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)

Spilling the beans and a Greek Fava puree

There are so many fabulous hummus-like dips around and yet we seem to be stuck in a rut- don’t get me wrong, I love chickpea puréeé but why not give some of the other legumes a go too. I talked about Moroccan Bessara back in May which I made with fava beans but this month I’d love to share this Greek island fava with you. It is rather confusing as traditional fava is not made with what we know as fava (broad beans) but with split yellow peas instead. I was stirred into action with this one when my mother brought me a packet of the split peas back from her recent holiday in Rhodes. You can use any yellow split pea but if you’re after the real thing you could go to the Ergon restaurant and deli in London or buy their beans on line.

Greek split peas

Greek Fava Purée

200 g/7 oz  yellow split peas, rinsed and drained
2 bay leaves
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp salt
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
A few very finely sliced pieces of red onion.

Place the split peas, bay leaves, the onion and enough cold water to cover everything by a couple of cm in a saucepan. Bring the water up to the boil skimming away any scum or froth.

Now simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring from time to time and, if necessary, adding a little extra water to keep the peas just covered.

Add the salt and continue to simmer until the beans are very tender and almost dry.

Remove the bay leaves and allow the split peas to cool for a few minutes before you puree them with a hand held blender or in a food processor.

Don’t worry, the peas will taste bland and flabby, they will be screaming for seasoning. Add the garlic, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper and more salt, if required, until you have a wonderfully balanced puree.

Spoon into a bowl and allow to cool completely, letting the flavours get to know each other.

Serve with a sprinkling of capers, the parsley, red onion and a splash of extra virgin oil.

Try topping the fava with any combination of the following:
Chopped fresh oregano, coriander or parsley
A few chopped Kalamata olives,
Diced tomato and a handful of rocket.
A sprinkling of roasted cumin seeds and sweet Aleppo or Urfi chilli flakes

Greek Fava puree

We’re having the fava with a few olives, a tomato salad and some bread for a really healthy light lunch but do try serving it with some charred squid or cuttlefish.

NEWS –  Spilling the Beans: September 10th at The Folk House Café

I met up with cook and nutritionist Lou Marchionne a couple of weeks ago, only to discover that she’s as excited about pulses as I am. Over the years Lou has cooked at so many of Bristol’s most iconic places such as Rocinantes, Bordeaux Quay and now at The Folk House Café on Park Street. So, after lots of excited chat we’ve decided to have a Pulse night on September the 10th at The Folkhouse ……..I’d love you to come along.

We’re planning an hour-ish cooking demo (using recipes from my book Pulse)  followed by a buffet supper of delicious beany dishes – the menu will include chickpea farinata, a zippy Asian style soup, super healthy sprouted bean, fruit and feta salad, a roasted cauliflower, butter bean and wild rice dish and a smokey pork chilli. The idea is to inspire you with the amazing versatility of legumes, Lou will point out their tremendous health benefits along the way and then you’ll get to eat some very tasty food.

The tickets are an absolute bargain at £8.50 (you will have a great supper – plenty for vegans, vegetarians and the resolute carnivores) The bar will be open, so a great time to catch up with friends. The evening will last from 18.30 to around 22.00.

You can buy tickets HERE. Really hope to see you and your friends.

I’ll be selling my book PULSE on the night and matching the Amazon price of £17 (rrp £25) so do bring along a bit of cash (I don’t take cards) if you are planning to buy a book.

PULSE photographs by Clare Winfield

 

 

 

 

 

Good News and Pitta Crisps

The last few weeks have been fantastic. One of the things I sometimes find tricky about being self employed is that you’re on that constant roller coaster, (hopefully of the junior variety rather than the peaks and troughs of a fully blown theme park model). Work comes in great gluts and then there are those ridiculously nerve wracking moments when you start filling in a new calendar and look at all the empty slots in the months ahead. Why do I still panic? Why do I say yes to those not-so-enthralling jobs only to have to jam all the more exciting stuff in too, and end up on a workathon?  I sometimes have the classic confidence crisis, I know that I’m not the only one – What am I doing this for? Am I getting anywhere? And then suddenly a fabulous patch like the last couple of weeks seems to appear out of nowhere.

So, I do hope that you won’t mind a bit of trumpet blowing….. First bit of great news- Pulse is being reprinted which means that you’ve all been doing a great job of spreading the word, so thank you. Secondly, The Real Taste of Spain, which feels like I wrote it a lifetime ago (about 8 years – Imi’s lifetime in fact) received some fabulous recognition last weekend. It was listed on the Telegraph Stella Magazine’s Ten Best “Hidden Gems – 10 lesser- known cookbooks you just can’t live without” The best bit about it was the company; to be listed alongside greats such David Tanis, Paula Wolfert and Pierre Koffman, writers I’ve admired for years, was absolutely thrilling. It was though, of course,  as my mother pointed out “a shame that it said lesser known cook books”. That’s family for you!

