All posts by clairecoxtranslations

Garden memories of my mother

Yet another six months have passed since I last wrote here, I’m horrified, but not really surprised, to see. Followers of my other (language) blog will be aware that I’ve been through a challenging time since arriving back from my epic trip to Canada and New England last autumn. Sadly, my mum passed away very suddenly three weeks after I got back from the States and the last few months have been a whirl of funeral arrangements, estate admin, sorting out care for my father and letting out their house. Probably just as well this has all taken place over the winter months so I’ve not had to feel too guilty about neglecting the garden/allotment…

Daffodils Wadhurst 2022

I still miss my mum every day – all those times you think “I must tell Mum about the daphne/magnolia/tulips…”. My great love of gardening undoubtedly comes from my parents and Mum and I were very much on the same wavelength. When we lived up in Scotland and they were in Sussex, she once sent me a parcel containing a brief note which simply said “The daffodils are out!”, much to my amusement. She’s never been allowed to live it down! I like to think she’s still watching down on me and my garden from above and hope she’s not too critical when I inadvertently plant the wrong colours together (yellow and pink – what are you thinking?!). Their gardener keeps texting to me to comment that my mum definitely wouldn’t approve of how the new tenants have cut the lawn/pruned the hedge. When I had them in to tidy up the garden prior to letting, she shook her head when I suggested she put all the leaves in the compost heap if the brown garden waste bin was full (oh, Claire – your mum would be horrified; never put leaves in the compost bin!). I wouldn’t normally either, but needs must…. The only thing we did disagree on was planting distances: Mum liked to see soil around her plants, whereas I’m a great believer in planting things cheek by jowl so there’s no room for weeds!

When clearing their house to let earlier this year, I brought home all the pots of tulips my parents had had last spring, but hadn’t had time to plant out in the garden. I’m thrilled that the early tulips (Mary Ann and Quebec) have made such a fabulous show in my front garden, despite still being in the same pots. My sister took the Sarah Raven tulip collection I’d bought Mum for her birthday in September but she never had chance to plant. I’m hoping they’ll produce a lovely display in the next few weeks too.

Mum's early tulips

The new tenants are apparently keen gardeners, but I did divide a couple of plants that I haven’t already got in my garden as keepsakes. Many of my perennials are divisions of plants in my parents’ garden (and vice versa!) so I had lots of their plants already, but Geranium nodosum Whiteleaf and Hemerocallis Trahlyta (an unusual smoky purple) had unaccountably passed me by. I also brought home some more plants already in pots: hostas aplenty to pass on to friends, rose Diamond Eyes (a lovely dark purple Persian rose, a gift for their Diamond wedding anniversary three years ago) and a pink version of Hydrangea Annabelle that had never done well – probably because my father insisted on planting it far too close to the traditional Annabelle, where it got swamped by the latter’s vigorous growth every year! These are all now safely installed in my garden and I’m sure they’ll provide yet more happy memories of my mum over the years.

Not everything has taken, unfortunately: I lost my beautiful Daphne odora aureomarginata over the course of last year (a gift from my parents originally). It had spread to some 4ft high x 6ft across, tucked in beneath the Katy apple tree in the front garden and every spring it used to fill the garden with scent from February to April. Mum and Dad had two in their garden for some reason, so I decided to lift one, which wasn’t in an ideal place anyway, and transplanted it to replace mine. Sadly, it doesn’t look very happy and, while I’m not giving up on it just yet, I may have to accept that it hasn’t worked. Daphnes are notoriously difficult to move, but, as my mum would say, you don’t know if you don’t try. I still have a huge Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill in the back garden pumping out the fragrance from December to March, thank goodness.

