Sunday, 20 December 2009

Mince Pies

I learnt a couple of new things about mince pies yesterday from a wonderful lady called Jean who led our festive Dickens guided tour around the City of London yesterday afternoon. Firstly, instead of being round as we know and love them, way back as early as the 16th century, mince pies used to be oval shaped - like a cradle. Secondly, superstition has it that you should eat a mince pie on each of the 12 days of Christmas to bring you good luck for the forthcoming year. Now that shouldn't be a problem for me (unless the idea is that you need to just eat 1 each day for the good luck rather than 3 or 4 ...).

By this time of the year I've usually whipped out dozens of trays of mince pies for work, neighbours, friends and of course for us at home. But for some reason this year I've not really got around to it and can only claim a couple of dozen so far... I'm planning on making up for it over the next couple of weeks though!

There are many mince pie recipes out there, but I make them the way my Mum taught me when I was growing up - super simple with lovely light, flaky pastry. Some people use sweet pastry, but for me this is sugar overload with the already sweet mincemeat, so instead this recipe uses a basic shortcrust pastry made with white flora as opposed to butter which can be a touch rich. The advantage of course being that I can easily eat 4 in one sitting!


8oz plain flour
4oz white flora
3-5floz cold water
Mincemeat (homemade if you have it or good quality vegetarian shop bought
Milk or beaten egg to glaze
Icing sugar to dust


Mix the flour and white flora together to form the consistency of breadcrumbs (this is really easy if you have a food processor, just be careful not to over mix). Then add the water a little at a time to form a soft dough. Depending on the flour you use you will need between 3floz and 5floz - I used Dove's Organic flour today and it needed about 3floz. Wrap the pastry in cling film (taking care not to handle it too much as this makes it dry and tough) and pop in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Grease your mince pie tins (just the same tins as you use for fairy cakes). If you prefer deep-filled mince pies you could use muffin tins or alternatively use some of those mini tins to make mouthful sized mince pies.

Once the pastry has chilled roll it out on a floured work surface to about 1/2cm thick. If you don't have a rolling pin you can always improvise with an empty wine bottle that you have washed and removed the labels from!

Use a 7 1/2cm or 8cm wide round fluted cutter to cut 12 discs. Gently place the discs into the mince pie tins and press down gently in the centre. Put a good heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in each one. Then use either a 6cm wide round fluted cutter to cut full tops for your mince pies or, if you have them, use Christmas shaped cutters like stars, Christmas trees and holly. If you choose the round tops, cut 2 small lines in the centre of each one to let the steam out whilst they're cooking.

Brush the tops with a drop of milk or, for a more golden topped mince pie, a beaten egg. To make your mince pies vegan use soya milk to brush the tops or if you don't have any, nothing at all (they'll still taste just as good!).

Pop the tray into an oven pre-heated to 200C for 15 - 18 minutes until the pastry is cooked and lightly golden. Leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin and then gently remove to a wire rack. If you can resist eating them there and then whilst they're still warm, leave to cool completely and then dust with a touch of icing sugar.

This recipe makes 12 normal sized mince pies.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Taste of Autumn - Caramelised Shallot & Chestnut Tatin

As the Summer begins to draw to a close and the sun sits low in the sky over the hazy landscape in the distance I feel a certain sense of contentment. Autumn is my season. All those wonderful colours as the leaves begin to turn golden, brown, russet, red. The perfect backdrop for the ginger haired amongst us. It's not just the colours I'm waiting for with eager anticipation though. There is a myriad of new, rich, earthy vegetables coming into season that I can't wait to start cooking with again - squash, leeks, chestnuts, parsnips, plums, wild mushrooms, figs, sweetcorn, kale...

At the beginning of each season as the fruit and vegetables begin to appear in the shops and markets there's that delicious transitional period of rediscovery. I dig out my cookbooks, search for new and different dishes to make the most of the produce that's not been around for a while. Last week saw roasted figs with gorgonzola and a honey dressing, roasted corn pudding in acorn squash (thanks to Heidi of 101 Cookbooks), corn on the cob dripping with butter and freshly ground black pepper, leek & gruyere tartlets and plum crumble.

That's just for starters. A drop in the ocean. The post-it notes littering the pages of my favourite cookbooks forecast a lot of time in the kitchen over the next couple of months. Why is Autumn so short?!

Last week Mat Follas, winner of Masterchef, who runs the restaurant The Wild Garlic and writes a lovely blog of the same name was touting for vegetarian suggestions for his Christmas menu on twitter. I like the fact that Mat asks people what they would want. He really values people's input - asking Guardian Word of Mouth readers to comment on his first menu for example. That way he canvasses opinion, encourages debate, gets some new ideas and (hopefully) comes to a much more considered decision on any number of things.

So with Christmas menus on my mind, and armed with some fantastic homegrown potatoes freshly dug up from FoodUrchin's allotment (which, I was reliably informed, made great roasties), I set about a Sunday roast for two. Chicken for Andrew and a seasonal veggie dish for me. Now, when it comes to a roast, I do not want to be missing out on those delicious roast potatoes, crispy roasted parsnips and lashings of gravy. I hate it when I go somewhere for a Sunday roast only to find that the veggie option is pasta or risotto. What's that all about? What can be so difficult about cooking something interesting and appetising and vegetarian to serve with the same veg as the beef, chicken or lamb?

With a truck load of shallots in my Abel & Cole delivery that I wanted to use up I decided on a savoury tarte tatin. I've made them before - a Tomato Tarte Tatin earlier this year with the first crop of the Summer tomatoes and a vegan Shallot & Wild Mushroom Tatin for Christmas dinner a few years ago when my Uncle and Aunty were visiting. All the talk of Christmas had whetted my appetite for chestnuts, so a Caramelised Shallot & Chestnut Tatin with porcini gravy it was.


