Purbeck ice-cream, Dorset

Purbeck ice-cream, Eggardon Hill

Berries with clotted cream and honeycomb hash, and kites!

We recently spent four days in Dorset near Lyme Regis. I didn’t know the county well and now I know that it will be a place to revisit again and again. It is stunning. The varied coast line with red pebbled beaches, bright chalk white cliffs, turquoise and green water and fossils is beautiful. Away from the coast are pretty little villages with thatched roofed cottages and undulating hills broken up with hedgerows delineating the fields. Everywhere we looked there was something to make us pause to take it in. We walked up Golden Cap, visited Lulworth Cove and Studland and went to a kite festival on Eggardon Hill. This was where we made one of the best foodie discoveries of our trip: Purbeck ice-cream.  I have lived in Italy twice and love Italian gelato but I think, yes, I really do think that Purbeck ice-cream might be better! This may cause some wild hand gestures and tuts from Italian friends. The flavours were typically British: berries with clotted cream, honeycomb hash, stem ginger and more. The salted caramel actually had little crunchy bits of hard caramel in it, it was so good! One of my favourite flavours of gelato is pistachio and there wasn’t a pistachio to make a true comparison with Italian ice-cream to but, seriously, this creamy goodness was amazing!

You can find more information and even an app with an ice-cream locator here

We stayed in the beautiful village of Whitchurch Canonicorum in a gorgeous little thatched cottage with alpacas in the field behind it. Find it here.

Flying monkeys at Eggardon Hill, Bridgport, Dorset

Monkeys, bananas and kites

Beautiful Dorset

One of the views from Golden Cap

Purbeck ice-cream, Dorset

Purbeck ice-cream, Dorset

Lulworth Cove, Dorset

Lulworth Cove

 

Maître Choux Eclairs, South Kensington

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Maitre Choux eclairs

I am a huge pastry fan and crème pâtissière/ custard/ clotted cream/ any type of cream fan. So éclairs are a pretty satisfying combination for me. I recently started seeing press about beautifully colourful and delicately designed éclairs that were reinventing this classic and had to find out more. My brief research showed that there was a new éclair joint in South Kensington and the website alone made my heart rate increase! It is almost like a fashion website with the éclairs photographed at every angle to make sure that you are fully informed about the height, width, depth, external and interior decoration of these scrumptious desserts. Maître Choux is a small new pâtisserie created by top pastry chef Joakim Prat.

The following Saturday we headed down on an éclair mission. The shop is a beautifully designed small space with panelling and Lee Broom lights suspended like jewellery. The window alone makes everyone stop in their stride as there is a bounty of colours and flavours on display with deliciously delicate decorations on top. This makes the simple decision of which éclair to try take at least ten minutes. Of course, the most sensible thing to do would be to buy ten to get a broad sense of the pastries!

A group of us went so we all tried different ones: pistachio, coffee, chocolate, and yuzu and lemon. All delicious! We had coffee (Monmouth) which came with chouquettes – delicious balls of choux pastry coated with chunky pieces of sugar. Some éclairs out there are too dense in general with heavy dough and an over generous filling of thick cream. I think they should be a puff of extravagance! Crisp pastry soothed with silky cream. These were perfect and the flavours were superb.

Maitre Choux, South Kensington

Maître Choux’s flavours vary from salted butter and caramel, dark multi-origin chocolate, Tahitian vanilla and pecan, to orange and saffron. Plus the flavours change so multiple trips are an absolute necessity. Every time I go to an exhibition in South Ken I will be sure to stop by to check on these deliciously indulgent éclairs. In fact, I’ll see if I even make it to any exhibitions!

