Monday, September 14, 2009

Hay, hay, hay - Donna does chicken

“Hay Hay it's Donna day” is the first blogging event I stumbled across when I started my culinary ramblings and the whole concept of these random bloggers all over the world all emulating the signature white and clean stylised look of Donna's food really intrigued me.
I'd discovered Donna Hay and her inimitable food styling from her Marie Claire days and when confronted by stacks of white plates and bowls and that exquisite Vendee light back in October 2006 I was inspired to create a homage to Donna and attempt her quintessential appreciation of all that is pale and interesting.
Reading the other entrants of the HHDD blog event I realised that what was missing from my life was the donna hay bi-monthly magazine. My cookbook addiction is only slightly tempered by my obsession for cooking magazines. Over the years I’ve subscribed to some, dabbled with several and tracked down a few more.  My only problem is occasionally whittling down and recycling them when they threaten to overtake my home. 
The donna hay magazine is not a regular on the UK newsstands so I had to try a little harder to procure.  I found a newsagent in Knightsbridge that specialised in foreign magazines and that worked for a while but I wanted a more regular supply.  My local newsagent eventually managed to become my customary provider and has managed to pickup a couple more fans in the local area as his issues are always pounced on. 
I was only thinking recently that now I have amassed a small collection of said magazine I should try another go at the HHDD event.  And when I leapt into the world of tweeting and commenced trawling for mutual foodie tweets, I spotted a familiar twitter-er called HHDday and in the sometimes small world of food blogging learnt that this month’s host is Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness fameChez Us host the event but as Stephanie's interpretation of last month's HHDD challenge, she gets to choose this month's Donna recipe. Stephanie was the fabulous host of the monthly blogging parties but has taken a hiatus from these exertions so it was really great to see her back blogging and back at the head of the table again. 
Stephanie sensibly wasn’t taking any chances with us seizing her theme and twisting it in a non-Donna sty-le so she provided her choice of Donna Hay Parmesan and Polenta Chicken recipe.  I was determined to track down the original recipe only because I was fascinated to see Donna’s presentation.  I combed through my magazine hoard to no avail and even my donna hay chicken cookbook couldn’t help me.  But with a little digging I found another food blogger who’d been taken with the same recipe and had mentioned that she’d espied it in donna hay magazine #31, a couple of months before my collection started, that explains it.

Parmesan and Polenta Chicken
donna hay Magazine, Issue 31
2 cobs corn, husks and silks removed
olive oil for brushing
2 x 200g (7oz) chicken breasts
flour for dusting
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1/2 cup(100g/3 1/2 oz) polenta
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
100g (3 1/2 oz) baby spinach leaves
1/2 basil leaves
grated parmesan cheese, extra to serve
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
sea salt and cracked black pepper
To make the dressing, place the mustard, lemon juice, garlic, oil, honey, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 220 C (425 F. Brush the corn with oil, place in a baking dish and roast for 25 minutes or until golden. Slice the kernels from the corn and set aside.
Slice the chicken in half horizontally, dust with the flour, dip into the egg and press into the combined parmesan and polenta to coat. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Arrange the chicken, corn, spinach and basil on plates and spoon over the dressing and grated parmesan to serve. Serves 4 

