Happy New Year lovely readers! Another year and more wonderful memories made. Every year I try and concoct an original cocktail based on what I feel like drinking at the time. This year, particularly the latter half of the year, was one where I felt like I had overindulged in the worst way. I needed to detox and I needed it soon. The problem was that I had virtually no hope of doing it for a prolonged period with Christmas coming up.
Although I know a cocktail is really no place for antioxidants I thought that perhaps sneaking in some antioxidant rich ingredients into a cocktail wouldn't hurt and show the gods that I was somewhat serious about detoxing and headed in the right direction. I also loved the idea of teapot cocktails which we had at The Loft so hence this tea cocktail was borne. It has blueberries and white tea in it which are good for you although it also has some alcohol by way of Pimms in it. The lemonade adds sweetness and a refreshing quality which you may need if 2009 has been at a fast and furious pace for you. And the little jewelled cocktail sticks are from my wonderful friend Angela from Creating a Stir who is herself such a gem!
So tell me Dear Reader, what are you up to this evening on this New Year's Eve? Mr NQN and I will be attending a masquerade party (hence the props in the picture). What plans do you have? Snuggling up at home watching the fireworks? Braving the crowds and soaking up the atmosphere in the city? Or having a quiet BBQ with friends?
4 parts lemonade
2-3 parts Pimms
3 parts iced tea (I used Turkish apple tea and white tea)
Pureed blueberries and raspberries (with 1 tablespoon of iced tea to help it blend)
Blueberries and sprig of mint for garnish
Step 1 - Place all except for lemonade in a shaker and shake until combined. Pour into glass and top with lemonade and stir. Serve with some extra blueberries and a sprig of mint.
Interview with Valli Little
I first met Delicious magazine's Food Editor Valli Little briefly during the Carnation Soy cooking challenge. It was an experience meeting her although on rather unusual terms - judging someone whose recipes you've used many times over is strange at best. When I met her at the Delicious offices a couple of months later I took a quick peek into the workings of one of the world's most popular food magazines and talked with her about her new book as well as other foodie things. So read on to hear all about catering for Kensington Palace, sunshine out of a bad situation, coming up with loads of recipes a month and her new book.
_Valli, you're the Food Editor here at Delicious. Tell me what your job involves. _
I have control of the food content of the magazine so I would commission all of the features from the celebrity chefs that come in. I knock all of their recipes into shape because most of their recipes are in a bit of a shambles - a lot of them are used to cooking for 50. They're not used to creating a recipe for 4 so I put them through quite a rigorous testing process. I sent a lot of them out to freelance testers and we might retest again until we're happy with them.
How many times is a recipe tested?
Generally twice and then we cook it for photography. We shoot a lot of the magazine at my house because I like to do that and I like to get prepped up early. I've got a good garden and a lot of natural light for outdoor shots which works quite well.
Violets from Valli's garden
Because you brought the violets for that Carnation Soy dish...
Yes, yes exactly. And what else... then if I have any story ideas I might pitch them to the team. I travel quite a lot. I go overseas maybe 2-3 times a year.
Do you choose your destination?
Oh yes if I get an idea for a story. This year I gave a cooking class in France and I did some stories on France while I was over there. I'm going to India with Christine Manfield in February so if it's a good idea for a story I'll try and follow it through so just looking for new ideas and basically making sure that the recipes work in the magazine.
Valli's recipe for Jam Donut Cupcakes
Do you still do recipe writing?
Oh yes I still write at least 40% of the magazine every month!
How do you come with the ideas? You've got the book and magazines...
Oh you know what it's like when you're passionate about food. I read a lot, I research a lot and I'm out talking to chefs and eating out at restaurants. When I stop enjoying it and thinking about food then I have to give it away.
_So you don't tend to find that you run dry? _
At this time of year there's probably not another recipe left in me this year (laughs). I need to have a 3 week break and recharge my batteries. I've got a pile of books this big I've got to read.
Your new book is Quick Smart Cook. Why did you decide on this topic?
What I've tried to do is not reinvent the wheel but just have a bit of fun and just try to do things a bit differently. All the readers tell me that's what they want. They want inspirational recipes that look great but don't take too long to put together. Not a huge list of ingredients. They want a recipe there and a picture there so that they can refer to both so we find that format works. The idea of splitting it up into chapters e.g. a lamb chapter, a beef chapter has proved really popular. Readers say I feel like salmon tonight so they open it up and see there are salmon recipes and all very different. The format is tried and tested and works well. It's very different from the last book Faking It. That was quite dark and moody, this is all very light and fresh.
Tell me about your history and growing up. Was a career in food always on the cards?
I grew up in the UK and my parents had a restaurant over there and I have always grown up with good food and my father was always an avid vegetable gardener. When I left school I went to Cordon Bleu in London and studied there and it was just at the start of when boutique gourmet food shops were opening up places like Justin De Blanc. Then I decided to come to Australia on a working holiday in '76 and from the minute I arrived I absolutely fell in love with Australia. But it was a very different place food wise than what I'd anticipated... actually I don't know know what I anticipated (laughs) but it was a complete wasteland really. For a caterer I thought I'd cater in Sydney but there was really nothing.
