Chop Bloc, Chelmsford

I heard about Chop Bloc via Gary on Twitter. I’m not sure how a new steak place opening up not that far from us managed to pass me by, but it had. We’ve eaten at Miller & Carter in Chelmsford quite a few times, and have always found them to be of excellent quality, and good value, so we decided to check out Chop Bloc to see what they were like too. And, you know, because Steak.

Their location is a little tricksy, as they are in the town centre, so the SatNav got confused, then so did we. (I called them. Park in the carpark by Mothercare, head over the bridge, and they are just beyond Giraffe)

They’re in a corner with a few other chain restaurants, but they are built into an 18th Century grain house, so they look sufficiently different.

It has a dark feel, lots of exposed brick and wood floors, but it feels comfortable. I do love a good bit of brick.


We were shown straight to our table (they have a staircase, but they also have a lift. Yay Accessibility!) We sat for a bit, breathing in the smoky scent from the Josper charcoal grills/ovens.There’s a lovely roasting beef scent to the place, as you would expect. And they really know their beef.

To quote Gary;

“Sourced from an supplier of Hereford cattle, they take the unusual (for the UK) move of dry aging the meat onsite. There’s storage for over three tons of beef in the building, which gives the chef great flexibility to portion the meat when it’s at its finest.”

THREE TONS. Sounds like a beautiful thing to me.

Now, when steak is sold by the gram, I get confused, and preoccupied with working out how much it is in ounces, and then thinking “Would I really pay that much for a steak?!” quite a lot. It takes a while to get over that.


It would be very, very easy to spend well over a ton here, without really noticing, in the first five minutes.

However. We eventually settled on the ribeye, as that’s our benchmark steak. Medium well for Tex, medium rare for me.

I love that each steak has a stick in it so you know which is which.


I am not sure a starter would be wise, even though they all sounded very tempting, especially the Panko Pork Belly.

Tex got chipotle fries with his steak, and a side salad. I had poutine, because I’ve never had it, and plain corn.

The Ribeye

I was very, very happy with my steak. Very.

The corn was very nice. A smoked taste to it, which can get a bit samey if everything has it, but then I love smoke, so I didn't mind at all. The small pieces of spring onion give it a nice tang.

WARNING KLAXON: The Poutine is huge. It really is a dish to share. Honestly. We did point out that perhaps a warning should be put next to it on the menu.


That’s fries, with cheese curds, drenched in an amazing gravy. It’s rich, very dark, and made from all the bones, including veal bones.

The Gravy

That’s not simply the bottom of the pot in there, that’s beef jus. If they sold just a cup of that with some bread, I’d buy it. One of their sides is mash and gravy. I am so having that next time.

I do think that a side of a simple salad would be useful. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber. Just that. Tex’s salad had lots of things in it, half of which he picked out. (Green pepper shouldn’t be thing.) Miller & Carter do an Iceberg wedge, with a choice of dressings, and that’s perfect. Good and crunchy to cut through the richness of the steak.

Have another corn photo. Yes, I liked it that much. It didn’t need butter, it was tasty enough on its own.

Barbecue Corn

The only drawback was the noise level. The room that we were in seemed to be exceptionally echoey, not helped by a table of shouty men by us. The lack of anything, acoustic-wise, to absorb the sound, was extremely noticeable and, to be honest, it hurt my ears. Everything seemed to be amplified. It needs some nice carpet! (I know it doesn’t go with the look. But it does. Or at the very least some acoustic dampers like wall hangings.)


All in all, it was a very nice dinner. I think, for me, it would be a destination more for a special occasion, as yes, it is a bit expensive, but this is very, very good meat, and worth paying for.


Mabel’s. Maiden Lane, Covent Garden

I can’t remember now how I heard about Mabel’s. I think it might have been on Facebook, but I am ever so glad I did hear about it.

I signed up to their site, and got given a 50% off voucher for my first visit. We booked it up for the 14th of May, there and then.

It’s walking distance from work for me, which is a bonus, so I wandered along, went in and fell in love with the way they have decorated the place.  I very much mourn the demise of the Covent Garden Bar and Grill (sister restaurant to Porters, also sadly gone) on Henrietta Street, because I felt so comfortable there, but I think Mabel’s might replace it in my affections.

