Gnocchi with wild rocket

Another recipe that’s been languishing on my hard drive with no knowledge of where it came from, just half the measurements for the Gnocci to make enough for two.


For the gnocchi

  • 700g/1lb 9oz Desiree potatoes, roughly cut to pieces all the same size and unpeeled
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 150g/5½oz plain flour
  • rice flour, for dusting
  • freshly grated parmesan, to serve (or a similar vegetarian hard cheese)

For the sauce

  • 300g/10½oz wild rocket, roughly chopped
  • 200g/7oz watercress, roughly chopped, stalks discarded
  • 150ml/5½fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • 20 basil leaves, roughly torn
  • salt and pepper


  1. For the gnocchi, place the potatoes in a saucepan with lots of salted cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart (about 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes).
  2. Drain and allow to cool a little. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins. While the potatoes are still warm, mash them until smooth or pass through a ricer, then set aside to cool completely.
  3. Season the cooled potatoes with salt and pepper, stir in the egg yolks and add the flour. Bring the mixture together to form a dough.
  4. On a clean work surface, sprinkle the rice flour and roll out the dough into long sausage shapes. With a sharp knife cut into dumpling shapes of about 2cm/1in. Set aside.
  5. For the sauce, blanch the rocket and watercress for a minute in boiling salted water. Remove and refresh in cold water and drain well.
  6. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and chilli and fry until the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in the rocket, watercress and basil and stir fry for a couple of minutes to heat through. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
  7. To serve, drop the gnocchi into a pan of boiling water and simmer until they rise back to the top. As they come to the surface, lift them out with a slotted spoon, drain well and add to the sauce. Mix well taking care not to break up the gnocchi.
  8. Serve immediately with some freshly grated Parmesan.

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017

Is there a Tiger in the Garden?
Is there a Tiger in the Garden?

Originally posted on

After a lengthy process which started in very late September when we got the list of readers and the longlist of books was sent out to the shops, the winner of the 2017 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize has been announced.

If you couldn’t guess from the post’s featured image it was ‘The Girl of Ink & Stars’ written by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave.

As I wrote earlier the process really started in late-September when the booksellers are chosen to give their opinion on the books in the longlist. This list is broken into three areas; Illustrated Book, Younger Fiction (5-12), and Older Fiction (13+).

The books on the longlist were:

Illustrated Book

  • “Life is Magic” by Meg McLaren
  • “Nara and the Island” by Dan Ungureanu
  • “The Journey” by Francesca Sanna
  • “Mr Moon Wakes Up” by Jemima Sharpe
  • “There’s a Tiger in the Garden” by Lizzy Stewart
  • “Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day” by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
  • “I’m Hungry” by Jorge Martin
  • “The Hippopandamouse” by Jools Bentley
  • “Super Stan” by Matt Robertson
  • “Tiger in a Tutu” by Fabi Santiago
  • “Hello, Mr. Dodo!” by Nicholas John Frith
  • “Hiding Heidi” by Fiona Woodcock
  • “The Bear Who Stared” by Duncan Beedle
  • “Little Red” by Bethan Woollvin
  • “Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do!” by Daisy Hirst

Younger Fiction (5-12)

  • “Captain Pug” by Laura James
  • “Hendrix the Rocking Horse” by Gavin Puckett
  • “Erica’s Elephant” by Sylvia Bishop & Ashley King
  • “The Ministry of SUITs” by Paul Gamble
  • “The Girl of Ink & Stars” by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • “The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth” by Katherine Woodfine
  • “Beetle Boy” by M.G. Leonard
  • “The Apprentice Witch” by James Nicol
  • “Voyage to Magical North” by Claire Fayers
  • “Through the Mirror Door” by Sarah Baker
  • “Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up” by Simon Cherry
  • “We Are Giants” by Amber Lee Dodd
  • “Time Travelling with a Hamster” by Ross Welford
  • “Where Monsters Lie” by Polly Ho-Yen
  • “The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence” by Jennifer Bell
  • “The Bubble Boy” by Stewart Foster
  • “Cogheart” by Peter Bunzl
  • “Wolf Hollow” by Lauren Wolk

Older Fiction (13+)

