A, B, Sea…

I sometimes need a bit of convincing.  
It’s been a busy period here at A.S.H. HQ, what with the impending completion of my course at Leiths and the looming prospect of life thereafter.  So over the last bank holiday I would have been perfectly content with an afternoon on the sofa with just my slippers and the latest episode of Mad Men for company.  
But Toby had designs on making the most of the weather with a trip to the seaside.  So, off we drove for a jolly day out on the coast, with me muttering and moaning all the way but camera dutifully in tow.  At least I might get a blog post out of it, I thought.  
First up, Faversham, where Toby had booked us on a tour around the Shepherd Neame Brewery.  They proudly proclaim to be Britain’s oldest brewer, dating back to at least 1698, but there’s evidence that so called ‘ale wives’  were brewing in Faversham as far back as the 1300s. We were taken behind the scenes, the pumps and pipes quietly out of action as it was a Saturday.  The tour included a walk through the ‘beer cathedral’ (scroll down for a pic) which houses enormous vats of beer, up to 1 million pints at any one time- mind boggling. 
Naturally there was some sampling afterwards which we supplemented with a couple of our favourites to take home- a bottle each of their famous Master Brew (a particularly hoppy ale for adding to my beer bread-see recipe below), Brilliant Ale and Cantebury Jack.  
From there it was but a short hop and a skip to Whitstable, spontaneously stopping at a farm shop on the way to pick up some freshly picked asparagus, soil still clinging to their roots, along with half a dozen free range eggs.  These were then turned into the following day’s breakfast (poached eggs, asparagus and hollandaise, see below). 
Once we got to the seaside, we stopped at the famous Wheeler’s Oyster Bar, tummies rumbling. Sadly, they were booked up well into the following week, so after a short walk we were sitting at the Whistable Oyster Fishery Company instead, scoffing Fish and Chips (me) and Beef and Oyster Pie (Toby). 
By this time, the sun was well and truly out and after a walk along the seafront and a snooze on its pebbled beach, catching the last of the rays, before heading back to the East End.  Whitstable, we decided, was a bit like a smaller, quieter Brighton.  All in all, I have to admit, a pretty lovely day out.  Toby, you win.
Produce at Faversham’s Saturday market


Hops and Barley
More Kentish hops

A selection of malted barley

The Beer Cathedral
A 1940s ale wife
Beer tasting after the tour- a tough job
Farm shop we stumbled upon on the road to Whitstable
Asparagus freshly picked
Seafront shack in Whitstable
Lunch at the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company
Toby’s steak and oyster pie

Oyster shell recycling centre
Eggs, Asparagus, Hollandaise

Beer Bread
Adapted from Shipton Mill’s recipe, here.

You will need:
 450ml ale
20g fresh yeast
1 heaped tbsp runny honey
450g strong white flour
230g rye flour, plus extra
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil


1.  Bring the ale ( I used Shepherd Neame’s Master Brew Ale) to boil and leave to cool to blood temperature.  Cream the yeast with the honey. 

2. Sift the flours, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl  and make a well.

3.  Pour the ale, yeast mixture and oil into the well and combine to make a dough.Knead the dough for around 10 minutes until it is smooth.

4. Leave to prove for around 30 minutes and in the meantime lightly grease a baking sheet.

5. Knock the dough back, cut into two and shape into round loaves. Place into bannetons (proving baskets) or onto the baking tray. Cover and prove for about 40 minutes until about double in size.

6. preheating the oven to 200 degrees C, 400 degrees 4, Gas Mark 6.  Dust with a little flour

7. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

Crisp Bread for Crisp Days

I was back in Stockholm over Easter for a friend’s 30th and to catch up with relatives.  I left behind a London that had just started to wake up to Spring to land in the middle of an icy Scandinavian winter, where the mercury barely teetered over zero most days.  Having said that, the sun stayed out and I didn’t see a cloud the whole time I was there.  The snow gradually started to melt, freezing overnight to create sheets of lethal, slippery glass over the pavement and roads.

