January 20, 2011

The Secret Stays with Me: Salsa della Nonna

On my recent trip to Australia my mum finally taught my sister and I the secret of  Salsa della Nonna. This is the pasta sauce not only our childhood, but hers and her mother’s too.  Notebooks in hand, we hung on every word of direction so we could replicate it ourselves. Our family’s Salsa della Nonna is a two course feast … first the pasta with rich meat sauce and then the large joint of meat which as been slow cooked as part of the Salsa della Nonna is carved and served with vegetables alongside.

Salsa della Nonna

Now of course being the Salsa della Nonna, I am sworn to secrecy regards all elements of it’s preparation. However, what I want to write about is the warmth that accompanies this dish.

Most Italian families have a Salsa della Nonna. They are all very different but also very similar.  Each family has different things they put in the pot to make their sauce unique, but each and every one is infused with a very specifc love and the memory. The evocative nature, not only of the smell, but the taste, the textures, all feels like family. For me, each mouthful is re-assuring in the way it brings on floods of memories of family sat around the table and sharing from great central plates of food.

The joy of a good sauce is most famously shared by Martin Scorsese in Goodfellas. I only have to think of this scene and I start drooling.

(You’ll have to click the link to get there as there are embedding restrictions on it)

So now that my sis and I have been taught, both M and I are happy that I’ll be able to make my Great Grandmother’s sauce here in London. But, I’m sorry to say the secret of the sauce is going to have to stay with me … hopefully I’ll never need it in prison.


I’d love to hear about any of your memories of your old family favourites … do share!

December 23, 2010

Amazon Delivery Disappointment No More: Cooking the Presents

One of the things I love about Christmas is that it’s a good excuse for gratuitous baking.

M and I are going North to his sisters for Christmas this year and so I wanted to put together some little baked hampers for his folks up there and our friends down here. It’s a plan I’m now feeling thankful  for  as  in this snowy weather few internet orders are making their destinations in time for Christmas and I would rather avoid the Oxford Street Christmas Crush.

And so the bake-off began …

Granola with Nuts and Honey

I love making granola but it was Clotilde  at Chocolate & Zucchini that gave me the idea of making it into a present. Simple to put together you really can make granola however you fancy. I do it by eye according to what I have in the cupboard and how I fancy it at the time. Lots of oats, a little wheatgerm, a mixture of chopped nuts, some desicated coconut and a sprinkling of cinnamon and ginger. Mix all this together and stir through a splash of vegetable oil and several tablespoons of honey. Do this according to how healthy or sweet / crispy you like it. I don’t like it too sweet so I just add it very gradually, stirring really well until all ingredients are well coated. Spread it out on a baking tray with edges, and cook in a slow oven, checking and tossing ingredients every 10-15 minutes so they don’t burn. When the mixture is a nice golden brown remove from the oven and let to cool in the tray. Once cool you can add dried fruit or sultanas.

If you’re a bit unsure how to progress doing it by eye, try out Clotilde’s granola formula.

Next, Chocolate Orange Biscotti with chunks of Almonds … I’ll post my recipe for this after Christmas when I have a bit more time. If you already have a basic chocolate biscotti recipe though all you do is add orange rind to the sugar during initial stage.

Choc-Orange Biscotti with Almonds

A few smaller packets with little origami squares behind to make them look pretty. Have you noticed my obsession with origami paper at the moment?

More Biscotti!

Some of Dorie Greenspan’s Speculoos

Spicy Speculoos

And finally a few treats from our recent trip to Australia … Okay I know these aren’t homemade but they are a bit of fun. There are some Cherry Ripes, Mondo’s Crunchy Vanilla Nougat, and of course, Minties!

Aussie Treats

Now, for a bit of a rest!


December 23, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree! Oh Christmas Twig!

Seeing we’re spending Christmas with M’s family it seemed a little pointless to go to too much trouble for a tree for the flat, but I couldn’t resist a bit of decorating. So here’s a glimpse of our Christmas twig!

Our Christmas Twig!

I made these flowers a while back when I needed them for another project but thought they’d look cool on the twig. You can see how to make them here.

Origami Paper Flowers

And of course some mini bunting which I made while M and I were watching a bit of telly the other night. It’s cheat’s bunting really, I made it with paper, string and blu-tack!

Gotta have some bunting!

Luckily no presents need to fit underneath our twig!


December 23, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Speculoos Biscotti

This morning I’ve been putting together my Christmas gift boxes and have been cutting up paper and ribbons galore. So I reckon I deserve a bit of a break, a cup of coffee and a piece of Speculoos Biscotti … oooh yum!

Coffee Break

Yesterday I posted my last pre Christmas French Fridays entry but I’m posting on this Speculoos biscotti because it was just so good!

@doriegreenspan asked how I’d done it and whether I’d crushed up the Speculoos and added it to biscotti dough … that’s not how I did it but doesn’t that sounds brilliant? Biscotti with chunks of Speculoos, I might have to try that!

