Chicory, walnut and gorgonzola lasagne recipe, plus more food styling for Guardian Cook



It’s been a really busy start to the year, writing and food styling while also trying to think of ways to promote A Lot On Her Plate the cookbook, which is coming out in April, now just around the corner! Watch this space for information on up and coming supper clubs and events to coincide with the launch, I am VERY excited. Don’t forget you can pre-order your copy here on amazon already. Also, I’m doing a spring supper above Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in London. All the proceeds from the night go to the fab Jamie Oliver Food Foundation which helps young people from tough backgrounds get into professional cooking. I’m going to cook smoked trout with griddled cucumber and borage flowers, my homestyle porchetta and lemon meringue possets – all recipes from the book! You can book tickets here.


One of my biggest working highlights so far this year was doing another food styling shoot for the fantastic Guardian Cook supplement. I styled four of its Ten of the Best features, covering offal, blue cheese, barley and pomegranate, cooking some gorgeous recipes for the features and also for the cover of the supplement. The photographer I was working with was the talented Kim Lightbody (all pictures in this post were taken by Kim), whose natural style and use of daylight worked really well with my own approach – I like to keep things as real as possible!


I was really pleased with the way the images turned out, and, along with Jenny Brown who was assisting me, really enjoyed getting stuck into the dishes after Kim had captured them so beautifully. Standouts included Martyn Moody’s pomegranate posset; Florence Knight’s barley ice cream with roasted grapes; Tom Parker Bowls’ ox cheek pie and Damin Clisby’s purple sprouting brocolli, stichleton and caper bruschetta.



I was also so pleased that a couple of my own brand new recipes got to feature – the first time for my recipes in a national newspaper supplement! It was such a buzz to see them in print – I did one for tongue and sauce gribiche, one for lamb shanks with preserved lemon and barley, and this recipe for my delicious chicory, walnut and gorgonzola lasagne. It’s adapted from the radicchio lasagne in the book, and makes the most of the meatiness of chicory, which is so good once caramelised with butter and thyme and then cloaked in a creamy gorgonzola bechamel. I was so chuffed when it got a shout out in Ed Smith’s brilliant Supplemental blog on Rocket and Squash.

Chicory, walnut and gorgonzola lasagne


Serves 4-6
40g unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp extra for cooking the chicory
40g plain flour
600ml milk
Nutmeg, for grating
Salt and black pepper
200g gorgonzola, cubed
Extra virgin olive oil
4 heads of chicory (a mixture of white and red works well), hard white cores removed, cut into eight segments lengthways
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
1 tbsp lemon juice
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
80g walnuts, roughly chopped
9 sheets of lasagne egg pasta
150g mozzarella, sliced
20g parmesan, grated

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease a baking tin.

2 Melt the butter in a nonstick saucepan over a medium heat, then add the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute or so, until the roux is starting to bubble. Turn the heat down and add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly, whisking out any lumps. Once you have a smooth sauce, cook it for about 10 more minutes, whisking constantly while it thickens.

3 Add a good grating of nutmeg to the sauce and a generous grind of black pepper, then add the gorgonzola. Melt it over the heat for a couple of minutes, whisking until you have a smooth, creamy bechamel. Season with salt to taste.

4 Heat 1 tbsp of the butter and the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and add most of the thyme leaves, the chicory segments, cut‑side down – depending on the size of your pan, you may need to work in batches. Cook for a few minutes, until the underside of the chicory is starting to caramelise, and then flip them over. Grind over some black pepper, add the lemon juice and parsley, and cook for a further five minutes, until glossy and caramelised on each side.

5 Lay some of the chicory on the base of the greased baking tin, packing it quite tightly, and scatter over some of the walnuts, then top with some of the gorgonzola bechamel. Lie three of the pasta sheets on top and repeat the process with the remaining ingredients for two more layers. Top the last layer of pasta with mozzarella and parmesan and the remaining thyme leaves.

6 Bake in the oven for 30–40 minutes until golden on top and the bechamel is bubbling up the sides of the tin. Allow it to rest for about 10 minutes and then serve.

Chicken courgetti ‘ramen’ with soy-marinated dippy egg


After the calorific onslaught of Christmas (I like gravy on my gravy), I always try to make a few healthy, lighter choices when I can in January. To kick-start this I’ll try and cook up a batch of really good chicken stock that I can dip into for fast, warming and nutritious low-cal soups as-and-when. The other day I was craving a chicken noodle soup, but was holed up in the house with no noodles, so I turned to the next best thing, courgetti (I use this julienne peeler which is really cheap) – and made a lovely soup with some poached chicken breast and soy-marinated dippy egg. It’s actually sort of cross between a pho and a ramen, but the dippy egg is so integral to ramen I thought I’d go with the ‘ramen’ tag. It got a lot of likes on instagram when I posted the pic, so I thought I’d share the method with you here.

