21 years of chillies

Last year I 'retired' from West Dean's Chilli Fiesta, the oldest and biggest UK celebration of the hot, cult, rainbow-coloured gastro-pods. I've been cooking there since the beginning in 1995, so I thought that 20 years was enough. This year, however, I have been asked back as a guest and so here are my recipes for my two dems. It will be strange, just turning up and not overseeing all the preparations, and I am looking forward to it.

My recipes are a mix of old and new, past favourites and fresh ideas. I hope that you will like them, and remember, you can make them as hot or mild as you like through your choice of chilli.

Summer with a twist - strawberries and cucumbers

I am off to talk to a WI group in Selsey, a place more famed for its crabs and lobsters than the thousands of bags of salad leaves that leave a huge processing plant on the outskirts of the town each day for supermarkets up and down the country. The original settlement, known then as Manhood End after the peninsular on which the town is built, was immortalised by Kipling in his poem Eddi's Service. But that is more about Christmas than mid-summer.

Food talks without a little bit of action are never quite so captivating and so I leave the house armed with local strawberries and one of the biggest cucumbers I have seen! The strawberries will be cut and mixed with a sprinkle of sugar, the zest of a lime and a little chopped chilli, then left for about 10 minutes until the juices start to run. I'll then use the juice from the lime with some sliced cucumber, chopped chilli, coriander, chives and shallot, one or two chopped anchovy fillets (as I have no fish sauce)  and a little fruit vinegar - Purple Shiso from Stratta is best but today I shall use their lavender vinegar. Summer with a twist! Find more ideas for strawberries and cucumbers by clicking on the links.

Right on cue

We’ve got a real glut of cucumbers at the moment from our Community Garden and they are also very cheap in the markets and shops. You are right on cue to make them the main ingredient for a Meat Free Monday - or just to enjoy them any day of the week as part of a mezze platter.

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Passata - & more!

If you shop in a market or have an allotment you’ll be more than aware that there is a tomato glut happening right now - and it’s the perfect moment to be making passata. Of course you can buy it - and cheaply too - but what you don’t get then is the glorious tomato water or stock that most people would just pour down the sink. Don’t Do It!!! For anyone raised on Heinz Tomato Soup this is the bit that really tastes ‘tomato-y’.

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Millionaire’s shortbread

These might look mean compared to some commercial offerings but, homemade with the best ingredients, these are rich and delicious and simply offer no comparison to anything mass produced. They are also expensive to make, which is another reason for small pieces!

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The week my world goes Chilli!

The run up to West Dean’s annual Chilli Fiesta is always a particularly busy one for me: sourcing produce from fabulous local growers; thinking about what we are going to eat at home before and during the Fiesta and, of course, finding a few new recipes showcasing chillies each year. My recipes for the 20th fiery fiesta are here, and I am also sharing a couple of old favourites with you too.

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National Ice Cream Day - that’s Everyday, isn’t it?

I’ve been working on this blog for National Ice Cream day - but seem to have missed the date! No worries as Everyday is Ice Cream Day to me! My Ice Cream Machine Cookbook has been my biggest seller by far and, despite being crammed with gorgeous recipes, I thought you might all like a few new and seasonal ideas to try?!

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Sharing recipes - Broad bean humus

One of the great things about the Community Garden in our village is that it encourages us all not only to share produce but recipes too. New member Sally was saying that she and her housemate had made some humus from broad beans harvested at the Garden, so I thought I’d give it a go. I used quite large beans that needed cooking, but the resulting ‘bash’ was delicious.

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Lemon and lavender sponge

This is a once-a-year treat for when the lavender is at its most fragrant - that's NOW! It takes a few days to make as you need to prepare the lavender sugar first, but the result is oh! so worth the effort. Allow the curd to chill for a day or overnight before using in the cake, so that it thickens and sets completely. Use the remaining sugar in sorbets and biscuits.

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Quick strawberry recipes for Wimbledon - with a love set of whiskies to match!

There’s a strawberry grower down the road who explained to me the math calculation of light hours of growing time to get a perfect crop of strawberries to Wimbledon for the Championships! I cannot explain it to you, except to say that there is no luck involved whatsoever! Wimbledon without strawberries would be like tennis without nets! These are some of my favourite strawberry recipes - they won’t keep you in the kitchen when you should be watching tennis - and my suggested love matches of whisky to go with each dish!

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Whiskies to peas

That’s not a typo! English peas are in the shops and here are my favourite pea recipes with whiskies to match. If you pod fresh peas you get about 300g peas from 1kg. Of course you can use defrosted frozen peas for all these recipes. However, sweet freshly picked peas are very special and these recipes showcase them perfectly.

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Courgette and mustard pasta

After a busy weekend when there are no left-overs in the fridge my first stop for recipe inspiration is the community garden. Last Monday my pickings were a courgette and some mustard frills lettuce that was completely over-grown: no good for salad any more but perfect for stir-fries. You might find your inspiration in the veg drawer of the fridge: whatever you find is bound to make a great Meat-Free Monday pasta dish.

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