Tag Archives: thyme

Mushroom and Lentil Cottage Pie

Mushroom and lentil cottage pie - half eaten!

We’ve had the Vegan round for tea again.

And it’s autumn. Time for comfort food. And mushrooms.

  • 500g mixed white and chestnut mushrooms
  • 20g dried porcini
  • one onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • a pinch of dried mint
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 250ml rioja
  • 1/2 tbsp plain flour
  • 400g tin of lentils
  • a small sprig of thyme
  • a bay leaf
  • some brandy
  • 1kg potatoes
  • 100ml almond milk
  • a knob of sunflower spread
  • 2 spring onions
  • fresh nutmeg
  • a few splashes of olive oil for frying

Soak the porcini in a pint of boiling water and leave to soak for at least an hour. Chop the spring onions finely and gently heat in the almond milk, then leave to infuse until needed.

Quarter the mushrooms and sauté briskly on a highish heat with a pinch of salt. You may need to do this is batches. When they’ve taken on some colour and are starting to squeak sprinkle with chopped rosemary, add a splash of brandy and tilt the pan to flambé. Let the mushrooms drain on kitchen paper. Next sauté the onions gently, adding the garlic and dried herbs  once the onions have softened. Add the tomato puree and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Return the mushrooms to the pan. Add the wine one glug at a time, allowing each to bubble away before adding the next. Sprinkle in the flour and combine well. Cook for a few minutes more then add the porcini soaking liquor. Chop the soaked porcini finely and tip them in. Add the bay leaf, ketchup, and the sprig of thyme tied up with string. Taste and season. Bring to a simmer and bubble gently for half an hour, until reduced and thickened. After 20 minutes add the lentils. If you have time allow this to cool – it’ll become firm and will be easier to top with your mash.

Boil the potatoes then mash, adding the strained, infused almond milk and sunflower spread. Season well with salt, pepper, and a good grating of nutmeg. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme sprig, and top the pie with the mash. This time I textured the top with the tines of a fork. Sometimes I’ll scallop it with the tip of a palette knife, like the one below. Finish in an oven at 190 degrees C for about half an hour, and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

We ate this with Delia Smith’s caramelised fennel, and some peas, and vegan and carnivore diners alike requested seconds!

Cottage pie with scalloped top

PS – you could add some finely diced carrots and celery once you’ve softened the onions. I – mistakenly – thought our guest didn’t care for either. 

Thyme and Tonka Bean Chicken

Tonka Beans, in a square white bowl, with shadow.

Did I mention already that I think the combination of thyme and tonka bean tastes like tarragon? Not exactly like tarragon – if that were the case it would be easier just to use tarragon! – but a grassier, less aniseedy version. They’re beautifully versatile little buggers these tonka beans, with a vanilla-like freshness that works just as well in sweet dishes [like my Christmas Pudding Ice Cream] as it does with chicken and fish. I swear I detected some yesterday too in the Pork Pibil which I had at Wahaca’s Southbank porta-cabin pop-up, though the recipes I’ve found online make no mention.

I’ve used the pairing here to update a recipe which I first shared in My St Margarets Magazine a couple of years ago. And I’ve changed the method too to produce an easy, prepare-ahead dish for summer entertaining, not least because I know the Lakeland Taxi Driver has a lunch party for twelve this Sunday! This version comfortably serves six, I’m sure you can do the maths. A recent road test played to rave reviews in a packed garden, hopefully your guests will feel the same.

For the chicken

  • A 1.5-1.7kg bird, and a lidded pot into which it fits snugly
  • A large bunch of thyme
  • One onion, finely sliced
  • 300ml white wine
  • 1/3 of a tonka bean, grated with a micro-plane or nutmeg grater
  • Sea salt and black pepper

For the mayonnaise*

  • 1 large egg yolk, and 1 large whole egg
  • 350ml groundnut oil
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsps white wine vinegar

Prepare and cook the chicken as per my recipe for Pot Roast Chicken Veronique [ignore the bit about the Verjuice syrup for this recipe]. Don’t forget to season the bird well, inside and out. Grate the tonka bean over the chicken before you pour over the wine. When the chicken is cooked set it aside to cool. Strain the cooking juices and reduce to one third of their original volume. Let this cool too.

To make the mayonnaise blitz the egg, yolk, salt and mustard in a food processor. Then with the motor running start to add the oil – drop by drop to begin with, then in a thin stream, and then as the sauce emulsifies and begins to bulk up you can increase your rate of pouring. Add the vinegar to the finished mayonnaise with the motor still running. I’ve only just started making mayonnaise and now I can’t stop! It’s proper magical kitchen alchemy, and nowhere near as scary as everyone makes it out to be.

