Cabbage, courgette and hazelnut speedy pasta

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

There are plenty of reasons you might not have the time to spend cooking a big meal – if you work full-time, have a to-do list the length of your leg or you’re just too busy to take an hour or two out to cook a meal. Usually we can resort to shortcuts but eventually this can lead to just taking out pizza, or a ready-meal and not really getting the healthy benefit out of what you’re eating.

Today has definitely been one of those days. I recently had an operation but I still wanted to work from home as there’s just so much I’d need to do when I returned to work – whilst working at home might sound relaxing it can be anything but when you’ve got an inbox full of urgent tasks. I can only afford 20 minutes for lunch including cooking time, so I needed to make something fast, filling, healthy and from scratch.

Cue the fridge forage: capsicum, courgettes, carrots, cabbage, lemons, okra, cream… I find that nuts and greens are quite good companions, so I thought I’d give a cabbage pasta a try!

For this incredibly speedy lunch or supper you’ll need:

¼ cabbage, finely sliced

½ lemon, juice only

½ courgette, thinly sliced into rounds

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red chilli, sliced

200g rigatoni pasta

25ml single cream

25g roasted hazelnuts, chopped (you can get these from baking ingredients in most supermarkets)


Pour boiling water into a big pan, bring to simmering and then salt and put in a dash of olive oil. Add in your rigatoni and put on the timer for 13-14 minutes. In a separate pan, add olive oil and heat on medium. Add in your sliced onions and start to caramelise for about 3-4 minutes. Then  add in your courgette and crush in the three garlic cloves. Keep on a low heat for this time and keep stirring so that the vegetables can start to caramelise, for about a further 4-5 minutes.

At this point, add the thinly sliced cabbage to your pasta water and boil for the remaining 3-4 minutes left on the timer. Going back to your vegetables, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and raise the heat very slightly, it should sizzle and start to smell lovely and citrusy. Let the lemon juice reduce down and coat all the vegetables, then add in your sliced red chillies and chopped roasted hazelnuts and stir through. the hazelnut oils should start to release slowly.

Drain your pasta and cabbage, put back into the pan and transfer the vegetables to the pasta and cabbage pan. Mix through, pour over the cream, season with salt and pepper and mix well. It’s ready to serve in under 20 minutes!

This was a lovely fresh and creamy pasta which was light enough to enjoy for lunch but can be made a bit more substantial with a bit of grated parmesan if you prefer, or the addition of some garlicky breadcrumbs.

Kahlúa coffee cake with crushed praline topping

March 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

Coffee cake: that brilliantly comforting and sweet cake that combines your favourite morning beverage and foodstuff in one. Strangely enough, in America a coffee cake doesn’t usually have any coffee in it at all! It’s intended to be eaten with coffee, or in some even stranger circumstances just a cake meant to be eaten on a coffee table. This coffee cake has a beautiful blend of coffee and Kahlúa to accentuate the coffee flavour. I’m not a huge fan of drinking coffee anymore (especially since the first year of university when I was essentially on a coffee drip) but this cake certainly tempts me to try it again…

Kahlúa is a gorgeous creation. A good friend of mine brought this bottle over for my Mexican housewarming a while back and I didn’t get a chance to try it at the party so what better way to introduce myself to it than through cake? Kahlúa is a Mexican coffee-flavoured and vodka-based liqueur that contains corn syrup, sugar and vanilla bean for a slightly sweeter class of cocktail.

Remember the hazelnut and pecan nut praline we made yesterday? Well this features quite nicely in this recipe too!

For the cake mix you’ll need:

  • 300g unsalted butter and extra to grease the cake tins (I used French President butter)
  • 285g golden caster sugar + 15g vanilla caster sugar (or just 300g of any caster sugar, I just added in vanilla sugar as I ran out of the former!)
  • 5 medium eggs
  • 300g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 level tsp of baking powder
  • 3 tbsp strong black coffee, cold
  • 1 tbsp Kahlúa
  • splash of milk, if needed

Begin by preheating your oven to 180ºC and grease two 23cm springform cake tins with plenty of butter. Place the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and then beat together until pale in colour.

