Brussel Sprouts, Puy Lentil, Pancetta and Mustard

This week I am once again concentrating on those Christmas veg, namely brussel sprouts and parsnips, to make sure that you are not completely board of them before the big day even arrives. A word of warning though – there are lots of recipes out there suggesting you roast, char-grill or pan-fry your brussel sprouts. In my opinion do not trust them! Nothing beats lightly boiling them in salted water. It brings out the sweetness, whereas all the other methods seem to intensify the bitterness and cabbaginess.


I concocted this Brussel Sprout, Puy Lentil, Pancetta and Mustard recipe to serve alongside some good sausages for dinner, but it was so good I recon you could do without the sausages and just eat it on its own.


Brussel Sprouts, Puy Lentil, Pancetta and Mustard

Serves 2

100g Le Puy lentils, uncooked and rinsed

3 large handfuls of Brussels sprouts, stemmed and halved

90g slices thin-cut pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, cut into small strips

A splash of double cream

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cover the lentils with plenty of cold water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large frying pan, sautee the bacon in some olive oil until all the fat has rendered and the bacon is all crisp. Meanwhile, in a large pan of boiling salted water, cook the Brussel sprouts until to your liking. You know they are done when they taste good. Drain the Brussel sprouts and add to the bacon. Drain the lentils saving just a tiny bit of their cooking water and add to the Brussel sprouts. Return to the heat and cook just until everything is hot. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Add the mustard and stir through. Add a dash of cream, stir and serve straight away.


Fettuccini with Leeks, Bacon & Cream

I am really excited about this recipe for Fettuccini with Leeks and Bacon, probably because I am really hungry and it sounds just what I want to eat now. There are so many really good ready made pastas on the market now, and so much choice. This recipe would work just as well with pappardelle or tagliatelle, just choose a good one.


Fettuccini with Leeks, Bacon & Cream

Serves 2

2 tablespoons olive oil

90g slices thin-cut smoked streaky bacon, cut into small strips

1 large leek or 2 small, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, shredded crosswise and washed

100mls double cream

125g fettuccine, tagliatelle or pappardelle

Finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring often, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 5-8 minutes. Add leeks and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook over a low heat for as long as possible, stirring often, until leeks first completely soften and then begin to caramelize. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Add the cream to the leeks and some of the pasta water so that you have a nice creamy consistency but not too dry. Check seasoning. Drain pasta and add to the leeks and bacon. Add the parmesan to taste and serve straight away.

Leeks cut


Carrot and Coriander Soup

Yet another recipe which I cannot believe that I have not shared with you yet. This soup was one of my mum’s dinner party favourites, when I was a kid. Back in the 70’s this Carrot and Coriander soup was considered the height of sophistication, and coriander was still a relatively hard herb to get hold of. How things have changed but carrots and coriander are still a great combination and this is still a great soup.


Carrot and Coriander Soup

Serves 4

Olive oil

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped

750g carrots, peeled and chopped

Bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, then fry gently for 5 minutes until really soft. Add the carrots and a little salt and pepper and cook for about another 10 – 15 minutes or so. Keep the heat low, do not brown just lightly caramelize. This will release the natural sugars and intensify the flavour of the carrot. Cover with water and cook until the carrots are tender. Add the coriander to the pan, stir and remove from the heat. Whiz with a hand blender of in a liquidizer until smooth. Add enough water to reach desired texture. I like mine quite thick and creamy. I also love coriander so I add enough to turn the orange soup almost green. Season to taste and serve hot.

Bunch of Carrots

Roast Sweet Baby Peppers

Are you art a bit of a loss as what to do with these beautiful bags of sweet baby peppers that keep on turning up in your veg box? You will be pleased to hear that you need do nothing more than toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and chuck them in the oven. Roast at 180C for about 20-30 minutes until just turning golden brown. I served them up alongside my Sunday roast and everyone loved them but they also worked really well the other day, in my Harissa Roast Vegetables with Coriander and Preserved Lemon Cous Cous & Tahini.



Carrot Cake

I can’t believe that in over a year of writing this blog with Simon, that I have never shared my Carrot Cake recipe with you. I have served this cake up at countless Riverford Lunches over the years and everyone is always after the recipe. So here it is. By the way, when I say “my” Carrot Cake recipe, I actually blatantly stole it  from the fabulous “Baking with Passion” by Dan Lepard.


