Great ways to learn new skills – classes, books and demonstrations.

 

Today is Kavey Eats’ 5th Birthday! Where did the time go? Over 800 posts shared, and I’m still learning, still bubbling with ideas, still enjoying the process and still feeling like a newbie in so many ways. Thank you for visiting, for reading, for commenting and for sharing my content with your friends. I am so grateful!

To celebrate, I thought I’d share some Favourite Fives with you. Click on the links to go straight to any section or settle in for a long scroll down!

Five Favourite Kavey Eats Recipes
Five Favourite Travel Posts
Five Favourite Cookery Book Reviews
Five Favourite Lessons on the History of Food
Five Favourite Recipes by Pete
Five Favourite Hotel Stays
Five Favourite Random Lessons
Five Favourite Restaurant Reviews
Five Favourite Gardening & Allotment Moments
Five Favourite Cookery Classes
Three Favourite History Lessons

 

Five Favourite Kavey Eats Recipes

Many of the recipes I blog are by way of reviewing a cookery book, but here are five of my own that I’m particularly proud of:

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A chicken tarragon pasta bake that turns leftover roast or poached chicken into something special.

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Candying (confit) clementines is surprisingly easy, as is making rich, sharp-sweet lemon posset.

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Although I love boston baked beans, Pete was never keen on the belly pork that is a common accompaniment. I created a culinary handshake between America and Britain with these British Bangers & Boston Baked Beans. Leave soupy or cook longer to reduce to a thicker, stickier mass.

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I won first prize for chutneys in our local allotment show with this apple, date, ginger and chilli chutney so I’m very proud of it, especially as I had to be encouraged to enter by an allotment friend!

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I adored my stout (beer) and salty roasted peanut ice cream – the representation of a pub in a sweet frozen treat. I wrote this as a guest post for my husband’s blog, Pete Drinks.

Other recipes I really like are my chicken liver and port pâté, these fun bacon pancakes, coffee and rum walnut brittle ice cream featuring home made walnut brittle, and a home made strawberry vodka liqueur that turned out wonderfully thick, sweet and fruity.

 

Five Favourite Travel Posts

I love to travel, especially when there’s also great food involved!

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The day we spent talking za’atar with Abu Kassem was a highlight of our trip to Lebanon.

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We had great fun spending a weekend eating and drinking our way around Amsterdam. There was so much to eat, so little time!

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I can’t pretend the Falklands Islands are a dream foodie destination but we ate well and spent lots of time appreciating the local wildlife.

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Our latest visit to Islay for the Islay Whisky Festival 2013 saw me eating fabulous fresh seafood as often as I could, which turned out to be every day!

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It’s been so hard to pick just one of my many Japan posts to include here, but I’ve chosen a little place in Kyoto selling Japanese specialities, amazake and warabi mochi.

Also in my shortlist was a really old introduction to eating in Morocco, that I originally wrote for a short-lived travel blog I abandoned almost as soon as I started!

 

Five Favourite Cookery Book Reviews

I own far far far too many cookery books!

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The book I was probably the most excited to see was Leon Book 4, featuring three of mum’s recipes, photos of mum with her parents and with baby me, and an explanation of how Mamta’s Kitchen came into existence.

SarabanBook-6259 SarabanBook-6266

Saraban, by Greg and Lucy Malouf, is enchantingly beautiful. The recipe I shared, Tahcheen-e morgh, proved very popular, and more recently it inspired my Persian Peri Peri Fusion version.

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I’m a big fan of Angela Nilsen’s approach of taking a classic recipe, researching it, sourcing tips from a range of experts and then creating the ultimate recipe and she shares 50 such recipes in this book. Here, I make her Ultimate Quiche Lorraine.

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My friend Uyen Luu’s book is a visual feast, full of beautiful images, evocative writing and delicious recipes. We made several recipes, including her Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water.

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My last choice is a book I wish I had on my own shelves, the wonderfully named Please To The Table, full of Russian recipes. Pete made Cheese Vareniki and Meat Pelmeni and they were mighty fine!

A few that didn’t quite make the top five but offer tasty treats include a fabulous smoked cheese gnocchi from The Amalfi Coast, Gastrogeek’s Roasted Aubergine Macarone Cheese and Billy Law’s Coca Cola Chicken.

 

Five Favourite Lessons On The History of Food

Sometimes a topic really catches my attention; when that happens, I love to read as much as I can to learn all about it and then pull everything together into an essay-like post!

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Our visit to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale last year was fascinating. We learned a great deal about the history of the collections from our super guide, Mike, and I was inspired to do more research about the history of the apple in the UK, when I got home.

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These days, turkey is relegated to little more than a Christmas staple, but a visit to the Kelly Bronze farm prompted me to look more closely into the history of turkey eating and breeding in the UK.

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This post had been simmering for several months, the majority of it written after our first trip to Japan in autumn 2012 but not completed until after our second trip in 2013. I only just got round to posting it! It gives a history of yakiniku in Japanese cuisine.

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A press trip to Parma allowed me to discover the origins and methods of making parmigiano-reggiano (parmesan cheese) and prosciutto de Parma (Parma ham).

 

Five Favourite Recipes by Pete

Pete does so much of the cooking in our house. Here are five of my favourite recipes he’s created.

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I’m always begging Pete to make his Chocolate & Porter Cake. Most recently, he made it for an afternoon tea, and it went down very well!

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Pete’s Cheesey Potato Bake is simplicity itself but so very tasty. It’s also a great way of using up the remnants of a varied cheeseboard.

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Home made bread is one of Pete’s fortes and I loved this Cobnut Bread he made using British cobnuts and oil.

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I dubbed this invention of Pete’s Courgette-Saka, in a reference to Moussaka, though I’ve come across similar dishes called courgette lasagne. It’s made by layering ragu, slices of courgette and bechamel before baking.

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Pete’s Crumpet recipe is a winner. Nothing like hot, freshly made crumpets oozing with melted butter for a fantastic weekend breakfast!

 

Five Favourite Hotel Stays

I guess this could come under travel, but in these posts I’m focusing on the beautiful places we stayed.

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We stayed in Ryokan Kankaso in Nara on our first trip to Japan and it remains one of my favourite experiences in Japan. They served us an amazing kaiseki ryori feast.

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Sometimes when you visit a place, it seems to have been designed with your personal tastes in mind. So it was at The Scarlet in Cornwall.

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London’s Syon Park Hotel is shiny and new, and the exterior isn’t particularly attractive, but I really appreciated what it offers inside.

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I didn’t particularly love our hotel in Abisko in Sweden’s Lappland but its location and the surrounding views were spectacular!

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Yes, two ryokans make it into the list – we also had a wonderful stay at Shiraume Ryokan in Kyoto’s historic Gion district.

 

Five Favourite Random Lessons

A little mix-bag of miscellaneous topics!

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I had a great time attending a food styling photography workshop by one of the best in the business, Alastair Hendy. I’ve shared lots of his tips in my post.

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In a rare departure from the food and travel content I usually post, I created a framed artwork of heart shaped maps of places that hold special meaning to Pete and I. Here’s the tutorial on how to make your own digital heart maps collage.

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I’ve been happily making jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and ketchups and storing them long term in sterilised jam jars and glass bottles. But before I embarked on my first canning project (where the food is heat treated inside the jar) I did some research on the various methods of preserving food at home. This post shares what I learned and was followed by my instructions on how to can apple pie filling.

Japan2012-2154 Japan2012-3168

I found the temples and shrines in Kyoto and across Japan utterly fascinating and wrote this article to help visitors to identify a Buddhist temple from a Shinto shrine and to understand and appreciate what they are seeing. Here too are 6 earlier posts in which I shared information and images from several shrines and temples we visited.

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This one isn’t so much a lesson as our experiences running a food market stall for just one day, in Covent Garden’s Real Food Market.

 

Five Favourite Restaurant Reviews

I love to eat in and I love to eat out. Here are restaurants I particularly enjoyed.

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It’s probably not a huge surprise that one of the most memorable meals I’ve written about is Heston’s Fat Duck. My sister took me there for my 40th (and her 37th) and it was a great experience.

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Given the distinction of being the only place I’ve written about where we ordered one of the dishes a second time during one meal, I must mention Club Gascon, which we visited when they were offering a special menu to celebrate their thirteenth birthday.

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Tristan Welch is no longer at the helm of Launceston Place, but he and his team made another birthday very special for me and my friend Chaundra

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History was always one of my favourite subjects at school (and indeed I studied it at uni too) so I was happy that my added content covering the history of Bombay Cafes and Thums Up Cola were of such interest to readers in my post about Dishoom.

TheSportsmanKent-1964 TheSportsmanKent-1985

The Sportsman in Kent reminds me of myself, but is altogether far tastier!

This was probably the hardest category to narrow down to five! I wanted to share Hida Beef, Tempura, Yuba and Yakiniku from Japan, enjoying a Nutter Genius’ kitchen table, crying over the loss of the Oriental City Food Court, my addiction to Kookoo Sabzi, the wonderous oddity of mac’n’cheese sushi style and a most wondrous meal at Pierre Koffmann’s rooftop popup.

