I got really over-excited at the 20% off Le Creuset sale at John Lewis, and was delighted to get home late this evening and find that my pie dish (in ‘cassis’) had arrived. I’d planned to make the courgette and rice filo pie from River Cottage Veg Every Day! at some point this week, and this seemed like as good a time as any. It’s delicious and very easy, and I’ve just made it having been to one of those drinks parties where people keep topping up your glass so you lose track of how much you’ve had, so I can vouch for its simplicity.

Courgette and rice filo pie (from River Cottage Veg Every Day!)

500g courgettes, coarsely grated
75g long-grain rice
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped (I love onion in all its forms, so I put a whole one in)
75g hard goat’s cheese or mature Cheddar, grated (you might like to add some feta too, adjusting the seasoning accordingly)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
A handful of dill, chopped
A good handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
250g filo pastry (if you can get a slightly larger pack, do – you always end up with one really raggedy sheet per packet)
75g unsalted butter, melted
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.

2. Mix the courgettes, rice, onion, cheese, eggs, olive oil and chopped herbs together in a large bowl, and season well with salt and pepper. It really does need quite a bit of salt, especially if you’re not using feta.

3. Lightly brush a sheet of film pastry with melted butter, and use it to line an ovenproof dish – leave the excess hanging over the sides. Repeat this with all but the last sheet of pastry, lining the dish the whole way round.

4. Pour the filling into the pastry-lined dish. Fold the excess pastry over to cover the filling, dabbing with melted butter to encourage the pastry to hold together. Crumple the last sheet of pastry in your hands a bit, before placing it over the top of the pie and tucking in the edges.

5. Brush the top with a bit more butter, and bake for 45 minutes until golden. Depending on how late it is and how tipsy and/or hungry you are, you could eat this with some Turkish-/Greek-influenced mezze dishes, or just shovel a slice down and go to bed.

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Unencumbered as I am by ‘normal’ adult concerns like mortgages and small children, my brain generally concerns itself with questions such as, ‘Whose turn is it to put the kettle on?’, ‘Do I watch too much Black Books?’ and ‘What am I going to do with all those egg whites cluttering up the fridge?’ I’m keen on custard-making, which has the unfortunate (ha!) side-effect of using every egg yolk you can get your hands on, leaving you with bowls of sad-looking whites, destined for meringues that will never be made. Normal procedure is to leave them in the fridge until they go all watery, then chuck them out when you need the space to chill another bottle of wine.

These little cakes, from Lucas Hollweg’s Good Things to Eat, use five eggs whites. Five! Joy of joys. They’re very simple to make too, with no creaming of butter and sugar necessary; you needn’t even bother remembering to take the butter out of the fridge to soften, as it just needs to be melted. I used vanilla extract (Hollweg’s suggested alternative) instead of lemon zest, just because I fancied something vanilla-y with the raspberries.

Right – I’m off to make five egg yolks’ worth of custard.

Little almond cakes with raspberries (or almondberry cakes, as I’ve dubbed them)

Makes 12

175g butter, plus extra for greasing
250g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
140g ground almonds
60g plain flour
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (I substituted about a teaspoon of vanilla extract, which I stirred in just after the egg whites)
5 medium egg whites (I used large, and this doesn’t seem to have hurt the cakes at all)
12 raspberries (or blueberries, blackberries or blackcurrants, as Hollweg suggests. I agree with him that strawberries would be BAD)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and smear the holes of a 12-hole muffin tin with plenty of butter.
  2. Melt the butter gently until frothy and bubbly. Mix together the 250g icing sugar, almonds, flour and lemon zest (if using) in a large bowl. Stir in the egg whites and beat vigorously for about 10 seconds, until everything is nice and smooth, with no clumps of almond or sugar. Add the vanilla extract now, if using. Pour in the butter and mix it well – it’ll take a bit of elbow grease to get it incorporated. What you’ll have now is much runnier than a normal cake batter.
  3. Divide the mixture between the 12 holes of your tin (easier said than done when it’s this runny. I used a ladle and it still went everywhere). Put a raspberry on the top of each one – no need to push it in – and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. They’re done when they’re golden brown round the edges and still a little unset in the middle; this will become firmer as the cakes cool.
  4. Leave them in the tins to cool before prising out with the help of a metal spoon, then dust with a little icing sugar just before serving. Enjoy.

My birthday, falling as it does on the last day of August, marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. I can’t feel particularly sad about waving goodbye to the hot days for another year, not least because a) this is England, for gawd’s sake, and b) I hate being too hot. I hate picnics (I am forever plagued by wasps and dogs), sunstroke, and the indignity of sleeveless tops. (However, I can’t express my joy at the coming of autumn better that Eva Wiseman did in the Observer on Sunday.)

