Friday, 29 October 2010

Developing the perfect pasta bake.

The sorry truth of the matter is that pasta bake has become synonymous with tuna and children. I’ve been wistfully remembering my former single / just married phase when I would make proper Italian pasta. Using the most fabulous home made pasata and delectable cheese. I decided that it is time to revisit the perfect pasta bake.

The pasta bake in itself is a is lowly dish if you like, but done right is the ultimate time short foodies dish. If you take this rather ordinary dish and use the very best ingredients then it can be it is outstanding. So I decided to do just that. Yes I bought the very best pasta, and of course I made my own pasata and the herbs were literally picked with in seconds of being scattered. But .. what made this dish the ultimate time short foodies recipe is the cheese. I’ve eaten something very similar using Taleggio on the square in Sienna. Taleggio has a strong aroma, but a surprisingly mild taste and a light tang. I wanted Taleggio .. but the niggle of buy British poked my conscience.

It was then I remembered The Cheese Shed. I met them on twitter. They are than online artisan cheese shop . You can see for yourself what a fabulous cheese they sent to me. It’s called Ogle Shield and you know what. It’s better than Talaggio. It has a superb fruity tang. If you want to make pasta bake of course you can throw in tuna and cheddar and feed the children. But to make the ultimate pasta bake this is the cheese and the recipe.. .well for this one you’ll just have to buy the book.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Easy Tasty Italian by Laura Santtini

My husband picked this book up last night and joked he already had one of these. I moved give him a semi indignant protest slap .. but he moved out of the way quickly and I was half hearted in my attempt.

Laura Santtini’s book was shown to me as she won the guild of food writers award for best first book. This intrigued me. Here I am writing my first book. How cool would that be to win best first book prize? I’m fantasising now. The applause, the media attention .. the bright pink sticker on my book saying winner. So I thought I’d better check out what the standard is. Ladies and gentleman I can tell you, the standard is high.

Really high.

This book is a foodies bedtime erotic read. It’s all there, edible glitter, glamorous dishes, foreign ingredients (yes I know … Italian ingredients) It’s beautifully shot and reads with a super sense of humour. I can tell I would like Laura. She’s fun and passionate in her book, and I can see why she won the best first book. It’s brilliant at explaining how the flavours work together. The elixirs and potions and the claim to add magic into your everyday food makes me think of an food sorcerer at work. It is a magical book and I’ll certainly think about giving one to my mother in law for Christmas.. . I've been known to call her a witch !

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Harvesting the grapes at my Parents Vineyard

Yesterday my PR manager Katie Read and her family joined us to harvest the grapes from my parents Award winning vineyard Fleurfields. We had to contend with everything the weather could throw at us .. but it was a super day. Children, fun, laughter, dogs stealing hats, some sunshine, some rain, wellingtons, buckets and buckets of grapes and lots of delicious food cooked by my mother and we picked until you could literally not see another grape in the dark. - The pictures tell it all!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Eggs .. I ask you .. Boiled Eggs!

It's half term an in the true spirit of a multi taking mum I decided to entertain the children by making my pizza and bread recipe. The kids love it and this was for John Griff on BBC Radio Northampton. I took my eldest daughter in with me. Much to my surprise she was really nervous, but we had a chat in the car and I advised her to be polite and honest and it would be fun! I think I was more nervous about taking my 8 year old onto live radio.. I was right though - it was fun . Inevitably John asked her what her favorite thing she likes that I cook . I've been cooking like mad .. all manor of delicious dishes for the book - and as a trained chef, what I consider tobe a superb cook and recipe book writer I waited for a response ( oh yes she was going to say what a fabulous mother I am and what delicious thinks I make ..the ego was waiting for praise.. ) ..... "boiled eggs," she said! ....... I ask you !!

listen here ( Just available until 29th October) the interview starts after 10 minutes.

