Guinness Beef Stew with Bitter Chocolate

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I haven’t eaten a piece of cow meat for a long time. Translated: I haven’t had beef for months. Yes. It’s madness. Think of that as a teaser, ponder upon that ridiculousness for a bit whilst I beat around the bush…and no, I’m hardly the vegetarian.

The past week’s weather has been drop dead gorgeous and hopefully mentioning that hasn’t jinxed it for this week (probably has by now). Sunny and beautiful as it was, however, I got deceived by it all a couple of times thinking a lighter jacket was more than warm enough for me to step out into the sun. Mistake. More often than not, that first step out into the cold, similar to a newborn baby’s noisy entrance into the world, was followed by general shrieking, long strings of cussing and unattractive groans and grrrs from me. Chanting ’suck it up’ in my head, I spend about 5 mins racing through the cold to warm up and literally walking only in the sunny areas, avoiding all shadowy spots at all costs to get as much warmth as possible. Through the day, I’ll catch myself jerking uncontrollably when a big cold gust of wind comes a-blowing. Travelling between uni, work and home then, I find myself constantly thinking of warm, comfort foods as a way to encourage myself and as incentive to get those icy feet moving quickly to take me home. It certainly is most effective and definitely keeps the strangers from talking to you (I’m that engrossed in my thoughts you see).

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I am happy nonetheless with this generous amount of sun we’ve got the past week and it has made the week so much bearable despite the looming deadlines and the awful stack of readings to do. And as the saying goes, good things come in pairs, so did a nice surprise come along with this beautiful sun – some very high (for The Sugar Bar at least) views for 4th March. Because they exceeded my expectations, I rewarded myself with some lovely fresh and tender stewing beef from Waitrose and got set to working on a nice hot stew to keep that bone-chilling cold away as well. In Chinese culture, having meat on the table is representative of how fortunate a family is and is partially reflective of the wealth of that family. In Korea, beef is quite a luxury and eating it becomes an occasion. So I suppose, it wasn’t such a strange thing to reward myself with beef after all! Especially since I hardly ever buy red meats in my weekly shop, finally buying some made it feel all that more special. It’s not that I don’t eat red meat. I actually love a good medium rare steak and other red meats like pork and veal. It’s just that I think cooking red meats require more effort and so never really bother to get them since I can never be sure when I have the time to cook a meal or not and dare not risk having nice meat go bad in the fridge.

I did think at first that a 22 year old like me should probably be buying nail lacquers and pretty notebooks as a reward not packets of bloody red meat from the delicatessen. It just didn’t quite fit the bill but then again, I doubt that ever bothers me; and I’m quite happy to say foodbloggers are a unique species of their own with priorities set right to a tee, fine senses highly tuned and dedicated to the arts of eating, cooking and food-shopping. So why not the beef?! Just chuck it in the shopping basket already now! By the time I’d finished my shopping and was eagerly waiting to pay at the check-outs, so hungry I was all bloodshot eyes and nearly frothing at the mouth, the basket was exploding with root vegetables, baguettes, bitter chocolate, beer and herbs, etc. I didn’t need a sign on my forehead to alert the passersby and fellow Waitrose shoppers that this Diva here was as dangerous as a rabid dog and as ravenous. Minimal chit chat with the lovely lady at the checkout till, quick goodbye and outta there like a flash. Then home, out comes the chopping board. Bang bang chop chop chop and turn on the hob.

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Then here comes the biggest joke of my life. Check recipe – stew needs to cook for at least 6 hours. Ok, put lid on and move on to ‘light’ snacking. Had to reprimand myself for not putting the stew on earlier. Panic not though as here’s when I whack out another saying: Good things come to those who wait.

I waited.

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And when I was done waiting, it was good. Thoroughly impressed with this recipe which is such a great find from The Parsley Thief blog. Definitely one of those that I’ve saved for future use, especially for meal times with the family. I think Dad will be very happy to find a stew like this at the dinner table. What a meat man. Not really a Guinness man but he’ll appreciate the blokish-ness of this dish. Plus bitter chocolate sure gives it such a cool edginess I think the rest of the girlies in my house will adore it. Mum may find that addition dubious – she’s the only woman I know who doesn’t like chocolate. Real tough to please when it comes to homemade birthday cakes I tell you – but this isn’t a chocolatey stew and it’s not so strong like a Mole Poblano. I don’t think I could really taste the chocolate but I bet I would taste a real difference and have seen a big difference in colour if I hadn’t added it.

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Something I discovered when making this, Green & Black’s Cook’s 72% dark chocolate is heaven. It’s even better than the dark chocolate from their regular range, in my opinion. It might be because it’s a lot richer and more bitter for cooking purposes than the eating chocolate which is totally up my alley. It was good. I might just stick to buying Cook’s chocolate from now on to satiate my dark chocolate cravings.

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Tea Room Ladies at Sketch – The Parlour

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I met someone last Sunday who might sincerely believe she was stamped [ROYALTY] on her backside when she was born. Not a great way to start this most elegant, gorgeous and wonderful blog post but it’s gotta be done.

