Recipe: Silky Smooth Modernist Cheese Sauce for Perfect Mac & Cheese and Cauliflower Cheese

How do you like your mac and cheese or cauliflower cheese? No doubt you have your hidden secrets, your favourite cheese combinations (cheddar, provolone and parmesan work a treat, as one chef revealed recently to me), your personal twists (a little pickled jalapeno chopped and lingering like a tiny battleship), your many little ways of making your perfect cheese sauce. But do you ever get enough of that cheese hit? Even with all of that cheese?

I make my sauce really thin with the smallest amount of roux possible (roux? a combination of flour and butter used to thicken sauces). Even so, I sometimes can feel the flour lingering below the surface, a little scratchy, and as a result, I end up with a sauce that is not as velvet rich as I would like it to be. The flavour of the cheese often feels muted too. Making it as cheesy as I would like involves a lot of cheese, and that can be a little too thick. What I want in my mac and cheese is a sauce that is pure cheese, but with a perfectly smooth delicate texture. Simply melting the cheese won’t deliver this, as the cheese congeals as the fat and the water separate at high temperatures. Luckily, someone has worked out how to fix this, and that is what I am going to share with you.

Lots of American recipes for queso dip and perfect smooth cheese sauces use velveeta, a processed cheese with a smooth melting consistency. In principle, this is great, but I want to use real cheese, I think most of us do. I want the the best flavours made with real ingredients, but proper cheese won’t melt as velveeta does. (The same goes for happy slappy cheese, those cheap processed cheese slices favoured for burgers as they melt just right, in the same way as velveeta does).

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Recipe: Rhubarb, Rose and Pistachio Porridge

Rhubarb, Rose and Pistachio Porridge

Rhubarb, Rose and Pistachio Porridge

I had the weirdest day yesterday. In the middle of Balham, in broad daylight, a random stranger kicked me up the arse.


I was shocked too.

He kicked me hard too. Very aggressive and actually quite scary, he thought I had hit my shopping trolley off his car, started roaring at me. I explained that I hadn’t, that I had merely hit the kerb. He roared “HANG ON! WHERE ARE YOU FROM?!” and was suddenly further incensed.

At this point it was obvious that he was out of control and I said that I would call the police if he didn’t stop. So he went for me.

I am so thankful that someone intervened. It is all in the hands of the police now but WHAT A WEIRD DAY.

I am tired and sore and in need of nourishment. I am also startled. If it weren’t so in line with a Fr Ted episode (kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse), it might not be quite so bizarre. As awful as it was, the constant reminder of Fr Ted brings a chuckle. How can it not?

So I made this.

January is joyless in many regards. Grey, moody and lacking lustre. But Nature comes to our rescue via some clever Yorkshire Victorian farmers, who decided that they would force rhubarb. Force rhubarb to do what? Well grow in the dark under large terracotta forcing urns  to be harvested by candle light. The lack of light forces the terracotta to grow long, lean and bright pink. Sweeter than normal rhubarb and so very tender. It is divine.

Rhubarb loves rose, rose loves pistachio, pistachio loves rhubarb too. The three together, and in my porridge mean everything is right with the world again.

Notes on the recipe: if you are planning this, soak the porridge in the milk overnight, it makes a difference. I prefer rose extract to rose water as it is punchier, if using rose water, use a tablespoon and adjust to taste. I use a lot of milk as I find these steel cut oats just drink it and I like my porridge to be soft and a little runny. I subscribe to the school that more-is-more when things are delicious so there is a lot of rhubarb and pistachio here. For extra luxury, add a little cream.

Update: if using normal rhubarb, use more honey as it is a lot more sour. It will still be lovely though.

Recipe: Rhubarb, Rose & Pistachio Porridge

Feeds: one hungry person / two normal not so hungry people


50g steel cut oats (I used Flahavan’s)
300ml full fat milk
150g rhubarb, cut into inch pieces – forced rhubarb if you can get it
25g pistachios, shelled and chopped
3 drops or so of rose extract – to taste (or 1 tbsp rosewater)
2 tbsp honey – to taste


Poach half of the rhubarb with 1 tbsp of the honey in just enough water to cover it. It will take only a few minutes. Take off the heat when soft, and before it surrenders and collapses.

Put the oats, milk, rosewater, the rest of the rhubarb and the other tbsp of honey in a pot over a low heat and allow to cook gently for about 10 minutes until the oats are tender and the rhubarb soft. Adjust the honey and rose to taste.

Serve immediately with poached rhubarb and pistachios on top. The poaching water is gorgeous – fragrant, delicious and bright pink, so I add some of this too.



Ode to the Humble Spud & a Recipe for Kale & Potato Cakes

The Humble Spud

I love the spud. I love it, I love it, love it, love it! How I love the Irish spud especially.

Now, when I say this, people look perplexed. A potato is a potato, right? Not so my friends. I miss the fluffy Irish potato, boiled until just at the point of bursting its jacket or roasted until fluffy inside in a bold crisp crusted suit. A friend used to call them laughing potatoes, as they looked like they were laughing their heads off. I remember a large metal tray covered in jostling laughing potatoes at the centre of my grandmother’s table. A little butter – maybe a lot – placed on top and left to ooze, and that was all I wanted to eat. Literally, I refused to eat anything else for a time in my childhood.

I especially miss the potatoes that grew in the field in front of my house, and the new season potatoes that would proudly be displayed outside shops when the season started. Before seasonality was a trend, when it was just the way things were. Ballinacourty new potatoes were something to be proud of. The humble spud has terroir too and Irish ones – especially my local Ballinacourty ones – are just so much better.

So much so that I do mad things, like pay €20 to check a bag in on a flight home. The bag has nothing in there save 10kg of potatoes. 10kg potatoes and weeks of joyous dinners. Weeks of fun as my bag of spuds slowly depletes.

