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

Cherry pie (and a damn fine cup of coffee)

Cherry Pie Collage

I don’t know a single person who’d turn down a big fat slice of hot cherry pie. It’s been one of my favourite pies for as long as I can remember, but this mighty fine dessert took on extra special significance when I was about 15 and became absolutely obsessed with the cult David Lynch / Mark Frost surreal murder-mystery, Twin Peaks. To this day, whenever I hear the opening bars of the ever so haunting Falling, a shiver runs down my spine.

Every Wednesday morning I’d rush to school so I could swap notes with my best friend Ruth on all the twists and turns of last night’s episode. I would have given anything for a leather jacket-clad biker boyfriend like James Hurley, was terrified if ever I entered a room with long red curtains, had recurring nightmares about Bob, and I so wanted to be Audrey Horne. I wasted much too much time trying in vain to tie cherry stems with my tongue…

Continue reading

Chocolate pancakes with berries & rose-scented yoghurt

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Pancakes are always a popular weekend breakfast in our house, and then when you go and add chocolate into the mix, well, who doesn’t love chocolate? So these bad boys are always a winner.

Served with juicy berries (I always keep a stock in the freezer so we can them all-year-round) and a heavenly perfumed rosewater yoghurt and drizzled with syrup or honey, these simple pancakes are elevated to celebration status, perfect for Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday and birthdays. Continue reading

Swiss roll ice cream cake

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This is going to sound nutty but I’ve started watching cookery shows at six in the morning. I’m on a desperate get-healthy-lose-weight kick and so, as well as going back on the 5:2 diet, I’ve also started getting up half an hour earlier than I need to in order to fit in some exercise time. And I’ve found one of the best ways of taking my mind off all the stomach crunches and tricep dips is to watch celebrity chefs on the Food Network at the same time. I know. It’s not normal behaviour, is it?

The other morning I found myself drooling while I worked out as Lorraine Pascale made her Swiss Roll Bowl Cake. It looked so insanely easy and yet such a work of genius at the same time, I decided there and then I had to make it. My kids would love it, and I only need have the tiniest sliver. What’s more it’s frozen, so it’ll be around for a while. Plenty of time to have a few tiny slivers. On non 5:2 fast days, of course. Continue reading

White chocolate, beetroot and cardamom mousse

white chocolate beetroot cardamom mousse 4 text

Look away now if you’re on a diet. While this mousse might contain a generous helping of roast beetroot, I can make no claims for it being at all healthy. It’s rich, indulgent and highly calorific. Which is why it tastes so darn good.

Isn’t it the most amazing colour? You can imagine the look on my girls’ faces when they first saw it. Continue reading

Spiced plum and apple compote

plums and apples

It’s that time of year when fresh fruit and vegetables are in glorious abundance. I really should be pickling and preserving, and I fully intend to soon, but for the moment most of our fruit seems to be making its way into compotes of one kind or another.

spiced plum and apple compote

Fruit compotes are such an easy way to transform a huge pile of fresh fruit into a luscious bowlful of sweet, saucy pleasure. Make lots, as it keeps in the fridge for a few days. Simply tuck into your compote just as it comes or serve with creme fraiche or yoghurt for a delicious and healthy desert. My family’s favourite way to eat it is layered with thick, creamy Greek yoghurt and homemade granola for a light yet satisfying breakfast.

We’re enjoying vast volumes of plum and apple compote, making the most of fruit from our own and friends’ trees. Plums and apples both work terribly well combined with strong spice flavours; in this recipe, I’ve used star anise, cinnamon and vanilla. It really is heavenly. You’ll frequently find me surreptitiously tucking into it straight from the bowl in the fridge when no-one else is looking.

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Spiced plum and apple compote

400g plums, stoned and roughly chopped
2 or 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped
juice of 1 orange
½ tsp cinnamon
1 star anise
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
4 tbsp demerara sugar

Place the ingredients in a medium saucepan, give it all a good stir and bring to a gentle simmer over a medium heat. Cook for around 10 to 15 minutes until the fruit is soft and just beginning to break up. Leave to cool and remove the star anise before serving.

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This compote is my entry into the #AgaInspiredRecipes challenge hosted by Rix Petroleum. The theme this month is cooking with plums.