Carmella phot
Carmela Sereno’s demonstration

I really enjoyed a pasta making demonstration by Carmela Sophia Sereno at the New Bookshop in Cockermouth and loved her book-Southern Italian Family Cooking.

Carmela is very engaging and amusing -a more down to earth sort of Nigella without the affectations and irritations of the latter.

From an Italian family she is influenced by her mother and grandmother’s cooking and has then developed her own style and recipes. Her business  ‘Carmela’s kitchen’ has blossomed from teaching in her family kitchen to large scale demonstrations, radio shows and pop up kitchens as well as writing books. Happily, she is enjoying a whirl wind of activity at the moment despite having 4 bambinos at home. I was exhausted just listening to her.

We watched as Carmela made basic pasta, with the speed of someone who does it all the time and knows what she is doing even though she only had a tiny table to work on in the middle of a bookshop! She showed us how to cut all the different shapes and sizes with only some basic equipment. This was an impressive performance whilst keep up the constant chat, anecdotes and tales of her family’s cooking back home. Particularly impressive was the pretty, parsley lasagne-laying individual leaves on the pasta and them repeatedly passing it through the pasta machine until it stretched in situ. Holding the pasta sheet up to the light it did look like very pretty wall paper!

Handmade parsley pasta
Handmade parsley pasta

Carmela’s (first) book –SOUTHERN ITALIAN COOKINGsimple, healthy and affordable food from Italy’s cucina povera is widely available. I liked it, not least, because it is a small paperback (A5 size) and simply printed, in fact just like a family recipe book. It doesn’t have the beautiful photographs you almost always see in cookery books nowadays and is all the better for it. These, dispiritingly, look nothing like the dishes that you will produce at home. Nowadays the camera, almost certainly, will lie. Her recipes are family friendly, easy to follow and you can really feel the echoes of home Italian cooking. I was intrigued by Carmela’s advice not to put cream in Spaghetti alla carbonara and tried her recipe to the letter (now that’s a first for me) and it was lovely and rich without it. It did remind me of when I travelled around the poorer regions of Italy many (many) years ago. I suppose over the time we have ‘anglicised’ Italian pasta dishes serving them with far too much sauce perhaps to disguise poorer quality pasta. Now I am going to try the lasagne without the béchamel sauce.

Also in the book are recipes for antipasti, homemade pizzas, soups, bread, risotto and biscotti, cakes and desserts including a special Tiramisu recipe from her grand-mother. I must give this a go, it must be one of the most popular Italian puddings made here probably incorrectly.

Get in touch with Carmela:
07951 395237

Twitter @carmela_kitchen


Buy Carmela’s book on Amazon at

Here is Carmela’s recipe for Spaghetti alla carbonara reproduced with kind permission:



Creamy leeks with a lemon crust

I like this family friendly, thrifty, and easy to make dish. There are a few, simple ingredients and you may have most of them already. It is much better with fresh thyme but you could use dried. Unfortunately this quickly loses it’s flavour as you only use a little at a time and the little jars can be hanging around in the kitchen for…a very long time!. Try growing your own. Thyme, like lots of herbs from warmer climes such as rosemary and sage ( I feel I should burst into song at this point),  are very happy in pots. Buy small plants from a garden centre, which are cheap in summer, add some extra grit to make the compost free draining and site your pot in a sunny place-not too far from your door. Now you can pick as much as you need -fresh herbs make all the difference to your cooking.

I digress……the leeks, cooked slowly, go nice and creamy, make sure you keep stirring as leeks burn easily. I always make a white sauce in the microwave, I can hear ‘proper’ chefs tut, tutting but i find it a palaver making a proper roux with flour and butter etc etc. Not to mention the possible lumpiness, this way is so much easier and with the addition of some butter at the end I certainly can’t tell the difference. Add the cooked leeks and cheese and top with the breadcrumbs, thyme and grated lemon. I make the breadcrumbs from left over crusts of bread, if you have some and don’t want to use them straight away they freeze well.

