BBQ Pumpkin Filled with Cheese, Beer and Sourdough

Thursday, 30th October 2014


What? It’s salad, I promise. I created this recipe for Big Green Egg UK. It’s an idea I nicked from the Americans, who are very serious about their pumpkins. I’ve given it a British touch though – booze. Beer is mixed with cream and poured into a hollowed out pumpkin along with chunks of sourdough and plenty of cheese. The result is like a pot of gooey fondue, in an edible smoked pumpkin bowl.

Click here to see the full recipe on Big Green Egg UK


13 comments | Barbecue, Big Green Egg, Cheese, Vegetables

Spinach, Cheese and Sorrel Pastries, and Souk el Tayeb, Beirut

Sunday, 26th October 2014


Beirut was quite peaceful when I visited back in April. There was a lingering military presence on the streets but hey, what’s a few machine gun armed soldiers and the odd tank between neighbouring countries? Our main concern when we were there wasn’t safety, but trying to find things. You’ll see what I mean if you go. No-one has any idea where anything is, especially not taxi drivers, who will stop several times on each journey to ask people for directions. It’s a disorientating place of many contrasts, without any real sense of cohesion. Hardly surprising.

We had been trying to find a market, Souk el Tayeb, which was apparently Beirut’s ‘first farmers’ market’. Despite a fairly central location we were flung from a taxi nowhere near it, and we’d been wandering up and down empty streets for half an hour or more. The buildings in the area are new, but old in style, which makes for a strange atmosphere – a bit like being in the middle of a film set. I imagine. Anyway we turned a corner and there it was, a very modern looking market that wouldn’t be out of place in the UK, with plastic gazebos and olive bowls.


New-old buildings


El Hariri mosque


Labneh balls preserved in oil, cheese and pickles


Pastries with various cheese and vegetable fillings


Cakes decorated with dried fruits

There is also a restaurant associated with the market called Tawlet, the aim of which is to show off the talents of chefs from different villages around Lebanon, and also to use produce from the market. The food is great, but you should know that it’s nowhere near the market. Just a heads up. Nobody knows exactly where it is, of course. Our taxi driver stopped the car several times, wandered in and out of shops and did a lot of pointing and head scratching before we worked it out ourselves and told him where to go. It helps a lot if you speak French, by the way. Most people will speak a little English, but will more than likely be fluent in French.


Tawlet interior


Heaven is the buffet at Tawlet. Hummus, labneh, flat bread, herbs, artichokes, tabbouleh, cheese, peppers, yoghurt, kibbeh nayeh. On the right were dishes of rice and lentils. There was a dessert counter elsewhere.


A close up of that glorious kibbeh nayeh (raw lamb with bulgur, onion and spices)


Don’t mind if I do. See the rosemary at the top – it was very young and soft and used as a sort of salad leaf. A lovely idea.


This lady was cooking on a rickety grill at the front of the restaurant.


So anyway, it inspired me, this market, or rather a particular woman inspired me with her folded flat breads and her man’oushe. She made a triangular arrangement stuffed with onions and a very lemony tasting leaf which I thought had to be sorrel. I’ve since learned that it grows in the mountains in Lebanon. Well done, taste buds. Combined with the sumac it makes for a sharp filling which is excellent with rich cheese. I came across some sorrel at a UK market recently and off I went to make pastries. I fashioned them into little triangle shapes because frankly they look really cool and they’re actually pretty easy to do. Mine lack a little finesse, granted, and the filling kind of burst out a bit but it’s hard to completely stuff them up and I’m quite cack handed at baking. We scarfed all of these in one sitting. For breakfast.

I’ve so many recipes I want to make based on my trip to Beirut so it’s about time I pulled my finger out and got on with it. Next up, the hummus recipe that has been torturing me for six months.

Souk el Tayeb, Beirut Souks, Saturdays, 9am-2pm 

Tawlet, Sector 79 – Naher Street # 12 (Jisr el-Hadeed), Chalhoub Building # 22 – ground floor facing Spoiler Center, dead-end street at the corner of Maher Flower shop – left side, corner building.


