Direction…

Well WordPress, it has been a while! So much has happened since my last entry a few months ago. So let’s take the next few entries to catch up on everything. I suppose the best place to start is with a rather interesting turn of events concerning my “career path” (I still hate that phrase). When I returned from Barbados, following a beautiful Christmas at home, I relentlessly handed out CV after CV and applied for countless jobs in all sorts of areas. However, nothing seemed to happen. I got far with some interviews but ultimately nothing stuck and as usual lack of experience was my enemy. While this period of struggle really did inspire my time in the kitchen, allowing me to whip up some very delicious and sometimes rather extravagant dishes, I was starting to become restless and desperate. Not necessarily for a job, but desperate for a direction, just a little path to followsomething that would make me feel like I was steering my little lifeboat, rather than just aimlessly floating along.

It is funny where you can find the inspiration sometimes. You can be just sitting down innocently with some dinner on the couch, about to watch a harmless animated movie, and BAM! it smacks you right in the face (not literally of course).  That is what happened to me. I found mine in an animated movie called, The Princess and the Frog. Yes I said that … The Princess and The Frog. The movie on a whole was so uplifting and I have watched it many times since, whenever I feel like I am straying off my path. Not to spoil it for anyone but it’s about a waitress who wants more than anything to make her dream of owning her very own gourmet restaurant, come true, she is even willing to kiss a frog. However, the moment which inspires me the most is the conversation between Tiana, the waitress, and her father, where he expresses his view on food: “You know the thing about good food? It brings folks together from all walks of life. It warms them right up and puts little smiles on their faces.” This quote hit a chord somewhere deep down and a spark went off somewhere inside. The next day I spent my whole day not applying for jobs but looking at various cooking schools and courses ready to start a life in food. Now I am still not entirely sure what this means, whether I’ll be a chef, a chef patron, a restaurant owner, a food writer, a caterer or any of the other titles within the food industry, but I am going to be in there somewhere.

I made this announcement the next day to my family, who did not hesitate to offer their support in my decision. And so the search for a course became a team effort. One afternoon I came home from a jog in the park to find my dad had sent me several links, but one in particular stood out for the both of us. It was a link to a site belonging to an organisation called The Chef Academy of London. After perusing through the site and the courses which they offered I decided to call and start the process of registering for their three month Professional Cooking course. This course offers 75 hours in a training kitchen, with guaranteed one-on-one training with a professional chef, and 250 hours in a restaurant working alongside the chef during the preparation of the mise en place and during service. I have been asked so often why I decided on this course rather than a traditional cooking school. The truth is it is a personal thing. Do not get me wrong it would be an absolute dream to attend a course like those of the Cordon Bleu or Ballymaloe, but I wanted to know quickly if the restaurant business itself was for me. I love cooking, but cooking at home or in a training kitchen is a very different thing to cooking in a restaurant kitchen with 100 covers in a night.

With this in mind I went for an interview with two amazing people who are part of the organisation. They talked me through the course, answered my extensive list of questions and gradually I was convinced that this course was a very good foot in the right direction. And so on the 18th of February, 2014, I entered the training kitchen in Oxford Circus and began a very interesting journey.

 

My uniform and equipment supplied by The Chef Academy of London

My uniform and equipment supplied by The Chef Academy of London

Me in my uniform all ready for the training kitchen!!!

Me in my uniform all ready for the training kitchen!!!

 

Back in London Town!

View from Albert Bridge

View from Albert Bridge. Picture courtesy of Kerry Dragon.

I had a beautiful Christmas at home in Barbados with my family! It was full of relaxing outings, ridiculously awesome food and some beautiful surprises: like my sister’s high pitched screech, over the phone, at about 7am Christmas morning, announcing her engagement to a very awesome man that I will be proud to call my brother-in-law!!! But as all visits do, my visit home came to an end.

I have been back in the cold and rainy UK for a few weeks now, and  although it has been very wet and windy it has been great weather for staying inside and cooking up a storm! Since I have been back in London I have spent quite a lot of time perusing through my new cook books. It has become one of my main amusements, bar my boyfriend and housemates, after  long days of job applications, handing out CVs and CV updating.