Beat the eggs in one at a time and mix well to make sure the batter is of an even consistency.

Then fold in the sifted flour and baking powder. I tend to do this in thirds to make it easier to combine and so you don’t end up with little flour pockets which haven’t been mixed in.

Stir in the cooled coffee and Kahlúa into the batter and mix well. If the batter is too thick, add in a splash of milk – semi-skimmed will do but whole milk is generally better.

Divide the mixture between the two greased cake tins and level on top. It will look like the batter is really shallow in the tin but this will rise with the self-raising flour and baking powder’s help. Bake this for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Cool these on a wire rack after they’re out of the oven. I tend to cool them upside down on the rack to flatten the top a little.

To make the icing you’ll need:

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp strong black coffee, cold
  • 1 tbsp Kahlúa

Beat the butter and the icing sugar together until pale and fluffy and then beat in the coffee and the Kahlúa.

Then, once the cakes are cooled, turn them the right side up again and smooth the icing over the tops using a palette knife. Sprinkle over the crushed praline on both cakes and then cut into squares or slices, however you prefer.

Hazelnut and pecan nut praline

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Baking a cake for someone is one of the most enjoyable ways to give a gift. You don’t have to spend hours in busy, congested streets going from shop to shop looking for the perfect candidate because you can prepare in advance! Plus, baking is such a personal gift to give as it’s something homemade, thoughtful and full of effort.

I got a strong hint that coffee cake was a firm favourite on this occasion, so I decided to add my little twist as usual. The coffee cake recipe will follow tomorrow, but the preparation in advance rings true here as I’d prefer to not be confined to the kitchen the whole day!

Praline is a beautiful invention; sprinkled over ice cream, melted chocolate pots, tarts, even buttered toast for a decadent breakfast. Praline can take many forms, from the simple concoction of caramelised sugar and nuts to the more luxurious Belgian pralines that bring together the creamy and nutty sensations we all love.

When crushed praline is mixed up with chocolate it forms what the French call praliné but praline isn’t simply a Belgian or French invention. You find nuts and sugar syrup under various names such as brittle in the US and chikki in Indian confectionary where palm sugar or jaggery is used rather than caster sugar.

For our purposes today the praline I’ve made is incredibly simple but has a lovely mix of nutty flavours. You’ll need the following:

  • 120g fine sugar (I used a mix of caster sugar and golden caster sugar but you can use either)
  • 150g pecan halves and hazelnuts
  • vegetable oil to oil the baking tray and utensils

To make the praline, put the sugar and a dash of cold water into a non-stick frying pan over a high heat and don’t stir it. It’ll soon become a light caramel colour. You can probably swirl it around the pan once or twice but I wouldn’t suggest putting any spoons in unless you want them coated in caramel.

Once it turns that lovely golden brown you should add in the nuts and stir well to coat in caramel. Pour this out onto either an oiled baking tray or as I did onto my new silicone mat. Using an oiled spoon, set eight of the whole praline pieces aside onto an oiled plate.

It should take around 15 minutes for the caramel to cool on the silicone mat/baking tray. Once it is cooled and set, break it into smaller chunks and place everything into a food processor to blitz into rough crumbs.

This recipe will yield a small amount of praline for you to sprinkle over desserts, but it won’t last long!

Gourmet vegetarian night

March 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Having been rather rushed off my feet with work, jetting off to the Caribbean and various birthdays, I decided to host a meal at mine to get an excuse to finally take some photos. I recently acquired a delightful book by Denis Cotter called for the love of food which has some of the most beautiful recipes in it that I’ve ever set eyes on. I decided to surrender to Denis’ clearly superior culinary talent and create some of his excellent dishes for my gourmet vegetarian night.

