One of my biggest gardening successes this year has been lemon verbena. This victory has been made all the more profound by contrast. Two years ago, I bought a little lemon verbena plant from a market stall, its pale green, needle-like leaves clustered in a delicate furl. It grew slowly in my conservatory for a few months, before a plague of whitefly descended and slowly sapped the leaves of their springy vitality. I was left with a tragic tangle of spindly, pale twigs and a few yellowed, curling leaves, along with a sticky whitefly residue smothered over the floor and windows where the plant had stood. It was a depressing sight. Undaunted, I still attempted to make tea and ice cream from the leaves, but attempting to sieve small whitefly corpses out of boiling liquid is not one of my favourite kitchen jobs and somewhat hampered my enjoyment of the creative process. The plant eventually perished, robbed of life by a combination of those insidious little creatures and a harsh frost that delivered the final blow after I’d put it outside in the hope that a Samaritan ladybird would come along and deliver me from the whitefly plague.Read More
1. One pumpkin, so many meals. My boyfriend has started to despair of my ongoing pumpkin obsession. I currently have at least five in a basket in my kitchen at any one time, and buy a gorgeous slate blue Crown Prince every time I go to the market. This is no mean feat, as they weigh about three kilos. But it’s worth it for the luscious bright marigold flesh, with the texture of delicate fudge and a deep autumnal flavour. I’ve discovered that a single one of these pumpkins can be transformed into about eight different meals, which is pretty budget-friendly considering they cost £1.20 at my local market. I also grew my own pumpkin this year (top left) - a proud moment. Here are just some of the recipes I’ve enjoyed with pumpkin over the last two months – catch them while they’re still in the markets and have a go yourself.Read More
In How to Turn a Bird into Dinner Part One, I waxed lyrical about the moral benefits of eating game, and directed scathing retributions at those who termed my pheasant-butchering activities ‘gross’ whilst simultaneously chomping away on meat of dubious provenance without a second thought. I disclosed photos of my apron-clad self clutching a pair of bloody scissors looking nervous yet jubilant, the bare breast of a pheasant gleaming baldly before me. Fast forward two years and my butchery skills still leave something to be desired, I still feel a sense of considerable elation when I manage to produce something edible from a feathered carcass, and I still feel strongly about the issue of meat ethics and the advantages of eating game. Fortunately, however, all that moral high ground was covered in Part One, so this time you just get straight to the good stuff: roast bird.Read More
Turtle Bay has perfected that nonchalant, ‘artfully distressed’ look so beloved by chain restaurants and hipster bars these days, and given it a thoroughly Caribbean slant. Bare light bulbs surrounded by bright multicoloured cages illuminate the warehouse-style ceilings and the tables bedecked with multiple varieties of hot sauce. Bob Marley posters line the walls, and expanses of bare brick are graffitied with the Red Stripe logo and other red-yellow-and-green homages to the West Indies. Signs above the open kitchen proclaim it to be the ‘Jerk Centre’ and ‘Hot hot hot’, while the numerous jars of apricot jam that festoon the central bar hint at the popularity of the ‘Jammin’ cocktail, a blend of white rum, apricot liqueur, mint, ginger, lemon, apple juice and the aforementioned jam. If you’re anything like me, the sight of another bare lightbulb in a restaurant or coffee shop is likely to induce an attack of ennui, but fortunately Turtle Bay’s menu is fresh, lively and exciting, with food to match (although those bulbs don't do wonders for food photography, so apologies for the grainy pictures).Read More
There are few things sadder than a ‘chilli con carne’ done badly. Soggy mince; a sour, acidic tomato sauce; bullet-hard kidney beans straight from a can; the overpowering musk of cumin powder…this is a dish that is surprisingly easy to massacre. Perhaps it has something to do with being a student staple, much like its mince-sharing partner, spaghetti bolognese. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it is often served, entirely unimaginatively, with a bland canvas of white rice. Or perhaps it’s because bad chilli con carne can be smothered in cheese and crammed into a burrito and thereby turned into something vaguely acceptable, so why bother perfecting the thing?Read More
Sometimes, you need a dessert that is pure chocolate indulgence. Not a scattering of chocolate chips here and there, or a bit of cocoa added to a sponge mixture, but a proper mouthful of thick, rich, silky molten chocolate. The kind that envelops your tongue like dark cashmere, and leaves you wanting to bathe in a pool of rippling cocoa. This is that dessert. A layer of smooth, fudgy dark chocolate ganache is baked until just set inside a crunchy, buttery pastry shell, flecked with hazelnuts for that praline hit. It's so thick and smooth you need a hot knife to cut through it, and it's scattered with freeze-dried raspberry pieces for delicious bursts of fruity sharpness in every mouthful. On the side, a glorious ice cream rippled with vanilla, crushed meringues and a tangy raspberry coulis, vibrant with the fragrant heat of pink peppercorns. It's perfect against the silky, complex ganache and the crisp pastry. Head to my post on Great British Chefs for the recipe!
