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.

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 18 minutes

Portion Control: 
Serves 6

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)


  • 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
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

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)

  • 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.