christmas mincemeat: and a secret ingredient . . .

Christmas mincemeat 2014
I am curious about how this year's batch of mincemeat will turn out as I've added a "secret" ingredient. Every time you throw a load of mincemeat ingredients into a large bowl, you are stirring up a load of history. It is traditional to have made your Christmas mincemeat on the last Sunday in November, "Stir-Up Sunday" - which gives it a good two weeks to mature before using. While I may be late in posting, I am actually feeling quite smug, as I managed to make mine in early November. That really is a first for me. But this new addition, which is actually a very "old" ingredient has me intrigued . . .

middle eastern arayes (meat stuffed pitta sandwich)

 middle eastern arayes (meat stuffed pitta sandwich)
A cooked pitta bread sandwich popular around the Middle East, these arayes are very easy to make, stuffed with aromatic, spiced minced lamb or kid goat meat. I was recently lucky enough to work with the guys from Gourmet Goat, who gave me some minced kid goat to play with. Not only did I have a lot of fun experimenting . . . dear god, it was utterly delicious!

wood blewits: the most beautiful mushroom of all

wood blewits (clitocybe nuda/lepista nuda)
Is there anything more fairy tale than a wood blewit mushroom? I don't think so. With their lilac-blue stems and pinkish violet-coloured flattish caps they are the stuff of fantasy. Also charmingly known as pied bleu in French (blue feet), they grow in leaf litter under deciduous trees in Britain's woodland. I'd love to tell you that I foraged for them myself. But the more prosaic answer is that I bought them in Borough Market, from one of several fabulous stalls that sell wild mushrooms.

poffertjes: Dutch buckwheat pancakes

poffertjes (Dutch buckwheat pancakes
These pillowy buckwheat pancakes are light, delicious and really rather indulgent. Even their name is descriptive; "poffertjes" in Dutch sounds a bit like "poffer-juss," which to my mind sounds like pretty fluffy pancakes.

stuffed delicata squash

delicata squash stuffed with tomato and mince sauce
A few weeks ago I posted about one of my favourite new discoveries, the delicata squash. You'll be forgiven for thinking that I didn't do much with it except stand back and admire it! Gosh, there is really nothing so appealing as a vegetable with a bit of va-va-voom and go-faster stripes.

chocolate covered cinder toffee (honeycomb)

chocolate covered cinder toffee
Chocolate covered cinder toffee (known in some parts as honeycomb, puff candy, hokey-pokey, yellowman or seafoam,  but not to be confused with bonfire toffee) brings out my inner child. I love this stuff and could eat it all year around, not just on Bonfire Night. Making it is part cookery and part science project; (I get particularly excited when you add the bicarb to the sugar syrup and it all froths up . . . see what I mean about pleasing my inner child?) Anyway there is much fun to be had by all, and (my favourite type of science, kitchen science) you can eat the results! A really good explanation for the science and magic bit can be found on The Guardian website.

what's in season: november

Boskoop Rouge apples from Chegworth Valley at Borough Market
The Crossed Apple
1've come to give you fruit from out my orchard, Of wide report.
I have trees there that bear me many apples. Of every sort:

Clear, streaked; red and russet; green and golden: Sour and sweet.
This apple's from a tree yet unbeholden, Where two kinds meet,
So that this side is red without a dapple,
And this side's hue is clear and snowy.
It's a lovely apple. It is for you.

a witches brew soup

a witches brew soup
Of all the food I cooked at Borough Market's demonstration kitchen suitable for a children's Halloween party, the one that got the most visceral reaction was my Witches Brew soup. Unfortunately that reaction was a unanimous "ugh". Where, oh where did it all go wrong? I suspect I was a victim of my own making.

blood dipping sauce (or roasted pepper and tomato sauce)

blood dipping sauce (or roasted pepper and tomato sauce) 
My so-called blood dipping sauce made to go with my Halloween vampire bat wings is merely a variation on my Spanish romesco sauce, but without the nuts and chilli peppers. Because it was aimed at children, I didn't want anything too spicy, but I did want something slightly sweet and tangy. It went down a treat with the vampire bat wings, as well as with the monster bones (roasted parsnips) that I cooked for the Borough Market Halloween cooking demo.

