The new garden – May 2013

pear tree blossom

With a new house comes a new garden to play with. It’s significantly different from our last place. We’ve swapped a tiny, no-so-private courtyard with raised beds that overlooked the fields to a “grown-up” garden with lawn, patio, grass, trees and flowers slap bang in the middle of suburbia. I certainly don’t miss sitting on our crowded courtyard wondering if a mouse was about to run out from the wood store I was sitting next to.

Before now we’ve only ever known a garden with fruit and vegetables, now we have a host of new plants and completely different soil to work with. You could say it’s a bit of pot luck and the last few months have been a steep learning curve.

herb garden

From the old house I brought with me my cherished herb garden grown in big planters, our grapevine that was a wedding present 6 years ago plus a tiny white alpine strawberry plant that managed to seed itself another planter. As it turns out we moved at the perfect time to transplant a grapevine thanks to advice from Mark Diacono. The extended cold snap helped to keep the vine dormant until we could replant it and over the last week we’ve spotted the leaf buds are beginning to appear. Everything else came with the new house.

grapevine buds

As we bought the house during a winter that seemed to go on for ever, we’re only beginning to see the garden come in to life now and interestingly it appears to include plants I wanted to put in the garden in the first place. We have tulips in some beautiful colours (including what appears to be the stunning Queen of the Night variety), cherry blossom, lots of muscari, a small pear tree, clematis, rose, day lillies, honeysuckle and more.

young clematis leaves

At the weekend we planted a Katy apple tree which we’ve decided to train against a wall to turn it in to an espalier. This means it has been seriously lopped to get it to grow in the right direction.

Katy apple espalier blossom

Currently we have no vegetables. The raised beds in the garden are not in the best condition so they are going to be rebuilt and all I’ve asked is that I can grow golden raspberries, possibly my favourite fruit in the whole world. There is also talk of the pizza oven and outdoor kitchen that Hubs dreams of being built to go with the tandoor oven.

white alpine strawberry blossom

We seem to have lots of worms and bees in the garden which is good along with the odd swallow that has joined us in the evenings recently. We’ll ignore the prevalence of pigeons and collared doves. So here’s to a new garden chapter for us and my goodness do we have so much to learn.

honeysuckle leaf

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Baked Stuffed Peppers

oven baked stuffed peppers

There is no denying it that living on a diet of empty food cupboard concoctions and quickly grabbed meals from the supermarket while waiting to move house wasn’t the best for the waistline so I’ve banned baking recently. However unpacking all my cookbooks has brought some gems out that had laid in dusty storage for a while. As its bank holiday this coming weekend I can guarantee there will be some sort of baking to celebrate this.

Aside from the lack of baking I’ve had to do recipe development for my school cookery club. Each term I like to mix in all different sides of cookery from the baking to the raw. Whenever you teach cookery in schools, in particular primary, there are lots of restrictions you have to take in to account:

  • Age of kids
  • budget
  • size of class
  • available equipment
  • any ingredient restrictions etc.

For this particular school rules are: no nuts, 90 minutes for class (never ever underestimate how long it takes a child to cook) and a couple of catering ovens that only I have access to. The children can see in to the catering kitchen but are not allowed in on H&S grounds. Now can you understand how tricky it can be teaching cookery in schools and that it is often never given the justice it deserves? Bearing all of this in mind this term we are making:

  • Jam Tarts – linked to St Georges day
  • Cheesy breadsticks – simple introduction to breadmaking
  • Cornflake cookies – from Things we Make
  • Baked Stuffed Pepper
  • Raspberry Cheesecake – hoping summer may finally be here when we make this

In cookery club as well as learning cookery skills it is also a chance to introduce the kids to foods, tastes and textures they may not be familiar with without pushing them too much out of their comfort zone. Kids are more likely to try new things when surrounded by their peers. At the same time the recipe must be easily accessible. You want the child to feel inspired to make the recipe again at home. You don’t want to be using expensive, obscure, hard to source ingredients as I believe that can put both kids and parents off.

stuffed peppers

Due to equipment and time limitations I am cheating with the ratatouille. Asda do a good tinned version that works well in this recipe. You can use different coloured peppers but bear in mind red ones are sweeter.

Baked Stuffed Peppers
Serves 1

  • 1 red pepper
  • 30g cous cous
  • 70g (around 3 heaped dessert spoonfuls) of ratatouille
  • 40g feta cheese
  1. Carefully slice the pepper in half along its length then pull out the centre with the seeds. Try and keep the bowl of the pepper intact.
  2. Pour the couscous in a bowl and just about cover with boiled water. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave for 5 minutes.
  3. Once the couscous is cooked fluff up with a fork then stir in the ratatouille.
  4. Crumbe the feta cheese in to the couscous mix and stir until well combined.
  5. Share the couscous mix between the peppers.
  6. Place the peppers in a baking tin then cook at 200°c for 20-25 min until pepper is soft. Can be served hot or cold.




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Our favourite things: British design

We’re nearly there with the unpacking and the new garden is finally coming in to bloom. I swear the old cottage was a Tardis with all the stuff we have.

