Spiced lentils, kale and sweet potato pie

It’s Autumn once again and this is the time of year when I get drawn back to both writing and cooking. I’ve been searching for new vegetarian recipes suitable for the cold weather. Yesterday I made this wonderful and hearty spiced lentils, kale and sweet potato pie, which conjures up the fare of the half-gone 1970s wholefood restaurant, woefully replaced, more often than not, with the trendy healthy eaterie of quite another stripe.  Pie is no more photogenic than porridge and so be it.  I care not.

I made two pies, replacing the lentils in one with black beans for my son who is allergic to lentils. It’s also vegan, unless you brush the pastry wtih some milk as I did (to glaze it). I found the recipe for the pies as parcels on The Kitchn and the original recipe would work well if you want to transport them.  I’ve altered it slightly, using instant yeast rather than active dried.

IMG_3183 IMG_3184 IMG_3187 IMG_3190

Spiced Lentil, Sweet Potato & Kale Whole Wheat Pies

Makes two pies, serves 4-6.

For the dough:
1 cup warm water (not hot or boiling)
1 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

For the filling:
3 small sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
250g cup French green (Puy) lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 cups water
1/2 bunch kale, tough ribs and stems removed
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the warm water , yeast and salt and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the warm water. Knead for 7 to 10 minutes until dough is smooth. Lightly grease a large bowl with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prick the sweet potatoes in several places with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until very soft to the touch. Set aside to cool and then mash.

Cut the onion in half. Thinly slice one half and set aside. Dice the other half. Warm 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and sauté the diced onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Add the cumin, cinnamon, and allspice and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the lentils, kale, water and salt.  Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more, until kale is half cooked but still a beautiful emerald green. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lentil and kale mixture to a bowl, leaving most of the cooking liquid in the pot.

Meanwhile, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet over low heat. Add the thinly sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Increase the oven heat to 450°F. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and let rest for 20 minutes, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks. Mash with a fork until smooth and add a sprinkle of salt, if needed.

Take two ceramic or glass dishes. Spread the  mashed sweet potato over bottom, then the lentils and kale mix, then the caramelised onions and, finally, the dough.  Glaze.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until browned. Let cool for at least 5 minutes if serving immediately.

Simple fish casserole

IMG_2887Despite the cider, this is a comforting, simple fish supper reminiscent of the nursery food of yesteryear. This supper seemed perfect for an cold January evening when the nights are still long.  I used 4.5% alcohol cider and you can decrease the amount of cider, if you like and increase the stock.  Serve with rice and green vegetables of your choice.  I adapted this recipe from the one in A Year Full of Recipes (Parragon Books, 2014) fighting shy of monkfish and sorrel.


Serves 4

2 tsp butter

2 sticks celery, sliced

2 shallotts, finely chopped

300 ml fish or vegetable stock

125ml cry cider

250g new potatoes

1 bay leaf

4 tbs plain flour

200 ml milk

100 ml single cream

salt and white pepper

parsley to garnish

1) Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat.  Add the celery and the shallots and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until they start to soften,

2) Stir in the stock, potatoes and bay leaf with a large pinch of salt (unless the stock is salty) and return to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

3) Put the flour in a small bowl and very slowly whisk in a few tablespoons of the milk to make a thick paste.  Stir in a little more milk to make a smooth liquid.

4) Adjust the heat so the stew bubbles gently.  Stir in the flour mixture and cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes.  Add the remaining milk and the cream.  Continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are tender.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.

5) Continue cooking for 3 minutes until the cod stiffens.  Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning adding plenty of white pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve with white rice and green vegetables of your choice.

Wintry blackberry pavlova

IMG_2833I think of pavlova as a summery thing, with cream and raspberries or strawberries. But after cold turkey this wintry pavlova provides a refreshing and clear contrast to the richness of traditional Christmas fayre of Christmas pud, mincemeat and Christmas cake. My neighbour, Fran, lent me a Scottish book from which I took this recipe which will be attributed when I discover what the book was.

4 egg whites 8 oz caster sugar 1 tsp ginger 1 tsp vinegar 1 tsp corn flour A pinch of cream of tartar 1) Whisk eggs whites until stiff 2) Add sugar slowly until well combined 3) Add the vinegar 4) Sieve the cornflour over the meringue and combine Spread the mixture and bake at 180C for 5 minutes then 130C for 1 1/4 hours. Remove and cool. Then top with whipped organic double cream and blackberries with a few raspberries, blueberries and mint for aesthetic value.

The proof of the Christmas Pudding


I was very pleased with my Christmas pudding this year. Not being able to find my favourite Scots recipe with its rugged whisky and apple character, I ended up concocting this one with a subtle feel of cranberry and orange. I was grateful for the help of May Smart who advised to ensure that it was nut-free and the alcohol content was sufficient for the pudding to keep and mature for six weeks but, at the same time, not too alcoholic for children.  I have based my creation based on various Irish recipes I found on the internet.  Grand Marnier or Cointreau would be good substitutes for the rum, if the alcohol content is similar.

