Category Archives: Italian

All The P’s


The type of food that each of us class as comfort food no doubt varies wildly between all of us, but I’m willing to bet there are a few classics that come up time and time again. Any form of fruit pie or crumble smothered in custard must pop up on millions of Brits comfort food wish list, as must cheese on toast and roast dinner. For me, comfort food needs to be carb packed, whether that’s a shepherds pie topped with fluffy mash, a crunchy baguette smothered with butter, or pasta sheets layered up in a lasagna. Or it must be sweet, but again there needs to be an element of stodge from pastry, sponge or crumble. Eton Mess is delicious, no doubt, but when I’ve had a shocker of a day the last thing I need is a light fruity dessert. I need something heavy that will then leave me feeling so full and tired that the only thing left to do is drift off to sleep and wake up in the morning to a more promising day. Nothing cures a bad day more effectively than comfort food induced sleep.

Being heavily pregnant and with The Boyfriend on a far away continent for another 11 days, comfort food has played a big part in recent weeks. Combine this with not having to concern myself with fitting into my normal wardrobe of skinny Topshop jeans and beloved tea dresses, and you’ve got one sure fire way to cheer me up. I’m lucky to have supportive family and lovely friends too of course to keep me busy and spend quality time with, whilst the great thing about pregnancy is that you find yourself no longer tolerating flaky or terminally ill friendships. If you ask someone if you’ve done something to offend them and they say no, then they continue to make thinly veiled comments on social media, create awkward atmospheres and ignore invitations, then I really can’t be bothered. I have to pee every 20 minutes and spend most of my free time either eating for two or being in bed by 8:30, I really don’t have the time, energy or the will to work out what’s going on. After my antenatal class yesterday, believe me there are bigger things to worry about!

It was after this antenatal class that I knew I was in need of something comforting. There’s nothing like a midwife doing a demonstration with a doll and a plastic pelvic skeleton to have you running for the nearest bowl of carbohydrates. Especially when the midwife’s exclaiming how ‘isn’t nature wonderful’ and all you can think is that no actually, nature is not all that right now. I’m down with nature when it involves penguins or sunsets or daffodils, but there are some things that nature really messed up. Thanks nature.

Luckily I have just the cook to turn to for a carby comfort meal – Miss Lawson of course. Her Nigellissima book is my least used of all of her books, I don’t like being constrained by one country’s recipes in a cookbook, but the recipes do look tasty, what with them being Nigella-fied. I went for the alliteratively pleasing pasta, petit poits and pancetta risotto which promised all the comfort and starchiness of a risotto without the 30 minutes of constant, mind numbing stirring which can be useful at times but not when in need of quick comfort. This is achieved by using orzo pasta which looks very similar to rice and absorbs the water quickly, leaving you with a dish not all that different to a rice risotto. It’s a very simple dish too, all you do is crisp up the pancetta in some hot oil, chuck in some frozen peas, pasta and water, then once all the water is absorbed stir in butter and Parmesan until melted and you’re good to go. It’s a one pan job too, there’s no chopping and most importantly no constant stirring, so for a mid week meal it’s simplicity itself.

Taste wise, it’s not up there with Nigella’s greatest hits. Her recipes usually pack in a lot of flavour but this one misses the mark a little. It’s still comforting, the pasta is starchy and silky and there’s a faint tang of salt from the pancetta and Parmesan, but it’s just a bit too subtle. Nigella warns not to over salt the dish because of the already salty main ingredients, but it still wasn’t enough to bring out a lot of flavour. The flavour would probably be improved with the addition of a stock cube to the water, it might take the sodium levels up a bit higher but I’d imagine the taste would be much better. In fact, just adding a little more of all the salty ingredients would improve this dish, and perhaps half a glass of white wine. Maybe the short cut of using pasta instead of arborio rice means that the intensity of flavour that normally accompanies a risotto is sacrificed, because you’re not investing the time to gradually build up flavours. Still, if you’re in the market for a quick, easy, comforting dinner that takes next to no effort and would probably keep the kids happy, you could definitely do worse. Certainly not comforting enough though to get the image of that plastic pelvis out of my mind.