 

Five Favourite Gardening & Allotment Moments

We’ve been growing our own fruit and vegetables in the back garden and, for the last three years, at a nearby allotment too.

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We spotted this fox fast asleep one morning, nestled amongst the tomatillos and gourds in the back garden. He woke after we’d admired him for a while.

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I’ve never been a fan of regular broccoli but discovered that I do really like purple sprouting broccoli varieties.

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Wanting to make the most of the yellow raspberries and blackberries from our allotment, I made a fruit tart. It features my homemade plum jelly, made from allotment plums, too!

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Some confusion on my part lead me to make this redcurrant and port jelly but it turned out so well (despite being a little runny because of too much port) that I’ve since been eking out the remainder!

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Tomatoes are one of my favourite things to grow. I adore the sweet taste and beautiful colour of Sungolds, and decided to preserve some in this lovely spicy yellow tomato ketchup.

 

Five Favourite Cookery Classes

It’s always a pleasure to learn new skills.

Billingsgate-7513 Billingsgate-7573

The impact of our single cookery class at Billingsgate Seafood Training School cannot be underestimated! Not so much in the frequency with which we cook fish at home, but in the way it’s helped to change Pete’s eating habits to the extent he will now happily eat fish on the bone! That increase in his fish eating habits helped give me the confidence to finally book our first trip to Japan!

HerbertBread-6732 HerbertBread-6557 HerbertBread-6598

Pete’s the bread baker in our house but we both hugely enjoyed this comprehensive two day course from Master Baker Tom Herbert, held at the Bethruthan Steps Hotel in Cornwall.

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I love the warm, friendly and very hands on nature of cookery classes at Food at 52, and this Flavours of Italy class was no exception.

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To celebrate ten years of running Mamta’s Kitchen (back in 2011), we decided to run some Mamta’s Kitchen Cookery Classes, to raise funds for various charities. Feedback was super and the experience was very rewarding.

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I’ve grown ever more interested in Japanese food over the last few years and have now attended a few of Reiko’s Japanese sessions, which showcase traditional dishes with a modern twist.

 

Just Three Favourite History Lessons

I always loved studying history, and with these three posts, I took a little step back to my academic days.

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At school, college and university I studied history, with a focus on the 20th century. For Remembrance Day 2010, I shared a history of the Battle of Britain.

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More history, this time in the sinking of the Titanic, and the stories of some of those aboard.

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When The East India Company name was resurrected, I wrote a piece explaining the history of the original East India Company.

 

Oh and for those eagle-eyed readers who’ve noticed that the archive dates back to 2006; after I started the blog in 2009 I copied across bits and pieces I’d written and shared via email and online discussion boards in the previous few years. That’s the time I describe as my “stealth blogging” period – I had the enthusiasm you’d expect from a blogger to record my thoughts about food, cooking, restaurants, equipment but no actual blog!

Thanks for joining me on my slow stroll down memory lane!

 

I read a blog post recently where the writer had just eaten their first – their very first – ready meal. I think the blogger was in his or her thirties.

I was utterly flabbergasted!

For some reason, I’ve never spent much time wondering whether other people do or don’t use ready meals. I naively assumed that most home cooks are like us.

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Our Cooking Habits

Pete and I have some kind of ready meal about once a week. I include in this number the meals where one or more main component is ready-made, even if we serve it with home made vegetables or sides. We usually pick things like oven bake chicken Kiev, fresh ready-made lasagne or a chicken or steak pie. And oven chips! We quickly discovered that the higher end supermarket ranges are very good at these kind of dishes and they’re close enough to home made in quality and taste. We also buy ready-made fresh pasta such as tortelloni and ravioli, which we’ll either have with a home made sauce or a fresh ready-made one. And we love sausages – they’re ready-made, of course, since we don’t make our own.

The rest of the time we cook from scratch and we really appreciate how easy it is to make great food ourselves. And we’re enthusiastic about widening our repertoire via ideas and recipes from cookery books, food blogs and friends. The meals we cook are a mix of tried and tested favourites and things we’ve never made before. Cooking from scratch allows us to tweak recipes to our tastes, substitute ingredients according to availability and personal preference and have control over the provenance of our ingredients. And, even if we spend more on higher quality ingredients, it’s still much cheaper than eating out or getting a takeaway.

Some recipes lend themselves well to being made in larger quantities, meaning we can easily make two or three meals in one go, refrigerating or freezing portions. Other recipes provide leftovers that are perfect for turning into something else – roast dinners are the most obvious example of this in our house.

But we’re also susceptible to feeling tired, lazy or just not in the mood to cook. And that’s when we’ll turn to ready meals or the occasional takeaway.

 

How I Came To Do A Survey

My surprise at the statement I came across made me think a lot more about the eating and cooking habits of others, and I started to wonder what the norm is (if there is even such a thing), and most especially, what the norm is amongst my friends.

So I sent some questions to a few friends, talking to non-foodies and non-bloggers as well as foodies and bloggers, and making sure to include families as well as couples and singles friends.

My focus was on evening meals eaten at home rather than lunch, since lunch is more dependent on one’s work situation.

My initial plan was to summarise all the responses in just a paragraph or two but I found myself so fascinated by the similarities and differences in our cooking and eating habits and even more in the reasons and opinions my friends generously shared with me. I decided to share their responses in more detail.

I’ve categorised the responses into two main groups – those who cook virtually all their meals from scratch, and those who eat a combination of ready meals and home cooked, to varying ratios. None of my friends fit into the third potential group of 100% ready meals. Note that I don’t claim that my survey is in any way representative of Britain as a whole, or that my friends’s answers are typical of British cooking and eating habits.

 

100% Home Cooking

Diana, Jennie, Jow and Martine cook all their meals from scratch and do not make use of any ready meals.

Diana explains that she finds it “quite easy to cook meals that are just as or more delicious than ready-made meals” and finds that ready-made sauces are not as tasty as what she makes herself. She is also keen to avoid “chemical additives in processed foods”. She says that although cooking good food doesn’t require much time or effort, it “does require planning”.

For Jennie cooking everything herself is “mainly to do with habit”, as she’s simply never had much exposure to ready meals. She describes herself as “a wee bit fussy about food being seasonal and ethical” and likes to know what goes into her food. Another point she raises is the ability to control diabetes, carb counting, etc. In reference to the common opinion that ready meals are quicker, she says that when she has no time or little energy, she’ll just have some vegetables and an egg. Her husband, on the other hand, will often turn to instant noodles or frozen pizza if he’s eating dinner at home alone.

Jow used to buy more ready-made sauces and food in the past but health issues lead her to re-evaluate her diet, and ultimately that of the whole family. Today, 99% of meals are home cooked, with the remaining percent “accounting for when I cock up and burn something”! She mentions a number of advantages to cooking everything herself including knowing what the family are eating and that the ingredients are fresh. As Jow cooks more and “makes sure to use all leftovers”, “the food bill is less” and she has discovered that she really enjoys cooking. In addition, her “girls are taking an interest in what’s going on in the kitchen and like to come and help”; their increased awareness of what’s going into their dinner and how the meal is made means they are “so much more enthusiastic about eating it”. Jow also points out that she is more aware of the cost of food and has learned to “plan meals in advance to utilise all the produce bought and plan  meals  around leftovers if they haven’t already been frozen for future use”.

For Martine being able to control the content of her and her partner’s meals, in terms of the “level of sugar, fats etc.” is really important and home cooking also means they can ensure the flavours (and spiciness) are to their personal tastes.

Some of my friends make mention of using ingredients like tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, soy sauce, oyster sauce and ketchup, but these are simply part of many normal recipes, and are not what I mean when I talk about ready-made sauces and pastes.

 

Some Home Cooking With Ready-Made Sauces or Pastes, Ready-Made Elements or Ready Meals

The rest of my friends use ready meals, ready-made elements of meals or ready-made sauces and pastes on occasion, with the frequency varying from rarely to regularly.

Helen likes to cook in larger quantities so she can “make and freeze [her] own ready meals”, that can quickly be reheated when needed. She is happy to use ready-made pesto, mayonnaise, stock cubes and Thai curry pastes. She feels that “ready meals are expensive”, skimp on taste and are too salty. But she does appreciate a “supermarket curry from time to time”, suggesting the supermarket meal deals as good value.

Like Helen, Lisa cooks most of her own meals, relegating both ready meals and takeaways to “last minute can’t be botheredness”. Because much of her cooking is during the week after work and she also finds it difficult to stand up for long periods, time is a key factor for her. She appreciates “the speed of a ready made stock or spice mixture” but has found that “ready made sauces always taste odd”.

Danny says that although the family cooks from scratch most of the time, they “don’t shun ready meals”, and will buy them once every few weeks when caught on the hop, popping into M&S on the way home from visiting his Nan, for example. They do use ready-made curry sauces a lot, because when Danny makes curry from scratch, he “always bugger things up by making them too hot”! He says that premium end ready meals “can be quite nice to eat” but he doesn’t think he’s every found one “absolutely amazing”, though wonders if that’s partly psychological. He does “wrinkle [his] nose” at the really cheap ready meals “that come in a plastic tray that costs £1” because he “sincerely believe[s] that they are full of shite and shite to eat”.

