another guilty pleasure: homemade pork scratchings

homemade spicy pork scratchings
Pork scratchings are something of a guilty but satisfying pleasure. Yes, they are fatty and a little greasy, but oh dear lord, they taste good. It's 6 Nations season right now, and there is nothing like watching the rugby with a pint of good ale and a bowl of these wicked salty snacks. The only problem is that they are so moreish, that one bowl is never enough!

chinese char siu barbecue pork - perfect all year around!

char siu chinese barbecue pork
Chinese New Year began a couple of weeks ago, and that Sunday I used it as an excuse to make a char siu style roast for lunch. I may not be the biggest fan of pork, but I do like it when it is marinated in an intensely sweet and deeply savoury sauce which for me can only improve pork's sweet blandness.

spicy butter bean and tomato stew with turkish sujuk (garlic sausage)

spicy butterbean and tomato stew with
Turkish garlic sausage (sujuk)
I may have been a bit bleary-eyed with sleep at sparrow-fart this morning, but it was crystal clear how the temperature had fallen sharply overnight when I opened the back door and looked out across the garden, which was encrusted with a light dusting of frost, my breath visible in the cold air. I could also hear how cold it was when I caught a strange huffing, puffing sound. The neighbour's fat young tabby, Oscar, tiptoed over to say good morning. I could almost hear him saying "ooh, ah, sheesh, it's icy out here, oh my poor fat paws!" he huffed and puffed and shook his whiskers at me dolefully. 

love your leftovers! spaghetti frittata

spaghetti frittata
There are two insights I have always wanted from Italian cooks. The first is, is there a special gadget (other than elbow grease) to remove baked on mozzarella cheese - you know those times when the lasagne dish looks like a relief map of the Moon with cheesy encrustations) and the second is, what do Italians do with leftover pasta?

I am yet to find the magic de-cheeser (and if anyone knows of one, please let me know), but I have discovered that Italians, being a thrifty bunch, have a fabulous way of using up leftover pasta by using it in frittatas including a little leftover sauce too.

claudia roden's tagine of chicken with preserved lemon and green olives (tagine djaj bi zaytoun wal hamid)

tagine of chicken with preserved lemons, green olives, coriander and parsley
There is something about the intensely savoury and citrusy smell you get when you lift the lid on a large saucepan of chicken stew infused with preserved lemons, Middle Eastern spices and fresh coriander that lifts my spirits in a way that nothing else can. It is both heady and exhilarating. 

While this is another wonderful seasonally warming dish (and a lovely taste of the sun in the depths of winter), it is one that makes a regular appearance at my table, all year around.

when is a lemon a cartoon villain? when it's citron beldi!

citron beldi (Marakech lemons)
It's a given that I liked to potter around grocery shops, to find out what they've got, what's new or unfamiliar to me. It's my favourite type of shopping and browsing.

another bit on the side: fat couscous with harissa and orange dressing

fat couscous (mograbiah) with harissa
and orange dressing
I make no bones about the fact that I am as excited by side dishes as I am by the main event, whether it is vegetables or starch (or both!) This s is very likely to do with the ten years I spent as a somewhat hapless vegetarian, when often the only part of a meal I was prepared to eat were the bits on the side. I am not complaining, mind you. Often these bits on the side were probably the best bit of the entire meal (and I really do love vegetables!)

sweets for your sweet, sugar for your honey: valentine shortbread hearts!

Valentine shortbread hearts:
clementine and dark chocolate

Sweets for my sweet,
Sugar for my honey,
Your first sweet kiss thrilled me so.

Sweets for my sweet,
Sugar for my honey,
I'll never ever let you go.

(Doc Pomus and
Mort Shuman - 1961)

I am not sure whether it is worse to be single on Valentine's Day, or whether it is actually worse to be in a relationship, what with the neon-pink commercialisation that has vanquished all of the dewy-eyed innocence of earlier centuries. But hey ho, it's the thought that counts and this heart-shaped sweet treat works beautifully as a delicious gesture of love, whichever day it is.

flipping marvellous! stuffed Italian-style pancakes (crespelle)

Italian-style stuffed pancakes with ricotta,
tomato and mushroom sauce
While it has become traditional to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dusted with sugar and drizzled with lemon juice, or smeared with Nutella, I actually prefer savoury pancakes stuffed with cheese and spinach. In fact I like them stuffed with the same sort of things that you would use to fill a tortilla or dosa, such as spicy beans or curried potatoes or lentils.

