Elliot Ceramics

I always considered myself a ‘white ceramics’ person. The piles of crockery on my kitchen shelves back that up. That was until I first clapped my eyes on these beautiful pieces by South London-based potter Elliot Denny.  

This collection comes in an array of sugared-almond hues and is available to buy from Simple Shape. The muted colour palette complements the simple forms where excess details have been stripped away to create a range of beautifully modest tableware. A stunning considered collection that will both balance and enhance the food served upon it.

Images left to right, from top: group image with espresso cup, cup, creamer + bowl; espresso cup; bowl; group image with bowl, creamer, small + large plate; small plate.

www.simple-shape.com
www.elliottceramics.com
Photography: Yeshen Venema

Double Greens & Filo Pie

I have no problem with eating my greens - I could probably give Popeye a run for his money. Spinach, Chard, Spring Greens and Kale - I love them all. This simple pie welcomes any of the aforementioned green leaves. Paired with a creamy salty feta cheese and encased in crispy wafer thin sheets of Filo pastry, it's extremely delicious and good for you too. 

Double Greens & Filo Pie

Olive oil
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g kale, stalks removed and leaves shredded
250g chard or spinach, leaves shredded and chard stalks chopped
grated zest of ½ unwaxed lemon
3 organic free-range eggs
200 g feta cheese
small bunch fresh parsley, picked and roughly chopped
small bunch fresh dill, picked and roughly chopped
4 large sheets filo pastry, or 8 smaller ones
1 tbsp poppy seeds

1. Preheat your oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas 7.

2. Put a 26cm non-stick oven-proof frying pan on medium heat and add a little olive oil. Add the spring onions with a pinch of salt and fry for a few minutes, until softened.

3. Next, add a couple of handfuls of spring greens or kale and cook until they have shrunk down a little. Keep adding like this until all the greens are in the pan, then cook until just wilted. Add the chard or spinach and let that wilt too. Sprinkle over the lemon zest and season with more salt if needed and a bit of pepper. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool a little.

4. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, crumble in the feta and add the chopped herbs. Once the greens are cool, add these too. Wipe out the frying pan with some kitchen paper. Get yourself a large sheet of baking paper, about 50cm long, and lay it on your work surface. Drizzle it with a little olive oil, then scrunch it up into a ball so it’s all coated (this will stop it burning in the oven). Now lay it flat again.

5. Lay the filo over the baking paper in two layers – it will overlap here and there but that’s okay. Drizzle the lot with a bit more oil. Now carefully lift the paper to rest on top of the frying pan (if you don’t have an oven proof frying pan a similar sized flan tin or shallow cake tin will do), with the excess hanging evenly round the edges.

6. Pour the egg and greens mixture into the middle and level out with a spoon. Fold the excess layers of pastry over the top to cover the top of the greens mixture. No need to be too neat here, as some movement and texture looks beautiful. Serve with a simple salad.

Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Rhubarb Crumble Flapjack Slices

A couple of weeks ago, when the new season rhubarb first appeared in the shops, I bought a bright pink bunch without much of a plan as to what I was going to do with it. 

A crumble with custard would have been the most obvious route, but then I remembered this recipe by Anna Jones for her summer rhubarb bars. I hadn't tried the recipe before, and not wishing to wait until summer, I made a few recipe adjustments (upping the rhubarb and adding in few raspberries) and these were the result. Perfect with a cup of tea or served as a pudding in a puddle of custard.

Rhubarb Crumble Flapjack Slices

150g coconut oil or butter, plus extra for greasing
150g rolled oats
150g spelt flour
150g coconut sugar or unrefined light brown sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
400g rhubarb
150g raspberries
the juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 210°C/190°C fan/gas 7 and get all your ingredients and equipment together. Line a roughly 30cm × 20cm baking tray with greaseproof paper and rub with a little coconut oil.

Put the coconut oil or butter into a large saucepan over a medium heat and leave to melt, then take off the heat. Add the oats, flour, 150g sugar and a pinch of salt and give it a good mix. Take out 6 tablespoons of the mixture and put to one side to make the topping. Press the rest of the mixture into the bottom of the baking tray. Press down with the back of a spoon until it evenly coats the tray.

Chop the rhubarb quite finely and half or quarter the raspberries and put into a bowl; squeeze over the lemon juice, add 1 tablespoon of sugar and toss to coat. Scatter the fruit over the crumb base then sprinkle with the reserved topping. Bake for 40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly and the crumbs are golden.

Let the bars cool in the tray (you can do this in the fridge to speed things up), then cut into slices. Store in the fridge – they will keep for 4–5 days.

P.S. The lovely napkins in photographs are by Home Address:)

Spring/Summer 2017 Tableware from Marimekko

For me cooking a nice plate of food is just half the story. What you serve that food upon and the utensils and tools used to create the meal can make the whole experience all the more richer.

I have therefore decided to intersperse my regular food posts with some design in the form of table and kitchenware - from the pieces that line my kitchen shelves too those on my ever-growing wish list.

Ceramics are my number one downfall. For me the right plate will frame the food just so; the right mug becomes a familiar comfort that’s a pleasure to hold and drink from. I favour those ceramics that have been passionately produced and are generally understated in style with organic forms and soft muted tones, allowing the food to take centre stage.

The exception to this rule however is Marimekko with their bold geometric patterns. I have been a huge fan of the Finnish brand for a long time and take pleasure in using several of their tableware pieces in my kitchen on a daily basis. Their new spring/Summer 2017 home collection includes this beautiful monochrome tableware, a collaboration by designers Carina Seth Andersson and Sami Ruotsalaine. Designed to bring long-lasting joy to our everyday moments, these pieces are to be used Monday through to Sunday, rather than kept for best – where, after all, would be the joy in that?

Images left to right, from top: Oiva/Hortensie platter, Oiva/Hortensie plate, Oiva/Basket teapot, Oiva/Basket Mug, Oiva/Hortensie bowl, Oiva/Hortensie rectangular plate.

All available from marimekko.

Fried Risotto with Red Cabbage Salad

This post is really a 'part two' to the previous one; Spinach Risotto with Parmesan Cheese & Nutmeg. These fried risotto cakes, made with the previous evenings leftovers, made a quick lunch the following day with a simple red cabbage salad. Another favourite recipe from the wonderful Copenhagen eatery Grød.

Fried Risotto with Red Cabbage Salad

For the fried risotto cakes:
1 cup of risotto from the day before (cold)
1 tbsp rye flour
1 egg
¼ bunch of fresh herbs (eg. parsley, thyme, chervil)
30g parmesan cheese, grated
½ onion
1 clove of garlic
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp of neutral oil (eg. rapeseed or sunflower)

Chop the onion, garlic and herbs roughly. Beat together all the ingredients in a bowl. Heat a pan with oil and use a big tablespoon to shape the risotto into patties. Fry until it becomes golden brown on both sides.

For the red cabbage salad:
½ red cabbage
1 apple
20g roasted almond

Clean the apple and red cabbage. Remove the stalk from the cabbage and cut into nice strips on a mandolin du chef or with a sharp knife. Chop the apple in fine pieces and mix with the red cabbage, roasted almonds and mustard vinaigrette.

Mustard vinaigrette:
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp coarse mustard

Blend the ingredients to a homogeneous paste with a food processor or hand blender.

To serve:
Serve the fried risotto and salad on plates, with some bread if you’re feeling ravenous.

Spinach Risotto with Parmesen Cheese & Nutmeg

Last summer we took our family holiday in Denmark and on our first trip into Copenhagen we discovered Grød; the world's first 'porridge restaurant'. Alongside all-day breakfast porridges were a selection of seasonal risottos and a daily daal all served in deep bowls. We made many returns to the restaurant to work our way through the menu. I returned home with their cookbook and now recreate these comforting bowls at home.

This week I made this vivid green bowl, which fed us four with enough leftover to make risotto cakes the next day for lunch. The tip, when making such a recipe, is to prep all your ingredients before, setting them out before you in little bowls like they do on cookery shows, because once you start cooking the risotto you'll need to keep stirring, rather than chopping and measuring out ingredients. Prep the puree and salad parts of the recipe before you start on the main risotto - it will make life easier. Having such an organised approach will allow you to stand at the stove and stir, which makes for a good risotto and is also rather relaxing. Maybe set yourself up with some music to work to - I often favour a bit of jazz when cooking risotto of an evening.

