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A rare treat

It’s easy to appreciate foods with a short season: asparagus, Vacherin Mont D’or, purple sprouting broccoli. But what about foods that hang around for longer, or that are so commonplace that you can get them throughout the year? Before I met B., the mushroom was an ingredient I loved – one of my favourites. Although mushrooms are very much autumnal produce, you can get a ready supply all year round and I did take them for granted.

B. sadly can’t eat mushrooms; let’s just say he sees them again fairly swiftly when he does. Even the smell of them cooking has made him feel ill in the past. So, I obviously avoid eating them at home.

However, I honestly don’t mind (most of the time). It means that I really savour these fleshy fungi when I do get to eat them, whether it’s at a restaurant or on the rare occasion when I cook them at home.

Mushrooms are stunning looking and another sign of autumn, just like winter squashes. From big, fat mushrooms with huge caps to tiny ones clustered together, these earthy beauties are a real treat.

I love the fact there are so many types that look so strange and varied and have such different flavours. It makes me sad that B. can’t enjoy them; I once had an amazing mushroom lasagne at work, and my first thought was that it was such a shame that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it (and that I wouldn’t be able to recreate the dish at home).

It does work both ways though; B. loves rhubarb, and although some people think I’m crazy, I hate the stuff. I also really don’t like rice pudding (another favourite of B.’s), so that’s off the list, too.

This week, however, I came across some exotic mushrooms that looked so interesting I had to have them. The pack included shiitake, and  two varieties I had never eaten before – shimeji and enoki. I wanted to do something simple with them so I could really appreciate the different flavours.

So while B. had devilled kidneys, I recreated a favourite childhood Sunday supper of mine: mushrooms on toast. I can still remember the comforting smell of mushrooms frying in garlicky butter on a cold Sunday evening, dreading the start of school the next day. Today I updated it slightly from what I had back then: sourdough instead of plain white bread, and I also added a touch of cream.

The  garlic (and a squeeze of lemon juice) really complemented the mushrooms without overwhelming them, and the cream just held it all together. I cooked the shiitake mushrooms for longer than the shimeji and enoki, as the latter toughens up if cooked for too long; the different textures worked really well. I loved the flavours of the mushrooms; packed with umami, they were slightly nutty in flavour, and I found the shiitake (which, despite being relatively common now, I haven’t eaten many times before) were rich and earthy. When I tried the shiitake raw, I also, bizarrely, found their flavour to be very similar to blue cheese!

Altogether the exotic mushrooms worked really well with the creamy sauce and sourdough bread. It was the perfect treat: so simple, but a classic.

You hardly need a recipe for this but here goes:

Mushrooms on toast

Large knob of butter
1 garlic clove, minced
120g mushrooms
Squeeze of lemon juice
Splash of double cream
2 slices of sourdough or other bread
Handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped

1. Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat and gently cook the garlic for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft and coloured. (If using enoki mushrooms like I did, cook them for only a few minutes otherwise they will toughen up.) Add the lemon juice and a splash of cream and warm through.
2. Meanwhile, toast your bread.
3. Tip the creamy mushrooms onto the toasted bread, sprinkle over the parsley and enjoy!

Autumn treasures

The temperature has dropped, the wind is picking up and the leaves are beginning to turn – summer seems but a distant memory; autumn has well and truly arrived.
I have sadly neglected this blog over the summer, but with good reason; B. and I bought a house!
What with the buying process and wanting to decorate the house before we moved in, it took most of the summer to sort out. However, I am pleased to report that we are now all settled in and ready to get back to the serious business of cooking!
With the changing of the seasons comes a new exciting array of produce to cook with and help us get through winter: among them mushrooms, autumn berries and root vegetables.
My absolute favourite autumnal/winter vegetable has to be squash. For a start there are so many varieties: butternut, acorn, harlequin and yellow crookneck are just a few. They come in all different shapes, sizes and colours – true autumnal treasures.
Butternut is the most accessible and easy to find, and is very similar to pumpkin. It has a wonderful rich sweetness in its dark orangey flesh, and is extremely versatile. Butternut can be used in many dishes, from curries to soups and stews.
However, as I mentioned in my wild garlic post, I have a great love of risotto – and one with butternut squash is perfect for the cool (and often miserable) autumn weather. Many people I know who don’t like squash find it too sweet; here I have combined it with earthy sage, aromatic thyme and tangy Gorgonzola to offset the sweetness, and it is a stunning match.
Although you can boil squash, it does lose some of its sweetness; roasting it along with some sage and thyme in this dish intensifies the flavours and they all marry together nicely. The fried sage leaves may sound a little fancy, but they taste amazing and make a real difference.

