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Archive for December, 2010

(Almost) Guilt Free Pumpkin Pie

December 30, 2010


This pie is delicious and actually pretty healthy – hence, Mia loves it! The combination of pumpkin and spices give it a beautiful sweet and nutty flavour and make it taste far more decadent that it actually is. A great dessert for this time of year when you’ve had way too many indulgences already.

Serve on its own or with vanilla ice-cream, custard or mascarpone.

Pie Filling:
400g pumpkin, uncooked
3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tblsn flour
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup cream
3/4 cup milk
Short Crust Pastry:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tblspn white sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 2.5cm pieces
1/8 – 1/4 cup ice water
Make pastry: Place salt, flour and sugar into food processor and mix. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles a coarse meal (approx 15 seconds). With mixer on low speed, pour in 1/8 cup water very slowly until the dough just holds together when pinched. Don’t process for more than 30 seconds.
Flatten dough into a disk, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins before using.
Roll out pastry and line a 9 inch pie tin. Cover again with plastic and refrigerate for another 30 mins before pouring in filling.
Make pumpkin puree: Remove all seeds and stringy pulp from pumpkin. Cut into small pieces and peel. Place in a saucepan, cover with lightly salted water and boil for 25 mins or until tender. Mash or puree so that it is a smooth consistency. Allow to cool. This should make approx. 1.5 cups of mashed pumpkin.
Preheat oven to 230 degrees Celsius.
In a bowl, lightly beat eggs and add flour, spices, sugar and vanilla essence. Add 1.5 cups of mashed pumpkin and stir. Gradually add cream and milk and stir, ensuring a smooth consistency. Pour into prepared pie tin.
Cook for 10 mins at 230 degrees and then turn oven temperature down to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 40-50 mins.

Season 1: Episode 5

December 28, 2010

 

Mia jammed the last bottle of sparkling white in the fridge and hurriedly closed the door just before her haphazard stacking came undone. She just had to remember not to open it again in a hurry. Although her salary didn’t afford ‘real’ Champagne, she had splashed out and bought several bottles of a beautiful vintage brut from Tasmania that she knew Willow liked.

It was hard to believe New Year’s Eve had arrived already. She and Willow had both decided to give the big New Year’s celebrations a miss this year. Mia had never been one to go in for a big party, preferring to stay home on her own. She’d never felt it before, but for the first time she had a pang of missing out on something. She was, once again, alone on the last night of the year.

Well, not totally alone. She had Willow. And food. So much food.

Willow was going through a pie phase, and Mia had noticed at least four different types of pie in the fridge that she had tried her best not to squash with the bottles. She had watched Willow with intrigue as she had baked these amazing creations. Not content with the standard meat or apple pies, Mia had seen Willow placing ingredients such as salmon, porcini mushrooms, goat’s cheese and passionfruit into different dishes, with toppings like polenta and sticky date crumble replacing the traditional pastry. Willow had even made Mia a special pumpkin pie, which she had assured her was (mostly) guilt-free and delicious.
“There is no better way to start the New Year than with a pie,” Willow had said when Mia questioned her on the pie frenzy. “From the outside it looks the same as all the other pies, but it’s not until you’re into the middle of it that you realise just how different it is!”

The unique philosophy of Willow. It made sense. Sort of.

***

Mia was surprised when Ana ambled into the kitchen at 4.30pm.

“You’re home already!” she exclaimed.

“Finished early,” Ana replied. She surveyed the cupboard to see what was available before she went for the fridge.

“Don’t open….!” shouted Mia, just as several bottles of sparkling came rolling out and across the tiled floor.

“We’ll just have to open one, now” Ana said, as she tried unsuccessfully to fit them all back in. She popped a bottle unceremoniously and emptied her glass before Mia had even taken a sip.

Ana was in a foul mood.  She’d just found out Marc was not going to be at the same New Year’s Eve ‘do’ she was going to. She had deliberately knocked back all other invitations under the assumption that Marc would be going to the exclusive party that one of their best clients held every year. She was positive he’d said he was going.
“My wife will come with me to the other party,” he’d said running a hand down Ana’s arm after one of their lusty afternoon lovemaking sessions, “but she always leaves early so we’ll still be able to see the New Year in together.”

She should have been turned off by him at that point, but she was smitten.