Find Maître Choux at 15 Harrington Road, London, SW7 3ES

Maitre Choux, South Kensington

Maitre Choux, South Kensington

Bad Brownie – Kings Cross Real Food Market

Bad Brownie salted caramel

Salted caramel brownie – a really bad one, so so bad

Bad Brownie peanut brittle

The peanut butter brownie moments before complete demolition

Last Saturday, passing through Kings Cross on the way to St Albans for an outing, we came across the Real Food Market in the square outside the now amazing station (I love how it has been revamped, it is now a pleasure to walk around there!). It was a wonderful surprise and the most wonderful of all was the stall Bad Brownie. It is a stall with about 8 or so types of brownies with flavours varying from triple chocolate and Bakewell to bacon and maple syrup. We bought the salted caramel (anything with this name tag is impossible to resist) and the peanut butter which had a kind of peanut brittle on top – so so awfully bad.

They were amazing! I was passing through Kings Cross again today and ran up the stairs from the underground fuelled by the thought of these brownies only to find an empty square. Humph. The Real Food Market is not on every Saturday. No bad brownie today.

Bad Brownie is however to be found at various markets in London on various days. Find out more on their website by clicking here.

Bad Brownie

 

Raspberry Ripple Custard Tarts – from Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet”

Raspberry Ripple Custard Tarts recipe

I was given Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” for my birthday a couple of years ago and I love it. It is full of baking techniques from making breads to tarts to éclairs. I have been making Dan Lepard’s recipes for years as he writes baking columns for papers and every recipe always sounds and looks scrumptious!

I made his Raspberry Ripple Tart recipe for dessert when friends came over for dinner. Instead of serving little ones I made one large one with a huge swirl of raspberry through the custard. I also made several small ones (pictured) for dessert the next day – always necessary!

The recipe is relatively simple and definitely a crowd-pleaser. The raspberry ripple is simply raspberries crushed with sugar so if you don’t have time to make the pastry you could buy shortcrust pastry and just make the custard. If you do have time though it is worth the effort.

This is a good dessert to make in advance as the pastry needs to be chilled and the custard needs to cool as well so it will need about an hour and a half to make overall.

Here’s how to make it:

For the shortcrust pastry (once made it will require 30 minutes to chill) –

250g plain flour

50g icing sugar

150g unsalted butter (cold)

2 egg yolks

15ml ice cold water

A pinch of salt

For the custard –

325ml milk

Half a vanilla pod, split lengthways

75g caster sugar

3 tablespoons plain flour

2 egg whites (reserved from the eggs used for the pastry)

300ml double cream

For the ripple –

150g raspberries

75g caster sugar

Method:

1. First, make the pastry by putting the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.

2. Cut the butter into little pieces, put them in the bowl with the flour, sugar and salt and rub the butter into these ingredients until it has blended with them.

3. Stir the egg yolks with the water, pour this into the bowl with the flour mixture and combine it to form a soft and smooth paste.

4. Shape the dough into a block, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes before using it.

5. Heat the oven to 160C/ 180C fan.

6. Once the pastry has chilled, take it out of the fridge and roll it out thinly. Sprinkle some flour on the surface and rolling pin to avoid it sticking.

7. If you are making a large tart, line a greased tart tin with the pastry and, if you are making small tarts, cut circles of pastry and line each pocket of a greased muffin tray with the pastry.

8. Put a large piece of baking paper on the pastry (if you’re using one large tin) or muffin cases on the pastry (if you’re using a muffin tray), and fill them half-way with baking beans or dry rice.

9. Bake the pastry for 20-25 minutes until dry and golden. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then remove the greaseproof paper or muffin cases with the baking beans or rice.

10.  Whilst the pastry is cooling, you can make the custard. Start by heating the milk with the vanilla pod on a medium heat.

11. In a bowl whisk the sugar, flour and egg whites until smooth. Beat the hot milk into this mixture in the bowl, then pour it all back into the pan and heat until boiling whisking the whole time.

12. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the vanilla pod and cover the pan with a plate (to stop a skin forming). Leave until the custard is cold.

