Spiced Parsnip and Apple Soup

Simple soups are great for the January slump, when you don’t want to be fussing about making anything too complicated, but you need a warming and comforting bowl of food. This spiced parsnip and apple soup will do the job: make a batch and keep it in your fridge, ready to heat up for an easy meal. The addition of lentils make it hearty and filling, and the spices make it a bit more interesting than its plainer cousins.


Bramley apples are the definitive English cooking apple: sour and juicy, they work very well here, lending a little sweetness when cooked and complementing the soup’s spices. Parsnips are one of my favourite root vegetables. Cheap, readily available, easy to prepare, with a satisfying nutty flavour, they are wonderful in soups. Both apples and parsnips are in season in January, and should be easy to find and at their best for this parsnip and apple soup.



Generous knob of butter
1 white onion, thinly sliced
600g parsnips, peeled and cut into roughly 2cm chunks
2 tbsp curry powder (or less, if you don’t like your food a bit spicy)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150g dry red lentils
300g Bramley apples, peeled and cut into chunks
1 litre vegetable stock
100ml cream
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh coriander and cream, to finish


  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat until foaming. Add the onion and the parsnips. Cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add spices, garlic, lentils, and apples. Stir well, and cook for 2 minutes. Pour the stock into the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the parsnips are totally soft.
  3. Blitz the soup until smooth, either with a stick blender or in a food processor. Stir in the cream. Taste and season. Serve with a drizzle more cream and some chopped fresh coriander, if you like.

Tips for Hosting a Hassle-Free Dinner

I don’t know about you, but my December calendar is already packed with festive lunches, dinners, pub trips, and parties. It’s that time of year. A lovely friend of mine asked me for tips on hosting a dinner at home, and I was only too happy to oblige, by writing out all my rambling ideas below. I am far from an expert – being trained a cook is not the same as being able to host! – but we have people over to eat pretty often and I am used to feeding crowds. So good luck to you if you are having people over to eat during the holidays, and I hope these tips are of some help.


1. Keep it simple

If you are not a in the habit of hosting dinners or cooking for loads of people, now is not the time to over-complicate things. If you’re an adventurous or confident cook, then absolutely go for it. But don’t feel like you have to serve soufflés or a croquembouche just because you have guests coming. People are absolutely and totally delighted, I promise you, with lasagne, salad, garlic bread, and a chocolate cake. It doesn’t have to be super-fancy or innovative. Everyone wants to see you and have a good evening, not feel your nerves as you are frantically trying to make your own puff pastry in the background.

2. Check dietary preferences

Unless you know the people coming over really well, always double-check dietary preferences before working out what you are going to cook. It’s awful when someone arrives and announces they have suddenly gone gluten-free or vegetarian, and you have to panic to scramble up a new dinner option for them.


3. Plan your dinner menu logically

For dinners of more than four people, I try to avoid anything that needs to be cooked or served individually, such a fillets of fish or cuts of steak. It tends to be much simpler, more convivial, and more economical, to serve the kind of food that you can put down in the middle of the table and let people help themselves to. It’s encourages general chat if people are digging in at the table and passing things round, and it means you’re not stuck in the kitchen plating up or frying individual pieces of sea bass.

Also, if you’re stuck on what to cook or what goes together, go for a vague theme and stick with it. Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, British, French – anything goes. Sure, if you want to serve bruschetta followed by a steak and ale pie followed by a m’hanncha then you absolutely can. But if you’re not too confident and just want everything to quietly work well together, try sticking to one cuisine. It also helps cut options down if you’re overwhelmed by all the possibilities. If you’re stuck for inspiration, I find recipe books more useful than the internet, because they are more likely to be based around some kind of culinary theme. Whereas Google just gives you TOO MANY CHOICES.

4. Courses

You don’t have to stick to the standard starter-main-dessert route if you don’t want to. Dinners at ours tend to be informal, partly because I just don’t have the space to seat many people, and so big groups end up sitting around the room on sofas or spare chairs dragged in from next door. But also, being flexible with courses means you have to do less serving and less washing up (we don’t have a dishwasher either).

Instead of a starter, I like to make something everyone can eat while having their first drinks, milling around, or sitting on the sofa. Think toasts or crackers with interesting toppings, homemade cheese straws (sounds and looks super-impressive but it’s literally pre-made puff pastry with grated cheese twisted and then baked), or hummus and crudités. I always have a main and a dessert and, sometimes, I do cheese if I am feeling fancy. Or feeling like I want to eat a lot of cheese. Which is often.