For the dippy egg:
1 egg
150ml soy sauce or tamari

For the courgetti
1 small courgette, peeled into noodles
juice of 1/2 a lime

For the soup
1 cup of chicken stock
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp honey
thumb of fresh ginger, peeled
1 banana shallot, peeled and finely sliced
2 chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
50g poached chicken meat, shredded
a couple of small, soft leaves of cavolo nero
black pepper
To garnish
1 birdseye chilli, finely chopped
1/2 lime, for squeezing
tbsp coriander, leaves picked
black sesame seeds

First, make your dippy egg by bringing a saucepan of water to the boil. Add the egg carefully, bring it back to the boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer and set the timer for 6 minutes. When 6 mins are up, remove the egg to a colander or sieve and pour cold water from the tap on it for 3 minutes, until cool. Once cooled, tap the egg all over on a hard surface to crack the shell, and peel carefully. Rinse under the tap to get rid of any tiny fragments of shell, then place in a jar or cup of the soy sauce. You might need to weigh it down with something so the egg is submerged – I used a lime. Leave this to soak for 40 minutes to an hour. While it’s soaking, toss the courgetti noodles in the lime juice and leave to sit.
Remove the egg from the soy marinate – it should be a light brown colour all over. Slice in half with a very sharp knife, being careful not to spill that lovely runny yolk.

Now to the soup. Pour your stock into a saucepan with the ginger, shallot, fish sauce, honey and 2 tbsp tap water. Turn on the heat and slowly bring it up to a gentle boil. Turn it down and simmer while you get the other ingredients ready. Put the lime-soaked courgetti noodles, sliced mushroom, cavolo nero, dippy egg and chicken into a deep soup bowl and grind over some black pepper. Pour over the hot chicken broth and garnish with some of the birdseye chilli (a couple of slices should suffice, depending on your tolerance), some lime, black sesame seeds and fresh coriander. Inhale and enjoy!

No-cook blackberry and chocolate cheesecake recipe


Happy New Year! Here’s a delightful cheesecake recipe for you to say thanks for all your wonderful support in 2014, and to look forward to a tasty 2015 together. It’s almost time to dust-down your favourite healthy recipes and get cracking on that January help-me-feel-better-about-scoffing-twenty-seven-mince-and-drinking-everyday regime, but for one final foray into indulgence before you start to be all ‘New year, New you’, here’s a simple and sumptuous cheesecake recipe. I love it because it involves no-baking as such, but has a wonderful light and moussey texture which is just so moreish, with different layers of chocolate and blackberry which just go so nicely together. I created this for Cuisinart and these pics were food styled by me and taken by food photographer David Griffen. I hope you enjoy and let me know how you find the recipe.


200g dark chocolate (70% or above)
175g dark chocolate digestives
75g melted unsalted butter
pinch of salt

400ml double cream
400ml cream cheese
100g caster sugar
150g blackberries, fresh or frozen, plus extra for garnish

Line a 20cm greased springform cake tin with baking parchment.

Melt your chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, being sure that the bowl is not touching the water. While it’s melting, blitz your digestives in two batches in the mini- chopper, until they’re the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. In a bowl mix them with the melted butter and salt until well-coated. Pour them onto the base of the cake tin, and pack them in by smoothing them down with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate until you assemble the cheesecake.

When your chocolate has melted to a smooth consistency, remove it from the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Whip your cream until it’s just past soft peaks, and then slowly and carefully fold in the melted chocolate until it’s fully combined. Chill in the fridge.

Beat your cream cheese with the sugar and blackberries until it’s purple, thick and smooth. Now combine half of the blackberry mixture with the chocolate one, stirring until it’s fully incorporated.

Pour three quarters of the combined chocolate and blackberry mixture onto the biscuit base, and smooth down with the back of a spoon. On top of this, pour over the remaining purple blackberry mix and smooth. Top with the last bit of chocolate and blackberry and smooth. Chill and then garnish with coco powder and blackberries.


Woodland Pie Recipe

Chocolates and flowers are all very well, but I think if you really adore someone, making them something hearty and full of love is the way to go. And who doesn’t love a pie? Which is what my boyfriend will be getting this Valentine’s Day (well he did go and take me to Venice for my 30th, so I thought I should make a leetle bit of an effort!).

A raised, hot water crust pie takes some time to make, especially if you’re filling it with something other than sausage meat, but it’s worth it in the end for a nice chunk of flavour-packed pie, succulent with jelly. And it’s really not as scary as it sounds, you just need to make sure you put aside an afternoon when you’ll be pottering in the kitchen to give the dough time to cool and rest, and you time to poach the chicken, make the filling, bake the pies and them wait for them to cool before you make and add the jelly. But it’s a satisfying process, and a pie like this should last you a while, especially if you just dip into it – it’s perfect as a snack to have with drinks, or as a little starter before a main meal.

I decided to fill mine with chicken, pork belly and mushrooms, because I wanted something a bit lighter than solid pork, and had some fab dried porcini I brought back from Venice. You could easily substitute chicken for game like guinea fowl or pheasant when during game season. I used the stock from poaching the chicken and the rehydration stock from the dried mushrooms to make the jelly – giving it a sort of woodland character. I also put some dried tarragon through the pastry to give it a little lift, and because obviously tarragon is great with chicken and mushrooms. I also used pork belly rather than sausage meat as I couldn’t get hold of any decent fresh pork mince. I’ve made this pastry twice now, and I found using my Kitchen Aid stand mixer a massive help the second time because it incorporates the hot fat and water more smoothly than my rather lame mixing action, but it can obviously also be done by hand in a big bowl. Let me know how you get on with this recipe if you try it out.

Woodland (chicken, pork and mushroom) pies

Makes two medium pies or one big one

It goes without saying that you should use the best quality meat you can find and afford. Corn-fed chickens have more flavour and make for a better stock. I prefer to use pork belly and mince it myself than using pork mince. Marscapone adds a bit more fat to the mix and lemon zest keeps it fresh.

For the filling
1 medium chicken (you will only use 300g of this, but keep the rest for salad, sandwiches etc)
300g pork belly, skin and bone removed
1 tbspn olive oil
5 g butter
2 star anise
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1 leek, halved and washed
2 cloves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
Large pinch of dried red chilli flakes
zest of one lemon
30g dried mushrooms, keeping their rehydration stock for the jelly
2 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped into lardons
Small bunch of sage leaves, torn up finely
1 tbspn marscapone
Very good grating of nutmeg
1 tsp fish sauce
pinch sea salt
good grinding of black pepper

For the pastry
100g lard
75g unsalted butter
2 tsp dried tarragon
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
475g flour
160ml boiling water
1 egg, beaten (for the egg wash)

For the jelly
200ml chicken stock
100ml mushroom stock
50ml dry white wine
3 leaves of gelatin.

Fill a pot big enough to poach an entire chicken full of water, add the anise, black peppercorns, cloves, leek and bay leaf and bring to the boil. When it’s boiling, add the chicken and gently poach for 1 hour, skimming off any scum that comes to the surface as you go. When an hour has passed, pierce with a skewer to check the juices run clear, and leave to cool. Pass the stock through a sieve and reserve – you will need this for the jelly. When it’s cool enough to handle, shred 300g of breast and thigh meat into a bowl and reserve.

Then make the pastry. Place your flour and tarragon in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the beaten egg and stir in until it’s incorporated. You could do this in a stand mixer for ease.

Now melt the lard and butter in a saucepan with the salt and sugar. When it’s almost all melted, add the boiling water and bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once it’s boiled, remove quickly from the heat and leave it for about half a minute.
Now stir it into the flour and egg mix, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon to form a smooth, sticky dough. If you’re using a stand mixer, put it on the lowest mix setting with the paddle beater and let it mix until a soft, smooth dough forms – being careful to not over work. Cover with a tea towel and rest for one hour.

After the pastry has cooled and rested for an hour, tip it out onto a floured surface and flatten it out with your hands, shaping it into a rough rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds by bringing one end into the middle and pushing down with your fingers. Repeat with the opposite end, folding it on top of the other. Press down again with your fingertips. Flatten it out again into a rough rectangle and place on a floured plate or tray, covering with foil or grease-proof paper and refrigerating for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

While the pastry is resting you can get on with the filling. First rehydrate the dried mushrooms in 100ml of boiling water. Put 5g of butter and olive oil in a frying pan and gently sauté the onions with 6 shredded sage leaves. After three minutes, add the chopped bacon and cook until the bacon is lightly cooked – about five minutes.

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the stock, squeeze out the moisture from them and chop them up. You want them to be about the same bulkiness as the shredded chicken. Add the mushroom stock to 200ml of chicken stock and put in a separate pan.

Put the pork belly chunks in a food processor and whizz until you have a chunky mince, adding in the onion and bacon mixture for a blitz. Put this in bowl with chicken, lemon zest, garlic, sage, marscapone, fish sauce, nutmeg, chopped mushrooms and mix together well with your hands, rubbing it all together to get the flavours incorporated. Put this in the fridge to infuse while the pastry rests.

