Monday, 30 December 2013

Retrospective: Looking Back On 2013

This year marked the progression from lifestyle to food blog, and I think it is one of the best possible things that could have happened. While I sometimes do miss putting together a good outfit post, my real passion is food; working on recipes for you all and photographing them, and discovering new restaurants to share with you all too. Food is what I'm passionate about, and I've been enjoying writing this blog so much more since the transition. This year also marked a massive change for me, in that I moved back from my apartment on the West Side of LA where I had been attending classes at UCLA, and back to London for my final year.

I woke up on the first day of 2013 in my apartment on Los Angeles' Westside. I get asked all the time if I miss Los Angeles and I really, really do. I miss my life in Los Angeles every single day, and while I really wanted to come home at the end, and if someone said I could go back to live tomorrow I'd choose to stay doing my London-Countryside-France flip flop here, I can't wait to go back to visit. I lived in LA for 10 months and I fell in love with it. I miss Saturday mornings on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, weekend walks along the ocean front, shopping in West Hollywood, and to constant sunshine. And there are so many more restaurants in Los Angeles I have not had a chance to eat in yet! 





In June I finished up my Spring Quarter finals at UCLA and it was time for my last few weeks in the city I'd absolutely fallen head over heels with. My best friend Kathryn flew out to enjoy my last 10 days with me, and while writing this post is making me miss Los Angeles so incredibly much, I was glad to finally be heading back to England.

1. Getting back into the swing of my favourite 'Places To Eat In London' column at Drift Bar at the bottom of the Heron Tower. | 2. Sharing one of my families favourite barbecue recipes, Honey Mustard Chicken Skewers. | 3. Throwing together a quick Caprese Salad and sharing some photos from my French home in Brittany. | 4. Kicking off my 'Cocktail Hour' column with Lemon Lavender Vodka Lemonade. | 5. Rachel Phipps got nominated for the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2013 in the 'Best Food Blog' category. Congratulations to my reader Sophie who won the category, and to one of my newer blogger friends I met over the Summer Bailee, a California native who was the runner up. | 6. Learning to make pasta at The Underground Cookery School.

July was the month where I got to know all of my favourite places that I call 'home' all over again. Obviously, this meant being back on the farm in Kent for the Summer to barbecue and start off my cocktail column, both of which meant (much to her upset that it would no longer stay tidy!) reacquainting myself with my Mother's kitchen! After a week or two at home I also got to go back to the French house for the first time in over a year, where I realised how much I had really missed it, and while I did not yet have my flat there and I was still staying with friends or day tripping off of the train, I got to reintroduce myself to London, my favourite playground. 




December 2013

I hope everyone has a great New Years Eve tomorrow night, and I hope that the New Year will bring you everything you could ever wish for. I'll be cooking New Years Day we're hosting my Dad's family for lunch, and I'm so excited about the menu that is planned (and which I have a dish in that I'm planning on sharing with you over the next week or so). Also, just a reminder, if you enter the discount code LETITSNOW at the checkout, you can get 25% off of all blog sidebar advertising until midnight tomorrow night.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Cocktail Hour: Italian 75

I hope everyone had a fantastic day yesterday, and that you're having a nice lazy day today, full of food, enjoying presents and filling up on leftovers. There is nothing I like better at this time of year than leftover turkey, stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce sandwiches. While this 'dead' week between Christmas and New Year is usually a time to veg out, relax and enjoy spending time with your friends and family (and in my case, write another 5,000 words worth of essays!) we do still need to start thinking about New Year celebrations. This year I'm planning a quiet New Year Eve at home, but on New Years Day my Mother and I are cooking for my Dad's side of the family, and I've had an awful lot of fun planning the menu.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Festive Dessert Idea: French 3 Ingredient Chocolate Mousse

One of my Dad's favourite desserts is a homemade chocolate mousse. Because of this it turned into something of a treat pudding in our house, so it became one of my favourites too. I know my Mother has her own recipe which I've made a few times before, but I came across my recipe for a typical, simple, three ingredient traditional French chocolate mousse in a book my Grandfather gave me last Christmas: Sweet Paris by Michael Paul. It is such a beautiful book with stunning photos of all things sweet around Paris, the stories behind all of the various desserts and their histories, and some rather good recipes I've been working through, too. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Update: Home In Kent & Cooking For Christmas