Daphne aureomarginata Dec 2015

My memories of my mum are inextricably linked with gardens: my childhood garden with its hybrid tea roses like Superstar, Peace and Queen Elizabeth, the damson tree that never flowered until my father accidentally set fire to it, the rose petal ‘perfume’ we used to make assiduously every summer (strange how it never endured more than a day!), the delicious sticks of rhubarb,  eaten sitting on the back doorstep, dipped into a saucer of sugar… Then there was the time my little sister decided to ‘help’ by cutting off all the heads of the red hot pokers (kniphofias) and planting them in a row. I can still remember my father’s expression to this day! (Almost as cross as mine when a neighbour’s daughter decided to pick all my drumstick primulas when we lived in the Peak District….).

Then there were those glorious garden visits on days out: Bodnant and Portmeirion in North Wales, Dunham Massey and Tatton Park closer to home. We visited Alton Towers not for the rollercoasters, but for the splendid pleasure gardens with their Japanese pagodas and majestic rhododendrons. The gardens my parents helped us create over the years: they were always happy to don their gardening boots and gloves and get stuck in whenever there was a new garden to design. And there have been plenty, from our first modest patch in Warrington New Town to a two-acre woodland paradise in the West of Scotland. Mum always had her secateurs at the ready. When my son had his first proper garden at a converted barn near Eynsford in Kent, Mum and Dad were there too, eager to get stuck in, despite both being in their 80s by then.

Mum and dad at the Barn April 2017

They made beautiful gardens of their own too, of course: stately conifers and rockeries when we lived in Cheshire and, a delightful streamside garden in Essex for their brief year there. My father maintains his knees are worn-out because of all the patios he’s made over the years! When they moved to Sussex, they transformed an overgrown quarter-acre woodland plot with fabulous full-height rhododendrons into a garden that won a prize in the local Gardens in Bloom competition. They were thrilled and bought a shiny new hose reel with their prize money – but Mum swore she would never do it again as it was far too much hard work (from someone who was out in the garden from dawn ’til dusk anyway!).

Mum and Dad garden competition winners 1988

Once my father retired at the age of 58, they got involved with helping out at an annual plant sale for a local hospice, raising thousands of pounds every year. They loved dividing their plants (hostas, hemerocallis, geums and geraniums in particular) and passing on their years of experience and plant knowledge to prospective purchasers. I couldn’t resist joining the club when I moved down South further down the line, as did my uncle and aunt from Winchester – it became a real family affair! Gardeners love to share, whether it’s plants, seed or tips. It seemed a fitting tribute to Mum to ask for donations in lieu of flowers to the very same hospice, St. Catherine’s in East Grinstead, when Mum passed away.

Mum and dad Wisley Sept 2020

One of Mum’s favourite gardens (and we’re very spoiled for choice down here on the Sussex/Surrey/Kent borders) is the RHS flagship garden at Wisley. I have so many happy memories of visits there over the years, with my boys when they were children, and latterly keeping to the main paths as Dad’s mobility deteriorated. After Mum’s funeral at the end of November, I had to drop my younger son and family off at Heathrow for their flight back to the US and drove past Wisley en route. On my way back, feeling empty and sad after a difficult week, I decided on the spur of the moment to call in at Wisley, just off the M25, for coffee and a stroll as it was such a sunny day. I did think it might feel strange being there on my own, but in fact it was an immensely comforting experience, retracing old paths and remembering happier times. I was accompanied by birds throughout – a robin, then a particularly bright chaffinch and a very chirpy magpie. I didn’t feel alone.


Mum had a long and mainly very happy life, with gardening a central theme running throughout. She told tales of her childhood wartime garden, where her father grew veg and thought nothing of wringing chicken’s necks for the pot, not unusual in those days. My first rhubarb plant originally came from my Grandad’s garden – apple rhubarb, he called it. She loved her gardening books and quizzes, and her encyclopaedic knowledge of garden plants, Latin names included, is definitely responsible for my own. She even had the advantage of having studied Latin at school, something I was never able to do, much to my chagrin, as they stopped Latin a few years before I reached the requisite age.

Rest in peace, Mum – you’ve taught me much of what I know about gardens and so much more besides. Miss you…

Mum and Leo in the conservatory

Adventures in North America

I know, I know, shocking to realise it’s been six months since I last posted here. It’s been one of those years: busy with work, plus my father has been unwell again, so I’ve spent a lot of time helping out at my parents’ and somehow time has just flown.

