There’s a certain time of year where the contents of the veg box are suddenly more vibrant. There’s something red or orange which isn’t a carrot and something green which isn’t cabbage. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a good brassica but when the first spring vegetables come through you know that it’s not long until the spring and summer veg are in full swing. To mark this occasion I made a spring vegetable tray bake; to celebrate all that is delicious at this time of year.
When I cut into a lemon I can’t help but give it a good sniff. It’s the same with lime and grapefruit. There’s something about that citrus smell that I just can’t wait to inhale; especially if it’s a drizzly day. I also love tropical flavours at this time of year: coconut, passion fruit, mango, you name it! Combining a bit of citrus and a bit of tropical was the idea here so I set about baking some lemon and coconut flapjacks.
You will need (for 12 flapjacks):
- 125g butter
- 125g soft brown sugar
- 3 tbsp golden syrup
- 225g oats
- 25g desiccated coconut
- Zest 1 lemon
- Juice 1 lemon
- 4-6 tbsp icing sugar (I used unrefined)
Preheat an oven to 180C and grease a baking dish well, the one I used was 20cm x 20cm.
In a small saucepan melt together the butter, brown sugar and golden syrup on a low heat. Stir often to ensure everything gets well combined.
Stir the oats, coconut and lemon zest together in a large bowl.
Once the butter, sugar and syrup have melted pour them into the oats and mix everything together well to ensure that the butter mix has coated everything.
Tip the oats into the baking dish and flatten the top with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the flapjacks from the oven and mark into portions while they are still hot. Leave to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing and leaving to cool on a wire rack.
To make the icing squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl. Sift in three tbsp icing sugar to start with and see how thick the icing gets. Keep adding more icing sugar until the icing becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Drizzle, splat or dunk the flapjacks in the icing to decorate.
Now when you come to ice the flapjacks don’t be alarmed that the icing dribbles down in between the oats. That tangy lemon hit will settle somewhere inside and be delicious when you come to eat it. By using unrefined icing sugar the icing will come out a pale brown/yellow colour but if you use refined icing sugar it will come out white. I really like using chunky whole oats for flapjacks as I think it gives a great texture and mixed with coconut the overall texture of these is slightly chewy at the edges and soft in the middle. Just how I like them.
Eating an orange as it comes is something I do not enjoy. Peeling it and eating it makes such a mess and there’s pith everywhere; slicing it into segments and chewing the orange flesh from the skin isn’t particularly pleasant either. However, slicing it and adding to desserts or using the juice is something that I think it worth the time. Nothing beats properly fresh orange juice. A nice glass of Saint Clements breakfast juice was on the cards with my latest delivery of oranges; a fantastically zingy way to start the day.
You will need (for 2 glasses):
- 3 large oranges
- 1 lemon
- 1 lime
I find it easiest to squeeze fruit into a large jug so that the majority of the juice ends up getting caught and it’s easy to pour out.
Squeeze the oranges and lemon into a jug and give it a quick stir. Careful to pick out any pips that fall in! I don’t mind if any bits of orange or lemon flesh get into the juice but if you’re not a fan of bits you can always strain it.
Pour into glasses and add a few slices of fresh lime. You could add a couple of ice cubes too.
For such a simple recipe it works wonders to wake you up in the morning! All those fresh, zesty flavours really pack a punch and the lemon keeps the sweet to sour balance just right. I much prefer juice to a smoothie in the mornings so this is my perfect idea of a breakfast juice. You could add some sparkling water to turn this into a longer soft drink, or mix in a little gin or vodka for a cocktail. A sprig or two of fresh mint would be a delicious addition too.
Adding herbs to bakes and drinks is something I really like to do. I like the botanical flavour that herbs can bring to various dishes and I think woody herbs really suit being paired with chocolate. These chocolate, thyme and lemon shortbread biscuits are a delicious combination of flavours if I do say so myself and if you’re unsure about adding herbs to a biscuit you’ll just have to give it a try!