For the pastry:

8oz plain flour
4oz butter
5 or 6 sprigs of thyme (leaves only)
5 floz water
salt & pepper

For the filling:

Shallots (I'm no good at remembering to weigh food before I cook with it but I reckon I used around 20 shallots)
Mushrooms (I used up a couple of handfuls of chestnut mushrooms which where lurking in the fridge, but you could use any mushrooms you like)
1 tin of chestnuts
1 - 2 oz butter
1 tsp muscavado sugar
a few thyme leaves
salt & pepper


First make the pastry by rubbing all of the ingredients except the water together to form fine breadcrumbs, then add the water a little at a time until the pastry comes together (being careful not to overhandle it). If you have a food processor, put all the ingredients except the water and blitz for around 40 - 60 seconds and then with the blade running add the water slowly until the pastry forms a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Peel the shallots. Heat the butter with a tiny splash of olive oil in a tarte tatin dish over a low heat (or another dish which you can use on but the hob and in the oven) and saute the whole shallots over the until they begin to brown slightly. Turn the heat up slightly and add the mushrooms, seasoning and thyme and cook until the juices which come off the mushrooms have evaporated. Add the sugar and cook for another couple of minutes and then finally add the chestnuts.

The mixture should cover the whole of the bottom of the tarte tatin dish. Roll out the pastry which has been resting in the fridge to about 1/2 inch thick and lay over the shallot mixture. The pastry should be a touch larger than the dish so fold the edges back and tuck well around the edges to form a seal and keep the moisture in.

Pop the tarte tatin in a medium oven for around 30 minutes or until the pastry is cooked and golden.

Slide a knife around the edge of the pastry to loosen. Put a plate over the dish and then carefully tip the dish with the plate held firmly on top over so that the tart is sat shallot side up on the plate. Remove the dish. Serve with roast potatoes, veg and your favourite vegetarian gravy.

N.B. To make this dish vegan, use vegan margarine (e.g. soya margarine) instead of butter in the pastry and use just oil (not butter) to saute the shallots for the filling.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Simple Pleasures at St John Bread & Wine

I've been meaning to visit St John Bread & Wine for longer than I can remember but somehow I'd never quite got there. I've even had reservations in the past that I've had to cancel for one reason or another. The perfect opportunity to try again that I couldn't miss came when I was planning a day out to celebrate my husband's birthday at the end of July when it just so happened that St John Bread & Wine was a natural mid-point (at around lunch o'clock...) between Murdock's in Old Street (where I'd booked him a traditional wet shave as part of his birthday present) and London Bridge (for the train back to Frank's Bar in Peckham where we were meeting friends for early birthday drinks). I love it when a plan comes together.

St John Bread & Wine is the sister restaurant to St John, a larger restaurant in Smithfields, and is thought of as being less formal with a menu structured around sharing plates. The menu reads a bit like a timetable with dishes being available specific times throughout the day - breakfast, elevenses, lunch (with some plates available only from 1pm onwards and then, only until they run out, which they often do) and supper from 6pm.

It was a bright sunny day and the sun streaming in through the large windows which run along the front of the restaurant lit the dining room up. It's not a huge dining space, but the ceiling is incredibly high which means the room has a sort of warehouse feel about it. It was fairly empty when we arrived and never really filled up completely. I'd love to go when it's full - on a Friday night perhaps - to see what the atmosphere is like then, because it's unusual on a Saturday lunchtime. Not in a bad way, don't get me wrong, it's just a little quiet and empty. What's great about that is that you don't have to shout over the table next to you to make yourself heard! I can picture myself there with a bunch of mates, ordering more food and drinks as more people arrive.

I like the simplicity of the menu. You know what you're getting, like 'Peas in the Pod' or 'Hake & Samphire'. There's no messing around with poncy dish names on the menu here. They say it like it is. And the style of the food matches that no nonsense approach. The produce is top notch and so incredibly fresh. There's no need to dress it up. Many chefs these days talk about showcasing the fresh ingredients or letting the produce speak for itself. Here it's not just talk, they actually achieve it.

In addition to the printed menu (which changes twice a day), there are also specials up on the blackboards around the room. The wine list is good and varied, with many available by the glass (and also to buy and take home which is just what I did on my second visit a week later...). On this occasion we started with a glass of rose each and then moved on to sample some of the reds by the glass. Although it works out more expensive drinking by the glass it does mean you have the opportunity to try different wines, which I like. So many restaurants only serve a limited number of wines by the glass (and at often rather elevated prices) so this was refreshing to see.

We decided to order some dishes to share and then a meat dish for Andrew (it was his birthday after all). The first dish I chose was Peas & Ticklemore. Fresher than fresh raw peas, straight from the pod and thin slices of ticklemore cheese with pea shoots, herbs and a lemon oil dressing. The peas were crunchy and sweet. The cheese was very subtle and it's texture married well with the peas, leafy pea shoots and the viscous lemon oil (which had just a hint of natural lemon rather than being too citrusy or overpowering). A lovely fresh start to a meal and the portion size was perfect for two people to share.

We were undecided on our next choice (not an uncommon state of affairs for two of the most indecisive people to walk this planet). We fancied trying a fish dish, of which there were a handful on the menu, but with my forays into fish being fairly limited I wasn't sure whether I would like the cuttlefish which had caught our eye. After a conversation with the knowledgeable waiter who explained how the dish was prepared and what to expect from the cuttlefish, we did plump for it (Cuttlefish with Heirloom Tomatoes). It was the right choice.

Cuttlefish is not at all what I expected. Our waiter explained that it was braised, tossed together with a mixture of colourful heirloom tomatoes and dressed with a simple olive oil vinaigrette flavoured with fresh marjoram. The texture of the cuttlefish was unusual, but certainly not unpleasant. Nothing like any other fish or seafood I have ever eaten, it has quite a meaty texture. It was rich, slightly sweet and most definitely 'earthy' and took on the flavours of the braising liquor and the dressing. The tomatoes were much needed to cut through the richness of the cuttlefish, especially the green ones which had just the right amount of bite to contrast with the soft fish. I couldn't have eaten the whole plate myself, but then that's the whole point of St John Bread & Wine's concept of plates to share.

Andrew declared his Middle White Faggot & Peas to be simply delicious. He'd never had faggots before and wasn't entirely sure what to expect. He needn't have worried - the single faggot came sat on a bed of cream sweet peas with plenty of the faggot cooking juices. Hearty yet stylish.

Maybe it was the wine, or just the fact that when you're relaxing over a long lazy lunch you don't want it to end, but we both decided there was room for another dish before we considered the desserts. I'm so glad we did. Although simple (again), the Brown & White Crab served with toasted sourdough was good. There was plenty of both the brown and white meat - in fact there were some lovely big pieces of white meat which I tried to snaffle whilst Andrew wasn't looking. My only criticism would be that the toast was slightly too oily and could have done with being a dry toast to contrast with the rich crab. That certainly wouldn't stop me from ordering it again though.

