The Perfect Kitchen

According to Wikipedia - A kitchen is a room or part of a room used for cooking and food preparation in a dwelling or in a commercial establishment.

The origins of the word ‘kitchen’ are somewhat involved. Derived from the Latin ‘coquina’, in French it is ‘cuisine’ and is very similar in sound to ‘cycene’ the saxon word, ‘kuche’ in German, ‘kiokken’ in Danish, ‘cegin’ in Welsh, ‘kyshen’ in Scottish and ‘cucina’ in Italian. Through history the kitchen has evolved to reflect our way of life. As Anne Reagan says in A Brief History of the Kitchen – Historically, kitchens weren’t luxurious and unlike today’s kitchen, they were not rooms where people wanted to spend time in. They definitely weren’t rooms meant for hosting guests or entertaining. They were dark and prone to catching fire; they were filled with noises, messes and smells. They were extremely busy spaces and could be hot and uncomfortable. For these reasons, kitchens tended to be situated as far away as possible from the social or private rooms in a home.

In the Victorian period, it was universally understood that the kitchen was used only for cooking. Washing-up, scrubbing vegetables and all the messy, low-status activities that involved water were done in the scullery. Even the smallest Victorian houses had a separate scullery, and it was rare for sinks to be installed in kitchens before the twentieth century. Gas-fired ranges were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and in 1868 Shrewsbury’s Portable Gas Oven came onto the market. However, prejudice, fear of explosions and health scares about eating food impregnated with harmful fumes delayed the widespread introduction of gas ovens, and they did not begin to replace solid fuel ranges in any numbers until the 1890s. Back to the perfect kitchen. In Modern Cooking Illustrated from 1947 Lydia Chatterton sets out the ideal kitchen for the new bride after the war. ‘At a minimum the homemaker should aim at a gas or electric cooker, a hot water boiler and double sink’ however ‘kitchen cabinets, washing machines and vacuum cleaners are welcome additions’s. The chapter on setting up and decorating a kitchen is fascinating and reflects not just the technology of the times’nowadays it is possible to “go electric” in the most out of the way parts of the country, but also reflecting the types of food that were prepared there. ‘If you do a lot of pastry making perhaps someone will give you one of the new tables, half marble-topped and half wood’.  To day’s perfect kitchen varies as much as the style of all the rooms in our homes to reflect who we are. And we have the choice (depending on our bank balance) to decide whether we want ultramodern shiny white or steel with all mod cons, practical useful working places with tools we know work, or a room with a link to the past with copper pans and herbs drying. Like most of you I’m sure, my kitchen is a bit of a mish mash, a bit like me, a place I love to be that isn’t perfect but feels familiar and mostly smells of cooking. Not smart and sassy and sadly I can’t fit the family in there to eat but it’s my place.   My ideal kitchen was one owned by the late great Anita Roddick, a room of three parts the cooking area with a big table, piles of cooking books and hanging utensils at one end, in the middle a dining area with a lovely big table that would seat a large family and a dresser of china and a cozy sitting room at the other end with comfy sofa by the fire all surrounded by family photos. I loved that room. So what would your ideal kitchen be? Are you ever likely to get it? and would it be so bad if you didn’t?

Sunny Day Thirst Quencher

At last the sun is out here and the temperature is rising, let’s hope it stays that way for a while. With Wimbledon on the go, the best thing for heat is of course Barley Water. This recipe comes from Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen and originally I found it written in the back of a book called Natural Folk Recipes.

Just dilute and add lots of ice.



The Queen’s Recipe Barley Water


12g Barley

3 litres of boiling water

2 lemons

6 oranges

Honey to sweeten


Put the barley in a large saucepan, add the boiling water and simmer over a low heat with the lid on for one hour. Squeeze the fruit and keep the juice. Strain the water from barley into a bowl adding the rinds of one lemon and three oranges. Allow to stand until cold. Strain off the rinds, add the orange and lemon juice and the honey to taste. Stored in the fridge this will keep for about a week or two.

click here for the book

Learning from the Past

They say you should never stop learning and I agree. Sadly I have the memory or a goldfish so I have to put in serious work to make things stick, however I am always attracted by learning new things. I am just going through ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’ course, one of the Freelearn, on-line courses from Reading University. Interesting, I thought when I saw it, but it is much more, these courses are a great resource and really well put together in small bite size chunks that build up week by week, with videos transcripts, cooking practical exercises and downloads.

I will be trying out some of the recipes and will put these up on the blog to give you a taster.

To catch this one you will have to be quick as it is running now. for more info go to:

A Palm Oil Free Alternative to Nutella

It’s World Nutella Day and if like me you don’t want to join in because of the palm oil in Nutella, here is an alternative.

From Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen this is a chocolate spread, however if you add finely ground hazelnuts (around 1/2 tablespoon) it turns into a nutella-ish spread.

Betty’s Chocolate Spread 

I had to add this homemade chocolate spread, although it is perhaps too nice for my waistline. I did add more cocoa to make it chocolatier (is that a real word?). Easy to make and scrummy.

1 tablespoon soft butter

1 tablespoon icing sugar

2 tablespoons dried milk

2 teaspoons cocoa powder

1 tablespoon boiling water


If the dried milk you are using is the granulated rather than fine powder type give it a whizz in the coffee grinder or smash it in a mortar, this makes it easier to mix in.

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl then add the boiling water and mix well, mashing it with the back of the spoon. It never is quite as smooth as the bought variety but that doesn’t affect the spreadability or taste. Put it in a jar or small covered dish and keep in the fridge. I don’t know how long it lasts as it hasn’t got past a week in my house.

What no pictures?

As the saying goes – there are two types of people in the world…

In this case those who need to have pictures to follow and those who don’t - I’m talking about cookery books here.

Personally I come in the second group I am happy to follow recipes whether there is an illustration or not. To my mind there is less disappointment when the recipe doesn’t look like the illustration and it gives me more licence to make changes, add ingredients (or take them away).

My brother, on the other hand, wouldn’t buy a cookery book if all the recipes didn’t have a photo outlining exactly what the final article should look like. To his mind, you need a guide so that you can see if you have got it right.

Not being competitive, like my uber competitive brother, I don’t mind if I get it ‘wrong’ as long as it tastes good and  a picture won’t tell you that and I’m not disappointed when the dish doesn’t ‘look like it supposed to’.

You can see where this argument (I’m sorry I mean discussion)  is going. I love to mull over a good cook book with beautiful illustrations. It makes your mouth water and spurs you on to try something new, a picture of food does indeed paint a thousand words. But, and it is a big BUT, these lovely pictures are often taken in a studio, using foods that haven’t been cooked using the recipe given, in fact sometimes not even using food.

When I was writing Recipe for an Unknown Kitchen I took the photos myself, mainly because I didn’t have the money to pay a photographer but also I liked the idea that the whole book would be my creation. So I borrowed a book from the library on photographing food, how fascinating that was and what an eye opener! Maybe I was a bit naive but I honestly was amazed by ice creams that were in fact made of candle wax, painted fruit and vegetables and polystyrene biscuits. So what chance do you have trying to meet those standards?

One reader commented that my photos weren’t very professional. I don’t mind, they weren’t it’s true, but they were actual photos of the food I had cooked moments before to the recipe in the book that I was happy tasted the way it should and let’s face it, there are enough disappointments when closely followed recipes don’t taste good or fall apart because the recipe hasn’t been tested properly.

So while I still love to salivate over food photos in books and magazines, and I can tell you I spend a lot of time drooling over cookery books, I don’t take any notice of the illustrations. And to answer the argument, how do you know what the dish supposed to look like – look at the plate!

Post halloween pumpkin feasts

However you spent halloween, at a fancy dress party, shepherding little ghosts and ghouls round on the trick or treat circuit or staying up to scare yourself to death on fright films, now that it is over let’s get down to the serious stuff – cooking with pumpkins.

I did a quick run through the books on my shelves and pumpkin recipes on line and came to the conclusion that there is no excuse for not using the flesh from the pumpkins used to decorate the porch for the ghostly evening. I try not to get on my high horse in these blogs but the waste of food in the form of pumpkins really upsets me.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2014 were only used for lanterns before being trashed and in the UK we are no better. The UK buys over one million pumpkins during October – around 90% of annual pumpkin sales. Once carved, the majority are thrown away with around 18,000 tonnes ending up in landfill according to the North London Waste Authority (NLWA).

Don’t give me the stories about nobody in the house liking pumpkin – would they be able to identify it in a lovely vegetable stew? or not knowing what to do – I found 20 pages of recipes from all over the world in my Ecosia search. Let’s aim to reduce that figure by next halloween.

So how about it?  Send me your favourite pumpkin recipes. The three best will win a copy of Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen and I’ll publish them in future blogs.

For more information on what you can do with scooped out pumpkins this Halloween, a selection of handy recipes can be found on the Love Food Hate Waste website 

One of my favourites is Pumpkin Bread from Flavoured Breads by Linda Collister


700g pumpkin or winter squash, 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil, 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (don’t be tempted to reduce this), 2 teaspoons of golden caster sugar, 15g fresh yeast*, 350g strong white bread flour, extra flour for dusting, 1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt to glaze.

