In the mix: bloggers’ favourite spice mix recipes

While I love experimenting with different spices, I must admit to resorting to a handful of tried-and-tested spice mixes for many of our meals: garam masala for instance for curries, or ras-el-hanout for meat rubs. So you’ll see there was a fair bit of self-interest when I set Spice Mixes as the theme for the last Spice Trail challenge; I was after a little spicy inspiration for new meals to try out with different spice mixes I’ve never played with before.

And as ever my fellow food bloggers didn’t disappoint. Here follows a sensational selection of spicy dishes that are guaranteed to get your own culinary creative juices flowing or, at the very least, your mouth watering…

First up is this beautiful Vegetarian Japanese Curry (1) from Green Gourmet Giraffe which brings together Asian and Oriental flavours. If you’re making it the traditional way, you use a Japanese Oriental curry powder but if this is hard to find, you can, as Johanna does in her recipe, use an Indian curry powder instead. This recipe also features grated apple, Worcestershire sauce and even apricot jam. I am so intrigued by the flavour combinations in this curry, I simply have to try it.

Brinjal aka aubergine aka eggplant is one of my favourite vegetables and this Stuffed Eggplant (2) from Thou Shalt Cook definitely has my name all over it. And a great new way for me to put my garam masala to good use too.

This brilliantly vibrant Southwestern Avocado Scramble Salad (3) from The Taste Space features classic spicing for a real taste of the US Southwest, along with peppers, carrots, black beans, lettuce and of course avocado. Nutritional yeast is an ingredient I’ve never come across before. Will need to investigate that one…

Slow cooked lamb is a particular favourite of mine (see below) and this Slow Cooked Lamb Ras el Hanout (4) from Farmersgirl Kitchen is simply divine. Doesn’t that lamb look just so wonderful succulent and tender? It’s most definitely got my name writ large all over it.

You might recognise these Middle Eastern Spiced Camp Fire Chickpeas (5) from Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary from a previous Spice Trail round-up, but I’m so glad Elizabeth has shared them again as they are perfect for this latest challenge. The chickpeas are spiced with Elizabeth’s favourite blend of spices, sub-ah b’har, also known as a seven spice mix, a staple in any Middle Eastern kitchen, and cooked al fresco over a Nordic Fire Log. I want to go camping this summer just so I cook this up.

While Jane from Onions and Paper admits her Moroccan’ Spiced Chicken Crown with Lots of Lovely Veg (6) might not be totally authentic, the overall effect is still reminiscent of much Moroccan  and other North African cuisine. Authentic or not, featuring both ras-el-hanout and harissa paste, I reckon it looks incredibly tasty. It’s so simple too and all cooked in one pan, saving on the old washing up. Win-win in my eyes. 

Chef Mel has come up with her own spice blend for her Spiced Chicken with Stir Fried Thai Jasmine Rice (7) using dried Kashmiri chilli, fennel and caraway seeds. Mel boasts its better than anything you’ll eat in a Chinese or Thai restaurant and I believe her. It’s packed full of big, fresh, vibrant flavours – just what you want for a quick and easy weekday supper.

I do enjoy a good dhal but I don’t seem to cook it at home nearly enough. This Red Lentil, Sweet Potato and Spinach Dhal (8) from Eating, Enhanced is a recipe I’ll be trying out on my family very soon, featuring my favourite Indian spice blend garam masala. It’s also a great way to use up vegetables lurking in the fridge nearly ‘on the turn’.

Allotment2Kitchen’s recipes are always so inventive and this Ethiopian Eritrean Inspired Zigni Vegetable Broth (9) is a case in point. The recipe comes from Celia Brook‘s World Vegetarian Classics and has been adapted to use spinach and sweet potatoes instead of the more traditional pumpkin or squash, along with a fiery Berbere Hot Spice Blend which Shaheen made from scratch. I could easily eat a big bowl of this, and undoubtedly be up for seconds.

Did I mention how much I like slow cooked lamb? I mean really, really, really slow cooked lamb, as in overnight. My entry for The Spice Trail is this Overnight Roast Shoulder of Lamb with Ras-el-hanout (10), which is perfect for the Aga and just the job for a big family feast.

For those of you not happy to end a meal without a pudding, you’ll be pleased to hear that we received a couple of sweet entries too.

