Tuesday, 27 May 2008


Now then, first things first. I seem to be having all sorts of problems with the formatting of text on my blog so please accept my apologies for the haphazard and general 'scrunched' appearance of my posts. Rest assured this is causing me no end of frustration and I am trying to find a solution.

Back to the task in hand...

A couple of weeks ago, inspired by that brilliant book High Fidelity by Nick Hornby in which the central character Rob Fleming constructs 'top-five lists' of pretty much anything and everything, I asked my friend Rowan (a fellow food lover and cook) what her top-ten (five just isn't enough) all-time must-have ingredients are. What followed was a lengthy and lively debate on what we simply have to have in our cupboards / fridge at all times or we're kept awake at night in a state of near panic.

I decided I'd blog about my top-ten list, and maybe even create a meme (and if I ever work out how to do this, I will...), and off I went to do exactly that. Who knew it'd take so long to decide on my definitive list??! I tweaked, re-wrote and scored out more times than I care to recount, and I still couldn't be 100% sure of my list's hierarchy other than that which sits at the number one spot (and no prizes for guessing what that is).

Then, on opening the Sunday's Observer Food Monthly I came face to face with their cover story, a feature called Kitchen Confidential: Inside the chef's larders which details those all-essential ingredients Britain's best chefs can't live without. After immediately kicking myself for not having posted my list sooner, I decided on better late than never and finalised said list once and for all. Number One is there in every sense of the words, the rest are in no particular order. I think.

Well of course it is. What else could be at the number one spot but garlic? How dull would life be without it? This deeply savoury, fragrant and alluring little bulb is an absolute must have in my kitchen. It makes everything taste like a little bite of heaven.

Preferably unwaxed and organic, lemons are such versatile creatures. I love them in both savoury and sweet food - they way they perk up that infamous roast chicken (oh! their natural affinity with garlic...); the way their cirtus fragrance enlivens everything from a vinaigrette to a deeply savoury baba ganoush; the tart sweetness of a zingy tarte au citron; and where would a thin hot crepe be without a squeeze of this heavenly fruit and a good sprinkle of sugar?

The Mother of all sea salts. This small family run Essex company produces salt made in the traditional way and is prized by food lovers and chefs alike. It has a lovely clean flavour and a satisfying crunch. Whilst the current obsession with sodium intake dictates that we decrease our salt consumption, I continue to use this precious condiment with glee. Can you pass the salt please?

The biggest problem is choosing which one. Coriander lends a fresh and exotic note to many a dish. Add it to guacamole for a fragrant finish. Parsley with - well just about everything as far as I'm concerned. With tomatoes? Lovely. But then so is thyme come to think of it. Bite down on a bundle of flat leaf parsley with red onion and capers and I defy you to say you don't like it. Fresh mint in a summer salad or with cucumber; rosemary with lamb; oregano in a freshly simmered ragu; tarragon with chicken; chervil or dill with seafood; a fresh basil pesto. Herbal tea - I drink this by the gallon - chamomile and lavendar, dandelion, peppermint, lemon verbena, nettle... how dull our culinary lives would be without these delicate and oh so essential plants.

For much the same reason as herbs. Spices are the backbone of some the world's most exciting cuisines. Without a little spice some of the most delicious dishes would taste bland and hollow. A curry without fenugreek, mustard seeds, turmeric, garam masala? Christmas pudding without cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice? Or a chilli without cumin? Good Lord No.

English mustard is too strong and gives you that horrible itchy hot feeling in the front of your head. American mustard is too sweet. Wholegrain mustard is annoying for annoying people. Ok, they all have their place (cooking, as a relish, and cooking respectively), but Dijon is just right. And Maille because it's what my Mum used to buy.

A veritable taste sensation. I used to know someone who described the taste of capers as being like 'biting into a bud of petrol' but this didn't stop me and an old flatmate popping some into a shot glass and eating them with our fingers whilst settling down to a movie (nor did his girlfriend's squeals of horror). Whether salted or in vinegar I adore these tasty little creatures. When I was little I used to get up at ohmygod o'clock on a Saturday morning, creep through to the kitchen, and while other children all over the country were spilling Coco Pops on their kitchen floors I was sitting crossed legged on the floor in front of the open fridge eating capers out of the jar by the handful. Oh yes.

When a hot fragrant kick is required I reach for the harissa. What a gorgeous flavour this adds to so many things. Makes chicken even sexier, let down with a touch of water and stirred into cous cous it turns this wee grain into something unbelievably moreish. Hell it even does it for me on a cheese sandwich.

