Curry Powder

The best curry-making advice I ever received was this: never, ever, EVER use a jar of curry powder that you have bought from a shop. I remember reading, years ago, that commercial curry powder is mainly comprised of the scrapings and dust from the factory floor; while I doubt that is actually true, some of the curry powders I have tasted over the years are so disgusting that it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Many curry recipes don’t call for curry powder at all, instead they require freshly roasted and ground whole spices. I have an extensive spice cupboard filled with all kinds of whole and ground spices that I use so frequently that there is never a danger of anything going beyond its best. That is the  first true secret to a great curry: use the freshest spices you possibly can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using ground spices from a packet, just make sure they are from a reputable, high-quality manufacturer – I don’t do endorsements but you will quickly learn which ones are the best – and make sure they are as fresh as possible. If that means digging into the back of a shelf in the store to get the newest stock then don’t be embarrassed.

There are times however when a good curry powder is exactly what is needed, and this mix – compliments of Madhur Jaffrey – is as good as it gets. It has layers of complex flavour and aromas, it bursts with life and does a little dance with your taste buds. If that all sounds like I’m getting a bit carried away, make it and see for yourself…

RECIPE – makes a small jar

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp black peppercorns

1 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds

6 whole cloves

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp hot chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric


In a large pan – NOT non-stick – place the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, brown mustard seeds and whole cloves. Put over a high heat and stay with the pan, shaking every few seconds. Within a minute or so the spices should start to become aromatic, this is the dangerous time…

If you burn your spices you have no option but to start again, so watch them carefully. Just as the cumin seeds start to darken and you can really smell everything – this takes just a couple of minutes at the most – add the fenugreek seeds. Shake the pan for ten seconds then take off the heat and immediately empty the spices onto a plate (preferably a metal one) to cool. The pan will be very hot so if you had left the spices in it they would burn.

Using a small electric coffee grinder – I have a small, cheap one which I use exclusively for grinding spices – or a mortar and pestle, add the chilli flakes, chilli powder and turmeric to the toasted spices, and grind to a fine, well mixed powder.

Store in a jar in a cool, dark place and this mix will easily last 3 months or more without losing much of its vitality. It is quite exceptional when used straight from the grinder.



If you like cooking Indian curries, middle eastern cuisine or southern Asian food in general then it is essential that you have a supply of ghee in your fridge if you are going to get the very best results.

Ghee is used in place of vegetable and other oils because of its high smoke point (the temperature at which its molecules begin to deteriorate) of around 250C, higher than most vegetable oils, and also because of the unique taste and scent that it adds to a dish.

Ghee is a kind of clarified butter that has had the milk solids removed and is slightly caramelised, as such it is incredibly easy to make. You can of course buy it, many major supermarkets now stock it and if all else fails you will definitely find it in specialist Asian shops. Why go to the bother of searching for what may well be a more expensive yet inferior product though? The chances are that what you buy will not be made from the best quality butter and will have all kinds of preservatives and other chemicals added to it to extend the shelf life. You can make home-made ghee with the butter that you like, and with nothing added it will last for months in the fridge.


RECIPE – makes enough to fill a small Kilner jar

1 kg unsalted or slightly salted butter



Place the whole blocks of butter in a large pan over a very low heat and allow to melt slowly and completely. Once melted, the butter will begin to separate into three distinct layers: foam will appear on top, the milk solids will begin to drop to the bottom, and the clarified butter will float in the middle.

Turn the heat up very slightly and leave, undisturbed, for up to an hour. The butter will take a little time to fully clarify, and the longer you leave it the more the ghee will caramelise, giving you a distinct and delicious flavour.

Three important points to note while cooking it:


Turn the heat off when the ghee is coloured to your liking, which could be anything between the yellow in the picture above to a deep, dark toffee brown. It is all a matter of taste so feel free to experiment to see how you like it best.

Without disturbing the pan, skim off the floating sediment. Allow the ghee to cool a little, for ten minutes or so, then strain the ghee through a muslin cloth into a sealable jar. The muslin will catch the solids at the bottom, which will likely be very dark brown by this stage.

Refrigerate your ghee and use every time your recipe calls for vegetable oil. It will go solid in the fridge, but if you take it out half an hour or so before you need to use it then it will soften sufficiently for you to get a spoon into it.


