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.


Friday, 24 January 2014


Burns Night is imminent, so let’s talk turnips.
Nubbly and deeply savoury haggis finds a light, silky foil in clapshot.  Simply a double-mash of neeps n tatties, clapshot is surprisingly good. It hails from Orkney, and is a bit of a non-recipe – ingredients prepared in such an instinctive way it feels silly to provide cooking instructions.  The only genuinely useful pointer I can give you is to cut the neep – aka swede – into chunks half the size of the potatoes so that everything cooks for the same length of time in the same big pot.

I threw in a handful of parsley and dill – delicious – but traditionally the dish is served with chives.  Tiny flecks of greenery are always welcome in the dark depths of winter.

Orkney Clapshot

500g potatoes

500g swede

Butter – 30g or so

Milk – a glug

White pepper – generously

Salt – a pinch

Peel, cut into chunks, bring to the boil, cook for 20 to 25 minutes until soft, mash with salt, pepper, butter and milk.

Serve with the great chieftan o’ the pudding-race.


Monday, 13 January 2014


Happy though it was, things got a bit high-maintenance and stressy at Christmas food-wise, despite my best efforts to take it all in my stride (i.e. drinking wine whilst cooking).  So I have entered this new year with a determined laid-backness.  I’m going to coast along for a while on not-really-recipes, low fuss and Nigel Slater’s mantra that ‘we are only making ourselves something to eat’ on a loop.

Here’s something nice I threw together the other day.  I was pleased with it, not only because it tasted goo-ood, but because those slices of bread are cut remarkably uniform in width.  Please inspect.  Aren’t they pretty?  My husband will testify that I am usually incapable of slicing a loaf in a straight line.  The bottom of the bread bin reveals all manner of hacked crusts wilting on the diagonal.

Deducing – rationally, hopefully – that laziness breeds success, I won’t summon the energy to give this tasty morsel a proper title; I’ll just call a spade a spade . . .

Lovely Melty Wintry Salad on Toast
Serves 4
2 cooked beetroot (baked is best for smoothness and minimal liquid), peeled and cut into small cubes
1 large apple, cut into small cubes, no need to peel
Handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
100g cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
4 thick slices of good-quality baker’s bread – I used a spelt loaf

Lightly toast the bread.

Mix the miscellaneous cubes in a dish.

Arrange the rubble artfully on top of the toast slices and pop under a hot grill for a few minutes.