Apple Day Dumplings

I have to admit that Apple Day has always passed me by, but this year I was writing a small piece for Borough Market about heritage apples and the celebrations that they’re holding in the market on Sunday 26th October. There will be 1000 varieties of apple on display, many available to taste, to celebrate the market’s 1000th birthday (there are in fact over 2,300 named apple cultivars).

Suddenly I’ve become more apple-aware and got all hot under the collar (& with good reason too) looking at how many foreign imports are being sold in the supermarkets at the height of our own apple harvest. I went out on an English apple hunt and found a good variety of home-grown fruit in my local green grocers – Reg the Veg. There was an even bigger selection of lesser known apple types at Earthbound, the organic store in Cotham. It was fascinating to taste so many totally different flavours and textures, Imi and her friends joined our panel – here are our tasting results.image

At the top of the pile we LOVED Egremont Russett (nutty), Red Windsor (very crisp and juicy), Braeburn (good sweet /sharp balance) and Charles Ross (wonderfully sweet).

In the second tier came Adam’s Pearmain (aromatic but a bit soft and granular) , Hereford Russett (not quite as sweet and nutty as its Egremont cousin) , Spartan (perhaps a little too sweet), Cox ( good taste – could have been crisper) Kidd’s Orange Red ( a wee bit too sharp for the girls but I enjoyed it) and Gala (bit sweet and bland).

Our only rejects were the tiny Pitmaston Pineapples that just seemed rather wooly and uninteresting.

So, fired up with newly found enthusiasm for heritage apples Peter, Imi and I visited the Horfield Community Organic Orchard  (HOCO) in Bristol for their Apple Day celebrations last weekend. You’d never imagine that there was an orchard and allotment plot tucked away behind the houses on King’s Drive but having found the tiny path we suddenly walked through a gateway into a little haven in the city. The volunteers at the orchard share their knowledge about fruit growing, look after  the ancient heritage varieties they discovered on the site and keep up a wonderful green space;  in short they’re a breath of fresh air in the city.

On Sunday there was a stall of fabulous home-baked cakes (all appley of course), a table of dozens of varieties to taste, apple pressing (giving the most fabulously toffeeish juice), a stand of jams, chutneys and very young trees and then some good old Morris Dancing. The sun shone, it was ridiculously warm for October and the busy Gloucester Road seemed a million miles away.
Maybe every city has a few gems like this tucked away, but I’m always amazed how many little secrets there seem to be around Bristol waiting to be discovered.

One recipe I discovered whilst doing my research for Borough was for apple dumplings. My neighbour, Sacha, says that as a child she used to beg her mother for any leftover pastry when she was baking and wrap up an apple into a dumpling. I have to confess that I’d never even heard of them.  Apple dumplings have now entered my repertoire, they’re a great way of playing around with whatever dried fruit or nuts you might have in the cupboard and just feel a bit more special than a simple baked apple. So, here’s the recipe.

Apple Dumplings (4)

4 delicious dessert or dual-purpose apples – I used Herefordshire Russets (cookers are just too soft and moist)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp of chopped dried fruit – I used figs but apricots, dates or sultanas would be delicious too.
2 tbsp brandy, calvados or rum
1 tbsp roughly chopped nuts – hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios
3 tbsp ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp muscovado or other brown sugar
250 g puff pastry (I cheated with all – butter bought stuff)
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

Pre-heat the oven to 220 °c

Peel the apples and remove the cores, leaving about 2cm flesh at the bottom. I find it easiest to remove a plug with a knife and then excavate with a melon baller (about the only time I ever use it) to give a decent size cavity for the filling. Roll the apples around in the lemon juice in a bowl to stop them browning.

Now place the dried fruit in a small pan with the alcohol and bring it up to the boil. Switch off and leave the fruit to plump up whilst you prepare the rest of the stuffing.

Mix together everything else and then tip in the fruit and alcohol.

Carefully spoon as much of the filling as possible into the apples, be generous, you can really pile it on top.