*If you don’t plan to make your own mayonnaise please use a decent ready made one – this really is no time for bog standard factory nonsense!

Roughly tear the flesh from the legs, breasts and back of the bird and scatter into a dish. Take a couple of small ladles of the reduced juices [about 60 ml] and mix into the mayonnaise, and taste. If you feel it needs more, add some. And perhaps add another small shaving of tonka bean, but do it with a light hand, if at all. The flavour could easily dominate, and will build as the dish rests.

Coat your chicken with the enriched mayonnaise, stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight. To serve give it half an hour or so out of the fridge, and decorate with some chopped parsley, a grind or two of black pepper, and some lemon slices – or some watercress, or perhaps pea shoots. It will need a little garnish as although it’s delicious it can look a tad monotone without. This deserves to take centre stage, so make sure it’s dressed to impress!

Goat’s Cheese Tart

In the latest edition of My St Margarets Magazine I wrote about remembering your summer holidays through food, and as Autumn’s tendrils start to twine through the thinning rays of October sunshine you may be tempted to do the same. You can read the full piece ‘Look back in hunger’ [and indeed the whole magazine] here but the viewer does require Flash, so for my iPad using readers I’ve reproduced the goat’s cheese tart recipe below…

Goat's Cheese Tart

Nothing says French holiday quite like a ‘Tarte au Chevres’. Returning holiday makers however please take note – not even an award-winning local cheese shop is likely to be able to source “the wonderful little goats cheese made by the old man with a stall every other Thursday in such and such village in the Loire”, as his cheese probably never makes it as far as the next village on, let alone out of the country! This is your opportunity to recreate a happy facsimile with something more local. Last time I used Pant-Ys-Gawn, next I intend to use Dorstone.

For one large [20cm] or four individual [8cm tarts] shallow tart cases

NB – this is easiest with ready baked tart cases. If making your own blind bake first.

  • 6 small tomatoes, quartered
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced and sautéed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon crème fraiche
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves OR
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
  • 1 Pant-Ys-Gawn goats cheese, or equivalent quantity of your chosen cheese

Paint the inside of the of the pastry case[s] with the mustard. Arrange the tomato quarters neatly in the bottom, strew over the sautéed onions and season well. Mix the beaten eggs, herbs and crème fraiche and pour around the tomatoes – they should just break the surface. Crumble the goats cheese over the top [or for individual tarts try slicing into four neat discs and place one in the centre of each], and season again with plenty of black pepper and any stray morsels of herb. Bake in a 220°C oven for 20 minutes. The top should be golden with brown tinged edges and corners here and there. Allow to cool and eat at room temperature. A simply dressed salad of fennel, olives and chicory eats well with it.

Two Soups

both mushroom, but there’s a gag in there somewhere for fellow Julie Walters fans…

A halved mushroom

My favourite mushroom soup began life as a stuffed cabbage which, as opening gambits go, is going to require more explanation than most.

I’d intended to make Valentine Warner’s spectacular savoy cabbage stuffed with mushrooms, leeks, walnuts and stilton. It’s a vegetarian friendly dish so splendid that you might want to invite your non carnivorous friends over just for an excuse to make the blighter, assuming of course that you eat meat in the first place. As one of my guests on the night in question eschews red meat I was glad of the opportunity. Seriously, even if you don’t try these soups you must try Val’s cabbage.

But it was one of those days. Time had completely run away with me in the kitchen and, even though I’d prepared the mushroom and leek component of the stuffing [PS – you’ll need to do the same], when it came to preparing the cabbage the leaves all split on me. And you can’t make stuffed cabbage with a pile of shredded, tatty leaves.

What was a boy to do? The close [though geographically distant] relatives were starving to death in the other room after a long drive, and were being ‘entertained’ by the Shopkeeper. Food was needed, and fast.

As luck would have it there was double cream in the fridge and some decent vegetable bouillon powder in the cupboard. A good splash of dry sherry went into the mushroom pan and once almost evaporated was joined by half a litre of vegetable stock, 300ml of cream, and a bunch of thyme tied with string. After a few minutes of simmering, a very good dose of seasoning [as I think I’ve said before, cream dishes need plenty of seasoning], and a blitz with a stick blender – hey presto, soup!

NB – if you also need to do this quickly then don’t repeat my mistake and remember to remove the bunch of thyme tied with string before blending. Stick blenders, it turns out, don’t get on well with string [who knew?], and the time spent disentangling it and then passing the soup through a sieve causes further and entirely avoidable delay!

Whilst the above is not really time consuming [especially if you’re not in a flap at the time] what follows is even quicker and easier. I made it one day when working in the shop and with half an hour off to come up with some lunchtime sustenance for three hungry cheesemongers. This will make three decent sized mug-fulls.

  • 125g chestnut mushrooms, diced to your preferred size [mine is chunky, and they will shrink with cooking]
  • Garlic, crushed
  • Rosemary, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 500ml rich chicken stock
  • 3 tbsps double cream
  • Chilli sherry to finish [optional, but highly recommended]

Fry the mushrooms in the oil over a relatively high heat and season with salt and black pepper. Once well coloured add the garlic and rosemary and cook for a couple of minutes more. Add the chicken stock and cream, bring back to the simmer and cook for five minutes. There is less cream here but you will still need to check and adjust the seasoning. Ladle into mugs and top with a splash of chilli sherry*, another marvel from Mr Warner.

*Sorry but I can’t find a recipe for Valentine’s chilli sherry online, and I wouldn’t reproduce it without permission, so if you don’t already have it you’ll need to buy his book.

Wal-Slaw and PFC

 A coleslaw salad including celery and apple

Whilst to some of my younger readers this will clearly mark me out as some sort of antediluvian anachronism, I can actually remember a Britain before McDonalds. The golden arches didn’t make it to our sceptred isle until 1974, fully 6 years after I first landed, and it would be many years more before Ronald showed his face in the provincial backwater that was my childhood home.

Colonel Sanders on the other hand was quicker off the mark and KFC opened its first UK outlet in Preston in 1965. I don’t think the one I remember, a roadhouse style takeaway on Preston New Road, was the ground-breaker but it seemed always to have been there. We didn’t use it often – it was enough of a drive for the food to get cold before we got home, and being ‘foreign’ was clearly not intended for everyday consumption – but it was my first real introduction to the then exotic world of the fast food takeaway.

Perhaps because of this childhood association fried chicken still holds a special place in my arteries, and is one of the few fast food staples that I might still crave before 2:00 a.m. and whilst stone cold sober. The colonel’s spice mix is of course as secret as the recipe for Coca Cola [apparently not even the factories who make it know the exact proportions, which I would have thought could prove to be a tad awkward, manufacturing-wise?] but it’s not actually that difficult to cook up a reasonable facsimile at home. Many of the myriad American recipes available online use frankly frightening amounts of MSG but even if this did figure in the Colonel’s own mysterious mix you don’t need it. Plenty of good old fashioned salt and pepper does the trick.

Of course you can’t have fried chicken without some sort of slaw. When making this I had crunchy celery and apple to hand [as in a Waldorf Salad] and hey presto, Wal-Slaw was born! The sweet-corn is another classic fried chicken accompaniment so into the salad it went. A buttered baked potato finished off the finger lickin’ feast.


  • Half a small red cabbage, finely shredded
  • Half an apple, diced
  • A shallot, finely diced
  • One carrot, grated
  • A small tin of sweet-corn kernels (not Colonels!)
  • Two sticks of celery, finely sliced
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • A splash of malt vinegar
  • Sufficient mayonnaise to bind

First dice the apple and toss in the lemon juice and vinegar. Then just throw everything else in and stir in the mayonnaise to your liking. Season and chill.

Philip’s Fried Chicken [PFC]

  • 6 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 4 tbsps plain flour
  • 1 soupspoon cornflour [optional]
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 2 tsps ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 stick of celery broken into four [optional]
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Soak the chicken thighs in the beaten egg and allow them to wallow for a while. Place the flour [and cornflour if using], seasoning and spices into a zip-lock plastic bag and shake well to combine. Throw the chicken pieces into the spiced flour, zip up the bag and shake well to coat them evenly. Rest the whole lot in the fridge for a few minutes whilst you heat up the oil and shake again.

In a heavy, lidded skillet or frying pan heat about half an inch of vegetable oil. The depth needs to be such that once the chicken is in the oil will not reach higher than half way up the side of the pan. To see when the oil is hot enough for frying insert the handle of a wooden spoon – when the oil forms lively bubbles around the handle you’re ready to go [NB very vigorous bubbling means the oil is too hot, allow it to cool a little and try again]. Using tongs gently place the chicken pieces into the oil, skin side down, and add the celery pieces if using – it may be an old wives’ tale but this is supposed to help to crisp the chicken.