The menu for the evening consisted of a modification of Denis’ fingerling and watercress potato salad, the watercress, lemon and pine nut risotto with a red pepper broth, and finally my version of a Venetian carrot cake, with orange.

Potato salad: usually a side dish accompanying the main course, this is one of the best known salads up there with Caesar salad and Greek salad. In it’s most basic form, you just have boiled potatoes with a variety of dressings ranging from vinegar to mayonnaise and herbs. Our potato salad included a nice balance of peppery flavours from watercress and rocket, as well as a little sweetness from spring onions and baby spinach. Finished off with walnuts and a light lemon dressing, this can be served as an accompaniment or as party food depending on what you’d like to serve it with.

For this particular adaptation I used:

  • 1kg new potatoes, washed and unpeeled
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 125g watercress, rocket and spinach prepared salad, coarsely chopped (you can get this from most supermarkets)
  • 50g walnut halves, coarsely chopped
  • a good glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from ½ a lemon and zest if you feel like it

Start of by putting a kettle of water on to boil, you’ll need a large pan to boil the potatoes in. After you’ve washed and scrubbed your potatoes, cut any larger new potatoes into half some that they’re all around 2 inches in size. Once the water comes to a boil, salt it and add a little olive oil for flavour, then chuck in your potatoes to boil for 13-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up your spring onions and put them into a fairly large serving bowl. Roughly chop up your salad leaves and add them in too. You’ll then want to chop up your walnuts into rough pieces, but not too big – put these in with the spring onions and salad leaves and mix well.

Once your potatoes are done, drain them and rinse under a cool tap to make them cool enough to handle. You then want to cut them up into slices just over 1cm thick, adding them to the salad bowl as you go. Season this well with fine sea salt and pepper.

You add a good glug of extra virgin olive oil at this point and if using, the zest of ½ a lemon. Squeeze over the juice of said lemon half and mix everything gently. Taste and season again if you need to.

Risotto seems to have generated quite a bit of confusion amongst people, as well as a reputation for being a fairly finicky dish to create. It’s actually really simple to make a lovely risotto with clean and fresh flavours if you don’t think about it too much. The most basic risottos are made with butter, risotto rice, stock  and usually wine (although I’ve omitted the wine as we had some non-drinkers coming along). Sometimes this is added to with one or a few ingredients, some hard cheese and perhaps more butter, but that’s up to you really – risotto recipes aren’t hard and fast in their written form so feel free to play around with what you put into them.

Denis’ risotto recipe feeds four, and combines wondefully zesty and refreshing flavours in the risotto with a lovely intense red pepper broth. Whilst he recommends straining the broth to get rid of the vegetables, I like to keep them in, not only to add to the texture of the risotto, but also to keep all those lovely flavours and vitamins retained in the vegetables.

For the broth you’ll need:

  • 2 roasted red peppers
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, thickly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 6-8 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
  • 2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small bunch of fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  • 300ml vegetable stock

If you don’t have ready-roasted peppers at hand (I used some delicious antipasto ones out of a jar), just roast the red peppers over a flame, in the oven or under a grill until the skin in blackened. Put the blackened peppers into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave for 20 minutes to allow the skins to loosen. Then peel away the skin, stalk and seeds, chopping the flesh coarsely to use in the next step.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a high heat, adding the onions and frying them for about 3-4 minutes. Add in the garlic, roasted peppers, halved cherry tomatoes, chillies and torn basil leaves, letting everything infuse and cook for about 10-12 minutes stirring often. Then add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and see if you need to season with salt and pepper.

If you want a smooth broth, push the cooked vegetables through a sieve and save the liquid, transferring it to a smaller pan to simmer and reduce. Keep this warm until the risotto is done.

