A good meal

We recently invited our friends Ben and Sue over for tea, and I decided that I wanted to make something I’d never attempted before. One of my “to-do list” meals was the thai curry from Nigel Slater’s book The Kitchen Diaries. A lovely book, it’s great for inspiration all through the year. I ended up making a never-before tried recipe for pudding, too, which was the caramel banana split from Leon’s Baking and Puddings book. Both recipes turned out better than I had hoped, everyone loved the food and there were full and happy bellies all round. Such a good result that I couldn’t resist sharing them with you.

These recipes are a great combination. The curry is surprisingly easy to make but does require buying some specialist ingredients and a bit of faffing about to make the green spice paste. After that, the banana split can be whipped up while your guests are working off their full stomachs in the living room with a glass of wine – or, in our case, finishing off a round of the ‘Jurassic Park: Lost World’ board game (yes, it’s as good as it sounds). The banana split only took me about 15 minutes to make, and sent inviting smells wafting through to our guests. It’s an old-school, kiddy dessert, but is delicious and a lot of fun to devour. It’s also light and refreshing after the rich curry: a perfect combination.
Mmmm, just thinking about that meal makes me want to make it all over again. Anyone fancy dinner?

This version of the curry recipe includes a few adjustments which we made on the evening. For example, we weren’t able to get certain ingredients, like Thai and pea aubergines, so we them replaced with courgettes and peppers. You could of course use your own preferred veg in this curry, but to make the original Slater version you should definitely check out the book.

Green curry of prawns, peppers and courgettes
from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries

about 150g shallots
3 tablespoons groundnut oil
2 red peppers
1 courgette
12 cherry tomatoes
400ml coconut milk
a tablespoon shrimp paste
a teaspoon vegetable stock (we use this one)
300g large prawns (we used frozen ones)

For the green spice paste:
4 green bird’s eye chillies
2 large stalks of lemon grass, chopped
6 lime leaves (we used dried ones)
3 large cloves of garlic
50g lump of ginger
6 heaped tablespoons of coriander leaves

First, make the spice paste: discard the stems from the chillies, then chop the flesh and tip it into a blender (or a bowl if using a handheld blender). Add the chopped lemongrass. Crunch up the lime leaves, peel and chop the garlic, then peel the ginger and cut it into shreds. Tip everything into the blender/bowl. Add the coriander leaves and blitz to a paste with enough water to make the mixture come together – two or three tablespoons. Continue to mix until you have a coarse paste.

Peel and finely slice the shallots. Warm two tablespoons of the oil in a pan, then add the shallots and cook them over a moderate to high heat until they are golden and soft. Once they have softened, slice the peppers and courgette and add them to the shallots, letting them soften and colour slightly. Scoop the shallots, peppers and courgette out of the pan, then add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan.

When the oil is warm, add the green spice paste. Let it fry briefly – the water will evaporate – and then halve the cherry tomatoes and add them to the pan. Continue cooking for a few minutes, then return the shallots, peppers and courgette to the pan and pour in the coconut milk. Season with the shrimp paste and vegetable stock, adding more if you wish, along with some salt and pepper. Fry the prawns separately for a couple of minutes until they are pink, then slip them into the sauce and leave everything to cook for a minute or two.

Serve the curry with white white rice, and top with coriander and lime leaves. Then tuck in!

Then on to the banana split…this really is a doddle to make, the perfect dessert for minimum effort/maximum impact on your guests. My only issue was that when it came to making the caramel, I heated the sugar and cream to quickly and ended up making toffee! It was still delicious, though, and we enjoyed toffee lumps instead of gooey caramel. If that happens to you, just go with it – it’s not a bad thing. The recipe below has been altered slightly to feed four, instead of six, so adjust accordingly if you are feeding more (or just feeling greedy).

Leon caramel banana split
from Leon Baking and Puddings

100g flaked almonds
2 tablespoons icing sugar
4 bananas
500ml double cream
100g caster sugar
couple of scoops each of strawberry and vanilla ice cream
50g dark chocolate

Heat the almonds in a non-stick frying pan with the icing sugar until they turn golden and the sugar has caramelized. Put into a bowl and set aside. Slice the bananas in half lengthwise and lay the halves on a large serving plate. Whisk 350ml of the cream until it is thick and set aside.

Heat the caster sugar in a pan until it has melted and caramelized – not too dark. Add the remaining 150ml of cream and stir well; it will froth right up. Heat through the make sure all the sugar has melted into the cream, stirring occasionally. Place the dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until it has completely melted.

Scoop the ice cream onto the split bananas, drizzle the ice cream with the caramel and scoop on the cream. Sprinkle on the caramelized almonds and pour over the melted chocolate. Serve and DEVOUR!

Lately: Liberty Christmas shop

The final part in my London trilogy is by no means the least. I’ve written about the wonderful knitting shop and craft fair I stumbled across on our last trip down south, and today is the turn of the CHRISTMAS SHOP. Yes, it’s time to get excited. Even back in September I was giddy as heck when, upon entering the lift in the Liberty store, I looked up to see that floor four contained a Christmas shop. Now, in late November, even looking back at the photos makes me downright giddy for that fast-approaching fuzzy-feeling time. I can’t wait!

To get you in the mood too, I would love to share my photos. If you haven’t ever been to Liberty before, I strongly recommend you add it to your “places to visit in London” list (we all have one, right?). Sitting majestically just off Regent Street in Soho, it is an enormous black and white mock-Tudor building which dominates the road. It is best viewed from Argyll Street, the pedestrianised street opposite, when its true size and beauty is clear.

Liberty is worth a visit just for a nose around the beautiful building, which was built in the late 1800s and has four huge floors. Each one has a mezzanine around a stunning middle section, through which hangs a shimmering glass centrepiece.

Liberty sells a huge array of items, from homewear such as cushions, candles, crockery, lighting and home furnishings (they even have a rug room!) to stationery, make up, perfume and accessories (the hat and scarf room is stunning), as well as clothes for men, women and children AND a lovely little flower shop. Phew!

Usually, though, I head straight from the little card and stationery shop up to the fabric and haberdashery section on the third floor. If you are crafty-minded, this too will be your favourite place. Packed full of Liberty’s own printed fabric (and clothes in said fabric), sewing and knitting accessories, it is hard to know where to start. It truly is a haven of loveliness.

In true Liberty style, the Christmas shop was equally jam-packed full of beautiful things. Christmas music played, lights were strung across the ceilings, and magical offerings peeked out from every corner: crackers and paper decorations and fat stuffed robins and furry reindeer and sparkly Christmas cards and wrapping paper, and hundreds and hundreds of different glittery shimmering Christmas baubles. It was a real winter wonderland! After a lot of umming and aahing I came away with my own little fat robin and oversized baby-pink pearlescent bauble. Beautiful.

I highly recommend you hop on down to Liberty to get some Christmas shopping done, but if you can’t make it to London you can always internet browse in the online Christmas shop. Just put some festive music on, get yourself a mulled wine, and imagine you’re there. Did I mention I’m off to London again this weekend to visit my brother? I’m sure he won’t mind a little stop-off…

Double rainbow

One of the many books I have out on, ahem, extended loan from the library where I work is The Gentle Art of Knitting by Jane Brocket. It is a great book, packed full of great patterns and, crucially, lovely photographs. Each pattern comes with a bit of background story on the inspiration and design behind it, and is written with Jane’s trademark familiarity and friendliness which you can also find on her blog. Jane is so nice that, when I emailed her recently with an absolutely bonkers question about an idiot-proof – and rather simple – pattern from the book, she didn’t just ignore my email, or even, with an eye-roll, delete it. No, she replied to me very kindly. Sorry about that, Jane. And thanks!

When I first got my hands on ‘The Gentle Art of Knitting’, I immediately flicked through the pages to find out what I wanted to knit first. It is so jam-packed with loveliness that I found myself, on every other page, saying “I want to make that”, “and that”, “and that”, but, truth be told, it was when I got to this page that I stopped, put the book down and said “I REALLY want to make THAT!”

On a trip to New York last year I had come very close to buying a similar cushion; rainbow-coloured, with black stripes and a black button in the middle. I loved it, but it was just a bit too…flea-markety to justify taking home on a plane with me. So here was my chance to make my own!

This pattern is a lot of fun, and deceptively simple to knit, too. You knit the cushion not from the middle out, but round, like a clock, working in little steps up and down each coloured panel. It’s all worked in garter stitch, and involves simply knitting, then turning, then knitting back down each row. What could be easier! Plus, it’s great for using up those oddments of wool you have left at the end of projects. I didn’t have to buy any wool to complete my double-sided cushion, and when I ran out of the pink I was using, so just used another I had in my stash. I really like the effect, and that it’s not too perfect.

This is a great project to do while sitting in front of the TV, as it doesn’t require too much concentration. And if you decide you’ve had enough after knitting one side, or have run out of certain wool colours, you could always knit the other side in a single colour – or even cut out a circular piece of fabric to back it instead. The possibilities are endless! These cushions could easily take over your living room if you let them. But you want your guests to be comfortable, right!? So put The Gentle Art of Knitting on your Christmas list and get looking through your wool stash for inspiration. I bet you’ll find it.


I haven’t done a normal edition of “Lately” for a while…but it hasn’t all been galavanting around the place. Lots has been going closer to home, too.

Finishing: some knitting projects, and starting others

Spending: a lovely day selling my wares at Vintage in the Vale craft and vintage fair

Getting: into the spirit of Halloween

Preparing: for the winter the very best way – cosying down, settling in

Indulging: in a spot of Autumnal baking, with apple pie and gingernuts