A British seaside summer…

“Ahhhhh…” came the voice from beyond the fence, “it isn’t a proper British summer without crab sandwiches, it really isn’t….I do declare that crab sandwiches are the epitome of the British seaside”. We sniggered quietly, picturing the lady next door lying on her sun lounger eating crab sandwiches and extolling their virtues loudly to no one in particular.

And although amusing she had a point, proper sandwiches made with good brown bread, some lemony mayonnaise and fresh fresh crab really are rather lovely, and very British. Of course there is nothing to beat the British coastline in August for variety and fun and food. From wide open huge sky sandy beaches, pebbly beaches, vertiginous cliffs, coves, rock pools, salt marshes to faded Victorian promenades, piers, arcades, fish and chips, greasy spoon cafes, beach chalets, fresh fish, and cockles; there is something for everyone whether its a day trip or a proper holiday. Best of all though, lots of the smaller seaside towns seem to have wonderful food on offer, you don’t have to go to Padstow these days, all along the coast you can find great food.

Regardless of whether you are at the seaside you can bring something of the salty freshness of British seaside air to you table with two of the best coastal produce that are in season right now…yes those brown crabs and samphire. As ever the fresher the better, if you are happy to cook crab yourself then buy live and follow the RSPCA advice on humanely dealing with the crab before cooking in salted water for 12 mins for the first 500g and 5 mins for every extra 500g. Pick out the meat and use in a simple salad or sandwich, with good brown bread of course, I use this recipe from my blog but with 50-70% wholemeal flour, the rest white flour and all water for the liquid (though part milk will work well too).

There are lots of fancy recipes for crab but I find because the meat is very rich simpler is better and preferably with something to counterpoint the richness. Things that work well are green vegetables such as broad beans or peas and curiously eggs and perhaps a little chilli. And of course samphire, the saltiness cutting through the richness perfectly.

Samphire has been having quite a renaissance in British cooking and is now rather sought after. It can be hard to find as it usually sells out quickly but persevere and you will be rewarded with something that can be eaten simply steamed and dressed with butter a bit like asparagus, on salads, or as a side vegetable particularly with fish or lamb. You can try foraging for some if you are near an estuary (flat wide muddy ones are best, but be certain you know what you are collecting, don’t pull up the roots, don’t over collect and be sure you have permission to collect it). It keeps reasonably well with the ends wrapped in damp newspaper. When you are ready to eat it trim off the thicker ends, depending on how you are going to use it you may want only the top few inches of the tips as the thicker parts have an inner stem. Its easy to suck the juicy flesh off the stem when you are eating it as a side dish but in a tart or omelette or other dishes its better to have only the tender tips. I usually steam it for around 5 minutes (don’t add any salt), any longer and its less flavoursome. If you happen upon an abundance then you can freeze it (blanch for 2 minutes first) or pickle it, though in my kitchen it doesn’t last long enough for either of those two things to happen.

But what of combining crab and samphire into a perfect seaside influenced dish. Two wonderful possibilities spring to mind: a tart and a pasta dish. I found this tart recipe blogged recently by Ailbhe of Simply Splendiferous so rather than create my own version take a look at hers. And for those of you who fancy a pasta dish try this:

Crab and samphire pasta (4 people)

75g dried linguine or spaghetti per person

1 medium brown crab

75-100g samphire (if you can’t get samphire then spinach or green beans would work well)

1 fresh chilli chopped finely or a pinch of chilli flakes


  1. Cook the crab and pick out the meat, or buy a ready picked crab from somewhere you know its super fresh
  2. Trim the samphire and use only the tender tips (top 5-8cm), steam for 5 minutes until cooked
  3. Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions and drain
  4. Toss the pasta, crab meat, samphire and chilli together
  5. Serve
  6. Sigh gently at the very British summery-ness of the dish as you eat

This article was first posted in Francoise Murat’s newsletter.

A Lancashire Macaroni Cheese

I don’t particulary recall eating macaroni cheese as a child not from a Heinz tin, not lovingly made by mother or grandmother, its simply not a dish that springs to mind as something we ate often. I don’t know why. So when Fiona Beckett started the idea of the ultimate mac n’ cheese (as our friends in the US of A call it) I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to create my own version. Fiona’s competition started out simple and then got lots of categories (best this, best that, best other and so on) and I toyed with the artisanal cheese category for quite sometime knowing which cheese I would choose. And then Fiona announced the prizes and my mind was made up I had to have the Emma Bridgewater macaroni cheese dish come what may. So my entry is for the most original recipe.

Starting with my artisanal cheese idea and then spooling it out into the dish my mother or grandmother could have made I decide this had to be a dish based in the foods of Lancashire (well apart from the macaroni of course). I played with adding things like vimto or tizer, might they be secret umami giving ingredients, unlikely, so they were consigned to the ‘too original’ slot. Some researching in Laura Mason and Catherine Brown’s Traditional Foods of Britain (if you don’t have this book and you love British food just get it) led me to two possibilities: potted shrimps or bury black pudding. A tough one a really tough one. So I flipped a coin and it came down on the side of the black pudding.

Here’s what I did (its in old measures in honour of my Grandma):

A Lancashire Macaroni Cheese

Ingredients (for 2 hungry people):

1 bury black pudding (the sort in a hoop shape and of about 1” diameter)
3-4 oz dried macaroni each – depending on your greed
¾ pint full fat milk
1 oz flour
1 oz butter and some for frying
4 oz Sandhams Tasty Lancashire cheese*
2 oz Booths** Special Reserve Tasty Lancashire Cheese*, grated/crumbled

pre heat oven to R4/180C


  1. Cook the macaroni in boiling lightly salted water as per the instructions on your packet (mine said 8 minutes). When cooked drain and keep on one side.
  2. Slices the black pudding into ½” rounds and fry quickly on either side in a small amount of butter. You are aiming for the outside to be crispy and the middle still soft. Removes the skin from the pudding and crumble the slices.
  3. Make a white sauce of a thickish consistency (between coating and panada) using the ‘all in one’ method. So put the flour, milk and butter in a pan and heat gently stirring continouosly until it thickens. Add the 4oz of Sandhams Tasty Lancashire cheese and season to taste.
  4. Find a shallow dish, butter it (dream of it being this Emma Bridgewater dish).
  5. Toss the crumbled black pudding in with the cooked macaroni, stir in the cheese sauce. Tip it all in the buttered dish.
  6. Sprinkle with the 2oz of Booths Special Reserve Tasty Lancashire.
  7. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  8. Eat and dream of Lancashire.

* If you don’t know that there’s more than 1 version of real Lancashire cheese then watch out for my tasting of seven types coming soon. I’ve picked these two examples because like all Lancashire they melt beautifully and because they differ in strength, the Sandhams is slighty milder (but still with a good tang) the Booths** has a strong tasty Lancs hit.

** Booths is a small supermarket chain based in the North West of England. If all supermarkets were like Booths it would be a good thing.

Back of the fridge pasta

pasta with pestoYesterday when I was catching up with posts on a few of my favourite blogs I spotted a pasta blogging event that Mangocheeks at Allotment2Kitchen was taking part in. So I followed the links and ended up at Presto Pasta Nights, which this week (PPN #117) is hosted by Katie at Thyme for Cooking. The concept is that you blog about a pasta dish (well anything that has pasta or noodles in actually) and as pasta is one of my favourite quick dishes I thought it might be fun to take part especially as I had pasta for lunch on Monday from a mixture of things lurking in the fridge.

As I work from home quite a lot I get to rustle up whatever I fancy each day from whatever I can see in the fridge. I don’t often buy things specifically to use for lunch but instead muddle through with whatever I can find from leftovers and store cupboard basics. Its fair to say our cupboards and fridge are fairly well stocked so it not often that I struggle to make something tasty, but I do tend to really on pasta, salads and open sandwiches a lot.

On Monday the fridge yielded:

  • some cooked garden peas and new potatoes leftover from dinner the night before
  • the remains of a bunch of asparagus that had got hidden behind something else so it wasn’t in top form any more but still edible
  • some fresh tarragon pesto that was dangerously near its use by date
  • the last of a chunk of parmesan

So I headed to the cupboard and dug out the current pasta shape (some De Cecce Tortiglioni) and cooked it as per the packet instructions. I steamed the asparagus above the pasta for about 7 minutes and then cut it into 2cm lengths. Once the pasta was done I drained it, put it back in the pan and stirred in a couple of spoonfuls of pesto, and tossed it with the asparagus, peas and potatoes (cut into 1cm dice). Into a bowl with a good grating of parmesan on the top and there was my lunch. Maybe 15 minutes from fridge to table – not bad.

Note: The fresh pesto was Purely Pesto. I’m going to be doing a producer review soon so watch out for that.

Ian’s secret cheaty meatball recipe

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be treated my husband’s cheaty secret meatball recipe. For some reason when there’s meatballs to be cooked he always takes charge and I’m not allowed near – which is kind of great as I get to sit at the table and watch him work but means he can keep the exact recipe secret.

So how am I going to be able to share it with you? Well careful watching and tasting over many years has lead me to be able to identify the key ingredients (yes, meatballs is one of them) and below I’ve put down some basics that will allow you to create your own secret recipe based on this well tested original.

To start with you are going to need an onion, some tinned tomatoes (chopped or whole take your pick), some meatballs (that’s the big cheaty bit; get some good ready prepared raw meatballs). I’m mostly a Waitrose kind of girl so we have their beef, pork or lamb (all come in organic variants) to pick from – its another chance to make the recipe your own. The beef even come in two sizes, large and mini, the possibilities are becoming boundless.

Start cooking the chopped onion gently in some olive oil so it goes translucent (about 10 minutes) and meantime search in the store cupboard for your seasoning(s) of choice. This is when you can get creative. What meat are you using? Start from that, combined with your thoughts on what takes your fancy taste wise, to select your seasonings. Good options (though possibly not all at the same time) are tomato puree, oregano, thyme, chilli flakes, Tabasco, mushroom ketchup, thai fish sauce (but only a teeny bit).

The onions are looking nice and translucent – well now pop in the meatballs and brown them all over – about 5-10 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, seasonings of choice (plus salt and pepper of course) and perhaps a glug of red wine. Get it all simmering away, put on the lid and leave to cook for around 20-30 minutes.

Serve with pasta (spaghetti or tagliatelle) and as much parmesan as you like (proper stuff not the ready grated sawdust please – that’s cheating gone wrong – like so many things in life you have to know when to stop).

Last night we had the larger size of beef meatball (because they are on offer at the moment – 2 packs for £4.50) and I think the seasoning was leaning mainly to the oregano. Excellent as ever.

And there’s still some left for another day.

Quick pasta lunch

Some days you need a lunch dish that’s fast, fast, fast.

Its still grey outside so it needs to be warming and fairly robust but also bring a hint of the spring that’s coming (it seems like it is – I can see daffodils poking through the ground and buds appearing on the trees – balmy days of sipping rosé and chucking fresh basil on every dish must surely only be round the corner).

So what will fit the bill? 

Well pasta is always a winner I think – quick and easy (I mean the dried stuff not making your own and then hand rolling it – delicious though that is, it’s a kind of all day project). And what to have with the pasta – well lets not be completely lazy and tip out something from a supermarket tub, lets cook a couple of things up in the same time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook. 

Yesterday’s choice for me was some salami cut into strips and some baby plum tomatoes cut in half, sautéed in olive oil, mixed into the drained pasta, sprinkled with pine nuts and parmesan, et voila.

Start to finish 15 minutes (not including the eating time!).

Baby its cold outside

Its been pretty cold the last day or so with a snow fall of about 6 inches today – something we haven’t seen for a long time (18 years according to the records). So its mostly all about curling up near the heater/fire/radiator with a warm drink and a small snack whilst contemplating which warming dish to have for lunch or dinner.


Soups and stews are the order of the day and better still if there are a few things to hand to cook one up relatively quickly. Who wants to have to scrape the snow off the car to go and get dinner in weather like this when the time could be better spent making snowmen and going for a brisk walk? So its been a search in the fridge and cupboards for things that can quickly be rustled up into hearty dishes. 

Porridge for breakfast – always good on a cold day; then a soup for lunch made from onion, canned beans, sliced leftover sausage (salami, ham or bacon would also do the trick) and the last bits of a cabbage  – a kind of muddled up caldo verdo/minestrone.

The search for dinner possibilities revealed beef stew leftovers (always happens when there are two of you to feed – stew and casserole recipes don’t seem to be devised for less than 4 – but hey why worry when they are almost always tastier on the second go). We added some big field mushrooms and then some pasta which we cooked and stirred in at the last minute.


All good warming dishes, no trip to the shops needed and plenty of chance to make snowmen because there won’t be another chance to do that for nearly 20 years!