When my boyfriend and I arrived at our hotel in Crete this summer after a chilly 3.15am start, a long flight and a fraught attempt to navigate the Greek roads in an unfamiliar hire car, I was elated. My body hummed with intense joy. It wasn’t the sight of the empty blue pool, its rippled surface mirroring the radiant sun, nor the distant glow of the Mediterranean on the horizon. It wasn’t the sight of our pastel painted balcony, tangled with grape vines laden with translucent, plum-coloured fruit. It wasn’t even the knowledge that the bar would still serve us a huge Greek salad and a chunk of crusty bread despite it being far past lunchtime. No: my eyes swept breathlessly over the pool, the landscaped gardens and the cloudless sky and instead landed on the quince tree.Read More
I remember when I first acquired my kitchen blowtorch. It was during my early days of learning to cook, when I attempted to emulate the dishes of Masterchef and used silly silver rings for ‘plating up’ (yes, in those days I actually did a thing called ‘plating up’), daubing everything with smears and garnishes and spending a fortune on fancy cuts of meat and fish. Essential kitchen kit in those days comprised dariole moulds (for making the classic chocolate fondant, of course), a mandolin, an oyster knife, square plates (vital for that restaurant look) and a piping bag. And, of course, the kitchen blowtorch. Programmes like Masterchef are designed to make you believe that you simply cannot cook without one: how would you get that glistering crust atop a chalky round of goat’s cheese, or achieve the perfect crack on a crème brulée?Read More
I think it’s time to stop listening to ‘accepted’ kitchen wisdom. I first embarked upon this strand of culinary anarchy about four years ago, when I decided to take the dramatic - and, by all accounts, wholly inadvisable - step of baking a strawberry. Inspired by a berry upside-down cake I ate at a market in Prague, I whipped up a plain cake batter, lined a tin, and scattered handfuls of berries over the bottom with reckless abandon. Amongst their number was the controversial strawberry: hitherto I’d been warned by many a cookbook that strawberries are emphatically not a cooking fruit; they are simply too watery and will ruin whatever you dare to throw them into, bleeding like fresh corpses into your cake and polluting your puddings. The resulting dessert was a triumph, the cake crumb lightly flavoured by the intense sweetness of the berries, and I’ve been exercising my rebellious streak ever since.Read More
Autumn is here in earnest, which means my fridge is constantly bursting with trays of plump figs. I adore the voluptuous, muted purple curves of this photogenic fruit, and its versatility in the kitchen. The luscious, melting flesh of a ripe fig is beautiful nestled in both sweet and savoury recipes: so far I've pan-fried them with almonds, honey and goat's cheese to serve alongside slow-cooked Greek lamb; simmered them into a glorious purple jam with pomegranate juice and molasses; baked them with honey to serve with a biscuit crumble and a scoop of vanilla whipped ricotta...and this. This is possibly my favourite fig creation yet. Grilled with honey until bubbling and impossibly sweet, these beautiful figs sit atop a pillow of labneh, a Middle Eastern cheese made by straining yoghurt until thick and firm. I've used goat's milk for extra tang, to counterbalance the sweet figs, and finished with a scattering of zesty lemon thyme, which works beautifully with dairy. The whole lot makes a glorious breakfast or lunch on top of thick slices of sourdough toast. Click here for my recipe, over on Great British Chefs!
