Category Archives: Dessert

Cool Kids Cook and a Rhubarb, Rose Water Crumble

At last I can break the news (well, close friends and relatives have put up with months of my banging on about it already) I have a new cook book coming out in May.

Cool Kids Cook, Jenny Chandler May 2016

It’s all about getting children into the kitchen cooking REAL food. Imi and her friends have been my very willing guinea pigs as we regularly cooked supper at our “Monday Night Cooking Club”. It struck me that that whilst it’s fun to bake cupcakes and ice dainty biscuits Imi and her 9 year old mates were just as excited about rolling meatballs or making a Minestrone. We all know that children are much more adventurous about food if they get involved with the cooking and who needs encouragement when it comes to scoffing meringues? We need to get them excited about the good stuff. Don’t panic; there are recipes for tasty muffins, a basic cake that can be whipped up into all sort of different flavours and other sweet treats (any whiff of worthiness and we’ve lost the audience anyway) but the recipes are weighted towards healthy, proper food.

The book is aimed at 7-14 year olds (although quite a few adults have expressed an interest), there are step by step photos, fab’ illustrations, cheesy jokes and a selection of recipes that will set them up for life. I love to see children experiment and get excited about adding their own touches or favourite ingredients so the recipes have variations and suggestions to kickstart their imaginations. So do look out for it, shout about it, purchase numerous copies ( almost goes without saying) and get those young’uns into the kitchen; you may even be able to put your feet up whilst someone else cooks supper from time to time.

So that’s the pitch over and done with, now for the recipe…Crumble does appear in the book, with variations, it’s formatted in a fabulous child-friendly way – you’ll have to wait and see (if I reproduced the page I’d be in terrible trouble). Imi made this last weekend when we had some friends around for lunch, it was great to delegate the pudding to her – less work for me and a great sense of achievement for her

Rhubarb, Rose Water CrumbleRhubarb and rosewater

The crumble combination was inspired by an instagram post from the fabulous garden and food writer  Lia Leendertz, who was making a rhubarb rosewater tart. Reg the Veg was selling (and still is) glorious forced Yorkshire rhubarb, we happened to have 1/2 a bag of pistachios lurking in the cupboard and so this variation of the basic crumble was born.

Serves 4-6

You’ll need an ovenproof dish about 25 cm square and 5cm/2 inches deep

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/ Gas mark 6

The Crunchy Top


The Crunchy Top140 g/5 oz chilled butter
200 g/7 oz plain flour
pinch of salt
100 g /3 1/2 0z caster sugar, light brown Muscovado sugar or a mix of the two
a handful of chopped pistachios

Chop the cold butter into small squares and drop them into a large mixing bowl with the flour and salt.

Give everything a quick stir with your hands and then rub the pieces of butter into the flour using your finger tips. Try to use your finger tips; your palms are hot and will melt the butter making greasy, stodgy crumble.

Once the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, with no big lumps of butter you can stir the sugar and nuts in with a spoon.

Put the crumble mixture into the fridge whilst you prepare the filling.

The Rhubarb


900 g/2lb rhubarb
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp ground almonds
1-2 tbsp rosewater

Cut the leaves and any ragged ends from the rhubarb and then chop into logs.

Sprinkle the ground almonds into the bottom of the ovenproof dish.  Lay the rhubarb over the top, scatter over the sugar and sprinkle with rosewater – don’t go overboard or the entire dish can seem a bit bubble-bathy .

Spoon the crumble mix over the fruit and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden.

Serve crumble with vanilla ice cream, cream or custard





Stilton, Eccles Cakes and New Year’s Resolutions

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions and once again I’ve resolved to give nothing up at all. The short, dark, cold January days can be a bit depressing anyway without depriving myself of chocolate, alcohol or anything else I truly enjoy. No….. I’m resolving to swim more often, which is hardly a chore as the beautiful Clifton Lido is just a ten minute walk away. I’m going to attack my accounts once a week (now that’s a serious challenge). And, most importantly as far as Imi and this blog are concerned, I am going to continue with the Monday Night Cooking Club.

A few weeks ago I decided that I really needed to commit to cooking with Imi on a regular basis. It’s too easy to be in a hurry, to be feeling in need of a little “head time” (I have a daughter who’d sweep the board on “Just a Minute”)  or just not to be in the mood to clean up a bomb site .. so much so that we hardly ever seemed to cook together. Bring on the “Cooking Club” as Imi has christened our Monday evening antics in the kitchen. Each week Imi invites a friend back from school and we make something. There’s really no getting out of it now, even if I wanted to, she already has a register with the next dozen participants lined up.

Last term we made:
-spinach and ricotta ravioli with her friend Avalon (great fun rolling the pasta, stuffing and cutting, and a fabulous way to get the girls eating spinach),
-pumpkin and coconut cake with Bea (plenty of spoon licking),
-meatballs and apple tarts with Lettie (a very good supper)
-and then Eleanor joined us baking Christmas cakes and then icing them a couple of weeks later. I’m loving it as much as they are, yes I have those moments on a Monday at 3pm when I question my sanity but it’s so satisfying.

Today Imi and her little friend Lettie made Eccles cakes for us to take out to Barcelona for New Year’s Eve tomorrow. The combination of Eccles cakes and Stilton was new to me until recently…….Was it a moment of Fergus Henderson magic to marry the two ( as he does at his restaurant St John)? Or, is this a long-held tradition? Perhaps you can tell me? Anyway it’s delicious. So, I’m going to reek of blue cheese at the rather glam’ party we’re going to with all our Catalan friends tomorrow night because I have half a Colston Bassett Stilton secreted in my suitcase (along with a 1/2 a kilo of clotted cream). I’ve used about 10 metres of cling film trying to hermetically seal the thing but it does seem that the waft will out. My hand luggage will be largely made up of tins of Eccles cakes, chocolate ginger thins and shortbread. There is some method in my madness as all this food will disappear very quickly leaving copious room for any small purchases that I might just make in Barcelona (ooh the shoe shops!)

Eccles Cakes with Stilton- Makes 12

40g butter
225 g currants
25g chopped candied peel
75g muscovado / dark drown sugar
1/2 tsp orange/lemon zest or mix
1 tsp mixed spice (or mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger)
pinch of salt

500 g  All-Butter Puff Pastry
1 egg white, beaten
Golden granulated or Demerara sugar

For the Filling
Just melt the butter and then mix in all the other ingredients and leave to cool for a few minutes.

Roll out the pastry to under 1/2 cm thick and cut out into squares – you should get about 12. Most recipes ask for circles but it’s more of a faff and you waste pastry. However, if you’re worried about ending up with just slightly square cakes ( and I’m not) then go for the circles.

Pile up a spoonful of filling in the middle of each square and then brush around the edge with some egg white.

Now pull in the edges to cover the filling and press everything together to seal. Turn over and roll gently to flatten and help into a circle-ish shape.

Make about 3 slashes in the top of each cake, brush with the egg whites and sprinkle with sugar. Chill on a baking tray for at least 20 minutes (or bake straight away if you’re an impatient child – slightly flatter pastry!).

Preheat the oven to 220 C and bake the cakes until really gold and and crispy.

Cool and store in a tin.

I’ll warm these a little tomorrow before serving with my amazingly creamy Stilton Cheese or with the clotted cream (that’s assuming that it hasn’t escaped all over the suitcase) .

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.


Oranges are not the only fruit – Citrus fruit salad with a waft of rosemary

When did the blood orange drop its blood and become a blush? I planned to make a citrus salad this week and found myself getting all hot under the collar when I spotted blush oranges in the supermarket. Is this some poncey marketing ploy? Please tell me that they’re a slightly different type of orange, and not that “bloody” is somehow deemed too gruesome or coarse a term for your average shopper. My local green grocer, Reg the Veg, does thankfully continue to sell blood oranges amongst a fabulous range of other seasonal citrus fruit.

