tip: vanilla sugar

vanilla sugar
Instead of buying ready-made vanilla sugar, make your own. It is very simple. Often this is sold with a premium markup. Many of the supermarkets sell their own brand vanilla sugar, at about 4 quid for 300g. For that price, you can make your own. And since vanilla pods stay fragrant for years, this is the kitchen tip that keeps on giving!  

Vanilla sugar is often used in European cooking, particularly German and Scandanavian. It is perfect in cakes, pies, icecream or custard. In fact most things that you would normally put sugar into. It is great in coffee and fabulous in hot chocolate but whatever you do, not in tea. (Oh lord, you are not one of those people who puts sugar in their tea, are you?)

top tips and fabulous facts!

At the risk of sounding a bit Viz "Top Tips", I have decided to add the odd post about favourite tips and tricks that I have learnt in over 20 years of cooking. I like the idea of being a repository for lost knowledge . . . the sort of things our grandmothers knew but have fallen out of fashion or perhaps a few tips that need to be updated for the 21st century.

cherry and spring onion salsa

cherry and spring onion salsa
While the word "salsa" essentially means "sauce" in Spanish, in the UK we tend think of salsas as being a fresh, raw sauce of uncooked, chopped vegetables or fruit, a "salsa cruda". Or we just assume it is a jar of something a bit sloppy involving tomatoes that you eat with tortilla chips - a sort of runny chutney. But there is a whole wealth of wonderful salsas out there (either raw or cooked) and it is definitely worth experimenting.

This recipe is one that I put together from the contents of my fruit bowl and fridge. It owes nothing to any kind of authenticity, but I do particularly like the combination of sweet and savoury and its glorious summery colours. (If you can get your hands on purple spring onions, it is even prettier).

tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad)

tabbouleh - bulgar wheat salad
A simple but delicious Middle Eastern herb salad that zings with flavour, perfect for a hot summer day. It would seem that my optimism that the sun would make an appearance this weekend was rewarded and as such was the perfect opportunity to make this salad to accompany our Sunday lunch out in the garden.

One of the secrets to a good tabbouleh, is plenty of parsley, the bulgur wheat is more of an afterthought. The second is to slice the parsley by hand (I use a mezzaluna for speed). Don't try to speed things up by using a food processor as you will end up with a mush of parsley, rather than the small flecks required).

grilled prawns with honey and preserved lemon

I adore grilled or barbecued prawns and this recipe is inspired by a memory of a meal al fresco under a bright Mediterranean sun. (Although not so much of my body was actually under the sun. Swathed in scarves and a hat and doing my best Grace Kelly impersonation of a person not designed for bright sunlight. It must be the eskimo in me). Not that I have to worry about an over-abundance of sunshine today! 

happy birthday to me! (or why I love the pea)

My love of peas has been a constant in my life. I have often wondered if it is to do with things that happened on and around the day of my birth. It’s a long time ago, a distant memory but I was there, remember!

My pregnant mother had decided to have me at home - a home birth. Her GP, a fierce ex-miner called Dr Heathcote, had advised total bed-rest for the last month of her pregnancy. And as a woman who was full of energy this was always going to be difficult. A solution was reached. My father arranged to have a television installed in their bedroom in order that my tennis-obsessed mother could watch Wimbledon during the last weeks before spawning.

save (the) bumblebee . . . i hope it's not too late . . .

No, not that bumblebee although you should. This is actually me coming over a little bit NIMBY; I want you to help save a local and much-loved shop - Bumblebee on Brecknock Road in Kentish Town. Please, please, please help prevent a much-loved local shop being forced out of business; reject the application!

last chance to vote for me! and a big thank-you!

I just wanted to say thank you to all of those very kind people who have voted for Marmaduke Scarlet in the Observer Food Monthly Awards.   

For those of you who don't know, The Observer (and its sister paper, The Guardian) host both the exemplary Word of Mouth blog as well as the Food Monthly magazine - both genuinely innovative and interesting contributors to the British food scene. Of course my absolute favourite food writer in the whole world also writes for them (if you couldn't tell who it is . . . it is of course, the divine Nigel Slater).

smoked salmon, feta and asparagus salad

A late spring or early summer salad of my favourite green vegetables combined with sublime smoked salmon. The creamy, tangy flavours of feta together with the smokiness of the fish work wonderfully with the crisp, green vegetables.

killer chocolate brownies

killer chocolate brownies
Grown men have wept for these chocolate morsels. They have fought over them. Wrestled with Tupperware containers and tried to hide the last crumbs. I have had duels conducted to force me to release the secrets of this chocolate heaven (though never successfully) and more offers of first-born children than I know what to do with. Thank god I am not the vengeful, sacrificing kind.

But the time has come to put this recipe for killer chocolate brownies out there. Not double chocolate, not triple chocolate. This is chocolate four-ways (quadruple doesn't really roll off the tongue). These brownies are, to my mind, perfection - dense, moist and intensely chocolate-y, unadulterated by nuts, just total chocolate.

the perfect hangover cure? drunkard's noodles (pad kee mao)

I have no idea why these noodles are considered drunken . . . a quick look on the internet says that it is a favourite at noodles stalls with Thai men after a hard night of drinking (better than the ubiquitous British kebab!) . . . I must investigate further. It sounds like the perfect hangover cure. 

what's in season: june

Henry's pink aquilegia 2011
The fountain murmuring of sleep,
A drowsy tune;
The flickering green of leaves that keep
The light of June;
Peace, through a slumbering afternoon,
The peace of June.

A waiting ghost, in the blue sky,
The white curved moon;
June, hushed and breathless, waits, and I
Wait too, with June;
Come, through the lingering afternoon,
Soon, love, come soon.

Arthur Symons (1865-1945) - In Fountain Court

June is probably may favourite month, for no better reason than it is my birthday month, the days are getting longer and as a child I was firmly convinced of June’s magical properties; Mid Summer Day was full of faeries, enchantment and stories of future loves and I had no reason to disbelieve this. When I was 16 I was given a bottle of homemade wine as a present, with a beautifully designed label entitled “Rachel’s Midsummer Magic” and I have been trying to maintain this ever since!