* or use 7g sachet of dried yeast, mix with the flour before adding the pumpkin puree.


Peel, remove seeds and dice the pumpkin into 1cm cubes, you need 400g. Cook this without water, either roast or steam. Put in a processor with the oil and puree until smooth. Then allow to cool until just luke warm add the salt and sugar.

If you are using freash yeast mix in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of warm water. Mix the paste into the puree.

Measure the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Spoon in the puree then mix in the flour to make a soft dough. Turn our onto a floured work surface and knead thoroughly for 5 – 10 mins (or 5mins in a mixer on a dough hook.

Shape into a round loaf and put on a baking sheet covered to rise until doubled – about 1 1/2 hours.

Press your thumb into the middle to make small hollow and brush with the egg glaze. Score into segments with a sharp knife then bake in a preheated oven at 200c, 400F or gas 6 for 30 mins, until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack if you can without eating it before it cools (very difficult). It makes a lovely bright orange loaf that looks and taste great.



Country Captain a Dish of Two Continents

I find it interesting how dishes make their way round the world starting off in one country only to be taken up as ‘a local dish’ in other. Take Kedgeree for instance, an dish originating in India, that became a quintessentially English dish and the iconic American Hot Dog, an import from Germany.

Whilst looking for recipes my book, Recipes for an Unknown Kitchen, I found a recipe for Chicken Country Captain  in a hand written recipe book written by a G. Watson, a fabulous find, crammed with recipes and marked through with smudges and grease marks, a book that had been used well, covering a period from 1940s to 1960s.

What an unusual name I thought, looked it up and found that the dish comes from the southern states of America where there are hundreds of different versions and states vie as to where it originated. However it didn’t stop there, it seems that the dish did originate in India finding its way to America where it has been adopted as a classic southern dish.

I found a recipe Country Captain Vegetables in the Indian 1947 edition of Indian Cookery by E. P.  Veerasawmy (also spelt Veeraswamy). Veeraswamy, in Regent Street, is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the UK, opened in 1926.

So here are both recipes in honour of National Curry Week, but which Nation?

Chicken Country Captain

This version is very simple, Anglicised and very tasty. The chilli powder gives it a kick so reduce it to your taste.

4 x chicken portions

100g ghee or vegetable oil

A large sliced onion

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground chilli

½ teaspoon salt


Fry the onion in the ghee or oil depending on your preference until it is crispy and caramelised but not too dark. Remove it from the pan and place on a plate with some kitchen roll to drain. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary then add the turmeric and chilli, fry briefly then add the chicken. Cook on a medium heat to ensure it is cooked through thoroughly, turning it regularly. The cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken portions but cook for about 30 minutes then test. Cook for the first 15 minutes with a lid or cover on the pan then remove it to reduce any liquid. I have also tried this using a tablespoon of the Curry Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen and it works really well. Serve with rice cooked your favourite way and with the onions on top.

Country Captain Vegetables

This is a good way of using up those left over vegetables or the odd collection of vegetables that seem to live in the veg box at the end of the week, any mixture will do.




2lb (1 kg) cooked cold vegetables chopped in chunks of around 2cm.

I large onion, finely sliced (or the equivalent in sliced spring onions)

2 cloves garlic thinly sliced lengthwise.

4 fresh or pickled chillies ( or less depending on the heat you want)

1 dessertspoon of curry powder

1 tablespoon of cooking oil or ghee

I tablespoon vinegar or tamarind water

Salt to taste


Lightly fry the onions and  garlic. Toss the vegetables in a bowl with the curry powder, add the chillies and sprinkle the vinegar over and mix. Add the vegetables to the pan with the onions and garlic and sautee. Salt to taste. Serve with rice and fresh scraped or desicated coconut (optional). Again I have used my own curry powder but use whichever is your favourite.

National Curry Week

As it is National Curry Week I thought it only right to share a few of my favourite curry recipes with you so over the next few days I’ll post them. A bit of a cheat with this first one as I have posted it before but it does deserve to be repeated.

One of the recipes that stood out for me while I was choosing recipes for my book, Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen, was a recipe for a curry powder mix. This came from a hand written notebook from William Sayer started in 1821 and the reason it caught my eye was the inclusion of a spice called Grains of Paradise which I had never heard of before.

