Rhubarb syrup (with soda water)

Rhubarb syrup and soda water 1
As promised last time, today I have a quick little recipe for using up extra rhubarb juice. When I made my rhubarb curd the other week I had quite a lot of rhubarb juice leftover and it would have been a crime to waste even a drop of that gorgeous pink liquid. Instead I boiled it up with a splash of water, a few strips of lemon peel and a drop of sugar to sweeten. The flavour of this syrup is just pure rhubarb, and creates a delicious spring drink when mixed with soda water, which is also pretty in colour. I’m coming to the end of the bottle I made and now desperately need to get my hands on another batch of rhubarb to top it up.
Chopped fresh rhubarb for rhubarb curd
Ingredients (makes about 500ml syrup)
300g rhubarb
90g granulated sugar
1 lemon

Method
1. To extract the juice from the rhubarb follow steps 1-3 here. (Short version: simmer rhubarb with splash of water; strain.)
Straining stewed rhubarb for rhubarb juice
2. Mix 150ml of the rhubarb juice with 300ml water, the sugar and 3 strips of lemon peel.
Rhubarb juice
3. Simmer the liquid over a medium heat for 15 minutes.
Rhubarb juice, sugar and lemon peel for rhubarb syrup
4. Allow the syrup to cool, pour into a bottle and keep refrigerated until needed. The syrup will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
Homemade rhubarb syrup
Close up of homemade rhubarb cordial
To serve, mix a few tablespoons of the syrup with soda water – use in the same way you would use any fruit cordial, adjusting to your taste. For a more grown up version, mix with gin, soda and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
Rhubarb cordial and soda water

Rhubarb curd

Homemade rhubarb curd and daffodils
Spring has finally arrived in Scotland! Easter weekend passed and suddenly the evenings seem longer, the temperature milder and the sun has been gracing us with its presence for weeks now. Despite the warning of a drop in temperature, and more than a drop of rain, this weekend the season has undoubtable changed and brought with it a new crop of spring produce. Every spring my mum makes a batch of lemon curd (you can find the recipe here) and seeing ruby red stalks of seasonal rhubarb inspired me to try a new twist on the recipe. I can reveal the results of this experiment now: superb.

Luckily my local gardener (dad) has a bumper harvest of both regular and forced rhubarb right now. I decided to go for the regular rhubarb for this recipe, purely based on aesthetics – I wanted a curd with a gorgeous pink colour. The initial juice from the rhubarb is an almost shocking pink, but when mixed with the butter and eggs it turns a more pastel shade. Very spring-appropriate, I think. If you have extra rhubarb and want to make something that retains the vivid pink then you can cook up the excess juice into rhubarb syrup for drinks. I’ll post a recipe in the next few days!
Ingredients for rhubarb curd
Ingredients (makes 1 medium-sized jar)
400g rhubarb (for leftover juice for rhubarb syrup increase to 700g)
100g butter
150g granulated sugar
3 eggs, well beaten

Method
1. Chop the rhubarb into small pieces and place in a pan with a splash of water (just a few tablespoons).
Chopped fresh rhubarb for rhubarb curd
Rhubarb with a splash of water for stewing
2. Simmer the rhubarb on a low heat for 10-20 minutes until the rhubarb has completely softened.
Stewed rhubarb for rhubarb curd
3. Strain the rhubarb through a fine sieve to achieve a beautiful, smooth rhubarb juice. Measure out 250ml of the juice for the curd.
Straining stewed rhubarb for rhubarb juice
Rhubarb juice
4. Melt the butter in a bain-marie making sure the water in the pan does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
Butter in a bain-marie for rhubarb curd
Melted butter in a bain-marie for rhubarb curd
5. Add the sugar and mix.
Adding sugar to the melted butter for rhubarb curd
6. Add the eggs and rhubarb juice and whisk well.
Adding beaten eggs and rhubarb juice to the bain-marie for rhubarb curd
7. Continuously stir the curd over a very gentle heat with a wooden spoon until you have achieved the consistency you want – usually so that it’s thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. It can take a very long time to get to this stage so stick at it. And remember that the mixture will thicken a little more once cool.
Constantly stirring the rhubarb curd with a wooden spoon
Getting the right consistancy for rhubarb curd
8. Pour the curd into a sterilised jar and leave at room temperature to cool completely. Keep the curd in the fridge – it will last for at least 3 weeks.
Close-up of homemade rhubarb curd
Spread on toast or swirl through yogurt for an indulgent spring breakfast, or use the curd to top ice-cream for the perfect, simple spring dessert.
Homemade rhubarb curd in a Kilner jar

