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!

Another slice of yummy from Amelia

Hope you are all enjoying this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

Many thanks to Cookfirst Amelia for this delicious Sticky Plum and Walnut Flapjack recipe.

And I’ve also discovered another great recipe blog for vegetarians, Megala’s kitchen.

Plum Flapjack.JPG


“September is one of my favourite months for seasonal baking. Apples, pears, damsons and plums a plenty, there are so many ways to bake with all these incredibly delicious and nutritious fruits. I am particularly partial to plums, due to their endless health benefits; including relief from indigestion relief and anxiety-related illness. The antioxidant power of plums can help treat osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes and obesity. It also contributes to the body’s ability to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, cardiovascular and cognitive health, immune system strength, electrolyte balance, as well as boosts collagen production. I love walnuts, not only as they taste completely delicious, but they’re also full of vitamin E content and omega-3 fatty acids.

These flapjacks are bursting with goodness! They contain low Gi-sugar and tons of fibre – a perfect way to refuel post-workout or mid-afternoon at the office.

For a fully vegan recipe, swap the honey for some agave nectar or maple syrup.”



  • 450g fresh plums (halved, stoned and roughly sliced)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ ground cinnamon
  • 150g coconut sugar
  • 150g coconut oil (plus extra for greasing)
  • 300g rolled porridge oats (use gluten-free if applicable)
  • 140g buckwheat or quinoa flour
  • 50g walnut pieces (roughly chopped)
  • 2 tbsp runny honey


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200C/180C fan and grease a 20×20 cm tin with a little coconut oil – or line with baking paper if it’s non-stick.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the plums in the ground ginger  and cinnamon, with 50g of the coconut sugar and a small pinch of salt, then set aside to macerate.
  3. Gently melt the coconut oil with the honey in a saucepan.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the oats, flour, walnut pieces and remaining sugar together, then stir in the coconut oil and honey until everything is combined into a loose flapjack mixture.
  5. Grease a square baking tin about 20 x 20cm. Press half the mixture over the base of the tin, then tip over the plums and spread to make an even layer.
  6. Press the remaining oat mixture over the plums so they are completely covered right to the sides of the tin.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden and starting to crisp around the edge of the tin. Leave to cool completely, then cut into squares.
  8. These will keep in an airtight container for 2 days or can be frozen for up to a month.


Sand sole, or witch flounder.


Just the usual day. Crossed Essex Road with Pauline, immediately crossed back again ‘cos her bus had finally arrived, witnessed a car shunt another car, bit of shouting, crossed back over the street again and popped in to Steve Hatt the fishmonger. Much banter, including terrible puns about Baghdad which I won’t repeat. When I finally stopped giggling like a child and got round to asking Marsey what was good, he recommended sand sole, “like Dover sole but cheaper”.

Never heard of it.

So I bought 2, had them skinned and cleaned and brought them home. When I looked them up I discovered that they are also known as witch sole or witch flounder. Made for me, really.

On Monday I had stolen some very fresh herbs, thyme and rosemary, from Aisling’s kitchen (thanks, Aisling!) and there were tiny tomatoes from the plants on the balcony.

For 2:

2 Sand sole, skinned and cleaned

4 sprigs of rosemary and 4 of thyme

8 small tomatoes, lightly roasted in the oven

2 crushed cloves of garlic

1/2 teaspoon seasalt

Preheat oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 7

Place the whole tomatoes on a flat tray or sheet of foil in the oven while it’s warming up.

Simply place the sole on some foil in an ovenproof dish, place the herbs, slightly pre-roasted tomatoes, garlic and salt on top. Pop in the pre-heated oven for 20 -25 minutes.

It’s that simple. SO delicious!

I served them with sauteed mixed veg; carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, broccoli.





Beetroot Risotto – Thanks to Amelia!

beetroot_photo.jpgI was lucky enough to meet kindred spirit foodie Amelia Stewart of Cook First recently, and invited her to contribute a guest recipe to the Essex Road treasure chest of recipes. Here it is!