I have a mantra. Everything I buy for the house has to be both beautiful and practical. This stood us in good stead as the old house was so tiny. Over the years I’ve bought pieces by British artists and designers that I love and all under £50 in the hope that eventually I’d be able to get them out of storage and display them.

Ali Miller

Ali Miller Sherlock tea set

I first discovered Ali Miller when one of her tea sets appeared on BBC’s Sherlock. Look, something that managed to distract me from Benedict Cumberbatch must be special. After a serious amount of googling I managed to track the tea set down. Ali takes vintage crockery then adds detail by hand. Her artwork also features other media. At the moment I only have the cup and saucer but would love to add to my collection.

Becka Griffin

alphabet of cheese Becka Griffin

Becka Griffin is a fab Liverpudlian illustrator. I stumbled across her work earlier this year and fell in love. I really like her style. Although this alphabet of cheese print was given to me as a gift (I strongly hinted to people I’d like it) I’ve bought much of her work in form of greetings cards to send to people. I believe her alphabet of biscuits alphabet of cake prints would look wonderful in my kitchen.

Kate Wilson (aka Little Doodles)

Kate Wilson Little Doodles

I’ve loved Kate’s Little Doodles work for a few years now. I have a bit of a thing for birds in art, don’t ask me why, so how can I resist when birds are paired with patisserie. I love the quirky nature of the prints that have made our guests do a double take when they realise George the fat little bird is sporting an Iced Gem.

Kathleen Hills

Kathleen Hills Made in England rolling pin

This is where my practical rule has been slightly ignored. Not intentional you see. When I got this Made in England rolling pin by Kathleen Hills a few years back I was hoping to use it, but it is so delicate I’ve used it once or twice but I am so scared about breaking it I now just display it.


Next on my list:

I do have a couple more people who’s work I covet. In the future I plan to buy a Celia Hart lino print & some of  Sue Bulmer’s work. Now I should really stop buying things for the house and start making blog worthy dishes again.

So which British design gems do you own?


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The next chapter


The last month has seen some huge changes for us here. The cottage that shaped our life and love of food for most of our 20s has gone and been replaced with a grown-up house. A home with beautiful period features, a big kitchen, proper garden, dining room, dishwasher, central heating and most importantly space for us to entertain properly. We can now have more than two guests over for dinner without them having to sit on the sofa to eat.

A month without internet can do funny things. You don’t realise how much you use it in everyday life until you don’t have it. Even registering to vote for the upcoming elections is difficult without internet. With only a ropy 2G signal to keep me in contact with the modern world I began to notice a theme with the blogs I visited regularly with my precious mobile data allowance.  They were blogs that blogged about their life. No sponsored content, no gimmicks, no product placement, not contrived, just life and inspiration that is usually illustrated with beautiful photos. If a product is mentioned it’s because it’s genuinely used and liked not because a PR has sent it.

I’m not saying the other style of blogs is wrong, it’s just not me. If I don’t enjoy reading it why would I enjoy writing it? When I started this blog in 2007 it was pure recipes. As it has evolved it has taken more or a personal/lifestyle edge to it. I often look back through the blog to remind me of things I’ve made or visited and it’ll often tie to events in my life at the time. I just feel when I continue to read this blog in later years I want to read about our life and what we love, not about the latest breakfast cereal on the market.

So here’s to the next chapter of the blog and that outdoor kitchen with pizza oven Hubs has been dreaming about for years may finally get built.

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Chipotle Chilli Con Carne

chipotle chorizo chilli con carne

Shock horror, we’ve lost our sweet tooth. I still love the process of making and baking cakes but once I’ve had a slice I’m bored with it. 10 days ago I made a banana and caramel loaf. It’s still half uneaten in the tin. What has happened to us? One advantage though is that it is pushing me to discover more savoury foods.

I’m doing some work with the good people at BBC Good Food Show at the moment this gives me the opportunity to try some selected products from producers at the show. One of these is chipotle from Edible Ornamentals. I’ve recently seen and heard lots about chipotle but had yet seen them for sale as Derbyshire can be a bit of a culinary backwater when it comes to more unusual ingredients.

Chipotle is a smoked and dried jalapeno pepper and looks like a burnt, dried out chilli. As soon as I added the chopped chilli to the pan you could smell the smokiness. As Hubs declared this to be the best chilli con carne I’ve ever made here is the recipe.

Now, I like to serve chilli con carne with a good dollop of cottage cheese. Yes not authentic in the slightest and Hubs recoils in horror at just the thought of stirring this lumpy cheese in to a chilli but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

chipotle chilli con carne

As I’ve learnt over the years the best chilli con carnes are ones that have been slowly cooked. Yes you can make them quickly but they are at their best when they have slowly simmered for a few hours then sat for a day in the fridge. It seems to help all the flavours and spices to meld together and up the chilli kick.

The thing I like about chilli is that it is a perfect way to use up odds and ends of ingredients. While the recipe below mentions an onion I have been known to replace this with a leek before just because it needed using up.

it’s worth fine chopping the vegetables. I just bung it in the blender for a quick pulse. By fine chopping the vegetables it bulks out the meat and conveniently hides the veg better. If only Hubs knew how many vegetables I secretly hide in meaty meals.

