Tag Archives: London

The Big British Invite with VisitBritain & British Airways

The Big British InviteThe Big British Invite

London is one of my favorite cities to visit in the world, so I was intrigued to receive an invitation to attend The Big British Invite, a collaboration between VisitBritain and British Airways to showcase some of the highlights of British culture that tourists might want to explore.  The Olympics last year as well as the Royal Wedding and anticipated arrival of the Royal Baby, have made the United Kingdom a very popular destination, with 3,000 people a day traveling between New York and London.  The city and the tri-state area generate the largest group of visitors.  This sold out pop-up last weekend in Soho was to display “a glimpse of what is new and now in Britain,” according to the organizers.

Estelle in British Airways‘ new First Class seats

Dan Stevens examining The London Candy Company‘s chocolate creation

For the press preview, we were able to interact with two of the UK’s current cultural exports: Grammy award winner Estelle and Dan Stevens, who appeared on Broadway after having left Downton Abbey.  With them walking alongside of us through the different displays of British food, fashion, and culture, this was a bit like sharing an afternoon discovering the delights of a city with your friend, The Insider.

Our “boarding pass” for this event – Oh, how I wish it had been a real one!

We were treated to a scarf-tying demo by the folks of Liberty of London, sampled treats from local gastropub Highlands NYC, nibbled on teatime fare from Sanderson Hotel‘s “Mad Hatter ‘s Afternoon Tea,” had a seat in a “London cab,” checked out the latest in punk fashions, and took in a few drinks at a pub, among other activities.  It was a terrific chance to dip into a bit of Britain while not having to pack a suitcase or to deal with Customs, but it did make me realize that I’m long overdue for a real trip to London to soak up some of the wonderful things going on over there.

A mock-up of the exterior of Liberty of London – one of the places I like to drop by on any visit

Demonstrating a way to dress up an outfit with one of their fabulous scarves

London cabbie ready to take you to your destination

Black cabs in jelly form for us to enjoy

Punk – part of their history, still influencing the present

A fashion as iconic as the red phone box

Mini sausage rolls with HP Sauce – prepared by Highlands NYC

Sips of Cullen skink – a Scottish version of a smoked haddock chowder

Shortbreads with Whiskey-Chocolate Drops

Bedford Cheese Shop display of Welsh cheese

A nosh of Welsh Rarebit

Then, time to drop by the pub for a Smoky Whiskey Drink called “The Bribe” (think whiskey + cigars)

The Bumbys give a fair and honest appraisal of your appearance – I was too chicken to let them do that!

This was a cool way to experience the latest in the UK music scene – just put on the headphones and dance

It was time for tea with a Matcha Tea Mousse in a Chocolate Tea Cup

Or maybe one of their special tea blends

Or maybe something else from the “Mad Hatter ‘s Afternoon Tea” put together by Sanderson Hotel

This is a perfect use for all those teacups

But, really, what I fell in love with the most was this dazzling display of landmarks made of sweets courtesy The London Candy Company

Big Ben in Cadbury chocolates

Choco-Henge made of Mars Bars

Jigs Patel – owner of The London Candy Company (which is located on the Upper East Side)

Thanks so much to Extra Extra Creative for the invitation to this event.  Getting to taste and experience some of the flavors and fashions of what makes Britain a great place to visit just reminded me of how much there is to explore there in the culinary and cultural landscape.  Hopefully, I can get over there again before too long!

Buon appetito!

Notting Hill Farmers’ Market in London

The directions to find this culinary gem in West London are hardly the most glamorous.  The website says that the market’s location is a “car park behind Waterstones.”  More specifically, in order to find it, walk through the opening between two buildings off of Notting Hill Gate; go down a ramp that runs along the back of one of the buildings; and maneuver between the delivery vans for the dry cleaners.  Then, suddenly you come upon rows filled with tables of beautiful, local produce and ready-made food items.  You’ve entered the Notting Hill Farmers’ Market.

