My favourite Chocolate Cake

19 January 2017

This dead-easy chocolate cake recipe is committed to memory and is my go-to dessert for any occasion. It can be gussied up with a bit of ganache or seasonal fruit but it can also be left quite happily as it is. Served slightly warm with a scoop of ice cream or mascarpone cheese, this cake makes a simple and elegant end to any meal. It is also free of gluten, I find that rice flour creates a lovely moist texture, although you can use plain flour or ground almonds instead.


Serves 8 to 10

250g plus 2 tablespoons salted butter, for greasing the pan
250g best quality bittersweet chocolate
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
250 g granulated sugar
6 tablespoons rice flour, plus extra for dusting the pan

Butter a 22cm cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment or waxed paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with a bit of rice flour, shaking out the excess. Preheat the oven to 180°C
Place 250g butter in a mixing bowl and heat over barely simmering water. While the butter melts, chop the chocolate into small pieces. Add the chocolate to the butter and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is very smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Whisk the egg yolks until just blended and beat in the sugar until just mixed. Whisk the yolks into the warm chocolate mixture, and fold in the rice flour.
In a separate bowl, beat the whites until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites quickly into the chocolate mixture, taking care not to deflate them.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The cake is done when the sides are set but the centre of the cake is still soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan. The cake will develop cracks in the top as it bakes, and more will appear when it cools, but this is normal. When the cake has cooled to room temperature, you may cover the pan tightly with cling film if you are not serving it right away. It will keep for a couple of days and freezes beautifully.

Lemon-Rosemary Posset with Lemon Polenta Biscuits

1 March 2014

lemon possett 2Coming towards the end of Winter and leaning desperately towards Spring, this refreshing Posset straddles both seasons nicely. Lemons are still in season, and if you can get your hands on some beautiful Amalfi lemons, all the better. For a bit of colourful garnish and contrast of flavour, use some soft fruit or mango. I will also be using a bit of poached rhubarb in the next few weeks – we have some peaking through in the garden now.

This is a great do-ahead recipe and great for entertaining. Rosemary pairs amazing well with citrus and makes a lovely flavour addition. The zest is used in both the biscuits and the garnish for a simple, but sophisticated plated dessert. however, the posset is delicious on it’s own!


Makes 6


750ml double cream

200g caster sugar

3 large sprigs rosemary, washed and dried

4 large unwaxed lemons, zested (reserve zest for later) and juiced (remove pips)

For serving: 1 punnet raspberries, pureed or left as they are, whipped cream, lemon zest and Lemon Polenta Biscuits (recipe follows)


In a large saucepan heat the double cream with the rosemary sprigs until hot, but not boiling. Remove pan from the heat and set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.


After 20 minutes, remove the sprigs and add the sugar. Return the pan to the heat and bring slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let the mixture boil for about two minutes, taking care to watch that it doesn’t boil over the sides.

Remove from heat and mix in the lemon juice. Carefully pour the mixture into 6 serving glasses or bowls, cover and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.


To serve, spoon a bit of raspberry puree or, if leaving whole, scatter on top on each posset. Dollop a bit of whipped cream on top, finishing with a garnish of remaining lemon zest and a sprinkling of icing sugar, if desired. Pass a plate of Lemon Polenta Biscuits alongside.




Lemon Polenta Biscuits

Makes about 3 dozen


200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

150g caster sugar

Grated zest of 2 lemons

4 egg yolks

300g plain flour

pinch of fine sea salt

150g uncooked polenta


Preheat oven to 180℃. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper, parchment or silicone baking mats.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar and lemon zest until creamy. Add egg yolks one at at time, beating well after each addition.


In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, the salt and the polenta. add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix well to combine. Gather the mixture up and flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour or until firm.


Roll out the dough to 6mm thick on a floured surface  and, using a 6cm biscuit cutter, cut out circles. Carefully lift the circles and place at least 2.5cm apart on the prepared trays, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden. While biscuits are baking, gather any scraps of dough and knead gently. Rewrap and chill until dough is firm enough to roll out, 10 to 15 minutes. Cut out more circles with the remaining dough roll (roll scraps only once or the resulting biscuits will be tough). Bake as before. Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight container for up to a week.





