13:41 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Roasted Veg Lasagne

Now, how good looking is this?

This lasagne recipe is perfect for this time of year when you'll probably have a crowd of people to feed at some point. It'll save you from having to cater separately for the veggies, as it's so tasty and filling that meat-eaters won't feel hard done by at all. Serve with crusty bread, a big green salad and plenty of gutsy red wine for the perfect laid back gathering.
The key here I think is loads of different veggies for great texture and colour. I used yellow peppers, chunks of red onion, tomato, mushrooms and courgette, but aubergine and black olives would have been fab added to that lot too. An autumnal mix of squashes and root veggies would also be lovely. It's such a flexible recipe so experiment with your favourites.

Serves 6 generously.

For the veggies:
A selection of mediterranean veggies for roasting. There are no hard and fast rules for amounts here, but I can tell you that I used 2 peppers cut into chunks, one medium red onion cut into small wedges, a large double handful of halved cherry tomatoes, 12 sliced mushrooms and one courgette cut into rounds.
8 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce:
My tried and tested tom sauce works perfectly here.
2 tbsp olive oil
A medium white onion, finely chopped
A couple of fat cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
2 tins of Italian chopped tomatoes
A generous splash of balsamic vinegar (not your best one)
A handful of chopped fresh basil, about 15 leaves.
A pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

For the cheese sauce:
I started out making a plain white sauce here, but found it so bland that I ended up chucking in a handful of cheddar to help it stand up to the bossy flavours of the veggies. Much better.
85g butter
85g plain flour
700ml milk
25g cheddar cheese

To assemble:
300g pack fresh lasagne sheets
50g torn mozzarella
50g grated cheddar
a few halved cherry tomatoes and some basil leaves for decoration (optional)

Right then, here we go. First things first, preheat your oven to 200oc. Then get chopping your veggies, making sure they are all roughly the same size, large chunks work best. Chuck the chopped veggies into a large baking tray, in one layer if possible (if not, use two trays). Anoint generously with olive oil, a touch of salt and a good grind of pepper. Give the tray a good shake or mix with your hands, and pop it into the oven for about 25 minutes, until the veggies are lightly brown and gorgeous. Keep half an eye on then though!

While this is happening, you can get on with your sauces. Over a medium setting, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a big saucepan, large enough to take both the tomato sauce and the roasted veggies. Chop the onion and garlic finely, and fry gently until softened and starting to change colour. Add the chopped tomatoes, balsamic, herbs and sugar and turn up the heat, letting it bubble enthusiastically before turning down to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes to allow to the sauce to reduce and the vinegar to cook out.

For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a small pan, then stir in the flour to make sort of paste. Cook for two minutes before slowly beginning to whisk in the milk, a little at a time, making sure that all lumps are whisked out. Bring the sauce to the boil, stirring all the time and add the cheese. Turn down the heat and continue to cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens sufficiently to coat the back of a wooden spoon, before removing from the heat.

By now your veggies should be looking good, so take them out of the oven and give yourself a minute to get your breath back before launching into the fun part - assembly! Chuck the veggies into the tomato sauce, stir well and check the seasoning. Remove from the heat.

Get yourself a big serving dish (about 30cm x 20cm), and spoon a layer of veggies and tomato sauce into it. Top with a layer of lasagne, then drizzle over about a quarter of the cheese sauce. Repeat this layering until you've got 3 layers of pasta. To finish off, spoon the rest of the cheese sauce over the top of the final pasta layer and scatter over the mozzarella and cheddar cheeses before decorating with basil leaves and cherry tomatoes. Stand back and admire your work. This will sit for a couple of hours until you are ready for it, then you'll need to bake it for about 45 minutes in a preheated oven at 200oc.

11:44 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Spaghetti Aglio-Olio

I'm sure I'm not the only one budgeting hard ready for Christmas this year. Missing out on tasty food is the hardest thing for me when it comes to that very lean week before pay day (that and trying to rein in my exceedingly expensive food magazine habit). Therefore, I am always pleased to find recipes that cost pennies, but don't leave me feeling like I'm missing out. I'm sorry to say it, but beans on toast for a week can be a little depressing, not to mention anti-social!

This is a classic Italian recipe, made entirely from store cupboard ingredients, and it's still super tasty. Serve with a simple green salad to avoid rickets. You can make a huge batch of this for under a fiver, invite round some friends (ask them to bring the wine) and suddenly, it doesn't matter that you're a bit skint after all.

For two:

300g spaghetti
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (the best one you have in the house)
2 cloves of minced garlic
Dried chilli flakes, to taste
Fresh parsley or basil, finely chopped
Romano cheese, to serve (Romano is a cheaper version of Parmasan, but by all means use Parmasan if you have it in the house!)

Cook the spaghetti in lots of boiling, well salted water according to the packet instructions.

Heat a large pan on a medium heat and heat the oil, before adding the garlic, chilli flakes and salt and pepper. Saute for two minutes until the garlic is fragrant and starting to change colour.

Drain the pasta and chuck it in the garlic pan, add the chopped fresh herbs and stir really well until the pasta is coated in the gorgeously flavourful oil. Serve, with a generous sprinkling of cheese. Delish.

11:00 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire puddings are non-negotiable if you're having roast beef. I've shied away from making my own in the past, due to some less than satisfactory attempts at Toad-in-the-hole. However, we a have beautiful Chateaubriand, the best end of fillet, earmarked for our Christmas dinner. It is coming from the farm I can see from my bedroom window that produces the best beef I have ever eaten. So I figured home made yorkies are needed to sit alongside such a good piece of beef. I have started practicing early! My first attempt was pretty good, with only minimal sogginess. By Christmas I should have them off to a fine art. Next time, I will use Delia Smith's trick of not only heating the roasting tin in the oven beforehand, but having it over a medium hob when I pour in the batter, so he oil is shimmering hot, hopefully resulting in high-rise, perfectly crispy puds, with a softly giving interior. This trick is now included in my recipe.

To serve 6:

125g plain flour, with a generous pinch of salt added.
1 large egg
300ml (1/2 a pint) of milk
Vegetable oil or beef dripping for greasing

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, lifting your sieve high to give the flour lots of air. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and a little of the milk. Whisk in, taking a little of the flour from the sides to make a lump free paste. Then slowly add the rest of the milk, incorporating the rest of the flour. You're aiming for a smooth, completely lump free batter. You can leave your batter to rest if you like, but I don't think it's essential, so just leave it until you're ready to cook your puddings.

I'm supposing here that your oven will be on and turned up as you will probably be cooking your Sunday roasting joint, so once you have greased a 6 section muffin tray with oil or beef dripping, slide it into the hot oven and leave it for at least 10 minutes. Put the largest hob on at a medium-high heat and remove the tray from the oven to the hob. Allow the oil to become shimmeringly hot, before carefully pouring your batter into the sections of the muffin tray, the get it back into the oven as quickly as possible. They will take 15-20 minutes to cook, so a good time to put them in is as you are taking the roasting joint out of the oven to rest before serving.

16:41 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Lemon Curd and a shortcrust recipe

I had the kitchen all to myself all day today and had planned to make a big batch of lemon curd, and then have a bash at making fresh pasta for my dinner. Best laid plans and all that, it went out the window when 5 of us had scrambled eggs for breakfast, leaving me with just one lonely egg. What to do? Well, one jar of lemon curd was possible and what a joy it is. After my traumatic jam making experiment, I've decided that curds are as far as I'll go when it comes to preserving. Lemon curd is easy and super quick. I used Delia Smith's curd recipe, as I find her pretty reliable when it comes to basics. My rule of thumb tends to be to master Delia first, and then start experimenting. The recipe that I give here will make three 1lb jars but it's easy to adjust to make however much you like.

Grated zest and juice of 4 large lemons
4 large eggs
350g golden caster sugar (I used normal caster and it's fine, it'll just make your curd slightly neon as opposed to sunset yellow!)
225g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small chunks.
1 level dessert spoon cornflour

Begin by lightly whisking the eggs in a medium-sized saucepan, then add the rest of the ingredients and place the saucepan over a medium heat. Now whisk continuously using a balloon whisk until the mixture thickens – about 7-8 minutes. Next, lower the heat to its minimum setting and let the curd gently simmer for a further minute, continuing to whisk. After that, remove it from the heat. Now pour the lemon curd into the hot, sterilised jars, filling them as full as possible, cover straightaway with waxed discs, seal while it is still hot and label when it is cold. It will keep for several weeks, but it must be stored in a cool place.

