Can I be presumptuous enough to give you a little advice, dear reader? Good. Thanks. It’s this: never look up restaurant menus when you’re feeling hungry. Wednesday lunchtime, I found myself browsing restaurants for my trip to Oxford next week, and gawking open-mouthed at the menus.

I’m often inclined towards Thai or Japanese when I eat out, mainly because I can’t replicate it that easily at home, but recently I’ve been enjoying a bit of a ‘hearty’ food revival, as you can see from this post. I was interested to learn that a Byron burger bar had popped up in Oxford, and started perusing that menu and also that of bangers and mash based restaurant The Big Bang. I hear it’s a real sausage fest in there.

Both had something in common – a menu based around just one dish. I’ve never visited a Byron but have been meaning to for ages, and couldn’t wait to see what they had as a veggie option. I eagerly scrolled down to find….a portobello mushroom. Listen, mates. That’s not a burger. I was hugely disappointed, especially as The Big Bang menu featured proper veggie sausages such as basil and vine tomato, stilton and walnut, or wild mushroom and garlic. I was so keen to try the whole Byron experience, complete with two types of fries, banana splits to follow, and macaroni cheese listed as a SIDE order, but….a mushroom just isn’t going to cut it.

So with a bad craving for burgers that I knew Byron wouldn’t be able to satisfy, I decided to create my own veggie burger experience, with homemade buns, crispy courgette fries, and a classic iceberg wedge salad. I decided also to add a portobello mushroom as I had some nice ones through with my Riverfood delivery box, but as an accompaniment to the proper burger, not INSTEAD of it!

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Proper veggie burger 

For this, I  fancied a slightly Mexican taste so went in with lime, kidney beans, cheese, Tabasco and cumin. You can easily adapt any spices or leave out the lime if you don’t fancy it.

1 400g can kidney beans
1 small red onion, finely chopped
75g cheddar, grated
75g breadcrumbs (I actually used half breadcrumbs, half crackers for a more savoury taste)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 dash mushroom ketchup (makes it super savoury, omit if you don’t have it)
2 shakes Tabasco
Juice of one lime
Pinch cumin

Pinch dried coriander
Flour for dusting
Oil for frying
Optional: use a beaten egg if the mixture isn’t binding

1. Drain and rinse kidney beans, then mash them with a special mashy implement (technical term), or failing that, with a fork
2. Add everything else. Mix together, don’t be afraid to get your hands into it
3. Flour your hands and shape the burgers into 4-6 patties
4. Fry in hot oil for 5 minutes on each side

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Burger bun

250ml warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
130g plain white flour
260g bread flour
1 tbsp honey (or sugar if you prefer)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp yeast

1. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl and make a well
2. Add warm water, oil and honey, and mix together
3. Knead until pliable then divide into eight
4. Roll to shape into balls, and place on baking parchment
5. Leave to rise for at least an hour
6. Heat oven at 180 degrees C, and bake rolls for 15-18 minutes before cooling on wire rack

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Courgette fries

I’m a total novice at courgette fries so I’m in no way qualified to give you my own version, so go here for a far superior recipe. I served mine with tzatziki.

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Stacking it

Your options are pretty much limitless with this, but I went for avocado to offset the Mexican flavours of the burger, chilli jam, a grilled portobello mushroom, sliced tomato and melted cheese, with shredded iceberg lettuce on the side.

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Big Bad Brunch

Some days, I go to sleep thinking wistfully about what I’m going to eat for breakfast the next morning. There’s something so comforting and wonderful about sitting at the breakfast table surrounded by dishes filled to the brim with roasted, fried, sauteed food.

This week has been, in short, heavy on stress and light on sleep. Add a couple of nights out in a row and I was in desperate need of something unhealthy to munch on. I spotted a recipe for cornbread, avocado and crispy bacon in the Waitrose magazine and decided that was one for me – the only slight problem being my vegetarianism. I’ve never eaten bacon, but I wanted something crisp, salty and smoky to offset the pillow-like cornbread and cool avocado.

