug of oil to each hole in a muffin tray.  I was insufficiently courageous to attempt my normal pagoda-style one-yorkie-in-a-single-roasting-pan version.  With good reason. I should have listened to my instinct.

When the muffin pans were smoking hot, I gave the batter one more riff with Elvis, twitched my hips a bit, snarled, then poured some into each of the muffin tin holes, dropped half a sausage in each and quickly returned them to the oven.  They were done in 15 minutes.

img_3774Now dont get me wrong.  They were actually really tasty.  And passed muster as a yorkshire pudding.  However, to be honest, the batter could have done with being thicker and so they didn’t rise as much as I would have liked.

And for those of you who think I can cook anything, well I probably can. But I don’t cook everything well. It is always trial and error. And sometimes I make mistakes.

However, next time…………. and there will be a next time……..  it will be different!

Veganuary Day 17 Aquafaba (aqua-what?)

img_3766 img_3768It is true.  There is nothing new under the sun.  I reckoned I knew a lot about ingredients and kitchen stuff. But until about three months ago I had never heard of Aquafaba. Aquawhat?

Mr Google will tell you everything you need to know, but I will save you the trouble.  Aquafaba is the water from a tin of chickpeas. Or Pinto beans. Or Haricot beans. Or any beans – except baked beans.  The salted water from the bean can contains magical properties – protein strands that mimic egg white.  The theory is that if you whip it, it not only looks like egg white, it behaves like egg white.  So the only question is, does it work or is it a gimic?  Look at sites like and they will tell you all about its history, the science and more stuff than you probably need to know in order to make mayo. Even The Guardian is talking about it. And it has its own Facebook page.  There’s millions of stuff about it.  Trillions.  So why had I never heard of it?  And does it work?

Yesterday I promised I would try out Yorkshire pudding today – it being full of egg and milk n’all.  But this morning I was sidetracked.  I was just about to sit down in the office – to work – when I started thinking about mayonnaise.  Never been a great fan. And since I had a nasty dose of campylobacter last year from dodgy restaurant hollandaise, me and eggs are not good friends. So why not give the eggless mayo a try, I was thinking,  whilst procrastinating about other more urgent tasks.

Your best friend today is not the food processor but a stick blender. Consider me a sort of matchmaker – you and all the implements that I have in my kitchen. Some never used.  The stick blender is the implement you plunge into a saucepan full of soup when you want it to be smooth not lumpy.  the sort of implement that if you don’t have it fully submerged in the liquid, produces a fountain of scorching hot leek and potato soup that lands down your front at lightning speed.

Put 1 tbsp of cider vinegar in a  small-ish jug along with half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of ground mustard and 3 tablespoons of chick pea water straight from the tin.  Whizz them for a few seconds till they are well blended then gently and slowly pour in three-quarters to a whole cup of good quality oil – I used a mixture of grapeseed and extra virgin olive oil whilst whizzing away with the blender. (I hope you are impressed with my one handed blending-whilst-videoing-on-my-ipad trick) until the mixture thickens and thickens some more.  Check the taste. It should taste like mayo.  Mine certainly did.  You could add some grated garlic, or some fresh herbs, or some grated lemon rind depending on what flavour you are seeking. Or you could just have plain old mayo.

I put mine in a jar and then in the fridge. It’s supposed to get thicker in the fridge. It has.

I hope that if you visited this page more than half an hour ago you can now see the second half of the page that I accidentally deleted.  In the process I have learned a new skill.  To those who kindly pointed out that half the post was missing and I implied it was their machinery, I apologise.  I promised that the link would be back in 10 minutes.  I was sidetracked by doing a Google cache search for the lost half.  I found it.  Now I have changed it.  Knowing how to access Google cache –  it’s a handy skill to have.  I didn’t know I had it until 10 minutes ago!



Veganuary Day 16 Sauces and gravy

P1020631“The problem with vegan and vegetarian food Dawn, is you can’t get a good gravy”.

I wish I had a quid for every time someone said this to me.  The fact is that it just isnt true.  However if you want gravy to taste like the gravy you would have with mile-high roast rib joint then obviously any non-meat gravy is just not going to!  In my adventures in vegan and vegetarian-land, however, I have learned a thing or two.  Here are some of them:

  • avoid processed food that wants to look like meat – it tastes nasty. So if you want to eat meat – then eat meat
  • If you want a vegetarian sauce that ‘tastes’ like beef or chicken gravy use gravy granules.  Read the labels….. they contain no meat but they do contain maltose, dextrose and all sorts of other rubbish
  • If you want a tasty vegetarian sauce or gravy made from scratch it is not difficult
  • A freezer is the eighth wonder of the world
  • Keep a good stock cupboard (arrgghh – I sound just like my gran).  The fact is of course that the more ingredients you have, the more options you have.


In my stock cupboard there live the following that assist the ‘gravy’ dilemma:

  • Nutritional yeast flakes that you can get in most wholefood stores and some supermarkets.  These add a lovely savoury flavour to many dishes, and to gravy.  Technicians call it ‘umami’. I call it lip smacking good.
  • Marmite (or similar) but not Bovril (obviously)
  • Soy sauce
  • Tomato puree
  • Burgess Mushroom Ketchup
  • Passata (tomato sauce in a box or a jar  – or a tin of chopped tomatoes put through the blender)
  • red lentils
  • cornflour
  • stock – either cubes or pots or home made
  • turmeric powder
  • smoked paprika
  • good old tomato ketchup and HP
  • mushroom ketchup
  • ground almonds
  • fresh herbs
  • spices
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Here are some regular attenders at the sauce and gravy table.

Cashew cream sauce

Put two cups of cashews in a bowl with 1.5 cups of water. Soak for two hours only, then blend with two cloves of garlic, a flat teaspoon of salt and 15ml olive oil.   That’s it.  Could it be simpler?  No.  It’s easier than making gravy.  You can then use this sauce as a base for other flavours, you could add pesto, harissa, chopped parsley or coriander.  If it feels a bit too thick, then loosen it with some almond milk.  You can serve it hot or cold, thick or thin.

David’s basic tomato sauce

I like to think I am a good cook – never a chef – but David makes a mean tomato sauce.  Here goes.  Gently fry one finely chopped onion and two cloves of garlic and add a sprinkling of chilli flakes.  Then add half a wineglass of red wine and reduce to practically nothing on a high heat.  Then turn the heat down and add a tin of chopped tomatoes, or passata, and some salt, black pepper and chopped capers.  Then let it simply burble away in the pan until it is thick and reduced, and the oil is splitting in the sauce. Yes splitting, not spitting!  This is the stage of ‘cooked-ness’ when the main ingredients of the sauce begin to very slightly separate from the oil.  This happens when the sauce is cooked slowly – about 30 minutes in the pan.  The key here is to use a wide shallow pan and not a saucepan.  You can add whatever fresh herbs you like at the end (never at the beginning) – such as basil, chopped rosemary, tarragon, parsley etc.

Coconut and lentil gravy

Cook a cup full of red lentils in two cups of water until they are ‘floury’ – about 15 minutes.  Fry a chopped onion and garlic in olive oil.  Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a teaspoon on ground cumin.  Add four chopped tomatoes or four juicy tinned tomatoes on a high heat and let them sizzle for five minutes, break them up with a wooden spoon then add half a tin of coconut milk and the coooked lentils.  Now cook again for 10 minutes without a lid, ensuring all the ingredients are combined.  Season with salt and black pepper then blend with a stick blender into a smooth sauce.  This is particularly good with dishes that combine brown rice and other vegetables because  nutritionally, the brown rice plus the lentils complete a protein chain and without that pairing your body will not extract the full nutritional value of either the rice or the lentils.  More about this another day.

Mushroom and onion gravy

This is the one for chestnut sausages or burgers or toad in the hole!  First, soak some (a couple of ounces) dried mushrooms in 200ml boiling water for at least half an hour.  Chop and gently fry one onion with two cloves of garlic (getting the message here?) in a shallow pan with the tip of a teaspoon of hot smoked paprika.  Then add peeled and finely chopped fresh mushrooms.  Keep stirring. Take off the heat and add three flat teaspoons of cornflour.  Now loosen the cornflour with the liquid from the soaked dried mushrooms. Then chop the soaked mushrooms and add to the pan plus a good tablespoon of Burgess’ Mushroom Ketchup (from most supermarkets, usually on the shelf with the Lea and Perrins). Bring almost to the boil, stirring all the time, then taste and season at the end.

Roast gravy

This is the one we use for dishes like nut roast, stuffed cabbage etc.  Roast onions, garlic, potato, carrot, celery in a roasting pan with a bay leaf or two, until the vegetables are well cooked but not charred.  Add 750ml boiling water to two vegetable stock pots (like Knorr).  Mash the vegetables down with a potato masher and then sprinkle on some nutritional yeast flakes – probably about a tablespoon and season with pepper. You probably won’t need salt.  Remove the bay leaves.  Now slowly add the  liquid stock to the vegetables and bring to the boil on the top of the stove, stirring all the time and breaking up any lumps.  When fully combined, let it cool a bit and pour it through a sieve if you must or just use a stick blender, to combine it all.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Now I don’t know about you, but I find this a right hassle so the best thing to do is when you have a spare hour, make a whole batch and then freeze it.  It tastes  lovely.

Tomorrow I am going to have a go at cooking with Aquafaba (chick pea water) – it contains miraculous molecules and proteins that make it act like egg. I am going to have a go at making yorkshire pudding with it!


Veganuary Day 15 Roast squash with chillies and cashew cream

At the market in Carcassonne
At the market in Carcassonne

Today it is bright, clear, crisp, nose-tip pink cold.

I have been sitting in the office here all day, a slave to the keyboard. it is 16.00 and – having been eating what Nigella would call ‘temple food’ today, which is neither warming nor comforting –  I am in need of something earthy and colourful and satisfying.  Squash.  They look warm before you have even cooked them!

For four people, chop a medium sized squash – of whatever variety – into half then quarter it.  This makes it easier to deseed and then peel.  Then chop the squash flesh into large chunks.

Now you need a bowl or a plastic bag.

Throw in the squash, some peeled shallots or peeled onions cut into quarters or smaller depending on the size.  Then add half a dozen plump cloves of garlic. You could also add some potatoes if you wish.  And some celery chopped into chunks. Or some peeled carrots. Or some beetroot.  Then add half a dozen medium sized tomatoes.  Oh, and a chopped red chilli or some chilli flakes.  And some sea-salt flakes and black pepper. And a small shake of turmeric powder and smoked paprika.  Think that’s it.  You get the idea – throw in anything you like so long as it is good and c0lourful.

With all the vegetables in the bowl or in the bag, pour in 30ml of good olive oil or rapeseed oil and mix it all around and to increase the flavour let it sit there for a good hour.

Pre-heat the oven and a roasting pan to 190C then when it is up to temperature empty the contents of the bag or bowl onto the tray and roast for about 45 minutes. Don’t turn it or the vegetables will start to break up.  The idea is that the edges should char very slightly.  After 30 minutes mix together a tablespoon of tamarind sauce (mine from Asda) with soy sauce then pour over the hot vegetables, squashing down the tomatoes so that they release their juices.  Grate some lemon rind over the top and a sprinkle of finely chopped fresh rosemary (please don’t use the dried stuff).

When it’s ready it should smell divine – hot, smoky, paprika-ey.   Turn into a bowl and serve with brown rice, or jacket potatoes or just with a good slice of bread.

In non-vegan land I frequently add chopped feta about 15 minutes before the end.  In vegan land I also serve it with a cashew cream (see Day 16 – sauces).

Go on treat yourself. You probably have most of these ingredients in stock.  If you prepare it now you can put it in the oven when The Archers comes on!

#Veganuary Day 14. Okora burgers

img_3710I have some soy experiments running at the moment. Soy milk and tofu production, with lots of help and advice from the fount of all knowledge and all round good mate Marion.  We have undertaken many mass catering projects over the years.

Anyway……. a bi-product of skqueezing (oh, that was a typo but I rather like its onomatapoeic resonance so I will leave it there) soaked soya beans to extract the ‘milk’, is all the solids that remain. Called Okora. (The automatic spell check made Okora into Korea, but that wouldn’t be right at all!).  There are a thousand and one recipes for how to use the okora on many Vegan websites.  I will offer just one at this stage for fear of boring you.

I soaked and drained 250g soya beans and when I had pulped them and extracted the milk from the solids I had about 400g of solids remaining.  These solids are highly nutritious and there is no way I was going to discard them.  I had a little think and made something up.  So this is the recipe for okora burgers.

Put your bean pulp in a bowl.  Add one large onion that you have pulsed in the food processor, and grate in two cloves of garlic.  Add one flat teaspoon of cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper, plus two flat teaspoons of ground cumin and half an average sized bunch (how on earth do you measure that I wonder?) of finely chopped fresh coriander. You could also add a tablespoon of unsweetened desiccated coconut if you wish.  Mix it all together.  It will look fairly dry if you have squeezed most of the fluid out beforehand.  In non-vegan land, at this stage, I would probably add an egg.  But in vegan land, I added a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes (adds an umami savouryness) and a good dash of dark soy sauce.

Okora burgers before they go into the freezerWith clean wet hands, form into burger shapes and make sure they are not too thick. Best more like quarter-pounders than Big Macs’.  Coat in coarse semolina. Now lay them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and put them in the freezer for half an hour to firm up.

Shallow fry in a flavourless oil that you’ve heated in a shallow pan on a medium heat.  They are a bit friable, but they are delicious, so I recommend that you don’t put too many in the pan at once so you can turn them carefully after five minutes without knocking the edges off the sides as you do so.

I have tried eating them straight away, but I think they are better frozen when cooled, then cooked in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, on Formed okora burgerstop of a couple of slices of tomato seasoned with salt, chopped rosemary and a little lemon zest.

Tonight we are having them with yellow potatoes, lots of dark green and a rich mushroom and onion gravy enhanced with Watkins mushroom ketchup, surely one of the best condiments ever invented?


Veganuary Days 12 & 13 Ceps, Porcini and all things mushroom

mushroom-976592_1920We are huge fans of mushrooms in this house.  On non vegan days, lots of them, cooked in butter and garlic – on sourdough toast  – over a leisurely breakfast on Saturday. With lots of coffee, and long conversations before we get started with the day.

Or large and small mushrooms chopped and fried with onion and garlic and a little potato and finished off with cream. On non vegan days.

Or sautee’d with leek and garlic and topped with sourdough breadcrumbs and parmesan and flashed under the grill. On non vegan days.