All I did was use the last bits of cookie dough from the speculoos. You know what I’m talking about, those last little scraps that are hardly worth rolling out? I used the method you use for the baking bit of making biscotti. I took the speculoos dough and rolled it into a sausage shape about 1/2 an inch high and an 1.5inch wide and then flattened it a bit with my fingers. Then into the oven until it was just firm to touch. Then I took it out, let it cool a bit, cut it into biscotti shapes and then put all the pieces back in the oven (standing upright), to crisp up. Done! I guess I only really did this because I was making some chocolate orange biscotti at the same time but I’ll be doing it this way again. Certainly makes your speculoos more dunkable!

Dunking Time

So, I guess I’d better get back to making my Christmas Gift Boxes.


Coming Up next time on French Friday are ‘Spicy Cocktail Nuts’, ready to go with New Years Cocktails!  French Fridays with Dorie is a collection of people cooking along to Dorie Greenspan’s latest book. Feel like joining in, or making Speculoos for yourself, then check out Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As requested by Dorie recipes for this group are not republished online.

December 23, 2010

Fudging It: Attack of the Exploding Sugar (aka Making Sea Salt Fudge)

I’ve never been one for precision cooking; a bit of this, a slap of that, fantastic. Anything which requires a thermometer is risky business.

I tried once before, in an ambitious baking session with a friend, to make Turkish Delight. It failed miserably. Turkish Sludge would have been a more appropriate name.

Given this who did I think I was attempting to make fudge?

I think it might have been a case of Christmas baking adrenaline for when I saw this post on Sea Salt Fudge by Cooking the Books I was inspired.  The combo of salt and sugar is so contradictory and complementary  at the same time, it’s brilliant.

In hindsight though, with the whole idea of making fudge, I’m not sure what I was thinking. I’ve never been much of a fudge fan, too creamy, rich and sweet, so I’m not really sure what makes a good fudge. So like I said, what was I thinking? To be fair it would make a good present wouldn’t it?

Despite all this I dedicated myself to the task completely. Followed the recipe exactly. Even got attacked by exploding sugar in the process.

A nicely set fudge dusted with Fleur de Sel or rather Sea Salt is what I got but the colour seems all wrong …

Coloured like Butter ... Did I get it wrong?

Looks a bit buttery coloured to me … Isn’t it meant to look like caramel?

I’m wondering whether maybe I didn’t cook it enough at the start when you take it to the boil. Does anyone know the answer? Or is this actually an alright colour?

Not sure that this is gift worthy … though M seems to have a bit of a taste for it … or is that just his post Christmas Party hangover craving for sugar talking?


December 22, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Speculoos Cookies … and Speculoos Biscotti!

Christmas week and this French Friday’s Speculoos is conjuring up many memories for me. Having lived in Belgium for a year back when I was 17 and an exchange student, I developed an addiction for the stuff. In truth it was a year of acquiring a taste for Belgian indulgences; beer, chocolate, frietjes and mosselen. Speculoos was just another to add to the list … it wasn’t a very healthy year!

At Christmas time, or rather Sinterklaas time, Speculoos would abound. Magnificent giant shaped figures of Sinterklaas and his somewhat politically incorrect cohorts were everywhere to be seen … and tasted delicious. Today was my first time making it for myself though I stuck to simply shaped biscuits for this attempt. Dorie’s tip of putting the rolled dough in the fridge before cutting into shapes really helped – don’t miss this bit out as makes dough much easier to handle.

A snack to motivate the Christmas decorating!

For anyone who hasn’t made this yet I urge you to give it a go. It’s delicious!


Okay, I admit I had to have a taste while they were still warm! But I think I’m going to use the rest to go into my Christmas gift boxes. In fact, I’m doing quite a bit of Christmas baking at the moment and was making biscotti at the same time as my speculoos . So with those last scraps of cookie dough you always get at the end I decided to make a few pieces of speculoos biscotti … worked a treat!

Speculoos Biscotti!

Happy Christmas to everyone in French Fridays with Dorie! Hope it’s wonderful!


Coming Up next time on French Friday are ‘Spicy Cocktail Nuts’, ready to go with New Years Cocktails!  French Fridays with Dorie is a collection of people cooking along to Dorie Greenspan’s latest book. Feel like joining in, or making Speculoos for yourself, then check out Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As requested by Dorie recipes for this group are not republished online.

December 20, 2010

Best Christmas Blog: What Katie Ate

There’s not many people who don’t know What Katie Ate … one of the most interesting and saliva induducing food blogs around. Full of creative and heart felt photography it’s one of the ones I most look forward to reading. I’ve linked to Katie’s site once before for her fabulous Guinness Cake but need to do it once more for the fabulous super Christmas Edition Post which includes a free 495 page magazine.

And so all the way from Sydney, Australia comes ….

Click the pic and check it out!

Enjoy … but do still come back to visit me!


December 19, 2010

Bacon and Eggs with Lashings of Honey and Mustard

Yesterday was cold and snowy in London and today is the same. Looks like it will be either a white or a slushy Christmas.

Even the ducks were cold

So this morning after an early morning walk through the park, M and I were ready for a piping hot cup of tea and a bit of a Sunday bacon and egg treat.

This version was a bit of an experiment for us and it worked brilliantly. While M lashed the bacon with honey, I soft boiled the eggs and made mustard butter to griddle the bread. Honey and Mustard are always a great combo but with bacon and eggs … it’ll make the bacon go super sweet and crispy and you go gooey for more.


So what do you need?

Bacon Rashers


Baguette (or alternative)

Wholegrain Mustard



Salt and Pepper

So how do you make it like this?

Put a heaped tablespoon of honey in a bowl. Add a tiny little bit of just boiled water to make it a bit runnier. Be careful not to make it too runny. Put the bacon rashers in the bowl and coat thoroughly. Place rashers on a sheet of baking paper and put under the grill until cooked and crispy. Keep an eye on them … with the honey they are easy to burn.

Whilst the bacon cooks soft boil the eggs. The method I use is to boil some water in a small saucepan and carefully place in eggs. Let boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Cover with lid and let sit 6 min.

Mix lots of the wholegrain mustard into a smaller amount of butter so you have a mustard butter. Spread generously over bread. Place on warm griddle if you have one or else under grill with bacon. You want them nice and toasty.

Remove eggs from water when the time has passed and run under cold water. Peel the eggs carefully as they are more delicate when soft boiled.

Layer the honeyed bacon and slice soft-boiled egg on top of the bread. Serve hot.

Bacon and Eggs to warm you up?

December 19, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Beef Daube Fights the Cold

Bit of a change of plan with French Fridays this week. Having just got back to UK from Australia we’ve been given a cold shock by the snow that’s engulfing London. Being that those of us cooking along to Dorie’s latest book have the choice of when to cook each dish this month I was thinking the Speculoos would have to be first. They are after all, one of my favourite Christmas treats. But as the snow prevailed and our central heating struggled, we made a switch to Dorie’s Go-to Beef Daube.

Beef Daube is a classic beef stew, slow cooked with lashings of red wine and Cognac. Due to our rather bare post-travel cupboards, we had to sub in extra carrots for parsnips, and extra onions for shallots. However, any hesitations about this were dismissed as soon as we opened the oven door; the smell was intense … the only problem was waiting the two and a half hours in needed in the oven.

Dorie's Go-to Beef Daube

We ate it with a crusty baguette, warmed in the oven and broken into thick hunks. The garlic, wine and cognac that belt out of this dish make it super warming and rich. The slow cooking gives the beef no choice but to melt in your mouth.

Beef Daube fights the cold

As we polished it off using the crusty bread to mop up the sauce, the snow started to fall once more.

Need I say more?


Coming Up next time on French Friday is ‘Speculoos’, really I am making them this time.  French Fridays with Dorie is a collection of people cooking along to Dorie Greenspan’s latest book. Feel like joining in, or making Beef Daube for yourself, then check out Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As requested by Dorie recipes for this group are not republished online.

December 19, 2010

Good Bite In Australia: Gone Fishing

For many modern men the hunter gatherer instinct can only be displayed in their masterful control of a shopping trolley around the supermarket aisles; squeezing and tapping produce as they go. I can’t even claim this as Ocado do the hunting and gathering (and delivering)  for me. But that’s London.

On the remote island  in Western Australia where S and I have been staying there are no supermarkets. No Ocado. In fact there are no shops of any description. The nearest town is a boat ride away. We have a packed fridge so there is no fear of going hungry but the promise of fresh fish is there in the estuary. I’ve not fished since childhood and then it was with a cheap rod or a net. We didn’t catch much and what we did we’d throw back. So with this in mind I’m eager but not overly optimistic.

Optimistic ... maybe not

The Almanac tells us that the fish will be biting at 11.43 and biting they were. I get a few nibbles on the line before a big pull. Initially I haven’t a clue what to do but I soon have 3 people shouting instructions. The Aussies seem doubtful of my ability as essentially a first time fisherman and only Englishman in the group. But I almost surprise myself as I reel the fighting fish in and it drops onto the jetty. Flipping wildly until the hook is removed, it’s identified as a Black Bream and large enough to keep. It’s our first of the day and mine.  An Australian Herring follows into the bucket and I’m looking for my hat trick. It doesn’t come, though anything the others catch is thrown back for being under-size. Boasting the only catch of the day I feel I’ve done my bit for the reputation of Englishmen.

My Catch of the Day!

We return to the island with 2 fish between 6, which while hardly a main meal will make a good starter.

Straight from the river to dinner

S’s sister’s boyfriend gives us an impromptu masterclass on fish preparation on the jetty; where he descales, guts and removes the head. Both fish will be foil wrapped so it’s just seasoning that is required for the prep.

Ready to Cook

To the Black Bream we add lemongrass, chopped red chilli and lime. To the Herring a more subtle seasoning of lemon and fennel seeds. Straight onto the BBQ they go.

Onto the Barbie

We serve on the kitchen counter top and eat straight from the foil. Somehow fish from Ocado will not be the same again.

River to Barbie to Mouth



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