You know what gets me about fancy houses in interiors magazines? They never, ever, have anything stuck to their fridges. Oh, sure, there might be some artful magnetic chalkboard,  or a designer decal, but there are never any library book notices, or ‘art’ or torn-out recipes. They are neat, tidy – and soulless.

By contrast, the outside of my fridge is extremely busy (and a direct reflection of the chaos inside). Magnetic newspaper headlines, school notices, drawings, business cards for builders and a motley collection of recipes ripped from newspapers or magazines. I was just about to add another one to the pile last week when I remembered this month’s Random Recipes, which celebrates those torn-out clippings. So instead of consigning the recipe to the fridge door, where it would probably be lost forever, I made it that night instead. I should really do this more often.

Easy Vegan Tofu Mayo Recipe

Tofu Mayonnaise
I knew Aaron Brunet would win Masterchef in 2013 – right from the start he had that look about him. This mayonnaise recipe was from a recent newspaper column he wrote about the pleasures of eating with your hands – in which he endorsed plate-licking. Now, I had a flatmate once who licked her plate after eating and I don’t ever want to see that again, but his recipes are definitely finger-lickin’ good. Aaron uses this mayo in a chicken caesar-ish wrap – I used in our Friday night fishburgers and to lie beneath some hot smoked salmon on crackers. I’ve now lost the clipping somewhere, but this is the recipe from memory (ish). It’s dead easy, good for you and adding some fresh herbs gets rid of any tofu flavour. You should try it.

300g block silken tofu
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Kikkoman soy sauce
salt and pepper
½ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh herbs – finely chopped parsley, chives, basil (optional)

Put all ingredients, except the herbs, in a blender and blitz until smooth (I use a stick blender and a jar). Taste for seasoning and sharpness – add more salt or lemon juice as desired. If you’re planning to use it all immediately, add the herbs and blitz again. Otherwise, this keeps in the fridge for a week.

I’m sure there’s a Chinese proverb about disaster being the mother of invention, or danger being the signpost to opportunity, or something like that. I’m not sure that it’s often successfully applied to baking, but there’s a first time for everything.

Earlier this week I stumbled upon Nicola Galloway’s recipe for chocolate chickpea cookies and pretty much decided I had to make them on the spot. We got through them really quickly and I figured I could whip up something quite similar, but with pumpkin instead of chickpeas, and prunes instead of dates. So this is the result – something inspired by, but completely different to, those cookies. And it’s every bit as delicious.

Pumpkin, prune and chocolate bars
These soft, slightly chewy bars are very addictive – trust me, I’ve consumed several in the course of writing this post. The mix of ingredients means they’re a perfect fit for October’s We Should Cocoa challenge, this month hosted by Hannah at Honey and Dough. The slightly random nature of how this recipe came to be also means it’s a strong contender for the October edition of Random Recipes – you can find out more about the criteria for this month here.
You do need to have some cooked pumpkin lying about for this recipe – do what I do and just throw a piece in the oven the next time it’s on and let it bake away untended. Then scrape the soft flesh into a container and freeze it to make yourself feel super organised when recipes like this come along.

1 cup prunes
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup mashed pumpkin (or – if you must – canned pumpkin puree)
100g butter, melted
1 egg
1 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Tip the prunes into a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside while you get everything else ready.
Heat the oven to 180C and line a small brownie pan (measuring about 27 x 20 cm) with baking paper, leaving some overhang.
Put the rolled oats into a food processor and whiz until finely ground. Tip out into another bowl.
Drain the prunes, then tip them into the processor, along with the pumpkin, melted butter and egg. Whiz until smooth, then add the ground oats, cinnamon and baking soda and whiz again until well mixed. Add the chocolate and pulse until mixed.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 25-30 minutes, until set and slightly springy to touch. Let cool, then cut into bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Have a great week, everyone x

This time last year I was idling around Soho, hoping to have a drink with Mr Belleau Kitchen. Alas, our schedules did not allow it, but we’re finally managing a kind of virtual cocktail hour through this month’s Random Recipes challenge.

Cocktail Recipe For The Bees Knees

For July, Dom has asked us to delve deep into our drinks books and come up with a cocktail recipe. I didn’t have to try very hard – when I lifted a notebook off the shelf in my office a tiny slip of paper with this recipe on it fluttered out. It’s for a Bees Knees, a honey, lemon and gin cocktail that I last made for my father in a tiny flat in Hampstead in 2008. That flat has long gone from my life and, sadly, so has Dad, but shaking this up in a jam jar took me back there in an instant. If gin makes you maudlin – look, even writing about it makes me a bit blue – then rest assured you can make it with vodka too.

The Bees Knees
I remember cutting this recipe out of the Observer Food Monthly several weeks ahead of my parents’ visit, chiefly because honey and gin were two of Dad’s great loves. (Cigars, red wine, steak and chocolate were harder to fit in a cocktail glass.) I’ve rejigged the quantities a little and this amount is enough for two – or one very thirsty person. To me, this is the perfect cocktail; it’s short, punchy and not too sweet.

50ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp honey syrup – made by stirring together 1 Tbsp honey and 2 Tbsp water
100ml best quality gin (or vodka)
ice

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake to combine. Strain into two martini glasses and garnish with a strip of lemon rind. Serves two.

Are you a fan of the cocktail hour? What’s your poison?

“Unlike Justice, hospitality should not be seen to be done!”

Easy Brown Bread Ice Cream

So begins ‘Dining In And Dining Out In New Zealand’, an absolute treasure in my cookbook library. This book, gifted by a friend with a strong sense of the absurd, has survived many cookbook culls and house moves. Written in 1973, it has stayed a strong favourite. I’m unsure if the author, Patricia Harris, is still alive, but I’d love to meet her. I imagine her as one part Margot Leadbetter, one part Fanny Craddock and two parts Delia Smith. 

