How many times have I talked or written about or extolled the virtues of chicken soup? Too many and yet not often enough. It is the very best thing. Soothing, rich but not heavy, and receptive to so many things. Chicken noodle soup loves to be just itself, but is also loves spice, a little curry, and most vegetables deal very well with being here. It is fond of carbs, as we all are. I adore a noodle but some pumpkin is beautiful in here too. Soft and slippery but still firm, and full of the gorgeous flavour of the chicken broth that it has cooked in.
This post is published in partnership with a2 Milk™ [https://a2milk.co.uk/a2tonishing/], who sponsored this post. All editorial is my own and the research accompanying is independent research supplied by a2 Milk. Plus, a detailed photo aided recipe on making that gorgeous Indian fresh cheese, paneer.
There is very good news for those of you who suffer dairy intolerance. There is a new cows’ milk on the market that might be more easily digested by those with digestive issues after drinking cows’ milk.
Let’s talk about food intolerance
Food intolerance is a complex issue that is very misunderstood. Food intolerance is common, and while it is separate to the very serious issue of food allergy, it can be demanding and exhausting. Food intolerance can lead to poor digestive health and nutrition, with adverse debilitating reactions like diarrhoea, bloating and skin problems. It is important to identify these dietary issues should you have them and make your digestive health and your life better in the process.
1 in 5 people in the UK believe that they are lactose intolerant or have issues digesting dairy. I am a biologist by training (a physiologist) and as part of my degree I also studied nutrition and toxicology, so my first instinct when it comes to illness, food and diet is to research and learn. I like to understand and see what I can do to adapt, change or accept. What I discovered is that there are several ways you can react to milk and this determines whether you can or should eat and drink dairy products.
I love travel. You know that. There are some places that have got under my skin and that I love to return to. Places that inspire because of the place, the people, the light and often if not always, the food. There is a long list of places that I want to go to.
Sydney is one of my favourite cities to visit. I returned in November, my first visit in (their) Spring. I had few plans, not even where I would stay. I was coming out of an intense period of travel for work – which I love – but I knew that a schedule was the last thing that I would need.
Sydney is Sweetest in Spring
It was a gorgeous time to be there. The streets lined with bright purple jacaranda trees, heaving with blossom and intensely fragrant. There was so much jasmine lining the streets and bright pink rhododendron clinging to the ornate metal balconies on the front of Sydney houses. The sky was bright and the temperature was my ideal, between 20 and 24 deg C. I walked every day, soaking it all in. I love getting out by the water, and sipping coffee or wine by the beaches. Most of all I love the food. Sydney has some terrific cafés and restaurants.
This article is written in partnership with Travelbag who I travelled to Australia with, from the bottom (Kangaroo Island) to the top (Darwin) by plane, train and automobile. This view of Australia is very much through my lens, supported by the Travelbag range of tours and products.
My first trip to Australia was 11 years ago on holiday with friends. Predictably, to Sydney, and I loved every minute. I was curious but as a professional contrarian I had avoided the year in Australia which most Irish people tend to do at some point. I never even planned to go to Australia, it seemed too close to home even though it is so far away. A friend moved there and another friend was keen to go so I decided I would try it. Australia proved to be surprising and exciting, and I have now been back 4 times. Each time I have experienced something completely different.
Australia is a place that I have developed a deep affection for. The lifestyle is gorgeous, people are very friendly, and there is a very laid back air there and a general joie de vivre. It is a fun place to visit. The food and drink scene is vibrant, Australians know and love their food and have high expectations of every eatery who usually deliver.
Australia is enormous and there is so much to explore, on this trip I went to two new areas as I travelled from the southern tip to the north: South Australia and the Northern Territory stopping in the red centre on the way from Kangaroo Island to Darwin via Adelaide. It was an excellent trip and I am excited to share my stories and experiences from there.
Adelaide – Capital of South Australia
This post is produced in partnership with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Consorzio. I needed little persuasion. Parmesan is one of my absolute favourite ingredients and I have visited many Parmesan dairies over several trips to Emilia Romagna.
Emilia Romagna is a favourite place to visit. I go most years, to Bologna, to Modena, to Parma. I still have places to visit like Ferrara, and I will continue to return. I adore the food, and the people.
Emilia Romagna is known as the belly of Italy and for good reason. The people of Emilia Romagna have a joie de vivre when it comes to life, and especially when it comes to eating. It is home to tagliatelle al ragu, passatelli, tortellini al brodo and lots of other hearty foods. Some of my favourite wines are made here too, the underrated lambrusco, a sparkling red wine served chilled, and perfect for the foods of the region. It is also home to the Italian food products that we are most familiar with. Salumi comes from here (there is even a salumi museum) and Emilia Romagna is the home of Parma ham, balsamic vinegar of Modena and parmigiano reggiano (aka Parmesan).