5. Prepare food ahead

You would be surprised how much you can do ahead of time, and how much time things can take. You might think ‘oh, I will just peel those potatoes when everyone gets here and pop them in!’, but really, that’s another fifteen minutes stuck in the kitchen while your guests are around.

I really try to avoid having lots of cooking to do during an actual dinner, and don’t like having the kitchen still strewn with used chopping boards and bowls of ingredients when people arrive. It’s much less stressful if things are already in place. Just think about each thing you’re making logically and whether or not it needs to be cooked to service, or can be prepared in advance.

For example, I always, always do a dessert that’s prepped in advance. When it comes to serving it’s just a case of either putting it on the table for people to help themselves or, sometimes, warming it through. You don’t want to be filling profiteroles in a kitchen strewn with mess while everyone waits for you. Stews, tagines, bakes, pies and so on can all be made in advance and then heated up when you’re ready. Potatoes and other vegetables can be pre-cooked or par-boiled. Sauces and gravies can be made and re-heated. Dips or sides can be made in advance and kept covered in the fridge. Salads and dressings can be made in advance, kept separately, then combined just before serving. Cook smart – past you needs to be helping future you.

6. Buy stuff in!

Short on time? Hate making desserts? Forgot to do nibbles? Buy stuff! Seriously. Don’t feel like everything has to be homemade. You can buy desserts, nibbles, dips, good bread, whatever. Sure, homemade is great if you have the time and the inclination. But no one will care (or notice, probably), if you buy your bread instead of making it.

Another tip is to buy something, but then do something to made it special. For example, you can buy hummus, but then instead of just serving it in its carton, mix it up with some chopped herbs, Greek yoghurt, or lemon juice, and serve in a pretty bowl drizzled with olive oil or sprinkled with cumin, sumac, or paprika. Or you could buy a baguette, then make your own garlic and herb butter (crushed garlic, chopped herbs, soft butter) to bread over it and bake and hey presto, you made your own garlic bread. Or you can buy a plain cheesecake, then top it with sliced strawberries and mint, or caramel sauce and chocolate chunks, or whatever you fancy. Looks impressive, takes three minutes.


7. Let people help

If you’re having loads of people over to dinner or if you just don’t particularly like feeding a crowd, let people contribute! Take people at their word when they say ‘what can I bring?’ You could ask someone to take care of wine, or dessert, or pre-dinner nibbles, or cheese, or to bring an extra side dish. Personally, when I ask this question and someone asks me to contribute I am delighted, because I genuinely want to help out. Also they usually ask me to make the dessert and I am well up for that. People like to be generous when given the opportunity.

8. Be organised

I guess the basic advice underpinning all this is be as organised as possible. Obviously, if you are very comfortable hosting a dinner and feel like you can pick stuff up on the way home from work and throw something together then go for it. But I can’t do that. I am an obsessively organised person who over-plans everything and so it comes naturally to me, but if you’re worried about hosting people and you’re not normally big on planning, now is the time to make an exception. You will enjoy the actual event much more if you’ve done the hard work beforehand.

Godspeed, everyone. If you have any questions, worries, or are desperate for menu suggestions, do comment and I’d be happy to help! Or if you have any other tips for hosting a dinner to add then I’d love to hear them.


Goats’ Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Bacon and Thyme

Full disclosure: it took me ages to come up with a proper name for this recipe, because at home we call it ‘chicken-y bacon-y goats’ cheese-y thing’. At least once a month, when I’m stuck for any original ideas regarding what to make for dinner, I will turn to James and say ‘Chicken-y bacon-y goats’ cheese-y thing?’ and he’ll say ‘Works for me’, and that will be that. I have stated before that I think chicken and goats’ cheese make excellent bedfellows. Also: goat cheese; goat’s cheese; goats’ cheese. I go with the latter because I think it denotes milk from multiple goats, which seems to make the most sense, but who knows? Also, well done if you got to the end of this paragraph without falling asleep.


I have been making this recipe, or some variation of it, for years. There are lots of versions of ‘chicken breast stuffed with some sort of cheese and wrapped in some sort of meat’ recipes on the internet, so this certainly isn’t an original concept, but this is how I make it.

