Thursday, 27 October 2011

Saying Au Revoir to Paris

L'Arc De Triomphe - a 10 minute walk from the studio
Last month was full of mixed emotions. Why? Because we were heading out to Paris for a few days but also we knew it would be the last trip to Paris for some time.
Paris holds very special memories for us. You see, it's where I met my hubbie; at the opening of what was called EuroDisney way back in 1992. It was his home for most of his child and teenage life and it was where we both lived post our University days. Call me an old romantic and slightly biased at heart, but the French have romance down to a fine art. There is something about Paris, that just attracts romance and chivalry.
I thought this picture says it all.
Charming husband carries his wife's bag down the Champs
Without a care in the world and with such a natural approach this man carries his wife's bright yellow handbag down the Champs-Élysées. Hailing from Glasgow, I cannot see any local men providing the same kind gesture walking down Buchanan Street, can you?
The architecture is stunning and the little back streets host a hive of activity. I love Paris for all it's traditions, it's rich culture and it's dedication to cuisine.
Small Street in Saint Germain des Prés
Shortly after and having relocated to London, we kept a small studio in Paris and promised to come back every now and then, and with Eurostar providing a two hour train journey,what could be simpler?
Unfortunately, life got in the way and with excessive banking hours, any free time at the weekend was spent catching up on the sleep we had lost during the week. How sad!
One of the hardest things we have had to do is sell the studio. Not only are we saying goodbye to bricks and mortar but the happy memories we had while there. We will come back to visit family but staying with relatives or staying at a hotel is not quite the same as having your own place.
We stayed just a 10 minute walk from the Champs-Élysées. Every morning we sauntered round to Place Victor Hugo to take up our usual spot in the local boulangereie/pâtisserie where I indulged in my usual breakfast of un café crème and croissant aux amandes and we would watch the world pass us by. I spent many mornings gazing in the windows of the local pâtisserie, adoring their craft and thinking, why can't we have the same in Britain? When is Greggs going to turn out something like this? I live in hope!   
Our local boulangerie/pâtisserie
There were of course, a couple of other things I was determined to visit while we were there. One of course, being the Food Hall at Galerie LaFayette.
Pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI
If you love your food like me, then a trip here will send your head into a spin. All at once you are met with food counters packed with the latest delicacies. Representation from top suppliers, even the fruit and vegetables look as if they have been polished to perfection. I spent most of my time here with a big grin on my face. I also wanted to take a trip to the Sadaharou patisserie about which, I had read such good reports.
Chocorons by Sadaharu AOKI
The Japanese pastry chef has a counter here and I wanted to purchase some goodies to satisfy my curiosity. He has quite a selection, so I bought a box of macarons - how could I resist? A praline and chocolate layered Opéra cake and his renowned Opéra au thé vert (Green Tea).
What did I think? The Opéra au thé vert was made with chocolate layers and matcha green tea so it had a slightly bitter aftertaste. I have to say, although I'm glad I tasted it, it didn't really do it for me and my preference lay with the sweet, rich and indulgent chocolate and praline Opéra cake. Layers of loveliness!
Chocolate and Praline layered Opéra cake
I am ashamed to say it but I misplaced my macarons so did not even get a chance to sample them. Talk about having a blonde moment! Even if you don't buy anything, Lafayette Gourmet is worth the visit, just to be enchanted by the displays on each counter. A real feast for the eyes!
That same evening we joined the family to eat at the Copenhague restaurant, situated on the Champs-Élysées. The restaurant specialises in Danish delicacies such as pickled herring and smoked salmon. We spoiled ourselves rotten with the tasting menu all washed down with Acqauvit. Suffice it to say I felt I need to be wheeled home, rather than strolling back. The food was terrific. Sadly, I don't have photos as it probably would have been frowned upon by the family. I'm not the biggest fan of Acquavit. It really is a strong spirit, so soon after I was sipping away merrily on my glass(es) of Sancerre!
We also promised ourselves we would return to Festival Disney, Eurodisney, which is now called (Disney Village, Disneyland Paris) to relive our younger days.
We both worked in a seafood restaurant called Key West which has since closed but I also spent time serving at the Sports Bar. Working at Disney was like a holiday for me. Great opportunity to meet an array of muticultural students and party at every possible moment. When we finished our shift we would drink Beer with Cassis. Yes, I know it sounds vile now but I was a student back then and I was going for the cheapest and most available option (the cassis was to sweeten the beer).
Beer with Cassis in Festival Disney
We tasted it again to mark our trip down memory lane. Remarkabley sweet! Yuck! I was at Uni at the time so you will have to forgive my taste back then.
Annette's Diner at EuroDisney
If you were incredibly cool, you were selected to work in Annette's Diner. Basically, serving burgers, fries and shakes on roller skates. Fortunately, I managed to avoid this avenue of employment. I have never been so grateful to be "uncool". Let's just say stability and co-ordination are not my best friends!
One weekend we even saved our money to spend one night at the Newport Bay Club hotel, a nautically themed hotel designed in the style of a 19th century New England seaside hotel.
Newport Bay Club, Eurodisney
Isn't it bizarre, that all the money we earned from Disney, went back into Disney in the form of bars and hotels? Looking back now it seems crazy, but back then, it's where the community and where the "cast members" (Disney employees) hung out. A lot of them were staying on site, so it seemed the most natural thing to do.
After a few beers, we donned our silly hats and headed over to Billy Bobs, a Country and Western Bar situated next to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. It was a quiet night, but it didn't take long for us to get in the spirit of things as we sang along very enthusiastically as the band rolled out their tunes. Ah Happy Days! Although I'm sure the band would have liked us to stop.
Band at Billy Bob's Eurodisney
Back in Paris, I was also very mindful of the hotel that had just undergone a refurbishment under the direction of French designer, Phillip Starck. Le Royal Monceau  re-opened by the Raffles group in December 2010, is situated just a few minutes walk from L'Arc de Triomphe. The BBC had reported it's top suites were going for an eye-watering rate of up to £17,000 per night. The suites contain objects d'art, acoustic guitars with private lessons if so desired and rain showers within the bathroom suite. All very pleasant I'm sure but there is something distatesful about spending that amount of money on a hotel room, don't you think? In any case, it seems that the Raffles group have definetley latched on to a niche market as the many Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Ferraris all queing up to be parked could attest to. I felt too intimated by the opulence to step much further, the front entrance was as far as I got!
Le Royal Monceau
We spent the next couple of days packing boxes and cases with our memories and souvenirs to be revisited once more in the distant future. All very sad, through it all, one thing remains:
Paris, je t'aime!
I have now ticked off item 7 and 10 on my Trip Wish List.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Book Review: Comfort & Spice by Niamh Shields

