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March 18, 2017 / mintcustard

Pintxos, palaces and puddles – day 2 in Madrid.

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Despite the fact that my feet were screaming at me, having walked miles the day before, I pulled on my boots and set off for a second day of exploration in Madrid.

First I needed breakfast. It appeared that the cafes and even McDonalds didn’t open their doors until 10! Thank goodness for Starbucks. One cappuccino and croissant later, I was ready to go.

First stop, in between the showers, was a walk in Retiro Park to find the Crystal Palace hidden at it’s heart. On a sunny day I can imagine the park packed with families enjoying a Sunday stroll. To be fair, on a damp and drizzle day there were many people, walking, cycling and scooting around. Stalls cropped up along the pathways selling bags of snacks, drinks and candy floss. I settled for a coffee in an attempt to defrost!

One surprise inside the Crystal Palace was a sound installation. The person who thought that playing the sounds of Polar ice cracking and moving would be a good idea inside a glass structure knows how to make your mind play tricks on you. Having beaten a hasty retreat from the Crystal Palace a quick trip into the city followed to see the Palacio Real. Closed for an event, I walked back into the centre for more churros and chocolate. I had a wander round the food hall of El Corte Ingles. I do wish I had access to this variety of foods on my doorstep. So much food, such little luggage space.

The evening was spent in the company of beer, tapas and pintxos. The difference between the two? Tapas come in small portions, pintxos are little tastes on pieces of bread, all held together with a cocktail stick.  Doesn’t matter what they are called , they are delicious. Great for anyone who can’t decide what to have on a menu, mix and match.

There was so much I didn’t get to see, or eat, in Madrid. Despite getting stuck in a museum lift and speaking so little Spanish that I had to YouTube how to use the Metro ticket machines I had so much fun I’m certainly going back.

Read more…

March 4, 2017 / mintcustard

Croque Monsieur pancakes with Candice Brown and Sainsburys.

Making Croque Monsieur pancakes with Candice Brown.

Making Croque Monsieur pancakes with Candice Brown.

I’m not the kind of woman to turn down a pancake. Crisp, thin crepes with lemon and sugar? That would be lovely.  A fluffy American stack topped with bacon and maple syrup? No question. A Croque Monsieur pancake cooked by GBBO winner Candice Brown? Hell yes!

This Shrove Tuesday (Pancake day) I was invited along with a number of other bloggers to Food at 52 in London and we made brunch together.

The recipe!

The recipe!

Candice showed us all how to make her delicious Croque Monsieur pancakes. Some of us had more experience of pancake making than others but we all had a great deal of fun. Savoury pancakes wouldn’t have been my first choice but Candice’s recipe has completely won me over. I have a crepe pan I use whenever I make pancakes (which is often!) but the cast iron pan we used at the event was so good. You do need to be brave and allow it to get hot before you pour on the batter. Leave the batter completely alone until the batter sets and bubbles THEN turn the pancake with either a spatula or a palette knife.

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The secret to this delicious dish is, in my humble opinion, the quantity of cheese and the mustard in the bechamel. You may want to pop into your local Sainsburys and take a look at their new homeware range. Much of the cookware we used was taken from the range and very pretty it is too.

Thank you to Sainburys for inviting me to this event. I had a great time and was still full at dinner time that evening!I was not paid to attend the event or write a blog post

March 3, 2017 / mintcustard

Madrid – a weekend of churros, chocolate and culture.

 

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An unexpected weekend away in Madrid enabled me to recharge my batteries and indulge my body and my mind. My husband was busy at a conference, my girls are grown up so I could choose what to do, what to see and where and when to eat.

Despite the fact that rain fell, on and off, for the whole weekend it didn’t dampen my spirits at all. I was able to do all I wanted to do in between the showers.

The trip began with a very quick and easy trip from the airport to the heart of the city on the Metro. As the weather was so unpredictable the Metro was a godsend. Speedy, simple enough for a non Spanish speaker to navigate and reasonably priced too.

Staying out by the Bernabeu Stadium meant that the journey into the city centre was quick and easy. Had the weather been kinder I would have walked far more but it was not to be. First stop was the San Miguel Market, Plaza de San Miguel. A glass or two of wine and a selection of tapas set us up for the rest of the afternoon. The seafood tapas (especially the octopus and bacalao) were amazing as were the selections of olives available. A little crowded on a Friday evening but great atmosphere and a wide choice of foods and snacks too.

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After coffee and a pastry in a cafe the next morning started with mooch around town and a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. Packed to the rafters with artifacts I had a fantastic time looking at everything from Roman mosaics to Moorish decoration via a display of money and coinage! Lunch beckoned and for a while I toyed with the idea of yet more tapas but as the weather had turned really cold and rainy there was only one choice. Hot chocolate and churros!

Chocolatería San Ginés it was then.Open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week this most famous of bars serves a mean churro. Fluffy and crunchy at the same time they cry out to be dipped in the molten chocolate. Despite being packed with tourists all trying to warm up and dry out, the wait for a table was short and there was no rush to get you to leave your table either, once finished.

Later that evening it was onto tapas and beer, but more of that in another blog post.

