“Tick! Smiley Face!” – With Marcella #106 & #107 (of 466)

It all began with Nigella and Anna.

As I began to work through Nigella Lawson’s ‘Kitchen’ and Anna Del Conte’s ‘Classic Italian Recipes’, I would tick the recipe I had completed and if I felt it deserved it, I’d give it a smiley face. With both books the smiley face became somewhat redundant. With the exception of two or three recipes between them, every recipe worked and tasted good.

But the phrase ‘Tick! Smiley Face!’ has stuck.

Last night, I had the delight of cooking dinner for, and eating dinner with, my brother and his two kids – my lovely niece and nephew. I had the added delight of dropping in to the shop where my nephew has begun an apprenticeship as a butcher, and ordering the meat for that night’s dinner. He served me with good manners and attentiveness. I, apparently, managed not to embarrass him in the process. It was definitely a ‘proud aunty’ moment!

Later, as we ate together, my nephew declared the dish to be a definite ‘Tick! Smiley Face’.

After dinner all four of us danced, sang, even harmonised, to ‘Stayin’ Alive’. A priceless moment of memories created!

Earlier that week, I’d also tried another of Marcella’s frittata recipes with another good friend. We didn’t, alas, do any dancing or singing to music of any kind. But I’m around these parts for a while, so there’s still time.

For those readers who love a good photo – or any photo, really – I’m delighted to present a photo sent in by one of your fellow readers, and friend of mine, who has been perfecting Marcella’s ‘Piedmontese Almond Biscuits’. Nicoleta was among the group of women who first sampled these biscuits. You can read about that past sampling back in this previous post, written back in the dim and distant days of recipe #9 (of 466).

Here’s her beautiful photo – where she has nicely coordinated the colour of the plate with the tablecloth:

Nicoleta's Repeat Attempt of Marcella's Piedmontese Almond Biscuits

Nicoleta’s Repeat Attempt of Marcella’s Piedmontese Almond Biscuits

Last Week: #106 ‘Frittata with Courgettes and Basil’ with Lois at my table.

Last Night: #107 ‘Pan-Fried Beef Steaks, Cacciatora Style’ with my Brother, Nephew and Niece at their table.


Crowning the Year with Goodness – With Marcella #93 & #94 (of 466)

Last night, I prepared a table for some of my dear friends.

A Feast of Friendship

A Feast of Friendship

I also prepared some food…in case you were wondering if the small bowl of cranberry sauce (in the picture above) was all that was to be shared among my guests. I went with Nigella Lawson’s FeastĀ cookbook for inspiration and instruction, preparing a turkey with accompaniments.

Big preparations in my little kitchen.

Big preparations in my little kitchen.

The food was delicious (thank you, Nigella). The friendship was even more so (thank you, Lord). Before we tucked into the food set before us I took a short moment to recognise and thank the friends around the table for their patience and love for me over what had been a challenging year. They weren’t the only friends who had loved patiently – but they were the ones who could come that night, and reasonably fit around the table!

I then took another short moment to thank the Lord for his goodness. A lyric has been going around in my head, based on Psalm 65,

“You crown the year with your goodness.

You answer us with awesome deeds…

Praise the name of the Lord.

Oh my soul, sing his worth!”

For all this year’s ups and downs, the Lord has been so good to me. The friends he has given me have been a big part of that goodness.

This time a week ago (Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day) I was with some more friends – more gifts of God’s goodness. We shared a peaceful meal of leftovers at one of their homes, with a starter of Marcella’s ‘Swiss Chard Torta with Raisins and Pinenuts’. Delicious (and more-ish) food (and company).

Tastes better than it looks!

Tastes better than it looks!

In between these feasts (not forgetting the lovely Christmas Day lunch with my ambassadorial friend and her family) I sat with another friend and my housemate, enjoying Marcella’s ‘Pork Sausages with Red Wine and Porcini Mushrooms.’

Now, on the first day of 2015, I sit alone, but content, having eaten a gorgeous leftover turkey sandwich. I feel very ready for this new year – more ready than I’ve ever felt in past years. I look forward to seeing how the Lord crowns this coming year.

On St. Stephen’s Day: #93 ‘Swiss Chard Torta with Raisins and Pinenuts’ with Anne, Ian and Stephanie at a friend’s table.

The night before the night before the New Year: #94 ‘Pork Sausages with Red Wine and Porcini Mushrooms’ with Barbara and the Violinist at my table.

