All in Recipes



Each year I approach New Year’s with a bit of trepidation.  Resolutions have never been my strong suit and the pressure of making good on them day 1, ie Jan 1, is daunting.  Thankfully our friends Brett and Miles have remedied that problem by hosting an annual New Year’s Day party, Southern style.  This means you can stuff your face with honey glazed ham, black eyed peas (for good luck), grits and collard greens (for good sex, the spicier the better!) and put off any looming resolutions until later in the month.  So with our bellies full and our hang-overs cured (did I mention Bloody Mary’s were involved) we flew the red eye home to London from New York. 




If only the lack of blogging this summer would be the direct result of lack of eating.  Alas, it is not.  I not only ate my way through the summer but I have nothing to show for it except half a dozen pairs of jeans that don’t fit. I have therefore embarked upon no less than five attempts at dieting only to find myself in the South of France or other such environs where dieting is, indeed, impossible.  I welcomed the first of September, with its ever so slightly cooler breeze, as a new start, fresh beginning, or back to school if you will:  I have sworn off carbs!  And I haven’t been so bad, one French fry here and there but I have been pretty good.  So what to do when lovely brother and sister-in-law invite themselves over for dinner (I wish more people would do this by the way)?  Well there isn’t much else to do than whip out the Ottolenghi cookbook and start flipping through the pages of what can only be categorized as food porn. It’s not too difficult to put together a starter and a main course and avoid the dreaded carbohydrate but dessert is a different matter altogether.  Enter the flourless chocolate cake: pure genius.  As soon as I laid eyes upon this recipe I knew that it was meant to be.  Isn’t that cheating you say?  Yes, of course it is.  But were my guests to suffer because of my personal battle of the bulge.  I think not!  Does that mean I have full license to have chocolate cake for every meal until I finally gave away the rest to my housekeeper? No! But did I?  Yes! And with pleasure. 




I wish I could say that I have a love affair with vegetables.  I desperately want to love them, each and every one.  But, alas, I don’t.  I have been trying to enjoy the most revered of all vegetables, the aubergine or eggplant, for the past year with no luck.  I hate it and that’s that.  Peppers also make me uneasy so that mixed grill vegetable plate is kinda out for me.  That said I have also been known to say that I hate peas; mostly because I find them annoying.  They remind me of that little song/poem: “I eat my peas with honey/ I’ve done it all my life/ I eat my peas with honey/ It keeps them on the knife.”  For me, that about sums up peas: evasive little fellows that are hard to eat.   Then I moved to England and was introduced to mushy peas, which enlightened me to the fact that I did not have a problem with the taste of peas just the format.   



MANSCHOOL #1 | 8 JULY 2009


It's no secret - an inordinately high proportion of the world's best chefs are men.  Joël Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Paul Bocuse, Tetsuya Wakuda, Alain Ducasse.  Let's leave aside all questions of right, wrong, equality, yay, nay or otherwise, because that's for another time.  What actually puzzles us most about the high number of haute cuisine male chefs is the lack of a corollary - if the creme de la creme is mostly male, then why are most mortal men utterly hopeless in the kitchen?


Summer is here, of sorts, and short dresses have lured the heterosexual male from the sofa to the beer garden, in pursuit of love and lust.  (Yes, this is primarily directed at straight men. ManSchool's gay friends just don't need as much help in this area.)  So you've met a nice lass at the pub, got her number, and are poised to call her up to ask her on a date.  ManSchool suggests that you don't take her to a white tablecloth overpriced restaurant.


Cook her dinner instead.




Weird things happen when American ex-pats living in London get together en masse.  For starters a lot of England bashing goes down (light-hearted of course) but strange yearnings for the products of home arise.   This is pretty much how July 4th manifested itself for me this year.  I confessed to bringing Ziplock and Force Flex garbage bags, Bounce fabric softener and mini white (only multi-coloured exist in England, don't ask me why) marshmallows back with me from trips to the states.  My friend Ann, who is returning to NY, offered me a couple bottles of Tide laundry detergent and some Windex and tears came to my eyes.  It was, therefore no surprise that I would rush home to Notting Hill bang down the doors of Mr Christians (literally), which has recently been stocking American items a la Partridges, and buy not one but two packages of probably the most abhorrent product on the US market.




I am not sure why, maybe it’s some sort of masochism, but I have been going all out on the dessert front recently.  I am still on a food lock-down and can’t even try the recipe as I go along but I have been committed to making cakes, tarts and desserts of any kind.  And, in turn, I am sharing them with you.  This is, of course, completely out of character as I don’t even have a sweet tooth and I have embraced a healthy lifestyle of reduced sugar consumption.  But still the urge to bake haunts me.  Perhaps it’s that I never really had the time to whip up a cake on a Wednesday afternoon and that this freedom has encouraged me into creating a dinner menu from start to finish.  I do cheat on hors d’oeuvres and buy cheese and crackers and the like but I have even entertained the idea making my own crackers. 