I have to confess that I’d never even heard of a Mineola or a Nadorcott before, they sound like something the Jabberwock might have gorged on, but I decided to have a citrus fest and buy a selection. I had a slightly tired looking Navel Orange languishing back at home in the fruit bowl too. I wish I could be bothered to peel them more often, once I’m over the faff oranges are one of my favourite things to eat. There’s a lady who always smuggles an orange into the sauna where I go to swim and I tell you, there is nothing better than a segment of chilled orange (she’s always very generous) in the sweltering heat and it smells pretty wonderful too. …..I resolve to use all citrus fruits before they turn blue and squashy this year. Below was the line up for my citrus salad.

Oranges are not the only fruitOn the left my well-matured Navel Orange– still suprisingly juicy and sweet.

Moving clockwise the Blood Orange – stunning to look at, bursting with intense citrussy-raspberry flavour and filled with magical anthocyanin (a powerful anti-oxidant).

Dipping down to the right we have the Nadorcott ( a seedless cross between an orange and a mandarin) – oooh easy to peel, very, very tasty and maybe my new desert island fruit

Top right, the Ruby Grapefruit that’s just that bit sweeter than your average grapefruit and looks stunning too.

Below is the Mineola,( a very juicy cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine) apparently also known as a honeybell – ever heard of one? I hadn’t either. Comes in at my number 3, after the Nardacott and the blood orange.

Bottom left is the leafy Clementine, the easiest of the lot to peel but perhaps my least favourite.

Citrus Fruit Salad and Rosemary Syrup for 4

A sprig of rosemary ( and perhaps a couple of extras for garnish)
4 tbsp sugar
150 ml water
About 8 pieces of fruit (to include at least 1 grapefruit)

Put the rosemary in a small saucepan with the sugar and water. Heat over a medium flame until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has bubbled down to a syrup. Set the pan aside and leave to continue infusing.

Meanwhile slice the peel off the fruit. I like to cut most of it into segments; a good serrated fruit knife is definitely the best tool for the job. You can squeeze the membrane left behind to make the most of any juice. Cut a couple of the smaller fruit into “equatorial” slices to add a bit extra interest. I did add the juice from a bitter Seville orange, as you can see in the picture below it was far to pippy and leathery to cut up.

Blood and Seville Oranges

Now pour over enough of the rosemary syrup to sweeten the fruit – do taste to gauge how much you need. The rosemary should be a subtle, almost indiscernable background flavour. The combination of citrus and rosemary is divine. Try making the syrup and pouring it over any lemon or orange cake. I’m planning on making an orange and rosemary jelly too.

You might find it tricky tracking down the Nadorcotts and Mineolas but be sure to snap up some blood oranges whilst you can, their season is short. They’re great for juicing, I love them  in a Moroccan style salad with mint and black olives and Stevie Parle makes an amazing salad with mozzarella and fennel

Citrus salad with rosemary syrup


The Ethicurean Wassail & Simple Apple & Cider Cake

The Ethicurean wassail

We went a-wassailing this weekend at the fabulous Ethicurean Restaurant  (If you haven’t heard of it, where have you been? You’d better catch up with a review or two) It’s one of my favourite places not just to eat, but to be. The restaurant’s set in the old greenhouses of a Victorian walled garden, so you look out over rows of carefully nurtured vegetables with a backdrop of sweeping views out across the Mendip Hills. It’s the kind of place that I always take my Catalan friends when I want to show off; Barcelona can’t fail on the urban-cool front but when it comes to bucolic-country, we win hands down.
Supper was fabulous- You may need your reading spec’s but I’ll let you read the menu and salivate ( too fuzzy – take a look here). Ethicurean Wassail Supper

I’ve included some pictures of the food too, they’re small because I snapped them on a tiny camera with no flash but hopefully they will give you the feel. I still haven’t got to grips with taking pictures in a restaurant, it interrupts the conversation, they rarely do justice to the food and I’m usually so busy eating that I forget – So these may be my first and last. You’ll spot a “magic” black and white bean on the pudding plate, it was hidden in my toffee apple cake and so I was instantly transformed into the wassail queen.

