Wednesday, 23 July 2014


Until we had kids, my husband was the one who did all the cooking. He was raised by trained cooks (that is, his parents both went to cookery school; he wasn’t found feral in a larder and adopted into their tribe) so he picked up a raft of culinary skills along the way.

I stealthily elbowed my way into the kitchen after one too many Sunday lunches where friends or family arrived, showered praise, stomachs full, on A’s hospitality and not one noted that the kids were vacuumed and the floor was cute and shiny [sic].

However, breakfast is still his domain. It’s his muesli recipe I present here, and I cannot overstate how much this stuff brightens the groggy dawn. Please do mess around with the ingredients. It’s a chuck-it-all-in sort of an affair. If you keep one thing, make it the pecans. They are the best bit.

Quick Bircher Muesli

Feeds two people, five mornings in a row.

Basic dry muesli mix:

250g rolled oats

100g raisins

50g sunflower seeds

50g pumpkin seeds

50g pecans

Add fresh, each morning:

1 small grated apple

3 tbsp orange juice, freshly squeezed if you’re feeling effortful

Few spoonfuls of natural yoghurt

Whatever fresh fruit you have to hand – sliced banana, blueberries, strawberries, etc

Drizzle of runny honey

Make up the dried muesli and store in an airtight jar.

In the morning, add around eight tablespoonfuls of the dried muesli to a bowl, grate the apple on top, add the juice and then mix until everything’s just coated and no more. Leave to soak for five minutes or longer.

Divide into two breakfast bowls.

Top with yoghurt, fruit and honey.

Monday, 12 May 2014


April was hectic, containing a road trip round the north of England with the Frozen soundtrack on a loop, surprisingly sunny nursery-school holidays, the annual Easter chocolate extravaganza, family visits and two VIP birthdays. So we find ourselves washed up in May with chocolate foil wrappers still embedded in our fingernails, talking jibberish. Tonight at bedtime, H’s final words (just-one-last-thing) were on the subject of a future birthday, preferably before she is ten, when we would POUR chocolate all over the house and then garland the chocolate walls with those-marshmallow-thingies and sweetie necklaces for her and all her friends to find and EAT.

Obviously I agreed. At 7pm I’ll agree to pretty much anything in order to make it downstairs and on to the sofa. She knows it.

Meantime, what with it being the twelfth day of the month, I ought to make good my promise that May would mean getting back on track, running a bit further in the new morning sunshine, eating a bit better and brighter. But I’m not a cold-turkey sort of a girl. There must be sweetness, so I’ll dress it up, as I so often do, in the humble oat.

If you’re partial to the Apricot and Cardamom Flapjacks recipe I posted in the very early days of this blog, you’ll recognise the format. I’ve added mashed bananas to flapjacks a few times and never achieved a texture I liked – too squishy, nice only when warm – but banana chips are the answer. Dark and sticky, these flapjacks are a satisfying treat when you cannot face another chocolate bunny and know in your heart of hearts that neither, really, can your five-year-old.

Spiced Banana and Walnut Flapjacks

Makes 16 large squares

300g rolled oats

200g unsalted butter

100g dark brown sugar

100g dried banana chips, bashed into rubble

50g walnuts, crumbled

4 tbsp golden syrup

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan).

Line a non-stick brownie tin (mine measures 23cm square).

Using a heavy-bottomed pan, gently melt the butter, sugar, syrup together, then add the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Pop the banana chips into a freezer bag and bash them to a chunky rubble (technical culinary term).

Add the oats, banana chips and walnuts to the butter/sugar mixture and stir to coat. If you can keep the spoon from your mouth at this stage, you’re a better (wo)man than me.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden and just bronzing at the edges.

Cool in the tin, then turn out and cut into squares.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


It’s possible to magnify the deliciousness of certain food experiences. Tea tastes better scorching hot, almost scalding your throat as you gulp it down at the kitchen counter in between mouthfuls of cake. Champagne tastes better wearing heels in a high-ceilinged room. Every single thing tastes better after a long walk, lungs rung clean with fresh air.

This chicken pilaf, full of eastern promise, tastes best when you are pining for the sun. And we are. It came, it went, and now we’re wading through a dismal, wet week, chilled to the bone and fogged with coughs and colds.

I have wished for warmth on the tree at Archerfield, so when it finally arrives – she says optimistically – you can thank the tree. Meantime, the recipe below is for a simple, gorgeously buttery, spicy pilaf. If your sinuses require a bit more fire and brimstone then up the garlic and add another teaspoon or two of the ras-el-hanout.

Chicken Pilaf with Ras-El-Hanout

Serves 4

1 onion, finely chopped

2 large carrots, diced

30g butter

1 tbsp oil

2 chicken breasts, cut into 4 cm pieces

Salt and pepper

4 tsp ras-el-hanout spice mix

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

500ml chicken stock

250g basmati rice, well rinsed

2 or 3 handfuls frozen peas

In a large, heavy bottomed casserole dish, melt the butter and oil (the oil stops the butter burning) and sweat the onions and carrots until soft and translucent. Remove the veg and set aside for a few minutes.