A, L, E and C at Quechee wedding venue

Then, joy of joys, I’ve finally managed to fly out to New England to visit my son, daughter-in-law and adorable new granddaughter Emma, not forgetting granddog Callie, another pandemic new arrival. I may have had to come via a circuitous route, spending 14 days in Canada first to get around the fact that most Europeans, vaccinated or otherwise, are still not allowed to enter the US if they’ve been in the Schengen zone, UK or Ireland for the past 14 days. In the event, my cousin and his wife kindly invited me to stay with them in North Vancouver and house-sit for part of the time they were away. They were the most generous hosts, taking me to see some jaw-droppingly beautiful sites up and around the North Shore and beyond, but I also enjoyed exploring British Columbia myself via the excellent public transport system. My unexpected diversion definitely turned into an adventure in its own right. I was absolutely blown away by the stunning scenery and Vancouver is a very special city, surrounded by water and mountains, beautiful gardens, friendly people and a great vibe.

Needless to say, I had to do a PCR test before flying – so stressful even though I knew I was double-vaccinated, had really not been anywhere and had been very careful when mixing with other people. The 24-hour wait before my results felt like one of the longest in my life! I think I was more nervous than before any exam I’ve ever taken! Waiting at Border Control on arrival in Canada was another anxious wait, just in case some part of my vaccination or test certification didn’t pass muster… Then I had to do it all over again before flying to the US, although this time I only needed a rapid antigen test, with results available after 20 (still anxious) minutes. I didn’t need proof of vaccination to get into the US, but I was still worried as the Canadian border officials hadn’t stamped my passport on arrival. In the event, although there was a huge queue for US Border Control in Vancouver Airport, it was primarily down to there being only two staff on duty and a lot of people travelling that day. I’m sure many people will have missed their flights as a result, but thankfully I’d allowed plenty of time and the friendly officer didn’t even ask how long I’d been in Canada! Mission accomplished – what a relief! I don’t think either my son or I stopped smiling or talking for the entire drive home after he picked me up at Boston Airport….


Now I’ve been here a week or so, I’ve finally got to know my beautiful granddaughter and it’s so nice to see their house and garden for real, as opposed to through the Facetime lens. They bought their first home in Beverly, on Boston’s North Shore, last summer, at the height of the pandemic, and have done amazingly well with the garden, sowing salvias, zinnias, echinaceas and many other flowers from seed and planting dahlias as tubers to superb effect, even if the varied colour mix they’d hoped for turned out to be just purple and crimson!

Of course, I couldn’t be here and not get stuck into cooking, gardening and flower arranging as well as cuddling the baby! They’ve had excellent crops of tomatoes (no blight here, unlike at home where my crop has been devastated this year), mounds of courgettes (zucchini!) and a fair number of aubergines (or should I say eggplants?!), both purple and white. Cue for me to make roast tomato soup, baba ghanoush and aubergine parmigiana, plus adapt a vegan zucchini soup recipe I found online to include lemon and thyme to great effect. The courgette soups I’ve tried in the past have often been fairly insipid, but the use of coconut oil in this one and the tang added by the lemon and thyme made it extremely good.

Courgette, Lemon & Thyme Soup
serves 4-6 (depending on portion size!)


1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (or use a generous bunch of spring onions / couple of leeks)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Handful of fresh thyme, tied with string (remember to remove when blending)
1-2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
1 kg courgettes, roughly chopped (you can even use courgettes that have turned into sneaky marrows!)
1 litre vegetable stock (or chicken stock if that’s all you have)
1 can coconut milk
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves to serve

Warm the olive oil, then add the chopped onion and garlic and cook gently until softened. Add the chopped courgettes, bay leaves, bunch of thyme and continue to cook gently for 15 minutes or so. Add the stock and coconut milk, plus the juice and zest of half a lemon, and season to taste. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes, covered. Allow to cool slightly, then remove thyme and bay leaves before blending with a stick blender until smooth. If you prefer, transfer to a liquidiser goblet to blend, but it shouldn’t need sieving either way – unless, like me, you forget to remove the thyme first time round and need to sieve to make sure you remove any string/stems!.

