Category Archives: Life

Rome…continued…

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Despite the enjoyable chaos and drama of Roman life, the food is everything except that. There’s nothing complicated: simple food with fresh ingredients. With all the bakeries, pastry shops and salumerie in almost every corner of the city, you will get the best. J2 insisted that the first thing we had to try was porchetta. It’s roasted pork seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs. That on bread and you’re set for lunch. Right round the corner from S. Maria in Trastevere on Via della Lungaretta we found Pizzarius. Despite the lack of imagination in the name we were not disappointed. It’s a touristy place yes, but our lunch was delicious and that’s what matters the most. A lovely day, blue sky, a fountain, some musicians in the piazza doing the entertaining and one of the best sandwiches you can find. You see, the surroundings complete the experience. However lunch is not over until coffee so we headed to Caffé Di Marzio for an espresso. It is proper coffee and you can’t beat the price at €0.80. You literally get a shot of the stuff but you do feel robbed when you come back to Surrey and order a (look-a-like but tastes-nothing-like) coffee from one of the chains for just under £2. But that’s another story…

For dinner we gravitated mostly towards two particular eateries. We went to L’Archetto when we were too tired to walk at the end of long day. They mainly serve pasta with all the sauces you can think of, but pizza is also on the menu. I was told that they don’t have the proper brick ovens but I wanted to have a taste anyway. You see, I was also thinking of my lovely readers and how much they would appreciate my opinion on things…! On a serious note though, I thought that the food was good…(J had spaghetti alla Norma which he quite liked) till we ate at Ai Balestrari in Campo de’ Fiori. Unlike L’Archetto, the rooms are quite dark. The first time we went there I felt as if I was in a kind of limbo. The place was not as clean. I had to change my glass which had some dust fluff in it. But the food made up for whatever other things this place lacked. Second time round we were given a better table on the ground floor. Their home-made pasta with simple tomato sauce was exactly what I needed, after having some stomach issues earlier in the day. My A-team had a couple of pizzas I think and everything was yummie. For the last day we decided to have a taste of the serious stuff: Saltimbocca (veal with prosciutto and sage), Carciofi alla giudia (deep fried artichokes), puntarelle (chicory salad with an anchovy dressing – not that much to my liking I have to say but good nonetheless) and a crostata for dessert which sadly had a soggy pastry. Pity because otherwise it could have been lovely. Having wine with meals is not an everyday thing for me, so I decided to avoid it like the plague after the second day. As good as table wine gets in Italy, two glasses in one sitting were a tad too much for me. I should have known…

TBC…

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

Savoury puddings…

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Most people would say that I have a sweet tooth, but if you read in between the lines of my several rants in this blog (for which I constantly apologise – but I know I don’t always need to), you’ll know that perhaps this is not the case. I love sweet things, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes there’s nothing better than some fresh crusty bread and cheese to alter my mood. Did I forget to include those lovely salty anchovies?! It’s now widely acknowledged that too much salt is not good for the system, but extra seasoning is needed many times for flavour. There’s nothing worse than a bland plate of soup. I know you know what I’m talking about.

When I lived in Michigan some years ago I spent loads of time alone in the kitchen thinking about what my next bake would be. Food Network US was constantly on, day in day out, no exception. I used to drive J totally mad I think! But that’s when my food obsession started. So one morning I saw a short snippet of Nigella Bites. I can’t remember the episode this recipe was from, but I saw her concocting a pudding she served with ham. I quickly tried to write it down and missed some steps here and there, but I thought that I had a workable recipe anyway. So I tried what I had written and the recipe worked. This is before I bought the book. The result was a creamy cake, not that solid I must say, but it was done, the skewer came out perfectly clean. It was wierd but tasted great and I wondered where Nigella got the idea from. You see, however far you look, recipes are always inherited when it comes to home cooking, and there’s nothing wrong in this. There’s a sense of tradition which I love – I have no worries about passing on recipes, especially the ones which I’ve grown up with. There’s no secret here.

I never found where this idea came from until I came back from Rome last week. I was reading through Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy which is definitely one of the must-haves in your kitchen library if you are interested in Italian food and its history. I was thinking about buying it when I discovered that I already had! I rummaged through my books on my last visit to Malta and found it hidden in the shelves! Go figure. In this book I found a recipe for what Del Conte calls Salviata, a.k.a. sage pudding. Nigella’s version is *not* a replica of the Salviata – there are many differences. What I would say is that the Italian recipe is much healthier, if you’re counting the calories. Also, like almost all things Italian it has Parmesan in it of course. I haven’t tried the Salviata yet, but the following is Nigella’s English pudding, which is really quick and easy to prepare, but don’t make it often, ok? You’ll get why in a minute. Also it needs it’s time in the oven to bake through. So give it time. As always, please note that every oven is different, so experiment and don’t give up if it doesn’t turn out the way you’ve hoped.

