Just What the Doctor Ordered! A Recipe for Gumbo for Mardi Gras

Making Gumbo

I feel a little cheated that we celebrate Shrove Tuesday here with an excess of pancakes, when in New Orleans and other cities worldwide they celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) with a huge parade, party and lots of food. The origins of both are the same, Catholic celebrations devouring excess calorific foods before the fasting that occurs over lent. Traditionally held in cities of French origin it has now spread throughout the Southern US, even to Universal in Orlando, Florida where we celebrated Mardi Gras last week. A little early I know, but they have chosen to celebrate it every weekend for the month. You can never have too much fun, right?

Lots of food features, like King Cake, Beignets (fluffy gorgeous doughnuts smothered in icing sugar), Jambalaya and rich and delicious Gumbo. I made Gumbo last week with the chef from Universal whilst covering it for iVillage, and I thought it would be lovely to publish the recipe here too.

Making Gumbo

Notes on the recipe: Gumbo recipes vary from family to family and town to town, and there are very strong opinions on it (it reminds me of asking for a recipe for an Italian ragu!), but there are common ingredients. There is almost always shrimp, okra, rice, brown roux, gumbo file and andouille sausage. Andouille is a spicy pork sausage of French origin, a good substitute would be Calabrian nduja (which has similar origins), a chorizo would also do. Brown roux is a normal roux (flour & butter or some say oil and flour) cooked until it browns and gets a smokey flavour.

Gumbo file (fee-lay), a powder of crushed dried sassafras leaves, is used as a thickener and for flavour. Originally used by the Choctaw Indians in their cooking to thicken soups, the Creoles adopted it when they moved in. It has an interesting flavour, very earthy and pungent. The sassafras tree grows along the Eastern US so it can be difficult to source in Europe. It’s worth sourcing if you can (I’ve seen it on ebay), The Spice Shop sells a Creole seasoning mix with file powder included. Don’t worry it you can’t get it, it will still be a good and authentic gumbo, the okra and brown roux also function as thickening agents so just add a bit more of one of those. If using file add it only at the end and don’t boil as it will go stringy, and will continue to thicken your gumbo as long as it is in there. It is also added after like pepper for flavour with tabasco.

I have adapted the recipe from a US chefs version, changing quantities and converting to metric.

I hope you enjoy it! It’s a cracker for Mardi Gras after your pancakes.

Authentic Gumbo Recipe

Serves 4-6


I onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
½ red pepper, diced
½ green pepper. diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 slices streaky bacon, diced
1 bay leav
½ tbsp Thyme leaves
200g okra, cut in 1cm chunks
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1l fish stock, hot (can substitute with light chicken stock)
1 tbsp gumbo file, dissolved in 200ml cold water
250g raw peeled prawns
250g sliced Andouille sausage (substitute nduja or chorizo)
50g plain flour
50g butter
½ tsp.

To serve: enough boiled rice for however many you are serving and a bunch of spring onions finely chopped to garnish.


Prepare brown roux by melting the butter and adding the flour. Cook over a moderate heat, stirring so it doesn’t burn, until the roux is brown. Take off the heat and leave to the side.

Sauté the bacon in its own fat until starting to brown, add the onion, celery, peppers and cook until tender over a medium heat, should take 5 minutes or so. Add some oil if its starting to stick. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Add the okra, bay leaf, thyme, some black pepper and Tabasco, stirring constantly.

Add fish stock, sausage and tomatoes and bring to the boil. Blend in the roux mixing well.

Bring back to the boil, turn down heat and simmer for 45 minutes to let the flavours develop. Stir frequently.

Add shrimp, Worcestershire sauce and simmer 10 more minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir the gumbo file and water with a whisk and stir into soup. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

When serving, put one spoon of boiled hot rice into the serving bowl and pour in enough gumbo to cover it. Garnish with chopped spring onions.


Well, Hello! Plus Some Pictures from Mardi Gras in Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Well, hello there! Apologies for the radio silence, I’ve had a pretty intense week. I started with a quick trip to Universal Orlando in my new guise as food writer for iVillage, to cover Mardi Gras and to cook Gumbo (fun & yum). I then bounced back to London, landed with a thud, and with very little sleep launched myself into the final phases of intense recipe testing, required to conclude my book. I can’t quite believe that I submit it in two weeks. It’s all hugely exciting and it is very, very busy.