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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian, Nigella Lawson


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A Tale of Two Pasta Bakes


It might come as a surprise to some of you that up until very recently (and by recently, I mean this year) I’d never had macaroni cheese. I know, it came as a surprise to me too, I love pasta and I really love cheese. How did I get to the age of 27 without eating macaroni cheese? How could such a thing happen? I wish I could say. Despite my dad hating cheese, I still got a decent amount of cheese on toast and pizza as a child, yet mac and cheese evaded me. As a cookbook obsessed, blogging adult, macaroni cheese was always on my hit list, and with the not so keen on it Boyfriend away in Kenya, now seemed the perfect time to make one from scratch. Being such a classic recipe, there were many cookbooks that I could have got a recipe from but I chose Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers which hasn’t really been used much at all since I brought it last year. It’s a straightforward recipe where you have to make a cheese sauce (a béchamel sauce with cheese melted into it), boil up some pasta and then combine before popping in the oven. This cheese sauce had the inclusion of whole grain mustard and pickled green peppercorns which I for one was most grateful for. They cut through the richness of the cheese, although not as much as I would have liked. It was a really rich pasta dish and while very tasty, was a bit much. That’s right, it was a bit much for me and I didn’t even have enough cheese as specified in the recipe.

When it comes to pasta, I’m very much on the side of tomato based dishes. I love cheese and cream but given the choice between a carbonara or an arrabiatta, the arrabiatta will win every time. Tastes better, is probably more nutritious and I can easily eat a whole lot more of it than a creamy pasta dish. Winning all round. This then was exactly the kind of dish I craved after waking up on Sunday with the hangover from hell, living room floorboards soaked in 50% vodka and cava, and eggcups coated in pink gunk after being used as makeshift shot glasses. Clearly a good night had been had. What can I say, after years of faithfully relying on cookbooks for culinary inspiration, alcohol gave me a eureka moment and this recipe just popped into my head. I just don’t do my own recipes normally so this really was a bolt out of the blue, any off the cuff recipes I make normally end in disaster. A future career as an alcoholic cookbook author await, naturally. The fact that this recipe also happened to taste delicious whilst using items that I already had in my fridge / cupboards only made me feel more smug that for this bad boy dinner, I had only to rely on myself. This then, is my macaroni mini meatball bake, and it’s perfect comfort food, with the spicy tomato sauce loaded with meatballs and covered in the melted, gooey cheese that’s turned gloriously crunchy around the edges. I don’t like to blow my own horn, but toot toot. Thank you, Smirnoff, for the inspiration.

300g minced beef
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper

Combine all meatball ingredients together with your hands. Roll into little balls, line up on a baking tray and grill until cooked through (it took me about 10 mins). Cool on kitchen paper. This is just a basic meatball recipe, feel free to add chopped chilli, onion, spices, basil etc according to your own tastes.

Tomato Sauce:
1 onion, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 red chilli, chopped finely, seeds kept in
1x 400g tin tomatoes
200-300ml chicken stock
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Dried oregano
A few drops of tobasco
1-2tbsp tomato purée
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper

250g macaroni
Parmesan cheese
Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Cook the onion, garlic and chilli in a saucepan over a medium heat until soft. Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil. Add the tomato purée, balsamic vinegar, oregano, Tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar. Add a third of the stock, simmer for 10-15 minutes. If after this it looks too thick, add some more stock. You don’t want it too thick as the macaroni will need a small amount of moisture once in the oven, but you also don’t want a watery sauce, so add the stock little by little until you’re happy with the sauces thickness and consistency. Season.

Cook 250g macaroni for approx 4-5 minutes less than the packet cooking time. Drain, then stir into the tomato sauce. Add the meatballs, stir again and transfer to a square dish (something that you’d make a lasagna for two in). Cover liberally in your grated cheeses and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

Serves 2-3 people (leftovers taste great reheated the next day too).

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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food, Italian


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Finally! Proper Pasta!

Aside from chocolate, there is only one other food on the planet above all others that comforts, satisfies and that I find incredibly hard to stop eating. Pasta. Spaghetti, tagliatelle, linguine, lasagna, fusilli, pappardelle (my favourite)…. I love it all and in practically all it’s formats. The one thing I don’t love about it is its inflexibility and refusal to be cooked in anything other than a saucepan full of hot boiling water. A problem when you have no hob. Stood in the pasta aisle the other week carefully studying every pasta packets cooking instructions willing them to be microwaveable, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. How was I going to have my regular fix of lasagna, bolognese, lamb ragu, chilli linguine, meatballs and pasta? In desperation and in need of pasta, I turned to Tesco’s ready meal section which at the time was risky and foolhardy being right in the middle of Horsegate. Pasta addicts will understand that when you need a carby Italian hit you’ll go to any length to get it. Suffice to say, it was an underwhelming experience and just cranked up my proper pasta craving to maximum. Sure, you can go out to a perfectly lovely Italian restaurant and have a delicious plate of cannelloni , but nothing beats a big, diet busting plate of your favourite lasagna in front of the TV on a chilly night. It’s the best kind of comfort food.

So thank Pasta God (I like to imagine Her as Sofia Loren who once said about her body “everything you see I owe to spaghetti”. My kind of woman) for Pinterest and its glorious search function which led me to a slow cooker pasta dish that sounded right up my street: slow cooker chipotle chicken tortellini. Not very Italian I know, but I jumped at the chance to cook it. All you have to do is poach the chicken in some stock (this takes about 3 hrs in the slow cooker), shred it once cooked then add cream cheese, chipotle paste, broccoli and cumin and cook for another couple of hours. Simple! Chipotle paste is now fairly easy to come across in the more exotic supermarket aisles and is made up of smoked chillies and some other stuff. Not sure what exactly, but it tastes spicy, smoky and makes me think of Mexico and the Deep South of America. I used the most Southern looking tortellini I could find in the, er, Italian aisle and that came to be sausage and ham. It worked damn fine actually. While I’d have preferred the sauce a little thicker, it was still creamy and smooth with a hot kick from the chipotle. The only problem I had was the broccoli was totally inedible from being in the slow cooker for two hours, next time I’d only put it in for about half hour as that’s really all it needs. But still, I’ve finally found a way to cook pasta at home. Now if anyone knows how I can cook spaghetti in a slow cooker please tell me, I’m desperate for a bolognese hit!

PS: Here’s the recipe if you’re interested:

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Posted by on March 30, 2013 in Chicken, Italian


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All You Need Is Custard

Popular music, or more specifically, The Beatles, would have you believe that all you need is love. I’m going to stick my neck out and disagree with those mop top boys from Liverpool and say that actually no, love is not all you need. Had they never eaten custard? If they had indeed eaten custard, what were they thinking making such a claim and not giving custard it’s rightful place in music history? Outrageous. I’m not someone who’s down on love, I get emotional listening to Beyonce singing about how awesome Jay-Z is (if those two ever split then I will lose all faith in humanity) and I’m pretty crazy about The Boyfriend, but a life without custard in it is not one I want to even consider. Custard, or Creme Anglaise if you’re running a gastropub, is easily my favourite topping for a dessert. It takes me back to being little on a Sunday night where after tucking in to a roast, me and my brother would anxiously await the cooking of the custard to go on top of the crumbles made with rhubarb grown in our garden. I know it isn’t culinary or very foodie, but I won’t hear a bad word said about Birds custard powder or the nuking of it in the microwave, it’s the taste of my childhood, and very likely if you’re English, the taste of yours too. Watching it bubble away in the microwave always seemed to take hours, and then being told by my mum to wait five minutes for it to cool down was pure torture. Was always worth waiting though. Since then though I’ve made custard from scratch (best recipe is from Jamies Cook, absolutely heavenly) and bought those fresh pots from the supermarket that are flecked with vanilla seeds and it’s hard to disagree that these are miles better than the powdered stuff. I certainly wouldn’t turn down Birds custard anytime soon though. Or a carton of Ambrosia. Which nicely leads us to the crux of the matter, last nights dinner.