Love it love it love it. Never in a squeezy bottle but always in the glass jar, so that you have to angle the tip of your knife under the rim to get at the last of it. Marvellous on toast, or used to add depth and flavour to everything from stews to soups. The Guinness limited edition was a mark of genius.

Simply because it is the very best vegetable stock around. Made only from vegetables, it has a lovely pure and rich legume flavour, with no synthetic after taste. And even though Delia swears by it I still love it and use it religiously.

A must-have for vinaigrettes, pickling, deglazing, marinating, I have this in the cupboard at all times.

Oops, that was 11. And I still have another five I could have added.

Monday, 26 May 2008


Ok, ok, I hold my hands up. My last post was less than inspiring and featured a pretty lack lusture plate of food to boot. I maintain that the progress of my tomato plant is quite exciting but admittedly, not the stuff thrilling blogs are made of.

May I therefore offer the following as an attempt at an apology: five recipes. Yesterday I spent all afternoon in the kitchen working my little fingers to the bone in order to win back your affection. Well that, and to cook up some tasty offerings for a Sunday late lunch.

Regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with my fondess for and frequent use of garlic, and I seem to be gravitating towards Eastern European food at the moment for exactly that reason. Lunch consisted of: lamb koftes, tabbouleh, baba ganoush and tzatziki - in short, a bit of a cultural mish-mash.

Like much of what I've been cooking lately, yesterday's food required that my pestle and mortar be very much in attendance but as said equipment is currently my favorite toy that was just fine with me. If you don't already own one I urge you to rectify that quick smart - a good sized, heavy, solid one with rough sides to aid the grinding. They can be quite expensive but a recent snoop around the kitchen section of TK Maxx turned up some pretty decent ones for not much money at all so I'd suggest having a look there.

Yields 12 koftes

800g organic minced lamb
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon ground sumac
handful finely chopped fresh parsley
handful finely choped fresh mint
handful finely chopped fresh coriander
3 big fat garlic cloves
1 rounded teaspoon harissa paste
good pinch Maldon Smoked Sea Salt (though unsmoked is fine)
freshly ground black pepper

bamboo skewers - to prevent burning, soak these in water while you prepare the meat.

Using a sharp knife, chop through the minced lamb to achieve a finer, ground texture. You can of course use a food processor to do this.

Transfer the ground meat into a mixing bowl (or you can add the following ingredients to your food processor and mix using that - I prefer the good old fashioned method of using my hands!).

Lightly toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry hot pan - keep an eye on them so that they don't burn, they won't take long - when they omit a wonderful aroma they are ready. Transfer the seeds to a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder. Your kitchen will smell glorious. Add the ground spices to the lamb.

Add the sumac, chopped herbs and harissa paste. Crush the garlic to a paste using the sea salt and the back of a knife. Add the to the lamb with an extra pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.

Roll up your sleeves and mix the lamb and spices together well with your hands (or processor).

Dry off the skewers. Take a handful of the lamb mixture and push and shape this around and along the skewer, making sure it is tight. Press little indents into the meat as you go along. Repeat until all the kofte meat is used.

Preheat your grill or griddle pan until hot. I used the grill simply because the skewers were too long for my griddle, but the griddle (or barbeque) would give a lovely charred flavour. Cook until golden on all sides.

I kept aside a little ground cumin and coriander and along with the pan juices from the koftes, heated this in a little olive oil. Pour this over the koftes before serving for extra tastiness.

A fresh and cooling tzatziki makes a perfect accompaniment for deeply savoury lamb koftes. I very briefly blanch the cucumber as this enhances the flavour and colour and stops the tzatziki from being watery. Some people like to add dill but I tend to stick to mint - do whatever makes you happy!

Serves 4

1 large cucumber
2-3 rounded tablespoons greek yoghurt (or to taste)
a good handful of fresh mint (or to taste)
1 garlic clove (or to taste)
Maldon sea salt
ground black pepper

Cut the cucumber in half length ways and scrape out the wet seeds using a teaspoon. Finely shop into small pieces, or grate.

Blanch the cucumber in boiling water for a few seconds, strain and rinse under cold running water. Thoroughly squeeze out any excess liquid and place the cucumber in a bowl.

Add the yoghurt, mint and garlic (crushed to a paste with a little salt using the back of a knife) before mixing well. Season to taste.