Maiden Lane needed some new blood. There’s the English plushness of Rules, which must never, ever change. A very good Thai restaurant called Thai Pin, and the Italianate hipness of Polpo, with its sharing plates, tattooed staff and scrubbed wooden floors.

Now there’s the Big Easy, looking like a be-neoned club, pumping smoke and grilled seafood scents into the street.

I think there’s still a GBK in the middle, and at the other end we have The Porterhouse which is a quite nice pub but very busy, and the inauthentic but still tasty La Tasca. La Perla do Mexican style food, and Fire & Stone are also along there. I admit their pizzas are very good. I’m just not a huge pizza fan. I might eat it once a year.

Mabel’s has taken over what used to be a cocktail bar, I think. They’ve done the place out in a very nice fashion, with lots of old pictures, mirrors

2015-05-15 17.56.18    20150514_123145

and a terribly overblown chandelier.


It all sounds a bit twee, but it really works. Not every chair is the same, but they blend in.


THEY USE PLATES. This is very important. If the food comes on a board or a tray for serving, as our first course did, they also give you a small plate.

There are no jam jars with handles to drink out of. Thank goodness.

When you first walk in, you enter a bar area, with high tables and stools. I thought someone was sitting in there working during their lunch, so didn’t pay proper attention, but it turned out to be a staff member trying to get my attention. Oops.

She was lovely, and was quite happy to seat me at a different table on their mezzanine floor, so that I wasn’t sitting with my back nearly up against a fire extinguisher, and almost in the doorway.

There’s a bar on this floor too, and the coffee machine is also there, which leads to an awful lot of banging when they thwack the coffee ground holder very hard to empty it. [narrows eyes] Yes, I jumped every time they did it as by Jove it echoes in there.

All very minor blips though.

There’s yet another seating area beyond the bar, so I might go in there next time!

Full marks ahoy for the food which, let’s face it, is what we were there for.

There’s a decent amount of choice on the menu, without being overwhelming. We had quite a hard time choosing, everything sounded so nice.

These are just the sandwiches. I wanted them all. I also want a cheese called Ogleshield. Because Ogleshield.


I want to go back and try the salads.


Finally we made a decision.

Duck Egg and Chive Mayo with Asparagus and walnut bread to share, then I chose Half a Smashed Chicken, and K had Battered Whale Haddock and chips.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.


The egg mayonnaise is rich, but not cloying. The chives lift it, and the eggs are very tasty. The Lincolnshire Poacher cheese is a perfect addition, and the asparagus was very nicely cooked. Tender, not soggy at all.

There was a lot of the mayo, so I am glad we shared, because oh my there was a lot of the main dishes.


Salt baked potatoes are a thing of wonder. They retain all of their goodness, and the skin is soft, but beautifully flavourful. Not overly salty at all. The chicken was very tender, with properly crisp skin, and a hint of smoke to it. It was also very nicely chicken-y. Not bland in any way.

The apple and fennel coleslaw needed to not have large chunks of spring onion, but for a fennel hater, the rest of this was a revelation. Fresh and light, with hardly any anise flavour at all but with a gorgeous crunch. I loved it. Once I’d pulled out the onion pieces.

We were a bit taken aback by the fish. Cor, mate.


Yes, that batter is as crisp a shell as it looks. It was light, not greasy, and the fish inside was perfect.

Now I know everywhere does chips, but these were lovely. They tasted properly home cooked, very, as Kath said, Chip-y. Nicely done all round.

Dessert wasn’t going to happen. So we’ll have to go back.

My only complain, if you can call it that, is that the drinks options for non-alcohol people are a bit limited. They have an extensive cocktail list, and wine/beer/champagne list, but no non-alcoholic ones at all.

Tea, coffee, Fentimans juices, which I find way too sweet, or water, really. You do get tap water without asking, which is good.



I would have loved to see a small list of pretty mocktails, like Hush has, but they aren’t on there yet. Ok, ok I am being picky, I expect but not everyone drinks.

We were told that of an evening you can ask the bartender and they'll make you something.

I love this list at Hush. It’s seasonal too, I believe.


