Saturday, 25 February 2017

My Sugar Shack supper club recipes: pea soup, maple syrup vinaigrette, pouding chômeur, Nanaimo bars, maple taffy on snow

My supper club last weekend was inspired by my trip to Canada last year, where I discovered the Canadian spring tradition of a sugar shack meal.

After a lengthy -50°C winter, come February and March, families leave town to visit their local maple farmer and taste the new season maple syrup. Farmers are 'sugaring off' their syrup, slowly reducing the watery maple sap over a wood fire to a shimmering mahogany nectar.

Wooden shacks next to the vats frequently boast long checkered-cloth covered refectory tables, adorned with jugs of that years' vintage of maple syrup - to be tipped liberally and frankly rather oddly into dishes such as pea soup or on fried potatoes.  The farmer's wife will cook a generous spread of traditional Canadian winter food, not fine cuisine by any means, but hearty and comforting. I tried to recreate this meal. 

Ice cider from Domaine Neige
Garden pea soup with bagel chips
Plum and maple syrup cured home-smoked salmon
Poutine with mushroom and truffle oil gravy and squeaky cheese from Goulds Cheddar
Slow cooked maple beans from Hodmedods
Walnut Romaine lettuce with maple syrup dressing
Pouding chômeur
Nanaimo bars using Moose Maple butter
Maple taffy on snow

Jugs of maple syrup from Clarks (No 1 Medium) and Pure Maple (Grade A Robust)

Playlist: Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Michel Bublé, Alanis Morrisette, traditional Quebecois jigs

Around a quarter of my guests were Canadian. I had driven to Glastonbury, to Goulds cheddar at Batch Farm, the day before, to obtain authentically squeaky (as you bite down they squeak against your teeth) cheese curds for the poutine. (More on this in a later blog post.)

I used different grades of maple syrup in different dishes; for instance a lighter maple syrup in the pea soup and darker more robust syrup in the beans. Here is an explanation of the different grades. Maple syrup in a vinaigrette salad dressing adds a subtle and savoury sweet note to salads, especially when combined with walnuts or pecans. I used maple peas from British bean grower Hodmedods and cooked them in the bottom oven of the Aga for around three days!

The most exciting moment when when we obtained snow from freezer scrapings (not easy to find real snow in London) and I made maple taffy lollipops on snow at the table. 

Garden pea soup recipe

Serves 6

3tbsp olive oil
4 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Bay leaf
1 kilo bag of frozen garden or petit pois peas
300ml full fat creme fraiche 
500ml vegetable stock
1tsp sea salt
A few grinds of white pepper
150g shelled edamame beans
Pea shoots (optional)

In a large saucepan on a medium heat, soften the shallots and garlic with the bay leaf. When lightly golden, add the frozen peas and stir for a few minutes. Then add the cream, stir for five minutes, season to taste and add the vegetable stock. Add half the bag of edamame beans and simmer for half an hour. Put the liquid through a blender or use a stick blender. Check for seasoning. Use the rest of the edamame beans for garnish or pea shoots if in season.

Maple syrup salad dressing

I used this in a walnut salad with sweet crisp Romaine (cos) lettuce. You can also use pecans.

75ml olive oil
1 heaped tbsp dijon mustard
Juice half a lemon
1tbsp maple syrup
1tsp sea salt

Put all the ingredients, in the above order, into a jam jar and shake.

Pouding chômeur

Serves 6

The name of this dessert means pudding for a man on the dole, derived from the fact that the ingredients were cheap. (Previously, maple syrup was a fraction of the price of cane sugar in Canada.)

It’s very easy to make, a little like a sticky toffee pudding. Perfect for chilly nights.


For the sauce:
350ml maple syrup
150ml double cream
60g butter
2tsp cider vinegar
Pinch of salt

For the pudding:
100g brown sugar
100g butter, salted
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla paste
200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt

To serve:
300ml whipped double cream

4tbsp maple syrup


Make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bringing to the boil, then removing it from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
For the pudding, beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy, then add the egg and vanilla until combined.
Gradually add the flour, baking powder and salt, stirring until well mixed.
Pour half the sauce into a baking dish (approximately 22cm square) then spread the pudding mixture on top. Add the rest of the sauce.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until golden.
Serve with double cream mixed with maple syrup.

Nanaimo bars recipe

This recipe has been one of the most quickly devoured things I have made in a long time. It is adapted from Joy of Baking's recipe. I prefer them without the desiccated coconut. I also used a new ingredient by a start up food company in London, Moose Maple butter, a combination of British slightly salted butter and Canadian maple syrup. The bars are a kind of fridge cake, made in three layers. 

