stuffed mushrooms with lentils, bacon, parsley pesto and Stilton

stuffed mushrooms with lentils, bacon, parsley pesto and Stilton
I think I must have inherited my late Scottish mother's somewhat parsimonious approach to food waste - a little part of me dies every time I open the kitchen compost canister to throw away anything other than vegetable peelings, tea bags or burnt toast. But a frugal approach to food, waste and in particular, in leftovers, doesn't have to be austere, puritanical or even joyless. It can be fun. No, really. It really can.

This is not so much a recipe, but a suggestion of how to use up several spoonful’s of leftovers and a few forgotten inhabitants of the fridge.

have I created a new life form in the kitchen?

alien life form or runaway icing?
Am I having a Victor Frankenstein moment in the kitchen? Have I created a new life form? Or could it be that my icing has just made a bid for freedom?

There are days when you know that things just aren't going to turn out well; that it will probably end in tears - very likely your own. I've been having a couple of those kinds of days.

winter pork and blue cheese crumble with apple, leek and cider

winter pork and blue cheese crumble
with apple, leeks and cider

I see raised eyebrows and quizzical looks when I mention that I've made a savoury crumble for supper. "Can you do that?" people ask. "Of course I can do that" I think. It's not as if I need Superman - there is no heavy lifting involved!

I suppose most people associate crumble with fruit, dessert and custard. But think of it this way - any stew, casserole or bake that would normally be topped with say potatoes, dumplings or breadcrumbs can be turned into a crumble. Replace the sugar in your crumble topping with Parmesan cheese and you have a delicious crunchy topping for any winter warming supper.

the peasant deep inside: sausage and lentil stew

sausage and lentil stew
When the temperature drops to zero, I reach inside myself for warming reserves and get in touch with my inner peasant. Halloo, I say. And my inner peasant takes a break from hoeing spuds, drunken brawling and chewing on pigs' ears to embrace with me a winter-warming  and hearty stew of sausages and lentils.

a little bit on the side: winter ratatouille

winter ratatouille
(baked courgettes with piperade)
I try to buy and cook seasonal British produce, I really do. But I get cravings, cravings so cantankerous that I cannot deny myself the pleasures of food of the sun. When I give in it stops my stomach from belly-aching. I just can't help myself and this time it is all the fault of television schedulers.

Eh? Wha?

clementine and dark chocolate chip shortbread stars

Clementine and Dark Chocolate Chip
Shortbread Stars
Shortbread is one of my favourite sweet indulgences. But I usually like it plain and think that shortbread really shouldn't be mucked about with. But recently a friend baked some chocolate chip shortbread biscuits and they were rather nice indeed. I am prepared to admit that I was wrong; I have seen the light! 

potato, onion and blue cheese bake: it is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes . . .

potato, onion and blue cheese bake
It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.
Douglas Adams
(Life, the Universe and Everything - 1982)

No, potatoes won't solve major problems, but add a whole load of cheese and a few breadcrumbs; you can curl around a steaming bowl of melting cheese and floury spuds and forget about the icy blizzard outside.

for breakfast, dinner, lunch and tea: a good mushroom omelette

a simple mushroom omelette
Custom does often reason overrule
But only serves for reason to the fool.

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 

So in thinking about what the notorious Earl of Rochester had to say about reason, custom and fools, I had to ask myself why it is then that I add a splash of water to my eggs before I make an omelette?

I add a smidgen of cold water to my eggs because that is how my mother taught me to make an omelette. Why did she do this? Because her mother taught her to. Is it reasonable?

something for the weekend? chicken roasted with middle eastern spices

chicken roasted with middle eastern spices
When it's cold outside I drift along in my own little Arabian Nights fantasy. And since this is my fantasy, I am fortunately not draped in diaphanous gauze and chiffon, trying to woo a king with gossamer tales to save my life. I am not averse to a little bit of chiffon, but this fantasy is less I Dream of Jeanie and more This Little Piggy Goes to Market.

I daydream about spice markets, piled high with fragrant and vibrantly coloured treasures. I enjoy the flight of fancy because it gives me yet another opportunity to decide what we’re having for dinner. It's a beautiful reverie!

on a frosty january morning: nigel slater's almond, marzipan and berry cakes

Nigel Slater's almond, marzipan and berry cakes
I awoke to a frosty morning. Looking through my kitchen window, I could see that my garden had a light coating of snow, dusting the few trees and bushes in my back garden. The stone paths and wooden furniture had a patina of sparkling frost that shimmered in the early light. "It'll be mud by noon."; I thought to myself prosaically and turned my mind to the more pressing of the day's engagements. "What should I bake today?"

The gentle frost and muted colours of my garden made me think of a beautiful photograph by Jonathan Lovekin in Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries II, for almond, marzipan and berry cakes. The recipe is on page 44 and the photograph on the facing page of Kitchen Diaries II.

claudia roden's daoud basha (lamb meatballs with pine nuts in tomato sauce)

lamb meatballs with pine nuts in tomato sauce (daoud basha)
I don't know if the Daoud Basha was a good governor of Mount Lebanon in the 1860s and the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, but he did have this delicious but simple lamb meatball dish named after him. So I'm guessing he either got something right or was just well-known for his love of good food.

vermicelli rice (roz bil shaghrieh)

vermicelli rice
(roz bil shaghrieh)

I am always interested in new ways of cooking the everyday basics. Adding crushed vermicelli pasta to rice while it is cooking is traditional in the middle east, particularly Egypt and Lebanon. I discovered that it also adds a lovely nutty taste to the rice and a rather interesting soft texture.

This is Claudia Roden's recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks, Arabesque: A taste of Morocco, Turkey + Lebanon.

I have added red lentils, largely because I like the texture of them with rice, something I learned from eating the Indian dish, khichá¹›i. I lobbed in an onion and a clove of garlic too for good measure!

fashionably green: an english parsley, walnut and stilton pesto

an English pesto:
parsley, walnut and Stilton
When it comes to fashion, you know you're getting older when the fashions of your youth come around again and frankly you just don't care. These days if I am occasionally fashionable then it is usually by accident.

So it was with some amusement that I discovered that Pantone, the Colour Matching people, had announced that in 2013, the Colour of the Year is Emerald Green - a harmonious colour, reflected all around us in nature. Blimey, I thought to myself. Fashionable, that's me all right, as I looked anew at my recently made parsley pesto with walnuts and stilton. Not only is it delicious, but with its vibrant green hue it could be a bit of a style icon too!

chicken and chorizo jambalaya

chicken and chorizo jambalaya
If I were to say that in 2013 I shall continue to practice thrift, frugality and economy in the kitchen, preparing well-planned and organised meals, you may well think "well that's very practical and worthy, Kelly, but oh god, how dreary and by the way, didn't you say that last year, and the year before?" . . . and you would be right.

So how about this - in 2013 I will try to delight with delicious suppers and fabulous lunches, convincing everyone of my magical kitchen powers. That sounds more like a real new year's resolution and hopefully I am getting in-touch with my inner-kitchen witch as much as my inner-child.

what's in season: january

winter parsnips
(photo by Adrian van Leen)
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There's a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.

Anthem - Leonard Cohen

Not such a bleak mid-winter this year although we've had our fair share of rain and yet more rain. In fact, that ark I built last summer is coming in very useful; if nothing else then as an exit strategy from London! But despite the mild weather, I still love comforting winter food and of course there are still fresh seasonal foods that are good to eat.