Make your own golden syrup

My sister lives in France and her list of requests when someone visits goes like this… self-raising flour, teabags (of course), stock cubes, porridge oats, Dorset muesli, golden syrup. But now I’ve discovered from The Woks of Life that you can make golden syrup yourself! I haven’t tried the recipe yet.

From The Woks of Life

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Slow-cooked topside beef

Two friends came for supper. We sat at the kitchen table with the garden doors wide open. This is ‘allowed’, indeed we could have had the doors closed but it’s still warm enough not to. Apart from that short discussion around virus etiquette (vetiquette?) it all felt reassuringly normal. I cooked a piece of topside beef bought earlier in the week. I didn’t want to make a roast dinner on this end-of-summer evening but felt the need for some comforting food with a hint of the evenings closing in so I slow-cooked it with pearl barley. We ate it with tiny roast potatoes (cut into small cubes and blasted in in a hot oven for an hour with plenty of olive oil) and cabbage, finely shredded, fried briefly and sprinkled with soya sauce.

Pudding was blackberries picked a couple of weeks ago and cooked up with apples and a little sugar, and crunchy butterscotch ice-cream.

Topside beef slow-cooked with barley (serves 4)


olive oil
approx 1 kilo piece of topside beef
2 large carrots
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh sage and thyme
about 600ml beef stock (I used half a packet of Heston from Waitrose beef stock, with some water added, and froze the rest, but you could use a stock cube)
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
3 fresh tomatoes or 1/2 tin tomatoes
100g pearl barley


At least half an hour beforehand, take the meat out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature.

Preheat the overn to 180 C.

Peel or wash the carrots and cut into 2-3cm chunks.

Peel the carrots and cut into eighths.

Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves.

Roughly chop the herbs.

Roughly chop the fresh tomatoes, if using.

You’ll need a heavy based saucepan with lid, large enough for the meat with a little space all round (Le Creuset or simlar). Heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Liberally season the meat with salt and pepper, put it into the saucepan, add the herbs, fry it for a couple of minutes over a high heat, then turn over and do the other side.

Take off the heat and add the chopped veg around the edge of the meat. Pour in stock, adding a little water if necessary – it should come to about half way up the meat. Add the cumin and coriander, and fresh or tinned tomatoes.

Sprinkle the barley directly into the stock and make sure it’s all submerged in the liquid.

Put on a lid (or cover with tin foil) and put into a low oven (180 C or the Aga slow oven) for 90 minutes then turn up the heat to 220 C or move it to the bottom of the top Aga oven and cook for another 30 minutes.

Take the meat out and put on a warm plate to rest. Put the saucepan over a medium heat and simmer the stock for about 5 minutes, adding seasoning to taste.

Slice the beef and spoon over generous spoonfuls of the barley gravy.

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End of Lockdown?

So lockdown is over, for now. We celebrated with a wonderful delivery of fish from The Upper Scale. Four very fresh mackeral and a whole seabass, gutted and scaled, arrived at the door in a cardboard box. Unlike many fish deliveries, the packaging was minimal, just a plastic bag of ice. Delivery is free over £20.

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Lockdown Day 60 (Friday 22 May)

Lovely article by Fay Maschler about her lockdown recipes, and how she started cooking at the age of 12 using Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. She starts her new weekly column of her own recipes with her sister Beth’s fishcakes. I love looking at people’s recipe books, it’s always a good insight into their cooking: do they actually cook? Which books are falling apart and covered in signs of use? Which have never been touched?

“Beth’s fishcakes

You may not remember The Great Fishcake War of the early 1980s. Fishcakes, that consoling nursery dish, had made a comeback on chic menus and credit for the fact was claimed by my sister Beth Coventry, who was cooking at Green’s in St. James’s, and also by Charles Fontaine, then chef of Le Caprice nearby. Try to imagine whose side I was during this harrowing, victimless conflict. Now that Beth has her own gastropub she has to persuade her chef to put fishcakes on the menu because, when he does, hardly anything else gets ordered. So make your own, and choose something different from the takeaway menu that The Wells Tavern in Hampstead is currently offering.

