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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Recipe: Turkish eggs with sumac and preserved lemon yoghurt

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One of the biggest things I love about the weekend is having the chance to cook a proper breakfast or brunch for me and my boyfriend. This is one of my go-to weekend brunch dishes. It’s such a lovely, satisfying way to start the weekend, especially if you’ve been guilty of overindulging on the Friday night and are in need of something filling and restorative to sort out those fluctuating blood sugar levels. It’s dead simple too, and works brilliantly as a brunch dish for when you have friends over – just up the quantities to feed however many you need. If you are doing it for friends, you can make-ahead the tomato and pepper base, and yoghurt, and simply finish it with the eggs when your pals arrive.

It might not be strictly authentic, but I’ve thrown some kale into the mix too, as it helps to bulk-out the sauce and we all know I don’t need much of an excuse to add kale to things. I love to use the smoky, mellow Urfa chilli flakes which are grown in Turkey, but you could replace with normal red chilli flakes if you can’t find them. Don’t fret if you don’t have any preserved lemons or sumac powder to add to the yoghurt, a straight forward garlic yoghurt flavoured with lemon juice will do as a good substitute.

olive oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red or green pepper, sliced
1 tin of cherry or chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp urfa chilli flakes
a handful of kale leaves, stems and stalks removed and chopped
2 eggs
small bunch of fresh coriander, stems finely chopped, leaves kept whole

For the sumac yoghurt:

2 slices of preserved lemon, pith and flesh removed and finely chopped
6 tbsp natural yoghurt – I like the full fat greek stuff
1 heaped tsp sumac powder
pinch of salt
Olive oil

Add a splash of olive oil to a skillet or frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt for a few minutes, until aromatic and softened, but not browning. Add in the sliced pepper and coriander stems and cook for a further 2 minutes, then pour in the tin of tomatoes, a splash more olive oil, chilli and smoked paprika and cook down for 10 minutes, until thickened and sweet. 

While the tomato base is cooking, make your infused yoghurt. Simply stir the garlic, salt, sumac and preserved lemon through the yoghurt and drizzle over the olive oil.

Now, turn the heat down to low and create a two indents in the tomato base with the back of a spoon. Crack in two eggs, and cover with a lid or large plate and cook for a few minutes until the eggs are set, but still have soft yolks – three to four minutes.
Serve with the yoghurt and some toasted sourdough, scattered with the fresh coriander leaves.

Recipe: winter squash, buttermilk and spice bundt cakes with boozy brandy squash icing

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To me, the abundance of pumpkins and squashes are one of the best things about this time of year. I never really cooked with them until I went to Vancouver and discovered them growing in every garden and trailing down every front porch from ‘fall’ onwards. It was my lovely friend Renee who first showed me how to carve out pumpkins and roast their seeds to a make a spicy, savoury snack.

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Because the flesh of these festive gourds is so darned sweet, they make a brilliant ingredient for baking, especially when paired with warm spices – as witnessed by that fall staple of the pumpkin pie in North America. I wanted to have my own go at baking with the sweet puree of a winter squash, which my local organic shop has in at the moment in all kinds of beautiful shapes and sizes.

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To make a base puree that I use for everything from soup and stews to baking, I use a Turban, Delicata or Kuri squash, cut them in half, remove the seeds (for roasting) rub them with a little olive oil and roast them, skin on in a 180 °C oven for about 40 minutes, until the flesh is really soft and yielding, and comes easily away from the skin. Then I just pop them in my blender and blitz to a creamy paste.

I wanted to try out my new silicone bundt moulds and some of the flours I had left over from a recent styling shoot, so by total accident these little sponges turned out to be gluten free – but they were very light, fluffy, and though I’m loathe to use the term: moist, just the thing for a perk-you-up with a hot cup of tea. The icing contains some of the sweet puree of the squash mixed with a dash of brandy, to warm your cockles as the weather draws in, and to make sure they’re not too virtuous. I hope you enjoy.

For the cakes:

30g walnuts
100g buckwheat
2 tbspn semolina flour
25g almond flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp warm spice (ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger)
2 eggs
100ml buttermilk
250g squash puree
80g coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
50g puree
1/2 zested orange
Juice of half an orange
Tbsp brandy or rum

Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Place your bundt molds on a flat baking tray. If you don’t have bundt molds you could use muffin tins to make little sponges, in which instance you should grease the mold (unless they’re silicone too). Grind the walnuts up into a coarse powder in a mini-chopper.