Or very lightly smoked, chopped fine in the food processor and mixed with a little salt, black pepper and cream cheese then dropped into hot pasta. On non vegan days.

But what about the VEGAN days?  Mushrooms in all their various forms can definitely hold their own without need for dairy.

On Day 11 I was browsing around Norwich market and at the front of my favourite fruit and veg stall  were some beautiful ceps. I had no inkling that I was going to buy ceps that day but they looked so wonderful it would have been a sin not to.  So I bough four big fat ones.  I was succumbed to an unbidden vision of them settling into a fragrant fennel, leek and pea risotto. And so it was.

Leek, fennel and pea risotto with porcini mushrooms

rotfurohrling-1571066_1920Risotto is a friendly  and comforting meal and at home we always have it in a bowl. Never on a plate.  It is quite hard to spoil it and my preference is for it to be ‘soupy’ and definitely not dry like a paella. Don’t get the two confused.  This is why you use different rice for these two dishes.  Arborio rice – for paella – has a shorter grain and a starch that melts around the edges of each grain which gives the risotto creamy texture. Paella rice is harder has a long grain which means the grains tend not to stick to one another.

For two people, saute finely chopped onion (one small), celery (one stick) and fennel (half a medium sized bulb) in olive oil. When soft, add two chopped cloves of garlic and the grated zest of half a lemon. Then add a mug full of arborio rice and move it around gently to coat the grains in oil. Then turn up the heat and add a wine glass full of Noilly Prat or Fino sherry or dry white wine. My preference is for the Prat. Let it bubble and splutter and boil away until the alcohol has reduced to almost nothing. Then turn the heat down to low and add a ladle full of hot vegetable stock, stir, and gradually add stock as needed (every time it has all but disappeared from the rice pan), it really does make a difference if you add the stock bit by bit and stir every few minutes. Don’t be tempted to throw it in all at once. In fact,  consider it your gift to yourself. This is all you need to do for the next 20 minutes. Just stand, ladle in more stock and stir. It is a contemplative and simple task.  You will probably use about 750ml stock using this method.  You can be clever and make your own stock – which I sometimes do – or use one of those lovely Knorr (or similar) stock pot thingys.

Wipe two medium sized ceps and make sure they have no evident grit.  Slice them into thick slices, length ways, and drop into good olive oil and garlic and fry gently until they are tinged with golden brown at the edges. Did I just say ‘golden brown’? …… until they are brown at the edges.

Back to the risotto.  Check the stock level in the risotto – by about 20 minutes it should be nearly ready – by which I mean the rice will be just cooked and there will still be stock in the pan –  and it should be looking creamy.  At this stage check the seasoning. I suggest you don’t add salt early in the cooking because if you are using stock pots or cubes they are likely to be salty. So check the seasoning and adjust toward the end of the cooking time, and if you are not vegan,  add a handful of parmesan and frozen peas and a large knob of butter. And maybe a little chopped fresh mint leaves.  If you are vegan, just add the peas and the mint!  Cook for a couple more minutes and then serve.  Just be aware that the longer you wait at this stage, the quicker the rice will absorb any liquid, so always have a little more liquid than you think you need in the pan because by the time you have fiddled for a couple of minutes the thirsty grains will have sucked it all up.

Make sure your bowls are warm then spoon in the creamy risotto.  Top with the ceps, a grating of lemon zest and sea salt flakes. And parmesan if you must.  In our house it is obligatory to eat this curled up on the sofa, accompanied by slurping and little gasps of pleasure.

Mushroom pate – would that be smoked or unsmoked madam?

mushrooms-1167181_1280Take 250g mushrooms of any type and check they are grit and dirt free. If you are smoking them, either use your home smoker or if you don’t have one I suggest you use an old saucepan and a camping gas stove and do this outside.  Throw a small handful of the  wood shavings of your choice into an old pan or enamel breadbin with a rack (maybe an old cooking rack cut to size).  Huge Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage book on simple smoking and preserving is a good one and gives you more detail.  Place the mushrooms on the rack and light the wood shavings (make sure the rack is a few inches above the shavings so any initial flames don’t flare up and scorch the mushrooms).  Put the lid on and allow to smoke away for about 15 minutes.  Then remove them and allow to cool.

Now to our old friend the food processor.  Process the cooled mushrooms (or the unsmoked mushrooms) until finely chopped then add one tub of Tofutti cream soy cheese (or cream cheese for non-vegans), and combine with the mushrooms. Check whether it needs any salt, and add a couple of grinds of black pepper and a little tiny grate of nutmeg. That’s it!  Remove from the processor then if you like you can add chopped chives or herbs such as chopped dill or tarragon.  It really is yummy  — on toast, in sandwiches, on crackers and in jacket potatoes – but make sure use it up within a couple of days.

#Veganuary Day 11 Fennel pickle

img_3746I am feeling a bit lazy tonight so we are just having a chestnut sausage and casserole with jacket potatoes and Savoy cabbage.

But I wanted to share with you a little gem from another favourite book, this time Cornersmith. Cornersmith Cafe is in a suburb of Sydney and it works partly because it operates a fairly sophisticated barter system.  Local people bring their excess produce in exchange for fresh sourdough or pickles or pies. Wonderful.

So this recipe is lifted straight from Cornersmith and with thanks.  Great book.  Hope I can visit you one day!

Thinky slice two bulbs of Fennel. Mix them with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of Fennel seed. So far so simple. It continues.

Pour 400ml cider vinegar in a saucepan with 100g caster sugar. Bring it to the boil and boil for 2 minutes then take off the heat.  Sterilise 3 standard sized jam jars (I swill it round with vodka) warm the jars slightly then pack with Fennel and pour in the vinegar. Wipe the tops with paper towel, then snap on the lids then release a quarter turn and put in a deep tray or saucepan full of boiling water – the water almost to the lid.  Let the water simmer away for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and tighten the lids.

Cool then store in a dark cupboard. When you open a jar, keep it in the fridge.

This is such a fresh, cool pickle. It is mild and full of flavour. Scrumptious.

#Veganuary Day 10. Pomegranate Molasses

img_3729The best pomegranate molasses I ever tasted was that which smothered the fried aubergine in El Viejo Molino.  Deep, syrupy, smoky and actually more savoury than sweet.

Yesterday I was in Argos – no,no,no – thank you David, it was Asda (Asda, Aldi,Argos…. what is it about four letter words starting with A?) anyway… I was in Asda, rifling through the discounted fruit and veg and what did I spy but 12 pomegranate for a quid. Yes!
Back home, having having halved the golden beauties with their perky little topknots, and tapped them on the backside to release their jewels I ended up with half a bowl of juicy ruby red seeds. They went  straight into the blender then I squashed all the juice I could get out of them – about 750ml.  Then the juice went into to a wide shallow pan with the juice of half a lemon. That’s it.  Brought to the boil then simmered for about an hour, whilst reading my book and occasionally, laconically stirring. When reduced by half it should coat the back of a spoon and feel sticky.  Decant into a sterilised bottle.

img_3744TBH it is probably cheaper to buy it in a bottle when the pomegranates are full price. But at 12 for a quid it was worth the experiment.

#Veganuary Day 9. Spinach and mushroom Lasagne

img_3728Q. What do you get when you cross a food blogger with a computer?

A. Sticky keys!


Tonight’s dinner is quick and simple. And it is a test to see if the pasta I made yesterday (the other half that is in the fridge) is still usable today.  The answer is yes, but with a couple of caveats.  1. Double wrap the pasta in clingfilm if you are using it the following day. Bring it back to room temperature before you roll it – take it out of the fridge a good couple of hours before you want to use it.

Then  either roll by hand or use the magic machine, and cut the rolled strips into rectangles about 110 cm X 90 cm.

Sweat half a pack of washed spinach in a shallow pan with a lid on and no water.  This will take about 2 minutes on a high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the lid.  Sauté chopped mushrooms in olive oil and garlic and season well.  I am not giving proportions here, use your own judgement depending on how img_3725 img_3726big is the dish you are using.

Put some of last night’s tomato sauce on the base of the dish. Then a layer of pasta. Then a layer of spinach and mushroom (squeeze the spinach a bit of it looks too wet). More pasta. More tomato sauce. Then top with the walnut ‘Parmesan’ left over from last night and a few more breadcrumbs mixed in and about 20ml olive oil.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes tops at about 180C. Just check that the top isn’t scorching and if it looks a bit too brown before the sauce is bubbling, cover loosely with a lid of tin foil.

You could serve this with a salad, but we are having a hot salad of seasoned butternut squash, onion, garlic, red pepper, roasted in a pan till crisp and very slightly ‘caught’ then a squeeze of lemon juice at the end, with a freekah (cooked green wheat) and sunflower seed topping. Serve at room temperature.

If you only read the recipes on this blog and not the front page, you might wonder why sometimes my recipes are a bit ‘approximate’ that’s because in my world, cooking is about following your instinct once you know your ingredients.  Pierre Pepin caught the essence of what I mean when he said “a recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure, but never a hard rule”. I concur.


#Veganuary Day 8 No-egg pasta!

img_3708I didn’t believe it, but it’s true. You can make pasta without eggs. I know because I’ve just made some. And , as it says in one of my favourite vegan cookery books Crossroadsit is impossible to tell the difference!

The incentive, I have to admit, was anticipating the virgin outing for my Kenwood pasta rolling attachment.

Put 300g of 00 grade flour, 300g semolina flour, half a teaspoon of salt, into your food processor and mix thoroughly.  Then add 175g of firm tofu (drained) – mine came fresh from Tofurei in Norwich, two tablespoons of olive oil and three tablespoons of cold water. Pulse in the food processor until it looks like breadcrumbs then turn the processor on full till it combines into what looks like a ball of pastry.  Mine didn’t combine that well, but as I was using fresh tofu from Tofurei, which wasn’t very wet, I added another tablespoon of oil and another of water.  Then I tipped it out onto a floured surface and gave it a good knead.

Now, I am by no means an expert pasta maker. In fact this is only my second attempt. But I am told that for pasta, it is all in the ‘feel’.  And it felt OK – so I wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge for an hour to rest. What this does is, combined with the kneading you did earlier, the gluten in the wheat will become more elastic and gives the pasta its ‘stretch’.  I have to say I felt a little uncertain, and still wondered whether it was slightly too dry.

However an hour later I was relieved to find, when I removed it from the fridge, that it had ‘relaxed’. Unlike its maker! I cut the dough in half, wrapping the second half in clingfilm and returning to the fridge. Then I cut the other half in half again and covered its twin with a damp cloth. Then I fed the first quarter through the pasta machine as per the instruction manual –  and with more than a little help from David. I have to admit that got a bit excitable as it turned from a very slightly crumbly dough into a silken smooth sheet after nine turns through the roller!  Sadly – being Norfolk – our idiosyncratic wifi is failing to load the videos, so at some point I will tag onto someone’s super high speed wifi in Norwich. Until then………

Being a bit tight, I didn’t purchase the Kenwood pasta cutter, so I laid the strips out on a table and cut them by hand and then hung them on the back of the kitchen chair (see impending video). It was a hugely satisfying and rewarding hour in the kitchen.

img_3706I made a simple tomato sauce laced with chopped capers and then set to making the vegan ‘parmesan’ recipe, also in Crossroads.  Simply, using a very sharp knife, shave slivers of walnuts into a bowl and mix with a little chopped fresh rosemary, a little sea salt flakes and some nutritional yeast flakes to give it that umami edge.

The pasta takes no more than two minutes to cook in boiling salted water. Drain. Put 25ml olive oil in the bottom of the pan, add one chopped garlic clove and a good grind of black pepper, then return he pasta to the pan (now off the heat) and swirl in the garlicky oil.

If you don’t have a pasta maker, you can roll out the pasta by hand, folding it in half width ways and length ways  as you go.  it’s easier to work on a quarter of the dough at a time, and use lots of flour whilst you are rolling.

#Veganuary Day 7 Freekeh with greens and almonds

img_1602This is a quick and easy one. After a busy day (reading, gardening) I just want something quick and easy. Freekeh – which is green wheat is, like quinoa, stacked with protein and doesn’t need to be combined with legumes to complete the protein chain (unlike, for example, brown rice).

Simply boil it in a little stock or water. It only takes 10 minutes. Lovely combined with chunks of roasted pumpkin and shallot and the sweetest, smokiest black garlic sent by Fran from the Isle of Wight. My own experiment with black garlic has yet to produce anything remotely like the Isle of Wight black garlic.

1-photo (15)Now to the main act. Collejas. Greens with almonds to you! It’s one of David’s favourite dishes and he is in charge of cooking it in case you think I’ve had a sex change.

img_1612Chop any sort of greens (David used Savoy here, but spring greens are just as lovely). Saute chopped carrot and onion in olive oil or Yare Valley rapeseed oil till soft and then season. Remove from the pan, then add a good handful of whole almonds (preferably with skins on) and saute them for a couple of minutes. Remove from the pan. Whilst cooling, quickly blanch the greens in about 100ml of water with a lid on tight till slightly underdone, then drain – keep the cooking water. Crush the almonds, but keep some chunky bits. Put the cooked freekah, carrot and shallot back in the pan with the oil, add the greens then throw in the almonds. Season. Add a small amount of the reserved cooking water, clamp on the lid and cook for one more minute. Voila! Great with a jacket potato.

#Veganuary Day 6. Tadkha is the word

img_7332When David had his 60th birthday tea, as he was leaving the lovely Sandip pressed a plastic box into my hands and said something like “you will be exhausted tonight, have this box of ……..” but I didnt catch the word. However he was right. We were exhausted, and when I opened the box about 8pm that evening a heavenly waft of fresh and deep curry paste rose to greet me. This is what we are having tonight and having checked with Sam earlier, the word is ‘tadhka’ which means something like curry-paste-base-for-any-meat-or-vegetable-curry.