Preheat the oven to 180. Grease and flour (tapping out the excess flour) two enamel pudding bowls or high-sided pie moulds.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and transfer it to a floured surface. Cut it in half and roll out each half as follows. Sweep it in a circular motion across the surface to coat it in flour. It should feel much stiffer and firmer to the touch now it’s cooled. Roll it out lightly, and then fold it into thirds, as before. Rotate it by a quarter turn and roll it out to about 4mm thickness, being sure to rotate it by a quarter turn every two or so rolls so it doesn’t stick.

Once it’s your desired diameter and thickness, drape it over a smaller cup or bowl that will fit inside your pie mould, reserving the rest of the dough for the lid (you may need to cut off the excess, press together the scraps and re-roll for this). Put the pie mould over it, and then flip the right side up. Remove the inner bowl and press the pastry into the bottom of the mould and against the sides. Chop of the excess off that’s draping over the rim and use this for your lid. 

Divide the filling between the pastry bowls. Put the lid on and squeeze the edges together with the side crusts, being sure it’s well sealed. Crimp the edges with your fingers and put a hole in the middle with a skewer – it needs to be big enough to fit a piping bag nozzle for the jelly.

Egg wash the pies and bake them for 40 minutes, checking that the tops aren’t burning as you go. If they start to blacken or burn, cover them with tin foil and return them to the oven. 

When they’re baked, check using a meat thermometer inserted through the skewer hole that the meat is 80c or more. If you don’t have a thermometer, insert a skewer – it should come out piping hot. 

Leave the pies to cool for two hours.

When they’re cool, make the jelly. Put the gelatin in some cold water for a few minutes until it’s squidgy, then squeeze out the water. Heat the stocks and wine up to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in the gelatin until it’s dissolved.

When it’s cool enough to handle, but not so cool that it’s setting, put the jelly into a piping bag and carefully pipe into the hole in your pie. Fill it with jelly until it’s coming out the hole. Wipe any that leaks onto the surface of the pie with kitchen roll.

Cool in the fridge for about 8 hours. Cut up and serve with a nicely dressed green salad.


My little Vancouver kitchen and salted chocolate popcorn recipe

Crysanthemums from Mr Choi's garden

So the time has come for me to say goodbye to my little Vancouver kitchen, as we head off for our long journey home, via Nashville, Mexico (yay!!), Montreal and New York. It’s been good to me, this little basement room where I’ve cooked some of my best recipes yet. Sure, me and the oven have had our ups and downs – the temperature settings can be more than slightly temperamental, but in general this is a space where I’ve had the time to be creative, and inspired by all the frankly amazing produce they have here in British Columbia. Because it’s the fresh, seasonal produce that has to be my favourite thing about Vancouver, apart from gorgeous new friends. That’s what I’ll miss, Mr Choi’s garden bounty, and walking for 10 minutes to be on Commercial Drive, surrounded by little independent shops selling fresh apples, peaches and pears from the Okanagan Valley, Normans (my favourite shop) with its big crates of orange-frilled chantarelles, local beets and kale, and the Hungarian-run smoked sausage shop where a delicious hot, paprika-packed preserved sausage is only $1.85.

We’ve had some good times here, some fabulous dinners with our friends Renee, pictured, (who never failed to bring a lovely bottle of Zinfandel or two) and Cyril, who was always on-hand with chocolate, and shares my addiction for roasted hazelnuts.

In fact, the chocolate popcorn recipe below that I created for Suitcase magazine’s chocolate week content is partly inspired by Cyril. So I’ll leave you with that, and keep you posted from our travels. Mexico here we come!

Salted popcorn with dark chocolate and toasted hazelnuts


  • 100g dark chocolate, broken up (I like Green and Black’s)
Large handful of popcorn kernels
  • 30g roasted hazelnuts, skins rubbed off, and blitzed in a food processor or roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tbspn ground nut, rapeseed or vegetable oil


First, pop your popcorn. Put a large pot with a lid on a medium high heat and heat up the oil and half the salt.
  • Add the kernels in an even layer and put the lid on.
  • When the corn starts popping, shake the pan around gently to make sure the unpopped kernels get to the heat.
  • Put the slid slightly ajar so as to release some of the steam and make crisper corn.
  • Once the popcorn has stopped popping every few seconds, take it off the heat and rest it until all the popping has stopped. You don’t want to burn it!

  • Now heat up half a pan of boiling water.
  • Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt it gently with the rest of the salt until it’s liquid. Add in half the hazelnuts.
  • Line a large plate or baking tray with baking paper and scatter the popcorn over it in a layer.
  • Pour over the melted chocolate and hazelnut mixture and toss it around the corn until it’s coated, and leave to set at room temperature for an hour.
  • Serve in a bowl with the extra hazelnuts and an extra pinch of salt. You could add some chilli flakes if you were feeling adventurous…

Tongue sandwich?