13. Whilst the custard is cooling crush the raspberries with the caster sugar.

14. When the custard is cold, whip the cream until soft peaks form and fold it gently through the custard.

15. Put the pastry case/s on a plate or cake stand and spoon the custard into the pastry case/s and swirl the raspberries through it.

16. Devour!

Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard

Beautiful cover. Beautiful book.

Raspberry Ripple Tarts recipe

If that isn’t a tempting dessert photo, I don’t know what is!

Last weekend I attempted my first coffee Paris-Brest (a recipe from “Short and Sweet”) which are small choux pastries cut in half with coffee custard in the centre and flaked almonds and caramel on top. The choux pastry puffed up a lot (as it does in general due to the water content) which meant that they turned out nothing like the photo in the book! I need to attempt these again but I can certainly say that coffee custard and choux pastry are sublime together!

Paris-Brest

Not so Paris-Brest!

Nature, food and walks on the Penwith Peninsula, Cornwall

Walking away from Kynaston Cove

A view along the walk from Kynance Cove to Lizard Point

Lifeboat House

Approaching Lizard Point and its lifeboat house

Beautiful Cornish water

Beautiful clear water

Cornish geology

Pink and green in the rugged granite

Dry stone wall and Lizard Lighthouse

The lighthouse at Lizard Point in the distance

Penwith Peninsula

Looking down towards Kynance Cove

Venton Vean, Penzance

Venton Vean – a fantastic b&b in Penzance

Lush garden at Venton Vean

The view from our bedroom in Venton Vean

Georgian Penzance

Palm trees in front of Georgian terraces – exotic England!

We recently enjoyed a fantastic trip to Penzance for four days of fresh air, walks, good food (including scones and clotted cream, naturally!) and being able to look into the distance. It might sound silly but when you live in a dense city, when do you look into the distance? Perhaps if you work in a skyscraper you can, but generally you have so much cluttering your sightline that you don’t focus on anything in the distance. One of the great things about Cornwall is that you are surrounded by coast line and the blue of the vast Atlantic stretching to the horizon. The rugged rocks and soil of the coast are covered in grasses, flowers and succulents. Some of the beaches are even dark and grey. It feels exotic yet familiar. Having a scone on the most southerly point of Cornwall at Lizard Point was quaintly British yet beautifully exotic with the sun overhead and the deep blue of the ocean endlessly before us. This was, indeed, a good spot for looking into the distance!

We stayed at Venton Vean and could not have been more thrilled with our choice. Venton Vean means “Little Spring” in Cornish and we felt very warmly welcomed from the moment we stepped in. It is run by a couple who moved from London and restored this Victorian home into a beautiful b&b. We were greeted with an offer of homemade honey cake and tea and coffee and, needless to say, we wolfed it down. The honey cake was amazing! The house itself is decorated beautifully with light blue painted woodwork on the exterior doors and windows sparking up the varying shades of grey and beige stone. There are various artworks, prints, objects and curiosities dotted about the house with a casually stylish feel. There is a blanket box full of DVDs and tons of books to borrow if you want to relax. Our spotless bedroom was beautiful and bright with a large very comfortable floating bed and a view of the lush front garden. The bathroom had natural products (tested on humans, not animals) made locally.  Now to breakfast! Oh my goodness, it was seriously scrumptious. Every morning there was a spread of homemade jams and yoghurt, fresh bread from a local bakery and cereals. There was also a special menu of huevos rancheros, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, fluffy berry pancakes and grilled halloumi with wilted spinach. We ordered these and each was delicious. Sometimes there were also freshly baked scones in the breakfast room in the afternoon. The whole house felt so welcoming and everything from the food to the decoration was tip top. So much so, we wanted to move in! It’s always a good sign when you go somewhere and can imagine yourself living there!