Today me and my man had a lovely relaxed mooch around Norwich, wandering up Magdalen Street, visiting Three Magdalen Street and its fab modernist original pieces of furniture; Loose’s where I was tempted by two Swedish school lockers and some little Swedish saucepans; then up to revisit the Little Shop of Vegans where my original impression was confirmed. Catering to a particular market, it is a great ambassador for the vegan diet and is heavy on T shirts and soaps, has two fridges with  many products mimicking meat but sadly no fresh soya milk or soya products. Hey ho.  Then we went to Desh – the wonderful Halal supermarket. Bought Doodhi (bottle gourd) and little aubergines, some fresh dill and coriander.  Then into the centre of town and back to Tofurei which was a little more lively than when I was there earlier in the week but which -perversely for the first soya based dairy in Norwich – sells lovely chocolate, strawberry or vanilla (sweetened) soya milk but no plain unsweetened soya milk.  However the soft fresh tofu looked divine and the tasty morsels of herbed tofu sausages and burgers were really lovely, as was the the truly scrumptious Tyne Chease boxes – we bought the smoked chease – and the cakes were mouthwatering.  I am going to make some pasta with the tofu tomorrow (tofu instead of egg). Yes, I know. Wierd. But I am told you cannot tell the difference….. watch this space.

img_3685Then, because it cannot be ignored, and to enter its portals is to guarantee purchasing at least one book, to The Book Hive where I spent my Christmas money. For once I bought only two  We had lunch and mint tea in Moorish, the Felafel bar in Lower Gate Lane and we confirmed that the Norwich Lanes, with their independent shops and eateries, knock The Malls in Norwich into cocked hats.

We staggered home, and himself immediately disappeared into the workshop for four hours whilst I pottered about in the kitchen. And so to dinner.  I made some dough for flatbread which is currently proving in the best spot in the house. On the floor. In the bathroom. By the oil filled radiator.

Then I set to and made the Tadkha.  These are the things you need to prepare.  First, chop 3 onions in the food processor until nearly a paste and dry them in a non stick wok on a high heat for about 15 minutes. Keep checking that they are not sticking.  Then mince 3 cloves of garlic and 6 green chillis into it (easier to do this with a pestle and mortar). Add to the onions then add about 25ml olive oil.

Dry roast the following: a dessert spoon full of cumin seed, half a dessert spoon of coriander seek, a small stick of cinnamon, 2 black cardamom img_3689pods, remove from the heat when they are popping and allow to cool a little. Then grind in either a pestle and mortar, or I use a coffee grinder specifically kept for spices.  Add to the onion mixture, turn down the heat and cook gently with the lid on for about an hour. Yes, an hour.

Then add a tablespoon of tomato purée and cook for about 5 minutes until the oil separates.  Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes.  Add two inches of grated fresh ginger (keep some in your freezer and grate from frozen) and a small bunch of fenugreek leaves (I substitute with fresh dill).  Add a little salt, a dessert spoon of garam masala and turmeric powder, stir and cook for a few more minutes.  Then its done. It should look deeply red and be a thick paste.

This  may appear to you to be fiddly and time-consuming but it isn’t once you get into the swing of it.  Just turn on 6Music and relax. My kitchen cupboard is stocked up with fresh spices and you might want to start your collection too. But don’t let them get stale. They don’t keep forever and the beauty of Tadkha is that it is fresh, deep and vibrant all at the same time, because the flavours develop in the pan and the ingredients are freshly ground.  So dont be tempted to use ground spices (with the exception of turmeric in this instance).  I keep every day use spices in my masala dabba img_3690and the rest of the stock in sealed bags in a basket where they wont get too hot or damp.

So what have I made for tonight? I chopped the lovely little aubergine and bottle gourd purchased in Desh and fried off in a pan with a little onion. When soft I added about four hefty tablespoons of the Tadkha and loosened it slightly with just a little water.  You could also use yogurt. Then I cooked the vegetables in the sauce for about 5 minutes, and added a handful of spinach leaves. Then I turned off the heat and kept the lid on.

I also cooked the eternal standby in our house. Chick peas with chilli, cinnamon, coconut and fresh coriander and it couldnt be simpler.  Fry two large chopped onions with some chilli flakes and an inch of chopped fresh ginger in very little oil.  When the onion looks like its going to stick, add the water from a tin of chick peas and cook for a further five minutes.  Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes, two tins of chickpeas (you will have used the water from one, but drain the other)  and a tin of coconut milk, a flat dessert spoon of ground cinnamon, a flat dessert spoon of brown sugar and a grind of black pepper.  Let it cook for about an hour then add just a little  salt to taste. Before you serve, stir in some chopped fresh coriander leaf.

So cooking today took a little while, because I had to make the Tadkha. But I only used about a third of it so now there is some sitting in a jar in the fridge.  Its a good standby , and in a similar vein as having Thai green curry paste to hand, it means you can produce a quick curry by adding it to chopped chicken or lamb and adding a little more water or some yogurt.

So now, I am going to roll out the flatbreads and freeze what we dont eat.    And make a simple raita with grated cucumber (centres removed), salted then mixed with yogurt and fresh coriander. Except I wont eat that bit because its Veganuary!!

By the way. If you are in Marylebone, make sure you visit Sam’s sister Ravinder’s restaurant Jikoni, which opened to four star reviews last year.

#Veganuary Day 5 Ten lessons learned about a stir fry

img_7305A Curate’s egg sort of a day, that included further considerations about  a tender submission, breakfast with David going over legal documents, some impromptu and unexpected advice from the accountant prior to seeing the solicitor about Important Grown Up Things like Wills, Power of Attorney and Advance Declarations (Living Wills). Then a long drive for my professional supervision session in Kings Lynn followed by a wonderful sunset on  the quay. Then driving home I witnessed a horrible RTA involving the frail old man I had seen in the garage 5 minutes earlier, who had driven away with his lights switched off. Stayed with him till the police came then drove home. No food since breakfast and subsequently very hungry.

But the gods were not with me. They never are when I cook in the wrong frame of mind.  I marinaded the fresh tofu I bought in Tofurei in light soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic, lemon grass and sesame seeds. Made a flat omelette with spring onion, one egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds. When it was cool I rolled it then sliced it (this is the non-vegan version, just leave this bit out if you like).img_3673

We live in the sticks and don’t have new fangled luxuries such as mains gas. So I use a camping stove to stir fry. First lesson. In the winter, don’t leave the gas canisters out in the cold utility room. Gas pressure was rubbish for stir frying but I carried on regardless. Second lesson. Don’t forget to buy soba noodles. I had, so had to use vermicelli noodles instead which I hate as they always stick together no matter how hard I try and how many times I throw them in cold water as soon as they are done. Fourth lesson. Don’t forget to remove the tofu from the marinade when you fry it. I was in such a hurry I threw it all in the pan which meant it didn’t crisp up. Sixth lesson. Stir fry the vegetables (sliced leek, pepper, spring onion, mushroom, garlic, ginger) swiftly.img_3668 I couldn’t because the gas pressure was too low. Seventh lesson.  Check you have all the ingredients you need. I didn’t so we didn’t have any rice wine and had to raid the Fino sherry bottle instead. Eighth lesson. Don’t break the no drinking rule you set for yourself. I did. When I swigged some dry sherry from the bottle. Ninth lesson. When mixing cornflour with some light soy sauce, get the proportions right or you will end up with a claggy sauce. I did (have a claggy sauce). Tenth lesson. Don’t transfer the wok to the hot plate in a vain attempt to get more heat, when you already know the wok doesn’t conduct the heat properly on the halogen hob. It will only make you more cross. It did.

We ate it. I was grumpy. The egg strips were scattered on the non vegan dish. The flavour was delicious. It looked like a dogs dinner. We shoukd’ve had a takeaway, and the kitchen looks like  bomb has hit it!

And all the time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor old boy in the car who looked so frail and alone in his ripped up car, and wondered if  he had family to care for him.  Dinner didn’t matter but he does.




#VeganuaryDay4 Keeping warm

img_3667Quick post for Day 4 as I am off to the cinema. But it’s cold. Cold. Cold. And I wanted something warm to cheer me. Like Horlicks or some other sugar laden drink from a jar.  But the fount of all knowledge, generosity and goodness – Kathy Payne - has taught me a thing or two, I can tell you.  One example is maca powder.

Related to radish, it tastes nothing like radish. It tastes like Horlicks. And it’s jam packed with Vitamin B and Vitamin C.

In my mug, I put half a teaspoon of maca powder and a good sprinkling of coco nibs (from Holland and Barrett). I mixed them together with some nearly boiling water and half a mug of unsweetened almond milk, then gave it a good whizz in the Nutribullet. Then I added another half mug of almond milk and heated it in the microwave.  Believe me. it’s just like Horlicks – except it won’t spike your blood sugar and it is good for you!

#VeguanaryDay3 Kale for Cathie

IMG_6819Oh for goodness sake. Don’t you just want to dive under the covers on the first working day of the new year?  The house is quiet, there are still stray baubles under the sofa. That red wine stain on the carpet is still there. It is an attention seeking stain. The bins are overflowing outside and the bin man isn’t coming till tomorrow. And there is a bag of kale on the shelf that needs to be used.

The first deceit of the day  was to pretend I was getting up, I wandered sleepily round the house whilst David got ready for work; I skulked until the coast was clear, then I dived back into bed with avocado on toast and a sprinkle of toasted oats and pumpkin seeds. So far, so virtuous (I). Then I spent the next hour repeating the mind-games of yesterday …. I will just read that Elena Ferranti book until she mentions Nino ………  I will just read it to the end of the  page….. I will just read it to the end of  the next section. Then I will get up. Ha!  Well I did! So there!

Then the mad flurry. Straight into the office (which is next to the kitchen), reconnect the printer and dive straight into the database of research I am compiling for a client.  Five hours hard graft. So far, so virtuous (II), with an on-off internet signal. Then the signal disappeared completely.

Swearing, I left the office. Into the kitchen. Peered into the fridge. As we were pitifully low on stocks of tofu, soya milk and Tartuffi and with a strong desire to visit The Little Shop of Vegans – a new shop opened in Magdalen Street, and Tofurei  – Norwich’s first shop-based micro dairy – meant a drive into Norwich, and a quick meet up with Cathie to hand over fundraising cheques.  Kale, she said. What can I do with kale?  Her question loitered in my brain and met its friend the bag of kale sitting on the shelf at home.

Finally there was a quick run into Rainbow for grains and yeast flakes, where I scooped up a bag of soya beans with a vague notion of trying to make soya milk myself (I’ve signed up to Tofurei’s tofu making course in the spring, so watch this space!)

Anyway. To kale or not to kale, that is the question?  In our house it’s a yes. We love the stuff. Quickly steamed, drizzled with tahini; mixed with spinach and feta (vegan’s avert your eyes!) in a filo pie; chopped up in garlicky mashed potatoes and seasoned with white pepper instead of black; toasted lightly in olive oil then steamed and returned to the pan with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Or just plain old bubble and squeak with leftover potatoes.

Tonight’s beauty is to use it as a salad by mixing cooked and finely shredded kale with equal quantities (by volume, not weight) of cooked brown rice and cooked red quinoa and then smothering in a rich dressing.  Shred the cooked kale and remove the stalks. Combine with the grains. Add a little chopped red onion, a shake of caraway seed and a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill. Mix it all up. Then pour over as much dressing as you like – enough to make it glisten.

For the dressing take one empty but clean 350g size jam jar. Grate two cloves of garlic into it. Add half a teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and two teaspoons of agave syrup.  Then fill the jar one quarter full with lemon juice or white wine vinegar and top up with a good quality olive oil, rapeseed oil or groundnut oil.  Put on the lid. Shake vigorously and spoon as much as you need over your salad and mix it all together.   You should have dressing left over – keep it in the jar and use it tomorrow. It’s lovely if you add chopped fresh basil leaf to it, or chervil.


#VeganuaryDay2 Jackets

img_3658Elemental would cover it, I think. Mist, fog, sun, rain, hail, snow. And pounding seas. We threw some provisions in the campervan (yesterday’s soup, rolls from the freezer, hummus, tea bags) and trundled off to West Runton fired-up and optimistic, and with the sound track of Springsteen’s new album.

There followed a headlong-into-the-elements walk up the beach to Sheringhm and back, picking out some fossils as we trudged at 45degrees top-of-the-head-leading, three layers, hats, gloves, the lot. Marvellous.

Lunch was a bit of a steam-up in the van and then we fell into the comfortable conversation mode that always emerges when we are sitting knee to knee in the van. The best conversations happen in that van – what we want to do this year, priorities, family visits, work deadlines, holiday dreams.

Now we are home. It is freezing. The gritter lorries are out. I don’t want to spend ages cooking – I am completely hooked on Elena Ferranti’s Neapolitan novels – so tonight’s vegan dinner is a simple but comforting one.

img_3663Jacket potatoes all crisp on the outside and fluffy on the in. And a ratattoule hastily thrown into the pan,  chopped onion, courgette, red pepper, aubergine, garlic sweated in oil and a little bit of water. Then a scattering of smoked paprika, black pepper and half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. And in go a tin of any beans (today it’s cannellini) including the juice.  And green beans left over from Saturday. Stir round then cook with the lid on for 10 minUtes then add a tin of chopped tomatoes and an equal amount of cold water.Add a good dash of white wine vinegar and a squirt of agave syrup (or a dessert spoon of brown sugar).  Bring slowly up to a simmer then cook with the lid off for about an hour and a half. Or two. The longer you cook it the more unctuous it becomes. Add salt at the end rather than at the beginning because otherwise the bean skins go a bit tough. When it is done I shall add the 50g or so of tofu I have left over from yesterday, broken up then stirred in. And a good handful of chopped fresh basil or fresh coriander just before serving.

To be honest with you, if you cook it long and slow it will go thick and treacly. When it gets to that stage it is simply wonderful for breakfast on toasted sourdough.

img_3663I am off to the sofa now, woodburner is blazing. 2 hours with my book before dinner pausing only to put the jackets in the oven an hour before we want to eat.

#VeganuaryDay1 Chestnut sausages

Brown rice, chestnut and tofu sausages
Spiced chestnut sausages

I posted these sausages in the summer when I started trying out the new sausage-making attachment on the Kenwood.  They were lovely, and like most first-time recipes, needed just a little tweak  – so if you are re-reading this recipe, I left out the red pepper and the spring onions.. Today is January 1st and the first day of my annual vegan-and-alcohol-free month. Himself is still welding something in the garage and, according to rumour, is also trying out his new biscuit jointer (don’t ask!) Instead of walking on the beach in the damp grey drizzle with thousands of others, we stayed at home. Pottering.  My pottering is nearly always in the kitchen.

Last time I made these sausages, I realised that if you go through the faff of making sausages, you might as well freeze a load. So the ingredients here will do about 24 sausages. They are very easy to make and this time I have not used the sausage machine (one task too many for a relaxing new years’ day) but simply formed them into sausage shapes instead.

In the food processor, whizz one onion to very fine dice then put in a big bowl.  Grate in one clove of garlic. Whizz three 180g vacuum packs of chestnuts in the food processor leaving some little chunks, but mostly to look like coarse breadcrumbs. Empty into the bowl.  Add a mug full of fine wholemeal breadcrumbs (I happened to have some left over bulgar so I added some of that too). Mix together with your hands.  Add about 300g  of firm tofu (don’t go yuk – you can’t taste it and it acts as the binder). Make sure your hands are really clean then dive into the bowl to squidge it all together so the ingredients are evenly distributed..

