Friday, January 26, 2007


I'm not really obsessed with leeks and potatoes, it's just that they're all we're getting in the box right now. Well, those plus cabbage and broccoli. And carrots. I like carrots, but they're not very inspiring when it comes to recipes. Although the New Covent Garden Soup Company has a great recipe for carrot and cardamom soup. And I don't mind a carrot risotto with garden thyme, either.

I'm hungry, in case you didn't notice. I am about to go and whip up a pumpkin lasagne using yesterday's goat's cheese and some leftover spinach pesto (from Sainsbury's). Well, it won't be whipping-up so much as hacking-up, I suppose, which is why I'm not desperately keen to start. I do love pumpinks (interesting spelling) but they're not for ladies to chop up, are they? Sigh.

You're probably hungry too. Here's the pie. Ordinary Homity Pie is made with onion, potato and cheese; my Welsh version uses the symbol of God's land - the Leek. Just like everything else, the Homity pie is better in Welsh.


4oz wholemeal flour
4oz plain white flour
Pinch salt
2oz Trex
2oz butter
Iced water

Weigh out the butter and Trex, dice them, and put in the freezer for twenty minutes or so. Weight out the flour, and rub in the cold fats. Then add a pinch of salt and enough iced water to bind the pastry. Wrap in cling-film and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.


2 small leeks, sliced
4 medium potatoes, sliced thinly
1dstsp butter
1tbsp plain flour
0.4 pint milk
0.5tsp mustard powder
2 large handfuls (about 2oz) grated mature cheddar
Plenty of ground pepper

Preheat the oven to about 180 deg C.

First slice up the leeks and put into a little hot water, then bring to the boil briefly. While this is happening, slice the potatoes as finely as you can. Drain the leeks and then put the sliced potatoes on to simmer for about 10 minutes, just until tender to the point of a knife (watch to make sure they don't fall apart).

Set aside the vegetables to cool a little. Make the cheese sauce: melt the butter, take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour and mustard powder with a wooden spoon, to a yellow paste. Add a little milk and return to a gentle heat, then continue to add the milk, a splash at a time. You're aiming for a very thick white sauce, so stop when it reaches a thick, sloppy stage. Add the cheddar and allow it to melt. Set the sauce aside to cool a bit.

Now roll out the pastry to fit an 8-10" tart tin, leaving plenty of overhang. Prick the base with a fork. Pop this into the preheated oven for 10 minutes to dry out a little.

Press the leeks with kitchen paper to get rid of excess moisture and then spoon them into the pastry case to cover the bottom. Add a spoonful of cheese sauce. Now arrange the potato slices prettily on top in two layers, adding ground pepper and cheese sauce in between. Finish with the remaining cheese sauce, or as much as you can pour into the gaps.

Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown, and serve with steamed broccoli.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Lots of good things go into these dog biscuits, and you can add all kinds of extra ingredients. Home-made chicken stock is a good idea (if available), and I've seen recipes recommending the addition of peanut butter, bananas or cheese. These biscuits are a lot cheaper than those in ready-made packets, which always seem to have ash or scarily vague 'meat derivatives' in them. Okay, I'm a bit precious, but Holly adores these. And they have a lovely, fresh-baked smell, which even a vegetarian can appreciate! No wonder she'll sit patiently in the kitchen, watching as I make, roll and cut them out. She'll follow me out to the kitchen to check on their progress in the oven, and then she'll wait longingly for them to cool so she can have one. Just to test it, you understand.


3 cups bread flour (white or a combination of brown and white)
1tsp dried yeast
1tsp caster sugar
0.5tsp salt
2tbsp skimmed milk powder
2tbsp olive oil or bacon fat
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (200ml) chicken stock

Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm stock (which has come to hand temperature), and let it rest until bubbles are starting to form. Stir in the olive oil and the beaten egg. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, and add the wet ingredients. Knead well for 10 minutes, then leave to rest for about an hour or until doubled in size. Knock the dough back, roll out to about 0.5cm thick, and cut into biscuit shapes. (Holly's are heart-shaped.)

Bake in the oven at 160 degrees C for about 20 minutes - they should be golden and crisp. Allow to cool before tasting! (This part is very important, Holly!)

These keep for a month in an airtight container.


Sounded fairly unpromising: a packet of Sainsbury's fresh gnocchi, a handful of Jerusalem artichokes, and a leek... but thirty minutes later, this scrumptious English-Italian hybrid was on the table. Served with cold chardonnay and hot garlic bread, it's a sophisticated, lazy-Saturday marvel.

