Just a week left before closing date to vote in these awards (by 24 April). I know many of you have voted for me already and many thanks – but if you haven’t, I’d be very grateful if you would now! :)
Originally posted on thesinglegourmetandtraveller:
I’m very excited to have been shortlisted for a DFDS Seaways 2015 Travel Blogger of the Year Award.
DFDS Seaways is a leading ferry company operating ferries across the Channel to France and Holland – see: www.dfdsseaways.co.uk for more information. There are five categories in the awards – Travel, Culture & History, Food & Drink, Newcomer, and Travel Photos. I’ve been nominated in the Food & Drink category and if you follow this link: http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/Documents/dfds-blogger/categories/index.html – you’ll find me listed there under ‘Kay Gale’. I really hope that you enjoy my blog enough to vote for me and many thanks to all of you for following me and hopefully casting that important vote! :) Voting is open until 24 April. And, of course, the link will put you in touch with a number of great food and travel blogs that you may enjoy taking a look at.
I spend quite a lot of time in various Carluccio’s Caffes – though mainly my local Richmond branch. I buy most of my pasta there (especially my favourite orecchiette), polenta, olives, panettone at Christmas, colomba at Easter and wonderful baci di dama biscuits (to which I am seriously addicted). I probably meet friends there for lunch more than any other place and am often found in the Covent Garden and Bloomsbury branches as well as local Richmond, but Kingston and Cobham too. I’ve even been to an opera evening – live singing – while you eat a set menu at Wimbledon. What I like – apart from the fact that they’re Italian and serve lovely Italian food – is that Carluccio’s Caffe fits the bill for any time of day. I love their croissants for breakfast and although I normally eat croissants on their own, I can’t resist asking for some of their fabulous fig jam to go with them. And, of course, a morning kick-start of punchy Napoli coffee (although there’s always the option of the softer Milano blend). For lunch or supper there are various salads or you could go the whole way with a plate of pasta (I often choose their lasagna with a side of rocket and Parmesan salad) or a Secondi of branzino – sea bass – or maybe Veal Saltimbocca. One of my favourite things to do at lunchtime is share an Antipasti plate with a friend and some of their excellent focaccia. But now with these gorgeous new sharing plates there are more options for a light meal – lunchtime or early evening with a drink – and so maybe I’ll have to go to Carluccio’s even more often!!
Well, OK. I think I’ve made the point that I’m a bit of a Carluccio’s fan. But now you can see that I was truly very excited to be invited by them to an event to launch their new Sharing Plates at the Covent Garden (one of my favourites) restaurant last night. It was a perfect evening to go for cocktails and sharing plates. It had been the warmest April day for 4 years and felt like summer. The Covent Garden Carluccio’s is quite a big one and I was directed upstairs to the nicest room with its bright, airy ceiling, big windows and pretty frescoes on the walls.
The room was full of other foodie people and I was immediately welcomed and offered a glass of a simple cocktail of prosecco and limoncello. It was delightfully refreshing.
A table in the middle was filled with large plates of the new ‘sharing plates':
A large ham was being sliced in front of us for the antipasti to be regularly replenished.
All dishes were regularly replenished. We weren’t going to run out of food! When a new dish of little red peppers filled with tuna was brought, we were told they were quite spicy.
They were – I love chilli and these had quite a hit but were really delicious. There were delicious Polpette – meatballs with tomato sauce:
And lovely Bruschettine topped with either tomatoes & peppers or goats’ cheese & onion jam:
And irresistible grilled prawns:
There was a cheese board full of different Italian cheeses, a whole Parmesan in the centre to cut into and take chunks, wonderful arancini oozing with melted mozzarella, skewers of mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. As for drink, there was plenty of wine or more prosecco but I was drawn to the far end of the room where Federico was mixing some Peroni cocktails. Try one, he urged, as he put a Peroni La Piazza before me.
I’m so glad he did. It was wonderful and perfect for the warm evening: ice-cold Peroni with some bitterness from Angostura balanced with lime juice and ginger spices. I was at the party for quite some time and talked to some lovely bloggers and other people interested in food. When I decided to leave and make my way home, I was given a goody bag by Abbey – part of the team who’d arranged the evening. Then on the train home I saw on Twitter that I’d missed dessert! Shock! Too late to go back but I obviously need to go back to a Carluccio’s soon to make up for it!
However, opening my goody bag at home almost made up for it:
And anyway, I’m back at Carluccio’s Richmond on Monday lunchtime to meet a friend to celebrate my birthday … and since a birthday definitely means a treat then I’ll have to have dessert!!
