Category Archives: recipe books

French onion soup with a bit of oomph!

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Yes I know, I slightly burnt my toast…but it didn’t matter with all that Gruyere and once it has soaked into the soup…anyway they were my last slices of bread!

I’m fast becoming the queen of soup! What with running pop-up soup kitchens at festivals and events, making soup for lunches (The Green Man crew love their lunch time soup) and quite a lot of soup recipes under my belt, I guess I have to admit, I really like soup. And so do the kids which is an important factor in the equation. If the kids will eat it, its quick, nutritious and tasty it’s on my menu list.

French onion soup is an absolute favourite but for the past few years I’ve avoided making it. This is of course because the kids won’t eat it, but now things are changing. The teen has discovered she likes onions and the boy will eat almost anything these days so I’ve joyfully rediscovered this glorious decadent,  peasant dish.

I’m not sure  ‘glorious’  ‘decadent’ and ‘peasant’ should go together in the same sentence. For all the fancy ingredients and recipes out there its the old ones, the ones made by the poorest, with the fewest ingredients that satisfy the most. The basis of this soup is just onion and stock, but I’ve chucked in a bit of butter, vermouth and some Gruyère which but takes this recipe from its firmly peasant origins to something quite luxurious.

Recipes for French onion soup vary from cook to cook but at its base is a simple formula; slowly cooked and lightly caramelised onions, good quality beef stock, wine and finished with a cheesy topped crouton. Inevitably chefs add their own touch, Felicity Cloake follows Anthony Bourdains lead adding balsamic vinegar plus a splash of brandy, the latter I approve of strongly (I usually add a dash of cognac to mine) but as the soup already has a sweetly savoury flavour, the vinegar adds little in my opinion. Delia Smith adds sugar to her French onion to help the onions caramelise. She recommends cooking in a very hot casserole, stirring until the edges turn dark, which should take all of 6 minutes! The cooking time is a huge underestimation, while sugar is wholly unneccessary because the onions are sweet enough to caramlise. As to the high heat, well slow is best, probably around 30 minutes slowly.

Another pet hate is adding flour to soup which both Nigel Slater and Raymond Blanc do. Having often made soup for friends with a range of allergies and dietary issues, I like to keep mine gluten-free and I don’t feel it lacks depth for doing so.

Like Delia I like to add a bit of garlic and as Felicity does, a bit of thyme. I would guess that these are fairly authentic additions so I don’t feel like I’m straying too far from the peasant origins.

The choice of stock is a hard one if you are vegetarian. Most of the recipes I’ve come across favour beef stock for its richness, although there are those that use chicken stock. The most important thing is that its good stock. Even if you choose to use a vegetable stock use one of those stock pots and not powdered varieties, they are a cut above and used by chefs, so that has to say something.  I wouldn’t recommend the Raymond Blanc approach to just use water. Having given it a go once I can vouch that it produces a fairly insipid soup and I prefer something with big banging flavours. The beef stock certainly gives it that.

Alcohol is crucial. Most chefs stick to dry white wine although Felicity uses cider, which is an option. I would go with the wine option, although once when I had no wine and couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop I tried it out with dry vermouth (my usual addition to any risotto) which is after all begins life as wine and to my relief it worked well, adding a somewhat deeper, heavier flavour. I balanced it by using slightly less than recipes using wine ask for, but it was a perfectly adequate substitution working along with so many other intense flavours. I rather liked it.

The other essential to component to a French onion soup is the cheese topped crouton. I wouldn’t argue with any recipe that calls for toasted baton, rubbed with a clove of garlic and topped with Gruyère. No substitutions will suffice, although the night I made my soup I was using house leftovers (as usual) and only had a crusty loaf from which I cut thick slices toasted them and cut them in half.

Of course as I already mentioned I also favour the addition of Cognac at the end, as does Lindsey Bareham and Simon Hopkinson in The Prawn Cocktail Years. It adds that last bit of oomph that the original peasant version may well have lacked.

French onion soup recipe: Serves four.

800g white onions

50g butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 fat cloves garlic finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

250ml vermouth (or 300ml white wine)

700ml beef stock

salt and pepper to taste

A glug of cognac

8 slices from a baguette

a clove of garlic

about 100g Gruyère, grated.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Peel and finely chop the garlic.

Add the butter and olive oil to a large saucepan and when melted and just beginning to bubble add the onions. Allow to cook gently (for about 30 minutes) until very soft. Add the garlic and thyme and keep cooking, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn. Cook until a nice golden caramel colour. They will begin to stick to the bottom a bit at this point but keep stirring until they turn a nice golden brown.

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Add the vermouth and stir scraping any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan then add the stock. Allow to cook on a low heat for about 50 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, toast the baguette on both sides then rub with the garlic clove. Grate the cheese.

When cooked add the glug of cognac and taste for seasoning. Ladle into warm heatproof bowls, top with the croutons and sprinkle over the cheese. Place under the grill until the cheese begins to melt then serve.



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Filed under family budget cooking, French food, home cooking, local produce, recipe books, Recipes, reviews, Welsh produce

Adore Naturals Christmas ebook and other stories

Hello hello!! Yes I’m still here despite going AWOL for a while. Looking at the blog the other day I realised I hadn’t written or posted for a whole month! That’s a long time without writing for me.

There are significant reasons for my sluggishness. Writers block is not something to be forced away, or overcome easily especially when life is already full to the point of bursting.  I guess that’s the point; life has been at the point of bursting and so many other things have taken precedence over the writing (which I love, but it doesn’t pay the bills!!).

So, its cooking, eating, attending food events and training that have kept me busy, while the stormy seas of life raged around me. I know I don’t do things by halves, but this month I’ve experienced more than my fair share of major life changing events. These are the things that have taken over my thoughts and time. Separation from my partner after twenty years has been a traumatic wrench along with, a house move and a new chapter in my life as a chef.

Although for now supper club is on hold, I’ve suddenly found myself back in a restaurant after more than twenty years this time as pastry chef at The Oyster Catcher training academy, a role that also involves cooking for the restaurant,  training and mentoring the cadets.  I’ve also been all over the place with cookery demo’s…Conwy, Portmeirion, Abergavenny which also meant little time spent in my new house.

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One piece of writing I did manage to concentrate on was a commission by Adore Naturals. Their festive guide to a natural, stress free Christmas includes ideas for making home-made gifts, family craft projects, health tips, perfect presents and my vegetarian Christmas dinner menu. The book went ‘live’ a while ago and you can access it here if you are looking for last minute inspiration


The dessert recipe was recently trialled on the specials menu at The Oyster Catcher and was a bit of a hit!

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Beetroot tatin with goats cheese and balsamic glaze from the Adore Christmas ebook and it can be found here

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A rather melted mincemeat and marzipan parfait…studio lights and all that with orange and cinnamon syrup

For now I’m sad to say that supper club is having a break, although I am still cooking private dinners at different locations and am available for private bookings. Don’t worry though, it’s not a permanent break…just to give me enough time to take a breather while I regroup, review where I’m going with business and work out our next move for 2014. Exciting ideas are flying about…collaborations, new venues and opportunities….all I can say is have a great Christmas and watch this space closely!

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Filed under British food, Christmas, Christmas menu's, Food festival, home cooking, in the press, local produce, recipe books, Recipes

Perl Las, flame roasted peppers with charred little gem (an Ethicurian delight)

Ok this is my very last post about The Ethicurean cookbook.

My mother informed me that my last post was rather harsh….I didn’t mean it like that. I was simply being my usual brutally honest self, saying out loud the things that popped into my head while I was reading the book. I have probably managed to alienate them with my comments forever, but I still like the book, want to visit the restaurant and have already latched on to recipes that are fast becoming favourites.

I’ve found that it’s the simpler ones that make the best everyday suppers. They take little time to rustle up after a busy day at work and make the perfect summer dish. What I crave is something light on a hot summers evening and we’ve had enough warm sunny weather to justify my pushing the light summery suppers!

This salad is perfect paired with a glass of cold crisp Pinot Grigio or Prosecco and is also elegant enough for a dinner party / supper club starter (I’ve made it several times I like it so much).

