mulled cranberry and orange relish

mulled cranberry and orange relish
I love the way that recipes can be passed along generations, and across continents and cultures. A few years ago, an American friend of mine introduced me to the joys of her family's cranberry relish recipe. Her version used raw ground cranberries and oranges and it was very nice indeed. I decided to make a cooked version with spices, for a more Christmassy feel, which has become a new tradition in my family on this side of the pond.

orange milk liqueur a.k.a. baby jesus wee!

Christmas orange milk liqueur (a.k.a. Baby Jesus Wee!)
I should have posted this much earlier, because in theory you should be drinking this to toast the Baby Jesus. But if you get in quick, you'll have time to raise a glass or two on New Year's Eve. But if I'm honest, it actually a rather lovely drink all year around, with just four main ingredients; vodka, milk. oranges and sugar.
I made this last year and it was so good, so that I've made an even bigger batch of "Baby Jesus Wee" for this Christmas. My neighbour commented that perhaps she wouldn't be serving it to her vicar, although apparently he has a great sense of humour, so perhaps he'll be lucky enough to get some. It is divine mixed with Prosecco as a Christmas cocktail.

roast butternut squash salad with pomegranate and tahini dressing

roast butternut squash salad with pomegranate and tahini dressing
A spicy, sweet and sour roasted squash salad topped with tangy cheese, crunchy hazelnuts and beautiful jewel-like pomegranate seeds. It is simple yet sumptuous and the perfect autumn salad.

urap: indonesian cooked vegetable salad with coconut and lime dressing

urap: indonesian cooked vegetable salad with coconut and lime dressing
It's that time of year when you start wondering about what to wear. Is it cold enough to wear a coat? If I wear my coat will I be too hot? If I don't, will I be too cold? And the perennial question of what to eat for supper ... do I have a salad? (I love salads.) But it is chilly at night, perhaps I should cook up some greens; something a little more autumnal?

rice porridge for breakfast: congee, juk or babur

rice porridge for breakfast: congee, juk or babur
I'm up with the birds this morning, together with Mia, my elderly cat, who meows imperiously at me to be let out the back door and into the garden. (We don't have a cat flap; I act as the cat's personal concierge. It is a thankless but necessary task.) Seconds later the cat is meowing scratchily to be allowed back in. She sinuously scurries in through the small gap that I have opened up, skids to a halt and scolds me with a reproving look that says "Why did you let me outside when it is so cold?" "Hey, you're the one with a fur coat," I say. "I'm the one freezing in my jammies, waiting on you." "And your point?" says the cat haughtily. "Enough of this frivolous conversation. Feed me. Now."

turkish poached eggs in yogurt (cilbir)

Turkish poached eggs in yogurt (cilbir)
I have a feeling that when I meet new people I have barely got the social niceties out of the way before I am grilling them on their favourite foods. Omer was no exception, as he told me about cilbir, a Turkish egg and yogurt dish, his favourite comfort food from childhood. Sadly, something got a bit lost in translation as Omer's passionate defence of gloopy eggs in a sour yogurt sauce sounded, frankly, revolting. But then Omer isn't much of a cook and hadn't actually cooked it himself. And in trying to get firmer details, I struggled as my Turkish is non-existent too.

burn baby burn (or heathcliffe's chilli burn odyssey: a cautionary tale)

dried chillies, used for illustrative purposes only!
What do you do when one of your dearest friends phones with a problem? Of course you listen, while trying to work out whether they are laughing or crying, and try to make sense of the stream-of-conscious excitable babble from the other end of the phone. You're a good friend, and a shoulder to cry on when necessary. Except, of course, this time you can't help and you are desperately trying not to guffaw with laughter.

what's in season: october

windfall apples, October 2015
Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

vietnamese chicken noodle soup (pho)

 Vietnamese chicken noodle soup (pho)
That I love Asian noodles I think is probably a given. A Vietnamese-style pho (pronounced "fuh") is one of my favourite meals, especially if I have any leftover roast meat to use up. So if you're thinking ahead to Sunday's roast chicken lunch, think how good Monday's supper will be (particularly if you use the carcass to make a stock).

halloumi tikka (squeaky cheese in a spicy yogurt marinade!)

grilled halloumi tikka
This year's BBQ season was somewhat short-lived, which is a bit of shame as I didn't have many opportunities to roll out one of my BBQ favourites, halloumi tikka. Fortunately though, you don't have to wait until the temperature rises and the sun comes out. It works perfectly well under the grill or in a hot pan.

salmon and blackberry salad with blackberry dressing

salmon and blackberry salad with blackberry dressing
I had this glorious Chinese-style blackberry sauce on a piece of salmon recently. It's sweet and tart and, if I say so myself, utterly divine. The sauce actually works rather well with grilled chicken too. I suspect it would be lovely with pork chops too.

turkish-style cucumber and tomato soup

turkish-style cucumber and tomato soup
So much for the expected heatwave. Oh well, I love this simple soup, which is slightly tart and refreshing on a hot day (rain or not and rather nice at the end of summer too. Don't be deceived by its somewhat sludgy appearence!