Ana had stopped on the way home to collect a gorgeous navy blue silk dress that she had bought during the week. It didn’t leave much to the imagination, clinging to every perfect curve and hanging dangerously low down her back. Marc knew her body better than anyone and Ana knew he would love the dress. Even more so crumpled on the floor – but she had planned to drive him wild before they reached that point.

So much for that plan.

Well, if he wasn’t going then she sure as hell didn’t want to go! Her forehead creased with pain as she tried to imagine what he might be doing instead.

“So, what are your plans tonight?” asked Mia, taking a sip from her glass. She could tell that Ana was in a mood.

“Big fat nothing. I’m going to be one of those losers who stays home on New Year’s.” She took another gulp of the sparkling. “You?”

Mia was a bit hurt. “Just staying in,” she said lightly. Ana wasn’t exactly the most tactful person at the best of times, but lately she had just been downright thoughtless and rude.
To her credit, Ana did look genuinely sheepish as she took another gulp of her drink.

Luckily, Willow arrived home before their silence became too awkward. “ Hello!” she sang, as she closed the front door. She waltzed into the kitchen humming a song and carrying a large bunch of red roses and a bottle of Moët.

“For you!” she said presenting them to Ana. “They were by the front door.”

Ana immediately knew whom they were from. There was no card and no delivery address, which meant that he had dropped them off himself.

It doesn’t make it OK that he’s deserting me, she thought to herself, but at least it shows he cares.

The Moët was already chilled and she wasted no time downing the rest of her glass and opening the new bottle. “Time to move onto the grown-up stuff, ladies.”

Willow caught the hurt expression on Mia’s face. “Don’t be such a snob, Ana!” Willow chided as she went to the fridge. “Yum! My favourite!” she said as she caught sight of the bottles that Mia had bought. “Thank you, Mia!”

Mia smiled tightly, hoping that Ana would get bored and go out with some other friends. She was in an aggressive mood that Mia didn’t fancy dealing with all night.

***

Willow was getting the pies out of the fridge when Ana’s phone rang. Ana looked at the screen and then quickly left the room.

When she returned ten minutes later, she looked as if she’d been crying. Her housemates were worried. Nothing ever rattled Ana.

“What’s happened?” Willow asked gently, putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder. Ana shook it off and turned to face them, her eyes fiery.

“He’s going to the fucking Maldives.”

Willow and Mia looked at each other. What was she talking about?

“He’s taking his family to the Maldives for two weeks instead of going to the party. Couldn’t even tell me to my face. What a coward.” Tears were streaming down her face again.

“Who?” asked Willow. “Tom?”

“Not Tom! Marc. It’s Marc!”

She turned and fled the room, so distraught she forgot her glass of Champagne.

“Who the hell is Marc?” asked Mia, bewildered.

Then she remembered the flowers in the hall – Ana. Thanks for this morning. M. – the late nights, having to work on Christmas Day… The penny dropped. “Oh my God. She’s having an affair with her boss!” exclaimed Mia.

Willow slowly nodded her head. “I think I need some pie.”

 

Season 1: Episode 4a (Christmas Episode)

December 25, 2010

Ana hung up the phone, closed her eyes and took an extra moment to savour the rich, heady scent of Willow’s coq au vin before walking in to see her friends. Judging by the aroma and the peals of laughter emanating from the kitchen, dinner preparations were well underway.

“Merry Christmas!” they cried, as she walked in.

Johnny pressed a glass of Prosecco into Ana’s hand and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as he moved past to decant a wine he’d selected for their meal. Ana was grateful for the drink and took a long swig. She felt a pang of guilt – or was it regret? – that she had not been there for the afternoon to help with the feast. If it wasn’t for Marc, and his tantalisingly persuasive ways, she could have spent Christmas Day laughing and preparing dinner with her best friends.

She shook her head a little at the thought. Much as she craved Marc, more and more she found herself walking away from their passionate, secret trysts feeling frustrated and, well, lonely. As their affair wore on, Ana was beginning to realise that her boss was never going to leave his wife.

“Ooh… what have you got there?” enquired Willow, craning her neck to peek inside the large white box Ana was carrying. Ana cleared her mind of Marc and turned to face her friend with a smile. Lifting the lid, Willow clapped her hands together when she saw the figs. “Perfect!” she exclaimed, giving Ana a quick hug before opening the fridge and taking out fresh butter and cream and placing it on the bench. Ana couldn’t help but smile to herself at the memory of the figs, remnants of her lovemaking with Marc earlier in the day.

Mia was over the sink, topping and tailing French beans, stopping every few minutes to take a quick sip of her drink. In a pot next to her was a selection of deep yellow Dutch Cream potatoes, which had just been boiled. The steam from the potatoes curled up in long fingers, disappearing just before it reached the ceiling.

“What can I do?” asked Ana, moving around the room refilling glasses with the refreshing Italian wine. She was hoping the others had already had a bit to drink so they wouldn’t notice the way she swayed as she stood. She and Marc had polished off a bottle of Moët earlier and she’d had nothing to eat all day. Except the figs, of course. And Marc.

“You could mash the potatoes?” Mia replied. “Willow will be much happier if you do them. I don’t put enough butter in, apparently.”

“It’s Christmas Day. Calories don’t count, Mia!” Ana teased in a sing-song voice. She ladled cream, butter and salt onto the hot potatoes and started mashing furiously.

***

At around eight o’clock, the four friends sat down in the dining room and surveyed the feast that was spread out before them.

Mia had laid the table beautifully, incorporating fresh apricots and rosemary sprigs into a simple, stunning centrepiece. They’d taken out the bone china dinner set Ana had inherited from her grandmother; the vintage lead crystal glasses sparkling in the evening sunset. Their fine white plates soon brimmed with food. Tender pieces of organic chicken breast that had marinated overnight in a French Burgundy and then slow-cooked for hours throughout the afternoon. Green beans – quickly blanched in hot water, then cooled to retain their crunch – glistened with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and rock salt.  And the mashed potatoes sat up in peaks like small mountains of buttery fairy floss.

Johnny had carefully selected some beautiful wines to complement the meal and was pouring a 2004 Pinot Noir from the decanter into their glasses. He explained that it was from his friend Claude’s boutique vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula and that only 600 bottles had been made. He had been lucky enough to get his hands on four of them.

The sun was turning a deep scarlet pink as the night air set in. But the unseasonal rains that had robbed them of much of the start to summer finally seemed to have stopped.

***

Mia looked at her empty plate and gave out a satisfied sigh. She picked up a lone green bean with her fingers and held it up to her mouth, licking the rock salt off before devouring the vegetable. It always amazed her that food could take so long to prepare, yet no time at all to eat.

Johnny began clearing plates next to her as Ana and Willow disappeared into the kitchen to put the finishing touches to dessert. Watching a lock of her friend’s dark mop of hair fall over his eyes as he leaned over the table, Mia felt herself fighting the instinct to tuck it behind his ear. She could detect what had become known to all of them as Johnny’s Smell: Beer, cigarettes and cinnamon. The smell perfectly illustrated the contradiction within him. Johnny only ever wore black and rarely shaved or slept in his own bed, but he liked to keep bundles of ribbon-tied cinnamon sticks tucked away in his cupboards. Something his mum used to do, he’d told them one day when the girls had quizzed him about it.

Even though they had all been friends for so long, Mia felt as though she and Johnny had rarely spent much time together alone. Why was that? She knew that Willow was close with him – they all thought it was hilarious that Johnny and Willow used to date years ago – but it was always the four of them together, whenever Johnny was around. There was something about him that unnerved her. She couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but she never felt comfortable alone in his presence. He seemed unpredictable. Dangerous. A shiver ran down Mia’s spine. And she kind of liked it.

Mia’s thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of Ana and Willow returning to the dining room. Mia and Johnny both drew breath at the sight before them. Ana held a tray of ripe figs, opened like flower blossoms. Inside each was a dollop of glistening mascarpone. Next to her a beaming Willow held a golden cake piled high with fresh cherries. After the coq au vin, the vegetables and the wine, it felt like the final act in some decadent, Baroque feast. Mia felt filled with happiness as she watched her friends excitedly carving up the cake to expose the dense filling within, and tipsily sucking at the mascarpone-filled figs. Life was good.

Caramelised Figs with Mascarpone Cheese

December 23, 2010


A very impromptu dish created by Ana for her housemates for dessert on Christmas day. This is easy and delicious, the creamy mascarpone perfectly complementing the sweetness of the ripe figs.

