Pork meatballs with grapes and a whole roasted cauliflower

meatballs with grapes

You can never have too many meatball recipes in your culinary repertoire and this one which uses sweet black grapes in a sauce to accompany a nutty pork meatball is wonderful.

The flavours are very Middle Eastern and although I used to be sniffy about fruit in savoury dishes my more mature self is starting to enjoy the combination.

The recipe is from the ‘Good Carbs Cookbook’ which I’ve already mentioned on this blog. My husband Ben agreed that the dish was tasty but then asked where the carbs were? Like Ben, I always thought that grapes were low in carbohydrates, but a quick google search suggests that they are one of the highest carb fruits there are, alongside bananas. Not that I care too much about that.

I accompanied the meatballs with a whole roasted cauliflower using a recipe from the same cookbook. I couldn’t believe that I had not tried this before – it was incredibly delicious and so very easy. The nuttiness of the roasted cauliflower went perfectly with the sweetness of the meatball dish but I think it would also make a great addition to any standard roast dinner.

Pork meatballs with grapes

For the meatballs

  • 600g of minced pork
  • 2 shallots or small onions, very finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, crushed with a pestle and mortar or a sharp knife
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • A little plain flour to coat

For the sauce

  • 100g of sultanas
  • 150ml of freshly brewed black tea
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of butter
  • 270g of black seedless grapes (cut in half if they are large)
  • 200ml of chicken stock
  • Fresh parsley to garnish

To make the meatballs put the pork mince, half the chopped onion/shallot, garlic and hazelnuts in a bowl and season with salt and pepper to your own personal taste. I like a lot of seasoning but you may not.

Form the mixture into balls a bit smaller than golf ball size. Coat lightly with plain flour.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a deep frying pan over a medium heat. Then brown the meatballs until a dark golden colour on all sides. This will take around 10 minutes.

Turn the heat down to low and add the remaining onion/shallot. Put a lid on and leave to soften for a couple of minutes. Then add the sultanas with the tea, the stock and the grapes.

Simmer gently without a lid for 10 minutes, there is no need to stir. The sauce will reduce and thicken during this time.

Scatter with fresh, chopped parsley and serve.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower

whole baked cauliflower

  • 1 medium cauliflower
  • 1 teaspoon and a good pinch of sea salt
  • 60 ml of olive oil

Set your oven to 220oC.

Trim away the green leaves of the cauliflower and chop off the bottom so that it stands up straight.

Take a pan large enough to fit in all the cauliflower and fill it with water until it comes to ¾ of the way up the cauliflower. Add a teaspoon of salt, put a lid on and bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down to a rolling simmer and cook for 8 minutes. Drain well.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment. Put the cauliflower in the middle and drizzle over the olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt flakes.

Roast in the oven for 35 minutes.


Nigel Slater’s mushroom and spinach korma

mushroom and spinachh korma.jpg

Believe me this tastes better than it looks.

I’m rather enjoying being a temporary vegetarian and am not really missing meat and fish at all. I did waver slightly when my son was pushing the battered fish from his takeaway around his plate – my ‘just’ chips hadn’t really hit the spot and I was tempted to eat it all up for him. There was also a stab of jealousy over my husband’s sausages, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. I can just about put up with veggie sausages but vegetarian gravy just doesn’t compare with the meat version.

The hardest thing is eating out. Vegetarians get a rough deal here unless they dine at specifically vegetarian restaurants which is tricky to do when you are mainly friends with meat eaters.

All too often restaurants offer very limited options for vegetarians and the lack of originality is astounding. If you don’t like goats cheese (like me) then you’re pretty much stuffed – goat’s cheese tart being an almost permanent fixture on menus. You must like risotto or you’re in serious trouble. Soup is also popular as restaurants try to kill two birds with one stone by making the obligatory soup option also the vegetarian one. My sister (who lives in a family of vegetarians) jokes about the ubiquitous and bland ‘Mushroom Stroganoff’. She will not eat anywhere unless she can order a bowl of chips if the vegetarian option fails her.

I bought some mushrooms for dinner in the week without a plan. A google recipe search placed the before mentioned ‘Mushroom Stroganoff’ in pole position and I nearly made it for a laugh. But then my head was turned by this Nigel Slater korma from his fabulous ‘Real Food’ book.

It doesn’t sound very exciting (probably the fault of the word ‘korma’) and I wasn’t expecting much (except a disappointed, meat deprived husband). But  it was actually very delicious. The addition of roasted hazelnuts and sultanas is genius  (so do not be tempted to leave these out). Ben ate it very, very happily.