Brown the chicken evenly, season with salt and pepper, and then add the garlic and ras-el-hanout. Fry for a few minutes, then return the veg to the pan.

Pour the chicken stock into the pan and bring to the boil, then put a lid on, turn the heat down very low, and let it bubble away quietly for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, rinse the rice well and add to the pot, along with a few handfuls of frozen peas. Give everything a good stir and bring to the boil. As soon as it’s boiling, put the lid back on and turn the heat back down to its lowest setting for another 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to take the lid off during this time or all the steam will escape and the rice won’t cook properly.

Turn the heat off and fork it through, then leave it, lid on again, for another five minutes to let the rice get really fluffy before serving.

Serve with a sprinkling of herbs – mint or coriander – and a big dollop of plain yoghurt.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


The sea we see is really an estuary, leading oil tankers and fishing boats into the busy beating heart of Scotland and then out again. We venture outside to count boats on cold days and warm days. And though we visit the beach in all weathers, we like it best in spring and autumn. The crowds only descend from the city in the height of summer, so at this quiet time of year when the days are finally getting longer, we own the sea and the shore and the wilderness of buckthorn with its secret passages and hidey holes.

Spring arrived for three days this week, turning the water azure; today it has sloped away leaving behind blossom, promises and a greyish chill. 

No matter. I have sunshine in a bowl . . . restorative, cheery, Carrot, Squash and Coconut Soup with a hefty kick of ginger and a squeeze of orange.

This is an adapted version of Rory O’Connell’s lovely Carrot, Coconut and Lemongrass Soup from Master It, a tome that is fast replacing Good Housekeeping as my go-to book for delicious, best basics that I know I’ll still be serving when the kids are too old to want to come boat-counting with me.

Carrot, Squash and Coconut Soup

Makes around 1.2 litres

40g butter

2 onions, finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

4 medium carrots, peeled and finely sliced

1 small butternut squash, peeled, fibres and seeds removed, diced

4cm finger root ginger, peeled and finely chopped

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper

800ml chicken stock

400ml can coconut milk

Juice of 1 mandarin orange

In a large, heavy-based casserole pan, melt the butter, then add the onions, garlic, ginger, carrots and butternut squash. Stir well to coat, then add a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. Put a lid on and let it all cook away gently on a low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the veg doesn't stick.

Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a strong simmer, then put the lid back on, turn the heat back down low and let everything quietly bubble away for 30 or 40 minutes.

When the carrots and butternut squash give easily under a sharp knife, they are done. Take off the heat and whizz smooth with a stick blender taking care not to splatter hot purée everywhere (she says, ruefully).

Add the orange juice.

Warm the coconut milk in a separate pan and then add to the rest.

If you want to get fancy, scatter a handful of toasted walnuts over the top. Walnuts and butternut squash are lovely together.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Almost everyone who has wandered my way at feeding time has had this simple stew plonked in front of them so it’s remiss of me not to have shared the recipe sooner.  The chorizo adds flavour rather than meaty substance; here, lentils, beans and tomatoes are really the stars of the show.  Do serve it with bread.  Rice is nice, but it’s best scooped/dunked/smeared.  Don’t forgo the balsamic because it gives a necessary crack of the whip at the end of the mouthful.  And there should always, always be red wine with any red food served on a dismal Tuesday in February.

I hesitate to call this a 'store-cupboard' stew.  In the sense that it works a few canned heroes into a bright, bold and warming supper, then it earns the title, but I can't help feeling it's a bit presumptious to assume everyone has puy lentils and black beans permanently in stock.  One of these days I will have a grown-up larder, until that happens I'll go about the business of Buying Things When I Know I'll Use Them.

Apologies for the lack of photos – there’s something about winter that makes me antsy to get hot food into cold bellies and therefore I forget to dig out a camera.  But hey, spring is on the way: there are snowdrops in the lane and, at dawn, deer have been wandering through the gardens on our street munching brave bulb shoots.
Easy Chorizo Stew

Serves 3–4

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
200g uncooked chorizo, sliced
2 or 3 bell peppers, red or yellow, cut into generous slices
400g can chopped tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
500ml chicken stock
2 bay leaves
400g can black beans, drained and well rinsed
250g pack ready-cooked puy lentils
Salt and pepper

Sweat the onions, celery and garlic in the oil on low for ten minutes until they become golden and transparent.

Turn up the heat a little and add the chorizo slices.  As they sizzle they leach their vibrant colour and scent into the base.

Add the peppers and give everything one last whirl in the pan.

Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, sugar, balsamic vinegar and bay leaves, and then season with salt and pepper.

Bring everything to a simmer, then leave to bubble gently away for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, throw in the rinsed black beans and cooked puy lentils.  If you feel there’s a bit too much liquid, turn the heat up to reduce it faster.  Give the stew another 10 to 15 minutes, then serve.