March, 2013


27
Mar 13

The art of coffee making

Speakeasy

Speakeasy

I do love a good cup of coffee. And I’m certainly not alone in that respect, with coffee becoming firmly entrenched in British culture. As a nation, we spent £730 million on coffee in the British Isles last year alone.

We can see for ourselves that coffee shops are a growing fixture in our landscape, and, in fact, on a recent trip to Oxford, I was stopped by a tourist, asking where the nearest tea room was. And I actually couldn’t think of one. If the lady had asked for a coffee shop, I could have reeled off half a dozen nearby.

Whilst there are no shortage of coffee shops in every town and city in the country, I have been interested to discover some of the really excellent independents that take coffee much more seriously than the larger chains, and dedicate themselves to producing the very best coffee they can.

I recently visited Speakeasy Espresso and Brew Bar, located just off of Carnaby Street in London.  I spent the morning with John Kyle learning how to make the perfect cup of coffee using a Rocket Evoluzione Machine, which is quite a serious piece of kit at £1400.

Making coffee with John at Speakeasy

Making coffee with John at Speakeasy

Like John, my coffee of choice is always a flat white, so this is what we learnt to make. Of course, every coffee shop has its own way of doing things, so what I learnt was very much their way of doing things, but it certainly produced an excellent cup of coffee.

First up, I learnt that one of the secrets to a perfect brew is that everything must be measured. The coffee beans, and the time taken to prepare a shot of coffee are all controlled precisely to ensure the perfect result. This will depend on your machine, but my homemade technique of pouring ground coffee aimlessly out of the bag has to go. The coffee beans need to be accurately ground too, for the right result. Again, my home coffee grinder seemed woefully inadequate compared to the Mahlkonig Vario grinder we used which has tens of grind settings to get your beans just right – but it is £400 new.

John showing me what to do

John showing me what to do

John expertly guided me through the process of making a shot of coffee, showing me how to tamp the coffee perfectly, which is where the ground coffee is flattened into the basket before being attached to the coffee machine. This simple stage is really crucial to get right, as the flow of water through the ground coffee affects the flavour and consistency of the output.

Next, we had a go at the milk. John described the milk on a flat white as “as close to drinking velvet as you can get” which I think is a pretty accurate description. Getting your milk just so is harder than it may appear. We used the arm of the Rocket machine and a small metal jug to heat our milk. This was the hardest part for me, as I felt I could have done with more hands as there are several processes to carry out at once, from controlling the steam levels of the machine, to holding and swirling the milk jug and feeling how warm it’s getting against your hand. Although it doesn’t sound like much, it all happens really quickly, and there are lots of things to do and think about when you’re at this stage.

My turn to froth the milk

My turn to froth the milk

After a couple of attempts, I did manage to get it just right, although my pouring techniques leave a little to be desired – I was trying to attempt a heart shape in the milk. Still, it tasted pretty darn good, so I was happy.

My flat white

My flat white

This is a brilliant opportunity to for coffee enthusiasts to learn how to improve their coffee making skills at home with fun, likeminded people. Courses take place in the evenings and are around £35-45 for a couple of hours. You can even bring your own equipment and learn how to get the best out of it. There are many alternatives to an expensive coffee machine, such as cafetières and filters too, so you don’t need to buy a particularly expensive machine.

Visit Speakeasy Coffee and Brew Bar and find out more about their Coffee School here


26
Mar 13

Perfect pies

Homemade pie

Homemade pie

Pies are, quite rightly, gaining much more popularity of late. Having been shunned for years by people deeming them as unhealthy, they are enjoying a long overdue resurgence.

Making gluten free pastry is simple, and below, you’ll find a fantastic recipe for shortcrust pastry, both sweet and savoury – tender, melting and flaky and very straightforward to make. For ease, I like to make it in the food processor. Simply add the ingredients and whizz until smooth. How easy is that?!

