Archives for category: London

I have to admit: ever since I watched April Bloomfield on Mind of a Chef take her inspiration, I have been ever so obsessed with the concept of the morning bun.

I wonder if it is because of all that European viennoiserie that these are not really something we have in the UK but when you see the experts at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco demonstrate their glorious beauties on the show, then I defy you not to think this is a great idea.

Like endearing April, I can’t help but fiddle with the concept thinking up fillings. It sort of reminds me of a traditional Jewish Rugelach but with better pastry. I used to watch my grandmother make those many years back and that combo of jam, nuts and fruit got me thinking too.

As I had friends over today for Sunday brunch I decided that I would give them a go. I tried a couple of different fillings using simple shop bought croissant dough and playing around with sizes. My easy silicon mould was a great size but I am sure a tin base would get a more effective crunchy base.

Admittedly the pastry itself was just a little bit disappointing, not helped by my lack of wash before baking, but the results were pretty good for a first attempt. For sweet, I went with a use of of the delicious marmalade that my gardener made me for Christmas as the base, topped with raisins and pecans. Part morning bun, part rugelach. For savoury, another use up. The end of last week’s pesto (I told you it had many uses) with extra pine kernels and cheese. I tried two different sizes. The marmalade proved a little too generous after cooking falling to the bottom and stopping that delicious crunchy base, but they were a good size.

Either way, if you are looking for an impressive but achingly simple way to impress for breakfast then just buy some croissant dough and go for it.

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What with one thing and another it has been an incredibly long week so this morning I allowed myself a lazy return under the duvet this morning to drink my morning tea and watch The Mind of a Chef on Netflix. This follows a binge watching of the latest series of Chef’s Table.

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I was hooked on Chef’s Table from the first series (especially Dan Barber and Massimo Bottura) enjoying the tour from the chef’s childhood and struggles through formative years into finding their raison d’être and becoming the admired chef they are today. Some of the later episodes have not made that connection as clearly as the early ones, but then I was blown away by the 60 year old Zen Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan cooking vegan meals for her temple community in South Korea. The peace, tranquility and connection with nature just took all the chaos of my week and transported me into a state of calm there and then. And believe me that was quite a feat given the week I had.

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The Mind of a Chef wasn’t a programme I had heard about but when I saw it featuring Gabrielle Hamilton, I thought I would take a sneak peak. I really enjoyed reading her book “Blood, Bones & Butter” and was gutted not to get into her restaurant Prune when I was in NYC. She is clearly not a woman to mess with and yet I love her approach to food. In the intro credits she says: “Its so good to be classic and not trendy” and I love that about her. The dishes are so simple and yet the flavour she extracts and the combinations she creates are just my type of thing. I have lots more minds to explore and suggest you dip in and out too.

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As I was having a lazy day, I thought I would create a nice healthy brunch and took my inspiration from our outing last weekend. We ventured to another Israeli inspired restaurant from an Ottolenghi protege, Eran Tibi. Whilst reviews have been up and down for Bala Baya, we really enjoyed discovering this alley under Southwark railway arches, just off Union Street and liked the open bakery at the back. These guys make the most delicious pita bread fresh every day and it came beautifully warm with our brunch choices of hummus, Israeli salad, Shakshuka and their open sandwich.

img_7793It was the Shakshuka that inspired me this morning with the deep rich tomato and pepper base flavoured with Middle Eastern spices and those perfectly baked eggs dropped in at the end. Now I have an evening with Gabrielle to entertain and lots more inspirational combos to rise to. Happy Sunday everyone!

 

 

I am not a great believer in new year resolutions. Just because we get past the 1st of Jan doesn’t connect with me thinking I have to make radical changes. I was once told that if you say DON’T do something then you are programmed to ignore the “don’t”. It is probably some management rubbish but I prefer to stay positive and think about doing rather than not doing.

But the first week of January is a great time to take stock of what is working in my life and doing more of that. For me turning fifty seemed a bigger milestone than new year and I persevere with my 50 things at 50 resolve. My friend pointed out that if I do one thing a week then I will get there but somehow that seems too regimented for me so I am going with spontaneity at the moment and not panicking just yet that I might not get to fifty. I don’t think doing more cooking is actually on the list as it is old news but I started this year wanting to continue making good foods for my body.

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I was telling my nephew and niece all about Donna Hay today as I am finding her posts and books a great day to day approach at the moment. She seems to bring sanity into the healthy arena and has such a breezy sunny way which must be partly down to her Aussie roots. My Christmas angel added her latest book to the parcels and it is already getting my cookery going. Her approach is clean, simple, tasty food with a short ingredients list and everything is pretty quick to make. It is perfect for me.

