Sunday, 18 December 2011

In Bruges

Last weekend, I went to Bruges, which is a small city in northern Belgium. This city is in the Flemish (known as Flanders) rather than French part of Belgium, and is Dutch speaking. From London, you take the Eurostar to Brussels (2 hours), and then change to a local train from Brussels to Bruges (1 hour). It was here that the weekend got off to a bad start, because I left my camera, my wonderful digital SLR that allows me to take good photos for this very blog, on the train. I may have had one too many glasses of wine on the Eurostar, which temporarily affected my ability to remember to grab my camera when I departed the train at Bruges. My poor camera must have been found by an unknown person somewhere between Bruges and Oostende. In case, with the power of the internet, someone found it and reads this, then I will put a little notice just here:

Lost Camera
Where:          Train 543, between Bruges/Brugge and Oostende, Belgium
When:           After 11pm, Friday 9th December 2011
What:            Canon EOS 550D digital SLR camera, in a black Lowepro camera bag. The camera wil have lots of photos of tiramisu and pasta amatriciana on it!

So the sad thing about leaving my camera on the train, is that I couldn't really take any pictures to share with you here. I tried to take some on my Blackberry, but it just doesn't compare to a digital SLR. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Pasta all'amatriciana & a new recipe for tiramisu

On my recent trip to Rome, I had some fantastic meals, including pizza and pasta, pastries, and of course, tiramisu. I arrived back in London inspired, ready to attempt to recreate some of those meals back home. I made a pasta dish, and I also devised a new recipe for tiramisu, both of which I am sharing with you here.

Pasta all’amatriciana
When in Rome, I had an excellent pasta dish at Nerone, by the name of Pasta all’amatriciana. This originates from Amatrice, in central Italy, but is a common pasta in Rome. It is such an ideal winter dish; filling, warm, and homely, yet decadent and rich.  

Saturday, 26 November 2011

In search of the finest tiramisu in Rome

My trip to Rome last weekend started off with a story about a jar of vegemite. In case you don’t know what vegemite is, I will try and explain. It is thick dark yeasty stuff, a by-product of beer, which is used as a spread and is high in B vitamins. A member of the mite family, it is very similar to Marmite and Promite, and you either love it or hate it. Most New Zealanders will have a preference for either Marmite or Vegemite, and my friend in Rome preferred the latter, which she requested I bring specially over from London (you can’t, of course, buy such horrific foods in Italy).

I bought a 220g jar of Vegemite, packed it neatly into my Ryanair-cabin-regulation-size wheely suitcase, and forgot all about it. Even when my bag was pulled aside at Gatwick airport, I couldn’t imagine what they might have found. A huge man started unpacking my suitcase in front of me. Thank goodness I had packed my underwear neatly. He quickly found what he was looking for and pulled out the jar of Vegemite. “I’m sorry, but you can’t take this on board with you, it’s over 100mls.”

Oh, for goodness sake. My jar of vegemite was duly confiscated at Gatwick airport. We suggested to the man that he might want to take it home and try it, but he did not seem particularly keen. Next time you are travelling, remember, Vegemite is a dangerous substance to fly with and must be packed into your check-in bags.

So it was that I arrived in Rome Vegemite-less.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Apple Cake

A week ago, a friend of mine emailed to say she was making apple cake. Ever since, I have not stopped thinking about apple cake. And then, last night, my boyfriend comes home with 10 perfect granny smith apples he had picked up from work (he had been working at a dentist conference, of course). So, the stars aligned, and I was destined to make an apple cake.

My boyfriend also bought home, from the local Oxfam, a near-immaculate vinyl copy of the 1983 Emmylou Harris album, White Shoes. This album makes a great cake-baking backdrop, especially the first side with In My Dreams, White Shoes and a cover of On The Radio.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Fried cheese

I have spent the weekend being self-indulgent. For me, that means not getting out of bed until 11am, drinking cups of black coffee with sugar, with chunks of Montezuma’s Orange and Geranium dark chocolate. Taking my time doing the shopping and dreaming up what to make for Saturday night dinner, pottering through our local wholefoods shop, Mediterranean food hall, and wonderful organic butcher and fishmonger, Harrys Fine Food. Then, once home, spending the afternoon slow-cooking lamb tagine, while reading my book on the couch. And Sunday, I have managed to finish off my book, pop some lemon slice into the oven, and only had to leave the house once to get some ingredients, but otherwise have been selfish enough to keep the day entirely to myself, and not share it with anyone. Completely self-indulgent. I adore weekends like these.

Speaking of indulgent things, what can possibly be more indulgent than fried cheese? The Greek fry haloumi, according to Wikipedia the Slovaks and Czechs each have a version, and I am pretty sure the Americans will have some kind of deep-fried cheese dish.

