Well, I’ve only gone and done it! Much to my huge astonishment I found on Monday night that I’d won the Best Food Blogger in the Food Awards 2016. Bowled over is an understatement, I was so convinced I wouldn’t win that it didn’t properly register when Tin and Thyme was announced as the winner.
I’ve heard a lot about tofu scramble over the last few months and I have to say, my inner sceptic wasn’t convinced. However, when I found out this vegan breakfast alternative to scrambled eggs was one of the recipes in the Vegan Toolkit Workshop, I thought I really ought to try it. I volunteered to make this particular dish and was of course completely won over.
A day out at River Cottage HQ on the beautiful Devon Dorset border has much to recommend it, especially when the sun is shining. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting for a second time.
Afternoon tea is one of my absolute favourite things. For me, there are few activities that are as indulgent, sociable and relaxing as this very British institution; whether it be a tea party in the house, sitting in a friend’s garden, visiting a café or tea rooms or upping the anti at a luxury hotel such as The Alverton, the only 4 star hotel in Truro.
Cranks and I go back a long way. The Dartington Cider Press branch, now Cranks Kitchen, opened many years ago, when I was at school. It was a very exciting prospect for an ever hungry bunch of teenagers and it was only a couple of hundred yards down the hill. We couldn’t afford much, but I do remember wolfing down a fair number of cheese baps and date slices. I have been a frequent visitor ever since. When I was invited to attend a new product launch event there a few week ago, I was not going to say no.
It’s a little back to front, but the chocolate course I did at L’atelier des Chefs on my recent London adventure was the first event I attended soon after arriving at Paddington station. You can read about what I got up to by heading to Friends of Glass and the Paddington Afternoon Tea. The venue was conveniently located just behind Oxford Circus, which meant I could take the tube on a direct line – always a bonus. Oxford Street was busy with Christmas shoppers and I found the festive mood infectious.
Not surprisingly, I was rather excited about getting stuck into chocolate making and was looking forward to the two hour course. There is always something new to learn and new people to meet on such occasions. I was cordially greeted on arrival and offered a drink whilst I waited for the other attendees to turn up; I ended up getting there rather earlier than expected. Surrounded by a plethora of lovely kitchen gadgets in the well stocked shop, I was sorely tempted to buy something, especially as there was a 10% discount on that day. But I had vowed to travel light and managed to resist.
As it happened, there were only two others on the course which meant we had plenty of opportunities for hands on experience as well as the chef’s full attention. As soon as the chef was ready, into the kitchen we went. Laid out before us was a veritable feast of cream and other goodies not to mention chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate – I was feeling more festive by the minute.
Lots of whipping, stirring, beating and tasting ensued. In two hours we made chocolate orange fondants with Grand Marnier cream and orange syrup: chocolate mousse flavoured with cointreau and topped with hazelnut crumble; we also made two types of chocolates. These entailed making quite a bit of ganache, which I found particularly useful. I sometimes have problems when making this at home; it has been known to split or I can’t get the chocolate to melt properly. The top tip I took away from the course was don’t be afraid of boiling the cream. I’ve always been rather wary of overheating cream and now realise why I can’t always get my chocolate to melt – the cream is just not hot enough.
L’atelier des Chefs started in France ten years ago where it now has 17 workshops around the country. It came to London five years ago with the Oxford Circus venue being the first, followed by one in St Pauls three years later. There is also now one in Dubai. Classes cover all sorts of cuisine and range from quick 30 minute sessions to four hour masterclasses. I would love to attend pretty much all of the classes on offer and was particularly tempted by the Christmas baking class and the one for afternoon tea. So much choice. In a more savoury mood it would probably be the Thai class or the vegetarian. If you are stuck for a present for a food loving friend, a voucher for one of these courses would be much appreciated – or is that just me?
Despite having only three of us on the course, L’atelier des Chefs was both busy and popular. A happy bunch of diners, consuming the meal they had just cooked told us how much fun they’d had and one of the other cheerful chocolate makers was on his third course and coming back for more. Regulars, I later found out, get discounts. My only quibble was that although links to the online recipes were sent to us after the event, I would’ve preferred to have paper copies with me, so I could write notes as I went along.
Our chef was friendly, confident and knowledgeable and talked us through the whys and wherefores of chocolate as we went along. I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients we used, most of which was cream and dark chocolate. The kitchen was large and well equipped and the washing up magically disappeared down a hole in the wall, leaving the work surfaces clutter free.
I enjoyed all of it, but especially the chocolate making. I made salted butter caramel for the first time, I’ve only ever used cream before. It was scrumptious indeed and we used it to fill some of our chocolates. The other chocolates were filled with rum soaked raisins and chocolate ganache. These were delicious too and I really must get some raisins soaking in a jar of rum so they are ready when needed. The mousse was an eggless one which was easy to whip up and a great idea for a dinner party. Topping it with some caramelised hazelnuts gave it additional glamour. The fondants are also perfect for dinner parties as they can be made well in advance and just popped in the oven for ten minutes prior to serving.
We took the chocolates away with us, but managed to eat both the mousse and fondant before we left and jolly delicious they both were too. We all had a fabulous time. Cooking with others is usually fun, but creating a huge mess with chocolate together is an absolute riot.
Thanks to L’atelier des Chefs for inviting me to attend the course. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.
Afternoon Tea at a top London hotel was mighty fine, but my main reason for going up to our bustling capital was to learn more about using glass for food presentation. Friends of Glass is committed to promoting awareness of the benefits of using glass over plastic. As we know, plastic is the scourge of the environment and particles of it can now be found in every part of the globe, even Antarctica. Glass on the other hand, is reusable and 100% recyclable. Glass is also a healthier option. It is the most inert packaging material we have and thus highly impermeable making it far less likely to taint any food stored in it. I’ve long been passionate about using glass for storage rather than plastic and I have collected a lot of glass jars and containers over the years. Bring back the milk bottle and deposits for glass bottles I say.
Last Thursday evening, a bunch of bloggers and journalists turned up at Cactus Studios, Michel Roux Jr’s cookery school, where incidentally, Saturday Kitchen is filmed. We were there to brush up our Christmas creativity using glass. What a delight to come in from the cold and dark to be greeted with a glass of warm mulled cider and a room glowing with candlelight and glass. As we chatted, we were served shot glasses of red pepper soup with pesto. The colours were fantastic and immediately I started to see the point of serving food in glasses. The colours and textures of the food really shine through and can make your dish look even more enticing. Not long after the soup, we were served cranberries and melted brie in the most adorable little glass jars that I coveted immediately. Bread sticks were cunningly placed in the metal clips. Here already, were two fabulous ideas for Christmas canapés, starters or pre-dinner nibbles.
We were soon shepherded upstairs to the teaching kitchen to watch chef Bridget Colvin and BBC TV presenter Cherry Healey demo some further ideas. I really enjoyed this part; not only was Bridget knowledgable and competent, but the two made for a good double act. Spiced parsnip soup served in little glass jars with parsnip crisps was a winner which I will be replicating at some point during this festive season. Much ribald hilarity ensued whilst Cherry whizzed up some delicious pesto.
The piece de resistance, however, was a pie in a jar. I’d not come across this concept before. The beauty of making individual pies this way, is not only do they look enticing, but they can be tailor made to suit individual tastes and tolerances. The demo was for a ham hock pie, but vegetarian ones had been made for Nayna of Simply Food and I and very delicious they were too. Layers of butternut squash, spinach, potatoes, shallots and peas with cheese sauce and a puff pastry crust all cooked and served in a clip top jar. What a fantabulous idea. A glass of wine made for a very welcome accompaniement.
Feeling somewhat full, we were called over for the final demo: brandied clementines in a jar. This time we had to pay attention as this was the dish we were going to make. We were shown how to prepare clementines and I now know how to remove most of the pith easily. It’s the sort of thing that looks pretty and makes for a lovely gift, but not something I’d ever thought of doing. The vanilla brandy syrup we made tasted heady and decadent and would work well with most fruits I reckon – so that’s one of my Christmas presents sorted.