James and I are by no means vegetarians, but we’ve been eating less meat recently, having it as a treat rather than a staple of every meal. This means a recipe like this is now something of a luxury, rather than a standard weeknight dinner, and it’s made me rather fond of it – hence it suddenly popping up on this blog.


You may think that stuffing chicken with something and wrapping it in something else seems like kind of a tricky faff, but it’s far easier than it perhaps sounds and it only takes ten minutes to put together. I am kind of lazy about this sort of thing and I don’t find it too onerous. The chicken also goes well with most grains, potatoes, salads, and greens, so it’s pretty versatile in that you can serve it with whatever you have knocking about.


Notes:  This recipe will feed four, assuming you make a side dish, or you can do what James and I often do and eat two pieces of chicken for dinner and have the other two the next day. Also, all quantities are easily halved.

The side dish in the pictures is a lentil salad type deal that I often make. It is very, very simple so I haven’t included the recipe, but let me know if you have a desperate yearning to know what is in it.


4 garlic cloves
handful fresh thyme
handful of tomatoes (optional)
4 chicken breasts
200g soft goats’ cheese
1 pack streaky bacon
olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 210C/190C fan/gas 5. Grab some sort of roasting dish or tray. Roughly chop your thyme, crush your garlic, and set both aside. If you’re using tomatoes, cut them in half or into quarters (depending on size) and chuck them in your roasting tray.
  2. Lay your chicken breasts flat, and cut a slit into the side of each, trying not to cut them in half completely. Cram about a quarter of your goats’ cheese into each chicken breast, then wrap each up tightly in streaky bacon – you need about three rashers for each. Lay them in your tray, directly on top of the tomatoes if using.
  3. Rub each piece of chicken with crushed garlic, and sprinkle with thyme. Season with plenty of pepper – you can use a little salt too if you like but I usually don’t, because bacon is inherently salty. Drizzle the whole thing with a little olive oil, then bake for 25-30 minutes until the meat is cooked through, the bacon is crispy, and the garlic is golden. Serve with a drizzle of the juices from the pan.

Spinach and Lentil Pie

A quick post, today, before I cycle back to the boat to get ready for the Bastard English Session. It’s a folk music session in our local pub, which also happens to be where we’re having our wedding next year. Everyone gets together and plays folk music and sings pop songs and gets drunk and rowdy in the best possible way. Alright, so I can’t play any instruments, but I can definitely drink wine and sing along raucously.

So, yes: things to do, places to be, all of the utmost importance. I hope you all have similarly enjoyable Friday nights planned.


I’ve mentioned this pie, very briefly, before. It’s my mother’s recipe, although I have no idea where she got it originally, and I have adapted it a bit here. I became absolutely obsessed with it as a teenager, and requested it over and over again. I don’t know why, because it sounds – and looks – like such a humble dish, but for some reason I found it irresistibly delicious.

Funnily enough, even though I have had the recipe for years, this is the first time I have actually made it myself. I’d never quite gotten around to it, and this was at least in part because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my memories. I thought it wouldn’t taste as good as I remembered.

Luckily, these fears were unfounded. See this massive pie? I ate 4/5 of it. Not in one sitting, I might add, but… it didn’t take me long, let’s put it that way. James had some too, and although I think he liked it, he certainly wasn’t as madly obsessed with it as I am. So, while I am sure you will enjoy it if you do decide to make it, please bear in mind that the crazy dedication to it is unique to me, and it’s not an inherently magical pie.


Notes: Is this healthy? I don’t know. I think the filling is healthy – anything full of that much spinach has to be healthy, right? – but that may be negated by the fact that it’s smothered in pastry. It keeps very well for a couple of days in the fridge, and the filling can be frozen. Feel free to use whatever savoury shortcrust recipe you like.

