Recipe in a Box

There are some perks to this job as you might imagine, eating for a living. One of them was the big box of organic ingredients – everything you need to make three meals for two people – that arrived on the doorstep from Riverford Organic Farms. And while it was lovely to be in receipt of such a massive box of stuff, I do admit to be slightly sceptical of recipe kits. I cook a lot, so my fridge and store cupboard always has garlic, soy sauce, paprika etc. and here I was with little plastic sachets of oregano, caraway seeds, tomato puree, even a few teaspoons of brown sugar – a lot of packaging – but I was willing to give it a go.

Riverford_chicken_sorrelFirst up was baked chicken leg with smashed new potato and sorrel sauce. A nicely designed recipe card, with simple, clear instructions and a good photograph. The recipe involved roasting the chicken legs, boiling then roasting the potatoes with rosemary and adding a white wine, cream and sorrel at the end. Sorrel is so hard to get hold of unless you grow it yourself, so it was welcome in the sauce and in all, an excellent dinner.

The second recipe was sausage and macaroni bake. Good quality pork sausages were skinned and cooked with onions, spinach and double cream then added to cooked macaroni and topped with cheese to be finished in the oven. The third dish was a vegetable mix, spiced with caraway and paprika and served with pappardelle topped with sour cream.

Riverford_sausage_macAll the recipes were easy to follow and good to eat, though top heavy on the cream. Portions were generous and at a pinch, could have served four. Though I was initially doubtful I realized when I described them to my student daughter, who leapt at the idea of having a Riverford recipe box delivered to her flat, (from her mum and dad of course) that there was a place for these good quality recipe boxes. Certainly tastier and more nutritious than a takeaway.   I can also see them being a boon on holiday. Have a box delivered to your self-catering holiday home and you are set up for the first few days at least.

There are three types of boxes: original, vegetarian and quick, priced around £40, which works out at about £6.50 per meal, per person.
T: 01803 762059

Helmsley Walled Garden & Vinehouse Cafe

If you’ve never been to Helmsley Walled Garden and even if you have, June is the time to see at its extravagant best.

THE HIGH SUMMER BORDER VISTA UP TO THE RESTORED GLASSHOUSES.The garden is run as a charity created by a local woman, Alison Ticehurst, who in 1994 spotted the overgrown wilderness and endeavoured to make it into a garden of healing and therapy. With a team of helpers she succeeded in taming  it and making into a garden for teaching horticultural skills. Alison died in 1999 but her legacy lives on. Today, two horticultural therapists support people to improve their mental and physical health through gardening. They support people feeling depressed, vulnerable and socially isolated. They help people suffering from the early stages of dementia, stroke and loss of sight, young people with special needs and those with mental disabilities. The entrance fee of £6 and the proceeds of the shop all go to support and fund the charity.

The Vinehouse Café is independent (no entrance fee required) but complements it, using a lot of the produce from the kitchen garden. For a number of years it was run as a vegetarian café by Monica Gripaios and, when she retired in 2014, William Mowbray, a trained chef (ex Moro) and by coincidence, Monica’s son, took it over. And we love it. Read about it here in our review section.

Helmsley Walled Garden is open everyday  1st April to 31st October 10am-5pm (last entry 4.30pm). Admission: £6.


Yorkshire Crab & Lobster

The fishing boat, All My Sons in Staithes harbour

The rocky shoreline form Staithes to Spurn Point provides some of the best Yorkshire lobster and brown crab in the world.

It’s fished by a small fleet of self-employed fishermen who are out every day throughout the spring and summer in small boats checking their pots identified by coloured flags bobbing in the water that reach down to depths of up to 190 feet.

It’s hard graft winching them all up – some fishermen own hundreds – checking them for size and throwing back any that are too small. They put elastic bands round the vicious claws, re-bait the pots and drop them back again for another day.

Fisherman Sean Baxter checking his pots from the shore

For the fishermen, crab and lobster are a valuable crop though they get nothing like the amount charged by restaurants in Europe where Yorkshire shellfish often ends up.

Yorkshire east coast crab, lobster and langoustines are still so highly regarded that Spanish vivier trucks transport them live across the continent as prizes for the markets and restaurants of Madrid.

Given that the Yorkshire coast is so rich in seafood, fresh local lobster is surprisingly tricky to find on a menu. ‘Too expensive’ say the chefs, who can’t risk being left with any uneaten lobsters if there are no takers.

Whitby’s famous Magpie Cafe

You can find lobster thermidor at the Magpie Cafe or at Greens, bothin Whitby, But is there anything sweeter than the prime brown crab or North Sea lobster that you’ve cooked yourself? You can buy both, cooked or live from the Magpie’s wet fish shop the Whitby Catch or from Whitby Seafish in Staithes. Best between April and December

Twelve minutes in a pan of sea water or well-salted tap water and served with mayonnaise, home made if possible, but Hellmanns will do, and some crusty bread – heaven on a plate and at a fraction of the restaurant price.

