Monday, 17 March 2014

Hello Baby.

 My newborn nephew Stanley

Welcome to the world little baby

I LOVE babies. I am the person with mad hair (and eyes) who will play peek-a-boo with a stranger’s baby for hours on a train. 
My daughters at 20, 18 and 12 are a few years off having children (I hope) but I pity them when they do, as I’ll be elbowing them out of the way to get at their infant and no one else will get a look in. 
In the meantime I get very excited whenever anyone I know has a baby and I like to mark the occasion.
When my firstborn arrived (all 10lbs of her) I received the most delightful card from my friend Veronica saying:
‘Welcome to the world little Edith we hope you will be very happy’. 

I still have the card. It was so touching I’ve used that wording on every a baby card I’ve ever written.

For the baby:
I always send the same card. It’s very easy one to make and I think it’s lovely to get something handmade. 

You Will Need:

White felt or calico
Embroidery thread & needle
Thick cartridge paper 

  Step 1: Make a paper pants pattern first, folding it in half to get it symmetrical.

Step 2: Cut them out of felt or calico (cut 2 for twins)

Step 3: Do running stitch leaving a big loop at the front which can
be snipped in the middle leaving 2 ends to be tied in a bow. 

Step 4: Tie the thread into a bow and glue onto the card. 

The finished card. 

For the siblings:

With Dorothy, my youngest, I was so enormous and immobile by the end of my pregnancy (she was 11lbs) I spent the last couple of days making many, many little cellophane cones of jelly babies which her older siblings took into school to hand out to their classmates when she was born. 
They were a big hit and looked so charming that since then I make the same cellophane cones to send to siblings of a new baby with a note congratulating them on becoming a big sister or brother. If you want to make the cellophane cone with jelly babies 
You Will Need:
For 1
1 x square of cellophane 35 x 35cm 
2/3 of a packet of jelly babies
45 cm of narrow ribbon 
Obviously you can make these any size, but this is as they're pictured.

* If you can get hold of it, florist's cellophane which comes in big rolls is fantastic and can be used for wrapping flowers, as an extra layer when gift wrapping and also covering books. 

For 5mm ribbon you need 45cm for 15mm ribbon - 50cm

Step 1: With the bottom corner of the cellophane square pointing towards you, roll the left corner towards right side corner and secure with 2 small pieces of clear tape. Aim for a long narrow cone.

Step 2: Fill 2/3 with the jelly babies and tie with ribbon et voila !
For the parents:

I rarely give baby clothes, over the years food has been the most gratefully received present.
If I can deliver it, I make a stew (always in a takeaway box so there’s no pressure to return dishes) or if it's by post I buy a big tin of chocolate biscuits. Chocolate biscuits are pretty much always a good idea but if a breastfeeding mother is involved she will probably want to bury her face in them and if she isn’t breast feeding, so hasn’t developed a dysfunctional relationship with sugar, she can hand them out to the stream of visitors.

Stanley's feet

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Creating a Vegetable Garden from Scratch: Part 2

May 2012. The beginnings of cabbages..

Winter 2012

Two years after buying the house and after A LOT of planning we finally started work on the garden.

Trying to get it right first time.

The last hurdle before putting the finishing touches on the design, was to mark out the proposed dimensions of paths and beds using canes and spray chalk to check Glenn, Roger and I were happy with everything. 
After some tweaking, Glenn completed what we thought were the finalised plans and work began in November.

Failing to get it right first time  

However once the plot was properly cleared (by spraying what we didn't want to save, letting it die back and clearing with big diggers) Roger suggested adding an opening through the Crinkle Crankle wall. 
The idea was to have a wide path across the vegetable garden that led to a gate, through to the garden beyond.
Glenn had to redo the plans accordingly and all the beds had to be moved. Luckily as we hadn't got very far it was pretty straightforward.
It was a great decision and the archway through the wall to what later became a herb garden is one of my favourite things about the entire vegetable garden.