Christmas ham is a tradition and there are many ways of doing it. I love tucking in on Christmas Eve, most regularly at my sisters. They do a superb traditional ham with cloves and honey and mustard. It is divine.
It is an excellent idea to do a big ham if you have a group of people mulling around grazing over Christmas, and isn’t that what Christmas is all about? But what if there are not so many of you, or you just want something a little different? What about a small ham of your own or a tray of individual hams for a group for supper? Ham hock is the one, it is so good and so underrated. Terrific value too, I buy mine for roughly £3 from the farmer at my local farmer’s market.
You can get ham hock smoked or unsmoked, I prefer unsmoked for this recipe. Ham hock makes a wonderful soup allowed to bubble gently with carrots, celery and onions, a bay leaf and a bouquet garni or whatever suitable herbs you have like rosemary. A couple of hours should do it. Make sure you soak it first or your broth will be very salty. When almost finished dunk in frozen peas and you will have a sublime pea and ham soup. Shred the meat from the bone, it should just fall off, and serve with the broth, some veg and the peas, brighten it with some mint).
Oh my! I do love homemade pasta. And I love a slippery handmade noodle, be it la mian from China, or Italian pappardelle. It almost always tastes better homemade and as with anything you make yourself you can adjust it to your taste, be that thickness or adding additional things to the dough. Normally I like my papardelle thin and silky, but today I wanted it toothsome, and so I rolled it a little thicker than normal.
Making handmade pappardelle
Handmade pasta is a frugal thing and pappardelle is just a noodle thickness crafted from an egg pasta dough. Just pasta flour (which most supermarkets carry now, all Italian delis, and it is certainly easily available online), eggs and salt, that is it. The rest is time and a little effort, but really it doesn’t take that much time at all, and the effort is very satisfying. If you don’t have a pasta machine, panic not, in Northern Italy it is more common to roll it by hand using a rolling pin on a wooden board. I have done this and it is so satisfying. Equally, it is more common to make the dough by hand, making a nest of flour and putting the eggs in the middle, slowly introducing them to each other before kneading until soft and elastic. At home for speed and to free myself up to do other things, I usually use my mixer with dough hook, and I roll the pasta with a pasta machine, as I have no space for a pasta board (and how I would love one, like I have seen in Italian homes used weekly).
This soup won’t solve all of your problems, but it will come pretty close. On a day that requires it, this soup will warm you up from your toes to your fingertips. Especially on a gorgeous snow day like this. The rich gorgeous stock, the sparkle of white pepper, the marinaded pork, smoked tofu, sweet pops of tomato and shiitakes. Those slivers of egg. It will fight the cold, be it physical or mental. People, you need this hot and sour soup in your repertoire.
Every soup is only as good as its stock and the stock I made for this is special. If you don’t have time to make it, substitute it with the best chicken stock you can find. The flavour and the goodness is in the broth. I like to make it with a combination of chicken wings and pork ribs, but honestly, whatever you have to hand or like. Broth from a ham hock will do a mighty job here too (and isn’t it ham hock season?! Deep joy).
This is the second in a two post series in a happy collaboration with Vitamix to celebrate the launch of the Vitamix Ascent Series blenders. This unique blender series combines power and precision, future-forward technology and an all new design to ensure fast, consistent results that are bursting with flavour. I have really enjoyed experimenting with this very impressive piece of kitchen kit and I can heartily recommend it. It has won coveted space on my tiny kitchen counter and I now use it regularly. (The first recipe in the series is my Gorgeous Dairy Free Beer Cheese Dip).
I am committed to the cause. Several causes, I am a little obsessive, but let’s focus for now on Christmas.
Now, I am not one of those Christmas types who throws out the pumpkins and wheels in the tree and all other festivities on November 1st. Nor am I a Michael Bublé cd toting menace (you know who you are). But I do love the build up in December, and all the things that winter brings at this time. Seeing people I rarely see, having fun, and indulging.
Christmas is all about luxury and intensity, seeing friends, taking stock, and eating and drinking more than is necessary. Everything that passes your lips should have a hint of luxury, or a lot of it. Christmas is all about food and drink and food at Christmas should be festive and a little different. Turkey is fine, but Christmas is all about the midday and all day snacks, the cheeky glasses of wine, and we can do those better.
