Summer is a time when it almost seems a shame to use dried fruit in cooking, since the fresh variety is so bountiful. The rich, treacly taste and sticky texture of dried fruit has its place, but for me that place is in a comforting winter stew or tagine, or to pep up an autumnal salad of grains, nuts and perhaps a crumbling of soft cheese. Right now I’d much rather enjoy the crisp, sweet flesh and gentle bloom of an early-season Victoria plum, the voluptuous curve of a fresh fig or the mouth-puckering tang of a sun-ripened berry or currant than the caramelised, winey flavours of their dried counterparts.Read More
One of the biggest disappointments a gastronome can experience is to order their favourite dessert from a restaurant menu, only to find it presented to them in unrecognisable compartmentalised format. Instead of ‘lemon tart’, a Cubist explosion of prismatic pastry shards, perfectly piped mounds of glossy lemon curd, and a smattering of smug mint leaves for garnish. Instead of the glorious marriage of hot, sweet-tart fruit syrup and a toothsome crunchy topping, your ‘crumble’ will instead manifest as something that resembles the dreams of a Scandinavian minimalist with obsessive compulsive disorder; a piece of poached fruit here, a slick of compote there, and a stingy scattering of crunchy granola that refuses to interact on any sensible basis with the other two elements and entirely misses the point of a crumble. Or, heaven forbid, a cheesecake that anarchically ignores the latter part of its title and instead of being a sliceable paean to dairy and biscuit is a Kilner jar full of cream with a shot of fruit juice and a cookie on the side, more like the individual components of a child’s packed lunch than anything suitable for restaurant consumption.Read More
My love of apricots will be no secret to anyone who reads this blog regularly. Nor am I strikingly original in this deep and all-too-seasonal passion. What is there not to adore about a perfectly formed apricot? There is something so fragile about their soft, downy curves, yet their bold and robust colouring hints at the flavoursome promise within. I love the blushing, deep red, slightly freckled specimens best, as the russet hues whisper of long hours in the sun to ripen the sweet flesh inside. However, by and large, fresh apricots in the UK are a disappointment, being either woolly and bland or overripe and unpleasantly mushy. Only by cooking can you bring out the marigold, sweet-tart joys of the apricot. Here are ten of my favourite (sweet and savoury) recipes to make the most of these gorgeous fruits, while they are cheap and plentiful in summer; most are mine, some are from other inspiring cooks.Read More
‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,’ wrote Henry James. If you’re planning on heading to the Royal York Hotel for afternoon tea, however, I’d allow a little longer than James’s allotted hour – you’ll certainly want to linger.
Served in a high-ceilinged, opulent lounge (the ‘Garden Room’) decorated in cream and slate grey, with quirky equestrian-themed touches, the Royal York afternoon tea would certainly have impressed Henry James, and will delight even the most sophisticated fans of this decadent meal. The hotel clearly understand that there should be something ceremonial about afternoon tea – although the meal was invented as an ingenious and practical way of filling the hunger gap between lunch and dinner, it has grown into a symbol of luxury and refined British cuisine. This couldn’t be clearer at the Royal York, where your tea arrives in stages on fine china and a towering platter and you are made to feel like minor royalty. The lounge is light and airy and, despite the views of the garden being somewhat marred by the car park, is a fabulous place to while away an hour or two while revelling in the understated luxury of the hotel, set in the heart of beautiful York. The staff are friendly and attentive, and each stage of the meal is an absolute treat.Read More
‘And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.’ So reads the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, the bitter knowledge imparted by the forbidden apple bringing forth shame and humiliation and leading to the expert crafting of loincloths out of a piece of foliage so perfectly suited to cloaking the human genitalia that you’d almost think God had all this planned out. Whether the forbidden fruit of Genesis was, as many have speculated, actually a fig rather than an apple (other contenders are pomegranates and quinces), there’s no denying that fig leaves are associated with a certain frisson of eroticism and desire in western culture. Depictions of Adam and Eve from the medieval period onwards feature modesty-preserving fig leaves, strategically and titillatingly placed, and the Renaissance period witnessed the fabulous ‘fig leaf campaign’, during which lascivious artworks were hurriedly covered with branches from nearby bushes to avoid offending delicate religious sensibilities. And, to use a slightly less highbrow cultural example, there is the successful internet underwear brand, Figleaves.com.