Cocktail Crab Cakes

4 June 2013

If I had to choose my favourite meal, it would include lobster or crab, but only from Harwich. We are extremely lucky to have a regular supply of locally landed shellfish from Gary ‘the crab’ Hambling.  We serve his lobsters year-round and his beautiful dressed crabs have recently made an appearance on our spring menu.

Crab is extremely versatile. Served chilled with lemon and herb mayonnaise, or a simple vinaigrette, it makes a simple and healthful meal. We use it in soups, salads and tarts, but one of the most popular menu items was inspired by my Mom. Her cocktail crab cakes were always a hit at drinks parties in the 70’s and the tradition lives on here in Mistley. We tend to serve them three or four on a plate as a starter, but they are equally good as a main course. I like to serve them with a little watercress salad tossed with mustard vinaigrette and some new potatoes drizzled with parsley butter.  This recipe makes about 30 small bites.


For the Crab Mixture

375g (12 oz) crab meat, a mixture of white and dark meat

2 thick slices of good quality white bread, slightly stale and broken into small crumbs

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper

1 large shallot, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste

3 tablespoons  fresh coriander leaves and tender stems, finely chopped

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

vegetable oil for frying


Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Combine the crab meat and bread crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, chopped peppers, shallots, Tabasco sauce, coriander and mayonnaise. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Add a squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mixture into approx. 1 ½ tablespoon portions, and form into small cakes. (Can be made ahead up to 24 hours and refrigerated).

Heat about 4 tablespoons oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Working in batches of 6 to 7, place the crab cakes in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 30 seconds to a minute, then turn and cook the other side. Transfer the cakes to a tray lined with kitchen roll to absorb the excess oil, and then transfer to a baking sheet.  To serve, bake the cakes in a hot oven for 7 to 10 minutes, and serve warm with some good mayonnaise and fresh lemon.

Wild Thing

10 April 2013


For me, the arrival of wild garlic or ransoms, as they are also known, heralds the beginning of spring. Growing in woodlands, often near bluebells, the leaves of this luscious plant have the distinctive aroma of garlic although they are slightly milder in flavour to domestic garlic.

I have my ‘special’ little spot for foraging, which is in the wider countryside. Being a responsible forager, I am always careful to take only the leaves of the plant, never uprooting the bulbs or trampling on neighbouring plants. Using scissors, I clip the larger leaves, leaving the flowers and small buds for others. It is also advisable to wear protective gloves as stinging nettles happily share the growing space, however the odd bit of nettle works beautifully in many recipes alongside wild garlic.

Wild garlic can be used raw in salads and sauces, and is interchangeable with other soft summer herbs such as basil, chives or parsley. I love to use it in soups, risotto and as a stuffing for sardines. It is particularly nice mixed into mayonnaise to be used in fresh crab salad.

The following recipe is perfect for wild garlic, using it in the gnocchi as well as in the pesto. Gnocchi is a perfect do-ahead dish for entertaining, as it is best made and cooked from frozen. The pesto sauce also keeps very well in the fridge and can be frozen in ice cube trays for perfect portioning!

Potato Gnocchi with Wild Garlic Pesto

Serves 4

800g (1 ¾ lb) warm and very dry mashed potato (use floury potatoes such as Maris Piper or King Edward)

1 egg, plus 1 yolk, beaten

200g (7 oz) pasta flour (tipo 00) or plain flour

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Grated fresh nutmeg

Finely chopped wild garlic or nettle leaves, if desired

To serve

Wild Garlic Pesto Sauce, recipe follows

60g (2 ¼ oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

a handful of fresh wild garlic or basil leaves

Mix the mashed potato with the egg, flour, finely chopped garlic or nettle leaves, if using, and some seasoning. Work together with your hands until the mixture is bound together but not too stiff. Flour the work surface (a wooden board or a clean smooth table surface). Working with a small amount of dough at a time, roll a piece into a longish sausage shape of about 2cm (3/4 inch) in diameter. Cut the dough lengths into pieces of about 2cm (3/4 inch). Using a fork, gently press down on each gnocchi the rounded side of the teeth so that you get a ridged shape on one side and a little hollow on the other.  Cover gnocchi with a clean tea towel until ready to use, up to a couple of hours. (Gnocchi can be flash frozen and then kept in an airtight container for up to three months. Cook from frozen).