Unusually for me I followed the recipe to the letter, my only substitution was the spinach for lamb’s lettuce and pea tops that I already had in the fridge.  I’d never used Parmesan and polenta for a crispy jacket before and it definitely added a pleasing crunch to my 'happy' chicken breasts so will definitely do this again. I’m never shy to use Parmesan (or Grana Padana) and especially after absorbing Easy Tasty Italian from cover-to-cover I was even more convinced that was the way forward. 
Not seeing the original recipe I wasn’t entirely sure how to present the chicken so I thought I’d go for both constructed and slightly deconstructed version.  I suspect the corn kernels scattered over the plate is truer to the recipe and possibly looked the prettiest but the corn flavour was much punchier munching it off the cob – excuse the butter on the chin though!  Style over content, the choice is yours I think.
It’s wonderful to be back in the company of Stephanie again, and has been great fun channelling Donna again. Check back here for how my fellow HHDDers fared.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I read two separate tweets yesterday extolling the virtue of the new cookbook Easy Tasty Italian available in all good bookshops (and most likely those not so good) early next month. One of the tweets handily mentioned how a rampant cookbook-ophile such as me might feed their habit and procure a copy ahead of time and much to my delight a shiny copy of said cookbook was sat on the doormat awaiting my pleasure today. Who knew our post could be so efficient? And this is not just any cookbook this is a really good one! I feel I can speak from the vantage point of an expert of cookbooks, having managed to amass a veritable tower of them over the years and if there was an organisation called Cookbooks Anonymous I would be there taking the pledge.
The author of this delightful missive is the occasionally acerbic and always wise Mrs. Santini from Waitrose Food Illustrated. She’s thrown off her guise of culinary agony aunt and we get to meet the very elegant half Italian Laura Santtini (yes, in the transformation she’s gained a ‘t’!), daughter of the now retired proprietor of Frank Sinatra’s favourite restaurant Belgravia’s Santini.
So why does the world need another cookbook, Italian or otherwise? Well what Mrs Santinni is going to do is add a little va va vroom into your cooking. Her U.S.P. is the U-bomb or umami bomb, the little taste rockets she conjures up are flavoured butters, tasty pastes, salsas, marinades and most intriguingly - the potions and elixirs. The first section of Easy Tasty Italian is all about whipping up this wizardry. There is an artichoke, prosciutto, lemon & ricotta trifolata to juzz up a pasta dish. A rosemary, apple & lavender marinade to transform pork or veal, horseradish & rose butter with which to anoint red meat or oily fish. The glamorous sounding savoury enhancer wild mushroom & anchovy stardust or the secret weapon in many a risotto a Parmesan & prosciutto paste. And not forgetting the surely magical black chocolate elixir to provide that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to a beef dish. Laura Santtini defines umami as the "things that make you go 'mmmmm'" and as umami is the Japanese name for deliciousness she has christened her Italian version of this tongue tingling culinary alchemy as u-mamma! And where can you find this u-mamma in the larder? The answer is in some of those Italian stalwarts - Parmesan, prosciutto crudo, porcini mushrooms, white truffles, balsamic vinegar and salted anchovies. And though I can't bring myself to trumpet the tomato I'll concede their usefulness in Italian cooking, though frankly not in mine!
On top of the larder essentials she spices them up further with her alchemic pantry ingredients, a taster being - hibiscus flowers, pomegranate seeds, Amalfi lemon, pistachios, rose water, pink and green peppercorns, sumac, ginger and for that essential little bit of bling, edible gold and silver. Armed with this epicurean toolbox and a few grinding, cutting and cooking utensils this is where the magic happens. The rest of Easy Tasty Italian doesn't follow the usual formulaic cookbook format of chapters entitled spring, summer, autumn, winter or salads, meat, fish, vegetable accompaniments and desserts. Here in section two we have four poetically entitled chapters that are, Air ‘I was raw’, Water ‘I was cooked’, Fire ‘I was burned’ and Earth ‘I am tasty’. You’ve got to admit that’s a little different!
In Raw there’s prosciutto wrapped mozzarella balls with a soupçon of tapenade, scallops anointed with rose stardust and carpaccio and various ‘rich & thin’ alternatives. In Water the magic is applied to soups, pasta and risotti. I can’t wait to try the ‘cheeky lobster’ though the cherry tomatoes may accidently be forgotten. The creamy pesto with asparagus & crispy pancetta will be a must when asparagus comes back round again and the strawberry and balsamic with a few grinds of black pepper I already know I love but with risotto? I have to try that!
In Heat there’s the oxymoronic ‘hot carpaccios’, the beef tagliata with that ever so captivating black chocolate elixir, the strawberry and cucumber salsa’s swordfish (though I fear swordfish is now too endangered to enjoy) and veal Milanese with a variety of exotic twists. There’s a great bit headed 'roll, wrap & splash' which has all sorts of loveliness rolled in Parmesan gratings, wrapped in prosciutto and then doused in something suitably alcoholic or just extra-virgin olive oil if you must. The beef fillet with mascarpone & rose horseradish sounds truly inspirational.
And Earth is all about slow cooking so we have beautiful hunks of beef drowned in Barolo, the tongue-in-cheekily named Leg-over lamb (check out her reason for how this dish got its name), the infamous 36-clove spring chicken and a dozen twists on vegetables. I’ve always felt that mash potato is pretty tricky to beat but Mrs Santtini adds mascarpone and sweet roasted garlic to elevate it even further and she then suggests you could add an extra dimension to this mimosa with her wild mushroom and anchovy stardust.
If all this has still not whetted your appetite we round up with some charming take on desserts and if I need a licence to gather more table accoutrements Laura suggests ‘pimping your plate’ by procuring all sorts of random little glasses and cups in which to serve your accompaniments. For a final flourish the last recipe is a pink-hued Prosecco cocktail which has a sprig of rosemary as a verdant swizzle stick – sounds delicious!
I’ve been completely entranced by this book on first opening, I’ve already amassed some jazzed-up butter to slice a couple of rounds off to top steak or vegetables but after reading this I think I need to broaden my butter mountain further. I’ve been checking how my larder would pass muster as an alchemic kitbag and I fear it falls a little short, time I think to get out of a culinary rut, take a leaf out of Mrs Santtini’s enchanting book and drop a few U-bombs. They do say Italians do it better and this one may just might!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A little birdie told me