So, a year older and wiser, I am newly obsessed by the cosiness of autumnal comfort food. (If you don’t see much of me for the next few months, check my bed and then my kitchen.) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day! is my new favourite kitchen tome; I made the squash and fennel lasagne yesterday, and tonight seemed like a good time to try the swede and potato pasties. Even if they didn’t taste great, these would be worth making for the lovely rootsy savoury smell that wafts around your house while they’re in the oven; luckily, they’re also absolutely delicious. I’m taking one in for my packed lunch tomorrow (with age cometh thrift).

Swede and potato pasties (from River Cottage Veg Every Day!)

Makes 4

For the pastry:

300g plain flour
A pinch of sea salt
150g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

For the filling:

225g potato
125g swede
75g carrot
1 small onion, grated
Leaves from a handful of parsley, finely chopped
Leaves from a few sprigs of  thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
50g strong Cheddar, grated (Hugh says this is optional. I say: sling it in.)
30g butter, melted

To finish:

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon milk, to glaze

  1. To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt together, then add the pieces of butter and toss them in the flour until each little cube is separately coated. Add about 150ml of chilled or iced water to form a fairly firm dough. (Clumsy as ever, I added a little too much, but a well-floured work surface and rolling pin did the trick.)
  2. Shape the dough into a rectangle with your hands on a well-floured work surface, and then roll it out away from you, in one direction only, until the rectangle is about 1cm thick. Fold the far third towards you, then fold the nearest third over the top of that – you’ll now have a rectangle made up of three equal layers. Give the pastry a quarter turn, and repeat the rolling, folding and turning five times. Wrap the pastry in cling film, then chill in the fridge for between 30 minutes and an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190°C. If there’s someone in your house who likes a bit of painstaking chopping, call them into the kitchen at this point.
  4. Peel the potato, swede and carrot and cut into 3–4mm dice. This is quite pleasing really, once it’s done. Put the chopped veg in a bowl, along with the grated onion, herbs, bouillon, seasoning and cheese. Melt the butter and stir that in last.
  5. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick, and cut out 4 circles using a small plate (around 19cm diameter) – you’ll probably have to squish together the trimmings and roll them out again for the last one.
  6. Divide the vegetable mixture between the four pastry squares, keeping it to one side of each circle. Brush the edges with a little water, fold over the other half of pastry, and crimp the edges together securely. Patch up any holes that appear as you stretch the pastry over – you don’t want leaky pasties.
  7. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Place the pasties on the sheets, and brush them with the egg glaze. Bake for 35–40 minutes until golden brown.

I’d managed to resist the whole whoopie pie craze until now, but a bit of Christmas money and too much Amazon browsing time meant an impulse purchase of Claire Ptak’s book on the subject. I really liked the way she followed each recipe with a recommended filling recipe, but gave it all a mix-and-match feel so that, you imagine, strawberry buttercream filling could go into a chocolate whoopie if the fancy took you.

Thanks to a huge bag of carrots from the farmer’s market, I was immediately drawn to the carrot cake whoopies with orange mascarpone filling – cream cheese icing and carrot cake is a match made in heaven, as any fool could tell you. The mixture was straightforward to make (see recipe below), and I used an ice-cream scoop to dollop my 18 equally sized blobs on to the prepared baking sheets. Claire Ptak recommends a 5cm gap between scoops of mixture, but if you have the space then I’d leave a larger gap if you possibly can; I watched, powerless, as mine merged in the oven.

Once cool (cooling doesn’t take too long, as the cakes are relatively thin), you need to whizz up your filling, sandwich the cakes together and scoff them down.

Verdict: delicious, sweet, greedy, and a great way to transport a cake + icing combo around without the topping ending up smeared all over the place. No wonder the Amish take them in their lunchboxes. I don’t think there’s anything particularly cutting-edge here though – it’s just a standard cake but with the icing on the inside. I’m going to eat another one now, just to make sure.