Sift the flours into a large bowl and add the almond and walnut flours, salt, spices and baking powder. Melt the coconut oil over a low heat and leave to cool slightly. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and mix with the buttermilk, squash puree, coconut oil and maple syrup until well combined. Put the dry ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment and start to beat on a medium spead. Add in the wet ingredients and beat until you have a runny batter.

Pour the batter into the molds, being sure not to overfill, place in the oven and bake for 16 minutes, until puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the molds for a few minutes before popping them out of their molds and cooling on a wire rack.

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To make the icing, beat the icing sugar with the orange juice until you have a smooth, runny icing, then add the puree, zest and alcohol. Drizzle the runny icing all over the cake and devour!

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Food styling for Guardian Cook

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If you’re a follower of this blog, my Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed that the old Cathcart/Birkett dream team was recently reunited for a shoot for the Guardian’s Cook supplement, which comes out each weekend as part of the Saturday Guardian, sharing some wonderful recipe ideas and relevant, original food content. You can read a couple of pieces I’ve written for the supplement here. Being a massive fan of Cook, which has been taken up a notch by hot-shot editor Mina Holland, (author of the wonderful Edible Atlas), and always includes gorgeous photography and styling, I was super excited to work on four of its 10 Best spreads, which included cover shots.

The 10 Best feature takes one ingredient and shares recipes that are brilliant because you’ve probably not made them before. Our ingredients were pepper, plums, sweet potato and ‘sauces’, and the recipes included things like dairy free, gluten free sweet potato donuts and one of my faves, walnut romesco sauce, from amazing cooks including Michel Roux Jr, Anna Jones and Anissa Helou.

During the shoot we were spoiled rotten with the food – I particularly loved Michel Roux Jr’s plum tarts, which while being fairly demanding (I needed to make a proper creme pat and stock syrup to poach the plums in) are worth every effort once you sink your teeth into them. They also look beautiful because the plums sort of melt into the creme pat, their skins scorching and shrinking, their flesh turning to sweet, unctuous pulp. Hurry up and make them while plums are still here! 

Hemsley and Hemsley’s beef Lok Lak was also delicious, and will certainly be gracing my table again, not least because it’s fabulously quick and satisfying.

You can find all these delicious recipes here:

I love working with Helen because her pictures are always beautiful, natural and evocative, and she always makes food I cook look its best. It’s amazing to see these pictures in print on the cover of a supplement I’ve been reading (and writing for) since it started. Here are some of the pics – I hope you like them. With thanks to Linda Berlin for her ace prop styling and Jenny Brown for her brilliant assistance during the shoot, check out her excellent blog Bake here.

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Recipe: Swiss chard, pecorino and preserved lemon tart

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I was recently sent a box of produce from the organic supplier Wholegood, whose Instagram account I’ve been stalking thanks to all the pics of the banging produce that goes up on there – they have romanescos for god’s sake! While I’m normally one for shopping at the green grocer or market, and have never before subscribed to a box scheme, these guys have really impressed me with the quality of their stuff, and it’s not surprising given the fact that they supply lots of restaurants with produce from some of the best organic growers just outside London. Now you can get their boxes (from about 15-20 quid) delivered to your door through Ocado. 

My box was a veggie one, and came complete with huge bunches of beautifully glossy,  golden-stalked Swiss chard, cavolo nero, the sweetest baby courgettes, fennel, carrots and these gorgeous purple potatoes, which I loved roasting with chorizo, garlic and rosemary and smashing with jalapenos.

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With the courgettes and fennel I made a soup for Jamie’s sister who’d just lost a tooth and was finding it hard to chew. It went down very well indeed, and was super healthy, with just courgettes, fennel tops, chicken stock, onion, garlic, bay and tarragon. It kept her going for a good few days. 

