Much as I love a pudding I try not to indulge too often for obvious reasons! But there are times when one is called for the as most of us have rather busy lives it can be unrealistic to expect to have the time to spend hours in the kitchen.

Puff pastry is a great friend of the busy cook. It is one of the few things that really is worth buying, rather than making yourself. Just be sure to buy an all butter one, it truly is a time when you get what you pay for.

These little tarts can be made with or without the frangipane but I adore this soft, almond treat that whizzes up quickly in a food processor and partners so well with any sort of fruit and is brilliant with the pastry. It will spread out a bit whilst cooking but that really doesn’t matter. It adds a rather lovely home made, rustic effect and those cruncy edges are so delicious!

Use any good eating apple but I like ones with a red skin as they look very pretty. You want a good, crisp one with a sharp flavour. And in season a good English variety is a must.

Makes Six Tarts

One packet of all butter puff pastry
about 4 red skinned apples
100g softened unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
1 large egg, beaten
Vanilla extract or powder
A little melted butter
Extra sugar for dusting

First make your frangipane. Easiest in a small food processor. Put the butter and sugar in and whizz until well blended. Add the egg, whizz again and finally the ground almonds. You could if you like add the rind of a lemon or a dash of vanilla extract.

Take your apples and cut into quarters. Remove the core and slice thinly into half moons. Put in a bowl and squeeze over some lemon juice. Toss so all the apple slices have had lemon juice on them to stop discolouration.

Have ready a large baking sheet and pre-heat the oven to 180c.

Roll out the pastry very thinly and then cut into six even rectangles. Put on the baking tray BEFORE you top them. The length is up to you but the width should be just wider than your apple slices.
Spread a good dollop of frangipane onto each rectangle of pastry and cover with overlapping slices of apple. Brush melted butter over each one and sprinkle with caster sugar.

Bake in the oven for about fifteen minutes or until golden brown and serve hot, warm or cold with some creme anglaise, ice cream or cream.

For the creme anglaise, see my recipe for lemon verbena creme anglaise and replace the lemon verbena with vanilla.

Pork tenderloin is a brilliant cut for a quick but special supper. So versatile – it spices up wonderfully in a hot asian curry, is a great friend of the stir fry but is equally good with European flavours. Use it as you would a chicken breast. Cook all the way through but only just. It will toughen up if overcooked and should be just very slightly pink in the centre but never rare.

Trim your fillet of any sinew – this will shrink on cooking and is tough so you want to get rid of that with a sharp knife. I love this easy recipe that calls on the very British combination of parsley, sage and lemon, all mashed into some butter that melts in the centre of the pork. I’ve used marsala here (a little Italian coming into the mix) but cider would work beautifully as well.

Serves Four

2 x 350 – 400g pieces of free-range pork tenderloin, trimmed of any sinew
60g unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 tablespoons finely chopped sage
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Rind of two lemons
Sea salt and black pepper
A little rapeseed oil
200ml fresh chicken stock
100ml marsala (dry)
100ml soured cream or creme fraiche
2 teaspoons clear honey
Some more finely chopped sage and parsley

Pre-heat the oven to 180c

Mash the butter and herbs together and add the lemon rind. Season well.

Take your pork and make a slit down the centre. Go about three quarters of the way through. Bat out slightly to even it out. Divide the butter down the centre of each pork tenderloin and then roll the pork around it, securing with a couple of cocktail sticks.

Have a baking tray heating in the oven. Heat a shallow pan with a little rapeseed oil and seal the pork on all sides. Remove and season well. Put into the oven for fifteen to twenty minutes or until slightly pink in the centre. It will carry on cooking whilst it rests in a warm place out of the oven.

While the pork is cooking, clean out the shallow pan if need be with some kitchen roll (only if there are any bits that look burnt) and add the marsala.

Bubble for a few minutes until well reduced and then add the chicken stock. Simmer hard again until reduced and looking syrupy. Make sure you stir in any bits that stick to the side of the pan. Add in the cream/creme fraiche and add the herbs and seasoning. Add the honey and taste to check the seasoning. If the sauce is a little thick you can let it down with a dash of boiling water.