Overall, it’s a 9.5/10 for Mabel’s. I honestly can’t wait to go back and try more things from the menu. I very much enjoyed the experience there, it’s a very nice place to sit and chat, and eat lovely food, so thank you Mabel’s!


Southern Fried Chicken

A few weeks ago, Alicia posted this.

It stuck in my brain, because it seems a far less messy way of cooking something that I love. Obviously my brain decided it want something else after a while, because it sort of slipped away. My brain is always filling up with recipes and ideas of what to cook, so something’s bound to fall out somewhere along the way.

Today I am home alone. Husband doesn’t really like chicken on the bone, and I love it, so on the way home from work I found some juicy looking chicken thighs in the trust Co-op, and decided there and then that I wanted Fried Chicken for dinner. The drawback being that I hadn’t had time to marinate it in buttermilk, but I figured it would work out okay in the end. I did my usual make it up as you go along.

I also read this article to get the method, and off we went.

It did indeed work out okay in the end.

3 large chicken thighs, skin on.

1 tbs Old Bay Seasoning (This is a wonderful spice mix, and integral to my cupboard)

1 tsp celery salt

4 cloves garlic, whole

3 tbs wholemeal flour

1 tsp fine polenta

Light olive oil (NOT extra virgin)

Pour 1.5 cm of oil into a high sided pan, with a lid. I used my mock Le Creuset casserole dish. Good and heavy.

Heat the oil with the garlic cloves in it, until it slowly comes to a heat, and the garlic cloves turn golden brown.

Remove the cloves, and turn the heat up.

Mix the spices, flour and polenta together in a bowl, then smoosh the chicken into it to coat it all over. (A low carb way with coating is to use dried parmesan, not flour. Omit the celery salt though or it will be too salty.)

When the oil is hot enough to brown a cube of bread quickly, put the chicken in.

Put the lid on, turn the heat down and simmer for 6 minutes. (A timer is your friend.)

Turn the chicken over, and simmer, covered, for another 6 minutes.

Take the lid off, turn the heat right up, and fry the chicken until properly dark golden on all sides, uncovered.

Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a rack. 

Fried Chicken.

The high sides of the pan reduce splatter to almost nothing. I felt quite safe cooking this way! I had put newspaper down on the floor just in case, but it wasn’t needed at all.

Ok, I will admit that the skin on the thighs curled up on two of them but OMG CRUNCHY SALTED CHICKEN SKIN.

I dusted some green beans in the spice mix too, and chucked them into the hot oil once the chicken was out. Nice and juicy, with crispy bits!

Southern Fried Green Beans


Sunday 3rd May

My chap isn’t feeling too well tonight so, as we’re staying in his Bexhill flat, and thus have more room, he’s tucked up on the sofa in the living room, and I’m sat at the kitchen table – OH the joy of that – reading cookery books and listening to the sound of the sea.

 Bexhill at night

There are a lot of books here, more than our last visit, and I have spied the one for me. Nigel Slater’s Real Food.

Real Food 1

The glory of his writing never fails to capture my cooking heart. There’s a simplicity in his words but also a certain gloriousness to be found, too.

I do feel like I’m having an illicit liaison, sitting in a darkened kitchen, only the cooker hood light on, ‘listening’ to his voice reading aloud from the pages. This is the marvellous part of having television cooks. Now when I read their works, I can hear the words in their own voices.

Waxing lyrical about the sinful luxury of velvety pork fat, or the joy of a chip butty after the pub – bought chips, thickly buttered white bread – with the salaciousness of licking “salty, buttery fingers” when a bit drunk. “especially someone else’s”, he suggests. I believe I am blushing while I read that, even though I’m alone!

Sitting here, with this lovely book, I realise that it’s to Nigel’s books, and shows, that I turn when I need to slow down and take stock. I can switch off, and focus only on the sensuality and enjoyment of the food for a while.

Hiding away in my room on certain nights, it’s a very good way to not feel alone, and to lose myself in the sheer pleasure that cooking can bring to me, and to others.

I admit, it’s a little like having a secret boyfriend. One that I can summon forth from the television with only a flick of the remote control. Finding moments to read his words on the journey in to work, on the journey home, on the bus, at night whilst waiting for my husband to come home, or watching on catch-up TV when nobody else is home.