Some women think they’re princesses. I mean there’s nothing wrong with getting the princess treatment, to be pampered like a princess (each to their own I suppose) if that existence wasn’t one that bothered humble, noble plebians like us. Fair enough, I suppose princesses do still exist in this day and age but that’s no reason for me to sit about content that I’m acting like someone’s slave. If you want a personal slave, hire one or go invent an android. Anything. Just get off your bum and do something remotely productive.

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In the world of retail (and let’s be more specific and narrow that down tofashion retail), employer-employee-customer relations can be damn tricky. And when customers are the weirdest, rudest and unappreciative, it’s hard to restrain ourselves from saying something like: ‘What? Are you dumb?’ or when you’ve really reached your limit with these little kids trying on clothes that barely cover their arses and are determined on turning the fitting rooms into a jungle, ‘Oi kids, get out. And never come back’. And then when it comes to shoplifters, ah don’t even get me started on that one. I get red and angry as a beetroot. At the end of the day, after the frustrations gradually melt away in the steam from a hot cuppa tea, I suppose it’s still something to learn from, to muse and quite often to laugh about (after about 3 paragraphs of passionate bitching). I was planning on telling the story of Princess A and her Eyebag Boyfriend. It got really good typing it away and therefore, forgetting the more urgent issue of my research proposal but the whole story sorta turned into a sarcasm-dripping, black humour infused bitch fest. So I cut that out completely.

Couldn’t let that ruin your visual appetite for these lovely sweets from Sketch – The Parlour, now could I? I’d be a horrible foodie to do that to you. And if you really were itching for a good story (or bitch), you know you’ll definitely need to join us Tea Ladies for our next meet-up. Suyin’s got some good ones from work too and Mowie’s so calm and lovely, he’ll sort out your ruffled nerves instantly with that good humour of his. If all this mean gossip talk’s put you off, can I say once that’s over and done with, we really do immerse ourselves in delicate, ladylike chatter too?

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So. There are princesses. And then, there are princesses. At Sketch, you are made to feel just a little bit like one. Step in and you’re instant cake royalty – the good kind. Lush interiors, Victorian furniture, big windows and floor-skimming curtains, rich upholstery and carpeting, dim lights and decadent atmosphere spliced with quirky pop art and caricature posters and skull lamp-shades. Sketch is an eclectic mix of things classic, vintage, grunge and of pop culture. Once you’re sat at a table (if you get one, guard your fortress like I did as tables are hard to come by. I saw Suyin go walking by through the window a little lost but nope, stayed and stubbornly guarded my table instead of going out to welcome her. I’m that bad a friend but that loyal a cake fan), you’ll see all the menus of the day printed in elegant calligraphic script slipped into the pages of a frayed old hardcover book (mine was Chemistry right smack in the formulas of CH3 COOH or something like that). Instantly feeling like Alice in a strange and exotic wonderland, you’ll be impressed with the huge variety of drinks, cocktails, mocktails, appetizers, teas and sweets to accompany it. You’re almost convinced you’re eating with vintage silver cutlery too!

And I positively felt a bit like Marie Antoinette at certain moments too. Decadently surrounded by lavish furniture and crazily beautiful pastry, waited on my beautiful wait-staff dressed in flocked floral and ruffly uniforms. It’s like simply the thing of dreams!

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Pannacotta Tartlet – tonka bean macaron, Medjool dates, fresh and preserved grapefrui

Of course, us Tea Ladies with a sweet-tooth bigger than the universe when put together went straight to the Signature Cakes menu. We were in heaven. There was nothing we could fault. Each cake and pastry was perfectly made, perfectly served and dreamy to taste. The little descriptions on the menu helped us deconstruct and draw out the tastes of each bite on our tongues, making it last as long as possible. I licked my fork quite a few times to get every bit of pastry cream. I was quite unembarrassed to do that actually. Sketch’s pastry chef got everything right and it was hard to say which one was the best or favourite. Every one was great in their own way. I gotta admit I was thoroughly impressed with the pastry cream though and the moistness of the pannacotta encased within the tart base and a white chocolate top layer.

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Pâte à Choux – pâte à choux, lemon pastry cream, mango and passion fruit jelly, vanilla and almond whipped cream

The next was blackcurrant heaven. Can’t wait to eat this one again as it was very refreshing and the dark purple shade was extreme food porn for me! The same shade as my bedding actually. The blackcurrant marmalade…one word: exquisite.

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Cardinal – blackcurrant macaron, blackcurrant marmalade and violet mousseline cream, garnished with a blueberry and sugared petal

And the last but not the least at all…one to make the Maya gods proud.

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Café Guanaja – hazelnut and praline, Guanaja chocolate cream, sacher biscuit, coffee and sabayon chocolate cream

This quirky, edgy, cool and extremely stylish place is one to visit again and again, whether it’s the Parlour, the Michelin star dining room aka The Lecture Room & Library or the evening bar The Glade or the art gallery which turns into a gastro-brasserie by night aka The Gallery. Hmm…pardon me saying so, but even hanging out in the toilets and the experience en route to the ladies was quite glorious. Don’t believe me? Check it out. Fancy lights, jewel-studded flush buttons and giant jewel handles. You can’t get as cool as that.