Once the pork has rested for about ten minutes serve with crushed new potatoes or a nice mash. Swiss chard or green beans goes well with this.

Serves Six

30g watercress leaves (removed from the thicker stalks)
10g flat leaf parsley
10g fresh basil
5 – 10g fresh mint
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 heaped teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper
5 cornichons
2 teaspoons small capers
100ml rapeseed oil (or extra virgin or half and half)
Good squeeze lemon juice

You need a mini chopper for this or the smallest bowl in our food processor. Or you can do it by hand in a big pestle and mortar but you will have to finely chop everything first.

Put all the ingredients except the oil and lemon into your chopper. Add a quarter of the oil and whizz to blend. Add more oil and blitz together until you have a good consistency. Check the seasoning and add lemon juice to taste. Finally add the rest of the oil, depending on how thick you like your salsa verde.

Keeps in the fridge in a jar for just under a week as long as you cover the top with a fine layer of oil.

Serve with baked or pan fried trout or salmon. Wonderful with new potatoes, puy lentils or dunk some sourdough in it.

If serving with beef then some sharp little finely chopped shallot would make a nice addition.

The kitchen can be witness to some miraculous tricks of cookery alchemy. Any souffle, savoury or sweet is one of those dishes that undergoes a magical process once in the oven. As long as you follow a few basic rules and make sure that there is minimal time from oven to plate you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

Souffles should, ideally rise beautifully straight with a traditional ‘top hat’ effect. If it doesn’t exactly work like that it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it rises, is gossamer light and packed with flavour. Be generous with the seasoning and hold your nerve. The oven door must remain firmly shut until the pinger goes off. A lovely clean, clear glass door is an asset here as it is useful to be able to see how your golden miracles are progressing.

I am using a good, mature cheddar cheese here. It works beautifully and is wonderful with the addition of the herbs but you could use gruyere, parmesan or even blue cheese.

Serves Four

Four ramekin dishes
Butter
Handful of white breadcrumbs

20g unsalted butter
20g plain flour
150ml whole milk
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated
2 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon dijon or english mustard
Tablespoon of finely chopped chives
Tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, stripped from their stalks
Sea salt & black pepper

1 small bulb of fennel
1 small red skinned crisp apple
Fennel fronds (from the fennel bulb)
Flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Lemon juice
Rapeseed oil
Sea salt & black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200c and put a baking sheet in it.
Butter the ramekins and toss the breadcrumbs around to stick to the sides.

Make the sauce first. Take a small saucepan and put in the milk, flour and cubed butter. Put on the heat and using a whisk stir constantly until thick and bubbling. Cook for another minute or two and add a good amount of seasoning and the mustard.

Remove from the heat and add in the cheddar cheese and the mustard. Stir until melted and as it all starts to cool add the egg yolks and the herbs, whisking well until you have a very thick and smooth sauce. Transfer this to a bowl and allow to cool.

Whisk the egg whites until the soft peak stage. Once the sauce is not longer hot (it doesn’t have to be very cold). Roughly fold a quarter of the egg whites to loosen it all up and then gently fold in the rest of the egg white. A metal tablespoon is best for this. Once the egg whites are all folded in check the seasoning.

Divide between the ramekin dishes. Run your thumb around the edge to create the ‘top hat’ effect and to help the souffle rise evenly.

Put into the oven and set the timer to 10 minutes.

Make the fennel and apple salad by finely shredding the fennel and slicing the apple very finely and if the pieces are big, cutting in half lengthways. Toss immediately in lemon juice to prevent oxidisation and then add rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil to taste. Season well and add roughly chopped flat leaf parsley and the fennel fronds. Divide between your plates, that you will have ready and waiting.

Once the souffles are well risen and golden brown (they may need an extra couple of minutes but judge through the glass window of the oven) remove from the oven and serve immediately. The will sink fast so speed is of the essence.