So, after a stupendous feast we made our torch-lit trek down into the apple orchard to do our wassailing duties – to bless the trees, scare off the evil spirits and feed the robin (with cider-soaked toast) My role was to be hoisted up into the boughs  by two “burly volunteers” (ahem … their words not mine) to hang the toast in the tree. At this point I was feeling that I’d made a wardrobe faux-pas with my tomato red, down jacket (not very country -rather spoiling the idyllic rustic performance) so I was relieved to see Robin, the orchard guardian, in full fluorescent lycra. The Ethicureans are thankfully not too earnest about these things.

The ceremony was followed by a “spirited” and ludicrous Mummer’s play with plenty of flames and wafting of worryingly inflammable capes . Then back to the glass house for great music and mulled cider. Quite simply a fabulous evening.
But now for a recipe as I’ve been pretty slack of late. The quickest way out would be to direct you to the wonderful Ethicurean Cookbook ( I will certainly be trying out the pear and cardamom cake very soon) but I’ll pull out the stops and give you a really simple apple and cider cake recipe of my own. So simple in fact that little Imi and her friend Freya baked this cake at the very first meeting of the Monday Baking Club.

Apple and Cider Cake
3 eating apples, peeled and sliced
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tbsp cider
170g butter, softened
170g soft brown sugar (or a mixture of dark brown sugar and caster sugar)
3 medium eggs, beaten
170g flour
2 tsp baking powder

For the glaze
2 tbsp cider
4 tbsp icing sugar

Pre heat the oven to 190 C/375 F.

Grease a 23 cm/9 inch spring-form cake tin with butter and line the bottom with baking parchment.

Toss the apples in a bowl with the cinnamon, vanilla extract, lemon juice and cider.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg to the butter and sugar a little at a time, take care to beat thoroughly between additions, throwing in a tablespoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the cake mixture along with the liquid from the apple slices.

Now spread the mixture over the bottom of the tin and add the apple slices. You need not be too precious about the arrangement, as the sponge will rise up and cover most of the apple.

Place in the middle of the oven and cook for about 50 minutes until a deep, golden brown.

Spear the centre of the cake with a skewer, it should come out clean, any custardy juices and the cakes needs a few more minutes.

Leave the cake to cool a little in the tin.

Meanwhile mix together the cider and icing sugar to make a thin glaze.

Brush the top of the cake with the glaze and serve warm or at room temperature.Cider and apple cake

Roasted Figs with Pomegranate Molasses

Sacha's fresh figsToday’s recipe comes from the magical Mr Ottolenghi via a fabulous blog called Milli’s kitchen. The fruit fairy (our lovely neighbour who drops in random boxes of fruit on a Sunday morning – I know I’m blessed!) had left me a beautiful tray of figs this weekend and I immediately thought of Milli’s post. Blogging has transformed the way that people pass on recipes, I’m still amazed by everyone’s generosity (as long as they credit the original source). When I first started cooking professionally I worked for an Italian family on their very chi-chi yacht and was sent to learn a few family favorites from their home cook. It was like extracting blood from a stone, the old bag was not going to part with any of her crowd-pleasers (she probably even sabotaged the recipes she gave me) and I think this was often the way in the past. I know everyone loves to be nostalgic about recipes being handed down through the generations. I have to say it depends on your heritage; I’d rather be cooking Mr Ottolenghi’s fantastical figs than my mother’s (sorry Mum) rather hefty cheese and potato pie.

Roasted Figs with Pomegranate Molasses and Orange Zest

I have been terribly lazy today, quite literally lifting this recipe from Milli’s blog, it did seem a bit of a waste of time to re-type the whole thing.  Sometimes the “Chinese Whisper” effect can enhance a dish, with each cook adding or adjusting but this is SO delicious that I wanted to leave it as is. Oh, and that makes me think of my joke of the moment (not mine at all, some fab comic’s at The Edinburgh Festival) “There’s a rumour that Cadbury’s are developing a new Oriental chocolate bar…….could be a Chinese Wispa” boom, boom! Well, it appealed to my very childish sense of humour.

