Blow away the cobwebs

Spring is well and truly here, even on the grayest of days, daffodils and a kaleidoscope of other spring flowers seem to adorn the world, the trees are full of blossom and the contents of my veg box are slowly starting to change. For some of March Mother Nature dangled the start of summer in front of us: 20°C weekends when I went walking without a jumper (let alone a coat), had lunch al fresco and read many a report of people’s first barbecues of 2014 all over Facebook.

spring blossoms 2

Now though, Mother Nature is laughing at us, reminding us that we are actually only  in April; the at first stifled chuckle followed by full, unstoppable laughter like that of a mother trying to keep a straight face when telling her child off for something that is funny however naughty it might have been (yes, I am speaking from experience). Dotted amidst the pretty decent amount of spring sunshine we have been lucky enough to have had recently, have been a few days that have been bracing to say the least. I have lost count of how many days I have left the house in a mac, and then run back in for a scarf or something warmer, and today it just hasn’t stopped raining; I might, once, have felt cheated, only I have enjoyed the last few weekends so much I realise I haven’t been.

Gruffalo hunting Gruffalo hunting Gruffalo hunting Gruffalo hunting

Yesterday we went on a Gruffalo Hunt “in the deep dark [Hick’s] wood” in Derbyshire, and we recently had my husband’s parents come to stay, and gone for a family stroll with them to one of our favourite places: Bradgate Park. We live in the city, but you only have to drive for 15 minutes and you get to Bradgate Park, nearly 1000 acres in which you really can escape city life, and I love it there. Harry, our little boy loves it too; he can roam, he can climb trees (well, over their roots anyway) and he can spot deer (and, in the summer, the very noisy yet solitary peacock), as well as explore the ruins of Bradgate House, go rockclimbing and even paddling in the river Lin. Despite nearly turning purple it was so cold (he was very well wrapped up in Gramps’s hat), he really did enjoy his time there, especially as Nanna and Gramps came too; and when we got home we needed something to warm the cockles as they say.

rocky crag at Bradgate Park

These atmospheric pictures are one of the reasons I love Bradgate Park, some of the best photos I have have been taken there. The amazing landscape is another joy of the area.

Bradgate Park Bradgate Park

Having had breakfast and plenty of chocolate beetroot cake, we just had two courses, which were:


Jamie Oliver’s venison and mushroom stroganoff


Blood orange and juniper dark chocolate mousse

I chose these recipes because I had the right ingredients to make them in my veg box. In their raw states the mushrooms and oranges looked so fresh, but here they work with the other ingredients to become the warm woolly jumpers that we so needed that day.


Juniper BerriesBlood orangeBlood orange

I’m not going to give you the recipe for dessert because, however yummy it was, I didn’t add the right amount of juniper, so it tasted pretty much of just a chocolate orange. I know, that is still a pretty good dessert, but I want to meddle and see if I can get it right. Keep your eyes peeled.


Blast from the past curry night

Curry night is, and always has been, as much of a regular occurrence in my Mum’s house as it is in my own; we all seem to have a bond with all things Indian. Although we don’t ever need an excuse to hold a curry night, Mum’s birthday being this week, was all the excuse we needed for her children and grandchildren to gather at hers over the weekend for what was truly a blast from the past curry night.

If I ever write a cookbook, the thank you section will probably include some variation of the sentence:


CT is my stepdad and, although he has always made many many truly scrumptious meals for us, these two dishes (obviously not at once) were my first taste of this former chef’s culinary flair. Up until that point food had been good, but these dishes were fancy, and better than what we were used to. I remember watching over his shoulder in our not-exactly-state-of-the-art kitchen, being intrigued at how he was going to make things as ugly as monkfish tails and surely-too-good-for-you-to-be-nice spinach, and turn them into such utterly mouthwatering delights, with what seemed at the time to be no more than a few flashes of gleamingly sharp knives and the briefest of brief dips into the furious spattering of the deep fat fryer (I quite often toy with buying one of these, but I have decided that everything they ever produce is too good – or bad, depending on your viewpoint – for me to be able to exercise any form of restraint, and my waistline has expanded quite sufficiently since I obtained the cooking bug in my nineteenth year as it is). As I have said, everything CT makes is nice, although he is modest, and will always think of at least ten reasons why he should have done it differently in order to have produced something better; but, luckily for us, he quite often gets into his head that he is going to produce an edible spectacle … and that is exactly what he did this weekend.

