Last night, I took dinner round to my friend Nicky. After a week in hospital, she was in desperate need of feeding up, and I reckoned I was the person to do it!

I brought her a meal that I’d prepared the night before at home, so while she got her two extremely boisterous little children into bed, all I needed to do was put the dishes in the oven and sit down with a glass of wine. (Okay, so I’m a good friend when it comes to food, but not when it comes to helping out with the kids!)

First on the menu was leek, butter bean and potato gratin. I’d got these dinky little pie dishes when I recently made beef and oyster pies, and they were perfect for two individually sized gratins.

Into a mixing bowl I put a tin of drained butter beans and a sliced and washed leek, then seasoned it all with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or so of chopped fresh rosemary. I divided the mixture between the two pie dishes and added about 100ml of milk to each one.

I’d bought some pink fir apple potatoes at the market last Saturday, and used them to top the gratins. Often, recipes that have sliced potato toppings say to add them raw, but I find it takes an absolute age to cook like this. So, I sliced the potatoes and par-boiled them in some salted water before layering them on top of the butter beans and leeks.

A little grated cheese and some more black pepper was scattered over the potatoes, and then they were baked in an oven heated to gas mark 4, for about 50 minutes.

I did mean to add some chopped garlic, but forgot. And I think it would have made a difference, so in the recipe that I’ll post later, I’ll put the garlic in. I also decided that the dish would have been improved by a half-and-half mix of stock and milk, so again, I’ll change that in the recipe. But all in all it was a warming winter meal.

For pudding, I made a pear and cinnamon tart. When I cooked the beef and oyster pies last December, I had some of the rough puff pastry left, so stuck it in the freezer – where I discovered it after a good rootle round at the weekend. I also had a bag of pears that I’d bought for a mere 40p at a supermarket, which had, in fact, turned out to be utterly tasteless.

The thin slices of pear were simmered in a little water, with some soft brown sugar and cinnamon, until soft. Then I simply placed them in a nice pattern on the rolled out pastry in a tart tin, and baked in an oven heated to gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes.

Although the tart certainly did wonders for the flavour of the pears, the pastry, unfortunately, was a little soggy in the middle. I’m not sure if it needed to be cooked for longer or had just not lasted well in the freezer, but I’ll experiment with it a bit more and post the recipe if I am more successful next time.


This weekend, another purchase from Istanbul made its way into a rather English recipe in my kitchen.

The beautifully scented vanilla pods I bought at the Spice Market, I decided, would taste great with the locally grown pears I bought yesterday at Borough Market. And, a look through my cupboards resulted in the discovery of a half-full packet of ground almonds that I’d forgotten about – a perfect additon to the pear/vanilla combination.

So, I took a basic vanilla cake recipe, courtesy of David Herbert, food editor at Easy Living, and added in a grated pear and the leftover ground almonds… et voila! A warming, nutty, fruity cake.

Now I’m going to do the only thing you should do on a Sunday afternoon – put my feet up in front of the television with a big pot of coffee and a hunk of cake.

One of my favourite food writers is Nigel Slater, because he uses simple, everyday ingredients and encourages you to experiment with recipes. I often take a recipe and adapt it, depending on what I have in my fridge and how much time I have to cook. Which is exactly what I did on Sunday.

When I saw these dinky little hen pheasants at Shellseekers in Borough Market for a bargainous £4, I knew one was destined for my pot. I didn’t really have a plan of what to do with it, so I started having a look though my cookery books. In an old copy of West Country Cooking by Theodora FitzGibbon (a fantastic British food writer, who is – in my opinion – criminally ignored these days), I found a recipe for roast pheasant with an apple and onion purée. Sounded simple enough. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an apple, or the sweet white wine it asked for. But I did have a pear and some tarragon vinegar. That’ll do, I thought. Then I decided that even this wasn’t simple enough. I couldn’t be bothered to faff about with oven trays etc, so thought I’d make it all into a pot roast instead.

So here’s what I did. I browned the pheasant in one of my trusty Le Creuset casseroles, removed it, then added a chopped onion, the pear (chopped), a rasher of bacon and a bay leaf. Once the onion was soft, I put the pheasant back in, poured in about 200ml of hot stock and added a good splash of tarragon vinegar. Then I just let it simmer very slowly for about 40 minutes. The pear melted down really nicely, and the sweetness just took the edge off the vinegar. Being a nice small bird, half of it made a perfect portion for me, alongside some crunchy blanched Brussels tops – the other half went in the freezer for a quick supper another time.

‘Scuse the general ‘brown-ness’ of the photo – I’m a much better cook than photographer, I promise!