Goat's cheese and blackberry salad with blackberry vinaigrette

Goat's cheese and blackberry salad with blackberry vinaigrette
I live a simpler life these days. Part of it is a case of cutting my coat according to my cloth. Part is wanting to live a more sustainable life. I suppose my priorities have changed and these days I just don't feel a sense of envy for the things I don't have (mainly my lack of designer shoes!).

what's in season: september

wild brambles (about 20 feet from my front door!)
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

a zesty beluga lentil and roasted tomato salad with herbs

a zesty beluga lentil and roasted tomato salad with herbs
I love the taste and texture of beluga (black) lentils, so-called for their supposed resemblance to caviar. Admittedly, when wet, the lentils seem to glisten like caviar fish eggs. But sadly, I find that they do lose their intense black colour during cooking. But brown or not, it really doesn't matter as they still taste good. If you can't get hold of beluga lentils then use Puy or French green lentils (which won't disintegrate during cooking).

tamarind and honey prawns (assam prawns)

 tamarind and honey prawns (assam prawns)
I've used Malaysian tastes for my influence with this marinade. Nothing could be simpler, just sweet with honey and bold with the sour taste of tamarind. It is lovely with prawns but very good with chicken too.

too hot to cook? zhejiang "drunken" chicken is the solution

Zheijang "drunken" chicken
The only downside of having a kitchen that faces south is that during the hot weather it can approach furnace-like temperatures, despite the fact that I leave the back door open while I am cooking. I find myself either cooking less or cooking things that can be prepared ahead of time, when the temperatures are a bit cooler, either late in the evening or early in the morning.

fresh coconut and coriander chutney

coconut and coriander chutney
One of my favourite chutneys or relishes is this one to accompany curries or dosas. Fresh and nutty, it zings with flavour. It is also rather good stuffed into wraps or sandwiches. Although quite often it doesn't even make it that far as I will eat the lot with a spoon! Unlike some chutneys, this doesn't require any cooking as all the ingredients are raw and it should be eaten soon after preparing, not that that is any hardship.

what's in season: august

a red pepper dragonfly!
Crimson pepper pod
add two pairs of wings, and look
darting dragonfly.
Basho 1644-94

I was ambling around the internet looking for some poetry inspiration to introduce this month's roundup of seasonal produce. Basho's haiku on the subject of red peppers and dragonfly wings really rather tickled me. His haikus are a joy and still speak vibrantly down the centuries.

northern chinese (shandong) style asparagus

 northern chinese (shandong) style asparagus
Asparagus doesn't appear much on Chinese menus, apart from in the northern region of Shandong, where asparagus is actually grown. I've kept things simple with the salty-savoury flavours of soy and sesame. They work perfectly.

malaysian crispy prawn fritters (cucur udang) with a sweet chilli dipping sauce

malaysian crispy prawn fritters (cucur udang) with a sweet chilli dipping sauce
There are many food bloggers who have a specific focus. While I suspect I am equally obsessive about food, I have always found it difficult to concentrate on one type of ingredient or cuisine. I always wanted to be a general practitioner rather than a specialist.

summer garden rice salad with preserved lemon dressing

summer garden rice salad with preserved lemon dressing
I have to confess that I approach rice salads with caution. I think it is because they remind me of school or office canteen salads where the cooks have a load of leftover rice and vegtables and a lack of imagination. They bung a load of gloopy vinaigrette over the sticky over-cooked mess and serve it up. Yuk!

celebrate national hotdog day with a chicago dog with the works

a chicago dog with the works
Much as I love and am curious about history, it seems that as far as family history goes that for the first twenty years of my life I wasn't asking the right questions. I only found out a few months before my Irish grandmother's death that she had actually been brought up in New York, only returning to Ireland at 15 just before the outbreak of World War 1, before running away to England to seek her fortune. "Why didn't you tell me?" I wailed. "I didn't think you'd be interested," she said somewhat bemused. Argh! I am so disappointed that I lost the opportunity to perhaps get a little closer to my grandmother and to learn what living in one of the most exciting cities at the beginning of the 20th century was like.