Much to my delight we arrived at Mum’s on Saturday morning to be told that CT was going to make spinach pakoras for a curry night; well, this was a very welcome surprise! We quite often have curry night at Mum’s, but there are a few within their repertoire that we had a lot when we were kids, so these dishes bring back lots of memories:


Spinach pakoras (pālaka pakōṛē – पालक पकोड़े)

These will make your house smell like your local curry house for the rest of the weekend, but they are completely worth it!

Tandoori pork belly (tandūrī sū’ara kā mānsa -तंदूरी सूअर का मांस )

I think Mum and CT have some sort of weird culinary connection with pork belly, because whenever they go near the stuff something magical happens, and it is always fantastic!

Mint yoghurt (ṭakasāla dahī – टकसाल दही)


Chicken Curry (Murg – मुर्ग)

This has a really thick, spicy tomatoey sauce, and is one of Mum’s favourites.

Chicken & Cashew Nut Curry (Murg sātha kājū – मुर्ग साथ काजू)
(Very mild)

This surely has a secret ingredient because it is a sure-fire way to get kids to eat curry; I think every child in my family has been brought up eating this.

Bombay Aloo (bŏmbē ālū – बॉम्बे आलू)

The secret is the perfect amount of salt, and don’t overcook the potatoes.

Daal (dāla – दाल)

Mum uses the orange lentils that, before she learnt about curry, she had probably only ever used in soup. Her soup is lovely, but this is even better. When I left home for uni she sent me up to Leicester with a huge crate of easy to cook, long lasting, cheap foods, and I think I lived off potato curries and daals for pretty much my whole three years of studying.

Rice (cāvala -चावल)

At the end of the meal Mum asked us if we wanted seconds; I replied that I was fine as I thought I’d eaten about five pakoras, and then we all laughed because I am the family’s greedy one; on reflection, I realised I had actually eaten five pakoras. Oh well, it was the weekend, and a celebratory one at that, so the diet just had to be put on hold! Needless to say, we didn’t really feel like dessert, but if I had to choose something it would probably be something simple and fresh, fruit would be perfect.

If this waffle is all about memories and good eat-togethers, I think the state of the family’s curry bible says more than I can:

Mum's curry book

Frozen chicken curry

Bombay Potatoes

curry recipe

Pakora recipe

Spinach pakoras

And finally, the thing that started all this off: a spinach pakora.

Recipes will follow.

Happy Birthday Mum! x

新年好 (Happy New Year – Chinese style)!

Happy Chinese New Year! I know, it was last week; it seems I run late in Chinese as well as English.

2014, the year of the horse; I love horses, let’s hope that translates into life in general this year. I am a rooster, or a dog, depending on which calendar you look at, because it turns out my birthday is on the cusp of that year’s Chinese New Year. This makes me giggle, because my sister was born on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini star signs, or “on the crust” as she mistakenly used to call it. Harry (my little boy) is a rabbit, which may explain why I had so many urges to buy toy rabbits for him when I was pregnant.

Why the picture of spring onions? Well, it seems you can’t make many Chinese dishes without them so it seems fitting. They’re ok, but I can live without having quite as many as some of the recipes I have seen suggest are required, so I have left them out

Cooking Chinese around Chinese New Year wasn’t planned, I had green beans that needed using up and it just so happened that the first recipe I found that I fancied was a Chinese one; the idea of cooking up a not-very-traditional Chinese New Year feast sort of snowballed from there. I’m glad it did though; it was yummy, and much nicer, and healthier, than a takeout.


Prawn crackers

Main course

Meltingly soft pork belly glazed with blackbean sauce with Hoi Sin dipping sauce

Gok Wan’s Aromatic Wok-Fried Beans

Egg fried rice


Vanilla Ice Cream with Passion Fruit

Chinese feast

I admit that when you read this menu it doesn’t tantalise that many tastebuds. Had this meal not been as on a whim as it was I expect I would have opted for something far more traditional (read fancy and complicated); as it was though I decided on the meal at 2, went to do my weekly shop at 3 and needed to be eating by 5.30 so that Harry could join us. So I was pretty limited on what I could do. Anyway, despite many a short cut and dull sounding menu, it was very, very nice; think about all the times you have sat with a takeout menu and haven’t been able to decide whether to stick to your your trusty now dull sounding favourites or try something new and exciting.

The prawn crackers: they’re essential; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like them, kids included.