Spinach Risotto with Parmesan Cheese & Nutmeg

Serves 4 generously

Risotto:
1 banana shallot
1 garlic clove
300g risotto rice
2 tbsp olive oil
30g butter
1 litre of vegetable stock (I make mine slightly weak)
½ cup of dry white wine
125g grated parmesan cheese
salt
apple cider vinegar

Finely chop the banana shallot and garlic and put into a pot with the olive oil and butter. Saute at a very low heat until the onions are tender and translucent. Pour the stock into a separate pan and let it simmer over a low heat. 

Add the rice to the onions and fry on a medium heat. Keep stirring until the butter has been absorbed. Add the wine and let it reduce.  Keep adding the stock about ½ a cup at a time, every time the stock has reduced. Stir frequently.

Add the spinach leaves and spinach puree to the risotto when there is about ½ a cup of stock left and let it reduce further. Add the parmesan cheese when the risotto is still liquid, season with salt and cider vinegar. Serve immediately.

Spinach Puree:

400g fresh spinach
30g butter
Rinse the spinach. Save a big handful for the salad and another for the risotto. Heat a pot with the butter and fry the rest of the spinach until it becomes tender. Blend the spinach with a hand blender.

Spinach Salad:

1 handful of washed spinach
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 pinch sea salt
Beat together the rapeseed oil, cider vinegar and sea salt thoroughly and turn with the spinach leaves.

Toppings:

Nutmeg
Finely grated or shaved parmesan cheese

To Serve:
Serve the risotto in soup plates or bowls. Top with a handful of spinach salad, a bit of parmesan cheese and finely grated nutmeg on top.

Orange and Cinnamon Biscuits

Baking these biscuits will fill your kitchen with the most Christmassy aroma. Later today Arthur and I are going to make a couple of batches as Christmas gifts for his teachers. We'll keep them plain and pile them into traditional ridged glass jars adorned with some coloured ribbons. They'll look as pretty as a picture.

Here I have strung each biscuit with a coloured ribbon to finish - simply make an additional hole in the top of each biscuit before baking using the tip of a large icing nozzle. 

Orange & Cinnamon Biscuits

225g butter, softened
110g caster sugar
275g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Grated zest of an orange

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 325°F
In a large bowl or food mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour, cinnamon and orange zest and combine fully to form a dough.

Roll out your dough on a floured surface and press out your biscuits with your choice of cookie cutters. Place the biscuit on a baking sheet (no need to grease or line) and bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes, or until they are golden and slightly firm on top.

Carefully transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

Cerise And White Bakers Twine; Set of 4 Bauble cookie cutters; Medium Traditional Ridged Glass Biscuit Jar; Large Multicolour Party Honeycomb Ball - all from www.dotcomgiftshop.com

Coconut Yogurt Bark

This is yoghurt bark. Have you heard of it before? I hadn’t until recently. It is really too simple to class as a ‘recipe’, it’s more just a case of throwing some ingredients together. It’s a great recipe for kids to get involved in too. The new limited edition Onken coconut yogurt works perfectly in this recipe - just the right amount of sweetness, with its flecks of coconut adding a lovely texture. 

The bark makes for a great healthy snack, but I reckon it is good enough to bring to the table at the end of a meal as an alternative to those after dinner mints. I like to use freeze-dried berries in this recipe as their dryness holds up well to the yogurt. Their bright pink hue combined with vibrant green pistachio nuts are a winning combination for me. Try experimenting with other toppings though - chopped almonds, hazelnuts, dried fruit, seeds and chocolate chips are all great alternatives.

Coconut Yogurt Bark

450g Onken coconut yogurt
1 - 2 tbsp freeze-dried raspberries
1 - 2 tbsp of pistachio nuts, chopped

Line a 25cm x 25cm baking pan with baking paper.

Pour the Onken coconut yogurt into the lined tin and allow it to level out. Sprinkle the yoghurt with the freeze-dried raspberries and chopped pistachio nuts. Place in the freezer for approx 4 hours, or until frozen.