  • “Anna and the Swallow Man” by Gavriel Savit
  • “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner
  • “The Wildings” by Nilanjana Roy
  • “Riverkeep” by Martin Stewart
  • “Girl Out of Water” by Nat Luurtsema
  • “The Island” by Olivia Levez
  • “Nightwanderers” by CJ Flood
  • “The Sun Is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon
  • “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” by Louise Gornall
  • “Paper Butterflies” by Lisa Heathfield
  • “Girl in Pieces” by Kathleen Glasgow
  • “Never Evers” by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
  • “Orangeboy” by Patrice Lawrence
  • “Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton
  • “The Otherlife” by Julia Gray
  • “The Dead House” by Dawn Kurtagich
  • “Hour of the Bees” by Lindsay Eager

As a longlist reader I was sent a package of all these books to read, rate and review by the end of October, this seemed a daunting task at first but once I broke it down it wasn’t too difficult, especially as the Illustrated Book category was completed in a day or so.

My first day was to make a plan of attack for the reading, so I set aside the first two days to read and comment on the Illustrated Books, then a week and a half for each other category with a few days spare.

I really enjoyed reading the Illustrated Books as I stood in my living room speaking them aloud (making all the appropriate noises and gestures) to see how they worked as a story time book. Luckily the neighbours didn’t complain.

I then started reading the Younger Children’s books as there were quite a few of these which were short reads, or that I had read previously. Again I really enjoyed the vast majority of these books, which made it very difficult to differentiate between the ones I wanted to put forward to the short list.

Luckily I had finished reading the Younger Children’s books in a week as I had a much harder time with the books in the Older Children category, only having read one of them before.

I found this a much harder read, mainly due to not reading much from this genre before that wasn’t fantasy and trying to come to grips with the facets of this genre, especially the romance in some of the books.

A couple of the books in this category I found really difficult to get into and after the first 100 pages I put them down as they were just taking me too long and decided that if I had time at the end of the month I would go back to them, which I didn’t due to time constraint.

At the end of the month we sent our longlist judging grids away to head office with our ratings and thoughts on them, and for me I thought that was going to be the end of my involvement until I heard the winners announced.

So I was very surprised to get an email at the end of February asking me to join the judging panel to decide the category winners and overall winner from the shortlist:

Illustrated Book

  • “Life is Magic” by Meg McLaren
  • “The Journey” by Francesca Sanna
  • “There’s a Tiger in the Garden” by Lizzy Stewart
  • “Super Stan” by Matt Robertson
  • “Tiger in a Tutu” by Fabi Santiago
  • “The Bear Who Stared” by Duncan Beedle

Younger Fiction (5-12)

  • “Captain Pug” by Laura James
  • “The Girl of Ink & Stars” by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • “Beetle Boy” by M.G. Leonard
  • “Time Travelling with a Hamster” by Ross Welford
  • “Cogheart” by Peter Bunzl
  • “Wolf Hollow” by Lauren Wolk

Older Fiction (13+)

  • “Anna and the Swallow Man” by Gavriel Savit
  • “The Wildings” by Nilanjana Roy
  • “The Sun Is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon
  • “Paper Butterflies” by Lisa Heathfield
  • “Orangeboy” by Patrice Lawrence
  • “Hour of the Bees” by Lindsay Eager

This was a huge surprise and was so exciting to be asked to join the judging panel after just six months working for Waterstones. So I set around reading the book from those lists that I hadn’t finished and making notes and arguments in my head for what I wanted to say about each book.

So in early March I made my way to the Piccadilly store to discuss the possible winners. Though this was a hard day’s work and there was a lot of discussion and thought, it was so much fun I could have gone on for hours like this, discussing books with other people who so obviously had a great passion for books.

The decisions were difficult as all the books had their merits and strengths, the final decision was:

  • Illustrated Book Winner – “There’s a Tiger in the Garden” by Lizzy Stewart
  • Younger Fiction Winner – “The Girl of Ink & Stars” by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Older Fiction Winner – “Orangeboy” by Patrice Lawrence


  • Overall Winner – “The Girl of Ink & Stars” by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I then had to not tell anyone for almost a whole month who the winners were, I was fit to bursting by the time of the award ceremony, which I was invited to.

So at the end of March, I again went to Piccadilly to attend the award ceremony with authors, publishers, agents, journalists and the Waterstones management. To say this was slightly nerve wracking would be an understatement as I hadn’t done something like this for a very long time.