For me, this dish signals that autumn is here, and goes a fair way for compensating for the terrible English weather. I hope it does the same for you too.

Butternut squash, gorgonzola and sage risotto

Serves 4

1 onion, diced
Splash of olive oil
Knob of butter
1 medium-sized butternut squash
6-8 sprigs of fresh sage (about 1 standard supermarket pack)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
400g risotto rice
1.5l vegetable stock (I used Marigold Vegetable Bouillon)
115g Gorgonzola


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler (the skin can be tough to peel); scoop out the seeds and fibrous bits and discard. Cut the squash into small chunks and put  onto a baking tray. Reserve 6 of the largest sage leaves and finely chop the remaining leaves. Pick off the thyme leaves. Sprinkle the sage and thyme over the squash, season with sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Toss to combine and cook for 20 minutes or until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

2. Meanwhile, fry the onion in a splash of olive oil and a knob of butter over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the risotto rice, stir then gradually add the hot stock, stirring continuously between each addition until absorbed. Continue for 20 minutes or until the stock has been absorbed and the rice is al dente. Add more water if needs be.

3. In a small frying pan, fry the reserved sage leaves in a little olive oil over a medium-high heat for a few seconds each side until crisp. Set aside on a plate lined with kitchen paper.

4. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir through the gorgonzola and roasted squash. Top with the crisp sage leaves and serve immediately.

Salad days

Summer has finally arrived in the UK – everything is in full bloom and I cannot wait to get cooking with all the bountiful seasonal produce.

This time of year is all about quick, light meals, so that we can make the most of the sunshine and spend more time outside. I love cooking, but this is the one time of the year that I would rather be in and out of the kitchen quickly, and enjoying the fruits of my labour alfresco.

I am rather partial to cheese, and as I have mentioned in previous posts, I love goat’s cheese. So, last weekend, when I wanted to make the most of the sporadic sunshine, it became the perfect basis for a quick yet satisfying meal.

A goat’s cheese salad sings summer to me – it is super speedy but also filling, perfect for this time of year. However, rather than crumbling soft goat’s cheese, I decided to dust a round of goat’s cheese with cornflour, and fry it until it was crisp and golden on the outside and oozing and gooey in the middle. I probably should not admit this, but one of the best goat’s cheese salads I have had when eating out was at Bar ha ha, years ago, and so I decided to recreate it.

Some wonderful looking salad leaves arrived in this week’s Riverford box, so I made a herby, garlicky dressing for them, then topped them with sunblush tomatoes.

Crowned with the fried goat’s cheese, it was perfection. So simple, yet so good. Best enjoyed with a glass of something cold, sitting outside with a beautiful view.

Goat’s cheese salad

Serves 2

2 rounds of goat’s cheese
Cornflour, enough to coat
Oil, for frying
Salad leaves
Couple of handfuls of sunblush tomatoes
Small handful each of flatleaf parsley, basil and coriander, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp good-quality olive oil
Half a garlic clove, finely sliced or chopped
Caramelised red onion chutney, to serve

1. Put some cornflour in a small bowl and lay the goat’s cheese in it, moving around to coat.

2. Make the dressing by mixing together the herbs and garlic in a small bowl, then add the oil to make a thick dressing/sauce.

3. Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, and put in the floured goat’s cheesewhen the oil is sizzling. Fry for 2 minutes or so on each side until the outside is golden (be careful it doesn’t burn) and the cheese is just starting to ooze out.

4. Serve on the bed of salad leaves, drizzle with some leftover dressing, and eat immediately,with onion chutney on the side.

Better late than never

I’ll keep this post fairly short and sweet (much like what I baked for this post) since I have left this so late in the week. Despite having a four-day weekend, I have been rushed off my feet, but better late than never!
Easter is the time for baking, and while I am not cooking with a particular seasonal ingredient this week, I am hoping the fact that baking was involved is seasonal enough – normal service will be resumed next week.
After B. and I spent most of Saturday in an alcohol-fuelled haze after going wine tasting in West Sussex and then spending the rest of the day in a pub, I was looking forward to Easter lunch at my parents’ house. There, we proceeded to eat a huge meal (basically a re-run of Christmas – turkey and all the trimmings.)
So, after drinking all of Saturday and eating all of Sunday, I couldn’t face anything too rich or chocolatey. I felt like something light and fresh but still sweet, so I decided to make coconut and lemon macaroons on Easter Monday. (After all, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without some form of baking.)
I absolutely love the flavour of coconut and have always liked macaroons, but hardly ever have them, and when I do, it is always the store-bought kind. One of my new year’s resolutions was to try cooking some of the things I always just bought in the supermarket, so this seemed like a good place to start.
Since I had never made macaroons before, I decided to browse the internet to get a feel for macaroon recipes. After looking at a few, I decided to base my macaroons on Nigella’s coconut macaroons recipe.
I tweaked it by adding lemon zest and lemon juice; the lemon juice also worked to replace the cream of tartar, as I didn’t have any in my cupboard. (Apparently 1½ tsp of lemon juice replaces ½ tsp of cream of tartar, according to this.) I also decided to make lots of little macaroons, rather than eight large ones.
I must admit I was sceptical at first – it seemed a lot of coconut to add compared to other recipes I had read. However, it worked a treat, and the macaroons were fantastic (even if I do say so myself!).
They were crunchy and slightly toasted on the outside, but coconutty on the inside, with a hint of lemon, which was just what I was after. It could be a little more moist in the middle, but other than that, I was pleased. Nigella suggests using shredded coconut to keep things moist, but I had to settle for desiccated as that was all I could find. All in all, it made a fantastic Easter Monday treat – just right after pigging out the day before!

