Nov 282009
 

I am an avowed teaphile. In a nation that’s taken more and more to the allure of the coffee shop over the last decade or two, I’m delighted and excited by the rise of tea specialists and what I’m calling (in a rather linguistically challenged way) teafés.

So I thought I’d share some of great tea suppliers with you, by highlighting those products from each that I think would make fabulous gifts for those tea lovers in your lives. Or for yourselves!

First up are Jing Tea. I confess, I haven’t yet tried their teas, though they’re on my list to try soon, but with such a large selection in the cupboard, Pete is “encouraging” me to reduce my stock before adding to it any further. (And I have to concede, he may have a point!) But I absolutely love their double walled tea cups and mugs and they’re firmly on my own Christmas wishlist.

From the modern to the traditional with Lahloo Tea‘s beautiful tea infusers. My favourite is the Six Cranes design, above. Combine one of these with a selection of their teas for a gift pack that whispers peace and relaxation.

The Rare Tea Company, who I’ve mentioned before on Kavey Eats, also has a range of pretty teaware, with both modern glass and dainty porcelain items. But it’s Henrietta’s teas I can’t get enough of. I love her Jasmine Silver Tip Tea, made by steaming fine silvery-white tips of tea with fresh jasmine flowers, and her Emperor’s Breakfast black China tea is pretty marvellous too, as are her delicate Oolong Tea and her refreshing Green Leaf Tea.

You may recall me mentioning Teapigs before too, and not just for the cute name! Self-confessed tea evangelists, their mission is to bring really fine quality tea to everyone, even those who are new to or nervous about loose leaf tea. They have a great range of teas (both loose and in specially designed tea bags) including some novel ones such as chocolate flake tea and spiced winter red tea.

Tiny Teas is another tea specialist I’ve recently come across but haven’t yet tried myself. However, I’m intrigued by the idea of their apple crumble tea which is described as a mix of green and oolong tea with the flavour of apples, cinnamon and marzipan.

And I’m saving a real treat for last. I have posted before about my serendipitous friendship with Pei Wang from Teanamu. Pei has established his own tea business with a somewhat different slant to those above. Although he does indeed sell very fine quality tea and hand-selected teawares (I can personally recommend the phoenix eye jasmine and the lychee black and isn’t the petite elegance black pot adorable?) he also runs the most amazing tea appreciation sessions and tea cookery workshops. I’ve attended both of these myself and cannot recommend them highly enough for any tea lovers out there. I’m planning to purchase some teanamu magic for one of my nearest and dearest this Christmas.

Here are some photos taken at Teanamu’s tea appreciation ceremony (from a couple of months ago) and the tea cookery workshop, that I attended more recently:




Teanamu cookery workshop
Teanamu Tea Appreciation


Teanamu Oolong madeleines

I hope you find some tea inspiration in this selection and perhaps the perfect tea gifts to treat either yourself, or your friends and family, this Christmas. Enjoy!

Nov 262009
 

Looking for an early evening eatery, food tweeters came to my rescue by suggesting a visit to the Covent Garden branch of Wahaca, a place I’d wanted to try for a while.

Arriving early, we were rewarded with quick service and a funky but peaceful environment. The food was good, though a few dishes were too hot for us, especially the pork pibil tacos, which had me hyperventilating with chilli shock!

As time ticked on the tables filled up, which created a great vibe, though it was a shame when the volume of the music was whacked up, drowning the buzz and making it difficult to talk.

We stuck to street food with a mix of tacos, tostadas, taquitos, tortilla chips, guacamole and frijoles. Some great flavours – fresh, zingy, energising!


churros y chocolate

But the dish we both lusted for was churros y chocolate! The churros were crunchy throughout, rather than soft within and crispy without, as we’ve both experienced before… so not quite what either of us expected. But they worked well with the rich, viscous, dark chocolate dipping sauce. Mmmm!

 

Ask any Brit about Interflora and you’ll be hard pressed to find one who doesn’t know they’re a flower delivery company, that you can order online or by phone and that a bunch of flowers is a wonderful way to say ‘thank you‘, ‘sorry‘, ‘I love you‘, ‘good luck‘, ‘commiserations‘, ‘congratulations‘, ‘get well soon‘…

Infact, I’ve used them many times myself, most recently to send my lovely mum a big thanks for all her help with my Covent Garden Stall.