Carrot Cake

This cake can be dairy-free if you use a different icing. This is a big cake. You can half the recipe for a smaller one, or it works well as cupcakes too. Just cook for a little less time.

Serves: 10-12

300g self raising flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

pinch of salt

4 eggs

335ml sunflower oil

450g sugar

125g of grated carrots

140g chopped walnuts

2 tbsp boiling water


175g unsalted butter softened

300 full fat cream cheese softened

200g icing sugar sifted

Pre-heat the oven to 170C. I use two spring form tins (23 cm) that I butter bottom and sides. Cover the buttered bottoms of the tins with a circular piece of baking paper. Separate 2 of the 4 eggs. In a large bowl (or food processor) beat together both the oil and the sugar. Add the whole eggs one at a time, beat the mixture well before adding the two egg yolks. Stir in both the grated carrots and the chopped walnuts. Fold in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt then add the boiling water. In another bowl, whisk the 2 egg whites to soft peak stage. Fold it into the batter. Divide the cake mixture between the two tins. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted at the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool before removing them from the tins.

Make sure the butter is really soft before making the icing. Whisk all the ingredients together with a electric mixer until thick like frosting. Make sure your cake is really cool before you ice it. In summer, keep the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Sandwich some icing between the two tiers of cake and then cover the rest with what remains.


Roast Small Red Onions, Shallots and Garlic

Obviously, being a Riverford customer, I am the kind of person who appreciates that to avoid wastage my vegetables are not necessarily always going to be all the same size. But then again, I am also not necessarily the kind of person who has time to peel and chop tiny onions. After all, it takes twice as long as peeling large onions and I never seem to have enough time as it is. So when cooking a roast for my family last week, I rather lazily just chucked all the abandoned, left over small onions in the oven with the chicken. That was it – no peeling, no chopping, just whole – skins and all.  They came out looking pretty much the same as when they went in, but when you peeled back the skin you could squeeze out the melted onion middle and do you know what? They were everybody’s favourite part of the meal.


Roast Small Red Onions, Shallots and Garlic

There is no recipe, because it is too simple – take small red or brown onions, shallots and whole unpeeled garlic cloves and put them on a lined baking sheet (this will save on the washing up.) Put them in the oven at 180C for about 20-40 minutes depending on size. Garlic cloves will cook quicker and obviously, the smaller onions first. You know they are cooked when you can really squish them. Remove them as they are done and leave in the larger ones for longer. Chuck them in with your roast, alongside some sausages or just serve them up with lots of other roast veg. Peel back the skin and squeeze them out. I like to sprinkle a tiny bit of sea salt on them as I eat them or dip them in any extra olive oil from roasting the potatoes.


Roast Celeriac and Fennel Soup

Finally, for this week I was wondering what to do with the left over fennel and celeriac I had from my slaw. I tried out a Roast Fennel and Celeriac Soup, to which I added lots of freshly chopped rosemary and a drizzle of white truffle oil and it made a very nice lunch.

Roast Celeriac and Fennel Soup

Roast Celeriac and Fennel Soup
Extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
4 clove garlic, peeled
2 medium celeriac, chopped into even sized chunks
1 medium bulb fennel, cleaned and trimmed and cut into wedges lengthways through the root
A few sprigs of rosemary, very finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100mls double cream
White truffle oil

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Toss the celeriac and fennel together with plenty of olive oil, salt, pepper and the rosemary and spared out on a roasting tray. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or so, checking from time to time, until golden brown. About half way through cooking time, add the whole garlic cloves.

Meanwhile, sweat the onion in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with some olive oil over medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes until just beginning to caramelise. When the roast vegetables are ready, tip them in with the onions. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, and simmer the vegetables for about 10 minutes until very tender. Puree with a hand-blender until smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the cream. Serve with a drizzle of truffle oil.


