thai-style tuna fishcakes

Thai-style tuna fishcakes
These little fish cakes explode with the flavours of south east Asia – garlic, galangal, chilli, lime and lemongrass. Mine may not be particularly authentic, but they are quick and easy to make and taste delicious with a bowl of ginger-spring onion or chilli noodles, or a spicy noodle soup. They also make a fabulous party nibble with a chilli or soy dipping sauce.

how to fix a baking disaster: bread and butter pudding

bread and butter pudding
In the scheme of things, flooding, war, hurricanes or volcanic eruptions, my baking misfortune is hardly a disaster. But in the sense that things in my kitchen took a decided turn for the worse, it was a definite catastrophe!

I had found a recipe for a yeasted fruit loaf that I thought might be seasonally festive. It was based on a recipe found in an unpublished 18th century manuscript and was crammed full of dried fruit and spices. So far, so good. I did think that it was more a case of a lot of fruit held together by a little sweet dough, but hey ho.

sambal: what is it? (a clue - not a style of music, dance or a football player!)

my sambal condiment
Every so often I take a photograph that I really like. It’s never because of any technical artistry (because I haven’t any), but usually because of the colours. Yesterday’s posting on Hainanese chicken and rice with condiments is the perfect example of something I liked that you didn't get to see. I posted a picture of the whole dish and in the corner you can see a shallow bowl of sambal. The food was photographed outside (largely because I still haven’t got the hang of indoor photography). But it was cold and windy outside, so it was literally a case of point, click and run inside with the tray of food as quickly as possible. Brrrr!

hainanese chicken rice - proud to be a random recipe!

Hainanese chicken rice
I'm feeling a bit lucky right now. One of my favourite lucky numbers has always been 22. l like the symmetry of it but it is also the day of my birth. So when Dominic at Belleau Kitchen announced that this month's Random Recipes was to be based on the day of your birth. It is also the 22nd Random Recipe competition, so since that is my birthday it rather kicked me into action. (I wish I could say I was 22 years old, but that boat has sailed!)

time to make christmas mincemeat (it's almost stir-up sunday)

Christmas mincemeat 2012
Just in case you may have forgotten, this Sunday (25th November) is Stir-Up Sunday, which according to tradition is the last day to make mincemeat and puddings; giving them time to mature and be ready for Christmas. So this is a little reminder to check your cupboards for supplies and make sure you have everything you need. And if you have never made it before, all I can say is, give it a go. It is very, very simple to assemble (no cooking required) and the end results are delicious.

Since in past years, I have been a little lazy about this, both last year and this year I have decided to get my act together and have already made mine. (I'm not being smug, just relieved that I managed to get organised in time!)

what do you get when you cross celeriac rémoulade with coleslaw? a wonderful winter salad

celeriac winter salad
The King of the One-Liner, Henny Youngman's advice "If you're going to do something tonight that you'll be sorry for tomorrow morning, sleep late" has been a personal code of practice of mine for many years, but last Sunday I had absolutely no excuse for oversleeping, sadly, except for sheer laziness.

But when I woke up I had that sinking sense of something important is supposed to be happening and I can’t remember what it is, accompanied by a heart-in-mouth feeling. I looked at my clock, blanched, leapt out of bed and hurtled to the kitchen in my jammies to wrestle a very large bird from fridge to oven, without any of the usual niceties.

seoul food: bulgogi (korean barbecued beef)

bulgogi: Korean barbecued beef
For me, New Malden's greatest contribution to the culture of this nation has been the classic Reginald Iolanthe Perrin's excuse for being late for work, which was "Twenty-two minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden."

But it turns out that New Malden has another claim to fame - it is the centre of the UK's Korean community. It seems a bit odd to me that while there are Koreatowns around the world, from Toronto to Los Angeles, from Sydney to New York, as well as in Brazil and Argentina. Koreans have come to Britain and settled in New Malden, which although it is some ten miles south of London, is hardly a bustling metropolis. New Malden developed with the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century. In fact, New Malden is surrounded by rail and roads (all the easier to leave it) and for people like me, it is just a place that you travel through on the train.

chilli ginger biscuits with extra spice oomph

chilli and ginger biscuits
"One of the minor pleasures in life is to be slightly ill,” said Harold Nicolson, diplomat, politician, writer and husband of Vita Sackville-West. I can only agree. When I have been feeling slightly under the weather, there is nothing I like so much as retreating to my cave (or under the duvet), much like a hibernating bear. Of course, unlike the bear, I still feel a need to eat, even if I cannot taste too much.

for foolish fribbles and other cheese eaters: macaroni cheese with slow-roasted tomatoes

macaroni cheese
Macaroni cheese is the ultimate in comfort food; I have yet to find anyone in the UK who doesn't have happy childhood memories of bubbling macaroni cheese.

Macaroni cheese has been popular in the UK since 17th century; it was clearly an English attempt to recreate an Italian pasta dish. In fact, macaroni became so fashionable that by the 18th century the word "macaroni" was used as a slang term to describe the aristocratic fops and fribbles in their preposterous pasta shaped wigs. (This may have derived from the fact that the word "maccherone" is Italian for "buffoon").

scandinavian sweet buns

Scandinavian sweet bun
When I tried to analyse why I love crime fiction so much, I knew that it wasn't because I am particularly blood-thirsty or just that I like a good mystery. What I like about a well-written novel or character is the way that they can bring a city or society to life and what lies beneath the surface. 