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Gently slide the gnocchi into the water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they float to the surface.

Prepare a hot bowl with pesto. Scoop the gnocchi out of the water and put them in a bowl. The pesto should be just warm. Mix well and serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and fresh garlic or basil leaves. Serve immediately.


Wild Garlic Pesto Sauce

Makes 4 to 6 servings

60 g (2 oz) fresh wild garlic leaves

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

Maldon sea salt

60 g (2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

2 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese

Put the wild garlic leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until fine and almost creamy. (You can prepare the sauce ahead of time up to this point and refrigerate or even freeze it. Cover the surface with olive oil to prevent the basil from oxidizing and turning black).

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the two grated cheeses.

Toss with hot pasta, adding 2 tablespoons hot water and a knob of butter, if desired.

Merry Berry Christmas

12 December 2012

Cranberry Cake

There aren’t many things that I won’t eat, and I approach most dining experiences with an open mind, but any hot, stodgy nursery pudding fills me with dread, especially the Yuletide variety. That sort of dessert doesn’t exist in the Christmas memories of my childhood spent in sunny Southern California. Give me a sliver of warm pecan tart, something chocolaty, or at a push, pumpkin pie to finish off a leisurely Christmas meal.

This recipe is a halfway meeting point for those diehards who desire a bit of a warm ‘pudding’ and for those, like myself, who prefer lighter holiday fare. This cake looks beautiful and festive, the cranberries glistening like jewels. Best of all it is easy to prepare, leaving more time to enjoy the conviviality of the season. Although fresh cranberries are abundant at this time of the year, frozen will do fine. Just don’t defrost them before using.

Cranberry-Orange Upside-Down Cake

Serves 8


– 75g unsalted butter
– 150g soft brown sugar
– 300g fresh cranberries
– One orange, zested and juiced (save zest for cake)



– 225g plain flour
– 2 teaspoons baking powder
– ¼ teaspoon sea salt
– 125 g unsalted butter, room temperature
– 225g caster sugar
– zest of one orange (see above)
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 2 free range eggs
– 150ml milk

To make the topping, place the butter and brown sugar in a 25cm round cake pan with 8cm sides (do not use a springform pan). Set the pan directly over low heat and melt the mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to caramelise and starts to turn a slightly darker shade of brown, remove and allow to cool. Scatter the cranberries evenly in the bottom of the pan and drizzle over the orange juice. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°c

To make the cake batter, mix the flour, baking powder and salt in

to a bowl. In another large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and caster sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, making sure they are thoroughly incorporated into the mixture. Stir in the milk. Fold in the flour mixture.

Pour the batter over the cranberry mixture, spreading evenly over the top to cover the cranberries. Bake until the top is golden and the cake pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pan and inverting the cake onto a serving plate. It is best served warm with slightly sweetened whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche, although it can be prepared a day in advance and served at room temperature.

Breaded Pheasant Breast Paillard with Mustard, Cream, Capers

17 October 2012

Mistley and Manningtree are smack in the middle of huntin’and shootin’ territory. During the season, which starts on October 1 and finishes at the end of January, there are numerous shoots in the region of which I am the happy recipient of some of the spoils. I still have a difficult time believing that much of a day’s shoot will be left to waste. I am told there isn’t much of a market for game birds, which is a shame as pheasant is delicious, nutritious and easy to prepare. Once the season is underway the price drops considerably making pheasant very economical.