As I was struggling to peel the skin, taste-buds and all, from the massive beef tongue I’d been poaching for a couple of hours, my French housemate walked past me. “I’d offer to help you, but it disgusts me,” he said, totally straight-faced. And that’s the thing with tongue, isn’t it? Some people just can’t do it (he later tried it and liked it) – they find the idea of chewing on another animal’s tongue just too repulsive. Lord knows the photo below got a mixed response on Instagram. I might be among the grossed out, had my mother not fed it to me from a young age. I somehow maintained the opinion that ‘tongue’ was a colloquialism for another kind of meat, or pate or something – until she confessed that it was exactly what it sounded like: tongue. Still loved it, still do. Love that beefy (it tastes like brisket, no?), earthy flavour. Essentially, it’s a muscle just like any other, and it has a really delicate, delicious flavour. Especially poached in a fragrant bouillon like this one. Plus, once it’s cooked and prepped and chopped up, it’s just a piece of beef. Saying that, the prep can seem a little gruesome if you’re a bit squeamish – like I mentioned, you do have to peel the skin and tastebuds off the thing before you serve it, so do bear that in mind before you embark on the recipe.

One thing I learned on this occasion is to not serve it warm. The texture is all flobby and fatty, it’s just too much like French kissing a cow. But once it’s been chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours, and taken as a cold cut, it is divine. The flavours settle in and it has a meaty, satisfying texture.

Why the sudden urge to cook tongue? I recently got back from Portland, armed with a copy of the beautiful Le Pigeon cookbook, which has a whole chapter dedicated to this cut. Will certainly have to try the ‘elk tongue stroganoff’ and ‘lamb’s tongue fries’ – but first I just wanted to reacquaint myself with beef tongue, which is best poached gently and slowly, with lovely fragrant aromatics for a couple of hours. I got mine from the amazing organic, biodynamic butcher here on Commercial Drive, called Pasture to Plate. I’m now a regular here because their meat is second-to-none, well priced and they can get you unusual cuts, plus they usually have a nice stash of frozen tongues and beef cheeks etc. And all their meat comes from one ranch!

Having discovered that my tongue was better as a cold cut, sliced quite thin, I put it on an open sandwich with lovely toasted sourdough from the Italian bakery also on the Drive. To go with it, and give the sandwich a smoky piquancy reminiscent of a deli sandwich, I made a celeriac remoulade with a smoked oyster emulsion. Oysters and beef go really nicely together, and the punchy, smoky mayo created by blending the oysters with garlic, lemon juice and parsley works well against the crunchy, creamy celeriac. It’s a good way to create a smoked meat effect – without having to actually smoke any meat. Give it a go and let me know what you think about the remoulade/tongue combo.

Beef tongue and smoked oyster and celeriac open sandwich

1 beef tongue,
1/2 bulb of fennel,
1 big carrot
1 onion, halted and studded with cloves
2 cups white wine
sprig or two of parsley
6 black peppercorns
1 clove garlic
3 cloves
bay leaf
sea salt

for the celeriac
1 tin smoked oysters in oil
1/2 clove very fresh garlic
extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice

For the sandwich
sliced white sourdough
1 large tomato, sliced
2 small leaves of baby gem or romaine
salt and pepper


First prep your tongue. Give it a good wash, then pop it in a big casserole with a lid, or curl it around in a large pot. Add in the aromatics – the carrot, onion, parsley, fennel, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves and salt. Cover with the wine and fill up with water until it covers the tongue. Bring to the boil on the hob, skimming off any scum as you go. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with the lid, and let poach for around 3 hours.

In the meantime, you can make the celeriac remoulade for the sandwich. Peel the gnarly celeriac and slice in half. You’ll only need a half for this recipe. Then julienne the celeriac into matchsticks.

Blend the oysters, garlic and parsley in a food processor with half of the smoky oil from the tin. Add a drizzle of olive oil until the mixture is the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. Add a squeeze of lemon and pinch of white pepper to taste.

Put the celeriac in a large bowl and pour over the mayo. Use your hands to coat it evenly and refrigerate.

Once your tongue is feeling tender – poke it with the prongs of a fork at the base and tip to check – remove it from the stock onto a chopping board. (NB Reserve the stock – it’s good for cooking potatoes or making gravy, just like a more funky beef stock!)

Wait for it to be cool enough to handle, but while it’s still warm you need to peel it. Peeling becomes impossible once it’s fully cool. To peel it, use a pairing knife to get under the skin and create a flap which you can then peel off – hopefully pretty easily. If you’re finding it difficult to pull the skin off, use your pairing knife to cut it off.

