The Life of Rowan

Rowan trees are everywhere.  I didn’t know what they were until my mum pointed them out to me this year and now I can’t stop seeing them all over the place.   This is what they look like:


When I was last at home I set to making some Rowan jelly, but you could use the berries in a jam with some other fruits or perhaps to infuse some vodka, like in this damson gin recipe. They are very bitter so whatever you do you need to add plenty of sugar to counteract that.  The jelly is traditionally eaten with game, but also delicious with pork and is very simple to make.  Here’s a little video to show you just how simple: .


Pick your rowan berries and discard the leaves and stalks.  Place in a pan and cover with water, bring up to the boil and let simmer away for 15-20 minutes until soft.  Pour the rowans and water through a jelly bag, or a sieve double-lined with muslin, suspended over a pan and allow to drip until no more liquid comes through.  1 hour should do it if you’re not making very much.  Do not push the liquid through as this will result in a cloudy jelly.

Place a small plate in the freezer.  Measure how much liquid you have and pour it into a pan with an equal quantity of sugar.  Slowly bring up to the boil, allowing the sugar to dissolve.  Then bubble away for 10-15 minutes.  Take a teaspoon of the liquid out of the pan and place it on the plate in the freezer, leave it for 20 seconds or so and then push it with your finger.  If it wrinkles up, then your jelly has reached setting point.  If it doesn’t, keep bubbling and check every couple of minutes.  Once there, remove from the heat and pour into sterlised jars, cover and store.

It’s as easy as that.  Go and find yourself some rowans, they really are all over the place.

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Panzanella-esque Salad


Now that the sun is out and the garden is planted I’m in the mood for some fresh deliciousness.  What I find exciting about this recipe is that in a couple of months I’ll be able to pick almost all the core ingredients (apart from the bread and red onion) straight from the garden.  That is really something to look forward to, but for now, thanks go to Abel and Cole for their delicious fruit and veg.

This is pretty much a panzanella – I didn’t have any stale bread so instead made croutons from some nice fresh bread and then added a couple of extra ingredients.  A simple, quick and easy lunch best enjoyed outside.

Serves 2

1 thick cut slice bread, cut into cubes

A pinch each of chilli flakes, caraway seeds and dried oregano

1 tablespoon of olive oil

200g cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 red onion, diced

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp soft thyme leaves

1 tbsp basil leaves, torn

A couple of handfuls lettuce

Heat a pan over a medium heat.  Place the cubes of bread in a bowl and toss with the chilli flakes, caraway seeds, dried oregano and olive oil.  Season with salt.  When the pan is hot add the bread and cook, turning occasionally until lightly golden on all sides.


In the same bowl mix the cherry tomatoes, red onion, wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, thyme and basil leaves.


Finally stir in the croutons.


Divide the lettuce between two plates and top with the rest of the salad.  Serve immediately.


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The Garden got Planted

This year I took it upon myself to nominate James as head of gardening.  There were moments when I wasn’t entirely sure anything was going to materialise, but lo and behold last Friday a box full of delicious plug plants arrived from Rocket Gardens and in they went to his immaculately turned soil in a very orderly fashion.


The first year we grew veg we were given a Rocket Garden box and it was a huge success.  Last year I boldly thought I should have a go entirely from seed, it was not such a success.  With our limited space / experience / knowledge messing around with growing from seed meant that the rate of success wasn’t really high enough for it to be worth it.  At least with these plug plants things have a bit more of a chance, so fingers crossed everything will grow perfectly and I’ll have lots of recipes for you using peas, dwarf beans, tomatoes, runner beans, courgettes, strawberries, rainbow chard, spinach and more lettuce than I can possibly conceive of eating.


In the meantime, if anyone’s garden remains unplanted or you’ve got a window box or some space going begging I can’t recommend Rocket Gardens more highly (even Hugh F-W endorses them, and he actually knows what he’s talking about).  We went for the Patio Container Garden, but there’s a whole array to choose from and you can also buy different vegetables individually.  Alternatively, your local garden centre or Homebase will be able to stock you up on lots of little seedlings.

