23 December 2014

Easy Vanilla Marshmallow Snowflakes

Christmas is T-2 days away! Can we compare Christmas shopping notes? Because I have not finished shopping and I need to borrow some ideas. We can trade though because I have already compiled a list of Christmas gifts for foodies and I've got some other things up my sleeves! Indeed I have not been completely swallowed by work, something which Lisa from Not Quite Enough and I have lamented on these last weeks, dare I say months (read the interview with Lisa here). I have made some edible Christmas gifts, most of which are last minute worthy like these easy vanilla marshmallows.   

I loved making these marshmallows, and then I especially loved playing with them. Something which you may have caught me doing on instagram with my shooting starscape. These were a Christmas request from my friend Emily, who is a bit of a marshmallow fiend. I've tried my hand at marshmallows before, including rose and raspberry ones. However, I wanted to keep the flavour simple for these ones, as I planned to cut them into snowflakes I knew there would be a lot of leftover marshmallow I'd need to use up in other dishes.

And there are so many use ups you can do for the leftover marshmallows. Rocky road, marshmallow frosting and marshmallow fudge (recipe on it's way!). But why confine yourself to desserts, stick some marshmallows in sweet potato Thanksgiving style! Dip them in hummus, ok maybe not hummus but you get the idea. 

Please don't stake me for calling this recipe easy, it is incredibly easy despite the fact it takes 2 hours to set. Just think, those hours are for you to pick up your last Christmas shopping, watch Love Actually or practice your carol singing in the bath. 

Vanilla Marshmallow Snowflakes
(makes 50-60 snowflakes plus leftovers!)

450g caster sugar
12g powdered gelatin 
(*for vegetarian/vegan marshmallows use 12g powdered agar-agar)
275ml water
50g icing sugar
50g corn flour
Vegetable/sunflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla paste

Step 1. In a bowl, set aside 100ml of water and the gelatin* until the water takes on a jelly-like consistency. In a separate bowl, sieve the icing sugar and corn flour together. Grease a 20cm baking tin with half the sunflower/vegetable oil and line the tin with baking paper. Then grease the baking paper with the remaining oil and evenly dust the tin with the corn flour/icing sugar on all sides, keeping some bake to roll the marshmallows in afterwards. You can use any oil to grease the tin but you might want to use sunflower/vegetable oil as it does not have a distinctive flavour that it could impart to your marshmallows.

Step 2. On a high heat mix together all of the caster sugar and 175ml water, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until a sugar thermometer reaches 113°C. 

Step 3. Once the syrup is at 113°C, start whisking the gelatin mixture until it has a smooth consistency and then slowly pour in the syrup, whisking as you go till the mixture has combined. 

Step 4. Add the teaspoon of vanilla paste and whisk until the mixture is thick and glossy, and the mixture has completely cooled (15-20 minutes with an electric whisk 30-35 by hand).

Step 5. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the dusted tin and  level it out by tilting the mixture or using a palette knife. 

Step 6. Dust the top of the marshmallow with a little of the reserved corn flour/icing sugar, cover with cling film and leave for 2 hours in a cool place until set. 

Step 7. Once the marshmallows are set, turn them out and cut them into 60 snowflakes and roll the marshmallows in the remaining corn flour/icing sugar. I use these snowflake cutters from Amazon.

These marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. But if you leave marshmallows uneaten for that long shame on you.

18 December 2014

Christmas Baking with Miele

Back in November I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take part in a Christmas Bake Off at Miele's London Creative Living HQ with a handful of lovely bloggers (aka my competitors). Alright it wasn't really a competition, it was just a baking event, making some Christmas gifts and using some hi-tech Miele products, but my work station buddy, Alex, and I would have won if it was. This win would have been assisted by our super friendly and helpful glamorous Miele assistant, who saved us from some burnt onion chutney, adding whole cherries to our truffles (which could have been delicious really!), and generally cleaned up the massive mess Alex and I left in our baking wake. 

When we arrived we kicked things off with some bucks fizz, the official drink of Christmas, mulled apple juice and some frangipane mince pies the staff at Miele had prepared in advance. If you love frangipane and mince pies, this is your new Christmas favourite. I lost count of how many I ate but it was definitely more than my fair share. 

This was the second Miele event I had been to, the first being Miele's Chef's Table Event with Martyn Meid the brains behind Ink, the hottest Nordic inspired restaurant in town. It was a completely different event with us doing the cooking this time and enjoying a lunch that had been put together by the Miele team at the end of the session.