February 25, 2017 / mintcustard

Mac and cheese – ideal with pulled pork.

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Mac and cheese – fresh from the oven.

Pulled pork is delicious, we all know that. However sometimes the side dishes that accompany a serving of pulled pork are just as unctuous but often get overlooked. Soft white buns, crispy coleslaw and king of the comfort food dish, baked macaroni and cheese.

I still can’t get over the fact that in some establishments mac and cheese is listed on the menu  as a vegetable but whatever, this is a dish that soothes the soul. Simply put, it is an American classic.

I make my macaroni and cheese mostly on the stove top and then bake in the oven to really crisp up the top. The key to a deep rich flavour is  using more than one cheese in the sauce. This dish is a great way to use up odds and ends of cheese although you can equally go out to buy special cheeses especially for this dish too.

Ingredients – Mac and cheese (serves 2 greedy people, 3 to 4 as a side)

200g macaroni elbows

35g butter

25g plain flour

450ml milk

100g grated cheese

25g grated parmesan

salt and pepper to taste.

How to – Mac and cheese

  • Preheat the oven to 180c and butter a medium sized gratin dish.
  • Cook the macaroni about 2 minutes less than the packet says and rinse to remove some of the starch. This will prevent the pasta clumping into lumps and allows the sauce to coverall of the pasta pieces.
  • In a pan melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook out the flour for a minute and then turn the heat down and whisk in the milk. Return to the heat and keep whisking until the sauce thickens.
  • Take to one side and stir in the grated cheese and parmesan. I like to use gruyere and cheddar as the combination of nutty and sharp works well with the softness of the pasta and sauce.
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Mac and cheese before baking.

  • Combine the sauce with the pasta. Pop into the buttered gratin dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until golden and bubbling.
  • You can pimp a Mac and cheese in a million different ways. Breadcrumbs, gremolata or even a crushed up bag of cheese and onion crisps on top to give crunch. You can add truffle oil, slices of tomato or simply another handful of cheese on top. Blue cheese, goats cheese or bocconcini poked into the pasta works as do pieces of chorizo or N’duja. Make it your own way but make it you must.
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Mac and cheese, pulled pork and sweet potato fries. Delicious.

 

February 24, 2017 / mintcustard

Butternut laksa -a New Covent Garden soup.

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With Storm Doris blowing around the place and others possibly holding onto her coat tails, you may wish to hunker down this weekend with a bowl of soup, a chunk of bread and a box set.

One soup I tried recently and have fallen in love with is the new butternut laksa from Covent Garden soup co.

Lightly spiced, creamy and with the hint of coconut, this butternut laksa soup is a really tasty addition to the Covent Garden soup range.

I was not paid to write this blog post, I was sent a voucher to cover the cost of one carton of soup.

February 5, 2017 / mintcustard

White chocolate and blueberry muffins.

blueberry and white chocolate muffins.

blueberry and white chocolate muffins.

With the Superbowl on Sunday night (well early Monday morning if you live in England) any thoughts of food tend to turn to recipes with their origins across the pond. I’ve already had a request for pulled pork, sweet potato fries and S’mores. After spotting two packs of blueberries in the fridge near their use by date I felt I had to bake these, (any excuse).

I made a variation of this Raspberry and white chocolate muffin recipe from Good Food but substituted blueberries for raspberries.

Ideal for a mid game snack or as a morning after brunch snack.

January 28, 2017 / mintcustard

Cheesy krispy biscuits.

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The cooking club at school makes the most delicious cheesy biscuits. Any broken leftovers are hoovered up by the staff. I asked for the recipe, and couldn’t believe it was so simple. These very short, buttery and cheesy biscuits are given a crunch by the addition of rice krispies. You could easily add a little tapenade, paprika or mustard powder to the mixture if you want to. Finely chopped sun dried tomatoes would work well too. A couple of these taste brilliant with a glass of crisp cold white wine, but are a great addition to a school lunchbox too.

Cheesy krispy biscuits. (makes 18)

1/2 a cup of self raising flour

1/2 a cup of butter (soft)

1/2 a cup of finely grated strong cheese (I used cheddar and Parmesan)

1/2 cup of rice krispies

How to …..

  • Preheat the oven to 160 c.
  • Cream together the butter and flour.
  • Stir in the cheese and rice krispies.
  • Line two baking trays with parchment.
  • Using floured hands and a teaspoon, roll walnut sized balls of mixture and place on the parchment. Press down slightly.
  • Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until the biscuits are golden and the cheese has melted.
  • Cool on a baking tray.
January 22, 2017 / mintcustard

Falafel, halloumi and avocado protein bowl.

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Falafel, haloumi and avocado protein bowl.

This is much less of a recipe, more like a list of foods to assemble. As such it is really a versatile way of packing a bowl or lunchbox with a mix of healthy choices.

A mixture of small tasty bites. In this bowl today I’ve chosen vegetarian options but these could easily be substituted for chicken, lean beef or eggs.

