Mmmm… one of my favourite dishes my sister Gabi used to make frequently was a Provencale pissaladiere.  A delicious mix of caramelised onions, piqued by tomato, olive and anchovy as I remember.  I sort of recreated/bastardised/enhanced/changed beyond reasonable recognition, whatever your perception, this delight last week by hybridising it with my obsessive ricotta and puff-pastry fave.  It was a Good Idea I think….even if it isn’t pissaladiere and super quick to make for lunch (if you have normal sized onions anyway, rather than millions of irritating,  ridiculous ones about the size of a ping-pong ball – although they were my inspiration as I just wanted to rid the kitchen of them).


Lots of onions, sliced very fine

Nutmeg, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar

butter and olive oil

Tub of good ricotta

2 cloves of garlics, minced finely

few ounces of mature cheddar, grated

thyme, salt, pepper

preserved peppers antipasti, sliced in strips


sheet of puff pastry

* * * * *

The making of:

First, do the tedious onion slicing and then throw them in a pan on a low heat with the nutmeg (be generous), salt, pepper, butter, olive oil and sugar.  Sweat this down, stirring occasionally until all reduced and delicious.

Meanwhile, mix up the ricotta with the garlic, cheddar, thyme, salt and pepper. On a metal roasting pan or baking sheet, unfurl your puff pastry (yes, the lazy ready-rolled version is great. Never, ever buy shortcrust though as it is an unnecessary sin against cookery. In fact, make that against humanity). Score around the pastry, about an inch from the edge to provide a good crust. In the inner rectangle you’ve just drawn, spread the ricotta mixture out. Ladle the onions on top and spread around evenly.  Then decorate with the sliced antipasti peppers, place a caper in each space in the lattice and bake  in a hot oven, about 190 C until the pastry is golden and the onions begin to sizzle a bit. So very moreish.

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Christmas Partying like it’s 1896

Actually that’s probably completely inaccurate but I hoped to put a slightly Victorian slant on the feasting at my work Christmas do, hosted chez moi. Despite the fact that I was still locked into a 1940s film star fancy dress mode and the food was continent and era inspecific, I was still channelling A Christmas Carol via the ghost of Christmas Present and his Bacchanalian mores…

Having spent a morning in the kitchen and in the woods foraging up some ivy, holly and bay to decorate the house and the table  I felt a little festive finally. And it all worked rather well actually, hostessing and gaining control of the culinary frontier while instructing everyone else to bring appropriate alcoholic beverages for each stage in the proceedings….

1 The hors d’ouevres

For this we required some high quality fizz, which Sam delivered on rather well, to get the party spirit in the swing of things…. To ease our wait for the main course I made the inevitable olive tapenade, a current mainstay of party fare in my life, with locally produced spiced flatbreads. Plus a rather good new innovation:

Spiced Sausage Rolls with Turkish Yoghurt Dip

1 sheet rolled puff pastry

400g organic minced pork/pork sausagemeat

5 sundried tomatoes finely chopped

1.5 red onions, very finely diced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

dill, thyme, a little toasted and ground cumin, herb salt, pepper

1 small dried hot chilli, chopped small (could use fresh but I dry the ones I buy from the farmers’ market in summer and keep them in the fridge as they are so good and piquant)

tomato puree

1 egg


Cook the onion, sundried tomato and garlic gently in olive oil with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar until soft and caramelised.  There’s no need to reconstitute the tomatoes first. In a large bowl combine the pork with all the herbs, spices, cooked onions.  Stir through the egg and tomato puree.  It’s as well to work on this for a while as there always seem to be pockets of unflavoured meat lurking in unsuspected places.

Divide the pastry widthways into 3 short strips. Ladle a sausage of mixture down the middle of each, press the pastry around it, firm the seam and turn over so the seam is on the bottom. Lightly score the pastry top diagonally along each sausage roll and brush with a little milk.

Bake about 180 degrees until the pastry is crisp and gold – you can always cut one in half to see if the pork is done.  If you are making in advance and want to rebake then make sure they are only just cooked so they don’t overdo when reheating thoroughly. To serve, cut into 1 – 1.5 inch sections and arrange on a sandwich dish.

For the dip:

Into a bowl of organic plain yoghurt mix 3 cloves finely chopped garlic, a handful of finely chopped fresh mint, couple of teaspoons dill, sprinkle of chopped chilli and 2 tablespoons ricotta. Season to taste with salt.  This is based roughly on Haydari, a recipe I tried to track  down after sampling the surprising delights of Turkish streetside kebabs in Marseille, France.  Nothing like the sorry excuse for fast food that the kebab is in this country, these were seriously tasty, made with freshly grilled lamb and served with lots of onions and an incredibly aromatic yoghurt dressing. Mmmm, whatever it is, they usually do it better in France, even if its Turkish.

2 The main course

This was very fine but not really recipe fodder: Roast shoulder of venison, shot by my Dad, sea salt sprinkled, spiked with garlic slices and basted in butter… accompanied by rosemary roasted squash, beetroot, parsnip and potatoes, with rich gravy and lots of steamed veg.

3 The just desserts…

This was FUN. I got carried away reading ridiculous recipes in the Co-op magazine of all unglamourous and parochial places…and decided to make my own versions thereof:

Pink champagne, sloe gin and strawberry jelly served in mismatched vintage glasses with orange and almond granita and whipped cream

400ml pink champagne

250ml water

6 leaves good quality gelatine

About 12 -16 strawberries, de-leafed chopped small

a slug of homemade sloe gin

50g caster sugar

Melt the sugar and water over a low heat, meanwhile letting the gelatine leaves soften in the champagne.  Transfer the gelatine to the sugar syrup and stir to dissolve with the pan off the heat.  When cooled sufficiently, stir in the champagne and sloe gin.  Pour into a range of charming glasses and add a helping of strawberries to each.  Leave to set in the fridge for several hours.


4 large juicy oranges: save the grated zest of 1 orange and squeze the juice of all 4 into a measuring jug.

1 tablespoon sugar

capful of good quality almond essence

Warm the orange juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves, stir in the almond essence and zest and place in a shallow container in the freezer.  Stir every hour or so to keep the ice crystals small.  Should be ready in about 3 hours.

Whip the cream. When the pudding is ready to serve, take the glasses from the fridge, serve a tablespoon of granita and a flourish of cream atop each jelly and there you have it, a deliciously flavoured and luxurious dessert that’s light enough to eat after even the most substantial feast…

4 Port, cheese and parlour games

Well, hardly needs explicatory advice really 😉

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Fun with leftovers…

Mmmm, party food, it’s great.  But somehow its always possible to overshoot the mark with quantities and delicious things get left over. Which is fine by me. I had a bit of my homemade olive tapenade left over last week from our Labour Behind the Label Christmas feast that I hosted, the menu of which I shall post up later in a backwards fashion…

But today let’s deal with the fishy solution to leftover tapenade:

image courtesy of Hungry Gerald.com

Baked Hake in a Tomato and Tapenade Pain Croustade

per person

1 fillet of hake

1 heaped tablespoon olive tapenade

1 ripe medium tomato, diced small

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs, preferable stale and crisp

salt, pepper and olive oil

1 medium red onion, very finely sliced


Set the red onion to caramelise slowly in a frying pan with olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.  Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees C.  Make the breadcrumbs and combine with the tapenade, tomato, garlic and a little extra salt, pepper and olive oil.

When the onion is fairly soft place in the bottom of a baking dish. Lie the hake fillet on top and heap the croustade mixture thickly and evenly on top. Bake for about 15 mins or until the fish is just cooked through and serve with plenty of steamed veg and a little rice or pasta dressed in lemon juice and olive oil.

NB… as a slight footnote, I’ve decided that the tapenade prefers to have the capers loosely blended in with everything else rather than stirred in at the end. Change of tack.

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Pear, Amaretto and Almond Praline Flan

The pressure’s on… it’s the annual family boxing day shindig, held courtesy of my sister Gabi.  The subtext is food.  Or actually, no, the foreground, the main event and the icing on the cake is food…the subtext is competition.  Unwritten, and nobody would actually admit to it, but this is the annual clan bake-off/masterchef extravaganza finale to the year.  Any simmering tensions boiled off and presented as the finest fare imaginable and toasted with a healthy (dependent on perspective I suppose) gamut of champagne, wine, beer and pool tournaments.

