December 6, 2013

Bimba’s first stew

Here I am. Me trying to find space again, words again, after all in my life has changed.

So the last year and a half I have been busy making a baby. Growing it, battling the hormons that made all the enjoyment related to food disappear for months, fighting tiredness and worry, and then, after Bimba arrived,  trying to survive months of sleep deprivation. Food is yet another chore more often than not, and I do feel grateful for ready meals and not having to cook for the first time in my life.

It is hard work, and it is fun. In a way. At least, I think this is how I’ll remember it a few years down the line.

But now Bimba is discovering food other than eating me. I did manage to cook a couple of times and I have a couple of new recipes I want to write, but Bimba has not tasted them yet. I will post them here, and she will taste them, in due time.

I have already forgotten what her first taste of food was, probably an apple, maybe a peach. So I need to start recording, because I don’t want to lose it all. A few days ago I made her a beef stew. Experiments so far with meat had not been too successful: meatballs are too dry, ragu is difficult to swallow somehow, though she loves the taste. She gums a piece of chicken happily enough though. I put a pile of chunks of carrots and meat in front of her, and a little pot with the sauce to spoon, which I thought was out of reach. She grabbed the pot immediately and it landed on the floor. With the open side up and most of the sauce still in. I could not believe my beginner’s luck.

She then grabbed a chunk of meat with her tiny, greedy hands. She sucked it with that puzzled expression she always has when she tastes something new, then dropped it on the floor. She immediately went for more. She is a little cave man at the moment, crazy about proteins, meat and fish and yogurt. Pasta and potatoes are seen as useless plastic, more or less. She loves vegetables though and she loved the sauce of the stew, flavoured with her current favourites, bell pepper and tomato. We liked it as well, after adding a bit of salt. I loved that I would not have cooked it were it not for her.

Almost forgot: when I eventually sat down to eat that evening, much later, while I was telling Bimba’s dad how much she loved her stew, I finally raised my eyes. The walls and ceiling were covered in sauce splatters. Messy, happy times.

Today I took a break from being a mum and used some of the time to write this post, and some to make her some salt free pitta bread. I love doing things for her in my own me-time.

Bimba’s first stew

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, yellow

2 carrots

2 red bell peppers

500 g stewing beef (it was chunk steak), cut in large strips

1/2 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1 bay leaf

1 can of peeled tomatoes

tiny hint of ground black pepper

Cut the onions in wedges and the carrots in chunks of unequal shape. Cut also the bell peppers in wedges. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker. Brown the meat, then add the chunks of vegetables. Brown for a few more minutes, then add the bay leaf, the tomatoes, paprika and pepper. Add some more water, close the pressure cooker and cook for about 30-45 minutes until the meat is tender but not completely melted (if you want the baby to be able to grab it). Let any excess water evaporate over high heat until you have a nice thick sauce with chunks of soft vegetables in it. It tastes better the day after.

June 21, 2012

The smell of curry leaves

Stir -fried Chettinad Chicken

It’s been utterly quiet around here lately.  At some point, I just stopped thinking about food all the time. My mind was somewhere else.

Five – no wait! six? –  years ago I made a career choice. I moved away from what I wanted to do when I was a child, because it was not quite how I thought it was going to be, and I could not cope with the differences. Besides, pursuing that career would mean no decent job for a few years at least. I took up another job, a job that was any job but that, because I didn’t want to have to deal with it ever again. It felt too painful. Continue reading

April 29, 2012

A recipe by Apicius: patella de apua, with Garum

Frittata of sardines

A few days ago a gift arrived at my door. It had travelled from the US and through time as well. I was holding in my hand a small bottle of home produced garum. I opened it and was hit in the face by a strong, strong smell. Fishy? Not quite. The manufacturer is Laura Kelley, the talented author and researcher; the recipe source is Roman. Garum is a mysterious historical relict. Fish, in this case mackerel, is piled with salt and left to mature at room temperature for a few weeks, then distilled to an almost clear liquor (read Laura’s post for much more information). Fish sauces are alive and kicking in the Far East, but they are not common any more in the Mediterranean. In Roman times, however, this great-grandfather of nuoc mam was a prized and popular ingredient.  Why did we stop using it? It is a mystery. In Italy colatura di alici is still produced with a similar process, but it certainly is no common ingredient. Continue reading

April 15, 2012

Guest post: how to improve your oven for pizza

Pita bread and pizza stone

Do you ever fantasize about what type of house you’d want to live in if you had access to an unlimited amount of money? Something that you would like to have, if you could and would afford a totally unreasonable luxury? I do, of course; and after careful considerations I have come up with two dreams.