Once it’s fully peeled, leave it to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To assemble the sandwich

Use some really nice sourdough. Pop it in the toaster until it’s deep gold and crunchy. Hot butter. Remove the tongue from the fridge and slice it finely. Top the toast with the lettuce, tomato and tongue and slap a bit of mustard on the tongue, if you’re that way inclined. Top with the smoky celeriac remoulade and some salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Hot corn with Mexican butter

I ruddy love corn. Popcorn, sweetcorn out of a tin, corn on the cob – you name a corny foodstuff and the chances are I’ll be into it. Even if it does leave me picking at my teeth for the rest of the day, it’s worth it for that crunchy, buttery, addictive goodness. Gimme!

Anyway, I picked up some corn on special offer the other day and, inspired by a little dish I had at my favourite Mexican restaurant here, Tacofino Commissary, I decided to get all Mexican on its kernals. This is a really simple recipe and it seems to work pretty well. I love the way the acidic lime and salty parmesan (used in lieu of queso fresco) work with the sweetness of the corn. The herbs offer a nice fragrant lift to the whole thing. You can use coriander in the place of parsley, but I just used what I had to hand, which was a nice bunch of flat leaf.

Serves four as a starter
Two ears of corn, stripped of their husks, cut in half
120g butter, at room temperature
2 tbspns of grated grana padano or Parmesan
the juice of half a lime
tsp red chilli flakes
2 tbpsn of chopped mint and parsley
Grind of black pepper and salt

First mix the butter with the cheese, lime and salt and pepper, then add in the herbs and chilli flakes. Now heat up a skillet really hot, rub your corn with a little vegetable oil and place them in the skillet. You could use a barbecue, if you had one to hand, but a really hot skillet works just as well. You could par-boil them before grilling, but I found that a few minutes on each side worked well. Turn the corn at intervals – some of the kernals will char and blacken but this just adds to the flavour. When the corn is tender and a good, deep yellow – after about six-eight minutes, remove from the skillet and smother in the butter. Eat immediately, with the butter dripping down your wrists. This is an optional extra, but it’s a little ritual for me when I eat corn: when you’ve chomped all the corn of the cobs, smear the ears with more of the butter, let it soak in, and then suck it out. SO good!

From Vancouver, with love – and lots of courgette flowers

So it’s been three weeks since I’ve been living in Vancouver and I thought it was about time I wrote a ruddy blog. Sorry for the delay, but the truth is, I’ve been having something of a summer holiday. The weather, which has now turned – and all the Vancouverites, bless their delicate souls, are insisting that it’s now ‘fall’ (it’s not) – has been amazing, and we’ve been spending time on the beach, cycling lots around the wide, tree-lined avenues with their sunflowers and wooden Victorian houses, and generally I’ve just been getting to know this unique, scenic city.

My favourite flower shop in Vancouver: Olla flowers
This kind of thing is EVERYWHERE

And oh my gosh have I been eating. And cooking. And eating. And cooking. I don’t know whether it’s a comfort thing – but being somewhere new without my family and friends has just made me lose myself in food even more than usual (recipes forthcoming). I’m really lucky in that my boyfriend (who’s been out here since March) has chosen to live in an area known as Commercial Drive in the east of the city, and it’s basically this mile long drive that’s choc-full of amazing independent restaurants, businesses and food shops. It reminds me in its way of Brixton or Hackney, and I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to bakeries, health food places, specialist shops, coffee shops and grocery stores selling everything from tinned oysters to achiote paste.

So I bought this baby, and have been filling it regularly with ingredients from ‘The Drive’.

But one thing that has been really quite shocking is the price of everything. This is a very expensive place to shop in, and very often it’s actually cheaper to eat out than it is to buy a load of ingredients and cook them. Dairy products are the absolute worst:

Decent, affordable cheese is very hard to come by. I’m yet to find mozzarella that isn’t the consistency of halloumi (middle class crisis alert), and a tub of marscapone for cheesecake set me back $7. The best I’ve found so far is a gorgeously juicy, creamy truffled goat’s cheese from Salt Spring Island cheeses which is sold at the amazing Trout Lake Farmer’s market – a market that takes place every Saturday five minutes from our house, showcasing the best produce from around BC.

Space ship squashes (yes really!) at Trout Lake Farmer's Market

We’ve also been eating out quite a bit, as I’ve been researching a couple of travel pieces. My favourite place so far was Pidgin – an amazing restaurant on the Downtown Eastside which has been continually picketed by anti-gentrification protesters since opening in February. There’s a huge debate going on here in the Downtown Eastside about its low-income residents being displaced by new residential and business developments pushing up prices in the area, and protestors have been very vocal about trying to make an example out of this place, and shut it down. But given that this is a small, independently-owned, owner-run restaurant doing some really good, creative things and employing local people, and it’s a two minute walk from a cluster of places in Gastown (including Starbucks and Spaghetti House), this vitriol seems to me displaced and misguided.

Makoto Ono (left) hard at work at Pidgin

But above and beyond that, the food here is utterly amazing. And the prices are very, very reasonable for what you get – so a sharing plate of melting lamb belly with piquant pickled mustard seeds and silky, smoky egg plant was $16 (that’s under 10 English pounds). The chef, Makoto Ono, is Canadian-born Japanese but is classically French-trained, and his cooking is absolutely incredible – using French and Asian technique applied to fantastic local produce.

The delectable soft-boiled, ramen-marinated dipping egg with summer beans and yuzu brown butter at Pidgin

The above dish of ramen-marinated dippy eggs with sauteed summer beans and mushrooms in a yuzu brown butter was a total revelation, the eggs deeply savoury yet rich and creamy, and it even inspired me to have a go at my own version! I bought some kikkoman noodle base (which includes bonito, mirin and soy), gently soft-boiled a couple of eggs an picked off the shells, then packed them into a glass with the marinate and left them for an hour. The result wasn’t half as good as Pidgin’s – I think I should have diluted the marinate as it was too intense, but it was certainly a start and something I’ll carry on experimenting with. I ate them with wok-fried beet tops, radishes and zucchini from the garden, cooked in the marinate.

I’m also pretty lucky that the flat we’re living in has a kitchen garden, maintained by our lovely landlord Mr Choi. The garden is alive with runner beans, Japanese squashes, tomatoes, really fragrant basil and zucchini (courgette for us Brits), and Mr Choi was kind enough to let me have the flowers, which have been growing in abundance because he doesn’t use them. Now I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with courgette flowers, but I’ve always found them hard to come by in London – I just never seem to have been at the right Farmer’s Market at the right time (middle class trauma mark two), but now I find myself surrounded by the lovely little delicate yellow flowers!

So after paying above the odds for some marscapone I decided to stuff these beauties with it, mixed with a tin of smoked oysters, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. I then coated them in a tempura batter and shallow fried them in some olive oil. The result was a punchy, crunchy, creamy yet subtle snack which we enjoyed with some pale ale. Rather a nice way to see in a summer’s evening.

Tempura coated, smoked oyster and marscapone stuffed zucchini flowers

Last night I decided to make pizzas, as we had a friend coming over – and there were still lots of courgette flowers, so I picked them, took out their pollen-laden stamens and used them as a pizza topping along with some garden zucchini and the attractive space ship squash we bought at the farmer’s market – all of which I marinated first with a bit of lemon juice, white pepper and olive oil. I used a sour cream and raw garlic base, and chucked over some chunks of mozzarella, which was really sub-standard, and browned rather than going all creamy and gooey – but the result was still one of the prettiest pizzas I’ve ever made. And SO summery.

The experimentation continues.


Tofino: a wilderness paradise with an incredible food scene

The view from the Wickaninnish

From Victoria, we headed up the island’s only highway for just over four hours (with a quick wild swim in Lake Sproat) until we reached Tofino – a small surfer wilderness town with incredible beaches and, as we’d discover, an equally impressive food scene. Tofino has a population of about 2000 (though this swells like its waves in the summer when the surfers pour in), but the residents are spoiled by the quite amazing selection of restaurants, cafes, delis and take-aways that have made a home there. We ate ridiculously well every day during our stay, which we extended from two to three nights because we just loved the place so much.

The HUGE broiled oysters at Shelter

As well as some really on-the-money restaurants like Shelter: a surfer dude hang out where I ate amazing broiled oysters and smokey aged ribeye, and The Spotted Bear: a cool French-inspired bistro where we shared some amazing charcuterie and local mussels; there’s the legendary Taco truck Tacofino which serves the best tacos I’ve ever tasted. Tacofino now has two trucks and a sit-down restaurant in the city of Vancouver, and with combinations like seared sesame soy Albacore tuna with seaweed salad and wasabi mayo, it’s no surprise. When I’m back in Van we’re definitely going to check out the restaurant, and next time I want to try the fish tacos, made with tempura ling cod, chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage and salsa. In the same lot, there’s also The Wildside Grill, a take-away which is a joint venture between a chef and a fisherman. This place is all about local fish and seafood cooked fresh off the boat – we tried the halibut and chips with apple slaw, and the gumbo. I’m going back for the spot prawns! Tofino also has a cracking little micro brewery – we adored the light, caramel blonde ale, an organic coffee roaster and a chocolate/gelato maker.

Halibut and chips with apple slaw, and spot prawn gumbo at the Wildside Grill
Rock pooling!

Rock pooling!