5 oz sultanas
1 oz natural colour glacé cherries, halved
8 oz raisins
7 oz currants
3 oz good quality mixed peel
Grated zest half organic orange
100 ml dark rum
50ml sieved fresh organic orange juice
225g (6oz) cold grated butter
225g (8oz) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
225g (6oz) dark or light muscovado sugar
75g (3oz) plain unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1.25ml (¼ level tsp) salt
3 large eggs
100ml (4fl oz) milk

1) Mix the alcohol and the fruit and leave for 12 hours.

2) Combine the remaining ingredients.

3) Steam for 3 hours and on Christmas day a further 3 hours.  Serve with whipped or pouring organic double cream.


Potato croquettes with bacon and sprouts

IMG_2841Today, seeing the leftover mashed potato in my fridge I was pining for চপ (chops) which are an Indian version of the European croquette, but with minced meat or vegetables and green chilli in the middle.

I ended up going full circle and making a European chop, basically going back to the original croquette, I guess!

Probably because I did not put the 200g of other vegetables, 8 rashers of bacon just made it too salty, so I’d suggest cutting to 4 rashers. I used olive oil not butter for initial frying, and rice bran oil, not sunflower for deep frying.  I’m not sure how much flour I actually used, so I’ve put 100g not 200g.

I also missed out the final stage of coating in egg and breadcrumbs, so this version here is what I did, and I based mine on the BBC Good Food recipe entitled Bubble and Squeak Croquettes.


  • olive oil
  • 200g onions, sliced
  • 4 rashers back or streaky bacon, chopped
  • 2 handfuls sprouts, shredded
  • 500g leftover roast or boiled potatoes, mashed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100g plain flour, well seasoned, plus a little extra for shaping
  • rice bran, sunflower or vegetable oil, for frying

Makes 26


  1. Melt the butter in a pan, then fry the onions and bacon together for 10 mins until the onions are soft and bacon has started to colour. Add the cabbage or sprouts to the pan with a good grinding of black pepper. Stir well, then add a splash of water and cook, covered, for 5 mins more until tender.
  2. Tip the potatoes and cooked veg into the pan, then mash really well. Mix in the eggs, then season to taste. Turn onto a floured surface, flatten out, then cut into squares about the size of a scone. Roll each piece into long pieces and cut each into three.
  3. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Heat a 5mm depth of oil in a large frying pan; then, once a crumb turns golden within a few secs, shallow-fry the croquettes in 2 batches for 2 mins each side, turning carefully. (Or keep frying if yours are small enough to cook this way, as mine were).  Drain on kitchen paper and transfer to a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake for 15 mins or, if making ahead, cover and chill for up to 2 days. To reheat, give them 15 mins in the oven at 190C/fan 170C/gas 5 until hot through and crisp on the outside.


Riz au lait (French rice pudding)

You will find with English cooking that there is almost always a French equivalent, and it’s almost always better.

And so it was with rice pudding, which did surprise me, despite what I’ve just written. I really thought the French were too sophisticated for rice pudding! Anyhow, I’ve no picture of mine and that’s well and good – despite its wonders rice pudding is not the most photogenic of dishes and, as with curry or casserole, I struggle to present it in a way which reveals its true splendour. Discrete tiny objects, like sushi or strawberries seem to photograph the best when it comes to food, in my opinion.

I used this recipe by Raymond le Blanc from his website. I reduced the milk to 1500 ml and added 25 ml double cream as I was using semi-skimmed not full fat. It also seemed a little sweet but maybe that’s right. You can play around with these. I didn’t do the caramelising either. You can make the first stage earlier in the day and finish the other stage while you eat dinner. The dish can be served on its own (when you might want to caramelise) or with poached pear or peaches in vanilla. I’ve reproduced the original below.


1700ml Full fat milk
100g Caster sugar
2 tbsp Best Vanilla extract
150g Short grain/pudding rice, washed in cold water and drained
To finish
2 tbsp Icing sugar (for dusting)
50g Caster sugar to caramelise the top (optional)


Prepare ahead
Make the rice pudding an hour or two in advance.

For the initial cooking

Put the milk, sugar, vanilla and rice into a large saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. During the last 5 minutes, stir slowly and continuously to prevent the rice from sticking. At this stage it will be three-quarters cooked.