It is thanks to Niamh's Eat Like a Girl blog and her tweets that I have learned about Sumac and Fiddleheads. I really enjoy reading her blog posts as she recounts her culinary and travel experiences. How this girl copes with the jet lag, Lord alone knows but throughout she remains a bubbly and positive person whose passion for food knows no limits. So when the opportunity to review her newly launched book, "Comfort and Spice" came up it was a bit of a "no-brainer" for me! I particularly like the quote "Treat your spice box as a palette and watch your food come to life" Nice opening isn't it?
Comfort and Spice Book

In a nutshell, this book jumps up and gives you a warm Autumnal embrace! Can I break it down further?

Pros:
Practicality/Application:
One of the first things I look for in a cook book is the ability to replicate the recipes and buy the products and I am pleased to say that there are a variety of recipes that I would take great pleasure in reproducing. I am already looking forward to making the Venison with Blackberry and Balsamic Sauce, Baby Back Ribs and the Quince Tarte Tatin.

Good variation of themed chapters:
All in all there are 5 themed recipe chapters: Brunch, Speedy Suppers, Long Weekend, Sugar and Spice and Drinks. Each of the themed chapters highlights a "Passion" section which denotes Niamh's favourite recipe(s) from the chapter. I followed the Lentil Soup with Harissa Croutons recipe from the Speedy Suppers section and because I did not have red lentils, replaced using green lentils. It was a tasty and heartwarming dish!
Lentil Soup with Harissa Croutons
Irish influenced cuisine:
Although I am Scottish, my great grandparents on both sides were Irish and apart from visiting Dublin once, I've never really had much experience of the Irish culture (much to my disappointment) so the Irish inspired dishes go some way in bridging this gap. I like the way the book introduces homemade favourites such as Blaas and Irish soda farls and I feel it's a nice touch when Niamh pays tribute to a local fish smoker. Her personal experiences are a recurring theme throughout the book.

Additional Extras:
The book is peppered with added bonus such as "How to be a better cook" where Niamh provides tips on how to shop for ingredients and acquiring the basics in the kitchen. She has a nice way of jazzing up salt by making her own "Ham Salt" or "Rosemary Salt" - who knew? The Leftovers section is equally good as I frequently suffer from this dilemma.

Size:
Very book shelf friendly (thank you). Space is a premium where I live :-)

Cons:
Overall cooking and preparation time:
A minor point but a personal preference nonetheless. I like to know up front how long it will take to prepare and cook a dish, rather than estimating a preparation time and counting up a series of cooking times within the recipe.

Heavily geared towards Autumnal/Winter Dishes:
This is by no means a bad thing at all, just the majority of dishes are largely focussed on warm comforting dishes such as Chicken and Chorizo Pie, Lentil Shepherd's Pie, Lamb and Aubergine Stew so it probably would not be your first stop when looking for Spring/Summer dishes. Besides, I'm looking forward to reading another cook book by Niamh - perhaps one based on Spring/Summer meals will be her next?

Congratulations to Niamh on her first cook book, I'm going to raise a glass of her very own Mandarin, Chilli and Lemongrass Juice in her honour. Cheers!

Overall MelikeyUK Rating: 9/10


You can read Niamh's blog here
You can follow Niamh on Twitter here


My thanks to Quadrille Publishing for providing me with a copy of Comfort and Spice.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Running a Cake Business: Points to Consider

First of all, I should mention I do not run a cake making business, nor do I profess to be adept at producing perfectly presented cakes. No, I leave that job firmly to the experts. One such expert is the delightful Shikhita Singh who runs Fair Cake Ltd ; a business primed at running cake making/decorating courses from the new Vanilla Workshop in Greenwich, South East London. 
Vanilla Workshop: Business Premises of Fair Cake Ltd
Having a background in business and being an avid food blogger, my interest in attending the course "Run your own Cake and Cupcake Classes" was to gain an understanding of the considerations and challenges involved in running such an enterprise. 
Am I alone in thinking the world has gone cupcake mad? There seems to have been a proliferation of cupcakes emerging with varying flavours and colours of late and this week celebrates our very own National Cupcake week! Who would have thought?
So what did I learn? This is by no means an exhaustive list but what made an impression on me:

  • You don't have to be trained by Michel Roux or any of the talented pastry chefs to be successful in this business
Indeed, Shikhita is self taught. A former Programme Manager in the city, Shikhita harnessed her passion for cake making and decorating and turned it into a very successful, polished and professional business. Shikhita welcomes attendees from countries afar as Thailand and India. When I attended the class I was one of the very few people living in London.
  • Equip yourself with the necessary Food Hygiene rules and regulations and register your kitchen with your environmental health officer. On-line training is available here
  • Decide which business model you are going to pursue
Are you going to register as a limited company? Or are you going down the self employed route? Familiarise yourself with HMRC guidelines for both routes.
  • For as long as feasibly possible, run the cake business from home and save on additional expenditure accruing from a separate business property 
Shikhita started trading in 2008, running the cake business from home and it has only been in June of this year that she has started running courses from the Vanilla Workshop. This delay in using business premises allowed her to save up and invest in the right space. The old adgae "you get what you pay for" rings so very true in this case. The workshop has been well worth the wait. It is light and airy and very conducive to cake making and meeting fellow cakemakers.
Vanilla Workshop: Light, clean and airy space
Photo Credit: Fair Cake Ltd
  • Be realistic with financial projections on running the business 
When Shikhita revealed the operating costs involved in running the business, it was an eyewatering amount. Always be prudent to factor in a contingency margin in your budget. Consider the cost of items such as product and public liability insurance, council tax for business premises, electricity, salary and wages and parking permits. If the business premises is being renovated, consider building, architect and lawyers fees as well as any fees due regardless of whether the business is turning over sales. Strong attention to detail and scheduling for all project tasks including planning permission and building delivery dates should be closely monitored.

  • Pitch a variety of classes to audiences with the same skill level and inject fresh content
For example, basic classes should be aimed at beginners and those classes requiring a bit more technical ability should be aimed at intermediate/advanced levels. This will limit frustrations and produce more satisfied/repeat customers. All class descriptions should be informative enough to allow the customer to decide which course is the most appropriate.
Different themed courses should be introduced to stimulate repeat customer business, to enthuse trainers and to compliment the seasons. 


Picture Perfect Roses
Photo Credit: Fair Cake Ltd
  • Structure the cake class accordingly.
Remember to schedule in breaks and ensure practical exercises begin at the earliest opportunity. Factor in time for elements to dry/set and for assembling cake boxes to transport cakes. 
Shikhita has decided to strike a balance between teaching and growing the business. Teaching for 6 hours, 3 times a week can be quite tiring and she wants to be able to provide the best courses to her clients. It is for this reason, she will deliver no more than 3 classes a week. During other periods, her assistants help or she has guest teachers in the form of Naomi Henderson, founder of Hello Naomi or Kaysie Lackey, owner of The People's Cake.
  • Do not neglect to grow the business
As well as delivering the majority of the classes, Shikhita needs to maintain customer interest in her business. She invests heavily in marketing the business and a quick search on Google for "cupcake classes" will find Fair Cake ranked very highly in the results. Connecting and networking with fellow cake business owners and potential clients on forums and social media such as Facebook and Twitter  is also a good way of promoting her business. Faircake has more than 20,000 "likes" on Facebook and over 4,000 followers on Twitter.
  • Photography. First impressions count.
You will notice the photographs used in this blog entry are the property of Fair Cake. Using mine, would only do Shikhita a disservice. Shikhita is a very skilled photographer and produces her own photographs for the website. She posts all her photos on flickr and uses picnik to manipulate her photos. Both resources are free. Throughout this discussion, Shikhita emphasised the importance of lighting and the spacing of cupcakes; they should be equal distances apart.

A variety of cupcakes: Equidistant to one another
Photo Credit: Fair Cake Ltd
This course I found to be invaluable to those wanting to start their own cake making business. It is one thing to read about starting your own business from textbooks, quite another to hear of Shikhita's experience first hand. She gives a very frank account of what to expect and how she has overcome many challenges to date and will happily take questions from budding cake entrepreneurs.

Look out for the course "Tricks of the Cupcake Trade" or "Run your own Cake and Cupcake Classes"
For further information click here.
Alternatively, if you want some inspiration and have a interest in learning more about cake design have a look at the other courses on offer here
My thanks to Shikhita, Jessica and Louise for the kind invitation. It was a very enjoyable and informative day.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My obvious choice of dish using olives : Linguine Puttanesca

I have been wanting to write this blog entry for some time but with everyday life, commitments and holidays  taking over, time has elapsed and we are already in mid September! As a courtesy to my sponsors of Food Blogger Connect, Olives from Spain, I wanted to write up a favourite recipe using their lovely black olives. For me it was an obvious choice; Linguine Puttanesca. Okay, I know it's of Italian origin rather than Spanish, but it was a dish I simply could not resist making. This recipe however, will divide the masses, with ingredients such as olives, capers and anchovies, you will either love it or hate it! I sit firmly in the "love it" camp!

Linguine Puttanesca

Time:
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 17 minutes

Portion Control:
2 generous portions


Ingredients:
200g of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
250g of  dried linguine
150g of black olives pitted and cut into quarters
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tin of anchovy fillets (8 fillet tin)
3 tbsp of capers, rinsed
1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp of olive oil
Salt and pepper for seasoning
2 basil leaves, shredded

Directions:
  • Put the linguine into boiling salted water and cook according to packet instructions.
  • Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a frying pan along with the chopped onion and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Then add the anchovies and the crushed garlic to the frying pan and cook for a further minute. The anchovy fillets should start to break up and melt.
  • Add the olives, capers and tomatoes to the pan and turn up the heat. Cook until the onions are soft.
  • When you are happy that the linguine has been sufficiently cooked, rinse the pasta reserving a couple of tablespoons of water to add to the sauce.
  • Pour the pasta to the frying pan, along with the water and toss all the ingredients together. The sauce should have a silky texture and should coat every strand of pasta.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper accordingly. Remember anchovy and capers will already be heavily salted.
  • Serve into two bowls and garnish with some shredded basil.
Buon Appetito!

Of course, you can always use Spaghetti instead of Linguine, I just prefer the shape of this pasta and it's ability to absorb more sauce. My thanks again to Kirsty and Olives from Spain for my weekend conference pass and for those lipsmacking delicious olives.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Rhubarb Crème Brûlée without the cream

Although we are in our first week of September, I am not yet willing to say goodbye to Summer. I had some rhubarb in the freezer and wanted to put it to good use. Although I am a sucker for rhubarb crumble it conjures up images of Autumn/Winter which does not bear thinking about ..not yet anyway. So I decided, it was to be a Rhubarb Crème Brûlée with a twist; made with no cream! If I can avoid having cold cream in desserts, then I'll find a way. I'm not a big fan of the taste. Strange? Yes, I know!
Rhubarb Crème Brûlée without the cream
Time:
Preparation: 10 mins
Cooking: 1 hr and 5 mins
*Additional time required for chilling overnight*


Portion Control:
Serves 2 ramekin dishes (capacity 100ml each)


Ingredients:
  • 1 cup of rhubarb stalks, trimmed, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup of whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp of clear honey
  • 3 tablespoons of  caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp of demerara sugar

Directions
:
  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  • Place the rhubarb pieces into a shallow baking dish. Squeeze over the orange juice and drizzle with honey.
  • Place into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, occasionally basting the fruit with the cooking juices.
  • Once the rhubarb is tender, spoon equal quantities into the bottom of two ramekins and set aside.
  • For the crème brûlée, place the milk into a small saucepan, add the caster sugar and vanilla extract over medium heat. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Leave the milk mixture to cool. This is important as warm milk on cold eggs produces the scrambled egg texture which is best avoided.
  • Place the egg yolks into a clean bowl and beat together. Little by little, add the milk mixture and continue to stir until everything is mixed together.
  • Preheat the oven at 150 degrees Celsius.
  • Pour the egg mixture on top of the rhubarb in the ramekin dishes. 
  • Carefully place the ramekin dishes on a baking tray and add hot water to the tray. Fill until the water has reached half way up the ramekin dish.
  • Bake the dishes for 35-40 minutes.
  • Remove the tray from oven and the ramekins from the water. Allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge. Chill overnight.
  • Sprinkle the top of each crème brûlée with demerara sugar evenly. 
  • Place the dishes under a hot grill until golden-brown and melted.
  • Serve immediately if you prefer the dessert to be warm. Alternatively, allow the tops to cool, then place in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.