Late last Friday after going out for late afternoon drinks I headed back to the station and home for Christmas. Obviously it was Friday 13th, so while I left my companion at 7pm somewhere near St. James' Park I did not make it back to my parents house until about 11:30pm, so many delayed trains! Anyway, so the past week I know I've been a little quiet, but I have not really been thinking about the blog too much. I adore writing it and could not think of a life without it, but it has been nice to spend time getting ready for the festive period with my family, especially as I essentially skipped Christmas and New Years last year when I was in Los Angeles. 
So, I thought I'd just post a few snapshots of what I've been getting up to at home. Aside from all of this, I've also been watching an awful lot of food television. Predictable, right? My loves have included Paul & Mary's Great British Bake Off Christmas Masterclass (I love the way she seems to Mother him!) and Tom Kerridge Cooks Christmas; who needs that Honey Roast Pork Side in their life?! Also recorded I'm excited to see Nigel Slater's biscuit programme, and Giles Coren and Alexander Armstrong exploring their favourite Christmas drinks. 
I've become obsessed with Nigella Lawson's amazing book Feast recently, and yesterday afternoon from it I attempted her famous Cherry Coke Ham. It was the first time I have ever made a ham before, and I am so proud of how it turned out. It tastes fabulous, and I think her glaze made with cherry jam and smokey paprika is simply inspired. So excited for upcoming ham sandwiches. I'm going to be making her festive trifle from it twice this year (tomorrow night for dessert and alongside my Super Simple 3-Step Chocolate Brownies for dessert on New Years Day), so I'll try and post pictures of that too. 
My Mummy is famous among family and friends for how brilliant she is at beautifully wrapping presents and gifts. I just love sitting watching her put together her beautiful creations. When she was a teenager she used to sit in the back room of her Mother's gift shop on Christmas Eve wrapping up so many bottles of Chanel No.5 for hapless husbands who'd left their Christmas shopping until the last minute.
All I can say is that this is my new favourite candle, its orange, cinnamon and clove scent is basically Christmas.
I arrived back in Kent to a big box from the lovely team at Sainsbury's with a few ingredients for some upcoming posts I have planned in the New Year, and their entire new Taste The Difference chocolate range. I'm currently munching on a lovely dark caramel number, but my favourite by far which I think is perfect for the festive season is this Swiss Milk filled with a Marc De Champagne filling. I'm particularly partial to a good champagne truffle, and this is a slab of it. Utter perfection, and I think the bar went down between my Mother and I far, far too quickly! A festive treat for anyone who is partial to this sort of thing.
Finally, Mummy and I spent a hilarious afternoon decorating our Christmas tree. Most of the amusement was from the fact that it is twice our height; she is even more vertically challenged than I am! Aside from this Instagram of one of our blown glass decorations (most of out decorations are little toys, golden birds or blown glass bells), most of the pictures I took earlier did not come out how I'd like, but our tree has been in the same place for years, and has looked the same every year for even longer, so these pictures I took on Christmas Eve in 2011 should give you a good idea of what it looks like

I hope you are all having a fantastic time in the build up to the holidays, and I'd love to hear about some of your own Christmas traditions, favourite recipes, festive foodie TV shows you've been enjoying and how you like to decorate your tree in the comments section if you have a few moments to spare from the merrymaking! 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Voting Soon Closes To Choose Aero's Next New Flavour

Aero Flavours
From top to bottom we have Lemon (I must say that I am really not a fan), Strawberry (which I love, and not just because I am #teamStrawberry), Cappuccino (I'm not a coffee fan, but it is rather good), and White Chocolate (which I also adore). Remember to go and vote here, and you can vote for up to 4 times a day.

In other but still related news, I'm hoping to put together a recipe with these samples (plus the other goodies the Aero team sent me) that can also work with any flavour of Aero chocolate. I love working with already popular sweets and chocolates to create something new, do you remember my Salted Caramel Double Chocolate Chip Rolo Cookies by any chance?

This is a sponsored post. To read my policy on sponsored posts, please click here.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Places To Eat In London: Breakfast at Dishoom, Shoreditch

I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be reviewing what has become 'the' Bombay eatery in East London (and now also Covent Garden), Dishoom, twice. I've known about it forever, and while when it first opened I had no intention of going (I did not like Indian food, remember. You can read more about this here.) until when Evie pulled the menu up on my phone while we were sitting in the back of the 720 bus to West Hollywood did she persuade me to go once I got back to London. It was going to be the place where I really 'tried' and decided if I liked Indian food or not, but then I started cooking it for myself last month. 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Weekly Love: Week 119

Things have been pretty much the same for me the past few weeks, in that I've been as insanely busy as usual! I've been juggling classes with working in Westminster and writing this blog, but I've been loving every minute of it. I've also somehow managed to just about finish my Christmas shopping, which is a bit of a shock to me, to be honest. I'm just glad that I did not end up in Selfridges at 5:30pm on a weekday as I had feared I would! 
Weekly Love 131213 1. One snapshot of breakfast at Dishoom two weekends in a row. The Sausage Naan Wraps are to die for, and I'd also recommend the Bloody Mary's and the fruit salad. | 2. Helping out at Number 10 for work, and more importantly getting to meet Larry the cat (who is always curled up asleep) and Lola the simply adorable newcomer, the Osborne's new dog. | 3. Learning to cook traditional Japanese food with KLM to celebrate their new flight routes to Japan. (picture via Tips For Travellers) | 4. On Monday night I was lucky enough to go see Rick Stein Live at the Palladium, I'd done a giveaway for the tickets and they offered me a pair too. It was avery unique show of conversation with Brian Turner, and cooking food from around the world and his travels alongside his son Jack, who is also a brilliant chef. I'm now officially excited for his next TV show, and I now also want his India book, I think that is the only one we don't already own as a family. | 5. A massive thank you to the team at Selfridges for helping my flat smell lovely by way of my new candle obsession, Diptque's Patchoili. | 6. One of the most beautiful (no filter) sunsets I've seen over Canary Wharf from my flat window, which have been happening so much this week.

As some of you may have already seen from my Instagram feed, there is a very good reason to go out and buy either BBC Good Food or Delicious magazine this month. Super awesome baker Richard Bertinet and I have teamed up for Lurpak's new Slow Churned Butter for a little feature that includes a mini interview with each of us (the interviews in each magazine are pretty similar, but do have some differences) and some of Richard's amazing recipes which I can confirm from on set tastings, are absolutely insane. 
DSC_1202 A few weeks ago Pizza Express asked me if I wanted to go and try a few of their new vegetarian dishes on their menu, so over the weekend I went back to Kent to shoot my Mother's Mince Pie recipe I met my parents off the train and we went for a lazy meal at Pizza Express in Canterbury before heading home. I was really excited because while I do love meat, I equally adore veggie dishes, but I found I could not eat any of them because they all contained cheese made with cows milk (or beetroot which I dislike). Luckily my parents could be relied upon to rise to the challenge, so while I munched my way through a sausage pizza above you can see my Father's starter of a mushroom bruschetta. He absolutely loved it, but was a bit confused by the name as it was served on pizza dough. 
This is my Mothers Caprina Rossa Romana Pizza, topped with rocket, beetroot, goat's cheese, red onion, mozzarella, tomato and pesto. She said it was pleasantly surprising; the goat's cheese was not too strong; it was more like a feta that complimented the beetroots which had a great flavour. She thought it was a really great flavour combo, and made a nice, crisp, change from a margarita. 

What have you been enjoying this week, and what do you have planned for the weekend? I'm just tying up a few loose ends in the city before I head home to Kent for Christmas and all things festive. Up first I think the Christmas tree needs sorting! 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: For The Globetrotter

For the third and final instalment of my Holiday Gift Guides this year I'm focusing on gifts for The Globetrotter; the person in your life who either is presently bitten by the travel bug, or for people who always have to be hopping on and off planes or into different climates or locations because of work. You can view the three other editions of my gift guides by clicking through: The Total Foodie, The Total Bookworm and The Londoner
Emma Bridgewater Wellington Boots: £38, Bamford Grey Cashmere Travel Socks: £65, Frends Ella Gold Tone Earphones: £85 / $100, Smythson Green Travel Wallet: £395 / $600, Diptique Philosykos Roll On Perfume Oil: £32 / $55, Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat: £25 / $40, J.Crew Red Leather Luggage Label: £30 / $30, J.Crew Striped Ceramic Travel Coffee Cup: £29.50 / $16.50

More from the Diptyque (so glad I've finally learnt to spell that without having to Google it!) Christmas Press Day the other week. When we left we were all treated to a few goodies, including this Philosykos fig perfume oil roll on. I was unsure at first, but now I've fallen head over heels with the rich, earthy and extremely long lasting scent. The elegant roll on has its own protective slip so you can just throw it into your weekend bag, and as well as being a great scent on its own, as it is not much of a blend I've also found it makes a great base for most of the spray on scents I keep in my everyday collection. 

Both ways on my flights to and from Los Angeles I wore flip flops, and while I was really comfortable I wish that I'd had the extra cosy of a good pair of plane socks to snuggle up in while I slept, and these Bamford numbers may be an investment, but I think they would be perfect. Also, when it comes to finding your stuff on the baggage carousel at the end, brightly coloured luggage labels will make your life so much easier, I promise! It is bad enough finding a trolley... 

Finally, perfect for anyone set to visit London any time soon (!), Wellington Boots, or as they are referred to across the pond, Rain Boots. British ceramics brand Emma Bridgewater now make them (they also now make toiletries, apparently, as I discovered in the M&S beauty hall this morning), so pick up a pair as soon as you arrive to keep your feet dry and stylish. 

I hope you have all enjoyed my gift guide series this year, and my picks for your friends and family have been helpful. All I have left to do, pretty much except for one Selfridges trip I know I need to make, is stocking fillers for my parents, but I'm trying to pick those up before I get my groceries each week, early in the morning when the shops are quiet! 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Places To Eat In London: Christmas Lunch Menu at Bill's, Holborn

I have realised recently that because I am both indecisive when looking at menus for the first time, and because I am a creature of habit set menus are my friend as they make ordering my breakfast, lunch or dinner so much easier! So, when the lovely team at Bill's, somewhere I have actually been trying to eat for a while, but has always been full (I've only just started booking tables in places I know will be busy), wanted to know if I wanted to come along and sample their current Christmas menu I jumped at the chance. And obviously, I had to drag one of my regular restaurant partners in crime Sherin along with me, too! 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Places To Eat In London: Rabot 1745, Borough Market

Usually I don't get excited about new restaurants. Yes, I get excited that there will be somewhere great and new to eat, but I don't have that thing about rushing out to try somewhere as soon as it opens. I'm perfectly happy to wait around until it is convenient for me, or the big primary rush is over before I try somewhere. However, when I heard that Hotel Chocolat, one of my favourite companies was opening an outpost of their St. Lucia Estate restaurant Rabot 1745 in one of my favourite places in London, Borough Market, I got very excited.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Borough Market Challenge #3: Spiced Potato & Squash Soup

This third instalment of my 'Borough Market Challenge' was supposed to highlight an ingredient I'm obsessed with putting in everything at the moment, Butternut Squash, and while here I think I've created a pretty delicious soup, I'm rather disappointed by it. It is spicy, full of flavour and has a wonderfully smooth and velvety texture. The problem is, that while it would not quite taste right without the inclusion of the squash, you can't really taste it distinctly there, either. Yes, I seriously underestimated the potato.
DSC_1329 DSC_1331
However, I digress. This soup is the perfect Autumn Winter warmer, and makes one massive bowl for one, if you are very hungry (it is rather filling) or two small lunch sized bowls for two, or for a starter if your main is going to be a little bit lighter. Both my potato, and my squash which I love because it is a pigmy, like me (I'm only little!) and perfect for the likes of just me to enjoy rather than a supermarket sized larger one, from Chegwarth Farm, by the entrance of the market you'd come into if you were emerging from London Bridge Underground. While some of my spices are old store cupboard finds that I picked up at the supermarket, I now buy all my spices from one of my favourite spice designations, Spice Market opposite Chegwarth. 
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While most people for seasoning grab the salt and pepper, I have used my favourite Breton Fleur de Sel to season this soup, but in place of the pepper I have used fresh lemon juice. Since discovering last month that I do indeed like Indian food I've been experimenting a lot. Stay tuned at some stage for my go to curry recipe, a hybrid of a few traditional recipes I'm trying and a base recipe my friend Amy sent me. Anyway, so when I made the Indian Spiced Potatoes from Mr. Todiwala's Bombay I realised that lemon juice makes a fantastic seasoning, and as the spices used in this soup are almost identical to those on the potatoes, I decided that using fresh lemon would also be the way forward here, with absolutely fantastic results. 
I was playing around here topping the soup with cumin seeds straight from the tub to cut corners, but I found that you don't get that same crunch and fantastic flavour as when you toast them first. Therefore, when you are toasting them at the start to go in the soup, add a couple of extra pinches then fish them out again to set aside for the garnish, before adding the oil and vegetables. 

  • 1 Large Potato
  • 1 Small Butternut Squash
  • 300ml (10.5 oz) Chicken Stock (you can make your own here
  • 1 tsp + Extra Cumin Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric
  • Large Pinch Dried Chilli (Red Pepper) Flakes
  • 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Fresh Lemon Juice

Peel the potato and the squash and chop them into small pieces. Heat a large saucepan and dry fry the cumin seeds and the chilli flakes for a few minutes until they are aromatic and jumping around in the pan a bit. Set aside some of the cumin seeds for your garnish. Add the oil, the vegetable cubes and the tumeric, and gently fry for about 5 minutes to allow the squash and the potato to soften slightly. It does not really matter, but you'll get a quicker cooking time if you use a softer potato variety. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Allow to cook away like this for 20 minutes until the potato and squash pieces are cooked through. Blend until smooth with a stick blender, and return the pan to the heat to heat through. Season to taste with fresh lemon juice and sea salt, then garnish on top with the set aside cumin seeds and a squeeze of fresh lemon. 

You've probably noticed that I'm pretty obsessed with Winter soups, I have at least two more I want to share with you before the season is out, but for now I want to leave you with three perfectly seasonal soup links from my archives: Pea & Mozzarella Soup, A Basic Chicken Soup and A Warming Carrot Soup. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Christmas Kitchen for Selfridges: Leftover Christmas Pudding, Brandy Buttercream & Bitter Marmalade Parfait

The one issue I took with department stores in America is that they did not have food halls. When it is quiet, the Selfridges Food Hall is one of my favourite places in London, and they stock some of my favourite treats and lunches for when I am on the go. So, when Selfridges got in touch with me to see if I wanted to try one of their Christmas hampers this year, which the challenge of putting together my own Christmas treat with some of the items in the hamper, I jumped at the chance. Not only would collaborating with my favourite department store be fun, but I thought it might be nice to put together something everyone can make with Christmas excess or leftovers. Hands up who gets a little sick of Christmas pudding after a few days?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas Kitchen: Mummy's Mince Pies

Now, for the first recipe from my Christmas Kitchen this year, I want to share a family recipe with you that is not really mine. Last year I had lots of requests for a Mince Pie recipe, but I have a secret to share. While I will still munch on one or two, I'm not really the worlds biggest Mince Pie fan. I can take them or leave them, and I actually feel the same about Christmas Pudding too. So, when I was down at the farm a few weekends ago I asked my Mother if she'd make a batch of her special Mince Pies early so I could blog the recipe. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Weekly Love: Week 118

