Thursday, 30 September 2010

Plum & Cardamom Crumble with Vanilla Custard

I have thing for Plums. So much so, there is a whole chapter in the book dedicated to them, and as the autumn sets in and the world seems to be falling into a slumber the last of the plums can be found in the local farms shops. Yes, I know that crumble is a little old fashioned, but it’s comforting as the nights draw in. By adding cardamom and jazzing up the topping it gives a fresh perspective on this old favorite, and you can further keep it healthy, by using rapeseed oil in the topping. The deep dark plums sit, stewed in sweetness under a light aromatic crunchy topping. For me it has to be served in a great puddle of creamy vanilla custard. The cardamom binds with the rich plumy base and the vanilla floats effortlessly across the top. There you have it ... a delicious sophisticated crumble.

Makes crumble for 6 - 8 people


800g plums

60g sugar

25g butter


230g oats

125g sweetened desiccated coconut

100g flaked almonds

50g sugar

1 level tsp ground cardamom

125ml of rapeseed oil

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 Remove the stones from the plums. Place in an ovenproof dish about 10 inches wide and 2 inches deep. Sprinkle the sugar and butter over evenly.

2 Mix all the dry ingredients together, and then drizzle the rapeseed oil. Mix really well.

3 Sprinkle this topping over the plums and bake in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes, until the topping is a light golden brown and the fruit is bubbling away underneath the crumble topping.

Wait a few minutes for the crumble to cool before serving with warm vanilla custard or thick cream.

Makes 750ml of custard

Vanilla Custard

500ml full fat milk

200 ml double cream

5 egg yolks

100g vanilla sugar

1 In a heavy based saucepan place the milk, cream, and egg yolks sugar and stir on a low heat, and keep moving this lightly using a whisk

2 Keep stirring as the custard thickens. This can take 10 – 15 minutes so take your time an don’t be tempted to heat it quickly ( .. you will get scrambled eggs!) The mixture will thicken. When the custard coats the back of a spoon remove from the heat.

Note: Don’t throw your vanilla pod away. Wash and dry it and add it to your sugar pot.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Multitasking burnt crumble disaster!

Plum & Cardamom Crumble . there I am thinking that I can breeze today's recipe. I am trying to cook and write at the same time. Multitasking. Only today I forgot to set the food alarm to remind me to take the food out of the oven. Sitting at the computer I smelt that familiar smell. Burning. The smoke alarm kicked off at 100 decibels.. as if the smoke wasn't enough to pull me out of my writing trance!

The kitchen was filled with dark acrid smoke. With only 30 minutes before Louise from the Chronicle & Echo was due to take a photograph of my delicious recipe.

It was a panic., but it took just 10 minutes to redo the crumble.. and the granola topping as a breakfast extra just had had to go on hold!

I shall write up the recipe .. that is the un- burnt version .. tonight and post it for the weekend. in the meantime whilst I am writing this I have Vanilla ice-cream made from the left over custard churning .. well at least that can't burn !!


Saturday, 25 September 2010

Tomato Pizza & Oregano Bread

This is a perfect recipe for time short foodies. It's two for one. Fresh baked bread and home made pizza – the kids love it – and fast food doesn’t get much better than this. But what I really love about this recipe is that for absolutely no extra effort I can bake a loaf of bread at the same time.. It’s a double cook if you like. There are no extra ingredients, no extra clearing up and it takes no time to make it. In my world that’s smart cooking. It’s easy and fun to make and the kids love to get involved. Spelt flour makes it satisfying and it has a nutty texture, which is lightened by the yeast. The addition of the fragrant oregano gives both the bread and the pizza it a real Mediterranean depth. The tomato sweetened by the honey has an intensified flavor through reducing it slowly. It’s delicious, and worth taking the time to make the dough. Add to that good quality mature cheddar this pizza has depth and natural saltiness. If you can bear to leave some it’s superb cold. Both the dough and the bread and sauce freeze well, so Friday nights I am prepped at the end of a long day for an easy and economical start to the weekend. Serve the pizza with laughter and ice-cream and enjoy your bread with a hunk of cheese for tomorrow’s lunch.

