Friday, December 29, 2006


I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and lots of nice things to eat. I didn't really eat much this Christmas but I still had that constant bloated feeling nevertheless. It must be all the lack of air from staying indoors for so long watching endless repeats of The Two Ronnies. Why does Christmas day feel like the longest day ever? What do we do that's so different to normal?

I often spend Sundays at my parent's house and we sit around, have dinner, watch TV etc and it feels like a normal day. The board games rarely come out. Why do they always make an appearance on Christmas day in houses throughout the land? Why is it that at Christmas people feel naked without a drink perpetually clamped to their hand? And stuff themselves silly with nuts and various nibbles despite the fact they feel close to vomiting? Who knows. But that's Christmas.

I had four Christmases this year and enjoyed them all. The first was Sunday evening at M's aunties house as his Grandma was off to Ireland for Christmas. We exchanged presents and had a delicious starter of prosciutto, mozzarella and rocket followed by Delia's Boeuf Bourguignon, cheese and biscuits, coffee and grappa. Thursday evening M & I had our own Christmas at home and opened our pressies over Cava followed by homemade Beef Wellington. On Christmas Eve at my parents' we had various antipasti followed by roast beef and roasted winter vegetables. On Christmas day itself we had a bottle of Prosecco followed by a traditional Christmas dinner which I just love. Prawn cocktail, turkey and all the trimmings; potatoes roasted in goose fat, leeks in cheese sauce, carrots and swede, parsnips in honey, pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon) and the star of the show, sausagemeat stuffing.

We couldn't manage any Christmas pudding until 10 O'clock (which I don't even really like, but always have anyway). We didn't even have room for any panettone so we had it for breakfast instead. Then finally Boxing Day at M's parents for a delicious turkey and ham pie with all the trimmings. Even Casper enjoys Christmas as he always gets a treat of a prawn in exchange for a photo with the Christmas hat.

The exchanging of presents is my favourite part of Christmas. Seeing people's faces as the paper is ripped off to reveal something you spent hours agonising over and traipsing the streets for is worth every minute. And receiving lovely pressies too of course. I got some lovely pressies this year. Here are some of the best ones:

From my parents, a handbag and a cute little Alessi wine stopper for those unfinished bottles of wine (which, er, is a rare occurrence in our house but it looks cute anyway).

From M, some great DVDs including Tsotsi, Coffy and the fantastic comedy series Look around You. Cds, Gwen Stefani and The second album from The Magic Numbers which I'm not sure about at the moment – certainly not as good as the first but might need a few more listens.

I hope next year's Christmas will be as good as this one but next year I must remember to do a new background for my Mum's nativity. At the moment she's still using the same one I made when I was 8! Enjoy the rest of the holidays everyone and have a great New Year!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The perfect spaghetti bolognese?

We've seen him attempt to produce the perfect bangers and mash, the perfect pizza and the perfect roast chicken. Tonight's episode of Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection was the one I'd been looking forward to the most - the perfect spaghetti bolognese. I sneered at the thought and even said to my Mum 'I bet it's not as good as mine'. Yeah ok, so I'm a bit arrogant. But my ragu is damn good if I may say so myself. It's based on Delia Smith's but with a few extra additions like carrots, celery and milk.

Famous for his snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream, Heston's restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray was voted best restaurant in the world in 2005 and the previous year it was awarded its third Michelin star. Not bad.

He's been described as a 'culinary alchemist' for his innovative style of cooking. His scientific approach to food involves researching molecular compounds of dishes in order to understand flavour. The lengths he goes to with his dishes seem totally ridiculous. Everything he cooks seem to involve slow cooking, plunging in water, cooking again, measuring the temperature with an expensive themometre and cooking again. But I wouldn't mind trying some of his dishes. He puts a lot of effort into it and he always uses the best ingredients.

Tonight's episode however had me in shock. It must have had every Italian in the country recoilling in horror. Here's a brief description of what he did.

