Hunkering on down, food for winter days.

Looking out of my window this morning there was little to smile about. The mist was coming down and the last few days of crisp dry weather have been replaced by drizzle. The news of more lock downs and restrictions due to Covid did little to lighten the mood. And then I came across this feature we shot (myself and the wonderful photographer Ian Wallace ) for Delicious UK magazine back in 2019. It lifted my spirits (pun intended) with this first shot – hot buttered rum with Parmesan and rosemary melts – The log fire in the background added an extra layer of warmth and comfort. Enjoy.

Serves: 4

Hands-on time: 5 min

4 shots dark rum

8 whole cloves, lightly bashed

1 lemon, sliced thinly

8 tsp caster sugar

600 ml water

25g butter

4 long rosemary sprigs

Divide the rum between 4 tumblers and add 2 cloves, a slice of lemon and 2 teaspoons of sugar to each one, stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the water to a boil, add the butter and stir until melted. Divide between the glasses and add a rosemary sprig to each one. Serve warm with a Parmesan and rosemary biscuit.

Parmesan and rosemary melts

Makes: approx 40 biscuits

Hands-on time: 10 min, plus 15 min resting

Oven time: 10 min

125g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

100g unsalted butter, diced

60g Cheddar or Gruyere, grated

60g Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

1 small egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 190c/170c fan/gas 5. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Place the flour, baking powder and cayenne pepper into a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Then add the cheeses and continue to blend until the dough comes together. 

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a brick shape. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 2 mm thick, to form a rectangle approximately 20cm x 32cm. Cut in half lengthways so you have 2 long thin rectangles. Turn the pastry sideways so one long side is in front of you. Take the knife and cut each one into long triangles. You will have approximately 40 triangles. 

Transfer to the prepared sheets and brush each one with a little beaten egg. Bake for 10 minutes until evenly browned. 

Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Serve with the rum toddy.

Salad of pan-fried chorizo, caramel apple wedges and walnuts 

Serves: 4

Hand-on time: 12 min

150g chorizo

1 head radicchio, treviso or 2 heads red chicory

30g butter

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced thickly

2 tbsp apple balsamic or white wine vinegar

2 tbsp maple syrup

40g finely chopped walnuts, toasted

a few flat parsley leaves

25g shaved Parmesan cheese

sea salt and pepper

Slice the chorizo into 2 mm thick slices. Trim the end from the radicchio and cut lengthways into 4 thick slices. Season the slices with salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the chorizo and fry for 2-3 minutes until lightly golden and the red oil is released. Drain with a slotted spoon and set to one side. Add the radicchio slices to the pan and fry for 1 minute each side until just warmed through and starting to brown. Remove to warmed plates and set aside.

Wipe the pan clean. Return to the heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. As soon as it is hot, add the apple slices and cook over a medium-high heat for about 2 minutes each side until golden. Add the vinegar, maple syrup and a pinch of salt to the pan and cook over a medium heat for a further 1 minute until the apples are tender. Return the chorizo to the pan along with the walnuts. Stir once.

Spoon the chorizo mixture over the radicchio and top with the parsley leaves and shaved Parmesan. Serve drizzled with a little extra oil, if required.

Honey, cider and thyme roast chicken with carrots, shallots and garlic 

Serves: 4-6

Hands-on time: 15 min

Oven time: 1hr 15 min, plus 15 min resting

4-6 thyme sprigs

50g butter, softened

2kg free-range chicken

12 shallots, peeled and halved

500g carrots, trimmed and halved if large

3 celery sticks, cut into 4

1 head of garlic

2 bay leaves
750ml dry cider

1 tbsp clear honey

sea salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 200c/180c/gas 4. Remove the leaves from half the thyme sprigs and chop finely (you need about 1 tbsp chopped leaves). Combine the butter and chopped thyme leaves in a bowl and season with pepper. Carefully slide your hand up between the skin of the chicken and the breast pressing as far as you can to reach between the meat and skin. Insert half the butter and press flat all over the flesh under the skin. Smooth flat. 

Pop the shallots, carrots, celery, bay leaves and remaining thyme sprigs in a large flameproof casserole. Cut the the head of garlic in half and add to the pan. Arrange the chicken on top and pour in the cider. Bring the pan to the boil on a medium heat, then cover the casserole with a lid and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour.

Beat the honey into the remaining thyme butter and set aside. 

After 1 hour remove the chicken from the oven and spread the honey butter over the breast. Return the casserole to the oven and roast, uncovered for a further 15 minutes or until the skin is golden. Rest for 15 minutes and then carve and serve.

Buttered Kale

Serves: 4

Hands-on time: 10 min

500g kale

40g butter

1 garlic clove, sliced

a pinch red chilli flakes

grated zest and juice 1 lemon

Trim and discard the stalks from the kale and roughly chop the leaves. Rinse under cold water. Shake dry.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan pan and gently fry the garlic, chilli flakes and lemon zest with a little salt and pepper for 3-4 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the kale and stir over a medium heat until just wilted, about 5 minutes. Add a little of the lemon juice and adjust seasonings. Serve with the chicken.

Smashed Potatoes

Serves: 4

Hands-on time: 5 min

Oven time: 50-60 min

1 kg small waxy potatoes such as Charlotte

6 fresh bay leaves, torn

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan/gas 6. Line a roasting tin with baking paper. Place the potatoes in the prepared tin. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, stir well and roast the potatoes for 30 minutes until they are al dente.

Remove from the oven and using a potato masher, mash the potatoes until they are really quite ‘smashed’. Add the bay leaves and remaining oil, stir well and sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper. Return to the oven for a further 20 minutes or until they are crisp and golden.

