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Fixing meals fit for a princess

The Baltimore Sun

When Princess Diana walked through the front door at Kensington Palace, chef Darren McGrady instantly knew she was very unhappy.

She slammed the door, which was not at all like her, and stormed into the kitchen where he was making a meal for her and her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.

She burst into angry tears. "I hate those paparazzi!" she sputtered.

McGrady, Princess Diana's personal chef for four years - from the time of her split-up with Prince Charles in 1993 until her death in 1997 - was often privy to her thoughts and feelings that could pour out during a heated moment like this one, as well as when she just wanted to talk and would chat at the kitchen table.

He shares his insights into the heart of the People's Princess in his new cookbook, Eating Royally.

But don't expect a juicy, scandalous "tell-all" from the man or his book. His descriptions of Diana, and the rest of Britain's royal family, create a picture that's as warm and delicious as Diana's favorite bread-and-butter pudding.

During a phone interview to promote the book, he offers the back story of the events that day as an example of Diana's struggles with life in a fishbowl.

"She had driven to a friend's home for a visit. When she came out of the house, big yellow plastic cones had been set in front and in back of her car. She moved them aside and got into the car. While she was getting in, a man put the cones back in place.

"Diana got out again and moved the cones again. When she got into the car, he put the cones back in position.

"The same thing happened a third time. And then a fourth time. Finally, Diana got out of the car, yelled at him to leave her alone and burst into tears. That was the moment he was waiting for.

"A photographer, the man captured a photo of Diana in total distress, and probably got enough from selling that one shot to pay for his retirement. After all, there were millions of pictures of the smiling, happy Diana. Ones of her crying, in tears and distressed, were much rarer and fetched much higher prices," McGrady says.

But don't think for a moment that McGrady is using this book to finance his own retirement. Now working as a private chef for a Dallas, Texas, family, he has donated all of his advance and all profits from the sales of Eating Royally to the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Why? Because it embraces children and AIDS, which were two of Diana's most important causes.

Done in McGrady's spare time, the book took four years to write. But it is a treasure that mixes recollections with his recipes. It makes you laugh and it makes you cry, besides tempting you to cook from it.

Although Diana liked trying new foods, she simply wasn't a cook. "When I prepared foods for her to reheat for herself over the weekends, instructions had to be very simple. Just microwaving in a single stage and at one power level. She couldn't handle preparations that went on for two steps or more," says the chef.

As proof, he writes of the time she tried to cook pasta for a visiting girlfriend. When the water boiled over, it extinguished the stove's pilot light. Diana didn't think anymore of it until she smelled gas the next morning and summoned help from the local fire brigade. "When I came back to work on Monday, the princess gleefully informed me that she had 12 hunky men in her house while I was gone."

Before he cooked for a princess, McGrady prepared meals for a queen. He spent 11 years cooking for Queen Elizabeth before moving to the Kensington Palace kitchen.

Diana's food choices often were simple, including stuffed eggplant and peppers, steamed trout, roasted vegetables and chicken. Besides the amaretto-flavored bread pudding she loved, she often opted for summer pudding if she was having lunch guests.

She liked baked beans on whole-wheat toast for breakfast because there was lots of protein and no fat - just carbs she could work off at the gym. She snacked on yogurt and grain bars and fresh fruit.

Along with her caring ways, Diana packed a mischievous sense of humor. She once told a Saudi prince that she liked mangoes after listening to him go on endlessly about the wonderful mangoes in his country. A week later, Diana struggled to carry a huge box of mangoes into the kitchen. She said: "Do you believe this, Darren? The man sent me a whole crate of mangoes because I mentioned that I liked them. Next time, I need to mention how much I like diamonds."

Diane Stoneback writes for the Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.).

Chef Darren's Bread-and-Butter Pudding

Serves 6 to 8

(Princess Diana's all-time favorite)

3 ounces raisins

1/4 cup amaretto

12 slices white bread, crusts removed

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

9 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla paste (see note)

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons granulated sugar, to dust the top of the pudding

3 ounces sliced almonds, lightly toasted

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Soak the raisins in the amaretto and leave covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut 4 slices of the bread into 1/2 -inch dice, and spread the diced bread on the bottom of a casserole dish. Sprinkle the raisins on top of the bread cubes, and pour any remaining liquid over the bread. Cut the remaining 8 slices of bread in half diagonally and then cut each half slice in halve diagonally to create 4 even triangles per slice. Dip the triangles into the butter and arrange on the top of the raisins, overlapping the triangles slightly. Pour any remaining butter over the top of the bread.

Whisk the yolks, vanilla paste and sugar in a large bowl until combined. Bring the milk and cream to a boil in a heavy saucepan over high heat, and pour the hot mix onto the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the warm egg mixture over the bread, making sure all of the bread is coated, and set aside the coated bread for 20 minutes to allow the egg mixture to soak into the bread.

Place the casserole dish in a roasting tray filled with hot water halfway up the sides of the casserole dish, and bake on the middle rack in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top with the filling just set.

Remove the dish from the oven and roasting tray, and sprinkle with the extra sugar. Broil or use a creme brulee torch to caramelize the sugar. Sprinkle with the toasted sliced almonds, and dust with powdered sugar. Cool slightly, and serve warm with a jug of cream and some fresh berries.

Note: If you can't find vanilla paste, you can use pure vanilla extract.

From "Eating Royally"

Per serving (based on 8 servings): 662 calories, 9 grams protein, 50 grams fat, 27 grams saturated fat, 47 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 358 milligrams cholesterol, 164 milligrams sodium

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