Makes 20 to 25

Bottom Layer:
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
50g white or golden caster sugar
2tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1tsp vanilla paste
250g Digestive Biscuits, roughly chopped
50g pecans, coarsely chopped

Middle Layer:
75g salted butter mixed with 3tbsp maple syrup, room temperature (or Maple Moose butter)
3tbsp single cream or full fat milk
2tbsp custard powder
1/2tsp vanilla paste
250g icing sugar, white or golden

Top Layer:
150g dark chocolate
1tbsp salted butter

30g pecans, chopped, for topping
Optional: 50g white chocolate to drizzle


Butter or spray a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inches) square tin or a brownie tin.
Bottom Layer: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 - 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, digestives and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Put in the fridge to firm up.
Middle Layer: Beat the butter until fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. Spread the filling over the bottom layer and put in the fridge for half an hour.
Top Layer: Chop up the chocolate and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir then if still not sufficiently melted, microwave for another 30 seconds. Add the butter and stir. (Or you can use the bain marie method, of a bowl over a pan of hot water). Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the nanaimo bars, spreading with a rubber spatula into the corners, smoothing the top. Scatter the pecans on top. Put it in the fridge to set.

If wanted chop up the white chocolate and microwave for thirty seconds. Drizzle, with a spoon, over the nanaimo bars. Return to the fridge until set.

Cut into squares with a sharp knife. 

Maple taffy on snow recipe

Readers may remember the story from Little House on the Prairie where they make maple taffy on snow. This is a traditional finale to each sugar shack meal, a spring treat enjoyed just as much by adults as by children. 


Maple syrup
Clean Snow
Flat lollypop sticks
Shallow baking tin or container
Digital thermometer

Boil maple syrup to 115ºC or 235ºF. It's best to use a digital or sugar thermometer.

Pack clean snow into a shallow container so that it is compacted and flat on top.
With a jug, drip the maple syrup onto the snow in thick strips (an inch or 2-3cm wide and 6 inches/ 12cm long). 

Using a flat lollipop stick, press it down into the liquid maple syrup until it starts to stick, then slowly roll up into a popsicle. Hold the stick sideways as you are eating it, otherwise it'll drip down into your sleeves.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Hearty dishes for Valentines Day

If you are alone this Valentine's Day, as I will be (sob), February 14th can feel like a sick joke to make all of us feel bad. More and more of us are living alone: 41% of Camden households (where I live) in the last census were single householders (the 4th highest in England and Wales). 

Valentine's Day creates such pressure and is often the crunch point for a relationship. If you are going to break it off, you will be weighing up whether to do it beforehand or afterwards. 

I once hosted an Anti-Valentine's crepe party supper club. I put 30 tickets on sale, split evenly between the sexes. Only three men booked, and one of them had a girlfriend already. I couldn't understand it: 18 gorgeous, young, slim, intelligent, funny, glamorous women- single! 

To hell with it all: make a romantic meal for yourself, or share one with a friend.

Here are a few ideas for easy V-Day recipes. This four-course dinner should take you at most a couple of hours to make. Start with the possets and, while they are chilling, steam the artichokes, then make the sauce for the gratin and the mayonnaise. 

Buying heart-shaped dishes isn't necessary, but when they cost only a couple of quid from Tiger or a local pound shop, you may as well indulge. 

All of these recipes serve two

Steamed artichoke heart with mustard mayonnaise


2 fresh artichokes (available at Waitrose and corner shops)
1tsp sea salt
1/2 lemon

For the mustard mayonnaise:
1 egg yolk
1tbsp dijon mustard
150ml rapeseed or olive oil
1/2tsp sea salt


Boil a large pot of water with lid, enough to cover the artichokes. Cut off the stems and also, if you wish, the top inch from the artichoke so that there are no spikes. Place the artichokes in the boiling water with the salt and lemon, put on the lid and boil until a leaf out pulls easily (about 20 minutes).
Put the egg yolk and mustard in a bowl and whisk. Slowly add the oil little by little, whisking all the time then add the salt. 
Heart shaped oven dish by Sophie Conran for Portmeirion

Hearts of Palm gratin

I love these delicate ivory tubes which you can only buy tinned in this country. If you don't like hearts of palm, you can replace them with potato gnocchi. 

