"A comfort blanket in a bowl": three recipes for dal

Next week marks the first British Dal Festival, which this year is taking place in my home city of Bristol. Surely there couldn't be a clearer prompt to write a little about one of my favourite dishes and share some of my favourite recipes with you?

If dal (dahl, dhal?) was a person, they would inspire severe envy. They’d be clever, funny, beautiful, rich, sociable, hardworking - and so nice that you couldn't even dislike them. Because dal, in its various guises, really does have it all. It’s delicious and luxurious, yet also easy and cheap to make, very nutritious and incredibly versatile. You can eat it as a soup with a hunk of bread, serve it as a side dish to a curry, or dress it up as the main event with extra toppings, condiments and rice or chapattis. It's also welcome at any time of year.  As Felicity Cloake observes, “the fresh, sharp spices and clean herbs work as well on a cooling summer evening as a dark winter's night.”  

Little wonder, then, that dal has become a staple dinner in my home. For me, dal in any form is pure comfort. It’s a bowl of deep flavours that I can wallow in, with a gentle, creamy texture that soothes and satisfies. And I’m not the only one - I’ve spoken to many others, from different backgrounds and with different tastes, who regularly cook dal. It seems that this dish, or rather the array of dal dishes from across the Indian subcontinent, have become beloved by many communities living in Britain.

I’ve eaten dals made with different pulses, cooked in different ways and served with different toppings, yet I've not even scratched the myriad surface of this dish. However, I’ve shared three firm favourites with you below to get you started on your dal addiction:


The showstopper: Dhal with crispy sweet potato and quick coconut chutney (Anna Jones)

This recipe is available in A Modern Way to Eat and online via Anna's website.

If you're looking for a dal to turn heads, look no further than this one from Anna Jones. I’m not surprised that it has become one of her most popular dishes. Whilst the spiced, spinach-swirled dal is delicious by itself, it is the topping of roasted sweet potatoes and bright coconut chutney that elevates it to the realm of a showstopper. It looks pretty gorgeous, too. This is the dal to serve to your friends when you’re looking to impress. (Pictured below with a 'rustic' homemade chapatti).

Anna Jones dal with sweet potato and coconut chutney


The weekday workhorse: Lentil, tomato and coconut dahl (Elly Curshen)

All four variations of this recipe are available in Let's Eat; the version with tofu, avocado and pickles is available online via The Pool.

Make a batch of Elly Curshen’s dal and you’ll have six portions ready to grab from the freezer when you need a quick dinner.  Elly isn’t constrained by ‘authenticity’ and plays with her dal for delicious effect, suggesting three different toppings and a fourth option that transforms the dal into a soup. I can confirm that all variations are excellent, and can even be mixed-and-matched to keep things interesting. My favourite suggested toppings include crispy seared tofu or a soft-boiled egg, the yolk bleeding deep yellow into the red-gold dal. (Pictured below with 6-minute egg, wilted greens and breadcrumbs.)

Eleanor Curshen's lentil, tomato and coconut dahl


The taste of home: Gujarati dal with peanuts and star anise (Meera Sodha)

This recipe is available in Fresh India or online via the The Happy Foodie.

This dish can be eaten as a side dish, but it is delicious in its own right owing to its layers of robust flavour: the fragrance of star anise and curry leaves, the spike of lemon offset by the sweetness of honey, the crunch of toasted peanuts. “This dal is my and every other Gujarati’s taste of home,” Meera Sodha says in the introduction to the recipe. It’s been made so often in our household that, for me too, it now feels like the ultimate, homely meal. A comfort blanket in a bowl, if you will. (Pictured below with brown basmati rice and peanuts, and awaiting a swirl of yogurt.)

Meera Sodha's Gujurati dal with peanuts and star anise

Mince Pie Porridge recipe

This recipe brings together two of my favourite warming winter foods: porridge and mince pies. The combination came about quite by accident when, whilst making breakfast one morning, my eyes fell upon a leftover half-jar of mincemeat in the fridge. I've added a little extra fruit to freshen it up, but it definitely still has all the joy of eating pudding for breakfast. (Last year, I even swapped the almonds listed below for some mince pie pastry that was going spare, and I bet a little shortbread crumbled over would also be delicious!)

Serves 2, or scale up the recipe as required. 

Mince pie porridge



For the topping:

  • ½ clementine or satsuma
  • ¼ apple
  • 2 teaspoons of light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of mincemeat
  • 1 tablespoon of flaked almonds (or some crumbled pastry or shortbread!)

For the porridge:

  • 1 cup* of oats, approximately 100g
  • 1 cup milk, approximately 250ml 
  • 1 cup water, approximately 250ml 
  • Zest of one clementine (you can use the same clementine as above)
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • A few drops of vanilla extract 

*Use the same cup to measure out the oats, milk and water. As long as you have equal parts of each, the consistency should be right. 



  • Toast the flaked almonds in a small pan set over a low heat. Watch them carefully and, as soon as they start turning golden brown, remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Gently grate the peel of the satsuma using the finest side of your grater. Set the peel aside for the porridge. Dice the satsuma and apple into small squares. 
  • Add the diced fruit to a small pan with the sugar and three tablespoons of water, then set over a low heat. Cook gently for a couple of minutes until the fruit is starting to soften. Add the mincemeat to the mixture and continue to cook for another couple of minutes until warmed through. Set aside. 
  • In another pan, add all the ingredients for the porridge. Cook over a low heat, stirring often, until it reaches the consistency of your liking. If it gets a bit 'claggy' before the oats are fully cooked, add a splash more water and continue cooking.
  • When the porridge is almost ready, pop the fruit and mincemeat mixture back over a low heat for a minute to warm through.
  • Serve the porridge in bowls, topped with a swirl of Greek yogurt, the fruit mixture and the flaked almonds. Pour over any residual liquid in the fruit pan and, if you have a really sweet tooth, add a dusting of light brown sugar.

A season with The Modern Cook's Year: my review of Anna Jones's latest cookbook

Just as autumn arrived this year, so too did my copy of Anna Jones’s third cookbook: The Modern Cook’s Year. The book has quickly become a staple in our kitchen and, as autumn has fallen slowly into winter, so I have fallen for many of the recipes within.

If Ottolenghi introduced me to how delicious vegetarian food can be, it was Anna Jones who made it accessible. For me, as for many, she moved vegetables firmly from the side dish to the centre of the table. Sometimes she celebrates their simplicity - raw or gently cooked, with an uncomplicated dressing of oil and lemon. At other times, she draws in more complex flavours from across the globes - dals, chillis and stir fries, which make use of bold, international ingredients to elevate the vegetable. 

I am a huge fan of her first two books, but The Modern Cook’s Year might well prove to be my favourite yet - purely based on the sheer number of recipes I want to cook immediately. These are my initial impressions after a season with the Cook’s Year. If autumn and the beginning of winter are any indication, I can’t wait to cook through spring and summer. 

Chard and ricotta spaghetti, A Modern Cook's Year


Style and structure

The Modern Cook’s Year is ordered by the seasons, with a fluidity that allows for those ‘in between’ weeks and months - just think of the last warm days and first chilly evenings that knit together summer and autumn, but can’t be pinned definitively to either season. To take this merging of seasons into account, Anna divides the book into six, rather than four, chapters -  each covering the seasonal produce of roughly two months, but also acknowledging the fruit and vegetables that bridge the chapters. 

This seasonal structure isn’t only based on the fresh produce available at a given point, but on the rhythms we adopt throughout the year, our changing relationship with nature and, therefore, the food that we feel like eating at that time. A tomato tarte tatin in summer, perhaps; a chard, leek and walnut tart for autumn. 

As part of the seasonal structure, grey pages throughout the book mark ‘milestones’ that punctuate Anna’s year - from the practical to the more mindful. For autumn, there is an excellent section on ‘making friends with your freezer’, which includes everything from advice on portioning to reflections on the importance of preserving and extending the bounty of the warmer months. I also adored her thoughts on cooking with grace, and look forward to the summer sections on flowers in the kitchen and veg-centred barbecues. Other milestones are less likely to punctuate my year, such as juicing or a ‘reset’, but will surely appeal to others. 


Frequently found flavours

With such a seasonal book, the frequently found flavours will evolve throughout the year, slowly merging from chapter to chapter in a cyclical pattern. Cooking through autumn (and reading ahead to those winter and spring recipes that use veg also available in autumn), it is clear that certain ingredients abound. There are root vegetables and squashes; brassicas and onions; store cupboard staples like lentils or tinned tomatoes. With a few exceptions of difficult-to-source ingredients, such as molasses, smoked water or spelt flour, recipes are often simple and there are plenty of quick meals.

Those who own Anna’s previous books will recognise what I think of as the yellow ‘pick and mix’ pages, which suggest different routes to creating a staple dish. For autumn, there are ‘roasting tray dinners’ built from the layers of a main vegetable, a soft vegetable, a hearty add on, a liquid, a herb and a flavour boost. During the year, readers will find a similar format for soups, fritters, flatbreads and salads, amongst other things. Here, and throughout the book, suggestions are offered to alter dishes for dietary requirements, particularly for vegans.

Cauliflower steaks, A Modern Cook's Year

New favourites

The dishes in The Modern Cook’s Year seem a little heartier and more comforting than those of Anna’s previous books, which definitely appeals to my tastes (I am the Queen of Cosiness). As the weather has turned steadily colder through autumn, it is these cosy dishes to which I have frequently turned. Squashes and root vegetables, in particular, have made regular appearances at the dinner table: a carrot dal and a squash dal; smokey pumpkin, red lentil and apricot kofte; and squash polpette with pesto-coated spaghetti.

Brassicas have been there in abundance through the autumn evenings. We love the cauliflower ‘steaks’, which are studded with taleggio cheese and coated with a mix of capers, olives, peppers, breadcrumbs and herbs - then baked until the former is molten, the latter is crisp, and both are golden. Brassicas often appear in pasta dishes, too, which are always a favourite for me. There’s a simple spaghetti with chard and ricotta and a more time-consuming roast kale and smoky mushroom lasagne. Or the supremely creamy, comforting kale and squash pasta bake (which reminds me very much of a favourite recipe from Stirring Slowly, another fantastic cookbook). 

For more frugal meals, we’ve turned to the recipes that make use of the jars, tins and packets in the cupboard. Yellow split pea soup with green olives made for a few very happy lunches, particularly when paired with a hunk of wholemeal bread. Orzo with tinned tomato sauce and feta is a quick, mid-week supper. Even the most hearty dishes, however, are lifted to lightness by a smattering of heady spices or fragrant herbs; a spoonful of harissa, miso or vinegar; or Anna’s characteristic use of lemon as another seasoning. This may be comfort food, but it doesn’t mean it can’t also feel bright and fresh. 


Next on the menu

With the Christmas season upon us, I’m looking forward to trying out the centrepiece dishes to feed gatherings of families and friends. First on my list is the spectacular roast squash, stuffed with pearl barley, sweet roast fennel and cheddar, then topped with buttery oats. The celebration celeriac and sweet potato pie, with a cheddar and herb pastry, might be a vegetarian option for Christmas Day. Desserts, too, will impress: maple toffee apple and pear crisp, toasted coconut rice pudding with sticky prunes, and sea salted chocolate and lemon mousse. 