In the end I broke the ice by chatting with Deborah Texeira from the Children’s Laureate steering group, gulp, but this helped me relax and then Jade (another bookseller) arrived and that relaxed me even more, and I started moving around and chatting. The first author I met though was Patrice Lawrence, as I had to go across and tell her how much her book had meant to me (carefully not telling her that it had won the category).

Through the evening I was live tweeting for my branch of Waterstones, @WstonesDarlo which was great fun.

After the winners were announced I was also able to have a chat with the three winning authors:

I loved the whole process: the reading, the judging and the schmoozing 😉 and would love to do this regularly.

I will eventually give full reviews for each of the books in the longlist as I’ve read them all, but for the moment I’m going to give small reviews of the three category winners and why I thought they were the ones that should win.

Illustrated Book – “There’s a Tiger in the Garden” by Lizzy Stewart

“There’s a Tiger in the Garden” has such a nostalgic feel, both in the writing and the illustration that it is sure to be a classic.


The paper quality is excellent and the illustrations are rich and colourful with lots to explore, I keep finding new bits every time I read through it.


Read out loud as a story time book it is great as there are sections for different voices, noises and different tones, which make it an exciting book for children to have read to them.


A story about a bored girl, Nora, at her Grandma’s who, initially, doesn’t believe her Grandma when she is told there is a tiger in the garden.


Eventually, using her imagination, Nora sees lots of interesting and exciting things in the garden and develops an imagination that will see her through life.

Younger Fiction (5-12) and Overall Winner – “The Girl of Ink & Stars” by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

In ‘The Girl of Ink & Stars’, Kiran creates a believable world inhabited by believable characters.


The story starts as though it is going to be historical fiction set on an island in an imaginary tropical ocean, but as it progresses the mystical side of the island and their inhabitants start to develop.


A convincing mythology develops as the book grows on you, gently and from under your skin, until you’re immersed in Isabella’s world. The magic feels real in the same way that Philip Pullman developed his magic in ‘His Dark Materials’, not overbearing and flashy but part of the world that you are reading about, normal.


The book is about Isabella’s journey to find her lost friend in a forbidden jungle, not only exploring the jungle but her islands past and coming to some fascinating discoveries.


Chicken House have again excelled in producing a beautiful product, with a wonderful cover by Helen Crawford-White, maps and small illustrations on each page, all which add to the reading experience.

Older Fiction (13+) – “Orangeboy” by Patrice Lawrence

‘Orangeboy’ is a singular book, in that it looks at the experience of a boy who has avoided getting into the gang system that whirls around him and attempts to suck everyone into their cycle of drugs, violence and machismo, only to be dragged in through the death of a girl he is with on a first date.


The book looks at man-boys, the press, inner-city culture and how circumstances can get out of hand and leave you floundering and unsure of what to do.


For me there was a personal resonance with the character of Marlon from my own background and history, this should speak to a lot of people of how hard it is to grow in these areas and not just get caught up.


A wonderful debut, looking forward to more.

Frontier stove

This is an old post from way back but I thought it would brighten my day up with thoughts of warmer weather.

Shanna was going to get me another tattoo for my fiftieth birthday this year, a lovely tree of life on my upper arm, but when we went to get a sketch done I wasn’t too impressed with the picture that was made to go with it and put the decision off for a week or so.

The next day we went to the HomeGrown Food Festival and after lunch we were wandering around and saw the Frontier Stove by Anevay. After a little think I decided that I would love this as an early birthday present.

I fired it up last Monday to see how it worked and to heat up dinner, but tonight we cooked on it from scratch. The main part of the meal was griddled mackerel fillets with samphire. We also had potato salad with thyme flowers (both from the allotment) with a gooseberry, rhubarb and sage relish (again all ingredients from the allotment).

This really has helped us enjoy the outside space at the house and makes it feel like another room in the house, we spent hours out there this evening and are both looking forward to crisp autumnal evenings with the stove pumping out heat and toasting marshmallows.

Another reason for getting this was its portability, we can take it to the allotment or on holiday with us, much easier to use than a barbeque and with more functionality than a chiminea or fire pit.

Thai(ish) fish dish

  • coconut oil
  • fresh ginger
  • garlic
  • lime (zest and juice)
  • coconut milk
  • sweet chili sauce
  • fish sauce
  • fish (frozen cod and prawns)
  • rice noodles
  • spring onions
  • greens

Grate ginger and garlic. Zest the lime and melt some coconut oil.