If you have some chopped walnuts it would be nice to toast some and add them to the salad.

Makes 10

225g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
50g unsalted butter
25g caster sugar
1 egg
Approx 100ml milk

Pre-heat the oven to 220c

Measure the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and whisk together.

Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the flour. Rub in well using your fingertips and keeping it well aerated. The mix will eventually resemble fine breadcrumbs. Add the caster sugar.

Whisk the egg in a measuring jug and add milk until you have 150ml. Pour most of it into the flour mixture and using a knife, cut this way and that until you have a soft dough. You will have some milk and egg left over but just use enough until the dough is nice and soft but not too sticky.

Knead briefly on a very lightly floured work surface. Then gently roll out until about 2cm thick. Have a greased baking tray ready. Use a 2″ cutter and cut out rounds of the dough. Place on the tray. Keep the same way up all the time as you will get a much better rise.

Once they are all on the tray, brush the tops with some of the rest of the milk and egg. Bake for ten minutes or until they are golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Cool on a wire rack if you aren’t eating them straight away, warm! Top with clotted or whipped double cream and your favourite jam.

This recipe is a Mary Berry one and I have never found a better way to make scones.

Crab says Summer like nothing else. After the recent blistering week that lulled us all into a false sense of weather security things have gone somewhat downhill in that department, but the evenings are light, leaves are unfurling and warm days suddenly don’t seem so far off.

One summer expedition that has been a long time in the planning started on Sunday, when our great friend Julian Jackson set off from Lands End to make the epic journey all the way up the British Isles to John O’Groats. What makes this even more special and challenging is not just that he is going on foot, but that he is blind. The aim of the ‘Big Blind Walk’ as he has so aptly christened his adventure is to raise awareness of sight loss and to support research into prevention and cure.

I thought I would post a recipe for each county he travels through. Cornwall is obviously first and what better Cornish ingredient to choose than my favourite crab. Nowhere does a crab sandwich taste better than on a windswept Cornish beach but the weather being as it is, I thought a warming chowder might hit the spot and I hope you will try this delicious, luxurious but very easy recipe that is a big favourite in our house when crab is at its British best.

Should you enjoy this recipe and would like to donate in support of Julian’s Big Blind Walk please visit bigblindwalk.com or follow the link on Instagram #bigblindwalk

Serves Four

2 tablespoons olive oil or rapeseed oil
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
30ml of pernod
100g tub white crab meat
100g tub brown crab meat
OR meat from 1 medium sized crab
1 litre vegetable/chicken stock
300ml double cream
4 ripe red tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
Fresh flat leaf parsley, dill, chervil, chives, any or all finely chopped
Salt & pepper

Gently heat the oil and fry and fennel, leek, shallot, garlic and chilli until softened. Add the pernod and simmer to cook off the alcohol for a minute or two.

Add the stock and simmer for a few minutes. Add the brown crab meat, stirring until well combined. Stir in the cream, white crab meat, tomatoes and parsley. Check the seasoning and serve in warm bowls.

Crusty bread is all you need for a nice lunch, with maybe a green salad to follow.

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I recently spent some time helping out a few of the lovely nannies from Freckles Childcare Agency with some cooking skills. This cake was one of the recipes we made and I only wish I had come across it before. It is the model of simplicity – just throw everything in a bowl, whisk well and pop in the oven. Less than half a hour later you have a scrumptious cake, light as a feather and all that remains to do is the fun of whipping up an indulgent cream cheese icing. It’s a great recipe to have up your sleeve for those times when you want a really yummy cake but don’t have a lot of time to make one.

How you finish it is up to you but I suspect that no one will burst into tears at the sight of some good old fashioned chocolate flake liberally adorning the top. Alternatively, just fill the centre and finish with a sensible dusting of icing sugar.

This recipe uses an American cup measure – if you don’t have one a medium sized mug will do.

