Thursday, 29 April 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Sirloin and Asparagus Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

This hearty salad isn't just tasty, it's good for you too.  Lean steak has lots of protein and asparagus is a great source of folic acid and vitamins.  It is also a great salad if you are watching your weight because it is filling without being too high in calories. You can use as much or as little of the dressing as you like, and because it contains the punchy flavours of balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard a little of it goes a long way.  It's also incredibly easy to throw together at the last minute - and you can always use ready prepared bagged salad leaves if you are really in a hurry.

The quantities below will serve two to three people.

4 to 6 cups of assorted lettuces, washed and torn
(I used iceberg, Boston lettuce and baby romaine)
a handful of radishes, washed and thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
one large bunch of asparagus (about 20 pieces), washed
2 to 3 sirloin steaks, about four to six ounces each, preferably about a half inch thick
Montreal Steak Seasoning


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar

Trim any excess fat from the steaks and sprinkle with Montreal Steak Seasoning on both sides. Heat a frying pan and when it is nice and hot, add the steaks.

Meanwhile, trim the asparagus stalks and cut most of them in half but leave about four to six of them whole for garnish. Place in a saucepan with just enough water to cover them, pop a lid on, bring to the boil, and cook for about two to three minutes. Drain immediately, rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and then cover with the lid. Set aside.

Turn the steaks once, cooking for a total of about three to five minutes on each side depending on the desired doneness. Just before they are cooked, put them on a warm plate, cover with aluminum foil and a tea towel, and set aside to rest.

Put the dressing ingredients in a clean jam jar or other container with a lid and shake together well.

Divide the lettuce, radishes, most of the tomatoes and the cut pieces of asparagus between the plates. Toss together. Slice the steaks in fairly thin slices and place on top of the lettuce. Garnish with the whole stalks of asparagus and the remaining cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Gift Certificate Giveaway!

Although my own “baby” is now seventeen years old and the days of cribs and layettes have long gone, a couple of my friends have recently become grandmas and I find myself shopping for baby things more often than I ever would have imagined. It’s no secret I love shopping, but I’m always happy to get a little help with the cost - like the gift certificate the nice folks at CSN Stores are offering one lucky reader.

This $25 gift certificate can be used towards purchases on or on any of CSN’s other online stores - including

To be entered to win, just send an email to with the word “Cribs” in the subject line. (Please note this competition is only open to readers with a postal address in North America.) Closing date for this competition is midnight EST on Wednesday 12th May. I’ll draw the lucky winner’s email on May 13th and announce it here.

Don’t delay - get those entries in today! And good luck everyone!!

Waste Not, Want Not

It’s hard to believe, but despite all the articles in the media and awareness campaigns, we are still throwing away literally tons of food in the United Kingdom, North America and other prosperous countries worldwide. In fact, the Love Food Hate Waste campaign estimates that households in the United Kingdom alone throw away over eight tons of food every year. This is costing individual UK households upwards of £400 per year as we literally throw money in the garbage. But even more shocking than these statistics is the fact is that most of the food we throw away could probably be eaten.

Up until very recently, we have been encouraged by politicians and supermarkets to believe that vegetables and fruit need to be shiny and perfect to be edible. In fact, it is not that long ago that it was actually illegal to sell “irregularly shaped vegetables” in the European Union. That’s right, crooked cucumbers were not allowed! While the generation before us existed on wartime rations and would never have turned down a bruised banana, we grew up believing that nearly all apples were the same size and that beauty really was only skin deep.

An added complication is that the pace of life has changed radically over the last forty or so years. In these busy post-modern days, schedules are erratic, shopping is done in a rush and most people barely have time to cook food at home, let alone make menu plans. We overbuy “just in case”, get confused by use-by and sell-by dates, don’t realize that it is okay to use things that don’t look perfect anymore and lack the knowledge and the time to do things with them.

I have an vegetable box delivered once a week by Abel & Cole, an organic food delivery company, and their accompanying weekly leaflets are always interesting. Last week the leaflet detailed an event some of the staff from Abel & Cole attended hosted by a young group called This is Rubbish. The event included a supper called “Down to Earth Dining” which Abel & Cole reported included “a delicious gazpacho, roast carrot and cumin pate, a hearty hot pot and a refreshing fruit salad, all made with food destined for the bin.” This is not the first time This is Rubbish have done something similar. Last December they held an event in Trafalgar Square in London where they fed people with food that would otherwise have been thrown away. In the end, they fed five thousand people that day. Seriously.

