Evening Standard Column: Lentil Soup with Harissa Croutons

I love proper bread, bread that has been allowed to develop properly and not been rushed through a commercial process. I think sourdough is my favourite.

How I really love bread is not in a slice or in a sandwich. I love it as an ingredient with other things, to thicken soups, in Italian panzanella or pappa al pomodoro, and especially as a crouton or fried. I really love bread fried in pork fat. Big slices, little chunks. I’ve burned my tongue on them far too many times. (I will never ever learn). Naughty I know, but really delicious.

Croutons are incredibly versatile, they are just the perfect vehicle for many things. Whatever you want really! So, in this weeks Evening Standard recipe, I have pimped my croutons with some delicious homemade spicy harissa. I love serving this with a red lentil soup. The simplicity and rustic nature of the soup is a great counter to the spicy, crisp harissa croutons.

The recipe for the soup & croutons is on the Evening Standard.  I have included the harissa recipe (from Comfort & Spice) here.


Evening Standard Column: Lentil Soup with Harissa Croutons

My Harissa Recipe

To make homemade harissa, roast a red pepper over a gas flame until black all over. Place in a plastic bag and allow to cool. Peel and blitz with 4 red chillies, deseeded, 1 tbsp toasted and ground cumin seeds, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Season with sea salt.


Competition Time! Get Creative with Carrots & Win

Ok folks! I am hosting a competition over the next few weeks where you can win a £200 restaurant voucher to any UK restaurant of your choice, with 3 runners up winning a copy of my book, Comfort & Spice. Nice Xmas treat, no?

You just need to get creative with carrots and email in the recipe, then I will choose the winners.

Entering the competition is easy. All you need to do is:

  1. Share a carrot recipe on your own blog;
  2. Mention the competition in the post;
  3. Tell us by emailing the URL of your entry before 21st December 2011 to Love The Garden.

The orange root vegetable is a traditional ingredient for Christmas dinners, but your recipe doesn’t have to be Christmas themed.

More details on the Love The Garden blog.



Red Hot Women Awards 2011

What a lovely year it has been. My first book, Comfort & Spice, has been published (and you seem to like it – I am still nervous even though I am proud of it, it is hard to explain), I won the Observer Food Monthly Blog Award last month, and most recently I was nominated for the Red Hot Women Awards 2011.

It wasn’t my night but what a thrill and an honour to be nominated with these fantastic women. Hearty congratulations to Sasha Wilkins for her well deserved win and to Red for these wonderful awards.

Jane Cunningham, British Beauty Blogger
Catherine Hanly, Hot Dinner,
Emily Johnston, Fashion Foie Gras,
Katherine May, The 52 seductions,
Tatiana Mercer, Bar Chick,
Niamh Shields, Eat Like a Girl,
Becky Wiggins, English Mum,
Sasha Wilkins, Liberty London Girl,


Feeding My Coffee Habit

I am a coffee junkie. I love the stuff. I need it so.

A drop didn’t pass my lips until I was 19, and living in Nice. I discovered pretty early on that, socially, I would be a little inept without a cup in my hand in a local café. That was where everyone met when the sun was cruelly hot on a mid July afternoon.

At first I found it too bitter, but hot chocolates at 35 deg C was not a sustainable habit, and it started to feel silly, so I embraced the cappuccino and quickly developed an obsession. An obsession that spiralled out of control when I was at university drinking way too many cups of awful tecoffee (termed so as the tea tasted of coffee and the coffee of tea) and getting the jitters.

Over the years I have developed somewhat of a balance, but have always feared having a coffee machine at home. I am a little faddish you see, and had visions of never leaving the house and bouncing around my kitchen fuelled by coffee, never doing any work and never again seeing another human soul.

But then, I started working from home, writing and cooking full time over a year ago. That is a lot of time solo, and while I enjoy my own company, it is sometimes too much. Way too much. I missed popping out to the local cafés with colleagues. I even missed those essential chats over the kettle over that thing or someone that was crushing your head that day. Yes, crushing your head, I really don’t miss my job that much. Camaraderie and a monthly pay cheque though? Those were nice.