The soup was perfect served with the cheese scones my cousin’s wife made for me in Vancouver – light and fluffy, plus very easy to make. The original recipe came from a guest house they stayed in where the hostess insisted on receiving a recipe in exchange for this one, but it’s well worth the barter – not that any cook worth his/her salt ever minds trading recipes! They can also be made without the cheese and served with jam for afternoon tea or breakfast. My cousin and his son raved about them lightly toasted for breakfast, and I’m sure that a dollop of clotted cream wouldn’t go amiss with jam either….

Sally’s Canadian Scones – makes 8


2 cups plain/all-purpose flour (330g)
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter (110g – 1 stick!)
1 cup milk or 1/2 milk & orange juice
2 tbsp grated Parmesan (or Cheddar), optional
1 tsp thyme leaves (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 425 F/200 C/Gas 6.
Sift or mix first three ingredients. Rub in butter. Add milk/juice and knead gently. Roll or pat out to desired thickness. Cut into 8 squares. Bake for approx. 12-15 mins. Cool and split before buttering to serve.

If making the cheese version, add cheese to the dry ingredients or brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with cheese before baking.


One year on…

Facebook reminded me this week that it’s a year since I made my first sourdough loaf at the height of last year’s first lockdown: that’s one whole year that I’ve managed to keep my starter going, which is quite some achievement. I still have it bubbling away (in the fridge most of the time), even though I don’t make quite as many loaves as I did when I had a house full last year. Sourdough buns and sourdough pizza, both with discard (also still in a pot in the fridge and stirred/topped up regularly) are probably my most frequent bakes, although I probably make a loaf at least once a month, then put one half in the freezer for later.

Last weekend, inspired by an old friend’s Instagram post, I experimented with a new sourdough bun recipe, loosely based on a Waitrose recipe for blueberry and pistachio buns, but adapted to my standard sourdough bun recipe and inevitably tweaked to suit my own taste. I felt they needed a lot more cooking than the original recipe suggested, but I took a couple round to a friend that same morning and they absolutely loved them. Blueberries. marzipan and pistachios really are a match made in heaven…

So here’s what I did:

Blueberry, Marzipan & Pistachio Sourdough Buns (makes 9)

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
1 tsp vanilla essence

For the filling:
200g marzipan (homemade if you have it)
200g fresh blueberries
50-75g chopped pistachios (hazelnuts or flaked almonds also work well)

Icing sugar to dust

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, or a stand mixer if you have one. 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.

When the dough has proved, knock down on a floured surface and gently roll/pat out to a rectangle measuring approx. 45 cm x 25 cm (or 18″ x 10″ for those of you, like me, who are old enough to still prefer to visualise measurements in Imperial units!).

Brush the dough with water (or you can use an egg wash if you prefer). Crumble or finely chop the marzipan, then sprinkle over the dough, leaving a bare strip along one edge for ease of sealing. Add the blueberries and chopped nuts. 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 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 and line a 20cm square deep cake tin with baking parchment (I like to use a loose-bottomed one for ease of removal). Carefully place the buns in the tin in rows of three.  You may find that blueberries and nuts drop out, but just sprinkle them back over the top. 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 for an hour and a half or prove in the fridge overnight for a long, slow rise. Perfect if you’re looking to serve them warm for breakfast – and who wouldn’t?!

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!). Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 5 and cook the buns on the middle shelf for 40-45 mins or until golden brown. The original recipe suggested cooking for 30 minutes at 200°C, but this definitely wouldn’t have been long enough in my oven and the higher temperature would have risked burning the tops before they were cooked – everyone’s oven is different so use your discretion.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin, then dust with sifted icing sugar. Eat and enjoy! They freeze well too – just reheat to serve.