Easter meringue nests

Easter meringue nests with mini eggs 1
Meringues and Easter were made to go together. It just seems so appropriate to make an egg-based dessert at Easter time, and meringues are the ultimate in egg magic. Made into individual nests, they are the perfect vessel for lashings of cool cream and piles of cute chocolate eggs. And even better, they can be made ahead of time if you’re planning a big Easter Sunday feast and don’t want to be rushing around the kitchen or juggling oven timings any more than you have to. These meringues will store perfectly in an air-tight container until the next day, but will even keep for three or four days after baking.

I mentioned many of the following tips in one of my very first recipes for chocolate-dipped meringues, but a few key pointers to keep in mind:
– Make sure you don’t get even a drop of yolk or a miniscule shard of egg shell in the whites, as this will prevent the whites from whisking properly.
– For the same reason, make sure your bowl and whisk are spotlessly clean.
– Stick down your baking parchment (not greaseproof paper since meringues can stick to this) with a few dabs of the meringue mixture under each corner.
– After baking, turn the meringues upside down, turn the oven off and leave to cool completely in the oven. Cooling in the oven helps the meringue form a crisp exterior. I have literally no idea why you turn them upside down but my mum does it so there.
– Meringue making is essentially science in the kitchen, so weigh out your sugar exactly and stick rigidly to the cooking time and temperature. Some meringue recipes will call for a certain weight of sugar, but this is the most basic meringue recipe: equal weights of egg whites and caster sugar.
Ingredients for Easter meringue nests
Ingredients (makes 3 dessert-sized meringue nests)
2 medium eggs
Same weight as egg whites in caster sugar
Optional: food colouring gel, cream or yogurt to fill, mini eggs

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 120C/100C fan/Gas 1. Separate out the egg whites from the yolks and weigh the whites.
Splitting the egg whites and yolks for Easter meringues
2. Whisk the eggs to soft, fluffy peaks in a large, clean bowl – try not to over whisk at this stage.
Whisking the egg whites to soft peaks
3. Weigh out the same quantity of caster sugar as you had of egg whites. Add to the whisked egg whites one dessert spoon at a time, whisking in between each spoonful. You should end up with a thick, glossy meringue mixture.
Adding sugar to the whisked egg whites
Meringue mix ready to be piped and shaped
4. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. If you don’t want to pipe the meringues freehand then draw around a bowl or plate which is roughly the size that you want your nests to be.
Baking parchment for meringue nests
5. Place your piping bag nozzle-down into a large glass – this makes adding the colouring and the meringue mixture much easier.
Holding the piping bag upright
6. Using a paint brush or a long skewer, paint two stripes of food colouring gel on opposite sides of the bag. The amount I used produced pale, pastel-coloured meringues, but if you want a more striking effect then you will need to be extremely generous with the amount of colouring you use.
Adding pink and orange food colouring gels to the piping bag
7. Fill the bag with your meringue mixture and pipe into nests on the baking tray.
Piping the meringue nests onto the baking sheet
8. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes until crisp and dry on the outside. Turn the meringues upside down, turn the oven off and leave to cool (or do this on a board if oven space is tight).
Turning the meringue nests upside down after baking
These meringues are crisp and crumbly on the outside, but very soft and chewy on the inside. Since they’re so sweet, I always think that meringues are best paired with a sharp Greek yogurt or crème fraiche rather than whipped cream, but choose whatever you fancy.
Easter meringue nests
Top with a pile of mini eggs for the ultimate Easter treat.
Easter meringue nest filled with greek yogurt and mini eggs

Fresh Pesto

Homemade fresh basil pesto
There is something utterly intoxicating about the smell of fresh pesto: the fragrant scents of basil and pine nut oil, mixing with the heady smell of garlic and the pungency of parmesan is enough to drive me c-razy. I really think I could eat an entire batch with a spoon, straight from the blender container. Spread it on some toasted sourdough and top with cherry tomatoes: divine. Stir it through fresh pasta and sprinkle with extra parmesan: I’m in food heaven. Obviously you can use whatever pasta you like – fresh egg pasta from the shop or just dried store-cupboard pasta. But if you’re feeling like a real treat then you can follow my recipe for homemade pasta dough. I cut the pasta on the thinnest setting, because it reminds me of the fresh pasta that my parents would always buy from a local Italian deli when we had fresh pesto for dinner, and that makes me happy.