3tbsp olive oil
30g butter
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1tsp sea salt
50ml cream, single or double

2 tins hearts of palm, drained, cut lengthways in half
100g cheese either ricotta salata, gruyere or cheddar

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the olive oil and butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan and heat slowly. Add the tin of tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves and sea salt. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the cream. Stir and remove the bay leaves.
Pour a little of the sauce into the chosen oven dish (I've used an oven-safe ceramic heart by Sophie Conran) and place the hearts of palm all over the dish in one layer. Pour the rest of the sauce over the hearts of palm. 
Finely grate the cheese over the top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and serve.

Bergamot posset with violet sugar

This is about as easy a dessert as it's possible to make. Literally a child could make it. The bergamot citrus gives it an exotic Earl Grey flavour, but you can also use ordinary lemons. The violet sugar is available from, one of my favourite online ingredient emporiums.

200ml double cream
50g caster sugar
1 bergamot lemon, zest and juice
2tbsp violet sugar

Pour the cream and the sugar into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar is melted. 
Remove from the heat and let it cool. Add the zest and juice from the bergamot or other citrus fruit, stirring it in.
Pour it into a ramekin or heart-shaped dish. Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Sprinkle the violet sugar over the top. Serve.

Cheese Heart

To add to the Valentine's atmosphere, there are several cheeses that come in the shape of a heart, most famously the camembert-like Neufchatel. I used an ash-covered goats' cheese heart. Serve with biscuits and quince jelly.
Come to MsMarmitelover's next supperclub on February 18th, which will be a recreation of a typically Canadian sugar shack meal with jugs full of maple syrup. Tickets are £40 available at 
Dress code: checked lumberjack shirts, furry trappers hats.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tulum and Hartwood

Tulum beach


There was a part of me that, despite its blinding beauty, hated Tulum. Everybody there was ridiculously gorgeous, slim, honey-skinned, young, lithe... and rich. Especially rich.

Who are these millennials who can afford $250 a night accommodation? Who ARE they? How did they get to this place in their lives? I don't get it.

Coco Tulum

I stayed at Coco Tulum, a stylish beachfront hotel on the white sand, the most bleached beach I've ever seen. The bar was white, the driftwood furnishings were painted white, the mosquito nets were white, the taps were hidden in enormous pink shells, the drinks were fluo, the bodies were brown, the sky was a totalitarian turquoise.
Coco Tulum
This place didn't have rooms but individual huts. I begged for a press discount. For $100 a night I got the worst hut, near the road and the restaurant, far from the loo, without a view. So I felt like the poor relation. The huts near to the beach were beautiful but around 350 bucks a night. 

Tulum used to be the hippy cheap part of the Yucatan coast. Gradually it became chicer, more expensive, more mainsteam touristy. The restaurant 'Hartwood' was part of this developing trend.


To read 'Hartwood' the book, and virtually every piece written on it, you'd think the restaurant was in the middle of the jungle, far from civilisation. In reality it faces the main drag, which stretches from the town via the 'hotel zone' all along the coast. Every evening there is a traffic jam outside, bringing well-heeled tourists to the restaurant. Wild it isn't.

While Hartwood has been lauded by chef Rene Redzepi as 'the place I dream about' on the cover of the eponymous cookbook and described as 'unforgettable' by the Guardian, it's certainly not the only (or even the best) restaurant in the region. It doesn't do to focus on this trendy eatery run by two New Yorkers (sickeningly described by Condé Nast Traveller as 'sun-kissed and loose') and neglect the fantastically vibrant neighbouring food businesses run by locals, where you find truly authentic fare. Beautiful food by beautiful people? Nah. Give me a squat Mayan grandma any day. She knows what's up.

I booked for the restaurant at 8pm on a Friday night. Earlier that day I walked there to check out its whereabouts and hopefully take a few pictures before nightfall. The executive chef Eric Werner was there in a business meeting. I pleaded with staff for a meeting with him to take pictures, 'I've come all the way from London' and ask a couple of questions. Chef Werner is a big shot nowadays - 'Vice have just been and done a thing on me' - but he kindly gave me a few minutes of his time.

Hartwood, Tulum
Hartwood, Tulum
Hartwood, Tulum
The food that evening: fudgy golden turds of wood-baked sweet potatoes, glistening slices of ivory jicama radish with a scarlet hibiscus dressing, citrus-flecked ceviche Yucatan-style, all while watching the no-nonsense female head chef briskly organise her fire-roasted staff. Hartwood uses local ingredients with American styling and cheffy know-how.

The low note were the cocktails. Despite sending them back once, the tamarind margarita was unprepossessing and, even though we didn't drink them, they charged us. A high note was the corn flavoured ice cream. I felt rather sorry for a group of girls who'd booked months ago but were still waiting for a table 90 minutes later. The executive chef might be American, but the time-keeping was strictly Mexican.