Each week, and often a few times a week, I descend upon the kitchen and claim it as my territory for a while. During that time I recreate dishes from cook books and attempt to perfect recipes of my own. I have put together a few pictures of some of the dishes that managed to pose for the camera before being devoured by my loyal guinea pigs (Housemate: Alice and Bf: Kerry).

Chicken Creole

Chicken Creole

Chicken Creole: It is a very hearty tomato based dish in which chicken, on the bone, is cooked or rather stewed to perfection! It goes very well with fluffy steamed rice and al dente green vegetables like green beans or asparagus. (This recipe can be found in Sally Miller’s Contemporary Caribbean Cooking.)

Fish Creole... I like rice molds by the way.

Fish Creole… I like rice molds by the way.

Fish Creole: Fish creole is very similar to its poultry counterpart. However, I like to spice it up a bit more and give it a strong, but not over riding lemon tang. I personally think it is served best with baked breadfruit slices, but as I lack breadfruit in the UK I settled for some seasoned brown rice. (This recipe can be found in Sally Miller’s Contemporary Caribbean Cooking.)

Seafood Alfredo

Seafood Alfredo

Seafood Alfredo: I am a huge fan of seafood pasta and lucky for me I live with people who are equally partial towards la frutti di mare, especially the kind that swims in double cream.

Chili Shrimp

Chili Prawns

Chili Prawns: Simply DELICIOUS!!! It may make your nose run a little but it is perfect after coming home on a cold winter evening. (This recipe can be found in Sally Miller’s Contemporary Caribbean Cooking)

Golden Apple Chutney Baked Pork

Golden Apple Chutney Baked Pork

Golden Apple Chutney Baked Pork: I think this dish is one of my favourites of my own making. The golden apple chutney I use is from my little island and is a 100% BAJAN MADE product by Nature’s Oils. This chutney provides a sweet yet tangy flavour that compliments the pork beautifully. I serve it with rosemary roasted vegetables (potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and broccoli), but I believe it would also go very well with some steamed rice and green vegetables lightly sauteed in butter and lemon juice (green beans, broccoli, kale).

Look out for more posts documenting my eating adventures!!!! There are quite a few on their way :)

Soooooo I had a bad day …

I am writing this blog entry from my couch in my lovely little abode in North London. I have been living here for about 3 months now with some friends from university. It has taken me so long to catch up on my blog lately, I think partly because I spend most of my days pouring over my laptop, applying for an endless number of jobs, and partly because I know that once I am up to date I have to truly face the reality that I am unemployed in London. I must admit I was completely naïve in my ideas of moving to London and finding a job here. I worked myself ragged for three years at the University of Southampton, achieving a high 2:1, which I thought put me in a great position for becoming employed, but to my disappointment it seems to not really matter. When attempting to gain experience I am constantly told I need prior experience, even for a work experience position! Which only begs me to ask what actually is the point of that position???

London, and I am sure other big cities too, seems to be a place of slave labour. It is a place where young graduates must sell their souls for any position they can find. A place where employers will see how long you can stick it out until you crack under the pressure of paying rent and bills, when all you have been able to achieve is an unpaid position that drains your soul from 9am – 5pm five days a week, forcing you to take shifts waitressing at events till all sorts of ungodly hours, just so you have enough to make it through the week. It is no wonder so many people in my generation have lost hope! We are constantly rejected, left to wonder where we went wrong, why we read 120 pieces for a dissertation that drove us mad and filled us with disappointment, and why we weren’t prepared for the cruel reality of unemployment. The light of hope dims more and more every time a deadline for an application passes and there is no word, every day you are forced to get on a tube, where you get hit in the face and no apology follows, every smile wasted on an idiot who chooses to reject human interaction for the company of their ipod, which most of the time has the most revolting music on it, which you must listen too until there unsociable and rude rear gets off the stop just before yours.

So I come home and I cook. It makes it all better. The warmth and smell that fills the kitchen. The sound of something bubbling on the hob or sizzling in oven. The look on my boyfriend’s face as he opens every pot to inspect its contents. It all makes may day seem so much less disheartening. The more I think about it the more I believe this is what I  should be doing. BUT we will review that idea in a few months.

