For this month’s BSFIC I set quite a challenge, asking you to create savoury ice creams. I gave you the choice of creating wholly savoury recipes or offering a sweet ice cream based on a savoury ingredient.

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I posted first, sharing my recipe for Roquefort & Condensed Milk Ice Cream, using the no churn cream and condensed milk base. Impatient, I tried to whip my cream without cooling it sufficiently first, leading to it splitting, but have shared an adjusted recipe which should avoid that problem. The balance between salty tangy blue cheese and the caramel sweetness of the condensed milk worked very well indeed!

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My husband Pete, who writes drinks blog Pete Drinks, offered up a real savoury ice cream, with his Tequila Ice Cream. Based on the traditional combination of tequila, lime and salt, he made a savoury with tequila and lime. It has a very small amount of sugar, but this doesn’t come through as sweetness in the finished ice cream. The salt is added last, to retain a crunch. Surprisingly, this works very well and I’m wondering what it would be like served with a semi-warm beef salad.

 Laura from How To Cook Good Food made a Cucumber & Dill Frozen Greek Yogurt as a perfect accompaniment to buttery rich smoked salmon. Like Pete, she added a tiny amount of sugar, to balance the saltiness, but this is very much a savoury ice cream. I think it would be particularly refreshing for summer dining, served instead of the raita or tzatziki.

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Foodycat Alicia also went for a blue cheese ice cream, but she created a very different combination in her Blue Cheese and Quince Olive Oil Ice Cream. Having tried and enjoyed an olive oil ice cream in a Greek restaurant she visited, and a blue cheese ice cream in a French one, Alicia decided to bring them together for this month’s challenge. The additional of seasonal quinces completed her flavour combination. Like me, she used a no churn cream and condensed milk base.

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Inspired by a savoury soup she’d made previously, Claire from Under The Blue Gum Tree created a Maple, Bacon and Black Pepper Ice Cream. Best summed up in her own words, Claire says “it’s sweet from the maple syrup, a touch salty from the bacon and you get a little bit of heat from the black pepper. The creamy custard base contrasts beautifully with the crunchy caramelised bacon pieces. Basically, it’s a big hit of umami in a bowl and I love it.

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I’d never come across the combination before but have learned from Deb, writer of Supper and Scribbles, that sweet potato and marshmallow pie is popular in the USA. For her Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Ice Cream, she added baked and blended sweet potato, cinnamon and marshmallows to a vanilla custard base before freezing. The colour looks beautiful and I’m certainly intrigued by the taste!

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Lynda from Wonderlusting came up with this vibrant Goat, Beetroot & Blackberry Froyo recipe. Not goat meat, of course, but goat’s milk yoghurt which she combined with roasted beetroot, fresh blackberries, honey and vanilla. Using frozen berries means that the dessert is like soft-serve ice cream once blended, but it could be frozen further to make it more solid if preferred. This strikes me as both a healthy and delicious idea.

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Originally from Arizona, Tiffany of Kitchen Conversations moved to London several years ago. Thinking about desserts to serve for Thanksgiving, she initially thought of showcasing pumpkin in ice cream form. In the end, she decided to substitute pumpkin with butternut squash, which has a similar flavour and texture, and created her Frozen Butternut Squash Chocolate Terrine. Combining squash with chocolate, chilli and spices worked well and was a great gluten-free alternative to pumpkin pie.

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Well done everyone, I think we all rose to the challenge and I absolutely loved reading your posts!

December’s BSFIC is definitely an easier theme! I’ll be posting it on the 1st of the month.

 

I love sharing recommendations for great products and great gifts. Here’s last year’s epic gift guide. And a selection of food books I suggested the year before. And the main gift guide from 2010 too. And back in 2009 I shared some great tea products from suppliers including Jing, Lahloo, Rare Tea Company and Teanamu.

It’s certainly well worth reviewing those posts as they’re full of fabulous shopping ideas, most of which are still available.

This year, I’ve encountered more excellent tea from a range of sellers, and decided it was high time to share the very best of those on Kavey Eats – Adagio Teas, East India Company, In Nature, Momo Cha, Steenbergs, Tregothnan and Waterloo Tea.

 

Adagio Teas

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Adagio Teas is an American family business that grew out of a love for Chinese tea. Sophie Kreymerman switched from being a part time manicurist to running her own tea retail business, with her two sons Michael and Ilya. Launched in 1999, the business opened a European website (based in the UK) back in 2008.

I tried a selection of their teas, and found the range and quality very good.

Yunnan Gold is a black tea from Yunnan province in China. The loose leaves have a wonderful caramel aroma which comes through more gently in the flavour once brewed. The liquor is a beautiful bronze colour. The tea has just the merest hint of sweetness to it. This is a mild and light black tea with no bitterness even when brewed strong. (£9 / 43 grams)

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Ti Kuan Yin is one of my favourites, and this example is lovely. The clear liquor has a very subtly floral aroma, but also the typical fresh grassy smell of an oolong. On tasting, it’s similarly subtle and pleasantly refreshing. (£14 / 85 grams)

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The Earl Grey Lavender is a beautifully balanced black tea. The slightly medicinal floral taste of lavender blends beautifully with the citrus notes of the bergamot to create a wholly new flavour. This is rich, sweet and smooth. (£5 / 85 grams)

 

East India Company

The first time I tried a small selection of products from The East India Company, I was disappointed, especially with the tea. The box of The Campbell Darjeeling Loose Leaf I was sent to review was so bland, dusty and so lacking in flavour that I threw it away. (Follow this link to learn about the history of The EIC and read my first review).