Faux Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie

I hear you ask: what is a faux chicken pie?  It’s a chicken pie without any chicken in it – and before you ask what is the point, let me tell you that when my father and grandfather ate it on Sunday evening they had no idea that there was no chicken in it.

It’s all thanks to the magic of Quorn, a meat substitute that has improved enormously in the past few years. I don’t generally like substituting for the real thing, but when I am cooking for hardened meat-eaters of my parent’s and grand-parent’s generations as well for my vegetarian wife, I have the choice to either carry out a con trick or cook two meals. Well, the con trick will win every time.

When I revealed what they had just eaten there was general amazement and a reappraisal of how good vegetarian food can be. I can prove it too; I was supposed to take a picture of the two pies that I had made before they went on the table, but people were hungry. I ended up taking a picture of the last little piece of the one pie that was left after four hungry people had eaten their fill. The pitiful amount remaining speaks for itself.

I used two smaller 9 1/2 inch oval pie dishes this time, but usually make it in a larger, deep 12 1/2 by 9 1/2 inch oblong dish. Don’t worry overmuch about what you cook it in, just use what you have.


RECIPE – comfortably feeds 4 people

50g unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 large leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced

50g plain flour

300ml semi-skimmed milk

300ml vegetable stock

1/2 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried tarragon)

250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

350g Quorn chicken pieces

75g cheddar cheese, grated

500g puff pastry, block or ready-rolled

1 egg, beaten



Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan and gently fry the leeks over a low heat for ten minutes, until soft but not coloured.

Mix the flour with a little of the milk to make a smooth paste (no lumps!) and when the leeks are soft add the paste to the pan with the rest of the milk and the stock. Turn the heat up to high and, stirring constantly, bring to the boil. Simmer until the sauce is thick and smooth and any lumps that may have appeared are cooked out.

*Tip: Many people are rightfully worried about thickening sauces with flour, having suffered disgusting lumpy sauces in their childhood. Fear not, it is a problem easily avoided if you only take the time to continually whisk and stir your sauce while it comes to the boil. If you leave it while you go and do something else then you will suffer lumpy sauce, so look after it.

Now add the fish sauce (it will smell disgusting but gives the sauce a lovely depth of flavour when cooked in), the mustard and tarragon. Add the mushrooms and simmer for a couple of minutes, check the seasoning, then add the Quorn pieces and stir thoroughly. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, and put aside to cool completely.

The Quorn should go in frozen but will quickly thaw in the hot sauce, and will cook gently as the sauce cools.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 200C / 180C Fan / Gas 6.

Roll the pastry out until approximately the thickness of a pound coin. Ensure the filling is completely cold otherwise the butter in your pastry will melt and your pastry lid will be a soggy disaster.

Brush the edge of your pie dish with water, lay the pastry on top with an overhang all round. Press and crimp the top and edge all round, trim away any excess pastry, brush the pastry with the beaten egg and pierce a steam hole in the centre.

Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden colour and has risen.

Serve with a mound of smooth buttery mash, garden peas and a smile – don’t tell anyone what is in it until they have finished eating.


Warm Salad of Trout, Watercress and Spelt

“Things that grow together, go together.”

I have a terrific book on my shelves, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’, by Niki Segnit. It’s a very handy reference when you have something in the fridge and you’re trying to figure out what to use as an accompaniment; it’s also handy to refer to if you have had a wacky idea, just to check that those flavours really will work together.

On the subject of trout and cress it has this to say: “not so much a pairing as a reunification. Trout feed on the more tender leaves of watercress but they’re really after the sowbugs, tiny crustaceans that live in its thickets.” Having had the idea, and knowing that we would be attending the Watercress Festival at the weekend, I knew to look out for some trout in the farmers’ market that is at the heart of the festival. I would have preferred to have got hold of brown trout, which has a more fulsome flavour than the rainbow trout which was all that was available there, but it was no problem – all I had to do was ensure that I gave it a little help by putting other flavoursome elements around it.

Hitting the books, I found that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall pairs trout and watercress with pearled spelt (in his excellent book ‘Three Good Things’), with a strong sauce that cuts through and enhances the flavour of the fish. I was thinking of using horseradish, which goes brilliantly with salmon so should work here (and it does by the way), but I always prefer to make everything if I can, rather than opening a jar.

