Friday, November 21, 2014

Risotto With Nettles: A Memoir With Food by Anna Del Conte


Anna Del Conte is a name that comes up from time to time if you're a foodie, like to read about food or consider yourself a fan of one of her biggest champions, Nigella Lawson. If you've never heard of her before, you're in for a treat. She's pretty amazing!

Anna Del Conte was born and raised in Italy. She started life in a well-to-do Milanese family, yet as with many in her generation, ended up in quite different circumstances during and after WWII. Finding herself in a much different Italy after the war, she decided to get a fresh start here in England, where she still lives. In fact, for much of her life, Anna Del Conte lived in Barnes, just a stone's throw away from where I live now.

This may not all sound so exciting, but what's missing from the above description is Del Conte's contribution to British culture - she was incredibly influential in bringing good Italian food to the UK. It's hard to imagine a Western country without Italian food and restaurants, but sure enough they weren't always the norm here. Not only did Anna Del Conte write her own cookery books, but she wrote for Sainsbury's Magazine, developed recipes for other companies and did food demonstrations.

Risotto With Nettles is different to any memoir or autobiography I've ever read, primarily because it pairs memories with recipes, involving all the senses should you wish to cook as you read. Anna Del Conte's memories are charming and intriguing, from her childhood Christmases to life during the war with Mussolini in power and living as an Italian expat in London. Reading this book is like listening to your granny tell stories… It wraps you up, draws you in and this case, it quite literally feeds you.

This isn't really a spoiler, but my favorite part of the book comes towards the end when Del Conte shares several stories of her culinary mishaps, reminding us that even the best cooks sometimes make epic mistakes. That said, I'm amazed by Anna's memories of creating delicious, rewarding, enjoyable meals during the leanest times of her life with ingredients being few and far between. It's inspirational how she and her family didn't only make do, but savored even when times were tough.

Like some of my other kitchen heroes, Anna Del Conte didn't start out as a food professional. She always cooked and always ate, but her foray into cookbook writing could be described I suppose as an accident. She was also a wife, a mother and for years had a completely different career. Del Conte reminds us that if we're lucky enough to live a long time, there's no end to what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it.

I highly recommend Risotto With Nettles. It's heart-warming, informative, interesting and full of deliciously tempting Italian food recipes. If you're looking for a great read to enjoy during your holiday time off, this is it… Cook and read. Read and cook. Don't cook the recipes at all if you don't want to - just put your feed up and enjoy reading about the fascinating life of one of Britain's most treasured foodies. 

Spaghetti Carbonara


Carbonara is my husband's favorite - he loves it and he's the one who introduced me to it. Now it's one of my favorites too. There's loads of different ways to make it, but this is my favorite. It's fairly quick & easy, not to mention delicious. Because most pancetta doesn't expire too quickly, it's easy to have most of what you need to make this on hand for dinners when convenience is important, but something delicious is essential.

The below recipe feeds two hungry people, but can be easily multiplied for the whole family.

Ingredients
250g (1/2 package) spaghetti
150g pancetta cubes (the packets I buy are 154g - make sure it's not smoked)
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for pasta water
2 tablespoons vermouth
2 eggs
30g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
45ml double cream (whipping cream if in the US)
1/2 teaspoon Maldon Salt (or other sea salt flakes) plus more for pasta water
Freshly grated nutmeg

Method

  1. Fill a large, tall pot with a lid about halfway with water. Add about 3 tablespoons of sea salt flakes and a drop or two of olive oil and put on to boil with the lid on.
  2. In a large non-stick frying pan, or even better, a wok, heat up the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When it's hot, put in the pancetta and cook it until it's bronze and a little bit crispy, giving it a stir or a toss every few minutes.
  3. While the pancetta is cooking put the pasta into the boiling water to cook until slightly al dente. Then put the eggs, Parmesan cheese, double cream and a few grinds of fresh pepper into a bowl and beat together with a fork and set aside. 
  4. When the pancetta reaches the desired crispiness, add the vermouth and stand back as it will sizzle up a little. Continue to cook until very reduced and a bit thickened, like a syrup. Once reduced, remove from heat while you wait for the pasta to finish cooking.
  5. Before draining the pasta, take a cup of the pasta water out of the pot and set aside. Drain the pasta when it's ready.
  6. Return the pancetta pan to the heat and add the pasta, tossing it until it's well coated in the thick syrup. Add some of the pasta water if necessary to coat all of the pasta, but just a little at a time. When all of the pasta is coated, remove the pan from the heat.
  7. Add the cream, eggs & cheese mixture to the pasta quickly and all at once, then immediately stir and toss to coat the pasta. It's important to be quick here to avoid scrambling the eggs in the mixture.
  8. Serve the pasta on hot plates or pasta bowls topped with freshly grated pepper and nutmeg.
What's your favorite pasta dish? I'm always looking for new inspiration when it comes to my favorite starchy carbs!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Amaretto Sour


With the holiday season upon us, it's that time of year when people are generally quite pleased to abandon their usual glass or wine or beer in favor of a festive cocktail and it doesn't get much more festive than the sweet almond flavor of Amaretto.