This is not a difficult dish to make once you have prepped and lined up all the ingredients (there are quite a few and they are all important, I’m learning this about vegetarian cookery – vegetables need a lot more help to make them taste ‘special’).

Unfortunately my permanently(?) vegetarian daughter does not like mushrooms. Eating out with her is going to be a nightmare!

Nigel Slater’s mushroom and spinach korma

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite and how much rice you serve with it)

  • 50g of butter (I used ghee)
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, cut in half and finely sliced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 15 cardamom pods, husks removed and seeds crushed
  • ½ a teaspoon of turmeric
  • ½ a teaspoon of chilli powder (I used flakes)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 650g of assorted mushrooms, roughly chopped (I only had 500g which were a mixture of chestnut and some dried Chinese mushrooms which I found in the back of the cupboard and rehydrated in water first)
  • 50g of hazelnuts, toasted and shelled (I toasted mine in a 180oC oven for 10 minutes and then removed the shells by rolling between some kitchen roll)
  • 350g of leaf spinach (I used 6 cubes of frozen spinach as this was all I had)
  • 50g of sultanas (Nigel uses ‘golden’ ones but then he would)
  • 150g of thick natural yoghurt
  • 150g of crème fraiche
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh coriander leaves
  • Salt

Melt the butter (or ghee) in a deep pan (over a medium heat) and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 5 minutes until golden (turn the heat down if the butter starts to burn).

Then add the spices and bay leaves and cooked for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

Add the mushrooms to the pot and cook for a few minutes until they soften.

Then add 225ml of water and the hazelnuts (I also added my frozen spinach here which I hadn’t bothered to defrost first and used slightly less water – because of the excess in the frozen spinach). Bring the water to a boil turn the heat down low and cook for 15 minutes with a lid on.

If you are using fresh spinach, wash the leaves and cook them (still wet) in a saucepan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes with a lid on (they will cook in their own steam). Drain, squeeze out the water and add to the mushrooms after they have finished simmering for 15 minutes.

Then add the sultanas and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and add in the yoghurt and crème fraiche. Heat gently but don’t boil or the mixture will curdle.

Finally stir in the chopped coriander and season well with salt (I needed two large pinches).

I served the curry with rice but it would be amazing with homemade naan.


Nigella’s brilliant breakfast bars

breakfast bars

These breakfast bars are really clever. They’re a bit like flapjack but instead of combing the dry ingredients with butter, sugar and syrup, they simply use a tin of condensed milk. There is still some sugar (about 14 grams per bar), but a lot less fat and a good amount of calcium from the milk. Plus there are wonderfully healthy nuts, seeds and oats  (I’m avoiding using Jamie’s ‘superfood’ buzz word because that’s just annoying),

Breakfast is the only meal of the day where I can entertain the concept of eating ‘on the go’. Even then it’s only because the mornings are terribly chaotic now that I have children to herd off to school. But whilst I allow myself to eat breakfast standing up, I will not eat and walk because I’m a complete snob about that.

I love Scarborough, but I’m disgusted by the sight of people strolling along the seafront eating cartons of fish and chips, dropping a few on the pavement as they go. Even when we buy ice cream from a van I make the children find a nice place to sit first.

Rant over.

These bars aren’t just for breakfast, they also make a good mid-morning/mid-afternoon snack too (just make sure you’re sitting down nicely though before you tuck in). I’ve been making them for my husband to nibble on (do men nibble?) when he’s bored in the shop or when he’s driving around in his van delivering furniture. They are slightly more wholesome than chocolate orange digestives (his current obsession) which don’t feel at all satisfying unless you eat at least four.

Breakfast bars (From ‘Nigella Express’)

Makes 16 large bars

  • A 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 250g of jumbo rolled oats
  • 75g of shredded coconut
  • 100g of dried fruit (Nigella uses cranberries but I use sultanas because they’re cheaper and I don’t like cranberries anyway. But I’ve also had good results with chopped, dried apricots or dates)
  • 125g of mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and sesame)
  • 125g of unsalted, unroasted peanuts (or other nuts that you like)

Preheat the oven to 130oC.

Line a 23 x 33 x 4 cm baking tin with parchment, making sure that it goes all the way up the sides, and grease with oil or margarine.

Warm the condensed milk in a large saucepan, then tip in all the other ingredients and stir well to combine.

Tip the mixture into the tin and press down firmly either with a wooden spoon or with damp hands (which is what I do).

Bake for 1 hour, then remove and leave to cool for 15 minutes.

