a formula for happiness: everything-bar-the-kitchen-sink potato cakes

potato and vegetable cakes
Another fabulous way to love your leftovers is by making hearty fried potato and vegetable cakes. I have to confess that if you fry them, then they are not for the calorie-conscious but I'm guessing you're starting that healthy eating regime in 2013.

By combining an equal amount of leftover cooked potato with vegetables, you have a great base for a breakfast with bacon and eggs or a perfect lunch with smoked salmon.

We recently had some with our Balinese-style duck curry, with a little extra curry spicing in the potato mix. But my absolute all-time favourite addition to potato cakes is a healthy dollop of leftover cauliflower cheese.

a chance to love those christmas leftovers! balinese-style curry (with roast duck)

Balinese-style curry with roast duck
It makes sense to me that when London skies are leaden, when we are morosely peering through a damp grey mist and remembering fondly, through our rose-tinted glasses, last year's White Christmas, that what I really want to eat is food laden with south east Asian spices. Perfect warm-you-up and kick-you-into-action spicy sense.

Most people I know find the thought of leftovers, especially Christmas leftovers, profoundly depressing. I don't know whether there is something wrong with me, or just because I am constantly worrying about where my next meal is coming from, but I love the challenge. And to be honest, finding a good use for roasted meat isn't really much of predicament.

tri-fle: (noun) a small thing of little value or importance

Black Forest Trifle
with leftover Christmas pud!

Is it too early to be thinking about Christmas leftovers? (It is never too early for me.) So I just wanted to give you a heads up on an easy but delicious way to use up any leftover Christmas pudding or cake. Personally I think it might actually be nicer than the main event!

This is a very flexible recipe – I used kirsch to moisten the pudding because that’s what I had – but you could use any booze or liqueur. Cointreau of Calvados would work a treat too.

I also had some black cherries preserved in brandy, these topped the pudding, together with cream, clementine zest and some grated chocolate. (If I had had some frozen autumn fruit berries, they would have been rather nice instead.)

pigs in blankets - not just for christmas

Pigs in Blankets with Christmas spices
Pigs in Blankets are one of the traditional accompaniments to the British Christmas roast turkey. Since I am not a fan of turkey, at Christmas or any other time of the year, the pigs in blankets are often the best thing about Christmas dinner. Harsh but true.

Intensely savoury and moreish, I find Pigs in Blankets irresistible.

nigel slater's mincemeat cheesecake

Nigel Slater's mincemeat cheesecake
I am looking for a fitting use for my very last jar of 2011's homemade mincemeat. Whether I am looking for inspiration, rescue or just a good read, I turn to Nigel Slater. His latest book, Kitchen Diaries II contains a recipe for mincemeat cheesecake (and the recipe can be found here on The Guardian newspaper website).

It looked rather nice, but I have a teensy problem with baked cheesecakes. I have just never made one successfully. Everything is alright until the cheesecake goes in the oven. At which point the damned thing makes a bid for a freedom and oozes out from the bottom of the tin leaving me with a mess of soggy biscuit and an oven to clean. I am grumpy, frustrated and hungry.

christmas baking: chocolate yule log biscuits

chocolate yule log biscuits
If you were to believe Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott or any number of Victorian Christmas cards or advertising posters, England was awash at Christmas with snow dusted baronial halls, while well-fed and happy peasants lugged large oak logs towards welcoming roaring fires, watched over by benevolent robin redbreasts. (As something of a peasant myself, I certainly doubt the veracity of this picture of happy lugging!)

christmas baking: vanilla crescents (vanillekipferl)

Christmas vanilla crescents
I first saw these vanilla biscuits in a festive German Christmas market some years ago. At first glance, these vanilla crescents looked a bit pale and anaemic, and dare I say it, a bit flavourless.

Certainly uninteresting when compared to my favourite Christmas spice biscuits, packed full of fragrant spices.

That was how I felt until I took my first bite and realised that appearances are so very, very deceptive. Pale they may be, but they are definitely not dreary.

a lazy girl's supper: noodles with spicy spring onion sauce

Noodles with spicy spring onion sauce a
nd Thai fish cakes
I have been in a bit of a baking frenzy few the past few days - awash with Christmas spices and pondering over what to cook on Christmas day; (just the record, it won't be turkey!) As a result, I don't much feel like cooking. It's on days like this that I need a self-assembly kind of meal.

This uncooked sauce can be put together in less time than it takes to boil and drain the noodles - about five minutes. Although it does taste much better if you set aside the sauce for all the flavours to get to become acquainted for 20 minutes or so.

christmas baking: mantecados (spanish shortbread biscuits)

mantecados (Spanish sweet lard biscuits)
If you don't or can't eat lard, or perhaps you are on a diet, then please look away now!

This is a recipe for the crumbliest shortest biscuits that you will have ever had the good fortune to taste, all thanks to the fat of the ever generous pig.

