Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Smart and Stylish!

Easy Tasty Italian

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful event - A Literary Lunchtime -at the High and Ham festival. It was a ''conversation" with three fabulous ladies of the food publishing world, writer Claudia Roden, and publisher/writers Judith Jones and Jill Norman. Food writer Victoria Prever, who hosted the talk, got the ladies to reflect on their experiences and insights into the world of writing about food.
Judith Jones has years of experience of publishing some of the best ever food writers. She was the young editor who brought Julia Child's first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking into publication - her character appears in the recent film Julie and Julia. (See Judith's wonderful blog here.) Judith made some comments on what makes a good cookery book and I have been reflecting on her thoughts while I am reading a new book by Laura Santini. Back to that thought in a moment...

I've always enjoyed reading Mrs Santini's etiquette column in Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine because I love her spiky observations on modern manners and witty words of advice. I was delighted to receive an advance copy of her new cookery book Easy Tasty Italian (Publication 2nd October 2009). The gist of the book is how to "add some magic to your everyday food" so there is an emphasis on intense flavours and stylish little touches. Just like her column, it's a great read, with her characteristic wit and panache.

The format of the book is a bit different from the standard, in the way it breaks down the sections and dishes. Laura puts a focus on to the intense flavours can transform simple dishes into something special. So she has an extensive section, with a detailed explanation, on the "fifth taste" called umami - an element found in foods like parmesan cheese, anchovies, marmite and miso. Other opening sections highlight basic techniques and preparations - sauces, butter, flavourings, elixirs and potions. These elements are then the building blocks that go into the recipes throughout the rest of the book. The book is peppered with amusing titles and quirky imagery - again a bit different from the many books with emphasis on "food porn" imagery. (I hate that term - must find a better one..) I like Laura Santini's book a lot, and it is really packed with instruction and recipes. It is more of a book that you have to concentrate on rather than idly flip through for inspiration.

So back to Judith Jones' comments on cookery writing. She said that a good book is one that empowers the reader - as I understood her, that gives the reader some knowledge that she can internalise, build on, and put to use the next time around. Not just a collection of recipes, but a deeper understanding of the process, akin to the practice and skill needed to develop any artistry. Sometimes that means longer or more complicated recipes, as opposed to the quick and easy. I believe Laura Santini does aim to give this background - this element of teaching - in her book. So actually, the reader has the job of learning these techniques and understanding flavours before they can really access the "easy" part in the title of the book. Great food for thought!

Thanks to Quadrille Publishing for the opportunity to review Easy Tasty Italian.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The English Village Fete

Village Fete

Summer is drifting away, almost a memory now, giving way to golden tones of autumn leaves and shiny new school uniforms. And with the end of summer, it is goodbye to the all the fetes, fairs and village cricket matches that bring the English villages into glorious, vibrant colour. I love the change of seasons, and in this part of the world, the seasons really are quite distinct. A good thing - it makes up a bit for those many days of rain and grey skies! Before it is a truly distant memory, I thought I would post some of the images from this summer's fete in our village. The fete is a wonderful event, and really brings the whole community together. There are lots of stalls and games, pints and pims, the barbecue, music, and of course, the all important cake and tea tent. Something for everyone!

Fete Montage3

Fete Montage

The theme of our fete this year was - you guessed it - Garden Gnomes! The children got their costumes together and transformed into such adorable cheeky gnomes. So did quite a few grown ups too.

I usually end up making quite few cakes over the summer for fetes and other events. (Being married to a cricketer, I do my share of the cricket teas too!) My favourite summer cake is a traditional Victoria Sponge -it really captures the essence of summer - filled with sweet berry jam and fresh buttery cream.

Victoria Sponge Cake

250g butter, softened
250g golden caster sugar
4 eggs
250g self-raising flour
3 T milk
1 t vanilla extract

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Stir in the flour without over mixing. Then finish by adding the milk and vanilla. Divide the mix into two lined (or buttered and floured) 20cm cake tins. Bake in the oven (preheated to 180c. fan oven 160c) for 25-30 minutes.
When the cakes are completely cool, you can sandwich them with berry jam - strawberry, raspberry, whichever is your favourite - and thick fresh whipped cream or buttercream.

Fete Montage2