So, I stomp around Soho now meeting friends as often as I can for lunch or coffee, a drink or dinner, writing in spurts in between as I go.  I needed a solution for home though, to power me through morning writeathons and cook offs, so, I thought to hell with it, took the plunge and got a coffee machine.

My photographer for my book, Georgia, had a Gaggia Classic at her house where we shot all of the food photos for Comfort and Spice. It powered me through an intense 3 day shoot with little sleep and a lot of work, and the coffee was really good. Smooth, creamy and rich. Some weeks later, ago I was invited to coffee school near Bologna at Gaggia, how could I say no?  I loved the Gaggia classic then too and learned a lot about making coffee, a little about latte art (hearts & ferns, even a bear for the top of your coffee), and that I had a need for a Gaggia Classic.

Now I have one at home, and I am developing what I hope is a responsible relationship. I do gaze at it fondly. Sometimes I avoid its eye. But every morning it gives me a delicious cup of rich, creamy, dark espresso that I top fondly with thick steamed milk. Then I can write, cook or bounce off on my merry way to whatever my day has in store for me.

If you love coffee, as I do, treat yourself. You won’t regret it. Next stop for me is a better grinder. After all, what is a good coffee machine without one?

Ps. right now it is almost half price on Amazon, at a bargainous £175Gaggia Classic RI8161 Coffee Machine. Perfect for the coffee lover in your life for Xmas too.


Jamon, Jamon! The World of Jamon Iberico de Bellota

I have a cultural and genetic obligation to love the humble pig. Traditionally all Irish houses had one, hiding behind the half door, and it would feed a family for much of the year. Bacon and cabbage is a national institution, we’re obsessed with white and black pudding, and the Christmas ham is wheeled out all through the year. My mother was raised on pigs head and trotters (we call them crubeens – little feet in Irish), but we never had them as children. They would be raised as a threat if we wouldn’t eat our mash and peas. Now as an adult, I adore them.

Jamon Iberico de Bellota - curing

Spain takes the humble ham to a different level with their Jamon Iberico, specifically Jamon Iberico de Bellota. The pata negra (pigs with black feet) love acorns and live in an area where there are many. They are like small shuffling acorn junkies. They are allowed a lot of space to move, and to forage for and snaffle acorns so they get a lovely dispersal of intramuscular fat. This fat delivers intense flavour and a lovely melt in the mouth texture (the fat starts to melt at 20 deg C).

Sierra de Sevilla Pata Negra Farm

The farm I visited – part of Sierra de Sevilla – had 300 pigs on 900 hectares – that’s 3 hectares each. They cruise around munching, eating so much that they put on up to 40kg in their last 3 months.

One of the curing rooms at Sierra de Sevilla

Fat? Well, we shouldn’t be afraid of fat anyway, our bodies need it, even if many diet book wielding folks would tell us otherwise.  Especially good fats, and my friends, the fat in Jamon Iberico de Bellota is good. With high percentages of oleic acid (also found abundant in olive oil), due to the acorn munching obsessive nature of the pig, this fat is thought to help to reduce bad cholesterol and raise levels of the good one. It’s that healthy Mediteranean diet again, isn’t it?

Ham cutter at the tasting room at Sierra de Sevilla

I now have an addiction, I already did. Add that to my current truffle problem and I fear I may need to get a part time job to support it.

Details: I experienced the Jamon Day as a guest of Hospes Hotels, a lovely boutique hotel in central Seville. A day trip with driver and car for up to 4 people to the Sierra de Sevilla farm, jamon factory with jamon carving session and tasting costs €520 all incl. 


A Postcard from Seville

Seville is charming and very pretty, and even though I am back, I had to post some photographs. This is just a selection of the ones I have gone through so far so it’s not comprehensive. I took so many, and it takes a long time to go through them all.

More soon on my visit to the pata negra farm (black pig) and jamon iberico de bellota factory. Swoon, I miss that jamon. So delicious. Also, my favourite tapas which were at El Rinconcillio, Cafe Bar Las Teresas & E Morales (listed now as a few of you have been in touch asking for recommendations :).

Cathedral gardens in Seville

Old & New Seville

Snails at the market

Breadhead (couldn't resist - I was started by this - funny!)

Pretty sunset in Seville

Entrance to the Alcazar

Tapas at E Morales, Seville

Lovely man, and lovely tapas at Las Teresas, Seville

Pata Negra Farm

Pata Negra!


Exciting News for Irish Readers: All About Home Economics by Deirdre Madden is Now Available

Now, I know a lot of you must be thinking, eh? But really, this is very exciting news for me, and for a lot of Irish readers too.

3 years ago I posted a plea, asking if anyone had a copy of the Home Economics book written by Deirdre Madden that we used in school from the age of 12 – 15. It’s how I learned all of the cooking basics, in two 3 hour sessions weekly, and it is also where I learned the basic building blocks of nutrition (pre my physiology degree!). I feel very strongly that all children should be taught this today.

I shared my book with my sister and we cooked from it at weekends. Biscuits, cakes, mainly sweet things. One of the few savouries we were interested in was Welsh Rarebit. It definitely suffered a lot of wear and tear, I remember a big hole in the cover and subsequently the cover falling off. We loved it.

About a year ago, Deirdre’s daughter, Kate, got in touch via a comment and we had a brief email correspondence. Sadly her mother had passed away and there were no copies of the book to be found, but we didn’t give up.

A flurry of comments started on the post again recently, and one of the commenters even spoke on Irish national radio recently about how we all wanted a copy of the book. It was looking hopeful. The seed of re publishing was definitely planted.

We’re a sentimental people in the main, and a lot of our old school texts are being reprinted for my Peter Pan generation that just don’t want to let go of our youth. To be fair, our literature curriculum – both in English and Irish – was very interesting and comprehensive and I have enjoyed reading these again, I hope that they publish more. It gave me hope that a publisher might pick up on this one and reprint my loved and lost Home Economics text.

Kate and her sister Aisli emailed me earlier this week to say that they had managed to self finance it and re publish it. 10% is being donated to the Irish Cancer Society Daffodil Nurse Scheme, who helped them and their mum Deirdre in her last days.

The book was launched in Dublin this week. Sadly, I couldn’t be there but can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Their story and details on the book can be found on! Buy it, love it read it and give it to your children. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.


Evening Standard Column: Chicken & Chorizo Pie

These pies, from my book Comfort & Spice, are hands down one of the most popular recipes in the book (although there is firm competition from the overnight roast shoulder of pork and lamb recipes). They are really easy to make, full flavoured and perfect for this time of year. Make a little one for yourself or a giant one to share with friends. Don’t forget a gutsy red wine like a rioja to go with it.

Recipe on the Evening Standard


Recipe: Borlotti Bean & Broken Pasta Soup

Whenever I travel, it’s inevitable that I bring back random ingredients to play with when I get home. My cupboards are rammed with randomness, so much so that I nearly knocked myself out when something came hurtling at my head on opening the cupboard door earlier. I appreciate that even the idea of this creates stress for a lot of people, but I love my Aladdins Cave cupboard full of random delights.

Last week in Croatia I picked up lots of curious things including three brands of paprika (I want to see what they’re like starting with some goulash experiments soon), a big bag of dried corn kernels that I bought from an old lady at Pula market, and lots of fresh borlotti beans from another old lady who grew them in her garden.

Fresh beans? Why? They’re not easy to come by in the UK and I love them. When I do find them they’re quite expensive. Fresh borlotti beans are succulent and firm, with lovely flavour. They require no soaking, and in relative terms cook quickly. Housed in a bright pink pod they are speckled and cheerful. It’s such a shame that they lose their pink blush as they cook. They are wonderful in the traditional Italian pasta e fagioli, and perfect for any little soup that you might throw together.

When last in Italy I bought lots of random charcuterie, including some guanciale. Guanciale is cured pig cheek and has the most delicious flavour, probably as it is mainly fat! It’s the preferred cut for carbonara, but I also love it in a minestrone soup.

So, this soup was born. A bright, cheerful winter soup with beans, veg, guanciale and broken pasta. Rather than get specific soup noodles I just broke some spaghetti into small chunks and that worked really well.

Now, you might be thinking ‘is she mad? I can’t make that! I can’t get dried corn or fresh beans, and what is this guanciale she is banging on about?’. Don’t worry, you can substitute and I will tell you with what. Or, give it a go, and stick whatever you have in your veg box in. Use your favourite beans and pasta shape and go with it. It’s just a soup after all.