Cut into squares with a very sharp knife. Make them as big or small as you like (Nigella cuts hers four down and four across to make 16).

Leave to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Lamb and apricot tagine with couscous

Nigel Slater tagine without nigel

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with tagines. First I tried Lindsay Bareham’s lamb and apricot tagine. It looked beautiful and was quick to cook but tasted a bit insipid which was bizarre considering all the ingredients involved. I then tried a Nigel Slater recipe with the same name and I knew I’d found a winner. His version was slow cooked and absolutely packed with flavour.

Nigel Slater is a brilliant food writer but in my view he should never have been put on television. Is it just me who wants to drag him to the hairdressers? He’s also a little bit creepy. Like Nigel this dish is not a looker but don’t let that put you off because it tastes amazing.

It’s a bit tricky to source but don’t be tempted to miss out the preserved lemon – it cuts through the sweetness of the fruit and really lifts the whole dish.

Nigel Slater’s lamb and apricot tagine

Serves 4 generously

  • 1kg lamb shoulder, diced (to roughly 3 cm square) with as much fat trimmed off as possible
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of hot paprika (I couldn’t find this and so I used cayenne pepper instead)
  • 3 onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 60g sultanas
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of saffron
  • 750ml of chicken stock
  • 2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 350g apricots (I used just 250g because this is the size of the bag and this was plenty, I also roughly halved them)
  • A preserved lemon (I used ¼ of a jar of preserved lemon paste which they sell in the ingredients section of Tesco)
  • A large handful of coriander leaves
  • A small handful of mint leaves
  • Some oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

In a bowl toss the diced lamb in half the ground spices, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least four hours, although overnight is best.

Set your oven to 160oC fan.

First brown the lamb in batches in a frying pan with a little oil until it is nicely browned on all sides and set aside.

Then, in a heavy-based casserole dish with a lid, cook the onion, garlic and the remaining ground spices in a little oil over a medium heat until soft and slightly coloured.

Add the sultanas, honey, saffron, stock, tomatoes, apricots and meat to the pan. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and cook in the preheated oven for 2 ½ hours.

If using a preserved lemon, cut it in half and discard the interior pulp. Finely chop the skin and stir in to the tagine. Alternatively, add the preserved lemon paste and give it a good stir.

I found that after 2 ½ hours the sauce was beautifully thick and did not need reducing. If yours does look a little thin then Nigel suggests removing the meat with a draining spoon and boiling the sauce over a high heat until it thickens up, before returning the meat to the pan.

Just before serving add the coriander and mint.

Serve on a bed of couscous (see below). It is also nice with rice.


For 2-4

  • 200g couscous
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 450ml of hot chicken stock
  • The juice of half a lemon

Make up the stock and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the saffron and the juice of half a lemon, then the couscous in a stream. Give it a quick stir, cover with cling film and leave for 15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Before serving fluff up the couscous with a fork.

Preparing for Christmas – homemade mincemeat


If you can stand to start thinking about Christmas this early then please read on. If you can’t then just ignore this post or I’ll really annoy you.

About this time last year I posted Delia’s brilliant Christmas pudding recipe and in case you missed it here’s the link – A job for a rainy weekend – Christmas pudding. Please note that I’ve amended the post to include figures for making smaller quantities. This year I need one large and one small pudding (3/4 of the recipe) so I rather painfully did the maths (never my strong point).

If you’re a glutton for punishment, like me, and are going to make your own Christmas pudding, then it makes sense to make homemade mincemeat at the same time because many of the ingredients are the same. I made my own mincemeat for the first time last year (again from a Delia recipe) and it was fantastic. Once you’ve bought all the ingredients it’s really simple but I would recommend chopping the apple using a mini chopper or food processor as this did take a while by hand.

Homemade mincemeat

Makes 6 x 350ml jars (according to Delia on-line) OR enough for two large gherkin jars, one chutney jar and one small jar of mayonnaise (as pictured)

  • 450g cooking apples, peeled cored and finely chopped
  • 225g shredded suet (I used vegetarian suet)
  • 350g raisins
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 225g mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 oranges, grated rind and juice
  • 2 lemons, grated rind and juice
  • 50g whole almonds cut into slivers
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons of mixed spice
  • Half a nutmeg grated
  • 6 tablespoons of brandy

Simply mix all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a very large mixing bowl.

Cover with a cloth and leave for 12 hours.

Cover the bowl with foil and place the mincemeat in an oven heated to 110oC for 3 hours.

Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then stir in the brandy.

