Veganuary? – Or just a vegetarian Boost?

Hoar frost on holly

Are you firmly committed to Veganuary this year? Or, like me, are you just finding that you’re erring towards a lighter vegetarian diet after the full-on meat feast that Christmas tends to be? One of the few perks of living on my own in these terrible locked-down times is that I have been able to form a support bubble with my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. So while I thoroughly enjoyed the turkey plus all its trimmings, leftovers such as turkey & ham pie and turkey biryani, a divine beef Wellington and a rich venison casserole with my son and family on New Year’s Eve, the end of the festive break has seen me craving fresher, meat-free food. After all, when my plot is in full flow, I tend to eat an essentially plant-based diet.

Carrots, turnip and radish

I’m still harvesting leeks, parsnips, parsley, turnips, kale, chard, spinach and even calabrese down at the allotment, and I have plenty of stored potatoes, carrots (for once!), squash and apples to go at, plus chillies, beans and soft fruit in the freezer, so reverting to a mainly vegetable-centred menu really isn’t a hardship. It seems easier to digest, to say nothing of being infinitely better for the planet, even if you only buy locally sourced meat, as I do on the odd occasions I buy it. I like cheese and cream far too much to even think of going fully vegan, but some of the recipes I’ve been making recently either are vegan or can easily be adapted to make them vegan if that’s what floats your boat.

I have to admit that a reluctance to go shopping more than I absolutely have to (and a shortage of online delivery slots yet again, unless you’re very quick off the mark) have also contributed. Far easier to look to your store-cupboard/fridge/freezer and cook with what you have than to venture out into soaring Covid case numbers, even if the local shops and supermarkets aren’t too busy…

Leo at Tapsells Jan 2021

With that in mind, the first recipe I revisited in the cold light of January 2021 was a roasted carrot, orange and spelt salad. The original recipe featured on a BBC Good Food calendar a couple of years ago, but I’ve been adapting it to what I have on hand ever since. I thought it was worth sharing as it’s not only vibrantly orange and therefore cheery in itself, but also incredibly tasty, vegan (if you omit the feta!) and good for you. Oh, and don’t be put off by the word ‘salad’ when it’s the last thing you fancy on a cold, grey winter’s day: this can be eaten warm and is extremely comforting. It also heats up in the microwave the next day if you have any left over.

Roasted Carrot, Orange & Spelt Salad – serves 2-3

Carrot and spelt salad

200g pearled spelt
2 tsp veg bouillon powder (or use vegetable stock if you have any)
200g carrots, scrubbed and peeled (if necessary), cut into chunky batons
1 white turnip (optional), cut into chunks
½ sweet potato (optional), peeled and cut into chunks
1 fennel bulb, sliced (or use celery)
1 leek, washed and sliced into chunks
1 red onion, peeled and cut into six wedges
1 clove garlic, chopped
zest and juice of 1 orange
1 orange, skin removed and cut into segments
Olive oil
Maple syrup
1 tbsp red white vinegar
2 tbsp parsley, chopped (or use fennel leaf if you have it)
10-12 pitted black olives, halved
50g feta cheese, diced (optional) to serve

Pre-heat oven to 180°C fan/Gas 5. Wash the spelt thoroughly, then cook in the vegetable stock or water and bouillon powder for about 20 minutes from boiling, or it until it is cooked, but still has a bit of bite. Drain through a colander, then transfer to a wide dish and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to stop it sticking while you prepare the vegetables.

Cook the carrots for 5 minutes in boiling water, then drain and place in a roasting tin with the chopped turnip, sweet potato, onion wedges, orange zest and chopped garlic. Drizzle generously with olive oil, season and roast in the hot oven for 15 minutes. Then stir, add the sliced leeks and fennel, drizzle with a little maple syrup and return to the oven for a further 15 mins until all the vegetables are cooked.

In the meantime, whisk together 3 tbsp olive oi1, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and the orange juice with 1 tsp maple syrup and seasoning. Taste and adjust the acidity to your liking.

Scrape the roasted vegetables onto the cooked spelt, add the orange segments and parsley (or fennel leaves) and half the dressing – it will soak into the spelt as it sits, so if you’re making in advance you can decide whether you need to add more before serving. Toss together, then stir through the halved olives and sprinkle over feta if using, plus more parsley to garnish.

Another dish I discovered during the first lockdown back in spring (how long ago that seems now, yet here we are again…) was a vegan Bolognese sauce based on lentils. I love lentils in all their guises, but this recipe was particularly good and would, I’m sure, appeal to diehard meat eaters as much as to vegetarians and vegans. The original recipe was by Gaz Oakley, vegan blogger and YouTuber, but I came across it in the Saturday Times, and have tweaked it slightly to use dried lentils rather than canned. I must admit that I serve it with parmesan, but feel free to omit the cheese if you want to stick with the recipe’s vegan roots. You can, of course, change the vegetables to use whatever you have on hand – dishes like this are very accommodating in that respect. And they always freeze beautifully, with the flavour improving and maturing as they sit – perfect for stocking up the freezer for busy days ahead.

Vegan Lentil Bolognese Sauce – serves 4-6

Vegan bolognese

1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
6 garlic cloves
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried oregano (or you could use fresh and/or fresh thyme/basil if you have it)
4 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp dark miso paste (or you can use soy sauce if you haven’t got miso paste)
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
240ml red wine
250g green lentils (or use 2 x 400g cans, drained if you prefer)

Add the onion, celery, garlic, pepper and carrot to a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Pour the olive oil into a large pan and add the processed veg, then cook for 5 mins or until starting to soften. Add the herbs, seasoning, tomato purée, miso paste and cook for a further 2 minutes, then stir in the lentils, tinned tomatoes and wine. Rinse out the tomato cans with water and add that water to the pan as well. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the lentils have softened. If using canned lentils, which are already pre-cooked, you may not need the additional water from rinsing the tomato cans and you can cut the cooking time down to 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water content and adjust if necessary.

Serve with cooked spaghetti or pasta of your choice, topped with grated Parmesan and basil. If you’re sticking to the vegan theme, the original recipe suggests making a vegan ‘Parmesan’ topping by blitzing 3 tbsp toasted flaked almonds with 3 tbsp nutritional yeast until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. I haven’t tried this, but by all means give it a go and report back!

My final recipe offering was inspired by the need to use up the spelt flaky pastry I made for my turkey & ham pie after the festivities. It is based on Delia Smith’s quick flaky pastry, which is ideal when you want something richer and flakier than shortcrust, but don’t want to go to the trouble of making proper puff pastry – or you suddenly realise you don’t have any bought puff pastry in the freezer! It most certainly isn’t vegan as it uses a fair amount of butter, but I often make spelt pastry these days as my gluten-intolerant daughter-in-law finds she can cope with it much better than standard flour. You can, of course, buy readymade vegan puff-pastry if you prefer. I used wholemeal spelt as I like the nutty taste, but you can use standard spelt flour or ordinary plain flour too. The inspiration for the pie filling was a recipe in the Waitrose Food magazine, which often hits the spot for seasonal dishes – and it really fits my brief for using up vegetables I have available in the allotment at this time of year. Enjoy!

Celeriac, Broccoli and Cavolo Nero Pie – serves 4-6

Celeriac pie_landscape

Flaky pastry
225g wholemeal spelt flour (or use plain flour)
175g butter, frozen
pinch of salt
cold water

I head of broccoli or calabrese (about 450g)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 medium celeriac (about 750g), peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
1 large red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300ml vegetable stock
250 ml milk (you can use oat or almond milk if you prefer)
fresh nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
1 lemon, zest and juice
Parsley, chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves
50g dried cranberries (or use sultanas if that’s what you have)
100g cavolo nero
Milk (or agave nectar) to brush the pastry

To make the flaky pastry, make sure you put the butter, in its wrapper, in the freezer for an hour or so before you want to start your pastry. When you’re ready, sift your flour (you can tip back in any grains that are too big to sift) and quickly grate the butter over the flour and salt while it is still frozen, holding onto the wrapper to stop the heat of your hand melting the butter. You can dip the butter into the flour to make it easier to grate if you need to. When it’s all grated, quickly mix with a knife to incorporate the butter into the flour. Don’t use your hands! When it’s well mixed, gradually add enough cold water to form a dough that leaves the bowl clean, using your hands to bring it all together at the end. Wrap in foil and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour before using.


Toss half the celeriac chunks with oil and sprinkle with paprika and seasoning in a roasting tin. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Either steam the broccoli for 5 minutes, or cook in 1 tbsp of water in the microwave for 3 minutes. (The original recipe roasts the broccoli for 25 minutes at the same time as the celeriac, but homegrown calabrese tends to be side shoots at this time of year and I find it frazzles too quickly in the oven, so prefer to microwave or steam).

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pan, add the onion, garlic, thyme and a pinch of salt and sweat for 4-5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the remaining celeriac, cover and cook over a low heat for 20 minutes or until just tender and golden. Add the stock and milk to the pan along with grated nutmeg, allspice and black pepper, then blend with a stick blender (or transfer to a liquidizer goblet if you prefer) until smooth. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, dried cranberries and parsley, and allow to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.

Remove thick stalks from the cavolo nero and roughly chop the leaves. Quickly blanch with boiling water in a colander over the sink, then drain, pat dry with kitchen paper. Add the roast celeriac, calabrese and kale to the cool sauce, stir gently and transfer to your serving dish. Place a pie funnel in the centre if you have one to let out steam as it cooks.

Take your pastry out of the fridge, roll out to the right size, cut a cross in the middle to fit around the pie funnel and place gently over the filling, damping the edge to make sure it sticks to the sides. Use pastry off-cuts to decorate the top if you feel suitably artistic! Brush with milk (or agave nectar), place on a baking tray and cook in the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown, covering with foil if it browns too quickly.

Serve with vegetables of your choice and a virtuous January glow.

January posy


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Full of Beans

Autumn container 2020

As I planted the rest of last year’s container tulips up at the allotment at the weekend, the remains of this year’s bean plants on their now perilously leaning wigwams reproached me for not harvesting the beans inside those blackened pods – if only to save for next year, as I doubt there will be enough to make a meal. Back in September, despite picking the French beans every other day, the harvest was so prolific that I inevitably managed to miss some and ended up with beans that were too big to eat as French beans, pods and all. Cue an experiment: I’d always wondered what it would be like to use the actual fresh beans inside the pods, rather than drying them for winter use. They were actually very good: cooked in boiling water for 20-30 minutes with garlic, parsley stalks and a bay leaf until tender, then added to a favourite bean casserole. I will get around to harvesting what’s left and see if I can salvage any…

dry beans

I’ve been meaning to share some of my favourite bean casseroles here for a while: they were all the rage back in the brown food days of the 1970s/early 80s, when vegetarian/wholefoods first came to prominence. I still tend to use dried beans, soaking overnight and pre-cooking, but you can equally well use canned, which are widely available these days. The only problem with cans is that you miss out on the delicious bean cooking liquor, which I often use as a stock in the finished dish. Vegetable stock can be used instead, of course, but won’t give quite the same depth of flavour or unctuousness as a good bean stock.


One of my favourites is this Beany Cheese Crunch, adapted from a Sainsbury’s wholefood recipe book from the 80s. It does have added bacon for a savoury note, but just leave it out if you want to go fully vegetarian – you could add chestnuts or mushrooms instead. You can also add or substitute chorizo if you feel so inclined. For a vegan alternative, omit the cheese from the topping, or use a vegan substitute. If you have fresh shelled beans, omit the soaking and pre-cooking phase for these and add them before transferring to the oven. You can use any combination of beans, depending what you have – and you can also use canned, again omitting the soaking and pre-cooking steps, but remember to adjust the amounts as dried beans soak up water and become heavier as they cook. I tend to assume you need double the weight of canned beans to dried.

Beany Cheese Crunch – serves 4-6

Beany cheese crunch

75g kidney beans (or black beans)
75g black-eyed beans (or haricot beans – I’m finding it hard to get the dried black-eyed beans at the moment for some reason)
75g butter beans
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
50g bacon, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 leeks, sliced (optional)
1 red chilli, finely chopped (seeds in or out depending on your heat capacity!)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
300-450ml vegetable stock (or reserve bean cooking liquor)
handful of herbs of your choice (thyme, rosemary, parsley or basil – all of these work well, in isolation or together)

75g wholemeal breadcrumbs
125g mature Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp parsley (optional)

Soak the beans in a pan of cold water overnight. The next morning, drain, then cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat without a lid for 10 minutes. You might want to open the windows and shut the doors to the rest of the house at this point as cooking beans have a particularly pungent aroma! Then lower the heat, cover and cook for 30-45 mins or until tender – test with a fork. The actual cooking time depends on the age of the beans, so in some cases you might need to extend this to an hour. Top up the water from the (hot) kettle if necessary. When tender, drain, reserving the cooking liquor in a jug for later.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan or ovenproof casserole – I use my trusty Le Creuset so it can go straight in the oven afterwards. Add the chopped onion, celery, garlic and bacon, and cook until starting to soften and turn golden. Add the chopped carrots, red pepper, chilli and leeks and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes. Then add the tinned tomatoes with their juice, 300ml of the reserved stock (save the rest in case you need it) and season. Stir well and bring to the boil. Adjust the liquid content if you feel it might need more: much depends whether you’ve added extra veg! Cook on the hob for 10 minutes or so, then transfer to the oven pre-heated to 160°C (fan) or Gas 4 for 45 minutes.

Turn the heat up to 200°C towards the end, then sprinkle on the mixed breadcrumbs, grated cheese and parsley and return to the oven for the last 15 minutes.

Serve piping hot with a green salad – so tasty! This also freezes perfectly, so well worth making the full quantity even if you’re only cooking for one or two. You can also ring the changes with the vegetables – anything goes, really. Fennel works particularly well, as do other root vegetables. It’s a very flexible dish.

Aduki cass serving

Another of my favourite bean dishes is this Aduki Bean & Leek Casserole with herby dumplings. As with many of my vegetarian recipes, this came originally from my friend Bridget, a home economics teacher. Still as delicious today as when I first cooked it in the 80s! The dumplings are divinely light too – not at all the stodgy accompaniment you might imagine.

Aduki Bean & Leek Casserole with Herby Dumplings – serves 4-6

Aduki cass landscape

150g aduki beans, soaked overnight (or use 2 cans)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
450g leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced into rings (4 or so leeks)
3 large carrots, diced
250-350g mushrooms, quartered
1 red pepper, diced (optional)
1 red chilli, finely chopped (and deseeded if you don’t like it too hot)
1.5 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp wholemeal flour
450 ml vegetable stock (or use reserved bean cooking liquor, or a mixture of the two)
1 vegetable stock cube or 1 tsp bouillon powder
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 can chopped tomatoes
chopped parsley to garnish

150g wholemeal self-raising flour (or add 1 tsp baking powder to plain flour or spelt)
35g butter
75g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp chopped parsley
75 ml milk (plus extra if needed)

Drain the soaked beans and cover with fresh cold water. Bring back to the boil and cook until tender – 45 mins to 1 hour. Drain, reserving the cooking liquor for stock as above.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and gently cook the chopped onion for 10 minutes or so until softened. Then add the garlic, leeks, carrots, chilli, red pepper, (if using) and mushrooms. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, then stir in the paprika and flour. Add the stock cube (or bouillon powder), stock, soy sauce, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and season to taste. Stir in the drained beans and mix well. Bring to the boil and allow to cook on the hob for 10 minutes or so before covering and transferring to the oven, pre-heated to 160°C fan or Gas 4. Cook for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dumplings: put the flour and salt in a bowl, then rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the finely chopped parsley and grated cheese. Add the milk gradually until you have a firm dough – you may not need it all, or you might need a drop more, depending on your flour. Divide into 12 round or oval dumplings.

After 40 minutes, take the casserole out of the oven, gently arrange the dumplings around the edge and return to the oven with the lid on. Cook for a further 20-25 minutes or until the dumplings have puffed up and cooked through. They should be firm to the touch. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with a green salad. Again, this freezes beautifully, although without the dumplings – I must admit there are never any left!

Leo climbing tree


Something to look forward to…

Sheffield Park Oct 2020

In this second week of the second lockdown of this dreadful pandemic, it can be hard to keep positive, especially in the dank and dreary weather of a typical British November. Last time round we were blessed with glorious weather, so at least we could get out and about in the garden or countryside. This time, even though the lockdown regulations aren’t quite as strict – schools and colleges are open, along with garden centres, parks and country estates, thank goodness, and people living alone are permitted to join a support bubble, so I’m allowed to see my elder son and family – the weather isn’t quite as auspicious and the longer nights mean that we’re stuck indoors from 4 in the afternoon even on the brightest of days.

At times like these, having something to look forward to is essential. Even though lockdown in England is set to end in early December, none of us can be confident that it won’t be extended, or that we won’t be subject to some other system of draconian tiers, bubbles or bans. Christmas, despite what the politicians keep saying, is looking as though it might be very different this year and being able to travel again is but a distant hope on the horizon… Many people’s livelihoods are currently threatened by the constant stop-start of lockdown life, so it’s hardly surprising that we’re all feeling down.

Mirror image

It may not offer all the answers, but gardening definitely helps when uncertainty reigns. We know that the garden will go to sleep over the winter now the glorious hues of the autumn leaf spectacle are drawing to a close. But equally certainly, we know it will wake up again in spring: there are already plump buds on my daphnes with promises of heady scent to come in the dark days of January and February. Some winter-flowering shrubs like Viburnum bodnantense Charles Lamont (sadly not as scented as its counterpart Dawn) and the sweetly scented mahonias and eleagnus are already in flower. 

Tidying up the flower beds on the odd fine day reminds us of these delights to come. I leave most spent seedheads and stalks in situ over the winter to provide food and hideaways for bugs and animals, but I do clear away hosta leaves that might otherwise rot down and allow slugs and snails to multiply. I’ve also taken the opportunity of the occasional sunny afternoon to relocate plants that have outgrown their space or seen better days. Only recently, I took out a leggy cistus that has given me a wonderful display for well over ten years near the front arch, but has now reached the end of the road. They are short-lived plants and I’ve been thinking for a while that it needed to go. In its place, I’ve planted a new rose I’ve had in a pot this year, one of the new Persian ‘Eyes’ series. This one is ‘Eyes for You’ (think Art Garfunkel) and is a relatively low-growing, semi-double creamy white with a pink centre: delightful and wonderfully floriferous, still flowering now in fact (although the picture below was back in August).

Eyes for You

It’s amazing how much space removing one straggly plant can open up. I was also able to add a couple of day lilies (Hemerocallis) relocated from elsewhere in the garden where it has become too shady for them to thrive: Joan Senior (creamy white) and Burlesque (a very early buttermilk yellow with a deep purple throat). Another rose (Darcy Bussell, deep magenta-red) that really wasn’t enjoying its position on the hot sunny bank opposite my house was also shoehorned in – offering plenty of anticipation for next summer. This is an excellent time of year to move plants: you can see what you’re doing, the ground should still be warm and damp, and they’ll have ample time for their roots to establish before the growing season starts next spring.

Bed near arch replanted Nov 2020

I’ve also recently finished emptying my summer containers, despite the begonias still flowering bravely away, to make space for winter plantings of pansies and primulas with an understorey of bulbs: a real promise of spring glories to come. The very act of choosing them online or in the garden centres (where they are often half price at the moment, despite it being nowhere near too late to plant tulips!) is an act of faith and a reminder that spring will come round again and hopefully we’ll be closer to finding a way out of the woods by then.

This year, I ordered some tulips from Sarah Raven as I’ve done in the past: these were the fabulously OTT Copper Image which I bought for the first time and adored last year.

Tulips Copper Image

For the rest of my containers, a friend had discovered a wholesale bulb website Parkers Bulbs, where you can order large quantities of bulbs at much lower prices: more choice than the garden centres and a great deal cheaper besides. By pooling our order, we ended up with a fabulous selection of bulbs, although admittedly I probably didn’t spend any less than usual as it was hard to resist the huge selection on offer: that child in a sweetshop moment again…. On the upside, I should have twice as many tulips in my barrel containers than usual. I’ve experimented with the lasagne method of two deep layers of tulips, topped off with crocus and dwarf daffodils saved from previous years. I will also add seed-grown wallflowers when the weather allows me to being them back from the allotment, but they are still available in garden centres too if you haven’t sown your own.

For next year’s tulip spectacular I went for Belle Epoque (fabulously blowsy double cappuccino fading to softest pink and cream – usually very expensive, but much more reasonable wholesale), Antraciet (deepest dark red, also double), Dream Touch (another double – seems to be a theme this year – with deep burgundy petals edged with white, almost like a purple globe artichoke. I saw this on Sarah Raven’s Instagram feed this spring and fell in love with it), Orca (an old gold double this time), Pink Star (you’ve guessed it, yet another double, this time with showy pink, peony-like flowers and finally Elegant Lady, the only single in the pack this year, a lily-flowered tulip with cream and pink flowers. Just thinking about them makes me smile – definitely something to look forward to.


more sourdough: the perfect bun

Sourdough hot cross buns

As I mentioned in my previous post, sourdough ‘discard’ makes delicious bakes in its own right. The sour tang of the dough leads to great pizzas, pancakes, crumpets, crackers and of course buns. Hot cross buns are a revelation with an added dollop of sourdough starter and cinnamon buns are just divine.

I can’t claim to have created my own recipe for sourdough hot cross buns as I stumbled across one by Jacqueline Bellefontaine that works just perfectly. You can either just use the discard as the raising agent – in which case you’ll need to allow a much longer rising time and the whole process will take a full 24 hours from start to finish – or you can add yeast (now it’s available again!) for delicious hot cross buns, ready in a couple of hours – or for breakfast if you do as I do and prove the buns overnight, then bake in the morning when you get up. I follow the recipe in the link above pretty much to the letter, either making the dough in my breadmaker, or using the Kitchen Aid to do the kneading – either works well. I then prove in the fridge overnight and add the flour & water crosses in the morning. Equally, if you’re not making these at Easter and don’t want to make the crosses, just leave them off. I added edible borage flowers in the summer for pretty summer spiced buns instead.

borage buns

A recent discovery has been iced cinnamon buns. I hunted high and low for a recipe using sourdough discard to make these iconic Swedish delicacies, but drew a blank, so decided to cobble together my own – which works a treat. Many of the recipes I found used fed starter, but with an ever-growing mound of sourdough discard in the fridge, I was determined to make inroads into that. My starting point was the Cinnamon Raisin Loaf recipe (also very good) from King Arthur Baking, duly adapted to turn into buns. Do try them and see – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed… Oh, and if you fancy a twist on the original recipe, do check out the Iced Cardamom Bun variation at the very end of the post – very Scandinavian, but equally delicious.

Cinnamon raisin loaf

I like to make the basic dough in my breadmaker for ease, especially in the winter months as, to my profound regret, I don’t have an airing cupboard. Using a breadmaker solves the problem of finding somewhere warm enough to prove the dough. The conservatory works perfectly in summer, but if the heating is off during the day in the winter months, it can be tricky to maintain a high enough temperature for proving.

Iced Cinnamon Raisin Buns – makes 9

Cinnamon buns

115g sourdough starter (discard or fed if you prefer)
360g strong bread flour
2 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 heaped tsp salt
1 large egg
75 g softened butter
150g lukewarm water

For the filling:
60g soft light Muscovado sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp plain flour
75g raisins (or other dried fruit/nuts of your choice)
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water


100g icing sugar, sifted
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine all the dough ingredients in a bowl or stand mixer and knead until your dough is soft and smooth. Alternatively you can use the dough mode on your breadmaker as described above. If not using the breadmaker, you’ll need to leave the dough to prove in a greased bowl in a warm place for about 2 hours.

Make the filling by mixing the sugar, cinnamon, raisins and flour in a small bowl. You could add other mixed fruit such as apricots or dried cranberries and nuts to vary the taste and texture sensation.

When the dough has proved, knock down on a floured surface and gently roll/pat out to a rectangle measuring approx. 45 cm x 20 cm (or 18″ x 8″ for those of you, like me, who are old enough to still prefer to visualise measurements in Imperial units!).

Brush with the egg & water mixture, then sprinkle over the filling, leaving a bare strip along one edge for ease of sealing. Then roll up from one long edge until you have a long, thin roll. Turn to face you and cut into 9 neat sections. I usually do this by eye, but if you’re aiming for Paul Hollywood perfection, you can measure each one. If you’ve managed to roll out a 45cm long roll, each section should measure 5 cm wide, but it really doesn’t matter if they’re not spot on!

Grease a 20cm square deep cake tin (I like to use a loose-bottomed one for ease of removal). Carefully place the buns in the tin in rows of three.  Cover with a cloth (or I use one of those large, re-usable plastic shower caps from Lakeland) and either prove in a warm place or prove in the fridge overnight for a long, slow rise. Perfect if you’re looking to serve them warm for breakfast – and why wouldn’t you?!

The following morning, leave to come to room temperature for 1/2 to 1 hour (counsel of perfection – I’ve cooked them sooner and they’re still delicious!). If you’ve any of the egg mix left over, you can brush all over the rolls to glaze at this stage. Heat the oven to 180°C and cook the buns on the middle shelf for 40-45 mins or until golden brown and shiny.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin. Transfer to a wire rack and glaze haphazardly with a runny icing made using 100g sifted icing sugar and the juice of half a lemon. It should be stiff enough to pour thickly so it doesn’t all disappear when it hits the warm buns and still stays in visible stripes on the top. If too thick, add a few more drops of juice or water, and if too thin, add more sifted icing sugar – never an exact science!

Tear apart and serve lavishly buttered with a cup of steaming hot tea and a very satisfied smile.

Cinnamon buns open

Iced cardamom buns:

On a roll (sorry) with the success of this recipe, I decided to experiment with a variaton on a theme, adding cardamom to the mix for even more of a Scandinavian twist – with delicious results. This time, I added the crushed seeds from 15 cardamom pods to the dough and the same to the filling with just 1 tsp cinnamon rather than the 1 1/2 tsp in the original recipe. Then, instead of raisins, I topped the filling mix with 25g each of dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots and flaked almonds – not that you can tell from the outside. I also used the juice of half a tangerine in the icing rather than lemon juice. The end result? Divinely spiced and fluffy cardamom buns. Cardamom is an underused spice in sweet recipes here in the UK, but one I adore. They are just heavenly!

Cardamom buns

claire’s adventures in sourdoughland

After baking banneton

I’ve been promising to write up my lockdown-inspired introduction to sourdough for quite some time and as the gardening year draws to a close and the harvesting pressure is off, this is my moment. I have to confess that my inspiration came in the first instance from my son and daughter-in-law in Boston, who pointed me in the direction of a recipe they’d found online, after which I’ve followed my nose and adapted other online recipes – I’ll attempt to credit all the original sources as I go through and provide links to those pages.

I used to buy sourdough bread from my local wholefood shop or the deli in my village every few weeks, freezing half as a whole loaf is far too much for one. They came from the renowned Lighthouse Bakery in Robertsbridge, just down the road (now sadly no more since lockdown) or Judges Bakery in Hastings – and were delicious. I’d never thought of baking my own, thinking it sounded far too much faff, and in any event, I have a breadmaker (Panasonic – probably 20 years old and counting!), and am very happy with the bread it produces, usually overnight. I also use it with great success to make dough for focaccia, individual bread rolls and Stollen.

However, come the Covid lockdown back in March/April and suddenly we were facing restrictions: not only flour, but also yeast suddenly became really hard to get hold of. I tend to use the Dove’s farm organic yeast, which lasts ages, but typically I was nearing the end of a pack when the restrictions took hold. I managed to get a couple of sachets in one online shop, but started to worry that I would run out – and having to buy supermarket bread was not the route I wanted to go down! My very kind neighbour managed to get hold of various kinds of flour for me via online millers, so that wasn’t a problem, but yeast was becoming an issue.

As I’ve mentioned before, my elder son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter ended up staying with me during lockdown. My daughter-in-law is gluten-intolerant, but can tolerate bakes made with spelt flour and sourdough seems to be fine too. Sourdough is based on natural yeasts in the air and in the flour, which multiply in the feeding process and make for a dough that’s easier to digest. Hardly surprising then that my thoughts turned to sourdough when the yeast shortage was at its height. If the pages of Instagram and Twitter were to be believed, the world and his wife seemed to be experimenting with sourdough and it was about time I joined the throng! My younger son had caught the bug (sourdough not corona, I hasten to add!) a few weeks earlier and sent me the recipe they’d used. Local friends very kindly (and in a socially distanced manner, of course) passed on some of their sourdough starter to get me going. We were off! If you haven’t got a friend you can beg some starter from, you can make your own by following these instructions: just be aware that it will take 4-5 days before you can use it in the recipe below (but well worth the wait!).

Once you’ve got your starter, you can set to making your first loaf. I use this recipe from King Arthur Flour for no-knead sourdough bread, but I’m going to write it out again here for ease of reference and because I can include the tweaks and discoveries I’ve made in the process. Enjoy!

One thing to note before you start: this isn’t a quick process and planning is crucial. To have bread for Sunday lunchtime, you’ll need to start feeding the starter on Thursday evening. By Saturday evening your starter should be bubby and doubled in size, so you can make the dough and allow to rise overnight. On Sunday morning, you shape the dough, allow to rise one last time, score and bake – phew! It sounds a lot of effort, but once you’re into it, it really isn’t.

No-knead Sourdough Bread

50g bubbly, active starter (see first step below)
350g warm water
500g strong bread flour (+ extra to feed)
1 heaped tsp salt

If you’ve been given starter rather than making your own, you’ll need to feed it before starting your bread to make sure it is sufficiently bubbly and active. I store mine in the fridge between loaf-making sessions and it needs to be brought back to room temperature and fed before you can use it.

Feed the Starter

Starter doubling

I use a tall plastic freezer container with a lid, but you could just as easily use a glass jar. Weigh the empty container and keep a note of what it weighs, then add 50g starter, 50g flour (I often use spelt or wholemeal spelt, but good strong bread flour, preferably organic, is fine) and 50g lukewarm water. Mix together well (I find a mini spatula is best so you can move down the sides and get to the bottom) and put the lid on. Put a rubber band around the container to mark where the starter is (to help tell when it doubles).

Leave the container out on the work surface in a warm room. The next morning, it should have risen above the rubber band and be bubbly. Feed by weighing the container, taking off excess starter other than the weight of your container + 50g and adding flour and water as above. Repeat morning and night over a couple of days (usually 3-4 times in total) until it looks really bubbly and has doubled in size – hence the rubber band! Don’t, whatever you do, throw away the “discard” when you take the starter off. Keep in the fridge and use in sourdough discard recipes – sounds awful, but they are absolutely delicious: see below for some examples and links.

Then use the recipe (start it at night and have it rise overnight for the next day). To recap, to have bread for Sunday lunchtime, you’ll need to start feeding the starter on Thursday evening. See above for schedule.

If you aren’t making bread soon, put the starter the fridge, where it keeps for a surprisingly long time without feeding.  Ideally, I feed it about once a fortnight if not using, but it has been as long as four weeks with no ill effects! Just stir in any brown liquid that gathers on the top; it should still smell sweetly sour, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. The same applies to the discard container: store in the fridge, stir in any liquid and use as required.

Make the dough (finally!)

  1. In the evening, whisk 50g starter and 350g water together in a large bowl. Add 500g good, preferably organic flour and a heaped teaspoon of salt. Combine until a stiff dough forms, then finish mixing by hand to incorporate all the flour. The dough will feel dense and shaggy, and it will stick to your fingers as you go. Scrape out as much as you can. Cover with a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Feed your starter with fresh flour and water, and store in the fridge as usual.
  3. When the dough has rested, work it into a fairly smooth ball by getting hold of a portion of the dough and folding it over, pressing your fingertips into the centre. Repeat, working your way around the dough until it begins to tighten, about 20 seconds.


  1. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let it rise overnight at room temperature. This will take about 8 to 10 hours at 20°C. The dough is ready when it no longer looks dense and has doubled in size.

Pizza dough rising


  1. In the morning, coax the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. To shape it into a round, start at the top and fold the dough over toward the centre. Turn the dough slightly and fold over the next section of dough. Repeat until you have come full circle. Flip the dough over and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, dust a bread proving basket (banneton) with flour (alternatively, you can use a bowl lined with a tea towel or greased greaseproof paper, then floured, but I found the dough often sticks after rising. Not a huge problem as it rises again in the oven, but the basket is so much better! The flour gets into the grooves and stays there, meaning the dough doesn’t stick to it when turned out). With floured hands, gently cup the dough and pull it toward you in a circular motion to tighten its shape. Using a bench scraper, place the dough into the basket or bowl, seam side up.


  1. Cover the bowl and let rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. The dough is ready when it looks puffy and has risen slightly, but has not yet doubled in size.
  2. Preheat your oven to 220°C. Cut a sheet of baking paper to the size of your baking pot (I use a large (25 cm diameter) Le Creuset casserole dish), leaving enough excess paper around the sides to remove the bread after baking.

Before baking banneton grooves


  1. Invert the basket or bowl over your paper-lined pot to release. Sprinkle the dough with flour and gently rub the surface with your hands. Using the tip of a small, serrated knife or a razor blade, score the dough with a pattern of your choice. This is easier said than done! You have to be quite firm and use a very sharp knife. I soon invested in a bread ‘lame’, but a clean Stanley knife would work just as well. Other tips include dipping the blade in water between cuts or spraying with cooking oil – I’m still a novice, but getting there.


  1. Bake the dough in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, covered. Remove the lid, and continue to bake for 30 minutes. I find this is enough, but the original recipe suggests removing the loaf from the pot at this point and finishing off directly on the oven rack for the last 10 minutes to crisp the crust. I suppose a lot depends on your oven, but my crust is perfectly crispy enough without that final 10 minutes. When finished, transfer to a wire rack and cool for 1 hour before slicing. It freezes beautifully too and I still tend to freeze half when baking for my single household.

First sourdough

Sourdough inside

I love sourdough fresh with cheese and cold meats, toasted with homemade soup, or sliced and served as bruschette with chopped fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic for the perfect summer lunch.


As for the inevitable discard, I almost think this is the best part of the whole process. Rather than throwing it away (what a waste!), you can use it in a whole host of recipes from pancakes and crumpets, to sourdough crackers and pizza, and of course hot cross buns and cinnamon rolls. Again, I find the recipes on the King Arthur Flour Sourdough Discard page excellent: I’ve yet to come across one that hasn’t been great.  I’ll leave you to experiment, but particularly recommend the sourdough pizza dough, cinnamon raisin loaf and crumpets. I’ll post my recipe for sourdough cinnamon buns very soon.

sourdough crumpet


Food for Free


I love being able to pick food from the hedgerows, be it elderflower blossom for cordial in late May, or blackberries in high summer for jams, desserts and relish. That childish joy of coming across jewel-like fruit as you walk the dog through the woods is one that never goes away. Even my granddaughter, at 16 months, has become adept at spotting them, eagle-eyed from her pushchair: “Bla-bewies”, she suddenly shouts, demanding only the plumpest, juiciest berries to eat as we go along on our walk.

Zoe at Dunorlan

This year has been one of the most amazing crops I’ve seen for a long time, whether it’s down to the fine weather we’ve enjoyed since March, or the reduced pollution since lockdown. Whatever the cause, I’m certainly not complaining! They’ve also been early this year, with the first crown fruit appearing in late July – even earlier in city microclimates according to a colleague on Foodie Translators. I like to use the first pickings added to windfall apples in delicious crumbles, be it a traditional flour-based recipe, or a quick-but-oh-so-yummy Amaretti crumble. I usually cook the apples to soften, then add the blackberries just before topping with crumble (based on 4 parts SR flour, 2 parts butter and 1 part sugar, perhaps with a handful of oats for texture) and baking in a hot oven for half an hour – the taste of early autumn! Another excellent recipe for when you have only managed to pick a handful or so is blackberry, elderflower and lime drizzle cake – I make it with other berries in season, but this is the original. Just be careful it doesn’t go off with the fresh fruit content; I tend to freeze half if there’s only me around to eat it.

Blackberry drizzle cake

Blackberries also go beautifully with plums, that other late summer fruit, so when my early Opal plums started to ripen even earlier than usual this year, in mid-July, plum & blackberry jam was an obvious choice. I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s fridge jam recipe and added some of my homemade cassis for an extra twist: sublime! Earlier in the season, I’d made the same recipe, but just with plums and amaretto, also extremely good – just use 1.5 kg plums and 2 tbsp amaretto instead of cassis. Nothing to stop you ringing the changes and adding any liqueur of your fancy to the plums and blackberries, of course.

Plum & Blackberry Jam with Cassis – makes 5-6 jars

Plum and blackberry jam

1kg plums, stoned
500g blackberries
750g granulated sugar
200ml water
2-3 tbsp cassis (or Amaretto – or any other liqueur of your choice)

Halve and stone the plums and put in a preserving pan with the washed blackberries and 200ml of water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes until very soft and pulpy. Add the cassis and sugar, stirring until fully dissolved, and bring back to the boil. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the right consistency is reached – drips should run together when you hold the wooden spoon up above the pan, but this is a soft-set jam, so you shouldn’t need to do the usual setting test on a cold saucer. Leave to stand for 5 minutes to allow the fruit to settle, then pour into sterilised jars and seal as usual (see here for method). Just make sure you refrigerate after opening due to the lower sugar content, but otherwise it should keep in a cool larder for a year or so.

As the blackberries start to become more prolific, my thoughts often turn to another preserve, this time a savoury one. I’m not a huge chutney fan, but I am partial to the lighter relishes. I make cucumber relish every year and another favourite is winter relish, a deep purple ketchup-style concoction inspired by the same friend who passed on the cucumber relish recipe originally. This blackberry-and-apple-based relish requires straining to remove the tiny seeds, but is a delightful spiced accompaniment to pies, hotpots and cold meats in the winter months – and keeps for years once made.

Winter Relish – makes 3-4 jars

Winter relish

500g cooking apples (windfalls are fine)
350g onions
1.5kg blackberries
560ml vinegar (I use malt, but distilled would work too)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
15g ground ginger
2 tbsp salt
6 whole cloves
6 black peppercorns
500g granulated sugar

Peel, core and roughly chop the apples, discarding any bruised bits if using windfalls. (Alternatively, just chop and add everything. pips, skin and all – just means more volume to sieve, but still works perfectly.) Peel and chop the onions. Place chopped apples and onions in a preserving pan with the washed blackberries. Add the vinegar and spices, then bring to the boil and simmer for 25 – 30 mins, stirring occasionally, until very soft. Allow to cool a little, then push through a sieve into a large bowl. Wash the preserving pan, then return the strained mixture to the clean pan. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Bring back to the boil and cook rapidly until it starts to thicken to a ketchup consistency – much depends on the juice content in the apples and berries, but this may be anything from 15 to 30 minutes. Pot and cover in sterilised jars as usual. Leave to mature for a few weeks before using.

My final blackberry creation was inspired by a colleague who shared a tempting BBC Good Food recipe for blackberry cupcakes on the Foodie Translators group. On holiday in the Isle of Wight with my sister over the weekend, and unable to walk past brambles laden with blackberries, we decided to make the cupcakes with berries left over from a blackberry & apple crumble. Of course, even the best equipped holiday houses are rarely geared up for baking projects, so we had to adapt. We did have some silicone cupcake moulds, but realised too late that we had no cocoa powder, so I added instant coffee granules instead. The moulds were also fairy-cake sized rather than deep muffin cases, so I had to pour the extra mixture into a round sandwich cake tin. Kudos to my sister for having even these baking essentials in her holiday home! We didn’t have an icing bag, needless to say, so the traditional cupcake swirls were out of the question. By this stage, it was late in the day anyhow, so we had the resulting cupcakes warm from the oven with blackberry compote and good (bought) vanilla ice cream – delicious! I will make the real thing according to the recipe soon and report back!

However, I did bring the extra round cake home with me (waste not, want not) and concocted a Black Forest trifle with it last night – simply sublime! I adapted Nigel Slater’s blackcurrant trifle recipe, but it really was simplicity itself to make and a definite nod to the classic Schwarzwälderkirschtorte, but with forest fruit rather than cherries, of course.

Black Forest Trifle – serves 6

Black Forest trifle

150-200g chocolate sponge cake (I used the leftover blackberry & chocolate sponge from the cupcake recipe above, but any chocolate sponge would work)
100-150g forest fruits (I used a frozen mix, but you could use blackberries, raspberries or any forest fruit)
2 tbsp cassis or liqueur of your choice
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 large egg, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
250g mascarpone
150ml double cream
3-4 tbsp natural yogurt
Dark chocolate, grated, to garnish
Handful of blackberries to garnish

Break the sponge into pieces and put into a glass trifle dish. Add the forest fruits (defrosted if frozen) and any juice. Pour over the cassis.

Put the egg yolk and sugar into a bowl and mix, then stir in the mascarpone and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until it forms soft swirls, then fold lightly into the mascarpone mix with the natural yogurt (you can use all cream if you prefer!). Finally whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks and fold into the cream mixture.

Spoon the mascarpone custard over the sponge and fruit base and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Decorate with grated chocolate and blackberries. Sigh with pleasure as you eat…

Black Forest trifle serving

The courgettes are coming!

Green and yellow courgettes

Yes, it’s that season again: the courgettes are arriving thick and fast, green and gold. It always seems to take a while for the first fruit to set – often you get lots of male flowers with their jaunty yellow blooms, but the female flowers aren’t usually far behind. The first fruits to set may be small and slow to swell, but if you pick these young, more will swiftly follow and from then there’s no turning back! I’m currently keeping an eye on my neighbour’s plot as well while she’s away, so I have far more courgettes than I can handle. I have to confess to leaving some of the spares on the allotment sharing table to feed passers-by who aren’t as well endowed with these delicious summer squash family members.

I actually planted more seeds than usual this year as courgette sowing time (late April) coincided with mid-lockdown, panic-buying and shortages of various things in the shops. Who knew what the situation would be like later in the year? Fortunately, food supplies seem to have returned to normal, especially as lockdown eases, but I still have extra courgette plants growing at home in my oak barrels, amidst the begonias and lobelia. I may well regret having so many further down the line, but for now I’m enjoying them. I sowed three varieties this year: my usual reliable Defender (green), Gold Rush (yellow) and Shooting Star (supposedly climbing yellow), but I’m finding it quite a heavy, stiff plant, not conducive to climbing, so it’s more of a trailing specimen. The gold ones are proving delicious and vigorous this year – they must have enjoyed the fine weather and lots of sunshine.

All gardeners are desperate for new ways to ring the changes with courgettes by the end of summer, but at this stage I’m really enjoying rediscovering old favourites: courgette pasta with homemade pesto, courgette pancakes, courgette & lentil gratin and tangy summer vegetable salad to name but a few. There again, it’s always nice to try new recipes to add to the repertoire, so thought I’d share a recent discovery with you, as well as one old favourite that I’ve never got around to writing up for some reason, a courgette, feta & dill tart, with a filo pastry crust, so quick and easy to prepare for a relaxed Sunday lunch with guests. Of course, you can equally well make it with a shortcrust pastry case if you happen to have one lying around.

Courgette, Feta and Dill Tart – serves 6

Courgette, feta and dill tart

2 tbsp olive oil
4 medium courgettes, about 450g in weight, thinly sliced (even better if you have both gold and green)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 lemon, grated zest
3 large eggs
200g natural yogurt
100g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp fresh dill, chilled
1 pack filo pastry
30g butter, melted

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the sliced courgettes for about 10 minutes, turning as you go, until just starting to soften and turn golden. Add the garlic and capers and cook for another minute or so, then remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and chopped dill. Leave to cool.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then mix in the yogurt and crumbled feta. Season generously, then stir in the cooled courgette mixture.

Heat the oven to 180°C, and place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up, then prepare the pastry case. Grease a 23cm deep round tart tin (or use a 20 x 30 cm rectangular tin if you prefer). Take out the filo pastry, but cover the pile with a damp tea towel as you work to prevent it drying out. Place one sheet at a time in the tin and brush with melted butter. Place new sheets at an angle to the previous one, allowing the edges to overhang, until the tin is full and you have a pastry shell with at least 2-3 layers in all parts. You may not need the whole pack of filo.

Pour the courgette mixture into the pastry shell and place on the pre-heated baking tray. Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes until the filling is set and just turning golden. Leave to set for about 10 minutes before serving with a garden salad.

Also great served cold or warmed in the microwave the following day.

Along the same lines, I also experimented with a sourdough pizza bianca topped with green and yellow courgettes with very good results. Sourdough bread has been a revelation over the weeks of lockdown and I will dedicate a special post just to that one of these days, but for now I’ll just refer you to this recipe for pizza using sourdough discard: – you can thank me later. This recipe makes enough dough for two large pizzas, but I find you can either freeze half or leave in the fridge overnight and roll out the next day if you don’t want to cook both at once.

My topping, which you could just as easily try on a standard pizza dough base, uses 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp crème fraîche and brushed over the base. Top with two or three thinly sliced courgettes (again, two colours look pretty), a scattering of capers, a handful of pine nuts and seasoning, chopped dill or shredded basil and grated parmesan or Cheddar to taste, drizzled with olive oil before baking for 15-20 minutes. Yum!

Courgette pizza bianca

However, my discovery of the season so far has been Sarah Raven’s courgette balls with a spicy tomato and coconut sauce from her ‘Good, Good Food’ book. Can’t think why I’ve never tried them before! Not unlike Indian pakora and absolutely delicious – try them and see. They are quite time-consuming, so allow plenty of time, but well worth the initial faff.

Courgette Balls with Spiced Tomato & Coconut Sauce – serves 2

Courgette balls with spicy tomato sauce

500g courgettes
1/2 tsp salt
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 heaped tsp coconut oil
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb-size piece of root ginger, grated
I lime, grated zest and juice
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
50g gram flour
More coconut oil (to bake) or rapeseed/groundnut oil (to fry)


2 onions, chopped
1 heaped tsp coconut oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 red chilli, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
400ml tin of coconut milk
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

For the courgette balls, grate the courgettes and place in a colander set over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 minutes or so to allow the excess liquid to drain out. The salty liquid can be added to the sauce later, so don’t discard.

Gently fry the finely chopped onion in the coconut oil in a large frying pan until soft, but not brown – about 10 minutes. Add the chopped chilli, garlic and grated ginger and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lime zest and juice, pine nuts and fresh coriander.

Tip the courgettes into a clean tea towel and squeeze dry with your hands, draining excess liquid into the bowl. Mix the courgette with the onion and spice mix, then sprinkle in the gram flour and mix again. Chill in the fridge while you make the sauce.

For the sauce, fry the onions in the coconut oil for about 10 minutes, as before. Add the turmeric, cumin, chilli and ground coriander. Stir in the tinned tomatoes and the salty courgette liquid, then bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and simmer for about 15 minutes until reduced and a dipping consistency. Sprinkle in the garam masala and ground cumin seeds, season to taste and sprinkle with fresh coriander.

To make the balls, roll small handfuls of the courgette mixture into 16 table-tennis-sized balls and then either shallow-fry in coconut oil in a large frying pan for about 10 minutes or bake in the oven at 170°C on a greased baking sheet, drizzling with rapeseed or groundnut oil before baking. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn and crisp on the other side for a further 15 minutes. If your oven is hotter or cooler you may need to adjust these times, of course.

Serve with the sauce for dipping – and enjoy! The amount of sauce here will be a lot more than you need for two, but can easily be frozen for the next time.

Sweet pea mixed bouquet


Busy, busy, busy…

Blackcurrants and gooseberries

I’m only too aware that I’ve been very remiss about posting on my gardening blog over the past few locked down months. I can only blame pressures of work (and I know I’m very lucky to have been so busy, especially when so many colleagues have had nothing), family circumstances and now the busiest time in a gardener’s year: harvest time! This post in my translation blog gives a quick overview of what’s been going on in my life for those who don’t already follow it – and, one of these days, when I’ve more time, I promise I will catch up with lots of posts about my sourdough experiments and lockdown cooking/baking in general.

Harvest time

For now, a colleague on the Foodie Translators Facebook group asked me to share my recipe for cassis and I thought I might as well write it up here for future reference. Like many of my recipes, it comes from a yellowed newspaper cutting I’ve had in one of my recipe scrapbooks for years and never got round to making. The article author credits Jane Grigson (her Fruit Book), but I haven’t kept a note of who wrote the article – sorry! This year, with a great crop of blackcurrants, I decided to put it to the test. Warning: it’s a lengthy process, although not that much actual hands-on time, so make sure you allow enough time to complete. Perfect if you’re (still) working from home, juggling work, childcare and household tasks.

Cassis – makes 4-5 500-ml bottles

Cassis making

1kg blackcurrants
1 litre decent red wine
(I used an Exquisite collection Australian Shiraz from Aldi – sorry, France!)
about 1.5 kg sugar
about 750 ml brandy (or gin or vodka – your call)

Take the stalks off the blackcurrants and remove any leaves or squishy berries, then place in a large bowl. Pour over the red wine, cover with a tea towel and leave to steep for 48 hours.

Liquidise in a blender – you may need to do this in two batches due to the volume. Then tip into a jelly bag or straining cloth suspended over a large bowl and leave to drip overnight. (I use a jelly stand, bought as part of a Good Housekeeping offer over 35 years ago, comprising a preserving pan, long-handled wooden spoon, jam funnel, jelly stand and muslin jelly bag. Bar the pan (which came to a sticky end after an ill-fated encounter with plum ketchup a few years ago), I still have the rest – and they come out like clockwork every year. However, you can also strain through an old tea towel tied to the legs of an upturned kitchen stool or chair with a bowl beneath.) After straining, wring firmly to extract every last bit of juice. Discard the dry seeds and skins left in the bag – mine went straight to the compost heap.

Measure the resulting liquid, place in a preserving pan and add 1 kg sugar to each litre of liquid. Note the level. Place the pan over moderate heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then regulate the heat so that the temperature stays above blood temperature, but well below simmering point. Leave for about two hours, checking every so often to make sure it isn’t simmering too fast. At the end of the two hours, the level should have reduced slightly and the liquid will be slightly syrupy. Leave to cool.

Finally, stir in the brandy, or spirit of your choice (again I used an own-brand cognac from Aldi) in the ratio of 1 part brandy to 3 parts of syrup. Pour into sterilised glass bottles through a standard funnel. It should keep for years – if you can!

Cassis bottles

Mine didn’t have to wait long for its first use: the very next day, in fact. Perfect added to Nigel Slater’s divine cross between a Tiramisu and blackcurrant trifle (adapted recipe here) and equally good added to raspberry sorbet – I’ve used Chambord raspberry liqueur before, but I think this was even better.



Blackcurrant trifle with borage flowers

Incidentally, I’ve been so glad I treated myself to an electric ice cream maker last year. I’ve been wondering about buying one for years. They are expensive, at around £200 to £250 for the Cuisinart model I have, but if you grow a lot of your own fruit, they are worth every penny. They give a much better result than the old Magimix model I had before, where you freeze the bowl overnight, plus you can use them again immediately you’ve made one batch should you feel so inclined. You can also use them straight from the ice cream maker, although I find they are better frozen for at least a couple of hours for best results. The texture (and taste, of course) are quite simply sublime – I’m so glad I took the plunge with birthday money from my parents at the end of last year.

Raspberry sorbet new

Interestingly, the instructions also say (and you feel for the Masterchef contestants once you read this) that the mixture should ideally be left in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours (or even overnight) before churning, which certainly seems to give good results every time for me. It’s no hassle, as I blend the berries on my return from the allotment in the evening, then leave the mixture in the fridge overnight to churn in the morning (about 45 minutes) as I have my breakfast. No wonder the hapless contestants sometimes end up with a puddle of would-be ice cream rather than a perfect quenelle….

June flowers

Gardening as distraction therapy?


I’m sure I’m not the only one finding my garden a wonderful haven to take my mind off the dreadful news all around us. Gardening is such a distraction: even though many of the jobs we have to do, especially at this time of year, are fairly basic, they require us to concentrate on what we’re doing and live for the moment. The perfect definition of mindfulness – and thank goodness for that! Today I’ve mowed my lawn (second cut of the year, on a slightly lower setting than last week’s on a still slightly boggy lawn), painted a fence panel between me and my neighbour having taken out an overgrown pyracantha this winter, finished dead-heading my hydrangeas and sowed my first batch of seeds in the propagator for the season to come: tomatoes Sungold, Black Cherry and Tigerella, all old favourites, plus a new variety recommended by an American colleague, Rosella. I also sowed Hungarian Black chillis, sweet peppers California Wonder and Corno di Torro Rosso, aubergines Long Purple and Prosperosa, sweet basil, leeks Musselburgh, Tornado and Below-Zero, and flowers including lobelia Sapphire, Cobaea (cup and saucer plant) and marigold Strawberry Blonde. Despite the chilly wind, it was a delightful way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in the garden – and my mind didn’t turn to coronavirus even once!

Painted fence

Tomorrow’s task is to spread last year’s compost – well, strictly speaking, the year before’s compost as I have two compost bins, filled in rotation. When I empty the one that’s now ready, I’ll stop adding things to the current bin and leave that to rot down for a year before it gets spread around the garden in its turn. Distributing it is hard work, but eminently satisfying. This year I intend to use most of it to extend a flower bed in the front garden near my Katy apple tree. The lawn that’s currently there always goes brown in summer and has root suckers from my neighbour’s beautiful but vigorous ornamental cherry, which probably take up all the available water in the dry season. Better by far to abandon the lawn and grow plants that won’t mind being dry for part of the year – any excuse to grow more plants! Although sourcing them may be a challenge with the garden centres being closed at present….

First PSB

Then I can turn my attention to the allotment, which we’re also allowed to visit and tend despite the current restrictions. Such a blessing to have green space to enjoy and keep busy in – and we may possibly be even more grateful than usual for the extra fresh food if the crisis continues into the summer, although I fervently hope it doesn’t. I’m currently picking purple-sprouting broccoli, flowering sprout leaves, leeks, spinach, chard and parsley – not bad for the hungry gap! Plus rhubarb just coming (I’ve had a couple of small pickings so far) and the early tulips about to come into flower to cut for the house. Just what we need to brighten us all up. I’ve been picking posies of camellias to keep me going until mine start, but they go over very quickly inside – better than being caught by the frost outside, though!

Jempsons tulips, hellebores and daphne
Bought tulips from my local independent supermarket eked out with daphne and hellebores from the garden

Parsnips – the unsung heroes of the winter vegetable plot


Parsnips are a very underrated vegetable in my opinion; indeed, many of our fellow European countries regard parsnips as animal fodder, not fit for human consumption. They clearly haven’t enjoyed the delights of a roasted parsnip with their Sunday lunch or a mound of creamy mashed carrot and parsnip accompanying virtually any meat, but particularly the slightly gamey cuts of venison or lamb. I wouldn’t be without them, in the kitchen or in the plot. They are in the ground a long time, admittedly, but they also come into their own in the dog days of winter/early spring, when there are very slim pickings to be had from the kitchen garden. What’s more, you can leave them in the ground all winter and dig them up as you require – unless you live in a very cold area, when you might struggle to break through the frozen soil in the winter months! In these cases, you can lift your root crops and store in sand in a cool place like a garage or shed. Temperate Britain doesn’t usually warrant such extreme measures, though.

I usually sow my parsnips in late March/early April, depending on soil temperature. If you can remember to cover your chosen bed with enviromesh or fleece for a few weeks beforehand, that can give you a start too. Just weed the bed and rake thoroughly to a fine tilth, removing any stones; don’t add manure as this can cause root crops to fork, reducing your crop significantly. I usually plant parsnips in a dedicated root crop bed as part of my 4-year rotation scheme, sowing three rows of parsnips along with successional sowings of carrots and beetroot. Parsnips take a long time to germinate – up to three weeks – so if they don’t germinate for whatever reason, it’s often too late to plant more. Germination isn’t normally an issue, however – I rarely have a complete crop failure with them, unlike carrot seedlings which can get annihilated by slugs overnight if you’re not careful. Interplanting the rows of parsnips with fast-cropping radish can be a good idea, as it reminds you that the parsnips are there, but the radish can be done and dusted by the time the parsnips are big enough to need the space. As they start to grow, thin out as you would with any root crop, and remember to water them occasionally in dry weather. Then just (!) wait until after the first frosts to enjoy them in their full glory. The cold turns the starch into sugar, enhancing the taste in the process. You can eat the thinnings or young roots earlier on, but they taste very mild at that stage. Parsnips may be huge, they may be scabby, but, after you’ve peeled and chopped them, the flesh is always delicious. You’ll be glad you made the effort in December when you can serve your own roast parsnips with your Christmas dinner.

Christmas parsnips

Most of the parsnip recipes I’ve shared here have been side dishes such as the unctuous Parsnip & Leek Dauphinoise or parsnip scones based on my trusty Cheese & Apple Scone recipe. I’ve always struggled to find a good parsnip soup recipe, as they can be quite cloying unless you add a lot of spice – and then the spice can overpower the taste of parsnip. However, I recently discovered a delicious parsnip soup recipe in an American cookbook called Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden. As ever, I’ve tweaked it based on my years of soup-making experience, but what gave this one the edge was the delicious, zingy garnish, which really lifted the soup to a whole other level. Try it and see!

Parsnip Soup – serves 4-6

Parsnip soup

Olive oil (or butter if you prefer)
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
500g parsnips, peeled and chopped (you can add potato if you don’t have enough parsnips)
2-3 celery sticks, chopped (reserve the leaves for the garnish)
1 litre vegetable stock
Freshly ground nutmeg
1 bay leaf
Milk (or water) to taste

50g currants (or sultanas)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
50g sunflower seeds, toasted (or pine nuts, almonds or cashews if you prefer)
handful parsley, chopped (or coriander)
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
1 tsp lemon juice (or lime, if that’s what you have!)
1/4 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (to taste)
olive oil

Add a glug of olive oil (or a knob of butter) to a large soup pan and add the chopped onions, garlic, celery and parsnips. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until starting to soften. Add the freshly ground nutmeg, seasoning and stock, bring to the boil and cook for 20-30 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and purée with a stick blender, or transfer to a liquidiser and blend until smooth. Return to the pan if necessary and adjust the consistency by adding milk or water if too thick. Reheat to serving temperature.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the garnish: put the currants or sultanas in a small bowl and pour over the red wine vinegar. Allow to soak for at least 15 minutes. Then toss the currants and their soaking liquid, toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley (or coriander) and reserved celery leaves, lemon zest and juice, finely chopped chilli and seasoning together. Add a glug of olive oil to finish and apply to your soup with a decorative flourish!

My final parsnip recipe comes from the same book, heavily adapted to adjust the US cup measurements for an English audience! It’s a parsnippy take on a carrot cake and quite delectable: lusciously soft, yet decadently crumbly at the same time. Even confirmed parsnip haters won’t detect its presence…

Parsnip, Date & Hazelnut Loaf

Parsnip loaf, slice

250g parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g chopped dates
100g hazelnuts, coarsely ground in a food processor
150g caster sugar
50g dark brown Muscovado sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
150 ml olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest

For the icing:
100g icing sugar, sifted
Juice and grated zest of half a lemon, setting aside some zest for the cake

Grease and line the base of a standard loaf tin. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C fan (Gas 3).

Put the chopped parsnips into a food processor and process until finely chopped, or grate if you prefer. Place the sifted flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Add the chopped dates and finely chopped hazelnuts (you can chop these by hand if you haven’t got a food processor, but they have a habit of rolling all over the board because they’re round!).

Place the eggs, caster and Muscovado sugar, vanilla extract and 1 tsp lemon zest in a large stand mixer, or beat with a hand mixer. Add the finely chopped parsnips, then gradually pour in the olive oil until well mixed. Fold the parsnip mixture into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated.

Transfer to the prepared loaf tin and cook in the pre-heated oven for 1 hr to 1 hr 10 minutes. This will vary considerably depending on the age/texture of your parsnips and your oven temperature. The original recipe said 35 to 45 minutes, but mine was nowhere near ready by that time (homegrown parsnips perhaps?) and took nearer 1 hr 10 minutes. Do keep checking with a skewer (it should come out clean when inserted in the centre of the loaf) and touch with a finger to make sure it springs back to the touch, rather than still looking soft.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemon glaze by mixing the sifted icing sugar with the remaining lemon zest and a tbsp or so of lemon juice until the consistency is thick enough to coat the cake. You can add more icing sugar or lemon juice to adjust if necessary. Set aside.

Cool the loaf in the tin for 15 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a cooling rack, place greaseproof paper beneath (to catch drips) and pour over the glaze, making sure it covers the top surface and runs prettily down the sides.

You could, of course, go down the traditional carrot cake route and top with cream cheese frosting, but bear in mind that frosting won’t keep as long out of the fridge if it’s not all going to be eaten straightaway.

I found the glazed version keeps for a good week in the tin – the perfect afternoon treat!

Parsnip, date and hazelnut loaf

Thoughts from a gardener/cook…

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