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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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Is there any nicer way to start the day than with pudding? No is the answer, especially on a Monday, as I proved to myself conclusively this Monday morning by making a cherry and dark chocolate clafoutis and eating it for breakfast.

I’ve never eaten a cherry clafoutis before, let alone cooked one, so I wasn’t sure what to expect – something cakey maybe? In pictures it looks a bit like a sponge? It wasn’t like that at all. It was much lighter and more delicious and gave me that happy face when something is so good that you scrunch up your shoulders a little bit, and your eyes, and do a contented sigh.

I’d say a cherry clafoutis is a bit more like a baked egg custard (which I love) but with a teeny bit more texture. Because Bee became severely gluten intolerant while she was pregnant, I always try to think about how I can make my recipes gluten free and with the cherry clafoutis it’s simple – just switch regular flour for ground almonds. Almonds and cherries always work brilliantly together, and to be honest even if you’re not particularly wanting to make a gluten free clafoutis, it’s worth making the switch anyway.

I love fresh British cherries at the best of times – so juicy and sweet and such a delicate flavour – but I can’t think that I’ve ever done anything with them other than scoff them straight from the box. (I stuck glace cherries on top of my piña colada cupcakes but that hardly counts).

Cooked cherries were a revelation – warm from the oven, plump and delicious and oozing with flavour, an absolute joy. British cherry season is currently in full swing, and cherries are full of good things like antioxidants and melatonin, which helps promote better sleep, so there’s very little reason not to make a cherry clafoutis really.

In fact, although the whole ‘pudding for breakfast’ thing might seem rather decadent, the cherries in one quarter of my cherry clafoutis count as one of your five a day and will give you 25% of your RDA of vitamin C. Then it’s basically eggs, milk, nuts – a kind of hearty pancake if you will.

cherry and dark chocolate clafoutis View Post

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I’ve been wanting to make a ham and cucumber pizza for ages now.

Every time I make one of my postcard lists it gets transferred – ‘homemade ham and cucumber pizza’ tacked on the bottom of every scrape of paper on my desk. It’s been getting a bit annoying to be honest, and as pizza accounts for two of Belle’s favourite foods (delivered and non-delivered) and eating pizza while watching TV has been shown to be the secret of happiness, I thought it was about time I got on with it.

Ham and cucumber has always been one of my favourite food combinations. Legend has it that as a child it was all I would eat, and that small plates of ham and cucumber would be left strategically around the house for me to happen upon and nibble. Still now it’s probably my favourite ever sandwich – soft white bread, real butter, ham and cucumber. You can’t beat it.

In my teens I took it to the next level and discovered the joy that is the toasted ham and cucumber sandwich. You don’t toast it as in put it in a sandwich toaster – that would be rank – you just toast the bread and then make it like a regular sandwich, only with toast. This variant actually works very well without the ham – just butter and chunky slices of cucumber.

If you’re screwing up your face at this point then all I can say is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I remember making it once for this boyfriend,* when I was 21, and him looking at me very suspiciously. (He was the man who introduced me to exotic things like pesto and freshly ground black pepper remember.) He ate it though, and was impressed. I won him over with my toasted cucumber sandwich skills.

I’m also well known, amongst my own children at least, for one of my favourite parenting mantras – ‘have a bit of chopped up cucumber on the side’. Over the years, when I haven’t been able to get them to eat vegetables, I could always rely on them accepting a bit of chopped up cucumber on the side of whatever we happened to be eating.

For a long time then I’ve wondered why no one makes a ham and cucumber pizza. We have ham and pineapple, ham and sweetcorn – why not ham and cucumber? Like the toasted sandwich, I’m not suggesting you cook the cucumber, rather that it gets added before serving, like so many pizzas seem to do nowadays with rocket.

Chopped up on the side. Sort of.

ham and cucumber pizza

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An ‘immersive dining experience’ sounds almost dangerous doesn’t it? Don’t worry though, if you visit Chambers_ you won’t get your face held down in a bowl of soup or anything, it’s much more fun than that. In fact, it’s not just immersive, it’s MULTI-DIMENSIONAL.

Oooh!