Time for another update on what foodie television I'm obsessed with at the moment. I'm a girl from the countryside, and while I don't know as much about farming and growing your own food as I think I should, I do know where my food comes from and how it is produced. This is because I have wonderful parents and I read a lot about food and food sustainability, so I know that most people, especially those who live in cities are less informed about where what they find on their plate originated, because they've simply never had a chance to learn. This is why this week I'm cheerleading the new Wednesday night on the BBC: Nigel and Adam's Farm Kitchen where they go behind the scenes and produce food from farm to plate. The first episode is a brilliant way to learn about the origins and different cuts of your beef, and Nigel's freeze lasagnes made me wish that I had something bigger than an ice box in my flat! You can catch up on the first two episodes on iPlayer.
1. The beautiful Christmas lights on South Molton Street. This photo is currently my iPhone lock screen. | 2. Dinner at The Diner. I've discovered my new favourite: California Burger, hold the cheese and add pulled pork. Messy, but still divine! | 3. The Fortnum's Christmas Tree in the middle of St Pancras International. | 4. Christmas at Liberty's. | 5. Lychee, Passionfruit and Chilli Mango Martini's to celebrate my best friend Kathryn's 21st. | 6. Breading pieces of a plaice I filleted myself. I had it over a bed of charred and salted kale.

DSC_2068 If you are after more of my recipes, last week over on the London edition of Refinery 29, one of my all time favourite websites they have put together a feature on 4 Easy Lunches To Upgrade Your Lunch Hour to which I have contributed a popular recipe in my family that my Mother has been making for years and I sometimes do for myself in my student flat (it is a favourite of ours at the French house): Roasted Red Peppers with Tomatoes & Anchovies.
WeeklyLove291113[2] 7. It is not Christmas in London until you've seen the Selfridges Christmas lights. | 8. A Friday night glass of red wine in front of the fire at the farm. | 9. Finishing up the reading for my Modernism and Democracy class on a Sunday night with a mug of homemade ginger tea. It was kind of relevant that I was using my Nineteen Eighty-Four mug, as I was studying Totalitarianism! | 10. Pondering the best course of action in planting new raspberry canes on the farm on a Saturday morning. | 11. A fantastic long and lazy lunch at Mishkin's in Covent Garden. Simply amazing Jewish comfort food at its best; I'd recommend the Tuesday special of Turkey Schnitzel and the slaw. Sorry there won't be a blog post about it, because my photos came out really badly. | 12. Curling up to read a cookbook all day on probably my first proper day off since June!

I have a thing about my flavoured teas, so when one of my favourite tea brands Tea Pigs (my first sip of their Superfruits blend changed my tea drinking life) got in touch with me to see if I wanted to try their new Spiced Winter Red Tea blend obviously I jumped at the chance. Aside from being pretty (I love how their biodegradable tea domes look in the mug!), it smells just like Christmas with orange, cloves and cinnamon, and is delicate and warming. I particularly enjoyed a steaming mug of it last weekend after coming in from planting raspberry canes ready for next Summer's harvest. You get 15 tea bags in a box for £4.49 or you can get a sample pack of two teabags for £1.19 in the Tea Pigs shop. They have actually recently launched their online Christmas shop, if you are still looking for some Christmas gifts of stocking fillers for tea lovers. As a little bonus, Tea Pigs are also offering 20% off everything in store except for their Mix & Match Kits and Cheeky Deals with the promo code XMAS13.

What have you been enjoying this week, and what do you have planned for the weekend? My parents are coming up to London to see me for the first time ever outside of helping me move in and out of flats (my Mother dislikes the city, my Father loathes it) and we're going to check out the beginnings of festive food at Borough Market before enjoying lunch at Hotel Chocolat's new Rabot 1754 which is the London branch of their restaurant on their St. Lucia cocoa estate. I think it pretty much has to be the London restaurant opening I have been most excited about since, well, ever. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: For The Londoner

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers. I feel that because I spent a year living in America I can properly embrace and understand this holiday, in spite of being British. And not because it is a holiday almost exclusively focused on food. Not at all! (I keep telling myself this!) I even made a Sweet Potato Pie this year and everything. As Thanksgiving is a holiday where people say what they are thankful for, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you, my amazing readers from America, my home of London and the rest of the world for reading, sticking with me and supporting me. I'd be nowhere without all of you, and words cannot sum up how grateful I am for every single one of you, every single day.
The Londoner
Westfield Gift Card: £ / $, Kate Spade Earrings: £51.86 / $68, Kate Spade Striped Umbrella: £23.53 / $38, Joules Hare Keyring: £6.95, Hotel Chocolat Alternative Mince Pie: £1.95 / $4, Rubis Chocolate Wine: £13, UGG Earmuff Headphones: £80 / $85, Diptyque Pine Cone Candle: £45 / $68

For the third edition of my Holiday Gift Guide this year, as ever, I'm focusing on The Londoner. I love London to bits, and there are so many things about the city that make it unique. However, while I have put this guide together with London in mind, after spending last Christmas in Los Angeles, another of the worlds big metropolitan cities I've tried to make this guide have a few more things in it which will suit anyone from any city. If you are still looking for gift ideas remember to check out my guide for The Total Foodie and for The Total Bookworm, and stay tuned for my guide's final instalment, for gifts for The Globetrotter.

I've always loved Kate Spade, but since falling in love with their adorable stores in Los Angeles, then finding several more had popped up around London in my absence, they've quickly become a firm favourite of mine for anything colourful, pretty or sparkly! I think their jewellery would make the ultimate gift. 

I first encountered Rubis Chocolate Wine at the Harvey Nichols Christmas Press Day back over the Summer, and out of all (and by all I mean an awful lot!) of amazing gins and vodkas I tried that afternoon, funnily enough the one thing that stood out for me was this wine. I know chocolate wine sounds odd, but hear me out. This Spanish red is blended with chocolate in England, and is fortified. Then presented in this beautiful bottle it makes for the perfect after dinner drink. I know this because the guys at Rubis were kind enough to send me a bottle, and it has become a firm favourite of mine. Something a little sophisticated for the holidays. 

Yet another Press Day find, Diptyque's Pine Christmas Candle. I actually included their Christmas Pine Tree candle in one of my guides last year, as I was pretty obsessed with it. I was going to give it a pass this year, choosing to focus on my new festive candle obsession, 'Winter' by The White Company, but after I smelt how subtly different, and awesome this years offering is one evening a few weeks ago at their Brook Street store I just knew I had to fit it in again this year. For me one of the big smells of Christmas is the tree, so this would be perfect for those of you in the city who can't get a real one as easy as us country folk. Also this year they have some great pine scented tree decorations, perfect for making your fake tree seem real

Thanks to the guys at Xperience Days I recently spent a Saturday morning at the Open Kitchen in Hoxton attending a Knife Skills and Fish class. It was rather different from most of the cooking classes I've attended before, which have been relaxed evening affairs. This was early morning and very professional and serious, and we learnt how to use and care for different types of chef knifes, chop our vegetables to a professional standard, joint and debone a chicken, and fillet and debone different types of fish. While I'd already done the vegetables and chicken before, I learnt a lot about sharpening knives (I'm no longer scared to do it without slicing my fingers off) and the skills I've learnt with the fish are invaluable; I know know what to do when presented with a whole fish of almost any variety. I did find it was a lot like school and I did feel rather down when I realised how useless I still am at the whole chicken affair, but as I said it was really useful. For people who like their cooking to be casual or don't have much confidence in the kitchen I suggest you take a browse through some of Xperince Day's easier food experiences (they are not just London based, they have experiences across Britain and America; I was originally contacted by the team to review something in Los Angeles but I never quite got around to it), but if you're looking for a gift for someone who is serious about their cooking and sharpening up their skills, this class would be perfect. It runs on Saturday mornings, lasts for about two hours, comes in at £59 per person, and you get to take your chicken and your fish home with you. I got about three meals out of my spoils. 

How is your Christmas shopping going? As I type, I'm currently finishing off some homemade foodie Christmas gifts for friends and family the first time I've made my own this year, and it has been so much fun! If you don't feel up to putting together something homemade though, IFB have got a great round up of other peoples gift guides you really must check out.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: For The Total Bookworm

For the second instalment of my Holiday Gift Guides, I'm exploring the other side of my personality that is not a food lover; I'm a total bookworm and I'm sure that all of you have at least one friend who is too so this is a little collection of things I think they might enjoy! There is so much on this particular list that I actually own or I have tried and loved, so this list more than usual comes with my seal of approval, not just from having seen awesome things online. You can click through to see my Holiday Gift Guide for The Total Foodie, and remember to keep checking back over the next few weeks for my guides of what to buy the Londoners and Globetrotters in your life! 
Hotel Chocolat Signature Christmas Collection: £25 / $50, Alphabet Drinks Coasters: £12, Boden Cosy Slipper Boots: £39 / $58, Lush Cinders Bath Bombs: £2.45/each / $4.95/each, Alphabet Bags Tote Bag: £13 / $22.60, Hotel Chocolat Cocoa & Peppermint Teabags: £8.50, The White Company Winter Scented Candle: £20

Nothing beats curling up with a good book, and I for one can't wait until the end of my degree when all of my reading can simply be for pleasure. Even when I'm reading for uni, however, I still find that a few little indulgences make the experience that little bit nicer. Any book worm will tell you tea, chocolate and a scented candle is the way to go, so these are my favourite for this season. I was really excited to find Hotel Chocolat were making tea at their Christmas event, so I could not help but include their Cocoa & Peppermint tea bags I'm hoping I'll be getting for Christmas this year, too! To rest the tea cup on, I think these coasters from The Literary Gift Company are fantastic. As you've probably already noticed I'm just that little bit in love with the Hotel Chocolat Signature Christmas Collection chocolate selection the Hotel Chocolat team were kind enough to treat me to, so I am speaking from a good point of authority when I tell you that it will be a very well received gift. While I must admit that I have not lit this The White Company 'Winter' scented candle yet, I just know it is going to be fantastic. I treated myself to it a few weeks ago as I am usually a big White Company candle fan, and every time I went into one of their stores (a financially dangerous occupation in itself!) I was obsessed by sniffing this candle. The cinnamon, clove and orange scent basically sings Mulled Wine and Christmas in general, and I now keep on opening it and sniffing in its box, counting down to December when I'll allow myself to light it. 