The last couple of days in London have provided me with more summer than I had previously experienced over two full summers.   There is a lot of skin to be seen, on both women and men, for better or for worse.   For some reason 75˚F (I still operate in Fahrenheit but it’s 26˚C for those of you who don’t want to whip out the calculator) in London feels like 90˚ anywhere else.  Workers have wet wash clothes draped over their forehead, Good Samaritans are handing out bottled water in the Tube and pretty much every woman on the street has pulled out a summer dress (albeit usually ill-fitting as she hasn’t had the opportunity to wear it in over 2 years).  Although it appears my summer might end tomorrow (it says it’ll still be sunny but cooler), I wanted to impart one of my favourite and easiest (and healthiest) summer dishes.  The luxury of hot weather when cooking is that your guests (or just you) don’t mind side dishes and the like to be room temperature.  This salad simply made up of zucchini (courgettes), summer squash (oddly, yellow courgettes), scallions (spring onions) and sugar snap peas (same name on both sides of the pond I believe) requires little prep and it a great hit for barbeques as well as for dinner.




Considering I have devoted considerable time and effort to writing about food and then going so far as to post it on the internet for all to see, it might seem logical that I am comfortable in the kitchen and like throwing dinner parties.  Yes, for all intents and purposes, this is true.  That also means that the pressure to perform and put together something special is that much greater.  So last week, I found myself looking down the barrel of another dinner party and I went into a bit of a panic.  Not only was I feeling uninspired but my guests were to be my brother and sister-in-law, Lopo and Sandrine, and my father, Bruce, flown in especially from New York (not really but he does live in NY).  Family can and should be easy dinner guests but it was also the inaugural visit to the new flat and sometimes they can be the harshest critics (or so it seems but in my case it’s mostly self-inflicted, they are nothing but supportive). But I also felt tapped out.   I had exhausted all the really wowing dishes at previous dinner parties and I have avowed to not eat anything that is remotely tasty (see Detox days 2 – 7, I am sticking with it for a little while longer). 

So in the end, I chose to make a simple and healthy dinner followed by a kick-ass dessert.  This is where I pigeon-holed myself.  I had just bought a brand new tart tin and I had to use it.  I am the type of person who can hardly wait to get home before wearing newly bought clothes. I have even been known to wear them out of the store which is usually awkward for everyone as the sales clerk gingerly tries to remove the tag without cutting off all my hair or stabbing me in the neck. 




Every year I try to get home for Memorial Day Weekend or the End of May Bank Holiday.  It marks the wedding anniversary of my father and step-mother, but more officially the beginning of summer.  It used to be a rather hit or miss weekend in New England; a scorcher or snowing.  Nowadays, given the glories of global warming, it’s usually pretty nice.  This year there were some blemishes on the forecast but all in all we were in for a good summer weekend.  That was until the wrath of the heavens unleashed upon us a tempestuous downpour of magnificent proportions.   Enough of the Shakespearean language, you are probably saying!  Well let me give you some background.  The house in Connecticut is a converted children’s camp complete with a theatre and corrugated tin roof.  It is the roof that makes for the flowery language.  When it rains the noise is deafening and downright frightening.  That said; there is also not much to do at a lake house when it rains except well, bake.  And so we did.   No one had planned on baking or anything less than hours upon hours of uninterrupted sunshine so we had to make due with what we had.  Banana bread was the target and it came out pretty well.  We had to figure out what to do during the hour it was meant to bake but when we came back the sun was setting over the lake as the mist rose and the kitchen was filled with the smell of banana bread.  Not a bad afternoon after all.



DETOX DAY #5 | 18 MAY 2009

I am now heading towards the end of the detox.  I remember to eat 5 small meals a day.  I am not complaining about rice cakes and am even embracing my various spreads although the bean spread is just not good.  One thing that has been very different about the way I have been living my life is the almost non-existence of animal products.  Granted breakfasts are dotted with yoghurt and eggs (and I cheat with butter), but actual animal flesh has been limited to fish with the choice of tofu instead.  So far, it’s been a non-stop tofu train.  I can hardly recognize myself.  Don’t worry, I still love meat, the words “Cote de Boeuf for two” will continue to send shivers down my spine, but maybe, just maybe, it’s not necessary every night.  So tonight, the menu is shrimp scampi with spinach for me and the same with whole wheat linguine for Pascal. 


DETOX DAY #4 | 17 MAY 2009

So its day four of the detox and there is yet another spread on the menu: pesto. Thankfully I had made some pesto and had it on hand.  Was this a convenience or an avenue toward rebellion?  If you know me at all, it was the latter.  I also had a small dilemma.  The aforementioned gargantuan Ocado delivery strangely contained items that I did not order such as a bunch of leeks (no issue), a bottle of red wine (??? Detox!!!) and a rope of garlic. Now I may have ordered garlic but I most certainly would never have ordered an item that is usually found swinging from the ceilings of cheesy Italian food restaurants or used to ward of vampires.  Disassembly was paramount.   So that was that.  I would make a garlic spread.  True to the detox, delicious and versatile, roasted garlic is one of the easiest things to make in the world and leaves you feeling very happy.  This is also a great alternative for when your garlic is getting a bit old.



DETOX DAY #3 | 16 MAY 2009

Weekends are hard times to be obedient.   But I was not to be phased and although I still don’t feel 100%, I wanted to impart a highlight of the day.  One of the aforementioned spreads made its debut today and it is a tapenade. So far the highlight, tastewise, of this detox was when I slightly cheated last night and had a Pub version of crudité, houmous, falafel and tzatziki (but no booze, so that is good). Oh and I had two breakfasts this morning, whoops, but anyway.  Enter tapenade, the oily goodness of olives and garlic, something that I believe I will make as soon as this whole experiment is over.  So I thought I would pass on this knowledge.  Please excuse the oat cakes in the picture, only half of this snack was meant to taste good and photographing dark brown spreads is hard.




We have recently moved.  When I say recently I mean 4 or 5 months ago, but I am one of those people who says “the other day” and I mean two years ago, so that is kind of how my mind works.  Even so, moving from a furnished flat to an unfurnished flat has its challenges. For instance, Pascal and I were sitting on garden chairs in the living room up until fairly recently.  That being said, I was using this lack of furniture as an excuse not to have people over for dinner.  Then I spotted the chairs that were to become “my” dinning chairs on and all that changed.  I was forced to make good on all those promises; “of course we’ll have you over, as soon as we have chairs.”  So the time had come and the first victims were going to be, incidentally, our landlords; long time friends who have cooked for me countless times.  In planning out my menu, I decided I wanted to make the dessert (I usually just buy it) and it needed to be something I could do in advance with minimal work.  I also had these cool cups with silver bottoms that I hadn’t yet found a use for. And so, the idea for Panna Cotta was born.  This dessert is simple to make and can be (must be) prepared in advance as it needs to set and is at its best super cold; served with fruit, it is a wonderful summer treat.




For some reason it's been risotto month and I have been ordering risotto at restaurants with reckless abandon.  The result is usually that I am disappointed and end up complaining about it.  This may have something to do with the fact that my last two attempts were at French restaurants, which, again, would be my fault.  My main complaint is that the rice is not the right rice and is two long and grainy rather than short and silky.  Now there is always the chance that this was all in my head but I decided to put my money where my mouth was and try it out.  I had recently seen some fresh porcini mushrooms for sale at the Portobello Market and saw no better opportunity than to start with that (this recipe will include only dried porcini, for the  sake of availability, any fresh ones can be added to it as a bonus). 




We spent Easter weekend basking in glorious sunshine in the countryside of Ireland (true story) while London got hammered with rain.  We were extremely lucky and everyone we met along the way didn’t hesitate to remind us.  We mostly drove around the contryside and admired the scenery and tried to find nice things to eat which is not easy on Good Friday let me tell you but the highlight was a day long class at the Dunbrody Cookery School where we watched as our chef Edward slaved in the kitchen and we tasted afterwards. 

Pascal enjoys cooking and he enjoys learning but a classroom setting had never been one of his strong suits, thus he sat relatively uninterested until the soda bread came out of the oven.  It was different and wonderful.  The unfamiliar soda bread combined with unlikely ingredients such as curry powder, dried apricots and chilli flakes was all that was need to pique his interest.  I liked it too. A lot! But I have issues with bread and the whole processed flour thing. So when we arrived back in London (again to glorious sunshine, weird I know), I ventured to recreate Dunbrody’s bread but with whole wheat flour instead.  The result is surely nuttier and more dense, as expected, but also very good.  It’s not as crumbly or fluffy but all the same it’s some pretty good bread.  If you aren’t brave enough to take the full plunge, just use white flour or better yet half and half.




Pascal, the boy, has been on a quest for a breakfast bar to munch on as he travels to work.  We started at the organic market and he managed to accrue a staggering £45 worth of one-off breakfast bars to try out.  So here we are four weeks later and it turns out that he didn't like one of the 20 or so bars that he picked out.  Not one! Turns out he wants the ones from Tesco.  The ones made by a major cereal producer or something with a shelf life of one hundred years with a paragraph for an ingredient list and all sort of hydrogenated oils.  But let’s be honest, they taste good.  I like them, he likes them, but they aren't particularly good for you and even have ingredients that can be, well, bad for you.