Aubergine and mozzarella stacks

Aubergine and mozzarella stacks by Heather Elizabeth Wilkinson

I’ve lost my cooking mojo a bit recently. That’s not to say I’ve lost my appetite though, far from it in fact! I’ve been eating out for more than my bank balance (and belly) would like. But do you know what? I’ve been having a great time and I don’t feel guilty in the slightest. So I think the excitement of enjoying other people’s cooking might have something to do with my lack of enthusiasm in the kitchen.
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Strawberry mascarpone tart

All photography © Heather Elizabeth Wilkinson 2012
 

Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries is one of my most cherished cookery books, and I find myself returning to it again and again for inspiration. His warm, and somewhat magical, writing style and beautifully simple recipes tick all the right boxes for me.

There’s rebelliousness to Nigel’s cooking that I really admire. He inspires me to feel that cooking is an adventure and perfection is never the aim. Preparing meals to please yourself and your loved ones – that’s what it’s all about. I say hooray for Nigel. I bloomin’ love him!

Anyway, enough of the Nigel love-fest and on with the cooking. This is one of my favourite recipes from Kitchen Diaries 1. Rather than using the almond or orange biscuits that Nigel suggests, I opted for crushed shortbread (shortbread fingers, to be exact).  So what I ended up with was a version of a strawberry shortcake tart – and my goodness did it taste good!

The tart makes an ideal dessert, but my preference is as an afternoon treat accompanied by a glass of chilled prosecco.

You can find Nigel’s recipe here.

Moroccan-style Bean Stew

All images © Heather Wilkinson 2012


I’ve really got into combining sweet and savoury flavours recently, and I thought I’d use these as a basis for creating a dish for Meat-free Monday. This is a Moroccan-inspired bean stew, healthy, tasty and incredibly simple to prepare. I made sure to make plenty so there was enough left for lunch the next day. I really wanted to try making flat breads but ran out of time, so I served the stew with toasted wholemeal pittas and a yogurt dip.


You will need
400g (dry weight) of mixed beans and pulses (I used chick peas, kidney and flageolet beans)
400g of good quality chopped tinned tomatoes (+ half a tin of water)
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp dried chilli flakes (or fresh chilli if you prefer)
½ tsp paprika
A handful of sultanas
1 handful of dried chopped apricots
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp dried powered ginger
1 tsp tomato puree
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 generous glug of olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


1.)Heat the oil in a large pan. Add your onion and allow to soften before adding your garlic, carrots, cumin, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, chilli and coriander. Cook for about 3 minutes.
2.)Add your beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, sultanas, apricots and half a tin of fresh water. Stir gently to combine all the ingredients together. 
3.)Leave on a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 mins to allow the stew to cook down.

Spicy sweet potato soup

I know my last post was a soup recipe, but the weather has been so ridiculously cold and snowy here in Sussex this week that I’ve been eating little else. Knowing that I’ve got a warm and satisfying lunch to look forward to is about the only thing that makes braving the arctic temperatures in the morning bearable.

I think this has to be one of the simplest soups I’ve ever made: quick to prepare, healthy and a really short list of ingredients. My kind of recipe.

You will need
A glug of olive oil
1 onion, chopped 
½ teaspoon of dried chill flakes or ½ fresh red chilli, deseeded.
1 tsp ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, crushed and sliced
750g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks
1 pint of warm vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste.

1.) Warm the oil in a large pan, add your onions, garlic, chilli flakes and ground coriander and cook until soft.
2.) When your onions have softened, add your sweet potato and mix it in with the other ingredients. Leave it to cook in the pan for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.) Pour your warmed stock over the mixture, bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer for about 10/15 mins, or until the sweet potatoes soften.
4.) Blend your soup until smooth. Serve with fresh crusty bread (this soda bread is ideal). If you find the soup too spicy then add a dollop of crème fraiche.

All images © Heather Wilkinson 2012

Forced rhubarb, mascarpone and ginger semifreddo

Forced Rhubarb:  available January – Feb/March

I really like rhubarb but hadn’t ever tried the ‘forced’ variety before, so I eagerly bought a big bagful when I spotted it in my local fruit and veg shop.

Forced rhubarb, as the name suggests, it is literally forced to grow. The plants are grown in long sheds where they are subjected to heat and darkness so that the young shoots grow quickly in a desperate search for light. Apparently, it was originally cultivated to fill a gap in the vegetable calendar when there wasn’t much else available.

I wanted to try something a bit different from the usual rhubarb crumble (yawn), so decided to have a go at making a semifreddo. I was really pleased with how it turned out.

The ginger is the first of the flavours to come through, followed by the rhubarb – it’s almost like they politely take it in turns to tickle your taste buds.

The rhubarb flavour is a lot stronger in the sauce and balances the richness of the mascarpone cheese well.

PS: fellow Brightonians, I got my rhubarb from Taj in Western Road.

You will need
For stewing the rhubarb
200g forced rhubarb
Juice and zest of 1 large orange 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g caster sugar
2 pieces of stem ginger (about the size and thickness of a 2p piece), finely chopped


For the semifreddo:
4 eggs, separated
500g mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

1.) Roughly chop your rhubarb and place in a saucepan with the orange juice, orange zest, 100g caster sugar and chopped ginger. Then add enough water to the pan to just about cover your rhubarb.
2.) Bring to the boil and simmer for about 7 minutes until the rhubarb is soft.
3.) Sieve the rhubarb over a clean bowl.  Set the juice aside and pop it in the fridge when it’s cooled.
4.) Next, whip the egg whites into soft peaks with a pinch of salt.
5.) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla for a few minutes and then add the mascarpone cheese.
6.) Whisk the cheese and egg yolk mixture for a couple of minutes until smooth, then stir in your stewed rhubarb (not the juice).  Add one tablespoon of the egg whites and stir in with a metal spoon.
7.) Carefully add the cheese and rhubarb mixture to the egg whites and stir gently. Take care not to knock the air from the beaten egg whites.
8.) Line a freezer-proof container with cling film and pour in the mixture. Freeze for around 4 hours (or overnight).
9.) Remove the semifreddo from the freezer and leave to stand for around 5 mins while you make the sauce.
10.) For the sauce, pour the chilled rhubarb juice into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and cook down until it thickens.
11.) Carefully lift out the semifreddo using the cling film, place it upside down on a serving plate and remove the cling film.
12.) To serve, cut even portions of the semifreddo and drizzle each the sauce. To finish, sprinkle with crushed amaretto biscuits (optional).

All images © Heather Wilkinson 2014

Sloe gin

Sloes tend to start appearing in late September, and a lot of people say that they are usually at their best picked after the first frost. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a sloe bush in your back garden, you’re often better off picking them when you see them (provided they are ripe, of course) – chances are they will be gathered up by another keen forager if you don’t!


I made my batch in late September, and although I’m not usually known for my patience, I managed to resist temptation until now, and I’ve been rewarded by a beautiful deep red flavoursome gin.

You will need:
450g/1lb sloes
225g/8oz caster sugar
1 litre/1¾ pint gin
A large bowl
A large sterilised jar (Kilner jars work well)


1.) Put your sloes in a sieve and rinse.


2.) Prick each of your sloes all over with a clean needle or pin and put into your sterilised jar


3.) Pour in the sugar and gin, seal tightly and shake well


4.) Store in a dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then, shake once a week for at least two months.


5.) You’re aiming for your gin to turn a rich burgundy colour.


6.) Serve a small measure on its own with a couple of ice cubes, or as a long drink with soda water.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe