The Musette: Cantonese pork chop(s)

I’ve recently joined the Great British Chefs Cookbook Club on Facebook. Each month the club will feature a cookery book and encourage members to try featured recipes from the book and then share photos of them. The idea is to expand our repertoires and encourage discussion around these dishes. As an added incentive, the club’s administrators will pick a winner each month from the posted photos who will win a signed copy of that months’ cookbook. Well, a gal can never have too many cookbooks!

The first cookery book is Hong Kong Diner by Jeremy Pang and I’ve cooked his recipe for Cantonese Pork Chops for my beloved, who’s extremely fond of Chinese food. The recipe below is Jeremy’s with a few amendments of my own, only because I didn’t have all of the specified ingredients and, while it didn’t look as good as the pictures in his book – they never do – my beloved said it was sticky, tender and very moreish – mission accomplished!

Ingredients (Feeds 4 cyclists)

  • 4 pork medium chops, (bone-in)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • fresh coriander, to garnish


  • 2 fat garlic cloves
  • 1/2 knob ginger
  • 1 spring onion
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp cornflour


  • 1 1/2 tbsp dark soya sauce
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 4 1/2 tbsp of black rice vinegar/or balsamic vinegar
  • 4 1/2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp chilli oil, Jeremy uses chiu chow chilli oil, I used my homemade chilli oil


1. Slice the pork chop meat off each bone in one long sweep, keeping each chop as one whole piece of meat and reserving the bones, as they add flavour to the sauce.
2. Turn your cleaver upside down and, using the blunt end (careful not to hold the blade!), bash across the meat as many times as possible to flatten it out, making indentations along the pork and creating as much of a surface area as possible. This will begin to tenderise the chop and allow the marinade to really flavour the meat. I bashed mine with a wooden rolling pin!
3. Keep each pork chop in one large piece at this stage. Once the pork is flattened, a similar thickness to an escalope, mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl and massage them into the bashed-out meat and the bones until they are completely coated. Leave to marinate in the fridge, ideally overnight, or for a minimum of 1 hour.
4. When ready to make the dish, finely slice the red onion and set aside. I didn’t have a red onion so I used a couple of shallots.
5. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and stir well until the sugar has fully dissolved. [This smelled amazing even before I’d cooked it].
6. Half-fill a medium pan, wok or deep-fryer with vegetable oil and heat to 180°C (350°F), or test using a wooden skewer or chopstick and placing the tip in the oil: if the wood starts to fizz after a second or so, the oil is hot enough. I use a candy thermometer. 
7. Using a slotted spoon or a Chinese frying skimmer, first lay the marinated  – discard the marinade – pork chop bones in the oil and deep-fry them for 5 minutes. Remove the bones and drain well on kitchen paper, then lay the marinated pieces of pork in the fryer one by one, so they don’t stick together.
8. Deep-fry the pork for 2–3 minutes on a high heat, until crispy and brown on the outside, then remove and drain with the bones.
9.  At this point, roughly chop the fried pork meat into bite-size portions.
10. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a wok to a high heat. Once smoking hot, add the finely sliced red onion and stir-fry for 30 seconds or so.
11. Pour in the sauce and bring to a vigorous boil, then add the bones and the pieces of fried pork meat and toss 2 or 3 times.
12. Serve immediately, garnished with coriander leaves.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the ingredients. I didn’t have a red onion, Shaoxing wine, black rice vinegar or chiu chow chilli oil  so made suitable substitutions, as noted above.

2. I served the dish with plain boiled rice and some vegetables which I’d cooked in more of the delicious sauce.

3. I’ll be honest, I’ve never even heard of chiu chow chilli oil, so looked up a recipe for it (see below)  – it sounds awesome – and realised my homemade the chilli and garlic oil, which I use on all sorts of things, would be just fine, this time.

Recipe for chiu chow chilli oil:-

  • 15 fresh red chili peppers, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsps sea salt
  • 2 whole heads of garlic, peeled
  • 315 ml (1¼ cups) neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chili flakes, ideally Sichuan
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce

1. Slice the fresh chili peppers thinly. Place into a pestle and mortar along with the salt. Grind and mix thoroughly with the pestle. You don’t need to form a paste, just break down the peppers slightly.