Last night I had some friends round for dinner, and the one food that we can all agree on and eat is Italian, leading me to naturally cook from Nigellisima. Nigella is a friend to any cook who has invited people over for dinner on a work night as her recipes don’t require much faffing around and are designed to be easy to cook and tasty to eat. Italian sausage and chicken tray bake with gnocchi gratin certainly did the trick, although the Tesco near my work had no Italian sausages so I had to sub with pork and red onion sausages (red onion seemed the most Italian out of all the flavoured sausages) which I recommend you try as they were mighty tasty and went pretty well with the lemon zest and rosemary that I chucked all over them. Add in some chicken thighs and olive oil then cook on a high heat in the oven and hey presto, crispy chicken skin and a tasty, easy dinner. The gnocchi gratin was simple too, the boiled gnocchi is cooked in the oven in a mascarpone and Parmesan sauce and emerges from the oven with a beautiful golden crust and soft, spongy gnocchi that have soaked up the rich sauce. You don’t need me to tell you it’s good, but really, it is. If you were to give me the whole tray of gratin,a spoon and some privacy, this would be gone in approximately five minutes. I’d have to work out all day every day for the next year to work the calories off, but it would so be worth it. If there’s one thing you take away from this blog, let it be that you must try this dish.

For dessert, I went with a variation on the classic English crumble, which was plum and Amaretti crumble, again from Nigellisima. This looks beautiful even before it goes in the oven, with the cooked, sugary plums nestling in their ruby red juices and the sandy rubble with Amaretti crumbs sitting on top. While this dessert wasn’t perfect (plums weren’t quite ripe enough so weren’t as soft as I’d like them) it was pretty darn good and the almond-ey taste of the crushed biscuits went really well with the sweet yet sharp plums. The Boyfriend did make a genius suggestion of replacing the plums with cherries in future, which I would be more than happy to try one day. All this was naturally served with custard, I’d never serve crumble with anything else. Having made everything else from scratch, I didn’t have the willpower or indeed the ingredients to make a custard so I went with Ambrosia, which although lacking in vanilla seeds, does still taste delicious and totally hit the spot. On a cold, wet, windy day, nothing says comfort and home like custard does. Perhaps one day there will be a song in the charts paying tribute to the mighty custard, but I don’t hold out much hope.

PS- We were so hungry that everything was eaten up before I remembered to take a photo, so you will just have to make do with a beaming Nigella instead.



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Mint and Chilli – Bellisima!

It’s been a good couple of weeks absence, but unfortunately for you guys I’m back cooking and blogging with a vengeance. There’s not a great deal that could happen to me to stop me doing the three things I love (that’s cooking, eating and writing) and what are the chances that I’d catch something that would put me off all three? Well in the cold, wet, miserable British winter, the chances are actually quite high and so I was struck down with the flu. It’s likely you’ve all had it at one stage or another so there’s no need to go into detail, but the one thing that troubled me greatly over everything else was the severe lack of appetite and the willingness to make do with ready meals for sustenance. I know, shit just got real, it must have been serious! Welcome to the flu blues, where even chocolate can’t save you. And I should know, the Lindt collection brought back from South Africa by The Boyfriend didn’t get touched or even sniffed once while I was ill. So you can imagine my relief come the weekend when I felt the flu lift and my appetite and urge to cook return, until then I was genuinely concerned that I’d only be eating ready meals or takeaways for the rest of my life, such was my lack of interest in food. First world problems and all that. Predictably, I turned to my idol Nigella to pull me out of the rut that I was in and as ever, she did good. I’ve not cooked a lot from her latest offering Nigellisima (which of course will be rectified in the next few months) and I’m not as fond of it as I am her other books but its still got the Lawson magic that pulls me in to the pages and has me dreaming of living in her fridge. Wanting to keep The Boyfriend on side (he puts up with a lot of random meals from me when all he really wants is a chilli or a roast, bless him) I went for lamb cutlets with mint, chilli and golden potatoes as lamb chops are one of his favourites. I’d seen Nigella cook these on her TV show while I was stuck drinking Lemsip and shivering under several layers and a duvet and my passing thought had been ‘they look nice…. If I ever want to cook or eat again I will make those’. So here we are. First off, lamb cutlets are really just lamb chops but with a trendy bit of bone sticking out the top, so don’t feel too bad if all you can find is chops as they will do just fine. Marinate them in olive oil, dried mint, chilli flakes and celery salt, fry and serve with cooked new potatoes that have been fried for a few minutes in the lamb juices. I’m not a huge fan of lamb chops myself, but these were just delightful. The meat was tender and juicy, with a fresh flavour coming from the marinade that complimented the meat so well. Don’t be silly like me and rest the lamb on a separate plate, rest it on the plate you’ll be eating off instead as the resting juices are seriously tasty. Combine the meat with the crunchy, salty fried potatoes and you’ve got yourselves a little plate of heaven. I also served this with some peas because when you think about it, what gels better than lamb, mint and peas? Probably a lot actually, but you see my point that it just sounds (and tastes) right.

