zesty beetroot & red cabbage salad


Amidst all the Christmas baking and festive feast planning, I’ve been craving crunchy, zesty winter salads. Lots of lime juice, a good chilli kick and lots of chopped raw beetroot, carrots, red cabbage and whatever root veg is most plentiful are exactly what I need to offset, or sometimes compliment all that rich food.

A generous bunch of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley adds extra vitamins, and is very pleasing to my eye against all those ruby reds.


My scoffing of veg packed raw salads may have something to do with the many bugs we’re trying to dodge; last year we all succumbed to viruses during the busy last bit of term leading up to Christmas. With 2 school nativity performances to go and 7 sleeps until the big day, I’m so keen that we’re all healthy to enjoy the Christmas holiday that there’s been many a grape popping race and encouragement(well okay, bribes) to eat just one more Satsuma in this house lately.

But packed full of flavour as well as health benefits, this salad is definitely not righteous health-food. With jars rapidly filling with Christmas cookies and bottles ready to be topped up with fig liquer, I’m far from hair-shirt wearing at this time of year. Hardly a recipe, it’s quick and easy to throw together after returning from work/carols/nativity and probably be making an appearance alongside leftover turkey. You can substitute other cabbage and root veg that you have handy as long as there’s a festive red element in there.


Zesty Beetroot & Red Cabbage Salad

1 medium sized beetroot

1 kohl rabi

1/4 red cabbage

2 carrots

1 red chiili

1 handful of flat-leaf parsley

2 limes

1 tablespoon olive oil or rapeseed oil

Maldon sea salt & lots of black pepper

Peel and shred (or chop as fine as you have time and patience for!) the beetroot, red cabbage, carrots and kohl rabi. Deseed and chop the chilli and roughly chop the parsley. Mix everything together, adding the juice of the limes, oil and seasoning to taste. You may even want to add more lime juice if you feel like a real citrus kick – or that may be just me, I’m finding lime and chillis quite addictive at the moment.


Great with flatbread and dips for a lunch or easy supper but also delicious with leftover meat or smoked fish.


Fingers crossed for a healthy and happy Christmas!

Photos of this salad were taken by my lovely friend Chava, who has a great vegan Stollen recipe on her blog, during lunch.


mandarin lip balm & a home-made christmas


Little pots of lip balm, scented with a festive citrus essential oil and maybe including a tincture made from flowers from the garden, are surprisingly easy to make. The first time I made lip balm with Ruby I decided they were such a simple thing for her to get involved in, I must remember to revisit for Christmas gifts.

When I suggested making lip balm a week ago, my daughter was enthusiastic. Partly as she wanted to make some for herself, dismissing the herbal lip balm I keep handing to her for her chapped lips as “smelly.” She also swiftly added that they should be “glittery.” As it is Christmas and I remembered there was some edible gold glitter in the cake decorating drawer, I agreed that some of them could be glittery. Realizing that perhaps not everybody is partial to lips with sticky gold shimmer, I’ve left this out of the recipe below.

mandarin & calendula lip balm

1 teaspoon beeswax

70g cocoa butter

1 teaspoon coconut oil

5 drops calendula tincture (not essential if you don’t have any, I’ve made without this too)

12 drops mandarin essential oil

Melt the beeswax, cocoa butter and coconut oil in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Add the tinctures and then the essential oil. Pour into little pots before the mixture begins to harden. I used pots that I’d saved, but you can buy inexpensive lip balm pots from The Handmade Company: they also sell ingredients such as cocoa butter, dried flower petals and have some lovely home-made aprons for children.

If you don’t have the ingredients for lip balm, I can also recommend bath bombs, which I made here last Christmas as a very easy gift to make with children.



I’m a big fan of adding a homemade touch to Christmas, whether to decorations, handmade gifts or the food and drink that you offer family and friends. Besides, I’d far rather be pottering around in the warmth of the kitchen, baking spiced gingerbread and gathering greenery from the garden than getting hassled in a packed shopping centre.


 I love it that my daughter is as enthusiastic as I am about making home-made gifts. She started young, plopping bits of vegetables into my biggest saucepan for Christmas Chutney when she was a toddler. With a little input from her, I labelled them up as ‘Ruby’s Christmas Chutney’; we often bring out paint, glitter and our Christmas stamps to add Christmas sparkle to frugal luggage labels. We painted a cardboard box together and glued on letters spelling ‘Ruby’s home-made goodies’ and filled it with our preserves. Ruby delved into it on Christmas day, handing out very rustic but home-made/home-grown chutney to her Aunties, Uncles and Grandparents.

The box remains, a little battered, but still in use and Ruby is still keen to get involved in our home-made Christmas. Aged 6, she does have stronger ideas about what she would like to make, however, often featuring modelling clay, you know the stuff that dries and hardens overnight. The sort that is often found lurking under the table/behind chairs in this house. Her ideas are often a tad ambitious; last year it was, “I know, let’s make cups and saucers.”

Little jars of Dukkah, an earthy Egyptian blend of nuts and spices are another favourite home-made gift of mine and I like the way they suggest a Three Kings Eastern exoticsm meets traditional English Christmas (in my mind anyway!). Nuts and spices were rightly celebrated in Elizabethan times as treats worthy of Christmas feasting and as Dukkah stores well, it can be made ahead of the festivities, when hopefully all is still calm in the kitchen.


The pestle and mortar pounding is good fun but straightforward for little helpers and it’s worth saving a jar for yourself to eat with Christmas leftovers; added to olive oil and dried mint if you have it, Dukkah makes a great dip. I also have membrillo centred plans for the last few Quince, still scenting the room with their wonderful aroma. 

Much as the pairing of sweetly fragrant quince jelly and salty Spanish cheese feels like a contemporary food fashion, I think it fits well with a traditional Christmas. After all, quinces, along with fruits, nuts and spices would’ve featured in an Elizabethan Christmas feast. Edible decorations and greenery brought in as garlands would’ve been a key part too of course and, inspired by Anne of Life in Mud Spattered Boots’ lovely rustic wreaths I have weekend plans for transforming hedgerow bounty.

Before I get carried away though, I must remember that I still have work deadlines to meet, a very scruffy house to get ready for family visitors and we’re nearly into the last lovely but very busy week of carols, school nativity and parties. As usual no doubt lots of my plans will be abandoned as I try to enjoy it all rather than race around getting frazzled. But trying a few new home-made things each year along with making the old favourites such as spiced biscuits for the tree, and involving Ruby as much as possible, does feel to me like it’s properly Christmas. Even if we do end up with a very messy, sticky, glittery house along the way! 


lucknowi siege lamb and cotswolds indian food feasting

Last weekend spicy food lured us down our hill two nights running. We were fed and entertained in sumptuous style at the Great Indian Food Feast and followed our noses to the wonderful spicy smells of Indian street food the following night. All in Chipping Campden, a great little Cotswolds town for eating and cooking, but perhaps better know for cream teas and roast lamb than Indian feasting.

Thanks to award-winning chef Indunil Sanchi and self-styled Urban Rajah, Ivor Peters, there was still excellent local lamb, but this time it was marinated in 24 spices and slow -cooked to produce a wonderfully tender, tongue-tingling dish. And the sweet treat involved an entertaining pancake master-class with honey coconut, sticky toffee ice-cream and caramel sauce.

indy curry nights

At the Indian Food Feast we were greeted with an Amuse Bouche of tasty little steamed lentil cakes before sitting down to a fabulous array of curries, pakoras and patties that ranged from Punjab street food to fabulous dishes fit for a Maharani. In between eating, we were taken on a foodie adventure around the Indian Sub Continent by Ivor Peters.

