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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Comfort Food #8: Gnocchi

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I never grew up eating gnocchi. I was in my early teens the very first time I’d even heard the word mentioned courtesy of Supermarket Sweep (thank you Dale. I feel another blog post coming along!) and it was probably more than a decade later that I had my first taste of gnocchi. Today’s comfort food blog post has been inspired by my lovely husband and his childhood memories. While watching an episode of Masterchef UK, in which the contestants travelled around Italy in order to learn about the cuisine, we saw gnocchi being made.

Making gnocchi from scratch

Making gnocchi from scratch

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My husband laughs at me when I get overly sentimental about reminders from my childhood. Now it was his turn – only I didn’t laugh! Gnocchi is his favourite dish: his best meal ever would consist of Caesar’s salad, gnocchi with meatballs and garlic bread. It’s not just because he thinks gnocchi is ultra yum but because it brings back lots of happy memories of spending time with his family, especially his beloved late grandmother, with whom he used to help prepare gnocchi. It was seeing the chef use a potato ricer that brought the memories flooding back.

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Gnocchi (pronounced nyockey NOT knockey!) are little potato dumplings, typically served as a first course and an alternative to pasta and have been around since Roman times. As with most Italian dishes, there are many variations depending on the region. During their expansion of the empire, the Romans introduced gnocchi into other European countries. The original gnocchi recipe consisted of a semolina dough mixed with eggs. The introduction of potato into the mix occurred after the humble potato was brought to Europe in the 16th century. Gnocchi can be served with a variety of sauces but for Hubby, it’s got to be good old fashioned tomato sauce!

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Hubby comes from an Italian-American family, and as every Italian knows food IS a big deal and mealtimes are the cornerstone of family life. It’s what brings families, friends and neighbours together amid much talking, laughter, sharing and noise! Anyone who’s ever sat around a table with an Italian family, sharing a meal, will tell you that it’s an experience filled with a lot of warmth. Each meal is prepared with a lot of love and it doesn’t matter whether you’re related or not – around the dinner table, everyone’s family!

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Hubby told me that during the summers, he and his brother would go to visit their grandparents in Arizona. His grandmother would be sure to make gnocchi at some point because she knew how much Hubby loved it. They would start preparations in the morning and it would almost be evening by the time they’d finish. Gnocchi, unfortunately is time consuming, and the more mouths you have to feed, the longer it will take. But Hubby always maintains that it was worth the effort. Gnocchi is notoriously difficult to make, and takes a great deal of skill, patience and practice to get it right. Hubby declares that his grandmother made the best gnocchi ever – no one else’s has ever or will ever come close. He still tucks into a plate of gnocchi of course, and when he does, he’s reminded of summers spent with the family in Arizona.

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If you fancy having a go at making gnocchi, try this recipe. I can’t guarantee it will be as amazing as Nanna’s but I’m sure it will be pretty, damn good!

HOMEMADE GNOCCHI WITH TOMATO BASIL SAUCE

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Serves four

INGREDIENTS for gnocchi:
1.5kg potatoes
3 eggs
270g plain flour, plus extra

INGREDIENTS for tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
680g jar tomato passata
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup basil leaves
freshly grated parmesan, to serve

METHOD:

  • Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Place in a large saucepan of water, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cooked.
  • Drain potatoes well and mash until smooth. Allow potato to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Add eggs and mix well.
  • Add flour a handful at a time and work in with your hands until the potato mixture is a dough-like consistency.
  • Turn potato mixture on to a lightly floured bench and knead until smooth. Add more flour if it is too sticky, but don’t over do it.
  • Divide dough into eight pieces. Dust bench with flour and roll each piece into a sausage 1cm diameter.
  • Cut gnocchi into 2cm long. Leave as is, or press the back of a fork onto each gnocchi (the indentations help the sauce stick to the gnocchi).
  • To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.
  • Cook the onion until soft and starting to colour, add garlic and cook another minute.
  • Add tomato passata, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Collect all the gnocchi onto a tea towel and carefully tip into the pot.
  • Once all the gnocchi have floated to the top, cook for another minute, drain and return to pot. Carefully stir through tomato sauce, add freshly torn basil and serve immediately with parmesan.

