A year of celebration or how the little girl followed her dream

EVERY little girl secretly dreams of that special day when she will walk down the aisle in her beautiful wedding gown.

For one day, she will be the centre of all attention and every detail would have been thought of to make it a day to remember. The food, the music, the decoration, everything would have been chosen with care to make those few hours as magical as possible….

WAIT! What? Only a few hours? I mean, a year of organisation, discussion, negotiation and compromise for what? Two glasses of champagne, three big smiles and a slice of cake. No thank you!

This is when the little girl and I came to an agreement: A wedding is a lifetime experience, so let’s do it the big way! We therefore both decided to make it special with not just one wedding but two, three, four, five and even six opportunities to make it…the one to remember.

At this point, my dearly beloved started worrying about two things: “Six weddings??”, and “She’s agreed to this with…herself?”  Moving swiftly on, I say.

Everything started on October 15th 2008 where my dearest proposed to me on top of the Empire State Building. Question from the in-laws: ‘You didn’t jump?’ – Answer: ‘No I couldn’t, the barriers were too high’. My dearest half was smart.

Wedding celebration – Part 1Saturday 8 August to Saturday 15 August

A year later, during the summer of 2009, families and witnesses surrounded us at Ulus 29, a delicious and classy restaurant in Istanbul with a beautiful view on the Bosphorus, to celebrate our engagement. Istanbul, city of love and passion, has become one of my favourite cities in the world. If you want to know more about it, click here.

Wedding celebration – Part 2Thursday 8 July to Sunday 11 July

Here we were, in the Eurostar waiting room, eating our posh picnic hamper with delicious salmon from Forman & Field, crispbread from Peter’s Yard, cheesecakes from Donald Russell, Codorniu Classico Cava bubbles and chocolate from Demarquette. Despite no trains running that night due to a fire in the Thames tunnel, we were the happiest people in the lounge and nothing could prevent us for getting married two days later.

After having finally made it to France, everything went according to plan and on the Saturday morning, @dewilded and I said “I Do” to each other… or should I say “Oui”. It was two incredible days with close family and witnesses but it was time to go back to London. Working life never stops.

Wedding celebration – Part 3Friday 17 July to Sunday 19 July
5.00pm: @dewilded was kidnapped by his friends in London and was only allowed to take his blind fold off a few hours later, once he’d landed in Berlin. Fifteen guys had organised a crazy bachelor weekend in Germany which ended in an outdoor karaoke where he had to sing the Stones’ “Satisfaction” in front of 2,500 people. As for the rest…well, it’s better not to know.

In a more civilised and foodie way, I was asked to cook a picnic in Jardin du Luxembourg for my friends. You can find all the details here.

Wedding celebration – Part 4Saturday 24 July

San Lorenzo, our favourite and nonetheless delicious Italian restaurant in Wimbledon, put together an amazing buffet to feed our UK guests invited to celebrate an unforgettable time.

Bruschetta, pizza, chicken Crostini, beef Crostini, fried prawns and calamari: every bite was tasty and flavoury. And while the plates kept coming from the kitchen, @jezmd, @thirsforwine, @laissezfare, @libbyeandrews, @sipswooshspit, @brandtaylor and a others started getting boogie down on the dance floor. From a legendary karaoke to the robot dance, the night was a success.

Wedding celebration – Part 5 Friday 20 August
Some of our guests invited to the previous party couldn’t make it and well, I guess it was another good excuse to organise a dinner at home. That said, inviting foodie friends over for dinner is nothing like having “regular” guests over.

We were absolutely spoilt that evening: everybody arrived with a dish: @kaveyf made a delicious Smooth Chicken Liver pate followed by a very tasty Cod in Basque Salsa Verde from @r_mcormack to finish with the most indulgent Tres de Leche made by @bribedwithfood.

A special thank you goes to @andredang who brought us the most amazing selection of Spanish, Belgian and French Caviar served with Quail Eggs and Blinis and… mother of pearl spoons.

Conclusion of the evening: we should get married more often! It was an incredible night and our friends offered us the most beautiful gift ever: a home made dinner cooked with love and passion. Thank you very much!

Wedding celebration – Part 6Saturday 11 September

‘David, would you like to be my husband?’ ‘Yes I do’… and on these words, we left the church, religiously married with the biggest smile ever and a hundred and fifty people ready to party with us all night . Everything went extremely well and, guess what? We still receive emails saying how excellent the food was.

The little girl has achieved her dream.

Wedding celebration – Part 7TBC
…who knows…

Thank you all for these incredible moments of love, happiness and friendship.

It meant a lot to us and hats off to having made our dream come true.

We love you.

For the love of cooking – Donald Russell

IT’S been a while. With all the events, restaurant openings and dinners out, time in the kitchen has been quite scarce.  It came to the point where it was getting very frustrating. It’s been a while that I haven’t taken the time to cook, to enjoy the pleasure of mixing ingredients, and enjoy the whole culinary creative process.