How about one of these pretty Speculaas Spiced Cupcakes (11) from I’d Much Rather Bake Than…, proof that Laura can actually bake things that don’t contain chocolate! I love the speculaas spice mix, in fact I’m rather addicted, so I think I’d find it hard to stop at just the one…

Lastly De Tout Coeur Limousin brings us this splendid Spiced Tea Loaf (12), spiced with quatre-épices, a blend of allspice, nutmeg, clove, ginger and pepper. It just happens to be fat-free and low-sugar to boot, providing a virtuous finale to our spicy menu.

And the winner is…

Spice PacketsAs ever there can only be one winner. I’m very pleased I didn’t have to make that decision, handing the responsibility over to Julia Latif at Our House of Spice.

Julia says, “The Spice Trail has showcased a fantastic range of dishes from cupcakes to curries with each recipe bringing us together from around the globe by portraying our love and passion for good quality and tasty cuisine.

“It was so difficult to pick a winner but I’ve chosen Eating, Enhanced’s wonderful Red Lentil, Sweet Potato and Spinach Dhal because it is so quick, simple, healthy and delicious!”

Our winner will receive a fabulous Indian spice selection from Our House of Spice, including spice kits for masala curry, tarka dhal, baked chicken, Bombay potatoes and raita. I’ve tried the tarka dhal and baked chicken kits and they are absolutely brilliant.

Congratulations to Eating, Enhanced on her win and huge thanks to everyone that took part in this Spice Trail challenge, and for Julia at Our House of Spice for judging and providing such a great prize. The theme for the next challenge will be announced very soon.

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Overnight roast spicy lamb shoulder – perfect for the Aga

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One of the joys of being an Aga owner is being able to pop a dish, be it a joint of meat or a casserole perhaps, into the bottom oven (the simmering oven) and forget about for several hours or all day, or in this case overnight, and when you return, it has magically transformed into the most succulent and tender of feasts.

As it’s a rather fatty meat, lamb is perfect for slow-roasting, as the fat keeps the meat mouth-wateringly moist. This slow-roasted shoulder makes for a very special meal, and since a large joint of lamb isn’t particularly cheap, I’d save it for suitably special occasions or big family gatherings. But the beauty of it is that’s so incredibly easy to do, yet tastes a million dollars. And I reckon you do get your money’s worth. One shoulder of lamb served seven of us for Sunday lunch, with plenty of leftovers for a further two more meals during the week.

overnight roast lamb with ras-el-hanout

Lamb with fragrant spices is a match made in heaven, particularly North African flavours as found in the ras-el-hanout spice mix, which according to Wikipedia is Arabic for ‘head of the shop’ or as we’d say in English ‘top shelf’ implying a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer.

You could have a go at making your own ras-el-hanout with toasted cumin and coriander seeds, cinnamon, ginger, black peppercorns, turmeric, cardamom seeds, saffron, and maybe some dried rosebuds – although the exact spices used varies from one recipe to another. However I opted for a ready-made ras-el-hanout mix sent to me to try by Sanjay and Shashi Aggarwal at the Spice Kitchen.

The Spice Kitchen is a small family run artisan spice company, specialising in a range of spices and spice blends. The business was set up in 2013 by Sanjay for his mum who he says “is an amazing cook and oracle on spices, having grown up around them in Kenya and India”.  They started up selling Indian keynote spices but have grown quickly and have now developed a range of international spice blends using their high quality range of whole spices and old production methods, including garam masala, panch phoron, jerk, Mexican, Sri Lankan, Chinese, ras-el-hanout and baharat.

I am gradually working my way through the various spice mixes the Spice Kitchen kindly sent me to test out. The baharat (a Middle Eastern mix containing cloves, black pepper, cumin seeds, nutmeg, paprika, cardamom and cinnamon) was wonderful as a rub for sirloin steaks, and their ras-el-hanout was simply sublime mixed with olive oil and rubbed into the shoulder of lamb before slamming into the oven overnight. I very much look forward to experimenting with the rest of the collection.

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Overnight roast shoulder of lamb with ras-el-hanout

Serves 6 to 8 (with leftovers)

1 shoulder of lamb (around 2kg)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp ras-el-hanout spice mix

Place the lamb shoulder into a large roasting dish and slash the meat all over with a sharp knife.

Pour the oil into a small bowl and mix in the ras-el-hanout. Use your fingers to smother this all over the lamb, working it well into the meat.

Cover with foil and place in the top roasting) oven of the Aga for around 15 minutes and then transfer to the top of the bottom (simmering) oven and leave there for 8 to 10 hours or, as I did, overnight.

And that is seriously all there is to it. Job done. Simply pull the meat off the bone with a couple of forks. I served mine with a bulgur wheat and pomegranate salad, vegetables and tzatziki.

If you have a conventional oven, roast for 15 minutes at 220°C/Gas Mark 7 and then turn the temperature right down to 140°C/Gas Mark 1 and leave there for 8 hours or so. When the meat falls apart easily it’s ready to serve.

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I am entering this slow-roasted lamb with ras-el-hanout into the current Spice Trail challenge, which is celebrating spice mixes from around the world.

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Disclosure: Spice Kitchen provided me with complimentary spice mixes for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are my own.

Blenheim Palace Food Festival

Blenheim Palace Collage

The food festival season is truly upon us. You could probably spend every weekend from now until the end of the autumn at a different food festival somewhere around the country. And I for one intend to get to as many as I can possibly can.

I spent last Bank Holiday weekend in the Cotswolds, in the beautiful market town of Woodstock, home to the rather magnificent Blenheim Palace, residence of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, which this year played host for the first time to its very own food festival.

We arrived at the festival mid-morning; a little too early to be quite hungry enough for the delights on offer, particularly after our very delicious breakfast at our boutique B&B, the Glove House – their strapazzate (Italian scrambled eggs finished with cream and Parmesan) is to die for by the way. So we took a relaxed stroll around the stunning grounds of Blenheim for a couple of hours first, admiring the elegantly sweeping vistas and charming bluebell woods, to work up an appetite.

By lunchtime we were ravenous. Time to hit the food stalls…

Blenheim Palace Food Festival Collage

If you’re into food, then festivals like this are always such a fun way to explore new cuisines and food products, but more than anything it’s great to meet the people behind the food, who are always so passionate about what they’re creating and keen to talk about their stories and future plans. The Blenheim Palace Food Festival was perfect for this – there was such a vibrant buzz about the place; a genuine excitement about sharing good food and drink. The British food scene has come a long way.

My personal highlights included the 10-hour slow roasted lamb from Cotswolds-based Ross and Ross Food, the smell of their roasting meat drew us from the opposite end of the festival, and the beautifully spiced braised beef shin from A Taste of Vietnam was a revelation. I’m actually trying to recreate this dish today for Sunday lunch.

taste of vietnam

As regular readers of this blog will know, we’re big chilli heads in the Bangers & Mash household, so I had to investigate all the chilli offerings. I was immediately drawn to the Chilli Alchemist’s stall, with their mystical Medieval styled chilli potions. These Bristol-based chilli lovers know how to make a good chilli sauce and, after some serious tasting of their full range, I came away with three bottles – Philosopher’s Dew, Smoke Potion and Everlasting Flame. Great names, huh? If you like chilli sauce, do check out the Chilli Alchemist website.

chilli alchemist

The Blenheim Palace Food Festival would have made a fantastic day out for the whole family. They had an excellent Kids Club with petting zoo, scavenger hunt, giant garden games, and all kinds of arts and crafts. But for once I was out sans enfant, so I could partake in more than a few delicious cocktails.

Two stalls in particular won my seal of approval. There was the funky and, brilliantly quirky Tipple Taxi, a mobile cocktail bar from a black London Hackney cab, serving up elegant and oh so grown up gin and tequila cocktails. And the Mojito Mavericks, mixing up an array of fun and fruity rum-fuelled delights. I could have sipped their spicy mango mojito (featuring chilli syrup) in the sun all day. Although I would’ve probably had to be carted back to the hotel in a wheelbarrow afterwards…

Cocktails Collage

The Blenheim Palace Food Festival was organised by Fantastic British Food Festivals, who are hosting many more events in stunning venues throughout the year. Their next festival takes place at the end of June at Morden Hall Park in South London, while in July they’ll be at Wakehurst Place, the country estate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. To see the full schedule of events, check out

Springtime tagliatelle with chicken, asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli

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When the first spears of asparagus appear in the garden or in our weekly vegetable box, there is only ever one way to eat them: simply steamed and served with melted butter and sea salt. There is something so beautiful in this simplicity, focussing completely on the heavenly fresh green taste of the fresh, crisp asparagus, it needs nothing else.

Then as the English asparagus season continues, the recipes become more varied and asparagus makes an appearance in all kinds of meals. We tend to eat as much of it as we possibly can this time of year. This easy pasta dish, which sees the asparagus partnered with tender stems of purple sprouting broccoli, also at its best in late spring, is a firm family favourite.