Then we start making the risotto. You’ll need:

  • a large knob of butter
  • either 3 garlic cloves, sliced, or 2tsp ready-pureed garlic
  • 275g Arborio risotto rice
  • 900ml vegetable stock
  • 125ml dry white wine (optional)
  • 100g watercress, rocket and baby spinach prepared salad
  • 60g pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 60g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a wide, heavy-based pan over a medium heat and fry the rice and garlic for 7-8 minutes, stirring often. At this stage you can add the wine and simmer until it has been absorbed, or go straight to adding a ladleful of hot stock and stir until absorb. Keep repeating for about 20 minutes until the rice is just about tender and the stock has been poured in. There should be a little liquid still remaining to be absorbed.

Stir in the salad leaves, toasted pine nuts, spring onions, lemon zest and juice, then grate over the Parmesan cheese. Mix everything well, then season with the sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Serve the risotto in shallow bowls, with the broth either poured over the risotto, or around each portion.

Finally, we come to dessert. A Venetian carrot and orange cake that’s not only dairy-free, but also gluten-free! Nigella’s version of this uses lemon zest, lemon juice, sultanas and rum, but I’ve opted for something a little more vibrant with orange zest and oranges combining with the carrots to give you a delightful orange explosion of taste.

You’ll need:

  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 125ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 250g ground almonds
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
  • ½ navel orange, finely grated zest and juice

Start off by preheating the oven to 180ºC and lining a 23cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Grate the carrots in a food processor, or by hand. If you do this in the food processor you should wrap up the grated carrot in a double layer of kitchen towel and leave aside to absorb the excess juices so that your cake doesn’t get too soggy.

Cream together the caster sugar and olive oil in a large mixing bowl, then whisk in the vanilla extract and eggs one by one until all have been well-combined.

Fold in the ground almonds, nutmed, grated carrots and finally the orange zest and juice.

Then you should transfer this to the lined cake tin. It will be fairly shallow in the tin as this is a fairly dense cake. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the cake and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the cake tin.

I do have to say this cake was incredibly successful – we ate almost all of it up with a drizzle of cream over each portion. This was all that was left in the morning!

Elderflower cupcakes

November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have a confession to make. It’s been over 6 months since I last made a batch of cupcakes. I’ve written pages and pages of recipes that I will one day attempt and if successful, post up on here, but I didn’t actually go ahead and bake… until now. I’ve had a fascination with cordials for a while now and one trip down to the supermarket resulted in my return with an almost broken back and four different varieties of cordial to try out. The first of these was elderflower cordial by Bottle Green.

The fascinating thing about elder trees and elderberry bushes is the vast amount of folklore that surrounds them. In some areas, the “elder tree” was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, while other beliefs say that witches often congregate under the plant, especially when it is full of fruit. If an elder tree was cut down, a spirit known as the Elder Mother would be released and take her revenge. The tree could only safely be cut while chanting a rhyme to the Elder Mother. I’m fairly sure the folks at Bottle Green knew that before they made their cordial though…

Elderflower cordial is made from the flowers of the Sambucus nigra plant, whereas all of the other parts of the plant contain a chemical that when ingested in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body! However, the flowers make an excellent cordial which was the principal ingredient for these cupcakes, and they’re definitely not toxic.

Folklore and toxicity aside, elderflower imparts a lovely fruity and almost zesty taste to these cupcakes. Here’s how you can make them:

  • 110g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 50g flakes almonds or ground almonds
  • 4 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 75g self-raising flour

Start off by pre-heating the oven to 180˚C and line your tray with cupcake cases; set this aside until you’re ready to fill them.

If you’re using flaked almonds then you’ll need to grind these up using a food processor. Whilst you can just buy ground almonds in the supermarket, I prefer the freshly ground taste and consistency. You want these to be ground so that they are still fairly coarse, we don’t want to make almond flour.

At this point, in a large mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Add in the ground almonds and 1 tbsp of the elderflower cordial, being careful not to overbeat the mixture.

In a separate bowl, crack in the two eggs and whisk together. Transfer the eggs to the batter, a little at a time, beating them in evenly. Then add the flour in two parts, and quickly fold in with a metal spoon or spatula.