What had to go

The greenhouse (which I had been pretending was not a complete death trap for the past two years) finally had to come down. It was so rotten that from time to time panes of glass would just slip out of their disintegrating frames and smash. Going in there the previous summer to look after the tomatoes had been like an extreme, game show style challenge.
Next to the greenhouse was an equally rotten tool shed home to a giant (and I mean GIANT) hornets' nest. 
That was another extreme challenge situation - though I didn't know it at the time. When pest control came to get rid of the nest before we took the shed down they appeared in full protective gear with tanks on their backs like something out of Ghostbusters.
They were horrified when I admitted I'd been blithely going in there to get tools etc...
The potting shed also needed to partly go, as one side needed to be rebuilt and the rotten, leaky roof needed to be replaced. 
Finally the very sick espaliered fruit trees against the Crinkle Crankle wall were removed

 November 2012 The cleared plot with some beds already in position.

The beds before we repositioned them and added the path.

December 2012 The view from the kitchen, you can just see the transverse path 

The Crinkle Crankle wall before we added the opening.

The Crinkle Crankle wall with the opening, photographed from the other side

Spring 2013

By March, despite the VILE weather, all the beds were in position and the basic frame of the fruit cage had been constructed.
The potting shed had been rebuilt and re-roofed, we'd added a stable door and on the end wall a small window salvaged from the house. 
The foundations for the new greenhouse were done and the diseased fruit trees had been removed.
Because Suffolk is so dry we installed underground rainwater harvesting tanks from Halsted Rain.
We had also widened the flower border by the Crinkle Crankle wall and built the long beds where the avenue of espaliered fruit trees were going. These beds and the edge of the herbaceous border were constructed from Suffolk White bricks, this use of red and white bricks reflected the mix of bricks used on the main house. 

March 2013. The long beds In the foreground are for the avenue of 
espaliered Clapp's Favourite pear trees and Egremont Russet apple trees.

March 2013. The central 8 beds are narrower and taller than the outside beds. 
Here you can see the reconstructed potting shed. 

Early Summer 2013

The hedging arrived and was planted in trenches with rabbit proof fencing. Some plants went into the herbaceous border though the majority were planted in the Autumn.
The greenhouse was completed and the bed next to the cold frame was finished and planted out with herbs. 

May 2013.The new greenhouse put to immediate use 

The view towards the kitchen before the Breedon gravel went down. 

May 2013. The tree supports go in.

May 2013. Before the vegetable garden was finished it was already in use. 
The weather was so cold everything was at least a month late. 

May 2013. The hedging arrives, beech and box.

The box hedging for the perimeter of the espaliered fruit tree beds. 

The box going in round the frames that will support the fruit trees. 

The trench was dug to partly bury the chicken wire. 

The completed rabbit proof fencing. Eventually the beech will hide it. 

 End of June 2013 our first year growing our own vegetables. 

Autumn 2013

The gates finally arrived and the fruit cage was finished

November 2013 
November 2013 Salad from the garden

Next time; Creating a herb garden from scratch

Thursday, 13 February 2014

A Valentine’s Dinner from Paris 1987

(Pepper, Salt & Lemon)


 This is actually an old fashioned hand coffee grinder, now used for
crushing large quantities of peppercorns - perfect for Steak au Poivre 

Living in Paris 

In my twenties fresh out of College I lived and worked in Paris as a fashion designer. My then boyfriend (now husband) was a pizza waiter/would be cartoonist and would come and visit whenever he could scrape together the coach fare - it was all glamour in those days…

My first flat was in the Rue St Martin it was typically Parisian, charming and utterly freezing in winter. Even back then, when I wasn’t working my two favourite things were cooking and going to all the marché aux puces dotted around Paris, so nothing much has changed there.
The kitchen in my ‘appartement’ was minuscule with only a two ring hob and no oven. Given my very limited budget and utensils as well as the restrictions of the kitchen I had to be very enterprising but bit by bit I built a very rudimentary ‘batterie de cuisine’ much of it from my beloved marché aux puces. 
Even now more than 25 years later I still have many of the utensils and pieces of equipment I bought as well vivid memories of some notable culinary disasters.


My enamelled tin salt box was my very first Parisian flea market buy.

