Krimo's Christmas Colours...

Do not forget to tell us how you spent New Year's Eve.
(Poll in the top right hand corner)

According to Eat Out Magazine, it appears many diners are going to see how the festive mood takes them, with 17% saying they are just 'not sure' if it's going to be a 'cut back' Christmas or whether they will dine out more or less frequently, compared to this time last year.

In Hartlepool , everyone in the business reported a drop in customer numbers since mid-November compared to the same period last year.

Over the holidays, shops, restaurants, cafes, etc... were full to capacity. Let us hope the mood continues into the New Year.
At home we went for the usual favourites:
Family gatherings...

Pomegranates, Duck, Tuna, Turkey...and lots of Christmas spirit.
Pools lost twice but didn't put a damper on things:
A Boxing Day trip to Scunthorpe to watch them lose 3-0.
And losing 4-1 at home against bottom of the league, Crewe Alexandra.
Let's hope we start the New Year with a better result on Saturday against Stoke City in the Cup.

Krimo's Christmas Stuffing...

Just after struggling through the last mouthful of Christmas Pudding back in December 1985, following a busy shift on our first Christmas Day at Krimo's, we decided never to open again on that day.
We felt, just as our last poll concluded, that Christmas is for families, kids, presents, lots of food and drink but no work whatsoever...
No work? Maybe for some but I've still ended up cooking dinner for a minimum of a dozen people every year since then.
But it's not real work, honest. I really love preparing and cooking the Christmas dinner. Karen is charge of the table and the desserts with an "s"... Thousands of calories!
By the time I've finished cooking, I'm as stuffed as the obligatory turkey. But I still try to make something different every year.

This time, I've plumped on three small starters.
An espresso cupful of cauliflower and cheese soup.
A piece of seared tuna in sesame seeds and wasabi dressing.
A couple of slices of pink roasted duck breast with sweet chili dressing.
For main course I've decided to serve the turkey boned and rolled with a chestnut stuffing. This will save the hassle when it comes to carving. I've often tried the same with chicken and the result is quite good.
I will also have to cook a piece of beef for those who don't like turkey.

Usually Karen insists on 1 million different vegetables but this year, I am going to resist and only serve four or five including potatoes.
I've also decided to cook a few Conference pears in red wine and cinnamon and serve them with lemon sorbet. Very refreshing dessert!
And I'll fall asleep just after that.

Please feel free to make your voice heard in our new poll.

The turkey featured below is last year's. I think we've still got some left for sarnies...

Krimo's Naval Gazing...

When Hartlepool Marina began taking shape in the early nineties, my dream was to open a casual bistro serving from pizzas to fresh fish, pasta to steaks, somewhere very close to water.
Was it my Mediterranean feet itching to dangle in the sea?
Was it my Naval Architecture past at Sunderland Poly tugging me back to the shipping lanes?
I wonder.
All I know is that our Pizzeria-Bistro, Portofino couldn't have brought me closer to my dream!

I listen with pride to our customers' wonderful comments about Portofino's location.
On the right we have HMS Trincomalee, Britain's oldest warship afloat, bobbing up and down so close to our windows that, when I tell our younger diners that she is my private yacht their eyes light up with disbelief.
Out of our front windows, Hartlepool Marina glistens invitingly in the sunlight or moonlight, transporting us back to happy Mediterranean holidays. After a few glasses of Rosé, it is often compared to Puerto Banus or St Tropez...
Right here on Hartlepool Maritime Experience!

Many a morning, I've sipped a coffee at table 9 while proudly guarding MY yacht and MY swimming pool.

Please enter our Christmas Day poll... (top right)

Krimo's and the power of crunchy carrots...

The Eating Out Poll showed that the majority of us eat out once a month followed by once a week.
I am a once-a-weeker... But I call it market research. Whenever I eat out I'm always on the lookout for new ideas.

Crunchy Carrots!!!
I feel like writing a letter to Tesco to help them save a bit of money in this current economic climate. By adding the word "crunchy" to the packaging, Tesco have unnecessarily wasted quite a few quid in extra ink.

To the best of my knowledge, carrots have, since the beginning of Time, always been crunchy. So why the emphasis?
Are there any other varieties of carrots that we haven't yet discovered?
Squeaky carrots? Silent carrots? Soft carrots?
If a carrot is soft, it's because it is defunct and is only good for the compost bin.

