gherkin soup

Gherkin Soup

gherkin soupI have several loves in my life. Black eyeliner. Slow cookers. Carmex. But my heart really belongs to gherkins. Just say the word to yourself. It’s delightful to utter. It looks comical to write. And you get to decide how deep your relationships with people will be depending how they feel about them in burgers.

I always keep a jar in the house and have to ration myself from crunching through a gherkin every time I open the fridge (and yes, I know pickling preserves them. There’s just more room in there.) I garnish sandwiches with them and add them to salads, but I’ve never cooked with them.

Like most people, by late August, I’m in courgette apathy. Allotmenteers have gluts of them, but for fodmappers like me, this lasts all year as they are one of the few vegetables I can eat.

Staring glumly at a courgette on a chilly August lunchtime, I wondered how I could perk things up a bit. Deciding soup would be more acceptable than turning the heating on, I used a jar of gherkins to add some bite and interest to the whole thing. My Polish friends might clutch their pearls in horror at how inauthentic it all is but it tasted great and made courgettes interesting again.

Gherkin Soup (serves 2)

  • 1 large courgette, grated
  • 1 large potato, grated
  • 1 parmesan rind or 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 450ml stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 100g gherkins, chopped finely
  • 25g fresh dill or parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream

This is so easy and quick, writing the recipe out as a blogpost definitely took longer than cooking it from scratch (and I’m a speedy writer!)

Peel the potato and grate it and the courgette on the largest hole of a box grater and put into a large saucepan and cover with the stock. Add the anchovy fillet and the parmesan rind if you are using it. I stash mine in the freezer in a Tupperware until needed.

Simmer for about 10 minutes until the veg is soft and the anchovy has dissolved. I’m still working on a homemade fodmap friendly stock as it’s the place I miss the depth of onion the most, but I’m using the Knorr Touch of Taste one from a bottle. It’s onion and chicory fibre free for fodmappers and the least cheap roast chicken crisp flavoured commercial one I’ve found. Stop me if I sound too like Marco Pierre White though…

Fish the parmesan rind out and add in the chopped gherkins. Chuck in the grated parmesan if you’re using it instead and carefully blitz the soup with a stick blender, remembering hot liquids expand.

Add the chopped dill (I went fancy and added the parsley too. Mint would work if you are a dill-phobe) and stir in the sour cream and serve. It’s the perfect late summer soup, all fresh and tangy but warming and soothing at the same time. I’ve made it twice in a week which means my gherkin usage is about to fill my whole recycling bag singlehanded, but who cares when it’s this good?


bag octopus

Octopus Salad with Dill Salsa Verde

bag octopus

You know you are what most people would term a ‘foodie’ when you tend to keep some octopus in the house for an emergency. (That’s a dinner based emergency by the way. Anything else would just be weird.)

This is mainly because my local branch of the 99p Stores tends to sell tinned octopus cheaply and I stash it in the cupboard to go with pasta when I don’t much want to cook. However, this time my emergency octopus was the fancy Iberian stuff from Brindisa. Bought with a voucher, this packet of massive tentacles steamed in its own juices has been sitting in my fridge for ages. It’s been waiting for one of those moments where I want to pretend I’m Nigel Slater and make a meal more interesting that most people’s dinner parties but with stuff I happen to have to hand.

That moment came when I invited a friend round for dinner and was more interested in sitting on my patio gossiping about men and drinking dry Riesling than cooking per se. I had the octopus, I had some new potatoes and I had a thumping great bunch of dill. I also watched a lot of Ready Steady Cook in its day…

Octopus Salad with Dill Salsa Verde (serves 4)

  • 500g octopus
  • 500g new potatoes
  • 1/2 large bunch of fresh dill
  • 1/2 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 75g green olives
  • 30g capers
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 hard boiled egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

If you don’t have a bag of octopus around the house, you could use tinned or frozen baby ones from the Chinese supermarket you’ve simmered with lemon and bay leaves for about an hour and then cooled. I do this quite often in the slow cooker (see page 80 of Slow Cooked) and then freeze them for later use. Unlike squid, there isn’t much shrinkage or waste on an octopus so they are surprisingly good value.

If you do have a bag of octopus in the house, it’s literally boil in the bag as it’s packed in its own juices. Either simmer in a pot of water for 15 minutes or pop it in the microwave for 3 minutes and then allow to cool again for 3 minutes.

I also almost always steam my potatoes in the microwave these days. I cut them in quarters, put in a microwave proof bowl with a lid on and give them about 5 minutes per 250g. So give this amount 10 minutes and then allow to sit for a minute to absorb steam. Or boil them as normal and drain well.

Make the salsa verde by combing the dill and parsley in a hand blender with the oil, vinegar and egg yolk (this is optional. I had a spare hard boiled egg and know it helps emulsify the sauce. Double the mustard if you don’t have one.) Add the anchovies, olives, capers and mustard. Pulse to a thick but pourable consistency. Season and add any more mustard or anchovies or capers to taste. You could even chuck in a bit of garlic or fresh mint if you had some.

