It’s good to share ….

Two things have inspired my blog today. One is SUNSHINE meaning I want to be out in the garden, tidying up from the winter and planning this year’s planting – so I don’t want to be inside cooking all day (much as you know I love it). The second was that The Husband went to visit an old friend yesterday (Hello, Joan!) and took with him some casserole for her to just heat up as she is having a new kitchen and without one at the moment.

Thus, I’m looking at casseroles – so I can make ahead and be outside whilst its simmering – and, also, I think it’s about time you were not just cooking for one – but to share. I’m sure you will know someone who for some reason can’t/won’t cook at the moment – let us be kind and have a share week. If you really don’t have anyone to share with – you can always freeze a portion for another time when you are out and about/being busy/or just can’t put that good book down!

Chicken thighs with Garlic and Lemon (this will definitely keep the vampires away!)

  • 500ml chicken stock (cube will do)
  • 10 – 15 garlic cloves (yes, really!)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 dessertspoon of olive oil
  • 4 – 6 chicken thighs
  • 1 lemon, peeled and pith removed and sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoon plain flour
  • 150 ml of water or white wine (small glass for the cook)
  • salt and pepper

Put the stock in a pan and bring to the boil.  Add the garlic cloves, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.  Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan, add the chicken and fry gently on all sides until golden.  Transfer to an ovenproof  dish.

Heat the oven to 190oC.  Strain the garlic stock and reserve.  Put the cooked garlics and sliced lemons into the dish with chicken.  Add the flour to the fat in the pan (from frying the chicken) and cook for a minute.  Gradually add the wine or leftover garlic stock (or a mixture), stirring all the time till thickened and smooth.  Pour over the chicken, cover and cook in the oven for 40 – 45 minutes, taking the cover off about 10 minutes before the end to brown.  Scatter over chopped parsley or basil and serve with new potatoes and a crisp salad.

CHILLI CON CARNE (looks like this may be complicated because of  number of ingredients but I promise it isn’t)

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 chopped onion
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 500 grams minced beef
  • 1 glass of red wine
  • 1- 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1- 2 red chillies/dried chilli flakes or to taste (don’t forget you can buy chilli, garlic and ginger frozen so you don’t have to buy a load and then not use)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 stick cinnamon (optional)
  • good shake of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • can of red kidney beans
  • some fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 3 squares dark chocolate (secret ingredient )

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic until soft.  Add the mince, cooking quickly till browned.  Pour in the red wine  and boil for 2 – 3 minutes (have one for yourself whilst you are waiting).Stir in the tinned tomatoes, puree, chilli, cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, Worcester sauce and Tomato sauce and crumble in the stock cube.  Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook gently for about 40 minutes. If the mixture still looks wet, I then cook it more fiercely until rich and thickened.  Add the chocolate and beans and fresh coriander. Serve with lime wedges, guacamole, rice and/or crusty bread/baked potatoes/salad/

Spicy Lamb and Bean Casserole

  • 500g lean lamb – cubed and tossed in seasoned flour
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 250g mushrooms
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 250g dried apricots
  • 500ml stock
  • tin of beans – kidney/cannellini/flageolet – your choice

Slice the onions and chop the garlic. Roughly chop the apricots. Add 1 tablespoon the oil to a frying pan and quickly brown the meat. Remove to a large casserole dish. Add little oil and brown the mushrooms – add to meat. Add remaining oil and saute the onions and garlic till soft. Add the garam masala, and the stock and bring to the boil. Add to the casserole. Drain the beans and add with the apricots. Cover dish and cook 165oC for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Baked potatoes alongside the dish would be perfect!

January Savings

Looking back over the recipes you and I have done together over the many weeks, it occurred to me that there are probably little jars/packets/leftover veg and fruit lurking about in the back of a cupboard and fridge, so today I’m going to give you some ideas about what to do with them in this time of cutting down on waste.

In no particular order (other than popping into my mind!) . . . .

Salad onions: Blanch whole for 2 minutes and drain. Heat a griddle pan and chargrill for a few minutes each side and serve with a honey and lemon dressing as a side dish (whisk 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil and a large teaspoon of honey together)

Kale: Make Kale crisps by preheating the oven to 150oC, Toss torn Kale with a little oil and season and roast in a single layer for about 20 minutes until crisp

Most vegetables can be roasted so just toss any sad looking potatoes/parsnips/carrots/sprouts/whatever in a little olive oil and put in the oven at 180oC till crisp

Herbs: (of course, you can also freeze herbs but they want to be at their best for this and here we are using up the little bits found at the back of the fridge!)

