Actress Nicola Millbank On Her Passion For Food And New Venture, Milly Cookbook

If you read this blog regularly you may have noticed that I'm often looking for ways to be a bit healthier and happier - especially when it comes to food. I love (LOVE) to eat but I also want to be healthy and like many of us I find that can be a bit of a struggle from time to time.

Depriving ourselves of our favourite foods is not only completely boring and makes life very mundane but it really isn't conducive to a happy balance in life. Deprivation ultimately always leads to failure as we humans are not actually designed to have the willpower required to constantly be going without the things that we love!

Nowadays there are many new ideas out there on the market, coming from all directions, when it comes to diet and the best way to eat. Many a blogger is taking to the interwaves and sharing their latest lifestyle and foodie choices, encouraging us to get involved. You may have seen me try the recipes of many of them, their books sit proudly on my shelves and I happily reach for them and make their delicious meals and nibbles from time to time. The only tripping point is the ease of which you can really apply these recipes to a regular, busy and hectic daily life. The truth is that as brilliant as the Deliciously Ella's of this world are they aren't always hugely user friendly and still don't fully hit the mark when it comes to the reality of an everyday home kitchen.

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

So when today's interviewee, Actress Nicola Millbank, started her website Milly Cookbook I let out a little shriek of glee. What Nicola is aiming to do, and in my opinion succeeding, is to offer us all of our firm favourite comfort recipes (think pizza, shepherds pie, a classic Sunday roast) but with a healthier twist. Not only that but the recipes are simple and the ingredients don't require a lot of online or health food shop soul searching - or the obligatory stretch to your bank balance! You honestly can make these recipes with the ingredients you have in your cupboard and be certain to satisfy your hunger whilst keeping yourself healthy in the process.

So enough of me chattering on! Let's talk today to Nicola herself as she shares with us an insight into her career, her passion for food and some fun kitchen and foodie facts (and fails) that we will all be able to relate to!


Hi Nicola, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your own career background?

Milly was my nickname at school and love it though I do, my actual name is Nicola. I'm an Actress and work mostly in television. Currently I play the regular character Ella on Sky 1's Mount Pleasant. I've been very lucky with my job recently but it wasn't always so easy. I graduated from Drama school without an agent and slogged my guts out doing unpaid work for two years before I finally signed with United Agents in London. I haven't looked back since.

I've been very fortunate to work with some well established Actors such as Jeremy Piven and Michael Fassbender (phwoar!) and the cast of Mount Pleasant are like a second family to me. I'm lucky to be part of such a well loved show that keeps coming back every year. 

Why food? How did you first discover your passion for cooking and creating your own recipes?

Living on my own in London! I moved up to London when I was a teenager into a one bedroom flat and I suddenly realised that nobody was going to cook for me, I had to 100% fend for myself. I wasn't a bad cook back then, I'd always helped my mum in the kitchen and had learnt a few recipes to keep me alive but I quickly got bored of cooking the same thing over and over again.

I remember watching Saturday morning kitchen every weekend and becoming a bit obsessed with cooking what was on the show. I think an interest in cooking food started then but I'd always been very interested in eating it that's for sure!

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

What drew you to setting up your blog Milly Cookbook?

My boyfriend Michael actually. I've always been one for holding dinner parties with friends and making nibbles for impromptu guests. It wasn't until we moved in together a couple of years ago that he started noticing my flair for cooking and earlier this year said I had to make something of it. A week later a very talented friend of ours put together a website, and the rest is history. It's all going a bit mad but I'm loving every second of it!

I love your food philosophy of guilt-free gluttony. You very much believe it's important to have a happy and healthy relationship with food, do you have any tips for finding that balance?

Yes, I don't believe in diets. Diets make me miserable. I'd end up going really well for a few days, thriving on the motivation and then over the weekend, have a burger and some beers and then bummer, I'd be back where I started.

As a person, I get bored quite easily and when it comes to food, eating a chicken breast and broccoli every night just wasn't going to cut it; there was more chance of me caving and demolishing a jar of chocolate spread than if I just ate what I wanted in a more creative way.