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Florida was great fun. I had no idea that I was quite the adrenaline junkie that I turned out to be. Not expecting to enjoy the rides at Universal at all, I found myself obsessed with them. Especially Harry Potter, which was a ball of nerve wracking, tumbling fun and the best stress release that I have ever experienced.

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

I tried butterbeer, very sweet butterscotch rich soda, kids will love it. I ate lots of beignets (above, light fluffy icing sugar covered doughnuts), funnel cake (pic below), po boys (short for poor boy, usually battered shrimp or oysters in New Orleans style French bread). I have made them at home before and I love them, I will definitely share the recipe soon. I had biscuits for breakfast, Southern fluffy scones with gravy, which is a bechamel of sorts with chopped sausage in, and gumbo for dinner.

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Lots of fluffy buttermilk pancakes featured. Why we can’t we get buttermilk here as easily as in Ireland or the US, I just don’t know. Those tiny overpriced pots of industrial cultured buttermilk drive me nuts. Buffalo wings with blue cheese dip were everywhere, so I did indulge. Spicy and rich with a soothing pot of blue cheese dip, they demand to be recreated here too.

I had to try Pat O’Brien’s, an Irish pub from New Orleans that started out as a prohibition era speakeasy, famous for their hurricane parties and hurricane drinks. Typically Irish to poke fun at fate in such a manner. It is more commercial now with four locations, and shamrock heavy as most US Irish bars are, but it was fun. We had a few hurricane drinks and rolled home smiling.

Photos 1162

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

For now some pics of the food and of Mardi Gras – it really was so much fun. The chef at Universal has kindly shared his authentic gumbo recipe with me, and has allowed me to reproduce it here too. I will be back with that tomorrow.

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal, Orlando

Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando runs until April 23rd with parades and live music at weekends.


Alan Rosenthal’s Persian chicken stew with sour cherries, walnuts and pomegranate


Twitter is a wonderful thing. I’ve met many interesting people, mostly but not exclusively in food, and one of them is Alan Rosenthal. Fed up of his desk job, he made the jump and started a business in food.

After training at Leith’s he started Stewed!, and makes soups and stews that are sold fresh in little pots in supermarkets. Some are very inventive and delicious and the recipes are published in his cookbook Stewed! – available on Amazon at a bargain £8.53.


At a fun and informative cooking demonstration/class at his alma mater Leith’s Cookery School this week, we cooked his sublime Persian chicken stew with sour cherries, walnuts and pomegranate. It is definitely a keeper, sweet, sour and rich, with tender chicken thigh and gorgeous Persian flavours, Alan has allowed me to share it with you here. Do try it and enjoy!

Persian chicken stew with sour cherries, walnuts and pomegranate

Serves 2


65g walnuts
10g unsalted butter
1.25 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
½ clove of garlic, crushed
¼ tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
40g dried sour cherries
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs or 2 boneless and skinned breasts (about ½kg) cut into 3-4cm pieces
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
250ml chicken stock or water
Salt and black pepper
Lemon juice (if needed)
To serve
1-2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
Chopped parsley


First, roast the walnuts on a baking tray at 180C for 10-15 minutes, until they’re starting to colour and smoke a little. Remove, let them cool a bit then grind them in a blender or mortar and pestle. You want to get them pretty fine and starting to turn a little buttery.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan or casserole dish on the hob. Add the onions and cook gently for about 20 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally until they’re very soft but not turning brown. Once they’re soft, add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Next throw in the turmeric, cinnamon and sour cherries. Cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes then add the chicken. Turn the heat up a little and cook the chicken in the spices and onions until sealed — about 5 minutes.

Next add the pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts. Stir well then add stock or water along with a few grinds of black pepper and some salt. Bring to a simmer then lower the flame. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked. Season to taste, adding a squeeze of lemon if it needs it.

Scatter some pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley over the top.