Remove from the freezer and carefully release from the tin and peel off the paper. Using a sharp knife, cut the bark into shards and serve immediately or place in a freezer bag and store in the freezer until required.

This post is sponsored by Onken. However I only work with brands that I trust and love and feel are relevant for my blog and its readers. For more recipe inspiration and to view the full range of Onken products please visit www.onken.co.uk

Lime & Coconut Yogurt Cake

When Onken set me the challenge to develop four easy recipes using their new coconut yogurt, I had to include a cake. Here I have taken what is essentially a foolproof mix-it-all-together recipe and added a twist with the coconut and lime. You could use lemon instead of the lime or indeed any citrus, but there is something about lime and coconut that I like. You could bake one big cake, but I think this recipe lends itself well to a more dainty individual affair. 

Lime & Coconut Yogurt Cake

180ml vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
60ml lime juice
280g Onken coconut yogurt
385g caster sugar
300g self raising flour
160g icing sugar
2 tsp lime juice
1 - 3 tsp boiling water
Zest of a lime

Preheat oven to 160ºC (325ºF). Grease 6 (8.5 fl oz / 240 ml) mini bundt tins or one large 24cm non-stick bundt tin and set aside.

Mix the vegetable oil, eggs, lime zest, lime juice, Onken coconut yogurt and sugar in a large bowl using a whisk. Sift in the flour and mix until smooth.

Pour the mixture into bundt tins and bake in the oven for approx 25 - 35 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch. If using the larger tin, allow 45 - 55 minutes. Test they are cooked by inserting a skewer. If it come out clean, with no wet mixture, they are ready.

Allow the cakes to cool a little in the tins, before remove and inverting the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the lime icing, mix the sugar and lime juice adding the boiling water bit by bit until you have a smooth runny consistency. Place a tray underneath your cooling rack before drizzling over the icing, allowing it to run down the sides of the cake. While the icing is still in its liquid state, finely grate over some lime zest. Allow the icing to set before serving.

This post is sponsored by Onken. However I only work with brands that I trust and love and feel are relevant for my blog and readers. For more recipe inspiration and to view the full range of Onken products please visit www.onken.co.uk

Coconut Chocolate Mousse

When I was a kid I always thought that a Bounty chocolate bar was the most sophisticated choice of confectionery. After all its adverts which featured tropical beaches and coconut palms promised ‘the taste of paradise’. Chocolate and coconut still has a place in my culinary heart.

So when developing my series of recipes for Onken using their new limited edition coconut yogurt, I had to include something with chocolate. The result was this mousse. With the coconut yogurt replacing the traditional cream, it is a healthier version of a favourite dessert. It’s also a winner in my book as it can be made the day before and left to chill in the fridge until required - perfect if you're entertaining.

Coconut Chocolate Mousse

85g dark chocolate, 70%
1 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 tbsp caster sugar
50g Onken coconut yogurt
Grated dark chocolate and toasted coconut shavings for decoration (optional)

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a bowl that will fit over a pan of simmering water. Mix the cocoa and vanilla with 2 tbsp cold water, and pour over the chocolate. Place the bowl over the gently simmering water, give it all a stir, then remove from the heat.

Leave with the bowl of chocolate still over the water and stir occasionally until melted. Once melted, add 2 tbsp boiling water and stir to thin the chocolate down and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugar and whisk again until thick and glossy. Beat the Onken coconut yogurt into the cooled chocolate. Gently fold about one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mix using a large metal spoon. Add the remaining egg whites and carefully fold them in until fully combined, being careful not to over-mix.

Spoon the mousse into 4 small glasses and chill for a couple of hours, or overnight. When ready to eat, remove from the fridge and finish with a grating of dark chocolate and a few toasted coconut shavings.

This post is sponsored by Onken. However I only work with brands that I trust and love and feel are relevant for my blog and its readers. For more recipe inspiration and to view the full range of Onken products please visit www.onken.co.uk

Coconut, Blueberry & Pistachio Frozen Yogurt

Yogurt is big in our family. Sometimes it’s plain and used to add a creamy finish to our morning porridge along with some berries and toasted nuts. Sometimes it is a fruit yogurt served as a quick weekday pudding. However, our latest yogurt of choice is coconut. It’s a new limited edition flavour from Onken.