(Yet another) one of my favorite dishes in tabbouleh. This beautifully light and fragrant salad is a joy to eat at anytime. Like most things I make, this is best made according to your personal taste, but that's not very helpful for you. So here is my adaptation of the recipe from The Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark at Moro. Don't be fooled by the seemingly measley amount of bulgar wheat - it swells and with the rest of the ingredients makes a substantial salad.

Serves 4

85g bulgar wheat
300ml vegetable stock (I use Marigold Bouillon)
400g sweetest tomatoes, deseeded and cut into small cubes
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
3 small bunches fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped1 small bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped
good slug olive oil
juice of a lemon (the Moro recipe also calls for cinnamon, all spice and garlic, but I prefer to dress it just with olive oil and lemon juice to really let the freshness of the herbs and the tomatoes speak for themselves).

Rinse the bulgar wheat in cold water and place in a bowl. Prepare 300ml of stock or hot water, pour over the bulgar wheat and cover. Leave to absorb the liquid while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Drain off the bulgar wheat if necessary (it should still have a chewy bite), making sure all the excess liquid is gone.

Mix all the ingredients together and dress lightly with the oil and lemon. Check seasoning before serving.

I can not claim to be a massive fan of aubergines. I find their texture too spongey and shiver inducing, and frankly their ability to absorb oil terrifies me. For a long time I could only really bear them in a good Melanzane alla Parmigiana and avoided them otherwise. However, when I first bought the aforementioned Moro Cookbook I came across a recipe for Baba ganoush which persuaded me to give it a try, reassurred by the fact that the aubergines are charred and then mashed. And I'm glad I did try it because what results is a deep, smokey dish which I have returned to time and time again.

BABA GANOUSH from The Moro Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark
Serves 4-6

3 large aubergines, about 750g-1kg in total
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons tahini paste
4 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

Pierce the skins of the aubergines to prevent them from exploding and grill whole over a hot barbeque, directly on the naked flame on a gas hob, or under the grill until the skin is charred and crispy all over and the flesh is very soft. If none of these options is available, place in a very hot oven at 220 degrees/475f/gas mark 7 for about 45-60 minutes until soft inside. Remove from the heat.

When cool enough to handle, discard the tops and peel off the skin, scraping the flesh from the back of the skin if necessary. Place the flesh and any juices in a large mixing bowl and either whisk or beat by hand until almost smooth (we like a bit of texture).

Add the garlic, lemon juice, tahini and olive oil, stir in and taste for seasoning. If the taste is a little strong, add few tablespoons of water.

Some toasted wholemeal pittas completed this meal which was greedily eaten partly with our hands, partly with forks, and entirely in silence punctuated only with oohs, aahs and much lip smacking.

Now, I know I alluded in my last post to baking a cake, but after the heady and exotic koftes etc, a cake seemed just... well, wrong. And so it was that I found myself pondering over ice cream recipes in a bid to find something fitting to round off the meal. I think the common garden variety of flavours are taken care of by the like of Rocombe Farm and Haagen Dazs, and so when I make ice cream myself I like it to be something I'm not likely to come across on a jaunt to the supermarket. I'm always looking for something interesting and unusual to flavour ice cream and have a tendancy to gravitate towards herbs and or spices for this.

Not having much luck and struggling to find a recipe that hit the mark, it was whilst off on a tangent that I found myself reading about caraway, and how well it works with creamy dishes. My mother uses caraway to flavour bread - but beyond that I have to say it's not spice I use.

However, the seed of an idea was planted and the resulting ice cream has a delicate and subtle flavour with a texture which is so dense and creamy it manages to be almost overwhelmingly rich and completely more-ish at the same time. This ice cream would be a brilliant accompaniment to say a tarte tatin, or some warm spiced mulled fruits. For those who are in any way sceptical - I urge you to try this. It is delicious.

A little goes a long way here but double the quantities for more people.

Serves 2-4

200ml double cream
200ml full fat milk
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways with the seeds scraped out
3 teaspoons caraways seeds
4 eggs yolks
88g unrefined caster sugar

Lightly toast the caraway seeds in a dry hot pan to realease their natural oils. Transfer them to a pestle and mortar and pound to break them up a little.

Place the cream, milk, caraway and vanilla pod and seeds in a pan and heat gently until just reaching boiling point.

While the milk mixture is heating, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy.

When the spiced milk mixture is ready, carefully strain and whisk gradually into the egg mixture until properly combined.