Chappli Kebabs

BITE Curry Nights 31

Imaginative chef, author of Curry Memoirs and pop-up restaurateur, Ivor is also a self-confessed dandy and a great entertainer.  Splendid in orange velvet jacket and with his signature perfectly groomed moustache, Ivor treated us to tales that leapt from Indian sieges to the chapatti shuffle in his grandparent’s kitchen. He described childhood feasts of vividly spiced food, with big family groups sitting picnic style on luridly coloured sheets (this was the 1970s) and niftily skipped back to Victorian banquets. Encouraging us to chat about spices and get our own “curry clinic” going while we feasted on Spiced Red Lentil & Chicken Patties from Andra Pradesh and Masala Crusted Whitebait from the Malabar Coast.

Masala Crusted Whitebait

Listening and eating, it felt like a celebration of all the imaginatively spiced  regional dishes that are so far removed from the dumbed down versions so many of us have experienced from takeaways or in jars.

I wrote a few months ago about Indunil’s wonderful Black Lamb Curry that he cooks regularly at the Noel Arms. Now I’m hankering after his Cashew Nut and Green Pea curry, a dish that Indy ate as a child in Sri Lanka. Ivor told us that Indy soaks the cashew nuts before cooking to recreate the creamy texture of fresh cashews that he remembers from childhood.

My other favourite dish from the evening was Lucknowi Siege Lamb, so I was very excited when Ivor and Indunil were happy to share the recipe. They use mutton, which I’d like to try, but in the meantime I’ve been using lamb shanks in curries, cooking them on a really low heat for hours so that the lamb falls off the bone resulting in tasty, tender lamb. Also remembering Alex from Dale Cottage diaries reminder of the nutrition value of cooking meat on the bone slowly in dishes. The list of ingredients may seem a little scary but the curry powder and garam masala can obviously be made in decent quantities and stored in jars for future curries.

Lucknowi Siege Lamb

Serves 4–6

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg boneless mutton, diced
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, pounded into powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 8 cloves
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ginger and garlic paste
  • 400g natural yoghurt
  • 5 green chillies
  • 250g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml water
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 12 saffron strands
  • 1 tsp kewra (aka screwpine water) or rosewater
  • Coriander leaves, chopped


Garam Masala

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ¾ tsp crushed bay leaves
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 4–5 green cardamom pods (or ½ tsp seeds)
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 large black cardamom pods (or ¾ tsp seeds)
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 piece of cassia bark
  • ½ tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 6 juniper berries
  • ½ tsp ground mace
  • 1/3 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 star anise pod

 Heat a frying pan on a medium heat, then add all the spices. Dry-roast for 2 minutes until they brown and start to scent the room. DON’T burn them. Leave to cool. Peel the cardamom pods and release the seeds into the other spices, tip into a pestle and mortar (or blender) and blast them.


Curry Powder


4 ½ tsp ground coriander

2 tsp turmeric

6 bay leaves

1 ½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp whole black peppercorn

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

½ tsp cardamom seeds

½ inch cinnamon stick

¼ tsp whole cloves

¼ tsp ground ginger


Pop everything in a blender and blitz for a couple of minutes


Fry up the onions in the oil until crispy and golden, then set them aside on kitchen towel to dry out. Keep the oil. In the same pan, using the onion oil, brown off the mutton, adding the cardamom, fennel, coriander, paprika and chilli powder. When the mutton is browned, drop in the cloves, peppercorns and salt and cook over a low heat for around 30 minutes, until the meat has started to cook in its own juices and the mix is looking darker. Blend the yoghurt, chillies, reserved fried onions, curry powder and tomatoes, turning it into a paste. Add the paste into the pan and swish the ingredients around until everything is coated. Turn up the heat to medium, tip in the garam masala, curry leaves and cook for a further 1½ hours, making sure you stir frequently. To stop the ingredients drying out and sticking to the bottom of the pan, add the water at intervals. The curry shouldn’t be too runny. Just before serving, add a teaspoon of kewra or rosewater.