Sticky fig and caramel self-saucing pudding 

Serves: 6-8

Hands-on time: 10 min, plus 10 min resting

Oven time: 35 min, plus 10 min cooling

150g dried figs, roughly chopped

125ml boiling water

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g self-raising flour

50g ground almonds

110g soft brown sugar

80g melted butter, plus extra butter for greasing

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 large egg, beaten

sauce

150g soft brown sugar

300ml single cream

100ml water

Dusting

1 tbsp icing sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas 4. Grease a 1.5 litre baking dish. Place the figs, bicarbonate of soda and boiling water in a bowl and leave for 10 minutes to soften. Transfer to a food processor and blend until fairly smooth.

In a bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds and sugar. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the fig puree, melted butter, vanilla essence and beaten egg. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish and smooth the surface flat.

Make the sauce. Sprinkle the brown sugar as evenly as you can over the sponge mixture. Meanwhile, heat the cream and water together in a saucepan until it just reaches the boil. Carefully pour the cream mixture over an upside down spoon directly onto the topping allowing it to cover it completely. 

Transfer to the oven and bake for 35 minutes. The sponge will have risen through the sauce which will be melted and gooey underneath. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Dust with the icing sugar and cinnamon mixture and serve with ice cream.

© recipes Louise Pickford

© photography Ian Wallace

Shot for Delicious UK magazine January 2019


A little Christmas cheer

All I want for Christmas is a better 2021

Merry Christmas to everyone from Louise Pickford food creative

This will be a strange Christmas for many of us around the world and for many there will be little to cheer and much to forget and move on to what we all hope will be a far better 2021. Thank you to all my subscribers for their support and I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas. If you are struggling to find a gift for someone or perhaps have left it too late for online shopping why not make something to eat or drink instead? Everyone loves a homemade gift, it feels very special and somehow more personal. Here are a few of my favourites from the last few Christmases to share with you and bid you all the best for the festive season.

Salted Cashew Nut Brittle

500 g granulated sugar

150 ml cold water

250 g cashew nuts

sea salt, to serve

Spray oil a thick baking sheet and set to one side.

Put the sugar and water in a heavy-based frying pan and heat gently over a very low heat until the sugar dissolves. Then increase the heat and without stirring allow the syrup to turn a lovely golden colour, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cashew nuts and immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and set aside to cool. While still warm loosen the slab, then leave to go cold on grease proof paper.

Using a small toffee hammer, break the brittle into chunks or bite size pieces and wrap in gift bags.

Golden Eggnog Truffles

Makes: about 30

300 g dark chocolate, chopped

300 ml double cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3 tbsp Brandy or Cointreau

350 g white chocolate melts

a few sheets gold leaf

Heat the cream in a saucepan until it just reaches a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Stir in the spices and Grand Marnier. Leave to cool and then chill 2 hours until firm.

Using a teaspoon scoop up small pieces of the chocolate and using cool lightly damp hands roll into bite size truffles. Transfer to a tray and freeze for 2-3 hours until frozen.

Melt the white chocolate in a bowl set of gently simmering water (do not allow the bowl to touch the water). Remove the truffles form the freeze and skewer with a cocktail stick. Dip quickly in and out of the melted chocolate and leave to set on baking paper. Chill until required.

Just before wrapping, pop the truffles into mini muffin cases and top each one with a little gold leaf.

Tip: Truffles should be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days. Gold leaf is available from specialist cake decorators and some art stores and adds a hint of luxury to Christmas truffles.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Spoons

Makes: about 20

This is such a fun idea and for anyone who loves hot chocolate, they make a great Xmas gift. Simply bring a cup of milk to the boil, add a choc stick and stir until melted.

500 g dark chocolate, chopped

a few mini marshmallows

2-3 tbsp hundreds and thousands

3-4 pieces Turkish delight, chopped

20 small wooden spoons or ice lolly sticks

Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave for 1 minute, stir well and continue to microwave in 10 seconds intervals, stirring each time, until the chocolate is melted. Or you can melt the chocolate in a bowl set of gently simmering water (do not allow the bowl to touch the water) stirring until melted.

Pour the melted chocolate into 20 mini muffin cases and leave to cool for about 30 minutes until the chocolate is starting to set.

Pop a spoon into the center of each one and then arrange marshmallows, hundreds and thousands and Turkish delight around the spoon, covering the top. Set in the fridge for 1 hour.

Carefully peel away the muffin cases from the chocolate and wrap in your choice of packaging.

Tip: These can be made a few days ahead and once set and sealed in packs will keep for 2-3 days in a cool, dark place.

Passion Fruit & Chocolate Shortbread Snowflakes

Makes: 48 (24 large/24 small)

6 large passion fruit

225 g unsalted butter, softened

115 g caster sugar, plus extra for dusting

225 g plain flour

125 g rice flour

a pinch of salt

100 g white chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 190c/170 c fan-forced/gas mark 5 and line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Remove the seeds from the passion fruit and pass through a sieve to extract as much juice as possible. Measure out 75 ml.

Place the butter and sugar in a food processor and process until pale and creamy. Sift in the flour and rice flour and work into the dough along with the passion fruit juice and salt and process briefly until the ingredients just come together.

Transfer to the work surface and knead gently to form a smooth dough. Divide into quarters and wrap each piece in cling film, chill for 30 minutes to firm it up.