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To serve four people as a main, or 6 to 8 as a starter:

2 romero peppers

250g new potatoes

6 to 8 little gem lettuces (one or two per person, cut in half lengthways)

Rapeseed oil (I just invested in some Cotswold Gold, which is just the best)

Salad dressing:

100g rapeseed oil

60g cider vinegar

8g dijon mustard

Coriander flower heads (I used boarge and chive flowers to decorate as coriander flowers were not available)

crushed coriander seeds (1 teaspoon) plus a little ground coriander

Perl Las sauce:

100g Perl Las

50g Creme fraiche

sea salt and pepper

To flame grill the peppers: either cook on a barbecue, under a hot grill, or directly over the flame of a gas cooker using a pair of tongs to turn, until the skin is blackened all over. Place peppers in a sealed plastic bag for about 10 minutes. This helps the skin come away from the flesh.

When cool rub the skin from the peppers removing all the black bits, cut in half and scoop out all the seeds then either tear the peppers into pieces or chop roughly.

Cook the new potatoes in their skin in a pan of salted water. They should be just tender and offer a bit of resistance when pierced with a knife. Very fresh potatoes will cook quicker (10 minutes or so) than ones that have been in the supermarket a while (15 minutes).

Make the blue cheese dressing by putting the chopped cheese, creme fraiche and seasoning into a blender and whizzing up (or mix together in a bowl with a fork).

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat. Brush the little gems with some rapeseed oil and place in the griddle pan. Leave until some chargrill lines form and then turn. Make sure you don’t over cook them. I sprinkled some salt and pepper, crushed coriander seed and ground coriander over the little gems at this point.

Put some mixed leaf salad on to each plate with the charred little gem, scatter with potatoes and dress with the salad dressing. Add some of the flame roasted peppers and dot with the blue cheese dressing. Finish with a scatter of edible flowers and enjoy!

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The Ethicurean cookbook…review and dinner

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I don’t usually base a whole supper club menu on a recipe book however this dinner was an exception. Back in May I wrote a recipe review for the Food Travel Website. It came from The Ethicurean Cookbook but as it was  a blind tasting I didn’t know that when I cooked it. I wasn’t that impressed with my particular recipe, although in its defense I struggled to find some of the listed ingredients and components of the dish were in different sections of the book (bits I didn’t have). After the reviews were published a copy of the book came winging its way over to me.

Now that I have had time to read through the book and get a feel for it I understand better the ethos, ingredients and techniques used by the team at The Epicurean. I like their approach and their commitment to traditional British production methods, artisan ingredients and seasonal produce. As a book for an experimental, confident cook or chef its great but it’s not for the faint hearted. There are some things I don’t like about the book (which I will return to later) but I really wanted to try out a few of the other recipes and wanted to know what other people thought of them.

I chose dishes that really caught my eye. Negroni cocktails made with gin, vermouth (my vermouth is not yet ready, but I’m going to give it a go soon. The process is a complicated one and takes time) and Campari bitters nearly blew my head off

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Next came a choice of salad…either fresh crab, new potato and paprika mayonnaise salad, or for those not eating seafood, chargrilled little gem lettuce, blue cheese, roasted peppers and edible flowers. I’d already made the latter for a previous dinner so knew it worked well. Both tasted delicious. Added edible herb flowers were visually very attractive and eye-catching, and except for a little more cider vinegar in the home-made smoked paprika mayonnaise and the use of Perl Las instead of Blue Vinney in the salad we stuck faithfully to the recipe and the flavours were spot on. Our favourite bits were the pickled carrots (in the crab salad) and the Perl Las dressing.

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Edible flowers and bronze fennel from the garden

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Perl Las and flame roasted peppers with charred little gem (page 178)

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Crab salad with New Potatoes, pickled carrots and smoked paprika mayonnaise (p.96)

…our least favourite bits were picking over the crabs which is laborious job and a painful one, it left my hands covered in tiny little nicks and scratches (and I didn’t even do most of the work; Mark my new assistant chef did it!).

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removing crab meat from the shells…a slow, laborious process

For the main course I chose a slow cooked spring lamb. The recipe in the book called for ‘salt-marsh lamb’ which was hard to find here in Wales (there are salt marshes where sheep graze so that is something I can look in to later) so I settled on shoulders of spring Welsh lamb served with simple sides of buttery new potatoes, new season carrots, foraged marsh samphire, new season broad beans and wilted chard and kale. The skin of the lamb was pierced with a sharp knife and anchovies inserted into the slits producing a salty (but not at all fishy) flavour. The book told me that it would give the lamb an ‘umami’ flavour and it wasn’t wrong! The lamb was then browned in a pan, placed on a bed of vegetables and laced with plenty of Vermouth before being slow roasted in the oven for five hours.

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Early morning, low tide, off for a spot of foraging

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Tiny fronds of marsh samphire

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Tender, buttery soft shoulder of Welsh lamb with wilted chard and kale, marsh samphire and baby broad beans

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family served main course

The samphire, lightly pan-fried with baby broad beans, was our highlight…along with the lamb that simply fell apart and melted in the mouth. We hardly changed the recipe; just opting for kale and chard rather than the ‘Tidal Greens’ mentioned in the recipe and it all worked so well together.

A friend offered me a glut of rhubarb earlier this week. Never one to turn down free produce I rushed over to collect, visit, drink tea, play with her new baby and then head off with a boot full of swag. This collection helped with my decision-making on what to make for dessert. The book offers an ‘alternative’ version of rhubarb and custard; a cross between a jelly and a terrine and the most time-consuming of all the dishes on the menu. It involved steaming rhubarb for an hour, straining juice, making custard, adding lots of gelatine, layering and refrigerating for hours in between layers. The recipe irritated both Mark and I with over complex directions but in the end we were very pleased with the results (as were our supper club guests). The only thing we tinkered with was the compote; it was very tart so we added a little more sugar, but not too much as the terrine was very sweet and the sharpness counteracted this beautifully.

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rhubarb and custard (p. 124) a pleasingly striking result

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served with a sharp and tangy rhubarb compote.

As a final treat I made the chocolate and salt caramel brownie recipe again, this time cut into bite size pieces to go with tea and coffee at the end of the meal. I didn’t follow their method in the book as I have my own tried and tested way of making brownies, but the recipe was the same. I actually find these get better the day after making them (and for the next two or three subsequent days after) becoming denser and squidgier as they are left.

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Chocolate and salt caramel brownies (p. 127)

As a parting shot these were a winner.

So, back to the book. All the recipes were well received by our table full of supper club guests, but we did need to tinker with a couple until they tasted as we wanted. The success of the dinner has geared me up to try more from the book as initially I was rather put off by the sometimes overcomplicated instructions.

Let me leave you with a few thoughts (positive and negative) of my own…

  • I like the Ethicurean ethos; they clearly care a great deal about what they are doing but at times it verges on pretentious. I like an understated, down to earth approach and unfortunately they do at times come across as posh, well-healed, over zealous, well-meaning hippies.
  • The book is not for the novice cook, or someone looking for a quick recipe. The unnecessarily complex instructions do at times make things seem much harder to do than they actually are! Both Mark and I who are chefs struggled to make head or tail of some of their instructions, often simplifying things between us.
  • Having said this I also love the way they explain and use old, underused techniques (like clamping) and discuss traditions (wassailing) and the histories of some of the produce they use (look out for little snippets at the bottom of the page).
  • Although I whole-heartedly support and love their focus on seasonal, local produce (I’m well-known for banging on endlessly about Welsh produce), the recipes are very county-specific…i.e. based around the Bristol area and they don’t always offer advice on what the best alternative ingredients are should their suggestions not be available.
  • I see the book as more of a show case for the restaurant, and while there is nothing wrong with that (I’d really like to visit) it may mean the book sadly has a somewhat limited audience.


Filed under British food, in the press, local produce, photography, recipe books, reviews, secret supper

Recipe review for The Food Travel Company: The Ethicurean Cookbook


The Food Travel Company recently asked me to test a recipe taken from a newly released cookbook. I had no idea what the book was since it was a blind testing, but I quickly worked out from the list of rather unusual ingredients that whoever the book’s author was they must live in or around the Bristol area.  It transpired that the recipe was from The Ethicurean Cookbook.

Opened a little over two years ago by four friends, The Ethicurean restaurant specialises in the use of seasonal ingredients that are ethically and locally sourced. This commitment can also be seen  in the newly released book. Awarded the Observer Food Monthly Best Ethical Restaurant in 2011, closely followed by a Michelin Bib Gourmand award this year the restaurant is doing very well for itself. The Ethicurean Cookbook follows the team over the course of a year as they create new dishes paying attention to seasonality and the freshness of ingredients. The book presents 120 recipes that represent the best of British using produce grown literally metres from their kitchen door.

I was first asked to cook Goat Meatballs, Mash, Lovage Butter and Mustard Greens but found it impossible to source many of the ingredients so my next attempt was ‘Pearl Barley with Old Demdike and St. George’s Mushroom’. Again it was not possible to find all the ingredients so I had to adapt and make do. To read my full review go to The Food Travel Company blog including the substitutions I made. In the meantime I look forward to trying more recipes from the book; I see it as something of a challenge attempting to source all the amazing ingredients!

As an addendum to the review; other tasters were less impressed with this dish. I think was in part due to a general dislike for pearl barley as a grain, although one taster suggested that although the dish was not unpleasant, it wasn’t something they would choose to eat again.



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Perfect tagliatelle: recipe

I’ve never had much luck with my pasta making exploits. A couple of attempts at making tagliatelle, plus a few goes at making ravioli have left me slightly frustrated and wondering what I was doing wrong. My pasta either ended up soggy and claggy, a sticky mess…or too thick and a bit rubbery. Even when I was given a pasta machine last Christmas I couldn’t get it right so I’d given it up as a bad job.

My attempts at pasta making have left me frustrated, but I’m not easily beaten, especially by a lump of dough so I got reading. All the pasta making tips, videos and recipes I could find. They all made it look too damn easy, when I knew it wasn’t!! But then I found a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty which sounded really simple. None of this “roll out fifty times at each thickness on the pasta machine” just simple clear instructions that left even me feeling confident I could do it correctly.

And I was right! The pasta was perfect. OK my cutting was a little clumsy but with a bit more practise I’m sure I will improve. But still I was proud of my efforts as I gazed lovingly at the delicate sunshine coloured ribbons with occasional deep red saffron flecks, hanging out to dry.

Unusually for me I stuck to the recipe like glue, I wanted to feel safe and secure and although the pasta didn’t look perfect, the taste and consistency were spot on, which is the thing that counts as far as I’m concerned. I was wise to stick to the recipe because now I feel totally confident with my pasta making and maybe next time I can experiment a bit.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s saffron tagliatelle:

2 teaspoons saffron threads

4 tablespoons boiling water

4 medium free range eggs

4 tablespoons olive oil

440g or so of OO pasta flour (Doves farm or Shipton Mill are good)

1 teaspoon turmeric

Place the saffron threads in a bowl and pour over the hot water. Leave to stand for 10 minutes or more to infuse. Add the eggs and the oil and beat together.

Place flour and turmeric in a food processor or large bowl and slowly add the egg mixture until a crumbly dough is formed. If you need more oil or flour just add small amounts at a time. You don’t want your dough to be too dry or too sticky.

Dust work surface or board with flour and knead the dough into a ball and continue kneading until you have a silky soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill or at least 30 minutes….but you can leave it in the fridge for up to a day.

When you are ready to make your pasta chop the dough into 3 pieces wrapping the other two back up so they don’t dry out. Dust with a little flour and with a rolling-pin flatten the piece into a thinnish rectangle. If you are using a pasta machine set the roller to the widest setting and pass the dough through. Keep doing this narrowing the setting each time and making sure the dough stays dusted with flour to avoid it going sticky.  I didn’t narrow the machine to its thinnest setting as it seemed too thin for tagliatelle. Fold the pasta sheet twice along its length making sure it is still dusted with flour and cut into long strips. Either hang to dry over a pasta hanger as I did or over the back of a chair. If you don’t have a pasta machine you can still achieve the desired thickness by some persistent rolling on a well floured board, all a machine does, is speed up the process.

Repeat this process with the other two portions of dough. This recipe made enough pasta to feed the four of us…with a little left over so I guess it would probably feed five to six people. Leave the pasta for about 10 minutes before cooking in plenty of boiling salted water. It only needs a few minutes and then mix with a sauce of your choice.

I used another Ottolenghi recipe, not entirely sure whether the kids would like it, but I wanted to try it anyway.

500g button mushrooms

200ml white wine

2 bay leaves

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1 teaspoon caster sugar

250ml double cream

zest of two unwaxed lemons

2 cloves garlic

a good handful of finely chopped parsley

40g dried breadcrumbs (Panko Japanese breadcrumbs are the best and easily found in oriental supermarkets)

400g purple sprouting broccoli

Saute the sliced mushrooms in plenty of olive oil until just starting to turn brown. Add wine, bay leaves, thyme and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer; the wine needs to reduce to about a third of the original amount. Stir in the cream, season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Mix together lemon zest, garlic and parsley. Keep to one side. In a hot dry pan toast the breadcrumbs until golden brown. Leave to cool slightly before mixing with the lemon mixture.

Trim the broccoli and slice any extra think pieces in half. Blanch for a couple of minutes in boiling water then drain. Cook the pasta in boiling water for a couple of minutes and while that is cooking mix the broccoli into the mushroom and cream mixture.

Drain the pasta and mix into the creamy sauce adding a bit of the cooking liquid if it seems too thick. Divide between warmed plates and sprinkle over the breadcrumb mixture and serve.

The verdict? Well I will give you a quote from the teen…

“Mum it’s really nice…it tastes like it’s from a restaurant”.

High praise indeed coming from two kids that apparently hate mushrooms. That Ottolenghi knows his stuff 😉

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Mattar paneer: recipe

It’s funny how many variations there are of this simple indian vegetarian favourite, a mixture of fried paneer cheese, peas and tomatoes with spices. I found three totally different recipes just in the books I received at Christmas! It all gets a bit confusing when you are wondering which to try or what might work best.

I’ve made mattar paneer for years and the first recipe (and still my favourite) I ever used was designer Jocasta Innes’s version published in The Sunday Times Complete Cook Book edited by Arabella Boxer. Published in 1983 it was one of the first recipe books I was ever given ( at the tender age of 17) and it remains often used and a firm favourite (although I do sometimes tinker with the recipes and add or substitute things) as you can see by the picture of my slightly grubby and well-thumbed original.

As I made this the other night I also had Niamh Shields version in Comfort & Spice open at the same time…just to compare her Muttar Paneer recipe with my favourite.

One thing I liked about Shields instructions for making paneer cheese was her ability to make it sound very simple, which it really is.  Innes’s recipe tells you to start making it two days in advance, but you don’t have to and over time I realised this, having experimented with the process myself. Shields obviously discovered the same as she tells her readers, it can all be done in an hour.

The rest of Jocasta Innes’s recipe has stayed with me, although I have modified the process a little. It was a favourite when I was vegetarian and has become a family favourite now.

Jocasta Innes...back in the 80's...designer and bohemian, author of lots of cooking on a budget books

For the paneer:

2 and a half litres full cream milk (it must be full cream don’t try it with low-fat), juice of one lemon.

A large piece of clean muslin

Although Innes also added a small tub of natural yogurt this isn’t totally necessary, it worked just as well with just the lemon juice.

Put the milk in a large pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. It doesn’t take long for the curds to separate from the whey. Put a colander over a large bowl and line it with the muslin then pour in the curds and whey. Save the whey as you will need some of it later on. The muslin can then be tied up around the curds and then tied around a kitchen tap to continue draining. Leave to drain in this way for about half to three-quarters of an hour. Then fold the muslin around the cheese, put back in the colander and put a plate on top with something heavy. Press flat for half an hour. When you unwrap you will be left with a perfect pat of cheese.

For the mattar:

2 red or white onions finely chopped, 2 large cloves of garlic, a thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 green chilli finely chopped, a tin of chopped tomatoes, 250g frozen peas (or fresh if they are in season) , vegetable oil, pinch of sugar.

In a pestle and mortar (or spice grinder) grind the coriander, cumin and a pinch of sea salt. Add roughly chopped garlic and ginger and chilli and pulverize until you have a think paste, add turmeric and mix that in with a small tea-cup of the reserved whey. You should have a think paste/base to the sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the chopped onion. Fry gently until soft but not brown. Add spice paste and cook for a  minute or two to release the aroma of the spices stirring so it doesn’t stick. Add another tea-cup of whey and the tinned tomatoes and bring to the boil. We like plenty of sauce so if it looks as though it may become too dry add another cup of whey.

Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes then add the peas, a pinch of sugar and another cup of why if needed. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. At this point you can take off the heat until the cheese is ready.

Heat vegetable oil in a heavy pan and when sizzling add the cubes of paneer cheese. Fry until golden brown turning with a slotted spoon. You may need to do this in two batches.

Once cooked add to the mattar mixture and return to the heat. Again if it looks dry add another cup full of whey. Stir and simmer for another 10 minutes so that the cheese (which is naturally quite bland) absorbs some of the spice flavours in the dish. Check the seasoning and serve.