The only real let down of the meal was the dessert. We both love all things almond and decided to go for the Raspberry & Almond Tart. Whilst it was OK it wasn't anything more than that which was a little disappointing. I've made many almondy tarts with summer fruits so perhaps I was expecting something far superior to what I can create with my own fair hands, but it just didn't deliver for me - there wasn't enough almond filling and the pastry was a little too thin and soft.

All in all, St John Bread & Wine was perfect for a splendid lazy weekend lunch. There is a relaxed feeling and service is calm, friendly and spot on when it comes to explaining the dishes. I could almost taste the dishes from our waiter's description of them! The dishes have a distinctive style which makes this a restaurant which knows exactly what it has to offer and does so sublimely.

I went back just 1 week later with my mum, for a second visit which confirmed my opinion that St John Bread & Wine is all about top quality, simple food. The Smoked Mackerel & Horseradish was just that - a large piece of delicately and naturally smoked mackerel with a small dollop of horseradish creme fraiche. Paired with a simple salad of lettuce leaves and herbs and Jersey Tomatoes & Wild Marjoram made for a second stunning lunch.

St John Bread & Wine Spitalfields
94-96 Commercial Street
E1 6LZ
Tel: 020 7251 0848

St John Bread & Wine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Smoked Haddock & Spinach Tart

A big bunch of lovely dark green large leafed spinach turned up in my weekly vegetable box last Monday. The sort that has that really rich irony taste and which has some bite to it. A far cry from the baby leaves of the summer.

By Saturday it really was time to get it used up before it reached the point where it would only be fit to be chucked into the pot with the rest of the not-quite-so-fresh veg which make their way into soup at the end of the week.

My first thought was to make the Valentine Warner recipe I'd made a couple of weeks ago - Moroccan Spiced Spinach & King Prawns - which calls for these tastier, more mature spinach leaves. But then seeing Nick Nairn's dish using natural smoked haddock on Saturday Kitchen had me craving good smoked fish. For once I managed to leave the house and make it to our local fishmonger - Moxons in East Dulwich - before they'd sold out of everything (I usually don't have much choice, arriving after 4pm on a Saturday afternoon...) and picked up a lovely piece of smoked haddock.

The combination of smoked haddock and spinach is not a new one. It's a perfect marriage in my view - soft, flaky, lightly smoked fish and vibrant earthy leaves. The other flavours which work well are no mystery either and the one that leapt to mind on Saturday was cheese. And so a recipe came together...

We ate the tart warm and straight from the oven in the evening with some buttered samphire and then cold the next day for lunch with salad. I'm not sure which I liked best - the tart was more moist when it was warm, but then the pastry was certainly crisper when we ate it cold. Whichever way, it's a good early Autumn dish to eat when the days are still bright with that gorgeous big sun low in the sky.


For the pastry:

6oz plain flour
3oz butter
3 or 4 fl oz water
2 tbsp finely grated parmesan
1 tsp mustard powder
salt & pepper

For the filling:

12oz natural smoked haddock
10fl oz full cream milk (or half and half semi skimmed milk and cream which I did because I had both to use up in the fridge)
1 egg
a big bunch of large spinach leaves (thick stalks removed)
1oz butter
1oz plain flour
1 shallot (finely chopped)
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
salt & pepper


Start by making the pastry. Blitz everything except the water in the food processor (or work together to make fine breadcrumbs by hand in a large bowl) then add the water a little at a time to form a soft, but not wet pastry. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for around 30 minutes. Then roll out to around 1/4 " thick and line a 9" loose bottomed fluted tart tin. At this stage I often pop my lined pastry case in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up and reduce the risk of the pastry shrinking down the sides of the tin when you bake it.

Blind bake the pastry case for around 15 minutes at 190 C. Then remove the baking beans & parchment and bake for a further 5 minutes.

In the meantime, poach the smoked haddock in the milk (or milk and cream) in a shallow pan for 6 or 7 minutes. Pop the fish onto a plate, remove the skin and any bones and then flake. Reserve the poaching liquid.

Roughly chop the spinach and wilt in a non stick pan, making sure to stir to prevent the spinach from sticking. Put the wilted spinach in a sieve. Once cooled slightly, squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.

Saute the shallot in the butter until soft. Add flour, stir to combine and then cook out the roux for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Add the warm poaching liquid and whisk until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Once cooled slightly whisk in the beaten egg and then stir in the fish and spinach.

Put the fish mixture into the pastry case and bake at 180 - 190 C (depending on your oven) for around 25 minutes until slightly golden and cooked through. Serve warm or cold.

Not Aunty Lisa's Top Houmous Tip

We eat a fair amount of houmous in our house. It's a super quick pre-dinner or lunchtime snack to whip up from the tins and jars lurking in the kitchen. With sticks of carrot, celery, cucumber, whatever is knocking around in the bottom the fridge really, it's a healthy snack too.

There are some days though, when I'm making a Middle Eastern inspired banquet for example (you know the sort of thing - falafel, tabbouleh, broad bean and preserved lemon salad, sumac roasted aubergines...), when I want my houmous to be a bit 'special'. On these occasions I've experimented with adding more olive oil than usual, adding a different olive oil or by sprinkling toasted pine nuts on top before serving. All with good results.

But whilst I was staying with my littlest sister in Newcastle a couple of years ago we decided to go for some food at the Flatbread Cafe. There you can choose to order a Bedou Feast of 3 dishes and a freshly made flatbread which we both did and then shared everything. Besides all the other mouthwatering dishes they have (including the Cucubita with pumpkin, chestnut and sweet potato and a fantastic Chana Dahl), we were bowled over by the houmous. There was something about it that I couldn't just put my finger on... It was smooth, light and so incredibly tasty. A delight!

As you can imagine, like every determined home cook, I scurried away to try to recreate it at home, wondering about the quality of the chickpeas, the way in which the chickpeas were cooked, the flavour of the olive oil, the balance of the other ingredients... All of these things do have a huge impact but the smooth texture continued to elude me. It wasn't until I was staying with Not Aunty Lisa a year or so later that I learnt a little trick that turns my everyday store cupboard houmous into the something special I'd been looking for, without the rigmarole planning in advance and cooking dried chickpeas or having a glorious earthy olive oil to hand.