Your food does not have to look perfect to be delicious, and except in the case of things like meat, dairy products, fish and other very perishable items, best before dates are just a guide. Bread is okay for toasting until it develops mould, and if you catch it in time, bread that is a little dry cut in cubes and toasted in the oven makes great croutons. Bruised bananas can be used in cakes and smoothies (and can even be frozen for use in baking and drinks at a later date), and there is no such thing as an out of date apple. Slightly soft peppers, courgettes (zucchini) and onions taste lovely roasted (as do their fresher counterparts!) and you can make soup from almost anything. Most Fridays, before my organic vegetable box arrives, I can be found making soup from any vegetables that are left over from the week before.

There are plenty of things you can do with fruit and vegetables that are slightly past their best. Here are two recipes just to get you started. The first is my soup recipe - great for using up slightly soft carrots and wilty cauliflower - and the second is a wonderful recipe for courgette pesto created by Rachel de Thample at Abel & Cole. It goes without saying that if the courgettes are a little soft, they are still okay!

The 21st Century Housewife’s Bottom of the Fridge Soup

2 tablespoons oil or butter
1 or 2 onions, finely chopped
about 3 to 4 cups of leftover vegetables, peeled and chopped
(carrots, parsnips, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower – whatever you’ve got)
about 2 to 3 litres (that’s about 4 or 5 pints) vegetable stock
(made from a cube is absolutely fine)
fresh or dried herbs and spices
(Try oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, coriander and/or parsley depending on the vegetables you are using. I also like to add curry powder to some vegetable soups, especially those with parsnips and root vegetables in them.)
salt and pepper to taste
(If you have used stock cubes you may find you don’t need any more salt.)
milk or cream (optional)

Heat the oil or melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes until it has begun to soften. Stir in the vegetables. Lower the heat as much as you can, pop a lid on, and let the vegetables sweat for ten minutes. (Keep checking and stirring to make sure they do not burn or stick.)

Remove the lid, increase the heat back to medium and add the stock, herbs and seasoning. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for at least twenty minutes or up to forty minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point the vegetables should be very soft.

Remove the pan from the heat and cool a little bit. Puree the soup with a blender (liquidizer), hand blender or food processor until smooth. At this point the soup can be cooled completely and refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for up to two months. (Thaw before reheating.)

To serve, thoroughly reheat the soup over medium heat and add a bit of milk or cream if you like. If the soup is really too thick, you can add some boiling water as well as or instead of all milk/cream.

Here’s Rachel’s easy to make and absolutely delicious 'Hey Presto, Courgette Pesto'.

Pasta (penne works well here)
Garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A courgette or two
A lemon
Fresh mint leaves (or any soft, green herb like bail, chives, chervil or a combo)
Toasted pinenuts
A smallish red chilli (or you could use chilli flakes, a splash of Tabasco or even chilli powder)
Olive oil
Frehly grated parmesan or a soft crumbly goat’s cheese
Sea salt and black pepper

Cook up a batch of pasta. Drain. Add a splash of olive oil, garlic, the juice and zest from the lemon. Season with sea salt and a good bit of black pepper.

Coarsely grate the courgette into the pasta. Add the chili punch (finely chopped red chili or an alternative – this wakes the courgette up a bit). Fold it all through.

Pile onto plates. Drizzle a touch more olive oil over the top. Then, top with the cheese and tart it up with some mint or other herby leaves and toasted pinenuts. Dive in!

And there you have it. These recipes prove that there is no reason to be afraid to use up fruit and vegetables that are past their best. Not only will you be giving your taste buds a treat, you will be helping the environment and your budget!

Rachel de Thample’s recipe used with permission.
Abel & Cole deliver organic fruit, vegetables, meat and more throughout selected areas of England.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Cod with White Wine and Shrimp Sauce

The beauty of this dish is that it uses frozen white fish fillets and frozen cooked shrimp, so you may already have the ingredients on hand. The cod loins I buy can be cooked from frozen so that makes it even easier, but do thaw your fish first if the package recommends it. Of course, fresh fish fillets work fine too. They just won’t need to be cooked for quite as long. I like to serve this dish on a bed of roasted vegetable rice, but it would be equally nice served on a bed of couscous or with a side of potatoes. If you want to make it really special, use sparkling wine or champagne in the sauce instead of white wine.