Of course a recipe has to work on a practical level, and seeing as up until now I am the only person to test this combination I asked an expert to test it. So I braced myself for a public answer by asking one of the top bloggers in the blogasphere to test out the practicality of making this and blog about the results. To find out how @EnglishMum ( twitter name) got on testing my recipe you can her superb post that will give you her run down about making this here.

Preparation time 2 hours proving & 20 minutes making

Cooking time 10 minutes for pizza’s and 25 minutes for the


Makes 2 x 12 inch pizzas

& 1 loaf of bread


3tbs sugar

12g dried yeast

3 tsp rapeseed oil

3 tbs dried oregano

3tsp salt

225g wholemeal spelt flour

450G plain spelt four

warm water

Sauce for the pizza

2 tins chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp runny honey

2 tbs Oregano

Alternatively you can use spare sauce from Linked Recipe > Garlic Pasta

100g grated strong mature cheddar

1 Put the sugar and yeast into a bowl and add 200ml of luke warm water. Not too hot or it will kill the yeast. Not cold or it will not activate.

Allow this to sit for 10 minutes somewhere warm.

2 Add the oil. Put all the dried ingredients in a large bowl and make a well. Add the yeast to the dry mix. Using a little water at a time mix into dough. This should not be too dry or it won’t pick up all the flour. But add the water slowly as it doesn’t want to be too wet either. Kneed for 10 minutes, by hand or in a food processer. Set this aside somewhere warm and cover with a clean damp tea towel for two hours.

3 In a heavy based saucepan add the tinned tomato, oregano and honey. Bring to the boil and turn down to a very low heat. Simmer gently stirring occasionally over about 45 minutes until the tomatoes are reduced by at least half. Set aside to cool.

4 Put the Dough onto a floured surface and cut into two. Knead gently. (You can freeze it at this point) Cut 1/3 of the Dough away.

5 Cut the 1/3 in half and roll both to 9 inches squares. Transfer to baking trays and share the tomato base equally between the two, ensuring that it is evenly distributed. Scatter with the cheese.

Bake for about 8 – 10 minutes. 450/230/-gas mark 8. Do allow to cool before serving as this improves both the texture and flavor.

6 The 2/3 of the dough that is left transfer into a lightly oiled bread tin. Drop the temperature of the oven (leave the oven door open for a minute or two) to 180/350/ gas 4 and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. When the bread is cooked you can test. On knocking the base it will sound hollow. .. if it doesn’t return to the tin and bake for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Red Lion at East Haddon

As I am writing my recipe book the subject of most conversations center around food. I can tell you that Northamptonshire foodies are all a twitter at the news that Adam Grey has joined existing owner managers Nick Bonner and Ren Averio at the Red Lion in East Haddon. Over the years I’ve had some jolly decent meals at The Red Lion, so I was particularly interested to find out what had changed. With the head Chef Anthony Horn coming from a Michelin star environment, and Adam Grey on board I was expecting big things. So when my father in law came up to visit I couldn't resist the opportunity to eat out and talk about someone else's food other than mine.

There was, as always a warm welcome and we were quickly settled with drinks and menus. Having already met Adam earlier in the week he had talked to me about his dedication to local food, so I ordered the local crayfish & tarragon risotto at £6.75

As the risotto arrived the smell was exquisite, and I tucked in full of expectation. Now I’m not one to over season my food, however the exquisite smell was not matched by the taste. The seasoning was, what I would call, apologetic and my father in law made no bones about adding a large dose of table salt. That said, I felt a little more tarragon would have given the risotto a more solid base to season on. However, as Anthony, the head chef, pointed out in the interview in kitchen later on, the extra seasoning might be at the expense of the delicate flavor of the crayfish.

