Monday, 30 January 2017

January 2017 Favourites List

After the high of Christmas and New Year’s day, do you find January a bit of a downer? I certainly find January a slog. It’s cold and grey, the days remain short and there isn’t an awful lot to look forward to… 

So to combat the January blues, I’ve been enjoying cooking some deep flavoured, substantial, comforting food to feed the soul and the body. Slow cooking, braising, currying and oven bakes… you get the picture. 

One thing I have definitely not been doing is dieting. Or Dryathlon. Or detoxing. Or “clean eating”. Of course, if you are doing any of those things, I wish you every success. It’s just not for me. I’ve always believed in moderation. And having a little of what you fancy. I have some knowledge of nutrition basics, though I’d never pretend to be an expert, and I try to maintain some form of balance. I have good days and bad days. I don’t beat myself up about having a bad day, I just try to do better the next. 

Life can be demanding. Maintaining a work-life balance can be difficult. What we eat can end up being an afterthought. Skipped a meal? Eat some fast food? Binged on take-away? It’s all right today, just do something different tomorrow. Do your best to do what’s best for you in the time and space that you have.  

If you’re too harsh on yourself, all you do in introduce the guilt monster into your life. There are enough people with a messed up relationship with food as it is. 

Try to look after yourselves, but in a kind and humane way.

This month’s pictures are some recent street art pictures, from Shoreditch.


Wednesday night (25th Jan) is Burns Night. Here's how to make the classic celebratory meal of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties:

Marinaded grilled pork served in lettuce leaves with rice noodles, herbs and dipping sauce:

Cool chorizo recipes... one of my favourite ingredients!

Porridge made not with oats, but leftover rye bread, Scandi style. Soak overnight to have tomorrow morning:

Minestrone soup recipe by award winning chef and cookery school tutor Neven:

Could this be a hug in a bowl? Simon Hopkinson's Coq au Vin, made with red wine:

I've learned two cheeky hacks from Oprah Winfrey's tomato soup recipe. Firstly, to roast the tomatoes in Winter to increase the flavour. Second, using tomato paste (puree) for thickness and intensity. Clever.

Articles/Know How:

New study on the Mediterranean diet and brain health. Lots of veg and olive oil helps preserve brain size/mass as you get older: brain-study-finds-t106694

The latest restaurant scam: if tuna seems too cheap or the source is not stated, it could be dyed to  make it look fresh. Ew!

Since I have been discussing the "Five A Day" guidance on facebook, here's a guide on how to count your five daily portions of fruit and veg:

Further explanation of how the Five a Day system works and what counts:
Is there such a thing as "good" or "bad" food? "Dirty" or "clean" food? Here's an impassioned rant in defence of the current Billy-no-mates of the food world, the humble carbohydrate.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to achieve a more nutritious diet or to lose weight or to cut down on certain things. But don't fall for bad science and false promises:

What food trends, fads and innovations can we expect in 2017? The Telegraph speculates.

What you might have missed at Snig's Kitchen:

Brand new guest post from Linda Poulnott - Pasta casareccia al forno. An authentic Neapolitan (southern Italian) recipe at Snig's Kitchen. Linda's posts are always among my best, well read posts, I am so pleased to host another of her wonderful recipe posts.

My other (non-food) writing:

My review of some of the most significant cases in employment law of 2016:



The Secret Life of Pets

Le Diner Du Cons

David Brent, Life On The Road


Extras, Seasons 1 and 2


Mogwai – Rave Tapes

Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Pasta Casareccia - a Linda Poulnott guest recipe post special

Those who are regular readers of my blog or are connected to my social media mutterings will be aware that I was fortunate enough to have Linda Poulnott write some wonderful food/recipe posts for my blog on the subject of Neapolitan (Southern) Italian cooking.

Linda, originally from Scotland, has lived for over 20 years in the Bay of Naples, where she has dedicated herself to learning the language, culture and food heritage of this amazing part of southern Italy, famous for inventing pizza.

I met Linda online, and was astonished about how much we had in common, despite being separated by a huge distance. Like me, she teaches for a living, and we both love music, guitars, food, wine, cooking in and eating out. I am lucky to know her and we are all fortunate that she is happy to share her culinary skill and knowledge with us all.

