Project Food Blog

Sunday Lunch for 30

Last Sunday we had friends over for food and drinks... we started at 1pm and finished about 1am the following morning... well done to all our friends... such stamina!!
As mentioned in my Winter Wedding post, I had already decided on a similar buffet to the reception, minus the Swan Ice Sculpture!

We had 2x  1.5 kilo joints of Roast Pork and Crackling.... I had defrosted them the night before but NOT left them long enough to dry the skin,which is the key to successful crackling..... So I borrowed my daughter's Christmas Hairdryer and my top tip now for the BEST crackling is to dry out the scored skin with a hair dryer on a low heat... the skin becomes lighter in colour once the moisture has gone. I'm told by one of my friends, Mark, who is a chef at Williams F1 Head Quarters... that the pork was perfect... high praise indeed!
We also had freshly baked bread buns, home made Apple Sauce with lots of Brandy in it, loads of different cheeses and  pâtés, an assortment of oatcakes and crackers, pickles, friends' homemade chutneys, fruit, Christmas cake, and of course the ubiquitous (at least for us) Mulled Wine Trifles (again!! ) Mark had 3 ... need I say more! I'm sure that you could do a similar Summer version with sparkling white or rosé wine, and something like cassis or elderflower cordial. I know we will all enjoy the research! Let us know if you already have a recipe!

Cook's Nips and Plumbing Tips

A very Happy Christmas to everyone! Our day started very leisurely, I had everything under control despite the sciatica, until I heard a tirade of expletives emitting  from my husband, as he'd decided to pop upstairs and do a quick bit of floorboard nailing before present opening. I'd just put the turkey in the oven, and was intending to sit down for half an hour, open the rest of our cards and have myself a sneaky glass of sherry..... but no.... instead my beloved had in his own words, 'ruined Christmas...'

Oh dear, I thought to myself, as I hobbled upstairs to see a recreation of the Little Dutch Boy with his finger in the Dyke before my very eyes.... when you put a nail through a hot water pipe it does spurt rather!
My eldest chewed up chewing gum which we stuck in the hole temporarily until we could find a more lasting solution. The in laws had also just called to say they were nearly with us....
Luckily, because of my current decrepitude, I'd kept Christmas dinner elegant, luxurious but above all... simple! I had all the water I needed already in pans, and all I really needed to do was assemble the Seafood Platter.... so while Matt battled away upstairs... I'm not ashamed to say that I still made time for my sneaky nip of sherry before everyone arrived.

We ate....

Seafood Platter of Smoked Salmon, King Prawns and Lobster (already cooked by the fantastic people at The Fish Society, they have an excellent reputation and an ethical approach to their business.)

This was served with freshly baked bread and Quick Hollandaise Sauce (Prepared ahead of time.)

Organic Turkey Crown from our Lithuanian friends (I did this for my 40th... I know it's a bit of a cheat but so easy, the meat is so moist and you don't have days of left overs.)
Home Made Cranberry Sauce
Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts
Roasted Root Vegetables
Roasted Parsnips with Parmesan
Cauliflower Cheese made with Very Easy Cheese Sauce
Roast Potatoes
Pigs in Blankets
Extra Tasty Gravy
Chestnut and Cranberry Stuffing
Steamed Asparagus

Mulled Wine Trifle (The highlight of the dinner for me!)
Christmas Pudding with my Grandma's recipe for Cumberland Rum Butter

PS The rubber that was jubilee clipped over the hole has held fast til we get a plumber sorted, and Christmas Dinner in my opinion was perfect! Hope yours was too!

Pot Luck Supper

I'm having dinner with a group of amazing women that I met on a leadership course back in January. We are all from different backgrounds, professions and lifestages, but all bonded really well, and continue to see and support each other.

It is our Christmas lunch this week and Ana has decided to host the event (good thinking, she is very pregnant!). As she is a native New Yorker, she came up with the idea of a pot luck supper. We are all going to bring one dish each and between us compile a feast. Here are the ideas so far:

Smoked salmon appetisers and a crisp white wine

Warm winter salad of rocket, avocado, bacon and toasted almonds

Rhubarb and Cardamom Fool

Cheeseboard and Port.

As you can see, we are missing a main course option here. Any suggestions gratefully received!

Winter Wedding

We were invited to a very glamourous and contemporary wedding reception last night, and even though I was unable to hit the dance floor (a great disappointment let me tell you) I still managed to have a grand time.The venue was absolutely gorgeous, set deep in the heart of The Cotswolds in a village called Lower Slaughter. It was on old country house called Washbourne Court, a former Eton school crammer, complete with olde worlde Cotwold charm on the outside, and a modern and stylish interior. There were roaring fires, unexpected little inglenooks to sit and chat,  and even cute little cottages for the guests to stay in.

Clearly where food is concerned, I am always on the hunt for inspiration, and was excited when they declared the buffet open. The attention to detail was superb, simple but extremely well presented and well executed.And again another idea I shall be using over Christmas as I hobble around!

We had Roast Pork and Crackling, apple sauce, home baked bread rolls and a huge assortment of cheeses, pickles, grapes and crackers, followed by gorgeous chocolate wedding cake. Delicious!


When you think you are sorted, you have done the shopping, worked out the menus, invited the people... the unexpected sometimes happens!
Just my luck to be struck down with a disc prolapse in my spine (it's agony I tell you!) and be looking forward to a Christmas of entertaining and of course cooking....

(And why do conditions like Lumbago and Sciatica sound vaguely reminiscent of things we consumed in the school canteen? ... this is not a comedy ailment!)

Shall we cancel, my husband asks anxiously....

Hell No!

Keep reading to find out how I manage to produce festive meals for friends and family with minimal effort.

Any tips anyone...?

Good Times!

We went to a fabulous gathering yesterday. It was everything a catered for party should be. Simple, and seemingly effortless, although I'm sure behind the scenes there was a lot of careful orchestration and organisation!
The canapes were delicious and kept appearing at just the right moment, the wine flowed at just the right rate, and the actual food to keep us all going later on in the evening was easy to eat, delicious and again arrived at just the right time.
There were 30 guests in all, and we ate beautifully presented smoked salmon and dill blinis, lamb koftas with mint dip, risotto balls with chili dipping sauce, red onion tartlets, miniature raspberry cheesecakes, and strawberry shortcakes with cream. There was also what I term fork food for later... (you can balance the plate on your knee or hold in one hand and eat with just a fork..)  which was equally delicious. Chicken and leek pie in a white wine sauce, lentil and butternut squash pie with mashed potato, and a really tasty shepherd's pie. All served with tiny new potatoes, carrots and green beans....
Later on still there was a delicious cheese board, coffee, tiny mince pies and delicious little marzipan topped fruit cakes.

Having experienced how simply and yet how perfectly Sunday's party was, I shall be committing the variety and quantities of food to memory, for future reference!

Well done to Jean for hosting such a fabulous soiree, and thanks to Encore, the caterers for making the afternoon so perfect!

Wallace, Gromit and Gaza

Without wishing to get political here, which would not be appropriate, I wanted to share something with you which is relevant especially at this time of year, and perhaps just make people think a little deeper about our world picture. On the way to my mother in law's party, we missed the turn off the M25 and ended up at Clackett Lane Services in Kent. The car park was heaving, full of ambulances carrying medical supplies. There were lots of people with banners proclaiming 'Viva Palestine Convoy'. There was a huge brightly decorated articulated lorry with among other designs a large picture of Wallace and Gromit painted on it  Much of it was done in a Banksy style, and as it transpired the lorry had come from Bristol, home both to Aardman Animation and the notorious Banksy.

'What are they doing Mum?' my youngest asked. I explained about the conflict in Gaza as best I could to an 8 year old, who then became very quiet and pensive. We explained where Bethelehem and Jerusalem were, and that there was a lot of fighting, and a lot of innocent people were being hurt and killed. She said she couldn't understand why they couldn't talk to each other and sort their problems out. Is that such a simplistic view?

It was very moving to see so many people mobilised into action, and to travel so far to help. I have added their twitter account to the blog, please have a read if you can.

I also include a link to the Institute for Middle Eastern Understanding, where there is a very interesting section on food and cooking in Gaza.

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas...

Potjie, or A Murderous Weekend in the Country

Last weekend we went to a fabulous place called Eynsham Hall. It was a company event, and it was great to meet the other half's work mates,  quite a few of whom are from South Africa. The meal was great, interspersed with fatal blows to the head (poor Tom) and gunshots... our table wasn't so hot at identifying the killer... we named someone who sadly had already bitten the dust! As the venue was a former Police Training College this was a tad ironic. 

I had a great time meeting lots of people I had heard much about but never met before, and on our table we had Cameron (from Edinburgh) Nicky (a film maker and fellow Geordie) plus Dan and Danesh from South Africa. We all got chatting and I happened to mention that I'd worked with someone from South Africa at one of my old schools.

We got talking about food (of course) and I asked if they knew of the dish Poike, as my former colleague from SA had given me a recipe for a stew that I knew by that name. Danesh got a little nostalgic, although he said that it was spelled with a 'J' which got me very confused (hey, people were dying by this point) and said that his recipe didn't have chicken in it....  

SO.... I have researched the dish further as I was quite curious by the local differences which so often happen across large land masses.
It seems that this dish is uniquely South African. It is defined as a friendly food, to be enjoyed by rich or poor, young and old, city-dwellers and country folk, needing only one’s imagination when it comes to selecting the ingredients. (Our kind of recipe!)

It is also  the ideal food to serve to a crowd of friends. (So perfect for this blog!)
Potjie (pronounced Poy-Key)  is traditionally made around an open fire and is always to be consumed in the company of good friends and good beer! In SA it has had a revival of late, and is reportedly more popular than having a barbecue. 

I have made it many times and although my version may not be the most authentic as I am clearly not from South Africa, the recipe I follow and now share with you is one that has been in Bett’s family for many years. See what you think! And thank you Betts for the introduction to such a great stew!

Vegetarian White Chili


2 x 330ml bottle light Mexican beer
4 finely chopped white onions 
1 bunch roughly chopped Spring onions
4 crushed garlic cloves 
4 red peppers, deseeded and finely chopped 
3 fresh jalapeño chillies, chopped
3 dried smoked chillies, chopped 

3 tbsp ground cumin 
800 ml hot vegetable stock 
Large bunch of fresh coriander, plus extra, chopped, to garnish 
100ml rice vinegar
2 x 400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 x 400g can butter beans or chick peas, drained and rinsed

2 packets of frozen quorn pieces (optional)
3 tbsp chopped fresh oregano 
3 tsp chilli powder 
3 tsp smoked paprika 
750g grated vegetarian cheese,  Cheddar or similar
Lime wedges & a generous dollops of Creme fraiche or yoghurt to garnish


Bring the beer, onions, garlic, peppers, jalapeños, smoked chillies, cumin and stock to the boil in a large pan, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes on a low heat.  

Saute the quorn pieces if you are using, and add to the pan.

Blend the coriander, vinegar and a good pinch of salt in a food processor to make a smooth paste. Add the coriander paste along with both cans of beans to the spiced stock pan, and simmer for 25 to 35 minutes.

Stir in the oregano, chilli powder and smoked paprika. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese and garnished with lime wedges and extra chopped coriander.

Green Friday

Have to be quick as I need to pick up from ballet! I'm so excited about the Green Tea Ice Cream I made this afternoon... it's FANTASTIC! There is a little bit left for everyone else, but I did have yet another serving as I needed to take a photo!
Today I also had a friend round for brunch, she's been away teaching in Brunei for three years so it was great to catch up. As we were eating early, I wanted to do something light, so settled on Croissants with Asparagus and a Gruyère and Mustard Sauce. I had no recipe, but rather knew what I wanted it to look like and more importantly taste like when I'd finished! I made a Very Easy Cheese Sauce, used tinned Asparagus which was delicious and worked very well here. I heated the croissants in the oven, put 3 or 4 spears of asparagus on each opened croissant, spooned the sauce over the top, then sprinkled a little more grated Gruyère over the sauce. To finish, I popped them back in the oven for a couple of minutes and voilà, a tasty and quick brunch. 

You could easily do this for large numbers with minimal effort!

Polpo and Cocoon – Great Value Lunches!

It's been one of those weeks. And it's only Tuesday. A week where you've worked all weekend, so lose track of days (is it really only Tuesday night?)

Where life squeezes you from all sides, and each day becomes survival. Luckily, I work in the centre of London, and part of my job as a manager involves taking my senior staff for an annual pre-Christmas appraisal lunch. So I may not have been cooking, apart from the very basics for my family such as Speedy Pasta Sauce, but I have been entertaining.

This year, with the focus being firmly on saving every penny, my aim was to find places that felt special and offered great value, without compromise. And I'm happy to report that I found a couple of gems that absolutely delivered.

First up was Polpo, on Brewer Street. Not sure when any of you last saw a starter for £1.20 on a Soho menu? And this is no fly by night start up – this is the new venture from Russell Norman, ex Caprice Holdings - a man who genuinely understands what makes a great restaurant. The food was wonderful, but it was the attention to detail that I loved. It was so obviously born from passion, created and crafted with care, and delivered with a personal touch. It made me wonder why I'd ever head into a Pizza Express again [I know the answer. It's because I have a two year old and a four year old. And lots of  Tesco restaurant tokens.]

Second lunch was Cocoon. I defy you to find a better £15 set lunch in the country. Soft shell crab. Miso soup with bells and whistles. Jasmine tea. Sushi galore. A spiced tofu salad. And Green Tea Ice Cream.

So not a lot of cooking, but hospitality in abundance. And both restaurants will be featuring in my January edition of Fabric magazine.

Polpo photograph courtesy of Polpo Restaurant

Cocoon photograph courtesy of Spherical Images

Somewhere near Domesticated Bliss

It's early Sunday morning, and so far the day has gone well! I have an Onion Tart in the oven, enough Pumpkin and Ginger Soup to put in the freezer for those unexpected but very welcome guests that may stumble our way over the Festive Season, twenty Chocolate Cupcakes (recipe and photo courtesy of the delicious Primrose Bakery Cookbook)  ready to be iced  (Vanilla Buttercream Icing) and the washing is on! Having not even had running water in the kitchen until recently, and a kitchen that was barely fit for purpose for the last five years, the novelty of cooking has not yet worn off. I hope it never does! The tart is ready to come out of the oven now so I'm off back to bed! Happy Days!

Winter Warmers

Kath's last post about eating Lentil Soup has made me think again of all the lovely produce there is at this time of year, just crying out to be made into delicious broths and stews.
One of the best soups I have ever tasted was at about 5 o'clock in the morning after a particularly raucous party at our friend Kat'e old house in Bavent Road in south London.  Kate had some great friends living next door and they would open up the two houses, install beautifully decorated bedouin style tents in the back garden, crank up the sound systems and do a fabulous job of ensuring the night's partying was perfect. At the end of the night, in Ian's place next door, they cooked the most delicious Spiced Pumpkin and Ginger Soup, which was served to all their tired revellers. It really was delicious and as I still have pumpkins left I will definitely be making this at the weekend!

40th Birthday Dinner Party

No, not mine, my dear friend Ben's. His friends David and Fiona own Northcott House, near Bude, in Cornwall – recently featured in a magazine as one of the top 10 villa hideaways in the world. Leaving London at 5.30pm on Friday, in a journey that involved bike, vespa, train, taxi and hire car, plus a few wrong turns thanks to the satnav, we finally arrived at 10.45pm. Thankfully, the rest of the guests were already settled in, and were busy nibbling on sweet chilli prawns and supping champagne before the main event.

David owns a herd of longhorn cattle, and we were treated to a fantastic rib of beef, served with roasted vegetables, mashed celeriac and Jude's special gravy. After the main course, we gave the birthday boy his presents, then moved on to pudding - 40 cakes topped with icing, cherries and skinny gold and silver candles. Truly elegant and not too girly.

Ben owns an events and production company called Drive (strapline 'Everything is an Event') and so this was no low key affair. Guests dressed in vintage 40s dresses and black ties, speeches were made, lots of good red wine was drunk and we danced until dawn.

The severe weather warning and the fact that we could not stand outside on the beach without being blown over did not deter us. It was a fantastic weekend. After breakfasting on leftover birthday cake and some of David's homemade sausages served with celeriac potato cakes, we hotfooted it back to London for a well-deserved takeaway from The Good Earth.

This week, it's back to lentil soup and hot water and lemon juice!

All about the Kids!

It's been a hectic week here, seem to have cooked non stop! Had friends over last weekend to christen the dining table finally being installed in the kitchen (made Shin of Beef stew with Horseradish and Chive dumplings... delicious!) Then had sleepover for four hungry teenagers (sent them off in the morning with a healthy organic breakfast of porridge, banana smoothies and bacon and egg) Then had to research WW2 recipes for my youngest, ending up in cooking and eating Woolton Pie, which I had never heard of before. We found this fantastic web site aimed at kids who cook, called Cookit, which has the most fantastic history section complete with recipes from different periods in history. It's great!

Woolton Pie we discovered was first known as Lord Woolton pie. It was created at the Savoy Hotel in London no less, by its then Maitre Chef de Cuisine, Francis Latry. It was one of a number of recipes recommended to the British public by the Ministry of Food during the Second World War to enable a nutritional diet to be maintained despite shortages and rationing of many types of food, especially meat.

It was named after Frederick Marquis, 1st Lord Woolton (1883-1964), who became Minister of Food in 1940.

Woolton Pie is an excellent example of how people coped with rationing. Fats, such as butter and lard, were rationed, so everyone had to find ways to make these last. The government issued many recipes to show people how to make meals with very limited ingredients.
Potato pastry uses very little fat as the potato makes the pastry moist and crumbly. It was difficult to work with and turns grey if left too long when it's made. The pie contains seasonal vegetables; many of these would come from gardens or allotments because people grew as much food as they could. The government encouraged this with 'Dig for Victory' campaigns.

We weren't altogether convinced it would be that tasty, but were really surprised. I've never used oats in a recipe like this before, but it really worked. Would probably be nice with a bit of meat in it too!

Elizabethan Pork

Kath's post reminded me of a similar dish my Mum makes for winter parties... it's very tasty, easy to prepare and serves a lot of people.. so ticks all the right boxes. It's a lovely combination of sweet and savoury, and dates back to Tudor banquets (hence the name, Elizabethan Pork!)
It's also very comforting, and good to eat when you've been outside in the cold. I've been at a football tournament all day, and although it was very exciting, it was also very chilly... I think I know what I'll be making for tea tonight... I've always had it with rice but you could equally have it with plain couscous, or even simple boiled potatoes and other seasonal veg. Now where did I put those apricots....

Bonfire Night Spicy Pork

Such fun on Clapham Common tonight. Have finally discovered the stress-free way to take young kids to huge firework displays – Peltor Kids Ear Defenders. All the fun of the atmosphere – crunchy leaves underfoot and huge bright lights overhead, with none of the bangs that they hate. Bliss.

Ended up taking 5 kids up with us as my neighbour was stuck in traffic, it was great fun but it was equally great to be back home, nice glass of red in hand, cooking up some pork.

First, I cut the fat off, and fried this up separately over a high heat, then drained and sprinkled with salt for homemade pork scratchings. Delicious.

Then I fried up the pork with carrot, garlic, five spice, rice wine and soy sauce. I cooked a separate pot of rice with chicken stock and chopped cauliflower. Then mixed it all together in the wok at the end. It felt right for Bonfire night, somehow.

Wonders of Modern Technology

Hi there! Popped into our lovely local deli Bread and Milk, to get myself a sandwich (roast beef and horseradish on ciabatta, yum) after a hard morning at work... to be greeted by a sign on their blackboard inviting customers to join them on twitter... Well, that's a coincidence I thought as Kath and I had spent the evening trying to work out how to set up a twitter account for the blog so we can both tweet from separate locations... Perfect opportunity to get started I thought to myself... so, after browsing all their delicious pies, local cheeses, and further ranges of other goodies such as fresh pasta, antipasti, cakes, chutneys and wine... I decided to carry on browsing... back on the pc, and hopefully get tweeting...

We are now set up on twitter to follow and be followed... see if you can find us!!

Be interesting to see what recipes can be condensed into 140 characters including spaces!!

Halloween afternoon tea

As Halloween fell on a Saturday, we decided to have an afternoon party before we took the kids trick or treating. We spent Friday decorating the kitchen with frogs, spiders and other Halloween detritus, then headed out to the shops to pick up some carving pumpkins. Jasmine and Libby picked the biggest two left in the store – and as soon as I picked them up, I knew why no-one else had chosen them. They were far too heavy to carry, so we persuaded Scarlett to get out of her buggy, and arranged the pumpkins one on top of the other, to look like a Pumpkin baby! We wrapped 'her' in a blanket and walked back up Battersea Rise, getting some very strange looks on the way…

Back home, we carved these two beasts, together with a beautiful little pumpkin that came in my Abel & Cole box, then arranged them in the garden with candles in for a Halloween Eve vibe.

Saturday morning and we got the rest of the Halloween party food together for our 2.30pm start, including the Witches' Brew. Scarlett (2) and Jasmine (5) both had two friends coming over, so we planned some crafts and games that would amuse both age groups. Although in reality we catered more for the 5-6 year old girls, as the two little boys were more than happy kicking balls around the garden and playing with gravel, while the girls got on to the serious business of 'paint-facing', making spells and pinning the tail on the pony.

I got all of the ingredients for spell making together in the garden on low tables to kick the party off. I dressed as a witch and had glass vases full of water and food colouring. The little witches had to ask me for the various potions (venomous blue, blood red, vampire purple and squashed frog green), then add glitter, and any herbs and leaves they could find from around the garden.

They also loved making leaf monsters – we collected lots of different coloured leaves, then they each laid on pieces of paper and drew round each other. They then stuck the leaves on and had life sized monsters which could then be cut out and hung on the washing line or pinned on the wall.

The goriest game was 'a witch in my fridge'. I said that I had lots of different parts of a dead witch in my fridge, and could they guess the body part. This really appealed to the macabre nature of the 5 and 6 year olds! I put the following foods into covered tubs, then asked them to close their eyes, put their fingers into each tub and try and guess which part of the body they were touching.