Charly's Vegan Tacos

Charly's a chef, not a vegan, but he and his business partner have started a really good casual dining restaurant at the beginning of the hotel zone on Carreterra Tulum. There are a huge selection of pickles and salsas to jazz up your chosen vegan tacos. Prices are reasonable. 

La Eufemia

eufemia, tulum
My favourite place to eat was Taqueria La Eufemia, at the end of the beach past Hartwood, where I waited all afternoon until my dinner appointment. I mentioned to locals that I was going to Hartwood and they shrugged. 
We can't afford it said one hotel worker.
The chef is connected said a barman.
Yeah I think his amigo is from the New York Times.
He's got good marketing said another.
La Eufemia, on the other hand is friendly, cheap as chips, with a satisfyingly long counter of choose-yer-own-rainbow-shade of salsa, stoned customers, beach bums, hippies, backpackers, sun-grizzled old gals holding up the bar. There are a few smug skinny minnie yoga bunnies draped over the sun beds but nothing overwhelming. It's actually on the beach. This is where the locals go. They can afford it. So could I.
Next door to this is probably the cheapest place to stay in Tulum, the campsite. I didn't check it out though.

Piedra Escondida hotel and restaurant

guacamole, tulum
chilaquiles, tulum
There are dozens of good restaurants and hotels along the Caratera Tulum strip. At this one, Piedra Escondida, the food was tasty, there was a private beach and the drinks pitched just at the right strength between pissed and sun-kissed and the waiters helpful(and willing to charge up my iPhone.) Again it's not cheap to stay, around $250 a night. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Parsley Power 2: Tabbouleh



When I was asked to write recipes featuring flat leaf parsley, I thought of the most parsleyish dish of all: tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh is often thought of as a bulgur wheat salad, but it's more properly a parsley salad. There should be just a few specks of bulgar wheat, to give it body, while the overriding taste and texture ought to be of fresh herbs, finely chopped. Middle Eastern cuisine celebrates fresh herbs, both for nutritional value and flavour. A meal can simply be a plate of various herbs ready to be wrapped in thin flatbread, the green crunchiness and intense vegetal flavour imparting vitality and vitamins.

In Turkey, they have a similar mezze called 'kisir'. It is the inverse ratio of tabbouleh, whereby the golden colour of bulgar wheat is flecked with green parsley and mint.


Tabbouleh Recipe

Bulgar wheat comes in different grades: coarse, medium, fine and extra fine. We aren't using water to cook the bulgar wheat, which I find makes the salad soggy and heavy. The juices of the tomato, vegetables and herbs will plump up the wheat, so no cooking is required. For this method, the bulgar must be fine. Tabbouleh is traditionally served on lettuce or cabbage leaves, and these are used as scoops. When picking the leaves from the parsley, finer stems can be included while thick stems should be discarded.

Serves 2 to 4

30g (2 tbsps) bulgar wheat, fine or extra fine, washed
10 cherry tomatoes, diced
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
60g (2 packets or pots) flat leaf parsley, picked, finely chopped
30g (1 pack or pots) mint leaves, picked, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
50ml olive oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp all spice, ground
1/4 tsp sweet paprika, ground
1/4 tsp of black pepper, ground
1 tsp sea salt

The bulgar can be washed in a sieve where it will soak up the water. Chopping by hand very finely is key to this salad; take your time preparing it. Put the tomatoes, spring onions, parsley and mint into a large bowl. Mix the lemon with the olive oil, salt and spices in another small bowl. Add the bulgar wheat to the bowl of vegetables, then pour over the dressing. Leave in the fridge for at least half an hour so that the flavours can be absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.


Monday, 6 February 2017

Parsley power: salsa verde recipe (with sea bass and potatoes)

 salsa verde recipe

 salsa verde recipe (with sea bass and potatoes)

One of the most transformational things you can do to improve your cooking is to use fresh herbs. Fresh herbs lift a dish from the ordinary to the special, adding pep and a verdant sparkle to dishes.
Don't just use fresh herbs as a garnish. Make them a central part of a dish, as in this recipe for an emerald salsa verde sauce for fish. Or simply gather sprigs of mint, basil, parsley between flat bread, Middle Eastern style, with a sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of lemon as a casual sandwich.

There is a generational divide when it comes to fresh herbs – parsley in particular. Younger people, inspired by cooks such as Ottolenghi, are more likely to use fresh rather than dried herbs. When it comes to parsley, the best known herb in European cookery according to The Oxford Companion to Food, curly parsley is almost uniquely bought by older people. The younger generation of cooks have made the switch to flat leaf parsley.