Coping with V Day

Valentine’s Day. Drop it like a bomb in a group of friends and monitor the reaction. Abhor it or adore it, there ain’t no avoiding it. It’s everywhere.

There’s a lot of Hallmark nonsense, rubbish cards, huge fluffy creepy bears bearing polyester red hearts. Dinners in crowded restaurants with Truman Show style over romanced couples smacks of misery for me.

Why be romantic for just one day? Why not tomorrow, or next week, or every day? We shouldn’t need an excuse to do nice things. Nice things, for nice people, or just for yourself. Create your own lovely environment indoors and enjoy it.

These are my favourite little love-themed gifts for yourself, a significant other, or anyone you might want to see smile on Valentine’s Day.

Heart shapes

I love heart-shaped things, stamped indelibly on this cynical subconscious at a very young age by rainy day handbooks and girly magazines. I find myself buying silicone heart-shaped egg moulds, cocottes that are big, small, stoneware, silicone, cast iron, the lot! You’ve seen many pop up here on this blog, in fact I am sure they must be propagating by themselves by now. Where else could they have all come from? Er… please don’t ask how much I have spent.

I love the Le Creuset and Staub ranges of cocottes, and they each have a hea rt shape one. A lovely Le Creuset one is 33% off on Amazon right now (Le Creuset Cast Iron Heart Casserole Dish, 1.9 Litre, Cerise), if you are on a tighter budget and want to impress your favourite food lover, try the Le Creuset Stoneware Heart Ramekin with Lid or the Le Creuset Cerise Stoneware Heart Baking Dish, both come in under £20 and are lovely!

Edible flowers

I love edible flowers, another childhood obsession that has flourished in adulthood, I’ve written about these many times too. They’re delicious, gorgeous, brightly coloured and will bring a smile to any weary face. Pansies are flowering right now and will brighten up any plate. Try them in a salad as I did at the weekend.

Roses are always a winner with their gorgeous flavour. Use rosewater in your cooking or serve up the gorgeous Løv Organic Rose Tea, an organic black China tea scented with rose, with organic roses mixed in. It is available in London from Harvey Nichols where they currently have a pop up shop. A real treat and guaranteed to spread some cheer. Pop in on your way home this evening!

Rosella Wild Hibiscus Flowers in syrup are high vitamin sweet treat, try one in a glass of sparkling wine. They’re delicious. Get them online at Porters Foods. Lots of delis will stock them too.

Home cooked dinner

Does anything beat this? I don’t think so. Knowing that someone has taken the time to cook you something special is the nicest thing. Feet up, sparkling wine in hand, smells wafting from the kitchen. It’s the best treat in the world. For a night like tonight I would go with a slow roast pork belly with lentils, or a pie that you could put someones name, or a cheesy message on. Enjoy it!


Bitesize: Mixed Grill & Hendrick’s Refined Courtship Clinic

If you’re anything like me, you may be a little disorganised, and are possibly looking at your calendar thinking, I am sure I am doing something this weekend.

Of course, I am! The Mixed Grill. I wouldn’t miss it. Tim Hayward, publisher and brains behind superb Food Quarterly Fire & Knives, has organised a day of a day of talks, lectures, rants, performances, debates, panels, presentations and party pieces on the endlessly fascinating subject of… FOOD. And it’s tomorrow, and it’s only £20. There are only a few tickets left.

More info and tickets here.

Singletons looking for a Valentine may want to visit the Hendrick’s Refined Courtship Clinic. The sessions are run by Dr Humphrey SixWivs and Mrs Isabella Forlornicate. Unusually, the sessions commence with a voluntary intake of Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic, complete with restorative cucumber garnish. After an assessment, treatment covers all aspects from polite body language to acceptable topics of conversation and procedures of courtship to reading signals from a lady’s fan movements.

Open from 10th – 14th February (12 noon – 7pm), it’s Hendrick’s, it will be quirky and fun Pop into Hawksmoor for a burger or some ribs after, and you will have wooed your Valentine – guaranteed.

Hendrick’s Refined Courtship Clinic, 51 Neal St, Seven Dials, WC2H


A Postcard from Cornwall

Oh, hello there! Sorry, it’s been a bit quiet from this corner lately. I’ve been in Cornwall you see. Baking, eating clotted cream, cooking with clotted cream, and drinking Cornish cider, Cornish wine and, best of all, Cornish tea from Tregnothans.

I love Cornwall, it’s uncannily like Ireland with the sensibilities of California (there is all those surfers you see). The food is terrific, and local, in the main.

Here are some photographic highlights of a lovely weekend there. More soon.

Cornwall, February 2011

Watergate Bay

Cornwall, February 2011

Surfers at Watergate Bay

Cornwall, February 2011

Sunset... at Watergate Bay

Cornwall, February 2011

Bees and Deer at Tregothnan Estate Cornwall

Cornwall, February 2011

Cornish Cream Tea with Roddas Clotted Cream & Cornish Tregothnan Tea

Cornwall, February 2011

Darjelling Hill at Tregothnan, that there is TEA!

Cornwall, February 2011

Hot Cross Buns from Tom Herbert's Baking Course at Bedruthan Steps

Cornwall, February 2011

Making Sourdough Pancakes at Tom Herbert's Baking Course at Bedruthan Steps

Cornwall, February 2011

Cornish Cider, with a view

Cornwall, February 2011Squid at the Beach Hut, Watergate Bay

Winter Warmer: Chicken and Chorizo Pie (Recipe)

Chicken & Chorizo Pie

A good pie is a difficult thing to beat at this time of year, and it really doesn’t need to be difficult. All butter shop bought pastries make the process very quick, and no less delicious.

Chorizo is a favourite of mine, it imparts such loveliness, spice and slippery fat, which coats and protects otherwise potentially dry boneless chicken. I used it yesterday in this punchy little pie of chicken and chorizo in a rich tomato sauce, packed full of flavour and moisture which will take your breath away when you lift off that pastry lid.

Maybe I exaggerate, I don’t know, it felt that way for me.

Chicken & Chorizo Pie

This recipe makes two pies in my Le Creuset mini oval cocottes.

Chicken & Chorizo Pies


500g diced chicken (preferably thigh – it has more flavour)
200g cooking chorizo, sliced
1 tin tomatoes
a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp Spanish paprika
1 mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
15g butter & 1 tbsp olive oil for frying
1 egg, beaten

Shop bought puff pastry – pref all butter and pre rolled as we are being lazy here.


Sauté the chicken until it starts to brown over a medium heat in the oil and butter. Remove the chicken and sauté the chorizo for a few minutes until it starts to release oil, then add the garlic and chilli for a minute or so, stirring to ensure it doesn’t burn.

Add the tomatoes, paprika & chicken and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and the sauce to a low simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste. Add the parsley just before placing in the pie dish.

Roll the pastry if required to cover each pie dish. Divide the pie filling between each (buttered) pie dish. Add the pastry lid, brush with the beaten egg and cook for 20 minutes or so at 180 degrees celsius, or until the pie top is delightfully crispy and brown.



5 Speedy, Healthy (and – whisper – low fat) Suppers

ivillage 001

Hello there lovely people! Today I have 5 recipes for you that I was commissioned by iVillage to write. I believe that you never have to compromise on flavour, even if you are strapped for time or aiming for a healthy and low fat meal. Fat is delicious though, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that, for balance, some days we have to behave. With these recipes, you can be satisfied that you are not missing out.

Gurnard with Tomato & Mint Sauce

Gurnard (photographed above) is a most underrated fish. Very delicate in flavour it takes fruity flavours like tomato, and herbs very well. I first had it in Croatia many years ago. I just couldn’t resist the bright orange fish and the waiter assured me it was delicious, it really is. Not only that but it is really reasonably priced, I got 2 fish for £5 in Borough Market, ask your fishmonger to stock it for you if they don’t already. It’s sustainable too – embrace the gurnard.

Full recipe on iVillage.

Pork Tenderloin with Spinach and Cannelini Beans

5 quick and healthy dinnersPork Tenderloin is super low in fat and cooks so quickly. Served with spinach and cannelini mash, you can have a delicious dinner in minutes, literally.