Dave doesn’t buy ready meals either and cooks all his evening meals himself. However, he prefers to keep cooking time on weeknights to no more than 20-40 minutes, and is happy to use shortcuts such as curry pastes, spice mixes, stir fry sauces and stock cubes. On the weekend, he has more time available and is happy to try recipes that need advanced preparation.

Matt is much the same, and it’s rare for him to buy a ready meal. He cooks most meals himself, estimating that about 40% are from scratch and 60% use ready-made elements such as stir fry or pasta sauces. One of the key motivations for him in avoiding ready meals is his preference to avoid “food where there’s packaging that doesn’t seem to need to be there”. He likes to buy “veg at the local grocer where [he] can buy it unpackaged off the shelf and straight into the one carrier bag”; he’s not a fan of supermarkets individually wrapping fresh produce. “Unnecessary packaging makes [him] sad”, especially as Bristol doesn’t recycle black plastic or cellophane, meaning most of it is headed for landfill. Of course, he doesn’t always manage to stick to this – it depends on “energy levels, how much shopping time I’ve had recently, how well I’ve planned it, and how much washing up I can face doing”. Another factor for him in buying shop-bought sauces is that it “doesn’t feel worth making that kind of stuff up when I’m mostly just cooking for me”. He adds that he also has “no idea how you actually make sweet-and-sour sauce”. Lastly, he likes to “keep packs of microwave rice around for those moments when I realise the main meal is ready but I’ve forgotten to put rice on. Or, as happened last time, turned on the rice cooker without actually putting water in it…

Linda and her husband eat ready meals two or three times a month, and likewise for their use of ready-made sauces. The main constraints for them are the time they get in from work, which can sometimes be quite late. Ready meals and ready-made sauces are “quick & easy to use so very convenient” but they try not to use too many “because of the high salt & fat content”.

Tamsin cooks most of the time, especially for her children, though says that she and her husband eat a ready meal “very occasionally for speed”. During the week she will occasionally use ready-made pesto (though says her husband’s home made is better) but has started to make pasta sauces herself “because [she] was a bit shocked how much salt and sugar is in a lot of them, and also they don’t taste as nice”. About once a week, meals will include a ready-made element such as “ready made fishcakes or chicken in crispy breadcrumbs”. On the weekend, it’s “much more about cooking a whole meal from scratch – the kids have school dinners so don’t need a big meal on weekdays”. In terms of motivation, she says “it’s mostly health factors affecting me making stuff from scratch- only something I have started recently” but adds that she is also getting increasingly “fussier about taste too, and just don’t like the taste of a lot of ready made stuff”. She observes that she’d really struggle to cook from scratch as much if she worked full time, as “horrible work days” are when she’s mostly likely to “reach for the ready made stuff in a jar”.

MiMi’s ratio of home cooking to ready meals and takeaways is probably closest to ours. She estimates that 70% of meals are home cooked, with the remainder divided between ready meals and takeaways. Home cooked meals are most commonly from scratch, with ready-made sauces used only occasionally. For MiMi, “time and energy and lack of both are the biggest factors” and she also cites curiosity “when trying a ready-made sauce or meal”. She also points out that one of the “benefits of a ready meal is it can be cheaper than buying all ingredients separately and is definitely easier”. It’s also a good way to try new stuff without investing too much time and energy and if she likes the idea, she often ends up making it from scratch in the future. One of the big impacts on cooking and eating patterns for MiMI has been the birth of her little girl a year ago. She and her husband usually take turns to eat so “the food usually has to be or ends up cold because the boglin needs so much attention”. The “food budget has gone up” because MiMi buys “a lot more ready to eat ingredients that can be assembled quickly, such as ham or mackerel for salads” and she now buys “organic fish, meat, fruits and veg” which she may not have bothered with before, along with “baby-safe biscuits and snacks” that are sugar and salt free.

Chaundra definitely finds time is her biggest enemy, as she doesn’t finish work till 7 and gets home at 8. She reckons half the meals she and her husband eat during the week are therefore ready-made, and she relies heavily on ready-made sauces and pastes, taking care to source ones that deliver on taste. However, on the weekend, she has more time and really relishes “making a good meal, in quantities” that allow for leftovers to be eaten as future meals. She prefers home made because she takes “pride in [her] cooking and associate[s] homemade food as being an expression of love and affection”.

Like Chaundra, Gary works long days. He estimates that in any given week about 4 out of seven evening meals “have a prepared element”, which could be oven chips, a frozen meat dish (such as a pie) or frozen vegetables. One meal in seven is entirely made up of ready-made elements. But he very rarely eats the kind of ready meals that come in a “little black plastic tray with clingfilm over the top” because he “find[s] the cost prohibitive”. On the weekends, Gary tends to cook more often from scratch, though on some weeknights too. He seldom uses ready-made sauces, though he might use a ready-made paste in an Indian dish. Despite the late nights, cost rather than time is the major factor and he’s noticed that “supermarkets are dramatically more expensive across various ranges” in the last 18 months.

Ruth tells me she and her family “probably have one or two ready meals per week, and one or two takeaways/meals out per week” and the rest is home cooked. Home cooked meals are virtually always made from scratch, though she likes to “buy a Waitrose ‘from scratch’ kit per week which makes [her] feel like [she’s] home cooking with the convenience of having it all prepared for [her]”. She is “most inclined to cook from scratch when making a meal for the whole family” and believes it’s “hugely important that the kids see me cook and that we sit down and eat home cooked food together”. When she and her husband eat after the kids are in bed, they’re “hungry and we just want something fast and easy”.

 

Can I Draw Any Conclusions?

The group of friends I’ve spoken to is neither large enough nor random enough to be representative of the general population of Britain, but the friends who’ve so kindly shared their thoughts with me have certainly given me plenty of food for thought and opened my eyes to how people cook and eat. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the many varied factors which influence their choices, which are as varied as the people themselves.

I don’t think there are any real conclusions to be drawn but certainly the use of complete ready meals is lower than I imagined. That said, a fair few of our friends use ready-made elements of a meal such as fish cakes, breaded chicken, pies or oven chips within a meal that also features home-cooked elements. A fair few use ready-made sauces and pastes in their cooking.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a clearly perceived difference between cheap ready meals and premium ones; this matches my own findings, having tried quite a variety. These days we stick to the premium ranges, though these are significantly more expensive than the budget ranges.

 

What about you?

Do you identify with one or more of my friends above?

What is the balance in your home and what are the key decision-making factors for you?

Please let me know by leaving a comment below. And I’d really love to get a wider range of responses, so please invite your friends to weigh in too.

Let me know what proportion of evening meals in your home are cooked from scratch, home cooked using ready-made sauces or pastes, feature a ready-made element alongside home cooking or are wholly ready-made items or a ready meal.

Share your opinions about these various choices and tell me why you cook and eat as you do, and how you feel about it.

 

Many thanks to those who join in and thanks again to all my friends for so generously sharing their habits and opinions.

Mar 072014
 

In China, Taiwan and North America, yakinuku (literally “grilled meat” *) is often referred to as Japanese barbeque but in Japan itself, it’s very much considered a Korean import. In the UK, it’s not well known at all.

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Showa Taishu Horumon in Osaka

What is Yakiniku?

Yakiniku is DIY dining at its finest! Diners gather around a charcoal or wood burner, usually placed in the centre of the table, and cook their own meal, piece by piece and at their own pace.

Many specialist restaurants have yakiniku grills built right into the tables, with extractor systems to whip away smoke and smells. Others bring portable grills to the table, quickly switching them with a hotter replacement should the coals die down during your meal.

Most commonly, thin slivers of raw meat are ordered according to the cut. A variety of vegetable accompaniments is usually available, though the choice is sometimes limited, and the vegetables are clearly secondary to the meat! Most restaurants also offer a range of side dishes (such as rice, noodles and salads) which don’t need to be cooked on the grill. Again, these are simply a supporting act to the meat.

Yakiniku is perfect for 2 to 4 diners (any more than that and you’ll need multiple grills so everyone can reach). Sit down, check the menu, order your favourites and cook them just as you like them.

Some of the raw meat will come plain – thinly sliced and ready to grill; some will come marinated in a sticky tare (sauce); you may also be given raw egg or other sauces in which to dip pieces of meat once they have been cooked.

Beef and pork are the most common choices. Some yakiniku restaurants specialise in horuman (offal), their menus listing more different types of offal than I ever imagined existed! My first choice is the fattiest and most tender cuts of beef, which work well when flash grilled for mere moments until the fat starts to melt. I’m also addicted to thin slices of fatty belly pork, cooked a little longer until the fat starts to bubble and brown.

* Yaki most commonly refers to cooking on a grill, but can also mean frying or tempering.

The History of Yakiniku in Japan

According to most web resources, including Wikipedia, yakiniku originated in Korea.

The Meiji Restoration (the revival of Imperial rule) gave rise to a burgeoning interest in western culture, including foreign food. In 1872 The Emperor broke a 1,200 year ban on meat eating, though it took some time for long-ingrained cultural taboos to dissipate. ~

Korean food became popular in Japan during the 20th century, especially in the years following World War Two. Korean restaurants advertised themselves as offering chōsen cuisine; the term came from Joseon, the name of the old, individed Korea but when Korea split into two North and South nations following the Korean War, Joseon was appropriated by the North. Businesses in Japan, more sympathetic to the South, removed all chōsen references and instead labelled their food as kankoku (South Korean).

