Wednesday 18 July 2012

A Meal Fit for a First Date

Do you ever wish you could describe your life through food and drink? Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Your favourite food as a child or perhaps your worst food as a child! The dish you ordered on a magical night out with your partner, the first dish you cooked, the wine you drank at your wedding or perhaps the champagne at your graduation. Food and drink plays such an important part in our lives and a great dish, just like a great song, can conjure up so many wonderful memories.  I think that’s why N and I often go back to the same restaurants again and again and even the same holiday destinations. It’s the sense of familiarity it brings, the sense of comfort and the feeling of belonging.
Carluccio’s is a place that brings back the fondest memories for me. N and I went there for our first date. I know it’s just a high street chain restaurant but the food is wonderful and generally consistent and I love having a look around their food store while I wait for my table. I’ve picked up some great treats there that have since become staples in my larder.  And my signature dish….Spaghetti alle Vongole. I have to thank N for introducing me to this one. It’s so delicious we’ve been known to leave restaurants if they’ve run out of it. Carluccio’s does a fantastic job at producing this dish but we’ve also found other great versions in Paris, Sorrento and at a fantastic little family run Italian trattoria on the Gray’s Inn Road in Holborn called L’Osteria 57. The wonderful thing about this place is they let us tailor the dish to our taste so we often swop the traditional clams for mussels and prawns to give it a bit of a twist.

This dish can be prepared in two ways: with tomato (in rosso) and without (in bianco). Both are great but I tend to order the bianco variation. The rest of the ingredients are so simple, but I think it’s the simplicity that makes it taste so great. And the fact the ingredients are so simple means that it is also a great dish to prepare at home. When I recreate this dish at home I make my prawn and mussel version. You can use fresh mussels and steam them yourself but I use ready prepared ones from M&S. Bit of a cheat I know, but this way it means the whole dish takes only 15 minutes to make.

 Spaghetti alle Vongole
(serves 2 | total prep and cooking time approximately 15 minutes)


130g dry spaghetti

Olive oil

140g raw prawns

1 pack of Marks and Spencer’s cooked mussels in shallots and garlic or in white wine and parsley

4 cloves of garlic – finely chopped

Finely chopped chilli – how much depends on your preference

100ml white wine

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

·         Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet

·         Rinse the mussels under cold water and remove them from the shells (you can keep them in the shells if you prefer, it looks better that way but slows you down when you’re eating!)

·         Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and pan fry the prawns till they turn pink. Remove the cooked prawns with a  slotted spoon and keep aside

·         Heat a little more oil in the same frying pan and add the garlic and chilli, cook for a couple of minutes

·         Add the prawns and the mussels

·         Add the white wine and bring to the boil. Cook at this temperature for about 5 minutes to make sure the alcohol evaporates

·         Add the chopped parsley

·         Toss in the cooked spaghetti

·         Serve with cracked black pepper on top and accompanied by garlic bread and salad

Tuesday 3 July 2012

A Gift of Paper

For every year you've been married there are specific material associations relating to that anniversary. There are traditional ones, modern ones, flowers and gemstones. For our first anniversary I decided it would be fun for N and I to buy each other a present linked to the traditional association, it didn't have to be expensive, just thoughtful. The first anniversary is paper. My initial thought was a newspaper printed on the day of our wedding. But seeing it was only the previous year I figured if I looked hard enough in N's pile of still to be read newspapers I would probably find it there for free rather than paying good money for it! I racked my brains and then it finally came to me. I sourced and framed the sheet music to my entrance song at our wedding - Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel - it was perfect! N also managed to stick to the theme, he bought me a paperback book I had been going on about for ages, which just shows that he does listen to me occasionally!

For our second anniversary I put my thinking cap on again. Cotton. Apart from underpants I couldn't come up with anything but I didn't give in that easily and finally decided on a soft cotton scented candle that smelt of freshly washed linen. Not really cotton I know but pretty clever laterally thinking in my view and very well received. N bought me flowers. I'm guessing he was already bored of the theme game! Our third anniversary is fast approaching and this one is associated with leather. Perhaps this year we'll club together and buy something for the house, like a leather armchair. Not very romantic I know but it's been three years now so who am I kidding!

So what's this got to do with food I hear you ask. Well recently I read that for Will and Kate's first anniversary she cooked them a meal of  fish en papillote (fish in paper). That was such a great idea, I am only jealous I didn't think of it myself. Especially because I have the perfect recipe. This salmon dish is delicious. It's one of those dishes that you forget how amazing it is until you eat it again and then you wonder why you don't cook it every week.

So, if your first anniversary is coming up this is definitely the dish for you. Or if you're already way past that one just make it anyway. It's super quick and pretty healthy, which makes it the perfect weekday dinner.

Spectacular Salmon Parcels 
(serves 2 | total prep and cooking time 30 minutes)

2 salmon fillets
120g couscous
1/2 stock cube dissolved in 200ml hot water
1 tomato - diced
2 spring onions - sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for drizzling
juice of 1/2 a lemon
tablespoon of chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon fresh chilli - finely chopped (or a pinch of chilli flakes)
dried tarragon
black pepper

  • Place the couscous in a bowl and pour the stock over it. Leave it to rest for 10 minutes
  • In a separate bowl mix the tomato, spring onion, chilli, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and parsley
  • Once the couscous has absorbed all the stock stir in the chopped tomato mixture. Make sure it is mixed as evenly as possible
  • Cut 2 squares of baking paper (approx 25cm X 25cm)
  • Transfer the couscous mixture evenly between the 2 papers
  • Top the couscous with a fillet of salmon drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with dry tarragon and black pepper
  • Twist the ends of the paper to resemble a large boiled sweet

  • Place on a baking tray and put in the oven for 15-20 mins. Check the salmon is cooked through before you serve it
  • To keep it rustic eat it from the baking paper. Serve with steamed broccoli or other vegetables