There was still something missing though, I thought Hugh might have missed a trick by limiting himself to just three main ingredients. What I now had planned reminded me a little of kedgeree, and of course egg and cress are a classic combination, so would eggs work here? I always presumed that the eggs in a kedgeree only really work because of the way they interact with the curry flavours; the flavour thesaurus indicated that it wouldn’t be a disaster and you’ll never know unless you try it. I’m not spoiling the plot by telling you that of course it worked, otherwise the eggs wouldn’t appear in the recipe below.

It’s enormously satisfying when a faint idea blossoms into a recipe that you will make again and again; for mere amateurs like me it is a fairly rare occurrence, there will always be more failures along the way than successes. There’s always more to learn though, and a failure isn’t really a failure when you can learn so much from it. The main point here is to remind you that it’s okay to experiment. Don’t be afraid of ‘failure’; just read recipes, steal bits of them, adapt parts of others, play around with flavours and textures and see what happens, it can be great fun and if you can make cooking fun your eating will be fabulous, just like it is here.


RECIPE – for 2 people as a main course, for 4 people or more as a starter

1 rainbow or brown trout, 500g or so, or two smaller fish

1 onion, sliced

2 tsp black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

a handful of parsley stalks, gently bruised

150g pearled spelt

1 tsp bouillon powder (I use Marigold)

2 good handfuls of watercress, large clumps separated

a handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

2 duck eggs, boiled for 7 1/2 minutes and set aside

For the dressing:

50g plain yoghurt

1 tsp English mustard

juice of 1/2 lemon

a small pinch of sugar


Lay the fish in a pan deep enough that you can completely cover it with water. Add the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley stalks. Bruise the parsley stalks first, by gently pressing down on them with the flat of a knife.

Bring to a gentle simmer and poach the fish for 8-10 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of your fish but be very careful not to go over – the fish flesh should be just translucent as it will cook on slightly. Lift the fish out and allow to cool completely before peeling the skin off and lifting the flesh from the bones. Try to keep the fish in fairly large chunks.

While the fish is cooling, strain the poaching liquid through a sieve to remove the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley. Season with a teaspoon of bouillon powder and carefully adjust by adding salt, a tiny pinch at a time and testing after each addition.

You will now have a delicious fish stock, bring it to the boil and add the spelt. Simmer for 20-30 mins until the spelt is soft but still has a nutty ‘bite’.

Ten minutes or so before you think the spelt is done, boil the duck eggs for 7 1/2 minutes (if you can’t get duck eggs then use large hens eggs and boil for 6 mins) then set aside to cool slightly before cracking and peeling the shells, taking care to keep the eggs intact.

Drain the spelt and set aside while you make the dressing, by whisking together all the dressing ingredients.

On a serving platter gently combine the fish and spelt, dress with the watercress and parsley leaves, cut the eggs in half (the yolks should be soft but not runny) and place on top, then drizzle with the dressing.

This is lovely served warm as described; leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days and it is still delicious cold.


Cheat’s Sourdough

I love sourdough; the smell as it bakes, the way it looks as it comes out of the oven, the deep, tangy taste of it. What’s not to love?

Well… There’s all the palaver around looking after your starter. The feeding, the disposing of half the volume night after night, the mess it makes, the sheer amount of dedication it takes. If you don’t work, or your children have grown up and left home, or you don’t spend your life running from appointment to commitment then all of this is probably no problem. If, however, like so many of us your day is full from the second you wake up until the minute you finally get to sit down sometime in the late evening, who has the time or the inclination?

Thankfully, there are ways to get all the benefits of sourdough without having to endure the drawbacks. Purists may be horrified, and I’m not above being judgemental about people taking shortcuts myself, but the fact that you make your own bread is always a cause for celebration and when the results are this good your only critic will be yourself.

This cheat’s sourdough is made just like a regular sourdough, with a starter. The starter used here though is like your fiercely independent eldest child, it doesn’t need mollycoddling yet it will always be there when you need it and it will never let you down.

I also bake this sourdough a little differently, using a casserole just like this one:


All will become clear when you read the method, so let’s get going…


For the starter:

100g strong white flour

100g organic rye flour

3/4 tsp dried yeast

250ml organic dry cider (or water)

100ml of refrigerated starter (see method below)

For the dough:

400g strong white flour

3/4 tsp dried yeast

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

200ml water


The first time you make this, the evening before you bake your loaf you will need to make your starter.