So I had to look this up. Grains of paradise are peppery seeds from the Aframomum melegueta plant. They have been used in their native West Africa for centuries, and in Europe since at least the 800s. Today, they are commonly in use in Northern Africa as well, and less abundant in Europe. This spice is also known as alligator pepper, Guinea grains, or melegueta pepper. You can use Fresh ground pepper, sansho powder (prickly ash powder) or cardamom as a substitute. Grains of Paradise come from West Africa, where they grow on a leafy plant and are easily harvested. The name comes from Medieval spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price – it was claimed that these peppery seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Although Grains of Paradise are now fairly rare and expensive, they used to be used as a cheaper substitute for black pepper. They have a zesty flavor reminiscent of pepper, with hints of flowers, coriander and cardamom.

I have recently also come across a book called The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, a marvellous book subtitled ‘The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks’ and lo and behold Grains of Paradise are included:

Amy goes into some detail about the plant but the bit that interested me was how the spice has hopefully solved a problem posed in zoos. Apparently captive western lowland gorillas often suffer from heart disease; in fact it is the cause of death for 40% of them. In the wild, grains of paradise make up 80-90% of their diet. A gorilla health project is now underway to improve the well-being of captive gorillas with grains of paradise.

How fascinating is that?

Meanwhile here is the recipes for the Currie Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen. The Grains of Paradise are the little balls on the right in the picture.

As the original quantities are large I have provided the quantities here to produce just over 400g.


260g Turmeric


6g Cloves

12g Cinnamon

10g Grains of Paradise

95g Coriander Seeds

6g Ground Ginger

10g Cummin Seed

6g Fennel Seed


You can either use pre-ground or whole spices. Grind the whole seeds and spices then add the ready ground spices. Give them a short pulse on the electric grinder or pound carefully in a pestle. Can’t you just smell it now?

Store in air tight containers. As William comments ‘This is the best currie powder I ever used’ It is a medium heat and is used just like any other curry powder. As a marinade and paste for chicken I used 2 tablespoons mixed with 2 crushed cloves of garlic and lemon juice and for a vegetable curry used 1 tablespoon.

Apples Galore – Apple Snow

What to do with all the apples? I have a few favourite recipes that I haul out every year and then I’m looking for new ideas. This is a lovely recipe I found while I was writing Recipes for an Unknown Kitchen and is now on the regular apple recipe list, it is instant comfort food.

Apple Snow (G. R. Moores)

This recipe came from a time when people weren’t worried about eating raw egg white as the topping isn’t cooked. If you are concerned about this you can either make Italian meringue or used cooked meringue to top the dish. As with most home dishes there are a lot of versions of Apple Snow most of which add the meringue to the apple pulp. This is rather like an apple trifle.



3 – 4 trifle sponges or left over cake, 200g cooking apples cored and peeled, Juice of a lemon, 30 g sugar, 100ml water


2 egg yolks, 30g sugar, 300ml milk


2 egg whites, 1 tablespoon sugar


The amount of sponge will depend on the size and shape of the dish you use. Put the sponge in the bottom as for a trifle. Cook the apple with the sugar, lemon juice and water until pulpy. This needs to be fairly liquid to soak the sponge. Cover the sponge with the cooked apple. Make the custard by mixing the egg yolks and sugar, heat the milk and add to the mix. Return to the pan and heat stirring constantly until thickened. Do not boil as the mix might curdle. Pour the custard over the apple. Cool in the fridge for 15 – 30mins. Whisk the egg whites, adding the sugar when the mix has thickened. Continue whisking until it forms small peaks.

Store in the fridge to cool

Alternatively, you can use the easy cook version by using tinned custard and crumble bought meringue over the top, much quicker.

Want a copy of the book? click here

This weekend is Apple Affair at West Dean Gardens a great weekend don’t miss it.

Farewell to an Inspirational Cook

It is with great sadness that I heard the news of the death of Marguerite Patten and today I listened to a recording of an interview with her in 2009 on Woman’s Hour, when she emphasised the importance of her family and her dislike of being called a celebrity chef, if only there were more like her.

Marguerite Patten was known for telling the country how to make the most of rations during World War Two on the BBC radio programme Kitchen Front and went on to present her own TV cookery show for the BBC in 1947. A great cook, she was still writing cookery books into her nineties a marvellous woman, and overall she wrote over 170 books over 70 years!

I first found her recipes when I moved into my first flat in the seventies and was given a copy of Cookery in Colour which helped me no end as a first time cook. Since then I have accumulated more of her books and her book Century of British Cooking was a real source of information about how people cooked and ate when I wrote my book Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen.

My favourite Marguerite Patten recipe? Goulash from 365 Menu Cookbook.

Her last words in the radio interview were as an answer to a question on what would be her main tip for cooks – her answer ‘Don’t show off, just make simple things very well cooked’

Wise words, thank you Marguerite.