If J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, I could measure mine out in apples. For those fussy nursery years, the inoffensive blandness of the Golden Delicious, which I wanted pre-chopped in my lunchbox but would refuse to let my mother put lemon juice on to stop it turning brown, because the idea of something as exotic as lemon juice seemed, to my picky infant self, a truly atrocious adulteration of my lunchtime snack. During my pre-pubescent years, having figured out that the Golden Delicious was in fact anything but, I craved the juicy sweetness of the ubiquitous Pink Lady, soothed by the succulent flavour of homogeneity. The perfect apple for a child who just wants to blend in. For my teenage years, I favoured the Granny Smith. Hard, speckled and slightly sour, I think this apple is a fitting metaphor for my experience of adolescence.Read More
I have recently been forced to come to terms with the true extent of my tea obsession. The necessity of moving my worldly possessions across Europe in the back of a van recently has thrown into sharp relief several things I already suspected, but was vehemently denying: I have too many clothes, cookbooks and plates; I hoard convenient ‘travel size’ toiletries; there are too many odds and ends of bread in my freezer. I didn’t quite realise how out of hand my love of tea had become until I found myself packing my collection into not one but three boxes. Recent trips to India and Japan have hardly helped, adding at least twelve more items to the collection, and I was also recently sent some wonderful samples from the kind people at Bluebird Tea and Tea Shirt to broaden my extensive repertoire. Nothing makes me sadder than a person for whom ‘a cup of tea’ signifies simply a mug of tannic black brew adulterated with milk and sugar. The world of tea is expansive and glorious, so I’m going to share some of my favourites in the hope that I may turn you too into a ridiculous tea lady like myself. Or, at least, encourage you to try something new and exciting. The tea I drink on any particular occasion depends a lot on the time of day, my mental and physical state at the time, the particular type of tea that appeals, whether I want it to be on the sweet or savoury side, whether I need caffeine or decaf, et cetera. So here’s a tea menu for all hours and all moods. You can order most of these online, and many are available both as loose leaf teas or teabags.Read More
1. Abundance and preserving. It’s that time of year again: the regular thud of apples falling off heavily-laden boughs onto my lawn; the triffid-like majesty of two thriving rhubarb plants; the first swelling of aubergines and cucumbers on their stalks in the greenhouse, and the flourishing of herbs - lemon verbena, grapefruit mint, Thai basil, oregano, lavender…The markets are full of beautiful rosy Victoria plums and blooming jade greengages, the last of summer’s peaches and downy apricots, and jewel-like berries in abundance. At times like these, I love nothing more than to dust off my jam pan and start preserving for the autumn and winter (although admittedly I make far more preserves than I can ever get through alone, and give away around 80% of what I produce, but that’s part of the joy too). Favourite recipes at the moment include Diana Henry’s plum, orange and cardamom jam, greengage and honey compote (this freezes well for use on winter porridge), and my own spiced apple and date jam, or rhubarb, vanilla and cardamom jam. If you have an apple glut, try making flavoured jellies for sweet and savoury food: my two favourites are festive apple jelly and lemon verbena jelly. For more luscious jam ideas, see Diana Henry’s beautiful book Salt Sugar Smoke – the apricot and lavender jam is also excellent.Read More
If one needed any further examples of how much technology can distract and distance us from reality, one should look no further than a screenshot from my phone that I uploaded to Facebook last week. This was taken from my language-learning app, which had made a triumphant sound and presented me with a page declaring that I was ‘25% fluent in Danish’, thanks to my daily practice of 15-minute sessions over the last week, matching word pairs, translating small sentences and picking the correct word out of possible options. This sounded excellent, and I was ready and willing to crow about my progress to anyone who would listen, until I realised that I am only fluent in a particularly niche subset of the Danish language, one comprised entirely of sentences along the lines of “the turtle is drinking the milk” or “elephants are vegetarian” or “the horses do not eat steak”. This would be fine if my new job were taking me to work in some kind of hipster Danish zoo, or a supermarket catering to the dietary needs of exotic fauna, but unfortunately I am moving to Denmark to work in a university that, as far as I know, does not have resident turtles or elephants and probably won’t require me to inform my students that ‘the girl is eating the oranges’ or ‘he has a dog and horses’.Read More
One thing I get asked for a lot, as a result of this blog, is advice on student cooking. Fortunately it has been quite a long time since I had to endure the pitfalls of a student kitchen (people leaving the freezer open overnight, using my pans and leaving them full of rancid oil for days, teatowels covered in unthinkable stains…), but university definitely provided my formative years in terms of becoming a cook and food writer. Learning to cook properly as a student is a rite of passage, in my opinion, one that may be a little challenging but is infinitely rewarding and joyful. Better still, it’s a great social skill to have up your sleeve; few things impress your student peers more than a home-cooked feast. You’ll also save money, eat more healthily and gain a new creative hobby into the bargain. So this month I’m working in partnership with Steamer Trading Cookshop, one of my favourite small independent retailers, to offer some advice on essential kit for your first student kitchen (and no, it doesn’t include novelty shot glasses or cocktail shakers…but it should obviously include a huge bowl of avocados and some key cookbooks - see above...)Read More
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!