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Do you remember last week how I expounded on the virtues of frozen herbs and showed you how to cook a cherry and thyme clafoutis?

(I KNOW! Cherry and THYME! Herbs in a dessert. I’m such a renegade. I should probably write a groundbreaking recipe book right now.)

Gluten free cherry clafoutis with thyme

It was because I’d just been to that Darégal cooking workshop and was all of a flutter about how frozen herbs were going to change my life. I’d basically decided, watching the Darégal chef make those amazing mussels in coconut milk, that from now on I was going to be the ultimate domestic goddess, conjuring up flavourful home cooked meals at least twice a day. It was only because I hadn’t had frozen herbs in my life until that point that I cooked so many chicken dippers. But now… now my freezer was full of chopped garlic and coriander and ginger and the world was my oyster.

CHANGE WAS COMING.

Okay, so I have cooked some chicken dippers since then, but Belle honestly does love them. She’s like a toddler really in many ways – give her a plate of chicken dippers, some ketchup and the TV remote and she’s happy.

I don’t think that you need to necessarily choose though between being a culinary herb wizard and eating chicken dippers. I’m a complex woman after all, I have LAYERS. Some days I’m a chicken dippers kind of a gal, other days I’m cooking myself a prawn and coconut curry for lunch just because I can.

And very nice it was too.

easy prawn and coconut curry recipe View Post

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Do you remember a while back when I had that revelation about frozen chopped onions? At the time I called it a ‘landmark in my culinary life’, which was a bold statement, but then judging by the tone of the rest of the post I was perhaps going through a bit of an intense time – there’s a slight manic quality to the way I try to get Belle involved in the risotto – perhaps frozen onions really did feel life changing?

It had come on the back of me discovering all of those unusual frozen foods I never knew existed, so I was probably still a bit hyped from that. One of the foods that made that list was frozen herbs, which is what I want to talk to you about today, so get comfy.

Picture the scene for a moment, if you will. You’re cooking a new recipe and it has a long list of ingredients – garlic, ginger, coriander maybe. You’re feeling unusually enthusiastic about cooking so you embrace it and buy a packet of fresh coriander. Maybe you get carried away and buy one of the more expensive plants, thinking it’s just what you need to inspire you to cook fresh curries every day.

‘This coriander plant is going to change my life,’ you think to yourself, ‘who knows what kind of person I can be with this on my kitchen windowsill! It will be like the frozen onions all over again!’

Fast forward a week and you’re eating chicken dippers and chucking the dead coriander plant in the bin, or scrapping the coriander mush out of the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Ah well. Next time.

Great news for you my culinary friend! You don’t have to be that person any more. You don’t have to skip over the herbs in recipes because of the shame of that moment in the future – you CAN have your coriander and eat it! You just need to buy FROZEN HERBS.

I had this frozen onion style moment of inspiration at a cooking even I went to last week with a French company called Darégal, who are the world experts in culinary herbs. You probably won’t have heard of them, and you don’t need to look out for them in the freezer section as in the UK they provide herbs to restaurants, manufacturers and supermarkets to use in their own meals and products, rather than being their own consumer brand. Go into pretty much any supermarket – Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda or M&S – and their frozen herbs with have come from Darégal.

They also make frozen garlic, chilli and ginger – all things that I end up either skipping in recipes because I can’t be faffed, or chucking away loads of a week later.

where to buy frozen herbs View Post

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One of my favourite times of the week is a weekend morning, when Belle is still asleep and I’m alone with the cats, pottering.

Pottering is great isn’t it? I get the Archers omnibus on and I potter about doing all the crappy jobs I’ve been putting off for weeks like recharging the hoover battery and finally dealing with the Christmas tree on the back patio. (This one is currently aspirational.)

This weekend I potted up the avocado stone I’ve FINALLY managed to get to sprout after about eight failed attempts over the course of several years, which was very satisfying, and then to balance it out I threw away two other dead plants. That’s the circle of life for you, right there.

I also like to do a bit of light cooking when I’m pottering – something that I can nibble while I do my jobs. One of my favourite things to make is my ‘whatever’s in the fridge frittatas‘, partly because they’re tasty but also because it’s a useful way to clean out the fridge, which is another one of my favourite pottering pastimes.