It's as simple (albeit time consuming) as popping the little skins off each individual chick pea. It really does make a difference. And whilst I can't be bothered to do it every time I make houmous, I enjoy it all the more when I have gone to the effort.


1 tin chick peas (drained)
1 dessertspoon light tahini (or more if you are a big tahini fan)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic (crushed)
salt & pepper
2 or 3 tbsp good olive oil
splash of water (if needed)


Pop the chick peas out of their little skins. This is quite simple to do but will take time - I find it best to do it with the distraction of the radio or TV so I don't notice the time passing. Or I delegate this part of the process to unsuspecting friends or family.

Add all the ingredients (except the water) to a food processor and blitz until smooth. You may need to add a little water to reach your desired consistency or you can add more olive oil.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Chocolate Brownies

A few weeks ago my Mum and I spent the day selling our homemade goodies at the Covent Garden Real Food Market where one of our best sellers was our chocolate brownies. They flew off the stall like little hot cakes!

Now I've never been a massive brownie fan. For starters, I'm generally more of a savoury person - I'd much rather go for starter and main and skip the dessert (unless there's a good cheese board of course in which case I'd be sure to leave room for that). Added to which I'm not a huge lover of chocolate cakes or desserts. Don't get me wrong, I love a few squares of quality dark chocolate but you'll rarely find me choosing a chocolatey pud. I much prefer something fruity.

So it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I first had a go at making chocolate brownies and even then I had no intention of eating them... I always make cakes to take to work and share with my colleagues on my birthday and this particular year someone asked me if I was any good at making brownies. Never one to turn down a challenge where food is concerned I set off on finding (and perfecting) a good brownie recipe.

Now, family aside, I know of two queens of baking whose tried and tested recipes never fail - Mary Berry and Sue-L. As anyone who visits the BBC Food Message Boards will know, Sue-L 's prowess in the world of baking is much revered! Where better place to start than with her brownie recipe? I know everyone has their own interpretation of what a brownie should taste like - some like them with nuts added - but the bottom line is that a brownie needs to be squidgy on the inside. And believe me, these little beauties are! They went down a treat at work, so much so, even I ate one and have been making them for people ever since.

Sue-L's recipe has a little vanilla extract which I haven't included here. I think whether you need it or not very much depends on the type of chocolate you use and your own tastes, but that's a story for another blog post altogether as my recent chocolate tasting with the chocolate master himself, Paul A. Young, taught me...


200g butter
200g good quality plain chocolate (as Sue-L says, 70% cocoa solids makes the best brownies!)
600g golden caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g plain flour
4 tablespoons cocoa


Preheat your oven to 180C (170C fan assisted).

Grease a rectangular roasting tin or oven proof dish which measures approximately 8" x 12" (20 x 30cm) and line with baking parchment (not greaseproof paper as this will stick to the brownies!).Melt the butter and chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. Make sure that the bowl doesn't touch the water inside the pan and be careful not to let the water come into contact with the chocolate as this could make it all go horribly wrong.

Cool the chocolate and butter mixture slightly and then stir in the caster sugar. Whisk the eggs and add then a little at a time, making sure they are well blended before adding more.

Sift the flour and cocoa into the mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. It may take up to 50 minutes to cook, depending on your oven, but you don't want to over cook it or your brownies will be too dry. To get the right consistency the mixture needs to be just cooked, so start testing with a cocktail stick after about 40 minutes – there should be moist crumbs clinging to the cocktail stick, but not wet batter.

Cool the brownies in the tin slightly and then mark into pieces. Depending on how big you want your brownies to be, this mixture will make between 15 and 24 pieces. It is fairly rich though so you may just want to make mini sized brownies, in which case you could make 32 pieces.

Leave the brownies in the tin until they are completely cold, then turn out onto a board and cut into pieces along the pre-marked lines.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Bank Holiday Madeleines

Every time I'm rooting through my baking cupboard to find something or other Andrew seems to spot the madeleine tin. Not the loaf or bun tins...always the madeleine tin. This is usually accompanied with a friendly jibe about how long it must be since I last made madeleines - have I made them since living at this house (where we've been for over 18 months)...?! The answer is probably no. So over the August bank holiday weekend, after two very full on weeks at work which left no time for eating and sleeping, let alone cooking, I decided to get back in the saddle by cooking up an Ottolenghi inspired feast on Saturday evening and a lazy bank holiday breakfast in bed for my (clearly deprived) husband.

Instead of my usual (and preferred) method of making it up as I go along, I decided to follow the recipe in my much loved and well used copy of French Regional Cooking (by Anne Willan and the Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne) which I picked up at Oxfam a few years ago before our Bourgogne-Odyssey (that was the holiday when it rained, a lot, and when I managed to used around 8 packs of butter in 10 days on my cellulite inducing cook-a-thon).

Well, when I say I decided to follow the recipe that's not strictly true. I'm not the world's greatest recipe-follower. I tend (unless it's a Denis Cotter recipe) to make my own little adjustments as I go along. Today was no exception, although I did follow the method word for word!

Freshly baked, warm madeleines with a cup of Williamson Earl Grey. Lovely.

This recipe makes around 16 madeleines.


2oz plain flour
1/2 tsp banking powder
2oz caster sugar
2oz melted butter
2 eggs
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon


Whisk the eggs and sugar until thick and light. Add the orange and lemon zest. Sift the flour and baking powder and gently fold into the egg and sugar mixture in three batches. When the last batch of flour is almost mixed in, add the melted butter and fold in quickly and lightly to retain as much volume as possible.

Chill the batter for 20 to 30 minutes in the fridge. Heat your oven to around 230C (I heated mine to around 210C in the fan oven). Brush your madeleine tins with a little butter and then sprinkle with flour and knock the excess out of the tins.

Fill each of the madeleine to around three quarters full. Bake for 5 minutes then reduce the temperature of the oven to 200C and bake for a further 5 - 7 minutes until the madeleines are golden brown.

Transfer the madeleines to a rack to cool (or alternatively eat them all whilst they are still warm and skip lunch...).

