Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Food Bloggers Unplugged

I've been tagged by Snowy of Cookbooks Galore to join in with 'Food Bloggers Unplugged'.  I'm always happy to indulge in some musings about my blogging, so here goes...

1.  What, or who, inspired you to start a blog?

I was living in Canada at the time and feeling rather detached from my life at 'home' in the UK.  This was before I'd even joined Facebook (I can barely remember what my pre-FB life was like..!)  Living in North America I was also surrounded by a wealth of culinary excitements, and as several of my foodie friends already had blogs which I enjoyed reading, I thought I'd give it a try too.

2.  Who is your foodie inspiration?

I think I have several.  I grew up enjoying food so would have to give my parents credit for that!  We always ate well, and I have strong memories of coming home from church to the regular 'Sunday Roast'.  Many of my Mum's puddings also stick in my mind (Norwegian Cream, Pavlova, Floating Islands... mmmmm!).  More recently I'd have to add my husband Rob to my list of inspirations.  When we met we were both living alone, and I was subsisting mainly on pasta.  Rob however didn't let his single-status stop him eating fabulously and would often cook himself an entire roast dinner.  I remember being very impressed by this!  In fact he taught me a lot about cooking, and likes to remind me of this quite regularly...  My final foodie inspiration has to be my best mate Sarah, who in the last few years has moved out to Canada and set up an extremely successful baking business, Roseberry Farm.  She's so dedicated and talented, I'd hate her if she wasn't so nice!

3. Your greasiest, batter-spattered food/drink book is?

How to be a Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson.  I managed to get it signed when I went to the launch of 'Feast' in Toronto several years ago.  Nigella commented on how lovely it was to see a cookbook that was so well-used, and I think she was impressed with the post-it notes all over it!  It's now even more grease-spattered.

4.  Tell us about the best thing you've ever eaten in another country; where was it, what was it?

I'm struggling with this one...  some awesome burgers and steaks in North America spring to mind, but I think I'd come down to the food we ate when on honeymoon in Tuscany.  We were in a self-catering apartment and although we intended to eat out regularly, we actually ended up just cooking very simple pasta and pizza dishes for ourselves every night, just because the fresh produce was so wonderful.  I've never had more 'tomatoey' tomatoes, or such lovely huge bunches of fresh basil.  Oh yes, and some pretty fabulous Chianti Classico too!

5.  Another food-blogger's table you'd like to eat at?

Can I go to several?!  I'd go for drinks with Esther at Recipe Rifle.  She swears and makes me laugh, and her husband Giles Coren is very funny too.  I like the way she even writes about recipes that are crap!  I'd move on to Sarah in Melbourne, over at Sarah Cooks.  She's the legend who cooked every recipe in Nigella's epic How to Eat in a year.  Then for dessert I think it would be over to Maya's at Foodiva's Kitchen.  She's a self-confessed dessert-lover so I know we'd eat very well!  I know Maya already of course, so she's a very safe choice as I know that the conversation is easy and that the laughs come often.  Plus it's not far to drive home afterwards as she lives in Brunei too!

6.  What's the kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

I'm not sure if this really counts as a 'gadget' but I'd really like a new cooker.  After nearly 6 years of living in military quarters I'm sick of the standard-issue rubbish ovens we get given.  I hate ceramic hobs, and the oven we have here in Brunei is appalling - far too small to cook anything in, and anything placed too near the bottom just burns.  Mind you, our own oven at home in the UK isn't much better.  It was in the house when we bought it (in the newly-refitted kitchen) but I think that replacing it will be a top priority when we finally return.  I'd like a 6-ring gas hob, and a double-oven please Santa.

7.  Who taught you to cook?

When I was a child, my Mum.  At school, my cookery teacher Mrs Roberts.  In adult life, Rob, although I taught myself to bake (OK, with the help of Nigella!).

8. I'm coming to you for dinner.  What's your signature dish?

Usually a roast chicken with all the trimmings.

9.  What is your guilty food pleasure?

Olives, gherkins, cheese.  Anything tapas-style really; I love to nibble!

10.  Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn.

I'll stick to a foodie theme...  There's not many things that I won't eat, but I can't stand parsley.  YUK!  

I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you have a blog and would like to take part in this, then please consider this your official invitation!  Thanks Snowy.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Stir-Fried Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken

Long long ago we owned a granite pestle and mortar, but it's one of those things that has mysteriously disappeared in one of our regular house-moves.  I sometimes have visions of all the 'lost' items turning up one day, perhaps in a forgotten packing-box in the attic?  Anyway, because I know we already own one, I've never bought another.  Daft really, they're so cheap here, but there you go. 

Well, I've never bought another... until I was seduced by this recipe that has been winking at me from the pages of Bill's Everyday Asian ever since I purchased it.  The thing is, a pestle and mortar is pretty much essential for this recipe, requiring as it does the pounding up of lemongrass stalks.  Fine chopping just won't do it here.  So I succumbed, and a mere $8 later in Soon Lee I have a new stone pestle and mortar.