500g Jerusalem Artichokes, peeled and sliced
2 leeks, washed and sliced
1tsp butter
125ml chardonnay
250ml stock from 1tsp Marigold bouillon
100ml single cream
1 packet fresh gnocchi
2tbsp grated parmesan

Saute the leeks and artichokes in the butter gently for 5 minutes. Add the wine and allow the alcohol to evaporate a little bit, then stir in the stock and let the whole lot simmer for about 15 minutes. Strain the liquid into a bowl, and put the vegetables into a jug.

Return the liquid to the saucepan, bring to a simmer, add the gnocchi, and poach for 2 minutes. Remove the gnocchi straight into an ovenproof baking dish. Continue to simmer the stock until it's halved in volume. The little flour left behind by the gnocchi will make the stock become slightly syrupy.
Add the cream to the saucepan and pour the sauce over the gnocchi in the dish. Sprinkle with grated parmesan, and put under a hot grill until golden.

Serve with garlic bread and/or salad.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Under commission to research and write about "making the perfect chocolate cake", I've been living, dreaming and perspiring chocolate cake for the last fortnight. After hours poring over recipes and making a shortlist, at the weekend I managed to make my two finalists for the title of Perfect Chocolate Cake.
Finalist no1 (above) was a recipe belonging to a friend of the family, using a combination of yoghurt and sunflower oil. Having made Nigella's sour cream chocolate cake last year, I was hoping this new recipe would produce a slightly lighter, less intense cake. I swapped the yoghurt for half-fat creme fraiche (which I had leftover from chilli, in any case). After two trips to the shop (forgot the cocoa the first time), I blended everything in the food processor, and put it in the oven. An hour and a half? I was dubious, and checked after thirty minutes. The cake was black on top. Much cursing and oven-fanning later, the middle was cooked, and the edges were blackened. I took a knife to it on the wire rack, and sawed off the black.

It came out okay. In fact, a lot better than okay. The texture was heavy and moist, and the chocolate flavour was excellent. Two things could improve it: one, being spiked and drizzled with a thin coffee syrup as it came out of the oven (like my fabulous lemon cake), and two, being smeared with a milk chocolate ganache. The dark chocolate ganache I chose (an addict to the core, me) was a little bitter.

Finalist no2 fared better. I decided to do a traditional cocoa-flavoured sponge. I inspected recipes by Delia, Mary Berry and Sophie Grigson. Then I decided to make up my own. Basing it on the wonderful lemon cake that always turns out fluffy, I whizzed cocoa, flour, eggs, marg and milk in a food processor and threw it into the oven. It took me 10 minutes. 30 minutes later, the cake was cooked and cooling. I warmed 4floz of cream in a saucepan and melted 4oz of Galaxy chocolate in it. Then I put this into the fridge, and waited impatiently to assemble. Instead of waiting for the ganache to cool properly, I poured it over the cake until it was dripping onto the plate.

Despite the drippy ganache, the result was heavenly. I'd only made one half, since we'd already eaten enough chocolate cake to feed a large family, and nextdoor had received groaning platefuls. Next time I need a chocolate cake, this is the one I'll be making. Medium fat, light and fluffy, relatively easy on the waistline. Perfect!


8oz self-raising flour
3tbsp cocoa
2tsp baking powder
8oz margarine
8oz caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
10tbsp milk

Sieve the first three ingredients into a bowl (or processor bowl), then add the margarine, caster sugar, beaten eggs, and milk, and beat until combined. Tip into two well-greased 8” round baking tins, and bake at 160 degrees C for about 50 minutes. Test with a skewer – when it comes out of the cake clean, the cake is done. Cool on a wire rack, and finish with icing of your choice.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

d Bleeding Heart Shortbreads d

Okay, so I'm not really a cynic, not when it comes to love, anyway. But what other name do you give to jam-filled hearts? These biscuits were the result of three factors: one, I was given some heart-shaped cutters for Christmas (and everything, from eggs to dog biscuits, has since been heart-shaped). Two, I was given the lovely Apples for Jam for Christmas, which has a recipe for jammy shortbread inside. Three, January makes me feel depressed. These gorgeous, romantic and sugar-dusted biscuits are just the thing to see off the Mean Reds! (If you get the Mean Reds, you'll know what I mean.)


2oz butter, softened

2oz caster sugar

4oz plain flour with a dash of baking powder

Merest pinch of salt

Half a beaten egg

Plenty of raspberry jam

Beat the butter and sugar til pale and creamy. Fold in the sifted flour, salt and baking powder, then add the egg and combine carefully. Wrap in cellophane and put into the fridge for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 160 deg C. Roll the dough on a floured board, cutting out hearts and re-rolling the scraps.

Bake for about 10 minutes, watching carefully!