Place one disc of dough on a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, top with a second sheet of paper and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 2.5 mm thick. Stamp out snowflakes using cookie cutters and carefully transfer to the prepared trays. Bake for about 10 minutes until lightly golden. Cool for 5 minutes on trays and then transfer to a wire rack to go cold. Repeat to make 48 cookies.

Melt the chocolate and using a teaspoon drizzle back and forth over the snowflakes to give a frosted look. Allow to set for 1 hour and then wrap as gifts.

Passion Fruit & Chocolate Shortbread Snowflakes

Makes: Enough for 12 people

Home made crunchy bar crossed with toffee nut brittle – yum.

330 g granulated sugar

120 ml cold water

2 tbsp golden syrup

1 tsp melted butter

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp sea salt

topping

200 g dark chocolate

50 g flaked almonds, toasted

1/2 tsp chilli  sea salt

Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Place the sugar, water and golden syrup in a heavy-based saucepan and heat very gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 8-10 minutes (do not stir) until the liquid turns a warm golden brown or until it reaches hard crack on a sugar thermometer (154c/309f). Add the butter and gently swirl in the pan.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the  bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and salt until evenly blended. The mixture will foam up dramatically but this is perfect. Pour the foaming mixture directly onto the prepared baking paper tilting the pan. Tap the tray gently a few times on the work top to settle the mixture and leave until completely cold.

For the topping, melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir well and return to microwave and cook for 10 seconds at a time, stirring each time until the chocolate is melted. Or you can melt the chocolate in a bowl set of gently simmering water (do not allow the bowl to touch the water) stirring until melted. Pour the melted chocolate over the set toffee and spread smooth with a palette knife. Scatter with the nuts and sea salt and leave to set a second time.

Break the toffee into pieces and place in small individual gifts bags. Tie to seal. Eat with in 2-3 days.

Tip: If you don’t have a sugar thermometer you can test the toffee is ready by dripping a few drops from a teaspoon into a cup of cold water, when ready the toffee will form small hard balls as soon as it touches the cold water.

Duo of flavoured vodka

You can flavour vodka with any aromatic you like really from citrus fruits, nuts, coffee, vanilla, sliced fruit, ginger spices and even toffees! Just ensure the bottle you use is clean and seal well – strain the vodka after 4 weeks.

Pomegranate, orange and vanilla vodka

Makes 750 ml

1 large pomegranate

1 vanilla pod, split

grated zest 1 Orange

750 ml quality Vodka

Tap the pomegranate a few times all over on the counter top and cut in half. Pop the seeds and juices into a clean jar and add the vanilla and orange zest. Top up with the vodka, seal and store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks.  

Serve over ice with a dash or Cointreau.

Coffee, vanilla and roasted pecan vodka

2 tbsp pecan nuts

10 coffee beans

1/2 vanilla pod

750 ml quality vodka

50 ml Tia Maria

Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan-forced/gas mark 5 and roast the pecans for 5-6 minutes until golden, then let cool.

Pop the nuts, coffee beans and vanilla pod in a bottle and top up with the vodka and Tia Maria. Leave to infuse for 2-3 weeks in a cool dark place.

Delicious served over ice.

© Photographs Ian Wallace

© Recipes Louise Pickford


Yum in a bun – 5 reasons to cook veggie burgers this summer

With summer now in full swing in the northern hemisphere and most countries out of lock down, getting together with friends and family for a barbecue seems like hell of a good idea. That’s all well and good for meat eaters, but vegetarians often get forgotten when it comes to barbecuing – with a few grilled peppers or (the dreaded) kebab with chunks of under and over cooked pieces of something, that once resembled a vegetable, speared together on a stick.

Well you need to look no further than a good old burger or slider (a mini burger) and by taking a journey around the world for inspiration treat yourself to one of these delicious meat free options. A good burger is made by balancing and layering of flavours and textures set in a bun, bread or wrap. We need yum, we need crunch, we need gooeyness we need salty, sour and a little sweet – can’t really say it better than that.

Aubergine sliders with tahini sauce 

Here lovely rich flavours combine in this Middle Eastern-style burger with preserved lemon, pomegranates, tahini and ras al hanout – a classic spice mix. Simply make 4 larger burgers if you prefer.

Serves: 4

100g semi-dried tomatoes, sliced

½ preserved lemon, flesh discarded and skin diced

4 tablespoons pine nuts (35g)

4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds (50g)

4 tablespoons parsley leaves

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

1 large aubergine (about 450g)

1 teaspoon ras al hanout

8 small ciabatta rolls (or 4 large)

50g salad leaves

salt and pepper

Tahini sauce

100g Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons tahini paste

1 small garlic clove, crushed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine the semi-dried tomatoes, preserved lemon, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, parsley, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the honey and some salt and pepper. In a bowl and set aside.

Make the sauce. Beat together the yogurt, tahini, garlic and lemon juice and season to taste.

Cut the aubergine width-ways into 8 thick slices. Combine the remaining oil with the ras al hanout and some salt and pepper and brush over the slices. Barbecue the aubergine slices for 4-5 minutes each side until well charred and softened. 

To serve, cut the rolls in half and toast the cut sides. Fill with the aubergine slices, tomato mixture, tahini yogurt and salad leaves.

Vietnamese sesame tofu banh mi burger with pickled vegetables

The tofu is marinated in a char sui sauce before being grilled and served in rolls with pickled vegetables, chillies, salad leaves and fresh herbs making this a delicious veggie alternative to the classic Vietnamese BBQ pork rolls, or ban mi.

Serves: 4

350 g firm tofu, drained

80 g hoisin sauce

4 tablespoons honey 

4 tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons Shoaxing wine (Chinese rice wine)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice

1 French baguette 

50 g salad leaves 

2 tablespoons black and white sesame seeds

a few fresh coriander, mint and basil leaves

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

4 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce

Pickled vegetables

1 small carrot

½ cucumber

½ small red onion

50ml rice wine vinegar

50g caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon salt

a few sesame seeds, to serve (optional) 

Make the pickled vegetables. Thinly slice the carrot length ways and then cut into long thin strips. De-seed and cut the cucumber into long thin strips. Thinly slice the onion and combine the vegetables in a bowl. Place the vinegar, sugar, water and salt in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and then pour over the vegetables. Stir well and set aside until cold.  

Cut the tofu into 8 thick slices and place in a bowl. Combine the Hoisin sauce, honey, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil and Chinese 5 spice. Pour over the tofu, turning to coat thoroughly and leave to marinate for 30 minutes. 

Cook the tofu pieces on a hot barbecue for 2-3 minutes each side until charred and heated through.

To serve, cut the baguette into 10cm lengths and then cut each one almost in half. Fill each one with the salad leaves, fresh herbs, fried tofu and pickles and drizzle over the mayonnaise and sweet chilli sauce. Top with the sesame seeds.

Buffalo cauliflower burgers with blue cheese sauce

A classic American dish usually made with chicken wings is given a veggie makeover with chunks of cauliflower replace the more usual chicken. Pared with a blue cheese sauce, this is finger-licking good. The cauliflower is actually cooked in the oven, but you can toast the buns on the barbecue before assembling it.

Serves: 4

500g cauliflower florets

12 5ml full fat milk

75 g chickpea flour or plain flour

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons hot chilli sauce

1 tablespoon clear honey

15g butter, melted

4 burger buns

125g iceberg lettuce, shredded

Blue cheese sauce

75 g sour cream

50 g creamy blue cheese

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

½ teaspoon caster sugar

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220c/425f/gas mark 7 and line a roasting tin with baking paper. In a bowl, combine the gram flour or plain flour, mustard powder, cumin, paprika and a little salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the milk with 50 ml cold water until the batter is smooth.

Dip each cauliflower floret into the batter and then shake off the excess so the cauliflower is just very lightly coated. Place on the prepared baking tray, leaving space in between each floret. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the chilli sauce, honey and butter in a small saucepan until combined. Remove the cauliflower from the oven, drizzle over the chilli sauce and stir well until evenly coated. Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until the cauliflower is tender and golden. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Make the sauce. Place the sour cream, blue cheese, vinegar and a little salt and pepper in a blender and whizz until fairly smooth. Stir in the chives, adjust seasoning to taste.

To serve, cut the rolls in half and toast the cut sides. Fill with the lettuce, cauliflower pieces and blue cheese dressing.

Super greens zucchini sliders whipped feta and kale crisps

Lovely vibrant green sliders served with crispy kale chips, perfect for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. You will need thick curly kale for the chips as it is more robust than baby kale leaves. Make all the separate parts ahead and barbecue the zucchini to serve.

Makes: 8

2 small zucchini (about 500 g)

1 lemon

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

8 small poppy seed rolls 

Kale crisps

100g kale, trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Rocket pesto

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

60 g rocket leaves

1 garlic clove, chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Whipped feta

100g feta

25g creme fraiche

Trim the zucchini and cut length ways into 3mm thick slices. Grate the lemon and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Add the oil and some salt and pepper. Place the zucchini slices in a shallow dish, pour over the dressing and stir well to coat. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes.

Make kale crisps. Preheat the oven to 150c/300f/gas mark 3 and line a large baking tray with baking paper. Shred the kale into bite size pieces, discarding the thick stalk and place in a bowl, combine with the oil and caress until the leaves are well coated. Scatter over the prepared tray and roast for 18-20 minutes until crisp. Season with salt and pepper and scatter with the sesame seeds.

Make pesto. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a small frying pan over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until golden. Cool and place in a food processor with the rocket, garlic, oil and a little salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

Make the whipped feta. Place the ingredients in a blender and puree until really smooth. 

To serve, cook the zucchini slices on a hot barbecue for 2-3 minutes each side until charred and tender. Cut the rolls in half and toast the cut sides. Fill the rolls with the zucchini slices, whipped feta, pesto and some of the kale crisps. Serve with the remaining kale crisps on the side.

Sticky sweet chilli halloumi sliders with crispy onions

I didn’t think haloumi could get any better but adding a little sweet chilli jam is a knock out. You can temper the heat of the chilli sauce by using large mild chillies if preferred. It is best to cook the halloumi on a flat griddle plate on your barbecue if you have one, rather than the grill rack – or cook in a frying pan in the normal way. Make 4 large burgers, if preferred.

Serves: 4

250g halloumi

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 small wholemeal baps (or 4 large)

50 g rocket leaves

8 baby tomatoes, halved

Sweet chilli jam 

6 large red chillies, seeded and chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon grated root ginger

1 teaspoon salt

100 ml rice wine vinegar

100 ml granulated sugar

Onion rings

125 g plain flour

30 g cornflour

250 ml sparkling water

1 onion, sliced

Sunflower oil, for deep frying

Heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4. Make the sweet chilli jam. Place the chillies, garlic, ginger and salt in a food processor, blend to a rough paste and transfer to a saucepan. Add the vinegar and sugar, bring to the boil and simmer gently, partially covered for 5-10 minutes until the mixture becomes a quite thick and sticky. Cool completely, bottle and store in the ‘fridge. Use as required.