mul naengmyun: korean cold buckwheat noodle soup with beef

korean cold buckwheat noodle soup with beef (mul naengmyun)
Years ago, working in New York I loved the fact that my office in Manhattan was within toddling distance of Koreatown and lots of interesting places to have lunch or dinner. I was intrigued by the fact that many of the restaurants would have displays of fake plastic food in the windows so you could tell what kind of food they sold. As somone who has always adored kitsch, it was often difficult me to leave these restaurants without a piece of plastic food as a souvenir.

korean-style radish and chilli pickle

korean-style radish and chilli pickle
I love Asian pickles and I don't think there's much that can't be improved by a little jolt of chilli, including this utterly simple Korean-style radish pickle. Of course, you can leave the chilli out. But why would you want to?

buffalo wings with blue cheese dip

buffalo wings
About 20 years ago I was seconded to the New York office of the UK company I worked for. I wish I could tell you that I spent my free time enjoying the art galleries and museums, and going to poetry readings. Sadly, I educated myself in low culture, exploring New York's nightlife with considerable enthusiasm. Some of my favourite watering holes sold bar snacks (all the better to make you drink more, not that I needed much encouragement), and one of my favourites was buffalo wings, named for the northern city they are supposed to have originated from.

what's in season: july

pink gooseberries from my garden - July 2015
We are having a heatwave and at the moment my garden feels a little tropical. It is not just because of the riot of colour from masses of towering hollyhocks that have self-seeded, but but a small pandemonium of ring-necked parakeets roosting in both mine and my neighbours' gardens. While very pretty, in shades of green and a hint of pink, they are, not to put too fine a point on it, bloody noisy.

onions braised in cider

onions braised in cider
Last Sunday, we had pork collar and I served these slow-roasted onions, braised in cider and topped with cheesy breadcrumbs as an accompaniment. I've just had a request for this Sunday too. I do love it when a recipe goes down well; everyone is happy!

roasted carrots with crème fraîche and harissa dressing

roasted carrots with crème fraîche and harissa dressing
It's June in England, where we are caught in that strange limbo over what to eat and what to wear. That might sound a bit odd, but you never know whether it is a time for fresh summer salads or warming winter casseroles. T-shirts or woollens? Flip-flops or galoshes? June's weather is so very often quite capricious. Two days ago, it was sweltering heat in London. Today it is grey and overcast; it feels like autumn. But this side dish of roasted carrots with harissa and crème fraîche seems to me to be the perfect compromise, since the fresh tart flavour of crème fraîche combines beautifully with sweet roasted carrots and toasty cumin and warming cinnamon. It is perfect, whatever the weather.

what's in season: june

a june rose from my garden
My garden is lush at the moment, overgrown with rampant roses, honeysuckle and elderflowers. I know I should probably have cut them back, but they do look so wild and pretty. (Although in my defence I have developed carpaI tunnel syndrome over the past few years, and sometimes it is just too painful to do any proactive gardening. This is also one of the reasons why I haven't been cooking or blogging much over the past few months, as I have had problems handling cooking utensils. It has just been far too dangerous!)

chargrilled asparagus with tomato, mint, chilli and lemon dressing

chargrilled asparagus with tomato, mint, chilli and lemon dressing
Yikes! Time is running out; the British asparagus season is so damned short, although perhaps that's what makes it all the more sweeter for asparagus lovers such as me. Frankly, I just can't get enough, which is why I am posting yet another asparagus recipe. Officially the season runs until late June, so I need to cram in as much of the good stuff as I can.

a little home-grown silliness; chargrilled courgettes, leeks and asparagus with lemon and walnuts

chargrilled courgettes, leeks and asparagus with lemon and walnuts
You know you've had a good night out when you wake up the next morning having lost your voice with a few hazy memories of floating home fuelled by far too much ale . . . or perhaps that's just me. (I don't get out much these days!)

flemish asparagus

asparagus with Flemish sauce
It is English asparagus season for which I will happily bellow three cheers (being such a shy and retiring person during the rest of the year . . .). But there are times when after I have sated myself with asparagus and melted butter or asparagus and Hollandaise sauce or even just asparagus dipped into a soft boiled egg, that I start to think about other ways of eating this glorious and short-seasoned vegetable. Will I do something spicy, Chinese-style? Or perhaps with a Mediterranean twist with lemon and chillies?

beef adobo: a fabulous slow-cooked stew from the philippines

beef adobo from the Philippines
Filipino food is typical of the food that fascinates me; the food that has evolved from settlers, traders and conquest. In this case, it is Malay, Chinese and Spanish influences that have helped to shape Filipino food.

what's in season: may

purple sprouting broccoli
Yet again, May has got off to a bit of a grey start - the sky over London is a murky shade of gunmetal. Last night there was a spectacular hail storm, although the garden doesn't appear to have suffered; everything is looking rather lush with bluebells, wild leeks, the odd nasturtium and some early roses, as well as a few tulips. It has of course been another mild and wet spring.