There he is, cooking all of the things that I like, and also challenging me to try the ones that I think I don’t.

I thought I was the only one who had to deeply inhale the aroma of her food before  she ate it, until I saw Nigel interview Richard E Grant, and realised that I was in very fine company. I will no longer be embarrassed about it.

There is a slightly shy, but mischievous smile underlying his writing, and a definite cheeky twinkle, combined with a real love for what he does. You do get the distinct feeling that he knows exactly what he’s doing when he references certain things.

Real Food

Not for me the raw, cheek-boned Marco Pierre of the White Heat era. No, this tousle-haired man with his gentle eyes and undeniably flirty personality, so often sharing the beauty and wonder with his army of adoring fans when on his travels – that right there, that caught me. There is a kindness, and a sincerity. A feeling he truly cares for the hundreds out there in the internet world who interact with him. 

The ease with which he took to Twitter like a natural medium of communication and became, almost overnight, like an old friend whose life you were peering into and catching up with.

Nigels wineberries

Wine berries in Nigel’s garden, digitally rendered by moi.

I revelled in his recent trip to Japan. Each Tweeted photo was a vignette of calm and beauty, a window into the obvious happiness that he was generously sharing with us all.


Celebrity can mean a loss of privacy, but I think he has managed to retain his. I do hope so, as anyone encroaching on beloved Nigel, to me, would be beyond contempt. Both he and Nigella share a lot of themselves, and to try and take more than they offer is very unfair.

I remember watching him years ago, talking about eating a whole tub of ice cream in bed, back when he had short cropped hair and Nigella wore dungarees-style dresses. My kind of man, there, waxing lyrical about that chip butty after the pub.

Friendly, approachable, with a childlike joy on occasion but also, you feel, a man who knows exactly what to do with a bit of asparagus and a lot of butter. And yes, he’d infer a lot into that sentence too.

When I read Toast, drawn deep into the history of this TV cook that I’d watched for years, my heart broke for that young boy, and then rejoiced for young man who finally found his passions, in all things, and pursued them.

I am well aware that TV personas can be totally misleading, but I am pretty sure that is not the case here.

Twitter has allowed me to get ‘close’ with cooks that once I could only watch on the television. None of the satisfaction of interaction there.

Gizzi, liking my food photos on Instagram, Nigel replying to me on Twitter like an actual friend, not just a fan, and then getting to meet some of my food idols too?

Carluccio is still, and will remain, my food hero, rogue that he is, but Nigel is my not-so-secret crush.

There’s a new show, soon, and a book too. That will be going on the Kindle asap. Kitchen Diaries I bought hardcover, then also put it on the Kindle so that I could carry it more easily on the train.

My commute is a happier place with him along for the ride.

So. To you, Nigel.



Posset, douglas fir, almond, apple


Pork belly and chick pea casserole

I’d hesitate to call this a recipe. It’s more like a memory from childhood in a pot, to be honest. A chuck it all in dish, if you will. We call a stew a yahni (γιαχνί) and that covers a lot of dishes! Many cultures have their own versions.

I think Mum used to make this with white beans, but she could also have used chick peas too. Use what you have.

I had dried chick peas in the cupboard, and no tins, which is why I used the dried ones, but the tinned ones are equally as good, if not better, and they cut out the soaking and boiling time.

You can jazz this up as much as you want, add in onions if you like, chillies, more garlic, or use a different cut of meat, it’s up to you. It’s your dinner, after all.

Pork and chick pea yahni

1 cup dried chick peas, soaked overnight, drained then simmered in unsalted water until tender.

3 large pork belly slices, the tough skin removed, and cut into chunks

2 tins plum tomatoes and their juice

3 cloves garlic

olive oil



Brown the pork belly chunks off in some oil. I had some bacon fat left over so used that.

Crush the plum tomatoes with your hands*, and add them to the pot.

Add in the drained chick peas.

Pop in 3 whole cloves of garlic, 1 tbs honey, 2-3 tbs olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.

Mix well, pop a lid on, and cook in the oven on around 170FC for an hour then down to 150C for least 3 hours.