I made it one evening last week when the children got home from school. The girls asked if they could bring a friend back with them, a friend who in the past has been a little on the fussy side when she’s come over for tea, so I usually play safe and cook something like fish fingers. But I had my heart set on asparagus that evening, and nothing was going to change my plans. Their friend had never eaten asparagus before, so I was intrigued to see what she’d make of it. Thankfully she seemed to enjoy it as much as my own girls and even had seconds. Hurrah! I’m always so pleased when other people’s children eat my food!

I used some wonderful Sicilian olive oil from Pomora in this pasta, for frying the chicken and also a little drizzled over the finished dish.

Tagliatelle Collage

Through Pomora you can adopt your very own olive tree (or give it to someone as a gift). As well as receiving quarterly deliveries of delicious olive oil from your tree, you also get an adoption certificate and updates from the farmer throughout the year. The guys at Pomora have travelled across Italy and Sicily to find the very finest olive farmers. They all use sustainable farming methods, pressing their own olives in the traditional way under strictly controlled conditions. The olive oil is then shipped directly to customers, no middle men involved at all.

I was seriously impressed with the olio nuovo I received from Pomora to try out. This is their youngest, freshest oil, bottle directly after harvest. It’s unfiltered, giving it a gloriously vibrant green colour, and a delicious fresh flavour with a hint of pepperiness. It’s perfect for drizzling over pasta dishes as a seasoning and simply dipping big hunks of bread into.

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Tagliatelle with chicken, asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli

Serves 5-6

2 large chicken breasts, skinned and diced
large knob of butter
extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp crème fraiche
a squeeze of lemon juice
50g Parmesan, grated
salt and pepper
9 asparagus spears
350g purple sprouting broccoli
375g dried tagliatelle (or 450g fresh)

Fry the chicken in the butter and olive oil until cooked through. Stir in the crème fraiche, lemon juice and Parmesan, and season to taste.

Steam the asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli until just tender and, if you like, slice into more manageable pieces.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the tagliatelle according to the packet instructions.

When the pasta is cooked, combine with the chicken sauce and stir through the vegetables. Serve at once with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a little more grated Parmesan.


I am entering this springtime pasta dish into the latest Family Foodies challenge, which I co-host with Louisa from Eat Your Veg. The current theme is Italian-inspired family food.

Disclosure: Pomora provided me with complimentary olive oils for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are my own (and my family’s).

Posh prunes and custard

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My blogging friend Janie from The Hedgecombers is off on an incredible road trip across Wales this month, discovering the best places to eat and drink in the country. Lucky bugger! While she’s otherwise engaged, she’s handed over the reins of her blog to some fellow foodies, including me.

My recipe for Posh Prunes and Custard has just appeared over on The Hedgecombers if you fancy giving it a try, and do check out Janie’s tasty offerings while you’re there. I’m sure you’ll be tempted by more than a few…

Calling all bakers: tell your best children’s stories in cake!

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With four shows in four new venues, the Cake & Bake Show is bigger than ever this year, and includes a BAKING COMPETITION on the theme of ‘Children’s Stories’ taking place at each of the venues: Harrogate, London, Manchester and Edinburgh.

The Cake & Bake Show is calling on all cake makers to create a fabulous cake that is an interpretation of a children’s story. Each cake creation can be inspired from any children’s story or film, (there’s lots of inspiration in the cinemas this summer with new releases Minion, Peter Pan and Jurassic Park); or it can be a combination of your favourite characters or stories from over the years! Continue reading

Poached pears in red wine and spices

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I was lucky enough to meet the brilliant Italian chef Valentina Harris at a special dinner party thrown earlier this year by Paddy and Judith O’Hagan who are part of the team behind the Wells Food Festival. The party was for volunteers and supporters of the festival, and we were treated to an incredible Italian five-course feast, all prepared by Valentina, who cooked at last year’s festival and is lined up to be involved again this year. There were beautiful canapes, followed by a selection of pasta dishes, then a wonderful risotto, an array of sweet treats and finally cheese.

One of the desserts was poached pears in the most heavenly red wine and spice syrup. I was rather surprised by how much my oldest daughter Jessie enjoyed the pears – so much so, she insisted we take our chances and pop into the kitchen (we’d been warned about the amount of swearing going on in there!) to see if Valentina would share her recipe with us. Continue reading