dry bones: roasted parsnips are perfect for halloween!

parsnip bones!
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the leg bone
Leg bone connected to the knee bone
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Now hear the word of the Lord.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)


When I reviewed the photos of these roasted parsnips, I began to laugh because the roasting tin of vegetables looked more like archaeological finds try of old bones rather than anything edible. But I promise you, they are soft and sweet and are the perfect cold weather food and not just good for Halloween!

monster mash: swede with carrots

monster mash!
(swede and carrots)
It was a smash; not exactly a graveyard smash but the living were definitely in a state of high old excitement with my monster mash of swede and carrots. I do like a nice bit of swede, preferably with a load of black pepper and lashings of melting butter. It's probably something to do with my Scottish roots (pun absolutely intended!)

Then one of my lunch guests announced that he for one absolutely loathed swede (caused by post war British school dinners when unfortunate children were expected to clean their plates of mountains of watery, flavourless muck and expected to be thankful for it). In my head I heard a clattering sound as my late Scottish mother turned in her grave and whispered that I should probably show this idiot the door). 

The rules of béchamel - good advice for a perfect sauce every time!

a good cheese sauce
If the wisest film advice on classic blunders came from The Princess Bride, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia and never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line . . . ha, ha, ha, haaaaaaaa (thud)," then the best food advice was from my friend Katy, who 20 odd years ago when we were impoverished students in Yorkshire cooking over an ancient Baby Belling, taught me how to make a white sauce with the words "and when it starts to look like honeycomb then you're ready to add the milk . . . " The best advice I have ever had in making a perfect white sauce, advice that has never failed me!

a tale in which i face my fears: beef and beetroot patties

beef and beetroot patties
It was cold and dark and we were standing in the pitch black of a field in the middle of the countryside. No ambient light, just a massive bonfire (for it was Bonfire Night), a few torches and the headlights of a Landrover. I welcomed the mug of soup handed to me through the dank November darkness and thanked the farmer's wife for the kind thought and the hot homemade soup. 

perfect autumn fodder: pear and blackberry crumble

pear and blackberry crumble
C.S. Lewis said that "When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up", which rather sums up my view of the classic crumble. Yes, I know it lacks sophistication, but like many Brits it is still one of my favourite puddings, a love of which began at a very early age and has shown no signs of waning.

sunday lunch: traditional tarragon roast chicken

tarragon roast chicken
"Dragon's teeth" sounds like some kind of medieval expletive, but in fact it is a country name for the herb tarragon, artemesia dracunculus, so named because its spikey leaves were supposed to resemble the teeth of a dragon. 

Now I have always had a bit of a soft spot for dragons; something to do with being told by Chinese friends in Malaysia that my birth during the Year of the Dragon was auspicious. Personally I think it gave me delusions of grandeur at far too young an age, but I have always felt a bit of affinity with dragons ever since.

posh cheese on toast: bacon, cheese and plum jam

bacon, toasted cheese and
plum jam sandwich
There is a story about two psychologists who set up cameras around their house in order to film what their pets were doing when the owners weren't around.

The cat just ate and slept with an occasional mad half hour racing up and down the staircase. But mainly the cat just ate little and often, then curled up somewhere warm and went to sleep. The dog, however, was a different story.


As its owners left their home, the dog looked up from its basket and gave its tail a little thump, then settled back down as the front door closed. His eyes twitched and his doggy brows raised a little.

clove-scented windfall pear and blackberry compote

pear and blackberry compote
I like to plan in the kitchen and prepare some things in advance - say cooking up batches of sauces to freeze or buying a bigger chicken for Sunday roast, so that I can get several meals out of one dish. I am currently working my way through a small mountain of pear windfalls and decided to make this simple compote with blackberries. This is one for the freezer and I have plans for it - it will probably get puréed up to accompany some roast pork, it may well go into a cake or accompany some vanilla ice cream and it will definitely be crumble material! 

hodge podge pork and beans with porcini sauce

hodge podge pork and beans with
Sainsbury's porcini sauce
"But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You must not give him beans."

G.K. Chesterton - The Englishman (1914) 

 
The time had come to rid the fridge of a few odds and ends before they re-enacted The Great Escape and dug their way out . . . What I had was a bit of a pork festival; a few herby sausages, a finger length of chorizo, a couple of slices of smoked bacon, a handful of mushrooms and some chicken stock. A complete hodge podge of ingredients.

perfect fluffy mashed potato

perfect mash
(Sainsbury's Heritage potatoes)
Do you really need me to give you a recipe for perfect mashed potato? Perhaps not, but since I have the photo, I thought I would lay out to you the key to a gloriously fluffy, buttery mash.

