it wasn't my fault!

Old books - Marja Flick-Buijs
In the immortal words of  'Joliet' Jake Blues:

"I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tyre. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. It wasn't my fault, I swear to God!"

And that is my excuse for not posting anything recently, and I am sticking to it.

what's in season: december

a glorious Savoy cabbage
Snow is sometimes a she, a soft one
Her kiss on your cheek, her finger on your sleeve
In early December, on a warm evening
And you turn to meet her, saying "It''s snowing!"But it is not. 
And nobody''s there
Empty and calm is the air.
Ted Hughes 

Icy winds and Arctic weather has just hit the UK, apparently the worst in thirty years or so. Snow has just hit London too and I am feeling the need for winter-warming, hearty food. December is a fabulous month for leafy greens vegetables with winter roots in full swing too. 

So think of tasty stews and casseroles, delicious roasts and divine vegetables, from parsnips and swede to Brussels sprouts and celeriac, not forgetting my favourite, "king of all cabbages" - the glorious Savoy.

moroccan harrira soup

spicy harrira stew
This is a version of a soup recipe from Claudia Roden, traditionally prepared during Ramadan and eaten to break the fast. Apparently, the streets of Morocco are perfumed at sunset with thousands of different versions of this fragrant soup. 
While this version of the soup is vegetarian, you can include meat, such as lamb or beef. It is not a soup that is restricted to Ramadan across the Muslim world; it is also served at special celebrations, and why not? It is deliciously satisfying.

chicken stew with dried limes

I cooked a Persian banquet for friends recently and used dried limes for the first time. (I say "banquet" which sounds terribly sumptuous and as far away from my Victorian cottage in shabby north London as the magic of the ancient Silk Routes or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon can be . . . although saffron and pomegranates were involved). Anyway, the dried limes were a complete revelation and I have to thank John Willoughby in the NY Times for the inspiration. He wrote "Holding one to your nose is a bit like sniffing freshly grated lime rind while standing in the center of a brewery" . . . utterly glorious. I was powerless to resist their  lure.

what's in season: november

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, - November!
Thomas Hood

Fallen leaves lying on the grass in the November sun bring more happiness than the daffodils
Cyril Connolly

Sadly, my favourite tender vegetable crops are disappearing as the first frosts appear in November, although it is still a good month for hardier veg such as cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, leeks, parsnips, potatoes and sprouts as well as traditional fruits such as apples, pears and quinces. However, this is the month that game really comes into its own, so it's not all doom and gloom.

roasted pumpkin soup with chilli and ginger

roasted pumpkin soup with chilli and ginger
Yes, I know I have just posted a pumpkin soup receipe, but I have a lot of pumpkin to get through. (Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to get me to carve the kids' jack-o-lanterns? Me, the most cack-handed cook in north London?) Oh well, I suppose there have been benefits, she says ungraciously. Half-a-hundred weight of sumptious pumpkin flesh waiting for interesting things for me to do with it, to be fair.

Now this gloriously rich soup is lightly spiced with Eastern treasures and full of warming flavours, perfect for a dull Autumn day; it is a very nice soup to come home to.

guinness is good for you! beef in ale stew

my goodness, my guinness!
"Guinness is good for you" so said the old advertising posters, together with "My Goodness, My Guinness" and "Lovely day for a Guinness". Well of course I knew that. Guinness is probably part of my DNA, my father worked for Guinness for many years and recognising the dark, velvety beer together with the wonderful iconic advertising from the mid-20th century are some of my earliest memories; perhaps my heritage, so to speak.

This is one of my favourite cold weather dishes; I am firmly of the belief that it is the ancient British or Irish equivalent of Jewish penicillin (chicken soup) as I find it both comforts and cures me of all ills.

spicy mushroom soup

a deeply soothing mushroom soup
There are times when I find enjoying a mushroom soup a deeply soothing experience; an almost spiritual one, communing with nature. This soup seems to be both spicy and calming at the same time with it's mouth-watering savoury taste. It is both spicy and aromatic and is a most beautiful dark brown colour, flecked with green . . . a sort of forest floor of a soup, but without the mossy bits! 

jerusalem artichoke and leek soup with mussel gremolata

Autumn has arrived with a vengeance and a warming soup seems the perfect sop to the wet and blustery weather. This soup has an intriguing nutty flavour with a slight hint of sweetness. Jerusalem artichokes have a real affinity for fish and shellfish; (think Jerusalem artichoke gratin with kippers and you'll know what I am talking about). Here I used mussels, but I have also served this soup with a gremolata made with finely chopped tinned smoked oysters which seem to accentuate the sweet nut flavours.

what's in season: october

a shy pumpkin!
October is marigold, and yet 
A glass half full of wine left out 
Ted Hughes

This is the main season for apples and pears. The first Bramley apples are now in season, as are figs. The Jerusalem artichoke season is just beginning and cauliflowers are at their peak, together with main crop potatoes and carrots, sprouts, and broccoli. Lettuce is running out by the middle of the month, and courgettes finish towards the end. It’s a fabulous month to go foraging for mushrooms!

chicken with sloe gin and juniper berries

sloe berries before the first frosts
Yesterday we went sloe berry hunting. Our favourite location seems to have remained a secret from both other north Londoners and the local wildlife as the bushes looked remarkably unravaged. A good haul now nestles in the freezer until next weekend when I'll be in a home-brew frenzy, making sloe gin, damson gin and some more mead (more of this another time). 

bloody marvellous bloody mary!

