Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

The I Diet

The I Diet

So this is a diet book that claims to have “100 Healthy Italian Recipes to Help You Lose Weight & Love Food”. Now I already loved food at the time that I bought this book, and I’ve never actually used it to try and lose weight, so I can’t really comment on either of those claims. However I can confirm that there are plenty of healthy Italian recipes inside.

While I haven’t used this book to diet, I have used it on a fairly regular basis in the 4+ years that I have owned it. One dish in particular – the Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs has become my go-to store cupboard meal. This rather strange combination of ham, parmesan, chili, peas, eggs and pasta (chili and cheese!) is an absolute delight that I cook at least once a month. These days I can’t get the little shell pasta shapes so have to use coquillettes instead but that works fine.

The I Diet - Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

The I Diet – Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

Now admittedly that dish takes a bit of time to cook and the portion is a tad on the small side, even for a diet book, but the end result is well worth it. A delicious sticky, salty and spicy mix that will never look elegant or sophisticated but always goes down a treat.

So back to the book. There’s a breakfast section, lunch, soups and salads, starters, pastas and risottos, meats, fish and desserts with a couple of “naughty” recipes such as tiramisu and carbonara tucked away at the back.

The recipes are well written and easy to follow and so far I’ve not had a single failure cooking from this book. About 70% of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photograph. While some dishes take a bit longer or are more involved, most have a fairly limited list of ingredients and can easily be prepared on a work night with no fuss.

As with most cookbooks I own, I’ve used the breakfast and dessert sections the least. However from the desserts I have given the chocolate and chestnut cake a go from (moist and not too sweet at all, this kept well for quite a few days).   On the breakfast front I’ve found that the baked eggs with ham works well as a light lunch or brunch option on weekends when I have a bit more time.

The I Diet - Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomaro & Garlic Sauce

The I Diet – Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomato & Garlic Sauce

While it was the lovely salads that drew me to this book (the Courgette Ribbons with Cannellini Beans with Lemon Dressing and the tuna Three Bean & Tuna Salad with Fresh Mint in particular), the recipes I seem to use the most are the chicken ones. The Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary is a little fiddly to make (I have a lot of trouble getting my rolls to stay rolled, but that could just be me) but produces a tasty and juicy result that looks quite fancy.

The I Diet - Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

The I Diet – Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

Another star recipe for me is the extremely quick and easy Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce. For a sauce that contains only 4 Ingredients this really packs a punch. It’s terrifically fresh and sharp. While chicken (or turkey) is obviously the healthiest option, the sauce also works really well with a nice bit of pork if you’re a bit less diet conscious.

The I Diet - Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

The I Diet – Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

Finally the Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella is particularly delightful and not something I would consider to be “diet” at all containing, as it does, not one but two cheeses!

The I Diet - Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

The I Diet – Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

If you want to use this to diet, rather than to dip into, there are plans consuming either 1500 or 2000 calories a day for those who want to use this book that way. In true Italian style each contains a daily calorie allowance for alcohol. There’s also some useful information on various ingredients such as the fat and calorie comparisons for various Italian cheeses (and of course various alcoholic option) which are worth bearing in mind when creating your own lighter options or just generally watching your weight.



Cookbook Review – Jose Pizarro’s Spanish Flavours

In addition to my rather large collected of recipes printed from the internet or cut from magazines, I have also managed to amass rather a lot of cookbooks.  I love looking at recipes for inspiration and buy myself a new cookbook a couple of times a year as a treat.  The best of these books become treasured friends whose contents I return to time and time again.

Jose Pizarro’s runs two Spanish restaurants in London, but I’ve never been to either and wasn’t aware of them until I researched this book a little more.  Instead I bought Spanish Flavours after seeing some of the recipes on the Guardian website (here and here) and liking the sound of them.

When the book turned up I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s packed full of gorgeous pictures (both of food and of Spain and Spanish culture) and on looking through it there were immediately many many recipes I wanted to try.   Fish and seafood recipes feature quite heavily (e.g. sautéed squid onions potato and chilli and john dory chicory ham and mint), but there are also vegetarian and meat options (chicken in beer, salt crusted potatoes with carion der majo) as well as some delicious sounding desserts.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours Front Cover

The Front Cover

The book is divided into 5 regions; the North, the South, the East, the Centre and the Islands.  Each section is then prefaced with an explanation of its culinary traditions followed by a selection of sweet and savoury recipes based on these traditions.  The recipes may not be exactly how grandma would have made the dish, but they encapsulate the ethos and honesty of the Spanish food and ingredients while giving them a little bit of a modern makeover.

Helpfully for those of us who don’t have a local Spanish deli nearby, while championing Spanish produce, Jose has also helpfully suggested alternatives that can be used where appropriate.