Serve individually or on a large platter

Serves 5

10 perfect, ripe figs

8-10 tablespoons of cane sugar (depending on how sweet you want them)

500g mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup powdered sugar

8 tablespoons of sweet dessert wine or a late picked rielsing

Make two perpendicular cuts half way into each fig as if you were going to quarter them. Put them on a baking tray covered with greaseproof or baking paper.

Sprinkle a teaspoon or so of cane sugar over each fig and pop them under the grill for 2-3 minutes, to lightly caramelise the sugar.

Arrange the figs on serving plate(s) and continue the cuts almost all the way down to the base, so the figs open like flowers.

Mix the mascarpone cheese with the powdered sugar and dessert wine. Place a generous  dollop of the cheese on each fig and serve immediatley.

Season 1: Episode 4

December 21, 2010

Here she was again, face down in a mix of cushions and groaning in exquisite agony. He was teasing her, his face buried between her legs, licking and kissing from behind as she arched her back. Ana sighed with pleasure as he turned her over. She was addicted to this man; to his hands, his lips, to the way his thumb traced a line across her mouth as he ran his tongue over her stomach. Here he stopped, playing her again, nibbling and kissing and knowing that she was maddened with desire for him. His hand reached to the box of figs that he had given her. It was an unusual gift, but Ana could now see what he had in mind when he got them.

“Merry Christmas, Ana,” he’d said, presenting her with the gift box containing 24 plump, ripe figs, individually nestled in fine tissue paper. She’d looked at him questioningly, as he’d placed the box on the floor and gently pushed her down onto the couch.

He slowly ran one of the figs across her moist, parted lips. She tried to bite it but he moved it away too quickly. He offered it to her again, this time allowing her to suck the tip of it, the purple skin exploding and the wet, ripe fruit covering her mouth and chin.

He kissed her, the sticky seeds spilling from her mouth into his.

She groaned in his ear.

He smiled. She knew he loved seeing her like this, frenzied and on the brink of losing control in a way she never would when they were in the office. She hated him for that but, God, did she love how it made her feel.

Ana felt half-crazed as he leaned in again to kiss her. He tasted salty and sweet. Sometimes it was like this. Sometimes she felt as if she could never get enough of him, and he seemed to think so too; the two of them clawing at each other’s bodies until they would eventually lay gasping and motionless, too exhausted to say much at all.

She knew she shouldn’t be here, especially on Christmas Day. Marc was her boss and, more than that, he was married. He should have been at home with his family, opening presents or eating turkey or whatever it was that families like his did on days like this. But, instead, here they were after he’d sent her a text that morning.

The client needs an answer now. Meet me at the office.

She couldn’t help it. She was lost.

***

“Who goes to work on Christmas Day?” Willow had shouted after Ana as she rushed out the door of the house, leaving Willow up to her armpits in chicken and red wine. Ana had mumbled something about international clients and deadlines.

Before she’d even arrived at the office this was where she’d hoped they would end up. Ana had recognised the hunger in his eyes as soon as she’d walked through the door.
“Drink?” he asked after they had placated their overseas client on the phone. It was still Christmas Eve in Chicago.

In truth, Ana knew Marc didn’t need her here for work. This was something he could have done from his office at home.

“Yes,” she had said. “Yes, I think so.”

He led her into his private boardroom, where a bottle of Moët and the large box of figs were already waiting.

* * *

Ana looked at her watch and squeezed her eyes shut. “I’ve got to go!” she groaned.
Marc muttered something in reply, a muscular arm flung across her chest, his face muffled by a sofa cushion. Retrieving her clothes, Ana smoothed her blonde hair and reapplied her favourite MAC lipstick. She walked over to the sofa and gave Marc a lingering kiss on the shoulder. He didn’t stir.

***

Willow had left several messages on her phone and Ana knew she was pushing it to be home in time for Christmas dinner.

“Shit!” she exclaimed. Ana had forgotten that she had promised to make dessert for Christmas dinner with her friends. Grabbing the remnants of the box of figs she raced out of the office and hailed a taxi. She made a quick stop at a convenience store so she could pick up some mascarpone.

She was starving and snuck a fig out of the box, smiling secretly to herself as she sucked the moist fruit from its skin. She was hurriedly licking her lips as the taxi pulled up to the terrace house she owned but which they all shared. Her phone rang.