Struggling? – With Marcella #91 & #92 (of 466)

At my table, last night, sat dear friends who know what it is to struggle.

We all do, don’t we? There’s always something we’re struggling with.

We talked about how unhelpful it can be for a fellow Christian to ask ‘How’s your walk with the Lord?’ It’s unhelpful because we’ll pretty much always be left standing there with a heavy awareness of our failures to love and serve our Lord the way we should.

We agreed a far better question was to ask ‘What are you struggling with lately?’ Then, to seek to encourage each other to see how the Lord is walking with us in those struggles, molding and shaping us to be more like him.

It’s less about our walk with the Lord. It’s more about his walking with us, beside us, before us, behind us and through us.

So, as we ate the next installment from the ‘Veal’ chapter in Marcella’s book, along with a deliciously simple potato and anchovy dish (neither recipe involved any struggle at all!), we asked each other, ‘What are you struggling with?’ and reminded each other how we do that struggling with the Lord by our side, holding us fast.

We finished off the meal with the remnants of Nigella’s ‘No Churn Coffee Icecream’ from the night before – no churning or struggling there!

Last night: #91 ‘Veal Scaloppine with Marsala and Cream’ and #92 ‘Pan-Roasted Potatoes with Anchovies, Genoa Style’ with fellow strugglers at my table.

Using Up Stuff – With Marcella #88, #89 & #90 (of 466)

When forced to live through times of transition, uncertainty, waiting or delay, I tend to get moderately (to highly) obsessive about sorting, culling, throwing out and using up stuff. I must write a how-to guide about it someday. For now, I’m too obsessed to be writing about such obsessive behaviour.

Last night I ventured into the ‘Veal’ chapter in Marcella’s book. I think I may only have had veal once in my life, if ever, so I had left this chapter untouched up to this point. The potential cost also put me off a little – but then it turns out that because you flatten the escalopes until they are thin, it looks like your guests are getting more meat than they actually are. Also, because Marcella’s recipes tend not to have long lists of complicated ingredients, you don’t have too many other expenses.

The main reason I was venturing into the chapter of veal recipes, was to cook one particular recipe that would use up the couple of tablespoons of Grappa leftover from the ‘Drunk Roast Pork’ recipe I cooked for my friend’s 40th. In addition, it would also make use of some of the tin of anchovies in my cupboard. ‘Veal Scaloppine with Ham, Anchovies, Capers and Grappa’ was quick to cook (5-6 minutes). So quick, that I didn’t remember to take a photo – sorry.

For dessert, I used one of Nigella’s recipes that had been highlighted on a blog I was reading the night before. ‘No Churn Coffee Icecream.’ I also found the recipe on her official site. I highly recommend giving it a try!! My guests last night would concur. This recipe used up the last of some coffee powder (used for cooking purposes) and a forgotten tin of sweetened condensed milk found in the back of my cupboard. I served the icecream in coffee cups with a seasonally inevitable Ferrero Rocher on the side. Sorry, no photo of that either.

That was last night.

Today I made a ‘Glazed Bread Pudding’ in advance of a staff Christmas dinner in two day’s time. Marcella suggests making it in advance to let the flavours develop. This recipe used up the last of the rum (used for cooking purposes!) in my cupboard. I also, somewhat frustratingly, used up a half packet of caster sugar in my attempt to make the toffee glaze. After three attempts I gave up. I will make my own toffee sauce to drizzle over it on the night.

Crazy, I know! Ever so non-conformist of me! My inner ‘recipe-conformist’ is not coping very well.

Tonight, I’ll be giving another veal recipe a go – just to use up the remaining anchovies and some of the remaining Marsala (used for cooking purposes!).

Last night: #88 ‘Veal Scaloppine with Ham, Anchovies, Capers and Grappa’ and #89 ‘Smothered French Beans with Carrots Sticks and Mortadella or Ham’ with the Violinist and the Ambassador at my table.

For Monday night: #90 ‘Glazed Bread Pudding’ at my boss’s home with a collection of desserts set to be on the table.



Recommending – Nigella’s Kitchen

For those of you have been following from the beginning of this blog (I started earlier this year) you will remember my Letter to Nigella.

I still haven’t received a reply to my letter. Though to be fair, she may never have received it.

I am still a big fan – not so much of the woman herself (she has millions of those fans) but of her work. I can highly recommend her cookbook ‘Kitchen’.

I have a red apron, too!

I have a red apron, too!