vampire bat wings (with blood dipping sauce)

vampire bat wings with blood dipping sauce
I am sooooo behind with my blogging and have stacks of recipes to post, so forgive me if a load all come at once.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to help her cater her small son's birthday party, around the theme of "monsters." I did and the kids seemed to enjoy some truly monstrous creations. By coincidence, Borough Market asked me to fill in for one of the demo chefs who had been forced to pull out of a Halloween-themed cooking demonstration aimed at children. Now I have to admit that I don't have a huge amount of experience of cooking for children. But what I hope I do have is bags of enthusiasm and a tiny bit of creativity.

my favourite slow-cooked tomato sauce

slow-cooked tomato sauce
There is a distinct chill in the air and the path to my front door is slippery with fallen leaves. It is definitely the weather for slow-cooked soups and stews.

san marzano tomatoes (or elvish shoes!)

San Marzano tomatoes (or elvish shoes!)
Coming home from Earth, one of my favourite local grocery shops, clutching a small bag of vibrant San Marzano tomatoes, I wondered if these tomatoes really will taste superior as it is alleged. The proof will be in the pudding, or perhaps a pizza sauce or more likely a simple stew or sauce. I have plans for these beauties, I just haven't finalised the fine detail.

what's in season: october

autumn leaves 2014
Autumn Movement
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

roast chicken, watercress and nut sandwich

roast chicken, watercress and nut sandwich
I love the combination of salty roasted chicken with peppery watercress. While watercress is often relegated in this country as a garnish, it was very popular in the 1920s and 30s as an elegant sandwich filler. I like that. It speaks of a more gracious time. Although clearly my ladylike tendencies could only go so far. So I've compromised. Here is an elegant sandwich filling in a big chunky ciabatta roll.

basic thai red curry paste

a basic Thai red curry paste
While Thai red curry paste seems to be a universal of chilli-spiced Thai pastes, there are actually several different types, some of which are more spiced than others, including black peppercorns, cumin and coriander. But I'm keeping this simple. Not quite as simple as the nam prik pao paste that I use in my tom yum soup, as this includes galangal, lemongrass and shrimp paste.

homemade peanut butter

peanut butter
A few weeks ago a friend came to stay for the weekend. Normally I try to have a few things in that I know that my guests will like. But horror of horror when we toddled home after a night of gentle carousing, I only had half of the components for his favourite midnight snack – a Marmite and peanut butter sarnie.”

perfect with roast chicken: lemon, herb and garlic butter

lemon, herb and garlic butter
I have mentioned before how good compound butters are at giving a bit of oomph with minimal effort to whatever you are cooking. One of my favourites is a buttery mash of herbs such as parsley and basil with lemon zest. 

it's easy being green: fish in sorrel sauce with sautéed potatoes

fish in sorrel sauce with sautéed potatoes
Sorrel is a member of the knotweed family, which is about as unappealing as it is misleading. Don't be fooled, it is a delicious sour-tasting herb, which goes very well with chicken and fish and makes a lovely salad herb. It is also perfect in soups or steamed or puréed and makes a great omelette filling.

spiced pickled beetroot

a piece of pickled beetroot surrounded by pickling spices
I have mentioned before that my early horror of beetroot was caused by my late father, Henry’s love of pickled beetroot. For a man who didn’t really like to argue, Henry had the perfect way to forestall an argument with me. He would just go to the kitchen, rummage around in the cupboards and triumphantly produce a jar of pickled beetroot. It was if I was some kind of argumentative vampire. But instead of garlic or silver bullets, he had a jar of pickled beetroot with which to ward me off. He wouldn't even have to open the damned thing, before I had fled in horror!

a farewell to summer: gin-infused creamy lemon sauce with basil

gin-infused creamy lemon and basil sauce with spaghetti
I had a couple of lemons leftover from a recent Dinner Doctor blog post that I had written for The Guardian newspaper, on what to do with a leftover lemon. So I thought I'd post this recipe, just to prove that I really do practice what I preach!

what's in season: september

vegetables at Borough Market
With half-hearted levies of frost that make foray, retire, and refrain
Ambiguous bugles that blow and that falter to silence again.

With banners of mist that still waver above them, advance and retreat,
The hosts of the Autumn still hide in the hills, for a doubt stays their feet;

apple butter (an english marmalade!)

apple butter
This apple paste, also known as apple butter, was often made in the autumn with a glut of windfall apples. Packed full of sugar, it has a long shelf-life, particularly if kept in the fridge. I realised having made it that it is actually very similar to the Spanish membrillo or Italian cotognata, which are made with quinces. With addition of lemon peel it is very like Portuguese marmelada.

the gentle heart of a recipe: hilda leyel's salad of mint leaves and beans

hilda leyel's salad of mint leaves and beans
Whenever I can, I like to wallow in old cookbooks. It both comforts and relaxes me; I enjoy immersing myself in the food of older times; ferreting out bits of lost knowledge and useful thoughts.

a virtuous necessity: lemony pea and mint pesto

lemony pea and mint pesto crostini
Stumbling bleary-eyed into the kitchen in need of my early morning fix of strong tea and Radio 4's Today programme, I was just settling in to gently waken up when, as the fog cleared, I spotted something out of place on top of the fridge-freezer. "Oh b***er," I thought.

socca "pizza" topped with lamb, aubergine and feta

socca "pizza" with lamb, aubergine and feta
Pizza is one of the dishes that I know from my friends on a gluten-free diet that they miss the most. So I just use socca, a chickpea flour pancake, as my dough base. I am not entirely sure whether I actually prefer the pancake base. I have to confess that I've been eating these a lot recently because firstly I am lazy, secondly I have been quite busy cooking for other people (yay! more of this another time.) and they are both easy to make and utterly delicious.

socca (chickpea flour pancakes)

socca (chickpea flour pancakes)
I've been "socca'ing" a lot recently. But before you roll your eyes and wince at the idea of me shimmying around the kitchen in sequins and a few gently swaying ostrich feathers in best Brazilian stylee, I should add that all I am actually doing is making a load of socca - Provençal chickpea flour pancakes, a popular Nicoise streetfood, where they are cooked in huge flat pans, the size of small cartwheels. You'll also find them just across the French border, in the Italian region of Liguria, where they are known as farinata.

chilli-lime butter

chilli-lime compound butter
Compound butters are a brilliant and easy way to inject a bit of flavour into your food with minimal effort, which frankly is my favourite type of cooking. Smother chargrilled corn-on-the-cob or roasted pumpkin with a generous slice of flavoured butter.

what's in season: august

a beautiful display of tomatoes in Borough Market - summer 2014
Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity?
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

it's official! borough market demo on 25 July!

Borough Market tweet: it's official!
It's official! The tweet is out! Borough Market have just confirmed my appearance in their demo kitchen on Friday 25 July, from 12 noon until 2 pm.

spanish moorish skewers: pinchos morunos

pinchos morunos (Spanish Moorish skewers)
No country or its people particularly like being invaded by another, unless I suppose it is by friendly, high-spending tourists. But one of the things I love about looking at the history of food and the different world cuisines, is how conquest and migration can change or benefit a conquered country. Of course it is easy with the benefit and distance of a thousand or even a hundred years to look at the food highlights of conquest.

what's in season: july

clematis - london july 2014
I get so excited in July. If June is a dreamy, soft focus kind of month in muted pink. Then July is bright and full of sunshine colours with food to match. But this year, I have even more things to be excited about. If you weren't aware of the fact, then this is just to let you know that for the past few months I have been given a weekly column on The Guardian's website as part of their Live Better sustainable living challenge on the subject of leftovers, a subject very close to my heart!

mango with sweet chilli and lime dipping salt - a heavenly taste of the far east

mango with sweet chilli and lime dipping salt
I always seem to buy either mangoes or papayas that aren't quite ripe. I know that you are supposed to gently squeeze them - if they give slightly then they are ripe; if they still feel firm (like a crisp apple) then they are unripe.

nasturtium pesto

nasturtium pesto
My neighbourhood was a riot of colourful nasturtiums, that have self-seeded in any nook and cranny they can find. It was a bright spot in what is normally a somewhat grey patch of inner city London.

labneh cheese balls

From left to right : labneh rolled in sumac, in crushed nuts (a mixture of toasted sesame seeds and peanuts), and in Aleppo pepper.
Have you ever thought about making your own cheese, but worried that you don't have the right gear; that it's too difficult or technical?

tomato and chilli jam

tomato and chilli jam
I am very fond of toast, fashionable or not, particularly the cheesy kind (and a version I make with plum jam and bacon. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!)

beetroot and lentil spicy kofta

beetroot and lentil spicy kofta
Since I decided that I liked beetroot, I have become pretty evangelical about the stuff. These days I am making up for wasted beetroot opportunities, or the “lost Beta Vulgaris years” as I now regard them.

what's in season: june

june elderflowers
The Elder Fairy
When the days have grown in length,
When the sun has greater power,
Shining in his noonday strength;
When the Elder Tree's in flower;
When each shady kind of place
By the stream and up the lane,
Shows it's mass of creamy lace
Summer's really come again!

Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973)

nutty beetroot, nashi pear and carrot salad

nutty beetroot, nashi pear and carrot salad
Salads don't have to be boring. I feel a spot of singing coming on; "all things bright and beautiful"! This rather sums up both how gorgeous and vibrant this salad looks and rather sums up how it tastes too.

roasted vegetable frittata

roasted vegetable frittata
There is an advert on the telly at the moment for a well-known food brand. It irritates me for a number of reasons, not least because it is twee and patronising. (That the company in question have hash tagged it with #cosy, probably says it all.)

dragons' eggs (or chinese tea eggs)

chinese tea eggs
My family was divided as to what the strange, mottled boiled eggs that were sold at various corner grocers shops and hawker stalls in Kuala Lumpur were called. My mother and little brother were convinced that they these were tiny dinosaur eggs. My father and I were equally satisfied that they were dragons' eggs.

malaysian chicken satay

malaysian chicken satay
Campbell Road in downtown Kuala Lumpur in the 1970s was where the best hawker food was. It was where my father and I indulged in our passion for noodles and satay. At 10 cents a stick, you would order batches of five or six sticks at a time or 10 or 12 if feeling a bit hungrier, which would satisfy us until the next week when we could fill our boots again.

what's in season: may

springtime nasturtiums
May has got off to a bit of a grey start - the sky over London is a murky shade of gunmetal. Although when I step out into my garden, or walk along the lane to the main road, there are spots of colour everywhere, from bluebells and nasturtiums that have seeded unexpectedly and survived the wet, mild winter.

eggs fried with breadcrumbs and herbs

eggs fried with breadcrumbs and herbs
The first time I had these eggs I experienced something of a hallelujah moment; I couldn't make up my mind whether to get down on my knees to pray or just sing and dance around the kitchen. (I settled for singing and dancing, as I wasn't sure that, at my age, once down, I would easily make it back up again to devour the second egg I’d cooked.)

egg sambal (malaysian spicy eggs)

egg sambal
I don't have a bucket list. If I did, it would be more likely to be a big, fat cauldron - a list of fabulous things that I must eat or cook before I die. Recently I cooked something that I can now cross off my cauldron list, one that I would suggest everyone should try at least once. If you have never experienced deep-fried hard-boiled eggs, you really haven't lived.

what's in season: april

plum blossom from an elderly tree in my backgarden
Always Marry An April Girl
Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you. 
Ogden Nash, 1902-1971

T.S. Elliot called April the "cruellest  month", which probably resonates with all cooks in Britain since it is rather lean in terms of seasonal British produce. This is not helped by the strange weather we have experienced over the past few years. God only knows what we have in store over the next few months in terms of unseasonable conditions, since at the moment London and southern parts of England have just experienced a dust cloud of sand blown in from the Sahara!

wild leek, lemongrass and chilli paste

wild leek, lemongrass and chilli paste
The old adage that my mother used to drum in to me was "Rachel, don't play with your food!" In those far off days I probably heeded her eventually, little angel that I pretended to be. But these days I try to play with my food whenever possible. With the foraged food from my garden, I can experiment and take a few risks with this season's rampant wild leeks.

a little time travel: kamut kisir

kamut kisir
The myths behind the whole grain, Khorasan Wheat (Kamut), are the food equivalent of an Indiana Jones-type boys own story; rediscovered in the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh, the ancient grains were sent to the US and replanted by a farmer in Montana. The truth is sadly more prosaic. But what is indisputable is that khorasan wheat had fallen out of use over centuries, very largely because yields are relatively low and farmers started to develop higher yielding grains.

in memory of my father: seafood laksa lemak (malaysian spicy coconut noodle soup)

seafood laksa lemak (malaysian spicy coconut noodle soup)
If you are regular reader of this blog, you will know that I often talk about my father, Henry, a larger-than-life character who taught me so much about how to eat and enjoy food, although not about how to cook. (Frankly Henry's cooking skills generally served as a warning to others).