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There’s been a lot of gardening going on. My own garden is quite small but it’s surprising how much time it takes to tidy it after winter and plant some new shrubs and replant pots. I’ve also been helping Jonathan in their much bigger garden over the past two weekends. The young family are still a bit sleep deprived so gardening is one way to help, with the added bonus that I get Baby Gale cuddles and stay on for supper. Jonathan was going to make Mechoui Lamb. The shoulder of lamb could be smothered in spices and butter, covered in foil and put in the oven for 3 hours or more; no attention needed other than the foil to be removed for the last half hour. Perfect gardening food. I was to take a salad and so I decided to use freekeh. It has a nice middle eastern touch to go the the lamb, is full of goodness and wonderfully tasty. I was going to use it in much the same way I might use couscous or bulgur wheat and just add some vegetables and herbs. It’s nice to have some texture so I thought I’d add some toasted pistachios too. It was similar to the dish I first made when I found some freekeh in my local Revital store – for that recipe and more information on freekeh, click here. But while that was a warm dish, this new one was definitely a cold salad. I cooked the freekeh first as I wanted it to cool before adding the other ingredients. I put a cup into a small pan, followed by 2 cups of water and some salt. I brought it to the boil and then left to simmer with a lid on. It’s similar to cooking rice and the freekeh does look a bit like brown rice with a green tinge. The freekeh should be cooked in about 10-15 minutes. If there’s still some liquid drain it and then leave to cool. Meanwhile, cut two courgettes into cubes and fry gently in some olive oil until starting to brown. You don’t want to cook them too much because it’s best to retain some bite and not let the courgette become mushy. Remove from pan and put on a plate with some kitchen towel and allow to drain and cool. Now dry roast a handful of pistachios in a small pan. Again, just a little bit – don’t let them burn and become bitter. Then chop them roughly and set aside. Next I chopped some tomatoes into much the same size as the courgettes pieces. You want some really sweet and tasty tomatoes. I used small – but not cherry – Pome die Moro tomatoes which have a deep, good flavour but are quite firm for chopping. Also, chop about 3 or 4 spring onions into small slices. Now add the courgettes, tomatoes, spring onion and pistachios to the cooled freekeh and fold in carefully. Next chop some fresh herbs. I used flat-leaf parsley, basil and mint. You want quite a bit. Chop them roughly and add to the freekeh and mix well, but gently. For the dressing, squeeze the juice from 1 lemon and then add twice the amount of olive oil with some salt, pepper and a teaspoon of honey. Mix well and then add to the freekeh and gently fold in. I made this fairly early in the day and then put in the fridge before taking it round to Jonathan’s – and into their fridge while we gardened! It made a brilliant accompaniment to the lamb – which was delicious, the lamb falling off the bone, full of the flavour of the spices and beautifully moist and tender. It was just what we needed after all that weeding and pruning. As for the salad, I’m sure I’ll be making it – or similar versions – many times over the summer and it’s so full of goodness that it could be a simple meal on its own.
A lot has been happening in Kew Gardens since my March visit. Three weeks ago I was in Kew with my friend Elsa and saw a big change from when I’d written my March post just two weeks’ earlier. The magnolias were in blossom: their big majestic flowers ranging from white, through pale pink to deep magenta are one of the glories of spring.
Today, they were already on their way out: showers of discarded petals carpeting the ground beneath them.
The tulips were looking fabulous and there was a wonderful display outside the Palm House; one of the first things you’ll see if you enter at Victoria Gate and bear right.
There were gorgeous carpets of ground cover flowers, especially in the Woodland Garden near the Princess of Wales Conservatory, like these pretty Erythroniums.
I’d gone there in search of Fritillaries – those beautiful, delicate, bell-shaped bulbs that push through the ground in spring. I didn’t see any there but found some Snake’s Head Fritillary in the Davis Alpine House.
In the rock garden outside I found clumps of lovely Pulsatilla.
Walking round the gardens, the Orangery Restaurant is always a good place to sit with coffee or a snack with its large terraced area allowing you to enjoy a view of the gardens at the same time.
I can never resist a walk down to the lake, where there are a number of benches by the edge providing a peaceful place to sit for a time.
Walking back towards Victoria Gate I passed some glorious prunus in bloom.
Like the Magnolia trees, their blossom is a short-lived thing so all the more reason to go and enjoy it while you can. One of the great things about doing this year-long record of Kew Gardens, visiting each month, is that I’m much more aware of the changes; of what’s in blossom when. And planning to visit at least once a month ensures that I don’t miss out on anything.
If you want to know more about visiting Kew Gardens go to: www.kew.org
I’ve been looking forward to the British Museum’s Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art exhibition since first reading about it some months ago. It was watching Alastair Sooke’s brilliant Treasures of Ancient Greece on BBC4 last night that reminded me that the exhibition must have opened. With another of my ‘days off between freelance jobs’ I decided to head into central London. I was slightly uncertain whether it was a good idea. With the current school holidays, perhaps the British Museum would be heaving. But setting off early, I could be there soon after the museum opened and so avoid the worst of the crowds.
