Thursday, 28 August 2014

Tapas Revolution Evening - A Guest Post

I was recently invited to an evening at Tapas Revolution the creation of Omar Allibhoy but unfortunately I was unable to attend.  My blogger friend Manjiri Chitnis went in my place and here is her review:-

A few days ago I was invited to an evening of Tapas, fun and tipples with Chef Omar Allibhoy, thanks to Heidi my friend and food bloggers, Here is my account of an unforgettable evening .
Chef Omar is the winner of Acorn’s ‘Young Star of the future‘ award for 2012. He was trained by the legendary Ferran Adria of El Bulli Fame. He arrived in London 8 years ago to take over the reins of at El Pirata DeTapas in West London, quickly establishing as London’s best Tapas restaurant.
Not one to rest on his laurels, he decided that Spanish food needed a voice if it was to become as popular as other notable cuisines that Britain loves. This lone crusader undertook a brave mission to cover the length and breadth of England, he drew a huge T across a map of England and set on his motorbike, travelling across the T, cooking Tapas for a lot of lucky people along the way. After this hugely popular tour he came back to London to start what is now Tapas Revolution, with the aim to create an atmosphere similar to any barrio in Omar’s hometown, Madrid, Spain.
He also published a 120 recipe book last August and It was exactly a year ago that since I was first invited for a Tapas evening   at Omar Allibhoy’s Tapas Bar in Westfield Mall, London. Surrounded by high street biggies this cute Tapas Bar has not created a niche for itself but is thriving .It comes as no surprise really, with the very passionate and certainly very charming young Chef Omar Allibhoy at the helm and a menu which is carefully curated by him -  taking into account seasonal foods – it changes 4 times a year.....Tapas Revolution is definitely a must visit place for all those that seek the authentic and fabulous flavours of good, honest Spanish cuisine.
We started the evening with these very moresish brine- cured olives called Accitunas hojiblanca partidas. Fresh and delicious these went down a treat! They are superior in quality as they are individually picked and carefully preserved to guarantee the texture, firm skin and soft fleshy heart inside, my first sip of the freshly prepared Sangria and I wanted more of it ! It’s nothing like any Sangria I’ve tasted before and I honestly am not exaggerating. It was sweet and fruity and as the evening progressed I lost count of how many times my glass was refilled. Noteworthy that it didn’t leave me feeling tipsy which also means that that Tapas served were so very filling!
Next up were slices of a peppery Catalonian cured pork sausage called Fuet served in mini paper cones and midget breadsticks. 

Then came Pan de la casa - Wafer thin Jamon Serrano on toasty bread smothered with romesco sauce, the nutty, peppery flavour balanced by the flavourful ham. 

Multi coloured and summer fresh the Ensalada de tomate or salad with red and yellow tomatoes, olives and red onion was light and airy bursting with the juicy goodness of Kumato tomatoes from Spain. Succulent, sweet and tart all at once, this dark brown to golden green coloured tomato originates from a wild tomato.

I have always wanted to try squid Ink pasta or rice but never mustered up the courage to work with the squid ink at home. Luckily one of the Tapas served was Arroz negro or  black rice with prawns and squid.
The squid ink sits quietly in the background allowing the squid and prawn to dominate the flavours in this comforting dish elevated many degrees by an aioli with an intense garlic flavour. So smooth, the aioli left like a silk ribbon on my tongue... 
Much required hydration came in the form on a cold soup or Gazpacho de sandía, traditional chilled vegetable soup with a hint of watermelon. The golden orb floating on top is a extra virgin olive oil originating from you guessed it right – Spain!
In quick succession followed the Pulpo a la Gallega or  steamed octopus served with potatoes set off by spicy pimentón paprika. Fear not vegetarians for what followed next were two delicious vegetarian Tapas that beat the octopus dish hollow! 
Pimientos rellenos de setas - Succulent triangular red pepper - Piuillos - stuffed with mushrooms. Served with a wild mushroom béchamel sauce a red sauce which is made using the same red peppers smoked and blended in. This Tapas disappeared from the cute terracotta pots it was served in, in a matter of seconds!  