Serve with rotis or rice and garnish with chopped coriander. Recipe from Ivor Peters.

Lucknowi Siege Lamb

The night after our feast, thanks to the Bite Food Festival, there were reindeers, carols, a Christmas market and street food in Campden. Ivor was cooking tandoori chicken, lamb kebabs and masala paneer on an open grill to eat in wraps and we obviously couldn’t resist a double-bill of spice.

Very exciting that there’ll be Indian Food Feasting in Chipping Campden in February too as part of the week long Bite Food Festival. The Festival will run from Saturday 1st Feb to Sunday 9th Feb 2014 and will include all sorts of breakfasts, brunches, lunches teas and dinners, pop-up restaurants, master-classes, talks by celebrity chefs and food writers and artisan food markets.

I’m particularly excited by the idea of more Indian Street Food, a Peruvian pop-up restaurant,  of Elisabeth Luard visiting Campden (I’m a big fan of her books that celebrate wonderful rustic European cooking) and the fact that the festival includes lots for children. There’s a Chipping Campden school cooking competition for 11-18 year olds and a Mad Hatters Tea Party run by the very stylish Burford Garden Company.

I love the fact that at the Mad Hatters Tea Party, which will be an edible rabbit-hole of wizardry, dancing, riddles and fancy dress, audience participation is optional but hats are essential. A full programme of events is here.

With thanks to Indunil and Ivor for spicing up the Cotswolds and for the great recipe  and to Bite for inviting me to the wonderful Indian Food Feast.





quincemeat oatie slices & my december kitchen

in my kitchen…….


……. I’m loving Ruby’s excitement as she jumps out of bed every morning and comes downstairs to look in a pocket of her advent calendar. In the pockets are a mixture of little gifts and notes. On weekend mornings there may be an “Ask Mummy to make Christmas biscuits note” or “Make decorations with lots of glitter.” Maybe a tiny tube of red icing for decorating; on others there’s a little chocolate or a glitzy festive hair-slide. Pegged to the pocket for Christmas Eve is the reindeer food Ruby made. This morning it was a big treat from Daddy that went down particularly well: a note directing her to a gaudy set of lights for the den she’s made with a shelf and a blanket.

What’s really lovely this year is that Ruby decided it wasn’t fair having just one thing in each pocket, so she’s crammed in some gifts (mainly items found around the house or chocolate bars saved from party bags – my daughter’s a hoarder!) for Mummy and Daddy too.


The advent calendar is also reminding me of the mix of  home-made/natural and the outright gaudy that my kitchen inevitably ends up with at this time of year. I make Christmas granola and cranberry breakfast cookies, gather holly and have ideas of home-made gifts and decorations while admiring the simplicity of Scandinavian Christmas style.


My daughter, meanwhile, is craving tinsel and foil-wrapped novelty chocolates and of course would prefer this:


Obviously we end up with a chaotic mixture of the lot.

in my kitchen…..


… it’s starting to smell like Christmas. The quince-meat oatie slices include a mix of booze-soaked dried fruit that can’t help but remind you of the spicy fug of festive baking, whether they’re cooking or being eaten.


There have been quinces simmering slowly for Jelly, the Christmas Cake cooking at a low heat for several hours and the Christmas pudding steaming slowly on top of the wood-burning oven.  As there are storms outside, it all feels very comforting. As I write, a gale is whipping leaves up into a frenzied dance outside the kitchen window and I can see our cat trying to chase them. Not sure who’s more entertained, Mog or me.

