hallelujah! nigel slater's chicken pho soup and bit of a roast chicken revelation!

Nigel Slater's chicken pho soup
You may have been aware of my recent tribulations when my taste buds took a bit of an involuntary sabbatical. I was beside myself, they hadn't even left a forwarding address. I'm not entirely sure where they went nor what they did. Curses!

I can only hope that they had better have enjoyed themselves and that it was all worth it; (perhaps with the taste bud equivalent of louche living and dancing on the tables) because god knows I was miserable without them!

a quick midweek supper: sausage and roasted fennel stew

sausage and roasted fennel stew
For me flattery is when someone requests one of my recipes or meals. It makes me absurdly happy. So last weekend's request for my Sunday lunch accompaniment of roasted fennel stew had me doing a little dance of glee on the inside. For years I was convinced that fennel was an acquired taste; now that I have decided that fennel is a taste that I have acquired it gives me a lot of pleasure that I can introduce friends to the flavours I have started to enjoy and the fact that they seem to like these flavours too is a definite bonus!

the best things in life are free . . . wild leek potato cakes

wild leek potato cakes
I don't know if Bing, Satchmo, Billie, Tony, Doris, June or my favourite Mills Brothers were much into their food or even foraging but when they sang "the best things in life are absolutely free . . ." Perhaps the writers of Pennies from Heaven, Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke had something else on their mind. But for me it really sums up foraging in my back garden for the dreaded invasive wild leeks which can be quickly turned into a delicious meal, whether it is the main ingredient in pesto, stirred through pasta or in a meaty stew or roasted with the Sunday joint.

intermission: ahem . . . your attention please!

Musical notation photo by Marja Flick-Buijs
Do you like to sing in the bath or shower? Do you warble while you work? Are you passionate about music? Would you like the thrill of singing in a lovely, local choir?

Vox Holloway, a community choir in north London, is starting rehearsals of The Prophet by Harvey Brough, based on the Khalil Gibran book. We are looking for new members.

Rehearsals start Tuesday 23 April, 7.30pm, St Luke's Church, Hillmarton Rd, N7. All are welcome, no auditions, no previous experience required!

stir-fried sambal matah prawns and tenderstem® broccoli

stir-fried sambal prawns with
tenderstem broccoli
So often you come home from a hard day at the coalface (or in my case, slaving over a hot laptop in my study) and really can't be bothered to cook. It is so tempting to let someone else do the work by ordering a takeaway. Yet this quick stir fry takes less time to cook than it does to order and wait for a takeaway to arrive. It is simple, healthy (packed full of Vitamin C) and utterly delicious; full of fragrant Asian flavours. This was also a good way for me to put some of my sambal matah to good use - a fragrant combination of chilli, lime, garlic and lemongrass is the perfect match for prawns and broccoli.

Vaughan Thomas' sambal matah

Indonesian sambal matah
I do love a good chilli sambal and there are as many different sambal recipes across Asia as there are days of the year. Oh where to start? (Although in my case . . . where to stop!)

But I should really start at the beginning. I had started to follow a blog by an ex-pat Welshman, the eponymous Vaughan Thomas, who now lives in Indonesia and who charmingly blogs at Tales from Paddyview about life in the Far East. He very kindly offered me this authentic Balinese sambal recipe, which includes both shrimp paste and lemongrass.

the meatball magnate's prawn balls with vietnamese noodle soup - random recipe #27

The Bowler's spicy prawn balls with Vietnamese vegetable noodle soup
I feel the same way about books as I do about food - I like to explore, have adventures and I have a huge appetite. Unfortunately, like my waistline, my house is not a Tardis and there is only a finite amount of space for books. It was becoming ridiculous. I had moved house in order to accommodate my growing library. I had to make a very harsh choice and a lot of my books just had to go.

from ennui to delight: ottolenghi's hot and sour mushroom soup

Yotam Ottolenghi's hot and sour
mushroom soup
I associate a loss of appetite with Victorian invalid food. Blimey, a diet of bread and milk, beef tea and calves foot jelly would have been less likely to allow me to develop an "interesting" condition and more likely to have me fighting fit in a trice; anything to avoid having to eat such nastiness. That's not to say that I don't agree with Mrs Beeton's assertion that "gruel served in a tumbler is more appetising than when served in a basin or cup and saucer". What she fails to mention is that the tumbler should be empty and the gruel should be nowhere in sight!

a "normal-service-has-been-resumed" sausage sandwich with honey-mustard caramelised onions

sausage sandwich with honey-mustard
caramelised onions
A big part of my life has been missing recently. Not in a lost-in-action kind of a way, just "gone". My default position as food obsessive had changed, so no longer was I eating, dreaming, reading, singing and talking my way through all things food. I had, I am afraid to say, completely lost my appetite.

what's in season: april

purple spring crocus
Side by side through the streets at midnight,
Roaming together,
Through the tumultuous night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.

Roaming together under the gaslight,
Day’s work over,
How the Spring calls to us, here in the city,
Calls to the heart from the heart of a lover!