Carrot cake whoopie pies (adapted from The Whoopie Pie Book by Claire Ptak)
Makes 9 large or 24 small whoopie pies

250g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
125g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (use the best you can afford)
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
zest of 1 orange (or use the zest of about ¾ of an orange here and the remainder in the filling)

Filling:
250g cream cheese
150g mascarpone
100g icing sugar
Zest and juice of half an orange – see note above if you abhor orange waste, like I do

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in the salt, and set this bowl aside for now.
  3. In a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until the mixture is really light and fluffy. The more air you can get in at this stage, the better. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix well until it’s all well combined and not curdled-looking. Add the grated carrot and orange zest, and mix again. Add the bowl of dry ingredients and mix once more, until everything’s just incorporated. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes (transferred to a Tupperware container if you have an enormous mixing bowl and a tiny fridge).
  4. Put 18 scoops of the mixture 5cm apart on your prepared trays, or 48 scoops for mini whoopies. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10–12 mins (for large ones) or 8–10 (for mini ones). I had to do the baking in two batches, as I have a normal person’s oven and do not work in a school/prison canteen.
  5. Move them onto a cooling rack and leave until cold – actually cold, not just cool, or the filling will ooze all over the place.
  6. Whisk the cream cheese until smooth, then add the mascarpone and mix again. Sift in the icing sugar, and mix till smooth. Add the zest and juice of half an orange (see note above) and mix to combine.
  7. Spread a heaped tablespoon of filling over the flat surface of one of the cakes, then sandwich it together with another. If yours aren’t exactly uniform in size, you might need to audit your cakes first to pair them up appropriately and prevent filling overspill.
  8. EAT! Or store for a couple of days, layered up with greaseproof paper so they don’t stick together.

Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I think I’m right in saying that I don’t know anyone who actively dislikes garlic. Even the pickiest eaters amongst my acquaintance adore garlic bread, for example. But after reading this post on the beautiful Kitchenist blog, it’s come to my attention that some people actively avoid it (how??); or rather than doubling the quantity of garlic, as I often do, they’ll use just one clove maximum for everything. Most shocking of all, my friend Vicky told me this morning that her mum will open all windows and doors when Vicky’s cooking anything containing garlic. Isn’t that just all food?

Along with onions, garlic is one of the basics that I expect to use to start pretty much any savoury dish I cook. This tart from Ottolenghi’s Plenty really lets garlic take centre stage, and the sweet, caramelised cloves contrast well with the salty goat’s cheeses. It’s an impressive dinner-party centrepiece, and reheats well so you can make it in advance. Pair with a lemon-dressed green salad to cut through the delicious richness.

Caramelised garlic tart (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

375g all-butter puff pastry
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
220ml water
¾ tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
120g soft, creamy goat’s cheese – a Welsh one would be lovely here
120g hard, mature goat’s cheese – there’s a Cornish one in Waitrose that is both vegetarian and delicious
2 free-range eggs
100ml double cream
100ml crème fraîche
salt and black pepper

  1. Roll out the puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom and sides of a 28cm, loose-bottomed tart tin, plus a little extra to hang over the edges of the tin. Line the tin with the pastry. Place a large circle of crumpled greaseproof paper on the bottom and fill up with baking beans. Leave the tin to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Place the tart case in the oven and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, then bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Set aside. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the tart case is baking, put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover them with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch the cloves for 3 minutes, then drain well.
  4. Dry the saucepan, return the garlic cloves to it and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic on a high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme and ¼ teaspoon salt to the garlic in the pan. Continue simmering over a medium heat for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Set aside.
  6. To assemble the tart, crumble both types of goat’s cheese into pieces and scatter them over the bottom of the pastry case. Spoon the garlic cloves and their syrup evenly over the cheese – the deliciously caramelised garlic will try to stick together in clumps.
  7. In a jug, whisk together the eggs, creams, ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Pour this mixture over the tart filling to fill the gaps, making sure that you can still see the garlic and cheese peeping through.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and put the tart in the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. In my oven, this took almost an hour in total. If the tart’s golden and cooked on top but still wobbly, remove it from the oven and don’t worry – it will set as it cools. Leave the tart to cool a little.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, remove the tart from its tin, trimming and tidying the pastry edge if needed, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm (but not burning hot) with a crisp salad.

The snack table in the office is looking distinctly bare, post-Christmas. Throughout December, it was piled high with boxes of posh biscuits, mince pies, and even brandy butter, but you’d be lucky to find a stale crumb this week. I’m still enough in the Christmas state of mind for three meals a day to not be quite enough, so it’s normally good to know that there’s a sweet treat to snack on. Something must be done.

My answer to the crisis is Nigel Slater’s iced marmalade loaf cake. It’s a very quick mixture to whip up in the evening, but the marmalade in the mixture adds interest and the drizzled icing makes it all a bit more special. I follow Nigel’s advice and add a drop of orange flower water to the icing too, but as long as you’ve got a jar of marmalade in the fridge and can pick up an orange on the way home you can probably make this cake without a special shopping trip.

