an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Salmon and pistachio risotto

I spoke about this risotto in the third post I ever wrote on this blog, way back in January 2011. It really has been playing on my mind for a while.

When I was eight years old I went on a family holiday to Sicily. When moments are happening it is hard to know what is going to become a significant part of your history, and what will be forgotten as a distant memory. This holiday has definitely become part of my history.

We stayed in a little place called Taormina, in the shadow of Mount Etna. We saw ancient ruins, splashed in volcanic mountain streams, climbed acropolises, and ate incredibly well.

This salmon and pistachio risotto was apparently a regional speciality in Taormina, and I remember it blowing my tiny mind. I haven’t been able to find any recipes for it, and so this is my version, based on a twenty-year old memory.

Serves 4


2 salmon fillets (no skin)
Olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1 large shallot, small onion or half a large onion, finely diced
300g Arborio rice (or other suitable risotto rice)
125 ml  (small glass) relatively dry white wine – something that you would want to drink
1 litre hot chicken, fake chicken or vegetable stock
Approx 70g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
25 - 40g butter (risotto loves butter, but your arteries might not)
1 tbsp grated parmesan or similar hard cheese

Optional additions – green zingy herbs like lemon thyme or marjoram, lemon zest.


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (with fan).

Put the salmon fillets on an oven tray, and drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of sea salt and a grind or two of black pepper. Roast for 12-15 minutes, until just cooked through (you can do this while the risotto is cooking).

In a large saucepan, fry the onion in a glug of olive oil slowly on a low heat until soft and translucent (about 10 minutes).  Add the rice, and turn over in the onions until coated and glossy in the oil.

Add the wine to the pan and let it bubble for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Once the wine has bubbled to almost nothing, add the stock (I use fake chicken stock) a ladleful at a time, stirring and waiting for all the liquid to be incorporated before adding the next ladle.

This can take around 25-30 minutes.  When all the liquid is incorporated, check that the rice is cooked through, but still with a bit of bite. 
Flake the salmon (gently, so it doesn’t turn to mush) and add it to the rice, along with the chopped pistachios. Stir through the butter and parmesan, herbs if using, and season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Romesco sauce

This is a Spanish (my version Spanish-ish) dip/sauce thing, made with roasted pepper, tomato, garlic and walnuts. You could use other nuts, but I like the slightly bitter edge you get from the walnuts.

Romesco sauce works incredibly well as an accompaniment to some simply grilled or pan-fried fish, and I really love it with sweet potato wedges too, or on a bit of nice bread, or on a spoon. Basically, it is delicious.

Rachel Khoo made one and served it with burnt leeks, which had been steamed in newspaper. That sounded like the kind of bonkers thing I like to do, so I gave it a go – and I thought the leeks were horrible. If you like your sauce-accompaniments oniony and stringy, let me know and I’ll give you the directions.

This recipe is based on recipes by Rick Stein and Rachel Khoo. This amount makes approximately 6 dainty servings. More if you are less dainty, like me.


Pinch chilli flakes or 1 dried birds eye chilli
2 medium/large tomatoes, sliced in half
2 red peppers, slice in half and remove the seeds and white pithy bits
3-4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
30g walnuts - or hazelnuts or almonds, toasted and skins crumbled off (half-heartedly is fine)
20g stale-ish nice bread – no crusts
100ml olive oil
1 ½ tbsp red wine/sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Pre-heat the oven to 180-200 degrees (I’m not sure exactly because my oven only has three temperatures: very hot, hot, slightly less hot).

On a baking tray, arrange the tomatoes and peppers cut side down. Hide the garlic cloves under the pepper shells to prevent them becoming too scorched (this does work). Roast (no oil needed) for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are fragrant and the skins have blistered and blackened in places.

Pinch off as much of the burnt pepper and tomato skin as you can, and peel the garlic cloves. Put the roasted veggies and garlic in a food processor with the chilli flakes, toasted walnuts and bread. Pulse to chop, and the slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you blend until you get a rough sauce-y consistency. Add a generous pinch of salt and grind of pepper and the vinegar, blend, and then taste to see if it needs more seasoning or more vinegar.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Thyme and citrus roasted carrots with lentils, hazelnuts and yogurt

Based, sort of, on a recipe I saw by Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian

I haven’t got any profound or inappropriately personal words to go with this one, because I have been feeling a bit artistically blocked - with writing, not with cooking.

I know this looks like a huge amount of ingredients, but it does all make sense.

Serves 4


500g Carrots, feel and slice them into skinny-ish sticks or wedges, reminiscent of spindly spring carrots
1 orange
1 lemon
1 tbsp (approx) agave syrup
About 6 thyme sprigs
Olive oil
About 180g cooked lentils – puy or beluga
1 medium sized banana or echalion shallot, finely diced
1 (scant) tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
150g (ish) greek yogurt (full fat preferably)
Half clove of garlic, crushed
Handful hazelnuts, halved or roughly chopped and toasted in the oven or a frying pan until they are golden brown and their skins can be rubbed off
Fresh spinach, rocket, pea shoots or whatever green leafy thing you like
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (or 190 with fan)

Zest and juice the orange and the lemon.