At the Tofino micro brewery
Szechuan brisket broiled oysters with mustard greens at the Pointe restaurant

We were staying at the utterly stunning Wickaninnish Hotel, a Relais and Chateaux which sort of grows out of the rocks on Chesterman Beach – a long, deserted sandy beach with the best rock pools I’ve seen since childhood camping holidays to Brittany. Our room here was the best hotel room I’ve ever stayed in – with a balcony that overlooked the crashing sea, a gas fire and a bathroom with windows that shared a view out onto the coast. Just heaven.

The balcony of our INCREDIBLE room at the Wick
Beach boy

The hotel’s Pointe restaurant has equally gorgeous views, but the food is a more than worthy distraction. I ate an incredible starter of oysters broiled with Szechuan braised brisket and perky mustard greens, followed by salmon with sweet breads and morels. It was absolutely stunning, but I couldn’t help being jealous of Jamie’s beautiful cod with Romesco crumble. My dessert of olive oil sponge with yoghurt and grapefruit was a perfect end to the meal: unusual, light and delicious.

The mussel banks at Chesterman beach

If you ever find yourself in BC, planning a trip to Tofino, make sure you give yourself at least few days. You’ll need it to get around all these food places.

Pork and clams at The Pointe
local cod with romesco 'crumble' at The Pointe

To Victoria, BC: Red Fish Blue Fish, The Fairmont Empress and the bees knees

On the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island

I was definitely expecting Vancouver to have a cracking food scene, given its location on the West Coast (some have called it the ‘original’ Portland), all the different cultural influences and the fact it’s a major city. But what I was less prepared for was how good the food would be over on Vancouver Island, where we headed for a road trip to celebrate Jamie’s 30th birthday.

Our gorgeous hotel, The Fairmont Empress
Victoria's gawgeous Parliament Building lit up all pretty at night

After an insanely beautiful ferry crossing and a short drive, we got to Victoria, BC’s capital, hungry, so we were pretty pleased to find an outdoor waterfront eatery called Red Fish Blue Fish – a West Coast take on a fish and chip shop. We knew it was going to be good because there was a huge queue (always easier to take when it’s sunny) and there were people sat all over the wooden wharf eating fish and chips and fish tacos that looked delightful. While we were waiting we read a board next to the kitchen which explained that all the fish and seafood is part of the Ocean Wise Vancouver Aquarium program. It’s similar scheme to MSC in the UK – ensuring restaurants are using sustainably caught or farmed fish and seafood.

The queue at Red Fish Blue Fish
Some delicious tacones in the making
Scallop and temupura fish sub

We had some amazing tuna, Fanny Bay oyster and shrimp tacones, and next time I’m definitely going back for the fish and chips and tempura fish subs – this was the first time I realised that in this neck of the woods, it’s quite normal to have halibut, rather than haddock, as the basis for fish and chips. Oh yeah.

We didn’t want to fill up too much though, because we were having dinner at our hotel – the legendary Fairmont Empress which overlooks the town’s Inner Harbour and beautiful Parliament Building. We ate in the ‘Empress Room‘, which is old school in the best possible sense – all plush carpets, heavy wood furniture and linen table cloths – but not in the least bit stuffy, thanks to the food and staff. In my experience, they don’t really do stuffy over there.

Cheers! A nice glass of BC sparkling wine, with pinot gris and riesling

Our waiter Marc was a bit of a riot – he kept us smiling with his stories and maitre d Kirk gave us a tasting tour through British Columbian terroir with his selection of wines from the Okanagan Valley. I had no idea that Canada was producing such amazing wines – including some distinctly Burgundian Chardonnays and silky Pinot Noirs. Like I said, they don’t export much, so I fully intend to get my fill while I’m over there.

My lobster and sweetbread risotto at the Fairmont Empress
Sablefish baby
Marc working his magic on the drinks trolley

The food was farm-to-fork West Coast fine dining at its finest. My risotto of sweet lobster and crispy sweetbreads with truffle sounded like it could have been too much, but while it was creamy and incredibly rich, it was elegant and perfectly balanced, and left me enough room to really appreciate my delicious sablefish – similar to halibut but more oily – with Mediterranean vegetables. A plate of local cheeses for dessert further revealed the restaurant’s dedication to using the best local produce – apart from one, they all came from Salt Spring Island – which I’ve heard is something of a haven for ingredients. This is something I’ll be investigating further once I get back there.

If you ever do find yourself in Victoria, staying or having the famous afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, make sure you try the honey. It’s made with bees they keep themselves out in the garden, and given the climate and wealth of flora, it’s really special. They even put some in the peanut butter at breakfast, which is out of this world.

The bees at the Fairmont Empress
Gorgeous blooms in the grounds of the hotel
Our room

My trip was supported by and BC Ferries