Things that went wrong

The‘Coq au Vin’ I made for a dinner party using an actual coq not a chicken. After about 1000 hours of simmering and then some desperate boiling, it was still like trying to cut an old boot. We just gnawed at the bones in the end. 
The ‘Charlotte Mousse au Chocolat’ that I carefully and proudly released from it’s spring form tin and then dropped into a sink full of dirty washing up. 
The time I ruined a whole weekend for guests visiting from England by poisoning them with dodgy oysters - Happys days…

But I did learn how to make Steak au Poivre and this was something I would make for a very special occasions like Valentine’s day.


My vintage lemon squeezer from Clignancourt

Valentine's day 1987 to Valentine's day 2014

So as a Valentine’s celebration, this February 14th I’m going to recreate a meal from Valentine’s day 1987 using my beloved kitchen equipment bought in Paris at flea markets all those years ago. Only this time I have an ice-cream maker instead of a plastic tub and a fork and three of my four children will be there for our romantic meals - ah well...

The Menu

Steak au Poivre with lemony green beans and roasted baby new potatoes

1987 revisited. Steak, cognac, cream and butter - not for the faint-hearted

Steak au poivre

There are endless different versions of this recipe some with wine, some without, ditto the cream, some even have shallots in the sauce. What they all  have in common is steak, cognac, butter and peppercorns - so whatever version you decide on you really can't go that wrong.

Ingredients for 2

I am usually more of an Onglet/Rib-eye fan, but in this instance fillet is the classic choice, but any cut works, just ensure it's thick cut.

2 x Fillet steaks (thickly cut) weighing approx 160g each 
5-6 tbls Peppercorns, very roughly crushed - a pestle and mortar works well.
2 tbls Olive Oil
2oz /55g Butter
2oz /55g Cognac or brandy
2oz very reduced home-made stock - veal is the classic but chicken is fine. 
2 tbls double cream.


Start with room temperature steak, rub them all over with a drizzle of olive oil and press the peppercorns on each side.

Using a heavy based frying pan heat the oil and then add half the butter, the pan should be hot.

Sear the steaks all over, then continue to cook until a dark crust forms but take care not to overheat the pan and burn the peppercorns. 

Once the crust has formed transfer the steaks to a warm plate to rest, turn off the flame and add the cognac, it will bubble and reduce as you de-glaze the pan by scraping up the crusty bits.

Turn the heat under the pan back on and add the reduced stock.

Whisk in the butter and finally the 2 tablespoons of cream.

Pour the sauce over the warm steak.

N.B If you want your steak medium rare transfer to a preheated oven 220c for 7-10 mins to continue cooking while you make the sauce.
If you don't have reduced stock use Knorr stock pot

Lemony Green Beans

Easy, pretty, delicious. Lemon added to the cooked red onion turns them a beautiful magenta. This is probably too much for 2 people but it works just as well cold as a salad the next day

Ingredients for 2

250g Green beans (very fine)
Juice of a lemon
1 small diced red onion
5 tbsp olive oil


Steam the green beans 

While they are cooking soften the red onion in the olive oil over a low heat with a couple of pinches of salt till it is soft and translucent.

Add the lemon juice and a few twist of pepper.

Leave for a few minutes and watch the onion turn magenta.

Add the onion/lemon mix to the green beans and serve.

If you want to prepare this ahead put the green beans in an ice bath once they're ready to stop them continuing to cook and fix the colour, this also brings the natural sugars to the surface and improves flavour. Once they've cooled down drain thoroughly and when you're ready to serve re heat the beans gently and only add the lemon/onion mix just before serving.

Roasted Baby New Potatoes

Back in 1987 I pan roasted these as I didn't have an oven but it's easier to roast them in the oven.

Method & Ingredients for 2

Boil 200g baby new potatoes for 5 minutes
Toss in a pan with a couple of glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Place in a pre-heated oven 220 for 20 mins (or until they look like the picture).  
Give them an occasional shake so they cook evenly.

Salted Caramel Ice cream

This is not an original recipe, it is a classic with no twists but as my husband said when he tried it again - that is the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. 

