an italian-style bread salad: panzanella

panzanella (Italian bread salad)
I was in a hurry and needed to throw together a quick lunch for two and the cupboard was almost bare. Almost bare, but not quite. Even when I am down to the basics and a few crumbs, I will always have a chunk of bread (since I bake about twice a week), a heap of tomatoes (whether fresh, tinned or dried) and a few jars of olives. This is life in the Kelly household; you can never go hungry.

sweetcorn fritters with crème fraîche, hot smoked salmon and chives

sweetcorn fritters with crème fraîche
and hot smoked salmon
My friend Rachael rescues retired battery hens, who like jaded showgirls arrive with tattered feathers and fading plumage. She seems to name her birds after Victorian parlour maids (Gladys, Betty, Mildred and Flo), who once they have acclimatised to their new life, learn to roost and overcome their fear of the outdoors, to roam across her property, where they like nothing more than to gorge on sweetcorn and chase marshmallows up and down the lawn!

smoked salmon pâté with peter's yard crispbreads

smoked salmon pâté
If my mother taught me anything about cooking it was about being prepared and keeping things simple. She loved hosting parties, but she always ensured that she had prepared some of the dishes in advance, keeping herself serene. I can only dream of serenity. My default position is more Tasmanian Devil, (dim-witted and short-tempered) than glamorous Rachel Allen, the cookery Queen of Serene! Which is why many of my mother's cold soup or fish pâté recipes, easily prepared a couple of days before the main event, are now part of my hoard of good party recipes. Effortlessly delectable; the perfect party food.

dinner with delicious magazine

the menu!
I was lucky enough recently to be invited to a "meet-the-Editor" dinner at Delicious Magazine. It was a chance for the magazine to talk to some of their readers and to find out what we really think about food magazines; what we like to eat, cook and what sort of food do we aspire to cook.

grilled salmon in smoky tamarind sauce

grilled salmon in smoky tamarind sauce
In the past, if asked if I would like to go to a Mexican restaurant, I would typically answer "no". My experiences of Mexican food in London (and New York for that matter) had been typically awful - generally mushy beans, beans and more beans, with overly sweet sauces, uniformly sickly, accompanied by rotgut tequila. It turns out that I had been mistaking TexMex for genuine Mexican and that real Mexican food could be fresh and tasty without any kind of reliance on sugar and powdered garlic!

books galore and a chance to support your local library

BBQ cookbook display
in the window of
my local library
"The sun will come out tomorrow" so said the mawkish song as well as British weather forecasters, but if it doesn't this might be a really good time to check out your local library. You might be surprised to learn that amongst the highbrow, lowbrow, CDs, DVDs and games, that your library has a number of cookbooks to provide inspiration on even the darkest and dampest of days.

At a time of austerity, I had to face up to the fact that I had a serious addiction. A book addiction. A dependence that in frugal times I could no longer afford to support. I would rather feed myself than feed my habit. 

something for the weekend? roast leg of lamb with a greek-style marinade

lemon and garlic roast leg of lamb
This is a suggestion for Sunday lunch, since the weather forecasters are predicting sunshine and this meal is bursting with sunshine flavours and a slight whiff of the Mediterranean. Of course, a girl can dream! And even if the forecasts are wrong, lamb cooked with lashings of garlic, herbs and lemon is a meal perfect for any dinner table or barbecue.

rhubarb and pink gooseberry crumble

rhubarb crumble
I am rather fond of rhubarb, as much for its sour, yet fruity flavour as for its air of mystery; this is a vegetable that masquerades as a fruit - a cross-dresser in the kitchen. Combined with the eeriness of the Rhubarb Triangle and the unearthly sound of nightly creaking as the rhubarb is forced upwards in the dark is a quality which I find equally thrilling.

moors and christians rice (moros y christianos)

moors and christians rice (moros y christianos)
I have always been intrigued by the name of this dish, one of Cuba's traditional recipes - a mixture of black beans and rice.

The Spanish name refers to a time during the Medieval period, when Muslims and Christians lived side-by-side in harmony. Sadly the Inquisition put paid to that but concord lives on in this delicious dish.

sour orange mojo sauce

Cuban sour orange mojo sauce
A mojo sauce is a mixture of garlic and oil which is often used either as a marinade for chicken or fish or as an accompaniment for meat or fish, rice or potatoes. It is so versatile since you can cook it or just use as a marinade or dip or drizzle over cooked rice, couscous or salad vegetables. It is the perfect way to use Seville oranges, which have a beautifully tart flavour.

cuban roast chicken with sour orange mojo sauce

Cuban roast chicken with sour orange mojo sauce
When I think of Cuba, I think of Hemingway, louche cocktails, cigars and the Buena Vista Social Club, but the food is something of an unknown quantity in the UK.
Cuban food is a fabulous combination of their historical influences and local ingredients. Since the island is the perfect example of melting pot influences, from Spanish, Portuguese and South American Indian to African, Chinese and Arab.