Recipe created by Melissa Hughes for Kidspot.

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Exotic Gooseberries and Greengages!

Now we’re in summer, it’s all about the strawberries, raspberries and peaches. But when I was a kid, summer was all about different kinds of fruit which I don’t see very much of now. Actually make that, I don’t see at all!

Greengages

Greengages

It’s amazing how the mere mention of the word ‘greengage’ can transport me back to my childhood garden but that’s exactly what happened when someone I know brought up this super tasty fruit I haven’t eaten in… well, a very, very long time! This immediately brought gooseberries to mind, as along with strawberries and grapes, this was another fruit that my parents grew in the garden of the first home we ever lived in. As we grew them at home, greengages and gooseberries were in abundance but even back then, I don’t remember seeing them so readily available commercially.

Gooseberries

Gooseberries

When we were very young, my sister and I loved picking greengages and gooseberries and scoffing them. We were the kind of kids who definitely preferred chocolates and toffees to fruit – but we loved these and would happily eat them. As this was the first place we’d ever set eyes on either fruit, the mere mention or sight of a greengage or gooseberry soon brings back memories of summers at our old house and our happy childhood… as well as our rather untidy garden!

gooseberry

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As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed how increasingly rare these fruits are becoming. I bet most people now would have forgotten what they look and taste like. it’s not sold in the shops and I don’t know anyone who grows them – even though many grow lots of other kinds of fruit. It’s amazing because walk into any supermarket and you’ll have no problem in finding imported exotic fruit such as pineapple, mango, papaya and even dragon fruit. But you’re hardly likely to find greengages or gooseberries. In some ways, I think these have become the exotic fruits!

It may not be fresh fruit but it's one way to see greengages on sale!

It may not be fresh fruit but it’s one way to see greengages on sale!

For those of you haven’t been lucky enough to try greengages, they are a yummy cultivated fruit from the plum family and are green/yellowish-green in colour. Greengages are slightly smaller in size to regular plums and they originated from France (where greengages are known as la bonne reine or Claude reine) and they get their English name from Sir William Gage, who was the first person to import them into England from France. Greengages soon found their way to the American colonies and were grown on plantations belonging to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, although since the eighteenth century, there has been a decline in their cultivation in North America and greengages may be even more scarce there than they are here.

Greengages on a tree

Greengages on a tree

The gooseberry is native to Europe, Africa and Asia, and although you can get smooth-skinned varieties of the fruit, the wild variety – the kind we grew in our garden – tend to have a fuzzy skin. These small, grape sized fruit are related to the blackcurrant and are yellowy-green in colour with a veined effect on the skin, although it is also possible to get reddish coloured gooseberries. The hard and tart variety are best used in cooking especially in making pies, jams and fools – one of my favourite desserts. They had been popular in England since Elizabethan times.

Red coloured gooseberries

Red coloured gooseberries

I do hope these fruits make a comeback because they really were delicious and so versatile. I have included recipes for each fruit, which I hope to make… providing I can find the chief ingredients!

GREENGAGE AND HONEY COMPOTE
(recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine)

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INGREDIENTS:
(makes 3-4 servings):

500g greengages, ripe yet firm
4 tbsp runny honey (any variety)
1 vanilla pod

METHOD:

  • Halve the greengages and remove the stones.
  • Place in a saucepan with the honey, then heat gently until the honey is liquid.
  • Run a knife down the centre of the vanilla pod and add to the fruit, then simmer gently until the fruit starts to release a lot of liquid, and is on the point of collapse. This should take only a couple of minutes.
  • Remove from the heat.
  •  Serve hot or cold, with cream, crème fraiche, ice cream. Also delicious served with cheesecake.