Arrange the carrots in a roasting dish with five of the thyme sprigs. Drizzle with the agave syrup, roughly 1 tbsp of olive oil, half the citrus zests and about 1 tbsp of the citrus juice. Add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss everything together and roast for 35-45 minutes, until the carrots are cooked through and caramelised in places, fragrant with thyme and citrus. Turn the oven off and keep the carrots in the oven to stay warm until you are ready to serve.

Mix the yogurt with the remaining citrus zests, garlic, a pinch of salt and drizzle of olive oil, and keep it in the fridge until ready to serve.

Put the lentils in a bowl with the diced shallot and fresh thyme leaves from the remaining sprig. Season with salt and pepper and dress them with the vinegar, more olive oil, and another tbsp of citrus juice.

To serve, scatter the lentils over your chosen form of green leaf in a nice bowl, and top with the toasted hazelnuts and warm carrots. Add some artful blobs of the yogurt sauce and enjoy!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Gooseberry fool

"Gooseberry bush" was 19th-century slang for pubic hair, and from this comes the saying that babies are "Born under a gooseberry bush." (Wikipedia)
And now, everything I write about gooseberries will seem slightly inappropriate...
In times like these where you can get pretty much anything at any time of year, it seems like gooseberries are one of the few things left that are truly seasonal. They freeze really well, so get them while you can! The other day I literally bought eight boxes of gooseberries from Waitrose so that my Mum and Grandmother could stock up.

I love gooseberries. For me they are so evocative of childhood summers and meals with my grandparents – and after polling some of my friends I think that the same is true for a lot of people. When I was growing up we had a whole load of gooseberry bushes in the garden, and ate a lot of delicious gooseberry desserts (and strangely lumpy gooseberry soup), until one year they all died - our neighbour’s leylandii were blamed and all-out war was declared.

You may think less of me, but I made this recipe with custard made from Birds Custard Powder. Birds custard is one of the best things ever – it makes the most delicious yellow thick custard, and it is vegan too. If using Birds (which I would recommend), add slightly more powder than usual, as the custard should be thicker.

Gooseberry fool is rich and creamy, and an excellent dessert to make for special occasions, or for when you just really want to spoil yourself.

Serves 8-10


800g red or green gooseberries, topped and tailed.
2 tbsp caster sugar – plus more to taste
1 tbsp Date syrup
Approx. 1 pint custard, homemade from scratch, with Birds Custard Powder, or bought.
300ml double cream


Stew the gooseberries in a few tablespoons of water and the sugar until they have completely collapsed. This might take around 15 minutes.

Allow them to cool slightly, add the date syrup and use an immersion blender to wiz them into a smooth sauce. They should really be sieved at this point too, but I can never be bothered – the seeds aren’t too annoying. Taste the pureed gooseberry and sweeten further if needed (remember that the custard will be sweet too) – use date syrup if you want it to be more caramel-y, or just use normal sugar.

When the pureed gooseberry mixture is cold, whisk it together with the custard and cream, and leave it in the fridge to thicken, for at least a few hours until you are ready to serve.

See here for a recipe for gooseberry fool from 1914. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Grilled pepper bruschetta

(nice things on toast, part deux)

Maybe I’ve lost my mojo. It is hard for me to think that maybe my creativity stemmed from my unhappiness, but at least that realisation has given me something to work on.

I have been away at a yoga retreat in Turkey (bliss), and my yoga teacher Dimuthu said something really interesting about scar tissue, and how sometimes we protect old injuries, whether physical or emotional, so carefully that the scar tissue which builds is far bigger than the injury, creating a huge block. That concept resonates with me a lot. I am so much happier now, but maybe I am still protecting those old wounds. 

Inside the yoga studio
I definitely needed a holiday
So anyway, back to food. Being at a vegetarian yoga retreat in Turkey I am, of course eating extremely well. The food is simple and wholesome, and mostly grown in the hotel gardens. I have been taking a lot of notes, and really look forward to recreating some of the dishes when I get home; things like bulgur wheat as a side, full-fat yogurt swirled with olive oil, and tahini swirled with apricot and hazelnuts.

This pepper bruschetta recipe, despite being more Italian in influence, I think it works with the style of the food I have been eating here too – simple vegetables and good olive oil. Some of the best things to eat on a hot day.


Approximately 3 red or yellow peppers. It is hard for me to estimate how many peppers you will need, but obviously it is better to make a bit too much than too little. Any leftovers would be wonderful in a salad or pasta sauce, or just as more bruschetta.
2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
½ tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
Approximately 5 basil leaves (depending on how big they are), torn up
Coarse-ish sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the bruschetta:
6 slices of ciabatta, or similar lovely Italian bread
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Really good quality extra virgin olive oil


This quantity makes approximately 6 pieces of bruschetta – obviously depending on how big your slices of bread are.