Gluten free pastry is very simple to make but can be harder to handle. It is a lot softer and stickier, so you need to handle it carefully. For the best results, use a non-stick pie dish. This will mean that your pastry cooks perfectly and releases first time. And no soggy bottoms. I have used the pie dishes made by Mermaid which are just brilliant for this and make pastry making so easy.

Here are two pie recipes we have been enjoying recently.

Prawn and chorizo pie

Prawn and chorizo pie

Prawn and chorizo pie

Serves 2, generously

Ingredients

For the pastry

275g plain flour (I use Doves Farm blend)

150g chilled butter

2 large free range eggs, beaten

Pinch of salt

For the pie filling

1 tsp butter

3 cloves garlic

300g prawns

250g chorizo, cooked

2 glasses white wine

Salt and pepper

A pinch of thyme

Method

Start by making the pastry. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Bring the mixture together into a ball. Flatten and wrap in cling film. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Now, make the filling. Melt the butter and cook the garlic until fragrant. Add the prawns, chorizo and wine, and allow to bubble away for 15 minutes and allow the liquid to reduce. Season well.

When the pastry is chilled, preheat the oven to 180C

Roll the pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm. Cover the bottom of the pie dish with one layer of pastry and trip neatly around the edges. Retain the excess pastry.  Fill the pie with the prawn and chorizo filling.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cover the pie, again trimming off the edges and cutting a cross in the top to allow excess steam to escape.

Brush the pastry with the remaining egg.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy. Enjoy hot or cold.

 

Apple pie

Apple pie

Apple pie

Serves 2, generously

Ingredients

For the pastry

275g plain flour (I use Doves Farm blend)

150g chilled butter

125g caster sugar

2 large free range eggs, beaten

For the filling

2 large Bramley apple, peeled and thinly sliced

2 eating apples, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tbsp light brown soft sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Method

Start by making the pastry. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Bring the mixture together into a ball. Flatten and wrap in cling film. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

When the pastry is chilled, preheat the oven to 180C

Roll the pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm. Cover the bottom of the pie dish with one layer of pastry and trip neatly around the edges. Retain the excess pastry.

Fill the pie with sliced apples and sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cover the pie, again trimming off the edges and cutting a cross in the top to allow excess steam to escape.

Brush the pastry with the remaining egg.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy. Enjoy hot or cold.


23
Mar 13

Christchurch Harbour Hotel

 

Christchurch Harbour Hotel

Christchurch Harbour Hotel

In desperate need of a getaway, I recently spent a night at the Christchurch Harbour Hotel, which is located just on the edge of the New Forest on the Dorset/ Hampshire border.

We arrived on a sunny spring afternoon and received a very warm welcome from staff making us feel very welcome indeed. With the hotel looking out over the harbour, the very attractive views were the first thing to catch our attention when we arrived in our hotel room, located on the second floor. Christchurch Harbour Hotel has an excellent spa which can be found within the hotel, and two restaurants, one in the hotel and another, The Jetty, just outside on the waterfront. Despite having plenty of facilities available for guests, the hotel still feels small and friendly.

As we arrived, we checked into our room quickly and headed straight down to the spa. It’s always nice when you can just pop down from your room. The spa offers excellent treatments using Espa products and has a beautifully lit pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and gym. It is open early in the morning for guests, so we took advantage of this first thing the next morning too. The spa is a great place to relax, with a chill out room and plenty of facilities to try, you can easily while away several hours relaxing there, which we did. Our treatments were absolutely excellent – we left feeling extremely pampered and relaxed.

The Jetty Restaurant

The Jetty Restaurant

In the evening, we visited The Jetty restaurant for our evening meal. It is just a few steps away from the hotel and is a sensational spot to watch the sun go down. Head Chef Alex Aitkin has worked in the area for years, and gained a Michelin star in 1995. Much of the fish and seafood is sourced from within Christchurch Harbour itself, meaning that the quality and freshness is exquisite. Much of the produce is sourced locally and The Jetty rightly boasts about the provenance of the ingredients they use. There are even several English wines on the menu, which included a sensational English sparkling wine from the Furleigh Estate, produced in Devon.