Make onion rings. Sift the flours into a bowl, add the salt and then gradually whisk in the water to make a smooth batter. Let sit for 10 minutes. Fill a wok or old saucepan with 5 cm sunflower oil and heat until a cube of bread, added to the pan crisps immediately. Whisk the batter again and dip the onion rings in a few at a time and deep fry for 2-3 minutes until crisp and golden. Keep warm in the oven while cooking the haloumi.

Cut the halloumi into 3 mm thick slice. Heat the oil on the flat griddle of your barbecue or in frying pan over a high heat and fry the halloumi slices for 30 seconds each side until starting to brown. Brush with a little of the chilli jam and cook for a further 30 seconds each side until golden and sticky. 

Cut the rolls in half and toast the cut sides. Fill with the haloumi, rocket, tomato halves and the crispy onions and serve with a little extra chilli jam. 

Recipes © Louise Pickford

Photographs © Ian Wallace

Published in the book Burgers & Sliders © Ryland, Peters & Small and Cico Books


A little biscotti or two

Well I awoke this morning to grey drizzle. I know we need the rain and I am really happy about that, but I just couldn’t help but feel a little ‘blue’ SO, I am going to revisit a recipe from a Christmas feature from 2019 and make these highly addictive biscotti with salted chocolate to cheer myself up.

I hope you all have a go and enjoy them as much as me.

Almond and salted chocolate biscotti

Makes: about 50

150g blanched almonds, toasted

250g plain flour

200g soft brown sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

60g chilled unsalted butter

3 eggs

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla essence

Egg wash

1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp milk

Icing

200g dark chocolate

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180c/fan-forced 160c. Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper. Place the toasted almonds in a food processor and blend until coarsely chopped. 

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Gradually work in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the chopped almonds. 

Whisk the eggs, oil, and vanilla essence together and stir into the crumbed flour mixture. Gently mix together with a large wooden spoon until the dough just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly until the dough is soft and slightly sticky, about 8-10 times. Divide the dough in half and with lightly floured hands shape each one into a 20cm log. Transfer the logs to one of the prepared baking sheets flattening them slightly into a brick shape about 3 cm wide. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top and sides of each slab with egg wash.

Bake the slabs for 25 minutes or until the top and sides are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. 

Using a serrated knife slice the dough into 1cm thick slices. Set the slices about 1 cm apart on the 2 trays (in batches). Return to the oven and cook for 10 minutes, turn the biscotti over and bake the other side for 8-10 more minutes until  golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking trays, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Make the icing. Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl in the microwave (or use a double boiler) stirring until melted and smooth. Dip one end of each biscotti into the melted chocolate and immediately sprinkle one side with a little sea salt. Transfer to the wire rack and leave until the chocolate is set.

© recipe Louise Pickford

© Photo by Ian Wallace photographer


Warming the cockles with French onion soup

Just when I thought the cooler days were behind me, I awake to rain and chill, so lunch today is going to be a soup to warm those cockles – in this case my tummy. This recipe from my Delicious UK January 2020 winter menu goes one step further in yumminess with a side order of gooey cheese melts.

Red Onion Soup with Cheesy Sourdough Melts

Serves: 6

The addition of the gooey cheese melts gives this classic French onion soup a lovely modern twist. You can use sliced sourdough bread, ciabatta or French stock for the melts.

75 ml olive oil

1.25 kg red onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme 

150 ml red wine

1.5  Litres good quality beef stock

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

50 g butter, softened

6 large sourdough bread or ciabatta slices

100 g Camembert, thinly sliced

75 g Gruyere, grated

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onions, garlic, thyme, and a little salt and pepper over a low heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the onions are well caramelized. 

Add the wine and reduce by half, then stir in the stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes until rich and flavourful. Add the parsley and adjust seasonings to taste.

Butter one side of the sourdough or ciabatta slices. Layer the Camembert and grated Gruyere over the non buttered side of 3 slices. Top butter-side up with the remaining slices. Press firmly but gently together.

Place a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sandwiches and top with a piece of foil. Weigh the slices down with a second pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes each side until the bread is crisp and golden and the cheese melted. 

Spoon the soup into bowls. Cut each sourdough slice in half and serve alongside the soup.

Tip: you can make the soup a day ahead and keep in the fridge, giving it even more flavour.


Saffron, the royalist of spices

This pungent, vibrant, intriguing spice has captured the hearts and imagination of thousands before me, leaving it’s stain on a fascinating and turbulent history. The tiny thread-like stigma from a variety of crocus known as crocus sativus is the world’s most expensive spice. It is used to colour and flavour food, dye clothes and as well as having some health benefits.

The name derives from the Arabic word zafran, meaning yellow, a reference to the golden colour that saffron turns both our food and clothes. With bright purple flowers each plant only produces just 4 and each flower only 3 stigmas. It takes over 75,000 flowers to produce 500g of spice (450 for just 10g). Add to this the fact that even today saffron strands are picked and removed by hand, it’s easy to understand why saffron is, ounce for ounce, more expensive than gold.

From ancient times, it’s colour, aroma and flavour seduced royalty. Cleopatra bathed in it, believing it made her more alluring. The Romans alleged it would cure many ills. Indians used it to dye clothes whilst Buddhist priests decreed that all their robes would be dyed orange with golden saffron. Trade brought wealth and power to merchants and growers but along with that came conflict culminating in a 14 day saffron war in 1374.

