Italian food

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

I said in my Christmas post that after years of striving to cook classic French dishes (from before the days of nouvelle cuisine) I was tending more and more towards simplicity, to the point of buying some elements of Christmas dinner from Marks and Spencer (branded as M&S now – stupid and probably why they have ‘lost the plot’ in all departments except food! I have always bought my wife a ‘little’ Christmas present from a particular department there, but if for 2016 Christmas it was difficult to find something, last year there was nothing at all appealing).

Back to food; I’ve said before on this blog that I rarely follow recipe’s exactly now, using them as a starting point for ‘doing my own thing’. I do intend to return to an ‘exotic’ – though still simple – starter next Christmas, prawns flambeed in Ricard, learned from the blog ‘My French Heaven’. Unfortunately, as it was one of my favourite blogs, there have been no posts on that since it was back, after a long break, in June last year which explained the absence and gave a recipe for a soup I like a lot in the summer; also simple, it’s ‘cheap as chips’ to make: vichyssoise

Part of the move to ‘simplicity’ in the kitchen has been prompted by a blogger friend discovered early last year who often posts a recipe for Latvian style food which, as she has said, is usually simple compared with, eg, French or Romanian but tasty nevertheless. The final link to a ‘simple’ recipe, for a ‘cake’, below is one of hers. As I had never made anything like it before I did follow her recipe, before making two variations with half the mix.

Something I have not made for a long time, simple yet really tasty, is a soup which, searching for it, I was surprised to find I had never posted a recipe. So here it is:

Tomato and cinnamon soup

Ingredients (for 2 starter servings – double, triple, etc everything for more)

Tomato and cinnamon soup

A can of tomatoes (or use fresh)
A small onion
A few cloves of garlic (to taste)
1 tspn of cinnamon (or more, again to taste)
A dollop of tomato puree
A preserved vegetable/herb mix – dried, bottled or a vegetable stock cube
Extra basil – dried or if fresh also for ‘decorating’.

Chuck everything into a pan (with some water, more if using fresh tomatoes), cook a little (15mins with canned tomatoes, maybe 30 with fresh), liquidise, taste and if you like more cinnamon put it in and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If a bit sour for your taste add one or two teaspoons of unrefined sugar. Reheat and serve with sour cream (or ‘sweet’ cream if you prefer). A variation: if you have a sweet red pepper looking alone cut that up and add to the tomatoes when cooking.

Cacio e pepe

? e pepe

The second ‘simple’ recipe comes from Corrie, another blogger I often go to for a ‘different’ veggie recipe (we eat ‘meatless’ twice a week though we are not vegetarian). In fact she suggested a variation on a celebrated Italian recipe, associated with Rome, ‘Cacio e pepe’ – Cheese and pepper. The year before last this dish became the ‘in thing’ (just as daft as the craze for Prosecco now being overtaken by fancy – ie expensive – gin).  Corrie’s variation adds cherry tomatoes – I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that as in general I don’t like cooked tomatoes (I know, that’s weird having in mind the recipe above, but nevertheless true). Bought tomatoes in UK are a disaster anyway, usually tasteless or worse, but there is one cherry variety which is acceptable – Piccolo – so I did not follow Corrie’s recipe but after taking the pasta out of the water in which I cooked the pasta I dropped the halved tomatoes in the water and cooked for a few minutes.

Both the authentic ‘Cacio e pepe’ and Corrie’s version are very simple – on the face of it. In fact it is, like spaghetti carbonara, not so simple to make the renowned dish well. It takes practice. However, even if not perfect it always tastes good. Important, stir the pasta occasionally while boiling so it does not clump together; have the cheese at room temperature and grate as finely as possible. I followed something between the authentic Italian method and Corrie’s. You’ll find Corrie’s recipe here:

Dulce de leche cake – no cooking

Four varieties of ‘dulce de leche’

Finally, I wanted to make a ‘surprise’ cake for my wife and took up a suggestion from my Latvian blogger friend Ilze. Very simple, ‘Dulce de leche’ cake is made of condensed milk simmered sealed in the can for 2-3 hours, butter and crushed biscuits. In Latvia they use Selga biscuits but Rich Tea are an excellent substitute here.

I made only a quarter of Ilze’s recipe (half a 397g can of Carnation condensed milk, everything else in proportion). I wasn’t certain my wife would like the taste of the original, which might be too ‘caramel’ for her, so I divided my mix into two and added a good slug of rum to one half. I then added powdered cocoa to half of that (don’t know how much – till I liked the colour!). The other half I also divided into two, adding poppy seeds to one part and grating chilli chocolate on the top of the other. Of course, it’s simpler just to make one and in the future I’ll make the one preferred – with cocoa and rum. The cocoa powder, being bitter, cuts the sweetness. The one with just rum tastes less sweet cold from the fridge.

You can make the cake(s) into any shape you like by forming with your hands. My guess is that children would love making this cake.

You’ll find Ilze’s recipe here:

Dulce de leche cake 


The Carnation can has a warning not to boil in the can. Don’t worry, just make sure the can is well covered with water, adjust heat to be only just simmering and put a lid on it.

There was a good article about the ‘Cacio e pepe’ craze, with good advice for cooking it, in the Guardian the year before last. You’ll find it here:

Neither Petronela my wife nor I really like turkey, but many alternatives for Christmas dinner that I would relish – pheasant, partridge, even guinea fowl – are ruled out as Petronela won’t eat them. I say ‘dinner’ because for the first time in years we will be able to eat in the evening, which we prefer, rather than ‘lunch’ which was the preference of my mother, now sadly no longer with us.

Breakfast is easy as we’ve settled into our own tradition – smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne – with some butter croissant (which – shame – I do not make myself). But what to have for dinner?

Simple pizza ready for the oven

Simple pizza ready for the oven

Simple pizza ready for the table

Simple pizza ready for the table

Then, on Monday evening, I watched a master class on BBC2 tv by the only ‘celebrity chef’ I’ve any time for, Michel Roux jnr. Regular ‘foodie’ readers of grumpytyke’s ramblings will know I have a preference for classic French cuisine; watching and listening to a master enthuse about the classics decided me. Classic cuisine it would be, with one exception – the starter, for which I’m going back to a recent post by another inspiring Frenchman (he says he isn’t a ‘chef’), the author of My French Heaven. More details of the final Christmas fayre in a later post but for the main it’ll be Filet de boeuf en croute (not Beef Wellington, as will be explained in the later post), for the ‘pudding’ maybe a Bavarois – perhaps chocolate or praline – or a cross between a Bavarois and a charlotte Malakoff (my wife doesn’t eat most fruit either!).

In the meantime, I’m having a kitchen rest so everything simple in the run up. One ‘simple’ was a pizza. Why someone would buy a ready-made pizza in the UK to eat at home is beyond me. I’ve had superb pizzas in the USA, and of course in Italy, but never in Britain – not from any of the pizza chains, not from the supermarkets, not even from otherwise excellent small Italian restaurants. But, with a bit of cheating, it’s so simple to put one together at home.

First the base: if you like the thin crispy variety, shop-bought can be fine, so I keep a couple in the freezer. That’s the first cheat. If you like the thicker, puffy variety the ready-mades are less satisfactory. Then there’s the tomato sauce to cover the base; the best solution is to make up a large batch, divide it up into single pizza portions and store in the freezer, but some of the bottled ‘cook in’ sauces can be good for the purpose – given a bit more sparkle with a dose of fresh herbs if necessary.  On this occasion I used a jar of ‘Tomato and chilli pasta sauce’, livened up with a dose of fresh basil. After that it was simple – what happened to be in the fridge.

Mozzarela of course, sliced and arranged on the sauce, followed by thinly sliced chorizo. Then sliced, pickled char-grilled peppers, halved stuffed olives, some grated cheddar cheese, and a liberal dose of good olive oil. Then it’s onto a hot pizza tray and into the hottest oven I can have without setting off the smoke alarm.

So, this was a very simple one and for 5 mins work something which, in my opinion, is much tastier (and much cheaper) than anything from a pizza house.