Restaurants serving bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) and galbi (grilled ribs) were known as horumonyaki (offal grills).

Although this is the history trotted out whenever the origins of yakiniku are discussed, isn’t it a little simplistic not to take into account the fact that grilling meat was already prevalent in Japan before the influx of Korean cooking, even though beef was not widely eaten until the late 19th Century?

Perhaps it is the use of the wonderfully-flavoured marinades that mark yakiniku as a Korean-influenced cuisine? But yakiniku, as it is enjoyed in Japan today, is not wholly Korean either – the prevalence of offal and the use of dipping sauces (in which the meat is dipped after cooking, rather than before) are, apparently not common in Korea.

Regardless of the exact origins, the association between yakiniku and Korean food is a strong one and many yakiniku restaurants in Japan commonly offer a range of Korean dishes including kimchi and spicy tofu.

I’m not sure when the general yakiniku (grilled meat) term came widely into use for this kind of cooking but the All Japan Yakiniku Association was established in 1992 and proclaimed August 29 as an annual Yakiniku Day in 1993. The date is described as goroawase (numerical wordplay) because the numbers 8, 2 and 9 can be read as ya-tsu-ni-ku, an approximation of yakiniku.

Yakiniku has seen its fortunes rise and fall according to a variety of influences. In the 1980s, the introduction of modern ventilated systems, which allowed restaurants to easily eliminate smoke and cooking smells, gave open grill restaurants a big boost. So too did the easing of beef import restrictions in 1991, which resulted in a drop in the price of beef. However, the 2001 occurrence of Mad Cow Disease (BSE) in Japan was a set back.

Today, yakiniku is hugely popular and that popularity is still growing. ^

~ This (PDF) article on The Meat Eating Culture of Japan gives a fascinating, detailed history of ancient meat-eating customs, the prohibition of meat and the lifting of restrictions.
^ Here’s an entertaining article from Japan Today with a theory on why and how diners may be forming an addition to meat!

Our Yakiniku Feasts

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The best beef we had in Japan was also our first yakiniku experience, at Maruaki, a Hida Beef restaurant in Takayama in 2012.

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On that same trip, we came across this restaurant in department store restaurant floor. A sign outside invited overseas customers to tell the restaurant manager he was handsome in return for a free beer. We did, he giggled, we received our free beers!

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Gyu-Kaku is a large Korean yakiniku chain with several hundred branches across Japan (and quite a few internationally too). Many of the meats come marinated and there are various dipping sauces, including raw egg ones, to dip the cooked meat into before eating. We really liked the spicy tofu with mince meat side dish as well.

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Another visit to a different branch of Gyu-Kaku, on our second trip.

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We chose Showa Taishu Horumon in Osaka’s Dotonbori district for a number of reasons – specialising in horuman (offal), but with regular cuts also on the menu, it gave me the opportunity to try cuts I’d never normally try; I found the retro ‘50s vibe to the decor rather appealing; I liked the bucket barbecue grills; everyone inside looked happy; staff were welcoming. By the way, Showa Taishu Horumon has a a few branches in the area, this one is located at Dotonbori 1-5-9 1F, on the area’s main street. We had a great meal – I discovered that oesophagus is definitely not for me but confirmed I’m happy to eat cheek and tongue. I chose not to explore the extensive tripe menu! And the regular beef and pork cuts were delicious!

 

Next, Pete and I bring yakiniku into our kitchen for a home made Korean-Japanese BBQ. Coming soon!

 

Pete and I and a couple of friends spent the weekend feasting with Uyen Luu. And she wasn’t even there!

Instead, we cooked up a storm from her beautiful cookery book, My Vietnamese Kitchen. Over the weekend we made a dessert for our first dinner, another recipe for breakfast, one more for the next dinner and yet another for Sunday lunch. While the rain and wind lashed outside, we stayed warm and busy cooking and eating – what better way to spend a weekend with dear friends?

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Uyen Luu was born in Vietnam into a close-knit, food-loving family – her maternal grandmother opened a noodle soup shop in her front room to help make ends meet during the tough times following the Vietnam War, and some of Uyen’s earliest memories are of her grandmother making and serving her fragrant bún bò huế to customers. Times were very tough during that period and Uyen’s parents made the decision to emigrate to London. Here, her mother continued to raise her family on a traditional Vietnamese diet, as best she could with the ingredients available here.

I came to know Uyen’s story and her cooking via her food and travel blog, where she shares a mixture of old and new memories and tasty recipes, all beautifully illustrated by her creative photography and styling. Since moving to the UK, she has returned to Vietnam often, and her travel journal posts are a particular pleasure to read.

Uyen and I met in person several years ago via her supperclub – she is one of the pioneers of the UK supper club phenomenon – and I couldn’t fail to be captivated as much by her gentle and complex character as by her food; she’s shy but riotous (and occasionally fiery), vulnerable but strong, superbly creative but genuinely modest, a social butterfly but also quite private. I love to sit in her kitchen, following her instructions to stir the stock, chop some vegetables, rub salt and oil onto the meat, and talk about life, the universe and everything. She has a knack for bringing out a protective feeling in me, and I’m always so happy to learn of her successes and joys.

So I was delighted when she announced her book deal, which resulted in this truly beautiful book. Her food is authentic, delicious and achievable and she’s taught many, many people how to make it during the cookery classes she also runs out of her East London home. Those numbers include greats like Raymond Blanc and Jamie Oliver, who are quick to acknowledge not only her skill with flavours but also her ability to teach those skills to others.

I was one of the many friends who helped Uyen with recipe testing when she was still writing the book, and when I saw the finished book, I felt very proud to have played a (very very tiny) part in it.

As I always knew it would be, the book is a visual feast. The team she worked with to style and photograph the book have captured Uyen’s very personal and quirky style amazingly well. First and foremost, the images showcase the food itself, but they also create a very warm and rich tapestry that tells Uyen’s story beautifully.

My Vietnamese Kitchen starts with an introduction to key ingredients. The recipe chapters are then divided into Breakfast, Soups, Snacks, Noodles, Lunch & Dinner and Sweets. Many of the recipes need only what you can find in a well-stocked UK supermarket, but of course there are some that require specialist ingredients. In this era of online shopping, these are no longer difficult to source.

Here is Uyen’s recipe for Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water (cá mòi kho). As we couldn’t get sardines, we switched to mackerel as a similarly oily fish; we also doubled the recipe (given in its original quantities, below). It was beautifully simple, worked perfectly and we all really loved it! I’m already planning on making this one again and again.

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Recipe: Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water (cá mòi kho)

Serves 2

Ingredients
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Half a red onion, finely chopped
350 grams whole sardines, scaled and gutted
150 ml coconut water (or use fresh water plus one teaspoon sugar)
1 Bird’s Eye chilli
1 pinch black pepper
1 teaspoon coconut caramel (see note)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
cooked rice, to serve

Note: As we didn’t have any coconut caramel, we followed Uyen’s tip to melt and caramelise some brown sugar instead. Make sure you let the sugar get reasonably dark so it can add colour, sweetness and bitterness to the dish.

Method

  • Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan over medium heat and fry the onion until browned.
  • Add the sardines to the pan and fry for about 2 minutes per side.
  • Add the coconut water, chilli, pepper, coconut caramel, sugar, fish sauce and vegetable oil. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
  • Serve with cooked rice, or a palate-cleansing soup and fried greens.

As you can see from the images, we served this with a simple egg and peas fried rice made by following my friend Diana’s tutorial on quick and easy egg fried rice and a salad from another of my current favourite books, Everyday Harumi.

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Other dishes we made from Uyen’s book during the weekend were:

  • Frozen Yoghurt (kem da-ua) – an outrageously simple recipe combining tangy natural yoghurt with condensed milk before churning in an ice cream machine. We had this with a clafoutis of whisky-soaked dates and the match was excellent. I loved the balance of tart and sweet and will definitely make this again.
  • Omelette Baguette (bánh mì trứng ốp lết) – we switched baguette for other home made loaves but we loved the core recipe for sweet sharp pickled shredded carrot and herby omelette. The chillis we added were so hot that my eyes watered, my lips were still tingling ages later!
  • Fresh Rolls with Mackerel Ceviche (gỏi cuốn cá thu sống đầu phộng ớt) – rice paper summer rolls filled with herbs, beansprouts, a pineapple dipping sauce, rice vermicelli noodles and mackerel ceviche and we also added leftover pickled shredded carrot. This was our least favourite of the dishes we made with the texture of the rice paper wrappers and the ceviche cited as difficult textures / tastes.

I’ve also made the Tofu and Tomatoes in Fish Sauce (đầu phụ sốt cà chua), which I first had at Uyen’s house, so it was a great test of whether I could achieve the same flavours and textures by following her recipe. I could and I liked it just as much the second time around.

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Frozen Yoghurt with whisky-soaked dates clafoutis

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Omelette Sandwiches

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Fresh Rolls with Mackerel Ceviche; A game of Carcassone

Kavey Eats was sent a review copy of My Vietnamese Kitchen by publisher Ryland Peters. As I’ve made clear, Uyen Luu is a friend, but all of us genuinely enjoyed cooking and eating from her book and I recommend the book wholeheartedly.