This pie could serve 5-6 people, as long as one of those people isn’t me.


for the pastry (this makes enough for a base, lid, and decorations – if you only want a lid, halve the quantities) 

500g plain flour
big pinch of salt
280g chilled butter
3 large egg yolks
6 tbsp chilled water

for the filling

175g red lentils
450ml water
800g fresh spinach, washed and shredded
250g cottage cheese
25g butter
15g plain flour
300ml milk
sprig of thyme
bay leaf
¼ tsp grated nutmeg


  1. First, make your pastry. I am a lazy heathen and make it in the food processor. Put your flour and salt in the food processor. Cut your cold butter into little pieces and sprinkle them on top of the flour. Pulse in the food processor briefly until your get a breadcrumb texture.
  2. Beat your egg yolks with 3 tbsp of the water, drizzle over the dry mixture, then pulse to combine. The mixture should start to come together, but if it doesn’t, keep adding the water until it does. Don’t let it get too wet. Tip the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead it briefly until it comes together. Shape it into a thick disc, wrap in clingfilm, and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Get on with making your filling. Put your lentils and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils have absorbed all the water and gone soft. Beat into a purée.
  4. Lightly cook your spinach however you like – you could put it in a colander and tip a kettle of boiling water over it, or nuke it in the microwave for two minutes, or cook it gently on the hob. Put the spinach in your biggest pan – I use a wok – and mix in the lentil purée and cottage cheese.
  5. You then need to make a basic sauce, which makes the mixture thick and creamy. Melt the butter in a saucepan, tip the flour in, and whisk it over a low heat for around three minutes to cook the flour out and make a roux. Gradually pour the milk into the pan, whisking all the while. It will initially go lumpy, but then smooth out. Add the herbs, nutmeg, and some salt and pepper. Gently bring the sauce to the boil and thicken. Mix the sauce with the spinach mixture. Leave it to cool and thicken.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Get the pastry out of the fridge and divide it into two pieces, one slightly bigger. Use the bigger one to line a pie dish, and pop the other half back into the fridge for now. Blind bake your pastry for fifteen minutes, and then remove whatever weights you’ve used and give it five more minutes. Your pastry should now be dry, sandy, and very lightly coloured.
  7. Tip your filling into the pastry case. Roll out the other half of the pastry and use it as a lid. Save scraps for decorations, if you’re feeling fancy. Brush the pastry with a bit of milk or the eggwhites you have leftover if you like, for colour.
  8. Bake your pie for around 30 minutes, or until the pastry is dry and golden.

Meat, Broccoli, and Cashew Coiled Phylas Pastries

Secretly, I don’t like punting. Please don’t tell Oxford City Council, because I’m not sure you’re allowed to live here if you don’t like punting. And I’m pretty settled. I don’t want to be chucked out.

Don’t get me wrong – I love boats, and I love living on the river. Punting, however, is an entirely different thing to proper boating. It’s always so much better in quintessentially Oxonian pictures than when you’re stuck in the actual experience.

The problem is that once you’re sitting in a punt, you’re stuck sitting in a punt. It’s not very comfortable, and it’s always either too hot or too cold. It gets boring fairly fast. You move along the water very slowly. You are attacked by swans and wasps. You are always worried about losing your wallet or your phone in the grimy water.


What a moaner I am! Sorry to start this blog off on such a negative note, but I am only doing it to be able to segue into talking about the one thing that I love about punting adventures: picnics. Picnics are the only reason that I continued to go punting all the time throughout university. People would lure me in by saying ‘Come punting with us! Come on! We’ll have a picnic!’

I can’t resist a picnic.

I don’t know what it is about eating perfectly normal food in a picnic setting, but put cheeses, pork pies, and strawberries in a basket and plonk it all on a blanket outside somewhere and I am there. I love the ritual of choosing, making, and compiling all the various components of a picnic. I love packing things into bags and baskets and cool boxes and lugging it all outside and lying down on a patch of grass somewhere and eating far more sandwiches than is nutritionally advisable.

Nowadays, I am free from the social obligations of punting (there’s a first world problem if ever I did hear one), so I can transition into picnicking with abandon and delight. I mean, it’s August in England, so as I write this I am looking out of the window at a grey sky and pounding rain, but otherwise the time is ripe for a good old summertime picnic gorging-fest.

So, next time the planets align and we have a) sun and b) free time, we will definitely be having a picnic and I will definitely be making these.


Source: The concept of phylas pastry is one I found in the fantastic Honey & Co. Baking Book, which I have rhapsodised about on this blog before. I’ve since looked it up, and I cannot find any other references to phylas pastry on the whole of the Internet. Admittedly I didn’t look massively hard, but it didn’t come up in a Google search, so I think the concept might be theirs. However, although I have used their spiral pastry idea, the filling here is my own invention and I have changed a lot of the proportions from the original recipe, so this is very much my version.