Return this custard mix to the heat and cook very gently, stirring with a wooden spoon. Do not let the custard overheat. When the custard has thickened and coats the back of the spoon, strain the custard and allow to cool.

Transfer to an ice cream machine and churn, or transfer to a suitable container and place in the freezer. Take the mixture out every half hour or so and beat with a fork to break up any ice crystals.

Thursday, 22 May 2008


I have to be honest and say that I seem to be having a bit of a battle with my blogging mojo at the moment. I don't know if it's that I'm lacking some inspiration, or that I've got quite a lot of other pretty pressing stuff going on right now, but I am aware that I'm not being as attentive to my blog as I'd like. Rest assured that this is just a phase and I'm sure I'll be right back on it in no time. I might even try and bake a nice cake or something over the weekend as a peace offering, ok?

In the meantime, it might not make the most thrilling post, but here's yesterday's lunch: Beluga Lentil Salad with Butternut Squash and Asparagus. Black Beluga Lentils are very like Puy Lentils but are grown in the cool dry climate of America's Northern Plains. A wee bit of goat's cheese would have been perfect in this but I was having a busy day and had to go with what was in the fridge.

I should also take this opportunity to give you an update on the tomato plant - now this is exciting:

Look at those leaves! Now, I don't want to jump the gun as they say, but I am quite clearly a very skilled horticulturalist in the making. Oh yes.

And speaking of jumping the gun - whilst I didn't quite win the race on Sunday, I did set a new personal best which I'm very pleased with, particularly as it was a scorching day in Glasgow. It would appear that the mound of pasta did it's job.

Saturday, 17 May 2008


I said in a previous post called Recovery Food that the best thing about going for a long run on a Sunday is the stuffing of your face afterwards. Whilst I stand by this, I would like to add that another very good thing about a long run on a Sunday (or in tomorrow's case, the Women's Resolution Asset Managment 10k race in Glasgow with Sylvie and Lindsay) is the stuffing of your face the day before. But not just stuffing your face - stuffing your face full of carbs. Lovely. Whilst I could never indulge in the whole Atkins movement, I do try not to go too over the score with the old carbohydrates simply because they can leave me feeling a bit bloated and sluggish. However, the day before race day I like to tell myself I'm taking action to prevent the onset of fatigue during said event. I'm sure you'll agree that this is very responsible of me and not a convenient excuse to load up on pasta and bread... ahem.

So today's feast was Spaghetti a la Carine as it's known in this household, or Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with some other bits thrown in for good and tasty measure. The basic recipe, as I'm sure you're already aware, is garlic and chilli very gently cooked in olive oil, with chopped flat leaf parsley added at the end with al dente spaghetti. The result is easily one of the most deliciously more-ish pasta dishes you'll ever eat. I am always amazed that this simple dish isn't found on more Italian restaurant menus.

I often add some other bits and pieces - finely chopped Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and some fresh crab adds an interesting dimension. Today though, instead of crab I added fleshy king prawns which did the job of soaking up the delicious garlicky flavours admirably. Tasty tasty tasty.

As I was so conscientiously preparing my body's glycaemic stores for tomorrow, I felt that it would be wise to have some bruschetta too - just to be on the safe side you understand. Whilst shopping for the basic ingredients of ciabatta, tomatoes etc, it came to mind that I've been meaning to try making paneer, the indian cheese, for ages ( - as you do. Trust me, this sounds like a bit of a tangent but it will all become clear in a minute). I had never even tasted paneer but I knew that it's a fairly gentle cheese, with a similar appearance to cottage cheese or even ricotta. I had also heard that it's very easy to make and so I got to thinking that this might a) be an interesting thing to do and b) be a novel addition to my bruschetta. There, I told you it'd make sense eventually.

So, it turns out that paneer is the easiest thing to make, ever. Well, I dare say there are easier things, but those things aren't cheese. This is me, making cheese. Oh yes, Alex James eat your heart out. In fact, this isn't just easy but it's fun too - if they're not squeamish wee bairns this would a great thing to do with your children.

All you need is full fat milk, a lemon and some muslin. And a cooker and a pot etc but you get the idea.


Place the milk in a pan and heat gently until it just starts to boil.

When it reaches this point, turn off the heat and squeeze in the juice of a lemon teaspoon by teaspoon. Stir the milk until it starts to split. If it shows no sign of splitting carefully add more lemon juice until it does.