Before you read on, you also need creamed corn for this recipe. I would recommend you add it here because it will make a big difference in the pudding’s consistency. It’s so good you’ll want to eat it straight out of the can with a spoon! Well I do anyway! You can easily find it in supermarkets in the UK. This is my version of Nigella’s recipe. I take her advice on board as always and use a Pyrex dish, which always works. You need:

  • 5 eggs
  • 280g sweetcorn, frozen (or drain a 340g can – you’ll get roughly the same amount)
  • 420g can creamed corn
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk (Nigella uses full-fat but I find it works like this too)
  • 300ml double cream
  • 60g plain flour (4 heaped tablespoons will work fine)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  1. Grease an ovenproof dish with some butter and flour, and preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.
  2. In a large bowl whisk the eggs, add the other ingredients and beat very very well! Pour into the dish and place it in the oven. Give it 45 minutes and keep an eye on it through the oven. That’s why you’ll want to use a glass dish here. Wait for it to turn golden brown and puffed up on the top. Give it a good hour if this isn’t so. If you think it’s cooked check it as you do usually, with a knife or skewer but try to leave the dish in the oven as you do this. Ask for some help if you need to.

If you see that it took longer than an hour to cook, next time try it at 190°C as the book says. I find that for an electric oven ten degrees less is more than enough. Experiment and enjoy it though. It makes a mean snack, or a really good side with anything. Happy baking!

Rob x

Where I was…

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While you might have read some of my previous posts you didn’t know that I was away on a long-awaited holiday/gastro-tour to Rome. Will you believe me when I tell you that I had never been to Italy before? Shame on me. But I have been there…finally…and back, and I am in love. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it. So I’ll be working on some blog posts during the next week or so to tell you all about it, including all the delicious food I ate, without mentioning all the pounds I gained in the process, but it was so worth it that I don’t mind (well for now anyways)! I’ll be back soon.

Rob x

Books I love and Other Things.

I always say that Facebook can be a curse and a blessing at the same time. I admit that it’s a love-hate relationship on my part. Many times it’s all about love though! I wouldn’t be in contact with anyone if it were not for it, especially since I’ve moved to the UK a few years ago. I only wish that I had something like this available when I lived even more far away than that eleven years ago. I love the interaction with long lost friends though I rarely accept friend requests from people I don’t know at all. One thing I enjoy are photo albums (or individual photos for that matter) about food. It’s a feast for my eyes and I love when people forgo everyday takeaways and cook something from scratch. One of these albums belongs to Andrew – a good friend of mine who loves to cook and so loves to eat! I don’t know if he is aware of this, but he lately gave me some ideas for a few Maltese-inspired dishes. I promised that I’ll cook something for him whenever he’s around for a visit.

Andrew was also kind enough to send me his copy of The Nigella Lawson Edition of Stylist Magazine. When this arrived through the post I was positively thrilled. Not only was it full of gorgeous photos and articles, but it also came with some book recommendations at the back. I decided to buy them, not necessarily all at once! I really love books, sometimes too much even for my own liking, and most of the time I regret it. The concept of time just doesn’t exist for me in bookshops, but I regret it more often than not because I rarely purchase books from the stores any more. I buy second hand books these days. They are cheaper, most of the time they are in good condition and hey, it’s also good for the environment. And some books are just not found in the high street anyway. But I digress…

The book I started with is Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic by food writer and editor Ruth Reichl. I knew who Ms. Reichl was but I never read her. Mistake. What I didn’t know was that Garlic and Sapphires was the third part of her memoirs, although to her credit, one can read this without necessarily reading the other two parts. She is an amazing writer – I really cannot stress this enough. I was immediately taken into her world and her work from the first page. She is not just a foodie. She is a journalist with a capital J, with a true knowledge of food and of life: an expert. I was hooked.

A year or so ago I would never have thought that I would be reading something from a food critic. Never. I thought they were all high-strung stuck-up snobs, moving from one restaurant to the other, pointing fingers at the hard-working chef or sous chef slaving in the kitchen since the wee hours of the morning to get everything set up for lunch in time. I mean, come on, you get paid to eat! Some definitely fit this description, but Ruth Reichl isn’t one of them. I’m no food critic, and to be honest I’m not sure I ever want to be one. It’s a tough job, especially when you work for a high profile newspaper. The politics behind close doors can be unbearable. You really have to love your job, not merely to eat fabulous food, but to go to a restaurant several times in different disguises. When you’re a famous critic with The New York Times you are easily recognised; that’s just the way it is. Reichl says that she wasn’t even in New York yet, when someone pointed her out on the plane. Early on she knew that to give the most objective reviews she had to find a way to taste the food without being who she really was. The staff, judging the book by it’s cover, treated her differently, offering the best when she went to a restaurant as herself while almost doing the opposite when in disguise. If only they knew who they were being obnoxious to! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Ruth went out for a meal as Betty, a character inspired by an “invisible” but adorable old lady she met on a bus. It could be a stand alone topic for another book! Seriously, respect for the older generation has gone down the drain.

I should have read Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table first- Ruth’s culinary adventures as a child, but no harm done. I think that this is the most entertaining book out of the three. There’s no question – writing a serious autobiography, memoir or whatever you want to call it, takes guts. It’s personal in nature and therefore it can be revealing. And it’s not only about you, but also about your family, which can make it a bit complicated. No family story is straightforward and you would be in La La Land if you happen to think otherwise. Reichl’s way of doing things is very endearing. She admits to merging two characters into one or changing some happenings here and there, which I think she does mostly for discretion’s sake. I still think it’s ok though. The essence of the story is still present. I laughed so much as she protected both the guests and her own friends at her mother’s dinner parties or at informal gatherings before they tasted the “mouldy” food. I was moved by the way she writes about both her parents and the rest of her family. About their mother, her brother says: “I don’t know how I survived her cooking. She’s a menace to society!” Then she grew up, worked in restaurants, did a fair share of travelling, married and lived in a commune, and together with her friends she opened The Swallow, where she was both cook and co-owner. Everything was not straightforward. She worked hard at overcoming personal difficulties.

In the final pages of Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table Reichl says: “I took the title of this book from the Song of Solomon, which has a lot to say about both food and love.” (This is also known as the Song of Songs.) I am definitely *not* going to go into the theology of it. We will leave that to any Biblical expert out there who might want to give it a go! What we can say for sure is that someone’s background, culture, faith or environment (or lack of, if that’s even possible) does have an influence on the food we grow up with. You can definitely see this in Reichl’s recipes, and in everyone else’s for that matter. In this second part we can see the transition between cook and food critic. As she advances in her work, she builds contacts, meets famous chefs, becomes more known herself, but her personal life goes the other way. Her marriage breaks down, her mother gives her a hard time; life becomes tougher but she faces her problems and admits when she’s wrong. Her trip to Barcelona unravelled an unsuccessful meal and most importantly her feelings. “When I got on the plane, I didn’t really know why I was coming. But I do now. I needed to find out that sometimes even your best is not good enough. And that in those times you have to give it everything you’ve got. And then move on.” A lesson for life. In the meantime I’m searching for Reichl’s other books. I know they will be a treat.

Rob x

Too much Salt.

J and I have just arrived back from a brief holiday in the Lake District. Those who know us know that we love the Lakes, especially in good weather. This year, weather-wise, it was not good. We cancelled two days of camping and chose to head up north on Wednesday instead to stay in the tiny village of Seatoller in Borrowdale. That was a great choice: the valley was lovely with beautiful views all around, but with low clouds, mist and the heaviest rain we could barely walk. I could be exaggerating just a little bit but it was too soggy for my taste. We did manage to enjoy some walks here and there, and we went to our favourite little towns of Keswick, Hawkshead and did all the tourist things, among which was a visit to Hill Top, a farm which once belonged to Beatrix Potter. But I seriously digress…

Though this actually brings me to something I wanted to write about for quite a long time now. I don’t want to be a nag because no one likes that, myself included. But this has been bothering me. On to another story then! (Sorry…) While we were in Hawkshead we decided to have some coffee and cake from a quaint local teashop. Quaint is only the word J used to describe it, since it was really girly, but later he told me he felt squeamish when he saw it. Their chocolate cake seemed so delicious in the display area so that’s what I ordered. Result: it was so-not-delicious! It was dry and had too much salt in it for my liking – so I ask this: what is it with people’s obsession with chocolate and salt? There is no doubt that we are eating too much salt. Now this comes from someone who loves salty things – I could eat a whole tin of anchovies if given the chance. I say it because I would be the first one to put my hand up because I’m guilty too, even though I’ve given up on the anchovy-tin-bit quite a few months ago. Sad I know, but true! Thankfully these days many food stuffs have labels that indicate how much salt or sodium (they are different) you can find in that product. They make life a teeny bit easier.

I am trying to reduce salt in my cooking. I didn’t take it away completely because I need it. We all do. I still wash the beans from a tin to remove all those salty preservatives. More so after watching a celebrity chef on tv throwing the beans plus + the horrible goo into his dish = yuck! But salt in sweet things…*mm…let me think*…is not a good idea with chocolate. I just don’t like it, and I prefer to use herbs and spices, and pepper of course to season savoury stuff. I am no chef I know that. I’m a simple home cook and people are partial to different kinds of food – I know that too. But the fact that we should go slowly with the salt mill is well-known. Nothing new here. I won’t go into any health issues – we’re getting that everywhere and a lot lately and frankly you know the drill. I just want less salt in my sweets. Where can I get a decent saltless bar of chocolate? I wonder if that’s a lot to ask.

Rob x

Note: For a good guide for salt take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/treatments/healthy_living/nutrition/healthy_salt.shtml

Moving day.

Click here for http://www.keepcalmandcarryon.com

I know that I have already said that I am moving house. Moving day/s (it could take a couple of days I guess) will be Monday. So I am writing this in my tiny living space which is currently home to numerous boxes, not with nostalgia, but with a mix of tiredness and excitement. We will have loads of help too and I will feed a small group of friends at the end of the day, though I haven’t decided yet what to cook. I’m looking forward to it and I do feel grateful and blessed. These have been hectic days and I think I need a holiday. What I really need though is a Keep Calm & Carry On poster! I hope to be back soon. In the meantime Keep Cooking…

Rob x