2. Mince the garlic in a food processor or garlic press.

3. Heat 125 ml (½ cup) of your oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic. Stir and let it fry gently for about 30 minutes, until the garlic turns a pale gold.

4. Add the salted chilies, stir and let fry gently for another 5-10 minutes.

5. Next, add the remaining oil to the saucepan to heat through and add chili flakes and sugar. Stir to combine well.

6. Finish off with the soy sauce, and voilà, you’ve got a delicious jar of homemade chiu chow oil!

7. Transfer to a sterile jar and store in the fridge for 2-3 months. However, it sounds so delicious, I bet  it doesn’t last that long.

Lunchtime date: Sunday brunch

My beloved and I enjoy going out for Sunday brunch, particularly during the winter months. We’d spotted that the weather this past week-end was going to be wet and chilly, so had decided to go out for brunch in nearby Cannes. We’ve tried brunch at the Marriott and Martinez, but our favourite is the Carlton. It’s one of those over the top, fin de siècle, overblown wedding-type buildings and quite iconic on the Croisette.

In the summer, we like to dally in the Carlton’s terrace gardens over a pot of tea or a cocktail but in the hotel’s low season we can be found, from time to time, enjoying Sunday brunch or its Friday night lobster and champagne menu.

Of course, while my beloved can and will eat anything and everything on offer, I have to be more cautious. There’s lots that I can’t eat, but equally there’s plenty that I can. Of course, tackling any buffet requires pacing. We’ve found the trick is to book a table, arrive early at 12:30 and tarry for at least three hours.

I like to start with the oysters and a selection of other seafood, typically smoked salmon, octopus salad, sushi, marinated salmon and prawns. Then I’ll eat some of the various salads which don’t contain meat before tackling a bowl of vegetable soup. I like to take a bit of a rest between each course and I find elasticated or loose-waisted attire essential.

For my main course, I’ll have a plate of cooked mixed vegetables with some potatoes, or maybe the pasta. There’s always a large selection of hot dishes, most of which I have to ignore. I’ll naturally skip the cheese course before moving swiftly to a conclusion with a fresh fruit salad. The dessert buffet is a refined form of torture, groaning with small servings of delicious hot and cold desserts – the French like to have a bit of everything.

We’ve found the brunch clientele to be largely French. Lots of tiny French people with huge appetites and hollow legs. We’ve always done the buffet justice but we never manage to eat as much as the French who eat loads of small plates of food. I’m tempted to ask whether they’ve starved themselves all week? But I know the answer will be a surprised no!

Aside from the Carlton in Cannes we can highly recommend Terre Blanche (in Tourrettes, Cannois hinterland) and Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap, Cap Ferrat. The latter is a favoured spot once the weather improves allowing us to dine out on the terrace.

Indulgence necessitates a long leisurely walk, despite the weather, before returning home for a relaxing evening, no dinner!

Images of the Carlton Hotel courtesy of their website


The Musette: oven baked falafel

Ever since we enjoyed falafel at l’As du Fallafel on rue des Rosiers on our trip to Le Marais last year, I’ve had a bit of a thing for them. I typically buy them from my local Bio Marché but they’re quite pricey, so I decided to have a go at making my own though a baked in the oven (rather than fried) version.

Who knew it was so easy? I soaked the dried chickpeas overnight, then tipped them into my food processor with my choice of herbs and spices, rested the mixture in the fridge, shaped it into balls (with my handy dandy, super small, ice-cream scoop), baked them in the oven and voilà.

And, just out of interest, I made approx. 70 (organic) balls for a cost of € 5,00 – way cheaper than those from the shop.

Ingredients (more than enough for 6 hungry cyclists)

  • 800 g (4 cups) soaked (not cooked) dried organic chickpeas (garbanzo)
  • 3 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 3 fat cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp chick pea (gram) flour or plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tsps ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1 fat bunch coriander, leaves and stems, finely chopped


1. The day before you want to eat the falafel, put the dried chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them with filtered water by an extra 5 cm (2″).