One of the reasons why I have fallen for the whole Nordic Noir thing is that this is a region that I know little about and a good Scandinavian thriller gives a real insight into these countries and the people.

asian-inspired flavours: spicy marinated chicken in a parcel with chorizo and mushrooms

chicken and chorizo
with asian flavours
When I was a kid I loved food that broke the rules; from Vichyssoise soup (because it was cold), to Spaghetti Bolognese (because I got to swap my cutlery around - holding a fork in my right hand). When we moved to Malaysia when I was seven years old, I was able to add another dish to my growing love of rule breaking meals. To my ordered little mind, cooking chicken in a parcel with sausage seemed beautifully rebellious.What? Chicken and pig together; is it allowed?

I would like to think that my fascination was also a nascent delight in intensely flavoured food, but since I had also enjoyed the pleasures of the A+W, an American drive-in that served fried chicken-in-a-basket with curly fries, I suspect it was purely the novelty. A few years later, when I was introduced to the concept of"surf 'n turf my little mind was well and truly blown!

a classic cauliflower cheese (and a plea for tolerance!)

traditional cauliflower cheese
This is a post about a classic British recipe but it is also a rather clunky plea for tolerance. When politicians and commentators are banging on about the evils of immigration, there are several reasons why I think they are wrong. And one of my favourite reasons is (probably a little selfishly knowing my tastes) what immigration has done for British food. It has only improved it. Go back 100 years and you will find that there were Jewish bakeries and delis, curry houses and Chinese restaurants. What I bet you didn't know is that immigration's effect on British food and agriculture goes back much, much further.

Dorothy Hartley's Food in England and a fabulous documentary

Dorothy Hartley's
Food in England
It goes without saying that I have loved food all my life. I have loved history for nearly as long. I still remember my light bulb moment when at the age of four, I was plonked down in front of an afternoon television programme, which in the old days was all Open University educational programming. I sat completely mesmerised in front of a documentary about underwater archaeology and have been hooked on history ever since. It took me much longer to put the two passions of food and history together, but since my late 20s I have been following the trail of what we eat, how and why and have savoured every minute of it.

granola, hazelnut and dark chocolate cookies

granola, hazelnut and dark chocolate cookies
I am not much of a granola for breakfast type of gal, perhaps I should be. Mornflake's pouch of oatbran granola is full of good things - as well as the oatflakes and toasted oatbran, it contains a mix of nuts and seeds, including almonds, pecan nuts and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Since I don't much fancy nuts and seeds for breakfast, I thought the granola might make a rather good biscuit, and if I say so myself, I wasn't wrong. Big buttery crisp cookies full of crushed nuts, seeds and chocolate. Almost enough to make me feel healthy . . .

tips: parmesan or pecorino rinds

slow-cooked Parmesan rind
for added flavour
Continuing with top tips and fabulous facts blog posts, here's a tip and quite a good one at that and it involves old cheese. Not any old cheese and certainly not beautifully aged cheese. No, what you are looking for is that dog end of Parmesan or my favourite Pecorino rind, (or perhaps Manchego or other very hard cheese). I am talking about the last bit of rind, where the cheese has been so far grated that to grate any more would lose the skin on your knuckles.

the easiest loaf of bread ever

a simple white loaf
Since I have been writing this blog, I have sat down several times and started to write about my love of baking bread and why I think everyone should at least give it a go once in their lives. The problem is that every time I do this, I get completely bogged down with different types of bread, kneading techniques, proofing, the history, types of yeast, flour and the science. It's the bread baking equivalent of not being able to see the wood for the trees. (Insert own grain-related analogy here.)

traditional yorkshire parkin

The Victorians, great mythologisers of British history and traditions, made parkin on Guy Fawkes Night - a fiery treat to eat around the bonfire. Traditional parkin is an unusual cake in that it benefits from ageing. It is considered sacrilege to eat it fresh, unless hot from the oven with lashings of custard! The flavours marry well together and the ageing helps the cake to become moist and sticky as well as softening the harsh liquorice flavour of dark treacle.

So an apology, if you were planning on eating parkin today (Bonfire Night), you've left it too late. Ooops. However, if you make the cake today, it will be ready in a week and it is worth the wait.

what's in season: november

The Elf and the Dormouse
Ink Cap toadstools - possibly!
Not sure but I definitely won't be eating them!
Under a toadstool crept a wee Elf,
Out of the rain to shelter himself.
Under the toadstool, sound asleep,
Sat a big Dormouse all in a heap.

Trembled the wee Elf, frightened and yet
Fearing to fly away lest he get wet.
To the next shelter—maybe a mile!
Sudden the wee Elf smiled a wee smile.

Tugged till the toadstool toppled in two.
Holding it over him, gaily he flew.

Soon he was safe home, dry as could be.
Soon woke the Dormouse —"Good gracious me!
"Where is my toadstool?" loud he lamented.

— And that's how umbrellas first were invented.
 Oliver Herford, 1863–1935