And, I’d probably have guessed, had I not known already, that I could add extras such as balloons, teddybears and chocolates to my flower order.

What I hadn’t realised, until approached to try one, was that Interflora also offer a great range of hampers, including christmas hampers. I really like hampers. Oh heck, let’s be honest – I love hampers. And I get quite alarmingly excited about the ones that come in proper wicker boxes. (Ask Pete, I really do get bouncy screechy excited).

And because I’m a bit batty about hampers, I love giving them to other people! Most often I assemble my own – buying nice boxes or baskets and filling them with both shop-bought and home-made goodies. Occasionally I gift someone with a shop-bought hamper. I’d like to do it more often but I have found it difficult to balance my insistence on a list of contents I like (and think my loved one will like), my desire for a nice container and my inherent stinginess that won’t allow me to pay more than the contents would add up to, if I bought them all myself.

The official photo

So I was pretty impressed that the Christmas Festivities Hamper that I was sent to review comes in at only £70! It’s probably best if you don’t try too hard to visualise my excitement when the huge parcel arrived – it was probably a little excessive. A proper wicker hamper packed to the brim with the kind of lovely goodies that appeal to the real person (no obscure relishes or tins of posh pâté that turn out to taste just how I imagine cat food tastes). BIG GRIN!

Of course, you might say, it’s easy to be excited about a hamper when you’ve been sent it for free! And that’s certainly true. But having dived in to some of the contents already, I can say with hand on heart, that I’m genuinely impressed with the range and standard of the items included given the very reasonable price. Not all of us can afford (or want) to spend the prices that similarly sized hampers from top end stores usually cost. This is a great alternative, especially when it comes with reliable delivery from a company so many of us already know and use.

My photo – not as good at artful arranging!

 

If you’re feeling especially flash, you can always add some christmas flowers to the order. But for those gents out there wanting to earn brownie points with their Mrs, I strongly suggest you pay a visit to a fellow blogger’s site to read her very helpful and humourous exposé on the office flowers competition! Essential reading!

 

When I came across the Matthew Walker Christmas Pudding challenge posted on the UK Food Bloggers Association forum, I couldn’t resist! They invited bloggers to conjure up a creative recipe based on their “Recipe No. 13 Christmas Pudding” which they would kindly supply for the purposes of the competition! I knew what I wanted to try before I wrote in to participate, and before long my christmas puddings arrived.

I knew from the start that I wanted to make a custard-based ice-cream with chunks of moist christmas pudding and that I wanted to soak my christmas pudding in brandy for that traditional Christmas hit.

The Matthew Walker pudding is delicious – moist, rich and perfectly balanced. I chopped up 100 grams, doused it with 2 teaspoons of brandy and left it aside for an hour or so.

Having never made custard before, this gave us another opportunity to road-test Michel Roux’s Sauces: Savoury and Sweet. Pete took the reigns here and the custard came out very well, though we both found it a touch too sweet for our tastes. However, for an ice-cream – where flavours need to be more intense before being frozen – it was perfect!

We left the custard to cool for as long as I had the patience (about an hour) before pouring the custard and dropping the brandy-soaked pieces of pudding into our bowl-in-the-freezer style ice-cream machine.

As is usually the case with this type of machine, the final results – when the machine can no longer churn through the stiffening mixture – are still a little softer than we’d prefer, so we transferred it into a freezer container to firm up further. Not without me taking a scoop to enjoy straight away, of course. And it was absolutely spot on!

I’m absolutely thrilled with this ice-cream! Even though it was an experiment – the first custard we’ve made, the first custard-based ice-cream we’ve made and the first recipe using christmas pudding we’ve made – I wouldn’t adjust it at all. I think this would make a really great Christmas day dessert!