Figs with Pomegranate molasses

3 tbsp of pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp of lemon juice
3 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
4 thyme sprigs
skin of 1 orange, in strips
8 fresh figs, cut lengthways
100g mascarpone
100g yogurt
icing sugar
pinch of salt

Put together in a large mixing bowl the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 2 thyme sprigs, 1 tablespoon of water, the orange skin strips and a pinch of salt. Mix well to dissolve the sugar and then stir in the figs. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together in a small bowl the mascarpone, yoghurt and icing sugar until smooth. Keep chilled.
Remove the figs from the bowl (keeping the marinade) and arrange them snugly inside a small baking tray, roughly 20x20cm, the cut side facing up. Sprinkle the figs with the remaining sugar and put under a hot grill, clearing about 15cm from the grill. Grill for 10 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelised and the figs softened.
Meanwhile, pour the marinating liquids into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and then simmer for 2-4 minutes or until the sauce is reduced by half and has a consistency of runny honey.
Transfer the hot figs to serving plates and spoon over any leftover syrup from the baking tray, then drizzle over the sauce reduction and sprinkle with picked thyme leaves. Place a spoonful of the yoghurt cream on the side or on the figs and sprinkle over the remaining orange zest. Serve at once.

And, before you groan about hard-to-track-down ingredients I’ll give you plenty more ideas for using the pomegranate molasses in the next few weeks (and it’s readily available in what Imi always refers to as the “orange supermarket” yes the one with the S)

Just one more thing….food blogs aren’t only about sharing recipes. I came across Milli’s blog after seeing her Pug cake yes, you read it right and finished up, by way of admiring an avocado tree on another post, finding out about her parent’s amazing B&B near Malaga. Now I’m going to tell you more, oh yes so much more, about Rancho del Ingles in another post. In fact I would LOVE to run some cooking courses there, so watch this space. For now I’ll leave you with a few pictures; just a little taster.

Elderflower Jelly

It’s always good to have a few cheat’s recipes up your sleeve just in case you’re really short of time. Obviously a jelly does take a few hours to set but when it comes to the actual preparation time it’s just a matter of minutes, especially if you take a short cut and use bought cordial.
Elderflower Jelly
I should really be ashamed to be using commercial elderflower cordial when, with the blossom at its prime, every self-respecting food blogger is writing about their own home-bottled stuff but hey, this is meant to be a minimum effort/maximum impact pud. And, there’s nothing to stop you using your own cordial if you like ( I’m peed off as I was planning to harvest some blossom today, a bit late I know, and now it’s rained washing away all the fragrance).

Jellies are very “in” at the moment, just take a look at the feats of the fabulously eccentric partnership Bompas and Parr. Our fascination with jelly is nothing new, the Victorians created some  extraordinarily fancy jellies. My take on these fabulous puddings is much simpler, but certainly a step above the Mr Chivers variety, that I have to admit, I loved as a child (especially if I managed to sneak a couple of the rubbery squares of super-sweet gelatin straight from the box).

The beauty of using elderflower, or any other clear liquid, is that the fruit or flowers are magnified, and once turned out the jelly looks rather like those paper weights people used to have with dandelion clocks or scorpions lurking inside. Back in the ’70’s my sister and I created dozens of these very attractive ornaments for relatives with a wondrous kit called Plasticraft (I’m sure it must have been banned, glue sniffing would probably have been safer, the noxious fumes left you light headed for hours). Now back to the jelly; the secret is to build it in layers as the berries or flowers will always float to the surface of the liquid so if you fling it all in at once you don’t get the fabulous suspended look.

Leaf gelatine is a wonder ingredient, it makes creating a jelly an absolute doddle. I do use a little less gelatin than the manufacturers advise, there’s nothing worse than rubbery jelly, so I tend to down it by about a 1/4. If in doubt start with setting your jellies in glasses and move on to turning out once you’ve cracked it. There are vegetarian jelly crystals out there too, but I’ve never been quite so excited about the texture.

Elderflower Jelly with Blueberries and Borage flowers

Serves 6
Elderflower cordial (bought or home -made)
Leaf gelatine
200 g blueberries
18 borage flowers

Check the capacity of your moulds or glasses. I love the Basque wine/cider glasses I’ve used in the picture but you might use little metal timbale or dariole moulds and turn the jelly out. I needed 1.2 litres of liquid in total.