Amaretto Sour is a lovely way to enjoy this classic almond liqueur. It's also really easy to make and requires nothing in the way of fancy bar tending gadgets or mixology skills for that matter.

The recipe below is for one drink, but if you're hosting a party and you'd like to prepare a pitcher for your guests, what you're looking for is 3 parts Amaretto and 2 parts lemon juice.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur (Disaronno is my choice)
4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 wide shaving of orange peel (taken with a vegetable peeler)
Maraschino cherries to garnish (optional)

Method
1. Fill a glass with ice and pour Amaretto and lemon juice over it.
2. Stir and garnish with orange peel and cherries if you're using them.

That's it… Simple as that! No sugary, expensive mixers necessary for this cocktail that can easily be whipped up in a snap for unexpected guests, parties that come upon you too quickly for hardcore preparations or just to enjoy yourself with a good book by the fire.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

1930's Style Cocktails From the Tanqueray Drawing Rooms





Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Tanqueray Drawing Rooms, an 'at home' experience that took place in one of Central London's chic residences to recreate the traditional cocktail hour of days gone by for today's gin-soaked generation. With a live jazz singer, art deco decor, make your own flapper headpiece stations and dapper bartenders serving up all things ginny, The Tanqueray Drawing Rooms gave guests a look at life just after prohibition.


The Tanqueray Drawing Rooms pop-up was part of the #TanquerayThursdays series, a weekly guide to the top 10 coolest Thursday night experiences in London with exclusive offers for Tanqueray lovers at each destination. The the Drawing Rooms have finished, Tanqueray Thursdays continues until 11th December.

In the meantime, Tanqueray has generously offered a few of the delicious cocktail recipes from the Tanqueray Drawing Rooms for Pink Julep readers to try! Each one is delicious, wildly reminiscent of the glamorous 1930's and perfect for the upcoming party season. So put on your glad rags, dust of the good glasses, invite a few friends over and enjoy mixing up these lovely libations!


Fitzroy Gin Fizz £8.00
Born in New Orleans, home of the cocktail, stirred up with a 1930s twist
Tanqueray London Dry, fresh lemon, cream, rhubarb syrup and fresh watermelon juice topped with soda
Created by Tanqueray Global Ambassador Barrie Wilson
50ml Tanqueray London Dry
20ml fresh lemon juice
20ml Rhubarb syrup from can
10ml cream
1/2 egg white
30ml watermelon juice
Top with soda water

Place all ingredients into your cocktail shaker and give a quick blitz with a hand blender. Should you not have this, then shake all ingredients vigorously without ice. Once this is done, add ice and shake. Strain into a hiball glass with fresh cubed ice and top with soda. Garnish with a sprig of mint.


Nichol Above The Dollar £8.00
Heralding from the Big Apple, a delicious adaption of the old-school classic Aviation
Tanqueray London Dry, Golden Needle Tea, Cherry Heering, fresh lemon and a dash of crème de violet
Created by World Class UK Bartender Of The Year 2014 James Fowler
2.5ml Creme De Violet
10ml Lemon Juice
10ml Cherry Herring
20ml Golden Needle Tea (brewed)
45ml Tanqueray London Dry
Garnish cherry in bottom of flute

Brew the tea ahead of time and allow it to cool. Then add all ingredients to a shaker, add ice and shake then double strain into a chilled champagne flute and garnish.


Fitzroy Gin Fizz £8.00
Born in New Orleans, home of the cocktail, stirred up with a 1930s twist
Tanqueray London Dry, fresh lemon, cream, rhubarb syrup and fresh watermelon juice topped with soda
Created by Tanqueray Global Ambassador Barrie Wilson
50ml Tanqueray London Dry
20ml fresh lemon juice
20ml Rhubarb syrup from can
10ml cream
1/2 egg white
30ml watermelon juice
Top with soda water


Place all ingredients into your cocktail shaker and give a quick blitz with a hand blender. Should you not have this, then shake all ingredients vigorously without ice. Once this is done, add ice and shake. Strain into a hiball glass with fresh cubed ice and top with soda. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Do you have a favorite holiday gin recipe? If so, leave it in the comments and I'll be sure to try it out! 