Taking my obsession thus far, it will come as no surprise that I had some Irish potatoes sent over last week for Paddy’s Day. From Keogh’s Farm precisely. They asked which ones I wanted. All food knowledge escaped my head immediately to be replaced by enthusiasm and joy and I burst out – your fluffiest ones please! And so I got them.

Big, bolshy, pink Golden Wonders. Thick dusty pink jackets, creamy fluffy flesh. I have been busy cooking with them since. Today, I share with you my potato and kale cake recipe: enjoy it.

One thing I will suggest to you, if you haven’t one already, is to invest in a potato ricer. With one of these you will get the best mash, will be able to make gorgeous light mash, gnocchi and anything else that requires light fluffy potato. They are cheap so no excuses, haven’t you ordered one yet?

Potato & Kale Cakes

Potato & Kale Cakes


500g potato (I used fluffy golden wonders, maris pipers would be good too)
100g plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
handful of kale: blanched in hot water for 2 minutes, squeezed to get rid of excess water, and chopped
tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of light oil


Boil the potatoes until just tender. You should be able to stick a knife through them.

Drain and mash until fluffy or pass through a potato ricer. Spread out flat in a large dish or tray, sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and sift the flour over it. Add the two lightly beaten eggs and kale and bring together with a fork gently, until you get a dough. This is much easier to achieve with a ricer.

Shape into cakes – approximately 4 – but this will depend on how big you want them.

Fry over a medium heat in the butter and oil for abot 3/4 minutes on each side until cooked through and crisp outside.

Serve hot with whatever you fancy, I had mine with bacon and eggs.



Evening Standard Recipe Column: Beetroot Latkes

Photography by Georgia Glynn Smith

I love latkes! What’s not to love? Grated potato shaped into a cake and fried before being served with apple sauce and sour cream. LOVE.

I do a twist on them occasionally. Favourite Irish combination of parsnip and carrot is a favourite as is my recipe in today’s Evening Standard for beetroot latkes. A perfect recipe for January that is indulgent but also quite healthy. Those beetroot will help your liver detox.

Recipe on the Evening Standard: Beetroot Latkes


Recipe: Cauliflower Cheese to Sooth the Nerves and Iron Out Your Soul

Tastes MUCH better than it looks. Brown sourdough breadcrumb topping you see...

It’s hot outside, I know. But let us not deceive ourselves, it is October and that will all change soon, in fact, it’s changing already. So, I am going to help you to prepare for that first grim October day with a lovely comforting recipe for cauliflower cheese.

A classic, no? What feelings does it evoke for you? It makes me think of nice warm fires and toasty toes in slippers. Dark nights closing in and mulled wine. Comfort, pure comfort, with a little hint of spice.

I don’t go to the trouble of making a proper white sauce here. I prefer the simplicity and luxury of cream. It’s crap outside so lets make it very nice inside. There is a little pre-amble but it is worth it. I recommend flavouring the cream first with bay leaves, garlic and pepper corns. This gives the dish some warm aromatics and a little bit of oomph. Layers of flavour that will give your cauliflower cheese its own X Factor.

Read more: Cauliflower cheese to sooth the nerves and iron out your soul | iVillage UK


Recipe: Spiced Chickpea & Squash Vegetarian Burgers

Spiced Squash & Chickpea Burger

Call it an overdose of meat in Argentina, or an acknowledgement that none of my clothes fit and it’s time to get a little healthier. I want to feel good, and I want to feel lighter. I want to feel like I did 2 years ago before I started to over indulge in this crazy little blog world of mine, and gain weight. So expect some healthier recipes from me here, and the occasional over indulgence.

I can’t diet, I love food too much. I can make lighter, nutritious food that still tastes great and sates my appetite. Ceviche is a perfect example of delicious food that is gorgeous and that won’t pork your waistline. I plan to dedicate my summer to cooking food like this, eating it and blogging it. Hopefully, at the end of it my clothes will fit too. There will be some exercise also – I cycled 15 miles yesterday. And the essential, occasional blowout. Yeehaw!

Recently, a veggie friend came for lunch so I made some lovely veggie burgers. I can never understand why veggie burgers are so crap! Beans and lentils are fabulous so why do they become so nasty in a burger? Because they are crap processed beans I expect. These were perfect for the glorious summer day that we met, light and packed with flavour. I wanted to show my veggie friend that she could have fun at a bbq too.

Chickpeas! What’s not to love? And pumpkin / squash, well I am sold. Spices, well, yes of course. Garlic, fresh coriander, uh-huh. You see where I am going with this. A gooey pattie shaped into a ball, squished and fried and there you have a glorious veggie burger ready to tuck into a bun and be devoured.

Note on the ingredients: These burgers really benefit from home cooked chickpeas but you can try tinned ones too. They will be a little soggier, get the best ones you can and drain them well. Expect the patty to be a little sticky, you don’t want it to be dry after you cook it after all. You will need to roast the pumpkin in advance, any leftovers will make a lovely soup.

Recipe: Spiced Squash & Chickpea Vegetarian Burgers


300g homecooked or 1 drained tin of chickpeas
300g roast squash or pumpkin, mashed (the weight is after it is roasted – use the rest for a soup!)
75g plain flour, sieved (just to remove any lumps)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
handful of fresh coriander leaves chopped


If your pumpkin is very wet, drain it in a sieve. You won’t need to do this for butternut squash.
Mash with the chickpeas using a potato masher, don’t blend or it will become too gooey, you want it to be rough, with approx half of the chickpeas well mashed.
Toast the spices in a dry pan over a medium heat until fragrant (no more tan a couple of minutes) and grind in a pestle and mortar.
Fry the chilli and ginger for a few minutes in a little oil, then add the garlic for a further minute, and finally the spices and fry for a further 2 – 3 minutes. Add to the pumpkin and chickpeas with the coriander leaves and flour, mix thoroughly and season to taste.
Shape into little round balls (they should be sticky), then squash until about 1 cm thick.
Fry for 3 – 4 minutes on each side and serve hot.