Thanks to Monica for additional images, as per copyright text. And cheers to Monica, Marie and Pete for another fabulous weekend!

 

Guest post by Diana Chan.

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Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which this year is on the 31st of January. In Cantonese-speaking Chinese communities everywhere, people greet each other with a hearty Kung Hei Fat Choy! to bring prosperity to the new year.

Chinese New Year is the most intensely celebrated festival in the lunar calendar. It is important that the year starts right, as the beginning of the year influences what comes next. Kung Hei Fat Choy! 恭喜發財literally means wishing you to make a fortune. While I think the English greeting Happy New Year contains the essence of all good wishes and is an excellent example of less is more – happiness is ultimately what matters most – the Cantonese prefer to be more specific.

Kung Hei Fat Choy! can be followed by good wishes that are relevant to the recipient, and there are dozens of commonly used ones to choose from. Just like receiving gifts that have been thoughtfully chosen, receiving a good wish for a desired thing is a joyful feeling indeed.

A Chinese New Year greeting for women: may you be forever young 青春常駐; a greeting for the career ambitious: may you have unobstructed ascent to the very top 平歩青雲.

The first time that we see children in the new year – one’s own children whatever their age, and the unmarried offspring of family and close friends – we give them small red envelopes with money inside for good luck. There are wishes for them too – be healthy 快高長大for the very young and do very well 步步高升for the others.

Desirable things are not only wished to others. Good wishes written in brush and ink calligraphy or neatly printed on pieces of red paper would be prominently displayed around the home to bring the desired blessings to the family. Red is the colour of celebration and good luck.

Cantonese new year customs are a practice in the power of positive thinking and the belief that more is more. In addition to saying, hearing, seeing and giving – good wishes are also delivered via food. An ingredient with a name that sounds like something desirable is used to increase the chances of achieving the hoped-for outcome. Because it is a monosyllabic language, many Chinese words have the same or similar pronunciation. This is a feature that allows much play on words, although not across dialects. For example, two words might have the same pronunciation in Cantonese but not in Mandarin.

Many Cantonese restaurants offer a celebration menu throughout the new year period. When a dish is brought to the table, a well-trained server announces its fortune-bearing name to the guests. Banquets to celebrate the new year are held throughout the first month of the lunar new year, especially for business entertaining. Dishes typically include expensive ingredients, not only as a sign of respect for the guests but also because it is important to the host – being lavish in entertaining encourages prosperity to continue.

Families that enjoy celebrating the new year in traditional ways eat food with names intended to bring blessings of good health, success, prosperity, happiness, togetherness and harmony.

Here is an example of a Chinese New Year dinner in a Cantonese family. Literal translations of the names of the dishes will not convey their meanings so I will not attempt it, except for the key word that associates the name with the key ingredient. The association of a blessing-bearing name with a dish is completely at the discretion of the cook. If you have the occasion or the interest to make such a dinner, you do not need to prepare these same dishes; as long as you use the same key ingredient, you can give the same name to your own creation.

I would like to convey my wishes to you, too, via this virtual celebration meal.

May you have:

美景生輝 Fantastic opportunities to show off your talents

Soup of ox tail, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onion, dried tangerine peel, ginger

Key word: 美, beautiful. Key ingredient: tail 尾

A Cantonese family meal on any important occasion such as new year, mid-autumn festival or a birthday includes a soup that takes hours to simmer. These soups are believed to have health-enhancing properties. The addition of dried tangerine peel and ginger is what makes this ox tail soup Cantonese.

Diana CNY-oxtail soup

 

龍馬精神 Abundant energy and good spirits

Lobster in a ginger, spring onion, garlic, and black bean sauce

Key word: 龍, dragon. Key ingredient: lobster 龍蝦

Lobster in Chinese literally means dragon prawn. The dragon symbolises power and vitality. The name of this dish can be used in any preparation that contains lobster.

Diana CNY-lobster

 

喜氣洋洋 Many celebrations and joyful occasions

Filet of lamb stir fried with leek, garnished with red chilli

Key word: 洋, abundant. Key ingredient: lamb 羊

This is an everyday dish given a festive name. It does not require any special ingredients and is super easy to make – see Diana’s Stir Fry 1-2-3 for how-to. If you would like to get into the spirit of Chinese New Year but not cook Chinese food, then you can give the same name to roast leg of lamb, grilled lamb chops or any dish with lamb.

Diana CNY-lamb

 

金玉滿堂 Money money money

Chicken stew with lily buds, hair moss, dried mushrooms on a bed of silver fungus and lettuce

Key word: 金, gold. Key ingredient: lily buds 金針

If I was unable to make a special trip to a Chinese grocery store to buy lily buds, silver fungus and hair moss, all three of which have names associated with money, I could make a stew of chicken and pumpkin 金瓜 instead. Lettuce 生菜 is also a fortune-bearing ingredient in this dish; it rhymes with money grows 生財.

Diana CNY-chicken

 

花開富貴 More and more money

Broccoli with a sauce of crab and salmon roe

Key word: 花, flower. Key ingredient: broccoli 西籣花

The name of this dish literally means blossoms and wealth. It is customary to have colourful fresh flowers in the home during Chinese New Year. While the crab sauce is delicious, white is not a celebratory colour and something red is needed as a garnish. When it is not possible to get crab with red roe, I scatter salmon roe over the sauce instead.

Diana CNY-broccoli

 

幸福團圓 Many blessings and harmony in the family

Sweet dumplings with sesame filling in a brown sugar and ginger broth

Key word: 圓, round. Key ingredient: round dumplings 湯圓

A circle symbolizes completeness and perfection and such a dessert is associated with a sweet life. It is customary to eat this kind of dumpling on the evening of the first full moon of the new lunar year, when couples celebrate being together.

The new lunar year’s first full moon happens to be on 14th February, Valentine’s Day. What a good occasion to offer and share a variety of chocolate truffles!

Diana CNY-dumplings

 

If you like the idea of consuming a blessing-bearing dinner but find the logistics of preparing a six-course Cantonese meal daunting, try combining two or more key ingredients in the same dish and get the same outcome with much less work. Here is an example of a three-course menu:

龍馬精神 美景生輝 Abundant energy and fantastic opportunities: a starter of lobster tail

花開富貴 喜氣洋洋 Prosperity and numerous joyful occasions: a main course of broccoli and lamb

幸福團圓 Blessings and harmony: a dessert of a perfectly round scoop of ice cream

 

May you have all of the above in a Happy Chinese New Year: good health, good luck, success, prosperity and harmony.

 

Sometimes I fall behind in writing about cookery books I’ve accepted for review. There is always a stack of books waiting for my attention, and I often feel vaguely guilty that I have already covered books that came in more recently than books that have been waiting a while. So I was delighted when a new friend agreed to take one from the pile and write a guest review about how she got on cooking from it. She chose French Food Safari by Maeve O’Meara and Guillaume Brahimi. Over to Tara Dean and her friend Dawn.

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I met Kavey through a friend when we needed somewhere to crash for the weekend whilst we went to Last Night of the Proms in Hyde Park. I had heard much about Kavey, it was a delight to eventually meet both Kavey who eats and Pete who drinks. I live in Bristol and keep myself very busy. I work for an international sexual health company, run my own sports massage business and am studying for my Masters in Occupational Psychology which I will complete early next year. In my spare time I do Bikram yoga, go to the gym and spend time with my amazing friends.

Whilst at Kavey’s I raided her sweet and chocolate box, as a blogger she gets sent lots of samples and so I had a great time, we inevitably got to talking about food and blogging. Kavey had been sent a recipe book to review and was finding her time limited, I was excited and up for the challenge so she asked me to take the book, cook, eat and review. So here we are, I hope you enjoy reading about my experience.

I have a wonderful friend called Dawn who writes the dessert part of this review, we met a few years ago as we both started out our studies in Psychology. As a fellow northerner, she’s from the east I’m from the west, we both love good homely food that fills your belly and makes you feel nice and warm inside. I take my food seriously and don’t like to eat too much junk food. I am known in the office for my interesting concoctions, when I work late on a Thursday my manager stops by the kitchen specifically to inspect what I’m eating. I’ve often been asked at work if I’m vegetarian even when there is meat in the dish because I am eating something homemade which contains vegetables. People are taken aback when I start work at 8am and I have managed to cook a curry or soup for my lunch before arriving. Life’s too short to eat food that does not taste good. I pride myself in making quick, inexpensive and healthy meals. Now that’s not quite how things happen when you cook from a French cooking book. My point is I can relate to people taking food seriously.

I cooked the main and thankfully Dawn did the dessert. We both thought we had picked a fairly easy none complicated dessert for her. One of the phrases I remember from the evening was from her husband Marc when she asked him to help her with the puff pastry. His reply was ‘No. I’ve made puff pastry once’. He meant you only ever made fresh puff pastry once, learn your lesson, and then buy pre-made ready to roll forever more. Knowing that, there are far more fun and less stressful ways you can spend your Saturday afternoon.

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Lamb Navarin

I chose the Lamb Navarin recipe which in our terms is a French Lamb Stew. First stop was the butchers. The recipe calls for 1kg boned lamb shoulder and 1kg forequarter lamb racks, cut between every second rib. After showing my butcher the recipe book we decided it would be half the price, more meat and much easier to have 2 kg of lamb shoulder which he boned and then I could dice. This was very simple to cut and led to a much less messy eating experience and left me with more money to spend on red wine which fits into my northern values. The recipe says to use chicken stock for which it provides a recipe for – ain’t no one got time for that – or water – I compromised and used stock cubes which I do not think took any flavour away. I had never heard of Kipfler potatoes and neither had the assistant at my local greengrocers. I did a quick internet search and up popped a picture of a long nobbly potato. We ended up with Anya potatoes which hopefully did not take anything away.

I found the recipe well written and easy to follow other than wrestling with Dawn for page viewing. There is a point in the recipe which instructs you to strain the sauce through a fine sieve. I really did not see the point of this and as I was cooking in a piping hot, very heavy, cast iron casserole dish I declined to follow. The result was a beautiful navarin with succulent meat and flavoursome sauce. The celeriac puree containing almost a full pack of butter was the perfect accompaniment. As much as the guests enjoyed the navarin the puree enjoyed the most praise. One guest commented that if I made it again he would like to be on the guest list.

Along with preparation you are looking at a good 3 hours to make this meal. That is without an dessert or starter. The recipe claims this dish can serve 8 – 10 people. We had 7 people to feed, no one behaved like a piglet and overfilled their plate and we had very little in the way of leftovers. I think the writer has been overly optimistic. Unless in France they have extremely small portions to allow for the many courses you would normally expect at a dinner party, which of course is entirely possible, however as a northerner I would like my main course to feel like a main. We did serve cheese between the main and the dessert. Although I have always experienced cheese to be served after dessert the author of French Food Safari says any French person knows that the cheese is served before dessert. Not wanting to appear as amateurs we stuck to tradition.

The book itself is well presented and inviting. There are sections on cheeses, meat, and very fancy desserts which you need specialist equipment to attempt. The recipes do look very inviting and I’m looking forward to trying some more…….. maybe for the next dinner party!

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Tarte Tatin by Dawn

A super friend of mine called Tara invited me to do a joint review of the new ‘French Food Safari’ and with the chitchat of good friends it was quickly decided: there would be a dinner party and it would be held in my kitchen. I offered to make dessert since this is a dish I always feel I do in a hurry when I have a dinner party. The idea of oodles of time without distraction from other dishes to prepare, felt like finally, without neglect, I was in a position to consider this dessert’s every need!

The dessert? Tarte Tatin…The perfect antidote to the autumn air. This is a dish I have enjoyed without fail on numerous occasions during my time spent living in France as a student in the 90′s. My husband is part French and always holds a certain nostalgia for this dessert since his French grandmother would often make it.

On first sight, the recipe seemed fairly straightforward. I have, on several occasions baked a Tarte Tatin so thought it near impossible that I should find myself in troubled waters. Oh how I was wrong! The recipe required me to make puff pastry. Although I have experience of making shortcrust pastry I knew straightaway that to make puff pastry you need inherent qualities such as patience, determination and time. With a flick of my hair I decided I had time on my side and should not focus on the aforementioned qualities!

Some points regarding the recipe quantities: the pastry recipe required 500ml water, 250 ml of which needed to be ice-cold. After 250ml water I found my dough to be all pasty and did not even dare to add the next vat of water. I became a little disheartened at this and wondered how on earth I could possibly inject more water into it, considering all my quantities again-had I put too little flour in? All the quantities were right so with deep breath and without further ado I made a pledge to move on and get cracking with peeling the apples. With an eye on the time and my pastry in mind, I looked forward to what I thought had to be the more straightforward part of the recipe.

After peeling, de-seeding and coring the apples I made the caramel. On the previous occasions I’ve made Tarte Tatin I have added the sugar and butter to the fruit at the time of cooking so i was a little surprised that the caramel was made separately but appreciated trying out new methods! I know that you have to e very attentive to a caramel to stop it burning so I gave it my full attention despite the knowledge my pastry was going to be crying out for affection in the fridge before long. Unfortunately what I found is that there was not enough direction in the instructions. i was starting to feel concerned about the caramel bubbling away for 8 mins with apples and then being turned up to full heat until the apples became caramelised. I was also using a cast-iron pan which does, of course, retain a lot of heat in comparison to other materials.

The apples looked golden and caramelised and picture-perfect. Time to return to the pastry again…

I started to become aware of time: with guests arriving at 8pm I was not going to have this dessert done and dusted before their arrival even though I had started at around 5:15pm. I estimated that by 8:15pm the Tarte, pastry in tow, would be ready to put in the oven. One aspect which would have really helped in making this pastry… photos. There weren’t enough photos of the various contortions this pastry required during the rolls. A picture of all four corners folded in would have been welcomed with open arms.

Three hours and 15 minutes later saw the birth of my Tarte Tatin. It looked amazing.

The taste was disappointing. Everyone agreed it tasted a little burned. A slightly burned caramel sullied the whole dish and those melt in your mouth apples were suddenly left without a plan B. The pastry was ok but nothing special, not quite what I’d expect from having toiled and troubled over it for hours… I kicked myself for not buying ready-made pastry. At least I would have had an easier time coming to terms with a burnt caramel not to mention extra time to prepare for guests.

With more handholding I could have tackled this dessert. I cook and bake a great deal with 2 small children and a husband to feed but this recipe needed a chef (as well as more photos, directions and bags of time) and that, I hasten to add, I am definitely not.

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With thanks to Tara and Dean for their review, and to Hardie Grant for review copy of French Food Safari.

 

Camilla Stephens began her culinary career developing food for (UK-based) coffee chain, the Seattle Coffee Company. When it was bought out by Starbucks, she stayed on board creating tasty treats to be sold across the chain throughout the day. Somewhere along the way, she learned to make really tasty pies. Fast forward several years to 2003 when Camilla and husband James created Higgidy, selling beautiful handmade pies – even though the business has grown phenomenally in its first decade, every single pie is still shaped and filled by hand and the product range now includes a variety of quiches too. There are more traditional recipes such as beef, stilton and ale in a shortcrust pastry case and bacon and cheddar quiche, as well as more inventive recipes like sweet potato and feta pie with pumpkin seeds.

Pete and I aren’t averse to buying ready made meals so we’ve enjoyed Higgidy products at home a number of times. The key to their success is that they really do taste home made.

So we had high hopes for Camilla’s recently-released Higgidy Cookbook, promising “100 Recipes for Pies and More”. We were not disappointed and it didn’t take long for me to bookmark a slew of recipes that appealed: chicken and chorizo with spiced paprika crumble, chinese spiced beef pies, no-nonsense steak and ale pie, giant gruyere and ham sandwich, melt-in-the-middle pesto chicken (filo parcels), hot-smoked salmon gougère (scuppered, on the first attempt, by our inability to find hot-smoked salmon in our local shops), rösti-topped chicken and pancetta pie, wintry quiche with walnutty pastry, smoked haddock frying-pan pie, cheddar ploughman tartlets, cherry tomato tarte tatin, sticky ginger and apple tarte tatin, pear and whisky tart, oaty treacle tart, chocolate snowflake tart and sticky onions!

Of course, many of these recipes are wonderfully hearty and perfect winter warmers at this this cold, dark and wet time of year.

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Pork and apple stroganoff pie with cheddar crust; lamb hotpot

So far, Pete’s made two recipes from the book and we have been delighted with both. The hearty lamb hotpot was a classic; simple to make, tasty and warming to eat. The pork and apple stroganoff pie with cheddar crust was fantastic. Oddly enough, after making (and blogging) an apple pie with an almost identical design on top (which I made before having seen the Higgidy pie photograph) I had been chatting on twitter about trying apple pie with a cheddar crust, so finding this recipe soon afterwards was serendipitous! It didn’t disappoint.

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Higgidy Pork and Apple Stroganoff Pie with Cheddar Crust

Equipment
1 x 1.4 litre ovenproof pie dish

Ingredients
For the cheddar pastry

230 grams plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
0.5 teaspoon salt
125 grams butter, chilled and diced
40 grams mature cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
2-3 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the filling
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
A good knob of butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 medium leek, thinly slievd
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
600 grams pork tenderloin, cut into 2-3 cm pieces
2 eating apples, such as Braeburn, peeled, cored and cut into small wedges
2 tablespoons plain flour
200 ml cider
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
150 ml full-fat soured cream
150 ml hot chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: We skipped the egg-wash, so our pie didn’t have the pretty glossy appearance of Camilla’s.

Method

  • To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a food processor. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the cheese, then add the ice-cold water, just enough to bring the pastry together. Shape into a round disc, wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the filling. Heat a tablespoon of oil with the butter in a large non-stick frying pan, add the onion and leek, and cook gently for 5 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Spoon into your pie dish.
  • Increase the heat, add a splash more oil, then fry the pork for a couple of minutes only, just enough to brown the meat. Spoon into the pie dish.

