Cinema Treat Cheats

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A trip to the movies can be a pricey business these days – when you add up a VIP 3D ticket with a couple of yummy treats (popcorn, ice cream etc) then drinks you’re talking upwards of £30. For me, a movie ticket is money well spent but when I have to handover £5+ for a small popcorn or £3 for a bag of Maltesers, I draw the line! So here is my little movie food pack that I never go to the cinema without:

2 bags Butterkist microwave popcorn – microwave it at home before you go!
Bag of Maltesers
2 small bags of Doritos and a jar of salsa (so you can put the lid back on and take home what you don’t eat)
Drinks wise, go for a couple of small bottles of Diet Coke, if you choose a couple of Peronis remember to take a bottle opener, or why not just take a flask of wine and some plastic cups?!

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Dine Like a Venetian

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The food you eat when you’re away can make memories that can be recalled for a lifetime. Salty chips with ketchup reminds me of being around the pool in Gran Canaria as a kid, orecchiette always transports me to my first trip to Puglia in Italy and BBQ’d corn-on-the-cob with butter will forever take me back to the beaches of Koh Tao, Thailand…

In April, I visited Venice. I had massively high hopes for this movie set of a city, and it did not let me down. I’ve very rarely felt like a film star and such a tourist all at once but after arriving at the hotel by speed boat I was on cloud 9! The view from the hotel window looked straight down one of the picture perfect canals in what I had discovered during my research, was the Jewish Getto quarter of the floating city.

Venice is known for its exquisite seafood and a priority for me was sampling the local cuisine in style. I planned ahead, knowing that we would be taking everybody’s advice and wondering aimlessly for three days solid (proven to be the only way to see the real Venice), and booked us in at Osteria Da Rioba. Having a dinner reservation for what was to be our special meal of the weekend was a huge time saver. Later, finding out that the restaurant we had booked was 2 bridges away from our hotel was an absolute God-send‚ and meant I could pack my heels!

Da Rioba was a small, modest but beautiful restaurant on the corner of alleyway-meets-canal a stone’s throw away from our hotel. A few tables outside with wall heaters providing a soft orange glow, meant we could sit and listen to the stillness of the water and passing locals whilst sipping a pre-dinner Prosecco.

The staff were fab and I think they ranked us slightly higher than “tourists” thanks to the pre-booking and the very nice Valpolicella Ripasso I ordered off the bat! So we were treated very well amidst a full to bursting buzz of locals – some couples, some friends, all Italian.

When the menu came, I was surprised to find a mix of some great non-seafood options for my other half, as well as some slightly more adventurous local delights for me. I settled on their mixed starter, followed by spaghetti in a sauce of cuttlefish ink.

The mixed starter came in a 4 partition platter, with generous samples of mackerel, prawns, cod and squid, all served with a mixture of polenta, juniper berries, tomato salsa and dill – all so fresh and so delicious.

The cuttlefish ink sauce was the real show stopper. I had seen an American girl earlier that day struggling with it in a street-side restaurant down in Castello, and had thought she really was making hard work of it. Needless to say my mouth remained an interesting shade of dark grey for about half an hour after I had finished, but it was well worth it! It was beautifully cooked pasta and tender strips of squid with just a hint of the sea coming through the rich creamy jet black sauce.

Making a mental note, I knew it would be one to share. The recipe I have followed and just managed to conjure up Venice in our dining room is this one I found on chilliandchocolate.com.

Spaghetti with Squid Ink Sauce

Ingredients

2 large squid tubes
2 sachets of squid ink
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 medium red onion
2 garlic cloves
500g long pasta (such as spaghetti or linguine – we used the latter)
120g grated pecorino cheese (parmesan will do at a pinch)
Flaked red chilli

Method

After washing the squid tubes, carefully peel off the outer membrane, taking care not to tear the soft, white flesh.

Slice the squid tubes into 1cm-thick rings and leave to one side.

Finely chop the red onion and garlic.

Cook your pasta in a separate saucepan with some lightly salted water – drain and leave to one side when the pasta is al dente.

Pour a good glug of olive oil into a deep saucepan and sweat the onion and garlic over a low heat.

When the onion has softened and become translucent, add the chopped tomatoes and stir thoroughly.

When the tomato sauce has heated through, add the squid rings and allow them to cook for 5 minutes.

Add the squid ink and watch your sauce transform from a vibrant red to an inky black.

Add the chilli flakes (as much as you think you could handle) and stir thoroughly.

Take your cooked pasta and tip the pasta into your sauce, stirring the sauce through the pasta.

Serve each portion of your pasta and squid ink sauce in deep dishes, grating the pecorino and drizzling some good olive oil over the pasta at the last moment.