Pheasant can be purchased ‘oven-ready’ from good butchers, farm shops and farmers markets and sold in a ‘brace’, a hen and a cock. Early in the season, pheasant is very tender, becoming a bit more robust in texture as the season goes on. Because pheasant is extremely lean, I tend to cut the breast meat from the carcass and leave the rest for the stockpot. Call me a philistine, but I don’t like roasting a pheasant whole, I find it has a tendency to dry out and can be a pain to carve. One great way to serve pheasant is as a paillard, which is a handy little cutlet that can be prepared ahead of time. Bathed in a sublime mustard sauce and served with one of my favourite veggies, Cavalo Nero, it makes a delicious autumnal supper.

Breaded Pheasant Breast Paillard with Mustard, Cream, Capers and Wilted Greens

Serves 6 to 8

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

For the Pheasant:

  • 12 boneless, skinless pheasant breasts
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 150g (5 oz.) plain flour
  • 4 free-range eggs, whisked
  • 450g (15 oz.) fresh breadcrumbs
  • 125ml (4 oz.) light olive oil

Place the breasts on a flat surface and pound with a kitchen mallet until they are an even 1cm (3/8 in.) thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the flour and fresh breadcrumbs each separately (do not mix together!) in large shallow bowls or pans. Arrange in a row: The flour, then the bowl of whisked eggs, and finally the breadcrumbs. Dredge each pheasant breast first in the flour, shaking off the excess, and then dip it in the egg mixture and then the crumbs. Make sure that the pheasant is completely coated. Set aside breaded pheasant breasts until ready to cook. (This can be done up to a few hours ahead of time, just cover and refrigerate until needed.)

For the sauce:

  • 1 litre (1 quart) chicken or pheasant stock
  • 250ml (8 fl. oz.) dry white wine
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 500ml (16 fl. oz.) cream
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 lemon
  • Sea salt and ground pepper
  • Capers and shavings of Parmesan cheese

In a large heavy saucepan add the stock, wine and shallots. Bring to a boil over heat and reduce the liquid by half. Add the cream and mustard and cook for a few minutes until it is slightly thickened. Complete the seasoning by adding lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Keep sauce warm while cooking the pheasant and kale.

To finish the pheasant:

Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan over moderate heat. When the oil is hot add the pheasant breasts to the pan without crowding. Reduce the heat slightly and cook each breast about 4 minutes until golden and then turn each piece over and finish cooking for another 2 minutes, or until the breast is completely cooked through. Place the wilted greens on a warm platter and top with the pheasant breasts and warmed sauce. Scatter capers over the top along with shavings of Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Serve with Wilted Greens

Wilted Greens

17 October 2012

Serves 8

  • 1kg (2.2 lb) mixed greens, such as spinach, bok choy, Savoy cabbage or Cavalo Nero
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry the greens. If using bok choy or cavalo, split and remove the central rib. Roughly shred the leafy greens, cutting everything to a similar size so that the vegetables cook at the same time. Heat a medium frying pan or wok until hot. Add oil, swirl around the pan then toss in the greens. Stir well and add water. Stir fry the mixture until all water has evaporated. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Wilted greens are great with my Pheasant Breast Paillard


22 May 2012

Anushka and Amazing Asparagus

Spring arrives just about the time my friend Anushka appears at The Thorn with the first of her fantastic homegrown asparagus. There isn’t any warning; one morning she just will breeze into the kitchen with a wooden box laden with her beautiful bunches and continues to deliver until she hasn’t any more to pick. And that’s it; we don’t have any other supplier before the season, or after. During the short growing period, Anushka’s asparagus will feature on the menu daily. I tend to keep the dishes simple, perhaps chargrilling the spears and finishing off with a bit of fruity olive oil and a generous grating of pecorino cheese. Her not-so-perfect spears, which are slightly bent or broken, are tucked to the side in a shopping bag.  I often look forward to these little ‘perks’; the tips are usually reserved for a risotto, salad or pasta with the stalks and trimmings going into making a simple, but luxurious soup.

