The boys are back in town – in this case, oldest son, Tom, and his friend Kieran. Old habits die hard and I started thinking of recipes for pasta – the proverbial family standby. But it wasn’t always so. It may be hard to believe, but I was 10 before I ever ate pasta. Continue reading “Amore Appassionato – falling in love with Spaghetti Bolognese”
May and June always meant two things for me when we were living on the Welsh Borders: our spring holiday escaping to the mountains in Southern Spain for the May half term; and the first broad beans in my vegetable garden, ready to pick in June when we returned. They are inextricably linked in my mind by one recipe – Habas con Jamon.
The Jamon would be a huge leg of Jamon Serrano, a speciality of the Alpujarras Mountains in Southern Spain. The mountains are famous for their salted air-dried hams, with the best coming from the highest village of Trevelez. While not cheap (even back in those days), the flavour was excellent. Invariably, we would be tempted and buy a whole leg. Slater would board the return plane with a rucksack on his back containing an entire ham with the pigs trotter gently nudging the back of his head! Continue reading “An Ode to Broad Beans – Habas con Jamon”
I grew up in MMBA – a colonial acronym for ‘miles and miles of bloody Africa’. My first food memories are of mangoes and paw-paws, avocados, fresh crabs and lobsters on holidays down on the Kenyan Coast, and spicy hot Indian curries – thanks to the large Asian community who lived in Nairobi. I loved going with my mother on her shopping trips to the Indian bazaar to buy spices. Continue reading “Colonial Adventures – East African Curry”
If you’re British, a cup of tea is seen as the solution to many of life’s problems. Crash your car, discover you’re bankrupt, fall down a flight of steps – what you need is “a nice cup of tea”.
A friend of mine once had the job of keeping the cellars of Buckingham Palace stocked with wine. About a year after the tragic death of Princess Diana, Mark (not his real name), was having dinner with a senior member of the Palace staff and, when this gentleman mentioned he had been the unfortunate person who had answered the Palace phone at four am to be told that the princess had been in a car crash and was fighting for her life, Mark asked, “What did you do?” Continue reading “Everything Stops For Tea…”
Cassoulet is a legend here in the South West of France. Quite literally. It was supposed to have originated during the Hundred Years War when the English were besieging the nearby town of Castelnaudary in 1355. The story goes that the inhabitants cooked up what was left of their beans, bones, scraps of meat and dried bits of ham, then went out and beat the English!
Like many of my favourite dishes, I suspect it has its real origins in “peasant food”, namely cooking whatever is to hand, but over the centuries, it has become a complex and truly wonderful dish. It takes its name from the large earthenware pot in which it is cooked and served – “le cassole” – hence “Cassoulet”. When it’s cooked for you by my good friend, Philippe Seguier then it is, quite simply, probably the best cassoulet you’ll ever taste. Continue reading “The Legendary Cassoulet”
Last week, I was finally able to unpack one of my boxes of cookery books and I found a copy of the Longtown W.I. Cookery Book to which my mother had contributed her recipe for “New Zealand Chocolate Cake – 1966!”. I also found the small recipe book she gave me as a teenager in which I’ve written up many favourite recipes. Glued in under the cakes section, written in her distinctive hand-writing, I found the same recipe. Continue reading “New Zealand Chocolate Cake – my mother’s fifty year-old recipe!”
Carrots have been one of my favourite vegetables since way back when. As a child, I was never keen on meat, especially beef. I hated all that chewing and would end up with dry indigestible lumps hidden in my cheeks like a hamster. Muttering that I had finished, I would leave the table and head for the toilet to spit out the offending lumps. So my mother wisely compromised by serving me potatoes and carrots covered with the meaty gravy which I would then mash together. For a four year old, it was my idea of the perfect meal.
In those days, carrots were the inevitable pairing with potatoes – mashed, roasted or boiled – for the traditional ‘meat and two veg’. My grandmother sliced her carrots in roundels and boiled them, as did my mother. Generation after generation of us eating sliced carrots… Continue reading “An Ode to Carrots”
Having lived as many decades as I have (six and counting), it’s easy to forget how some of the most basic elements of cooking have changed over my lifetime – and you cannot get more basic than salt and pepper. Continue reading “Salt and Pepper – Earth and Fire”
This is the simplest of recipes but, whenever I make flapjacks, I am transported back to my college days in Oxford at Lady Margaret Hall. One of the first women’s colleges at Oxford, LMH (as it’s called), had a reputation for being a college where the ‘posh girls’ went.
By the mid-1970s, Oxford University was under pressure to admit more state school candidates and I clearly qualified, having gone to the local grammar school in Buckingham. At my interview I was asked which colleges at Oxford had my parents gone to? My heart sank. When I replied that I was the first member of my family to ever go to university, the tutor looked visibly surprised! Continue reading “College Days – cooking my oats!”
When I first met Philippe, one of the first laughs he had at my expense was expounding on the terrible food that English people eat: everything was covered in a terrible brown floury sauce; we ate mountains of greasy ‘feesh and chips’; and of course, there was the famous ‘Engleesh triffle’ – a ghastly concoction of green jelly and solid custard. I quizzed him – had he actually been to England and eaten any of the food? His answer was “No”, but he’d heard all about it from his friends.
The reputation of English food in France is both legendary and apocryphal. I have done my best in the thirteen years that I’ve lived here to disabuse my French friends of some of their prejudices – but Philippe has remained sceptical. When I invited him and his wife Nathalie to lunch this weekend, he threw the gauntlet down. “I’ll only come if you make a trifle,” he said. The challenge was accepted. Continue reading “An Entente Culinaire – a mere trifle at stake!”