Time to prepare and cook: 45 minutes

You will need: white fish and smoked fish – the sustainable species pollack is now available smoked – potatoes, spring onions, eggs, milk, flour, breadcrumbs.


  • Use twice as much fish by weight as potatoes. Peel the potatoes, boil until soft, drain and mash with pepper, salt and nutmeg. 
  • Poach the two kinds of fish in milk for 4 or 5 minutes or until they are opaque and flake easily when you have removed them from the milk. 
  • Slice some trimmed spring onions finely and mix with the fish and potatoes. If you have parsley to hand, some of that well-chopped is good stirred in.  
  • Add a whole beaten egg, or just the yolk, if you have a small amount of mixture. 
  • Use your hands to get everything well integrated and shape the mixture into small cakes. Flour them lightly and fry in hot oil until golden and heated through. Better still, flour them, turn them in another beaten egg and coat with breadcrumbs before frying. 
  • A home-made tomato sauce makes a fine accompaniment, but so does ketchup or tartare sauce.”
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Sunday – Lockdown Day ? (Lost track)

Quick vegetable curry – see recipe below
Basmati rice
Plain yoghurt and pickles

Butternut squash, carrot, and lentil vegetable curry – recipe (serves 4)

This curry base is incredibly versatile as you can add anything – vegetables, meat or fish, lentils, chickpeas etc. It’s great for using up leftovers. I used butternut squash, leftover carrot sticks from lunch, the insides of 4 courgettes leftover from courgette salad, and a tin of green lentils. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right spices, just experiment with using what you do have. It’s even quicker to make if you use a food processor.


fresh ginger (a large piece about 3 cm or more if you have it)
3 cloves garlic
2 onions
2 tbsp veg oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
handful of curry leaves, if you have them (they keep frozen)
2 level tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp coriander seeds
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk

Plus, vegetables/meat/fish enough for 4 people. You can make the sauce stretch to feed more people by adding a little water or more coconut milk.


Chop the ginger roughly. Don’t bother peeling it unless it’s really old and tough.
Peel the garlic cloves.
Peel the onions and cut into four.
If you have a food processor: whizz together the ginger and garlic to a rough paste. Scrape out the paste to a bowl, put in the onions, and whizz up into small pieces (don’t let it go to a mush).
If you don’t have a food processor: chop the ginger and garlic into fine pieces. Chop the onions into small chunks (about 1 cm).
Heat the veg oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat.
Add the mustard seeds.
When you can hear them go ‘pop’ add the fenugreek seeds, ginger/garlic paste and curry leaves.
Fry over a high heat for a couple of minutes, stirring.
Add the onions. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring.
Add the turmeric and coriander seeds. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring.
Add the tin of tomatoes and the coconut milk. Stir and leave to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the vegetables/meat/fish. You can either cook the ingredients in advance, or in the curry sauce.
I used
– half a butternut squash, chopped into cubes. I roast them in a hot oven with olive oil and sprinkled with a little soya sauce, for 15 minutes til soft.
– 1 carrot, already in sticks from lunchtime
– the inside of 2 courgettes, leftover from courgette salad, chopped up (equivalent to one whole courgette)
– 1 tin of cooked green lentils

When the curry sauce is ready, add all your vegetables/meat/fish, continue to simmer as necessary, and serve with rice, yoghurt and pickles.

Last episode of Homeland. It seems likely schools will go back on 1st June. Had a zoom with a friend in San Francisco who can’t believe the unfairness as schools there are closed til September.

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Lockdown Day 34 (Monday)

Steak with pepper sauce – see recipe below
New potatoes from Riverford

Steak with pepper sauce

This has to be the best supper for one, or two, and as I don’t often eat red meat it feels like a treat (and reward for getting through 5 weeks of lockdown). The baby potatoes from Riverford were so delicious boiled, no butter required. The pepper sauce I usually make is, as so often with my cooking, a mish-mash of different versions. In fact I turned to the wonderful “Good French Cooking” and got very distracted reading the chapter on sauces (chapter one, as sauces are so important in French cooking – in an English cookery book they are relegated to the back of the book). A proper sauce au poivre includes stock, and is reduced down. This is a very lazy version made at the last minute.