Full recipe on iVillage.

Lemon, Garlic & Thyme Chicken with Broccoli and Potatoes

ivillage 016I used breast here as it’s virtually fat free. Use the best chicken you can afford, and you will be rewarded with flavour and moisture in spades. Marinade for as long as you can too.

Full recipe on iVillage.

Prawn Cous Cous

5 quick and healthy dinnersSuper quick with bright flavours, this makes a terrific lunch as well as a speedy supper. Use raw prawns if you can. The best are ones sourced from the North Atlantic.

Full recipe on iVillage.

Linguine with Tomato and Aubergine

5 quick and healthy dinnersThis dish isn’t a looker but it is rich and delicious. It’s vegetarian too, for those days when you need to counteract your steak indulgence! It’s is also a nice topping for bruschetta, if you want something cosy for a fireside February evening.

Full recipe on iVillage.


The East London Steak Co

East London Steak Co

Supermarkets have their place, although I wish it weren’t so prominent. We’ve grown to become so dependant on them. Small suppliers and shops can’t compete, and so we become a shopping monoculture. But then, in a recession, we become more careful about how we spend our money, and that doesn’t mean that we buy cheaper, but we seek better value for money, and we like to cook at home. Enter the East London Steak Co.

East London Steak Co

I first came across them when they opened last year and my interest was immediately piqued when I heard that the head chef of Hawksmoor, Richard Turner was at the helm. Several deliveries later, I am now a devoted customer. These guys know what they are doing, they source very well, and each box comes with the provenance of the steak detailed – the breed of the cow (which changes week to week), when the steak was cut and by whom.

East London Steak Co

I especially love that the breed changes. I have had Dexter and Highland breeds in recent boxes and it’s a treat to explore the range of flavours. One of my big beefs with the supermarkets (pardon the pun), is that they have reduced everything to one bland and generic flavour for meat, dairy and all other fresh produce, when in reality the location and breed of an animal affects the flavour of the output, whether that is the milk, cheese or the meat. In fact for milk, the flavour changes depending on the time of day the cow is milked, and this in turn affects cheese, but that’s a post in itself.

I started with an appetiser box which offered a selection of steaks, all of them bone in, including a bone in fillet, not a cut I would normally go for but this steak was a breath stealer.  The rib eye was beautifully marbled and rich, and was perfect with a homemade chimmichurri sauce. I was impressed, and I was sold.

Homemade Ragu with Gremolata

The next box explored some of the cheaper cuts that needed longer cooking or a bit more care, my favourite ones. Bone in shin became a wondrous ragu (and comes in at a bargain £8 for 2kg). I hand chopped the meat for the slow cooked melt in the mouth ragu, scooped out the marrow and added it for extra richness, then made a gorgeous home made stock with the bone. I’ve also tried the feather blade, bavette (brilliant bargain steak cut – definitely try this if you haven’t yet). Rump camp, a wonderfully tender cut which the Brazilians call Picanha, I served with a feijoada. All of those lovely steak recipes soon.

My next delivery will contain marrow shafts, short ribs and more braising cuts, and I can’t resist some more of their lovely marbled rib eye. I think a roasting cut needs to be tried too.

The appetiser box – 1 x 400g Rib steak bone-in, 1 x 250g Sirloin, 1 x 250g bone-in fillet, 1 x 400g T-bone, 1 x 250g rump steak and 4 x 180g ‘Black Label’ Burgers – comes in at £37 including delivery).  The burgers come from the guy behind the magnificent Hawksmoor burger too, so as you may expect, these are very good indeed.

These guys do flavour in spades and they also know what they are talking about. The prices are also extremely fair and accessible, when you consider the quality of the meat. The steaks are superb and braising cuts are a bargain. Don’t forget some marrow bones, £6 for 2kg they are a fantastic secret ingredient in any beef sauces, but are perfect roasted by themselves with some parsley, parmesan and breacrumbs crisped on top!

Delivery is super quick, arranged in time slots to suit you, and the driver will text you when they are 20 minutes away so you can make sure that you are at home. Do try them, you won’t be disappointed.