There's nothing like a child to put things in perspective!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

My hero Yotam Ottolenghi

Writing a cookery book often means you have hero's. Not the traditional kind rescuing damsels in distress .. .. but the food kind..turning a floret of broccoli in to a dream mouthful. I have been using Ottolenghi The Cookbook for at least a year if not more. It is one of my favorite books. Last week as I finished my meeting at Rococo I headed straight out of the door across the street to Yotam Ottolenghi’s place on Motcom Street. I remember the first time I spotted the food through the window. It was so beautiful I was almost too over awed to walk in. I stood and looked through the window for several minutes before I ventured in. You see .. it’s not just food. It’s art. The way in which it is presented is an absolute feast to your senses. Your eye cast over glorious cakes, meringues and treats. Your nose is filled with the aroma of delicious and trust me the perfection of layers through the food are utterly brilliant.

There is a service area where you can run in and pick up these heavenly creations and dash back to work to devour .. or you can go the single large round white table and site next to whoever is there to eat. I chose to sit in and eat, and found myself in the charming company of a gentleman called David Ross. The salmon I ate was light, fabulously flavored and served with roast carrots and a broccoli salad. Frankly, this man in a genius with vegetables. He uses flavours from all over the world, and manages the intricate balance of sweet, sour, and spice like no other I know. The ingredients are dressed with layers that keep the food natural but refined.. never over powering the main ingredients, the level of taste and attention to balance is just incredible. I finished with a flourless tart. Slight crunch on the outside, melting into a brownie middle. Heavenly. The table was sociable, with directors of a Dutch banking firm opposite, and the charming David to my left. The only criticism - was that we had to crane our next around a stunning, but nevertheless, huge vase of flowers to converse!

As my meal came to an end I found myself wishing to be back at the start. It was the most delicious company. David insisted on paying for my lunch, which was really too kind and for that I made him promise to come to my book launch and to bring his lovely wife Gloria.

The thing with eating Ottolenghi’s food is, that it makes you want to head straight home and recreate it. To me, this is the finest compliment I can give. Fortunately Yottam not only like to share his food .. but his knowledge too. With his second book Plenty tucked under my arm I headed home intent on making this meal again. You know it's good one when there are 72 reviews of it on Amazon!

Ottolenghi is one of my hero's he inspires the cook in me and I can’t recommend either his restaurant or his books highly enough.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

This isn’t just the kind of chocolate I want to eat - It’s the kind I want to be seen eating.

If there were one food that most women say they couldn’t live without it would be chocolate. I can be included in this group. About five years ago I was introduced to Rococo chocolate in London. If you don’t know them then please allow me to introduce you because Rococo represent everything about the way in which chocolate, and it’s production should be, setting a realistic workable and superb example of style, taste and philosophy.

Rococo is chocolate with out compromise. It is fair trade. The plantation where the cocoa beans are grown in Grenada supports the workers giving them a fair shot at life, whilst we here enjoy seriously delicious chocolate that has probably the most stylish presentation and wrappers ever designed, Chantal makes sure the people behind the scenes are treated as they should be.

As I been writing Prepped! I have noticed that around some seriously minded people you sometimes encounter elitist holier than thou attitudes. The sort of thing you see when this is all marketing guff, but with Chantal Coady and the Rococo team that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the real thing through and through.

Yesterday I met up with Chantal, as she has been kind enough to provide the chocolate for the Prepped! I had a super meeting then popped downstairs to the kitchen to catch up with the fabulous chocolate master Laurent Couchaux. As Chantal left for an appointment I stayed to snap the chocolates bars on the counter .. with my camera .. (of course .) A chap walked in and waited at the counter. He was a big issue seller, and I watched. What happened was not what I expected, and I shall review my own prejudices in private later. The lady behind the counter smiled and asked what flavor he fancied today. He asked her to choose for him and she popped a chocolate in a bag. He smiled …..and I just had to take a photo. This is Kevin. He is the big issue seller on the street, and Seraphina explained that he pops in every now and again- and a little kindness goes a long way.