Now add a good tablespoon of finely chopped fresh sage and some thyme leaves, one flat teaspoon of paprika and one of allspice (not mixed spice – that’s different!) two teaspoons of ground cumin, a shake of fennel seed, about one tablespoon of miso, a good grind of black pepper and 25ml light soy sauce. Squidge away again. Taste a little to check the seasoning. Don’t use dried herbs here, they will taste bitter. Just make sure that the fresh herbs are finely chopped.

Lightly grease a baking tray. Fill a bowl with cold water.  Wet your hands then form sausages from the mixture and lay on the baking tray. When all the mixture has gone, put the tray with the sausages in the freezer until they are frozen then transfer to a bag and keep till needed.  They cook better straight from frozen, so don’t defrost.

Last time I added cooked brown rice as a filler and that was lovely too and gave a lovely texture to the sausage. These sausages are smoother and with a herby flavour.

Now – think roaring fire, mashed potato, lots of dark greens and onion gravy!

Preparations for vegan January

img_3632I don’t go all Zen after Christmas, but I do like to take stuff to the charity shop, rifle through the food cupboards to see what’s gone and what remains.  My my body and my gut need a rest. Above all, I crave greens. Platefuls of greens.

So eating a vegan diet in January – Veganuary – serves me well, psychologically and physically. It recalibrates the way I think about food and it challenges me to eat more carefully. I always feel better at the end of January having done it.

Today – after two weeks of mass catering for SistemaNorwich curry night then a week of guests arriving, staying, leaving, and extra lovely people turning up unexpectedly – the fridge is back to its normal content level and I am particularly pleased that no food was wasted – we have two spare butternut squash and a bag of kale, that’s all.

Today, himself is pottering in his workshop doing a bit of welding and I’ve been to Myhills to pick up my Christmas present to myself – a quince tree and a robin pear tree.  The rest of the day will be taken up with browsing through my favourite books looking for something lovely to add to my list of vegan recipes. I’ll be posting a few over the next four weeks.

Some favourite books in my bookcase(s) …..

Absolutely anything by Claudia Roden. Especially her books on Spanish and Jewish cuisine. What’s great about them is she is not only the best food writer ever (in my opinion) but  she takes care to include  the origin and history of the development of flavours  and cuisine along the trade routes. Similarly, Clifford A Wright takes this approach in his massive tome ‘A Mediterranean Feast’. I first encountered it on the bookshelf of Guy Hunter-Watts’ house Dar Hajra in Montecorto. It entertained and delighted me for a full  week in the rainy Grazalema mountains.img_3638

Of course, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tammimi are legends – if a little repetitive – and Sam and Sam Clarke’s Moro collection, again championing Spain and North Africa, along with Argo der Haroutunian, have the Spain and North African themes covered. They are well thumbed, tomato and turmeric spattered masterpieces, earmarked, tagged and with notes in the margins, and taken to bed again and again to savour and to comfort.img_3637

Denis Cotter is also a hero of mine.  We accidentally fetched up in Cafe Paradiso in Cork about 15 years ago. In my view it is the best vegetarian restaurant we’ve encountered and that first  meal was the most memorable too.  His recipes are a bit complicated but they are delicious and consistent. All his books are in my ‘special’ bookcase in the kitchen, whilst the also-rans are on the reserve boockcase in the den!

img_3636A relative newcomer to the shelf is The Ethicurean – not strictly vegan to be honestl – but has particularly wonderful soup recipes, for example roasted courgette and cobnut soup with ginger, turmeric and mint, and roasted tomato and liquorice basil soup. Strangely, Mark and Linda moved to Wrington, just down the road from The Ethicurean, just a few months ago. It is on my ‘to visit’ list.

Other relatively new arrivals to my shelves were selected from Kitchen Arts and Letters in New  York. If you’ve never been and are in NY, then I recommend. If you can never go, then choose a day when no one else is at home, and lose yourself in its website. You won’t be sorry. Crossroads written by LA vegan restauranter Tal Ronnen is a vegan cook’s blessing – how about butternut squash purée on flatbread with charred greens and Brussels sprouts, or chives & vegan fettuccini with asparagus and morels? Tempted?  And then there is Veganomicon by Isa Moskowitz and Terry Romero.  I mentioned this last year and have tried practically every recipe since then, especially lovely are black beans in chipotle adobo sauce, banana-nut waffles and lost coconut custard pie. Although every one is a winner! Only today I was inspired by Veganomicon to transform a standard ‘vegetable drawer’ soup by making a sage and walnut pesto to drop into the middle of each bowl.

img_3641img_3640Now, to my old stager. I think it’s out of print now. I bought it in Jarrolds remainders box (the flyleaf tells me in 1991). The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi.  I promise you, you will not go near any of the popular curry tomes if you own this. The living outcome of its influence is the number of times curry is on the menu in this house and the relative ease in which curry for up to 70 at one sitting can be organised!

And finally I come to the fermenting bible which is Fermenting Vegetables by K&C Shockey. This, along with cold smoking,  is my 2017 project.

So, good friends, I wish you a healthy, happy and peaceful 2017. Keep reading, and please share the blog with your mates too and get them to sign up for blog updates (you could do the same). There’s a cookbook in here somewhere!





#12Days Fast puddings Day 1

Pudding doesn't have to take forever to prepare.
Pudding doesn’t have to take forever to prepare.

OK. I know. I promised sauces and gravies today, but quite frankly that’s a pretty boring way to finish the #12Days blog series.

Today is a quiet day……….. the grandchildren are at home and building their own family Christmas traditions. The grown up children are visiting, but at the moment are out visiting the nephews. My mother is still in bed, and having lived on her own for the last 37 years she is making the most of breakfast in bed, the crossword, three cups of tea and her radio on full blast.  David is wrapping his presents and  as for me  …… well I am a bit footloose to be honest.  Katie and Will always do the food on Christmas Eve (Canadian Tortiere and slaw – follow link) so that’s catered for.  Tomorrow we are having pheasant either in a pot or roasted – not quite decided yet – and Boxing Day we are having the guinea fowl.

So today I thought…… what about fast puddings?  We are not really big pudding eaters – certainly not Christmas Pudding – and after all the scrumptiousness of the main course, a big pudding is not high on our list.   So if you are of a similar frame of mind, or – like me – fancy a pudding way past the meal, and probably about 9pm after too much wine and contemplating another, then this is the page for you.

Icecream and Pedro Ximinez

Take some good quality vanilla icecream from your freezer. Put a scoop in a dish and pour over about 30ml dark, treacly Pedro Ximinez sherry.  Divine.

Icecream and Malteser sauce

Take some good quality vanilla icecream from your freezer. Bash a bag of Maltesers or chocolate Santa’s gently with a rolling pin. Scatter over the icecream (after all, MacDonalds do it already and call it a ‘flurry’).

Toasted croissant with raspberry sauce and cream

Take one stale croissant. Split it in half and toast it lightly.  Whizz some raspberries or blackcurrantes n the blender with a little icing sugar, warm them slightly, add some Kirsch or Creme de Cassis, and pour over the hot croissant. Serve with cream or icecream.

Floating Islands with dragons blood

These are Monty’s favourites and so easy to do.  Whisk 3 egg whites with 60g caster sugar till firm.  Put 300ml milk and water (50/50) in a wide shallow pan and bring to a gentle simmer.  Then spoon dessert spoons of meringue on top and poach them 5 minutes each side. Drain on kitchen paper.  Pour 500ml ready made custard (I love the Madagascar custard from Waitrose) into a saucepan and heat it up. Then whizz a good handful of raspberries to a puree with some icing sugar.  Pour hot custard into a dish, put a ‘floating island’ meringue on top then drizzle with ‘dragons blood’ or caramel sauce from a well known supermarket.

Cheat’s Banoffee

Use one digestive biscuit per serving. Buy ready made condensed milk caramel from the supermarket (or you can make your own by boiling a tin of condensed milk – tin pieced once – for about 2.5 hours then store in the fridge). Whip some cream. Chop some bananas.  Now construct.  Biscuit first. Then a dollop of caramel. Then chopped banana. Then cream.  And maybe the grated foot off a chocolate Santa.

Pancakes and fresh fruit

Two heaped tablespoons of flour, half a teaspoon baking powder, a little salt, one egg, 150ml mixed water and milk (50/50).  Mix madly with a hand whisk.  Dollop spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle or frying pan. Wait till the bubbles start to rise then turn and cook on the other side.  Serve with chopped strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – in fact any berries – and cream or icecream

My favourite cheat

I am not a fan of hot Christmas pudding. But cold? With a slab of cold butter? And a good slug of Advocaat on top?  Now that’s what I call a sofa treat!

Wishing you all the very best for the festive season. Signing off now until the new year – I hope it is a peaceful, healthy and happy one for all of you.

#12Days Get ahead with the veg! Day 2

photo (1)I’m offering some suggestions for get-ahead festive veg. You know what it’s like…… opening presents takes an age and you are planning on eating about 3.   Will they please hurry up with thenunwrapping? My advice is to get ahead and do your veg tomorrow. Then on Christmas Day, quaff back the fizz and relax!

Roast potatoes. My tips.

  • Peel and cut into big chunks. Plunge into boiling water for 3 minutes,  drain. Chuck them about a bit in the colander. Heat fat in a big roasting tray – my preference is duck fat or coconut oil – guaranteed for real crispness – then throw in the potatoes, turn them round in the fat. Put back into the oven  for 30 minutes till they are almost done and starting to go crispy. Then take them out. Either leave,  in a cool place, covered with a clean cloth,  and finish off the next day  in the same pan for 20 minutes, or cool then down and freeze, and cook from frozen for 30 minutes.
  • This method works for roast parsnip, celeriac, any root vegetable in fact
  • If you like you can add slices of onion and chunks of garlic  and black pepper for the second roasting.


God, do I really have to mention sprouts with chestnuts,  or sprouts with lardons? No! I will not!

  • Cut the sprouts in half and stir fry in a wok with some olive oil until slightly charred (you can add chestnuts if you like – I use Merchant Gourmet, vacuum packed
  • This is Hetty’s method. Prepare your sprouts in your usual way, boil them in salted water until just done and drain well. Then mash them with a potato masher till broken up but not mushy.  You will need to use your judgement now because you need to return them to the pan with a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic, some black pepper, a good grind of nutmeg, and enough double cream to bind it together. Serve in a piping hot dish.


  • wash your carrots and if they are big, cut in half lengthways and again so you have quarters. Butter a baking dish, add the carrots, season with salt and black pepper and the juice of one lemon plus a flat dessert spoon of soft brown sugar. Cover with foil and bake on the bottom shelf for about an hour. You could do this the day before then reheat them.


  • Peel your parsnips, plunge into boiling water for two minutes then drain them. Heat some oil in a roasting tray. Add a dessert spoon of cumin seed. Put the parsnips in the pan, drizzle honey over the top then roast for 45 minutes. Or roast for 15 minutes the day before and put back in the oven for 20 on the day

Dauphinoise potatoes

  • probably the easiest potato dish dish in the world, with the exception of jacket potato!
  • use your food processor to slice your peeled potatoes into thin slices (To serve 10 you will need 2kg)
  • pour 1litre full cream milk and 500ml double cream into a large saucepan and add two crushed cloves of garlic and some salt. Bring to a medium heat then add the sliced potatoes and bring almost to the boil.
  • Generously butter a large shallow dish then pour in the milk and potatoes.  Double wrap with foil and cook in the oven at 175C for about 90 minutes. Remove the foil for the last half hour.  The potatoes will have absorbed all the liquid.  At this stage you can either serve immediately or, cook the day before you need it and reheat the next day.


  • Wash and thinly  slice dark green cabbage then drain. Quickly cook the greens in a scant amount of water until they are slightly underdone, then drain and refresh with cold water, to keep them bright green.  In a wide shallow pan, heat olive oil and a little garlic. Add the greens, stirring round quickly, then add chopped almonds (not flaked almonds, use whole almonds which you can break up by placing in a plastic bag then hammering with a rolling pin!  Stir the greens around in the hot oil till reheated, then serve.


Put two slices of stale bread into the food processor with a couple of green spring onion tops. Pulse. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with a grind of black pepper and a grating of lemon zest.

Cook your cauliflower in the usual way until it is just cooked. Drain it well then return to a buttered dish.  Put a little,oil in a wide pan and heatbit, then add the breadcrumb mixture, stir round to brown it slightly then sprinkle over the cauliflower.

i could go on and on (against my nature, surely?!). But this should give you some non standard options, many of which you can do tomorrow to give you more present opening time on Christmas Day!  Good grief, as I writemImrealise it is only 30 minutes to Christmas Eve.  One more posting on #12Days. Thanks for all your feedback.

#12Days Cakes that pass as Dessert Day 3

img_8106If you are not partial to a traditional Christmas cake then you can whip these cakes up in 5 minutes.  Useful to have in the back of your mind when half a dozen people descent without warning and there is no cake in the house….. or when the Christmas cake is just a pile of crumbs on the cake board.

The cake in the picture is one-such. You don’t need to turn your cake(s) into a 5 tier wedding cake, but each layer is quick and easy.

Clementine and lemon cake

This one is an adaptation of Nigella’s classic. Which must be drawn from much older North African and Spanish recipes for Polenta cake.  It is even easier if you have some of the fruit already puree’d and in the freezer (which is a great way to use up those Satsuma and Clementine that are lurking in the fruit bowl and just past their best0.

Put 6 clementine/satsuma and one lemon (halved) in a pan with boiling water and boil them for about 10 minutes. (Nigella says an hour but quite frankly, its unnecessary). Remove from the pan and place in the food processor when cool.  Then whizz till liquidated. Then add 250g ground almonds, one teaspoon of baking powder, 200g golden caster sugar and six eggs into the food processor and whizz till they are all combined.  Pour into a lined 20cm springform cake tin and cook at 180C for about 50 minutes. Test the centre with a skewer. Cover the top with greaseproof if it looks as if its getting too dark round the edges.  Remove from the oven. Cool. Then spoon over some orange and lemon syrup made whilst the cake is cooking.  Serve just warm with creme fraiche.

