Christmas Recipe: Scottish Ecclefechan Tarts

As the winter markets kick off this weekend, and the first doors are unlatched on advent calendars all over the world, it’s beginning to feel like Christmas once again. And if there’s one thing Christmas is synonymous with in my family it’s food, food, food.

While many are partial to a mince pie at this time of year, my mum and I have always had a taste for something a little bit different: the mighty Ecclefechan tart, hailing from the wilds of Scotland. ‘Tis the season for butter, pastry and fruity indulgence — so try out our recipe for this traditional family treat below.

Image via Wikimedia (Creative Commons License)
Image via Wikimedia (Creative Commons License)



For the pastry:

• 100g plain flour
• 25g caster sugar
• 50g cold butter
• 1 egg yolk
• 1-2 tbsp cold water
• A pinch of salt

For the filling:

• 125g butter
• 2 eggs
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 75g chopped walnuts
• 200g dried fruit
• 50g glace cherries
• 1 tbsp white wine vinegar


For the pastry:
• Chop the butter into small cubes and rub them into the flour in a large bowl. When the mix has a breadcrumbs-like consistency, mix in the sugar until fully absorbed.
• Add the egg yolk, followed by the cold water, judging how much is needed by the consistency of the mix.
• Leave the pastry to rest in the fridge, covered, for around 30 minutes.
• Grease a yorkshire pudding tin with butter or oil, then use the pastry to line each hole in the tray.
• Prick each once at the bottom and pop the tray in the fridge.

For the filling:
• Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F.
• Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, then set aside to cool. Beat the eggs in a separate container.
• Combine the butter, eggs and sugar in a large bowl, then stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.
• Fill each pastry case with the mix and bake for around 30 minutes.
• The pastry should be golden and the filling lightly browned.

This post was created in collaboration with Waitrose. View their range of Christmas products here.

Fonio: Africa’s Ancient Grain is a True Superfood

Image: GLP Films
Image: GLP Films

Google ‘fonio’ and you’re confronted with an odd mix of results. Some British press coverage has presented the ancient African grain as the next superfood du jour or the “new quinoa”, which conjure up unfortunate images of Islingtonites called Mungo and Cosima crucifying the poor stuff in an overpriced claggy salad.

This, unsurprisingly, wasn’t the angle the team from GLP Films went for in their documentary The Most Nutritious Grain You’ve Never Heard Of. The film is the second in their series of web-based shorts produced in partnership with National Geographic, and was shot in Senegal – the heart of fonio country. The film focusses on the grain’s pivotal role in the West African nation’s cultural life (new mothers, for example, are massaged with it just after giving birth), as well as highlighting its huge potential as an extraordinary weapon in the fight against malnutrition.

“We were able to explore fonio’s health benefits and cultural importance through two unique characters,” GLP Production Manager Jenny Ersbak tells me. “Dr Wade [professor of physiology and human nutrition at the University of Dakar] and Aya Ndiaye [president of the fonio-producing Gie Koba Club Co-operative] both contributed incredible enthusiasm and knowledge of fonio, but from very opposite ends of the spectrum – academically and personally. It was a nice balance.”

Image: GLP Films
Image: GLP Films

The grain, we discover, is a staple of the Senegalese diet. It’s eaten as a porridge for breakfast, mixed with rice or yassa for lunch, or served with mafé – a spicy peanut and meat stew which became a favourite with the GLP crew.

Misleadingly nicknamed “hungry rice” by European settlers, who mistakenly thought locals were growing it out of necessity rather than for its nutty flavour and culinary versatility, gluten-free fonio is nutrient-packed – especially rich in amino acids missing from modern grains such as wheat, rice and barley. It also requires very little water, so is easy to grow in arid conditions, requires no pesticides, and can be ready to harvest only 6 – 8 weeks after planting.

Fonio could make a sizeable dent in Sub-Saharan Africa’s dismal hunger statistics, not to mention knocking over-farmed quinoa off its wholefood perch, so you can see why Western health nuts and malnutrition researchers alike are getting so excited about it.

Image: GLP Films
Image: GLP Films

It’s clearly prime subject matter for documentary makers too, though Senegal isn’t exactly the most well-trodden of locations – something the GLP crew discovered the hard way on their 450 mile cross-country drive to the co-operative from capital city Dakar. After suffering three burst tyres on the rough Senegalese roads, the team and their van packed full of equipment took a rather testing twenty hours rather than the expected seven to reach the women’s co-operative at Kedougou, meaning an exhausted crew had a far-reduced filming schedule.

