The five ‘performers’ – Kayla, Ruxandra, Martin. John and Samuel Moore in front of the four paintings they evoked so well

Saturday was quite a day for me. Some pain I had throughout Friday carried over into Saturday and worsened but not only was I scheduled to support my writers’ club colleagues in a unique event, entitled ‘Evocation’, in Leeds Art Gallery, being also no less than ‘official photographer’, but later Petronela had booked into my favourite restaurant for my annual ‘birthday treat’. I was determined to enjoy both so employed mind over matter, helped by a few paracetamols, and had a wonderful day. I suffered on Sunday, matter overcoming mind with a vengeance, but I was happy.

I’m pretty sure the Leeds Art Gallery event was unique. Each writer first read a story or poem – about 5 to 6 minutes – which one of four pictures, very different, but in close proximity, had evoked for them. Each reading was followed by an interpretation, of not only the picture but also the ‘story’ from the writer, by a wonderful flamenco guitarist Samuel Moore.

There had been a rehearsal in the club but I studiously avoided this so the experience was absolutely fresh for me. What an experience it was too: the stories from the writers were little short of brilliant and Sam’s musical evocation was not only brilliant but emotionally moving. Perhaps because I have several copies of Sutcliffe’s famous (notorious ?) photograph of naked boys enjoying the sea at Whitby, I was particularly taken by the painting with a similar theme and when the music came I was bathing in sunshine, hot Spanish sun brought to an English scene through some astounding flamenco guitar.

The story doesn’t end here; in June stage 2 of ‘Evocation’ will take place with another four paintings in the gallery. For this event I will not be ‘official photographer’ but one of the writers, attempting to relate what a painting, Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’, evokes for me. I might need more than a fistfull of paracetamols.

Birthday treat at Emporio Italiana

This was the third time my ‘birthday treat’ has been dinner at Emporio Italia in Ilkley. This tiny restaurant, far from Ilkley ‘posh’, transports you straight to Italy. It’s not only the superb food but the atmosphere, complete with ‘waiters’ who know their food, explain each dish in detail and sing, adding to the hussle bussle you’d expect in their home country. There is no ‘menu’ as such, just what proprietor chef Luigi feels like cooking on the day, written on a large blackboard carried from table to table as required. I love it!

For the record, I had an extraordinary ‘tartino di pesce’ as a starter, salmon and prawns in a cream sauce under a cover of amazing potato mash with pork; my main was rabbit ‘coniglio alla cacciotora‘ – superb; finishing with delicious coffee and walnut tart. Petronela and I shared a bottle of house red, excellent.

Comical aside: to ensure we could get into this small restaurant Petronela booked the table way back, maybe February, and neither of us could remember what date we had booked – the Saturday before, the Saturday after or the day itself, Tuesday 15th. A panic telephone call on Friday established it was booked for the Saturday before.

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‘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:

https://corriesrabbitfood.com/2018/01/15/cacio-e-pepe-with-cherry-tomatoes/

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 

Notes:

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:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2016/nov/03/how-to-make-the-perfect-cacio-e-pepe