chorizo, nutella, sour cheese and pickled apple crostini

chorizo and nutella crostini with pickled apples and labneh
A few years ago I started to make a party canape that was essentially a crostini smeared with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and topped with a crisp slice of Spanish chorizo sausage. While some people were a bit suspicious of the combination of cured pork with chocolate, they were usually won over by the flavour. What it lacked in sophistication, it definitely made up for in taste. It is, if I say so myself, a bit fabulous.

The reason why I think it works is because of the synchronicity in “companion eating” - serving meat with the kind of fruit or vegetables the animal might once have eaten - so venison with blackberries, or pork with apple and nuts. The peppery spices in the chorizo also seem to have an affinity with both hazelnuts and chorizo.

nasi goreng (malaysian fried rice)

nasi goreng
It's not often that I turn from mild-mannered cook by day into my foodie crime-fighting alter-ego; righting food wrongs with a wave of my magic feather boa. I am not saying that the feather boa actually works, but I prefer it to a cape and too-tight knickers; to each super hero(ine) their own fashion-sense. It seems to work for me.

smoking bishop

smoking bishop
There are three constants in all my life – food, literature and history. So if I can cook or drink a thing that combines my other loves, I count myself as very happy indeed. Although after drinking a Smoking Bishop or two, I may be happy but not entirely sober!

jerusalem artichoke soup with smoked oyster gremolata

jerusalem artichoke soup with smoked oyster gremolata
If you haven't planned on your Christmas menu, than you there is still time to rush and buy some Jerusalem artichokes. How can you not love the Jerusalem artichoke, which is neither from Jerusalem nor is an artichoke? Well if those reasons aren't thrilling enough, they are said to have all sorts of wonderful health benefits too (which may not be what you're thinking about at this time of the year, but you may well thank me later!

devilled eggs: time for a revival?

devilled eggs
Almost from the moment that humans first learned to cook an egg, I suspect that they were "devilling" (spicing) them too. We know that the Romans such as the gourmand Apicius liked their egg recipes; I suspect those ancients liked theirs drizzled in garum or liquamen (highly pungent sauces made from fermented fish - possibly an acquired taste!) The sadly maligned Victorians would devil just about anything, which goes to prove that in food, at least, they were neither particularly conservative nor unadventurous. And I would defy anyone to find a cookbook on entertaining from the 1950s, 60s and 70s that didn't include these brightly coloured little numbers.

party nibbles: bacon-wrapped marinated water chestnuts

bacon-wrapped marinated water chestnuts
Growing up as expats in Malaysia, my little brother's obsession with the crunchy texture of water chestnuts was legendary. (Although I pretty certain no other family ate them in spag bol!)

An American friend of my mother's introduced my family to these delicious marinated water chestnuts. It was love at first bite.

Spicy, sweet and sour - these lovely nibbles are perfect for the party season.

curry mary: a curry-spiced twist on the classic hangover cure

spicy curry mary
Many of us have firmly-held beliefs that, despite evidence to the contrary, we are most reluctant to relinquish. So when scientists or nutritionists say that there is no evidence that hair-of-dog-that-killed-you can help soothe a booze-induced hangover; that more alcohol can actually make you feel worse, we smugly tend to think that we know something that scientists and nutritionists don't. From a tall glass of ice-cold Coca-Cola and last night's leftover curry, to tripe soupa Full English Breakfast or Marmite-on-toast, most of us prefer to believe in our tried-and-tested home-remedies.

mulled damson gin (brings a little festive cheer!)

mulled damson gin
If you read my post about making damson gin last year, you will know that as much as I love gin, I don't drink it very often as it brings out the miserablist in me; we are talking weeping, wailing, and teeth-gnashing. I end up looking like a demented panda caught in a rain storm.

a story of a Goth, a grandmother and baklava, with a sting in the tale!

honey nut baklava
I am thinking about Christmas baking and alternatives to the usual spiced cakes. I want to make some baklava, filo pastry stuffed with spiced nuts and drenched in a honey syryp, which reminded me of my first ever baklava experience and possibly the most disastrous "meet the family" episodes of my life.