Thanks Delia!

So, unable to make my pasta, I was kicking my heels a bit. Now, there is a curse on the woman of my family. We make dreadful pastry but fantastic bread. Apparently this is common, people are generally good at one or the other. My Mum swears it is a personality thing, and we tend to be hot-headed and fiesty. This sort of personality works for bread as it can take some bashing about. Pastry needs a cool head, cool hands, and a cool kitchen. I was feeling fairly benign today, and the kitchen was definitely chilly! So I had a go and I only went and broke the curse! Maybe it was beginners luck, maybe it's all thanks to Delia but the pastry was fab, light and crumbly. I made a few tarts to fill with my lemon curd, and a few traditional Alice-style jam ones while I was at it. You're not getting a picture of the finished product because I overfilled them and managed to sand-blast most of the little jam tarts to the tart tin... opps! They were tasty, just not very pretty!

Here's the great shortcrust recipe from How to Cook in case you fancy a go yourself.

110g plain flour, and extra for dusting.
Pinch of salt
25g softened lard
25g softened butter
A little cold water.

Begin by sifting the flour and pinch of salt into a large bowl, holding the sieve as high as possible, so that they get a really good airing before you begin. Now add the lard and the butter, cut into smallish lumps, then take a knife and begin to cut the fat into the flour. Go on doing this until it looks fairly evenly blended, then begin to rub the fat into the flour using your fingertips only and being as light as possible. As you gently rub the fat into the flour, lift it up high and let it fall back into the bowl, which again means that all the time air is being incorporated, but do this just long enough to make the mixture crumbly with a few odd lumps here and there.
Now sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water in, then, with a knife, start bringing the dough together, using the knife to make it cling (I needed 2 tablespoons of water here!). Then discard the knife and finally, bring it together with your fingertips. When enough liquid is added, the pastry should leave the bowl fairly clean, if his hasn't happened, then add a spot more water. Now place the pastry in a polythene bag (or cling film!) and leabe it in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
Note: This will make 175g finished weight of pastry, which will be enough to line a 18 or 20 cm flan or quiche tin.

Me again! Once you've done the above, you're free to do what you like with your pastry. If you fancy having a go at jam tarts and hopefully being more successful than me! You need to roll it out nice and thin, use a cup or cutter to cut out 12 circles before laying one in each hole of a 12-tart tin. Fill with a little bit of curd or jam, (really just a teaspoon is enough!) The bake for about 15-20 minutes in a preheated oven at 200oc.

PS: Let them cool for a good long while before sampling your wares, molten jam on the tongue is never a good idea.

13:27 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Banana Muffins

These muffins that are brilliant for breakfast on the go, or if you are suffering a bit after a heavy night! Banana really settles an upset tummy so are perfect for a hangover or if you have one of the nasty viruses that are doing the rounds at this time of year. They are very tasty, not too sweet and with a lovely moist, open texture. Mmm. They keep for about three days in a sealed container, but they will go a bit darker. Don't leave out the cinnamon, it makes these really special. They are great with coffee, and ideal for a guilt-free afternoon treat as they are relatively low in sugar and fat. Enjoy!

Makes 10 decent sized muffins.

200g self-raising flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
50g ground almonds
50g soft brown sugar
2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil, and a little more for greasing
125ml milk
3 tablespoons runny honey

Preheat the oven to 190oc, and mix together the sifted flour and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir in the almonds, nutmeg and sugar.

Mash the bananas and mix in the eggs, oil, milk and honey, making a gooey paste before adding to the dry ingredients and mixing well.

Spoon the mix into paper muffin cases in a muffin tray, or an oiled silicon muffin tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are well risen and goldy-brown.

17:23 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Nigel Slater's Coq Au Riesling

Nigel Slater is by far my favourite food writer, and I think most people who read cookbooks for pleasure as well as for recipes would agree. His recipes are unpretentious, glorious and simple enough that anyone can have a stab and be pleased with the results. His writing is a delight; full of unrestrained, childlike glee for great food. I am currently cooking my way though Real Food, which is a wonderful book, a best seller and an award winner. The Guardian recommends that we buy Real Food for someone we love.

Real Food is written in sections as opposed to chapters or courses. You have Potatoes, Chicken, Sausages, Garlic, Bread, Cheese, Ice Cream and Chocolate. Nigel has picked his favourite foods and given us his best recipes for each, and they are fantastic. This recipe for Coq Au Riesling is becoming a firm favourite. The version I give here is slightly different from Nigel's, because I can't help but play with recipes and because Nigel's style of cooking invites you to experiment. So this is Coq Au Riesling to my taste, and I would encourage you to adapt to suit your own, that's the beauty of cooking like this. I found Nigel's cream-laden stew delicious, but slightly guilt-inducing so I have knocked 100ml of cream out. It is still very creamy! I substituted Nigel's suggested parsley with some dried tarragon, because it is so beautiful with chicken, wine and cream. I hate Rielsling, so mine was really Coq Au Sauvingnon Blanc, but that's just a matter of taste. Just use wine of a dryness that you'd be happy to drink. I also recommend only one piece of chicken per person, unless you have a really enormous appetite, (And I thought I did!) it is very filling. You might eat two smaller pieces if you serve it as Nigel does, with just a simple green salad, whereas if you go the whole hog (like I do!) and have potatoes and a veg, one piece really will be plenty.

This dish keeps beautifully in the fridge for a couple of days and is versatile, so by all means make it all and keep it for later in the week if you can't finish it. I did this, serving it firstly with saute potatoes and tenderstem broccoli and then again a few days later with Dauphinoise and buttered spinach. Yum.

Here is my version. If you want to make it by the book, double the chicken pieces, use a medium-dry wine instead of a dry one, add another 100ml of cream and replace the tarragon with 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley.

For 2:

50g butter
A tablespoon of olive oil
100g streaky bacon or pancetta, diced.
2 small to medium onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 joints of chicken on the bone
200g small brown mushrooms, halved or quartered
500ml dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
200ml double cream
1/2 tbsp dried tarragon

Melt the butter in a heavy based casserole and pour in the oil. Put in the diced bacon or pancetta and let it colour a little, then add the onions and garlic. Leave to cook over a moderate heat until the onions have softened but not yet coloured. Scoop the bacon and onions out with a draining spoon, leaving behind the cooking juices, then add the chicken pieces. Let the brown lightly on all sides. A moderate heat is best for this, but be prepared to add a little more oil if the butter shows signs of browning.
Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for a few minutes, then return the bacon and onions to the pan. Turn up the heat, pour in the wine, bring quickly to the boil and then turn it down to a simmer. Let everything cook at a gentle bubble for twenty-five minutes, turning the chicken from time to time.
Lift the chicken out of the pan and pour in the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir in the tarragon. Continue cooking, at an enthusiastic bubble, until the cream starts to thicken slightly. Return the chicken pan. When the chicken is throughly hot and the sauce has the thickness of double cream, serve.

15:00 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Frozen Blueberries in a White Chocolate Sauce

This pud is my adaptation of a Mark Hix classic that was once on the menu at the Ivy. I wonder how much they charged for it? It's the sexiest pudding ever and I cannot stress enough how easy it is to make!

I love it for two reasons; because it is beautiful, and because you don't have to think about it at all until you're ready to eat it. It's hardly cooking at all! You can knock it up in 5 minutes after your main course, whilst chatting to guests. I am amazed that something so sinfully easy can look and taste this good. You really want to serve it in pretty glasses to show it off a bit, because it definitely has the 'oooh' factor. If you've been searching for the perfect dessert to share with the girls on a night in, this is it. It's a small 'taste' of a pud, ideal after a big meal when you want a lick of something sweet but can't fit much more in!


About 300g frozen blueberries, or your favourite berry.
100g really good white chocolate - I use Green and Blacks white with Madagascan Vanilla.
100ml Double cream, (crème fraiche works too, but use a little less)
A fat strawberry per person, for decoration

Method, although not much of one:

For four people, you want to allow a small palmful of frozen berries each. You can use any type of berry really, or a bag of the frozen mixed summer fruits you can get in the supermarket. I just happen to think that blueberries work best because they freeze so well and don't go soggy. Divide the frozen berries between your serving glasses straight from the freezer. Doing this first allows them a few minutes defrost time so they soften just enough to let their flavour come through.

Break the chocolate into little pieces into a glass bowl. Add the cream, and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. You don't want the water to touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir lazily until the chocolate has melted and you're left with a sauce. It will look too thin, but when you add it to the cold berries it will thicken in front of your eyes. Magic, no?

Pour your gorgeous sauce over the berries, pop a strawberry in each glass and serve, preparing yourself for ill-deserved compliments on your cooking mastery.

18:18 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Pieminister Pies

So, I don't normally do this. I'm not sure if that's on principal or because I rarely eat 'ready-made' stuff that surprises me this much. Lacking lunch inspiration this week, I grabbed a Pieminister pie from Sainsbury's and threw it in the oven expecting to be unimpressed. Well, humble pie for me. These guys know what they are doing when it comes to the art of proper pie. Mine was the Henny Penny, British free range chicken with mushrooms (porchini and field), white wine, cream and herbs. Ooh it was good. I made little 'mmm' noises eating it, the sort of noises I normally reserve for posh ice cream or fillet steak. I can't make pie better than this, my Mum can't make pie better than this (Sorry, Mum). I have not ever eaten pie better than this. AND IT CAME FROM THE CHILLER SECTION IN THE SUPERMARKET. My mind is blown. All I can say is that my politics lie with these guys, long may they reign.

They come in other enchanting flavours aside from my Henny Penny: Shamrock (steak and ale) Moo and Blue (steak and stilton) Heidi pie (goats cheese, sweet potato and veggies) and loads more. Check them out online, not only do they make serious pies but they are also all-round good people, and I like that.


18:01 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Heston's Pea and Pancetta Spaghetti

Another Heston for Waitrose recipe. Can the man do no wrong? This is a dragged up to date version of spaghetti carbonara, it's fresher, lighter, there's more going on, it's gorgeous!

This recipe is becoming a bit of a staple throw-together pasta supper for me, smart enough for company but easy enough for just the two of you on a weekday night. It's pretty much store cupboard stuff as well, just keep some cubetti di pancetta in the freezer, Easy. (you can cook it from frozen, it tastes exactly the same!) Easy is what you want this time of year when the nights are drawing in and the supermarket just seems like to much effort after a long day. Get home, get this down you and let the chillis do their thing.

PS: I reckon this would be just as good with smoked salmon instead of pancetta.... nice idea for boxing day! Oh, and please excuse the steamy picture, this is a dish that needs to go straight to the table, it is not a natural model!

Ingredients. For 6, easily halved.
5 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1–2 fresh red chillies (about 1–2 tsp), de-veined, deseeded, finely chopped
10 oz pancetta, cubed
1 lb spaghetti
6 medium egg yolks
4 oz freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
9 oz frozen peas
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. Fill a large saucepan with water, cover with a lid and place over a medium-high heat to bring to the boil.
2. While the water heats up, put the olive oil, onion, garlic and chilli into a large frying pan and place it over a low to medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the pancetta. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
3. Once the water comes to the boil, add the spaghetti and set a timer for 10 minutes. Stir the spaghetti every few minutes to prevent it from sticking together.
4. With 3 minutes left before the spaghetti is cooked, whisk together the egg yolks, Parmigiano Reggiano and a ladle of the spaghetti cooking water.
5. With 1 minute to go before the pasta is cooked, take the pancetta and onions off the heat and add the frozen peas.
6. Strain the pasta and return it to the saucepan. Add the contents of the frying pan and mix together. Add the black pepper and the egg and cheese mixture and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Stir thoroughly to incorporate everything then serve with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano sprinkled on top.

16:49 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Spaghetti all'arrabbiata, 'Angry' Pasta.

I've been rediscovering my love of pasta recently, so expect a few recipes that will suit carb-lovers down to the ground. This is a classic, and great at this time of year when there is a glut of tomatoes that are still just edible.
This recipe has been adapted slightly from Robin Howe's classic 1979 book, Italian Cooking. I prefer it with a little more sauce than is traditional, and a good rough spaghetti instead of penne or macaroni. I used scotch bonnet chillis, chopped and with the seeds removed for a building heat as well as flavour. If you are less of a chilli fan, leaving them whole in the sauce and then removing at the end of cooking will leave a more subtle, slightly peeved heat, as opposed to my version which is really quite cross.

To serve four people generously, you'll need:

500g of ripe tomatoes, any will do. We had only about 250g in the greenhouse so I made up the rest with tinned chopped tomatoes. (blanching and peeling all those tomatoes is a massive faff, so I won't judge if you make it up entirely from tinned toms).
Enough good-quality spaghetti for four
25g butter, or a tablespoon of olive oil.
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, crushed.
100g streaky bacon or cubetti di pancetta.
1 whole scotch bonnet chilli, or two small cayenne peppers (these are what you'll commonly find in the supermarket) very finely chopped
50g grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese.

Cut a cross in the tops of your tomatoes and blanch for a minute in a bowl of very hot water. Peel and chop, discarding the seeds as they make the sauce too acidic. Heat the butter and oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic and bacon, stirring well until the fat runs freely, then add the prepared tomatoes and extra tinned tomatoes if you're using them. Add the chilli and stir. Continue cooking gently, adding about 3/4 of the cheese. Stir from time to time, and allow to thicken over a medium-low heat for about half an hour. With 10 minutes to go, cook the pasta, drain and return to the saucepan. Stir about half the sauce through the hot pasta to coat well. Serve to warmed pasta plates and top with the rest of the sauce and a sprinkle of the leftover cheese.

12:24 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Old-school Beef Madras

Is anyone else feeling a bit chilly? Aside from a few days summer swan-song of glorious sunshine last week, Devon is feeling decidedly autumnal. That mulchy, bonfire and wet leaf smell hangs in the air in the afternoons, and we've already had a light frost or two. Steviant and I picked the early blackberries on August bank holiday weekend and tucked them up in the freezer ready for a crumble sort of day. I don't think that day is far off.

Yesterday evening, armed with some stewing steak from Sandra-up-the-lane's own cows, Mum and I decided the only right and proper thing to do was to make a beef curry. The recipe is from a brilliant old Reader's Digest book, The Cookery Year. First printed in 1973, it's a brilliant book on seasonal cooking and eating. I think it is just as relevant today when you consider the current trend away from expensive and shady food that is more well-travelled than your average gap-year student.
The beef madras recipe is delightfully old-fashioned, and the finished dish a retro pub style staple. Proper English style curry, totally tasty and unequivocally naff. I believe in in for a penny, in for a pound so we served this curry with yellow rice. (Not trendy saffron rice, oh no. Just plain boiled rice with a shake of yellow colouring, tack-tastic). We ate it with poppadoms, a chopped salad, cucumber and mint raita, the ubiquitous mango chutney and retro accompaniment of chopped bananas. To really make my grandmother proud, I would have liked some bashed-up peanuts, but c'est la vie.

The only amendment I made to the recipe was to swap the medium curry powder for hot. Our heat tolerance has improved since the 70's, and I find medium curry powder a bit of a waste of time in the spice stakes. However, if you are serving the dish to someone sensitive, or from the past, feel free to ignore this change.

The Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb chuck or stewing steak
I large onion
2 cloves of garlic
3 oz lard or dripping (yes, really!)
1 1/2 tablespoons heaped curry powder
2 pints of beef stock (we used the knorr jelly stuff, as we are not yet in the habit of boiling up beef bones, and if it's good enough for Marco...)
Juice of half a lemon
2 bay leaves (dried is fine)
Salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons tomato puree

Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Melt half the lard in a heavy bottomed pan, stir in one tablespoon of curry powder and fry over a low heat, stirring continuously, for one minute. Add the onion and garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and lemon juice, and add the bay leaves. Bring this to the boil and simmer over a low heat for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim any fat and gristle from the meat and cut it into 1 inch pieces. Season the meat with salt and freshly ground pepper and dust with the remaining curry powder. Melt the rest of the lard in another pan and fry over a high heat, until it is brown on all sides. Strain the curry stock through a coarse sieve over the meat; stir in the sugar and tomato puree and simmer the meat for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. (nb. We simmered ours for 45 mins, and that was fine, but if your meat is poorer, you will need to do it for longer). By this time the stock will have reduced and become a thick sauce. At this stage, more curry powder may be added; it should be lightly fried in a little fat before being added to the sauce. Set the curry aside to cool, Skim off any fat which has settled on the surface before reheating the curry to serve.

13:16 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Lemon Tart

Some people are pudding people. The type that can eat a huge meal and still fall upon a plate of their preferred sweet thing with unrestrained passion. I know trifle people, tiramasu people, chocolate brownie people. As a general rule I am not really a pudding person, I normally prefer cheese or a square or two of dark chocolate. This is because I am so greedy that I often eat myself into an uncomfortable food coma when offered too many courses. The exception is lemon desserts. I appear, I now know, to be a a lemon person. Something lemony manages to cut through a big, rich meal and somehow take the edge off the over-full feeling. That's quite clever considering that you're eating more.

This is Heston Blumenthal's lemon tart recipe, recently featured in his Waitrose campaign and currently causing a big lemony argument all over the internet. People have not been happy with this recipe. Apparently there are typos in the recipe itself, the texture of the pie filling is wrong, it doesn't set and leaks all over their fridge and it isn't even really a lemon tart at all.

Hold up. I LOVED this recipe. What's the fuss about? The biggest gripe was the stirring bit. You're supposed to stir the filling for 15-20 mins over a medium heat, not boiling, and then allow to simmer for 5 seconds. My fellow tart makers say this must be a typo, it's not nearly enough time and that's why the filling doesn't set, etc. I think this is the perfect point to illustrate just how hard it is to write recipes, and why you really should get a little more involved with your cooking as opposed to just following a recipe blindly. Right, listen here: You don't want the filling to simmer for too long because the eggs will cook, but you do want your filling to thicken a little, else of course it won't set. So let it simmer for 5 seconds. Is it thicker? No? Let it simmer just a little longer until it thickens slightly. Mine took 20 seconds. I guess it will take less time if you're cooking on gas and longer if, like me, your hobs are electric. Also, bear in mind that this is really a lemon curd tart. It doesn't have a hard set, but it should set enough not to run out of the case completely when you cut a slice.

It isn't a traditional lemon tart, But it is delicious, light and dare I say a little more interesting than the traditional version. Easier too. It's lovely, summery, and seriously lemony but still sweet enough. Here's the recipe, not quite as written by Waitrose.

Heston's Lemon Tart

What You Need:

Zest of 3 lemons
Juice of 3-4 lemons, to make 150ml
170g butter (sweet, unsalted) cubed.
4 large or 5 medium eggs, beaten.
I egg yolk
220g caster sugar. The recipe states unrefined, but I only had normal and it was fine.
375g defrosted shortcrust cheats pastry. I used jus-rol, it is my saviour.
Cream to serve I think, and maybe a few raspberries.

What You Do:

Don't juice your lemons before zesting, will you? Silly person. Zest, then rub them around on a hard surface to make them give up more juice. Juice the lemons into a jug, then sieve into a bowl to get rid of any pith and stray pips.

Get a fairly decent sized saucepan, and heat the lemon juice, zest, butter, sugar and eggs (including the single yolk) over a medium heat for 15-20 mins. Stir constantly, allowing the butter to melt and the sugar to dissolve. Don't allow to boil. Stirring isn't so bad. Put the radio on, enjoy the smell of the lemons and allow yourself to be soothed. Turn the heat up just a little, and while still stirring, allow to simmer. Watch carefully, take it off the heat as soon as it begins to thicken slightly, 5-20 secs should do it. Pass the mix through a fine sieve into a bowl, and cover with cling film to stop a skin forming. Pop in the fridge for half an hour-ish. ( I promise it won't be a problem if it hangs around in the cold for an hour while you deal with the pastry).

Preheat your oven, 180c, gas 4. Roll out the pastry between two bits of clingfilm, nice and thin, about 2mm but not so thin it has holes in or it will leak all over your fridge, won't it? Using the rolling pin, wrestle your pastry over a 23cm fluted tart tin and push in to fit the edges. Trim off a bit, but not all of the over hang, you need to accommodate shrinkage in the oven. Prick the the pastry bottom with a fork a few times, then cover with parchment and put a handful of baking beans or coins on top. Chuck into the oven and leave well alone for 20 mins. Remove the parchment and return to the oven for another 10 mins. Then remove from the oven and allow to cool before running a knife around the overhang and very, very gently easing it out of it's tin. Pop it on your serving plate and pour in the lemon filling before returning the whole thing to the fridge, again covered in clingfilm to stop a skin forming. I left mine for hours, the recipe says 2 but I doubt it would set well enough in that time unless your fridge is super cold. I'm not upset about that really, I just think of it as a dessert that I can easily make a day or two in advance.

Serve cold, with cream and maybe raspberries or blueberries. It is soooo good.

PS: No picture, sorry. My camera ran out of batteries, and when I suggested that we wait to eat the tart while my camera charged a bit, I was given murderous looks. I can tell you that it was a bit scruffy, but well set and very delicious.

18:04 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Peach Jam makes Peach Jam

It had to be done... It's August, and peaches are ripe and perfect. I've never made jam before, but it seemed fitting that my first attempt should reflect the name of this blog, and the reasons behind it.

Last summer, Steviant and I celebrated 6 years together in Portugal. The Portuguese understand fruit. The peaches particularly are beautiful, velvety globes heavy with nectar and without a doubt the best I've eaten. A street juice bar will blend them for you as you wait, and serve the pulpy juice unadorned in a tall, cold glass. Simple perfection on a hot, humid day.

Our hotel served famously bad breakfasts. It's saving grace was the peach jam. I can't give the hotel credit for it really, as it came in little single servings bought in from elsewhere, but it was my first taste of the stuff and gave me one of those perfect food moments. Tony Bourdain sums up this phenomenon in his fantastic book 'A Cook's Tour'. He puts it down to several contributing factors - food, yes, but also the setting, the company, the promise of what is yet to come. A sort of backwards nostalgia, then. His examples; champagne on a woman's lips, a single wild strawberry, or your grandmothers lasagane, show the simplicity of food that can be transportive. He states wryly that; "No one remembers their best meal ever as being consumed jacketed and tied, in a starched dress shirt, sitting bolt upright in a four-star restaurant."

I think he's right, and that's why I thank that crummy Portuguese hotel for giving me a single perfect food moment, a honeyed, sunset pink morsel atop a stale croissant. The taste of peach jam will forever be connected to gleaming hot days, blue skies and seas, and a picture-perfect week with my favorite person. It reminds me of every other delicious thing I ate and drank on that holiday. It tastes of being in love and of new beginnings.

It was these romantic and rose-tinted notions that decided it, Steviant and I will be celebrating 7 years very soon, and come what may, we will have peach jam for breakfast again!

There is absolutely nothing romantic about jam making. You can rid yourselves of the images of plump, serene women stirring their cauldrons full of syrupy fruit, honeyed wafts floating enticingly through a sunny kitchen. Jam making is boring. It is hot. It is surprisingly dangerous. It is an enormous undertaking for a very small reward (Two tiny jars to be exact). These are things we do in the name of love.

My jam bears little resemblance to the pinky-peachy Portuguese jam. As you can see, it's very dark. While researching I found that peaches are very low in pectin, which is what causes a jam to set. Because it was my first attempt, I cheated a little and used jam sugar, which contains pectin. It also makes your jam very dark, I guess this is fine if you're making strawberry or plum, next time I'll try without to attain that beautiful sunrise colour I remember. I discovered that another contributing factor to darkening in jam is the froth that forms as you cook the fruit. You're supposed to skim it off. My frothed a little, but not nearly enough to skim. Perhaps I stirred too much, or had too little fruit in too big a container.

If you are brave and want to attempt a peach jam of your own, I can offer a few guidelines here. I'm not going to give you a proper recipe, as I don't think mine is good enough, but the basic premise is this:

It's all about ratio. Allow half as much sugar as fruit. Get the ripest peaches you can find. You're preserving their flavour, so you want it to be good to start with. Some lemon juice will help it set (About one lemons worth per pound of fruit) I also added a little good-quality vanilla extract, as I am aware of the difference between the peaches available to me in this country, compared to the super-fresh Portuguese kind. I thought vanilla would help bring out the honey character that my peaches lost in their journey from Italy to my fruit bowl.

Peel and chop your peaches into little chunks, mix with the sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit, covered, for 2 hours. Then chuck the mixture into a big, metal preserving pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla if you're using it, and then up the heat to a rolling boil. Allow the jam to boil for about 15-20 mins, stirring regularly to prevent it from catching. to test, put a little bit of jam on a saucer and pop in the fridge for a minute or so and then remove. Push it gently with the tip of your finger. Your looking for it to wrinkle slightly, if it just slides, allow it to cook a little longer to achieve it's set.

