Category Archives: Jibber Jabber

Porridge.

Breakfast is and will continue to be the bane of my life. I’ve always loved this expression, even though it may be too melodramatic. This seems a good time to use it! Seriously though, breakfast should be the most important meal of the day, and yet it’s so tough to be creative. I don’t know about you but that’s where I am. You see, at “insanely-early-o’clock-in-the-morning” I don’t have the necessary strength to think about anything. Especially before my coffee. So I am desperately trying to find ways to make my morning meal a little more interesting.

A pantry staple in this house is porridge. Boring. Well I say this almost all the time and I can even hear you say it. And we might even be right. You see, I like porridge but I find it hard to come up with ideas on how to make it. I get bored very easily, especially when it comes to breakfast food. Apparently I’m not the only one; you only need to flip through a cookbook or two to find that in the breakfast section (if there is one) you can literally count the recipes with one hand. Well…perhaps a bit more…

So I asked some friends of mine on Facebook (real friends in case you’re asking) for simple ideas on how they like their porridge in the morning. The feedback was fantastic. These are some which I loved. (Incidentally you can tell a lot about people from the things they love, and food is one of them.) My old school friend Elaine (‘old’ as in I’ve known her since our school days! She looks fabulous!) told me she loves to add manuka honey, cinnamon, pomegranate, bananas or apples. Very sophisticated. A friend from our days in Michigan, Alice, said that she loves pumpkin and apple bakes. (She did give me the link but I cannot find it anywhere in my bookmarks.) I can totally see that – they are as sweet and lovely as her! One of my very first loyal readers, Joanne, likes oats with Greek yoghurt, mashed bananas, sunflower or pumpkin seeds (or both I’m guessing), honey and almonds. Great combo. Lovely, happy ingredients, just like her smile. An interesting (in the positive sense) and one of my favourites is Edward’s take: coconut or honey, one or two drops of vanilla and flaked almonds. The best ideas in life are the simplest ones. (Could this be Ed’s mantra?)

I would add some chocolate chips with the coconut version, but that’s just because I love chocolate in anything! However I was being good so last week I made mine with a pinch of salt and a spoonful of golden syrup. (As if adding golden syrup is good! *snort*) Incidentally this would be a great meal just before heading to town to watch the Olympic torch passing through, which for us is today. Thank goodness I won’t be the one doing the running. If you are reading this and you have more ideas please share…It’ll be great! In the meantime here’s a recipe by Nigel Slater to get you started:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/mar/04/nigel-slater-classic-porridge-recipe

Ignore any superstitions! Enjoy!

Rob x

What I’m reading now #2

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I’ve been reading Ching-He Huang’s Chinese Food Made Easy (Harper Collins, 2008) and Ching’s Fast Food (same publisher, 2011). I love Ching – her girly giggle and her never-ending enthusiasm for food are contagious. I prefer Ching’s Fast Food best because apart from being a recipe book, it is also a kind of memoir. I love this combination. I don’t have any clue about real Chinese cooking – and I mean the *real* deal, not the Americanised recipes we are so accustomed to eating in many so-called Chinese restaurants. As Ching says “Chinese food remains unappreciated…but there are signs that the disparity between takeaway food and ‘real’ Chinese cuisine is lessening.” Which is a good sign. It would be fantastic to experience a home-cooked meal, but alas, I could be waiting for quite a while! Ching’s recipes in both books are a twist on the traditional ones, I find her to be most inspiring and I will definitely try to be more adventurous with my cooking…

There’s nothing wrong with tradition though, which brings me to a family of books which I purchased from the National Trust. I have two favourites: The National Trust Farmhouse Cookbook and Complete Traditional Recipe Book. I have made quite a number of recipes from both books. The latter is quite thick and it’s almost split half and half (sweet and savoury/cooking and baking). The Farmhouse Cookbook is not to be overlooked though; it takes you to different NT properties and tells you about local specialities and ingredients, and of course how these are sourced. They are a good reference for anyone who wants to know more about British food (yes, there *is* such a thing) and British heritage.

Hopping from the UK to Italy now…(it’s almost sounding like Euro 2012)! Well, I won’t go into that but there’s no denying that the food in Italy is not just great – it’s divine. If you agree and you love to cook, then you just have to have Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy. I know I have mentioned this book before but I cannot have a list of favourites and not include it! It would be just plain wrong. It’s not just a recipe book – it’s a mixture of food and history, and you know how much I enjoy this kind of literature. This is a must-have for anyone interested in the subject.