fancy breakfast or brunch? baked egg and proscuitto in a bread roll

baked egg and proscuitto in a bread roll
Every so often I find a couple of rock-hard bread rolls looking up at me forlornly from the bread bin. One of my favourite things to do with them is to reheat the rolls, stuffed full of a few of my favourite things - ham, cheese and eggs and a little fresh basil. A fabulous breakfast or brunch.

kaya toast: a weird but wonderful breakfast of champions!

kaya toast with soy eggs
It's not really weird, although it might sound a bit odd to English tastes. It's a Singapore-Malaysian thing - kaya toast for breakfast at a kopitiam (coffee shop). Coconut jam (kaya), which is very similar to say lemon curd, but made with coconut milk, is slathered over hot white toast, which is then sandwiched together with a slice of cold butter. Dunk this sweet toast into a bowl of very soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce. Sounds weird? Tastes heavenly!

a perfect spring pasta supper: spaghetti with leeks, parma ham and hazelnuts

spaghetti with leeks, parma ham and hazelnuts
Have you ever seen a recipe on a website, or while flicking through a cookbook or magazine and thought, I must cook that? And have you, despite modern technology, mobile internet, digital cameras and other technical fol-de-rols, failed to make a note of it, instead relying on your memory and an ability to substitute those ingredients you haven't got or that are hard to come by? So what happened? Did it turn out as expected, or like me, did it turn out that you had substituted every ingredient such that the recipe was unrecognisable and sadly just not terribly exciting.

fragrant and soothing: thai coconut chicken soup (tom kha gai)

Thai coconut chicken soup (tom kha gai)
Tom kha gai is a rich coconut broth infused with galangal (kha), lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, topped with chicken (gai) and seasoned with fish sauce, tart with lime juice.

what's in season: april

scented clematis armandii - April 2015
April Rain Son
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

Langston Hughes, 1902-1967

Like Langston Hughes, I love the rain too. Of course, I am equally partial to a bit of sunshine too. Which is probably a good thing, since we seem to get both types of weather on the same day in England during April.

indian spiced potato cutlets (aloo tikki)

 indian spiced potato cutlets (aloo tikki)
I am pretty sure that I love snacking more than anything else. (My shame, sorry!)  Most of my favourite snacks are probably Asian. However, my mother used to make these potato cutlets or patties as a way of using up leftover mash and veggies. I suspect she learned some of this when we were living in the Far East. In those days, it never occured to me that they were snacks. It is no wonder that they are a few of my favourite things.

ash-e-reshteh - persian bean and noodle soup

 ash-e-reshteh - persian bean and noodle soup
It is Nowruz, a time to celebrate the Persian New Year and the first day of spring. Ashe-reshteh is a traditional celebratory soup, which is both comforting on a cold blustery day and packed full of fresh green herbs to feel like spring.

vietnamese lemongrass and chilli tofu

 Vietnamese lemongrass and chilli tofu (uncooked)
Think you don't like tofu? I beg you to reconsider. This recipe for Vietnamese lemongrass and chilli tofu could change your mind and have you begging for more.

sambal belacan

sambal belacan
I have mentioned before my love of sambal, a spicy chilli condiment hailing from Malaysia and Indonesia. In the past year or so I seem to have got into the habit of making up large quantities of this, to stick in the fridge, on the basis that firstly, you just never know when you might need it and secondly, that it seems to go with everything. Well everything in my household that is, from curries, noodles and stir-fried vegetables, from burgers and sausages, to salad dressings, scrambled eggs and cheese toasties. Admittedly I would draw the line with say ice cream or cupcakes, but then that's the beauty of lines ... sometimes you just can't help wanting to cross one.

indonesian seafood sate lilit

Indonesian seafood sate lilit
A fabulous sate (satay) from Bali which can be made with a variety of different meats; I love the minced seafood version. What makes it different from the myriad of other sates from Indonesia (and satays from Malaysia) is that firstly it contains coconut and secondly it is not typically served with a peanut sauce.

a fabulous tangy malaysian curry: kari kapitan

kari kapitan
Kari Kapitan (or Captain's Curry or Ayam Kapitan) is a classic Nyonya recipe from Penang in Malaysia and is the perfect combination of Malay and Chinese influences; every family has its own version, passed down across the generations and often served at big family gatherings and celebrations.

what's in season: march

spring garlic and the green shoots of recovery!
Helloooooo. I'm back!

Which might be a strange thing to say if you hadn't noticed I'd gone. Well, I won't bore you with my tales of woe. I had  bit of an accident and I've been recovering. Frankly, I hadn't been doing much cooking either, but now I want to get back in the food saddle and start blogging again. Yippeeaiyay!