Following this lamb triumph I persevered with the cooking and finally decided, after years of forgetting, to make a traditional Christmas cake. Thank goodness for baking mad friends Facebook updates serving as a reminder. Yes, it’s nearly Christmas and yes, I am excited so keeping to tradition I made my cake several weeks ahead and am now gagging for Christmas to just get here already. I used the recipe for traditional Christmas cake from Nigella Christmas which instructs me to make the cake well ahead of time to ensure maximum flavour and also to keep to the traditional ways of Ye Olde Worlde Christmas. Just call me Mary Berry. At this very moment it is wrapped up snugly in several layers of tin foil and an old Celebrations tub absorbing brandy and I can’t ice and decorate it for at least another three weeks which is killing me. As soon as the tree is up I am marzipanning and icing that bad boy, even though I was brought up never to eat anything in the Christmas larder until everyone has finished work for Christmas. I’ll stay true to this (even if I do have to work in between Christmas and New Year) but will want to have a pretty decorated cake in the kitchen to stare at while the countdown to Christmas is on. Don’t worry, I’ll cover the cake up, I’m not having a cake gather dust, not on my watch! I’m certain you will hear plenty more about this cakes progress in the coming weeks, but at the moment it’s hibernating. It’s safe to say my cooking mojo is back, and as for the eating mojo, lets just say that the Lindt collection has taken a hammering in recent days. All is well again!



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Easy Focaccia

As promised, here is the recipe for the focaccia I made yesterday. If you’ve never made bread before and have always wanted to, this is a great recipe to get you into it as the simplicity and results fill you with confidence. It’s so simple a child could do it (and if you want to keep them quiet for a bit, I recommend just that), and tastes so much better than anything you’d find in a supermarket, and dare I say it, even in most bakeries.


1 sachet dried yeast (find near the flour in any supermarket)
275ml hot but not boiling water
500g strong white bread flour
3tsp Maldon sea salt
4 tbsp olive oil


Put the flour, yeast and 1 tsp salt in a mixing bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and pour in 3 tbsp of the oil and gradually add the water until it forms a soft, raggy dough.
Turn the dough on to a floured work surface and knead vigorously for 10 minutes until you’ve made a smooth dough. Lightly oil a bowl, pop the dough in there and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm place for 45 mins until doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, knead again for 1-2 minutes so the air bubbles are knocked out. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into an oval shape and into a size that snugly fits in a baking tray. Oil the baking tray and put your rolled out dough on top then leave to rise in a wam place for 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees centigrade/ 400 Fahrenheit. Using your fingertips, dimple the surface of the dough (my favourite bit!) and drizzle on the remaining oil and salt. If you wanted to add any ingredients, now is the time to do it, just push whatever you fancy into the dimples. Rosemary and chillies work well, but don’t feel restrained by my choices. Put the bread in the oven for 20-30 minutes until golden and the base of the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Voila!

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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Baking, Cooking, Food, Italian


Been around the world and I, I, I….

Italy, Thailand, America, it’s like a round the world plane ticket in miniature, all in my kitchen. But not to worry that I (I, I, I) can’t find ‘my baby’ as he’s back next Saturday, nice and early first thing in the morning on my birthday. What more could I want as a present? I would just like to assure you all that I would never really call The Boyfriend ‘my baby’, I do have some standards when it comes to nick names, but when a song title fits, it fits! So to make the most of what free time I had this weekend, I got my ass in the kitchen and made the most of my last solo weekend for a while. Believe me, I can’t wait for him to be back and am desperate to not wake up alone every morning, but I do enjoy the ability to potter about in the kitchen all day and cook what ever my heart desires on a Sunday. It’s making the best out of a bad situation. So to celebrate my last lonely Sunday morning for a while I took some inspiration from Jamie’s America to knock up breakfast. I’ve said it before about the Americans and how they have the knack for breakfast and I would say it again but I don’t like repeating myself. So I went with the New York section as surely New Yorkers are the Kings Of Breakfast (I’m not sure why I’ve come to this conclusion but it just seems right to me), and made myself Omelette Gordon Bennett, which is a twist on the classic Arnold Bennett omelette which was apparently created by a very fussy customer in a top NY hotel. The twist being that Jamie replaces smoked haddock with smoked mackerel. As twists go, it’s not exactly up there with the polar bear in Lost but its Sunday morning, i’ll let it go. It’s a very simple dish to make and easy enough to halve (recipe gives enough for two, but 5 eggs even for me is a bit much), the only tricky bit is making sure the bottom doesn’t burn while you make sure the egg on top of the omelette is fully cooked. Because of the chunks of fish it’s not advisable to flip the omelette as the weight would collapse it, so you need to keep a close eye on the omelette and adjust the heat accordingly. Incredibly I managed to cook it perfectly and it tasted pretty wonderful. I love smoked mackerel and being advised to top the whole thing off with grated Parmesan at 9 in the morning makes this a winner for a filling breakfast. You probably won’t even need lunch. If you’re a fan of American food then Jamie’s book is great, he covers several different states and a huge variety of food, including Native American recipes. The best sections though are definitely Louisiana and Georgia, with some good old fashioned Southern recipes. Delicious.

On to Italy, and before you ask, no this recipe did not come out of Nigellas new book. Or any book at all actually. I made some focaccia using a recipe given to me by a chef at a cookery course I attended. The course happened to be about French food, but this did not stop us making Italian bread and for that I am very glad. This focaccia recipe is bread perfection and totally and utterly foolproof. As long as you’re prepared to do ten minutes of kneading then this is really easy and after all that kneading all you need is patience while the dough proves. If the kneading sounds like too much work for you, wait until someone has really pissed you off to make it, and then 10 minutes of pretending the dough is that persons face won’t seem long enough. Violence against flour is fine, less so against people. My favourite part of making bread (after eating it of course) is poking the bread once its ready to go in the oven as the feel of it is bouncy, pillowy and lighter than air. Do this once and you’ll completely understand my wish to one day sleep on a bed made entirely of dough. Heaven. When the bread is ready to go in the oven, poke some dimples in the bread and push some ingredients in said dimples. I went for chillies today, but feel free to go with rosemary, olives, sun dried tomatoes…. Whatever takes your fancy really. When this comes out of the oven it will be all but impossible to dive right in as the smell is amazing and it looks so inviting. It says something about the quality of this bread that I can eat it solely on its own without even a smudge of butter on it. (Bread and butter is one of my favourite things to eat. Good bread though). The crust is crunchy with sprinkles of sea salt and the middle is soft, bouncy and utterly divine. It does go stale really quickly, which shows just how many chemicals must be pumped into supermarket bread to keep it fresh as long as it does, but slice it up and pop in the freezer if you won’t use it all up straight away. I’ll post the recipe for this later as any budding bakers should give it a go, and its not a copyrighted recipe so I’m free to share the goods!

I’ve also been cooking some Thai food after the success earlier in the week with Rick Steins book Far Eastern Odyssey, so tried yellow stir fry curry with prawns from the same book. This version is a bit different from the other Thai curries I’ve had as it contains no coconut milk and uses stock instead. It is ferociously hot and this was without the dried Kashmiri chilli that I could not find in the shops, so I was actually quite relieved I only included some regular red chillies in the paste. I’m not entirely sure I would make it again as while spicy which I like, it didn’t have anything else much going for it. I’m not one of those people who eats spicy food purely for the sake of it, spicy food has to have more flavours to it than just pure hot chilli heat. Not that it isn’t funny watching someone sweat when they order the hottest curry on the menu in front of their mates, because it really is. Still, despite being blindingly hot, I managed to finish it without an audience so I suppose I’m no better than the show offs, sweating without the congratulatory pats on the back from the men on the table.