A friend of mine once asked me what ingredient I cook with the most (staples like salt and oil aside). I answered limes, but on reflection it could equally be raspberries. Having said that, I don’t tend to ‘cook with’ raspberries much: I prefer to eat them unadulterated, scattered over porridge or granola or with cubes of golden papaya or juicy ripe mango for dessert when I can’t quite justify eating loads of chocolate or crumble. I occasionally bake them into cakes: I love the way baking intensifies their sharp, almost grassy flavour, and the way they stew their rosy juice through the buttery crumb, perfuming it with that heady scent of summer. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the savoury uses of raspberries.Read More
I'm thrilled to say that I'm now a writer for Great British Chefs, a fantastic food and recipe resource featuring inspirational chefs and bloggers from all over Britain, coupled with mouthwatering photographs of beautiful dishes that you can recreate at home. I'll be contributing recipes inspired by my garden and my travels on a regular basis, featuring some unusual and exciting ingredients. One of my first recipes is this gorgeous soba noodle salad, featuring dark, nutty buckwheat noodles tossed in a tangy, vibrant dressing of citrussy yuzu juice, shredded galangal, lime juice and soy sauce, topped with garlic seared prawns, pomegranate seeds, cucumber, avocado and grapefruit mint, a fantastic herb from my garden with the unmistakeable zesty flavour of grapefruit. It works beautifully in this zingy, tongue-tingling salad full of contrasting flavours and textures. It's one of my favourite ever recipes, healthy and beautiful and incredibly satisfying to eat. Head over to Great British Chefs for the recipe, and don't forget to have a look at some of my other recent contributions, including blue cheese crusted pork chops with roasted apple and pineapple sage!
Who needs E numbers and artificial colourings when you have the splendid, radiant palette of Mother Nature? Think of the vivid hot pink of a slender stalk of early season rhubarb, or the luscious magenta of a heavy, ripe raspberry; picture the coral, pearly inside of a freshly cut fig or the eye-popping green of a blanched broccoli stalk. These colours are something for the cook to get excited about; they make preparing a meal as much of a joy as eating it. It’s rather ironic that the slogan ‘taste the rainbow’ was adopted by Skittles to sell their sweets, whose artificial colours are a sorry simulacrum of the spectrum real food has to offer.Read More
There’s something rather magical about the pleasing and versatile word ‘glaze’. To coat porous pottery in a thick, impenetrable gloss that survives the trial-by-fire of the kiln is to glaze, combining aesthetics and ergonomics. To have one’s eyes glaze over suggests thoughts have slipped blissfully into the realm of reverie. Double-glazed windows reassure, promising warmth and comfort. Finally, there is my favourite, edible sense: to glaze food is to paint it with slick, concentrated flavour, to make it shine like a pot fresh from a kiln. It makes it glossy, inviting, shimmering with promise: think of a bountiful berry tart, multicoloured fruits nestling in a pillowy bed of pastry cream, their tops brushed and glinting with a sweet glaze of molten apricot jam; or a roast aubergine, its flesh collapsed into silken softness, smothered in a dark, umami-rich miso glaze.Read More
Pomegranate seeds scattered over a salad has now become such a ubiquitous trope in the world of food that we perhaps take these ruby-like seeds for granted. The other day I was standing over a plate of salad - aubergines charred on the barbecue until meltingly soft and smoky and mixed with date-infused balsamic vinegar, pomegranate molasses, mint, watercress, olive oil and lemon juice - and it occurred to me that it could really do with a jewelled sprinkling of pomegranate seeds to lift it both visually and in terms of flavour. I didn't have any, but I did have a punnet of glowing, fat redcurrants in the fridge, and it occurred to me that their sharp, sour tang would work beautifully with the rich, sweet aubergines. It did, and redcurrants have now become my summer alternative to pomegranate seeds which, after all, most of us associate with Christmas. Add some thick slices of salty, squeaky, grilled halloumi, some toasted pine nuts, and you have an incredible summer salad, an immensely satisfying array of different textures and flavours - salty, sweet, smoky and sour. I'm very proud of this one. Head to AO Life for the recipe!Read More
