The sun is out so let’s tuck in….

The sun is out and it’s time to think about summer food.  As the weather changes so does what we think about eating.   The stews are put away and the salads, vegetables and fruit that are positively blooming at the moment are on the table.

We’ve just seen the last of the wild garlic, really the first of our seasonal treats and a forager’s free lunch to boot.  Now the elderflower is casting its lacy shadow and unmistakeable scent in the hedgerows.  We’ve made our first batch of elderflower cordial (June 2016) – no citric acid to be found so we used an extra lemon and will just make sure we get through it quickly, no particular hardship.  This will find its way into drinks of course as well as jelly (June 2018), Eton mess (June 2016), a pavlova and rhubarb fool.  For the pavlova simply mix some cordial in with the cream and pile onto your meringue – for quantities see the brown sugar meringue with lemon cream (September 2016) or make the meringues with rhubarb and ginger cream (April 2018) and simply swap elderflower for the ginger.

I’m a sucker for anything on toast, even if its just garlic, salt and good olive oil.  A box of tomatoes arrived from the fabulous Tomato Stall on the Isle of Wight yesterday and these will find their way into tomato bruschetta (July 2013) for several days as well as salads and a glorious tomato tart with herby marscapone which is a Diana Henry recipe I return to every summer.

Pepper and caper crostini (April 2014)  is a delicious addition to a tapas like lunch as well as the artichoke crostini (March 2013) or cannellini bean, parsley and lemon dip (April 2015)  which I make so often.  It’s a variation on hummus and works with most canned white beans so whatever you can get hold of at the moment, cannellini or butter bean or chickpeas.

All these need some bread which I know has been a struggle for some with the lack of flour around.  Amongst my recipes are breads that use strong white bread flour, plain flour, wholemeal flour and self-raising so there should be something for whatever you have in the cupboard.  Try the focaccia (May 2014) just omit the wild garlic oil and stick with crunchy sea salt and good olive oil or maybe the flatbreads (March 2018) which can be conjured up in next to no time and always, but always go down a storm.

You could finish with one of the elderflower puddings mentioned above or go for a lemon and lime ice cream (May 2014) or a granita, the ultimate cooler.  There are several here from Strawberry granita (August 2016) which is summer in a glass or the Iced Tea Granita (July 2013) which is unfathomably thirst quenching.

Or what about the Mighty Mivvi, that favourite ice lolly from years ago recreated into something not to be missed, a strawberry sorbet containing vanilla ice cream the size of your head.

Wherever you are spending lockdown I hope you can enjoy the sun and do try and treat yourself with delicious food.  I will be back with some more summer recipes soon.


Raspberry biscuit ice cream cake

Barely even a recipe this requires very little effort and few ingredients.  Just a determination to make a pudding with not much to hand.  Raspberries and ice cream from the freezer and a pack of biscuits from the cupboard – I used digestives but you could happily use shortbread or ginger nuts.  Equally whilst I only had vanilla ice cream available this would be fabulous with chocolate ice cream.   A bit of bashing and mushing results in a pud that far exceeds expectations and made use of whittling lockdown provisions.

Raspberry biscuit ice cream cake

200g digestives

75g butter, melted

350g vanilla ice cream

200g raspberries divided into two lots of 100g

1 tablespoon icing sugar

Take the ice cream from the freezer and let it soften while you get on with the biscuits.  If your raspberries are frozen do the same with them.  Bash the digestives to crumbs in a bag, mix with the melted butter and put into a 20cm loose bottom tin.  Mash 100g raspberries with the icing sugar and swirl into the ice cream, add the whole raspberries and pour the whole lot onto the biscuit base and freeze for an hour.  This will serve as many, or as few, as you choose.

Chermoula prawns


The glorious weather of last week has given way to rain.  It seems endless but has only been three days, I think we had been spoilt with a surprisingly hot April.   As often is the case with dreary grey skies I feel the need for a blast of sunny, vibrant flavour and a chermoula paste is an obvious contender.   Full of fresh herbs, zesty citrus, spices and a little heat this is a wonderful and quick way to add massive flavour.

