Legitimate Displacement Activity in the Time of Covid

Lockdown Lethargy – what a yawn. Right now, I am ignoring the siren call of the ironing board and the growing mountain of clothes begging for attention from me and my deft hand with an iron. Definitely not on today …

The weather is such that comfort food is necessary and provides a legitimate displacement activity. Especially the eating thereof. Last night, I resurrected a dish I made eons ago, not quite when I was a school with God and his friends and the nuns. It proved a great hit with That Man who declared I could ‘make that again, any time.’ Praise indeed.

Jocelyn Dimbleby, the first food writer (later everyone jumped on the bandwagon) to remind me of the watermelon salads I enjoyed in the Middle East as a child, produced a book entitled Marvellous Meals with Mince. Courtesy of her generosity, dear reader, I share this recipe which has nothing to do with watermelon.

I didn’t have the minced pork detailed and used minced veal. Minced chicken or fish (a flavoursome variety) would work well too.

Savoury Pudding with Red Peppers and Green Peppercorns – with thanks and  apologies to Jocelyn Dimbleby.

serves 4 -6 depending on appetites

400g /14oz. minced veal (or pork, beef, chicken, fish. The recipe calls for 500g/17 ozs/1lb but the pack in my freezer contained 400g …)

1 or 2 leeks, depending on size, (not in JD’s recipe, but I like them) sliced not too thinly. (Or ‘slicedly thin’, as I have been known to malaprop.)

2 good-sized red peppers, halved and grilled or oven roasted till charred

2 dessertspoons green peppercorns

2 large cloves of garlic (Not in the original recipe, but I like garlic, too.)

Handful breadcrumbs (Not in the original recipe, but I used sourdough crumbs)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons red pesto (the recipe called for tomato purée. I didn’t have any. Your choice.)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Greek yoghourt – full fat (essential fatty acids to feed the endocrine system which supports the hormone cascade.)

When the peppers are charred (what wouldn’t I give for a gas hob!), shove them into a bag or wrap in greaseproof paper and leave for a couple of minutes. (You can make this a faster job by using peppers in a jar … cheat by adding smoked paprika to achieve the smokiness of charred peppers.) Then skin the pieces and chop quite small. I got fed up chopping them last night, so I chopped two-thirds and then lined the bottom of the steaming bowl with the other pieces.)

Soften the leeks in butter or olive oil

Chuck the mince in a bowl, grate in the garlic (don’t mess around with garlic presses, you waste time and garlic) mix in the breadcrumbs, the green peppercorns, sea salt and black pepper. Mix in the chopped peppers, leeks and the eggs. Add more breadcrumbs if liked, to absorb some of the juices as it cooks.

Butter or (olive) oil a pudding basin –I lined the bottom of the bowl with red pepper pieces – tip in the veal mix, cover with greaseproof paper and then aluminium foil (note the correct spelling, USA readers!) Put on an upturned saucer or special stand so the pudding bowl doesn’t crack in the saucepan, pour in boiling water to seven-eighths of the way up the bowl. Cover with the lid.

Steam for one hour, making sure to top up with boiling water throughout. You may, of course, cook it in a loaf tin or round cake tin and bake for a similar time, in a medium to hot oven.

Upend into a flan dish or serving dish with sides, wider than the pudding – there will be juices – top with two or three dollops of Greek yoghourt and plenty of fresh coriander or parsley. (Jocelyn Dimbleby recommends green peppercorns but I had used them all in the pudding. Improvisation is all – and I love coriander.) The colours of the savoury pudding, red peppers, white yoghourt and green herbs look so appetizing.

Serve with jacket potatoes (make sure the skin is crunchy!), rice or bird’s eye pasta (orzo) or polenta. Spinach provides a good contrast, as does kale (kalettes are my latest fave green vegetable), cavolo nero, green beans, mange tout, courgettes or a salad.

Take care in these covid days – don’t ignore sensible precautions. I have friends who have been dangerously ill with it and two who have died. It’s worth the effort to stay well: it will annoy the hell out of your enemies.


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Post Stress Comfort Food – How to Cope When the Partying is Over.

‘After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.’   – Oscar Wilde

After the excesses of the Silly Season, everyone seems to be jumping on the Dry January bandwagon. Personally, I will fight to the death to keep wine o’clock on the agenda. (‘I drink no more than a sponge.’ – Rabelais.) But it is cold! I love salads and eat one for lunch every day but oh, how I love comfort food when the temperature drops after dusk and I am hungry and snug in the warm sanctuary of my home.

