Wednesday, 29 June 2011

the bit about me

You are the master of your own destiny...
...corny or what?
...unfortunately it's true!

Only you have the power to make a change.
It’s actually whether you want to.

All it takes is one small step in the right direction and the rest will follow.

I made a decision a few years ago. A big decision. Decisions are hard when you're stuck in the 'no way out' bubble, or when people try and lure you out of it. I was working in fashion. It was fun (at times). 

'That must be so amazing?' people would gasp, when the career exchange took place in idle chit chat.

On the outside, yes. I'm not poo pooing it. It was a great experience. It built me up to where I am now, but back then, it was becoming more of a  No’s not so great. 

I was tired. Underpaid (I think it's their ploy to make you feel worthless). Worked long long hours. I was binge eating to reward my sorry little soul. There was never any thanks and it was never enough. 

I wasn't happy :(

I love to get stuck in and I love being pushed, but all very well if you are actually truely passionate about it.

I thought I was passionate about it.

Turns out.

I wasn’t.

If you want to be happy, you have to make a change. Change is difficult. For some, there are always excuses to stay put in their unhappiness, but change is necessary. 

The only ‘iceberg’ before my Titanic was my career. So I started with a change there.

So what was I passionate about? Sometimes it’s hard to see what you’re passionate about because it’s been right under your senseless nose the entire time. 

I discovered fashion at a young age, starting more with an appreciation for a beautiful image, rather than having any fashion sense! However, and this slipped in so unawares that I almost didn’t notice it! My passion for food started when I was a toddler. I remember being passionately angry that I got my brother’s pate sandwiches at school instead of my marmite ones. I remember being made green beans and pork saltimbocca on holiday. I remember the smell of the delicatessen, sugared almonds and hanging meat. I remember the green grocers. I remember the Heinz tomato soup that made me vomit over a friends caravan (yuck). I remember making my first soup (cabbage, bread, cheese – better than it sounds!!). I remember making my mother’s breakfast when she was ill. I remember the power cut and discovering peanut butter. I remember the pizza’s we hand made at Easter. I remember liking brussel sprouts and broccoli when everyone didn’t. I remember regretting not having eaten more birthday cake because I was too shy. I made all these memories before the age of 6 and there are plenty more.

I’ve always loved food, and not in a oh I like to eat kind of way. I am obsessed with food. I think about it. I remember it. I imagine it. I talk about it. I eat it. I’ve eaten normally, I’ve abstained, I’ve binged and now my body is back to homeostasis; I eat in moderation. I’m no snob. I eat the ‘rubbish’ sometimes. I understand why people eat the rubbish and I understand its allure, but I mainly enjoy good honest cooking. One that involves all the senses. The one that involves all the flavour and the pleasure. It’s in my bones. My mother, my aunts and my grandmother are all fantastic cooks. Food is at the heart and very essence of our family. We are all passionate about food.

So, a good start. Food? So I made the change. It was first, and I am still 'learning.' I quit my job. I became a student (at 25 - now 27) to study Nutrition and Health, had to move out of my flat for a while due to lack of funds. Wondered whether I had made the right decision, but came out alright without bruises and am still surviving! It ain’t going to happen overnight. My grandmother always said ‘take each day as it comes’ and she was right. If you keep moving forward with a positive open mind, then things will start to happen...and happen ever so naturally...

Friday, 24 June 2011

an early liking for meat

Dog, Pig and Girl

Since I'm feeling nostalgic, this is anchorman Natalie and co-host Sweep reporting to you from the Hog Roast, circa 1989.

Memories. All my memories involve food...

...that's normal isn't it?
I think it is.

Food is one of the main things in life that involve using all the 5 senses. Enjoy it. We eat with our brains and we eat to feed our brain. Our brain only asks for one thing...glucose. The mechanics of our body asks for one thing...protein and our reserves ask for one thing...fat. We're meant to be attracted to colourful bountiful fruit and vegetables because they're oozing with life's elixir.We're simple animals really. However complex, it's a logical system.

We worry too much, over think too much, are interested in too little, and forget about the little pleasures in life.

Food is one of those pleasures. 

Make sure it's worthy enough.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

bella italia

Me and mum. Lago Patria (excuse the 'makeover' eye makeup!)
So, I was born in Naples. No, I'm not Italian. No, I don't speak Italian, but, I can pretend I have Italian roots I think. I'm sure that counts??

Doesn't it?

My dad was 'in the Navy' (I'm trying not to hum the Village People) so my parents lived there for a few years.

My mother is an amazing talent in the kitchen. A master, creator and inventress of spectacular meals. She's always had the talent (from her mother), but she really credits Italy for transforming her culinary skills. At that time, the Mediterranean diet was revolutionary and the English diet was rather plain in comparison, due to the lack of imported products available. The basis of what she learnt then is still what it is today, except now there's perhaps a little more 'Masterchef' flair!

Here is a little story...a little memoir if you will...from mamma

'Don't get between me and my grub!!!' (at American BBQ)

...'In England I did my mother’s repertoire; chile con carne, sausages, Dittisham pork casserole, lambs liver with parsley and garlic, gammon steaks, fish cakes with tinned salmon and fish pie! I had been using Hamlyn’s All Colour Cookbook whilst I was a cook for a female entrepreneur and didn’t repeat a meal for 18 months! In those days you couldn’t get the salad things we can now get (all the herbs, Thai ingredients etc). My mother always made the food look good, which is half the battle, with parsley. She was artistic. With soup there was always a swirl of cream or yogurt with chopped chives or parsley - so easy but so effective. We always had garlic, curly parsley and lemon in our lives but NOT extra virgin olive oil, only a tiny bottle of olive oil bought from Boots normally used for medicinal purposes!

Ravello - My brother eating spaghetti but seemingly eyeing up the crespolini to follow

When I went out to Italy at 30, I was inspired by their food and have used it to good effect ever since. There were many ingredients I came across that I had never seen in England: different shapes of pasta, arugula (rocket), buffalo mozzarella, huge flat round ciabatta type bread, hunks of parmesan, vin santo, frascati, soave, orvieto wines and flat leaf parsley to name a few! And extra virgin olive oil was used in every dish bar breakfast. I started using Marcella Hazan’s First and Second Classic Italian Cookbooks and there was a rumour among the NATO wives that I was going through all the recipes! People raved about pasta aglio e olio but I thought it was a bit dull when there were other beautiful things one could add like vongole (clams), pomodori (toms) and melanzane (aubergines)! At one restaurant near Gaeta we used to have Spag in the Bag as the Americans called it, which was spaghetti with tomatoes and seafood brought to the table in a puffed up greaseproof bag which was dramatically opened by the waiter!

Spaghetti aglio e olio
· 75g/3oz spaghetti, boiled and strained
· 1 medium red chilli, seeded, sliced lengthways
· 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
· 1 small handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
· 3 dashes hot, hot chilli oil
· parmesan cheese, grated
Preparation method
1. Boil the spaghetti until al dente, strain, and put into glass bowl.
2. Add the other ingredients, toss, and serve.

I learnt that simple meals were the best with good ingredients e.g. parma ham and melon, mozzarella with tomatoes and basil and lashings of extra virgin olive oil, Napoli salami wafer thin like the parma ham, not ¼ inch slices of pink Danish salami we had in UK-no comparison. The olives were delicious and I enjoyed my outings to the salumeria (grocer/deli) and watched the Italians ordering their ettos (nickname for 100g) of salami etc. I watched workmen order a small ciabatta and stuffing it there and then with a small tin of tuna, olio and all, with black olives-a far cry from the British workmen and their pork pies or sliced white bread. Old ladies at the entrance would be preparing the herbs or trimming veg and I would ask them for ideas. One told me how to prepare zucchini with garlic and evoo in the oven and I learnt how to do potatoes with rosemary and evoo in the oven-now why didn’t I think of that before?
Poolside (excuse the 80's glasses!)
At the butcher’s it was a joy to see the meat being cut without any fat-the minced meat was virtually fat free, and I learnt to cut meat into scallopini, thin horizontal slices, and to flour them just before cooking and then making a sauce such as lemon and parsley or pizzaiola sauce (toms, oregano, black olives)-so simple and tasty and healthy. I liked the idea of having a pasta first followed by small amount of meat with veg or salad. Washed down with wine, the Mediterranean diet. It used to be an experience visiting the macelleria (butcher)-he had a cigarette burning on his chopping board, but it never put me off. Once there was a small goat tethered at the doorway and I asked whose pet it was. I was told that it was the first prize in the Easter raffle and he made a sign of slitting his throat! Aagh! Always the shop owners remarked on my little blond boy and girl and often squeezed their cheeks saying, Bello or bella!

I fell in love with all antipasto veg like marinaded peppers or aubergines. I learnt how to do bruschetta (pronounced brusketta)-rub toasted or chargrilled bread with garlic, add chopped ripe toms, s and p, evoo and basil-divine. Basil is one of my favourite ingredients over the last 30 years.

Since Italy I hardly ever use cream in cooking-in Naples tomatoes were the basis of most sauces and much more healthy. We couldn’t buy cream in local shops in those days in Naples.

Looking back, we could have started importing all those ingredients when we returned home, but I was very happy bringing up my two little bambini and looking after my marito (husband) and cooking for my family and friends'...

T H E  E N D

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

sacred sunday

If Saturday was made for brunch, then Sunday, the day of rest, was made for lunch.


