the last gasp of summer and a delicious seasonal salad: kisir (bulgar wheat salad)

kisir: bulgar wheat salad
When I am trying to be thrifty, frugal and healthy, I take my own lunch into work. It saves me money and I am less tempted to splurge on expensive sandwiches and junk food. (I say less tempted advisedly. It doesn't always work as a preventative measure!) But there are always days when I can't always be bothered to prepare lunch or think up new ways of tantalising my taste buds and when I am offered an alternative where someone else has come up with delicious ideas for lunch, then I am often tempted from the path of thrift!

a taste of summer all year long: pickled peppers

pickled peppers
There is a little fruit 'n veg market stall around the corner from where I live, on Kentish Town High Road, next to the Co-op. It is run by a lovely couple from Kosovo. While they don't have the widest range of fruit and vegetables, and it's not always local, it is always good quality. I also get to have fascinating conversations about the best Balkan jam (plum apparently) and interesting stuffings for chicken!

something for the weekend? pomegranate roasted chicken

pomegranate roasted chicken
I find that it is never too early in the week to think about what I am going to cook for Sunday lunch, so this is my suggestion for something you might like to try this Bank Holiday weekend.

London temperatures spiked last week as if the weather was trying to atone for all the appalling conditions we have had over the past few months, Olympic fortnight not withstanding. Since my kitchen can reach furnace-like temperatures even during winter, the last thing I wanted to do was cook a traditional roast lunch. It was just too damned hot.

a real taste of an English summer: rose petal jam

rose petal jam
There are certain words that I find rather beguiling, from Samarkand and damask to honey and pomegranate. Some words are synonymous with their colours. They seem to glow and are full of vibrancy, such as poppy or hyacinth.

There are other words that as I read them I am aware of their scent, a sort of faint aromatic memory. Lavender and rosemary have a strong effect and obviously coffee. But one of the headiest of all is the scent of rose petals.

on life's big questions and the taste of stuffed aubergines . . . imam bayildi

imam bayildi - swoon!
Over the years I have been accused of Winnie-the-Pooh-like tendencies. I suspect this is as much to do with having a very little brain and obsession with where my next meal is coming from than any really philosophical leanings. But every so often I start to ponder Life's big questions. Tiddly pom!

halloumi and strawberry salad with sweet chilli lime dressing

strawberry salad
If you have never had halloumi cheese before you are in for a treat. Uncooked, halloumi is a white, rubbery textured cheese, with very little flavour except for salt! However, once it had been grilled, griddled or fried and dressed with a little lemon juice or a light dressing, it becomes fabulously tangy with a curious "squeaky" texture. I also think that the salty halloumi works really well with sweet fruit, especially strawberries, in a savoury salad, but why not try it for yourself?

stuffed vine leaves

stuffed vine leaves
It is quite hard to imagine how a recipe for stuffed vine leaves esteemed at the court of the 7th century Persian king, Khosrau II, beloved by the caliphs of Baghdad and cherished by the Ottoman sultans, was recorded in her book of reciepts by Lady Ann Blencowe, daughter of a mathematician and cryptographer and wife of a Northamptonshire Member of Parliament in 1694. She must have been quite a gal to recognise the quality of this delicious Middle Eastern mezze.

five! four! three! two! one! blast off for delicious rocket soup!

rocket soup
If this rocket soup had a soundtrack it would be more Barney the Dinosaur than Goldfrapp, but nonetheless it is the perfect summer soup. It is very easy to make and not in the least sophisticated - light but intensely savoury with a hint of pepper. 

This soup was topped with a few crunchy croutons I had made with some stale sourdough bread and some oil that had been used to fry up some chorizo - heavily infused with paprika and garlic. Heavenly.

a trip around the garden: herby potato salad

herby potato salad
My favourite potato salad is made with mayonnaise, spring onions and gherkins, but this salad, dressed with a herby vinaigrette comes a very close second. Salads with mayonnaise can be a bit cloying and claggy, but this one is light and tangy and perfect on a warm summer's day.

the idiot's guide to making mayonnaise

homemade mayonnaise
I have mentioned before that I think that every cook should have at least one good sauce in their repertoire. Actually they should have more than one - enough to create the building blocks for other sauces. One of the best of these is mayonnaise.

you can never have too much of a good thing: strawberry and cream cupcakes . . . again!

yet more strawberry and cream cupcakes!
It was a friend's birthday and we were celebrating. I had made strawberry cupcakes . . . again. There are just some good things that you can never have too much of. 

I had an over abundance of fresh strawberries and decided to have a go at candying some and drying others, in the way that you would preserve tomatoes for a taste of sunshine in the winter. They weren't very pretty but tasted quite nice - an intense, sweet sharp flavour!

an investigation into eton mess

eton mess
My version of Eton Mess is a boozy, nutty (with hazelnut meringues), fruity confection of ambrosial heaven, which should be enough to satisfy any sweet tooth.

When you look for the nascence of Eton Mess, most cookbooks say that it has a 100 year old history originating at Eton College, where it was traditionally served at the annual prize giving and picnic in June. Hmmmn, something smells a little pungent! I just don't believe this story; it seems too romantic and contrived somehow, reminiscent of an Arcadian time before the First World War when everything was full of sunshine and strawberries. The sceptic in me felt compelled to investigate further. This was a job for Detective Kelly!

strawberry and hazelnut meringues

strawberry and hazelnut meringues
I wanted to make Eton Mess (a traditional British pudding of crushed meringues, strawberries and cream), and decided to follow Sarah Raven’s recipe for basil, raspberry and hazelnut meringues from Food for Friends and Family, using strawberries rather than her preferred raspberries.They were light and crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Just the way I like them - not bad for a first attempt at meringues!

chorizo and nutella: a winning combination!

chorizo and Nutella party bites
When Spanish pigs graze on acorns and olives, the resulting jamón ibérico de bellota ham is the stuff that dreams are made of, with a higher fat content and more flavour than other types of ham. It occurred to me that slices of ham with some kind of nut mixture might be a winning combination. I like the idea of companion eating - serving meat with the kind of fruit or vegetables the live animal might have eaten - so venison with blackberries, or pork with apple. I like the way they complement each other both in nature and in the kitchen.

three, two, one . . . perfect shortbread every time

shortbread biscuits
When you hear the countdown "three, two, one" you might be forgiven for thinking that I might have been infected by London 2012 Olympic fever. The thought of me in a set of starting blocks is enough to bring any self-respecting athlete up short (chortling with laughter, no doubt) and it is quite clear that Team GB are doing perfectly well without me (who knew?) No, 3:2:1 are the magic numbers when making shortbread; it is the time-honoured formula for measuring out quantities of the flour, butter and caster sugar. 

he goes to my head and intoxicates my soul: calvin trillin

Calvin Trillin's The Tummy Trilogy
You go to my head
And you linger like a haunting refrain
And I find you spinning 'round in my brain
Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne . . .

. . . You go to my head with a smile
That makes my temperature rise
Like a summer with a thousand Julys
You intoxicate my soul . . .  

It was my birthday a few weeks ago and I wish I could tell you that I was awash with birthday champagne or even Pimms, but I wasn't. During the neo monsoon season that had cloaked Britain in grey clouds and downpours for months, I was in a foul mood. Things were bad. I didn't even feel much like cooking. Yes, it was that bad. I even cancelled my birthday drinks due to lack of interest (my own) and had returned to my cave to sulk.

summer treats: raspberry swirl cupcakes

raspberry swirl cupcakes
Raspberries are probably my favourite of all the summer fruits. They sing “summertime and the living is easy!” There is something about the way that their muted pink colour rebukes the showy brashness of the strawberry which appeals to me. I also love the sensation of the raspberry's multitude of little drupelets exploding in your mouth with an eye puckering sweetness and floral aroma.

smoked paprika and rosemary roast chicken

I love the taste and smell of smoked paprika and am always trying to find a new way of using it up. This easy marinade seemed the perfect way of infusing some flavour into pieces of chicken. This is about as easy as can be, which is just the way I like to cook!

what's in season: august

my garden tomatoes!
Oh baby, baby what can I do?
You know you drive me crazy when I'm looking at you
The summer's really here and it's time to come out
Time to discover what fun is about
Here comes the summer
Here comes the summer
Here comes the summer 

John O'Neill, The Undertones - 1978  

Ah, happy memories. The Undertones with all their teenage exuberance can still bring a smile to my face. I have another reason to have fond memories in that that after my little brother had sneaked backstage, they had signed a birthday card for me back in those more carefree days. What nice boys they were!