Do not worry readers very few of my entries will be this doom and gloom. I am actually a very upbeat and positive person. But even the most positive have bad days, and it is just one of those days where I think leaving home might have been a bad idea. However, it is not all hopeless. I do have a few things on my side: my highly supportive family, my great housemates and friends, and my incredibly understanding boyfriend. I simply do not know how I would cope without them! Thank you all!!!

Now to watch a little bit of Julie and Julia: an amazing movie, which follows the lives of two very special women who simply loved to cook! They are definitely two people I look up to, and you never know, in a few years I could be on my way to becoming the next Julia Child. If you are a foodie, like myself, desperate for a little inspiration and relief watch this movie (maybe over a chocolate cream pie?) But for now my beautiful audience, I will conclude with this: whatever you are having for dinner, I bid you Bon Appétit!

Fish Fryday!!!

Picture courtesy of Margaret Nock Rodriguez a well known water colour  painter who lives in Barbados. I have bought many a post card of hers which sit on my wall in room in England.

‘Retired to Oistins’ – Picture courtesy of Margaret Nock Rodriguez: a well known water colour painter who lives in Barbados. I have bought many a post card of hers which sit on my wall in my room in England.

Hello my dear people! Well I have booked my tickets home for Christmas and I cannot explain how excited I am to see my family and my friends! Me and my little rock (what many Bajans call Barbados) will be reunited once more! This has got me thinking about a few things:

  1. where I want to go while I am home (Oistins, Mojo’s, lemon grass)
  2. the island goodies to bring back (pepper sauce, bajan seasoning, rum)
  3. the Christmas lunch (HAM!)

Whenever I am home one of the first places I go for food is Oistins. Oistins is a small fishing town near where I live. It is a lovely little town with quite a few interesting characters (some in the not so sane category). On Friday nights it comes alive with the Friday Fish Festival. Every stall serves up its own secret recipes and seasonings ensuring the chance to taste something different every time. It is definitely the place where you will find some of the most delicious seafood on the island. The atmosphere is created by the sound of infectious calypso (Caribbean music) forcing you to at the very least tap your foot. The music mixes with raucous laughter, the smell of the sea and the seasoning.  While waiting for your food the sight of the leaping flames from the barbecue entrance and only then do you feel that soft sea breeze that runs its way between the stalls, setting a wooden chime off somewhere in the background.

At Pat's: the winning combination

At Pat’s: the winning combination

The stall I would suggest is Pat’s. Now the chefs at Pat’s know how to season their fish and how to cook it. My usual order when I go to Pat’s is the Mahi Mahi with all the salads and either macaroni pie, rice n’ peas or grilled potatoes: it is a winning combination! You can sit there and eat the mountain of food whilst drinking a Banks beer or you can head home with your delicious feast. I prefer the former option because I live for that kind of atmosphere. Also, after that epic meal you can go for a walk and peruse the other craft stalls towards the back of the market place. While you can find an unfortunate number of stalls with cheap garbage, you will also find some genuine gems where you can buy gorgeous handmade jewelry and post cards.

While Barbados has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world it is also a place of rich culture and a great place to start is a trip to Oistins on a Friday Night.

Eating My Way Through Rome, Part 4: Dining with the Stars!

Harry's Bar!

Harry’s Bar!

This is to be the last entry of my Roman adventure. Everything must come to an end at some point but our last night in Rome will remain in my memory for a long time. We went to a restaurant called ‘Harry’s Bar’, located on Via Veneto. I was dressed in my best Primani (Primark for those who do not know that phrase) and I was ready for a relaxing evening of dining, and then we entered the restaurant. The first thing I noticed was that our waiter wore a beautifully tailored tuxedo. The second thing was that the inside of the restaurant was finished with some of the most lavish trimmings. And the third thing, which confirmed my state of being under dressed, was that there were three forks and three knives by each plate. I was definitely Julia Roberts in Pretty woman at that point, sitting at the table staring helplessly at the forks while being offered a Bellini. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a very relaxing evening, where we were treated like royalty!!! I have never met a more polite and genuine person as our waiter, or have I ever been serenaded by such a beautiful voice while I ate some of the most amazing lobster I think I have ever had. It was the epitome of a multisensorial experience, where each sense enjoyed and enhanced the other. That night when I got back to the hotel, I googled Harry’s Bar and discovered that it is a very famous restaurant which at one time entertained the stars, like Frank Sinatra. While my family and I are not stars or famous in any way, the way we were treated at Harry’s Bar must be the most appreciated I have ever felt at a restaurant, and I truly believed it when our waiter announced he was very glad to have our company that evening! Well done Harry’s Bar you are the embodiment of prime customer service!

Eating My Way Through Rome, Part 3: Piazza della Rotunda

Piazza della Rotunda, facing The Pantheon

Piazza della Rotunda, facing The Pantheon

First of all I would like to sincerely apologise for the delay in posts recently. I have been settling myself in London and it has been a very busy few weeks indeed! Secondly, this is the third instalment of my Roman adventure, just to remind everyone where we are at in the bellyful scheme of things

A little map reading...

A little map reading…

And so the journey continues with a stop off in Piazza della Rotunda! We were all getting a bit tired after an entire day on our feet and rather hungry! My sister (the tour guide or rather the one with the map) set our course from Piazza Navona to Piazza della Rotunda. In a rather enchanted state I simply followed staring from one side to the next trying to take in my surroundings, but, at the same time, maybe I was a bit too tired to really appreciate them. Either way, it was in following my sister’s lead we arrived at Piazza della Rotunda! We entered from an alley at the front of the Piazza and then turned a corner and that is when I saw it: The Pantheon. Of all the historical buildings in the city this one I believe was my favourite. Yes, the Colosseum and the Vatican are extremely grand and tell of various historical moments in time but there is something about the Pantheon that supersedes all that.  I believe it has something to do with its character and how it sits in its environment like a proud elder of a tribe sits among his people observing the changes within his surroundings, admired for his age and wisdom. The Pantheon was originally constructed between 27 and 25 BC (Now that is old considering the Colosseum was built in 70 AD). It was built as a temple for the Roman Gods, modified over time due to damage cause by fires, but it was later consecrated as a Catholic Church.

Parmigiana!

Parmigiana!

The façade of the Pantheon was to be our view for the evening from our dinner table. With such a majestic scenery it is not surprising that I was a little distracted and for the life of me I cannot remember the name of the restaurant we went to, except, that it was across the piazza, opposite the entrance and if you were facing the Pantheon it would be the last restaurant on your right. The food was spectacular! I ordered parmigiana (for those who do not know it is an Italian dish comprising of tomato, aubergine and mozzarella, and it comes looking sort of like a lasagna) . It came in a flat, cow-shaped dish with perfectly melted and crisped cheese on top. I was warned it was hot, but as usual I could not help myself and may have burnt my tongue slightly, but it was worth it! In each bite there was the perfect blend on tomato, aubergine, basil and cheese: something I have found very difficult to achieve in my own parmigianas. Either way, the evening was splendid only made even better by the wonderful company and the extremely friendly waiter from Peru (a little random)!

Mum and Dads meal (mozzarella and grilled vegetables, veal and grilled vegetables)

Mum and Dads meal (mozzarella and grilled vegetables, veal and grilled vegetables)

Thank you Piazza della Rotunda for such a fabulous evening of stunning architecture and gastronomic delight!

Eating My Way through Rome, Part 2: Cold Cappuccinos

The rooftops of Roma!

The rooftops of Roma!

I am an avid coffee drinker. In fact I don’t think my day truly starts until that mug reaches my mouth and pours some warm or cold caffeinated goodness into it. I love all types of coffee: cappuccinos, lattes, espressos, Americanos, you name it! And it must be said that coffee in Rome was no disappointment. I woke up on the morning of the second day in Rome ready for an adventure. The plan for the day was to head north of the hotel, to Piazza del Popolo, The Vatican, Piazza Navona, The Pantheon and Fontana di Trevi. However, the first order of business on leaving the hotel was the all-important meal, breakfast! We strolled down some small cobbled streets and found our way back to the Spanish Steps we had visited the evening before. As we walked past the Steps there was a gate covered in vines that led into a little café with an absolutely amazing view of the rooftops of Rome. This little restaurant was called, Caffé Ciampini.