The top should have a nice crisp texture and the crème part should be velvety smooth.
You can always replace orange juice with strawberry juice which also works well with rhubarb.

Bon Appétit!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Doing "Lady Things" at The Berkeley Health Club and Spa, Knightsbridge

Way back in December my loving husband gave me a voucher for The Perfect Retreat package at The Berkeley Health Club and Spa in Knightsbridge. I had only heard of the Spa once before;a friend from work had hired out the pool terrace for an evening to propose to his girlfriend. How extravagant! But all the magic worked as she accepted the proposal!
The treatment would include :
  • Body Skin Preparation 
  • Comfort Touch Massage 
  • Rebalance Facial 
Hot Diggity Dog was I in for a treat! On reading further, the use of the outside pool meant that it would make more sense to book the treatment during the summer months.
Outdoor Pool Terrace at The Berkeley Hotel 
Fast forward 8 months into the August sunshine and I was all set for my afternoon of indulgence with the dulcet tones of Emily Howard ringing in my ear. You remember Emily don't you? If you need a reminder, have a peek below.



At this point, I would like to stress I am not a transvestite, but like Emily, I enjoy doing "lady things" but they are costly experiences and consequently reserved for the very rare occasions in my life.
The Spa is located on the 7th floor and after derobing and filling out the necessary forms I was whisked away to a treatment room and presented with two menus:

1) Music Menu
Where you can select from a choice of themes from Contemporary to Classical tracks to listen to throughout the treatment. A very innovative and customer oriented approach.
2) Soft Drinks and Herbal Tea Menu
For consumption following the second treatment.

Outside The Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge
I won't bore you with every detail of the treatments suffice it to say I embraced the ultra sexy paper knicks look (who knew you could feel so happy wearing paper underwear?) my skin felt buffed, soft and ultra cleansed and I was spoilt rotten as I was put into a state of pure relaxation while Adele and Coldplay rolled out the mellow tunes in the background.
I thought the therapists at the Spa were excellent. Great focus on customer care and making sure I had the best possible experience. There have been times when I have gone to a Spa and have been made to feel guilty about a certain beauty regime or the products that I use and then the onslaught of the hard sell ensues. I am pleased to report, there was absolutely none of that here and it made the experience that more enjoyable.
I also made a great discovery in London Tea. I selected the Lemongrass and Ginger with Citrus fruits to wake me from my slumber. Full of organic ingredients with a lovely zesty kick.
A new discovery:
Lemongrass and Ginger and citrus tea by London Tea
I was given a brief tour of the Spa facilities and decided I was going to stay a while and indulge a tad more.
They have a secret rooftop garden, which brings a bit of the English countryside to the centre of Knightsbridge, all very pleasant. It's a nice feeling to know that there is a little sanctuary where you can unwind while bedlam is kicking off not far away in Harrods  as last minute bargain hunters are trying to track down the latest Summer deals.
Secret Rooftop Garden at The Berkeley 
You can always visit the gym but after feeling so great, I had no desire to start working on a cross-trainer or to pound the treadmill. I wanted to continue my journey of relaxation. I headed straight for the outdoor pool and practically had the place all to myself. Bliss!
I was happy to catch up on some newspapers and bathe in the warm sunlight and just in general, zone-out. Heck! I could even treat myself to some lunch. So that's what I did.
Poolside Dining at The Berkeley Health Club & Spa
All in all a fantastic afternoon and I have now crossed off number 1 on my Health and Beauty Wish List.
My thanks to the staff for being so welcoming and ensuring I had a guilt free time at the Spa. And a special thanks to my hubby for the very kind and thoughtful gift.
If you are looking for a special pick-me-up or want to give someone an exceptional gift contact The Berkeley Health Club and Spa.
You won't be disappointed! It sets a benchmark for my future Spa visits and beauty treatments in the UK.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A Weekend to Remember: Food Blogger Connect 2011

FBC Logo
It all started with a simple tweet "Olives from Spain are delicious, nutritional and versatile ". This was the winning quote that got me access to Europe's premiere food bloggers conference.
The Winning Tweet!
I had read so much about it and had entered the previous Cusinart competition with not much success that I didn't really think too much about winning the second competition. However, on hearing the great news, I was in celebratory mood and in my head I performed cartwheels and backflips aplenty. I counted down the days to the big weekend. It was taking place at the very stylish and luxurious Hempel Hotel, Notting Hill and little 'ole me was on the attendee list!
FBC '11 Venue: The Hempel Hotel
A big thank you to my Sponsors "Olives from Spain", without whom I would never have had the opportunity to listen to some insightful and inspirational guest speakers and to meet some fantastic fellow food bloggers.
A special extended thanks to Bethany Kehdy from Dirty Kitchen Secrets and the team behind organising FBC 2011. Their dedication and attention to detail throughout the weekend shone through and it was a very polished and professional conference.
Beth delivers opening speech at Food Blogger Connect 2011
There have already been truly wonderful accounts of the weekend including some fantastic photography over at iamafeederCulinaria LibrisCherrapeno and Junglefrog to name a few.
One of my highlights of the weekend was the Food Writing Style Workshop run by Fiona Beckett, a contributor to The Guardian's Word Of Mouth Blog and a blogger of no fewer than 5 food and wine oriented blogs. She was able to distill the differences between the journalist and the blogger and has summarised the presentation on her blog post here.
Richard Harden of Harden's Restaurant Guides also captured my attention. In 1991, he founded the publishing firm, Harden's Guides with his brother, Peter. Harden's produce restaurant guides from opinions expressed from what is now the largest annual survey of restaurant-goers in the UK. Richard gave an illuminating presentation on existing restaurant critics and what he looks for in a restaurant review.
Harden's Logo
Although, Richard himself admittedly could not talk incessantly about food (he would find it too boring!)  I thought his presentation was thought provoking. These are the little nuggets, I managed to glean:

  • Forty percent of Top UK Restaurant Critics are in such a privileged position by virtue of being the son of a prominent journalist. Examples cited were AA Gill and Giles Coren.
  • The top critics devote a small amount of their column to the description of the actual food itself; restaurants are social phenomena, of which food plays an important part.
  • It is difficult to evoke images of food without coming across as pompus!
  • Richard is not a reader of other restaurant reviews, nor does he read food blogs
  • Harden's have 50,000 applicants a year to conduct restaurant reviews.
  • Richard's practical and useful approach would include :
  1. A description of the place
  2. An opinion as to whether the restaurant is any good
  3. An answer to the simple question: As a diner, would you go back?
  4. What set of people would you advise to go to this particular restaurant?
  5. Always give the reader something to take away from your review. This should make the review stand out from the others. 
The food throughout the conference was of tremendous quality, whether it was the array of flavours supplied by Olives from Spain, the cookery demos provided by Caroline MiLi Artiss and Anjum Anand, the cocktail dinner on Friday evening, not to mention the addictive chocolate delicacies provided by Leila Brandao. We were all truly spoiled!
Caroline prepares for Tapenade Demo
I was continuously blown away by the gifted photographers we had at FBC 2011. A quick glance at some of the blogs made me want to hang my head in shame! The nice thing about it is that they are all so modest with it, "Oh its just a Nikon this" or " a Canon that"  but the way they unleash and manipulate "the beast" is quite something else! I am full of admiration! I have a lot to learn and after attending the conference, I will be investing in a good camera so that my photographs can be a bit more appealing!
Happy Days: Foodie Obsessed Girls and Boys at FBC'2011
Photo Credit: Sarka Babika

It was a marvellous event. It is fantastic to be part of such a fabulous food community. You know you are in good company when your love of food is mirrored by others and is not met with a vacant or bored expression!
I have now crossed off  number 7 of my Events Wish list and number 8 of my Food and Drink Wish List.
A date in the diary has been set for next year's Food Blogger Connect; the weekend of June 22-24, 2012
My thanks again to Olives from Spain for making my foodie dreams come true! I plan to post some olive inspired recipes in the weeks to come.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Strawberry and Nectarine Parfait with Maple Granola

I will never quite look at Porridge Oats in the same way again. Growing up in Scotland, my father used to take porridge for breakfast during the winter months and I never understood the appeal. In my mind it was just a thick, gloopy consistency, void of flavour and I incorrectly wrote Porridge Oats off. I was reacquainted with Porridge Oats recently when I made granola for breakfast and I am glad to say we are firm friends once more.
Strawberry and Nectarine Parfait with Maple Granola

This breakfast recipe is inspired by Bon Appétit magazine. I am changing it slightly in that I am using nectarines instead of peaches and dried blueberries instead of raisins.

Time:
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 18 minutes

Portion Control: 
Serves 6

Ingredients:
1.5 cups of Porridge Oats
1/4 cup of flaked almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp of maple syrup
1.5 tsp of unsalted butter
1/3 cup of dried blueberries
3 cups of strawberries, sliced
3 cups of thinly sliced pitted and peeled nectarines
Vanilla Frozen Yoghurt (optional)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  • Mix oats and almonds in a 13"x9"x2" baking pan.
  • Combine 1/4 maple syrup and butter in heavy small saucepan. Bring to boil.
  • Pour maple syrup mixture over oat mixture and stir to bind the ingredients together.
  • Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the dried blueberries to the oat mixture and stir together. Bake until the mixture is golden and crisp, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes longer.
Granola: Golden and Crispy texture
  • Cool the granola completely in the pan.
  • Gently toss together the strawberries, nectarines and the remaining 3 tbsp of maple syrup in a large bowl.
  • Divide the fruit mixture among 6 bowls or glasses. Sprinkle each parfait with granola, dividing equally.
  • Top each with a scoop of frozen yoghurt, if desired, and serve.