Macaroni Cheese is an all-time favourite – everyone knows how to make this – with the addition of fresh, grated garlic to the cheese sauce and lots of chopped parsley thrown in before grilling (broiling) to crisp the top.  Chunks of sautéed spicy chorizo are good too. Served with a mixed green salad or just-wilted spinach – yum.

Risottos hit the spot  – a colourful one with beetroot will cheer any flagging spirit.

Beetroot Risotto – enough for two, or eat it all yourself …

Bunch of spring onions (green onions or scallions), sliced on the diagonal, using both white and green parts

500ml/1 pint  stock – your choice of homemade vegetable, chicken or beef – hot and ready to use

250g/8oz cooked beetroot, coarsely grated

1 large clove garlic, grated (I’d use more …)

150g/6oz Arborio rice/risotto rice

100ml/4fl.oz red wine

heaped tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan

large handful freshly chopped herbs – dill, parsley, basil, celery leaves – whichever you prefer. Herbs are wonderful chelating agents and should be consumed daily to help counter the pollution we encounter from cars driving past, planes flying over.

50g/2ozs soft goat’s cheese

Add half the beetroot to the heated stock and keep warm.

Heat some olive oil, 1-2 tablespoonsful, and gently cook the spring onions without browning.

Add the garlic to the onions and cook for a minute or so, without browning. (Burnt garlic is horrid and you will need to throw away the onions too and start again …)

Stir in the rice and cook for a minute, stirring to coat the rice – add more olive oil or butter if needed.

Pour in the wine, increase the heat until the wine sizzles.

Lower the heat and gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, waiting for the rice to absorb each ladleful before adding another.

When you have added almost all the stock, stir in the rest of the grated beetroot.

Add the remaining stock, cooking gently until the risotto is creamy and still moist, without being sloppy.

Taste for seasoning – I prefer to add sea salt when I eat it (I find most people add too much salt), but I do add fresh black pepper.

Stir in the Parmesan and half the herbs, divide between two bowls, top with the remaining herbs, pieces of goat’s cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Have extra Parmesan on the side.


Chicken lends itself to comfort food – try an organic/farmer’s chicken rather than the standard supermarket (tasteless?) alternative.

Chicken in Beer – serves 4

1 free-range chicken 1.5kg/3lbs approx.

olive oil/grapeseed oil  and unsalted butter

50g/2ozs chopped shallots

200g/8ozs mushrooms – small – portabello, giroles, or button, thinly sliced

2+ tablespoons brandy (works with whisky too)

1/3 litre/just over ½  pint of beer, dark is best. Not lager!

teaspoon/5g brown sugar

200ml/1/3 pint double (thick) cream. (I send to use crème fraiche, soured cream or full-fat Greek yoghourt – less cloying on the palate.)

50g unsalted butter, sea salt and fresh black pepper

Fresh herbs to serve.

Oven temperature: 220C/Gas 7/425F/200C in a fan-assisted oven.

When the oven is at temperature, smear the bird with butter and chosen oil, then lay in a roasting dish on its side.

Roast for +/- 40  minutes – basting and turning the chicken regularly – to the other side, on its back and lastly breast up.  Remove the bird to a plate to rest, breast down.

Discard the fat from the pan, add some butter, and sweat the shallots over a low heat. Do not burn.

Add the mushrooms. Stir in and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the brandy or whisky and use a wooden spoon to mix in the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan.

Reduce to less than half, add the beer and sugar. Reduce again to about half.

Add the cream and reduce again to a pleasing coating consistency.

Cut  50g butter into small pieces and whisk into the sauce to give it a nice sheen.

Season to taste.

Serve the chicken in the sauce.

Scatter liberally with fresh herbs.

N.B. You can also use chicken portions – adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Bird’s eye pasta is a good accompaniment as is a crunchy salad or al dente green beans with toasted, flaked almonds.


Tandoori Chicken – serves 4-6

Prepare 24 hours in advance – or six hours minimum.

Marinade 1

1.5kg-2kg/3-4lbs chicken portions, skinned, and scored deeply.

5g/1 teaspoon fine sea salt

juice of one lemon

Rub the salt and lemon juice into the portions and set aside for 20 minutes.

