Asparagus tart

We get asparagus from our farmers market and have been gorging on bags of them for a few weeks now. Farmers’ markets are so highly regulated that we get ours ‘under the table’ from a farmer who officially sells something else. This guy can only sell what he’s signed up to sell but if you’re in the know he’ll let you have some of ‘the other stuff’ and a plastic bag will be stashed, with the legal goods, in your bag. All very satisfying as you see the line for the official asparagus vendor snake down the street. I don’t really like to mess with the perfection that is a pile of asparagus and melted butter, but I made this tart recently when my sister came over and I felt it needed to look like some effort had been made. Plus, with the husband away that week, the asparagus mountain was proving daunting, even for me.

This recipe is by Tamasin Day-Lewis, sister of Daniel, and comes from the wonderfully named ‘Art of the Tart’, a lovely book with loads of fairly easy to make sweet and savoury tarts, quiches and pies. As she says in the intro to this recipe, it is only to be attempted once you can bear to share the flavour of asparagus with others, and actually this recipe maintains the asparagus as the main event – the rest of the tart being very mellow and creamy. If you buy ready-made shortcrust pastry it really is dead easy. Tamasin talks of her ‘golden rule’ which is to steam the thicker, woodier ends of the stems first before you throw in the more tender tops – that way avoiding “the flobby mess” that putting them in at the same time can lead to. I didn’t do this, lazily, and while it didn’t matter I think she may have a point…

Asparagus tart

Serves 6

Prep time: 15 mins Cooking time: 50 mins

22cm/9 inch shortcrust pastry case, chilled

beaten egg, for brushing

1 good-sized bundle of asparagus

300ml/10fl oz cream

150ml/5fl oz Jersey milk [funnily enough I didn’t get this, I’m sure whole milk will also do]

4 egg yolks

2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Bake the pastry blind for 15 minutes, then remove the beans, prick the base with a fork and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pastry case from the oven and brush with beaten egg. Turn the oven down to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Steam the asparagus as discussed above and leave to cool. Whisk the cream, milk and egg yolks together, add the grated Parmesan and season. Spoon the cooled asparagus into the pastry case, then pour over the custard. Cook for 25 – 30 minutes, until puffed up and just set and browned.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out and serve with a strong-noted salad, say raw fennel, orange and watercress with a hazelnut or walnut and olive oil dressing, which introduces astringence and pepperiness.





I’m a big fan of Australian cooks and their whole approach to food. They don’t seem to have any major hang ups about what they’re eating and are less about showing off than simply feeding friends and family. Having said that, they have certain natural advantages over us like a great climate, wonderful produce and massive bbq’s. I once stayed with some Aussies in Sydney who used their barbecue as an extension of their kitchen. It was on the balcony outside the kitchen door and dishes would be cooked on both the hob and the range outside. Quite a revelation for an English girl used to waiting an hour for the charcoal to be hot enough…

This recipe comes from Bill Granger and his book ‘Feed Me Now’ (Quadrille, £20) a great title to include on this blog and well worth dipping in to for simple recipes you can rustle up in no time. This dish is SO easy. Appropriately I made this when an Aussie friend came round for dinner when the husband was out. She arrived just as I was bathing and feeding my little girl so she ended up helping out with the cooking while I put her to bed. Gotta love that ‘can do’ attitude…

You may be thinking there’s nothing particularly interesting about baked chicken, and this is a really simple recipe, but what made it a little different to me and stops everything from drying out, was adding the stock, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. The end result was a little sticky, not dry at all, and finished in one sitting.

Baked chicken with lemon, potato and green olives

Prep time: 10 mins Cooking time: 50 mins

Serves 4 [I sort of halved the ingredients for 2, less potatoes and chicken but probably similar amounts of the rest]

1 kg roasting potatoes, such as Desiree

1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges

75g green olives

1 lemon, sliced

50g pancetta, cut into strips

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

120ml chicken stock

1 x 1.7kg chicken, jointed

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Cut the potatoes into chunks and place in a roasting tin or oven proof dish. Scatter over the onion, olives, lemon, pancetta and bay leaves. Stir the tomato paste and balsamic vinegar into the chicken stock, then pour over the potatoes. Lay the chicken pieces on top, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 50 minutes or until the chicken is golden.