When your jam has achieved set, you need to decant it into hot sterilised jars. To sterilise, wash your jars with hot soapy water and rinse. Then fill them right to the brim with boiling water and allow to cool slightly. Empty the water and 'dry' the jars in a warmish oven until you're ready for them. They must be hot when the jam goes in. Once you have wrestled your jam into jars, push a wax circle right down onto the the jam to seal and add a lid or cover and label. You're done!

I haven't tried my jam yet, as it must cool before eating. I understand my jam is unlikely to transport me back to sunny Portugal, but I'm looking forward to another food moment. A celebratory Sunday morning breakfast in bed with Steviant, with hot coffee and my dark, rich and very British looking jam on a warm, fresh croissant. The beautiful thing about cooking for someone who loves you, is that they will smile and eat it even if it isn't that fantastic. Next year I will try again, and we will eat slightly better jam for breakfast. Failing that, there's always Portugal. Happy anniversary Steviant.

14:29 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Lamb Tagine

This recipe is gorgeous. It's one of the few things I cook that regularly provokes "restaurant quality" type comments, which are very flattering to the old ego, especially since this is so easy a chimp could make it.
It's my forever-recipe for tagine. I adore it. The discovery of Ras el hanout spice mix is what makes it, as well as keeping it simple and not chucking in carrots and pomegranates and stuff just because that's what Gordon does. Ras el hanout is a Moroccan style spice mix and a real find. It's a mix of spices like cinnamon, clove, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, pepper, cumin and coriander. You could make your own, or use the Barts spice mix, which I use here. I am so impressed with the Barts version. It also contains ginger, paprika and rose petals making it beautifully fragrant. It gives a tagine or marinade a real depth and gloss.

For four, you'll need:

2 tbsp olive or grape seed oil
500g lean, diced lamb. Leg or neck for preference
1 chopped white onion
2 chopped garlic cloves
2 tbsp Ras el hanout spice mix
400g can chopped tomatoes
200g dried apricots
600ml chicken stock

Lamb Tagine:

Get your oven on high, about 180c/160 fan or gas 4. Then add the oil to a large casserole dish and brown the lamb on all sides. Remove to a plate and add the onions to the casserole, frying until lightly coloured. Add the garlic and cook until you can smell it, before stirring in the spices and tomatoes.

Add the lamb back to the casserole with the apricots (halve these if you prefer) Pour over the stock and bring to a simmer.
Now, at this point you can cover your casserole and pop in the oven, or remove it to a Tagine first, if you're lucky enough to have one. I have a sort-of version. It's terracotta and has a spout for steam so it works in a similar way. I'm entranced by it, so would recommend using your tagine if you have one stashed away somewhere. Either way, chuck it in the oven and leave well alone for one hour. Then you can check it, allowing 20 mins more if the lamb is still a bit tough. Make some couscous while you're waiting and then tuck in.

This is even better re-heated the next day with a warm seeded roll for dunking. Beautiful!

11:52 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Chambord French Martini

Delicious and dangerous.

To make four servings from a shaker:

6oz Russian Standard vodka
1oz Chambord raspberry liqueur
1oz Pineapple juice

Add to a cocktail shaker with cracked ice. Shake well until condensation forms on the outside of your shaker. Strain into martini glasses with sugared rims and add a raspberry or a twist of lemon peel to each. Sip, and pretend you are Audrey Tautou.

12:29 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Review: Life's a Beach, Bude.

I've been really lucky with restaurants recently, have had a couple of gorgeous meals out. We recently popped down to Life's a Beach in Bude with some friends that visited from Thailand. This is one of my favourite restaurants and it's right on the beach with fabulous views and even better food. You must eat the fish when you come here, it is their speciality and so fresh and there's lots of choice. The menu is varied and brave with punchy flavours and a great use of seasonal ingredients. For a mid-priced restaurant the food and service are exceptional. It's popular and in the summer season, you won't get in with out making a booking a good few days in advance, but really, it's worth it.
In the day it's a cafe with an ice cream parlour, and you can sit out on the balcony looking over the sea while enjoying a cream tea. We went in the evening when from 7pm it becomes a classy seafood bistro.

We started with toasted ciabatta with olives, tapanade and a great olive oil and balsamic reduction whilst I enjoyed the house Sauvignon Blanc which was excellent, very dry and clean.

My main was a tiger prawn and spiced monkfish curry, with basmati, poppadoms, homemade raita and topped with crispy deep fried onions. The curry was amazing, a sort of rogan josh and richly flavoured with beautiful fresh prawns and tonnes of fresh fennel. Beautiful. My one quibble was that the monkfish was slightly overcooked.

I finished with a rhubarb and amaretto torte, which was served with the best clotted cream ice cream I've tasted, alongside some British strawberries and a slice of dragon fruit. It was stunning!

We had a great evening catching up with friends at Life's a Beach. The atmosphere is laid back and relaxed, with a buzzy vibe helped by the staff who are all young, tanned surfers by day, and foodie stars by night. They are efficient, smiley, very knowledgeable about the food they are serving, and completely unobtrusive. I am a huge fan of this restaurant and think it deserves its reputation as the best place to eat in Bude. It's the sort of place you find yourself lingering. Just one more glass of wine, a cup of coffee.

A starter ranges from £4.75 for a soup, up to about £8.00, while a main will set you back about £18. Wine is great value, their three house wines include a great Sauvignon Blanc and all three are £10.50 a bottle. The wine list is expansive and thoughtful, It focuses on good French wines, but includes a local English white and a nice choice of European and NZ wines.

One not to miss if you're in the area.

11:39 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Peach Melba Ice Cream

Another peach melba recipe from Good Food online, and my first ever attempt at ice cream. I want to get more practice in with ice cream making, as with an ice cream maker it's really not as hard as I thought it would be. The only problem I had with this was rippling the raspberry puree through. Mine mixed as opposed to rippled, leaving me with very, very pink ice cream! It was very pretty but looked nothing like the picture. It did taste beautiful though, really fresh and not too sweet.
I think the mistake I made was allowing the peach cream to freeze a little too much before rippling the raspberry through. It's all a learning curve!

Peach Melba Ice Cream

Grab 6 very ripe peaches
6 tbsp icing sugar
300g raspberries
400ml double cream, very softly whipped.

Makes 1.5 litres

Feel free to halve this if your ice cream maker is smaller. Ours is only 1.1l, and the recipe worked fine with a smaller amount. You can pick up ice cream makers really cheaply now (ours was a fiver from a carboot!) Amazon do new ones for £19ish. I think they are a really good investment as you can make the most of cheap fruit in season, and get really creative with your flavours. Anything that stops us eating too much fatty, processed ice cream is a good thing too, no? Although, I'm not going to be too precious, I know as well as you that there are times when only Ben and Jerry's will cut it.

Anyway, onto the recipe;

Peel, stone and whizz your peaches to a puree with 2 tbsp icing sugar using a food processor. Set aside and move onto the raspberries. Whizz in your (rinsed out!) food processor with 4 tbsp icing sugar and pass the puree through a sieve to get rid of the seeds.

Stir the peach puree into your softly whipped cream, and pour into an ice cream maker and allow to churn until nearly frozen. Then transfer the peach cream into a freezer-suitable container and ripple through your raspberry puree. Freeze until needed.

You can serve this on its own as I did if you like. it was the perfect foil after a meal of roast lamb and summer veg, cutting through the rich lamb, and not overloading our already groaning stomachs. It would be lovely with some shortbread, or as part of an eton mess style pudding with some bashed up meringues and more fresh fruit. Nothing's stopping you going old school and making an epic knickerbocker glory, or grabbing a retro cone and slurping happily!

16:43 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Peach Melba Torte

It's peach season! Hurrah! I love peaches.

Anyway, peaches have been the theme of my cooking this week, and I started with this recipe from Good Food online. They call this traybake "Peach Melba Squares" which I think is uninspiring. Really it's a sort of torte, as it contains ground nuts to make it dense and moist. I think this would make a fabulous dessert as well as something snacky to munch with a cup of tea. I'm not much of a baker, but this is foolproof, delicious and so pretty.