Due to a slightly erratic lockdown larder I have made some comprises to my usual recipe but this version was deemed so good it had to be shared.  In the normal run of things I would use a fresh chilli but have used cayenne pepper instead for heat.  I used a 1/4 teaspoon but feel free to reduce this to a pinch.  Ideally I would also have had more prawns for the four of us but the freezer only yielded 250g.  You can of course use fish or chicken in place of the prawns if that is what you have.   We had this with my go-to pilaff but I would be just as happy to serve the prawns and their punchy sauce on a slice of toasted sourdough.  As ever these days its all about using what you’ve got.

Chermoula Prawns

1 tablespoon oil

1 onion finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Small bunch mint, roughly chopped

Small bunch coriander, roughly chopped plus a bit extra to serve

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Juice of 2 lemons (use limes if that is what you have)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Half a tin of chopped tomatoes or 2 fresh tomatoes chopped or a handful of cherry tomatoes

250g raw prawns, defrosted if frozen

Heat the first tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion gently until soft but not coloured.   Whizz the remaining ingredients apart from the tomatoes and prawns in a small food processor, with a hand held blender or chop by hand.   Mix a tablespoon of the paste with the prawns and add the remaining paste to the onions along with the tomatoes and a splash of water.  Cook for a few minutes before adding the prawns and cook until they turn from grey to pink.  Serve sprinkled with the extra coriander.  This would be masses for 2 with rice and was actually enough for the 4 of us with some other things for lunch.

Full of greens pancakes

I make masses of pancakes – regular sugar and lemon Shrove Tuesday ones, Scotch pancakes which for some reason we used to call Cold Feet, fat fluffy American pancakes and veggie ones.  Lots and lots of veggie pancakes.  Not only are they delicious but a great way of slipping extra veg into reluctant customers (my children) and to use up a glut – I must have made a 1000 courgette and feta type pancakes when we had a courgette glut a couple of years ago.

You can customise these according to what you have – I tend to use something a little starchy like the peas/broad beans or some cooked/canned pulses plus fresh veg such as broccoli or spinach along with any soft herbs I have.  At the moment wild garlic is going into lots of things as we have some growing here but otherwise a clove of garlic adds a gentle hum.  If you use courgette (and it is delicious) then grate it and squeeze out as much water as you can so the batter isn’t too wet.   Same with carrots and parsnips which benefit from grating and any excess water being removed.

I used a couple of spring onions that needed their last hurrah but you could use chives if that’s what you have.  Chunks of feta or cheddar work well and make these even more substantial.  You can add finely chopped chilli or a pinch of cayenne if everyone you are cooking for is receptive – I like to add my heat via a generous squirt of sriracha.

Incidentally these make a wonderful breakfast topped with a fried or poached egg and some Greek yogurt to which you’ve added a swirl of sriracha, just saying….

Veggie pancakes

Below are the quantities I used for the pancakes you see in the pictures.  As long as the amounts are roughly in line you can pretty much freestyle as you please.  A tin of sweetcorn also works if you don’t have any peas or pulses.  Add or subtract herbs depending on what you have and what you like – these pancakes are very flexible. If you don’t have any self raising you can use plain flour plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.

300g peas, blanched for 1 minute if frozen

1/2 head of broccoli, approximately 200g, chopped fairly small, core included

3 spring onions, finely chopped

Small handful of parsley

Small handful of wild garlic, entirely optional

2 eggs

200g self raising flour (see intro)

50g Greek yogurt, or regular plain yogurt

A little olive oil

Put everything except the oil into a food processor, season well and blend.  Leave a bit of texture, you don’t want it baby food smooth.  Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and add tablespoons of the batter, leave for a few minutes until turning golden on the bottom when you peek and then turn.  Cook for a few minutes on the other side and then keep warm while you cook the rest.  The above was enough for 4 for lunch with a salad.






Easy tomato soup with herby garlic oil

I always feel terrible about throwing any food away that I have let slip the net and these days, more than ever.  If there was a time for using every last scrap then its now.  For instance, beetroot leaves that I always try and use but inevitably sometimes find their way to the chickens were chopped the minute I got back from the farm shop last week and sautéed with garlic and chilli. Extra delicious because we ate them rather than our feathery friends.

We can no longer pick a recipe and then go and buy exactly what’s required, rather we have to look at what we have and cook accordingly.  I quite like this challenge so do let me know if you need any ideas.

