Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Restaurant Review - Piccolino, Exchange Square, London

Broadgate Circle in the City  - the financial heart of London – has been redeveloped and recently reopened, with a host of bars and restaurants. I walk past on my way to the gym and it’s always buzzing – last week I even saw Adam Richman from the US television show Man vs. Food filming a segment there.
A colleague of mine was in London for the day so we decided to go for a team lunch, and I thought it was a good opportunity to try one of the new places in Broadgate circle. I had a look at the Broadgate circle website and from the list of restaurants chose Piccolino, an Italian restaurant that I thought would appeal to everyone. It was only after I booked it and checked the address that I found the restaurant was actually in Exchange Square – the website I’d been on was for the general Broadgate area and in fact Piccolino was nearly half a kilometre away. Not far, but a key difference and not actually part of the plaza I wanted to go to!

Even so, Exchange Square is lovely – and very busy – in summer. There are restaurants and bars with outside areas, a fountain and plenty of grass and steps for people to picnic; and on the day I was there, a big screen showing the tennis and a Lurpak van giving away free sandwich samples. Piccolino has outdoor seating but as we were a large group we were seated inside.
It’s quite upmarket for a lunch choice – probably aimed at the business lunch crowd rather than colleagues catching up – but the menu isn’t all expensive. There are plenty of pizzas and pasta dishes around the £10-£12 mark, and I was going to have linguine until I remembered that due to some not great diary planning, I was having dinner out with a friend at a Thai place that evening and would probably be eating noodles. I love fish, so when someone announced he was having the roast cod, I was tempted and decided to do the same. It was described on the menu as “roast cod, spicy sausage, broccoli, chilli and garlic” – a large piece of cod, surrounded by a few thin discs of chorizo, several pieces of tenderstem broccoli, and I assume the chilli and garlic was in the oil as I couldn’t particularly taste it. It wasn’t cheap at £19.50 but was excellent, and benefited from the addition of a side order of roasted potatoes.

I think that next time we go out for lunch we will probably go somewhere a bit more informal but it was very enjoyable and I recommend this restaurant if you are in the area.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015 - Week 28

We ended up barbecuing a lot last week so I changed the meal plan and didn't make several of the dishes I'd bought ingredients for, so I am putting them on the list for this week.

Lunch at desk – on a conference call.  Salad from Inspiralized book: apple, watercress, gorgonzola and pecan
Dinner - Last cake decorating class - will take a sandwich
Lunch – on a training course with lunch provided
Dinner – at a work event in the evening, will grab something to eat on way home
Lunch - sandwich or salad
Dinner - barbecue: honey and mustard chicken kebabs and prawn kebabs.
Lunch - out with a friend
Dinner - Deliciously Ella's butternut squash risotto with grilled chicken for me; gammon and mashed potatoes for him
Fri - working from home
Lunch - pasta?
Dinner - Out with friend in evening
Lunch – something quick as I have an appointment at 12 noon: huevos rancheros
Dinner - barbecue again if the weather is nice. Marinaded chicken portions of some kind - will decide on Saturday.
Lunch – at Birdworld for an owl handling experience that was part of my birthday present from my boyfriend
Dinner - something from the freezer with chips

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Pimms Cream Cake

Pimm's cake
Pimm's cake

Wimbledon is on, the new royal baby Princess Charlotte is being christened, the sun is shining, the barbecue is fired up and even the Formula 1 Grand Prix is taking place in the UK this weekend - it's a true celebration of all things British.

And where would we be at a British celebration without a glass (or three) of Pimm's and lemonade?

I've just discovered from Wikipedia (where else) that Pimm's has been around since 1823 and is named after the son of a farmer from Kent who owned an oyster bar in London. He served a gin-based drink made with a secret mixture of herbs and liqueurs as an aid to digestion, serving it in a small cup known as "no.1" - and that's why the full name of the drink we all love today is Pimm's No. 1 Cup.

We were recently sent a fruit basket at work containing among other things a large punnet of strawberries. I had some cream at home (long story - I was asked to make my malteser cake by a colleague so bought the ingredients though I warned him in this weather the chocolate would melt; he then agreed and cancelled the order but I had already bought the cream and chocolate!). Most people would think of strawberries and cream, but I don't particularly like strawberries and neither does my boyfriend (I know, we're weird). I then remembered that I had some cucumber in the fridge from another recipe - and I don't like cucumber much either. But my mind had started whirring as I thought of the mint on my windowsill and that all I was missing was an orange for a nice Pimm's!