Right. Get yourself:

250g unsalted butter
300g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (not essence, please!)
3 large eggs, free range blah blah blah
200g self raising flour
50g ground almonds
2 ripe peaches, stoned halved and sliced.
100g raspberries
A small handful of flaked almonds
Icing sugar (optional)

So, butter and line a deep sided baking tray or small roasting tin (about 20 x 30cm) and wack the oven on at 160C or gas 4 (180C if it's not fan)

Melt your butter over a gentle heat in a large saucepan, and cool for 5 mins. Then add the sugar, vanilla and eggs and mix until smooth with a wooden spoon. Stir in the flour, almonds and a 1/4 tsp of salt.

Tip the mixture into the greased and lined tray, and lay the peach slices on the top, making sure every slice of torte gets a bit of peachy goodness. Scatter over the raspberries and flaked almonds, and pop into the oven to bake for 40 mins. After 40 mins, cover with tinfoil and return to the oven for another 20 mins. The middle should have a teeny big of squiginess which will firm when the cake cools. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 20 mins before carefully removing to a cooling rack. Dredge with icing sugar, slice and serve warm as a dessert with a good vanilla ice cream, or store and eat with a cup of tea for elevenses. Makes a great picnic or lunchbox addition too!

19:24 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

The Spit Roast Specialist

So I figured I am long overdue for a post about what it is I actually do when I'm not blogging or cooking stuff to blog about. Well, The Spit Roast Specialist is a big part of that. It's my Dad's business, a catering company that specialises in hog roasts and BBQs for weddings, parties and corporate events. I'm currently working for my Dad to learn the ropes, and it has been instrumental in turning my love for food into an all-out obsession. I am proud of the food we serve. It is so fantastic, so I'm going to use this entry to tell you a bit about what we do.

Based in Holsworthy but travelling the whole of the South-West to provide mobile hog roasts and barbecues, we have gained a reputation as a great family business that offers a fantastic range of services. The biggest part of that is the meat we serve. I firmly believe that it is the best you are going to find in this country unless you rear it yourself! Our pigs are old-fashioned breeds for the best flavour. They are outdoor-reared locally and slaughtered with the respect the deserve. We source them from a local butcher and family friend who prepares them for us at the cutting room on his property. We then take delivery of them on the morning of the job, putting them on the pole of the machine before transporting them to the event. They are then cooked at the venue on one of our fantastic spits. The spits really are something else. They are completely smoke free and safe to use indoors, meaning that your venue needn't limit your choices. A hog takes at least 5 hours to cook on the machine, resulting in the most tender meat and perfect crackling. One of our chefs will carve the meat once it's cooked and can serve on to platters or straight on to the plates of the guests as part of a running buffet - It's a great showpiece and looks FANTASTIC as you can see in the pictures. We serve it with fresh bread rolls, butter and homemade apple sauce. Delicious.

Aside from the famous hog roasts, we offer spit roasted suckling pig, wild boar, lamb, hogget and venison. You could instead book us for a BBQ, which is a fantastically laid-back way to feed a crowd and is really popular at relaxed, rustic weddings in the area. Our gas BBQ is 6 foot long so can easily feed a fair few hungry guests! We do spicy chicken, sweet and sour pork kebabs, highest-grade burgers, Scottish salmon steaks, local butchers sausages, spare ribs, and rump or sirloin steaks, cooked to taste of course!

Now to my part! As well as waitressing, wielding tongs and a basting brush and sorting out our marketing, I do the buffet that we can provide alongside a hog or BBQ. I make all the salads from scratch on the morning of the event (often that's a seriously early morning, as you can imagine if you have ever prepared 10 different salads for 200 people!) A lot of the salad recipes are my own and will turn up on this blog at varying points. I'm proud of them and put a lot of love into sourcing the best ingredients for them to make sure they taste as they should. My personal fave is the Italian pasta salad: penne, mozzarella pearls, black olives, cherry tomatoes and basil in a sundried tomato and extra virgin olive oil dressing, mmm. Potato salads and coleslaw are always huge crowd pleasers - I always make double and they always run out first so I have them down to a fine art now! The secret is a little plain yoghurt in with the mayo - stops it from being to cloying. Waldorf and Caesar salads are classics and always well received, as well as good old-fashioned basics like beetroot salads, tomato salads, and rice salads. A few exotic recipes I'm working on currently include some cous-cous variations, a Mexican style three-bean salad and my glorious canteloupe and parma ham salad, served with goats cheese, dark leaves and a lemon, honey and balsamic dressing. YUM.

So that's a little overview of the business. If you check back regularly I'm sure more entries about it will pop up. Wedding season is upon us and along with the ususal madness and mayhem and great foodie anecdotes!

PS: If you fancy booking us, have a look at our website: http://www.thespitroastspecialist.co.uk/

18:32 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Honey Balsamic Strawberries

I'm back! Catering for the wedding season robbed me of my time to blog for a little while, spare time has been spent sleeping, catching up with my friends before they forgot who I was, and of course, cooking!

Before I treat you to a few lovely new recipes and reviews that I've been storing up, I have some great news that I am so pleased to share. Peach Jam has been invited to become a part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publishers Program. Foodbuzz is a fantastic website and resource that aggregates and curates 2.7 million food blog posts from all around the globe, partnering with some of the best food blogs on the web to provide content distribution and advertising whilst creating a thriving community of the most passionate food and dining bloggers. It's a really great base for all things food related and the site is well worth a browse, just click the link on this blog and go and have a nose around, you will find literally millions of recipes from dedicated cooks and chefs from all cultures. I'm really proud to be a part of this community and hope it continues to grow, it really is the best food resource on the web.

Anyway, while I'm at it, here is a recipes from another food blogger that I just adore. Anne's Food is a food blog from Stokholm and packed with great and innovative recipes that are deceptively simple. You can check out the blog at: http://annesfood.blogspot.com

The recipe is for Honey Balsamic Strawberries with Vanilla Mascarpone. Don't balk at balsamic with strawberries - it works! and if you haven't tried the combination yet, be brave and make this. It's as good as it sounds and by far the best strawberry/balsamic recipe I've tried. Just glorious with the perfect English strawberries we enjoy at this time of year.

To serve four for pudding, you'll need:

A punnet of strawberries, about 500g
4 tbsp of runny honey
4 tbsp of balsamic vinegar (a nice-ish one, all balsamic is not created equal. But that's another post entirely!)
4 tbsp double cream
4tbsp Mascarpone cheese
1 vanilla pod or a 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 tbsp caster sugar

So, prepare your strawbs, hull and halve or quarter if they are particularly gargantuan. Chuck them into your serving bowls. I used some really pretty and very large wine glasses.

Pour your balsamic and honey into a saucepan over a medium heat and simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens a little. This burns of the overt vinegary-ness of the balsamic and leaves the sweet rich flavours which work so well with strawberries and are emphasised by the honey.

Then grab your mascarpone and chuck it in a bowl before stirring in the cream. Then you can score the vanilla pod, scraping the seeds into the cream mixture or stir in the extract if that's what you're using. Then stir in the sugar and beat until it's good and thick.

You're ready to serve. Pour the balsamic sauce over the strawberries and finish with a dollop of vanilla marscapone. Perfection.

16:00 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Spaghetti Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is a controversial issue, apparently responsibly for generation-long rifts and possible murders in Italian families with differing ideas as to how a ragu should be prepared. An Italian native will scratch his head when served Spaghetti Bolognese, as it bears hardly a passing resemblance to ragù alla bolognese, the meat sauce from Bologna from which our interpretation takes its name. Officialy, Bolognese ragu should contain beef, pancetta, tomato puree, wine, oil, milk and a soffritto of minced onion, celery and carrot. It is never served with spaghetti, but tagliatelle instead.

The myriad of British versions are very different, but I think it's time to relax about authenticity and enjoy experimenting with this popular dish. Just don't call it Italian!

Bolognese is personal. Even in the UK, everyone has an opinion on how it should taste. Heston Blumenthal spent hours perfecting his very best version, only to have the patrons of his Bray pub vote almost unanimously in favour of Dolmio bolognese. It's a nostalgic, family-centric and comforting dish, and people like it to taste like the one their mother used to make.

This is my version of an anglicised bolognese sauce, and yes, it is very similar to the version my Mum makes, and my Dad come to that. Each of us has slightly different secret ingredients that we like to include so they are never identical, just the same but different. I think that's rather lovely.