I remembered hearing that aubergine could be turned into vegetarian ‘bacon’, so set out to create my own recipe. Obviously I’ve got no idea how this compares to real bacon, but give it a try and see how it stands alone. It’s smoky, sweet, savoury and very crisp, so ticked all my boxes! I’ll just add here that up until today, I’ve always hated aubergine, but now I’m finally getting the hype…

Recipe for the aubergine bacon is mine, and the recipe for the cornbread is from Miles Kirby, head chef at Caravan (where incidentally, I’m going tomorrow!)

Cornbread French toast with avocado & aubergine bacon
Serves 2

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Aubergine Bacon

10g smoked sea salt
2 tsp sundried tomato paste
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp mustard powder
1 small aubergine, sliced

1. Slice aubergine thinly and set it aside between two sheets of kitchen towel to remove extra moisture
2. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl, and set oven to 200 degrees C
3. Rub them on back and front of aubergine slices and place on parchment paper on a tin, setting aside for 30 minutes to absorb flavours
4. Pop them in the oven and roast for 15 minutes on each side
5. Remove from oven and drain extra oil with kitchen towel, also scraping most of the topping off
6. Return to the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until crispy

Cornbread French Toast

400ml whole milk
3 eggs
60g unsalted butter, melted
200g sweetcorn
4 spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp salt
160g polenta
65g strong flour

French Toast
1 egg
50ml double cream
10g unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C if you haven’t already done so for the bacon & line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment
2. Mix milk, eggs, butter, sweetcorn and spring onions in a large bowl
3. Sift all the remaining dry ingredients, and combine with the wet without over-mixing, and pour into the tin
4. Bake for at least 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean, and then leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack
5. Combine egg and 50ml double cream, and melt 10g unsalted butter in a frying pan
6. Cut two thick slices of cornbread and dip in the egg and cream mixture
7. Fry in the pan for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until brown

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1 avocado , diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
25g rocket (optional)

1. Combine lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl, then add avocado and leave it to combine for a few minutes
2. Place slice of French toasted cornbread in the middle of a plate, then spoon on the avocado and pile on some rocket
3. Top with the ‘bacon’, then spoon some of the remaining olive oil and lemon mixture around the plate

Et voila! Enjoy! x

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I scream, you scream, we all scream for….



No, really. Now, I’m a bit of an ice cream connoisseur (in other words, I eat a lot of it), and I would have serious doubts that anything could rival the rich creaminess or citrussy tang of my favourite homemade ice cream – orange, clotted cream and white chocolate, for those asking. But a couple of Saturdays ago, with the sun beating on my shoulders, the heat making a sun trap of our garden, the butterflies skating about in the air, the larks…erm, larking about….I couldn’t possibly face anything bearing the description ‘rich’. Not even a Texan billionaire, and I usually have a terrible soft spot for them.

I also had some slightly overripe strawberries, a full bottle of elderflower cordial, and a burning desire to prove to people that making sorbet is THE EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD, EVER. Actually, I’d say it goes: 1. breathing, 2. making sorbet, and 3. drawing a stick man. (Unless, of course, you’re a particularly inept drawer. That’s draw-er, as in someone who draws, not drawer as in something you keep your underwear in. At least I hope that’s where you keep your underwear, you saucy thing.)

But I digress. Well actually, of course I digress. I mean, you have met me/read my blog, haven’t you? You do know that it’s entirely impossible for me to get straight to the point and not be distracted by some passing whimsy. Oh look! Some passing whimsy! (This is possibly why I had to stop my driving lessons, but that’s another story for another day.)

Yes! So, cooking and that. I’m going to say one more time how MEGA SIMPLE this is, but the hugely pleasing upshot of the whole bally* thing is that every single one of your friends will go ‘ooooooooh, sorbet! Gosh, you must be awfully clever to make that. You’re ever so clever and talented and beautiful’. I’ll just mention here that a) if they don’t say this, then don’t come back to me for any refunds. Although I could probably give you an elderflower or something, and b) if you’re a man just substitute ‘beautiful’ for ‘handsome’. Unless you are a very beautiful man. And if you ARE a very beautiful man and you’re also reading my blog, then hello, future husband.