Serve with two spoons from the (customised) tub 
Ingredients for 4

6floz/170g caster sugar
8floz/225ml double cream
5floz/150ml  milk
4 egg yolks
½ tsp Maldon sea salt

Melt 5floz/140g of the caster sugar in a hot pan until it 
becomes an amber / caramel colour, stir with a wooden spoon 
to ensure it caramelises evenly and doesn't burn.
Add the double cream and bring back to the boil.

Stir in the milk and take off the heat

In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks and remaining caster 
sugar until pale and foamy (this is called a sabayon).

Pour the hot caramel on to the sabayon and whisk well, then 
sieve and chill it. When it’s cold add the salt to the 
chilled mixture and churn in an ice cream machine.

Or if you don't have an ice cream machine, pour the mix into a 
plastic box and freeze removing it from the freezer every 
hour or so to work the frozen edges back into the middle. The 
texture won’t be as good but it’ll still be the best flavoured ice cream EVER.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Creating a Vegetable Garden from Scratch

Part 1:

Planning and Designing the Vegetable Garden

Produce from October 2013

In the beginning

In October 2010 (after four years of looking) we found our house in Suffolk.
It was love at first sight not least because of the plot of land that came with it. The house stood at the end of a long drive, there was a copse to the left of the drive and behind the kitchen the perfect spot for the big vegetable garden I'd always dreamed of. 

Feb 2011.Before we started work. The potting shed was doorless and needed 
re-roofing, the oil tank was too small, rusty and an eyesore

The kitchen garden is pretty much south facing with a long undulating red brick wall typical of East Anglia - a Crinkle Crankle wall. These walls are constructed using only one course of bricks and the recesses provide shelter, so are perfect for espaliered soft fruit trees.

October 2011. A view of the Crinkle Crankle wall. This peach tree was badly diseased
 and was later removed to be replaced. The oil tank had been replaced and relocated.

The previous owner (a very sprightly octogenarian) had maintained the main garden but after the death of her husband two years previously had left what had been their vegetable garden untouched.

Starting the vegetable garden plan.
It was a very long process. 
We waited more than a year before we started, this was partly due to lack of funds as we were renovating the house itself and partly because I wanted a year to see the garden in all seasons, see what came up and really think about how everything would work and where I wanted what, before we started. 

July 2012. Another view. We watched what came up over the course of a year and 
lifted and saved what we could before clearing the plot.

July 2012. The view from the derelict potting shed. 

The raspberry canes hadn't been weeded or pruned for 2 years but were still producing fruit !

I had a big file of images, built up over the years of gardens I loved, torn from magazines or photocopied from books as my starting point. I also had lots of firmly held views about what I did and did not want. This is not always a good thing as I have a tendency to have very strong opinions about things I know little or indeed nothing about, so with not much practical know-how I needed to enlist the help of someone who actually knew what they were talking about.

The Garden Designer
This is where the garden designer Glenn Swann came in. As Glenn was a friend I knew he would listen to what I wanted, wouldn't mind if I contributed design ideas myself but would guide me in  terms of what was feasible. I knew he would diligently research what was appropriate for the location and period of the house and as the icing on the cake, as an ex graphic designer, I knew he was brilliant on a computer and could produce isometric drawings of what the garden would look like once it was completed - particularly helpful as while I find it quite easy to visualise interiors I find visualising gardens much harder.

October 2011.The two massive original vegetable beds. To the right of the kitchen 
window was a  rotten garden shed covered in Old Man's beard, complete 
with an enormous hornets nest full of hornets !

Plans for The New Vegetable Garden

The existing vegetable garden had consisted of two huge beds with a very narrow gravel path between them. I knew I wanted several smaller raised beds, as after extensive research and extensive boring the pants off vegetable-growing friends  with my endless questions I had established these were easier to manage and less back-breaking to weed. Raised beds also looked a bit more formal and as I wanted a french potager style vegetable garden that was another advantage. 
I also wanted paths wide enough to fit a wheelbarrow and something underfoot it was possible to push a wheelbarrow on.