Spinach, Cheese and Sorrel Pastries  (makes loads, um, say 25-30)

This super silky dough recipe is courtesy of Peckham Bazaar

500g flour, type 00
1 tbsp fine salt
60 ml olive oil plus more for brushing the edges
250-300 ml warm water
Corn starch
1 egg, beaten

Mix salt and flour together then mix in the oil. Slowly add water to make a dough, then leave to rest for 45 minutes to an hour. Now make the filling.

For the filling

1/2 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
400g spinach, washed – leaves roughly chopped, stems finely chopped (you could also use chard)
50-100g white Turkish cheese such as Tulum (or use feta)
150g sorrel
1 teaspoon sumac

Cook the onion gently in about half a tablespoon of oil, until it is soft but not coloured. Add the garlic for a minute or two, stirring, then set aside to cool. In a large pan, add the freshly washed spinach and allow to wilt down. Add the sorrel at the last minute and allow to wilt also. The sorrel will wilt quickly and turn a murky colour which is sad but normal. Set the leaves aside to cool, then squeeze out as much water as possible. Roughly chop them, then mix with the onion, sumac and cheese. The amount of cheese is up to you, but it’s best to have just a little I find, otherwise the pastries are too rich. Taste, then season with salt if necessary.

To assemble the pastries

Preheat the oven to 180C

Once the dough has rested, get your corn starch, luxuriate in the bonkers weirdness of the feel of it (it also makes a non-Newtonian fluid if mixed with water). Spread the corn starch on a work surface. Divide the dough into small balls. Cover in the starch, cut the ball in half, cover both halves in the corn starch and push back together. Then roll out. You want it to be about the thickness of a 50p coin, not mega thin.

Use a glass or something similar (I used the bottom of a cocktail shaker) to cut circles from the dough. Put a blob of filling mixture in the centre of each circle but don’t over-fill, about a heaped teaspoon should do it. Brush the edges of the circle with oil then bring up one side, and pinch in the other side until it meets in the middle. It’s hard to describe this but actually very easy to do, just have a go. Pop onto a baking tray, brush with beaten egg, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

6 comments | Beirut, Cheese, Pastries, Travel, Vegetables

Bagna Cauda

Monday, 20th October 2014

Bagna Cauda

I can’t get enough anchovies in my life and I’ve been known to spaff ridiculous amounts of money on them. The £80 in 4 days incident always springs to mind. One of my favourite ways to eat them is in a recipe I affectionately call ‘sick spaghetti’ due to the frankly outrageous intensity of it – lots of garlic, chilli, anchovies, butter, lemon and parsley. So good. This dip actually outranks it in terms of punch, which is quite the achievement and fine by me.

Bagna cauda is a classic Piedmontese dip combining two of the area’s most beloved ingredients: garlic and anchovies. Traditionally, it’s served warm with vegetables such as cardoons, celery, fennel, peppers and cauliflower. A piece of bread can be used to catch the drips of sauce, and eaten at the end. Then of course it’s time to start over with a new piece of bread.

I also suggest you avoid opening your mouth anywhere near another person for at least a day afterwards.

Bagna Cauda

I created this recipe for the Inghams Italy recipe book.

Bagna Cauda

150ml extra virgin olive oil
150g butter, cut into cubes
10 cloves garlic, peeled
Enough milk to cover the garlic
15 anchovy fillets (preferably packed in salt and rinsed, otherwise packed in oil)
A squeeze of lemon juice

A selection of sliced raw vegetables to serve, such as celery, fennel, peppers, endive
Bread, to serve

Place the peeled garlic cloves in a small saucepan and add enough milk to cover them. Simmer on a very low heat for about 20 minutes, until the cloves have softened. Drain, reserving the milk.

Return the pan to the heat and mush the garlic into a few tablespoons of the milk. Add the anchovies and allow them to melt over a low heat. Add the oil and butter and heat gently. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Serve warm with the vegetables and bread.

11 comments | Dips, Fish

My Favourite Brunch

Tuesday, 7th October 2014


I like my brunch to work an Eastern European vibe. Think eggs cooked up with the kind of spiced sausages that leach dangerous, stain-making fat onto pyjama tops.

