Just enough, and not too much.

Another pregnancy niggle; loss of appetite, rather, everything edible in sight making you feel sick to the stomach.

The smell of lettuce, a rogue mushy blueberry,  meat.. Every unexpected smell and off-key texture led me to eat ‘safe’ beige food for the best part of six months. For a lover of food, I was more than frustrated with plain pasta with cheese, cheese on toast and butter on bread near enough forming part of my daily meals.

Luckily, as the bundle is almost here, my desire to be more daring has returned – yippee!! But I wont be eating mackerel just yet, by any account.

The other morning, I gathered a few more exciting beige ingredients together and formed a treat, light enough to be free of guilt and tasty enough to want more. Normally, I’d have drizzled the finished pastries with honey and smattered them with sesame seeds, but this time round a light powdering of icing sugar sufficed.

I present you with Ricotta, Lemon & Honey Filo Envelopes. Click here for recipe.

Dried Fruit Compote – Khoshaf

Dried fruits and nuts give much-needed energy and nutrients when fresh produce isn’t readily available. One example of their significance is found in the traditions of the Middle East at Ramadan, when evening Iftar (breaking of the fast) commences with a date.

At the moment I’m suffering from one of the pregnancy niggles, where you, ahem, simply ‘can’t go.’ Lucky then, that when Murat went to Green Lanes, Harringey last week he returned with kilos of dried fruit and nuts!

Apart from enjoying them in their deliciously sticky state, I decided to make Khoshaf, a perfumed compote of rehydrated fruit and nuts, hailing from various Middle Eastern kitchens.

Use whatever you have at hand.. It’s the type of recipe free to artistic licence (aren’t they all?). Fruit are soaked in a mixture of water and orange flower essence until plump, and nuts rejuvenated to their former milkiness. Most versions call for the use of sugar too, however let’s keep it healthy and appreciate the natural sweetness of the fruit themselves.

Click here for simple and nourishing recipe..

All Souls Day in Napoli

All Souls day, which falls on the 2nd November, is a significant event in the Catholic calendar which pays homage to the dead, especially those whose souls are stuck in purgatory.

In Napoli, a city enrobed by superstition, shrines and shadowy under layers of catacombs, All Saints day (1st Nov) and All Souls day present an opportunity to pay respects to deceased relatives by visiting graves. Older, alarmingly morbid practices are still carried out where church crypts are lit up and coffin lids are opened or removable glass panels taken out so that the relatives of the decaying can see their faces, caress the corpses and make the sign of the cross over their head. This of course, is no longer common practise and remains a ritual for the religiously devout.

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In Napoli, every event calls for an edible homage. Around the time of All Saints & All Souls day, sugared skulls and skeletons appear and temp children for a pittance.

With such a great respect for the dead and in timely coinciding with Halloween (a Pagan celebration of the dead who’ve passed before us), I have made another sweet treat usually associated with festival.

Torrone dei Morti

Here is my version of Torrone dei Morti (Torrone of the dead), in which layers of chocolate and nuts give a sweet taste to an otherwise bitter remembrance.

Slices can be wrapped and gifted – why not?! :)

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Comfort Food… My Quick & Easy Kuru Fasulye Recipe

As the blustery Autumn winds whip and lash, what better to do than hide under layers of snug clothing and eat wholesome comfort food?

My quick and easy beef & bean stew is wholesome and hearty. The recipe usually calls for dried beans and braising steak, but for those of us who can’t spare the time to soak beans over night and braise meat for hours, I have used sirloin steak and tinned cannelini beans thus cutting cooking time to a mere fraction.

I’m assured on good (and fussy!) authority that my version is just as tasty and satisfying.

Click here for my Kuru Fasulye recipe…

La Rocca…A Sicilian Gem in Winchmore Hill

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It’s a Saturday afternoon and my father and I are heading towards Winchmore Hill, following a tip-off from our long time Italian food suppliers, Salvino. We’re looking for 250 mini Sicilian Cassata to form part of my wedding cake. I’ve been to all the regular central London Italian bakeries, contacted wholesalers, considered making them myself but the thought of constructing 250 sticky cakes the night before my wedding leads me to pre wedding despair. La Rocca is my last hope.

We drive through Green Lanes, pass Wood Green and after another  ten minutes or so reach Winchmore Hill broadway. I see La Rocca’s glass front and a stream of people heading in and leaving with content smiles. We enter, are instantly greeted by the busy owner, Salvatore, his  Sicilian charm prevalent and beaming from behind a well stacked counter. My senses feast; there’s a large ice cream counter with authentic and loved flavours, and importantly for  me, less known Italian flavours such as Hazelnut, Honeydew Melon and Tiramisu. Wafts of good strong espresso and tomato sauce induce a need to feast. And fest we did!

Read about the best sfogliatelle, cannoli, and arancini outside of Italy here…!!

When in Milan.. Eat Panzerotti!

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Milan drips in luxury.  The streets smell of Armani Code. You can hear the tick-tack of Laboutins against clean cobbles and see Fat Cats hand over thick wads of Euros to pristine shop assistants.  Well-heeled locals glide past on bicycles and there is no limit ultra trendy hotspots which host star-studded aperitivi.

I go to Milan twice a year for the biggest shoe event in the world; Micam. When I first started going I so desired to soak up the amazing Milanese scene with its Aperol and shine.  After almost 12 years of bi-annual visits the desire for glamour consumption has faded. Now the highlight of my trip is a visit to my favorite backstreet eatery, Luini.

The name Luini might jog the memories of Italians and Italophiles in London. We used to have our very own Luini near Clerkenwell but alas with its disappearance so went the only authentic panzerotti in town.

In Milan however, Luini is very much alive. Just off the hustle & bustle of Corso Duomo lies a small unassuming shop supplying those in the know with delicious freshly baked / fried panzerotti. The golden crescents of dough are stuffed with a variety of fillings including ham, cheese, tomato sauce and even sweet fillings like figs and chocolate. The queues of eager panzerotti fans spill onto the pavement and as with most things Italian, it’s horrendously disorganised but overly enthusiastic.

Continue here….

A Day with Aldo Zilli

I don’t ever recall waking up while the dawn chorus welcomed the coming day, unless I needed to catch a flight. On a cool Saturday morning my sister and I woke with a different purpose; to learn. I seldom have the motivation to do anything ‘extra curricular’ with precious little time off but when me and my sister are together she encourages me, especially when it comes to food and fact.  A day with Aldo Zilli was on the cards, a rare chance to immerse ourselves in all things food related with the likeable Abruzzan by participating in one of his masterclasses.

After a strong espresso we crawled into a taxi, bleary eyed and silent.

“Billingsgate please.”

The driver also seems to be memorised by the dawn light but as we reach the old core of London all three of us awaken with anticipation. Pulling into Billingsgate car park, there are traffic jams and crowds of dedicated food lovers sporting pleased expressions and full bags. Above us, gangs of seagulls circled on the hunt for fishy morsels.  It’s 6am and the market is already beyond mid-swing. At this time I’d usually be in bed, totally oblivious to the early morning and it’s people. Today I am living in another world on the other side of town.

Read about our food-packed, deliciously fun day with Aldo Zilli here…

Borek / Burek / Byrek / Pite / Rustico – Mediterranean Pies

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Warm, crispy and satisfying, filled pies are the ultimate in comfort food. Wherever you go in the Med you’ll find different versions. From Turkish Borek, Balkan Burek / Byrek / Pite and Mantija, Boureki of Greece to the Rustico of Southern Italy – fillings and shapes vary to form indulgent meaty feats, cheesy delights, simple vegetable snacks or sweet treats.  The possibilities are endless and the end result always satisfying.

It’s one of those foods which is loved; a staple from warm-hearted family kitchens or consumed from kiosks and simple eateries with mopeds whizzing by. I’ve always struggled to find the authentic stuff, reminiscent of the Med in London until I stumbled upon Akdeniz Gida Pazari on Station Road, Wood Green. For £1 a pop you can buy different types of Borek fresh out of the oven, made by the hands of two smiling Bulgarian women behind an abundantly stacked counter. Safe in the knowledge I have a place to go for a quick Borek fix, I usually prefer to make my own.

In the Balkans I  watched as women made dough from scratch, tirelessly kneading and rolling with the thinnest of rolling pins. They’d work the pastry to unbelievable elasticity, picking up the delicate sheets and stretching with careful plucks.    The pies were finished with neatly pinched pleats.  Needless to say my first attempt at this was disastrous.  To make pastry by hand is indeed a labour of love. I prefer to buy ‘Yufka’ pastry which is widely available in Mediterranean supermarkets.

Here are my Borek recipes;
Sevkiye’s Borek – Oven baked layered yufka pastry with various fillings (Meat, Cheese, Herby Courgette)

Village Style Borek – basic filo dough layered with white (feta) cheese

Pan Borek – quick borek made in pan with yufka pastry.

Mantija – Meaty Balkan parcels

Yamas!

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A premature summer has officially arrived in London, albeit a. badly timed and b. destined to be short lived. By day sun shines brilliantly and in the evenings I open my windows to welcome wafts of jasmine. I can’t complain seeing as its my favorite season, but why couldn’t this have held off until my wedding just weeks away.  This heat is making me lazy and I have so much to do!

With the date fast approaching my sister took us all to Greek restaurant Elysee for an unforgetable hen party, where we smashed plates, threw flowers, drank Ouzo and danced to live music until 4am. It was an absolute fix of the Med right here in Fitzrovia. The next morning (afternoon) as I lay fuzzy headed with bouzoukia still ringing in my ears, my mind wandered back to Crete, a sun-drenched Island I visited with my father last year. I remembered Ergospasio, a taverna we stumbled upon in Elounda, and it’s owner Dimitris who invited us for appetizers and Ouzo, and then became offended when we asked for the bill.

“How dare you try to pay! Just come back some day. You’re always welcome”   Looks like we’d made one more Cretan friend by sharing cheese and olives.  And there was another taverna up in Rogdia, where we ate an amazing Feta Salad and Dakos (rusks topped with tomatoes and cheese) overlooking the entire city of Heraklion. It’s the simple things in life which are the most memorable, be it soaking up the sun, a meal accompanied by live music or, er, cheese!

Well timed then that Yamas! have sent me four lovely samples from their range, helping to appease my taste for the Med. With them I have created three very cheesy, very Greek dishes; Graviera stuffed fennel seed burgers, baked feta with tomatoes and green pepper and courgettes stuffed with smoked feta and bulgur wheat .  Sound complicated? Well, not at all. These dishes are easy.

Yamas! don’t just offer your bog standard feta which seems to be one of only two Greek cheese already widely available.  They aim to make good Greek cheeses more accessible to the UK and beyond, by offering comprehensive, no fuss and fairly priced products. Great website too! Managing director Neil is so passionate about the brand that he constantly travels to Greece and Cyprus ensuring top quality and authentic products.  The range although young, is already widely available, and for Greece’s second favorite cheese Graviera it is the first time it has reached such an audience. The products themselves are of utmost quality: the feta is creamy and not overly aged, the smoked cheese has a subtle smokiness, the Graviera nutty and sweet and halloumi perfect for grilling and not overly salty. All products are good enough for the cheese board yet versatile enough to use in cooking.

Host of My Greek Kitchen, chef Toni Buxton, was also excited by the Yamas! range saying ” It’s wonderful that these cheeses will finally be available in the UK!”

Statistically Greece eats more cheese per person than any other nation! If we take Sophia Loren’s famous saying “All you see I owe to Spaghetti!” and apply in Greek terms, “All you see I owe to cheese”, its no wonder Tonia looks the way she does. I think I’ll be exploring the world of Greek cheeses in more depth.

Now raise your glasses and toast to the summer – Yamas!

The Perfect Pudding

Rice and Almond Pudding

..for many reasons! I’m stuck at home having been struck down with a mystery throat infection. Almost crying at the thought of surviving on broth and yoghurt until this thing clears, I knocked up a rice and almond pudding yesterday.  Needless to say I managed to lift my spirits with this cooling, sweet dessert.

It’s a cross between a Turkish rice pudding, Sutlac, and Middle Eastern Muhallabi,  milk & almond pudding, which are both served chilled. Most recipes call for full fat milk and cream but I have used semi-skimmed milk which makes this pudding lighter and guilt free.

Click here for my recipe…