Tuesday, December 12, 2006

11th December - A Celebration Day

11th December and celebration time. We combined a birthday and a wedding anniversary to have a mystery day out. Beginning with a coffee at Maison Blanc, a present was given and received with surprise and delight. Something to take on holiday later on.

Then home to change into something smart to take us to dinner in Mayfair much later. We caught the train to London and walked over Hungerford Bridge to the National Gallery and their superb Velazquez Exhibition. We enjoyed the audio commentary - after first turning the volume down as we were initially deafened!

By the time we emerged, it was dark in Trafalgar Square and the Norwegian Christmas tree was looking majestic. Carol singers were performing in its shadow and the evening felt brisk. We retraced our steps to the bridge and crossed back over River Thames. We were heading for the London Eye and a champagne flight! We shared our gondola with six others and enjoyed Laurent-Perrier champagne as we circled high over London. The clear night gave us fabulous views to the outposts of the capital! This is such a fun thing to do - I must try it in daylight, too!

We descended all too quickly, and then needed to find a taxi. Probably the best place would be Charing Cross - the right side of the river for our next destination.

Soon we were being driven across town to Grovesnor Square and our destination - Brian Turner Mayfair. Brian Turner is a Michelin star chef who cooks delicious British food in his own special way. We studied the menu over a small glass of chardonnay in Turner's Bar, then moved through to our table. Our starters were Aniseed infused Rolled Duck Pancake with Pear Dressing and Broad Beans, and Cray Fish and Crab Cocktail with Seaweed and 'Horseradish Caviar' (this was pale green and popped in your mouth in a very satisfactory way!

Main courses were the same - Finnebrogue Venison loin, Potato and Parsnip Terrine,Pear Relish and Chocolate. We had some red cabbage and broccoli, too. And we also had a wonderful bottle of 2001 Brunello di Montalcino, which complemented the richness of the venison, admirably. After something of a pause to allow our meal to settle, we chose our desserts - Soft Centered Chocolate Pudding, "Jaffa Cake" Ice Cream; and Savarin of Pear Compote with Chocolate Ripple. Mmmm! Lovely!

Then there was just enough time for a cup of Earl Grey and a petit fours. The latter were served on a plate decorated with Birthday and Anniversary greetings - a great touch to end a memorable dinner. But just when you think its all over something else happens - and through came our chef, who gladly autographed his book 'Favourite Britsh Recipes' for us; and we were able to compliment him on his wonderful cooking. All that remained was to find our taxi home, and collapse into bed after an amazing day out.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Squash Stacks

Last evening we ate these delicious Squash Stacks. I made them to the following recipe

A small butternut squash
250 gm cooking spinach
100gm Soignan goat cheese
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Serves 2

Heat the oven to 200C.
Cut the squash in half lengthways and remove the seeds.
Brush the cut surface with olive oil and place face down on a baking sheet.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes until the flesh is soft.
Remove from oven and turn down to 100C
Then scoop out the flesh and roughly mash with a fork, seasoning to taste.
Keep warm while you cook the spinach.
Wash spinach thoroughly, place in a pan and wilt over a moderate heat.
Season with salt and freshly grated nutmeg.
Place a three inch ring on each of two warm plates.
Divide the squash between the two rings, pressing down firmly.
Pile the spinach on top, then remove the rings carefully.
Slice the goat cheese into rounds and place on top of the spinach.
Put the plates into the oven for a few minutes to just melt the cheese.
Serve immediately with some crusty bread.

We had a glass or two of Albarino, rias baixas to accompany this, which complemented it very well.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Surprise d'Halloween

This gorgeous dessert came from our local French patisserie, Maison Blanc. Its rich, orange chocolate, pumpkin shaped case is filled with the most delicious truffle topped with squirls of dark chocolate. These are serious desserts - death by chocolate springs to mind. You can't rush these, so take your time and indulge, if you can.

Pumpkin Soup

Last week we visited A Taste of Autumn at RHS Garden Wisley. While there we tasted their delicious pumpkin soup and now I can blog the recipe.

Wisley Pumpkin Soup
700g Pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cubed
25 g butter
100g onion, peeled and finely chopped
10g tomato puree
250ml whole milk
800ml good vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in pan adding onion to fry gently until soft
Add pumpkin and tomato puree (for colour rather than flavour), stir and season
Cover and allow to sweat over a gentle heat until softened
Add milk and stock and simmer gently for 10 minutes
Blend to a smooth puree in a blender or food processor
Pass through a fine sieve; check seasoning and serve.
You could add a little panache with a swirl of yoghurt and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley. Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Taste of Autumn