“Moments like that bring the crew a lot closer. You’re forced to bond, embrace the chaos together, and run with it,” says Ersbak. “We now affectionately refer to everyone who had to undertake that journey as being part of ‘Crewdougou’ [after Kedougou – their eventual destination] .”

But at least they had the comfort of a super-nutritious meal when they did arrive. 


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Vallebona Launches Warehouse Deli In London

Image Credit: Vallebona
Image Credit: Vallebona

On my first trip to Tuscany to visit a friend on their home turf, I spent what felt like hours squished into the back of an overcrowded Fiat full of his – let’s say passionate – friends. Winding through the hills at a suitably Italian breakneck speed, my tentative suggestions that we might like to stop at panetteria [bakery] after trattoria [casual restaurant] were laughed out of the car. “Ksshhh, no, no, no – we’re taking you for some good, Italian coffee/pizza/ravioli/panzanella. That place is terrible, awful, crap. Like something you get in London.”

Image Credit: Vallebona
Image Credit: Vallebona

That, as we found out at the launch of Italian food brand Vallebona’s new London deli, is an image that can be thoroughly discarded. If you’re willing to venture to their warehouse space in the wilds of a Wimbledon industrial estate (quite a trek for a pair of east Londoners), you’ll find heaps of carefully-sourced produce – from smoky charcuterie and peppery oils to the chewiest nougats and marmalades that taste like an Amalfi lemon grove smells.

Image Credit: Vallebona
Image Credit: Vallebona

We were treated to some of the canapés designed by the brand’s cheffy pals (a smoked tuna and orange zest number went down especially well), as well as piles of produce from across Italy. The highlight was slow roast pork, sourced from Yorkshire and coated in ground fennel flowers before being cooked for 12 hours straight. It was delicately fennel-y and inimitably Tuscan. We had not just seconds, but thirds.

Image Credit: Vallebona
Image Credit: Vallebona

White truffle honey glopped over chunks of bread and runny gorgonzola was another new taste experience that had us moaning strange noises of delight. All this washed down with wines from Liberty, Astrum and Bibendum meant we toddled off into the night very satisfied.

Image Credit: Vallebona
Image Credit: Vallebona

As well as buying the produce at Vallebona, you can book to attend one of their pop up events, or ask the team to cater to a dinner party, event or buffet. They also do regular Saturday morning tasting sessions, which would show any dubious Italian Londoner that you can get plenty of top notch food from their homeland – and just where they’d least expect it to be found.

Eating Local in the East of England

East of England Sourced Locally food

Back in 2007, the East of England Co-op launched an initiative called Sourced Locally with the aim of highlighting delectable food goods from the local area. The project has grown enormously over the last eight years. Co-op is now home to more than 2,700 locally sourced products and has helped generate over £34 million for the local economy.

Sourced Locally Fortnight, which took place from June 1st to 14th this year, is a chance to showcase both the incredible local food produce available and all the benefits of keeping money in the local community.

Co-op commissioned YouGov to conduct consumer research in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex as part of its 2015 campaign. The results indicated that 85% of adults across the East of England believe that Brits should buy and consume locally-sourced food products, with a particular emphasis on the importance of meat, vegetables and eggs.

During this year’s Sourced Locally Fortnight, Co-op made improvements in how customers find local products in-store and launched a range of new foodie products for their customers to enjoy. You can see some of these East of England products and the people who supply them  in the videos below.

These videos show just a few of the brilliant producers who make high-quality and locally-grown food available for us to buy in stores like Co-op, and it’s great to see one of the UK’s favourite supermarket brands working to highlight and credit their suppliers with campaigns like this one.

During the Sourced Locally Fortnight, Co-op even went so far as to only stock local potatoes, strawberries and asparagus in their stores, which is a great start towards cutting food miles, reducing waste and helping build the local economy.

It may seem like a relatively small step to implement this kind of action for just two weeks, but it’s only by showing people how great local food can be that bigger steps can be taken. And it seems pretty clear that Co-op will be leading the charge.

Rachel Khoo on Making it in Food and TV


Rachel Khoo is a self-made fashion PR-turned-food star with a passion for vintage clothes and travel. Her cookbook, The Little Paris Kitchen, and the accompanying BBC Two series have marked her out as one to watch in the world of food journalism. Lauren Razavi finds out the secret of making it in TV and publishing…

You gave up your fashion PR job and went to Paris to learn French and learn about pastry. Were you determined to make a career out of food at that point? 