For busier evenings spent writing cards, wrapping presents and crossing last minute items off the to-do list, I’ll try out Christmas Eve orchiette (not only for Christmas Eve, I hope). A quick dish of pasta and broccoli cloaked in a thick jacket of melting soft cheese, then given brightness and crunch by a crispy hazelnut and lemon topping. I can’t think of many meals that promise more comfort and joy.

Roast squash recipe, A Modern Cook's Year

Grapefruit, coconut and cardamom porridge

A bowl of porridge is traditionally seen as comfort on a cold morning, but its cosiness doesn’t mean it can’t also be fresh and bright. Here, the brightness comes from citrus fruit and the exotic notes of coconut and cardamom. This is one of my favourite winter breakfasts at the moment. 

Serves 2.



  • 1 mug oats (about 120g)
  • 1 mug water
  • 1 mug milk 
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon desiccated coconut
  • Natural yogurt (or plain yogurt of your choice), to serve
  • Brown sugar, to serve



  1. In a small pan, toast your desiccated coconut until it starts to turn golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Peel and slice your grapefruit. Set three quarters of the slices aside. Finely chop the other quarter of the slices and add them, along with the juices they will release, to the small pan.
  3. Add the oats, water, milk, coconut oil and ground cardamom to the pan. Bring to a simmer and stir regularly until the porridge has reached a thick, creamy consistency.
  4. Pour the porridge into two bowls, top with a swirl of natural yogurt, the grapefruit slices, the toasted desiccated coconut and brown sugar, to taste.
Grapefruit, coconut & cardamom porridge

Two weeks in Peru: my favourite places to visit, sleep and eat

Peru is an angular, muscular country, clad in the green of cloud forest, the brown of deserts and wide highlands, and the blue of lakes. It’s a place of natural extremes - the Andes are more sheer than any European mountain range I’ve encountered, the lakes are as vast as seas. Its also a place of natural abundance; many Peruvians are proud to tell us that 84 of the world’s 104 known ecosystems, and 28 of its 32 climates, are present in their country. 

We had less than two weeks in Peru, so we were restricted to the most urgent items on our bucket list: Cusco, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Lima’s food scene. If we’d had another two weeks, I’d have liked to journey West to see the rainforest, and then East to fly over the Nasca Lines and trek through the Colca Canyon. 

If we’d had another two months - and a better command of Spanish - I’d have stopped awhile in the smaller towns that most tourists merely pass through. The town known for making giant wheels of sweet bread, or the town hiding ‘South America’s sistine chapel’. Better yet, the town not remarked upon by any guide, where I spotted a mother and daughter dancing for sheer joy and, stopped at traffic lights, played the mirror game with a laughing boy in the bus opposite. 

To visit Peru is to open a door to a landscape and a history that is rich and complex, sometimes cruel, often beautiful; a door that is opened for you by a people who celebrate that richness, persevere through the cruelty and take real pride in the beauty. Below, you can find some of my favourite places to visit, eat and sleep, along with my favourite photographs.

Cusco door
Cusco skyline
Peru rail
Inca trail view
Taquile beach
Lima central square
Peruvian traditional dress

Which sites to visit

There are extensive travel guides on exploring Peru, but here are my top tips for the corners of the country to which we ventured. 

  • Explore Cusco - It’s easy to see why the Incas chose this beautiful, mountain-bordered place to build their capital. The Spanish conquistadors were equally enchanted and built their own places of worship on top of Inca sacred sites. We spent a very happy few days exploring the museums, churches and markets of Cusco. The Cathedral may grab attention with its prominent spot in the central square, but don’t miss the Convent of Santo Domingo, which sits upon the Incas' most holy site, Qorikancha or Temple of the Sun. Of the museums, our favourite was the Machu Picchu museum for its detailed, multi-language information and insight into the Incas' daily life. For a slower afternoon, take an hour or two to wander the streets of the artist’s quarter, San Blas, and pause at tiny Eusebio & Manolo for excellent Peruvian coffee, empanadas and sweet treats. 
  • Trek to Machu Picchu - There’s a variety of routes leading to Machu Picchu, with many people choosing to forgo the traditional Inca Trail for the Lares or Salkantay treks. Limited by time, we chose the shorter, two day-one night Inca Trail, getting off the train a little later and climbing steeply to join the route that runs through the cloud forests and amongst the most impressive Inca ruins, such as the agricultural terraces of Winay Wayna. The benefit of this route is that you come through the Sun Gate in the afternoon (rather than the morning), when the weather is more reliable, so your first view over Machu Picchu is clear and sunny - important for capturing those memorable photos. When we returned the next morning at sunrise for a tour, we found the site shrouded in mist and drizzle and were glad of the photo opportunity the previous afternoon! 
  • Sail on Lake Titicaca: Lake Titicaca - the largest lake in South America and one of the highest - has been beaten firmly into the tourist track. To escape the crowds, we organised a tour through Edgar Travel, a company committed to sustainable, responsible travel and visiting the less frequented, more authentic areas of Titicaca. We went first to a reed island, built and lived on by the Uros people, who survive predominantly on the income from fishing and, latterly, tourism. It’s a harsh, poor existence, confined to an island of just a few square metres, so I was unsurprised to learn that most young people have left for the mainland. By contrast, the ‘real’ islands, such as Taquile, seem idyllic, with their deep blue waters, wide sandy beaches and traditional way of life (though admittedly, women’s rights seem limited). Besides agriculture, handicrafts are a main focus and source of income. Men knit clothes for themselves and their families, with their spectacular hats indicating their age, marital status and societal position. Young women chose a partners not based on looks, but rather on the quality of his hat; in return for these knitting skills, she weaves him a beautiful belt to store keepsakes and coca leaves.
Cusco viewpoint
Street in San Blas, Cusco
Koirkancha / Santo Domingo Church
Eusebio & Manolo
Inca trail
Steps at Winay Wayna
Machu Picchu
Lunch cooked by porters, Inca Trail
Reed island, Lake Titicaca (1)
Reed island, Lake Titicaca (2)
Reed island, Lake Titicaca (3)
Taquile island (1)
Taquile island beach
Taquile island - man knitting
Taquile island dancers

Where to rest your head

  • Settle in at Tierra Viva - Although this small Peruvian chain of hotels is mid-range in terms of price, with deals often available online, they feel rather luxurious. We stayed in Tierra Viva hotels in Cusco and Lima, both of which offered great showers, huge wide beds and generous breakfast buffets. The hotel in San Blas, Cusco, has a particularly lovely boutique feel. Friendly staff greeted us as we hurtled back in from a day of sightseeing or trekking, and slowed down in the tranquil lobby with a warm cup of coca tea (when in Cusco) or emoliente (when in Lima). They were also very happy to make restaurant reservations, offer recommendations and book taxis. Comfort, peace and a generous welcome - what more could you need? 
Aji di gallina, Pachapapa, Cusco
Lomo Saltado, Huaca Pucllana, Lima

What to feast on

Peru's diverse climates, in which a diverse array of produce grows, heralds a diverse food culture. From fresh, citrusy ceviche (cured fish) to rich aji di gallina - shredded chicken in a gentle, spicy sauce thickened with breadcrumbs, nuts and cheese, then topped with boiled egg. A double carbohydrate is heartily endorsed; for instance, aji di gallina is served with potatoes and rice, whilst another traditional dish called lomo saltado (stir fried strips of beef) is accompanied by rice and chips. This range of ingredients and dishes keeps eating in Peru interesting, though potatoes - of which there are oven 300 varieties in Peru - are ubiquitous in every meal. 

With a few exceptions, our forays into the local cuisine were more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’. My top tips for eating out include the following: 

  • Try out a variety of restaurants…
    • Limo - Peruvian cuisine is tangled with the cuisines of settlers from many other countries, but there are three prominent fusions: Creole (Spanish-Peruvian), Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) and Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese). Limo is an excellent example of Nikkei cuisine, including salmon and avocado sushi rolls covered in panko, trout ceviche, seafood fried-rice and a contender for the best lomo saltado of our trip. Limo is owned by chef Coque Ossio, who runs a small selection of restaurants in Cusco. Of these, I’d also recommend Greens for lighter, organic, veg-centric meals and Pachapapa for traditional Andean cuisine, from aji di gallina to alpaca.
    • Amaz - If, like us, you don’t have time to visit the Amazon, you can get a flavour of jungle food at Amaz in Lima, run by vaunted chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. We feasted on vegetarian ceviche, corn tortillas with shrimp, refried beans and salsa, river fish with nuts and mushrooms, and chicken cooked in a parcel of rice, egg and banana leaf. 
    • Rafael - Lima boasts 3 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and many more restaurants featured in Latin America’s 50 Best. We didn’t have the reservations, or the money, to splash out at the three best, but we did visit a restaurant on the Latin America list, run by Chef Rafael Osterling. Osterling owns a lauded cevicheria, El Mercado, but we headed for his eponymous restaurant, Rafael, which serves a fusion of Peruvian, Italian, Nikkei and Asian food. We turned up late, without a reservation, but the waiters were accommodated us at the beautiful Art Deco bar. I tend to mistrust menus that try to ‘do it all’, but everything we tried - and spied at neighbouring tables - was superb. My big bowl of earthy, herby green tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffle oil was particularly delicious.
Sushi rolls, Limo, Cusco
Trout ceviche, Limo, Cusco
Amaz, Lima
Amaz, Lima
Rafael restaurant, Lima


  • … but also visit out the markets - San Pedro market in Cusco is particularly good for both fresh produce and cooked meals. Although far more ordered than some markets I visited in Asia, San Pedro is still a riot of noise and colour. To your left as you enter, there are rows an rows of women selling delicious fresh fruit juices, each waving their (largely identical) menus to win your custom. To your right, you can buy groceries, with everything from giant bags of quinoa to dried fruit to fresh fish. Venture to the far end and take a seat at one of the food stalls, where you can dine with the locals. We enjoyed a two course lunch of quinoa soup and lomo saltado, which certainly wasn’t gourmet but was tasty, filling and cost the equivalent of only £1.50! 
  • Feast from the earth - Panchamanca (‘pacha’ translates to ‘earth’ and ‘manca’ as ‘pot’) is a method of cooking underground, whereby hot stones are placed in a deep hole, layered with food, covered with grass and soil, and left to cook. For native Peruvian people, pachamanca is linked to celebration, ritual and paying homage to the earth mother. For any visitor fortunate enough to witness the ceremony, it serves as a literal reminder of the connection between our food and our land. Meat, fish and (as always) several varieties potatoes were covered in herbs and cooked until tender; for dessert, there were baked bananas. Simple, filling, delicious. 
  • Take a tour with the Lima Gourmet Company - Treat yourself to a food tour with the Lima Gourmet Company, which combines a little sightseeing with a lot of eating. We spent a half day wandering Lima’s stylish districts, pausing for organic Peruvian coffee and lacuma smoothies tasting of caramel and custard (though I couldn’t tell whether that was the fruit or the ice-cream!). At a local market, we marvelled in the abundance of fruit and vegetables grown in this extraordinary country - my favourite being the luscious Edward mangos, meltingly smooth baby avocados and cherimoya or ‘custard apple’, which genuinely tastes of strawberries and cream. Then it was on to a lesson in making pisco sours and ceviche. To finish, we enjoyed a refined take on traditional Peruvian dishes at Huaca Pucllana, a renowned restaurant named after the fascinating pre-Inca site that it overlooks. It’s certainly worth the money for a tour from these passionate local experts, who evidently adore their cuisine and the cultural heritage with which is it inextricably linked.
Quinoa seller, San Pedro market
Food stall, San Pedro market, Cusco
Juice at San Pedro market
Pachamancha feast, Lake Titicaca
Lima market, Lima food tour
Making ceviche, Lima food tour
Making pisco sours, Lima food tour
Huaca Pucllana, Lima food tour

Gin and Grapefruit Drizzle Cake

Any child of my mother must appreciate homemade baking and a good gin and tonic - marmite, too, for that matter. In this recipe, I bring together the baking and the gin (not, you’ll be relieved to hear, the marmite) with grapefruit to create a soft, fat-crumbed drizzle cake. Like the best drizzle cakes, it has a thick sugar crust, which reminds me of the deep layer of sugar that, as children, we spread on grapefruit halves, before leaving overnight to sweeten and soften for breakfast.

I think that the first crunch of sugar, followed by the bright citrus and the mellow hit of booze, could cheer even the darkest winter day. The flavour is gentle and, despite the sugar coat, not too sweet, so it can be eaten as happily at 11am with a cup of coffee, as it can at 5pm with a cup of tea. With a spoonful of fruit compote and another of creme fraiche, it also makes a simple dessert - perhaps enjoyed with a G&T.



For the cake:

  • 9oz (225g) self-raising flour
  • 6oz (170g) caster sugar
  • 6oz (170g) unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten 
  • Grated zest of one grapefruit
  • 50ml gin
  • 50ml grapefruit juice

For the topping:

  • 5oz (140g) granulated sugar
  • 100 ml grapefruit juice (about 1/2 a grapefruit)
  • 50ml gin
  • 50ml tonic



  • Preheat oven to 180c. Grease and line a loaf tin, leaving the baking parchment coming up and over the long edges of the tin to help you take out the cake later. 
  • Beat together the sugar and butter until pale and creamy. Add in the grapefruit zest and beat for another 30 seconds until it is well incorporated. 
  • In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs with a fork. Then add to the cake mixture and beat until frothy and full of air. 
  • Sieve the flour on to the cake mixture and gently fold it in with a large metal spoon.
  • Combine the gin and grapefruit juice and, a little at a time, fold it into the mixture. It looks like a lot of liquid, but I promise it will incorporate. 
  • Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly and the top is golden and springs back when pressed gently. 
  • Whilst the cake is baking, place the gin, tonic and grapefruit juice in a small saucepan with a spoonful of the granulated sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir for one minute until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  • When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and leave to rest for a few minutes
  • While the cake is still warm, prick holes in the top with a fork, sprinkle half the granulated sugar evenly over the cake and gradually spoon over half liquid slowly until absorbed. Repeat with the other half of the sugar and the liquid. Scoop any sugar that runs off the edges back on top of the cake. Again, it looks like a lot of liquid, but it will be absorbed and give a nice, moist texture. 
  • Use the edges of baking parchment to gently lift the loaf out of the tin and onto a cooling rack.
  • If you want the top to be very crusty, sprinkle on a little extra granulated sugar.
Gin and grapefruit cake

Slow cooking with Rachel Roddy: from Five Quarters to Two Kitchens

Autumn has definitely arrived in full force. The trees are flaming red, russet and gold; the nights are growing darker; my boots have been re-heeled and two new cardigans have been ordered. So it seems remiss of me not to have mentioned a favourite food writer who has accompanied me in the kitchen during spring, summer and, more latterly, into October. I am speaking of Rachel Roddy, whose recipes I turn to in her Guardian column and her two books, Five Quarters dedicated to Rome and Two Kitchens split between Rome and Sicily. 

I recently heard Angela Frenda, Food Editor of Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, speak of the absence of food writing in Italy. There is a strong tradition of restaurant criticism, she said, and there are many cookbooks, but the stories that accompany recipes are not told. Rachel Roddy, though not Italian herself, is changing matters by setting down the family tales and traditions that are inseparable from Italian cookery. 

What differentiates Rachel from other food writers is the clarity of her own voice and the voices of the Italian people from whom she takes inspiration. Her recipes don’t always grab me immediately, but I am slowly pulled in by her evocative, seductive writing - perhaps by a story of the local trattoria, or a local market trader, or a neighbour. A friend of mine asks her other half to read Rachel’s writing aloud, because of its mellifluous tone and ability to transport the reader (or the listener) to Italy. 

Rachel’s books are not those that I cook from most often, and they rarely introduce new ingredients or flavours, yet they do reinforce an approach to life and to food that I adore - unhurried, mindful, rooted in the seasons. Just as reading her words aloud is soothing for the ears, cooking and eating her recipes is soothing for the whirring brain. Cooking courgettes gently in olive oil and water until they are almost collapsing can calm your soul; eating them with silky strands of mozzarella and hunks of bread calms the stomach. 

Rachel’s recipes are typically composed of a few simple ingredients, but ones which bring the most joy: vegetables, cheese, pasta, pulses, sometimes butter, always olive oil. A baked pasta with ricotta and spring vegetables brought me much popularity amongst my friends this summer. Who couldn’t find happiness in huge shells of pasta filled with lemon- and parmesan-flecked ricotta, tangled with sweet peas and ribbons of courgettes, then baked in a béchamel sauce?

My vegetable-focussed style of cooking means that I do not often explore Rachel Roddy’s meat recipes, but simplicity abounds here, too. Chicken in breadcrumbs, served with mashed potatoes and peperonata (red pepper stew), was one of the most comforting dinners in recent memory.

It is not just an appreciation for simple ingredients, but Rachel’s slow approach to cooking these ingredients, that produces the most delicious flavours. There is caponata, rested for an hour, ideally three; pepperonata, cooked for 30 minutes until thick and jammy; cherries softened for 12 minutes in a syrup of red wine and bay. She exhorts you to take time and care making pasta - kneading it until smooth the rhythm of your favourite music, then letting it relax awhile before rolling. 

This is not to say that all Rachel’s recipes take a long time. She calls her soft almond pasticcini “coat-on biscuits”, because they can be made swiftly, the moment you walk in the door, possibly still with your coat on. They’ve been popular with my family during some troubled moments this year, their lemony brightness alleviating heartache. Then there are multiple sauces that can be pulled together in the time it takes to boil your pasta. Another favourite is a kind-of Italian tuna nicoise, in which you hard boil the eggs and chop the vegetables whilst the farro cooks. 

Where speed is needed, there is no panic, but rather quick, purposeful movements. Perhaps the best example of this is the firm swoosh of egg and parmesan through cooling pasta to produce that that classic carbonara sauce, which clings to the spaghetti. Her courgette ‘carbonara’ (she avoids calling it this directly, for fear of angering purists) has brought much joy at home, many likes on Instagram and frequent requests for the recipe. 

These are just some of the Rachel Roddy recipes that I have enjoyed and I’m certain there will be many more joyful mealtimes to come. I am still planning to try the mushroom and herb tagliatelle in the Guardian and the cherry and ricotta tart from Five Quarters; I’ve bookmarked several recipes from my new copy of Two Kitchens, such as fish in tomato sauce with capers. Then, of course, there’s the recipes I’ll often return to, chief among them those soft almond biscuits and anything with pasta. 

Baked pasta with ricotta and spring vegetables
Caponata, Rachel Roddy
Soft almond biscuits, Rachel Roddy recipe
Courgette carbonara, Rachel Roddy recipe

Farmdrop: the ethical grocer?

Eating is an agricultural and an environmental act. The food we choose to eat, including where we buy it from, how we cook it and even what we combine it with on the plate, has a huge impact on farming and land use. Farmers grow to meet the demands of the way we eat, rather than the way we eat reflecting what grows best in the environment around us. 

There’s so much information on sustainable farming, from organisations like the Soil Association to the work of pioneering chefs like Dan Barber, which is often complex and sometimes contradictory. This competing advice makes ‘ethical’ food shopping tricky. I can buy veg from the greengrocer, who supports some local farmers, but it’s easier to buy organic from the supermarket… and, later, I’ll discover an article about why organic isn’t necessarily best. Sometimes, it feels like I can’t win!

With these difficulties in mind, I was interested to try out Farmdrop, the self-styled ‘ethical grocer’, which has recently expanded to Bristol and Bath. They offer fresh, locally grown produce, but also products that you can’t get nearby (from citrus fruit to miso paste). This model means you can do your shop in one place, whilst still supporting local producers - ideal for me because I’ll sometimes forgo the greengrocer or butcher for the ease of buying everything at once in the supermarket. 

Farmdrop vans, Bristol

Farmdrop’s four principles aim to re-connect us with where our food comes from and who produces it.

  1. Keep it local: Farmdrop sources food from within 150 miles, where possible. 80% of their fresh fruit and veg is sourced within 100 miles; in supermarkets just 23% comes from Britain.
  2. Put animals first: Farmdrop offers only meat from animals reared according to the highest welfare standards.
  3. Don’t trash our planet: Farmdrop endorses sustainable, environmentally sound farming techniques that preserve resources and enrich the soils for healthier animals and crops. 
  4. Never screw people: Farmdrop pays local farmers 75% of the retail price, compared to 50% from a supermarket.

You can’t deny, Farmdrop sounds fantastic - so how did the experience of shopping with them match up to their promise? I’ll start by saying that it is more expensive that a regular shop: we spent over £50 on a weekly shop for two, not including some staples we already had in (cereals, pasta, sauces). We also had to stop by the supermarket to pick up some bits we couldn’t get at Farmdrop, such as tortilla wraps. Farmdrop assures me, however, that as they expand and demand grows, they’ll be adding to their products and replacing produce from their London suppliers with more local alternatives. 

That said, if you’re lucky enough to be able to spend more on your food shop, Farmdrop is unrivalled by other supermarkets in terms of the quality of food and service. The source of every product is clearly indicated, which allows you to make informed choices about what you eat. Even beers and spirits come from small-batch, English producers. Ordering is fairly straightforward - we added to our order, though struggled to see how to remove products once selected - and it was delivered on time by a friendly chap in one of Farmdrop’s 100% electric vans. Customer service seems to go the extra mile: when a bag of sweet potatoes was substituted for one loose potato, they sent an apologetic email within minutes and gave us a £10 voucher.

Purton House cabbage, Farmdrop
Purton House chicken, Farmdrop
Fisherman, Farmdrop

Most importantly, the food itself is delicious. The vegetables are full of flavour; the garlic is ten times bigger than the usual bulbs; the pears are perfectly ripe and sweet; the yogurt is thick, creamy and mild; in the milk you can taste just a hint of farmyard. But does Farmdrop not only benefit the customer, but also the producers behind this delicious food? I spoke to Caroline from Sole of Discretion, who supplied the fish for our delivery, to find out how this system works at the other end. Happily, it seems she has only good things to say about the ‘ethical grocer’.

“Farmdrop allows us to focus on what we do best (getting quality, ethical fish off our boats), while they focus on marketing it and getting it to you,” Caroline tells me. “They pay a fair price for our fish and, unlike a supermarket, when they run promotions they fund the offers, not us. While money isn’t everything, in a small business it certainly helps and Farmdrop really do give 75% of the sale price to us; this empowers customers to put their money into better fishing practices and be part of a movement towards recovery of fish stocks in our seas.”

Caroline has seen first hand the wider social and environmental impact of Farmdrop’s model. “The best part of working with Farmdrop is the sense of connection and knowledge that together we are all on a journey towards a better food system. Farmdrop are the voice for hundreds of small-scale producers, many of whom, without their support and support of their customers, would be struggling to survive."

Despite claiming she isn't very good at soundbites, Caroline sums up Farmdrop far more neatly than me: "Their business model rewards and protects small producers and gives households the opportunity to buy fresh, local, nutritious and socially empowering food at the click of a mouse.

Farmdrop delivery
Farmdrop box

Alice's Foolproof Flapjacks

World's best flapjacks

This recipe was first shared on British Corner Shop's blog.

My sister, Alice, has much to teach me - she is collected, self-effacing and keeps her own counsel; she is conscientious, hard-working and a great cook. Although I can’t pretend to possess her composure (I’m far too prone to blurt out the first thing that comes into my head), I hope I’ve picked up her work ethic and do pretty well with the cooking, too. When Alice cooks, it isn’t often complex or elaborate, it’s just food you really want to eat.

Her flapjacks are a great example. They are straightforward to make, yet they’re also among the recipes for which I consistently receive the most compliments. By the time a recipient’s teeth have sunk from the caramel-crisp edges to the soft, buttery centre, they’re sure to have grown a smile - often followed up by a request for the recipe. I don’t blame them - I, for one, think this recipe can’t be equalled, especially if Alice makes it. 

Elaborate iced cakes are great sometimes, but this salute to the power of just sugar, butter and oats should become a regular in your baking repertoire. 



Alice's flapjack recipe



  • 4oz brown sugar - either soft brown or demerara work 
  • 6oz butter, cut into cubes
  • 8oz chunky oats
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • Olive oil
  • 1 standard round cake tin, approx. 18cm in diameter 



  1. Preheat the oven to 160c. Grease a round baking tin with olive oil and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan set over a low heat.
  3. When the butter is melted, add the sugar and golden syrup and stir until the mixture is smooth and even.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats.
  5. It should be just right, but if the mixture looks too wet, add in more oats; if the mixture looks to dry, add in more syrup.
  6. Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes until golden brown. (Tip: ovens vary, so check after 10 minutes to see if it is done and if any oats are leaking across the edge, scrape them back into the tin.)
  7. Remove and score into 8 pieces with a knife. Leave in the tin to cool for 15-20 minutes. 
  8. Turn out onto a chopping board and leave to go cool completely before cutting into 8 pieces - if you try to cut it too soon, it will crumble!

Courgette recipes: from one vegetable, a week of good eating

Courgette. Glut. If we played a word association game, surely these two would appear together? The summer season is upon us, when gardeners must harvest their courgettes several times a week for the plants to remain productive. It’s a time of year when, for courgette growers, every meal has courgettes on the side and every friend receives a courgette delivery. 

Yet one man’s glut is another’s gift. I adore these dark green vegetables, speckled with paler spots and suffused with a delicate flavour. They are delicious eaten simply - thinly sliced or peeled into strips and dressed in oil as part of a salad, with a grain and mild cheese. Yet they are also very versatile and can be used to add softness, both of flavour and texture, to many more complex dishes. 

However, much as I like courgettes, when my partner's grandparents sent us no less than twelve one Sunday, I struggled to think of ways to keep them interesting over the course several meals. I turned to my favourite food writers and my own back-catalogue for inspiration. And so, from one type of vegetable, I created a week's worth of meals - as well as leftovers for lunches and a cake for elevenses or afternoon tea. 


Courgette kofta (Meera Sodha)

A fresh, summery curry. Lightly spiced courgette kofta bask in the warmth of the ginger and tomato sauce. Leftover kofta are great wrapped in a flatbread, with a little of the tomato sauce, a swish of yogurt and some crunchy greens. The recipe is available in Fresh India. 

Courgette kofta (Meera Sodha)


Courgette carbonara (Rachel Roddy or Diana Henry) 

This dish has all the creaminess of carbonara, but is lighter and fresher. The mild sweetness of the courgettes works particularly well to counterbalance the rich egg and the saltiness of cheese. Rachel's recipe is available in Five Quarters or online here; Diana's recipe is available in Simple. 

Courgette carbonara (Diana Henry/Rachel Roddy)


Courgette, pepper and chickpea stew (Nigel Slater) 

A great weeknight dinner or packed lunch. Follow Nigel's tip to add capers, balsamic and/or herbs to intensify the juices. I eat it with a grain, such as couscous, or with a hunk of good bread to soak up the juices. I gave this recipe to a colleague last year, who recently told me that she now cooks it almost weekly - a testament to the tastiness and ease of this quick meal. The recipe is available in A Year of Good Eating or online here

Courgette, red pepper, chickpea stew (Nigel Slater)


Griddle courgette, burrata, fregola

This dish is quick to prepare, but still offers waves of soft, summery flavours. Courgettes, fried in oil until golden and almost collapsing, are layered with chunky fregola (I used Israeli couscous), basil and strips of creamy, milky burrata curds. A squeeze of lemon and a little more oil complete the dish. It's light, bright meal designed for warm days. The recipe is available in Simple or online here.

Griddled courgette (Diana Henry)


Courgette fritters (Me) 

The crisp, golden shell of these fritters conceals a soft, squidgy centre, with the grated courgette keeping them moist and light. Try them stuffed into a pitta, with a herby yogurt dressing, salty feta and crisp salad. Leftovers will make a very fine packed lunch. Get the recipe here.

Courgette and lentil fritters


Stuffed courgettes (Honey & Co) 

Here, courgettes are stuffed with risotto rice, covered with foil, and steamed in the oven. Once it's in the oven, you can get on with other tasks for an hour (remembering to check and baste once), before returning to reveal the finished article. It's a gentle, fragrant dish suffused with warm spices, fresh herbs, and sweet bursts from currants and tomatoes - all lifted by the bright, clean notes of lemon. The recipe is available in Honey & Co: The Cookbook.

Baked courgettes and lemon rice (Honey & Co)

Baked pasta with ricotta, courgette and broad beans (Rachel Roddy) 

If you didn’t think it was possible to create a light, summery pasta bake, think again. Huge shells of pasta are stuffed with mild, lemon-flecked ricotta and soft green vegetables, before being bound together with béchamel. Supple strips of courgette wind around the pasta and seal in the moisture. A dish that it so delicious and comforting it will win over any friend, family member or guest. The recipe is available online here.

Baked pasta with ricotta and spring veg (Rachel Roddy)

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake  

If courgette in a cake sounds strange, think of the ubiquitous (and delicious) carrot cake or chocolate beetroot cake. The courgettes lend moisture and a delicate, nutty flavour, but don’t affect the texture. This recipe brings together my own ideas with inspiration from some of my favourite cooks - Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater and Mary Berry - to create a spectacular summer cake. Get the recipe here.

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake

Restaurant review: Root, Bristol

I was not intending to review Root, I promise. I just visited as a normal punter, on a sunny day, with family. Yet I was so impressed, that I wanted to encourage others to visit. Go both to eat Root’s delicious food and to share in their ethos: to give vegetables the star billing and serve meat on the side in recognition of the health and environmental benefits. 

It’s quite a transformation from its previous incarnation as Chicken Shed. Root shows that one or two vegetables can be the whole, bold centrepiece, rather than just the side to a slab of protein. There are three meat additions, but they are presented at the bottom of the menu as, typically, a side salad would be. On this occassion, we are not tempted by meat and share five-six veggie small plates between two.

We are immediately won over by the first dish, gnocchi. Four pillowy, parmesan-streaked little dumplings spring a little in the mouth before softly falling apart. They are robed in fresh green - a pool of herby oil beneath, and a tangled curl of raw courgette strips above. I could have eaten a huge plateful of these alone and left very happy, but there is more to come.

Courgette gnocchi, Root
IOW tomatoes, ewe's curd, breadcrumbs

If anything could out-summer the courgettes, it would be the next dish of Isle of Wight tomatoes. They speak of sunshine. There are firm slices of large, deep-red tomatoes; small yellow cherries that burst in the mouth; and crimson tomatoes, skin peeled, that slide more sleekly on the tongue. They are the star players, with the delicate, tangy ewe’s curd and salty breadcrumbs in dripping there only to intensify the vegetable’s sweetness. 

Another favourite is cauliflower steak, which has been blistered to bring out its sweet, nutty flavour - a flavour heightened further by the smattering of caramelised cashews. A rich pool of cashew cream and, by contrast, fresh cauliflower shavings, bring this together into a complete dish. 

Cauliflower steak, cashews
Cauliflower steak, cashews (2)

There are also thick, rectangular corn chips that are crispy on the outside and satisfyingly stodgy in the centre, paired with romesco. I like my romesco a little thicker, crunchier, punchier, but it was perky enough. Across the table a cider rarebit and onion croquettes both ooze cheese. 

And, finally, a striking barley risotto proves the adage that one eats with the eyes. An orb of golden yolk is surrounded by a galaxy of brown-flecked green risotto. It is less of a smooth, sticky whole than its rice cousin, more of a thin sauce binding together chewy barley. Yet it is no less rich and it grows richer still when the confit yolk is pierced to streak through the grains. We are grateful for the fresh parsley flavour and the crisp puffed rice to cut through the richness.

Barley risotto
Barley risotto (2)

It’s all pretty delicious. If I was being picky, I’d point out that the service was slow - we waited a long time to order and to pay the bill - but the waitress was very friendly. She tells us the restaurant is no busier than Chicken Shed, but the style of service is different. Whilst previously she worried about manning queues out the door, she’s enjoying spending more time with customers as part of the new table service. 

We didn’t stay for puddings this time, but I’ll definitely be returning for the eton mess with cherry and the treacle sponge topped with fudge and crème fraîche ice cream. This food is flavoured with the summer season and I can’t wait to visit again throughout the year to taste what they do with autumn, winter and spring.

Root, Bristol

Restaurant review: Wilsons, Bristol

It’s a typical British summer’s day (i.e. pissing it down) when we visit Wilsons, a little restaurant in Bristol with a big reputation to live up to. There has been copious praise in local and national press alike for the excellent food served in this simple white dining room.

Wilsons - amuse bouches

I’m not about to disagree with these reviews, but rather to suggest there is something more at play here. Yes, the decor is simple and the food does taste great, but the same could be said of many restaurants. So what is it that makes Wilsons feel so special? Wilsons, similarly to my other favourite restaurants, has another dimension to commend it: it feels very genuine.

The dining room is plain, but this is for genuine utilitarian reasons - other than a huge vase of blooms, the space is designed with practicality and (I suspect) affordability in mind, rather than to meet some on trend, ‘rustic’ look. The food is delicious, but it doesn’t boast of being so. Each ingredient speaks modestly of itself so the dishes come together as a chatter of complimentary flavours.