You will need (for 12 squares):
- 180g plain flour
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 50g caster sugar
- 150g softened butter
- 50g dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 1tsp dried thyme
- Zest 1 lemon
Preheat your oven to 160C and line a baking dish; I used a square one for this batch but round or circular dishes work just as well.
Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl, or mixer, and beat together until they form a dough. Remove from the bowl and knead lightly.
Press the dough into the tin, spreading it out evenly, then prick the top of the shortbread with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven, mark into squares then leave to cool before removing the biscuits from the dish.
You can’t go wrong with a dark chocolate shortbread biscuit, and that’s certainly the case when they’re served warm from the oven. The added thyme gives a little warmth and herbal note which coupled with the fresh, zesty lemon is just the thing with a cup of tea. Dried thyme works well in this as I think the oils in fresh thyme might taint a little as it gets baked in the oven. I have previously tried a similar combination of flavours with my chocolate, rosemary and hazelnut biscuits. I would like to try infusing some bay with a white chocolate mousse or sauce at some point in the future too.
Just look at those Chioggia beetroot. Aren’t they beautiful? Not only do these beetroot, also known as candy beetroot, look brilliant their vibrant stripes can’t fail to cheer you up even on the gloomiest of days. These beetroot, horseradish and salmon sandwiches came about because I love the combination of earthy, sweet beetroot and fiery horseradish with smoked foods. That, and I fancied something for lunch that wasn’t just toast! Another great thing about this variety of beetroot is that you don’t need to clean the entire kitchen after peeling them; they have hardly any of the staining power of their deep purple cousin.
You will need (for four very generous open sandwiches):
- Baguette, rye bread, crusty rolls or whatever bread you fancy; sliced or halved as needed to make it have an open face
- 800g Chioggia beetroot (any other beetroot would be fine too)
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 2 tbsp hot horseradish sauce
- Salt and pepper
- Smoked salmon
- Squeeze of lemon
Start by peeling the beetroot. Chop them up into chunks and then place in a roasting dish. Drizzle over the rapeseed oil, add some salt and pepper and mix it together well to ensure all the beetroot is coated in oil and seasoning.
Roast in the oven at 180C for 40 minutes or until the beetroot are soft when tested with a knife.
Blend the beetroot in a processor until it’s in small chunks (or chunkier or smoother depending on how you like it) then stir through the horseradish.
Get your bread ready, maybe toast it, cut the crusts off, whatever you fancy then top with the beetroot and horseradish mix. Top each sandwich with some smoked salmon then drizzle over a little lemon juice and some extra black pepper.
I think these open sandwiches have a little bit of everything. Sweet beetroot, punchy horseradish, crusty bread, silky smoked salmon and sharp lemon. You could also use smoked ham or smoked cheese instead of the salmon if you like. This was such a great lunch and one that I think would lend itself well to taking to work; you can just add the toppings when you’re ready to eat! That beetroot and horseradish mixture would be great added to mashed potatoes too.
When the nights get darker and colder I reach for two things: one is the big cast iron saucepan and the other is my collection of spices. But for all the big flavours, homely soups, stews and curries that seem so apt at this time of year sometimes I crave a little delicacy. Something subtle, light and simple is what I’m after and these Lemon Almond Biscuits are exactly that. Just the ticket at the end of a busy day with a cup of tea, preferably Earl Grey. These little biscuits take less than half an hour from start to finish; perfect.
You will need (for around 15 biscuits):
- 150g butter, cubed
- 75g caster sugar
- 150g plain flour
- 25g ground almonds
- Zest 1 lemon
Put all of the ingredients into a mixer or a bowl and combine to form a dough.
Preheat an oven to 150C.
Divide the dough up into small balls, slightly smaller than a golf ball, then put onto greased trays. Leave a little room between each of them so they can spread out. Press the top of each one lightly with a fork.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Leave to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
These aren’t the snappiest of biscuits, they’re not supposed to be. They are ever so slightly soft in the middle and all the better for it. If you would prefer them to be crisper then just press them a little more with the fork to make them thinner. The lemon and almond flavours are subdued and these easy biscuits are the perfect antidote to a busy autumn evening. Uncomplicated to bake, unfussy to eat and with all the comfort of a good shortbread I’ll be keeping some of these in the biscuit tin for the next few months.