The Book: ‘Kitchen’ by Nigella Lawson

Contains: 153 recipes (at my count)

I’ve Cooked: 103 recipes so far


‘Coffee Toffee Meringues’ (This was my first recipe and one I repeated several times for dessert for guests. They were very simple to make, could be made in advance of the dinner guests arriving, and were just that little bit more special than ordinary meringues with the addition of coffee)

‘Salmon and Sushi Rice’ (Oh, so simple and great on a big platter in the middle of the table for guests to help themselves. I made this at least six times and then had the slight embarrassment of having four of these guests together one evening, realising that they’d all had the same recipe on separate occasions. It still tasted good).

‘Indian-Rubbed Lamb Chops’ (A good way to make use of ground spices in the store cupboard, taking about three minutes to prepare and having the taste of a good Indian meal)

The List So Far:

The List, Part 1

The List, Part 1


The List, Part 2

The List, Part 2

That’s just a taste!

If you had this book and Marcella’s book on your shelf, I would argue you need no others.





Writing 101 – Day #5 Misplaced Letter to Nigella

Four months ago, I wrote and sent a letter to Nigella, informing her that I had completed 100 recipes from her ‘Kitchen’ cookbook. (see my first post on this blog here)

I have not heard back from Nigella.

Today’s prompt for Writing 101 asks me to imagine that I discover a letter on a path and that it affects me deeply. I wonder what letter could disturb me so?

And then it occurs to me – perhaps that’s why she hasn’t answered! Perhaps she never got the letter.

That must be it.

It’s lying on a path somewhere – the careful hand-writing (on fine Italian stationery) slowly faded by the elements.

A Letter to Nigella

5th February, 2014

Dear Nigella,

Last night I completed the 100th recipe from your ‘Kitchen’ cookbook. Actually, I completed the 98th, 99th and 100th recipe – but that is beside the point.

For the last two years, I have been slowly working my way through your cookbook – not chronologically – but as the occasion required and my mood (and pantry) dictated.

I don’t pretend to know you well. But I have your book and have so appreciated your work there-in – and now feel I know the book quite well!

I don’t know of any other cookbook on my shelf (apart from one of Anna Del Conte’s whose work you recommend*) that consistently and reliably delivers excellent results. I have found no errors or missing instructions and, more importantly, your recipes have never failed – giving me continued confidence to cook each new recipe. Your occasional reassuring comments along the way have also kept me company on this culinary adventure.

In time I intend to cook all the recipes in the book, but wanted to write to you on this auspicious occasion. Last night, your ‘Sherry-glazed Chorizo’, ‘Texas Brisket’ and ‘Rice Krispie Brownies’ (an unusual menu, I admit) were enjoyed by five guests at my table – one of them the Australian Ambassador to this fine country. They were delighted to be part of the ‘milestone’ event and asked that I send their greetings and expressions of appreciation!

In my work as the Women’s Minister in a local church, a great deal of my time with women is spent around my dining table and coffee table. I believe whole-heartedly in the importance of modelling simple hospitality to women who often feel daunted by the prospect. This particular cookbook of yours has suited perfectly as a companion in this cause.

For an ‘intergenerational soiree’ – the ‘Lemon Polenta Cake’; for a table of widows and older single women – the ‘Greek Lamb Chops with Lemon and Potato’; for three young medical students – the ‘Mexican Lasagne’; for two women undergoing breast cancer treatment and unable to cook for their families – tubs of ‘Barbecue Beef Mince’, ‘Cheesy Chilli’ and a pot of ‘Spring Chicken’; for a few of the countless one-to-one meals I’ve had in order to get to know the 130 (or so) women in the church – the ‘Indian-rubbed Lamb Chops’, ‘Roast Duck Legs and Potatoes, ‘Sweet Potato Supper’ and ‘Lamb with Rosemary and Port’; for two gatheringsĀ of women in the workplace – the ‘Venetian Lasagne’ and ‘Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic’. Each of the 100 recipes I’ve cooked represent significant encounters with women and the highs and lows of their lives.

At one stage in the process, personally, I had cause to cook your ‘Date Steak’, only to be later faced with reality of taking solace in your ‘Lone Linguine’. In the midst of these and many other changes, I’ve found comfort in the unending and unfailing love of God. But, alongside that, I want to encourage you that your recipes have been a constant companion and comfort to me as they have created meaningful (and tasty!) spaces to connect with women facing their own challenges.

With much appreciation,

* I’ve cooked 50 of Anna’s 75 ‘Classic Italian Recipes’ – and will write to her anon!