This is the first in a two post series in a happy collaboration with Vitamix to celebrate the launch of the Vitamix Ascent Series blenders. This unique blender series combines power and precision, future-forward technology and an all new design to ensure fast, consistent results that are bursting with flavour. I have really enjoyed experimenting with this very impressive piece of kitchen kit and I can heartily recommend it. It has won coveted space on my tiny kitchen counter and I now use it regularly.dip
I am dairy free these days. It is temporary for now while we isolate the troublemakers via an exclusion diet. I have known that I was lactose intolerant for a while, at least that is what I thought I was, but my doctor says that we need to do a thorough exclusion and make sure. Because things aren’t right.
When people hear that I am on an exclusion diet, a mild panic flits across their face and they inevitably say: but cheese! I don’t know how you can live without cheese. I couldn’t. The reality is if cheese is suspected of making you ill, you cut it out. (Even if you LOVE it, as I do). I do have pangs, and moments of weakness especially after a glass of wine. But for now, cheese is completely off my plate, and I need to seek alternatives.
This post is a happy sponsored collaboration with Sherry Wines UK with 3 new festive recipes for you: a clementine and rosemary manzanilla cocktail, sherry cream and rosemary pork chops and PX, dark chocolate and coconut panna cotta. For further inspiration, check out my Sherry summer picnic feature with recipes for peach and manzanilla slushie, smoky pork rillettes & olive tapenade.
It is December 1st! And so yes, now we all can start raving about and planning Christmas. Today I went out and bought pine branches and red berries and lots of clementines. Tis the season, and it is freezing to boot so I need no excuses.
You know how much I love sherry, that most underrated of drinks. I am delighted to be working again with Sherry Wines UK, and here I present 3 festive recipes for you, for your Christmas. A bright easy but full flavoured lunch, a gorgeous dessert and a cocktail to get you through.
I wax lyrically about my favourite dry sherries all the time: bone dry fino, briney manzanilla and nutty oloroso regularly grace my table. I am such a fan. There are many sherries though, and sweet sherries are perfect to consider for winter and also for festive celebrations. They are rich and deep and reassuring. They speak of time and luxury and relaxing. For this piece I will focus on three of my favourite sherries and three recipes and recommendations.
Sausage, Mushroom & Spinach Flatbread with Dairy Free Lemon Hollandaise Recipe
My local farmer’s market is a joy. Compact and varied, I do most of my weekly food shop there. I know the farmers and producers well by now, and I have a few favourites that I never miss. I know that when I get home to London there will be pumpkins and squash aplenty. I also look forward to visiting my local farmer and seeing what he has got. The meat and the cuts vary week on week based on what comes from the farm. Sometimes he has pork cheek, the whole jowl, and I love to roast those or stick them on the BBQ. He always has veal, minced and escalope, brisket, steaks, and sublime minced beef. I know that whatever he has, it will be delicious, it always is.
I bought these spiral sausages from him before I left for Australia and their twistiness made me think of nothing else but round bread. I wanted to embed those sausages in a flatbread and make a meal of it. Brunch, of course. Making bread is easy when you have a mixer with a dough hook, it literally makes itself, and so I make batches of dough reasonably often. The same batch of dough can become many things: pita, pizza, lahmucun, bread rolls. This time, it became a sausage flatbread.
Those of you who know and love Turkish food will find this flatbread familiar. You might have even thought that it is lahmucun. It does look very like it and for good reason, it was directly inspired by it. In fact I started making lahmucun and then diverted to this. That is generally how it goes in my kitchen.
I love lahmucun, a wonderful very thin Turkish flatbread covered with spiced meat, usually lamb, and baked until crisp. I used to live near Green Lanes in London for a few years, a 7 mile strip of street that is packed with Turkish restaurants. If you want to explore proper Turkish food culture, and you want Londons best kebabs, this is the part of London you should head to (Dalston also). Are you still here?
When I would head out to do my groceries, I would often indulge in a lahmucun. £1.30 was the princely sum for a takeaway one from one of my favourites there, Antepliler. I would stand at the till and watch while they would fill it with salad and roll it, wrapped in paper. They were divine. Manti also in a little Turkish cafe neary, those gorgeous tiny Turkish filled pasta served with yogurt. Before fermentation was a thing – what I mean is before Hackney discovered it – I found wild garlic kefir there, fermented vegetable drinks, and all sorts of other things. Treat yourself if you are in London and go explore. Make sure you pop into Yasar Halim when you do, a terrific local Turkish grocers and bakery, as well as Antepliler.