The pork belly: originally I wanted to do ribs, but there must be a lot of Chinese people in Leicester as Sainsbury’s didn’t have any; I went for pork belly strips instead, and I’m glad I did because they really were meltingly soft. No recipe here I’m afraid, it was literally a jar of black bean sauce over the pork, and in the oven (bottom shelf) on a moderate heat for about an hour and a half. Dipping them in the Hoi Sin feels very naughty, but is really yummy.

The beans: a little bowl of virtue on the side to make up for the naughtiness of dipping the pork in sauce.

Egg fried rice: one of those things that, when done well, you just can’t get enough of.

Dessert: I don’t really know what Chinese people have for dessert. Takeout menus offer battered bananas and pineapple rings, but they’re not fooling me, I don’t believe this is what China’s sweet toothed dessert addicts really have. At all the Chinese all-you-can eat buffets I’ve ever been to there has been a random selection of fruit, cakes and the apparently obligatory chocolate fountain. So I plumped for a halfway house: ice cream, but smothered in a suitably exotic type of fruit, which was light and refreshing after quite a sticky-so-it-cant-be-good-for-you type meal.

I love the sound of many of the recipes in the Gok Wan book my friend bought me, so I expect I will be making a bit more Chinese now. I’ll have to try something more extravagant next time though. I thoroughly recommend the book (Gok Cooks Chinese), it gives Chinese food a freshness that, if you’ve only ever had takeout type Chinese food, will pleasantly surprise you. Enjoy!

New Year’s Feast

Happy New Year!

A bit belated I know, but that seems to be the story of my life at the mo.

I hope you all had an enjoyable time seeing the old year out and the new one in; and that the new year has started well, preferably not with too bad a headache. You will notice that I was desperately trying to get my last post published whilst it was still (just) 2013. Luckily this was in the company of some of those who are nearest and dearest to me, with the sights and sounds of many celebratory fireworks outside and was preceded by a most delicious New Year’s feast.

I am also lucky in that I have quite a few foodies in my family; so I was pleased that instead of trudging around London in the cold and wet to fancy dress house parties, I had the opportunity to join forces with my sister-in-law to plan a full on New Year’s feast. Various options were batted around, but we settled on Scandinavia for our inspiration. We knew trying to get the meal together before the littl’uns energy waned and needed to go to bed would be impossible so we split the feast in two. The kids tea/the grown up’s starters (which were accompanied by leftover Christmas crackers and lots of glitter) were:

A Scandinavian inspired cheese board: Jarlsberg, Vintage Gouda, Blue Castello
with rye bread and celery seed crackers

Sugar baked ham
with caremelised red onion chutney and gherkins

Grapes, apples and pears

Cheese platter

The original plan for the main course was to make Gravlax, but we didn’t have enough time to pull that off so we settled on curing the salmon like Gravlax for as long as we had, before lightly pan frying it to achieve the most delicious, crispiest salmon skin I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Our feast comprised:

Lightly cured pan fried salmon

Buttery dill seasoned boiled potatoes

Pickled cucumbers

Swedish salad

Finnish mustard

followed (some time after to give our tummies a rest) by

Lemon posset
with lemon and cardamom biscuits and red currants

New Year's Feast

Lemon posset

Luckily (again; maybe this is a good omen for 2014, I hope so, fingers crossed), we had bought a whole salmon so there was more than enough to continue curing ready to enjoy proper Gravlax on new year’s day. We ended up having it as a starter before medium rare rib eye steak with rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes and a green bean salad. YUM!

We have been lucky enough to enjoy some fabulous food over the festive period, and I have lots of ideas and plans for what to be eating in 2014, that will hopefully make it a healthy and happy year (starting with my annual be good to myself January). I hope that 2014 brings you all health and happiness via food and otherwise too.

How to make Jagermeister taste good

Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la

Has been the season for office Christmas parties, fa la la la la, la la la la

The company my husband works for is likely to rank pretty highly on ‘best companies to work for’ lists, and I think their Christmas parties must be among their staffs top reasons to work there. Ben has worked there for nearly 10 years, and ‘other halves’ have been invited to the Christmas do (and have been paid for) for all but one year, so I have been to quite a few of their dos, and I can safely say that this year they excelled themselves: we had a weekend in Amsterdam.

