Another Ottolenghi treat : a really really easy one

It’s cold. Really really cold. And because it’s cold we need warming, nutritious, comforting food. We need it to be quick and easy and relatively painless. This is all of those and the only downside was that I didn’t make more of it – I halved the recipe to feed 3 of us and I should never do that.

I’m a bit of an Ottolenghi fan but even I can find all the spices a little too much to handle at times. This recipe uses the softest of spices which makes it a treat without being overly fussy. It’s also incredibly easy to make and I shall be probably be cooking it very often indeed. I actually think this one could turn even the most hardened of Ottolenghi cynics.

I forgot to take a picture in all the excitement so here it is photographed straight from the pages of Jerusalem




Chicken with Caramelised Onion & Cardamom Rice

  • 40g Sugar
  • 25g Barberries (or Currants, Sour Cherries & Cranberries)
  • 4 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Onions
  • 1kg Chicken Thighs
  • 10 Cardamom Pods
  • 1/2 tsp Whole Cloves
  • 2 Long Cinnamon Sticks, broken in two
  • 300g Basmati Rice
  • 550ml Boiling Water
  • 5g each Chopped Parsley, Dill & Coriander
  • 100g Greek Yoghurt mixed with 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt & Black Pepper


  1. Put the sugar in a small saucepan with 40ml of water and heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the barberries and set aside to soak. If using currants you do not need to soak them in this way. (I used this method with my dried cranberries and it worked well)
  2. Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid, add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 10-15mins, stirring occasionally, until the onion has turned a deep golden brown. Transfer the onion to a bowl and wipe the pan clean.
  3. Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl and season with 1 & 1/2 teaspoons of salt and black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and use your hands to mix everything together well. Heat your frying pan again and place the chicken and spices inside. Sear for 5mins on each side and remove from the pan (this is important as it part-cooks the chicken). The spices can stay in the pan but don’t worry if they stick to the chicken. Remove most of the remaining oil as well, leaving just a millimetre at the bottom. Add the rice, caramelised onion, 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Strain the barberries and add them as well. Stir well and return the seared chicken and push into the rice.
  4. Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken, cover the pan and cook on a very low heat for 30 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid and quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan and seal again with the lid. Leave the dish undisturbed for another 10 mins.
  5. Finally, add the herbs and use a fork to stir them in and fluff up the rice. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm with yoghurt if you like.

Happy Birthday Johnny Cash


Through the Vine

I have a new social media addiction. I doubt it will quite take over my love of Instagram but it’s going to be a close one. Vine is a FREE app for iPhone and iPad which allows you to film 6 second movies. You hold your finger down on the screen for as long as you want to record which means you can do six 1 second pieces of film (or more / less) which is then edited automatically and posted. You have the choice to share your movies just within the Vine community, or further afield through your Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The platform looks like Instagram but with moving images. Download it now and have a look at some of the Editor’s pics. It’s amazing what you can do with 6 seconds of film.



So this happened….

I don’t generally use ANTW as a platform for rants, well not often anyway, but I have a quick one today which I’ll try to keep brief.

Can someone please explain to me this current need to caption things, photographs mainly, with the phrase “so this happened”, or “so this is happening”. Not only is it hugely irritating and a bit too over friendly, but I’m sure it’s also grammatically incorrect on all kinds of levels. I’ve been looking in to it and it’s not just Instagram, Twitter and Facebook which seem to be suffering from the occasional “so…” caption. There are blogs published under the title “So This Happened…” and “So, this happened…” which I suppose at least involves a comma. There are people I like and respect using the phrase all too freely and flippantly. Mostly it seems to partner a picture of some kind of food which either has or is about to be consumed. A great big greasy burger, an eye watering spread of Indian take away or a bar full of alcohol or perhaps even a tattoo in mid branding.

I do see how it works and I do understand the appeal, to a point, and perhaps it’s just my prudish, British sensibility which causes it to bother me at all. Who knows. All I do know is that I’m finding it even more annoying than LOL and I never, ever thought that possible.

So, that happened. Is that right? Oh I don’t really care.


Knocking Through and Doing Up : Part 2

The hole may still only be the size of a football but I can see the other side and that’s all the reason I need. Ebay has become my obsession of late, I’ve even delved in to the pages of Gumtree but I still can’t make out what’s real and what’s a paid for ad. It’s far too confusing to buy from let alone look at.

Once the hole becomes a door way and the two houses become one, we will have 6 rooms to furnish and decorate. All the walls are being painted white and the carpets replaced so in theory we’re being given a clean, blank canvas. Obviously when you’re joining two houses together you have the problem of having two of everything. We don’t need two kitchens so are ripping one out to make a through dining room from our existing kitchen. The small second sitting room will become a study and the dining room we’re not using, will become a grown up carpeted seating area with no room for toys.