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sketch
9 Conduit Street
London
W1S 2XG
Tel.: 020 7659 4500
http://www.sketch.uk.com
•eat music drink art•
Afternoon Tea @ The Parlour: 3 – 6pm

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Giant Green Olives

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It was a strange week I had from two Fridays before to Sunday. A whole string of bad luck and unfortunate events. And for all that I fretted, cussed, whined and cried over, I was too busy attempting to right the wrongs and set my life back on the stable path that I didn’t have time to post or cook. In my geek online social life, I wasn’t too tweet/Facebook-sociable either (my apologies!). There was just too many upsetting things popping up like weeds in a garden: lost wallet, food poisoning, being cashless, bank drama, etc. …

In the mean time, I returned to being the snack-myster. Surviving on snacks and oddly put-together meals. Quite thankful I met up with Catty & Su-yin for Korean bbq dinner on Wednesday to soothe my nerves, followed by izakaya with my mates on Thursday. A cold beer after a long day. There’s just nothing quite like that put-your-feet-up and let-out-a-real-loud-AH!-after-the-first-gulp-of-beer feeling.

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I woke up on Monday feeling miles better. Body sore like I’d run from here to another continent. The week had taken that much out of me. But it was sunny and full of spring promise. At the moment, I’m seeing the grey, the wet and the windy returning to London from my bedroom window so I suppose the shite weather’s just a real tease. I’m feeling the total opposite though. The grey and the depressed should be nearly out of my system by now. I admit I’m currently dealing with the post-drama (kinda like car accident paperwork that sorta thing) and the mundane housekeeping we all have to deal with.

Nevertheless, it’s Easter break. Three cheers to that.

And until my next post (I really have to sort out my house because the clutter and dirt just keep re-appearing. I suspect sabotage), here’s a couple of pictures to keep you company. Some yum giant olives from Whole Foods.

Whole Foods is cream cheese frosting to my cupcake. Gotta love it.

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Red Champagne Lollipops

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When I was a kid, Chupa Chups lollipops were like crack for me (and I’m not saying a child on crack is the best thing, or actually legal but I’m just saying..). The banana chocolate combo was a little sickly but I totally heart-ed it. And the strawberry ones were always so satisfying. Then in high school, it was suddenly really cool and fashionable to have a lollipop in the mouth about 24/7. You didn’t really need to suck on it. Just have it there. Have it exist in your mouth = instant popularity. It doesn’t quite work that way now unfortunately. But lollipops sure do bring me lots of joy just looking at it or giving them away.

I meant to make lollipops along with champagne jam for Meeta’s Monthly Mingle but totally missed the deadline having had to deal with life and some lollipop failure last week. Meeta celebrated her 609th post (congratulations!) and 4 successful years of her blog with the very elegant and regal queen of wines – champagne. I was so psyched for this! When I saw her MM tweet, my online shopping for candy making stuff began and it was all quick quick chop chop efficiency. Sadly enough, I haven’t been that efficient in meeting the deadline.

Thankfully, Meeta’s been too kind to wait for my entry and so here’s my contribution. It also Easter break and time for Easter sweeties. All the more reason to try again in hopes that I can spread some sugary joy to others. My lollies weren’t perfect but they were lollipops nonetheless and still a great improvement from the ones before. Only one was quite as it was meant to be from the butterfly mold but I was elated enough that they were unmolding fine from having greased the molds very generously. Of course, simply greasing a baking parchment to form round lollipops is and would’ve been dead easy if I’d done that last week right from that start. Now why didn’t I do that last week to save me all the post-candymaking failure depression? Well, we live and learn. That seems to be my motto of late!

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I couldn’t decide at first between my champagne jam or champagne lollipops since the latter is sorta a cheat, using champagne oil instead of the real bubbly to flavour the hard candy. I finally opted for the latter. The jam can wait when juicier summer berries start hitting the shops. She says. Let’s hope I stay true to my word and don’t get carried away by something else. I’m just too fickle.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m gonna sit back, relax, and nurse my sorethroat. In the meantime, these lollies are gonna make nice little Easter gifts! Happy Easter folks.

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Red Champagne Lollipops
Recipe adapted from She Simmers’ recipe here

      1 cup sugar

 

      1/3 cup light corn syrup

 

      1/3 cup water

 

      1/2 dram champagne oil

 

      couple of drops red food colouring

 

      lollipop sticks

 

      sunflower oil, for greasing molds

 

    baking parchment (optional – if not using molds)

Generously grease with sunflower oil lollipop molds. If making round lollipops without molds, prepare baking parchment across flat surface or cookie tray, secure it down and grease with oil.

Combine sugar, light corn syrup and water in a heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil without stirring. Secure candy thermometer to the saucepan, making sure that the bulb of the thermometer doesn’t touch the base of the saucepan but is somewhere between the bottom of the saucepan and surface of the candy mixture so that temperature recorded is accurate.

Allow mixture to boil until it reaches 250-260d F. When it does so, carefully add a couple of drops of red food colouring. Gently swirl the saucepan to mix the colouring into the candy mixture. Do not use anything to mix it as the boiling action will allow for the colouring to mix through.

Continue to cook until mixture reaches 300d F.

Remove saucepan from heat and once the boiling action stops, add the champagne oil or any other flavour oils you are using and carefully stir through.

Pour syrup into prepared molds. The syrup will start to harden almost immediately so work quickly. Place lollipop sticks in the centre, pressing it into the middle of the hardening syrup. I add a little more candy syrup over it so that its securely fastened into the candy.