This is how chocolate should be. This is what makes life taste good. Right there in front of my eyes the sweetest chocolate in the world is that which is made and given with consideration. Rococo philosophy of what tastes good, and what is right and proper in the world goes hand in hand. This isn’t just the kind of chocolate I want to eat - It’s the kind I want to be seen eating.

This weekend Bring your best chocolate cake to the Motcomb St branch (Rococo Chocolates, 5 Motcomb Street, SW1X 8JU) between 10am and 12:00 this Saturday (16th October) for their chocolate cake competition*.

At midday every entry will be tasted by our founder, Chantal Coady, and Laurent Couchaux, head chocolatier and Prof du Choc at Rococo’s Chocolate School. The winner will have their entry posted on our blog and will receive a voucher for a chocolate tasting at Motcomb St.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Sir Stewart Rose, Uli Weber and learning about how a book is Launched

As part of my training and to learn more about the publishing industry I am about to enter my PR manager Katie Read invited me to Uli Webers book launch a The Hospital in Covent Garden. Until Yesterday I had not a clue who Uli Weber was, but Marks and Spencer’s were doing the food so I accepted the invitation to see first hand what to expect at a launch ..after all I shall be having my own launch for Prepped! in May.

I was introduced to Uli as he signed his books. He is tall, very attractive, with a naughty sense of humour coupled with what I will call artistic steel. An intense

combination .. both fascinating and fun. I took the opportunity to chat with him whilst he signed the books and chattered in Italian on his phone, laced with a Germanic accent his multitasking was impressive !

All around people worked putting up lighting and the photographs and setting up an altogether impressive display. I asked what his favourite food is. Pasta. A large dish of something creamy rich and Italian. I would imagine that Uli would devour a bowl of pasta, and enjoy his food with intent like a Bavarian prince ..washed down with a gallon of finest wine and some thigh slapping .. most probably not his own thigh either. He is the sort of man a woman wants to cook for.

The food on the other hand was far better than I expected. Yes I know …one expects Marks and Spencers food to be delicious.. but it is still what I consider to be out of a packet. But his was fresh, hot tasty and to be totally honest - if I ever had consider buying canapés then I would buy these from M&S. I had just the one glass of bubby. I always take the first sip with trepidation, being so utterly spoilt as to have ones own award wining vineyard I am a bubby snob.. but we were in luck the champagne was superb.

Then came the most unexpected thing. As I was chattering away with a fascinating chap called Martin Vinter Jackson, this recognisable man came over to me, asked me how I was and kissed me twice. He asked me if I know him .. I must have looked surprised .. and I was.. and whilst I was busy blushing he smiled and said he hoped I was well and off he went. He was Stuart Rose .. or rather Sir Stuart Rose. I only know that because I had asked about 5 minutes before he came over who he was ! … I am still trying to work out exactly when we have met before.. I think it may have been when I won an award along time ago.. but I certainly feel perplexed today that I can’t put my finger on it!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Testers who blog

Well I din't have the resources of the big cook book writers at my disposal to write Prepped! ... I did have, however something which I think is turning out to give a better result altogether.

I have a team PREPPED online food bloggers who are gave these recipes a run through in the real world. I LOVE this. Recipes tested for real, and there is no hiding .

I know that the recipes will work like a dream and its down to these super people making sure what I make and write up from my kitchen works in practice in theirs.

SUSAN EASTON is a really fabulous Lancashire lass who cooks up a storm in her kitchen in Chorley. She keeps her own chickens and bakes delicious cakes using the eggs they lay. She tested out my 100mph batter cake and you can read about it here...

You can catch Susan on Twiiter @TwitTotte

TRACEY REILLY is based in Edinburgh and followed her dream to work in catering. She as savvy cook and has a super blog where she posted about testing the Lemon Syrup, Lemon Sorbet and White Rabbit Cocktail and the Lemon Chicken salad for me and gave some invaluable feedback!

You can also catch her on Twiiter as @nippie_sweetie

KATIE BRYSON certainly has to make the most of her time in the kitchen! A freelance food writer and blogger, she tested a double cook Duck & Noodles & canapés recipe for me. Her family food blog is bursting with recipes and tips for feeding hungry families that’ll help inspire all those frazzled parents out there wondering what on earth to cook for tea!

JO DYSON Jo’s Kitchen is a blog about simple home cooking that fits into a busy lifestyle. Jo is not a chef or a photographer, and has nicknamed herself ‘the ‘hungry blogger’ as food is not usually around long enough for a good photo! Jo lives in the Midlands and is the founding member of the Midlands Food Bloggers. Fortunately she’s a star and did manage to take some photos of the Eccles cakes she tested for me and blogged about it here!



is a stay-at-home mom to a 16 month old toddler. Living in the Kingdom of Bahrain ( Middle East) until quite recently lived in Birmingham. After moving to Bahrain, she started baking. She says the joy of watching your cake rise up to perfection is unparalleled. So you can say, I'm addicted! Her blog is about celebrating her life, and was good enough to test some Cheese biscuits for me!


Caroline is one half of Edinburgh Foody a superb site that delights in all thing foodie and Scottish - and boy do the Scottish love their food! It's a superb Blog and I was delighted when she offered to help !

Now you wouldn’t think much could go wrong with a Caraway and Parmesan Muffin - unless there is a typo .. Caroline spotted 25ml of milk should have been 250m! Thank goodness .. because they are delicious !


from Edinburgh Scotland, Jayne tested the Garlic Pasta Dish. has been living in Barcleona, Spain for the past 4 years. She’s a busy primary school teacher and says she’s a super foodie. is her website is especially for vegetarians living in Spain as she found it very difficult to follow her usual recipes in Spain She love all types of cooking but exotic dishes probably do it more for me than most. Oh and baking cupcakes is a regular occurrence in my kitchen!

HELEN BEST-SHAW I almost gave up getting
an elderflower recipe to be tested in the dead of winter as I finished Prepped. Luckily for me Helen is already prepped! as she had some elderflower syrup from earlier in the year! I was delighted as she agreed to
test the elderflower Macaroons for me. Helen lives in west London and is a 100% foodie through and through. Her Blog Fuss free flavors is terrific read!

JAYNE RIVERA LYNCH Lovely lovely Jayne lives in London but was born and mostly raised in America. Having followed lots of other blogs she’s now decided to try her own and kicked off by testing a few of my recipes! She says loves cooking, especially baking as you can see in this mince pie testing blog post!

ANDREA ROBSON Last week Andrea tested my Whoopie pie recipe. Her feedback was just superb! Andrea moved to London from Victoria, BC two years ago and brought her Canadian recipes and taste buds with me. She compares the differences between baking in North America and the UK on her blog Made With Pink. She describes herself as A self confessed hoarder of bakeware, cook books and any pink kitchen gadgets I can get my hands on. You name it, I have it.

ROSS SHAND (with his fabulous Charging Chimp Blog ) I can't tell you how pleased I am to have a man testing ! The first recipe tested was the caraway soda bread and he then went on to test out the Chicken liver parfait .. he's a rock star in the kitchen as far as I am concerned ! Ross is a self confessed geek married to a Caribbean foodie. He says that time is short for the both of us as we work long hours so any book full of quick dishes is going to be well thumbed in our house.

RENATKA BEHAN As a busy lawyer and now with two little children Renatka really knows what it is like to be short on time and still loves great food. She has a fabulous St Albans based blog and was brilliant at ironing out the wrinkles in the instant pancake mix recipe .. click here to read more about her Fabilicious pancake mix test!

Lovely LIZ POPE tested my Grandmothers Christmas cake and then went on to decorate it! Liz a primary school dance teacher by day and describes herself as a general homemaker the rest of the time. She loves blogging about her endeavors in homemaking, particularly from the perspective of her Christian faith. With a lovely husband and two naughty kittens to keep her company; her dream is to one day retrain as a pastry chef and artisan baker to continue the family bakery established roughly 150 years ago. I can certainly see why as she’s shown just what a great baker she is right here.

ALETHIA HILL is a super tester .. she describes herself as , mother of a darling little boy and wife to a scoundrel of a husband (equally darling though). Her roots are from the southern tip of Africa, where she lived and worked until the early part of 2009, when as a family they decided to look for a better life for their young son, and made the move and now call the UK home. Now that's brave. I am delighted she has move here because she and Jack have taken the time to test one of my linked recipes and you can read all about tomato pasata, and soup here ... and meatballs in tomato sauce here.


Katey is an Edinburgh-based food lover, baker and cake addict. She has a fabulous blog Edinburgh Eats She has a million cookbooks and relaxes by reading through them and deciding what to cook next. Her dream job is to open a cakeshop/bookshop hybrid and is patiently waiting to win the Euromillions to make those dreams come true. I the mean time Katie tested my Rhubarb and Lamb Tagine, and when she opens her cakeshop I shall be up like a shot buying cake and books. Meanwhile you can read her blog post about testing out my recipe here.

Give HELEN REDFERN a mixer, an oven, a few ingredients and a laptop and she’s happy. If she could find a way to stop getting sticky cake mixture on the laptop she’d be even happier! Helen’s passionate about simple, family baking but with two children, a husband who works long hours and her writing she doesn’t get time to spend hours in the kitchen. So recipe have to work She tested the Raspberry and chocolate cake for me. As well as her blog you can find her as a foodie columnist here.

JULIA ENGLAND - what a star ! She is she describes herself as A total facebook addict with an upsurging twitter addiction ! A busy mum of 3 growing and hungry boys who took the time to test for me. She’s NHS office worker by day and wannabe foodie by night ! A perfect Time Short Foodie .. she spends evenings reading cookbooks (any and every!! Have shelves full) dreaming of food and watching foodie programmes! To Julia's Blog and to see what she things to the recipe Click here


Elaine is a busy working professor in America who I met on twitter! She was wishing she was a recipe tester .. and I asked if she’d like to test one of mine .. with three children and her interest in veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics and the environment her blog made me sit up and take notice. Her style is witty and forthright, as she tested out he Garlic yum yum for me! Click here to read how she got on....


Tested the pizza and bread linked recipe . As a professional recipe tester Englishmum has two boys aged 12 and 15 and works at home developing and testing recipes for magazines and recipe books, and writing about food and travel. Read her blog post here. She’s fabulous and describes herself as a 40 year old time wasting, talkative layabout, excessive twitter and arch procrastinator with a penchant for cooking, shopping, hot baths, Green & Black’s and a nice glass of red (not necessarily in that order).


Alison is 34 and lives in Rostrevor, a small village in County Down, with her historian husband Jim and a delightfully grumpy white cat called Frank. Her background is in TV production and she loves to cook - she enjoys reading (especially cookery books and design blogs), shopping, watching far too much TV. She goes on to say that her favourite cookery writers (apart from Vanessa!) are Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson although I own a very large stash of cookery books by all sorts of people. Testing recipes is just my ideal pastime. Heaven ! Click here to see her blog.

JULES – the other half of The Butcher and The Baker. As the Baker and the main author of this fabulous blog she is dedicated to teaching children about food through her business. Self-confessed geek and lover of all things vintage and cake shaped she's got one of the best blogs going. Living The Good Life in rural Derbyshire in a tiny cottage with an even smaller vegetable patch, and her husband the the Butcher. He is an engineer who always loves a challenge. . he is the Chief Gardener at The Cottage. Hugh F-W/Dick Strawbridge/Ray Mears worshipper.They make great team and live life to the full! Jules tested the Chocolate beef and Chocolate pasties for me here to read how she got on!

You are the most important link in this process.. if the recipe works you can be sure it will be down to these amazing people .. I can't wait for them all to meet at the Book Launch !

Please do let me know if you'd like to help .. there are lots to test!