This weekend, once the avocado stone was settled in, I thought I’d make some frittatas as a way to use up the cauliflower I’d had in the fridge for ages. I bought it with good intentions but you know, sometimes it’s hard to get around to eating a whole cauliflower, however positive you may feel about it at the time. I had a similar situation going on with a bag of spinach, which I’d bought to stir into a sweet potato curry that never happened, so that went in too.

cauliflower cheese mini frittatas

On reflection, I think they needed something sweeter to balance the flavours a bit better, (I dipped them in BBQ sauce, which wasn’t ideal), so in the recipe I’ve added the option of peas or cherry tomatoes, which I think would lift the frittatas nicely. View Post

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brunch club

A few weeks ago I had brunch with my friend Nicky at The Weir in French Weir Park. It was one of those beautiful January mornings where little droplets of cold snot form on the end of your nose as you walk and you can’t feel your feet but it’s worth it for the way the winter sun hangs low in the sky and the crisp air fills your lungs and lifts your spirits.

French Weir park Taunton

I’ve been to The Weir a few times before for coffee but never for food and I’ve been wanting to go ever since I saw that they do homemade baked beans on toast.

I have a bit of a soft spot for baked beans as it was pretty much impossible to visit my Gran and Grandad for any length of time and not be served them with slightly burnt toast and salty butter. If you got really lucky you’d get tinned beans and sausages with homemade crinkle cut chips. I don’t remember my Gran ever eating, just serving them to me and my Grandad, one tin between us, the eight sausages always divided out equally, never left to chance. View Post

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Reduced sugar bread pudding recipe

If you ever find yourself wanting to impress a group of new friends I can recommend doing it through the medium of bread pudding.

I first made a variant of this bread pudding recipe on a writing course about a year and a half ago and I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said that for most people it was the highlight of the week. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was VERY good. The bread soaks up the custard and something happens that I think must be actual magic – it’s moist and sweet and tastes of heaven.

The original version doesn’t have any fruit, and goes in a lot heavier on the sugar and butter topping, but as I was trying to create a reduced sugar bread pudding I cut back on this and added peaches and raspberries for sweetness instead. I think it’s better than the original, if that’s even possible. View Post

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brunch club

A couple of weekends ago I took Belle for brunch at Kitchen at Jordans Courtyard. We ate banana bread, we played cards, we secretly watched a little boy with an adorable bowl cut eat pizza – it was a good day.

I’m a big fan of the original Kitchen at The Wharf in Langport, not least because if I get lucky I can sit at my old kitchen table, which found a new home there after I realised I couldn’t open my back door properly with it in my own house. (It’s a round one with white painted legs and a bare wooden top, should you fancy visiting it.) To be honest I prefer the eclectic, mismatched decor and the cosy atmosphere of Kitchen in Langport, but Belle likes it when things are a bit more in order, and so she prefers the new version of Kitchen at Jordans Kitchen.

They’re essentially both nice though.

(Year 5 level review for you there. Honestly, I should consider writing for a living.)

What’s especially nice about them both is the food. Their menus change with the seasons and they source as much of their fresh produce as possible from local suppliers. They also run their own artisan bakery in Langport, so they really are all about quality ingredients and cooking from scratch.

I browsed the menu at Jordans Courtyard while Belle practiced shuffling cards. She was trying to master the thing where you split the pack and sort of flick the two halves together, whilst trying to look casual and cool. A well-shuffled pack is very important for a serious game of Go Fish.

It took me a long time to decide because basically I wanted everything. I was especially drawn to the toasted banana bread with granola and yogurt because that’s not something I’ve ever seen on a brunch menu before, but also I wanted the big breakfast because FRIED POTATO ROSTI. Any kind of fried potato item on a brunch menu is normally a clincher for me. I think it’s because fried potatoes always remind me of my Dad, being small and dipping bits of crispy potato in tomato ketchup. They’re such a treat aren’t they?

We decided to go with a bit of a joint effort and get the full breakfast to share, with homemade baked beans and sourdough toast, and then the banana bread as a joint pudding. The breakfast would actually have been enough between us as it was really filling. A split breakfast works well for us as I don’t really like bacon and Belle doesn’t like sausage or black pudding. (I bloody love black pudding.)