We were spoilt rotten, with Miele organising us to make six Christmas goodies, including lemon and pistachio biscotti, red onion marmelade, chocolate truffles, salted caramel, panettone muffins and Christmas decorations. 


Lemon and Pistachio Biscotti (makes 24 slices)

Biscotti is quite time consuming to make, as it has to be baked twice. However, with Miele's top of the range ovens at hand, and all the ingredients layed out for us it definitely speeded up the process. This lemon and pistachio biscotti with almonds and hazelnuts was delicious, and the flavours really came through from the lemon-infused oil. Something I haven't used before in baking but will definitely use in future bakes.

Ingredients. 350g flour, 100g golden caster sugar, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 40g honey, 2 medium eggs, 50ml lemon-infused olive oil, 50g pistachios, 50g hazelnuts, 50g whole almonds.

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 145°C.  Combine the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Add the wet to the dry and mix together until well combined, then stir in the nuts. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 mins.

Step 2. On a floured surface roll the dough into logs and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 30 mins until the top of each log is hard to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Reduce the oven to 135°C, and once cool slice the logs diagonally.

Step 3. Lie the biscotti flat on a baking tray and bake for 10 mins, then turn them over and bake for a further 15 mins. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then eat. These will keep for 2 weeks.

Red Onion Marmalade (makes enough for 2 small jars)

Red onion marmalade is one of my go to ingredients for a lazy night supper. You can stuff fish with it, throw it on top of a tart with tomatoes and basil, or melt it on top of chicken with some mozzarella in the oven. This was even easier than me making it at home, as Miele has a steam oven with a function for sterilization whereas I have a hot kettle.

Ingredients. 1 tbsp olive oil, 50g butter, 600g chopped red onions, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp thyme leaves, 50g light muscovado sugar, 100ml red wine, 75ml sherry vinegar.

Step 1. Heat the butter and oil in a pan, add the chopped onions, seasoning, herbs and sugar, and cook on a low heat with the lid on for about 30 mins. 

Step 2. Add the wine and vinegar, then increase the heat and cook for 30 mins till the liquid has reduced by more than half. Remove the bay leaves and place in sterilised jam jars. Store in the fridge for months.

Chocolate Truffles (makes 16 truffles)

I am not a huge chocolate fan, to many people's confusion. That being said if there's Brandy involved I'll probably eat it. And our truffles were quite heavy on the brandy.

Ingredients. 115g plain chocolate,  40g butter, 55g ground almonds, 30g chopped raisins, 6 chopped glacier cherries, 3 tbsp brandy, 55g icing sugar, cocoa, glitter and bronze crunchies to decorate.

Step 1. On a low heat, melt the chocolate and butter. Take off the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients and leave to cool in the fridge.

Step 2. Once cool, roll the mixture into evenly shaped balls and roll each truffle in cocoa. Then you can decorate them however you like. We rolled half of ours in gold glitter and half in bronze crunchies, just to add some sparkle to the already decadent truffles.

Salted Caramel (makes 400g or 2 small jars)

You have two choices when faced with salted caramel eat immediately or save to slather on ice cream or even toast later.

Ingredients. 75g butter, 50g light brown sugar, 50g caster sugar, 50g golden syrup, 125ml double cream, 1/2 tsp sea salt.

Step 1. Melt together the butter, sugars and syrup on a low heat. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream and salt. Place in sterilised jars and store in the fridge for months or eat immediately with haste.

Panettone muffins (makes 6)

Thank Miele for their proving drawer is all I can say when faced with making panettone. I find it so difficult to prove things in our flat because living in a conversion everywhere is cold! So it was nice to not have to worry about swaddling the dough in tea towels in the airing cupboard or balancing it next to the radiator.

Ingredients. 250ml whole milk, 30g fresh yeast, 900g flour, 100g mixed peel, 150g sultanas, zest of a lemon and orange, 1 tsp vanilla paste, 150g unsalted butter, 3 eggs and 2 yolks, 100g golden caster sugar, 2 tbsp honey, 1 tsp salt, icing sugar.

Step 1. Combine the milk, yeast and 125g flour in a bowl, and set aside for 30 mins. Then add the remaining flour and knead for 10 mins. Cover the dough in clingfilm and prove for 40 mins. 