Now you may be asking yourself, quite understandably, why the hell I’m suggesting mixing eggs and sossidge of a morning like it’s something new. Well the reason is this: cottage cheese. No, honestly. I am perfectly aware that in the hierarchy of ‘secret magic breakfast-enhancing ingredients’ cottage cheese is generally…nowhere, but I promise you, this a game changer. Firstly you need to get your hands on some decent cottage cheese – none of that watery guff they sell in the supermarket. I’ve been using the Longley Farm brand which is creamy and re-assuringly dense in the pot. It brings some freshness to the dish, as yoghurt would, but it’s more substantial. Fantastic with eggs. Yes, ‘fantastic’. Who knew?!

The dieters can keep their watery cottage cheese for topping salads. I shall get on with lobbing scoops of it into my brunch.


Brunch Eggs with Spiced Sausage and Cottage Cheese 

There are loads of ways you can take this actually, by using smoked Hungarian sausage for example, or omitting the meat altogether and serving with pickled beetroot for a Russian flavour. Russian brunch! Fancy that. If that becomes a trend then remember where you heard it first.

Sometimes I add garlic, too, but it depends on how you feel about that kind of thing at brunch.

1 small onion, diced
6 eggs
4 spicy sausages (Greek, Turkish, whatever you like). I used sucuk, sliced into chunks
Cottage cheese

Heat a heavy based skillet and lob the sausage chunks into it. Once the fat starts to leach out, add the onions and cook gently until the onions are soft and the sucuk is cooked.

There will be a lot of fat in the pan at this point, so drain most of it off but reserve it.

Lightly beat together the eggs in a bowl, season them, and add to the pan and just sort of break them up a bit and encourage everything around the pan on a low heat so it doesn’t stick – you want nice big soft clumps of egg, not bitty over-cooked scramble.

When it’s almost done (the eggs should still be a bit under), add some dollops of cottage cheese. Give it barely a minute, as the residual heat will finish off the eggs. Take a teaspoon or as much as you like of the reserved sausage fat and drizzle over the top. Sprinkle with chives and serve with bread if you like. I don’t usually bother as it’s so filling but it would probably serve 6 if you did.

11 comments | Breakfast, Brunch

Why The Camberwell Arms is the Perfect Local

Sunday, 5th October 2014

Camberwell Arms

Quail with Caesar salad at The Camberwell Arms

I once wrote that there was no such thing as the perfect local. I lamented the lack of ‘proper boozers’ left in London – the scrotty kind with Fosters ashtrays, pickled eggs, a juke box and a pub cat. While I still have much affection for those establishments and many fond memories of the years I pissed away in them, the fact remains that times have moved on and so have I. Maturing happened within me and so here we are with a different set of criteria which have been met in their entirety by The Camberwell Arms. I am insufferably smug that this is my local. It’s not the case that TCA doesn’t provide the same warm huggy feelings as those old boozers of yester-decade, because it does, just with bevelled edges and a pickled walnut veneer. They still sell Scampi Fries behind the bar, anyway, which should be a legal requirement before any pub is allowed to even obtain an alcohol licence let alone open the doors.

At first I had my reservations. The seats in the pub area seemed too low, but that was before I found my spot. Now I regularly nestle in, read the papers and generally feel at ease with the world, with the cosmos, with myself, even. Then there was the time I ate there shortly after opening when everything wasn’t quite right but hell, the paint had barely dried. My partner owns and runs a restaurant and let me tell you – going to a place in the first few weeks, or months, even, and slagging it off because the menu isn’t perfect yet, is beyond reprehensible. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. What did you expect them to do, exactly? Run the place on empty for a few months first before they let any customers in? There will always be crinkles, and the good places will concentrate on ironing them out.