Remove to a wire rack, and sandwich the hearts together with plenty of jam while still warm. Press together, leave to cool, and dust with icing sugar.


Having been on a life-long quest to perfect my vegetarian chilli, I admit I am a bit obsessive about this. For perfection, I will usually soak and cook the beans before turning them into this rich, thick and spicy chilli. When it comes to spiciness, hotter is always better - cooling down is what the lime-scented creme fraiche is for!

Madhur Jaffrey offers a (hopefully authentic) Texan Chilli recipe in World Vegetarian. It's good, but lentilly. I like lots of different shaped beans in this, dotted with bright green and red pepper chunks. Linda McCartney's recipe is good, but I think the addition of Tabasco and paprika makes mine shout louder. Oh, but the great thing Linda McCartney taught me is how to serve bean chilli. Ladle it onto hot, deep plates, surrounded by rice or nachos (preferably both), sprinkle with good grated cheese, and zap under a hot grill. Another great idea from Linda is to sprinkle roasted chunks of sweet potato (or even squash) over the chilli, before the cheese. You can adapt this and serve bowls of chilli with platters of squash wedges, nachos, wild rice and creme fraiche on the table. A feast fit for a carnivore.


2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1.5tsp paprika
1tsp dried or fresh thyme
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 tin tomatoes
2tsp tomato ketchup or puree
A good splash of Tabasco sauce
Sprinkle (0.5tsp) chilli flakes
200g cooked kidney beans (or 1 tin)
200g cooked chick peas (or 1 tin)

1tsp cornflour dissolved in cold water (optional)

Saute the onion, garlic, paprika and thyme very gently; add the peppers and allow to soften without browning. Add the remaining ingredients, and let the whole lot simmer for a good, long time. Taste for seasoning. It may need a pinch of sugar, a squeeze of lime juice, or extra Tabasco.

Serve with LIME & CORIANDER CREME FRAICHE: Tip a tub of creme fraiche into a pretty serving bowl. Beat it with the juice of half a lime, a pinch of salt, and a good tablespoon of finely-chopped coriander.

Dish up the chilli into bowls, sprinkle more coriander over the top, and serve with nachos, wild rice, guacamole, and creme fraiche. Or just bread. Who cares when the chilli's this good?!

Monday, January 15, 2007


On honeymoon in Rome, we bought and ate slices of this potato-topped focaccia, bought from a little take-away pizzeria tucked behind one of the squares. It was cold out, but we wrapped up and strolled along with this hot bread, and I wondered how I could make it at home.

Although the pizzeria was selling this alongside lots of other huge, square pizzas, cut into slices and served in napkins, the base was fluffier than the stone-baked dough we'd been eating at dinner time. I tried it at home with a focaccia base and it seemed about right. The Roman version was sprinkled generously with spikes of rosemary and plenty of rock salt, but we like finely-grated Parmesan on ours too.
This made a marvellous Saturday lunch after we'd spent the morning working in the garden.

Focaccia Base
3 cups strong white bread flour
1 cup warm water
3tbsp olive oil
1tsp rock salt
1tsp yeast

4 medium potatoes, washed and checked for eyes (peeled if very dirty)
1dstsp chopped rosemary (optional)
Olive oil
1-2tsp rock salt
1-2tbsp parmesan

Start the focaccia off hours before you need it. Put the water, one cup of flour, the olive oil and the yeast into the bread pan, and cover with a clean tea-towel dampened with hot water. Leave for 1-5 hours, or at least until bubbles start to appear. (NB: If very pushed for time, leave for as long as you can manage - as long as you put it into a hot oven, the bread rises on contact. But I think the dough starter guarantees good results.)

Add the salt and the remaining 2 cups of white flour. Set to PIZZA or DOUGH on the breadmaker. (Or, of course, you can knead by hand - thoroughly, until the dough is soft and spongy when prodded, and then leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.)

While it's rising, thinly slice the potatoes, and put into a pan of hot water. Par-boil them for only about 5-10 minutes: not so they're falling apart, but to achieve tenderness. Drain thoroughly.

The dough will be risen after an hour or so. Knock the dough down a little and stretch and punch it into a floured baking tray, pulling it into a loose rectangle. Cover again with a warm tea-towel, and put in the warmest place you can find. (Be careful! Putting it into a preheated-and-turned-off oven is a BAD idea.... it kills the yeast and you get flatbread! I know!) After about half an hour, turn on the oven and preheat it to about 180 degrees C (300 deg F).

After another hour or more, finish the focaccia: arrange the slices of potato over the top, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with rock salt and chopped rosemary (if you have any). Bake in the oven for about half an hour. It should be risen and starting to turn gold. (See below.)