Step 2. Knock the dough back and knead in the dried fruit, zest and vanilla, butter, sugar, honey, 2 eggs and both egg yolks. Shape the dough into 6 muffins and place in a greased muffin tin, cover with clingfilm and prove for 1 hour or until the muffins have doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Step 3. Brush the panettone muffins with the remaining egg and chill in the fridge for 20 mins. Then remove from the fridge brush with more egg and bake in the oven for 45 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. When done, remove from the oven and cool in the tin. Once cool, dust with icing sugar and serve.

After the cooking was done. We were all tired out and ready for Miele's Christmas Ploughman's lunch. So after a quick go at making some Christmas decorations from non-edible gold spray painted popcorn (someone ate the popcorn but owing to the blogger's secret code I cannot disclose who it was but they did not look too happy afterwards!) and dried fruit slices it was lunch o'clock.

The Miele team had put on an amazing spread, with a whole roast ham and turkey roll, which they'd cooked to perfection in their steam ovens. And of course it wouldn't be a Christmas ploughmans without the huge cheese board provided! It was absolutely delicious and the perfect end to a great event. 

And so I left Miele HQ laden with Christmas goodies, stuffed like a turkey, and with a longing for a Miele steam oven and proofing drawer of my own! I've raved about Miele's Creative Living events before here, but they really outdid themselves this time. They have a number of course coming up next year so if this sounds like something you would enjoy doing, have a look at what's on offer on their website.

Thanks to Hannah from White for offering me the opportunity to review Miele's Christmas Baking Event and for sponsoring my attendance! All opinions are yours truly.

16 December 2014

Meet Lisa from Not Quite Enough

I absolutely loved getting to know Cat from Oddly Lovely and Saskia from Girl in Brogues through the art of interviewing them, if you haven't seen the interviews yet check them out as these will be your two new favourite bloggers. Following on from interviewing Cat and Saskia, I am continuing to get to know about (and share with you!) the lives and blogs of some of my other favourite bloggers. So without further ado let me introduce to you, or at least let you get to know a bit better, Lisa from Not Quite Enough

Not Quite Enough is a lifestyle blog, packed full of restaurant and bar reviews, travel snaps and first-hand reports on the latest events in town, while also featuring the occasional book review and general day to day life updates. This blog will become your pocket guide to where to eat, where to go on holiday and what to do on your days off, all of which are accompanied by great photos. And it is worth consulting the guide, of the restaurants she's been to quite a few have now made it onto my list of places to go, including DF Mexico, and Dinosnores at The Natural History Museum is only my dream sleepover.

The history behind Not Quite Enough was that Lisa felt she wasn't getting enough out of London, she was stuck working hard and not playing as much as she wanted, so she decided to make more of London and start having some well deserved playtime. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to interview Lisa, as I was in the same situation when I first moved to London. Other reasons included her love for dinosaurs, where to eat recommendations and great taste in holiday destinations...she visited my home town (well, neighbouring town). In summary, I might be Lisa's number one blog fan. However, I'm open to challengers to knock me off my top spot, so go ahead and read the interview with Lisa below.

First things first, as a fellow London lady with a taste for good food, where are the best places to eat in town?

As much as I love eating out in wonderful restaurants with fancy food, I think that my favourite thing about the food scene in London is the vast array of street food purveyors. I love being able to eat food from a variety of cuisines and not pay a fortune for it. My favourite is Kimchinary who do the world’s most amazing Korean burritos. Their pulled pork burrito is definitely one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. They’re worth tracking down!

Having lived in London for 3 years, Not Quite Enough comes from you wanting to get more out of London and enjoying your life there away from the sofa, and you've certainly done that with going to the hottest new restaurants and events in town, do you ever think you'll have enough of London?

I really don’t think I ever will. When I was a child we used to visit London every year to see a musical, and from the age of about 10 I decided that when I was all grown up that I would live and work in London. There’s something about arriving in London which sort of makes me feel like I’m able to relax, like I’m supposed to be here. A lot of people I know are now starting to move to the outskirts of London to buy a house, one eye on having a spare bedroom and a garden for children one day, but I love being so close to all the goings on and can’t ever imagine moving out to the suburbs, it just wouldn't be the same.

We know a lot about what you like to do for play through your blog but what do you do for work?

For work I’m a solicitor, practising in a firm in the city, so that keeps me quite busy and can involve some pretty long hours. It’s my dream job though, it challenges me and forces me to develop so many skills and I can’t really imagine doing anything else. I love that even the partners still encounter new and difficult questions and situations even though they've been doing the job for years, it’s impossible to get bored of it. The thing I enjoy the most about blogging is that it’s so different from my day job, I enjoy being able to explore my creative side through photography and being able to write without having to agonise over the precise meaning and formulation of my words.

