White bean and onion soup with fresh thyme

This deliciously light but flavourful and filling soup is the perfect January antidote to a overindulgent December. Serves 4

 60g butter

1kg onions, sliced as thinly as you possibly can 

1/2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1.5 litres chicken stock

One tin of cannellini beans, drained 

3tbsp single cream

one short baguette sliced very thinly

60g finely grated gruyere

chopped parsley to serve

salt and pepper

 Melt the butter and cook the onions very s-l-o-w-l-y. It might take up to half an hour, but be patient.

Tip in the mustard seeds, cook for a few minutes, then add the thyme and vinegar. Turn up the heat while the vinegar is absorbed. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Pour in the beans and heat through, then mash with a potato masher in the pan, not to a pulp, just until the colour starts to lighten and you have lots of nice crunchy lumps. Keep warm. 

Lay thin slices of baguette on the grill, drizzle lightly with olive oil and slide under a hot grill until golden. Turn over and sprinkle with grated gruyere . Pop back under the grill until melted, then remove and keep warm. Take the soup off the heat and swirl through the cream. Season to taste and sail the cheese toasties on the top, scattered with parsley.

Picture by Anthea Kirkman

Picture by Anthea Kirkman

70's style baked red peppers stuffed with spicy rice

Seventies cookbooks are full of cheery gingham tablecloths and stuffed peppers posed alongside straw-clad Rioja bottles. As an avid collector of vintage cookbooks, I’m a big fan of these cheesy pictures, but in reality, stuffed peppers can be leaky, bitter towers that don’t hold their shape.

Unlikely candidates for a culinary comeback perhaps? But if you get them right, these butter-soft treasure chests are delicious, slicing open like juicy steaks to reveal a tasty, golden filling, ideal for lunch or supper. 

 To guarantee success, use the sweeter red or orange peppers and choose those with a flat base so they sit well, rather than lurching drunkenly around the plate. You also need to ensure your filling packs a taste punch so don’t be shy with spices, seasoning and sauce. This super-spicy stuffing was inspired by a trip to Istanbul, but unlike classic Turkish stuffed peppers, these are served hot. Feeds 2-4, depending on appetite, and useful if you have hungry vegans, vegetarians or gluten-free guests for supper.

160g basmati rice

100g grated courgettes 

1 tsp salt 

4 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground coriander

Generous pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 fresh red chilli, finely chopped

2 small tomatoes, finely diced

4 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander plus more for sprinkling

Freshly ground black pepper

400ml water

4 big, fat, square red peppers

Olive oil for drizzling

Heat the oven to 200/Fan 180 °C. Wash the rice well, then leave to drain. Place the grated courgettes in a colander and sprinkle over the salt. Set aside. 

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic until cooked but not brown. Add the turmeric, cumin, garam masala, ground coriander, cayenne pepper and chilli and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the rice and cook gently, stirring all the time, for 6–8 minutes so the rice is well coated.

Add the courgettes and stir, then add the tomatoes, fresh coriander, a generous grind of pepper and the water. Simmer gently for about 12 minutes, until the rice is nearly cooked. Don’t cook any longer as you are going to be putting it into the oven. 

Slice the tops off the peppers and scoop out the seeds. Fill with the cooked rice and courgette mixture and put the lids back on the top. Place in a casserole dish small enough for the peppers to sit snugly next to each other and drizzle over a little olive oil. Bake for 1 hour, basting with the juices several times during cooking.

SEVENTIES-STYLE RED PEPPERS STUFFED WITH SPICY RICE

SEVENTIES-STYLE RED PEPPERS STUFFED WITH SPICY RICE

Can we talk about Christmas yet? Cherry and coconut Christmas loaf cake

There is something inherently festive about little red fruit. No matter what you bake, if you throw in a few cherries and cranberries it immediately feels like Christmas. The only danger is that glace fruits can make things over-sweet, so here they’re mixed with tart, dried cranberries to make sure you end up with a perfectly balanced, Christmassy cake that’s perfect with tea on a wintry afternoon. 

175g butter or stork

175g caster sugar plus extra for dusting

3 eggs

80g dessicated coconut plus extra for sprinkling

175g self raising flour

Finely zested rind of an orange

80g glace cherries, halved

80g dried cranberries

Heat oven to 180/160/gas 4 and line a large loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy, then beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a third of the coconut in between each egg. Stir in the orange rind, then the flour, and three quarters of the cherries and cranberries.

Pour the mixture into the tin, then scatter over the remaining fruit, and push it just below the surface of the mixture (so it doesn’t burn)

 Bake for 40 minutes, then loosely cover with foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Check that a cake tester comes out clean, then remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 15 minutes. Remove from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack, still in its greaseproof paper. Dust with a little extra coconut and caster sugar before serving.