GOOSEBERRY FOOL

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(recipe from bbcgoodfood.com June 2012)

INGREDIENTS:

250g gooseberries, topped and tailed
3 tbsp caster sugar
200g Greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
200ml double cream

METHOD:

  • Put the gooseberries and sugar in a pan with a splash of water.
  • Heat gently while stirring, then bring to a simmer and cook until the fruit starts to burst.
  • Squash the gooseberries with a potato masher or fork until pulpy. Cool then chill until cold in the fridge.
  • Put the yoghurt in a bowl and beat with the icing sugar and vanilla until smooth.
  • Gently whisk in the cream (it will thicken as you whisk so don’t overdo it).
  • Ripple through the gooseberry pulp then spoon into pretty glasses or bowls to serve.

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Thank You!

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I started Nostalgia Pie because I wanted to write about all the things that remind me of my brilliant childhood – and it has very much become one of my happy places. When I was a kid, I was told by the ‘powers that be’ not to be in such a hurry to grow up; that school days were the best days of your life, and that there was plenty of time to be a grown up. Of course, at the time, I thought I knew best. How little I knew!

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I was actually telling a colleague today – who isn’t that much older than me – how lucky we were to be born during the era in which we were born. He disagreed claiming that everyone says that about their generation. He’s right – everyone does indeed say that. But I do genuinely believe that my era – was seriously awesome, as Hubby would say!

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And it seems as though many of you agree. I’m thrilled that so many of you enjoy reading and following Nostalgia Pie. I only really started working on it properly back in March of this year, so I’m surprised that it’s been so well received in such a short space of time. And I love reading all the lovely comments I receive.

So a huge thank you to everyone who enjoys Nostalgia Pie and to those of you who have been busy spreading the word – you make what I do worthwhile!

xx

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Comfort Food #7: Eggy Bread/French Toast

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You wouldn’t believe how something so inexpensive and so simple to make could be so tasty!

Even now when I bite into a warm slice of just-out-of-the-pan French toast, it brings back such wonderfully comforting memories. We never grew up calling this delicious snack eggy bread like most people did; instead it was the more fanciful French toast. And until today, I didn’t realise that it was also called Gypsy toast!

Mmm... Yummy French toast!

Mmm… Yummy French toast!

 

I think I might have been about five when Mum first made this for me and my sister. I was a very fussy eater and it was very difficult for my mum to get me to eat anything. I’d never finish meals and would only ever pick at my food. However, when I first tried French toast it was definitely love at first bite! I couldn’t get enough of this yummy fried bread. It was quite good for my parents because growing up, we didn’t really have a great deal of money, so Mum must have been thrilled that the one thing I wanted to stuff my face with was as cheap as… well, a loaf of bread! French toast was very much a firm favourite in our house when I was growing up, not just with me but with all of us.

French toast: my first attempt in as long time

French toast: my first attempt in as long time

 

That’s hardly a surprise considering that French toast is eaten practically all over the world, so it really is a very popular dish. It’s unclear where or when this dish was created and by whom. It may not even have originated in France!

The basic ingredients for French toast: eggs, milk, bread, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon

The basic ingredients for French toast: eggs, milk, bread, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon

 

The earliest form of French toast is believed to have originated as far back as the fourth century, when it was found in a collection of Latin recipes. In Sweden, Finland and Norway, French Toast is known as ‘poor knights’ after the fourteenth century German name for this dish Arme Ritter.

The sweet egg and milk mixture

The sweet egg and milk mixture

 

My love for French toast took on another dimension when I met my husband and began my frequent trips to visit him in the States. As an American, he’d been eating French toast his entire life – well since he was old enough to eat anyway! But there were two major differences: in America, French toast is eaten as a breakfast food rather than an anytime snack, accompanying bacon and eggs, and served with lots of maple syrup. Furthermore, French toast in the States is always a sweet dish whereas Mum’s French toast was always savoury. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone other than Mum who made the savoury version.

French toast cooking away!

French toast cooking away!

 

I also found so many different ways of making French toast while I was in the States. You can use pretty much any kind of bread; flavourings such as vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon, and you can stuff them with mascarpone and fruit such as blueberries before you fry them. Then there are amazing French toast casseroles, where the bread is left to soak in the egg mixture before being baked in the oven not too dissimilar to our bread and butter pudding – delicious!