Another high point has been the work I’ve been doing for Borough Market, helping connect school children with their food. I’ve written about it on the market blog, but will share a few pictures of my trip to Highgrove, cooking with a group of children from Poplar Primary School in South London. The children, along with their incredibly dedicated teachers had won the Mygrove  prize for the best school gardening and cooking blog – you can go to the Prince of Wales’ website to find out more.  I had such fun with them making simple salads, experimenting with edible flowers and seeds and just witnessing how much more adventurous and excited about food children are when they’ve had a hand in the growing and preparation.

I have the seeds of another book sprouting madly in my head and need to get down to writing a proper proposal, but right now we’re off to WOMAD. So, here I am sitting at my desk at 5.30 am,  trying to get this post written, running up and down the stairs to check on my pitta crisps in the oven whilst making sure that we have all the necessary tents, wellies, long-life milk and sun cream packed. We’ll take the pitta crisps with us too.  I should really have Imi making them but she’s tucked up in bed and I’m not sure that she’ll be getting too much sleep over the next few days, so she’s staying there.

These crisps are great to make with kids and make a good healthy alternative to crisps or corn chips . I’ve sprinkled mine with black sesame seeds, smoked paprika and a bit of salt but you could use rosemary, cumin or a spice mix like ras al hanout (the fab’ Moroccan one – Bart Spices do a great blend)

Pitta Crisps

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325 F/ Gas mark 3

Cut the pittas into 2 1/2 cm/1 inch ribbons using a pair of scissors or knife. Now open the “loops” of bread to give you thin fingers.

Place these on roasting trays. There always seems to be a thinner and thicker side to the bread so I have a tray of quicker cooking, more delicate crisps and a tray for the thicker pieces.

Drizzle over a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and season with a little salt. You can add your choice of dried herbs or spices at this point too.

Toss the bread around to cover in the seasoning and arrange in a single layer. and now bake them in the oven until dried out and crisp. The thinner pieces will only take about 5 minutes and the thicker around 10; just bake until they are quite brittle.

Cool on a wire rack and then keep in an airtight container until ready to use.

 

 

Gooseberries and The Walled Garden

I have amazing memories of visiting  “pick-your-own” farms as a child, they seemed to be everywhere, maybe it was because we lived on the edge of The Vale of Evesham, one of England’s prime fruit growing areas. So last weekend, on a fabulously sunny day, I thought Imi and I might have fun picking some gooseberries and strawberries up the road in Cheddar. Sadly we arrived to discover that we could only buy the ready-picked punnets of fruit and a pretty surly woman assured me that there was NOWHERE locally that your could pick your own. Is this true? If anyone knows otherwise, please do let me know. It does seem quite logical, I can’t see how the farmers ever made any money; my sister and I always went for the eat one, keep one, eat one, keep one approach. In fact I once came out in a terrible rash after gorging on strawberries, or maybe it was raspberries? I can’t remember.

Any how we couldn’t drive straight home on such a glorious day so we dropped into one of my all- time favourite places –  The Barley Wood Walled Garden  (it does pop up in my blog a lot, I promise that I’m not on a PR drive for them – I just happen to love it) First we visited the teeny shop in the shed, I bought some gooseberries and  Imi spent her pocket money on a crochet “Happy Bird” that she christened Alfred. I had to share the pictures with you, they are everything I adore about England. The gardens are heaven and I loved the fact that Imi was in a school dress at the weekend ( her primary school doesn’t have a uniform so she feels a bit left out ). Of course we swung by the restaurant as well, and had some of the ridiculously delicious toffee-appley cake (Will you ever share that recipe with us boys? – I notice that it’s not in the cookbook) and whilst Imi drank her elderflower cordial I tried some of the very subtle and refreshing pine cordial.

We headed home after a dash around the vegetable patch – I do have serious garden envy although I need to get real; I only just manage to keep up with the bindweed in our tiny shoebox. When we got home I decided to go two ways with my gooseberries, firstly the most obvious and indulgent gooseberry fool and then secondly a very, very tasty and healthy breakfast option with oat groats and yoghurt.

Let’s begin with the gooseberry fool, which along with rhubarb fool has to be one of the simplest, most divine English puddings on offer and not one to mess around with too much. My only tweaks/suggestions are to cook the gooseberries in elderflower cordial (always a fabulous combination) and to sprinkle with a few ginger nut biscuit crumbs.

Gooseberry Fool

450 g gooseberries, topped and tailed
4 tbsp  of elderflower cordial
300 ml double cream
A few ginger nut biscuits, crushed to a crumb with a rolling pin.

Cover and simmer the gooseberries with the elderflower cordial for about 5-10 minutes until they have all split. Now spoon out the gooseberries and reduce the liquid by boiling to at least 1/2. Don’t sieve – you want the skins and seeds for texture.

Now taste – it must be intensely sweet and sour at the same time. Allow to cool completely and then chill in the fridge.