Combine all the starter ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a spoon until thoroughly combined. I like to use organic dry cider in my starter because it adds more flavour and the sugar in it feeds the yeast, you can still use water though and you will not be disappointed.

Cover your starter with cling film and leave in your kitchen overnight.

In the morning your sourdough starter should have significantly increased in volume, will look bubbly and smell tangy. Get a small jam jar or similar (something with a lid) and spoon approximately 100ml of the starter into it; put the jar to one side for now.

Now add the dough ingredients to your remaining starter, in the same bowl. Curl your fingers into a claw and mix thoroughly, it will be very sticky to begin with but keep on pulling and combining for a few minutes and it will get firmer. Lightly flour a work surface and tip the dough out onto it. Knead thoroughly for ten minutes or so, until the dough is firm and silky; you will need to use more flour as you work your dough but don’t overdo it. Your hands will probably be sticky with dough, to clean them simply sprinkle some flour on your hands and rub them together, the dough will come off easily.

*Tip: I have a dough hook for my stand mixer and I have used it a lot to knead my dough rather than getting my hands dirty. It has never really worked as well as kneading by hand though so I don’t use it any more. The advantage of kneading by hand is that you can feel what the dough is doing, and somehow it just makes a better loaf.

If you do want to use a dough hook on your mixer just be careful not to overwork your dough, knead for 5-7 minutes only.

Lightly oil a very large bowl, just use a teaspoon or so of olive oil and rub it around with your fingers – all you are trying to do is ensure that your dough doesn’t stick to the bowl as it rises. Tear off a small twist of dough and add it to the 100ml of starter that you spooned into your jar earlier. Put the lid on the jar and put it in the back of your fridge.

*Tip: The jar that you have just put into your fridge will be an important part of every loaf that you make from now on. It will keep for months without needing any attention, and if it is left for so long that it starts to look a bit mangy just give it a stir to recombine everything. The jar contains a huge a huge amount of flavour which will be transferred to every loaf that you make in future, and the more you use it the better that flavour will be.

From now on, whenever you make your starter tip the entire contents of the jar into it, not forgetting to replenish the jar with starter and a twist of dough in the morning.

Shape your dough into a rough ball and place it into the oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to sit at room temperature for anything between 1 and 3 hours, until it has at least doubled in size.

Take a clean tea towel and dust it thoroughly with plain flour. Gently roll your risen dough out of the bowl and onto the tea towel, be careful so you don’t knock too much air out of your dough and ensure you have used enough flour so it doesn’t stick. The dough has a tendency to spread out, to minimise this I roll the sides of the tea towel up and prop pepper grinders, small mugs and anything else I can find underneath the rolls to contain the dough and encourage it to rise upwards. Dust the top of the dough with more flour and lay another clean tea towel gently over the top. Leave for another hour or so at room temperature for its final rise.

*Tip: You can use a round banetton to hold your dough for its final rise, but it always seemed that no matter how much I dusted the inside with flour the dough always stuck somewhere, tore a hole in the dough and let the air escape. I have never had that problem using the tea towel method.

Put your casserole, with its lid on, in the oven; also put a small baking tray in the bottom of the oven. Heat your oven to 230C/ gas 8. Leave your oven long enough that it gets fully hot.

When ready to bake, using oven gloves remove the casserole from the oven and close the oven door. It never fails to amaze me how many people take the time to heat their oven and then leave the door open while they are mucking around doing other things, while all the heat is escaping into the kitchen. Again using oven gloves, remove the lid from the casserole and lightly dust the inside of the casserole with plain flour. Gently and carefully, but quickly, lift the tea towel holding your fully risen dough, place it into the casserole and gently roll the dough out of the tea towel and into the casserole. You may need to give the casserole a very delicate shake to level the dough, if you do then be gentle. Once again using oven gloves – yes, I am labouring this point but you only have to pick up a red-hot piece of metal with your bare hands once for it to stay with you forever – put the casserole lid back on and carefully place the casserole back into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes.

Oven gloves time again… Remove the casserole from the oven, close the oven door, remove the casserole lid and have a look at your dough. You should emit a gasp of admiration at the beautiful thing that you see.

Fill a glass with cold water, open the oven and quickly pour the water into the small baking tray that you put in the oven earlier, quickly put the casserole back into the oven, this time without its lid, and close the oven door. This will create steam in your oven which will give you a beautifully dark and crisp crust. Bake for a further 15 -20 minutes.