Every day we went for long walks along the coast,  to St Ives and around Penzance and the Tremenheere Sculpture Garden. After our long days outside, literally a breath of fresh air from mainly sitting in the office/ studio during the week,  we longed for a satisfying meal. We ate so well. We had researched restaurants and pubs before our trip and made some bookings. It was hard to decide which to book as there are so many highly recommended restaurants in Cornwall. On our first night we had dinner at The Victoria Inn in Perranuthnoe. The chef trained with Raymond Blanc and Michael Caines and everything was delicious. The drinks menu had several local beers and ales so we had to try them. I’m afraid I didn’t take any photos of the food as I was too busy eating it. We also ate at The Alba along the waterfront in St Ives. A few photos of our dishes are below: mackerel three ways and scallops. Again, this was a great place. You are wonderfully spoiled for choice for good places to eat in Cornwall and the fresh fish is definitely a big pull. We had a super time and I would shoot back tomorrow.

Homemade jam at Venton Vean

A rainbow of homemade jam at Venton Vean. So so good.

Halloumi and wilted spinach

Grilled halloumi, tomatoes and wilted spinach

Fluffy pancakes

Fluffy berry pancakes for breakfast

 

Scallops in Cornwall

Scallops at The Alba

Mackerel Three Ways

Mackerel Three Ways at The Alba

Vegan for Lent – I loved it!

Preparing crumble and plantain patties

Above: preparing plantain patties and crumbles.

Prior to this Lent, I had never given anything up assuming that I would shame myself by breaking the rules and giving into a magnetic piece of chocolate or whatever else I might have attempted to give up. Otherwise, I would tell my excuse making self “What’s the point, life is short, imagine if you were hit by a bus on Good Friday and you had just abstained from eating chocolate/cake/macarons for 40 days!” amidst other such internal dialogues and woolly rationales as to why not to make the attempt.

So, this year my boyfriend and I decided to give something up. I have a mainly vegetarian diet (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” by Michael Pollan was my natural motto even before I read his) but my boyfriend enjoys meat every now and then – being French, and having lived in Mexico City and Barcelona, meat featured in a lot of dishes. But why vegan? To backtrack a little, at the beginning of the year we had met up with some friends and their friends, an Italian couple, who had decided to go vegetarian and told us about all the benefits they felt health wise, energy wise, etc and they were sticking with it. This sparked a little curiosity in my Frenchie and he was keen to try vegetarianism. “Why not do it for Lent?” I asked. But as I am practically a veggie anyway that wouldn’t be forfeiting much for me. So, I took it one step further: “Let’s be vegan for Lent!”

We went for it. I realised that for someone who had always thought she wouldn’t be able to give anything up substantial to the pleasure of eating (see above, cakes, etc) I had now given up about four dozen things! Wow! This was a self back patting moment – if I got through it.

Lent is now over, the long Easter weekend already in the past (sigh) and we made it with “vegan Lent”! Not only did we make it, we loved it! When we told friends about our “vegan Lent” we heard some pretty hilarious comments such as “So, you’re just eating beans really?”, “Well, now you’ll know what punishment feels like”, “But you can eat dairy, right?” and simply “Why?”. Mother Nature provides a bountiful selection of fruit, vegetables and grains for us to enjoy in endless combinations so why the surprise and complaints? Are we still three year olds pounding our clenched fists on tables and turning puce at the sight of a carrot, wailing at the green and daunting broccoli? I hope not and with all the trade in exotic fruit and veg in and out of season we have an even wider range of ingredients to play with. I bet that the people who are flummoxed by veganism and vegetarianism actually eat a pretty limited diet themselves albeit with meat, always going for the steak option at a restaurant for example.

