Umami Rich Portabella Mushrooms, Sun Dried Tomato and Black Garlic Pesto

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Recently I was asked to create my own version of one of the vegan dishes offered on the menus of ‘The Wynn Resort‘ in Las Vegas. The hotel has recently teamed up with famous vegan chef Tal Ronnen so I was eager to bring my own twist to the menu.

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I decided to alter his version of ‘royal trumpet mushrooms with a soy reduction’ at the Lakeside Restaurant and create my own umami rich mushroom dish. Mushrooms, tomatoes and black garlic are all ingredients that are bursting with umami. I wrote an article for Country & Townhouse Magazine on umami which you can read here. My ingredient that brings depth of flavour and an interesting twist though is black garlic – see another article here. It is now becoming increasingly easy to get hold of and can be sourced at some of the large supermarkets here in the UK. I can only imagine the same can be said for the US. If not there is a business opportunity out there for someone as this is a seriously magic ingredient.

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It is so straight forward and quick to prepare and bake that these can be easily rustled up in no time at all. I find them hugely satisfying and perfect if you want a vegetarian flavoursome meal.

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I like to sit the mushrooms on a bed of steamed spinach with a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes and a splash of lemon juice. So Tal if you are reading this how about adding this to the menu? Do let me know if you do.

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Portabella Mushrooms, Sun Dried Tomato and Black Garlic Pesto and Steamed Spinach

Serves 2

2-4 large portabella mushrooms (depending how hungry you are)

70g sun dried tomatoes

3 black garlic bulbs

20ml sun dried tomato oil

200g fresh spinach

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

fresh lemon, quartered to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

2. Cut the stork of the mushroom if it is protruding and place in a hand blender. Add the sun dried tomatoes, black garlic bulbs and sun dried tomato oil. Blitz so that it forms a pesto like consistency.

3. Spoon the tomato pesto onto the mushrooms evenly and place in an oven proof dish. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes.

4. Steam the spinach or simply place the spinach in a pan with 1 tsp of cold water which will make it wilt. Move it around the pan for a minute so that it is all wilted. Add the chilli flakes and serve on to a plate.

5. Place the hot stuffed mushrooms onto the spinach and serve with fresh lemon on the side.

Please note you will not need to add any salt to this dish as the umami flavours more than make up for flavour and depth. 


Chocolate, Chilli and Cinnamon Fondants with Cardamom Chantilly Cream

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Happy New Year everyone. As January strides forth I know that everyone sets out with very good intentions to exercise more, drink less, read more, be more sociable, cook more, be healthier and I honestly  think that to rebalance and set goals is a good thing. I am realistic though and I know that by February some of our old ways will have crept back.

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This pudding is probably the last thing you feel like eating in January after all the excesses of Christmas, but I think it is definitely a good one to have up your sleeve if you are having guests over. It is rich and decadent (I have to share a pot) and can be made well in advanced. I often make up a batch and then freeze them until I am ready to use them. From frozen, it’s simply a case of putting them in a preheated oven (180 degrees) for 15-17 minutes and then they are ready. If you bake them without freezing them they only take  10-12 minutes.  Sponge like on the outside and rich molten larva on the inside. How easy is that?

Cardamom Chantilly cream is the perfect companion to the fondants and again very quick to whip up, literally. The cream takes the richness off the fondants and I personally love the taste of cardamom so think it works really well with the chocolate. I hope you agree.

So when you are back to eating chocolate give this a try and let me know how you get on. I can guarantee you will impress your guests.

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Chocolate, Chilli and Cinnamon Fondants

makes 8

2 tbsp butter, melted

cocoa powder, for dusting

200g cooking chocolate, broken up – I like this one (sometimes I use 100g dark and 100g milk)

200g unsalted butter

200g caster sugar

4 eggs

4 egg yolks only

200g plain flour

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 tsp cinnamon powder

icing sugar for dusting

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Cardamom Chantilly Cream

250ml double cream

2 tbsp caster sugar

7 cardamom pods opened and then the seeds grounded

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1. Using the 2 tablespoons of melted butter brush the inside of the fondant moulds and then place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

2. Remove from the freezer and coat once again and immediately after coating one fondant mould add a little cocoa powder so that you completely cover the inside of the mould.

3. Preheat your oven (I use a fan oven) to 180 degrees.

4. In a pan gently boil some water and then place a bowl in the pan with the broken cooking chocolate and butter. Let the butter and chocolate gradually melt, stirring at intervals.

