The wooden board in these photos was made by my friend Rosie Brewer, whose beautiful designs are made out of wood sourced from Devon forests. So, I wanted to make a simple salad to style on the board that wouldn’t take away from its natural beauty.
Due to an excess of figs, a somewhat middle class crisis, I chose to make them the focal point. I also have a certain affection for the combination of figs and cheese, so chose to add some Comté, one of my favourite cheeses. French, and made from unpasturised cow’s milk, Comté has a pleasant nutty taste, that went well with figs.
I tend to randomly throw things together when making salads, and have a fondness for combining fruit, cheese, nuts and a punchy dressing. But my primary consideration when making this salad was that the colours would work well on the board – I added thin slices of pink radishes purely for artistic reasons, as I don’t actually like them that much.
My friend Ruby has recently moved to Australia. One of the things on the to do list before she left England was to have the quintessentially English experience of a cream tea. Unfortunately, this presents a slight problem when you are allergic to dairy. So I took on the challenge of making a dairy-free cream tea.
The scone part was easy – I just replaced butter with margarine – then added some blueberries to jazz things up a bit. However, trying to make something that vaguely resembles clotted cream without using anything that comes from a cow was more challenging. In the end, after lots of trawling through vegan food blogs, I stumbled upon the suggestion of using coconut milk. This, as it happens, makes relatively successful cream-like substance, when whipped and combined with margarine and more sugar than I would like to admit.
I ended up making two ‘creams’ – a one flavoured with vanilla, and a chocolate one, in an attempt to mask some of the coconut taste. The chocolate worked well with the blueberries, and with the plain Even though I’m devoted to clotted cream like only a Devonian can be, this cream tea was a much lighter, and I think equally delicious, alternative.
My friend Kristel recently came to visit. She’s from the Netherlands, and we met in our first year at university in Sheffield, when we lived a few rooms down from each other. Despite there being countries (and sometimes continents) separating us, we have stayed in touch, and I went to visit Kristel in Boston last year (read more about that here). So then it was her turn to visit me, and we spent an enjoyable week ambling around Bristol. Baking was also inevitably going to be on the agenda, and when trying to decide what to bake on a rainy Sunday, there was only one option.
This apple tart is always going to provoke incessant bouts of nostalgia for us, since it was one of the things Kristel made during our first year at uni. We were living in a flat with nine people, most of whom had some sort of dietary requirement, from vegan to lactose intolerant. Therefore, as you can imagine, group meals were somewhat difficult. Being committed to the cause of group bonding, however, we managed to rustle something up that would suit everyone.
Our group meals usually consisted of pasta with some sort of vegetable based sauce, and this apple tart for pudding (because yes, there had to be pudding). The version that Kristel made originally was vegan, involving the genius use of tahini instead of egg to bind the pastry together. This recipe is not vegan, as it uses butter in the pastry and egg yolk to glaze the top, but we retained the tahini for old time’s sake.
Even though I’ve almost lived in Bristol for a year now, I’ve only recently discovered that I live a mere 10 minutes’ drive away from Ikea. I used to make pilgrimages up from Devon to visit this place. I would always come back with a car-load of stuff that I didn’t really need and couldn’t quite remember buying, but that somehow felt completely necessary at the time. Upon hearing that my friend Nicola had never been to Ikea, I was dumbfounded. What, like, never? No. So the fact was that we had to go, and soon. I was trying to describe to her what was so good about it, using a series of vague gestures and half sentences. It’s a shop, yes. But so much more. You can buy furniture. And carpets and plants and photo frames. And then there’s the meatballs.
When visiting Ikea, I always endeavor to make a list and stick to it, but usually completely fail in the latter, and that’s if I remember to bring my list in the first place. I’m completely swayed by the cute Swedish names – it may be a boring curtain ring, but it’s called ‘Syrlig’, so naturally I have to buy it. The item at the top of my list was ‘clip-top jars’. I was shoving about ten into the (appropriately massive) trolley, to incredulous looks from Nicola, mumbling the words ‘dacanting’, ‘lentils’ and ‘useful’ as vague excuses. And they’re only 80p each – I think I sneaked in an extra two at the end for this reason alone. When I got my haul of jars home, I discovered that, despite stocking up on cashew nuts and cous-cous to have something to decant into my new jars, I still had a few spare. So, preserved lemons it is.
Preserved lemons are a staple ingredient in Moroccan cooking, especially in tagines and fish dishes. I was always a bit skeptical about their necessity (surely fresh lemons would do the trick just as well, right?) but once I tried the preserved variety I could see what all the fuss was about. The lemons are salted then packed into jars, covered with olive oil and left to do their thing for a few weeks. This renders the outer skin soft, and mutes the sharp acidic tang. They can be eaten, if you wish, straight from the jar. Whilst the lemons are preserving away for a week or so, Paris and I will be busy dreaming up ways to use them. Watch this space!
I remember when I first discovered that it was cardamoM, not cardamoN. My world was turned momentarily upside down – a bit like when you first find out that Father Christmas isn’t real. It took a good few minutes of staring intently at the final letter of the word for it to really sink in. But cardamom it is, and this versatile spice was chosen for this recipe as it goes surprisingly well with sweet things. Even chocolate. If you don’t believe me, try this gorgeous white chocolate and cardamom mousse from the one and only Nigel Slater.
Me and Paris chose the combination of apricots and cardamom as the focus of this recipe. The delicate little pods need to be pried open and the tiny black seeds crushed in a pestle and mortar, then sprinkled over the mixture and mixed well to combine. Cardamom is a strong spice but can be very subtle when used sparingly. We decided the best choice for this recipe would be dried apricots, as fresh would be too wet. We teamed the apricots and cardamom with oats, pecans, flour and glued the whole lot together with peanut butter.
These cookies come out more like flapjacks – given the oats and honey combination. They have a pleasingly dense, healthy texture, and are, because of dear Paris, completely vegan. They keep for a good long time, only getting more moist and gooey with time. They make the perfect after work snack with a good cup of char.
Read Paris’ take on the cookies here, with some much appreciated flattery to go along with it.
Gooseberries are tart little devils. I remember summers spent at the pick-your-own farm, enduring the torturous wait until they had been carted home and stewed with copious amounts of sugar to eat them. The ones used for this cake came from my friend Nicola’s garden –actually more accurately from her freezer, where they have been stored for the winter months ahead. As did the blackberries, and given the choice several freezer-dwelling fruits, we chose these two as a match.
Fruit and cake is a winner in my book. And you can kid yourself that it is somehow healthy, and can therefore be justifiably eaten for breakfast. The sourness of the gooseberries is offset by more forgivingly mellow blackberries, and the sweet, almondy sponge. Upside down cakes like this one, where the fruit is placed at the bottom of the cake tin, and the batter on top, always provide a satisfying moment when turned over to reveal the fruit underneath. For some reason, I’m always slightly surprised to find it still there, thinking that it might have been consumed by the cake batter.
Having a cake around is dangerous: I get to the stage that I struggle to have a cup of tea without a slice of cake, or more accurately I have a cup of tea as an excuse to eat cake. This cake disappeared in about two hours – and not only (although almost only) due to me. And I had a large slice for breakfast the next day, covered in natural yoghurt – because if something has yoghurt on it, then it’s breakfast, right?!
This time of year is my favourite. There is a slight chill in the air, making it the ideal time wear a ‘transition scarf’, yet there is still enough of a whisper of summer left to make the occasional evening unendingly balmy. At around this time every year I take this opportunity to gorge myself on fruit like it’s going out of fashion – so much so that I’m even cajoling it into savoury dishes.
According to the Waitrose catalogue (on which I base a lot of my culinary decisions) one of the best things about this period of time, referred to as late summer, is the abundance of apricots. Paris and I decided to turn to the apricot for our next source of culinary inspiration. Such a versatile little number deserves some attention – so we’re going to experiment with how they can be used in sweet and savoury dishes.
We have discovered the joys of chargrilling fruit, caramelising the natural sugars into blackened lines. This works particularly well with soft stone fruit such as peaches, nectarines and apricots. Brushing a bit of scarlet-red, fiery harissa paste onto the fruit before grilling is a good idea, although it’ll leave a burn in the back of your throat as it cooks. To add to the harissa apricots, we wilted some chard, and piled the whole lot on top of some cous-cous. Not just any cous-cous, mind. Giant cous-cous – also known as maftoul –is, as the name suggests, a bigger, plumper version of the regular variety, with a pleasant nutty taste. The whole thing was finished off with a dollop of yoghurt with some more harissa swirled into it.