The 1

The hole…day 1




The first room to consider is our existing kitchen which will be losing the large kitchen table to be replaced with a smaller table. The dryer and washing machine which take up two corners of the room, will be going next door in to the utility room so that frees up a whole load more space. The downstairs loo which leads off the kitchen, has today been ripped out to make way for the hole to next door. So this small corridor now needs to be thought about too and will eventually become much needed under stairs, corridor, storage.

So far I’ve made two big purchases for the kitchen : a new dresser and a small enamel topped table. Both are from second hand shops, one in Witney (The Old Pill Factory) and the other in Whitstable (Valentines Vintage). The dresser was priced with an accompanying note which read….make me an offer….so I did and got it for half price. Never pay full price when shopping in vintage or second hand shops. It shall be painted sunflower yellow, as all dressers should. The enamel topped table is absolutely beautiful and solves the need for a small table which can also double as more surface space.



Kitchen Dresser : The Old Pill Factory, Witney
To be stripped and painted bright sunflower yellow


Enamel topped table

Enamel topped table
Valentines Vintage, Whitstable


I don’t want big bulky chairs so I decided on stools. Determined to stay away from Ikea and the like, I started looking on Ebay for things which could be made in to interesting stools or seats. I found the most amazing vintage American lard barrels. Two of them. I’m going to put them on coasters and top with cushions.


Streck Metal Can :

Streck Metal Can :


Similar idea found on Pinterest

Similar idea found on Pinterest


Another thing I discovered this week was that Marks and Spencer are selling potted Hyacinth bulbs for just £2. Re-potted in an old colander, they make a very nice addition to the new enamel table. And they help take my mind off the masses of dust and rubble a small hole in the wall can cause.



We’ve run out of walls

The other exciting thing about the house on the other side of the downstairs loo which we’re soon to take over, is the extra wall space. We’ve completely run out of walls to put things on. Every inch of space is filled with something to look at and we now have pictures leaning against each other patiently waiting for their turn, or pictures in tubes waiting for a frame. It’s not an ideal situation. It’s also a bit of an expensive situation – framing costs an absolute fortune – but we still can’t help find yet more things to put on a wall.

Here are my latest discoveries. They were all bought on Ebay (US) and each cost around £3. They are original vintage crate labels, in perfect condition and absolutely beautiful to look at. I’m hoping they will soon make it out of their hard back envelope and in to individual frames and finally on to a new, freshly painted wall for everyone to enjoy.


















Cauliflower and Gorgonzola Soup – Skye Gyngell

I made this last night and it deserves to be remembered and shared. I used Stilton instead of Gorgonzola and the “pickled pears”  were replaced by some chopped up poached pears (pears, water, sugar, star anise and stem ginger) I had left over from Sunday lunch.

I didn’t use nearly as much cheese as I think it might have been a little too strong. Personal taste though I suppose.

Here it is in it’s un-touched form taken from Skye Gyngell’s wonderful book, A Year in my Kitchen

Cauliflower soup with Gorgonzola and Pickled Pear Relish

1 medium cauliflower
15g unsalted butter
2 small yellow onions
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 litre chicken stock
250g Gorgonzola
100ml creme fraiche

Break the cauliflower into small florets.  Melt the butter into a saucepan and sweat the onions gently over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until translucent.  Add the cauliflower, thyme and bay leaves. Season.  Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft.  Crumble in the Gorgonzola and stir over a low heat until it has melted.  Add the creme fraiche and stir to combine.  Pick out the herbs and blend the soup until smooth.  Return to the pan and heat through.  Check for seasoning.

Pickled Pear Relish

2tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp currants
2 firm, ripe conference pears
1 golden delicious apple
25g unsalted butter
75ml cider or red wine vinegar
2 tbsp caster sugar
3 thyme sprigs
1 cinnamon stick
salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the cranberries for about ten minutes in warm water to soften.  Core and chop the pears and apple into small dice.  Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat.  When it begins to foam, add the diced fruit and cook for 5 minutes until starting to soften.  Add all the other ingredients (except the salt and pepper) and cook for a further 8-10 minutes.  Taste and season if necessary.  Remove the cinnamon and thyme.  The relish will have a shiny, jewel like lustre.  Serve warm.



My version of Skye Gyngell’s Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup

Serve the soup warm with chopped flat leaf parsley and a some of the pear relish heaped in the middle. Absolutely incredibly delicious.


Knocking Through

One of the most important things you can do to say you’re Middle Class is to Knock Through. The problem many Middlings are now encountering is that the house they have just bought has already been Knocked Through. On the surface this may appear to be good news, but actually it’s very disappointing and it is hard to resist the urge to Knock Through just a little bit more. At this stage the house falls down and it is time to ring Kevin McLoud.

So says the Middle-Class ABC by Zebedee Helm and Fi Cotter-Craig,  along with all kinds of other words of cringing wisdom.

