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