There's a really lovely view down the garden from the kitchen window I wanted to accentuate so I was also keen on the idea of a wide path leading from the window with an avenue of espaliered fruit trees to lead the eye.

I wanted to delineate the space more, it wasn't a walled garden but something where the boundaries were clearly defined would be great and finally we needed to protect the vegetables from the large and hungry rabbit/deer population.

Glenn came and took lots of photos and measurements, listened to me drone on for hours, took away my tear sheets and in consultation with the Landscaper - Roger Gladwell, this was what the final plan looked like.
Glenn, Roger  and I did a lot of marking out with canes on the original plot 
to arrive at these measurements.

Enclosing the garden.

My original idea had been to have hoops with netting over them to protect each bed from being eaten by wildlife, but because we were going to delineate the vegetable garden with hedges the next logical step was to completely enclose the area to protect the vegetables by adding gates and rabbit proof fencing behind the hedges.
The plan was for the perimeter hedges hiding the rabbit proof fencing to be copper beech and the low hedges edging the beds containing the espaliered fruit trees to be box.
Copper beech and box contrast each other really well in terms of colour and texture. Although strictly speaking Beech is deciduous, as a hedge it doesn't really lose it's leaves until Spring when the new buds cause it to shed the now copper coloured leaves, so even in deep Winter it provides some screening and a lovely contrast to the evergreen box.

View towards the house. The addition of the 2nd brick pier 2nd was Roger's 
idea to help define the perimeter of the vegetable garden.


The house is partly built from red brick and partly a beautiful creamy-grey brick called Suffolk White. Suffolk White bricks are mostly used on facades etc.. as they're much more expensive than regular red bricks but very good in a garden as they're very hard and frost resistant. To reflect the mix of bricks used in the house we decided to use them to create the beds containing the fruit trees and also the edging for the big herbaceous border by the Crinkle Crankle wall. They were also the chosen material to be laid as paving at all the thresholds into the vegetable garden.

Between the beds we decided to use used Breedon gravel, a self binding gravel made of crushed limestone, practical and a lovely soft, creamy, gold colour which would look beautiful against the Suffolk White bricks.

The raised vegetable beds would be made out of green oak and the fruit cage out of rustic cundies. A cundy is whole uncut piece of wood, treated and stripped of it's bark.

 Above. The opening in the Crinkle Crankle wall was Roger's idea. It leads to what later
 became a herb garden. In the end we didn't have a gate between the two gardens
 as we also rabbit proofed the herb garden beyond.

Above. The big,rustic fruit cage was inspired by pictures I'd seen of  
Bill Amberg's beautiful Somerset garden. The 8 central beds are more raised.

Above. The new view from the kitchen window. The frames would provide support 
for espaliered apple trees (Egremont Russet) and pear trees (Clapp's Favourite)

Above. As the house is early Victorian, the gates were copied from an original Victorian 
design. Here you can see the two brick piers mirroring each other clearly.

Next Time

Part 2: Building and Planting the Vegetable Garden

 Glenn Swann Designer:

Roger Gladwell Landscape

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Roast Pumpkin and Kale Salad.

Roasted Kale, maple roasted pumpkin, balsamic roasted red onion, pumpkin seeds & Berkswell.

A Super Seasonal Salad.

An easy, substantial winter salad. You can feel pleased with yourself about how seasonal it is and smug about how healthy it is AND most unusually for recipes that make you feel virtuous it's delicious too.
The idea for this came from a variety of sources; a radicchio and rocket salad I had at The Pig and Butcher in N1 featuring chunks of pumpkin and a generous sprinkling of grated Berkswell, a recipe from the fabulous Big Flavours & Rough Edges where roast pumpkin is paired with balsamic vinegar,red wine and thyme roasted onions and finally from my deep and abiding love of kale.

Pumpkins from my garden

Just picked Turk's Turbans. The stalks should dry out before harvesting. 

I used Turk's Turban in this recipe, which we grew this year. Turk's turban is lovely to look at and has a good flavour and stores well. Butternut squash or kabocha or ironbark pumpkin would also work well here.


Hurrah! Kale that comes ready washed and chopped.