Unusually for me, I know a fair bit of trivia about Holland: that it is the home of clogs, tulips and windmills, quite a bit about artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt whose work I studied on my Art History degree and that Anne Frank’s family’s secret annexe is there. I love their stroopwafels when the Christmas markets arrive in town, but besides stroopwafels, I don’t really know anything about Dutch cuisine.

Oh, except that I hate Jagermeister and the bountiful Jagerbombs that Ben’s work promised to pay for whilst on our weekend away. I sensed a challenge creeping up on me … what do the Dutch really eat, and is there a way to make Jagermeister taste palatable, let alone nice? I wanted to learn more about Dutch cuisine, so challenged myself to come up with a full Dutch-inspired meal; and, because I was treated to an ice cream maker for Christmas, I have come up with a pudding for the latter part of the challenge. The menu I’m thinking of is:


Smoked ham hock terrine with a mini savoury gouda stuffed croquembouche


Pan fried herring with pickled and roasted beets and a dill salad


Chocolate cake with rum-roasted pineapple and Jagermeister ice cream

Before I go any further I should mention that I haven’t actually made this yet, the holidays and a crazy amount of staying with the folks has taken over. However, despite thinking it’s going to work, the uncertainty, intrigue and hope is enough to get me to tell you about it and be quite excited about giving it a shot (no tenuous pun intended), wish me luck, I will be making it when I get home.

Anyway …

I know, why would you want to taint such deliciousness that is ice cream with Jagermeister? Well, despite really, really not liking the liquorice-like German liquor, in ice cream I reckon it is probably quite nice; I am afterall a firm believer that adding sugar will generally improve many things. I must say that I had not partaken in too many Jagerbombs when I came up with this, indeed I am not the only one to have had this idea, I was inspired by this Jagermeister sorbet and this Jagermeister ice cream.

I will report back in January but, in the meantime, here are a few pics from Amsterdam. The challenge is on!

Anne Frank's house

Amsterdam must-see: Anne Frank’s family’s secret annex – a very haunting and emotional experience

Dutch canal

 Quintessential Amsterdam: canals

Bike flat - Amsterdam

Quintessential Amsterdam: bikes – the picture shows the lower section of the bike flat (a huge multi-story car park for bicycles!)

Dam Square Shopping Centre

The fanciest shopping centre I have ever seen (by Dam Square, Amsterdam)!
Dutch windmill
Last but not least, quintessential Holland: windmill (you could see these adorning many a stall at the Christmas markets)


If you read my post on Halloween you will know (although you have probably noticed anyway) that I haven’t posted much recently. The cause: the company I work for held a big conference in Newcastle last week, resulting in having worked 78 hours over the the week; but also I had my suitcase get off the train and head to Glasgow when I was staying on for Newcastle, and then I ended up in A&E because my son decided to re-enact his current favorite song: five naughty monkeys jumping on the bed (which required having his head glued back together; in case any of his Grandparents read this and start to panic: he is fine now). Needless to say I have been a tad stressed.

Thankfully, I had left my work in my suitcase and the lady who took it by mistake tweeted us, so after many many text messages and telephone calls we were both reunited with our suitcases at Newcastle Central Station just in time for me to head back down to the Midlands. Because I had been going to the conference I had packed all of my nicest things, including the diamond earrings that my husband bought me for my birthday; I was, therefore, truly relieved to get it all back, and full of appreciation for having such a good, honest person take it in the first place. If only everyone in the world were like her. I just need each and every one of you to now keep your fingers crossed that my insurance covers the cost of having to buy replacement belongings whilst I was waiting to get my case back! Please.

You are now probably wondering why on earth I am planning on cooking up feasts about which to blog about, and not just getting a take away? Well, I had take away already when I got home, so I don’t really want to fork out for another. And besides, I have had a string of uninspiring meals over the course of the week: the food at conference was ok (but, even if I say so myself, not as good as my own), a pizza, a bowl of pasta and burgers, chips and sweetcorn; not exactly a menu of health and happiness.
I’ve had some good sleep, a slow weekend and the easiest of trips to Sainsbury’s, so I feel like my blood pressure has probably relaxed a bit, and I’m ready to hit the kitchen again. It is a plate of some scrumptious home comforts that I’m yearning for now. 