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Mamma Mia

The Sopranos has a lot to answer for. I’m down with the excessive use of the f and c words (after all who hasn’t got frustrated and used them?), nudity (after all, we’re all born naked), adultery (after all, we all have crushes) and gory,violent murder scenes (after all, who’s not found out their fiancés shopping them to the Feds and then had them ‘taken care of’… oh just me then). What I cannot abide is hearing about all of the amazing food Carmela is cooking and then not being able to eat it myself. Ziti, lasagna, meatballs and gravy…. Oh it’s enough to make me think I should be reborn as a Mafia bosses daughter. The risk would be so worth it. Luckily, I don’t have to resort to such desperate measures; as you may have heard there’s a new Nigella book out which I’ve already blogged about. If you’re in the UK you might have seen her on telly on Monday night looking absolutely amazing and cooking up delights such as Nutella cheesecake and tagliata with Tuscan fries. If eating food like that results in looking like she does at 52, then I need no more convincing that a macrobiotic diet belongs solely in the depths of hell. Away with you Gillian Mckeith! Tonight I got to grips with the delightful sounding lamb ragu from Nigellisima, which after describing to The Boyfriend over the phone while I was cooking it, was told he was glad I was making it while he was all the way in South Africa. It’s safe to say he’s not a big fan of Italian food, so while the cats away and all that. This is my version of playing away, eating truckloads of pasta, which is much better on the conscience, not so much on the hips. I first knew I loved Italian food shortly after I passed my driving test when me and a school friend would go into town during free afternoons and have lunch in this delightful Italian cafe tucked away in a side street. Enter into my life proper Italian lasagna, strong cappuccinos and ammeretti biscuits. Bliss. After learning to drive and then eating this food, I felt like a proper grown up for the first time ever. I’d only just met The Boyfriend around that time too, so even more grown up points for a silly, naive 18 year old!

I should get back to the lamb ragu. Unlike a traditional ragu which is cooked for a couple of hours, this is simple and takes no more than 30 mins from chopping your shallot to serving up. I should note now that if you want traditional,authentic Italian food then buy a different book as this one’s all about Nigella’s unique and tasty spin on the cuisine. After all, this ragu does contain Worcestershire sauce and red currant jelly, two items you’d be hard pushed to find in an Italian nonnas kitchen. Nonetheless, this ragu tastes lovely and was a satisfactory end to a busy and emotionally draining Friday at work. The recipe calls for dried mint and oregano and these herbs pack quite a punch, leaving a zingy, fresh feeling in the mouth which goes really well with the minced lamb (shocker, that, lamb and mint tasting good together). Add to that a sprinkling of fresh mint when serving and you’ve got some added zing. I used tripoline pasta which as The Lawson would describe it, is like tagliatelle with a ra-ra skirt on and the thick, minty sauce clings really well to the stuff. This dish just reaffirms my love for Italian food, and its good to see that it isn’t just us Brits that love the combination of lamb and mint. Now all I need is a good excuse to whip up a Nutella cheesecake….



Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian, Nigella Lawson


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Stirring Things Up

Have I mentioned before that I’m a fan of Nigella? I like to keep it quiet, I don’t want to seem obsessed in any way, shape or form, but a new Nigella book is Big News in my home, much to The Boyfriends despair. So naturally as soon as payday hit last week I had to have it, as much for comfort reading as for the recipes. The great thing about Nigella is that she writes about food and life so well and while she may be minted herself and married to Charles Saatchi (net worth of £120 million), she clearly remembers what it’s like to be ‘normal’ without pots of money and fame. Plus, she loves food and sees no shame in gluttony or excess. My kind of gal then. So today’s recipe is from her new book Nigellisima which is dedicated to Italian food, which she fell in love with after spending a gap year in Italy. I’d like to say that I could have such an affinity with Italian food, what with being born and raised in a town with a huge Italian population and stuffed with Italian restaurants, but despite this I’ve never really ventured too far from the favourites the English have adopted. Well not anymore, not armed with the new Nigella tome anyway. So last night I spent my evening stirring up Chilli Crab Risotto over the hob while the rain hammered away outside. Nigella seems to think that stirring constantly for 20 minutes is quite relaxing, but I have to disagree as I just find it tiresome. However, risotto requires constant stirring so I had little choice in the matter. I really love chilli and freshly cooked crab is seriously tasty, but unfortunately the shops had no fresh crab so I had to downgrade significantly and go with canned crab. I’m not sure of the culinary credentials of canned crab, but taste wise it’s not so hot and lacks the lightness of the fresh stuff and tastes a bit too strong for my liking. Still, needs must and I was determined to cook this recipe. In general, it was a fairly good dish, with creamy rice, hints of white wine and a little bit of attitude from the chilli. I wouldn’t make it with canned crab again as it was too fishy and I can see how fresh crab woud turn the dish from fairly good to great. It was topped off with a few rocket leaves which gave a nice peppery heat to the risotto as well as making me feel a bit healthier.