Originating in the Arab world, saffron spread from India in the east and to Europe and as far as America to the west. By the 16th century it was being farmed in large quantities in England. Former geophysicist turned saffron farmer David Smale tells us “these days saffron is more associated with exotic locations such as Iran, Morocco and Spain, but in the past English saffron has been, by reputation, the best in the world”. David, among other British saffron farmers, is looking to put the UK back on the saffron map.

Above all else saffron is celebrated and loved for it’s culinary delights. The flavour is  hard to define, but I liken it to a pungent, aromatic, but slightly metallic honey with powerful overtones of hay or dry grass made warm by the sun; it is both exotic and familiar. Often associated with rice dishes such as Indian biryani, Arabic pilaf and Spanish paella this golden spice is also the star of many classic seafood soups, bouillabaisse from Marseille, being the most famous. It is just as good in sweet dishes such as cakes, breads and even ice cream. I love to add a teaspoon of strands to vodka or gin adding an aromatic flavour and glorious colour.

Dried and fresh saffron

Saffron facts you should know

Rich in Vitamins A, C and a good source of beta carotene, saffron has long been regarded as having medicinal benefits. It has antibacterial qualities and can aid digestion, help treat stomach aches and bronchitis. There are on going studies to see if it can be beneficial in helping prevent cancer.

Today over 90% of the saffron we buy is grown in Iran, often then being packaged in Spain.

Price does not necessarily indicate quality. Buy, try and find the brand you like best, from a reputable supplier.

Buy strands rather than the powder, which should be more red than yellow or orange. The redder the stigmas, the better the quality.

Add saffron cautiously, a little can go a long way and remember you can add but you can’t take away.

As a rule saffron is steeped in water or another liquid before being added to a dish as it isn’t water-soluble. However certain dishes, such as Indian biryani, Arab Pilaf and Spanish paella have the strands scattered over the top of the rice as it cooks, staining it that wonderful golden hue where it sits.

If you are lucky enough to have a saffron farm nearby, buy direct from them for freshness.

Recipes

Strawberry and saffron jam

Make: 4 x 300 ml jars

This recipe is adapted from one that is made at a local saffron fam in The Charente Maritime Safran de l’Estaire. The addition of saffron is subtle but intriguing. You will need a sugar thermometer for this recipe and because strawberries have a low pectin level the resulting jam is not as set as some, but nonetheless delicious.

2 teaspoons saffron strands

1.5kg strawberries, hulled

juice 1 large lemon

1.25 kg granulated sugar

Grind the saffron strands to form a powder using a pestle and mortar. Set aside.

Put the strawberries and lemon juice into a large saucepan and place over a low heat until the strawberries soften. Then simmer gently, uncovered for about 20 minutes until really pulpy. Carefully remove about 1/3 of the strawberries using a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the sugar and the powdered saffron and stir gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and simmer without stirring for about 40 minutes or until the jam reaches 105c/221f on a sugar thermometer. Remove any scum from the surface of the jam.

Meanwhile, sterilise the jars. Wash and dry the jars thoroughly and sit, facing upwards, in a roasting tin lined with baking paper. Place in a preheated oven 100c/220f until required.

Ladle the jam straight into the hot sterilised jars and seal immediately. Label and date the jars once the jam is cold. Store for 2up to 12 months in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate once opened.

Home semi-salted cod with saffron aioli

Serves: 4

Salt cod with aioli is a classic combination popular throughout Spain and southern France.

4 x 150 g cod fillets

2 tbsp sea salt

750g sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

350g French beans, trimmed

a handful flat leaf parsley leaves

saffron aioli

1/4 tsp saffron strands

1 tbsp boiling water

2 egg yolks

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp white wine vinegar

200 ml mild extra virgin olive oil

Place the cod fillets in a plastic container. Scatter over the salt, turning the fish so that it is salted all over. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 2 hours. Turn the fish over half way through.

Place the saffron strands in a small bowl and soak in boiling water for 5 minutes. Place the egg yolks, garlic, mustard, vinegar and salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk with electric beaters until pale and frothy. Very gradually whisk in the oil a little at a time until the mixture thickens and becomes glossy. Add the saffron and the liquid and whisk again. Cover the surface with cling film and set aside until required.

Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6 and line a roasting tin with baking paper. Place the potatoes in the prepared tin, season well and drizzle over 1 tablespoon of the oil, stir well to coat. Roast for 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway through until the potatoes are browned and tender.

Wash and dry the salted fish. Place the fish in a steamer, cover and cook for 4-5 minutes until cooked through. Rest for a few minutes. Meanwhile, cook the beans in a pan of lightly salted, boiling water for 2-3 minutes until al dente. Drain well.

Divide the potatoes and beans between warmed serving plates and top with the fish and a spoonful of the saffron aioli. Drizzle with a little extra oil. Garnish with some parsley and serve at once.

Risotto Milanese with a twist

Serves: 4

A classic risotto Milanese is made with saffron and frequently served with osso bucco. Here the marrow bones are used on their own to add a lovely depth of flavour to the rice dish.

4 small veal bones (ask your local butcher to source these for you)

4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus a few leaves to garnish

1-1.2 litres good quality chicken stock, heated until just boiling

½ tsp saffron strands

50g butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

300g Arborio rice

100ml Italian dry white wine

50 g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 225c/425f/gas mark 7 and line a roasting tin with baking paper. Place the veal bones in the prepared tin, sprinkle the marrow with salt and pepper and top with a thyme sprig. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the marrow is hot all the way through (check with a metal skewer) and sitting in a pool of melted marrow. Keep warm.

Place the stock and saffron strands in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and in a saucepan and gently fry the shallots and garlic with a little salt and pepper over a low heat for 10 minutes until really soft, but not browned. Add the rice and stir for about 1 minute until all the grains appear glossy.