Transfer the chicken pieces to a warm plate, cover with foil and set aside to rest in a warm place. Increase the oven setting to 220C/Gas 7 and return the roasting tin or dish to the oven for 10 minutes or until the potatoes, onion and lemon slices are well coloured.

Place the chicken back on top of the potatoes, scatter over some chopped parsley if you like, and serve.



The original recipe for the one below comes from Skye Gyngell’s ‘A Year in my Kitchen’ and calls for lobster but this was just for a TV dinner (with Mad Men DVD) so I went for monkfish. Plus I don’t like the idea of freezing the critters and plunging them in boiling water, I’d rather someone else did that. I’ve taken a few liberties with other ingredients which I simply didn’t have, couldn’t be bothered to do (eg the roasted coconut, sorry) or tweaked them slightly to suit me. I’ll leave in the bit about how to deal with the lobster, just in case. I’ve never been to India so can’t vouch for this but apparently it’s a southwest coast style curry – what I can tell you is that this means the flavours are fresh, citrussy and coconutty.

It feels like I’m just getting back my cooking mojo after a few months of not being able to think ahead as far as the next hour let alone the next meal. As I bathe and feed my little girl at around 6.30 – 7.30pm this means any cooking has to be prepared in advance, made by someone else or it has to be a super-quick recipe, all good for the purposes of this blog. This recipe does fall into the latter category, surprisingly for a curry, and the list of ingredients isn’t nearly as long and arduous as most curry recipes so often are.

If you have an anniversary, birthday, other good reason or it’s simply a gorgeously sunny day, I highly recommend a trip to Skye Gyngell’s, particularly for Sunday lunch. As well as serving beautiful and taste bud inspiring food it is hidden away within a garden centre – hence it’s name Petersham Nurseries – so feels like you’re eating in a secret garden, surrounded by terracotta pots, vintage wicker furniture and things like cloches and linen gardening aprons you never knew you needed. It’s down by the river near Richmond and when I took my husband there for a birthday lunch a couple of years ago we were barely speaking by the time we arrived as it took us ages in terrible traffic and the sat nav directed us to the wrong place. Luckily the sheer loveliness of the place immediately dispelled the monosyllabic mood that was threatening to ruin everything. Well worth the effort.

Fish curry with tamarind, roasted coconut, ginger and coriander

Serves 4  [I did it for 2 and halved the ingredients except, perhaps foolishly, the chillies…]

Prep time: 10 mins Cooking time: 25 mins

4 very fresh, live lobsters, about 500g each [or equivalent of any firm, white fleshed fish, eg monkfish]

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 onions, peeled and finely sliced

5cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 red chillies, chopped

1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted [don’t miss these out they really make the dish]

5 ripe tomatoes, chopped [I used a tin of them, cut them up and drained away some of the liquid through a seive]

1 tbsp caster sugar

3 tbsp fish sauce

3 tbsp tamarind water [She makes one up with tamarind pods, I didn’t but used tamarind paste which worked fine. I don’t think it would matter if you didn’t use any but perhaps add some lime juice instead as tamarind adds a tart sort of flavour]

1 1/2  x 400ml cans coconut milk

75g unsweetened dried coconut flakes, lightly toasted

Bring a large pan of salty water to a fast boil, then drop in the lobsters [cringe] and cook for 8 minutes. Remove from the pan and leave until cool enough to handle, then extract the meat. Take a sharp knife and make an incision all the way down the middle of the body. Remove the flesh and cut into medallions, discarding the stomach sac and the dark intestinal thread, which runs the length of the body. Crack the large claws with the back of a heavy knife and gently remove the meat. Save the legs for garnish.

[If you’re not using lobster the recipe starts here] Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add the onions, lower the heat a little and cook gently, stirring every now and then, until they are translucent.