IMG_2248.jpeg

Here comes the sun: sweetcorn and spring onion fritters

Sweet corn fritters are one of my simplest recipes. Even though they are packed with different flavours, they are unbelievably easy to prepare. Eat them as a snack, like hot chips, piled high and piping hot straight from the pan, or as a starter served with plain yoghurt and sweet chill sauce on the side. 

Try to make the batter a few hours in advance as it likes hanging around for a while before cooking. It’s a very forgiving dish, so you can also play around with different herbs or swop the onions for other vegetables such as leeks or spinach When you’re ready to eat, the fritters take minutes to cook but taste fabulous. Feeds 4 as a starter

1 x 440 g tin sweetcorn kernels, drained

45 ml (3 Tbsp) finely chopped spring onions

2 cloves garlic, crushed

5 ml (1 tsp) ground coriander

5 ml (1 tsp) finely chopped fresh red chilli

30 ml (2 Tbsp) chopped fresh coriander, plus extra for serving

30 ml (2 Tbsp) cake flour

5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder

2 eggs, beaten

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sunflower oil for frying

Place the sweetcorn into a bowl and mash it gently just so the kernels break up a little. Mix in all the other ingredients, except the sunflower oil, seasoning to taste. It won’t be very wet and you might think it doesn’t have enough liquid, but it does.

Heat 15 ml (1 Tbsp) oil in a frying pan and swirl it around. When it is hot, drop dessertspoon measures of the mixture into the pan and flatten very gently. Don’t allow the fritters to touch. Fry for 3–4 minutes until the underside is golden, then gently flip over and cook the other side.

Serve hot, scattered with more chopped fresh coriander.

 

sweetcorn fritters.jpeg

Smoked trout sushi balls for squeamish kids

Getting your kids to eat sushi is a double edged sword. On one hand, you can be smug that they are eating just about the healthiest food on the planet. On the other, sushi is hugely addictive and eye-wateringly expensive. Those little sushi belts that dance around in front of you carrying oh-so-tiny platelets loaded with a few tasty morsels, are too darn easy to inhale, and when kids get the taste for it, they'll demolish a whole conveyor belt in about ten minutes, leaving a huge hole in your purse. Great that they want sushi above junk, but ouch, it costs.

This is when you need to make your own. I was nervous of DIY sushi because it looked so, well, expert. It's not, although the rice takes time to prepare, so do it when you're at home pottering around. If you are lucky enough to own a rice cooker, you don't have to bother with the rice soaking stuff, you just pop it in and away you go

Using smoked trout came about when the kids were in their experimental fish stage, whenthey were happy to eat smoked fish but drew the line at the fresh stuff. So I made it with smoked trout, as unlike raw fish I could put it in lunchboxes with a sachet of soy sauce. Trout isn't cheap, but you only use very small amounts for sushi so a little goes a long way.

This recipe is a variation on basic nigiri, which is simply rice with fish or vegetables and the balls are easy to eat with fingers if the little darlings aren't chopstick wielding just yet.

2 cups sushi rice

85ml rice vinegar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp caster sugar

100g smoked salmon, diced

10cm cucumber chopped into 1cm matchsticks,

soy sauce

Preserved ginger

Optional wasabi

Preparing sushi rice isn't difficult, but it does take time between stages. Rinse the rice  thoroughly in a sieve. Use your hands to move it around to get out the starch out. It may take several washes, but when the water runs clear,  drain and place in a saucepan with the lid on. Leave to sit for an hour.

Add two cups of tap water to the pan and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover tightly. Simmer for 20 minutes then don't take the lid off, just turn the heat off and let it sit for another 20 minutes. While it is standing mix the vinegar. salt and sugar together and stir to dissolve.

Transfer the rice to a big, preferably plastic mixing bowl. Pour the vinegar mixture over the rice and with a wooden spoon cool it down by making chopping movements through the rice. You want to cool it down by 'slicing' or chopping the rice, rather than turning it over as it keeps the grains intact and stops it becoming mushy.

When the rice has completely cooled, cover with a lid or place in a Tupperware. Sushi rice dries out quickly so it's good to keep it covered while you work

Now, bring in the kids and give them each a bowl of water and a plate. Using wet hands, each child needs to make a ping pong ball sized piece of rice by rolling it gently around in their palms. When it is roughly the right shape, break it open and insert a few pieces of salmon and cucumber inside

Remake the ball so that there is no filling showing. Continue until the rice is finished. Serve with bowls of soy, ginger and wasabi for the more adventurous

Spring has sprung! Wild garlic, chicken and cheese quesadillas

Wild garlic has finally arrived in the hedgerows, and I am in heaven. It's definitely my favourite foraged food, and I am trying to create a new recipe every day at the moment to keep up with the supply. Quesadillas are a kind of toasted sandwich made with wraps and my kids absolutely love them as they're so easy to make, but they tend to stick to the standard-issue ham and cheese variety. So this recipe is to get them experimenting with a protein-packed snack with a seasonal twist.