For my main course I had the roasted chump & slow cooked breast of lamb with summer vegetables & lamb gravy at £17.50. The Lamb was local and as it should be. The pink was, indeed pink, and the gravy was rich intense and sweet. Turning my attention to the vegetables I wasn’t disappointed. In many restaurants vegetables are neglected. It is an area of weakness that gets the least attention, especially as it is not the glory dish. Not so here. The vegetables were as interesting as the main attraction. Miniature versions of every day vegetables, that managed to keep their sweetness and retain their individual taste. Cooked to perfection, there was no trace of water and despite their miniature size they still had a good firm texture. I was further impressed by the micro herbs they were served with. These tiny little herbs, packed full of flavor, made super companions to the petite greens, giving intense bursts of flavor. Top marks for being on the ball with food fashion. This is new and exciting. It’s the kind of thing I want to eat.

I left the choice of sweet up to Nick Bonner to choose for me. The iced orange mousse with dark chocolate cream was, in all honesty, an outstanding sweet. The citrus ice was creamy and vibrant with orange. In itself it was a delight to eat, with a caramelized top it hit all the high notes of summer eating, but with out being overly sweet. Coupled with a deep, dark velvety chocolate cream that was more like a mouse, this combination rocks.

The service was friendly and timely, and to my eye everything was immaculately clean. I’m not going to say there weren’t area’s to be improved. There are. But then Adam, Nick and Antony are a new team and in their first few weeks. What is clear to me is that there are flashes of brilliance in the food and I will watch with interest as I think the Red Lion could be the type of place that will attract gastronomes from afar, and we, in Northamptonshire are lucky enough to have it right here on our doorstep.


Sunday, 19 September 2010

Nigel Slater's Tender II

There is nothing quite like the thrill of a new recipe book. Especially when it's from one of the best food writers in the country. Waiting for it to arrive is like waiting for a first date, with someone who you really fancy. I get excited, there’s the anticipation, a flutter of nerves even and generally within the first few minutes you know if you are going to get on. This one's a keeper. It was always going to be .. but this book is perhaps his best yet.

My guests have gone home. It is late. Almost midnight. I am a little the worse for wear, but I have decided to blog in the moment . Forgive this post for any mistakes .. it will be short. I have to get to my bed.

Today started with pancakes, and ended with the Tagine of Lamb with Apricots from Nigel Slater’s new book Tender II. As I finished looking through I dashed straight off to the local butchers, Chambers, in Brixworth. Keith diced some lamb up, as I tried to persuade him to start a blog of his own. He just smiled and carried on cutting up the lamb.

The recipe ( See page 712) was, on a practical level, simple and took minutes to make. It was the layering of the flavours and the composition that just worked. . The apricot sweetened the lamb. It was a complex well thought out combination of taste, texture and flavour.

As ever Nigel’s recipes work. But, it’s not just the feel, the texture and the color of this book that I love. It is the weight, the setting of the text and the beautiful photography that hold Nigel’s words together. The recipes are enclosed in the beauty they deserve to be in. From the heavy deep red cover to the weight and shade and texture of the paper it is printed on – this book evokes desire. I wanted to cook from the pages. In fact I couldn’t wait to create. Reading his turns of phrase, and intimate style it is as though I am listening to a classical piece of music. I am moved. He doesn’t write. He composes.

I can’t wait to cook from it again.. but it may have to wait a while as I get back to my own writing and recipe developing .. but when I am done writing my book .. I will return to Nigel and Tender, both Volume I and II.

This book is a practical work of art.

A rare thing indeed.">Listen!

Friday, 17 September 2010

It was all about the Men today

Adam Gray, John Griff and Alastair Kimbell.

Since starting to write this book I have turned down almost every social event. I have gone to ground, as a friend said to me yesterday. Today however, there were three reasons I could not turn down the invitation.

It was a charity event for MacMillan, Northamptonshire. Only yesterday I lost someone close to cancer. No. Actually they were not lost - they were stolen.

The second reason was that Adam Gray was doing the cookery demonstration. I could dedicate the whole blog to talking about Adam, but I won’t because he has agreed to test a couple of my recipe. So I will come back to him. However I would like to say that despite being under tremendous pressure and in the middle of a cookery demonstration day he was incredibly gracious as I asked him for a comment on Audioboo, and if he would give me a strap line for the book. You can listen below. On Tuesday next week we are going to eat in his restaurant - The Red Lion in East Haddon. I am so excited about the fact that he has purchase a local pub I can’t wait to go. If the food demo was anything to go by - it’s going to be seriously good.

He has said it is his intention to bring a Michelin star to the county. That will be tremendous hard work. I will be interested to see how his front of house keeps up with the kitchen …. but I don’t doubt he will do it. You only have to be with him for a few minutes to feel his sparks of inspiration, motivation and energy radiating from him. This man will succeed, of that I have no doubt.

The third reason to go, was that a friend Fi, and her team on the Northamptonshire MacMillan committee put an extraordinary amount of hard work in the organise the event. It was a delicious, fun, and social day, and they pulled off one of the most enjoyable events I have been to in as long as I can remember. Well done .. it was fabulous!

I would have loved to have stayed longer. There were some incredibly interesting people there, including Duncan from Farringtons Mellow Yellow Rape Seed Oil, and Polly Wilson, from Rutting Reds Venison. The Venison looked so good that I have asked if I can use some in one of the recipes for the book. this space as I shall pop over to see her and the herd later next month

I had to dash. It was my other man . John Griff and we had a radio date. Click here to listen. I made my way across town at a snails pace. I did think at one point that I wasn’t going to make it. The traffic was just horrendous. I arrived out of breath with a basket of food in the nick of time. I always love talking with John. He’s brilliant, has so much charisma and verve for life in Northamptonshire. I recommend tuning in .. he’s on 2pm weekdays on BBC Radio Northampton.

It’s been a long day. I have come home to my husband whom I have to thank. He has put up with weeks of me writing well into the night, getting up early to cook – 5:30am this morning – and has provided me with all the equipment, computers, software and help I need. to write this book. He’s my everything

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The filming that didn't work out

Never ever must this film get out.  I'm not naked.. but if there was ever a film that would ruin me .. this would be it.  I got chocolate on my arm. I got beetroot on my elbow.  My makeup gave up and I was shiny.  There was a high definition fly buzzing into the picture.  The light from the windows blinded behind me.  My hair got in my face, I moved about too much.  I forgot what I was talking about; I forgot to smile.  There was food split.  There was mess in the background from an earlier shot.  Andy, my film man .. is a genius.  We've deconstructed the film and come up with some positive changes.  Our second attempt to do this will be in 3 weeks time.  I the mean time you can hear us .. or rather me laughing at how awful you can look on film.  Or rather How awful I was on this first film .. we can do better  - Hats off to the professionals This is hard. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Vanilla and Mango Pork & Social Networking

Today. The day is over and I am sitting at my desk with an unimaginable amount of new information to digest. Christian, otherwise known as Documentally came for lunch and to brief me on social networking.

Hold up. I feel the need to start by saying that I was up at 5:30am and rewrote 2 recipes. Packed lunch for Al, children were carted to school and nursery, and I fitted a trip to the local butcher to buy pork.

Today's recipe was Vanilla, Mango & Chili Pork. This recipe was multitasking as a recipe for the book. It is also for this week'sChronicle and Echo column and it was lunch.

The making of it was part of my introduction to Audioboo, and the subject of @Documentally filming me making it. our live example of social networking. There's nothing like a bit of pressure to hone your culinary wizardry. The truth is I've known for weeks how I want it to taste.. it just took me 3 goes to get there. Thankfully this was the final version. the pork caramalised, the mango sweetened, the vanilla placed itself in the mid tones and the finish was the chili hit. It was all bound together with a generous dollop of cream. It sat beautifully on a bed of cardamom rice, and the leftovers? They are Al's packed lunch for tomorrow - if I don't raid the fridge before midnight that is. Kirsty, one of the chronicles photographers popped over and took some shots.