Both Jocasta and Niamh serve their dish with a simple salad. I usually throw together some cucumber, tomato, red onion and peppers ( dressed with some lemon, ginger and garlic) and warm some indian bread or if you prefer you can cook some basmati rice with turmeric, saffron, some lemon and a spoonful of ghee or butter. Enjoy!

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A few of my Christmas books

Being an avid foodie its inevitable that friends and family buy me kitchen inspired pressies. Recipe books are of course a favourite. My shelves groan with the weight of them to the point that i’m convinced they will one day collapse!

In amongst this years array of foodie gifts (jams, sweets, biscuits, pate all lovingly made by hand by various friends plus a random bizarre boobie shaped double lemon squeezer) was a decent scattering of new cook books.

One of these, Niamh Shields Comfort and Spice, has been top of my wish list since it came out. Of course as a food blogger I was naturally curious; she was a serious overachiever last year with the release of her book, an evening standard column, a multitude of foodie doors opened to her and the Observer Food Blogger of the year award. Niamh is what the rest of us hard-working bloggers aspire to (and if I’m honest are just a wee bit jealous of).

I was as you may guess pretty happy to unwrap this book on Christmas morning and I spent a good chunk of the day pouring over it. I love her warm, open and natural writing style and her recipes are inspirational and simple to follow. I would recommend this for the novice cook that wants to branch out into more adventurous waters or the accomplished cook looking for new ideas. Many of the recipes remind me of dishes I have cooked in the past or cook regularly at home (chicken and chorizo pie, lentil shepherds pie, flower salads), but there are also plenty of new ideas that I’m keen to try, especially if her spatchcocked chicken with gremolata (which we had for tea last night) was anything to go by. Another must try is her now famous chocolate mousse with honeycomb, just to satisfy my sweet tooth.

The Bonne maman seasonal cookbook was less impressive for me, although the desserts look absolutely heavenly and the first recipe that caught my eye was for lavender buttermilk scones, which I’m looking forward to giving a try. I’m not sure it is deserving of the ‘seasonal’ tag (tomato and orange soup as a spring dish?) and the liberal use of jam in everything from sweet to savoury dishes doesn’t totally appeal, but it has provided some inspiration already. I decided to try adding a dessertspoonful of home-made blackcurrant jam to my version of baked beans instead of a bit of sugar (to counteract the acidity you sometimes get with tinned tomatoes) and it worked amazingly well!!

I’m always on the look out for authentic indian cook books and The Three Sisters Indian cookbook offers a simple guide to some of the more well-known dishes (chicken Rhogan josh, murgh, korma). There’s nothing like proper, well cooked indian food made with really good ingredients, its a million miles away from the kind you find at the local takeaway! For me the winning recipes are the indian breads and poori. I love making bread and this gives good tips on how to create home-made naan, chapatis, poori and wraps. I’m also looking forward to trying out some of the traditional desserts. I’ve loved indian sweets since my uncle Alan came back from travelling the hippy trail in India when I was a small child! He regularly brought us gulab jamun and barfi which were so appealing (probably where my love of sweet things originated!)

The last book Raymond Blancs Kitchen Secrets is definitely for the more accomplished and braver cook. I’ve been a fan of his since visiting what was then Petit Blanc (now Brasserie Blanc) in Oxford. Sadly my budget has never allowed me to visit Le Manoir…but that would be my dream!!

The book from his BBC series is full of simple classic recipes (moules mariniere, watercress soup) that sit next to those that are distinctly more complex (exotic fruit ravioli, apricot cassolette) some are more detailed than you might find in the average cook book, at times using techniques the home cook might find difficult to pull off. I sometimes think that cook books by chefs are written in a way only other chefs understand and they make the simplest of cooking processes seem extremely complex.

I have already tried out a couple of the recipes from the book with mixed success; the pollack fillet grenobloise with pomme puree was delicious and chicken with morels (which I substituted for wild mushrooms) with sherry wine sauce which was lovely too, but I had less success with the chicken liver parfait despite being a seasoned cook.

There are more I have yet to try such as the wild duck with blackberry sauce and celeriac puree and the desserts definitely deserve a go even if they do sound a bit complicated! I won’t be put off although others might. I wouldn’t say its a book to use to cook tea from though!!

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