However, earlier this year, I went in to the store itself – on Conduit Street, just off Regent Street – and tried a wider range of teas, under the guidance of the East India Tea Company tea master, Lalith Lenadora. Mr Lenadora began his tea career 3 decades ago, as a tea planter in Sri Lanka, and has enormous experience working for some of the great tea estates of his home country. Nowadays, he personally selects and supervises the teas sold by The EIC.

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All the teas I tried were very good (though I didn’t try that Campbell Darjeeling again) and some were truly excellent. I’d recommend going into the store in person, so you can smell the sample leaves for each one and taste the samples they brew each day.

Mi Lan Dan Cong Oolong is also known as Phoenix Honey Orchid and is a black oolong from China. Typically, tasters describe floral and honey notes, but for me the key characteristic that comes through on smell and taste is malty milkiness and then, just a hint of honey. The tea is a pale cream colour when brewed, and needs a fairly long brewing time for the flavours to fully develop. It’s great hot but delicious enjoyed cold. This would be a good choice for someone who usually likes milk in their tea but is looking for a tea to enjoy without it. (£10 / 50 grams – this is the least expensive of EIC’s oolongs, with others priced at £35 / 100 grams and £50 / 100 grams)

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Italian Orange Blossom is listed on EIC’s website as an Iced Tea; I’m not sure why and I brewed it with hot water. Dry, the leaves have a strong orange blossom aroma, which is quite intoxicating. Once brewed, they produce a beautifully orange-coloured tea liquor however the orange blossom flavour is very subtle, giving just a tease of floweriness to a classic black tea. This would suit anyone who loves bright and fragrant blacks and wants to change it up a little, without going down the route of full-on flavoured teas. (£7 / 100 grams).

 

In Nature Teas

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In Nature offer organic teas sourced from China. They sell only loose leaf tea which is grown in high mountain tea estates.

I tried their three oolongs, natural, alpine and floral.

The Natural oolong has a smoky, caramel and condensed milk aroma. On the palate, a creamy, malty milk flavour and gentle smokiness comes through. (£5.45 / 50 grams)

The Alpine oolong brews a greener liquor, and the aroma carries more of a fresh green tea along with that condensed milk smell again. Milk comes through in the taste, along with the grassiness of green tea. (£5.45 / 50 grams)

The Floral oolong is quite unusual in that it brews to a pale amber-pink colour. The aroma is heady with apricots, with a hint of smoke. On tasting, it reminds me of a black tea, with citrus and dried apricots. Brew stronger for a richer colour and taste. (£6.55/ 50 grams)

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Momo Cha Fine Teas

In recent years, I’d grown more and more disillusioned with the Good Food Show, disappointed with the prevalence of big brands, low quality products and even exhibitors that had no connection to food whatsoever. This year, assured that the show’s focus was on high quality and relevant products, with many more smaller producers in the mix, I was persuaded to give the show another try. Sceptical, I went along, only to be genuinely blown away, not just by one or two of the new producers I encountered but by many of them! It was a fantastic day meeting many talented producers offering many fantastic products.

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One of my biggest pleasures of the day was meeting Niels & Mojca of Momo Cha and trying some of their teas. The pair had always dreamed of running a tea house and sharing good quality tea with their customers. During a holiday to Japan, they researched tea production there, and hooked up with a guy who’d been trading tea for decades. He helped plan a specialist trip around Japan, to meet the best producers and farmers. After that, they started selling Japanese teas at Brick Lane, to gauge customer interest; that was two years ago. They also travelled to Taiwan and Korea to find more producers and more top teas. And just one year ago, they developed their packaging and opened the webshop.

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Several of their teas won one, two or even three star Gold Awards in this year’s Great Taste Awards, great recognition for such a young and small company. These are the most expensive teas in my round up, but if you have the budget, I’d strongly urge you to give them a chance.

Happy Sencha is an early harvested green tea from Japan’s Uji region. The aroma is typical cut grass and meaty umami, and when the tea is brewed hot, this comes through clearly in the taste. This is one of the best green teas I’ve tasted, and the flavour is wonderfully intense. It can also be brewed cold for a sweeter, less bitter drink. I still got lots of flavour not just from the first and second hot brew, but from the third and fourth as well. (£22.50 / 50 grams)

I’ve never had anything like the Cherry Tea, which consists of hand-picked and rolled leaves from Japanese cherry trees. It has an amazing floral smell, but not like your typical fruit teas, which smell or taste of the fruits themselves – it’s a woodier sweetness, somewhat musky and reminiscent of tobacco. On tasting, there’s a suggestion of sweetness and a gentle black tea flavour. A very unusual tea. (£11.50  / 30 grams)

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The High Mountain Oolong is, without a doubt, the best oolong I’ve ever tasted. The aromas are just as you’d expect from a high quality oolong – a fresh grassiness, a sweet malted milkiness, the merest hint of smoke and flowers. The taste is incredible – a more intense or vibrant version of the oolongs I regularly enjoy. All the promises of the aroma come through on the palate. Best of all, you can brew the same leaves three or four times during the day, so a little goes a long way. (£13 / 50 grams)

Amacha is a tea made from the Japanese Hortensia plant, which we more commonly call the Hydrangea. The leaves are picked, steamed, dried and hand rolled, just like traditional tea. But unlike regular tea, they are sweet – and not just a little sweet but super sweet! The leaves contain phyllodulcin which is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, hence the name ama-cha, which simply means ‘sweet tea’. That said, as it’s not a true tea and has no caffeine, it would be better thought of as a tisane. In Japan this tea is traditionally served on April 8th, to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. You can enjoy this tea on its own, though the sweetness is very intense, or alternatively you can brew then water down, or mix with regular teas to make your own blend.

 

Steenbergs

I had previously associated Steenbergs, a small family-run business founded in 2003, with high quality herbs and spices but recently learned that they offer tea too. They focus on organic and Fair Trade, with a genuine commitment to ethical sourcing.