Try this on a ‘Meat Free Monday’ – I’m sure you will want to make it any day of the week.




Chicken, broccoli and sweet chilli noodles

The trouble with kids is that if you say ‘you must eat 5 a day’, ‘you must eat your greens’……they can stick their heels in and REFUSE to have anything AT ALL to do with ‘healthy eating!! So finding new ways to introduce vegetables into their diet is important-it’s no good cooking dishes, however nutritious, if they don’t appeal to the little darlings.

Here is an easy supper dish you can rustle up in between activities and homework…using ‘super’ broccoli-a super food if ever there was one. I have packed in lots of vegetables, chicken and served it up with noodles-always good for a slurp. Try eating this with chopsticks for even more possibilities for hilarity. My top tip is to involve children in preparing their own food-they are much more likely to want to eat something they have made themselves. Participation depends on what you are cooking and age of the children but there is always some thing that can do help with such as cutting up the vegetables, setting the table, deciding the weeks menue or clearing away. Have a go with this recipe:





Pretty pink forced Yorkshire rhubarb
Pretty pink forced Yorkshire rhubarb

Now who can resist this beautifully pink delicate rhubarb with its chartreuse frilly hat…not me..I couldn’t walk past my local green grocers without buying this precious delight. It has a very short season, blink and you have missed it. It also comes from Yorkshire so what more could a Yorkshire girl want. It is mysteriously grown in the dark and cut by candlelight-the lack of light ‘forcing’ it to produce the slim, pink wands. A special ingredient needs delicate handling and a special recipe. So here is my rhubarb and almond tart just for you. It was inspired by a similar tart I had at a very special hotel the AltnaHarrie Inn (now closed) near Ullapool in Wester Ross, Scotland. When you arrived on the quay side you had to telephone (from the red telephone box of course-younger readers -that is how we used to make phone calls) and they would send a small boat to pick you up. Very romantic. I made some scribbles on a napkin and from these wrote this recipe 20 years later.


Rhubarb and almond tart
Rhubarb and almond tart

Continue reading “RHUBARB AND ALMOND TART”



Cedar Manor Hotel
Cedar Manor Hotel

Like lots of good things in life I stumbled across this small, luxury hotel by chance.

Set in the heart of the lakes Cedar Manor Hotel is, appropriately, a most romantic place to rest your head. We loved the friendly, intimate feel of the hotel and the very warm welcome we were given by owners Jonathan and Caroline Kaye. Caroline enthusiastically manages to effortlessly  combine the hotel management with running marathons (in her ‘spare’ time) raising money for the charity Lupus UK. Jonathon, a charming host (ex Raffles night club manager in Chelsea) appears to have all the time in the world to chat about his love of walking, photography and his adopted Lakeland whilst not appearing to be frazzled by the work involved running a hotel

The food was my sort of food, unpretentious, not at all ‘cheffy’ and cooked with care. I loved some of the imaginative combinations-a delicate cock a leekie terrine with celeriac & a prune puree followed by a delicious cod with clams & chorizo served with saffron rice or honey & Masala glazed pork with a pancetta rosti. For desert we had lemon & tamarind crème brulee with greengage compote and vanilla shortbread and a rather wonderful beer ice cream. Now, chef, I have been trying to recreate this myself with some success but not as nice as yours! Other homemade ice creams included Caraway, rhubarb or pink peppercorn a wakeup call for your taste buds. We loved the poached pear with orange polenta cake with juniper & honey mascarpone. It goes without saying that everything was homemade from the breads served with dinner to the jams and marmalades served with breakfast. We were looked after by the lovely Spanish waitress Patricia who made us laugh and impressed us with her charming English.

I would visit the hotel again just for the food and beautiful rooms alone but what makes it even more special is the  lovely interior design to die for.  This was designed by local Fidget Design of Windermere and carefully overseen by Caroline. The lounges are as cosily welcoming as a hug especially on a cold and grey Lake District day. They are so comfortable you need to take care not to drop off.