Gently fry ginger, lime zest and garlic in coconut oil.

Add 1 tin of coconut milk, lime juice, splash of sweet chili sauce and fish sauce, gently heat and mix together.

Cook rice noodles according to instructions on packet, drain and refresh in cold water and set aside.

Cook cod in the coconut sauce, when nearly thawed add the prawns.

While the fish is cooking, slice spring onions and greens. If pak choi separate stalks and leaves.

When fish is nearly ready, add rice noodles and gently heat.

Whilst noodles, etc are heating, heat some coconut oil in wok. Stir-fry veg – spring onions, then stalks, then leaf.

Dish up!

coconut fishy noodles into dishes then the greens on top.

Chickpea and coconut curry

Another one of the home concoctions


Coconut oil
Spices – coriander seed, mustard seed, cardamom pods, turmeric, garam masala.
Plain flour – a heaped dessert spoon or so.
Coconut milk
Some water
Bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Chilli sauce

First drain, pat dry and slice the tofu into slices about 1cm thick. Dry fry till nicely browned. Cut into good sized chucks and put to one side.

Break cauli into small florets, rinse and put to one side.

Drain and rinse chickpeas. Put to one side.

Finely slice the onion and garlic and fry gently in the coconut oil. Use a decent amount of oil. Bash the chosen hard spices in the mortar and pestle and add to oil, fry up for a few mins. Turn down heat and Add garam masala – a couple of teaspoons – and turmeric and stir for a minute. Add flour, heat on low, give it all a good stir for a minute.

Add the coconut milk and some water. Maybe another tinful? Not too much but it needs some liquid to cook the cauli. Stir to mix it all in. It should start to thicken a little.

Throw in the cauliflower and chickpeas. Add the bay leaves, chilli sauce, pepper. Stir gently. Bring to simmer and cook for a few minutes to give the cauli a start. Then add the tofu, mix it all gently and continue to simmer. It should only need 30 mins.

Check seasoning. Add salt.

Serve with fresh coriander.

And purple sprouting broccoli…. (Maybe a bit much with the cauliflower, actually! All that brassica… Not good).

Tidying up

I just realised I had a lot of half-finished projects and information all over the place and wanted to get this all in one place.

So new information and old information will all be collected here, eclectic and sometimes disparate but all the stuff I want to write about and do.

Collections, recipes, thoughts, basically a scrap book full of things I’m not sure others will want to read.

First attempts, abandoned experiments, nascent projects, everything really.

A place to write and explore, a place to leave stuff to mature.

My place.

Spanish fish soup

This is another firm favourite, adapted from a recipe with our own twists, such as the addition of sumac instead of (as well as) saffron.

It’s at its best when the veg is our own fresh from the allotment

  • Olive oil
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Coriander seed
  • Saffron or sumac if you have it
  • Bay leaves
  • Orange peel (two fat strips enough as don’t want it to dominate) and a little fresh squeezed juice
  • One tin tomatoes (chop them up)
  • A leek or two
  • Celery
  • Half a bulb fennel or so if you have some
  • Baby broad beans
  • Veg stock (or fish stock if you have it, that would be even nicer) (I sometimes add a tiny splash of Thai fish sauce)
  • New potatoes
  • A carrot if you fancy – sometimes I put some in, sometimes I don’t
  • White fish – half a kilo
  • You could add some small prawns if you want to fancy it up. I haven’t done so far but I think it would work.
  • A little sweet smoked paprika
  • Seasoning

All the veg should be finely sliced, or diced in the case of the potatoes and carrot. It makes a nicer texture.

Sauté the onions, add the garlic, then the crushed coriander seed and saffron if you have some. Don’t let the onions brown. Add celery and leeks, continue sweating off. Add fennel. Add carrots and potatoes. Add some water – not much as this should be more of a stew than a soup and you still have your tomatoes to add. Add veg stock powder and stir in. Add tomatoes and the rest of the aromatics – orange, bay, a grind of black pepper, a half teaspoon of paprika ( you want the smokiness but not to dominate). A green cardamom probably wouldn’t go amiss – I don’t usually put one in but I think it would go.

Bring to gentle simmer, add frozen baby broad beans, or French beans as an alternative. Cook gently till veg tender and the broth is coming together.