Many of us are scarred by the horror of school dinner mash - watery, lumpy and a peculiar grey colour, slopped on the plate using an ice-cream scoop. For years I thought I didn't much like mashed potato, until I had the real thing and realised that something so simple can be most sublime.

a simple midweek supper: toad-in-the-hole

toad-in-the-hole with
rich onion and mushroom gravy
Traditional English cooking is full of thrifty dishes with ridiculous nonsense names, enough to make any self-respecting schoolboy guffaw, from Boiled Baby to Lobscouse, Froise to Bumper, Cock-a-leekie to Bedfordshire Clanger, and Nickie and Roly-Poly to Spotted Dick. But the pinnacle of these ridiculous sounding thrifty dishes is the classic Toad-in-the-hole, a combination of Yorkshire Pudding batter and sausages. 

It is probably best not to think about how the Toad got its name. I think it is most likely that someone looked at the smooth shiny sausages nestling in crisp but pillowy batter and thought it reminded them of something . . . it doesn't really bear considering that a few bucolic peasants might have skipped around the English countryside espying a few warty amphibians squatting in their hidey-holes and thinking to themselves "now I know what to call today's supper" . . . 

nigel slater's mustardy baked onions

mustardy baked onions
If in doubt as to what to cook or in need of inspiration, it is always worth turning to Nigel Slater. I had planned to bake some stuffed onions as an accompaniment to Sunday lunch but then half way through the morning decided that my Sunday was just too short to spend stuffing vegetables. Nigel's mustardy baked onions from Tender I were a good old-fashioned side dish to go with my tarragon roast chicken, although it would be perfect with roast pork or gammon too.

it's the cat's whiskers! smoked mackerel pâté

smoked mackerel pâté with
Peters Yard crisp breads
When Papa, Mama and Baby Bear returned home, they sensed immediately that something or someone had been eating their porridge and sleeping in their beds. When I walked into my parent's dining room to make some last minute checks before the party started, I immediately knew that something was wrong. It wasn't some kind of sixth sense or hairs rising on the back of my neck or even the pricking of my thumbs. My Goldilocks was right there, caught in the act.

a pickle for the end of summer: onion and cucumber relish

end of summer relish
I am in jam and pickling mode at the moment. I am not exactly in a frenzy (not a good idea when surrounded by sharp knives and hot syrup), but I am trying to preserve the moment and the end of season's treasures - so that we can enjoy a taste of the summer throughout even the darkest (and, most likely in the UK, the wettest) winter months.

a quick but soothing roast: lemon and herb crusted lamb rumps

lemon and herb crusted lamb rump
I don't often see lamb rump at my butchers. I have either led a sheltered life or more likely that I just wasn't looking for it. But a few days ago I returned home clutching half a pound of plump lamb steaks. In London butcher's terms that's "arfur pand" of meat. . . Arfur Pand, less a unit of measurement and more a Victorian music hall artist or cheeky costermonger - a name I must remember should I ever write a historical pastiche. And so back to the lamb . . .

beauty and the beast: celeriac and pear soup with bacon

beauty and the beast soup:
celeriac, pear and bacon
I have always liked a good fairytale and Beauty and the Beast was always one of my favourites, particularly illustrated by Anne Anderson. I thought the name was a perfect description for a celeriac, pear and bacon soup that contains, as I have mentioned before, one of the ugliest of all vegetables (the grotesque celeriac). Beauty and the Beast perfectly describes a soup where the flavours marry beautifully even if it isn't that pretty.

gorgonzola and pancetta pasta with red chard

penne pasta with gorgonzola
and pancetta
I like to cook, I really do. But occasionally I do want to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. I had come home last evening, feeling a little waterlogged (yes it is raining again) and battle fatigued (that's what travelling during London's rush hour does for me). Of course I wanted something delicious (what's the point otherwise?) but also something very quick and easy. I wasn't much in the mood for cooking.

what's in season: october

autumn leaves
I had recently read a reminder that while autumn is the time to start thinking of winding down the garden for the winter and clearing up, to leave some garden windfalls for wildlife. Chance would be a fine thing, since my local wildlife tends to get to the windfalls before I do. 

Yesterday I watched a large dog fox sniffing, snapping and gulping his way through the rough carpet of windfall pears in my back garden. This was not the ethereal russet fox of rural folklore, this was an inner city gang leader - an absolute bruiser. A grubby pale rust colour with dark ears and black war paint stripes arrowing from pale amber eyes down his large snout, he feasted on the previous night's bounty, with one eye fixed on me as I watched him from the kitchen and his ears pricked in suspicion of any sharp noises. It was a privilege to watch him at work.