31 August 2012

Afternoon Tea - No 2 Browns Hotel

A proper afternoon tea in London doesn't come cheap but then if it was something you could have everyday would it be as special? Probably not. Round two of my 'Afternoon Tea Tour' with my friend Catherine, the undisputed Queen of Afternoon Tea, and she took me to Browns Hotel another of her particular favourites and arguably one of the most famous places for afternoon tea in London.

Where Fortnum's is light, airy and a great place for people watching, Browns is dark, old fashioned and incredibly cosy, you can settle in for hours with their unlimited supply of tea, sandwiches, cakes and scones and it is almost as if time has stopped. It doesn't matter what is going on outside, Browns is it's own little world, and this makes it an incredibly relaxing place to have tea.

Its hard to dress the part when you are heavily pregnant. Luckily for me it was a boiling hot day so I could legitimately wear my massive stripey sundress, not quite the thing for Browns, which requests a smart casual dress code, but no one seemed to mind. Catherine had phoned ahead and demanded the comfiest seats for my massive bulk and my god they were comfortable. Beautiful accompaniment on the baby grand provided the soundtrack, and the service was impeccable.

A wide variety of tea blends, including Browns own, are available (not quite as moreish as the Jubilee blend at Fortnums), finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes appear almost instantly and are continuously replenished until you are full to bursting. The sandwiches (cucumber, smoked salmon, egg and cress, chicken salad and ham) were delicious, the scones are mini which I found incredibly appealing having stuffed myself on several rounds of sandwiches, served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The cakes were particularly unusual and included a beautiful cranberry and elderflower jelly, a raspberry sponge and double chocolate cake.



It's hard to know which I preferred, Fortnums or Browns as they felt like completely different experiences. The service was better at Browns and it felt more private and personal, but Fortnums was so beautiful, light and airy and more buzzy, both fantastic for different reasons and great options for whatever your occassion. For real foodies, a private meeting or a dark, stormy winter's day go to Browns, for a treat after a days shopping, a bustly catch-up with girl friends off to Fornums with you.

23 August 2012

Jamie's Stuffed Cypriot Chicken with Pan Fried Asparagus and Cabbage Salad

by guest blogger Joe Harrod

Say what you like about Jamie Oliver. I know people find him smug, laddish, jammy and generally irritating. But he's also really watchable - a genuinely nice bloke and who cooks appealing food and happily laughs at himself. For me, the biggest problem with his shows and books is ingredients. He's always bunging in a bit of arrowroot, or something equally unavailable at Tesco.

30-Minute Meals is the epitome of Jamie, and probably outsold the Bible last Christmas. (That's another irritating thing about him - successful bastard!) It's also, for a mainstream cookbook, pretty scary. Each double page spread presents you with a 3 course feast which you must prepare in a race against time, incorporating a barrage of flavours and cooking techniques. I've never, ever brought in one of these badboys at under 40 minutes and I've burned myself trying.

I have to say though, I love the book. It's packed with great recipes and makes after work cooking more of an assault course and less of a chore. And it builds up your repertoire of gourmet, fast-cook meals. I would add a couple of suggestions of my own: Firstly, don't be afraid to dawdle or mix up the order of the cooking. Jamie has you firing up the hobs before you start chopping and juggling four pans at all times, which is too much like hard work. Secondly, if you don't want to make the starter, side dish or the pudding - don't bother.

It was in this spirit that I approached Jamie's "Stuffed Cypriot Chicken, Pan-Fried Asparagus and Vine Tomatoes, Cabbage Salad, Flatbreads, St. Clement's Drink, and Vanilla Ice Cream Float." In other words, sod the St Clements and the Ice Cream Float. I served booze and frozen yoghurt instead. And, instead of stuffing the chicken and chopping the cabbage and prepping the asparagus and flatbreads against the clock,  I did all that before my guests arrived then just did the heating once they arrived. This made me look suave and collected like Michael Caine doing the omelette in The Ipcress File.

The results were impressive. Light but striking flavours, amazing textures... bloody delicious basically. The chicken comes out really zingy and asparagus steamed in tomato juice is a crunchy, flavour-packed revelation. This is a great summer set piece.

So here it is in two stages. I've upped the ingredients because I was doing for six. Preparation takes about 25 minutes and cooking only 20, whereas if you try and do it all together you'll end up sweating and cursing an hour later, and muttering all kinds of things about poor Jamie.

Ingredients:

Garlic, lots of
Olive oil, plenty
Salt and pepper
Lemons (Jamie loves his lemons mmmate)
Thyme
Rosemary
Loads of parsley
Loads of basil
Bay leaves

+

Pitta Bread x 6

Chicken breasts, skin on x 6
Feta 200g
Sundried tomatoes

400g asparagus
2 packs vine tomatoes
Black olives

1/2 a white cabbage
1 onion
Red chilli

Preparation:

Flatbreads. (I used pittas.) Rub with garlic. Put a tablespoon of olive oil, loads of salt and pepper and a bunch of thyme on a chopping board and flop the garlicky pittas into them, rub them together and generally get them all sexy, then stack them up on a plate.