Caffe Ciampini

Caffe Ciampini

The waiter came over to take our order within minutes of sitting down. He wore quite a stern, very business-like face and walked through the café with a no nonsense attitude. Nonetheless he was very pleasant and made ordering breakfast very easy! The morning was already getting on the warm side and the last thing I felt for was a hot cup of coffee. While scanning the menu my mother pointed out with excitement an item on the menu: “cold cappuccino”. We were obviously thinking along the same lines! I was desperate for a cup of coffee and my head was slowly starting to descend towards the table (I may have a slight addiction). In order to distract ourselves while we waited we discussed our route and watched some turtles swim about in a random little pond in the middle of the café.

The Cold Cappuccino!

The Cold Cappuccino!

The cold cappuccino arrived in a small glass with a little spoon attached. It smelt delicious and looked so thick and creamy! Without hesitation I took a big gulp and what happened next was nothing short of sensational. The cold caffeine rushed into my mouth and danced about on my tongue. When it settled I shut my eyes in utter bliss, taking it all in. It was the completely perfect blend of sweet Demerara sugar, bitter chocolate Italian coffee and creamy fresh milk. I savoured the first gulp but I simply couldn’t help myself for within seconds this magical cup was empty, I was wide awake and ordering a second cold cappuccino. This went on for three day at various locations. Wherever we stopped for a break I would eagerly announce my order and excitedly wait for its arrival. Even when I got home to Barbados after the Roman trip I spent every morning trying to replicate it! Sadly, however, it never turns out like the ones in Rome, far less like the ones at Caffe Ciampini! There is nothing for it, I will just have to go back to Roma!

Eating My Way through Roma, Part 1: Benvenutto alla Roma, Ecco la sua pizza!

La Pizza Margherita

La Pizza Margherita

After my graduation, in July of this year, my family and I decided to be a little extravagant and go on a trip. For various reasons my family has not been able to go on holiday all together for about six years. So we decided to go to Rome! We flew with easyjet on Sunday, 21st July, to Aeroporto di Fiumicino. On stepping out the doors of the terminal a very lovely man, named Joseph, was holding a sign with my father’s name on it and was wearing one of the most charming smiles I have seen. We rushed over to him, happy to not have to deal with any more means of travel, and before we knew it we were on the road headed to the centre of Rome and the centre of a storm.

"Big storm in Rome!"

“Big storm in Rome!”

Joseph’s English vocabulary was not huge, but when he pointed to where we were going and said “Big storm in Rome,” he was not kidding! This storm was INCREDIBLE! I have never seen anything like it and that is coming from someone who has lived through several hurricane seasons in the Caribbean. The clouds ejected massive jets of light that blinded and thunder that rattled windows. The expression, down pour, does not even begin to describe the force of the rain that was falling! The wind too was outrageous and made for an overwhelming opponent to any umbrellas, or over hanging shelters for that matter. While my sister and I giggled with excitement there came this loud BANG on the roof of the van, then another and another until it sounded like a herd of cows were passing over the car. It was then that we realised it was HAIL! Huge balls of ice were descending from the heavens with such ferocity! Nevertheless, Joseph kindly tried to give us a little tour of the city on our way to the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel in one piece and very hungry. After checking in and getting comfortable in our beautiful rooms, we struck out onto the streets of Roma in search for the all famous Italian pizza! Pizza can find its heritage in the Greek word pitta, meaning pie. However, the modern pizza originates in Naples, Italy. I was in search for the original pizza, the one of urban legend, la Pizza Margherita. It has been said that this pizza was made for the Queen Magherita in honour of her to visit to Naples, representing the colours of the Italian flag: the red tomato sauce, the bright green basil leaves and the white creamy mozzarella.

My beautiful sister and her enormous pizza!

My beautiful sister and her enormous pizza!