Now take a piece of foil to check what size your pastry squares need to be to enclose the apples. Roll out the pastry very thinly and cut into your 4 squares.

Place the apple in the centre of each square and pull up the corners as if you were forming a new stem. Pinch together the sides, chop off the excess pastry and use this to make a few leaves.

Brush the pastry with the beaten egg and stick on the leaves. Bake in the oven on a tray for about 20- 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Eat whilst hot with cream, clotted cream or honeyed yoghurt.

And just another thing – my rather beautiful plates that I’ve served the apples on are, in fact, made of tin. Lindy sells them at her glorious Portobello shop Ceramica Blue or if you’re in Bristol you can find them in the  Bristol Guild . I can’t wait to whip them out on my next camping trip – they range from William Morris designs to replicas of Queen Victoria’s Coronation plates.

Chocolate Dipped Figs and Pop Up Suppers

Every once in a while it’s good to push your professional self a little and get out of your comfort zone (you can translate that as – terrify the living daylights out of yourself, hopefully glide through the process and then feel on top of the world because you’ve achieved something).

I’m feeling both apprehensive and excited about cooking for my first pop up at The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath tomorrow. It’s odd because I used to do lots of catering but it’s been a while and nowadays I’m more used to teaching and doing demo’s than “cheffing”. I’d be just a little more relaxed if I wasn’t following in the footsteps of the über talented Nathan Outlaw (oh yes, Mr 2 stars) and Monsieur Bertinet himself, who’ve cooked up the pop up feast for the last 2 weeks. I’ll give you an update in a few days time (that’s assuming I don’t cremate the food and totally cock-up and then I’ll obviously go underground)

Anyhow, today I decided I’d get a couple of jobs done, one being these chocolate figs – they really are spectacularly tasty so I thought I’d share the recipe. There’s nothing new about these – they’re an Italian classic. I learned to make them decades ago when I was working in a cookery school in Umbria with Ursula Ferrigno. They follow in the tradition of the Italian biscuits called brutti ma buoni (ugly but good); they’re not much to look at, but you just taste one.

Chocolate dipped figsChocolate Figs with Almonds –  Begin a day in advance

12 soft, dried figs
100 ml brandy
12 whole blanched almonds (ideally plenty so that you can eat the rest with a glass of fino sherry)
100 g dark (at least 70% cocoa solids) chocolate
Zest of 1 orange

Slice the tough little stalk off each dried fig and soak for as long as you have in the brandy, preferably overnight. (A quick zap in the microwave or warming through in a pan will help things along if you’ve forgotten)

Roast the almonds in a hot oven for anything between 5 and ten minutes until they smell nutty and heavenly. Watch them like a hawk, giving them a shake in their roasting tray from time to time.

Melt the chocolate – in a bowl over a pan of hot water or as I do on the very lowest microwave setting.

Now get a production line going.
Take a fig (you can drink the left over brandy later or use it for cookin)  -Push an almond into the fig – Dab the fig in the orange zest – Dip the fig in the warm chocolate- Place on a sheet of greaseproof paper to firm up – Sample with a cup of espresso.

And just one tip when cooking for large numbers or performing any repetitive kitchen tasks – it’s time to crank up the music.  E.L.O or Earth Wind and Fire make the jobs fly by.


Grape Picking in Somerset Cider Country

I always imagine that when I grow up I’ll have a garden where I nurture fruit trees and grow all my own vegetables, then I suddenly remember that I’m fifty next month (aaargh…..) and it’s a bit like wearing red lipstick or having a tidy car, it’s just never going to happen. It’s rather fortuitous for me that I have friends who’ve taken different roads in life and sometimes ring with the offer of a basket of quinces or, better still, the opportunity to help them harvest their grapes.