But back to the Quince-meat Oatie slices. I used the home-made mince-meat including my quinces here, but you can obviously use any preferred mince-meat, bought or home-made. I was going to use Quince-meat in the Oatie slices I made here with greengage but as my vegan friend Chava was visiting (she took the lovely pics in this post and has a lovely piece here on advents for grown-ups I thought I’d experiment with a Little Leon bar recipe which doesn’t have fat. I substituted the dried fruit and nuts in the original Leon recipe for Quince-meat and it was so quick and easy to make. Even easier than my fruity Oatie slices, these are perfect to rustle up if you’re in the midst of a busy mix of work, Nativity plays, Christmas shopping and school runs.


Quince-Meat Oatie Slices


450g quince-meat or mince-meat


60g wholemeal flour

120g rolled oats

Preheat oven to 190C. Mix mince-meat with oats and flour and a drizzle of honey depending on how sweet your taste/mince-meat is. Smooth the mixture into a 25 X 30cm baking tray lined with baking parchment. Drizzle with a little extra honey. Bake for 20-25 minutes until nicely golden. Allow to cool before cutting into bars/slices.

They will keep for a week in an airtight container. A parcel of these Quince-meat slices could make a simple festive gift, so would love to include them in the Teatime Treats challenge, hosted by Kate of What Kate Baked and Karen of Lavender and Lovage.


These are lovely warm as a pudding too with a little cream or thick Greek yoghurt.  We ate some with the wonderful cream I brought back from Woefuldane Dairy and the combination of boozy, nutty, fruit and rich cream reminded us of Christmas pudding with brandy cream.

in my kitchen….


……my Christmas cake and Christmas pudding are based on traditional recipes but with a twist.  Not always intentional. My Christmas pudding does have dried fruit soaked in alcohol but, inspired by Sarah of the Garden Deli, I substituted some of the bought dried fruit for the boozy sloes from my sloe gin. While the Christmas pudding had a generous drizzle of my home-made Quince Ratafia from Diana Henry’s Salt, Sugar, Smoke while it was still warm from the oven. And I have to admit that it’s also heart-shaped. This wasn’t planned, more a result of my shoddiness.

Basically, I’d soaked the fruit in alcohol, taken the butter from the fridge and knew that I had a full school day working at the kitchen table; it was a perfect day to have the cake baking for several hours while I worked. Obviously I’d already mixed the cake before I attempted to line the cake tin and realised I didn’t have greaseproof paper. In a rash mood I decided to use my Ikea heart-shaped silicone mould. Very luckily it didn’t burn. Not sure how I’m going to ice it though!

in my kitchen…..


……some of the home-made booze is ready and offering double treats. As I said, the sloe gin has contributed to the Christmas cake, I’d also like to try the boozy sloes in a cake with almonds and orange. The blackberries from the blackberry whisky are also great with vanilla ice-cream for an extremely easy pud – drizzle over a little of the blackberry whisky too and it’s delicious. I’m still looking for inspiration for the sweetened and brandy soaked quinces from the Quince Ratafia. Any ideas very welcome.

I’m enjoying preparing a little of the food for Christmas feasting ahead – the red cabbage to go with the turkey is in the freezer, Scandinavian pickled beetroot to go with gravlax is in jars and labneh is preserved in oil to do with leftover meat and flatbreads. When it all starts to get busier and I’m more frazzled later in the month, a tipple of my home-made booze may be just the job though!


Would love to join in once again with Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s fab In My Kitchen, enjoying a nosy peep at kitchens around the world.





a cotswold dairy & making labneh

My newfound enthusiasm for cheese-making took me to Woefuldane Organic Dairy near Minchinhampton last week. Having experimented with simple soft cheese-making, including paneer, feta and ricotta, I was keen to find out a little about hard cheese-making.

Holmleigh, a small local dairy farm that supplies me with wonderful un-homogenised milk had mentioned that Woefuldane sometimes make delicious cheese for them and that these were the people to talk to locally about artisan cheese-making.