To finish cooking in the oven

While the rice is simmering, preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas 2. Pour the rice into the baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Leave to stand in a warm place for 1–2 hours. Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve. Or to caramelise and serve cold Allow the baked pudding to cool completely. Preheat the grill to high and sprinkle the caster sugar evenly over the surface of the pudding, using a sieve. Place under the grill for 2–3 minutes to caramelise, then leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

– See more at: http://www.raymondblanc.com/recipes/riz-au-lait/#sthash.TvqnHv91.dpuf

Blackberry and Apple Cake

I was happier with this the first time as it was tart and fresh. This time it was sweeter so it might be a case of tasting the blackberries and reducing the sugar further still, if they are sweet.

I used an Emma Block recipe, which itself is adapted from a BBC GoodFood recipe. I ran out of self raising white flour, and so I used half of that and half wholemeal flour (with an extra spoon of baking powder). I also reduced the sugar by 25% which is my standard response to any recipe. The amended recipe is here.



  • 125g white self-raising flour
  • 172g wholemeal flour
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 small eating apple
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 225g blackberries

Preheat your oven to 160C (fan). Butter and line the bottom of a square tin (you can make it it in a loaf tin, but it will take longer to cook). (I used a round cake tin and it was fine)

In a large bowl, rub the flour, butter and sugar together until it resembles fine crumbs. Mix in to it the cinnamon. Set aside.

Peel and coarsely grate the apple down to the core and mix in with the eggs. Stir the baking powder into the rubbed-in mixture in the large bowl, then quickly and lightly stir in the egg mixture until it drops lightly from the spoon. Don’t over mix. If it looks a bit dry add a splash of milk.

Very gently fold in the berries. Spoon into the tin and level. You can sprinkle the top with demerara sugar. Check after 50 minutes. When done the cake will be golden on top and feel firm. Test with a skewer to make sure the cake is cook through.

Leave to cool a little before turning out.

Chappattis under the grill

IMG_2471As I have electric, I can’t make chapattis over a flame. I developed this recipe and the combination of wholemeal and white means that the rotis have substance but the dough is sufficiently pliable.


100g wholemeal flour

50 white flour

125 ml warm milk with 1 tbs olive oil

1/4 tsp salt


Sift flours and salt together.

Mix in 100 ml of the milk and olive oil mixture. Add in enough to make a smooth elastic dough.

Coat hands in flour and knead mix, coating your hands in flour first.

Split into golf size balls and cover with an oiled cover for 30 minutes to an hour.

Roll out and grill each side under a very hot grill under parts blacken.

Smear with unsalted butter and keep warm until they are all grilled.

Chicken Caesar Salad

IMG_2395A great classic.  I buy thigh fillets and grill them with a little olive oil. I found a Caesar salad dressing without anchovies so my son could have this as it was fish-free.


400g chicken thigh fillets (or chicken breast), cut into pieces and grilled

1 large Romain lettuce or two hearts of Romaine, cut up

200g bought croutons (or homemade)

Caesar salad dressing (Tesco Finest is fish free)

Gran Padano or Parmesan, shavings

Black pepper

For homemade croutons, I use half a French stick diced. I put a garlic clove in olive oil and add salt, pepper and dried basil. Toss the bread in flavoured oil and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes on a moderate heat (160C).


Spaghetti alla carbonara

IMG_2391I was very pleased with this carbonara as I used to find I felt a bit ill after carbonara and hence rarely made it. This is Rick Stein’s recipe and I chose his because he is associated with wonderful fresh fish dishes so I thought he’s not going to make this too heavy!

Although, as with his recipe, it’s not traditional to add cream to carbonara (any more than it is with a chocolate mousse), I added just 1 tbsp double cream into the egg mixture and I only used 2 eggs as I did not have 3. Perhaps it is the parsley too which balances this rich dish out a little. This recipe is recommended! If you are a carbonara novice, make sure you warm the bowls, keep some of the liquid the pasta is cooked in and work quickly at the last stage, or you will get scrambled egg instead of a creamy sauce.


400g/14oz dried spaghetti

175g/6¼oz piece smoked pancetta, rind removed

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

handful flatleaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

2 large free-range eggs, beaten

1 tbs cream

50g/1¾oz pecorino sardo maturo (mature Sardinian pecorino), finely grated

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring 4.5 litres/8 pints water to the boil in a large saucepan with eight teaspoons salt (I used one tsp! but probably less water). Add the spaghetti and cook for nine minutes, or until al dente.

Meanwhile, cut the pancetta into lardons (short little strips), about 6mm/1¼in wide.
Heat a large, deep frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the oil and the pancetta and fry until lightly golden. Add the garlic and parsley and cook for a few seconds, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Drain the spaghetti well, tip into the frying pan with the pancetta, garlic and parsley, add the  beaten eggs and cream and half the grated pecorino cheese and toss together well.

Season to taste with a little salt and black pepper. The heat from the spaghetti will be sufficient to partly cook the egg, but still leave it moist and creamy. Take to the table and serve in warmed pasta bowls, sprinkled with the rest of the cheese and garnish with parsley.