2. The following day, rinse, drain and put 4 cups of the chickpeas into the bowl of a food processor with all the other ingredients.

3. Pulse to process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed,  and continue pulsing until the mixture comes together. I almost puree the mixture but, if you prefer, leave it relatively chunky.

4. Put the mixture into another bowl or container, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Refrigerating also helps the mixture firm up and become less crumbly when baked. You can then bake the falafel right away or refrigerate the mixture for up to five days.

5. Preheat oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

6. Use a small scoop or teaspoon to shape the falafel mixture into balls, and place them on the sheet. Don’t smooth out the rough edges as these crisp up when baking.

7. Put in the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes until they have a golden and crispy exterior, feel dry to the touch but still give a little when you press them.

8. Eat warm or at room temperature, or store for up to five days in the fridge. Reheat cooked falafel for 30 seconds in the microwave before serving.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Because the chick peas are only soaked not cooked, ensure that they’re reasonably fresh. This is not the time to use ones past their “use before” date! Also, don’t use tinned chick peas!

2. Experiment with the mix of herbs and spicing. For example, if you don’t like coriander, use flat leaf parsley instead.

3. Once baked and cooled, the falafel can be frozen and kept for at least a month. Once defrosted, you can quickly reheat them again.

4. The L’As du Fallafel serves them in pitta pockets, which are huge. Hard to get your mitts around, let alone your mouth. They also serve them as part of a falafel plate.

I prefer to serve them warm in a wrap with coleslaw, pickled vegetables, hummus and/or a tahini sauce or serve them at room temperature as part of a salad.

Equally, they’re delicious piled into a baguette with plenty of trimmings.


The Musette: delicious dhal

This is a killer dhal recipe. The roasted vegetables and rose-coloured coconut chutney turn it into something stellar and all from the humble little lentil.

You can use a variety of roasted vegetables but I prefer to use either sweet potatoes, carrots or butternut squash. But let’s not get too precious, any roasted vegetables will be just fine.

For the chutney, fresh grated coconut is best but I don’t often have time to source it, so feel free to use unsweetened desiccated coconut. Equally, if you’re short of time, this chutney can be swapped for a good spoonful of mango chutney. Though, to be honest, I like to serve it with both!

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

For the vegetables:

  • 500g (1lb) approx. 2 med-sized sweet potatoes, carrots etc peeled and chopped into 1.5cm (1”) cubes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1⁄2 tsp fennel seeds
  • coconut oil (melted)

For the dhal:

  • 2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g (7 oz) red lentils, washed
  • 400ml (1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tbsp) coconut milk
  • 400ml (1 1/2 cups, plus 2tbsp) vegetable stock
  • 2 large handfuls fresh spinach
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped, stalks and all
  • 1 organic lemon, zest and juice

For the coconut chutney:

  •  50g (2 oz) unsweetened desiccated coconut or grated fresh coconut
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped


1. Preheat your oven to 220°C/fan 200°C(425°F/fan 400°F)/gas 7. If using desiccated coconut, pour 150ml of boiling water over it and leave to soak.

2. Put the sweet potatoes/carrots etc on a roasting tray and add a good pinch of salt and pepper, the cumin and fennel seeds and a drizzle of coconut oil. Roast in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until soft and sweet in the middle and crispy brown on the outside.

3. In a large pan, fry the garlic, ginger, chilli and onion in a little oil for about 10 minutes over a medium heat, until soft and translucent.

4. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add to the pan with the other spices and cook for a couple of minutes to toast and release the oils.

Add the lentils, coconut milk and stock to the pan and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down and allow to bubble away for 25–30 minutes.

5. While that’s cooking, make the chutney. Drain the coconut and put it or freshly grated coconut into a bowl. Fry the mustard seeds and curry leaves in a little oil until they begin to crackle, then pour the mixture over the coconut. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the ginger and chilli and give it a good stir.

