Colonial Adventures – East African Curry

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”

Everything Stops For Tea…

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…”

The Legendary Cassoulet

The cassoulet in its cassole
The cassoulet in its cassole

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”

New Zealand Chocolate Cake – my mother’s fifty year-old recipe!

My mother's recipe in the Longtown W.I. cookery book and in my own collection of recipes
My mother’s recipe in the Longtown W.I. cookery book and in my own collection of recipes

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!”

An Ode to Carrots

Some of the ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf
Ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf

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”

Salt and Pepper – Earth and Fire

Fleurs du sel
Fleurs du sel

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”

College Days – cooking my oats!

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

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!”

An Entente Culinaire – a mere trifle at stake!

Marinading the lemon peel for syllabub
Marinading the lemon peel for syllabub

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!”

Night-time tales à la Puttanesca

Chili, Anchovies, & Capers – the essential ingredients
Chili, Anchovies, & Capers – the essential ingredients

There’s something about the end of one of ‘those evenings’. You shouldn’t have gone out, you didn’t mean to go out – certainly not with Him – you’ve drunk far too much and, of course, he’s now back here in your flat saying he’s hungry…

Panic ensues. There’s nothing in the fridge of an edible nature (you’ve been at work all day). There’s plenty to drink, yes, including a bottle of champagne – but nothing that can be turned into a meal. The cheese has gone mouldy and even the bread is stale. Continue reading “Night-time tales à la Puttanesca”

To Market, To Market To Buy A Fat Pig, Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

Le Marché Couvert, Albi
Le Marché Couvert, Albi

I confess I have never bought a fat pig at a market – chops or sausages, yes – but for me, markets are more about fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit. On that front, I have been very lucky – living just around the corner from the Marché Couvert in Albi I have been able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables six days of the week. A real luxury! Continue reading “To Market, To Market To Buy A Fat Pig, Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig”