Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Let Your iPhone Pick Up The Bill

We have all been there, haven't we? You know the scenario where you have ordered everything you want from the menu. The meals and drinks have been delivered and devoured. All that remains is to ask the waiter/waitress for the bill. If only you could grab their attention. Glances over at the door reveal a queue forming as willing customers are anxious to get a table so that they can tuck into their desired food of choice. However, there is nobody free to assign them a table. Ironic isn't it?
Last week saw the launch of the iPhone application for Pizza Express which will change customer behaviour in bill settlement. The application allows customers to pay for their bill using their Paypal account or their credit or debit card via their iPhone. Hurrah! No more waiting to catch the eye of the elusive waiter or waitress!
Pizza Express iPhone App allowing settlement by Paypal

Personally, I think this is a great response to settling bills quickly and efficiently and it will aid the quick turnover of restaurants covers during peak dining periods.
Pizza Express Logo
I think this innovative idea will work well with the kind of business model Pizza Express has; a consistent offering within each restaurant and it would not surprise me if before too long, following a trial period at Pizza Express, this arrangement is rolled out to the other restaurant chains owned by Gondola Holdings including Zizzi Ristorante and Ask Restaurants. To remain competitive within this market, chains such as Giraffe and Prezzo will have to follow suit.
Along with this new trend, comes the question, "Will this be suitable for all dining establishments?" Clearly not.
For those fine dining and independent restaurants who charge a premium for not only having top quality ingredients and well established chefs, but for staff who are trained to provide that little bit extra when it comes to customer service i.e. discussing certain aspects of the menu including cooking techniques, suggesting wine pairing and whose offering has a high ratio of waiting staff to customers will probably not go down this route. This flies in the face of their raison d'être. Indeed, they can attribute their partial success to their heavy investment in staff training and service. Also, from a customer perspective, engaging with the waiting staff in these restaurants forms part of the whole dining experience. They are not necessarily looking for just a quick meal before going elsewhere.
While the trend will not catch on everywhere, I have to applaud Pizza Express's ingenuity in resolving a frustration experienced by most diners during a busy lunch period.

For more information and to download the application visit:
Pizza Express

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Broad Bean, Mint and Feta Salad

As part of the Simple and in Season theme for June, I thought it would be fitting to pledge my allegiance to the humble broad bean and contribute my very simple  Broad Bean, Mint and Feta Salad.
Oh dear broad bean, those of us who are your biggest fans understand the patience involved in podding and shelling before we can attempt to simmer and dress you!
Did you know that 5kg of broad beans produces 1.5kg of podded beans and then 1kg of shelled beans? That is devotion for you!
Apparently the broad bean is used in controlling hypertension as it is rich in the natriuretic agent L-dopa; a substance used medically in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.
In some Italian communities, people carry a broad bean for good luck, believing if you carry one, you will never be without the essentials in life.
This salad of broad beans, mint and feta cheese is a perfect dish on it's own but I also love to serve it with crispy pan-fried sea bass. The combination of flavours and textures is an ideal way of savouring summer on a plate!

Broad Bean, Mint and Feta Cheese Salad with Crispy Sea Bass

Preparation: 10 minutes (post podding and shelling)
Cooking: 8 minutes

Portion Control:
Serves 2

300g of broad beans podded, boiled for 1.5-2 minutes and shelled
100g of feta cheese, cubed
2 Sea Bass fillets
2.5 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of olive oil (Salad Dressing)
2 tablespoon of olive oil for sea bass coating and for frying
Generous handful of fresh mint, chopped
1/2 a lemon


  • Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add one tablespoon of olive oil
  • Rub plenty of olive oil and salt on the skin of the sea bass before placing into the frying pan (skin facing downwards). Ensure the side facing upwards is also seasoned. Leave to fry for about 5 minutes to ensure crispy skin.
  • Meanwhile, place the white wine vinegar and 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil into a bowl and mix together for a salad dressing.
  • Add the broad beans and cubed feta cheese to the bowl ensuring the dressing is coating the beans and cheese.
  • Turn the sea bass fillets onto the other side and turn off the heat. 
  • Add mint to the salad bowl and toss the ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper as required, but remember that feta cheese already has a high salt content.
  • Squeeze lemon juice onto the sea bass fillets before serving onto plates with the broad bean, mint and feta salad.