I think pears are annoying. Lovely, but annoying. They sit around in the fruit bowl looking all delicious and they’re never ripe. Then, when one is ready to eat the rest immediately go ripe too and then you have to eat them all at once. Well I’m not standing for it any longer, I decided that I would use the pears while they are under ripe so I can enjoy them while waiting for the others to ripen. The word ripe has lost all meaning. These mini toffee pear pies are made from surprisingly few ingredients (if you buy readymade pastry) and are just perfect for celebrating the pear in all its I’m-never-quite-ready-ok-now-I’m-too-ready glory.
You will need (for 12 mini pies):
- 6-7 medium pears, just under ripe is ideal (alternatively you could use some sharp apples)
- 75g salted butter
- 2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
- Zest 1 lemon
- 1 sheet readymade and rolled shortcrust pastry
- Milk for brushing
- Caster sugar
Start by making the pie filling. Chop the pears up into small chunks and get a frying pan on a low/medium heat.
Add the butter and the sugar to the frying pan and leave to soften and mix together. Once you have a lovely, dark brown, smooth sauce tip the pears in and continue to cook for a few minutes so that the pears get well covered and the sauce thickens. Add the lemon zest. Put to one side to cool.
Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to make it around half as big again. You will need two fluted pastry cutters: one 8.5cm and one 6cm.
Lightly grease a 12 hole cupcake tin.
Cut out 12 circles of pastry with the larger cutter and put these into the holes in the cupcake tin. Re-roll the pastry and cut out 12 circles with the 6cm cutter.
Preheat an oven to 180C.
Spoon the cooled pear mixture into each pastry case, top up each mini pie with any leftover caramel sauce.
Brush the edge of the pastry cases lightly with milk and then put the smaller pastry circles on top. Seal with your fingers or a fork. Brush the tops of the pies with a little more milk, add a small steam hole in the top of each pie with a sharp knife, then sprinkle with a little caster sugar.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
I served a few of them warm, straight from the oven with a drizzle of double cream. What a little piece of loveliness that was. The fruit inside is soft and slightly sharp, the toffee sauce has bubbled up onto the pastry and made a sticky, sweet edge and the pastry is warm and crisp. Adding the lemon prevents the pie from being overly sweet. These would be perfect to take on a picnic or to nibble on for bonfire night. Alternatively, and this is quite a niche suggestion, if you have a log burner, pop a couple of pies on a piece of foil on top of the burner and wait for them to get warmed through before serving with ice cream.
Meals that are made from a few simple ingredients are invariably some of my favourite dishes of all. A quick scramble around the cupboards and fridge pulling ingredients and ideas together always feels more satisfying; like you’re getting a meal for nothing. My evening meals are always planned in advance so it’s lunchtime where I get my Ready Steady Cook hat on. Sometimes however the scrabbling approach doesn’t yield any particularly tasty sounding results; ham and chocolate spread tostadas anyone? This time however, the combination of ingredients I had resulted in Wild Garlic and Crispy Fried Salami Potato Salad and it was brilliant.
You will need (for two):
- 400g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- Handful green beans, topped and tailed, halved
- Small handful wild garlic
- 12 slices Italian salami (I used finocchiona which has fennel in), roughly chopped
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper
Start by putting the potatoes into a large pan of salted water. Bring the pan to the boil and cook the potatoes until they are cooked through, cooking time depends on how big you have chopped them. If you have a steamer add the green beans to the steamer over the potatoes for the last few minutes of cooking, or boil separately for a few minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking put the wild garlic (after a thorough rinse) into a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt. Bash everything up together well until you have a thick paste then add the olive oil, a pinch of pepper and the lemon juice.
Get a frying pan on a medium/high heat and add the salami. Dry fry until crispy, plenty of oil will come out of the salami.
Drain the potatoes when they are cooked (and the green beans if you have cooked them separately) and mix with the beans, salami and wild garlic oil.