I claim to be a food blogger but how can I justify this statement if I don’t take the time to be in communion with the natural elements that compose a dish. Meat, fish, vegetables, dairies, spices, there is so much to learn and so much to investigate.

Since having started my blog, I’ve also started to develop a lot of respect and, hopefully, a discerning taste for good ingredients.  Fresh, in season, well cultivated or prepared; a great ingredient over a standard ingredient can be exactly the catalyst one needs to make that simple dish exceptional.

Where before I would have had little qualms of buying my ingredients at the closest supermarket for a big meal, I now place a great deal of importance into how much better a meal can become  when every component lives up to what my recipe deserves.

Finding and choosing these perfect ingredients can be quite an laborious and time-consuming activity, though: all ingredients can be found in hundreds of varieties and varying qualities, all at different markets and stalls across the city. If you’re not sure where to find what you’re looking for, the process of finding your ingredients can easily take as long as the time you’ll spend in the kitchen.

Wonderful world of the digital era… Being among those people who need human contact in order to feel at ease with the people I work and socialise with, I rarely order ingredients online…even though I have to admit that the range of choices for any ingredient for any type of cuisine is quite amazing….

Call me old-fashioned but there is nothing more rewarding than a smile or a simple ‘Hello’ in life and….

Just recently, I was given the opportunity to taste some meat from Donald Russell and experience their delivery process and customer service. I have to say that the whole process went extremely smoothly. The team really made an effort to present the meat as if you were receiving a gift. It wasn’t Christmas but it looked like it and it made the meat even more appealing.

Some people would wonder about the reasons of being so enthusiast about a piece of meat. I understand that it may not be the most exciting thing in life but what we shouldn’t forget is the hard word that this piece of meat represents and all the people behind it. Of course, it is easy to go to the closest supermarket to buy meat for a meal. But to find tasty, tender and quality meat that have been prepared with care and love is another story.

I discovered that the founder of Donald Russell, John Stone, co-wrote The Meat Buyers’ Guide, a classic text for butchers which established industry-wide standards for cutting, and helped earn him an MBE for services to the meat industry. You don’t joke with meat!

The main rule that we stand by for sourcing is that we never compromise on quality. This can only be done by investing our passion and expertise into every single item of food that leaves our butchers floor. It is important that the animal must have good conformation (an even fat covering) and excellent marbling. Most modern meat suppliers simply do not allow their meat to mature, so it becomes tough and flavourless when cooked. We use traditional methods to mature our beef and lamb for up to 21 days, allowing time for the rich flavours to develop and for the meat to become incredibly tender.” Gary McDonald – Donald Russell

When you meet liked-minded people so passionate about their meat, it’s like time has stopped and nothing else matters anymore. But it will always come the time when enjoying a good piece of meat will be more important than talking about it!

Asian Confit of Pork Belly – Courtesy of Garlic Confit
For the confit

1.7 kg piece of Pork Belly
Goose Fat or Olive oil (as much as you need to cover, Approx 1kg)
1tsp Sechuan Peppercorns
4 Star Anise
1 tablespoon Five Spice Powder
1 tablespoon sea salt

For the sauce
1 Red Chili (as hot as you like)
2 inches of Ginger
1 Clove of Garlic
1/2 a Cup of Sake
3 tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Sesame oil
1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
1 Star Anise
Sechuan Peppercorns
5 tablespoons Sugar
5 tablespoons Water

The night before
Crush the sechuan peppercorns with the star anise add the five spice powder, then stir into the salt. Rub the pork on both sides with the salt mixture. Pop the pork, skin up, in an oven dish that is just holds it. Leave overnight in the fridge.

When ready to use
Remove the pork from the fridge and discard any liquid that has gathered. Heat your oven to 150C. Warm through the goose fat till it is pourable (not necessary if you are using the olive oil) cover the belly pork with the fat and cover the dish. Place in the oven and cook for 3 1/2 hours.

Remove the pork from the oil and brush of any large chunks of spice. (At this point you can make the pork more presentable by placing it between to flat trays and placing a weight on it and leaving it the fridge for the night. Then when cold trim it to a perfect rectangle.)

When ready to cook the pork heat the oven to 220c and lightly score the skin of the pork and rub it with a little olive oil. Place the pork skin up in a dish and cook for about 20 minutes until it crisps up and the skin crackles (if it needs a bit longer pop the grill on high and finish off the skin that way)
While the pork is roasting make the caramel:
In a pan heat the sugar and water till it forms a caramel – 2-3 minutes
Grate the ginger and garlic. Chop the Chili. Crush the Star Anise and Peppercorns
When the Caramel is ready, whack up the heat and pour in the remaining ingredientsCook for about 4-5 until the sauce is thick.
Take out the pork and brush the sauce all over and return to the oven for 5 minutes before serving