Bring it out of the oven, sprinkle with the Parmesan, and put under the grill to melt - and make the potatoes extra crispy. (First picture.)

Serve. Who needs anything else but a glass of wine?

Thursday, January 11, 2007


We had a bag of beetroots in the box on Friday and it has taken me too long to do something with them. I toyed with a Borscht soup (vibrant with vodka), a roast beetroot salad (too summery), or Beetroot Stroganoff (which I am convinced would work, but worried about the colour).

In the end I just threw them all in the oven at about 200 degrees, skin and all, to roast - maintaining all the colour and vitamins - then split the batch in half. With half of them (4 medium-small beetroots) I made a version of Sophie Grigson's Beetroot Dip, which follows below. It's only been a couple of years since I discovered that beetroot are marvellous, whichever way you eat them.

The other half I sliced and quickly sauteed in olive oil with a splash of good Balsamic, to eat in an open sandwich of walnut bread, full-fat cream cheese and crunchy, red lettuce (pre-dinner snack). So simple, but surprisingly wonderful.

4 medium-small beetroot, roasted for an hour, peeled and chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1.5tbsp creme fraiche
Juice of 0.25 lemon
0.5tsp salt
Several twists of pepper

Dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds until aromatic (be brave - leave in the pan until slightly dark). Crush with a pestle and mortar. Throw the chunks of warm beetroot into a blender or processor with the creme fraiche, spices, lemon juice and seasoning - the result is startlingly puce. Tip into a serving bowl and garnish with chives. Serve at room temperature with breadsticks and crudites... This would also be nice served alongside hummous, falafel, baba ghanoush, and flatbreads.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Mm, this is baking right now and I am dying to have a warm slice with cream cheese and maybe some caramelised onion pickle. Or beetroot? Well, anyway, I am looking forward to lifting it out of the tin, all warm and bready, like a proper domestic goddess. I've improvised this from the regular wholewheat recipe, which makes a light wholewheat bread with a very crusty crust. Walnut oil isn't as expensive as you might expect - mine was £1.50 from Sainsbury's.

If you don't have a breadmaker, the January sale is the time to buy one! Even if you don't eat bread on a daily basis, it's worth the cost for weekend toast alone. I use the timer to have bread ready, the smell wafting upstairs, on a Saturday morning. Slice, toast, and add egg or jam. I also use mine for pizza and focaccia, a crowd-friendly tear-and-share bread that already has fans in my family.

1.5tsp dried yeast
1.5 cups wholemeal flour
1.5 cups strong white flour
2tbsp walnut oil
1tsp caster sugar
1tsp rock salt
1 cup warm water
Large handful chopped walnuts

Add the ingredients to the bread pan in the order above. Put the walnuts in the fruit/nut compartment (or add when the machine orders you to). Set to BAKE RAISIN on the wholemeal setting.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Or, yuck and yuckity korma. I am a terrible vegetarian. I am not keen on vegetables, really, very much at all. I have managed to work on my tastebuds in the last few years, and have expanded my will-eat list. I can even (if in polite company) eat a mushroom when pushed. Cheese, too: my OK-then list is also getting longer. Brie, for example, isn't as vile as it looks, and if you pick the right sort of goat's cheese, it doesn't taste as gut-wrenching as you first think. Here are a few of my least favourite things:

Cucumber (raw)
Tomato (raw)
Brussel Sprouts
Blue Cheese

Good list, huh, for a veggie and keen food-eater? Well, the good news is that I can eat most of them, in various guises. I would simply rather prefer not to. The following recipe was designed as a disguise for horrid cauliflower and parsnips. It works pretty welll. You can easily change the vegetables for nice ones. I am making this tonight with broccoli and carrot in place of the parsnip (none left, hurray!).

1 onion, sliced
1 green chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1" piece of ginger, crushed
1 tsp olive oil
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 cauliflower, broken into florets
1tbsp Patak's Korma paste
2oz ground almonds
1 tin coconut milk
Flaked almonds and chopped coriander

Saute onion, chilli, ginger and garlic in the olive oil for a couple of minutes, then stir in the vegetables and curry paste. After a few more minutes' stir-frying, add the ground almonds, stirring until they are well incorporated (like flour). Finally, tip in the coconut milk, and let the whole lot simmer - lid on - for about 20-30 minutes, depending on how firm you like your cauliflower.

Garnish with coriander and flaked almonds, and serve with Nan breads.