Kale is the new wonder food. Apparently it will save your life or something like that. This is good news for me and my family because we all love it. The trick with kale is to cook it carefully (no boiling) to avoid it tasting like cattle food. This winter I grew Cavolo Nero (which is posh Italian kale). It's fantastic but given my family's brassica 'habit' we didn't grow nearly enough so it's all gone and I've started buying curly kale instead. 
However, every cloud has a silver lining, as now I'm buying kale I get it in big bags, ready washed and chopped, whereas before (with my own home-grown kale), the kitchen, my face and apron would be covered with minute little fluttering white insects. I have no idea what they were but they were a pain to get rid of, we definitely ate more than I rinsed/scrubbed away.


Berkswell the 'it' cheese of the moment
A hard rinded ewe's milk cheese. This cheese is ridiculously in vogue - incredible but true there are even fashions in cheese. I've seen it on practically every gastropub menu in the last 4 months. However it deserves it's success, it's REALLY good.
If you can't get Berkswell an aged Manchego or even a Pecorino or Parmesan would also work.

Red Onions

Before the addition of the wine and balsamic vinegar.

In this salad they are roasted till they caramelised with red wine, balsamic vinegar and thyme which intensifies the colour and flavour.

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds from the Turk's Turban ready to roast.

I used a combination of raw, green, hulled seeds from the supermarket and whole unhulled ones from the pumpkin which I roasted along with everything else.


700g pumpkin or Butternut Squash peeled and cubed
600g kale washed chopped
4 red onions
60g Berkswell or similar
2 tablespoons Pumpkin seeds
Plus pumpkin seeds from your pumpkin
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
100ml red wine
3 tblsp maple syrup
a few sprigs of thyme
About 260ml olive oil (this may seem like a lot but a fair bit is left behind in the pan)

Serves 6 as a main course


Set your oven to 200c on fan setting.
Everything in the recipe is roasted at that temperature.

First deal with the red onions:
Peel and cut each into 8 wedges being careful to retain a piece of the root so they don't fall apart.
Pour 3 tblsps of olive oil into a small roasting pan that will hold the onion segments in a single layer.
Place over a high heat and add the onion stirring them about to distribute the oil taking care not to break them. After a few moments add the wine and balsamic vinegar, season and sprinkle over the thyme. Remove from the heat, cover with foil and transfer to the oven. After 25 mins remove the foil and roast for a further 8-10 minutes.

              What they'll look like once they're roasted
Next peel and cube your pumpkin.
I found about 1.5kg of pumpkin once peeled, deseeded with stringy flesh removed yielded about 750g. If you are using butternut squash you'll get a better yield. You can buy butternut squash ready prepared at some supermarkets.
Mix together 3 tblsps Maple syrup with 4 tblsps olive oil.
Toss the cubed pumpkin in this, season well and roast until the edges are slightly charred and it's soft to the point of a knife - about 20 mins.

From this...

to this..

To maple roasted pumpkin chunks. The sweetness complements the kale.

Once the pumpkin is roasting, rinse any saved seeds and remove any strings of pumpkin flesh, pat dry, toss in a little seasoned olive oil and roast till crunchy.
Very nutty indeed. Roasted pumpkin seeds.

Wash, dry and chop up your kale. I used bags that come ready washed and chopped.
Toss all the kale in 150ml of olive oil to thoroughly coat it. This is approximately 3 tblsps / 200g bag. Spread out in a single layer on a roasting tin, season it and roast for 7-10 mins. Halfway through turn it over, scooping the outside bits into the middle so it cooks evenly.
You may have to do it in batches.
You will end up with some very crunchy kale (not unlike crispy seaweed) and some just slightly crunchy.

Crunchy roast kale 
Finally with a potato peeler, shave 60g of the cheese onto a plate.
Once everything has cooled to room temperature you can assemble it.

Make a bed of Kale, dot half the pumpkin and roast onions about and scatter over half the cheese. Do exactly the same again with another layer of kale making sure you've retained Berkswell shavings for the top, as well as the raw hulled pumpkin seeds and roast, whole ones.
Pretty and healthy

The End (literally)