Pan fried Halibut with grated roast beetroot and fennel seeds.

Warning; don’t even think about wearing white while preparing this. Your kitchen counter and walls will probably be covered in bright red splashes after you grate the beetroot. Mine was. 24 hours later I’m still finding red spots…

Halibut is the fillet steak of the fish world so please don’t faint when the chaps in Steve Hatt tell you how much it is. You can use monkfish or swordfish for this, which might be a little cheaper, but I honestly think that the flavour of halibut goes best with the beetroot and fennel.

For 4 people you will need:

2 large halibut steaks on the bone.

4 medium sized raw beetroot – peeled and halved, stalks and roots removed

1 tbsp fennel seeds

salt and pepper

1 tsp sumac

1 tsp smoked paprika

Large pinch of sea salt

juice of ½ a lime

What to do:

About an hour before you want to eat, mix the salt, sumac and smoked paprika with lime juice in a large shallow bowl and dip each side of the halibut steaks in this mix. Cover and leave the halibut to marinate in the fridge until you are ready to cook it.

Also at least an hour before eating, preheat your oven to 200ºC. Heat some vegetable oil (I use olive) in the pre-heated oven in a roasting tray. Sprinkle the fennel seeds and some salt and pepper into the hot oil. Place the halved beets in the seasoned oil and stir them around so that they are well coated.

Roast the beets in the oven for 20+ minutes, or until you can easily pierce them with a sharp knife.

Remove from the oven and leave the beetroots to cool.

Once they are cool, grate or finely slice the cooked beetroot in the roasting dish or a bowl. Make sure that you keep the fennel seeds in with the grated beetroot.

(This is a messy and time-consuming business, but so worth it.)

In a large frying pan, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.

Fry the grated beetroot and all the fennel seeds on a high heat for 5 minutes, stirring all the time, then place the halibut steaks on top and cook the fish, still on a high heat, for 3 minutes on each side

Turn down the heat a little, cover the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Squeeze a little lime juice over the fish before dividing each steak in 2 and serving on a bed of beetroot.

We ate this with roast potatoes and salad.






Madagascar tiger prawns with lime and vanilla.

Last Wednesday I spoke at a networking event where I shared a story told to me by a client about vanilla farming in Madagascar.

Then, on Friday, looking for ideas for a weekend meal to which I had invited 6 people I strolled into Steve Hatt where I happened upon the most beautiful (and enormous and expensive!) Madagascar tiger prawns. So, in the spirit of improvisation, I accepted the Madagascar offer and invented this. It was delicious.

The pictures show the whole prawn, and then a prawn without the head and butterflied. The ones I cooked were about 15 cm long with heads on.

IMG_1366         IMG_1367

Serves 4 as a starter:

4 (or 8 if you’re using smaller prawns or feeling very generous) Madagascar tiger prawns, heads removed, shells left on and butterflied. There’s a good video on how to butterfly prawns on the Jamie Oliver site.

2 big garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon finely chopped red chilli

juice of 1 lime

4-5 drops of vanilla essence

Splash of tequila (optional)

Olive oil for frying.

What to do:

Mix the lime juice and vanilla essence in a small jug

Place the butterflied prawns in a bowl with shells down. Drizzle the lime and vanilla mix over the flesh and set aside to marinate for an hour.

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan, drop in the chilli and garlic and fry for 2 or 3 minutes on a high heat until the garlic begins to brown.

Keeping the heat high, place the prawns carefully – flesh side down – in the pan. Move them around gently to stop them from sticking. After 2 minutes use a fork to turn them over, press them down carefully with a spatula or the back of the fork so that the shell side is as flat as possible in the hot pan. Fry for another 3 or 4 minutes (for very large prawns, less if you are using smaller ones). For the last minute, turn the heat up to max and pour over any remaining lime and vanilla marinade and the splash of tequila for a little extra flavour kick.

Serve with a small salad of green leaves (I used gem and rocket) and thin slices of sweet red pepper with a balsamic vinegar dressing.


Accidental pear and apple tart


I left a couple of ripe pears and apples in the fridge while I was away over Christmas, and when I returned they were just a little past their best. I’d invited 2 of The Nieces to lunch yesterday, so Yorkshire pudding was obviously on the menu. Because of that, the plain flour was already out of the cupboard. So this tart happened.

You’ll need a 25cm/9 in shallow cake/tart tin and an oven pre-heated to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4 (I turned the oven down after making the Yorkshire puddings and popped the tart in there while we were eating the roast). You will also need a rolling pin which is and has always been one of my favourite kitchen tools.

Of course, you can buy pre-prepared sweet shortcrust pastry, but I love mixing and rolling pastry; it reminds me of making jam tarts as a child, standing on a chair to reach the kitchen counter. I can reach the counter without a chair now. Just.



200g plain flour

100g butter cut into small pieces

20g caster sugar

pinch of salt

about 3 tablespoons cold water


2 pears

2 apples

small pinch of cinnamon

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon lemon juice


Mix the flour and sugar in a large bowl.

Add the butter and rub it thoroughly into the flour/sugar. (You need some patience to do this properly, so I suggest music on the sound system rather than political commentary or news on the radio.)

Add water, stirring with a knife, until you can form the pastry into a ball with your (very clean!) hands.

Place the ball of pastry on a floured surface and roll it to make a thin circle big enough to line the tin. (Again, not a good idea to have news on the radio when you have a rolling pin in your hands.)

If you have pastry left over you can wrap it in cling film and freeze it, or you can make a few of those jam tarts.

Peel the apples (you don’t need to peel the pears as the skin is thinner). Slice the apples and pears into 1 cm thick  discs and cut out the cores.

Lay the fruit discs on the pastry base. (I used the larger discs on the outside and the small ones towards the centre, and alternated pear and apple).

Shake a little cinnamon over the fruit, then squeeze on a little lemon juice and finally drizzle the maple syrup over the fruit.

Place in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes.

We ate it on its own, but it would be lovely with some vanilla ice cream or single cream.





Conquering my fear of duck.

Roast-then-grilled duck breast with pears.

Duck is one of those things that I’ve always been a little afraid to cook, to be honest.

Mainly because I’ve eaten it cooked so well in Chinese, French and South East Asian dishes that I felt that I should just leave it to the experts.

And then, in the spirit of improvised food (which is, after all, what we’re all about here on the Essex Road Recipe blog) I saw 2 juicy duck breasts in James Elliott, and some very ripe conference pears in the Market Garden, and I did this very simple thing…


(Serves 2)

2 duck breasts

1 pear

salt and pepper.

What to do (roughly speaking)

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/440F/Gas mark 7

Place the 2 duck breasts skin side down on cooking foil.

Sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper.

Slice the pear into strips and place the pear strips on top of the duck breasts

Wrap the foil loosely around the duck and pear, and place on a roasting dish in a hot oven for 25 minutes

Remove from the oven, open up the foil parcel and pour off the duck fat/juices.

(I’ve kept the duck fat, and I’ll let you know when I find a good use for it.)

Place the duck breasts on top of the pear slices with the fatty, skin side on top.

Grill under a hot grill for 5 – 7 minutes until the skin is brown and slightly crispy.


Serve immediately with green veg.




btw if you’d like a box containing 2 sets of 50 Essex Road Recipe cards to give for Christmas, just contact me here and I’ll get them to you. £20. Bargain.

Aubergine nut roast with redcurrant sauce

This recipe didn’t make it into the Essex Road Recipes box set because it was declared too long by the editor. Which I guess is why they call them editors….

It’s loosely based on a Mary Berry recipe – “if you’re going to steal, steal from the best”.

For the nut roast:
1 large aubergine, sliced into rounds about 1 cm thick
Olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g shelled mixed nuts (I used brazils, pecans, blanched almonds, hazelnuts and a few pine nuts). Blitz these together briefly in a food processor. If you don’t have one, put them in a resealable plastic bag and bash and roll them with a rolling pin.
100g fresh breadcrumbs – Raab’s the bakers sometimes sell bags of these at the end of the day.
Grated rind and juice of half a lemon
100g mature Cheddar, grated
2 eggs, beaten
A handful of chopped coriander leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
50 g sunflower seeds

For the redcurrant sauce:
1 pack/punnet of tiny redcurrants
About 1 teaspoon grated ginger root 5 or 6 mint leaves
1 very small chopped red chilli.


What to do. Roughly speaking:

The nut roast:


Preheat your oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. Grease a non-stick loaf tin.

Place the aubergine discs on foil on your grill pan and drizzle them with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on one side for about 4 minutes and then turn them and grill for another 2 minutes. They need to be cooked enough to bend, as you’re going to use them to line the loaf tin.

In a fairly large pan, heat some more olive oil and fry the onions and celery for a couple of minutes on a high heat, let them brown a little bit as this intensifies the flavour. Add the crushed garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.

Take this off the heat and let it cool, add the beaten eggs and lemon juice, then all the other ingredients except for the sunflower seeds. Mix it well.
Line the bottom and sides of the loaf tin with the cooked aubergine, so that the aubergine slices come up a bit higher than the sides of the tin. Press the nut mix down very firmly, you want this to be really dense. Once you’ve filled the tin, fold the tops of the aubergine discs onto the top of the loaf. They won’t completely cover it, but that’s fine, that’s what the sunflower seeds are for.

Bake in your pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes. Then cover the top with a layer of sunflower seeds and pop it back in for another 10 – 15 minutes.
You can either slice it in the loaf tin and ease out the slices, or turn the entire nut roast out onto a flat board and serve from there. If you’re going to do the latter, let it cool for a few minutes first.

The redcurrant sauce:


Pick all the tiny currants off the stalks, rinse and put in a small saucepan on a very low heat with the grated ginger, mint leaves and a small amount of chopped red chilli. Slowly bring to a simmer and simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Taste the sauce, if it’s very bitter, add a small amount of sugar, agave or maple syrup and stir it in well. Allow to cool and fish out the mint leaves and larger pieces of ginger before serving with the nut roast.

Yes, and…Spicy First Frost Soup.

IMG_0704I woke on Monday morning to a clear blue sky and a sparkling layer of frost on the roofs of the walks on Popham Street and..

..last week I was lucky enough to be working in Lisbon, where I had a delicious chestnut soup, and …..

..the inside of our Halloween pumpkin was in the fridge waiting for me to think of something to do with it..

…and so this soup happened….

I first made it without the hot pepper sauce and liked it, but it may be too sweet for some of you, so I added the hot pepper sauce just to give it a bit of a kick.


The diced flesh of a small pumpkin (ours was about 6ins/15cm diameter)

About 20 roast chestnuts

Half an onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1 small carrot – all finely chopped

A cinnamon stick

½ teaspoon of nutmeg.

Generous pinch of salt and black pepper.

500 ml water or vegetable stock (I found it tasty enough with just water, but use stock if you prefer)

2 or 3 drops of hot pepper sauce (Encona is our family favourite).

What to do (roughly speaking):

Roasting and peeling the chestnuts (this is time consuming, so be prepared.)

Preheat the oven to 240C/425F/Gas mark 7

Make an “X”-shaped incision in each chestnut, place them on a baking tray and put them in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes. The shell should start to peel away from the nut.

Allow them to cool and peel them. Chop into quarters.

For the soup:

Heat a little cooking oil in a large saucepan and fry the chopped onion, garlic and carrots for about 5 minutes.

Add the pumpkin cubes and keep it all moving for another 5 minutes.

Add the chestnuts, 500 ml water or vegetable stock,  nutmeg, cinnamon stick and salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer very gently for 20 – 30 minutes until the pumpkin pieces and chestnut are very soft.

Remove from the heat, take out and discard the cinnamon stick and use a wand blender to blend the soup. Don’t overdo the blending; it’s nice to find some soft tasty pieces of pumpkin and chestnut as you eat it.

Add a few drops of hot sauce and stir in well just before serving.

(If you’d like to buy the boxed set of 50 improvised recipes, inspired by our independent food shops on Essex Road, please get in touch with me in the comments and I’ll get them to you.)

Tequila Tope

Thanks to a fabulously bizarre encounter with a bunch of young French people outside the New Rose just now, I have to share this cocktail recipe with you.

I invented it around 10 years ago in El Pescadero, Baja California Sur (that’s where the photo was taken) following an incident in which a US firefighter was driving a crowd of us in a bus (long story). He was driving quite fast. We were all yelling, “Slow down!! Tope!!!”

Tope is the Mexican Spanish word for speedbump.

He didn’t speak Spanish.

Anyway. . .

Casasunnyfront1 measure tequila

3 or 4 measures freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

2 drops of tabasco or other hot sauce.

Pour your shot of tequila over a couple of ice cubes (in a glass, obvs), add the grapefruit juice then 2 drops of hot sauce.

The hot sauce flavour might not come through on the first sip, but don’t go mad and add more for a few moments as the flavour tends to creep up on your tastebuds quite slowly…

¡Buen provecho!