It may not relate entirely to what we’re doing as we don’t actually own the houses we’re knocking through. We live in a semi detached cottage in the Cotswolds, not far from Oxford, which we’ve rented for the last three years and which we absolutely love. The only problem we’ve ever really had was a lack of downstairs space. We have two children under 5 and they take up an extraordinary amount of room. We also have a lot of stuff. So, we thought about moving but moving is ridiculously expensive and a great big hassle and then, something wonderful happened; our immediate neighbours decided to move, leaving a lovely 2 bed thatch cottage completely empty and in need of a little bit of TLC,  just on the other side of our downstairs loo. So, we’ve negotiated with the landlord and we’re renting the thatch cottage and knocking out the downstairs loo and joining the two together. Suddenly we’re getting all the extra space we need without any of the drama of moving. We’re just spreading out a bit.

As well as all the extra windows to look out of and of course the dream of being a detached house, it means we have a whole load of new rooms to fill and do up. Something I particularly love doing. I’m not an interior designer sort of person, nor am I particularly avant garde or visionary when it comes to the look of a house, I just like what I like and most of that involves things either found, on loan, acquired or bought (cheaply). I love my house to be interesting, comfortable and welcoming with lots to look at and a bit different from the norm. I have a particular love of fabrics and bed linens and quilts and cushions. I love colour and pictures and tins and containers to put things in. I like enamel and old cutlery and interesting tea pots and plates and things with a bit of a story. I like houses with fresh flowers and I like to be able to see my children’s toys but to also be able to put them away sometimes. I like things for the kitchen and I like curious things hanging from ceilings. My husband likes all these things, as well as Star Wars, kitsch tapestries, dinosaurs, toys and books. Together our house is a bit of a jumble but it inspires us and makes us happy and that, I think, is the most important thing about a home.



Current bedroom styles

Just a few of Jay Jay's kitsch tapestries (they won't be coming next door)

Just a few of Jay Jay’s kitsch tapestries (they won’t be coming next door)


So, over the next few weeks I am going to share the plans and ideas for these new rooms which will soon be ours through a hole in the wall.  Our budget is virtually nothing so it will certainly be imaginative and it will probably involve some skips, junk shops and lots of Ebay. I doubt Ikea will get a look in, I’ve completely gone off tea lights recently.



First new house buy : Indian Quilts





Christmas Light Fantastic



My creative Christmas….thanks to Hobbycraft

When it comes to arts and crafts and handmade, homemade things, I don’t claim to be terribly good or hugely inventive. In the past Ive tried to follow in the steps of Kirsty and Martha and attempt all kinds of wonderful (expensive) creations which generally don’t work out the way I’d hoped and are not suited to someone with very little patience. I like things to be done quickly and with little effort but I also enjoy the satisfaction of having made or created something myself. Those things don’t often go hand in hand. This Christmas, however, I have surprised even myself with some of my handy work but for the most part, it is all thanks to the fabulous emporium which is Hobbycraft.

If the idea of sewing and gluing and stapling and baking and primping and ribboning (if that’s a  word) leaves you cold, then look away now. But if you have even the smallest desire to create some Christmas decorating cheer with your very own hands, then carry on reading.




So firstly, my bird and star tree decorations. The basic plain bird / star cost just 99p each from Hobbycraft, the bag of pom poms cost me £1.99 on Etsy…but you can get them in Hobbycraft too I’m sure. I rather liked them plain but my 4 year old complained that they didnt have wings and so I set about with some pom poms and fabric glue (Hobbycraft) and there we go, wings (sort of). The stars were a basic 5 point pom pom affair. They’ve been hanging for over a week now and knocked around by cats and children and still the poms stay put. And they took about 10 minutes to do whilst drinking a glass of wine. You see, easy AND enjoyable.




The orange slices were done on a whim when I saw 3 lonely looking oranges in the fruit bowl who weren’t going anywhere. So I sliced them, lay them directly on the oven shelf and baked them for an hour or so on a medium setting. Or just until they looked dry and Christmassy. At the moment I have most of them in a jar waiting patiently for a good idea and I put a few around a candle with some pine cones collected from the park. It’s quite a sophisticated arrangement for me but it makes me feel grown up. I shall use the rest as part of a holly wreath for the door or perhaps add them to a garland of pine cones or I might just open the jar from time to time and smell them. They make me feel strangely proud. It’s Pomanders next, just as soon as I work out exactly what they are.






And then to the crackers. £3.99 for a pack of 6. All you have to do is roll them (the “bang” is prefixed to the card), put in the hat and joke provided, a present of your choice and ribbon them up. I put a chocolate coin in each which makes for a perfectly satisfactory rattle.




So far so good. I may attempt more as the days go on or I may just sit back and see how long it takes until the kids rip off the pom poms and raid the crackers. Christmas is for the children after all.