It will quickly curdle completely until it has separated into curds and whey:

At this point, line a sieve with a muslin cloth (or even a clean tea towel) and drain off the liquid:

The curds now need to be rinsed with water to remove any sourness from the lemon:

Let the water drain off and then wring the muslin cloth thoroughly (incidentally, I'm not sure this is quite what Liz Earle had in mind for this muslin cloth but not to worry...) and remove all the excess liquid until you are left with a little squashy bundle.

Weigh this down with something heavy (I used a cast iron Le Creuset casserole) and leave for half an hour for the cheese to firm up.

When you upwrap your now-slightly-flatter bundle, it will look something like this:

This can be used in various Indian recipes - it can be transferred to the fridge to firm up a bit more and then cut into chunks to be marinated, or it can be used in it's softer state. It has a delicate, milky flavour with a dense creamy texture which is precisely what I was looking for for my bruschetta.

I crumbled it into small chunks, and added it at the last minute to my bruschetta mix of tomatoes and parsley seasoned with salt and pepper.

It was then piled onto ciabatta slices which had been toasted and spread with fresh basil pesto (same method as Wild Garlic Pesto but using basil and a garlic clove instead of wild garlic).

I am now nicely bloated and sluggish and if I don't win that damn race tomorrow there'll be trouble.

Friday, 16 May 2008


We all have them.

What started as a gloriously sunny happy day, finished as a day I'm glad to be at the end of.

Frankly, there was no other thing for it tonight than this: a rich, sweet and comforting little lavendar cupcake courtesy of Waitrose.

More over the weekend when I promise I'll be renewed and full of the joys of Spring (or Summer even) and cooking.

Monday, 12 May 2008


Well it would seem that Alex and Rowan are determined to make a gardener out of me yet (albeit one without a garden) or at the very least a grower of red fruits, as they have now bestowed upon me this little strawberry plant.

Not content with making me the sole carer of a tomato plant, they have somehow felt confident enough to add this to the family. I hope and pray both plants bear fruit or I fear I shall be referred to the vegetable growers equivalent of social services.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


I was in Valvona's a couple of weeks ago when I spotted bags of wild garlic. If I'm perfectly honest, aside from them bringing back childhood memories of summers spent in France playing in the woods, I wasn't entirely sure what I'd do with them and so I left them where they were. However, they played on my mind ever since so I returned last week to buy some. Of course, on that occassion they didn't have any and so I thought I had missed my chance this year. That is until yesterday when I popped in to buy a wee panettone to munch on the way home - there they were again. So this time I grabbed two lots and wandered home in the sunshine, taking surreptitious sniffs at their glorious garlicky fragrance all the way...

Wild garlic leaves - or ramsons - are long and glossy and look similar to that of Lily of the Valley, though eating the poisonous latter isn't to be recommended as this can apparantly lead to death. Lovely. So the moral of the story is: if in doubt, rub the leaves. If your fingers smell of garlic, you're safe.

After giving the matter of what to do with them some thought and a touch of research the obvious choice was to make a pesto. If like me you adore anything garlicky and a have a wee penchant for a good homemade pesto, you will love love love this. In fact to be prefectly frank, even if you have a general fondness for garlic you'd do well to get yourself out of the house and track down some of these wild leaves because this pesto is good enough to eat on it's own with a spoon. Although I'm not sure your loved ones will thank you for it afterwards.

Serves 2 garlic lovers or 4 lightweights

(I'm afraid these are more of my vague measurements - adjust to taste)
50g wild garlic leaves
a tiny wee sprinkle of Maldon sea salt
50g pine nuts (or however much you fancy)
inch lump of parmesan, chopped into bits (ditto)
a good slug of olive oil (ditto)

Give the leaves a good rinse and dry (a salad spinner is useful here), and cut away the thickest part of the stalks.

Chop the leaves up fairly finely and put them in a pestle and mortar. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of Maldon (don't over do it or the pesto will be horribly salty - just enough so that the tiny crystals grind into the leaves), and pound away with the pestle until the leaves start to mush a bit and your olfactory senses are given a right old treat.

Add the pine nuts and parmesan and continue to pound and grind until the mixture resembles pesto - add the olive oil as you go along and taste test all the while.

If you decide to make this - and I really hope you do - this is the point at which you swoon and wish you'd made more.