Cover and cook for nine to ten minutes, checking from time to time that the underside isn’t browning too quickly – if it is, lower the heat. Again using tongs turn the pieces and cook for another nine to ten minutes but this time without the lid. When all the chicken pieces are beautifully golden brown all over remove from the oil and drain. Some say this is best done on brown paper such as a grocer’s bag but kitchen roll will do too. Let the chicken cool for a few minutes before you dig in to avoid southern fried lips, a less appealing dish by far.

Fondue of Lancashire Bomb, Roasted Garlic and Zinfandel

 Fondue of Lancashire Bomb, Roasted Garlic and Zinfandel which is surprsingly purple!

Do not adjust your sets – this is supposed to be purple. It’s the red wine you see. Anyway it’s three for the price of one today, two fondues and a leftovers tip.

Here’s a game for you to play – try mentioning the word ‘fondue’ in conversation and see how long it is before someone says ‘retro revival’, or something similar. Well I’m sorry, but it’s got to stop. Fondue is no longer in ‘revival’. It is, officially, revived! Delicious but easy to prepare food which is ideal for sharing with friends is not only very contemporary but indeed a timeless concept, so ditch the flares [unless of course they’re the latest ‘revival’!] and dig out your fondue sets.

I’m done lecturing now.

For several  years I have owned a copy of the excellent recipe collection “Fondue – Great Food to Dip, Dunk, Savor and Swirl” by Rick Rodgers, but am so partial to my standard recipe that I have seldom strayed from it. Until now. ‘My’ recipe is not really mine at all but was given to me by my good friend Sophie Scott whose genius as a neuroscientist is equalled only by her genius in the vegetarian kitchen. Sophie, please forgive my meaty intrusions [and people, I will not tell you again about sniggering at the back!]. To make it use 200g each of Emmental, Gruyere and Keen’s Cheddar and 550ml white wine and follow the method below.

One of Rick’s recipes in particular had always intrigued me – a simple but intriguing mixture of fruity red Zinfandel, sweet roasted garlic and sharp cheddar. Then it occurred to me to substitute the cheddar with Andy Shorrock’s glorious Aged Lancashire Bomb [if you haven’t yet met the Lancashire Bomb you clearly haven’t been to yellowwedge cheese lately] and the excitement generated provided the momentum to break free of my customary ways. I have made some other slight changes to Rick’s recipe. If you want to see the original do buy the book [click on the picture below to find it on Amazon] – it’s a worthwhile investment.

Fondue, a book by Rick Rodgers [click to buy on Amazon]

Even the greatest fondue can be elevated further by the choice of dipping ingredients. My top tip?
V A R I E T Y. Yes there must be bread, but it doesn’t all have to be the same. A baguette is almost compulsory but accompany it with one or more others. We had a potato and rosemary sourdough. Cherry tomatoes are good, as are big chunks of mushroom sautéed with garlic, rosemary and a splash of sherry. Raid your local deli or deli counter too. Good chunks of thickly sliced ham, turkey, salami, pieces of smoked duck breast or slices of speck – whatever takes your fancy. What about mini chorizos, or big pieces of grilled Cumberland sausage [or like me, both]? Even pieces of apple and pear can make interesting dips for a cheese fondue. See below for some all vegetable suggestions if you don’t eat meat. Another top tip? Secure slipperier items like tomato or mushroom with a piece of bread on the fork too.

As I mentioned above, this does produce a purple coloured fondue. You might want to warn people about this. If you’re expecting a golden coloured gloop then it can come as something of a surprise. The Shopkeeper never quite got over the shock, and I think enjoyed the meal less because of it. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

Feeds six lactose tolerant adults

  • 1 original Shorrock’s Lancashire Bomb, wax and muslin removed
  • 100g Gruyere
  • 100g Beaufort [or if unavailable just use 200g Gruyere]
  • 40g Parmesan
  • 600ml Zinfandel, or other fruity red wine
  • 3 medium sized bulbs and 1 clove garlic
  • Some sprigs of thyme
  • A splash of olive oil
  • 1.5 tbsps cornflour slaked with Kirsch, Vodka, Cognac or water
  • Kitchen foil
  • A fondue set

First roast your garlic. Take the three bulbs, slice in half across their equators and drizzle with the olive oil, some thyme and salt, and re-assemble. Make a foil parcel for the bulbs, add the rest of the thyme and a splash more olive oil, seal tightly and roast in a 200˚C oven for around fifty minutes to an hour. They are done when the garlic is a deep caramel colour and can be easily squeezed from its skin. Squeeze out this sweet fragrant pulp, mash with a fork and set aside.