Divide the mixture between the cases and bake for about 15-20 minutes in the centre of the oven, until pale golden.

Pierce each hot cake a few times with a fork and drizzle the remaining cordial over with a teaspoon; allow to cool in the tin.

As you allow the cakes to absorb all the cordial and cool down, you can start making a little icing to go on top. The icing we’ll make can be used for numerous things, and by no means will be used up covering your cakes, so only make this icing if you’re happy to use it for something else as well, or if the sound of the alternative option at the end of this one tickles your fancy.

For the elderflower cream you’ll need:

  • 200g mascarpone
  • 100 ml double cream
  • 3 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 90g icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar

In a bowl, combine the icing sugar with the cream and elderflower cordial. Don’t overbeat this mixture as you’ll need to add mascarpone to it later on. (You can choose to add it in this step if you want, but this icing mixture just oozes onto the top of the cupcake and stays as a translucent sticky layer of sweetness).

Using a teaspoon or a fork, spread a thin layer of icing on top of your cupcakes (or alternately as I did), and allow to set on top.

If you haven’t already added in the mascarpone, add it in now and mix thoroughly. Put this in the fridge to enjoy later over fresh strawberries and blueberries. A perfect after-dinner treat!

As for your delightful cupcakes, these taste beautifully zesty, with the sweet elderflower cordial making the cake wonderfully moist and spongy. The ground almonds are certainly there too – you get a lovely combination of sweet and nutty with every bite. I think the alternately iced cupcakes have an almost Christmassy feel to them, although the taste definitely sends me back to lazy summer days…

Thyme-infused potato dauphinoise

November 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Although the English word potato comes from Spanish patata, this dish is thoroughly French. Potato dauphinoise was created in the Dauphiné region of France and consists of thinly-sliced potatoes, mixed with milk, cream or creme fraiche, and cheese, garlic and seasoning.

There are numerous tastes that combine beautifully with potatoes, but the best combination I’ve come across is fresh thyme and garlic. This particular dish infuses the dauphinoise cream with fresh thyme which makes it fragrant and flavoursome, especially when simmered with whole garlic cloves.

Potato dauphinoise is a perfect accompaniment for meat, fish or even vegetarian mains, and it certainly gives your meal a touch of elegance that mashed, roasted or plain boiled potatoes just won’t provide.

To make this delightful side dish, you will need:

  • 3 medium-sized jacket potatoes, scrubbed
  • 170 ml double cream
  • 140 ml single cream
  • 275 ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 30g finely grated Gruyère cheese

You’ll need to start off by pre-heating your oven to 180ºC. Once the potatoes have been washed and scrubbed, remove any growths or gnarly bits and then slice thinly using a mandoline. If you don’t have a mandoline, a sharp knife will do just fine but make sure that the slices are fairly even in thickness.

Peel your garlic cloves, and then if you’re like me and prefer to top and tail your cloves, go ahead. It doesn’t make much difference now as you’ll need to trim them later. Set these aside while you prepare the cream infusion. In a large heavy-based pan on a medium heat, melt a knob of butter and then add the cream, milk and garlic cloves. Throw in the sprigs of thyme, bay leaves and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stir well then bring to the boil and immediately reduce to a low to medium heat. Add in the pinch of ground nutmeg, stir and then add in the sliced potato. Coat the potatoes evenly, then let the mixture simmer for 3-4 minutes.

At this point, you can take the potatoes off the heat and start to take them out of the cream mixture using a slotted spoon, into a buttered baking dish. Don’t worry too much about this being neat, you just want to dump it all in – if you really want to impress, you can try to layer the potatoes equally but this method is definitely quicker!

