Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Early Halloween!

I always enjoy Halloween- the dressing up and never ending sweeties are both good things in my books. However, tomorrow I'm off on an adventure (don't worry, you'll find out all about that in two weeks!) and going away at the end of October means I'll be missing out on Halloween this year. My lovely boyfriend, realising this, surprised me with a pumpkin and a witch's hat at the weekend so we could celebrate a little early. 

So that's just what we did. I donned my hat and we got down to carving.

Meet Bertie! Isn't he just spook-tacular?! (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)

All lit up, he happily glowed away in the window while I waltzed around in my witch's hat, cackling under my breath and mixing up potions... Well, not quite but you get the idea!

I'm very excited about my up and coming trip and can't wait to tell you about it when I get home- watch this space!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Recipe: Lemon Curd and Raspberry Cream Naked Cake

Although Autumn has crept upon us, this week has been beautifully sunny. To celebrate the season's last salute to Summer, I set about baking this little naked cake. To me, nothing screams 'Summer!' more than raspberries and cream and, well, I just have a weakness for lemon curd! Put the two with cake and I must surely be onto a winner?

To recreate this little beauty, you will need the following...

For the lemon curd:
The grated rind and juice of one and a half lemons
50g butter
65g sugar
2 eggs

For the raspberry cream:
150ml double cream
5 or 6 raspberries
2tbsp icing sugar

For the Sponge:
100g butter
100g sugar
100g self raising flour
2 eggs
juice of one and a half lemons
1tsp baking powder

I always start by making the lemon curd. This is very simple. All you have to do is whisk up your two eggs in a bowl with your lemon juice and rind. Then pour this over your butter (cut into little bits) and and sugar which should be in a heat proof bowl. Place your bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir together the mixture until the butter melts. Continue to stir until the mixture starts to thicken which should take around 7mins. Once it has thickened, take it off the heat and let it cool- it should thicken more as it gets cooler. Once it is cold, you will have a tangy lemon curd, ready to be used on your cake. (And don't worry! You should have a plenty extra left over as well!)

Next, the cake. This is a super easy no fuss 'all in' recipe which my family has championed since before I could reach the mixer. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees and then simply bung all your cake ingredients into a bowl and whisk. Once you have a fluffy mixture, separate it out into two well greased cake tins- the ones I used were fairly small and shallow, with a roughly 6inch diameter. Then, pop your tins into the oven and let them cook for about 25-30mins, until golden brown. As soon as they're done, upturn your cakes onto a wire rack and leave them to fully cool.
N.B. you could also use one deeper cake tin and cut this in half once it's cool, although personally I never manage to cut it straight! If you do this, you will also need to adjust the cooking time appropriately. 

While the cakes are cooking and cooling, take the time to create your cream filling. Simply pour your double cream into a mixing bowl, add two tablespoons of icing sugar and your raspberries. Then, beat hard until the cream thickens to make stiff peeks. This can really take some work if you're doing it by hand but the end cake is definitely worth it!

Once you have your cakes, your cream and your curd, it's just a simple matter of assembling your cake! Take one cake and smear one face with lemon curd and do the same to the other cake, just with the cream. Sandwich together and vôlá, you are done! I used a sieve to dust mine with a little extra icing sugar and stuck on some raspberries and blueberries with some icing paste (icing sugar and a couple of drops of water, mixed to a thick paste) to make it a bit prettier.

I have to say, personally I think this cake is one of the most elegant and tasty things to come out of my kitchen. One mouthful and you can practically taste the summer sun! What do you guys think?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Columbia Road Flower Market and El Ganso at Broadway Market

If you were a bumblebee in London, there's probably only one place you'd want to be on a Sunday. Columbia Road. Following our little striped friends, my mother and I met up with my godfather and headed to Columbia Road flower market to have a little poke about and see if we could find any green-fingered deals. We were lucky- the sun was shining and it was surprisingly warm for October, meaning the market was in full swing!

The market is fantastic. Buskers line the road before the stalls start, filling the air with lively music. Then come the flowers. Every stall is stuffed with a myriad of colours as different beautiful flowers fight to get your attention. The displays are beautifully overwhelming and smell pretty fabulous too! As you squeeze past the other shoppers, delicious floral scents invade your nose, enticing you in.

Mum found what she wanted (two little box lollypops to guard the front door), I found a little chilli plant to brighten up my boyfriend's uni room (fingers crossed it survives!) and my godfather found some exotic redy-orange flowers I don't know the name of.

Plant hunting however is pretty hungry work and so before long, we were leaving the sights, sounds and smells of Columbia Road behind us and following my godfather to lunch.

Now, my godfather is many fabulous things, but 'foodie expert' is definitely one of my favourite qualities of his. If I want to know anything about anything vaguely foody, whether it's where to go for the best brunch to how to bake a soufflé, it's my godfather I ask. Baring this in mind, I was rather excited when he said he knew of a 'great tapas place,' El Ganso.