This is the third post in a series of dispatches from my recent trip to Quebec City and surrounds. The first was my two day trip to Charlevoix, specifically Baie St Paul, the second Quebec Dispatches: Where to Eat & Drink in Quebec City, and today, I am focussing on my trip to First Nations reserve Wendake. Enjoy!
There are indigenous cultures the world over. People who have always been there through the generations, closely connected to the land and the seasons. As with most new world countries, Canada is home to a much older people, many nations, who still live there today. The First Nations are the descendants of the original Canadian people who lived there for thousands of years before European explorers arrived and settled.
The First Nations of Canada
Photo taken at the Tsawenhohi House in Wendake
So much has happened since we last spoke. I have been to Canada and not just that, I was in sub arctic Canada walking with polar bears. Before I left, I managed to acquire a black eye in a stumble (I am very clumsy, always have been, it takes a toll). The first I have had since I was about 6 years old and walloped my eye against the corner of a chair. Attempts at cover up rendered me looking more like Beetlejuice on a bad day. It makes life interesting. Everyone can see it but no one wants to ask. Silver lining? It is a conversation starter and a terrific excuse to wear your favourite sunglasses on a dark day.
On this trip I went to a province that was new to me, Manitoba, for a bucket list trip. I was not seeking out a particular dish, cook or ingredient, this time I was going to see polar bears on a spectacular stretch of Hudson Bay in northern Canada. I am a little wildlife obsessed being a biologist originally (majoring in physiology but I studied zoology too). I have been to Borneo to see orangutans and proboscis monkeys, and more of my bucket list trips involve seeing grizzly bears, spirit bears, pandas, awesome Japanese monkeys, gorillas, bonobos, chimps, and where ever possible, in the wild.
This is the second post in a series of dispatches from my recent trip to Quebec City and surrounds. The first was my two day trip to Charlevoix, specifically Baie St Paul. Today, I am focussing on my best eats and drinks in Quebec City itself. Enjoy!
Quebec is a city that is dear to my heart, there is something a little magical about it. The architecture is beautiful, a walk around Quebec City feels part fairytale, especially as you ascend the ancient funicular to the old town below. Steep pitched zinc roofs top chateau like houses, painted red, blue or proud in silver, sometimes copper turned green with age and the rain. It is just the right size, big enough to have lots of options and small enough to walk around. Quebec City has music, art and a vibrant Bohemian culture. There is also an excellent food and wine culture here.
Quebec City has a proud francophone heritage, and the food is certainly influenced by this but not defined solely by it. Quebec is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world, and even though summers are short and it can get very cold, there is a new culture of wine making there with respected winemakers setting up. I have heard excellent things about natural wine maker Pinard et Filles which I suggest you seek out (and let me know how it is!).
My visit to Parma and the Festival of Parma Ham was sponsored by the Parma Ham Consortium. This is the second of two posts on Parma ham. The first was a post on the Festival of Parma Ham in Parma, which I visited recently.
Italy is one of my most visited countries and I make a lot of Italian food at home. Yet my first bite of gnocco fritto was not in Italy nor my tiny frenetic home kitchen, it was in Toronto (more than a few) years back. I was at a restaurant that I have come to love over several visits, Buca. The first time was one of my meandering solo lunches that I indulge in when I travel (and often at home). The menu was bright and interesting, my eyes were drawn to the pasta but also to the gnocco fritto, which were served at the time with an excellent house cured lardo.
Thus sparked an obsession. I seek gnocco fritto out wherever I can and I make them at home. Gnocco Fritto simply translates as fried dumpling. They are a simple yeasted hollow bread that is fried not baked, traditionally in lard but oil will do. The dough is allowed to rise, pummelled and then rolled flat before being cut into rectangles which puff into glorious crisp pillows when fried that are hollow inside (apart from your expectation and some glorious sweet doughy air).
My visit to Parma and the Festival of Parma Ham was sponsored by the Parma Ham Consortium. This is the first of two posts on Parma ham. Check out the second post, which is my recipe for fantastic fried bread dumplings, gnocco fritto. (You do NEED to make them and they are easy too). One of my favourite things and a perfect snack.
Emilia Romagna is a much visited part of Italy for me. Known as the belly of Italy, you can see the attraction. Home to some of the most recognised Italian food products: parma ham, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar of Modena. Mortadella is originally from Bologna too, and that most recognised of British dishes spaghetti Bolognese is inspired by the original Tagliatelle with Ragu from Emilia Romagna, and it takes its name from Bologna. Although best not to mention spaghetti bolognese to anyone there, it tends to enrage them (and when you have the pasta there, you can see why).
