Beautiful brassicas

You might remember that I used to write a monthly blog for Francoise Murat Design about season British food. Well, Francoise has had the blog redesigned and its now called Rendez-vous Deco & Jardin, it looks lovely and I’m please to say I’m back doing my monthly feature.

My first piece was on how versatile brassicas are in the kitchen are and how useful they can be in in the lean vegetable months before the UK growing season gets into swing.

You can read the article here, its packed with ideas on how to use brassicas from spicy to mild, british to asian cooking, there is sure to be something to suit you.

Take 5 cookbooks

Last night I was chatting to fellow food lovers Gower Cottage Brownies and Presents Queen (aks The Foodie Gift Hunter) about cookbooks and in particular first cook books and the first things we cooked.

Now as anyone who has read this post about food book I did knows I now have many many food related books….but of course a long long time ago I started with none….

Here’s five books that have heavily influenced my cooking and count as first in some way or another

The Play and Cook Book, Marguerite Patten (1973)

This is genuinely the first cookbook I had that was my own. It was undoubtedly a gift but curiously I don’t recall who from. By the time I got it I suspect I already helped out cooking things like scones or fruit loaf with my mum and grandma. Neither had hardly any cookbooks and mostly cooked from memory or handwritten notes of recipes passed to them. We did have the Dairy Book of Home Management which I spent countless hours flipping though and looking at the pictures and projects. The book is in great condition mainly because I spent lots of time looking at it rather than cooking from it and also because I learnt very early to keep the cookbooks away from the action. Even my most used cookbooks have no splatters!

The three things I recall making from it are: Stuffed eggs, Eggs in a Nest and Rainbow Squares. The Rainbow Squares were a great disappointment it seemed impossible to get the coloured effect for each layer of the sweet even.

Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (1982)

The copy in the picture is actually my husbands, my copy has gone AWOL and is a BCA special smaller format on really thin paper…it’s been well used and the pages are falling out. It’s the book I really learnt to cook from. In truth I learnt to cook from my Mum’s copies of the three separate paperbacks printed to go with the television series rather than these subsequently compiled versions. The first recipe I remember cooking on my own is Normandy Pork with Cream and Apples as a welcome home dish for my Mum after she had been on a school trip, I was 14. Other dishes I recall fondly are Paprika Liver, Scone base pizza and Lemon cheesecake. It’s still the book I turn to fist for basics and timings, though i promise I don’t make scone base pizza anymore. I don’t care what anyone says about Delia this book is a great place to learn.

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway (1929, this edition 1984)

Okay now this isn’t a cookbook…but there is a description of food in it that made me want to cook something simple….the book is about the first world war and the part i recall is where some troops have become detached from the column and happen upon a farmhouse…they look for food…

‘There is not much to eat,’ Piani said. ‘They’ve cleaned it out.’
Bonello sliced a big white cheese on the heavy kitchen table.
‘Where was the cheese?’
‘In the cellar. Piani found wine too and apples.’

The soldiers drink some wine and eat slices of cheese and then they move on and back to the horror of the war and the wet and the mud.

In my mind there is a further passage where they simply cook pasta and slice cheese into it…I can’t find it now as I scan through, but the description stuck and the idea something as simple as pasta and cheese can be delicious stuck…and morphed into a regular recipe at home of creating pasta dishes from what ever we had (and calling the result pasta mix!). Of course any self respecting Italian is probably horrified by this gung ho approach…but there happens to be no Italian blood in my family and in Lancashire in the early 1980s I think we didn’t mind whether it was authentic or not just that it was easy, economical and tasted good. The idea lives on in dishes like this.

Middle Eastern Cooking, Claudia Roden (1986)

This is from a series that Sainsbury published in the mid 1980s and edited by Jill Norman. It’s got lovely vibrant illustrations by Julia Binfield. Supermarkets don’t seem to commission cookbooks as much these days but in the late 80s and early 90s there were great compact versions of books by well known authors to be had at bargain prices. I’ve quite a haul of them (not all are quite as nice as this in design terms). All of them though took me on a journey into cuisines I knew little about and got me to experiment with mexican, indian, middle eastern, chinese and more. My favourite recipe from this particular book is the Lentil and Spinach soup with Lemon…a wonderfully thick tasty soup thats easy to make.

The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan (1992)

My first Christmas present from my husband, way before he was my husband. This is where I learnt to make fresh pasta, really rich ragu and the best ever lasagne, light yet full of flavour. It’s a sort of Delia of Italian cooking for me and the place I go to check first for an Italian recipe.

All that without even knowing who Nigel Slater was….five books that have shaped how I eat and cook…what are your important five??

Festive menu, part 3 (all about chestnuts)

Yesterday I told you about the cheese terrine we had for starters today its all about the chestnuts…mainly so you can make the chestnut stuffing from my festive menu but also so I can share my most recent blog for Francoise Murat Design on Christmassy foods and which also includes a fab chestnut jam and a chocolatey chestnut cake…so here it is….. (first posted 8 December the cakes are actually made now!)

One of the wonderful things about Christmas is the fact that there are lots of chances to cook up delicious meals and food gifts for friends and family. Some people will have started their Christmas preparation months ago baking Christmas cakes which are now slowly being ‘fed’ brandy or whisky to make them extra moist and tasty ahead of being decorated. I’m not quite that organised although I have ear marked some of my chutneys, pickles, fruit vodkas and vinegars as gifts and I’m planning on making lavender shortbreads and perhaps cheese biscuits too. The fruit is now soaking in whisky ready to make the cakes and I think I might try my hand at some home cured gravadlax.

For lots of people the big decision is what meat to have for the Christmas meal, should it be turkey or the supposedly more traditional goose, a classic English roast beef or perhaps a stuffed loin of pork. For me though it’s all about the trimmings and the other meals, the roast is almost irrelevant. I’ve often joked that you could easily serve me a plate piled with all the trimmings and I wouldn’t notice if the roast meat was missing. I just love the extras so much and they are the things that most of us only decide to do for Christmas…..stuffings, bread sauce, fruit jelly, sausages wrapped in bacon, about 5 types of vegetables all with little twists, proper gravy made from real stock, tons of crispy roast potatoes…we might do some of these some of the time but we almost never do so many together and of course that’s just the ‘main’ course…there will be a starter when perhaps normally there wouldn’t, there’ll be dessert and mince pies and cake and then somewhere in all this there’ll be a groaning table of cold cuts, pates, pork pies, cheeses, breads, smoked salmon following by an array of cheesecake, trifle, gooey chocolate cake…and lots of citrus fruit too to balance it all out.

My particular favourites are homemade mince pies with proper crumbly delicate pastry, baked ham, the sausages wrapped in bacon, roasted root vegetables, braised cabbage with lardons and a splash of white wine, chestnuts tossed with Brussels sprouts and butter, super crispy roast potatoes. Give me those over the festive period and I’ll be happy but there is one thing that that I wouldn’t ever go without at Christmas regardless of what else I chose to cook and that’s chestnut stuffing. Even if I’m not having turkey or chicken or pork I still make some in a sort of terrine style and eat it with chutney or pickle or as a sandwich filling. I love it, it’s the stuffing we always had at Christmas when I was growing up, so it’s a Christmas must (the recipe is from my Grandma). Its tasty and moist without being heavy, lots of stuffing’s use pork mince, which makes them very rich. This is simpler and with a little adaptation could easily be made into a fantastic vegetarian version as a terrine.

I really like chestnuts, their sweet mealiness lends itself well to a range of different dishes, savoury and sweet. They are good in wintery stews particularly with game. They are delicious roasted and eaten straight from the skins. And they work in cakes and breads, particularly with chocolate but they also have a long heritage as a flour substitute in southern Europe.  When I was doing a trial batch of the stuffing last week for this blog post I also decided to play around with some other chestnut ideas so as well as a stuffing I think everyone will like, for chestnut fans I’ve a chestnut jam recipe and also a chocolate and chestnut cake. So stop worrying about whether to have turkey, goose or beef, focus on the extras and I’ll bet almost no one notices which roast you serve.

Chestnut Stuffing

The way I like to cook means this recipe is just a starting point, pick your favourite herbs to go in the mix, don’t use bacon if you want a vegetarian version and perhaps add gently softened onions instead (or even as well if you like).

  • 1 tin chestnut puree
  • 8 oz breadcrumbs
  • 3 rashers streaky bacon cut into small pieces
  • zest 1 lemon (and the juice if you like)
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • big handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Break up the chestnut puree with a fork; add all the ingredients except the eggs and mix. Once mixed add the egg and bring together. Use to stuff turkey, chicken or loin of pork. Bake any you can’t fit in the meat in a dish or terrine. You can line this with streaky bacon and fold over the top or simply dot the top with butter. Cook the extra stuffing for at least 40 mins at R6 (200C), you may need to cover the top with foil half way through the cooking time.

Chestnut Jam

  • 2 tins of whole cooked chestnuts (i.e. 400g) or whatever weight you have of cooked peeled chestnuts
  • For each 100g of chestnuts you need 75ml water and 100g of sugar
  • Lemon zest
  • Vanilla pod

Put the chestnuts in a pan and add the water, the lemon zest and the vanilla, simmer gently for 30 mins (covered) to allow the flavours to infuse. Drain but retain the liquid and top back up to the 75ml per 100g weight of chestnuts using either water or brandy. Push the chestnuts through a fine sieve then add back to the liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer until thick and when a drop is put on a cold plate in the fridge for a few minutes it forms a skin and is a jam consistency. Put in warm sterilised jars and seal. It’s great on toast, especially sourdough and can be used with chocolate cake (see below).

Chocolate Chestnut Cake

I was inspired by a whole range of ideas when I came up with this recipe: from Mont Blanc, various brownie recipes, Nesselrode pudding to a store cupboard cake of Nigella’s that uses jam or marmalade with chocolate…..

  • 100g of 100% cacao (grated), I used Willie’s Supreme Cacao Peruvian Black, San Martin
  • 300g of chestnut jam (see previous recipe, you can also buy online)
  • 150g sugar (or 150g more chestnut jam, this is what I used)
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 150g self raising flour
  • round cake tin (20cm) or better still a brownie tray, lined with silicon paper

Melt the butter in a bain-marie then add the cacao and allow this to melt and stir to mix as the cacao melts. Remove from heat and add the chestnut jam, mixing well, then add the sugar (if using) and eggs. When its all well combined add the flour a heaped tablespoonful at a time and mix. Pour into the cake or brownie tin and bake at R4 (180C) for at least 50 mins and a skewer comes out clean. My cake was very deep as it was in an 18cm tin and so it took and hour and half to bake, in a brownie tin it will take much less so start checking from 35 minutes and adjust cooking time accordingly. Leave in the tray/tin for 15 mins to cool and then remove.

I served the cake sliced like a Victoria sponge and filled with more of the chestnut jam and whipped cream, topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed meringues. As the cake was so deep this made it rather difficult to eat and it collapsed so I think doing it brownie style and topping with the jam, cream and meringues would be more effective.

The fat of the land

This post was originally published in early November in Francois Murat Design newsletter. Although the apple season is pretty much at an end now many varieties store well so this is still a lovely dish to make over the coming cold months……

Autumn is well and truly here, the nights are drawing in, the weather is cooling day by day. Many of the fruits and vegetables are harvested. Those that can be have been turned into preserves of various kinds or carefully stored away to be used over the winter months.

Apples are still with us and there are varieties that are still being harvested during November but the main crop has been taking place throughout October and celebrated with Apple Day events across the country. Apple Day was started 20 years ago by Common Ground to help save and celebrate the huge range of English apples that were being lost bit by bit. In that time much progress has been made and varieties that were almost lost have been reintroduced. If you care about British food though there is still plenty to be done and attending an Apple Day event can be great fun for all the family with a chance to buy apples, press your own juices or simply learn more about orchards and the variety available. If you missed out this year then put a little reminder in your diary now to seek out apple events next October, and in the meantime support the growers by searching out interesting varieties or even sponsoring a tree at a community orchard project.

Autumn is not only a time for preserving fruit and vegetables its also the time when, traditionally, meat would be preserved in a variety of ways to see the household through winter and save on animal feeding costs. This is particularly true of the pig. In ‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ Jane Grigson says:

It could be said that European civilization – and Chinese civilization too – has been founded on the pig.’


Of course there are plenty who don’t eat pork and they would disagree with Grigson’s statement and her subsequent analysis. But for many it has been staple of cooking for centuries and the tradition of the autumn pig slaughter and subsequent preserving is well documented. Bacon is also often cited as the meat that vegetarian converts most miss but I’m not sure there is any real data to back this claim up. For those with strong constitutions I highly recommend Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay ‘It takes a Village to Kill a Pig’, not for the faint hearted, but fascinating not least because it was first published in American Vogue, not the sort of place you imagine happening on a detailed account of traditional pig slaughter in a Basque village. Preserving meat is not something I’ve tried although there are now quite few books and courses around on preserving the bounty of the pig and I know of a number of people who make their own sausages, bacon and salami at home. I’d recommend reading Tim Hayward (of The Guardian’s Word of Mouth) articles as a good starting point.

Now of course we can eat pork (and other meat) all year round if we want to. Whether it tastes its best or has been reared in a sustainable manner is of course open to much debate. It seems to make sense to eat less meat, reared in the best way possible and used sensibly. We can learn a lot from the seasons and the way people used to cook though of course we can’t go back to how they lived (and I doubt we would want to) but we can think more carefully about what we eat and when we eat it.

So eating pork at this time of year makes sense seasonally and pairing it with apples has a long heritage. Roast pork and apple sauce is a classic British dish with the apple sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. That’s the point of this combination the apple provides a counterpoint to the meat, so often missed with over sweetened commercial sauces. Apple jelly is wonderful with sausages, either on the side or as a glaze to create extra sticky sausages. If you don’t have your own apple jelly to hand then try one with a little kick of chilli for some added interest (Jules & Sharpies Sage & Apple Jelly is my current favourite) track down something local to you and support a local food business.

There’s a recipe I’ve been cooking for years that sprang to mind (from an early Delia Smith book) after I’d been to an Apple Day event at Copped Hall in Essex recently. I think it’s the first dish I cooked entirely on my own at home but I wanted to do it a bit differently this time and make it into an almost one-pot dish. It’s simple, pretty quick and of course tasty.

Creamy pork, apples, cider and potatoes

For 2 people you need:

  • 2 large pork chops on the bone
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 apple, I used an Egremont russet (my favourite apple just sharp enough and good firm flesh), cored and sliced but not peeled
  • ½ bottle cider, I used Aspalls Organic
  • small handful of fresh sage (about a tbsp when chopped)
  • ½ tub crème fraiche (100g)
  • 3-4 large potatoes cut into thin slices
  • salt & pepper
  • butter

What to do….

  1. Pre heat the oven to 190C/R5
  2. Put some butter in a frying pan and brown the chops, place then in a shallow casserole dish.
  3. If needed add a little extra butter and soften the onions for about 5 minutes over a low heat, add them to the pork chops.
  4. Fry the apple slices quickly and add to the casserole.
  5. Add the cider to the frying pan and bring to simmering then pour over the chops.
  6. Sprinkle the casserole with the chopped sage and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the crème fraiche and stir into the liquid
  8. Add the potato slices pushing them down into the creamy liquid.
  9. Cover and cook for 20 minutes then remove the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes.

The chops will be cooked but remain juicy, the potatoes will have absorbed some of the creamy liquid and cooked rather like daupinoise. Serve with a lightly steamed autumn vegetable to balance the creaminess, we had red cabbage.

Threes P’s Risotto and guest posting

I’ve been doing my regular post for Francoise Murat’s newsletter for a while now but recently I was asked to do a guest post for fellow blogger Jo, of Jo’s Kitchen, whilst she was away. So I thought why not its always fun to do a bit of writing elsewhere.

Here’s what I came up with for her….

With monotonous regularity someone somewhere will go on about how an education system founded in “the 3 Rs” is just what we need to get back to basics and raise standards. Its always worried me a little that these three R’s don’t all start with “R”, hasn’t anyone but me spotted or is it phonetics for adults. Perhaps, despite the huff and puff that is was better in the past, its assumed those basics didn’t ever get through and so none of us know that only Reading actually begins with the letter R and that wRiting and aRithmetic start with other letters than “R”. Granted the “W” in wRiting is pretty silent in pronunciation but the “A” in ARithmetic isn’t, although there is an argument the R is for ‘Reckoning’ not ‘aRithmetic’. But the fundamental point of the three R’s is: get the basics right and all the rest will follow as day follows night. There is at least a grain of truth….. click here to read more over at Jo’s Kitchen blog …..and you get to see inside the exercise books!

Its been a while…

Ah yes, another break in the blogging flow. It been nearly four weeks since I posted here and that was after a gap of nearly two weeks. I don’t know how some people manage to keep such a regular flow of posts going. Sometimes the inspiration comes in huge chunks sometimes not, and when it doesn’t well there is no deadline to make you file on time.

I have been doing a few things elsewhere…like over on my various posterous sites where I’ve been posting food and non-food related snippets and also splitting the food and none food into two separate sites.

Take a look here for food stuff:

And here for other not so foodie stuff:

I also wrote a guest piece for the world famous Where’s my Pork Chop? blog run by Danny at Food Urchin all about well food and the internet:

And of course I did my regular piece for Francoise Murat’s newsletter which you can find here but I’ll be posting the full post on the blog too soon.

And finally there’s another guest piece on another blog that will be popping up soon, I’ll let you know when it does.

So I haven’t been sitting round doing nothing, honest!

In Season: Cheese and Onion

This article was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in March 2010.

Mention cheese and onion and most people think of crisps. My quick Twitter survey revealed answers naming the Walkers brand, the colour of their bags (blue apparently) and even Gary Linekar, the face of Walkers crisps for so long he must surely have earned more from promoting crisps than from playing football and being a pundit. A few people were more inventive suggesting pasties and toasties but for most it was all about the crisps. The reason the crisp flavour works well is that the milky sour tang of cheese and the pungency of alliums are happy bedfellows, which means they have lots to offer in the kitchen, and spring is when plenty of both are at their best, real cheeses and real alliums, not Walkers crisps.

Thinking about the combination a whole host of dishes come to mind: leek and cheese sauce for pasta or chicken, onion soup with a lovely melting cheese crouton, cheese with pickled onions, cheese and onion marmalade sandwich, fresh goats cheese with chives, Yarg cheese wrapped in wild garlic, omelettes, frittatas or flans in a variety of allium and cheese combinations. The possibilities are endless.

British grown alliums are at their best now, lovely slim tender delicate leeks, new season spring onions, regular onions, shallots and of course wild garlic. Wild garlic has become an ‘on trend’ ingredient in the last couple of years as foraging has grown in popularity. It’s easy to find (the smell is a giveaway) particularly in woods by streams, you can grow it in your garden in a shady spot (but beware of it taking over) and you might see it at farmers’ markets or farm shops. You can eat the leaves and the flowers but like any allium it can range from mild to blow your head off in strength so always taste a little first before deciding how to use it. If you go foraging make sure you aren’t on private land or ask permission first, don’t collect from close to busy roads and be sure you know what it is you’ve picked. Don’t dig it up, leave enough for others to have some and for the plant to survive next year. The flowers are pretty sprinkled on salads and the leaves make a good substitute for leeks or spring onions.

As for cheese, fresh cheeses are particularly tasty in the spring as herds start to feed on grass again enriching the milk with clean herby flavours. Britain has a wealth of artisan cheeses and you should be able to find at least at one or two fresh cheeses in delis and farm shops. If you can’t then why not do a little experimenting in the kitchen and try making your own curd style cheese. It’s very simple to do and works with all types of fresh milk: cow’s, goat, sheep, even buffalo. Unpasteurised milk is lovely but normal works fine. This method is quick and easy and good as a supervised experiment for children. The yield varies depending on the milk, its highest with buffalo and lower with cow’s milk but whatever you choose you’ll get a lovely fresh delicious cheese. You can use the leftover whey in bread making in place of some of the milk or water.

Fresh cheese

Adapted from a recipe in the Casa Moro Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark.


  • 750ml milk
  • 1 tbsp essence of rennet (note that essence of rennet has already been diluted if you use undiluted rennet you must dilute it with water first)


  • Warm the milk to between 32-37C.
  • Add rennet and stir.
  • Pour into a bowl and cover with cling film.
  • Leave in a warm place for 30-45 minutes.
  • The curds will have set so cut them into about 3cm cubes whilst still in the bowl. Be gentle.
  • Leave for a further hour in a warm place.
  • Strain the curds into a muslin-lined colander.
  • Leave for about 6 hours for the whey to drain.

It’s as simple as that. The cheese will keep for up to a week in the fridge. It’s very mild in flavour and is particularly good rolled in some finely chopped wild garlic leaves or other fresh herbs. It also works well in omelettes, flans, and frittatas and stirred into pasta, with alliums of course and maybe a little mustard.

So next time you think of cheese and onion go beyond the immediate thought of a crisp flavour and branch out a bit in the kitchen.