The London Farmers’ Markets, of which this is just one, were created in 1999, just after I left London.  Nina Planck, a fellow Virginia native who grew up in the next county over from me, founded them when she lived in the city.  They sell only foods grown in the UK and the other prepared items that are sold there must contain 50% or more-locally sourced ingredients.  As you can see from the photo stream below, this is an amazing treasure trove of meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, breads, jams, and other great edibles.  There were so many delicious things that I wanted to bring back to the States with me (scroll down to find out what I did pick up).

Cooking up brekkie in the market

The day I was at the market I saw parents and their children loading up baskets full of all kinds of products to bring to home, including one fellow American who was searching for the peppers with which to make salsa.  This is a resource I could have really used when I was living in London.  The stalls on the Portobello road, with the Cockneys swearing at each other in the early morning as they set up their stands, and the local Tesco Metro were my usual grocery shopping destinations.  I did really well by them, but it would have been so wonderful to have the variety of items that I saw here.  My hope is that one day I get to live in London again, so that I have the chance to explore and enjoy this and the other local food markets.

Ripe, late-summer raspberries

Checking out the corn

Meat products from 12 Green Acres

Flourish Craft Bakery breads

Phil’s Pesto pastas

Phil’s pestos and sauces

Galileo Farm meat

Gorgeous handmade butter from Hurdelbrook Dairy

Celtic Bakers bread

Chegworth Valley‘s apples, strawberries, and plums

Sophley Farm runner beans and marrows

Handcrafted Pies

Choice cuts from Beatbush Farm Foods

Market Tomatoes

Peppers and onions from Lettuce & Lovage (This is where I met the guy making salsa.)

I sent him to check out Mouthfull Food Company

Rookery Farm eggs

Grasmere Farm had this gorgeous bacon

I loved these Worldsend Cranberry and Crystalized Ginger goats cheese from Nut Knowle Farm

Huckleberry‘s jams and preserves – so delicious!  I picked up a jar of Lemon-Thyme Curd to take home.

Buon appetito!

Pasta Making Course in Italy and European Food Travels

Last week, I spent five days in an intensive pasta making course in Bologna, Italy at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese learning how to be a “sfoglina,” or person who creates and rolls out the sheets of pasta that are the base for the delicious Italian creations that are typical of Emilia-Romagna in the north of the country.  You’ll know them by the names tortellini, tortelloni, tagliatelli, and pasta verde.  At some point, I promise I’ll string everything together, but for the moment, you can check out how it went by looking at the photo albums on my Facebook page.

Sorbetteria Castiglione in Bologna

Along the way, as it was only, oh, 90 or so degrees and sweltering each day (30+ for those of you counting in Centigrade), I took a tour of the many gelaterie in Bologna.  Those pictures are on Facebook, too.  I also uploaded them to my Foodspotting account along with several other pictures from my food adventures both in London and in Bologna.  Next week, I’ll post about all the flavors that I managed to sample and which one(s) made my list of favorites.  It was a delicious chore to undertake so I was happy to have to do so.

Lunch at Ottolenghi in London

I know that people knock dining in London, which was another stop on my trip, but there’s really a wealth of terrific places to eat and to discover.  I wrote about several of them in my post about eating around the city during my stop there in February.  It was wonderful to be able to visit some of them again and to come across other places to add to my list.  Most of all, I was able to fit in the amazing and highly-recommended afternoon tea service at Claridge’s.  I’m now going to have to figure out if I can squeeze that in for every visit I make over there.

Sunset over the West Side from my Rooftop

As much as I love to travel and see new places, or in this case to visit my old haunts, there really isn’t anywhere like home.  After two weeks away, I can’t wait to get back to the Big Apple, to my own bed, and to all the wonderful food adventures that are scheduled for this fall.  I hope you’ll continue to follow along with this site and check out my Events page as I try to keep up with as many of them as I can manage to make, discovering great new things to eat and to cook with along the way.

Buon appetito!

Tea at Claridge’s

My mother loved to do tea anywhere we traveled.  Of course, this was especially true anytime we were in London together.  I find that I’ve ended up keeping up the same tradition without even realizing it, and each time I’ve visited this city, I try to find one afternoon, at least, when I can take time out for tea.  Last time I was there, my friends raved about the service at Claridge’s.  I tried, but couldn’t get a booking then.  This time, I managed to get a seating on Friday afternoon.