Now make up that quantity of an intense dilution of your cordial, rather sweeter and stronger than you would drink.

Calculate how many sheets of gelatine you require. I’m not giving you the quantities here as different brands seem to have different size leaves (and I always reduce the gelatin to liquid ratio a little). Put your sheets of gelatin into a bowl of cold water to soften.

Meanwhile heat up about 200 ml of the cordial mixture, or enough to melt the gelatin in. Squeeze the excess water from the rubbery sheets and add them to the very hot (but not boiling liquid) Stir the liquid until all the gelatin has completely disappeared and add this to the rest of your cordial mix. Give it a stir, and your done, your jelly is ready to set.

Fill your glasses or moulds to about a 1/3rd full and drop in some fruit or flowers. Do think which way you will be serving the jelly, so that your flowers are the right way up. Put the moulds in the fridge to set and keep the remaining jelly at room temperature.

Once the jelly is just set (after an hour or 2) you can pour on another 1/3rd of the room temperature  runny stuff and sprinkle in some more fruit. Leave to set again and finally finish with the remaining jelly. This may all seem like a faff but honestly it’s quick and easy. And, if that is all too much like hard work just mix the fruit and jelly together and set in one go, it just won’t have that paperweight quality.

Leave the jellies to completely set, I like to allow about 5 hours and then either serve in the glasses or dip the moulds into hot water for just long enough to melt the outer edge and turn out. Oh yes, and look what mysteriously happened to my borage flowers, a vision in Barbie pink, it must have been the acidity.

Other Quick Ideas

Make a huge jelly for a crowd. You don’t need an elaborate mould just a mixing bowl will do as the fruit will look more dramatic in a simple shape.

I’m a fan of (don’t work for!) Bottlegreen and lots of the great cordials they make, so don’t just stop at elderflower. A ginger & lemongrass jelly makes a great follow up to a Thai or Oriental meal and the pomegranate and elderflower makes a delicately blushing pink jelly. So cheat away.

For maximum impact use whole berries and flowers rather than chopped fruit. I once made miniature jellies with a cape gooseberry in each – mistake, they looked like set, raw eggs.

……… And Yet More Rhubarb

spiced rhubarb and grilled mackerelAt last a chance to cook up one of my favourite combinations. Lovely Kate gave me a huge pile of rhubarb from her garden a couple of days ago and the slightly milder weather has lured back the mackerel, they virtually jumped off the slab at the fishmonger’s this morning. So dinner was decided in a moment.

Grilled Mackerel with Spiced Rhubarb

I medium mackerel per person, gutted and trimmed of fins
A splash of rapeseed oil
salt and pepper

For the sauce (for 4)
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
3-4 shallots, finely diced
1 cm piece of ginger, finely diced
1-2 red chillis, finely diced (do check how hot they are)
1 star Anise
About 4 sticks of rhubarb
Juice of 1 orange
2 tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp Tamari or Soy Sauce

Pre-heat the oven or grill to its highest setting. Line your tray with a bit of foil, to save on washing up later, & then splash on the oil. Turn the fish in the oil and then season. Set the fish aside whilst you get the sauce done.

This sauce is a cinch.  Just fry the shallot, ginger, chilli and star anise for about 10 minutes until slightly golden and very fragrant. Add the rhubarb, orange juice, sugar and a splash of Tamari. Simmer gently until the rhubarb is soft but still intact. If you do have a disaster and the rhubarb collapses into a stringy mess then it’s best to puree the sauce completely. Balance the sauce with more sugar or Tamari if necessary.

Cook the mackerel in the oven or under the grill until just cooked through and coming away from the bone. We had new potatoes and a fresh green salad with ours this evening. Very, very nice indeed.

The sauce is also stunning with pork belly and I’m up for trying it with roast duck next time around.

Rhubarb Cordial

I still had mounds of rhubarb and decided to make some cordial. I wasn’t expecting the fabulous girly-pink juice that I’ve seen in magazines since most of the sticks were rather green (and no Kate, I am NOT complaining). But, I have to admit to being pretty chuffed with the stunning peachy-pink of my cordial, which is good news since I think that boiling up the expensive, early forced rhubarb really would be too much of an extravagance.