My boyfriend and I love cooking and experimenting with new dishes and limiting the choice of ingredients forced us to be more imaginative. Often for brunch at home we would eat toasted muffins with smoked salmon, a poached egg and spinach. Instead we had a brunch of green lentil dal, rice and plantain patties. It was absolutely delicious and I declared I could eat it every day for a month! We experimented wildly with recipes and by limiting our ingredients (only a bit of course, remember nature’s feast of vegetables!) we forced ourselves to deviate from our “go-to” recipes and vary our meals a lot. We started varying the oils we cooked with such as using coconut oil instead of the obvious olive oil. Just the smell of the coconut oil heating up was enough to make me go doolally! We tried restaurants with vegan options which we really enjoyed such as MildredsWild Food Cafe and Sagar. We ate a lot of Indian inspired food as there are so many scrumptious Indian vegetable dishes to try. I had made vegan meals before for my vegan friends, so was familiar with alternatives to dairy ingredients, and once made biscuits with olive oil spread instead of butter. An Italian friend remarked on how delicious the biscuits were and that he could really taste the butter! I was surprised and so was he to find out that there was no butter in the biscuits! I had thought that his Italian body would have a inbuilt mechanism to recognise which region the olive oil in the spread was from, but no, he was fooled!

Other than enjoying the food during our vegan 40 days, we noticed some great health benefits. My stomach used to gurgle a lot no matter what time of day. I had read that this was just one’s stomach digesting but really, did it need to digest so loudly?!! All my colleagues could hear it! Two weeks into vegan Lent I suddenly realised: the symphony orchestra in my stomach is on sabbatical! I shot up from my desk and declared to my colleagues “My stomach doesn’t rumble anymore!!!”. “You’re right!” they chimed in with joy (and relief). But why? I don’t know. Was the previous rumbling a combination of gluten and dairy, certain grains with certain types of vegetables and fish? I need to look into it and I smile to myself at this silent benefit. Another health improvement was no heartburn for my boyfriend. He used to get heartburn several times a week, and as anyone who has had it knows it is not nice, but during the vegan period the heartburn disappeared. Maybe it eloped with my orchestra! Another difference I noticed was how awake I felt in the morning when my alarm sounded. I used to feel sluggish and press the snooze button several times but the vegan me felt wide awake instantly. Occasionally I felt tired in the morning when my alarm went off and needed to sleep a little longer but I could always directly relate it to a busy extra long working day the day before. I also did not feel hungry between meals – was this because I was eating whole foods and nothing laced with quickly absorbed sugars? When vegan you automatically cannot eat a lot of the manufactured fake food products that are out there which are made with refined industrialised ingredients. As if these benefits weren’t enough, friends even commented that we look younger!

So, will I stay vegan? No, not because it is boring or limiting, as some claim, but because I love food. I love food as a whole. I love eggs in pastry, buttery pain au chocolats and macarons and quiches and so on and so on. I love cheese and a good coffee with whole creamy cow’s milk. I am curious about food and different cuisines and I want to try them. However, I will make most of my meals plant based and eat animal products minimally because I believe it is healthier. I have always had a very healthy diet but I noticed new benefits to my health during my vegan period and I would be silly to ignore them. I am also suspicious of the modern production of food. I can’t grow my own vegetables or milk my own cows but I can at least go to the local farmers’ market and buy organic when possible and only proper food (not food products). I really recommend Michael Pollan’s books if you are interested in eating in the modern world. Furthermore, if you are interested in having more energy, losing a bit of weight and perhaps looking younger, go vegan! At least for a stint.

Here is a selection of the meals we prepared. Recipes on their way!

Curly kale, date, walnut, mushroom salad

Curly kale, date, hazelnut and mushroom salad.

Spaghetti, tomato, quorn and more

Faux spaghetti bolognese with minced quorn and red cabbage.

Putting rhubarb and berry crumble together

Rhubarb, forest fruits and apple ready to be topped with crumble.

Indian dishes and plantain patties

Dal, plantain and apricot patties and a variation on Aloo Gobi.

Crumble

Forrest fruit and apple crumble with pumpkin seeds.

Soup with mushrooms, ginger, kale, spring onion

Mushroom, sweetcorn, spinach and spring onion soup with grated fresh ginger.