Next grate the cheese – for this amount I use a food processor. Cut the single clove of garlic in half and rub the insides of the fondue pot well with the cut surfaces.

Prepare your dipping ingredients other than the bread and arrange on a large platter around the base of the fondue. Tear or cut the bread at the last minute so that it doesn’t become dry. Warm the fondue pot over a low flame or in a low oven.

To make the fondue warm the wine in a pan until you see the tremble just before the simmer. Add one handful of cheese at a time, stirring with a whisk until each has melted before adding the next. Once it is all incorporated add the puree of roast garlic and stir well, then add the cornflour mixture until the fondue thickens to your desired consistency. Transfer to the warmed fondue pot and set this atop it’s burner in the centre of the table.

Asking your guests to stir well with each dip will to help to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can also introduce forfeits for dropped morsels of food, but if you go as far as something like removing an item of clothing you might want to have a few stiff shots of the kirsch before you begin!

However much fondue I start with, and however many people are eating, I always seem to end up with about an inch left in the bottom of the pot. If you have the same then allow it to cool, scrape it out of the pot [removing any mislaid bits of bread], and reserve for the following day along with any stray scraps of your meatier dipping ingredients.

The following day…

Sauté an onion and a clove of garlic. Add your leftover pieces of mushroom, ham etc. and a splash of wine. Tip in a tin of tomatoes or some passata, simmer away for a few minutes then stir in your leftover fondue. Serve with some penne or macaroni, straight away or as a pasta bake.

At the risk of sounding obvious all of the above can serve as a vegetarian feast by omitting meaty dipping ingredients. The list of vegetable alternatives is endless, but why not try some chunks of caramelised fennel, charred wedges of red pepper and sautéed baby onions? With the exception of tomatoes I find that cooked [but still crunchy] veg make happier fondue bed fellows than raw.

Beetroot Gazpacho

Beetroot Gazpacho

Quick! The sun’s out again and there’s no telling for how long so fire up the barbecue and chill down the soup bowls. We’ll come back to the barbecue, for now it’s beetroot gazpacho time. Sweet and earthy, and resplendently purple, this makes a delicious and eye-catching summer starter. An online search for beetroot gazpacho recipes at the moment will find numerous references to Aiden Byrne’s elegant assembly of soup with avocado sorbet and vodka jelly, and if you’re looking for a full on production number do seek it out. I’ve based this on Aiden’s recipe and added some twists of my own, but it’s a simpler affair, though none the worse for the absence of the bells and whistles in my opinion.

Make no mistake, cooking with beetroot can be a messy business. Their magenta juices will attempt to leave vivid pink stains wherever they can, though these are easy enough to remove from surfaces and implements if you don’t leave them to settle in, and if you wash your hands regularly they should also escape mainly unscathed. That being said, if you’re a hand model about to shoot a commercial for De Beers you might want to wear gloves.

For four starter portions:

  • 900g raw beetroot, scrubbed clean
  • 1 medium apple
  • 300 ml beetroot juice
  • 2.5 tbsps sherry vinegar
  • 1 slice of stale bread, soaked in water [not part of Aiden’s recipe, but usually found in traditional gazpacho]
  • A small bunch of thyme
  • The zest of half an orange and 1 tbsp of its juice OR the zest of a lime and the juice of one half
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Soured cream to serve

First take three-quarters of the beetroot and wrap in a loose foil packet with most of the thyme, reserving a few sprigs for the final garnish. Roast the foil package in a 160˚C oven for an hour and a half. Peel the remaining beetroot and the apple and grate them raw into the bowl of a food processor. Once cool peel the cooked beetroot and grate or chop into the bowl, along with any juices from the foil parcel, discarding the thyme. Tear in the bread and add the juice and zest of the orange or lime – or you could experiment here and use the juice of one and the zest of the other. Finally pour in the beetroot juice. Lid on, and blitz the whole to a smooth purée. Now pass the purée through a fine sieve, pushing through with the back of a spoon or ladle.

Start adding salt and tasting as you go, until you feel you have almost added a touch too much salt. No add the sherry vinegar, and a sprinkle of sugar – the acidity and sweetness should balance out the saltiness. Chill for a few at least two hours, more will do no harm.

To serve pour the gazpacho into chilled soup bowls, dot with soured cream and sprinkle with thyme leaves.

Serving suggestion

If you have more beetroot juice than you need freeze some in ice-cube trays and add two or three to each bowl of soup. If you’re really looking to make a splash, and have the time and freezer space to spare, you could even serve this in ice bowls – but they are a post for another day.