devilled chicken livers: a retro party bite

devilled chicken livers
My father worked for a well-known drinks company in the late 1960s and 70s. It seemed to my childish eyes that life was one long party, as my parents always seemed to be entertaining. I realise now that it was all part of the job, but there was clearly a lot of pleasure (well food and wine) involved too. While my mother may have been bored by the drudgery of day-to-day cooking, she was actually a very good cook and loved to cook for these parties. I suspect there was also a little bit of the show-off in her too for she loved putting on a good display of fabulous food, often of the sort that other people could only dream of. (If I tell you that she used to make her own puff pastry, you'll know what I mean!)

what's in season: december

my santa's elf hat chilli!
No Christmas elves were harmed in the delivery of this seasonal post. 


I was tidying up some plants on a dusty windowsill and found the saddest plant you've ever seen. I say plant; it was actually a few twigs in some dried-up compost. It had been a chilli plant and still clinging to it was this wrinkled chilli, which to my mind looked like the sort of hat you might see on one of Santa's little helpers, if he hadn't bothered to iron it. 

Once I had stopped laughing, I decided to photograph the chilli to illustrate December's good food. And it is highly likely that I will later even use it in some paste or other. That's a guarantee really.

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!

a zesty plum and allspice crumble (puts a spring in my step!)

zesty plum and allspice nut crumble
So I am bouncing energetically around the kitchen singing "There is nothing like a plum" to the tune of South Pacific's "There is nothing like a dame" while my plum compote is simmering away on the stove. This is my version of multi-tasking and is guaranteed to raise my spirits, even if my adopted cat tries to put her paws over her ears, before stalking off disgruntled to find quieter shores.

But if life can be improved for a few lovelorn, jolly jack tars by day-dreaming of gorgeous girls, I am pretty sure that curvaceous juicy purple plums cooked down with aromatic allspice can do an awful lot for my beating heart too. 

There is simply nothing like a plum.

roasted butternut squash salad with spiced plums, hazelnuts and blue cheese

roasted butternut squash salad
A few years ago I bought a rather trashy but adorable pink leather slouch bag. What I loved most about it was that the bag was covered with enormous pink fish scale sequins that dangled, clattered and caught the light in a rather flashy way. (I have never made any claims to taste except in things concerning food . . . )

pumpkin and parmesan soup revisited

pumpkin and parmesan soup
When I don't post a recipe on this blog, it is highly unlikely that it is ever because I am not eating. Heaven forbid! It is simply because much of the time I fall back on recipes that I have blogged about before. OK, sometimes it is because I actually forget to photograph things in the feeding frenzy. On other occasions I have cooked, but the photograph I have taken looks so unappealing that even our voracious and undiscerning young foxes would turn up their noses.

and now for something completely different: Malaysian steamed layer cake - kuih lapis

kuih lapis (Malaysian layer cake)
Malaysian cakes and desserts are often tooth-achingly sweet, but this one is so pretty that it is hard to resist. But this cake comes with a warning. Not only is it a right old faff to make, although I regard it as an afternoon of time well-spent, just so that I can tick it off my list of things I must learn to bake. (I bet they'd never have this on Great British Bake Off!).

Red lentil and chard falafel

red lentil and chard falafel
In times of austerity . . . oh god, I sound like a Billy Bragg lyric . . .  While my love for the Balladeer of Barking may be pure, in these hard times it is sometimes really difficult to stay cheerful when you have no choice but to be constantly frugal and thrifty. Frankly it is all a bit of a grind (she says gloomily).

claudia roden's red lentil purée

In my quest to find both interesting ways to use lentils and pulses as well as alternatives to the usual accompaniments to roast meat, I found this Claudia Roden recipe for an Egyptian-inspired purée recipe in her New Book of Middle Eastern food. It was perfect with slow roasted lamb shoulder with middle eastern spices.

It may seem like a lot of purée to make and it was. But I had a cunning plan . . . the leftovers were made into falafels, a recipe for which will follow shortly!

what's in season: october

Michaelmas Daisies - October 2013
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

William Shakespeare - Sonnet 73 (1609)

stuffed nasturtium flowers

stuffed nasturtium flowers
My best friend and I had been shopping; a wedding dress for her and a bridesmaid's dress for me. My friend was slim, blonde, blue-eyed and very pretty. She wanted a purple-blue theme for the wedding. It was her day so I went along with her choices. But a little part of me died that day.

sweet and sour marinated roasted courgettes with goats’ cheese, basil and toasted pine nuts

sweet and sour marinated roasted courgettes with
goats’ cheese, basil and toasted pine nuts
I am always looking for new ways of cooking up an abundance of courgettes and this summer I have loved this salad of sweet and sour marinated roast courgettes, goats' cheese and toasted pine nuts.

It has worked beautifully with roast chicken, and rather good with grilled fish too (although I would omit the cheese).

Definitely the perfect way to celebrate that end-of-summer glut.

what's in season: september

Brighton (September 2012)
End of Summer
An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.
Stanley Kunitz 1905 - 2006(from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. © 1953)

lost in france: my salade lyonnaise

salade lyonnaise (bacon and egg salad)
After walking around a small town in southern France for what seemed like hours, we still hadn't found either our friends we were meeting for lunch. We are lost in France and not in a big-haired, floaty chiffon 1970s soft focus kind of way; no birds singing, bands playing or people dancing (just the rumble of traffic and me scowling). I am hot, dusty, and footsore and, possibly more importantly, I haven't eaten for more than three hours. Quelle horreur! 

nigel slater's roasted courgettes with thai-style minced chilli and lime pork

 nigel slater's roasted courgettes with thai-style minced chilli and lime pork
Apart from charcuterie, pork doesn't have much of a place in my kitchen, for no other reason that I just don't think it tastes of an awful lot. However, occasionally pork mince gets a workout in meatballs and recently in burgers for the barbecue. I had a little mince left over and was looking for an idea of how to use it up.

So when in doubt and looking for a little bit of inspiration, as ever I turn to Nigel Slater. This time to Tender, Volume 1, since I also have a glut of courgettes to use up. Since Tender is organised by vegetable, it was only a matter of minutes, page 290 and "baked marrow, minced pork" that I had my recipe.

roasted halibut with chermoula sauce

roasted halibut with chermoula marinade
One of my favourite marinades is from Morocco. There are hundreds of variations of chermoula, a marinade typically used with fish, which is essentially a mixture of oil, herbs and spices which can be used with whole, filleted or grilled fish.

What you need is a good balance between the sharpness of lemon and sweetness of the honey. The herbs and spices should be quite subtle and aromatic rather than punchy. But whichever way you cook the fish, roasted, steamed or fried, it will taste fabulous as it absorbs these flavours.

summery sausages and caramelised onions with crushed buttered peas

summery sausages and caramelised onions with crushed buttered peas
It's one of those days when the weather doesn't know whether it's Arthur or Martha; we've had three seasons in one day. The morning started bright and fresh as spring, before segueing into a drizzly autumn, returning to a splash of summer and now settling, halfway between the three, as if controlled by some malevolent weather swing-o-meter. Just a normal summer in England again.

smoky chargrilled aubergine salad

smoky chargrilled aubergine salad
There is a dish on the menus of Turkish restaurants called Hünkar Beğendi. I don't read Turkish, but I understand it to mean "the Sultan's Delight"; a simple lamb stew served on a bed of creamy aubergine puree. But whenever I see these words, I translate them in my head as "whole hunk of love on a plate" because this peasant adores the stuff.

what's in season: august

summer vine tomatoes
You to me
Are sweet as roses in the morning
And you to me
Are soft as summer rain at dawn, in love we share
That something rare

The sidewalks in the street
The concrete and the clay beneath my feet
Begins to crumble
But love will never die

Because we'll see the mountains tumble
Before we say goodbye

My love and I will be
In love eternally
That's the way
Mmm, that's the way it's meant to be