Emilia Romagna is a joy to travel around. Small cities with their own proud specialities are easily accessible by train (or by car if you prefer). There are common threads in each city. You will always see tagliatelle with ragu, stuffed pastas like tortelloni, passatelli (beautiful parmesan noodles) and cappelletti in brodo, a gorgeous small stuffed pasta in rich broth. Added to all of this, each city will have its own specialities. In Parma, those are specifically Parma ham and parmigiano reggiano (aka parmesan cheese).
Festival del Prosciutto / The Festival of Parma Ham
Each September, the people of Parma celebrate their ham with gusto at the Festival del Prosciutto. In its 20th year this year, the Festival of Parma Ham is a celebration of all things prosciutto di parma with a pop up bistro downtown serving freshly sliced ham and excellent ham sandwiches packed with it. There are also Finestre Aperte, or Open Doors, where Parma ham producers open their facilities to the public for tours and tastings.
What makes Parma ham special?
The production of Parma ham is highly regulated and controlled via regular inspection. It has a designated PDO (since 1986), a Protected Designated of Origin. A PDO is only awarded when there is a group of producers who can prove that their product can only be made in their geographic area and in a particular traditional way. Champagne has it, parmesan has it, and Parma ham has it too. You can recognise Parma ham by a crown stamp on the skin of the leg. In Europe only this ham can be sold as Parma ham and it is very tightly regulated.
Parma ham is simply Italian pork leg cured with pure sea salt and time. The pork is from Large White, Landrace and Duroc pigs fed on maize, barley and whey from the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Each leg is approximately 8-10kg weight. Traditionally the process would start when the weather changed with the advent of winter, now with refrigeration it is possible to make it year round.
Finestre Aperte / Open Doors at G. Tanaro in Langhirano
I visited G. Tanaro in Langhirano during the Parma ham festival as part of the Finestre Aperte, and was brought on an excellent tour of the facility by owner Paolo Tanara. His father Giancarlo started the facility, and they still make the ham as his father did. Paolo detailed the procedure and brought us through the ageing rooms. The smell is sublime as it ages, every food lover should stand in a Parma ham ageing cellar at one point in their lives. Divine. The tour finishes with a tasting of their wonderful ham. These tours are also available to the public at the time of the Festival of Parma Ham.
How is Parma Ham made?
The legs are salted on arrival by the maestro salatore (a highly trained salt master) and hung in temperature and humidity controlled conditions. A second coating of salt is applied a week later, and the legs are left to hang for up to 18 days. The hams then hang for between 60 and 90 days in refrigerated and humidity controlled rooms. The hams are then washed and dried to remove excess salt and impurities before being dried on frames in long rooms lined with windows which are opened when the temperature and humidity are favourable. This is key to the flavour of the ham. After about 3 months the exposed parts of the ham are greased with pork lard and salt to protect them, and then the hams are dried further in ham cellars, rooms with less air and light. All Parma ham is cured for a minimum of 1 year (from the first day of salting), up to 3 years.
The hams and facility are inspected many times over the process, both internally and by consortium inspectors. Any hams that do not pass muster are discarded. The quality of the ham is tested using a needle made from a horse bone. It sounds medieval, but the horse bone communicates the smell of the ham as it ages purely and directly to the trained nose of the ham makers.
And now you know why it tastes so good, right? Parma ham and your many makers, I salute you.
For more information on the Festival of Parma Ham please see: http://www.festivaldelprosciuttodiparma.com/en/
I travel a lot but I never go on holiday. This is a balance that I am keen to reset, downtime is so important to reset a frazzled brain. Travel for work is wonderful but it is always work. From first light to when I switch off the lamp at my bedside, I am on. Looking for every photo opportunity, taking notes, looking for that little something different that maybe others don’t see. Every meal is an analysis, for quality, for difference. Every flavour good or bad, is a string of adjectives, a story possibility. Of course I enjoy it, but switching off is a joy and it is all too rare. At times it feels impossible.
My kitchen garden has been a busy somewhat wild space again this year. A space of solace and slug related rage. Foxes, occasional rodents too. The downside of living opposite the common is that when word gets out about the tomatoes, they come and explore. And I shriek. They are a garden pest, and I despise them. But I love my garden, so I will persist. I have only seen one, but one is too many.
If you are still here after the dreaded R word, let’s talk details. This year I put down 3 wonky wooden raised beds (2 metre square and 1 metre long but narrower). In these I planted tomatillos for salsa verde and other as yet unimagined things. They are a curious vegetable (or are they too a fruit?), secretive in their green hoods, maybe it is a stiff veil. I planted five plants, purple and green, and they stand strong and deliberate, all reaching now almost all 5 ft 3 of me.