To feed four:

400g extra lean beef mince.
Olive oil
1 chopped white onion
2 crushed cloves of garlic
Beef stock - you can crumble in a cube, or use one of those Knorr stock pot jellies, which I think are fantastic.
Tomato puree, about half a tube will do it.
A can of Italian tomatoes, San Marzano are the best, although very expensive to import.
A generous tsp each of dried italian herbs and dried crushed chilli flakes.
Lots of ground black pepper

The secret ingredients: (all optional, but advised!)
A slosh of balsamic vinegar to make the tomatoes sing
a squeeze of Heinz tomato ketchup for depth of flavour
A few drops of soy sauce or Umami paste to enhance the meaty flavours

Right. Heat a slosh of olive oil in a good sized saucepan and fry your onions and garlic until golden. Add the mince and brown, breaking up well, before stirring in your cheaty stock in cube or jelly form! When that is incorporated stir through the tomato puree, making sure to coat the meat with it throughly - this gives it a really concentrated tomato flavour. Add your tomatos and break up. As soon as the sauce begins to bubble, turn down the heat to a very slow simmer. Add your dried herbs and chillis, and a few turns of pepper. Add balsamic, ketchup and soy if using. Stir, cover and leave it alone to cook very gently for AT LEAST 4 hours. I mean it! Stir it every so often and add a little warm water if the sauce is becoming to dry.

Don't be tempted to eat it earlier, the long, slow cook gives the meat time to soften and the flavours time to marry and concentrate. Yum. It freezes beautifully too, so there's no excuse for not cooking an enormous batch to see you through on lazy evenings.

Serve with a long pasta of your choice, with some chopped parsley or basil to garnish and lots of parmasan cheese. We always eat it with a good green salad and a balsamic dressing. This picture shows the lovely mixed leaves picked from my garden, along with our homegrown radishes and some Italian tomatoes.

18:09 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Everything Pasta

This is my Mum's classic dressed-up version of Mac and cheese. So named because you can pretty much chuck anything in it. It's unbelievably good, and so versatile! It's a great midweek supper, quick and easy and uses up all the strange odds and ends of things that might be hanging around in your fridge. Put in what you think you'd like and what you have, but to get you inspired I can tell you what we used:

A rasher of bacon, grilled and cut into strips
A leftover sausage from breakfast, cut into chunks
A few chunks of chorizo
2 mushrooms cut into chunks
Some halved cherry tomatoes
Steamed broccoli florets
Sliced onion
A few sliced olives

So firstly you want to prepare your 'everything' - steam any veggies, cook off your bacon etc. Preheat your oven to about 180oc and then put some penne, rigatoni or fusilli pasta on to boil and make a cheese sauce.
This is a Delia cheese sauce recipe which works beautifully here. But feel free to use up bits of cheese that might be lurking in the fridge. If you think it'll go, chuck it in!

2oz/50g mature Cheddar, grated
1oz/25g parmesan finely grated
1 pint/570ml milk
1½oz/40g plain flour
1½oz/40g butter
pinch of cayenne pepper
a little freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Place the milk, flour, butter and cayenne pepper into a medium saucepan and place it over a gentle heat. Then, using a balloon whisk, begin to whisk while bringing it to a gentle simmer. Whisk continually until you have a smooth, glossy sauce, and simmer very gently forminutes. Then add the cheeses and whisk again, allowing them to melt. Then season with salt, freshly milled black pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add your 'everything'. Give it a good mix before stirring in the cheese sauce. Grate some extra cheddar for the top. Maybe a bit of mozzarella too if you have it? Sprinkle it over the dish and place in a hot preheated oven (180-ish) for about 20 minutes or until the cheese topping is melting and golden and starting to go crispy... mmm.

17:57 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Lemon, herb and parmesan crusted haddock fillets

This a recipe from the BBC's Good Food website. It's is such a great resource and brilliant for when you're completely lacking in inspiration as to what to cook for dinner.

I substituted the parsley for basil as I'm crazy about lemon and basil together. The flavours here were lovely, although it was a little dry. I'd make the lemon butter separately next time I think, or serve it on a lemon-spiked roux type sauce perhaps. I served this with new potatoes and broccoli but I think saute spuds and chard or kale would work even better to dress the dish up a bit.

For four you'll need:
50g breadcrumbs
grated zest of 1 lemon
25g grated parmesan
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper
4 skinless fillets of firm white fish
50g butter
juice of 1 lemon

Mix the breadcrumbs with the grated lemon zest, grated parmesan, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Season the 4 skinless fish fillets. Pan fry in a little oil for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Turn over and sprinkle with the crumb mixture. Brown in the pan under a hot preheated grill for 2-3 minutes. Add the butter to the pan with the juice of 1 lemon. Melt around the fish and serve.

18:03 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Bella Italia, Reading Riverside.

Ah, the chain restaurant debate. Are we bored of it yet? I regularly find myself settling down to comfortingly consistent food in the sort of establishments that you can find on every corner of every town in England. And you know what? I'm not ashamed. In my opinion these restaurants have done nothing but good for the foodie-culture. They mean that people don't have to save up for three years in order to pop out for a quick bite for friends. They allow you a nice meal and a bottle of wine with change from £20. To me, eating at restaurants is a treat, an occasion. Cheaper chain restaurants don't lessen this idea, they just allow me to enjoy myself more frequently. And what, I ask you, is wrong with that? Don't get too snotty about the food. It may always be on the wrong side of great, but it is what it is. Try lots, find what's great and always order that. That's the beauty of it.

Bella Italia is one of my favourite jaunts of this type. I first went to one in Bath, way back when it was Bella Pasta, and I was far too young to be enjoying the large glasses of wine really, but no matter. I ate my first Caesar Salad there, and was introduced to the wonders of a Bella perennial, an immense dessert that goes by the name of The Godfather. Order one, I beg you, and get it with the shot of Amaretto on it. Just bear in mind that I have never, ever managed to finish one alone, even after 9 years of trying.

Anyway, over the weekend, Steviant and I popped into the Reading Riverside Bella for a quick lunch. The special sounded good,
Spaghetti in a white wine sauce with cream and mussels. I am addicted to mussels so it was a no-brainer for me. Steviant ordered his usual Carne Mista pizza, which does what it says on the tin. Pizza and lots and lots of meat. It was good as usual (The pizzas aren't at all bad here) but I thought the base was a little flabby. Steviant said he liked it like that, and who am I to argue?

Mine came and looked good, smelled good - good start. The mussels were as fresh as you're going to get at a place like this but they were slightly overcooked. There was a teeny tiny baby mussel that entranced me so much I took a picture to show you. Then I ate it. Mohahaha. Anyway, back to the sauce. I really wish they hadn't got the work-experience kid to chop the onions. Tiny slivers and enormous chunks and mostly raw, shame. The sauce itself saved the meal, it was lovely and rich with a good balance of flavours. If I were being nit-picky I would say it bloody well should be, it's hardly tricky to prepare.
On balance, I enjoyed the meal to a point, and we had a lovely hour eating in the sun and pretending to be on holiday. I wouldn't order it again. My recommendation from Bella Italia is the Penne Zafferano. Lightly smoked salmon fillet, king prawns, cherry tomatoes and spinach in a saffron and cream sauce. It's as good as it sounds.

The service in The Riverside's Bella Italia is hit and miss. When it's bad, it's tolerable but when it's good, it's excellent. This time it was tolerable. I helped myself to menus after a rudely long wait for service, and our waiter was polite but rushed (it wasn't especially busy) We didn't tip. That's another reason I like chains like this. I never feel obliged to tip unless the service is truly exemplary. I resent tipping in general but that's a story for another day.

Anyway, the bill came to £16 for two meals and two big glasses of fresh juice. That, and sitting in the sun for a gorgeous hour catching up with a favourite person is why I love restaurants like Bella Italia. Plus The Godfather. Mmmm.

17:18 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Brilliant Scrambled Eggs

Eggs are great. Particularly if, like me, you're lucky enough to be able to wander down the garden of a morning and collect your own. I can firmly vouch for the fact that the eggs our chickens produce bear no relation to the sad, anemic offerings from the big-name supermarkets. I have tried spending a fortune on organic, free range rare-breed eggs but they still fall short. What is it that they do to them? Our chickens are happy, bolshy little blighters who take their egg laying duties seriously, as you can see in the picture of one of our Buff Orpington ladies looking furious at being disturbed early one morning. They lay enormous, orange yolked beauties that taste of... Well, egg, obviously. But more. And richer. The point I'm long-windedly trying to make is this; if you don't have room for your own chickens, try and find someone who does and buy from them. It's worth the hassle and I bet they're cheaper than supermarket eggs.