This was lunch yesterday rustled up from mainly store cupboard ingredients, without using too much of our fresh supplies, very easy, cheap and was properly delicious.   Making the herby oil was just a way of using some of the wild garlic that is around at the moment.  I realise not everyone has access to this so if you have some soft herbs or rocket in the fridge that need using up these will make a wonderful, deep green oil full of flavour which is fabulous with the tomato soup.

Don’t worry if you don’t have any of the red lentils I use to thicken the soup – a handful of rice or a large peeled and chopped potato added instead of the lentils will break down and once blended do a fine job of thickening your soup.   I suspect we will be having this more than once, next time I might add some dried chillies instead of the oregano.  Just use what you have.

Easy tomato soup with herby garlic oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

A good pinch of dried oregano (if you have some)

3 tablespoons dried red lentils (see intro)

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes

Splash of white wine (if you have some and can spare it)

500ml vegetable stock

100ml milk

A handful of wild garlic or soft herbs/rocket that need using up

A clove of garlic if you aren’t using wild garlic

100ml olive oil

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onion gently until soft.  Add the garlic and the oregano if you are using it and stir.  Add the lentils followed by the wine if you are using it and the stock.  Let it simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes until the lentils have broken down.  Remove from the heat, add the milk and whizz with a hand held blender until smooth, taste (cautiously, it will be hot) and season.  Either serve immediately or reheat when required.   Blend the oil with the wild garlic or the herbs/rocket and garlic with a pinch of salt and swirl into the soup.  Serves 4.

Quick quick hoi sin pork

Whilst I am all for slow cooked braises, blipping away in the oven for hassle free hours to become deeply savoury and yielding, there are times when we need supper in a hurry.  There are many such recipes on these pages* and here is another to add to your repertoire.  Combining those magical sweet, salty spiced flavours from the East, this is lip smacking, satisfying and speedy to boot.

I use pork fillet here which, being lean, lends itself perfectly to a quick stir fry but you could use chicken if you prefer.  I would favour (as ever) skinless thighs over breast though.  For a veggie option I would use big mushrooms sliced and add the cabbage mentioned below to the pan with the mushrooms and sauce.  Apart from the meat or vegetables, this is but a quick rifle around the cupboard plus some ginger and garlic.

For greens I have taken to stir frying some chopped hispi/sweetheart cabbage with either a few bashed sichuan peppercorns or garlic, ginger and chilli.   It cooks in no time and works well with the hoi sin pork, alternatively try the greens with garlic and soy (October 2017).

Hoisin Pork

My children like this served with noodles which I stir into the wok at the end to combine them with the pork and sauce.  I prefer it with rice but, as ever, its up to you.

Thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped

500g pork loin, cut into pieces the size of your little finger

1 tablespoon oil

100ml hoi sin sauce

1 tablespoon sriracha, or similar chilli sauce

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Chopped coriander (optional, use it if you have some)

Noodles or rice to serve

Put the ginger, garlic, hoi sin, sriracha, water and soy into a bowl and give it a good stir.  Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and over a high heat add the pork, leave for a minute to seal then stir fry until coloured on all sides.  Add the sauce and stir for a couple of minutes until the pork is cooked and well coated by sauce.  Don’t cook it for too long or the sauce will reduce too much and become salty.  If you want a little more sauce add a further splash of water.  Serve with noodles or rice and sprinkle with some chopped coriander if you have some.  Enough for two adults and two children.

*Some other top speedy suppers are Claypot chicken (May 2013), Teriyaki chilli salmon (April 2019), Salmon with pickled cucumber (May 2015), Kale, mushrooms and chilli on toast (January 2013), Orzo with bacon, tomato and cream sauce (June 2015), Savoy cabbage with bacon and creme fraiche (February 2015) and those Greens with garlic and soy (October 2017) which I happily have with a pile of rice for a meat free supper – to name but a few.







So many books, so much to cook.

Depending on which way you look at it there is either a ridiculous number of cook books spread over many shelves in our house or a fabulous, varied and absorbing collection.  I know which camp I am in.   Curated in colour order, there is the blue and green set of shelves, the white, black, brown and gold…. you see how it is.  They take it in turns to go from shelf to bedside or sofa side table and ultimately stove side.  If a particular book hasn’t been read in a while then what a treat, it can almost feel like new.  Others, old familiar books are like carrying on a conversation with a friend with memories shared. Rarely do I flick through one without a recipe or two being added to my list.

