Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas in London

The Christmas tree in the lobby at the Ampersand Hotel S Kensington is decorated with white feather garlands, birds and little bird houses.


The Natural History Museum  is lit like a fairytale castle with a brightly lit carousel and a skating rink with a very large Christmas tree. I like the lights showing the shapes of the surrounding trees.

Inside Harrods

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Some Traditional Christmas Sweet Treats

on the left a traditional British mince pie             on the right a Finnish ‘Joulutorttu’ a Christmas star pastry

 Marja a Finnish friend made star pastries and I made mince pies. Both are traditional Christmas treats though when I was a child my mother made them at other times of the year too.
The Finnish stars are made with puff pastry and a spiced prune compote filling, close cousins of the mince pie and delicious. I'd like to have a go at making some.

For the mince pies I made short crust pastry using butter and flour with orange zest and juice. The use of orange was a tip I picked up from the Hairy Bikers on TV.  And like them I put the pastry in the fridge to rest before rolling it out. Usually I don't want to wait for it but it paid off as the pastry was really light and melt in the mouth. The mincemeat I used was made using Delia Smith's recipe and very good, I bought some jars of it at a Macmillan coffee morning. I added a little finely chopped Bramley apple from the garden.

Mince pies are thought to have originated in the 13th C when Crusaders brought recipes back with them from the Middle East. They contained a mixture of minced meat, fruit and spices and became known as mutton pies. Other meats used were goose, beaf veal etc. Modern mince meat contains a hint of this as it includes suet. Some use vegetarian suet.

Did you know?

Your 'mince pies' is cockney rhyming slang for your 'eyes'

Said to be a favourite of Father Christmas. Leave them by the fireplace with a glass of something warming and a carrot for Rudolph.

They were eaten in the Pepys household in the 17th century and either home made by Mrs Pepys and her maids or sent for from 'abroad'

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

I have an elderberry tree in the garden. The berries should not be eaten uncooked. However when boiled in water and strained you get a lovely purple juice that can be made into a cordial or mixed with stewed apple. You can also make apple and elderberry jelly to spread on your toast.

A herbalist told me that they are good against colds and flu. I keep some in the freezer.  More info here
In late summer or early Autumn you can find them in the countryside growing in the hedgerows though do take care to identify them correctly. Have a look here

Here is a recipe I found

They used to be in Bottle Green's Spiced Berry Cordial which is in most supermarkets. I don't know if they still are as the bottle I have is not very new.
It says on their website that it has blackcurrant and ariona. Ariona is a berry and superfood new to the UK but well known by the Polish community here and it has health benefits too.

In April or May the tree flowers. Elder flowers make a lovely drink with sugar and lemon or can be fermented to make elderflower 'Champagne'

Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas Lunch at Gemini Restaurant

Smoked salmon mousse with saffron dressing and avruga caviar 

Gemini Restaurant at Tadworth is one of my favourites, it's a small family run restaurant with original paintings on the walls.
 I went there with my watercolour class for their Christmas menu. Ten of us sat at a big table by a toasty log fire, We started with a drink and canapes. I have shown two of the choices from each of the courses, more here  I had the smoked salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon which was very good. This was followed by a mini mango sorbet in a shot glass and then on to the turkey feast. The roasties were excellent (ssh I had seconds of those.)  I decided to skip the puds and finished with tea and a bitter chocolate truffle.
The 3 course menu was £19.95 with a 10% discount for early booking which I thought was good value. We caught  up on news, 3 of the group are past students.
 We were the last to leave the restaurant.
If we get stuck for topics we could always paint the food.

Seared asparagus spears wrapped in Parma ham, served on mixed leaves with tomato chilli jam and parmesan

Roasted Sussex free range turkey served with piglets in blankets, apricot stuffing and all the festive trimmings

  Gemini's steamed steak, kidney and real ale pudding with thyme jus

                                    Belgian chocolate truffle torte served with crème anglaise

                                       Vanilla Crème brulee

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Afternoon Tea at the Ampersand

  The Ampersand Hotel is only a couple of minutes walk from South Kensington tube station so easy to get to and very convenient for combining with a visit to the Vand A or a shopping trip.
Newly refurbished, the inspiration for the stylish interiors was drawn from the surrounding museums.
The Drawing Rooms where tea is served feature an eclectic mix of art, bold patterned wall papers and colourful upholstery fabrics with an animal and bird theme.

Afternoon tea for two with bubbly was a good deal booked via Lime and Tonic.
I went with a friend and we started with a glass of Moet et Chandon Champagne and made our choice of tea menu. There was a traditional tea with little open sandwiches (tartines) or one with savoury gougeres. The day we went there was also a chocolate themed tea menu. We chose the traditional menu which I had with Darjeeling tea.
The tartines were topped with savoury honey-glazed ham with sauce gribiche; a tangy coronation chicken; Goldstein smoked salmon with dill and cream cheese; and cheese with fruit chutney.
The scone was light with a crisp exterior and the little cakes tasted as good as they looked.
We were about the last to leave and it was one of the best afternoon teas I have had.

 Can you spot the Ampersand in this contemporary piece?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Taste of September

Victoria plums and damsons from the garden picked on a sunny day.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

5 2 Diet and a 340 Calorie Supper Recipe

 Recently I watched the BBC's Horizon documentary  Eat, Fast and Live Longer   That comma is essential, as its not about eating fast. It is now on Youtube click here. The programme was  presented by Dr Michael Mosley. He has written about it here  I would say a must watch and a must read.
 In the programme he explores the powerful new science behind the ancient idea of fasting and tests it out on himself, with remarkable results. The 5 2 diet is a form of intermittent calorie restriction which according to the programme can produce similar results such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels good for minimising muffin tops and reducing the risks of developing type 2 diabetes due to obesity.
How it works is that on each of 2 days of the week you limit yourself to 500 cal for women or 600 for men. That can be taken in one meal or spread out through the day. And now for the good news, you can eat whatever you want on the other 5 days. 
 I could use a bit of improvement in the blood pressure/cholesterol departments so have decided to give it a go.
On the first day I split the calories between breakfast and an evening meal. I had a banana, half a peach and 1 desert spoon each of yoghurt and muesli in the morning. In the evening I had a pollock fillet with broccoli and carrots and although I was hungry for it, it was dismally lacking in flavour. 

Today I had most of the calories in the evening, the others were in 110 g semi skimmed milk shared between coffee and tea. This worked better for me. I worked out a recipe for my evening meal. It might not look much but it was particularly delicious after a day with no breakfast or lunch and I enjoyed every atom! It was as near as I could get to a give fish pie within the calorie restriction.There were still enough calories left in the allowance for 70g peas but when I looked in the freezer they were nowhere to be found.
 It worked OK cooking it in the microwave but as I still had some calories left I could have fried the onions and fish in 1/4 tsp olive oil and cooked it all on the stove.

The other potato was sliced too.

Ingredients  for 2 people          263 cal per person
Potato unpeeled and thinly sliced         160g             120
Smoked haddock                                  186g          216
A large egg                                                             90
Semi skimmed milk                             100g            50
Cornflour                                             15g            50
Onion   finely chopped                         20g             5
Bay leaf
Parsley           a small piece It weighed less than a gram
Water                              2-3tbs

Broccoli                          400g                                96          

I put the fish, onion, potato, bay leaf and parsley into a pyrex dish with a lid and microwaved on high for 5 minutes. I added the milk with the water and the cornflour mixed in and microwaved for about 90 secs stopping part way through to gently stir it.
I steamed the broccoli and boiled the egg.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Savoury Cake with Olives, Pistachio and Halloumi cheese

Rachel Khoo baked a savoury cake on BBC's Little Paris Kitchen. She explained that they are popular 
in France and appear in boulangeries, cafes and on picnic menus.
I bought some goats cheese and tried her recipe. I didn't have any pistachios so instead used pecans. I had some olives so included these in place of some of the prunes. The olives came from Baileys deli (see previous post) They were an interesting mix filled with garlic, sundried tomato or feta cheese. These ingredients are shown in the top photo.

It smelt delicious. I tried some while it was warm and the next day when cold. Warm it seemed a bit too oily for me though very tasty. I preferred this one cold and took a piece with me for lunchtime on a day out. I like the little bursts of different flavours.
I like prunes and in small pieces they are OK in the cake but thought I would prefer to leave them out next time as it's the savoury flavours I liked best.

Next I modified the recipe and made my own version. I cut down on the olive oil.
I managed to get hold of some unsalted pistachios and used halloumi cheese in place of the goat's cheese. I didn't add any salt, both the olives and the cheese contain it.
I was please with the result. Halloumi cheese holds its shape when cooked but isn't big on flavour so I shall experiment with some other cheeses. Maybe a different halloumi would have more flavour.