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 large egg

ICING

300g icing sugar, sieved
125g cream cheese (use philadelphia as it holds up better, some go a bit soft)
50g softened unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
(If you are icing the top of the cake as well you may like to make a bit more icing, eg 400g icing sugar, 175g cream cheese and 70g butter)

Pre-heat the oven to 180c

Grease and line two 8″ sandwich tins

Measure all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Whisk well until the mix is smooth. Divide evenly between the two tins.

Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until the cake is springy to the touch.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins.

While the cakes are cooling, whisk the icing ingredients together. If you like you could add cocoa powder to make a chocolate icing.

Either fill just the middle of the cake or use the icing to fill both the centre and put on the top. Sprinkle over crumbled chocolate flakes (two is about right) or dust the top of the cake with icing sugar.

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Everyone needs a go to quick supper recipe that is light, healthy, easy to make and preferably using as few pans as possible. I am currently loving using all the wild garlic that is growing rapidly in my garden. I can hardly keep up with the supply! Pesto is one obvious use for this delicious leaf but I also love to use it where I might otherwise have reached for some spinach. Here it is a natural fit with a spanking fresh piece of cod loin. Pesto over the top, wilted leaves underneath and the courgetti just adds that bit of necessary mildness that calms the who thing down. The tomatoes are something that you could leave out but I love the extra splash of colour that they give. If you need more, a side of some crispy fried potatoes is perfect.

For Four

4 pieces of cod loin (about 150g – 175g each)
Rapeseed oil for frying
3 medium sized courgettes, spiralized or shredded with a julienner
Two handfuls of washed wild garlic leaves (or use spinach)
Four heaped tablespoons of wild garlic pesto, made with dill as well
Four small tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Dill and extra pine nuts to garnish

Heat a frying pan with some rapeseed oil and have four plates ready warming in the oven.

Season the cod well and fry until golden on each side and only just cooked through. Remember that they will keep cooking whilst you keep them warm. How long very much depends on the thickness of the fish but approximately two to three minutes on each side should be about right.

Keep the fish warm on a plate in a VERY low oven. Quickly heat more rapeseed oil (about a tablespoonful) and add the courgette and tomatoes. Stir around fpr a minute or so and then add in the wild garlic to just wilt. Season and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Take your plates and divide this mix between them. Sit the cod on top and then drizzle the pesto over and around. You may want to loosen it up with more extra virgin oil. Garnish with dill and squeeze more lemon over the whole thing, along with a final dusting of sea salt and black pepper. Serve at once.

If you are making this for lots of people you could of course bake or roast your fish in the oven, about 200c for six to eight minutes. Sit on a buttered baking tray, dot more butter over the top of each piece of cod. This will help get it a little bit golden. You could of course use oil but harder to get any colour on the fish.

PS This is also lovely with salmon, hake, pollock, haddock etc

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City v Country….I love both. But it is the arrival of Spring that reminds me how very lucky I am to live in a beautiful part of Wiltshire. The air is heady with the scent and promise of bounty bursting forth and the first tentative shoots are gathering confidence. Everywhere the hedges, verges, woods and fields are springing into life and nothing is more rampant than that foragers’ favourite, wild garlic.

Be absolutely sure of what you are picking – don’t confuse the poisonous leaves of lily of the valley which can look alarmingly similar. The smell is the first sign you should look for – it really is pungently garlicky. Wild garlic first appears at the end of March and by April it has really gathered pace and tends to be prolific, so you needn’t worry about picking a bunch or two. If you don’t have any in your garden you are likely to find it in local woods where it will carpet vast swathes of the ground, much like its friend and neighbour the bluebell. Pick the young and tender leaves, keeping a long stalk if you plan on popping them in a jar of water to keep them fresh for a day or two. You can also freeze the leaves – just wash, dry well and pop them in a freezer bag. Then use straight from frozen later in the year to jazz up a risotto, pasta dish or stirfry.

Once the pretty, edibile white flowers appear they are a lovely addition to salads or warm new potatoes.

Make sure you wash the leaves well before you use them. I love them as here in a simple pesto (also great to freeze – put into an ice cube tray and then turn the cubes out and store in a freezer bag). Or wilt the leaves as you would spinach, add to a frittata, make a wild garlic and potato cake or a delicious soup (you will find a recipe for that on this website).