Brunch at Kitchen at Jordans Courtyard review View Post

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brunch club

 

I was questioned earlier this week about my PURPOSE.

Not like in a police station, I’d not been brought in for loitering, more in a ‘what drives you?’ kind of way. I wasn’t sure how to answer because what with the midlife unravelling I’m not sure I have one at the moment.

‘Does brunch count?’ I asked hopefully. ‘I really like going out for brunch.’

Apparently brunch does not count, not as a life calling at least, but the more I thought about it the more I realised how much I really do love brunch. You remember when I moved back to Taunton and cried in the street because there was nowhere good to get eggs florentine?*

Brunch matters.

Brunch matters not just because of the toasty muffins and runny yolks, but because of what it represents. Brunch is a lifestyle – I wanted to create a way of working that gave me flexibility in my life to do more of the things I enjoy and to not have to show up for a job every single day that felt like it was sucking at my soul. And I did, which I should probably acknowledge more, and now I can have brunch any goddam day I want and no one can tell me otherwise.

Hoorah!

Brunch is also about people. Working on my own for ten years hasn’t always been easy, but brunch is a way to get that much needed human contact. ‘Do you fancy brunch?’ you can say to someone, and they’ll say yes, and off you’ll go, knowing that as well as the joy of a smashed avocado you’re going to get an hour with a person who adds something to your life and, in return, you can add something to theirs.

And so, new for 2020, I’m introducing my new regular feature – BRUNCH CLUB!

A couple of times a month I’m going to go out for brunch and then tell you about it. It might be in the style of a proper food review, but more likely I’ll get distracted and tell you a story about the time I once tried to make my own baked beans or had an awful brunch related date. I might use it as an excuse to show you how to make the perfect poached egg, or maybe I’ll have brunch with someone incredibly interesting or important and share their story with you. View Post

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Kashmiri chilli powder

Welcome to National Curry week! That’s right, this week – October 7th – 13th – is National Curry Week and great timing too given the turn in the weather. This week is the week to get comfy on the sofa with a big bowl of homemade lamb rogan josh and some good autumn TV. (Personal current favourites being the new series of The Apprentice and the first ever series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK.)

What’s sad though is that despite it feeling sometimes like the UK is becoming one big cafe/restaurant, British curry houses and Indian dining is in decline in the UK. A third of the UK’s estimated 17,000 curry houses could face closure over the next decade, which would be a huge shame. Partly it’s due to changing tastes and demographics, but also the misconception that Indian restaurant food is ‘unhealthy’ or that the foods associated with Indian cuisine, such as lamb curry, are eaten more by older generations.

As you know I’ve been working on a campaign this year called ‘Lamb. Try it, love it‘, encouraging people to eat more lamb, and so I wanted to use National Curry Week as an opportunity to champion the use of lamb in curries. Lamb is brilliant for curries as it carries the spicy flavours really well, but without getting lost. (If you want proof of this then try out my Thai massaman lamb curry – now one of my favourite ever curries.) I also wanted to challenge the stereotype of curry houses being a bit old-fashioned and so I went to Birmingham, possibly the most well-known destination for curry in the UK, for a meal at the multi-award winning Asha’s.

Asha’s is where the cool kids go for curry. They serve amazing food but they also appreciate that nowadays people expect more from a restaurant. (I’m looking at you Millennials.) Asha’s has created a dining experience to reflect that, blending authentic Indian cooking with more contemporary flavours and a sophisticated ambience. Asha’s even has its own cocktail menu, inspired by Indian cuisine, featuring treats such as the Maharaja’s Mistress, made with rose jam, curry leaves infused arrack, spiced rum and champagne, garnished with Turkish delight. View Post

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The Golden Girl donut

A few weeks ago I discovered the joy that is getting cookery books out of the library.

I’ve always gone to the library, obviously, I’ve not just suddenly discovered it as concept. I’ve facilitated my fair share of summer reading challenges with the girls, and been to story times, and done all the usual library things, but for some reason it had never occurred to be to get recipe books from the library. Silly really, as they are BOOKS, dur.