I strongly believe in eating what you want but finding healthier ways of cooking it. For example, if you want a shepherds pie, use turkey mince and lots of vegetables and top with sweet potato. You're still having your "shepherds pie" but it's a lot healthier; it's just about tricking the brain. I will always try to eat well mid-week but my mantra is to eat whatever I want on a Sunday, whether that be a huge roast dinner and pudding or a sloppy burger, wings and fries. We're all human and we all need a day to let loose.

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Who are your personal food heroes and where do you find inspiration?

I don't know if I have any food heroes as such but one particular person I love is Nigel Slater. He's an honest, understated cook who makes the most out of simple, fresh ingredients. There's no frills or unattainable ingredients in his cooking, it's all family friendly, good grub and I love that about him. 

There are a lot of 'fashionable' plant based cooks and blogs at the moment which all look beautiful but I've asked myself the question, is it really attainable? Or even sustainable? I try and create recipes that anyone can make with ingredients that can be bought in your local supermarket that you don't have to splurge a ludicrous amount in health food shops to make. I have a busy lifestyle and a bowl of kale and chickpeas for dinner just isn't going to step foot inside my kitchen!

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

What's your favourite recipe from your blog?

Ooh tough one. A lot of people dress to fit their mood; I eat to fit my mood! I guess today it would be my Hail the Kale Caesar Salad or my Sicilian Mackerel. I love salty sweet food and this has sultanas, capers and pine nuts in it. I appreciate that might sound like an odd mix but it's a typical Sicilian trio and it's incredibly moorish.

What are some of your favourite ingredients, must haves that you can't live without?

Malden sea salt, Agave syrup (I don't use sugar) rapeseed oil and lots of fresh herbs. 

Have you had any kitchen nightmares or epic recipe fails?!

YES. I met my boyfriend in Paris on a job, I was acting in the series and he was a story editor. He lived in Munich at the time and on visiting him for a weekend I thought I'd try and woo him with my culinary delights! I spent a ridiculous amount of money trying to make him a truffle, pancetta and mushroom pasta dish. I didn't realise the pancetta was extremely cured and I accidentally over seasoned ... it tasted like salt water. Epic fail.

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

How do you manage to balance your acting career with working on Milly Cookbook and is a good work life balance something that's important to you?

Absolutely. I think if you can earn a living doing what you love then you're on to a winner. Otherwise I think it's really important to have a hobby you enjoy or somewhere you can retreat to after a busy day and there's definitely something to be said about finding that happy medium between living to work and working to live.

I run Milly Cookbook from home so after a days filming I like nothing more than to pour a glass of wine, get some tunes on and get into the kitchen, experiment or cook something nice for dinner. I'm constantly updating my website and social media accounts and luckily, on set I have some spare time to sit in my trailer and work away on the laptop so thankfully, it all fits in very nicely.

What's next for Milly Cookbook and what do you hope the future will bring?

Keep your eyes peeled for the online episodes! I'll be uploading a new one every week to the website and showing everyone six of my favourite recipes and a step by step guide on how to make them. The first one is already up showing you how to make my Italian Baked Eggs for brunch and next up is a light bite dish.

As for now, I'm currently working on getting my book together and, in the process of divine inspiration, making an absolute mess in the kitchen; just how it should be!

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Photograph: Milly Cookbook

Thank you to Nicola for sharing her story and some fantastic tips and ideas. I really hope this interview inspires you to get into the kitchen, get cooking and remember that you can still love and enjoy your food at the same time as looking out for your health and wellbeing. I certainly intend to try plenty of the lovely looking recipes on the Milly Cookbook site because ultimately life without good food just isn't really a life that I'm all that interested in living!

Watch this space for more from the world of Milly Cookbook and keep up to date with all of the latest delicious recipes via @MillyCookbook.

Have a brilliant Monday everyone and I hope to see you later in the week for a little more What Now fun!