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They offer a wonderfully wide range of teas, and all their teas come in tea caddies and tins rather than packets.

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Baihao Oolong, also known as Beauty Oolong, is an unusual oolong from Xinhui in Northern Taiwan, a wet and humid region. Dry, the leaves have a strong spicy aroma which reminds me of garam masala. The tea produces a red liquor, typical of a heavily oxidised oolong. Once brewed, the smell of spice resolves into black pepper and nutmeg, and this definitely carries through to the taste. I’ve never encountered this in a tea before! I would recommend it to those who like Indian masala chai. (£8.95 /125 grams)

Produced by the Ambootia Tea Estate is in Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Green Darjeeling is not at all like traditional Chinese and Japanese green teas. Dry, the smell reminds me of dried fruits and forests, with none of the grassiness of East Asian green teas. The taste is very mild, like a very light black Darjeeling. (£5.95 /125 grams)

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The Organic White tea is an organic Pai Mu Tan, named for the petals of the white peony, and comes from the Fujian province of China. The leaves are dried in the sun and packed immediately, with no oxidisation or rolling. It releases less caffeine on brewing than most teas. Dry, it smells musty, but in a pleasant way, like a freshly rain-drenched forest and there’s also a strange salty sweet aspect to the smell. Brewed, it has a very fresh and leafy taste. (£5.50 /125 grams)

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Flowering teas offer a little spectacle in the cup, as well as drink of tea. Sold as tightly wrapped balls, they slowly unfurl once hot water is poured gently over them. Steenbergs Jasmine Silver Balls are hand crafted in China’s Chongquing Province; long white-mottled leaves are selected, tied together, shaped by cutting and then formed into a ball before being steamed and dried with fresh jasmine flowers. For me, the flavour was 100% wonderfully intense jasmine – I couldn’t detect the tea at all. My only disappointment was that the ball started to disintegrate almost immediately, even though I’d poured the water very gently down the sides of the glass. It didn’t unfurl into the beautiful flower shape more common of these balls. (£7.95 / 70 grams)

 

Tregothnan

Tregothnan grow tea in England. Yes, it really does grow here! Two hundred years ago, this estate was the first place in England to grow ornamental Camellia. The team made their first, experimental teas back in 2000 with those original camellia plants. Now, they grow Camellia sinensis tea in a number of locations on their Cornish estate, and at additional farms in Cornwall. #

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Manuka is usually associated with New Zealand but Tregothnan grow it here too, and use the leaves to make their herbal tisane, called Manuka Infusion . Caffeine free and rich in antioxidants, this is not a strictly a tea, but adds welcome variety to the range. (Loose leaf caddy £5 / 25 grams or £3.50 / 10 sachets)

I also tried Classic Tea, a breakfast blend black tea, and Earl Grey, both of which are good quality every day teas.

 

Waterloo Tea

How I came across Waterloo Tea is a lovely story to share. Last year, my sister and her friends held a memorial charity fundraiser in the name of a very dear friend who was tragically killed in a car accident 10 years previously. Asked to help secure auction prizes for the event, I turned to twitter and my request was generously shared by others. That’s how it came to the attention of Kasim Ali, director of Waterloo Tea in Cardiff, Wales. Having never interacted with me online, let alone met in person, Kas generously donated some of her teas for the auction, knowing that there wouldn’t be any media coverage. She did it just to be nice. Having read Waterloo Tea’s website, I knew these teas were high quality, and of course, I wanted to bid on some of the auction items myself, and contribute to the fundraising total, so I bid on these teas … and won them! The memorial event raised £3579.57 for The Chicken Shed Theatre.

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Kas chose four Indian black teas, having secured Grand Reserve lots, which are the best available.

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I’ve already enjoyed 2 of the packets in the selection but opened the Darjeeling Second Flush Makaibari Estate, Grand Reserve to include in this review. Dry, the leaves have an incredibly intense aroma of dried figs and a hint of tobacco or wood. It’s a really heady, intoxicating smell. What we call black tea here is known as hong cha or red tea in China, where it originated. When you see the beautiful red-orange colour of this freshly brewed tea, it’s obvious why. Once brewed, the fruit takes a back seat and the tea smells much more like a regular black tea. On the palate too, it’s a light, elegant black tea. (£8.50 / 100 grams)

The next tea I want to try from Waterloo Tea is the incredible sounding Yuzu Oolong, made by infusing Taiwanese high mountain alishan oolong with citrus peel. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 

Kavey Eats received review samples from some the suppliers above, along with others which I’ve chosen not to include, as they did not impress.

 

Earlier this year, I had a great time reviewing the Italian cookery class at Food at 52. I loved how much we covered and that it was all hands on; I really appreciated class tutor John’s friendly, knowledgeable and encouraging approach and I loved the home-style feel of the basement classroom.

I also had a fun evening baking afternoon treats there, more recently.

This time, I was back to learn from Trine Hahnemann, the Danish cooking legend who runs a hugely successful catering business, has appeared as a regular guest chef on Danish cookery programmes and is the author of three books on Nordic and Scandinavian cooking.

Here’s my review of Trine’s second book, The Scandinavian Cookbook, and her recipe for Swedish cheese tart.

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The Scandinavian Christmas Baking class invited us to get a head start on our Christmas baking the Scandinavian way.

During the class, we made recipes from Trine’s latest book Scandinavian Christmas, including Christmas Danish pastries, Lucia saffron bread, kransekage aka almond biscuits, cinnamon biscuits, vanilla biscuits and brune kager aka brown cakes, actually another type of spiced biscuit.

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Working in pairs, I teamed up with lovely Michelle and we measured, mixed, shaped and tasted our way through the recipes, under Trine’s watchful guidance and instruction.

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Although we made most of the recipes ourselves, Trine had mixed together the dough for the Christmas Danish pastry ahead of time. She showed us how to laminate the dough (with a wonderfully outrageous volume of butter) and once it was sliced and laid on the dough, all of us took turns to roll and fold it throughout the day, popping it into the fridge between each folding.

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When the dough was eventually ready, Trine cut it into pieces and showed us how to fold it into balls, pinching them closed on the underside.

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Once out of the oven, we scarcely allowed the pastries to cool before diving in.

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Although Trine felt the pastries had not risen as much as normal, I thought they were absolutely divine! Essentially, they were like softer, richer hot cross buns and it was that softness that made me fall in love with them.

That said, during the day, one of the pieces of information Trine shared was that baked goods with oil or butter are very much best enjoyed on the day they are baked as they go stale far more quickly than items without fats. Whilst these were still very tasty the next day, the pillowy-soft texture had gone.

One of the simplest recipes we made was also one of my favourites: the kransekage (almond biscuits). Made with marzipan, Trine warned us against the cheap marzipan that is prevalent in the supermarkets; indeed she carried several logs of top quality marzipan with her from Denmark when she last visited. We used a 200 gram log in each batch of biscuits, you can see the batch Michelle and I made, below.

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These were so quick to make using a food processor and I loved the chewy marzipan with the crunch from the walnut pieces on top.

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In order for it to have time to rise, Trine had also mixed the dough for the Lucia saffron bread. After showing us the traditional shapes, the dough pieces were shared out and we were let loose to make our own buns.

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These soft buns were somewhat like brioche, an egg-rich dough with a gentle sweetness.

At this stage, in the middle of the day, it was time to stop for lunch. This was an absolute treat. With dense, rich slices of Trine’s homemade rye bread and soft fluffy poppy seed buns, we had some fantastic Danish salmon that Trine had brought across from Denmark on her latest visit. A side salad and cheeseboard were also welcome, as were fish and mushroom pates and the most fabulous pickled marrow, in a sweet sharp brine that I absolutely loved.

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Wine was enjoyed by those who fancied it (and coffee and water throughout the day).

After lunch, it was back to the baking.

The brune kager or brown biscuits need a few days in the fridge for the flavours to meld and mature. Each pair of students made up a batch of dough, which we divided and took home with us.

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I baked mine some of mine after a week in the fridge (transferring the rest to the freezer) and the combination of spices, candied citrus and almonds was just wonderful.

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For the vanilla biscuits and the cinnamon biscuits, we divided the class into two. Half the pairs made the vanilla dough, and half made the cinnamon. At the end, we cooked just a small batch of each to try, and the rest of the dough we divided so that each student took a generous piece of each home with them.

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Michelle and I made vanilla biscuits.

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The traditional shape for the vanilla biscuits is cute little rings, made by rolling small pieces of dough into sausages before pinching the ends together to form a circle.

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The cinnamon biscuit dough looked very similar to the vanilla one, though on close examination, we could see the dark specks of the vanilla seeds in one.

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After being rolled thinly between two sheets of parchment paper, the cinnamon biscuits were cut into shapes with cookie cutters, brushed with egg and sprinkled with a demerara sugar and cinnamon mix.

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As seems to be the standard for Food at 52 courses, we packed so much into our time and the hands on experience makes me feel confident that I can reproduce these treats at home.

Alongside recipes and techniques, the stories and traditions of Christmas and personal anecdotes that Trine shared with us throughout the day made this a really fun and enjoyable experience.

 

The recipes we made can be found in Trine’s latest book, alongside savoury dishes, mulled wine and cocktails, sweets, cakes and chutneys. Scandinavian Christmas is currently available from Amazon for £7.65 (RRP £16.99). (Buying via my referral link earns me a tiny fee from Amazon, thank you).

Kavey Eats attended as a guest of Food at 52.

 

Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns. Ranging in size and level of luxury and amenities, what they have in common are tatami mat floors, traditionally styled rooms, sliding doors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local cooking. Guests must remove their outdoor shoes at the entrance, where they are given slippers to wear in the public indoor areas. These are, in turn, removed before entering bedrooms.

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The bedrooms double as both sleeping and dining spaces; staff clear away tables and make up futon beds after your evening meal. As it’s common for parties of three or four to share a room, each one has several futons available, so don’t be afraid to ask for your bed to be made up with two or three futons stacked together, if you prefer. We did so in all the ryokan we visited and found this very comfortable.

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At the budget end, rooms are small and rarely en suite; guests share communal baths in which they wash thoroughly (on tiny stools in front of a bank of open showers) before slipping into large steaming hot bathing pools. Some ryokan also have a “family bathroom” which can be booked privately by couples and family groups.

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But mid-level and more luxurious ryokan are also available, offering larger rooms with en suite bathroom facilities. Sometimes, the guest accommodation offers more than one internal room, with sliding doors to separate them if desired, and a veranda or balcony space looking out over a tiny garden or pretty exterior view. The en suite facilities include a private toilet – usually gizmo-laden with seat heaters, cleaning jets and even warm air – a sink area and an enclosed bathroom with private shower (with requisite tiny wooden stool and bucket) and a deep wooden bath tub. Most ryokan will have communal bathing facilities too, sometimes with onsen (mineral) baths, which are highly sought after for their health benefits. These days, some ryokan also provide televisions, fridges and safes in the rooms.

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We splurged on four higher end ryokan in Takayama, Nara, Kyoto and Miyajima.

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We found the buildings and interiors very calming, probably because of the extensive use of natural materials – tatami mat flooring made of rice straw, dark brown wooden beams, wooden ceilings and fittings, and walls and sliding doors in pale creams.

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From our windows we looked out onto carefully tended green spaces, sometimes only tiny but enough to soothe the eye.

