boozy rum babas with lemongrass and lime syrup

boozy rum babas drenched in l
emongrass and lime syrup
Have you ever looked through the cookbooks of the 1950's, 60's and 70's? As a child, I would pore over my mother's cookbooks, avidly absorbing the technicolour photographs and the sort of food that inevitably my mother didn't cook. I suspect that my fascination came from the novelty value of the food presentation as well as the magically named dishes. At restaurants, I would choose courses based on how they sounded, (much as I study form on the rare of occasions that I go to the races - which probably explains why I never win anything).

deep- fried breaded camembert with spicy plum sauce

deep-fried camembert with spicy plum sauce
As a truculent teen-aged vegetarian, I wasn't expecting much (well too many veggie options) from the French bistro my long-suffering parents had dragged me to. But my gloomy expectations were turned upside down; the first course of deep-fried Camembert with a gooseberry sauce was a bit of a revelation for me. It was so good, that I had it for my second course since by now I was in melted cheese nirvana and never wanted to leave.

Since gooseberries aren't in season, but plums are, I made a sweet but spicy plum compote (again!) to go with the gooey cheese bites. Any leftover plums are fabulous in a crumble too, so you have two recipes for the price of one.

spicy mulled wine plum compote with star anise and cinnamon

spicy mulled wine compote
Back in her stand-up comedy days, the comedienne Jo Brand used to say (and I am editing here as although I have been known to be occasionally foul-mouthed, I don't particularly like reading it), that she didn't eat any fruit at all. She explained that since there was no chocolate in it, there was no point. This has to be a rare occasion when I have to disagree with Jo, as these mulled wine plums are bloody marvellous!

Grilled honeyed figs and labneh cheese salad (infused with middle eastern flavours)

grilled honeyed figs and labneh cheese salad
I wanted to create a salad suitable for the colder weather. (Yes, you can eat salads in the autumn and winter!) I wanted something that looked pretty on the plate, which reflected the warm muted colours of an English autumn. Seasonal figs seemed perfect in every way; such a beautiful colour both inside and out, as well as sweetly delicious. I couldn't make up my mind whether to serve the fig salad as a savoury course or a dessert, but my nub of saucisson sec won me over to the savoury side, which worked beautifully with the sweet perfumed flavour of the figs.

roasted beetroot soup with curry spices and coconut

beetroot rasam
In trying to overcome my childhood trauma of my father’s favourite sandwich (pickled beetroot and piccalilli), I have spent years trying to love beetroot. To my horrified taste buds, much maligned beetroot tasted of sweet mud. Yet I have hated feeling as if I have been missing out on something, so I decided to persist. It's been a very long time in coming!

toffee apples for bonfire night (and fulfilling a childhood dream)

crunchy and sticky: toffee apples
As a small child I yearned for toffee apples; for their beautiful enticing shiny jewel-like colour and promise of sickly sweetness. But they were forbidden fruit as my mother refused to buy one for me. This was less because she was mean (hardly) but more that experience suggested that since toffee apples are very sticky, it might end with disaster.  My one and only experience of pink bubble-gum at the age of seven had left my long golden blonde hair in piles around my feet as my head was shaved . . . seriously, don’t ask!

These days, while still a little accident-prone, I decided to make a simple caramel and coated my apples in the vibrant toffee ready for tonight's bonfire party

what's in season: november

borage (or starflower)
It isn't very seasonal (since it's origins are Mediterranean) but my garden is awash with borage at the moment, that beautiful blue flower of which John Gerard, the sixteenth century botanist and herbalist wrote:

The leaves and floures of Borrage put into wine make men and women glad and merry, driving away all sadnesse, dulnesse, and melancholy, as Dioscorides and Pliny affirme. Syrrup made of the floures of Borrage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy, and quieteth the phrenticke or lunaticke person.
The Herball, or General Historie of Plantes (1597)

I might not be a frenetic or lunatic sort of person but I have to confess that 2013 has been a year when I could do with something to comfort my heart and purge melancholy. But enough of my self-pity; at least there is good food and the sky hasn't quite fallen in on my head!