For years in Britain, curly parsley was used ubiquitously as a garnish - the crinkly leaves tucked in everywhere like moss - rather than for taste. In catering, before every plate goes out to the feeding public, you are exhorted to 'green it up'. Somehow, a few fresh herbs bring a dish to life - rather like the fresh food produce being at the entrance of a supermarket.

Recent research by, which supplies potted and cut herbs to all the main supermarkets, claims that coriander has supplanted parsley as the best-selling herb, with basil coming second place. Trends in herb buying are influenced by ethnic populations; towns with high Asian populations, for instance, will buy more coriander for use in curry. Best-selling cookbooks will also be part of that picture: dill is currently in ninth place and rising thanks to the recent vogue for Scandinavian and Eastern European cookery.

I suspect that people feel they are doing a little gardening, in a manageable form, when they buy potted herbs. How to keep them going? Pioneering herb grower Jekka McVicar at her Bristol herb farm gave me some advice:

  • Don't overwater basil. Keep it thirsty. 
  • Buy three pots of a herb and cut them in sequence, so that one is always growing new shoots. 
  • Only pinch off the tops of the herbs - this encourages growth. 
  • Replant in a bigger pot. 
  • Split up plants. Reduce the pot to 2 or 3 roots and plant the rest out. 

Salsa Verde Recipe with Sea Bass and Potatoes

Serves 2

At its most basic, parsley and garlic equals 'persillade', which, when creamed together with salted butter, makes a delightful garlic bread spread. But add in capers and anchovies, and you have a classic Mediterranean sauce for fish or meat. I also use salsa verde streaked over potatoes or grilled vegetables.

Ideally the ingredients are minced using a stone pestle and mortar or chopped finely by hand. To save time you can use a food processor, but somehow it doesn't taste quite as good.

For the potatoes:

1 kilo boiling potatoes such as Charlottes, peeled, quartered

1 tsp sea salt
2 litres boiling water

For the salsa verde:

4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

1 tbsp (heaped) salted capers, rinsed, drained
1 clove garlic
Juice of half a lemon
60g parsley leaves (picked from 2 packs or pots of parsley)
30g basil leaves (picked from 1 pack or pot of basil)
100ml extra virgin olive oil

For the sea bass:

4 tbsp olive oil

2 large or 4 small fillets (approximately 200g per person), washed and blotted dry on kitchen paper
1 tsp sea salt
Wedge of lemon

Prepare the potatoes and boil for 20 minutes in a large pan of salted boiling water. Drain and cover until needed. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Grind the ingredients for the salsa verde together to form a chunky paste. It is unlikely to need salt with the anchovies and capers but add more if needed.

Add the olive oil to a baking tray and place the fillets skin side down. Scatter with sea salt. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 10 minutes, then flip over and cook for 5 minutes more.

Serve with the potatoes, a wedge of lemon and the glistening oily salsa verde spooned over the fish.

 salsa verde recipe (with sea bass and potatoes)
 salsa verde recipe (with sea bass and potatoes)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Roasted Brussels sprouts on a stem recipe

Roasted Brussels Sprouts on a stem recipe

Roasted Brussels Sprouts on a stem recipe

Sweet and only mildly sulphurous, my adult palate rather enjoys Brussels sprouts. I'm always searching for new ways to cook them. Sprouts grow on a thick stem - something you can readily find in many supermarkets these days, both in green and purple shades.

For a spectacular effect, to make something dressy out of the humble sprout, roast them on the stem. This is all so quick, none of that trimming and cutting a cross.

Serve them on the stem or scrape the sprouts balls off it. They also refry rather nicely.

Roast Brussels sprouts on a stem

You'll need a longish oven safe dish and tin foil.

Serves 6

2 stems of Brussels sprouts (purple and or green) cut to the length of your oven dish
150ml vegetable or mushroom stock (1 or 2 cubes)
50ml olive oil
1tbsp sea salt
4tbsp pomegranate molasses
3tbsp poppy seeds or sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Wash the sprouts, removing any very damaged outer leaves. Place the two stems in a long oven safe dish. Using either strongly flavoured vegetable stock or intense mushroom stock (I love this mushroom glace), brush it over the sprouts. Brush over the olive oil. Scatter sea salt.
Cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes until the sprouts are tender but still attached to the stem.
Remove from the oven, remove the foil and drizzle over the pomegranate molasses.
Sprinkle the poppy seeds over the sprouts and serve.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts on a stem recipe