To call this a recipe is really a gross exaggeration. We’re basically grabbing a pile of ingredients and letting the blender do all the work. I’ve given you the rough quantities that I used in our pesto on Sunday, but there’s no right answer here and it can change from batch to batch. This is my mum’s recipe and her classic answer to a question about quantities is “some”, which tells you all you need to know about making pesto. You can make your pesto personal to your own taste by adjusting the amounts of all the different flavours after the first blend. You can even go fancy and toast the pine nuts or add other green leaves like rocket, but in my opinion this is the best version of pesto. Ever. Keep it simple folks.

The only secret here is good quality ingredients: use the best olive oil and parmesan that you have or can afford and it will lift the flavour of the pesto by an unimaginable amount. You will need a surprising amount of basil leaves, and so it’s probably most economical to buy a couple of plants from the supermarket, cut most of the leaves off to use in the first batch, but keep enough on the plant so that you can water it and bring it back to life: hey presto, pesto all summer!
Ingredients for homemade basil pesto
Ingredients (makes a generous serving for 4)
Basil leaves from 2 – 2½ plants (or 2-3 small bunches of basil)
3 small handfuls of pine nuts
2 small handfuls of grated parmesan
3 crushed garlic cloves
4-6 tbsp good quality olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Method
1. Cut the leaves from the basil plant, or from the stalks if you are using bunches of picked basil. Squash the leaves inside the blender container and top with the pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil and a generous amount of seasoning.
Ingredients to be blended for fresh basil pesto
Ingredients to be blended for fresh basil pesto
2. Blend until smooth. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust as you like.
Blended homemade basil pesto
Blended homemade basil pesto
Use on the day of making, or you can put it in a jar or tupperware container, drizzle the surface with olive oil and store in the fridge for at least a week.
Homemade fresh basil pesto
We had the pesto with my homemade tagliolini, and a simple green salad. With a bottle of wine and some lovely company, it was the perfect Sunday dinner.
Pesto, homemade pasta and salad for dinner
Homemade tagliolini with fresh pesto and salad
Do you have your own pesto recipe? What do you do differently?

Braised Spring Vegetables (La Vignarola)

La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
For the last few weeks I have been craving…vegetables. Now, before we fall out, I just want to reassure you that I’m not a total freak and also crave things like pizza, blue cheese, chocolate and salt and vinegar crisps (not all at the same time…probably). But right now, my current craving is for fresh, crisp, colourful veggies. I think it’s because I’m aware that summer is just around the corner, ready to bring with it such glorious presents as lettuce, peas in the pod, asparagus stalks, courgettes and globe artichokes.

One of my absolute favourite food blogs is Manger, written by the exquisite Mimi Thorisson. Literally, exquisite. I haven’t yet made nearly enough of her incredible looking recipes, but each one that I have made has been perfect: rustic, indulgent and utterly scrumptious. I’ve had her spring vegetable stew (La Vignarola) bookmarked for well over 6 months now, and finally had the chance to cook it last week. Unfortunately, in my impatience to make it, I was a little early for the Scottish artichoke and pea season, so I had to improvise with the fresh vegetables that I could get my hands on. Luckily asparagus is already available in abundance here, and our local market store had a large basket of broad beans. It was exciting to cook with lettuce for the first ever time and I completely adored the result. I have to confess that Ross wasn’t convinced, but I’ll put that down to his inferior taste buds…
Ingredients for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a side dish)
Large bag of fresh broad beans in the pod (about 300g podded beans)
1 little gem lettuce
2 spring onions
200g asparagus
1 tsp olive oil
100g pancetta or smoked bacon
½ lemon
Small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Small bunch mint, finely chopped