Fry onion, carrots, celery, brown oxtail. Deglaze pan with white wine, add together and cook for six hours.

Meanwhile make a tomato compote. Fry onions and garlic, then add skinned and deseeded tomatoes. Put coriander seeds, cloves and star anise in a muslin and add to compote. Next add Worcester sauce, tobasco, ketchup, sherry vinegar, thyme, bay leaf and Thai fish sauce. Cook for 1 hour.
Fry the compote in olive oil, drain, add to ragu and cook for another 2 hours. Just before serving, add tarragon, parsley and celery leaves. Season to taste, add more sherry vinegar and butter.

At this point he wraps the cooked spaghetti around a meat fork, snips of the excess bits and puts it on a plate with the sauce on top - it looked more like a kebab of spaghetti that the simple dish it's supposed to be!

This recipe should be about simplicity - a simple process using simple ingredients. I can understand the use of star anise to a certain point as it's supposed to enhance the flavour of the meat. But fish sauce? Coriander seeds?

I find him irritating, but there's something likeable about this guy. I'd love to eat his mashed potato which he cooks first in the skin. I'd jump at the chance to try his roasted chicken, cooked for 4 hours to perfection. He has 3 Michelin stars and there has to be a reason.

But I'm sceptical about this bolognese recipe. I like the idea of cooking it for a long time, and I'm not against adding a few unorthodox ingredients like a bit of Worcester sauce for example. But I don't like the idea of adding Asian and Thai ingredients to a classic Italian dish.

I love his passion for food and the lengths he goes to in order to find perfection. He even went to Italy to find the restaurant that made the best bolognese in Bologna.

I hope he keeps on doing what he's doing, but I really would ask him to do one thing - lay off the Italian food.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In Praise of....

....the Kotlet

Or Cotoletta alla milanese as we like to call it in Italy and from where it's thought to have originated. Milan to be precise and I think it's about time Milan got some credit.

The Austrians call it Weiener Schnitzel, the Poles Kotlet Schabowy. Even the Japanese like it too and call it Tonkatsu. It's popular in Sweden, Australia and Korea. They have a version called Milanesas in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and other Latin American countries such as Mexico and Brazil. It seems everyone has a version!

It's basically more or less the thing everywhere. Meat coated in eggs and breadcrumbs and then fried - the only thing that changes is the meat. Some use beef, veal, chicken or pork and the original cotoletta alla Milanese has to be veal with the bone in. In Austria there are fast food chains that serve mostly schnitzels. Now that's my kind of fast food.

Mike will often ask me what I fancy for dinner and I'll usually say the same thing. Its great comfort food in the winter served with sweet potato mash and great in the summer with a salad. On our trip to Poland last year we had it at least three times. It's unavoidable really as it's one of Poland's national dishes which you'll find on almost every menu. My family in Italy often have it on a Sunday with pattatine fritte (homemade fries) in summer and in winter.

We had it last night with sweet potato mash and ratatouille. It's so easy to make. You just need to bash out the meat until it's nice and flat, dip in a beaten egg, then breadcrumbs and fry.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Understatement of the Year

Rose West: 'I was never a good parent'

The Sun has reported today that serial killer Rose West has broken off all contact with her three remaining children in a letter she wrote from jail in the summer.

West (53) had kept in touch with her surviving children Mae, Anne-Marie and Stephen despite the fact that she was jailed in 1995 for killing 10 young women with husband Fred. Their victims included her own daughter Heather (16) and stepdaughter Charmaine (8) who were buried in the cellar of their home.

It is thought that West decided to cut all ties when daughter Mae began asking questions about the murders.

In the letter she
apologised and said 'I cannot be something different now. Too much has happened and too much damage has been done'. She ended the letter by saying 'I truly do not have the skills to be a parent and although I am sad and ashamed of this it is something that has to be accepted.'

I think it's safe to say that parenting skills are definitely
not her strongest point.

I wonder if Kathy Burke's character in Gimme Gimme Gimme was based on Rose West?