Monday, 31 August 2009

A Day in the Life of a Market Trader

I hung onto the giant parasol to stop it flipping over and Mum made sure the fruits of our 12 hour stint in the kitchen were all safely under cover as the rain lashed down and gale force winds swept through the Covent Garden piazza. Bottles from one stall came crashing down and talk of closing the market had us panicking about what we'd do with all the stock. Then, as if nothing had happened, the wind dropped, rain stopped and the sun came out to dry our red and white bunting and bring out the punters.

All in a day's work for a market stall trader... But we are no ordinary stall holders. No siree! Don't get me wrong, me and mum both have plenty experience of baking for the masses and mum has done a million and one 'big cake sales' for charity, but nothing of quite this magnitude. A stall in the local church hall is one thing. A full day selling our homemade cakes, tarts and jams at Covent Garden is another. I guess what we were out to achieve was that (usually uncoveted) 'one hit wonder' status (OK, maybe we had some idyllic pipe dream that this could be a rosy future...!). For us, this was a couple of days off from our day jobs to do what we love best - cook - to sell the fruits of our hard work and, in the process, learn about the 'selling side', have some fun and meet a few people.

Not long after I started blogging I joined the UK Food Bloggers Association (UKFBA) - a place for UK food bloggers to connect with each other. Sometime in the Spring when Julia Parsons, who founded UKFBA, first mentioned the UKFBA stall on Covent Garden Real Food Market there was talk of nominating our favourite producers to man the stall every Thursday throughout the summer. This was soon given short shrift as my fellow food bloggers came forward with plans to sell their own homemade wares - lavender & honey bread, chutney, lemon curd, tamarind ketchup, keema lollipops, carrot cake, Irish soda bread, jams, muffins in all shapes and sizes, tarts, quiches and brownies galore!

I have to admit that I hesitated to sign up. Much as I liked the idea, I work full time - how would I find time, could I do all that on my own and (above all) who would calculate the amount of change due (not me, that's for sure...!). It was only when I mentioned it in passing to Mum when we were cooking up a feast for Dad's 60th in May that the idea of taking the stall one Thursday became reality. As many of the other bloggers who have done a stint on the stall will undoubtedly agree, it's so much easier with two!

The Covent Garden Real Food Market is a weekly market that runs every Thursday through the summer. For the most part, the stall holders seem to have stalls on other markets in London, like Borough Market. There's a nice feel to the market which I am sure would be much livelier on a sunny Summer's day... In fact when I popped down to see Rejina (Gastrogeek) and Signe (Scandilicious) a couple of weeks' ago the sun was shining and people were swarming around the market. What a difference a touch of sunshine (and two charming and beautiful bloggers-come-market-traders) can make!

The best part of it all for me was the full day spent cooking away at our own pace in my kitchen, preparing the lemon drizzle cakes, carrot cakes with cream cheese topping, blueberry and almond tart, leek and gruyere tartlets, redcurrant jelly, peach and amaretto muffins, pecan tarts, stem ginger biscuits, lemon curd, tomato and goat's cheese puff pastry tart, white chocolate and raspberry muffins, traditional all butter shortbread, apricot and vanilla jam and our best sellers...chocolate brownies.

The big day itself was undoubtedly hard work. The rush to set up and get everything laid out and labelled up got the adrenaline going though and that saw us through the best part of the afternoon and helped us weather the storms. It was great to meet all the wonderful people who popped down to say hello and the compliments, including the one from the lovely American woman who came back especially to tell us that our carrot cake was the best carrot cake she had ever eaten (and, she assured us, she had eaten a lot!), made us feel pretty good. But as the day drew to a close and the temperature dropped we were certainly ready to sit down, have a beer and reflect on an intense couple of days' work (oh, and flog a few more jars of jam in the pub and then at our post-market dinner at Ganapati in Peckham!).

I did say never again when my feet where aching the next day....but I can just see our lovely homemade mincemeat, jams, gingerbread and Christmas puddings going down a treat on the Christmas Real Food Market!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Meringue Success!

Meringues have never been my forte. I've made meringue roulades with some success (apart from that time when I welded the sticky sugary mess to the baking paper about half an hour before friends arrived for dinner). But I've never mastered the art of the beautiful simple meringue. It's not that I haven't tried , or at least had the very best of intentions of using those egg whites which I carefully put into a plastic tub in the fridge...

I found myself with one such little tub full of egg whites last weekend after our bake-a-thon for the UKFBA stall. Determined not to waste them I called Mum (who needs recipe books when your mum is but a telephone call away...). Her advice was 2oz caster sugar for each egg white, a capful of white wine vinegar, a tea spoon of cornflour (which I didn't have), beat the egg whites until stiff and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until glossy. Armed with these pearls of wisdom I set to work making plain meringues and (inspired by my recently purchased Ottolenghi cook book) some blackberry swirl meringues to use up some blackberries which were lurking in the back of the fridge.

When I posted my photos on flickr last week, @goodshoeday who writes the blog With Knife and Fork asked me what the secret to good meringues was. Like me, she'd never managed to make perfect meringues like you see piled high in Ottolenghis. Jubilant from my recent success I promised to blog about them. I'm not saying they will be just as good next time. But for once, I made meringues I could be proud of so here's what I did. Let me know if they work for you!


4 egg whites
8oz caster sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour (I didn't use this because I didn't have any, but I'm told it's good for meringues which are nice and gooey in the middle)


Set your oven on low - around 100C (I set my fan oven at 90C).

Unless you're Popeye after a good dose of spinach, the best way to make meringues is with an electric hand whisk or the balloon whisk on your mixer. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Then, with the mixer still running, add the sugar a spoonful at a time, making sure it's fully mixed before adding the next spoonful. Eventually the egg and sugar mixture will turn thick and glossy. Add the white wine vinegar and the cornflour and mix thoroughly.

Grease and line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Put big serving spoonfuls of the meringue mixture on the baking sheet and bake for at least 1 and 1/2 hours, until the meringue is crispy and cooked through.

Quite a few people seem to be foraging for blackberries at the moment and the blackberry swirl meringues are perfect to use up the last few blackberries which haven't made it into jam, crumble or tarts...

Blackberry Swirl Meringues

Make some blackberry coulis by blitzing a handful of blackberries with a tablespoon of caster sugar. Pass the coulis through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

Take half of the meringue mixture above and add a large spoonful of the blackberry coulis. Don't stir it in or you'll just end up with purple meringues! You only need to give the mixture one stir with the spoon so that the meringue mixture has that 'raspberry ripple ice cream' effect.

Cook in the same way as the plain meringues, although they may need a little longer because of the extra liquid.

Blackberry Eton Mess

We ate the leftover meringues in a blackberry eton mess - whipped double cream, broken up meringue, leftover blackberry coulis and fresh blackberries. It's not a pretty dessert but it tastes damn fine!

More Gingers, Vicar? Summer Berry Cheesecake

Alas, we were pipped at the post in the Viewers' Choice Award by the lovely Helen and Lizzie - the Go Go Gin Girls. Huge congratulations to them!

Although the Nom Nom Nom 2009 competition is finished now, I couldn't possibly leave you with no recipe for our dessert of Summer Berry Shortbread Cheesecake...


For the shortbread:
6oz plain flour
4oz butter
2oz golden caster sugar

For the filling:
zest & juice of 1 lemon
zest & juice of 1 lime
300g cream cheese
150ml double cream
115g caster sugar
summer fruits (raspberries, strawberries, etc)

For the raspberry coulis:
Handful raspberries
1 tbsp caster sugar


Combine the shortbread ingredients until the just come together. Roll out to 1/2cm thickness and cut into rounds using a 8cm straight edged cutter. Carefully lift the rounds onto a greased baking sheet using a palette knife. Bake at 180C for approximately 15 minutes until they are a pale golden brown. Leave to cool on the baking sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Mix the cream cheese, lemon zest and juice, lime zest and juice and sugar. Whip the double cream and stir it into the cream cheese mixture. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Make the raspberry coulis by blending the raspberries and sugar together using a stick blender and then pass the puree through a fine seive to leave a smooth coulis. Put to one side and prepare your summer berries - leave the raspberries whole and slice the strawberries.

To build the dessert put a tiny blob of the cream cheese mixture in the centre of each plate and place a shortbread round on top. Then add a good tablespoonful of the cream cheese mixture, some summer berries and a teaspoon of the coulis. Repeat with another shortbread round, cream cheese mixture and summer berries. Finish with a swirl of raspberry coulis around the plate.

It's a lovely dessert for a summer's evening with friends because you can make each element in advance (even the day before) and then just layer up the desserts at the last minute. Enjoy!

Monday, 27 July 2009

More Gingers, Vicar?: Sea Bass with Aubergine Caviar

Please vote for us - More Gingers, Vicar?

The idea behind this vibrant main course was to prepare something which was not too heavy and would leave plenty of room for dessert. There's nothing worse than a 3 course meal where you get to the end of the main and have no room for pudding - where's the fun in that?!

Our Nom Nom Nom 2009 main course of Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Aubergine Caviar was based on a Gordon Ramsay recipe we'd both seen in a magazine a couple of years ago. The ingredients and vivid colours just shout "summer"!


4 fillets of line caught sea bass

Aubergine Caviar:

2 large aubergines
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves
good olive oil
salt & pepper
2 tomatoes (skinned and deseeded)
1 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp pepper sauce
fresh basil leaves

Pepper Sauce:

1 red pepper
1 yellow or orange pepper
2 shallots
2 garlic cloves
olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
200ml vegetable stock


Start by preparing the aubergines. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways and place them into a roasting tin, cut side up. Score some holes in the aubergine flesh and stuff with slices of garlic and rosemary. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season. Roast in the oven for at least 45 (until golden brown and cooked) at 180C.

To make the pepper sauce, saute the peppers, shallots, garlic and herbs in about 100ml olive oil for 10 minutes or until softened. De glaze the pan by pouring in the white wine vinegar and letting it evaporate which will only take a minute at most. Add the stock and simmer for about 10 minutes until the stock has reduced.

Remove the cloves of garlic from the pepper sauce and liquidise the sauce until smooth. To get a really smooth sauce, pass it through a sieve.

Next you will need to finish the aubergine caviar. Remove the garlic and rosemary from the aubergines and scrape the flesh out with a spoon. Chop the flesh and add to a bowl with the chopped tomato flesh, balsamic vinegar, pepper sauce and basil. Adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Wash the sea bass fillets and score the skin diagonally. Season both sides. Heat a pan and then drizzle a little olive oil on the sea bass skin. Add each fillet to the pan skin side down and hold each one down with your fingers or the back of a fish slice for about 30 seconds. Cook for around 2 - 3 minutes on each side and then stand to one side.

Whilst you are cooking the fish you may want to reheat the aubergine caviar and the pepper sauce.

To serve, place a couple of large spoonfuls of the caviar in the centre of each plate, place the fillets of sea bass on top of the caviar and drizzle the pepper sauce around the plate. We served this with buttered spinach, but you could use your favourite seasonal vegetable.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Food for Sharing

Our Big Lunch went off with a bang! What a fantastic day. Even before we'd all sat down to eat together at our long mish mash of tables up the middle of our street we felt like it had all been worthwhile. I caught up with neighbours who I wave to most days and met others who I had honestly never seen before despite them living only 10 doors away. Everyone brought the most amazing homemade and homegrown food - lettuces, tomatoes and courgettes from peoples' gardens, Sri Lankan pastries, huge bowls of colourful salads, sundried tomato bread, tarts and quiches, soups, cinnamon whirls (why oh why did I not get my hands on one of them...?!)... We had magic tricks, a clown on stilts, middle class dub from the back of a morris minor courtesy of Sly and Reggie, giant jenga and a lot of talking. And the rain stayed away!

I wanted to make food to share and also to test out my brownies ahead of my turn on the UKFBA stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market on 30th July 2009! So I decided to make some vegetarian salads which would go with anything and Delia's Tomato & Goat's Cheese Tart which is not only the simplest tart you can make it is also super, super tasty.

Delia's Tomato & Goat's Cheese Tart


1 pack all butter puff pastry (you can make your own, but are there really enough hours in the day?!)
750g tomatoes (thinly sliced)
150g soft goat's cheese
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
fresh thyme
olive oil
salt & pepper

If you have the ready rolled pastry then just unroll it onto a lightly oiled baking tray. Otherwise, roll out your pastry into a rectangle measuring approximately 15"x12". With a sharp knife, mark a line about 1/2" from the edge of the pastry all the way around without cutting right through the pastry. This allows the pastry to rise at the edge.