Well, I don't call him an 'expert' for nothing. El Ganso was fab! The little tables outside were full of people basking in the autumn sunshine, wine glasses in hand and plates piling up in front of them which I took as a good sign of what was to come.

Once seated at my godfather's favourite table, we perused the menu and picked out a number of dishes to share.

My cheese board arrived first. Cheese matures in red wine, with grapes, walnuts, quince jam and savoury biscuits. Yum.

Then the other food started piling in. All the plates were presented so beautifully but I couldn't wait to try them! The black pudding with tomato marmalade was particularly good, as was the tuna... and the salmon... and just look at the calamari!

My godfather showing Mum how to figure out Facebook

Thoroughly stuffed though I was, I of course had room for pudding. Hello lemon and poppyseed cake!

I had a wonderfully enjoyable afternoon munching my way through enough food to feed a small village for a week, but before long it was time to go home. Congratulating my godfather on his brilliant choice of restaurant, we rolled ourselves out of the door and into our car. Food, family and friends, it turns out, is the recipe for the perfect day!

One Aldwych and Cucina Asllina at the ME Hotel

On Friday night, we had a little family get together. My little sister had travelled back to London from uni and so my mother and I went out to meet her and her boyfriend for dinner and cocktails.

We started in the lobby bar of One Aldwych. I'd never been here before, but it was a firm destination in Mum's stomping ground and so I was quite interested to see what all the fuss was about.

Well, I learned pretty quickly. I'd been expecting pretty traditional cocktails from such a well known establishment, but was more than pleasantly surprised when I was presented with the menu. After much um-ing and ah-ing, I opted for a whisky based cocktail called 'The Magic Gift' which contained a chocolate liquor and a mushroom infusion, and came presented in a hip flask. My sister's boyfriend had an even more interesting concoction which came served in a mini smoking cocktail shaker!

We all happily sipped away until suddenly realising that we were running a little late for our restaurant reservation so, hurriedly gathering our things, we nipped over the road to Cucina Asllina at the ME Hotel.

Cucina Asllina was pretty busy and very loud when we arrived. Every table seemed to be full, but it sounded like there were twice as many people there. I'm not entirely sure if this was due to one or two tables being particularly noisy (there was a birthday going on in one corner) or just the acoustics of the place, but we found ourselves nearly shouting over our table to hear each other, despite being in a less busy corner.

However, rather hungry after our cocktails, we happily perused the Italian menu, opting for three courses, while sipping on glasses of bubbles.

The food was lovely, but nothing particularly special taste wise. The presentation was nevertheless very pretty and I felt rather remorseful as I munched through it. Well... for about thirty seconds at least. It was also nice how the staff filled our glasses with cucumber flavoured water without being asked, something that surprisingly you often don't see in other restaurants. Yet, it was a shame that they ran out of one of the puddings and so my sister was unable to order her first choice. They did resolve this in the best way possible though, by offering her a selection from an alternate menu.

All in all I had an enjoyable meal and although Cucina Asllina won't ever be my favourite restaurant, we had a very pleasant evening once we'd adjusted to the noise level. More importantly, it was lovely having a catch up with the family before we all went our separate ways again!  

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Travel Diaries: Afternoon at Harvey Nicks, The Butchers Club and The Golden Leaf at Conrad Hong Kong

Our return from Beijing to Hong Kong marked the nearing of the end of my trip around South East Asia. Therefore, we decided to celebrate in style!

First up, afternoon tea at Harvey Nichols.

I have to say after our slightly disappointing experience with the Chloé afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental, I was slightly resigned to the idea that nowhere does afternoon tea as well as well as the English. After all, it is a traditionally English concept.

However, I was more than pleasantly surprised! We sat down in the colourful restaurant and not long later, our cakes, scones and savouries descended. The food was all beautifully presented, each little morsel a work of art.

I also loved the variety in the savouries and the range of cakes offered, especially the stilton and mushroom filo tart and the lobster flavoured creme brûlée.

We very happily munched our way through while chatting and gossiping away. Harvey Nicks was a hit!

One evening, Jossi took me to a fab little burger bar. This brave little restaurant only served one type of burger (unless you ordered from their 'secret' menu, accessed by QR codes dotted around the establishment) and one type of side, duck fat fries. And they were finger lickingly delicious. As in, good enough that we were shamelessly picking up every last crumb. Yum. Apparently this tastiness stems from the fact that each burger is hand made on site, freshly ground from Australian angus beef, making them super juicy and super fresh, but really who cares. What mattered was just how good they tasted! Paired with a coke float, I was in heaven!

I also loved how the most was made of such a small space. We perched on an open bar overlooking the street and before long got chatting to the people opposite us. The friendly and relaxed atmosphere, enhanced by the chatty staff, made for a great, quick watering hole which Joss and I felt rather enamoured by. We were so glad we visited!

On my last night in Hong Kong, Jossi's family generously took us out to dinner at The Golden Leaf restaurant in the Conrad Hotel. I was incredibly excited as The Golden Leaf has a very good reputation and a Michelin Star to boot.

We tucked in to a variety of Cantonese dishes (I have to admit I didn't know what a lot of them were since Jossi's dad did the ordering, but they were all delicious!).  The presentation was beautiful with each dish having an accompanying mini flower arrangement on the side. I especially liked how instead of the usual sharing plates I'd become accustomed to in Hong Kong, the food was individually plated.

The dinner was lovely and just a little sad as it dawned on me that I'd be leaving Joss and her wonderful family just the next day. It had been such an incredible trip and we'd seen so many beautiful and amazing things. Walking back home through the centre on the city gave me a last chance to soak up the of the city before packing the last of my things and getting ready for my departure. Leaving was definitely traumatic, but don't worry Jossi, I'll be back soon!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Travel Diaries: The Forbidden City, The Great Wall of China and Da Dong Restaurant, Beijing

In the early hours of the morning, Jossi, her family and I jumped in a taxi and whooshed down the side of the Peak and to the airport. We were about to catch a short flight to Beijing!

Jossi's dad had visited the city on many occasions and so we had a well seasoned tour guide in our midsts as we went to explore China's capital. Jossi and I couldn't wait- it was both of our first times in the city and my first visit to mainland China! We only had the weekend, but were determined to see all the main sights so, armed with our water bottles and sensible shoes, we went exploring!

First stop, The Great Wall.

Just wow.

Nothing quite prepares you for how huge the wall really is. It stretches as far as the eye can see in front of you and behind, dominating the ridge line of the surrounding mountains. Looking over the top, you can see the terrifyingly sheer drop, and the ground far far below.

The wall itself is quite tricky to walk as the smooth stone waves up and down under your feet as it follows the shape of the mountain peeks. You can see notches in the stone where horses' hooves had worn in footholds as they patrolled the wall. You can imagine marching up and down the battlements, looking out for the ferocious huns and other invaders below!

The wall is simply spectacular and surprisingly fun to visit. You can see why it's seen as one of the wonders of the world!

After a walk around Tiananmen Square (The home of the National Assembly), we entered the Forbidden City which was another great place to explore. As the home of the Emperor of China and his household for nearly 500 years, and named the Forbidden City after the fact that no one used to be able to enter or leave without the Emperor's permission, it was steeped in history.

We walked through the expansive grounds, peering into rooms and around the gardens. The palace was very busy with people from all over China coming to visit the historic home of their emperors.

Our little watery friend came with us to see the sites!

I especially loved the gardens with it's ancient trees and beautiful pagodas.

All of our exploring was hungry work and so we visited some brilliant restaurants although not without making some rather large friends first....

The first was called Da Dong and was magnificent. Located in Peking, it promised some of the best Peking duck around and it did not disappoint! After being roasted, the duck was brought to our table while a chef prepared it in front of us. We were then presented with dishes of mellon, cucumber, spring onions and pickles, along with pancakes and sesame buns. Being the only westerner at the table, the chef then helpfully showed me the proper way to assemble my duck (much more elegantly than I possibly could!). We also tucked in to a fabulous (yet to me, rather mysterious) set of other dishes, all which tasted and looked amazing. Jossi's dad ordered a fish dish which arrived, complete with head and teeth!

Da Dong itself was also a beautiful restaurant. We ate around a flat, still pool where, on a centre island, chefs in tall white hats roasted the ducks in what looked like giant pizza ovens. The walls were decorated with shadowy silhouette projected onto the walls and interesting partitions broke up the dining space. It was very modern without being cold and I loved it!

The second place we ate was a Mongolian restaurant with a name I unfortunately can't type or say. This was my first experience of Mongolian food and I have to say I really enjoyed it! The restaurant's speciality were 'hollow noodles' which you can watch the chefs prepare in the restaurant.

Mongolian may not be the most photogenic cuisine (one dish was literally a giant lamb bone which you picked the meat off of) but it was definitely delicious and also rather spicy! Definitely something I'd like to eat again!

One evening we stopped at the Beijing branch of the American Club for dinner. Although the food perhaps wasn't some of the most interesting we ate in Beijing, it was definitely beautifully presented and I really enjoyed seeing how they made each dish look special!

The one food we didn't dare sample however was the deep fried insects, a local delicacy. Stalls in the street were selling scorpions on sticks, which were then plunged into vats of batter and fried in front of you. However, as hard as the store vendors tried, they couldn't convince us to munch on a creepy crawly! We did however try some bubble tea and toffee strawberries on a stick.

Beijing was fabulous and not at all what I was expecting. It was vibrant and lively and didn't at all fit the kind of 'repressed' view I'd previously had of mainland China. There was so much to see and do and I'm incredibly grateful I was given the chance to see it (thank you so much Jossi's fam!). Hopefully one day, I will get a chance to return!