Then it was back downstairs for mince pies and the final activity of the evening. An array of enticing edible delights were laid out in various bowls and jars and at last chocolate made an entrance. We were going to make up our own hot chocolate gift in a jar – what fun. We started with a layer of drinking chocolate and then it was a free for all. I added a layer of white chocolate buttons, followed by little fudge pieces. Milk chocolate buttons went next, then marshmallows and finally a layer of milk chocolate buttons. The part I really loved about this was tying on extras around the outside of the jar: a stick of cinnamon, a candy cane and my absolute favourite, a miniature bottle of Amaretto Disaronno found there way onto my jar. Finished off with a tag which I’d stamped with gold stars, this was the gift I was most pleased with. It came in very handy as a thank you to my friend for putting me up for the night. I have to say she was very impressed with it and thought it a lovely gift to suit both her and the children.
Many thanks to Friends of Glass for a fun, friendly, entertaining evening, plus the bonus of leaving with some really nice Christmas gifts, including a jar of Rubies in the Rubble red onion & chilli chutney. I had a splendid time and would be very happy to do this all over again. You can see some far better pictures of the event than mine over at the Friends of Glass Facebook page.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of indulging in Afternoon Tea at The Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly. Afternoon tea at such an iconic London hotel would be a real treat at the best of times, but this was a special tea in honour of Paddington Bear. Paddington, the movie, was released yesterday and London has got Paddington Bear fever, it would seem. There is a Paddington trail around the city with 50 statues of one of the world’s most popular bears. I managed to spot two of them during my brief 24 hour stay including the one we are all familiar with at Paddington Station.
It may have been afternoon tea that Fiona of London Unattached and I sat down to, but it was a lunchtime sitting as my train back home to Cornwall left at 3pm. Afternoon tea at lunchtime was a new concept for me and I was surprised to find we were not alone. In fact all the tables in the Garden Room, where tea is served, were fully booked. Given that The Athenaeum won the Tea Guild’s award for Top London Afternoon Tea in 2012, this shouldn’t really have been a surprise.
Elegance and luxury at such a top class hotel, I was expecting, but there was also comfort and ease – no starchiness and disapproving looks here. The waiters were friendly and attentive and the service was good, if slightly disorganised. The soft light wasn’t great for taking photographs, but it created a relaxing ambiance, which is what it’s all about really. The tea more than lived up to expectations.
We were shown to our table by a window, complete with comfortable sofa and arm chairs. Whilst sipping on a glass of very nice Lanson Black Label champagne, we were offered the tea menu to peruse. Being a bit of a tea purist, I was delighted by this. There was a good variety of loose leaf teas on offer, but interestingly there were samples of the actual tea leaves on display too. No wonder the Tea Guild were impressed. Fiona chose Japanese Sencha green tea and I opted for a pot of Pai Mu Tan white tea. Both duly arrived in silver teapots with an accompanying silver pot of hot water, all of which were regularly inspected and topped up as necessary, without either of us having to ask.
The food soon arrived, elegantly laid out on a three tier cake stand. After doing a big of oohing and aahing over the contents, especially the top layer which included cute chocolate cups filled with mousse, we hungrily tucked into the finger sandwiches. No marmalade sandwiches for me, but there was clementine marmalade to accompany the ham for Fiona. I didn’t take too much notice of the meat fillings, but I was pleased to see cucumber and cream cheese on offer together with egg mayonnaise. I was also presented with a plate of five vegetarian finger sandwiches laid out in a star shape. I would have liked to have seen something a bit more creative than tomato and lettuce, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
Marmalade, not surprisingly was a key theme of the tea and for the first time ever, I had marmalade with my scones and clotted cream, rather than jam. Both Fiona and I were a little dubious about this particular change to tradition, but when we tucked in, we were pleasantly surprised. We had a choice of plain or cranberry scones and I found the marmalade to be particularly delicious atop some of the latter; cranberries and orange have a natural affinity. Jam was served alongside the marmalade if required.
Starting to feel a little full, there was still some room left for that enticing top layer of treats. I’ve already alluded to the chocolate cups which were topped with a little marmalade and were quite delightful. There was also orange macaroons, an orange bakewell tart and an adorable little glass of orange and passionfruit jelly.
At regular intervals we were offered further sandwiches and scones. We politely declined as we already had more than an elegant sufficiency, but it gave a feeling of abundance which was a nice touch for such a rare treat. We were just finishing off the last few goodies when the cake trolley was wheeled over. Well, neither of us could fit in another morsel, but everything looked so pretty and enticing, we asked if we could take something away with us. My thoughts turned to CT who had missed out on all this indulgence, so I chose a little something with him in mind – a chocolate log filled with salted caramel cream. It was very thoughtfully placed in a gold cardboard box for easy transport. It made the long journey home in tact and was gratefully demolished fairly soon after I arrived. I did get a little taster and it was as good as it looked.