The grassy and faint garlic whiff from the wild garlic is so good with the slightly fatty salami. The fennel in the salami works really well but any salami would be delicious; it’s a different flavour to something like bacon. The potato breaks down after it’s cooked so the wild garlic oil nestles in the little nooks and crannies and turns everything a wonderful green. The beans add a little freshness and the lemon finishes it off with its zesty acidity. A meal as good as this from a few leftover ingredients and a bit of a rummage in the hedgerows; perfection. Something else equally as potato filled and garlicky are my wild garlic gnocchi if you fancy trying something veggie!!
If you want to have a go foraging for wild food, take a look at my beginner’s guide.
I used to really dislike horseradish, I just didn’t understand why you would want to eat something that makes you pull a face similar to the one you would pull if someone trod on your foot. I had tried it before and had decided to avoid it at all costs from then on; until I ate some by accident in a mini Yorkshire pudding covered with rare roast beef and everything changed. If you’re like me and you’re also on Team Horseradish then you must try this recipe for horseradish celeriac remoulade. If you’re not a fan of the fiery root then just leave the horseradish out; it’ll still be tasty (just not quite the same).
You will need (for two large portions or four smaller ones):
- 1 small celeriac
- 1 tbsp celery salt
- 4 tbsp mayonnaise
- Juice 1 lemon
- 4 spring onions, sliced
- 1 tbsp horseradish
- 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- Pinch pepper
Having a celeriac in the kitchen means you’ll have to attack it at some point and this is best undertaken with a big, sharp knife and plenty of care.
Start by peeling the skin from the celeriac; if it’s a little one the skin should be thinner so this will be quite easy. You’ll need to slice off any awkward knobbly bits from the rest of it.
Slice the celeriac thinly, around a pound coin thickness if you can, then layer up the slices on top of each other and slice these into strips. You ideally want matchstick sized strips of celeriac but if, like me, your patience wears thin then a few thicker bits here and there won’t bother anyone.
Put the celeriac into a bowl and sprinkle over the celery salt. Mix it all together well then leave to one side for around half an hour.
Get a muslin or clean tea towel and put the celeriac in the middle. Gather the edges of the fabric up and then give it a really good squeeze to get as much water out as possible.
Put the dried celeriac into a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Give everything a really good mix before serving.
I served my horseradish remoulade with some steak and it would be delicious with salmon or smoked fish too. It’s amazing how much the texture of the celeriac changes after it’s been squeezed and its sweetness works really well with the horseradish. I prefer dried parsley than fresh in this because it adds an earthy, herby note and the lemon a lovely citrus freshness. Next time life gives you this knobbly root you know what to do with it.
I like to look forward to my lunches; whether I’m using up some leftovers to make a quick salad, sticking all sorts of ingredients in a sandwich or slurping on soup. Sometimes it can be very tempting to just grab the quickest thing in the kitchen but if I do that I am invariably disappointed at lunch time. So say hello to my three easy soup toppings which can all be made in less than five minutes, using ingredients you probably already have and can be made in advance to enjoy at work.
New Covent Garden Soups are currently encouraging everyone to revive their lunch life, something I was really keen to get involved with as I think lunch can make or break a day. Below are my three easy soup toppings and the soups that I chose to serve them with. You can get creative and add any of the toppings to any of the soups and have a go at putting your own twist on them too.
Wild Mushroom Soup with Blue Cheese Croutons
You will need (per bowl):
- One slice stale bread, crusts removed and cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Blue cheese (you could use any other cheese if you prefer)
Mix the bread with the oil, a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper.
Fry the bread in a non-stick pan on a medium heat for a few minutes until lightly golden.
Leave the croutons to cool before mixing with as much blue cheese as you like, ready to top the warm mushroom soup.
Sweet Potato and Corn Soup with Toasted Seeds and Spices
You will need (per bowl):
- Handful pumpkin seeds
- 1 tbsp each cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds
Get a small frying pan on a medium heat. Add the seeds and spices and warm for a few minutes, stirring often, until they are smelling toasted and lovely.
They’re ready to pop on your soup, or store for later.
Tomato and Spinach Soup with Herb and Lemon Oil
You will need (per bowl):