The menu offers a huge amount of choice of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes, with great selection of starters, mains and desserts. We opted to go for a selection of dishes to share – all of which were delectable. Starters are priced at around £8-10 and mains around £20.

The Christchurch Harbour Hotel is a very pleasant place to relax and enjoy some superb food and makes a perfect for a weekend away as it’s surprisingly easy to get to by road and rail.

How to get there: Trains run from London Waterloo to Christchurch station which is around 3 miles from the hotel

How to book: make a reservation online at Spabreaks www.spabreaks.com or by telephone 0800 043 6600.


20
Mar 13

Baking bread at home

Black olive and parmesan bread

Black olive and parmesan bread

Baking gluten free bread can be hit and miss at best. I have tried hundreds of combinations of ingredients, but this one is a favourite. It is a super bread to have with a meal, to dip into soups, stews or pasta sauces, and makes great sandwiches, too. It is full of flavour and very moist, meaning it keeps well for a few days.

This recipe is based on a recipe on the BBC Good Food website, which I have adapted. Using boiled water in the oven to create steam makes the crust extra crunchy.

A good quality non-stick loaf tin is a great investment for baking, particularly with gluten free bread. This one is a recent addition to my kit, made by Le Creuset (lecreuset.co.uk). I also have a new Cuisinart rapid boil kettle, from Steamer Trading, a fantastic chain of cook shops, which I am really enjoying using.

Black olive and parmesan bread 

Makes 1 large loaf

Ingredients

200g brown bread flour (I use Doves Farm)

Pinch salt

3 tsp baking powder

285ml milk

2 tsp lemon juice

3 large eggs, beaten

8 tsp olive oil

50g finely grated parmesan

100g pitted black olives

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease a good quality 2lb loaf tin with sunflower oil and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and stir well.

Place the milk and lemon juice together into a jug and stir. Set aside for five minutes.

Add the eggs, olive oil and milk to the flour and stir together until all the flour has been incorporated. Now, add the parmesan and olives and stir together.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. It will be runny, so don’t worry!

Fill a roasting tin half full with freshly boiled water. Place in the bottom of your oven and place the loaf on a higher shelf.

Bake for 55-65 minutes until crusty and browned.


14
Mar 13

Boquería

Boquería

Boquería

Voted best cheap eats in London for 2012, Boqueria is a smart, stylish tapas restaurant situated on Acre Lane, which runs between Clapham Common and Brixton tube stations in South London.

It is surprisingly easy to walk past the restaurant front if you don’t know where you are going, as the restaurant front is narrow, with a slick white bar running down the right hand wall. As you arrive, you are lead through to the stylish yet cosy dining room at the back of the building.

Boqueria looks very smart and contemporary, and offers a range of traditional and modern tapas. The inspiration behind the restaurant was the famous Boqueria market in Barcelona, otherwise known as El mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. The menu offers a wide choice of tapas from the more familiar, to the contemporary, with a very large specials board to choose from too.

On a cold weekday night, Boqueria filled up very quickly. It had a lovely vibrant authentic feel – all the staff were Spanish and you could hear them chatting away. We were welcomed very warmly, and all the staff were exceptionally friendly and passionate about the food on the menu.

We started with a glass of cava each, whilst we had a look through the menu. There is plenty of choice, and the staff were very flexible, offering to help pick and choose according to our tastes and requirements. The greatest difficulty we faced was deciding on what to have – we had five dishes to share between two, which was plenty, but for the sake of our waistlines, we had to whittle down our shortlist of around a dozen dishes which had all taken our fancy.