5. In a mixing bowl whisk (I use an electric whisk) the eggs, egg yolks and sugar so that it thickens slightly. This will take a couple of minutes. Add the flour and then gradually pour in the melted chocolate and butter. Continue to whisk. Add the chilli flakes and cinnamon. Taste to check on flavour. I sometimes add more chilli flakes at this stage, but it’s up to you!

6. Pour the chocolate mixture into a measuring jug and then pour into the moulds so that they are 3/4 full.

7. You can either put them in the freezer at this point, ready to use at another time or you can place in the oven immediately. If cooking from frozen place them on the centre shelf for 15-17 minutes. If cooking immediately cook them for 10 minutes. I like them really soft in the middle but if you prefer them less runny in the middle then leave them in the oven for an extra minute or two max.

8. Once cooked leave to rest for a minute before placing a plate on top of the mould and turning upside down so that it is the right way up. The mould will easily come away from the chocolate fondant. Should it need a helping hand gently shake making sure to hold the plate firmly in place.

9. Dust with a little icing sugar and serve with cardamom chantilly cream, which perfectly balances the richness of the chocolate with the smooth subtle tones of the the cardamom and cream.

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Cardamom Chantilly Cream

1. Pour the double cream into a mixing bowl and whisk so that it firms up and peeks are created.

2. Add the caster sugar and grounded cardamom and continue to whisk so that it become light, thick and fluffy.

Store in the fridge until ready to use.


Cinnamon, Sea Salt and Chilli Chocolate Truffles

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Foodie gifts are always the best. Not only do they show effort and thought but are guaranteed to bring a smile to the receiver and a warm fuzzy feeling to the giver. Recently friends who came for supper bought along four bags of spices from Turkey that they had picked up on a recent business trip. So I now have bags of sumac and spice rubs – you can imagine how overjoyed I was.

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Time permitting, I like to take food gifts, sometimes homemade sometimes not, to friends who are hosting suppers. I find my chipotle sauce always goes down well, or in fact any of my chutneys under the chutney section in my recipe library. Chocolate truffles are always a crowd pleaser and are also perfect for bringing out at the end of a dinner. They take minimal effort to make and you can make them a few days in advance and then store them in the fridge.

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I am more partial to milk than dark chocolate so I have double the amount of milk chocolate to dark, I find this ration works really well. You can do the opposite if you prefer dark. You can also get creative with these truffles and instead of adding cinnamon, sea salt and chilli flakes, who can add just one or perhaps another spice such as cardamom, or perhaps fresh mint, coconut, ginger, nuts, raisons, bacon – the possibilities are endless.

Personally I love the combination of cinnamon, sea salt and a pinch of chilli flakes. Give them a try and leave a comment below and tell me what you think.

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Cinnamon, Sea Salt and Chilli Chocolate Truffles

200ml double cream

100g Green & Black milk chocolate 37% cocoa with sea salt

50g Green & Black dark chocolate 70% cocoa

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder

1  pinch of sea salt

1 pinch of chilli flakes

1 tbsp cocoa powder – for dusting

1. Place the milk and dark chocolate in a freezer bag and seal. Use a rolling pin to bash the chocolate into small pieces.

2. Gently warm the cream in a saucepan. When hot take off the heat and pour the broken up pieces of chocolate into the saucepan along with the cinnamon powder, sea salt and chilli flakes. The chocolate will melt within a couple of minutes. Give a good stir and taste to see if you like the flavour. Add a little more cinnamon powder, sea salt or chilli flakes as your taste requires.

3. Place into a bowl and place in the fridge for an hour and a half, by which time the chocolate will have become firmer to handle.

4. Roll in the palms of your hands to form small bite sized balls. I prefer them to look a little uneven compared to beautifully neat balls, but it’s a personal preference. Please note this part can become a little messy!

5. Roll in the cocoa powder and store  in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to eat. They will last for up to a week.

Instead of rolling the truffles in cocoa powder you could roll in pistachio, hazelnuts or coconut. Experiment and see what works for you.

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Bagel Mania

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As far as blog posts are concerned this post is definitely up there on the memorable stakes. Yes, it’s a labour of love, but I can assure you the wait and effort is more than worth it. In fact we all agreed that we had never tasted bagels so fresh and tasty, this was, of course, because they had just come out of the oven and we had toiled hard to make them ourselves.

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We’d headed out of London for the weekend to dog sit for my parents who live in the rolling Sussex countryside. I thought that bagel making would provide the perfect morning’s entertainment, with the results making a truly satisfying lunch.

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Big A and Little Z had their own bowls to make the dough and whilst a little flour, salt and yeast found itself out of the bowl, the majority made its way into the dough itself!

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Honey is added to the vegetable oil then poured into the dough mixture.

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Really getting involved in the dough-making is so rewarding, as Little Z found out.


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Big A had a natural ability at kneading the dough for ten whole minutes.

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Once the dough had been given a good work out we combined Little Z and Big A’s dough and created one large ball. Rub a little vegetable oil around a large bowl and all over the dough, and place inside the bowl. You need to cover the bowl tightly with cling film and leave it somewhere warm – but not hot for 2 hours. The airing cupboard  provided the perfect place.

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By the time we returned the cling film had created a huge dome like structure over the bowl and the dough had doubled in size.

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We decided to cover our bagels with either chilli flakes, black poppy seeds or sesame seeds, but you could also cover them in black onion seeds, grated cheese, cinnamon sugar or whatever takes your fancy.

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The best way to shape your bagel is to roll it into a ball and then to use the end of a wooden spoon and push through the centre. Once it has reached through the dough, keep the handle on the surface and wriggle it around until a hole is created to the size that you want the hole to be. You can also shape it further with your hands. When the desired shape is reached place to one side for ten minutes so as to let the dough relax into shape.

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Now this part is really unusual, but doing it will allow your bagel to have that wonderful soft sponginess in the dough, once it is baked. Don’t skip it, even if you think you’ve read the instructions wrongly…..because you haven’t, you do actually need to BOIL the bagels briefly for one and a half minutes each side by placing them in a saucepan of boiling water and black treacle, (I know sounds crazy right?) that is simmering away.

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After the brief dunk in boiling treacle water and a thorough drain, place the bagels on lightly oiled baking trays that are sprinkled lightly with polenta – this is to stop the bagels sticking to the tray. Brush a beaten egg gently over all the bagels and then decide on your choice of topping and sprinkle over the bagels, pressing down gently so that the toppings stay in place.

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Freshly baked straight out of the oven. At this point, our stomachs were rumbling and we were ready to dive into our lunch.

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More choices…..what filling to place in our bagels. We opted mainly for either:

* Grilled bacon, soft cows cheese or cream cheese, rocket and a spoonful of my chipotles sauce.

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* Smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado and rocket with a splash of lemon juice.

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Other than Little Z we all had two (a little piggy I know but oooh they were soooo good!) and the remainder we ate the following day for breakfast.

After such a good feast we decided to don our country coats and wellies and head out with Tessie the dog for a good old long walk across the fields and through the woods. A perfect day to spend a Saturday.

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Tessie loves to dive into hollow trees!!

Homemade Bagels

makes 14

adapted from Rachel Allen:Bake!

675g strong white bread flour

3 tsp salt

10.5g fast-acting yeast

375ml warm water

3 tbsp honey

2 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp black treacle/molasses

polenta, for sprinkling

1 egg, beaten

toppings of your choice (chilli flakes, sesame seeds, black poppy seeds)

1. Sift the four, salt and yeast into a large bowl and create a well in the centre.

2. Place the warm water, honey and oil into a measuring jug and pour the liquid in in stages, using your hands to begin to make the dough. This stage is rather messy and sticky so take your time not too add too much liquid at once.

3. Once all the flour has come together to form a dough, transfer to a flat surface and sprinkle a little extra flour and then knead the dough for a good ten minutes. I tend to push the dough away with one hand and then fold the dough towards me and then turn it slightly before repeating the process. You’ll be able to pick up a good pace.

4. Lightly oil a large bowl and pour a little oil in your hands and smooth it on the dough, which you have made into a ball. Place the dough in the bowl and cover tightly with cling film. Place in a warm (but not hot hot) place for around 2 hours – the airing cupboard worked perfectly – when the dough will have doubled in size.

5. Place 6 pints of water into a large deep pan and bring to the boil. Add the black treacle and stir in throughly. Once it has come to the boil, let the treacle water simmer gently on a low heat.

6. Preheat an oven to 220 degrees centigrade (425F).

7. Meanwhile, once the treacle water is heating up, take the dough out of the bowl and place on a surface sprinkled with a little flour and knead it briefly before breaking it off into small balls for you to then make into individual bagels. The best way I found to make the bagel is to place the end of a wooden spoon into the centre of the ball, which you have flattened slightly. When it pierces through the bottom of the dough, give the wooden spoon a good twist around so that a larger hole is formed. You can then reshape slightly with your hands. Place to one side until you have used up all the dough. More hands make light work at this stage!! You will need to leave the bagels to stand for 10 minutes before moving onto the next stage, however, by the time you have finished shaping your last bagel the first few you made will be ready to be boiled.