I do my food shopping weekly, and usually at the weekend; I have tried all sorts of other options, but that is what seems to suit me. Sometimes I pick a cuisine and will eat solely that type of food for the week; you’ll often find the ingredients for curry, Italian or Scandinavian dishes in my kitchen. Other times, like this week, I won’t be able to decide, or I will fancy a dish that doesn’t ‘fit’, so the week becomes a melting pot of different influences. I saw one of my best friends the other day and she said she was having kedgeree (one of my absolute favourites), considering I had a burger with chips and sweetcorn and didn’t have any smoked haddock, you can imagine my disappointment. So I HAVE to have it this week! My main aim when planning this week’s meals was the seasonality of ingredients (for autumn is certainly a treasure trove of tastes and isn’t going to last much longer as we prepare to stuff ourselves silly over the fast-approaching festive season) and the fact that I had some diced pheasant in the freezer. With all of this in mind I have bought food for:

Pheasant au vin (with mashed potato and peas)
Porchetta con zucca al forno e verdure verdi (Italian roast pork with roasted butternut squash and greens)
Jansson’s temptation with watercress
Leftover roast pork curry
Root vegetable korma
Smoked mackerel with goat’s cheese potato cakes and watercress

I am so looking forward to cooking again!

If I were to have an eat-together in November, that had to be seasonal, I think it would incorporate a lot of this; maybe:

Goat’s cheese potato cake with simply dressed watercress

Jerusalem artichoke and sausage casserole

Pears poached in spiced madeira with custard

Even I can’t eat this much food in one weekend, so I will post recipes with pictures as I eat my way through the week.

Happy Halloween!

I’m cheating and posting to eight potatoes and honey and haribo at once today. From an idea for a Halloween themed eat-together, to Halloween cupcakes for kids, I just feel that this post sits comfortably on each, so why not?!

The weekend just gone we went to stay with my Dad and, my now stepmum, Rose, who were relishing the prospect of having a littl’un around to help get them get in the mood for Halloween. We arrived to be greeted with ingredients ready to be magicked into Halloween cupcakes, and a bright orange (almost luminous) pumpkin ready to be carved into a ghoulish grin. As it was, our toddler, Harry, is quite into stars at the moment (or twinkles as he calls them) and he insisted that the pumpkin’s eyes were twinkles; so it ended up looking more like a jolly bald clown who had painted their entire head orange than a fiendish face to frighten folk. Although, I guess if you’re coulrophobic (scared of clowns) you may disagree.

Whilst Harry was ever-so pleased with his pumpkin creation, I am always adamant that the pumpkin flesh doesn’t go to waste. Where I live I am lucky enough to have one of the best food markets in the country on my doorstep, yet, even here, you only tend to see pumpkins around Halloween. With names like Mammoth, Ghost Rider and Jack O’Lantern it is easy to see why so many people forget that these winter squash are actually food, and simply carve grimacing faces with eerie and sinister smiles with which to welcome mock-fear-seeking trick or treaters on All Hallows Eve; or use them as heads for burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on Bonfire Night.

So, if you haven’t already binned them, please, please, please try one of my forthcoming pumpkin recipes with your Jack O’Lantern’s innards (I say forthcoming, because it is unrealistic for me to make all my beloved pumpkin recipes on one night of the year, so I know I’m going to be using pumpkin a lot over the next week or so). I promise you won’t regret it! Come tomorrow they will be cheap as chips (not that they’re expensive prior to that anyway), and they will sit happily in your kitchen for most of the winter until even the most uninspired of cooks is ready to use them. Although, hopefully, you’ll feel inspired here!

We didn’t get round to making it when I was at my Dad’s at the weekend, but if I were to have a Halloween eat-together, I think the menu would read something like this:


Spicy roasted pumpkin soup
(with obligatory crusty bread)

Spicy pumpkin soup


Harissa roast quail and pumpkin tagine served on a bed of buttered cous cous


Toffee apple and toasted marshmallow m’hencha

I know, I know, what about pumpkin pie? As lovely as it is, I think three courses of pumpkin would be overkill; and I love pumpkin soup too much to forego it for the pie! Anyway, apple bobbing has been around since Roman times, and toffee apples and toasted marshmallows have been synonymous with Halloween and Bonfire Night for donkeys years.

Anyway, although we obviously ate together (takeout, an indoor BBQ on the stormiest day of the year so far, and the best roast beef and mustard sandwiches), we didn’t actually have this meal; last weekend seemed a bit premature to be actually celebrating Halloween. I’ve already given Rose the pumpkin soup recipe though, and after carving Harry’s second pumpkin earlier (we left the first one at Nanny and Grandad Rose’s house by mistake), I used the interior to make my favourite spicy pumpkin soup. I am so looking forward to lunch tomorrow!

I can’t wait to make the other recipes I’ve mentioned here (they’re what I have to look forward to next week), but I’m glad that I did more besides cooking whilst staying with Dad and Rose. We had a lovely weekend walking down memory lane: taking Harry and Dad’s dogs, Genie and Toby, to the park where we used to play penalty shoot outs, and visiting the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park (or Crystal Pallister Park as my younger sister used to call it; not quite sure why).

Life is hectic at the moment, hence I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like to, but I promise I will get the recipes and more pictures up over the next week. It’s Halloween today though, so I was determined I’d post something! Happy Halloween everyone!

Warm days will never cease, for Summer has o’er-brimmed

Having ended my last post saying I was looking forward to Autumn’s larder, Summer has been clinging on for dear life! Although the mornings and evenings are definitely cooler and darker, and the odd rainy day has snuck up on us, the bulk of September was absolutely beautiful, even if it didn’t have the soaring temperatures of the previous few months.

So, do I make light summery meals or something more hearty? That is the question that has presented itself most weekends when I’m doing my weekly meal plan. To be honest though, I haven’t really stuck to the meal plans much the last week or so, because I tend to be in the mood for heartwarming stodge one day, followed by something lighter the next. I have found that southern Europe has been the answer to my question recently. If you think about it, there are many areas such as northern Spain and northern Italy that can be cooler than their more southerly sun-drenched seaside cousins; both having hearty regional dishes of cured meats, bread and cheese in comparison to the lighter seafood specialities found further south. For my next eat-together though, I went to Greece. Not to the tourist-filled beach resorts in high summer though.

My last post/recent inactivity will also have led you to believe that eat-togethers at mine have been thin-on-the-ground. Well, like buses, you wait ages for one to come and then two come along at once! The weekend following my frenchified girlie night in, Ben’s parents came to stay. The mornings and evenings were, as I said, cooler and darker, but the Saturday was especially beautiful day. After a leisurely stroll along the beautiful old-fashioned New Walk area of the city, and a visit to the dinosaurs and the Magic Worlds exhibitions at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, we went home for an early dinner in our airy, sunshine-filled dining room with the window and back door flung open. Considering I usually have to force myself not to turn the heating on until at least October 1st, this made us all fell very lucky indeed. And adorning the dining table there was:


Lemon and oregano roast lamb

On the side

πράσινα φασόλια στιφάδο
(Green Bean Stew*)

*I found this recipe on cottagegrovehouse.comit is sublime (the blog as well as the recipe)!


Greek-style honey and pistachio drizzle cake
served with fresh strawberries and strawberries and clotted cream ice cream

lemon and oregano roast lambgreek green bean stewgreek style honey and pistachio cake with strawberries and ice cream

The strawberries, ice cream, green beans, lemons and oregano encapsulated the last few drops of summer; whilst the roast lamb and potatoes were a definite nod to autumn. The balance of the meal perfectly mirrored the balance of the period that is the changing of seasons.

After our lovely meal and sunshiney day out it was time to say goodbye to the folks, just in time to realise how suddenly the temperature had dropped, and scurry around closing the windows and doors. Next time we see them Autumn will be in full swing, which I’m kind of pleased about because I have so many ideas; not to mention my much-loved seasonal staples that I’m looking forward to dusting off now that October has arrived.

I can bake a cherry pie as quick as a cat can wink its eye

Hello again!

I can’t believe it has been over a month since my last post; sorry about that. I have been umming and arring about whether or not to post something, because the original point of eight potatoes was that I could share the themed eat-togethers that mine and my sister’s families had together. Well, unfortunately, she has moved back to our home-town where the rest of our family lives, so we’re not close enough to have regular eat-togethers anymore. I miss having her round the corner, and I miss our eat-togethers, but I’m certainly not going to let it stop me blogging. If I have learnt anything in the short time that I’ve been blogging it is that I quite like telling stories, and that every time someone leaves me a nice comment or I ‘meet’ someone in ‘blog-land’, it makes me happy. I am going to at least try to keep themed eat-togethers at the core of eight potatoes though; there are, at the end of the day, plenty of other people I can have eat-togethers with, albeit not so regularly.