Oh how I like a well-made Bloody Mary and this version is my favourite. It is quite simple (why gild the lily?) and I am convinced of it's life-affirming properties; it is known to cure most ills.

a bloody marvellous bloody mary!
This popular cocktail typically contains vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon or lime juice, celery salt and black pepper. Some versions also contain beef consommé, horseradish, cayenne pepper, port or sherry. (Although probably not all together). One of my favourites had a secret ingredient that the bartender later confessed to being Absolut Mandarin, a vodka infused with natural orange oils, which blend beautifully with the the spicy tomato base.

pea and tuna fishcakes with lemon mayonnaise

I am a pea fiend, if such a thing exists. I cannot remember a time when I didn't like peas. As a June baby, I was born loving peas eaten straight from the pod. But I am reliably informed, by people who understand these things, that this fishcake recipe is a good way to get faddy eaters to eat their peas.

a tale in which I learn to make a gloriously haphazard chicken curry

chicken curry with rice - steve woods
I have always been interested in authenticity in cooking. It's not that I have some kind of puritanical aversion to adapting a recipe, (heaven forbid), but if I am going to modify one then I do rather like to know what rules I am breaking.

When Maher, the rather elegant mother of a friend of mine,  kindly invited a bunch of us girls to lunch, for an afternoon of learning about and cooking several curries together with the promise of some red wine quaffing thrown in, I jumped at the chance to take part. If only to absorb all of the above in copious quantities, in the interests of authenticity of course.

apple and blackberry crumble

beautiful blackberries
Fruit crumble is one of the ultimate comfort foods, definitely designed for chilly or damp British days. It brings back memories of childish anticipation. To be honest, while I love my savoury food, I could quite easily forgo everything for a bowl of crumble topping and lashings of cream. Unfortunately sanity prevails . . . most of the time!

sweet cherry-stewed meatballs - full of wonderful middle eastern flavours

This delicious recipe has a lovely sweet and sour hint of Persia. I have a confession to make, I have absolutely no idea where I had originally sourced this recipe (Bad Kelly!). I found a notebook with this recipe scribbled down in it and I suspect that this may have been based on a review in the New York Times of a cookbook by the American-Syrian writer, Poopa Dweck,  . . . yes, I too was entranced by her name too!

peach and tomato salad with basil

peaches - John Smith
Peaches and tomatoes make an pretty salad to serve at a lunch or dinner party; it is delicious with grilled fish or meat. Biting into the peach releases a burst of juicy sweet flavour which melds perfectly with the sweet-sharp flavour of tomatoes, topped off with the herby spicy notes of basil. Perfection on a plate.

watching the day break with Oscar

This morning has started early. Well, early for me anyway. It's not often that I can say I was up at 5.30am (well not unless I had stayed up all night, and those nights are firmly in my past). So it was with some surprise that I found myself in the kitchen at dawn, feeling wide awake.

steamed fish with chilli and lime sauce

A Thai-influenced meal that is healthy, low-fat, low-calorie, full of fresh flavours and very tasty. What's not to like?

I have suggested using red snapper or pollock but you could also use hake, sea bass, monkfish or even haddock or cod. As fish stocks decline, this is a great opportunity to take advantage of the wide variety of fish caught off British shores. (Just make sure it's all sustainably fished and caught. It doesn't taste any better, but it's good for the seas and probably good for the soul too).

grilled halloumi and courgette sandwiches

Just writing this up is making me hungry . . . the halloumi, courgettes and grilled sweet onions really compliment each other very well and are a perfect summery combination.

couscous salad with roast lamb, chickpeas and feta

A fresh tasting summer salad and a perfect way to use up leftover roast lamb (not that there is ever much left over in my house). But should you find some on your hands and want an interesting way of using it up, this is a quick, easy and, more importantly, a very tasty solution.

sticky maple spareribs

The origin of the expression "spare ribs" is not definitive. It is clearly not because they are actually "spare". (I'm sure the unfortunate pig or cattle would argue that they had none to spare!) It is most likely that thee word 'sparerib' is an English interpretation of a German butchers' term 'ribbesper', pork ribs roasted on a spear. Although "spare" might also refer to the fact that they are not usally very fatty, nor very meaty.

goats cheese and pomodorino tomato cannelloni

Is it possible to suffer from a surfeit of tomatoes? Not in my experience and if you like tomatoes, you will love this deliciously tangy pasta dish, which uses two varieties of tomato. This is popular with vegetarians and meat-eaters alike and is a great "hands-on" recipe too; everyone seems to really enjoy rolling up the lasagne sheets to make their own cannelloni. Mucky pups that they are!