Linda Poulnott
Linda’s hassle free and simple approach to Italian food reflects her learning from locals. There aren’t dozens of ingredients and deeply complex preparation techniques. A focus on bringing out the best from quality ingredients is the key.

In case you didn’t get the chance to read them the first time, here are links to Linda’s previous brilliant and helpful posts:

Risotto con Funghi Misti (Risotto with mixed mushrooms):

How to cook like a Neapolitan Mamma (food and cooking advice):

This recipe is a pasta bake, and I have often heard Italians and those who love Italian food recommend the De Cecco brand of pasta as being one of the most authentic and reliable available outside of Italy. Linda has helpfully provided a photo of the packet of pasta she has used so that you can find it for yourself. 
I am fortunate enough to have a delightful Italian deli near me in Lewis Grove, Lewisham (south east London) which stocks De Cecco pastas, but some larger supermarkets also stock this brand.

My heartfelt thanks go to Linda for writing yet another recipe post and for her enthusiasm for spreading the real food of southern Italy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to either ask Linda on twitter as she is always helpful and friendly (just look out for @nnamorata) or post in the comments below. Any thank yous I am sure would be appreciated by Linda, so do reach out!

Buon appetito, readers! Now to hand over to Linda, the main event!
Firstly, I would like to thank Snigdha for giving me the chance to submit another recipe to her food blog. Hopefully, I can pass on some more of the local cooking tips that I've picked up over the many years of living in the bay of Naples.
As I have said before, the secret of good Neapolitan cooking is keeping it simple. Never drown your dishes in strong herbs and spices or flood them in lemon juice. The natural flavour of whatever you are cooking should always be paramount. Let it shine through!

This tasty dish is very easy to make and can be kept covered in the fridge to be reheated when you come home from work the next day. Cooked ham or pancetta is usually included in the recipe, but if you are vegetarian you can leave this out.
It's very "moreish", so I recommend that you make more than you really need (as long as you're not counting calories of course!). It's lovely eaten with a green salad to accompany it.
A large frying pan
A medium sized saucepan
A wooden spoon
A sieve or colander to drain the pasta
A casserole type oven dish
250g of Casareccia shaped dry pasta (or if you can't find this, use any fusilli or tube type pasta. It will work just as well.)
200ml of single cream or cooking cream
1 small tin of garden peas or about 140g of frozen peas
30/40g of either chopped sliced cooked ham (you can use chopped pancetta or salami instead)
A few glugs of dry white wine
A few glugs of olive oil
A handful of grated grated parmesan (use pecorino or even cheddar if you don't have it) plus extra if you wish to add some to the breadcrumb topping
Half a cup of breadcrumbs (I usually buy the pre-prepared packs in the supermarket), please use natural breadcrumbs, not the orange dyed ones
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to about 160 degrees C.
2. Heat up the frying pan over a medium heat add a couple of glugs of olive oil plus the ham, then after a minute or two add the drained peas. At this point, I also add the wine and reduce it.
3. Whilst the wine is reducing (which will take around 7 minutes), add salted, boiling water to a saucepan and start cooking the pasta. Locals keep some of the water that the pasta is cooked in, as it's starchy and great to use if you need more liquid in your sauce mix. Keep about half a mug full.
4. Once the wine has reduced I usually mash half of the pea mixture with my spoon until it resembles mushy peas. Add the cream and a little of the pasta water. Cook for another few minutes stirring occasionally and checking that the sauce doesn't dry out. If it does, add a little more of the pasta water.
5. When the sauce is ready, throw in a handful of grated parmesan and mix it through. It's best to salt and pepper to taste at this point, as adding the cheese will already make it quite salty. Add the cooked drained pasta and mix together.
6. Put the pasta mix in a casserole or oven dish but don't cover it. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
7. Bake in your preheated oven (at about 160 degrees C) for approximately 15 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are golden.
8.Serve and enjoy. Buon appetito!
My thanks once again to Linda Poulnott for providing this guest blog post and recipe. I have not received any form of incentive for posting it. However, even more surprising is the face that Linda has not received any form of payment or incentive (financial or otherwise) for writing this recipe post. I’m just as amazed as anyone, but that’s the kind and lovely person she is!