I've loved reading your posts and getting your perspective on exploring places, my favourites taking me down memory lane with trips to Margate and Bruges, but what's been your favourite place you've visited so far this year?

I’ve loved being able to do quite a lot of shorter breaks this year and really make the most of my precious annual leave. I loved Cordoba, it’s a fantastic city for a few days and it has whet my appetite to see more of Spain. The surprise place of this year was Tokyo which was a last-minute (for me) business trip. Japan has been top of my wish list for a while now and so to get to go was amazing, now I really want to go back and see everything I want to see but couldn’t in my one free day there.

Do you have any travel plans in the pipeline at the moment for next year?

Absolutely none, which is killing me as I need something to look forward to. The exams for the postgraduate course I’m doing at the moment are in May so I think any annual leave I do take until then will mostly be used for essay writing, studying and revision. However, once that’s over I’ll be looking to get away and some of the places I’d love to visit include Prague, Budapest, Lisbon, Thailand, New Zealand, Vienna and Seville (just to name a few).

What are your short-term/long-term goals for yourself and your blog and what are you doing to achieve them?

In terms of personal goals, I’m currently studying part-time for a postgraduate diploma related to my area of specialism, if I pass well enough then there is the option of doing a second year which would involve writing a dissertation and which would mean I end up with an MA, which I’d love. So I just have to make sure that I work hard enough to be able to of the second year. I’m also dying to have a house of my own (after ten years of renting being able to have something of my own would be amazing) so I’m gradually saving for a deposit and stamp duty which in London is crippling.

In terms of my blog, unlike a lot of bloggers, I have absolutely no desire to make it into a career or something I can make money from. I just hope that it will continue to inspire me to go out and do things, and provide a creative outlet for me to develop and improve my photography skills.

I'm off to Hamburg in December, having lived there previously, do you have any suggestions on where to go?

Oh exciting! I’m afraid I haven’t been there properly for a while now and so I can’t recommend specific bars and restaurants anymore, but the Schanzenviertel has a very cool East London vibe and should have some good options. The Reeperbahn (the red light district which also home to a number of bars and clubs) is tacky but is probably worth a visit.

As for daytime activities, a visit to Michaeliskirche (and a trip up to the top) and St. Nikolai Kirche (now a war memorial) are must-dos for me and a walk around the Speicherstadt (the old warehouse district gives a flavour of old Hamburg. Located in the Speicherstadt is Miniatur Wunderland which, if I were to describe it as a model railway would be a massive understatement. It’s apparently the largest model railway in the world and spans several rooms and more than one floor, it's a whole miniature world, where every few minutes the lights go out and the little twinkly lights in all the buildings turn on.

If you’re going in December though, I imagine the Christmas markets are the biggest draw. There are several dotted throughout the city with the biggest being in front of the Rathaus (town hall). I love the Christmas markets and my favourite thing to do after a day of lectures was to go down there with friends and hang out and drink Gluehwein and eat our way around the stalls. The mugs make great souvenirs if you’re happy to forfeit your deposit! Plus, three times a day in the afternoon, Santa ‘flies’ over the Christmas market, pausing in the middle to tell the story of Rudolph, it’s very cute.

If travel was no issue what would be your perfect day out? 

Although I hate the cold with a passion, my perfect day out would have to be a day spent at the Ice Hotel in Sweden. I’d spend the day snowmobiling, sipping on hot lingonberry juice and maybe even go on a dog sled safari, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights before turning in for the night in an ice room. Maybe one day...

And if the sofa was calling, your perfect night in? 

I must admit that I do love a good sofa night in and as I’m a girl of generally simple tastes, my perfect night in would involve a takeaway (pizza, Chinese or Indian), a bottle of wine, a packet of Fruit Gums and a few episodes of something not too emotionally or mentally taxing. Oh and probably my boyfriend too, although of course there's sometimes nothing better than some alone time - painting my nails, watching whatever I want to without compromising and not having to share food!

What up and coming blogs have you followed recently?

One of my favourite bloggers at the moment is Tamsin of A Certain Adventure, although I’ve been following for a while now she only started blogging in March and so I think she counts here. I love that her blog posts cover a wide variety of subjects and in such an intelligent way (plus, she loves a good dinosaur, as do I). Everyone should add her to their blog reader of choice.