Another indication that spring has sprung is the abundance of tender stinging nettles lining the footpaths and fields here in Mistley. Stinging nettles are extremely rich in calcium and are known to have the highest plant source of iron. In addition to being a super food, nettles are super trendy in California where the plants are now being cultivated for top restaurants and sold by the bundle at farmer’s markets! I feel very lucky to have on my doorstep (literally) this fantastic, wild and free ingredient.

Nettles have an earthly flavour that pairs well with asparagus, especially in soup.  The leaves can be substituted for most dishes calling for cooked spinach; and even make a delicious pesto. A couple of favourite dishes that we will be preparing soon at The Mistley Kitchen are nettle gnocchi with a simple sauce of asparagus tips, butter and Pecorino cheese, as well as a nettle and asparagus risotto.

Harvest the plants while young and tender. Remember to wear long gloves and use scissors and only pick leaves that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. It is also a good idea to choose plants away from the very edge of the footpath, away from areas where dogs are known to frequent. I usually pick the tender sprouts from the top of the plant. Should you get stung, I find that by rubbing crushed dock leaves, bicarbonate of soda or even toothpaste on the affected area seems to offer a bit of relief.

If you don’t have access to fresh nettles, this soup can be made substituting watercress, rocket or spinach for the nettle leaves. A tasty alternative is to throw a handful of fresh mint leaves, flat leaf parsley or tarragon into the soup before pureeing.


22 May 2012

4 generous portions

  • 500g thin asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium leeks, white part plus 2cm of the green part chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 300g tender nettle leaves, rinsed thoroughly and dried
  • 2 to 3 litres vegetable or chicken stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • lemon juice, to taste


Slice the asparagus spears into 2cm pieces, reserving the tips

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, leeks and potatoes stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture begins to colour slightly, about 10 minutes.

Add 2 litres of stock and simmer, partially covered for 10 minutes after which time, add the asparagus stalks and the nettle leaves. Simmer the mixture a further 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and asparagus stalks are tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Using a hand held blender or food processor puree the soup until smooth. Pass the mixture through a food mill or sieve into a clean saucepan. Make sure that you press the solids through with the back of a spoon, discarding the fibrous bits.

Return the soup to the stove. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. If the soup appears too thick, add more stock to thin out the mixture. If on the other hand, the soup is too thin, bring the heat up to high and reduce the soup to the desired consistency. Add sea salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Add asparagus tips and simmer until tender, about 4 minutes. Serve hot or cold.


This soup can be made substituting watercress, rocket or spinach for the nettle leaves. It is also very nice to throw a handful of fresh mint leaves, flat leaf parsley or tarragon into the soup before pureeing. It is also great with a handful of crispy croutons, a grating of pecorino cheese or a swirl of cream added before serving.


A simple but delicious Christmas

15 December 2011

Simply does it. This is the way I choose to cook year round and Christmas is no exception. I will never understand why people desire to make an already fraught time of the year even more of a trial by cooking an elaborate meal. It is a small wonder that many people put Christmas at the top of the stress and worry list – sometimes ahead of financial problems.

A simple cooking style doesn’t have to translate into boring and uninspired meals. By choosing seasonal ingredients and perhaps splurging on a better bottle of wine or a special ingredient as a treat can make for a memorable occasion.

The run up to the festive season is usually the busiest time for me in the restaurants and come Christmas day, I like to take things a bit easier and still maintain the family tradition at home in Mistley. I always, without fail, cook a turkey with my Mom’s cornbread stuffing. My mother used to prepare the whole bird, a task that took up the better part of Christmas day morning. However, I now find that by having the turkey boned out beforehand, I can have a bit of a lie-in and then relax with the family before lunch. I don’t use any old turkey, either. As always, my choice of bird is a Norfolk Black. Classified as a rare breed, it has an amazing depth of flavour and texture.

The stuffing, red cabbage and a special dessert can be prepared a day or two in advance; as a result the last minute organization should turn out to be a breeze.