Spoon into sterilised jars then place in a cool dark cupboard until needed. I think you could actually use it straight away as I had a sneaky spoonful and it was divine. Delia says she has kept hers for up to 3 years but I know mine won’t last that long because I love it too much.

NOTE: For recipes that use mincemeat see my post Christmas is coming – two ways with mincemeat. Last year I also experimented with an apple and mincemeat crumble (I just added a couple of spoonfuls of mincemeat to the cooked apple before adding the topping) and it was very good indeed.

A job for a rainy weekend – Christmas pudding

Christmas pudding Elizabeth stirringChristmas pudding mix

I know, I know it’s only October – I too hate the fact that supermarkets have their Christmas aisles out as soon as the children have gone back to school in September. I really try to avoid thinking about Christmas until at least November, but this weekend it was so rainy and cold that it seemed like a good idea to get on with making the Christmas pudding which involves being house/stove bound for a whole day.

It’s meant to be a fun family activity (at least that’s what my ‘Homemaker’ magazine tells me) and it is in a way, but stirring up with two small children is not what I would call stress free. Firstly, they want to eat all the ingredients (raisins and sultanas being a favourite of almost all children), and secondly the mixture is very stiff even for an adult to stir. Eddie sent several spoonfuls flying across the kitchen with the effort making a right old mess.

This recipe comes from the safe and reliable Delia. This is the fifth Christmas that I’ve made my own and to be honest I’m never entirely sure whether it really is worth the hassle – you have to steam the puddings for 8 hours!!! But I do think that home made tastes better and I have managed to turn previous Christmas pudding haters with this recipe.

And if you look at the economics it does work out a bit cheaper too. The ingredients for this recipe total around £11 (based on my Tesco shop). If you buy the equivalent weight in Tesco finest puddings you are looking at £4 a pudding which means a saving of £5 (however this doesn’t include the cost of having the hob and fan on for a whole day).

They call the day you make your Christmas pudding ‘stir up Sunday’, but with this recipe you leave the mixture overnight before steaming so it’s best to do the stirring on the Saturday and steam on the Sunday.

Delia’s Christmas pudding

Makes 2 x 2 pint puddings (which serve 6-8) or 4 x 1 pint puddings (which serve 4)
I make 1 x 2 pint pudding for our family Christmas dinner and two smaller 1 pint ones to give away.

Dry ingredients

  • 225g shredded suet
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 225g white breadcrumbs
  • 450g soft brown sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g raisins
  • 560g currants
  • 50g blanched, chopped almonds
  • 50g mixed peel
  • The grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely

Wet ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 300ml stout (Delia uses 150ml stout, and 150ml barley wine but barley wine is quite difficult to get hold of so I just use more stout instead)
  • 4 tablespoons rum

If you are making the whole amount above it is best to use two large mixing bowls, measuring half the ingredients into each, otherwise it is really difficult to mix up.

Basically you add all the dry ingredients to the bowl in the order above mixing thoroughly before adding the next.

Then in a different bowl beat the wet ingredients. Firstly the eggs, then mix in the rum and stout. Empty this over the dry ingredients and stir very hard indeed until the mixture forms a dropping consistency. You may need a little more stout.

After mixing, cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rest overnight.

The next morning divide the mixture into pudding basins greased with a little butter and pack the mixture into them. Cover each basin with a square of greaseproof paper (with a fold in the middle to allow for expansion) and a square of pudding cloth on top*. You can attach these to the rims with string, or I use a thick elastic band. You may also want to make a handle with the string so that you can lift the hot puddings out easily once they are done.

Steam the puddings for 8 hours. I don’t have a steamer so I place the bowls on a scrunched up ball of tin foil in a pan with about 2 inches of boiling water and a lid. You need to keep an eye on the proceedings and top up with more boiling water periodically so that they don’t boil dry.

After 8 hours leave the puddings to cool. Replace the greaseproof paper and pudding cloth with fresh and store in a cool place until Christmas.

On Christmas day you will need to steam the pudding for around 2 hours before serving.

*You can buy pudding cloths or muslin squares from Lakeland but they are rather expensive (£5.39 for 10). I use old muslin cloths which I had when the children were babies (well washed of course) which I rip up into squares. I wash and reuse these from year to year.

This is just to show the fold in the greaseproof paper which allows the pudding to expand.

This is just to show the fold in the greaseproof paper which allows the pudding to expand.

Three puddings ready for steaming.

Three puddings ready for steaming.

Christmas pudding Eddie stirring

Trying to be helpful.


If you want to make a smaller quantity below are the calculations.