From the minute you sit down at the table, the staff is by your side making sure that you are comfortable and familiar with this pastime associated with another era.  You’ve stepped away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Oxford and Regent Streets and the beckoning luxury shops of this Mayfair neighborhood and into a quiet, serene world.  To start, you can choose between a traditional Afternoon Tea or splurge a bit and go for the Champagne Tea.  The first comes with sandwiches, sweets, and scones while the second has the same items plus a glass of champagne and an individual chocolate creation added to it as well.  I opted for the Afternoon Tea.

Tea and Sandwiches at Claridge’s

Once you’ve decided which version of this respite to have, the next task is to pick out which tea to enjoy.  The list of about 30 teas covers the globe as well as many varietals, including some exclusive ones like Royal White-Silver Needles.  I picked out the Tregothnan one, which is English-grown from an estate in Cornwall that dates back several centuries.  It is possible to change teas during your meal, so if you can’t decide between a couple of them, note the ones you’d like to try and talk to the server about sampling those as well.

Then, I needed to select which sandwiches to have.  All of them are served on different varieties of organic bread.  I went with the typical selection which had Smoked Salmon with an orange butter than went perfectly with the salty, smoky fish; Ham, butter, and watercress; Organic Roast Chicken with tomato; very English Cucumber with cream cheese; and my favorite Egg Mayonnaise and watercress.  I was also able to try the vegetarian sandwich plate which had the last two of the above sandwiches plus a Red pepper and hummus; Cheddar cheese and chutney; and Mushroom and lettuce.  The cheese one of those was my favorite as the chutney’s sweetness and hint of curry kick cut through the dairy fattiness of the cheddar.

Scones with Clotted Cream and Marco Polo Tea Jelly

After the sandwiches, I was brought a tray that included two types of scones with clotted cream and their own Marco Polo Tea Jelly.  The fluffy scones were the traditional raisin and an apple one.  I really enjoyed the contrast that tart green fruit slivers brought to the clotted cream that I dolloped on top of each half.  I also put a generous helping of the jelly on top of that.  The jelly gave a slightly sweet, floral, fruity essence to every bite of the scones and was a delightful combination with the buttery, rich cream and is exclusive to Claridges.  When I discovered that I could buy a jar of the jelly in their gift shop, I snapped up a it so that I could re-create this experience back at home.

Along with the scones came two sweet treats.  The one on the left is basically a millefeuille with vanilla bean-speckled pastry cream.  Done wrong and these confections taste horrible, sort of like glue and cardboard put together.  Done perfectly, as this one was, you get crisp, toasty puff pastry with delicately-flavored vanilla cream slathered between each layer.  The star of this plate for me was, however, the Passionfruit Shot.  So much beautiful, tropical flavor was came together in this small glass.  I wish that all desserts could be this wonderfully constructed.

Millefeuille and Passionfruit Shot

Burnt sugar style tuile pieces and cubes of fresh pineapple decorated the top of this dish.  Then, the spoon touches the passionfruit mousse which has the exact right balance between fruit flavor and fluffy mousse-iness (combining cream, sugar, and eggs).  As the fruit in its native state can be somewhat tart and acidic, the chef was a genius in bringing out the tropical, floral notes without those other features showing through.  At the bottom of the glass, for that extra punch of flavor was a thin layer of passionfruit curd, further tying together the dish by going back for a sweet finish.  I could have eaten a whole tray of these.

To say that it was a special experience to take tea at Claridge’s might sound a bit trite, but this was really one of the best and most enjoyable times that I have every had with this afternoon ritual.  The food was fantastic and showed the care and craft that is a hallmark of the hotel.  The music was lively but not intrusive at all.  The staff was superb and attentive to everything, making sure that I and the other guests had everything that we needed so that we could enjoy taking a moment out to stop the world and relax.  The lobby with Art Deco and Art Nouveau finishes brought together in modern harmony is an exquisite setting for any meal.  Once I finished, I felt recharged and refreshed, ready to take on more of the adventures that London had to show me.

Buon appetito!