One is a swimming pool – boring, I know, but I just love swimming. I need to sort out the details. I would want a house by the sea, a very warm and calm sea. However an indoors swimming pool makes sense at night or in winter: I’d want some limited winter in my dream world. Or actually, it may well be that my house is close to a very scenic ocean, which produces the most soothing background noise, but makes swimming in the sea a bit tricky. And I can’t rule out the possibility that I am going to learn how to surf and I’d want to live close to a good surf beach – again, not so great for swimming. Anyway. I still need to sort out the details, but swimming pool is totally unreasonable dream number one.

Number two is a pizza oven.

I have always wanted to have one. There is no substitute for a proper pizza oven to have a great pizza, and there is nothing like a great pizza. It is hands down the thing I miss the most of Italy. Such oven belongs to the ‘unreasonable luxury’ world. It is not as expensive as a swimming pool, but running one regularly is a luxury. Those beasts are huge, for one thing, and they need to be heated for hours, so they are just not really compatible with the scales of an average household. I even have a friend who owns one, and we used it once for a party. It was great fun and some hard work. But there are only that many times when I get to invite fifty people. And still, to make really good pizza, you need that proper oven.

So when Heather from Clay Ovens asked me if I would be interested to share with you a few tips on how to build your own stone pizza oven, I could not say no, literally. I had to know more. The Clay Oven Company is a family run business based in London, and they build ovens professionally. They build much more than pizza ovens, actually: I did not realize before how many interesting recipes you can prepare once you have the basic facility of a very hot oven set up and running. Here are the tips they have kindly agreed to share with us. I, for one, can’t wait to try them all. Continue reading

April 10, 2012

Roasted pineapple and almonds tart

Pineapple and almond tart

I have quite a name for being easily disappointed by desserts. It has happened to me more than once to have a wonderful dinner in some restaurant, only to be let down, and quite badly, when it comes to the dessert department. Too sweet, too fat, not really fresh, just plain boring: wasted calories, really. I recently had a nice dinner in a place where they prepare dishes with tens of vegetables, each cooked to perfection with its own technique. Intrigued by such precision, and curious about the (inevitable) ‘Michelin-star trained chef’, we ordered pudding. They brought us a treacle tart so chewy that it is still hanging from the work of my dentist, tasting only of sugar, covered by an ice cream ball sized scoop of clotted cream, and a stale vanilla sable'; all probably worth the calories I normally consume in a day. When I decide to indulge, I want to get bangs for my calorie investment. I want flavours and textures so exciting I cannot stop eating.

This is one of those desserts worth each and every of the calories it contains, and there is quite a lot of them. Many of the cakes in this group have been inspired by this book of recipes from Laduree: it is, after all, one of the most famous patisseries in the whole world for good reasons. On the other hand, again, the recipe on the book was not quite right: not such a bad thing, if you think that I had to make the recipe twice just to confirm that my changes were working. Ah, the hard life of a dedicated food blogger. This is the version of the recipe I’m going to make from now on, hopefully many times. Continue reading

March 20, 2012

The first day of spring

Spring greens in red pepper paste

There is something magical in solstices and equinoxes. They stir ancestral, deep resonances inside me. I always forget equinox days though: they are not obviously bright or gloomy like the peaks of summer and winter. But this year I wanted to celebrate. This Saturday I planted a few handful of seeds in my garden. It’s going to be a struggle with the snails – and they’ll win as I well know, but I’ll try at least.

This quiet, unassuming recipe comes from the second Riverford cookbook; actually it is from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey, as reported in their introduction.  I expected it to be an everyday recipe, and it is: easy and quick. But it tasted so good I know I’m going to learn the recipe for this paste by heart. The problem with spice pastes is that if they are not in your DNA – and they definitely are not in mine – you have to read a recipe for them. No matter if it takes ten minutes in the end, I find I have to rummage through my overcrowded spice cabinet for a good half an hour, going back and forth to the recipe measuring, toasting, getting it wrong.. It is just not obvious to me what needs to be roasted, what needs to go in last, what needs to be ground, what can be left whole, although I am developing a feel for it. I have no such doubts when cooking a European recipe, even a more involved one. I read it once and I normally don’t even need to look at it again. So during week time, when I’m busier, I rarely venture into spice-hunting mode. Now, this recipe is not spiced, although it is hot, but it tastes as if it is. It is grown up and complex, and makes spring greens, a vegetable I find a bit perplexing (should I think about it like a mild cabbage? Or rather, a cabbage-y chard? Or rather, a sweet kale? ), find their right place in the world. Of course you could use the paste for something else, and I most definitely will.