Lemon and Elderflower Polenta Cake

When the hedgerows are full of elderflowers it is just the time to make an elderflower and lemon syrup to pour over the cake. This gluten free polenta cake takes 10 minutes to weigh out and mix and just 40 minutes to cook

Serves 12

Elderflower & lemon polenta cake-3 Ingredients:

45 g polenta

200 g caster sugar

100 g ground almonds

zest of 2 lemons

1½ tsp baking powder

200 ml light vegetable oil, such as sunflower or rapeseed

4 eggs, lightly beaten



For the syrup:

55 g/ 2 oz granulated sugar

juice of 1 lemon

3 dry elderflower heads, checked over for insects and thick stalks removed

50ml water

To decorate:

3 slices of thinly cut lemon

dry elderflowers, checked over for insects and thick stalks removed




Line a 1lb loaf tin (measuring 16 cm by 11 cm by 7 cm) with a non stick cake liner.


Combine the polenta, caster sugar, ground almonds and lemon zest and baking powder in a large bowl.


Whisk the eggs and oil together and gradually beat these into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon to form a thick batter.


Position the loaf tin on a baking tray and fill it with the cake batter. Place the baking tray, and cake, in a cold oven and set it at 190°C/ 375°F/ gas 5.


Bake the cake for 40 minutes or until it is golden brown and a skewer can be inserted and removed clean from the centre of the cake.


Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.


For the syrup: bring the sugar, lemon juice, water and elderflowers up to the boil and reduce the heat slightly. Simmer the syrup for 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar.


Allow some of the water to evaporate so that a syrup becomes a little bit sticky. Strain the syrup and reserve to finish the cake.


Place the cake on a plate or cake stand and with a skewer stab the cake all over to create drainage holes for the syrup. Pour the syrup over the cake while it is cooling.


Decorate the cake with thinly cut lemon slices and elderflowers.



Blackcurrant, Pistachio and Verbena Tartlets

We will soon be into the blackcurrant season so if you can lay your hands on some (you could use frozen), you might try combining them with the fragrant, citrus flavour of lemon verbena. If you can’t get hold of blackcurrants, you could use blackberries or blueberries.

Lemon verbena is a beautiful herb which grows well in the UK. It thrives so long as it is protected it from any hard winter frosts. I use the small, vivid green sword shaped leaves for three things: I grind them with granulated sugar to make a bright green sherbet which I sprinkle on summer fruit; I douse it in boiling water to make a refreshing tisane and, like my friends in Australia I dry the leaves and place in a bowl to keep the air in the house smelling clean and fresh. If you can’t get hold of lemon verbena, you could use mint.

Makes 10 tartlets

Balckcurrant & lemon verbena tarts-1-7

For the sweet pastry:


165g plain flour

50g icing sugar

1/2 tsp grated lemon zest

pinch of salt

90g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 small egg yolk

1 – 3 tbsp cold water

Mascarpone cream


100g mascarpone cheese

100g crème fraîche

½ tsp vanilla essence

zest from half a lemon

10 – 20g icing sugar



100g blackcurrants – fresh or frozen

50g raspberries

3 tbsp apricot jam

small bunch of lemon verbena leaves (or mint)

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tbsp toasted pistachio nuts, chopped finely

a few elderfowers to decorate but lavender would be lovely too


Place the flour, icing sugar, lemon zest, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and process until the mixture starts to come together (about 20 seconds).  Empty the contents of the food processor bowl onto a cold surface and bring the pastry together with your hands, kneading it gently to form a ball. Cover in Clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for half an hour.

To make the tartlet cases

Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas mark 2.

Tartlet-casesRoll the pastry as thin as you dare – 3 or 4mm is perfect. Cut circles of pastry with a pastry cutter. Place each circle of pastry in a buttered tartlet tins approximately 6 cm in diameter and 3 – 4 cm deep and line with a circle of silicone paper (muffin cases work well here) and fill with baking beans. Allow the tarts to rest in the fridge for a further ten minutes, if you have time. Remove from the fridge and bake the tarts for about 25 minutes or until they begin to brown slightly. Remove from the oven and cool.

For the mascarpone cream

Place the mascarpone cheese, crème fraîche, lemon zest, sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl and loosen with a whisk and then beat, as you would double cream, until it thickens.

For the blackcurrant filling

pastry-cutterPlace the blackcurrants and raspberries in a small saucepan with a couple of teaspoons of water and a tiny sprinkle of sugar. Heat the blackcurrants and raspberries  gently until they just begin to soften.

Place the apricot jam and two teaspoons of water in a small bowl and heat in a microwave for 10 seconds to liquefy. Grind the lemon verbena leaves with the granulated sugar and allow to dry for a few minutes in the warm air of the kitchen.

 To assemble the tarts

Three quarter fill each cooked and cooled tartlet with mascarpone cream. Top with the cooked blackcurrants and raspberries and brush with a little apricot jam glaze. Sprinkle with a little lemon verbena sugar. I tried to create a halo around the edge of the tartlet but I was not quite skilled enough to pull that off. Scatter with a few toasted pistachio nuts and some edible flowers, such as violas, marigold (petals) or nasturtiums.


If you have any tartlets left over you can freeze to use later. They will last for a couple of months in the freezer or a week in an air tight container.




Asparagus Time

Call me stupid but the fact that Sand Hutton is so named because of its sandy soil had never occurred to me until I visited Low Moor Farm earlier this week. Sand, I also learnt, is the perfect medium for growing asparagus, so 18 years ago that’s what Ronda Morritt planted on 16 acres of the family farm at Sand Hutton eight miles from York.


Now she harvests from fields that look like fine, beach sand. Picking begins in mid-April with a team that come every year to this little corner of Yorkshire, from Latvia and Romania. Dispel any idea of exploitative gangmaster labour; sure it’s hard work but the lads and lasses have clean, smart, well-equipped caravans. Their washing was fluttering on the line on my visit. Barbies come out on a sunny evening and they were all cheerful except the guy with a bandage round his face who had toothache.

Asparagus, like no other plant, grows at lightening speed. The pickers can cut in the morning, move on to another field in the afternoon and be back picking the first field the following day. ‘Even the same day if it’s sunny,’ says Ronda.

The spears are sorted, graded and packed and then sent out, not to supermarkets, but to Delifresh, the specialist food wholesaler who supplies all the top restaurants in Yorkshire, to Paley’s in Malton and the farm gate. So if you want freshly picked Yorkshire asparagus, one of the best seasonal veg I know, then get yourself off smartish (they stop picking on 21st June)  to Ronda’s Low Moor Farm at Sand Hutton (you will see the signs off the A64) and pick up a bundle or two and some lovely strawberries and raspberries while you’re at it: £1.50 a bundle when I was there earlier this week.

Asparagus team Asparagus_field Asparagus_packing2 asparagus_packing

Sand Hutton Asparagus, Low Moor Farm, Sand Hutton YO41 1LH T: 01759 371855 (no website)

You can find Yorkshire asparagus at farm shops and farm gates including:

Spilmans, Lodge Farm, Helperby YO61 2PW

Wharfedale Grange, Harewood



Malton Food Lovers Festival

If you’ve never been before, or even if you have, get along to the Malton Food Lover’s Festival tomorrow, it’s the last day of what is arguably the best food festival in Yorkshire and even beyond. The stripey food awnings give it a French country market feel with stalls selling the best of Yorkshire produce.


Sue Nelson interviewing Diana Henry

Get there early, at lunchtime today it was heaving and the  Haxby Baker had sold out by 2pm.  I filled my basket with a sourdough loaf from the Leeds Bread Co-op, Sand Hutton asparagus and a pack of their strawberries – try these super-sweet boys and you’ll never buy supermarket Elsanta again.   I went to a Q & A session with a panel that included Prue Leith, Levi Roots and Stephanie Moon, a honey masterclass from Hattie Ellis and and an interview conducted by Sue Nelson (Yorkshire Food Finder) with food writer Diana Henry and the chance to taste dishes from her new book A Bird in the Hand.

Asparagus Patch Soup

asparagus soup-1-2Serves 6  


2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 large onion, chopped

250g floury potato, peeled and cubed

350g asparagus, rinsed

l500ml vegetable stock

1 lemon, juice only

sea salt and black pepper

1 rasher of bacon (optional)



In a large saucepan, sweat the onion in the oil for 10 minutes on a medium heat.

Add the potatoes and continue to cook for 5 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to the boil.

Remove the woody ends from the asparagus.

Roughly chop the asparagus and add to the saucepan.

Lower the heat, cover and simmer the soup for 15 minutes or until vegetables are cooked.

Allow the soup to cool slightly and liquidise. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and add lemon juice to taste.

Grill bacon and chop finely as a garnish for the soup.



Sally’s Pasta

It’s always worth a call into the Bear in Todmorden. I popped in this morning for some fabulous Pextenement cheese, which is made within sight of my ‘office’. (Cheesemaker Carl’s niece Hannah used to deliver on a Saturday morning but she morphed into a teenager and unaccountably found better things to do. Boys, drinking, that sort of thing.) Today in the Bear there was a young woman cooking something by the counter and it looked rather good. Turns out it’s ravioli made by Sally Wellock – yes, of the Wellock family, who have been supplying veg since 1961 to some of the most prestigious restaurants up and down the country,



She went to Italy with her dad, sourcing tomatoes, and stayed with a family who one night served up delicious ravioli, which Sally replicated back home in Nelson. It’s very good indeed; light, full off flavour, immensely satisfying. If you’re going to have what we call a slut’s dinner (ready made meal for one) forget Tesco, this is the one. Good to see the youngsters picking up the baton and running with it. There are three varieties on offer; spicy beetroot, pea & mint and wild mushroom, coming to deli near you soon. @sallysPasta

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