New Year challenge...

Dear Ruth

This year Christmas is back at home and I'm banished from the kitchen (it's all a bit territorial at this time of year).

I'm sure this is nothing to do with your amazing efforts to train me up last year and in a way I'm going to really miss the buzz of getting that turkey on the table, with all its many trimmings.

Clearly I need to get back in the kitchen for some other reason, so I'm going to host a small new year's eve party at my flat. Now, the parsnip crisps were so inspired I'm sure you have some other easy to prepare ideas that I'll enjoy practicing so you have I guess 10 days before we start this year's December challenge...

Yours in anticipation


Gone in 60 seconds...

Dear Ruth, 

I admire your perseverance with me, I have been away with the Giants (click here), eating with a blindfold on, ahem, (click here) or generally just completely out of the game, relying on takeaway food after rowing or restaurant food when away from work (if you want the full account, my excuses are laid out here). In fact the last couple of months feel like a write off in terms of improving my cooking skills. I've had very little from the garden this year and am firmly back in some old supper-time habits. 

But you've recaptured my attention with something that looks so simple it would be pretty shameful to ignore, so today I popped out and got me some parsnips:

There really is no point in me reporting the steps because it was sooooooooo simple, I can't believe I actually bother buying crisps at all!

I peeled them in no time, drizzled (ok, drowned) them in sunflower oil and whacked them in. 15 mins later, out they came.

All I can say is that they were out of this bowl as quickly as they came in and I will definitely be experimenting with different veg and like you say different flavours. 


What's next?!!

Yours crispily


Lost but not forgotten. Meanwhile Parsnip Crisps!

Dear Tom

Wakey wakey...

Last heard you went off foraging for blackberries, well, picking from your back garden, and haven't been seen since. maybe those brambles were so strong that you got caught up in them, or maybe you tried hacking them down and found a castle underneath sleeping beauty style? Perhaps you decided that you didn't have enough berries and went off in your boat to the river banks after all and have rowed to sunnier climates?

Blackberries are now SO last season, if you see them leave them for the birds! On your to find list are  now  rose hips, haws, and sweet chestnuts instead, and the new 'in' veg is pumpkin, so often just carved and neglected, and generally undervalued. I made lovely toasted pumpkin seeds this week with a dusting of paprika and salt, and a pumpkin cake.

Love this time of year with all the root vegetables coming into season.

Why not try making some parsnip crisps? Or carrot and beetroot ones instead?

Very easy, tasty and healthy too.

Oven on to gas 5, about 180-200'c will do it

Peel your parsnip(s)

Throw away those outside peelings and then use your peeler to slice it up really thinly until there is nothing left to peel, like this...

Grease a baking tray, pop your peeled parsnip pieces on, lightly and bung it into the oven for about 15-20 minutes

Turn them occasionally, but gently because they will get a bit fragile before getting crisp. You may also have to take a few off and return the rest to the oven. For some reason, known only to themselves, the refuse to cook evenly!!

When they are golden and crunchy they are ready to munch so take them out and sprinkle lightly with salt and enjoy. You could try a slight coating of a mild chilli powder or a winter spice like ginger.

Use the above method for carrots, beetroot and potatoes. In fact, if you buy organic potatoes, wash before peeling for your usual meals and cook the peelings at the same time as your supper is on,  no waste :)

Anyway, all excuses accepted, the more inventive the better

Yours, your ever optimistic friend


Dear Mr Toad

I think we would all like to come and watch you trying to pick blackberries from the river bank, however, as you seen unwilling and already have some brambling freely in your garden I might let you off. If you do try the picking from the waterside, make sure there is someone there to take a video, it would be good viewing.

Anyway, tarts. I have experimented and come up with a couple I think you should try, I won't say like as there is bound to be something that tickles your fussy bone.

Firstly, the most important ingredient is the blackberry. If you get chance, look into the myths and legands of  them, its quite interesting.

You need to pick them on the day you are going to use them as they don't keep terribly well, you might get them to last a bit longer in the fridge. They have a tendancy to either go mouldy or ferment if left too long, the latter might be interesting in another context.