I made some last year but the photographs I took looked like a dog's dinner - if that dinner had been ravaged by frenzied wolves. Pretty it was not, unless you like your food to have the appearance of some kind of slasher movie gore-fest.

I still haven't got the picture right, but what I can tell you is that while it may not be pretty, it tastes gorgeous and appeals to my sense of taste which mostly craves an intensely savoury experience.

i still haven't put off childish things . . . a bit of nostalgia and a few pancake tips!

Shrove Tuesday pancakes or
the home of The Clangers?
When I was a small child growing up in England, television viewing in the Kelly household was very strictly regulated. Admittedly in those far off days, all television was rather limited since there were only a few television channels and there was no such thing as all-day viewing. Pre-school children had their own programmes with Watch with Mother at lunchtime and again in the late afternoon.

Our television (and yes, in those days, most families only had one), was positioned high up on top of a large wooden cabinet in our living room, out of reach of little hands. (Well my hands in particular.)

greet the new year and encounter happiness: honey and ginger roasted chicken thighs for Chinese New Year

sticky Chinese-style honey and ginger chicken thighs

Chinese New Year begins on 10 February this year. I already know what I'll be cooking. (It's Sunday, so I shall be roasting pork, but in a Chinese style rather than in a more traditional British way). But if you haven't thought about celebrating, but feel like something savoury, succulent, sweet and spicy; where you probably have half of the store cupboard ingredients, then this could be the recipe for you. Roast some chicken thighs in a sweet, sticky marinade of honey, garlic and ginger and say hello to the Year of the Snake.

wow factor! celeriac, onion and blue cheese pithiver

celeriac, onion and Stilton pithiver
It's the roar of the crowd; the cries and adulation that make me tingle with pleasure. Hello London!

As the rapturous reception dies down, the applause quietens, and the cheers of "Oh my god, Rachel, that's amazing!" fade away, I blush prettily, shrug modestly and murmur "Oh it was nothing, but I'd like to thank . . ."


And the cheesy, dreamy fantasy bursts as I come down to earth and look at expectant supper-hungry faces - "Well it looks alright, but what's in it?" and my particular favourite "It's vegetarian? I don't eat vegetarian". 

nigel slater's carrot and coriander fritters

nigel slater's carrot and coriander fritters
For years, I didn't much care for the herb coriander. The spice? Yes. The herb? Definitely not. The simple reason is because I am one of some ten per cent of the world's population that can taste the aldehydes in coriander, which also appear in soap. So what tastes like a slightly citrusy and aromatic herb to you, tastes of lemon-scented soapy washing up liquid to me. I think you'll agree that this isn't very appetising at all!

spice up your life! chicken stewed with berber red spice paste

chicken stewed with Berber red spice paste
I recently had a forgotten treasure returned to me. Some three years ago a friend asked me what cookbook I would recommend for someone who wanted to broaden their cooking horizons but who refused to buy any cookbook that involved television tie-ins or shouty celebrity chefs.

"Well, Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall are rather good," I said.

"Are they on television?" He asked plaintively. "Yes," I replied, "but they don't shout". "Then no," my friend said firmly. Well that narrowed things down a lot.

"Not too old-fashioned," he said. "And I want pictures, and a few anecdotes but definitely no shouting. Or models. Or bloody fairy lights!"

a winter-warming broccoli and blue cheese soup

broccoli and blue cheese soup
Spring may well be around the corner, but London skies are resolutely grey and there is a damp chill in the air. I need to eat something comforting; something that will warm me up on a cold day. Which makes it a soup day and if I could just wait another few weeks I would be able to harvest the rampant wild leeks in my back garden. But I can't wait. I want soup and I want it now. And it needs to be green!

Beautiful cruciferous broccoli isn't just a vegetable to be served as a side dish. It's bitter-sweet intensely green flavour works beautifully in soup. Broccoli also has an affinity for strong salty flavours, so adding blue cheese is a marriage made in soup heaven! 

what's in season: february

snowdrops in my garden
When the cat lies in the sun in February
She will creep behind the stove in March.

(Traditional English saying)

Clearly whoever came up with that saying had never met my cat; a cat so indolent that she never gets out of bed for anything less than nuclear fusion. (She spends an awful lot of time in bed!)

This morning was beautifully sunny. Definitely cold, but you can almost smell
spring is on the horizon. So if you want to put the drab, dark days of winter behind you and put a little colour into your culinary life, then it is the right time to celebrate rhubarb.