This sympathetic balance of flavours is evident from the first sip of our aperitif: vodka infused with tart rhubarb and rose (just a hint, no soapiness here), champagne, and gentle sweetness rising from a pool of honey. There are delicate amuse bouches, too. Radishes with whipped iberico; tomato consume that tastes of concentrated summertime; and, our favourite, squid ink crackers with smoked cod’s roe. 

If this is just the curtain being lifted, surely the concert will be exquisite?

Wilsons starter - peach, courgette, goat's curd, mint
Wilsons starter 2 - wood pigeon gyoza

To start, we eat soft, yielding wood pigeon gyoza and crunchy little peas in a deeply satisfying broth, suffused with sweet, salty and meaty flavours. By contrast, there is a bright salad of yellow courgette, peach, goat’s curd and mint-infused oil. There’s little cooking in this dish, but much respect for the produce. Here’s a chef who understands that, to give diners the very best of an ingredient, you may need to leave it untouched. Sometimes, a cook can’t produce a better flavour than nature. 

Loveliness continues to abound. A fillet of cod, still quivering, supports more assertive flavours of clams, monk’s beard and fennel, all awash in a striking black pool of squid ink, whose deep, rounded, indescribably umami flavour catches the ingredients together.  Across the table, a plate of girolles, courgette, artichoke, borlotti and egg proves that most things taste better when bathed in butter and yolk. Its liberal truffle shavings are a little too boisterous - a lighter covering would have been ideal.

Wilson's main course 1 - cod, clams, fennel squid ink
Wilsons main course 2 - vegetables, egg, truffles

As I pass the kitchen on the way to the toilet, Jan Ostle (co-owner and Head Chef) shouts hello. After I gush about the pigeon gyoza, he tells me with pride about shooting the birds himself in a move towards self-sufficiency. Later, Jan delivers the dessert to our table, perching on the windowsill to chat more about their growing focus on sustainability - they’ve recently started to grow their own vegetables, too. 

“My wife is so amazing,” he says of his partner and co-owner Mary, who isn’t there on the evening of our visit. “She works so hard on our plot of land and she’s also raising our child.” 

If anything could endear us more to Jan than his humility, it would be the dessert he leaves us with: an intense chocolate delice. There are vivid layers of sharp, lip-puckering blackcurrant and bitter dark chocolate, with a little yogurt ice-cream to lighten the mood. It strides fearlessly across the palate and embeds itself in the memory. 

This dessert proves that, whilst the flavours at Wilsons are carefully balanced, they certainly are not tentative. Quietly confident cooking creates confident tasting dishes. When the food is this good, it speaks so assuredly for itself that there’s no need to shout.

Wilsons main course 1 - cod, claims, fennel, squid ink (2)
Wilsons starter 2 - wood pigeon gyoza (2)

Layered lunches: planning ahead for a week of good eating

Lentil fritters 2
Bulgar wheat salad 1

We often struggle to recognise our own strengths, but one of mine is organisation. Sometimes it feels more of a weakness - for instance, if a friend changes plans at the last minute, my organised mind struggles to adjust. But most of the time, organisation plays to my advantage. Never more so than in the preparation of packed lunches, which have often been the envy of my colleagues.

I am frequently asked how I put together my packed lunches and the secret is layering. I batch cook different layers - a base, vegetable, topping and dressing - and store them in the fridge, ready to be thrown together each day. Below are two of my favourite layered lunches, including seasonal suggestions for the vegetable 'layer' to see you through the year. 

With just a little preparation at the beginning of the week, you can feel smug about your delicious lunch as others resort to a sad supermarket sandwich. These days, I’m feeling even more smug as I transport my lunches in the new, sustainable bamboo lunch boxes from Leon (pictured below). 

*These recipes make enough for four portions, after which the food won’t keep well. When Friday comes around, I like to treat myself to lunch from a local food stall or cafe.*

Lentil and veg fritters, feta, herby lime yogurt

These fritters have recently been a staple on our table. Light, gently spiced, with a crisp shell that gives way to a squidge in the centre, they never fail to please. They are perfect stuffed into a pitta with salty feta, crunchy salad leaves and a bright yogurt dressing.  Makes around 12 fritters (enough for 3 per day). 


  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tin green or brown lentils
  • 1 egg
  • 20g dill
  • 20g parsley
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper


  • 250g courgettes (1-2 medium courgettes)
  • 100g broad beans


  • Feta (or another soft cheese, such as goat’s cheese or ricotta)
  • Pittas
  • Lettuce (optional)


  • 100g plain Greek yogurt 
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp cumin, toasted
  • Drop of honey
  • 2 tsp each of dill and parsley (set aside from the base ingredients)
  1. Grate the courgettes and place them in a sieve over the sink while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a large frying pan set over a low-medium heat. Once warm, gently cook the red onion for 10 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the spices and fry for a further minute. Remove from the heat.
  3. Meanwhile, boil the broad beans for 3 minutes, drain and, once cool, slip the beans from their skin. Finely chop the dill and parsley. Set 2 tsp of each aside in a small bowl for the dressing.
  4. Add the lentils, breadcrumbs and beaten egg to a food processor and blend until just mixed. Add the onion mix and pulse until it is incorporated. Tip into a bowl and fold through the herbs, courgette and broad beans. Season to taste and stir. 
  5. Wipe the frying pan clean. (Now is a good time to toast the cumin for the dressing, then set aside in the bowl with the herbs). 
  6. Put a thin layer of olive oil in a pan set over a medium-high heat. When hot, use two tablespoons to scoop small mounds of the mixture into the pan, flattening slightly. Fry for 4 minutes on each side or until golden. You will need to fry them in two or three batches depending on the size of your pan.
  7. Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together all of the ingredients in a small bowl, including the herbs that you set aside earlier.
  8. Once cooled, place the fritters and the dressing into separate containers and store in the fridge until ready to use. 

To assemble: If warming the fritters, re-heat in a pan or under the grill so they stay crispy. Warm your pitta in the oven or a toaster. Stuff with the fritters, feta and lettuce, and drizzle with a generous spoonful of the dressing. 

Seasonal vegetable variations:


  • Cauliflower (cut into small florets; boil until al dente or roast in a little oil until golden) 
  • Kale or cabbage (thinly shredded and steamed or boiled)


  • Broccoli (cut into small florets, boiled or steamed until al dente) 
  • Spring greens (shred finely, steam until wilted or fry gently in a little oil until wilted)

Summer (as above): 

  • Courgettes (grated)
  • Broad beans (boiled and shelled)



  • Roasted squash (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Leeks (thinly slice, gently fry in a little oil until golden)
Lentil fritters 3
Lentil fritters 1

Bulgar wheat salad, goat’s cheese, lemon and pomegranate dressing

This bulgar wheat salad is a lighter, more sprightly option for lunch. The nutty grain is suffused with the juice from the roasted vegetables and the sharp-sweet dressing. Its especially good with goat’s cheese - or any soft cheese - crumbled on top to turn it into a fuller, more balanced meal. 


  • 240g bulgar wheat (other grains also work well - couscous, quinoa, farro, pearl barley and brown rice. Adjust cooking times according to the packet instructions)
  • 20g flat leaf parsley


  • 450g courgettes (2-3 medium courgettes)
  • 400g ripe cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chilli flakes


  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses 
  • Salt and pepper 


  • Goat’s cheese (or another soft cheese, such as ricotta or feta)
  • Little gem lettuce (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Slice the courgette into 1cm coins and place on a baking tray with the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil, season well with salt, pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the courgettes are golden brown and the tomatoes are bursting. 
  3. While the vegetables are roasting, place the bulgar wheat into a small pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, until it is just tender. Drain and leave to cool, before gently using a fork to mix through the flat leaf parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little olive oil.
  4. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and pour into a jam jar or small pot. 
  5. Once cooled, place each element - the bulgar wheat, roasted vegetables and dressing - into a separate container and store into the fridge until ready to use.


To assemble: Whisk the dressing with a fork if separated slightly.  Take one quarter of the bulgar wheat and vegetables. Drizzle with a spoonful or two of dressing and mix gently. Lay the bulgar salad on a bed of lettuce (optional). Crumble over the goat’s cheese.

Seasonal vegetable variations:


  • Root vegetables (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Kale or cabbage (shred finely, steam until wilted or toss in oil and add to the root vegetables for the last 10 minutes)


  • Asparagus or purple sprouting broccoli (steamed or boiled until al dente)
  • Peas (fresh or frozen, boiled according to the packet instructions)

Summer (as above): 

  • Courgettes (sliced, roasted in olive oil until golden)
  • Tomatoes (roasted in olive oil until bursting)



  • Roasted squash (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Mushrooms (slice, sauté in a little oil until the water has evaporated and they are golden)
Bulgar wheat salad 2

Cargo 2 Launch: Cargo Cantina

Above the sleek, wooden bar in Cargo Cantina, next to the mighty jars of chilli, sits a stack of coloured plastic plates. They are the universal signifiers of functionality, of food eaten outside, with your hands - I’ve encountered them everywhere from family camping trips in Cornwall to the roadside restaurants in Vietnam. So they seem appropriate for a taqueria inspired by the street food stalls and tequila bars of Mexico. 

Cargo Cantina 2

When we visit, Cargo 1 and 2 (converted shipping containers) hum with the chatter of groups who gather on tables outside each restaurant, optimistically awaiting short spells of sunshine. Cantina’s tables are among the busiest. Its popularity is unsurprising, for whilst this restaurant is one of the newest openings here, its owners are well established in Bristol. Kieran and Imogen Waite run popular tapas bar Bravas and San Francisco-inspired cafe Bakers & Co, whose brunches have caught the attention of national press. 

Cargo Cantina 1
Cargo Cantina 3

Like Bravas and Bakers, Cantina is a place of noise and energy. It’s a place where groups order rounds of margaritas and cervezas, cheerful staff bustle back and forth from kitchen to terrace and passers-by peer enviously at taco-laden tables. Its informality evidently appeals to all types of diners. On our left, a family give their young daughter her first taste of spicy food; on our right, a group of twenty-somethings celebrate a special occasion. 

The atmosphere is all very well, but what’s the food like? 

The food is as colourful as the plastic plates. The headline acts are the charcoal-coloured blue corn tortillas, with five lively toppings - we order them all. My favourites appeal for opposite reasons: one vibrant and fresh, one solid and earthy. On the first, morsels of monkfish, octopus and prawn dance beneath a bright dressing of peppers, tomato and onion. The other is piled with oyster mushrooms, potato, pumpkin seeds and sweet onion, which come alive with a dash of gutsy green tomatillo salsa.

Cargo Cantina 4

The side dishes, too, make a strong case that opposites attract. There are bright, zingy offerings and deeper, richer flavours. Fresh corn is prevented from singing too sweetly by a backing choir of sharp lime and hot, green chilli; shredded cabbage shouts with mint, chilli and lime. Then there are creamy black beans that teeter on the verge of collapse, with a subtle smokiness that works well with a squeeze of (yet more) lime.  

As you may be starting to surmise, the winning formula here is to magnify high-quality, organic produce through the lens of a few key ingredients: chilli, lime and herbs. These are the flavours of Mexican street-side dining, but refined to suit a more relaxed, restaurant experience. Cargo Cantina is lively, but it’s also somewhere you can linger over a meal; so sip on another (excellent) margarita, order a stack of tacos and settle in. 

To find out about the other new openings at Cargo 2, head to some of my favourite fellow Bristol food blogs:

Cargo Cantina 5

Il Canto del Maggio: a place to halt your wanderlust

It’s 8:30 am and already 26 degrees. I’m swimming in an azure pool, which reflects the brilliant, unbroken blue sky. Before me stretches a vista of Tuscan countryside, dotted with terracotta-roofed farmhouses and bordered by mountains; behind me is the shaded eating area where, last night, we feasted on local food and wine. Its at this moment that I decide I will never tell anybody about this place, for fear of it becoming crowded with holiday goers.

The problem is that, when something is so utterly lovely, it deserves - nay, it demands - to be talked about. Whether it’s a delicious meal or a brilliant film, I find the enjoyment of a special experience is always multiplied when shared. And so, here I am writing about Il Canto del Maggio, the dreamy Tuscan B&B and restaurant where I spent just a few days in June. 

Il Canto del Maggio could calm the wanderlust of even the most eager traveller. One arrives and immediately resolves to stay in this one location forever. 

Il Canto del Maggio


Book one of Il Canto del Maggio’s shuttered apartments, which run along a steep, cobbled path in a picturesque hamlet. 

Guests receive a cheery welcome from Simona and her little dog Bice - one of several pets who make up what Simona affectionally calls her ‘zoo’. Together, Simona and Bice show us to our apartment, La Castellana, which is set over two floors and has self-catering facilities. Although the apartment is (thankfully) cool and dark, the bright walls and rustic decorations lend it a cosy, colourful feel. The huge log burner would make it even more snug on a cold winter’s evening, but in the heat of early summer we are grateful for the air conditioning. 

Just down the cobbled path from the apartments lies the restaurant and terrace, where breakfast is served (more on that breakfast later...). Return back up the path to find the swimming pool. Swim here in the morning and you might be joined by two tiny, but brave, ducklings, whilst in the evening, swallows swoop overhead. To the fore of the pool, there is a sweeping view of the Tuscan countryside. To the right, there are vine-shaded sun loungers; to the left, the kitchen garden presided over by Simona’s father, Mauro, from which guests are free to pick vegetables. Observed from every new angle, this place gets more and more picturesque. 

Il Canto del Maggio (2)


Il Canto del Maggio isn’t only a set of tranquil rooms with a picturesque pool - it is also a fantastic restaurant. Indeed, many guests travel here primarily for its reputation of fantastic food. 

Those who, like me, believe that the best days begin at breakfast, will not be disappointed. The morning meal is served al fresco on the terrace, where greenery sprawls overhead and on every side. The breakfast table buckles with homemade cakes, tarts and pastries, as well as cereals, yogurt, fruit and cheese. If you’re lucky, there might be leftover pudding from the previous night. My favourites include a crisp, buttery crostata filled with cherry jam, a barely-sweet dark chocolate cake concealing globes of apricot, and a gentle yogurt cake flecked with fruit and chocolate.

Breakfast, Il Canto del Maggio

If you think you need never eat again after breakfast, the smells that begin wafting from the wood-fired oven in the afternoon will persuade your stomach otherwise. Dinner begins at 8 with an aperitivo at the restaurant or, in summer, by the pool. Starters are served buffet style, including tarts, salads, breads, cheeses and charcuterie. The primi piatti is pasta, delicate but daringly al dente, dressed with vegetables from the garden and soft cheese; a secondi of roasted meats pleases the carnivores, but we slow down to save room for dessert. And what desserts! There is a very fine tiramisu, panna cotta, and cherry and almond crumble. Best of all, there is a dark chocolate cake with serious squidge, its dizzying richness steadied by the sharp-sweet spike from an accompanying compote.

Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (2)
Aperitivo, Il Canto del Maggio
Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (1)
Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (3)
Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (4)

Unsurprisingly, we are rarely inclined to leave Il Canto del Maggio, but we find a good gelato shop, Cassia Vetus, in nearby Terranuova Bracciolini. Just around the corner, we pick up a quarter-wheel of cheese reserved for us by Simona after we praised it at dinnertime. If visiting towns further afield, we follow her recommendations for eating out. We also pick vegetables from the kitchen garden and make use of our self-catering facilities. When the unfailingly generous Simona discovers that we are cooking pasta with courgettes, she brings us a pot of her father’s pesto. The pesto tastes of sunshine - it’s proof that a few, fresh ingredients (and lots of good olive oil) produce the best flavour.

Self catering at Il Canto del Maggio


Siena, Florence, Pisa and Bologna are all close to Il Canto del Maggio. Their proximity means it is possible to make day trips, or you could spend a few days in the city before heading to this secluded countryside B&B to rest and recover. Il Canto del Maggio is also a great base for smaller Tuscan towns and cities that lack tourist crowds, but remain abundant in the rich history, architecture and art of this region. 

Loro Ciuffenna
Loro Ciuffenna (2)

Start a day trip at Loro Ciuffenna, a medieval town of two halves where coloured houses rise up from both sides of a deep ravine. We wander across the Roman bridge, visit an old mill and pick up sun-saturated tomatoes and peaches at the market. Next, head on to the almost implausibly quaint village of Borro, where you will find artisan shops and an excellent vineyard that offers wine tasting. Drive on to seductive Arezzo in time for lunch at a restaurant on one of the streets running off the spectacular Piazza Grande. After lunch, we dive from the hot afternoon into the cool, shaded buildings of the Centro Storico, where churches, towers and aristocratic houses tumble down steep streets. 

Borro (2)
Lunch in Arezzo
Arezzo (4)
Arezzo (2)

To escape the crowds altogether, head up the winding roads that lead from Il Canto del Maggio into the mountains. Here, spend a morning hiking the network of paths connecting the little towns that grow out of the hillside. Signposts are rare and often faded, so if you have somewhere you need to be, then take a good map or a guide. I was quite content to wander out and back along the same path, with no destination in mind. We began and ended in pretty Poggio di Loro, where stone houses and archways are dressed with flowerpots and painted shutters.

Poggio di Loro
Poggio di Loro (2)

While I was charmed by these towns and villages, I found nowhere as enchanting as Il Canto del Maggio. It is the perfect, tranquil base to return to after a day of sight-seeing, but if you roll out of bed each morning and never manage to leave, I couldn’t blame you. This is a B&B that brings wanderlust firmly to a standstill.



Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake

Recipes are rarely unique to the writer. They have a provenance in the cultures and the people that we encounter. My recipes develop organically as I find inspiration around me. Perhaps I will adapt a method suggested in a cookbook with a flavour combination found via a friend, a food writer or a famous chef. 

This cake is a fantastic example of the complementary process of recipe development: a sponge adapted from Nigella comes together with a lemon curd from Nigel and mascarpone icing from Mary, with decorative pieces modified from BBC Good Food. Separately, each of these elements are good in their own right (I would eat the lemon curd straight from the jar). Together, though, they make the most glorious summertime cake.

The light, syrup-soaked sponge reveals rather beautiful green speckles when it is sliced. Don’t be put off by the vegetables - courgette and cake make wonderful bedfellows. You can’t taste the courgettes, but they add moisture and a delicate sweetness. I’ve added just a little sugar to the mascarpone icing, so it is not too heavy and balances the richness of the luscious, sharp-sweet curd. To take a bite of this cake is, for me, to taste sunshine. 

You can make most elements of this cake ahead. The lemon curd can be made up to a week or two in advance; the meringues, lemon slices, icing and even the sponge can be made the day before eating. On the day, you can just assemble, decorate and serve with fresh summer berries. If there's any leftover after the first (and second) helping, store in the fridge because the icing and curd can run in the heat.

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake (1)



Lemon curd

  • Zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 eggs

Mini meringues (optional)

  • 1 large egg white
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 25g icing sugar

Candied lemon

  • 100g golden or plain caster sugar
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, thinly sliced into rounds

Courgette sponge

  • 250g courgettes (1 large courgette), weighed before grating
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Mascarpone icing

  • 250g mascarpone cheese
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
  • Fresh berries, to decorate and serve



Lemon curd (can be made in advance)

  1. Put the lemon zest and juice, sugar and cubes of butter into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water - make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir with a whisk until the butter has melted. 
  2. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook, stirring regularly, for ten minutes, until it is thick and feels heavy on the whisk. Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as it cools.
  3. If it develops some lumps from the cooked egg white, you can strain through a sieve. Pour into sterilised jars and seal. If will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, but I never find lemon curd lasts that long!

Mini-meringues (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 100°C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment.
  2. Beat the egg white in a clean mixing bowl with an electric whisk until the mixture stands up in stiff peaks. Turn up the speed and add the caster sugar a little at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture should look thick and glossy.
  3. Sift the icing sugar over the mixture and fold in with a big metal spoon. 
  4. With two teaspoons, scoop up a heap of mixture with one spoon and use the other to ease a small swirl onto the baking sheet. Repeat until all the mixture has been used up.
  5. Bake for 1-1  1⁄2 hours until the meringues are a pale golden colour and crisp underneath. 

Candied lemon and lemon syrup

  1. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Bring the syrup to the boil, drop in the lemon slices and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Carefully remove the slices from the syrup and place on a piece of baking parchment to dry. They will remain a little sticky, so if you want them to dry fully, place them on a tray lined with baking parchment and bake in the oven at a low heat (around 40-50°C) for 30 minutes.
  3. Set aside the remaining syrup.

Sponge cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Wipe the courgettes with a kitchen towel (don’t peel them) and grate using the course side of a box grater. If you grate them too finely, they will turn to mush. Place them in a sieve over the sink to let any excess water drain.
  3. Put the eggs, oil and sugar in a large bowl and beat until creamy. Sieve in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined. Fold in the grated courgette with a large metal spoon.
  4. Pour the mixture into the tins and bake for 30 minutes, checking after 20-25 minutes. They should be golden brown and firm to the touch - a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out on a cooling rack.  
  5. Whilst the cakes are still warm, lightly pierce the top of each sponge with a fork and brush over a few spoonfuls of the lemon syrup. Leave to cool.

Mascarpone icing

  1. While the cakes are cooling, make your mascarpone icing. Beat the mascarpone in a small bowl with the sieved icing sugar and the vanilla extract, until the sugar is just incorporated and the icing is thick. Be careful not to beat too much, or the mixture may split. 


  1. To assemble, spread half of the mascarpone icing on one sponge and decorate with your mini meringues, lemon slices and fresh berries. Fresh flowers are also nice for decoration, but make sure you check first which ones are safe to use. 
  2. Put the other sponge on a plate and spread with the remaining mascarpone icing, followed by a layer of lemon curd. Gently lift up the first sponge and place on top. 
  3. Serve with leftover berries and a big smile.


Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake (2)
Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake (3)

Recipe for a positive morning routine (inc. peach, almond & cardamom bircher)

I am a morning person. Sometimes this is a source of frustration, because I am a bad sleeper and often wake early, unable to return to slumber. Yet, mostly, I relish the early hours. My head is clearest, my ideas are brightest and my heart most hopeful in the morning.

That time before the late risers appear feels precious, almost stolen. As if I’ve somehow added some secret extra hours to my day. Perhaps I’ve braved the rain or discovered the sun on a jog, made headway on a work project or cooked a great breakfast. I’m aware that all this may change if and when I have children, but for now I savour the luxury of those calm early moments to myself.

Whether or not you’re a morning person, getting into a routine when you wake up can set you on the right course for a productive day. These are my four essentials for a positive start to the morning. Except at the weekend, of course, when I hope to be found lounging in bed with a cup of tea and a good book. 

Morning routine

Move: Head out on a run, walk round the block or follow a yoga video. I find taking some exercise first thing awakens not only my body, but also my mind. As I work my muscles, I also work through the night time’s worries or sort out plans for the day ahead. If you have a garden or can get to some nearby green space, even better. There’s nothing as restorative as the sight of green leaves against blue skies and the sounds of water flowing or birds singing. 

Hydrate: Swap your first cup of tea for a more hydrating drink, particularly if you have taken some early exercise. My favourite morning brew is hot water with fresh ginger, lemon and a squeeze of honey. The rousing kick of ginger and the zing of lemon are soothed by the sweet honey, which makes this drink a gentle wake up call each day. 

Nourish: There are plenty of studies that demonstrate the importance of a good breakfast, so I’ll leave the science to them. For me, breakfast is important because it is delicious, but it also gives me energy for a productive morning. It could be anything from a bowl of cereal to egg on toast, but make sure you choose options that you find tasty, that aren’t too sugary and feel kind to your body. Take the time to prepare and eat something you enjoy. 

My friends and social media followers will know that I eat porridge year round. In the heat of the summer, however, I am sometimes persuaded to swap to what I like to think of as ‘summer porridge’ - bircher muesli. The recipe for one of my favourite summer flavour combinations is below.

Pause: Before you hurtle into action, spend a minute or two taking stock and setting intentions for the day, or week, ahead. I usually take this moment before I begin breakfast and open my emails, but find a time that works for you. Pause, breathe and begin.


Bircher muesli

Peach, almond and cardamom bircher muesli

Bircher muesli is filling, healthy and easy to adapt to your palate. In this recipe I love the gentle sweetness of almonds and the sunshine of cardamom as a base for the peaches, which are my favourite summer fruit. It would also work well with nectarines and apricots. 

The majority of the recipe is made in advance, so you’ve got the joy of knowing there’s a delicious breakfast ready for you in the morning. If it’s helpful to have several days' worth of breakfasts prepared ahead, you can make a big batch and store it in the fridge for 3-4 days. Bircher is also very portable, which is ideal if you like to take breakfast to work with you. 

The recipe serves 2, but you can multiply it according.



  • 100g oats
  • A handful of chopped dried fruit (about 50g) - I like dates, sultanas, cherries and/or apricots
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds, plus extra to serve
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • A few drops of vanilla bean extract (optional)
  • 150ml milk
  • 150ml water
  • 1 tbsp yogurt, plus extra to serve
  • 1 apple, grated
  • 1 peach, sliced or diced
  • Honey, to serve



  1. Place the oats in a medium-sized bowl or plastic tub. 
  2. Add the dried fruit, ground almonds, sunflower seeds, cardamom and vanilla, if using.
  3. Cover with a mixture of half milk, half water (around 150ml each) and stir in the yogurt.
  4. Refrigerate overnight or for a couple of hours.
  5. Grate the apple and fold through the oats. (I add the apples in the morning so they retain their crunch, but this step can be done the night before if you need to quickly grab the muesli and head out the door).
  6. Loosen to your desired consistency with a little more milk.
  7. Place into a bowl and top with the peach, a spoonful of yogurt, a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds and a drizzle of honey.

Cookbook review: Practical Cookery, 1935

Household cake

In his old age, my Grandpa collected elastic bands on his walking stick. The wooden handle, worn smooth by his knobbly hands, became a mass of reds, greens and browns by the time it reached the base. So, when my mum handed me an old cookbook that was really more a bundle of tattered pages bound together with an elastic band, I could guess to whom it had belonged. Practical Cookery by Marjorie Michael had originally belonged to my Grandpa’s mother and she had handed it down to him, along with the instructions and extra recipes that he has scribbled in the margins.

My parents couldn’t understand my fascination with Practical Cookery, as I pored over the recipes and carefully reordered the pages. But, for me, this is a piece of social history. It is perhaps the closest I’ll ever get to my culinary heritage - though, as I would find out, not a heritage I necessarily wanted to claim (more on that later…). My auntie squealed with excitement, and a little sadness, when she spotted it on my bookshelf. For her, it evokes memories of my grandparents’ divorce. When my Grandpa was left to fend for himself, he turned to his mother’s book as an authority on how to get a meal to the table. 

Practical Cookery is structured around courses, from soups, to meats, vegetable dishes and eggs, through to pastry and puddings. It begins with a section entitled ‘Food Values’, which gives advice on ‘body building’, ‘energy giving’, ‘blood hardening’ and ‘bone hardening’ foods. A forerunner to Jamie’s Super Food books, if you will. Each chapter opens with hints for the cook, but otherwise instructions are direct and sparse. A level of basic knowledge is assumed that many millennials, accustomed to the handholding of modern cookbooks, have lost. The temperature of a ‘moderate’ or ‘hot’ oven, how much of a flavouring to add, what you are testing for when you skewer a cake and many other things go unexplained. In a hyper-visual culture, it’s also strange to cook from a book with no pictures. Are my potatoes browned enough? Is my sauce the right consistency? I yearn for photographic confirmation that my meals are ‘correct’.

I decide to spend a week cooking from the book. “Really?” asks my other half as he dubiously eyes a recipe for boiled tongue. I reassure him that tongue will not be on the menu - I’m interested to see how someone who follows a pescatarian diet, which is how we predominantly eat, would fare in the 1930s. As I write my rather limited weekly shopping list, I realise how fortunate I am. In my supermarket, for instance, I can buy miso to use in a marinade for aubergines, before roasting them until they are meltingly soft and suffused with a deep umami flavour. When this cookbook was written, not only would miso be unheard of, but even aubergine would have been nigh on impossible to find. And so many things that I use regularly to create fragrant vegetarian curries - fresh chilli, cumin, coriander, turmeric, tamarind paste - are not there to add colour. 

There are, I admit, some nods to food from further afield, but the consequences are often unappetising flavour combinations. The curry sauce consists of infusing stock with desiccated coconut (so far so good), then adding apples, onions, sultanas, lemon juice and jam (less good). A pineapple and banana salad sees the fruit mixed with cream cheese, walnuts, lemon, lettuce and grated carrot, then dressed in mayonnaise. Even recipes from Europe are controversial. Italians would weep to read the instructions for ‘risotto’, in which rice is “boiled quickly”, before stirring in cheddar and tomato sauce at the last moment. 

Beyond a squeeze of lemon or a grating of nutmeg, I decide to stick to ingredients found closer to our shores. But while I never expected to find excellent recipes from other cultures, I am surprised that the best of British produce is not celebrated. So many of the Spring ingredients that I enjoy at the moment are nowhere to be found. There is no rhubarb, no chard, spring greens or broad beans. Herbs that can be grown in our gardens - thyme, dill, sorrel, mint - are not harnessed to add bright, clean notes to dishes. Just occasionally I stumble across simple, sympathetic cooking of seasonal ingredients, such as asparagus cooked in lots of butter and served on toast. Most of the time, though, it is a case of a little parsley and a lot of potato. 

Just as there is little celebration of seasonal British produce, there is also little pleasure taken in the process of cooking itself. My favourite food writers, from Rachel Roddy to Meera Sodha, have taught me that time and care coax the best out of ingredients. Yet in an era when every task took much longer, from washing clothes to the weekly shop, it seems time is a luxury. Prep time, in particular, must be minimal - ingredients are thrown in a pot, or in the oven, and left to cook. Onions are not sweated gently until they are sweet and mellow, but sliced and quickly fried or boiled vigorously with other ingredients. All vegetables are treated equally: twenty minutes for boiled potatoes, twenty minutes for (very soft) green beans and peas. Onions are not sweated gently until they are sweet and mellow, but sliced and quickly fried or boiled vigorously with other ingredients. The result is, with some exceptions, rather a mush. 

This style of cooking is about function rather than flavour; a utilitarian process of getting the basic nutrition required. I am saddened by the thought that my forebears did not experience the joy of cooking, that journey from base ingredients to delicious meal. I wonder if they found joy in eating together, either? Did they have time to chat the evening away over the debris of empty plates and wine glasses on the dining table? The baking chapter is the one place where care and time is often found, perhaps in kneading dough, resting and rolling pastry or making preserves. Steamed sponges soaked in syrup; stale bread transformed into custard-steeped puddings; intricate tarts and flans; delicate biscuits and petit fours; cakes that don’t need mountains of buttercream to taste delicious. Here, there is pleasure in the making and in the eating, too.

Below is a list of what we ate during the week. I quickly discovered that what are listed as vegetarian meals are often, in fact, side dishes and learned to scale up the portion sizes accordingly. Even so, after several dinners that were essentially just boiled vegetables, we turned to peanut butter on toast as a second course. 

  • Savoury baked fish: White fish fillets are covered in grated onion, sliced tomato, parsley and breadcrumbs, before being baked. This was quite tasty, although the cooking times left the onion a little raw and the fish slightly overdone.
  • ‘Spanish’ rice: The inverted commas are needed here, as there wasn’t much that the Spaniards would recognise in this dish. Rice is boiled with grated onion, grated carrot and diced tomato, stirred with Cheddar cheese and curry powder, then poured into a wetted moulds to set before turning out. I had learned my lesson from the still-raw onion of the previous night, so I deviated from the recipe slightly by gently frying the onion before beginning. It wasn’t a sophisticated meal, but it was soft and gooey, with a background warmth from curry powder. Comforting, nursery food.
  • Green salad (side dish): A much more classic salad than the pineapple and banana number mentioned above, this contained cucumber, tomato, radish and lettuce. The French dressing was delicious (if a little incongruous when paired with the Spanish rice) and is a recipe I'll definitely return to.
  • Vegetable hotpot: Sliced vegetables - potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, celery, turnips, onions and lentils - are layered with dabs of butter, then stock is added to the pot and it is baked for an hour and a half. The result soft and bland, though inoffensive. Proof that most things are improved by a poached egg and a good grind of pepper. 
  • Curried lentils with rice: I was relieved to find a dish where onions not boiled, but gently fried in fat - here, with curry powder added for the last minute. Lentils, desiccated coconut, sultanas and stock are then added and simmered until soft. Although it did not have the depth of flavour I have come to expect from a dal, it was sweet and warming. 
  • Spaghetti tomatoes: This was one of several recipes for stuffed tomatoes in this book. You start by halving and hollowing large tomatoes. Chopped cooked spaghetti is mixed with a white sauce and the tomato pulp, spooned into the tomatoes and covered with croutons and grated cheese. Bake in the oven or under the grill until golden brown. It was like a fresher, tastier version of tinned spaghetti hoops. 
  • Apple flan: A recipe that shows simple is best. You need nothing more than very crisp, slightly sweetened pastry crowned with a ring of sliced apples. There is no frangipane or icing, but it is spread with a mix of butter and sugar that turns the apples a golden, caramel brown upon baking.
  • Household cake: The cakes in this book aren't the decadent, multi-layered, over-iced affairs of the modern day. The idea of a cake for a special occasion is a fruit cake packed with dried cherries, currants, sultanas, raisins, peel, almonds and spices. This a more simple, everyday cake that uses less fruit, fat and eggs. I was concerned it would be dense, with only 1 egg and a method of mixing that is more similar to making a crumble than beating air into a cake. Yet, though thin, this cake is glorious and rather light. Crisp on the outside with a very soft, buttery crumb in the middle. It’s light enough to eat every day, but tasty enough to feel like a treat. It’s the type of thing my granny would have eaten with a wedge of cheese and my dad would spread liberally with butter, but I think it’s best eaten unadulterated. It works equally well in a lunchbox or with a cup of tea in the afternoon. Recipe below.
Savoury baked fish
'Spanish' rice
Apple flan
Spaghetti tomatoes



Household cake



  • 6oz flour (or 4oz flour and 2oz ground rice)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A little grated nutmeg
  • 3oz of sugar
  • 3oz butter
  • 2oz currants
  • 2oz sultanas
  • 1oz peel
  • 1 egg
  • Milk and water


  1. Grease tin and line the bottom only with greased paper.
  2. Prepare fruit (I presume this means weigh out!)
  3. Mix flour, salt and baking powder.
  4. Rub in fat until the mixture is like fine crumbs.
  5. Add beaten egg and sufficient milk to make a slack dough.
  6. Mix in fruit. 
  7. Put into tin and bake in a moderate oven (I baked at 180°C) for 45 minutes - 1 hour. Test with a hot skewer or a hat pin (I love this!). 

Recipe: sweet cardamom dukkah

The food and drink sector is a fantastically collaborative space. From no waste pop-up restaurants to independent food tours to podcasts, I see chefs, home cooks, journalists, PR companies and bloggers who are creating, eating and learning together. For me, this collaborative learning process is often as simple as a friend introducing me to a new flavour, ingredient or dish that then influences my work. Recent inspiration came at a supper club when, as we waited for dinner, social media guru and fellow food lover Charlie appeased the group's hungry stomachs by serving bread and oil with dukkah. And so began my infatuation with this Egyptian spice mix. 

Of course, I’d eaten dukkah many times before at restaurants, usually as a garnish to complete a deeply-flavoured dish. Yet when served so simply, clinging to oil-soaked bread, the ingredients were free to sing of themselves. Suddenly, the heady blend of nuts, seeds and seeds became the focus on my palate, rather than just the final flourish on a plate. Since then, I’ve used it to add character and crunch to my own cooking - scattered over salads, lentils and poached eggs, swirled on labneh or hummus, and as a crust for tofu or fish. Most often, though, I’ve eaten it just with bread and oil. 

As the consummate sweet tooth, I have also created a version to dress my desserts, breakfasts and snacks. The foundation stones remain the same: hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds. Yet, instead of cumin and coriander, the bricks and mortar are bright, citrusy notes of cardamom and warm cinnamon. A few pink peppercorns retain the subtle heat that would come from white or green pepper, but wrap it in a soft, fruity flavour. And then there is the toffee crunch of demerara sugar to bring out the sweetness of each ingredient and tie them together as a whole.

This dukkah is big and bold, so you’ll only need a little to elevate the flavour of a dish. My favourite way to eat it is, most simply, on top of yogurt, porridge and fresh fruit. It is a good match for soft, mild cheese and is particularly wonderful on toast with ricotta and honey. The layers of fragrant flavours also work well for desserts. You could crumble it on poached or baked fruit; wrap it in filo pastry and pour over syrup, before baking until golden; roll truffles in it for a crisp coat; use it as an ice-cream topping; or sprinkle on cakes and crumbles, pavlova or chocolate mousse. 

However you choose to serve it, its warm, intensely aromatic flavours seem to celebrate the recent turn towards sunny days and meals eaten alfresco in the garden. Recipe below.

Dukkah (1)


  • 100g hazelnuts, skin on
  • 3 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • Seeds from 20 cardamom pods
  • ½ tsp pink peppercorns 
  • 1 ½ tbsp sesame seeds 
  • 2 generous tsp cinnamon 
  • 2 tsp demerara sugar 



  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C
  2. Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. After 5 minutes, add the sunflower seeds, making sure to keep them separate. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, place a frying pan over a medium heat.
  4. Toast the cardamom seeds for 30 seconds, until they start to smell fragrant, then transfer them to a small bowl. Repeat with the peppercorns and transfer them to a separate bowl.
  5. Turn the heat down to low and toast the sesame seeds until golden brown, before transferring to a separate bowl. Toast the cinnamon for around a minute, or until fragrant, and set aside in another bowl.
  6. Once your hazelnuts are cool, rub them between your hands to remove the skin.
  7. Roughly chop the hazelnuts in a pestle and mortar, then move them to a large bowl. Chop the sunflower seeds and add them to the hazelnuts. Don’t process them too much, as the texture should be quite course and chunky.  
  8. Finely grind the cardamom seeds and add to the nuts and seeds in the pestle and mortar; then repeat with the pepper. Add both to the nut and seed mixture. 
  9. Finally, add the sesame seeds, cinnamon and sugar directly to the mixture. Stir together well.
  10. Store in an airtight container or jar for up to a month. 
Dukkah on porridge
Dukkah (2)

Travel: A Short Guide to Granada

We visit Granada in late March, just as Spring awakens the city. Pale blue skies drift overhead and the breeze carries the scent of almond blossom, wisteria and oranges. We begin each morning eating breakfast alfresco, shuffling our chairs towards long fingers of sunlight that stretch along the narrow streets. By 11am, the sun is strong and growing warmer still; its movement across the plazas during the day, before receding, mirrors the locals’ movement from their cortados to their cervezas.

Our days are spent between Moorish palaces and Catholic cathedrals. We wander from the central Bib-Rambla area with its tall, Renaissance buildings to the winding, cobbled walkways of the ancient Albaycín, where scruffy, white-washed houses flaunt hanging plants and conceal peaceful inner courtyards. Above us, the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Alhambra - monuments to natural and manmade beauty - stand guard over the city.  

Of course, a trip to Granada must intersperse sightseeing with stops at cafés and bars, where one can slow down and absorb the Andulucían atmosphere. My short guide for a getaway to Granada aims to cover a little of each activity - it is by no means exhaustive, but will encourage your first explorations of this beguiling city.

Albaycin street (2), Granada
Albaycin street, Granada
Albaycin street (4)



A city break needn’t cost the earth and, in fact, I often find the more affordable accommodation has a little extra local personality. Hostal Rodri may not be the biggest, grandest hotel, nor the chicest boutique B&B, but it meets all my essentials for a solid place to stay: central location, clean room, comfortable bed and a good, hot shower. The proprietor is knowledgable about the area and is happy to provide advice. Crucially for me, who plans holidays based on the cuisine, several of his restaurant recommendations prove to be excellent - in particular, he directs us to the fantastic Taberna La Tana (but more on that below…)



Few people visit Granada without a trip to the Alhambra as their focus. And rightly so, for I was completely enchanted by this collection of palaces. Plan your visit around your appointed entry time to the Nasrid Palaces, each of which is a series of courtyards based on Islamic design, with every wall and corner adorned by magnificent domed roofs, intricately carved doors, painted ceramic tiles and lace-like plaster work. By contrast, the military area of the complex, known as the Alcazaba, is made up of huge towers and sturdy ramparts, whilst the manicured gardens and palace of the Generalife show that light, water and vegetation are just as important as bricks and tiles. 

View of the Alhambra
Pools, Alhambra complex
Alcazaba, Alhambra
Tiled archway, Nasrid Palaces
Generalife palaces, Granada
Generalife gardens, Alhambra

Back in the centre of Granada, it’s worth visiting the beautiful Cathedral, an attempt by the Catholic monarchs to compete with the Moorish monuments, and its adjacent Capilla Real (Royal Chapel). Other highlights of our trip include the Monasterio de San Jerónimo and Monasterio de la Cartuja. Work your way around their sun-dappled central courtyards, filled with the scent of orange trees, until you reach their spectacular chapels - the chapel of La Cartuja is particularly extravagant and considered one of the finest examples of the Spanish Baroque style. To experience curious cave-like homes, the flamenco feel and spectacular views over Granada, take the bus to Sacramonte Abbey and stroll back downhill to the city. 

Granada Cathedral
Monastry of San Jeronimo
Monastry of La Cartuja - courtyard
View of Granada from Sacramonte


Begin your day at Café 4 Gatos, where locals sip coffee at the darkened bar and tourists vie for a seat in the sunny courtyard with views up to the Alhambra. Our table wobbles between the cobblestones as staff set down freshly squeezed orange juice and tostadas as long as your arm, which are crowned with the best local produce and cost as little as 90 cents. The traditional Andalucían accompaniment is grated tomato and olive oil, but there are several other offerings such as Seranno ham, manchego or Spanish jam. At lunch time, more substantial toppings include aubergine and goats cheese, tuna with roasted pepper and caramelised onion, or smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers. Though the slices aren’t as large, it’s worth paying a little extra to try the local, organic wholemeal bread for its mellow flavour and soft crumb.

Cafe 4 Gatos, Granada
Coffee at Cafe 4 Gatos
Breakfast at Cafe 4 Gatos

In the evening, head to Taberna la Tana for superlative Spanish wines paired with great tapas. Behind the lantern-lit door, you’ll find a cosy bar dominated by floor-to-ceiling shelves of wine bottles. Its dark walls are decorated chaotically with strings of vegetables and vintage posters; its floor is crowded with locals and well-advised tourists. Arrive promptly for opening at 8:30pm if you want a seat. The sole lady behind the bar somehow manages to keep everybody satisfied and, despite our embarrassing lack of Spanish, suggests a number of wines to our taste. My favourite is the Cerrojo Criado en Barrica, a red from the Bodegas Jabalcón vineyard at the foot of the Sierra, which retains a light, elegant feel despite the depth of sweet, candied fruit and warm spices.  

Although most bars in Granada offer a free tapas with every drink, here they are particularly good - perhaps crusty bread with tomatoes or sombrasada (sausage pate) and mouth-puckeringly salty olives. Don’t miss ordering the cured manchego, warm goats' cheese with oil, homemade pepper salad or delicate artichoke hearts with dried tomatoes. A superb tortilla, leaking sunshine-yellow yolk from between layers of potato, is not on the menu, but seems to be offered to those in the know - make friends with the regulars and, if you’re lucky, they’ll let you try theirs and order another for you. 

Then, well fed, spend your night with a glass of something glinting ruby red until the blue-skied day is almost ready to begin anew. 

La Tana, Granada (2)
Artichokes at La Tana
Manchego at La Tana
La Tana, Granada