The food is also the food of ingenuity and creativity. You have to be imaginative when you are surrounded by hardship; when food is rationed. I had never been made more aware of this until I read the books of Leonardo Padura

salad of poached cherries and feta

cherry and feta salad
I may be feeling grumpy at lack of home computer but a tangy feta and sweet cherry salad are a marriage made in food heaven and enough to soothe even the grumpiest brow. 

It is worth bearing in mind that English cherry orchards are in a parlous state; we have lost 90% of our traditional orchards over the past 50 years and the UK now imports 95% of cherries into the country. Yikes! Support the
Cherry Aid campaign at FoodLovers Britain or on Facebook. As part of the campaign, you can plant, rent or even adopt a cherry tree to show how much you love them.

no computer but at least I can still eat!

cherry and feta salad
A quick taster of a recipe since I am computerless at the moment - a delicious salad of fresh cherries with feta cheese and hazelnuts - enough to make anyone feel a little better when everything seems to be going wrong!

apologies - normal service may be resumed . . .

BBC Test Card c.1967
It has finally come to pass that I have to lay to rest an old and trusted friend - my ancient Dell laptop. It has creaked and gurned away for the past year or so and has sadly gone to the big recycling unit in the sky. Which means I am temporarily computer-less - a very strange feeling indeed; a bit like losing a limb although not quite as painful! I should be picking up my new laptop shortly so hopefully normal service will be resumed. 

roasted sweet pepper salad

roasted sweet pepper salad
There may be grey skies above but I want colour and romance at my kitchen table, which is why I served the simplest of pepper salads for lunch on Sunday with my lemon marinated roast lamb. So even if the weather was dire and miserable, at least I could bring a taste of the sun to our meal!

stuffed again! feta and sundried tomato bread pudding

feta and sundried tomato bread pudding
A chat with my local butcher as he was rolling a boned shoulder of lamb around an intriguing looking stuffing mixture, led to the discovery that no, he didn't make his own stuffing but was more than happy to stuff a joint for you should you bring in your own stuffing.

"This stuff is bloody gorgeous," he said, "I can't stop eating it," as he shovelled another small handful into his mouth. Between chews he offered me a taste. Well there is nothing like a free sample of someone else's stuffing to get the weekend off to a good start and I was in complete agreement with Mr Cramer, the butcher. This stuffing was bloody lovely!

Nigel comes to the rescue again! grilled steak with sweet chilli dipping sauce and chinese greens

grilled steak with sweet chilli
dipping sauce and Chinese greens
You will have heard that saying about "never look a gift horse in the mouth", well I suspect the clue is in the expression, as being a city girl I have never been given a free horse, gift wrapped or not. The opposite of the saying is "if it looks too good to be true, then it usually is". That's my kind of luck. 

I was seduced by a local supermarket into buying a pack of steaks, because they were on special offer and frankly they looked good. Now, I don't often eat beef, not because I don't like beef. I do, but I have to save myself from myself. I like beef too much, in the same way I like cheese, something I would happily eat my own body weight in. So everything in moderation.

appetite of a sparrow? eat crumbs!

migas - fried breadcrumbs
with chorizo
I often tell people that I have the appetite of a sparrow, not so much little, but definitely often. "How," people ask me incredulously as they admire my well-upholstered figure "do you maintain your exquisite physique?" "Crumbs," I say modestly.

Ok, a girl can dream. Sadly I am more a comfy country cottage sofa type than Swedish minimalism. But I do like crumbs, really. Stale bread is one of the wonders of the kitchen, and a fabulous weapon in the thrifty cook's arsenal.

what to eat on your ark: or how to whip up a delicious supper of sea bream with a chickpea and chorizo stew

sea bream with
chickpea and chorizo stew
I am building an ark in my back garden. Given the weather I think it is probably a wise precaution. Not that London is on a flood alert, and I do live on a hill, but I like to be prepared. And if this city does flood, I won't have to worry about getting my ark out through the front door. It's this kind of attention to detail that is important. 

what's in season: july

gooseberries - by Margaret Young
Gooseberry Fool 
The gooseberry’s no doubt an oddity,
an outlaw or pariah even—thorny
and tart as any
kindergarten martinet, it can harbor
like a fernseed, on its leaves’ under-
side, bad news for pine trees,
whereas the spruce
resists the blister rust
it’s host to. That veiny Chinese
lantern, its stolid jelly
of a fruit, not only has
no aroma but is twice as tedious
as the wild strawberry’s sunburst
stem-end appendage: each one must
be between-nail-snipped at both extremities.