Method
1. Pod the broad beans and set aside for later. I find podding beans and peas truly relaxing. It’s a slow, methodical task that should be savoured and, ideally, done outside perched on the back-door step. As we don’t have a garden I threw open the windows and put the radio on. To my surprise, as I snapped open some of the pods, inside the velvet cocoons were lilac and deep purple beans. I have no idea why this is –the variety of bean, the stage of picking, or something else altogether…if anyone can enlighten me I would love to know!…
Quarter the gem lettuce, slice the spring onions and chop the asparagus into chunks.
Prepared spring vegetables for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
2. Sauté the pancetta in a little olive oil until starting to crisp.
Frying the smoked pancetta for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
3. Add the spring onions and continue to fry for 30 seconds.
Frying smoked pancetta and spring onions for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
4. Add the asparagus and broad beans to the pan with 4-6 tbsp water and cook for a few minutes.
Adding the asparagus to La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
5. Nestle the lettuce amongst the other vegetables, cut side down, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are all tender. You can turn the lettuce half way through if you wish.
Adding the little gem lettuce to La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
6. Sprinkle a little lemon juice over the vegetables and stir through the chopped herbs and some seasoning to taste.
La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew) served with rosemary and garlic lamb shanks and mint sauce
We served this dish as an accompaniment to our lamb shanks with mint sauce. It is the ideal side dish for a spring roast, but is actually generous and tasty enough to be the main event, perhaps served with some soft goats cheese and crusty bread. I think that in the original recipe Mimi served it as a starter, which would be a lovely idea for a special summer meal.

I was blown away by this recipe. The vegetables take centre stage and the last minute addition of lemon juice and herbs brings the dish to life with a zesty, aromatic flavour. I’m hoping to make this recipe many more times this summer, and am especially looking forward to using fresh peas, broad beans and artichokes from dad’s allotment, as the dish was supposed to include. If you’re going to make this recipe yourself, I wouldn’t worry if you can’t find the same vegetables as myself or Mimi – just use the best seasonal vegetables available to you and it will be stunning.

Rosemary and Garlic Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks with Mint Sauce

Slow-roasted lamb shank with new potatoes and spring vegetable stew
As my dad used to say (in a funny voice): “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the birdies is.” Weird, I know. But it’s true and we’re making the most of it with adventures into the outdoors and seasonal cooking. Nothing says spring to me more than lamb with mint sauce, and our little kitchen window-sill mint plant was getting dangerously out of control, so last Sunday lamb and mint was what we had to have.
Mint plant
Usually we would always choose a leg of lamb to cook with, but with only two of us eating we decided that lamb shanks were much more economical and manageable. If you’re cooking for more, then the recipe will easily double, triple, or more. Of course if you’re treating yourself then you can also halve the quantities. The same goes for the mint sauce: make as much as you need. The measures below are a generous amount for two, as I like to drown my lamb and potatoes in the stuff.

We decided to use our new tagine again (last time we did BBQ pulled pork) and were once more amazed with the results. There is something magical about a tagine that transforms meat into the most delicate, moist dish after just a few hours in the oven. We have also discovered that sliced onions cooked in a tagine soak up all the surrounding juices and end up sweet, caramelised and melt in the mouth. Our new rule of thumb? Onions in every tagine dish. However, don’t worry if you don’t have a tagine to cook in. This recipe will work well in any heavy-based pot that has a lid and can go in the oven, or you could simply use a roasting tin well-covered in tin foil.