Meanwhile, put the ginger, garlic, chillies, toasted coriander seeds and tomatoes in a blender and whiz to a paste. Scrape out the mixture and add it to the onions in the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind water [or a couple of teaspoons of the paste] and stir well, then pour in the coconut milk. Turn the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked lobster [or whatever fish you’re using] and heat gently for 2-3 minutes until it is just warmed through [for my monkfish I cooked the pieces for about 4 minutes]. Check the seasoning.

Ladle the curry into warm bowls or soup plates and garnish with the reserved lobster legs [if using] and toasted coconut flakes to serve [I used some coriander instead].

Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Off Petersham Road, Petersham, Richmond, Surrey TW10 7AG – 020 8605 3627  www.petershamnurseries.com


Well the little babe has arrived and my goodness she is cute. Which is lucky as she does cry quite a lot due to wind (apparently) and also hates being bathed, having her nappy changed, getting bored, being tired and so on. I’ve been experimenting with finding the source of her wind and have been told to stick to a diet of ‘bland food’ – not great for someone who loves to eat. Apparently the main culprits of her misery are brassicas, broccoli, tomatoes, dairy, chocolate, citrus fruits – most things that are in season now. Its not easy and I am beginning to think that actually nothing I eat makes any difference whatsoever, she still has wind whether I stick to meat and potatoes or not. I’m just hoping this phase will soon pass.

In the meantime I’m trying to think of what is left when you’ve cut out the above and this has driven me to chicory. This recipe, served last night, received a rapturous reception from the husband and the maternity nurse (1 week left and counting) who was writing it out this morning to take home with her. It is, once again, a Nigel Slater but I’ve got back to his beginnings and this is taken from Real Food. It’s wonderfully easy and though it says to cook for one hour in the oven I did it for half an hour as otherwise we’d have all starved to death. Apart from the babe of course who was well fed and the cause of the delay in the first place.

Chicken braised with chicory and creme fraiche

Serves 3

Prep: 10 mins Cooking: 1 hour [or less]

2 tbsp groundnut oil

a thick slice of butter, about 30g

6 large free range chicken pieces, bone in (drumsticks, thighs, breast)

3 heads of chicory, cut in half lengthways

2 tsp brown sugar

3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

juice of a lemon

125ml medium-dry white wine

180ml creme fraiche

a few sprigs of parsley, chopped

Heat the oil and butter in a large, deep, heavy casserole, one to which you have a lid. When the butter starts to bubble, carefully put in the chicken pieces – in two batches if you need to – and cook them till they are golden on each side. Try not to move them too often, then you will get a nice browny crust on the skin.

Lift the chicken out of the pan and set aside. If the butter and oil mixture is still in good condition, you can use it for the next bit. If it looks a bit dark, pour it out and add some more, but on no account get rid of the sticky bits on the bottom; that is where much of the flavour is. Put the chicory in the pan, then season with the sugar and some salt and pepper. Let it cook over a moderate heat until the outside leaves start to caramelise and darken and soften – a matter of about five minutes.

Add the shallots and lemon juice, then return the chicken to the pan. Pour over the wine and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about ten minutes, until the wine and cooking juices have reduced a bit. Spoon in the creme fraiche, season with salt and pepper and stir as best you can so that the juices mingle with the cream. Cover with a lid, then put in an oven preheated to 200C/Gas 6 and leave for about an hour. Move the pieces of chicken and chicory around half way through cooking.

Lift the chicken and chicory out of the sauce with a draining spoon and put in a serving dish. Return to the oven. Add half the parsley to the sauce with a seasoning of salt and pepper and put it over a moderate heat. Let it simmer enthusiastically until it starts to thicken slightly – it should be the consistency of double cream. Add the rest of the parsley, give it a bit of a stir, then pour the sauce over the chicken. Serve with plain, floury boiled potatoes [I did mash] to soak up the juices and some green beans.

Another way to use up that Stilton. I do think Nigel Slater is the man to turn to for anything to do with cheese and this recipe is such delicious comfort food. I’d highly recommend making large quantities as its completely moreish. Forget the diet for now. It does take a while to cook, though it’s pretty low maintenance, so not great for a midweek supper but something to linger over at the weekend. I just served it with frozen peas, but Nigel also suggests spinach or kale which would be delicious too.