A couple of weekends ago proved one such example. Ben went to Wales to climb Mount Snowdon to raise money for the charity The Mango Tree, so I decided it was a good opportunity for a girlie night in with my friend Soph, and her Mum and sister who are equally as entertaining and lovely as she is. Long story short, I knew Soph would want to try my almond ice cream now that it had set (it was liquid last time she tried it), and I also know that she loves bakewell tarts. Warm cherry pie with almond ice cream was therefore a must for dessert. People who actually know me won’t be at all surprised that pudding was at the top of the list of priorities when planning the meal. The title may be a slight exaggeration on the part of the pirate in Puff the Magic Dragon, but, if you use shop bought pastry, cherry pie really is incredibly quick and easy; so a good pud for an eat-together.

almond ice cream

The most delicious almond ice cream in the world!

So I worked backwards to figure out what we’d have for the rest of the meal, and I decided to go along a French route; which, let me tell you, was a bit of a surprise …

When I first started blogging my mother-in-law bought me the book and DVD of Julie & Julia, which are great, although they have confirmed for me that French food tends to be at least daunting, even if not as complicated as it can initially seem to be. That said, rich, flavourful food is my kind of thing, and having just finished the book of Julie & Julia, I realised I have quite a few books about France and French food: by Joanne Harris I have Blackberry WineChocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange and The French Kitchen, and my favourites, by Peter Mayle: A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence. They are all good; but the latter two are the sort of books that, if you’re reading them in public, will make you look daft as you won’t be able to stop yourself from completely creasing up in fits of giggles! Anyway, I pondered and decided upon a recipe from The French Kitchen: Crunchy Roast Duck with turnips (and a very nice cider sauce) served with steamed tenderstem broccoli.
Unfortunately, between the hilarity that was my toddler Harry trying to entertain us, putting him to bed, chatting and making dinner I forgot to take photos, so you’re going to have to trust me on all this; sorry! Pictures or not though, the meal was really really delicious, and I will definitely be pulling it out for future special occasions. The duck was rich, yet the accompaniments somehow seemed refreshing in comparison despite having their own luxurious qualities; and the cherry pie for pud had just enough tartness coming from the fruit, which melted as the warm, sweet, buttery pastry crumbled in your mouth. The two dishes worked very well together too.

Having seen the duck in the fridge before he left for Snowdon, Ben was more than a tad jealous; but realistic, because he knew there wouldn’t be any left when he got back. I did have half a bottle of cider left though, and he did reach Snowdon’s summit in a much better time that I was expecting, so I thought he deserved a nice dinner incorporating cider sauce as a reward. A lack of duck led to pairing the sauce with pork chops instead, and these too worked really well along with some buttered cabbage and tiny crunchy roast potatoes.

Game, root veg and apples; it won’t take me long to start missing the summer sunshine, but I do love autumn and I’m really looking forward to some of the delights the season has to offer.

My inner Indian मी इन्नर इंडियन

India, (it’s religions, languages and literature, art and, of course, food) is a subject extremely close to my heart. Living in Leicester, I have a lot of Indian friends and they have given me the title of Honorary Indian, because they say I am the only white British person they know who knows what a Kachori is, let alone able to make them on a regular basis. When he was younger my Uncle went travelling, and felt so at home in India that he made it his home for a long time. My husband’s childhood (and now our spare bedroom) was full of Marvel comics and the Beano; whereas, although I had a completely average British childhood in some respects, I probably grew up knowing a great deal more about India, and all that it encompasses, than him or any of my classmates. Besides the likes of Madhur Jaffrey and those who experienced the British Raj, my Nan was probably one of the only people of her generation that could confidently knock up an authentic Indian meal in eighties England too. My Uncle used to send huge parcels home to her, full of miniature models of Hindu deities and beautiful, aromatic and unusual spices like Amchoor (Amacūra – अमचूर – I know few are likely to be able to read Hindi, but it is so beautiful that I just have to put it in), Hing/Asafoetida (Hīṅga – हींग) and Kalonji (कालोंजी), that smelt so wonderful that you would know they were in there even before you unwrapped the parcel. That never dampened the desire to delve in though. What I most looked forward to though is that when he visited he would give me books of Rangoli (रंगोली ) templates (that I loved using as colouring books), as well as Hindi comic books telling the stories of the Hindu deities (my favourite of which was always the one that explains how Ganesha (गणेशा), the sweet-toothed Lord of success, education, knowledge, wisdom and health, and destroyer of evils, obstacles, vanity, selfishness and pride, came by his elephantine head).