Once all the slices are in, you should have the garlic cloves, bay leaves and thyme sprigs left behind in the cream infusion. If you want the thyme taste to be more prominent, strip the leaves from the sprigs by just pinching the twig and pulling down the stem opposite to the direction of the leaf growth. These should have softened enough in the cream to come off easily. Remove and discard the stems and bay leaves, then lift out the garlic cloves and slice fairly thickly. Scatter the soft garlic slices over the potato and mix carefully in the dish.

At this point you can sprinkle over your grated Gruyère cheese evenly, then season the top with freshly ground black pepper.

Stick this in the oven on the lower shelf for approximately 40-45 minutes, or until thoroughly golden on top.

I served this with a delicious mint and balsamic vinegar-encrusted rack of lamb, and a baby greens salad with cherry tomatoes and a fresh honey and mustard dressing. You can serve with whatever you like!

Ras el-hanout tabbouleh

October 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

After spending the entire Indian summer we’ve had indoors and mostly working, whilst I’ve cooked a-plenty.. to, y’know, survive, I’ve hardly had any time to take photos!

Two years ago, around this time I made a Moroccan feast for my darling sister’s birthday. This year, we carried on the tradition in our new home and had some friends round for some delectable Moroccan treats. Moroccan food brings together some beautifully diverse tastes, such as delicate rose with the warmth and spice of cumin and cinnamon. Ras el-hanout is a perfect example of this marriage of spices as it is used widely in Moroccan food to enhance the flavours of dishes with characteristic flavours associated with the Middle East.

There are a couple of side dishes I’ll include in this recipe, just to make up for the lack of photographic evidence! One was a super spicy yoghurt-harissa dip and the other, roasted carrots with more ras el-hanout. The different balances of flavours really worked for this meal because the spicy nature of the moussaka can be evenly tempered with the cool tabbouleh and sweet carrots.

So for the tabbouleh, you’ll need:

  • 350g bulgar wheat (with 500ml slightly salted boiling water)
  • 8-10 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
  • Half a cucumber
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, sliced
  • 60g fresh parsley
  • Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp ras el-hanout
  • Salt and pepper

You’re going to need a big bowl. Prepare the bulgar wheat according to the instructions on the pack and in the meanwhile finely dice the tomatoes and cucumber. Set aside in the bowl, then slice in the spring onions – I find that it’s easier to do this with kitchen scissors, and actually a lot faster. Grate in the zest of a whole unwaxed lemon; microplane zesters are brilliant for doing this so if you don’t have one yet, go out and get one! Squeeze the lemon for 3 tbsp of lemon juice and then crush two cloves of garlic into the bowl. Chop up the parsley quite roughly and add this in too.

By this time your bulgar wheat should be ready and fluffed up. Transfer the bulgar wheat into the bowl with the ingredients and pour over 8 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Combine well, then sprinkle over 1 tbsp (or a little more to taste) of ras el-hanout. Mix once more. An alternative way to do this last step is to omit the lemon juice and garlic from the last step, then in a separate bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic and ras el-hanout, with seasoning to taste. Drizzle this over the bulgar wheat and combine it all together.

Leave this to cool, as it’s best served at room temperature.


Now I mentioned a couple of accompaniments and side dishes, didn’t I? These went down a treat. Carrots are a brilliant side for any Moroccan meal because they provide another dimension of sweet with savoury. Especially in this dish as we marinade the carrots in fresh tastes, then roast to bring out the sweetness.

You will need:

  • 5-6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into oblique 1-2 inch pieces

For the marinade:

  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp ras el-hanout
  • 30g chopped parsley
  • 30g chopped mint
  • 3 crushed garlic cloves
  • grated zest of ½ lemon

Start off by boiling the carrots in salted water until just soft. Drain them and set aside whilst you make the marinade. Simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl, add the carrots and season with Maldon sea salt and ground black pepper. Mix well, then transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet to roast in a preheated oven (200ºC) for 15 minutes or so.

These can be served warm with the rest of your meal.


Finally, the yoghurt dip – this was a real spicy one! Best to actually do this to taste…

  • half a pot of plain yoghurt, lightly beaten
  • 5-6 tsp harissa
  • small handful of chopped coriander
  • small handful of chopped mint

Mix together the harissa and chopped herbs in a bowl, add yoghurt and combine well. Served with slightly toasted pitta bread cut into wedges.


So that should set you off on your way to a gorgeous Moroccan meal- be sure to break out some good wine. We went with Gewurztraminer 2009 medium-sweet white wine and an Amarone della Valpolicella 2008 medium-bodied red wine.

Apricot, lavender and heather honey shortbread cookies

April 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

Spring is starting to bloom into summer, with golden hazy days and Pimms-drenched afternoons becoming part of the daily routine. As I have most of the day off (a rare occurence), I decided to try out the new heather honey I bought recently. I don’t know if any of you have tried Walker’s Oatflake and heather honey biscuits, but the second I tried these I fell in love. I’ve finally got around to trying to make them with a little twist, as usual.

Using some more of my lovely lavender sugar from Waitrose, and some of my own vanilla sugar that I made last time I used it for strawberry, vanilla and basil ice cream (the recipe for which I’ll put up once I’ve perfected it), I made these shortbread cookies. They may be a little sweet, but they’re perfect for tea.

With the addition of a little chopped apricot, these are the right mix of fruity and sweet, with the herby lavender and heather notes balancing the taste well.

To make these delectable little treats, you will need:

  • 230g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp lavender sugar (mostly flowers if you can pick them out)
  • 2 tbsp vanilla sugar
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp heather honey (large spoonfuls, mind)
  • 50g semi-dried apricots chopped into 5mm cubes

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and lavender sugar in a medium bowl. Set this aside to use in a little while. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, vanilla sugar, icing sugar and heather honey. Cream these together until smooth and then add the chopped apricot.

At this point you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients – the best way to do this is to add the flour one third at a time, mixing well in between. You’ll form a soft dough, which you scoop out onto a floured board or worktop.

Roll this into a log that is roughly 2 inches in diameter, and then wrap up tightly in cling film. Refridgerate the wrapped up dough for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and cut the refridgerated dough into ½ inch cookies. Place onto a parchment-lined baking tray about 2 inches apart and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden around the edges. They’ll be a little soft in the middle when they come out, so either stick them in for another 2 minutes if you want them crispy through, or let them cool completely.

The sea salt forms little salty pockets in the shortbread which work wonderfully with the sweet bites! These are best enjoyed with a hot cup of Earl Grey tea, or drizzled with a little melted white chocolate if you have an even sweeter tooth!

Leftover lamb gnocchi with apricots

April 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Once again, I have to apologise for such a lengthy intermission between posts. I’ve been so bogged down with work, moving house, networking, and travelling that I’ve hardly had any time to pick up a fork let alone a spatula.

However, I really made the effort this Easter. I forgot to take photos, mind, as I’m terribly rubbish like that. I made a rolled leg of lamb roast stuffed with spinach, apricots and pine nuts, served with thyme potato dauphinoise and honey and thyme glazed sticky carrots. It was delicious! But we had a fair amount of roast lamb leftover for the next day which was still really juicy and tender, so we decided to make a leftover’s recipe based on the combination of flavours we’d worked with the night before.

Lamb and apricot are a marriage made in heaven. The idea of combining lamb with the fragrant apricot is very Moroccan and Middle Eastern. Many Middle Eastern dishes, such as tagine, use fruits and spices alongside meat to create a unique complement.

However, the idea of combining them with gnocchi is fairly unusual and probably not one that you’d start off considering. The real beauty of this dish is how all the flavours come together and are just right – no particular ingredient overpowers the other. Although apricots aren’t in season at the moment (May to September is the usual time), dried apricots are the main star of this dish – plus with all the hot weather we’ve been having it almost feels like it’s summer already.