I’ve tinkered with my recipe a little because the cordial could do with being a a bit more intense. It really only worked at a 50/50 dilution so I’ve cut down on the water in my recipe below. So yours could come out an even more amazing colour.

rhubarb cordialAbout 500g rhubarb, chopped into smallish logs
Juice of 2 orange
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
200 g raw castor sugar
200 ml water

Fling everything in the pan and simmer until the rhubarb has just collapsed and looks rather slimy and revolting.

Strain the rhubarb mixture through a sieve and resist from stirring, prodding and squashing (or you will end up with a cloudy syrup). The cordial will drip through slowly. You could leave it to strain in the fridge overnight if you have room. I never do, my fridge is a nightmare; an avalanche just waiting to happen.

Bottle the cordial, keep in the fridge and use within a week. If you really do have a massive rhubarb crop on your hands you could stir in about a tablespoon of citric acid (available from shops that sell home-brewing kit) to the rhubarb just before straining  and then you’ll be able to keep it for months. It’s delicious with some stem ginger syrup added too.

Try your cordial with:

Fizzy water and fresh mint. With Prosecco, an English spin on the Harry’s Bar Bellini. With a shot of vanilla vodka (recipe to come at a later date) Or make a jelly…see below

And the leftover rhubarb mush

The rather unattractive sludge left in your sieve is fantastic stirred into some Greek yoghurt for breakfast. You could even layer it in a glass with some cream/custard and crumbled ginger nuts for a simple supper dessert.

Rhubarb Jelly

Rhubarb Jelly is fabulous using your cordial. Check the size of your dariole moulds, rabbit, racing car, other jelly moulds or perhaps you’re just using glasses. Fill up the mould with water and tip into your measuring jug and multiply by however many you’re making. Take enough sheets of gelatine to set said amount of liquid and place them in a bowl of cold water to soak.

Remember not to dilute the cordial too much, your jelly needs to be much sweeter and stronger tasting than a drink would be. Heat up about 1/4 of your diluted cordial. Remove the floppy sheets of gelatine from their water, give them a squeeze and then add to the hot liquid. They’ll dissolve in an instant. Add the remaining liquid for your jelly and tip into the moulds. Leave for a few hours to set.

Dip the jelly moulds into some hot water, just for as few seconds, and turn out onto plates.

rhubarb jelly

Rhubarb, Rhubarb


I can’t help muttering “rhubarb, rhubarb” every time I decide to cook some. It’s rather like shrieking “Basoool” in a Sybil Fawlty-esque voice whenever I make some pesto. It’s really not funny but there are certain bits of ridiculous British humour that have become lodged in my brain for life. I’ve not seen the Eric Sykes film Rhubarb, Rhubarb for decades. I’m not even sure that a farcical game of golf between a policeman and a vicar (whose only words “rhubarb, rhubarb” are repeated many, many times) would be that amusing any more, but now I’m determined to track the film down just to see.

I’m especially in love with rhubarb at this time of year when the stalks are still slender, tender and lurid pink. I loathed it as a child. It was the school pudding that did it;  slimy mush topped with undercooked pastry, all floating in a pool of lumpy Bird’s custard. Now I just can’t get enough of the stuff whether it’s the stunning Barbie-pink forced stems or the more sturdy garden varieties.

So, I had my big bunch of rhubarb and had already decided that the finer pieces would end up on top of a gingery meringue whilst I made a zippy sauce with the stumpier pieces to go with some wonderful fresh mackerel. Disaster, no mackerel. We’re not the only ones who are throughly peed off with the shockingly cold spring. The freezing easterly winds have sent the mackerel in the English Channel packing, seeking refuge in deeper waters, and only some milder westerly weather will bring them back. Thankfully David Smith, my fantastic fishmonger, does stock some delicious smoked mackerel from the local Severn and Wye Smokery too.

