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Friday night is Pizze Night.

For more years than I can, or care to, remember Friday has been Pizza night. Initially it was when we were attached to SCEA, Service Children’s Education Authority, in Germany there was a superb pizzeria run by Antonio and his Polish wife Gracia. It was here that we took our oldest son, not yet two weeks of age, strapped in his car seat perched on a chair that we were introduced to the Vera Pizze Napolitana. The thin, but not carta della Musica shatteringly crisp, base. The base that all true pizza lovers seek; thin with a defined crosta forming a blistered crown around the melted but sparse toppings.

One of our first pizze; topped with salami, nduja , basil, goats’ cheese and mozzarella.

In the ten years we lived in Italy pizza night was a weekly event, usually on a Friday. If for some reason we couldn’t go out, a takeaway would be the order of the day. Most of the food we ate, whether in a restaurant or at home, was Italian. There was one dish I never attempted in ten years, there was no need to. Pizzerias were not only plentiful, the pizze delicious, the prices reasonable, they were also a relaxing place to go with two young children. We had a bag packed with small toys, colouring pencils, paper which we would click and go. During our time in Italy we became loyal customers at Cisco’s. We got to know other regulars and Cisco, his wife Barbara and their infant daughter Beatrice.

Having developed a taste for pizza, that was not of the Pineapple garnished or meat feast ilk, with crusts unstuffed with anything other than pillowy hot air, our move to Lombardia was to hone our tastebuds even further. Speaking no Italian, initially, we embraced the quest to find the best pizze available. One of our first forays was to a small pizzeria down a dimly lit cobbled passageway. We were shown into a large brightly lit room that was divided into two with an invisible barrier. One side it was set out like a small family run pizzeria, the other side was very much the family dining room. We didn’t know whether to sit down or politely make a hasty retreat. Having limited means of communication we sat down and ate authentic Italian pizze, with one of the family getting up to tend to our small family , the only other diners in the large room. The food may have been brilliant but feeling like intruders, divided by a very real language barrier, it was not a relaxing meal. However; it is a meal I will always remember.

Alas all good things come to an end. After ten years it was time to pack up all our belongings and return to Britain. After ten years of guaranteed sunlight, ten years of delicious meals, ten years of superb pizze, we moved to Shetland. Lashings of wind and rain replaced guaranteed sunshine. Lashings of toppings and soggy bottoms replaced guaranteed crispy based sparsely topped pizze.We were distraught.

First begin with a smooth tomato sauce.

The quest began for the ultimate homemade pizza. For years it alluded us. For a few years we achieved very sound; teacher speak for acceptable but won’t set the world alight, results using a blistering hot skillet and a grill on maximum. We could live with this, but we knew that better pizze could be made if only… we had a pizza oven. We toyed with the notion of getting an outdoor pizze oven. Just considering the weather, the wind the rain, the long dark nights we realised that was not a dod-able option. What about a Chadwick pizza oven?

Ready to rumble.

Our next move was to a house that has an electric job and oven. All ideas of getting a Chadwick were shelved and eventually a very good takeaway pizzeria opened. Once again Friday night pizza night was reinstated. However; we missed the variety of pizze we had grown accustomed to, rocket strewn over lightly topped pizza, the hint of anchovies, griddled aubergines, Italian sausage, prosciutto crudo, coppa and other varieties of toppings we could no longer find.

Let’s get rocking

Then everything closed down, particularly smaller restaurants that don’t have the space for everyone to work two metres apart. It was at this point we began looking into acquiring a pizza oven. After hours of research Stephen discovered that we would be able to use a Chadwick pizza oven with the additional purchase of a gas burner and a bottle of gas. We were ready to knead some dough, dress and cook some pizza.

The process of building a pizza begins.

Luckily bread making was my passion and one which our oldest son shares. Friday night is once again pizza night. We eat standing around the big butchers block in the centre of our kitchen, sharing pizze. We all play a part: Joseph is the chef, Samuel is the photographer, and general helping hand; I cut the pizza and dress them with their final flourishes, alas Stephen has the unenviable job of tidying up and getting everything ready. Cisco, our pizza oven and Friday night pizze are now a cherished part of our family routine. Only now we have to remember to let them cool down before devouring them!

Another pizza is rescued from the furnace.

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What Follows On. Hi

It’s Friday and another box of Locavore delights have arrived on my doorstep. In the kitchen drainer there’s lots of lovely veggies that have been lightly scrubbed and are patiently waiting to be put somewhere dark and cool. In the absence of a proper pantry the cupboard under the sink will have to suffice.

Last week we didn’t work our way through all the veg so we have a little catching up to do. The various squash will be fine but there is half a bunch of brussel sprout tops lying forlornly in the fridge and some kale that will still be lovely but is beginning to look rather limp. Last week we had a few meals that were not quite so packed with veggies leading up to me making this torta salata in plain English a tart made with a bread dough base.