Leave to cool for 8-10mins. The lollipops should be ready to unmold by then. Allow to cool completely left standing in a glass, or put the sticks through a colander so that the candy does not touch any surfaces.

Under running tap water, rinse off excess grease and continue to let it dry off. Don’t attempt to wipe the surfaces with cloth or paper as that will leave unsightly marks.

Wrap lollipops with plastic wrappers, tie with ribbons and send them away as Easter gifts!

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Oatmeal Cherry & Walnut Cookies and Dolly Mixture Fairy Cakes

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Two Easters ago, I baked a feast. I went so crazy there were cakes, muffins and cookies everywhere: on the tabletops, in the bedroom, in the freezer, in the fridge. It was gloriously nightmarish. A thoroughly obsessively psychotically sick affair.

Last Easter, I believe things were a little more toned down. Moderation was key.

This year, we went for a nice balance of things. Don’t they say good things come in pairs? Two’s a nice number. Well-rounded and more acceptable. In that case, this Easter, we’ve got cookies and cakes. No more than that. No more, no less. I thought we were quite clever.

On Tuesday, we had a nice little wander through the Oxford Covered Market. There’s a cake shop in there which I’ll blog a little later on about. Truly inspiring cakes and sugarcraft. And they make personalized easter eggs made to order too! In fact, H and I had our Easter eggs from there last year. They were yum. And almost too pretty to eat. It’s shops like that that make you feel like you’ve gotta bake. You leave wanting to make something of your very own, to get creative and start challenging yourself in the kitchen. I don’t suppose we really did challenge ourselves but we sure had good fun in the kitchen that day.

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Little fairy cakes topped with dolly mixture (we’ve so gotta love these sweets…so mildly flavoured and pretty to look at) for Easter cakes and a twist on the usual oatmeal raisin cookie which gives you something to talk about as well if you’ve got guests coming round for tea. I haven’t posted a recipe for the Fairy Cakes as H actually remembers this basic recipe by heart. It’s simply margarine, vanilla, flour, eggs, sugar all skillfully beaten by hand then baked at 175d Celsius until ready. Cooled, then frosted with a mix of icing sugar and water. Voila. Top them with sweets or decoration of choice. Cute as a button.

When it comes to eating cookies, dunking in a glass of cold milk is second nature. Or sometimes just eating it sans milk is pretty okay too. Dunking in hot coffee or tea seems unthinkable to me. I’ve seen my mum do it and it leaves rings of buttery-surfaced coffee in the cup. I’ve seen my mates do it and it just all looks a little drippy, a little messy. This time I tried it with this oatmeal cookie and I have a strange feeling my cookie-eating ways have been forever altered. Or at least, when it comes to oatmeal cookies. You’ve gotta dunk them in something warm. Leave the cold milk for the chocolate chip cousin. Oatmeal cookies have so gotta be dipped in a hot coffee or tea. A momentary experience of sweet bliss, as comforting as a spoonful of warm honey-laced porridge. So good.

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Happy Easter everyone! Hoping the Easter bunny sends out much sugary love to all. Will post up some of my little Oxford visit here soon.

Oatmeal Cherry & Walnut Cookies
Ingredients

      115g unsalted butter, softened

 

      1 cup plain flour, sifted

 

      1 cup rolled oats

 

      1 cup/225g dark brown sugar

 

      1 large egg

 

      3/4 cup chopped walnuts

 

      3/4 cup glace cherries, chopped

 

      1/2 tsp baking powder

 

      1/8 tsp baking soda

 

      pinch of salt

 

      1 tsp vanilla extract

 

      1/2 tsp ground ginger

 

    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 175d Celsius.

Cream butter and sugar til light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, then beat.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Add oats to this and mix. Add to wet mixture of creamed butter and sugar. Mix until it is just incorporated.

Fold in cherries and walnuts. Do not overmix.

Form into 1-2 tbs balls or simply drop onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-18mins or until just golden brown.

Cooking it for longer gets these cookies a darker shade and they turn into nice crunchy cookies when kept. Cooking for 15mins leaves it nice and chewy in the middle so cook according to your preference. Leave to cool on sheets for a minute before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

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Tea at Blenheim Palace

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I was in Oxfordshire since last weekend soaking up some good ol’ countryside. If the weather had been a little less harsh and a little more forgiving, I think I’d have more pictures to share. Frankly speaking, however, I was just a tad bit lazy. Knowing this was probably the only ‘break’ or ‘holiday’ I was gonna get for about another 2 months, I wanted to be as lazy as I could and to enjoy myself thoroughly without having to frustrate physical movement with camera-slung-around-neck or camera-held-tight-in-both-hands. Getting away from any sort of technology was very refreshing as well. I admit I was still visibly active on Twitter but my Blackberry got minimal usage. The beloved laptop was left back home in London, the iPod got squished into a corner of my bag very often saved for used sweet wrappers and crushed receipts hardly given a second thought. And believe it or not, I barely touched my camera. It was food shoveled into mouth (or if it was busy chomping, it was engaged in very precious conversation with H) before the clicking of shutters. It may not have been the vacation of a lifetime but the sense of peace and zen, and the joy I had in reuniting with a friend who’s practically my soulmate would’ve beaten any holiday package hands down.