Slice your octopus into chunks and toss with the warm potatoes and stir the salsa verde through it all. Add some chopped fresh dill and parsley to look pretty, pour another glass of wine (Lidl’s dry Riesling is my current obsession) and tuck in. A simple barely cook dinner with almost no washing up which tastes of summer and luxury. What’s not to like?

octopus salad


hot cross buns

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns

hot cross bunsI used to be very strict about only eating hot cross buns on Good Friday as tradition dictated and then Marks and Spencer brought out their limited edition chocolate and caramel ones and I had to start cramming as many in as possible in a short space of time to make the most.

This year, they don’t seem to be doing this variety at all and I am highly disgruntled. I had a little sulk and then I tried the stem ginger ones to see if they hit the spot. They didn’t, so I decided I would revisit one of the very first things I blogged and make my own hot cross buns instead of waiting for someone else to fulfil my baked goods needs.

They were going to be dark chocolate and ginger and then I realised that I didn’t have any crystallised ginger, but I did have a big bag of prunes and what goes together better than chocolate and prunes? The recipe is adapted from Dan Lepard’s Spiced Stout Buns which are actually very easy to make despite what I thought a few years ago as a novice baker.

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns (makes 18)

  • 325ml warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fast acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 875g plain flour
  • 50ml dark rum or brandy
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 250g prunes, stoned and chopped
  • 250g mixed dried fruit
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 200ml cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

You need to start the buns the night before. Measure out 325g of the flour into a large bowl along with the yeast, spices and warm water and mix it all well together. Cover with a clean teatowel and leave to prove overnight.

In another bowl , put the chopped prunes (I cut mine into pieces just bigger than the raisins) and your dried fruit. I used a hotchpotch of raisins, golden sultanas, currants and candied peel. Add the booze and the golden syrup and allow the fruit to soak up their flavours overnight

Next morning, melt your butter and add it and the egg to the fruit mixture and then add the chopped chocolate. Add it all to the bowl of yeast batter and stir in the remaining 550g flour, the salt and sugar and about 150ml of the cold water. Mix until it forms a dough. It should be soft and slightly ragged but not sticky. Allow it to sit and breathe for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes (or however much longer it takes you to tidy your work surface…) tip the dough out onto an oiled work surface and lightly knead for 10 repetitions. Leave it where it is and repeat this action twice at 10 minute intervals, then return the dough to a clean bowl and leave it covered for 1 hour.

Line a baking tray or two with greaseproof paper and then measure the dough out into 100g balls per bun. I just pulled lumps off the dough and roughly shaped them between my hands so they were a bit more rustic looking than they could have been if I was the kind of person who is a neat baker. Put the buns on the baking tray touching each other and leave to rise again by half their volume. Mine took about another 30-40 minutes in a warm kitchen while the oven heated to 200℃.

Mix 3 tablespoons of plain flour with about 5 tablespoons of cold water until it is a smooth but not sloppy paste and put it in a piping bag. Pipe a long line of the paste across the buns from top to bottom and then from side to side so each bun has a cross. Doing this individually gets really faffy in comparison. Bake the buns for 25 minutes and remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To glaze the buns, mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar and hot water together and brush over the buns while they are still hot. Repeat twice to build up a nice glossy top and then allow the buns to cool on a rack. Serve slathered with butter and with a good strong cup of tea to hand. They will keep for several days in an airtight container or freeze well. I’m going to enjoy the heap I made since it’s not like I can go completely untraditional and make these again before next year. That’s just too much…

half hot cross


potato soup

Cream of Potato Soup

potato soupFor some reason despite more or less worshipping at the shrine of the spud, I have never made a potato soup without adding either leeks or kale for caldo verde. In fact I’d never heard of cream of potato soup until I moved to England and saw packets of the Erin stuff in Irish sections of the supermarket and discovered it was thought of here as quintessentially Irish.

So when I checked out Ocado’s Irish shop for an event with them and Bord Bia for St Patrick’s Day, I was amused to see that they don’t stock this but lots of things I really do think of as Irish. I decided to make my own cream of potato soup though to be sure and top it with soda bread croutons, fresh dill and smoked salmon to make sure no one confused it with the packet stuff.

Cream of Potato Soup with Soda Bread Croutons (serves 4 to start)

For the soup:

  • 1 large onion
  • 25g butter
  • 500g potatoes
  • 650ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • 100ml buttermilk
  • salt and pepper

For the soda bread:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 250ml buttermilk

To serve:

This is a very simple dish with a surprising amount of flavour from very few ingredients. I know I’ve described it as cream of potato but I forgot to buy any so I used the leftover buttermilk instead and the slight tang works brilliantly, so if you use cream, don’t skimp on a squirt of lemon juice too.

Finely slice the onion into half moons and allow it to soften into a sticky caramel tangle in butter over a low heat for about 30 minutes. Or use a batch of my slow cooker caramelised onions from the fridge where they last up to a month.

Peel the potatoes and cut into inch chunks. Add to the pan of onions and pour the stock over it all, seasoning well. Simmer on a low heat until the potatoes are collapsing around the edges for about 25 minutes. Use a handblender to blitz it all into a smooth soup.

It will thick and almost gluey at this stage but don’t panic. Add the buttermilk and blitz again and the texture will lift into a sleek soup with an almost foam like texture to the surface.

While the soup has been cooking, you’ll have been making the soda bread. I do buy mine for a emergency stash in the freezer, but having finally found a source of decent buttermilk, it seemed a shame not to make my own farls here.

Heat a dry heavy bottomed frying pan on the stove. Put the flour in a large bowl and add the sugar, salt and bicarb. Gradually add the buttermilk, bringing the dough together to a lump that shouldn’t be sticky. You may not need all the buttermilk. The acid in it activates the bicarbonate of soda and allows the bread to rise, so if you only milk, don’t forget to sour it with a splash of lemon or vinegar.

Flour the worktop and place the dough on it, pressing it into a circle with your hands until it is about an inch thick. Cut into four pieces or farls and cook two at a time in the dry frying pan giving them about 7 minutes on each side. Flip them over if they start to burn. Repeat with the remaining farls.

To make the croutons, split the farls in half and cut into small cubes. Add some oil or bacon fat to the frying pan and add the cubes to it and fry until the croutons are crisp and golden. Drain on some kitchen roll.

Serve the soup in shallow bowls scattered with the hot croutons, thinly sliced smoked salmon and chopped fresh dill. It probably doesn’t reheat well due to the buttermilk, but as there were only clean bowls from my guests, I’m not sure!

malt caramels

Hot Buttered Rum Caramels

malt caramels

A few years into living in Brixton, I started drinking rum as my go to drink. Previously that had been gin which was my loyal weekend tipple throughout my late teens and twenties. My friend Jo and I used to sit in the park watching the world go by on sunny days when we first moved to London with matching plastic glasses, a bottle of Gordon’s, some slimline tonic and a sliced lime in a plastic bag. But somewhere along the line, my tastes moved on and gin and tonic is an occasion drink for me these days.

Living in a heavily Caribbean area, it’s not really that strange that my allegiances have switched to rum. I prefer dark rum, preferably something spiced and have learned that it’s an excellent spirit for drinking either neat or mixed. Hot Brixton days often involve rum drunk long with soda water so that they are very thirst quenching and not particularly likely to get you drunk.

In the winter though I’ve become a huge fan of hot buttered rum. A big favourite in Brixton Village because it warms you up more than you’d think possibly when the wind sweeps through those avenues, I was introduced to it at Snugg (the name starts to make more sense now!) and have made several versions at home including this one with spiced quince rum. This year though I’m taking it easy on the seasonal booze and have turned my attention to making sweet treats instead.

Inspired by this recipe for homemade caramels by Diana Henry, I got my sugar thermometer out. I tweaked it to use condensed milk instead of cream (cheaper when like me you are prone to burning sugar based dishes) and added some spices along with a big glug of dark rum and got my buttered rum fix in a chewy caramel way instead. It’s very easy if unlike me you prepare well first and pay attention while you are making them.

Buttered Rum Caramels (makes about 65)

  • 175ml condensed milk
  • 60g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75ml dark rum (I use Bacardi Oakheart which is excellent and easy to get)
  • 250g white sugar
  • 160g golden syrup

Start by lining a 8 inch square dish or baking tray with greaseproof paper. Oil it lightly with a flavourless vegetable oil and set it aside.

Pour the condensed milk in a saucepan, add 30g of the butter, the salt and all the spices. Warm it through to infuse the spices and melt the butter but don’t let it boil. If you are doing this on an electric cooker do it on the ring behind the one where you’ll melt the sugar so you have a cold area on the hob so you can take the sugar off the heat for ease. Take the pan off the heat and add the rum. Set aside.

In a large deep pan (I used my Le Cresuet) heat the the sugar and the golden syrup together on a medium heat, stirring occasionally to help melt the sugar and prevent it burning. Once it is molten, turn the heat up and without moving the sugar around too much, heat to 155℃. I used a thermometer to make life easier here.

Take the pan off the heat the second it hits 155℃ and pour in the still warm spiced condensed milk. It may spit and bubble slightly so be careful. Stir it well to make sure it is smooth and return it to the heat until it reaches 127℃. Take it off the heat again and pour it into your lined tray.

Leave the caramel to cool for about 5 hours. Then lift the greaseproof paper out and cut the caramel into bite sized squares and wrap in 10cm squares of waxed or greaseproof paper. I got my rather festive looking stuff from Ebay but also used plain white. The caramel is soft enough to be able to roll up nicely. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. These make a lovely gift and are basically a very grown up version of Highland Toffee bars from my childhood.