I knew that the fruit wouldn't really keep until we next had people over and there wasn't much point making a pitcher of Pimm's with all the fruit just for me so the logical conclusion was a cake! I can't believe I haven't made a Pimm's cake before :-)

Pimms Cream Cake - an original recipe by Caroline Makes

175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
3 eggs
8 tbsp. Pimm's
8 tbsp. lemonade
About 450ml double cream
To decorate - strawberries, orange, cucumber, mint leaves

This quantity makes two thin layers - with the rich cream in the middle this was plenty but you might want to scale up the quantities to make three thin layers, or double the ingredients and make two thick layers.

Preheat oven to 175C.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat in the eggs and flour.

Add the Pimm's and lemonade and mix until you have a pourable batter.

Grease two 8-inch cake tins and pour half the batter into each tin. Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes until cooked. Test the middle with a skewer if you are not sure.

When the cake has cooled, whip the cream until stiff and use half to fill the cake and half to spread on top. Decorate the top with chopped cucumber, orange, strawberries and fresh mint leaves.

The cake has a hint of Pimm's and was really light; the cream was a better choice than buttercream. I was tempted to add a dash of Pimm's to the cream but wasn't sure how much this would have altered the consistency so if you do try that, let me know how it turns out!

I'm using this for Formula 1 Foods, the blog challenge I started to celebrate each location for the F1 Grand Prix, as this weekend is the UK.

I'm also sending it to the Food Year Linkup, hosted by Charlotte's Lively Kitchen.

This is the perfect cake to enjoy at a barbecue so I am sending it to Tea Time Treats, hosted by Jane at the Hedgecombers and Karen at Lavender and Lovage.

The theme for Love Cake, hosted by Ness at JibberJabber UK, is cakes from around the world, and this is very much a British cake.

The theme for Vegetable Palette is glorious reds and Shaheen at Allotment 2 Kitchen said she will accept fruits as well so since this cake uses strawberries I'm sending it in.

There's also a new challenge called Cake Club hosted by Kerry Cooks so this is my first entry.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

How to Make a Wired Sugar Flower: A Step-by-Step Guide

Wired sugar flowers look very realistic and are a beautiful way to top off a cake. I'd tried to make one at home before but didn't really understand what I was supposed to be doing - and realise now that I didn't have the right equipment! But as regular readers will know I recently took a 10-week evening course in wedding cake decorating at South Thames College and our second cake project involved a wired sugar flower. Isn't it beautiful?

I will explain how we made the whole cake later, but for now I'm going to concentrate on how to make the wired flower.

Here's what you will need; click on the links to buy the products from Amazon.

1 KG Sugar Florist Paste (you don't need 1kg, but this is good value. You can also get smaller packets like this Renshaw Flower and Moulding Paste

Food colouring - I prefer to use the paste kind. For this flower I used two parts
Sugarflair KIWI Green Pastel Paste Gel Edible Food Icing Colouring 25G to one part
Sugarflair Spectral Concentrated Paste Colour - Gooseberry

Culpitt 26 Gauge White Florist Wires - Sugar Flowers/Floristy

5 Star Scissors with Rubber Handles 160mm Ref 909280 or similar to cut the wire

A rose petal cutter - you only need the large petal for this project: Sugarcraft & Cake Decorating Cutters -Rose Petals Extra Large For Celebration Cakes- Perfect for Wedding Cakes And Sugarcraft

8pc Sugarcraft Cake Modelling Tool Set

PME sugarcraft Foam pad

PME 6in Non Stick Rolling Pin

Non-Stick Groved Board (6" x 5.75") with non-slip mat - this is crucial and the reason why my first attempt at home went wrong!

JEM No 12 Petal Veiner / Friller Tool

Approx. 170Pcs Pearl Double-Tipped Floral Flower Stamens for Flower Making - White though you won't need that many for one flower

Moss Green Stem Tape 90 feet x 13mm. Stem - Tex. For Corsages, Bouquets, Flowers, Arrangements and Crafts.

PME White Flower Picks (Small (12))
.... that is quite a long list, but believe me it's worth it, and most of it you can use again and again! And it really is crucial to have the right equipment - and now I'm going to tell you what to do with it!