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In the span of 5 days, we covered much ground. We (or rather I) woke up to beautiful breakfast spreads, coffee-ed at our much loved Morton’s and lunched at Maison Blanc where I missed the man himself by literally 30 minutes! The awesome thing was that H got speak to the man in all his glorious French-accented English. H’s mum got his book autographed. And wait for it, our dear Raymond Blanc even gave her an emergency number to ring lest she needed his help in the kitchen! Now if only I’d booked the earlier train, I might’ve had the chance to witness this most delightful affair.

I didn’t mope about for long as the fresh breads and grassy flavoured olive oil dip at Quod wiped my brain of any other thoughts. Mind became blank, and mouth awash with drool. A bit like a blank canvas ready for painting, I was starving and eager to begin my meal. Two glasses of crisp white and a spankingly good duck confit with this scrumptious orange-laced sauce.

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You might already know we did some Easter baking. H has two ovens. I have zero at the moment. Or rather, I’ve one but it’s half a world away and I have no hopes of turning this microwave/grill crap that’s lodged into my kitchen wall into something fairly able to churn out cakes and cookies. If you’re presented with the opportunity, pounce on it. And so I did. But a holiday’s all about being decadent. Decadent to the point where you’re not even making the effort. So of course we ate more sweet treats and had tea. And whereabouts? At Blenheim Palace. Yes, where Winston Churchill was born. And where the house (as it used to be called, rather than ‘palace’) was later refurnished in the style of Versailles.

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If you’re wondering, no we didn’t have afternoon tea at The Orangery or The Indian Room. The Water Terrace Café, a self-service cosy little one, was good enough for us. And when I say good, I really mean good. Cakes, scones, biscuits all homemade and generously portioned; tasting like bits of heaven and not factory-produced blocks of sugar and shortening. Really helps that the hot drinks are served in large cups (with a saucer) so you feel like you get your money’s worth and enough hot liquid to warm up your soul and fight that bone-chilling damp cold. No kidding. The weather that day was so awful. It did not help that I was wearing ankle cut offs and low-riding little loafers. Where was my performance gear when I needed it!

Nevertheless, Blenheim Palace was enjoyable and this little jewel of a café was like spotting a glowing hearth of a little cottage deep in a cold, dark, unforgiving forest. I can totally say I ate well, rested well and indulged up to Easter weekend. I’m back in the big smoke fighting the tube crowds, uneven cobblestone and sordid transport prices, with only M&S speckled eggs to keep my poor heart settled and at peace.

Happy Easter Sunday everyone.

Blenheim Palace
Woodstock
Oxfordshire
England
OX20 1PP

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Chestnut & Adzuki Bean Black/White Chocolate Truffles

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You know, ninjas are like fairies. You don’t see them. But they exist, mostly in the shadows and the cracks between their underworld and ours. Somewhere between my bed and the wall that its pressed up against, a ninja lives in that shadowy crack. No idea why he/she’s spying on me but I’m happy tucking myself deep under the duvet, watching Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape in India and feeding this ninja of the dark (who’s tucked in somewhere as well under my bed probably) some of these truffles. My alter ego? A figment of my imagination? Or just plain excuse to make these black/white babies for me to eat? The latter seems most likely and I totally agree. I am a bit of nutter and I love chatting crap like this. Call me overworked, imaginative or plain crazy. I really don’t mind. I’ve got truffles.

The week has passed quite slow with horrible weather for most of it. Although today’s ridiculously sunny, bright and worm it feels like the world’s played a hoax upon us. But I’m not complaining. In fact, I totally rejoiced, ditched the essay that is begging to be written before I get chucked out of college, and ventured into the kitchen to make these.

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I blame Catty. Oh my dear, in a good way. She made the scrummiest matcha & lemon truffles for Easter and was so generous to pass me some to taste. I was really stingy with myself, rationing it carefully and only caring to nibble it. Talk about waste of effort. They were gone by the next morning. I found myself mourning its bittersweet flavours so quick, I might’ve given myself heartburn (heartache?) pining away for it.

So of course I had to have more truffles about the house.

Now I’m wondering why I didn’t just begin the post that way. More respectable and, sane of course. Why on earth did I resort to pseudo mythmaking and one about a non-existence ninja-who-lives-in-the-shadows-of-my-bedroom? Not so sure. I think I munched on one too many squares of chocolate whilst waiting for these to set. The caffeine fried away my logic and the cocoa butter greased everything up in my brain, it turned to a squishy mess. No use to me at all.

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I was inspired mostly by Japanese wagashi and more specifically, Minamoto Kitchoan’s Miyabiguruma. Of course, mine is nothing close and hardly as refined. Geez, it’s got Shreddies in there for crying out loud! But you can’t blame me for trying to recreate those flavours at home with what I had on hand. Not sure they looked very pretty but they were good. It really helps that I’m on a Shreddies craze as well. In my breakfast cereal, having it dry as a snack and now in chocolate truffles. I think I’m going slightly overboard. Who knows what I’ll be adding it to next. I fear to think it.

The concept to these truffles is similar to these Oreo truffles or Lemon Lime cream ones. Yes so they’re supposed to be pretty sweets. Pre-dipping in candy coating, however, my flatmate very eagerly exclaimed, ‘Oh you’re making meatballs!’. Uh oh. They really do look like meatballs, don’t they.