  • Shallow fry whole sage leaves for 2 – 3 minutes till crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper, toss with sea salt and pepper and scatter over soups and pasta dishes.
  • Fry as above, cool, finely chop and beat into softened butter with a little sea salt. Wrap in cling film and chill and use slices to stuff fish, top chicken or melt over filled pasta
  • Roughly chop sage, mix with breadcrumbs then fry in butter until golden. Season and scatter over cauliflower cheese or steamed green veg,
  • Finely chop some capers and mix with chopped coriander, parsley and mint (there are always some of these hiding in my fridge drawer), olive oil, lemon zest and chilli flakes. Serve with grilled meat and fish or roast vegetables.
  • Crush cooked peas with a little butter, lemon juice and chopped mint.  Season and spoon over toast and top with crumbled feta

Cheese: (again, big lumps can be grated and frozen)

  • Finely grate and add to shortcrust pastry with a pinch of smoked paprika and use to make a tart case for a savoury quiche
  • stir fry left over brussels sprouts with pancetta or chopped bacon and scatter with grated cheese to serve
  • Finely slice and toss into a leafy salad with slices of crisp green apple and add a mustardy vinaigrette

Coconut milk:

  • Blend a 1/4 can with half a banana, a dollop of yogurt and some berries for a quick smoothie
  • Try a new gravy: stir a few spoonfuls into roast chicken cooking juices along with a chopped chilli, a squeeze of lime juice and some coriander
  • Use instead of an oil in a marinade

Black Pudding

  • Add va va voom to eggs on toast by sprinkling over fried and crumbled black pudding
  • Toss slices through cubed roast potatoes for the final 5 minute cooking time. Serve with white fish, wilted spinach and aioli
  • Mix with caramelised onions and sage to stuff chicken or serve with firm fish such as monkfish

Any fruits can be poached and whizzed up with leftover yogurt/cream/custard (is there ever such a thing as leftover custard!?) to make a fool – and to give a nice contrasting crisp topping crush the broken bits of biscuits at the bottom of the box.

Oranges, limes and lemons can be zested (and frozen) and either sliced and frozen for drink additions or squeezed and the juice saved in ice cube trays.

Which tin has been sitting in the back of your cupboard and needs using up? Perhaps a pulse which could be rinsed and used in a salad? Or charred in a hot pan as a basis for a smoky taco? Perhaps it suits to be cooked slowly with herbs and wine to become a warm, comforting supper? Think how a few fresh ingredients could enhance and contrast with your chosen tin? A handful of toasted nuts, seeds and spices could help lift softer tins.

This recipe is using a tin of green lentils – but you could easily substitute these for cooked pearl barley, spelt or cooked rice.

Garlic Mushroom Lentil and fried eggs

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 200 grams mushrooms, sliced (you could use frozen or tinned as long as they are dried off)
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary chopped (or sage,       tarragon or thyme)
  • 1 x 390 gram tin of green lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 100g spinach, washed and drained
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons grated parmesan (you could also use mature cheddar or goats’ cheese)

Fry the garlic in 2 tablespoons of oil, taking care not to burn it. Take out and set aside. Increase the heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil, add the mushrooms and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes. Stir in whatever herb you are using and add the lentils, lemon juice and spinach until wilted (add a little water if the pan looks dry).  Add the remaining oil to another pan, crack the eggs and fry to your liking.  To serve: pile the mushrooms on two plates, add the egg, the crispy garlic, grated parmesan and lemon zest. Toasted sourdough an excellent partner to mop up the juices!

Good comfort food is needed more than ever and  Ribollita is a main course soup using tins again with leftover bread and a little fresh cabbage. This serves more than one – but I will allow you to batch bake on this occasion! Keeps in the fridge for a few days or freeze a portion or two when cooled on the day.

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 celery sticks (celery wrapped in tin foil and kept in the fridge will keep for a while)
  • 1 leek
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 750ml vegetable stock (from a cube will do)
  • salt and pepper
  • 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 2 thick slices of (older) bread, torn (sourdough is best but not necessary)
  • 200g of cabbage or spinach or cavolo nero
  • grated parmesan cheese

Chop the onion, celery, leek and carrots into dice and tip into a large saucepan.  Add the olive oil and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic and tomato puree, mix well.  Pour the tinned tomatoes into the pan, add 500 ml stock, season and bring to a gentle simmer, Half cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes to soften the vegetables.  Add the beans and cook for a further 20 minutes. Add the remaining stock and bread and cook for about 10 minutes until the bread is broken down and thickened the soup.  Add the green veg and cook till wilted.  Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil and some grated parmesan on top.

All at Sea

Decades of bad fishing practices have left our oceans in a tragic state. Many species which were once common-place are now threatened, dwindling to the point where there aren’t enough to catch and make a profit. Over 90% of predatory species like cod and tuna have already been caught and many fisheries are overfished.

Numbers of fish are dropping faster than they can reproduce and this is causing profound changes to life in our oceans. In reality, there aren’t plenty more fish in the sea.