What could be simpler? Fresh peas also work well in this recipe if broad beans are not available.

Bon Appétit!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Macarons by Pierre Hermé

A few months ago, I was watching the adorable Loraine Pascale on her "Baking Made Easy" show. I am so impressed that she has been able to keep her model, svelte figure while concocting those glorious, sugarfest baking delights. One of the episodes had a piece on Macaroons and for inspiration, she travelled to Paris and featured the distinguished Pierre Hermé's boutique situated in the very affluent Rue Bonaparte. Of course, the French call them Macarons, the English say Macaroons but being Scottish, Macaroons refer to something altogether different; a sweet confection made with sugar, coconut and chocolate. So, to avoid confusion, I will call them Macarons, comme les français!
Pierre Hermé at Drugstore Publicis, Champs Elysées
There is much debate as to whether the Macaron is derived from France or Italy, but the Macaron as we know it today is a creation of Pierre Desfontaines of the renowned French pâtisserie Ladurée comprised of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling. Read about my visit to Ladurée here.
I visited Paris a couple of months ago, and while I was keen to visit the Pierre Hermé boutique on the Left Bank, due to time constraints, I ended up going to the Pierre Hermé counter at Drugstore-Publicis on the Champs-Élysées. On a very average Wednesday, the popularity of Pierre's macarons does not diminish so I had ample time to decide on my macarons of choice.
Easter Collection at Pierre Hermé

I opted for 2 gift boxes of assorted macarons priced at 24 each. Each box contained 12 macarons and is accompanied by a menu card. Some of the macarons are only available depending on the season which I thought was a real savvy way to take advantage of seasonal flavours.
I bought these macarons in the lead up to Easter (end of March/start of April).

Reflections of the macaron tasting;

Those I would try again:
  • Infiniment Chocolat
As the name suggests this flavour packs a powerful, intense chocolate punch using Porcelana dark chocolate from Venezuela.
  • Infiniment Caramel 
With a salted buttery caramel. Lipsmackingly good.
  • Creme Brulée
As soon as you taste this combo, you are all at once feeling familiarity but it takes a while for you name the vanilla and caramel ingredients. A really light and enjoyable flavour.
  • Arabella
A composite of milk chocolate, passion fruit, banana and candied ginger. Wonderfully exquisite!
  • Mogadur
With an amalgam of  milk chocolate and passion fruit, I did not think that this alliance was ever going to work but trust me it does! The chocolate is subtle enough to give way to the deep, rich flavour of the passion fruit.
  • Indulgence 
This is actually a fusion of fresh mint and pea. And although, not normally associated with confectionery, they both have sweet notes, so the flavour combo works quite well.

Macarons by Pierre Hermé

Those I'll be resisting:
  • Infiniment Rose 
Rose and rose petals infusion. I've always struggled with rosewater flavoured confectionery.Although it is probably the nicest version I've tasted, I'm afraid, it reminds me too much of Turkish Delight and I am not a fan. I think Turkish Delight can be very divisive, you either love it or hate it!
  • Coing & Rose
Quince and rosewater. Again for the reasons above, I did not really enjoy this flavour. I also could not taste the quince because the rosewater was so overpowering.
  • Metisse
A melange of carrot, orange and cinnamon. I could not detect any cinnamon, leaving a carrot and very subtle orange taste. It was fine but it did not leave a lasting impression.
  • Dépaysé
As the name infers, a combination of flavours unaccustomed to the French palette. This contains Matcha green tea, azuki bean, lime and ginger. This was pleasant enough, but I thought the green tea and lime flavours were more prominent than the red bean and ginger.

Those I look forward to trying:
  • Reglisse & Violette
Liquorice and essence of violet.
  • Infiniment Jasmin 
Jasmine tea and Jasmine flowers

Both of these flavours were being made available in late Spring.