Many thanks to Tanqueray for the use of these beautiful photos & delicious cocktail recipes!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Thankful Table


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! It's a day to celebrate harvest, bounty, friendships, success, blessings and, well… Eating! 

Aside from the food, which is pretty amazing, I always love decorating and making a bit of a fuss around Thanksgiving. It seems to make the holiday season last longer and Thanksgiving serves as a worthy buffer between Halloween and Christmas. Living in England, Thanksgiving decorations are few and far between, so a gal has to be resourceful and creative. After months of hoarding nearly everything I could find in Autumn colors, I've managed to put together three different Thanksgiving table options using, for the most part, every day items that can be found just about anywhere.

Autumn Harvest

No table cloth required for this casual Autumn themed Thanksgiving table using seasonal elements that can be bought just about anywhere this time of year. Pumpkins, mulberry colored candles and votive holders in gold and hunter green bring together the color palette and provide a little ambiance. When Thanksgiving isn't a formal affair, a simple table like this is fun, colorful and festive, lending itself to good conversation, delicious food and a wonderful day of giving thanks.


Luckily, my mother sent me some Autumn placemats from the USA, however any placemats in Autumn colors would work just fine. Look for patterns or solids in gold, yellow, orange, red, maroon brown or even Autumnal green shades.


There's nothing quite like cinnamon at the holidays and I love using cinnamon sticks as decoration - they're so festive! Using gold houndstooth paper napkins I found online adds a bit of contrast to the table and it looks lovely with an orange ribbon wrapped cinnamon stick on top. I know, paper napkins aren't exactly the most glamorous thing, however they cut down on the post-dinner laundry and these days, they can be found in beautiful colors, patterns and even different shapes. I use them regularly and hoard a stash of all different kinds I buy from everywhere, even on my travels.


Bijoux Bistro

Flipping through magazines, I've noticed that most decor options lend themselves to large tables, massive Christmas trees and overall, huge homes. I realize there's an aspirational element to magazines and that's why we love them, but I couldn't help thinking about the people for whom Thanksgiving is just as essential a celebration without the massive guest list. Sometimes it's just two or four people at the table, but it's no less important a feast and should be treated with the same level of respect. I love the idea of a seasonally colored bistro style table for two or four. Serve dinner plated or buffet style and enjoy the company of your guests at a comfortably close table setting that channels the cute little tables at cafes on the streets of Paris. Start with a checkered tablecloth and if you fancy, add a contrasting table runner.


A few yellow, orange, red or brown accents are all you need to give it a Thanksgiving vibe… Yellow checkered straws in mason jar glasses added to the cafe feel of the table and orange daisies brighten up the palette. Of course any flowers in seasonal colors would do here and roses would be a lovely alternative. In keeping with the theme carafes, bottles or jars for water can be found in suitable colors however the clear options work too for creating that bistro vibe.


Folding a flower into each napkin adds a sense of occasion as do a few candles. I've chosen tea lights in plain glass holders… They're a bit grubby from getting lots of use, but I love the rustic look of the wax from previous candles.

Mixing Patterns

For a more formal affair, you'll want a longer table and candlelight is essential. It's no difficult task to find a nice brown tablecloth in virtually any price range, however the end result can be a bit drab without a little creativity. Pattern mixing isn't just for fashion and can be a really cute way of using things you already have, but have never paired together before to bring life to a solid table covering. Here I opted for a taupe gingham napkin secured by a dark brown gingham ribbon with a white stitched border orange ribbon on top. I love the way these three colors go together, complimenting each other and adding a bit of depth to my plain white plates.


Taking this idea a bit further, I took some plain gold votive holders that I've had for years and gave them a Thanksgiving makeover using leftover ribbons. These ribbons are just tied on and will slip right off when the feast is over to return them to their golden status in time for Christmas. When these votives aren't on my Thanksgiving table, they're on my mantle for a festive Autumn touch to our everyday decor.


Alongside the votive holders, I think pillar candles are the perfect accent to a long table as long as they're not too tall. These days, pillar candles can be found just about anywhere in a huge variety of colors and very reasonable prices. For me, these candles typically sit in my fireplace and they're not always orange… I change colors with the seasons, but for a more formal dinner, I think they look beautiful on the table.

What are you planning for your Thanksgiving table this year?