Marinade 2

450ml/ 15fl.oz plain yoghourt. (I prefer full-fat Greek yoghourt)

I small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, at least, grated.

small green chilli – if you are worried, just use half , chopped

15ml/1 tablespoon cardamom seeds, crushed

thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated

thumb-sized length of cinnamon stick

5ml/1 teaspoon cumin seeds

ditto cloves

ditto black peppercorns

1 whole nutmeg

30ml/2 tablespoons yellow food colouring, mixed with 15ml/1tablespoon red food colouring.

Put the cardomon seeds, cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns and nutmeg into a coffee grinder and whiz till fine. |You could use powdered spices, but the seeds taste so much better.

Use 2 teaspoons/10ml for this marinade; store remainder in a small jar.

Mix the onion, garlic, chilli, 2 teaspoons spice mix into the  yoghourt – or sling the lot into a processor/blender and blitz – and pour into a large bowl or roasting tin.

Paint the chicken pieces with the food colour.

Pour remainder of food colouring into the yoghourt.

Put the chicken pieces into the yoghourt marinade, cover and leave for 24 hours.

Set oven to the highest setting and bake the chicken for 25 minutes – charred pieces are obligatory!

Scatter with LOTS of fresh coriander – remember the chelation factor.

Serve with Basmati rice and spicy cucumber, (cut cucumber into wedges, sprinkle with salt, pepper, roasted cumin, cayenne and fresh lemon juice), shredded lettuce with sliced red onions and lemon wedges.


Whilst I would hope to follow with treacle tart, rhubarb fool, chocolate pie, pear and ginger pie, I wouldn’t, in truth, be able to eat any, more’s the shame. Instead, I’d opt for something light – a fruit salad of fresh lychees, mangoes and blueberries would be good.


Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.’ – Guy Fieri








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Maybe not so mellow,but definitely fruitful.

Okay, so an autumnal chill has settled in – and not just the nip from the the antics of the nutters in government. A parky breeze assailed me this morning – a lazy one that went through me instead of around me – which made me think of comfort food. (To be honest, there is very little in the way of food that I don’t find comforting …)
Toasted soda bread (home-made) or genuine sourdough loaf with marmalade? Cheese scones with damson chutney? Cheese on toast or succulent sausages (see abovementioned recommendations) with grandfather’s relish … Crisp-skinned jacket potatoes with mushroom chutney … Afternoon tea with madeira cake and peach and raspberry marmalade … salivating …
I am rather fond of a simple marmalade made from grapefruit shells and windfall apples. Eat the grapefruit flesh and freeze the shells until you or the windfalls are ready. I love pink grapefruit and use those shells – but you can mix the peel of any citrus fruit – oranges, limes, grapefruit, mandarins, tangerines, whatever takes your fancy.

Autumn Marmalade
2lbs/1 kg fallen cookers/green apples – tart in taste – washed.
4 grapefruit skins ( I add more – love the peel in marmalade.) Or any mix that you have.
Juice of one lemon, reserving the shell
1 tspn/5 ml ground ginger (Depending on what is to hand, I add chopped preserved ginger or grate some fresh ginger into the mix.)
3lbs/1.5 kg granulated sugar
Simmer the grapefruit shells and lemon halves in a pint/half litre of water till tender. It’s easer to slice/chop the peel this way, rather than before softening – and you don’t lose any of the zest. When the skins are softish and cool, slice or chop to your preferred size. I like chunky marmalade, others like the finely sliced version. Return to the pan.
Add the chopped apples, with the skin still on. Check for bruises and ‘visitors’ before you chop! Add to the pan and cook till tender.
Add the ginger and sugar. Cook for 20-30mins.
Bottle in sterilised jars.

Damson Chutney
4lbs/2kg damsons, washed
1.5lbs/3/4kg aples, cored
4 medium onions
1.5 ilbs/3/4 kg seedless raisins
1.5lbs/ 3/4kg demerara sugar
2 tblspns/30 ml sea or kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
1oz/25g allspice berries
1oz/25g fresh ginger root, grated
2 tspns/10ml cloves
Blitz the apples, onions and raisins till chopped – not to mush – in the food processor , or put them through a mincer. Or chop them.
Put the damsons, apples, onions, raisins in a pan with the vinegar and sugar, salt, rushed garlic and spices. Tie the spices in muslin if wished.
Simmer till thick. If any damson stones rise to the surface,you can take them out. Otherwise, leave them in, eat it outside and see who can spit the stones farthest. Not to be done in polite company.
Pot and seal.
I like spicy food, so often add some chillies. Fresh or dried, whatever I have in the kitchen.