Recipe: Ricotta Frittata with Tomatoes & Fiddleheads

Ricotta Frittata

Life is busy. Life is crazy busy. I’ve left my job and written a book (I am so excited to even type that!). It all happened in 6 months. In the middle of this my Dad has been seriously ill and I have been going home a lot. I have also been travelling elsewhere more than before. I have moved flat too.

I’ve chosen this life, and I love it, I wouldn’t change a thing. Working doing what you love means that work never stops, and being so busy does take a toll. I have been ill more than is normal and I am growing pretty tired of it. I hate being ill at all.

So today as I sat here coughing and wheezing with a scratchy throat, I felt depressed. I needed to eat something that would make me feel good and really wouldn’t take any time to cook or much effort to source the ingredients. I dragged my carcass to the local Waitrose and my face lit up when I spied there on the shelf Laverstoke Park Farm Buffalo Ricotta.

HOORAY! I adore this stuff and when I visited the farm last year I asked if they had any plans to make it, to be met only with an echoing NO. Disappointed. But now they are making it and joy of joy I can get it less than 10 minutes away. So into the basket it went and I skipped/coughed my way home.

I combined some eggs with the ricotta and whisked it with a pinch of salt until the ricotta was the size of breadcrumbs. I then sautéed some sweet small tomatoes and some fiddleheads (I still have a mini stash!) with a clove of finely chopped garlic. When soft I added the egg mixture and popped it into the oven to bake. 15 minutes later a puffy joyful frittata awaited me. It made me smile.

Now why haven’t I done this before? It was so lovely and light a perfect summer dish and very quick too. No fiddleheads? Increase the tomatoes or add some asparagus, whatever works for you. This is perfect quick lunch food for friends to be eaten in the sunshine with some salad.

Recipe: Ricotta Frittata with Tomatoes & Fiddleheads

Serves 4


6 large eggs (free range organic if possible)
200g good ricotta
150g good cherry tomatoes, halved
12 fiddleheads, trimmed and washed (or asparagus spears)
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.
Sauté the tomato and fiddleheads in some oil for about 5 minutes until softening. Add the garlic and after a further minute take it off the heat.
Combine the eggs and ricotta and beat or whisk until the ricotta is the size of breadcrumbs. Season with some sea salt.
Add the tomato mixture and the basil and stir through. Pour into an oiled frying pan with oven proof handle or large pie dish and bake for 15 minutes.
Check progress (it will depend on the size of your pan). When the frittata is set and golden and all puffed up it will be ready to devour.


A Quick Recipe for a Glorious Brunch: Turkish Eggs

Turkish Eggs 009-1
The first time that I had Turkish Eggs at The Providores in London, I was hooked. Hooked and a little obsessed. I ordered it as I just didn’t know how it could work, but knew that it wouldn’t be there if it didn’t, right?

The Providores version is non traditional, poached eggs on thick yogurt with chilli butter. It is utterly divine. It prompted me to go home and do some research on Turkish Eggs. I wanted to know more, I wanted to make it, I needed to eat them often! What would I get in Turkey? I found out, and this brings me to this recipe, traditional Turkish Eggs.

The rewards are huge for such a simple dish. Greek style yogurt at the bottom of a bowl, 2 poached eggs on top, and sage leaves fried until crispy in a decent chunk of butter. You won’t regret the extra butter I promise you! Scatter the crispy sage leaves around the eggs and drizzle the butter. And swoon and eat. Now I want some more.


Recipe: Courgette and Truffle Carbonara

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

I have a really bad habit of going food shopping on a whim and being charmed by the glistening ingredients which I can’t resist. I pop them in my trolley gleefully, only to review when I go home and wonder, so how does all of this fit together, and when exactly amd I going to get time to eat it all? Eating it all is never really a worry, although it has worrying effects of late. It does prompt some creative cooking, driven by what I am in the mood for, and what I have nabbed en route home.

I was faced with one such dilemna last night. All I knew is that I wanted to eat something rich, comforting and light, and it had to contain some pasta. Not just any pasta, I was eyeing up my box of Pastificio dei Campi linguine, the grand cru pasta (as declared in Italian food magazine Gambero Rosso) from Gragnano which I have been covetting. I never need an excuse to eat pasta, I love the stuff and frankly am in awe of anyone that can cut out carbs. I just don’t know why you would do that to yourself. However,if you need one, and you just might, good pasta like this cooked al dente is low GI my friends. Eat your fill.

Gragnano is to pasta what Parma is to ham. A town dedicated to artisan pasta making using traditional techniques. The Pastificio dei Campi pasta is finished by hand and gently passed through bronze dies before being slow dried at low temperatures creating pasta with superior flavour and texture, unlike anything you get at your local supermarket. This really is top of the range stuff.

The bronze die lends it a rough outer texture which allows it to grip the sauce eagerly. Interestingly in this age where so many cultures are disconnected from the origins of their food, every box of pasta can be traced back to the day that batch of wheat was sown, the field it was grown in and when it was harvested, directly linking the sourcing of the best limited supply grain back to the farmers. A human connection and real food. Regular readers will know me well enough to realise that quality and sourcing drives my cooking, so it won’t surprise you that this is my primary source of pasta now.

Back to dinner. It was late and I was hungry. I wanted something creamy and rich but not too intense. It is summer after all. My eyes fell upon the new season courgettes, medium sized and shiny, my favourite blue Old Cotswold Legbar eggs with their large golden yolks, some rich aged Grana Padano cheese and some luscious bulbs of garlic. The cupboard yielded some Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa. I knew what I was going to have. A truffle and courgette carbonara.

Odd combination? Perhaps. Although courgette goes very well with rich hard cheeses like Grana Padano, and courgettes love eggs. Truffles love eggs even more, and we all love pasta. Courgettes would ease and comfort the intensity of the truffle, adding a sweetness and some moisture and texture. Like those couples you see with one noisy one and one nice calm one.  You know what I mean, it just works, doesn’t it?