Spring greens

Spring Greens with Red Pepper

from Everyday & Sunday Recipes from Riverford Farm

Ingredients:

1/2 red pepper

1/2 red onion

1 garlic clove

3-4 drops fish sauce (they call for blachan, but I didn’t have any)

1 red chilli, deseeded

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2-3 heads of spring greens,  chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

squeeze of lemon

salt

Method:

clean and chop onion, pepper, garlic and chilli. Whizz in a food processor with a bit of water to a rough paste. Add a little splash of fish sauce. Heat the oil in  a wide pan. Stir in the paste, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant – about 5 mins. Add in the spring greens, some salt, stir, cover until wilted. Add a bit more water if needed. Let cook for about ten minutes until the greens are tender. Adjust salt and serve, hot or cold.

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March 16, 2012

A winter in Devon: carrots

Roasted carrots

Do you think it is possible to have a sort of an aftershock after moving? I think I have. It’s been a few months now, but I still feel shattered. I find it difficult to commit, to attach, to plan.  Maybe I’m just getting older: when I was younger, it was all about feeling a citizen of the world, and let us not be bothered by outdated concepts like ‘nationality’. I still think that we are first and foremost human beings. But well, there are differences in our daily lives depending on where we live, especially when we grow older and so much of life is dealing with the little details of the society around us. Continue reading

February 27, 2012

Soup again: a twist on vichyssoise

Vichyssoise

I found this gem of a recipe in the most unlikely location. As much as I love shopping for food,  I am not a big fan of supermarkets: I don’t like being in an overcrowded, artificially lighted environment for long, if I can avoid it.  They are convenient though, so a trip there now and again is almost inevitable. One of the most annoying features are those piles of products on offer, luring you into buying, buying, buying.

A ready-made soup from  the New Covent Garden Soup brand caught my eye: the flavour combinations looked quite inviting. I did not buy any however, for fear of being disappointed, once more, by a nice packaging and some clever marketing. I have not tried their soups to date, so I can’t judge their products. But when I stumbled upon a cookbook published by them, entirely devoted to soups, I could not resist having a good look at it. And indeed, although the editorial form is nothing short of irritating (no ingredients index, a “hand-written” font that is almost impossible to read on the dark green background), there are many recipes worth trying in this little book. I started by recreating the lentil, tomato and coriander soup that had caught my eye. It is a very simple soup, with no other ingredients than the named ones, plus a sautéed onion, a bit of cumin, coriander and pepper: it tastes rich and satisfying, it can be made with products probably already sitting in your pantry, and it comes together with five minutes’ active time. Continue reading

February 22, 2012

A cup of tea

A cup of tea

Today is a sad, sad day. It is all grey and wet. Sad things are happening.  More challenges lie ahead. It is one of those day when I feel I need to hug all the people I love, and so many of them are not here. I am grateful for those who are, though. It is one of those days where my cat will just stay at my side, because she knows I need her comforting presence. It is one of those days when I may just hug someone I don’t know very well. Sometimes it is all that we can do.

I am learning something though. A cup of tea brings a lot of comfort. I’ve moved to a country where the last item to be packed and the first to be brought out when you move is the kettle. Where ‘I’ll make a cup of tea’ could easily replace the national anthem. And I like it. I even need it, sometimes.

A monochrome picture, since today there is just no room for colours. Sometimes grey brings out hidden beauty and warmth.

I’m sharing this picture on Flickr, waiting for Susan to start running BWW again. Get well soon Susan, and a hug to you as well.

February 16, 2012

The forgotten root soup

Winter roots soup

I had half forgotten about this soup. I do this kind of things all the time. I have a leaky memory, to say the least – this is why this blog is a life saver for me, at least for recipes. I’ve always wanted to keep a diary of the books I read, the movies I watch, sometimes even the people I meet. I forget who the killer is five minutes after the end of a thriller. I forget reading books altogether: I’ve often found myself reading half of a book, and at chapter twelve realizing that yes, I have indeed already read the whole thing. I just keep little drops of memory with me from books and movies – the colour of a dress, the face of a beautiful actress, a particularly funny character. I forget people I meet, I forget technical details of vital importance. I am always embarrassed when people ask me what my favourite book or  film is – if I’m lucky I remember the title, but don’t expect anything more than the knowledge that yes, I enjoyed that book immensely. This is why I have to be extra organised. I keep logs. I have lists.

I have a good memory for other random things. I remember number sequences really easily. I used to remember loads of poetry when I was in school, and I still do know some by heart. I remember where I’ve parked my car and where shops are and German grammar. Weird. Continue reading

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