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Rooms are sparsely decorated with just a few well-chosen items to provide interest. Often there is a small alcove, or tokonoma, in which traditional arts and crafts are displayed. (This is not intended to be used for the storage of luggage – usually a separate space or closet is provided for that purpose, with your futon mattresses, pillows and duvets stored in another closet). In larger rooms, a painted screen or antique dressing table might take up a small corner.

On arrival, green tea and a sweet snack are usually served in the entrance lobby or in your room.

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In each room, yukata (traditional cotton robes) are provided for guest use. Worn left side wrapped over right (though we got this wrong the first time) and tied with the belt provided, these can be worn to meals, for visiting the communal bathrooms and even, in some towns, for a stroll outside in the street. An outer jacket is provided for this purpose. In our experience, the largest yukata available just about fit Pete, though was comically short on him. But none were large enough to wrap around my wide girth. I took along house pyjamas to wear instead or beneath the yukata, for this reason.

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Meals are served on low tables, usually with Japanese floor chairs. Knowing I’d struggle with these, given my hip problems, I requested in advance that we use slightly higher chairs. These are about half the height of standard (Western) chairs and all of our rooms had a pair just by the window.

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In some of the ryokan, we were also offered the option of eating in one of their dining rooms, a couple of which had full height tables and chairs available.

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Many ryokan serve kaiseki ryori, a traditional and elaborate multi-course meal. Dishes are traditionally prepared using local, seasonal ingredients and are beautifully presented. Usually, the courses are brought in one at a time, but in one of our ryokan, all dishes were served at once, laid out across the large table.

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I booked our stays at three ryokan directly via their websites and email. The fourth I booked through Japanese Guest Houses, who also made my reservation to stay at Shojoshin-in, a Shingon Buddhist temple on Koyasan as well as one of my regular hotel bookings.

I’ll be writing in more detail about the kaiseki ryori meals we enjoyed at two of the ryokan soon.

 

I adore good cheese!

But living in the suburban wilderness that is London’s zone 4, I rarely make the trek down to favourite cheese shops La Cave a Fromage and Paxton & Whitfield. I can buy good cheese from Waitrose, and they do a better job of selecting and caring for it than other supermarkets, but being able to order exactly what I want and have it arrive in peak condition is a joy. I have previously reviewed and enjoyed products from online cheese monger, Pong Cheese.

When The Cheese Boutique approached me suggesting I review their online cheese shop recently, I was happy to oblige.

The Cheese Boutique is a family business established by a family who fell in love with France and its cheese. I empathise! Today, their range encompasses cheeses from Spain and Italy, as well as France.

When I buy multiple cheeses to enjoy in a single sitting, I try and balance my choices. So, using the classic formula for a cheeseboard, I chose one soft, one hard, one blue and one goat’s cheese. I also added a cheeky fifth cheese that I just couldn’t resist.

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The cheeses arrived well protected in a spacious and well-insulated box. An ice pack kept them cool for the journey, and I think they’d have been fine for a few hours sat outside my house or with the neighbours, had I not been in to accept delivery. The individual cheeses were wrapped in waxed paper, although over-zealous use of sellotape meant they were difficult to open without ripping the paper, which is best kept to wrap leftovers.

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The cheeses were in superb condition, and I particularly appreciated that all were sent to me ripe and ready to eat. Previously, I’ve bought cheeseboards where one cheese is so ripe it needs to be eaten straight away, and another is several days away from being at its best.

 

Cabrales

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A blue cheese from Northern Spain, this cheese can either be made wholly from unpasteurised cow’s milk or, more traditionally, from a blend of cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk, which gives the cheese a more pungent flavour. It has a soft grey rind around a creamy centre heavily veined with blue.

Certainly, this is the first blue I’ve found that is almost too strong for me!

The flavour was very intense, almost like chilli in its piquancy. For me, the texture had a slight graininess to it which I didn’t like and the cheese also made my mouth feel intensely dry and furry. Pete enjoyed both texture and flavour more, but did also experience the strange furring of the mouth. I’m used the rest in cooking, and the robust flavour worked very well indeed. Definitely one to try for those who love kick arse cheese!

 

Margeriaz

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Described as a dense and creamy hard cheese, this is a pressed, cooked cow’s milk cheese made in the Haute-Savoie region of France. It was originally known as French Gruyère, but now that the Gruyère name is protected by AOC status and thereby restricted to cheese made in Switzerland, this cheese has been renamed for a local village.

I found it much softer than expected. Perhaps it gets harder with age, in which case I’d love to try an older sample. The flavour was slightly sweet, but balanced by saltiness. It was very pleasant but a little mild for my tastes.

 

Tomme Georgelet Cendrée

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This Tomme Cendrée is created by cheesemaker Paul Georgelet, in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. Made with unpasteurised goat’s milk, ash and salt are added to the rind to encourage the growth of the distinctive mould.

This soft goat’s cheese was beautifully ripe on delivery, oozing softly at the edges nearest the rind and smooth and creamy all the way through. The taste was good and strong, but beautifully balanced, especially for those of us who always eat the rind too. This one was my favourite in the selection.

 

Brie de Meaux Dongé AOC

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Brie de Meaux is a soft, white bloom rind cheese made in the Ile-de-France from unpasteurised cow’s milk. This one is produced by the Fromagerie Dongé.

Like the other cheeses, this arrived nicely ripe and was full of flavour. Heady with that typical mushroom aroma, it was creamy and buttery in texture, with a fabulous full flavour. If you think of Brie as an insipid cheese, you’ve been eating too many cheap, mass-produced versions. This is how Brie should be!

 

Brillat-Savarin aux Truffes

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Named for 18th century French gourmet and political commentator Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Brillat-Savarin cheese is a very soft, triple cream cheese commonly enjoyed young and fresh. This version has a thin layer of black truffles through the centre. This young, no rind has developed, though you can buy aged Brillat-Savarin which has a white bloom rind.

Although the flavour of truffles came through only subtly, the cheese itself was delicious; delicate, so soft it was spreadable and richly creamy, it was Pete’s favourite of the lot.

In summary, these were five excellent cheeses delivered in great condition.

Delivery is a touch pricy at £6.99 to UK mainland addresses, though as the website explains, the “delivery charges are set to cover our costs – we do not make any profit from delivery. We could choose to lower the charges but it would mean an increase in cheese prices therefore we would prefer to be honest and open about the full cost of delivery and keep the prices of cheese just that – the price of the cheese alone“. And, yes, prices for the cheese are pretty reasonable when compared like for like to other retailers.

 

 

COMPETITION

As a rather lovely ode to my cheese love, The Cheese Boutique have set up a Kavey Eats Cheese Box, available to buy on their website. We decided to switch out the Margeriaz for Ossau Iraty, a favourite of mine with a more robust flavour.

So the selection contains Cabrales, Ossau Iraty, Tomme Georgelet Cendrée, Brie de Meaux Dongé AOC and Brillat-Savarin aux Truffes.

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For our competition prize, one winner will receive a Kavey Eats Cheese Box, and The Cheese Boutique are also including a lovely wooden cheese board, as shown in the picture above. This prize includes delivery to any UK mainland address.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 2 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
Which cheeses will be on your cheeseboard this Christmas?

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @KaveyF and @TheCheeseBoutiq on twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Then tweet the (exact) sentence below. You don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet.
I’d love to win a cheeeboard from @TheCheeseBoutiq and Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/0WJWc #KaveyEatsCheeseboard

 

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Monday 3rd December 2012.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a selection of cheeses and a wooden cheese board, as detailed above, and includes delivery to any UK mainland address.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes is offered and provided by The Cheese Boutique.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You do not have to enter both ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For twitter entries, winners must be following @KaveyF and @TheCheeseBoutiq at the time of notification, as this will be sent by Direct Message.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or twitter (for twitter entries). If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

This competition is closed. The winner is Kirstine Meredith.

Kavey Eats received a review sample of cheeses from The Cheese Boutique.

 

Earlier this year, Valrhona released what they’re calling the fourth chocolate (after dark, milk and white) and that is blond chocolate.

They’ve named it Dulcey, though I can’t tell you how that’s pronounced. At the London-based launch event, some Valrhona staff pronounced it with a soft “s” and others with a hard “ch“. “Dulsey” or “Dulchi“, take your pick.

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Although home cooks and dessert chefs have been caramelising white chocolate for many years, Valrhona seem to be taking credit for inventing it, and even trot out the unlikely story of it being an accidental discovery on the part of a Valrhona chocolatier who forgot some white chocolate in an oven for a few hours. Who knows for certain, but came over as pure marketing story-weaving!

Regardless of the true origins, it’s definitely a fascinating product.

The sweet, butterscotch fudge flavours are reminiscent of childhood confectionery Caramac, though a side by side comparison by a friend makes it abundantly clear that the two products are nothing alike. As we all agreed, Caramac tastes of sugar and cheap fat, with a slightly grainy texture. Dulcey is silky smooth, with a far richer, more complex and delicious flavour.

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You could eat it on its own, if you have a sweet tooth. It’ll probably appeal more to fans of white chocolate than dark, of course. However, where it comes into its own is as an ingredient for desserts. At the launch, we tried a range of dainty treats such as panna cottas, tarts and chocolate truffles, all showcasing the Dulcey and all very good.

Leaving the launch, we were given a small sample to take home. Going through ideas for recipes, I considered making Cookies of Dreams, chocolate ice cream or a chocolate fondue, all of which I think would work very well.

In the end, I decided to make some quick and simple hot chocolate.

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Caramelised White Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

Ingredients
40 grams of caramelised white chocolate
500 ml milk, whole, semi or skimmed as you prefer

Note: If you can’t readily find Valrhona Dulcey, you can caramelise white chocolate at home. Here’s a handy YouTube tutorial.

Method

  • Heat the milk to just below boiling point. I used a microwave, but you could also use a small saucepan over a medium heat.
  • Whilst the milk is heating, break the chocolate into small pieces.
  • Remove the milk from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted and completely combined.
  • Pour into mugs and serve.

Of course, this is the same way I make dark hot chocolate too, and you can ring the changes by making this with the many great flavoured chocolates available such as Green & Black’s Maya Gold, which works really well.

 

Asia de Cuba is a hotel restaurant, located in a corner of the lobby in the St Martins Lane Hotel. As the name suggests, it aims to combine elements from Asian and Cuban cuisine.

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The dining space is broadly divided into two levels, the lower onedisappointinglyin shadow even though the sun was high and bright in the sky outside during our lunch time visit. Up a few stairs, seats near the window afforded us a little more light, though heavily filtered by semi-opaque windows and large blinds.

Decor is simple – fat cylinders hung with tightly packed old portraits or lined with bookshelves or covered in padded leather; pale wooden floor and chairs; white linen, walls and ceilings.

 

The menu is divided into four sections, plus sides. The first lists Ceviches and Tiraditos, which our waitress recommended as ideal for a pre-starter nibble. From there, a more traditional list of starters, mains and desserts.

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Smoked salmon on crispy spring onion pancake, reposado tequila, lime and green peppercorns, sprout salad with agave dressing (£14)

We decided to share a ceviches and tiraditos dish, but realised when it was served that it could only be described as a nibble if 4 or more people were sharing. Still, it was delicious, with soft oily salmon, a thin crunchy pancake and topped with a pleasant and well-dressed salad.