I tweeted, blogged, audiobooed and learned how to use my iphone to get the to teh poeople that want to hear about this kind of food and ultimately get the book out there. We decided that we are going to have a Geeks Lunch ( I am told this is a complimentary term - I assure you !) So in a week or two I shall host a geeks lunch for the best local twitterers who want to come and eat. It just won't have to be finger food! There will be just 6 places I am going to have to come up with a criteria for people to win a place a the table. In the mean time .. do have a listen to the audio below. I had lots of fun and it had over 200 hits this afternoon already.

Tomorrow I shall write up the recipe, cook chili and chocolate cakes and pumpkin pie and soup for the John Griff show on Friday just after 2pm .. tune in .. it's bound to be fun and I might sneak and extra bit of chili in John's cake.... it is live after all.

Caraway Bread for @documentally

Here I am in the cyber world. I feel as though I have been shouting in the dark and along comes Documentally .. who has spent a happy morning watching me tweet, blog, cook, .. sometimes doing all three a the same time. it's been fast and there is a serious amount I have to learn.. but watch this space .. I'm live watch out.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A new kind of beach bag

On Friday night we set off to Wales. To the Gower Peninsular to have a beach weekend and do some food photography on the beach. What more could a recipe writer need than three hungry children, a beach and a strapping husband to carry the picnic. The shots were going to be romantic, perfect sandwiches, divine chocolate cakes, steaming hot chocolate and wholesome chicken pasties all being eaten by smiling happy clean children on a sunny beach.

In the first instance I forgot to pack the picnic hamper. No plates, cups, knives, forks or spoons. Never mind. In the second instance the first day was pretty much off for pictures. It was grey, and the children, who were beside themselves with excitement would not sleep in the car. It was 11pm by the time we checked in the B& B. Saturday was not going to be smiley happy children.. it was grumpy, winey horrid too tired children not fit for a photo… I began to wonder if this was a good idea!

Fortunately the next day the sun and smiles came out after a good nights sleep. We really did spend a delightful Sunday on the beach at Port Eynon

The authentic setting for the food shots made photographing more than a little hazardous. There was sand in almost everything. My son particularly enjoyed the crunch texture asking if we could take some sand back to season his jam sandwiches at home. The lighting was harsh. Full sun, followed by clouds ensued by intense bursts of sun. My aperture and speed settings swung from one end of scales to another in seconds. The wind blew the napkins everywhere. The children kicked sand in the pasties. Husband shouted at them. I dropped the cake. My youngest fell head first into a rock pool. Luckily I was photographing the cardamom hot chocolate and a steaming sweet mug cup saved the day turning a cold wet child and buckets of tears back into smiles again.

It occurred to me that perhaps I should shoot some of the food shots in a more controlled environment at home. I filled a bag with sand, pebbles, seaweed and shells. Aside from carrying Isobel on his shoulders, three baskets, two fishing nets and a rugby ball back my husband also had to cart a large holder of welsh beach back to the car, whilst I quipped about it being a beach bag.

Now all I need is some proper sunshine and to mock up the beach on the patio at home and when the photos are done my son can season his sarnies with the leftover sand.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The reality of writing a recipe book …

Writing about cooking and eating with friend’s stops when you start writing about it. Believe me.

In fact the whole of life as I knew it and the reality of what is being written about ..has not recently not played out. Time to get a moment to stop to share and enjoy it.

So this morning I got up ten minutes early threw clean jam jars in the oven, boiled the damson jelly I made yesterday up and poured it into the jars. I threw, in just 2 minutes flat, a caraway and raisin soda bread into the oven and did the school run.

On return I walked into to a house filled with the smell of fresh baking and ran around the kitchen tidy tidy tidying. A quick coffee, fresh soda bread and warm damson jelly for breakfast with some chat and gossip with the girls.

Now I remember why I love cooking so much.

I love eating. With friends.

Now I must get back to writing about it - for real.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

My Parents Vineyard Wins Top Awards

My parents are extraordinary people. As my Mum and Dad they get a gold medal for being supportive. In fact just today my father picked up my three children fed them their tea and looked after them all afternoon (and alone, as my mother was out !) .. whilst I was being filmed cooking Chili Chocolate cakes at home.... in peace.