Cypriot Chicken. Put a good bunch of parsley, another of basil and a couple of rosemary sprigs, 8 sundried tomatoes and a block of feta on a board. (I didn't have sundried and used normal. Worked fine.) Chop it up nice and fine. Grate over zest of a lemon and crush on three cloves of garlic, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper and chop through again. Slit the chicken, stuff it and then rub salt and pepper into the skin liberally. Stand to one side - they'll be going in a super hot pan later.


 


Asparagus. Lug some olive oil into a deep pan, add thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs, three bay leaves and vine tomatoes to a pan, and chuck salt over. Lop the bottom off the asparagus and leave to one side along with a good handful of black olives.



Cabbage salad. Use a Magimix salad blade to slice up cabbage and put that in a bowl. Now use the regular blade to dice the hell out of an onion, a red chilli (seeds out) and a good fistful of basil. add these to the cabbage, plus the juice of two lemons. Toss this salad and take to the table.


Cooking

When you're ready to eat turn on a high flame under a pan with nothing but oil in it, and under the tomatoes, with the lid on. Whack the oven onto full blast with the pittas in it.

After 2 minutes, put the chicken in skin down with the very hot oil. Put some crinkled greaseproof over the top, and a lid. Turn down the tomatoes to medium.




After another 5 minutes, add the asparagus to the tomatoes and replace the lid. Flip the chicken (remove the paper) and turn down to medium. You'll let these guys and the pittas cook for another 12 minutes.

Ta-dah!

14 August 2012

Greenway and Dartmouth

Everyone keeps asking if we're having a 'babymoon'... technically no because we are too poor and disorganised. We are going on a family holiday to the South of France in September which will be lovely and a babymoon of sorts but just not romantically just the two of us. I have however, just had the most lovely couple of days away with my mother in Dartmouth and now I really want to recommend to every pregnant lady TAKE SOME TIME OFF. Yes, yes there's lots to do before the baby comes etc but my god it was nice to ignore everything for a couple of days, hang out with my Mumma, eat nice food, gaze out at boats and see somewhere new.

Our reason for going to Dartmouth was that I am obsessed with Agatha Christie and have banged on about her, and her amazing house Greenway and my wish to see it, so much that my Mum organised to stay in a friends flat for a couple of nights and finally take me there. We often do 'culture days' together where we go and see some nice National Trust house or, one time we drove round Poole and Bournemouth just being nosey really (have you seen the houses!!). We haven't done one for ages and although I can imagine her offering to babysit while Joe and I go away for a long weekend I think next time we have a 'culture day' I'll have the little Grub strapped to my front so really me and my Mumma just had our very own babymoon.

First of all I was really surprised about how beautiful and picturesque Dartmouth is. This trip had been in the diary for ages but comes in the middle of a rather hectic time work wise so I hadn't even looked at any details of where we were staying or what we were going to do. It is just gorgeous. We arrived at lunchtime on Tuesday - sat outside our little flat in a disused pottery and had lunch and then walked round the corner to the castle (we didn't go in) which is right on the river mouth and has a beautiful church next to it that felt loved and used. There are boats everywhere from little dinghy's to full on gin palaces and yachts and amazing houses perched right on the sides of the hills either side of the river (another great place to visit if you like having a good nosey at other people's houses!).




On Wednesday, in pouring weather, we walked into Dartmouth and booked ourselves on the Christie Bell, the ferry up the river to Greenway. It started to pour whilst we were on the boat and my pac-a-mac I'd taken to fit over the bump turned out not to be waterproof so I looked rather sodden when we arrived. Nothing could damp the excitement of the first sight of the Greenway boat house which has been used in a couple of Agatha Christie's books and is iconic to any geeky fans. I was so overexcited I forgot to take any photos of it... rather annoyingly.

There's quite a steep walk up a hill to the house with incredible views down to the river and beautiful flowers and then all of a sudden you see the house itself.


The first view of the house when walking up from the ferry

 It must be the most heavenly place on a sunny day - it was gorgeous as it was (although my mum and I were desperate to do it up... with think the Chrisite's/Hicks' weren't big on interior decorating). It is the perfect house - the right sized rooms and beautiful views, pool and croquet lawn. The gardens too are famous for their beauty but I have to say we didn't venture that far in the rain. You can see why she found it so inspiring and you can pick out little links to her books throughout the house - her homeopathic phials are on the hall table as you walk in, neatly labelled showing the interests of a woman who knew more about poisons than most crime writers.

I'm desperate to go back in May to see the garden in it's full glory - I feel I could visit here again and again. An incredibly house in a beautiful setting.


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