Finally the Boden slipper boots. All I can say is that I treated myself to them at the beginning of Autumn to wear around the house, and it is like having your feet enclosed in a massive hug. Though, they do come up a size too big, so order a size smaller than whoever you are buying for and keep the returns information! 

Since where at the bottom of my last gift guide I admitted I had not at all started Christmas shopping, I'm proud to say that I'm actually almost finished, which is strange for me. I managed to do all of my family gifts when I was out Christmas shopping in Canterbury with my Mummy or later that evening online last time I was home, and now for my parents I just have the other 50% of each of their presents to do - I'm half way through those! I also managed to talk my Mother into Emma Bridgewater wrapping paper with penguins, reindeers and polar bears on in Fenwick, so I call that a win! How are all of you getting on with your Christmas shopping? If you need any more ideas I have not included here, IFB have put together a roundup of other peoples guides which is really worth checking out.

Monday, 25 November 2013

How To Make Your Own Christmas Wreath: Seasonal Hints & Tips In Collaboration With The Zita Elze Flower School

When I was little I used to get all excited about making handmade things for Christmas. I used to go through all the books and magazines, and get oh so excited about making lists and lists of things to make. I never quite got them all done, but something I did always manage to make is a Christmas Wreath for the front door. Fast forward to adulthood. We how have beautiful handmade wreathes we purchased to go on the front and office door every year, so I honestly could not see much scope in making a DIY post. That was until I met the wonderful Zita Elze, the florist behind her eponymous flower school at The White Company's Christmas Press Day in July, and we decided to team up to put something together for you all.
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Zita was the one who inspired my Floral Topped Cupcakes I made this Summer for my collaboration with Whittards of Chelsea, and this is part of the reason I was really excited to get her involved in this post. I am a firm believer in using what is around you (this ties into my love of seasonal ingredients and buying and using local, though it might not be obvious from my recipes as I've hopped around from London to France to Kent to Los Angeles a fair bit over the past few years!) so I think everyones special unique Christmas wreath, if possible should be made with what you have to hand. If you are a Londoner, I suggest looking for something a bit more evergreen like holly branches, ivy etc. at markets would be a good starting point (try Columbia Road). Also if you can find things like tiny pine cones inexpensively, or you have a friend who can bring them for you from the countryside one thing I loved doing as a child to make decorations for the Christmas tree was to either spray paint them silver or gold, or dip just the tips of them in PVA glue then a very fine silver glitter so they look slightly frosted. These can be attached to wire using a glue gun then woven into your wreath on a base of either oasis from a florist, or just anything round you have to hand if you are not looking to feed some water into it over the festive season, and you just want your wreath to last a few days, perhaps if you are having friends over for festive celebrations.
As for if, like me you live in the countryside or are lucky enough to have a blooming garden I thought I'd ask Zita for her tips as to what to choose to build your wreath; I knew she'd be more imaginative that my standard ivy and holly I always used to go for!

For your own special Christmas and Winter decorations, start by taking a wander around your garden to pick lots of different foliages. Long trails of ivy, bundles of Scotch pine, eucalyptus and blue spruce are all fantastic. Feathery or fluffy, dainty or spiky, look for many different textures, colours and tones so you have a rich palate to work with.  Condition the foliage in fresh, clean water with a drop of bleach. You can spray paint some leaves silver or gold. A metal or oasis ring provides a firm base for a wreath, and a warm welcome to guests arriving at your front door. A few other ideas for using the things you have gathered around your home are to weave a wired garland attaching little bunches of foliages, pine cones and apples onto a rope or beautiful ribbon to adorn the mantelpiece. In the dining room, a festive table decoration with designer candles on an oasis base embellished with foliages, corms, cones and seasonal decorations evokes the enchantment of Christmas.  My personal favourite is a topiary tree or simple bay tree decorated with ribbon in a terracotta pot, filled with medium sized apples and crab apples. 

Christmas present wise, the Zita Elze Flower School is at Kew, and they do lots of classes starting from the very beginner to advanced florists. Like flowers, the classes are seasonal too. You can see their full course listing and get booking and pricing information on their website. They have some great seasonal and festive classes coming up too, which might be nice if you have a free day to go and learn something new.