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Types of anko:
(to make things easy, this is taken from Wikipedia)

Tsubuan (粒餡)

      , whole red beans boiled with sugar but otherwise untreated

Tsubushian (潰し餡)

      , where the beans are mashed after boiling

Koshian (漉し餡)

      , which has been passed through a sieve to remove bean skins; the most common type

Sarashian (晒し餡)

    , which has been dried and reconstituted with water

If you prefer to make your own anko, you can use this recipe here. I’ve never been too successful making my own because I’m too impatient to wait for it to soak overnight, and cook for hours til it’s soft enough to mash or pass through a sieve. So feel free to use canned anko. I’ve chosen a half mashed half whole bean anko from Meiji.

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When it comes to truffles, I always use candy melts or coating chocolate, aka confectioner’s coating or bark. If you’re wondering whether this is chocolate, yes it is! But it’s chocolate for lazy bums like me. No tempering – only melt, mix, use, set. Its easier to control than regular chocolate, sets quick streak-free at room temperature, tastes great and doesn’t melt upon touching which I find happens a lot when using regular chocolate (which requires you sometimes to cool it in the fridge and then you get nasty sweating after when you take them out). Candy melts come in many colours. No fuss over what kind of colours to use (if you decide to use them) and whether oil, paste or powder or au naturel vegetable/fruit juice/dyes will affect it. I’ve used candy melts in Midnight Black and because I ran out of white melts, I’ve used Green & Blacks vanilla white chocolate.

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I’m feeling a bit zen with the black and white colour combination. Time to whip out my teapot, sencha and ponder over something deep. Who knows, my shadow ninja might decide to join me for a cuppa.

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Makes about 12-15 eyeball-sized truffles. (I would’ve said ping pong-sized but aren’t eyeballs a little smaller and heck, sounds more fun. No?)

Chestnut & Adzuki Bean Black/White Chocolate Truffles
Ingredients

      1 can/210g anko (adzuki bean paste)

 

      10-12 small cooked chestnuts, depending on how many you end up making

 

      about 1/2 cup Shreddies, finely crushed

 

      about 1/2 cup black chocolate candy melts

 

      about 1/2 cup white chocolate candy melts

 

      black sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

 

    white sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

There isn’t really a recipe for this is there? It’s just banging ingredients together.

In a bowl, mash together crushed Shreddies and enough anko to get a cement-like consistency. You don’t want it too dry or it won’t hold together. But you need it wet enough to be able to seal itself around the chestnut. Play around with it until you feel confident of it holding up.

Take a chestnut and about 1/2 to 1 tbs of crushed Shreddies and anko mixture, press into it and start to carefully seal the chestnut into it. Gently press to smoothen out the surface like you would a rice ball, then lightly roll between palms to form balls. If the surface starts to gloss and smoothen itself out, that’s perfect. Repeat for the other chestnuts. Place on a plate covered with grease-proof parchment. Place in refrigerator to let the chestnut balls set a bit for about 3-4 minutes.

In small bowls, melt candy coating separately, following the directions written on the bag (it will differ slightly depending on their make but will normally require a 1 minute melt-time in microwave; mix; 10 second blasts and mixing until the coating is completely melted and smooth).

Drop chestnut balls in candy coating, coat and drop onto flat surface lined with grease-proof parchment. Garnish with a tiny sprinkling of sesame seeds of the opposite colour. Allow to set for about 2 minutes or so. Done.

 

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Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds, Edamame & Sumac

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The salty creaminess of feta, tanginess of lemon, the licorice-laced crisp flavours of fennel, the explosive sweetness of Sultan’s Jewel tomatoes, the mild honeyish pomegranate seeds and the nuttiness of edamame all brought together in harmony by the grassiness of good extra virgin olive oil.

And to think sometimes I forget why salads are so addictive, so all-encompassing and very beautiful to look at. If something so simple (and simply put together) can taste so good, lifting my spirits with each bite, I’m never going to underestimate the humble salad ever again.

A friend once offered me a bottle of salad dressing, to which I turned it down saying I don’t really eat salad dressing. I enjoy salads mostly as they are – their component parts with no oily, wet dressing that splatters everywhere when I’ve got leafy bits sticking out between my lips like a goat. I don’t know if it’s some weird purist mentality I’ve got but that’s pretty much how I usually like my salads. Or if I really had to go for a salad dressing, then extra virgin olive oil and loads of balsamic vinegar which I love with a great passion. Anything mayonnaise-y, or something thick like thousand island dressing really puts me off. Not that I can’t stomach it, I just won’t enjoy it as much. And give my tummy a few hours, it’d probably start feeling a little upset and gurgling like it was part of a string orchestra. I kid you not. Therefore I stress clean, crisp flavours always. That’s just the way forward.