Christmas Slaw

I accidentally somehow ended up watching a Nigella Christmas special last night. I think she is an intelligent and beautiful woman but she always comes over as somewhat smug and rather revoltingly, overtly sexy for me to watch for very long. It was long enough however, to catch her version of a Christmas Slaw which I thought might be particularly fitting for all you veg box lovers, to use up some of those winter veg. This is a great dish for boxing day with cold meats and chutney. You can add what you like, but I went for a very pleasant combination of celeriac, fennel, pointed cabbage, red cabbage, carrots and pear, which is very attractively colourful as well. Almost jewelled with its striking combination of purple and orange, so bear this in mind when choosing your veg. The spicy, caramelised pecans add a seasonal note. A mandolin is best for the job of quickly shredding your veg, so if you haven’t got a good one, why not treat yourself to one this Christmas. A food processor will not produce such pretty results although I am sure it will taste just as good.

Christmas slaw 2

Christmas Slaw
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 medium fennel, trimmed and very thinly sliced
¼ pointed or savoy cabbage, shredded very thin
¼ red cabbage, shredded very thin
¼ a celeriac, peeled and coarsely grated
1 pear, very finely sliced
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp maple syrup
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice of one orange
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the spiced pecans
120g cashew nuts, roughly chopped (or other toasted nuts)
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp chilli flakes

Heat the oven to 160C/320F.

Mix the nuts with the syrup, the cinnamon, the chilli and a good pinch of salt. Line a baking sheet with grease proof paper and tip on the nuts. Spread out and roast for 10-12 minutes, until golden and crunchy. Stir from time to time to ensure even cooking. Remove and set aside to cool.

Put all the vegetables in a large bowl.

For the dressing, whisk together the mustard, maple syrup, olive oil, orange juice, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and an eighth of a teaspoon of pepper. Pour this over the vegetables and mix well. Add the spiced nuts, stir to combine and serve.


Family Bolognaise

I have been so busy this week with thinking about Christmas, that I forgot to order my veg box. I was so occupied looking at all the Christmas hampers and cook books for family, that I clean forgot. But it is amazing how rummaging through the fridge I came up with all sorts. Last week I was talking about bulking out, or even replacing, meat dishes with mushrooms and I had a punnet to use up so that went in, and I had leeks too, which can always replace onions in sauces or stews.

I have also been talking quite a bit about cooking for kids and I came across a picture of my daughter aged 3, quite happily tucking into Spaghetti Bolognaise and I wondered how she had managed to turn into the fussy little madam she is today. I know that I have probably been a bit to blame, maybe bearing the adults in mind a little too much when cooking family dishes and I am quite a robust sort of cook. With children’s sensitive, little palettes, a little too much pepper or chili is probably enough to put them off. So I decided to make a batch of Bolognaise entirely with her in mind and see if I could win her back. Here are a few key points when cooking for kids although obviously you will need to adapt them for your own. Anyway, I am very pleased otro say that my efforts were rewarded when she not only finished up her own plateful, but somewhat regrettably, half of mine too!

• Go easy on the pepper and chilli. Don’t use too much wine. Make sure you cook it off.

• Break up the tinned tomatoes really well. Children can be fussy about pieces of tomato in things. Don’t use chopped, use whole, and mush them up with your hands until there are no big chunks left.

• Make sure you do not let anything catch. Burning makes things taste bitter. We tend to use leaner and leaner meat which of then does not have enough fat to cook. Add sufficient. If your sauce is greasy at the end, skim it or blot it with kitchen paper,

• Leave out (or puree) vegetables that they hate. My daughter will not eat carrots, no matter how I try and tell her they are something else, golden nuggets for example, she is not falling for it. As frustrating as it is leaving these things out, it is not as frustrating as them refusing to eat the whole dish.

• Cut vegetables fine, and cook down for as long as possible. Do this slowly with enough oil and a good pinch of salt. This will help them disappear into the sauce. This will also add some of the missing flavour that you have had to leave out, back.

• Be careful with cuts of meat. Children can be particularly fussy about skin, sinew or pieces of fat.

• Be careful with “green bits” ie herbs. Dried oregano is best to start with as it is familiar from pizzas.