I moved to go to Cordon Bleu and learn French. I knew I wanted to work in food on the creative side – photography, magazines and cookbooks. At the beginning it was about earning enough money to pay my rent and trying to get my foot in the door. I worked as an au pair, in a department store, in an art gallery, taught English. I did so many jobs just so I could build my portfolio as a food stylist.

My big break happened because I worked in a cookery book store, so I met cookbook authors and networked. It’s only the last four years things have really kicked off and I’ve been able to live off it.

How did your cookbook The Little Paris Kitchen and the subsequent BBC Two series come about?

I picked out my favourite publishers and found their details. I emailed them saying “I know you’re really busy, but do you have just 10 minutes for me to come in and pitch some ideas?” Out of those 10 emails, I got three meetings. From those three meetings, I got two offers, and I ended up going with Penguin. When I was writing the book I realised it would make a good TV show. I tracked down production companies and pitched my idea. BBC Two picked up the pilot.

You became known as the vintage girl with the tiny Paris kitchen. Is it important to have a gimmick to set you apart?

Gimmick’s the wrong word – it’s a unique selling point. All it comes down to is having a strong personality and identity, and knowing what your angle is on food. I don’t think you need some quirky story – I mean, it helps – but you have to back it up. Your USP can change: it was The Little Paris Kitchen for me but now it’s going to be Rachel Khoo.

Do you find blogging and social media useful in your career?

Definitely! What I love about my online platforms is that I have control over them. When I write on my blog, it’s always what I want to say. It’s everything from food to travel to fashion to anything else. It’s a great way to connect with your audience in a quick and immediate way.

Does accepting hospitality from tourism boards create a conflict in your mind?

I wanted to do a piece in Sweden, and The Sunday Times had a miniscule budget. So I pitched to the tourism board for them to pay for the flights and asked a friend to put up the whole team. Without support from the tourism board, it wouldn’t have been possible to create that beautiful piece. It can be very positive, but you need the freedom to review honestly.

You have to be clear when you start the project: OK, you’re offering me this, but I’m not guaranteeing a positive review. As long as that’s clear, I don’t think there’s a problem.

What are your top tips for young creatives who might want to follow a similar career path to your own?

Have a really nice blog – it’s your window. A lot of bloggers gain newspaper and magazine work through their blog. If you’re looking to write a cookbook, you need to show a publisher you have an audience. It’s rare for publishers to pick up writers who don’t have some kind of online platform these days.

Newspapers like certain pieces and angles; make sure you do your homework and tailor your pitch. When you email an editor, get their name right. Then it’s about persistence, and not letting it get to you if you don’t hear back. I’ve always been proactive. A lot of the doors I was knocking on didn’t open. It’s a tough market out there, but nothing comes from nothing. The people who make it are the ones who are persistent.

Check out Rachel’s latest cookbook, ‘Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook’, here.

This feature was originally published on

Recipe: Spicy Mauritian Tempura Prawns

Janine Cheung via Flickr
Image: Janine Cheung via Flickr


Back in 2012, I was one of the 6.5 million viewers who watched the tantalising Shelina Permalloo emerge as winner of that year’s MasterChef. Reflecting the diverse culinary influences — Creole, French, Indian, African, British and Chinese — of her home country, Permalloo’s instinctive home cooking was an inspiration to watch and learn from. And there’s nothing to whet your appetite more for a place than seeing its scrumptious cuisine served up with that impressive professional finesse.

It’s Shelina Permalloo’s delectable new cookbook, Sunshine on a Plate, that prompted me to share a recipe inspired by the food of Mauritius. This dish is simple, quick and delicious; a truly divine combination of features. The following recipe serves 4, so feel free to adjust it according to the number you’re catering for.

32 jumbo king prawns
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Mauritius massalé spice blend
1 tsp crushed pink peppercorns
100ml water
1 litre sunflower oil
A couple of sprigs of fresh coriander
Dodo chilli dipping sauce


  1. Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and water into a bowl and mix until combined into a smooth batter.
  2. Cover the king prawns in the batter, then place a deep frying pan on a high heat and add the sunflower oil.
  3. When the oil is as hot as possible, add the prawns in batches and cook for a couple of minutes on each side until crispy and golden.
  4. Drain the prawns on kitchen roll to remove any excess oil.
  5. Garnish with finely chopped fresh coriander and serve alongside the dipping sauce.

The more out of the ordinary ingredients from the list above can be found through the Mauritius Foods website, and if you’d like to try out more recipes from Mauritius, just grab yourself a copy of Sunshine on a Plate by Shelina Permalloo.