But the by far the most stonking thing I made from the box was a tart of Swiss chard, preserved lemon and pecorino (kindly sent to me from the amazing Originario Foods) with a black pepper and parmesan crust. I always find I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with Swiss Chard, because I can find that it just tastes quite earthy and bitter. This recipe matches it to the intense, salty hard cheeses pecorino and parmesan, the aromatic, woody herb sage and deeply citric preserved lemon, which really lifts it. It got quite a lot of love on both mine and Wholegood’s Instagram, so here is the recipe for you. Despite most of my courgettes rotting before they were big enough to harvest, I did get some flowers, which I used on top of the tart to pretty things up.
For the parmesan and black pepper pastry:

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180g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
50g parmesan, grated
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 
2 tsp chilled water (more if needed)
For the filling

tbsp extra virgin olive oil
knob of unsalted butter 
half a red onion, finely sliced
4 slices of preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed, chopped
6 sage leaves, chopped
clove of garlic, minced
Bunch of swiss chard, washed and stems separated from leaves, both chopped
2 eggs
4 tbsp creme fraiche
40g pecorino, sliced
salt and pepper 
courgette flowers (optional)

To make the pastry, sift your flour into a bowl and add the butter. Rub in until you have a sandy texture, like very fine breadcrumbs. Add in the parmesan and black pepper, and then the cold water, tsp at a time, mixing it in until the dough clumps together. You might not need to use the whole 2 tsps, you might need more – it all depends on the flour, but you DO NOT want a wet pastry, so be cautious. When you have a ball of combined, smooth pastry, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for half and hour.
Preheat your oven to 180.
Remove your pastry from the fridge and roll it out to pound coin thickness. Use your rolling pin to lift it and drape it over a greased tart or quiche dish, and gently line the dish with the pastry, lifting and tucking it into all of the crevices. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, and line with crumpled baking parchment. Fill it with baking beans (or failing that, dry rice, lentils or coins), and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the parchment and beans, then cook for a further 10 minutes, until golden and set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool while you make the filling.

To make the filling, fry your onion gently in the olive oil and butter with a good pinch of salt, until softened and starting to caramelise, about 12 minutes. Add in the chopped preserved lemon and stir with a spoon until it’s melted into the oil. Add in the chard stems, sage leaves and garlic and cook for another five minutes, and then add the leaves and stir until coated and wilted. Remove from the heat.

Crack two eggs into a bowl and lightly whisk with a fork to combine. Whisk in the creme fraiche until combined, and stir through the pecorino. Season with black pepper. Fill your pastry case with the chard mixture and then pour over the custard. Top with courgette flowers and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until puffed, golden and set. Serve with a simple tomato salad.

Cooking with elderflower: simple cordial and rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake

Elderflower picking, Hackney
Photo by Helen Cathcart

I really love the start of spring, when rhubarb comes into season and the trees are fragrant and floral with little white elderflowers. I’ve never lived anywhere where elderflower season has been so apparent, but I’m near the River Lea and Hackney marshes, and suddenly my morning runs and bike rides have become heady with the gorgeous scent of these pretty, fragrant and short-lived white flowers, which seem to be growing from every tree and hedgerow. I’ve been collecting it by the bag-load, covering myself in pollen and making cordial (some of which is now fermenting into wine) and more besides. Elderflower is such a versatile ingredient, wonderfully pretty for garnishing desserts, great as fritters dipped in a light batter and eaten crispy and hot, or made into cordial and used in cocktails or baking. The season will be over soon, the flowers will start to turn brown – so hurry, get out there and get picking!

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Here’s my very simple cordial recipe – it uses less sugar than normal and I’ve put the citric acid as optional because I’ve made it with and without, both successfully. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to wash the elderflower before you make it as that will wash away all the aromatic pollen which gives it its special scent and flavour.

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20 heads of elderflower
2 lemons, zested and finely sliced
 into rounds
500g caster sugar
1/2 tsp citric acid
 (optional)

Put your sugar into a large saucepan or casserole, cover with about a litre and a half of water and bring up until it’s not quite boiling, but the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool slightly, then add the lemon, zest and elderflower, and citric acid if you’re using. Stir, and steep for 24 hours.

Line a colander or sieve with a clean tea towel and place over a large bowl. Carefully pour the elderflower mixture into it in stages if you need to, and allow it to drip through, filtering. Remove to a jug and fill sterilised bottles and jars with your cordial. It should keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge.

Rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake
Serves 6

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This recipe combines elderfower with fruity, tart rhubarb in a light, gooey-bottomed, self-saucing sponge cake. This is best enjoyed with a large dollop of cool creme fraiche.

40g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
300g trimmed rhubarb, cut into 3cm pieces
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
80g caster sugar
4 heads of elderflower, tough stems removed, plus another head for garnish
40g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g natural yoghurt
2 medium eggs, separated

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Lightly grease a pudding dish or cake tin. Place the rhubarb in a saucepan with the elderflower cordial and a tablespoon of the sugar over a low heat. Simmer gently for 5–10 minutes until it’s softened and part-cooked but still holds its shape. It will release its juice during this time.
Put a sieve over a bowl and strain the rhubarb, reserving its juices. Set aside to cool.

Once cool, arrange half of your rhubarb on the bottom of your cake tin/pudding basin, as neatly as you can, along with some of the elderflowers. This will be the top of the cake and look very pretty once you take it out of the tin.

Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Slowly add in the flour and baking powder, mixing well, followed by the yoghurt, the rhubarb juices, and the remaining rhubarb and elderflowers, mixing well after each addition. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and lightly fold into the batter.

Spoon the batter on top of the rhubarb in your baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden. Leave to cool for and settle for 5 minutes on a wire rack, then use a palate knife to loosen it from the tin. Serve immediately with loads of creme fraiche.

Kale and coriander pancakes with avocado butter and roasted tomato

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It was Pancake Day yesterday. This post was supposed to go up then. But you, know, life happened (and I may just have forgotten to update WordPress in ages, rendering it unusable). But boy, did I get busy with the pancake pan. I did this smoked haddock pancake with frazzled leeks and lemony creme fraiche recipe for Fish On Friday – an amazing new fish website, and I also made these little beauties for breakfast – mostly because I wanted to feel better about eating pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner (dinner was the talented Uyen Luu’s Banh Xeo – thanks Uyen!)

Here’s my recipe – yes, sorry, another kale one, but it’s tasty, I promise! – for an alternative, and wonderfully healthy Pancake Day dish. The pancakes themselves are stuffed full of goodness in the form of very finely chopped kale, with the slow-roasted tomatoes lending a richness and acidity. The creamy, perky avocado butter is made with tahini and is dangerously addictive. Make too much and then smear it on hot toasted sourdough. Or just eat it with your fingers like I do!

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Kale pancakes with avocado butter and roasted tomato 
Makes two big stacks of pancakes

For the avocado butter
Half a very ripe avocado
1 Tbspn tahini
Pinch of red chilli flakes
Tbspn lemon juice or more to taste
Half a shallot, peeled
Pinch of salt and a good grind of freshly milled black pepper

For the kale pancakes
85g plain flour
15g rye flour
Half tsp baking powder
Tsp garlic powder
Tsp cumin powder
Lime zest
Tsp Maldon sea salt and a good grind of freshly milled black pepper

100ml milk
1 beaten egg
1 tbspn olive oil
Two big leaves of kale, destemmed and blitzed in a food processor until VERY finely chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, blitzed until very finely chopped
15ml cold water
Rapeseed oil, for frying

For the slow roasted tomato
1 large tomato, sliced into rounds
Olive oil
Maldon sea salt and pepper
A sprig of thyme

Preheat your oven to 160. On a greased baking tray or enamel plate, place your tomato. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until it’s softened and slightly shriveled.

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While they’re roasting, you can make your pancake batter. Put your flour, baking powder, the lime zest, spices and salt and pepper into a mixing bowl. Combine the beaten egg, olive oil, chopped kale and coriander in another bowl or jug. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and whisk with a fork or balloon whisk, until you have a batter, adding the water to loosen it – you want it about the consistency of double cream. Leave to rest while you make the avocado butter.

Blitz your shallot in a food processor until finely chopped. Scoop the flesh of your avocado into the food processor and add the tahini, lemon juice, chilli flakes and salt and pepper. Blitz until you have a smooth paste – it should be the consistency of whipped butter. Scrape out of the food processor and into a bowl.

Now it’s time to make the pancakes. Dig out your best non-stick pan (I love the ceramic coated ones) and a silicone brush. Pour about a tablespoon of rapeseed oil onto a small plate and brush your pan with the oil. Heat the pan up over a high heat and then spoon about half a ladleful of the pancake mixture into your pan. Swizzle to evenly distribute the mixture – you’re aiming for small, thick pancakes rather than traditional thin, large ones. Cook for two-to-three minutes and then shake the pan. If the pancake comes away from the bottom easily, flip it over and cook on the other side for another two minutes, until golden. Remove to a plate and keep warm in the oven – which should be turned off but still warm from cooking the tomatoes. Repeat the process with the rest of the mixture, divide the pancakes between two plates and serve topped with the tomatoes and avocado butter.

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.

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