What next? Sweet Sugar, Salty Salt...

But, guess what? I ended up buying two bag of crunchy carrots!
I must have been subliminally enticed to buy them...
(Actually I'm joking! They were two for the price of one... They might come in handy for these dark nights.)

Please enter our Christmas Day poll... (top right)
Personally I cook our Christmas Dinner for the whole family... Grrrreat!!!

Krimo's Al Dente Offerings...

2008 has been a very hard year for business in general and catering in particular.
It began with huge increases in food prices: butter, flour, meat, fish, (cooking) oil, etc...
The finger pointed at the price of (the other) oil, last summer's floods, the ongoing wars, Indian Ocean pirates, elections, etc...
Anything and everything, really. Just take your pick.

Then came the dreaded C.C.
Do you know that in the last few months, the most Googled phrase has been Credit Crunch?
I love anything al dente but not sure about this one.

Everyone is predicting gloomy times ahead and sadly there will be many casualties.
I sympathise with anyone starting a business in this current economic climate.
Having said it before, I shall repeat myself as usual.
When people do not have much cash to play with, they will invariably stick to what they know.
At Krimo's we are lucky to have gone through many lean times over the 24 years we've been in business, not only survived them and but come out stronger.

Our Eating Out Poll is showing that more people dine out once a month. (A couple of days to go)
So, as long as they come to one of our restaurants every three months, we will survive...

Saturday Night Flavour...

Christmas is only twelve days away. The party season is reaching its last fortnight and peak. But there is no escaping the credit crunch. Up to the middle of November, Christmas party bookings were slow in coming as everyone was being very wary of making long term plans. But on the day, customers have arrived in their droves.

Next week is pretty booked up solid in all three restaurants. Last year, Noel, Portofino's head chef kept a tally of the number of customers in the last full week leading up to Christmas Day. Over 1200 customers!
I doubt whether we will beat that record this year, but we won't be far off it.

I took these photos last night while going round our restaurants to watch revellers eating, drinking and being merry.
I caught Barry Anderson with a bit of tinsel in his hair. He threatened never to grace us with his patronage again if I published the photo on the blog.
I'll just have to blackmail him. Maybe a good bottle of red wine once a week...

By the way, don't forget to vote in our "Eating out poll" (Top right)

Cooking wisdom...

The Poll on Swearing in the Kitchen showed by 80% to 20% that we do not agree with foul language in kitchens and especially TV kitchens.
Thanks to all those who entered, all 35 of you.
Rising to his own defence, Gordon Ramsay pleads: "People say I'm a monster, but I'm not a monster... I just have to maintain a high standard that people are paying a fortune for. I seem to be the only chef in the country who gets upset when things go wrong."

Chefs in their kitchen are like sea captains aboard their ship.
They have to have the last word on what goes on. You can only laugh when they laugh. If they're quiet during service, you'd be a fool to utter a word that has nothing to do with food. I know this because I was a chef!
But when they're relaxed they are very amiable beings, always willing to impart a few pearls of wisdom.

Delia Smith,
our famous TV chef once said: "Football and cookery are the two most important subjects in this country."
Obviously, she has an interest in both. Football being her second love as she is joint majority shareholder in Norwich City FC.

Woody Allen, though not a chef, but a brilliant actor and director said: "I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead. Not sick, not wounded... Dead!"

Miss Piggy, serial dieter has this piece of advice for us: "Never eat more than you can lift."

How often do you eat out?
Please vote now. (Top right hand corner)

Ballot stuffing...

I've just discovered a Blogger widget which I've placed on the top right of my blog.
See it?
Personally, I do not agree with swearing anyway.

I think Gordon Ramshead is a great chef and an even better businessman. But does he really need to swear every other word to be funny? A few years ago, when a hidden camera caught him demeaning a French waiter, I began worrying about the message this would send to young catering students on their way to real life in a hotel or a restaurant.

Bullying? What the program showed was more like verbal assassination!

We often hear moans of the fabric of society being eroded, the young don't respect anything anymore... A couple of TV presenters take this abject practice to the limit...
Come on!
Isn't about time "Role Models" like Gordon Ramsay realised that every time they appear on our screens, they have a moral duty to educate young people with the skills they have honed over the years rather than make them laugh with gratuitous foul language.

There is a time and a place for that kind of thing and I certainly don't agree that it should be on a TV cookery program!

Please make your vote count if only till the end of next week.

How to carve a turkey...

I'm quite certain that the following has happened to some of us at one time or another on Christmas Day.
We've cooked our vegetables al dente, roasted our potatoes golden and crisp, set the table beautifully and then....

This useful video is the way to present a turkey on Christmas Day.
But don't wait until the last minute to watch and practice.
Try carving a chicken once a week. I know that most of us prefer boneless breasts but how much easier and more delicious can it get, sticking a whole chicken in the oven and roasting it on the bone.
Practice makes perfect!!


Good things come in little packages...

I discovered Chopitos a few years ago, on a Spanish holiday.
"Chop yer toes?"
Well, they do look like deep-fried giant nail clippings.

They are in fact tiny Mediterranean squid, the size of a finger, tossed in seasoned flour, lightly deep-fried and served in a heap of a dozen or more depending on how relaxed the chef feels on the day. A slice of lemon and sometimes a pot of garlic mayonnaise, if that same chef happens to be on duty.

If, unlike me you are averse to seafood, you could be fooled in thinking they were some kind of fishy popcorn and maybe fall in love with them.

By the way, do not forget to enter our £50 Meal Draw on our websites.
Sadly or thankfully, depending on your fishy tastes, the meal will not include Chopitos...


Necessity is the mother of invention.

I devised this dish within weeks of our restaurant opening at Seaton Carew.
The menu included among many other things, three dishes with beef fillet as the main ingredient. Two required one eight ounce piece of fillet, known as Tournedos and one, the Bellini used three medallions.
I was left with the tail end which I could not use after slicing the fillet. So I used to quickly sauté the leftovers, cut them into strips and share them among those present.

After a few weeks I realised that those nibbles cost exactly as much as the Tournedos itself and my kitchen gross profit began suffering.
I decided to try and “invent” a dish to use them up. In food, you can be assured that everything has already been invented. It is just a question of playing about with various combinations of basic ingredients and hopefully ending up with something palatable.

Using various condiments, herbs, alcohols, etc… I experimented over a period of two or three weeks. Karen was my chief taster, my barometer not to say my guinea-pig. If she liked a dish, I knew that everyone else would. If she didn´t like it, then she pulled no punches.
For days she turned her nose up at all my early attempts. Just as I began losing hope of ever creating a new sauce, she smiled and the Paesano was born!
Why Peasano?
Krimo’s started out as an Italian restaurant also serving pastas and pizzas. Paesano is the Italian for peasant. No idea where the brainwave came from but that was all I could come up with at the time.
Karen fell in love with the dish and I put it on the menu she sold it and sold it.
Within a few weeks, the fillet ends were not enough. I began using whole fillets cut into strips to meet the demand.

To this day, it is still the most popular dish on our menu. The recipe is very simple: garlic, sage, mustard and cream.

Many local restaurants have tried but sadly failed to reproduce this simple sauce. On several menus, I have seen “Paesano” spelt various ways, pisano, passano, etc…
Imitation is the best form of flattery…

Credit Crunch...

I'm sure that most of us have gone through a few of those in our life, survived and even gained a few pounds. Well, I have.
We humans are resilient and we adapt. We can all make a penny stretch if we have to. We all know how to save money on food. We can all make panfuls of soups, slow-cook cheaper cuts of meat, grow vegetables, keep chickens, etc...
But all these money-saving ideas demand dedication, motivation and getting up from in front of the telly.
Are we prepared to act now or shall we wait until the fridge is empty before we begin panicking?

When I was a student, a million years ago, at Sunderland Poly (1976), my food intake followed the same pattern every month.
The beginning of the month, having just received my grant, I used to splash out on nice bottle of Medoc, a leg of lamb and green beans.
But as my funds dwindled, the daily menu went from a feast to a famine in just thirty days:
Fillet steak-sirloin steak-stewing steak-minced meat
Chicken breast...chicken leg...chicken thigh...chicken drumstick
Spag Bol...Spag and tomato sauce...macaroni-cheese...macaroni-butter
Chicken soup...chick pea soup...warm water...cold water

By which time I was gasping for the end of the month to arrive along with my grant.

I think I inherited my resilience from my mother, bless her soul. She was a very inventive cook and a great motivator. At least three times a week she converted us kids into vegetarians without even preaching. She just couldn't afford meat...

Cartoon Courtesy of The Guardian.

Time flies when you're having fun!!

Before my grandaughter, Evie sat down for her first pizza at Portofino when she was about 2½ years old, it was just an empty room on the Historic Quay.

In the hands of a small team of dedicated workers headed by Malcolm the joiner from Seaham, that empty space was transformed into what has turned out to be the most popular pizzeria (allegedly according to our customers) in Hartlepool.
They worked from July to October sometimes seven days a week to follow my unwritten plans.

Every day we started with a new idea, a new way of titivating the place.
From mosaics to murals, window shutters to balconies... Nothing was planned.

The joiner's mate turned out to be a graphic designer and we got him roped into creating a mural. A patisserie shopfront. Delightful.
A long-standing friend, now in Canada helped tile the toilets among other things.
The whole family contributed. Painting, stencilling, cleaning...

Nowadays, on a busy night when the place is bouncing, I look around and remember the days when, alone well into the evening, I chopped tiny bits of tiles and stuck them onto the walls in various patterns invented on the spot.

Yep! The proof is definitely in the eating...

New York never sleeps...

And neither does Colin...
Friday morning, I texted to wish him a good time, as he happens to be in New York for a pre-Christmas break. I asked him to say hello to Obama from me if he happened to see him.

He texted back:
"Will do. It's great here.
Went to a restaurant called
Gilt last night. Check it out online. It has 2 stars. Was awesome as the Yanks say.
By the way it's 5 hours behind here. Lol."

Oops... I had forgotten about the time difference and had sent him a text just after 9 am.
I wonder whether Colin will bring us back a doggy-bag from Gilt...

Spookery Programmes...

They spook me out!
Cookery programmes that are transformed into a lukewarm foody version of the X-Factor.
Down to the incidental music, the tic-toc, the suspense, the bated breath...
"The chef who is coming back next week isssss..."
Before the name is announced, you have ample time to head for the kitchen, whip yourselves a three-egg omelette, two slices of toast and a cup a tea.

"The chef who is going home this week isssss..."
Fancy a quick pizza? You have all the time in the world to make the whole thing from scratch. Flour, yeast, cheese, tomatoes, anchovies, olives, etc...

Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramshead, Raymond Blanc, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Worrall-Thompson, Michel Roux, Jean Christophe Novelli, Ronald McDonald... The whole lot of them are getting on the bandwagon!

Yesterday afternoon, I flicked to ITV and there was gentle Rosemary Shrager teaching a bunch of budding chefs how to make pastry, ice cream in relaxed, beautiful surroundings.

A breath of fresh air of a cookery programme...

...That is until she got up on her pedestal and put on her X-Factor voice and said:
"The chef who is coming back next week isssss..."

I got up and went to work.


Tonight, Hartlepool skies sparkled with shooting stars...

Who needs organised displays when you can sit in your car up in the heights above Hartlepool and watch an amazing array of fireworks coming from gardens, back streets, and pub car parks light up the horizon.

Wouldn't it be great if we could synchronise the lot and turn the town into one MASSIVE display?

Very simple!
Get a map and a box of pins. Ask all those who intend to light up fireworks to do so at an exact moment in time.
Ok, ok... I thought of everything!
Everyone would have synchronised their watch before the start... Hah!

Then at around 8pm get the show started, let's say in a circle from the outskirts, moving slowly across town and culiminating at the Marina!
What do you think?

Speaking of fireworks, didn't Obama do well?

Precious Herbs...

In a land far, far away, a million years ago, that is Seaton Carew (Hartlepool) back in 1985, when fresh herbs were as rare as Marijuana, as a budding chef I searched high and low for these essential ingredients to flavour my dishes.

Parsley was not so bad because I could occasionally get it from our friendly greengrocer's Heckels and Hunter, who thought I was mad to add anything else but a pinch of salt to food. Herbs such as coriander, rosemary, sage, fennel or dill, etc... were unheard of.

I suddenly had a brainwave! A tiny ad in the Hartlepool Mail.
Fresh herbs desperately
wanted by restaurant.
Please call...

The same afternoon as the advert appeared in the paper, a reporter called and offered to help me in my quest for fresh herbs.
The following day my photo, with chef's hat and all, appeared on the front page! There mustn't have been any major crimes to report that day. A two-column story followed.
"Chef... Herbs...blah...blah...blah"

My restaurant was besieged by gardeners and housewives loaded with herbs... Parsley, Thyme, Green Sage, Purple Sage, Apple Mint, Spearmint, Lemon Mint, Rosemary... and... LOVAGE! I had no idea such a lovely herb existed.

I was overwhelmed by the response.
The next day the Mail did a follow-up story in which it passed on my thanks to those helpful people, especially the ones who who had anonymously placed bagfuls of herbs through the restaurant's letterbox. A practice that went on for months.

Nowadays, just go to any neighbourhood supermarket and you will find an amazing array of fresh herbs.
That's the Power of the Press for you...

Will the person who keeps dropping dead leaves in front of our restaurants every autumn please remove them. They are NOT herbs!

Telephone Wind-up...

aThe US election reports have now been pushed into second place in the news agenda by Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross's telephone antics. Brand has now quit the BBC and Ross has been suspended for the next three months.
The younger generations don't see all the fuss while old foggies like me think that they really went too far this time. I personally will never agree with swearing on the telly. Filthy-mouth Gordon Ramsay has a lot to answer for.
But I am all for telephone wind-ups when they are funny!

Just like the time, when our most famous local DJ, Paul "Goffy" Gough set me up by getting an impersonator to pretend president Mandela wanted a table at Krimo's...
The guy really sounded like our Nelson, but did I fall for the scam?
No Way, José!

Later Goffy sent me a copy of his wind-ups CD. Funny but not obnoxious!

Read The Hartlepool Mail Story.

We have the X-Factor...

On a very cold Saturday night in Hartlepool, Portofino was warmed up by the appearance of a young lady who had reached the X-Factor final with the girl-band, Bad Lashes.
Sophie was a surprise present for her father's birthday.

She performed with the well known Hartlepool guitar player, Andrew Ingledew (My teacher).
Several new customers enquired whether this was a regular occurrence.
We could've told a small fib but preferred to own up and explain why the X-Factor fever had reached Portofino....

Halloween at Portofino...

Great fun!
A "gentle" pumpkin carved by Noel. A couple of kids said it wasn't scary.

Costumes galore!

Joe had a black eye and a pizza, I think...

Soup of the day: Cream of Pumpkin! Don't say it too fast...

A Belgian Beauty...

Terry Hanlon, the once-gentle-HUFC-Hospitality-Main-Man has started a new Facebook group called Sprouts Out.
I have joined it as an undercover-agent-provocateur.
Not because I do not like Brussels sprouts, on the contrary I love them! I joined this extremist group to try and undermine Terry's malicious campaign to discredit the beautiful and versatile sprout.

I met and fell in love with this beautiful, well-rounded, firm vegetable when I first landed on these exotic isles, over 33 years ago.

There she sat, alone, all green and shy on my dustbin lid of a plate, surrounded by generous slices of roast beef, a pile of shrivelled peas, a few sad baby carrots and a giant Yorkshire pudding.

I wondered who and what she was. I had never seen anything like her back in Algeria. The host explained: something about Brussels.
My limited understanding of the English language back then led me to wonder why the chocolate-loving Belgians would sprout such a weird-looking vegetable.

I caught it with my fork after several attempts. It felt and tasted like a water-filled balloon. My first encounter with the sprout did not have a happy ending.
Yet, I am glad to say, our relationship did not fizzle out, instead it flourished when we began experimenting. Butter, toasted nuts, bacon, lemon, etc...

Nowadays a roast is not a roast without a few Brussels sprouts on the plate.
You see I have grown to love anything Belgian, especially sprouts and chocolates, with the exception of kids who wet themselves in public.

A Delighted Mascot...

A very special day for my 8-year old grandson, Alex. I got a call from Terry Hanlon, from the Hartlepool United marketing team. He asked if Alex was coming the match against Brighton because he had been chosen as Pools mascot for the day.

We arrived just before with one hour to go for the match.

Terry took us both to the players dressing room where Alex got his photo taken with every single player and each one of them signed his matchday programme.
After a light kickalong with Terry, where Alex won £1 in a competition where he had to hit the corner post.

The electonic scoreboard was unveiled for the first time and guess whose name was up in lights?