So, some of these are estimations as it’s based on how much we had leftover! But here we go:

  • 500g storebought gnocchi
  • 100-150g fresh baby leaf spinach
  • 6 semi-soft dried apricots, chopped
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • approximately 100-150g roast lamb
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 stems rosemary, finely chopped
  • a few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
  • a splash of cream
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • flaked sea salt and pepper
  • parmesan, for sprinkling

Start off by toasting your pine nuts in a large frying pan – just dry roasted as there is no need for oil. After about 3-4 minutes these will be done and you can remove them to a small bowl while you prepare the sauce. Wash the spinach and put into the frying pan with a knob of butter and the chopped garlic. Let this reduce for about 30 seconds or so before putting in the chopped apricot and pine nuts. Chop up your leftover lamb into bitesize chunks and then add to the sauce.

Stir gently to combine, then add the thyme leaves and chopped rosemary. Season with Maldon sea salt if you have it, otherwise some normal sea salt is really brilliant in this kind of dish. Add some black pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir everything together and turn the heat off.

Hopefully you’ve boiled a kettle of water in preparation, but if not, boil some water and stick it in a saucepan with the gnocchi (make sure you salt the water well). Once the gnocchi rises to the surface of the water it is ready to drain. When you’ve drained the gnocchi, put the sauce mix back on the heat and add a splash of cream. Stir about to combine, then add the drained gnocchi. Combine well, then serve in shallow bowls with grated parmesan over the top.

Rose cupcakes

August 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

It has been an unacceptably long time since I last posted. Life seems to have sped up when I wasn’t paying attention, and sadly, cooking was the first activity to go. I finally stole some time for myself today and made a batch of cupcakes – a pleasure that I have not had in some time.

As we’ve explored before, rose is an excellent ingredient for desserts, main courses and many beverages mainly in the Middle East but also in many parts of Asia. Its delicate taste and scent can transform normal desserts into regal treats. However, capturing the essence of roses is not as simple as using rose petals – the easiest way to cook with rose is to use rosewater or rose essence. Rosewater can even be made at home by steeping fresh rose petals in boiling water for a couple of hours, letting it cool and infuse overnight, then draining off the fragrant water for culinary use. Another method is to dry out rose petals and grind them into a coarse powder, which can then by used to flavour sauces and as a decorative addition to desserts.

We’ve used flowers in cupcakes before (lavender and chamomile cupcakes) with beautifully fragrant results, so I tried out rose for good measure and was not disappointed. These cupcakes are lovely and moist, but distinctly scented and have a delicate taste that would be an excellent accompaniment for afternoon tea.

To make 15 domed cupcakes you’ll need:

  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • ¾ tsp rose essence
  • 1 tbsp dried, crushed rose
  • 1 tbsp milk (optional)

Start off by preheating your oven to 180°C and line your cupcake tray with cases. Then cream together the butter and the sugar until they are pale.

Then add the eggs one at a time, beating each one thoroughly through the mixture before adding the next. You should have a smooth mixture forming at this point, but don’t worry if you have a few buttery lumps as they’ll smoothen out soon enough. After you’ve added all the eggs and beaten them evenly, add the vanilla essence and the rose essence and mix well.

At this point I measured out the self-raising flour and added it to the mixture in thirds, so that I could combine the mixture well. You can either do it this way, or add the whole lot in one go. Additionally, you could add the baking powder to the flour beforehand, or add it to the mixture afterwards.

Now add the dried rose and fold the mixture together gently, until combined.

If the mixture isn’t of a dropping consistency at this point, you can add1 tbsp of milk to loosen it a little. Then comes the fun part! Spoon out the mixture evenly into the cupcake cases – you will find that the batter leaves about 1 cm space at the top of each cupcake case. Then place the tray in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a skewer in the middle of the cupcake comes out clean.

Stand the cupcakes for about 5 minutes and then you can either enjoy them by themselves or with a freshly brewed cup of tea. If you’re feeling especially indulgent, enjoy them while they’re still slightly warm with a good helping of clotted cream.