Friday to Monday last was RHS Garden Wisley's celebration of the season with their Taste of Autumn Fair. This used to be a simple apple tasting day with some activities for children, but like Topsy it has grown.
A marquee is erected on the lawn beside the new grasses border and a great collection of exhibitors are invited for the four days. There are activities for children as the dates coincide with autumn half term and this year a special trail through the autumn and winter trees was launched - the Barking Mad Trail!
Alan and I went to visit TOA on the opening morning, early. We know that Wisley events are very popular and get busier and busier as the day wears on. We arrived in a really heavy rainstorm - even running to the coffee shop wasn't an option for ten or fifteen minutes, but eventually we did get our cappuccinos before we entered the garden. Luckily the rain had cleared completely and the sky was blue-ing up nicely as we walked passed the Laboratory. Just by the front door is the apple mosaic, which this year is a lovely lion with a lopsided face and an impressive red mane. A children's competition is held annually for the design of the mosaic.
The entrance to the marquee was round the corner near where the advisory service and library are situated. We joined the small crowd heading up the walkways across the grass to enter the marquee. A wonderful sight greeted us, as the trials department had put on a wonderful display of chillies and pumpkin type vegetables. It was so colourful and quite surprising to see the vastly different chillies anyone can grow at home. Not just the classic red supermarket variety, but spikey long ones called Pinnocchio, colourful small ones ranging form pale yellow to red and purple, minute red ones, long thin yellow ones. The pumpkins were also surprising; not just Halloween carving ones, but small stripey ones - one called Pyjamas; and another small variety called Microwave. I wonder if you can just microwave it whole! In the centre of the area was the apple tasting table. Here some of the staffof Wisley were busy cutting up samples of the varieties of apples grown in the orchard for visitors to taste. This is a very popular stand, as everyone loves to try the apples. Some even decide to grow their favourite variety; after first checking that they have the correct conditions for growing it. The advisors are on hand to help with this.
Apart from the several RHS displays, around the marquee were the stalls of the exhibitors. These are all apple or autumn related - apple juices, cider, jams and preserves, cheese, wine, nuts and seeds. There was an area set up for demonstrations, and we were able to attend one of these. The first demonstration on Friday was from the Good Housekeeping chefs. They cooked pigeon and duck salad, with caramelised apples. The aromas were mouthwatering and we gladly complied with the chef's request to come up and taste their efforts. Delicious!
This wasn't our only tasting! As we walked around, many of the stalls were offering samples, which were irresistable and we just had to buy jam, wine, apple juice and more. One stall was roasting nuts and another toasting seeds and yet another was cooking vegetarian sausages. There was even a tureen of pumkin soup to sample. So you can imagine the marquee filled with tempting odours.
In a separate area, children's activities were getting underway. Here the young ones could draw apples, write a wish and hang them on the Apple Wish tree as well as carve pumpkins for Halloween and other crafts - what better way to spend and hour or so. And when all the 'in tent' activities have been exhausted, there were guided walks around the Fruit Field. Once again RHS excelled and I'm sure all who visited A Taste of Autumn over the weekend had a wondeful time.
There will be the Crafts for Christmas Fair 21st -24th November as well as a visit from Father Christmas nearer Christmas, and the shopping weekends at the Shop and Plant Centre before Christmas. So plenty to do and see at RHS Garden Wisley.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Pagoda at Kew was designed by the famous architect William Chambers; completed in 1762 it was the tallest reconstruction of a Chinese building of its time in Europe, nearly 50 m and having 253 steps. The ten-storey octagonal structure tapers, with successive floors from the first to the topmost being 30 cm less in diameter and height than the preceding one. The original building was very colourful; the roofs being covered with varnished iron plates, with a dragon on each corner. There were 80 dragons in all, each carved from wood and gilded with real gold. Although there have been several restorations, mainly to the roofs, the original colours and the dragons have not been replaced, even though replica dragon were discussed in 1979. In 2006 the Pagoda was opened to the general public for the first time in recent memory. Those who climb its 253 steps are rewarded with spectacular views across the gardens and across London, with the London Eye, the new Wembley Stadium, and as far as Canary Wharf all visible.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Another new innovation this year is The Sackler Crossing, open 17 May 2006. It is designed by architect John Pawson and spans the lake at the western end of the Gardens, contributing to a new route through the Capability Brown landscape, and providing the first passage across water on the World Heritage Site.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Goodwood Revival 2006

For three days each September, the Goodwood Motor Circuit stages a historic race meeting for the kind of cars and motorcycles that would have competed at Goodwood during 1948-1966. Many famous people in the world of motor racing compete in period cars from that golden age. As the world's most popular motor race meeting, it is an amazing sight to see so many of the spectators dressed in the clothes of the era - girls emulating the glamourous stars of the time, young men in uniform, flat caps and sports jackets, as well as teddy boys and bobby socks. Vehicles are shown off with polished chrome and gleaming bodywork whether they are vans, emergency vehicles, trucks or sports cars. There is such a variety. There are also races everyday culminating in a grand finale on Sunday. Each year there is a tribute to a specific era. This year, 2006, was the featured cars were the microcars of the nineteen fifties. Unbelievable how small they were.
It has just been announced that ITV1 will air its programme about this year's festival on Tuesday, 10 October 2006 at 23.00. Don't miss it - it will be a treat!
Further information about Goodwood Revival meetings can be obtained from the Goodwood website.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Philip Jackson

Philip Jackson is a sculptor. Born in 1948, he was chosen to create an equestrian statue of the Queen for her Golden Jubilee, which is to be found in Windsor Great Park. Another ‘to become famous’ piece will be the twice life-size statue of Bobby Moore which will be unveiled at the opening of the new Wembley Stadium. These photographs were made at his exhibition at West Dean Gardens, close to his home in Midhurst. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bergen Daily Market

Just across from Bryggen is this daily market with its wonderful fish, salami and scarves all being sold side by side. Mothwatering crevette alongside stokvis, crabs and delicate neckwear! Posted by Picasa

Bryggen, Bergen - World Heritage Site

Bryggen is the old wharf of Bergen, a Hanseatic Port in Norway. The Hanseatic League was a trading empire from the 13th to the mid-16th century controlling the Baltic as well as much of Northern Europe. They set standards for trading and were successful until member nations took their independence and the Hanseatic influence wained. It has been damaged by many fires - the last in 1995, but what remains has been restored or is being restored. Many of the buildings are used by artists and artisans. Posted by Picasa