Duck with Cherries and Prunes

Take 2 fat duck breasts and sprinkle the fatty side with a little cinnamon and sea salt.  Dry fry hot for about 4 – 5 minutes until the fat starts to melt and they are browning nicely, then turn over.  Be really careful at this bit.  I take no responsibility for singed ceilings here.

Pour A LITTLE alcohol into the pan.  And beware.  Wine is normally fine, but I nearly set a gite on fire by using cognac 2 years ago.  All you want is a little alcoholic frazzle, not any actual liquid in the pan, about 3 tablespoons of alcohol should do.

Now put the duck breasts (skin up) in the oven and cook at about 180 degrees for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on their size, and whether you like them pink or not.

Meanwhile, chop about 8 juicy prunes into a small pan with a glass of red wine and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Now, pour in a tablespoon of crème de cassis and a tablespoon of cherry jam and warm through.

Serve with the duck breasts and diced, roast potatoes.



Autumnal Starter to accompany the above:  Sauted Ceps with Toast

Wipe 200g of ceps or chestnut mushrooms and sprinkle over a finely chopped garlic clove.

Set aside, then cut 6 – 8 thick slices of baguette or ciabatta.  Put onto a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil.  Turn over, drizzle again and pop in the oven at 160 degrees for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the ceps and garlic on high in a big knob of butter.  When they start to brown, shake the pan and add a quarter of a glass of white wine and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.  Frazzle for a few seconds before adding some double cream (about 2 tablesoons).  Let it frazzle for a second or two before piling onto your warm toasts and sprinkling over some black pepper and parsley.

I haven’t yet managed to take any appetising photos of pale food.  Delicious though it looked and tasted, the photos weren’t great.


Pumpkin with Cumin and Red Chilli

Cut as much pumpkin (or any squash) as you can manage into big chunks, leaving the skin on.

Sprinkle over a teaspoon of cumin (ground or whole, depending on your preference), and a whole, hot, sliced chilli.

Drizzle with olive oil before roasting for about 45 minutes to an hour in a hot oven.  Turn around from time to time to ensure even browning.

Sprinkle with Maldon Sea Salt and serve.



Bruscetta with Goat’s Cheese and Chilli


Slice your baguette on the diagonal and place it on a baking tray.

Drizzle with olive oil, then turn over and drizzle the other side with olive oil.  Place a thin slice of garlic in the middle of each piece of bread.

Place a slice of goat’s cheese onto each piece of bread (this one has a charcoal rim in case you’re worried by the ominous grey rind).

Put a thin slice of hot, red chilli onto the top of each, then bake in a hot oven for about five minutes.

The beautiful orange plate is courtesy of Flora and James Cockburn, Loché-sur-Indrois.

Lamb Shank Curry

This is delicious and pretty foolproof.  The very unauthentic gremolata at the end really lifts the slow-roasted taste into something fresher.

3-4 lamb shanks, or a leg of lamb

4 sliced onions

6 cloves garlic (plus one for the gremolata), sliced

2″ ginger, peeled and grated

2 – 3 chillis

1 tin tomatoes

3 – 4 small potatoes, peeled

The rub:  A teaspoon each of turmeric, paprika and dried ginger

The spices:  8 cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground, plus a teaspoon of turmeric

The gremolata:  grated zest of one lemon, one clove of garlic, a small bunch of fresh coriander, all roughly chopped

Cut the flabby fat away from the lamb and discard, then score the meat deeply with a sharp knife.  Rub all over with your ‘rub’, place in a large, lidded casserole, then put it to one side to bring to room temperature.

Fry the onions in a little oil with some salt, the garlic, the fresh ginger and the chillis.  When it’s starting to colour, push it to one side, then put your lamb into the frying pan for 1 – 2 minutes to brown gently on both sides.  Put the lamb back into your casserole dish.

Now add your spices to the onion mix and fry for about a minute before adding a tin of tomatoes and a tin of water.  Bring to a simmer, then pour into the casserole dish with the lamb.  Add a few potatoes.

Cook in a medium oven for 2 – 4 hours, depending on the size of your piece of meat.  Check and stir every 40 minutes or so and add more water if necessary.  When the meat is falling off the bone, stir in a little of the gremolata and sprinkle the rest on top.


Scott’s Chocolate cake


OK!  And the first person to step up to the Guest Spot is Scott Everett from Australia with his wonderful-looking chocolate cake…


250g butter, chopped
150g dark eating chocolate, chopped (I use 70% cocoa solids)
2 cups (440g) caster sugar
1 cup (250ml) hot water
1/3 cup (80ml) coffee flavoured liqueur (Baileys)
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
1/4 cup (25g) cocoa powder
2 eggs beaten lightly

Preheat the oven to 170degrees celcius (gas mark 3). Grease a deep 20 cm round cake pan, base and sides with baking (grease proof) paper.
Combine butter, chocolate, sugar, the water, Baileys and coffee powder in medium saucepan. Using a wooden spoon, stir over a low heat until the chocolate melts
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, the cool for 15 minutes. Whisk in the sifted flour and cocoa powder, then the beaten eggs. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake in oven, preheated to 170 degrees, for about 1 1/2 hours. Keep the cake in the pan for 30mins before turning onto a wire rack. Turn the cake topside up to cool.

Any coffee or chocolate flavoured liqueur (Tia Maria, Kahlua or Creme de Cacao) can be used.
Cover the cake loosely with foil or a brown paper bag about halfway through baking if the top starts to over-brown.
The cake will keep for one week if kept in an airtight container.
It is very nice with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Jen’s Tips
It’s pretty important to get the temperature of the oven right.
I always cover the cake with brown paper halfway through even if it’s not over browning.
When you take it out of the oven stand it on a wire rack. This helps the top not to crack too much.



Rosemary and Garlic Bread

Stir together 500g strong white flour, a sachet of easy-blend yeast and 2 teaspoons of salt.

Put 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of honey or sugar into a measuring jug, and top up the jug with warm (not too hot) water up to the 300ml mark.  Stir.

Don’t be too eager; you probably won’t need all of the liquid.

Pour in about half of the liquid, then use your hand to work in a bit more.  Keep pushing and pulling the dough around the bowl until all of the flour is incorporated, adding a little bit more liquid until it feels right.  Don’t worry if it goes sticky.  It can easily be rescued with a bit more flour.  Knead for at least 10 minutes, until it forms a smooth ball.

Cover the bowl with cling film and leave anywhere not too cold for about 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, use your mini processor to zap up 4 cloves of garlic with about 10 rosemary leaves, some salt and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

Roll out about a quarter of your dough very thinly straight onto a lined baking sheet, then brush with about half of the oil and garlic mixture.  Decorate with rosemary sprigs.

Bake in a very hot oven for 5 – 10 minutes, then brush with the remaining garlic and rosemary oil.

Use the rest of your dough for seconds of garlic bread, pizza, or bread to accompany the main course.



Imperial Express, Darlington

This lovely café on Northumberland Street in Darlington serves tasty breakfasts and brunches on Sunday mornings.  If the idea of French toast with mushrooms, a full English breakfast, or pancakes with blueberry jam and ice-cream appeals to you, then I’d really recommend it.  And their cappuccino is the nicest in town.

Excuse the blurry photos –  They were taken with my phone.


Here’s where it is …