To add or not to add? That is the question. Is it proper tiramisu if you don’t …

At the top of an almost-mountain in Umbria in a small but beautiful hotel with fabulous views, surrounded by olive groves (but not one olive served in the hotel!) a little contretemps broke out in one of the cooking classes. Chef insisted that tiramisu, in Italy, does NOT include alcohol.
Sacred blue!
Reluctant to describe memorable encounters with said ‘cake’ in Rome (brandy), Venice (brandy), Sorrento (Marsala), in an Italian boyfriend’s home (long ago – his mother came from Rome and used Marsala – Marsala all’uovo – which was swoon-worthy), I determined to investigate …
Enter Apicus, The Roman Cookery Book. No mention of tiramisu. Suggestions for sauces to serve with sterile wombs offered under ‘Gourmet’ did little to tempt … but no coffee and chocolate confections.
Next stop, Buon Appetito, Your Holiness. The Secrets of the Papal Table. Surely I’d find the true history of the national treasure there. But no – although the old-style pecorino and walnut pie is on the hit list. And soon. Sounds wonderful.
Gino D’Acampo, author of umpteen Italian food books, reassured readers in fantastico! that the claim made by the French to have invented tiramisu ‘is rubbish. Tiramisu is the ultimate Italian dessert’. Phew.
That gorgeous book, written and illustrated by Sally Spector, Venice and Food – a feast for the eyes as well as the tum – advised that the dessert ‘is not “Venetian” and is quite a recent creation’.
A whirl round Google provided much conflicting information. I had always understood that tiramisu was created in honour of Grand Duke Cosimo III, in Sienna, towards the end of the seventeenth century. This is hotly disputed by the frontrunner, “Le Beccherie” a restaurant in Treviso, Veneto, Italy, which gives the 1960s as the first appearance in restaurants. Meanwhile, food writers Clara and Gigi Padovani, found recipes from the 1950s, for a dessert called “tirime su”, concocted by Chef Mario Cosolo in San Canzian D’Isonzo, near the border with Slovenia.
Bet that went down like cold lumpy gravy.
I also learned that the recipe for tiramisu may have originated as a variation of the dessert Zuppa Inglese, English Trifle, beloved at Christmas and all family get-togethers and loaded with sweet sherry.
So, after trawling numerous books and websites, does tiramisu have alcohol?
Tiramisu is believed by Italians to have aphrodisiac qualities, not surprising given another history of this delectable dessert. Invented inside the brothels in lovely Treviso, renowned for its relaxed mores, attitudes and pleasure-seeking inhabitants, tiramisu literally means “pick me up, lift me up”, or, more literally, “pull it up”. Local dialect offers two more meanings: “carnage” and “cuckold’s lair”. Until 1958 when brothels were closed by the government, the cake was served for centuries to bolster flagging clients throughout taxing ‘conferences’(hah!) to keep them going and the money coming.
This restorative concoction was known as ‘sbatudìn’ and visiting these houses of pleasure was regarded as part of the local colour – Anyone Who Was Anyone was seen there. Those not seen there – gentlemen, merchants, VIPs – were definitely not part of the in-crowd. These gentlemen took to contributing some of the ingredients on the day the brothels were closed, according to their profession or access – coffee, biscuits, cream cheese, chocolate. The ladies and their guests would lunch together and then get down to business … with lots of tiramisu on the side to fortify them.
Happily, after the gentlemen’s clubs were closed, the owners of Le Beccherie rescued and perfected the recipe and to serve it to patrons to this day – probably in smaller quantities! Its effects might be embarrassing after a languorous lunch.
This confection of mascarpone, biscuits, coffee, chocolate, sugar and cream is purported to be given to babies (boys) by Italian mothers to ensure they will grow up to be strong and manly. Small wonder Italian men are regarded as the best lovers.
The dessert is simplicity itself – dip ladies fingers biscuits (langue du chat) in strong coffee (FRESH coffee. Not that coffee-flavoured cardboard sold as instant granules) to moisten. Beat mascarpone – do find a good one, had some awful stuff from a supermarket recently – waxy and tasteless – and cream together, add sugar or honey to taste, and layer the biscuits and cheese mix, ending with cheese. Sprinkle with grated chocolate – again, use a good quality chocolate or chocolate powder. Chill.
If you are feeling more adventurous, you could make zabaglione instead of the cream and cheese. It is delicious and worth the effort. Or use both! Best ever zabaglione is to be had in La Mama restaurant in Johannesburg. Julio creates a truly magical custard – how I miss dining there!
The booze? Your choice but I add Marsala, Marsala all’uovo if I can get it. Lots. But Madeira, rum, brandy, Amaretto or coffee liquor are also acceptable. Frangelico is delicious too!
It rather comforting to know that English trifle (Zuppa Inglese – English soup) was possibly the inspiration for tiramisu. I am sure this will be a great aid to the smooth passage of Brexit – The Great British Break Off.
References
Apicus, The Roman Cookery Book. Harrap, London.
Buon Appetito, Your Holiness. The Secrets of the Papal Table – Mariangela Rinaldi and Mariangela Vicini. Pan Books.
fantastico! – Gino D’Acampo. Kyle Cathie Ltd.
Venice and Food – Sally Specter. Arsenale Editore, SRL. EBS – Editoriale Bortolazzi Stei
www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/eat
www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/17/italian-regions-battle-over-who-invented-tiramisu

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Love Apples Conquer All. But What About Mothers-in-Law?

“Take the intestine, stomach, and bladder of the yellow fish, shark and mullet, and wash them well. Mix them with a moderate amount of salt and place them in a jar. Seal tightly and incubate in the sun.” 544 AD
Don’t see myself persuading the family of its delectability … despite the fact that it is the original ketchup – tomato or otherwise.
It is, I am assured, the world’s favourite additive, whether on chips (fries), sausages, burgers, eggs, dastardly dogs (as Crocodile Dundee’s girlfriend said, ‘They taste like sh*t but you can live on them,’) chops (chips, chops, peas and tomatoes, or more usually tomato sauce – boring, but sure to tease the eye and titillate the palate with colour, texture and taste.) It’s a useful standby for adding to other sauces – barbeque, for instance. Can work a treat to transform an unappetising gravy. I have seen it added – sacred blue! – to luscious-looking pizzas. Shocking. Anything goes.
But the transition from the mind-boggling, unfriendly concoction described above, to the sweet, cloying, glow-in-the dark, often slimy-textured condiment that decorates cupboards, tables and food worldwide, was put on a roll by James Mease, scientist and horticulturalist, in 1812. T’was he who divined the addition of love apples – tomatoes to the likes of you and me. Although he based it on tomatoes, brandy and spices, the preservative facet of vinegar only came later. As did the bulking agent, sugar, which adds the addictive element. That’s why some children will only suffer a certain well-known brand, though the proportion of sugar has been reduced in acknowledgement (and from pressure) of health, teeth and weight risks.
Move forward a few centuries, and the fish paste element has gone and that well-known company continues to hog the limelight.
Shouldn’t we introduce our kith and kin to some fine-flavoured, all fresh ingredients, ketchup – or catsup. (This incites visions of cats stuffed in cooking pots … maybe it’s their eyes that cause the luminous sticky quality of some brands available?)
Larousse Gastronomique (the version in my possession) states tomato ketchup is a highly spiced, English condiment, available from grocery shops. Highly spiced doesn’t capture sweet, does it? And it is universally considered an American invention. But it seems ketchup’s origins are anything but American. Kê-tsiap is a Hokkien Chinese word, derived from a fermented fish sauce. It is possible traders brought the sauce from Vietnam to southeastern China. Regardless, Larousse’s recipe is worth visiting.
Cup up eight pounds of tomatoes (unpeeled), six medium onions, two sweet red peppers and two cloves of garlic. (Only two?! Ye gods.) Cover with water and simmer till soft. Strain through a sieve – fine enough to reserve the tomato seeds and skin.
Take one hot red pepper, two bay leaves, one tablespoon each of celery seed and mustard seed, one teaspoon black peppercorns, one cinnamon stick, and one level spoon sea salt, size is up to you, depending on your salt tolerance. (Don’t use table salt – it contains aluminium salts to make it free-flowing.) Tie in muslin or a clean linen handkerchief. Add to the strained tomato juice and reduce quantity by half over a steady heat, stirring often.
Add half a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of white sugar, two cups of good wine vinegar, red or white, and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, to desired consistency. Seal in sterilised bottles or jars. Makes approximately five quarts, or eleven-plus pints.
Personally, I’d sling the spices in at the beginning and cook till reduced, then strain. But that’s me.
Sometimes I make tomato sauce in the same vein as Bloody Marys, with all the bells and whistles and vodka. Bloody Shames, actually, when I don’t add the vodka. Tends to be rather popular.
Another favourite is making the sauce with tomatoes and cooking apples – sharp and juicy – works a treat. As does mixing the tomatoes – beef tomatoes, plum tomatoes, green tomatoes, to add an acid balance which dances on the tongue.
If I think aforementioned offspring will turn up their noses, I play sneaky and bottle it in those well-known manufacturers bottles … the labels can be hell to take off and often survive the oven sterilisation. They love to shake out more than they should when I’m not watching.
I am reminded of the wife who struggled for years to master the tomato soup her husband loved. No matter the recipe, no matter the effort, hours, expensive ingredients, he always reiterated that ‘it doesn’t taste like my mother’s’.
After a day from hell, she abandons the home-cooked route, opens two cans of Heinz tomato soup, serves it as though she has laboured long for his delectation.
His response?
‘Now you’ve got it right! Just like my mother used to make.’
His mother obviously forgot that her daughter-in-law is likely to choose the retirement home.