Start off with your stamens. We cut them in half as they were quite long; start to bunch about 15-20 together.

Bind tightly to a wire with the florist tape; this will be the centre of your flower.

If you want to colour your flowerpaste do that first, then take a small piece and knead it. Roll a small ball and flatten onto your grooved board, so one of the grooves - the largest one is easiest - is in the middle.

When you roll out the sugarpaste over the groove and then turn the sugarpaste over, you will have a raised part - this is the channel for the wire.

Use your petal cutter to cut out the shape of the petal making sure the 'channel' is in the middle

Cut a piece of wire to about a 4-5 inch length and carefully slide it into the channel in the middle fo the petal, being careful not to poke the wire through the icing.

Take the veining tool and roll from side to side on the petal. I actually did this on the wrong side - you need to turn it over as the channel for the wire will be on the bottom of the flower.

Take a balling tool and rub around the edge of the petal to make it lift up and curl a little. The trick to do this is to have the balling tool half on the petal, half on your foam pad.

Bend your wire and petal slightly - the best way I can think of to describe it is to think of a spoon after Uri Gellar has finished with it! Again mine is the wrong way up; the channel should be on the underneath.  I don't know why the petal looks yellow in this picture - something to do with the lighting.

Repeat several times, making three petals in each size - the flower cutter comes in three sizes. Leave them to dry in something like this paint palette as this will help the petals hold their curve as they harden. You want them to be hard and not floppy when you assemble the flower so you will need to leave these for a while.

Starting with the smallest petals, place them around the stamen, binding the wires together with florist tape as you go.

You can see two layers of petals here with the last ones - the largest, which I made a slightly paler colour - waiting to be added.

Here is the finished flower. To insert it into a cake, put the flower pick - a hollow plastic tube with a point at the end - into the cake. This is because you can't insert wires directly into the cake. Then place the wires into the plastic holder, and if necessary stop them from moving around inside the pick with a blob of icing.

Do you want a sneak peak of the cake that I used this flower on? Here it is - with its own blog post to follow! Making this flower took quite a long time so I'm very impressed by people who make several of them to go on a wedding cake!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Dot Com Gift Shop: Christmas in July

For the third year running I went to the Dot Com Gift Shop Christmas event - in July! This time the Christmas decorations were fairly minimal and instead it was more about showcasing their new ranges which will be on the website shortly.

I love the Dot Com Gift Shop - they have some brilliant gifts for cooks and bakers, and loads of brilliant things for kids. They've even got a sale on at the moment with up to 90% off, and I've taken the chance to buy a few bits and pieces for pennies!

I love the colours and patterns of these plates and how neat they look arranged on shelves:

I could do with this sign in my house.... though it would need to say girlfriend, not wife.

A wide shot of all the goodies on display

These glass baubles are much larger than your average Christmas decoration and would look great all year round

Of course I made a beeline for the baking stuff.... these are little sets of bunting to put on top of a cake, in a range of child-friendly designs.

This new range of bird print stationery and tableware is really pretty.

I also found out this evening that the best selling item on the Dot Com Gift Shop is .... this bunny night-light. Even my boyfriend has one of these (and no, I didn't buy it for him!). I look forward to seeing these items on the website and also to seeing what ranges other retailers have in store - even though as far as I'm concerned it's far too early to think about Christmas!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Restaurant Review: Honest Burger, Spitalfields, London

My birthday this year was on a weekday when I was at work, but it was a really busy time for my team. So I wanted to suggest we go out for lunch, but knew most people wouldn’t have much time. Luckily there was a branch of Honest Burgers across the street that I had been wanting to try; the limited number of choices on the menu means the food is served pretty quickly.
The menu is divided into three main sections which look like a flow chart; there’s chicken, beef or vegetables, plus sauces and side orders. It took a matter of seconds to decide that I wanted the Honest burger, but without the bacon, as I wanted the pickles and burger sauce that this one came with. The burgers are made using meat from the Ginger Pig and come with rosemary-salted chips which are delicious.

The burgers are those dirty, oozing ones that you can’t eat without getting in a mess- but importantly, the bun is robust enough to not fall apart. There’s even a takeaway option where you can call and pre-order for collection if you are really pushed for time. It’s a good quality burger, in a casual but nice restaurant, that made a great treat for a quick birthday lunch.