So last Saturday Peter and I set out on our first grape picking expedition. A few years ago you would probably have assumed that we were leaping on a plane to visit some far flung Spanish bodega, but nowadays with over 400 hundred vineyards in England and Wales you won’t be so surprised to discover that we were within 1/2 an hour of Bristol. Our friend Ingrid’s vineyard is in Wrington, North Somerset, just a stone’s throw from The Ethicurean (that fabulous restaurant/cafe/walled garden that I’m always banging on about). Most people associate The West Country with cider but, with the acreage of vineyards doubling in England over the last 10 years, you’ll find a few winemakers too.

I’d imagined a seriously back breaking morning but Ingrid and Stephen had dozens of eager friends and family lined up and, after a bit of secateur tuition ( basically cut the green bits and not the old wood), we got going. We were picking  Pinot Noir grapes, which along with some green Seyval (yes, you wine buffs probably know that they’re green – I didn’t) go into the Dunleavy Vineyards Rosé. The hot summer had been good to those vines and Ingrid seemed very chuffed with her harvest. I did feel a bit guilty though; it was as if we’d all just snapped up the form prize without doing the homework. There was a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment filling all those crates with grapes, it seemed rather painless and fun, chatting away amongst the vines. It’s all too easy to forget that a couple of hours were the culmination of weeks and months of pruning, tidying and nurturing – it was almost as if we’d made it look too easy.

We finished up sitting around on picnic blankets with sandwiches, cake and wine; all in all a wonderfully relaxed day that will make the 2014 vintage an even more special one to drink. I can’t claim any knowledge when it comes to grape requirements for wine production but, later in the day, we received news that we’d picked around 2000 bottles’ worth of grapes with a sugar level of 85 and acidity of 8.5 – sadly this means very little to me but it made Ingrid happy so it must be good!

I meant to include a recipe in this post too – I remembered that (rather conveniently) I had a very simple one for poached peaches in my book The Real Taste of Spain. However, I rushed along to the local green grocer’s, Reg The Veg, to discover that the peach season really has come to a close. I also decided that I couldn’t bear the thought of boiling up some of Ingrid’s award winning rosé with vanilla and orange zest in any case. If, however, you do happen to have some peaches you can find my recipe on The Telegraph website here .

To hear a bit more about Ingrid,  Dunleavy Wines and the rise of English winemaking then you can catch up on this Radio 4 Food Programme episode from July.

AND, more importantly, if you’re after some of the wine (the 2013 vintage won the Local Producers award at Bristol Good  Food Awards 2014),  here’s where to get it



Farinata and The Folk House

A couple of weeks ago Lou Marchionne and I had a great evening “Spilling The Beans” about the delicious and nutritious versatility of legumes at The Folk House Cafe in Bristol. We got things rolling with a nibble of freshly cooked rosemary farinata and many of you who came along loved it so much that I promised to share the recipe from my book (Pulse).

Farinata’s a flatbread/pancake (also known as cecina, torta de ceci or socca - depending on where you come from) made from chickpea flour. It’s a speciality of the French and Italian Rivieras that I first came across in the trattorias of Chiavari back in my yachty days. Farinata makes the perfect lunchtime snack and it’s obviously a fabulous choice for all the gluten -free/wheat-free brigade.

This morning I popped into  The Better Food Company in Clifton to pick up the chickpea flour, or gram flour as it’s often known, so that I could prepare and photograph the recipe for you. … Yippee, there was Lou behind the deli counter just setting out some of her freshly made farinata,  it was meant to be! So, you have a pic’ of Lou’s cooking instead of mine. May it entice you into either of the fabulous local Bristol joints where she works her culinary magic, the afore mentioned Better Food Company or The Folk House Cafe.

Chickpea Flatbread or Farinata
Serves 4-6

200 g/ 7 oz chickpea flour (gram flour, besan)
1/2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary (optional)
1 tsp salt
400 ml/ 14 fl oz  water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Tip the chickpea flour, salt and rosemary into a large bowl and slowly whisk in the water until you have a loose, lump-free batter. Rest the batter for at least an hour and up to 12 (strict timing instructions vary from town to town in Italy, with disasterous consequences if not adhered to, although I’ve noticed little difference in the results)

Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F/Gas mark 7

Take a large flat tin or oven-proof frying pan ( the professionals have a huge round pan specifically for the purpose) and heat it up in the oven or on the hob.