When I was in Sicily, a couple of months ago, in celebration of my imminent birthday, we had an exceptional and memorable meal at Torre Bennistra, a hotel-ristorante in Scopello. This place may not look amazing when you first walk in, but go down the stairs to the restaurant, and sneak outside to tables perched virtually on the clifftop overlooking the Mediterranean below. The tables had reserved signs on them, but someone in our party managed to remember the Italian word for birthday, il compleanno, which she casually dropped into the stilted Italian-English conversation with the waitress. This was a smart move, we were given the best table in the house and attended to beautifully and warmly for the rest of the evening.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Afternoon Tea

The English are obsessed by tea. This is particularly apparent to an outsider like me. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone at my work make a cup of coffee, yet we do endless ‘tea rounds’ all day. Back in New Zealand, getting a coffee machine in the office was a much planned for and talked about event, and resulted in heated discussion around the coffee machine, about the coffee machine, which beans to use in the coffee machine, who would clean the coffee machine and how we ever coped without the sacred coffee machine. Not so in London. It’s all about a nice cup of English Breakfast, with milk and sugar.

Not that I am complaining. I enjoy a cup of tea. I particularly enjoy the English tradition of a proper afternoon tea, which involves taking tea beyond the level of milk and two. While doing a little research for this blog post, I discovered some information about the traditions of tea. I thought that any posh tea with pretty china, and scones, was called a ‘high tea’. In fact, ‘high tea’ is taken after 5pm, whereas afternoon tea is, well, the afternoon version.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

I ♥ Paris

I love the dirtiness of Paris. It is apparent when you first roll in on the Eurostar at Gare du Nord. The brutal, stained, matt concrete floor. Dogs barking in the distance, as if I was standing in a lonesome dark neighbourhood. The ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka of the old-fashioned flipping arrivals and departures board, which they have stubbornly refused to upgrade to digital, getting louder in rushing waves as trains arrive and depart. The Haagen Dazs ice cream store that greets you, looking temporary and kit-set. The chill in the air, the low light, and the feeling of having to watch your bags. So vastly different from neat St Pancras International in London, with its smooth tiled floors, perfect lighting, carefully chosen shops and cafes.

I am very fortunate to have one of my closest friends living in Paris. Which means frequent trips on the Eurostar to visit; I have been three times this year already, most recently last weekend. It was cold, colder than London, and gave me my first feeling of winter for the season.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Charity shopping in Kensington

People buy me recipe books for my birthday and Christmas, which I love. And I admit to browsing the sticky jackets of second hand cook books in charity shops - something which I indulged in today, whilst second hand shopping in Kensington. There is something I adore about the pictures and the words of recipe books, even though I rarely use them except for baking. Sometimes, when I’m tired and feel like zoning out, I sit down with a cook book and leaf through. Look at the pictures, skim through the recipes. I guess like other people do with fashion and gossip magazines. Is that weird? I have never actually admitted that to anyone, though I’m sure many people have seen me doing it.

On Thursday night last week, we went to dinner at our favourite local pizza place, Delicious. This tiny 7-table restaurant is actually much more than a pizza place, they have a lot of other very delectable sounding things on the menu – classics that I’m sure will be done brilliantly like spaghetti cabonara and fish cooked in lemon sauce. But, I cannot go past good pizza, when I know it is excellent. We started with a salad, ‘Caprese’, which I pronounced completely wrong and the waitress had trouble understanding me. The simplicity of Italian food is exquisite; good fresh tomatoes, basil and a little other random greenery, a ball of fresh mozzarella that disintegrates when you slice it, sweet olive oil and salt. Beautiful.

After pizza, which was as usual, wonderful, we attempted to finish the enormous carafe of wine we had ordered. We eventually got bored of this and ordered some tiramisu, £4.80. This was a prettily-presented tiramisu. Sweet mascarpone and cream mix, with bitter drenched savoiardi and a good coat of cocoa. The texture of the coffee-soaked biscuit was complemented beautifully by the light cream mixture. We didn’t manage to finish our carafe of wine, though we tried.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Lunchtime pick-me-up

If you have ever worked in the daily eating machine that is the City of London, you will know of the conveyer belt of lunches consumed every day amongst its ancient and crumbling walls. Pret A Manger, Eat, M&S, are some of the bigger names in this business. They advertise their wares, “New!”, “Healthy!”, “Fresh!”, and wait for the queues to form out the door, because there are hundreds of thousands of people to be fed every working day. Nobody does BYO lunch in this city.

Leave office, find store, choose food item, queue, greet attendant, pay, smile, thank, leave store, return to office with little paper bag of food. So easy. On a side note, something that disturbs me is the level of waste created by this eating machine. For every nicely wrapped baguette, pretty waxed-cardboard tub of soup or plastic-packaged wrap, they insist on giving you plastic cutlery, at least three napkins, and they present it all in a lovely little paper shopping bag.

