Posts Tagged ‘ice cream’

Summer in England

Ah. Summer in England. What a glorious thing to behold. It took a while getting here but now it is fabulous.

The skies are blue. The grass is green. The flowers are emerging.
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Trees are a shock of loud greens instead of the twigs they have been during the seven month winter.
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Colourful clothing is being worn again. Pale sun-starved flesh is getting an airing with mass shorts and t-shirt wearing.
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Iced coffee is fashionable. The new ice cream shop in town finally has customers!
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Groups of trendy city-workers let their hair down and drink pink champagne from plastic cups on the green.
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My neighbours are feeling happy and generous and I get home to freshly baked biscuits on the doorstep.
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We greet each other cheerily across the street, welcome each other in for cups of tea or homemade lemonade. The children who annoyed us yesterday suddenly seem sweet and funny.
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We even go so far as to say it feels ‘too hot’! Older men play golf again, younger men get out their bikes again. The outdoor pools are open again and rammed with kids splashing about on sponge floats, almost hitting everyone else.
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We drink more tea as, according the age old adage, it actually cools you down….?!
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We eat dinner in the garden. We have barbecues.
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We unearth the lawn from the general leafy debris that has gathered for months while we looked sadly out from the back window, not daring to step out. We get excited.

We love England. It’s the most wonderful place in the world. There’s nowhere else we’d rather be (except when the winter kicks in and we all run away to take holidays elsewhere).

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R is for…

R&R!

That’s right. Danda and I are leaving these wintery shores (well, not exactly wintery, it’s quite nice and sunny in England now) for warmer climes abroad (my weather app says there’ll be cloud but I’m hoping otherwise).

Yes, we’re off to Italy. To the beautiful island of Capri. To the coast. To the sea. To the pizzas of Naples. To the ash-preserved ruins of Pompeii. To the volcanic heights of Vesuvius. To the colossal sights of Capua. To the porcini mushrooms and fresh asparagus of the street markets. To the truffle laden plates of pasta. To the bowls piled high with homemade icecream. To the strong palate-cleansing espressos. To the mountains and the blue skies and bays of the Amalfi coast.

Off we go! Here’s hoping my phone works over there!

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An evening in Venice

Well, not exactly. But it sounded good, didn’t it? Did you think I was about to tell you that I’d gone all the way to Venice just for the evening?…. Ah, if only.

What actually happened was that I went to Covent Garden, to a restaurant called Polpo. Now, the more astute amongst you will be thinking, I’ve heard that name before, didn’t she mention that a while ago?

Well, yes I did. To celebrate having done 200 posts, I cooked a big Italian feast with all the recipes taken from Polpo’s cookbook which, by the way, is the most beautiful cookbook I have ever seen and the recipes are so simple, only about four ingredients in most things, but so delicious. Since having the cookbook, I have been meaning to go to the restaurant. Finally, last night, my friend and I decided it was time to go.

After a bit of faffing around in Hammersmith station trying to get onto the same platform and figure out which train to get and then walking an extremely long way around, we made it to the restaurant. It was long and thin and in the middle, there was a bar where people perched, with plates of different cicheti (which, I think, means starters) nibbling and chitchatting on tall stools. Behind this, was an area with lots of small tables. We were seated against the back wall by a lady who’s smile remained in place all night, despite my requests for recipes from the kitchen, which must have been a bit annoying and slowed her down.

The menu was a paper place mat and I recognised so much of it from the cookbook that I already felt like I was in a familiar place. The Smiths and Goldfrapp played somewhere in the distance and gave me a good feeling about the evening.

We ordered four small plates of food to share for our starters and mains and, unfortunately, my photographs came out either too dark to see or lurid yellowy from my flash. So just bear with the bad lighting on these photos please.

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An aubergine and parmesan wrap

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Spicy pork and fennel meatballs (these were really good)

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Flank steak with rocket and white truffle cream (this was the recipe I requested from the waitress, it was lovely)

We also had a bruscetta with ricotta, proscuitto and artichoke which we stuffed in our faces so fast that I forgot to photograph it. It was really really good though. Maybe my favourite thing, along with the steak and truffle cream.