I changed tack and decided to try a dish using raw rhubarb. A Dutch friend had told me that he used to munch at the stems dipped in sugar when he was little. I tried it today. Not bad but rather like the super-sour sweets that children pretend to relish. I’m sure that they’re the junior equivalent of the posturing male’s Vindaloo curry, managing to look like you enjoy them brings some bizarre form of kudos amongst peers. I was more up for trying the traditional Iranian salad of salted rhubarb and cucumber that I’d found in Paula Wolfert’s brilliant book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. The tart, fresh crunch was a great combination with the rich oily fish. I swapped watercress for the rocket, did add a pinch of sugar, a splash of rapeseed oil and of course the smoked mackerel.

rhubarb and mackerel salad

Smoked Mackerel and Raw Rhubarb Salad

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light lunch

2-3 stalks of rhubarb
1 small or 1/2 a large cucumber
2 tbsp salt
1 large bunch of watercress
2 fillets of smoked mackerel, skin removed
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Black pepper and a pinch of sugar

Slice the rhubarb and the cucumber as thinly as possible (mandolin or knife, that’s your choice). I’d only bother to peel the cucumber if I was using one of the delicious, but tougher skinned, continental varieties & maybe thicker garden rhubarb would be best peeled too.

Put the rhubarb and cucumber in a colander and toss with the salt. Leave for 10 minutes and then rinse and drain it.

Now throw the salad together in a bowl, shredding the mackerel flesh in with the rhubarb, cucumber and watercress. Add the mint, lemon juice, rapeseed oil and pepper. Balance up the flavours with a pinch of sugar or salt, or maybe both.

Delicious with some sourdough bread and plenty of butter.

rhubarb and ginger pavlova


Mini Rhubarb and Ginger Pavlovas

The rather decadent mini pavlovas went ahead as planned. The classic combination of rhubarb and ginger is heaven. I really did pile the dried ginger into the meringue mixture, as well as serving some little chunks of the fiery crystalised stuff on the top. The pinky, pink rhubarb really looks beautiful. Save fools and crumbles for later in the season when it’s lost its good looks but still tastes great.

Serves 4 (with 4-6 left over meringues for another day – keep in a sealed bag/box/tin)

4 medium egg whites
225 g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour

For the top
3-4 sticks of rhubarb, cut into 5cm-ish pieces
150 ml double cream, whipped until just stiff
8 pieces of crystalized ginger, sliced

Pre heat the oven to 180c. And line 2 baking sheets with baking paper.

Take an oven proof dish and place the rhubarb in 1 layer, sprinkle over the sugar and then cover with foil. Cook in the oven for anything between about 8 and 15 minutes until just tender (timings will depend on the thickness of the stalks). Watch it like a hawk as it can turn into a rather messy looking mush if you leave it just a couple of minutes too long. Set aside to cool.

Now for the meringue. Whisk up the egg whites until stiff and then whisk in the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until the meringue is really firm and glossy. Add the ginger, vanilla, vinegar and cornflour and whisk those in too.

Use a small blob of the meringue underneath the paper to stick it to the tray. Divide the meringue into 8 or 10 circles, leaving some space in between them as they will expand a little. Flatten the meringues, making a bit of a dip in the centre.

Place the trays in the oven and turn the heat down to 120 c. Bake for about an hour until crisp and golden.  Cool.

Serve the pavlovas piled with double cream, the fabulously pink rhubarb and a few pieces of chewy ginger.

Other Ways with Rhubarb

You’ll have to hold out for the rhubarb sauce (the one for the fresh mackerel) as my friend Kate   has promised me some stems from her garden this week so I’ll post about that recipe if the Mackerel have been lured back by the warmer weekend (although it was hardly balmy).

Rhubarb coulis. Cook up thicker rhubarb in a saucepan with a couple of oranges (juice and zest) and good dose of sugar. Once tender, puree with hand held blender until smooth. Try adding a few strawberries or better still raspberries for extra flavour and colour later in the season. Fabulous with vanilla ice cream and you crumble over some Ginger Nut biscuits for a bit of crunch.

And of course there’s fool, there’s crumble, there’s pie. There’s another post waiting to happen.