So, I rallied after a week of illness and got my pudding creating headwear on.  Found a fantastic old Marks and Sparks 1980s book of cakes and pastries in the cupboard and set about bastardising a few recipes into my own franken-flan. And I think it worked… here is the resulting recipe:


5.5 oz plain flour

1.5 oz ground almonds

3 oz lightly salted butter

1 tablespoon  caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons very cold water


2 large pears

3 oz caster sugar

1/4 pint milk

3 tablespoons amaretto

1 egg

1 oz plain flour

On Top

3 oz whole almonds (unblanched)

3 oz caster sugar


You can get the praline topping out the way any time prior to pudding making.  Heat the sugar and almonds gently in a small heavy based pan, shaking every so often until the sugar is melted and a good deep caramel colour.  Turf out onto a sheet of greased baking parchment and allow to cool. Pull out 5 almonds to cool separately.

For the pastry, sift the flour, combine with the ground almonds and sugar and cut the cold butter into the mix. Crumb with fingertips and then combine with the yolk and water. It will form a stiffish, quite crumbly dough.  Roll it out and line a greased 9″ flan dish.  Peel, halve and core the pears and slice thinly.  Fan out in pastry case and sprinkle with one ounce of sugar.  Cook at 200 degrees C for about 12 – 15 mins  or until pastry is golden.

Meanwhile, beat together the egg, remaining sugar and flour until smooth and then thoroughly mix in the milk and amaretto. When the pastry is done, pour in the custard and replace in the oven at 170 degrees C for about 20 mins, until custard is set. Set to cool a little.

Bash up the mass of praline with a rolling pin and sprinkle around outer edge of flan and arrange the 5 nuts in the centre. Et voila.  Vindicated for another year.  Phew….

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Turn on a sixpence nectarine, almond and ricotta tart

I LOVE instant – and this is about as instant as it gets in the world of sophisticated-seeming puddings.

Nectarine season – its pretty over really; consequently I ended up feeling a little cheated when my final box of nectarines turned out to be disappointingly fluffsome and unsatisfactory (shouldn’t really have been surprised, it was late September after all).  I resolved to rectify their delightfulness with a little shove in the right direction and marry them with my New Favourite Ingredient (thanks Ants) – ricotta (why have I never used this stuff before this year… so sheltered).  And so was born a soon-to-be-oft-made tart of great pleasure.  Be sure to make it with other pudding shaped mouths around otherwise you will eat it all yourself.


6 nectarines

1 cheat’s sheet of rolled puff pastry

1 tub good quality organic ricotta

Almond extract – my favourite is the natural and super-pungent Lochhead’s of St Louis, Missouri.

Freshly grated zest of 1 preferably organic lemon

1 tablespoon icing sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 tablespoon golden/light brown sugar


Method of execution:

A couple of hours before you begin, halve the nectarines into a bowl and toss around with the syrup and brown sugar and a generous half capful of almond extract.  If the fruit is not well coated then sprinkle in a little more sugar/syrup.  Give them a stir around every so often, the juices should run a bit and the whole should smell deliciously almondy.

Meanwhile, beat up the ricotta with the sifted icing sugar (just an excuse to use my beautiful new floral tin dredger 🙂 ), lemon zest and another half capful of almond extract. Taste and add more sugar if needed.  Taste again, or several times to make sure – it’s so very tasteable.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.  Place the puff pastry sheet in a shallow baking tin and score around the edges to give a nice crisp puffy crust – about 1.5 inches from the edge will do.  Spread the ricotta mixture over the main area of pastry and arrange the nectarines skin-side up in rows. Pour any syrup juices that have collected in the dish over the whole lot.

Bake for, I don’t know, about 15 or 20 mins, actually can’t remember – keep checking until pastry is crisp and gold around the sides and the nectarines are soft and (ah, finally..) delicious, as they should be.

Serve in big slices while still warm. Then call in favours from your happy friends/family/whoever was lucky enough to get some.


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Duck in raspberry sauce with citrus and beans

So, Gweneth’s lovely wedding a couple of months ago set the bar so high on food that I felt compelled to recreate one of the dishes, mmm.  Such a lovely celebration amidst the flaking seaside grandeur of the North Wales coast – a beautiful mixture of crumbling piers, brass bands, ice cream, arcades and a little bit of dereliction!

The dish in question was an absolutely divine medley of duck and red peppers served in a sharp sweet sauce on top of a mountain of peeled grapefruit and orange segments, rich and refreshing all at the same time.  With my redoubtable mother’s helpful input on a sauce reduction idea I was all set to go…

Duck breasts cut in long strips ( allow 1/2 – 1 per person depending on size)

1 large red pepper, also cut in strips

2 red onions, finely sliced from root to tip

Red wine

Large handful of raspberries

2 large oranges (or 1 orange, 1 grapefruit – irritatingly the grocers had none on the day I tried the recipe out). This was fine for 3-4 servings.