Chef Omar is very proud of all the dips and sauces that we so relished with our meal, all made from scratch in the kitchen at Tapas Revolution, each ingredient sourced from various producers from Spain. Amongst the many tales he regaled us with he also proudly mentioned that mayonnaise – which is an integral part of various dishes worldwide originated from one of the islands of Spain known as Port Mahon on Minorca. It is widely believed that mayonnaise was invented in 1756 to commemorate a victory at the start of the Seven Years War, the successful siege of English-held St. Philip's Castle.

This star dish was followed by another - baby artichokes smothered in with olive oil and garlic and served with a dipping sauce – Romesco. Also called Alcachofas con salsa romesco , these young,fleshy,juicy  and tender artichokes are Chef Omars favourite too and he managed to gobble a few before letting us in on some very interesting updates. Chef Omar is very excited about the opening of his new restaurant in Shoreditch where he promises that there will be a lot of space for people to enjoy the huge carefully selected wines or like me guzzle several glasses of the fab Sangria. But most importantly it may be the only restaurant in London to serve dishes using meat from mangalica pigs. Of the 3 types of pigs that are available in Spain , white are a majority, while only 2% are the Iberico or black pigs and even smaller percentage are the rare breed of mangalica pigs. They have wooly, furry coat like sheep and mainly used for lard.

To ensure that we sleep well at night, we were bombared with Croquetas de jamón or deep-fired Iberico ham croquettes. Sink your teeth into one and you will know what I am talking about. This is one carb laden, artery clogging, bomb of gooey goodness that I will gladly pop into my mouth without abandon!

I was sure I would hang upside down from the ceiling, given the amount of Sangria I had consumed. To make matters worse we were given Crema Catalana in cute mini jars. How I wish we could have taken those jars home too, come on, they would make for perfect props for a fab food photography session. This traditional dessert of Spain, made with vanilla pod, cinnamon and lemon served as a happy ending to a fabulous Tapas meal.
I don’t quite recollect how one of the other bloggers who attended the event too and me managed to walk past Shepherd’s Bush and reach the next station (!?!!). In spite of the mercury taking a sharp dip we seemed to not mind it too much....

With Thanks to the team at Tapas Revolution for a fab evening and to Chef Omar Allibhoy for inviting us.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Family Lunch and Plum Trees

I had my 6 year old granddaughter for a couple of days over the Bank Holiday weekend and the plan to get her home was to meet my daughter-in-law at a cafe on a roundabout on the A428.  This would mean I could turn and go home a lot shorter route and she was not having to go too far out of her way.  At my grandson's birthday party on the Saturday my ex husband and his wife invited us to meet at their house which is near the suggested roundabout in order that neither of us needed to sit and wait in a cafe for the other.

I would have to pass the ex husband's house anyway on my way home making this an attractive alternative for the precious swap over.  The offer was initially for a cup of tea, then became a quick 'buttie' but ended up a BBQ so I asked Mr R to meet me there as well. Might as well make a real family occassion out of it!

Anyway their hospitality was great and really appreciated and a trip to the bottom of their 400' garden where we were surrounded by greengage trees, plum trees, apple and pear trees along with berries and loads of other fruits was a treat.

So at this point there was eight of us; the ex and his wife, me, my granddaughter and daughter-in-law, my daughter (she didn't want to be left out) and her 5 year old son and Mr R, all picking plums and greengages to take home to make jams, cakes, plums for the freezer, stewed plums and more.

The children loved running around the fruit trees and helping to pick and fill up the baskets and ultimately ending up the ladder!

The weather held up for us and we all had a great end of summer day outside with a simple burger BBQ and the chance for a relaxed family lunch. (even Mr R got involved with the BBQ!).
After lunch Peter, the ex husband took Mr R and I (and grandson - BoyG) to look at the bells in the nearby church (he is a member of the bell ringers in the village) and gave us loads of local information on the church and the history of some of the bells. 
I managed to get up the tiny, spiral staircase but waited on that level with BoyG whilst the ex and Mr R carried onto the top.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, we went home laden with plums and greengages to preserve the sunshine for the winter ahead.








Monday, 25 August 2014

Muscadine Wine - A Taste of the Deep South

I like to drink a cold glass of dry white wine with meals or in the garden on a hot summer day and although I am no wine expert I know the sort of grape varieties that I like.

When I got to North Carolina in June this year my sister offered me a glass of wine. She said it was ‘dry’ and that it was one of her favourites.  In actual fact it was on the sweet side for me and not at all dry by my tastes. 

I asked what the grape variety was. Muscadine! I had never heard of this grape and apparently it is not widely grown anywhere except for the southern states of America. It thrives on the rich soil and mild winters as well as the heat and humidity of the Southern states and even the North Carolina General Assembly named the Scuppernog grape (a cultivar of the original Muscadine) the official state fruit in 2001!
I contacted the Johnson County Tourism Board to see if there were any Muscadine wineries in the area that would offer a tour and tasting so I could learn more.

It was very kindly arranged for us to have a tour and tasting of Hinnant Family Winery in Johnson County. Bev had not been to this winery or sampled their wines before so it was a first for both of us.  Each producer has their own little nuances in their range.
First of all we tasted their range of wines, white, red and rose all with the distinctive taste that comes from the muscadine grape.  This is a very earthy and a bit metallic taste, very different to my ‘European’ wine tastes. The locals say it is an acquired taste.

They have a range of wines that they link to being like certain ‘Bordeaux’ or ‘Merlot’ wines and then a range of very different wines that have no ‘European’ counterpart.

Hinnant Family Winery is North Carolina's oldest and largest muscadine vineyard and a family run winery. The staff have a real passion for the vines, the processes and the finished product and love greeting the visitor with their Southern hospitality. Though a small operation it is incredibly modern and efficient,

as well as award winning.
Funny enough the wine I picked as my favourite of the range had elderflower and honey in it which I would have thought would have made it sweet but it is in fact quite dry but with a beautiful bouquet and fragrance.

There are over 100 wineries in the state of North Carolina and for a list of them and where you can get a tasting and tour check out North Carolina Wines. You can visit the North Carolina Muscadine Grape Association for more information.

Many thanks to Erin at Johnson County Tourism Board for arranging my tour and tasting of Hinnant and thanks too to the staff at Hinnant Family Winery for their hospitality and the wine they gave me to take home.  I did not receive any payment to write about this and as usual all opinions and photos are my own.







Thursday, 21 August 2014

Perk!er Certainly Perked Up My Summer

I rarely take holiday during the British Summer, preferring to stay home when the weather has a greater chance of being nice and holidaying later in the year when we lose our warm days.

Perk!er asked me to take part in their challenge to 'Perk Up My Summer' and I agreed.  I would receive a surprise box each week for four weeks in July and the brief was just to have fun.

Week 1 (see blog post: for more details) sent us a picnic basket and rug with a flask and instant Perk!er porridge.

Week 2 (see blog post: when we received a huge super soaker water gun just in time for my grandson's 5th birthday party.  Not only did this surprise perk up my summer but the whole family's as well. It certainly was the hit of the party!

Week 3 I received everything to make and display a batch of cake pops!  This is something I will need to do with the grandchildren.  I am spending the weekend with all three of them and this will certainly get put to good use.
The final surprise box (week 4 of the challenge) arrived and I did laugh out loud.  Inside this one was a rounders bat, ball and goal cones.  Where were they getting their inspiration for these boxes?
My granddaughter visited last weekend and she and Grandad (Mr R) had a go throwing the ball and hitting it.  We are visiting my daughter next weekend for the little one's 2nd birthday and I will be taking this set with us for the boys to play with.

Many thanks to Perk!er for giving me the excuse to stop my everyday rushing around and have some fun and also to make sure I was having some healthy breakfast and snacks with Perk!er porridges and healthier snacks.