Lamb Shanks
Ingredients (serves 2)
Ingredients for slow-cooked rosemary and garlic lamb shanks
4 sprigs rosemary
2 small onions
4-5 garlic cloves
1 chicken stock cube
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 lamb shanks

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 150C fan/ 170C/Gas Mark 3.
2. Remove the thin rosemary leaves from the woody stalks and roughly chop. Thinly slice the onions and crush the garlic cloves. Place in the tagine and sprinkle with the stock cube.
Onions with garlic and rosemary in the bottom of the tagine
3. Generously season the lamb shanks and heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Quickly brown the lamb on all sides over a high heat.
Browning the seasoned lamb shanks
4. Nestle the shanks amongst the onion layer and fill the tagine to roughly ¼ of the way up with boiling water. Pop the tagine’s hat on and cook for 3 hours.
Lamb shank tagine ready to go in the oven
Covered tagine ready to go in the oven

Mint Sauce
Ingredients for homemade mint sauce
Ingredients
Bunch of mint (about 10 sprigs)
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
5 tbsp hot water (e.g. from a recently boiled kettle)

Method
1. Remove the mint leaves from the stalks and finely chop.
Finely chopped mint for homemade mint sauce
2. Put the chopped leaves in a small jug or bowl and mix with the vinegar, sugar and water. Adjust the balance of vinegar, sugar and water to suit your own taste.
Jug of homemade mint sauce

After three hours in the oven, the lamb shanks will be ridiculously tender and the meat will fall effortlessly from the bone.
Lamb shanks after cooking for 3 hours
Melt in the mouth slow-cooked rosemary and garlic lamb shanks
Serve with the soft onions, the mint sauce, steamed new potatoes and spring vegetables. We had a stunning vegetable side dish which I will give you the recipe for next time – it was a real treat! I don’t think this dish needs an additional gravy: the meat is so moist, the onions come swathed in a thick gravy-like liquid and the mint sauce is an added bonus.
Sunday dinner of slow-cooked roseamry and garlic lamb and homemade mint sauceEating this meal, with the windows thrown open and the evening sun sinking over the neighbouring buildings, made me so happy and excited for the months ahead. Spring really has sprung.

Ginger-Spiced Stewed Rhubarb

Cooled stewed rhubarb with vanilla, ginger and cinnamon
Rhubarb has a fairly long and generous season, as I mentioned before when sharing my recipe for a Rhubarb Crumble. At the start of the year forced rhubarb starts to peak its golden-crowned head up, but now that spring is really upon us the dark red stalks are really coming into their prime. Now is the time to peruse the supermarket shelves or pop into your local greengrocers and grab a pile of stalks for a crumble or a pie or some simple stewed rhubarb. I’m lucky enough to have a green-fingered father who lives nearby, and received a beautiful bunch of rhubarb stalks freshly picked from his allotment two weekends ago. It was so perfectly fresh that I didn’t want to muck around with it (besides, with only two of us in the house most of the time, endless puddings and desserts can get a bit much…it’s a hard life, I know). So I stewed it up with a few complementing flavours: vanilla, cinnamon and ginger.
Fresh rhubarb for stewing with sugar, fresh ginger, vanilla and cinnamon
Ingredients
600g rhubarb (about 6 large stalks, with the ends chopped off)
150g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
6 tbsp water

Method
1. Chop the rhubarb into small pieces, about 2 inches long.
Chopped fresh rhubarb for stewing
2. Place the rhubarb into a large pan and add the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes for a mixed consistency with some rhubarb still in whole pieces – you want a fork to easily slide through the chunks, and not meet with resistance. If you’d like a more liquid consistency then the take the cooking on for a couple more minutes, it won’t take long.
Rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, fresh ginger and cinnamon for stewing
3. Eat hot or leave to cool in the pan, then transfer to a bowl or container and refrigerate.
Stewed rhubarb with ginger, vanilla and cinnamon

This compote was so simple but utterly scrummy, and the ginger in particular made it wonderfully fragrant. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that we had it (the night I cooked it) on top of mini pavlovas:
Mini pavlovas with fragrant stewed rhubarb
All I did was follow the meringue recipe from a previous post (but without the extra flavourings and using just one egg white), shape the mixture into two large meringues and top with crème fraiche and the compote to finish. I also had the compote for breakfast every day for a week with coconut yogurt and never got bored of it:
Yogurt with fragrant stewed rhubarb
This would be perfect on top of porridge or cereal – I did try to tempt Ross to have it on his cereal, but he has a strict No-Fruit-On-My-Cereal policy. This will keep in the fridge for a week, or you can even freeze it for later. I’m hoping for another fresh rhubarb delivery this week and am thinking about a rhubarb and strawberry pie – a match made in heaven. What’s your favourite thing to cook with rhubarb?