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
I have these strange, unshakeable ideas about certain fruits being expensive. I’ll often utter phrases like ‘Oh, I love blueberries but I hardly ever buy them because they’re so expensive’, or ‘I really want a papaya but I don’t think I can justify the money’. And they are pricey, compared to a lot of fruits. It would be very economical to have a penchant for apples, pears or bananas; trying to afford a mango, papaya or raspberry habit, less so. Yet I sometimes have to stop and take a step back from this mentality, and realize that, although proportionately more expensive than other fruits, I can still afford to spend £2 on a punnet of blueberries. These things are not, objectively, ‘expensive’. While I’m technically aware of this, I still find myself avoiding certain fruit purchases in the supermarket out of these strange ideas of affordability.Read More
Help! There's a giant triffid in my garden! It has monstrous pink tentacles that fumble wildly from the earth, stretching towards the skies, and huge, grasping, green hands the size of dustbin lids, threatening to engulf and consume everything they touch. Every time I look it has grown, violently thrusting more of those rigid spears from the ground, one step closer on its mission to take over the world. Its proliferating legs creak stiffly in the breeze, like those of a spider with rigor mortis, threatening destruction. Its leafy clutches will soon start to block out the sun, throwing the planet into a state of black oblivion. We are doomed.Read More
Cauliflower is such an underrated vegetable. So frequently found unfairly buried beneath a smothering blanket of cheese sauce, this tragic brassica is often maligned for being watery, mushy and grey. We hide it away under a covering of fat as if we’re embarrassed by it, offering our apologies by way of a hefty dose of mitigating cheese. Its vibrant cousin, broccoli, suffers no such fate. Perhaps the anaemic whiteness of the cauliflower does it a disservice: after all, these days we are bullied by the health police into thinking ill of most white foods, be it sugar, your supermarket sliced loaf or refined rice.Read More
Most food writers, cooks and chefs worth their generous seasoning will tell you that their vocation stems from a desire to feed people. It’s hard to argue with that comforting, coddling domestic image of the buoyant, buxom feeder, apron stretched over a reassuring bulk (never trust a skinny chef), oven gloves at the ready as they dish out tray after tray of mouthwatering treats to a table full of rapt admirers armed eagerly with forks and the appetites of adolescents, guests who nurse that most fundamental and primal of human instincts: the desire to be fed. That’s why we cook, we’d have you believe: our life’s purpose is to be the smiling matron bestowing hearty, homely manna upon our loved ones, like a plump bird in a nest surrounded by plaintive little open mouths.Read More
The glorious bounty of summer is on its way. I don't know about you, but I'm already excited for sunny days spent at the pick-your-own farm, greedily clawing berries off their stalks until my hands are smeared with a dramatic mixture of dark juice and blood from the inevitable gooseberry thorn-pricks. I'll soon be turning on the spare freezer in my shed, ready to fill it to bursting with jewel-like summer fruits: tiny glistening blackcurrants and redcurrants, voluptuously downy raspberries and plump jade gooseberries, all waiting to be enveloped in cake batter, simmered into compotes or churned through creamy frozen yoghurt. Last summer I came up with another wonderful way to use a glut of summer berries: spend a couple of days turning them into gorgeous fruit vinegars. It's very simple, and you end up with the most beautiful bottles, glowing with golden hues of red and yellow and looking like something that wouldn't be out of place on the shelf of a medieval apothecary or the souks of the Arabian Nights. Head over to my post on AO Life to see how it's done, and for recipe suggestions for using these captivating concoctions.
Some of my favourite recipes are those that involve a slightly risky frisson of surprise. Those ‘no-peeking’ dishes where, perhaps worryingly, you won’t know how they’ve turned out until the cooking is over and the moment of revelation is at hand. A stew that’s been simmering and melding beautifully under a lid in the oven for a few hours, for example. What went in as lumps of meat and veg suspended in a watery broth emerges – hopefully – as a dark, glossy and unctuous mass of slippery vegetables and tender chunks of meat, deeply rich and savoury.Read More
When I first made hot cross buns as a teenager, they ended up more like hot cross rock cakes. I think maybe I over-proved them, or left too much space between each bun on the baking tray, so they puddled out like strange, beige, fruit-speckled UFOs. They were delicious, but I found myself rather disheartened at their complete lack of resemblance to those perky, burnished, perfectly-crossed specimens you can buy in the supermarket. Every year since then – and, sad to say (or a relief?), many have elapsed between my teenage years and the present – I’ve been trying to create a hot cross bun that rivals those upmarket bought varieties.Read More
Easter and Christmas are very meaty holidays, but while the nut roast seems a standard vegetarian option during the winter, there isn’t really a general consensus on what vegetarians should tuck into while everyone else is enjoying their roast lamb. This delicious savoury cobbler should satisfy the non-carnivores around the table. It’s bursting with the colours and flavours of the Mediterranean, perfect for welcoming spring: lovely fresh tomatoes and peppers bake until tender under a crust of goat’s cheese scones, fragrant with lemon thyme, rich with parmesan and topped with golden pine nuts. It’s easy to make and provides a hearty, all-in-one main course, deliciously rich and sweet, with those lovely tangy scones to soak it all up. Find my full post and recipe on the AO Life blog!
Some beautiful things are born out of frugality in my kitchen. Dense, fudgy loaves of banana cake made to rescue two blackened bananas from the fruit bowl. Bowls of healing broth whipped up from the sad-looking carcass of a picked-clean roast chicken. Glossy, scarlet chilli jam that has saved a bag of overripe tomatoes from a tragic fate in the compost bin. I love averting waste and turning ingredients that were so nearly rubbish into something delicious, particularly when it encourages me to try new recipes in the process.Read More
There are a million and one delicious things in the world. Chocolate. Ripe mangoes. Jennifer Lawrence. But sometimes I think that, as far as simplicity goes, you can't get much better than curd. I'm not talking about the pale, buttery clouds that rise to the surface when you make cheese (the curds of Little Miss Muffet, as they are otherwise known), but that blissfully ambrosial concoction of butter, eggs, sugar and fruit, heated and whisked until glossy, gelatinous and spreadable and then placed in jars where you can admire its beautiful pastel hues.Read More
A couple of weeks ago, something magical occurred in my kitchen. Craving a warm, comforting pudding and wondering what to do with a quince hanging around in my fridge, I poached the fruit in a spiced sugar syrup and caramelised it, along with juicy chunks of ripe pear, in a hot pan. I added a little quince jelly, which melted into an amber syrup as it hit the surface of the pan, and bubbled in a splash of honeyed dessert wine. I tumbled this sticky, golden mixture into a baking tin, luscious juices clinging to the fruit, and topped it with a buttery crumble mixture flecked with crunchy almonds. Thirty-five minutes later, the best crumble I've ever had emerged from the oven.Read More