So I’ve just come back from a perfect leisurely lunch at TCA; three courses with wine and a digestif, which I enjoyed entirely on my tod. It’s that kind of place you see. I feel completely comfortable there. If you don’t want to eat in the restaurant at the back, there’s a bar area for diners which faces the open kitchen. The pub area is up front, but you can eat there too if the restaurant and bar are full, because they actually believe in genuine hospitality, not silly rules. I’ve just inhaled a bowl of excellent BBQ mussels, with house made ‘nduja and sherry, followed by grilled cuttlefish with potatoes, pickled onions and aioli, the latter being one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in months. Smoky, tender as you like cuttlefish, like a riff on polpo a la gallega. Dreamy. Would I like dessert? Well, I shouldn’t really, but okay I’ll just have a look…OH..buttermilk and sour cherry ice cream. Go on, then, just a scoop…hmm sorry but, is that a grappa made with Gewürztraminer? I’d better try it, then, eh? I don’t even like grappa to be honest but…oh my, it’s smooth, isn’t it? Blimey. Okay now really, I should go and do that shopping, no honestly I must, etc. etc. etc.

The cooking at TCA is so solid, I can’t believe it’s happening in my local. All the ingredients are proper. They still serve that slightly controversial £50 chicken for 4 people, by the way, except it isn’t just a chicken, it’s a serious, rotisserated (totally a word) chicken with herby roast potatoes, salad and aioli, for £12.50 per person, which is actually great value. Yes, great value. Don’t you dare say otherwise until you’ve tasted it. Their pies are…damn, I want to say legendary without sounding like a wanker…very impressive, with the silkiest innards and a crust the colour of David Dickinson’s face. They make their own charcuterie. Their bread is from Brickhouse. And on and on and on…

Camberwell Arms

I am writing this before I slip into an afternoon snooze, thus completing the perfect Sunday. What else is there before I go? Oh! They make a really solid martini, which is the only cocktail I drink. Well, mostly (that’s a roundabout way of saying I’m really fussy about how I take my martinis). There’s an upstairs bar too but I haven’t been yet for fear I may never emerge again. The staff are excellent and genuinely likeable. The music isn’t too loud. The bogs are always sparkling clean. The wine list is well-balanced. They do a kick ass roast every Sunday. There’s a round of free tapas-sized bar snacks early evening. Okay I’ll stop now.

The Camberwell Arms
65 Camberwell Church Street
Tel: 020 7358 4364

Follow them on Twitter for menu updates (changes daily)

15 comments | Pubs, Restaurant Reviews

Cochinita Pibil with Pickled Corn

Wednesday, 1st October 2014

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

I’ve been thinking hard about how I’m going to use up my three huge jars of pickled corn. I’ve been gnawing the kernels straight off the cobs but it’s starting to feel like a missed opportunity.

I thought they’d make an excellent taco topping, and originally wanted to do some kind of breakfast tacos, before realising that the idea of breakfast tacos is kind of gross, actually. I feel the same way about breakfast burritos. I love eggs, but I don’t want them all squished inside a tortilla like a big farty roll up.

So here we are with cochinita pibil, a Mexican dish of slow cooked pork – traditionally a whole suckling pig – rubbed with annatto and sour orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a pit. Annatto is a seed which colours everything orangey-red. In Mexico it is used in cooking but also to make dyes and body paints, and in the UK it has been used to colour cheese (such as Red Leicester) for centuries, as it was thought that the more orange the cheese, the better the quality. There’s a rather obvious lesson here, which is that annatto is extremely effective at colouring things, particularly hands, clothes, cats, whatever happens to be nearby. I wouldn’t advise accidentally snorting it either, as I did when I was enthusiastically smelling my spice blend; it reminded me of a time in Iceland (THE COUNTRY) when I was given some snuff by a man in a bar and I thought I’d ‘give it a go’. Possibly the most painful half hour of my life.

Anyway, this recipe for cochinita pibil is made with a pork shoulder, and cooked in the oven wrapped in foil, although you could do it on a BBQ. Quite why it has taken me so long to re-create a recipe I thought was so, so fine the first time around I have no idea. This version is even better as I’ve tweaked it here and there. If you’ve never made it then get yourself some annatto off that there internets and get rubbing (after you’ve put your gloves on). You’ll inhale the results.

Once we’d pulled the meat apart, and rubbed it around in the glorious juices, it went onto tacos with a dollop of guac, some mild red onions and that pickled corn, which is sweet, sour and spicy enough to give you electric tingles. New. Favourite. Pickle.

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Cochinita Pibil with Pickled Corn

1 x 3.25 kg pork shoulder

For the paste

2 tablespoons achiote powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano (decent leaves, not the dusty stuff)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons salt
6 whole allspice
6 cloves garlic, crushed in a pestle and mortar with a large pinch of sea
1/2 tablespoon ground piquin chillies or other dried chillies, ground (Diana Kennedy says you should use powdered ‘chilli seco yucateco’ or paprika)
3 tablespoons orange juice mixed with the juice of 6 limes (should be about half and half) for rubbing the pork and making the paste. This mixture is a substitute for sour orange juice. If you can get sour oranges, then obviously use them.

Rub the pork all over with the orange and lime juice followed by the salt.

Make the paste by grinding the allspice berries, cumin seeds and piquin chillies to a powder and mixing with the crushed garlic and a tablespoon of the orange juice and lime mix, the pork should be quite moist so the paste doesn’t need to be that wet.

Smother this all over the shoulder, rubbing well in. Make a parcel by layering tin foil, put the shoulder into it and refrigerate, preferably overnight. Bring out of the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 135C. Get a big roasting tin and put a rack inside it (I just put a cooling rack in a tin) then put enough water in to fill the base of the tin to about 0.5cm. Place the pork package on top of the rack and cover it tightly with foil. Cook for 7 hours, refilling the water occasionally.

Carefully remove the shoulder from the parcel, taking care to save those precious juices. Tip the juices into a bowl and set aside. break up the meat and set aside in a bowl then pour the juices over and give it a good mix.

This is now ready to serve with the sauce, guacamole, and pickled corn.

Pickled corn recipe here.
Guacamole recipe here.

17 comments | Main Dishes, Meat, Mexican Food

Pickled Corn with Scotch Bonnets

Friday, 26th September 2014

Pickled Corn

I have adored pickles since I was a little girl. Apparently, at one of my birthday parties I refused to join in with anything because I wanted to hide on the stairs and concentrate on consuming a jar of pickled onions. I didn’t want anyone else to have any. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure too many other 6 year olds were that into them.

Back then I remember only pickled onions, beetroot, cucumbers and red cabbage being widely available in the UK, but nowadays pickling is fashionable. We preserve everything from carrots to American-style watermelon rinds. Corn is particularly good as a pickle. In my recipe there’s a whack around the chops from the scotch bonnet chillies, but they’ve been crucially mellowed by the vinegar, and I can’t wait to finely chop them to use as a garnish. Spring onions and coriander went in too. This pickle is great straight from the jar but I’m going to try it on breakfast tacos. Recipe soon.

Pickled Corn with Scotch Bonnets and Spring Onions  (Fills 3 x 1 litre jars)

6 ears of corn, 4 sliced into chunks, 2 shaved of the kernels
1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and sliced
2 spring onions, sliced into large pieces
Handful coriander
75ml lime juice
15 peppercorns
500ml distilled white vinegar
4 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons sugar

Simmer the corn chunks for 4 minutes, then plunge into ice water (leave the shaved corn raw). In a pan, heat the vinegar, sugar and salt until boiling. *See note below if using old style Kilner jars.

Divide the lime juice, chilli slices, coriander, spring onions and peppercorns between sterilised jars. Add the corn and divide the pickling liquid between them. Top up with water if necessary.

Seal the jars and leave for a few days before trying.

* A note about Kilner jars: the new ones have clip seals but if you’re using the old style, it suggests you heat your liquid to 82C rather than boiling, before pouring it into your jars. You then put the round disc on top and screw on the outside bit. The instructions say that a vacuum will be formed inside, and the top will be pressed down and sealed (not popped up so you can press it down with your fingers). What no-one tells you, is that this doesn’t always happen straight away, sometimes it takes a few hours. This is pretty obvious when you think about it. Maybe I was just being a bit dense.

8 comments | Pickles, Vegetables

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