This pesto was to accompany simply baked trout fillets (or really, the trout accompanied the pesto...), but I needed to make something else to go alongside it. As the pesto utilised the garlic leaves in their raw form, I thought it would be nice to make something which involves cooking them, and that's when I thought of dolmades. I'm not the biggest fan of dolmades normally, mainly because of the texture of the vines leaves which are traditionally used to wrap them - they can sometimes be a little chewy and stringy. I thought the delicate texture of the wild garlic leaves would be a perfect substitute and the mild flavour when cooked would lend itself well to these little parcels.

Now, at this point I think it's important to say that if you're planning a quick fuss free dinner, dolmades is not the way to go. They're a bit fiddly. However, they were delicious, went superbly with the trout and pesto and I'll definitely make them again. Just not when I'm falling over with hunger.

Serves 2 - 3

16 good sized wild garlic leaves, washed
100g bulgar wheat
200g good vegetable stock
2 shallots
8-10 olives
8-10 sun dried tomatoes
handful fresh mint
handful fresh parsley
squeeze lemon juice
slug olive oil
1 teaspoon harissa

Rinse the bulgar wheat and place in a bowl, pour over the stock and cover. Leave for 30 minutes.

Blanch the wild garlic leaves in boiling water and refresh immediately in a bowl of iced water. Set aside.

When the bulgar wheat is tender, strain off any remaining stock if necessary.

Finely shop the shallot and gently cook in a little olive oil until translucent. Chop the olives, sun dried tomatoes, mint and parsley and add to the bulgar wheat along with the shallots.

Add a squeeze of lemon, a slug of olive oil and season to taste. Loosen the teaspoon of harissa with a little hot water (about a tablespoon) and add to the mixture. Mix well.

Take two wild garlic leaves and lay shiny side down, slightly over lapping. Straighten off the stalk ends.

Place a spoonful of the bulgar wheat mixture in the middle of the leaves at the stalk end and fold over once, tucking the sides in as tightly as you can. Roll up into a neat sausage-shaped parcel, ensuring that there are no gaps. Repeat this process until you have eight.

Place the dolmades in a steamer (I very slightly oiled the bottom of mine so that they wouldn't stick), and steam for 15-20 minutes.

These would also be good with a little crumbled feta or halloumi added to the bulgar wheat.

A heady and aromatic dinner - needless to say, I apologise in advance to anyone who will have the misfortune to find themselves in close conversation with me tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008


Tonight was one of those evenings when I got in from my run and just couldn't be bothered to cook anything. So it was a wholemeal pitta stuffed full of vegetables and tuna I'm afraid - very gourmet indeed.

However, I did buy three juicy mangos today and one of them in particular was just begging to be eaten this evening so that's exactly what I did. I spruced it up with a yoghurty concoction which really doesn't merit the writing of an actual recipe but it consisted basically of this:

a dollop of Total greek 2% fat yoghurt

a wee chunk of pure creamed coconut, softened with a TINY bit of freshly boiled water - and I really do mean TINY - just enough to make it into a thick paste

a wee dribble of Belvoir organic ginger cordial (because that's what was in the fridge but if you've got a jar of stem ginger in syrup the syrup from that would be just grand)

The measurements are deliberately vague because it's a real 'to taste' number, but I just mixed it all together and plonked it on the sliced mango and I'm telling you this because it was very tasty. It would be good also if the mango was brushed with honey and caramelised under the grill... but I was far to impatient for any of that tonight.

The greek yoghurt is the essential bit because it's nice and thick - although plain fromage frais would be good too. Oooh, but the best thing in the world to do with plain fromage frais is to ladle Banania by the heap-load into it - DElicious - if you're ever in France, or know anyone who is, buy Banania. It's the greatest thing ever.


Trust me, I tried to make this look good, I honestly did but it just wasn't playing the game. So against my better judgement here is a picture of said gingerycoconutyyoghurtymango. It tasted better than it looks.


Well I do believe there seems to be some progress. Not much I grant you, but a little. We appear to have new leaves. How very exciting.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


I have just been very pleasantly surprised to find a comment on my previous Warm and Nutty Cinamon Quinoa post - from none other than the author of Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine himself, Dr John La Puma.

I am thrilled - and very flattered - that he took the time to look at my blog, and contrary to what I thought, his Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine is indeed available to buy in the UK from Amazon.

It's definitely on my shopping list...


I came across a recipe on 101 Cookbooks last night that I just could not resist. At the risk of looking as though I search other food blogs for ideas and then simply regurgitate them as my own, I simply had to share this one with one with you.

