book reviews · recipes


Rachel Khoo

On occasion I have succumbed to kitchen envy. Lamenting lack of space, aged appliances and pokey cupboards, it was easy for my eye to travel in an emerald fashion over magazine splashes of the latest designs. If anything was to cure me of this, it was Rachel Khoo and her Little Paris Kitchen. It was and she has.

Have you not yet become acquainted with Rachel, then let me introduce you. Rachel Khoo, an English girl at a tender age, travelled to Paris,without a word of French and enrolled in and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. She lives in a tiny apartment in Paris, from which she runs an even tinier restaurant (one table) and cooks for her guests whatever she feels is most seasonally delightful on the day. From this eventually flowed the BBC2 series The Little Paris Kitchen, where many of us have come to know her well.

The essence of Rachel’s cooking is French at its simplest. Through her series and book, she inspires us to close over the Larousse Gastronomique, and gather a handful of fresh ingredients to turn out delightful French classics – simply. And what snared my interest above all, is that she does it in a space far from cat swinging. A little two burner cooktop and an (almost) camp style oven, along with her basic utensils suspended on a rail above, Rachel’s lovely dishes appear without complication or stress. No imported stone bench tops or European appliances within coo-wee.

Rachel’s book is a beautiful adjunct to the series and is a great place to delve into when it’s time to be reminded of the beauty of the basic. My first LPK recipe was Quiche Lorraine, because I had quite forgotten the charm of eggs, cream and bacon on buttery pastry. Quiches have been overloaded in recent years and it was lovely to enjoy one in its simplest form tonight.

Quiche Lorraine

I’m guessing you’re also keen to relive the memory, so here is Rachel talking you through the Quiche Lorraine recipe from pastry to filling. If you have a little space on the bookshelf and need a bit of a nudge to remember how wonderful simple food really is, then this publication will be a valued acquisition.

The Little Paris Kitchen

Postscript: and I haven’t even begun to tell you about the gorgeous vintage dresses and the smashing red lipstick!

gardening · recipes


Backyard mushrooms

Without prior notice and seemingly from nowhere, a small community of field mushrooms made their recent appearance near the mailbox. When spied by the offspring, topics of discussion ranging from magical creatures (the youngest) to poisonous death (male teen) were triggered. The eldest, who has wisdom (and botanical knowledge) beyond her years, cancelled out both with evidence-based biological explanation and species definition. As the merits of all theories were staunchly argued, my thoughts were galloping in an entirely different direction, one that was leading directly to a beef and mushroom pie.

I’ve never yet met a child who will voluntarily eat a mushroom, and if you know of one this rare phenomenon should be donated to science for DNA cloning, then all further issue would be appreciative of their mother’s cooking. I was one from the genetic masses and could never bear the smell or the taste of the fleshy fungus, yet the mention of a day out ‘mushrooming’ would fill me with excitement. Running along with a bucket or basket and being first to spot a patch was pure delight. Flipping the caps over and waiting for adult confirmation of edibility before cutting and collecting was all part of the process. Sunny days, with a chill in the air, meant coats and red cheeks. Boots of course, as the recent rains responsible for coaxing up those crops had left the paddocks moist and spongy. Happy and weary at the end of it all, but not remotely interested in the catch that some poor individual (my mum) had to clean and slice later that night.

Now I am that cleaning and slicing individual. An individual with an adult palate who adores mushrooms in pies.

A close inspection of your garden or neighbourhood may reveal similar treasures and if they do, here is a wonderful place to stow them:

beef and mushroom pie

2 tbsp olive oil
1kg blade or chuck steak trimmed of fat and cut into 4cm cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
250 ml beef stock
400g can crushed tomatoes
250g mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thickly
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
1 lightly beaten egg to glaze