You know it’s cold when water freezes straight out of the drainpipes

The Swedes do Easter with a bit more pizzaz than their southernly neighbours.  They love an excuse to get crafty and break out a bit of colour in order to liven up the last days of winter.  Feathers, dyed lurid tones of yellow, pink and blue, are the decor of choice, but many paint eggs and hang up wreaths too.  There’s usually a family get-together for a big Easter meal, but we eschew lamb in favour of a smörgåsbord of traditional feast food- pickled herring, salmon, eggs, meatballs, potatoes, Janssons temptation.  Rich, indulgent dishes, originally created to fuel the manual labour that farming the land required.  Not quite as necessary these days, of course, but still absolutely delicious.

Although we, too, like to give Easter eggs (generally decorated cardboard ones brimming with sweets), I’m always more interested in the baked goods category when it comes to festive eating.  Whether it be the spiced breads and biscuits at Christmas, the berry-filled tarts at midsummer or the cream filled cardamom buns available during Lent.  Snappy crisp breads, although enjoyed all year round, particularly come into their own with the rich foods served during the holidays.  Over Easter, my godmother, Margareta, very kindly shared her technique for making home made rye crisp breads.  Over an afternoon, we rolled, poked holes and scattered various toppings over the dense dough that gets slowly dried out in the oven.  It is quite a physical, painstaking job, but absolutely worth it.  Not least because the results could probably survive a nuclear holocaust.  Make a big batch, wrap it up in an airtight container and you’ll have delicious bread or canapé bases on tap.

Melting ice on lake Mälaren

Easter decorations for sale on Mariatorget

Rye Crisp Breads
(a big batch, recipe can be halved)
You will need:
25g fresh yeast
600ml water (blood temperature)
1 tbsp honey
3 tsp salt
500g rye flour
300g spelt flour
100g sunflower seeds
50g linseeds
100g sesame seeds
1.  Crumble the yeast into a large bowl and add the water, which should simply ‘feel wet’ (i.e. not hot, not cold, just the same temperature as your finger when you test it).  Stir to dissolve.  In a separate bowl, mix together the seeds.  
2.  Add the rye flour and 200g of the spelt flour to the liquid and yeast mixture, reserving the rest for later.  Add half of the seeds, mix well and knead together for a few minutes to form a sticky dough.  
3.  Leave to rise in a warmish place for at least an hour.  
4.  Preheat the oven to 210 C.   Divide the dough into 15 bits and roll into balls.  Dust your work surface with some of the reserved spelt flour and roll out each ball into rounds about 1/2cm thick.  It will be quite sticky, so do keep dusting more reserved flour.  Make a hole in the center of each round (using a small glass or jar) for traditional crisp breads or, alternatively, roll and cut out long rectangular shapes.  
5.  Place onto a lined baking sheet.  Poke each bread with a fork to dimple.  Sprinkle with the remaining seeds.  
6.  Bake in batches for 10-12 minutes.  Once each batch is done, turn off the oven and place all the breads onto a couple of baking sheets.  Put these into the oven and leave to dry out completely for a few hours.  

Root Cause

It may well be the case that every shop in town thinks it’s Christmas Eve already, judging by the abundance of glitter and flashing lights.  And yes, most pubs, restaurants and cafés have been touting for your staff do business since July.  Sure, John Lewis has started screening it’s Yule-themed advert (not a patch on last year’s, by the way).  But, in my rather stubborn book, it’s still very much autumn. After all, the yanks have only just celebrated Thanksgiving and that’s the most autumnal holiday there is (apart from Halloween, of course).

So I’m still stuck on root vegetables and making the most of them.  Pumpkin in particular, at the moment, as I managed to track down a can of pumpkin puree (not as widely available here as it is in the States).  I wanted to make the most of it, without resorting to making a whole pie, so did a bit of experimenting.

I’ve also recently made some celeriac soup with chestnut and sage gnocchi and scones with parsnip, cheddar and cracked black pepper.  Proof if you ever needed it that these knobbly, rather ugly looking vegetables are capable of beautiful things.

Cheddar, Parsnip and Black Pepper Scones
(adapted from the Leith’s Cookery Bible’s classic scone recipe)

You will need:
225g Self raising flour
pinch of salt
black pepper
30g butter, diced
1 large parsnip, coarsely grated
60g strong cheddar cheese, grated
150ml + 2 tbsp milk

1.  Preheat the oven to 200C

2.  Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.

3.  Rub in the cold butter until the mixture is breadcrumb-like.

4.  Add the grated parsnip, 50g of the grated cheddar and a good deal of ground pepper.

5.  Make a well in the mixture and add 150ml of the milk, stirring to form a sticky dough.

6.  Turn onto a floured work and knead until just smooth.  Form/cut about 10 mini scones or 6 large ones, using a cutter, ramekin or glass (whatever you have to hand).

7.  Transfer to a floured baking sheet and brush with the remaining milk.  Sprinkle with a bit more of the grated cheese and a little cracked black pepper.

8.  Bake in the top section of the oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and golden.  Serve immediately with lots of butter.

Celeriac Soup with Chestnut and Sage Gnocchi

You will need:

For the soup:
1 onion, sliced
olive oil
1/2 celeriac, peel and chopped roughly
1 clove garlic, minced
salt, pepper
chicken stock
some torn sage leaves, to serve

For the gnocchi
500g spuds, peeled and cut into chunks
1 egg yolk
15 g Parmesan
100g plain flour
20 g butter, softened
100g chopped chestnuts
handful sage leaves
salt, pepper


1. Add the chunks of potato to a large pan and cover with water.  Add a bit of salt to the pan and bring to the boil.  Simmer until the chunks are completely cooked through and mushy.

2.  Meanwhile, slice the onion and fry in a little oil over a low heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan.  Once the onion is cooked and slightly translucent, add the chunks of celeriac and minced garlic.  Cook for a further minute or two, stirring constantly.

3.  Add enough stock to the pan to cover the vegetables.  Simmer over a low heat until the celeriac is just tender.

4.  Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and return them immediately to the dry pan.  Put back onto a low heat to completely dry them out, taking care not to burn them.  Remove from the heat and mash thoroughly or add to a food processor and blitz until smooth.

5.  Mix in the egg yolk, cheese, butter and chopped chestnuts (if you are using a food processor you can add them whole) until thoroughly incorporated.  Season liberally with salt, pepper and chopped sage leaves.

6.  You should now have a sticky dough.  On a floured work surface, roll out sections of this dough into long sausages, about 2cm in diameter.

7.  Using a kitchen knife, cut off small chunks of the sausage so that you have little oblong gnocchi shapes.

8.  Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the gnocchi in batches.  Once they float to the top of the pan, they are done- this should only take a few minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to some kitchen roll to dry.  You can use the gnocchi straight away or cool and freeze for later.

9.  To serve, drain the celeriac, but hang on to the stock.  Puree the vegetables with a stick blender and return to the pan, adding in the reserved stock until the soup reaches your desired consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.

10.  Heat a little olive oil in a small frying pan and fry 3-4 gnocchi per serving, flipping and moving them around the pan constantly.  They should begin to colour a bit and form a slight crust.

11.  Serve the soup in hearty bowls and top with the gnocchi, some torn sage leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.  The gnocchi are also delicious served on their own with a bit of sage flavoured butter and lots of Parmesan.  

Pumpkin Garlic Knots
(Recipe from the Handle the Heat blog)

You will need:
230ml warm water
1 sachet (7g) fast action dried yeast
2 tbsp honey
100g pureed pumpkin (from a tin)
2 tbsp + 70 ml olive oil
1 tsp salt
525g strong white bread flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt and ground black pepper 

1 tsp dried oregano (or chopped fresh, if you have it)

1. In a small bowl, add the warm water and top with the dried yeast.  Allow to sit for a few minutes, until slightly frothy, active and smelly.  

2.  Mix in the honey, 2 tbsp of the olive oil and pumpkin.

3 Mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl.

4.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients then pour in your wet ingredients.  Beat with a wooden spoon until the ingredients start to come together.

5.  At this stage, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

6.  Lightly oil the large bowl and place the dough into it with a sprinkling of flour.  Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warmish place until it has doubled in size- this may take a couple of hours- be patient and try not to keep checking it as that is sure to drive you potty.

7.  Preheat the oven to 220 C.  Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and knock back slightly.  Tear off small sections of the dough- about 2 tbsps worth each.  Roll each section into a long sausage shape and tie into a knot.  Place onto an oiled baking sheet and continue to work your way through the dough.  You should get about 30 small knots.