To serve four people you need:-

4 fillets of white fish (cod loin works well), thawed if necessary
about 12 to 16 large frozen cooked shrimp, thawed
4 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons butter
2 generous tablespoons flour
½ cup white wine
about 1 to 1½ cups of milk
½ teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon lemon juice

enough rice to serve four
plus roasted vegetables to mix in with it if you like or just add some cooked frozen peas to the rice for color.

Place each piece of fish in a large square of aluminum foil and top with 1 teaspoon butter. Seal the foil into packages and place on a baking sheet. Bake at about 375℉ for about fifteen to twenty minutes until the fish is done and flakes easily with a fork. (Thawed or fresh fish will take less time than fish cooked from frozen.)

Meanwhile, melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Gradually add the white wine, whisking as you add it. Gradually add the milk, a bit at at time, whisking after each addition until you get a nice consistency and medium thickness.

Pop the shrimp in the sauce and heat through, adding a bit more milk if you need to in order to keep a nice consistency. Add the tarragon and lemon juice and stir through. Taste, and add a bit of salt and pepper if necessary.

Remove the white fish from the aluminum foil parcel and place each piece on a plate on a bed of rice and vegetables. Serve the white wine and shrimp sauce on top, making sure each person gets about three or four of the large shrimp.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Nigella Lawson's New iPhone App

Nigella Lawson has launched her very own iPhone app – the Nigella Quick Collection. Being a huge fan, I downloaded it as soon as I heard about it and I am so glad I did. I think it is the most useful app on my iPhone so far – and it is incredibly user-friendly.

Nigella introduced her app at an event yesterday evening at the Apple Store in London’s Regent Street. She is quoted as saying , “I am iPhone-obsessed and app-addicted anyway, so feel particularly excited about my own ‘Nigellapp’. This really feels like an application that is comfortable to use, either to inspire after a long day or give general and specific cooking tips. I am very proud of this gorgeous little greed-gadget.”

Frankly, she should be. As well as recipes from her best selling books, there are new recipe videos exclusive to the app. Other video clips include “how to” demonstrations of skills from deseeding a pomegranate to choosing chorizo. Nigella also gives audio tips within the written recipes. If you need inspiration, you can browse the recipes by mood or the contents of your fridge.

To make life easy, you can add the ingredients from a recipe to a shopping list with the touch of a button. You can also add other items to your list simply by typing them in. This clever app then categorises your added ingredients into sections – pasta goes under ‘storecupboard’ for instance and eggs under ‘dairy’, making shopping a breeze. It’s also fantastic to use in the kitchen as there are no worries about getting your iPod touch or iPhone sticky because the app has voice control. This means you can ‘turn’ the virtual pages of the recipe by saying “forwards” or “backwards”. I have to confess, I had a lot of fun playing with that feature!

I’ve downloaded a lot of apps in my time, and I am seriously impressed with this one. It’s well organised, easy to use and very, very useful. Well done to Nigella and her team for creating this fabulous little “greed gadget” – I think it’s my favourite app so far!

Disclosure: This is my independent, unbiased opinion and no payment or promotional consideration has been received for this post.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Risotto Primavera

This is a wonderful recipe for this time of year, and with the exception of the asparagus, you may well have most of the ingredients to hand already. It's a great recipe for Earth Day as well as it is totally meat free, and if you use local produce it has a very small carbon footprint. (Just remember that if you are catering for strict vegetarians you need to be sure to use vegetarian cheese.) Speaking of cheese, you can use whatever kind you wish, from Gruyere to Parmesan. However, for me, the sharp tang of cheddar cheese against the soft creamy bite of the rice and gently cooked spring vegetables really make this dish. It’s a bit unexpected to use cheddar in Italian cooking, but the results are fantastic.

Risotto is definitely a hands on dish, something that has to be watched and stirred almost constantly. The finished dish is well worth the effort though and like Nigella Lawson, I do highly recommend the benefits of a little mindless repetitive stirring, particularly if you are feeling stressed (which I am this week with my son still stuck in Athens due to the volcanic ash cloud over Europe). Stirring is bizarrely reassuring, plus you get to serve and eat delicious comfort food as a result of your labours. So it is a good deal all round!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
320 grams of risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
1 glass dry white wine
1 litre of vegetable stock (I made mine from cubes)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup of frozen peas
a couple of good handfuls of asparagus spears, each one cut in two to three pieces and lightly steamed for two to three minutes
1 handful of grated cheddar cheese

Take the peas out of the freezer, measure out one cupful and leave them on the side to thaw out a bit. Heat the oil over medium heat in a saute pan or fairly deep frying pan (in a pinch you can use a large saucepan for this as well). Gently saute the onion until it is beginning to soften, but not brown. Stir in the risotto rice until it is well mixed with the onion and coated with oil.

Pour in the glass of wine and stir gently until it is absorbed. Now you can begin adding the stock, a few ladles full at a time, stirring each one in until it is absorbed. This will take at least fifteen to twenty minutes. Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat too much, you have to be patient with this dish. When cooking risotto the burner should never be turned up beyond medium heat.

As soon as the last ladleful of stock has been absorbed, turn the heat back a bit and stir in the cheese and the frozen peas until the cheese has melted. After a couple of minutes gently stir in the already steamed asparagus.

That’s it, you are good to go. This is not the most calorie conscious suggestion I have ever made, but we love this served with fresh bread or hot rolls in our house. However, if you are being healthy, a crisp fresh salad makes a great side dish. Having said that, risotto is perfectly fine eaten all by itself from a bowl while you are curled up in front of the television, yet it’s also good enough to serve at the most formal dinner party as a starter (in which case this would serve six easily). I hope you enjoy it as much as we do in our house!

Small Changes to Help Solve a Big Issue

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day. Our environment is something we tend to take for granted, but in reality we are utterly dependent on it. The fact that bees are disappearing, our climate is changing and resources are becoming more and more scarce is not something we can ignore. If we do, where will we be in another forty years time?

It’s easy to point fingers when it comes to environmental issues, and I have always felt that the fact my family and I fly a lot (out of necessity and choice - my extended family live abroad and I want to see the world), meant that I could hardly count myself as environmentally friendly. Indeed when I have put environmentally friendly tips up on the site before, readers have pointed this out. However one environmental campaigner I met put things in perspective. She explained that we all, out of necessity or choice, do things that might not benefit the environment. But it isn’t all or nothing when it comes to looking after this world. As she pointed out, I might fly a lot, but if I recycle, use energy saving bulbs and am aware of my energy use I am doing more than some people who don’t fly at all and do none of those things. And this is the point of my post for Earth Day. Even if you only do a little, do something. Even just one action can make a difference because if we all do something it obviously accomplishes a heck of a lot more than everyone just doing nothing. You don’t have to become someone who you are not, or change your whole life - but where you are today you can do things that will make a real difference.

Here are just a few of the things I do to help the environment. Most of them are things you could probably do too.

1. Recycle as much as I can.
I’m lucky to have curb-side recycling collection of many things in my area, but I also recycle anything else I possibly can, taking it to the recycling centre when I have enough (hopefully on the way to somewhere else so as not to waste a trip). In this house we recycle glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, garden waste, tetra-pac containers, clothing, shoes, printer cartridges and water filter cartridges. Items we no longer use we take to charity shops.

2. Buy carefully in the grocery store & not be tempted by things I won’t be able to use up.
Throwing away food does not make economic or environmental sense - and even if you got it on sale, if you throw it away, it’s throwing money - as well as resources - in the garbage. I make every attempt to buy just what I need, and not be tempted by “multi-buys” I can’t use in time. I use leftover or “past their best” vegetables to make yummy soups and my “bottom of the fridge” stir fries are famous.

3. Plan my car journeys so I accomplish as much as possible in as short a distance as possible.

4. Have an organic vegetable and fruit box delivered weekly.
This saves food miles and organic food production is not as hard on the environment. Oh, and the produce tastes amazing.

5. Grow some of my own vegetables as organically as possible.
I now have two raised vegetable beds that I am growing vegetables and herbs in. It won’t be enough for us to live on, but it will reduce what I have to buy and transport, and therefore my carbon footprint. Even if you only have a window-box you can grow salad leaves and herbs. Every little bit helps. I’ve also used plants that bees like in my flower garden to try to support local bee colonies.

6. Use coffee grounds as fertilizer in the garden.
They also repel slugs without harming the environment.

7. Support local farmer’s markets.

8. Use only energy saving lightbulbs.

9. Turn electrical items off standby when I am not using them.

10. Limit my use of my tumble dryer.
I love my tumble dryer - it makes clothes so soft and crease-free, and towels are just not the same dried outside. But at least three or four times a week I hang a couple loads of washing outside to dry, thus reducing my carbon footprint. (Choose the loads carefully because if you have to crank up the iron to de-crease things hung outside, it might have been better to tumble dry them in the first place. )

11. Use environmentally friendly cleaners in my home, and use natural products like vinegar, lemon and baking soda for cleaning.
Ecover and Method make some excellent, effective environmental cleaning products. I also use vinegar to de-scale kettles, wash floors and clean glass. Baking soda mixed with water is fantastic for cleaning out the fridge and making drains smell nice.

12. Think about my impact on the environment every day.
I make a concentrated effort to think about what I am doing to help (or hinder) the environment every day, not just on Earth Day. By recycling and using re-usable products (like drink containers) every day, using a water filter instead of buying bottled water wherever possible and making intelligent choices about what I buy, consume and throw away, I can make a difference.

It really isn’t all or nothing when it comes to the environment. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, just doing what you can to help save our planet can make a difference both today, and more importantly, tomorrow.

Check out the Earth Day website by clicking here or if you are a blogger join in the Bloggers Unite event for Earth Day by clicking here. And if times are very good in your house, check out Christie's “A Bid to Save the Earth” featuring donations of works by Jenny Holzer, Damien Hirst, Alan Sonsfist and Annie Leibovitz amongst others and the Silent Auction being held now until May 6th, featuring everything from works of art to a round of golf with Bill Clinton or dinner with Sigourney Weaver.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake

My son is stuck in Athens at the moment due to the volcanic ash that has made flying impossible over most of northern Europe, so my mind has been pretty much concentrated on that part of the world these days. Having visited Greece myself, I particularly remember the lovely flavours in their desserts and pastries. So yesterday afternoon I decided to get creative in the kitchen and invent a cake inspired by them. As I love pistachios I decided to start with those Then I discovered some white chocolate chunks in my pantry it all just kind of evolved from there. I used rosewater as a flavouring as it is used extensively in Greek cakes and pastries, but if you can’t find it (or don’t like it), just substitute one teaspoon of vanilla. You can also use ordinary milk in place of buttermilk if you don’t have any to hand, although I do like the texture and flavour buttermilk gives the cake.

I used the same method for this cake that I use for muffins - mixing the dry ingredients and the wet ones separately and then mixing them together. You still get a lovely light cake and it makes it incredibly quick and easy to put together.

2 cups all purpose flour
¾ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
¾ cup white chocolate chips or chunks
2 eggs, beaten
⅓ cup oil
(I used sunflower oil)
1 cup buttermilk
¼ teaspoon rosewater
(It’s very strong, so don’t be tempted to use more than this!)

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Stir in the pistachios and the white chocolate chips.

In another bowl, combine the beaten eggs, oil, buttermilk and flavouring.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold together until well mixed.

Bake in a greased and floured (or lined) 2 pound loaf tin for 40 to 50 minutes at about 350℉ or 160 to 170℃. Cool completely before slicing - in fact, if you can it is best to make this cake the day before as it slices better the next day. As you can see from the photograph, this is very nice served with strawberries and some good vanilla ice cream.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Delicious Sherried Shrimp

As part of my Family Food History and Recipe Project, I was going through an old cookbook compiled by my husband and his sister when they were kids. A collection of their favourite dishes illustrated with their own drawings, it is a real treasure. I came across a recipe for the iconic Shrimp Newburg and as I had some shrimp in the freezer I felt inspired to try it, but on reflection I felt the actual recipe sounded a bit too rich and spicy for a weeknight dinner. I did have some sherry left over from making my Grandma’s Trifle on the weekend though and as I knew sherry worked well with shrimp in the Newburg recipe, I thought I would use it as a starting point for a lighter version. This was the result. It got rave reviews from my very willing taste testers - one of whom is not actually all that keen on shrimp! By the way, don’t let the vinegar put you off, it mostly cooks off and leaves the most amazing flavour. This recipe will serve three to four people, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp flour
½ cup sherry
½ cup milk
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 pound of cooked shrimp (thawed if frozen)
2 handfuls of asparagus, cut into thirds and lightly steamed for about 3 minutes
Cooked rice to serve

Gently sauté the onion in the oil over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the sliced red pepper and sauté five minutes more.

Turn the heat up a bit, add sherry vinegar and cook, stirring constantly, for two to three minutes until it has mostly cooked away. Lower the heat again, sprinkle the flour over the vinegar soused onions and stir to mix. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.

Now add the sherry, a bit at a time, stirring after each addition. The mixture should thicken up after each addition. Then add the milk a bit at a time, also stirring after each addition. Add the mustard and stir through.

Add asparagus and shrimp and heat through. The sauce should be a nice consistency at this point, but if it is a little thick just add a tiny bit more milk. Serve over rice. I put a basket of hot crusty rolls on the table with this and they were the perfect accompaniment.

Monday, 12 April 2010

El Restorante Goya in the Hotel Ritz Madrid

The Hotel Ritz in Madrid is absolutely gorgeous and totally luxurious - and their flagship restaurant El Restorante Goya is no exception to this rule. Offering gourmet interpretations of traditional and classic Spanish cuisine, they pride themselves on their innovative menu and exceptional service.

We had a drink in the hotel lounge (pictured above) before our dinner. Unfortunately it was impossible to take photographs in the restaurant as the lighting was very low and anyway, it was not really the sort of place one would feel comfortable taking pictures! We had booked a table for 8.30 which is early for Spain. Most people do not eat their evening meal until 9.30 or 10 pm. Sadly I'm one of those folks who "get too hungry for dinner at 8" so even waiting till 8.30 felt like a stretch, particularly as we had been travelling all day! Still it was not long until we were seated comfortably at an intimate table for two in the plush surroundings of the restaurant.

I struggled a bit with the menu. Although I am not vegetarian, I am very careful about what I eat and am concerned that meat be ethically raised. I had expected suckling pig to be on the menu as it is a delicacy in Spain and when in Rome - or in this case Madrid - you do kind of have to accept what the locals eat - although I had no intention of eating it myself. Sadly, the main alternatives to suckling pig were suckling lamb and suckling veal. (I do eat Rose veal, which is ethically raised, but I really think that veal is in itself such a young meat that serving suckling veal really is a step too far). In fact, on the whole of the menu there was only one vegetarian option and it was a starter.

I opted for a salad to start, which featured asparagus and a poached egg. The asparagus was very good, as was the salad. I never did locate the poached egg, but I believe it may well have been incredibly lightly poached and perhaps formed part of the salad dressing. I did not like to think too much about this, but the salad was utterly delicious and I enjoyed every bite. My husband had a very nice fish ravioli starter which he thoroughly enjoyed.

Sadly he ordered the suckling pig for main course. A frequent visitor to Majorca as a child, he grew up eating it and has always seen it very much as pig - whereas all I can think about is piglet! I did taste a very small bite to keep the peace and it was delicious, but I could never actually order it for myself. The only main course I fancied was a scallop and lobster dish. I was a bit shocked when it arrived as while the suckling pig had side dishes with it, none came with my dish (nor were they offered separately on the menu), so all I had were a few small scallops and three tiny pieces of lobster dressed with a few leaves. I ate as slowly as I possibly could, cutting everything into very tiny pieces, but even that only gave me eight bites! And as the dish was priced at 39 euro, that meant each tiny bite cost nearly 5 Euro. Now I eat out a lot, and I often eat in expensive restaurants, but this was a step too far. I don't mind spending money on good food - nor do I mind paying for atmosphere, but I've eaten in other Ritz hotels and while they may be expensive, I've never experienced a dish that small and pricey. (They were only ordinary scallops and ordinary lobster, nothing special.)

Of course, being a Ritz hotel, the wine list was amazing - but it was so voluminous my husband simply opted for one of the recommended wines on the menu. (Seriously chaps, small print and low lighting make it impossible for anyone over the age of thirty-five to read anything easily in a restaurant!) The wine we ordered was a Spanish Voignier and it tasted really lovely. The bouquet was very strange though and never did improve even after the bottle had been open for some time. I thought it was an odd wine to recommend, but perhaps the bouquet was due to heavy oak aging, something many people really enjoy but that I am not keen on.

At 20 Euro a dessert, and after the experience of the tiniest main course I have ever seen in my life, I decided I did not want anything, and my husband agreed. To the credit of the Ristorante Goya, the coffee we did order was accompanied by the most beautiful plate of what in England would be called petit fours - several exquisite and delicious chocolates and delicate biscuits. They were beautifully presented and there was two of everything.