And into the pan they go!

And into the pan they go!

 

I saw an episode of Nigella Express where she made jam doughnut-flavoured French toast. I didnt even know such a thing existed! It sounded like a fried piece of heaven and I cannot wait to get stuck into that. French toast may be quite a simple concept but with so many variations it has become something quite spectacular. I’ve heard that there are even French toast cupcakes! I’ve never seen one before nor eaten one but I plan on rectifying that situation!

With a good bit of Butter! Image from pixabay.com courtesy of s_masako

With a good bit of Butter! Image from pixabay.com courtesy of s_masako

 

I suppose it sounds as though I’m more geared towards sweet French toast but I do think both the sweet and savoury versions are equally tasty. I couldn’t choose between the two types. And neither could I choose between Mum’s savoury French toast and my brother-in-law Dizzy’s yummy sweet cinnamon version. So I’ve included the recipes for both. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

MUM’S SAVOURY FRENCH TOAST

Serves 1-2 people

INGREDIENTS:
2 slices of sliced white bread, cut in half, crusts on.
1 large egg
1 tbsp. semi skimmed milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying

METHOD:

  • Heat a little oil in a frying pan. just enough to stop the bread sticking to the pan.

  • Mix together egg, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl.

  • Plunge each piece of bread into the egg mixture so that it is well coated on both sides.

  • When pan is hot, add bread.

  • Cook until side is golden brown then flip over and cook the other side.

  • Eat!

Simple yet delicious!

Dizzy’s Cinnamon French Toast

French toast and syrup. Image from pixabay.com courtesy of annaj

French toast and syrup. Image from pixabay.com courtesy of annaj

 

Serves 1-2 people

INGREDIENTS:

2 slices cinnamon bread or cinnamon raisin bread

1 large egg

1 tsp. sugar

A dash of vanilla extract

Oil for frying

Butter and maple syrup to serve

METHOD:

  • Heat oil in pan.

  • Mix together egg, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

  • Coat each side of the bread with the egg mixture.

  • Brown each side.

  • Serve with butter and maple syrup

Note: If you cannot find cinnamon bread, you can add a 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon to the egg mixture. Butter can be used instead of oil for frying, and the French toast can even be deep fried in very hot oil. All depends on how health conscious you want to be!

 
 

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Nostalgia Pie: My Childhood Rocked

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My Facebook page Nostalgia Pie: My Childhood Rocked is up and running. So if you’re anything like me and you get carried away by all things 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (with a little bit of 1960s thrown in from time to time purely because I love the decade) then please check it out. I would also love to read your comments (providing that they’re nice!) and hear your stories!

Thank you!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nostalgia-Pie-My-Childhood-Rocked/397999643613097?ref=hl

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Sweet Music With Whistle Pops

Whoever came up with the idea for Whistle Pops took the concept of making sweet music a little too literally – not that we’re complaining!

Whistle Pops were hugely popular in the 1980s although I believe that they have been around since the mid 1970s. These take me right back to when I was a child. Sis and I couldn’t walk past a sweet shop without dragging in whoever it was who had the misfortune of taking us out for the day and making them buy us one of these ingenious lollipops that were moulded into the shape of a whistle. This differed greatly in shape to regular lollipops – and kids love anything that’s a bit of a novelty! They came in a range of fruit flavours as well as cola, and my favourite, chocolate and vanilla.

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However, it wasn’t just the shape that was clever. It was an actual instrument. OK, so you were never going to find music teachers listed in the Yellow Pages offering lessons in how to play a Whistle Pop. But instead of being a one note whistle, the lollies had a hollow straw for the stick and there was a thin, sliding plunger that enabled you to change the pitch of the whistle. Furthermore, the wrapper had sheet music on the inside so you could play something really simple like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Old MacDonald. Sadly though, manufacturers never thought to include the musical notation for Bohemian Rhapsody or Hotel California. Funny that!

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Apparently they worked really well but for reasons I cannot understand, Sis and I were never able to complete a whole tune because we would always break our whistles! Other people remember the whistle effect naturally diminishing as the top of the lolly started to dissolve. Others remember how much saliva used to collect in the whistle. Lovely!