Tulips (Sanne) and wallflowers

A Hint of Spice

Snowdrops Feb 2021

What a grey month February can be. After last week’s cold snap and crisp snow, the return to grey skies, constant rain and muddy walks has hit us hard. The snowdrops are out, admittedly, but many other bulbs are still hidden under their carpet of mulch, not daring to show their faces until they are guaranteed some sun. No camellias out in my garden either, although I have seen some early specimens on my brief drives to the shops. The seeds ordered last month have come, but I don’t sow anything until late March, even in a propagator as they’ll be ready to pot on far sooner than I’ll have indoor space for. And so we soldier on in this greyest of grey times, no family parties to cheer us up, or even the prospect of summer holidays to look forward to – not with any certainty at any rate.

It’s down to food to bring a hint of warming spice into our lives at the moment. I don’t always feel like a full-blown curry, but a gently spiced dish can be just what the doctor ordered to tempt a jaded palate or introduce new vigour into winter food. Even the allotment’s spoils are thin on the ground after the snow: the cavolo nero is all but finished and the purple sprouting broccoli not yet showing its delicate flower shoots, although I have been eyeing up its large and lustrous leaves as a possible substitute for kale. I still have leeks, and the spinach and chard should produce more leaves as the weather warms up, along with the parsley in a final rush before it runs to seed in spring. Fortunately, I still have bags of cooking apples in the cool of the garage and homegrown chillis in the freezer: adding these whole to a bag in the freezer as they ripen has been a revelation. They freeze beautifully and can be taken out of the freezer and chopped straightaway for peak freshness – must be all that capsaicin!

One of my favourite lightly spiced dishes is a lamb keema biryani, made with minced meat (keema). I’ve been making this for years and it’s always been a family favourite. It even freezes well too, contrary to expectations, so the fact that it always seems to make more than you think is actually a boon. I forget where the original recipe came from, but I’ve adapted it over the years and it’s absolutely delicious. It even uses a spoonful of bought curry paste for ease, something I rarely use, but if you buy a good one (I like Patak’s), it shouldn’t weigh on your cook’s conscience. You could equally well make your own paste, of course.

Lamb Keema Biryani – serves 4-6

Lamb biryani

350g basmati rice, well rinsed
750ml hot vegetable stock
2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1-2 red chillis, finely chopped
2 tbsp medium curry paste (I like Patak’s Rogan Josh or Tikka Masala)
750g minced lamb
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 generous tbsp tomato purée
125g frozen peas
2 tsp garam masala
25g butter

To garnish:
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into wedges)
fresh coriander, chopped
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

Place the rice, stock and turmeric in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in the oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish, then add the finely chopped chilli, red pepper and lamb. Cook until the lamb has browned, then mix in the curry paste, canned tomatoes, tomato purée and seasoning. Cook, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes. Stir in frozen peas and garam masala. While the keema is cooking, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6.

At this point, the original recipe suggests layering the rice and mince mixture in a separate ovenproof dish, but I tend to just stir in the rice into the lamb and cook in the same dish. It tastes just the same and saves on washing up! Dot with butter and cover with a lid or foil. Place in the hot oven and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Serve steaming hot garnished with hard-boiled eggs, halved cherry tomatoes and fresh coriander. Perfect for warming the cockles of your heart on a miserable February day.

Another lightly spiced recipe I came across recently was recommended by a colleague when we were discussing lentils in my favourite foodie group online. The link she passed on was from The Guardian and contained two recipes from Anna Jones, a cook I hadn’t encountered before, but have added to my must-read list after this delicious recipe for a cauliflower & lentil pie. I’m reproducing it here for ease of reference, but I haven’t changed much from the original, other than reducing the quantity of cauliflower to one rather than two – and there was still plenty for three hungry people (or one for me and two in the freezer in my case!). I didn’t use curry leaves either as I hadn’t got any and am not even sure where I’d get them from in a pandemic in deepest rural Sussex. A couple of bay leaves worked nicely instead, although perhaps without the curry kick of the original. (Note to self: Waitrose stocks them, so may add them to my next online order for future experimentation!)