Mix the goat's cheese, garlic, seasoning and a good handful of chopped thyme leaves. Spread onto the pastry base. Layer the tomato slices in lines on top of the cheese mixture, overlapping as you go. Drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and lay some thyme on top.

Bake in a medium oven (approx 170 - 180 C) for around 50 minutes to an hour, until the pastry is cooked and the tomatoes are starting to crisp at the edges.

Allow to cool slightly, then cut into slices and share with family, friends or neighbours!

For the salads I chose a Tabbouleh, which is light and fresh and goes really well with most things, including the Tomato Tart, and a potato salad. Potato salads tend to be the sort of thing most people like - a crowd pleaser. This particular recipe is one that I have made for years ever since reading Delia's recipe for Anya Potato Salad in her Vegetarian Collection. It's a good solid vegetarian cookbook - not my favourite, but one that covers so much day to day food and food for entertaining that it spends most of its time in my kitchen rather than on the bookshelf.



200g bulgar wheat
1 small red onion
large bunch of flat leaf parsley
750g - 1kg tomatoes
1 lemon
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 clove garlic (optional)


Cook the bulgar wheat and leave to cool. I do this by putting the bulgar in a small pan, covering with cold water, bringing it to the boil with the lid on and then I turn the heat off and let the steam do the rest.

Make the dressing in the bottom of a big serving bowl by whisking the juice of 1 lemon (this isn't set in stone - use less or more depending on your own taste), salt, pepper and crushed garlic clove together, then whisk in the olive oil. I always find those little 'wonder whisks' are perfect for making dressings as they help the ingredients emulsify which is what you want from a good dressing.

Finely chop the red onion and add it to the dressing.

Chop the tomatoes into small pieces - around 1cm square and pop them in a sieve over a bowl to drain off any excess juice. You can put them in juice and all but I find that it sometimes makes the salad too soggy. Slice the parsley as thinly as possible starting at the leafy top and going all the way down to the stalks. Slicing the parsley this way is something I learnt a few months ago and really makes a difference to the taste.

Mix all the ingredients together with the dressing and red onion and it's ready to serve. It keeps well for a day or so which means you can make it in advance if you need to.

Anya Potato Salad


2kg Anya potatoes
5 or 6 shallots (finely chopped)
1 dessertspoon Dijon mustard
1 dessertspoon balsamic vinegar
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
4 or 5 dessertspoons olive oil
salt & pepper


Cook the potatoes in salted water, drain and put to one side.

Make the dressing by mixing the salt, pepper and mustard together in the bottom of a big serving bowl. Add the balsamic and white wine vinegars and mix with a wonder whisk (or a fork if you don't have one). Then add the olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Put the shallots in the dressing.

Once the potatoes have cooled slightly (but are still warm) add them to the dressing and mix. Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve either warm or cold. Again this can be made in advance, but the chives are best if you sprinkle them over at the last minute.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

More Gingers, Vicar?: Summer Gazpacho

There's little more summery than beautiful ripe tomatoes like these from The Tomato Stall on Marylebone Farmers' Market. These beauties were sweet and packed with flavour - just perfect for our Gazpacho starter for the Nom Nom Nom 2009 final.

Gazpacho is a cold Spanish tomato soup which originated in the southern region of Andalucía. It is a perfect refreshing summer dish, especially on a hot sunny day. I can picture myself now sat outside in the garden, the sunshine beaming down, a glass of chilled fino in my hand and a small bowl of vibrant, fresh gazpacho in front of me... (if only the summer would come back to London!).

I'd tried gazpacho in the past and never been particularly enamored with it. That was, until I spent 2 weeks in Andalucía earlier this year. If you have the best, fresh, ripe ingredients it is simply delicious. And what's more, it couldn't be simpler to make.

What better way to kick off our seasonal summer menu for the Nom final?!

Summer Gazpacho


1kg tomatoes
1/2 cucumber (we used a lovely organic spiky one on the day
1 sweet red pepper
1 yellow or orange pepper
1/2 red onion
1/2 red chilli (or more if you prefer your gazpacho to pack a punch
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp good quality sherry vinegar
100ml good fruity olive oil
1 tsp muscavado sugar (you may need more or less depending on how sweet your tomatoes are
worcestershire sauce (to taste)
salt & pepper


Roughly chop the tomatoes, peppers (seeds and stalk removed), cucumber, red onion, garlic, red chilli, olive oil, sugar and vinegar. Put it all in a blender and blend until it's as smooth as it will go. Put a seive over a bowl and seive the soup mixture to remove all the skin and pips - you will probably need to push it through with a spoon.

You should be left with a smooth soup which you can season to taste with salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, more sugar (if needed), etc.

Pop it in the fridge to chill until you are ready to serve.

If you like the sound of this recipe please vote for us in the Viewers' Choice Awards. It's really simply - you just need to go to this page on the Nom Nom Nom 2009 website and vote for More Gingers, Vicar?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Big Lunch

In less than 24 hours we'll be hanging the bunting, setting up tables, bring the food out of our kitchens and sitting down to lunch with our neighbours. It's been a fair few weeks in the planning. 3 mail shots, 1 gathering (and quite a lot of Pimms...), 1 meeting with the Council, countless emails and here we are!

The guys at the Eden Project came up with a great idea to encourage people right across Britain to get to know their neighbours - The Big Lunch! The idea is that the people of Britain to stop what they're doing and sit down to lunch together on Sunday 19th July 2009 for no other reason than to join together in one great big street party. So that's what I'll be doing tomorrow. Between now and then I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for decent weather...

If the idea behind it all is for me to get to know my neighbours then I'm pretty much on track. When I first contacted everyone on our street to find out whether they fancied joining in the fun I probably knew a dozen or so people on our street. Now I can pretty much name check everyone. In London that's no mean feat. Many people don't even know their immediate next door neighbour.

One of my neighbours, Joy, will celebrate her 50th year living on our street this year! Apart from short spells in Islington and Bristol, Joy has lived in this area all of her life and remembers well the street parties to celebrate VE Day in 1945. How amazing is that? Here we are in 2009, 64 years later, getting together for another street party and I can't wait to hear from Joy whether she thinks it matches up!

Steve Bridger who writes the Big Lunchers Blog wrote about Joy's story yesterday and you can read it here.