You can use a pizza wheel to slice the finished quesadilla into triangles, which also travel well, stacked and wrapped in foil. Serves 4

 

8 soft white tortilla wraps

300g grated strong cheddar, divided into four equalpiles

250g cooked chicken chopped in small pieces

4 tbsp finely chopped young wild garlic leaves

salt and pepper

4 tbsp sour cream

4 tsp olive oil

 

Lay out the tortillas and scatter half the grated cheese evenly over all four wraps.

Sprinkle over the cooked chicken and wild garlic. Finish by adding the rest of the pile of cheese, and smooth until everything is evenly distributed.Season with salt and pepper.

Lay out the four remaining tortillas and spread a tablespoon of sour cream over each one, then place one each on top of the existing cheese covered wraps

Heat a large frying pan, big enough to take the whole wrap without folding it and add a teaspoon of oil. Carefully place a filled quesadilla in the pan and cook over a medium heat until it is crispy and the cheese is starting to melt. Check if the bottom of the quesadilla is cooked by lifting up a corner with a spatula. It should be golden, not blackened.

When the bottom is cooked, slide the whole tortilla onto a plate and cover tightly with another plate. Flip it over and slide back into the pan to cook the other side. When both sides are golden and the cheese has melted, eat!

I love chicken pie

February is the time to celebrate love in all its forms, and this was my Valentines supper last month for the three local magazines who feature my recipes. This is universally loved by everyone in my home, and hopefully will be in yours too.  This recipe for 'I love chicken pie' is taken from my book ‘Food for your brood’ and is one of the most popular meals I have ever cooked.

Chicken Pie is the ultimate comfort food. With a pie on the table, friends feel welcome, children are reassured and grown ups come over all nostalgic for days and recipes long past. Old fashioned pies,  particularly those made from Christmas leftovers, traditionally mix poultry and pig, using remaindered turkey with chopped up boxing day gammon to impart a salty sweetness. My take on this is sausage meatballs, which are tasty and provide a good excuse for kids to help by squeezing meat out of the skins. Use flavoured or super herby sausages if you want extra flavour as they will finish the pie off beautifully.

It's a tradition in our house that all those who are eating the pie get their initials on the top of the pie, which is another good job for the kids. Give them free rein and you'll get a masterpiece on top of your masterpiece. I guarantee every time you serve this up one of your guests will sigh and say 'I love chicken pie' 

Feeds 6-8

2 tbsp olive oil

30g butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium red onion finely sliced

1.5kg skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into four pieces each (or six if they are huge)

1 tbsp chopped parsley

1/2 tbsp picked fresh thyme leaves chopped

1 leek finely sliced

6 medium carrots peeled and sliced into coins

4 tbsp flour

350ml white wine

100ml chicken stock

4 tbsp single cream

1tbsp wholegrain mustard

6 fat best-quality-you-can-afford sausages

400g ready rolled butter puff pastry sheet, defrosted

1 beaten egg

Heat the oven to 200 degrees

In a big hob- to -oven casserole, heat the oil and butter gently, then add garlic and onion and sauté gently until translucent.

Add the leeks, chicken, parsley, chicken and carrots and cook gently for twenty minutes until the chicken is cooked but not boiled.

Sprinkle over the flour and mix in thoroughly until everything in the pan is coated, then slowly add the white wine, then the chicken stock.

Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, to reduce the sauce a little

Check the chicken pieces are cooked through then turn the heat right down and stir in the cream without allowing it to boil.

Add mustard and season to taste, then pour the mixture into your pie dish and set aside.

Cut your sausages from their string and (if there are kids around at this point, call them over) squeeze out walnut sized balls from each sausage skin so that you have about 30 little sausage meatballs.

Heat a non-stick frying pan and brown the sausage balls, then drop them evenly over the pie mixture. Be scrupulously fair about distribution as it will save arguements later.

Roll out the pastry to the size of your pie dish, saving a little strip for decorations. If you have a pie bird place it in the middle at this point. Drape the pastry over the dish and trim the edges, adding the trimmings to your decorating strip. Use a fork to make indentations all around the edges of the pastry and cut a hole in the centre to let the steam out whilst cooking.

Decorate the pie with pastry letters, hearts, whatever you feel like and then egg wash the pie with the beaten egg.

Put in the centre of the oven for about 50-60 minutes, checking to see if it is golden brown on top before taking out. This goes well with any carbs, but is without doubt, at its absolute best with a pile of buttery, smooth mashed potato and a big bowl of peas on the side.