When you remove the casserole from the oven this time, tip it upside down and your beautiful loaf should fall straight out. Tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow; if so, it is done, so let it cool completely on a wire rack.

*Tip: Until I became experienced at making bread, instructions such as ‘tap it and if it sounds hollow it is done’ used to infuriate me. What does that actually mean? How hollow should it sound? What does hollow even sound like?

A foolproof way to determine if your bread is cooked is to use an instant read thermometer, or meat thermometer. Pierce the bread through the bottom and get the probe into the middle of the loaf, if it reads at least 90C then your loaf is fully cooked. Eventually you will know what hollow sounds like and you can dispense with the thermometer.


Your finished loaf should look something like this. Believe me, it tastes even better than it looks.

The Ultimate Victoria Sandwich

If you want to upset a member of the Women’s Institute, show them this recipe and method. It does everything ‘wrong’, and yet the result is the lightest, fluffiest, BIGGEST Victoria sandwich you will ever make.

Using duck eggs takes this cake to a whole new level of flavour, they definitely are the best eggs to use when baking. Apparently the ratio of volumes between the egg white and yolk is different in a duck egg, and they are slightly larger than a large hens egg thus giving you a bigger cake, but all that matters to me is flavour and this cake delivers it in spades.

I have specified spreadable Lurpak here, just because Delia Smith has tested every brand of spreadable butter and Lurpak is what she recommends. I have however made this cake using all kinds of spreads and there isn’t so much difference that you need to worry about it. Use whatever spread you have to hand and you will still be delighted with the results.


4 duck eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

golden caster sugar – the same weight as the eggs

Lurpak unsalted spreadable butter – the same weight as the eggs

self-raising flour – the same weight as the eggs

2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of fine salt

2 tbsp milk (approx)

For the filling:

250-300 ml double cream

1 jar raspberry jam or compote

1-2 tsp icing sugar


Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. I find it is normally best not to use a fan oven when baking cakes as it can dry out the top before the middle is cooked.

Line the base of two 20cm (8 inch) diameter, 4.5cm (2 inch) deep cake tins with parchment and lightly grease the sides.

Weigh the eggs, in their shells – write the weight down! I guarantee that one day you will be distracted by something and the weight that you had in your head will disappear. Maybe it’s my age, but once bitten twice shy…

The established way of making a Victoria Sandwich is to combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl, mix them together until just combined then bake. That method works fine, gives a great cake and is certainly quicker than the way that I do it, but in back to back tests among family and friends the method below was the winner.

Break the eggs into a large bowl together with the vanilla extract and, preferably using a stand mixer, whisk the eggs. When you think you’ve whisked them for long enough, whisk them some more. And some more. Keep going… you will end up with a froth which is several times bigger than the original volume of the eggs. Don’t be afraid to whisk at high speed for ten minutes or more, all you are doing is forcing air in and it is this air which will give your cake most of its lift.

While whisking the eggs, weigh out the golden caster sugar, self-raising flour and spreadable butter, each to the same weight as the eggs. Add the sugar to the whisked eggs and whisk at high speed for a couple of minutes.

Now add the spreadable butter, together with a couple of tablespoons of the flour which well help to prevent the mixture curdling. Whisk again for a minute or so at high speed until fully combined.

Now sieve the flour and baking powder into the mix, together with a pinch of salt, and with the mixer on its lowest speed combine the flour into the mix slowly and carefully until it is just combined. Have a couple of tablespoons of milk (any kind) at your side and add whatever quantity is required to keep the consistency of your cake mix at a dropping consistency – in other words a consistency that will drop gracefully off a wooden spoon, not stick to it in a big lump or run straight off like a liquid.

Now divide your mix equally between your prepared cake tins…


…ensuring the top is fairly smooth. There’s no need to be pernickety about it, the mixture will rise and smooth out minor differences. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 mins until well risen…


…look at that, they have doubled in size. The cake should be just starting to come away from the sides of the cake tin, as you can see above, and a gentle pat on the top of the cake should reveal it to be soft but set. There should be no need to insert a skewer to check the middle.