6. To finish the dhal, take it off the heat, stir in the spinach and allow it to wilt a little, then add half the chopped coriander, all the lemon zest and juice.

7. Pile the dhal into bowls and top with the vegetables, the coconut chutney, the mango chutney and the remaining coriander.

8. Serve this with an Indian bread such as naan, chapattis or roti and, if you’re really really hungry, some fluffy brown basmati rice.


Treating myself

A few years ago I stopped buying birthday and Christmas presents. In general everyone thought it was a great idea. I wasn’t being mean. I still buy my family and friends presents but generally as and when I see something I know they’d like. Or, if we’re out together and they see something they’d like, I’ll buy it for them.

In my family my Dad was the present buyer. He’d buy throughout the year and always have an appropriate gift to hand for birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas. My mother bought us things as and when and those sort of unexpected surprises were always rather nice.

While wandering around Innsbruck after Christmas, I spotted something I’d been after for some time. So, I treated myself to the implement pictured above. You may be wondering what I’m going to use it for or on whom? Rest assured, it’s not my beloved. It’s for cracking lobster and crab claws. I’ve previously found them in all sorts of material, but have long wanted one in silver to match my lobster picks.

I treated myself to these a few years ago  – you can see a pattern emerging here – at an antique show in Valbonne. They’re not antique but silver has rather gone out of fashion, people can’t be bothered and/or don’t like cleaning it. So you can pick up all sorts of silver goodies relatively inexpensively. I bought some silver oyster forks at the same time.

My mother always carried a solid silver lobster pick in her handbag, just in case…………….It had her initials on it and was a gift from my father. It was something she treasured, along with the solid gold tooth-pick, because it demonstrated the thought my father would give to buying her presents. She loved receiving gifts, but not cards which she regarded as a waste of money. She always said not to bother buying her a card but instead to get her a pair of tights or a hankerchief. No fool, my Mum!

Anyhow, I’ve been hunting high and low for silver lobster crackers. Not that I need any excuse to visit a kitchen supplies shop. I’ve found them all over, just not in silver. Now you may be wondering why I’ve bought just the one when I have six lobster picks? I’ll generally serve lobster out of its shell as part of a dish, say lobster curry or lobster spaghetti, so that only the chef needs the crackers. Occasionally, I’ll serve a small lobster salad as a starter but I’ll crack the claws beforehand so that it’s easy for my guests to remove the meat with their lobster picks.

Not that we eat lobster all the time, though I rarely need an excuse to tuck into one, particularly since I’ve discovered Lidl’s frozen lobsters are NOT an urban myth! They’re also readily available in France at Picard, the frozen food specialist. I find these are ideal for curries and pasta dishes – a little goes a long way. However, if I’m serving it as a salad or as part of a seafood platter, I prefer to cook my own. I’m not in the least squeamish and usually put them in the freezer for half an hour before cooking them. I like to serve them luke-warm, with lemon and home-made mayonnaise. Bibs and hot hand towels obligatory!



The Musette: store cupboard lunch

Not long back from vacation, hardly anything in the freezer, I need to go shopping but, first, I have to cook lunch for my beloved. My typical “go to” is either a risotto – cooked that on Friday – or pasta. A quick rummage in the fridge and cupboard and I had almost the makings of a pasta carbonara. I say almost because I had no spaghetti, only durum wheat pici (fat spaghetti), and no parmesan cheese. However, I had some ham, an egg, some cream and nutritional yeast which vegans use to give dishes a cheesy flavour.

I could also have cooked the pasta with a variety of bottled sauces from the cupboard or make an aglio, olio e pepperoncini (garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper) but my beloved had eaten that only last week for lunch in Italy on our way back from Austria.

So here goes:-

Ingredients (for one greedy cyclist)

  • 150g (5 1/4 oz) pasta, preferably spaghetti
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) single (half and half) cream
  • 1 large organic egg or (preferably) two egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) wafer thin slices of bacon, ham, giancale or pancetta
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet in boiling salted water until al dente.