When I make this pesto I tend to add other herbs in just to temper the strong flavour of these leaves but you may prefer to go for the full hit and leave the parsley/basil out. If I am making the pesto to use with fish I often add in a handful of dill. Any soft herb is great and just use this recipe as a guide.

You could also make a pea pesto and add the wild garlic into that, or kale, or spinach….the possibilities are endless!!

Two big handfuls wild garlic, washed
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
Handful of fresh basil leaves (Or any soft herbs you have to hand)
60g freshly grated parmesan
60g pinenuts, walnuts or almonds
Approx 200ml extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Squeeze lemon juice

I use a mini chopper or processor to make my pesto but a big pestle and mortar and some elbow grease is fine.

Put the herbs, parmesan and nuts into your chopper. Add a good teaspoon of salt and a glug of oil. Whizz for a few seconds and then add more oil until you have a consistency you are happy with. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, more salt and black pepper to taste. Keep in a jam jar with a layer of oil poured protectively over the top and refrigerate.

Lovely with goats cheese on crostini, stirred through pasta or risotto, stuffed into a chicken breast, swirled onto a soup…….

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There is no doubt that there are some wonderfully delicious ice creams available to buy in the supermarkets but, slightly on a par with growing your own veg, there is something deeply satisfying about making you own. Not to mention the fun of playing around with flavours and perhaps more importantly, regulating the amount of sugar you include.

This recipe is based on a very old one out of an old seventies classic ‘the Hamlyn all Colour Cookbook’. It has stood the test of time and I have just updated it a bit, using creme fraiche as well as double cream, reducing the sugar content (quite considerably!) and adding in honey as an additional sweetener. Here I am using blackberries – any frozen berries will do and in the summer, when fresh berries are abundant just use whatever you can find or pick. Bear in mind, however that the blackberries that you find in the hedgerow are not the same as the cultivated variety which I find make much better eating. That isn’t exactly relevant in April but if, like me, you have a stockpile in the freezer leftover from Autumn foraging, this is a good way to use them up. Otherwise the supermarkets are full of useful packs of frozen fruit which are perfect to use here. Play around with the flavours here and just use this as a basic guide. Roll on sunshine!!

Makes about approx a litre

500g bag of frozen blackberries, defrosted
75g caster sugar
Rind of two oranges (optional but nice)
2 large eggs
2 – 3 tablespoons runny honey
125ml double cream
150ml creme fraiche (full fat is essential)

Put the blackberries and 50g of the sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the juices start to run. Bring up to a simmer (important to cook the berries as they will be re-frozen) and after a couple of minutes, pull off the heat. Add in the grated orange rind, stir well and then strain, reserving the berries. At this point you could sieve out some of the seeds. I don’t particularly mind them but you may prefer a seed free ice cream. Put the juices back in the saucepan and simmer hard for a few minutes until you have a syrupy consistency. Pour back over the berries, deserted or otherwise, stir and leave to cool.

Separate the eggs and put the whites into a clean bowl. Put the double cream into another bowl. Whisk the egg yolks very well until pale and thick. Whisk the double cream until the soft peak stage (be careful not to overdo it). Whisk the whites until firm, adding the remaining sugar until glossy and at the stiff peak stage. Fold two tablespoons of the honey into the berries. Fold the cream into the egg yolks, followed by the creme fraiche and the berries. Taste and adjust the amount of honey you have added according to taste. Then finally fold in the the whisked egg whites.

If you have an ice cream machine, turn the whole thing into it and churn until frozen. Otherwise just put into a tub and if you remember take it out every now and then and whisk well with a fork to break up any ice crystals. This ice cream is much more forgiving than the traditional custard base and this whisking is not as essential, but does make a difference to the final result.

If you like you can keep back a few tablespoonfuls of the berry mix to use as a sort of sauce, or to marble through at the end.

Remember to take your ice cream out of the freezer and give it half an hour in the fridge before serving.

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