But the fig leaf has had its time in the limelight. I want to talk about blackcurrant leaves.Read More
I tend to avoid any social event that proudly announces it will include a barbecue. It’s a common phobia for the food snob, I reckon: the communal barbecue organised and presided over by people for whom the ethical sourcing of meat is not an issue, for whom a mass-produced supermarket bap does not induce a shudder of disgust, for whom cheese comes in a square plastic wrapper. ‘Barbecue’ is often sadly synonymous with ‘a load of pre-prepared low quality meat items from the supermarket that we will prod and poke while pretending to be cavemen and leave raw in the centre and carcinogenic on the outside’. I just can’t bring myself to participate in that sort of occasion. What a waste of an opportunity, when the lighting of coals offers such potential for an enticing variety of foodstuffs.Read More
The humble wrap gets a bad rap. So often the soggy, pallid and unappetising ‘healthy option’ at the convenience store food-to-go counter, wraps are a way of making the unsuspecting public feel like they’re eating less bread while still providing a viable vehicle for their otherwise totally virtuous hoi sin duck, chicken and bacon club or egg mayonnaise. Arranged cunningly in its packaging to look like a veritable cornucopia, positively brimming with delicious filling, the pre-packaged wrap so often tapers out into a tragic nothingness, like the Waiting for Godot of sandwiches, leaving you with a few mouthfuls of mealy, chewy dough and nothing else, dreading your 3pm hunger pangs and wishing you’d plumped – operative word there – for that hearty three-tier BLT on granary instead.Read More
The other day, I bought a bunch of candy beetroots from my local market. I’ve never seen them there before, and because they are one of the prettiest ingredients you can buy, I snapped them up eagerly. ‘Have you tried these candy beetroot things?’ the lady behind the stall asked me. She was making polite conversation, but probably got more than she bargained for. Instead of a casual ‘yes, they’re great’, I proceeded not only to tell her all the best recipes for candy beetroot, but also the correct methods of cooking it so as to preserve its unique coloration (steaming in foil), the best utensils for the job (mandoline), and its Italian name (chioggia).Read More
When I was a teenager and undergraduate, still burdened by the invisible mental scars that come from attending an all-girls school and therefore terrified of fat or calories in all their forms, my go-to lazy dinner was a plate of scrambled eggs on toast. To this toast, I would add no butter, convinced that the tiny quantity I used to barely grease the saucepan for the eggs would be sufficient decadence for one meal. My present-day self looks back on her slighter, neurotic past version with pity and scorn. An unashamed butter addict, I have long been aware that scrambled eggs on toast without butter is an utterly pointless endeavour. The butter is such an integral part of my all-time favourite comfort food that you may as well not bother if you’re going to shy away from it.
It’s the same with focaccia. Unless you’re willing to be heavy-handed with the oil and salt, you may as well make tortillas. Or an egg white omelette. Or a kale smoothie.Read More
Normal people have certain staples in their freezers. Bags of peas. Ice cream. Breaded fish fillets. Ready meals. Frozen pizzas. In the freezer of the food-waste-phobe, this set of staples will probably have a few extra additions: tubs of homemade stock from the leftovers of a roast dinner; parmesan rinds to be added to soups; odds and ends of bread to be turned into breadcrumbs when the need arises.