Notes: This recipe makes four very hefty pastries. They go well with all sorts of salads in the summer (and probably in the winter too). I would say that a hungry person could eat a whole one, but half of one of these pastries will still be a very adequate serving for a less hungry person.


glug of oil (olive or rapeseed)
1 large or 2 small onions, finely diced
250g pork mince
250g beef mince
3 tbsp Ras el Hanout spice blend
6 tbsp chopped cashew nuts
1 small bunch of tenderstem broccoli, chopped into small pieces
500g block ready made all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten and seasoned, for egg wash


  1. First, make your filling. Heat your oil gently  in a large deep frying pan, or wok, and pop your diced onions in to cook. After five minutes, turn up the heat and add both your pork and beef mince to the pan. Cook the meat over a high heat for at least five minutes, stirring it and breaking it up to make sure it browns evenly. Turn the heat down a little, and stir in your spice, nuts, and broccoli. Cook for another couple of minutes, then take it off the heat and leave to cool. The filling must be completely cold when you make the pastries, so pop it in the fridge once it’s cool enough. You can also make it the day before.
  2. Preheat your oven to 210C/ 190C fan/ gas 7. Dust a large surface generously with flour, then roll out your pastry to a rectangle of 60cm x 25cm. I actually measure this, because it’s always bigger than I think. Cut it vertically into four 15cm x 25cm rectangles. Take the first rectangle, and place a line of your filling down one long edge of the pastry. Push it together a bit with your fingers to make a long, dense line of filling. Roll up the pastry so that you get a 25cam long pastry cylinder full of meat, making sure the join is on the bottom. Roll it up into a spiral. Repeat all this three times. I am completely cack-handed and awful at this sort of thing, and I found it totally doable – it’s not as fiddly as it sounds.
  3. Place all four pastries onto a lined baking sheet, brush with egg wash, and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes until golden and crisp. Turn your oven down to 190C/ 170C fan/ gas 5 and keeping cooking for another 15 minutes. Enjoy the pastries hot or cold.

Holubtsi (Ukrainian Stuffed Cabbage)

When I was eighteen, a childhood friend and I went to Russia together. We’d been friends when we were young, but had barely seen each other as teenagers. I am sure it must have been more complicated than this, but as I remember it, she basically rang me out of the blue and said ‘Do you want to go to Russia this summer?’ and I said yes.

I had lived in Siberia as a child, but didn’t have any memories of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where we were planning to go. It was only when I looked at a map that I registered that the place where we had lived, Bratsk, was about 3,250 miles east of Moscow, which perhaps explains why we weren’t exactly popping over there regularly. It probably goes without saying to those of you who aren’t as geographically idiotic as me, but Russia is bloody massive. Incomprehensibly, awe-inspiringly, mind-bendingly huge.

So that’s why my childhood memories of Russia are mostly of snowy wastelands and apartment blocks and queueing for hours to buy meat and nearly being blown away by gale-force wind before my father caught my arm and held me like a balloon (true story), as opposed to of cities like Moscow.


The food, though? I don’t really remember much of the Russian food I ate as a child. I remember what my mother fed us, but that was whatever she could get her hands on, rather than anything particularly authentic. When I went back when I was eighteen, though, we stayed with Russian hosts and got some of the real deal: I remember us both being slightly taken aback at being served bowls of fuchsia borscht with sour cream for breakfast one day. We ate chicken stew with cabbage and dumplings, drank vodka at stupid hours, and tried as much Russian chocolate as we possibly could. There’s a fairly intense tea culture in Russia (which was a bit unfortunate for me as I really don’t like tea) and everywhere we went we had cups of it pressed upon us in welcome as we crossed the threshold.

You may have noticed that I am rambling on about Russian food despite the fact that the title of this post clearly states that this recipe is Ukrainian. My only defences are a) Ukraine is very close to Russia so I reckon I can at least try and make the argument that they have similar cuisine (based on no factual knowledge) and b) eating this, I was reminded incredibly strongly of the Russian food I ate when I was eighteen, which then sparked this rambling reminiscence.

Hey, it’s my blog, I can write whatever rubbish I like.


Source: I picked up this book – Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & beyond, by Olia Hercules – on a complete whim. I haven’t had much of a chance to explore it yet, but there are loads of interesting looking recipes.