Ingredients (serves one)

1 Steak
1 heaped tsp peppercorns (black or different colours), roughly crushed
1 generous tbsp brandy, red wine, sherry or madeira
1 flat tsp red currant jelly
1 generous tbsp cream


Take the steak out of the fridge half an hour before you start cooking, remove from any packaging and put on a plate.
Crush the peppercorns roughly in a pestle and mortar, spice grinder, or plastic bag using a rolling pin or empty wine bottle.
Put a plate to warm. Have any side dishes ready to go.
Heat a frying pan with a splash of olive oil over high heat til very hot and nearly smoking.
Put the steak in the frying pan (careful as it may spit) and brown briefly on both sides over the high heat.
Turn the heat down to medium and cook on one side, and then the other, until cooked to your preference.
How long to cook steak for is really a matter of practice, and at the beginning it’s easiest to cook on both sides using this rough guide, then make a small cut to see if it’s still too bloody for your liking:
– rare, 1-2 minutes on each side
– medium rare, 2-3 minutes on each side
– medium, 3-4 minutes on each side

Put the cooked steak on a warm plate.
Deglaze the pan with the alcohol (translation: return the pan to low heat, add the alcohol and use a metal spoon or spatula, scrape away at all the little bits left by the cooking process.)
Add the crushed peppercorns.
Simmer for a minute, add the redcurrant jelly, stir well.
Add the cream, stir well.
Test for seasoning, add salt if necessary.
Pour over the steak or serve on the side.

Trump has started talking back to himself on Twitter – retweeeting himself and responding. Long rant yesterday “I will often be in the Oval Office late into the night & read & see that I am angrily eating a hamberger & Diet Coke in my bedroom. People with me are always stunned. Anything to demean!etc etc, now deleted. All his deleted tweets, going back to 2015, are here on Politwoops.

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Lockdown Day 32 (Saturday)

Brown rice and courgette salad
Cook a batch of brown rice – this will keep for a few days in the fridge and provide the basis of lunch or supper. Fry a courgette in butter. Make a salad dressing with plenty of seasoning, stir in brown rice while still warm, add the courgette, any herbs or green leaves if you have them, sprinkle with flaked almonds or any other nuts. Instant healthy lunch.

Anzac Biscuits – see recipe below

Anzac biscuits

Made an old favourite with the toddler, Anzac Biscuits as it’s Anzac Day (I think, like many people I’m losing track of what day it is) but I left the sugar out. This is the BBC recipe that I used to make but I’ve now started making them with less sugar. The mixture is more crumbly when hot so you need to leave them to cool completely. It keeps really well uncooked in the fridge so you can do the same activity ‘making biscuits’ (ie eating raw biscuit dough) more than once in a week. It also makes a good topping for apple crumble.


100g oats
100g plain flour
75g desiccated coconut
30g sugar
120g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Put all dry ingredients into a large bowl.
Melt butter and golden syrup.
Mix bicarbonate of soda with 1 tbsp boiling hot water, mix and add to the melted butter mixture.
Add melted butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir well.
Use 2 desert spoons to put blobs of mixture on a baking tray, and flatten out slightly. Leave 2 cm between each as the mixture will spread a little. Or, use your hands to roll into a ball for a less traditional shape.
Cook 6-8 minutes until golden brown – keep an eye as they will catch and burn easily.
Leave to cool on a wire rack, biscuits will harden as they cool.
Keep for several weeks in a tin.

Anzac biscuits

Will Lockdown be coming to an end soon? Certainly seems like people think it’s easing – there are more people out and about, traffic is increasing, and I’ve heard of several people visiting friends (yes social distancing but going into their homes).

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Lockdown Day 27 (Monday)

Scrambled eggs and toast

I discovered the final series of The Good Place on Netflix and bingewatched.
Homeschooling starts again today for many people. For younger children (aged 2-4) this is a fantastic website started since lockdown by a primary school teacher:
Lockdown Learning
If you have older children:
Don’t turn your home into school … the Lego professor of play on lockdown learning (Guardian)

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Lockdown Day 16 (Thursday)

Houmous and toast

Leftover lasagne

Barely worth posting today as our eating has been so unadventurous.
Boris Johnson has come out of intensive care. Great relief for everyone as now they can pretend he’s working and avoid having to work out who should run the country.
Dominic Raab said at the press conference that the lockdown won’t be removed next week (after 3 weeks). Not a surprise, I don’t think anyone had thought it would, but it removes any possibility of denial that this is going to last a long long time. Will it really be 3 months?
Talked to friends in Sweden. They’re not in lockdown as the government is taking a completely different approach. I’m worried about them and hope they are getting in supplies for what seems like inevitable lockdown at some point. Here is my lockdown shopping list.

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Lockdown Day 15 (Wednesday)


boiled eggs and toast
leftover chips from last night (not very nice)


Lasagne – see RECIPE below
Greens, roughly chopped and cooked in a little water with a lump of butter. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Lasagne – RECIPE

I hardly ever make meat lasagne – too many different stages and often vegetarian lasagne (eg mushroom and courgette) is so much nicer – but this was delicious. The ingredients are not complicated. I had the mince and the cheddar cheese in the freezer. This recipe tries to simplify the various steps as much as possible. But to make it even quicker you can replace the white sauce with creme fraiche, thinned with a little water, milk or cream. For discussion of other options for a more authentic lasagne, look at How to Cook the Perfect Lasagne.


For the white sauce:
500 ml milk
bay leaf (optional)
1 onion
5 cloves
50g butter
50g plain flour

For the meat sauce:
1 large onion
1 large carrot
400g beef mince
1 tin tomatoes
stock or stock powder
1/2 glass wine (optional)

about half a box of lasagne sheets
about 100g cheddar cheese


For the white sauce:
Peel the onion and push the cloves into the surface (don’t worry if they break). Put onion and bayleaf with the milk into a pan. Bring slowly to the boil, take off the heat and set aside. This infuses the milk with the flavour of the other ingredients. Now start the meat sauce.

For the meat sauce:
Finely chop the onion and carrot.
Put into a big saucepan with some olive oil. Fry over low heat 5-10 minutes til onion is soft. Add the mince and use a wooden spoon to break it up. Add the tomatoes, and stock, water and stock power, and wine if using. You want enough liquid to generously cover the meat. Put back onto a low heat and leave to simmer for 45 minutes or longer.Add more liquid if it gets too thick. You want it to be quite runny.

Now return to the white sauce:
Make the roux by melting the butter gently in a saucepan. When it’s melted, add the flour and mix well until it becomes it becomes a thick paste. Gradually add the milk – you may need a whisk to get all the lumps out, a heatproof whisk is great for this. Return to a low heat, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly, until it thickens to the consistency of thick cream. If it goes lumpy again, take it off the heat, use the whisk to get all the lumps out, then return to the heat. When thick, remove from the heat and set aside.

Assemble the lasagne:
Preheat the oven 200C.
Great a baking dish with veg oil or butter (ceramic is best but metal will be fine too).
Put a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom. Put a layer of lasagne sheets, overlapping to make sure the whole dish is well covered. Then layer sauce and lasagne sheets alternately. When the sauce is finished, do a final layer of lasagne sheets then do a top layer of white sauce. Cover the surface generously with grated cheese.
Cook 25-30 minutes or until a knife goes in very easily and the surface is bubbling.

Can be reheated but is best eaten on the day.

I’m starting to lose track of what day it is. Spent a while trying to get a supermarket delivery but none available. Still very sunny and had a long bike ride with the toddler. The first patients have arrived at the Nightingale hospital at the Excel centre.

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