Tom.

“Hi sweetheart! Merry Christmas,” she answered, the headache that had been building in the cab suddenly intensifying. She touched her forehead.

Not a great believer in the festive season, her boyfriend Tom had been overseas for the past few weeks doing some volunteer work in Cambodia – or was it Laos?

“I know, I know, I’m sorry I missed your calls. Would you believe that I’ve been stuck at the office today?”

Cradling the phone on her shoulder, she unlocked the door to the house and stopped to breathe in the unmistakeable smells of melting butter, red wine, bay leaves and slow-cooked chicken.

“I’ve just got home so I should go and help Willow get dinner set up,” she said. “Merry Christmas, darling…can’t wait to see you, either.”

Coq au Vin

December 16, 2010


Willow uses her favourite Julia Childs recipe for Coq au Vin and adds her own special touches to it. She loves the rich flavour of beautiful red wine and the tender chicken pieces. It’s a bit of work but a great dish to serve when you’re trying to impress someone!

Serve with smashed potatoes and french green beans, drizzled lightly in olive oil and lemon juice.

115 grams slab bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/2 inch dice

6-8 pieces organic chicken breast and/or drumsticks, skin on

fennel spice rub

1/2 cup all purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 shallots

1 carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 bottle of excellent quality dry red wine (burgundy, pinot noir or similar)

2 crushed garlic cloves

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup chicken stock

15-25 pearl onions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large field mushrooms, sliced (approx 2cm slices)

course salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon butter at room temperature

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat and then add the bacon, stirring until crisp, (approx 5-7 mins). While the bacon is cooking, salt and pepper the chicken all over and coat thinly in flour. Move the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

Add chicken in a single layer skin side down and brown. Turn the pieces over to brown the other side. Repeat if the chicken doesn’t all fit in a single layer. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add onion, carrot, and garlic and cook until soft and slightly browned (approx 5-10 mins). Add the tomato paste and cook with the vegetables for a couple of minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Reduce to about a cup and a half of liquid (approx 15 mins). Add the cup of stock and bring to a boil. Ladle out about 3/4 cup of the braising liquid and reserve for cooking the mushrooms.

Add the bacon and chicken back to the pot, including any accumulated juices on the platter and put the lid on the Dutch oven. Place this in the oven. After 15 minutes, check the pot to make sure it’s not boiling too rapidly. Adjust the oven temperature to maintain a simmer. Check the dish after another 30 mins to make sure it is immersed in the liquid. Cook for another 60-75 mins.

While the chicken is braising in the oven, prepare the mushrooms and onions. Heat the butter and/or oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onions first and then a few mins later the mushrooms, stirring to coat with the oil and butter. Cook for approx 15-20 mins. Add brandy and simmer for 5 more mins. Put the mushrooms and onions aside until ready to finish the dish.

Remove the chicken dish from the oven and place the chicken pieces and the vegetables into a separate bowl. Combine the softened butter with the flour and stir, making sure there are no flour lumps. Whisk into the liquid and boil for a few minutes, thickening the sauce. Add the chicken, vegetables, mushrooms and onions back to the pot to reheat everything (approx 15-20 mins). Serve immediately.

Season 1: Episode 3

December 14, 2010

The rain had already soaked her shirt before Willow had a chance to open the umbrella. It might be the start of summer, she thought, but Melbourne still knows how to keep a girl guessing. Pulling her silk scarf out of her bag she wrapped it around her neck to keep out the unseasonably chill wind and biting rain. Hoisting her string shopping bag onto her shoulder, she began the short walk to the Victoria Market as the rain began an even more violent assault on the city.

She loved the market this early in the morning. By 6am all the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls were set up and she got to have her pick of the best produce. It always surprised people when she told them that, far from being quiet and empty, the market was alive with activity at this time. They buzzed with restaurant and café owners – as well as some serious foodies like herself – who all flocked to their favourite sellers like junkies to a dealer. This morning was a little quieter than normal, though, the rain keeping all but the seriously addicted away.

“Willow! Come stai, bella?”

“Lorenzo!” she sang, clambering over a stack of lush green broccoli to hug the man in the heavy leather apron. Lorenzo beamed back at her and reached behind her ear, magically pulling a plump apricot from the side of her head. Willow threw back her head, her copper-coloured hair darkened from the rain, and laughed with delight.