Now at my work, which shall remain nameless and shameless, there are no recycling facilities and thus, into the bin goes my paper bag of plastic wrappings. If you think about every person in London City, and how much waste each of those sole individuals can create just by eating lunch. Anyhow, that is the end of my side note. I can’t save the world on tiramisu alone.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Lemony fun

On Saturday I went to scope out a café for breakfast, recommended to me by someone in the family, who said it was one of their favourite places to sit and read or write, with a cappuccino and almond croissant.

The café is called Pâtisserie Bliss, on St John St, just down from the tube station in Angel, London. Pâtisserie Bliss in Angel – I don’t need any more reason to go there than that. The café is tiny, and the woman who served me was friendly and apologetic that I couldn’t sit inside because they were closing (okay okay, it was a late breakfast…). I ordered black coffee and an almond croissant, a grand total of two-pounds-and-something, and stepped outside looking around for somewhere to sit.

Something I love about London is that you can always find some little obscure courtyard or church ground or simple bench, in which to sit on or in and enjoy the English weather. I didn’t manage to find a bench (they were all taken up by men with walking sticks), but I did find a reasonably secluded piece of curb, hidden from the road by shrubbery. It was here that I planted myself, in my very own little corner of city, with the noise of street cleaners and sirens and buses creating a homely buzz in the background. And it was here that I sat and enjoyed a cup of sweetened black coffee, and an almond croissant that was slightly stale on the outside, yet had the yummiest gooey almond filling. It is times like this that I love living in the city.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Birthday Tiramisu

The sad facts of life when you grow up include having to work on your birthday. No one in the real world actually cares that it is your birthday. However, a good way to make them all care is by baking cake. I made lemon drizzle cake, the recipe for which came from the back of a Yeo Valley yoghurt pottle. And a very good recipe it was too, I am still getting almost daily requests for a repeat of the lemon drizzle cake at work.

Lemon drizzle cake
125g butter
150g caster sugar
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
3 eggs
150g natural yoghurt
1 large lemon, zested and juiced.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Love and Sicily

I have just returned from a week of eating, drinking, swimming and searching; searching for Sicilian tiramisu perfection. I didn’t find it – but I did find some perfectly edible things along the way.

My first tiramisu experience in Sicily was a disappointment. We had arrived in the Western port of Trapani, a city known for tuna, swordfish and cous cous or ‘cus cus’ in Italian. Our attempt to take the funicular to the top of the mountain to a town called Erice had been thwarted by the Italian holiday season. The funicular was on holiday and didn’t open until 1pm and it wasn’t quite 12 yet. So the mountain top town of Erice would have to wait.

We drove into the heart of Trapani through heavy pre-siesta traffic, eventually found ourselves port side, and parked up outside a pasticceria (Italian cake shop) called Angelino. We sat down, noted what the Italian family next to us were eating and ordered what they were having – arancino – rice balls stuffed with cheese and ham (or whatever you have left over in your fridge). Through in the bar we battled our way to the front and ordered espresso, and tiramisu – which they cut from a large slab in the fridge.

The tiramisu was €1.50. A layer of thin sponge – not savoiardi – on the bottom, with thick coffee-flavoured cream on top. The cream tasted like it had some kind of thickener in it. The best part of this tiramisu was the drifts of cocoa on the top.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Mama's Zabaglione

I know I’m going on holiday at 3am tomorrow, but I thought I could fit in one more blog post before I go. The packing will have to wait.
After my second post, my mum read my blog and emailed me about her experience of Zabaglione. Zabaglione is the first part of the mixture for tiramisu, as I described in How to make tiramisu.
Mum said that back in 1974, when she was living in London, her Italian landlady taught her how to make Zabaglione. So there was my Mama, back well before I was born, living in London just like I am now, making Zabaglione, just like I am. Funny how that happens.
Mum returned to New Zealand in 1975, only to find that European food still hadn’t really broken through. No ricotta cheese, not even any yoghurt. Wine came in a box and was red or white. Coffee? Nescafe, milk and sugar. Chinese takeaways were all the rage.

My Grandma gave Mum a Christmas present when she came back – a very ‘in’ cookbook called “Australian and New Zealand Complete Book of Cookery”. This fancy new cookbook even had full-page pictures. Along with the trusty New Zealand Edmonds cookbook, it was the only one my Mum owned. And in this new-fangled cookbook, lo and behold, was a recipe for Zabaglione, which Mum was pretty overjoyed about.
So Mum fancied herself as a bit of a Zabaglione maestro back then in New Zealand in the mid 1970s. Now, I don’t recall this Italian dessert growing up. And this is because, as Mum put it, “then I had kids, got poor, and cooking became an everyday chore!”
I asked Mum to share her recipe for Zabaglione with me for this blog. And her email came through this morning. And I thought, well, I had better just make it. Luckily we have friends who, at the drop of a hat, will leave everything and come to help us on a Sunday afternoon to eat dessert experiments. Thank goodness for good friends.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

How to make tiramisu

On my second post, I am going to kick off the blog by sharing with you my very own tiramisu recipe that I use. I actually poached it from Cuisine magazine.