On a more fruity note, we were given a beautiful little apple tree especially for container planting as a wedding present so that has gone in and I’ve also begun our very own vineyard with one grape vine bought at the lovely Colombia Road.  So watch this space for lots of recipes using our fruit and veg straight from the ground…


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Easter Eggs (salted caramel)


While I was training at catering college (in about 2007) I was shown how to make Easter eggs and I thought to myself – “Wow, that’s easy, I’m totally going to make them every year.”  Well…  This is the first year I’ve ever made them.  So, in light of this, maybe this recipe will inspire you to make some in six years time or if you’re more pro-active than me you might even make them this Easter.

All you need for a basic egg is some chocolate, some hot water and an Easter egg mould.  My mould came from the wonderful Gill Wing, you can easily get some online and I know John Lewis have some mini silicone ones.

As for the “(salted caramel)” part of this recipe…it’s in brackets because I’m not really sure how good it is, it adds something but I think my method is a bit skewed and perhaps if it’s your first time too it might be best to go with a classic, straight-up chocolate egg.


for the egg: 250g chocolate of your choice (if not adding salted caramel, add 50g more choc)

for the salted caramel: 50g golden caster sugar, 1 tbsp creme fraiche or double cream, 2 pinches sea salt flakes

Chop the chocolate into small chunks and place in a small bowl.  Boil the kettle and pour the water into a larger bowl, place the chocolate bowl into this to allow the chocolate to melt.  Give a little stir of encouragement every few minutes.  Leave it in the hot water so it doesn’t harden up.


If doing the caramel…. Slowly melt the sugar in a small pan to make a caramel, shaking it around every so often so it melts evenly.  Once it’s turned golden, add the creme fraiche and salt and stir.  If it solidifies again, melt back down.  Add bit by bit into the melted chocolate, using a stick blender to combine.


Now it’s time to layer up the egg.  Place a couple of spoonfuls of melted chocolate into one half of the mould and swirl it around until evenly coated.  Repeat with the other half.  Place in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Repeat this process until you’ve done four layers, use a knife to even off the edges of both halves – otherwise it will be very difficult to stick them together, believe me, I tried.  Leave to set for about 45mins to 1 hour.

DSC_0649DSC_0662Hold some of the remaining melted chocolate back to use as a glue to join the two halves together.  Use the rest to make some little chocolates to fill the egg with.  I used a silicone ice tray, but you can get all sorts of fancy chocolate moulds.  To make six chocolates, I half filled each cube with chocolate, left them until almost set and then added a hazelnut to each and covered with more chocolate.  I left these to set for about 45 minutes while the egg was setting.



Removing the egg from the mould is easier than I expected, pull the mould outwards and it seems to release itself.  Place the chocolates in one side (handle gently or the shine will disappear), coat the edge of one half with melted chocolate and place the other half on top.  This didn’t work so simply for me as I hadn’t left enough chocolate so there was all sorts of activity with a blow torch, not advisable.

Wrap up however you fancy and give it to someone lucky.

DSC_0727If chocolate isn’t your thing, how about giving these Hot Cross Buns a go, today’s the day!

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Sourdough Pizza

Four months ago I did a step by step feature for the lovely Jamie Magazine on how to make sourdough.  This left me with a brilliant little starter dough which has fuelled an obsession with all things bread related.  Here’s a link to their website which shows the resulting loaf and talks you through how to make your own starter dough.  It is so worth having it in the fridge and it takes minimum effort to keep it alive, just a little feed once a week.  It will only get more tasty over time and makes the process of bread baking completely wonderful, look at this beauty from earlier this week:

ImageLast night James and I made a couple of pizzas from the starter dough which gave them a super tasty crust.  I wanted to make his in the shape of a heart but he wasn’t having any of it.    The tomato sauce is one of my favourite things – great for this purpose but can also be loosened with a little stock for a delicious soup or used as is or with a few anchovies / olives / etc for a great pasta sauce.  The recipe makes more than you need for two pizzas as I fully intend to have it with some pasta.


Here’s how to do it:

Sponge: 75g starter dough, 220g strong white bread flour, 220ml tepid water, pinch salt

Dough: 250g strong white bread flour, 50ml water, 1 tbsp olive oil

Sauce: 1 onion, lemon zest, thyme, 8 tomatoes, handful cherry tomatoes, oil, chilli flakes, dried oregano, 4 garlic cloves

Toppings: at your discretion…

The day before you want to eat your pizza, mix the starter, flour, water and salt in a large bowl.  Cover and leave to sit for about 4 hours, you should be able to see little bubbles coming to the surface.