Increase the heat to medium. Add the wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes until it is almost all evaporated. Gradually start adding the gently simmering stock about 200 ml at a time, stirring the rice constantly with a wooden spoon, allowing the rice to absorb most of the stock before adding more. Continue this for about 20 minutes until the rice is al dente and the stock all but absorbed.

Stir in the Parmesan and the juices released from the bone marrow and as soon as the cheese is melted spoon into serving bowls. Place a roasted bone marrow in each bowl and serve scattered with extra cheese and some thyme leaves.

Simple lamb brochettes with saffron pilaf

Serves: 4

With its origins firmly imbedded in the Middle East saffron is integral to many of the countries classic dishes and pilaf is just one of these. Here the rice is cooked separately and served with brochettes of spiced lamb.  

250g basmati rice

500g boneless lamb neck

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp ground sumac

75g butter

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 tsp cumin seeds

4 cardamom pods, crushed

1 cinnamon stick, bruised

75g raisins

75g pistachio nuts, chopped

1 tsp saffron strands

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

juice 1/2 lemon

salt and pepper

Greek yogurt and lemon wedges, to serve

Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water, leave to soak for a couple of hours. Drain and shake dry.

Cut the lamb into small bite size pieces. Combine 2 teaspoons of the sumac with the oil, salt and pepper and toss with the lamb. Thread onto skewers and set aside until ready to cook. Combine the remaining sumac with 1 teaspoon salt.

Melt 25 g of the butter in a frying pan and fry half the onions with a little salt for 15 minutes until crisp and golden. Set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan and fry the remaining onion and spices with a little salt and pepper for 5 minutes. Add the rice, stir well to coat the grains and add 500ml water. Bring to the boil and scatter over the raisins, pistachio nuts and saffron, cover and simmer over a very gentle heat for 12 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave to sit for a further 10 minutes, then stir in the coriander.

Meanwhile, char-grill the lamb either under a hot grill or on a ridged grill pan for 2-3 minutes each side until cooked on the outside but still pink inside. Transfer to a plate and squeeze over the lemon juice.

Serve the rice scattered with the crispy onions and the brochettes with some yogurt and the sumac salt.

Orange, cashew and saffron syrup cake

Serves: 10

The saffron and orange syrup is poured over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, so it absorbs both flavour and moisture as it cools, resulting in a lovely aromatic and moist cake. It keeps well for 3 days wrapped in foil and stored in an airtight tin.

175g unsalted butter, softened

175g soft light brown sugar

grated zest 1 orange (juice reserved)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tbsp orange flour water

225g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

75g cashew nuts, finely ground

orange and saffron syrup

pared zest and juice 2 oranges

125g caster sugar

1/2 tsp saffron strands

crème fraiche or Greek yogurt, to serve

Preheat the oven to 170c/150f/gas mark 3 and grease and line a 1kg loaf tin. Using electric beaters, beat the butter, sugar and orange zest together until pale and creamy and then gradually whisk in the eggs and orange flower water a little at a time until combined, adding a little flour each time to prevent the mixture curdling. Fold in the remaining flour, baking powder and ground cashews until evenly combined.

Spoon into to the prepared tin and smooth the surface making a slight indent in the centre. Bake for 11/4 hours, covering the surface of the cake with foil after 45 minutes if it begins to brown. Pierce the cake with a skewer, if it comes out clean, the cake is ready.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Place the juice of all 3 oranges and the sugar in a saucepan and bring slowly to the boiling, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange zest and simmer for 5 minutes or until the mixture is thickened and syrupy. Remove from the heat and stir in the saffron. Set aside to infuse, keeping it warm.

As soon as the cake is cooked, pierce holes all over the surface using a metal skewer. Spoon over 2/3 of the syrup and leave the cake to cool in the tin.

Turn the cooled cake out onto a platter and cut into slices. Serve drizzled with the remaining syrup and some crème fraiche or Greek yogurt.

First published by Food and Travel Magazine 2015

© recipes Louise Pickford

© photographs Ian Wallace



Churros with chocolate & Pedro Ximenez sauce

Not quite straight, yet not quite curly.

Without wishing to offend churros oficianados, here is my version of this delightfully light, fluffy and totally divine Spanish doughnut. Traditionally Spanish churros are piped, in an almost figure of eight shaped whirl, directly into hot fat and deep-fried before being coated in cinnamon sugar. They can be served as simply as that or they can be served alongside a steaming cup of real hot chocolate. For a slightly more wicked treat I like to dunk them or drizzle them with melted chocolate flavoured with Pedro Ximenez, an intensely dark, sweet dessert sherry.

Having always been a lover of doughnuts (not that surprising really – deep-fried batter, crispy on the outside, light and fluffy in the centre and then dipped in spiced sugar – who wouldn’t) but actually not that crazy about the jam filled ones, I was wowed when I first came across churros on a holiday in Majorca, one of Spain’s Balearic islands – the fact that they were served with chocolate was the icing on the cake.

Developed centuries ago by Spanish shepherds in the hills, where cooking was limited to cooking over a log fire, a cake-like batter was dropped into hot fat until crisp and then serve dusted with cinnamon sugar. Naturally enough the idea caught on and today this wonderful snack food is popular all over the world, in one form or another.

And now that I live in SW France, the Spanish border is a short drive away, so I get to enjoy one of my favourite dishes much more often with regular trips to Spain’s Basque region. Luckily they have also caught on here in France and you often find a churros van at the local markets and fetes. Normally in France they tend to be served either completely straight or more like these ones, but really the shape is completely up to you – whether you a curly fan or a straight fan – they still taste the same!!