One of the lounge areas
One of the lounge areas
Book wall paper in the snug
Book wall paper in the snug


Look in the snug to find the unique ‘book’ wallpaper  with witty Lakeland references such as ‘The lady in the lake by Lily Pad’ and ‘How to catch a char by A Fisher’ and (using the shepherds traditional way of counting sheep) –‘Yan, Tan, Tethera by Dick Methera ..1, 2, 3 and 4. All the rooms are carefully designed and you can pick out your favourite bed room from the photos on the website.

If you really want to treat yourself or celebrate a (very) special occasion then the award winning ‘Coach House is for you-an oasis of loveliness. This is the ultimate in luxury.  Edgy design, beautiful rich fabrics and stand out contemporary pieces such as lights and mirrors. There is a separate dining room and lounge area as well as the ensuite ground floor bedroom. You can adjust the surround sound within the suite including in the bathroom. THE bathroom has to be seen, gently changing coloured lights, spa roll top bath backed with a glass feature wall and…TV. I know………. how good is that, I’ve never seen anything like it before- ‘Aqua vision’ of course!

The fabulous bathroom in the Coach House suite!
The fabulous bathroom in the Coach House suite!

I was not surprised to see the fistful of awards for this beautiful hotel including Trip Advisors Travellers choice for 2015 and Cumbrian Tourism award 2014.

Go there you will love it, I’m sure.

Have a look at the website


My girls ready for the off!
My girls ready for the off!


Running a 6 week course for 4 young students has been very rewarding for me. We all had fun and they produced lots of really GOOD food which they and their families really enjoyed. The cooking classes were part of the ‘learning a new skill’ section required as part of their Duke of Edinburgh challenge.

I wanted to teach them a range of skills and recipes that would give them the basics and the confidence to keep on cooking and develop their own style. Cooking gives me lots of pleasure and seeing others enjoying my food even more pleasure and I wanted to pass this on. Cooking is a great life skill and especially so for young people heading out into the big, wide world away from mum’s kitchen.

Busy in the kitchen-It's all about being organised!
Busy in the kitchen-It’s all about being organised!

So we made bread, fresh pasta, short crust pastry, cakes, practised safe knife skills, muffins, turnovers, icing skills, making sauces and using chocolate….I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Incidental skills such as reading a recipe, getting organised to cook, washing up (!) and importantly what to do when things don’t go to plan were learnt along the way.

Lucy & Amelia taking time off between chats to make fresh pasta!
Lucy & Amelia taking time off between chats to make fresh pasta!

Of course we had a few dramas; an uncooked tart was dropped-and we scooped it back in and added more cheese on top, scales weren’t put back to zero between ingredients, recipes weren’t read properly, ingredients weren’t added, some pasta got really overworked and paper cases over or under filled. At times some of the girls had to be hurried along or told to slow down. All to be expected in a busy kitchen!

But  they turned their skills into bacon & egg tarts, savoury mince into shepherd’s pie and mince & dumplings, made American style blueberry, lemon muffins and banoffee muffins,  tomato & basil pasta sauce, macaroni cheese with sweet corn, terrific homemade bread in plaits, cottage loafs and baps, beautiful iced cupcakes, jam and chocolate puff pastries….and more

The final week I set them a GBBO type challenge-6 small cakes, flavoured, filled, iced and decorated by hand with flair and imagination and presented in 2 hours. Some forward planning was required and ideas discussed in advance.


Amelia looking chuffed

They made some impressive cakes: Amelia’s were red velvet with a hidden filling and decorated with raspberries.


Lucy’s were vanilla sponge and icing, decorated with handmade red roses.


Emma’s frosty iced cakes were decorated with delicate snowflakes.


Ashton made pretty cakes to look like Christmas trees complete with baubles .

They should be very proud of themselves and I was very proud of them and now they can cook!

Ashton's cakes
Ashton’s cakes
Emma's cakes
Emma’s cakes
Lucy's cakes
Lucy’s cakes
Amelia's cakes
Amelia’s cakes


Christmas Rocky Road
Christmas Rocky Road

Here is a Christmas treat, easy for children to make (with supervision) and a lovely present for them to give (if you can wrest it out of their hands). Best to make two lots I think. Don’t deviate from the recipe-it has to be Rich Tea biscuits and mini marshmallows, good butter and good chocolate…simple and delicious for everybody.



Zabaglione Trifle slice

It is all very well Nigella swanning around her Christmas kitchen looking gorgeous and sparkly and I do dream that this could be me….one year but to be honest it rarely (I’ve had my moments….) works out this way.

I love to make delicious food for all my family and friends and not spend all my time in the kitchen (who wants to anyway?). There is only one solution -PLANNING and help from the best Christmas helper of all -THE FREEZER.

Squirrel away some lovely dishes now for Christmas and then you really can put on your sparkly dress, have a glass of champagne, relax and enjoy some delicious meals. I am starting off (as I mean to go on) with a favourite pud-Zabaglione Trifle slice. A trifle is a Christmas must have and this one is based on the Italian zabaglione pudding. It is easy to make and freeze and makes a great alternative to Christmas pudding for those that don’t care for it. Have a go, pop this in your freezer and relax that’s one ticked off the list-spend the extra time shopping for something sparkly to wear.




Mr Vikkis' Chutneys & sauces
Some of my favourite Mr Vikki chutneys and sauces



Stepping into the Mr Vikki’s shop at High Heskett, Carlisle….on a rainy, cold Lake District day was like stepping into another, much, warmer world. Every product here is packed full of spices and flavour and to varying degrees the ….heat of chillies.

These Indian fusion pickles and chilli products blend only fresh natural ingredients and freshly milled spices. They range from the spicy and fragrant Mango chutney and Lime pickle, to the hotter Coriander sauce, the very hot Fiery Lemon Harissa to the inexplicably hot…. Queen Naga.

Continue reading “MR VIKKI IS HOT HOT IN CUMBRIA!”



Mahedik café Pärnu Estonia


A few ramblings on the subject of Estonian food as experienced on a recent trip to Tallinn the medieval capital and the very beautiful Pärnu on the silvery Baltic coast. We didn’t experience much traditional Estonian food borne of the time when food was scarce and there was a need to preserve and ‘stretch’ what was available. These dishes are not for the faint hearted: marinated eels (served cold for breakfast), boiled tongue with horseradish, blood and barley sausage and boiled pork in jelly.

We did eat some great ‘modern’ Estonian cooking and experienced the whole newness of a modern cuisine developing without being tied down to the old ways.


Kefir ice cream
Kefir ice cream

Unusual ingredients included Kefir -) a sort of fermented cereal. To the uninitiated it did taste like hot milk on ‘Weetabix but it made a lovely ice cream!

Salted herring with new potatoes, chives and black bread icecream
Salted herring with new potatoes, chives and black bread ice cream

Fantastic breads featured in most restaurants with various twists on the staple rye bread. Rich and dark with the faint tang or a sourdough base it was served with all meals and with this herring dish as ice cream! Rye is a dense bread with an earthy nutty flavour. We tried various types with additions such as cracked rye, sunflower, and poppy seeds.

Sea buckthorn featured in many dishes –its astringent orange berries used to decorate the many delicious pastries and cakes or as a cooking ingredient. We did bring back some vivid orange sea buckthorn juice…an acquired taste and although it seemed not too bad sipping it looking out over the many beautiful parks….I suspect it will be sitting in my fridge for sometime!


sea buck thorn berries on custard carrot cake
Sea buckthorn berries on a lightly spiced carrot  and custard cake


Fruit tartlet with bilberries
Fruit tartlet with bilberries & raspberries


This is a ‘new’ country, very IT literate, lots of modern design especially with textiles, and many cool and beautiful cafes. We loved it!

A beautiful cafe in Parnu..
The beautiful café Supelsakad Pärnu Estonia