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Pan seared jumbo sea scallops, sweet sour plantains, habanero corn crema (£16.50)

The two scallops were certainly large, though very steeply priced at £8.25 each. They were well cooked, soft inside and perfectly pleasant. Though the flavours of the dish didn’t make them sing, this was a decent dish.

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Honey-rum glazed pork belly, plaintain maduras, Shanghai bok choy and enoki mushrooms (£21)

When the pork belly arrived, we were convinced we’d been sent a main dish by accident. Certainly it was more generous than similar dishes I’ve been served as mains elsewhere. But we were quickly assured that when the dish was sold as a main recently, it was two to three times bigger! The portion was wildly at odds with that of the scallops starter. Personally, I’d halve the portion and, more crucially, do the same to the price.

On the other hand, the dish itself was fabulous. The pork yielded to the lightest pressure of the fork and was beautifully flavoured – strong, sweet and savoury, fatty and delicious. There was plenty of sauce in the bowl, along with mushrooms and leaves. I’d have liked the bok choy in larger pieces, certainly I detected none of the usual wet crunch I associate with it. The plantain crisps added a contrasting texture, yet didn’t match that well with the pork; they felt superfluous.

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Cuban coffee crusted rib eye, mandarin orange and gingered sherry butter, yuca mojo fries (£39)

Our waitress did warn us that this dish was quite generous, and perhaps best to share. But as we both fancied different mains, that wasn’t an option. Again, the menu seemed more suitable to groups of at least 4.

Plating when it arrived was sloppy and unappealing. Casual styling is one thing, but this looked as though it had been sliced and thrown onto the plate. And sat on the side for a while, as it wasn’t as hot as it should have been.

On the beef, our opinions were divided. I liked the taste and texture of the coffee crust, but my friend most definitely didn’t. The flavoured butter was nice, but should have been plated when the meat was hot, so it melted nicely over the beef.

The yuca (cassava) chips were undercooked inside, far too hard and chalky. Our waitress suggested this is how they were meant to be, but I’ve had and really loved cassava chips before. Yes, the texture is quite different to potatoes, but these weren’t right. The mojo (garlic) didn’t come through well either.

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Free range Cuban BBQ chicken, Thai coconut sticky rice, avocado cilantro fruit salsa, tamarind sauce (£24.50)

A decent portion, but then it had to be, for £24.50. The chicken was moist and with good flavour. Unfortunately, the sticky rice was woefully overcooked; I love coconut sticky rice but when cooked properly, it should be sticky without turning into a stodgy solid lump.

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Mexican doughnuts, sweet brioche donuts rolled in cinnamon sugar filled with butterscotch sauce £12)

Told that a handful of the desserts were available in half portions, we sensibly selected from that shortlist.

Odd to see both the American and British spelling of doughnut in one menu item.

These doughnuts tasted great, but the texture made us wonder if they’d been cooked earlier and reheated in a microwave. Perhaps not, but certainly they didn’t have the lightness of freshly fried doughnuts. Apparently, they are wildly popular with Asia de Cuba regulars, though.

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Cuban opera, rich chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate butter cream, coffee mousse with coffee-brittle ice cream (£12)

Perhaps two chocolate lovers should have known better than to order a fancy chocolate patisserie, though neither of us are snobby about our chocolate.

Sadly, the cake was dry and far too sweet and one bite was enough for each of us. The ice cream was far better – a delicious, creamy and crunchy scoop with a pleasant balance between caramel and coffee flavours.

 

To end the meal, my request for a weak and very milky latte produced a super strong dark brown coffee, far too strong and bitter for me.

 

So, a meal that was decent in parts; the salmon and pork belly were tremendously better than the rest. Such a shame that it went from excellent to good and ended with mediocre. At a lower price point, you could forgive some of the failings, but with starters from £14.50 to £22.50 and mains from £21 to £56, we really expected more.

The Asia de Cuba concept of sharing seems to be an excuse for inconsistent portion sizes, with some a little miserly for the price and others far too large. If you’re dining as part of a group, this probably evens out across a selection of dishes, but for a party of two it makes it awkward to order dishes that appeal to two potentially different palates.

 

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Asia de Cuba restaurant.

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Although the tourism marketing folks would rather it be known as Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane), this narrow alley, tucked in by the railway tracks near Shinjuku station in Tokyo, is more commonly and crudely known as Shomben Yokocho aka Piss Alley. This, and a second alley running parallel, are said to be a throwback to pre-war Japan, though given that the area was gutted by a fire in 1999, what you see now is a rebuild of what existed before.

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That said, what is key (to both names) is the feel of the place – cheap, cramped and slightly seedy (though not with the undercurrent of danger a similar corner might have in the UK). With its tangle of overhead pipes, vending machines squeezed where space hardly exists and the ramshackle open frontages of bars, grills and snack dives, it’s quite an assault on the senses.

Immediately, I was transported into one of my very favourite films, Bladerunner. Indeed, only on Googling for the correct spelling of this tiny neighbourhood did I discover that this is widely held to be one of Ridley Scott’s inspirations for the set design, along with nearby Golden Gai.

Along the main alley, we peered into many of the tiny establishments. Some were completely empty, but the scowling faces of the staff as they spotted us put us off entering. In one, four or five salarymen sat at the counter, pointing and laughing at us on each of the three occasions we walked past, trying to choose where to try. I’m not easily intimidated, but on this occasion I was and we nearly left the area to find dinner somewhere else.

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But just as we exited the alley, we found this little ramen shop at the corner.

The staff member by the door smiled as we approached to read the menu outside and that was enough, we went in and ordered via the vending machine.

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Once again, we chose by pictures. The set was available in two sizes – we went for the smaller size – and included a bowl of pork ramen, a bowl of rice topped with roast pork and a marinated boiled egg. A side of fried gyoza completed our order.