Beetroot Risotto

Beetroot is exceptionally nutritious (and delicious!) being full of antioxidants. Beets are also an excellent source of folic acid, manganese and potassium.  Practising my my ‘no-waste’ mantra, this recipe uses the entire beetroot vegetable; beet leaves are rich in calcium, iron as well as vitamins A and C, and taste similar to spinach.

This beautiful dish makes a vibrant and wholesome lunch or supper; perfect with a decoration of fresh rocket and a large glass of Soave.

Serves 4

Cooking Time: 1hr 35 minutes

500g beetroot (peeled)

1 tbsp vegetable oil

730ml good quality vegetable stock

30g unsalted butter

1 white onion (finely chopped)

3 gloves of garlic (finely chopped)

250g Arborio risotto rice

125ml white wine

100g beet leaves (chopped)

4 tbsp pecorino (finely grated)

  1. Preheat your oven to 190C. Halve the beetroots (if large) and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with a sheet of foil and roast for about 50 minutes, until a tender when prodded with a fork. Remove from the oven to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut into 1cm cubes.
  2. Place about 1/3 of the cubed beetroot in a blender with 30ml of stock and whizz until pureed.
  3. Next put the butter and vegetable oil in a saucepan on a high heat and toss in the onions and garlic. Turn down the heat and let them simmer and sweat for about 5 minutes until they have softened.
  4. Next add the rice and stir to coat all the grains in the onions and garlic. Next add the wine and stir again.
  5. Then add a ladle of stock, stirring until all absorbed. Add ladle by ladle until you have used all the stock and keep stirring for about 15 minutes. Then add the rest of the beet leaves, beetroot cubes and the puree and cook – stirring constantly so the bottom doesn’t burn – for about 2 minutes.
  6. Take off the heat and stir in 2 spoons of the pecorino cheese. Divide between 4 bowls and dust with the remaining grated pecorino and lots of ground black pepper.


Food improvisation.

IMG_0165Step 1. Walk into Steve Hatt the Fishmonger and ask Marsey what’s good.
Step 2. Buy turbot. Wince slightly at the price, but, hey, it’s worth it!
Step 3. Go home, sniff and sip everything in the drinks cabinet until you find something that smells as if it might go well with turbot.
Step 4. Place thin citrus slices on whole turbot, add a splash of olive oil and a measure of Quetsch d’Alsace Eau de Vie
Step 5. Place in pre-heated oven (220ºC) for half an hour….

And since the oven is hot anyway, may as well roast these slices of 3 types of beetroot – thank you, Market Garden.IMG_0167

Slivers of beetroot with everything…


Beetroot is just coming in to season now. I know that lots of people buy those shrink wrapped pre-cooked things, but for me nothing beats (geddit?) the texture and flavour of fresh, raw beetroot.

The leaves are tasty too, so if your greengrocer has beetroots with the leaves on, don’t waste them… I cook beet leaves in the same way as I cook spinach; just toss them in a little hot oil in a pan for a couple of minutes. Then season with salt and pepper and sprinkle a few sunflower seeds or pine nuts over them to serve.

Lately I’ve been slicing raw beetroots very thinly using a potato peeler. (Today I made the mistake of doing that while wearing a pale grey dress. I now have a rather attractive pale grey and red spotted dress.) The flavour is very strong, so even a paper-thin slice has plenty of sweet tanginess. Last week I served raw slivers with oven-roast lamb merguez sausage and a little rocket as a starter – the slightly bitter tang of the beetroot and rocket is a perfect balance to the yummy, fatty sausage.

And today, the most colourful salad; frisee lettuce, little gem, avocado, lamb’s lettuce, rocket, basil, sweet red pepper, cherry tomatoes and shaved beetroot. .  I’ll be serving that later with some pumpkin and pine-nut fiorelli and grated parmesan. Head round here if you’re in the neighbourhood! 😉

(If you have supported the recipe cards project, thank you! I’m told your copies should be dispatched to you shortly. The Unbound website says that the box sets are sold out, but contact me directly here and I’ll get you a set.)