And then, if you’re me, you can add to this list a plastic bag full of squeezed lemon halves, and three frozen bergamots.Read More
When I started this blog, back in 2010, it was as a sort of outlet to keep me (slightly) sane during my Finals exams at Oxford. I think the turning point came when I went out shopping for some milk and came back with six wood pigeon and a smoothie maker, buzzing with excitement at the prospect of experimenting with this hitherto unknown bird and at the thought of the infinite smoothie combinations that were now possible in my very own kitchen (what was not possible, however, was porridge, as I had obviously forgotten the actual milk in all this). It was this excitement, the thrill of the new, the creative and the edible, that I wanted to document through Nutmegs, seven. As I got more and more involved in the blog, I also greedily devoured the work of other food writers, and became aware of the wonderful community out there on the internet and in print, devoted to capturing that very same passion for food and culinary creativity. Never in my wildest dreams did I think my writing would be recognised and appreciated alongside that illustrious crowd of food and cookery writers whose works I so admired. However, last week I had the honour of being awarded Food Blog of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2016, an incredible evening during which I met a warm and wonderful bunch of inspirational food writers, consumed more deep-fried crab canapés than I dare to admit (especially to myself), stumbled awkwardly on stage looking like a rabbit in the headlights (there is photo evidence) and generally had the best evening ever. There was sashimi and I was in bed by 11 - that is my kind of party. So, basically, I am overwhelmed and delighted to have been honoured by this award, and immensely grateful to the judges, the food writing community, and anyone who has ever read and enjoyed Nutmegs, seven. What's more, it has given me a new energy for writing and cooking that I admit had been somewhat lacking in the last few months. Watch this space, and I hope you enjoy what comes next. Thank you.
My latest project for Great British Chefs has involved playing with matcha, the glorious Japanese emerald green tea powder hailed for its health benefits, refreshing bitterness and versatility in the kitchen. It also makes a good latte, so I'm told, but instead of frothing it with milk I've been stirring it into cake batters and using it to cook meat and fish. I've come up with three recipes using this beautiful ingredient: a matcha loaf cake with candied lemons and lemon syrup, a soba noodle salad with matcha tea-poached salmon, avocado and edamame beans, and a mango rice salad with matcha-smoked chicken, brined and smoked with aromatic matcha. If you've never tried cooking with tea before, or are keen to experiment with something new, I'd encourage you to give these a try. For all the recipes in one place, head over to my contributor profile at Great British Chefs. Enjoy!
After my recent adventure with a bundle of beautiful, exotic, mystery lemons, I’ve fallen prey to another rare and ravishing winter citrus fruit: the bergamot. Famous for imbuing Earl Grey with that unmistakeable, love-it-or-hate-it musky, floral aroma, bergamots seem to be tragically underused outside the teapot. Cut one in half and you may see why: they are peppered with pips, and their flesh is tougher and less yielding than that of a lemon or orange. I like to think that this is because bergamots have suffered less from the rampant perfectionist cultivating impulse that has so plagued modern fruit and vegetable production; rather like quinces, these are a niche, knobbly little fruit for which demand is low. As a result, there’s no need to train them into perfect orbs of glowing colour or buff their skins with wax to a lustrous sheen. Instead they are squat, milky yellow, often slightly blemished, and heavy in the hand. A delightful rarity, I couldn't help buying them in bulk when I spotted them in Waitrose a couple of weeks ago.Read More
1. Health food paradise at the new Holland & Barrett More store in York. I was recently invited to the opening of Holland & Barrett’s palatial new store in the centre of York. I’ve long been a fan of the brand for their organic dried fruit, nuts and muesli mixes, and for their supply of esoteric health ingredients from around the world (they were probably stocking quinoa and tahini way before Ottolenghi emerged on the scene). The new store is a bright, vibrant space filled with all sorts of healthy treats, from nut butters to smoked tofu to their huge range of ‘free-from’ products. However, the expansion means there’s also space for a selection of beauty and makeup counters brimming with natural products to make you lovely on the outside as well as the inside. I had great fun creating my own body scrub at the Beauty Kitchen stall, using a delicious-smelling array of natural ingredients (my personal combination involved bitter orange, Epsom salts, and a zingy lemongrass oil), and enjoying a 60-second manicure with the same nourishing combination, leaving my hands gloriously soft and fragrant.Read More
This luscious loaf has all the buttery crumb of a good brioche, without the faff. It's made from a soft enriched dough using eggs, butter and milk, and studded with dried fruit soaked in Earl Grey tea. A smattering of warm spices gives it the unmistakeable flavour and aroma of a hot cross bun, but this easier version is simply plaited into a big loaf rather than shaped into buns, with no need for crossing. It's soft and slightly sweet, fragrantly spiced and rich with the bite of sharp-sweet currants, candied peel and sultanas. A toasted slice of this, spread with salted butter, is the perfect treat for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea as spring approaches and the year moves towards Easter. For the recipe, check out my latest post on Great British Chefs!