Spag Bol 2

Family Bolognaise
Extra virgin olive oil
250 g quality British beef mince
6 rashers thinly sliced dry-cured smoked streaky bacon, sliced into lardons
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
1 leek, peeled and finely chopped (or onion)
2 sticks celery, very finely chopped
4 large Portobello mushrooms or 8 smaller ones
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree
100 ml red wine
2 x 400 g tins of plum tomatoes

Put a casserole pan on a medium heat, add a splash of olive oil then cook then brown the meat. Break it up completely with a wooden spoon. Do not burn. Add more oil if necessary. When golden brown, remove to a separate bowl. Drain any extra fat if necessary. Add another glug of oil to the pan and add the bacon. At first the bacon will sweat. Use the liquid to scrape the bottom of the pan clean so that it does not burn. Fry until crispy. Add leek or onion and celery and sweat for a good 10 minutes, with a pinch of salt, stirring now and then, until really soft. Add the mushrooms, oregano and garlic and cook until completely broken down. Add the mince back, the tomato puree and then pour in the red wine. Bring to the boil and cook off for at least 2 minutes. Add the mushed up tinned tomatoes. Rinse the tins out with a little water and add that too. Either tip the whole lot into a slow cooker for 3 hours on slow or cover with a lid and cook on the hob very slowly for 1 ½ hours. Check seasoning and add salt and a little pepper to taste.

Serve with whatever pasta your kids like best. Parmesan is obviously optional too. Don’t forget it is great in baked potatoes.

Amelie eating spag bol

Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie

Sometimes I run out of things to do with mushrooms. I always put plenty in my Bolognaise sauce and this reminded me that they are a delicious way of bulking out a meat dish. And as I stared into the fridge at the hoard of mushrooms and leeks, a delicious Chicken Pie, sprang to mind and then there was no stopping me. What is great about this recipe, is that it uses the whole chicken, which is so much more economical than buying separate pieces and that you make your own stock. It is a little more time consuming, but really worth the extra effort. You can make up for lost time with readymade and even ready rolled puff pastry. Everyone who knows me, knows I am a great fan of this super time saving product. This comes from a girl who used to make her own! It is a bit hit and miss and as you can see from the photos, mine didn’t rise particularly brilliantly. As always I was trying to do too many things at once and did not give it my full attention, but it still tasted great. Make sure the oven is really hot to get the puff to rise. You can always turn it down afterwards.

I served up my pie with some of the longest French beans I have ever seen. When they turned up in my box I have to admit I thought they were going to be really stringy and tough. But they were surprising tender and along with the pie, the kids love them.

Chicken Pie

Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie
1 free-range organic chicken
2 leeks
1 carrot
2 sticks celery
handful thyme, some for the stock and some finely chopped for the
200g smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons
50g butter
400g mushrooms, sliced
50g plain flour
500g ready rolled fresh all butter puff pastry, or frozen & defrosted
1 egg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Take the chicken and bend back it’s legs so that they are underneath the breast. Put into a large saucepan, big enough to comfortably hold the chicken. Fill with water up to nearly the top of the chicken. (The idea is that the legs, which take longer to cook are submerged in water and the breast stays above so that it is just steamed and remains moist.) Add the leek tops, the roughly chopped celery and carrot and the thyme. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and cover the pan. Allow to gently simmer for 45 minutes. Meanwhile shred and wash the remaining leek. Heat another large saucepan and add the bacon and the butter. Cook until crisp. Add the leeks and sweat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (If you have a lid, cover the pan to begin with. The steam helps the initial sweating process and the salt also helps to add moisture drawn out from the leeks.) Cook until just beginning to caramelise. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they are completely cooked down and no liquid remains. Add the chopped thyme and the flour into the pan and cook, stirring, for 1 min. Remove from the heat when ready.

Meanwhile, when your chicken is cooked, remove it from the stock to cool. The stock can carry on reducing. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, take the flakes of meat off the bone. Make sure you only keep nice chicken meat. (If it is for the kids, be particularly vigilant.) Keep to one side. The bones can go back into the reducing stock but discard the skin. Take 500mls of your stock, pass it through a sieve and add it to your leek and mushroom mixture. Gradually stir in the stock and bring to the boil, stirring until thickened. Add the chicken back into the mixture and tip into a large pie or baking dish (approx 20 x 30cm) and leave to cool.

Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Top with the sheet of pastry. Try and tuck it all in so that is cooks evenly (not like I did) and brush with egg. Pick a few times with a fork and then bake for 30 mins or until the pastry is risen and dark golden brown.

Daniel eating french beans