I won’t bore you anymore with my ramblings (on books that is…) but I hope that you will find all this helpful if you’re thinking about getting some cookbooks either for you or for a foodie friend. Now for a brief disclaimer to put things right, please note that I was *not* paid by anyone to review these books. They are just the ones I like at this moment and of course whatever I wrote about them is my personal opinion. Patti chiari, amicizia lunga, or so they say…

Rob x

Some of my favourite cookbooks and what I’m reading now #1

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I love cookbooks and I use them often. I also review them. I’m no food expert, which is something that I say again and again, but I love to try out new recipes whenever I can. Recently I received messages from quite a number of people asking me about my favourite books/chefs/authors/food writers and though you can get a pretty good idea if you look through my links page, I’ll gladly post some right here. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, because I don’t own every cookbook ever published. (For more inspiration you can see the one Stylist compiled here. It was a good list, but they did leave out the classic stuff, e.g. Escoffier.) The following are my current favourites, old ones and very new ones but it’s all good. Please note that this is just the first part. I don’t want to make one long post – it would be too tedious. And no book will be numbered (as in order of preference.)

How to Eat by Nigella Lawson (1999, Chatto & Windus). I know what you’re thinking. She has to mention Nigella, doesn’t she? Yes, of course I do (and there’s another one coming a bit later). I have to start with this though. It covers everything, from the basic sauces to pastry in the first chapter, to feeding children. It’s such a good introduction to Nigella’s cooking, well shall I dare say to cooking in general? Nigel Slater described this as his “book of the decade”. How to Eat is like an encyclopaedia, but refreshingly non-patronising and unassuming. Very charming trait indeed. Plus it’s nice and thick, and I love my paperback version, which makes things a little bit easier when carrying it around the house just for a read.

I can never rave enough about James Ramsden’s Small Adventures in Cooking (2011, Quadrille), and the whole New Voices in Food series. Which brings me also to another nifty little book by Niamh Shields’ Comfort & Spice, same series, same publisher, same year. These two (not just the books but James and Niamh themselves) are delightful. With exciting but uncomplicated recipes, they will definitely guarantee a wow from all your friends. Definitely my two constant companions this summer.

Now I don’t mind a bit of a challenge sometimes. A recipe with a longish list of ingredients won’t be necessarily dismiss. However I would only give it a go when I have some time to spare in the kitchen. This is not always possible. So here comes my other favourite James. I bought James Tanner Takes 5 (2010, Kyle Books) on an unplanned trip to the bookstore with my mum. The idea behind this is simple: you need five ingredients for each recipe, plus the usual salt, pepper and pantry staples. Nothing complicated, which is just what you need, especially during the summer months. There’s also a good mixture of dishes and it’s a book which will continue to be well-loved by me because of it’s practicality.

If you’re a bit of a baking buff like me, then you will guess what the next book will be. I’ve said many times that How to be a Domestic Goddess, another Nigella book, (Chatto & Windus, 2000) is one of my favourites. It’s not the only book I go to for easy baking ideas, but I find myself grabbing it from the shelves nine times out of ten. It’s not all about cakes, so it’s not for you if you want just your sweet things. I must admit that I haven’t tried any of the savoury recipes, perhaps because I already had good recipes to work with when I bought the book. However there’s no need to say that the cakes and sweet pies and muffins and brownies, and whatever else that remains from HTBADG (my abbreviation) I baked, were yummie.

During my many hours on the internet looking for the newest publications, I came across A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell (2012, Harper Collins). And when it came through the post around three weeks ago I couldn’t help but feel excited and yet afraid. Why? Because this book was not an easy feat. Before I opened the book I said: it’s either going to be really really really good, or it’s going to be a disaster. Thank goodness it is such a good read! Not everyone could do this. Sitwell did. Hats off. So A History of Food has to be included in my list…in any list if I may say so. Please note that this is *not* a recipe book in the classic sense of the word. Most of the recipes cannot be replicated (especially those that go back to 1958BC) but I just love all the history. I don’t think the chapters are meant to be read in order, which makes it an ideal reference manual, and they are short, which is always a joy. It is, and it’s for everyone. I didn’t know that Virgil probably had one of the first recipes for roast goat…

Rob x

Rome…L’ultima parte…

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Nothing beats good weather, good food and great company. And I had all three. In Rome. Correction: I had all four. After a long and beautiful morning drive, I asked the Js if we could kindly stop for a coffee and cornetto…yet again…to which they agreed. You see, the designated driver and his passenger (to his right) needed a coffee fix there and then. I, on the other hand, did not necessarily need one, but I wanted something sweet anyway. Obviously! When the coffee break was over (alas) we went for a short walk, after which J2 drove us to Monte Tuscolo. I soaked up the view, and something magical happened…my Italian came back…well, a teeny tiny bit of it at least! Some locals who loved the place as much as I did sat next to me and asked me about my sketch. I found myself trying to speak a few words here and there. Nothing special but I was happy. It felt good. (All those hours watching Montalbano certainly paid off. Well that’s not exactly Roman…mah!)