Before I go further, carbonara needs no cream. Just egg yolks and cheese. A lick of garlic on the pan, you can finely chop it, or just cut it in half and fry it briefly to flavour some oil. Egg yolks are so rich and intense and a perfect sauce for the linguine.

Notes on ingredients: you can get the Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa at Harvey Nichols in London, or substitute with grated fresh truffle or some jarred black truffle from the supermarket. Some truffle oil would lend some flavour too. The Pasificio dei Campi linguine is available from Food in the City online UK and internationally, or at Harvey Nichols.

Note on the photograph: the linguine shown in the photo isn’t quite al dente as I gobbled mine up, and photographed a cold portion after, whih had continued to cook as it cooled down. I didn’t waste it though – don’t fear. It makes a tasty leftover dish when fried.

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

Serves 2


200g linguine
2 egg yolks
2tbsp Grana Padano (or parmesan)
1 fat clove of garlic cut in half
1 heaped tsp Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa
3 medium courgettes, quatrered lengthways and sliced finely
grated Grana Padano to serve
Olive oil


The pasta should take 10 minutes so get that on first.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a moderate heat and add the cove of garlic until starting to brown, discard. You’ve got the garlic flavour now and that’s all you need.
Add the courgettes and cook over a gentle heat for 5/6 minutes until tender.
Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and stir in the cheese. Season with S&P.
When the pasta is almost dente, add the truffle to to the courgette and stir through.
Drain the pasta and add to the truffle/courgette mixture.
Add the pasta mixture to the bowl of eggs and stir quickly preserving the creamyness of the egg yolks and cheese and not allowing it to scramble (really, it never does as long as you’re quick).
Taste & season. Add some more Grana Padano to taste.


Recipe: Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot Shards, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Some of my favourite dishes are happy culinary accidents. You have a plan, it seems perfect and then for some reason something doesn’t work. Frustrating, but somehow, the solution offers up an alternative that you might not have thought of, so instead of one new dish, sometimes you have two.

I found myself in that situation this morning. I have declared May a month of health, of vibrant lunches full of flavour, and of new dishes. I was making it last night, and had some enormous beetroots that I bought at the farmers market on the boil for well over an hour and a half, but they were still hard. I left them in the hot water overnight, hoping that they might cook a little as it cooled down, but they didn’t. I guess they were really very big! So, I was left with some semi-cooked, but still mostly raw beetroots which wouldn’t fit in with my original recipe idea.

What to do with them?

One thing was for sure, I was bringing lunch in, so I needed to figure out an alternative. I surveyed the scene in my kitchen at 7am this morning. I had already cooked my Israeli cous cous, and it was waiting patiently with some finely sliced red onions in olive oil. In olive oil, as I wanted to remove the sharp acidic tang that they have, and didn’t want to use lemon as it wouldn’t go with the dressing I had in mind.  I was using a fresh cheese, again from the farmer’s market. I wanted to make my own but they had sold out of their raw buffalo milk. What to do?

I know – grate them! Cue, rumbling in boxes for 10 minutes trying to source the grater (I have just moved house) to no avail. I did find my vegetable peeler so proceeded to peel slices from the peeled semi-raw beetroots, which I then sliced into smaller shards. They were slightly sweet, still firm and had a great texture, one that’s lost to cooked beetroot normally. Perfect!

I had intended to avoid balsamic in the dressing preferring something fruitier and livelier but couldn’t resist adding a 10 year aged balsamic that I found in my rummaging. Balsamic vinegar and beetroot are perfect partners. This worked especially well as the beetroot was only slightly sweet as it was very undercooked and the rich vinegar complemented it. I am going through a smoked sea salt phase, so used this to season with black pepper and it was delicious. It’s worth seeking out – Halen Mon or Maldon both sell it. Pea shoots added colour and texture, and a nice delicate flavour. Mint would work very well here too though, maybe even better.

Where can you get Israeli cous cous? Look in the kosher section of large supermarkets, or seek out Jewish delis. An alternative, which is a bigger bouncier and equally delicious version is mograbiah which you can find in Turkish shops.

I am presenting the recipe here as I did it, but really, you can just finely grate the beetroot too, it will be just as nice and certainly very healthy. Also, you can substitute the fresh buffalo cheese with any fresh cheese, goat’s curd or young goat’s cheese e.g. caprinhia.


Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot Shards, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots


1 beetroot (normal size will work fine!), whole
100g Israeli cous cous
1 small red onion, halved and finely sliced
100g fresh cheese or chevre, crumbled
A handful of fresh pea shoots
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar


Cook the Israeli cous cous according to packet instructions. Cool under a cold tap and leave to the site with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Peel & grate your beetroot OR boil for 20 minutes, then peel & slice with a vegetable slicer as I have.

Combine the cous cous, beetroot and red onion and dress with 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp vinegar. Adjust to taste. Season with S&P and add half of the pea shoots. Stir through. Place the other half on top and around the salad.

Et voila! Enjoy.


Recipe: To Dal, Daal, Dhal, or Dahl, that is the question

I hate confusing spellings and names. Why the world can’t agree to spell and name everything the way I do, I just don’t know. University was a high point of this, not only can’t the US and UK agree on spellings, they give the same thing different words at times: adrenaline meet epinephrine. Oh! We look the same? Well, you are the same. The very same, but people like to call you different things.  Gah!

It haunts me still in my world of cookery. Sichuan or Szechuan? I’ve seen both in print from reputable sources. What’s haunting me today is the most perplexing of all: Dal, Daal, Dhal, or Dahl? Again, all are online and in print. These last two we can only blame ourselves for. We can’t seem to agree how these words should appear in English. I want someone to tell me! Do you know?

For now, I am sticking with dal, I’ve been told that the correct pronunciation is with a long a. So daaaal could be our new spelling. However you spell it, it’s a great dish. Pulses are so very underrated, and when you add spices and other accoutrements, they absolutely come to life and sing. It’s a fantastic budget dish too and a great illustration of what can be produced with a little time, effort and a lot of love.

There are many versions, and most cooks have their own. I traditionally make a Tarka (also called Tadka) Dal where the pulses are cooked with turmeric with some tempered spices added at the end (these are the tarka). This is a delicious way to do it, the spice flavours are really bold and fresh and the dish is really zingy. Sometimes, when I prefer something a bit more gentle, I add the spices at the start and cook the lentils with them, adding other items like tomatoes and fresh coriander with some lemon at the end. I also like to put a few eggs in for the last ten minutes and serve the dal hot over halved peeled boiled eggs.

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

A vegetarian friend was visiting in advance of her move to India. We were going to eat in the sunny back garden and I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to cook. Golden yellow dal with sunny egg yolks peeping out from behind chunks of red tomato and flecks of green coriander, begging to be eaten, as we basked in the sun under the lovely blossoms.

Recipe notes: The chana dal can also be bought as yellow split peas. They’re my favourite for dal as they have a lovely texture and retain their shape. Some people soak them, but there’s no need, unlike other pulses they won’t poison you, they will just take longer to cook (about 35/40 minutes, depending on their freshness). I added the tomatoes before the end as I had spashed out on some delicious English heritage tomatoes that were big, juicy and meaty, and I wanted to retain that flavour & texture in the dal, and not have them become mushy with longer cooking. If you can’t get tomatoes like this, I would recommend getting some small juicy tomatoes, if you can only get water bombs, add them earlier but try not to use them – they’re awful.

A note on the spices. You get much superior flavour from fresh whole spices that you toast and then grind. It seems like a lot of effort, but it’s not really and the return for that little bit of time and effort in flavour makes it a great trade. Try it – I am sure that you will agree.

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

Dal Recipe – makes enough for 4


500g Chana Dal
2 red chillis, finely chopped (enough for a bit of a kick – use one if you want mild)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seed
I tbsp turmeric
2 big tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped or a handful of small ones, diced
1 tbsp red pepper flakes (optional)
a handful of coriander leaves, chopped (best to chop jyst before you serve for colour and freshness)
a fresh lemon
one egg per person – the best you can afford, I like Old Cotswold Legbar which have a gorgeous big yolk. Burford Browns are good too.
sea salt


Dry roast the coriander and cumin seeds for 30 seconds or so over a high heat in a dry frying pan to release the oils and therefore the flavours. Once you can smell the spices, they’re ready to grind, take care not to burn them. Grind them to a powder using a pestle and mortar (my preference) otr electric spice grinder.

Fry the garlic, chilli and ginger in some light oil (groundnut or sunflower work) for a minute or so, taking care not to burn the garlic as it will become bitter. Add the ground spices and fry for a further minute.

Add the chana dal, turmeric, red pepper if you’re using it and enough water to cover the chana dal with an inch to spare. Bring to the boil and cook for 25 minutes at a lower heat ensuring that it cooks at that tenperature but doesn’t explode all over your hob! Add water if it looks like it’s getting dry.

Add the tomatoes and your eggs and cook for a further ten minutes. If the dal is cooked it will be tender, it may need another few minutes if it’s a little old.

Add the coriander and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. Serve the dal over the boiled eggs, shelled and halved.



Beetroot, Tomato & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets with Mint

Every now and then I make something on a whim, expecting it to be nice, and I am pleasantly surprised when it tastes even better and becomes an instant favourite. Enter beetroot, tomato & goat’s cheese tartlets with mint.

Last week at the market I was really stretched for time and sadly had no opportunity to make a vegetarian option. This was noted by a number of people, and I felt dreadful as some had come down especially for the tarts that I had made before, so I promised to make it up to them and did this week with tartlets.

I don’t have a precise recipe as I was making them in bulk and on the hoof, however, they’re really straightforward. I used little tartlet cases but you could use a bigger tart tin. Line the greased/buttered tart base with homemade butter shortcrust pastry, it really is far superior to shop bought, and is very quick too. I had a fear of it for a long time after my Home Economics teacher, horrified at my efforts, yelled: it’s pastry you’re making, not leather! I also have very warm hands. However, when making it, I do my best not to touch it, using very cold butter and binding the pastry with a knife, putting it straight in the fridge to chill, and then rolling in as much of a hands off way that I can manage. It seems to work well.

Start building the tart with a layer of mascarpone, just enough to cover, and spread some shredded mint sparingly. Layer boiled or roasted, peeled and sliced beetroot, for tartlets about 3/4 slices with 2 slices of tomato wedged between. For a bigger tart arrange beetroot and tomato slices overlapping so that the mascarpone is covered. Add some goats cheese, I used a soft goat’s cheese from Somerset, but chevre or similar would work well too. Don’t cover it, just enough to taste. Finish with a light and fine grating of parmesan. Bake for 10-15 mins at 200 deg celsius until the pastry is browned.

Reading this it could do with a step by step picture guide, I’ll do one soon, maybe for next week’s market. Hopefully you get the picture (boom, boom!). It really is very easy, and really delicious. The sweetness of the beetroot and tomato, the tart goat’s cheese, the freshness of the mint, and the creamy mascarpone nestled in the butter shortcrust base is a real delight. It’s on the favourites list now, and I’ll be making it for veggie friends when they visit.

Here’s the pastry recipe. A note on the eggs: they’re not essential but give it a lovely richness. Use the best you can afford, I love the pretty blue Old Cotswold Legbars or Burford Browns. At the very least free range, if you can.