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You Can’t Beat a Good Beet.

Listening to a food programme the other day, an audience member questioned how to stop his wife cooking beetroot for him … he hates the stuff.
I wondered quite HOW someone could hate beetroot: fabulous colour, a blood cleanser, a good source of iron and folate (naturally occurring folic acid). It also contains nitrates, betaine, magnesium and other antioxidants (notably betacyanin). More recent health claims suggest beetroot can help lower blood pressure, boost exercise performance and prevent dementia.
And it is so versatile – baked en papillote, coated with horseradish sauce, it is magic with roast (rare!) beef, chicken, pork, a terrific contrast with a cheese omelette. Don’t wrap it in aluminium foil (how did the USA get aluminum? Depriving themselves of the delight of sounding each syllable and enjoying the cadences. Al-oo-min-ee-yum.) – use greaseproof paper or brown paper. Or at least line the foil with greaseproof paper to prevent contact with food. Aluminium foil has too many links to health hazards, including Alzheimer’s.
Beetroot curry with coconut oil and cashews (eschew the peanut – cashews or almonds are easier to digest) and sesame seeds (fine source of calcium) make for a delicious light and colourful lunch or supper. I’d give you the recipe but then I’d have to kill you. Unless you ask nicely and say pretty please …
A beetroot salad, made with grated raw beetroot, finely sliced celery (and the leaves) with a grated sharp and juicy green apple, thinly sliced red onion, toasted pumpkin seeds and a garlicky vinaigrette is wonderful with crusty sourdough bread or Irish soda bread. Add lots of fresh herbs – parsley, coriander, basil are excellent chelating agents and are just delicious.
Juice some fresh beetroots – with the leaves – add fresh parsley, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, watermelon seeds (packed with selenium: most foods are sadly depleted of this because of artificial fertilisers), some cider vinegar or lemon juice, sea salt (don’t use table salt – contains aluminium salts to make it free flowing), black pepper (freshly ground), and you have a great kick-off to the day. You could add some plain unsweetened yoghourt, if you wish, or some kefir.
Slice some beetroots fairly thinly and layer up with sea salt, fresh black pepper, orange slices (include the peel unless there is a lot of pith) and bake with a spiced white sauce – ginger, cumin, nutmeg – poured over, with a good dukkah sprinkled (well, heaped) on top. You can layer with potatoes and/or sweet potatoes if you wish. Excellent with baked ham or fish.
Don’t forget the leaves. Steamed they are a tasty side. Shredded they provide colour, texture, taste and nutrients to a salad (abandon that tasteless iceberg lettuce! It is slow to grow, slow to digest and often the culprit when ‘marshy gases’ are about, rather than much-blamed cabbage) or mixed cooked greens – yummy with lemon, garlic and black pepper butter.
Cooked and sliced – carpaccio thin – they make a delicious starter. Arrange the slices in concentric circles, drizzle the best balsamic vinegar you can afford and walnut oil, top with some peppery rocket, crumble some feta or goat’s cheese on top, add toasted pumpkin seeds … in fact, don’t invite anyone else, just eat it yourself!
Don’t waste the cooking water – wonderful to use on the vegetable patch to replace of some of the minerals in our mostly depleted soil.
I’ll leave you with this thought, shared with me by a flatmate a long time ago: A guy walks into the doctor’s office. A banana stuck in one of his ears, a asparagus stalk in the other ear, and a beet stuck in one nostril. The man says, “Doc, this is terrible. What’s wrong with me?” The doctor says, “Well, first of all, you need to eat more sensibly.”

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Heaven Forfend! It’s Father’s Day!

Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are the two days of the year when you will be forgiven for wreaking havoc in the kitchen.

It is only right and proper that you should demonstrate how much you appreciate all that Daddy (and Mummy) do for you but whilst breakfast in bed is often the treat of choice, I would recommend that you do not take the cooked breakfast in bed route.  Almost raw fried egg and charred bacon, with pink-centred sausages, ‘glazed’ in a swamp of tomato sauce, accompanied by tea or coffee made with cold water will tax the most devoted parent.

Especially if they have been out the night before.

Much better to make Daddy (or Mummy) some marshmallow lollipops.  Melt some chocolate over hot water (littlies should enlist the help of gran or granpa for this).  Push a wooden skewer into a marshmallow and dunk it in the melted chocolate.  You might want to roll it in your favourite sprinkles before the chocolate sets. Stand in a cup or glass, with the marshmallow at the top, to cool.

The real trick to making these is to make as many as you can – too many for Daddy (or Mummy) to eat, so that you will have to be even more loving and help them out.

You could also make some chocolate marshmallow crunchies.  Melt some more chocolate with some unsalted butter – taking care to ask someone older to handle the hot water – and stir in two or three tablespoons of golden syrup.  Add mini marshmallows (or cut the large mallows into small pieces) and stir again.  Add enough cornflakes to make a thick mixture.  You can add chopped nuts, raisins, candied peel, glace cherries, if you wish.  Make sure everything is coated in the chocolate sauce.  Put spoonfuls into small paper cases.

Again, make sure you make plenty – then your superhero, mega helpful qualities will be called upon.

A very special treat for Daddy (or Mummy) would be to wake very early, tiptoe into their bedroom, jump on the bed and bounce between them, singing ‘I love you!’

Once you have their attention, snuggle down – in the middle, of course – give them both a BIG hug and tell them you love them again. All daddies and mummies need hugs every day, not just on Father’s Day or Mothering Sunday.

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Taboos and Tableware

Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

There. I feel somewhat better now. Not much but definitely feel an improvement.

I love café society and restaurants and eating out. I love trying new places as well as returning to firm favourites. But something that will spoil the experience anywhere is having to ask for clean cutlery when I see the untrained (I surmise) staff handle the silverware by the blade, tines or bowl of eating implements.

My vivid imagination questions whether they have washed their hands recently – even if they have, they should not be touching the parts of knives, forks and spoons which will go into another person’s mouth – or maybe they have rubbed their nose, or  picked it, ferreted in an ear for that elusive and bothersome piece of wax.

Horror of horrors, maybe they have visited the bathroom and not bothered to wash their hands or – dastardly habit – merely trickled water over one or two or three fingers in a foolhardy pretence of being hygienic and sensible.

It used to be that one was cute and did not eat raw foods in certain countries but now, with the rise in hepatitis A, maybe we need to be more canny in more food outlets.(Hepatitis A is a liver infection, passed on by way of food – usually related to unwashed hands handling the food.)

If the waiting staff are not properly informed about hygiene and how to handle cutlery, it is entirely possible that those preparing salads are also slapdash about soap and water.

Plastic gloves are not necessarily the answer either. Health inspectors some years ago found they could be as big a risk as chipped nail polish, grubby fingernails and unwashed hands.

A friend – who shall remain anonymous! – once told me that the staff were reminded EVERY day that whenever they visited the bathroom, for whatever reason, they MUST wash their hands. As the industry was connected to food and cosmetics packaging, all staff were issued with gloves.

One member of staff was seen to emerge from a cubicle, cross to the handbasins, remove said gloves, wash hands with vigour, dry them with care … and replace the gloves to return to work.

Without wishing to be freaky-deaky about hygiene (I have licked the wooden spoon when cooking …), I am well aware that one of finest and simplest ways to reduce, if not eliminate, food poisoning, gastric upsets and galloping gutrot, is encourage everyone to wash their hands.

It’s not rocket science.

N.B. As an adjunct to my whinge about greed and wasting food, UberFacts posted a Tweet recently: more people are dying from obesity than from malnutrition.

24th march 2013

Tilly the Tart

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Of Memories and Marmalade

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.

His wife could eat no lean.

And between them both, you see,

They licked the platter clean.

The name Jack Sprat was used to describe someone of small stature in the sixteenth century; sprats are small fish. Seemingly, it was an English proverb from the mid-seventeenth century, or before. It appeared in John Clarke’s collection of sayings in 1639:

Jack will eat not fat, and Jull doth love no leane.