The granola can be made in advance (up to 1 week ahead) but should be stored in an airtight container. I quite like eating it semi warm. It really does brighten up your morning when you bite into the warm crunchy, nutty texture.With it being really easy to make, I will never buy granola again!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

What can you do with Greek Yoghurt?

Way back in April, I was invited to take part in a Total Greek Yoghurt Masterclass from Beth over at Jam and Cream. What would the day entail for fellow foodie bloggers? Well, in a nutshell, nutrition advice from Hala El Shafie of online magazine Nutrition Rocks, a very moving and inspiring story from Phil over at Skinny Latte Strikes Back and some useful tips and practical demos using Total Greek Yoghurt products from former chef of Chez Bruce and Claridges, Andre Dupin.

A summary of the day can be seen here.

Wise words from Hala


Hala is a nutritionist and dietician at a Harley Street Clinic and it is abundantly clear this lady practices what she preaches;Great complexion, glossy locks, a picture of health in itself. For me, two points worth noting were:

  • Drink a minimum of 2 litres of water a day
Of course, it makes perfect sense to keep well hydrated and it is probably not hard to do during the warmer periods of the year. I am somewhat challenged however,to consume as much during the winter months, even if it does take the form of herbal teas etc. Note to self: Must try harder!

  • It is all about moderation 
Eek! And there it was. Spelling out in black and white (literally) where it was all going wrong for me. Hala referred to a healthy portion plate while I tried to cover up my ever expanding waistline. Anyone else feeling guilty yet? I mean look at the size of the pasta/rice portion ;-)

Healthy portion plate

Of course, the problem is compounded when I am cooking an evening meal for us and hubby drops the frequent line "Just cooking for yourself then, are you?"* Sigh*


Next up was Philippa (aka Phil) from Skinny Latte Strikes Back who recounted her tale of going from 103.5kg to 76kg in a year. If ever there was a girl who had amazing willpower and stamina, Phil is a striking example. April 2011 marked the anniversary of reaching her target weight and she managed to train and complete her first London Marathon. She has a truly inspirational and amazing story and shares her tips on how she succeeded in battling her demons. Pop over and pay her a visit if you need spurring into action. She also has some super recipes to tantalize your taste buds. 

Andre Dupin shows us how it is done
I had first come across Total 0% Fat Greek Yoghurt when I followed the WeightWatchers diet in the lead up to my wedding. It was suggested to use in pasta and salad dressings. For the Masterclass day, we were lucky enough to be given an array of recipes using the various Total Greek Yoghurt products (0%, 2% and Regular Total Greek Yoghurt).
For me, the dish of the day was The Mackerel Tartare with Minted Cucumber soup. This was truly delicious, a cooling summer delicacy with a fiery Tabasco kick. This recipe used  0% Fat Greek Yoghurt. For a look at the ingredients and preparation, watch the video here.

Tartare of Mackerel with Minted Cucumber Soup 
Next up was the Pork Medallions with wilted Fennel and Sauce Gribiche using the regular Total Greek Yoghurt. This was a dish I was keen to recreate and as there were only 4 stations, I bided my time, waited patiently and drooled over what was being made in front of me for two rounds. To my amazement, my patience was not to be acknowledged and my cooking was to be curtailed further by a couple of "eager beavers" who decided to queue jump and hi-jack someone else frying pans while they were still in use! Fortunately, my manners had not deserted me and I was able to exercise a bit more self control. I continued to wait and when the time came, I relished the opportunity! The freshly cut herbs of Tarragon, Parsley and Chervil, really make this dish and as the medallions are really finely cut, they only require a short amount of cooking time. Hop over here to see how Andre cooks the dish.

Medallions of Pork with Wilted Fennel and Sauce Gribiche
Next on the menu were Vegetarian Samosas using 2% Fat Greek Yoghurt. The most challenging aspect of this dish was folding the Feuille de Brick pastry but we were in good hands with tuition from Satyajit Welaratne. This dish combines the spices of ground coriander and cumin and is peppered with green chilli. The pastry works well as it achieves an even crispiness. Why not see if you can produce them? Andre will guide you over here.
Vegetarian Samosa with Minted Yoghurt Dip
Dessert was fast approaching and I am not a big fan of Tiramisu, so I opted for the easy-peasy Drop Scones with Caramelised Pineapple. This used 2% Fat Greek Yoghurt and was the finest example of comfort-eating. Warm sweet pudding; one mouthful of this and your worries started to melt away.

Caramelised Pineapple with Drop Scones
To conclude the day of cooking activities, we ended with a more sophisticated dessert; White Chocolate Millefeuille with spiced plums. The pastry was already made for us but we recreated the plum mixture using cinnamon and star anise to enhance the spice of the dish. This used regular Greek Yoghurt. Follow how it is made here.
White Chocolate Mille Feuille with Spiced Plums
All in all, a really enjoyable day out with plenty of inspiring dishes to recreate chez nous!
L'atelier des Chefs is a great place to come with friends to learn and practice different dishes. The additional bonus lies in the fact that a lot of the ingredients are prepared so that you can dive in straight away and get cooking! It runs a series of different themed cooking classes. In fact, Total Greek Yoghurt are currently running Masterclasses at a discounted rate. Click here for further details.