The list of ‘annoying things I have read recently on obsessive clean-eating blogs’ is a long one, but hovering somewhere near the top is the suggestion that you should keep loads of cooked quinoa in your fridge, ready to whip up into a healthy salad or a ‘snack’ at a moment’s notice. There are two things wrong with this recommendation. Firstly, quinoa is not a ‘snack’. Snacks are portable and easily nibbleable commodities, like apples, granola bars and – if you must – almonds. They are usually sugary and designed as treats between meals. Much as I love quinoa, I would not consider munching on its dry, nubbly grains much of a treat if I were in the middle of a catastrophic blood sugar slump between lunch and dinner, with only the prospect of cake standing between me and an otherwise inevitable desk nap. Nor would I carry it around in my handbag. But the main gripe I have with what I shall henceforth term ‘The Cooked Quinoa Fallacy’ is, simply, who on earth can afford to cook quinoa in large batches just so it can hang around in the fridge on the off-chance you might use it in the next few days?Read More
I learned to make Thai soups on a cooking course in Chiang Mai, and couldn’t quite believe how little effort went into something so vibrant, flavoursome and punchy. The creation of a prawn tom yum took under five minutes, and simply involved throwing some ingredients into a wok of simmering water. The resulting broth was heady, sinus-clearing and fresh, and I resolved to make these simple soups a staple in my kitchen upon my return. Now there is something vaguely ritualistic about their creation, as I chop through galangal, lemongrass and chillies with the small cleaver I bought in a Thai market, picking kaffir lime leaves off the plant in my conservatory and pouring rich, zesty coconut broth into deep bowls lined with a tangle of soft rice noodles.Read More
This post combines two things I don’t normally care about: tailoring blog recipes to specific seasonal food-related occasions, and Valentine’s Day. You won’t find me whipping up treats for National Tempura Day, National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day or World Tripe Day (if you needed proof that these ‘food days’ are just the farcical inventions of bored and desperate PR companies and marketing boards, there it is: World Tripe Day), because there is apparently some silly culinary designation for every single day of the year now, so by that logic I would never ever be able to make a spontaneous decision regarding what I cook. I can also take or leave Valentine’s Day, and it certainly doesn’t inspire me with culinary ambition (if I see one more hackneyed recipe feature telling me that I must serve oysters and fillet steak on the special day, I might find a decidedly more violent use for my oyster knife).Read More
It physically pains me to put food in the bin. So much so that I often have to recruit a willing helper (read: boyfriend) to do so, on the rare occasion that I cannot rescue whatever is languishing in my fridge or cupboards. I try and engineer my kitchen design around being able to see, clearly, what I have to use up, before it’s too late, but there are occasions when even this doesn’t quite work out. One of the most depressing moments of my life took place several months ago, when I had to throw two free-range chickens in the bin. Whole, oven-ready, uncooked chickens, for whom I had had big plans involving Thai spices and Vietnamese broth. They had been kept at a market stall in a fridge that was too overcrowded, resulting in poor cold air circulation, and had started to turn rancid, emitting a strange aroma of French cheese that warned my primitive survival instinct not to let them anywhere near my kitchen or stomach. Throwing away food is always sad, but it’s even sadder when an animal has died in vain. That said, I get upset even just having to pour the remnants of a bottle of milk down the drain, or throwing a mouldy lemon onto the compost heap – it just seems irresponsible and an insult to beautiful ingredients and the hard work of farmers and producers.Read More
I’ve become a bit obsessed with pumpkins since the start of autumn. Their golden flesh is so versatile that I’ve managed to incorporate it into nearly every recipe I’ve cooked over the last few months, from Thai coconut soups to pesto pasta, macaroni cheese to breakfast scones. I love their dense, almost fudge-like texture, and the way they roast into warming caramelized perfection in no time at all. Their slight sweetness pairs well with so many ingredients, particularly salty things like bacon and cheese, although it is also fabulous with sturdy winter herbs and a variety of spices, piquant smoked paprika being one of the best.Read More