But for me it's not just about meeting everyone. It's also about the food! I absolutely adore cooking for other people. There's nothing better than spending time and effort making something, however simple, that people enjoy eating. So, for my contribution tomorrow, I'll be making Anya Potato Salad, Tabbouleh, a Tomato & Goat's Cheese Tart, Brownies and Shortbread. I'd better get cooking...

What I Ate: Roasted Beetroot & Puy Lentil Salad

I'm always hungry when I get home from pilates. It's such hard work! But I'm not great at organising myself to make lunch when I get home on a Saturday, especially if Andrew isn't around. For some reason Saturday lunch always ends up being a grab and run affair squeezed in between pilates and shopping and washing and doing all those things I didn't have chance to do during the week. Which is wrong seeing as that means that one of my two 'this is my time' lunches is always a non-event. That's not the way it should be surely?

Today I guess I was fortunate to find good leftovers in the fridge which I could craft into a tasty lunchtime salad. Roasted beetroot left over from making Lebanese beetroot salad on Thursday evening, some cooked puy lentils (the rest of which went into a puy lentil tabbouleh with grilled halloumi earlier in the week) and flat leaf parsley which was beginning to wilt.


2 roasted beetroot (peeled)
1 spring onion
3 tbsp cooked puy lentils
a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 dessert spoon sherry vinegar
2 dessert spoons olive oil
salt & pepper


Make the dressing by mixing the mustard with some salt and pepper in a bowl, add the vinegar and combine, then whisk in the olive oil. Finely slice the spring onion and add to the dressing with the lentils, sliced beetroot and parsley.

If you haven't got roasted beetroot lying around in the fridge then you can roast them by washing, wrapping in a foil parcel and popping them in a medium oven for an hour or so (preferably whilst you've got the oven on for something else!).

A super simple, earthy salad. It would work so well with some goat's cheese or goat's curd but alas the goat's cheese in my fridge is destined for a tomato tart for tomorrow's Big Lunch street party!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Nom Nom Nom 2009: Coming a close second...

I think it was the Summer Berry Lemon Shortbread Cheesecake that did it. Clinched us that coveted runners up spot that is. Crisp, butter shortbread. Smooth, citrusy cream. Uber fresh English strawberries and raspberries, bang in season. Tom Aikens said it was great. Great. A Michelin starred chef thought our dessert was great! How cool is that?

I'd like to say that I arrived at the Cookery School on Little Portland Street relaxed and in plenty of time for the finals of Nom Nom Nom 2009 - 'the Masterchef of Bloggers'. But I would be lying. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I have absolutely no sense of direction. Spin me round 3 times on the spot in my own house and my parents used to say I'd be lost. My Nom team mate - Chris Dreyfus of More Tea, Vicar? - assured me it was simple. Come out of Oxford Circus tube, head up Regent's Street and turn right. But the map on my blackberry said something else. So I followed it. I found the street alright (eventually) but how does 15b not come anywhere between 1 and 30? Well on this street it doesn't. I was about to call home for Andrew to laugh at me and guide me in when I spied the distinctive purple sign. It was only 9.30am on a Sunday morning. How am I supposed to do anything at that ungodly hour?

Nom Nom Nom is a fun competition for bloggers, writers, photographers and food enthusiasts. It’s a cooking contest that takes places over one day and sees eight teams of two shop for ingredients and cook a three-course meal that is then judged by a panel of experts.

I shall admit to being more than a little excited. I've never cooked under pressure before and I usually cook alone (the obvious exceptions being when I cook with my Mum or with Not Aunty Lisa). Yet here I was about to embark on cooking an unfamiliar menu with someone I've only known (if you can call meeting face to face about 3 times 'known') for a few weeks.

After a much needed breakfast of the most delicious freshly baked cheese scones, first stop was Marylebone High Street and the Marylebone Farmers' Market for ingredients. What a choice! But with only £40 to spend on quality produce at central London prices we had to spend wisely.

The brief was to cook a 3 course meal for 4 people that was simple, sexy, sustainable and seasonal. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, one course had to be a cold course - no cooking allowed. What better time to cook with seasonal ingredients in England than in the summer?! Tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, peas, broad beans, strawberries, raspberries, everything berries....

After hours of planning, deliberation, recipe testing, consultation and ingredient sourcing (or perhaps over a couple of email exchanges and a drunken night in my kitchen), Chris and I devised our Sensational Simple Sexy Sustainable Seasonal Summer Menu!

Starter Gazpacho with Goat's Cheese Crème fraîche

The recipe is here.

Main Course Pan Fried Sea Bass with Aubergine Caviar

The recipe is here.

Dessert Summer Berry Lemon Shortbread Cheesecake

(recipes to follow soon...)

If our escapades in my kitchen during our trial run were anything to go by it should have all gone horribly wrong... Chris tried to flood my kitchen with gazpacho and, having got the quantities mixed up in the shortbread, I ended up making enough biscuits to feed most of my colleagues the following Monday. But it was remarkably calm. In fact the whole kitchen was calm. Eight pairs of amateur cooks beavering away, stopping only to have a quick chat or take photos for our blogs, and all managing to plate up just in the nick of time before the cries of "Stop Cooking". OK, so maybe there were a couple of moments when panic nearly set in, like when the judges came down to watch and talk to us whilst we cooked. Talking intelligently to and putting the final touches to our dishes at the same time was no mean feat!

You know what? It's exhausting work. Added to all that adrenaline, it wasn't until we all sat down together to share the leftover food that we realised how tired (and if we really admitted it to ourselves, nervous) we all were. The judges seemed to take forever as we waited with bated breath...

I think Chris was quietly confident, but I was totally bowled over when we were announced as the Runners Up!!! And proud of us both! The judges are all experts in their fields and they liked our food. You can read all about it here.

Having tempted your tastebuds with all of this talk of food, there is one little thing we'd love you to do for us and that's vote for More Gingers, Vicar? - VOTE HERE!

There is a serious side to all of this and that's to raise money for Action Against Hunger, an international humanitarian organisation, working in 43 of the world’s poorest countries. Its vocation is to save lives, especially those of malnourished children and to work with vulnerable populations to preserve and restore their livelihoods with dignity. There are some fantastic prizes to be won in the Nom Nom Nom raffle in aid of Action Against Hunger. Please spare £5 or more to support this worthwhile cause.

Did I mention that Tom Aikens loved our dessert?