Preheat the grill to very hot, but not the hottest it can go.

I find it best to line trays with foil when roasting peppers, as the liquid that comes out of them can be difficult to scrub off trays once it has burnt.

Grill the peppers for 3-5 minutes each side, until softened and blackened in places. When they are done, put them in a bowl and cover it tightly with cling film to let them steam.

When the peppers have mostly cooled down, peel off their skins and take out the stalks and seeds.

Slice the pepper flesh into thin-ish strips and put them in a bowl with the olive oil, vinegar, the torn basil leaves (save a few bits for garnish), and some salt and black pepper.

Cover the bowl and leave the peppers to marinate for at least half an hour. Put them in the fridge if you will be leaving them for longer than half an hour, but make sure to remove them from the fridge in enough time to come back up to room temperature before serving.

To make the bruschetta toast the bread on both sides, and then rub one side with garlic (serving side up).

To serve, spoon the pepper strips onto the bruschetta and garnish with the remaining bits of basil leaf.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Broccoli and anchovy bruschetta

Adapted from The River Café Cook Book, officially one of the best books of all time ever.

Sorry that I haven’t written in a while, I’ve been very busy starting a new job and moving into a new flat. Its been an intense few weeks, but I’m feeling absolutely brilliant, and happier than I have felt in a long while. I started out with this blog because I was feeling terribly unfulfilled, and that is certainly not the case now. That definitely doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop blogging now that other aspects of my life are getting better. I feel like my capacity is just getting bigger. Does that make sense?

This little recipe is the first part of a two-parter, otherwise known as ‘nice things on toast, the mini-series.’ Possibly with more nice things on toast to come, because they are always brilliant.

Bruschetta makes an excellent starter or light meal. I love the messiness of it. The unstructured, loose topping and crunchy toast means that you have to use your fingers, with luscious olive oil dribbling down to your elbow. This is especially rewarding when serving it to guests.

This quantity makes approximately 6 pieces of bruschetta – obviously depending on how big your slices of bread are.


About half a large-ish broccoli. Separate into florets and cut each one in half. You could also use tenderstem or purple-sprouting broccoli, which I suppose would be a bit more summery.
20ml olive oil
A large clove of garlic (or two if you like it super garlicky), peeled and thinly sliced
6 anchovy fillets (in oil)
Juice of ½ a lemon (cut the other half of the lemon into wedges for serving)
Freshly ground black pepper

For the bruschetta:
6 slices of ciabatta, or similar lovely Italian bread
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Really good quality extra virgin olive oil


Blanch the broccoli pieces in salted boiling water for a minute or two, until slightly softened but still bright green. Drain well.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan low-ish heat and fry the garlic until it just starts to colour. Add the anchovies and stir until they melt. Add the broccoli and a small amount of boiling water (roughly 1 tbsp). Season well with black pepper, stir and cook for five or so minutes, until the broccoli is soft. Add the lemon juice.

Toast the bread on both sides, and then rub with garlic (I rub one side only).

To serve, pile the broccoli mixture onto the bruschetta and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve with lemon wedges.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Key lime pie

From How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.

A lot of people, including me, really love limes, which is why the rumoured limepocalypse (limegeddon, limetrastrophe) is so terrifying. So let’s make the most of them while we still can. My wonderful friend T.O.M loves limes more than anyone else I know, and I made this dessert as a contribution to her hen party a few weeks ago. T.O.M may now love Steven (who takes brilliant photos) a little bit more than limes, but there is probably not much in it.

This is the second key lime pie recipe in How to be a Domestic Goddess, and I have made both of them. They are both really tasty, but this one wins by being so easy to make. No egg-separating, no baking, just mix and set. The only complication I had was that the bowl of the mixer was a bit too full, and little bits of limey cream splashed my hair, clothes, the kettle, and the boxes of different kinds of tea. It must have been a suitable libation sacrifice to the lime gods, because it made one of the nicest desserts I have ever made – creamy, rich and light at the same time, and absolutely delicious.
You will need a 23cm springform or loose-bottomed tin (I used the wrong size tin and messed up the quantities a bit, which is why my key lime pie looks a bit heavy on the base, but if you follow these quantities it should turn out perfectly)


For the base:
200g digestive biscuits, smashed to crumbs (ginger or coconut biscuits might make an interesting variation)
50g softened butter

For the filling:
Juice and zest of 4 limes
397g can of condensed milk
300ml double cream


To make the base, melt the butter and mix it with the biscuit crumbs. Press the buttery crumbs into the cake tin and leave it to set in the fridge for at least half an hour.

To make the filling, simply mix all the ingredients together, and whisk until it has thickened a bit. This is easier to do using an electric hand-held whisk or free-standing mixer. Pour the thickened mixture into the buttery biscuit base, and let it set in the fridge for a few hours (at least) before serving.