I am a masive fan of quinoa. Whilst not technically a grain, quinoa can be used as a substitute for nearly any grain in cooking. Actually the seed of a leafy plant, quinoa’s relatives include spinach, beetroot and Swiss chard.

It's beneficial properties are seemingly endless: a good source of dietary fibre and phosphorus, high in magnesium and iron, easily digested, rich in protein (12%-18%), iron, potassium and other vitamins and minerals, and unlike wheat or rice, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete food.

And perhaps most importantly it is delicious, with a delicate and slightly nutty flavour, making it a great alternative to cous cous or white rice. I eat this frequently but when I do I always use it in savoury dishes - cooked in a little stock and mixed with roasted vegetables, as an accompaniment or in fact as a dish in itself with a tomato salad on the side, say.

So when I saw this recipe on 101 Cookbooks from Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine (which unfortuantely seems to only be available in the USA) I knew immediately what I'd be having for breakfast this morning.

WARM AND NUTTY CINNAMON QUINOA adapted from that published on 101 Cookbooks
Serves 4

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 cups fresh blackberries or blueberries
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped nuts, toasted (I used almonds, but pecans or walnuts would be good too)
honey to taste

Combine milk, water and rinsed quinoa in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

While the quinoa is cooking, lightly toast the nuts in a dry non-stick pan.

When most of the liquid is absorbed turn off the heat, cover and stand for 5 minutes.

Stir in the cinnamon, berries and some of the nuts, reserving some berries and nuts for serving.

Serve in a bowl with the remaining nuts and berries on top. Drizzle over honey to taste.

I usually eat porridge in the morning but I think after today, quinoa is going to be making a regular appearance at my breakfast table.

Monday, 5 May 2008


So here we are, at the end of a lovely sunny bank holiday weekend. Spent with friends, it's been quite eventful.

Friday night saw the start of the weekend in Glasgow with Carrie, who was visiting from London where she is a Features Writer for a Wedding glossy. She seems to be always jetting off to some glamorous destination on a press trip - having recently returned from Safari in South Africa, she spent last week in Paris and is off to the Seychelles next week. I, of course, am not jealous AT ALL.

Another perk of her job is to road-test 'wedding nights' in the country's swankiest hotels, and this is a perk which she often shares with friends. Last Easter weekend we stayed in a suite at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, where we laughed our heads off during a very long and entertaining dinner in their Michelin Star restaurant Foliage. It was a veritable battle to get through the seemingly endless plates of food - not because they were bad, but perhaps stuffing our faces with cakes at Laduree an hour before our dinner reservation wasn't the best idea in the world. Indeed the food was extraordinary, but the service was even more so. I will never forget the running commentary which accompanied every one of the many courses and bottles of wine, and the waiter who was so attentive he walked me to the ladies room and then ran to the table after me when I tried in vain to get back without him noticing.

This year, she invited me along to stay in Glasgow's Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens. I've been fortunate enough to stay and eat there before and have always enjoyed it so was looking forward going again. Dinner was included and the food was undoubtedly very good, but we couldn't help but snigger at the 'air' (aka foam) gracing nearly every dish.

I decided to have a 'just one' drink with dinner, having been tee-total for the past few weeks in preparation for the Bupa Great Run Edinburgh 10k. A bottle of wine later and a declaration of that old 'in for a penny...' chestnut, I saw fit to consume my body weight in alchohol and ended the evening at 2.30 on Saturday morning, watching Super Nanny in the massive bed and nursing a Gin and Tonic... oops. Needless to say, after a breakfast of eggs benedict to soak up the offending alchohol, Saturday was spent cursing my stupidity and drinking copious amounts of water in a vain attempt to correct my wrongs.

Despite my spectacularly ill-timed fall off the wagon and subsequent hangover-from-hell, I ran in the aforementioned race yesterday and it was quite an experience. Edinburgh is a hilly city and the weather was warm and humid so it was a challenge, and Friday night's antics certainly didn't help. However it was great fun with a real sense of achievement at the end. Rowan, Alex and Richard cheered me on at the finish line and we celebrated afterwards over lunch in The Ship on the Shore in Leith. Needless to say, I won't be drinking between now and the next race on the 18th. No really...