Take the lid off at the end to thicken up the sauce a bit and add some caramelisation.

This is my idea of a comforting dinner, just pootling away in the oven, teasing you with the odd wisp of garlicky scent.

If it’s still a bit acidic when you taste it, add in a pinch of sugar, a little more olive oil and bake for 10 minutes more. Some tinned tomatoes can be very acidic!

You might want some bread to soak up the juices.

Serve with olives, and maybe some sharp cheese.


Chuck it all in Finished pot

*tomato seeds are bitter, so if you chop things in a food processor, or with a knife, that can release some of the bitterness.


Plain houmous using dried chick peas

I bought a bag of dried chick peas ages ago, meaning to use them for something, and promptly forgot about them once I’d put them in the cupboard. That happens a lot in my house. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

I found them yesterday, so decided to actually remember to soak some overnight, and give houmous a try using them. Just to see what difference it makes to the texture and the taste.

Now, I know you can buy this anywhere, but shop bought houmous has become a disappointment to me, if I’m honest. It’s now too pungent, and I find that I cannot get the taste to go away for ages. The only brand that doesn’t do that to me is Sabra, usually to be found in the Kosher section. That is consistently lovely.

The rest of them taste quite artificial to me, so when I found that my carrot houmous lasted nearly a week without spoiling, I thought I’d make more. Not quite such a volume of it this time though. Even I can get tired of houmous.

The joy of this is that you can adjust everything to the way you like it. Leave out the salt (though I’m not sure I would like it that way), add more tahini, more lemon, whatever you think makes it taste how you want it.

200g (pre-soaked weight) dried chick peas

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2-4 tbs tahini

juice of 1 – 2 lemons

1/2 - 1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic salt (you can use fresh if you want, but this makes it more work lunch friendly)

Cover the chick peas with water in a large pan. Leave overnight.

Soaking chickpeas

The next day, once you have drained the chickpeas, put them back into the pan and cover with cold water to at least double their depth. DO NOT ADD SALT.

Add the 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda into the water and stir.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for 1 hour. You might get some foam on the top, I just skimmed that off. It’s nothing to worry about. Top up with boiling water if the water looks to be too low.

Test one to see if it’s soft.

If they are tender, then drain them, saving the simmering liquid, and leave them to cool. I found that the cooking liquid started to gel, which took me by surprise.

Soaked and simmered chickpeas

Put the peas into a food processor. Add in 2 tbs tahini and the juice of half a lemon to start, plus 1/2 tsp garlic salt, and 1/2 tsp salt.

Give it a whizz, and add some of the cooking liquid if it’s too thick.

Taste, adjust the tahini/lemon/salt/garlic salt.

I ended up with 4 tbs tahini, the juice of 1 1/2 lemons and 1 tsp salt. I could probably have added more lemon.

Tub full

Served with extra virgin olive oil, and topped with an Essex olive from my own tree!

Served with an olive

It has a much creamier flavour than using tinned chick peas. I think that if I’d kept on blending and added more tahini, it would have gone to an even more silky paste, but I like it with a little bit of bite.

It might last until Monday. If I run out of breadsticks. (It should keep in the fridge for 5-7 days.)


Roasted Carrot and Sesame Houmous

I found myself with yet another glut of carrots. That always seems to happen, and then they go from firm things to rubbery and damp almost overnight. I know that I have said before that I think carrots are the pear of the vegetable world.

So. This glut. What to do with them. I cooked some cut into rounds, simmered until just cooked, then glazed with brown sugar and cinnamon.

I still had loads.

Of course. Houmous! Roasting the carrots is actually a very nice way of using up veggies that are past their best. It brings out the sweetness that may have faded while they were being ignored at the bottom of the fridge.

Here we go.

I made a version of this a couple of years ago, and wanted to tweak it, plus I like playing with my new food processor and had just read the Hummus Brothers cookbook. This makes about 3 cups of houmous.

1 pound carrots, chopped into 1-inch chunks

2 tbs sesame seeds

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided (I used orange flavoured, but any olive oil will do.)

1 400g tin cooked chickpeas, drained but liquid reserved

1/4 cup tahini

Juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 tsp garlic salt (I didn’t have any fresh in)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Coat the carrots with 2 tbs of the olive oil, and toss with sesame seeds.

Roast in a hot oven (170C fan) for a good half hour, 45 minutes, until soft.

When cooled, place into the bowl of a food processor.

Add everything else, and blitz.

Taste, then adjust all the seasonings and flavours. Mine needed more salt, and more lemon, as the carrots were very sweet. And I added more tahini because I love it. Adjust it to how you like it. It’s your dinner.

Perfect for lunch with some crackers. It should keep in the fridge for about 5 –7 days. 

Peeled carrots

Carrots with orange oil and sesame

Carrots with tahini, chick peas and sea salt

Finished dish


Fig Molasses & Orange Madeleines

It’s Thane Prince’s Cookbook Club this week, and the theme is Paris. I’ve only ever been to Paris once, and even then it was only the outskirts, and only for an overnight stay, so I didn’t get to explore the food shops. We were on our way to Chalon-sur-Saône, and had a long drive ahead of us, so we just didn’t have time.

If we had had the time, I’d have been sure to hunt down some Madeleines. I love these little sponge cakes and, truth be told, I am death to a bag of the Bon Maman ones.

I wanted to make some to take to Cookbook Club, so set about baking.

The plain vanilla ones were first and then, inspired mainly by London Bakes post here, some Fig and Orange ones.

Nice and easy recipe here, which I used just with lemon zest. They are nice, but need more vanilla I think.

The next lot up were the fig ones. I wanted to use up a jar of Fig Molasses that I’d bought from the Turkish Deli in Borough Market. I used it for making a green bean, fig and almond salad from my friend Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana, and I had quite a lot left.

I added grated orange rind too, because fig and orange goes very well together, and then used wholewheat flour, to make them slightly more toothsome. For once, I didn’t add cinnamon, the fig molasses needed to shine through a bit.

The smell as they were baking felt like Christmas had invaded my house again. Trudged its way through the snow, and climbed in through the window.

I can highly recommend these! (I’ve put them in a box now, so I don’t eat them all.)

3 medium to large eggs

2/3 cup sugar OR 2/3 cup fig molasses plus 1 tbs golden caster sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tsp orange flower water

1 cup flour (I used stone ground wholemeal)

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 teaspoons grated orange zest 

1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

Beat the sugar/molasses together with the eggs until it’s well mixed and slightly creamy. This takes around 3-5 minutes. (It does separate a bit, just whisk it back in.)

Whisk in the flour, bicarb, extracts and then whisk in the melted butter.

Leave to stand for an hour.

Heat the oven to 400° F /200° C.

I sprayed my moulds with baking spray, but you can butter and flour them if you prefer. I had one metal tin, and one silicone, so I could alternate them for faster baking.

Fill each little mould 2/3 full. I used a teaspoon, as my mix was quite thick. You can pipe it if you want, but I couldn’t be bothered, if I’m honest!

I baked each set for 10 minutes, and made sure I set a timer. They came free of the moulds very nicely indeed. I think next time I will add a bit more sugar, and use half white half wholemeal flour.

Fig and Orange Madeleines


Halloumi and Aubergine Bake

Okay, so that title doesn’t sound exactly thrilling, but just wait ‘til you taste the dish. Since I’ve started taking it to work, at least 5 people have also started making it, plus more than a few outside of work too. There is something about that mix of cheese, fruit, spices and herbs that just becomes an addition.

Most of you will know about my adaptation of a classic Cypriot Easter pastry called a flaouna, which I morphed into Halloumi pie. If you don’t, go here. Or listen to me bang on abut how much I love these parcels of salty cheese, fresh mint and sweet fruit, all held together by a tender pastry.

They are only made at Easter, and only made in Cyprus. I have spoken about them to mainland Greeks before, and they just shrug at me.

Flaounes have been made in Cyprus for decades, and are served as a celebratory food for the breaking of the Lenten fast. They are traditionally prepared on the Good Friday for consumption on Easter Sunday by Orthodox Christians. They are eaten in place of bread on Easter Sunday, and continue to be made and eaten for the weeks following.

These are THE taste of Easter. You usually have to cook by committee if any other family members are around, because everyone will have their own ideas about how these should be made.

A lot of you will also know about my love for aubergines. That much maligned – and oft poorly cooked – vegetable, that can be as silky and comforting as any chicken soup, or as spiced and punchy as one of The Rib Man’s sauces. Yes, I go on about them a lot. That’s because, so often, people do not cook them right at all, and thus their reputation for being unpalatable carries on.

I just wanted to take two of my favourite things in the world, both tastes of my childhood, and bring them together. Work lunches can be boring, but this makes them incredibly enjoyable.

So. This is my entry for the Destinology “Reimagine a Classic” competition. A re-imagining of a classic Cypriot pastry, that really only Cypriots will know, and taking that and turning it into a very delicious and easy lunch for these carb conscious days.



1 x pack of halloumi, grated*

1 x 250g pack grated mature cheddar

1 small bunch fresh mint, finely chopped

Large handful of sultanas

4 small eggs

1 tsp dried mint

1/2 level tsp ground cinnamon


1 large aubergine, cut into thick slices (enough to cover the base of the dish)

olive oil, the good stuff, as it’s a main flavour

Lay the aubergine slices on the bottom of a deep sided casserole dish. One that you know you can safely get baked cheese off of again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Brush – or if you’re me, drizzle -  very generously with oil, and bake or grill until golden on one side.

Turn them and bake them until they are soft all the way through.

While they are baking, mix all of the ingredients for the topping together. I used 4 small eggs, but you may only need 3 depending on your eggs. Just enough to hold the cheeses together, there need be no extra eggy liquid in there.

I started with 2, and added more as I went.

Pour on the topping, and cover them. The cheese will spread out.

I baked it at 170C Fan which should be a Moderate oven / 325F / 160C / Gas 3/4.

You want the edges all browned and bubbly and the middle set. I cook mine til the edges are quite dark.

Serve when it’s stopped being volcanic.

(You can use peppers, or courgettes too. Just make sure they are well cooked.)


*I use Cypressa brand, as it’s the most consistent, in both texture and salt levels.


Ingredients close up

Baked aubergines

Finished bake



Mmm Kikkoman Mushrooms!

Having rather a lot of Kikkoman’s reduction left over (the thinned out version from brushing the dumplings, here), and remembering I had mushrooms and rye bread to use up, this one was a bit of a no-brainer, but I really have to share.

1 pack chestnut mushrooms, quartered

2 banana shallots, cut in half lengthways and sliced thinly

2 – 3 tbs olive oil

1 tsp butter

2 tbs Kikkoman’s reduction (or you could use 2 tsp Kikkoman’s plus 2 tsp aged balsamic)

2 slices rye bread

2 tbs Greek yoghurt with honey (or use 2 tbs plain Greek yoghurt and add a drizzle of honey)

Coat and then slowly cook the shallots in the olive oil and butter until they are soft and starting to brown at the edges.

Add in the soy, mix well, then add in the mushrooms and mix well to coat.

Cook on high for a couple of minutes only, then cook slowly,covered, until the mushrooms release their own juice.

Take the pan off the heat, allow to cool a little.

Mushrooms part 1

Then stir in the yoghurt.

Serve piled over rye bread drizzled with olive oil.

Scoff, then bemoan the fact that you haven’t got any more mushrooms.

Mushrooms part 2


Comfort Food & Kikkoman’s


Update 11.11.14 – I didn’t win – BOO – but man, do I have some tasty dinners in the freezer from making this!

DISCLAIMER: If the photos are slightly shaky, I apologise, but I broke my wrist on the 1st September, so it’s still healing, and my camera is a bit heavy!

Dedicated to Nigel Slater, because he always makes me feel such a sense of autumnal comfort and calm. Something about this dish, and his books and TV shows, fill me with gentle happiness, and the sense that a cup of tea, and a decent slice of cake or a good biscuit, will make everything alright again.