Yet betwixt them both they lick the dishes cleane.

The saying became well known English nursery rhymes when it appeared in Mother Goose’s Melody around 1765, but it children probably recited it much earlier.

I had always believed this nursery rhyme to be about not wasting food – other sources link it to all sorts of political shenanigans, taxation, and even Robin Hood. My, how that man sneaks into nursery rhymes.

Having spent some time in Europe recently, this rhyme came to mind when I encountered the wanton greed and culpable waste when watching fellow guests in an hotel in Barcelona.

Our deal via Easy Jet was to stay in the Hotel Gothica (nice four-star hotel, friendly staff and very central) and breakfast was included.

I love to people watch and it was fascinating to see other breakfasters take far more food than they could possibly eat – stacks of bread for toast, rolls piled high, croissants, pastries, muffins, yoghourts, fruit, cold meats and cheeses, sausages and tortilla …

There was no way they could consume the quantities taken and they didn’t wrap anything in napkins for lunch, either – and sure enough, the tables were littered with the debris of untouched and partially eaten food. (It was like watching people eat in films; they never eat or drink more than a mouthful before they dab their mouths with a napkin and leave the table.)

Why do they do this?

Is it the ‘must get my money’s worth’ philosophy? Or the ‘it doesn’t matter if I take a bite, leave part or all of it because I have paid for it anyway’ school of thought?

I wondered if those families were the same in their own homes or encouraged their children to take too much and just leave it. I wondered how they felt when visitors wasted food – meals prepared with care in the pursuit of being good hosts.

Having been brought up to not waste anything – food in particular – whilst not a revelation, it was dispiriting to say the least. (My father claimed his garden fork had been in the family for over one hundred years and had only had 94 new handles and 30 new tines …) I remembered an elderly friend telling me that she had been orphaned at the age of four when both her parents died in a car accident. Her grandparents felt unable to take on a lively child and sent her to boarding school, where she was always hungry. She was taken to the cinema as a treat one Saturday morning, to see a typical child’s comedy – slapstick and silly and fun. Unfortunately, custard pies were flying across the screen, to great guffaws of laughter from other children in the audience. Not so my friend: she went beserk, screaming and kicking, beside herself.

She could not understand why people were throwing food around when she never had enough to eat.

On a more cheerful note, I did notice that when the apples on the breakfast buffet were not looking as shiny and inviting as usual, they appeared the next morning as baked apples with cinnamon – a favourite. However, the apples were those horrid, tasteless Golden Delicious so favoured in Europe and, I believe, the USA.

Nowhere tart enough for this tart …

Bakes apples DEMAND an old-fashioned English cooking apple – sharp, juicy, with flesh which falls to a tempting puree within the skin when baked properly. (I wonder if the EEC allows Britain to grow these anymore.)

However, not one to pass up on a challenge, I noted that the little plastic pots of marmalade (horrid but practical) contained real marmalade! With plenty of chunky peel for added bite and texture. None of this peel-free or finely-shredded  or over-sweetened muck! Popped into where the core had been, the apple was transformed.

They’d have been even better baked this way but then, as we tended to break our fast later than the dedicated tourist, they would probably have been piled high and left on tables throughout the restaurant.

 

March 2013

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Welcome

Welcome to the home of Tilly the Tart.

For those of you who have mentioned to me or emailed me that I was one of a kind.  Well, y’all are wrong. I know it is hard to accept but it is true. Allow me the good manners that I have to introduce you to Tilly.
Tilly is British, she is from that paradise island situated in the North Atlantic called Great Britian. But enough, about geography I am going to sit back and allow her to do a little braggin’ about herself.
Tilly
I was born in Manchester (England) but only stayed three weeks – it rained too much … and I couldn’t understand the accent. Besides, which, my parents wanted ot move. I consider myself a child of the universe … hah … father in the Royal Air Force, so we moved every two years.  I thought that was normal.  When I met peers who had lived in the same home all their lives, I thought they were the ones out of whack. When we married, my Lord and Master (believe that, you’ll believe anything) told  everyone he had married a!”£$%^&&* gypsy because after 18-24 months in a home, I felt it was time to move. I have lived in England, Europe, the Middle East (loved it), spent time in Kenya and other parts of Africa.  A  Certified Bookaholic with  a warped sense of humour, I love café society, watching people, learning  new things, eating, drinking, and the company of anyone and almost everyone.