Kavey’s Christmas Pudding, Brandy & Custard Ice-Cream Recipe

Custard
568 ml / 1 pint milk
125 grams caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
Pudding Pieces
100 grams Matthew Walker Recipe 13 christmas pudding
2 teaspoons brandy

Method

  • Chop the christmas pudding into approximately 1 cm cubes.
  • Place in bowl, pour over the brandy, stir a little to distribute, and leave aside, covered, to soak in.
  • Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.
  • Put the milk, vanilla seeds and pod and two thirds of the sugar into a heavy based saucepan and bring slowly to the boil.
  • Meanwhile whisk the yolks and remaining sugar in a bowl until pale yellow and creamy.
  • Once the milk reaches a boil pour it onto the egg yolks, whisking continuously and then transfer the custard mixture back to the pan.
  • Cook over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it has thickened. Do not let it boil.
  • It is ready when it lightly coats the back of the spoon, and running a finger through it leaves a clear trace.
  • Allow to cool.
  • Pour custard and pudding pieces into ice-cream machine.
  • Allow to churn until ready.
  • Some types of machines may require the ice-cream to be transferred to the freezer to firm up further.
 

The big night came and went, and it was marvellous! Bloggers pulled together to create a truly unique and fantastic event for which tickets were purchased by generous supporters, all of whom seemed to have a great time!

We raised just over £3,000 in ticket sales for the Blaggers Banquet, held on the 15th November, in London’s Hawksmoor restaurant (thank you, Hawksmoor!).

So what did our customers get for their money? A range of fantastic drinks (which kept flowing all evening), beautiful canapés, a truly delicious multi-course meal and raffle tickets to win a towering pile of fantastic prizes. All this got them in the mood to put their hands up again and again, allowing us to raise over £3,300 in the auction on the night. Oh, and they each left with a bursting full goodie bag too!

That’s well over £6,000 and we’re not finished yet! (See below).

Some bloggers excelled in blagging food and drink provisions for the night as well as raffle and auction prizes. Some worked out menus and invented cocktails. Some took on kitchen-prep and cooking duties and others put together goodie bags. And of course, the front of house team served the punters with all that food and drink. And there were a myriad other tasks from creating menus and name stickers to arranging deliveries and taking on pick ups to tidying up afterwards! The entire team was pulled together by Niamh, whose brainchild this event has been.

What was I doing? On the night, I attended as a diner but my main job has been the IT side. I set up the Ebay and Paypal accounts and got the tickets on sale, and dealt with any payment enquiries. And created a door list for the night. (Don’t even get me started on what a nightmare Paypal has been to deal with – I understand that they need to be watchful against money laundering activities but those of us who are legitimate have to jump through so many damn hoops; they make it so damned difficult that I’m surprised the only people with the patience to persevere aren’t the criminals they’re trying to thwart!)

I have also had the pleasure of dealing with a number of lovely suppliers who’ve responded generously to my blagging requests for food, drink and prizes! (Thank you, again!)

My biggest job started only after the banquet evening was over – we blagged so many fantastic prizes that we’re now running an online auction which we expect to last for at least a month! Every day I’ll be listing another great item that you can bid on, all donated by our kind and generous suppliers. I’m also still following up payments for tickets and on-the-night auction wins.

If you couldn’t attend, you can still participate by visiting our auction page regularly and bidding generously on the wonderful items on offer.

Here are a few of my pictures of the night. You can also see a much larger set, including all the preparation, cooking etc., taken by Foodbymark, here.

Kavey’s Pics








 

When my sister and I were kids, we’d fight over the marrow bones in mum’s lamb curry. Mum would usually make it with leg or shoulder of lamb, which she’d have the butcher cut into large pieces, with the bones left in. The marrow managed to retain it’s distinct oleaginous texture and taste whilst also taking on some of the rich, fragrant flavours of the spices, tomato, onions, ginger and garlic that make up the curry sauce.

You can surely understand why we were so insistent that mum shared out the marrow bone pieces with scrupulous fairness!

Beef marrow bone curry

Every now and then, she’d ask the butcher for extra marrow bones. Back then, people asked for these to feed to their pets, so when she said, no they were for her children, the butcher jumped to conclusions about family finances! Mum had to explain that actually, her girls adored marrow bone and that she was buying it for a treat. But he never would charge her more than a few pence for them!

And this one of mum’s girls still adores marrow bone – both lamb and beef – so was delighted when Paganum‘s Chris Wildman kindly put some beef marrow bones into the box for me!

As we were cooking mum’s egg curry recipe anyway, the base of which is not disimilar to that of the lamb curry I decided to make extra sauce and used half of it, with added water to thin and increase the volume, to cook my three huge marrow bones.