Black forest cake

In the food processor, process 200g soft butter with 200g caster sugar, 25g good quality cocoa powder, 4 eggs and 200g plain flour with 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder till it is a soft dropping consistency.  Spoon it into two lined sponge tins and cook at 180C for about  25 minutes. Test with a skewer. Remove from the oven and cool in the tins.  Use one cake and freeze the other.  Drench the cake with kirsch (about 2 tbs), then just before serving cover with cream and drained (tinned) black cherries. and a grating of chocolate on top. Dare you not to love it!

Sticky date and apple cake

This is simplicity itself, from one of my favourite cook books The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne.  Makes frequent appearances at our table, and this one is for Dean.

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm springform cake tin.  Put 100g chopped dates (you can buy them ready chopped in Holland and Barrett) in a saucepan with about 100ml water and bring slowly to the boil to soften them, then take off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, mix and then put somewhere to cool.

Beat 125g soft butter with 125g soft brown sugar for about 3 minutes (in the mixer) then beat in 2 eggs and 6 flat tablespoons of minced fresh ginger. Then add 250g plain flour and 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and beat until combines.  Now stir in the dates and fold in 2 chopped tart apples.  The mixture should have the consistency of a firm batter. If it doesn’t then add a little milk.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 25 minutes.

You can now either eat it as a cake or serve as a pudding.  If pudding, then melt 100g brown sugar with 40z butter, a little salt and when melted, add 100ml double cream.  Put the cake on a wide plate or dish, poke some holes in the cake and pour over half the liquid, let it soak in then pour on the rest.  Voila!

Mincemeat tart(s) with marzipan

Sounds sweet, right? It is!  This is my little invention as the traditional mince pie leaves me a bit cold. So you can either make this as individual mince pies or as one big pie.

Take one pack of frozen shortcrust pastry. Easy so far then! Take one or two jars of mincemeat, depending on how big your pie, and grate in some orange zest. Line either the little tartlet tins with pastry (I use muffin tins because I like more mincemeat than pastry) or a pie or sponge tin. Fill with mincemeat. Instead of pastry topping (who wants more pastry?) roll out some marzipan to about 1.5cm thick and cut out shapes (stars, santas, reindeers – anything really) and place, dotted about, on top of the big pie, or one in the centre of each individual mince pie.

Bake in the oven till cooked and the marzipan starts to melt.


OK. Now I have to go to the butcher to get the Christmas meat. Happy cooking. Hope you agree these are easy to make and where the standard ingredients will already be in your cupboard.

#12Days Quick and easy soups Day 4

1939825_10151766928502395_315665397_n Thanks Clare!

OK, so people arrive and you’re not expecting them.   Or they arrive but they bring more people. Or you just love eating soup with fresh bread. Soup is so lovely – warm, heartening, reviving, welcoming.  Over the festive season, there is often a gap just asking for a bowl of soup. Here are some favourites. Soup recipes were requested by Dean, currently somewhere in the Far East but due home in 11 days I believe!

The first soup here was a real hit at a photoshoot I catered for at a glamping site in North Yorkshire.  20 hungry women photographers, two children, two gas rings, a firepit and a barbeque.  For three days. In mid-March.

It was huge fun and a challenge to cook warming breakfasts, elevenses, lunches, teas, dinners in a field.

All the recipes are for eight people but it is so easy to double up the quantities as needed. Soup (unless you are  making consomme (which I am not) is an imprecise science and so dependent (in our house) on what is in the cupboard.  I’ve chosen recipes that are quick and easy to rustle up and all can be frozen except the last one.  Most can be prepared and steaming in the bowl within 30 minutes.  You might notice that there is not a stock cube in sight.  The flavour is in the ingredients themselves, and the spices/herbs you choose. Thats why these soups taste dense and authentic.

  Tomato, white bean and chorizo soup

Sweat a couple of finely chopped onions, two celery sticks and garlic in some olive oil and butter. Add two mugs full of chopped squash  and stir round. Sweat with the lid on, on a medium heat for five minutes. The add two chopped chorizo sausages (skin removed). Fry for five minutes. Add a teaspoon of smoked paprika, some black pepper, some salt and a flat dessert spoon of sugar. Mix. Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes and half a can of passata, two tins of water and two tins of drained canellini beans (or butter beans, or chick peas, or borlotti beans). Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Done.

Leek and potato soup

Peel 1kg potatoes and chop into small chunks (just to make them cook quicker).  Put a good glug of olive oil and some butter in the bottom of a pan.  Add one finely diced onion, one clove of garlic, three medium sized leeks sliced, then the potatoes and a bayleaf. Turn down the heat and sweat gently for ten minutes.  Then add 750ml water, some salt and bring to the boil, then simmer till the potatoes are cooked.  Whizz in a blender or with your stick blender, then return to the pan.  Check seasoning.  I prefer white pepper to black pepper in this soup.  Add a 50/50  mixture of double cream and milk to bring it back to a medium thick consistency (at the moment it will be gloopy) or the consistency you like best.  Check seasoning again and add a good grating of nutmeg at the end.

Roast vegetable soup with coconut and coriander

Set your oven to 200C and put the roasting tray in the oven. Use a roasting tray as a measure.  Chop a mixture of red peppers, squash or sweet potato, onion , carrot into medium sized chunks.  Add one chopped red chilli and two cloves of crushed garlic. Pour all these into a plastic bag (I use a carrier bag).  Add black pepper, fresh rosemary and parsley and about 50ml olive oil. Squish it round a bit so everything is coated in the oil then turn out onto the hot roasting tray and return to the oven for about 25 minutes.  The vegetables will roast and slightly char at the edges. Then place the roast vegetables in a blender and whizz them to a puree.  Pour into a saucepan. Add three tins of water to the blender and whizz up again to gather the last grains of flavour and pour into the saucepan. Add one tin of coconut milk.  Stir the ingredients together, check the seasoning before eating.  To add another element, make a coriander pesto by combining two tablespoons of fresh coriander (chopped fine), a good grating of lemon zest, a crushed clove of garlic and a tablespoon of pine nuts with either a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, or with plain yogurt. Crush them all together in a pestle and mortar and add a dollop to the middle of each bowl when you serve it.

Chickpea and spinach soup

Soften a large onion in olive oil and butter with as much garlic and chilli flakes as you dare. When they are soft, add one peeled and chopped eating apple. Fry again to soften further.  Add a teaspoon of cumin powder and half a teaspoon of coriander powder.  Drain two tins of chickpeas but keep the liquid.  Add the chickpeas to the apple and onion, stir round and add 1.5 teaspoons of ground turmeric, a little smoked paprika, and a little grate of nutmeg. Coat the chickpeas with the spices in the bottom of the pan and then add the liquid from the cans plus two more cans of liquid.  Add salt.  Cook for about 20 minutes then wash about 300g spinach leaves and pile them into the pan and put the lid on.  Cook for five minutes on a medium heat until the spinach has collapsed. Stir into the liquid and beans and check for seasoning.  Serve with flatbread, and a dollop of good yogurt in the centre of the dish.

Easy lentil soup

This must be the oldest and most trusted soup recipe in our family.  I must have been cooking it for about 45 years at least.  In a large saucepan, gently fry onion, garlic, a chopped apple in oil and butter till they are soft.  Then add four large chopped tomatoes.  Then add a teaspoon of cumin seed and a teaspoon of cumin powder. Add two mugs of red lentils and 750ml of water plus salt.  Bring to a gentle boil then turn down the heat to medium and let the lentils cook away till they ‘split’.  Then stir for a couple of minutes.  Check for seasoning and add a good splodge of tomato puree.  Whizz it all up in the blender or with a stick blender and it will become creamy.  Serve with yogurt of a spoonful of chermoula in the centre.  (Chermoula is roasted cumin and coriander seed, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, black cardamom and chilli seeds, preserved in oil.  They flavour the oil and then you pour a little in the centre of the soup – or use it to flavour roast meat or fish. This reminds me that I must add Chermoula to the list on this blog).

Cullen Skink

Or Cillen Skunk as we call it.  This is probably the easiest soup in the world if you always have some smoked, undyed haddock in the freezer. To be honest it is better with fresh smoked haddock but this is unlikely at Christmas isn’t it?  Just make sure your haddock is defrosted if you use frozen.

Chop peeled potatoes into 1.5cm dice.  Finely dice an equal mixture of onion and leek. Fry the onion and leek in butter and then add the potatoes. Add the tip of a spoon of ground turmeric. Cook them very gently on a low heat until they are all soft.  Then gently poach two or three smoked haddock (depending on the size) in 300ml full cream milk with a bay leaf.  Do not overcook the haddock.  Remove the fish from the milk then pour the cooking milk and 300ml single cream into the pan containing the onion, leek and potato.  Check seasoning. Flake the haddock into large-ish flakes, watch out for bones and remove them. When the milk/cream is just moving in the pan and coming to a simmer, stir all the ingredients and add some more salt and white pepper if you think you need it. Then add the fish to warm it through (it will have already cooked in the milk).  Serve into piping hot soup bowls. Sprinkle with parsley. You can add a poached egg on top if you fancy it!

#12Days Gravlax Day 5

A good thick salmon fillet

This Gravlax is a practically unadulterated version of that shared with me by Dennis – my late father in law. Dennis died earlier this year so this is a tribute to him.  The gravlax was his domain every year and it is also mine. I love preparing it, I love the smell of it, and most of all I love the taste of it on Christmas morning with hot buttered toast and scrambled eggs. And a glass of something cold and sparkling. Then let the present-opening commence.  Another ‘best way’ is on dark rye bread with a gherkin.

Maybe the bestest way is to eat it is late at night when everyone else has gone to bed – shave some slivers off the salmon and eat it illuminated by the fridge light, standing with your back to the kitchen (because if you have your back to the kitchen whilst stealing something from the fridge a) whatever you are stealing has no calories and b) you might get away with bluffing it if you are caught).  You might possibly want to – dip the ends into a little horseradish-laced mayonnaise, clutching a cold roast potato in the other hand.  Naughty. Nice.

For 8 people, sufficient to last you a couple of days, you will need one (or two) middle cuts of salmon, each weighing about 400g.  Ask for the middle cut because the shape and thickness will be symmetrical.  Leave the skin on. Use tweezers to ensure all the bones are removed (run your fingers along the length of the salmon and you will be able to feel it if there are any bones – they stick up like little teeth). Just tweezer them out either with special fish-bone tweezers. Or with your own eyebrow tweezers. Just clean them before and after – can’t have your eyebrows smelling like fish!

Onion and apple on the base, then the fish, then the cure

Trim the fish so it is roughly rectangular, if you need to. Now mix 1 tbsp black peppercorns (ground) with 50g coarse sea salt, 100g chopped fresh dill and 70g caster sugar.  This is the cure for the fish.  Line a dish (or airtight container) with clingfilm so it hangs over the edges.  The container should be  almost the same size as the salmon. Add thinly sliced white or red onion and a thinly sliced eating apple so it lines the base of the container. If you use only one fillet, simply cover it completely with the cure and sprinkle with some vodka, wrap it and turn as Method 1.

Method 1 – Place the salmon skin side down then pile on about 90% of the cure and put the other piece of salmon on top skin side, up and then the remaining 10% of the cure, so it’s like a sandwich.  Wrap the clingfilm round to make a parcel, then place even weights on top of the fish parcel (use a small board if you can, to get even compression)

Method 2 – my preference – place the first fillet skin side down, pile on 50% of the cure, then the second fillet skin side down and cover with the rest of the cure.  Then for both methods  drizzle about 150ml vodka over the top. Put clingfilm over the top and drape it down the sides. Then place even weights on a small board on top of the fish to get even compression. Anything heavy will do.  Then leave it, completely covered for 5 days (no turning).

Add alcohol if you wish

As you can see from these pictures, I use Method 2. I have also drowned it in sloe gin instead of vodka.  This makes for a very distinctive gravlax – with a pretty mouthwatering alcohol edge!!

On Christmas Eve, remove the clingfilm – whether you used Method 1 or 2.  Keep the fish in the container and cover with a cloth to let it breathe.

On Christmas Day, lift one fillet out of the container, scrape off the cure, then shave off thin slices and serve whatever way you wish.

A lovely sauce to serve with it is a good mayonnaise spiked with creamed horseradish, or cold full-fat yogurt with finely chopped cucumber, cornichon and capers.

You might like to try this with Knakerbrod, click on the link.

It really is that simple.

#12Days Crunchy salad Day 6

p1000972After a fundraising curry night here, and staring at the carnage and leftovers in my kitchen this morning, I think we all need a crunchy salad today.  This one is actually for one of my oldest and dearest friends – Marion – who requested the recipe after I made this as a contribution to her wedding feast when she and Andrew a few weeks ago. To be fair it was a hastily constructed piece of work as I was juggling the five tier wedding cake at the time – and the picture of the cake is much more attractive than a bowl full of salad!

Anyway, this salad is either for your Christmas repertoire, or would serve as a saintly dish after all the festivities have died down and you just need something wholesome, non alcoholic and low fat!

Use any mixed green salad leaves as a base – lettuce, crunchy chicory, spinach leaves. As for proportions – well it depends on how many people you are feeding so you will have to judge this one. Chop a small butternut squash into 2cm dice, and drain two tins of chickpeas and put them all in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, crushed garlic and smoked paprika. Mix them around a bit to distribute the seasoning then roast on a shallow baking tray for about 45 minutes until slightly charred at the edges.  Grate one large carrot. Cut a cucumber in half and scoop out the wet middle, then chop the whole cucumber into wedges.  Chop cherry tomatoes in half. and season separately with salt and black pepper.

Open one vacuum pack of freekah (green wheat) – about 100g.  Open one vacuum pack of mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds (about 100g) – drizzle these with a little honey.

Now make the dressing.  As a base, use the following: two grated cloves of garlic, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon agave syrup or honey, two teaspoons Dijon mustard. Place all these in a 450g jamjar. Add white wine vinegar or lemon juice and olive or rapeseed oil to the proportions 1:4 (acid to oil).  Shake vigorously.

If you are making this salad in advance, put a good amount of the dressing in the bottom of the bowl. Then add the tomatoes, the carrot, the cucumber, chopped spring onion tops, and chopped basil and flatleaf parsley.  Season.  Then add the green leaves on top.  Do not mix at this stage (this is a good tip – leave the wet ingredients at the bottom of the bowl steeping in the dressing, add the leaves but dont mix until you are ready to serve).  When you are ready to serve (and you can leave the bowl – covered – for many hours and so long as the green leaves are not touching the dressing it will stay fresh) mix the green leaves into the rest of the salad and put in your serving bowl, then add the roasted squash and chickpeas, seeds and freekah and mix it all around. And it is done.