Overall, I think the collection is a nice gift idea. It allows you to explore an array of surprising and sometimes challenging flavour combinations. I have now ticked off item 4 on my Food and Drink Wish List.

If you want to experience Pierre Hermé's macarons visit: 
Stand alone boutique at 13 Lowndes Street, Belgravia or,
Pierre Hermé Counter in Selfridges, Oxford Street
For the ultimate French experience visit the boutique on Rue Bonaparte, Paris

    Tuesday, 14 June 2011

    Chicken, Rocket and Pine Nut Pasta

    During the summer, I really enjoy dressing my pasta with a lighter sauce. This recipe is one to try when you are bored of the same old tomato doused pasta. The tanginess of the mustard dressing complements the peppery rocket flavour, while the crunchy toasted pine nuts add another texture dimension to the dish.

    Chicken, Rocket and Pine Nut Pasta
    Preparation: 10 mins
    Cooking Time: 20 minutes

    Portion Control:
    Serves 4

    2 large chicken breasts
    250g of fusilli pasta
    1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
    75ml or 5 tbsp of Greek yoghurt
    15ml or 1 tbsp of course grain mustard
    125g of rocket
    15ml (1tbsp) white wine vinegar
    15g (1tbsp) of light brown (muscavado sugar)
    Pine Nuts, toasted
    2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    30 ml (2tbsp) of olive oil
    100ml of water
    Salt and pepper for seasoning

    • Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally, season with salt and pepper and place between two layers of cling film. Beat with a rolling pin to flatten. For each piece of flattened chicken breast, cut into 4/5 chunks.
    • Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water until "al dente" or according to packet instructions.
    • Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the chicken pieces and fry for about 4 minutes on each side until cooked through. Drain and keep warm. Add the onion to the pan and cook gently for 3 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic and pine nuts and cook for a further 1 minute.
    • Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan. Add the contents of the frying pan, the chicken and the rocket and toss lightly together. Transfer to warmed serving plates.
    • Stir the brown sugar, mustard, vinegar and yoghurt into the pan with 100ml of water. Heat through, stirring, for 1 minute without boiling, then spoon over the pasta and serve immediately.
    You can use watercress as a replacement for rocket and penne pasta instead of fusilli.

    Bon Appétit!

    Friday, 10 June 2011

    Book Review: Small Adventures in Cooking by James Ramsden

    Monday of this week, marked the sale of cook book "Small Adventures in Cooking" by the founder of the Secret Larder Supper Club and influential food blogger, James Ramsden.
    Book Review: Small Adventures in Cooking by James Ramsden

    MelikeyUK was given this book by Quadrille Publishing to review. Here are my thoughts:


    The Book Delivers Exactly What The Title Describes:
    Small adventures in cooking. The book can be used by anyone who enjoys cooking with the emphasises on pushing the boundaries of their culinary habits that bit further.There is a strong sense of encouraging the reader to experiment with unusual and novel ingredients while having fun and trusting your instincts throughout the whole process.I thought it was refreshing how relaxed James' approach to cooking was, removing the anxiety and inspiring confidence.
    This Book Speaks To Me:
    At the risk of sounding like Ali G, this book keeps cooking and tales from the kitchen "real".
    What do I mean? I think James has tapped into something unique here.The fact that he has made errors and talks about them so openly and frankly really strikes a chord with me and all at once I am put at ease. I find preparing food a cathartic process and quite often I can be found in my kitchen with a glass of wine, volume on radio up full bung while I de-shell my broad beans. James describes the process as "involuntary meditation" and I'm sure others can relate to this too.It is also reassuring to know that even the best chefs do not need to use several ingredients and complicated techniques to come up with delicious and wholesome meals and they do not all have large kitchens so tips such as "wash up as you go" in the "Keep a karma kitchen" section are very much appreciated!
    Variety and Broad Appeal:
    The book itself has been well structured and presented. It has eight chapters depicting different scenarios, ranging from "Exploring the Cheap Cuts" where James tinkers with budget but noteworthy ingredients such as Ox Cheeks, to "Formal Forays" for the more special dining occasions. 
    Each chapter is prefaced with a gentle introduction describing the scenario and sets an expectation of what is to ensue.
    Will I use these recipes at home? Yes!There are so many recipes in this book, I would challenge anyone not to be tempted by one of them. Yesterday with the remaining ingredients in my fridge and cupboard, I made his "Chicken and Coconut Noodle Soup".I would easily attempt 60% of the recipes in this book.