Alex then led out the players, walking along captain Sam Collins. He shook hands with the referee, linesmen and the Brighton players before taking his seat next to me under the complimentary smiles and pats-on-the-back of our neighbouring Pools fans.

The day was crowned with a one-nil win against Brighton courstesy of Kevin Kyle in the 12th minute.
Several times through the match Alex said to me:"Grampa, this is the best day of my life!"
Little does he know that I enjoyed it just as much as he did.

Using our loaf...

The price of bread has shot up in the last few months.
Many reasons for this: Last summer's floods, world wheat production, oil prices, etc...but to name a few.
Does this stop us from eating bread? No chance!
Bread is life. Well, for me, anyway.

During the French Revolution, it is alleged that when Marie-Antoinette was told that the French people had no bread to eat, she flippantly said:"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" "Let them eat cake!"
No, thank you! I'd rather have a slice of brown granary bread, you know, the one with all the healthy seeds and so on.

When I was a kid on the farm, I thought that brown bread was only what people ate when they couldn't afford "real" bread. Mind you, it didn't look as appetizing as today's Bloomers! Nowadays, it is very rare that I eat white bread apart from French baguettes.

A little while ago a friend of mine acquired a bread maker. He swears by it and says it is a piece of cake to use. You bang everything in, switch it on and a couple of hours later, you're can enjoy delicious, fresh bread.

I can think of many things that could be had instead of bread. Things such as pasta, couscous, rice, etc...
But can these replace bread?

Resto Rants....

I understand customers.
Honest, I really do.
After all, I am very often a customer myself. At the local supermarket, cinema, petrol station, or even another restaurant, I am a customer. So, if I say I understand customers, I really mean it. It’s not as if they’re from outer-space. Well, a few of them are, but we won’t go into that.
They’re more often than not, your next door neighbour, the supermarket checkout girls, etc… Maybe the odd restaurant inspector, every now and then.

As a restaurant customer and an industry insider, I really enjoy attentive service, a smiling waitress, one who listens to your order carefully and gets it right. “Medium rare? That’s how I like it, sir.”

But sometimes, an attentive wine waiter can spoil your meal. As your glass is topped up between sips you find that you’ve guzzled your fairly expensive wine well before you’ve finished your starter.
“Can I get you another bottle, sir?”
On one occasion lately, an over-zealous sommelier as they like to be called, grabbed the bottle off my hand as I tried to top up my glass.
“Does he think I am incapable of pouring myself a drop? Is there a special way of filling your glass?”

Oh, and the other thing that truly annoys me is the giant black pepper grinder! As introduced by cheap Italian trattorias in the 70’s. As if the carefully prepared food is going to be improved by a pinch of black pepper! Mind you, in some restaurants, it can be.
And this archaic practice has led customers to underrate your restaurant if you don’t happen to own a porn-sized grinder.
As always I say if you can’t beat them, join them.

“Black pepper, madam?”
“What? On my ice cream?”

Food for thought...

Kevin, Casa's head-chef sent me an email depicting lots of Chinese delicacies, including Lizards Tails, Dog Brain Soup, Scorpion Brochettes, etc...
I have total respect for people's (weird) tastes. After all, I like olives smothered with chili, roast beef dripping with blood, whole ungutted fish, so who am I to talk?
I hear that down in the deepest confines of the Algerian Sahara, deep-fried crickets are absolutely delicious. I have never tasted them but being open-minded I'd give them a try as long as there is a bottle of Tabasco nearby.

But I definitely draw the line at Seahorses...
I don't think I've ever seen a live one, but just do check out Finding Nemo... The Seahorses look so pretty and lovable...
I can't imagine them skewered, let alone barbequed.

Where do you draw the line?

Plucking more than chickens...

Around what seems like a million years ago, (Summer 1962 to be exact), my brother received a guitar as a present. It must have been after he passed the Baccalauréat on his way to university.
He left it at home, so I dabbled with it, not really knowing how to hold let alone how to play it. I used to lay it on the dining table and pluck the strings like a sitar.

Over the years, I have dreamed of learning to play this beautiful intrument. I tried on my own a few times, with books and videos... Not a chance! I couldn't grasp it.
At the last count I reckon I have had 3 or 4 teachers. Very patient ones.
Guitar playing requires constant practice. And that itself calls for a lot of patience. Something I lack.

My latest tutor is a well known local guitar player who practises his craft in various local restaurants, including Casa del Mar for a while. I plucked my guitar strings in front of him and he immediately knew that the only style I would be comfortable with was Spanish.
Since my brother brought back a few records from his 1965 Spain trip, I fell in love with that music. Flamenco pulls my strings like no other music.

There is one piece by Joachim Rodrigo called El concierto de Aranjuez which always makes me melt when I hear it.
It was even played in the film Brassed Off although it is affectionately referred to as Concerto de Orange Juice...

I have just learned how to put music on websites, and guess what, I have placed this piece on Casa's Menu Page so that you can listen to it while perusing our tapas...
It's not me playing by the way.
I wish...

My guitar having a rest...

Never too old to learn...

There are many who say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I say that you're never too old to learn new tricks or brush up on your old ones...
When earlier this year I was offered a training programme called Profit through Productivity, I jumped at the opportunity. I must say that I picked up many useful tips to help us run the restaurants better, especially in this shaky economic climate.
Our company is now being used as a case study to entice others to join the programme.

I should really be amazed at how busy all three restaurants still are despite the constant barrage by newspapers, radio and television of impeding gloom and doom, but... guess what?
I am not!
As I explained in an earlier post, when people have very little spare money, they usually go for the tried-and-tested, (should really be the tried-and-trusted)
Fingers crossed, we'll ride this recession like all the ones we've been through over the last 23 years.

Tapas to go... going well...

...Like hot cakes, in fact!

Many of the employees from nearby offices usually have a sandwich from the local shop but since Adam and his team introduced the Tapas 2 Go, their tastebuds have been tickled.

A few of the staff from our other restaurants have also become addicted to this easy, tasty treat after a busy shift.

The proof is in the eating, as they say and it seems that Adam has also fallen for the Tapas 2 Go... Both he and Hayley have become partial to them.

Most expensive food...

Caviar is just simply fish roe (eggs). Though the best comes from the Beluga Sturgeon, one can always make do with lumpfish or salmon caviars at around £5 a jar.

Beluga Caviar which comes from the Caspian sea can cost at least £2000 a kilo.
It is the most expensive food item in the world!
Sturgeons can weigh up to two tonnes and prized more for their eggs than their meat.
Caviar is usually served on a warm toast for very special occasions.

I personally have tried real Caviar only once and, though I liked it very much, I still do no see what the fuss is all about.
Can you?

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Great North Run...

A beautiful morning for an increasingly popular event. Twenty-eighth year! One of the most exciting half-marathons in the world!
Fifty-two thousands runners!
From the very professional looking for a record to the casual runner raising a few pounds for charity.
Everyone is a winner!

Last night, in all our three restaurants, we had many competitors filling up on carbohydrates to help them stay the course.
At Portofino, it is very easy to spot them. Their food order is pasta for starters, pasta for main-course and if they were allowed, it would be pasta for dessert.
And all that with a huge garlic bread!

At Krimo's they opted for proteins because they were totally fed-up with carbohydrates.

The Great North Run attracts people from all over the world. For a few days, the whole of the North East benefits from it. Hotels, restaurants and various other businesses see this weekend as one of the busiest of the year.
Great stories, great motivation...

Photos courtesy of the BBC

Would you share your last slice of pizza?

I imagine that most pizzas in the world will go cold by the time you reach the last slice. But would you share it?
I doubt it!
Personalmente, if a pizza is good, I will lick the plate! Honestamente!
There was a bakery in my old hometown, which served slices of pizzas at 5 centimes a go. At around twelve, everyday, the place was swamped with hungry, greedy mouths, dying for a slice of the action.
A square slice of pizza, drizzled with home made chilli sauce.
Five centimes of heaven!
Many of us wanted more than one slice of heaven. And the trays kept steaming out of the oven.
Who cared about burnt tongues, blistered lips! A pizza is to be had hot!
If the last slice is still warm, I will start another war for it!
Dare you touch it?
I very much doubt it!

Top of the pops...

Our friend Stan Laundon , well-known BBC Radio presenter/DJ, took this photo from the top of Christ Church, Hartlepool's own Art Gallery.
He climbed the 172 steps to the top of the tower in Church Square to take this beautiful shot.
What a fit guy!
Krimo's is the building on the left in the foreground.
The headland looks amazing and so close!