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From what I understand, Whistle Pops are still being produced and sold in the UK although I cannot recall the last time I saw one of these. I know that they can be purchased over the internet but I can’t remember seeing them on shop shelves in recent times. I’m sure if they were as readily available as they were when I was a kid then I would have heard them even if I hadn’t seen them as there would definitely be a new generation of kids determined to drive as many adults up the wall as we tried to do with our ever so tuneful playing!

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Brave Bernie Nolan

The sad news has just been announced that brave and beautiful Bernadette Nolan has passed away at the age of 52. The mother of one lost her three year battle against breast cancer this morning and I so wish that the outcome could have been different. Even though Bernie had made no secret of the fact that her illness was terminal and gave interviews earlier this year admitting that she didn’t have long to live, everyone who knew of her plight was deeply moved and we prayed that Bernie might be granted the miracle she was so desperately hoping for so that she would be able to see her beloved daughter Erin grow up and of course have more time with her husband of seventeen years, Steve Doneathy.

Nostalgia Pie doesn’t do sad. One of the reasons why I started this blog is because I wanted everyone to experience that fuzzy, warm glow they get from wonderful long-forgotten memories that have suddenly been rediscovered. So that’s how we’re going to remember the lovely Bernie Nolan, with fondness, because even though I didn’t know her personally, she didn’t come across as a woman who did sad either – and her final interviews are testament to that.

People of my mother’s generation will remember Bernie as part of The Nolan’s: the all singing, all dancing super talented group of Anglo-Irish sisters who hailed from Blackpool. They were most popular during the 1970s and early 1980s but they remained well known throughout the years, with the sisters – including Colleen Nolan – turning their hands to acting and television presenting while still being active in the music industry. They are well remembered for their 1979 hit, I’m In The Mood For Dancing

However, I first saw Bernie on television, when I was a child and she was appearing in a children’s’ TV show. I cannot remember the name of the show (I must have been very young) but I do remember that her sister Linda was also appearing and that there was a lot of gunge involved! Many years later, I saw her in the television role for which I best remember her – playing Diane Murray in Channel 4 soap Brookside. Her character was a devout Catholic second wife to a man who had three children from his first marriage. Even though Diane loved being stepmother to the kids, she couldn’t fight the longing she had for a baby of her own. Viewers shared her highs and lows as she struggled to become a mum. Sadly it never happened, and her character was eventually killed off.

Diane Murray was one of my favourite characters in the soap. There was something genuine, compassionate and warm about the character. Most actors often say that they have to inject a little bit of themselves into the character that they are playing in order to make them convincing. And I’m sure Bernie put a lot of herself into playing Diane Murray. As a star of stage and screen, Bernie had the most dynamic presence; an open face with soulful eyes and the most amazing smile that lit up her entire face. Prior to her illness, she came across as effortlessly glamorous. Even when the cancer caused her to lose her gorgeous blonde locks, she still looked stunning. That, to me, is a sign of true inner beauty. And it is for this inner beauty that she should be remembered by her fans. Not to mention her amazing singing voice.

I sincerely hope that the press will not label her ‘tragic’ Bernie Nolan which is a tag that often befalls anyone in the public eye who has endured suffering, pain, loss and tragedy, because when you look at pictures of her smiling, she looks anything but tragic. Even during some of her final interviews there seemed to be a sense of peacefulness that radiated from her. Bernie, herself, said that she did not want to be remembered as someone suffering from cancer:

‘Cancer has become a part of my journey but it’s not the whole story. There’s so much more to me than that. I’m a wife, mother, daughter, singer, actress, sister, friend and auntie. Those are the roles I want to define me.’

And that’s exactly how she’ll be defined. I hope her family and friends find comfort in knowing that even though they were the ones who were fortunate enough to know and love her, the millions who loved watching this very talented lady thought she was incredibly remarkable too.

Thank you for the years of entertainment, Bernie. Sleep peacefully.

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Gone Too Soon

 

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