I found my beloved pizza Margherita in a lovely little restaurant on a street just off of Via Nazionale, called Ciro. This restaurant was beautifully deceiving. The front looked like a very simple, little restaurant with a few tables packed into a space which was simply too small, but boy was that misleading. This little restaurant opened up into a large open air section in the back, lit by hanging lights which descended from large wooden beams. An elegant guitar played over speakers which were strategically placed amongst the vegetation and the smell of fresh pizza was in the air. Even though it would have been amazing to sit outside there with such a classically romantic and Italian scene it was a rainy evening and little dregs of the afternoon’s storm were still hanging about. We sat inside and ordered ourselves some dinner. My sister and I both ordered Pizza Margheritas and what a shock did we receive when they arrived! They were enormous! However, the delicious, paper thin base made the task at hand much less daunting and allowed us to enjoy all the flavours equally. La Pizza Margherita proved itself to be a delicious symbol of Italy, regardless of whether its origins were merely legend.

My three pillars

My three pillars

After dinner we decided to take a walk to the Spanish Steps to aid in the process of digestion. While looking out over the Spanish Steps all I could think of was what beauty there is in architecture and food. My sister quietly hugged me and I realised how lucky I was to be in such an amazing place with three of the most important people in my life: my three pillars, without whom, I would not have had the courage to do most of things I do.

Hash #790

Looking towards Grenada's capital St George's

Looking towards Grenada’s capital St George’s

Earlier this summer I visited my boyfriend in the gorgeous neighbouring island of Grenada (Not Granada)! I had such an incredible time, as I always do, going on island drives, liming (relaxing with friends), hiking and eating amazing food with equally, if not more, amazing people! Grenada is one of the islands that make up the Caribbean chain. It is a volcanic island, blessed with dramatic scenery, cloud kissed mountains, breath-taking lakes, waterfalls and beautiful people. It is known as the Spice Island of the Caribbean due to its production and exportation of nutmeg and other spices like mace, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Raw Nutmeg and Mace

Raw Nutmeg and Mace

Grenada has so much to offer, especially to the adventurous traveler! A must do in Grenada is a hash! A hash is basically a hike with an awesome group of people, called the Hash Harriers, along a set route, marked by different signs letting you know you are on the right track or the wrong one. There is no entrance fee! It is a completely free event, but, in appreciation of what the organizers have put together, you can make donations, but that is entirely up to you! When visiting Grenada we (me, my boyfriend, his best friend and his best friend’s mum) went on Hash #790, in one of the prettiest parts of the island, Sauteurs, in the parish of St Patrick. We started on a beach, went through some rivers, and villages and after about an hour and thirty minutes of sweating, grunting, puffing and maybe a curse word or two while slipping on a rock or dramatically sliding down a steep hill, we arrived back at the beach where a feast awaited us.

Where the Hash began and ended - Sauteurs, Grenada

Where the Hash began and ended – Sauteurs, Grenada

The feast at the end of the Hash consisted of pudding and souse (steamed sweet potato and pickled pork), lambi waters (conk broth, a type of Caribbean shellfish) and oil down! Oil down is one of Grenada’s signature dishes. It is a one pot meal consisting of salted meat (usually pork), breadfruit, dumplings, callaloo (made from dasheen leaves) and plenty of root vegetables all cooked in coconut milk and coconut oil. I was told by a Grenadian, who was making the oil down, that it gets its name from the fact that as it stews away in a massive pot, over an open fire, the oil seeps down to the bottom, creating a delicious and gravy like liquid, hence the name oil down. I have never tried my hand at this delicious dish but I have eaten it quite a few times and it is definitely on the list of ‘To Makes.’

Oil Down!

Oil Down! – Picture courtesy of Sophia Haynes, a fellow Hash Harrier.

While I contentedly ate my oil down and sat on the pier surrounded by great people and highly amusing conversation, watching the sunset behind the mountains, I could not think of a more perfect way to spend an afternoon in the Spice Isle.

Perfect finish!

Perfect finish!

Seduced by a classic!

The Italian ClassicI think my cooking career properly began when I was first seduced by the Italian classic, Lasagna. Everything about that dish sets my senses on a high! It is the smell of the fragrant tomato sauce, the fresh basil, the melting cheese; the taste of tart colliding with sweet, the tender meat, and that smooth and sinful béchamel sauce. Everything about it shouts a culinary masterpiece! It is the perfect meal only made more heavenly by a slice (or two) of garlic bread to soak up whatever is left on the plate.