A small family business, Woefuldane farm is run by father Jonathan with the help of daughter Olivia – they’re out in all weathers and for long hours to produce the gorgeous, creamy milk from their Shorthorn cows. Melissa is in charge of the dairy and, with the help of dairy maids Emma and Hannah, bottles the milk and also transforms it into ten different cheeses, butter and the most temptingly thick cream and yoghurt.



Much as I love my own area of the Cotswolds, when I stepped inside the little shop in the main square of Minchinhampton where son Henry sells the dairy produce, I wished I lived nearer. Locals filled their own containers from pails of creamy milk (a beautifully old-fashioned way of cutting packaging waste) and a counter of cheeses including Hampton Blue (a powerful roquefort bite and spectacularly blue), Double and Single Gloucester, smoked Forest Oak and Blue Heaven (a creamy soft blue cheese) tempted me. All of the cheeses are Woefuldane’s own, as is the cream, milk and yoghurt. To complete the simple range of beautifully made staple foods, local eggs and ham are on sale. In a cosy corner a few tables offer the chance to dally over a good coffee and slice of cake or a simple lunch.

Back in the dairy, just across the yard from the farmhouse, it was great to hear about cheese-making from Melissa. Talking to her, it was evident how much of a part the quality of their milk plays in Woefuldane’s cheese. The cows are out in the fields every day, even in winter (although they sleep under cover at night when it’s cold) and Melissa says, “It’s really important for them to get the exercise, it keeps them fit and they like it.” She says that they’re a “very old-fashioned farm”, making hay, not silage: “It makes much better milk for cheese.”

While we talked, Melissa was keeping an eye on a huge vat of milk to check if curds were forming for a Camembert style cheese. The milk had come straight from the cows at body temperature and was then heated to 30C before the starter culture was added; moulded culture is added to encourage a white mould to develop. Melissa recommended that once it’s ripening the cheese ideally needs to be at a temperature of 12/13 degrees C and needs humidity – you can stand bowls of water near to it if this isn’t the case.



All of the cheeses at Woefuldane are made by hand, using time-honoured methods and there seems something beautifully satisfying about doing justice to such good quality milk in this way.

Hearing about the scalding, heating of curds in whey, draining, cutting into blocks, salting, pressing and ripening of hard cheese-making, I was as keen to try making some as I was to eat it.  Especially when I looked at the shelves of ripening cheeses.

DSC06559 DSC06561

I think I’ll need to be a little more patient though if I’m going to try my hand at hard cheeses. Some of Melissa’s cheddar style cheeses take at least 6 months to mature; not quite like deciding to make paneer for dinner on the same day.

Before tackling this trickier process, I couldn’t resist buying some of Woefuldane’s yoghurt to make Labneh when I got home. The simplest of cheeses, all you have to do to make Labneh is place yoghurt in a sieve lined with muslin. Tie up the four corners of the muslin and suspend over a bowl – I just tie it to my tap which rises quite high over the sink or use brackets of a shelf in my kitchen. If it’s too warm in the kitchen, I’ve suspended it in the fridge, tied to the wine rack. The whey drains away leaving a ball of creamy cheese that’s perfect in Middle Eastern influenced dishes, including lots of lovely Ottolenghi recipes.


I had a suspicion that Woefuldene yoghurt would make wonderful Labneh. I was right, it’s so creamy, with a gorgeous subtle flavour. Once it had drained in muslin for 24 hours, I rolled it into little balls and covered them in olive oil in jars, They should keep in the fridge for at least a month.

Some of the balls I left plain, some I rolled in lemon thyme from the garden and some were rolled in paprika. We scoffed some last night with flatbread made on the wood-burner, little lamb koftas and broad beans(frozen when we had our summer glut) and I just wish I’d bought more yoghurt, they’re delicious and so easy. I think that rolled in the smoky red paprika they’d make great Christmas gifts too. Perhaps alongside a jar of home-made dukkah.



 As for the hard cheese-making, very inspired but it may be a few months before I report more. A few months of strange cultures lurking and unknown moulds forming!