Chipotle Chilli Con Carne

Serves 4-6

  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 25g chorizo, cubed
  • 500g minced beef
  • 1 chipotle chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 200ml beef stock
  • 150g button mushrooms, halved
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tin kidney beans


  1. Put the onion, garlic, celery and carrot in the blender and pulse until finely chopped.
  2. In a large saucepan heat the olive oil then fry the chopped vegetables until they begin to soften.
  3. Add the chorizo and mince to the pan and fry until the mince is browned.
  4. Stir in all the remaining ingredients apart from the kidney beans. Simmer for 2 hours. Stir every 15 minutes to stop the chilli sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add the kidney beans. Simmer for a further 10 minutes then serve. This chilli tastes even better the following day.

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Onion and Parmesan Knotted Loaf

parmesan and onion knot loaf

This should really be called the onion and parmesan 8 strand plait loaf but given our analytical brains couldn’t process Paul Hollywood’s instructions (no pictures) to make an 8 strand plait we kept on ending up with a messy knot. Giving up we shaped it some more and bunged it in a 2lb loaf tin.

Only as I shut the door of the oven did I click as to what the instructions were telling me. When it says, for example, 8 under 7 over 1 you must also go under 6,5,4,3 and 2. I didn’t and if you don’t you end up with a knot and lots of swearing.

8 strand plait bread instructions

I use onion flour from Claybrooke Mill which is a blend of strong white flour with dried onion flakes. It ‘s a fabulous flour to use along with their chilli flour that I used in the chilli and blue cheese cobs I made back in December.

Ignore the fact dried onion flakes look like toenail clippings; they work really well in bread. They give the flavour of onion to the bread without having to bite through hunks of onion pieces. It also sits with my belief that you are allowed short cuts in baking. Sometimes life’s too short to be faffing with an real hydrated onion.

The leftover bread made rather superb cheese on toast the following day.

Onion & Parmesan Knotted Loaf

  • 500g Onion flour mix (or 500g strong white flour and 30g dried onion flakes)
  • 10g salt
  • 5g fast action yeast
  • 25g grated parmesan (plus 1 tablespoon for coating)
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder
  • 200ml semi-skimmed milk, room temperature
  • 150ml warm water
  • olive oil (for oiling working surface)


  1. Put all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.
  2. In a jug mix the milk and water together then pour in to the dry ingredients.
  3. Mix together the ingredients until they are combined then turn out on to a oiled surface.
  4. Knead  for 10 minutes until the dough is soft and springy. Shape the dough in to a round.
  5. Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover in cling film then place in a warm place until it has nearly doubled in size.
  6. Knock the dough back then allow to nearly double in size again.
  7. Turn the dough out and split in to eight peices. Roll each piece in to a long thin sausage shape.
  8. Follow the instructions here on how to plait it, or like me make a total hash of it.
  9. Place the plaited loaf a 2lb tin that is oiled and dusted with flour.
  10. Allow the loaf to rise uncovered until it has increased about 50% in size. When ready sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the loaf.
  11. Place a baking tray of boiling water at the bottom of your oven then place the bread tin on the shelf above.
  12. Bake at 240°c (or as hot as your oven goes) for 10 minutes then turn down the oven to 180°c and bake for a further 25-30 until the bread is baked. When ready the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the base.
  13. Take the bread out of the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

cheese and onion knot loaf

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Cheese & Tomato Tart

cheese and tomato tart >> Butcher Baker

I’ve turned in to one of those people who buys food because they are pretty and will look good in photos. These cherry tomatoes on the vine were a bargain in Aldi. While doing a food styling stint in the kitchen for my SheKnows work I was left with some ingredients to play with and no lunch. Voilà cheese & tomato tart.

I use this as a base for a tart quite a lot. It makes a quick warming lunch or dinner and a novelty compared to the good old toastie that seems to be a staple lunch for me at the moment. It’s a wonderful way to get use up those ingredients that are on the turn and when there isn’t enough of one thing to make a whole dish.

Yes I can make puff pastry and have done in the past but frankly life is too short. If Michele Roux Jr even admits to using cheats like this in the kitchen I can’t see anything wrong.

Cheese & Tomato Tart
Serves 2

1/2 packet (375 grams) pre-rolled puff pastry

1 large egg

1 tablespoon of double cream

25g grated mature cheese

couple of torn basil leaves or 1 tsp mixed herbs

pinch of salt and pepper

10 cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp parmesan cheese


  1. Unroll the puff pastry, cut in half then place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
  2. Using a sharp knife score a three centimetre border around the pastry. Make sure you do not cut all the way through the pastry. As the tart is cooking this pastry edge will rise and stop contents of the tart spilling out.
  3. In a bowl whisk together the egg, double cream then season with salt and black pepper.
  4. Mix the grated cheese into the egg mixture then pour it over the pastry trying not to cover the border.
  5. Sprinkle the torn basil over the tart then dot the cherry tomatoes on top of the pastry.
  6. Bake at 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6 for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry along the edge of the tart is risen and golden. Can be eaten hot or cold.

cheese and tomato puff pastry tart >> Butcher Baker

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