Allow the cakes to cool in their tins for about 5 mins, when you should be able to handle the tins without using oven gloves. Run a knife around the inside of the cake tin to ensure nothing will stick and then turn each cake out into your hand. Bear in mind that you will want the best looking top on your cake, and also bear in mind that cooling on a rack will leave lines in your cake. So, select which will be the top of your cake and ensure that surface sits uppermost from the cooling rack; the bottom half of the cake should sit on its top. That sounds a little confusing, so to clarify – when you assemble your cake the most pleasing arrangement is to have a little ‘waist’ in the middle, presuming that your cake tins have a slight angle to their sides. To achieve the waist, you put the bottom half upside down so the narrowest part is uppermost, and the top half should sit right way up so its narrowest part is at the bottom. You will see this effect in the picture of the finished cake, below.

Some like to trim the sides of the cake so they are perfectly straight. If I were presenting it in a competition I might do that, but I think it is a waste of perfectly good cake so who cares if the sides look imperfect – they taste wonderful.

Once the cakes are fully cooled, whip 250-300ml of double cream until it is stiff – be careful not to go too far or you will end up with butter. Spread the entire jar of jam or compote on top of the bottom half in an even layer, pushing it toward but not quite reaching the edge, it will creep there on its own when the cake is fully assembled. Now using a pallet knife or spatula carefully lay the whipped cream on top of the jam, ensuring the two layers don’t mix and once again pushing it out almost to the edge in a thick, even layer. Don’t be stingy with your filling – make it thick and indulgent. Make this a BIG cake!

Now carefully place the top cake half on to the cream, ensuring the cake is level on top, doesn’t lean and is aligned parallel all the way around. Using a small sieve, dust the top of the cake with icing sugar, present, and eat!



Chocolate Chip Cookies

“By the way, it’s the school fete tomorrow. Could you make a hundred or so cupcakes?” Not the words I wanted to hear at 6:30 on a Friday morning; making that many cupcakes would take a large chunk of the day, how would I find the time to write the Love and Fishes blog?

“How about some chocolate chip cookies instead?” was my diplomatic reply. Agreement reached, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Cookies are quick and easy to make, and are an ideal way to introduce a child to the magic of baking. They also require no finesse or skill, in fact they benefit enormously from looking rough and ready – as long as they taste delicious, which these do.

I have specified spreadable Lurpak here, just because Delia Smith has tested every brand of spreadable butter and Lurpak is what she recommends. I have however made these using all kinds of spreads and there isn’t so much difference that you need to worry about it. Use whatever spread you have to hand and you will still be delighted with the results.

RECIPE – makes 28 cookies

110g unsalted, spreadable Lurpak

150g light brown soft sugar

1 large egg, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

75g toasted chopped walnuts

100g chocolate chips (use milk, dark or white chocolate, whatever your preference)


Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

Using a stand mixer (ideally, if not then a hand mixer will do) cream the Lurpak and sugar together until light and fluffy. You can never cream butter and sugar too much so feel free to wander off and leave it beating while you get on with making a cuppa.

Add the beaten egg and the vanilla essence and mix well – again, you cannot over-beat this mixture and the more air you can encourage into the mix the lighter your cookies will be.

Fold in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, hazelnuts and chocolate chips until just combined. Be careful, you don’t want to spend an age knocking air into your cookies only to knock it all out again.

Put a walnut sized blob on to a baking sheet…


…allowing plenty of room between them because they will spread considerably as they bake. Bake for approximately 15 mins, removing them when they are golden brown. Leave them to cool on a wire rack, they will go crispy with a lovely melting texture in your mouth.


We took these to the fete and they were a hit – the lady on the stall next to ours had one, waxed lyrical and bought five more, then bought up every one that we hadn’t sold by the end. I’d call that a recommendation.

Tagliatelle with Prawns in a Chilli Brandy Sauce

I love the way that pasta allows you to create impressive dishes with minimal effort. If I had to choose my favourite cuisine it would be a tough decision, but I’m sure I would settle for eating Italian food every day for the rest of my life if I really had to, and I wouldn’t complain. It’s the flavours; just a handful of good ingredients, carefully chosen, lift each other to new heights.

What is there to dislike about Italian food? It is generally quick to prepare, quick to cook, inexpensive and utterly delicious. It’s food for life.


RECIPE – to feed 2

25g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped

12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 tsp chilli flakes

4 tbsp brandy

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

225g tagliatelle

12 raw king prawns, peeled but tails on

a small handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Melt the butter with the oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat and fry the shallots, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes until soft and aromatic, but not coloured.

Meanwhile, bring a very large pan of salted water to the boil, ready for your pasta.

Increase the heat, add the tomatoes to the frying pan with the chilli flakes and a pinch of salt and cook for a minute or so. Add the brandy and cook on for a further minute to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes then turn off the heat, check the seasoning and put to one side.

Cook the tagliatelle in the boiling salted water until al dente, it will cook on a little in the sauce. If using dried tagliatelle nests this will take approximately 6 minutes, if using fresh then it will take as little as two minutes.

One minute before the pasta is ready, bring the frying pan back to a high heat and add the prawns, stirring occasionally. By the time the pasta has cooked and you have drained it, the prawns should have just turned pink and will be ready. Add the tagliatelle to the prawns and sauce, toss thoroughly then scatter the parsley onto it, give it one final toss through and serve alongside a bowl of undressed rocket.

Time this right and you can have it on the table within ten minutes from chopping your shallots – it’s seriously impressive fast food!

Hake with Puy Lentils, Rocket and Salsa Verde

I recently discovered hake and my first thought was: where have you been all my life? It has a similar texture and mouth-feel to cod, but has a lovely flavour all its own (whereas cod can actually be quite bland) and – most importantly – it is sustainable. You may not be able to find hake where you are, but you can use any firm-fleshed white fish so feel free to substitute cod, pollack, coley, haddock or whiting.

This recipe started life in a great book by Lucas Hollweg entitled ‘Good Things to Eat’, an aptly-named book that I heartily recommend. The salsa verde, in particular, is all his and the way it is used here elevates what would be a good dish into a great dish. This meal is never going to win any awards for beauty, there’s a little too much brown going on, but it does a great dance on your taste buds…

It looks like there’s a lot of work to do here given the length of the ingredients list, but if you read the method you will see that it will actually take very little work and the biggest job you face is chopping the vegetables finely.


RECIPE – to feed 2

For the salsa verde:

a big handful of flat-leaf parsley

a handful of basil leaves

a handful of mint leaves

6 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

2 big garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tbsp capers, drained

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the lentils:

150g dry puy lentils

4 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

leaves from one sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 bay leaf

720ml water

120g bag of rocket

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fish:

2 thick white fish fillets or loins, skin on if possible

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

25g unsalted butter

olive oil


First make the salsa verde: grab a big bunch of flat-leaf parsley in your hands and tear it in half so you end up with mostly the stalks in one hand and mostly leaves in the other, put everything into a food processor. Strip the leaves from a bunch of mint and a bunch of basil, add them to the food processor along with the anchovies, garlic, capers, mustard and vinegar. Turn the food processor on to continuous action, and slowly drizzle olive oil into the chopped leaves mixture until it becomes a finely chopped sauce that is the consistency that you want it to be. Depending on how you like your sauces you may need to use as much as 125ml of oil. Empty into a bowl, season very carefully and set aside.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and set aside while you cook the lentils.

Put the lentils into a large bowl or saucepan and cover with water; using your fingers swirl the lentils around to clean them. The water may go cloudy; if so, drain the lentils and repeat until the water stays clean. Drain the lentils and set aside for a few minutes.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large pan and over a gentle heat sweat the vegetables, garlic and rosemary under a piece of parchment for up to ten minutes.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Now stir in the tomato puree and cook it out for a minute. Now add the lentils, water and bay leaf. Do not add any seasoning of any kind at this stage – it will render your lentils tough and probably inedible. Bring to the boil then simmer for anything between 20 and 40 minutes depending on the age of your lentils – keep on checking, they should be tender but retain a little bite.

Drain, but retain the cooking water and remove the bay leaf. Stir in the final 2 tbsp of oil and 4 tbsp of the cooking liquid; you may now dispose of the remaining cooking liquid. Mix in half the salsa verde then season generously but carefully. Stir the rocket through the lentils, cover and keep warm while you cook the fish.

Heat a large frying pan until it is very hot, then add 2 tbsp of oil and lay the fish, skin down, in the oil. Turn the heat down a little and cook the fish without disturbing until the skin is crisp and the flesh has cooked about 2/3 of the way through. Carefully turn the fish over and at the same time drop the butter into the pan, as it melts use it to baste the top of the fish and cook for a further minute. The fish should be just cooked and the exact time it takes will depend on the thickness and type of fish that you are using.