Do you make your own Christmas wreath, or any of your own decorations each year? Or, are you like me, usually full of good intentions for the festive season, and the only thing you seem to manage to actually achieve is the same festive baking and Christmas dinner recipes to last year? I spent yesterday, one of my first 'days off' in months, reading Nigella Lawson's Feast and I've made a list of festive dishes I want to try this year. Problem is, the only ones I can be sure I'll actually make are her Maple-Glazed Parsnips and homemade cranberry sauce; both are integral parts of Christmas Dinner for me, and I don't yet have a perfect go to recipe for either. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Borough Market Challenge #2 + An Evening With Pan Fried Chilli Rosemary Pheasant Breast with Charred Kale

Last week for me was all about game. We've already touched on rabbit, so now I want to move onto Pheasant, whose season has just begun. On Tuesday night I was invited by the crew into the Fifteen training kitchen for a pheasant masterclass with Fifteen Cornwall Head Chef Andy Appleton, Fifteen London Head Chef Jon Rotheram and the amazing Gennaro Contaldo who makes me almost want to forget French cooking and totally focus on Italian food for the core of my inspiration. So, you can imagine that come Friday morning when I was wondering around Borough Market ready to shoot my second Borough Market Challenge column and I spied some new season pheasant breasts at Furness Poultry & Game I was suddenly totally inspired. Lucky for those of you who don't like Middle Eastern food really, because Yotam Ottolenghi was filming in the market on Friday morning, so if I'd seen him before I saw the pheasant, there is no doubt in my mind that is where my recipe inspiration would have come from! 
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Can I just say that thanks to the amazing pheasant dish Andy made, I now really, really want to go to Cornwall so I can eat at Fifteen Cornwall (though, I still need to get further than cocktails at the bar at Fifteen London, to be honest!) However, just the way things worked out with the produce I loved in the market, I'm going to be focusing on some of the magic that was happening last week with Gennaro and Jon. 
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I know pheasant seems a bit scary to some people, but really, it is just another bird. Just like duck, just like chicken but with its own unique flavour. Some people tell me it is too gamey for their tastes, but it all depends on how long the bird has been hung for after it was shot. The less of a game taste you want, the sooner you want to cook it after death. If you want to know the age of your meat, ask your butcher, market vendor or farm shop person. The way we're cooking this pheasant breast here is really basic and simple, and I honestly think anyone could do it. Gennaro said you'd never find it on a fancy restaurant menu, because it is just too easy. It is a traditional Italian dish, and he served it up with an amazing potato dish baked with tomatoes, onion and oregano I'm hoping to snag the recipe for, because I was too busy watching him cook to take notes! 
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Essentially, we are flavouring the pheasant with chilli and rosemary, as well as a bit of salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Here I just want to give a shout out to Elsey & Bent in the far corner of the market who always have the most amazing displays, and whose chillis I really love. Pro tip from Gennaro Contaldo, if you want to check how strong a chilli is? Snap it and sniff! I find these chillis are great as you can do a lot with them, without the seeds they can be mild, but with they give such a brilliant kick.
Leave the skin on your pheasant breast (I took mine off here to see if you could make the dish a bit healthier without compromising flavour. You can't.) and bash it out on a board with your fist until it is flattered. Season with salt and pepper and lay a whole red chilli, with or without seeds sliced lengthways across the breast with a rosemary sprig. Fold over and flatten out again. Gennaro did not fold it over, but I find that unless you're used to fan frying like this, it helps your flavours stay in without them falling out of the breast. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan until very hot (you want to seal the meat as quickly as possible so you don't loose moisture). In my kitchen at the moment I have a big bottle of rosemary infused oil; this was perfect.
Seal both sides of the breast until browned. A trick Gennaro taught us was to keep the breast flat and to help it cook is to place something heavy on top. I used a mug, but traditionally it is done with an oiled brick to stop it sticking. Turn the breast over when brown, and when it is browned on both sides and it has cooked through set it aside, covered in tin foil on a warm plate to rest with any juices from the pan poured on top. 
Now, our side dish courtesy of Jon Rotheram, who served his kale up as part of an amazing dish of pheasant and smokey pork sausages with game chips, something that has been served up at Fifteen London. I'd never cooked kale before, or really eaten it. Like quinoa, it was something I shot myself in the foot with when I first came across it in Los Angeles by making fun of my roommate for cooking masses of it as a health food, and as a result making it that I'd have to eat my words to make it myself. I'm pretty stubborn sometimes! 
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Tear or chop a large handful of kale into large pieces and toss into the pan with a generous helping of sea salt. As ever, my poison of choice is Breton Fleur de Sel I pick up in Brittany. Lower the heat to just below medium and toss the kale pieces occasionally until they are slightly crispy and charred around the edges. It does not matter if you make too much kale, as it is fantastic and like crispy seaweed cold. I'm now a little obsessed. Enjoy, and thanks to Jamie's team for an amazing evening. If you want more photos and detailed bits about what we all learnt, Fiona's post from the evening is so much better than mine, and if you are curious about what Andy cooked, and Rachel has posted the recipe for his incredible Squash & Chestnut Caponata. And finally, I think the photography in Annie's blog post has outdone absolutely all of us