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
I often find myself wishing that restaurants would offer a bowl of lime wedges alongside the ubiquitous salt and pepper shakers (or, as is increasingly the case in trendy establishments, a little bowl of salt flakes that you can pick at, unhygienically, wondering how many other people have contributed their under-nail dirt to the pile). I'm obsessed with sour things, whether it be a spritz of citrus to finish a dish, the vinegar that clings to pickled vegetables or a bowl of rhubarb compote that has seen only a pinch of sugar. It’s perhaps one of the reasons I love east Asian food so much, as these cuisines are all about balancing the different taste sensations and ensure a good hit of sourness alongside the sweet, salty and hot. My cooking is increasingly concerned with including that all-important sour element: a scattering of redcurrants over a smoky aubergine salad to accompany a recent barbecue; a bowl of quick-pickled cucumber and radish to cut through the richness of a teriyaki salmon fillet; a lemony tabbouleh to take the edge off a plate of sea bass smothered in tahini sauce.Read More
In the way that some women are 'bag ladies', I am an apricot lady. I regularly impulse-buy and hoard these gorgeous summer fruits, becoming rather untrendily obsessive about them during the summer months. It's rare to find me without a punnet of apricots in my bag, a spontaneous purchase from some market or shop because they just looked too good. I think it's the same with early-season rhubarb, with its slender, hot-pink stalks - like a mad bull or a bee I'm attracted to those bright colours and find myself stockpiling these edible jewels on a regular basis. No fruit lures my gaze quite like the rosy apricot, though, with its beautiful marigold blushes, and no fruit proves so versatile in my kitchen during the warmer part of the year.Read More
Occasionally, in my youth, I would go out in the evening, to some throbbing venue slick with other people’s sweat where the music was too loud and the lighting just the right level of dimness to enable middle-aged men to sidle up to you and ‘helpfully’ put their hands on your waist as they squeezed past. I’d dress up. There would be bright colours, sparkly jewellery and painful shoes. Sometimes I would even wear false eyelashes. Once they came unstuck mid-evening, and I spent a couple of hours chatting to people, glass of wine in hand, enveloped in the aura of my own sophistication and blissfully unaware that my spidery plastic eyelashes were hanging away from my eyelids by a strip of congealed glue. I’d drink a bit too much and end up crying on boys I fancied, then try to rectify the situation by offering the excuse that I was ‘on medication’. My girlfriends and I would go to the toilet together and gossip. I’d go to get a drink at the bar of Wetherspoons, step away to go back to my table and find my feet removed from my shoes, which were still stuck fast to the floor. There would be silly photos on Facebook the next morning, always featuring the same core components: a bottle of wine, my wide-eyed leering face next to those of my friends, too much cleavage from all of the girls involved, a wisp of fake tan here and there, a stray false eyelash or two, and probably some poor token male who had been hijacked for the purpose.Read More
1. Caramelised peach, grilled chorizo, avocado and almond salad. I wasn't going to blog about this, but then I took some sad-looking things out of the fridge, did a bit of cookery magic, chucked them into a bowl with a liberal dousing of vinaigrette (made using some delicious hazelnut mustard that I bought from a deli in France), took a bite, and started scribbling furiously in my recipe notebook. I love using peaches in savoury recipes (particularly when they're starting to wrinkle and look a bit unappetising...), and they go amazingly well with any kind of salty, cured animal product - prosciutto is a classic, but chorizo also works wonders, I discovered. Crisp up some thick slices of chorizo in a frying pan, brown some almonds in the brick-red oil it releases, throw in the peaches briefly to caramelise, then toss it all with some salad leaves, cubed avocado, thinly sliced red onion (mixed with a little cider vinegar for a few minutes to take the edge off it) and the aforementioned dressing (mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, seasoning). It looks a treat and is an incredible medley of flavours and textures. This is the kind of salad that you feed people who think they don't like salad. It's great for your health and happiness, without being worthy. Speaking of not being worthy, this brings me on to number two...Read More
There are lots of food-related topics that I just love to get on my high horse about. Even as I write this, I feel a thrill of mingled anticipation and indignation at the prospect of listing some of them. Here goes. Packs of pre-sliced onions and carrots. That hotdog stuffed-crust pizza. People who cook rice by boiling it like pasta. People who refuse to eat fish with heads on, or shudder at the thought of cooking 'cute' little rabbits yet happily tuck into battery chicken or pork. Cereal bars that pretend to be healthy but in fact are actually cardboard dipped in sugar. Turkey ham. Kale smoothies. Use of the word 'detox'. The utter ludicrousness of a pre-packaged soft-boiled egg.Read More
The quintessential aroma of summer in my kitchen isn’t the smoky tang of barbecued meat wafting in from the garden, nor the heady sweetness of ripe strawberries sitting on the counter. It’s the deep, slightly musky perfume of apricots. Whether they’re simmering gently in a chamomile and vanilla syrup on the hob, baking into an almond custard tart in the oven or being churned into a pale coral ice cream on the counter, their unmistakable sweet, soothing fragrance tells me that sunshine and long days are (hopefully) ahead. During the season, I buy at least two punnets a week – I can’t get enough of their glorious colour and versatility in the kitchen.Read More
There are many benefits to cooking with coconut oil. It’s full of good fats, nutritious, it can replace dairy in many recipes, it has a pleasant slightly sweet coconut flavour…but, if I’m perfectly honest with you, one of the main reasons I love this new trendy ingredient is because you can melt it in the microwave without it exploding everywhere, as butter has a tendency to do. Who hasn’t felt their heart sink as that sickening ‘pop’ breaks the monotony of the whirring, grinding microwave, knowing the next few minutes will be spent painstakingly wiping a greasy yellow film off the hot plastic, the air heavy with the slightly sickly scent of warm animal fat? Who hasn’t opted for the microwave to melt their butter, out of laziness and not wishing to wash up a pan, only to end up spending those valuable saved minutes scraping away smears of grease? (You can, of course, avoid this problem by covering your bowl or jug with cling film while microwaving, but for some reason I take the chance every time…I think I just like to live on the edge).Read More
1. Apricots. Although you can buy these almost year-round in the supermarket, the fruits that start to emerge on the shelves in late May have something special about them. They're plumper, softer, promising jammy ripeness and mild sweetness, and they seem to glow more brightly orange than the pale, bullet-hard, woolly varieties that grace the shops in winter. I think there are few things more beautiful than a downy, ripe apricot, its honeyed skin blushed and dappled with sienna, glowing like a beacon in the hand. In summer, I like to pile them into a pale blue or white bowl and marvel at their beauty on the worktop. Briefly, anyway, before I get to work turning them into luscious desserts like this apricot and almond custard tart. For the next few months I reckon I'll eat at least a punnet of these beautiful fruits every week, either in desserts or baked with honey and cardamom into a luscious marigold compote to spoon over hot porridge and scatter with blackberries or blueberries.Read More
“I’ll have it with the chocolate sauce, please.”
Believe it or not, there is one circumstance under which it is absolutely not acceptable to utter this phrase. Just one, mind. But it exists.
Should you ever find yourself at the wonderful eastern European restaurant Moya in central Oxford, having chosen the apricot dumpling for dessert and faced with the choice between its two possible accompaniments, you simply cannot plump for the chocolate sauce. You cannot retain any modicum of respectability by making this, quite frankly, borderline criminal decision. You may as well sign the rest of your life away right there and then, knowing that thereafter it will be filled with nothing but the bitter tang of regret. Is it worth carrying that albatross around your neck, sporting that white feather of shame in your cap?Read More