“Still a bit early in the season, but I give to you and you tell me how you think about it,” he said in his thick Italian accent.

Lorenzo was Willow’s favourite stallholder. Originally from Sicily, he and his wife had the best quality produce in the whole market, their exacting standards meaning that – without fail – their fruit and vegetables always looked and tasted perfect. They also managed to get their hands on things Willow rarely saw anywhere else, like purple cauliflower, white eggplant and rare varieties of heirloom tomatoes and potatoes.

“What’s on the menu tonight?” Lorenzo asked.

“I was thinking coq au vin and buttered green beans,” Willow said, inhaling deeply from a bunch of dried bay leaves, “I’m cooking Christmas dinner for my housemates and I wanted to have a trial run tonight while they’re out.” She took a thoughtful nibble of the apricot Lorenzo had given her. “But I’m not sure about dessert. The apricots aren’t quite ready to go yet, are they?”

Lorenzo shrugged his shoulders apologetically. “For others I say apricots good, but for Willow I say wait one more week. I know she is a perfectionist.”

Willow had to laugh because she knew it was true. For all her calm and happy-go-lucky attitude, she did not compromise on food. Everyone knew that and so, it seemed, did dear Lorenzo. It didn’t matter. She could trial the apricot and brandy pie she’d planned another time. Even though Ana had offered to make dessert Willow knew she would need to have a back-up plan come Christmas Day. Ana was more likely than not to forget, then find any shop that was open on the 25th and buy whatever sweet thing they had left. Without proper planning, it wouldn’t surprise Willow if they ended up eating a frozen cheesecake for Christmas pudding.

She was really looking forward to spending Christmas Day with her friends. Even though she, Ana and Mia all lived together, lately it felt like their lives were out of sync. Ana, especially, seemed constantly preoccupied; her job at the PR firm all-consuming. Long gone were their university days when they would close up together at the bar they had worked in and sit for hours, drinking and laughing, until the sun came up and they would stagger home to bed. Johnny would be there on some of those nights, too; a perpetual barfly and onetime bass player in a bunch of Melbourne rock bands, and as handsome and shambolic back then as he was today.

Willow smiled at Lorenzo and handed over the bay leaves, some fresh Australian garlic, two handfuls of smooth green beans and a kilo of Dutch Cream potatoes for some of her famous, artery-hardening mash. As she reached for her change she spotted a photograph pinned onto the refrigerated truck parked close to the stall.

“Who’s that?” she pointed.

“Him? Oh, that’s my son, Carlo,” Lorenzo said.

Willow looked closer. The man was stunning. He smiled out from the photograph, his dark brown eyes twinkling like he’d just been told a dirty joke. He was topless and his dark walnut skin glistened with water from some far-flung place. How had she never noticed this picture before?

“He just sent me the photo, that’s him on Amalfi Coast in Italy. He a chef there,” Lorenzo said proudly.

“Oh,” Willow said, disappointed. “I wondered why I hadn’t met him!” She thought she knew all of Lorenzo’s family. His wife Lucia and daughters Carla and Allegra were always on hand to help find her the best basil or mandarins or leeks. But none of them had ever mentioned Carlo and, for some reason, she felt flustered at the new discovery.

Lorenzo had been watching her face carefully. She had blushed when she’d seen his son – the girls always did – but this Willow was special. Whenever she came to their stall Lorenzo and his family always scrambled to serve her first, her happiness and good nature infected them all.

“You know,” he said slyly, “Carlo comes to visit in a few months. I think that you should meet then. You can talk food!”

Willow’s heart skipped a beat. Why was she reacting like this? It was just a photo, for God’s sake. But there was something about his smile, his eyes…

“Ok, Lorenzo. I will.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and waved as she walked away. There was still chicken to be bought from her favourite organic butcher and maybe some hand-churned butter from that little producer down the coast. There was a Christmas feast to consider before Willow could even think about the next few months.

Mia’s Homemade Muesli

December 9, 2010


This healthy and delicious breakfast is a favourite of Mia and her housemates. Mia usually makes enough to last a few weeks by doubling or tripling the recipe and stores it in an airtight container. In summer, she loves serving it with sweet, juicy strawberries.