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pan over medium to high heat. Brown meat in batches. Transfer cooked meat to a plate and set aside.
  2. Add remaining oil to pan over medium heat and add onion, stirring until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the stock and mix in any residue from the base of the pan. Return beef to pan and add tomatoes. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
  4. Stir in the mushrooms and simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes until beef is tender and sauce has thickened.
  5. Transfer mixture to ovenproof pie dish(es) and leave to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Cover the pie(s) with pastry sheets and trim and press edges together. Brush with beaten egg and cut slits in the top to allow steam (and some gravy to escape).
  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden. (Depending on the size of your pie dish of course, this recipe will produce up to two family pies)

field mushrooms

Postscript: and should your garden or your botanical confidence be lacking, it’s a quick, even magical, trip to the local supermarket….



chicken and leek pie

Apart from the usual positives of sharing a roast dinner with the neighbours, another perk came in the form of a new idea. What usually becomes of the remains of a roasted chicken in this house, is sandwiches and dog scraps (in that order). Never has a scrumptious chicken, leek and mushroom pie ever crossed my mind as the finale for these birds.

Fortunately, I have a kitchen savvy pal living right opposite, who was not only quick to point this out, but even speedier to extract the leavings and seal them in an airtight, assuring me they were perfect for such a purpose. As we cleared and reset for dessert, she had rattled off her method, which as I scraped and stacked, I quickly committed to memory. The following night, the family received such pie – a far cry from dog scraps.

If you can keep this plan in mind after your next chicken roast, I am able to attest that the end result is going to be: happy families and disappointed dogs.

1 leek
200g button mushrooms
75g butter
2 tbspn flour
500ml chicken stock
2 big handfuls of shredded cooked chicken
2 sheets puff pastry
milk to brush

  1. Slice leek and mushrooms thinly.
  2. Melt butter in a large frying pan and cook leek and mushrooms until soft.
  3. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. You will have a thick mass.
  4. Gradually add stock, stir and cooking until you have a consistency that you like for your pie filling.
  5. Add the chicken and stir until heated through. At this point season, but be very careful with the salt as sometimes the stock contains enough. Set to one side.
  6. Line the base of your pie dish with one sheet of the pastry and prong it all over with a fork to prevent it rising. Bake in a 180 degree oven until par-cooked (about 10 minutes).
  7. Push down any risen puffed bits on the base and add the pie filling.
  8. Cover with remaining sheet of puff pastry and seal by pinching the edges together all the way around. Lightly score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife and brush with milk. Put the pie back into the oven for a further 20 minutes or until well browned. Serve.

chicken and leek pie filling

Postscript: Don’t forget, if you have a spare moment, post chicken pie, join me over here at the new Plain and Simple Facebook page.



sausage rolls

Party food for dinner – a concept that is greeted very warmly in this household.

Every time I enjoy someone’s homemade sausage rolls – and I have tried some incredibly inventive ones: Thai chicken, turkey, pork and chive – I make a mental note to serve them as a dinner dish, then promptly forget the idea! This week however, sausage rolls mentally materialised whilst planning the weekly meal schedule, so there was some rolling and cutting to be had.

Encapsulating vegetables, meat (and plumped up with grains if you wish), there is no reason to dismiss  these little delights as inappropriate on a nutritional basis. Visiting the local butcher for sausage mince rather than the supermarket, is a must, and we are fortunate enough to have one that produces a delish mix. Don’t take the following how-to too seriously, just put in what you like, bake and enjoy.

1kg sausage mince
2 carrots, grated
1 large onion, grated
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
any fresh herbs you happen to have on hand, finely chopped eg parsley, oregano, thyme
4 sheets puff pastry
milk for brushing pastry
sesame seeds

  1. Mix together (with hands) mince, carrots, onion, egg, salt and pepper and herbs.
  2. Lay out the first pastry sheet and slice in half.
  3. Make two long rolls of the mince mix and lay them down the centre of each half. Brush one long edge with milk and roll the pastry over the mince and seal.
  4. Brush the smooth top with more milk and scatter the sesame seeds over the top.
  5. Slice each log into four pieces.
  6. Repeat this process with the remaining two sheets. (If you have extra mince and pastry, keep going and make as many as you can, because after they have cooked, the sausage rolls freeze well.)
  7. Bake in a 180 degree celsius oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with condiments of your choice.

Postscript: Some serious scoffing took place here, as this batch yielded 32 and none remain standing….