2. Cook giancale on a low heat in a deep frying pan.

3. Meanwhile, gently mix eggs, cream, yeast and black pepper.

4. Once pasta is cooked, drain retaining 125 ml (1/2 cup) pasta water. Add pasta to ham, add egg and cream mixture and toss pasta. If necessary, add some pasta water to thin sauce.

5. Serve and enjoy!

Purists will no doubt be outraged but my beloved lapped it up.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

I love coming up with dishes, without recipes, from whatever I have available. I used to get plenty of practice when we lived in London. After watching my beloved boys in claret and blue (AVFC) play at home, we’d often drop into to see friends who lived in Coleshill on the way back. They would challenge me to come up with dinner for four with the contents of their cupboard and fridge. Fortunately, I could always rely upon them having rice, pasta and tins of tomatoes though, it’s my proud boast, I never cooked the same meal twice!

Okay, aside from the bottled sauces, what else could I have put on the pasta?

1. I could’ve cooked down a handful of cherry tomatoes in olive oil, butter, garlic, salt and black pepper along with the few leaves of basil left on my plant. The sauce is ready in the same amount of time it takes to cook the pasta. Because cherry tomatoes have lots of pectin, their juice easily emulsifies with olive oil and pasta water to form a light sauce. Also, it can be jazzed up with any number of other ingredients such as cooked ham, chilli pepper, capers, anchovies and black olives.

2. I had some stale bread which I could have reduced to breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil with an anchovy or two and some pasta water to top the pici.

3. If I’d had some left-over cooked veggies, I could produce a surprisingly tasty sauce by chopping them into into small pieces and blending them into a sauce. You can experiment with different combinations of vegetables but you must use potatoes, since the starch they contribute is necessary for thickening the sauce.

4. If I hadn’t any ham, I could’ve substituted sliced mushrooms in the carbonara recipe, or used both for an Alfredo type sauce.

5. The only limitations are your imagination and ingredients to hand.

12 days of Christmas: day 10

My two sisters complain that I never take photographs of people and it’s true. Mine are typically of places. This is a rare photograph featuring my beloved. It was taken back in April while he was recovering from his broken leg. As you can see, he’s still on crutches and standing in front of one of our favourite locations on the Cote d’Azur for brunch. It’s a fabulous hotel on Cap Ferrat, wonderfully managed by the Four Seasons Group. We love going for brunch in early autumn and late spring when it’s warm enough to sit on the terrace and drink in the magnificent views. I’m a big fan of buffets because although there’s plenty I can’t eat, there’s lots that I can. This one has a particularly good seafood buffet where I can fill my boots with oysters and prawns.

The Musette: Soup glorious (vegan) soup

I believe I may have mentioned that I love soup. I’m never happier than when I’ve a pot simmering on the stove. My beloved however regards soup as an appetiser, not a meal in itself. There are times when I’ll make a base, say pea soup, and then add ham, bacon or sausages to his portion to make it more filling. However, when he’s away I’ll frequently cook up a batch with whatever I have in the vegetable box and enjoy it over a couple of days.

This is not so much a recipe, more my soup philosophy. If I’m making soup as a starter for dinner with friends, I might use a recipe. Alternatively, if I see a tempting recipe for a soup I’ve never made before, I may well (initially) follow the recipe before making it my own. And really, that’s the rub. You should make soup you love eating/drinking. Something that, particularly in winter, brings you warmth and joy.

The above were the contents of my vegetable box. I could have made a vegetable curry but these just screamed spicy root vegetable soup. I’m a big fan of curried parsnip soup but here they just lent some sweetness to the soup while the lone turnip added a peppery touch. The flavour of carrot dominated. Carrots go particularly well with coriander but I didn’t have any of the fresh herb in the fridge. I did however have hot chillies, fresh ginger and fresh garlic which I fried in a tablespoon of coconut oil with the finely chopped onion.