To find out more about Lisa and keep up with her travels visit her blog Not Quite Enough.

10 December 2014

Oh you season's givings for foodies

Has anyone else thought December's been pretty sneaky this year? There I was working hard in October, planning all these things to do when the Merry Month was upon us. And before you know it you're Christmas party's happened, mine was at the end of November, you've had weekend after weekend of Christmas meet ups, and the goose is cooking in the oven!

Ok, there is no goose in the oven but everything else is true! My Christmas spirit is feeling a bit rushed this year, and judging by everyone else around me I don't think I'm alone! So if you're like me and running out of time to buy Christmas presents because you're:

- sharing Season's Greetings with as many loved one's as possible before the big day; 
- too busy belting out Good King Wenceslas in your local carol service;
- watching reruns of The Muppets Christmas Carol (Muppets meets Michael Caine meets Dickens);

I can help you. That's right I have not forgotten about Oh You Pretty Pins, it's just been a little while since my last one. In fact that's really an understatement as in my last Oh You Pretty Pins I was calling for an Indian Summer! However, Oh You Pretty Pins is back, seasonal style! So in the run up to Christmas I will be sharing a couple of gift ideas so you can focus on the important things at Christmas. That's right, Muppet Movie reruns. 

Foodie gifts who are they for? The short answer is everyone. And the long answer is everyone who loves food. And these are chosen by a food gift expert! I'm fine with calling myself a food expert, I've eaten a lot in my time and that makes me qualified. And if anyone want's to get me a Christmas or a birthday foodie gift* I'm fine with that too.

*The curse of being a December baby is it's too much to hope for two presents.

1. I was given these oyster mushrooms from the Espresso Mushroom Company last Christmas. Tasty fun and not too expensive. Watch this time lapse video of them growing, they're incredible!
2. Cheese lover or not, everyone enjoys halloumi particularly if it's in a burger bun. And now you can make your own available from the Big Cheese Making Kit.
3. Oolong tea and Elderflower is an intriguing combination, add it to Absolut Vodka and you've got a Christmas cocktail just short of a mixer.
4. Ottolenghi stole my heart at his restaurant in Islington 3 years ago and has kept it since. I'm asking Santa for Plenty More this year to continue my love affair with Eastern/Mediterranean cuisine. Check out his hampers too, I can vouch that they are a dream! 
5. I am well versed in Persian food, I haven't cooked any for a long time but I'd like Sabrina Ghayour's cookbook to be my guide back.
6.When I asked what my boyfriend wanted for Christmas he said 'to ride a tractor round a farm and get a box full of meat at the end', I'd prefer to skip the tractor and head to The Ginger Pig for a butchery class with a box of meat to take home and a two course dinner instead. 
7. Buy these Goat's Cheese and Black Pepper Popcorn from Joe & Sephs at Selfridges. Put them in a bowl. Put your face in the bowl.
8. These mystical spices from the Alchemical Larder at Selfridges would make any cook feel like Hogwart's potions master.
9. I'm a meringue lover, in fact, I'm a Meringue Girls meringue lover (see post here). Spot the sense in that one. Their class is on my fantasy Christmas list for sure.
10. And what do all foodies need while waiting for dishes to be done? A cup of tea of course! I have my eye on these caffeine free Rose and Elderflower Pyramids from Selfridges.

28 November 2014

Pizza Pilgrims - Kingly Court

I confess, again(!), that as much as I love cooking Italian food at home (like my Spanish-Italian fusion Pasta de Señorita), I am not a fan of eating at Italian style restaurants in the UK. This could be because as teenagers we overindulged in eating at pizza and pasta chains because they were affordable on a Saturday jobs salary (I was the butcher girl), but I think it's most likely because some places think that smothering an overly salty dish in cheese and tomatoes will be delicious. It's often not, but I digress. 

I'm here to talk about a pizza place whose pizzas make me want to learn Italian, fly to Rome and dance in the Trevi Fountain (would I be arrested for this activity?) while eating gelato. Or have a nap because I've eaten too much, but that's not as romantic. Pizza Pilgrims crafts gorgeous soft sourdough pizzas on the premises with real Italian ingredients at three different locations Kingly Court, Dean Street and, then the moveable one, the van! 

Oppositely, my friend Louise loves pizza. More than anything. So when she came back from Dubai for a stint about a month ago we spent the whole day doing what we used to do when she lived in London. Eat. And visit markets, what do you take us for greedy girls? You'd be halfway right. 

We ate a lot of food that day, including brownies at Konditor and Cook opposite Borough Market, vegetarian dinner for three at the Bonnington Cafe in Vauxhall and pizza at Pizza Pilgrims in Kingly Court. I spend a lot of time eating at Kingly Court. 

Outside Pizza Pilgrims in Kingly Court tables spill out onto the street, giving you a chance to eye up what you're going to order before you step inside. Walking into white walls, mismatched wooden furniture and green wooden trim there are trademarked green checker tablecloths and huge 1990s carton prints on the walls, it's a cool relaxed space to chill out in with friends. Downstairs you can grab a drink at the bar. But upstairs is where the magic happens, a huge pizza oven built in with an open kitchen allows you to watch your food slowly go from preparation to cremation. I jest the pizzas are soft and doughy with a good crisp crust not a burnt edge in sight. 

The menu is simple, something I enjoy as they don't spread themselves too thinly. As we had dinner plans at the Bonnington Cafe later on we went for shared the guest pizza Zola and a couple of arancini rosso. Don't be deceived in thinking this isn't a lot of food, we were stuffed!

The deep-fried Arancini Rosso balls with tomatoes and smoked mozarella were crispy on the outside, warm and gooey in the middle with strings of mozarella oozing out with each bite. They were so moreish I could have eaten all three.. If we weren't sharing.

The Zola was my first ever blanco pizza. With grilled artichokes, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and a handful of rocket, this pizza is extravagantly cheesy. I loved it and I'm normally not a huge fan of Gorgonzola, I mean I'm a big blue cheese fan but it's one blue I'd normally turn my back on. Unfortunately this was only a guest pizza but if you turn up and see it on the menu order it at once, you won't be disappointed. 

If you think my strong dislike of Italian restaurants is unfounded and have some suggestions on where to go drop me a comment, I'm prepared to eat my words. 

I'm limbering up as I write this, by eating a pizza.

24 November 2014

Truc Vert, Mayfair, London

A relaxed evening of good food and good company is what was promised by Frankie when she contacted me about going down to Truc Vert, a restaurant/cafe/deli/foodie haven serving classic French dishes with a twist in the centre of London in Mayfair, to try their new Winter Tasting Menu with a bunch of fellow food bloggers. Stepping into Truc Vert and it's elegant but rustic setting instantly made me relax, and the glass of prosecco on arrival and flowing conversation before dinner seconded that Frankie had made good on her promise.  

Truc Vert's high ceilings and recreated colonial features are reminiscent of a French vineyard's villa and there's enough wine bottles stacked from the floor to ceiling to make you forget that outside the hustle and bustle of Selfridges and Oxford Street shoppers is only a stones throw away. The simple linens, rustic wooden features and impressionist paintings could fool me into partaking in a wine tasting or two. But we weren't there, entirely, for the wine, there was an eight course (nine if you include the almond milk sorbet palette cleanser) tasting menu on offer! So up to the challenge, my fellow food bloggers (Frankie, Elizabeth, Gary, Manasi and Mehreen) and I joined the proprietors of Truc Vert for the evening.

The ethos behind Truc Vert is very clear throughout everything they do, and they do a lot as a restaurant/cafe/deli! Their idea of sourcing food locally from artisan suppliers is something I can connect with, in this day and age we like to know where our food is coming from, how it was produced and want to know that the suppliers are as passionate and care about the ingredients they use. This is something I couldn't fault our hosts on. Russell, the brains behind the menu we sampled, was quick to inform us where all their produce came from when describing each dish and his passion was clear from the care he'd put into designing the Winter Tasting Menu.

To kick off the meal we were presented with a shot of pumpkin soup drizzled with truffle oil and dressed with a shaving of parmesan. I'm not a huge fan of soup, particularly pumpkin, probably a complex from living off pumpkin and coriander soup as child for half the year (the other half of the year was reserved for omelettes). However, this was the perfect amount to wake up your tastebuds without overdoing it with a whole bowl and sending them back to sleep. The soup was really tasty with a rich warmth from the truffle oil, while the parmesan added a creamy and slightly dry edge (in a good way, think dry white wine). 