Speaking of healthier, tonight I went for my fail safe ‘need to make up for an excessive weekend meal’, Greek yoghurt chicken. I use the word Greek very loosely, I’m pretty positive that a Greek person would find this severely lacking in authenticity, but it does contain Greek yoghurt so just go with it. All it is really is a chicken breast, cooked plainly in a way of your choosing (I usually grill it) with a big portion of vegetables and a tub of Greek yoghurt turned into something vaguely resembling tzatziki. The great thing about this meal being so unauthentic is that whatever you have in your fridge you can pretty much chuck in. If you have mint, cucumber, lemon and coriander you can quickly whip up an authentic tzatziki, but if you don’t have all of these then why not chuck in some spring onion, red chilli, garlic or parsley. If its a herb or spice, give it a go and chuck it in, although the mint is non negotiable. It must contain mint as this packs in a lot of flavour on what is essentially a dinner of plain chicken and veg. The yoghurt makes this dish, I can easily go through an entire 200g tub on my own when smothering my cooked chicken, but don’t feel bad about this as the yoghurt is stuffed with healthy natural ingredients. Except the sea salt, but lets live a little eh? Gradually add the ingredients to the yoghurt and taste it along the way as everyone has different tastes, I myself cram it to the brim with mint leaves as it tastes so fresh and zingy on the plain chicken. This weeks version contained spring onion, chilli, mint and lemon juice with some Maldon sea salt and black pepper. Remember too that there are no carbs in this meal so to fill up you need to pile the plate up with vegetables and salad, which will make you feel exceptionally virtuous. You’re welcome.




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What must people think of me?!

Well it turns out I have a reputation when it comes to food. And apparently it’s not good. Yes, someone at work dared to write down their opinions on fellow workmates and it wasn’t all flattering! I’ll mention no names but they know who they are. Luckily for her, we are a very good humoured bunch and found it hilarious. My reputation apparently is that I don’t share food, and don’t you dare criticise my cupcakes! Now, this could possibly have to do with the fact that on my 2nd week in the job many years ago (two), I may have gone out for a few drinks with my new workmates and while eating a kebab at the end of the night, shouted out in true Joey Tribiani style “Hayley doesn’t share food”. (That’s me in case you hadn’t twigged). And they have never forgotten it. Despite the fact I regularly bring in cupcakes for all to tuck into. I must confess, I have at times been a little overprotective with my food, even The Boyfriend couldn’t get a look in, but I’ve changed, I’m a new woman! But yeah, she’s spot on with one thing: don’t criticise my cupcakes biatch.

Let’s move on from questionable reputations and discuss dinner. Tonight I delved into my Delicious magazine from May 2010 which is an Italian special and full of pretty gorgeous looking recipes. I really love Italian food, but haven’t experimented much with the country’s cuisine, sticking to fairly safe and reliable dishes. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve done that again today. I needed a quick, easy dish after work and the gym, and this fitted the bill. It’s tagliatelle with prawns, chilli and courgette (catchy title), and takes 15 minutes from start to finish. While the dish was nice and easy, (and courgette free due to a lack of them in Sainsbury’s- I replaced them with a carrot) it was nothing special. Sauce was creamy and smooth, with a hint of garlic and a kick of chilli, while the actual tagliatelle may have been the best thing. I really love eating pasta, I don’t know what it is about it but I find the stuff so comforting even when it’s straight out of salted water, completely plain. Could be the many Saturdays in with the parents as a child watching Gladiators and eating homemade spaghetti bolognese. Food associated with comfort and happiness will always be our go to favourites after all. But I should definitely branch out and try more obscure or unusual pasta dishes, and not stick to the easy, comforting meals.



Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian


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