Thursday, 28 April 2016

Waitrose 1 launch - new premium food range

Waitrose already provides posh food for the masses and has now gone one step further with the launch of its own premium range, Waitrose 1.

I was invited to the launch event which was a great opportunity to try the foods and speak to some of the product developers and specialists.

Held on the second floor of London’s Oxo tower with amazing views as the sun set over the Thames, my expectations were high. I’d been told it was a drop-in event, so I went after work, and assumed that since I wasn’t being asked to go at a particular time there wouldn’t be a presentation as such. Instead, I found a room showcasing different products on ‘stations’ – first I came to the dessert and cocktail bar (actually, first I was offered a glass of champagne by a waiter proffering a tray) and had a chat with a friendly PR about the amazing cakes. My eye was particularly drawn to a dessert called a 'chocolate and orange wave', which comes in a chilled pack of two.
I didn’t get to try this one but the rhubarb and custard flavour was available for testing. I’m not keen on rhubarb but the filling – a mousse-like texture – was so creamy that I was converted.

I moved on to the pizza station and watched a few people having a go at making pizza bases, and spoke to a Waitrose representative about their new range of pizzas. They use a sourdough base, which some pizza restaurants use like Franco Manca in London; you can get sourdough bases in supermarkets as well, usually in their premium ranges.
The new Waitrose pizzas come in three sizes and the toppings on offer will change seasonally; one they are launching now is the wood-fired spicy sausage and broccoli pizza (£4.79). I'd be quite tempted to try that one. 
Moving on to the cheese stand I tried several varieties, including a Belgian beer cheese. The beer is added to the vat as the cheese is made. I don't like beer but thought it was delicious and the cheese had a nice texture - slightly rubbery which I actually quite like rather than a crumbly cheese!
I also tried some of the Le Cret Gruyere, made in a Swiss village, which was also really good.
I also tried burrata, an Italian cheese made from shredded mozzarella, mixed with cream, and formed into a ball again. I’d never had it before and it was so creamy that I don’t think I could eat much in one go.

Alongside the cheese I tried some bread, and was told that flavoured breads do sell very well. I’m not sure how popular their latest one will be – it tasted very good, but not everyone would want to try bread containing cauliflower! A cauliflower cheese mixture is baked into the bread; the cauli gives the bread a different texture – more open with holes. The cheese flavour came through strongly and occasionally I could tell I was eating a piece of cauliflower!
I spotted someone carving an Iberio ham and had a very interesting conversation about the provenance and process. It's cured for a minimum of two years and hand carved, which is why it costs £9.99 for a 75g packet - good for a posh dinner party perhaps!

Finally I stopped at the chocolate stand and initially tried to resist, as I’m supposed to be on a sugar-free diet, but just couldn’t. Waitrose has a new range of salted caramels, showcasing four different salts with very different flavour profiles, so of course I had to try all four and compare. They were amazing, and if anyone wants to give me a box of these I can put aside my no sugar diet for one day! (In actual fact I’m meant to be sugar free 5 days out of 7 and can have two days off, according to the practitioner I’m currently seeing).
There was also a range of dessert truffles in pretty pastel colours and I decided I couldn’t possibly try all of them as I’d had too much chocolate already, which was a shame as they sounded intriguing – I’ve never had a sticky toffee pudding or pineapple upside down cake chocolate truffle before! I did try one, the jaffa cake truffle. I was expecting a fairly standard smooth truffle in a chocolate orange flavour, but what I found was a little centre of orange in the middle of the truffle, in a jelly-consistency that did remind me of jaffa cakes. I’ll definitely look out for these ones coming into the shops too!
The products are premium prices so for most people – even most people who already shop at Waitrose – I think these would be a special treat, for a dinner party, special occasion or just a nice way to treat yourself, rather than part of the weekly grocery shop, but I can imagine them selling really well.


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Sugar-Free Coconut Milk Pancakes

My last-ditch attempt to lose weight before my wedding involves cutting out as much sugar as possible. A friend who has done this, and seen great results, recommended a book called I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson.  Sarah cut sugar out of her diet and says she has seen improvements in her weight, energy, skin and so on, and has published a book that is part explanation, part cookbook.

I liked the sound of these 'coconut fluff' coconut milk pancakes so I made them one day recently for lunch, and served them with stewed apple.

