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Cauliflower almond soup, with mushrooms and truffle oil

I’ve got snow envy again. It seems to be the same old story every January these days; I’m always the happy recipient of other people’s snowmen pictures, but there’s never a flake to be seen in London. Whilst I’m not a fan of the cold, I do love that magical ability snow has to imbue a sense of calm and serenity, acting as a massive blanket that muffles any noise and makes everything still under its weight.

The delicate flavour and thick texture of this soup has a similar calming influence to that elusive heavy snowfall which I never open my curtains to find. White food seems to have a gentle quality which can be just what you need after a daily battle through the cold. The nutty sweet flavour of almonds blends well with the earthiness of the cauliflower. I decided to top it off with even more earthy flavour from some fried mushrooms and truffle oil, although it’s not essential. Read more

Pulled pork brioche buns

So it’s nearly time to say goodbye to 2015. I’m not big on new year; I don’t make resolutions or feel the need to reinvent myself because the date is changing, although having a few quiet days at home over the Christmas holidays has given me chance to reflect a little as I mooch about the house. It’s nice to have a change of pace once in a while, to feel you have the time to do things properly and to enjoy the process, rather than rattling along getting things done, ticking off the list and dashing on to the next thing. It’s a feeling I’d like to have more often, so perhaps I’ll see if I can dedicate more of 2016 to taking my time over things.

This recipe is perhaps the definition of taking your time. There aren’t many recipes I’d recommend you start a day before you want to eat, but some things can’t be hurried. The inspiration for this came from a beef bun recipe I found online, but I was feeding non-beef eaters the day I made these and so the pork made a very successful substitute. It strikes me as I write this, that maybe these would have been an ideal new years party recipe, but they would certainly be a welcome addition to any weekend with friends or family. Read more

Cranberry clementine shortbread sandwiches

Christmas seems to creep up faster every year – I feel like I’ve barely done any Christmas baking this year and suddenly it’s here! This lack of baking hasn’t exactly translated into a lack of eating though. There is a near constant supply of mince pies in the office, fuelling me through those mid morning and mid afternoon slumps, which meant that when a baking opportunity finally arose I was actually feeling a bit mince pied out. So I made these little jam sandwich biscuits instead, an easy little mince pie alternative. They’re that perfect combination of light and fruity, yet satisfyingly buttery and crisp, with the added bonus of looking like little Christmas jewels.

You’ll need two Christmas shaped cookie cutters for this, one smaller than the other to cut a window out of the top biscuit. I used snowflakes, but any shapes will work.

Soften 250g butter then add 150g caster sugar. Mix for a couple of minutes with a wooden spoon or in a food mixer until pale and creamy. Add 1 egg yolk and the zest of 2 clementines. Finally mix in 300g plain flour until just combined. Roll into a ball, wrap it in cling film and pop it into the fridge for half an hour.

Heat your oven to 160C (fan). Lightly dust your work surface with flour the divide the dough into two. Roll out the first ball until just a few millimetres thick and cut out shapes using the larger cutter, re-rolling the offcuts as needed. These will form the base of your sandwiches. Lay these onto a couple of non-stick baking trays and bake for around 10 minutes until light golden and crisp. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Meanwhile roll out the other ball of dough and again cut shapes out using the larger cutter. Then take your smaller cutter and cut out a shape in the middle. Carefully transfer these to more baking trays, they will be quite delicate with the middles cut out. Either re-roll the centres to make more biscuits or just bake them to eat as your little cooks treat whilst doing the icing.

Once all batches of biscuits are baked and cooled then they can be assembled. Put a small spoonful of cranberry jam into the centre of the bases and then add the tops.

Mix a cup of icing sugar with just enough water to form a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag and ice the tops as you like. My icing is far from neat but it still looks pretty. Add silver balls or other decorations as you like.

The jam with soften the biscuits a little so they’re best eaten fresh. I don’t think they’ll last very long anyway. Merry Christmas!