One of my best ever memories, food-related and more generally, is of the lunch I ate after finishing my Finals exams at Oxford. I emerged, blinking confusedly, from the dark, imposing exam hall into a haze of summer sunlight, to be scattered with confetti and presented with champagne bottles (strictly no drinking from them in the street, though, as I soon found out when a surly Proctor made a beeline for me) by my friends. Slightly dazed, my head still reeling with quotations from Thomas More and Philip Sidney, I sat down to a lovely summer lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in Oxford. Attached to the hotel near my college, it was an understatedly glamorous establishment, offering beautifully presented fine-dining style food at reasonable prices, and the place I would always go for a treat, either with visiting parents or that momentous occasion of exam completion. I credit the success of that lunch largely to the restaurant, and it still remains in my mind to this day.Read More
Sometimes, you read a menu description that sends you into paroxysms of longing and desire, and has you practically gaping at the waitress as you urge her, wide-eyed, to come over and take your order instantly so that the kitchen can quicken the transition of your food from plate to mouth. These moments should be cherished, as they help to prevent that cursed state, the bane of many a food-lover’s life: menu indecision. It’s rare that I hand my menu over to the waitress feeling wholly confident that I’ve made the right choice; anything that can facilitate this state of total wellbeing is truly a blessing.Read More
Thick, fluffy, stacked American pancakes are all very well and good, as are delicate, lacy, paper-thin French crepes, but sometimes you want something in between. I’m sure a Frenchman would be horrified at the thick, flat pancakes I’m showcasing here – there’s nothing remotely delicate or refined about them – but I love the texture of a thicker, squidgier crepe-style pancake, perfect for folding around a delicious filling. They’re more satisfying, and easier to make, than a true crepe, and stand up to an assertive application of syrup, honey, compote, or whatever you choose to throw at them. I first tried pancakes like these in south-east Asia, and this recipe is an homage to the many glorious breakfasts I ate in Bali, Vietnam and Thailand.Read More
I was prepared to like the Biltmore Bar & Grill before I tasted the food. Their upstairs dining area is a wonderful indoor garden, a lovely sprawling array of potted plants, small trees and dark foliage. While I love dining al fresco at home, the pleasure of sipping wine and eating a meal surrounded by blooming flora is always slightly undermined by the fact that all I can think about is how much needs weeding, or pruning, or repotting, or how much the lawn needs mowing, or how much that hedge really needs to come down, or how the apple tree is any minute now going to start hurling its fruit at the garden with a vengeance and that no amount of apple crumbles will even begin to deal with its prolific bounty…you see how it goes. At the Biltmore’s aptly-named ‘Garden Grill’, no such worries could intrude upon my eating experience. Instead, I got to enjoy the somewhat eclectic décor (there are two big white sculptures of deer wearing sunglasses in front of a huge, wall-length drinks cabinet, a curtain of rushing water behind the bar and chairs and sofas upholstered in plush velour) without worry, preferably while taking it in over a cocktail from the extensive menu – the Bellinis are lovely, as is the bourbon-based ‘Old Fashioned’.Read More
Apologies for the slightly clickbaity, buzzfeedy title. You won’t BELIEVE what these herbs did next…number 5 will SHOCK you...et cetera. Ahem. As my interest in food has diversified into gardening and growing my own fruit and vegetables, I’ve discovered some wonderful edible treasures that you don’t often hear about but that are widely available in garden centres or the internet. These herbal beauties will transform your cooking. Many of them are variants of the more common herbs that we can buy in the supermarkets, but I’d encourage you to seek out these lesser-known varieties and give them a try. They can all be grown in pots, so you don’t even need a garden or a lot of space. They’re fabulous for adding new interest to old, staple dishes, or for becoming the star of a new recipe. You might be surprised at what you can grow for your cooking - even exotic Asian herbs can be cultivated in the UK with a little care.Read More