Peeled grapes – eyeballs
Slice of ham in clingfilm - skin
Knobbly carrots – fingers
Tomato purée – blood
Carrot tops, slightly dried out – hair
Cold noodles in oil - intestines.

After more fun and games and a ghoulish themed tea, we headed out to trick or treat. There was a group of 10 kids and six adults, and we visited about a dozen houses. The kids are still talking about the devil – one man answered the door in a huge red devil mask and they all screeeeeeeamed. The best one by far was a flat at the top of a converted church. Lit pumpkins led up to the door. When the kids knocked, the door swung open but they couldn't see anyone. Then a huge wolf leapt round the door, roaring. It was actually a tiny woman on all fours, wearing a wolf head mask, but it was genuinely scary and their favourite door by far. Howl!

Autumn is upon us!

Just been watching Saturday Kitchen, bit of a ritual in our house, and I was really taken with Valentine Warner's What to Eat Now... he'd visited a farm in Oxfordshire called Forge Farm, and I was really impressed with the American owners' philosophy... The Klaes family built the farm from reclaimed materials, and have farmed there for over 20 years. It is a family run business, holding true to the ethics of organic farming in all aspects of farming life.
Their speciality is organic pumpkins, squash and maize corn.
They really came across as a family run farm where every seed mattered... just lovely. One variety of pumpkin was a little bluish one, which the owner suggested you cut the top off, scoop out the seeds, stick in a knob of butter and some seasoning and microwave for 5 minutes..... I shall try that as it looked delicious!
We have a great farm shop near us, and it is piled high at the moment with seasonal Autumn vegetables and fruit. The most striking thing as you approach is the huge mountain of pumpkins...ranging from tiny little ones to ones so enormous they don't seem real. I'm on the search for a pumpkin big enough to carve, with enough flesh to make Pumpkin Soup for everyone at the Halloween party we're going to later.

PS Just googled Forge Farm and it is only about a twenty minute drive from here.... I'm going to track myself down a little blue pumpkin for my lunch next week!

Mission Accomplished!

This is a very quick post as I have just got back from visiting my parents up North, and it is very late. . . I mentioned in an earlier post that I was planning on pilfering (with permission of course) my Mum Nancy's recipe collection. They lived abroad in the 60s, both in The States and in New Zealand. Mum has amassed a huge collection of tried and tested recipes. I know Kath will be doing the same with her parents, as her folks lived abroad too, spending quite a while in India. Anyway... I'll cut to the chase, I have got hold of the Tortoni recipe, it is delicious although not for anyone who cannot eat raw eggs... as we have chickens we know ours are fresh but please do be careful.

Hope you enjoy it, it conjures up so many memories of parties as a kid, and eating the left overs the next day... trouble was there never was any of this left over so we would have to sneak in with a spoon and hope no one noticed!!

Sunshine Soya Bean Stew


1 tbsp oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tin pomodori d'oro plum tomatoes
1 tin or carton cooked soya beans (or substitute any cooked beans or pulses)
1/2 vegetable stock cube
2 springs fresh marjoram, finely chopped
Dash white wine (I freeze leftover wine in ice cube trays and keep in freezer bags)
Dash white wine vinegar
Seasoning to taste, plus a pinch of sugar to balance the tomato's acidity if needed
Heat the oil over a medium heat, add the onions and fry for five minutes, then add the garlic and chilli.
Add the beans, the tomatoes, and the rest of the ingredients.
Simmer for 40 minutes, adding a little water if necessary.

All the Fun of the Fair!

This week, for 3 days only, the Fair comes to town. I love it as it is a chance to catch up with some families from our school who are Showmen. It was great walking round and bumping into people who had been away for the Summer Season, and are now heading back to their Winter bases. There was a real community atmosphere which is something to be celebrated these days!
I stopped at Lauren's stall and hooked myself a prize, then headed to her Mum and Dad's van as we were feeling hungry! They have recently been awarded 3 stars by the local council for their superior quality food, using only the best ingredients and applying the highest standards of hygiene. It's quite hard to get 3 stars I'm told!
I pumped Sharon for her secrets, and even tried to persuade her to let me join her behind the cookers...She declined my offer but I'll keep working on her!
The burger was delicious, Ruby (my youngest daughter) had a Hotdog and we both agreed that they were definitely the best at the fair! Other things we sampled were Candyfloss (of course) Toffee Apples, Donuts and Crepes. All in the name of research of course, and as I was lucky enough to catch everyone in a good mood they let me have a couple of other recipes! Thanks so much!!

Family History

Ask anyone to name a favourite meal or item of food, and they will always connect that food with a memory or family tradition. My Mum and Dad always used to throw big New Year's Eve parties, and my Mum would make special things for the guests that we didn't tend to have the rest of the year, making them all the more special.

One of my favourite things is Tiramisu, readily available practically anywhere, but really what I want to have when I choose Tiramisu is my Mum's Sherry Tortoni. The most sublime frozen creamy sherry dessert. I'm not exactly sure where her recipe came from, apart from that it was passed on to her by a friend while Mum and Dad were living in New Zealand in the 60's. My mother has the most fabulous cook book, and I am planning to raid it the next time I visit. I shall also pump her for more info about how she happened upon this particular recipe.

I did a bit of research on the internet and was surprised to discover that although the recipe is of Italian origin, it was actually developed by Giuseppe Tortoni in his own Cafe on the Boulevard des Italiens in Paris in the 18th century.

From there, the recipe traveled onwards to America. On 20th February 1798, Thomas Jefferson arrived at Mount Vernon, along with several other people, to celebrate George Washington's 66th birthday. While they had all brought gifts of food, Jefferson brought as well an ice cream dessert recipe he had obtained on a recent trip to Paris from Giuseppe Tortoni. In writing about the party later to a friend, Jefferson noted that Washington "had heard about the little Italian ice cream maker who was the rage of Paris and was delighted to receive the recipe ... and arranged to have the dessert prepared for our pleasure."

So there we have it, my Mum Nancy's Sherry Tortoni recipe all the way from Italy, via Paris, Wellington and finally now the Internet. Enjoy.

The Party Season is upon us!!

I was a guest at a friend's 40th over the weekend. Great fun and as it had been catered for I was able to do a bit of R&D at the same time. I had a lovely chat with the ladies doing the food, and told them about the blog. Very cheekily, I also asked if they would like to contribute their recipes from Saturday to these pages... the food was absolutely delicious, especially the little cakes and petit fours which aren't terribly easy to do in someone else's kitchen especially when packed full of guests having a good time. Gillian kindly gave me a business card and she said I could ring her so watch this space for a menu and recipes for canapes for 100!! She had some lovely photos too which I hope she will let us use!

Caribbean Wedding

It was my lovely friends Tanya and Stuart's wedding reception a couple of weeks ago, and as they had blown the budget on their wedding in The Dominican Republic (see cocktail recipe below), they asked friends to contribute towards a bring and share buffet, a fabulous idea I thought. I'd planned to prepare a whole poached salmon, as I have very happy memories of our wedding day, when my Mum, bless her, did the same for us.
Readers of my chicken blog will know that we have been having major building work going on at our house, and when I agreed to cook something, I'd (foolishly, I came to realise) assumed my kitchen would be fully functioning! (I only had running water connected last Tuesday, and have been washing up in the back garden for the last seven months... seriously!!)

Luckily, I had a Eureka moment, when I remembered the old adage, If you can't do it yourself, ask someone else!

Thanks goodness for The Regency Fish Company, who supplied me with a huge 12 pound salmon, beautifully presented and with only 2 day's notice. It fed 60 people and I'm not ashamed to say I took all the credit!

Fiesta in The Cotswolds

A few weekends ago, a group of longstanding friends made a daring trek into the wilds of the Cotwolds to celebrate my 40th birthday. 'Can we bring anything?' I was asked.... 'No, just yourselves... I'll take care of the shopping!'

We stayed in a beautiful place named The Old Mill, which had a huge dining room, perfect for the weekend ahead of us.

Everyone was arriving at different times... and as it turned out this seemed to be governed by how lost we got!.. so I'd planned a simple supper of soup, breads, cold meats and cheeses... This went down very well! I'll share my shopping list with you later on.

Breakfast the next day was cooked by friends. Bacon, eggs, field mushrooms with flat leaf parsley, deliciously simple and made from top quality local ingredients... including eggs both from our own chickens and some from Simon and Joss's.

Lunch was a pub job, as the main event of the day was my birthday dinner... a Mexican fiesta! Recipes listed on the right.

Perfect Margaritas from the Cocktail Queen!

INGREDIENTS (for 4 so you will need to round up!)
2 limes
50 g white sugar
45 ml water
235 ml premium tequila
30 ml brandy-based orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier®)
1 lime, sliced into rounds
coarse salt

Grate the zest of 2 limes into a small bowl. Cut the zested limes in half, and squeeze the juice into a measuring cup to get 1/2 cup. Combine lime zest, lime juice, sugar and water. Cover, and refrigerate for approximately 24 hours.(Although we didn't!!)

Before serving, stir in the tequila and Grand Marnier. Rub rim of 4 glasses with sliced lime, and dip into salt. Take another slice of lime, cut in half, slice under skin of lime to halfway point, and place on glass for garnish.

Easy Chili for 20

2kg ground beef
1-1/4 onion, chopped
5 g ground black pepper
7 g garlic salt
4 x 400g tinned tomatoes
5 x 420g  Taco Mix Beans and Mex Sauce
2-1/2 (15 ounce) cans light red kidney beans
Squeeze of tomato puree
Teaspoon of brown sugar


In a large saucepan over medium heat, fry off the onion until translucent.

Add the mince and fry for about 10 minutes, or until meat is browned and onion is tender. Drain off excess fat if necessary.

Add the ground black pepper, garlic salt, tinned tomatoes, and kidney beans. Mix well, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least an hour.

Serve with taco shells, Nachos, guacamole, grated cheese, salsa, green salad, rice, tortillas and sour cream.

Austrian Coffee Cake


170 g caster sugar
170 g margarine
170 g self raising flour
3 beaten eggs
1/2 pint strong coffee (3 heaped tsp coffee)
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp cherry brandy
100 g  Icing Sugar - sieved 
Approx 30ml Water


Cream margarine, sugar and eggs. Gradually add flour. Pour into a well greased sponge ring tin and bake in the centre of the oven, at 190 °C for 30 mins. 

Mix together coffee, cherry brandy and the remaining sugar. When the sponge is cool, pour mixture evenly over the cake. 

Finally,place the sieved icing sugar in a mixing bowl, add the water and  beat until smooth and thick enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon.

If you find the mixture is too thin, add  more sieved icing sugar. If it's too thick add more water a few drops at a time as a little liquid goes a long way.

Glaze the cake, ready to serve.

Easy Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream


750ml of single cream
5 egg yolks, beaten
150g caster sugar
100g fresh mint
25g chocolate chips


Wash the Mint and puree it in a jug using a hand blender.  Make a simple custard by pouring the cream into a sauce pan with the beaten egg yolks and sugar. Put this on the cooker and heat on a medium heat stirring frequently to prevent the bottom burning. You need to bring this almost to the boil but not quite. This ensures the egg is cooked into the mixture and the sugar has all dissolved. Pour into a cold jug and leave to cool down. When cool mix in the mint puree and chocolate chips. Either put the mix into the Ice Cream Maker, following the manufacturer's recipe timing, or alternatively you can freeze it in the freezer but Ice Cream makers freeze more quickly producing smaller ice crystals.