*I need to apologise/explain the use of ‘bally’ here, for the first time in possibly 50 years. I’ve been reading much too much P.G. Wodehouse lately, and just spend my days looking for ways to shoehorn funny words into sentences. Next week: Shakespeare funny words; ‘zounds’, ‘p’shaw’ and ‘god’s bodkin’. See you there.

What? Oh, right, right, the recipe. Well, if I must.


250g strawberries
125g caster sugar
75ml elderflower cordial
50ml water
Half a lemon

This recipe is slightly bastardised from one of Nigel Slater’s (as the actress said to the bishop. Yes, I’m all about the topical and cutting edge humour today.) But….well, his sounded a bit bloody awful. Sorry Nige. I find you terribly endearing and that. What he was proposing was sorbet and then SYRUP on top. WHAT???? My teeth are already aching at the hideous sweetness of it all. So I actually sort of made this version up.


1. I actually feel like I’m insulting you with this recipe. Just put the sugar, cordial and water in a pan.

2. Bring it to the boil and just let it thicken. Don’t go crazy, just let it thicken up a little bit.

3. Rinse and hull the strawbs. Put them in a blender. Blend them.

4. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze it into the strawberries. Blend them a little bit more.

5. Just combine the strawbs and the syrup. Mix it.

6. Gosh, well this is awkward….that’s kind of it. Just put it in a suitable container, pop it in the freezer and stir it every few hours to stop those beastly ice crystals forming.

We’re done here. We’re so done.

(Add a few sprigs of mint or redcurrants to jazz it up, if you’re feeling guilty at how easy it all was)

Sink me! My first brush with a soufflé

My little iPhone calendar thingy says ‘June’. I have a little giggle to myself, because Steve Jobs’ technology has clearly gone madly and horrifically wrong. Looked outside recently, little iPhone? No, clearly not. Because anyone with even half a sense of perception can see it’s obviously October. So, a Saturday afternoon on a schizophrenic day that is half gorgeous sunshine and half bonfires and drizzle. This presented me with quite a quandary about what to bake, as clearly neither a bright and breezy pavlova OR berry-based spicy confection would fly at all. 

I scanned the bookcase groaning under the weight of a myriad cookery books, my eyes flicking along until I saw the woefully underused Green and Black’s ‘Ultimate Chocolate Recipes – The New Collection’. Now, who am I to argue with something calling itself the ‘Ultimate’? I actually very rarely fancy chocolate, but today was one of those rare occasions. It took me a while to locate the recipe I wanted, but once I spotted the right one, I knew. Deep in my heart, I knew that this was the cake I had to make. ‘Chocolate and chestnut soufflé cake’.

It seemed perfect – a bit of Autumn in there, with that chestnut (not to mention that I’ve long coveted those little tins of chestnut pureé in Waitrose), but light enough with the soufflé element.

Don’t be scared. This was my first ever soufflé, and it went perfectly. It can for you too.

Green & Black’s Chocolate and Chestnut Soufflé Cake

25g soft unsalted butter
125g unsalted butter
125g dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate, broken into pieces
A pinch of salt
250g can Clement Faugier vanilla chestnut spread (Waitrose stocks this!)
100ml semi-skimmed milk
3 large free-range eggs
75g caster sugar
Good-quality cocoa powder, for dusting
Creme fraiche, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C/gas mark 3. Does anyone actually use the gas mark thingy? I might just stop putting it in. Anyway, smear a 20cm tin with butter (with a removable base if you have that luxury). Line it with parchment paper. I personally put the tin ON the paper, trace a line round it in pencil, then cut to size. If you’re super cautious, you can put this tin on a baking tray too.


 2. Meanwhile, in a universe far, far away…heat up the chestnut puree with milk in a separate pan. I’d tell you to take it out of the can first, but you’re a clever bunny, aren’t you? Stir until smooth again…I already used the Chippendale joke didn’t I?


3. Separate eggs and yolks, and whisk the yolks and sugar in a bowl.

4. Pour the chestnut mixture into the chocolate, and make sure you stir it well. Stir it until you think you’re done, then stir it one more time. Make a wish if you have to.


5. Stir it into the egg yolks, and mix to make a smooth batter. Yes, this recipe is sponsored by the words ‘stir’ and ‘smooth’.

6. In a new bowl (by this time your kitchen should look like a bombsy tit, as Adam and Joe say), whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks. You have to test this in the traditional way – pick the bowl up, turn it upside down, and lift it over your head. If it all goes wrong, egg whites make an amazing hair mask, so don’t worry.


7. Now for the chance-y bit. Use a metal spoon to stir in one spoonful of egg white into the chocolate mixture. Fold in, gently.

8. Bit by bit, stir the rest of the egg whites in, folding lightly. You’ll need to make sure it’s properly mixed, but just don’t stir too vigorously.

9. Pour the mixture into the tin, then pop into the oven for 25 minutes. It’ll rise, go a bit wobbly in the middle, then sink towards the end, as cracks start to appear – like Cheryl Cole’s career.


10. Take it out, leave it to cool, then slide it out of the tin. I left the parchment paper on, to give it a little support, but you can peel this away. It’s very satisfying.

11. Cover with clingfilm for 2 hours, then dust with cocoa powder.

 And, you’ve survived your first ever soufflé. Celebrate by eating it.  

Munching on a Winter Wonderland

Oh gosh. I hate to start out by being negative, and I really, truly love the book ‘Eat Me!’….but. And it’s a big ‘but’. (Like the kind you’ll get if you eat too many of my cakes.) But, the recipes often just don’t work, or are missing vital instructions. It’s a shame, and a good example of when style wins out over substance. Sadly, in cooking, substance is what you need. My pledge to you, beautiful readers, is to give you the most accurate recipes I can, so I’ve tweaked this one. In the next few weeks, I’m going to be making the transition from testing out the recipes of others, to making up my own, so please stay with me!

Shortbread base ingredients
3oz caster sugar
80z plain flour
40z unsalted butter, fridge-cold and cut into pieces

1. Fire up the ol’ oven to 170C, and then set to greasing up a baking tin measuring 20 x 30cm. If you really can’t handle that, then 8 x 12in. Greasing up. Greeeeeeasing up. Yuck. You’ll most likely want to do this, and/or line it with parchment paper, unless you’ve got the best ever baking tin in the world, that never sticks (private message me if you do. I’ll be having that please.)

2. Grab yourself a bowl, and mix together flour and sugar and butter. Yay! You’re done!

3. So kidding. You’re not back in Kansas yet, Dorothy. Get the butter and rub it in, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

4. Press the mixture into the baking tin, evening it up as you go, making sure it reaches into the corners. Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

For the fudge filling:

1 x 397g can condensed milk

2oz soft light brown sugar

2oz unsalted butter

1. I’ve never, ever had condensed milk before. I found the experience really rather exciting….

2. So easy peasy – all you have to do is pour the condensed milk, sugar and butter into a pan. Bring it to the boil, then turn the heat down, and cook for around 7-8 minutes, stirring regularly. The Eat Me book by ‘Cookie Girl’ says something COMPLETELY different. Ignore. Me and Cookie Girl will be on Jeremy Kyle next Wednesday, working out our difficulties.

3. What you’re looking for is a slight darkening in colour. Don’t worry too much texture-wise. It’ll thicken up a bit, but when you leave it to cool, it will thicken even more so.

4. So, um, yeah….leave it to cool.

For the topping
6oz white chocolate
2oz desiccated coconut

1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. You’ll want to do this JUST before you need it, because otherwise, it’ll go from solid to liquid, then back to solid again. Kind of like the way Cheryl Cole went from being Pugnacious Chav, to Nation’s Sweetheart, to Public Enemy No1 again.

2. Once the shortbread is cooked, cover with the fudge filling, then spread the white chocolate across, with a spatula. This will be tough! In fact, spreading white chocolate over fudge doesn’t get much tougher than this, as they always say on Masterchef.