I'm glad to have had the experience of eating in El Restorante Goya, but I would struggle to recommend it. Although the service is wonderful and the food delicious, the menu is very limited and restrictive. It is also very, very overpriced. I felt we got good value for money in terms of our room at The Ritz, because although it was expensive, it was worth every cent. But the dinner at El Restorante Goya quite simply was not. I never mind paying high prices for really good food, but I insist on good value, and nothing about our dinner offered that.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Jamie's Italian

Located on the riverside overlooking the canal in the Oracle Centre in Reading, the newest branch of Jamie's Italian is really striking. Spread over two floors, the centrepiece is a beautiful bubble chandelier. Decorated in casual Italian style, there are open kitchens on each floor, where you can see the chefs hard at work. They don't take reservations as their ethos is casual food when you want it. This does mean that at busy times you may have to queue up outside, but there are staff on hand and it is all very organised.

We were lucky when we visited yesterday as we managed to get in just before the rush. We had a very warm welcome and the efficient table allocation system and the friendly and smiling staff do everything they can to make your visit an enjoyable one. You are offered water the moment you arrive, and it comes from the tap in a carafe with ice. There is none of this nonsense about £4 bottles of water offered from a menu, something which I find very irritating in a country where the tap water is perfectly safe to drink and bottled water retails for so much less than that. I found the rest of the menu offered good value for money as well. The glass of house white I ordered turned out to be a very tasty unoaked Chardonnay. There is a good wine list, with something at all price points and a really good selection of soft drinks as well.

I was impressed by how knowledgeable the waiting staff are about the very extensive menu. From gorgeous antipasti to hearty pasta and intriguing and delicious main courses, there is truly something for everyone. There is also a good selection of specials displayed on boards throughout the restaurant. Although clearly a place that wants to serve as many covers as they can, there is never any feeling of being rushed, and those who want to linger over several courses are just as welcome as those who only want a quick bite to eat. I was particularly taken by a a scene at the table behind us, where the parents and friends enjoyed tapas while their little one sat fascinated, his back to the table and his chin in his hands as he watched the cooks in the kitchen.

The food is amazing - really inventive dishes freshly cooked and beautifully presented. I had the Chicken Caesar Salad, the salad served separately from the chicken which was laid on a wooden board. It was well cooked, tender and absolutely delicious.

I was also impressed by how the menu emphasised the traceability of the food. My chicken was free range, much of the seafood was from Cornwall and producers and sources were highlighted. This is clearly an operation that prides itself on ethical, traceable food sources, something which is so important in these days of intensive farming.

My husband chose one of the daily specials, a breast of lamb served on a bed of lentils which he said was amazing. I don't eat lamb, but I tasted the lentils and frankly I could have just eaten them by themselves, with a spoon!

Even the side dishes are intriguing. We chose the strangely coloured thyme roasted heirloom potatoes which were really interesting, and once I got over the idea of eating a purple potato, I really enjoyed them. It's nice to see a restaurant seeking out heirloom vegetable varieties and using them creatively.

This is casual, elegant dining for the 21st century, a fantastic marriage of Italian cafe society with well prepared, delicious value for money food in England. Well done to Jamie Oliver for his excellent concept, and well done to his staff for making it work so very well. This wonderful new venue is somewhere I definitely plan to become a regular customer.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

My Mom's Meat Loaf Wellington

I’m pretty sure this must have been a recipe that Pillsbury used in their advertising at some point years and years ago, but it became my Mom’s signature dish and friends and family knew it as “Barbara’s Meat Loaf Wellington”. It was years before I realised that Beef Wellington was actually made with fillet steak, and in fact I never ate that version of the dish until well after I arrived in England in my twenties. I know Mom would have played around with the recipe to try and make it healthier - she was a qualified dietician and it still amazes me how often she made this bearing in mind it is covered in pastry. It was such a part of my childhood that it was the meal I asked her to make the night before I left home to come to England. It became my son’s favourite as well, and was also probably one of the last dishes my Mom cooked, before she became too ill to spend much time in the kitchen. I make it as often as I can because it’s economical, tastes great and it reminds me of her. My Family Food History and Recipe Project would not be complete without it.