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After months of wishing after the Ottolenghi cookbook, and the torturous process of having to see my beautiful foodie friends blog about their Ottolenghi recipes, experiences, it was high time I finally got my own copy. And I did. And it was such a luxury – a stylishly put-together cookbook with a glossy white cover; my heart was beating twice as fast and doing little skips as I flipped through the pages, eyeing the pulses and vegetables, curbing the urge to start sticking little 3M sticky notes in there with a frenzy for potential lunches and so forth. Happiness is moi. (Yes I’m so easily pleased with new cookbooks. But aren’t we foodies all a species of that sort? I’m eyeing the The French Laundry Cookbook next.) I’ve always been a fan of Ottolenghi food ever since I moved to London and even before I did, I’d browsed through the cookbook thinking how gorgeous the food must taste. Then I started visiting the Islington branch since I live just a little way from it. There was no turning back. I became a true fan. Unfortunately, I always felt a bit like a muggle or a half-blood without the cookbook. And having to queue for half a day (yes I exaggerate) or resorting to take-aways to get Ottolenghi grub in my mouth, down my esophagus and then safely into my stomach whenever I have a craving seems much too complicated. Remember, I am lazy.

Equipped with my new cookbook, life seems so rosy. With the beautiful weather too, it’s about time I shove that crabbiness so typical of my character somewhere where the sun don’t shine. I can’t wait to try out more of the recipes and actually, that’s probably not gonna change the fact that I’d still be hopping on a bus to Angel to take-away Ottolenghi cakes (and then eating them in the dark corners of my bedroom – on my own – a la Gollum) or meeting friends there for lunch.

On a final note, let me just say that I’m not just OCD, a perfectionist and anal (please, no crude jokes) to the point of being annoying. I also plan like a high-strung freak (not that I’m high-strung at all. I just have this thing about planning.) But here’s a confession – I’ve booked my sister and I in for dinner at Ottolenghi 2 MONTHS in advance. Yea, so I’m totally off my trolley like that. Crazy.

The original recipe uses tarragon instead of basil and adds no tomatoes or edamame. This makes about 4 servings.

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Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds, Edamame & Sumac
Recipe adapted from the original (p.17) in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
Ingredients

      1/2 pomegranate

 

      2 medium fennel heads

 

      4 tbs fresh edamame beans

 

      1/2 cup cherry/plum tomatoes

 

      1 1/2tbs olive oil

 

      2 tsp crushed sumac, plus extra for garnish

 

      juice of 1 lemon

 

      4 tbs fresh basil leaves, roughly shredded

 

      2 tbs fresh flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped

 

      70g Greek feta cheese

 

    salt and ground black pepper, for seasoning

Remove pomegranate seeds from the fruit. Be careful not to bruise them or break the skin. You can purchase pomegranate seeds also fresh from the cut fruit section in major supermarkets.

Remove leaves from the fennel, reserving some for garnish later. Trim the base, making sure there’s still enough left on to hold the slices together. Slice very thinly lengthwise. Place sliced fennel, herbs, edamame and cherry tomatoes in a large salad bowl.

In another bowl, mix the olive oil, sumac, lemon juice, herbs and some salt and pepper. Add this to the salad bowl, toss well. Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste.

To serve, layer the fennel, then the feta and then the pomegranate seeds. Garnish with reserved fennel leaves, sprinkle with sumac and more parsley leaves if you have any lying about. Serve.

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Princi Bakery Cafe: Art Thou My Safe Haven?

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I haven’t stepped out of the house much other than for groceries, heading to the library or for work. There hasn’t been much venturing towards coffee shops and I have missed that coffee shop atmosphere, the scent of beans brewing, the bustling back and forth by waiters from tables to bar and for neat freaks like you and I, the sight of assorted cakes, cookies, breads all perfectly laid out on trays or stands behind glass covers. I’m a coffee shop girl through and through; and I like bringing work or reading with me to a coffee shop because the atmosphere always gets my motivation going. I’m not going to deny the romance of a smooth black cuppa, and the flaneur-esque peaks I take out of the window whilst sat at a table all to myself. I’m always at such peace in a coffee shop, pensive and sometimes a little relieved (maybe because of the temporary escape from city-paced walking out on the streets). Time seems to slow down to the beats of dripping filtered coffee, ticking away within its own coffee shop universe that is as uncomplicated as a scone, jam and clotted cream. I heart it, and surely many others of you do.

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But hanging out in London coffee shops sometimes is much too much effort. The cost of travelling to one (the Starbucks here in Old Street ain’t that bad but it’s just a little too squishy for my liking and hasn’t anyone realized that Starbucks coffees aren’t that impressive) is not great for a poor student like me, walking to the amazing quirky little ones which stock Monmouth coffees out in Shoreditch is just too distracting sometimes, especially when your table-neighbours are wearing lame silver leggings, have streaks of bright green in their hair and this is all some time before midday. And then there’s the cost of sitting in the coffee shop. It’s not the coffee that’s expensive. It’s the other stuff that I can’t resist ordering. I can’t nurse a lone coffee. I’m just not that type of girl. I’d need a cookie, or a pannetonne, or a fruit tart, or a scone, or even lunch and the whole shebang. I’d be broke by the end of the month if I kept up my coffee shop habits like I normally do back home or during my undergrad days (when I got free coffees through a friend).

Things changed this week though. I handed in one essay 4 days early and I thought this sort of behaviour just had to be rewarded! So I visited Le Pain Quotidien in Goodge Street for a little sit down with my library books. No food photos I’m afraid but I was thoroughly impressed with the atmosphere and the communal dining table. I didn’t order much except an iced black coffee (which came extremely milky because the dude with dreadlocks who took my order was ditzy to the core), a flourless oh-I’m-in-love-type of brownie (which was expensive for the size of it but worth ever penny because it was seriously good) and an Americano after. The coffee was really good and I loved that it came in little bowls – true Frenchness gets my thumbs up.