I’ve used mixed leaves on the base of the bowl. You could also use baby spinach, baby kale or red chard leaves. A large spoonful of mixed rice and grains adds some carbs. You could use just rice, quinoa or wholemeal pasta. The dish contained 5 small felafel broken in half. Also I added half an avocado and two small slices of grilled halloumi. A few olives might have been nice, or perhaps some pickled vegetables. Really it is entirely up to you and your taste buds as to what you do or don’t include.

I tied the whole bowl together with a spoon of yogurt with some mint stirred in and a drizzle of a chili balsamic glaze. It certainly fills you up and tastes delicious.

January 21, 2017 / mintcustard

Inauguration brownies – orange Reeces Pieces brownies

Inauguration Brownies - orange Reeces Pieces Brownies.

Inauguration Brownies – orange Reeces Pieces Brownies.

Watching the inauguration of the 45th US President I had a hankering for brownies. I put it down to the need to comfort eat having seen Trump sworn in and realizing that there was now no turning back.

Brownies cry out for added treats stirred into the batter before baking. What better than those quintessentially American candies Reeces Pieces? Joy of joy, they are coated in a yellow, orange or brown crisp shell. I had to pick out the orange ones, in Trump’s honour, to scatter on the finished dish, didn’t I. You know you would too. Had I been really thinking politically I’d have made Blondies…….

Inauguration Brownies - Orange Reeces pieces brownies.

Inauguration Brownies – Orange Reeces pieces brownies.

Inauguration brownies.

  • 185g butter
  • 185g chocolate
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 3 large egg
  • 275g golden caster sugar
  • 125g Reeces pieces (orange ones set to one side)

How to….

  1. Preheat the oven to 160c (fan) 180c (conventional)
  2. Line a 20 cm square pan with parchment.
  3. Heat a small pan of water over a low heat. Place a bowl over the hot water and tip in the butter and chocolate. Allow to melt slowly. Stir .until completely melted. Set to one side to cool a little.
  4. In a large bowl measure in the sugar and break in the eggs. Beat together until the egg and sugar mixture is doubled in size, pale and foamy. This may take up to 5 minutes.
  5. Using a spatula stir the cooled butter and chocolate mixture into the foamy eggs and sugar. Work carefully as you don’t want to knock out the air you have beaten in.
  6. Sieve the flour and cocoa onto this mixture and then fold in, again using the spatula or a metal spoon.
  7. Take a handful of the orange Reeces Pieces and keep for later. Stir the chocolates in.
  8. Scrape the batter into the lined pan. Bake for 30 minutes, place the remaining Reeces Pieces on top of the part baked brownie. Gently push them into the surface but don’t submerge them. Return to the oven for a further 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Cool a little, enjoy with cream or creme fraiche.
December 30, 2016 / mintcustard

A visit to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery.

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‘The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.’ – Winston Churchill

Gin is, and always has been, my spirit of choice. I inherited my love of gin from my dad. In the beige world of the Seventies, when a Watneys  party seven was seen as a single serving of beer, he was ploughing his own furrow with a gin and tonic.

Imagine my delight then, to be invited  by 365 tickets to visit a gin distillery. Not just any gin distillery but the Bombay Sapphire distillery in Laverstoke, Hampshire.

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A lovely drive through the Hampshire countryside led us to Laverstoke Mill. This former paper mill was carefully and sustainable renovated. Bombay Sapphire transformed a 300 year old paper Mill with over 1000 years of history within a Conservation Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest with patience and dedication. The River Test flows through the site creating unique wetland habitat throughout the distillery. The Test is the purest chalk-stream in the UK with many native species inhabiting the river and surrounding wetlands.

We were met at the distillery by Sam Carter, Bombay Sapphire’s senior Brand Ambassador. Sam spent time explaining to us all the finer details of gins and gin distilling before taking us on a tour of the distillery itself.

Even if you really are not a gin lover a visit to Laverstoke Mill is fascinating and informative. My favourite part of the restoration and renovation are the stunning Glasshouses designed by Heatherwick Studio. Filled with growing examples of the botanicals found in Bombay Sapphire gins, the glasshouses are truly wonderful.

Having toured the site, investigated which of the botanicals were our favourites and made no sparks whatsoever near the stills we went back into the bar for some gin tasting!

I learned so much during our tutored tasting. From how to cut your lime wedges to using a spoon to add the tonic into gin. I also now covet a very expensive ice machine.

One final treat was to top off the tastes of several cocktails with a cocktail all of my own. Made and enjoyed in the two storey bar area, followed by a trip to the gin shop, for a bottle to take home.

My companion was my 19 year old daughter, another recent inductee into our gin loving family. If you happen to be the designated driver, the alcohol free cocktails are delicious AND you can collect a gin and tonic pack to take home and enjoy at your leisure.

One plea though please, start distilling and selling Bombay Sapphire East in the UK soon. It is my most favourite gin ever!

Such a lovely day out. A beautiful, thoughtfully restored mill, with years of history and the most delicious gin cocktails too. Go, drink, enjoy!

This hidden gem of a place is well worth taking the time to visit. If you are too far away then please try to find a bottle of the Bombay Sapphire gin and enjoy that instead.

I was invited to visit Laverstoke Mill Bombay Sapphire distillery by 365 Tickets. All words and photographs are my own. I was not paid to write this post and all words and photographs are my own.