Skim off any froth from the top of the batter and then stir in most of the olive oil.

Add the remaining oil to the hot pan, swirling it to create a non stick surface. Now tip in the batter to a depth of about 1 cm/just under 1/2 an inch and place in the oven.

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes  or until the surface of the farinata is crisp and bubbling. I also give mine a quick blast under the grill for some extra colour.

Give it a few turns of the pepper mill, slice up with a pizza cutter and serve right away.

To make unorthodox individual servings: Fry off the batter (still about a centimetre thick) in a small crepe or omelette pan, turning it, just as you would a pancake. Once the farinata is set slip it onto a greased oven tray. Repeat the process with the remaining batter, layering greaseproof between each flatbread and then place the tray in the oven for about 5 minutes before serving.

How about serving with?
Fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese,
Mozzarella with tomatoes and basil,
or Taleggio with ProsciuttoFarinata recipe Pulse

And, for locals or visitors to Bristol…

Just a word about The Folk House which is one of those quintessentially Bristolian institutions that makes ours THE best city to live in. Tucked away down an alley at the bottom of Park Street it’s easy to forget that it’s there. The cafe is amazing, serving freshly-made, ethically sourced lunches – it’s restaurant food at cafe prices, I really can’t recommend it too highly. There is, of course, plenty of live music primarily but not exclusively of the folky kind and then there are the adult education courses. Where else could you sign up for classes from such an eclectic line up?  There’s everything from pottery to poetry, hula hooping to laughter yoga or succeeding at Suduko.

I have to admit that I’ve only done one course so far, a textile workshop where I designed some rather garish, shiny bits of fabric. One piece turned into a Barbie ballgown the other is languishing in my “things to mend and make” pile (it may be there for a while). I’m saving The Folk House up for when Imi leaves home or I somehow manage to transform my lifestyle and create some time.  I’m almost looking forward to getting old enough to retire so that I can sign up for the Wine Tasting, Indian Fusion Belly Dancing and Botanical Painting. I might just squeeze in a lampshade workshop in the meantime.

I hope you enjoy the farinata, Oh and I forgot to mention –  Lou says that eating lots of  rosemary is very good for the memory.

The Perfect Plum Sauce

This year’s been a bumper year for plums, and since the one and only fruit tree in our tiny garden is a Victoria, I’m very happy. We got back from our holiday in Devon to find the boughs groaning with ripe fruit and I’ve been finding ways to enjoy the glut ever since. You may not have a tree but you’re sure to have a local market or green grocer and there will be plenty of plums on offer if my local, Reg The Veg, is anything to go by.

I love a plum tart, French clafouti is another option (although Peter commented that it sounds like a  sheep’s foot disease) and plums do make a sublime ice cream too (recipe coming soon if I get around to it) but I’m always up for a bit of savoury so I’ve been in search of the very tastiest plum sauce. My favorites are the two below- I’m afraid that the jury’s out on a clear winner.

Georgian Plum Sauce – Tkemali

Let’s start with the Georgian classic Tkemali ( apparently as ubiquitous as ketchup in its homeland).  It’s quick, simple to make, has a relatively short ingredient list but more importantly it tastes heavenly. We had roast chicken legs, greens and very unorthodox mashed potato with it for supper tonight and the left overs will be great with pork or sausages.

500g plums, halved and stoned
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar, or to taste
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp water
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp hot paprika (preferably Hungarian and definitely not smoked Spanish)
1 tsp coriander seeds and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and then ground
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
1 tbsp chopped mint or dill
2 tbsp chopped coriander

This is pretty much a throw-it-all-in-the-pot recipe; everything goes into a saucepan bar the lemon juice and herbs.

Simmer for about 30 minutes until the plums have completely collapsed – I whizzed mine with a hand held blender too.