I’m not really supposed to eat anything fried, but I won’t tell if you don’t! To be honest, boiled onion is an unappetising addition to any soup. You’ll note that I’ve merely roughly chopped the vegetables. This is because I intended liquidising the soup so I could drink it from a mug while I ploughed through my pile of outstanding work.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter)

  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 large brown onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • I red (or green) finger chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots peeled and cubed
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cubed
  • 2 parsnips peeled and cubed
  • 1 litre (4 cups) vegetable stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


1. Heat the oil in a deep-sided pan over a medium flame, then fry the onion for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli, stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

2. Now add the carrots and parsnips, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the stock, bring the mixture up to the boil, then turn down the heat to gentle simmer until the vegetables are tender.

4. Now blend the soup either with an immersion stick or free-standing liquidiser. If you want a finer texture, you can now sieve the soup.

5. Return the blended soup to the pan, if necessary, adding more water to obtain the desired consistency. Check seasoning and re-heat.

6. To serve, ladle into bowls or pour into mugs.  This is where a swirl of coconut cream wouldn’t go amiss!

 Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you don’t like your soup too spicy, either omit the chilli entirely or omit the seeds from the chilli.

2. If you’d like a heartier soup, make it more like a mulligatawny one, with the addition of 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 1/2 tsp group coriander and 150g (1 1/2 cups) red lentils, washed and drained at stage 2. In which case, make sure your vegetables are in small dice, and don’t liquidise the soups.

3. If you’re cooking for friends, add some parsnip chips. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F (325F fan)/gas mark. Peel another parsnip then, using a vegetable peeler, shave the flesh in long thin strips. Lay these on an oven tray and coat (use your clean hands) with 1 1/2 tbsp. of olive oil and bake for 12 -15 minutes until crisp and golden. To serve, top each portion with a handful of the crisps.

4. You can use this basic soup recipe with a variety of vegetables and pulses. Just make sure, the flavours are complimentary. For example, this method would work well with sweet potatoes and carrot, or butternut squash.

5. Roasting the vegetables in the oven beforehand is also a great idea to enhance the flavour of the finished soup but you can equally use left-over cooked vegetables. Experiment but, above all, have some fun!

The Musette: Vegan Biryani

The first dish I ever ate in an Indian restaurant was a Biryani. After university, my beloved and I were living and working in Leicester. One Friday evening we went out for dinner with a couple I’d met through work who suggested we go to an Indian restaurant, and we readily agreed. You may find this somewhat bizarre until I tell you it was in the late-1970s. It was love at first bite.

My passion for Indian food has grown over the years and I think I’ve learned to appreciate the subtlties of spicing. This recipe may have a long ingredient list and a lot of stages, but it actually comes together quickly and easily. A biryani tends to be a fairly delicate dish and the spices are used here to layer the flavours in a subtle yet generous way. Of course. a biryani is first and foremost a rice dish that stands or falls on the fluffiness of its rice: every grain should be separate and perfectly cooked.

Ingredients (Serves 4 very hungry cyclists)

  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 1 small stick cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • large pinch of saffron
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • small thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 500g (1 lb) grated root vegetables (such as carrots, butternut squash, potato, parsnip, swede)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 300g (10 oz) basmati rice
  • small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • small handful toasted flaked almonds
  • small handful plump, juicy raisins


1. Pre-heat oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F(400F fan)/gas 7. Put 4 cardamom pods, the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, fennel seeds and bay into a pan with 500ml (2 cups) water. Bring to the boil, turn off the heat, then cover and allow the water to infuse.

2. Crush the other cardamom pods, remove the seeds and finely grind them while discarding the pods. Mix the powder with 4 tbsp warm water and the saffron.

3. Fry the onions in 2 tbsp coconut oil until light brown and beginning to crisp, around 10 minutes. Then add the ginger and garlic to the pan and fry for a further 2 minutes.

4. Add the ground spices and all the grated veg. Mix well and fry for 10 – 15  minutes and finally season well with salt and pepper.

5. Heat the remaining coconut oil in another pan and fry the rice over a high heat for a few minutes, until it’s shiny. Strain half the spice-and-bay liquid into the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated.