Onken set me the challenge to develop four easy recipes that the coconut yogurt could be used in and I am thrilled to be able to share them with you, over the next four days, on the blog.

This frozen yogurt recipe is quick to make and doesn’t require any special kit. I’ve used seasonal blueberries, but you could replace them with another berry such as raspberries. The coconut yogurt results in the most creamy of flavours making it taste extremely indulgent. Serve in a cone, small bowls or espresso cups.

Coconut, Blueberry & Pistachio Frozen Yogurt

375g blueberries
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tbsp water
700ml Onken coconut yogurt
75g pistachio nuts
A handful of blueberries and pistachio nuts for decoration (optional)

Place the blueberries, maple syrup and water saucepan over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and then cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 - 10 minutes or until the fruit is very soft and syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the berry mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Allow to cool a little before placing in the fridge until completely chilled.

Pour the Onken coconut yogurt into a large bowl. Add the cooled blueberry mixture, stirring until fully combined. Roughly chop the nuts and fold into the yogurt mixture. Pour the mix into a freezer-proof container and place in the freezer. After 45 minutes or so, take the container out of the freezer and whisk with a fork to break up any ice particles. Repeat this process every 45 minutes 3-4 times.

When ready to serve, take the container out of the freezer to allow the contents to soften for 15 mins or so before scoop into balls and serving with a garnish of chopped pistachio nuts and blueberries.

This post is sponsored by Onken. However I only work with brands that I trust and love and feel are relevant for my blog and its readers. For more recipe inspiration and to view the full range of Onken products please visit

P.S. The lovely ceramic espresso cups featured here are from www.dotcomgiftshop.com

Open House

On Friday I opened up my home for two hours and invited in friends, friends-of-friends, and neighbours to enjoy tea, coffee and homemade cake. It was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support; my small contribution towards the national World's Biggest Coffee Morning - I raised £325.00.

The core aim, is of course to raise money for a worthy cause, but over the four years that I have held this event, it has become so much more. People of ages come along and each year I find myself greeting both familiar and new faces. 

There was a constant buzz of conversation that, due to the numbers and good weather, spilt out onto our small courtyard garden. I saw old friends in deep conversation with neighbours, mum's from school chatting with work colleagues - all sharing stories over a slice or two of cake. 

It sums up what I love most of all about food - when it is shared and brings people together.

Late Summer Market Salad

I've probably made this salad more than any other over the summer - plump, juicy cherries, sweet cherry tomatoes, crisp celery and creamy avocado and freshly snipped herbs - so simple yet so tasty. The cherries at the greengrocers are still good - so make it while you can. It's a salad that can only be made in late summer - it wouldn't be proper to make it any other time. 

These images, taken by photographer Emma Gutteridge, feature in the September issue of The Simple Things Magazine as part of an outdoor cinema gathering that I cooked and styled. The September issue of the magazine, containing all the recipes from the shoot can be purchased here.

Late Summer Market Salad

an adaptation of a recipe from Green Kitchen Stories

Serves 4

1 small celery head, sliced, including leaves
2 avocados, stoned, peeled and sliced
2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 large handfuls of cherries, halved and stoned
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon or more to taste
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and prepare all the vegetables, fruit and herbs and place in a large serving bowl. Mix to combine. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to mix well. This salad will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Cheddar & Sage Scones

Scones. I remember my mum making them when I was a child - plain, fruit and cheese ones. They one of the first foods we learnt to make as a children. Quick to make, quick to cook and with ingredients so few and basic you'll nearly always have them in the cupboard. If you don't you almost certainly need to go shopping and regain control of your life.

Cheddar & Sage Scones
 

Makes 10

250g self-raising flour
1 tsp mustard powder
pinch of cayenne pepper, plus extra for dusting
1/2 tsp salt
50g butter
125g strong cheddar cheese, grated
small bunch of sage
1 free-range egg. beaten
4 tbsp milk
olive oil
milk to glaze
coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.