Coconut and lemon macaroons
Makes 18 small macaroons

2 large egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
100g caster sugar
30g ground almonds
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g desiccated or shredded coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas 4.
2. Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until just foaming, then add ¾ tsp of lemon juice.
3. Continue to whisk the egg whites until they begin to form soft peaks, then add the sugar gradually, about 1-2 tsp at a time, while whisking.
4. When the sugary egg whites are glossy and shiny, and the peaks are holding their shape, fold in the lemon zest, remaining lemon juice and vanilla extract with a spatula. Then fold in the almonds, and finally the coconut.
5. Shape into small balls with your hands and place on a lined baking tray. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until just beginning to colour. Place on a cooling rack to cool.

Sunshine and showers

Well it had to happen, didn’t it? After banging on last week about how spring had arrived, it proceeded to pour down for most of the week. Ah well, it was to be expected in rainy old England. However the sunshine did manage to poke its head through the clouds for a little while today, so I took the opportunity to wander out into the garden and hunt down any sign that better, warmer weather is on its way – after all, British Summer Time has officially begun and there needs to be something to make up for one hour’s lost sleep!

Last week, along with purple sprouting broccoli, I also received a bag of freshly picked wild garlic in with my Riverford delivery, which was a nice surprise. I have never cooked or even seen wild garlic before, so this was yet another journey into the unknown.

Wild garlic grows in woodland, near or among bluebells, smells of garlic (surprise, surprise), and has long pointed leaves and delicate white flowers. The flowers only blossom towards the end of the season, and are said to have a stronger flavour than the leaves, and are edible. Although commonly found in woodland, wild garlic can also be cultivated in gardens, but I have been told that once it is established, it is very hard to get rid of.

I’ve been thinking all week about what my inaugural wild garlic dish should be, and decided on a risotto, one of my favourite meals to cook. (I promise not all the dishes I feature on this blog will be of the Italian variety!)

I love the freedom that you have with a risotto – you can pretty much add any flavour combination you like. My favourite risottos are butternut squash, Gorgonzola and sage, and spinach, pancetta and Parmesan, but these are not quite in fitting with the seasonal theme, so they will have to wait for another day.

I decided to pair the wild garlic with a strong goat’s cheese; the selection of goat’s cheeses in the supermarket wasn’t amazing, but I found a mature goat’s cheese from Cornish Country Larder which was strong enough to do the trick. I find most hard goat’s cheeses readily available are quite bland, and I didn’t want it to be overwhelmed by the wild garlic.

Wild garlic has quite a strong garlic flavour (but still milder than bulbs), and is also reminiscent of the green parts of spring onions, and this complemented the strong, tangy goat’s cheese. The flavours worked really well together, and I would definitely make it again.
The flavours also work very well in an omelette with (not-so-seasonal) tomatoes. However, omelettes are B.’s department and he cooked them for our dinner – rather embarrassingly, I cannot make a decent one; they always end in disaster!
All in all, the risotto was a delicious, warming dish with a fresh flavour – just right for a sleep-deprived Sunday full of sunshine and showers.

Wild garlic and goat’s cheese risotto
Serves 3-4
Few glugs of olive oil
Knob of butter
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, sliced
300g risotto rice (I used Arborio)
Glass of white wine (optional)
1 litre of vegetable stock, hot (I used Swiss Marigold Bouillon)
2 large handfuls of wild garlic leaves, roughly chopped
150g strong hard goat’s cheese

1. Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil and butter over a low heat, making sure it doesn’t colour.
2. Add the risotto rice, stirring well to coat in the butter, then pour in the wine, if using. Cook for a few minutes to fry off the alcohol.
3. Add enough stock to just cover the rice, stirring continuously. Add more stock as it is absorbed for about 10 minutes (you should still have some stock left at this point).
4. Stir in the wild garlic, cook for a minute or so, then resume adding the stock, stirring continuously. Continue to add the stock until the rice is cooked, but still al dente. (I found I needed an extra 300ml of water).
5. Crumble in the goat’s cheese and heat until melted. Serve immediately, topped with a little more crumbled goat’s cheese.

New beginnings

After an extremely harsh winter, the first signs of spring seem to be appearing, and not a moment too soon. I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to all the exciting produce that this season has to offer, and can’t wait to see what shows up in my veg box.

Spring is a time of new beginnings and, this being the first official day of the season, is the perfect time to begin my blog. I am lucky enough to work for a well-known food magazine as a sub-editor and writer, but this will be my personal space to talk about what’s in season, some ideas with what to do with the bountiful produce the seasons bring, and other food-related writing.

The recipes I post will be a mixture of my own and favourite recipes from well-known cooks and chefs – and all seasonal of course.

I live in the Surrey countryside with my boyfriend, B., and he loves food and cooking just as much as I do. We do most of the cooking together, so this blog is a joint project; although you will mainly hear from me, B. will always be in the background – and who knows, he may even make a special appearance once in a while.

Our kitchen is small, but we make good use of the space, and look forward to a time when we have a large, airy kitchen, hopefully with a Kitchen Aid. We receive a Riverford veg box each fortnight; we are quite adventurous and love trying new things, and hope that getting the seasonal box will help us explore even more new dishes.

Until recently we didn’t have a kitchen all to ourselves, so although we are enthusiastic cooks, there is still a lot for us to discover, even with everyday produce. Join us on our culinary journey, as we cook our way through seasonal fruit and veg (with the odd sweet thing, too).

I was excited to receive some purple sprouting broccoli in our veg box this week – it was more purple and had thinner stalks than the pre-packed type that I normally see in the supermarket. Although classed as a winter vegetable, it heralds the arrival of spring and the end of a sparse period on the fruit and veg front. Although I have eaten purple sprouting broccoli before, B. hadn’t, and I had never cooked it before, so this was an adventure for both of us.

First cultivated by the Romans, purple sprouting broccoli doesn’t need much cooking and has a much more subtle taste than its green cousin. It is a great addition to stir-fries and salads, and makes a fantastic side. However, I wanted to cook something where purple sprouting broccoli was the main event.

Despite the slightly warmer weather, there is still enough of a chill for me to hanker after something warm and comforting. I decided to do a quick pasta dish that I had been eyeing up for a while. Pasta with sprouting and cream from Nigel Slater’s wonderful book Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch is simple and speedy, and combines some of my favourite ingredients: blue cheese, crème fraîche and garlic.

The orecchiette pasta was surprisingly hard to track down (I eventually found it in a branch of Waitrose, sadly not my local one) but it was worth it. Meaning ‘little ears’ in Italian, this traditional Puglian pasta is the perfect shape for this dish and is often paired with broccoli. The sauce pools in one side of the pasta, and clings to the ridges of the other. Before today, I had actually never tried this pasta before, but I will definitely be having it again.

I cannot recommend this dish highly enough; the creamy cheese sauce had a tang from the Gorgonzola and a savoury note from the anchovies that complemented the purple sprouting broccoli perfectly. I couldn’t get enough, and I am not ashamed to admit that after polishing off the pasta and veg, I drank the rest of the sauce from the bowl (B. actually licked his!) – yes, it is that good. Normally I like to tweak recipes, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing.

Overall, it was exactly what I hoped it would be: comforting, yet light and creamy, perfect for a sunny but cold spring day.

Pasta with sprouting and cream (adapted from Nigel Slater’s book, Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch)


Serves 3-4

250g purple sprouting broccoli

250g fresh (or dried) orecchiette

30g butter

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped

250g crème fraîche

170g Gorgonzola

  1. Bring two deep pans of water to the boil. Trim the purple sprouting broccoli; break into smaller florets, trim any dry ends or tough stalks but do not remove the leaves. Lightly salt the water in one of the pans and drop in the purple sprouting broccoli. Cook for 3-4 minutes until tender, then drain and set aside.
  1. Wipe out the broccoli pan and return to the heat with the butter, garlic and anchovies. Cook on a low heat for a minute or two until the anchovies have dissolved. Add the crème fraîche and Gorgonzola and cook on a medium heat, stirring continuously until the cheese has melted.
  1. Meanwhile, generously salt the water in the other pan and drop in the pasta. Cook according to pack instructions (about 5-6 minutes) then drain well.
  1. Add the cooked purple sprouting broccoli and pasta to the creamy sauce and serve immediately.


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© 2015 Sharon Lane

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