You need:
2 eggs, whisked
400ml can coconut milk
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted, plus extra for frying
30g coconut flour
100g buckwheat flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
50g shredded coconut

The coconut flour was expensive (£5 for a bag in Sainsbury's) but I plan to find lots of other recipes I can use it in.

These are easy to make: beat the eggs with the coconut milk and the oil, then fold in the other ingredients. I found the mixture thickened quickly, as the coconut soaked up the liquid, so added some milk. I'd recommend not leaving the mixture to stand and making the pancakes immediately.

Heat a little coconut oil in a frying pan and spoon or pour in enough of the mixture to fill the pan with a thin layer of pancake mixture. Cook until you can see the consistency has changed and the pancake has firmed enough to turn - you can either use a fish slice utensil or toss the pancake in the pan! Put to one side and cover with foil to keep warm and repeat.

I served these with stewed apple but all sorts of toppings would work. They tasted really good.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Review: Afternoon tea at Claridge's


I was very lucky recently to be treated to afternoon tea at Claridge’s as a pre-wedding family get-together: along with the Ritz, perhaps the most quintessential London hotel afternoon tea.

It was a surprise organised by my future mother-in-law: I knew we were going for afternoon tea, but not where. My parents were staying over the Easter weekend so my mum came while my fiancé entertained my dad; my sister came up by train for the day and we were also joined by my fiance’s aunt, cousin and sister-in-law (and briefly by his brother at the end as he was meeting his wife there for drinks!).

As we pulled up in the car just outside Claridges I was thrilled – I’d never been there before but always wanted to. We were a little early so sat in the bar enjoying a non-alcoholic cocktail – I was a bit shocked at the price of the alcoholic cocktails around the £20 mark and decided it wasn’t worth it!

Afternoon tea is held in the art deco foyer (though by foyer I would normally understand lobby, this was a room just off the lobby), Claridge’s china is a distinctive striped pale green and white so it’s not chintzy at all. The service was of course impeccable – I wouldn’t have expected any less.

We had a specially themed Easter afternoon tea – Claridge’s holds a few of these throughout the year, around events like Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show. They don’t go for tacky themes but instead classic English events. What really surprised me though was the price: classic afternoon tea is £58, which is quite steep compared to other hotels (even more than the Ritz), or with a glass of champagne it’s £68. The special seasonal afternoon tea is £82 per person (with a 12.5% service charge added to your bill). That really has to be a one-off treat!

We started by selecting our teas; I’m not that adventurous and figured that if Claridge’s had a specially selected blend, they had put enough thought into it and I should trust their selection. I was also too busy talking to people and taking photos to read the extensive tea menu properly!

The traditional sandwiches arrived first with a mixture of fillings, including chicken and truffle mayonnaise, smoked salmon, ham and mustard, egg and watercress and cucumber (apparently with buttermilk and chamomile, but I didn't try this one). There was an additional treat nestling next to the sandwiches, which looked like a small biscuit -a Parmesan sable with cheddar, apple and walnut. The chicken sandwiches were probably my favourite, and we were offered a refill but I was already worried I wouldn’t be able to manage everything else!

As well as scones with jam and cream we had small hot cross buns. I'm not normally a fan of hot cross buns but these were very good and my mum was very impressed. I realised afterwards though that this was pretty much the only concession to Easter in the whole afternoon tea - Claridge's is too classy to do gimmicky desserts but it would have been nice to have something a bit Easter themed among the sweets and pastries!

For dessert we had four small morsels each, and of course I did try them all. The 'temptation', with chocolate sponge and dark chocolate ganache was rich but delicious, and the rhubarb and custard surprisingly good as I don't like rhubarb. It consisted of a layer of ginger and pistachio jaconde, a layer of vanilla custard and a layer of rhubarb jelly.

The Dulcey chocolate choux had a coffee sable and Maldon sea salt caramel- I was in heaven.

Finally the macaron, not in flavours I'm normally that keen on - blood orange and grapefruit marmalade - but it was excellent.

At the end, we were given a small simnel cake in a Claridge's box to take home, which luckily lasts a couple of months as I haven't actually tried mine yet!

What surprised me and I suppose slightly disappointed me was that the traditional afternoon tea is £58, or £68 with a glass of champagne, and the Easter themed tea with champagne is £82. As far as I can tell, the food is the same other than the hot cross buns and the simnel cake to take home, meaning you pay an extra £14 for those two things, which seems quite a lot. I'd be interested to see what they do for the other themed afternoon teas, such as Wimbledon (perhaps just an extra course of strawberries and cream) and the Chelsea Flower Show - edible flowers perhaps?

Overall afternoon tea at Claridge's is an amazing experience, and since it was also my 'hen do', one that I won't forget.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 18 2016

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Restaurant review: Peanut Butter Burger at Hache, Shoreditch

If someone offers you peanut butter on a burger…. Just say no. Peanut butter on its own I can take or leave. Peanut butter with chocolate is one of the best pairings since the two Ronnies (RIP Corbett). But peanut butter on a burger is just a bit wrong.
Strong words indeed from someone who has put bacon on cupcakes, made pizza from sweet potato and stuck a can of ginger ale up a chicken’s nether regions (a dead one, of course).
It was my fiance’s birthday and he wanted to have a takeaway with his family rather than go out to dinner after work in London so I suggested we go out for lunch, since we work fairly close by each other. I knew he’d like a burger so looked on Google to see if there was anywhere new in the area, and as we’d never been to Hache before – and they got very good reviews, including being voted the best burgers in London by the Huffington Post, I decided to book a table there.
The décor and ambience was more like a pub – we sat at a small table in the window near the well-stocked bar. I’d spent some time perusing the menu in advance and even looked up the peanut butter burger on the internet, and found a few blogs where people raved about it. I was tempted by the rosemary lamb burger with mint yogurt, or the steak Bavarian, a burger with smoked Bavarian cheese and caramelised onions, and also quite curious about the steak reblochon, a burger topped with reblochon cheese and red onion chutney. My fiancé, predictable as ever, had the steak Canadian – basically a burger with cheese and bacon.

I decided to be brave and experiment (telling myself since it was only lunch, I wouldn’t mind as much if I didn’t like it) and ordered the steak Louisiana (£8.95): a burger topped with American crunchy peanut butter and mature cheddar cheese. I went to Louisiana last year and didn’t come across any burgers with peanut butter in!
I had a choice of ciabatta or brioche bun and went for the latter, which was a mistake –the consistency of the peanut butter made the roll fall apart pretty quickly and I ended up holding chunks that were breaking off, getting the peanut butter all over my fingers. Unfortunately I thought the peanut butter totally dominated the burger- I could barely tell there was any cheese in it and couldn’t really taste the meat either, just peanut butter. I wonder if this burger would have been better with just a smear of peanut butter – the waitress said the flavour combination was her favourite – but I just wasn’t sold. Next time, I’ll just stick to a regular cheeseburger.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Bacon and Cheddar Scrolls

I've started doing my shopping in Sainsbury's a lot more - there's a large store only a few minutes' drive from my house, but as I'm still a relative novice when it comes to driving, I only go first thing or I struggle to get into the spaces in their car park! I recently picked up a copy of Sainsbury's magazine at the till and found lots of recipes inside that I wanted to make. As my fiancé loves bacon and would eat a bacon sandwich for lunch every Saturday and Sunday every week if he could, I get rather bored of it (so he gets a bacon sandwich every few weeks). As soon as I saw this recipe for 'bacon and cheddar scrolls' I knew it would be a winner with both of us as it was something different but still within the bacon category!

This recipe makes quite a few (I can't remember exactly how many) so to serve two people I would halve the quantity.

400g wholemeal bread flour
100g white bread flour
7g yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
50g melted butter
1 tbsp light brown sugar
300 ml lukewarm water

For the filling:
4tbso grainy mustard
8 cooked rashers streaky bacon, crumbled or sliced
100g grated mature Cheddar cheese
3 spring onions, trimmed and sliced

In a large bowl, mix the flour and yeast. In another bowl,  mix the melted butter, water and sugar. Fold in the flour.

Knead for ten minutes if doing by hand; otherwise about five minutes in a stand-mixer (I was very glad of my Kitchenaid at this point!). Grease a large bowl and put the ball of dough inside. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about two hours to prove until doubled in size.

Roll out the dough into a rectangle on a lightly-floured surface and spread with the filling.

Roll up from the long edge like a Swiss roll and slice into rounds.

Lay each slice on its side on a greased and lined baking tray, cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200 C and bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes. Best served warm as part of a breakfast or brunch, but you could also leave these to go cold and take them on a picnic.

I'm sending this to Bready Steady Go, hosted by Lucy at BakingQueen74.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Coconut Dacquoise with Chocolate Ganache Filling

I attempted to make my own mayonnaise recently and it was a disaster - I tried once before and both times I haven't been able to get the mixture to thicken. Does anyone have any advice?

Since I'd used egg yolks for this recipe - three, as the recipe said two and it wouldn't thicken so I added another, which helped a little but not enough - I also had three egg whites to use up. I thought about making meringue but didn't want anything that sugary, and I'd just seen something on television where a chef was making a dacquoise - a cake made with layers of almond and hazelnut meringue.

I had some dessicated coconut I'd bought for another recipe and wondered if I could make the same sort of nutty meringue bake. Turns out you can!

I based my recipe on the coconut dacquoise element of this recipe, but changed it slightly to use coconut flour instead of almond meal (I assume by 'meal' you could use ground almonds). I also halved the quantities, and found it made seven.

Coconut flour is produced from dried coconuts; it's gluten-free and a protein-rich alternative to ordinary flour. Coconut flour also has fibre and fat (as coconuts contain fat) which makes it very filling - I bought it for a recipe I was making from a book called I Quit Sugar. I found lots of other interesting facts about coconut flour on the Nourished Kitchen website including a warning that you can't just substitute it for plain flour in baking. It can also go a bit clumpy which I discovered making this recipe, but it worked well otherwise in this mixture - I just might think twice before using it in a cake.

I toasted the coconut in the oven for a few minutes to start, and allowed it to cool.

Then for the dacquoise I whisked the egg whites and added the sugar, then folded in the dessicated coconut, coconut flour and icing sugar.

I piped circles out onto an oven tray -I realised I'd run out of baking paper so had to line it with foil.

Bake for 8-10 minutes then allow to cool.

For the filling I brought some cream to a simmer then added some chocolate and stirred until melted, then put into the fridge until set. I sandwiched the dacquoise together with the chocolate - even though my fiancé doesn't like coconut he did enjoy these!

I'm sharing this with Perfecting Patisserie, hosted by Lucy at BakingQueen74.


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Flower Stamped Birthday Card

I went a bit crazy with the rubber stamping on this card! I had a flower stamp that reminded me a bit of a geometric shape at the same time, and decided to stamp it all over a pink card to create a background. I used black ink, letting the pink of the card show through, and deliberately stamped in a fairly haphazard fashion. I had a pre-cut circle of pink card in my craft stash and stamped the flower again onto that, and secured the circle to the card with adhesive pads so it would stand out.

Finally I stamped the words 'happy birthday' onto a piece of pink card, cut the ends to make it more like a banner, and stuck that on the bottom of the card.

I'm sharing this with the Simon Says Stamp challenge as their theme is 'make it girly'.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Restaurant Review: The Montagu at the Hyatt Regency, London

Bakingaddict is really good at finding places for dinner that offer set menus for pretty reasonable prices, allowing us to eat in some very nice restaurants. I'm also really good at getting lost on the way (yes, despite a print out from Streetmap in my hand and Google Maps on my phone) so invariably keep her waiting!

We recently ate at the Montagu at the Hyatt Regency. The Hyatt Regency is a 5-star hotel on Portman Square in London hosting a famous Italian restaurant, Locanda Locatelli, as well as the Montagu.

Lobster and Devon Crab Bisque

At the Montagu you can book the chef's table - a special table where you can see everything that goes on in the open plan kitchen (restaurants generally charge quite a lot for the privilege). Our table was actually quite close to the kitchen anyway and while I couldn't see everything that was happening, it was quite interesting to be able to see and hear. We remarked to the waitress that the chefs were particularly quiet and polite (no Gordon Ramsay style shouting and swearing here!).

Pan Seared Chicken Breast and Crispy Chicken Thighs, Butternut Squash Puree, Quince, Almonds and Madeira Sauce

At the moment the Montagu is offering a high tea - or "haute tea" inspired by fashion icons so there were some beautiful dresses on display while we ate. We really felt like we were in a high-end restaurant and somewhere special, even though we had come straight from work.

Our set menu cost £35 for three courses including a glass of champagne and coffee, which isn't actually that cheap, and I worked out afterwards the food we'd had cost £35 (or £34.50 anyway) from the a la carte menu, so effectively the drinks were free. Which sounds like a bargain but without the set menu we may not have had three courses, so probably would have spent the same amount anyway!
Apple Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream

The food was very good: I had Lobster and Devon Crab Bisque to start which was delicious, followed by Pan Seared Chicken Breast and Crispy Chicken Thighs, with Butternut Squash Puree, Quince and Almonds and Madeira Sauce. The butternut squash puree was a smear across the plate (would have been nice to have more!) and the pieces of chicken were small, as is often the way with fine dining - so perhaps we would have wanted three courses anyway!

For dessert I chose Apple Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream - it was nicely filling and the apple flavour was subtle but recognisable. It came with a delicate piece of sugarwork on top, dn chocolate nibs on the side of the bowl that melted into the warm toffee sauce as I ate - delicious. My dining companion had the Praline Dark Chocolate Choux and I did wonder if I had chosen the wrong dessert!

Food, service and company were excellent - though next time we meet we are going somewhere my fiancé can have a burger!
Praline Dark Chocolate Choux

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review: Keep Me Strong Cereal

Last year I reviewed a new cereal called Keep Me Going; the makers, Freedom Cereals, have now sent me their second product, Keep Me Strong.

This is a far cry from the sugary cereals I used to like as a child and I think is more likely to be eaten by a health-conscious adult. This product is a high-protein, low fat multi-grain cereal which is also low in salt and has 'reduced' sugar (overall it's 10% sugar - many cereals contain three times that, they say).

The cereal uses whole grain brown rice rather than wheat gluten which is commonly used in other cereals, but which Freedom Cereals say is one of the hardest types of protein to absorb, with a low digestibility. Whole grain brown rice is much better absorbed by the body as a protein source though it is more expensive. Freedom is quite upfront about this and say they have experimented with a dozen protein sources and found this one was much better and tasted good. It does mean the Keep Me Strong cereal is £2.65 a box (at Ocado); they say a box contains 11 servings so that is only 24p a serving.

I found this cereal tasted quite nice and I thought it was better than the Keep Me Going product that I previously tried. I also liked the bright colours of the packaging while not resorting to cartoon characters to tempt kids. Most of all though I like the health benefits, as my personal trainer has been drumming into me for years that the most important thing to eat at breakfast is protein!

Thanks to Freedom Cereals for the product to review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 17

butternut squash quinoa risotto
Out at a work quiz
Out at a Waitrose event
fish and vegetables for me, chicken and mashed potatoes for him
pasta with broccoli pesto for me (using spiralized vegetables instead of pasta) and pasta carbonara for him
Lunch: quinoa cheese tartlets from this recipe
Dinner: Slimming World buffalo chicken from this recipe with homemade potato wedges
at my parents' for my birthday visit

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Mini Kentish Pudding Pies

Back in the winter I was looking for a dessert that my fiancé would like that didn't involve chocolate, but where I could make individual puddings rather than something big like a sticky toffee pudding. I have a book called Desserts by James Martin and found in it a recipe for a Kentish pudding pie - an old fashioned  English dish consisting of a shortcrust pastry base, filled with a set custard made of ground rice and often citrus flavoured and topped with dried fruit and ground nutmeg. It's served cold, often at Easter.

The recipe is available online here.

Here I've brought the cream and milk to the boil and added the whisked eggs and sugar. It looks a little lumpy but it got better as it thickened!

Lining the tarts with the pastry to bake them blind. I got some great little loose-bottomed tart tins from Amazon.

Adding the ground rice, nutmeg and lemon zest and juice to the filling mixture

Ready to go in the oven: the cooled pastry cases filled with the lemon and cream mixture, topped with currants

They only take a few minutes to bake and can be served hot or cold - I preferred them hot

I didn't find these particularly sweet and they certainly weren't my favourite dessert, but an interesting change and a good English classic.

I'm sharing these with Tea Time Treats, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Janie from Hedgecombers. Their theme this month is local and regional recipes - and these originate from Kent, the "garden of England" (and not very far from Surrey where I live).