Now it’s usually this time of year that I get really excited about the imminent arrival of home grown asparagus and I get carried away doing loads of asparagus recipes – probably to the annoyance of those of you who don’t care for this wonderful vegetable.

So what’s happened this year? Well, I think it must be the cold, wet, windy weather we’ve been having lately, but I’m just not in the mood yet for asparagus – I’m still sending an increasingly reluctant son out to chop fire wood. As a result, warming soups are still on the menu in my house, although I am experimenting with wild garlic which we seem to have a lot of at the moment.

Now that lambing is over and the threat of the Schmallenberg virus has receded (until next year anyway) I’ve also been inclined to cook lamb. My early-lambing father suffered terribly and was even featured on Countryfile, while my late-lambing husband survived without any cases, which seems to have been the pattern around these parts.

Having got hold of a fillet from one of Mr V’s hoggets I’m spicing it up in a blend of spices which you can make your own with a mixture of ginger powder, cumin, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and cardamom – or just look out for the blend called “Ras-el-hanout”. It goes very well with this fruity couscous and minted yoghurt, while the couscous neatly fills the gap between last year’s main crop and this season’s new potatoes.

This month’s pudding sounds rather like a winter pud but will use up those part bottles of drink left over from Christmas, but you do need to soak the prunes in the alcohol for a few days before you make the tart.

Here’s hoping for some sunshine – the wood chopper for one will be glad to see it.

Spiced Lamb Fillet with a Fruity Couscous and Minted Yogurt

Serves 2.

  • 1 lamb fillet (either from the best end or the loin)
  • 2 teaspoon Moroccan spice blend (Ras-el-hanout)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the Fruity Couscous:

  • 1 cup of couscous
  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sultanas
  • 1 small eating apple
  • 6 dried apricots (quartered)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

For the Minted Yoghurt:

  • 200ml plain yoghurt
  • 6 mint leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the couscous – finely chop the onion. Peel, de-seed and chop the pepper and chop the apple into small dices. Fry the pepper and onion gently in 1 tablespoon of oil without colouring. Remove from the heat and add the couscous followed by the boiling water, lemon juice, apple, sultanas, apricots and the rest of the oil. Season with salt and pepper and allow the grains to swell. Fluff occasionally with a fork and check the seasoning. Fold in the chopped coriander.

To cook the lamb, make sure it is free from all fat and sinew then coat it generously in the spices. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and sear the lamb fillets like you would cook a steak. Turn the heat down and continue cooking until it has reached the stage of “doneness” you like. Set aside to let it rest. To make the minted yoghurt – chop the mint leaves finely and stir into the yoghurt with the seasoning.

To serve this dish – make a pile of the couscous (you can reheat in the oven or microwave if it has cooled down) onto the plates, carve the lamb in thick slices and arrange around the couscous. Serve with the minted yoghurt separately.


prune tart

Boozy Prune Tart

Serves 8. You will need a 10 inch x 1 ½ inch deep tart tin

For the pastry:

  • 250g (9oz) plain flour
  • 150g (5oz) butter
  • 50g (2oz) icing sugar
  • 2 small eggs

For the filling:

  • 24 stoneless prunes
  • 3 eggs
  • 150ml (5 fl oz) single cream
  • 75g (3oz) ground almonds
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar

A few days before you make this tart put the prunes into a glass jar and pour in some red wine or port and a bit of spirit, like brandy or vodka (this stops the contents from fermenting). To make the pastry – rub the butter into the flour and then add the icing sugar. Add the egg and mix to a dough. Chill for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170C (325F, Gas mark 3). Roll out the pastry and line the tart tin. Bake it blind for 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile beat together the eggs, sugar, cream and almonds. Halve the prunes and lay them into the tart pastry to create one layer. Don’t over fill; if you have a few over use them to garnish. Pour over the cream and egg mixture and again don’t over fill. Increase the oven temperature to 180C (350F, Gas mark 4). Bake for 25-35 minutes until set and golden. Serve warm with some of the syrup left from the soaked prunes drizzled over it.


Chocolate cake correction

Wondering what to do with the almonds and condensed milk in Philippa’s Best Ever Chocolate Cake recipe last month? Here is the amended recipe:

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F, Gas mark 4). Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder and stir in the ground almonds. Pour the boiling water onto the chocolate and stir until it melts. Add the condensed milk and stir well. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Work in the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour with each one. Work in the chocolate and condensed milk mixture with the rest of the flour and mix until smooth. Divide into the two prepared cake tins and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes until the centre is springy to the touch. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.