When it’s ready, taste and adjust seasoning. Then add your fish cut into large chunks and gently heat through till fish is cooked. Serve with nice bread and some fresh herbs eg the fennel tops if you have any. It’s lush 🙂

Sage, walnut and blue cheese risotto

We’ve made this (and variations on it) multiple times now and it is really delicious and if you have left overs bake it the next day with breadcrumbs on top.

• 1 tbsp vegetable oil
• 50g walnuts, roughly chopped
• 15g butter
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 tbsp freshly chopped sage
• 400g arborio risotto rice
• 1 litre vegetable stock, boiling
• 225g winter squash, deseeded, peeled and roughly chopped
• 75g Blue Stilton cheese
• 4 sprigs fresh sage for garnish


1 Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan, add half of the chopped walnuts and allow to brown. Spoon the nuts onto a plate and set aside.

2 Add the butter, onions and chopped sage to the pan and soften for 6-8 minutes.

3 Stir in the rice to absorb the cooking juices. Add the stock and the chopped squash, then simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

4 Switch off the heat, crumble in the Stilton, add the remaining chopped walnuts, cover and allow to finish cooking in its own heat for 5 minutes.
Serve each portion garnished with a sprig of fresh sage.

Serves 4

Otollenghi’s Smoky Frittata

Otollenghi's Smoky Frittata
Otollenghi’s Smoky Frittata
We have decided to cook at least one new recipe a week as a challenge to ourselves and to use our recipe books.

The first one we’ve made is this frittata from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book ‘Plenty’. This was a way to help use cauliflower when it is glutting at the allotment (or more likely when we’ve left it for too long in the fridge).

The smokiness comes from sweet paprika and smoked mozzarella (scamorza).

We followed the recipe and technique closely and it came out as it was meant to look, but both of us found the texture extremely strange. It was spongey and a bit grainy.

After eating this we dissected this we decided we would just make a cauliflower frittata how we normally make frittata, without the creme fraiche but with the mustard in the eggs, and have all the smokey cheese on top.

Decision was we wouldn’t make this recipe as it is in the book again.

Cinnamon Bun Cake

Cinnamon Bun Cake
Cinnamon Bun Cake
Cinnamon buns are quintessentially Scandinavian, and you will find subtle variations on this tasty treat across Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Perfect to share at brunch or afternoon tea.

Serves 7
225ml whole milk
75g butter
300g refined spelt (or plain) flour
125g wholemeal spelt (or wheat) flour
70g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
20g fresh yeast or 10g fast-action dried yeast
1 medium egg, beaten

For the filling:
75g butter, softened
2 tsp cinnamon
50g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla salt

To finish:
1 medium egg, beaten
Demerara or natural sugar crystals

1 Scald the milk by heating it in a small pan with the butter until almost boiling, then cool. Scalding the milk makes the finished buns softer.

2 Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl, sprinkle the dried yeast in and stir through. If using fresh yeast, cream it with 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl. Once it is liquid (after about 30 seconds), add to the dry ingredients.

3 Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, add the egg, then the milk-butter mixture, which should be warm rather than hot to the touch, or you risk killing the yeast. Stir until the mixture comes off the sides of the bowl and looks like a soft and slightly wet dough. Place the dough in a lightly oiled plastic bag or cover the bowl with lightly oiled clingfilm, and leave it to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

4 For the filling, cream the butter, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla salt together in a medium-size bowl. Butter a round 23cm diameter cake tin with sides at least 5cm high.

5 Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle of about 35cm x 25cm. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, starting from the middle and working outwards. If the buttery mix is a little cold, use your hands to spread it, as the heat helps smooth the butter out. Roll the dough into a wide cylinder, rolling from one of the longer edges of the rectangle, so it looks like an uncooked swiss roll.

6 Cut the cylinder into seven slices, with one slice slightly smaller than the rest. Place the smallest slice flat in the middle of the tin and evenly space the remaining six around it. Cover the buns and leave to rise again in a warm place for 20-30 minutes until they have doubled in size. You can test to see if they’ve proved enough by gently poking one bun with your little finger – the indentation should stay put.

7 Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Glaze the risen buns with beaten egg and sprinkle demerara or natural sugar crystalsover the top. Splash a little water in the bottom of the oven to create steam to help the bun cake to rise. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the base and looks golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack. This will last for a couple of days and freezes well.

Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen, (Salt Yard)

They were stunning and are going to be one of regular cakes.