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Whilst I try to keep a healthy and balanced diet there is no doubt that I do have a sweet tooth and this is a challenge. At the end of a meal I desire a little sweet something and it seems that good ol’ Donna’s bliss balls are the perfect thing. I have tried her recipe before but didn’t like the combo of coconut oil with cacao so today I just adapted my own recipe inspired by hers. I substituted almond butter for the coconut oil and just chucked that, some soaked skin on almonds, cacao and the 4 remaining dates going soggy on my fruit bowl into a magi mix and hey presto….a professional looking treat ready in my fridge for those cravings. It’s amazing how so few ingredients can go such a long way. No wonder Donna calls them bliss. I take one to work for that 3pm lull which is especially dangerous since I sit above a kitchen full of pastry chefs making indulgent treats every day. So this way I can control my intake without feeling deprived.

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Pleased with my efforts I went off to meet a friend for her 50th birthday. She wanted tea and cake and all the usual hotel high tea events were not going to be right. So I took the opportunity to add to my 50 things at 50 and try the recently opened Dominique Ansel in London. From the getgo he was getting huge queues and has been quite the publicity monkey since being here in London but I thought the first week of Jan may be less crazy than usual.

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And yes, I get the irony! after my resolve to continue healthy eating, but in my defence I did walk there so felt I deserved a treat at the end of that. I went to his place in New York some years ago and the queues just keep on coming so when he opened in London it was just a matter of biding my time to find the right opportunity to go there. Today is a post Christmas/New Year blow out bank holiday Monday and I was right in thinking we didn’t need to queue. Still, there were none of his famous signature cronuts available at 2.30pm which was a shame. I had one at a wedding in New York a year or so ago so have had that experience but my friend hadn’t and had to opt for the DKA. Personally I think that a much nicer pastry.

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As part of his launch here, he posted on instagram some incredible creations that nodded to London and the UK, exclusives for his site here. So I went for the Paris-London: a twist on the Paris-Brest with earl grey mousse and lemon curd and can only report to be underwhelmed. In fact, I left most of it which tells you a lot. I noticed that most others were going with his made-to-order items like the cookie shot and the frozen s’mores and all taking pictures for their instagram pages.

We walked away with the feeling of the Emperor’s New Clothes. What is a down and dirty start up shop in New York which has a pace, a passion and of course actual Cronuts has been polished to within an inch of its life here in London. The designers have taken over and in the grandeur lost the experience for the customer. Fundamentally the operation does not flow. To say the service was slow is being kind. Not only was the one girl on a till impossibly slow, but we had to re-queue for another cup of tea and this took 20 minutes to order before we even stood a chance of getting it. Everything goes through one queue with one poor member of staff. My experience in New York’s tiny Soho shop just out shone this new upmarket jazzy London version. Such a shame that this talented chef has been a victim of his own success. I think I will stick to the bliss balls!

I know I generally write about all things food but this week I wanted to share something a little different with you.

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Some time ago I saw a book called Letters of Note raising funding to be published through Unbound. This compilation of letters from across the world and throughout history was such a fabulous insight into many wonders. Not only was the content moving, funny, inspiring and stimulating, but also seeing the actual handwriting and letterheads connected you to that time in a way that we have lost in this modern era of snapshot bulletpoints and arial font typing. So I subscribed and helped in a very tiny way to get this masterpiece published.

Since then, Shaun Usher has published a second volume, progressed to Lists of Note and more recently Letterheady. But the most interesting development of all has been Letters Live, which I attended this week. See more here

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Set in the impressive, art deco Freemasons Hall in London, the concept began three years ago and has gone from strength to strength. Bubbledogs provide the catering, and there are papers donated by Monoset so that you can write a letter there and then which will be posted anywhere in the world by the team on the night. Money is also raised for literacy charities.

Hearing a letter read out loud brings a different dimension to it anyway and when you add in some of our most impressive actors to take the helm, the result is just magical. You don’t know when you arrive who is going to read and what letters are going to be shared but there is a sense that whatever the combination is going to be, it will be a good one.

The presenters for us were Toby Jones, Stephen Mangan, Tobias Menzies, Louise Brealey, Jarvis Cocker, Karen Dotrice and the inimitable Miriam Margolyes. They presented individually or together as each letter dictated and brought each character to life putting you right in the moment that it was written. From Napoleon to his beloved Josephine to a letter written this year by US presidential advisors putting forward a case why Donald Trump should not be elected president, there was something for everyone. When do you get the chance to journey in one night through the lives of Winston Churchill, Basil Rathbone, Iggy Pop, Tom Hanks as a kid, an Elvis fan, Rolling Stone, Che Guevara, Star Trek’s casting notes, MGM to Disney, Billy Connolly, JK Rowling and a particularly wonderful complaint letter to Continental airlines, plus a few more in between.

Topped and tailed by new musical talent, the star of the show for me was Ms Margolyes. Not only is her diction, intonation and general presence so impressive, but her timing is just fabulous. With one look she brought the house down. She is quite incredible.

So if you get the chance, go! and go again. I am sure each session will bring a different dimension and as one who had that inspiration, it just remains for me to bring back the art of writing letters. I vow to write one every month. This is a new addition for my 50 at 50 ambition – more of that in due course.