Like the title suggests, the book is part-dedicated to catering at home and part-dedicated to New Zealand’s 1970s restaurant scene. While none of the restaurants she recommends are still in existence, many of her recipes remain in vogue. I’m not sure I agree with her dictum that vichyssoise (first take your homemade chicken stock) is the answer to the busy hostess’s woes, but the intention is well meant.

My fondness for Mrs Harris’ means her book has never been relegated to my office (the staging post for cookbooks that need new homes), so it’s getting a moment in the sun this month for Belleau Kitchen’s June Random Recipe challenge. We were supposed to pick the recipe on page 40, but since I couldn’t see myself acquiring ‘five dozen rock oysters or four dozen Stewart Island monsters’ for the seafood starter, I went for page 41 instead. 

Easy Brown Bread Ice Cream Recipe

Brown Bread Icecream

This comes from the ‘Dinner At Home’ chapter, which is full of helpful suggestions. My favourite refers to the carving of the loin of lamb: “persuade your husband to carve it as neatly as possible (if your husband is one of those “joint wreckers” I advise you to invite an experienced surgeon among your guests)”. Mrs Harris suggests serving this unusual, but delectable, icecream with caramel sauce and praline, but I reckon it’s fine by itself or served between two very thin slices of toasted baguette in a kind of literal icecream sandwich. No husband or surgeon required.

170g brown sugar

60g butter

125ml water

4 egg yolks, beaten

60ml milk

700ml cream

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups wholemeal bread crumbs, lightly toasted

Put the egg yolks in a bowl that will fit over a medium saucepan in a double-boiler arrangement. Put a couple of cms of water in the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Put the sugar, butter and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it reaches boiling point.

Pour this syrup over the eggs and beat well, then add the milk. Set the egg mixture bowl over the water in the saucepan and stir well until it thickens (about five minutes).

Remove the bowl from the saucepan and put in the freezer to chill (about 20 minutes should do it).

When the egg mixture is cold, whip the cream and vanilla together until it is just before the soft peak stage. Fold in the egg mixture and the toasted breadcrumbs, then scrape into a plastic container. Cover and freeze for at least four hours. 

Let ripen at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving. Makes about 1.3 litres.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Once upon a time I used to scour charity shops and school fairs for cookbook gems, hoping to find a first edition Mrs Beeton tucked among the multiple copies of Alison Holst’s Microwave Menus. While that never happened, I did come across plenty of great finds – The Silver Palate cookbooks, pristine paperback Elizabeth Davids, a Jill Dupleix that I’d always wanted and once – a brand new copy of How To Eat for 50p – among others.

But a year or so ago I realised I was in danger of being swamped by these dusty finds; that I didn’t really need to pick up every half-decent cookbook I found and that it would be perfectly safe for someone else to buy. Then I met a woman who told me that one of the largest charity shops in Wellington gets so many books donated to it that twice a year they load up a container and take it to the tip. No, not the recycling depot, the tip. The charity can’t afford to send them overseas, so they dump them. Now – there are all sorts of issues here, not least being – why don’t they give them away – but it made me reconsider what I do with my own collection. I’ve recently decided that there are lots of books that, while I don’t use them anymore, deserve better homes than being stuck in a damp charity shop while waiting to be bulldozed into landfill. I’ve selected both the books and their recipients carefully and it was such fun watching their reactions that I’m planning to do it again in a few months’ time.

The thing is though, that all this largesse has meant that I had very few books to choose from for this month’s Random Recipe challenge. The instructions from Dom at Belleau Kitchen were to select a book from the throw-out pile you’re supposed to compile when spring/autumn cleaning – and in truth, I had only one. But the results were so convincing that I’m going to have to keep it!

A few years ago you couldn’t move for being offered something made out of Jo Seagar’s ‘You Shouldn’t Have Gone To So Much Trouble, Darling’. This book, which features the author up to her pearl-strewn neck in a bubble bath, was first published in 1997, then a reprinted and updated version came out 10 years later. I have the original version, which I picked up from a charity shop for $2. I bought it out of nostalgia, more than anything. It was badly waterstained and I didn’t expect to ever use it, but the thing that swung it for me was the inscription on the front to the previous owner, ‘Anna’ – ‘ with much love from Momma and Poppa’. Gulp.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Lamb and Orange Tagine
Anna obviously used it her copy of ‘You Shouldn’t Have…’ a lot – the book fell open at the recipe for lamb tagine, which has ‘Excellent!’ scrawled across the top in blue biro. It turns out Anna was right – though I played around a bit with Jo’s original recipe to make it even more ‘excellent’ – or at least, a little lighter and not as sweet. I’ve annotated the book accordingly, all ready for its next owner.

500g lamb shoulder, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2cm ginger, grated
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, washed, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 cup vegetable stock
3 large mandarins or 2 oranges, washed and roughly chopped, (including the skin)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup prunes, cut in half
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
Handful of coriander leaves, roughy chopped

Heat the oven to 160C.
Put the olive oil in a large, cast iron casserole and set over medium heat. Tip in the lamb, onion, garlic and ginger and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, then add the carrots and spices. Cook for another minute, then add the mandarins or oranges and the vegetable stock. Stir well, then cover tightly and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the lamb is very tender. Check it a couple of times to make sure it isn’t drying out – add a little water if it seems dry.
Add the prunes and stir well. At this point you can let the tagine cool completely, then refrigerate and reheat the next day. If you’re planning to eat it now, return it to the oven after adding the prunes and let cook for another 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and coriander just before serving with rice, couscous or flatbreads. Serves four.

Are you a charity shop cookbook buyer?