I have started the recipe with chopping the onions, Nigels says do the potatoes first, but that makes no sense as they take less time. I found the onions needed easily 25 mins like he suggests, perhaps more. I also didn’t put the potato in the food processor to make the mash I just did it in the pan so there was less washing up – plus I adapted the recipe to serve 2 and baked the pie in a little Le Creuset pan. Just so you know.

I got Nigel’s first volume of Tender for Christmas and must try a recipe soon. Waiting and waiting for a baby does not seem to bring out the adventurous cook in me, though I’ve started to lose my appetite now so might try and cook slighty less stodge tonight. Here’s to something light and fragrant wafting from the kitchen this evening.

Stilton, onion and potato pie

Serves: enough for 6 as a main dish with greens

Prep: 20 mins Cooking: 1 hour

1.5kg floury potatoes

4 medium onions

80g butter

150ml milk

225g Stilton

25g grated Parmesan

Peel the onions and cut them in half, then cut each into five or six segments. Put them in a heavy-based frying pan with 4og of the butter and let them cook over a moderate to low heat, stirring from time to time. They will need twenty to twenty five minutes [at least] to become thoroughly soft and sticky.

Put a large pan of water on to boil. Peel the potatoes and cut them into halves or quarters, then add them to the boiling water. When it comes back to the boil, add a little salt and turn down to a lively simmer. Check the potatoes now and again; they should be tender in fifteen minutes or so.

Bring the milk to the boil and turn off the heat. Drain the potatoes, then tip them into the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a beater attachment. Mix as you slowly add the milk and the remaining butter. Beat to a smooth mash, stopping well before it becomes gluey.

Set the oven at 200C/Gas 6. Butter the base and sides of a heavy 28cm frying pan with a metal handle or a similar diameter baking dish – I use a black cast iron frying pan. Spoon in half the mashed potato, smooth the potato a little, then add the onions and a grinding of black pepper. Crumble the Stilton over the onions. Pile the rest of the mashed potato over the top and smooth lightly with the back of the spoon or a rubber spatula.

Dust over the Parmesan, then bake for twenty five to thirty minutes, by which time the top will be pale gold and the filling will be bubbling up around the edges.

Pea and Stilton risotto

If you’ve still got some way to go with the Christmas Stilton, like we do, this is a great recipe for using some up. It was recommended to me by a chef from The Ivy who suggested gorgonzola as the blue cheese to use and it’s absolutely delicious. Stilton works just as well, and while this dish won’t win any prizes for low fat cooking the peas give it a surprising freshness. You could also try broccoli. People are often put off risotto because they think it’s very time consuming but I find all the stirring quite therapeutic and really the cooking time is about 20 mins. Who doesn’t have time for that?

Pea and Stilton risotto

Serves 2

Prep: 5 mins Cooking: 20 mins

olive oil or butter, or a bit of both

1 onion, finely chopped

200g risotto rice

small glass of white wine

500ml good quality chicken stock

2 handfuls frozen peas

100g Stilton, cut into smallish pieces

a good grating of Parmesan

Heat some olive oil and a knob of butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan until the butter has melted. Add the onion and cook on a low heat for 5 to 10 mins until it is really soft, keep stirring so the onions don’t burn. Add the risotto rice and turn up the heat a little. Mix it in until the grains are covered in the cooking oil. Just when you think the rice is about to burn, add the white wine (if using, if not just start with the first ladleful of stock) and stir until it has been absorbed. Next add a ladleful of the (hot) stock and again stir until it has been absorbed. The rice should be simmering gently, not boiling away like crazy, and should start to look nice and creamy.

About 15 mins in add the frozen peas. I just chuck them straight in to the risotto but I suspect, if you are doing things properly, you should have either cooked them in the stock or at least cooked them before, so they don’t cool everything down. I’ve never noticed it make a difference. When the risotto tastes done – the rice should have a little bit of ‘bite’ – take it off the heat. Add another knob of butter, the Stilton and a bit of Parmesan and cover with a lid for a few minutes. This allows the risotto to rest and get even creamier and more delicious plus it gives you time to set the table/make a salad/put the TV on. I’m not sure why but it works. Stir again and serve.