Mantecados are a Spanish shortbread biscuit, traditionally served at Christmas. You've probably seen these little biscuits wrapped in pastel coloured tissue paper and wondered what they were. I was inspired to make them after reading one of my favourite food blogs, written by Rupert, who is the owner and chef at Casa Rosada, a smart B+B on the Algarve in Portugal

christmas baking: a delicious stollen recipe

Fragrant Christmas stollen
It is something of an understatement to say that I love stollen as an alternative to Christmas cake: I simply adore it. And why wouldn't you love a buttery sugar-coated fruit loaf fragrant with Christmas spices?

something for the weekend: roasted paprika chicken with black pudding and cannellini beans

roast chicken with rosemary and smoked paprika
Is it too early to be thinking about Sunday lunch? For me, it is never too early. Like Winnie-the-Pooh, I am always game for a little spot of something and often fretting where my next meal is coming from. So what are we going to cook for Sunday lunch?

a quick midweek curry: malaysian-style chicken curry

easy Malaysian-style chicken curry
This Malaysian-style curry is wonderfully scented, quite hot, and a little creamy. It is the perfect way to use up any leftover chicken from Sunday's roast.

I like to make my own curry spice mixes, but there are some really good ones out there. If you are looking for a Malay spice mix, then you really need a sweet curry blend that includes aniseed flavours, including star anise and fennel - this is what sets a Malaysian curry apart from an Indian one.

roasted parsnips with gingerbread magic cookie dust!

roasted parsnips with magic cookie dust!
(or gingerbread crumbs)
I wasn't kidding when I said I had found all sorts of uses for my magic cookie dust (or the ginger biscuit crumbs I had whizzed up after almost burning a load of ginger biscuits).

Some years ago at a restaurant in New York whose name I have forgotten, our meal came with a few roasted parsnips sprinkled with gingerbread crumbs. The parsnips were fabulous - not surprising since they have a total affinity for spices such as nutmeg and ginger.

how to fix a baking disaster - make magic cookie dust!

Magic cookie dust
Another day, another baking disaster. Welcome to my world.

These days I don't panic, although there is usually quite a lot of swearing involved and occasionally the quaffing of cooking sherry, to aid the recovery process. But usually I don't panic too much. 

I had made the dough for some
spicy ginger biscuits. The dough was chilling and I had just put my oven on to pre-heat. My wits were wondering again; although to be fair, I think I should be blaming Eddie Mair, the Radio 4 journalist. He has an awful lot to answer for.

me derby kell is well and truly stuffed! slow roasted beef brisket in ale with carrots and mushrooms - with Adnam's Broadside

where's the beef?
(carrots, mushrooms and beefy ale!)
There is an old music hall song from the early 1900s with the catchy refrain of "boiled beef and carrots", which was song by the Cockney artiste, Harry Champion (of "Any Old Iron" , "I'm Henery the Eighth, I am" and my favourite "A Little Bit of Cucumber").

christmas baking:traditional bread pudding (or my cheat's christmas pud! )

traditional British bread pudding
(or my cheat's guide to Christmas pud!
A Best of British blog challenge!
These days if you say "bread pudding" most people assume you are talking about "bread and butter pudding" - layers of sliced stale bread, dotted with dried fruits and butter, and soaked in a custard sauce, before baking. While bread pudding is another member of the frugal baking club as it is made with breadcrumbs and dried fruit, it is actually more like a cake than a pudding and is, to my mind, even nicer.

christmas baking: kruidnoten (dutch christmas spice biscuits)

kruidnoten: Dutch Christmas spice cookies
I have never met a spice biscuit that I didn’t like and these little cookies are an absolute treat. While these cookies are popular in the Netherlands at Christmas, they are packed full of all the spices that we like in Britain too.

I suspect though that these kruidnoten are probably strictly for the grownups as despite the sugar and golden syrup they aren’t actually very sweet. They are fragrantly spiced with a distinctly peppery flavour and a hint of bitterness coming from the cocoa powder. Which I imagine, if you have children, means all the more for you!

winter warming pea and parsnip soup with bacon

pea and parsnip soup
I have mentioned before, that while I adore parsnips, I am not always convinced by parsnip soups awash with curry spices, although Nigel Slater's spicy parsnip soup is one of my absolute favourites. I was on a mission to create a parsnip soup recipe that didn't include the usual suspects.

Did you know that peas and parsnips are kissing cousins in the world of flavour compounds? No me neither. But it turns out that they both contain one of those completely unpronounceable compounds, which accounts for their affinity with each other. (OK, its 3-sec-butyl-2-methoxypyrazine - aren't you glad you asked!)

what's in season: december

winter cherry tomatoes!
How did it get so late so soon?
Its night before its afternoon.
December is here before its June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?

Dr Seuss, 1904-1991

You may be wondering why I am illustrating this seasonal December post with a photograph of cherry tomatoes. What have tomatoes got to do with December in England? Nothing usually. However, I found these tiny little tomatoes when I was clearing away some garden debris destined for the compost heap. As I saw the flashes of red through the mound of branches and leaves, I thought they might be some kind of berry and decided to pull them out to feed the birds. Except they turned out to be cherry tomatoes. I didn’t even know I was growing these cherry tomatoes, which I managed to save from the first frosts of winter. I love these kinds of surprises, especially in the dying days of November.