And by the way – the dried corn was really worth the effort, it’s delicious!

Recipe on iVillage: Winter bean and broken pasta soup


Evening Standard Column: Chocolate Mousse with Honeycomb

I made this really simple and delicious recipe obsessively when I was younger.

As there are only two ingredients in the mousse, make sure you use really good chocolate and really good eggs – you will taste the quality.

The honeycomb is also easy but takes care. Do invest in a sugar or jam thermometer and watch it. If it looks like it is burning, take it off the heat. Use a high-sided pan because when you add the bicarb, the sugar will go crazy and rise a lot. This is also the phase when you are most likely to burn yourself, so do take care

ps. this is one of my favourite photos from my book!

Recipe on the Evening Standard


New Favourite London Haunt: Duck Soup

It’s time for a little break from my Croatia adventures and a little bit on London. I thought that I would tell you about where I have been spending a lot of my time there: Ducksoup.

Ducksoup is a new London restaurant on Dean St in Soho. Frankly, if you haven’t heard of it by now, you must be living under a rock. Soho is so exciting right now, with new resaurants that have character, great food and drinks. A perfect antidote to depressing chains, Koya (opened last year-ish) is a favourite, Ducksoup is of the same ilk. Relaxed, deceptively simple with attention to detail in every aspect, and very reasonably priced it has natually proved very popular already.

Quail with Burnt Tomato

Chef, Julian Biggs, ex head chef at Hix amongst others, serves up a handwritten menu of full flavoured food, updated daily on their tumblr and twitter. A record player plays vinyl in the background (I have heard that you can bring your own), the atmosphere is fun and buzzy, and the (natural) wine list is updated frequently and is very good. Plates are priced at £3.50 for a snack size, £7 for a small plate (e.g. the quail) and £14 for large dishes like fritto misto or lamb chops.

Chickpea, parmesan and bread soup - delicious and a bargain at £3.50

Food highlights were the fritto misto with incredibly fresh, bouncy squid sticking in my memory; quail (twice) once with burnt lemon and harissa and another time with burnt tomato; bright orange, sweet and rich violina pumpkin with sharp creamy goats curd, chopped hanger steak and toast.

Violina Pumpkin with Goats Curd

Natural wines are the wines on offer here. Natural wines, if you don’t know, are wines that have no chemicals (bar a little sulphur in bottle as a preservative), ferment with the natural yeasts of the grape, and have had little interference. Some winemakers follow the lunar cycle, others apply more intense biodynamic techniques, but the common denominator is that there is no gunk in them. Now that can only be a good thing, right? They taste good too. A world away from the generic wines on offer in most supermarkets. People say they are hangover free but I have drank too much of several to prove otherwise. I do still love them though. All wines are available by the glass and for the quality, are extremely reasonable.

I could go on. But I’ll save you that and just recommend that you go there. Save a seat for me though! I have been four times (I told you I liked it) and the last few times, it has been so busy, and deservedly so. I am sure that you will like it as much as I do.


Some More Photos from Istria (Croatia)

So, here I am immersed in truffles and gorgeous natural wine, and all I want to do is go to bed, because I overindulged SIX HOURS AGO.  Now, that’s a bit excessive isn’t it? A bit? Just a little bit. But it was all very delicious, and I couldn’t resist.

Before I do go lay on the sofa, and try to find something in English on my temporary Croatian tv (don’t judge me, I must, I am exhausted!), I will share a few photos with you here.

Back soon, thinking clearer, I hope!

Very excited truffle hunting dogs

The great hope! Sadly someone had just beaten us to the truffle

Dimitri of Piquentum wines, very good natural wines from Istria, more on those soon

White truffles at a truffle fair! Oh, the smell. Amazing.

Truffle cheese. sheep's cheese and pršut (Croatian cured ham)

Fuzi (Istrian Pasta) with a lorra lorra truffle. SWOON.

Token James Joyce statue pic (this one is in Pula)


A Recipe for You: Fritole (Gorgeous Apple Yeast Doughnuts) from Istria in Croatia

Hello readers! This week I am in Croatia – Istria in the North of Croatia to be precise. I am here for a week, eating too much, looking for truffles, sampling the (delicious) local wine, and cooking with some of the locals. I am quite lucky as I have some friends with an apartment here who have put me in touch with some local people who are very passionate about their food culture.

I had been to Dalmatia, further South (I am sure you will have heard of Dubrovnik) so had some expectations which were not realistic. Istria is more like Italy (not surprising as it used to be part of it) and so there is lots of homemade pasta and risotto. There is also a huge Hungarian influence, so you see lots of goulash too.

One of the first things that I ate here, and still my favourite, is little sweet apple doughnuts called fritole (pronounced frit-oh-lay). They are served cold, although I would quite like to try them warm too. Most recipes are handed down through families, and not actually written anywhere. I did manage to track down a chef – Anna from a terrific family restaurant run by a hunting family, the Morgans, high on a hill surrounded by Vineyards in Brtonigla – who was willing to describe her recipe for me patiently, and here it is.

I think this is a perfect little snack, and would be lovely with a mulled wine or spiced cider. Perfect for winter, or to rustle up quickly when people nip by for a visit.


Recipe on iVillage: Fritoles from Istria, Croatia 


A Postcard from Istria, Croatia


Amazing midnight blue sky and an olive tree in Istria


A very brief dip into my weekend in Istria in Northern Croatia. It has been fairly busy, really good, the only downside is that the internet has been lacking. But maybe that is a good thing?

There is lots more to come, I am here for the week. They love food and wine here, are passionate, and very particular when it comes to quality.  I am gathering recipes as I go too. I love this kind of trip.

Roman Amphitheatre in Pula – one of only 3 remaining in the world, including the Roman Coliseum.


Fish at the fish market in Pula


Chillies at the vegetable market in Pula


Young Croatian winemaker, Marko Gerzenic, making terrific, very clean and delicious wines in Istria. His father is a hunter, and cures meat and makes sausages. A common occupation in Istria, as there is lots of game, grapes and olives, and lots of passion for good food and drink.


Some photos from the Boletus (Mushroom Festival) in Brtonigla. This guy was so lovely, he’s proudly displaying a small section of their haul.


Some mushroom and beef stew at the mushroom festival


Mushroom Festival madness

Traditional Istrian cured pork, made from the “beef of the pig” and cooked over an open fire at Morgans in Brtonigla.


Traditional Istrian sausages, homemade and cooked over the fire, also at Morgans. Delicious. I think chitterlings stuffed with sausage but I need to confirm.


My new favourite thing! Fried apple yeast doughnuts – fritole. Recipe soon.



Eyre Brothers Tenth Anniversary Celebration Menu

If there was ever a restaurant that was the definition of under the radar (or under my radar at least), it is Eyre Brothers. David Eyre was one of the founding partners of The Eagle – credited with pioneering the modern gastropub movement – and he subsequently sold his share and opened Eyre Brothers with his brother Robert.

How I didn’t know about this restaurant, I just don’t know. I pride myself on my knowledge of Londons culinary map, and for a good many (recent) years have lived within a mile of Eyre Brothers. It’s exactly the kind of food that I love to eat – big flavours, hearty, well sourced ingredients – and the wine list and sherry list are impressive too. Some of my favourite London chefs, including Jose Pizarro, worked there. How did I not know?

Anyway, I was invited to preview their 10th anniversary menu and loved it. I will be returning again soon. To quote David, good food is in the shopping, not the cooking, although I would say that his cooking is pretty good too!

The 4 course menu runs for the month of November, includes some of David’s favourite dishes from the last ten years, and costs £38 per person or £60 with matching wines. A bit of a bargain I think, particularly with the wine which is very fairly priced given the quality.

Eyre Brothers Restaurant | 70 Leonard St. EC2A 4QX | London | United Kingdom | 02076135346

Almeijoas a Bulhao Pato - clams with garlic, lemon and fresh coriander served with a lovely Vinho Verde from Quinta de zevedo (2010)

Alentejo style fat pork and lean beef - braised with garlic, bay, pimentao and white wine with fried bread

Grilled loin chop of acorn-fed Iberico pork with planchada beans and rosemary

Tarta de Santiago