Add the remaining flour, water and oil for the dough and knead for 10-15 minutes (8-10 minutes in an electric mixer) until it is smooth and elastic.  When prodded the dough should spring back out at you.  Place this into a clean bowl, cover and leave for another 4-6 hours, until doubled in size.


If at some point you need to got to bed you can put it in the fridge – it will continue to rise very slowly, but just make sure you bring it back to room temperature before using it.

For the sauce, preheat the oven to 220c and heat a little oil in a pan.  Add the sliced onion with a grating of lemon zest, the leaves off a few sprigs of thyme and a good pinch of salt.  Cook these over a very low heat for about 30 minutes.


Meanwhile, halve the tomatoes and place in a roasting tray with the cherry tomatoes and a good couple of pinches of chilli flakes, a teaspoon of dried oregano and the peeled and squashed garlic cloves.  Season, drizzle over some olive oil and roast for 15-20 minutes, until completely soft.

Place the onions and the tomatoes in a blender and blitz until completely smooth.  Return to the onion pan and bubble down until thick enough to spread on the pizza.  Taste and season, sometimes a pinch of sugar really works to make it perfect.  Set aside.

Turn the oven up as high as it will go and place a baking sheet in it to heat up.  Lightly flour a work surface and turn your dough out, cut into two and return half to the bowl and cover.  Roll out the dough and spin it if you’re brave enough (perhaps like this guy) – we just went for rolling as any attempt at spinning turned into tearing.  Dust the hot baking sheet with flour, place the pizza on top and spread the sauce all over.  Top with whatever ingredients take your fancy and bake for 10-15 minutes.  Cut and serve immediately.  Repeat with the second lump of dough if you’re as greedy as James and me.



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A Touch of SE1 in the Massif Central

The Auberge de Chassignolles


Unravelling the spiderweb of SE1’s food mafia has been quite a slow process for me, akin to a small child learning to piece together a jigsaw puzzle, the final piece only slotted in on a recent trip to France.  It is in fact incredibly simple and involves basically four institutions and two families.  We start with Harry Lester, famous for his dangerously local (to me) Anchor and Hope.  He is linked to the delicious natural wine suppliers Georgovie of 40 Maltby Street where you can sit amongst the arches drinking phenomenal wines at nice prices and eat beautifully simple food on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  This establishment is the brain child of Raef Hodgson and they are linked by the fact that Harry Lester is in partnership with young Mr Hodgson.

The plot is thickened when you realise that Hodgson’s parents are the owners of Neals Yard and Monmouth Coffee, albeit via Covent Garden but now firmly established in SE1 both in Borough Market and Maltby Street.  It is no wonder that he has such great taste in food and wine, growing up surrounded by some of the country’s finest cheeses and sacks full of wonderful coffee beans must certainly have set his tastes and views of food at a very high level.  Most of us develop this heightened sense of taste throughout life as we expose ourselves to varying qualities of food – I certainly find that as time goes by my palate is getting increasingly refined (or perhaps I’m just getting more fussy?).  So it is no wonder that his bar is such a truly excellent spot.


This web of SE1 deliciousness expanded itself to the southern climbs of France six years ago with Lester’s opening of the Auberge de Chassignolles and who would have imagined it, but Mrs Monmouth (whose actual name I’m not sure of) has a house just across the square.  These close-knit relationships initially spun me into feeling a little on edge – seemingly privileged people setting up these businesses somehow took the rustic / salt of the earth edge away from them.  Also, it fleetingly felt vaguely conspiratorial – with hindsight I can link this to me perhaps just feeling a little left out of the circle of these people who I hold in very high regard.   Furthermore, when you see how hard Lester and his wife work or indeed notice how Hodgson is always at the heart of his business (not once have I been into 40 Maltby Street and not seen him there) the fastidiousness of these guys is comforting against any doubts.  If success is relative to dedication they deserve every ounce of it that they gain.