    From the Va Va Voyages Chapter: Chicken and Coconut Noodle Soup

    Who would have thought of coming up with a chapter on "Corner Shop Capers". What a novel idea!This chapter is dedicated to what delights you can rustle up using tinned food bought from the local shop after a heavy night of drinking or simply, if you have the "midnight munchies". We have all been there, so don't knock it until you have tried it! Whoever thought there would be a market for tinned fried onion? The ultimate guide for students I think!
    Little Extras:
    At the foot of some recipes a few alternatives are offered;
    "Tart": A suggestion to enhance the recipe by adding a certain ingredient
    "Tweak": A suggestion to change or substitute an ingredient in the recipe
    "Tomorrow": A suggestion of how you can use the leftovers the following day.
    One of my favourite suggestions is to have a "Wasabi Chicken Salad" using leftover Roast Chicken. A predicament I frequently find myself in after preparing a Sunday Roast Dinner.
    Additional tips are supplemented. For example, recommending the use of lemon juice to remove chilli oil from your hands and taking the chicken out of the fridge two hours before putting it in the oven so that it can adjust to room temperature before roasting.While other chefs may know these tips, they very seldom express them!  
    The book does not come in encyclopaedia size. Containing 109 recipes, it is small and compact enough to fit nicely on my bookshelf.
    The recommended retail price is £14.99 but the book can be purchased online at Amazon for £8.49 which is a fair and reasonable price.


    These would not detract from my cooking experience but would merely enhance it!

    Time Indication:
    This is a personal preference of course, but I like to know at the outset how long it takes to prepare and cook a meal. Within the body of the directions, timings are alluded to but there is no overall time allocation indicated on the page
    Recipe Description Text Used:
    One of the things I enjoy doing is flicking through a recipe book and stopping at a page whose description grabs my attention. The text used to describe the recipe in the headline is less easy on the eye and so I am unable to do this. Not all of the recipes have photographs and as beautiful as they are, they cannot be relied on alone to grab my attention.

    In summation, I have really enjoyed leafing though this book. On many occasions, I find myself agreeing and smiling as he has captured my many thoughts and concerns when it comes to my cooking quandaries. It has reminded me why I enjoy cooking so much and ignited a notion for discovering and using new ingredients.
    I will definitely be jumping into James' book for inspiration in the weeks to come. I have already earmarked the "Spice Roasted Leg of Lamb with Cumin Potatoes" and the "Lemongrass and Basil Granita with Vodka".

    Overall MelikeyUK Review: 9/10

    I would like to extend my thanks to Quadrille Publishing for introducing me to Small Adventures in Cooking.

    Small Adventures in Cooking can be found here

    You can find James on twitter here
    visit his website at

    Tuesday, 7 June 2011

    Pear and Almond Cupcakes

    Following my last post and just to enter into the spirit of baking cakes with delicious magazine, I thought I would rustle something up for breakfast; Pear and Almond cupcakes. A nice marriage of delicate flavours to awaken your taste buds and to kickstart your day.