But I am not writing about their babysitting skills. I am writing about their brilliant wine making skills. ... for my parents have just won some of the top awards in the British wine industry for their wine.

I am so proud of them.

The Mercian Vineyards Association is one of 6 representative bodies for vineyards and wine enthusiasts in Britain. It is a member of the United Kingdom Vineyards Association and has members from all over the UK. There were 150 wines in the competition and Fleurfields won the following awards:

  • The best Mercian Sparkling Wine
  • The best Vintage Wine
  • The best wine in the East midlands
  • Silver Medal awarded to the pink Bubbly Champs d’amour de Rose
  • Bronze medal awarded to Champs D’amour.

So now my parents have their own award-winning vineyard.


How lucky am I?

Very is the answer

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Discovering My Grandmothers Recipes

This morning I called in early to see my parents. They were sitting in bed reading The Times.. as they do every single morning, for as long as I can remember. We chattered about the recipes and I talked about the fact that I am thinking about Christmas recipes, in particular Christmas cake and pudding. My father smiled as he recalled my grandmothers cakes. It was my grandmother who taught me to bake.

People use to come from miles and miles away to order cakes off your grandmother he said. Christmas cakes, wedding cakes, christening cakes. She was renowned for her amazing fruit cakes. He told me that the making these cakes were a social occasion. Made before the invention of television. Oh yes - they could bake and gossip. No one was immune to the gossip.. and boy they could gossip.

Whilst Dad was lost in the memory of cake baking and a bunch of chattering aunties busy baking, my mum disappeared downstairs to reappear with an envelope. You might like this. There was spidery writing over an old yellowing envelope. I opened it gingerly, sitting on the end of my parents bed like a 7 year old girl again. Inside was treasure. My grandmothers Christmas cake and pudding recipe. She made this cake from the time she was married. Over 85 years ago. Tears prickled my eyes as my mother said you can keep it. Safe.

She sent me out into the stables to find my grandmothers original tins. So here I have it. The original recipes and the original tin still wrapped in brown paper and string that my grandmother tied on to stop the last cake she baked burning too quickly in an old fashioned oven. She died over 20 years ago.
Now I must decide if I can bear to untie the string she once tied on to clean up this tin to re use it as she once did.

I think I’ll sit and wait a while.

She would have told everyone, everyone about this book.

She would have been so proud.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Tomato and Garlic pasta

For as long as I can remember I have eaten this dish, it is the very best pasta dish imaginable. It's fast . just the thing for a hungary time short foodie. The exact origins of it are lost in the mists of time, but my mother is Italian, so there is a connection from Naples somewhere. I am aware that my readers are not six years old, so for the sake of treating you adults I have called this dish tomato and garlic pasta, but in our house, since I was a child, it has always been known as garlic yum yum. Despite the name and the huge amount of garlic in this there is very little direct garlic taste. It is the intense sweet tomato that comes to the front of the pallet, with soft mellow garlic base under this rich sauce. This is a fast dish that has depth. The speed at which you can take the ingredients out of the store cupboard and have this ready to eat on the table is seriously impressive.

It's worth making extra. I use this as the topping for my Pizza.

Linked recipe > Tomato Pizza and Oregano Bread


One medium bulb of garlic

One 200g tube tomato puree

75 ml of olive oil

One pack of 500 g of spaghetti

Fresh Parmesan for serving


Peel and finely chop all the garlic cloves. Put the pasta on to cook according to the instructions on the packet. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water before cooking. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan for a minute or two. Test it is hot enough by dropping a small piece of garlic in, when it sizzles it is hot enough so add the rest of the garlic in. Cook for about 1 -2 minutes. You are not looking to brown the garlic at all to keep the heat at a mid temperature.

Stir in the tomato puree and turn the heat to a slightly lower temperature. Keep stirring. As the tomato cooks it incorporates most of the oil and turns from a fresh red to a deeper darker red. After 4 – 5 minutes it should be done.

Drain your pasta and add to the tomato sauce stirring well. Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan, a glass of merlot and a crispy green salad to finish.

Makes for 6 people