‘Writing a book is for me an act of faith and folly’, wrote the immortal Jane Grigson in the last year of her life. I would never presume to improve upon the observations of one of my food writing heroes, but if you’ll allow me to tweak them slightly, I might add that ‘writing a book is for me an act of faith and folly, and the reason I haven’t posted on this blog in many months’. That’s right: after many years of thinking it would never happen, I am finally writing my first cookbook. The Botanical Kitchen, an in-depth survey of our passion for all parts of the plant - from rose petals to raspberries, blackcurrants to bergamot, and lavender to lime leaves - will be published by Absolute Press next spring. It combines my love of literature, food culture and history with my passion for experimenting with herbs, spices, fruit and tea, and I hope it will have a place in the heart - and the kitchen - of many a keen cook. Furthermore, last night it was my honour to win (jointly with the fantastic Dan Saladino) the Jane Grigson Trust award for a first book in food/cookery, which has given me a renewed passion for bringing all things botanical to a wider readership. So, I hope you’ll excuse the lack of activity on this blog while I work away at something I’ve been desperate to bring to fruition (pun absolutely intended) for many years now. I’ll be sharing updates occasionally on instagram, if you want to keep track of my recipe testing!
Apologies for the large gap between blog posts recently. I’m hoping things will settle down to greater regularity in the near future. In the meantime, though, as very meagre compensation, here is something that is not a real recipe but more of a suggestion for how to eat the season’s figs for breakfast. This bowlful looks lusciously like something you might be served at a fancy restaurant for brunch, and I did actually have one of those moments when I sat down with it for breakfast the other day and thought ‘instagram this and everyone will ridicule you’. But in the spirit of not giving a damn, here’s how: put some thick Greek yoghurt (not low fat) in a sieve lined with muslin or a clean J-cloth, and suspend it over a bowl in the fridge overnight to drain. You’ll be left with labneh, a thick cream cheese. Spoon some of this into a bowl. Quarter some figs and roast them for 15-20 minutes in the oven with a drizzle of honey. Spoon the figs and their juices onto the labneh. Sprinkle with a few lemon thyme, lemon verbena or basil leaves (or any of your favourite herbs, really), a drizzle of pomegranate molasses or date syrup (or a little more honey) and a handful of toasted pistachio nuts, walnuts or almonds. Eat with warm flatbread or pitta. It’s a touch of Middle Eastern sunshine to brighten up the darkening days of autumn.Read More
I often find it odd that Earl Grey is an almost ubiquitous beverage, whose tell-tale floral perfume scents teacups the world over, and yet its key ingredient, the bergamot, is a rare specimen whose glowing presence amidst the jumbled crates of a farmers market stall is guaranteed to send serious food-lovers into paroxysms of excitement (and, subsequently, to lead to heightened activity on Instagram as we first show off our esoteric citrus haul and, not long after, start crowdsourcing suggestions on what on earth to do with this highly underrated and underused knobbly lemon thing). Earl Grey is available in myriad forms, from high-class zesty loose leaves for infusing in china teapots to the tannic dust likely to fill your cup in a greasy spoon café or on an aeroplane meal tray. That the actual source of these plentiful, cosmopolitan cuppas remains elusive is one of the strange realities of our modern food supply system.Read More
When I was seventeen, I worked in the kind of restaurant that I was far too much of a food philistine to appreciate. Why would a fussy teenager who lived off a diet of McDonalds super-size happy meals, cheese sandwiches and fish fingers care about organic food that was lovingly sourced from within a fifty-mile radius, with an emphasis on seasonality, ‘from-scratch’ cooking and unusual flavour combinations? Not for my anaemic adolescent palate the delights of duck liver and raisin pâté, pickled fennel, greengage pavlova or Moroccan lamb and preserved lemon tagine. Pass the chicken nuggets.Read More
While piles of crisp, eddying golden leaves and a nip in the morning air are sure signs that autumn is in full swing, I tend to feel the seasons more through their food. Nothing for me is more autumnal than the sight of pumpkins, in all shapes, sizes and colours, lined up at the farmers market, or russet apples piled in abundance in the grocery stores. At this time of year, my appetite shifts towards hearty, bolstering foods in varying shades of gold, green and red; porridge becomes a staple breakfast and my love of baking shifts up a gear or two. Here in Denmark, we are blessed with fabulous bakeries on every corner, and one thing I particularly love about this little Scandinavian corner of Europe is the dark, flavoursome nature of the breads on offer, which are often punctuated by crunchy seeds and dense with nutty wholegrain flours.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
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
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
‘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
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
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
‘Sometimes simple is good’, my boyfriend intoned while eating this. Although I would put most of my cooking under the ‘simple’ bracket, the ninety minutes or so it inevitably takes me to make a meal every night might suggest otherwise. While I don’t begrudge any time spent in the kitchen, I think I do have a tendency to eschew the overly simple out of some kind of strange culinary logic whereby a meal only tastes good if you’ve spent ages faffing around over it and it contains at least three separate components. This fifteen-minute pasta dish has proved me wrong.Read More
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
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
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!
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!
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
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
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!