For desert, I had a panna cotta with rhubarb and pistachio…

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… and my friend had a tiramisu.

Both were tasty and served in a small glass, so just the right size after all the other bits had filled us up. My only sticking point with my panna cotta was that I had a small teaspoon when I really wanted a huge soup spoon, to be able to eat it faster. I also had an alfogato di caffe (I think I’ve spelt that wrong), which is an espresso with a ball of vanilla ice cream in it. It’s a very Venetian thing, apparently. So I got one, in my ongoing attempt to become an Italian coffee-lover. I was unsure whether I was supposed to drink the espresso then eat the ice cream afterward or wait for the ice cream to melt, therefore sweetening the coffee then eat the whole thing with a spoon. I went for a bit of both but I’ve definitely got quite a way to go before mastering the technique. When I go to Venice (one day) I will make sure I have it sorted.

Afterward, we got something called chocolate salami, which I have made before at home. It was tasty when I made it so we ordered some of that as well as all the other things we were having for desert.

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It is essentially a fridge set chocolate biscuit, with lots of things crushed up and mixed into it. It was quite a bit saltier than mine, so was slightly at odds with where we were in our meal. We were on sweet and we were happy there. Then suddenly salty came along. It was nice but probably needed something else with it. It would have been nice dipped in coffee, to warm it slightly and make the chocolate a bit melty and added a little edge to it with the coffee taste. Well, anyway, I know for next time.

All in all, we were very happy with this trip. It also wasn’t that expensive, given how many different things we ate. I was pleased to see that the fame from the book hadn’t turned them into an expensive once-a-year type of place.

The people at the next table started chatting to us at one point about what the chocolate salami was and what we had eaten and what we recommended for deserts. It’s nice that way. It has an informal feel to it. The waitress checked in on us regularly, was happy to get into conversation about the truffle cream and how great the cookbook was. And the high seats at the bar, where people ate small plates of antipasti with glasses of wine or vin santo, were constantly full. I imagine it’s an ideal place to perch if you’re dining alone or just looking for something small and tasty after a long day at work. Very nice indeed.

Thumbs up for Polpo, just how I wanted it to be after loving the cookbook so much.

Things Danda loves

Marmite

Chelsea Football Club

Brian Cox (the astronomer)

Space and stars

Zombie flicks

Learning about ancient civilizations

His Crocs

Reading

2nd World War history

Eating the food I cook for him

Doing the dishes

Having a cup of tea while watching the news first thing in the morning

Homeland

Westerns and cowboy films, especially ones starring The Duke

Yoga

Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut

Going on holiday

Playing golf (he says he’s fantastic but I haven’t got any evidence to prove this statement)

Ice cream

The big 200 and an Italian feast

So it’s my 200th post! Very exciting. I haven’t been swimming in a little while as I’ve had a cold so I’m going to try, from next week, to swim 200 lengths in honour of it. Not all at once. I’ll try a bit each day. I need to do 30 each day, right? Wish me luck!

I’ve got lots of birthdays and excitement this week so am going to give it til Monday to start the challenge. Thanks for staying with me or joining me along the way. It has been lots and lots of fun. To celebrate this milestone and to embrace my recent trip to Italy and in honour of seeing a friend for the first time in ages, I prepared an Italian feast!

I got a beautiful cookbook the other day. The most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever seen.

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It’s full of Venetian recipes and the antipasti section is amazing. In an effort to impress, I insisted on making one of everything!

I finished work at 3pm and had timetabled in when to start everything so that I’d be ready by 7pm. I suddenly realised, at 3.35pm, that I didn’t have almonds for the cantuccini biscuits. I set my white wine and white wine vinegar and juniper berries to boil (for the pickled chicory) then I quickly grabbed my purse and ran down to the shop. I got the almonds and ran back to the house…. When I said ‘I quickly grabbed my purse’, that’s exactly what happened. I grabbed my purse AND NOTHING ELSE! I was locked out. There was no-one else with keys who would be back before 6pm. We had taken the spare key from the next door neighbour because it didn’t work anymore, it was always getting stuck. We kept meaning to get another cut, but didn’t. O no! The next door neighbour walked by and I explained my predicament. We went in her garden to see if I could climb over her fence into my garden and try and figure a way to get in. It’s not really a climb-over-able fence so I was stuck outside, pan boiling inside, on a tight schedule for preparing dinner, with no way into the house.