Beef marrow bone curry

I left the three huge bones bubbling away until the marrow was cooked and the sauce reduced.

Of course, my eyes were far bigger than my belly, and I couldn’t finish all three but I can tell you that I really, really, really enjoyed this very nostalgic treat!

Nov 162009
 

I love a good sauce. Even the most beautiful, flavoursome, delicious meat can be lifted by a good sauce. So I’ve been keen to get my hands on Michel Roux’s Sauces.

Michelin-starred Roux first wrote his compendium of savoury and sweet sauce recipes back in 1996. Quadrille have now published a new and revised edition of his comprehensive collection in which many recipes have been updated for today’s lighter, healthier tastes. Roux has also added 20 new recipes, not to mention many new photographs.

With two fabulous Paganum rib eye steaks in our possession, we opted to make the sauce suprême with sherry and mushrooms. Like many of the recipes in the book, this is based on another recipe, so we first made up the velouté sauce. (This in turn refers to Roux’s recipes for chicken stock or vegetable stock, also in the book, but instead we used some chicken stock we’d made and frozen a few weeks earlier.)

I say “we” opted to make… Actually, Pete was the chef, I just hovered around the kitchen, taking photos and making a nuisance of myself! (I did, at least, sort out the potatoes!)

The steps were easy to follow:

  • For the velouté, first make a roux before adding chicken stock and cooking for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • For the sauce suprême, take your velouté, add cream and mushrooms, simmer for 10 minutes. If you’re following the recipe, strain to remove the mushrooms before whisking in some butter and finally adding in some dry sherry. Voilà!

As Pete was making the sauce, I cooked the steaks.

Our only mishap with the sauce is that Pete got it to an absolutely perfect, creamy consistency before adding the sherry. We hadn’t realised how much the sherry would thin the sauce, so our final sauce was thinner than we intended. We’ll remember next time to ensure that the sauce is a little thicker than we’d like it to be before adding the alcohol.

We also decided to leave the mushrooms in, rather than strain and discard as per the recipe.

The sauce was absolutely delicious. Really, really, really tasty!

Much of it’s flavour comes from the stock so I would strongly recommend making your own or buying a top quality fresh one rather than using a concentrate or cube. We make our chicken stock in a slow cooker, overnight, using the carcass from a roast chicken, the giblets (minus liver which I’ll have enjoyed as a pre-dinner snack), onions or leeks, depending on what’s in the fridge, carrots, a bay leaf or two and water to cover. In the morning, it’s ready!

There are several more recipes that we want to try from the book so I’ll be sure to blog those too.

Many thanks to Quadrille for the review copy.


The list price for Sauces: Savoury and Sweet is £14.99 but it’s currently available from Amazon at just £8.97, an absolute bargain!

 

Marmite are the latest brand to jump on the pop up bandwagon with a Regent Street pop up shop through November and December.

Inspired by the idea of “over 100 different Marmite inspired products” we dropped in yesterday to check it out.

The window and internal displays are fun – a tower of Marmite jars, a Love Hate wall art of jars and lids and an old-fashioned record turntable slowly rotating yet more jars. But we found the selection inside pretty disappointing.

Mugs and tins sport Warholised versions of the familiar Marmite logo in a range of pastel colours. If one counts all the colour variations and sizes of tins, that’s no doubt where the “100 different products” claim comes from! A shame they don’t have mugs with the logo in it’s standard colours… I might just have bought one of those!

There are a range of T-shirts – not bad but certainly over-priced.

And a very small selection of Marmite snacks (though we noticed the absence of Marmite twiglets and the new Marmite bar we’d recently encountered).

The biggest disappointment? None of their special editions of Marmite are available. Pete’s developed quite a taste for the Champagne edition so was hoping to pick some up here.

Upstairs is a small room that looks like a school art room. On the wall are Marmite art installations, including a huge wall of Love or Hate stickers which visitors choose and put up. And a table with marker pens too. Much more fun that your usual visitor book so I did, of course, join in!


Visitors can pause for a snack here – as long as they’re happy with tea and Marmite on toast!

And that’s about it. It takes only a few minutes to check out the shop and realise there’s really not much on offer at all.

