love your leftovers with rachel's unpatented universal infinitely adaptable stew!

infinitely adaptable:
chicken, bacon and paprika stew
The problem with leftovers is not just in the name - reminiscent of dregs, scraps and dregs - the idea that you are scraping the bottom of the food barrel. One of the other problems is that sinking feeling of having met the food once before, like an unwelcome guest at a party.

pear purée with star anise

pear purée with star anise
We were having roast pork for Sunday lunch and I had forgotten to get any apples to make the traditional accompanying sauce. What I did have was my own not inconsiderable body weight in windfall pears and needed any excuse to use them up. It occurred to me that aniseed flavours go well with pears and have an affinity with pork (and this pork was roasted with fennel seeds), so I decided on a simple sweet pear purée with a hint of star anise.

high dumpsie dearie jam

perfect windfall jam
'tis the season to be foraging and scavenging for hedgerow treats and windfalls. Some mornings it is as if my garden has come under fire from pear cannons. The pears on my old pear tree have been thumping to earth like plump fruit bombs, leaving a trail of debris where they have exploded on impact or provided a tasty breakfast for the local wildlife (which include a noisy family of blackbirds, a couple of foxes and several squirrels, not forgetting the wood pigeons).

damson gin and a tale of unrequited love!

early days in damson gin
preparation
Having a Mogwai comes with rules and responsibilities. "But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget no matter how much he cries or how much he begs never, never feed him after midnight." The adorable furry Mogwai becomes a demented gremlin. 

Sadly, gin has the same effect on me. While I am not maniacally leering as I swing from the chandeliers chain-smoking Lucky Strikes, the change from happy Rachel to wailing Rachel is disconcerting to anyone who has ever had the misfortune to witness it.

another good sunday lunch: spatchcocked chicken in a smoky lemon marinade

spatchcocked chicken with
smoky lemon marinade
There is nothing like a good word in the English language. There are words that look positively appealing on the written or printed page. I revel in their architectural appearance (and yes I am something of a font nerd). 

I once had an artist boyfriend, a funny, ebullient and very articulate chap, who could convulse me with laughter with a few pithy words and a raise of an eyebrow. Early on in our relationship, at a supposedly relaxing Sunday afternoon brunch, the artist thought it would be fun to do the Sunday newspaper crossword puzzles. While I love the English language, I am not very fond of crossword puzzles (or Scrabble for that matter); I suspect they bring out the worst competitive excesses in me. Since it was early on in our relationship, I was prepared to show willing, since he seemed so keen and enthusiastic. (Needless to say, that didn't last long!)

damsons: or what have the romans ever done for us!

a bowl of damsons
I have been feeling an Olympic-sized hole for the past few weeks - nothing to celebrate, I guess. London has settled back down to its normal grumpy self and I was feeling out of sorts. Until a trip to my local fruit 'n veg stall brought on a shout of sheer joy.

Damsons are in season. Hurrah!

my life just got a little spicier! sainsbury's harissa paste and mini lamb burgers

sainsbury's harissa paste with
mini lamb burgers
If you have been reading this blog for some time, you may have realised that I do like to cook from scratch. It is not that I am all holier-than-thou about ready-meals; God knows that M+S cheese and tomato pasta bake has kept me fuelled on many occasions. And I cannot imagine life in the kitchen without Lea + Perrins Worcestershire sauce

But in my experience, most of the ready-made sauces and pastes on supermarket shelves just aren't to my taste. Before I began cooking I did used to use these sorts of products, but added so many ingredients to them to improve the flavour, that I realised I might as well as cook from scratch. I also find many of these ready-made products far too sweet, a little gluey in texture and many have a peculiarly cloying and synthetic aftertaste. 

primavera pasta with sea trout

sea trout with pasta primavera
I am clinging over-optimistically on to the summer-that-never-was. So much for an Indian Summer - even the plump wood pigeons plundering my garden for fruit are huddled together for warmth. Pah!