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And then today, I nearly lost my job. It’s a real long story but let’s just say the good news is that I didn’t lose it in the end. And I’ll have to thank my Mama’s fighting spirit that I’ve inherited for that. Well after the whole meeting, my brain was all a little fuzzy and my stomach – which had not stopped growling all through this serious meeting – was about to throw in the towel. Hence, my 2nd coffee shop trip/treat of the week was well justified. Again, I had no camera on hand. But from the outside, the stylish brown Princi sign was like light at the end of a dark tunnel. Stepping through the glass doors into this underworld of glorious breads, the sound of excited chatter, the smell of flour and cheese, the clinking of wine glasses, the spitting and hissing of opening cans of soft drink – it was truly my safe haven. And the interiors don’t get any more chic than Princi’s.

I ordered a slice of woodfired margherita pizza and an Americano (which wasn’t as impressive as Le Pain’s I’m afraid), had a great big chat with the mates at work on my Blackberry whilst this beautiful man next to me flipped through a Tom Ford folder. The lady on my right was reading the paper. The sound of the pages turning was quite comforting and reminded me of my Dad who reads the paper every morning religiously. Although there are quite a few tables and communal ones about, I was attracted to the bar at the back. I love bar stools so naturally I zoned in on that area quick as anything. The zen water feature of running taps in front of the bar tables was very nice too. See what I mean about the safe haven?

I’m loving this place so much I can’t wait to visit again. On my next visits to Princi and Le Pain Quotidien, expect more pictures! Til then, check out what I took home with me: Tiramisu and Olive Bread. You so have to love Princi for making their cakes in neat little rectangles!

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Princi
135 Wardour Street
London
W1F 0UT
Tel.: 020 7478 8888
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 7.00-00.00 Sun 9.00-22.00

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A Thing for Strictly Pancakes

Considering that I blogged about this place two posts ago and here we are again really says something about this place called Strictly Pancakes. It’s good. I think about it a lot. I don’t hafta wait til Shrove Tuesday – or days of staring at eggs, milk, flour and a buttered hot pan willing it to just work by a twitch of a bewitched nose – to have pancakes.

The first pancake café in Singapore. It’s got me hooked. And it’s so legit I nearly cried when I ate my stack of pancakes.

I sat through 3 hours of class today grumpy as shite because I was hungry and deprived of viable options of food. It came to the sorry point that I made a (disturbing) passing comment to a girlfriend of mine, ‘I’m so hungry right now I could sink my teeth into your shoulder blade.’ She was wearing a bareback top. She now thinks I’m weird beyond weird. But that’s fine. We went halves over a plate of pancakes and I think we’re still the coolest pals as gal pals can be. We all find reasons to be amiable with each other in this world, now don’t we? If it involves food, I suppose. Let’s just all try to accept this fact of life and live with each others’ idiosyncrasies.

I’m so glad that pancakes don’t take a million years to whip up so food gets put on your table fairly quick. Three baskets of mysteriously spiced and seasoned chips glide onto the table. Then six cups of iced tap water. A bout of thumb twiddling, of utterly awkward silence and staring at mobile phones willing someone to beep or ring you so as to give you something to do to fill this ridiculously useless and unwelcome period of waiting. ‘Hi I am hungry and waiting for my food and I don’t want to do anything else like talk stupid when I just want to wait for my food.’ Other tables are noisily clanking their knives and forks, cutting up fluffy clouds of pancakes heavily and indecently doused with maple syrup, participating in unimportant sometimes polite chatter between mouthfuls of deliciousness, every bit of movement and noise pisses me off. I am HANGRY. Gimme food!

Then the sound of footsteps, and ka-ching ka-ching. It’s flipping pancake jackpot. I’ve never seen a more beautiful plate of pancakes. Mine don’t even come close, possibly because I never make chocolate pancakes. It’s almost unmentionable in my house. Pancakes must be pancakes, white and fluffy, uncorrupted by what we know as cocoa powder. Oh bugger that. These were glorious. Chocolate sauce, dripping custard, dusting of icing sugar, mini chocolate chips and wet juicy pneumatic and squidgy brandied dark cherries. Hello beautiful, come to Mama! The glorious Blackforest stack. I finally got to have a taste of this notorious babies. But what a shame that Strictly Pancakes had a bad day with their freezer and so, NO ICE CREAM. 20% off though. Yea okay. I’m easy like that.

Across the table, a friend was tucking into Lemon Curd for Nerds which looked suspiciously similar to our Blackforest stack minus a few key ingredients. Chocolate pancakes + lemon curd which resembled, in aesthetics and taste, wet custard but was delicious nonetheless. Would’ve liked the lemon curd to be a little more tart and lemony but figured it might not have worked too well with pancakes that generously rich in chocolate!

I’d love to share what the others ate but I was so busy inhaling my half of the Blackforest (I don’t think I looked up from my plate, okay maybe twice just to check the progress of others around me) I didn’t give two flying fish about getting clicks of their pancakes. But if you wanted to know what they ordered, you can check back to the first post of this café here.

What a great close to the week. The goblin in my stomach is appeased. Until the next food adventures, peace.

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