My thanks to the lovely Alison and her team for taking great care of us!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Strawberry Verrine

Got a lot of strawberries left over from your stash and stuck for ideas on how to use them? Well, you could rustle up a Strawberry, Basil and Lime Smoothie, or if you are looking for a different dessert, how about a Strawberry Verrine?
That's right! It's all about the layers dahling! A verrine, hailing from France, is a series of layers (sweet or savoury) held in a glass. My inspiration for this recipe, was from 
Summer Dessert: Strawberry Verrine
Timing:
Preparation: 10 minutes
*Additional time is required for refrigeration of strawberries with sugar and for setting the verrine*
Cooking: 12 minutes


Portion Control:
Serves 2


Ingredients:
200g of strawberries, with each strawberry cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbsp of granulated white sugar
1.5 tbsp of crushed hazelnuts
6 sponge fingers, with each finger cut into 3 parts

For the Custard (Crème Anglaise)
1.25 cups of  whole (full-fat) milk
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp of cornflour
1 tbsp of granulated white sugar
1 vanilla bean (split open with seeds scraped out/removed)

Directions:.
  • In a large bowl, combine the strawberries with 1tbsp of hazelnuts and the sugar. Mix together gently. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.This will produce a wonderful strawberry syrup.
  • To make the custard, put the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla seeds and bean. Heat gently until it just reaches boiling point. While the milk is heating, put the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Pour the hot milk in a thin stream over the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Give the saucepan a quick rinse out then pour the egg and milk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook very gently over a low heat, stirring or whisking constantly, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Take the pan off the heat and transfer to a clean bowl. Let the custard cool completely, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.
  • Prepare two cup size glasses. In each glass, arrange a layer of sponge fingers (3 fingers per glass) and a layer of strawberries (reserve some strawberries for the last layer). Add a layer of custard and finish with the remaining fruit. Cover each verrine with cellophane. Refrigerate for several hours, or even, overnight.
  • Before serving, garnish each verrine with the remaining 0.5 tbsp of hazelnuts.
Garnish with crushed hazelnuts before serving

This is a good choice for Summer dinner parties as you can prepare everything in advance without neglecting your guests! Raspberries and blueberries can also be used.

Friday, 29 July 2011

A Taste of Greece : Grilled Aubergine with Mint and Feta

A Taste of Greece: Grilled Aubergine with Mint and Feta 
Warning! Never underestimate the taste of grilled aubergine, if you do you'll be missing out on a rich, smoky, flavour filled delicacy. This is such a simple recipe and inspired by the lovely Simon Hopkinson aka The Good Cook. Are you a fan of his work, like I am ? Recently, my Saturday mornings have been spent watching his programme and it is guaranteed to leave me in either one of two states; starving or salivating. No, not a nice image but I love how his recipes are themed on the classics and are approached in a simple but passionate way.
There is a slight difference with this recipe in that he uses parsley. I am using mint.
This entry contributes to the Bookmarked Vegetarian recipes event being hosted by Jacqueline over at Tinned Tomatoes and the founder of the event, Ruth. A big hello and thank you ladies!

Time:
Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking: 25 minutes

Portion Control:
Works well as a starter for 2 or light supper for 1

Ingredients:
1 aubergine
1/2 garlic clove
25g of feta cheese
2 tbsp of olive oil
Bunch of fresh mint leaves
1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Directions:
  • Pre-heat grill to high
  • Run a small, sharp knife round the top of the aubergine, 1cm/½in below the stalk and only just cutting through the skin; then make four evenly spaced, similarly shallow cuts, along the length of the aubergine right down to the end
  • Grill the aubergines for about 25 minutes, turning every 5-7 minutes, until evenly cooked with charred skin, and until the aubergine feels soft, but not too collapsed within. Transfer to a large dish and allow to cool for two minutes.
  • On a chopping board, finely cut the garlic, then finely chop the mint. Add the garlic to a small bowl along with the olive oil and stir. Leave to the side. This will be your dressing for the aubergine.
  • Peel away the aubergine skin in four long, narrow sheets using a small knife. Without cutting right through the stalk end, cut the aubergines in half lengthways and gently prise apart until you have two horizontal halves remaining attached at the top end.
  • Spoon the olive oil and garlic mixture over the aubergine.Season lightly with salt (remember that feta is salty anyway) and pepper, and crumble the feta cheese over the top. Finish lastly by scattering the mint over the aubergine and if required, more olive oil.
  • Serve warm, with freshly squeezed lemon and grilled pitta bread. Works even better when served with a chilled glass of wine. Cheers!