8. Place no more than 4 bagels into the boiled simmering black treacle water and turn over after 90 seconds and leave for another 90 seconds. Then drain thoroughly and place on lightly oiled baking trays that have a sprinkling of polenta on them.

9. Brush each bagel lightly with whisked egg and then cover with your choice of topping.

10. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, by which stage they will be bronzed and ready to eat. If you would like a more bronzed bagel then turn the bagel over for a few more minutes extra cooking, although I don’t think that you’ll need it.

Eat whilst still warm for the perfect bagel.

Filling ideas:

* smoked salmon and cream cheese *goats cheese and red onion *salt beef, mustard and gherkin *bacon, soft cows milk cheese, chipotle sauce and rocket * cheddar and chutney *tuna, tomatoes and capers

What’s your favourite topping and filling? Would love to hear.


Crab, fennel, chilli flake and lemon bruschetta – an uplifting lunch for the start of the new school year

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School started again today for big A, so it was a return to the old routine of getting up early – although at the moment we have no problem there as the jet lag hasn’t completely worn off as yet.

After a breakfast treat of crepes with ham, cheese and eggs – for the girls, not me I might add, we did the school run. All morning whilst little Z and I were busying ourselves I was looking forward to trying out a recipe that I recently spotted in the Australian food magazine ‘Gourmet Traveller’. If you have not come across the magazine before I urge you to take a look at their website at the very least. The fusion of food and travel appealed to me and I thought that the articles were well written and interesting and the photographs stunning. Australia is approaching spring and of course we are heading towards autumn, so perhaps their recipes are slightly out of sink with what us Brits would be thinking about cooking. That said this recipe appealed to me greatly and I felt that it could easily bridge the seasons.

It’s an ideal snack, light lunch or starter and would go down nicely with a glass of crisp white wine. The combination of crab, fennel, lemon and chilli flakes is sublime and the fact that it is easy to prepare further adds to its appeal. I think you will agree this one is a winner.


Crab, fennel, chilli flakes and lemon bruschetta

Adapted from ‘Gourmet Traveller’

Serves 4

Sour dough loaf, sliced

120g tin of crab meat. By all means use freshly cooked crab meat if you have it to hand but I find the tinned variety reasonable and hassle free

1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1/2 tsp of chilli flakes

25 ml of olive oil

half a lemon, thinly sliced. Meyer lemon if you can get hold of them. Equally you can substitute the lemons with 2 tsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of finely grated rind. 

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

1 handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove, halved

*  Mix the crab meat, lemon juice, fennel seeds and chilli flakes together with your hands and add the olive oil.

* Now gently add the lemon slices (or finely grated rind – see above), fennel bulb and parsley and season to taste.

* Using a griddle pan, or in my case non-stick grill plates from my sandwich and panini maker, place a couple of slices of sour dough bread on the plates for approximately a minute. If you are using a griddle pan, turn the bread only once. Repeat until you have toasted enough bread for your needs.

* Once the bread is toasted sufficiently so that griddle lines appear, rub the cut-side of garlic onto the toast.

* Place the crab mixture on top of the toast and serve immediately.


Asian Vinaigrette

Summer is the season for salads and even a plain green salad can taste crisp and cleansing with a delicious vinaigrette or salad dressing to accompany it. My default dressing is always the typical french vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon, white wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, a little garlic and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I fancied a change so came up with this  fresh, zingy, Asian influenced dressing, which gives a pretty standard green salad some edge – and all salads deserve to have a little ‘edge’ now again.

Its super easy and quick to prepare. If you have an old jam jar I suggest putting all the ingredients into that and then, with the lid on, giving the ingredients a good shake about to give them a thorough mix together.

Let me know what you think! My guess is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Here’s how to make it.

Asian Vinaigrette 

Serves 4-6

1 old jam jar

3 limes, squeezed

1 tsp of sesame oil

1 tsp of light soy sauce

1 tsp of nam pla fish sauce

1 to 2 tsp of white sugar

half a tsp of chilli flakes

In an old, clean jam jar squeeze three limes and then add all the ingredients. You may find that you need a little more sugar or another lime juice so be prepared perhaps to add a little more of one or two of the ingredients. I find that it does not need any salt as this is provided by the soy sauce. Shake the contents of the jar thoroughly and taste to see if the vinaigrette is to your liking.