Whip your double cream until it is thick but not stiff, it always sets up more as it sits, and fold in the gooseberries. Taste again – you might need a little more sugar.

Now spoon the fool into little glasses or  vintage tea cups and sprinkle with a few bashed up ginger nut biscuits if you feel like it.

 

I’ve never been all that keen on porridge –  it’s the rather sludgy, slimy texture.  And I’m afraid that no amount of cream, superior pin head oats or expert spurtle stirring can convince me. Oat groats though,  are something else with their slightly chewy texture and bite. I prefer to call them oat berries (groats just sound too hefty and wholesome) since whole grain wheat and rye are referred to as berries so I can’t see a problem. Cook up plenty of oats and keep them in the fridge for up to a week but do warm them through in a small pan or microwave before serving, as they seem very starchy when chilled.

Oat berries, gooseberries and honeyed yoghurt

250 g oat berries (groats)
500 g ( ml) water
450 g gooseberries, topped and tailed
4 tbsp elderflower cordial
Natural yoghurt (Greek if you’re feeling indulgent) and honey to taste.

Place the oat berries in a large saucepan without any water and roast them directly over a high heat, giving them a good shake from time to time until they smell toasty (about 3-4 minutes).

Now add the water and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the grain is tender but still slightly chewy.

Cook the gooseberries as we did for the fool above and spoon into bowls (or glasses). Sprinkle over a couple of good spoons of oats and top with a good dollop of honey-sweetened yoghurt.

And, talking of gardens I’m very excited because later this week I’m going to be working at Highgrove and getting a glimpse of the Prince’s gardens. I’m teaching a bunch of primary school kids who have been awarded a day of cooking, painting and gardening as a prize for their outstanding gardening blogs.  There’s more about the Prince’s Mygrove challenge here.

 

Radishes and Robins

 

Radishes

Radishes are one the great summer treats- just fabulous with a bit of unsalted butter and some crunchy salt. The idea of serving  them like a flower arrangement came from perhaps the glitziest restaurant I’ve ever been to. St Tropez’s Le Club 55 is the most ludicrously expensive, super -chic beach bar in existence…….and we arrived by helicopter! It’s seems like a different lifetime as I sit in my tiny back garden and think back to my super-yachting days. I worked aboard an Italian owned sailing boat as the cook and the owners did, just once in a while, invite us to partake in their bonkersly swanky lifestyle.

Our trip to Club 55 (please think it in French or it just doesn’t work) was to celebrate the re-fitting of the boat’s main mast – quite a hairy business which involved cranes, plenty of manic arm waving and lots of filthy French swearwords. I’d been given the important job of filming the event for the owners who’d wisely decided to miss the action. The first lesson in filming: never  turn  a camera on its side even if the tip of the mast doesn’t fit into a landscape shot. You had to watch the entire video with your head cricked to one side…… very irritated Captain and THANKFULLY highly amused boss.

The family popped into the boat yard in their helicopter to look over their beautiful yacht before flying on the extra few miles to Pampelonne beach. I leapt at the chance to hover over St Tropez  and then spent most of the time with my eyes shut, virtually hyper ventilating; there’s nothing I hate more than flying. So we landed in the car park next to the Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s and made our way out into the shady, understated beachside restaurant. There on every table was a jug of radishes, some butter, salt, aioli and a basket of perfect baguette. The extraordinary thing is that  I have no memory of the rest of the meal, I was probably too busy people watching. So it just goes to show that the simplest, quickest thing to prepare can often make the most impact.

Another very delicious accompaniment to radishes was dreamt up by the talented chaps at one of my favourite restaurants, the antithesis of ritzy-glam, The Ethicurean here in The West Country. It involves frying a sliced spring onion and a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic in rapeseed oil until really fragrant. Then adding a couple of tablespoons of chopped white anchovy fillets (you know, the delicious ones pickled in vinegar) and cooking for a minute. Allow to cool and then stir in about 5  tablespoons of crème frâiche. Season and then serve with a pile of freshly dug radishes ( an hour soaking in icy water will restore some crispness if your bought radishes seem a little tired)

The week before I took the picture I’d found some of those  slender, pink French breakfast radishes with their long whispy tails, they’re my favourites, not today. But, any good radish with  leaves intact can be bunched together tightly with some string and pushed into a squat jug or bowl. 

Talking of lapping up the simple things in life I have to share these pictures of Reg with you. Every year Peter hopes to hand feed a robin, he’s had no luck for the last couple but then Reg arrived. The trick is patience; when the robin is feeding its young it will be bolder than usual and so, by placing a small plate of live mealworms close by and waiting motionless whilst it feeds, the robin will gain confidence. Then it’s a question, over about a week, of moving the plate closer and closer until you’re holding it. Eventually the robin will land on your hand and even flutter outside the kitchen window until you come out to feed it.

We’re just hoping that Reg will be back again next year to feed another brood. The thrill of holding such a delicate little bird on your hand is extraordinary. So light, so perfect.