AS the summer draws to a close and we grudgingly accept that cooler weather is here to stay, don't be surprised if you find your thoughts drifting back to the holidays - and especially to the food you ate when you were away. After all, there's nothing more evocative of holidays than the memory of lunching on local delicacies on the terrace of a sunny café, or dining on the freshly landed daily special on a balmy night at the water's edge.
THE Owl and the Pussycat obviously knew a good thing when they saw it. Dining on mince with slices of quince might not be a regular affair these days, but their dish emphasises just how versatile it is. A big batch of mince can be used all weekend without ever becoming boring. From lasagne to burgers, shepherd's pie to chilli, the options are endless.
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HERBY CHEESE SCONES
NOT so long ago, ice-cream was synonymous with parties or summer holidays. There was the garish yellow Wall's brick sitting alongside the lime-green jelly at a birthday party, or the cornet of vanilla to lick while building sandcastles on the beach (freshly churned, whiter-than-white, milky Italian ice-cream if you were lucky; Mr Whippy if you weren't). But now more of us are making ice-cream at home, with or without a machine.
FOR hundreds of years, petals and whole flowers have been used in the kitchen. The Romans added lavender to honey and used marigolds for their colour and flavour. Recipes from all over Britain dating from the 17th and 18th centuries contain nasturtiums, borage and lavender. After this period, though, edible flowers inexplicably went out of fashion.
IT NEVER ceases to amaze me that a month before Christmas cooks all over the land are in a state of panic, wondering how to cook their annual turkey. The same once-a-year principle also applies to Easter lamb, but hardly anyone breaks sweat worrying about it. The reason, I think, is simple: lamb is so easy to cook and so delicious that it hardly needs any attention; certainly not myriad stuffings, sauces and jellies.
AFTER a recent trip to Australia, I came back home feeling frustrated. It wasn't just that I missed the heat, blue skies and bright sunshine; it was the fact that, compared to us, they seem to have reached a state of perfection when it comes to culinary matters. The Australian style of cooking is set to become the classical cuisine of tomorrow, for it makes sense in modern life. It is uncomplicated, exciting without being wacky, and makes use of absolutely the freshest produce.
INSTEAD of hitting the shops for your Christmas shopping, why not avoid exhaustion and till-rage by spending precious time alone in your kitchen making personalised presents for your nearest and dearest?
NOT many spices can claim to lead a double life, but cardamom certainly can. Comfortable in the tropics and also the Arctic, at ease in both sweet and savoury dishes, it is the yin and yang of the spice rack.
MY FIRST real encounter with a pumpkin was in a pie made by an American family I used to babysit for. I was not keen. Fresh pumpkins were seldom available in this country at the time, so the dish would have been made using tinned pumpkin. It did not result in the best pie - it was cloying and overly sweet.
Making jam is not difficult.
SCOTLAND has for centuries had a reputation for excellent baking.
WITH the knowledge of how to make some basic, commonplace cold sauces, every cook can transform what could be an otherwise uninspiring dinner into a memorable one. I suggest you get to grips with the following three and add in different flavourings to complement the dish you are serving them with.
TOFFEE, butterscotch and fudge are as versatile as chocolate - and equally delicious. All emerging from the same bag of ingredients, they can be converted into sophisticated, elegant desserts (think spun-sugar cages ), transport you back to childhood (think comfort food such as banoffee pie or treacle toffee) or bring out your greedy side (think hot fudge sundae). Whether rich or creamy, smooth or crunchy, they’re always moreish.
I HAVE lived and breathed baking since childhood. I vividly recall the rich aroma of warm treacle scones, the sight of Scotch pancakes being flipped over, the taste of sticky jam tarts and the crunch of sugar-topped shortbread. Home-baking was a way of life in our house. Tea revolved around the contents of the cake and biscuit tins. I learned the basics and intuitively discovered that there is absolutely no substitute for home-baking.
Easter, just like Christmas, is surrounded by its own traditions. And although customs evolve over the years (would anyone still wear a flowery bonnet to church these days?), there are some that will never change - even though you may have to search hard behind the chocolate eggs and the commercialisation to find them.
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