One of my movie heroes made a special visit to Chelsea over the weekend. Pedro Almodóvar, the film director who introduced Penélope Cruz to the world in his movie Jamon Jamon, in which Cruz also starred in her first film with Javier Bardem.

Almodóvar’s latest film, The Skin I Live In, starred Antonio Banderas whilst his next movie will star both Cruz and Banderas. In other words, Almodóvar dominates Spanish cinema. In fact, he has been the embodiment of Spanish cinema for decades.

Live Flesh was the first Almodóvar film I watched and it blew my mind. It stars Javier Bardem and is an adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel: beautifully shot, great performances and really gripping.

Almodóvar is also an auteur, which are a rare breed nowadays. His films are visually stunning; his female characters have admirable strength and a fantastic sense of humour; and his stories tend to push the boundaries of our imagination.

So needless to say when I heard that he was doing a book signing at Taschen on Duke of York Square, there was no way I was going to miss it!

In fact, I arrived a bit early. Two hours early, to be precise.

There was no else waiting, so the bf and I sat across the way at Manicomio to keep an eye on the impending queue. It was hardly a chore with the Christmas lights on the Square to gaze at as other people sat around us, outside.

When other Almodóvar fans started to arrive at Taschen, we joined the line – and waited. And some time later, he finally arrived!

Me in my rain mac and scraped back hair – hardly glamorous – as he signed my limited edition copy of The Pedro Almodóvar Archives.

When he saw my name on the post-it: Mina, Almodóvar chuckled to himself and repeated “Mina”. For a split second I thought it was because of Dracula or one of the actresses he works with regularly. It wasn’t until I left the shop that I remembered Almodóvar is currently working on a biopic about the Italian singer, Mina. 😀

After Almodóvar signed my book, he turned round to shake my hand and wish me the best with my writing. He had a warmth that felt refreshing and comforting. No wonder the same actors want to work with him time and time again. It’s clearly not just about his talent.

I found the whole experience inspiring and I will always cherish the words written in my book:

And I’m sure it doesn’t have to be said that this book has now taken prime position on my coffee table.

Do you have someone you would love to meet? What would you ask them to write in a book for you? x

Yesterday I popped into the Little Black Jacket exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and I do have to say, go see it!

Whilst you may have seen a few photos in the press or online, nothing makes up for the scale of the exhibition as well as the photographs themselves.

There are a few rooms to go through and each portrait is as stunning as the next.

There were also free exhibition posters which we could help ourselves to yesterday.

And whilst you are at the Saatchi Gallery, it is also worth checking out Karl Lagerfeld’s other exhibition – on Yoko Ono. It’s quite mesmerising.

The Little Black Jacket runs until 4th November 2012 at the Saatchi Gallery.

Comté is one of my favourite cheeses. I’d discovered it whilst studying in the Franche-Comté region for my third year at university, in a town called Besançon. And now, I find it every Saturday at the Duke of York Square food market.

I’ve always loved using Comté for cooking. I guess it comes from my days of living amongst the Jura mountains when my friends and I would gather regularly for fondue before heading out. But there is more to Comté than fondue and the kind folks at Comté Cheese have shared a couple of their recipes for you to try.

But before the recipes whet your appetite, I just want to flag up that there are free Comté tastings around the UK with the Foodies Festival Tour, if you’re not going to be dropping by the King’s Road sometime soon. And tomorrow, on Saturday July 14th, there will be a free tasting at the La Cave restaurant in London’s Borough Market for the Bastille Day Festival. @Comte_Cheese are also running a Twitter competition to celebrate Bastille Day. So look out for that too!

So, for the recipes …

Stuffed tomatoes with Comté

Ingredients

For the tomato sauce

  • 80-100ml/3-3½fl oz olive oil
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée (if the tomatoes are not very ripe)
  • 1kg/2lb 3oz ripe plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4 pinches salt
  • 2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pinches sugar (optional)
  • 3 fresh basil leaves

For the stuffed tomatoes

  • 4 x 200g/7oz ripe tomatoes (preferably marmande or beef, organic if possible)
  • 200g/7oz minced pork
  • 60g/2oz fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 free-range egg yolk
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 sprig fresh tarragon, leaves picked, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing and drizzling
  • 60g/2oz Comté cheese, chopped into small cubes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. For the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and gently fry the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.
  2. Stir in the tomato purée, if using, and cook for one minute before adding the chopped tomatoes. Season to taste with the salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Bring to a simmer, then cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for a further 20 minutes. Taste again and correct the seasoning if needed, adding the sugar if necessary. Stir in the basil.
  4. Pass the sauce through a mouli or fine sieve into a pan and set aside until needed.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  6. For the stuffed tomatoes, trim the bases of the tomatoes so they sit flat on the work surface. Slice off the top third of the tomatoes and reserve (this will serve as the ‘lid’ for the stuffed tomatoes).
  7. With a spoon, scoop out the pulp and juices of the tomatoes into a bowl. Add the juices and pulp to the pan with the tomato sauce.
  8. Mix all of the remaining stuffed tomato ingredients, except the Comté cheese, together in a bowl until well combined. Stir in half of the cheese.
  9. Season the insides of the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  10. Divide the pork stuffing into four equal portions and roll each into a ball big enough to fit inside the tomatoes. Place the stuffing into the tomatoes, then sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Top each stuffed tomato with the reserved tomato ‘lids’.
  11. Brush a baking dish with a little olive oil then place the tomatoes on top. Drizzle with some more olive oil and cook in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender and the stuffing is cooked through.
  12. To serve, reheat the tomato sauce and pour into the baking dish with the stuffed tomatoes. Alternatively, pour the sauce into individual serving dishes and top each with a stuffed tomato.
Seared Steak with a Brioche and Comté Gratin

Ingredients

  • 1 sirloin steak
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 10g butter, cubed
  • 2 Tbs thickened cream 

Brioche and Comté Gratin

  • ½ brown onion, sliced
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 50g Comté, cut into small cubes
  • ½ small brioche loaf, sliced
  • Dijon mustard to serve

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
  2. Season sirloin steak with salt and pepper. In a hot oiled pan, cook sirloin for 2 minutes each side, transfer pan to the oven to cook for a further 5 minutes or until cooked to your liking. Remove the steak from the pan and allow to rest.
  3. Deglaze the pan from the oven with red wine; simmer for 1 minute on a low heat before stirring butter and cream through.
  4. For the brioche and comté gratin, sweat onion in a saucepan. Reduce pan to a low heat before adding milk, eggs, thyme, seasoning and comté. Whisk to combine thoroughly.
  5. Fan brioche in a small baking dish and pour custard mix over. Bake gratin for 10 minutes or until golden.
  6. Remove gratin from the baking dish and place on the serving plate. Slice sirloin steak, assemble over gratin, top with red wine sauce and serve Dijon mustard on the side.

Bon Appétit!

When you walk past a Jigsaw store this week, you’ll probably notice a Wool Week sign in their window. I did, walking along Knightsbridge, just about. But when you get to Duke of York Square, you won’t be able to miss the sheep!

The sheep are a statement for The Campaign For Wool, which was initiated by HRH Prince of Wales.

To find out more, read Jigsaw’s blog here and have a gander at Love Bakery‘s fab blog post, here.

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