Monday, January 08, 2007


We think of stew as very British, but it's also eaten a lot in Eastern Europe. When we went to Prague last year, there were lots of beef goulashes and dumplings on the menus (along with soured-cream heart-attack pancakes for vegetarians). And don't start me on the cocktails. Anyhow, seems like we're not the only nation to seek comfort in stew at this time of year.

Last week we were invited for dinner next-door, to the promise of "vegetable stew". Made with potatoes, tomatoes, soy sauce, good stock, carrots and peppers, and served with dumplings, it was plate-clearing good. I didn't have the recipe, but I took it into my head to try it - and I also had a goulash recipe floating around, so I decided to combine the two, and make a goulash stew with sour-cream dumplings.

Don't you love the word dumpling? That's enough of a reason to make this.

1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped

Handful of mushrooms, halved
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped

0.5 red pepper, chopped
0.5tbsp plain flour
0.5 tin tomatoes, chopped (I do this in the tin with a knife!)
1tsp smoked paprika
Vegetable stock (enough to cover)
Salt and pepper

4oz self-raising flour
2oz grated vegetable suet (sold as TREX)
1 tbsp sour cream
Up to 2tbsp water
1tbsp chopped chives (optional)
Salt and pepper

For the stew: soften the onion in the olive oil, and add the rest of the chopped veg. Cover, turn down the heat, and allow everything to soften for about 10 minutes. Stir in 0.5tbsp flour and stir until it's all gone. Now add the paprika, and stir through. After a minute, pour in the chopped tomatoes and cover with vegetable stock. Replace the lid and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Make the dumplings: Combine the flour and grated suet. Season and add the chives, if using. Combine the cream and water in a cup, then gradually stir it in, stopping when the dough is soft and pliable. Shape into 6 dumplings, and put them on the surface of the stew. Replace the lid and simmer for another 20 minutes, then check a dumpling for doneness.

Dish up into deep bowls and eat with crusty bread.
Go on, give it a try... ARTICHOKE RECIPES

Jerusalem artichokes may not be in your vegbox - they're special order only with my scheme - but they're available about now. And it's ABOUT TIME! This unpopular, windy vegetable is entirely unattractive but, like the celeriac or the sweet potato, their beauty lies within. Although I only discovered it a couple of years ago, I thought I'd post some of the ideas I've tried, and encourage you to try it too. You might hate it, but you can always throw it in the bin and go to the chippy.


This is Delia's favourite soup - she says she likes to keep people guessing regarding the 'secret' ingredient!

450g carrots, peeled and chopped
700g jerusalem artichokes, peeled, chopped, and dropped into a bowl of lemon-scented water
1tbsp butter
2 pints stock made from Marigold bouillon
Salt and pepper

It's easy as pie. Saute the carrots and artichokes gently in the butter for about 10 minutes on a low heat (avoid browning). Add the stock and simmer for about 20 minutes, then cool, puree, and season generously.


This is a totally fabulous soup and possibly the best place to start with artichokes. You'll be instantly convinced, I know it. Replacing the potatoes of Vichysoisse with chopped artichoke was a stroke of genius - resulting in a velvety, rich, and glam-looking white soup. Garnish with croutons or snipped chives. Just please, please try it...

2 leeks (white part only - be strict!)
500g Jerusalem artichokes
1 scant tsp lemon juice
1dsstsp butter
2tsp Marigold Bouillon powder
0.5tsp salt
1tbsp single cream

Chop the leeks roughly, and put them with the butter in a large saucepan. Sprinkle the lemon juice into the pan and now prepare the artichokes as quickly as you can. Peel and chop one at a time, stirring it into the lemony, buttery pan straight away. This prevents the artichokes from discolouring, which they'll do very quickly if left on the chopping board. (It doesn't alter the taste but this soup is such a lovely white colour if you take care!)

Saute the leeks and artichokes very gently in butter, letting them soften and become buttery but not brown. Next, add the stock powder, cover with water, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Cool, add the single cream, then puree, add some salt, and serve with snipped chives.


I didn't weigh the quantities here: look at your gratin dish and judge accordingly.

Peeled and sliced artichokes and potatoes (half-and-half)
0.5 pint milk
0.5 pint vegetable stock

Boil the potatoes and artichokes very briefly - about 5 minutes max - and drain, running cold water over to stop them crumbling. Layer them carefully in your dish, seasoning between, and then pour over the milk/stock mixture. Dot the top with butter and bake on a medium heat for about 1 hour. (Cover with foil if you don't like the crunchy brown bits on the top.)

More ways with artichokes...
Abel and Cole suggest sauteeing with butter, then braising them in white wine with a sprig of rosemary, and adding a splash of double cream at the end. You can also add some chopped artichoke to your mashed potato pre-mashing, like celeriac.