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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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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Pistachio and Chocolate Macaroons

Dense and chewy, squidgy and packed with flavour these British style macaroons are very different to the light and crispy French equivalent. There is an added twist too as the middle of this macaroon contains a surprise of dark chocolate – oozing out if eaten warm from the oven but equally delicious at room temperature.  I used Pump Street Bakery’s 70% Grenada Chocolate.

I’ve made the macaroons with pistachios and almonds rather than the usual coconut to be a bit different – and don’t forget these treats are gluten free.  If you prefer you can replace pistachios with hazelnuts or any nut you fancy.  The macaroons are easily made vegan by substituting the egg with a ground flax-seed and water mix (for details see tip at end of recipe) and making sure you use vegan chocolate which most dark chocolate is!

Now for confession time, that is that these macaroons are ridiculously easy and quick to make.  Ten minutes to assemble and about ten minutes to cook.   So if you get a real craving for something sweet with your tea or coffee (they are an absolute dream with an espresso) or a friend announces they are popping round unexpectedly,  this is the recipe to reach for! Continue reading

Spicy Tomato and Lentil Soup with Roasted Chickpeas

It seems like everyone is going down with colds just recently so I wanted to share with you a soup that is great for helping you/them get better!   An alternative to the classic chicken broth that traditionally is the cure-all for so many people.

I have to admit that I make this Spicy Tomato and Lentil Soup because it is delicious but sometimes when I am feeling a bit sniffly I like knowing that It contains lots of herbs and spices that are held to help fight off symptoms of a cold or the flu.  I can of course, make no substantiated claims to this soup being a magic cure for colds and flu, but it always helps me feel as though I am doing something positive which is no bad thing and at least there is no eye of newt or tongue of toad needed in this caldron/saucepan to make this potion/soup!   It does, however, contain:

  • ginger as an highly effective against nausea, a powerful anti-inflammatory, great for treating indigestion and for fighting infection.
  • garlic which is renowned for its cold and flu fighting properties. It has anti bacterial  properties
  • chilli is very high in vitamin C. Capsaicin is the wonder property here and is reported to have anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties
  • cumin Is held to increase antioxidant intake and promote digestion
  • ground coriander reportedly has anti inflammatory and anti bacterial properties as well as aiding digestion
  • turmeric’s active ingredients is curcumin which is said to be anti-inflammatory and to increase anti-oxidant capacity. Black pepper increases the absorption of curcumin by something like 2000% – so always have pepper with turmeric.

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