The Paddington Bear Afternoon Tea costs £39.50 without champagne and £47:50 with it. £5 of this is donated to the official Paddington Bear charity, Action Medical Research for Children. Everything looked fabulous and was beautifully presented and it all tasted pretty good too. For a top class afternoon tea with as much as you can eat and more, I would describe this as good value. I waved good buy to the suitcase of bears at reception with a full stomach and wasn’t entirely sure I was in a fit state to run for the train if it proved necessary.
When I say Yo! Sushi, who thinks about chocolate? No-one. Fair enough. If chocolate is what you’re after, for once you’ve come to the wrong place. I really meant to take some chocolate along with me for some fusion food chocolate sushi, but rather stupidly I forgot. I can’t say as I was disappointed or that it was missed; I had a fabulous time and ate far more sushi than was good for me.
A bunch of South West bloggers (glam fashion bloggers as well as the foodie crowd) met up early one evening last month at Yo! Sushi in Plymouth. Situated at the main entrance to Drake’s Circus, it’s hard to miss, but I’d never stopped there before. Our mission was to learn how to make sushi – obviously. We had our very own Sushi Master to guide us, the most marvellous Mazz. Our session was jam packed with plenty to eat along the way. We got to take a tray of sushi home with us too, along with the recipes, a bamboo rolling mat, a certificate and a few other bits and pieces. It’s a great activity to do with a bunch of friends, but it’s fine to go alone too. At £30 a person or £50 for two, I thought this was good value for money.
Sushi has a rather special place in my life. It was the first meal CT ever made me and I was mighty impressed, both with the sushi that I’d never eaten before and with CT’s skill in preparing it. Like the rest of the British nation, I took to it with enthusiasm. I even had a go at making it myself once, but was singularly inept. So I was really looking forward to learning a few tips and tricks.
The staff were particularly friendly and helpful and we were offered a drink as soon as we arrived. I opted for a mug of Japanese Green Tea that was no sooner finished before another one turned up in its place. It was quite delicious and just what was needed to keep us hydrated with all the hard work – oh wait a minute, did I say work? I meant fun.
Mazz made it all look astonishingly easy, but he was a great teacher and had plenty of the looked for tips and tricks to pass on. He started off with preparing a massive salmon thus proving he was a Master knife wielder as well as sushi maker. I tuned out at this point, but he went into a lot of detail and the others all seemed to get a lot out of it. Being a vegetarian was not a problem at all however; I was well catered for. Some of the sushi we were making was vegetarian anyway and when there was fish to be eaten, Mazz made me my own super delicious vegetarian versions with egg, avocado, tofu or all three. After an initial demo, we all had a go at making maki, which has a filling of cucumber and sesame seeds. We’d been taught well and all managed to produce some reasonably good looking sushi.
Watching Mazz make mini ISO, or inside out sushi as it’s known, was quite something and the results were spectacular I thought. I’d not come across this technique before, but the rice is on the outside and the nori (seaweed) on the inside. With a filling of tofu, omelette and cucumber and a dusting of Japanese chilli powder on the outside, these were absolutely scrumptious.
Hand rolls, ISOs, Gunkan and Nigiri all flew from Mazz’s hand and were subsequently demolished by us. My favourite was Futomaki which was a standard sushi roll with a filling of avocado, cucumber, omelette, radish pickle, carrots and mayonnaise. In truth, everything I tasted was delicious and it all looked stylish, neat and attractive, the way so many Japanese creations do. I took some of the fishy ones home in my bento box for CT who was very glad that I did.
The most useful tips I took away with me were:
- Cover the rolling mat with cling film to prevent sticking.
- Coat hands in a little oil to prevent sticking.
- Roll the sushi very tightly, so everything holds together.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the sushi and be firm when doing so.
Many thanks to Jane of The Hedge Combers for organising the event, to Yo! Sushi for making it happen and to Mazz for his showmanship and good nature.
Do check out the other write-ups over at: