Poached Ginger Pears with Chocolate Sauce

The texture of of a ripe pear when you bite into it is like nothing else.  It’s slightly grainy against your teeth yet soft and yielding.  Its lightly perfumed and so juicy it runs down your chin despite your best efforts. Sadly most of the pears we buy aren’t anything like that as pears do not properly ripen on the tree.   They ripen once picked from the inside out so if you grow and pick your own they all seem to ripen at the same time or else fall off the tree and bruise.  One solution to these problems is to poach the pears whilst they are still slightly firm so that not only does the pear turn juicy and flavourful but, kept in the poaching syrup, they will keep for several weeks in the fridge.  It’s a win win.

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Pear Harvest

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Moscato Poached Apricots with Lemon Verbena

There are three young apricot trees planted in pots nestling up against the Suffolk pink walls of my house.   It’s taken years to get more than a few apricots, which are eagerly awaited and even counted as they are ripening in our greedy anticipation.  This year, for the first time ever, there were enough to make jam and to make this dish several times over which, considering 6 apricots has been the best amount in previous years, is a real joy.

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Apricots ripening

I must admit that when I planted them I had visions of biting into sun-warmed apricots and having the intense apricot-y juices explode in my mouth (even dribble down my chin so juicy would they be) but sadly this is not the case.  I don’t know whether I’ve chosen the wrong varieties or whether the Suffolk sun isn’t up to the job, but sadly my apricots, though flavoursome, don’t seem to go soft and juicy.

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Thinking about poached peaches (a favourite recipe from Raymond Blanc) which really helps unripe – and therefore non juicy – peaches I decided to try the same with my apricots.  As luck would have it there was a moscato (Mrs Wigley is a truly wonderful name which makes me giggle, but you could use any sweetish wine, pink or white, sparkling or still)  on special offer, 50% off, so I decided to give it a go.

I am so glad I did.  The apricots were completely transformed into soft, juicy and full of flavour.  The finished dish uses only four ingredients and is so versatile.  It’s even vegan if you make sure you choose a vegan wine.  Using baking paper made into a cartouche (easy two stage instruction at end of post) rather than a lid allows the fruit to stay submerged and juicy.  My favourite way to serve these apricots is with madeleines warm from the oven (inspired by another food hero of mine, Rick Stein, but that maybe a stage too far) or its wonderful with vanilla ice-cream – or both!

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September Garden Curry

I am quite a keen gardener and I like to use as much of the veggies I grow as I can.  I read about saagu (a curry from the west coast of India) which uses whatever veggies are available and got inspired.   The original uses a mildly spiced coconut sauce which I’ve adapted to use some of the glut of tomatoes I have at the moment.

I have to be honest and say this isn’t the prettiest curry to photograph,  but it is absolutely delicious,  and any leftovers are wonderful in a lunchbox the next day.  It works well served with rice or breads – chapatis are particularly good.  I also love it with a pickle on the side.  The Spiced Runner Bean Piccalilli goes really well, but as I love this particular pickle I’d eat it with everything I could,  so do try others!

Obviously vary the veg to what you have available – the potatoes for cubes of squash, sweet potato or beetroot for example, the chard could be swapped for spinach (or omit entirely), the beans for frozen peas or sprouting broccoli etc etc.  The Joy is that as long as you have the spices to hand you can make this to suit you and your garden/larder.  It is cooked in 40 mins and just happens to be vegan.  You certainly get your 5 a day with this recipe! Continue reading

Blackberry and Merlot Sorbet

When anyone talks about blackberries I always think back to when I was eleven and was allowed to go on my bike with my best friend, Kirsty Kay, to go blackberrying.   I was so proud as this was my reward for passing my cycling proficiency test. I felt so grown up!  From then on, right up until I was 17, the last week of the school summer holidays was always bookmarked for me by picking blackberries.  My poor mother couldn’t keep up with my collecting abilities so there were endless jars of blackberry jam in the cupboard and bags of frozen fruit in the freezer.   Sadly, I was never very fond of the taste of blackberries themselves so I didn’t help in the eating of them – I think she had to give lots away!

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This recipe was one that helped changed my mind about blackberries.  It is a very grown up and sophisticated sorbet that is simply amazing to eat.   Perfect for the last days of summer which can often be hot and humid and you want something sweet but not heavy to round off your meal.  I always imagine eating it outside on a summers evening for some reason. Continue reading

Rhubarb Gin

We all need cheering up on a Monday and the thought of making Rhubarb Gin to drink at the weekend (ok Sunday) does just that for me!  Ridiculously pink and tasting fresh and springlike this makes for a fabulously different  gin and tonic or a twist on a spritz when topped with Prosecco (or soda water if you are feeling more virtuous or have to drive).  My favourite way to use it though is in a rhubarb martini.   I mix equal parts of the rhubarb gin and juices from roasted rhubarb (see TIPS below) and serve it over ice sharpened with a little lemon juice to taste – I use a good squeeze per glass.  I then eat the roasted rhubarb the next day with yoghurt and granola.  So really you can argue that making rhubarb gin is an essential part of your healthy eating regime! But should you prefer not to roast rhubarb or want to make a few rhubarb martinis you can use the rhubarb syrup recipe (again see TIPS below) as a substitute, again using lemon juice when mixing to taste.

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Beef Bhuna

I think that smell has more power than any other of the senses to bring back memories.  The spicy sweet smells of this bhuna are my own personal time capsule back to a time when I was at college and living in a London bedsit.   Lilly, who lived in one of the bedsits below me, used to make bhuna weekly.  I’d not smelt anything at all like it.  I think it is the fenugreek seeds in the bhuna that gives it that beguiling maple syrup curried smell.  Give  this curry a go and let me know what you think it smells of and to create memories of your own.  I think that it’s a special dish.

To start this curry off you toast the spices and then grind them to a coarse powder in either a pestle and mortar or a grinder (in my case a repurposed coffee grinder that I keep especially for this – unless you like curry spiced coffee!)

You don’t have to make this curry with beef.  Chicken, lamb, butternut squash (or any robust vegetable) all work instead   Traditionally it’s quite a dry curry that majors on tomatoes, ginger and garlic but I like to add extra tomatoes so it’s slightly more liquid as that way you don’t have to watch it so much in the final cooking   It’s in that last cooking that the flavour develops so leave the final seasoning right to the end.  I add some yoghurt or Creme fraiche at this stage too which is totally my own take – I find it balances the flavours out to my personal taste but please add or not depending on your taste. Continue reading

Banana Pancakes

Very soft and fluffy and with the banana taste rounding them out rather than whacking you in the face, these banana pancakes were a great hit for Sunday breakfast this weekend.  They would be a great alternative for pancake day if you aren’t confident about making (and flipping) the traditional sort that you serve with sugar and lemon.  I have to admit that I am guilty of panicking when it comes to traditional pancakes and always make them in advance in case of on the spot disasters.  But these banana pancakes – no problem!

Pancakes and Maple Syrup

I wasn’t sure that I’d like banana pancakes as I am not a great cooked banana fan though I am a recent convert to Banana and Chocolate Chip Loaf but I like these rather a lot.  You can make them vegan (see recipe below) without any problems so that’s brilliant news if you have people with different dietary needs in your house.  I am firmly of the opinion food should bring us together and not drive us apart.  But hey, we are talking about pancakes here so i will keep this light!

If you want to vary this recipe try adding in some chocolate chips or blueberries to the batter, or add some spices – a half teaspoon of cinnamon, cardamom or ginger would be great here. As for the toppings though I love maple syrup, try golden syrup, peanut butter, almond butter, or your favorite fresh fruit all of which would also make yummy toppings

A quick thank you here to my lovely friend Hannah Colville who gave me a masterclass at the beginning of the year in how to make American Pancakes of which these are a type of.  She is an amazing baker and still in her early teens.   Thank you Hannah!

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Italian Salad with Olives, Parmesan and Basil

I make this salad a lot.  The basil, parmesan  and olives infuse into the balsamic and olive oil in a way that brings everything alive, and every mouthful you take gives different little flavour explosions depending on how much of which ingredient you have scooped up on your fork.  It’s brilliant with so many things such as the Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb with Potatoes, Thyme and Garlic in my last post but also alongside any simply cooked main such as steak (cauliflower steak included), chicken, fish, pies etc etc.  I even love it alongside a bolognese, vegan or otherwise.   Actually, if I am honest, I just like this salad – a lot!  I think it’s all those Unami flavours. Continue reading

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb with Potatoes, Thyme and Garlic

I love a roast on a Sunday.  I love a long dog walk on a Sunday.   Or catching up on all the things I’d promised myself I would do during the week – like pottering in the garden or reading the Sunday newspapers with a large cup of coffee.   Unfortunately producing a roast and doing any of these things usually doesn’t make for a relaxing day.  Enter the solution – Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb.  Particularly appropriate this St David’s Day weekend but delicious any time.   The lamb sits on a layer of garlicky potatoes and onions (though you could substitute thickly sliced leeks if you want to go all out for the Welsh theme) which absorb all the lambs cooking juice and fill the house with the most amazing appetising smells. It cooks for 4-5 hours leaving you plenty of time to do other things (see all of the above) whilst it gently cooks in your oven.   It’s a dish that looks after itself, is flexible if your walk takes an hour longer than you thought (or you diverted by the pub) and any leftovers can be turned into dishes for the week ahead – for example Monday Pie.  The meat ends up so soft when it finishes cooking you can pull the bones out with your hands!  It’s practically the lamb equivalent of pulled pork!

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Blood Orange Tart

I hosted a lunch recently and whilst I made the main course of Torn Vegetable Lasagne my friend Catherine made and brought along an absolutely delicious Bitter Orange Tart over which she drizzled honey to serve.   Yum!  I believe she used a Nigella recipe if you want to try.

Those of you who are regular readers know that I have a bit of an obsession with blood oranges and so I wanted to adapt the basic idea to use those.  My first attempt tasted delicious but had a few issues in so far as I couldn’t get it to come off the base of my tin without collapsing and the filling was a bit runny but with a few tweaks I have managed to improve and overcome those issues! The result is a beautiful sunny looking tart that has just the right balance of tang and sweet.   It can be made 24hrs in advance if easier.

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