Ganesha  Ganesha Shiva  Shiva

As I’ve grown up my Uncle’s stories, photographs and souvenirs, as well as the experiences I’ve had as a result of his choice to live in India for a while, have had a huge impact on my life. I don’t just love Indian food, I love everything I know about the ancient Bhārata (भारत); I studied modules on Indian Art and wrote a dissertation on it whilst at university, I tried learning Hindi (I would have carried on, but it’s tricky when you don’t have anyone to converse with) and, although I’m not religious, if I had to pick just one religion to follow then, because Hinduism doesn’t discriminate between people from different religions, it would almost undoubtedly be Hinduism. I also love the fact that, as a subject, India and it’s religions, is so vast that I don’t think I will ever get to the end of my learning about it. I don’t actually practice Hinduism, but living in Leicester means that visiting the temple and joining Holy day celebrations such as Hōlī (होली), Vaisākhī (वैसाखी), Navarātri (नवरात्रि) and, of course, Divālī (दिवाली), are easier than in the average English town. I remember the first time I went to Leicester’s Diwali celebrations: I was 19, having just moved to Leicester for university, and I was a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure if non-hindus would be as welcome as my Uncle had assured me they would be. However, the minute I walked onto the Golden Mile (an area of Leicester full of predominantly Indian shops, banks and community centres etc.)  I was whisked into the celebrations full of smiling faces, everyone greeting me with ‘Happy Diwali’ (Khuśa Dīvālī – खुश दीवाली) even though I don’t look at all Indian and being offered the chance to buy all sorts from ḍōsās (डोसा) to sāṛīs (साड़ी) to bronze statues of Lakṣmī (लक्ष्मी) who the festival of lights is in honour of. Now, the hustle, bustle and happiness of Hindu celebrations in Leicester, not to mention the celebratory food, are  something that I look forward to, but I certainly don’t need them as an excuse to whip up an Indian feast.

A couple of weekends ago was one such example. I have a friend who I haven’t been able to see much of recently, so rather than trying to catch up over coffee and cake after work during the week, Ben and I invited her and her husband for dinner at the weekend; for curry night. As most Indian cookbooks will tell you (I have a lot of them, so I know) a “traditional Indian meal – whether eaten in the north, south, east or west – follows a very different pattern from that of Europe … There are no starters, the meal is not served in courses, and desserts are not necessarily served at the end”* (I wish I’d known that all the times I tried to get my mum to let me have pudding first, I now use it when my husband sniggers at me when he sees a bowl of ice cream while I’m waiting for dinner to cook). Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure my friends would be quite so sweet-toothed and glutinous as me, so I served Indian food in the Western way. The menu was:


Maṭar Kachoori (मटर कचौड़ी)

These are little balls of dough, filled with lightly spiced peas, and fried until golden brown
(I always make too many so my husband and I can take them for lunch the next day)


Murg Sheora-Natwara (मुर्ग शेओरा-नटवारा)

This Rajasthani dish translates as Chieftain’s Chicken; it is quite spicy, but not so much so that it strips your tastebuds!

Saag aloo (साग और आलू)


Pulāva cāvala (पुलाव चावल) – Pilau rice

Nāna rōṭī (नान रोटी) – Naan bread

Takasāla dahī (टकसाल दही) – Mint yoghurt

Masālēdāra āma kī caṭanī (मसालेदार आम की चटनी) – Spicy mango chutney


Barfi (बर्फ़ी) from Ajays Sweet Mart on Narborough Road

Barfi is an Indian sweet made from condensed milk and sugar, and flavoured with, coconut, dried fruits or nuts such as pistachios and cashews. The name Barfi is derived from the Hindi word for snow: Barpha (बर्फ़ा), because it is served cold and looks like it.

Matar Kachori  Curry night  Barfi

Besides our two year old son Harry taking a bit too long to get to bed before they arrived (he obviously knew he was missing out on something good; at least the evening, he had the saag aloo for his tea too as it’s one of his favourites), our evening was lovely; it was great catching up, and the food was fantastic. I had spent all day cooking; but it was absolutely worth it because, not only had the flavours had time to mingle, it meant I was able to chat rather than just cook, and I didn’t have too much washing up left to do either (always a bonus for this doesn’t-have-room-for-a-dishwasher gal)!

If I have any Hindi speaking readers then I’d love to know if what I have written makes sense? I have no idea if the translations are correct or not; I got them all off the internet.

*Pushpesh Pant, India Cookbook