6. Now, assemble your biryani. Put a layer of rice in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the remaining strained spice-and-bay liquid and some of the saffron liquid. Add a layer of the grated vegetable mix. Sprinkle over some of the chopped coriander. Repeat with another layer of rice and pour over the remaining saffron liquid. Sprinkle the almonds on top.

7. Cover the dish tightly with tin foil and/or lid and greaseproof paper. Put in the oven for 40 minutes, reducing the heat to 190C(170C fan)/375F (350F fan)/gas 5 after 20 minutes. Fluff and mix with a fork before serving and top with extra herbs, toasted almonds and plump juicy raisins. 


8. The next day, you can reheat/sauté any leftovers. My beloved is partial to it topped with a friend egg.


Halloween horrors!

Horror of horrors,  an unexpected visitor and I had a bare cupboard.

Never knowingly under catered is my leitmotif. So how embarrassed was I when one of my friend’s sons popped in unannounced and found the cookie jar bare? I was mortified! He’s a bit of a cookie monster and when I visit his parents usually take him a batch of these cookies.

When I make a batch of cookies, I typically pop a few raw ones in the  freezer specifically to cover unexpected visitors. That way, within 20 minutes, the place smells of warm cookies and I have something delightful for my guest(s). If not cookies, I’ll have a few slices of cake in the freezer I can rapidly defrost or some fudgy brownies which are delicious straight from the freezer.

I tend to batch bake. That’s because it’s just as easy to make ten cakes as it is to make one. My repertoire tends to be biased towards my customer base, elite and professional athletes, many of whom eschew cakes made from refined products. Through much testing, I’ve developed a range of cakes which meet with the approval of their dieticians and team chefs who aren’t above sneaking a piece for themselves.

Cannondale’s chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!

Many of our friends much prefer healthy home-baked goodies and I try to comply. Of course, I now can’t eat products containing refined sugar, white flour and diary which has pushed me to experiment though many vegan cake recipes often include products such as vegan butter which for me is also verboten. However, and happily, there are plenty of alternatives so my baking continues apace, just not so much recently.

This is partly as a result with the ongoing issues with my fridge-freezer which are now resolved but, as a result, the default cookie jar is empty. Also, it’s been far too warm this summer to spend hours baking in the kitchen and now I have to lay down some stocks. Because of my love of baking, I hardly ever buy biscuits or cakes. So not only was the freezer bare but the cupboard was too. My poor visitor was doubly disappointed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It was Halloween so surely I had laid in stocks for the trick or treaters? I don’t do Halloween nor is it really celebrated in France where kids are neither encouraged nor allowed to eat loads of sweets or snacks, except maybe a bit of top quality dark chocolate. I usually have some dark chocolate in the cupboard for my baking but my beloved has eaten it all. See, the cupboard’s truly were bare.

Nor do I celebrate Guy Fawkes night. I’ve never been over fond of fireworks and I’m now more than happy to watch displays from a distance on my balcony during the various festivities and national holidays in France. I know I’m giving the impression that I’m a bit of a kill joy but nothing could be further from the truth, though I do accept that my popularity may have slipped a notch on account of the empty cookie jar.

I’m attempting to rectify matters and have already started on my Xmas cakes. I like to soak the organic dried fruit in honey and rum for three weeks prior to baking the cakes which I find then remain really moist. I make Xmas cakes for family and friends most years but this year they’re assuming greater significance as I’ll be using them, specifically their decoration, as a dry run for a wedding cake I’ll be making next year. This is a bit of a departure for me and I’ve been watching loads of videos on YouTube which explain the various techniques for decorating with sugar paste.

The marbled effect I’m attempting does mean that the cakes won’t look particularly festive but, on the plus side, they’ll have marzipan and icing on the top and all four sides – I generally only decorate the tops. I’m going to use different colourways, within the bridal couple’s defined palette, on each cake so that they can select which one they prefer. It’s been an interesting project thus far and I had no idea that wedding cakes were so expensive! Needless to say it’ll be our wedding present to them.