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Taking our seats along the counter, we watched the two-man kitchen team slice and prepare the pork belly, fry and steam the gyoza, ladle pork broth from an enormous pot, portion noodles into bowls and top ramen and rice with slices of meat. Efficient in a small space, their movements were streamlined by long repetition.

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At the time we visited, we didn’t know either the name of the little restaurant, nor of the dishes. Now, I can tell you that this small store is called Kitakata Ramen, part of a chain that originates in Kitakata City, in Fukushima prefecture.

There are many variations of ramen enjoyed in Japan. In Kitakata, noodles are made curly, springy and slightly chewy. Our amber-coloured pork broth was light yet meaty and the noodles reassuringly robust. The pork belly slices on top were meltingly soft, with a nice balance of meat and fat. Tasty!

Alongside it, we enjoyed nitamago (flavoured boiled eggs). From the glossy orange colour and texture of the yolk, I could see why these are also known as lava eggs.

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Donburi (rice bowl) was topped with the same soft and tender pork coated in a rich sticky sweet tare sauce. This was absolutely delicious.

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Gyoza! Such a simple item and one we enjoy regularly at home. These were thinly wrapped, stuffed with a delicious chicken filling and cooked perfectly so they were soft and crunchy, both.

In this restaurant, iced tea was provided in jugs on the table rather than water; this was the only place we saw this.

One of the things I’d been worried about before our trip was how easy it would be to eat well without spending a fortune. “Japan is very expensive”, was a common refrain when people heard about our trip. Our total bill was just 990 Yen (£8.25). For that we had filled up on simple and delicious food. We’d be very hard pressed indeed to do that in London.

 

Since I started blogging a few years ago, I’ve not purchased many cookery books, as I’m fortunate to be sent new titles to review by several publishers. But I had a big sort out over the summer and gave several boxes of books, cookery ones included, to various charitable organisations.

After which I treated myself to a copy of Jekka’s Herb Cookbook (as well as Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook: Nourishment for the Traditionally Built by Stuart Brown, still on the “To Read” pile).

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Jekka McVicar is the woman behind Jekka’s Herb Farm, a South Gloucestershire organic herbs nursery specialising in culinary, aromatic, decorative and medicinal herbs. The farm, which celebrated its silver jubilee this April, has over 650 varieties of rare, tropical and native species in its collection. Undoubtedly, Jekka McVicar is the queen of herbs and I’ve purchased some of her seeds for our garden over the years.

In this book she chooses fifty herbs that she loves to cook with and gives a description of each plant, advice for growing it, its history in cooking, any medicinal uses and of course, some recipes. The book doesn’t have any photographs; instead there are pretty illustrations are by her artistic daughter, Hannah McVicar.

Having flicked through when it arrived, it wasn’t until we visited my friend Monica for an August weekend of relaxing, cooking, eating and chatting that I had more time to devote to the book. I took a big bag of several books awaiting review, and popped this one in too as I was so keen to try some of the recipes.

In the end, we tried three recipes from the book over the weekend, and they were all fantastic.

I cooked Sea Bass with Chinese Garlic Chives. Except I couldn’t find any garlic chives so I bought regular chives, and not nearly the quantity specified in the recipe. Some of the pieces of fish broke up a little too much, with my clumsy pan skills, so it wasn’t a prettily presented dish. Nonetheless, the recipe was easy to make and we all really, really enjoyed it. The next time I see a large bunch of garlic chives on sale, I want to try this as Jekka envisaged it!

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Pete made Coriander, Mint and Pitta Salad, but instead of breaking our (freshly made) flatbreads up to add to the salad, he served then on the side. With soft tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, sweet sharp onion, the solidity of the chickpeas, my favourite green herb and a simple dressing, this was well balanced and tasty, and once again, very simple.

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And Monica made two loaves of Rosemary Bread. Fabulous, with a good crumb and lovely flavour from the rosemary, like the other two recipes, this is one that will be made again.

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Our experience with these three recipes gives me a strong faith in the rest of the book and there are many, many more dishes I want to try soon.

So much did we like these three recipes that we tweeted our delight (and photos of the dishes) to Jekka who responded with warm thanks for making her family recipes look so wonderful. (That was down to Monica’s camera skills, of course!)

And I was very happy to be able to give my thanks to Jekka in person when I visited her stall at the Abergavenny Food Festival.

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Photos by Kavey & Monica.

Jekka’s Herb Cookbook published by Ebury Press is currently available on Amazon UK for £17.50 (RRP £30).

 

Remember how one of mum’s recipes came to be on the 2011 / 2012 Autumn Winter menu at Leon Restaurants?

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The two dishes did pretty well. I loved catching some of the positive feedback sent to Leon on twitter from customers, who seemed to really enjoy the curries.

So, when it came to writing Leon Book 4: Family & Friends, author Kay Plunkett-Hogge asked if we’d be willing to have mum’s original recipe included in the book. Not just that recipe, but a couple of others as well.

Back and forth went the emails, between mum, Kay and myself, selecting the recipes, fine tuning and double checking the wording, writing the recipe introductions and additional stories and scanning and sending photos of mum and I from days gone by.

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The book was released in October and I was very excited to receive my copy (which arrived in the post about 5 minutes before we left the house to travel to Japan)!

Leon’s books have always included recipes from friends and family of the Leon team, but this book is all about them. Kay and John Vincent (Leon co-founder and co-author of the book) have gathered a wonderfully wide selection and there are many that catch my eye. Hopefully I’ll try some out myself soon and I can let you know how I get on.

In the meantime, photos of our pages, of which we’re very proud. Don’t they look great?

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Leon Book 4: Family & Friends by Kay Plunkett-Hogge and John Vincent is currently available on Amazon for £17.50 (RRP£25).

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