“Russia on a Plate” by Karina Baldry

Russian Cooking.  The phrase conjures up crimson red bowls of borscht garnished with a dollop of snow white sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill, caviar-topped blinis, ice-cold vodka, and maybe the mayonnaise creation referred to as “Russian Salad.”  I’ve been to Russia a few times and have eaten some of these things.  I’ve also been served steaming bowls of soup with meat dumplings, brown bread, tart jam and tangy yogurt, and other dishes that now escape my memory.  I think the best part was always the vodka toasts before, during, and after the meal.

When I was doing research for my trip to London this week, I visited the website for one of my favorite cookbook stores, Books for Cooks.  They have wonderful one-off workshops on a variety of cuisines and techniques, so I was just hoping that this time our schedules matched so that I could take one of their courses.  Fortunately, it did and the title of one of them, “Russia on a Plate” intrigued me, based upon my previous experience with this food.  What could they be teaching?

Lobio (Kidney Bean Spread)

Karina Baldry has put together a book of the dishes she grew up with while living in the Soviet Union and which she has adapted to ingredient availability in the UK.  She openly acknowledges that these are her interpretations of these recipes.  The workshop I took today focused on the things that she ate based upon her grandmother’s cooking from the Caucasus region.

Khachapuri (Cheese Puffs)

One of the facts that I took away from the lesson was that this cuisine relies very heavily on herbs and spices.  In fact, except for the sweet at the end of the meal, cilantro was in every dish that she demonstrated for us.  It added an herbal freshness to the Khachapuri na skoruju ruke (Cheat’s Quick Khachapuri) or Cheese Puffs.  In the Lobio (Kidney Bean Spread), cilantro was a refreshing counterpoint to the meaty, dense beans.  The fragrance of the steaming Chakhokhbili (Chicken in Tomato and Onion Sauce) was perfumed with its citrus notes, as well.

Chakhokhbili (Chicken in Tomato and Onion Sauce)

For the dessert Baddam Buri (Georgian Pastries with Walnuts and Cardamom), she made a shortcrust pastry using beer in the dough to give it a bit of a lift.  The filling was spiced with toasted, ground cardamom, which I’ll have to figure out how to replicate once I get home.  This added a wonderful spicy balance to the sweetness of the sugar in the filling making it sort of a savory sweet which would be perfect with tea or coffee.  As she promised, they were irresistible and disappeared as quickly as they were brought out from the oven for us to try.

Baddam Buri (Georgian Pastries with Walnuts and Cardamom)

Getting to see Karina make these dishes first-hand and hearing her talk about the memories that they brought back of her family and the gatherings that they would have has inspired me to see if I can bring some of that warmth into my own home.  I’ve never been that fond of most of the dishes that I had eaten when I was traveling in Russia, finding it too heavy and sometimes greasy, so it’s never really occurred to me to try to explore it further.  Today’s luncheon showed me that I’ve been overlooking some of the wonderful dishes that the cuisine and culture have produced that probably weren’t as well known in the West due to the political climate.  I’m looking forward to lifting my own “Iron Curtain” and making some of her recipes at home.

Buon appetito!