Monday, November 17, 2014

No Knead Irish Soda Bread Loaf


My husband is Irish and one of his favorite foods is Irish Soda Bread. It's not terribly difficult to find this brown bread in grocery stores, however nothing beats a fresh loaf straight from the oven. I've tried several different recipes, from complex to easy variations. Ultimately this is a mix of several elements from multiple recipes and not only is it easy, but it totally works and tastes the way Irish Soda Bread should. I love to eat this when it's fresh from the oven and still warm, at room temperature or days later toasted with butter. It's a great bread for breakfast, goes really well with smoked salmon and it's also the perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of soup.

This recipe is super easy, so don't be intimidated. There's no yeast, proving or kneading. It's also worth noting that while many recipes call for white flour or strong white bread flour, this recipe doesn't have any white flour… Only whole grain and also porridge oats (or oatmeal as we say in the USA). 


Ingredients

1/2 cup (100g) porridge oats [not instant] plus more for dusting the top of the loaf
1 3/4 cups (400g) wholemeal flour
2 1/2 teaspoons Maldon salt flakes or other sea salt flakes
2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
150ml full fat plain yoghurt (not Greek style)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons honey


Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F) while you make the dough.
  2. Mix the oats, flour, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl with a whisk. Form a well in the center of the mixture as though you're making muffins and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, mix the Guinness, yoghurt, oil and honey with a whisk. 
  4. Pour all the liquid ingredients into the well in the center of the dry ingredients all at once (just like you're making muffins). Stir very well with a rubber spatula for a while until the baking soda stars to react and the mixture becomes very dense and hard to stir. 
  5. Line a loaf pan with baking parchment leaving plenty of slack around the edges and pour the dough into the loaf pan and sprinkle the top with a generous dusting of porridge oats.
  6. Bake the loaf in the oven for 50 minutes or until a cake tester or uncooked piece of spaghetti is inserted into the bread and comes out clean.
  7. When it's done, remove the loaf from the oven and leave to cool slightly in the loaf pan. Cover with a tea towel as it cools - this will prevent the crust from getting too tough. Allow the bread to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from the loaf pan.
  8. When you're ready, use the slack of the parchment paper to lift the loaf out of the pan. Slice, eat and enjoy!
Should you have leftovers, keep the bread in a sealed tupperware or plastic ziplock bag. I generally keep this for about 5 days. As it gets a little older and loses some of its freshness, you may find it tastes best toasted.

Do you have any favorite bread recipes? I'd love to hear about the breads you most enjoy baking!

Friday, November 14, 2014

5 Essentials for a Relaxing Girl's Night In


Do you ever feel like the best way to spend a weekend evening is with a nice chunk of alone time at home? In the everyday hustle & bustle, sometimes it's hard to make time for yourself. We're all busy, connected to our phones all the time and over-committed with dinners, meetings, visits, etc… It's important to sometimes schedule in time to recharge and refuel.

I remember that Sex and the City episode where our four favorite fabulous ladies talk about their secret single behaviors. Not sure my relaxation night go-to's are secret or single, but these are mine all the same… This is how I wind down for a good girl's night in and it works wonders for getting back on track, resting up and not feeling like I've overdone it all the time.


1. Many times I opt for a good movie or a marathon of a favorite girlie television show (Pretty Little Liars is a favorite for this type of thing), however if I'm really in the mood to recharge, I opt for a bit of quiet reading time. I like all kinds of books - murder mysteries, memoirs & biographies, chick lit, cookbooks and dramatic novels all fill my shelves and when I read them depends on my mood. Right now I'm really excited about Italian food and a potential trip to Italy in the New Year, so I'm reading Risotto and Nettles: A Memoir With Food by Anna Del Conte. Actually having the time to sit down and relax with a book I'm reading is as much or more of a luxury than going out - a real treat!


2. No relaxing night in would be complete without at least one scented candle, although truth be told I'm pretty keen on candles and always have them lit all over the flat, even when I'm not relaxing. However, when it's a night to get back on track, a little luxury is necessary and I'm currently loving the Rose Geranium Classic Candle by Nathalie Bond Organics. It's a fresh, clean, floral scent that is strong enough to fill a room, but not overpowering in the least. It's truly lovely and the perfect candle to keep on hand for a pampering sesh! £25 nathaliebond.com



 3. Before I settle down with my book, I have to be comfortable and my relaxing night in is also the only time I have for some luxury moisturizing that generally falls by the wayside in favor of not being late for something. Relax Massage and Body Oil (℅ Aromatherapy Associates) is a new favorite of mine. I love rubbing it into my elbows, knees and feet for extra moisture and the aromatherapy doesn't hurt either! Relax Massage and Body Oil is a lovely product that's not too greasy, smells beautiful and really helps to soften the tough, tired skin. £41 aromatherapyassociates.com