The basic dressing you can enliven with a range of ingredients depending on your taste – you could add fresh basil, or dill, or yogurt with mint. You could add chopped capers or cornichon. However if you are making the dressing for the festive season, I suggest make a jamjar full of the basic dressing then enliven it with other ingredients as you wish.

Now.  Having hosted a lively Christmas curry event last night there is a scene of utter devastation to deal with in another part of the house. Bin bags at the ready!

#12Days Felafel and Hummus Day 7

Accompaniments for felafel and hummus

The request was for a failsafe felafel and hummus recipe.  Fortunately these are quick and easy as today is Sistema curry night and I have curry for nearly 70 to make. So here goes!

Felafel and hummus are staples in our house. We love them, the boys love them. Everyone loves them. And they are simplicity itself to prepare. What makes these different is they have a little grated carrot in them that keeps them moist inside.


Toast two teaspoons of cumin seed , one of black nigella seed and one of coriander in a dry pan for a couple of minutes till they start popping then remove from the heat. Then grind them in a pestle and mortar.  Put two cans of drained chick peas in the food processor with the following ingredients: a teaspoon of baking powder, a gently rounded tablespoon of plain flour, 3oz grated carrot that you’ve squeezed the water out of by wrapping in a tea towel and twisting; one teaspoon of smoked paprika, one small red chilli (whole) or a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes, one clove of garlic, about 12 stalks of parsley and the zest of a lemon. Oh, and a good sprinkling of seasalt (taste it at the end to see if you need more). Whizz all these ingredients in the processor until they are just on the chunky side of smooth – by which I mean don’t process it down to a paste!  Cover and leave for 20 minutes for the flavours to combine, then form into walnut sized balls and put them all on a plate in the freezer for 5 minutes till you heat your oil till it is almost smoking.  I prefer to shallow fry mine – if the oil is hot enough they will be done in a couple of minutes. Remember you will only have greasy felafel if your oil isn’t hot enough.  Fry in batches of half a dozen at a time and remove, draining on crumpled kitchen paper.  Done!


This is unashamedly filched from my favourite chefs Sam and Sam Clark at Moro with one slight change. Put one tin of drained chickpeas (keep the juice), the juice of one lemon, 1 large garlic clove, crushed to a paste with seasalt, two teaspoons of cumin powder, 75ml olive oil, two tablespoons of tahini into a blender and pulse until smooth.  Then add a bit more of the juice if it is too claggy and two tablespoons of boiling water. Blitz again.  Taste and adjust the seasoning. Best served in a shallow bowl sprinkled with smoked paprika and more olive oil and warm flatbread. When we are in Spain we like to  accompany the felafel and hummus with bowls of olives, small onions pickled in red wine and wine vinegar, pickled chillis and baby artichokes from the market. Of course that’s not quite as easy in the UK in December, but you can improvise!



#12Days Prawn Curry Day 8

img_3199Fran asked for a Christmas prawn curry recipe.  This one will do for any season. It’s a stunner.

Today has been a lovely day – first attending 6 year old Monty’s carol service –   a church full of 4-11 year olds singing their hearts out. And then taking Monty and his 3 year old brother Otto to see Santa in his grotto.  Magical.

So what better way to end the day than to share prawn curry recipes with you?

Sandip gave me a pot of this Tadka after our last pop-up supper, instinctively knowing that the following night we would be completely flakers and want to cook something simple. It was a life-saver of intense yet soothing flavours. And such a generous thought, typical of such a sweet guy.

Tadka, roughly translated, means tempering spices in hot oil to release their flavours.  To make this deeply flavoured paste that you can use with chicken, chick peas, prawns – practically anything  in fact – chop 3 medium sized onions into fine dice and fry them gently till soft. Then add 5 cloves of minced garlic (use a Microplane and grate it over the pan) and cook for a further two minutes, stirring all the time. Add a little more oil. Then add  a dessert spoon of cumin seed, half a desert spoon of coriander seed and 2 black cardamom pods and a small cup of water.  Stir quickly to combine the ingredients then cook with the lid on for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking.  Then add tomato puree and cook again with the lid off until the mixture ‘splits’. Then add half a tin of chopped tomatoes, 2 inches of grated fresh ginger and six finely chopped green chillis and cook for a further 30 minutes.  Add salt to taste, and half a desert spoon of garam masala and the same of ground coriander seed.

This forms the basis of a fulsome curry paste that you can add to any meat or fish you like, adding fresh plain yogurt to lighten it.  Use to marinade the meat or fish (equivalent of 1kg in weight – so use half of the Tadka for smaller quantities) overnight, then cook in the usual way – in a saucepan or wok for about 15 minutes.  Then you can add some coconut milk and chopped fresh coriander if you wish.  If you are using frozen prawns, make sure they are completely defrosted and dried before you mix with the marinade.

Believe me this curry is divine.  Serve with freshly made flatbreads.  Thank you Sandip for sharing the recipe with me.

An alternative is to use a quick and easy Rick Stein recipe adapted by Lynne and eaten more times than we can count at Lynne and Andy’s house whilst putting the world to rights over a couple of bottles of wine. Thanks to Lynne for sharing the recipe again by text and from memory whilst collecting her dad from Dorset.

Fry garlic paste and freshly grated ginger in some oil then add a good tablespoon of Fern’s Green Masala paste and when it splits in the pan, add 500g prawns, frying until they are pink. Then add a tin of coconut milk and cook for a couple more minutes. Then add a big handful of chopped coriander leaf, spring onions and a couple of chopped red chillis. Cook with the lid off for a further two minutes.

To be honest, both these curries are simply delicious.  Making the Tadka means you will probably have some left over to use another night. In fact if you made double the quantity you could store it in an airtight jar for at least a week. It takes more time, but it completely authentic.  The Rick Stein version is quick and very delicious too.  It’s for you to use.

There are recipes for flatbreads on this blog if you want to make some.


#12Days Salmon en croutes ideas Day 9(a)

Photo From Lavender and LovageGill asked for some ideas for a zhoozed up Salmon en croute for their Christmas lunch. The best celebratory s-e-c I’ve ever eaten was in in the Irkutsk School of Medicine at the end of an academic visit there in February 2002 in temperatures rarely rising above -35C. And that is very cold, I can assure you! It is a traditional dish offered to guests – salmon  with chopped onion and chopped egg, capers, sometimes cooked rice,  and herbs, all wrapped in golden pastry decorated with pastry fish scales, gills, fins, the lot.

A tip for a crispy bottom is first to put a heavy baking tray in the oven then heat the oven to 190C.  More tips….. Make sure you have all your ingredients ready.  Roll out the ready made puff pastry on non-stick baking parchment the same dimensions as the tray. Then you can simply slide it all onto the hot baking tray. The reason for pre heating the tray is to prevent the scourge of any en-croute dish – a soggy bottom.

Now. Ideas for zhoosing up the dish….

You could make a duxelles of shallot and mushrooms – frying finely chopped shallot, garlic and mushrooms in oil and butter and seasoning with salt (after cooking and ridding the mushrooms of most of their water) and pepper, a little shake of chilli flakes and chopped fresh dill. Then you can either sandwich the cold duxelles between two salmon fillets and enclose in pastry, or spread it along the top.

Or you could make a deeply flavoured rough pesto with chopped pine nuts, loads of fresh basil, grated parmesan and lemon zest all mixed with some olive oil to wet it slightly and finely chopped kale.

Or you could sweat down a big bag of spinach in a pan with a knob of butter and NO water. Let it get cold. Squeeze out more water then mix the spinach with fresh parsley and fresh thyme, spread on the salmon and stuff with halves of hard boiled egg sprinkled with the merest hint of paprika.

Or you could cook some rice, season it with salt afterwards, then run some pomegranate syrup through it add a handful of golden sultanas, chopped walnuts and salty capers.  Pile it along the length of the salmon before you wrap it in pastry.


So what’s to go with it?  Well you could just have a green salad but that would be a bit boring.

How about parmentier potatoes? Chops potatoes into 2.5cm squares – as many as you want. Throw them into a plastic carrier bag and add chopped garlic, black pepper and chopped rosemary. Don’t add salt at this stage.  Add about 30ml olive oil.  Tie a knot in the bag and you can prepare them and leave overnight if you wish.  Preheat a heavy baking tray containing another 30ml olive oil and 25g butter. Get it really hot then throw in the potatoes and turn them till they are all coated. Put into the oven (190C) and roast for about 35 minutes, turning a couple of times.

Serve with something green – crispy kale, or savoy finished with almonds, or with slivers of raw courgette doused in a lemony dressing. Or watercress.  And always with a garlicky aioli.

There you are Gill…. some ideas to play around with as you lounge on the sofa!

#12Days Appetisers – a little cheesey/pineapple one Tone? Day 9

images-3Whilst reading this blog you should be listening to Demis Roussos.  Treat yourself and click the link for a blast from the past.  This one’s for Barbara who inexplicably asked for suggestions for appetisers.

Now I’m not a great appetiser cook to be honest. It’s all too fiddly for me. However when we were in New York I spent many hours in Kitchen Arts and Letters determined not to buy. However the proprietor reminded me that I could save excess baggage charges if he mailed them to me at home and they would also be tax free. It took me about three months to realise of course that I still spent the money and the postage, just saved on the tax.  But it is a gorgeous shop and I recommend it if you are in New York. It has coffee and chairs and I stayed there five hours.  One of the books I purchased (before having the best pedicure ever on 5th Avenue, watching well coiffed women in spiky heels, whose clothes cost more than my house, marching past for their ‘quick wax darling’) was Martha Stewart’s Appetisers. So, Barbara, you are in luck.

Before we delve into Martha, I will just recommend a couple of things. One is to make it easy on yourself.  Please don’t use piping bags and dots of caviar.  Don’t butter bread  carved into tiny squares.  Don’t make swans out of radishes. Keep it simple.

Another is to keep charcuterie in mind. Think lots of plates of proscuitto or Iberico jamon, sharp little olives, salami or french saucisson, cornichon, quail eggs halved and spiced with a sprinkling of smoked paprika, hot radishes accompanied by bowls of salt, dotted around the room.

Another is toasted bruschetta topped with chopped tomato, olives and fresh basil, seasoned with seasalt and a grind of black pepper.  Or little toasts spread with smoked mackerel pate perked up with horseradish.

Consider offering tiny shots of gazpacho (you can buy it ready made) served ice cold with a splash of vodka and a little sprinkle of celery salt and a little celery stick to stir (you got it – it’s a Bloody Mary)! Or you can do the Virgin Mary option minus the vodka. You can buy little plastic shot glasses in Makro or Poundland for practically nothing.  This is what I did img_3444for Paul’s private view a couple of years ago, which just proves the point that I can do appetisers on a grand scale if needed – I just prefer the easy life!

When we were in Le Puget earlier in the year the charcuterie was served with tiny, buttery, parmesan biscuits. About the thickness of a one pound coin I have since replicated them at home.

Use your food processor for this.  Pulse 100g cold butter with 100g plain flour with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of mustard powder. Then grate in 50g each of strong cheddar and parmesan. Mix together then add a tiny splash of one beaten egg and pulse again till it almost comes together. Turn out  knead it slightly and wrap in clingfilm and put in fridge for half an hour while you have a coffee. Then roll out to about 1.5cm thick and use a small cutter.  Brush the biscuits with remaining egg and sprinkle with a little more parmesan. Place the rounds on parchment paper on a baking tray and bake at 180C for 10 minutes then remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray. Guaranteed to be gone in 10 seconds flat!


Now, consulting Martha,  if you really must mess around with fiddly things, she suggests the following:

  • Mini empanadas, which are just circles of pastry filled with something tasty. Little two-bite Spanish pies that look like Cornish pasties to you and me.
  • Prawns on sticks – what could be simpler?
  • Puree’d vegetable dips – colourful but oh so boring
  • bacon wrapped bites – bacon wrapped round things like shrimp, figs, dates, chillis. Really, isn’t life to short?
  • Crudites with dips – do you really want a dip that someone else has dipped their celery stick in for the third time?
  • proscuitto wrapped round asparagus or breadsticks – pur-lease

Believe me. Keep it simple.  Plates of charcuterie, good bread, some shots, little triangles of watermelon with feta, olives, cornichon, good tomato salsa on buschetta, home made grissini maybe should be the limit of your cooking. Make them with bread dough, roll  into thin sticks, cover with fennel or poppy seed or parmesan and bake for 5 minutes.

Shirley Conran said “Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom”.  She was right!

And here’s the link to Abigail’s Party  …… Now. Where’s my Demis Roussos? And my cocktail sticks?


#12Days Spinach, pine nut and sweet potato b’stilla Day 10


In Morocco b’stilla is just ‘pie’.  You can fill it with whatever you like, and I have made a chicken and a pheasant version. But this one is for vegans and vegetarians.  It’s one of those dishes that people eat, look quizzical and ask “oo, what’s in it”?  It’s flavoured with a little cinnamon and spices. It’s rich and the flavour goes on and on. It looks impressive too. Especially if you drift just a little icing sugar over it.  Yes! It is a classic combination of North African flavours that include sweet and savoury. The proportions are entirely up to you, however. This recipe feeds 8. Just make two if you have more guests!

First the filling.  Sweat a large chopped onion with three chopped garlic cloves, a small de-seeded red or green chilli, a grated thumb of fresh ginger. Then add a large peeled and chopped sweet potato and some chopped carrot.  Sweat these till they are soft too.  Add a good grating of nutmeg and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, four large deseeded and chopped tomatoes, salt and black pepper. Stir these in and sweat for a further 10 minutes. Add a little more oil if necessary.  Now you have a choice.  If you have chard in the garden or can lay your hands on some, then chop about 5 large leaves and stalks and lay on top of the mixture in the pan. Alternatively you can use spinach or kale or broccoli. Add about 30ml water put the lid on the pan and cook again for 5 minutes to just cook the greens. Check the seasoning again.  Add a good helping of chopped flatleaf parsley and coriander leaf. At this point you can, if you wish, add about 100g pine nuts and 100g Lexia raisins if you wish.

Now, take a packet of Filo pastry you purchased earlier.  Either use individual tins (see picture) or a large springform cake tin, or just a baking tray on which you can make a parcel. Grease and shake some coarse semolina around the tins. Regular readers of this blog will know that semolina is my favourite ingredient when it comes to greasing and lining tins. It adds a bit of crunch and is better than dusting with flour in my opinion.