So anyway a few weeks ago I went along to the library, with my tote bag, and there were shelves and shelves of them! I sat on the floor and looked at all the pictures of all the things I’d probably never get around to making, but liked looking at nonetheless. I concentrated on baking because I find it more enjoyable cooking when I’m not hungry, just for the fun of making something. When you’ve been answering the ‘what’s for tea’ question every day at 4.30pm for over 20 years then the joy of cooking actual meals becomes a teeny bit diminished.

I ended up with a big stack of books for my tote bag and one of them was DONUTS by Vicky Graham. (Only £3 for a hardback on Amazon at the time of writing, should you want your own non-library copy.) View Post

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The technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off last week was figs rolls. I absolutely love a fig roll – a much underrated snack in my opinion. They are properly sturdy and wholesome feeling, not like you’ve really had a biscuit at all, more like an oat cake and a fruit salad.

This fig roll recipe is even more wholesome than usual because it comes from The Happy Pear cookbook. I bought this book after my sister took me to visit their cafe in Ireland, which was LUSH.

They are really into healthy eating, so it’s all piles of homemade Medjool date energy balls and massive, colourful bowls full of couscous and olives and pulses you don’t recognise but feel like you should. It’s basically how you imagine your own kitchen would be if you lived in Greece and had seven children and wore long, flowing dresses. You know that anything from their recipe book is going to be oozing with goodness. Eat one of these fig rolls and feel smug AF.

This is a gluten free fig roll recipe, with a pastry made with ground almonds instead of flour. I know on the Bake Off the fig rolls were the technical challenge, but I don’t honestly think you need much technical skill to make these. They’re a bit fiddly maybe, because the pastry is quite crumbly, but you’ll manage it, I have faith in you.

homemade fig roll recipe View Post

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When I visited my mum at the weekend I took with me two large plastic bowls.

I’d noticed when we were there last time that there were a lot of blackberries growing over the fence where she parks her car, and I wanted to collect some and imagine, briefly, that I was living some kind of Tom and Barbara life of self-sufficiency. What I hadn’t realised was that there were also a couple of apples trees tucked away at the back, so I came home with a big haul of blackberries, eating apples and cooking apples.

apple and blackberry

The trick now is to use them all up before they end up just rotting in my kitchen rather than on the floor next to my mum’s car.

One of the first things I did with the eating apples was to slice them thinly, sprinkle them with cinnamon, and pop them in the oven for about half an hour until they dried out. This is one of Belle’s Best Things and a sure fire way to get her to eat at least four apples without realising it.

I’ve used the blackberries a couple of times this week to make overnight oats, which made me feel especially wholesome as it involved forethought, and today I made some mini spiced blackberry and apple pies.

They were a combination of recipes from BBC Good Food, including this one for the sweet shortcrust pastry and this one as inspiration for the filling and cute apple shapes. View Post

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A few months ago now, back in the dark and dreary depths of February, I was having a bit of a MEH day and decided to cheer it up with a homemade fish finger sandwich for lunch. I don’t mean ‘homemade fish finger sandwich’ as in a sandwich that I made at home that happened to have fish fingers in it, I mean ‘homemade fish finger sandwich’ in that I actually made the fish fingers myself, from scratch, like some kind of frickin’ culinary goddess.

(Which we know I am, because I made my own party rings and they were quite possibly better than the real thing.)

I posted this picture of it on Instagram at the time and honestly, barely a day goes by when I don’t think about that sandwich.

homemade fish finger sandwich

God it looks so good doesn’t it?

(‘Didn’t you already do a post about that sandwich?’ Belle asks, looking over my shoulder as I type. ‘I did,’ I say, ‘but just on Instagram.’ She nods. ‘People deserve to know how it’s made,’ she says, sagely.)

If you ask Belle about my cooking, she will tell you about the ONE TIME that I ALLEGEDLY served her up three solitary, burnt fish fingers for tea and on a fish finger scale, with those at one end, this sandwich is at the other. I cannot thing of anything that could beat it in terms of fish fingery deliciousness.

I thought I’d write a little post telling you how to make it, in the hope that this would then help me process it mentally, and I wouldn’t have to see it in my dreams every night. Fish finger sandwich closure if you will.

So, here’s how to make the ultimate homemade fish finger sandwich. View Post

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