Of course the Single Gourmet Traveller cannot venture too far into a new day without a good coffee, so on the Tube into central London from Richmond, I contemplated whether to get off at Embankment or Temple, thinking first coffee houses rather than museum. I decided on Embankment and to try coffee at Villiers (in Villiers Street), which I’ve passed many times and thought looked good, but had never been near at the right time for coffee. It seemed like the kind of place I’d like – artisan coffee house; later in the day a wine bar. The cakes in the window had always looked fantastic. It’s run by the younger generation of the famous Gordon’s Wine Bar further down Villiers Street so comes with a good pedigree. It was quite busy and I found a table at the back and ordered a small flat white and plain croissant.
As my order was taken, I asked about wifi and was given a password. It didn’t work. I was told to try all caps. That didn’t work. A woman at the next table was having the same problem. The waitress wasn’t helpful and neither I nor my neighbour did get to sign in. The coffee was OK, though not up to the standard of other coffee houses I frequent and I wished I stuck to my original idea of going to Monmouth Coffee. The croissant was soggy on the bottom and oily. I was given no paper napkin and there were none on the table which meant that once I’d finished, I had to go to the toilets to wash my hands. The bill was a rather outrageous £6.08 (including a 12½% service charge for a not great service). At my usual haunts I’d pay only somewhere between £3.55 to £4 for the same – and I do mean sitting down and not takeaway.
Still, one can’t be too down over a disappointing coffee on such a gloriously sunny day, so I headed back outside and onwards, walking through a still quite empty Covent Garden, cutting up Neal Street and into Bloomsbury and to the British Museum.
I wondered if I’d find large crowds but although it was busy, I was able to go in straight away. Just entering the British Museum is something of a wonder. The Great Court is magnificent.
So too was the exhibition, although I couldn’t take photos of that, of course. There were some wonderful Greek sculptures and exquisite pots dating from around 500BC, plus some Roman copies of missing Greek originals. And inevitably, the exhibition included some of the controversial Elgin marbles. I won’t involve myself in that argument, but I will say that one of the ‘Elgin’ sculptures, of the river god Illissos by Pheidias (480-430BC), was incredible; so beautiful, and it was wonderful to see it.
In Greek mode it seemed a Greek lunch was a good plan before going home. I had a quick search on the internet to find Greek restaurants in the Bloomsbury area and thought Konaki in Coptic Street sounded just the place to go. I went in quite early – at about 12.30 – and there were only a handful of people. It was a very friendly welcome and I was asked where I wanted to sit – near the front, further back or in the garden. I thought it probably wasn’t warm enough for me in the garden (though others went out there later) but liked the idea of being close to the door and looking out.
They had a good lunchtime set menu for £10.95 for 2 courses with a wide choice, but I opted for just a main course from the à la carte: Kolokythakia – courgettes stuffed with minced lamb, rice and spices, served with an egg and lemon sauce. While I waited for that, the waiter brought a small glass of house white wine (pleasant and a good price at £3.90) with a dish of very good olives.
Nearby another waiter was talking in Greek to a couple sitting at another table. With the sun shining through from the garden, the ambience like a Greek taverna, I could almost be in Greece and it enhanced my ‘day’s holiday’ mood. My main course came with ‘Greek pasta’ – which was much like Italian orzo – and some pitta bread I’d ordered.
The food was OK but nothing outstanding. The courgettes were overcooked; the mince stuffing tightly packed so a bit solid. The avgolemono – egg and lemon – sauce was very delicious though. I finished with just an espresso. It was the kind of restaurant that’s handy to know about if you’re in the area and fancy Greek food; it’s not somewhere to make a special trip for.
I made my way back through Covent Garden, this time to Waterloo station for a fast mainline train home. It was still fairly early but I’d done a lot and wanted to miss the rush hour. Home and a lie in the sun in the garden beckoned me. Tomorrow work arrives …
Lamb is perhaps a more traditional roast for Easter Sunday but I fancied a nice roast chicken so bought one in the farmers’ market yesterday. I didn’t want to do anything very fancy with it so decided to flavour it simply with just some lemon and thyme and add a dash of cream to the gravy at the end. I bought sweet potatoes to roast along with the ‘ordinary’ potatoes as an accompaniment but the organic vegetable shelves were surprisingly bare when I was buying most of my shopping in Waitrose early morning, so I decided to cook some French-style peas.