For 4 small puddings, or 2 small and 2 large, or 1 large and 3 small For 3 small puddings, or 1 large and one small For 2 small puddings or one large For 1 small pudding
Shredded suet 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Self-raising flour 110g 82.5g 55g 27.5g
Breadcrumbs 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Soft brown sugar 450g 337.5g 225g 112.5g
Mixed spice 1 tsp ¾ tsp ½ tsp ¼ tsp
Nutmeg ½ tsp 3/8 tsp ¼ tsp 1/8 tsp
Cinnamon ¼ tsp somewhere between 1/4 & 1/8 1/8 tsp my brain hurts
Sultanas 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Raisins 225g 168.75g 112.5g 56.25g
Currants 560g 420g 280g 140g
Almonds 50g 37.5g 25g 12.5g
Mixed peel 50g 37.5g 25g 12.5g
Orange rind 1 ¾ ½ ¼
Lemon rind 1 ¾ ½ ¼
Apple 1 ¾ ½ ¼
Stout 300ml 225ml 150ml 75ml
Rum 4 tbsp 3 tbsp 2 tbsp 1 tbsp
Eggs 4 3 2 1
Christmas pudding 2015

The difference two years makes. Elizabeth making Christmas pudding 2015.

Showing off – 90s style

levantine lamb pie 1

This recipe for Levantine Lamb Pie from ‘The Essential Josceline Dimbleby’ published in 1990 is legendary in our family. My mother was a very good dinner party host and in contrast to her everyday cookery (where she never used recipes) she would always scan the latest cook books to find something unusual and impressive. To the middle class Surreys that were my parent’s guests, this dish must have seemed rather exotic with its mix of sweet and spicy Middle Eastern ingredients.

I’m not sure how many times she actually cooked this dish (I have a feeling that it may even have only been once) but it is fondly remembered by my father as one of her best. As a child I remember it looking so intriguing and I was desperate for there to be leftovers for me but there were never any. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I decided to see what all the fuss was about and cook it for myself. I don’t know how authentic it is, working with filo pastry is a bit faffy, and I always struggle to get lamb neck at a reasonable price, but I absolutely love it. The flavours are just wonderful.

Bizarrely, I cooked this last night for just the two of us – mainly because we had some filo from a freezer disaster that needed eating up. If you were entertaining you could either serve it as a main course bulked out with some cous cous or rice  or as a starter cut into smaller slices with salad.

Josceline Dimbleby’s Levantine Lamb Pie

Serves 6-8

  • 500g spinach
  • 750g-875g lamb neck fillet
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 100g butter
  • 2-3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 375g onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 125g sultanas
  • 1 heaped tablespoon thick cut marmalade
  • 250g read- made filo pastry
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Wash the spinach and drain. Place the spinach in a large pan and steam it in the residues of water left over from washing by cooking on a low heat with the lid on for 5 minutes. Press the spinach against the side of the pan to squeeze out any liquid and drain. Then chop up finely.

Cut up the lamb into very small cubes, trimming off any excess fat. Heat the oil and 15g of the butter in a large frying pan. Stir in the chopped garlic and spices. Add the meat and stir over a high heat until sealed. Then stir in the onion and sultanas.

Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and cook on a low heat for about an hour until the meat is tender, giving it a good stir periodically. If the liquid hasn’t evaporated after this time then raise the heat and stir until it has.

Remove the pan from the heat, season well with salt and pepper, add the marmalade and the spinach and stir to combine. Leave until completely cool.

Preheat the oven to 170oC fan.

Melt the remaining butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.

Brush a loose-based 18-19 cm diameter, deep cake tin thinly with butter. Lay in a whole sheet of filo pastry, press it down in the tin and let the sides hang over the edge. Brush the pastry with butter and then lay the next sheet across the other way. Keep building up the layers buttering in between and letting the sheets hang over the edge until the whole pack and all the butter is used up. Filo pastry is very thin and breaks easily but don’t worry too much if this happens the cracks just add to golden crumpled look of the dish.

Spoon in the cold lamb mixture and then bring in the overhanging pastry over the top buttering each piece. The last few layers should be left crumbled on top and sticking up towards the centre.

Cook in the oven for 30 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove the pie from the tin and place on an oven proof serving plate before putting it back in the oven for another 20-30 minutes. When removing the pie from the tin it is best to use a large spatula to lever it off the base.

You can make the pie in advance and keep it warm in a low oven for up to an hour before serving.

PS. I apologise that the photos are rubbish – they really don’t do the pie justice. My husband was impatient and hungry to eat – he’s been complaining that since I’ve started this blog his dinners are a few degrees colder.