The list is an ongoing, ever evolving collection of things I want to try, additions are made almost daily and crossed out when tried, changes and ideas annotated where necessary.  Partly out of greed but also in order to justify this vast canon of work – as long as I’ve cooked a recipe or two from each book over the years it has earned its place.  Our weekly menu combines a couple of new ideas alongside old favourites that deserve a re run and guarantee happy faces which a new kid on the block may not.  Some weeks this means a pile of books being juggled other times I chose one book to cook several things from in one week.

What I’m getting at is its good to get new dishes into your repertoire.  We are all pushed for time these days.  Work, children, pets, houses, gardens all demanding more time than is available and as such falling back on the same old same old is often the easy answer.  One new supper idea a week shouldn’t take too much effort and helps shake off the ennui that can arise from cooking supper night after night after night……

So why not grab one of those books you haven’t cooked from in ages.  You never know, you might discover a new favourite, a real keeper.  Failing that I offer three of my super easy and quick, weeknight favourites here which I would love you to try.

Claypot Chicken (May 2013) one of the easiest and most delicious suppers and no you don’t need a claypot, any old pan will do.   Teriyaki Salmon (April 2019)  unbelievably quick and hugely satisfying.   Pasta with Bacon, Garlic, Chilli and Parsley (September 2017) just a fabulous combination.   So do give these a go and there will be a new easy, family friendly recipe along soon.  If you have a bit more time, why not try a new pud……






Red cabbage, radish and herb salad

Here is a blast of colour to brighten your January day.  Not only is this salad glorious to look at it also tastes fabulous.   Crunchy raw veg always feels like it is doing us good but can, on occasion, be hard work to chomp through.  This however is an absolute joy to eat with its tangy, sweet and sour dressing and handfuls of herbs alongside the crunch of the radishes and cabbage.

I have mentioned before my aversion to stringent diets, casting aside any of the food groups or making January a form of penitence to salve our conscience following the season of plenty.   Food should be a pleasure, a treat to look forward to everyday and even if you are hoping to shake off a couple of pounds there is no reason why breakfast, lunch and supper shouldn’t be a feast.   You will find plenty of salads amongst my posts, not just leafy green ones although I won’t have a word said against my Favourite Green Salad (January 2014) but ones jammed with other ingredients full of crunch and flavour, freshness and colour.  Try the Thai-ish salad (November 2015), Roast Aubergine, Feta and Mint (July 2015), the Blood Orange, Beetroot and Feta (January 2014) or maybe the Celeriac Remoulade (January 2016) to which I quite like to add some sharp, crunchy apple if the mood takes me.

In short raw veggies are a great way to get yourself back on track.  You are eating healthily whilst tucking into something delicious – win, win.  I can’t recommend this one enough, I got the idea for the reduced dressing from an Ottolenghi salad and then tinkered around until I had this.  Easy and quick it always goes down a treat and that belt of pink, green and magenta goes a long way to lifting spirits on a dreary, grey day.

Red cabbage, radish and herb salad

1/4 red cabbage, finely chopped

10 radishes sliced

20g (a big handful) rocket

20g mint

20g coriander

50ml lime juice (roughly 2 limes)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons light olive or sunflower oil

Toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, a handful (optional)

Heat the lime juice, maple syrup, chilli flakes and soy in a small pan until syrupy then add the oil, mix well and leave to cool.  When you are ready to serve roughly chop the rocket, mint and coriander then mix together with the cabbage and radishes in a bowl along with the dressing.  Sprinkle with the seeds if you are using them.  Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a side.



Between Christmas and New Year

We are nearing the end of that hazy week between Christmas and New Year.  The week when you are unsure which day it is and on occasion which year.  I dither between hanging on to the festive season and continuing to think a mince pie for breakfast a good idea and diving headlong into the good intentions of the New Year.

I rather look forward to January.  Like opening a brand new exercise book at school I relish that clean fresh page.  Although I don’t believe in weighing yourself down with stringent resolutions there is no harm in a shift towards anything that makes you feel good about life.  Whether that is a bracing walk in the fresh air, a crazily invigorating dip in the sea or simply giving the Prosecco a break is up to you.