Sift the flour, mustard, cayenne and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Pick the sage leaves, reserve 10 whole leaves and finely chop the rest. Add the chopped sage to the mixture along with 75g of the cheese, the egg and the milk and mix to a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured surface. Knead lightly and roll out to a 2cm thickness. Cut into 5cm rounds with a plain cutter and place on a floured baking sheet. Brush with milk and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Brush the reserved sage leaves with a little oil and place one on top of each scone and dust with a light sprinkle of cayenne and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Split and serve buttered.

Buttermilk Sponge Cake

This blog is always the first casualty when life shifts up a gear or when life turns upside-down as it has during the past couple of months. Even when you’re pre-warned of a bumpy road ahead, and you think you’re prepared, it can leave you with new scars to adjust to and experiences to process. Often quite literally. 

I’ve questioned myself recently about whether I really need to keep this blog up. Calling it a day would seem a bit sad. I see it as a creative output of sorts: there for times when works doesn’t allow much freedom and it's all heads-down and deadlines. I think a creative output is healthy: for me anyhow.

It’s the creating of the food and creating of the images that I relish and loose myself in. It's the words I struggle with. I’m not a wordsmith. Some posts never get published as try as I might I can’t find the words I want to sit alongside my images. When I write for work and the words don't come I have to keep going until they do. It's my job. I don't want this blog to feel at all like work so I’m going to change things. Going forward my posts will not be word heavy. I hope to simply set the scene, share a recipe and let the images do the rest. 

This recipe has sat unpublished on my desktop, waiting for words since March. I think it is just as suited for June. If I was making this now, I'd top the cake with plenty of seasonal strawberries and decorate with a few lacy heads of elderflower. I'd also eat it sitting in the garden with a cup of tea under the shade of my wide brimmed sun hat.

Buttermilk Sponge Cake

250g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
200ml buttermilk (or 75g yogurt mixed with 125ml semi-skinned milk) 
finely grated zest of an unwaxed lemon, plus 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
125g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
200g caster sugar
3 large free-range eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F, gas 4. 
Butter a 23cm ring mould cake tin. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate and salt together.
Mix the buttermilk (or yogurt mixture) and lemon zest. Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little of the flour with the last one. Gradually add the rest of the flour with the buttermilk, one after the other, until thoroughly mixed. Pour into the tin and bake for about 30 minutes or until well risen and pale golden brown. Loosen the sides of the cake with a round-bladed knife and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the cake in the image I made two of the above sponges and once cold sandwiched them together with jam and a simple buttercream and topped with further buttercream, mini meringues, fresh fruit and flowers.

Spring Salad

I love it when a new seasons produce starts to come in - spring is no exception. There are many ways to prepare and cook all the new vegetable and fruits that are now appearing in the shops, markets and, if you're lucky (and better organised than me), your allotment or garden.

For that 'first time', it's nice to keep things simple, allowing the produce to be centre of attention at it's 'welcome back party'. I served this salad as a quick midweek lunch accompanied by some cheese and sage scones. The salad is set off beautifully in this elegant white ceramic Rin bowl by Reiko Kaneko.

Spring Salad

This salad doesn't require any precise measurements, just add as much or as little as you like. If you have a lemon half lurking in the fridge, a squeeze of juice in the lentil mixture gives a nice citrus tang.

200g cooked puy lentils
a handful of kale or cavolo nero, tough stalkes removed and leaves finely shredded
a handful for chopped parsley
a handful of chopped chives
2 tbsp capers
1 - 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 - 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
a pinch of sea salt and course ground black pepper
a handful of rocket leaves
 ¼ red cabbage, finely shredded
handful of radishes, finely sliced
1 yellow pepper, shredded
handful of radishes, finely sliced
a handful of strawberries, hulled and sliced
parmesan shavings

First, empty the lentils into a bowl and add the shredded kale or cavolo nero, the parsley, chives, capers, vinegar, oil and seasoning. Stir and leave to let the flavours mingle while you get on with chopping the vegetables. Get yourself a nice generously sized salad bowl and start layering your salad. Start with the rocket, red cabbage, tomatoes and yellow pepper. Combine these ingredients a little in the bowl and then top with the lentil mixture. Next add the radishes and then the sliced strawberries. Finally top with a few shavings of parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Lemon, Hazelnut & Rhubarb Cake

I've been looking forward to sharing these images of my Lemon, Hazelnut & Rhubarb cake on the blog. I've had to wait as the cake was part of a shoot I did back in June for The Simple Things magazine. Now the said issue has been published, I can happily share these pictures with gay abandon.