3. While the chocolate’s still molten (brilliant word), sprinkle over the desiccated coconut and leave to cool, before cutting into squares.

4. Before you eat, you might want to book in with your local Weightwatchers group. Just a heads up.

All my love, and while my blog may have made you laugh (massive presumption on my part), please don’t forget that today is Remembrance Sunday, and take some time to think about what that means to you.

Season of mists and mellow cupcakeness

I, for one, love Autumn. Cosy jumpers, thick woolly socks, irrationally high boots, huge swishy coats, CAPES, for god’s sake! Capes!! Ahem…but non-sartorially speaking, it’s also lovely foodwise. And this week, I feel we’re finally there. The air has gained that crisp feeling, that hits you at the back of your throat and takes your breath away, and is just cold enough to make your eyes hurt. So, while I sat down in my strawberry print apron and rearranged my rollers, I pondered…what cupcake could I possibly make that would celebrate the autumnal equinox fast approaching us? And of course, it goes without saying, I wanted to avoid anything with spiders, little graves fashioned out of royal icing, or any other such (trick or) treats.

Then, it hit me. A blackberry cupcake. I recently did a rather gorgeous raspberry cake and was delighted with the little pockets of juicy explosion that took one by surprise – almost like a mirage spied while navigating the cakey desert planes. Too fanciful? Go and read one of the other blogs out there, not written by an English and Drama graduate.

I had my base. But what to top it? A cream frosting? No….apples done in a tarte tartin style, with a salted caramel glaze. I’ve been looking for an excuse to shoehorn this, my current favourite flavour, into a cake, and here, it had just landed in my lap. (Metaphorically. Please don’t go around hurling cupcakes at your knees.) By the by, I used half this quantity for my cakes, and came out with 10. It’s up to you, but I’ve put the full measures in, so it’s all in your hands. Just think of the power…

Blackberry cupcake ingredients (in cups)
2 ½ cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 ½ cups caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsps blackberry juice (I’ll explain all later)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups chopped blackberries (unless small…then leave them be)
1/2 cup milk

1.Preheat oven to 170C, and line two cupcake pans of with 24 cupcake cases total (You may, or may not, use all of these. Ooh, how wonderfully vague)

2. In a bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder and whisk together.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar until it holds together, and starts looking lighter in colour.

4. Add eggs one at a time to the sugar mixture, whisking after each addition.

5. Add vanilla and blackberry juice…what happened with this, is, I had frozen blackberries. So, I just steeped them in hot water, and used that hot water as my ‘blackberry juice’. Simples? Simples.

6. Get your milk and your dry flour mixture at the ready. Ready? Alternately add them, whisking on a low speed.
7. Gently, veeeeeeery gently, fold the blackberries into the mixture. Try not to bash them too much, poor babies.
8. Oh, go on then. Fill your cases. I’d say probably just over two thirds full – you want them to rise, as there’s no frosting to disguise any TERRIBLE MISTAKES YOU MIGHT MAKE.

Caramelised apples:
65g unsalted butter*, cut into small piees
4 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into 16 (cut each quarter into four equal pieces, lengthways)
4 tbsps caster sugar
*I actually used salted. I’m a huge fan of salted caramel in chocolates and whatnot, so I thought…why not? But as ever, you may do as you please.

1.Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the pieces of apple, and turn to cook them on both sides. When they begin to look golden, start singing a la Mika “we are goooolden, we are GOOOOLDEN’, and sprinkle with the sugar, then remove the pan from the heat.
2. Arrange them on top of the cupcakes, four apple sections per cupcake, laid out like a courtesan’s fan. (You have to be poetic about these things.)

Caramel glaze
65g unsalted butter
50g soft light brown sugar
225g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
1.Melt the butter in a heavy based saucepan over a low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until it melts.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the icing sugar, vanilla extract and milk. Beat together until smooth and well mixed, then drizzle around a tablespoon of the glaze over each cupcake.
Apologies for the atrocious picture below. I am not technically minded enough to crop.

Happy baking my darlings!