Concrete and Clay by Tommy and Brian Parker (Unit 4 + 2), 1965

a cooling summer essential: cacik (turkish cucumber, herb and yoghurt sauce)

cacik (turkish cucumber, herb and yoghurt sauce)
I've always loved plain old yoghurt. I like to use it as a marinade and meat tenderiser, or with fresh fruit for breakfast. Having a cooling yoghurt and cucumber condiment such as raita has always accompanied my curries. But I have to confess that the Turkish Cacik or Greek Tzatziki yoghurt and cucumber sauces had always left me a bit cold. And then I had my light bulb moment.

hot-smoked salmon salad with mustardy crushed new potatoes and summer green vegetables

hot-smoked salmon salad with mustardy crushed new potatoes and summer green vegetables
It's too hot to think and too wet to shop (dear god, I think I might need water skis to get down to Kentish Town High Road). The cupboards are almost bare but I do have some fresh new potatoes from a friend's garden, lots of fresh herbs from my own garden and some rather wizened looking broad bean pods as well. 

a cooling summer courgette soup

a cooling summer courgette soup
A cooling summer soup is a welcome way to use up a summer glut of courgettes. This vegetable's beautiful delicate flavour is perfect in a chilled soup and I thought would be a really good way of cooling down on a baking hot day. I've read somewhere that you can cool yourself down by not just drinking cool drinks but eating cold food. I think this may be right - well it certainly worked for me!

mouthwatering velvet chicken and summer vegetable stir fry

velvet chicken
If you have ever wondered why the stir-fried chicken at your local Chinese restaurant is so much more moist and succulent than the version you make at home, the chances are that there is a really simple reason. It's a Chinese cooking technique beautifully known as "velveting".

some are hot and some are not! padrón peppers: the vegetable equivalent of russian roulette!

tapas: padrón peppers
Pimientos de Padrón are tiny bright green peppers from the Galician region of Spain which look like small green peppers or even mild green chillies. And that's part of the thrill, because although they taste like mild and sweet peppers, some of them pack the heat of chillies . . . just not all of them.

It is said that one in 20 padrón peppers is a hot one. In Galicia there is a saying "Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non," which means "padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not." So try them if you dare!

artichoke heart salad with preserved lemon and honey dressing

artichoke heart salad with preserved lemon and honey dressing
Here Comes The Sun
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
It's all right, it's all right

George Harrison
, 1969

I think I may have had an ancestor who was an Inuit or more likely a Viking, or perhaps just some kind of troglodyte who never saw the light of day. Because even with the best will in the world, total sun block cream, hats, scarves and plenty of iced water, I just can't spend too much time in the sun or it's a trip to A+E for me - just me and my minor case of sunstroke. Which is all a bit sad really.

poached cherry, roasted balsamic red onions and goat's cheese salad with cherry vinaigrette

poached cherry and goat's cheese salad with cherry vinaigrette
When it comes to recipes, I am something of a tinkerer. I find something I like and then wonder to myself whether there was something I might have missed. Could the recipe be improved?

In itself, this is not a problem. Unless you are like me; you write a food blog and have set yourself the challenge of getting out of a culinary rut (number one in my culinary New Year's resolutions). I had assumed that no-one would want to read the same old, same old, with my minor tweaks and fol-de-rols.There are also times when frankly I had tinkered too far and the food was only fit for the compost heap. (But let that be our little secret.)

nigel slater's baked tomatoes (and a few baked sweet peppers) with fragrant spices and coconut

Nigel Slater's baked peppers with tomatoes, spices and coconut
tomatoes, spices and coconut
(it shouldn't work but it does)

Nigel Slater
's recipes are often seductive in their simplicity. The Kitchen Diaries II recipe simply entitled tomatoes, spices, coconut is the perfect case in point. Although I have to confess to being a teensy bit perplexed by his addendum ("shouldn't work but it does").

Why shouldn't it work? Is it because Nigel has stuffed tomatoes with well, yet more tomatoes?

It can't be because of a gorgeous combination of onions, garlic, fresh ginger, mustard seeds, peppers, cherry and vine tomatoes, red chilli, turmeric and coconut milk? Can it? No, of course not!

yotam ottolenghi's baharat-spiced beef and lamb meatballs with lemony broad beans

Yotam Ottolenghi's beef meatballs with lemony broad beans
If you needed an excuse to buy Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's fabulous Jerusalem cookbook, I think this recipe is probably worth the price alone. A combination of beef and lamb is gently spiced with fragrant baharat, a soothing mixture of black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cumin, cardamom and nutmeg.

The meatballs are freshened with a zingy mixture of fresh herbs, including dill, coriander, mint and parsley. I ran out of dill and used some chopped fennel tops, which is why the meatballs in my photo are strewn with spiky herb fronds. Delicious none-the-less.

yotam ottolenghi's baharat spice mix

Yotam Ottolenghi's baharat spice mix
Baharat is a Middle Eastern blend of spices popular from Turkey to Egypt and Iran used in a wide variety of dishes from soups, rice and tabbouleh to tomato-based stews and tagines.

I was planning on making the beef and lamb meatballs with lemon broad beans from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's superb Jerusalem cookbook. The meatballs are spiced with fragrant baharat, which you can buy from the Ottolenghi online store. However the recipe is so easy and I do have a spice grinder, that it seemed easier to make it myself.

an english potherb and soft cheese pie, with a little help from yotam ottolenghi

an english potherb and soft cheese pie
On the rare occasions that the sun has graced us with its presence this summer, my thoughts turn to both picnics and packed lunches in the park - food that is easy to transport, which can hang about for a while without any serious deterioration and which, of course, is utterly delicious. ((Is this a kind of multi-tasking?)

One of my absolute favourite things to bring to a picnic, or indeed any party, is spanakopita, a cheese and herb filo pie (or little triangles) from Greece and popular in many forms around the Mediterranean and Middle East.

foxes at play

I realise that foxes can be a bit controversial - love them or hate them. But I defy anyone not to enjoy this!

My particular favourite bit is about 40 seconds in, when the littlest cub loses his footing, plonks to the ground, a bit like Eeyore, and sticks his nose in the air, enjoy the brisk breeze!


a simple pleasure: tomatoes on toast (pan con tomate)

tomatoes on toast (pan con tomate)
Contrary to my family lore, my father Henry did not invent tomatoes-on-toast. But ask any member of the family and you will find that one of their all-abiding memories will be of my father eating tomatoes on toast, tomatoes on crackers, tomatoes on biscuits or sometimes, just on their own. This is a man who has no shame and will quite happily forage in other people's kitchens for a simple snack at all times of the day or night, evidenced by a smear of tomato pips, dried-up nubs of garlic and a trail of crumbs.

where the wild things are . . .

Mrs Fox and her three cubs
The bottom of my garden is where the wild things live. I'd like to tell you that it's because I have created a wild garden to give the local fauna a bit of a feeding playground. In my heart of hearts, I really want to believe that that it might be hiding a few wild fairies too, but the truth is that I don't particularly like manicured gardens and I am something of a lazy gardener. 

flying saucer eggs with grilled vine tomatoes, mushrooms and red chard

Healthy breakfast with grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, red chard and flying saucer eggs
I wanted a substantial breakfast to set me up for the weekend. This one does the job and is surprisingly healthy. Of course it would have been even healthier if I had left out the butter, but mushrooms and butter are a marriage made in heaven and I couldn't resist.

perfect whatever the weather: nigel slater's smoked haddock, potato and bacon

Nigel Slater's smoked haddock, potato and bacon
Why Rachel, when your profile says that you love to cook seasonally, are you posting a dish which screams winter comfort in June? A reasonable question.

Well it is for several reasons, one of which is the bloody English weather. After a weekend away enjoying balmy sunny weather (I even managed to catch a touch of sun), I have returned to London to grey skies and a distinct chill in the air. It feels like 2012 all over again. Bah!