Enjoy!

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Two Greedy Italians and a Plate of Ricotta Gnocchi

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This spring, the Beeb hosted the 4 part mini-series Two Greedy Italians and I was hooked…

The show followed Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio, two chef heavy weights in the UK restaurant scene, pootling back to their Italian roots after 40 years away in a 1960’s Giulietta (that’s an old blue Alfa Romeo to us girls)…

Each of the episodes focussed on a different region and theme: festivals, family, religion and the “can’t-help-but-laugh’ banter between the chef duo made for some very funny between-recipe entertainment. Although it is clear that Gennaro is the prankster of the two, pulling an octopus out of his speedos during a fishing trip, and hilariously catering for Antonio’s blind date, he also served up some of the simplest, traditional Italian grub I have come across.

The recipe which caught my attention was the home made gnocchi. I love gnocchi, but it can be overwhelmingly filling so this lighter version made with flour and ricotta was a must try. The recipe was Gennaro’s mothers, and featured as a “Cuccina Poveria” specialty from Northern Italy. It was a perfect Friday night tea with a cold glass of Pinot Blush.

Ingredients

For the dumplings
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tub ricotta
3 free-range egg yolks
30g parmesan, freshly grated
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
6 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled, cut into thick slices
1 chilli, sliced
2 x 400g/14oz cans tinned plum tomatoes, each tomato chopped in half
few basil leaves

Method
1. Mix the flour, ricotta, egg yolks, parmesan, nutmeg and seasoning together in a large bowl to form a soft, moist dough.
2. Tip the mixture out onto a floured work surface and knead for 3-5 minutes. Roll the dough into a long, thin sausage shape, then cut into dumplings about 2cm/1in long.
3. Cook the dumplings for 3-4 minutes in a large saucepan of salted boiling water.
4. Meanwhile for the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the garlic and chilli for one minute, then remove the pan from the heat and add the plum tomatoes.
5. Return the pan to the heat, bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes.
6. Remove the dumplings from the pan with a slotted spoon and add them to the tomato sauce.
7. To serve, spoon the dumplings onto a serving plate and sprinkle over the basil leaves.

All the recipes from the series can be found on BBC Food.

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Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals… Don’t Count On It

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My love for Jamie Oliver took an unusual U-turn when I optimistically purchased his 30-minute meals. I thought my new life had arrived in the post; a life where dinner could be ready by 8pm instead of 9.30pm…

Sadly having cooked (and been invited round for) a number of the so called 30 minute inventions, I can now confirm that unless you have practised each recipe at least 5 times and spent 20 minutes preparing the kitchen and reading the recipe 3 times before you start, you don’t stand a chance.

On the brighter side however, there are some fantastic recipes and if you can spare the time, they are worth the wait. The spinach and feta Filo parcel and the broccoli orecchiette are gob-stoppers for me!

Quick tips
Jamie has quite blatantly gone for an overload of ‘blender plugging’ in this book, partly due to his friend from the blender/liquidiser industry having died and partly due to his new Tefal food processing range. If like me you are still saving up for all the kit you need, improvise:

  • Get a cheapy Braun handheld blitzer until you can afford the real thing
  • Grate anything really tough like raw carrot and broccoli stalk before you blitz to make life easier
  • No garlic crusher? Grate it (unless you chop like a ninja, in which case, use the skills)
  • Use a fork to mash your spuds – boil them for an extra couple of minutes to make them softer, or just tell people they’re rustic!
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Start A Herb Garden At Home

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I have always been a huge fan of the flavour of herbs, but have only in the last couple of years or so started to understand how they need to be used and how to get the best from them…

Obviously fresh basil works with just about any pasta dish but pile it into your Thai green curry and it takes on a whole new force.

Likewise, if you find yourself dropping sticks of rosemary in with every set of Sunday roasties, try crushing up a bit of lemon thyme with mint and garlic for a more summary taste, and a great kitchen aroma!

Having bought and killed upwards of 10 basil plants in my cooking career, usually during my Sunday shop I’ll pick up a small selection of Morrison’s usual 2 for 1 £1 herb packets.

Last month though, when considering having another stab at the indoor herb garden, I had some passing advice from my Aunty, who mysteriously had a thriving basil plant on her window ledge: “Water it a little bit every day”…  So this is where I had been going wrong. Thinking I would drown such a delicate plant has led to a ‘drought = death’ situation on many a window ledge.

Not this time! No. I have committed to keep my basil plant alive. 3 weeks in it is doing splendidly. When I have plucked the leaves, new ones are growing back and the feeling of growing and cooking with one of my favourite flavours, on tap, is great!

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