8.   Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, until golden.  Meanwhile, combine the remaining olive oil with the oregano, sea salt and black pepper in a large bowl.  Once the knots have come out of the oven and cooled slightly, toss them in this dressing mixture to coat.  Leave to dry out a bit before serving.  These are best when still slightly warm.  

Pumpkin and Ricotta Pancakes

You will need:
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
150g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
grating of nutmeg
200 ml milk
100 g ricotta
100g pumpkin puree (from a tin)
3 eggs


1.  Combine the baking powder, salt, flour and spices in a large bowl.

2.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta, puree and eggs until smooth and a bit frothy.

3.  Make a well in the bowl with the dry ingredients and add the liquid ingredients, beating to incorporate fully.   It will make for quite a thick batter.

4.  Heat a large frying pan with a little bit of oil.  Add a wooden spoon-full of batter to the pan, swirling to flatten a bit.  Once small bubbles begin to form on the tops of the uncooked side of the pancake, flip and cook for a further 30 seconds- 1 minute.

5.  Keep warm whilst you make the remaining pancakes.  Serve with lashings of maple or golden syrup.


This is a Delia recipe that I found surfing the net trying to figure out something different to do with some leftover celeriac.  Not being from these parts and having been raised elsewhere, I didn’t grow up with Ms. Smith and (dare I say it) find her approach a bit old school.  I haven’t been able to really embrace her in the manner of a proper English person, I’m afraid.  

 I was particularly unimpressed with her recent(ish) book of cooking by cheating.   The shortcuts it detailed seemed to me not to be shortcuts at all, but rather advertising for products that aren’t much quicker to prepare than cooking from scratch. Not to mention the fact that no sentient being interested in cooking would actually ever buy them (frozen mashed potato, anyone? How about some tinned mince?).  

But the girl has done good with this recipe, I must say. This bread is brilliant and very easy to make (even without any shortcuts).  It works particularly well with soup.  
Celeriac and cheese bread
You will need:
175g celeriac (peeled)
110g Lancashire cheese, crumbled
175g self-raising flour, plus a little extra
4 spring onions
pinch cayenne pepper
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
salt, pepper
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, adding the spring onions, two-thirds of the crumbled cheese, the cayenne pepper and the salt.
Then coarsely grate in the celeriac and mix well.
Beat the egg and milk together and gradually add it all to the mixture until you have a loose, rough dough.
Shape into four round rolls and sprinkle each with a bit of the remaining cheese and some flour.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so until golden and crisp on the outside.  Great served warm.  You can also shape into a whole loaf, which you will need to bake for longer, about 45 minutes. 

Party Food

For Toby’s birthday this year, the plan was to have some food at the flat and then head to the Palm Tree, in Mile End Park, to listen to some old timers play jazz. But we never made it to the pub, it seemed too much effort when it was nice and warm inside.
The menu-
Homemade focaccia with rosemary, sea salt and olive oil
Couscous with avocado, plums and chorizo (or halloumi for the vegetarians)
Tomato, pepper and feta tart
Crostini with goats cheese, honey and garlic
Sticky chocolate tart with cream and berries


  • 15g dry yeast

  • 320ml lukewarm water

  • 250 g plain flour

  • 250g Italian 00 flour

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • plain salt and sea salt

  • fresh rosemary

Put the yeast into a large bowl and add the lukewarm water, giving it a quick stir to dissolve a little. Leave for about 5 min, until the yeast is ‘active’ and bubbly.

Add the flours and a teaspoon of sea salt. Use your hand to mix together on a clean work surface which has been dusted with flour. Work until all the flour has been absorbed to form a dough. Roll this in a coating of flour.

Swirl some oil around in your large bowl add add your flour-dusted dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for an hour or so, until the dough has risen to roughly double in size.

Push the dough out onto a baking tray (lined, greased). You may need two depending on how large you want to make your focaccias. Press your knuckles into the dough, to give it a bumpy texture.

Leave trays in a warm place for 20min to rise further before brushing with olive oil and sprinkling with sea salt and rosemary.

Put in a hot oven, about 200 degrees for 20 min. It should be golden in colour and come away easily from the baking sheet. Leave to cool before cutting into rectangular pieces.