3 eggs separated
½ cup caster sugar
¼ cup Marsala wine (available from Mediterranean food shops, or try your local bottle shop)
400g mascarpone
200ml coffee
2 tablespoons brandy
1 packet Savoiardi biscuits (from most supermarkets, or definitely found in Mediterranean food shop)
Good quality cocoa for dusting

Friday, 19 August 2011


I am from New Zealand, and grew up believing tiramisu was coffee flavoured sponge cake sandwiched between thick layers of cream, with chocolate sauce on top. And then, I went to Italy.
Now, in case you didn’t know, tiramisu is from Italy. Not from Japan, as the name might lead you to believe – although I’m 100% sure somewhere in a department store patisserie in Tokyo, nestled amongst perfect slices of elaborately decorated cake, lies a fabulous tiramisu – one day I will find it and write about it for you here. Anyway, I was talking about the fact that tiramisu comes from Italy. It’s translation from Italian, I believe, is ‘pick-me-up’. Something you need post large meal, laced with coffee, alcohol and sugar, to get you going for, well, whatever comes next.
Now, I am going to share with you my memory of the most exceptional tiramisu I have experienced to date. It was in a little restaurant in Rome, very near the Colosseum – though not a touristy place I assure you. At this time I was staying in Rome with my Bello, in a friend’s apartment situated in a very beautiful part of Rome, between the Colosseum and the train station. All the streets are cobbled (don’t wear high heels), there are no footpaths, and cars and scooters scream down tiny lanes at full speed. Yes, Italy. So, we were staying in Rome, and had been recommended a restaurant by our Italian friend. It was her Mama’s favourite.
The Mama’s favourite restaurant is called Nerone, on Via Terme di Tito. The meal we had was fabulous, though I can’t actually recall what I ate. What I do remember, vividly, was dessert. We shared a tiramisu, and it was a completely different experience to any other tiramisu I had ever had. The cream wasn’t cream at all (later I discovered this is called Zabaglione, but we will get to that), and was gooey and a pale yellow in colour, absolutely divine. Every tiramisu I have eaten since then I compare to this experience. It is my benchmark. Go to Rome, and try it.

Moving on from Rome, the second most outstanding tiramisu experience I have had, was when we were staying in a bed and breakfast in Positano, on the Amalfi Coast. Mama Celeste, our host, fed us tiramisu for breakfast, on a terrace overlooking the beautiful town of Positano and the sparkling Mediterranean sea, with big cups of fresh coffee. I don’t know if there is anything more decadent, yet more perfect, for breakfast than tiramisu. This tiramisu, handmade by Mama Celeste, was an entirely different beast to the tiramisu from Nerone. This version was thick and creamy and sweet, and not alcoholic. A good breakfast tiramisu. It stands out for me, partly because of the lovingly handcraftedness of it, partly because it was for breakfast, and partly because of the amazing setting. Casa Celeste
So, what I started to realise here on my trip to Italy, was that tiramisu can come in many different forms. In fact, it would be difficult to find two versions of tiramisu that are the same. Every Italian family has their own version of tiramisu. Some don’t add alcohol. Some dust with bitter cocoa, others with grated chocolate, others with sauce. Some is made with mascarpone, some with cream, some with a mixture of the two. Some contain eggs, some don’t. I’ve even seen versions made without coffee and using ingredients like white chocolate and raspberry. Tiramisu is one versatile dessert.
This is the inspiration for my blog – to search out the best tiramisu I can possibly find, and share with you my encounters of tiramisu that are imperfect – too creamy, too sweet, too dry, too old…..
Now, it also so happens that, next week, I am off to Sicily for a little holiday. I know Sicily might be quite different to the mainland, and probably have their own dessert specialties, however I’m guessing that somewhere on that island I will definitely find tiramisu. In fact, the town of Marsala, home of Marsala wine, a key ingredient in tiramisu, is only a half hour drive from where I will be staying. I will take notes, and take photos, and then you too can share in my Sicilian tiramisu quest.
Before I leave it there, I have one honourable mention to make. I have recently shifted from Wellington, New Zealand, to London. My favourite tiramisu in Wellington was, I think, a pretty good version. It was basic, perhaps a little too creamy, and maybe lacking in the alcohol department, but it was nevertheless good. This tiramisu is handmade and put in a little plastic tub, which you eat with plastic spoons after devouring some yummy hot pizza, in your car overlooking the stormy Wellington waterfront. Check out Pizza Pomodoro if you are in Wellington, and make sure you get the tiramisu for dessert! (They also do a lemon tiramisu, come to think of it).