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  • Keep the pan on a high heat and fry the apple pieces in the remaining fat, until lightly browned and Beginning to soften. Transfer to the pie dish. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir well, to evenly combine.

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  • Pour the cider into the empty pan and bubble until reduced by half. Lower the heat, add the mustard, soured cream and stock and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and immediately pour over the meat in the pie dish. Give it all a good stir and set aside to cook completely.

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  • Preheat the oven to 200 C / fan 180 C / gas mark 6. Brush the edges of the pie dish with beaten egg.
  • On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick and drape it over the top of the filling. Crimp the edges to seal. Cut a steam hole in the middle.
  • Decorate the top of the pastry with your pastry trimmings (cut into apple shapes or leaves) and brush the pie all over with beaten egg.

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  • Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the filling is piping hot and the pastry is golden and crisp. Serve with wilted kale.

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The Higgidy Cookbook published by Quercus, is currently available (at time of posting) on Amazon for a very bargainous £7 (RRP £16.99).

Kavey Eats was sent a review copy of the book by Higgidy.

 

Even before our guide Mike Roser took us through the origins and history of apple cultivation, I had it in my head that the National Fruit Collection (NFC) at Brogdale was about collecting and preserving traditional British varieties of apples, alongside other fruits such as pears, plums and cherries.

I was wrong on at least two counts, the first being my understanding of the purpose of the NFC and the second being that the collection is international, not national, in scope.

Not only is it a living museum but it is also a genetic bank and that’s where the importance of the collection lies”, explained Mike, before walking us through pear, apple and plum collections and telling us about the origins of the NFC.

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The Origins of The NFC

The NFC grew out of fruit trials created by the Royal Horticultural Society in the 19th and 20th centuries, first in Chiswick and later at Wisley in Surrey. The original intent of the trials was to collect, categorise and agree nomenclature for the assembled varieties, but they were soon expanded to include research on horticultural methods and cultivation of new varieties. After WW2, when increasing food production was a national priority, the collection was taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods (now DEFRA) who relocated it to a larger site in Kent, where it is today. It is curated for DEFRA by the University of Reading and they’ve appointed FAST (Farm Advisory Services Team) to perform the day to day management. A charity called Brogdale Collections promotes and organises public access to the collection, providing daily tours such as the one we enjoyed.

Today, the NFC is the largest living collection of temperate fruits on one site in the world, conserving over 2,000 cultivars (cultivated varieties) of apples, around 500 pears, over 300 each of plums and cherries alongside collections of currants, gooseberries, grapes, nuts, medlars, quinces and apricots. It is run on behalf of the nation as a resource for scientific research and provides a much-valued gene bank for fruit breeders developing new cultivars. It is also the UK’s contribution to an international programme to protect genetic diversity of crop plants and future food security. (Read more about The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, here). Working with East Malling Research, the entire pear and apple collections have now been DNA finger printed, and work continues on analysing the other fruit collections.

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A Living Collection

As Pete and I tour the apple, pear and plum orchards with Mike, we learn that the collection must be maintained as living trees because such fruits do not “come true” from seed. (The most common way for propagating apples is to graft a short branch of the desired variety, known as the scion, onto suitable rootstock. As the name suggests, the rootstock produces the roots of the tree, governing how large the tree grows overall, and the scion grows into the branches, leaves and fruits of the tree.) At Brogdale, each orchard contains two trees of each cultivar, and the orchards themselves are mirrored every few decades – Mike shows us how much larger the trees in the older apple orchard are than those in the recently planted mirror. He explains that both were grafted to the same dwarf root stock, but the trees in the new orchard also have an interstock that sits between rootstock and scion and inhibits the final tree size and shape even more. Mike adds that much of the creation of different rootstocks and grafting techniques has been carried out by East Malling Research, with a view to increase resistance to pests and disease, control tolerance to different climates or terrains and to shape the ultimate size of the trees.

Today’s growers benefit not just from the genetic diversity of the NFC, which allows them to cross existing varieties to create new ones, but also from this kind of horticultural research that helps farmers take control over their orchards, improve harvesting methods, increase yields and tempt consumers with new and exciting fruits.

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Quince and Medlar, both part of the enormous Rosaceae family, which includes rosa (roses), rubus (raspberries, blackberries), prunus (stone fruits, almonds) plus apples, pears and many more

The History of Apples

The history of apple cultivation is fascinating: wild apple trees (Malus sieversii) originated in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang, China) and have been cultivated there for millennia, certainly the apple is likely the earliest tree to be cultivated for domestic use. Recent genetic analysis confirms that our modern day domesticated apples (Malus domestica) descended from these wild Asian ancestors, with some (limited) introgression of genes from European crabapples (Malus sylvestris). Domesticated apples spread out from Central Asia many thousands of years ago.

Although it’s been suggested that the Romans bought apples to Britain, apples had reached our shores long before that, though they were not grown here in large numbers. The Romans introduced sweeter varieties, organised cultivation and created our first apple orchards, though many were abandoned in the centuries after the fall of Roman rule. Apple agriculture was revived by the Norman invasion, who brought with them new varieties and cultivation methods and certainly improved our cider-making skills. Yet, a few hundred years later, production was in decline once again. In the 1530s, Henry VIII was responsible for a change in the apple’s fortune, instructing his fruiterer to identify, introduce and grow new varieties – this resulted in the creation of expansive new apple orchards in Kent.

For the next couple of hundred years there was little innovation or ordered methodology to apple cultivation, but this period soon gave way to the era of botanical exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whilst most of us are familiar with the names of Charles Darwin and Joseph Banks (Captain Cook’s botanist), most of the scientific flora and fauna collectors of that period are little known now. But their impact on the horticulture and agriculture of Britain was profound; many of the species of plants we grow in our parks and gardens today were brought back to Britain by these explorers. There was huge interest and research into which species were and were not related, how they had evolved and from which ancestors, how they should most accurately be categorised and named (the current binominal nomenclature Latin naming conventions were formally accepted during this period) and how best to propagate and grow both native and introduced plant species. It was in this climate that the The Horticultural Society of London was founded in 1804 (by Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood), later becoming the Royal Horticultural Society when granted a royal charter by Prince Albert in 1861.

I talked above about the origins of the NFC. The background to the early fruit trials was a prevalent confusion at the time over the multiple different names many fruit cultivars acquired as they were propagated and distributed from country to country and region to region, especially true of apples. Often, breeders would give existing cultivars new names to boost their sales or based on a local nickname. The plan was that all cultivars in the collection would be verified as correct against published and agreed descriptions and this would then form a living reference library to clearly identify synonyms, unknown varieties and new cultivars.

The first edition of Hogg’s Herefordshire Pomona, a catalogue of apple and pear varieties grown across the county, was published in 1878. In 1883 the National Apple Congress provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine and compare varieties grown across the entire country. Cox’ Orange Pippin was voted the best apple of Southern England that year, and Bramley’s Seedling also came to prominence at the congress.

In the late 1800s, commercial growers were feeling the pressure, forced to compete with imports not only from mainland Europe but also from Canada, the USA, South Africa and even Australasia. In fact, there was even a Fruit Crusade, during which the RHS put its weight behind a campaign to encourage consumers to choose British produce over imported fruit such as “Yankee” apples. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Today, I often find myself discussing the merits of foregoing fruit when it’s out of season in the UK, and the resultant joy of eating locally grown British varieties when their time rolls around again.

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Visiting and Buying from Brogdale

Brogdale is open to visitors throughout the year but tours are offered from March to October only. Entry on a normal day is £7.50 for adults, £2.50 for children or £20 for a family ticket. When a special event or festival is on, those prices are £8, £4 and £20. Alternatively you can buy an annual pass for £22 per adult, including festivals, or £10 per adult, excluding them. Check the Brogdale Collections website for the latest information.

A guided tour will usually include an overview of some of the history above, as well as the chance to learn about and try some of the fruit in season during your visit. Our guide, Mike Roser, has been guiding at Brogdale for ten years, after nearly 40 years working in the fruit industry and supermarket retail management, so the depth and breadth of his knowledge was immense. We learned a huge amount about many varieties of apples, pears and plums and were able to taste some that were ready to harvest as we walked around the site with him.

Another aspect of our visit I particularly appreciated was the onsite shop which sells fruit harvested from the orchards. The harvests aren’t huge for any given variety, of course, but this is a great way to try unusual varieties you will not have encountered before, and to take some home and cook with them too. At the time of our visit, cherries were just coming to the end of their season and plums were at their peak, so I was able to bring back 5 different types of cherries and 12 different plums. I’ll share some notes and recipes with you in a future post.

There’s also a small marketplace with a number of local independent businesses including a lovely little bakery selling cakes and fruit pies, a butcher’s, a drinks shop and a couple of others.

A small garden centre sells fruit trees and other gardening supplies, though make sure you’ve checked first on best times of year to buy and plant fruit trees.

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Pears, harvested for sale in the Brogdale Collections shop

Fruit Identification Service

Brogdale also offer a fruit identification service, for just £20 per variety. This is great if you’ve bought a house (or inherited an allotment plot) and are uncertain about the variety of apple, pear or plum tree in the garden.