When I saw the first starter was a tartar of vanilla-cured salmon and cucumber in yoghurt with egg and parsley caviar, crispy fried capers and watercress, I almost ran for the hills. Which just shows that you should never judge a dish by its title. I was really prepared to discreetly not enjoy this dish, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found I had finished the whole thing, excluding the large bouquet of watercress. It was a blessing the vanilla-cured salmon was not bursting with vanilla and was more of a subtle flavour that when mixed with the yoghurt and cucumber it really bought out the fish's natural flavour. The egg caviar, which is essentially seived egg yolks, was a nice accompaniment as were the fried capers whose acidity broke through the creaminess of the yoghurt and egg.

It might not have been my favourite dish of the evening, but I did enjoy it and would certainly eat it if we came face to face again, so don't rule it out!

We didn't see the menu before we sat down for dinner as it was the first time it was pulled together, but when we did get a glimpse I thought this course was going to be mine, the one where I try to eat everyone else's venison off their plates. New Zealand Vension carpaccio with plum jelly, pickled baby turnip and horse radish cream served with a flurry of microherbs, there's not a lot of places this dish could go wrong. I have to say though, that although all the food was great, this was my most disappointing dish on the menu. I think there's always one, at Pollen Street Social it was the amuse bouche of popped crackling, at Ottolenghi it was the fermented mackerel and at Truc Vert it was the venison carpaccio.

 I didn't feel like the venison shone in this dish, the horseradish cream was very flavoursome but it drowned out the venison when eaten together. The plum jelly was sweet and sharp as was the crisp slice of pickled baby turnip, and I imagine they would have accompanied the gaminess of the venison perfectly but the venison didn't have a huge amount of flavour. I'm not sure if this is because the meat was cold or a lack of seasoning. I imagine that on a normal day of service Truc Vert will make this a great dish when the pressure of cooking for 'critics' is removed (maybe not real food critics, but still people who'll eat your food, form an opinion and publish it online; negative or positive).

If you have been reading this article and thinking 'what happened to the no dairy diet?', well it happened, it didn't work and I'm eating dairy again (in small amounts; I now find the taste of milk revolting, something I'm not upset about). I was really happy when we were served a palette cleanser of almond milk sorbet. Firstly, thank you Truc Vert for giving me some inspiration for dairy free ice creams, secondly if you like almonds/almond milk/all things sweet and nutty this is delicious, and you should ask to take some away. In a cone. Maybe with a flake.

I'm an Islander at heart and seafood has always been a big part of my life, whether its gathering mussels while the tide's out or trying to catch fish in the harbour. As such, fish courses are usually my favourite and this dish of roast monkfish with foie gras creme caramel, braised puy lentils and a ginger sauce was the best dish of the night. 

The monkfish was meaty but full of the flavour of the sea and perfectly cooked, the lentils were rich with tomato, and as for the foie gras creme caramel. It was rich, it was creamy and velvety smooth, and the best thing I think I've eaten this year. I could have eaten eight courses of the foie gras creme caramel and bread, nine if you want to include it as a palette cleanser as well. 

Medium rare British roast lamb rump, sweetbreads, parmesan gnocchi and trumpette mushrooms in a soubise sauce. This dish is an absolute winner. I loved the trumpette mushrooms in the rich onion sauce with the lamb, it was extravagant but simple cooking done really well. The gnocchi were nice and crunchy on the outside but soft in the inside, they could easily be my replacement for roast potatoes on a Sunday. When you're presented with a dish like this and everything is cooked well, there's not a lot you can say about it except you have to go and try it for yourself.

Truc Vert's take on a banana split consisted of poached banana ice cream, a white chocolate crepe filled with banana, bitter chocolate sauce, and of course it wouldn't be a banana split without a mound of whipped cream with a cherry on top. I love bananas so this was my dessert, the ice cream particularly had a really pronounced flavour that had me going a bit bananas scraping the last little bit off my plate. A very nostalgic plate of food that had me thinking back to holidays as a child, I'm a fan of this take on the banana split and hope to see it making a real revival soon!

I have a statement I have to say, people may find it unpleasant, but I am not a chocolate lover. I don't hate it, I'll eat it and enjoy it, to an extent, but if you gave me a list of desserts I'd stay clear of the chocolate one. With this in mind our second dessert, Delice De Chocolat, a chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache on a praline base served with a chocolate jelly, crystallized mint leaves and a hazlenut sauce wasn't my thing. That's not to say it wasn't executed well, and the rest of the table really liked it. The praline base was something I hadn't had before and it was really smooth, and my first couple of bites of the mousse with the praline and sauce were decadently rich and good. I just can't take too much cocoa. 

