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Al fresco feasting

watermelon, feta and watercress salad

I'm suffering from yesterday's overzealous consumption of rosé. And champagne. And Sauternes. We were celebrating the return of newly weds GS and SB (now GS and SS), just back from their press-pass-subsidised lux honeymoon in Indonesia. Admittedly they didn't feel too much like celebrating their crash bang wallop return to a mostly grey, Brexit-stricken UK. All the more reason for me to lay on a festive summer feast and to drown their sorrows with booze.

The last few days have finally looked a little more like 'Summer', so eating outside was essential. As was having the time for drinks in the garden before dinner - I wouldn’t be caught out slaving over the stove whilst others were quaffing champagne in the evening rays. I also had a rare morning off from rehearsals, leaving me plenty of time to shop and get in some prep. Ideal. Colourful, fresh and festive were the orders of the day, with an SS veto on shellfish and bananas. And watermelon. Though I ignored that and offered her an alternative.


Watermelon, feta and watercress salad

For four, takes 10 minutes

salad / starter / summer / gluten free / easy peasy / ready in a jiffy / quietly smug / party / hands free / date night

This summer salad is quick to throw together and makes a colourful starter or side dish. For those who aren't a fan of watermelon (do many exist?) cherry tomatoes make a fine substitute.

* Watermelon - 4 slices

* Watercress - 4 handfuls

* Mint leaves - a handful, chopped

* Feta - 100g, crumbled

* Balsamic vinegar - 2 tbsp

* Honey - 1 tbsp

* Lemon - juice of 1/4

* Olive oil - a couple of glugs

Remove the rind from watermelon and chop the flesh into small pieces. Remove and discard any pips (this is a boring job, unless you’ve gone for a GM and worryingly pip-free fruit). Put a handful of watercress on each plate, then divide the watermelon, mint and feta evenly between them. Whisk the remaining ingredients together in a glass. Dress the salad when you're ready to eat.

Harissa roasted chicken thighs

For four, takes 5 minutes preparation, 30 minutes oven time

PRINT these recipes

main / summer / autumn / show off / easy peasy / dairy free / gluten free / side / date night / baby

Harissa chicken, roasted aubergines with tahini and spiced carrots

* Organic chicken thighs - 4

* Harissa paste - 4 tbsp

* Yogurt -2 tbsp

Ideally start by marinating the chicken the day before, or at least a few hours before cooking. Mix the Harissa and yogurt together and spread evenly over the chicken, rubbing the marinade into the flesh. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and place in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. If you have a grill/fan combination function, this works well with this dish to crisp up the skin.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted aubergines with tahini

Serves 4, 5 minutes active time, 40 minutes oven time

summer / autumn / quietly smug / easy peasy / vegetarian / vegan / dairy free / gluten free / side / date night / baby / picnic

* Aubergine - 3

* Tahini - about 4 tbsp

* Lemon - juice of 1/2

* Coriander - 2 large handfuls, chopped

* Chili flakes - 1 tsp

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Place the aubergines, whole, on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes, or until charred on the outside and very soft on the inside.

To make the tahini sauce, whisk the tahini with equal amounts of water in a glass. The mixture will turn thick but should then smooth out again. Add the juice of half a lemon, a good pinch of sea salt and whisk again. Add more water if needed, until the sauce has the consistency of double cream.

When the aubergines have cooled a little, cut them in half lengthways and lay them out on a serving plate. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Drizzle with tahini sauce and scatter with a handful of chopped coriander and the chili flakes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spiced carrot salad

Serves 4, active time 10 minutes, 30 minutes oven time

perennial / quietly smug / easy peasy / dairy free / gluten free / side / vegetarian / vegan /date night / baby / picnic

* Carrots - 700g, peeled and cut into chunks

* Cumin - 1 tbsp

* Ground coriander - 1 tbsp

* Lemon - juice of 1/4

* Mint - a handful, chopped

* Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Toss the chopped carrots with the cumin, ground coriander and plenty of olive oil in a roasting tin. Season generously with sea salt and black pepper and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and in a large bowl, toss the carrots with the lemon juice, coriander, mint and a drizzle of olive oil. Taste for seasoning.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Coconut, ginger, mascarpone and raspberry tart

Serves four to six, takes 40 minutes, plus cooling time

dessert / gluten free / spring / summer / show off / party / vegetarian / date night / baking

This was an experiment, which got the sticky thumbs up all round. The gluten and dairy free base is zingy and tropical, while the mascarpone cream is light as a feather (it's what I use in my tiramisu). I was going to make this with strawberries, but forgot the strawberries. Luckily SS prefers raspberries. It would work with most summer fruits.

Coconut, ginger, mascarpone and raspberry tart

For the base

1 cup mixed ground nuts

1 cup desiccated coconut

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 tbsp ginger syrup (from the candied ginger)

2 balls candied ginger

2 tbsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon


For the filling

2 eggs

2 tbsp sugar

200g mascarpone

1 tbsp brandy

Raspberries - 2 punnets

Creme de cassis or other sweet liqueur - a dash

Preheat the oven to 180. Blitz all the ingredients for the base in a food processor until you have a sticky paste. Line a small springform cake tin with baking parchment then press the mixture into the bottom of the tin. It should rise a couple of cm up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown. Remove and set aside to cool in the tin.

To make the cream, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar with an electric whisk until the mixture turns thick and pale yellow. Then whisk in the mascarpone, followed by the booze. Whisk the eggs whites in a separate, large bowl (make sure you clean the whisk attachment first, otherwise your whites won't whisk). Whisk until soft peaks form. Gently fold the eggs whites into the mascarpone mixture, trying to preserve as much air as you can. Cover and place in the fridge.

Place the raspberries in a bowl with the liqueur. Stir to combine, cover and set aside.

Once the base is completely cool, remove it from its tin. Fill with a layer of mascarpone mixture and then lay the raspberries generously over the top.


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