Elderflower Champagne

2 Heads of Elderflower
1 1/2 lb White sugar
2 table spoons of  White-wine vinegar
1 gallon of Water
1 Lemon

Pick the Elderflower heads when in full bloom and put into a bowl
followed by the lemon juice, cut up rind (no white pith), sugar and
vinegar. Add the cold water and leave for 24 hours. Strain into
strong bottles, cork firmly and lay them on their sides. After two
weeks it should be ready to drink.

This is a summer drink, rather like lemonade, rather than a wine.

Source: Home Made Wines, Syrups and Cordials. by the National
Federation of Women's Institutes, 1957

Photo courtesy of

All American Potato Salad


3 lb. potatoes
2 large onions
1 large bell pepper
8 large sweet pickled gherkins
1/2 dozen eggs
2 tablespoons American  mustard
2 cups of Miracle Whip salad dressing or Mayonnaise
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Boil potatoes with skin on; chill overnight. Peel the potatoes and dice. Finely chop the onions, bell pepper and gherkins and add to the potatoes. Hard boil the eggs. Shell, roughly chop and add to potatoes. Next add the mustard, salad dressing, sugar and salt.  Mix well and refrigerate.

Pimms No 1 Fruit Cup


Pimm's No.1


Mix 1 part Pimm's Number 1 with 3 parts of lemonade over ice. Add strawberries, slices of orange and cucumber and garnish with a sprig of mint. 


Chicken and Chorizo Paella (serves 15)

1.5 kg Chicken Meat (Leg, Thigh or Breast meat diced into bite-size pieces - keep the skin & bone on for extra flavour)
1.5 kg Spanish Paella Rice
500g diced Chorizo
500g Chopped French green beans
8 medium, ripe tomatoes
About 3 litres of boiling chicken Stock
Large Pinch of Saffron
2 tsps of Sweet Paprika (Pimenton Dulce)
2 Red peppers, sliced & roasted if possible
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
Salt to taste
A few sprigs of Rosemary
2 lemons (cut into wedges for decoration)
Large handful of fresh chopped parsley 


Heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil in the Paella Pan and part cook the chicken pieces a little (longer if they contain bones).
Make up the stock and add a good pinch of the saffron stamens. Let them infuse for about 15 mins.

To make the "Sofrito", one of the most important parts of the Paella, first sweat the onion in the Paella Pan until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry over a high heat. Keep stirring. As the mixture reduces, it will start to thicken up to a thick dark paste. When it is this dark red paste you have the perfect sofrito !

Add the chorizo, paprika and about half of the peppers. Mix around thoroughly and continue fry for few more minutes.
Next pour the hot stock into the paella pan. Taste for seasoning. It needs to be quite well salted, but if using stock cubes, then you will probably not need any extra salt.

Add the beans and bring to the boil and leave for several minutes for all the flavours to mix in with the stock.

Now add the rice, mix around briefly and make sure all the rice grains are under the surface of the liquid. DO NOT STIR the rice after this.
After about 10 minutes the rice should start to appear though the liquid. Turn down the heat and continue to simmer for about another 10 minutes until the rice starts to absorb the stock.

Once most of the liquid has been absorbed, taste the rice. It should be cooked "al dente", still with a slight nutty taste.

Cover the Paella pan with foil and turn up the heat for a minute or so. (You will hear the rice "pop" as it is caramelising on the bottom of the pan). This is called the "Socarrat" the most highly prized part of the Paella. Covering the pan at this stage also helps finish off the cooking of the top layer of rice.
Turn off the heat. Decorate with lemon wedges, the remaining red peppers, the sprigs of rosemary and the chopped parsley. 
Recover and leave for a good 10 minutes to rest.
Serve directly from the pan,  remembering to scrape to the bottom to get the "socarrat."



Quick Kedgeree

8 medium free range eggs, boiled so yolks are still just runny
2 shallots, finely diced
60g butter
2 tbsp curry paste
3 bay leaves
Boneless haddock, (1 piece per person) gently poached in boiling water and butter  for 5 mins
600g cooked basmati rice, flavoured with saffron
Juice of 2 lemons, plus wedges to serve
500g fresh spinach
Fine green beans, lightly steamed
Handful chopped parsley, to serve

Heat butter in a large sauté pan. Add the shallots and cook for 5 mins, stirring gently. Add the curry paste and bay leaves, cook for a minute then stir in the rice. Stir to coat. Once poached, flake the fish from the skin, and set aside.

Stir in the lemon juice and spinach into the rice, cover and cook gently for a few mins. Stir in the fish, green beans and parsley, heat through, and serve.

Wholemeal Drop Scones


100g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1 large egg, beaten
150 ml semi skimmed milk


Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl and make a well for the egg. Break the egg into the well and then mix together quickly with a metal spoon, gradually adding the milk until you have a smooth batter.
Don't let the mixture rest, use it immediately.
Heat a non-stick frying pan and melt a knob of butter in it.
Drop a level tablespoon of batter into the pan for each scone.

TOP TIP- drop the batter from the tip of the spoon for round cakes and from the side of the spoon for oval cakes.

Cook gently for a couple of minutes until bubbles start to appear and then flip over and cook for a minute on the other side. If there is room in your pan you can do more than one at a time. 
Cook the scrambled egg - melt a knob of butter in a small saucepan and when the butter starts to sizzle slightly, pour in the egg mixture. Cook on a low heat, stirring slowly until the mixture begins to thicken and starts to become creamy. Remove from the heat immediately now before the mixture goes solid.
Serve up about 4 scones per person, pile the scrambled egg and smoked salmon on top and sprinkle with chives and a good grind of black pepper. Scatter the capers around the side of the dish with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the salmon.

For the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs:
4 slices of smoked salmon
4 fresh free-range eggs
A splash of milk
Knob of butter
Salt and plenty of black pepper
Lemon wedges, a few capers and chopped chives to serve
Get the smoked salmon, lemon wedges, capers and chives ready for when the scones and scrambled eggs are cooked.

Tom Yam Soup

INGREDIENTS (serves 12)
2 litres fish or  vegetable stock (or chicken if you are making this for omnivores!)
300ml water
300ml coconut milk
5 sticks lemongrass, lightly crushed
8 fresh coriander roots, crushed
220g fresh galangal, peeled and sliced (available from Asian supermarkets)
12 pomodorino tomatoes, cut into quarters, seeds removed
3 generous handfuls of Shitake or Oyster Mushrooms, thinly sliced
10 kaffir lime leaves
3 to 4  limes, juice only
3 tablespoons of tamarind paste
4 red chillies, thinly sliced
150ml fish sauce (nam pla), or to taste
150g palm sugar (or brown sugar if unavailable)
3 raw tiger prawns per serving,  shelled, gutted and split in half
To serve
fresh coriander leaves
lime wedges

Place the stock and water into a large pan over a high heat and bring to the boil.
Add the lemongrass, coriander roots, galangal, tomatoes, lime leaves, lime juice, tamarind water and red chillies. Return to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Taste the stock and add as much fish sauce and palm sugar as necessary to keep the salty-sour-hot-sweet taste, then remove from the heat.
Add the prawns and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, or until prawns are completely cooked through.
Add the coconut milk and turn off the heat.
To serve, pour the soup into bowls and garnish with finely chopped coriander and a wedge of lime.

Cheat's Pumpkin Ravioli


1 sheet of fresh lasagne per 4 ravioli
1 large pumpkin
4 shallots
2 cloves  garlic
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons cream
4 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the filling, deseed and slice the pumpkin into large chunks and roast for 40 minutes until the inside is soft. I did this in October and froze the flesh.
(Hence the cheatin’ and references.)

Meanwhile, peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic and sauté in the butter and olive oil until tender.

When cool, spoon out the pumpkin flesh and discard the seeds and the tough fibre in the centre. Place the pulp in a mixing bowl.

Stir in the shallot and garlic mixture, the cream, grated Parmesan cheese, and white wine. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Lightly flour a flat surface and lay out a few sheets of the fresh lasagne. 
Using a square cutter, cut out squares of lasagne to form the ravioli.
Place 1 heaped teaspoon of the pumpkin filling in the centre of half of the squares.

Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush around the sides of every square. Cover each pumpkin-filled square with an empty square, pressing all four sides down to seal the ravioli, and allow to dry for at least 10 minutes.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add a slug of olive oil to prevent the ravioli from sticking.
Using a flat spatula, ease the ravioli into the water and cook very gently for 12 minutes. Do not allow to boil vigorously or the ravioli will break open. Remove and drain.

Serve immediately with the blanched broad beans, a sprinkle of parmesan, a splodge of Speedy Pasta Sauce and a generous helping of freshly ground black pepper.

Lavender Cupcakes

These unusual lavender-infused cakes are a popular flavour in the summer. Try making them with essential oils rather than dried lavender. About 4 or 5 drops should be sufficient to flavour this amount of mixture.

Infusing the milk with lavender oil or flowers makes the flavour subtle. The icing can be left plain, or you can use a bit of food colouring to give it a light lavender colour (makes 12.)
photograph © Peter Cassidy


120 ml whole milk
3 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
12 small sprigs of lavender (optional)
25ml whole milk
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
250g icing sugar, sifted
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
A couple of drops of purple food colouring (optional)
A 12-hole cupcake tray, lined with paper cases


Put the milk and dry lavender flowers in a jug, cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight if possible. Do the same with the milk and lavender flowers for the frosting, in a separate jug.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark three.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

Strain the lavender-infused milk (for the cupcake) and slowly pour into the flour mixture, beating well until all the ingredients are well mixed.

Add the egg and beat well (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula).

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean.

Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely
Lavender frosting
Beat together the icing sugar, butter and food colouring, if using, in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.

Turn the mixer down to a slow speed. Strain the lavender-infused milk and slowly pour into the butter mixture. Once all the milk is incorporated, turn the mixer up to high speed.

Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy (at least five minutes.) The longer the frosting is beaten, the fluffier and lighter it becomes.

When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the lavender frosting on top and decorate with a sprig of lavender, if using.

Special offer: £2 off The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook You can buy the book at the special price of £14.99 with free p&p (rrp £16.99) by calling Macmillan Direct on 01256 302 699 and quoting the reference code GLR1KP.

Recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook
By Tarek Malouf and the Hummingbird Bakers
Photography by Peter Cassidy
Published by Ryland Peters & Small

Beetroot and Orange Soup


4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2 kg fresh beetroot
4 litres vegetable stock
Juice and grated rind of 8 fresh orange (or 800ml fresh orange juice)
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste


Scrub the beetroot and chop off the roots and stalks.
Either chop the beetroot finely or grate it. A food processor is a lovely way of doing this, without covering everything in purple splatters!
Fry the chopped onion until translucent. Place in large soup pan. 
Add the beetroot and the vegetable stock, orange rind (if using) and bay leaves. Simmer gently for 45 minutes, until the beetroot is soft.
Add the spices and orange juice. Remove the bay leaves.
Liquidise until smooth.
Either serve warm with sourdough bread, or chill and serve with a swirl of cream, a drizzle of honey and some orange rind curls, as a perfect Summer Starter.