Lay squares of overlapping filo over the tins with lots of pastry hanging over the edge. Grease the filo sheets with a little oil as you go. Rotate the tin clockwise with every sheet of filo so the points of the pastry are in different places. Add the filling and push to the edges, sift a little icing sugar over the filling, then fold the pastry sheets over the top, scrunching them up a bit in a haphazard sort of way.  Brush with oil and bake in the oven at 190C for about 35 minutes.  If you are making a big pie, you can do this on a lined baking tray. Use the same method re the pastry except use whole sheets. Pile all the filling in the middle, flatten it out, then fold the pastry over the top. This one will take about 50 minutes to cook. Lining the tray makes it a) stop sticking and b) you can drag the whole thing off the baking tray and onto a flat plate!

If you like the idea of a sweet edge then very lightly dust with icing sugar when ready to serve.  You could even, if you’re feeling fancy, scorch lines on the top with a hot skewer. Or not, if you have a life!

#12Days Vegan Chestnut and Celeriac raised pie Day 11


OK so this one is for Shaila who asked for a vegan recipe for Christmas day.  She will pass it on to Gav to work his magic! This is a take on a pork pie of course, except it is nothing of the sort.  Instead it is a pie suitable for vegans and vegetarians. And carnivores come to that.  I’ve made it three times now, each with different fillings. I’ll offer the alternatives later.

This is what David has ordered for Christmas lunch.

The pastry is of the hot water crust variety and is as easy as wink to make. The knack is to mould it whilst it is still warm, which rather goes against all the rules – unless you are making hot water crust pastry. The clue is in the title! You don’t need a hi-falootin’ pie tin with springform sides, so if you don’t possess one (I don’t) then this shouldn’t put you off. I’ve used a jam jar (too slippery), a mug (handle got in the way) but found in the end that a stainless steel ring-form worked perfectly.  More of this later.

The filling is easy too, wintery and warming, fragrant with garlic and sage wafting out the steam hole!  It is rare for me to give precise ingredients and proportions on this blog but to get it right, this time it’s necessary. Let’s get started.

First make the filling. You can make this in advance so that it is cold when you fill the pies. For four pies you will need:

180g vacuum packed chestnuts

50ml olive oil

1 banana shallot or onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, grated

1 small celeriac peeled and chopped into 1cm dice

1 medium sized carrot chopped into 1cm dice

1 stick celery chopped into 1cm dice

2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped (remove wet centre)

Vegetable stock – about 200ml

Chopped fresh sage (about 8 leaves  – if you  use dried sage, then use sparingly)

1 flat tablespoon of Miso


pinch of chilli flakes (optional)


Gently sweat all the vegetables in the oil until soft, then turn up the heat and add the chopped tomatoes and chilli, allow to bubble furiously, then add the herbs and the chestnuts. Mix well. Add the stock and the miso, bring to the boil then turn the heat down to medium and let it gently simmer away with the lid off for about half an hour. Half way through, check for seasoning and adjust. You should now have a lovely thick ‘stew’ and not too much liquid.  At this stage if the ingredients are swimming in liquid, take some out so that when in the pan, the liquid only just reaches the top of the vegetables etc. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Then slake some cornflour with the juice in the pan, return to the pan to thicken the ‘gravy’.  Now let it cool thoroughly.  Practice showed me that the colder the filling, the better the pie. So you could make this the day before. Or freeze it till you need it.

Now for the hot water crust pastry. Be not afraid!

175g wholewheat plain flour

75g white plain flour

50g fine oatmeal

75ml olive oil or rapeseed oil

1 tsp salt

130ml boiling water

Let me first say that it will help if you have your filling ready, the oven warmed up to 190C, some extra flour for rolling out and four stainless steel rings that have been well greased and powdered with fine semolina.

Sift all the flour into a bowl, add the salt and the oatmeal and mix well.  Add the oil and rub it in  (as if it were butter – or lard!) then add the water and mix swiftly with a wooden spoon till all the ingredients come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for a minute then leave it for 5 minutes.  Place your rings on a baking tray on which you have placed a sheet of baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Cut the dough into four pieces and each piece into two – a larger piece of the pie and a smaller piece for the top. The dough will be warm and you need to work fairly quickly.  Roll out the larger piece so it will fit into the ring mould and come up the sides and beyond. It is easy to mould at this stage.  The idea is to tease the pastry as high as you can above the mould – the mould is only there to secure the base.  Don’t think mince pie thickness – think thicker. This is a robust pie! So now you have the first pie in its mould and the pastry standing well above the top of the mould.  Now fill the pastry with the chestnut and celeriac filling.  One tip is to take some out and mash it first and put the mashed contents at the bottom and the chunkier bits on top.  Then fill up with the gravy.  Roll out a top that fits.  Use some of the gravy to wet the edges. Place the top on the pie and crimp together. Pierce a hole in the top to let the steam escape.  Now do it again three times.

Marion told me that she ‘raised’ her pies around a jam jar, and Sue said she did the same but used a baked bean can.  Jo said she couldn’t be bothered with any of that old business and simply made individual ‘pork pie’ sized ones in deep muffin trays. I tried these aswell and they worked really well . Remember that as the pastry cools it becomes firmer and I found the ring moulds worked well and contained the base – reducing the risk of the pie collapsing as it cooks.

Place the baking tray in the centre of the oven and cook the pies for about 40 minutes until golden brown and the gravy is bubbling out the top.  When you remove them from the oven, keep them on the tray and in the moulds.  I suggest you leave for about 30 minutes then you should be able to upend and run a very sharp pointed knife round the inside of the mould to release it.

If you have left over juice, then use it to make the gravy.

Banana and Ginger ice-cream and ginger nobs

Lemons are the only fruit

If you are looking for a quick dessert for Christmas this is my take on a Nigella recipe for soft-scoop, no churn ice-cream. It’s so easy it’s criminal and is laced with stem ginger and syrup and served with ginger biscuits. Sorry, no picture of icecream. We ate it all too quickly for an arty shot. This recipe is for Su, because she requested it.


Take one can of Fussell’s condensed milk and open it. (Dare you not to stick your finger in!) Whip 500ml double cream. Whip two very ripe bananas to a froth. Finely grate the zest from half lemon.Take about six golden sticky nuggets (that’s me being Nigella) of stem ginger out of the jar. Chop into pieces, maybe six to eight pieces. Combine the condensed milk, the whipped cream, the bananas, the zest  and the stem ginger with a spoon or a hand-held mixer. Stir till thoroughly mixed. Pour into a litre container and freeze. That’s it. Take out of the freezer and put in the fridge about 1.5 hours before you want to serve it.  Pour ginger syrup that’s in the jar, over each serving and have a ginger nob or two on the side.

Ginger nobs

60g  melted butter melted in a saucepan with 60g golden syrup. Add 30g golden caster sugar. Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.  Sift in 120g plain flour, 40g fine oatmeal, a teaspoon of ground ginger, one flat teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt.  Gather all the ingredients together till they combine into a soft ball.  Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Put a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray.  Break off walnut sized pieces of the dough and flatten them into circles on the baking parchment and about 1cm thick.  Place the tray with all the biscuits (should do 12-14) in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes then cool so they go crunchy. Remember to leave a bit of space around the biscuits because they will spread. If necessary use two trays.


Celebrating in Le Puget


“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow” W.B. Yeats”

Many months planning by my dearest brother-by-proxy in Sydney, Australia in advance of celebrating his 60th, resulted in an enormous treat for those of us that travelled to Le Domaine de Puget.  Hosted with ease, grace and endless generosity by John and Janie in their magnificent home and retreat in the Aude, 11 of us descended from London, Lymington and Australia for a long week-end and with only the glimmer of a clue as to what would ensue.  It was a triumph delivered in the most modest and understated way. One of those ‘spotlight on my life’ moments that will always be treasured. One of those week ends where there was a heady mixture of good conversation, challenging ideas, kindness, peace – along with magnificent wines.  And the setting was beyond perfection.

As you will know, I am known for my hyperbole. But believe me, it was perfection.

Imagine this……..  25 acres of rolling French countryside, a large farmhouse perched on top of the hill; ripe figs hanging from the trees, endless quiet places to sit and stare, a candle-lit courtyard, a kitchen large enough to cope with twice the number we had.  A dining room with half-trees burning in the grate. A sheltered pool that was still warm enough for frequent swims even though it was early October. Quince trees weighed down with bulbous fruit.  Soft autumnal light and long shadows.  Breakfast in the meadow looking back toward Fanjeaux. The last of the sunflowers drooping their heads in serried ranks, set in dusty green clay earth. And then there was the food………

John’s food is legendary (see Le Puget) and I was intrigued and mesmerised by the delights that emerged from the kitchen.  Charcuterie on well-worn wooden boards, little black olives sharp and juicy, buttery parmesan biscuits, stuffed guinea fowl, double-baked cheese souffle, lentil and vegetable melange, slow roast pork, fig and feta salad, local bread, artisanal cheeses made only a kilometre away, a secret recipe hazlenut cake, more croissants than you could shake a stick at, and cloudy creamy yellow butter. #heavenishere!

So here’s a selection of recipes, my take on those culinary memories.

Roast guinea fowl, boned and stuffed


This guinea fowl recipe is on my list for Boxing Day.  I get a lot of my game and fowl from the Wild Meat Company and they do really high quality mail order too. They supplied the quail for our popup suppers earlier in the year, and venison, wild rabbit, pheasant and pigeon for my freezer.

Ask your butcher to bone out the guinea fowl but make sure you ask for the innards and the bones in a separate bag and the legs removed!  To serve 6 generously you will need one guinea fowl.  Pat it dry and leave uncovered for a few hours in a cool place.  To make the forcemeat first, roast the legs in a small pan with some onion then remove the flesh and chop it finely.  Gently fry an onion in rapeseed or olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic and the tiniest smidgeon of crushed juniper berries and some fresh thyme. Then turn up the heat and add the chopped livers and heart from the bag of innards. Season with seasalt and black pepper. Add a wineglass full of red wine on a high heat then reduce the liquid to practically nothing. Allow the leg meat and the innards to cool completely – you could do all of this the night before.  Next day add all this to some herby coarse sausagemeat – probably about 500g, it depends on the size of your bird – and then add more salt (the best way to know how much you need is not to guess!!  Fry a dessert-spoon full in a little oil then taste it).  Then add a good scraping of nutmeg.  You get the idea don’t you – you are looking for a deep, well seasoned, warmly spiced and fragrant forcemeat, not a sharp salty one.

As you can see already. It will help to have prepared some things in advance of cooking this dish but believe me it will be worth it.  So the night before, do the stuff with the livers and the legs! And peel and poach some pears and/or quince in a light syrup, whilst roasting some shallot very gently so that the natural sugars start to caramelise but not burn.  Now you can start the consttuction!

Turn your oven on to 200C. Make sure your work surface is scrupulously clean. Not to mention your hands.  Have a long ball of butchers string and some sharp scissors to hand. Lay the bird  skin side down on a a large piece of greaseproof paper that has been rubbed with olive oil. Stretch out its various appendages. You will notice that some parts of the bird are thicker than others. You’ll soon see to that with your rolling pin! Lay another piece of greaseproof on top then beat the thicker pieces till the whole bird has stretched out and the thickness is relatively even. The only thing to avoid is making it too thin. about 2.5 cm thick will do it.  Then dry off your pears/quince and slice into even thickness then lay slices across the bird, leaving a good 3cm clear all around the edges. Then to the same with some of the roasted shallot. Finally, spread the forcemeat across the pears and onions – about 2.5cm thick.

Now you need to imagine an envelope.  You are going to fold both sides to the middle followed by the meat at the top and bottom edges.  Truss the bird up with the string, (you are aiming for a neat cylinder shape with all the ends tucked underneath). Give it a good olive oil or rapeseed oil massage and sprinkle with a little seasalt.

Place in a hot roasting tin on a bed of carrot, celery and leek. and rosemary stalks along with more olive oil and a litre of boiling water. Cover with foil and roast at 180C for an hour, then turn the heat up to 200C, remove the foil and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until lovely and brown. Test with a skewer, if the juices are clear, then it’s done.  Remove the bird from the pan and let it rest, boil up and thicken the gravy in the pan.

Dauphinoise potatoes


This has to be the most forgiving potato dish in the world.  You can prepare it in advance and reheat it. You can freeze it. You can try an resist it but you won’t win. You can eat it in solitary confinement in the kitchen at 2am and no-one will know. Seriously. I’ve done it!

Peel and slice 8 large potatoes. Mix 500ml double cream (yes!) with 500ml full cream milk (yes, again!) a couple of peeled garlic cloves and half a teaspoon of salt.  Put the potatoes in a big pan with the milk/cream, bring slowly to just under the boil and let them cook for about 5 minutes.  Then remove potatoes with a slotted spoon and place in a shallow well buttered (oh God, the cholesterol!) dish then pour over the milk/cream and bake at 190C for about 50 minutes until the whole is creamy and thick and brown on top. Dare you to eat it!

Fig and salt cheese salad


Sometimes with rich food, just a simple salad on the side is sufficient.  Try this.  Fresh, ripe figs are a must though.  Keep an eye out in Lidl, I have frequently purchased trays of fresh figs from there in late summer.  Slice and chop fresh ripe tomatoes and cucumber and remove most of the wet middle.   Sprinkle with gremolata (chopped rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and seasalt) to season.  Add chopped feta or salty goat’s cheese and quartered fresh figs. Mix together with a gentle vinaigrette warmed with a little dash of honey.

Charcuterie with olives and warm cheesy biscuits


The easiest of appetisers.  Go get some great charcuterie from Marshpig or your nearest deli, or from the fantastic market in Mirepoix!  Slice it, pile it on a plate with hot, crisp radishes, some salt, some juicy olives, some of Janie’s warm cheesy biscuits and a glass of something cold and fizzy, such as a Blanquette de Limoux. Irresistible.

Mix 100g plain flour with a pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of mustard powder and a little salt.  Rub in 100g butter then gently mix in 50g hard cheese and 50g parmesan. Bind together with half the egg (beaten).  Cover and leave in the fridge to rest for half an hour, then roll out to about 1.5cm thick and use a cutter, placing each biscuit on the tray lined with greaseproof paper.  Brush lightly with the remaining egg and sprinkle with more parmesan. Bake at 80C for about 10 minutes. I challenge you to eat only one.

Twice-baked cheese souffle


Never be frightened by a souffle – especially if you make individual ones.  You can make and bake, allow to cool, leave overnight, have a party, go out for the day – then come back and put them back in the oven and voila! A souffle resurrects itself as if by magic.