Torta salata, a quiche in a bread based crust.

Tonight’s dinner is sorted and we will be finishing a chicken and chestnut soup I made using the last remnants from the roasted chicken and mushroom gravy from our Sunday roast. The stock from slowly cooking the bones in Cheezoid (Instant Pot) ended up in a lemon and pea risotto.

Veggies pleepsing on their journey into becoming a chicken soup.

Following on from that the risotto was transformed into a family favourite; little baked balls stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg and dredged with paprika flecked flour. These arancini ended up on a plate with tomato and basil sauce.

Arancini, Little balls of rice and cheese.

However; this week we are overrun with Brussels. I ordered extra through the Open Food Network; alas I forgot to check whether they were a component of this week’s box of delights. They were, now it’ll be 101 ways to cook these windy specials: roasted, sautéed, in stir-fries and frittatas. Still it is nearly Christmas.

Home for Christmas.

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Minimum of Fuss. ‘Left Field’ and ‘Chapel Farm’ Roasted Roots

Sunday dinner, for once it was something that vaguely resembled a traditional roast. There was: chicken, organic; potatoes, roasted; gravy, a sauce really, and ‘veg’. However; what ended up on our plates was once again something a little different. All the lovely veggies were from my extra-large Locavore veg box. Stephen, my OH, had to search far and wide to find an organic, free range chicken, at least the veg just turn up every Friday and How do I love them? Let me count the ways.

Although I love cooking I also like finding ways that use the minimum of fuss, uses the minimum of pans and involves the minimum of preparation time. Today’s dinner delivered on all counts. I used my Instant Pot, known as Cheezoid, to cook the chicken and mushroom gravy; all the veggies were roasted in one tin. Earlier in the day I has pounded some coarse sea salt and peppercorns together,which were, still a little on the coarse side I added a pinch, or two, of smoked paprika. I, gently, lifted up the chicken skin and massaged the rub all over the flesh. Whilst waiting for the rub to do its magic I prepped the veg for the mushroom gravy i.e. I sliced garlic, onion and mushrooms. After I had browned the bird in Cheezoid (Instant Pot) in hot oil the veg were sautéed until soft. Next I put in about 300ml of stock, plopped the chicken on top, and hey presto all I had to do was close the lid, cook on manual for 20 minutes; not forgetting to check the steam vent isn’t open of course and that’s half the dinner sorted.

Meat and gravy were pleepsing away nicely as I sorted the motley crew of veg out. Roasted potatoes and carrots are frequent guests on our dinner plates, often with a cloak of butter, honey and herbs. Until today I don’t think a kohlrabi or a Jerusalem artichoke have ever wandered into our kitchen. Once I had assured myself that they were prime candidates for roasting, in other words I looked at some recipes online, before cutting the veg into bite size pieces. I didn’t really know how long they would take to roast, or if they would all be ready at the same time. I set the timer for 50 minutes and hoped for the best.

Another great thing about ‘Cheezoid’ is that it has a ‘keep warm’ function, meaning that timing isn’t critical. Roasted vegetables are fairly tolerant too allowing me to finish my gin and tonic before plating up. Definitely a win, win situation.

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A Weekly Box of Delights

Every Friday, while I’m still at the chalk face, a box of veritable vegetable delights is delivered to oor hoose in leafy Lanarkshire. Well compared to Shetland almost anywhere appears to be leafy. By Wednesday afternoon I’m checking my emails for the appearance of the Locavore newsletter telling me what will be in this week’s vegetable box. Then I can start thinking about meals for the coming week.

Scrubbed and ready to go!

It must be nearly two months since the arrival of our first box. Joseph was at home to receive this much anticipated visitor. I was at work and it was during non-contact time when I received the call, the culinary version of “the eagle has landed”. For the next twenty minutes or so of frenzied texting, complete with images, took place between Coatbridge and Govan. I’m still like a child at Christmas, rushing in to see what edible wonders have arrived. There is always something rather wacky and weird that you are unlikely to find on most supermarket shelves; this week it was Brussel sprouts tops and kohlrabi.

We have discovered the delights of kale of various colours, squashes of all shapes and sizes. I’ve diced, steamed and roasted trays of unfamiliar veggies and I had forgotten what food should smell like. It was another supply teacher working at Govan High School that told me about Locavore ‘s veg box delivery service, thank you so much Joni.

Shepherdess Pie made with beluga black lentils served with braised kale.

So far I haven’t had to throw one vegetable out. However; some creativity is often required to make use of every single scrap of kale and I could and probably will write about 101 ways to cook beetroot. Even though the produce is all organic we are now spending a lot less on our weekly food bill. Our meals are frequently vegetable based. Saying that we try to eat fish twice a week and meat is an occasional indulgence.