The fishing industry has become high-tech and giant ships use sonar to find fish schools with pinpoint accuracy. Huge nets catch fish in vast numbers. These ships are also floating factories, with processing and packing plants to handle their catch more efficiently. All this means there is now capacity to catch many times more fish than are actually left.

In the UK, we import most of the seafood we eat and export most of what we catch. But if you stick with sustainable options, going local can be much better for the environment.

It’s important to note that ‘local’ does not automatically mean ‘sustainable’ but there are some great options that you should consider eg Cornish Sardines instead of Tuna; Hake instead of cod; plaice instead of haddock. At the moment, mackerel remains a good sustainable fish, particularly if caught with hand lines.

The Marine Conservation Society  About us | Marine Conservation Society ( is a UK charity fighting for a cleaner, better-protected, healthier ocean, one we can all enjoy and support the fish we eat.  They have produced a good fish guide Home | Good Fish Guide ( where you can see for yourself what are the more sustainable fish available – there is even an app you can download to check out when you are next off to your local fishmonger!

The NHS recommends eating 2 portions of fish per week for our health – but let us also take some time to consider the health of our oceans and fish stocks and work for our mutual benefit.

I’ve put together some fish recipes for you to try, swapping the usual for a more sustainable alternative – do give them a try and expand your cooking repertoire from the ordinary to the extraordinary – and give our seas the chance to recover!

Harissa Hake with griddled vegetables

  • 1 courgette, trimmed and cut into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
  • 2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into thick slices
  • 2 red onions, cut into wedges
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  •  2 – 4 pieces of hake, depending on size
  • 1 tbsp harissa paste

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until very hot. Brush the vegetables all over with the oil and griddle for 5 minutes, turning once, until charred and tender. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium. Put the fish on a baking tray and brush each fillet with the harissa paste. Season with freshly ground pepper and cook under the grill for 4-5 minutes, until cooked. Divide it among the plates and top with the griddled vegetables and harissa sea bass.

Oriental style citrus Mackerel

  • 1 orange, juice only
  • 4 teaspoons soy sauce
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 2 – 4 mackerel fillets, cut in half
  • 1 lime, juice only
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves
  • handful fresh rocket
  • 1 orange, cut into wedges, to serve

Place the orange juice, soy sauce, chilli flakes and sesame seeds into a frying pan and simmer for 3 – 4 minutes.  Add the mackerel and cook for 2 minutes on each side.  Remove from the heat, squeeze in the lime juice and scatter with coriander.  Place the rocket leaves into a bowl, pour over the juices from the mackerel pan and stir.  To serve, pile the rocket salad onto a serving place, top with the fish and garnish with orange wedges.

How lovely it is to open a parcel to find out what is within!  Did you know you can cook fish in parcels – and how lovely it is to open, smell the lovely aromas and taste the gently cooked food, full of flavour. This is one of the best ways to cook fish savouring all their flavours.

For the parcel, you will need some baking parchment – or if you haven’t got this some greaseproof paper and kitchen foil, folded together, foil outside.  The size will be determined by the size of fish but I would say about a 30cm square or A4 piece of paper should definitely do it.

This recipe is for one parcel – obviously double/quadruple for more!

Lemon and Herb Plaice in a Bag (if you want to be posh that’s en papillote in French!)

  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (you could use a little dill too)
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • Lemon slices and 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 spring onion
  • a fillet of plaice
  • cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Heat the oven to 200oC. Mix the parsley, garlic and lemon peel together and put to the side. Cut the spring onion into small pieces and slice lengthwise. Season the fish with salt and pepper and the lemon juice and spread the top with butter. Put the spring onion and tomatoes in the middle of your parcel and top with the fish.  Put some of the herb mix on top of the fish.  Fold the packages up – each long side to the middle then sides brought inwards to seal. Place on a baking sheet and bake about 8 minutes. Put the parcel on your dinner plate with whatever vegetables you like best and open – be careful all those lovely juices will seep out and you don’t want to waste them!

Tinned Sardines and Rocket Salad  Eating fish doesn’t have to be an expensive option, either.  Tinned fish is just as good for you and this easy-to-assemble salad filled with flavours and textures. The diced cucumber and slivers of red onion lend crunch, the pomegranate seeds some fireworks. The lemony dressing provides the requisite acidic cut-through the tinned sardines love.

  •  1 tin sardines 
  •  1/2 cucumber
  •  1/2 red onion
  •  2 large handfuls of rocket
  •  3 tbsp olive oil
  •  1 tbsp lemon juice
  •  salt & pepper to taste

Halve cucumber and scrape out the seeds, then dice. Slice 1/2 red onion into thin crescents, and toss with rocket leaves. Whisk 3 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, salt and pepper to make a dressing, and toss with the salad. Lay sardines on top. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mushrooming. . .