Chelsea cakes for London Design Week

ESPRESSO DESIGN’S CHELSEA CAKES

Espresso Design recently opened a fabulous new showroom in the gorgeous Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour and they asked me to come up with some tasty treats for launch week. I love Welsh cakes - yummy little dry-fried currant cakes sprinkled with sugar, so I decided to create a spicy Chelsea Bun inspired version with cinnamon and brown sugar.  I think they liked it - over 400 cakes disappeared over London Design Week, and pictures of the little heart shaped cakes were all over social media. 

The dough can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for a day if you need to. Makes approximately 30 cakes.

220g self raising flour

½ tsp mixed spice

¼ cinnamon

80g golden caster sugar plus more for dredging

100g butter, diced

40g sultanas

1 egg yolk

4 tbsp. milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

Sift the flour, spice, cinnamon and sugar into a large bowl. Add in the diced butter and mix to coat it with flour. Using your fingers, carefuly rub the butter in to the dry ingredients until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sultanas. Mix the egg yolk in a small bowl with the milk and vanilla essence, then using a knive, stir it into the flour mixture, until it makes a soft dough. If it’s very dry, add another tablespoon of milk.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out until it’s about 1cm thick. Cut out 4cm wide shapes (I use a star or heart cutter, but a round one will work just as well)  gather up the offcuts, re-roll and cut out more shapes. Keep going until you have used all the dough.

Heat a frying pan or griddle and grease it very slightly. Cook the Chelsea cakes in batches for 1-2 minutes on each side until they are nicely golden, then dredge with caster sugar and eat warm.

Wonderful wild garlic oil

Wild garlic starts appearing in March and April, and although it grows happily around my village, you might find that the locations are as closely guarded as the best wild mushroom sites. It’s hardly suprising, as this fabulous little plant is seriously tasty and hugely versatile. It’s also very seasonal, as it’s not really farmed commercially, which makes it even more special.

 Many cooks use it like spinach, sauteed in a little butter, or add handfuls of freshly washed leaves in simple salads. But if you want to keep yourself in wild garlic long after it disappears from the hedgerows, these recipes are ideal.

The first, for wild garlic oil, isn’t really a recipe, more a preparation, but we made a few jars last year and it lasted in the fridge for about three weeks. Wild garlic pesto will also keep for a week but I suspect you won’t be able to hold out that long without finishing it all.

 Make sure you wash the leaves gently but thoroughly as it often growns on verges. Later in the season, it will develop pretty white flowers which are perfectly edible and look great sprinkled over salads too.  And if your foraging friends are strangely unforthcoming on where to look, just grab your wellies and head out for a few walks. There’s plenty to go around, it’s just a question of finding your own patch.

 WILD GARLIC OIL

 Four big handfuls of wild garlic, washed and dried

400ml olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

 Add everything to a mini processor or hand held blender, and blitz until the garlic is finely chopped. Store in a jam jar in the fridge and use as a base for pasta sauces, stews and soups. Also good mixed with vingera for a tangy salad dressing

 WILD GARLIC PESTO

 3 big handfuls of wild garlic, gently washed and dried

75g finely grated parmesan

100ml olive oil

salt and pepper

2 tbsp pine nuts.

 Blitz the garlic, parmesan and oil for a few seconds in a mini processor just until its finely chopped – you don’t want it to be completely pureed. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

 Gently dry roast the pine nuts in a frting pan with no oil until they are goldne brown. Watch them very carefuly as they cook as they go from brown to black very fast.

 When they are ready, pour them into the pesto mix whole. They will spit and crackle a little but that’s all part of the fun. I like to keep them whole for the texture, but you can also blitz the nuts in the processor if you prefer you pesto to be super-smooth.

 Pour into a jar or airtight plastic container and pour a tin layer of oil over the top, which will stop the pesto from going brown before you use it. This will serve 3-4 when run through a plate of pasta or use it to dollop little bits of a mozzarella and tomato salad.

 

Lovers Onion Marmalade

You can end up kissing a lot of frogs in the search for the perfect man, and the same applies to finding the perfect Onion Marmalade recipe. In the interests of research I periodically try new versions but inevitably withbitter jars of gloop. This recipe makes marmalade like the very best of men,  sweet yet spicy, goes with everything, and will never let you down......

Read More

OMG Apple Pie

This is a crumbly, broken up state of affairs, but the combination of melt- in- the- mouth pastry and sharp apples makes a moment for you and whoever you're feeding. If it's elderly friends or family, they will be transported back to times when life moved at a gentle pace. The young ones will wonder why they don't eat more pies. Cook for pudding after a classic Sunday lunch orafternoon tea after a lazy walk.....

Read More

Luxe-for-less Mushroom & Truffle Pasta

Truffles are a wondrous thing, but for most of us, they hide away in shady fairy tale forests , to be rootled out only by well trained pigs and secretive hunters. At about the same price as gold, they certainly aren’t your average family food. But by investing in a bottle of truffle oil you can have the deep muskiness and whiff of luxury in a meal that is as humble as they come......

Read More