It's always such a treat to have have my food shot professionally. These images are all courtesy of the talented Emma Gutteridge.

The recipe is an adaption of the Lemony Hazelnut & Blueberry cake from Love, Bake, Nourish by Amber Rose - an excellent sponge that turns out perfect every time.

Lemon, Hazelnut and Rhubarb Cake

Serves 8 – 10

115g hazelnuts
260g unsalted butter, really soft
225g white spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 large free-range eggs
130g honey (or golden caster sugar)
130g maple syrup
finely grated zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon

For the filling and topping:
1 bunch of pink rhubarb (approx 400g)
250g caster sugar
350ml double cream
2-3 tbsp honey
fresh flowers to decorate (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 ºC (170ºC fan). Grease and flour 2 x 20cm loose-bottomed sandwich tins.

Start by toasting the hazelnuts in the oven for 5-7 minutes; check after 5 minutes as they can burn easily. Once they are starting to change colour and releasing their lovely nutty aroma, remove them from the oven and leave to cool for a minute or two before rubbing off most of the skins. Whizz the nuts in a food processor into a fine meal.

To make the cake, simply sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and beat in all the other ingredients using an electric hand mixer or Kitchenaid. Be careful not to over mix – you want a light cake. Scrape the cake mixture into your prepared tins and level the tops with the back of a spoon or a palette knife. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cakes are golden and risen and a skewer inserted into the centres comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before carefully taking them out of their tins and placing on a cooling rack and cool completely. If making ahead of time, the sponges can be double-wrapped in foil and frozen. Be sure to defrost thoroughly before filling.

To make the rhubarb topping, mix the caster sugar with 250ml of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, cut the rhubarb into batons of approx 4cms. Add the batons to the boiling sugar syrup, then immediately remove the pan from the heat. Leave the rhubarb batons in the syrup as it cools. Use a slotted spoon to remove the rhubarb batons from the syrup. Reserve approx half for the top of the cake and puree the remainder with a hand-held blender, adding a splash of water to loosen. Chill the poached and pureed rhubarb until you’re ready to assemble the cake. If making ahead of time, the prepared rhubarb will happy sit covered in the fridge for 24 hours.

When you are ready to fill and assemble your cake, prepare the honey cream filling by lightly whip the cream until very soft peaks form. Drizzle in the honey and whisk again until incorporated.

If your cakes are very peaked you may wish to trim the tops so that you have a nice flat surface to decorate. Carefully place one cake on your cake plate, spoon over two thirds of the honey cream, marbling through 1-2 tbsp of the rhubarb puree, and place the second cake on top. Spread the remaining third of honey cream on the top of the second cake, then top with the poached rhubarb and a few seasonal flowers, if you wish. 

Malteser Chocolate Birthday Cake

Last week Lily turned eleven. She's growing up fast. She loves clothes, bath bombs, board games, colourful stationery, her new i-pod, reading books. She likes cooking, playing her violin and she has an in-depth knowledge of world flags.

'Happy Birthday' banner by My Little Day.

She also has an opinion where food is concerned. She is probably my toughest critic. Every year, I bake her a surprise birthday cake. She likes her cakes to be fairly simple - no fussy ingredients and under no circumstances should any 'healthy' ingredients be sneaked in. I therefore decided to make a classic Victoria Sponge cake and decorate it lavishly with fresh raspberries, cream, mini meringues and fresh flowers.

So one day, while she was a school I made a buttermilk sponge; a Nigella recipe no less. The cake had 'domed' slightly, so once cool, I sliced off the tops to make them level and packed the sponges away ready to be filled and decorated on her birthday.

That evening, I served up the slices of 'domed sponge' after tea. Arthur declare this simple, but delicious, vanilla sponge as 'the best he's ever had'. A somewhat strong statement. Lily on the other hand, came into the kitchen with the sponge in hand saying 'I don't like it'. 'Really?' I asked, 'Don't you feel well?'. To which she replied, 'I'm fine, but that sponge has way to much vanilla in it for me'. I didn't have the heart to tell her it was her birthday cake.