4. After applying oil to my feet, I'm a big fan of the old trick of locking in the moisture with a pair of socks or slippers. At the moment, I can't get enough of Moccis (pronounced Mock-Keys) for those who are unfamiliar, the luxury hand-sewn Swedish moccasins brand making slippers fun and comfy again! They may not be the most glamorous of indoor footwear, but trust me - these are the slippers you want for the colder months. They're warm, machine washable and they pack flat for travel. They're not at all bulky, have non-slip soles, are completely adorable and very well-made. Moccis are one of my favorite discoveries and I wear my two pairs in constant rotation when it's cold. They're available in lots of different designs and sizes for the whole family. For my relaxing night in, it's always a pair of Moccis£59.97 moccis.co.uk


5. No relaxing night in would be complete without a hot cup of tea - it's the relaxation staple in various cultures all over the world! When I'm chilling out, I love a cup of herbal tea and Kusmi is one of my favorite brands. I always stock up on Kusmi when I'm traveling in France, lured into the shops by the colorful tins of tea and inviting aromas wafting into the streets. Kusmi BB Detox Tea contains green tea, maté, rooibos, guarana and dandelion, all flavored with grapefruit. Delicious, refreshing and warming, this tea has beauty benefits in addition to being absolutely delicious! €12 - €24.90 en.kusmitea.com



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rosemary & Cheese Savory Cookies


Savory cookies are great for parties I find because they're pretty easy to make, are savory yet don't always require being served hot and they travel well should you be bringing a dish to someone else's party. Put these out at a party and feel confident that they'll taste just fine no matter how long it takes them to disappear.

Cheese straws, biscuits and the like are fairly standard, however I love these because of the rosemary. It's an interesting taste in a flaky cookie. Not only that, but I've always thought Rosemary smells a bit like Christmas trees, so it's the perfect flavor to have around the holidays. The added bonus is that these cookies can be made into shapes if you use cookie cutters, making them all the more festive for holiday gatherings!

Ingredients
225g (about 1 cup) cold butter, diced
Extra butter for greasing
250g (2 cups) plain flour
180g (about 1 1/4 cup) grated Gruyère cheese
90g (about 3/4 cup) grated Emmental cheese
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary needles
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

Method

  1. Using the extra butter, lightly grease 2 large baking sheets and set aside.
  2. Add the flour, cubed butter, cheese, cayenne pepper and rosemary to the bowl of a food processor and whiz until the mixture forms a dough. If the mixture is too dry, add a little cold water.
  3. Flour a work surface and roll out the dough to about 5 mm or 1/4 inch thick.
  4. Use either a biscuit cutter or cookie cutters to cut out the cookies and place them on the baking sheets.
  5. Cover the baking sheets with cling film and chill them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until reasonably firm to the touch. At the same time, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
  6. Using a pastry brush, brush the chilled cookies with the beaten egg yolk and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Allow the cookies to cool for at least 2 minutes before serving, but they can be enjoyed either warm or completely cooled.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Maple Glazed Grilled Sausages


Maple syrup is not only one of nature's truly delicious sweet nectars, but it's also been touted recently by health nuts as a superfood. I love maple syrup and one of my favorite flavors happens when it gets on sausage or bacon on the side of my pancakes! Salty and/or spicy mixed with sticky sweet can be such a treat for the senses. So here's my own version of Maple Glazed Grilled Sausages. They're easy to make too!

I like these as an appetizer, for breakfast or even as a main dish. They also make a great compliment to another meat like turkey during the holidays. I think you could do this with any type of sausage, but my favorite sausages are from The Good Little Company, mostly because they taste like American sausages, however Cumberland Sausages are a good alternative too. If you're in the US, go for a standard version of links sausages.

If you want these to be small and can't find small sausage links, halve your sausages by twisting them in the middle and cutting them in half.


Ingredients
12 small link sausages or 6 long ones
1/4 cup maple syrup plus extra for drizzling
Pinch of Maldon Salt or other sea salt flakes
Pinch of crushed chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil


Method

1. Mix 1/4 cup maple syrup, crushed chili flakes, mustard powder and olive oil in a bowl with a small whisk or fork.

2. Add sausages and toss until completely coated. Allow to sit at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes. If you want to make these ahead, marinate covered in the refrigerator overnight, but remove from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before grilling.

3. Cover a grill pan grate or baking sheet with aluminum foil and place sausages on the pan with as little dripping maple syrup as possible because it will burn and smoke up your kitchen.

4. Grill for 15 to 20 minutes or until crispy, turning sausages halfway though.

5. To serve, drizzle with maple syrup and sprinkle with salt flakes. If you're serving them as a starter, spear them with toothpicks after drizzling.