I was flicking through the May issue of Olive magazine in the hotel in Glasgow when I came across a recipe for Chicken Baked with Globe Artichokes and Lemon. Now having already previously waxed lyrical about my obsession with chicken and lemons, I won't be a bore, but adding artichokes into the mix? Hello! I'm there! I love artichokes. When I was little my Mum used to simmer them in a big pan of water and serve them whole with bowls of vinaigrette containing chopped boiled egg. I still love to dip the leaves into this gloopy mixture before scraping off the sweet flesh with my teeth. And those beautiful chargrilled and marinated artichoke heart antipasti that the Italians do so brilliantly - I could happily eat by the bucket load. So it was a bit of a no-brainer really when I considered what to make for dinner tonight.

We are so lucky in Edinburgh to have Valvona and Crolla, a fantastic and renouned Italian specialist food shop and wine merchant (and purveyor of particularly good aforementioned chargrilled artichoke hearts). The smell alone is as good a reason as any to pay a visit and if you're feeling at all weary, a trip to Valvona's will almost certainly lift your spirits. There I found some beautiful little purple artichokes nestling amongst the vegetables and a lemon so huge and regal with it's glossy leaves intact I couldn't resist it.

I think people are often put off using artchokes because of the perceived amount of preparation required but it's really quite easy. For this recipe you need to cut off the stalk flush with the base, pull off the tough outer layer of leaves and trim the remaining ones with scissors. Cut off the pointed top, cut into quaters and remove the indigestible choke. Place in a bowl of cold water with the juice of half a lemon to stop it from going brown.

The recipe was so straightforward that I used it rather as a guide rather than a step by step set of instructions. In a nutshell: I took 4 small onions cut into wedges and layed them in the bottom of a large casserole with a couple of lemons cut into quarters, 4 garlic cloves which had been squashed and the prepared artichokes, then topped this with a good slug of white wine and a drizzle of olive oil. I then placed the chicken on top - cleaned, seasoned, stuffed full of lemons and with a little butter pushed carefully between the skin and flesh on the breast to keep it moist. Into the oven at around 190 degrees for about 20 minutes per 500g plus 30 minutes.

When the chicken was ready I placed it aside to rest, drained some of the lemony juices to eat with the chicken and stirred a handful of chopped parsely through the vegetables in the pan. Served simply with a basic green lettuce to mop up the sticky juices it was a delicious end to the day.

No dessert tonight but I must just tell you about my new favorite thing - The Ginger People's Original Ginger Chews from California. I came across these by chance on a recent trip to Beets (to buy more Clipper Chamomile and Lavendar tea - another fixation of mine) and frankly I think I need to go back and buy their entire stock. They. Are. So. Good. If like me you love the fiery taste of a good strong ginger beer and the warming sensation as it slides down your throat, you'll love these. Good for nausea too, they are are the bees knees.

Thursday, 1 May 2008


For some people the notion of coming home after a day's work and then spending the whole evening in the kitchen is nothing short of hideous. I couldn't disagree more. For me, cooking is the ultimate stress relief (unless of course I'm making Chocolate-Tart-Topped-With-Soft-Meringue) and the source of complete catharsis. What better way to switch off from the pressures of the outside world than to lock yourself in your kitchen and create?

That said however, there are definitely times when speed is called for; when the rumble in your belly is louder than your desire to potter and you need to come up with the goods quickly.

After this evening's run I needed to eat. Fast. Fortunately I had pre-empted such a situation and had some beautiful crevettes in the fridge waiting for me. A popular dish in this household, this has got to be one of the easiest and quickest way to prepare these little creatures.

Serves 2

tablespoon of olive oil
2 red birds eye chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
16 large crevettes from a good supplier
a glass of good white wine - I use a Sancerre and drink the rest with dinner...
a handful of parsley, roughly chopped

In a shallow pan, very very gently heat the chillies and garlic. The idea is to flavour the oil and soften the garlic - not to fry it. Keep an eye on this as the garlic can burn easily - whisk the pan off the heat if it heats up too fast. If the garlic burns it becomes acrid and you'll need to start again!

When the garlic has started to soften and smells delicious and sweet, add the crevettes.

As they start to change from grey to vibrant orange, move them around a little. You don't want to over-cook them, just allow them to colour evenly. This should take very little time.

At this point, add the wine. Allow the wine to come up to a gentle simmer, then place a lid on the pan and allow the crevettes to cook for a minute or so - no more.

Throw in the parsley and you're good to go.

We eat this out of the pan with our hands like heathens and mop up the juices with crusty bread. The first couple will definitely test the heat sensitivity in your fingers but I promise - you won't care.

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