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Trailblazer plums (top), another variety (bottom)

 

Our visit to the Brogdale Collection was organised by Lusso Catering, who have partnered with the National Fruit Collection to launch “Forgotten Fruit”, an initiative to promote “the use of ancient and arcane varieties of fruit, most of which have fallen prey to the commercialisation of orchards where crop and fruit size, storability and pristine appearance is valued over character, texture and flavour nuance.” They have pledged to re-introduce forgotten varieties onto the menus they serve to corporate clients across the UK. Many thanks to them for facilitating our visit.

Although much information was provided by our guide Mike Roser, and by Brogdale Collections, I’ve also included  a lot of extra information gleaned from additional reading and research. As such, the blame for any errors is mine.

 

Serendipity and silver linings. That’s how Edible Ornamentals came into being.

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Joanna Plumb, who runs the business with her husband Shawn, told us the story. Many years ago, her parents (who were commercial cucumber farmers) were approached by a national DIY store to grow 3000 chilli plants for their shops. Unfortunately, the DIY company pulled out of the deal leaving Joanna’s parents with 3000 unwanted chilli plants and the headache of watering and nurturing them with no buyer in sight. Just before her dad decided to compost the lot, Joanna (who was studying for a horticultural qualification at the time) stepped in and devised a plan to sell them at car boot sales. She quickly expanded to include local farmers markets and was happy to find that the chilli plants were hugely popular and sold well.

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Shawn and Joanna set up their chilli growing business in 2001. In 2007 they purchased Cherwood Nursery, a disused flower nursery Chawston, Bedfordshire, and Edible Ornamentals finally had space to grow. Since then they’ve added several new polytunnels, a staff room, a shop-cum-cafe and a proper kitchen unit. At the time of our visit they building a new outdoor seating area to expand the cafe and provide a pleasant space for visitors to sit and enjoy.

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Back in the 1990s the couple lived for a few years in Antonio Texas, where they developed a love of chillis and began growing some of the locally popular varieties. When they returned to the UK they brought back with them an abiding love for chillis and a wide range of Tex-Mex recipes. These recipes gave them a great basis to expand their business into making bottled sauces, jams and relishes which they sell onsite and online. In fact, Joanna was a walking chilli-recipe database and rattled off lots of suggestions as she walked us around the polytunnels and greenhouses full of plants, picking and telling us about different varieties of chillis as she went.

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As well as chillis, Shawn and Joanna also grow tomatillos which is how we’d come to visit in the first place. Already supplying their specialist chillies to the catering industry, when Chipotle Mexican Grill were unable to find fresh tomatillos in the UK, Edible Ornamentals were able to help. They were already very familiar with tomatillos, which are a popular ingredient in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking. Chipotle got in touch with me asking if we’d like to visit the farm with MD Jacob but sadly we were not able to make the proposed date. They kindly arranged for us to visit on our own in June. We’ll also be visiting the restaurant later this summer to taste their tomatillo dishes for ourselves.

Like tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, chillis and peppers, tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family but they fall within the physalis genus. Native to Mexico, they are similar to and part of the same genus as cape gooseberries (which we know here as physalis) and and which originated in Peru, Columbia and Ecuador. They have the same lantern-like papery husk surrounding a smooth round fruit. Joanna told us how they’re the key ingredient for green salsa amongst many other dishes.

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As we know from our own allotment and garden experiences, everything has been a bit late this year and in June the tomatillos weren’t yet ready for harvest, though there were plenty of pretty lanterns containing growing fruits within. To our delight, Joanna kindly gave us two tomatillo plants (they don’t self-pollinate so you need a minimum of two for them to set fruit) so we’ll hopefully be able to harvest our own later this summer.

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Joanna also gave us a collection of pimento de padron, jalapeño, serrano and poblano chillis to take home – I’ll be sharing some recipes soon.

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Joanna’s Chilli Growing Tips

I asked Joanna for her key tips for growing chillis at home. We have grown several types from seeds as well as purchased and been given the occasional plants and love the satisfaction of harvesting colourful fresh chillis throughout the summer and autumn.

  • Don’t Overwater! Chillis originate in hot climates, so are used to being a little parched.
  • Use good quality multi-purpose compost.
  • Pick chillis from your plant regularly – don’t wait till they’re all red to pick. Removing fruits encourages the plants to create more, so you’ll get a much bigger harvest overall.
  • Chillis aren’t just about heat. Find a variety that has a flavour you really enjoy.

I asked her to suggest three varieties she loves and recommends.

  • Jalapeño – a milder chilli that works well stuffed with cream cheese and either wrapped in bacon or breadcrumbs and grilled or fried.
  • Pimento de padron – a great medium heat chilli that is beautiful grilled or barbecued and served as tapas.
  • Dorset Naga – a super hot chilli that has a beautifully aromatic flavour. Use a tiny sliver in a curry or in red onion marmalade. Joanne used a single chilli in a 30 jar batch and it was plenty!

 

So there you have it. Do you have any great chilli growing tips or recipes or stories to share? I’d love to read them!

With thanks to Edible Ornamentals for the lovely tour, chillis and tomatillo plants and to Chipotle Mexican Grill for organising our visit.

 

Husband and wife team Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi are well known for their eponymous Italian restaurant and caffe in London, their second restaurant in Bray and their London cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi, at which Katie is the principal. The couple also starred in a BBC series called Return to Tuscany, about the cookery school they ran in Italy until 2009 and have appeared on many other food shows since then.

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The Amalfi Coast is their second joint book, following The Italian Mama’s Kitchen (2008). Whereas Katie’s solo book, The Italian Cookery Course (released at about the same time as The Amalfi Coast) covers recipes from across the entire country, The Amalfi Coast focuses on the food of the sunshine-drenched Italian Riviera. Full of sumptuous images of local scenery and food, it’s an evocative cookery book following the route of their exploration, between Positano and Ravello.

Flicking through it takes me back to a long ago holiday… winding and rather exhilarating coastal roads… tiny villages clinging to vertiginous cliffs… views down to sparkling seas with bobbing boats tied at the marina… groves of lemon trees, bright and colourful like the limoncello served in every restaurant and cafe… smartly dressed locals enjoying a pre-dinner stroll to see and be seen… and long and leisurely lunches that last so long they morph into dinner…

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We decided to make the Caldesis’ Gnocchi Ripieni (smoked cheese gnocchi) recipe mainly because we already had smoked cheddar in the fridge after making Gastrogeek’s (Amazing) Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese recipe. We loved the gnocchi so much we have made it more than once and no doubt it will become a regular. (Same goes for the macaroni cheese recipe too!)

The gnocchi are so incredibly soft and light that they melt as soon as you pop them into your mouth; it’s a wonder they don’t disintegrate before you can eat them! The recipe introduction explains that the way the centres melt is what gives the impression they are stuffed with cheese, hence the Italian name – ripieni means “stuffed”. They are quite unlike potato gnocchi, by the way.

The flavour is beautifully balanced and not too strong; they match superbly with a simple tomato sauce. We’ve used posh ready-made and made fresh using another recipe in the book.

And best of all, they’re very easy to make. A winner all round!

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Giancarlo & Katie Caldesi’s Smoked Cheese Gnocchi

Serves 4 (makes 12-20 gnocchi)

Ingredients
250 grams ricotta drained
1 egg
35 grams plain flour
50 grams parmesan finely grated
25 grams smoked cheese finely grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
basil leaves (to serve)
parmesan shavings (to serve)
tomato sauce of your choice (to serve)

Note: The recipe also includes 50 grams semolina, used to coat the gnocchi, which we omitted.

Method

  • Mix the gnocchi ingredients together in a bowl, using an electric whisk or mixer to achieve a smooth texture.

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  • To shape the gnocchi use two spoons and make quenelles – take a spoonful of mixture and use the second spoon to shape it, squeezing and transferring it between the two spoons one or more times to finish the shape.

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  • The recipe calls for rolling the finished shapes in semolina before cooking. However, we decided to drop each gnocchi into a pan of boiling water as soon as it was shaped, without the semolina.

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  • The gnocchi are cooked when they float to the surface, having dropped down to the bottom of the pan initially. Remove them carefully from the pan using a slotted spoon and transfer them to the pan of pre-heated tomato sauce to stay warm until the rest are ready. Ideally, this needs two people working together, one to shape and drop the gnocchi and the other to scoop them from the water as soon as they are cooked.

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  • Very gently mix the cooked gnocchi into the sauce, taking care not to break them.
  • Garnish with fresh basil and shavings of parmesan to serve.

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The book contains little you wouldn’t find in many Italian cookery books, and most of the dishes are familiar, but for me that’s much of the appeal. Recipes such as paccheri alla Genovese (pasta tubes with sweet onion and beef sauce), polpettine di carne al sugo di pomodore (meatballs in tomato sauce), pollo al limone (lemon chicken), zucchine scapece (fried courgettes with mint and vinegar), torta di ricotta & pere (pear and ricotta tart) and sorbetto o granita al limone (limoncello sorbet or granita) are the kind of food that fit my kind of cooking.

Nearly every recipe has a photograph, and there are more in between of the landscapes and people of the region. It’s an attractive book, a pleasure to look at.

The Amalfi Coast is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £16 (RRP £25).

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy of The Amalfi Coast from publisher Hardie Grant.

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