I bow to Delia Smith on this one.   Heat 225 full cream milk in a pan with half an onion, a few black peppercorns, a grating of fresh nutmeg and a bay leaf.  Bring to simmering point then pour into a jug through a sieve, thus removing the onion etc. Essentially you are flavouring the milk. Rinse out the pan then put back on a low heat and melt 25g butter, then add 25g plain flour to make a roux and cook very gently for a couple of minutes.  Gently pour in the milk, bit by bit, stirring all the time until you have a thick sauce. Beat two egg yolks.  Pour the sauce into a mixing bowl when it is cool then add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.  Fold in 110g good quality goat’s cheese, cubed if hard and gently broken up if soft.  Mix thoroughly. Season with black pepper.

Whisk the two egg whites until stiff and almost ‘dry’ then gently fold into the sauce with a large metal spoon and a cutting and folding motion.

Generously butter the inside of 6 ramekin dishes and coat with a little coarse semolina flour.  Divide the mixture between the dishes.  Heat the oven to 200C with a baking tray already in the oven.  When up to heat, remove the baking tray, place the ramekins on the tray and fill the tray with about 2cm of boiling water.  Put back in the centre of the oven and cook until they are risen, firm and just a tiny bit wobbly in the middle (about 15 minutes).  Now you can take them out of the oven to cool and they will sink like a stone. Don’t worry.  Put in a cool place and when you are ready then slide a very sharp knife round the edge of the ramekin to release the souffle, invert it onto the palm of your hand then place on a buttered baking tray and sprinkle each one with a little parmesan. Later in the day, or tomorrow, crank up the oven again to 200C and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. Miraculously they will puff up again and are ready to eat.

The mysterious Hazelnut cakeimg_3324

Marie helps out John and Janie at Le Puget sometimes and makes the most amazing hazelnut cake using a recipe from when she lived in Switzerland.  A recipe that was never divulged to me.  I’ve experimented a bit this week whilst nursing the Le Puget chest infection.  This is the closest I can get to the exquisite cake made by Marie last week. somewhere on my various devices I have a photograph of her cake and I will post it when I find it.

Toast 100g hazelnuts in the oven then rub place them in a tea towel and rub them till the skins flake off.  Sieve 125g rice flour, 50g golden caster sugar, half a teaspoon of baking powder and a little salt into a bowl.  Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor or blender, until fine.  Add to the flour and mix thoroughly.Whisk together 75ml vegetable oil and 75ml agave syrup (or honey), 3 egg yolks , a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of cream of tartar. Then add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and beat till it is a thick (ish) batter.  Now whisk 5 egg whites till they are stiff.Fold into the hazelnut batter with a cut and fold motion.

Pour into one or two pre-prepared springform sponge tins that have been lined with greaseproof paper.  Bake in the centre of the oven at 180C for about 25 minutes.  Then remove from the oven and keep in the tin until cold.

This  version is not the exact cake made by Marie – but it is close enough. I suspect hers had little or no flour, which is why I used very fine rice flour.  I recommend eating on the terrace of Le Puget with good friends and pots of tea.

Au revoir!

Bon chance!







Black Garlic

The first question is why?  Why spend 40 days cooking garlic slowly?  Answer: Why not?

Garlic in all its forms is a staple in our kitchen. img_3258Our neighbours Jaz and Dick don’t eat garlic at all. Or onions. It’s a bit embarrassing because our extractor fan belches out onion and garlic fumes across our shared drive every evening.  Fortunately they are very tolerant. And very nice. Sometimes – frequently – we hear a rumble in the night and David will mumble “that will be Jaz taking our bin out then”. The problem is, we often forget which day the bin man is due. But Jaz is a stickler for routine.  Sometimes we haven’t even filled the bin so we have to trundle it back in the morning, very quietly, to fill it and then deposit it at the end of the drive again.  If we remember what day it is, but not what colour bin, we simply peer between the blinds about midnight to see what colour bin is required…….  sure enough, Jaz and Dick’s bin is already standing serene and proud at the end of the drive. Sometimes we find sticky notes on the back door, reminding us it’s ‘green bin day’ or ‘brown bin day’. Jaz is a great pudding cook, and often we will find slices of cheesecake or mounds of souffle in the lobby – oh the saturated fat!

I first encountered black garlic when visiting Fran and Jonathan on the Isle of Wight, which is famous for its garlic crop. The largest head of garlic I have grown came from elephant garlic bulbs from there.  As big round as a teacup – I swear.  The ones in the picture here are img_2951a mixture of Early Purple Wight and Iberian Wight, both purchased mail-order from Isle of Wight Garlic Farm  and planted in earth enriched with lots of muck in early November and with a top dressing of seaweed.  Then just leave it – ready to harvest in June when the tops fall over and start to go rusty.  This year I had a bumper crop of 60 bulbs. The best ever.

I digress.  Black garlic.

Black garlic is simply a matter of fermenting fresh clean heads of garlic by heating very slowy and leaving on a low heat for about 30 days.  Each clove changes character and becomes a black sticky goo, full of molasses-like juice.  Wonderful in pasta, baked potatoes, risotto, pies…….. I feel some more posts coming on.

Being a ‘bit’ of a gadget freak (I often think I could do with an extension just for all the kitchen gadgets acquired over the years) – I searched online for special equipment and found a fermenter that was about £120.  No way Jose.  More research and a handy tip from Eleanor whilst we were wandering round East Ruston Vicarage Gardens a few weeks ago, revealed that the same results can be achieved with a rice cooker or a slow cooker.  I possessed neither.  Onto Freecycle in a trice, I found a slow cooker for £5.  That’s more like it.

So now, my heads of garlic have commenced their first day in the slow cooker.  Before they are ready I shall have had 5 days in Le Puget celebrating Anthony’s 60th, followed by a mad scurry of work,  prior to heading to Seahouses for a week of walking the bare blustery and beautiful beaches of Northumberland with David, Lynne and Andy, returning for number one grandson’s birthday and a trip to Dinosaur World.  My only concession to the garlic will be to remove the slow cooker attached to extension lead to the little shed outside so the house is not filled with garlic fumes on our return.   I shall offer a progress report later………………….

All things pear shaped.


Pears, along  with raspberries, are my favourite fruit.  Our pear trees are heavy with fruit this year.

Here are a few of my favourite sweet and savoury pear concoctions.


Mostardo di frutti

Mostardo di frutti is a unctuous sticky preserv of fruit laced with mustard  and is usually served with cold meats in Italy.  It is great during the festive season when there is often a glut of cold meats and the mind goes blank when thinking what to do with them.  I suggest a plate full of cold meats, leftover stuffing, hot roast potatoes and mostardo di fruitti

Peel and chop  fruit such as pears, hard apples, quince. Place in the preserving pan with 500g caster sugar and just enough water to cover. Bring slowly to the boil then turn up the heat and let it bubble vvigorously until the bubbles blob and plop which should be at about 104Cif you use a jam thermometer.  Take off the heat and skim off any white foam.

In a separate pan put 2 tbsp of strong yellow mustard seed and warm them till they begin to pop, then remove and grind them in a pestle and mortar. Then mix with 1 tbsp of strong mustard powder, add the ground mustard to the mustard powder then pour on 250ml white wine and the juice of an orange.  Place pan on a medium heat and bring to the boil then reduce in volume by  one third.  Then pour over the fruit, mix well and place in sterilised jars.  Once cool place in the fridge  and i will keep for a month, or if you put in Kilner  jars or similar,  seal then place jars in a roasting pan of boiling water and  put in the oven at  170C for 30 minutes. Then they will keep for a few weeks.

If you make this you won’t be disappointed.

Pickled pears

This recipe is adapted from one of my favourite books by Darina Allen  Forgotten Skills of Cooking. It is really easy and I recommend it  with game – venison, wild duck or pigeon.

Use any pears you like, but make sure they are not too ripe.  About 2kg will make about 8 large jars.   Peel, core and quarter the pears and add the juice of one lemon. Mix well.  Cook on a low to medium heat until just done but the pears are still firm.  Then peel and slice about 4cm of fresh ginger, and add to 600ml apple cider vinegar, 30ml sherry vinegar, 600g sugar, a stick of cinnamon (dont add powder!), 2 star anis and 4 whole cloves and the peel pared off the lemon you squeezed earlier.Bring this to boil in a separate pan, stirring all the time then add the pears and continue to cook  until completely soft. This could take a further 20 minutes or so depending on the pear.

Sterilise the jars and fill with pears first, while continuing to boil the liquid. Then carefully, and using a funnel, pour the boiling liquid over the pears and make sure they are completely covered.  Seal and leave for at least 3- weeks before eating. If you can hold out that long.

Pear and chestnut jam

10169441_10151766928067395_1874372122_nThis is one of my favourites, too.  Wonderful served with brioche or croissant. Even better spooned over Greek yogurt in my opinion.

Peel and core 1kg pears an 500g sour apples and cut into small pieces then mix with the juice of 2 lemons 240ml water and the seeds from one  vanilla pod.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Then add 750g jam sugar, bring back to the boil slowly, stirring till all the sugar has dissolved. Then turn off the heat and leave overnight.

Meanwhile, empty one 200g vacuum pack of chestnuts into a pan, add juice of one lemon and zest of two lemons. Bring to the boil them simmer for 5 minutes. Leave this to rest overnight too.

In the morning, cut the chestnuts into small pieces in the pan then pour ithe contents of the chestnut pan into the pear pan and cook to the setting point (where the consistency of the liquid becomes viscous and the bubbles pop and bloop)  or use a jam thermometer till the mixture reaches 104C. Pour into sterilised jars.

Smoky apple and pear relish

img_0871What’s the difference between a relish and a chutney anyway?  The short answer is that in general, relishes are cooked for a shorter time than chutneys, are are often vegetable based.  This one, obviously, is not, but it is not as thick as a chutney and retains a lot of what I would call its ‘bright’ flavours.

This recipe is one I adapted last year from Anna Rigg’s Summer berries, Autumn fruits.  A book I really recommend having on your shelf.  As I was researching for this post, piles of books beside me, I became aware of 1) how many books I have in my cookery library and 2) how some are much more well thumbed than others.  Anna Rigg’s is spattered with cooking liquour and some of the pages glued together!

Anyway, back to the relish. Take a couple of large dried smoked chipotle chillies and a dried red pepper.  I used to source these from Brindisa (they do mail order) but I can get them in Tesco now. Soak them in a bowl of hot water while you get the other ingredients ready.  Peel and chop 4 crisp eating apples and 4 hard pears, tip into a preserving pan and add 400ml cider vinegar, 325 light muscovado sugar, 3 large chopped shallots, 2 grated cloves of garlic along with a 4cm piece of root ginger, 1 tsp fellel seed, 1 tsp smoked paprika and a good grind of black pepper. Lastly 1 teaspoon of sea salt.

Drain the chillis and pepper.  Remove the stalks and then finely chop the flesh – seeds an all.  Add to the pan and stir around.  Bring to the boil very slowly then turn down the head to medium and cook for 40-45 minutes stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and syrupy.  Leave to settle for 5 minutes then pour into hot jars and seal.  It will keep for about 6 months but once opened, eat it up! It won’t be difficult.  Think creamy Lancashire with oatcakes, chunks of gherkin and this relish.

Pear and chocolate pan Charlotte

Ok the preserving bit is over.  Now for some sweet things.  When I was in New York last year I spent a delightful 5 hours – yes, 5 hours – in Kitchen Art and Letters.  It was a bit of a pilgrimage for me, and one now ticked off my bucket list.  If you can imagine a wonderful bookshop one block east of 5th Avenue, way up in the north east corner of Central Park; a small and perfectly formed shop, with armchairs and coffee and tables on which to rest piles of books; and an owner who positively encouraged people to stay and read and browse.  My idea of heaven. Anyway – I was there in heaven but perversely had told myself I would not buy because it would take me into excess baggage. Until the owner cannily reminded me that as a visitor, the prices were minus tax and anyway he could ship them to me for less than the tax anyway.  SOLD!  The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne was one of my six purchases.

You will need a Tarte Tartin tin or similar (she uses a skillet – I dont have a skillet).  Place the  tartin tin on a hotplate and add 100g butter on a high heat. As soon as it is melted add 3 tablespoons of muscovado sugar, 1/4 teaspoon each of ground clove and allspice and a little salt; stir to combine.  Then add 5 peeled, cored and chopped firm pears, turn down the heat and cook until the pears are soft and mixture is lightly caramelised. This will take about 10 minutes. Then pour this mixture onto a plate to cool. Clean the pan.

Spread some butter onto 8-10 slices of brioche loaf (or use those long brioche finger rolls you can buy in Lidl). Line the tin with the buttered bread (butter side down) and sprinkle with 75g plain chocolate chopped in small pieces. Top with the pear mixture then the remaining buttered brioche.

Bake at 180C until the bread is golden brown – about 40-50 minutes and cover with foil if it looks like its burning.  Take out of the oven and allow to cool, then dust with icing sugar and serve with cream. Or allow to cool and then double wrap with foil and freeze. You could make two – one for now and one for later!

Spiced ginger and chocolate cake with salted caramel pears

This is another favourite from Anna Rigg.  First make your gingerbread.

Heat 150g butter with 100g golden syrup 75g treacle, 150g soft brown sugar and 150ml stout.  Quite honestly those ingredients are enough to make you stop right there!  Courage! Onward!  Melt in a large-ish pan then add 50g dark chocolate, 2 pieces of chopped stem ginger and half a teasp on bicarbonate of soda.  Mix it all together then let it cool.

Drive 200g plain flour with 1 teap baking powder and 4 teaspoons of ground ginger together with one teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper a pinch of chilli powder, a pinch of salt.  Whisk 3 eggs then add to the liquid ingredients then add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, beating well between each addition.  Pour into a lined 14cm square tin and bake for 30 minutes at 170C. Cover with greaseproof paper if it looks a bit too brown.

Now for the easy bit.  Peel and quarter 4 pears and put into a shallow pan with 20g butter and a tablespoon or so of the stem ginger syrup.  Cook them until they are tender and slightly caramelised at the edges.  Then remove the cake from the oven and pour the pears and syrup over the top, returning to the oven for a further 30 minutes.  Check if the inside is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre and it should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for half an hour or so, then transfer to a wire rack till cool.  Now for the sauce. (No, we are not finished yet).

Place 100g caster sugar in a pan and ae 2 tbsp cold water, set over a low heat to dissolve the sugar then increase the heat and cook the syrup until it starts to change colour. Take off the heat and very carefully add the cream, return to a low heat to re-melt any caramel that has hardened then add 2 or 3 tablespoons of bourbon.  Serve the cake with the caramel sauce poured over.

Well beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly if that’s not a winner.  You can easily freeze the cake/pears, defrost and finish off with the sauce.