Plate up into bowls, laying the fish on top of a mound of rocket and lentils. Drizzle a little oil over the fish and dot the top with a few spoonfuls of the remaining salsa verde.

This dish sits alone, if you feel particularly hungry it will go alongside a simple green salad but it needs nothing else.

Roasted Sea Bass with Potato Gratin

The smell of roasted fish and potatoes is everywhere around the Mediterranean; it’s a classic pairing and deservedly, deliciously so. Too many amateur cooks are scared, literally scared, of cooking fish though. I must confess that I used to be as well, the problem being that sometimes if you take your eye off it for even 30 seconds then you run the risk of it overcooking. The solution is simple: know how long your piece of fish is likely to take to cook, and keep your eye on it when the time gets close!

Cooking a whole fish gives you a little more leeway than cooking a slim fillet, but that doesn’t mean you should be complacent – even the best cooks can get distracted at the critical moment. This though is as foolproof as a fish dish ever gets: a delicious fish sitting atop a fantastically flavoured, light and aromatic gratin. This is food that makes you feel good, which is what all food should do.

A quick word about preparing the fish: before cooking it should be gutted and have its gills and scales removed. This is a simple and straightforward task, though descaling can get a little messy as the scales have a tendency to land all around the kitchen (when I do it I put the fish in a carrier bag in the sink – that’s the voice of hard-won experience). There are many guides and tutorials to fish preparation available on the web, so I won’t rehash that information here. Suffice to say that though I am perfectly capable of preparing a fish myself, I won’t do it if I don’t have to – I have other things to do and there are people out there called fishmongers who will be happy to do it for you if you only ask them.

I have occasionally found myself at a supermarket fish counter, spotted something that I would like to cook and I have asked the person behind the counter to prepare it for me, only to be met by a blank look and be told that they only sell them, they’re not qualified to prepare them. On each occasion I have walked away. In my view you have no business selling nature’s bounty if you know nothing about it. I would rather put myself out and travel somewhere else, to a fully-trained professional who cares about his work and can answer my questions about where the fish came from (and when), and offer suggestions on the best way to cook them. Sure, I may pay a bit more for it, but when it comes to fish you definitely get what you pay for.


RECIPE – to feed 2


2 whole sea bass about 300g each, cleaned, de-gilled and scaled

3 sprigs of rosemary

zest and juice of 1 large lemon

750g potatoes, peeled and sliced 3 or 4 mm thick

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

6 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped

2 tsp dried thyme

a good pinch of saffron, shredded

4 tbsp olive oil

20 cherry tomatoes, halved

75 ml vermouth

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat your oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7.

Slash the fish 3 times on each side with a very sharp knife, taking care only to go roughly 5 millimetres into the flesh. Season well both inside the cavity and on the outside, with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a sprig of rosemary inside the cavity of each fish and place them in a dish, pour over the lemon juice ensuring it gets inside the cavity and into the slashes on both sides of the fish. Leave the zest for later use and set the fish aside while you prepare the gratin.

The potatoes need to be very thinly sliced if they are to be experienced at their best, and I recommend using a mandolin to do this. If you don’t own one, buy one – seriously, I am not at all into kitchen gadgets but this is one tool I absolutely rely on. If you have doubts, see how you feel after you have cut 150 or so very thin slices of potato.

In a large freezer bag or similar, toss the sliced potatoes with the garlic, anchovies, thyme, saffron and olive oil. Using a bag is more efficient at getting the oil and other flavours all over the potatoes, it means you won’t drown your dish in oil, which can end up unpleasant.


Rub a little oil on the inside of a large gratin dish – large enough to take both fish without crowding them – and empty the contents of the bag into it; squeeze, shake and wipe out the bag with your fingers to get every last piece of flavour into your dish. Spread the potato slices out into an even layer, then scatter the sliced tomatoes over the top, followed by a sprig of rosemary. Finally, drizzle the vermouth over everything.


Place in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and are starting to go brown. After 40 minutes, put the fish on top of the hot gratin and drizzle each fish with a little olive oil. Return to the oven and roast for around 17 minutes – start checking the fish at around the 15 minute mark and keep on checking until the flesh is fully opaque. By this time the potato and the tomatoes should have taken on a lovely golden colour, with slightly charred edges – that’s good, there’s real flavour there.

Top the fish with the grated lemon zest and tuck in. All this needs is a couple of handfuls of rocket alongside it, splashed with a little more lemon juice.