_We were behind London? _
Terribly. You could only get cheese in a tin. It was a Camembert and Brie it was horrible. So I soldiered on and I worked as a banqueting manager in Centrepoint for about 7 years. By that stage I'd met and married an Australian and we had a little boy, who is now 25. We decided to go back to England for a year. I hadn't decided where I wanted to live at that stage and so we packed everything up and sold everything and we worked as a cook and butler for a year and had the most amazing time. It was financially disastrous but the best food experience. We cooked in beautiful English country houses, we cooked for shooting parties in Yorkshire, we catered for a cocktail party at Kensington Palace. I wanted to come back - there was such a food revolution happening in Australia in the early 80s and I really felt like I wanted to be a part of it. We opened up a gourmet food shop in the North Shore called Gastronomes. It was 7 days a week and I was my own worst enemy when it comes to food, people would come in and ask for a lemon tart so I'd make them a lemon tart but you don't make money cooking like that - a lot of friends but not much money (laughs).
Then I had a series of back operations so I was stuck lying on a surfboard for a number of weeks recuperating and I'd met a girl that was the food director of Murdoch Books and she said if you ever want to get into recipe writing give me a ring and so I rang her and said Look I can't move, I'm interested so I literally started writing recipes lying in bed and then when I got better she said come and work in the test kitchens. They called me in one day and said Look we've got this really secret project and we want you to work on it with the author of this book, help sort the recipes out and cook all the food for photography". It was Bill Granger's Sydney Food. So I worked very closely with Bill and we ended up shooting it all at my house. That was my big break into magazines and publishing. I did a lot of fantastic books for Murdoch and a few other publishers.
I had heard that the ABC were starting up a new magazine so I rang a few contacts and the ABC were hopeless, they wouldn't sign the contract and it went on for months and months and all of the sudden I got a phone call from Neal Whittaker saying to me You'd better come in next week, they've signed a contract and we've got to start Delicious. Literally it was Neal and I staring at each other across a desk one week saying What are we going to do now (laughs)? I said I know Matt Moran, shall I ring him? And he'd say "Yes, yes ring Matt Moran" and that was our first story that we shot for the magazine.
When you look at the magazine now we really haven't changed, we reinvent ourselves but the overall magazine and features are still the same.
Yes. Absolutely. Being true to yourself.
I agree with that as a reader and a blogger that if you start to change to try and suit what you think people want, you'll lose your core...
Absolutely, that's right you have to continue to reinvent and excite people but particularly with the ABC connection, people like to know what they're getting. So here we are 8 years later and I'm still here.
_So what are your top tips for the person that doesn't quite know where to start but wants to cook more at home that may feel a bit lost? _
For me, recipes are there to inspire people and I don't think you should be completely blinkered that that's how it should be. I think you've got to adapt to what you've got in your cupboard but you need to be quite confident to be able to do that but the recipes aren't rocket science in there.
The most important thing is that's chef's phrase mise en place. Choose the recipe you want to do and get all your ingredients together and prepared and that's really for me when I step outside my comfort zone with Asian dishes, it's so important to have everything organised and prepped up. It's just a simple thing and I watch people sometimes in the kitchen and they're all over the place and then gestures disaster.
Men take everything out of the cupboard...
Yes that's right! And things are boiling away madly (laughs) and to me it shouldn't be like that. It should be a pleasant experience cooking a dish and if you're stressed out trying to find things at the last minute it's never going to be pleasurable and then it goes into your food that you cook. Doing things that are achievable. There's a good balance of things in the book. Things like Pedro Ximinez sherry that people may not have heard of before but its used in such a simple way that I think it's great that people think "I could make that" because it doesn't look to difficult and have an experience of trying something new.
How do you like to eat in your downtime?
(laughs) What downtime? My youngest son is a great sportsman. He's at Sydney Uni I've got two boys and I'm either standing on the sidelines watching him play rugby or watching him row so that's a nice way of relaxing and getting away from the computer and not really thinking about food at all. The only thing you get at sporting events is a sausage sizzle (laughs).
Are you ever asked to put together anything once they know what you do?
Oh absolutely. I've been the boat shed mother and I cook for the rowers over the weekend and fund raising for all sorts of events but that's pleasurable. I read and research a lot.
You're still working?
Ah yes I know but it's really quite enjoyable. When you find something new or an interesting book it's fantastic.
Cindy Crawford's Strawberry Pie
It's the same with me, its 7 days a week but it doesn't feel like work.
Exactly, well you see I was reading your blog the other day and I thought I have to try that Strawberry Pie, the Cindy Crawford Strawberry Pie and when I read something like that I think I have to do it and I'll be seeing strawberries and thinking I must get some. I think that's the exciting part of it.
I know and sometimes you can't get it out of your head
I know I know!
Your blog has a great name, it's like Delicious, you couldn't get a better name for a food magazine.
Thankyou. So what are the upcoming trends in food?
I think growing your own is so good now. Everyone even if it's just a pot on your veranda it's growing something so garden to plate is a big thing for next year and it's fantastic. There's a fabulous community garden in Kirribilli this group started. The council let them have a block. They've built this beautiful vegetable garden that is eco friendly and ticks all the right boxes and it's open to everyone and you can just go in and pick vegetables. I like all that and farmers markets and just the awareness and consciousness that people have towards food. For a long time food wasn't food and it was all science and I think we're really going back to basics a lot. What we're going to be doing is simple, fresh, easy as far as trends go look who knows. Maybe some of the South American countries... what's happening over there I think that's an area we haven't explored, Venezuela and all that amazing cacao are maybe destinations we'll look at for food. These areas have such beautiful complex dishes that aren't readily available and as people strive more and more to find interesting things.
Valli's recipe for Tomato Jam
And don't forget Dear Reader, you have until the 16th of January to win 1 of 4 signed copies of Quick Smart Cook! ;)
And Happy New Year to you and I hope that you have a wonderful night! :) xxx