The art of surviving recessions...

Over our twenty-three years in business we have been through a few trials, Foot-and-mouth, Salmonella, Chinese Bird Flu, and many more financial crises that would usually floor a fledgling business.
I learnt that our survival had to do with our customers putting their trust in us.

Let me put it this way.
If you don't have two pennies to rub together, can you afford to gamble?
Of course, not!
So, you stick to what you know, the tried-and-tested. As simple as that!

And that is why we can survive anything this world throws at us.
Wall Street crash... Not 1929...
Credit crunch...
Flu epidemic...

And guess what?
These lows help us sharpen our operation. Honest!
We look at how we can improve our customer care.
We talk to our existing suppliers and look at new ones for better deals.
The only thing we do not do is to lower our standards!
Instead, we improve them. Not by lowering prices but by giving better value. Not in monetary terms but in satisfaction terms.

The extra mile...The extra smile...

All this goes a long way.
And when the recession is over we find that we come out of it much stronger.

You've had your chips...

At Portofino, Noel, Chris and the team pride themselves in serving fresh, homemade chips.
Many years ago, frozen chips were given a try but they "tasted like straw!"
Nowadays, Portofino's chips are very famous in... Hartlepool.
The other morning I asked if they knew what country made the best chips.
"England! We make the best fish and chips in the world!"
"Oh, no! Sorry, boys, it's Belgium!"
They laughed.
So I went back to my office and Googled it for proof.
"Best chip in the World."
Guess what came up first?

But, after further research I came up with the answer.
Belgium in general and Brussels in particular is the home of the best chips in the world.
The country is after all famous for Mussels and Chips.

The secret is twice-cooked chips.
My cousin in Dieppe (France) once showed me how to make Frites.

Peel and slice the potatoes into 1cm thick chips.
Thickness matters more than length! I've heard that before...
Wash them in warm water, then drain and dry them.
Par-fry or blanch them in oil at around 140 degrees.
Once the chips are cooked through but still white, drain them and leave them to drip dry.
Turn the frying temperature to 180 degrees.
Drop the basket in and shake it to keep the chips loose.
They will become golden within two minutes.
Drain, sprinkle them with salt and serve immediately.

Chips, frites, French fries... or whatever they're called...
They are beautiful... in moderation!

Tapas to go...

Adam and his team have come up with this new concept for lunch on the hoof...
There are many call centres nearby and most of the workers usually grab a sarnie, fish and chips, a pizza, etc... from the numerous food outlets around the Marina.
So why not Tapas?
A couple of Albondigas, a few Patatas Bravas, a bit of salad, etc... and you've got an alternative lunch...
They are launching it this week. I'll keep you posted as to its success.
But don't hold your breath; new concepts need time to develop and become popular.
Watch this space

Keep it simple...

That's the first rule of cooking.

Anyone who has watched the latest cookery programmes on telly must have heard this phrase. The presenters make it sound like a new prophecy!
Like reinventing the wheel!
Of course, things have to be kept simple or else you lose the plot.

There were many instances in the Seventies and Eighties, when over-zealous cooks misunderstood Nouvelle Cuisine, marrying totally unmixable ingredients together for the sake of presentation and ending up with unpalatable mix bound for the divorce courts!

This post was prompted after I tweaked the vinaigrette at Casa.

Vinaigrette is the French for salad dressing and it comes from the word vinaigre (vinegar).
The original recipe is one quarter vinegar and three quarters oil. Salt and pepper are normally the only other ingredients.
My mother usually replaced the vinegar by lemon juice. This made her dressing taste a lot fresher.
The addition of any other ingredient is the cook's prerogative. Flavoured vinegars, mustards, herbs, etc... are all acceptable in the right measure.

Personally, I prefer the simple version. Here is how I prepare one portion of salad:
A large plastic bowl. One tbsp of olive oil, a pinch each of freshly ground sea salt and black pepper and the juice of a quarter of lemon.
All this before I add the salad ingredients. This is the only way one can tell how much dressing is used.
No need to mix, whisk or blend!
I just add the ingredients.
Tossing the salad is all one needs to cover the leaves with dressing. That is the reason for the large bowl.
My favourite side salad is a head of baby gems, a few slices of fresh fennel, a tsp of finely chopped red onion and that's about it.

Ready, steady, munch!