I want to go back and relive this spread of cheese above. Let it be said Truc Vert does not skimp on the cheese board. I probably ate more than my fair share of cheese, and between nine of us we still didn't demolish these boards. There was a great selection of cheeses all served with a tomato chutney, dried fruit and bread. Coming from a Swiss French family, the French have the right idea about serving cheese with bread and not crackers. The British are missing a trick here, its bread everytime!

My favourite cheeses were the Sainte-Maure de Touraine, a creamy goats cheese with an ashened rind, the slices of Morbier, a hard cows milk cheese with a layer of ash within the cheese which had a great depth of flavour, and the Fourme d'Ambert, a mouthwatering rich blue cows milk cheese. Truc Vert's cheese really impressed me because it showed the other side of the business, working as a Deli, and they've been doing this for 14 years, so if you're after a glass of wine and some good French cheese for an evening then go there; they know what they're doing with their cheese.

I wish all meals ended in a goodie bag. Our amazing hosts, Russell and Louise, had arranged for us to take home some samples of what they sell in the Deli at Truc Vert and God were they good. Little lemon Madeleines, the softest and best vanilla marshmallows I've ever had (run and pick some up now!), double chocolate chip brownies and delicious granola, whose caramel flavour was part of my breakfast for an entire week, were all of the goodies that I took home. And all of these goods were made on the premise, I personally find it incredible that Truc Vert does so many different things so well.
I was really delighted to be one of the first to try the new tasting menu, but the great news is its now available for all to try at Truc Vert at a cost of £70 per head. This is a reasonable cost for a tasting menu, especially one of this calibre. However, if you just want to go there for something slightly more casual or you're just after a board of cheese try their a la carte menu, which features some of the dishes available on this tasting menu.
Thanks to Frankie from TheMayFairy for inviting me to dine at Truc Vert, and to Russell and Louise for a wonderful evening and for sponsoring the whole affair. All opinions are from yours truly!

13 November 2014

Konditor & Cook Bakery in Borough Market

Going back to when my friend Louise was back in town from Dubai for a holiday, we had a proper 'you sound like you're from Landan' day of going to our favourite hot spots. We also had a day out of Breakfast at Tiffany's where I took Louise somewhere she'd never been to, the completely vegetarian and affordable neighbourhood Bonnington Café (posted here), and she took me somewhere I'd never been to, Konditor & Cook in Borough Market. Coincidentally Louise if you're reading this, a holiday in England is not long enough, think more permanently.

Borough Market is one of my favourite haunts. There's always something new to see and eat, and I love the passion that the suppliers have and readily doll out when asked about their produce. Owing to this you might be able to forgive that, bar from the odd pub or two, I had never eaten anything from any of the restaurants and shops that border the market. Now I'm not a huge brownie fan but when Louise said Konditor & Cook had a brownie bar (aka a selection of brownies) I was very excited. And that combined with the beautiful cake in the window with its smeared rainbow iced tiers reflecting the colours of the hanging umbrellas in the neighbouring street pulled me in.

There are so many different types of dessert on offer at Konditor & Cook, and I have to go back and sample more soon, brownie lover or not that curly wurly brownie is mine! Their cakes bring back really nostalgic memories for me of the Polish bakery back home that my mum goes to for almost every occasion. And the origins of Konditor & Cook are not so far from my home bakery, the creator of Konditor & Cook originates from Southern Germany and makes handmade desserts with added glamour.

The day we went to Konditor & Cook was not a chocolate day for me, so I went for their Carrot Passion Cake. Which as it sounds is a gloriously nutty hazelnut and carrot cake coated in an ever layer of passion fruit mascarpone icing. This cake had the most incredible flavour and it's so light! Passion fruit must be the most extravagant fruit available, it's definitely one of my favourites. I did not regret opting for this cake over a brownie, although I did regret not getting two slices.

Pictured above is the ultimate Curly Wurly Brownie, Louise's choice. Cheesecake brownies have been around for a while but this one is a real winner. It might not beat my favourite red velvet cheesecake brownie from Sweet Things around Primrose Hill but it comes a close rich and sour second. If anyone has any knowledge of other cheesecake brownie hotspots in London, please let me know!

Head to Konditor & Cook early on a market day to get first pick of the goods and not be disappointed. Alternatively go on the days where Borough Market isn't on and try some of the goods the surrounding shops and restaurants have on offer.