Grandfather’s Relish
2 ozs/50g butter
½ tspn/2.5 ml dry mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
8ozs/250g grated matured Cheddar
1 tblspn/15 ml whisky – more if you wish, just make sure it blends in properly.
Cream the butter, mustard powder, black pepper.
Beat in the cheese and whisky
Turn into small pots and cover with cling film (saranwrap).
Mature in the fridge for a few days.
Serve with hot toast, tasty sausages, and eat with your feet up in front of a hearty fire.

Mushroom Chutney
3lbs/1.5kg open mushrooms
1lb/500g cooking apples – green and sour – cored and quartered.
1/2 lb/250g onions, chopped
2oz/50g fresh ginger root, diced. You can wrap it in muslin if wished, or throw it in loose.
8oz/250g sultanas
8oz/250g demerara sugar
3/4 pt/450ml white (wine) vinegar
1tblspn/15ml sea salt or kosher salt
½ tsp/2.5ml cayenne powder
1 tsp/5ml mustard powder
Bung all the ingredients in a pan, bring to the boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 90 minutes or so.
All the liquid should have evaporated – without burning the mushroom and apples …
If you wrapped the ginger, remove it. I love ginger, so I chuck it into the mix to enjoy.
Seal in jars/pots and seal with vinegar-proof covers.
Makes approx. 4lbs/2kg

Raspberry and Peach Marmalade
1lb/500g raspberries, fresh or frozen – but not those frozen with sugar
3.5 lbs/1.75kgs peaches, skinned and halved, stones cracked an kernels removed
3lbs/1.5kg sugar
Juice of one lemon (use the skin for the autumn marmalade! Or freeze till you need it.)
Put the fruit in a pan and cook very gently till tender – do not burn. Can take half an hour or more. Include the kernals wrapped in a bag – or chuck ‘e in. I eat them in the marmalade.
Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved.
Add the lemon juice and cook gently-briskly for 10 minutes or so. Do not burn! Watch and stir …
Drop a dollop on a cold plate to test for setting.
Rest for 7-8 minutes before potting in sterilised jars.
Should be about 6lbs/3kgs

***Do not mix the Imperial and Metric measures. The metric measures are rounded up for ease of use.***

***I don’t calculate the calorific values – such a killjoy practice! Just remember you should stop eating when you think  you could manage a little more …***

I was about to make some autumn marmalade: I have grapefruit shells and lemons. I raided a friend’s garden for windfalls (our is small – no apple trees) BUT I do not have any blessed sugar …
I will strain and freeze the chicken stock instead.

autumn,  marmalade, damsons,  relish,  mushrooms, peaches, raspberries

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Swoon Like a Sultan. Smoked Oysters Can Make you Do That …

It is legend that the sultan swooned when he tasted the dish imam bayeldi, created in his honour. (Imam bayeldi means ‘the sultan swooned’.) Never mind swoon, I am positively multi-orgasmic when confronted with smoked oysters. Not fresh oysters – altogether too reminiscent of snot, regardless of lashings of Tabasco sauce … the devil take those descriptions of fat, creamy, salty-sweet.
“Oyster, n. A slimy, gobby shellfish which civilization gives men the hardihood to eat without removing its entrails!” – Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ (1911)
Says it all. But smoked oysters? Luv ‘em.
“I never was much of an oyster eater, nor can I relish them ‘in naturalibus’ as some do, but require a quantity of sauces, lemons, cayenne peppers, bread and butter, and so forth, to render them palatable.” – William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)
He had it right.
Delighted to enjoy them in pâtés, dips, soups, stuffings, with pasta … and to prove it, I offer a selection of ideas I have picked up along the way.
Smoked Oyster Pâté (1)
85g can smoked oysters, drained. (Avoid those in cottonseed oil – affects the flavour in a big way.)
125g cream cheese (a good, full-flavoured one!)
100g unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Chopped chives (or tarragon, or coriander or parsley)
Melted butter
Optional extras: Worcester sauce (homemade would be good), cayenne, chopped cornichons.

Chuck it all in a processor or blender and blitz. Divide between ramekins or fill one dish. Garnish with fresh herbs and melted, clarified butter. Will keep for several days in a fridge. Freezes too – but better to enjoy it NOW!

Smoked Oyster Pâté (2)
4 cans oysters, drained (ditto above re cottonseed oil)
2 spring onions (scallions)
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice – or to taste
Melted butter
Chopped parsley, grated lemon rind – the zester utensil gives strands of lemon rind which look attractive.

This is obviously for a larger number of people – or be greedy and eat it all yourself – but the recipe divides quite easily. Just use a small spring onion, a small clove of garlic and half a tablespoon of lemon juice to one can of oysters.
Blitz in a processor and scoop into one or more dishes. Garnish with fresh herbs and the lemon rind strings.
Serve with toasted sourdough bread (preferably stoneground), crudités or interesting savoury biscuits/crackers.

Smoked Oyster Pâté (3)
2 tins smoked oysters, drained. (Ditto re cottonseed oil.)
A fat clove of garlic – black garlic if you have some.
2 hardboiled eggs
2 small eschallotes (mild shallots – not spring onions)
Fresh herbs – parsley, coriander, thyme, tarragon – mixed or any one
125 – 175 ml of your favourite liqueur – I like Frangelico (adore toasted hazelnuts), but Curacao, Amaretto, port, brandy, scotch, will be good.
Melted butter, clarified
Blitz in a processor or blender. Taste – you may want to add freshly ground black pepper, more garlic, or liqueur.
Transfer to large/small ramekin(s) and top with the clarified butter.
Keeps well in the fridge – if you can resist it. Serve with crudités, breads, biscuits.

Pasta with Smoked Oysters
Serves 4
Tagliatelle, spaghetti, angel’s hair pasta – or fat macaroni, so the sauce can sneak inside
2 cans smoked oysters, drained. (Ditto re cottonseed oil but keep the oil if it is olive oil)
Oil from the oysters, or olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves, depending on how much you like it. (we eat LOTS – keeps Dracula away. He has never been to our house.)
500g baby spinach leaves
Small head of fennel – very thinly sliced
Small glass of Marsala or vermouth (well, big, if you must …)
Fresh parsley, chopped
Lemon zest (I like it in ‘strings’ from a zester, so they can be seen in the sauce)
Juice of half a lemon
Sea salt to add when served
Fresh black pepper

Cook pasta – reserve 1-2 tablespoons of the cooking water – will give the sauce a gloss and help it to stick to the pasta.
While the pasta cooks, sauté the thinly sliced fennel (can add fennel seeds if wished).
Add the garlic when the fennel is j-u-s-t tender (good to leave a bit of ‘bite’– but do not burn. Burnt garlic is horrid. Throw it away if you do burn it.
Stir in the oysters and marsala or vermouth
Add the baby spinach and cook till wilted.
Add lemon zest
Taste for pepper and lemon juice – I prefer to let others add their own salt. Not keen on salty food but like the zing of sea salt added when I am about to eat.
Mix with the pasta and serve – remembering to add the 1-2 tablespoons cooking water.
Serve with extra herbs and a crisp, varied green salad.
Optional: Parmesan cheese – there are those who say that it should never be served with fish or shellfish. Your choice.

Beef Stuffed with Smoked Oysters
A rib of beef – for 4-6 people.
OR one steak per person – but thick cut, rather than large
2 cans smoked oysters, drained – keep the oil if it is olive oil. Discard cottonseed oil – flavour affects the oysters and the dish in general.
Large handful of chopped fresh parsley – or a mix off fresh herbs
Stick of celery, finely sliced
Small onion, finely chopped
Garlic – lots or to taste …
Freshly ground black pepper

Sauté the celery and onions in olive oil.
Add garlic but do not burn.
Quarter the oysters and add
Add the herbs.
Take a sharp knife and slice between the ribs and the nut of meat, without detaching the meat, to create a pocket.
Stuff the mixed celery, onion, onions, oysters, herbs and garlic into the pocket. Use a skewer or string to close the top.
Roast in a very hot oven for ten minutes, then turn down the temp. and cook till rare, medium rare or medium. Well done would be sacrilege!
If using steaks, make an incision through the middle of each steak, without separating the halves.
Stuff as above.
Use small skewers or string to hold the two halves together.
Sear both sides in a hot pan, lower the temperature and cook till rare, medium rare or medium.
No well-done steaks allowed.
Buttered noodles, broccoli, spinach, mixed green leaf salad go well with this.

P.S. I told a teensy-weensy fib about fresh oysters … I love Oysters Rockefeller. Fresh oysters topped with wilted, chopped spinach, then hollandaise sauce and parmesan cheese and grilled till bubbling. Yum.

#oysters #smokedoysters #pâtés #pasta #beefandsmokedoysters

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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.
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



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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


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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