One of the first dishes that caught my eye was the pan fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint in the North section.  When making this I had a minor hiccup with my French, confusing merlu with merlan, meaning that I ended up using whiting rather than hake.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - pan fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint

Hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint

Putting that, and the fact that I had to use jar asparagus rather than fresh due to the season, aside, this dish was extremely quick and easy to make and tasted delicious.  All in all it took about 15 minutes from getting the ingredients out to actually eating the dish and I was very pleased with the result.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - pan fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint comparison

Hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint compared to the book

Another simple but tasty offering is the grilled sausages with beans, garlic and sage (from the East). I will admit that I cheated with this and used tinned cannellini beans rather than properly soaking and cooking dried arrocina beans as the recipe stated, but the end result was extremely tasty regardless of (although my presentation is obviously lacking compared to the photograph in the book!).

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - grilled sausages with beans, garlic and sage comparison

Grilled sausages with beans, garlic and sage compared to the book

From the South section I had a go at the flamenquin.  Jose says that this is a traditional tapas dish – I served it with rice to make it a meal, but I reckon potatoes or pasta would work just as well.  For this I had to substitute the Queso de Grazalema for Gruyere as suggested but I did manage to get hold of some proper serrano ham at least!

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - flamenquin

Flamenquin (with rice)

What with making the sauce and breading and deep frying the pork rolls this all took quite a lot longer to make than the previous two recipes.  The dish was well worth the effort though and tomato sauce was absolutely brilliant.

And so onto the desserts.  There are so many that I want to try including the orange scented apple bunueos and the chocolate and hazelnut tart but, since it meant that I would get to use my new food processor for the first time, the first dessert I’ve made from this book is the orange, almond and pine nut tartlets (from the Centre).  I’m also a sucker for almond/frangipane desserts so that may have swayed me in the tartlets direction!

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - orange, almond and pine nut tartlets

Orange, almond and pine nut tartlets

As with the flamenquin these involved a fair few processes and required a bit of time and effort.  And as with the flamenquin the results were divine and worth the effort.  Even the pastry was gorgeous all by itself and I used my spare ends to make some little biscuits.  The tarts themselves were substantial and rich without feeling too heavy.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - orange, almond and pine nut tartlets comparison

Orange, almond and pine nut tartlets compared to the book

Overall I love the passion for food and for Spain that comes across in Jose’s writing.  Every recipe I have used so far has worked, been well written and was easy to follow (I wish I could say the same of all the cookbooks I’ve tried) and I can’t wait to continue trying things out.  There are a wide range of dishes of varying complexities, however I haven’t seen anything yet that I felt would be difficult to achieve if I have the time.

A Michelin starred meal and a little bit of home baking.

The absolute highlight of my past week (in fact probably the highlight of the past few weeks or months) was that I finally got to visit the Michelin Starred restaurant Les Cepages in Thoiry.  Something I had not managed to do so far in the two and a bit years I’ve lived here despite it being only a 10 minute drive away!

I love eating out, but until this week I had only ever managed to visit two Michelin starred restaurants; the Crown at Whitebrook (which unfortunately shut earlier this year) and the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, so I was very excited to finally be trying out another and a French one to boot.

For me the experience did not disappoint.  The food was absolutely delicious and I really enjoyed having the different wines to match each course rather than drinking one throughout.  There were a few small issues (detailed in my review here) but overall I had a great time and I hope I will manage to go back there at some point.

Lobster Tart at Les Cepages

Lobster Tart at Les Cepages

After the high of Les Cepages the next morning I was right back down to earth and off to the local hospital for a minor operation.  This was an outpatient procedure and although I knew I would need to stay a few hours, I didn’t really occur to me that I would get to eat there so the lunch they brought was nice surprise.

Lunch as the Hospital

Lunch as the Hospital

The hospital I was at was a private one so it’s a bit unfair to compare it to my experiences of NHS food, but I have to say I was impressed with the quality if not the choice (there was no choice!). I was presented with a trio of smoked fish, veal schnitzel and tagliatelle Neapolitan and a strawberry millefeuille which were all very tasty and cheered me up no end!

As you can probably guess from the above I once again didn’t get up to much cooking last week.  The one thing I did make was some apricot and frangipane tarts.  I love making little individual tarts in both sweet and savoury form.  These ones actually work well with most soft fruits are really easy to whip up if they take your fancy.  I enjoyed one warm right out of the oven and the other for my breakfast the next day.

Other than that it was a week of bread and cheese (a favourite easy meal of mine) and assorted store cupboard meals including pad thai and my new comfort creation, the multinational mix (and probably insulting to each of the cuisines involved).  Not particularly pretty or requiring in culinary skill but quick, easy, tasty meals.