Serve with milk, Greek yoghurt, flavoured yoghurt, labneh or fruit juice and fresh seasonal fruit or compote – serves 8-10.

1 cup puffed rice

1 cup puffed millet

1 cup organic rolled oats

1 cup quinoa flakes

1 cup of dried cranberries

1 cup of whole hazelnuts

1 cup of whole almonds

1 cup of dried orange* pieces

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup coconut flakes

Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. You can add or subtract ingredients to taste.

*Dried Orange: Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Slice 1 navel orange very thinly – each slice should be approx. ¼ inch thick.  Line baking tray with non-stick paper and place slices of orange in a single layer. Bake until the peel is dried and flesh is translucent, approx 2½ hours. Once orange is cool, cut each segment into bite size triangles (approx 6-8 per slice). For slightly sweeter orange slices you can soak them in a mixture of honey or sugar and hot water for 10 minutes prior to baking.

Season 1: Episode 2

December 7, 2010

Mia mounted the stairs to the Pilates studio two at a time. Her long limbs, which usually made easy work of the climb, felt heavy and slow. It was still dark outside but, even though she was exhausted and could have quite happily stayed in bed for hours, she was determined to get in a good workout before her first client arrived.

This time of year always presented a challenge to Mia. She had a very precise lifestyle; a routine that she rarely deviated from. Structure permeated every aspect of her life: what she ate, what she did, where she went and with whom she went. She didn’t like to think of herself as stuffy and uptight, but, well… she didn’t exactly cut loose that often. So the month of December was a nightmare for her sense of control and order. She tried hard to make it to the endless Christmas parties and pre-holiday catch-ups, and she always enjoyed them when she was there, but every late night and cocktail she had seemed to stimulate a little voice in the back of her mind: You’re going to regret this tomorrow.

She opened the appointment schedule to see who her first client for the day was going to be. She really hoped it was one of the many retirees she regularly saw. Instead of a fully charged workout, they were usually more interested in a chat and some light stretches, which was about the tempo that Mia felt capable of today. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the name filling the slot.

Nick!

Generally, Mia knew exactly when Nick was going to visit the studio. He must have phoned yesterday, after she had gone home, and booked the session. How typical that he – of all her clients – would be coming for an unexpected class the day she’d woken up late, on a morning when she hadn’t even bothered to wipe off the small amount of makeup she’d put on last night, and when she was wearing her single most unattractive outfit.

Nick was charming. He was attractive and funny and had all the older ladies at the studio wrapped around his little finger. He had become her client about eight months ago as part of his rehabilitation for a nasty back injury he’d received cycling through the French Alps. As you do. But even after eight months of weekly visits, at which she’d pushed his injured body to the limits with Pilates, Mia still got butterflies when she saw him. Now, she was aching with anticipation.

Anticipation of what, she didn’t know.

She hadn’t told her housemates about Nick. She knew they wouldn’t understand why she didn’t just ask him out on a date. She wished she could be more like them. They were always taking men out for drinks or dinner; the epitome of empowered, modern women. Although, not so much Ana these days, Mia thought. Ana had been seeing someone for a few months now. Although the relationship seemed serious (in Mia’s mind, dating someone for a few months was commensurate to being engaged!), Ana had never introduced him to her housemates, leaving Mia and Willow to assume the nights that Ana didn’t come home she spent at his place. Either there or at work.

* * *

Mia focussed on getting prepared for Nick’s arrival. She hadn’t eaten breakfast at home, bringing instead a take-away tub containing her homemade muesli and a water bottle filled with organic soy milk. With slightly shaky hands Mia transferred her breakfast into a bowl. She didn’t cut any corners with her muesli and it was rich with whole hazelnuts, puffed rice, dried orange, almonds and cranberries. A few ripe, cut strawberries were thrown in for good measure.

She knew she had to work off some of her nervous energy, so she lay down on the Pilates Reformer machine, carefully placing the bowl of muesli next to her. This gave new meaning to the term working breakfast! She put her foot on the support bar and gracefully lifted her right leg towards her at the same time as pushing the carriage away with her left. The spring-loaded machine allowed her to both stretch and strengthen at the same time. She took in a deep breath as she pulled her leg closer towards her, increasing the intensity of the stretch. The butterflies were back with a vengeance. She exhaled slowly, bringing the Reformer carriage back to neutral and trying to calm her mind.

Why does he have this effect on me?

She closed her eyes, breathed in slowly, and pushed the carriage away once again.

* * *

Someone was gently stroking the sole of her foot. Inhaling through slightly parted lips, she opened her eyes and found Nick gazing at her. He slowly ran his hand down the inside of her leg and rested it on her inner thigh.

She exhaled.

Without taking his eyes off her, Nick’s firm touch travelled up her torso. He paused slightly, cupping her small but firm breasts. Her whole body felt electrified. She inhaled and arched her back slightly, longing to feel him closer. He brought his mouth close to hers and, teasing, gently caressed her neck. Mia clutched the side of the bench and used it to arch her body up further towards his.

In his hand he held a segment of strawberry, plucked from the bowl by Mia’s side. He gently placed it in her belly button, letting his hand forge a lazy trail between her legs before running his tongue along her stomach to collect his prize. Moving his mouth closer to hers, he transferred the strawberry to her swollen lips with his own.

She exhaled slowly, every part of her body tingling with desire.
She could wait no longer. Their bodies entangled, rhythmically pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling as she…

“Mia!”

Mia jumped, unsettling her bowl of muesli and spilling it all over herself and the Reformer machine as she scrambled to get up. A lone strawberry tumbled across the floor, only coming to a stop when a hand reached down to pick it up.

“Late night? You were sound asleep.”

Mia looked up to see Nick standing a few metres away. He tossed the strawberry in the air and caught it.

“I… err… I…  yes. Late night,” she stammered, her face bright red. Oh my God, please don’t tell me I was talking in my sleep!

He winked at her. “You looked like you were dreaming about something good, at any rate.”

* * *

Mia closed the front door behind her. It was good to be home. She ran her hand through her hair, finding a rogue seed that had obviously planted itself there during the breakfast mishap. Since her morning session with Nick she hadn’t been able to think straight all day. Every time their hands met she’d jumped back as if electrocuted. She was terrified he’d been able to tell what she had been dreaming about. She liked him, but wasn’t quite sure what she’d do if he actually liked her back.

There she was, completely out of her depth.

As she walked further down the hall she was surprised to see a large bouquet of flowers on the hall table. Her heart stopped.

They couldn’t be from him! Could they?

She peeked inside at the attached card, hopefully.

Ana. Thanks for this morning. M.

“M?” Mia was confused. She thought Ana’s boyfriend was called Tom? She let disappointment wash over her for only a second before closing her eyes and rewriting the card in her head: Mia. This morning was incredible. Yours, Nick.

 

Champagne Cocktail with Elderflower, Mint and Lychee

December 2, 2010


This delicious cocktail is a perfect summer evening drink. The contrast of the dry champagne and crisp mint with the sweet elderflower and lychee is truly delectable.

Serve in a champagne glass – makes 6

Champagne (or Prosseco)

St Germain (a French liqueur of elderflower blossoms)

6 fresh lychees – peeled and de-stoned (tinned is OK if you can’t get fresh)

Fresh mint leaves

Fill three-quarters of the glass with champagne. Add 5-6 mint leaves (if you gently crush them in the palm of your hand it will release the flavour) and a lychee. Top glass off with St Germain. Give it a very quick stir and serve immediately.

Grilled Haloumi with Fresh Pear and Pomegranate Molasses

This is one of Medina’s most popular dishes. The chef, Franco, fuses the tastes of Cyprus and the Middle East in this mouth-watering meal. Thick, creamy haloumi is complemented with fresh, tart green pear and decadent pomegranate molasses. This dish is sure to delight any palate.

Serve on either a single platter or individual plates for your guests – serves 6

250g haloumi

Butter

2 large, firm green pears

Pomegranate molasses

3 handfuls of baby rocket leaves, rinsed and dried

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Place rocket on a plate and lightly dress with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Finely slice pear and put to one side. Cut haloumi into slices (approx. 2cm thick). Heat a heavy, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter with a little olive oil, to prevent butter from burning. When sizzling, place slices of haloumi in a single layer and cook until each side is golden brown. Repeat if all the haloumi does not fits in one pan.

Once the haloumi is cooked, turn off the heat and quickly toss pear through. Transfer the pear and haloumi onto the bed of rocket. Drizzle generously with pomegranate molasses. Serve immediately.