2 eggs
2 3/4 oz plain yoghurt
flour 6oz white flour 3 oz wholemeal flour
1 1/2 oz pistachios chopped  (pecans work well too.)
1 1/2 oz olives pitted and chopped
Halloumi cheese cut into small cubes  4-6 oz
 1/2 oz 15g Baking powder
Olive oil 7 tbs
fresh rosemary leaves

Mix the whisk the eggs till fluffy then bit by bit whisk in the milk, oil and yogurt. and baking powder thoroughly.
In another bowl combine the flour and baking powder with the chopped ingredients. Gently fold this into the mixture in the first bowl.
Place in a loaf tin lined with oiled greaseproof paper.
Top with rosemary leaves.
Cook at gas 4 for 40-50 min.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Baileys Deli Part 2

At Baileys Deli there is indoor seating at the back of the shop as well as tables outside, weather permitting. Choose between eat in or takeaway any time during the day.
The paninis and salads are great. There's a good selection of charcuterie and cheeses to go with the artisan bread and a range of olives from Silver and Green CumbrianOliveCo They are pitted and some spicy and some have a filling such as sun dried tomato, garlic or feta cheese. I have tried them all and used them in savoury cakes recipes, more about that in my next post.
And then there is cake which I have hoovered up in the interests of research of course! My favourite has been the carrot cake which is very moist and light and has a great flavour and yummy topping.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Baileys Deli and Coffee Shop

For more information about Baileys Deli click here

Back in June I visited the Corner Gallery where I had some paintings that a new deli was opening just a few doors away that very morning. I was delighted to find a little taste of Borough market with artisan breads, olives, prosciutto etc to sample and came away with a few tasty goodies.

On Aug 18th Baileys held a tasting day. It was also a fund raising event in aid of St Christopher's Hospice. It was a fine day so there were chairs and tables outside and a big table with a range of delicious artisan organic breads from Flour Power City on offer to sample.

I had a good coffee, organic and Fairtrade from Green Cup They collect the used grounds and recycle them to make into slug and snail resistant compost for the garden which is a great idea. I put my coffee grounds onto the compost on some of my outdoor potted plants.

Artisan organic breads from Flour Power City Bakery
above 'Guess the Weight' of the Hoxton Rye loaf

The tomato and olive bread was my favourite.

 and the almond croissants...

In my next post I will show you the cakes.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Baking with Lavender

It was the Carshalton Lavender Open week end last weekend.
These biscuits were for sale on Kathleen's stand pictured below. The recipes are shared here with her permission.
 The semolina gives a crunchy texture and I like the strength of the lavender flavour.
 If you haven't tasted it before and you are not sure about it try just 1tsp of flowers. If you don't like the texture of the flowers you can buy a natural culinary lavender essence for cooking here. or blitz the flowers with the sugar.
 Don't use lavandula stoechas, that's the one with rabbit ear petals, usually called French or Spanish lavender. It doesn't taste as good as it contains camphor.
Queen Elizabeth 1 is said to have enjoyed lavender in a conserve and used it for migraines. The French have traditionally used it in herbes de Provence. Long out of fashion in food in the UK lavender has started popping up again in foodie restaurants and recipes. Some people don't like the idea as it make them think of soap.
The biscuits were sitting alongside various creations crafted by Kathleen and friends and included some pretty cupcakes.
I had a stand for my paintings and silk scarves which you can see on my art blog

more lavender cupcakes

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Potato and Rosemary Bread

 I had 175g of left over mashed potato This is more potato than I have used before in a bread dough so it was a bit of an experiment. The potato gives the bread a good flavour and a lovely crispy crust.
It makes the dough wetter than usual and more difficult to handle so it was kneaded  by machine.

175g mashed potato
325g strong white flour
70g strong wholemeal flour
20g butter
300g water ( hand hot)
1 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2- 1 tsp salt
olive oil
A small bunch of fresh rosemary    I used about 6 pieces of fresh rosemary each about 12 cm long. The leaves were stripped from 3 of them then finely chopped. These were added to the dough mix.
The other 3 were cut into small pieces about 2 cm long these and were used to stud the top of the dough.

Melt the butter in a microwave and add it to the potato with half the water, Mix until smooth. Put this together with the other ingredients into a bread machine on a dough only setting. When this has finished begin the cycle again but only leave it on long enough to mix the dough a second time. It should look elastic and well aerated.

Some of the dough was tipped, almost poured, onto a well oiled baking tray and spread out to make a  layer of about 1/2 in thick, sprinkled with olive oil and studded with rosemary.
 The rest of the dough was spooned into muffin cases to half full. I placed some pieces of aged Gouda onto the dough then another spoonful of dough. This was topped with chopped onions and a sprig of rosemary. A little bit of finely grated carrot adds a bit of colour but is optional.
These were left in a warm place for 30 min then baked at gas 6 for 20 min till golden brown and eaten hot.
Very more-ish.