The Husband and I went to North Wales a week ago and when out for a walk, following an avenue of old beech trees, found Mushroom Gold – CEPS! You can see how big they were in relation to his hand. Next to truffles, they are considered the best of edible fungi – and I can definitely agree with that as they were eaten, simply fried in butter and served on toast to mop up the juices that night!

We’ve been eating a lot of mushrooms for a couple of weeks now as there is a field where The Husband goes fishing which is always full of them this time of year. We must have had pounds – sometimes, I feel I am drowning in mushroom soup which I have frozen in bags to eat through the winter.

There are so many different types (the one above on the back left is called a Charcoal Burner) – and indeed, along with the ones we found several would have made us ill. Please be careful when picking that you are taking home the good ones. I downloaded an app to my phone but I also double checked with a fungi book once home – and if ever in any doubt – don’t!

When you have collected them and brought home, if not using straight away, most fungi will keep in a refrigerator for a few days, provided they are collected young, dry and insect free.  Do not store them in a plastic bag. Wipe clean with a damp cloth but do not wash.

Mushroom and Tarragon Pate

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 200g field mushroom, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tbsp crème fraiche
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

Heat butter in a large frying pan. Add shallots, leek and garlic, then gently fry for 7 mins until softened. Increase the heat, add mushrooms, then cook for 10 mins, stirring, until the juices have evaporated and the mushrooms are tender. Stir in the mustard and crème fraîche, then season well. Cook for a further 2 mins then stir in the chopped tarragon. Preheat the grill. Spoon the hot pâté on to toast, garnish with the extra tarragon, then serve with salad leaves.

Mushroom Stroganoff

  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 -2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon English mustard
  • 120 – 150grams quartered mushrooms (this can be all chestnut or mixed mushrooms)
  • 1/2 vegetable stock cube dissolved in 125 ml hot water
  • 1/2 pot crème fraiche or 1/2 pot sour cream (if you haven’t got either but you do have cream just add a little lemon juice and leave to stand a few minutes)

In a wide based pan, melt a little butter and oil and gently cook the onions and garlic.  Add the mushrooms and seasoning and cook without stirring until caramelized.  Add the stock, paprika and mustard and cook for another few minutes. (If it seems a little too liquidy, cook hard to reduce it.) OFF the heat, add the crème fraiche/cream and stir altogether.  Traditionally, this is served with boiled rice but I have also served this with linguine and other pasta types so this bit is up to your own creative genius! Sprinkle with parsley – and, for an extra layer of texture, quartered slices of fried bread (in butter, of course!)

Mushroom Soup

  • one small onion
  • one small potato
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic
  • 150 grams mushrooms (I use the stalks and 3/4 of mushrooms)
  • 500ml stock

Chop the onion, potato and garlic and fry gently in some butter. Add the stalks and mushrooms and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the potato is soft. Using a stick blender, whizz up to smooth soup. Return to the heat and add remaining chopped mushrooms and milk/cream/creme fraiche to the consistency you want. Serve in warm bowls with chopped parsley.

PS As we have had access to so many, I have discovered how to dry them to toss in winter stews, risottos and soups.

Slice mushrooms into roughly the same size and place them on a baking tin, lined with greaseproof paper. Put in an oven at 150oC for one hour. Take out and blot with kitchen towel and return for another hour. If ready, they should not be soft and should snap. Store in an airtight jar.

Love It or Hate It?

I’ve been away for a while as The Husband and I have been on a road trip through France, Switzerland and Italy. Excitement and anticipation were high on the first morning in France – but took a little tumble when The Husband discovered I had forgotten the Marmite to put on his baguette! Searching high and low in supermarkets from Calais to Florence to no avail, we travelled extensively – until we finally found a jar on the return journey to France and home – and on his birthday! O la! la!

Marmite is a savoury spread, which was originally invented by German scientist Justus von Liebig in 1902. The scientist invented it in the UK when he discovered that brewers’ leftover yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. So that’s beer and Marmite for everyone! In 1912, it was discovered that Marmite was a great source of vitamin B, so the British troops fighting in World War I were issued jars of the stuff as part of their rations. During the 1930s, English scientist, Lucy Wills, successfully used Marmite to treat anaemia in mill workers in Bombay and it was also used to treat malnutrition during the 1934–5 malaria epidemic in Sri Lanka.

Basically, Marmite has super powers!

However, despite all of the above, and the fact it is high in folic acid and very low in calories, it has always been – love it? or hate it?

Obviously, we are a Marmite household – and I’m hoping the recipes below may turn you if you aren’t.

