Back to where it all began.


As I stroll past the display of pumpkins in the Market Garden, I am reminded that the very first recipe in the Essex Road Recipe deck is a Halloween stoup (see below).  Thinking back to when and why I started this project, I’m grateful to the people in my local shops who brighten my days, give me new recipe ideas, help me keep packaging to a minimum and make my food shopping so much fun. 


But I’m feeling anger and frustration, too. The Market Garden site is going to be developed into luxury flats, and the family who have run the business for more than 20 years have to leave in January, even though the developer hasn’t even submitted a planning application yet. So in place of a lively greengrocer’s shop with minimal packaging and excellent banter, we’ll have an empty, derelict site for at least 2 years.  In spite of a petition signed by thousands, and repeatedly contacting our local councillors, no-one seems to have any idea of how to stop this.

Our lovely independent local pub, the New Rose, is now empty and dark; forced into liquidation by creditors a few weeks ago. One less place for Rob, who has difficulty walking more than a few yards, to hang out. One less place for my diverse collection of neighbours to gather spontaneously and laugh and cry over life, Arsenal and everything…

The irony of my having to get 20 boxes of Essex Road Recipe cards returned to me from Amazon (not an easy task as any of you Amazon sellers out there will be aware!) because the local stores that inspired them have sold out, has not escaped me. If you’re in James Elliott Butchers, Steve Hatt Fishmonger or the Market Garden you’ll be able to buy one of the few remaining decks. But if you’re thinking of getting yours in the Market Garden while you shop for your stoup ingredients, better make it soon. Meanwhile, here’s your Halloween Stoup recipe:


200 g red lentils

The flesh of 1 small, innocent pumpkin that never did anyone any harm, chopped into small pieces.

1 eating apple, chopped into small pieces. Leave the skin on. (Throw the core away, or give it to a crow. Crows are my favourite birds.)

A piece of root ginger about the size of a small frog’s leg – peeled and thinly sliced

Teaspoon of turmeric

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small red chilli chopped up small

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon salt

a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaf

What to do:

Place lentils in a large saucepan in twice their own volume of water with the ginger, turmeric and a splash of oil. Bring to the boil and simmer until they are almost cooked – about 40 minutes.

Smash up the chilli, cumin and coriander in a pestle and mortar (or put them in a Ziploc bag and bash them with a hammer – on a sturdy surface of course!). Fry the spices in some of the oil and then add the pumpkin to the frying pan. Keep the pumpkin pieces moving around until they are coated in the spice mix and beginning to soften and brown at the edges. Then toss in the apple for a couple of minutes.

Add the spiced up pumpkin and apple to the lentils. Add a little more water if the lentils are almost dry. Put the lid on tight and simmer for about 15 minutes – until the lentils are properly cooked and the pumpkin and apple soft.

Serve as a stew with basmati rice or, if it’s a little thinner, as a soup with some chia seed bread.




Autumn is here. Time for pot roast lemony chicken.

Having spent the weekend in the beautiful but decidedly nippy Essex countryside eating delicious but decidedly vegan food, I returned home craving meat and heat.

In a week of dire warnings about climate change, and reminders that it’s up to all of us to make a difference, I did think twice about putting up a meat recipe. But if we all cut down to eating meat just once or twice a week, and cooked from raw ingredients with minimum processing and packaging, we’d be taking a big step in the right direction. Shopping for all these ingredients in my local independent butcher and greengrocer generated just one small plastic bag of packaging waste (that was used to wrap the chicken).

This one is in the Essex Road Recipe card collection, so if you have that, you don’t need this.

Here’s the bed of blitzed herbs, lemon, onion and garlic and the stuffed chicken before cooking




1 large free range chicken

2 lemons
2 onions
4 garlic cloves

1⁄2 bunch flat leaf parsley
1⁄2 bunch coriander leaf
salt and pepper
You’ll need a deep ovenproof dish with a lid, or one that you can cover tightly with foil

What to do. …roughly speaking:

Pre heat the oven to very hot; 230oC/450oF/Gas Mark 8

Chop 1 of the lemons very finely, skin and all. Pick out all the pips.
Chop 1 of the onions, all the garlic, half of the parsley and coriander leaf very finely.
(I then blitz the chopped lemon onion and herbs in a food processor for a few seconds to release even more flavour, but it isn’t absolutely necessary to do this.)
Mix all the chopped ingredients with a little salt and pepper and spread over the bottom of your roasting dish. Add a small amount of water, about 1⁄2 a cup/100 mls.
Place 1 whole lemon and 1 whole, peeled onion inside the chicken. Lift the skin on the chicken breast and push the remaining uncut herbs between the skin and the flesh. Rub a little salt and pepper into the skin of the chicken and place the chicken on top of the chopped mix. Cover or put the lid on the roasting dish and place in the very hot oven. After 15 minutes turn the oven right down to 150oC/300oF/Gas Mark 2
Check after about 20 minutes to make sure that the liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish is bubbling slightly, and if it isn’t turn up your oven a bit.
Cook for 21/2 hours. The chicken should be falling off the bone. Serve with some of the chopped lemony onion spooned over the top of the chicken with boiled potatoes and green beans.

Salmonchanted evening…

The Essex Road recipe project is about supporting independent food retailers and food improvisation, and it’s about community and support, as the little stories which brought about this recipe illustrate beautifully.

A few weeks ago, I went to visit the lovely Nicola who has been my friend since we were 10 years old (which is, ahem, quite a long time). She and H are building an “extenshed” or a “shedroom” in the back yard.


As I left, they gave me a large and beautiful bottle of maple syrup that H had brought over from Canada, and a pack of Canadian maple cured salmon. The salmon was gone within 24 hours. But the maple syrup continued to call out to me and the flavour memory of that sweetish salmon stayed with me.

Those of you who live around here know that our local pub, the New Rose, has closed, which leaves some people at a bit of a loss for somewhere to pop out to for a chat and a bit of dinner. So, I offered to cook dinner at my neighbour’s place, and he invited some friends…

Marsey at Steve Hatt cut me 4 beautiful pieces from a large salmon fillet that he’d just brought in from the back of the shop.

And then this very simple recipe for soy/maple salmon fillets happened.

Serves 4

4 salmon fillets

2 tbsp Canadian maple syrup

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp grated ginger root

juice of ½ a lime

1 tsp sesame oil mixed with 1 tsp olive oil

What to do….roughly speaking

Mix the maple syrup, soy sauce and ginger in a shallow bowl big enough to place the salmon fillets side by side (see picture).

Place the salmon, skin side down, in this mix

Drizzle the lime juice over the top

Leave to sit for 1-2 hours

Heat the mixed oils in a large frying pan until smoking.

Lift the salmon fillets out of the marinade with a fish slice and place them skin side down in the very hot oil.

Move them around very gently to stop them sticking but not break them. The maple syrup mix will start to caramelise on the skin side of the fillets.

After 2 or 3 minutes, spoon the remaining marinade from the bowl into the pan – not over the top of the fish but just around the fish. After another 2 or 3 minutes turn down the heat to medium and place a lid on the pan.

After a couple more minutes, lift the lid to take a look at the fish, you’ll be able to see from the colour on the side of each fillet if it’s cooked right through. Turn off the heat as soon as the fillets are just cooked, and leave the lid on for a few more minutes before serving.

Lift the fish out gently with your fish slice. There should be some sweet/salty goo on the bottom of each one which is what makes it all so delicious.

We ate this with baked potatoes, green beans and salad…and a lot of laughs, and the obligatory singing by Rob I of  “Some Enchanted Evening”…

“Salmonchanted evening”. Geddit?



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.