Barley risotto with asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli

Pearl barley risotto with purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds.

Fusili with celeriac and apple sauce

It may look like fusilli with mashed potato but it’s fusilli with celeriac and apple sauce topped with parsley and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Delicious and wonderful rhubarb

Rhubarb season. Glorious rhubarb!

Purple chard salad

A purple chard salad with lightly fried mushrooms, radishes, walnuts, toasted seeds and basil.

Odette Toilette’s Vintage Scent Sessions: 1920s

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The other weekend I was delighted to go to another of Odette Toilette’s Vintage Scent Sessions at Les Senteurs in Marylebone. I blogged about The Rebel Cake and Perfume Club in February which was  a journey through 20th century history in perfumes and cookery, focussing on cakes. What a great concept! I love going to talks and gallery tours, cookery classes and baking so these afternoons are the perfect combination for me and were so for a very enthusiastic thirty or so others.

This scent session focussed on the 20s and our noses sampled perfumes only from France as French perfume houses were very en vogue at the time. Perfume was also taking on a more varied approach as brands started producing scents for every occasion so not just day and night perfumes but sport perfumes, the perfect meeting your mother for lunch perfume, bridge party playing perfumes and any occasion you can think of from the frivolous to the formal. The post WWI 20s was a decade experimenting with new things and beginning to indulge again after years of rationing and upheaval.

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The perfumes we sampled included Tabac Blond by Caron, 1919, which we smelled whilst eating the French Almond Macaron. I have a healthy obsession with les macarons, as featured in Macaron Monster in Paris, and I have to say that this macaron was really dang good! The chocolate centre induced slightly rude noises it was so good! Tabac Blond had a musky talc scent mixed with vanilla and tonka bean. There was also a touch of the tobacco flower. An interesting and utterly bizarre fact that Odette imparted was that in the 20s in the US and UK a woman could be arrested for smoking in public! Needless to say this was ridiculous, yet by the end of the decade Amelia Earhart was endorsing cigarettes by starring in Luck Strikes’ print ads. So smoking went from a crime to the habit of a heroine in the space of a few years.

This brings me to another perfume we tried: En Avion, again by Caron and from 1929. Flying was one of the most exciting things at the time and was becoming within reach of people other than pilots. If you had the means you could take a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii in only…20 hours!! The scent of flying was a combination of orange blossom, aniseed and I sensed violet sweeties. It’s all so personal, just like trying wine, although I find with wine that as soon as someone suggests a scent of whatever, from toffee yoghurt to wet pencil sharpenings, everyone agrees!

P1110033Another Caron was Nuit de Noel with scents of moss, clove and carnation. The bottle was inspired by the flapper style with a gold band around the top like typical flapper headbands. We then moved on to Le Dandy! What a great name! This had boozy and fruity tones as though le dandy had just rolled out of a summer pudding swigging a rum. We learnt about perfume nips which were samples that were available in bars and restaurants often in vending machines. The perfumes came in a glass vial which you had to snap each end off to let out the one application that it held. I think this could make a great come back.

Another rage of the 20s was exoticism making Josephine Baker and particularly her banana dance one of the most famous dances of the time. She inspired the perfume Black Tulip by E. Coudray which has been reissued as Nohiba. This perfume capitalized on the current trend of exoticism with its name and peppery bold notes. There was even another perfume by E. Coudray released as a suite called Perfume Set to Music which had tones of honey, menthol and eucalyptus.

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The cakes we ate were Mint Julep Chocolate Cake, Rose and Pistachio Shortbread, Almond and Chocolate Macaron and Bauhaus Gingerbread. Since the Bauhaus was all about the beauty of an object’s form being dictated by its function the gingerbread biscuits exemplified this at they had no decoration and were simple shapes. These delights by Leonie Sooke were just as scrumptious as last time. You can sign up on her website, The Gossip Bowl, to receive recipes.

To find out more about Odette’s sessions click here.

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