Duck Soup and lunch in three parts

Square MealIMG_1474“I’d like to do something different this weekend,” George announced. It seems that he was bored with taking the dog out for a tramp in country. I had just been conducting a twitter chat with Jon Spiteri – he of front of house Quo Vadis fame. Apparently they had gull’s eggs on the menu. Oh, and he and Jeremy Lee (head chef and good mate of ours) were having a twitter argument about biscuits. Anyhow it put me in the mind of popping into QV for a glass of wine and a plate of something nice. Another foodie friend, Geoff Ho was persuaded to come along. Quo Vadis is a lovely, lovely place and I would really like to live there. Everything about it makes me feel happy, from the stained glass windows, the copper bar, the competent staff and the knowledgeable barman. Although elegant it has a relaxed feeling and the food is joyously uncomplicated. I was ready to settle in for the duration but Geoff had other ideas, so after a perfect crab starter, we decamped to the very different experience of Ducksoup, just a trot away down Dean Street. We left Jeremy and Jon to their biscuit tiff and left, very nearly escaping with Jeremy’s wallet, but that’s another story.

IMG_1475Ducksoup is sparse to say the least and not really very comfy. However the three of us were in gung-ho mood having escaped our mundane weekend duties and were prepared to enjoy everything. Firstly, this place is about wine, specialising in natural wines. The “menu” in keeping with the spartan surroundings was hand written on what looked like a bit of foolscap paper ripped from an exercise book. Difficult if your eyesight isn’t great. However the dishes on offer looked  like our sort of food; on trend, unfussy and seasonal. We only sampled three of the dishes as Geoff had by now decided we also needed to visit Chinatown for some dim sum. The courgette flowers were perfect, the clams were plentiful and our third dish of pickled herrings with broad bean, lemon and dill was gobbled enthusiastically by George. The broad beans turned out to be a bean version of hummus which seems to be on the menus of many trendy restaurants at the moment. We stayed just long enough to chat to owner Rory McCoy about the non-hangover credentials of natural wines, before pressing onto yet another lunchtime venue. Rory was charming and has previously worked with Mark Hix and clearly knows all about wine. Another quirk of the place is the LP player perched precariously on a shelf near the front door. The food is good, and the menu changes daily and I am sure we’ll be back. However it does have the air of a pop-up about it and I am not sure that it is everyone’s idea of eating out. I have heard tales of people having to queue to get a seat during the week so if you fancy trying it, pick your time carefully. George, who can be fussy, liked the quirkiness of the place, so maybe we’ll do something different again next weekend. Poor dog.

41 Dean Street
London W1D 4PR

Hooray for Friday! Banana, Honey and Almond Cake

Perfect treat for a dull Friday afternoon. Made in less than 10 minutes and bakes in 45, you can go from start to finish in under an hour. Banana and almond cake is dangerously more-ish and there was a race on between Jamie and me to see who could finish it first. Thankfully for my waistline I had to go out, so he and his friend polished it off. Another one to add to the fantastically easy to make portfolio.

I wanted to try a skinny version using Light at heart sugar (a sugar and stevia blend giving 50% less calories) and Sweet Freedom a fruit syrup with 25% fewer calories, in place of the honey. I give the regular version here, but with quantities for the skinny version at the end. It is also wheat and diary free. However, I’ve gotta be honest – the full sugar version is way better. The skinny version is ok, but it is a bit like drinking wine with the alcohol removed!

To serve 8-10, using a lined 20cm/8 inch cake tin, or a lined 2lb loaf tin


  • 3 Medium bananas – Fairtrade if possible
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g runny honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 200g/7. oz ground almonds
  • 6 whole medium eggs


  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
  • Place the peeled and roughly chopped bananas in a food processor, and mix until smooth
  • Place all of the remaining ingredients in the food processor with the banans and blend until well mixed
  • Place the mixture into lined cake or loaf tins and bake for 45 minutes.


  • 50g Tate & Lyle Light at heart, in place of caster sugar
  • 75g Sweet Freedom or Agave Nectar, in place of honey

Comfort Food for a Rainy Day – Smooth Leek and Potato Soup

Easy Leek and Potato Soup Recipe

IMG_0060After an especially wet and muddy walk this weekend at Polesden Lacey I was in dire need of something warm and comforting to eat. Thankfully the cafe in the outside courtyard of the National Trust house was cosy and warm and their leek and potato soup proved perfect sustenance after our endeavours.

I had forgotten how delicious this classic recipe is, and this recipe is the best; very easy and no frills or added ingredients.