We loved the jamón ibérico de bellota – not just any Serrano ham, as the free range pigs that end up as jamón feast on a diet of acorns. The jamón croquetas were as good as any you’ll find in Spain – having lived there several years ago, just one bite took me back to evenings spent drinking sangria accompanied by rather too many croquetas. We really enjoyed the cochinillo asado (suckling pig), which was sweet and tender and served with a lemon sorbet and sweet potato crisps, and the solomillo: pork tenderloins served with a mushroom sauce.

Tapas are generally priced at around £5-8 per dish. We thought five dishes were sufficient shared between two people. The wine list offers plenty of choice, including excellent cava and sherry. We drank the house cava, which at £4.50 a glass was excellent value, and finished with a delicious glass of Pedro Ximénez sherry at £6.20.

If you are looking for excellent quality, authentic tapas in a smart, vibrant setting, we wholeheartedly recommend Boqueria.


14
Mar 13

American pancakes

American pancakes

American pancakes

There are times when you just can’t beat an American pancake. They are fantastic to make for breakfast, when you have time, or make a gorgeous dessert which can be whipped up in a matter of minutes, and which mainly uses store cupboard ingredients.

This is a fantastic recipe for gluten free American pancakes which we regularly enjoy. They can be a little more fragile than pancakes made with wheat flour. To get around this, I find it really works well to use a really good non-stick spatula. I use one made by OXO Good Grips. It helps turn the pancakes really effectively. I use their plastic bowl and whisk, too which make it so easy to whisk the batter and pour it into the pan cleanly (which has been a revelation!).

The hardest part of making these is deciding what you would like on top. My favourite is maple syrup and fresh blueberries.

American Pancakes

Serves 2, generously!

Ingredients

200g self raising flour (I use Doves Farm gluten free blend)

50g caster sugar

Pinch salt

30g butter, melted

1 large egg, beaten

300ml milk

Extra butter or sunflower oil for cooking

Toppings of your choice

Method

Sift the flour into your mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir well.

Whisk the butter, egg and milk together and pour into the flour. Whisk well until smooth. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Now, heat the butter or oil in a large frying pan. Pour in blobs of mixture according to the size of pancake you would like. Cook on a high heat for around 1-2 minutes on each side until browned and the pancake comes away from the pan cleanly. Flip, cook on the other side and then serve immediately with your favourite toppings.


7
Mar 13

As Greek As it Gets

As Greek As It Gets

As Greek As It Gets

Conveniently situated on Earl’s Court Road, just a short walk from Earls Court, West Brompton and the exhibition halls, As Greek As It Gets is a warm, friendly and vibrant restaurant – a real find in West London. Established by Dimitri Karonis, As Greek As It Gets is a smart, modern restaurant with a huge glass front, but feels warm, cosy and family like inside, with the walls adorned with a map of Greece and family photos. It is a firm favourite with locals, including Ian Hislop, Lloyd Grossman and Boris Becker.

I arrived early on a weeknight and the restaurant although not full yet, felt lively and inviting. The kitchen is open at the back of the restaurant and you could smell the food cooking, and hear a family chatting in Greek, giving the restaurant a genuine and authentic feel.

The menu offers plenty of choice, including a large selection of meze to start and a wide range of mains, all very reasonably priced. Dimitri looked after us for the evening, and we tried his recommendations from the menu. You see, there is so much more to Greek food than meze, and Dimitri clearly runs his restaurant with a mixture of pride towards his heritage, and a fundamental love of feeding people.

We started with a selection of starters, including Greek sausage and Kefalotyri cheese, which is a tangy hard cheese made using sheep and goat’s milk and some sweet Kalamata olives, paired with a Greek wine, Nemea Reserve 2008.

Next, we moved on to some meze. We tried the more unusual and traditional Greek offerings on the menu. First, we had Garides Saganaki –  king prawns, cooked in a tomato, feta and ouzo sauce. Having never tried feta cheese in a sauce before, we adored this dish, which was finished with fresh dill, which gave it a delicious subtle aniseed flavour. This was followed by Moshari me meli –  deliciously tender beef, baked with honey and ouzo, calamari and Feta Tylixti – feta cheese cooked in a filo parcel with honey and ouzo, which had a very subtle sweetness and a satisfying crunch when you cut into it. Meze are priced at around £5-6 per dish.

For our mains, we tried the Xifias Souvlaki –  swordfish kebabs, served with peppers and a deliciously subtle rice, and Arnaki lemonato – lamb, cooked in a lemon and dill sauce served with mushrooms mashed potato. Mains are around £10-15 per dish.

The attention Greek food is gleaning feels long overdue, As Greek as it gets is a warm, generous restaurant, where the food is great, you are very well looked after by the delightful staff,  but the food it serves is the kind you want to eat every day. It’s not overly fancy, just great authentic well-priced cooking and it is exactly the kind of local, neighbourhood restaurant everyone wishes they had on their doorstep.


4
Mar 13

Mews of Mayfair

Mews of Mayfair

Mews of Mayfair

Tucked away at the far end of Lancashire Court, just a few steps away from New Bond Street in Mayfair, you might not even know Mews of Mayfair exists. As you walk down into Lancashire Court from Brook Street, you will notice a small, beautifully illuminated walkway which you follow along to the entrance to the restaurant.

Mews of Mayfair is situated on the first floor of the historic courtyard, in an intimate, comfortable relaxed dining room, which has been very recently refurbished, and with a newly appointed Head Chef, Richard Sawyer, to focus specifically on serving British food. The dining room is beautifully decorated and feels a special place to eat, but without being overly stuffy or formal, as you can find in other restaurants in the area. Over the years, Mews of Mayfair has been a very popular place for dinners and parties, having hosted events for Sir Elton John, Alicia Keys and Joanna Lumley over the years.

We arrived at 7pm for a week night dinner, and were surprised by how busy it was – not heaving but very steady – and it’s clearly a favourite with locals who work in the area. We were very warmly greeted by Gregory, the Assistant Manager, who looked after us for the evening. My guest chose a cocktail while we looked through the menu, whilst I stuck to water. Gregory checked if here was anything we didn’t like or cannot eat, and then advised us of his recommendations accordingly.

The menu offers a good range of familiar British classics, with a strong focus on the provenance of the ingredients, listing some of their suppliers on the back of the menu. British meat and fish dishes form the vast majority of the menu, with a choice of 8 starters and 11 mains, and just one of each being vegetarian. We decided to with Gregory’s suggestions when it came to ordering, so we tried the Hand Dived Rye Scallops (£12.50) and Devon Crab Mayonnaise (£11) to start. Both dishes were delicately prepared and elegantly presented on British stoneware plates. The portion sizes were very generous, and the crab and scallops were perfectly fresh and very tasty.

For our main course, we had the Rump of Herdwick Lamb, which was cooked perfectly, as per our request, and served on roasted root vegetables (£24) with mashed potato (£3.50) and a fillet steak (£24), sourced from the Lake District Farmers, and dry aged for a minimum of 35 days, served with Hand cut chips, at £4.50. The lamb was delicious, pink and juicy, and the vegetables were particularly good. The steak was very nice, cooked perfectly again, and served with cherry tomatoes and flat mushrooms. The portions were very generous, but we felt the steak might have been a little more flavoursome taking its quality provenance into account.

To finish, we shared some English stilton and a Bannoffee pie. The banoffee pie was served on a small cake plate, which looked very pretty and was very nice – cool and sweet with a very fine base and lovely fresh banana slices on top. The cheese was very good, although the chefs were not able to tell me which Stilton it was, which I would have liked to know.

Every course was served with matching wines, which were very good inded. The house white was a delicious Chenin Blanc and in another league from most house wines.

Mews of Mayfair is strongly recommended for lunch or dinner if you’re in the area.

 

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