Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Sunday Roast: The quest for the holy arrabiata sauce

The problem with arrabiata sauce (and believe me I have tried many), is that no two places make it the same way. Some places use tomato sauce, others use real tomatoes. Some places use lots of sauce, others lots chilli. For me arrabiata is less a picture in a recipe book, but a vague sensation of tingliness in my mouth with a sweet after taste. It really seems a bit like a quest for something a little unattainable.

Between 2005 and 2007 I worked in a different location. This was cool on a number of counts. I had a different journey into work, I took pictures of the Eiffel Tower every morning for a couple of months, and more importantly, I had different fodder for lunch.

One of my favourite haunts was Deli's a chain of 'traiteurs' in Paris, which unlike other traiteurs, is not Chinese or French. Originally Deli's stuck to Italian, but by 2007 had branched into some curries and Thai food,  but my favourite was the arrabiata.

And then I moved back to my usual workplace and I realised that I was going to have to make my own sauce.

In the end after a bit of experimenting (read that as many, many versions), we (me and chief taster, the frog) decided the sun dried tomatoes were not really that necessary, but the cherry tomatoes were. Penne was nicer than fusilli and you don't really need lemon zest. So...

The Holy Arrabiata Sauce
serves 2

10 - 12 cherry tomatoes
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1 big garlic clove
squirt of lemon (optional)
chilli flakes (1-2 tsp to your taste)

  1. Cook pasta
  2. Chop the tomatoes in half and heat with the garlic in the oil until warm.
  3. Add the balsamic vinegar, sugar and lemon. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes. 
  4. Whack in the pasta, twirl it around until the sauce is well mixed.
  5. Stick it in a couple of past bowls (plates don't let you mop up the sauce). 
  6. Scatter some parmesan if you feel like it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: Cornelia Funke

Do you think it is easier to concentrate on your stories when you are outside or inside?
Writing is easiest in my writing house in the garden, but the story ideas often come outside.

Quote taken from here.

I vaguely remember reading a review for The Thief Lord in the Observer, but it was not until I actually visited Venice that I really took in interest Cornelia Funke's book. One of my students had done a book review of Dragon Rider that had left me positively not wanting to read the book and I don't think Inkheart (or any of the successive books) were out yet. Yet, here I was having borrowed the Thief Lord from the library, sitting at my desk while the kids were eating lunch and spouting out various Italian phrases that were in the glossary. I know it might sound crazy, but it was coming up to a holiday time and some of the kids were visiting Italy. Admittedly some of the phrases in the Thief Lord were probably no help at all to the visiting tourist, but hey ho.

Before I even began to read the first page, the Thief Lord had reawakened Venice in my memory. By the time I finished it, Venice was even more magical then when I had first visited it. The story took unexpected twists and turns, finishing with a satisfactory if slightly strange ending. And I wanted more. So I read Dragon Rider. It's very different in style to The Thief Lord, for a start animals are the main characters, but again it was a great read. So inevitably I had to read Inkheart and jumped at Inkspell when it came out. I've not had a chance to read Inkdeath yet, and if I'm honest I really want to know about Dustfinger rather than Meggie and Mo, so it's on the reading list. And of course, so is Reckless which came out on September 13th.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Sunday Roast: Alex's chocolate cake

A while ago, I had the fortune to eat the best chocolate cake ever. When the frog came home from work, I even told him that I had eaten the best chocolate cake ever. This was cruel on two counts. Firstly, he was engaged in a battle of the taste buds, where the men folk at his work place were trying to create the best chocolate cake ever and I had therefore quashed his dream of ever achieving this impossible task. Secondly, I didn't even save him a crumb, I ate it all.

Fortunately for the frog, the next time I met the chef during the week she handed over a huge chunk of the chocolate cake. She was going away for the weekend and I had obviously enjoyed it so much that she wanted it to go to a good home. Plus, I told her how upset the frog was that I failed to even think about bringing him a slice home.

This second piece provided dessert for a couple of nights and thus became my obsession. It was still soft and spongy despite its age. As you bit into it, every now and again there would be hard chocolate bits that you just let melt on your tongue. It was neither too sweet, nor too bitter. It was quite simply perfect. And the chef promised me the recipe.

I've had this recipe for well over a year now. I have baked other inferior chocolate cakes. I have begun to be able to cook other types of cake, but I just can't bring myself to cook this one. For a start, the shocking thing is that the chef calls it banana bread. "But, but, but..." I remembered myself spluttering. But indeed, it contains copious amounts of banana... and chocolate.

I guess it's a bit like when you find yourself imitating your favourite writer instead of finding your own voice. In the end it's just a pale imitation.

So for now, I'm concentrating on carrot cake and blueberry muffins. I like them, but I have nothing to really imitate, I just need to please myself there. When I get them perfect, or just damn good, then and only then, may I be ready to tackle the banana bread.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: David Almond

Where and when do you write? 

In my office, a converted attic at the top of our house. When I'm at home, I write every weekday. Just now I spend a fair amount of time writing on trains.

Quote taken from here

I was first introduced to David Almond by a colleague ten years ago. She was reading Skellig to her sons and suggested I read it to my class. Since then I've read Skellig many, many times and each time I get something new out of it. What I love about Almond's books is that he identifies and addresses issues that do affect children; yet he does so by blending the real with the magical.  The books can be painful and dark as a child's world can be, and yet there is always hope.

On a more pedestrian note, after hunting around the internet for a picture of this week's featured writer's writing room I realised two things. Firstly, the Guardian has been running the series 'Writer's Rooms' since 2007. Secondly, the SCBWI pictures I referred to last week all come from the afore mentioned Guardian series. Ho hum...

There was, of course, a third thing I realised: you can't always find a picture of the writing room.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Sunday Roast: Rosti Topped Fish Pie

During my blogging break, I have rediscovered the kitchen. Really cooking is like writing. Like every creative process there are skills to be learnt and knowledge to be gained. Then we begin tinkering. I take something that someone has already created, I read what other people have changed and I adapt as I see fit. Sometimes my adaptations are caused by lack of ingredients: mustard for horseradish, tikka massala paste for harissa. Sometimes at the end, its so far removed from the recipe that about the only thing I've kept the same are the quantities, and then again a few grams here or there.

After tinkering comes eating/editing. Is this good? What if we tried it this way or put more of this and less of that? Like writing, the eating process is best done with a good editing partner. Usually by the time I sit down to eat, I'm so hungry I'd eat anything, but the person I cook for is more exigent.

Then you go back and cook it again.

What you cook is never the same twice and sometimes it is great and sometimes it is terrible.

I have never created my own recipe, but I'm beginning to think that really, it's all been cooked before. Old Gordon, Jamie and the rest are just really recreating. They add something special and maybe spicy, but there is another version of it somewhere. In writing that something special and spicy that you add is your voice and how you mix the ingredients.

So now I am off to mix some ingredients together. I am thoroughly in love with this terribly British site. A smile spreads across my face when the weekly newsletter arrives. This dish is simple, quick (as is everything I try from here) and still tasty and filling.

© BBC Magazines Ltd. The GoodFood word mark and logo are trademarks of BBC Worldwide Ltd.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: Roald Dahl

When a good idea is good, is it plagarism or inspiration? First there was the Guardian article, then SCBWI posted some pictures on their Facebook page. I am still trying to organise my writing corner (as opposed to a whole room), meanwhile I will post photos of my favourite authors.


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