    Breakfast: Pear and Almond Cupcakes

    Preparation: 15 minutes
    Cooking: 20-25 minutes

    Portion Control:
    8 medium sized cupcakes

    98g of plain flour
    1.5 teaspoon of baking powder
    0.5 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
    100g of self raising flour

    1 teaspoon of almond extract
    1 medium sized pear; peeled, cored and cubed
    100g of butter, softened
    100g of caster sugar
    2 eggs

    100g of icing sugar
    4 teaspoons of water
    Handful of flaked almonds, toasted


    • Preheat the oven at 180c/fan160c/gas 4.
    • Line a mini cake tin with 8 paper cases. 
    • Place flour, butter, sugar, eggs and almond extract in a mixing bowl and beat together until smooth. 
    • Carefully fold in the cubed pear. 
    • Divide mixture between paper cases ensuring each has equal quantities of pear.
    • Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes.
    • Test the cakes have been sufficiently baked by poking a cocktail stick in the centre of the cakes. If the stick comes out clean, they are ready!
    • Remove from the cake tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
    • Mix the icing sugar with water.
    • Ice the tops of the cakes.
    • Garnish with flaked, toasted almonds

    Of course, you can use ground almonds in the mixture instead of the extract. I was limited to what I had in my kitchen cupboard! 

    Which baking delights would you have for breakfast?

    Friday, 3 June 2011

    Lessons learned from Cupcake and Tart Demonstration, Fortnum & Masons

    When I think of Fortnum & Mason's, I associate it with wealth, splendour, indulgence, suppliers to The Royal Family. So why did I feel the need to pay a visit to the store this week?
    Outside Fortnum & Mason Plc
    In an effort to tick off item 6 on my Food and Drink Wish List, I wanted to see the Cupcake and Tart Demonstration laid on by Laura Amos of The Dessert Deli . Laura has been working as a pastry chef since her teenage years and has worked in some of Jean Christophe Novelli's establishments as well as The Ivy and Le Caprice along the way. Laura has set up her own business, The Dessert Deli, supplying her luxurious goods to the likes of  Fortnum & Masons and Harvey Nichols.

    Entering the Demo Kitchen at Fortnum & Mason

    We had just over an hour and Laura whizzed through her tarts, raspberry and almond cakes and the ubiquitous cupcake. Here are a few tips I will take away with me:
    • Laura uses and recommends medium sized eggs in all her baking
    • If not using eggs from the farmers market (i.e. very fresh), pay close attention to the lion mark on the eggs as an indication of superior quality and high standards of food safety.
    • For tart bases use salted butter as opposed to unsalted. Unsalted butter may result in the tart being too sweet. Also, salted butter enhances the shelf life of the tart.
    • Use plain flour for the tart base.
    • Always leave the pastry mix in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes. The gluten in the pastry will ensure the pastry has more elasticity when rolling. Without resting in the fridge, the pastry is too soft and liable to crack.
    • Pastry can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
    • Use a polythene bag full of of dry, uncooked rice to "blind-bake" the tart. This will not melt (I was surprised too!) at an oven temperature of 160-165°C. The rice is small enough to get into the crevices of the pastry and is a cheaper alternative to the ceramic baking beans.
    • When making a fruit tart or clafouti be generous with the fruit. The mixture will easily smother and seep in between the fruit and it rises on baking, easily disguising the fruit.
    Laura adds strawberries to the tarts
    • Use self raising flour with cupcakes and fruit tarts.
    • Used vanilla pods can be added to sugar and water to make a vanilla syrup. Laura applied some vanilla syrup to warm cupcakes, fresh out of the oven, to restore moisture.
    • A fruit puree or a fresh jam is used to coat the bottom of tarts or small cakes. This adds another dimension of flavouring and ensures the tart retains moisture.
    • Use a cocktail stick to dip into any food colouring before applying to any cupcake icing/frosting. This will ensure a moderate amount of colouring is applied.
    • For chocolate sponges, try using milk chocolate instead of dry cocoa powder. Cocoa has a tendency to dry out the cake.
    The Finished Article - Cupcake
    I was lucky enough to try the raspberry and almond cake and the cupcake. My thoughts? I love frangipane, so I would have to say that the the raspberry and almond was my favourite. I could not take any snaps as they were very hot out of the oven! I thought the cupcake sponge was deliciously light and the icing was just enough as it can be quite rich.

    With all these tips, I should get baking, so my next challenge will actually be to produce some cupcakes.

    For more information on Laura's cakes and desserts, visit :
    follow her on Twitter at