You would think that the first meal I would consider my career starter would be something from the Caribbean, but while I consider the Caribbean a large influence, this dish is what really sparked off an interest in how to make a meal perfect. Lasagna was the first meal I ever made by myself. It became not only my favourite meal but a symbol of my independence. Since then I have sampled an endless number of lasagnas, adjusting my recipe on finding something new to add or a different method to try. I have had some absolutely amazing lasagnas, such as the one I ate at a restaurant called The White Swan in Southampton, England, and I have had very few not so amazing ones. Each however was as useful as the other because they all taught me something; whether it was something I did not like or something I thought ingenious, I learnt from each lasagna what I wanted from my own.

This Italian classic has remained my favourite meal for years and will most likely continue to be both my favourite dish to eat and to prepare. When I asked some of my friends what they thought of lasagna the common response was that it is messy, complicated and takes too long. However, I disagree! Personally, I feel a sense of such accomplishment when I have created a lasagna which possesses an elegantly full bodied flavour, cuts perfectly similar to a pie and sits like a tower on the plate while only a small bit of rich sauce escapes onto it! It is true that it does take time but if you are making a lasagna you should give it the attention it needs. You must respect a classic!

My take on a classic: I prefer to do everything separately to save myself from confusion and the risk of ruining it at one of the stages. However, this does make the process longer but it is best to take your time and enjoy making it! Rushing it only makes you flustered. Get some good music going and get your lasagna on!

Stage 1: Ingredients: (Meat)

ingredients

  • 3x approx. 350g packs of minced beef
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic (crushed or thinly sliced)
  • mushrooms (a whole pack if you so desire)
  • 3x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¼ cup finely chopped raisins
  • Handful of fresh basil
  • 1tsp sugar
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan or casserole pot
  2. Add the chopped onions, garlic, salt and pepper to the pan (I found when coming to England that the meat itself is quite fatty and releases enough of its own oil. If that is the case with the minced beef you are using I would suggest that instead of using olive oil to cook the onions and garlic use a bit of water instead)
  3. Once the onions and garlic are soft add the minced beef to the pan along with the balsamic vinegar and red wine. Leave to simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, chopped raisins and fresh basil. Leave to simmer for 45 minutes.
  5. Adjust to personal taste
    1. Add more salt and pepper if needed
    2. For a more tart taste add more balsamic
    3. For a sweeter flavour add brown sugar/ more raisins
    4. For a little kick you can also add a bit of hot sauce (do not be too liberal with it, it is not a chili)2

Stage 2: Ingredients: Lasagna pasta sheets x 8 (I usually throw in a few extra sheets just in case I damage any of them beyond repair in the process of putting the lasagna together)pasta sheets

Method:

  1. Fill large Saucepan with water ¾ full and set to boil
  2. Once boiling throw in the pasta sheets and cook for 15 minutes (do not cook them all the way, make sure they are still a bit firm so they don’t just fall apart when you are putting the lasagne together and also so they can soak up some of the juices from the meat)

Stage 3: Ingredients: (Béchamel sauce)

  • 150g butter
  • 2-3tbsp plain flour
  • 2tbsp parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups milk
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan on a low heat (keeping it on a low heat is very important for this whole process)
  2. Add the flour and parmesan cheese to the butter and make into a paste
  3. Add one cup of milk to the saucepan and stir paste into until it is smooth (no lumps!). A whisk is the easiest instrument to use.
  4. Add the goat’s cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Continue to stir.
  5. As it thickens on the low flame gradually add the second cup of milk.
  6. Adjust to personal taste with more cheese/milk/salt/pepper.

Stage 4: Construction & Baking

Method:

  1. Choose a medium – large casserole dish
  2. The layers go like this: minced beef, pasta, minced beef, pasta.
  3.  Pour the béchamel sauce over the top layer of pasta.
  4. Sprinkle (or cover) with parmesan cheese and garnish with basil leaves.
  5. Heat oven to 350 degrees
  6. Put lasagna into the oven for 30 minutes, until the top is a golden brown colour.
  7. Take out of oven and leave to set on the side for about 30 minutes and then you are ready to serve!golden brown topping

Don’t forget the garlic bread!!!! 

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