Today being Saturday we’ve only just started using up this week’s veg. On Friday night we had a takeaway, another way of supporting the local economy, well that’s my reasoning anyway. Lunchtime was our first foray into this week’s vegetable box . Saturday lunch normally involves something made with eggs a frittata or poached eggs with a sauce.

The mighty brussel sprout top frittata.

Today I built a frittata using 100% Locavore produce. I began by heating some olive oil in a skillet adding thinly sliced garlic to gently cook as the oil heats up. Next went in sliced onion, once that had started to soften I added the stems from the brussel sprout top leaves along with a couple of scrubbed carrots cut into slim crescents. I let that slowly soften before adding the brussel sprout top leaves which I had cut into fine ribbons. After they had wilted I tipped the sprouty mixture into a large bowl that contained 2 lightly beaten eggs, per serving. At this point I remembered I had the remnants of half of a salami bought on line from an online Italian deli; a goodly slice was cut into small chunks and added to the bowl. I tipped the eggs, veg and salami back into the skillet; topped with wholewheat breadcrumbs, drizzled with EVO and then slammed into a fairly hot oven. It’s a very tolerant dish I cooked it at 175C for about 30 minutes. I don’t think the thermostat on our oven is very accurate so it’s a case of waiting to see when it sets.

The bread we served with the mega frittata was from ‘different bried’ which comes as an add on to the veg box, the baby plum toms were in this week’s box of delights..

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Cooking up a storm

It has taken quite awhile to get settled after our move to the mainland. New jobs, new routines and then the house sale falling through with all the financial and mental strain that involves set us in a downward spiral. Now the house is sold, Stephen is working as an EAL teacher and four days a week I teach drama in one of the largest schools in Britain. It is time to look to the future; with this in mind I have joined Townhead Slimming World group, led by the ever vivacious Clare. So let the battle commence.

Last week I’m afraid I ‘self sabotaged’, sitting in the staff base on Monday after work with coffee, my Kindle and a packet of dark chocolate digestives (not mine, I’m sorry Jacquie) If it had been milk chocolate ones I would have resisted, maybe. An hour later I had finished my book and to my shame most of  the biscuits. Feeling slightly guilty I ended the day with a couple of gins (doubles) and tonics (Slimline of course). Tomorrow is another day.  Tuesday was fine, well almost, just a couple of syn-full gin and tonics, opps. Well, Wednesday was almost as bad as Monday.  Once again I was sitting on my lonesome in the staff base waiting for Paradise Taxis, ie Stephen, to pick me up from work. On Monday it was a Parents’ evening that delayed him. On Wednesday it was a staff meeting. There I was all on my lonesome, with; coffee, a vat of, my Kindle – another book, and a tin of Danish Butter cookies this time. An hour and a half later, at least twenty biscuits later and worryingly nothing prepared for dinner, my phone rings ‘Paradise Taxis for McCormack’. On the way home ‘any ideas for dinner?’ Normally I have something prepped and waiting. Not on Wednesday though. The consuming of alcohol didn’t do me any favours. Shamefully I somehow found myself sitting in Burger 7. Still in in Destructo mode I finished the day with a couple of glasses of vin rouge, it doesn’t sound so evil in French.

I know the secret of success is in careful planning. With this in mind I went into overdrive on Sunday. I chopped enough veg to feed an army; a small, not very hungry one. Carefully coordinated, mini mountains of chunks of carrots,  chopped celery, slices of swede and pieces of parsnips ( I can’t resist a little alteration) covered the butcher’s block.


Lots of lovely ‘speed’ ie low calorie, vegetables and low fat quark which will somehow be transformed into a lasagne. I may have over estimated how much veg I’d need and I now have one very large and a smaller two portion sized lasagne sitting on the butcher’s block. I wanted to get the sauces made in order that the tomato sauce could have a long slow cook to deepen the flavours.


A vast vat of sugo di pommodoro.

It’s also better if you can build the big beastie a few hours before you intend to cook the brute. Those few hours let the sheets of lasagne soften; soaking up the sauces, so you end up with an Italian style lasagne with well defined layers.


Everything you need for the spinach layers.

I’m not so keen on the over sauced sloppy ones that used to be the British norm.

That’s a few dinners sorted. Next the lunches needed  to be tackled. Almost everyone seemed to be in agreement that soups are the secret of successful Slimming. After sea through several Slimming World books and online I found I recipe that was full of mainly low calorie speed veg. After even more chopping I had everything ready for a spicy roasted root vegetable soup.


Lots of lovely vegetables.

Most of the day was taken up with ‘Cooking up a Storm’. I’ve got three gorgeous rainbow trout in the freezer, which we’ll have another day, with steamed whole small potatoes, broccoli and a dill sauce. On Thursday, my day off,  the shopping will be delivered, which means my meals this week are catered for.


Everything seems to have shrunk now it's all cooked

This lot should keep us on the right path, lots of veg, less carbs and very little fat. The sun is definitely over the yardarm; it’s time for a
G & T.

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