With all that said, I urge you to slow down your pace, pack an appetite and visit the Auberge.  We flew into Lyon and on picking up a hire car drove ourselves south west, the final leg of the journey found us weaving up and down the beautiful forested hills of the Livradois-Forez Natural Park.  At the summit of our climb, some 900 meters, we found the small sleepy village of Chassignolles with the Auberge resting in the middle of it opposite a stunning 13th century church – if early-morning bell ringing isn’t the thing for you perhaps some earplugs would be advisable.  The welcome is friendly, relaxed and informal as are the rooms and the general atmosphere.


This for us was a summer holiday to relax and enjoy some wonderful food and wine and that is precisely what we did.  The food tastes as though it has come straight out of the ground and it all feels very local – delicious tomatoes from the local farmer’s market, lentils from nearby Puy and cured meats from the Auberge itself.  On the Saturday we took ourselves down to the local market to get some salami, cheese and bread for a picnic only to come across the delightful Rosie carrying load upon load of the freshest and juiciest of fruits and vegetables to take back to the Auberge.


I am not going to go into too much detail over the individual dishes, but suffice to say that that they are of the utmost deliciousness.  If you’ve been to the Anchor and Hope, imagine that food only more rustic, more French, perhaps a little less fussy, but ultimately so good that the only reason you want to leave is because you’ve gained half a stone and your trousers are too tight.  If you haven’t been to the Anchor and Hope (go) and that reference point is useless, imagine good hearty food that tastes of the country.  The wine is of a perfect match, all natural wines if you’re into that kind of thing, and a hugely extensive list that is both affordable and interesting.


The whole place is in fact incredibly good value.  We opted for the nightly rate including breakfast and dinner for the two of us and it was a simple 110 euros – believe me, for what we were getting this was hugely worth it.  The breakfast is a simple affair with bread you can only find from a small french boulangerie, delicious cheese, cured meat, large kilner jars of home made jams and lots of mouth watering fruit.  The dinner was a five course marathon, but somehow it never felt too much even when it should have done on the Sunday – we had the amazing breakfast, the five course lunch, a short walk, a read and a sleep and then back at the restaurant for a five course dinner.  I think that was almost my most perfect Sunday ever.


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Now this is a great thing to make on a gloomy rainy autumn Saturday – you need a couple of quinces, some sugar and a good dose of patience.  You also want to be doing something else while you’re making it as it cooks for about three hours, needing a gentle stir every ten minutes or so.  I found it combined well with tidying the house and making a batch of muesli and one of granola.  Wow, what an exciting Saturday.  It made up for it in the evening by dancing until 3, so I’m not so old and boring after all.  Plus I got ID’d going into the club.  Molly didn’t.  Enough of that and on with the recipe, make it soon though as quinces will disappear in December.  It could also be an excellent Christmas present – this stuff will keep for months.

2 quinces (or more if you want more…)

large bag of sugar

Peel the quinces, quarter and remove the core carefully with a knife, chop the flesh up into smallish chunks.  Place in a pan of water and bring up to the boil.  Leave to cook away for about 45 minutes, until the quince is nice and soft.

Drain and blitz in a food processor until completely smooth.  Weigh the quince pulp and return it to the pan with an equal weight of sugar.  Place over a low heat – don’t be tempted to increase the flame, I did and it spat out at me and gave me a small burn on my face – go with caution!  At this point you need to stir continuously until all the sugar has dissolved, this will take around 10 minutes.

Once the sugar has dissolved, you can leave it to do it’s thing a bit more, but you need to stir it about every 10 minutes to avoid it burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.  It will need to cook like this for around three hours.  You’ll know when it’s done because it will turn a lovely deep red colour – I think this is the sugar caramelising rather than any mystic quality of the quince, but correct me if I’m wrong?

While all that’s happening, grease and line a 1 lb loaf tin with baking paper.  I think the best way to line it for this kind of thing is with two long strips of paper – one to go across the pan and one to cover the length with an overhang on both strips which will help you to lift the membrillo out when it’s set.

Once it has reached the lovely deep colour, remove from the heat and carefully pour into your prepared tin.  Smooth the surface with a palette knife or something similar and fold the paper over it.  Either leave to cool at room temperature, or to accelerate things place in the fridge to set.

Remove from the tin and slice – this is obviously especially delicious with manchego (don’t forget the sherry), but I also love it with a hard goats cheese.  Wrap up in greaseproof paper and cling film and it’ll keep for ages.


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