Notes: I messed around with this a bit, so this version isn’t exactly echt, although I did so based more on what I had in than thinking that any real changes needed to be made.


Basic tomato sauce – whatever your usual recipe is will be fine, as will sauce from a jar if you are pressed for time
1 large Savoy cabbage
250g minced beef
250g minced pork
150g brown rice, parboiled for ten minutes and drained
(the original recipe called for 40g barberries, but to be honest, if I can’t get it at the supermarket then I am not going on a special trail for it and I have no idea where you would get barberries from).

to accompany

sour cream


  1. Make your tomato sauce (or open up your jar), and pop it into the base of an oven proof dish. Preheat your oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.
  2. Carefully tear around twelve large leaves from your cabbage, and blanch them for three minutes in a large pan of boiling salted water. Refresh them in cold water, and then drain them as thoroughly as you can on kitchen paper.
  3. Mix your beef, pork, and rice together in a bowl (I always find this easiest using my hands) and season liberally. Place an egg sized lump of the mixture onto a cabbage leaf, fold the leaf up around it to make a parcel, and place the parcel in your tomato sauce. Repeat until all the mixture is gone. I am absolutely terrible at this sort of thing but found it completely fine – it’s easier than it sounds.
  4. Pop your dish in the oven and cook for around half an hour, or until each parcel is cooked through. Serve hot, with a bowl of sour cream and dill alongside.

Review: Big Ron’s Burrito Shack (Oxford)

As reviews go, this will not be the most comprehensive, detailed, or useful one you’ve ever seen. That’s because, when I stumbled upon Big Ron’s Burrito Shack, I wasn’t planning on doing a review at all.

I’d had a really long day which had involved driving a hyperactive puppy to Swindon and back, and I was running late for Catweazle. Dashing down Cowley Road on the hunt for some quick takeaway food to grab for dinner, I saw that Big Ron’s Burrito Shack had opened, at the original Atomic Burger site, and that people were heading in.


I love burritos. Quite an indecent amount, actually. Until now, the only real burrito destination in Oxford has been Mission, and I used to go past it on my lunch breaks when I worked in an office. It took the restraining influence of James to ensure that I didn’t eat all the burritos, all the time. They’re just such a great meal. All the food groups in a conveniently portable wrap, completely customisable and totally delicious.

I walked in, and was greeted by a very friendly guy on the door.

‘Do you do takeaway?’ I asked, hopefully.

‘Ooh… Sorry, we’re not really doing takeaway tonight,’ he said.

‘Oh, no problem!’ I replied. ‘I’ll go and find something else.’

‘Actually, hang on,’ he said, ‘I’m sure we can sort something out. Go and talk to the woman in blue behind the counter and tell her I said it was okay for you to get a takeaway.’

‘Really!? Fantastic! Thank you!’

I went up to the counter, where I was greeted by another incredibly friendly person, and set about perusing the menu. Normally I wouldn’t go for chicken in a burrito – just because other options seem more interesting – but it was tequila and lime chicken. That sounded pretty delicious, so I went with that plus, um, all the available extras. Just, you know, a bit of shredded lettuce, black beans, pico do gallo, sour cream, guacamole, Monterey Jack cheese, and salsa. I was hungry, okay?

I got out my wallet to pay.

‘Oh no,’ protested the friendly woman at the counter, ‘You don’t pay! Everything’s free tonight.’

‘Wait, what? Why?!’

‘Oh, it’s a private party,’ she explained, ‘For the launch.’

Oh. Right. I had accidentally walked into a private launch party that I wasn’t invited to, asked for takeaway that they weren’t offering, and gotten free food that I wasn’t entitled to. Well done Hannah.

I was sort of mortified, and kept apologising and offering to pay, but all the staff were incredibly kind and understanding and insisted on giving me my massive free burrito.

So, I can testify that not only are the people working at Big Ron’s Burrito Shack very lovely, but that their burritos are delicious. I haven’t got a very good picture, because I was walking and eating at the same time and only had my phone on me – plus burritos are hard to photograph well at the best of times – but trust me, it was great. The tortilla was soft, yet robust enough to contain all of the fillings, which were fresh, full of flavour, and well-balanced. The chicken had a strong punch of tequila and a kick of lime, which ran through the burrito and married perfectly with the softer accompaniments of the cheese, sour cream, and guacamole.