So let’s get cooking.

You will need water, butter – salted or unsalted, is your choice – plain flour, a pinch of salt, 3 medium eggs, caster sugar and cinnamon for the churros. Then for the sauce you need dark chocolate, single or pouring cream and a small glass (or two) of Pedro Ximenez sherry.

Pour the water into a medium saucepan, adding the butter. Place over a low heat until the butter melts. – you are literally warming it enough to melt the butter and there is no need to boil the mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and tip in the flour and salt in one go. Then beat well with a wooden spoon until it becomes thick and sticky and the mixture comes away from the pan edges.

At this stage you need to allow the batter to cool slightly, so that when the eggs are whisked in, the heat is not so high that it starts to cook the eggs – they will cook once the batter is piped and fried – so using either a balloon whisk or electric beaters, whisk in them in one at a time until you have a smooth batter.

Spoon the glossy batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm star nozzle. Make sure you scrape in as much of the batter as you can, don’t waste any! Meanwhile, heat a good amount of vegetable oil in a wok or heavy-based pan, to a depth of about 7 cm, until it reaches 180c on a sugar thermometer (or until a small amount of the dough sizzles as soon as it is dropped into the oil).

Carefully pipe 15 cm lengths of the dough straight into the oil, using a knife to cut the dough off right by the nozzle. Fry 3-4 churros at a time for 2-3 minutes until crisp and golden, turning half way through using metal tongs. As soon as the churros are cooked, remove them using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel. You can keep them warm in a moderate oven heated to 180C/325F/Gas Mark 4 if you like, whilst cooking some more.

Whilst the churros are cooking, you should have time to mixc the sugar with some cinnamon. Place the mixture on a plate and as soon as the churros are ready roll them in the sugar until they are evenly coated.

Meanwhile, heat the chocolate and cream together in a small pan over a low heat until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth, then add the sherry. If you prefer you can do this ahead and warm the sauce through just before serving.

Arrange the churros on a platter and serve with the chocolate and Pedro Ximenez sauce for dipping or if you like drizzle it all over the churros.

RECIPE

Churros with chocolate and Pedro Ximenez sauce

Serves: 6-8

250 ml water

120 g butter

180 g plain flour, twice sifted

pinch salt

3 medium eggs (size 3)

75 g caster sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

100 g chocolate

150 ml single cream, plus extra to drizzle

a small glass Pedro Ximenez sherry

vegetable oil for frying

Heat the water and butter in a saucepan over low heat until the butter melts.

Tip in the flour and salt and beat well with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the pan edges.

Cool for 5 minutes, then whisk in the eggs one at a time, using electric beaters or a balloon whisk, until you have a smooth batter.

Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm star nozzle.

Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy-based pan to a depth of 7 cm until it reaches 180c on a sugar thermometer (or until a small amount of the dough sizzles as soon as it is dropped into the oil).

Carefully pipe 15 cm lengths of the dough straight into the oil, using a knife to cut the dough. Fry 3 at a time for 2-3 minutes until crisp and golden, turning half way through using metal tongs. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon on a plate and roll the doughnuts in the mixture until coated.

Meanwhile, heat the chocolate and cream together in a small pan over a low heat until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth, then add the sherry.

Arrange the churros on a platter and serve with the chocolate and Pedro Ximenez sauce for dipping.


Ingredient of the week……………. spelt

Risotto purists will be screaming abuse no doubt at this bastardised version of such a classic Italian dish, but I make no apology for taking it’s name in vain. I am a lover of a classic risotto, but this more nutty version is good too. Less creamy, yes, but I think the nuttiness and robust flavour and texture of spelt grains more than makes up for this. Widely recognised for it’s health benefits, this ancient grain is hardier and more nutritional than it’s more familiar cousin, wheat. If you aren’t so sure, give this delicious version a go.

Beetroot and Spelt Risotto with Camembert

A nutty and wholesome alternative to a more traditional risotto using pearled spelt berries

Photo by Ian Wallace

Serves: 6

300g pearled spelt grains

750ml-1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

350g raw beetroot, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp chopped fresh thyme, plus a few leaves to garnish

125g Camembert, sliced

25g grated Parmesan

55g pecan nuts

1 red whitlof, shredded

salt and pepper

Soak the spelt grains in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain and shake dry.

Place the stock in a saucepan and heat gently until it just starts to simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion, garlic, thyme and some salt and pepper for 5 minutes until softened. Add the beetroot and fry for a further 5 minutes.

Add the spelt and stir-fry for 1 minute until all the grains are glossy. Add the wine and simmer until reduced, about 3 minutes.

Then add half the stock and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the remaining stock and cook, stirring until the spelt is tender and most of the stock absorbed, about 10 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in half the Camembert and all the Parmesan, cover pan and leave to sit for 5 minutes.

Heat a small frying pan and fry the pecans for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned.

Spoon the risotto onto plates and serve topped with the remaining cheese, pecans, the shredded whitlof and a few thyme leaves.


A change of blog details

Hello to all the followers of my blog A Food Stylist’s Blog. Firstly I would like to thank you all for following me and my posts over the last 3years.

As my life and business has evolved in France I am now finding that most of time is take up with running my Cookery School and all the spin offs from it – Come Cook In France – therefore I am now blogging directly from the website www.comecookinfrance.com

If you wish to continue following my posts and my life in France (and I really hope that you all will) please click on the link, go to the blog page and you can then subscribe there.

Again, thank you everyone.

Louise