Back to the drawing board it was. I ended up making this Malteser Chocolate Cake, which was an undisputed success. There is a happy ending to this tale: the buttermilk sponge went to a good home, as my donation to the school's Easter fair. A happy punter snapped up the whole cake to take home for the Easter holidays. I hope they like vanilla.

Malteser Chocolate Cake

225g margarine or unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour, sifted
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g cocoa
2 tbsp whole milk
100g good-quality dark chocolate, melted
For the ganache:
200g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
1 x 300 ml carton double cream
For the topping:
1 x 135g pack Maltesers
bronze chocolate honeycomb sprinkles (available from M&S)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC, gas 4. In a food processor, cream the margarine or butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa and milk, then mix until combined. Add the melted chocolate and mix again until smooth.

Grease 2 x 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with non-stick baking paper. Divide the cake mixture between the tines and smooth the surface. Bake on the middle shelf for 20-25 minutes until golden and a skewer come away clean when inserted into the middle. Turn out the cakes on to a wire rack to cool.

To make the ganache, finely chop the dark and milk chocolate and add to a pan with the cream. On a low heat melt the mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. Pour the ganache into a shallow dish and cool, stirring occasionally and then chill until firm.

Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate and spread with half the ganache using a palette knife. Alternatively, spoon half of the ganache into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe on to the cake. Scatter with half of the Maltesers, lightly crushed.

Place the other layer on top of the first cake and either spread with the remaining ganache or pipe over a spiral of ganache, starting from the outside and working inwards. Finish off with the rest of the Maltesers, the bronze chocolate honeycomb sprinkles, and if you wish, some fresh flowers.

An Easter egg hunt with My Little Day

Are you planning an egg hunt this Easter? If so, you might like this idea from My Little Day, the French company that is home to the chicest of children’s party kits. These pretty dyed eggs will take your egg hunt to an altogether higher level with their secret messages hidden inside to help lead the way to the chocolate treasure. The idea would also work well as a fun table decoration; think an Easter version of a Christmas cracker.

What you’ll need:
Eggs
A large needle
Food colouring
A pair of scissors
Paper written or printed with your messages

Directions:
Empty out the contents of the raw egg using the big needle by piercing a hole at the top of the egg and then piercing an even bigger hole at the bottom of the egg. You can blow through the smaller hole to make sure the egg is completely empty. Next create your own colours using the food colouring and place the eggs in the food colouring solution for several minutes to create a softer tint or leave them in longer for a more vibrant colour. Leave to dry.

Print your messages and cut to size. Roll the paper as tightly as you can and insert it into the egg using the bigger hole and voilà, your egg is ready! All the children need to do now is to crack open their egg to discover the secret message which has been hidden inside!

An Easter Gathering

Back in June last year, I held a very early Easter gathering. It was for a feature that has now made the light of day in the current March issue of The Simple Things magazine. The day was beautifully captured by photographer Emma Gutteridge, who is always a delight to work with - a super-talented lady.

We had to shoot the feature so early, as in realtime we are working on the content for the March issue during the depths of winter. The feature was based around an alfresco Easter lunch gathering for friends. Luckily with a free lunch in the offering, I had no shortage of friends offering to appear in the shoot. 

I prepared a seasonal lunch of Fish pie with crunchy salmon and leek topping, which was served with carrots and purple sprouting broccoli. This was followed by a Lemon, hazelnut and rhubarb cake.

In addition to the food, I was also asked to feature a couple of simple crafts that could be used in the gathering. The results were the dipped-dyed place-name tags and the rather cute felt bunny ears, that my young models took a real shine to.

Once I had decided upon my menu and crafts, all that was left was the gathering of easter props - not so easy in June. With chocolate eggs non-existent I covered polystyrene eggs with colour foil and borrowed the lovely easter wreath from my local baker, who happen to have one still lying around from the previous easter. 

With the addition of bunting, linen tablecloths and spring flowers (faux and real) I managed to bring back spring back into my courtyard garden for the few hours that we needed it. Thanks to everyone who helped out - it was a blast!

All of the recipes and crafts makes can be found in the current issue of The Simple Things magazine, available to buy here, or in any good newsagents.