A quick Pad Thai made with packet sauce

A quick Pad Thai made with packet sauce

Schupfnudeln with baked beans, Brie and Comte

Schupfnudeln with baked beans, Brie and Comte

Balcony Produce and Beautiful Blueberries

In addition to enjoying cooking and eating food, since I moved out to France (and finally had a bit of an outdoor space) I’ve also been enjoying attempting to grow some food.  Not everything has been successful (so far this year my pumpkin and my spinach have been utter failures) but it’s great fun to try things out and see what will work.  I think there’s something really special about eating food you’ve nurtured and watched grow.

This year I’ve had a go at growing some nice purple aubergines.  It’s been a bit hit and miss (several of the flowers and one small aubergine went mouldy for no apparent reason and fell off) but the plant did finally produce two smallish but edible aubergines.  They had stopped growing a little while ago and so this past weekend I decided it was finally time to pick and eat them!

I decided to make baked aubergine, butter beans and tomatoes as this meant I could also use some of my home grown tomatoes and thyme – a real celebration of my balcony produce.  I have to say that as nice as this dish is with shop bought ingredients it was particularly special for having spent so long waiting for both the aubergines and tomatoes to be ready.

Produce from my garden for my baked aubergine, butter beans and tomato dish

Produce from my garden for my baked aubergine, butter beans and tomato dish

Blueberries are in season right now and there are plenty of them grown around this region so I thought I’d have a go at making something with them.  Rather than a traditional blueberry tart, the form in which I normally consume blueberries, I thought I’d try something a bit different and decided to have a go at making a blueberry pavlova.

I had never tried to incorporate some fruit into the meringue itself before but I thought it could be interesting so the plan I settled on was blueberry meringue, topped with blueberry crème and fresh blueberries.   A bit of a blueberry overload!

This was a bit of an experiment for me and I was really pleased with how it all turned out!  The meringues browned quite a lot in the outside but were a gorgeous purple hue once you cut into them.  The only problem I had was that my whipped cream melted in the heat so they looked a little flatter than I would have liked, but they tasted divine.  If you fancy having a go the recipe is posted here.

The remains of a blueberry pavlova

The remains of a blueberry pavlova

The final dish I wanted to share this week was for chicken and pepper quesadillas.   Quesadillas always make a tasty light lunch and are a favourite way of mine to use up spare bits of things that are in my fridge.  Traditional quesadillas just have cheese on the inside but you can use pretty much anything you like for a filling provided it can be chopped up small, isn’t too liquid and it goes with cheese!  For these one’s I kept it simple, just chicken, red pepper, cheese and spices – delicious!

Finally, despite the fact that there are three new recipes above, since I last posted I’ve actually not been cooking much.  Instead I have been lucky enough to go out for two meals, one in Geneva and one in Lausanne, as well as having a lovely Holy Cow take away and being treated to a delicious BBQ.  My meal in Geneva was in the charming Café Zinette and I’ve posted a review here.

A New blog!

Welcome to my new blog!  Obviously things are a bit sparse here at the moment but I hope that it won’t be too long till there’s plenty of interesting content and resources for you to enjoy.  My intention is to share information and anecdotes on the food I have been and will be eating and cooking as well as some of my recipes, reviews of places I’ve eaten and of the cookbooks and products I have tried. A little bit of everything!

To get the ball rolling I’ve posted three restaurant reviews of some places I’ve visited since I relocated to the Geneva/France area and I’ll add more as and when I can.

So what have I been up to lately food wise?  Well in the past week of so I’ve been trying to use up some of the various items that had been in my fridge for a while.  As a result I made what is possible my favourite one pot supper Chorizo and Lemon Pilaf (using up some chorizo) and a very quick and light pasta dish of Courgette and bacon spaghetti (using up half a pot of crème fraiche that was lurking around). 

I also used two slightly overripe aubergines to make a delicious dip which I snacked on for a few days (I used this recipe from BBC Good Food minus the dill and with even more garlic) and my left over tinned tomatoes from the pilaf whipped up into a delicious salsa to go on nachos (to go with more of the crème fraiche from what seemed a never ending pot).

Finally, I was quite amazed to find hiding at the back of my fridge a packet of 36 month aged belotta ham that I had brought back with me from a trip to Madrid last October.  I had tried a few slices of this ham whilst eating a tapas dinner at the amazing Mercado de San Miguel Food market and loved it that much that I decided to treat myself (it was a bit pricy) and bring a pack home for a special occasion. 

Well a special occasion never arose and I forgot the pack was in the fridge and upon rediscovering it I decided that it had waited long enough and I was going to enjoy with no occasion at all.  It was just as sublimely delicious as I remembered and didn’t seem to have suffered from either the plane journey or from sitting in my fridge for 10 months (does it now count as being 46 months aged I wonder?).  The ham fat on the ham was soft and creamy and the perfect foil to the deeply salty rich meat.  I managed to make the pack last for three meals all in all, enjoying it with bread, manchego and membrillo.  A treat indeed.