A frosted marmalade cake (adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater)

175g soft unsalted butter
175 golden caster sugar (it’s not a disaster if you only have the white stuff in the cupboard)
A large orange
3 large eggs
75g orange marmalade
175g self-raising flour

For the frosting:
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp orange juice (from the orange whose zest you’ll use in the cake mixture)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line a loaf tin about 25 x 11cm, 7cm deep (mine’s shorter than this, about 21 x 9cm, but seems to work fine if the cake has a little longer in the oven; see step 6) – butter the tin lightly, then line with baking parchment.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer until pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Pour in the beaten egg a little at a time, with the mixer running, beating well after each addition.
  4. Finely grate the orange zest, and beat it into the cake mixture along with the marmalade.
  5. Fold in the flour gently with a metal spoon, working carefully but making sure that it’s all well combined. Gently stir in the juice of half the orange.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top lightly and bake in the preheated oven for 35–45 minutes. Check the cake after 35 minutes by inserting a metal skewer and checking that it comes out cleanly, not covered with raw mixture. I don’t know if it’s my oven or the size of my tin, but the cake was perfectly golden on top after 35 minutes but still a bit uncooked within. I covered the top lightly with a piece of foil at this stage and gave it another 20 minutes in the oven to cook through, checking it a couple of times.
  7. When it’s cooked, let the cake cool a little in the tin before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the baking parchment once cooled.
  8. Make the icing by sifting the icing sugar and mixing it with the juice from the remaining orange half, adding a splash of orange flower water if you have it. Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, and leave to set before scoffing it down.


Embarrassingly, a creamy, mild korma has always been my favourite curry. I know it has a reputation as a dish for people who don’t really like curry, and I suspect that my love of it has a lot to do with the cream content, dairy enthusiast that I am, but I maintain that a good korma, delicately spiced, is a thing of beauty and not a cop-out.

I’ve never made a korma from scratch before, but Nigel Slater’s recipes are generally very reliable so this root vegetable korma recipe from Tender: Vol. 1 seemed as good a place to start as any. None of the spices it includes are outlandish or difficult to track down, and it’s a great use of seasonal root vegetables. You could use a more varied mix of veg than I did, depending on what you can get hold of without too much hassle; Nigel recommends a mixture of swede and Jerusalem artichokes to make up 1.5kg along with the carrots and parsnips. Try throwing in some potatoes, butternut squash or pumpkin, or sweet potatoes for a change, but sweet potatoes won’t need to be cooked for as long as the other vegetables so just add them for the last 20 minutes or so.

The finished result was a little on the saucy side so I’d recommend removing the lid from the pan for at least some of the time in step 4. Nigel reckons you can have this curry on the table in an hour, but allow an hour and a half from start to finish as there’s a bit of veg prep to do, as well as grinding the spices.


A root vegetable korma (adapted from Tender: Vol 1 by Nigel Slater)

2 medium onions
A fat, thumb-sized piece of ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1.5kg root veg –
a mixture of parsnip, swede, carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes
100g cashews
6 green cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 tsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil, or butter
2 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
a cinnamon stick
2 smallish green chillies, depending on their heat, thinly sliced
150ml single or double cream
150g thick natural yoghurt
fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Peel the onions, cut them into large pieces, then pulse in a food processor till roughly minced (not puréed). Peel and roughly grate the ginger, then peel and finely slice the garlic cloves. Peel and coarsely chop the vegetables. Roughly chop half of the cashews (the quickest way of doing this is to blitz them very quickly in a food processor).
  2. Now deal with the spices: crush the seeds from the cardamom pods to a gritty powder in a pestle and mortar. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds to a fine powder – ideally in a spice grinder, as you’re not likely to get a fine powder using a pestle and mortar.
  3. Put the oil or butter into a deep, heavy-bottomed pan and stir in the onions, letting them soften but not colour. Stir in the ginger and garlic, cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes, then add the spices – cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder and the cinnamon stick. Continue cooking, stirring for a couple of minutes, until the spices become fragrant, then add the chopped vegetables and the chopped nuts. Season with the green chillies, salt and black pepper.
  4. Stir in 750ml water, partially cover with a lid and leave to simmer gently for forty-five to fifty minutes, till the roots are tender to the point of a knife. Keep an eye on the pan, stirring occasionally, and if it’s still looking watery towards the end of this time then leave the lid off for a bit to reduce the sauce down a bit. Toast the reserved whole cashews.
  5. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the cream and yoghurt. Put the pan back on a gentle heat to warm through without boiling. Should the mixture boil, it will curdle, and though the flavour will be fine the texture will be grainy. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Scatter over the toasted cashews and some chopped coriander, and serve with rice or naan bread.