It's a special day isn't it? It is the only day of the week that has a sense of occasion...we have to thank religion for something right?

...the breaking of the bread and drinking of the wine??? *nudge *nudge *wink *wink

So, take your time. Put your feet up. Fill up your chalice. Get some friends over....and EAT.

The worst Sunday 'roast' I ever encountered was a plateful of flabby shiny looking white chicken breast (no seasoning), covered in bisto gravy and, to decorate, soft mushy over cooked carrot slices and blander than bland potatoes. I suggest that the cook repent of his/her sins for that one.

'Dear Lord, I'm so sorry for committing such sin in the kitchen with these plentiful ingredients. Please let me fulfil your duty by practicing better flavouring and seasoning....!'

I hope I never have to experience that again...
...certainly not with this meal.

Sliced beef fillet. Potato, pea, edamame, mint salad. Beetroot, tomato salad.

Really do what you want with the new potato salad. Here we have boiled new pots, sliced radishes, edamame beans, peas, chives, mint, parsley, salt, pepper and a mustard dressing (dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil (evoo), vinegar, honey). Play around.

With your beef fillet, rub evoo, salt and pepper all over the raw meat. Make sure you then put into a searing hot (dry) pan, to really brown off the sides. Try and follow the instructions on the packet or ask your butcher, but to have it nice and rare you don't need it on for too long. When you take it off the heat...LET IT REST. LET IT REST. LET IT REST, otherwise you'll have dry chewy meat. The rest period after cooking allows for the juices and flavour to reabsorb and distribute. Allow for 10-15 minutes before carving into medium thick slices (this isn't quite carpaccio). Served with some fresh salad leaves, chives, evoo, s & p.

For a bit of extra va va voom, this is always the easiest option to add to your plate. Sliced beetroot, tomato, parsley, s & p, evoo, and a little red wine vinegar to cut across the sweetness of the beetroot.

Have all your prayers been answered??

Monday, 20 June 2011

the answer usually is...

Have you ever wondered what to have for supper?

It's the last hour of work and you're thinking...'re walking to the bus and you're still thinking.'re in front of the supermarket and you're frantically racking your brain...

What the hell do I want?

Sweet? Savoury? Fresh? Meaty? Vege? Spice? Comfort?.....errrrrm....errrrrm? I can't walk around the shop for an hour while I think about it.

I certainly don't want to be dissatisfied or disappointed. I want...?

If you can't decide what to have for supper...

The simple answer is ALWAYS sweetcorn fritters.

It satisfies all cravings.

Now, I've tried a lot of sweetcorn fritters. Bill Granger does quite a few. They are ever so simple, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your cupboard. Sweetcorn fritters would most probably be the meal I'd choose to have on a desert island. I never ever grow tired of them, and they make a sweeeeet breakfast with bacon and maple syrup, or as an easy kitchen supper.

This recipe is from a truly glorious book...'Cook at home with Peter Gordon.' There are so many gems in that one. His sweetcorn fritter recipe is the very first I tried and this one is slightly different to the others.
  • 400g sweetcorn
  • 3 large eggs
  • 150ml sour cream
  • 60g polenta
  • 30g cornflour
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced spring onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • oil for frying
  • bacon (cooked until crisp to serve)
Mix together the first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Heat a frying pan and add a little oil. Spoon into the hot pan a quarter of the fritter mixture into small dollops (they will spread out), and cook it for 1-2 minutes until it is golden underneath, and it starts to bubble up. Using a wide spatula, flip it over carefully and cook on the other side for a minute, then remove to a warm plate while you cook the rest. Serve the fritters with crispy bacon. I made up a simple fresh tomato salad with basil, salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Have with tomato ketchup or chilli jam.

Yummy crispy, salty bacon.

To go with sweet, fragrant, pancake'ish fritter.


Friday, 17 June 2011

cult of beauty

For many, white cabbage is just a memory. The over cooked, strong smelling kind that added to ill tasting school meals...

(I myself didn't have this experience. I always rave on to this day about my school meals as they were so darn spectacular).

But for those of you who didn't share this pleasant experience, I think I need to introduce you to cabbage in a new kind of way.

I have just been to 'The Cult of Beauty' exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Fantastic, and in their words 'an extraordinary artistic movement which sought to escape the ugliness and materialism of the Victorian era by creating a new kind of art and beauty.' I have two new loves. Albert Moore. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 

Albert Moore 'Midsummer'
Dante Gabriel Rossetti 'Lady Lilith'
So a new kind of art and beauty? 

Can this be applied to cabbage phobias?

I think so

Welcome and hello Nigella Lawson's Vietnamese chicken salad. It seems complicated. It's not. You're still frightened of cabbage? You won't be afterwards.