Homemade Butter Shortcrust Pastry Recipe

(enough for two large tarts or many little ones – this is the amount that uses exactly one packet of butter)


250g chilled butter

500g plain flour

2 beaten eggs, and the equivalent amount of cold water


Sift the flour. Add the butter in cubes and mix with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the water and eggs a little at a time, blending in with a knife until it starts to take shape. Don’t let it get too wet, it’s fine if it’s a little crumbly (wet pastry, like a wet gizmo, makes a gremlin ;). Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll on a floured surface to your desired thickness, taking care not to overwork it.

And, that’s it! Not so scary, eh?


Burnt aubergine with sweet peppers and red onion

I have a confession to make! I published this post last weekend, and a few hours later a trusted friend queried my photograph, thinking that it didn’t do the dish justice. I took a look, and sure enough, they were right. It was like going out to work hungover and slightly frazzled wearing something that you think looks ok, and realising slowly that it was a horrible choice, ill fitting, and irritating for the rest of the day. So I took it down. I made the dish again today, same recipe, and here’s the post. In my defence, I made this dish for a friend and drank lots of wine as I was cooking (as did they!). So, lesson learned, don’t take food photographs drunk, and don’t rush blog posts!

One of my indulgences is cookbooks, I love them, and I have a ridiculous amount. Some are  very well thumbed with weakening spines, others are neglected, bought out of curiosity and never properly investigated. I love concocting my own food and creating recipes, but I also love to cook from cookbooks, entering the culinary head of another, and seeing how they do things.

A lot of the cookbooks that I have been buying in the last few years are from restaurants and cafes that I really like. Often they’re not as impressive as the restaurant they are associated with, but as always, there are exceptions. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook is one.

I was very excited about this one. I worked reasonably close to the Islington branch for a number of years and would occasionally treat myself to a delicious lunch. When Yotam Ottolenghi started writing recipes in the Guardian I was always enthralled with his approach and combinations. Coming from Israel with a Palestinian business partner, there are some wonderful influences from that region. The first time I used orange blossom water was when I made an Ottolenghi salad and it was a revelation. He uses colour and flavour wonderfully, I remember reading sovewhere that if a dish doesn’t look great, it doesn’t matter how great it tastes, you won’t get it at Ottolenghi.

I’ve had the cookbook since it was published and I really don’t use it enough. I frequently dip in, for inspiration or just a good read, and a flick through the gorgeous pictures. I decided I really should start, and I can safely say after just one recipe, the book is well and truly broken in with splatters and thumb prints all over the page. Ah well.

Burnt aubergine is a gorgeous, intensely savoury flavour. It’s fantastic in a vegetarian dish as it confers a depth that could otherwise be difficult to achieve. I flicked through the book and came across a lovely recipe for a salad including this, so I endeavoured to adapt and try it with the ingredients I had.


Burning an aubergine is as easy as it sounds. Rest the aubergine on a gas flame and burn it, turning it as each side is done until complete. Don’t worry if the skin splits, it happens a lot. Let it cool a little and peel the skin off, or scoop out the inside after cutting it in two. Drain in a colander for an hour or so then chop.

The rest of the salad is very straight forward, a simple dressing, some delicate spicing (cumin). This would be wonderful for a BBQ or similar summer event with the sweetness of the peppers and tartness of the tomatoes.

I altered the proportions of the recipe with two different colour peppers and a little less aubergine and tomatoes. I really liked it, and am very much looking forward to trying more of his recipes, and eating there again.


1 large aubergine, burnt as described above, drained and chopped
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
a handful of small fruity cherry tomatoes or similar, halved
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped


5 tbsp sunflower oil or similar
3 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tsp fresh cumin, toasted and ground or 3 tsp ground cumin (the first option is infinitely preferable)

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


First, make the dressing and check the taste and adjust if necessary.
Mix the other ingredients and add the dressing. Season with S&P to taste and serve.

This is really nice with khobez, pittas or similar.

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook


This is not mushroom soup

Picture the scene. Sore tum. Poor abandoned house guest. Need for healthy food, and need to feed a vegetarian. Vitamin B sounds like a good plan, good for the nerves, good for the metabolism and enhances the immune system. Sounds like everything I need in my current fragile state. Afflicted with an angry tum which won’t accept any food without severe complaining and, forgive the detail, swift ejection.

The underrated mushroom offers bountiful Vitamin B and I just happen to have lots of them in my fridge. Large flat portebellini mushrooms, their gills exposed to the stars, and small coquettish button mushrooms, less bolshy in flavour, and bright white in complexion. I wanted lots of flavour, and lots of elusive umami in a vegetarian soup. I also wanted it to have a bright summer flavour, so decided I would serve it with some chive cream.

The mushrooms had to be as intense as they could possibly be, so I roasted 5oog of the portebellini, with a liberal splash of extra virgin olive oil, some chives and some good sea salt for about half an hour at 180 degrees celsius. Then I sauteed 200g  button mushrooms in butter with a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, added the roasted mushrooms and 500ml of a nice vegetable stock. This smelled intensely of mushroom, almost meaty, I was very happy. I whipped some double cream and added lots of chopped chives. I shredded a bunch of spring onions (green bits and white) and added them to the soup, to preserve that summer flavour amongst the rich deep mushroom one.

I tasted the soup, it was ready, and it was delicious. Some good bread was just toasted in the oven, rubbed with fresh garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. It was crisp and fragrant.I reached for the blender and…

BOOM! The power went.

How annoying is that? It’s extra annoying as I am especially useless in these situations. I approached the fuse box cautiously flicking switches on and off, figuring it must have been the trip switch, which for the life of me I could not find. For those of you not in the know it is not a big red button labelled TRIP SWITCH – FIX EVERYTHING WITH THIS.


Sigh. I called my flatmate, left her a voicemail, sent her a message, then went to appeal to twitter. But, no internet either. ARGH!

Headless chicken much? Just as I had reached the end of my rope, it came back on. It was a power cut.