Well, what I had in mind was Petit Pois à la Française remembering gorgeous examples in France, slightly sweet, cooked in stock with mild onions and some bacon. As often happens when I’m cooking something ‘classic’ for the blog, it didn’t turn out to be quite as straightforward as I’d anticipated. Amongst my large cookbook collection I had trouble finding a recipe; there wasn’t even one in my three Raymond Blanc books. I found two in old books – I mean old … both were books I commissioned and edited back in the late 1970s! The recipes were similar but one called the dish Petit Pois à la Française while the other, Peas Bonne Femme. Both had spring onions, shredded lettuce and stock but no bacon. I definitely remembered bacon. I’d bought bacon. I went online. I found a Gordon Ramsay YouTube video for making Peas Bonne Femme. Yes he used bacon, little white onions and frozen peas … but no stock, no lettuce. So … I threw all the ideas into a proverbial culinary hat and came up with my own version. I chopped 4 rashes of streaky bacon and sliced – in quite thick slices – a bunch of spring onions, using only the white parts. I browned these in a little olive oil. I also added a little sugar to help with the caramelisation I wanted to deepen the flavour.
Meanwhile I heated a few frozen homemade chicken stock cubes ready to add later. Next I shredded half a Little Gem lettuce and a few fresh mint leaves.
I stirred them in and then added 500g frozen petit pois, stirred and added the stock – not quite enough to cover. I seasoned well with salt (but check because of the bacon and stock) and freshly ground black pepper and then brought to a boil and allowed to simmer gently for about 10 minutes. I didn’t want the peas to lose their freshness and colour but I still wanted to give them enough time to take up some of the flavours from the other ingredients. And they did taste very delicious!
The chicken had, of course, gone into the oven earlier. I smothered it in olive oil, grated over the zest of 1 lemon and a good sprinkling of dried thyme, and salt and pepper.
I cut away the remaining pith from the lemon and put the lemon in the cavity of the chicken.
I like to cover my chicken for the first half of roasting with some greaseproof paper smothered with butter to keep the breast moist.
I put the chicken into a 200C/180 Fan oven for about an hour and 15 minutes. I basted it quite often to help the flavours develop and keep moist, taking off the greaseproof paper about halfway through so the skin could brown. When it was cooked, I lifted the chicken on to a carving board and skimmed excess fat off the juices. The juice from the lemon had run into the pan which would add to the flavour of the gravy. I added a tablespoon of plain flour, mixed well and then added some chicken stock until I got the consistency I wanted. I squeezed in more lemon juice, tasting until I got the lemon flavour I was looking for. I checked seasoning, adding plenty of black pepper, then poured in a little single cream. Violà! One gorgeous lemon sauce to accompany the chicken. I have to say by this time things had got slightly hectic. Jonathan and Lyndsey had arrived with Baby Gale and Lyndsey’s mum, Julie. The baby started crying and I offered to take him for a while (because I can’t resist cuddling him at every opportunity), leaving Jonathan to carve. I didn’t take a photo of the whole roast chicken! But I did remember in time to get one of the chicken nicely cut into portions (the way I like to serve it) and put onto a warm serving plate.
I’d roasted the mix of white and sweet potatoes. I’d cut them into fairly small (about 2cm) cubes and had very briefly blanched in boiling salted water before draining and laying in a roasting dish. I poured over some extra virgin olive oil and turned the potato pieces with my hands to coat them. Then I chopped 1 medium red onion and added that with a few garlic cloves, leaving their skins on, and 2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden. They joined the chicken in the oven to cook for about 45 minutes.
I just love the mix of potatoes and when you roast the garlic cloves whole, you can open them and scrape out a lovely gooey garlic paste to put on the potatoes when you eat them. The meal was always going to be slightly flexible in timing to fit in with Baby Gale. We sat down a little later than expected but everything kept warm OK. We tucked into some prosecco and some fresh foccacia that I’d bought in the Duck Pond Market in Richmond this morning (I’d been quite – but happily – surprised to find them open on Easter Sunday) with some olives and roast almonds.
While Baby Gale slept, we ate the main course. It was all quite simple but gorgeous flavours. It seemed an appropriate meal for Easter Sunday. There was another little gap when Baby Gale woke up but it gave us time to make room for our dessert. I’d bought a selection of wonderful cakes in Paul Bakery in the morning. This was a cheat perhaps – except this is exactly what the French do … buy patisserie from the expert. And really, it’s such a treat to go in and choose from all the wonderful cakes on offer. I’d bought 4 and cut them into quarters, making a kind of instant Café Gourmand with the cafetière of coffee I made to go with them.
The meal stretched leisurely over a couple of hours, which is such a nice way to eat on a Sunday lunchtime. We all ate well, Baby Gale got some cuddles, Zeph the Yorkie got his favourite treat because he was so well behaved – some pieces of roast chicken! A very Happy Easter to you all!!!