Chambers_ immersive dining review

First up though, two questions.

  • Do you like food?
  • Do you like mysteries?

If you answered YES to both of those, and did a little twitch or smile or something similar at the thought of what the mystery might entail, then Chambers_ is definitely something you would enjoy. View Post

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homemade strawberry yogurt lolly recipe

‘What snacks have we got?’ says a muffled voice from the kitchen.

It’s Belle, her head in the fridge.

If you have teenagers you might recognise the kitchen snack cry. They seem to have bottomless stomachs requiring constant filling. Although I provide her with an array of wholesome and varied meals, (honestly I do), Belle seems to constantly have a snack on the go. She’s often to be found in the kitchen creating elaborate platters of treats – cucumber, carrot batons, crisps and dips, fruit and yogurt and big bowls of noodles. One of her favourite things, if she’s feeling particularly decadent, is strawberries covered in melted dark chocolate.

Strawberries are her favourite fruit and normally I spend so much money keeping her in berries that this summer we’ve grown our own. It’s perfect for Belle because she’s quite fussy about freshness and texture, and being able to pick just a handful straight from the plant when she wants them is ideal. Next year I’m considering a small strawberry farm. View Post

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Vegan coconut cupcake recipe

God, there are so many words to like in that sentence aren’t there? Vegan piña colada cupcakes with Malibu buttercream. Where to even begin??

Let’s start by taking a moment for me to get over the Malibu buttercream bit. It’s about 10.30am as I’m writing this, I’ve finished making the cakes, and I’ve just had to bury the piping bag with all the leftovers in the bin as a personal frosting intervention. I was literally standing at the kitchen window, first thing in the morning, squeezing Malibu buttercream into my mouth from a bag.

DAMN. It was so good.

To be honest, if you just wanted to skip ahead and make a bowl of frosting, close the curtains, and put on a DVD of the Golden Girls I think you’d have a pretty good evening, but if you do want to faff about making the cakes as well then you’re very welcome. It does all work together well and the pineapple centre allows you to pretend you’re having one of your five a day. (Possibly two if you count the cherry.) View Post

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Thai massamn lamb curry

No, ‘Slowthai massaman lamb curry’ is NOT a typo, honestly.

Let me explain.

I’ve been working with the ‘Lamb. Try it, Love it‘ campaign for a while now, creating all kinds of yummy lamb recipes, including Greek lamb meatballs, Game of Thrones rack of lamb, (a must see in my opinion) and a classic Irish stew.

When I heard that my lovely lamb chums were going to be at Kendal Calling, a festival in the Lake District that’s on from 25-28 July, with the ‘Lamb Bam Lounge’, well… it would have been rude not to create a festival inspired lamb dish wouldn’t it? Nothing beats being sat out on the grass on a sunny day with a big bowl of something yummy from a festival food truck. View Post

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About a week ago Belle and I went for our second visit to Symonds at Redwood, a lovely restaurant on the outskirts of Bristol – Clifton side – with a focus on seasonal, locally sourced food. Symonds is a slightly unusual offering in that it’s situated within a luxury retirement complex, but don’t let this put you off – it’s open to everyone and the service, ambience and decor is top notch. You’d expect nothing less from a luxury retirement after all.

The first time we went, about a year ago now, Belle was in a grump. I can’t remember why exactly, but I know it wasn’t a great time for her generally. She had GCSE exams looming, and wasn’t what you’d really call going to school, as she was finding it all a bit much. Being made to go out for dinner with me seemed to tip her over the edge, despite having her every whim catered for, including an off-menu side of dauphinoise potatoes.

This time around though she was in much better spirits and I was feeling more optimistic about conversation levels.

Redwood near Clifton

As I had been expecting, we were greeted by friendly and attentive staff, and settled down for a look at the menu. The food changes every three months, inspired by what’s in season and available locally, and if you go now you can choose from delicious sounding things like ‘Skate wing, celeriac puree, girolle mushrooms, braised fennel and beurre noisette’ and ‘Asparagus, petit pois and basil oil risotto, pecorino crisp and wild rocket’.

(You know a menu is fancy when every ingredient is listed don’t you?) View Post

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