The following photo was the only one I managed to take during the preparation of this dish, as when I went to take another shot the camera batteries died so that was that until I could recharge them (I think my multiple spare sets of rechargeable batteries are hiding with the old pestle and mortar...) so you'll have to take my word for it, this dish was great.

I was about to type out the recipe for you (the book is open at my side as I write) but a quick google search reveals that the recipe was reproduced in The Telegraph last month (along with an appetising photograph) so HERE it is.

As ever the odd adjustment was made - I was unable to find any non-rotting asparagus so used a packet of sugar-snap peas instead.  They worked fabulously well, but I'm keen to try the asparagus option too so I'll try to use that next time.

Soup to cheer up an Invalid

I have an ill husband - and despite my teasing, it's definitely not man-flu!  He has a 48-hour feverish thing going on; he had it once before, and it will most likely be gone by tomorrow, but I suspect he's in for an uncomfortable night (I am debating whether the ill or the well partner should move to the spare room in situations such as these...).  Anyway, he says he's not hungry and is feeling a bit queasy, but I couldn't very well not feed him at all, so I've just made what I hope is a cheerful soup.

It's cheered me up anyway as I have saved myself from feeling too daft for having accidentally bought another bag of carrots this afternoon, completely forgetting that I already had a bag in the fridge (a hazard, I have discovered, of having a gigantic fridge!). And I've also used up 2 half-empty things that were lurking in the back of the aforementioned gigantic fridge.

The colour's pretty darn cheery too!

Full of vitamins, soothingly smooth and rich, with a slight kick of chilli heat.  Perfect (I hope) for anyone in need of a little restorative sustenance.  I'll be enjoying it too.

'Thai' Carrot Soup

Chop 3 large carrots into rough chunks and simmer until tender in a pan of chicken stock (about 500ml I guess).  Stir in a heaped tablespoon of Tom Yum Paste (or however much you can scrape out of the jar), and about 100ml of coconut cream (made up with half a packet of coconut cream powder).

Blend until smooth, taste and season as desired.  Mine was extra thick (it also had several chunks of chicken meat in it from the homemade stock), so I thinned it with a little extra water.  I'm sure some chopped coriander on top wouldn't go amiss, as well as complementing the vibrant orange colour.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday 2011

Last year I blogged about our trip to Labuan, the Malaysian island off the coast of Brunei, to celebrate Remembrance Sunday.  I included some history to the island in that post.  I'm slightly late in blogging about it, but we attended the ceremony again this year. 

Once again a beautiful and moving occasion.

This year we were fortunate enough to meet 3 lovely chaps who were all veterans of the confrontation in Borneo in the 1960s.  They were on a tour of Singapore and North Borneo, revisiting sights from their days on active service.  We sat on a table with them at the dinner on Saturday night and they were fantastic company - plus they put us to shame by staying out partying into the early hours, long after we had retired to bed!

Another interesting addition to this year's service was the sale of the Malaysian poppy-equivalent, the hibiscus.  It seemed fitting to wear both.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Nigella's Korean Keema

I've written before about my nagging feelings of guilt about not making enough use of all the amazing Asian ingredients around me...  I'm doing better now (thanks to Bill!  Awesome Thai-style pumpkin last night, from Bill's Everyday Asian) but I've had a recipe from Nigella's latest book, Kitchen, bookmarked to try for ages: Korean Keema.

Nigella writes how she has discovered a new ingredient, a Korean chilli paste called Gochujang.  I suspect that this means that all UK supermarkets will now be stocking this, such is the merchandising power of Nigella!  Anyway, I managed to lay my hands on a tub in a little Japanese shop here (the shop underneath the Gadong branch of Excapade for any readers in Brunei) and thought I'd give it a try.

This is indeed a quick and easy meal.  It took about 10 minutes from start to finish once the ingredients were assembled:

For the sauce - Chinese rice wine, soy sauce, honey and Gochujang.

Aside from this, all that was needed was minced turkey (although I used chicken), frozen peas, and fresh coriander.  Brunei seems to be all sold out of coriander this week so I didn't bother, but next time I'll make sure to use some.

My blog-friend Anna has very kindly typed out the recipe which can be found here, on her lovely blog.  I completely agree with Anna that I think I'd use a touch more of the Gochujang if I made it again, although what I felt was lacking was any kind of chilli heat.  The paste is described as 'Hot Pepper Paste' but despite its unusual smoky flavour (almost liquorice-like as Nigella describes it), it packs very little punch.  This would make it great for the chilli-haters, but as we certainly don't fall into that category next time I'll be adding plenty of chopped fresh chilli to the dish.

Served with plain Jasmine rice and a side of garlicky kailan, this made a speedy and healthy supper.