But I had already given up hope, and had converted my soup to a rich mushroom bruschetta with chive cream. And it was very nice. So, the few hours I edged off the end of my life aside, it was a good result.

I’ll try the soup again another day.


Asparagus and Truffle Carbonara

Asparagus & truffle carbonara

Life’s simple pleasures are the driving force for getting through each day with a smile on my face. Food, wine, music, friends, jokes, laughter, a good book, some occasional trashy TV, all contribute towards a day I brand a success, and one that makes me want to repeat the experience when I fall out of bed the next morning.

Some days need more than this, whether you’ve had a grim day at the office, are entertaining friends or simply require a dash of some decadence in your life, some extras are called for. When I have had a bad day I comfort shop and I comfort eat. The two are inextricably linked. I buy things that give me comfort: good food, new sheets, nice wine, something nice to wear. I am nice to myself, when for whatever reason, I feel the world is rejecting me or treating me with disdain. Bah!

This particular occasion I was in fine fettle and entertaining a good friend who happens to be a vegetarian, so no need to picture me with a cloud over my head and chocolate stains all around my mouth with a bag of crisps on my hand, running to the nearest department store with a bunch of notes in my hand. Dramatic, yes, but you’ll get used to that! I wanted to make something quick that was full of flavour and indulgent, allowing me plenty of time to catch up, drink wine and still produce a meal that I would enjoy and be proud to share.

truffle goodies

I also had a box of goodies to explore, truffle goodies from Savitar in Italy, the most decadent box I’ve ever had in my cupboard containing a range of superb products, including, for this dish, truffle pecorino (ewe’s milk cheese). I am a big fan of traditional dishes, and generally don’t like to mess with them. I stick faithfully to Marcella Hazan’s recipe for carbonara, it’s a lovely thing, but there are some twists on this that work, and one involves asparagus. I would often have asparagus and pancetta in this, but for this evening, meat was murder and I was temporarily veggie, so to spruce it up I used truffle pecorino in the place of the usual parmesan and pecorino mix.

truffle pecorino

This worked so well. The truffle was sublime and decadent but complimented the asparagus, which fresh and in season was full flavoured. The sauce was light and creamy and licked the linguine without being cloying. I’ll be making this again, although if for me and not vegetatians, I will include pancetta.

I put this together quite intuitively as I have made carbonara or versions many times. I cooked enough linguine for 3 people, about two thirds of a pack. Spaghetti is traditional for this dish, but linguine is a reasonable substitute should you have none, which was the case for me. As it was cooking, I snapped the woody tips from the end of some delicious English asparagus, and boiled thm for a couple of minutes until approaching tender. Place in a bowl of iced water or run under the cold tap to arrest the cooking process. I chopped these so that the stems were in centimetre chunks with the tips at full length.

The next step requires a little prep. I use one egg yolk per person from a large free range organic egg. Beat them with approx. 3 generous tablespoons of the truffle pecorino and one tablespoon of freshly grated pamesan cheese, season and leave to the side. Lightly mash a clover of garlic and fry until golden in some olive oil over a medium high heat. Remove the garlic, add the chopped asparagus and about half a glass of dry white wine. Fry off the alcohol, reducing the volume a little as you do.

When the pasta is cooked, toss in the egg and cheese mixture, and add the asparagus. Serve immediately with some freshly grated pamesan or for extra decadence a mixture of truffle pecorino and parmesan. Enjoy with a fine glass of wine and some good chatter.


Brunch Baked Eggs

Sounds very elegant doesn’t it? Brunch. Baked. Eggs. It evokes luxury and comfort, and yes, it had both of these. But, It had something else too.


I christened this dish Irish Huevos Rancheros when I made it last Sunday, but when writing this thought, as titles go, I might be going too left of field, and I don’t want to offend any Mexicans ;-) I did your dish proud, honest, but I gave it an irish potato-y twist.

Like most of my recent dishes, this doesn’t have strict measurements. In fact I didn’t measure anything. It’s very simple, and in truth, you can’t go wrong. Now, people don’t believe me when I say this, and believe me to have some inside culinary knowledge or secret power, but, this is not true. It’s easy.

I started by roasting some very sweet and delicious cherry tomatoes (about 3 handfuls) in olive oil with a finely chopped green chilli and some good extra virgin olive oil at 180 degrees. While these were roasting I parboiled some diced potatoes until tender, then roasted them for about 20 minutes until becoming crispy. At this point your tomatoes should be looking, and tasting, delicious, all mushy and full of flavour. Time to add some fresh coriander (a handful) to your tomatoes and season. Pour the tomatoes over the potatoes and crack in some eggs, 2 per person. Bake until the white is set and the yolk is runny, no more than 5 minutes. This is the only tricky bit, it’s very easy to overcook the eggs so keep an eye on them.

That’s it. Dish up and get back to your Sunday paper. Enjoy!

(I hope you’re still in pj’s – I was ;-)


Cosy, quick and healthy snacking

Toasted tortilla with manchego and tomato
Sometimes, with food, instant gratification is called for. As close to instant as is possible in any case. I am not talking about reaching for the haribo (although, that has been known to happen), but something flavoursome, healthy, crispy and super quick.

Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind and am not about to tout the health benefits of leftover pork belly or a bag of crisps. Tasty: yes. Healthy: not so much. The snack I am about to describe, is colourful, pretty and delicious and so easy, it’s ridiculous.

Take one tortilla (corn or flour), add a handful of chopped tomatoes, the best you can get, I like sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes. Top with some grated manchego (or similar cheese) and put in a preheated oven (180 degrees celsius should do it) on a lightly oiled tray. Toast for 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil on top and season with salt & pepper. Serve with a handful of greens as a garnish, I used pea shoots but rocket would be good too.

Sit back, briefly admire your handiwork, for it will be pretty, and eat. Run back into the kitchen and prep another as you’ll probably want one. I almost always do.


GOOD Oil & good food, a great combination

Pea & Pecorino Crostini

Pea & Pecorino Crostini

This food blogger cares about her health, it may not be obvious with my clear overindulgence in staples like chorizo and pork belly, but I do care about what I eat, I want to be and to feel healthy, and as a consequence, I do try to maintain a balanced diet. This is increasingly difficult in these busy times but I think I do ok.

Recently, I was invited to try GOOD Oil, a hempseed oil, at a dinner party in West London with a group of fellow bloggers (Alex from Epicurienne,  Melanie from Fake Plastic Noodles, Helen from Food Stories, Lizzie from Hollow Legs, Chris from Londonist) and hosted by the lovely couple that have dedicated the last 8 years of their lives to perfecting this oil, Henry & Glynis, and their son and cook for the evening, Ben. It seemed like a really good opportunity to broaden my culinary horizons and have an all round nice evening with some of my blogger friends.

I always feel like I need to say in these posts, and I’ll say it again, that I will not tout a product because it’s been given to me or promote something that I would not run out to the shop to buy. I feel passionately about the integrity of what I do and I’ll stick by it, even if it offends, it’s important. GOOD Oil impressed me on many levels so I want to share the experience with you and a recipe from that night for you to try at home.



So, hempseed oil, what’s that? Well, it’s oil that’s made from hempseed…simple really! Henry Braham and Glynis Murray, cinematographer and film producer respectively, bought a farm in Devon almost a decade ago with a view to producing a sustainable crop, and settled on hemp. We all know that hemp is used for fibre (e.g. clothing) but it’s also highly nutritious and contains Omega 3, 6 and 9. Scientific studies have shown that it’s good for arthritis, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, skin, hair and for us ladies, PMT. The only hemp oil available at the time tasted unpleasant, so Henry & Glynis decided to press it like an olive oil with a view to producing something healthy and tasty using traditional methods to get the best from the seed.

They’ve struggled and persevered and I admire them for that. They believed in sustainable agriculture and chose hemp for that reason, they could have gone the traditional route and used hemp for fibre but they felt passionately in the oil, and spent many years perfecting it. They could have used modern less expensive pressing techniques but they wanted the best quality and strove for it. They wanted GOOD Oil. They survived the foot & mouth crisis and even fended off some trips from the police wondering what exactly was this hemp that they were growing! That particular bit, I found very funny!

What’s the result of all this struggle? Was it worth it? YES! GOOD Oil is nutty and rich and healthy, a really pleasant flavour that works well with different foods like mash and ice cream (yes, really, it’s lovely drizzled on vanilla ice cream – I am told it was Jamie Oliver’s idea). In fact, I would substitute it anywhere I would use extra virgin oil and I’ve a few things I want to experiment with using this oil. I want to use it to make nice and healthy winter soups, I really want to try some nice and different salad dressings, and, to use it in super healthy spelt and pearl barley salads. That’s just the start, a new ingredient is always so exciting.

So, GOOD Oil, is good! Give it a go. For now, I’ll leave you with the recipe for the starter that we had that night – pea and pecorino crostini – give it a go, and let me know what you think! I thought it was fresh and lively, and the GOOD Oil worked really well with the nutty pecorino. This recipe serves 4.


150g shelled peas
75g grated pecorino
Juice of half a lemon
4 slices of sourdough bread
Drizzle of GOOD Oil
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper


Preheat the oven to 150 degrees celsius.
Cook the peas until bright green and tender by boiling in water, only a few minutes. Refresh with ice cold water to stop the cooking process and preserve that lovely colour.
Mash the peas with the pecorino and some of the oil, aiming for a guacamole like texture.
Brush the sourdough on both sides with the oil and bake in the oven until crisp. Shouldn’t take anymore than 5 minutes.
Spoon the pea and pecorino mix on top. Shaving of pecorino make a nice garnish.

More info and recipes at

butternut squash curry

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

This has been a great couple of weeks for festivities. Diwali, Halloween, Day of the Dead last week, and Guy Fawkes coming up. It certainly takes the bite out of the impending Winter!

I always like to celebrate anything like this with food if I can, hey, I don’t need an excuse I know, even if it’s just for me, or, better again with friends. Last week was busy but I did sneak in a dish that would in some way cover Diwali and Halloween, well, kind of.

Diwali being a Hindu festival is all about vegetarian food, particularly curry, snacks and sweets. As for Halloween, well, Halloween is about spooks and scary things, but also pumpkins, so I thought, why not make a veggie curry with pumpkin in? Or, in this case, butternut squash.

I had an ulterior motive, I felt I needed a few veggie days, or veggie meals at least. I usually have quite a balanced diet but lately I’ve been buying lunch out alot more than usual, and as I work so near to delicious Brindisa, my diet has been leaning heavily on the meat side. So, beans, veg, tomato and coconut seemed like a good alternative to a chorizo stew!

It’s very easy and very light. I made this on a weekday evening and it was absolutely manageable. The measurements are loose as always, feel free to experiment, it’s more about the spices and the flavours in the sauce. I used a small butternut squash about 6-8 inches high. The spice blend is very basic. I just used what I had in my cupboard. It works, though!

This will serve 4. I served it with steamed basmati rice. It keeps well, indeed like most tomato based dishes, tastes better the next day.[Read more]


Chanterelles on Toast

chanterelles on toast

I love a decadent Sunday morning, that’s no secret. Lazy & grazy with big pot of coffee, the Sunday paper and a gorgeous brunch. Today I had lots of chanterelles to play with, courtesy of my lovely Italian grocer in king’s Cross. He has a friend who forages for them and kept some aside for me so that I could indulge this weekend.

This is really quick, easy and super tasty. For one person, all you need is a couple of slices of good bread, toasted. Serve atop a couple of handfuls of golden chanterelles, fried in a knob of butter for a few minutes until cooked, add a tablespoon of cream and a couple of tablespoons of chopped flat leaf parsley. Yum!

chanterelles on toast