Next both recipes use another lovely British ingredient, Bramley cooking apples.

Pastry. You have already managed a short crust pastry a couple of times, so this should be a breeze! I am not going to write the instructions out for the pastry making, you will find it under the mince pie recipes right back at the beginning of the blog. One of the recipes requires puff pastry, buy the ready made just rol block, your life is too busy to make your own, it takes an age, and requires lots of concentration.

Both reipes require the oven to be at gas mark 5, so you can make both at the same time. How's your multi-tasking?

Lets start with the short crust pastry tart; its an open top tart, bit of a soggy bottom, but otherwise lovely.

Open top Blackberry and Apple Tarts


1 quanity of short crust pastry made with 8oz/200g plain flour (Or you could cheat and buy a pack)

A handful of blackberries (Depends how big your hands are, ut my handful was about 25 I think)

1 cooking apple (You could use a dessert apple if you need a sweeter pud)

1 dessert spoon of brown sugar (White would be fine, but brown gives it more of a toffee taste)

1 egg, beaten for egg wash


Oven on to gas5

Make your pastry and chill (Pastry not you!)

Prepare your blackberries by popping them into a bowl and covering them in water, leave for 5-10 minutes. This will wash off any dust, blossom etc and also check for bugs.

Drain gently.

Roll out your pastry until its about as thick as a pound coin. Place a dinner plate upside down on it, and use this as a template to cut out a circle.

Peel, ore and thinly slice your apple.

Pop the pastry onto a baking sheet. Top with the sliced apple, just in the middle, leave about 3 inches clear from the outside edge. Add blackberries.

Pull up the sides of the pastry, pinching the edges as you go. But don't cover the top, leave a wide opening.

Sprinkle your sugar onto the fruit through the opening.

Egg wash the sides all over

Pop into the oven for 20-25 minutes

Next tart... Very pleased with these, looked fab, smelled fanastic, and were excellent cold the next day too

Blackberry, Apple and Custard slices


I block of ready to roll puff pastry (block goes further than ready rolled for some reason)

1 handfull blackberries

1 cooking apple (although I only used half, tasting it I should have used a whole one)

Half pint of thick custard

1 egg beaten for egg wash

2 dessert spoons of white granulated sugar - appox


Wash blackberries as per previuos recipe

Roll out your puff pastry on a floured surface. (I guess mine must have been a rectangle about 30cmx 45cm)

Cut it into quarters

Cut each quarter into half

Place four out of the eight pieces onto a baking tray.

Peel, core and thinly slice your cooking apple and place like this on 4 puff pastry pieces. Add blackberries. Remember to leave a 1-1.5 cm margin around the outer edge.

Put a tablespoon of custard on each one

Egg wash the margin

The four other puff pastry rectangles are going to be lids, so you need to place them on top. As you do each one, stretch it slightly with your hands as it has to go over the fruit too. Match up the eddges and press firmly so the fruit filling is sealed in. I used a fork to kind of crmp the edges.

Egg wash the tops. Sprinkle generously with sugar. Cut four slits in the top.

Pop into the oven for about 20-25 minutes

These are very very hot in the middle, so try not to eat them too quickly :)

Hope you enjoy these

Happy munching

Yours, berry excited,


Back in black(berry)

Dear Ruth,

You've enticed me back into the kitchen, well a step towards it at least. That in itself deserves one of those shiny medals they've been handing out in the big smoke recently!

So, you think a spot of foraging for blackberries will get my fruit juices going do you?! Well as ever I don't concede without giving you some sort of challenge and it's time to roll your eyes disappointedly..I'm not sure I've ever eaten and consciously enjoyed a blackberry! 

Growing up, I shunned summer fruits except strawberries and raspberries. Only in adult life have I braved growing my own blueberries and blackcurrants, but blackberries are an all new challenge. As far as I recall they're mostly bitter and you only cut yourself trying to get them anyway, so what's the point.

However, as I am probably due detention for missing your classes, I'll do it, especially if you can send me through a recipe for mini blackberry and apple tarts/pies or something like that which I can marry with vanilla ice cream, because all sweet pies go well with ice cream, fact.

One thing though, you suggested I look for these on the river bank and I assume you mean by boat? As romantic as the notion is of taking out my rowing boat and looking for some on the banks of Bristol's rivers, my kind of rowing boat isn't very stable, and I fear I would end up looking less Mr Darcy, more Toad of Toad Hall.

So can we compromise? You see, I found these growing wild in the back garden...

Go on, I need to do something with them! And as I know you like your rock music here's a sweetener:

Yours bramble-y


Is there anybody out there?

Dear Tom

Whilst we have both been busy, you with your business trips, holidays, rowing, bathroom crisis and I with end of term, school holidays, trips to the Olympics and general hecticness it has come to my attention that the grass has been growing under our feet. Literally. Firstly the rain swamped our feet, then the heat caked the mud, but somehow, in all of this seasons madness, the summer hero has arrived. No, no, put away your cape, I don't mean you, I mean the humble yet feisty, the sweet personality that can be unexpectedly sharp, the lovely, energetic but sometimes prickly personality which is the common blackberry! Every foraging beginners easiest picking. Yet so versatile, so readily available and still under used.

Our summer holidays here are always built around the purple stained fingers that blackberry picking brings. I would go as far to say that foraging these lovely fruits is an extreme sport, for often the best looking ones are high up or over hanging gorse bushes and nettles. You can't call yourself a forager until you have the bramble scratches to show for your hunting efforts. I took a friend, Dannie, foraging for black berries last week, and she did moan a bit whilst picking. She knew that's where we were headed but wore light coloured short trousers and flip flops!! Jeans, shoes and long sleeves are required for this job, or possibly children who can be easily bribed.

Anyway, I was thinking, that you must have spotted a bramble or two by the riverside, so how about some blackberry recipes? We could ask our readers to submit their own to share and I can let you have a few of mine. I might steer clear of the alchemy of Jam making as who knows what might happen to you trying that, but a fruit leather, a pie, flavoured alcohol and lovely vinegars ought to suit you?

What do you think?

Readers, what do you think?

Maybe we can have some "Gluttony" recipes sent in too, recipes from gardeners who get the glut of beans or courgettes, for those moments when you need a book called 1001 uses for courgettes and can only think of ratatouille !!

Hope you are OK in your over grown garden?

Yours with renewed enthusiasm,


Sympathy for the Breville

Ruth! Don't quit, especially not after what I've just managed! And especially after all the hassle of making my own dough! There is so much to concentrate on for the unseasoned cook. Even when it's done, the madness doesn't stop. Cut to an inch? Well that's all very well if you don't have a ruler to hand, not forgetting a 'boy inch' is apparently different to the universal measurement.

Ok, I know I've been the world's worst pupil, and that I've gone seriously downhill on the cooking front, and that I've promised before to buck up my ideas...

So, despite having lost the will to get off the sofa after long trips away for work and a desire to just stop everything, I went out on a little bike ride with some of my rowing crew along the pathways to Clevedon.

And when out in the south west what better to do than forage? So, Mark, Fraser and I were on the look out for wild garlic.

I'll be honest, all I saw were stinging nettles! But when we got back to Mark's we found garlic growing wild in his back garden. I think that counts, and here it is - minus the leaves which I'd already picked:

So I managed to follow your recipe to the letter, and I have to say that even making scone dough is a bit tough on the old hands eh! I thought the breadcrumbs would never form. It is magic when it comes together though.

In they went and out they came, a success!

But, as you may have come to expect with me, cooking is never straightforward.

Oh yes, I followed your bacon and cheese scone to the letter, where of course the cheese was missing from the original recipe due to blog gremlins. So what you see above are simply not quite wild garlic scones. And, sadly, they were cooked on the outside but not on the inside. A failure.

Thankfully I picked enough wild garlic to make a second batch...

I hope this inspires you to keep posting your recipes.

Yours cheesily