We will definitely be going back to sample the other filling options – I was also very tempted by the Texas pork – and the various degrees of spicy salsa. I should also point out that normally they will be offering a full takeaway service; they just hadn’t been planning on doing so on launch night when I stumbled upon them. Also, they probably won’t give you your food for free. But I’m sure the service will be just as charming all the same.



Mushroom Risotto

One of the few times I was seriously ill during my teenage years was when I got food poisoning from eating some risotto, bought in a tub from the supermarket and reheated at home. If you’ve ever had severe food poisoning, you will know that it is absolutely horrific, and actually feels even worse than it sounds.

That experience spooked me, and I couldn’t quite face risotto again for at least three years afterwards – genuinely. I am quite happy to eat all sorts of weird things that lots of people wouldn’t touch, but the mere thought of risotto made me feel a bit ill.

When three years had passed, I gingerly ordered risotto as a starter at some restaurant and, remarkably, survived. I am sure they will be optioning the film rights any day now.

Anyway, I am now wholeheartedly over my risotto aversion and trying to make up for lost time. Risotto has many things in its favour. It’s very easy to make, and very forgiving. It’s cheap (or at least, it can be). It multiplies easily to feed a crowd. It’s wonderfully adaptable. It can be made to feel summery or wintery. I feel quite bad that I neglected it for so long.

This was actually the first risotto recipe I made myself a few years back – after I got over my phobia – and though it’s very simple and there are far fancier things you can do, it’s still one of my favourites.


Source: This has been fairly minimally adapted from BBC Good Food: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2364/mushroom-risotto. I’ll do another post on why I bloody love BBC Good Food and why they’re excellent another time, but their site is often my first port of call when I am totally stuck for dinner ideas. Anyway, most risotto recipes are pretty forgiving and will happily accept anything else chucked in there, so once you have the hang of the basics then the world is your oyster. Make oyster risotto.

Notes: This will serve four, or three hungry people as a main, or more as a side – I’ve served it with roasted broccoli and crispy chicken before.


50g dried porcini mushrooms – you can get them in little packs from the supermarket
1 chicken stock cube (or vegetable if you’re vegetarian)
decent knob of butter
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g pack mixed mushrooms, sliced and washed (you can use whatever mushrooms you like – cheap and cheerful will be delicious – but I think mushroom risotto is a good excuse to use some interesting fungi if you fancy it, since they’re the star of the show here)
300g arborio risotto rice
1 large-ish glass white wine (and one for the cook)
handful parsley leaves, chopped
handful of grated parmesan, or whatever cheese you have lying about (I’ve made this successfully with gouda and cheddar)


  1. Boil about a litre of water, and tip it over the dried porcini in a bowl. Leave it to soak for about twenty minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter in your biggest frying pan – or a wok – until melted and bubbly, then chuck your onions and garlic in and fry them off gently until they’re soft.
  2. Drain your mushroom liquid into another bowl (keeping it), then squeeze the last of the liquid out of the porcini mushrooms and chop them. Crumble the chicken stock cube into the liquid and set aside. Add the chopped fresh and dry mushrooms to the pan, and stir them around a bit. Let the mushrooms soften – it will take around ten minutes. Season.
  3. Add the rice and mix that around too to get it all covered in mushroom goodness. Cook it for about a minute, and then add the wine to the hot pan. Let it bubble and evaporate, and then add about a quarter of the mushroom liquid. Keep stirring the rice until it has absorbed all the liquid and started to plump. Keep adding the stock gradually, simmering, and stirring. The rice will get fat and creamy.
  4. Taste the rice. Is it done? I like my risotto to still have a tiny bit of a bite to it, rather than being completely mushy, but cook it to your liking. Take the pan off the stove, then add a knob of butter and about half the cheese and parsley and give it a stir. Cover the risotto and leave it for five minutes to cool and rest. Pop the rest of the cheese and parsley on top, and serve.



Roast Vegetables with Goats’ Cheese and Balsamic Glaze

People sometimes ask me if you can cook on a narrowboat.

‘Of course you can!’, I reply, confident and dismissive. ‘No problem at all! It just takes a little adjusting, and you’re away!’

While this is – technically – true, even I will admit that there are some limitations.

  1. The oven we have is really a box of fire. It is an old and very basic gas oven. Before I was introduced to boat dwelling, I had literally never used a gas oven, having been raised on an electric oven and naively assuming that gas ovens had just sort of died out. Not so. The gas oven has character, and its character is capricious. Occasionally it will have an off-day (don’t we all?) and refuse to light for me. I have no idea what the actual temperature in there might be.
  2. It is much easier to overload the electrical circuit on a boat than it would be in a house. This means that, say, I cannot use the toaster and the kettle at the same time, or the microwave and the food processor, and so on. You have to learn to plan ahead a bit.
  3. There are space limitations. This is also true of a small kitchen in a flat, say, but I’d wager it’s more of an issue in the average boat than the average flat. You have to be very organised, and you have to clean up as you cook. You also have to make decisions about what you actually want in your kitchen. The essentials are fine, but on the boat, I’d never have, say, a Kitchen Aid, a pasta maker, a spiralizer…
  4. Lots of things are bespoke. As there is a limited amount of space, design is key and there’s a lot of clever storage. However, that means that boats are often built around large pieces of furniture, or things have to be dismantled to get into a boat, or they fit into a very specific space. Fridge broken in your house? You can find a new one! Fridge broken on your boat? Yeah, good luck with that.
  5. Things you take for granted as endless in the average dwelling – such as water, or gas – are not so on a boat. If you’re not careful, it’s easy for a gas canister or water tank to empty when you’re at a critical stage of dinner preparation.

But! While all that is true, I will staunchly defend boat living – and boat cooking – to anyone and everyone, because I love it. The boat has a personality. It feels safe and secluded and cosy. Cooking there has its own delights: throwing scraps out of the window to the ducklings in the spring; washing up in the special shifting light of the sun bouncing off wind-rippled water; learning to use your ingenuity in an entirely different way.

One of the first things I made on the boat was this roast vegetable dish. Roasting on the boat is delightfully easy, because all you have to do is whack the oven up high, chuck stuff in, and keep an eye on it. I have since become more adventurous, and have successfully made crepes, pies, schnitzels, and a whole host of other things in the boat kitchen. Still, I come back to this when I am short of prep time (occasionally) or feeling lazy (often). In essence, it’s a winter dish, but since a chilly evening is hardly a rarity in July in these parts, we happily eat it year-round.


Notes: We will often eat this on its own, between the two of us, and call it dinner. However, it would also be an excellent side dish to serve four to six people. It’s a very forgiving, chuck-it-all-in sort of dish, so all of the measurements and vegetable suggestions are guidelines. Do please use your best judgement.


1 very large sweet potato
1 small butternut squash
2 large carrots
4 cloves of garlic
smoked paprika
olive oil
I bunch asparagus, if desired
1 pack of goats’ cheese (I tend to use the harder, rinded variety as it keeps its shape better in the oven, but the softer stuff will collapse into the vegetables and also be delicious)
balsamic glaze


  1. Preheat your oven to 230C/210C fan/ gas 8 (but this isn’t precise, so don’t worry too much – you just want it nice and hot). Prep your vegetables. Scrub – but don’t peel – the sweet potato, and cut it into large chips. Peel the butternut squash and cut into 1 inch cubes (or thereabouts). Peel the carrots and slice them into small rounds. Put all of these in a roasting tray. All the vegetables cook at different speeds, so these different sizes should ensure they are finished at around the same time. Peel your garlic cloves and add them to the tray.
  2. Sprinkle everything with pepper and good flaky sea salt, and follow with a liberal dusting of paprika. Be generous. Glug olive oil over everything (say around 5 tbps, if you want a measurement) and shake everything around in the tin so it’s all coated in seasoning and oil. Put into your hot oven for 45 minutes, giving it a shake to turn the vegetables at about the halfway mark.
  3. Check your vegetables. If they feel done, or nearly done, continue to the next step. If not, give them ten more minutes, then check again.
  4. Drizzle the vegetables with the balsamic glaze. If you’re using the asparagus, coat it in a little olive oil and add it to the dish. Put the tray back in the oven for five more minutes. Remove, tear the goats’ cheese over the top and give it five more minutes. The goats’ cheese should be starting to melt, the asparagus cooked through, and the vegetables starting to caramelise and blacken around the edges. These bits are the tastiest part. Serve as is, or alongside a main dish.