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Archive for March, 2010

Every time I mutter about the need to stretch myself in the kitchen and become a little more creative, my friends chant ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’. Their idea is very much along the lines of the TV programme – they will choose some ingredients, turn up at my house and I shall cook them, without a recipe book and within a time limit. The idea appeals to me as a challenge, but it has taken us a bit of time to get our acts together, put a date in the diary and actually do it. So, last Friday was the first time.

Luckily for the first time round, we kept the group small which suited me – less pressure. The girls arrived with their shopping and much excitement. I think they had a whole menu set out in their heads already, from their shopping, so I started to feel nervous about expectations, whether I could deliver on them and what I had set myself up for.  There was much fanfare around the ingredient unveiling – puff pastry, pancetta cubes, pomegranates, creme fraiche, spring onions, red romano peppers, swede, mango and goats cheese. The rules went that I could use any of the basics I already had in the kitchen – as long as I did not embark on a full shop just before the competition, so there was some leeway and as my mind got to work on what to create out of those lovely ingredients, I was relieved to have that leeway.

Choice ingredients

So many choices...

I had an idea for dessert immediately – I would use the puff pastry, creme fraiche and pomegranates to make a fruit millefeuille. This was pushing the boat out creatively for me – quite uncharacteristic in fact – because I have never made a fruit millefeuille, I don’t think I have even read a recipe that tells you how to make it, I certainly can’t pronounce it. My only inspiration was a picture I saw of one and a very vague recollection that it was made with puff pastry!

I started rolling out the puff pastry straight away while I stewed over my other ingredients and what I could use them for. My immediate thoughts on seeing the peppers, was to do a stuffed pepper starter type dish with the goats cheese, pancetta and spring onions but I didn’t think my guests would be filled up with just a starter and a dessert. I felt they needed something a bit more substantial to fill them up on a Friday evening. As I started cutting my pastry into rounds, ready for the oven it dawned on me. A frittata – peppers, pancetta, spring onions, goats cheese with the additional ingredients of red onion and new potatoes all held together in a lovely puffy frittata. I popped the pastry in the oven and set to work on a frittata straight away!

My end result, I like to imagine, would bring a little bit of mediterranean sunshine into any gloomy winters Friday night in London. A slice of red pepper and goats cheese frittata, served with a rocket salad and finished off with KL’s surprise – a very tall, not very millefeuille like, millefeuille, filled with vanilla creme fraiche and  pomegranates. Although not perfect, something to be proud of as a first attempt to break my recipe following shackles and it felt good.

Finished product

Pepper and Goats Cheese frittata

So, off the back of that, Ready, Steady, Cook round 2 is booked in – maybe we will include one or two more people next time – and in the meantime, I intend to learn how to make a proper millefeuille!

Millefeuille

A not very millefeuille, millefeuille

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Recently I have been having something of a personal crisis – maybe it was brought on by being made redundant, maybe it was brought on by turning 30, or maybe I just got complacent. Whatever the reason I have been on a quest for inspiration or, as PM would say ‘the fire in my belly’. Tonight the quest brought me to Donna Margherita.

I started off the evening at the Clapham Picture House, it was my first visit and I really loved the atmosphere – what a cool cinema. It would have been even cooler if I wasnt in the middle of a ‘no alcohol for a month resolution’ as I would have lingered, had a glass of wine and soaked in the atmosphere. Instead I wisely left as soon as ‘A Single Man’ was over, to avoid all such temptation and I started to make my way home. Now, although it was great to see a movie for the first time in a very long time (felt like the days when I used to go twice a week as a student) and it was a good movie, it was not what you would call uplifting – I felt like the evening lacked something. Also, I was starting to feel hungry. What luck then, that Donna Margherita, our favourite local Italian was on my way home!

Donna Margherita is exactly the sort of place to go when you are cold, hungry and in need of  inspiration. The first time I went there, was probably 2 or 3 days after we had moved into our flat and then we probably went there every second day until we got our oven up and running and some boxes unpacked. By the time I had a working kitchen we had bought and enjoyed every pizza on the Donna Margherita menu and we would probably still be eating them at least once a week if they delivered. Unfortunately they don’t and we got lazy, so we don’t have pizza from there so often but it is still pretty high on out list of places to go for dinner.

Breaking news: Rach has kindly let me know that Donna Margherita do in fact deliver! Very exciting news for PM and KL 🙂

Tonight it was perfect for my mood – it was warm, full of bubbly chatty people and there were all the familiar, welcoming faces amongst the staff. I ordered a coffee and one of their specials. While I waited for the food to come I examined their very strange food village – yes you read correctly, a village made out of food. This was a new addition from the last time I was there and well, odd! It had pita bread hills and spaghetti/macaroni trees – it also had a man standing in the garden holding the American flag. I think you had to see it to believe it!  Although strange i think the eclectic decor is part of what gives Donna its charm and it has a lot of charm.

More important though, than the warmth, bubbliness and charm is of course, (for me anyway), the food – my special was a fish dish, cod stuffed in pasta tubes (a bit like cannelloni but not cannelloni) with a tomato sauce on top. It was very simple but SO good – delicious. Perfect in its simplicity and flavour and this is where my inspiring moment came. I want to make that dish! This is a step in a new direction for me because when I cook I usually want a recipe to follow and I want to break myself of that habit. I want to be more creative with my cooking and I think trying to recreate this dish would be a good start.  So watch this space people – PM is getting my version of this dish for dinner very soon.

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