1½ pounds lean ground beef
¼ cup beef or onion gravy
Two handfuls of white bread crumbs
1 egg
¼ cup minced onion
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 2 packages Pillsbury or Sarah Lee Crescent Rolls
Combine the beef, gravy, bread crumbs, egg, onion and seasonings in a large bowl.  (It’s easiest to mix these ingredients with clean hands.)  Shape into a fairly narrow loaf on a baking tray.  Cook at 375ºF (190ºC or 170ºC for a fan oven) for 45 minutes.  The meat loaf should be nearly cooked through at this point – I always check mine with a meat thermometer.  If it is not nearly done, then cook it for a few minutes longer until it is. 
Remove the meat loaf from the oven.  Separate the crescent rolls and lay over the top of the meatloaf, overlapping slightly, shaping them to fit it as you go.  I use a half piece to cover both ends, and then use the un-separated pieces to cover the rest.  (If you have crescent rolls left over, just bake them on a separate baking sheet and serve alongside the meat loaf.)  Bake for 15 minutes more.
Remove from the oven, cut into slices and serve with more gravy.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

My Grandma Ruby's Trifle

I've blogged about my Grandma’s trifle before, but as part of my Family Food History and Recipe Project I have been playing around with the recipe a little bit. I think my Grandma would be pleased with this slightly revised version. It makes a gorgeous dessert, easily serves a crowd, and is a snap to put together. I took it to my husband’s parent’s house for dessert at Easter lunch this year. Sadly my mother-in-law is in hospital at the moment, but I made up an individual serving for her in one of those small thermos pots and took it in when we visited after lunch. I have always wondered what the trifle would be like without the alcohol, and as she was in hospital I left it out. She said she really enjoyed it, so do feel free to leave out the sherry if you like. I have served this to kids with the sherry in it with no ill effects, but if you are concerned, just make two smaller trifles - one with alcohol and one without.

All you need is a pretty bowl (or bowls) and the following ingredients:-
(Please bear in mind these are estimates as quantities will vary with the size of the bowl you choose.)

2 large jelly rolls (also called roulade or Swiss roll), sliced in roughly half inch slices (my jelly rolls were 11 inches long, but you can always use more of the shorter ones)
3½ to 4 cups (about 1½ pints) custard, freshly made and still warm
(made with custard powder like Harry Horne’s or Bird’s according to package directions)
½ to ¾ cup sherry
2 cups sliced strawberries plus more for garnish
2 cups whipping cream
2 generous tablespoons sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
a handful of toasted almonds

Arrange slices of jelly roll along the bottom and up the sides of a glass bowl so it looks pretty. Pour a layer of warm custard over top. Add another layer of jelly roll slices over the custard. Using a spoon, sprinkle the jelly roll with about one third of the sherry and then cover with half the strawberries. It should look something like this:-

Add another layer of jelly roll and sprinkle some more sherry over the top so it looks like this:-

Follow with another layer of strawberries and one more of custard, like this.

Cover the custard with more jelly roll slices. (You might want to slice the jelly roll a bit thinner for this layer if there is the bowl is getting a bit full.) Sprinkle with sherry and pour over a final layer of custard, being careful to leave room at the top of the bowl for the whipped cream.

Let the trifle cool down and place in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.

A few hours before serving, whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over top of the custard. Garnish with strawberries and toasted almonds. Keep in the fridge until you serve it. Leftovers (if you have any!) will keep for about a day in the fridge.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Happy Easter!

Wishing you a Wonderful Easter, filled with family, friends, fun and above all, the hope and promise that this day is all about.

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."
-- John 11:25-26

"The great gift of Easter is hope - Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake."
-- Basil C. Hume

Friday, 2 April 2010

My Grandma's Butterscotch Sauce

This is a great recipe to have at your fingertips. It tastes delicious poured over ice cream and makes amazing sundaes. I am told my Grandma served it with her carrot pudding, which is the stuff of legend amongst those who have eaten it, but as she sadly passed away before I was born I never got to taste it. I do however have the recipe, and I am looking forward to making and sharing it as part of my Family Food History and Recipe Project. For the moment though, I will just share this fantastic, easy to make sauce in the hopes that you will love it as much as I do!

2½ cups brown sugar
½ cup butter
¾ cup corn syrup
¾ cup light (single) cream or half and half

Put the brown sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil slowly, stirring constantly. Let it boil for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage. This is 235 - 240℉ or about 112 - 115℃ on a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just do as my Grandma did and just drop a tiny amount of syrup in cold water. The mixture is ready if a small soft ball forms in the water.

Remove from the heat (this recipe is truly vintage - if you look at the photograph of the recipe you can see my Grandma actually wrote “remove from fire” here!) and slowly stir in the cream. Allow to cool slightly, stir and serve.