Makes about 20, depending how big your cookie cutters are. Takes about an hour, plus half an hour for the dough to rest in the fridge.

Shopping list:

250g butter

1 egg (just the yolk needed)

150g caster sugar

300g plain flour

2 clementines

1 jar cranberry jam

1 cup icing sugar

silver balls or other decorations

 

Equipment needed:

Festive cookie cutters

Baking trays

Piping bag

 

 

Malted chocolate ice cream cake aka Malteser Viennetta

I do love a good bit of kitchen dabbling. This is the result of one happy experiment, borne of some double cream without a home and half a jar of malt extract left over from the ale and cheddar bread I made a little while ago. Double cream never goes to waste in my house – I’ll happily whip up a couple of spoonfuls of cream, stir through dash of whatever I have in the cupboard (baileys is a particularly reliable option) before stashing it in the freezer, barely more than a couple of mouthfuls waiting for a moment in need of a little sweetness.

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I was so very pleased with the little pot of cream I spiked with malt extract and milk chocolate that I knew a malteser-based ice cream pudding was in the making. I couldn’t quite settle the format in my head, until a conversation at work brought up the endless retro appeal of a viennetta, which inspired me to make this. If you’ve never had a viennetta, it’s a soft, fluffy ice cream bar with thin shards of chocolate traversing its length, bringing a welcome crisp to an otherwise soft and sweet dessert.

This isn’t a proper ice cream, no churning custard mixes here. Just some easily whipping and stirring, followed by enough patience to allow it to freeze. You’ll need a loaf tin approximately 20cm long x 10cm wide.

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Maple roasted squash and pecan salad, with a soft sticky cheese

imageIt’s suddenly very autumnal out there. The trees are sequentially turning golden and the breeze carries with it the scent of burning leaves, bonfires and chestnuts, hanging in the cold night air. A light mist seems to settle most evenings now, as the sun sets ever earlier, mixing atmospherically with the smokey scent in the air.

I’m happily continuing my current obsession with sweet potatoes and squashes. On a crisp Autumn day, sometimes a salad can seem like just the thing for supper, yet once it’s gone dark, all salad thoughts rapidly evaporate in favour of eating something warmer and comforting. This is the salad for such an evening – warm, sweet squash and buttery, rich pecans contrast beautifully with rich, creamy cheese and peppery rocket.

The combination of squash and pecans crops up a lot in seasonal American recipes – squash and pecan pies seem intrinsically linked to thanksgiving. Whilst we don’t have thanksgiving in the UK, the flavours still epitomise the Autumn season for me.

You want a lovely, sticky soft cheese for this recipe. I bought one from a cheese stall on our local market and can’t remember exactly what it was, maybe a Cardo or a Wigmore, but it was the sort of cheese that oozes satisfyingly from its rind when left at room temperature. A goat cheese could also work well with this. Make sure it’s removed from the fridge at the start of the cooking time to allow it to warm up and bring out the flavour.

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Sweet potato, sweetcorn and chorizo hash

I’m having a bit of a sweet potato love-in at the moment. Maybe it’s their enticingly autumnal orange colour, but I’ve eaten this dish so many times recently, I just had to share it. I love the bright colours and sweet flavours; it’s a lovely, comforting and filling supper.

Peel and chop a small sweet potato into small cubes – the smaller they are the faster they’ll cook. I try to cut mine smaller than 1cm if I can. Heat a little oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the potato. Cover with a lid and fry gently, stirring occasionally, for around 10 minutes until soft and slightly golden.

Meanwhile, peel a small corn on the cob and slice off the kernels, or use a small tin if you can’t get fresh corn. Slice a few spring onions and halve a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Slice a couple of chunks of chorizo sausage and cut into cubes. Add these to the cooked potato and stir for a couple of minutes till the oil starts to ooze out. If you don’t have chorizo or don’t want to use it, add half a teaspoon of paprika instead for a lovely smoky flavour.

Throw in the corn, onions and tomatoes and allow to cook for A few minutes. Then add a good handful of spinach and allow to wilt then crack one or two eggs over the top, turn the heat to medium-low, put the lid back on and allow to cook for a few minutes until the egg white has set but the yolk is still lovely and runny.

Sprinkle over some chopped coriander and serve.

Serves 1, takes 20-25 minutes.

Shopping list:

1 small sweet potato

1 small corn on the cob

Small bunch Spring onions

cherry tomatoes

a few slices of chorizo or 1/2 tsp paprika

spinach

1 or 2 eggs

coriander

Sweet potato laksa

sweet potato laksa

So I’ve been spiralising again, it’s quite addictive once you start! This time with an actual spiraliser, a lovely birthday gift that enables me to spiral away at speed; no vegetable is seemingly safe from being turned into some sort of noodle.

I can feel the Autumn mood settling into my kitchen already. I like a little chilli in many dishes, but as the seasons change, my choice of recipe changes too. In summer I like my chilli paired with citrus and herbs, something bright and vibrant, evocative of Vietnam or Mexico. As the weather turns cooler, I move towards gentle, sweet spices; mellow and rich with coconut or cream. This laksa strikes just the right comforting note on a cool, damp evening. Read more

Ale, cheddar and thyme bread

Beer, cheddar and thyme bread

Its been a while hasn’t it? I’m not sure where August disappeared to. A flurry of weekend trips and late nights in the office mean that I’ve barely cooked anything more than the occasional buttery corn on the cob in the last month. So here I am, staring at September, feeling distinctly unready for Autumn. Surely there should be a few more weeks of long evenings to light up the BBQ or take a stroll eating ice cream? And my goodness Autumn has begun in full force – the damp, grey days mean I’m actually pretty grateful to shut the curtains at 8pm. Anyway, if grey days are to have their consolation, it’s the excuse to bake. A sofa day needs carbs and fast, so this yeast-free loaf was the perfect thing to get me back in the kitchen. Read more

Prawn, feta and lemon courgetti

prawn, feta and lemon courgetti

 

The lure of a new kitchen gadget can prove hard to resist. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a spiraliser for a while now; there is something very appealing about swapping the carbs for something a little bit lighter, especially in summer.

Until I have a massive kitchen with oodles of storage, I try not to act on impulse and commit my already bulging cupboards to yet another gadget, however exciting it might seem. So in an attempt to work out whether long thin strands of vegetables will indeed prove to be a total revelation to my cooking, I bought a significantly smaller, cheaper julienne peeler instead, which can live comfortably and guilt-free in the utensil drawer.

Prawns and feta are one of my favourite flavour combinations – the tangy, salty cheese sits perfectly alongside the sweet, meaty prawns. Handfuls of herbs and some lemon zest make this taste like a summer evening by the seaside. Read more

Strawberry pistachio macaron mess

 

strawberry pistachio macaron mess

Inspiration is a funny thing. I sometimes think that I have all of my best ideas on a sunny day. The sunshine just makes me want to paint, write, create in a way that makes me wonder whether I’ve ever had a good idea when there are clouds in the sky. Perhaps it’s just the positive frame of mind that the blue sky brings. The other key thing for me is a bit of mental space, allowing your brain to go meandering into places that it never can when it is stuffed with to-do lists or mindless tv. No wonder we have our best ideas in the shower or on a jog around the park. So this dessert is the product of a sunny stroll, where the rhythm of my legs could drive the cogs of my brain to create an indulgent variation on this summer classic. Inspiration in a bowl, I guess.

I’m a total sucker for pistachio flavoured things. It’s virtually guaranteed that if there is a pistachio variant of something, I’ll be having it. So when I had the idea of swapping the meringues in a traditional mess for macarons, it had to be pistachio. Their nutty flavour is perfect with the sweet, fruity strawberries. You could make your own macarons if you have the time or inclination, but I just bought mine from a local patisserie. I think that part of the point of a mess is the speed and ease of it. Read more