The one and only trouble with having your own brood is that chickens don't stop laying when you've got quite enough eggs for one day thank you very much. Hence I am ever-so-slightly egged out and desperately trying to find ways to make eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner a bit more interesting. This is a sort-of Mexican, sort-of Italian, throughly gorgeous way to eat them, and it makes a great brunch for a hungover Saturday morning.

For one:

2 large, fresh, free range and organic eggs
A slosh of double cream
A knob of butter
Three cherry tomatoes chopped and deseeded
A generous pinch of dried chilli flakes
8 or so leaves of torn fresh basil for preference, but if your basil plant has been dessimated by previous recipes as mine was when I went to make this today, chopped fresh chives will be nice too.
A toasted roll or slice or two of toast.

Crack the eggs into a measuring jug and whisk well with a fork. Add a dash of cream and a few decent grinds of fresh black pepper.

Put your roll on to toast and put a small saucepan over a medium heat and melt the butter in the pan. Once it is melted and starting to think about gently sizzling, pour in your egg mixture. Let it sit for 10 seconds or so and then begin to gently stir. Don't be rough, you want softly forming curds, not tiny lumps. Eurgh. Once the eggs are done to your liking, remove from the heat, and stir in the chilli, tomatoes and basil if you're using it. Serve over your favourite bread-based product and then scatter over the chives if they were your herb of choice. Enjoy in solitary silence, with the papers.

16:53 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

A Summer Salad

A flash make-ahead starter, or a great main to eat outside with rounds of ciabatta on nights where it's too hot to cook. You might want to serve yours in something slightly classier than plastic bowls with a french fry print, but clearly I'm not going to judge! This is also amazing with quartered fresh figs instead of canteloupe, but only if you can get them in their short season which is September - October.
This makes two big main course salads for two, or a good-size starter for 4

For the salad, you'll need:
A small canteloupe melon. Give it a good grope for freshness. It should give slightly to a push with your thumb and smell like summer. If yours doesn't, find something else to eat and leave in in a paper bag on your window sill for a day or two, this salad is a disappointment if the melon is under ripe.
A bag of those ubiquitous and overpriced mixed leaves. Pick something with lots of dark and red leaves, an Italian-style bistro mix would be a good choice.
4 slices good quality Parma ham

For the dressing:
1 or two fresh lemons
Roughly a scant tbsp of fragrant runny honey
A dash of balsamic vinegar

Divide the leaves between your serving bowls, and then set to the melon. Half, remove the skin and seeds and chop into forkable chunks before adding to the leaves. Tear your Parma ham and strew it artfully around the bowls.

Salad dressing is personal, so I'll just advise you to add and taste until you have an amount and a flavour that you like. Squeeze and strain your fresh lemon juice and the add honey to taste before adding a little balsamic. You'll only need a dash. If you don't fancy it, by all means leave it out, but I felt the dressing tasted a bit too much like a cold and flu remedy without it!

Drizzle over the dressing and serve, preferably not in plastic bowls...!

15:49 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Raspberry Cheesecake

This cheesecake is great, if I do say so myself.

Serves 6-8.

Raspberry Cheesecake

180g digestive biscuits
75g butter
300g good quality cream cheese, or mascarpone
200ml whipped double cream
75g golden caster sugar
A punnet of raspberries.
Good quality dark chocolate sauce for drizzling (optional)

First, smash up your digestives so they resemble fine bread crumbs. You can do this in a food processor, but if you have any residual anger you need taking care of, you can set to them with a rolling pin. Highly satisfying. Just make sure they are in a sealed plastic bag first.

Melt the butter, and stir well through the crumbs. Chuck the mix into a flan ring or cake tin with a push-up base and pat down, making sure there's no gaps, holes or uneven bits.

Whip your double cream with the sugar until it's fairly thick. Then, mix in your cream cheese or mascarpone until smooth. Continue by stirring your raspberries through the cream and cheese mix. Don't be afraid to be a little rough with them, you want them to break up a bit as it will give your cheesecake a beautiful swirly pink colour.

Add your cheesecake topping to the biscuit base and go over it with a palette knife to smooth it out. Don't go mad, a few peaks here and there looks attractive, I think, as opposed to messy. Drizzle over a bit of chocolate sauce if you like, or miss it out. It's just as good.

As for chilling, I allowed 6 hours, and also gave it a 20 minute head start in the freezer as I was determined that it was not going to collapse. It didn't! Just make sure you don't forget it's in there, 20 minutes is enough!

Enjoy with or without cream. A gorgeous pudding for an al-fresco dinner.

11:58 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Tandoori Style Chicken

What started as a simple meal of Tandoori style chicken and pilau rice ended up a full on Indian feast, so I thought it only fair to share my chicken recipe along with all the accompaniments that I kept adding... and adding!

Lets do the chicken and marinade first. I would put the chicken on to marinate in the morning before work so it has lots of time to develop into something delicious. You can knock up the paste the night before if that's easier for you. It will sit quite happily in the fridge for 3 days.

Tandoori Masala Paste

2 tsp Ginger paste (Barts do a good one)
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp ground paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground chilli powder.
A pinch of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon red food colouring
A scant few drops of yellow food colouring
200ml Natural yoghurt

Chuck your garlic, ginger, dry spices and food colouring into a bowl. Combine, then stir in the yoghurt. Mix it really well so you get a nice even red coloured paste. It's great with fish, prawns or chicken kebabs, but here I used it on some chicken thighs. Allow two per person. Before marinading, cut three slits across each thigh, to allow the marinade to sink in and flavour all of the meat. Roll each thigh in the Tandoori paste, making sure they are completely covered, then pack them tightly in a dish, cover and put in the fridge until you are ready for them. I like to give them at least 4 hours marinading.

In the absence of a tandoori oven, I gave mine 20 minutes in the oven at 170 degrees, then handed them over to my Dad the BBQ king. He gave them a quick blast on the BBQ to finish them off, blacken them up a bit and give them that slightly smoky taste. You could cook these all the way through on the barbie, or chuck them under the grill. Whatever you fancy really!

Right, now you've got gorgeous chicken, you're going to want some stuff to go with it. You can knock up all the following while your chicken is marinading and you'll end up with a fantastic Saturday night feast, perfect for when you're having a bunch of friends round for a few beers.

Colourful Pilau Rice

This is my mum's recipe, and very good it is too. I use Tilda basmati rice, as it's the only one I know will always come out cooked. Some of the cheaper versions just. won't. cook! Not good when you've got a crowd of hungry people staring at you while you put the rice back in the microwave for the 5th time!

These are the amounts for three, up everything accordingly if you're feeding a crowd!

Generous knob of butter
Tilda basmati rice (check the packet for amounts, I do it by eye!)
5 cardamom pods
An inch of cinnamon stick
10 black pepper corns
6 cloves
Two drops each green, red and yellow food colouring.

Melt your butter in the microwave (20 secs) then chuck in the spices and microwave for about 40 seconds. Add the rice to the bowl and stir well. Cover to 1/4 inch above the rice with just-boiled water from the kettle. Cover with clingfilm, then microwave on full for 10 minutes. Remove and uncover, fluff with a fork and taste. If it's not quite ready, recover and return to the microwave for a further couple of minutes. When it's done, very carefully drip in your food colouring. Apply each colour to a different spot, then leave it to sit for a minute or so. Then stir well with a fork and you'll end up with really pretty (and delicious) colourful rice.

Cucumber and Mint Raita

This is a great dip to serve with any curry, as it provides a good foil for spicy foods. It's the easiest thing to make, and fab for dipping poppadoms in!

Chuck some natural yoghurt into a serving bowl or ramekin. Add some cucumber which you have chopped into teeny cubes (I remove the seeds, cus I think their texture is a bit spooky with the yoghurt). Add some finely chopped fresh mint and stir.

An Easy Salad

This is the salad I choose to serve with most barbequed meat. It goes really well with the Tandoori chicken cus it's really simple and fresh tasting.

Finely slice some iceburg lettuce that you have washed well and spun dry. Add some sliced cherry tomatoes and some finely sliced red onion. Remove the skin from some cucumber and cube. Serve with a couple of lemon wedges on top for that authentic takeaway look!

There you have it, a fab Indian style feast. I served all this with warmed poppadoms, Sharwood's Mango Chutney and some onion bajis. Ours were from Waitrose and I think they are the best of the supermarket offerings. The Tesco ones are revolting, so stay away from those. If you've got time and want to make your own, Jamie Oliver has a great recipe in his Ministry of Food cookbook.