We eventually got in but another neighbour played a very risky game of almost falling through a roof to do so and it all took about an hour. I was VERY behind schedule.

When I was back in the kitchen, I pickled my chicory, made my duck stock, grilled my aubergines and dressed my rocket. I was back on track. As I was whizzing the almonds in my food processor for the cantuccini, it popped and stopped working! This was NOT on my schedule! It wouldn’t have been a very big deal had I not needed to whizz the duck breast fillets for my duck and porcini mushroom meatballs. My only option was my handheld whizzer thing. You know the type that you stick in a pot of soup to whizz all the lumps out?

So there I was, with a handheld whizzer thing, trying to whizz duck breasts. I got it done in the end but it wasn’t easy and bits of mashed up raw duck kept flying about and sticking to my face and arms.

I threw together an apparently Italian drink, minus the alcohol – elderflower cordial with mint, lemon and ice, then topped up with ginger beer.

I was nervous about attempting the Carta di Musica (music paper) as it needed to be rolled really really thin. It’s basically a paper thin cracker made with semolina. It went surprisingly well. I had some rocket and walnut pesto I had made that morning and after grilling some aubergines with parmesan, mozzarella and basil then rolling them up, I was almost ready to go. I just wrapped the end of a few grissini sticks in salami and pickled chicory and stuck them in a glass, put some dressed rocket into the braesola and rolled it up and put some truffle butter in a dish and we sat down and dug in. (Yes, you heard me right, truffle butter! I finally got some! And it was totally worth it.)

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At this point, I noticed that the caster sugar was on the side, unopened and realised that in my panic over the food processor breaking while I was making cantuccini, I had forgotten to put the sugar in! What I had was a savory almond dough! I whipped the biscuits out of the oven and binned them then mixed some sugar into my remaining dough. It didn’t really mix in very well though. I just wrapped the dough in clingfilm, fridged it and hoped for the best.

Next was the main course. We had a parmigiana, a roast tomato risotto, a duck and porcini meatball in a duck stock and tomato sauce, and scallops and pancetta on a bed of minty pea stuff.

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The parmigiana looks quite large and intimidating, I didn’t realise that when I cut it!

After eating everything and having a bit of chitchat and sneaking another meatball or two, it was time to address the cantuccini disaster. I cut my dough into six pieces and put it in the oven. It did not go well. Because there wasn’t enough dry stuff in the mixture, it didn’t bake hard enough. It also wasn’t sweet enough. I made us espressos in a percolator, which were really strong, and we dipped our biscuits in.

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I felt a bit feeble, with my savory, slightly soft almond thingys. So I implemented a back up plan. There was ice cream in the freezer! Mascapone, cherry and pistachio. Score! The dinner was rescued and we tucked in.

All in all, a success, I think.

Happy 200th post to me! What a fabulous way to celebrate.

Reflections on Rome

Since returning from Rome, I have introduced some new habits into my daily routine, in an attempt to pretend I’m still on holiday.

I have at least one espresso a day. I have it quite short, a bit less than a single shot of coffee. I don’t put any milk or sugar or anything in it. And it is much tastier. I think the longer you run the espresso for, the more bitter it goes. As my previous dislike of coffee generally arose from the bitter taste, I am well on my way to liking coffee if I can figure out how to make it not bitter. So I just have a short one.

I also eat little Italian pastries quite often and, as yet, am unsure whether this is a reliving-the-holiday thing or a greedy-cow thing. I will usually have one with my espresso. Maybe that habit needs to calm down…? (When I was wondering aloud with a friend about how the Italians are not fat, she said, in an ominous tone, “O but they are! Check them out after they’ve turned 30, it’s not pretty.”)

I have eaten risotto both evenings for dinner since my return. Both times, I made it with porcini mushrooms and when it was cooked all the way through, right before I put it on the plate, I mixed in white truffle and parmesan. Porcini mushrooms and white truffle with dinner every evening will start to make me a poor Laura, if I don’t watch it…!

On the truffle front, do you remember when I went mental on discovering the truffle butter at the Fine Food Fair?

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Well, I was worried about trying to find it online because I thought it could turn into a real obsession, if I knew how to get it. Stupidly, I was having a truffle moment and was ordering some truffle pasta online and found the EXACT truffle butter I tasted. So I ordered one black and one white. This could be the beginning of my downfall, people. I’ll be writing posts about how I’m scared to go outside and I just stay inside all day, eating sticks of butter as though they are chocolate bars. I’ll quit my job and have bad cholesterol and turn my nose up at green vegetables. I may need you all to help me through.

I also wear my very Italian apron, when cooking my risotto, as it helps me feel all Italian. I got it at a little shop near the Pantheon. Here is a photo of me posing in it….

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I asked Danda what things he learned from our Roman Holiday and what habits he has kept up. He said “Ice cream.”

Theatres, baths and lunch on the Tiber

The last day of the trip was my favourite. That is possibly something to do with the fact that I started it by eating tiramisu. Maybe. We packed our bags ready to leave and left them in the apartment til later.

We started out with coffee, obviously. I was doing a great job at attempting to develop a coffee habit. Their cappuccinos don’t come hot, which confused me. I think it could be to do with the fact that coffee is very functional there. People don’t walk around with huge coffees in takeaway cups. You have a small cup standing at a bar or sitting in a cafe and you drink it quickly before going to work in the morning, hence it comes lukewarm, instead of hot. Anyone know anything about how Italians drink coffee who can prove or disprove my theory?

Anyway, after coffee and tiramisu, we headed around the Colossuem to the Palatine Hill, where all the rich people and emperors lived.

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The weather was beautiful and I think the area surrounding it is still quite upmarket. Something about it felt different, nicer. There was a sports ground near the ruins on Palatine Hill where tanned older gentlemen ran around the track in pairs, looking like retired film stars.

We went to the Baths of Caracalla, the ruins of the world’s largest leisure centre. It is so immense, you can’t quite take in what you are seeing.

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The entire thing was for bathing. It had all those cold rooms and hot rooms and parts where you swim and parts where you plunge before going into a different room, etc. The complex was on two floors and also had shops and other things in the building.

Entire sections of the mosaic floor are still in place and there are huge chunks of mosaics from the second floor dotted around from when the upstairs sections collapsed.

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After this, we kept following the Palatine Hill down to the Circus Maximus, where the chariot races used to take place. It was the world’s largest arena. (There are lots of ‘world’s largest’ things in Rome.)

Both ends have building work going on, which looks a bit like reconstruction work on the ruins of the seating area but we couldn’t see for definite. This is what the chariot race scene in Ben Hur is based on, if any of you have seen it.

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After this, we headed through Roman Holiday territory, past the Mouth of Truth that Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn go to, and to the Teatro Di Marcellus. This might have been the thing that I liked the most, in terms of old and new Rome meeting. The two thousand year old building has a new section built on top if it, two floors of apartments.

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I really REALLY want to live there. How amazing would that be?

Once we had spent a while wandering around the old porticos, we were in what had once been decreed a Jewish Ghetto and the Jewish people who lived there had all their rights as citizens taken away from them. There didn’t seem to be a reason apart from that the emperor at that time had decided it.

We were right next to the Tiber by this point so we stopped for a quick espresso and ice cream break. I had tiramisu flavoured ice cream. Danda had an ice cream who’s flavour we couldn’t read on the label and that he loved. He said it was the best ice cream he had ever tasted.

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We headed to Tiber Island next, which has always had a connection with medicine. Even now, it still has a hospital run by nuns. On the other side of the river is Trastevere, where we had lunch. Friends had recommended the restaurants in this part of town so we stopped in the first place we saw, Ristorante “la Cornucopia”.

We shared a tomato and mozzarella salad then had a sea bass dish, which looked a bit normal but tasted phenomenal.

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There we were, the sun was shining, we were surrounded by greenery, street musicians were serenading the diners and my lunch was amazing. That was probably my favourite moment of the trip. I was just revelling in the luxury of being able to do nothing for a while.

Soon after this, we had to think about making our way to the airport so we walked back to the apartment to get our bags and headed to the tube station next to the Colossuem.