Try these first: –

1. Add a teaspoon or two of Marmite to meaty stews, Bolognese or French onion soup to add a deep, savoury umami flavour
2. Spread over roast chicken before cooking for gorgeously golden, salty skin, or mix into mince to make delicious burgers
3. Try it on toast topped with poached eggs (always)
4. Add to hot oil before roasting potatoes
5. Marmite is a perfect partner to cheese – add a twist to Welsh Rarebit, mix into cheesy puff pastry palmiers, or bake some cheese and Marmite scones
6. Roast with nuts to make a moreish snack

Roast Potatoes with Marmite

  • 250g floury potatoes (eg, Maris Piper, King Edward)
  • 25g salted butter
  • 1 large teaspoon Marmite
  • Sea salt flakes and thyme leaves, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200ºC (180ºC Fan) and bring a large pan of water to the boil. Peel potatoes and chop into chunks. Parboil potatoes for 10 mins. Drain, shake well to rough-up the edges and leave to steam-dry (approx 10 mins). Melt butter in a pan then whisk in the marmite. Heat until bubbling. Tip potatoes and marmite mixture into a baking tray and turn potatoes to coat. Season with freshly ground black pepper then roast for 1 hour, turning twice during cooking to ensure even browning. Serve scattered with salt flakes and thyme leaves.

Marmite and Lentil Soup (obviously this makes more than one portion but soup freezes really well – or you can keep it in the fridge to enjoy for a few days.

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp ginger, fresh grated
  • 2 large potatoes, finely diced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 200 grams brown button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 440 gram can brown lentils
  • 1 tbs Marmite
  • 1 tbs lemon, juice
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • greek yogurt, chives and crunchy bread (to serve)

Heat oil in a frying pan. Fry onions, ginger and garlic until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue to cook until tender. Add the coriander, cumin, mushrooms, celery, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add lentils. Season with Marmite and lemon juice. Add stock and leave soup to simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste. Serve in warm bowls sprinkled with chives, yogurt and crunchy bread on the side.

Marmite and Potato Frittata

  • 2large starchy potatoes, peeled, diced
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled, finely chopped
  • 3 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbs plain unsweetened yoghurt
  • 1 rounded dessertspoon Marmite
  • 1 dessertspoon chives, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, fresh chopped
  • 30 – 40g Edam cheese, grated
  • To serve, cherry tomatoes & baby spinach leaves.

Preheat oven to 200°C.  Parboil potatoes in salted water until just tender for 5 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Heat an over proof fry pan or cast-iron dish with olive oil. Add onions and cook until lightly browned. Add the drained potatoes and stir well. Mix the eggs, yoghurt, fresh herbs and Marmite together. Season with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Mix the egg mixture into the cooked potatoes and onion. Push down to settle in the dish. Sprinkle with cheese. Place oven-proof fry pan or dish in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before turning out of pan or taking slices out. Use a knife to run around the edge of the dish, to release the frittata. Serve with grilled tomatoes and baby spinach leaves.

Marmite Popcorn

  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 100g popping corn
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon marmite
  • 2 Tbs finely grated parmesan (33g)

Preheat oven to 150ºC fan bake and line a large oven tray with baking paper. Heat oil in a large heavy-based saucepan on medium-high. Add popping corn and shake the pan gently to coat kernels in oil. Cover with a lid. Shake the pan every 15-30 seconds, until virtually all the corn has popped – the pops should be 2-3 seconds apart at this point. Transfer to a large bowl. Place butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted. Add marmite and whisk until well combined (this will take a couple of minutes). Pour over the popcorn and stir until popcorn is evenly coated. Add parmesan and toss to combine. Pour popcorn onto prepared tray and spread out in a single layer. Bake for 5-7 minutes, until crisped up. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

A Very British Pastime

There are blackberry bushes – and there is OUR blackberry bush!

When I was little, I used to go blackberry picking with my mum – and I, in turn, took my own children with my friends, Claire and Beryl, and their children.  Our babies have got babies of their own now and we hope to all go picking again this week – trying to persuade little fingers to put as many of the berries they put in their mouths into their baskets! Our garden is partly an old orchard where the apple trees have fallen down (we have also planted new ones!) and become a secret hiding place for rabbits, squirrels and mice and the trunks homes for woodpeckers and robins.  And over it all, has grown the most wonderful blackberry bush, its huge, thorny branches weighed down with all the glistening, purple gorgeousness of fruit!

There are so many things you can do with blackberries – jams, cordials, puddings and savoury sauces – and, of course, you can just freeze them for later and eat every morning with porridge (me) and yogurt (the husband) for a dose of vitamin C throughout the winter.  They are free, picking gets you out in the fresh air and it’s a time to spend with friends, chatting away as you do, as we have done for years behind years!

Overnight Oats and Blackberries

  • 1 cup fresh ripe blackberries (plus a few for topping)
  • 1/2 banana (save the remainder for the topping)
  • 200 mls milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup oats (I like the organic jumbo ones best)
  • Topping: slices of banana and extra blackberries

Put the blackberries, banana, milk and vanilla in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Pour into a bowl or glass jar and stir in the oats. Cover the bowl or jar and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the oats to soak and soften. In the morning add some fresh blackberries and the other half of the banana (sliced) on top (for those with a sweet tooth, add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

Blackberry Salad

  • baby spinach/ watercress/ rocket leaves (or a mixture if you have it!)
  • fresh blackberries
  • crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • walnut pieces (optional)
  • citrus vinaigrette (recipe below)

Citrus Vinaigrette:

  • 1/3 cup good-quality olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange, lemon, or lime juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients.  Toss the leaves and blackberries together with the vinaigrette and serve topped with crumbled cheese.  It will look so beautiful with the light green leaves and purple blackberries, you will be loathe to eat it – but do!

Blackberry Fridge Jam (as the name implies, you keep this in the fridge once made.  It has half the amount of sugar normally used so better for you.  I put it into small jars so that I am opening and using quickly)

Weigh however many blackberries you have and put in a bowl.  Weigh out half that weight in preserving sugar and add to the bowl.  Mash the fruit up slightly and leave aside for no less than an hour.  Put into a saucepan (you can at this point add a tablespoon of cassis if you like/have), bring to the boil and stir a rolling boil for exactly 5 minutes.  Allow to cool and put into sterilised jars.

Savoury sauce for pork/lamb/venison chops or medallions

  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 150ml beef stock
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 85g fresh or frozen blackberries

Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan, then pour in the stock, redcurrant jelly and garlic. Stir over quite a high heat to blend everything together, then add the blackberries and carry on cooking until they soften.

Blackberry, Elderflower and Mint Fool

  • 200g ripe blackberries
  • 1 – 2 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 60g caster sugar
  • a few fresh mint sprigs
  • 150ml double cream
  • 125ml full-fat Greek yogurt

Put the blackberries in a saucepan with the elderflower cordial, caster sugar and fresh mint sprigs. Set the pan over a medium heat and gently bubble the mixture for 10-15 minutes until the berries soften and release their juices, then reduce to a thick coulis. Remove from the heat and let it cool a little, then taste, adding more sugar or a dash more cordial if needed. Remove the mint sprigs. Allow the mixture to cool completely (it will become more like jam in consistency). Pour the double cream into a large bowl then, using an electric mixer, whisk to soft-medium peaks. Stir in the Greek yogurt, then fold in the cooled blackberry coulis, creating a swirled effect. Spoon the fool into a dish and serve straightaway, or cover and chill for up to 6 hours.

ps this will make more than one serving – but be good to yourself and have one two days running – or invite a friend over!

We’re having a (Tropical) heatwave!

Why are the British never satisfied – when its wet, we wish for dry; when its cold we wish for hot! And now we have it, we are all trying to keep cool. And what better way than a nice dish of ice cream.

I have always loved ice-cream – not the Mr Whippy soft stuff but proper ice cream but with eggs and cream and different tastes.  When my brother was little, he used to think “various ices” on a menu was a flavour and there seems to be no ending now to the “various” combinations – you can even have savoury ones for inbetween courses.

A few years ago, I entered a competition and won an ice cream maker but I also have a few favourites which don’t need one – you just whip it up and freeze  If you haven’t got a maker, and it’s asked for, you can get by with taking the mixture out of the freezer and mashing the ice crystals in for a few times. Keeping it easy for you, these are all made without a maker – so you can definitely say you made these all by yourself.

French chocolate Ice cream (daughter no1’s favourite)

  • 50g castor sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 175g plain chocolate
  • 3 egg yolks (save the whites for meringues etc – you can even freeze them)
  • 300ml double cream

Melt the sugar and water in a pan to a syrup.  Break up the chocolate into a bowl and add the hot syrup. Mix until smooth and add the yolks.  Whip the cream until stiff and add the chocolate, folding it through until all combine. Freeze. Simples!

Lemon Ice Cream

  • 1 large lemon, juice and zested
  • 200g castor sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 250 ml double cream

Combine the zest and sugar.  Put the milk in a bowl and stir in the zest mixture until the sugar is dissolved.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Whip the cream until stiff and gently fold into the lemon mixture. Line a loaf tin with cling film overlapping the edges.  Pour into the tin, cover over with the edges and freeze.  Tip out and slice to serve.

Stem Ginger Ice Cream

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 110g icing sugar
  • 3 – 4 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 275ml double cream, stiffly whipped

Whisk the yolks and icing sugar together until pale and very thick.  Fold in the ginger and whipped cream.  Using a clean whisk, whisk the egg whites into peaks and gently fold into the mixture.  Pour into a 1.5 litre plastic container and freeze overnight.

Peach Ice Cream – Peaches are just coming into their own now so make the most of this most delicious of soft fruits!

  • 6 ripe peaches
  • 600ml pot double cream
  • 397g can condensed milk

Put the peaches in a heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water.  Leave for 5 minutes and peel off the skins and remove the stone.  Roughly chop them and set aside. Whisk the cream with the condensed milk until thickened slightly and falls in ribbons from the whisk.  Add the peach chunks to the cream, stirring gently.  Put into a 2 litre plastic container and freeze for 3 – 4 hours or overnight.  Take out of the freezer 20 – 30 minutes before you want it.

Obviously all of the above are for more than one – but ice cream will settle happily in the freezer for at least a month – make all of these and you don’t have to think about a treat for a while!

Summertime . . . .

We are very lucky to live in the Vale of Evesham, surely one of the great allotments of England with its many fruit and vegetable growers.  PLEASE try and avoid eating strawberries out of season – and definitely not from abroad!  The sweetness and juiciness of a just picked fruit cannot be equalled and now is the time to make the best of them!

You may note that the recipes below are for more than one – but they will all keep and freeze if necessary – and you want to make them whilst the best of strawberries are available. How lovely it will be on a dull, grey day to have a taste of summer (if they last that long!).

Strawberry and Elderflower sorbet – you won’t find a more summery dish than this. The perfect refreshing treat to cool down on a hot day.

  • 550g strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 200 ml elderflower cordial (see June edition for recipe)
  • Juice of ½ lemon

Put the strawberries, cordial, 200ml cold water and the lemon juice into a blender and whizz for 2 – 3 minutes till smooth.  Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, using the back of a spoon to push through any thicker puree. Press down to extract as much as possible then discard and pips and any fibres left in the sieve.  Cover and chill for 2 hours. Pour into a container and freeze, taking it out every hour or so to mash with a fork to get limit ice crystals for a 2 – 3 times. Remove from the freezer at least 5 minutes before serving.

 Strawberry Gazpacho

  • 330g vine-ripened tomatoes chopped
  • 700g ripe strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 75ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying and drizzling
  • Basil leaves to garnish

Put the tomatoes, strawberries, red pepper, shallot, garlic and vinegar in a large bowl and leave overnight. The next day, add the olive oil and whizz together until smooth adding a splash of water if too thick. Season to taste.  Fry some little pieces of bread in olive oil, drain and sprinkle with sea salt and serve with the soup, torn basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

Strawberry and Mascarpone Gelato – Strawberry and mascarpone is a classic mix and this is also one of the easiest ice cream recipes you could possibly make!

  • 300g strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 500g mascarpone
  • 100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 200g strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 2 tbsp golden caster sugar

Put the chopped strawberries in a bowl. Add the cordial and sprinkle over the sugar. Set aside to macerate for up to 1 hour. Beat the mascarpone and white chocolate together, then fold through the strawberry mixture. Put in a cling film-lined, straight-sided freezer-proof box (about 1 litre) and freeze overnight.  For the soft strawberries, put the berries and cordial in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Set aside for 15 minutes. Slice the ice cream and spoon over the strawberries to serve.

Summer’s Coming!

The arrival of swallows and so many good things grown or reared locally!  I love May with all its promise of Summer to come and everything fresh and newly green! It’s also the time for British asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes. The potatoes have been grown on the island for 140 years and today there are approximately 20 island farmers who grow them (and often no other crops) on approximately 7,300 acres and can only be grown on Jersey to have the name. As for the asparagus, I am very lucky to live in the Valley of Evesham, one of the homes of British asparagus. I know you can buy this most of the year from abroad – but there is nothing like the Real Thing from just around the corner! This first recipe is using these two British stalwarts – but with a twist!

Coconut Potato Bowl with Lime and Ginger (I’m not giving you exact amounts here – just use how ever much you need to feed how many people!)

  •  Jersey Royal potatoes, roughly chopped
  •  cauliflower florets
  •  Coconut oil, melted, enough to coat
  •  Sea salt and pepper
  •  asparagus
  •  olive oil
  •  cherry tomatoes, halved
  •  spring onion, sliced
  •  Baby broad beans
  •  Sliced cooked beetroot
  •  coconut flakes, toasted, to garnish

Dressing; 2 tbsp olive oil      finely grated zest and juice of a lime      grated ginger

Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas mark 6. Place the potatoes and cauliflower florets in a roasting tray, drizzle over the coconut oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes until tender and beginning to brown. In the meantime, prepare everything else; brush the asparagus with some olive oil, heat a griddle pan until hot and cook the stems until charred and tender. Set aside. For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil and lime juice, then stir in the zest and ginger and season with some salt and pepper. To assemble, arrange the potatoes and cauliflower to one side and place the other ingredients round the bowl (or how you prefer), drizzle with the dressing and scatter over the coconut flakes, or serve on the side.

Asparagus Soup – this will make more than for one – but I will allow you to batch cook and freeze on this occasion as the season is relatively short for British Asparagus!