For us the easy going, day sliding from one to another vibe continues until term starts.  Until then we are lying on the sofa watching telly, finishing those chocolates, going for walks and reading our Christmas books.

Whatever you are doing for New Years Eve have fun, treat yourself and look forward to that crisp white page of your 2020 exercise book.  Happy New Year.



Chocolate and Peppermint Bark

There is a fizzle of excitement in the air.  The boxes of decorations in the attic are waking from their hibernation, the lists are itching to be made and the dodgy old seasonal playlist is at the ready.  We are in the countdown.  Christmas is on its way.

I say on its way but I’ve already held two of my Christmas cooking demo’s, the last one is a week away.  These are always such fun with a valuable exchange of Christmas top tips and ideas from the assembled along with all my suggestions of things to cook, presents to give, goods for your hampers and general festive chit chat.

I make no secret of my love for this build up.  Dare I say it, the anticipation and weeks before the big Ho Ho Ho are often the most fun.  Don’t get me wrong, I am no bah humbug and love Christmas Day itself, the excuse for a cocktail early in the day, the possibility of a new cook book, paper hats at a rakish tilt and all the bonhomie that comes from being with loved ones (and possibly from that 11am cocktail).

So back to the anticipation which goes hand in hand with the list making and wrapping.  First on the list are the spiced cherries in bacon which need to be soaked.  Possibly the craziest canapé recipe you will ever come across but surely one of the easiest and most delicious. You will find it along with other get ahead tips in my November 2013 post.  The longer the cherries languish in their Worcester sauce bath the better.

Secondly get those roast potatoes for the big day by getting them in the freezer now.  You’ll find details in the 2013 post mentioned above but essentially parboil them, give ’em a good shake and flat freeze before tumbling into a bag or tub for storage in the freezer.  On the day put them into a pan with hot oil and roast as usual.  This saves peeling a mountain of potatoes on Christmas Eve and then finding somewhere to put them, followed by boiling a vat of water the next day so your mascara clumps as you lean into the steam to check them.   Win win.

Christmas Biscotti, which I made a ton of last year for Christmas hampers (54 since you ask) is another treat to get under your belt (literally as well as figuratively). It lasts for ages, tastes delicious and is an absolute winner to give as a present, tied with a little red and white bow.

I would also recommend whipping up some Gougeres (November 2016) – little light and airy balls of cheesy fabulousness that I couldn’t countenance Christmas Eve evening without.  Easy to make, just a little heating and mixing and no reason to get out your piping bag unless you enjoy that sort of thing, two teaspoons will suffice.  These are another perfect canapé which freeze and reheat like a dream.

I won’t repeat all my other get ahead tips here as they are easily found on these pages but what I will reiterate is the calm, happiness and relief I feel knowing I have done as much as possible before Christmas really starts (ie a freezer and larder full of goodies to tuck into).  A couple of times when we have been a smaller gathering I haven’t thought it necessary to do so much ahead of time.  Believe me, it was and I won’t slip up again.  Never underestimate how many other things you would rather do on Christmas day than roll out pastry for some sausage rolls…..

This is a proper little treat that couldn’t be more Christmassy.  As a child the only candy canes I saw were those in the book Eloise at Christmas, I thought they were glorious and envied all our American cousins whom I imagined nibbling candy canes throughout the holidays.  Easily available here, they always shout Christmas loud and clear and this is my favourite way to eat them.   Although if this bark appeals you could always try my Chocolate Peppermint tart (December 2014), just saying….

Chocolate and candy cane bark

Ok so you can make as much or as little as you like.  The amounts below make a bar roughly 12x18cm which is just right for giving as a present or bringing out after dinner.  Children obviously love making, and giving (and eating) this.  You can even leave the layer of chocolate to set unadorned then top it with a layer of white chocolate before adding the candy canes.

100g dark (but not too dark or bitter) chocolate

1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

Pinch of salt

2-3 candy canes broken into small pieces but not total dust

Melt the chocolate along with the oil and salt in a bowl over a pan of hot water.  When melted pour onto a piece of baking parchment (I find it easiest if this is on a small board) and spread to about half a centimetre then sprinkle over the candy canes.  Leave in the fridge to set then tuck in.

The picture you see above was some bark I made for guests at one of my demos – I barely had time to take the photograph before it disappeared.