Game pie

Still no sign of the little babe, who is due on Tuesday, just plenty of false alarm twinges, irritability and lack of sleep (not necessarily in that order). We seem to be living on a diet of baked potatoes and cold ham, turkey sandwiches, cheese and left over mince pies as most people probably are, but I’m starting to dread opening the fridge now. My husband has made a very good left-over sprouts soup. I’m trying to enjoy it.

In amongst all the turkey and ham I served up a game pie for my family this Christmas. The recipe comes from Sybil Kapoor’s ‘Simply British’ a beautifully written book divided into chapters by ingredients and filled with historical and literary references which make it a good read as well as a great recipe book. There are no pictures but don’t let this put you off. I’ve never been let down by her suggestions and she has a lightness of touch which means that even something like game pie, which could be just the sort of heavy stodge you don’t need at this time of year, is lightened by lemon zest, parsley and thyme. Wonderful. There are lots of traditional recipes in the book, such as potted brown shrimp and apple charlotte, but also exotic sounding ones like lavender pear ice cream or rabbit and cucumber fricassee.  So if you don’t know her do seek her out.

I had lots of partridge in my freezer so just used that and skipped the pheasant but I’ve included both here as normally I’d have some of each to use up at this time of year.  I served it with left over mash potato from Christmas and some much needed salad. The recipe is simplicity itself, just make sure you have a good pie dish and pie vent (looks like a little bird with its beak open wide) and you don’t roll the pastry too thin, which I think I did. You’ll feel like such a domestic goddess making this. If you don’t have game, there is also a wonderful recipe for chicken and leek pie in the book that I also loved.

Game pie

Serves 4

Prep: 25 mins Cooking: 1 hour

2 partridges, cleaned

4 skinned pheasant breasts

salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp olive oil

10 thin slices back bacon

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 inner sticks celery, finely sliced

2 carrots, cut into fine half moons

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

285ml/1/2 pint dry white wine

565ml/1 pint chicken stock

1 lemon, finely grated

1/4 tsp thyme leaves

3 sprigs parsley

225g/8oz chilled puff pastry

1/2 small egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7

Neatly remove the two breast fillets of each partridge by cutting along the breast bone and down the rib cage. Pull off any skin and cut into chunks. If you are confident about boning you can remove the legs and cut the meat away from the thigh bone, before skinning and dicing. The drumsticks are too small to worry about but can be use with the carcasses for a good game stock if you wish.

Cut the pheasant breasts into similar sized chunks, add to the partridge and season. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the cubes in batches until they are all lightly and evenly coloured. Remove and place in the pie dish.

Remove the fat from the bacon and cut into medium-sized dice. Fry briskly in the same oil until lightly coloured. Reduce the temperature, mix in the onion, garlic, celery and carrots. Saute gently until they begin to soften. Sprinkle with the flour, cook for a further minute, then stir in the wine. Boil vigorously until the liquid has been reduced by two-thirds. Stir in the stock, lemon zest and herbs. Continue to boil until the sauce has reduced down a little and thickened. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Pour over the diced game and mix thoroughly. If possible allow the mixture to cool before covering with pastry. [I stopped at this point and froze the pie filling then defrosted and did the pastry the day I used it].

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface in roughly the same shape as your pie dish only larger. Cut a ribbon from the edge of the dough and press it firmly on to the rim of the pie dish. Brush this with a mixture of beaten egg and milk and place a pie vent in the centre of the filling. Using a fork, firmly press around the rim so that the two pastries are glued together. Cut off the excess. Prick the lid with a knife, ensuring that the vent has a hole, and paint the crust with some more egg and milk. It can be chilled until needed at this stage.

Place in the centre of the preheated oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until the pastry has puffed up and become golden. When you are serving, remember to fish out the parsley sprigs.