  • 25g butter
  • a little vegetable oil
  • 350g asparagus spears, stalks chopped, woody ends discarded, tips reserved
  • 3 shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 large handfuls spinach
  • 700ml vegetable stock (fresh if possible)
  • olive oil, for drizzling (optional)
  • rustic bread (preferably sourdough), to serve (optional)

Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan until foaming. Fry the asparagus tips for a few mins to soften. Remove and set aside. Add the shallots, asparagus stalks and garlic, and cook for 5-10 mins until softened but still bright. Stir through the spinach, pour over the stock, bring to the boil, then blitz with a hand blender. Season generously and add hot water to loosen if needed. Ladle into bowls and scatter the asparagus tips over each. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with some nice crusty bread.

CRAB AND ASPARAGUS WITH THAI MAYONNAISE – again, the amount of asparagus and crab is up to you.

  • Asparagus spears
  • crab meat      
  • sliced sourdough bread
  • olive oil
  • handful of rocket leaves or spinach
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons of good mayonnaise
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 – 1 red chilli
  • freshly grated zest of 1lime
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (if this is the first time you have used it please don’t be put off by the smell – it tastes much better!)
  • chopped coriander

Cook the asparagus in boiling water for 2 – 4 minutes, drain and refresh under cold running water. Stir the garlic, chilli, zest, fish sauce and coriander into the mayonnaise.  Season, if necessary, fold in the crab meat and set aside.  Toast the bread, drizzle with olive oil and scatter over rocket or spinach leaves. Pile the crab mixture on top. Toss the cold asparagus spears in a little olive oil and arrange over the crab meat.

Alternatively, you could cook LOTS of asparagus and serve, on the side, hot with lashings butter – using any leftover toast to soak up the juices!

It’s National Pie Week!*

* who knew there was such a thing?

I never knew my Scottish grandparents as they had died before I was born, but was very close to my English mum’s parents who lived near Barrow-in-Furness.  Every summer, my mum, brother and I took the train from the Glasgow to Lancaster, then a small one from there to Roose where granny met us, walking home to her house where we would spend most of the summer holidays.  I adored Granny, even more so as we only saw her at Easter and July.  She was a pastry chef and baker and made the most wonderful cakes and pies.  One of her “specials” was meat and potato pie – and it turns  out The Husband’s grandma was also the maker of meat and potato pies! Thus, this special pie is definitely one of our favourite comfort dinners – particularly on cold and raw days.  It’s taken me a while to experiment with the pastry but I think this is it.

Meat and Potato Pie (I’ve scaled down the recipe for 2 – but it will taste good tomorrow with pickles and mustard)

  • 250 grams stewing steak
  • 2 – 3 potatoes and 1 chopped onion
  • 110g Self raising flour
  • 40 grams suet
  • 30 grams chilled butter

Braise the meat till tender in some stock (oxo)on top of the hob. Boil the potatoes and onions till soft. Drain, keeping the water to thicken for gravy with the meat juice.  Put the meat, potato and onion into a pie dish. Make up the gravy with the vegetable and meat water with granules till thick, pour over and allow to cool. Measure the flour and suet into a bowl.  Grate in the butter and rub together.  Make the pastry adding a little water to come together.  Roll out on a floured board and cover the meat mixture in the dish.  Score a cross in the top and pop in a hot oven (about 200oC) and bake till golden brown.  Serve with green vegetables and mustard.  Guaranteed to fill you up and keep out the cold!

For a sweet pie, I am turning to a recipe I was given years ago by the wife of “Our Man in Paris” who lived there in the 1930’s and had now retired to the village where I lived. I’ve had it for over 40 years and have never needed any other as it just works – so why try to tinker with perfection?

Rhubarb Meringue Tarts (using my lovely rhubarb from the garden)

  • Pastry: 275g plain flour 25g ground almonds 175g butter
  • 75g castor sugar rind of 1/2 lemon 1 egg yolk 3 tablespoons milk**
  • 2 free-range eggs, separated
  • 350g rhubarb, cut into 2cm/¾in chunks
  • 85g castor sugar
  • 1 small lemon, juice and zest
  • 2 1/2tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. To make pastry, rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the beaten egg yolk and milk and bring together. Turn out onto a floured board and quickly roll* out to line a small (or 2 individual) greased flan tins. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 10 minutes. Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and brush with a little milk. Return the tins to the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes until golden brown. Place the rhubarb, 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the lemon juice and zest in a pan. Cover and cook over a low heat until the rhubarb has softened. Mix the cornflour and water in a bowl to form a smooth paste. Stir into the rhubarb, bring to a boil and stir until thick. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the two egg yolks. Use a ladle to pour the mixture into the baked pastry cases. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the remaining sugar, whisking between each addition. Spoon the meringue over the fruit filling and bake for about 20 minutes or until the meringue is golden-brown.

*the less and quicker you handle pastry the better – try and keep a cool hand!

**this recipe will give you more pastry than you will need but I tend to make a batch and freeze the remainder for another time.