The checklist:
  • 1 chilli, preferably a hot Thai one, seeded and minced
  • 1 fat garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (nuoc nam or nam pla)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Half a medium onion, finely sliced
  • Black pepper
  • 200g white cabbage, shredded
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded, julienned or grated
  • 200g cooked chicken breast, shredded or cut into fine strips fat
  • Bunch of mint, about 40g stemmed weight

In a bowl, mix the chilli, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, vegetable oil, onion and black pepper together. Leave to marinate together for at least 30 minutes.

Then into a large bowl, put the shredded cabbage. Shredded carrot. Shredded cooked chicken breast (I just cooked with a bit of oil/salt/pepper in oven beforehand or during preparation). Chopped mint.

Finally, add the dressing and mix/toss well.

Nigella's looks all finely chopped, but mine is a little more haphazardly cut. This is seriously the BEST salad i have ever tasted. Slightly addictive.

This is NOT, by any means, a generic salad!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

change is good

What can change bring?
...change is necessary for growth
I try not to believe in...
but they're so fun aren't they?

Today it said that 'something must change in your life in order to find happiness and inner peace...'

...however, as I was delighting in this news, some cheeky bugger tried to snatch the phone from my hand in broad daylight! He failed of course, due to my claw like grip, but then he had the audacity to saunter off casually on his bike as if nothing had happened. I was kicking myself for not acting properly. I envisioned myself on a crazy sprint down the road, beating my way through every man and woman to eventually hit him off his bike. No such luck...I soon got distracted by Dr Michael Mosley (from 'Inside the Human Body') walking towards me. Damn. I did nothing again.

...were these my moments of change?
...was I meant to act on it?

...perhaps my inner peace would come from stopping reading horoscopes
...and for now I'll just let if affect my supper choice!

I feel shaken up...(sort of) so I'll choose something comforting with a little flash of seasonal colour.

Sautee chopped onion. Add chopped pancetta until nice and crisp and brown. Add sliced mushrooms. With the asparagus, slightly bend each stalk and let it snap naturally, discard the bottom end. Then snap it into pieces and add to the mix, being careful to keep it more underdone if possible. Finish off with a dollop of creme fraiche, a squeeze of lemon juice and add to an al dente pan of tagliatelle. Stir well. Serve with shaved parmesan and cracked black pepper...

Still got some left over ingredients?

Without the mushrooms, do the same sequence with the onion, pancetta and asparagus. This time I added an entire bag of spinach. Slightly less creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with a lovely bit of white fish (haddock or cod) that has been baked with a little lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

the rain did poureth

I woke up feeling fed up, groggy and tired. Summer (for now) appears to be over. The rain was pelting it down all morning. I walked inappropriately dressed in the rain to my car. I got soaked. I stood outside in the rain the day before. I got soaked. The heel of my shoe is a muddy brown. I've been drinking too many glasses of bubbly and I've had too many slices of pizza. 

I need to feel summer again...

I want to feel fresh, clean and pure...

I want something to tickle my tastebuds...

...I don't want too much hassle

There is someone who wraps all these qualities into a colourful box of sunshine, tied up in ribbon....BILL GRANGER, albeit with a few too many of the same ingredients. However, he does it so so well!

Caramel Salmon (serves 4)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (sesame oil)
  • 800 g salmon, with skin, cut into large cubes
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 115 g brown sugar (few teaspoons of honey)
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
First sear the skin side of the salmon on a very high heat. Just do a few at a time.

Then flip over and cook for just a minute and remove from the pan...

Friday, 3 June 2011

a tale of two lovers

Melon and summer. Summer and melon. When these two are together, everything else sinks into oblivion. Winter can just forget it. It makes me think of Italy. The burning hot midday sun, and the warmth of an old Tuscan kitchen. The sweet smell of ripe melon permeating every inch of the stone and masking anything else. Open the fridge. Melon. Glance at the fruit bowl. Melon. Kitchen = Melon. Melon = Kitchen. It's at its fruity, juicy best when served at room temperature, so the flesh can melt onto your tongue and explode with flavour.

Have you met Signor salty proscuitto di parma? He wants to be with melon just as much, if not more than summer does. When these two get together it's a simple match of unexplainable chemistry. Two opposites from different worlds colliding together to form an explosive union.

'Morning,' Prosciutto di parma said.
'Hey...morning,' Cantaloupe melon replied turning from the window. 'Another nice day I see?'
'Yeh, I think it's going to be a warm one. Do you want to hang out? It's a little bit chilly in here,' Proscuitto di parma quickly added.
'Sounds's been a while,' said Cantaloupe melon. 'Tell pepper on the way down, he's getting wound up.'

And there we have it. 3 ingredients. Melon, parma ham and fresh black pepper. That's all you need. That's all they want.