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....