Eggs with Sauteed Mushrooms, Spinach, and Taleggio

In my post about some of the delicious meals I had during my trip to London a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d eaten at GAIL’s, a newish mini-chain of artisan bread shops and cafés, one of which was located not all that far from where I was staying in West London.  The day I landed, I stopped in for a second breakfast (or mid-morning snack, depending upon your point of view) of coffee and a pastry just to keep me going and to try to get my body on the local time zone.  I spotted another customer’s meal of fluffy scrambled eggs, mushrooms, béchamel sauce, and a croissant and vowed I’d come back there to eat a real breakfast before my trip was over.
Several days later, as I transited back through London before I headed back to New York, I made good on that promise to myself.  The menu had changed, as they had just done a revamp while I was away, I was told by the chef who plans the items for the Notting Hill branch, so I couldn’t sample the dish I’d seen on my first trip.  No matter, however, as I was able to try their hearty and delicious Fried Eggs with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Taleggio.  The beautiful, orange egg yolks perfectly encased in their whites lying lovingly on a bed of mushrooms, spinach, and cheese served with two thick slabs of buttered whole grain toast from their bakery made this a meal to send jet lag scurrying off on its merry way.  (I also decided at that moment that this would also make a great weeknight supper, as well.)
Ingredients
While savoring each bite of my breakfast, I knew that I needed to figure out how to make this dish when I got back home.  This is the perfect thing to serve as a brunch for one person or for several people, as it is easy to scale up or down.  High-quality, artisan-made bread and the freshest eggs you can find are the keys to carrying off this dish.  I was able to get a loaf of Orwasher’s whole grain bread at the Foodshed Market and some gorgeous eggs from the Greenmarket.  The robust texture and flavor of the bread really balances out the ooziness of the cheese studded with thyme-and-garlic scented woodsy mushrooms and earthy spinach.  I made a fried egg for my breakfast plate, but a poached egg would work well, too, as it’s the contrast of the clean-tasting white and the richness of the yolk that add the perfect texture to the dish.

Eggs with Sautéed Mushrooms, Spinach, and Taleggio
Serving Size: 4 people (can be scaled up or down)
Prep Time: less than 30 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tsp. Unsalted Butter
3 tsp. Canola Oil (or other neutral oil)
1 large clove Garlic, finely minced
1 large sprig fresh Thyme
2 cups sliced Cremini Mushrooms (baby Portobellos)
4 cups baby Spinach Leaves or large spinach leaves cut smaller
1/4 lb. Taleggio Cheese, rind removed and cut into thick slices
4 Eggs, the freshest you can find
4 slices of thick, artisan, Whole-grain Bread
Butter for spreading on toasted bread
Salt
Pepper

Assembly:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  In non-stick skillet, melt butter along with one tsp. of the oil.  Add the garlic and thyme sprig and cook for about 30 seconds to release the scent of the garlic and perfume of the herbs.  Toss in mushrooms and stir to coat in the oil and cook until the they begin to brown slightly, about 2 minutes.  Make sure that you are using a large enough pan so that the mushrooms are not crowded together, otherwise they will just release water and steam instead of sautéeing.

Remove the mushrooms from the stove and put on a plate.  Put the spinach in the pan and cook over the lowest heat possible until the leaves are soft and wilted, about 1 minute at the very most but likely about 30 seconds. (I used the residual heat in the pan from cooking the mushrooms.)  Remove the spinach from the pan and put on the same plate as the mushrooms.

Mushrooms and Cheese

In an oven-proof pan (or if your skillet can go in the oven, use the same pan), place the spinach and mushrooms in one layer.  Remove the thyme sprigs, pulling off some of the leaves to add to the vegetables.  Layer slices of the Taleggio over top of the mushrooms and spinach and place in the oven to melt the cheese.

In the meantime, prepare the eggs.  If you are going to poach them, you might want to follow my guide here.  If frying them, place the remaining 2 tsp. of oil in a skillet and let it heat for 15 seconds.  Carefully place the eggs into the skillet so that you have yolk surrounded by white.  Fry eggs several minutes until the white is completely cooked and the yolk is beginning to set (you can cook a little longer if you like your yolk a bit more custardy, as I do, just take care not to overcook the white).

Just before the eggs are finished cooking, put the bread in the toaster.  Check on the vegetables to make sure the cheese has melted.  Remove that pan from the oven and place 1/4 of the mushrooms, spinach, and Taleggio mixture on each of 4 plates.  Put an egg on each of the plates, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and serve with buttered toast.  Enjoy!

Kitchen Witch Tip:
If you follow my recipes regularly, you see that I often cook with a combination of butter and oil.  I learned about doing this when I lived in Italy and really enjoy the flavor that I get from using these together.

There’s also a practical reason for this.  Butter has fat solids which can burn when cooked at high heat (the foamy part that is removed in something called clarified butter which can be used at higher temperatures).  Melting the butter and oil together captures the creaminess and flavor of the dairy and the higher smoke-point (the temperature at which fats burn) of the oil so that you get the best taste and chemical properties for your cooking needs.

Buon appetito!