Cauliflower & Puy Lentil Pie – serves 3-4

Cauliflower and Puy lentil pie

Olive oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
A couple of fresh bay leaves (or curry leaves if you can get them)
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks celery, sliced (or use bulb fennel if you have it)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp of coriander seeds,
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated (I keep mine in the freezer so it’s easier to grate)
1 x 400g tin of Puy or green lentils, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g can of tomatoes
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
1 tbsp tomato purée
4 dates, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 lemon, grated zest and juice
Salt and pepper
1 large cauliflower, leaves removed
1 tbsp coconut oil

Add the mustard seeds to a decent glug of olive oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish, then cook for a couple of minutes until the mustard seeds pop. Take the pan off the heat, reserve half the seeds, then put the pan with the remaining seeds back on the heat.

Add the onions, carrots and celery (or fennel) to the pan and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until soft and starting to turn golden brown. Crush the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add to the pan with the garlic and ginger. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes to release the flavour of the spices.

Add the drained lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, tomato purée, stock powder and rinse out the tomato tin with hot water from the kettle before adding that too. Roughly chop the dates and add to the pan with the chopped chilli and the zest of half the lemon. Season with salt and pepper and simmer on a medium heat for 25 minutes, or until thick, rich and flavourful. Add the lemon juice at this stage.

Meanwhile, make the cauliflower mash. Break the cauliflower into florets and place in the top of a steamer. Pour boiling water into the bottom and steam until the cauliflower is tender – about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain well, then allow to cool before blitzing in a food processor with the coconut oil and seasoning. When the mash is silky smooth, fold in the reserved mustard seeds and the remaining lemon zest.

 You can either leave the lentil mixture in your casserole or transfer to an ovenproof pie dish and top with the mash, depending on the size of your dish. Swirl the mash into pointy peaks with a knife, then bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the tips of the mash are golden and the lentil mixture is piping hot and bubbling.

Portion cauliflower and lentil pie

My final lightly spiced recipe is almost a blend of the other two, mixing rice and cauliflower in a Middle Eastern-inspired cauliflower pilaf. This was on the BBC Good Food recipe calendar in January of this year and tantalised me every day I walked past until I ultimately succumbed and made it. Definitely as good as it looked. Like the lentil & cauliflower pie, this is a vegan dish, but no less delicious for all that – and an excellent one to have in your repertoire when we’re allowed to entertain again. I’m not keen on raw onion, so didn’t pickle the onion as suggested in the original recipe, but roasted it with the cauliflower instead.

Harissa Cauliflower Pilaf – serves 2-3

Cauliflower pilaf

150g basmati rice
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp harissa paste
1 garlic clove , crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium cauliflower , broken into florets
pinch of turmeric (or saffron, if you have it)
1 bay leaf
350ml hot vegetable stock
50g sultanas
50g flaked almonds , toasted
fresh coriander
Half a 400g can chickpeas , drained and rinsed
50g pomegranate seeds (optional – I used fresh cranberries, but cherry tomatoes would work too)

Rinse the rice well, then leave to soak in cold water for 1 hr.

Heat the oven to 180°C fan/gas 6. Whisk 1 tbsp harissa, garlic and oil in a large bowl, then add the cauliflower and toss to coat in the sauce. Season, then tip into a roasting tin and roast for 30 mins until tender and golden, turning halfway through.

Meanwhile, mix the turmeric or saffron, bay leaf, sugar, stock and 1 tbsp harissa in a small pan over a low heat to keep warm while the cauliflower and onion roast.

Remove the cauliflower from the oven, tip into a dish and add the lemon juice and zest. Drain the rice and tip into the roasting tin. Pour over the infused stock, and mix well. Stir in the sultanas, half the almonds, half the coriander, chickpeas, and half the cauliflower. Cover the tin with a double layer of foil, sealing well, then bake for 30 mins until the rice is tender and the stock has been absorbed.

Fluff up the rice with a fork, then fold in the remaining cauliflower (this creates a contrast of cauliflower textures). Scatter over the remaining coriander and toasted almonds, and garnish with pomegranate seeds or whatever you’re using to add colour and extra zing.

Iris Katharine Hodgkin

Blood oranges are not the only fruit… but boy, are they good

Blood orange juice_cropped

I may have mentioned before that blood oranges are one of my favourite seasonal treats. They remind me of family skiing holidays in the Italian Alps, where they always seemed available earlier than in the UK. In colours ranging from deepest ruby to a delicate blush-red tinge, they are tarter than their standard orange relatives, yet deliciously tangy, sweet and juicy at the same time. I love them for my wake-up breakfast juice and eaten segment by segment, just as they are – grab a tissue as they are definitely more likely to drip down your arm than a normal orange!

In recent years, shops seem to have shied away from the old term “blood orange”, opting instead for blush oranges or ruby orange when used in juice, or even Sanguinello, from their Sicilian name. Why anyone could possibly be offended by the connection with blood, I’m really not sure. Perhaps for the same reason that you never hear talk of oxblood red shoes these days, although they were always my favourites as a little girl growing up in the 1960s… Blood oranges are rich in anthocyanins, which accounts for their dark colouration and superfood status – as if we needed any further excuse to eat them during their oh-so-short season.

Blood orange, apple and fennel salad

Baking/cooking with blood oranges is as rewarding as you might think. Blood orange sorbet is divine, and a cake made with blood oranges, polenta and ground almonds just perfect. I recently threw together a colourful winter salad with blood orange, red cabbage, fennel, rocket, apple and parsley, all set off by a sharply citrussy vinaigrette. Last weekend I even experimented with a delectable recipe for blood orange & coconut panna cotta. They also add another dimension to tray-baked chicken dishes. Heaven on a plate…

My first recipe is one of Jamie Oliver’s, a deliciously succulent orange & polenta cake, perfect for gluten-intolerant visitors (in normal times, of course), as it contains no flour. I’ve tweaked the glaze as blood oranges are often smaller than standard oranges. It was the perfect consistency even though I used less liquid than he recommends.

Blood Orange & Polenta Cake – serves 12

Blood orange and polenta cake

200g butter
200g demerara sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
200g ground almonds
100g polenta
zest of 2 blood oranges (keep the juice for the syrup)
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tsp baking powder (gluten-free if necessary)


5 cardamom pods, peeled and crushed
zest of 2 blood oranges
200 ml blood orange juice (I used the juice of 5 blood oranges)
2 tsp orange blossom water
125 g vanilla sugar

Toasted coconut flakes (or flaked almonds) to garnish

Preheat the oven to 150°C (fan)/gas mark 3, then grease and base line a 24cm springform cake tin.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and creamy. It will look gritty as demerara sugar is very coarse, but it will dissolve when baked! Gradually beat in the eggs, then stir in the vanilla essence, orange zest and orange blossom water. Fold in the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the surface is golden brown, just firm to the touch, and the cake is coming away slightly from the sides of the tin. Remove the tin from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, make the syrup: put the crushed cardamom pods, orange zest, juice, vanilla sugar and orange blossom water into a small pan. Simmer over a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until reduced and thickened to a syrupy consistency. Set aside to cool slightly.

Prick the cake all over with a skewer while still in the tin. Place on a plate to catch any juice, then drizzle the syrup evenly all over. Remove from the tin and serve just warm with crème fraiche, whipped cream, or just as it is with a cup of tea and a contented sigh. Keeps well in a cool place for up to a week and is equally good cold.

Blood orange and polenta cake slice

I’m very partial to panna cotta and when this Sarah Raven recipe came up in my e-mail inbox last week, I just had to try it. I ended up tweaking it quite a bit, as I felt there was far too much gelatine in the original, but I was very happy with the end result. The tray-baked chicken recipe I mentioned is in the same article, should you want to try that too. I also used the lighter coconut milk as that’s what came in my online shopping order (sigh), instead of the full-fat milk I’d ordered. I adjusted the fat content by adding some cream to the yogurt in the original, but you can play around as you like, using all yogurt, or a mix of the two.

Blood Orange & Coconut Panna Cotta – serves 6

Blood orange and coconut panna cotta


140g granulated sugar

Panna cotta:

4 gelatine leaves
400ml tin coconut milk (ideally full fat, not the light version)
2 tbsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 tsp orange blossom water
zest of two blood oranges
150ml natural yogurt
200ml double cream

To serve:

4 blood oranges, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp orange blossom water

Start by making the caramel: lightly grease six ramekin dishes and place on a tray or baking sheet. Put the sugar and 5 tbsp water into a small pan over a low heat. Stir slowly until the sugar has dissolved, then allow the syrup to boil without stirring. Take off the heat when the syrup starts to turn brown, taking care not to burn it. Pour into the prepared ramekins and set aside.

Now make the panna cotta: soak the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water. While they are soaking, scrape/pour the coconut milk into a pan over a low heat, adding the sugar, vanilla paste, orange blossom water and orange zest. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is gently simmering. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine, add to the pan and stir until dissolved. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly, then stir in the cream and yogurt.

Pass the mixture through a sieve into a jug to make sure it is silky smooth, then pour carefully into the ramekins. When cool, transfer to the fridge to set overnight.

To serve, loosen the sides of each panna cotta with a small knife. Pour boiling water into a small shallow bowl and sit each ramekin into the hot water for a few seconds to help loosen the caramel. Put a small serving dish on top of each one, turn upside down and turn out. Serve with the blood orange slices.

Finally for today, my sorbet recipe is loosely based (sugar content halved!) on the original recipe book that came with my first ice cream maker, a Magimix with a freeze-ahead bowl. It served me well for 25 years or so until I finally succumbed a few years ago and treated myself to a fully automatic Cuisinart ice cream maker. No more finding space for the bowl in my well-stocked upright freezer, especially given that frost-free freezers may look just as large, but have a smaller internal capacity due to the frost-free workings and extra insulation. You can still make the sorbet in a container by taking out every hour or so and mixing in the ice crystals as the juice sets, of course.

Blood Orange Sorbet

Blood orange sorbet_Feb 2021

125 g granulated sugar
450 ml water
Zest of two blood oranges
300 ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice (I needed 7 oranges)
Juice of one lime (or lemon)
1 egg white, whisked to soft peaks

Place the sugar, water and orange zest into a pan over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then turn up the heat and boil for 10-12 minutes, or until it reduces and you have a syrupy mixture. Allow to cool.

When cool, stir in the orange and lime juice, and chill the mixture for a couple of hours in the fridge. Then pour into your ice cream maker and set the timer for 30-40 mins. Check every so often to check whether it is starting to set. Add the whisked egg white at this point and continue churning for another 10 minutes. You may need to mix in any residual egg white by hand when turning into a freezer container. Alternatively, freeze in a container, breaking up the ice crystals every hour or so until it starts to firm up, and fold in the egg white with the final mixing.


Leo and the snowmen_Feb 2021

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


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

Spiced Apple & Marzipan Buns:

Year another variation on the theme that I just had to share. Proceed as above, but add 1 tsp ground cinnamon to the basic dough mix. Then grate 200g marzipan (homemade if possible) over the rolled-out dough (I had some left over from the Christmas Stollen making). Grate 1 large cooking apple or 2 sharp eating apples into a bowl, then mix in the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp mixed spice, 50g raisins and 25g flaked almonds (or all raisins if you prefer) . Distribute evenly over the marzipan, then roll up from a long edge to a long, narrow roll. Cut into 10 equal-sized pices using a dough scraper, then arange them with their cut side facing upwards in a greased 23cm round cake tin. Cover and prove in the fridge overnight, then cook at 180°C as above for 30-40 minutes or until deep golden. Dust with icing sugar and eat warm with great glee.

Spiced apple & marzipan rolls


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