Olive oil

Cornflour, 1 teaspoon

White basmati and bay leaves

French beans, lemon juice, soy


Peel each segment of citrus of all its inner skin and heap on plates.  Measure basmati per person and bring to boil with bay leaves and exact same quantity of water; turn down heat immediately stir, lid and simmer for 9 mins.  Brush a little olive oil into a ramkin per person and when rice is cooked, press into each one and set aside for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a heavy pan and fry the onions on a very low heat with salt, a little sugar and a sprinkle of rosemary until nice and soft – don’t brown them.  This will take a while, stir every so often.  Add the raspberries and stir in for a minute or two, then a couple of glasses of red wine and simmer gently down with a little more sugar.  Add more wine if necessary to make a generous quantity of sauce – you can always reduce it.  In a jar, shake up a teaspoon of cornflour with a little red wine and stir into the sauce.  Taste at this stage and add more salt if needed.  Remove the sauce from the pan and deglaze – set aside.  Heat the pan high with a little oil and stir fry the duck and red pepper strips, pouring off any juices into the sauce so that they don’t broil.  When tender and just done, add the sauce back in and combine.

Turn out a perfect mound of rice on each plate.  Serve the duck on top of the citrus segments and accompany with steamed green beans dressed in a drizzle of lemon juice, olive oil and soy sauce.

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Mmm, beetroot and feta (and olives)…

Currently my favourite summer recipes for lunches or suppers – possibly I make them too often but beetroot and olives and capers are just so tasty and good. Can anyone resist??

Baked Beetroot and Feta (above: after the chopping)

3 med-large beetroot, diced

1 onion, chopped fine

thyme and rosemary (fresh or dried)

olive oil and balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

1 1/2 packets of good quality feta (the cheap stuff will go rubbery instead of fluffed and crumblesome; believe me, I’ve had the misfortune)

Spring onion finely sliced for colour clash garnish if desired.


Put the diced beetroot, onion, seasonings in an ovenproof dish.  Slosh over some olive oil and a splash or two of balsamic. Toss the lot around and put in an oven at about 190 degrees C.  It should take about 40 mins to get the beetroot to a good eating consistency – check it doesn’t shrivel, but is soft enough to eat.  Take out and crumble all the feta on tob, sprinkle with a little pepper and a little more thyme and put back in the oven for about 10 mins, or until the feta browns a little. Sprinkle with spring onion if you want for pretty effect.  So very, very good.  Eat it with a big green salad and some flat bread with homemade tapenade…

Black Olive Tapenade

Mmm, there’s nothing like this.  The first time I tasted this I was living in Ireland, in Cork City, lodging with a herbalist for a couple of months to do my anthropology research on his patients (you may well ask, haha). He was quite an illustrious chap, full of outlandish stories of high entertainment (and possibly questionable validity). He had photographic evidence of his car journey through the Afghan Mountains to India and a suitcase full of original International Times magazines, though, and that was enough to garner my respect…

He asked only for weekly rent in the form of a bottle of champagne, and then would unfailingly crack it open of a weekend while watching Formula 1 racing, after sending me to market to pick up organic crispbreads and a pot of freshly made black olive tapenade to supplement our afternoon. Perfectly heavenly.  Certainly beat battling the elements in a challenging country (on some counts), and he was best buddies with the chaps at Ballymaloe cookery school too, which was entertaining.

I loved being woken up in my makeshift bedroom on the dining room floor to the strains of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony coming through the speakers, followed by a call to breakfast and uprightness with the 9th.  Beats an alarm clock any day…

1 tin basic pitted black olives in brine

Heaped dessert spoon of good quality salted capers

Half a fresh red chill, chopped, or some chilli flakes

Plenty of olive oil

Rosemary and perhaps a little thyme or toasted fennel seeds

1 clove garlic, chopped small

Black pepper


Place olives and all other ingredients in a bowl, except the capers.  Roughly liquidise with enough oil to produce a loose, bitty paste – it doesn’t want to be smooth like baby food!  Taste and stir in the capers.  Taste again – it shouldn’t need salt as it has briney olives and salted capers but if it is not piquant then add a little: it should be a bit too strong to eat off the spoon but perfect for a triangle of toasted middle eastern flat bread (you’ll have to see your local bakery for that one!).

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