If you’re a Marmite fan, and passing, you might like to pop in for a moment. But I wouldn’t make a special trip for it myself.

 

There can’t be many who aren’t aware of the horrors of battery farming at it’s worst. Thousands of birds crammed into vast sheds – often windowless with artificial lights on 24/7; their movements completely restricted; their bodies pumped full of growth hormones to speed up the production cycle. And goodness knows what they’re fed on! Sometimes, the birds grow so fast their legs can’t support their bodies; they spend their short lives sitting in their own filth. As you can imagine, these birds are highly stressed and regular doses of anti-biotic are needed just to keep them alive. Shudder!

So what are the alternatives?

Free range, in my mind, is predominantly about animal welfare. There are controls over how the number of birds per square foot and the animals are free to… well… range! They have access to open-air grass runs. Feed must contain at least 70% cereals. That said, they can be given chemically treated feeds and can be treated with drugs including, as far as I can tell, growth hormones.

There’s also the subset of free range corn-fed birds – their feed must include at least 50% maize, which gives the meat it’s characteristic yellow colour.

Organic, as I understand it, goes quite a bit further. It too governs how densely packed the birds are in their sheds and specifies access to open-air grass runs. But it also rules out growth hormones (antibiotics are permitted to treat sick birds but cannot be regularly and routinely given for any other purpose). The makeup of the chicken feed is also regulated. It contains cereals, some vegetable protein, a small amount of fish meal, and a vitamin/mineral supplement. In addition, the feed itself must be grown organically. In many cases, it’s often also free from genetically modified produce.

To my mind, even if one puts aside the animal welfare issue, it makes sense that animals allowed to grow at a natural rate, to develop their muscles by normal movement, to eat a healthy and natural diet and to live a relatively relaxed life interacting with their fellow birds will taste better than their cheap, mass-produced counterparts.

A few years ago, some newspapers made a great fanfare about research papers published by food scientists at Strathclyde University. There was rather a large leap from what the papers contained to what the journalists claimed – that the scientists had shown that organic confers no nutritional benefit over non-organic and that it doesn’t taste better either. All in all it was a gleeful nose-thumb to the merits of organic farming and the high prices of organic produce. In reality, the papers concluded no such thing, and what they did put forward was based on statistically insignificant samples.

In any case, I had never held the belief that there is a nutritional benefit to organic. My thinking is that organic is about curtailing the use of artificial chemicals in production, and therefore as much about the environmental benefit as the quality of the produce itself. And perhaps, there may prove to be long-term health benefits to ingesting less chemicals, though it’s not something I worry about.

I figured that, in terms of taste, both free range and organic provide a clear taste/texture improvement over battery-farmed.

My question was whether organic would taste any better than free range or about the same?

So I set out to find out.

Abel & Cole have recently launched a range of free range meat, alongside their organic. They kindly sent me two beautiful chickens – one free range and one organic.

The birds were the same size and my plan was to cook them side by side and make a direct comparison.

The first step was to score a big F and O into the skins to ensure no accidental mixups! As you can see, the organic bird has a yellower tone to the free range.

Then a liberal application of butter (à la Simon Hopkinson) and the birds went into the oven.

And came out beautifully roasted!

So what was the result?

Both birds did taste fabulous, but the organic one definitely had the edge. It’s skin, especially, had far more flavour. The meat too had more flavour, though both were moist, tasty and with similar great texture.

I also fried both chicken livers as little snack before the meal. Both were delicious! Really not much in it, but the organic one was just that bit firmer and meatier.

We made stock from both carcasses / giblets and the two batches were indistinguisable.

A round of applause to the organic bird! It won, by a small nose (or should that be parson’s nose?)

For those on a tighter budget, the free range bird is a great quality choice. When pushing the boat out, it’s worth paying more for the organic.

 

Read all about the fabulous Blaggers Banquet in my previous blog post, here.

Tickets are now on sale! Click here to go to our ebay page.

(Keep an eye on that page as we’ll also be auctioning some wonderful items over the coming month).


A big thank you to the suppliers who’ve responded to my blagging requests so far:




(All the suppliers who’ve responded to the many blagging bloggers will be listed and thanked on a Blaggers Banquet website, coming soon).

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