Spiced Parsnip Soup

On a raw February day when the wind is like an absolute knife cutting through you with bitter cold, lunch cries out for soup.  Have it in a mug and warm your hands as well or, show it off in a beautiful bowl!  The blue bowl here just set off the golden turmeric colour of this parsnip soup perfectly though its delicious taste would be the same whatever you served it in!  Parsnips somehow manage to be sweet yet earthy and this soup with its spicing makes them (and me!) sing.

This is a simple soup to make and uses a mild curry powder though you could always blend your own if you wanted to experiment.  A good basic blend is to use equal quantities of ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek with as much or as little chill powder as you like.   Have fun experimenting by varying the proportions or adding a favourite spice – I promise that the parsnip can take it. Continue reading

Beef, Red Wine and Mushroom Casserole

I don’t know about you but these grey February days which are often wet and blustery to boot, make me want to huddle down.   I long for warming comfort food that makes little demand on my time and is waiting for me, filling the kitchen with delicious smells when I come back in from the cold.  Whether you call this recipe a casserole or a stew I will leave up to you.  My Mum always called it a casserole and I still make it in her old Le Creuset casserole that’s decades old!

But don’t let the intricacies of the name cause you any pause because it can also can be used as the base for so many different dishes when cooked.  To get you started try spooning some of it into a deep pie dish and, when the filling is cold top it with puff pastry or mashed potato and pop it back in the oven for a pie.   If you take the lid off the casserole for the last hour it will reduce slowly and then you can use it as you would a ragu (I like to shred the meat a little at this point) to accompany tagliatelle.  My favourite way is to add large 2cm cubes of celariac and/or potato for the last hour and serve it in a bowl with a hunk of bread on the side. Continue reading

Chunky Moroccan Vegetable Soup

I seem to have developed a bit of a yearning for clean flavours in 2020.  In particular I’ve gone from despising preserved lemons to having a bit of a “moment” with them!  Maybe unusually this soup makes use of them to great effect combining them with tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, chilli and a little cinnamon.  It brings the sunshine of North Africa to what is turning out to be rather a wet and grey January in the UK.

Morrocan Market

The other good news for those who are trying to see off the extra pounds that Christmas invariably means is this soup is actually quite low in calories as well as being a real comfort food.  Add a little less liquid and you could eat it as a stew so it’s quite versatile too.  Make a batch and use extras to have as lunch during the week and bring warmth to January. Continue reading

Roast Squash and Chickpeas with Spicy Apricot Sauce

Surprise – I got new cookery books for Christmas! As usual this means I read through the recipes excitedly and have to cook something straight away.  Being that it’s January I dived into Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls book “More Veg” first and decided to cook this vegan dish.  Tbh I might have been a bit influenced by my friend Mags (whose an amazing cook and recommended this) but I am so glad I went with it as it’s delicious.  

The recipe itself is straightforward.   It roasts the squash, adding the chickpeas for a final 10 mins at the end, and serves them with the spicy fruity sauce!    Needless to say I like to adapt things slightly (to suit my taste) so I have cut down on the preserved lemons and upped the apricots in the sauce.  Although I used butternut squash this time I can see it would work swapping the squash out for aubergines, pumpkin, courgettes or even fennel (adjusting cooking times if needs be) and of course you can use any other canned bean you fancied or had in the cupboard.

If you want to get ahead roast the squash and make the sauce up to the end of stage 7.   This will then keep for a couple of days.   Do remember if you do choose the get ahead option to add a little extra heating time in the following stages

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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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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

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