But a primavera sauce, so named for its use of young spring vegetables, can bring sunshine into even the most cantankerous of hearts, with its delicious, delicate flavour and flecked with jewels of pretty bright green colour.

a little burger - perfect party food, which slides right down!

mini beef burgers with capers
mini sour dough burger bun
  I had been playing around with my bread dough again. Often when I try to bake bread rolls, they spread in the oven and I end up with something that flat rather than rounded. What would happen, I wondered, if I plonked my rolls in a silicone bun tray? Mini burger buns by the looks of things! This means, I need to make burgers. A nice symmetry I think! 

Burger aficionados will have an opinion on the type and even the cut of meat included in their burger. I opened the freezer to forage and I discovered minced beef, which fortunately was on the fatty side (which I believe adds flavour and definitely stops the burgers from drying out). So that's what we had; no argument.

a glorious plum cake - with real plums!

fabulous plum cake!
It is one of those quirks of the English and of British food, that often when you see a recipe entitled "plum cake" or "plum pudding" - it doesn't contain any plums at all; this is a catch-all name which refers to all sorts of preserved fruits used in baking in earlier centuries.

But I right now I am a plum obsessive. It is the season, after all.  There is something rather beautiful and beguiling about all the plums boxed up at the market, from green greengages, deep red Presidents and pale purple Victorias. But like his Royal Greediness, I do not discriminate, I was just in the mood for baking a cake that was full of fresh, ripe and juicy plums.

gooseberry relish

gooseberry relish
One of my favourite discoveries this summer was that gooseberries taste a lot like tomatillos! Not that I had been feeling the lack of tomatillos in my life, but watching Thomasina Miers of Wahaca fame and Wahaca, Mexican Food at Home, made me curious about their flavour. 

But unless you grow tomatillos yourself, you are unlikely to find them in the UK. But since I had gooseberries in my garden, I thought I could make a gooseberry relish to go with some roasted chicken, inspired by one of Thommi's salsa recipes.

simple rocket salad with tomato vinaigrette

keeping it salad simple!
One of the things I have learned in twenty odd years of cooking that most things work when I try to keep them simple and don't over-complicate things. This is one of the simplest of salads, perfect for a later summer evening, when I would rather be in the garden drinking a cool glass of wine rather than in the kitchen cooking!

a jam for gluttons, all year around: plum jam

perfect plum jam
Kenny Hill was once an area entirely covered by jungle, just outside the city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Now known as Bukit Tunku, It was slowly tamed by man once plantation owners moved in and landscaped the hillside with terraces, to grow rubber trees and oil palms. By the 1970s, Kenny Hill was an affluent area for those who eschewed the hustle and bustle of downtown KL, and was filled with large houses and beautifully landscaped gardens. It is also where I grew up.

Towards the top of the hill, there lived a troop of wild monkeys, led by the most alpha male of all. His Fat Highness would sit in a clearing by the side of the road at dusk, surveying his monkey gang, to ensure that none of them had something that he didn't such as food; he looked like some kind of malevolent monkey Buddha.

chorizo and pepper stew

chorizo and pepper stew
One of my favourite comfort foods is a stew containing Spanish chorizo. I think it is something to do with the warming umami effect of smoked paprika, which satisfies in warm weather and soothes on colder days. This is one of my go-to, store cupboard recipes as I always have the ingredients to hand and it always seems to fit the bill, whatever my mood.

what's in season: september

plum wonderful!
September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.
Geoffrey Hill - September Song
(
New and Collected Poems, 1952-1992)


In theory, September is the pinnacle of perfection in terms of the vegetable patch; a truly excellent month for fruit and veg such as sweetcorn, broccoli, apples, blackberries, damsons and early pears. That's the theory anyway. But as a result of fluctuations in the jet stream, a high altitude wind that has really put a dampener on the party, seasonal fruit and vegetables have been badly hit! Bah! It has been a truly terrible time for Britain's fruit and vegetable growers with our near-Monsoon conditions and the lack of pollination of fruit (yes, bees don't like the rain either).