Another frugal student recipe winner.

I whizzed up a a couple of large of leeks and two medium potatoes and was able to use up some chicken stock. I had run out of butter so instead I sweated the leeks in olive oil, added the peeled potatoes and liquidised into the perfect creamy soup. Nigel Slater has a very interesting take on this in his book The Kitchen Diaries. He adds some leftover Parmesan rinds while the leeks and potatoes are simmering to give a cheesy, velvety version. He then removes the rinds before  the leeks and potatoes with the stock, scraping in any cheese you can get from the rind. He suggests finishing off with a handful of chopped parsley and topping with some grated Parmesan. So next time you have any leftover rind from a hunk of Parmesan, don’t throw it away, but keep until you are in the mood for soup. To complete the wholesome approach, I love to serve soup with tasty cheese scones<

NOTE: The trick to achieving a lovely smooth texture is to simmer slowly for about 40 minutes.

To serve 4

This recipe is straightforward, no-nonsense and with just four ingredients very easy to make.

  • 2 large leeks
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into dice
  • 30g butter or 3Tbs olive oil
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • fresh ground black pepper


  1. Trim the leeks by removing the tip and the dark leaves at the top.
  2. Slice into rings and wash throughly in cold running water. Make sure all the layers are separated so there is no grit lurking in between.
  3. Heat the butter or oil in a heavy based pan and add the leeks. Allow to soften and stir for 8-10 minutes or so. Add the potatoes and continue to stir for another 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken stock, cover the pan with a lid and allow to simmer gently for 40 minutes, checking from time to time to make sure it is not sticking. See Note below.
  5. Remove from the heat, season with salt and a good twist of black pepper. Puree by blitzing in a blender and serve.

Note: I usually cook this in a medium sized lidded casserole and put in a low oven – about 130C- to cook. This avoids the possibility of the soup catching on the bottom which can happen if you don’t concentrate when cooking on a hob. Likewise it can be cooked in a slow cooker.

Comfort food for Rainy Days – Cauliflower cheese with crispy chorizo

Cauliflower cheese with crispy chorizo

This is a quick and easy and nutritious meal for everyone. I am currently teaching my son Jamie some easily achievable recipes for when he goes to uni in September. He tested this recipe and it worked out perfectly so now he is going to it out by making if for his girlfriend this weekend. We had it for supper with some ciabatta bread and a tomato salad. Perfect.

To serve 4


  • 1 firm cauliflower
  • 50g of unsalted butter
  • 50g of plain white flour
  • pinch dry mustard (optional)
  • pinch paprika (optional)
  • 500ml of milk
  • 100g of mature cheddar cheese – grated
  • 50g grated Parmesan
  • 100g of diced cooking chorizo (optional)
  • 4 Tbs Parmesan for the top
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas mark 6.
  2. Wash the cauliflower and separated into equal sized florets. Bring a large saucepan of boiling water. Simmer for about eight minutes (testing after five) until cooked but still with a bite. Drain through a colander and set aside while as you make the sauce. Alternatively steam for 10 minutes or so until tender (see Tip below).
  3. To make a rich cheese sauce, melt the butter and, add the flour, mustard powder and paprika if using. Stir for a few minutes to cook out the flour. Add the milk gradually, stirring constantly so that the mixture (known as a roux) absorbs all the milk before you add the next lot. When all the milk has been added let the sauce simmer for ten minutes to thicken. It should be fairly thick and smooth by this stage. If there are any remaining lumps, a good whizz with an electric hand whisk can sort this out.
  4. Add both types of cheese and allow to simmer for a further 3-4 minutes. Add a good twist of black pepper.
  5. Place the drained cauliflower into a ovenproof dish
  6. and pour the sauce over the cauliflower, making sure it is well coated.
  7. Scatter a little Parmesan on top and bake for 25  minutes.
  8. Towards the end of the cooking time, fry the chorizo bits over a gentle heat in a frying pan until they are golden brown and cooked through.This should take around 4-5 minutes.
  9.  When the cauliflower is bubbling and golden, remove from the oven and serve with the chorizo bits scattered on top.

TIP: Steaming small amounts of vegetables is the best way of preserving the nutrients and helps keep the texture. We have a very nifty and space saving collapsible steamer basket. You can get them in shops like Robert Dyas or from Lakeland.

NOTE:  I have put some as the ingredients as optional as student cooks will probably not have the cupboard space nor frequent use for some of these items. The chorizo is also optional as it is an added expense for students on a tight budget, but could be substituted with some rashers of streaky bacon.