Season with salt and then add lemon juice and herbs to taste.

You could freeze the sauce or even pour it into sterilised jars and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks but there’s not enough sugar in there for it to behave as a true preserve.

Asian Spiced Plum Sauce 

I also made a batch of this most fabulous Asian-inspired plum sauce; it’s a recipe that I’ve been using for years that I originally gleaned from one of the Books for Cooks collections. I’ll let you know more about those amazing little cook books next time around but today I’ll stick to plum sauce. The sauce has evolved a little – I use palm sugar instead of caramelising sugar and often throw in some tamarind if it needs a bit more acidity. I toyed with the idea of adding some rhubarb (Ottolenghi  has some in his Plum and ginger relish) but decided that this sauce needs no help at all.

This is THE sauce  to serve with pork belly, roast duck or grilled mackerel. 

1 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
1 large red onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2cm knob of fresh ginger finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli – or to taste, finely sliced
2 whole star anise
1/2 stick of cinnamon
2 tbsp palm sugar or soft brown sugar
50 ml water
500g plums, halved and stoned
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander leaves

Take a large frying pan and fry the onion until soft.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and dry spices and cook until you’re enveloped in wonderful smells. Add the sugar and cook until dissolves, then pour in the water.

Place the plums, cut side down into the pan and simmer until tender but still intact. This will only take about 10 minutes – do take care as the plums look stunning if they hold their shape. It’s not really a sauce in texture but once you bite into those plums there will be loads of juice.

Add fish sauce to taste and, once cool, sprinkle with fresh coriander.
If the sauce seems very sweet then a good spoonful of tamarind paste makes a great addition (or a splash of vinegar would do well too)

Fish out the cinnamon stick and star anise before serving at room temperature.

Cousin Vicky's PlumsAnd just to finish up-  this beautiful little painting by my cousin Vicky Mullins, a reminder of some the delicious types of plum on offer.


Camping and Crumpets

With just a few days left of the school holidays it certainly seems that the Indian Summer will be bypassing us this year. So, it’s probably a little bonkers to be coming up with a camping tip at this stage in the day but…. there are just a couple of festivals left and surely a couple of dozen hardy campers who might be up for some sound advice.Panoranic shot of The Green Man

I’m not a serious camper by any means, in fact I feel quite proud having managed to make a couple of festivals this summer, clocking up a total of seven nights under canvas (or more truthfully nylon). I’ve certainly never considered camping a refreshing holiday – you come back knackered, usually bedraggled and damp (if you live in the UK), with enough dirty washing to keep you busy for days. Cooking on a piddley-little gas flame with ingredients from a not-so-cool cooler box is not really my idea of fun either. A great festival plus is the fabulous selection of food stalls, my favourites over the 2 weekends being (without a doubt & in no particular order)  Poco,  Goan Fish Curries and the Pembrokeshire beach Shack) So, to be honest the extent of my cooking is really just breakfast.

At WOMAD, once the bread had almost run out and virtually turned to cardboard I suddenly remembered the dozen crumpets I’d snapped up just before we left. Now the best thing about crumpets is that you don’t have to be one of those desperately organised types with a gazebo and fully equipped camp kitchen. I’m amazed at the kit that some people haul to a festival: picket fences, inflatable sofas – some friends of ours took a half hundred weight of sand to use as a sand pit to entertain the small kids one year. I get hot, bothered and very, very irritable just carrying the absolute essentials, so this tip is for the basic 1-ring-burner type of camper.

The Ultimate Bacon and Tomato Camp Crumpet

Having fried your bacon in your one and only frying pan you can set that aside to keep warm whilst you throw a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes into the hot bacon fat (I never said this was going to be particularly healthy) Once the tomatoes have begun to split you can tip those into a bowl too. Now, if your pan isn’t too precious just wipe it out and oil with a smear of butter or oil and cook up the crumpets, a few at a time, until toasty (a good couple of minutes on each side). Serve at once topped with your bacon and tomatoes, AND this is particularly good with a glass of red wine if your breakfast has morphed into brunch!

The Green Man, in the Brecon Beacons presented a trickier crumpet situation. Peter was away in the Arctic and so realizing that I didn’t have a packhorse I’d really packed light (only the absolute essentials such as full fancy dress outfits for the children) and we relied on my friend Sally’s cooking gear. Sally’s tiny, high speed burner was like a rocket launcher and boiled water in a matter of seconds but cremated my first crumpet. After a couple of attempts we discovered the

Fried Nutty Butter Crumpet

Take your pan and melt a good knob of butter per crumpet – we had to cook ours one at a time due to pan size. Fry the crumpet for a couple of minutes on each side over a medium heat; the butter will smell caramelised and will have disappeared into the spongey crumpet.

Serve hot with Marmite or jam. Scrumdiddlyumptious


Thank you to the Ives family for some pic’s and the fabulous grass skirt and tutu modeling.


Learning to Love Water

It’s ridiculous but I never seem to drink enough water. I sometimes get that searing, top of the skull headache that signals dehydration and often wake up feeling desperately thirsty. Why? It’s extraordinary when we have water on tap, that so many of us fail to achieve the recommended daily fluid intake of 1.6 litres for women or 2 litres for men a day. OK it doesn’t all have to be water but most of it should be; it just seems so much easier to drink coffee, tea or sugary cordials not to mention all the wine, beer, cider and spirit options  (current favourite : Aperol Spritz).

Last weekend we made our annual pilgrimage  to WOMAD – a festival of world music and dance near Malmesbury. It’s our summer highlight and this year was a scorcher. We adore WOMAD, you can flit from Senegalese kora and drums to Welsh folk, from Jamaican reggae to Ukrainian “ethno chaos” (in the words of the WOMAD programme! ). The children go wild and have a sense of  freedom and adventure that’s difficult to find nowadays. One of the highlights, and I know it sounds bonkers, is refilling their water bottles. Once the kids have their bearings we allow them to disappear for a minute or two into the crowds (yes, it’s terrifying to begin with, but when do you give a child their first sense of responsibility and space?). They make their way to the  Frank Water refilling station (more about Frank in a moment) and return triumphantly with their bottles of chilled water. Their insatiable desire for these tiny bursts of freedom means that they drink water by the pint, which is great in the heat. 

So Frank Water has become synonymous with WOMAD for the children, but there’s so much more to shout about. You can read all about the Bristol based charity on their website but I’ll sum up as best as I can. Frank sell refillable water bottles at festivals, cutting down on all the plastic disposable bottle waste whilst raising money to fund sustainable clean water projects in the developing world. It’s genius – and this year in particular, in the intense heat, I really appreciated having their beautifully cool water, whereas I’m ashamed to say that I do often take water for granted. One in ten people worldwide have no access to clean water whilst, rather extraordinarily, many of us spend money on bottled water when we’ve got perfectly good water on tap. We’re spoilt.  Frank Water also sell Devon spring water by the bottle in all sorts of restaurants, cafes and shops with those proceeds going to the charity too. So look out for these guys and give them your support.

Frank Water

And now to my new resolution to drink more water. Here are a few of my tips, although I’m only a couple of weeks in.

1. Pour some water into a large bottle or jug so that you can gauge how much you’re drinking

2 Remember to chill it – it makes such a difference (obviously if you have one of those swanky American style fridges you can bypass this stage)

3. Flavour your water, and I’m not talking squash here.
-Try putting a few sprigs of mint and slices of lemon into the water, it’s instantly more interesting.
-My all time favourite trick comes from The Lido where they sometimes have long ribbons of cucumber whisping around in a jug of chilled water, the taste is very subtle but wonderfully refreshing.
-Literally any fruit sliced or slightly squashed and added to your glass of water will add a little something.

4. Boiling water poured over a large slice of fresh ginger makes a great coffee/tea alternative (that’s once I’ve had my caffeine – which I couldn’t possibly give up)