A few weeks ago I was asked if I’d like to have a go at a recipe competition run by Kikkoman’s, the soy sauce people. I love their soy sauce, with its rich, salted caramel flavour, so of course I said yes. Info on them here: www.Kikkoman.co.uk

The twist was to make a NON ORIENTAL one pot dish, using the sauce as a seasoning, not just as a stir fry sauce. It’s surprisingly hard to get every single oriental dish out of your brain when they are trying to crowd in, all yelling their ideas, but I managed to clear a space. Eventually.

I decided to go with a fairly British autumnal comfort food. Stew and dumplings.  I have, of course, managed to make this on the one day that is as warm and sunny as an early summer day, but never mind.

As the idea was to use the sauce not just as a sauce, but as a seasoning, and as salt is one of the most important seasonings, I was struck by the idea of dehydrated soy sauce. Would it crumble up into salt crystals so I could use it in a dried form?

The answer is yes, it does. Very soft, sticky flakes, admittedly, but oh my they work. I fought back ideas of chocolate and soy salt tart, and got on with the savoury. (But don’t think I won’t be trying that sweet version.)

It took 2 bits of prep, but the taste was so worth it that I’d definitely do batches of these two things again to keep in the store cupboard/fridge. That would make this a very easy one pot dish.

Crystals *

Soy on foil

1 shallow roasting tray, lined with non stick foil right up the sides too.

2/3 cup Kikkoman’s

Pour the sauce into the lined tray and bake on about 160C until it looks like this.

Dehydrated soy

Some of it will still be liquid underneath the crust, so I tipped the tray until those bits ran out and kept baking until they crystallised as well.

Then leave it to dry overnight, and scrape it off gently into an airtight pot. It is quite sticky.

The Reduction **

Getting started

1/3 cup Kikkoman’s

1/3 cup good aged balsamic, one with a sweet edge

1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix the above together in a pan, and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer until it’s reduced by half. It will go foamy, and then as it cools it will thicken to what looks like Marmite. To use as a drizzle just put the pan on a very low heat and it will liquefy again. This is one of the most umami-laden things I have ever tasted. I had to keep tasting it just to make sure, of course. Thinned down with a bit of water it would make an amazing salad dressing.

This is a shaky photo, taken one handed, of just how thick it becomes, and how bubbly it looks when it’s ready.

Thickened soy


1 large oven proof casserole dish that can go on hob and in the oven

2 packs of Lidl venison meatballs

1 cup red wine

1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes and juice

1 pack Merchant Gourmet ready cooked chestnuts, half chopped, half left whole

4 large banana shallots


6 oz plain flour

3 oz suet

1 – 2 tsp soy crystals

A good grate of fresh nutmeg

Tiny pinch sea salt

Small pinch dried thyme

Chop the shallots down the middle and then across.

Chopped shallots

Fry them in some olive oil until they start to soften and brown at the edges, then add in the meatballs and some of the reduction.

Meatballs with added glaze

Keep frying and mixing until the meatballs are all coated, adding more reduction if they don’t seem coated enough.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, red wine and then add the chopped chestnuts. DO NOT ADD SALT.

Knife and chestnuts

Mix everything together well, then add in another tablespoon of the reduction.

Meatballs in sauce

Leave the whole lot to cook in the oven on around 150-160C for about an hour.

Make up the dumplings. 

Mix the flour and soy salt together then mix in – but do not rub in – the suet. Grate in 1/8 tsp of fresh nutmeg, and add 1/4 tsp dried thyme.

Soy salt and flour

Now add just sufficient cold water to make a fairly stiff but elastic dough that leaves the bowl clean. It took about 10 tablespoons for me.

Knead it lightly then shape it into 12 dumplings.

Turn the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C)

Place the dumplings on top of the stew, brush with some watered down reduction, and bake uncovered for a further half an hour. As you can see, it really thickens up! The bottom of the dumplings hold lots of gravy, and the tops are slightly crunchy.


I am definitely making this again. If you left out the meat, doubled the amount of chestnuts, and added mushrooms and parsnips, this would make an excellent vegetarian winter casserole. (Using vegetarian suet, obviously.)

Finished dish


* – if you can’t be faffed, just use smoked Maldon sea salt in the dumplings, and add a tiny touch of Marmite to the mixing water.

** – again, if you can’t be faffed, mix very good, sticky aged balsamic with the soy sauce.