Despite being fully Twittered up for a few months yet unaccustomed to such brevity of thought I hadn't conjured up the appropriate bon mots with which to christen my account so it remained entirely bereft of tweets. I started to gather followers though and thinking how odd it was that Cheryl Cole would take time out of her busy life of mini skirt wearing and strutting her stuff in Girls Aloud to follow someone who hadn't even deigned to form a single little tweet was put straight by multi-brothered J. The excessively sibling'ed one also goes by the name of Wiki for his unparalleled knowledge on all that is www and he informed me that my so called followers were not loitering intent on hanging onto my every word should I ever get around to writing any but are probably just spamming me. But inspired by Giles Coren talking about how he has to get himself out there more - media speaking that is I thought I'd take another look at this twittering lark. Giles and I have another thing in common other than a love of writing about their epicurean tendencies though only one of us gets paid for it, but also we both work for 'the man'. Giles spoke of the live aspect of his restaurants reviews by submitting his thoughts via his phone on the repast en passant. This did intrigue me and i pondered following suit but read his column whilst I was I was holidaying in North Norfolk and seemingly entirely deprived of network connection in that far from isolated idyll I couldn't eat and tweet. Being back in the hub of unprotected wifi connections and a pretty reliable 02 such indulgence seems plausible but apart from a couple of tiny tweetettes under my new J with fork mantel I had mainly followed other more prolific scribes.
But today being my birthday initally I was inspired to tweet about yearning for chocolate cake then the joy of finding a dream cake of such substance on arrival to work. But when thoughts of an unplanned fabulous evening of dining out starting to enter my head I thought as well as consulting the usual suspects of restaurant guides I'd ask for advice on solo dining in London on Twitter. And sure enough I got a suggestion that seemed just perfect and headed forth in the direction of that tweeter's recommendation. And keeping on with the theme of giving the world a running commentary of every tiny musing I dutifully tweeted the experience in between appreciative forkfuls. It's a curious medium though, you really feel you have to be very immediate and unlike blogging where I invariably end up with a backlog of posts I guess if you can't say if there and then the moment has passed. And whether the online masses are intrigued and/or amused by your stream of consciousness can also be measured and critiqued in real time And of course by tweeting you are (possibly thankfully for any readers) curtailed in the act of scribing the more verbose of missives. If this post had been strapped into the confines of a 140 character tweet I'd been able to write as far as 'bon mots' maybe curiously prophetic but somewhat lacking in any sense at all I suspect.
If you are remotely inclined to follow a little trail of breadcrumbs of my random bursts of ruminations and nibblings, you'll find the link here or on the right under "eating & tweeting" tweet, tweet, tweet!