I was not paid to write anything and as usual all opinions and photos are my own.



My New EcoCookware Designer Cooking without Designer Prices

There is a lot more to the Premier Housewares’ Ecocook range than initially meets the eye, with their stylish design and energy efficient cooking.

I was sent the high sided frying pan, sort of wok like but there are another 5 sizes of saucepan and frying pans in the range.
They have introduced two new colours so as well as the red there is now lime green and black.
The range is  eco-friendly, white ceramic non-stick coating, and able to withstand tremendous heat – up to 280°C – without the risk of blistering or cracking, Ecocook is part of the non stick of the future movement and the coated aluminium pan bodies, are super-efficient heat conductors reducing cooking times and saving energy at the same time. That has to be a win-win for your purse (prices range from £14.99-£32.99) and for the environment!!

The range is suitable for use on gas, electric and halogen hobs, with pans over 20cm also suitable for use on induction hobs.
I wanted a quick supper without a lot of washing up. Being virtually non-stick the Ecocook is perfect for the job. Sauteeing onion, garlic and celery in some olive oil (always start with this trio), add chopped yellow pepper and chopped bacon.
Cooked for 5-6 minutes then added two pots of Lake District Cooking Sauce - tomato and basil.
Further added some tomato puree and a couple of tinned tomatoes.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes and serve on top of spaghetti with grated cheese on top.  There is a lid to keep all the flavours in and flies out!
Thanks to Premier Housewares for this sample - the red fits in well in my kitchen with all my other red pots and pans too.
I did not receive any payment to try this product and as always all opinions and photos are my own.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Making Shredded Beef with Aldi

Not that long ago Aldi advertised that they would be selling Wagyu beef in their store and it would be arriving on a stated date.  I was sent a voucher to go into my local store to get some to review.

When I got to the store that afternoon the store had completely sold out, the manager told me they had sold out the beef in 15 minutes of it being put on the shelves. I decided to use the voucher to buy a beautiful piece of 28 day mature beef, the meat we had bought previously from Aldi has always been great quality.
It might seem a bit strange to use the slow cooker to cook such a good quality beef but I figured if using a slow cook made a cheaper piece of meat into a lovely meal then using a really good piece of meat would make a delicious meal.

I wanted to keep it simple and make it tasty.  I only added some chopped carrots, onion and celery and a little bit of water along with simple seasonings.

We spent the day at the allotment and came home to a beautiful aroma as we opened the door.

When I opened the lid of the slow cooker I found the perfectly cooked beef which I was subsequently able to shred.
I added some of the cooked vegetables to a sauce pan, thickened and pressed through a sieve to make a gravy
and served this all over spaghetti for a really tasty, simple and convenient Saturday supper.
Many thanks to Aldi for the voucher to purchse this piece of beef.  I did not receive payment to review this and as usual all opinions and photos are my own.






Sunday, 17 August 2014

What's the best time for Sunday Brunch!

Any time Sunday morning is a great time for brunch at The Snug Bar!
I have already written about The Snug Bar in St Albans, telling you of their tasty menu, fun cocktail masterclasses and now this weekend we tried their brunch menu.
I had my 6 year old granddaughter staying for the weekend and she does like a nice breakfast so we braved the rain and headed off to try the menu.
Lizzie’s face was a picture when her hot chocolate arrived, topped with whipped cream and a couple of mini marshmallows on top. 
She did mention that there were only a couple of marshmallows but soon took back her statement as she stirred the hot mixture and found it was full of mini marshmallows – Oh joy!
Lizzie tucked into the Maple Pancakes with Bacon not leaving much on her plate!
Mr R and I both had the full breakfast although he had a poached egg and I had scrambled.  The plate was full of breakfast yumminess

You can get breakfast every day but there is something decadent and special about mid-morning on a Sunday, expecially a rainy one and you are tucked up inside eating a late and leisurely breakfast and drinking lovely coffee!

We were guests of The Snug Bar, St Albans but all the opinions and photos are my own.