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What felt even better was lunch, of course, at Hosteria San Rocco in Frascati. After some antipasti, which were good but somewhat overpriced, we ordered fresh pasta alla gricia and the classic cacio e pepe. These did not disappoint. I braced myself for the saltiness of the guanciale (not pancetta as loads of Italian bloggers rightly cannot stress enough) but it was simple food at it’s best I thought. The boys just wanted their coffee. I had Tiramisù, which is not typically from the region, but it was either that or fruit, so the choice was clear. I can never get over how good the coffee is in Italy. One of the first things my bro-in-law told me was this: “You can never, ever, go wrong with the coffee here.” Right he was. And with such cute coffee cups how can we ever? Guess which one I picked…

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Arrivederci Roma. Hopefully that was not un addio

Rob x

Rome…the first part.

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As I write this, the sky is grey. Surely not great when I’m trying my best to write about Rome. But there’s nothing like the present to go back once again to that amazing place. Though I must admit that watching Two Greedy Italians last night gave me the final nudge. (What I thought of the programme is another thing but there’s no doubt that Carluccio and Contaldo know their food.) I have never been to Italy before. Not that going to Rome, once, is enough! That’s not what I mean. But it’s a start. It’s a great start…

Saying that there’s loads to see and do (and eat of course) is an understatement. I don’t even know where to begin. After three exhausting weeks in Malta (which was partially another culinary adventure by itself) we landed in Fiumicino early next morning. I was tired. No-sleep-on-the-plane-dead. That meant that all I wanted was thirty minutes of peace, but our taxi driver (such a nice man, seriously) was a huge fan of Amy Winehouse and that-a little bit of quiet time was a no-no-no. But still, I did enjoy the chaotic entry into the city. Listening to some Italian was also somewhat surreal.

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It was a whirlwind holiday from the very start. First stop: Fontana di Trevi. We were ambushed. I never saw so many people crammed into one tiny piazza! But what a piazza! After taking the compulsory snap shots my bro-in-law, who was kindly leading this quasi-gastro-tour of three, took us to L’Antico Forno, a charming little bakery and everything-in-between place. Everybody stops there on the way back and forth to other sights; it’s practically two seconds away from the fountain. The lady at the bakery counter saw me eyeing the pastries and asked me what I wanted. What I wanted? One of each please. I could have walked out of there with cinque cornetti (alla crema or al cioccolato didn’t matter). Thank God my Italian was not so fluent or I would have! J & J (like the A-team) had to drag me out of there. We had just arrived and I wanted to buy the whole shop. J2 (in case you’re wondering, he’s my brother-in-law) reassured me that L’Antico Forno was not going to relocate any time soon and also there were other pasticcerie in Rome. J (my lovely hubby, no intro needed, you know the guy) who knows me well promised me we would return. OK. Done deal. Move on. (That’s what he really wanted to say.) I, on the other hand, could feel the pain.

So we already established that if we walked towards the Fountain there would be a slice of Heaven. What I didn’t know yet was that if we headed the other side of the street there would be another slice of Heaven. Three days…three whole days went by before we went to Antico Caffè Castellino (the word antico featured yet again), not for pastries first, but for bus tickets. Nice. We were in such a hurry, we didn’t stop for something al banco. But with *that* Wednesday being a day off for all, there was not a bus to be seen, not even some sort of shuttle that would take you to the Vatican. The only big car that was not diverted was the President’s, we think…we didn’t even see him wave. Some German tourists asked one bemused Carabiniere about the buses. He said that they will come but frankly he seemed knowledgeable and clueless at the same time. If the Carabiniere said so then the bus will definitely be there…well…not? (I could not see why we couldn’t have due cappuccini and due cornetti at the bar.) Instead we walked to another bus stop and relaxed. You see, there’s no need to panic in Rome. You start learning to take life as it comes. The general attitude is if-you-missa-de-bus-you-missa-de-bus kind of thing, so you’re set for the rest of your holiday. Don’t order a cappuccino after lunch though. That can get you into trouble…

TBC…

Rob x