Saturday, March 31, 2007

The 30th of all 30ths

Sands has asked me to write her b'day blog as she knows what a straight talking type of gal I am.

Word of warning to the young, hip, urban population of London, DO NOT under any circumstances book your b'day dinner at Elysee Greek Restaurant in Percy St, Soho. You are probably thinking this is a rather harsh non-recommendation, if you had of been out with us last night I am sure you will agree. Regarding the recommender (yes, you know who you are) the readers ought to know that you didn’t turn up last night...which upon reflection was probably just as well.

The 30th celebrations started off the swanky, bustling Charlotte Street Hotel (very New York and SITC) we indulged in lovely champagne cocktails and unwrapped some gifts. The migration across the street to the Percy St Elysee restaurant was bearable too. Upon arrival at 8pm, the 5 of us (AM, Nat, Princess K, Sands) all asked 'where the hell is everyone'. We had walked into a 70's time warp of pink tablecloths, pink cone-like folded napkins, surly waiters and a menu designed to sting you at every opportunity.

We sat there for a good hour waiting for a few more of our party to arrive as well as the other tables to fill up with other like-minded Londoners. Those like-minded Londoners happened to be a couple nearing retirement, and 2 friends of the owners who stayed for 5 mins and then left.

We were given the hard sell in terms of going for the set menu for £35, which included 1/2, a bottle of wine each, all the Greek meze you can think of and a range of main courses. It also included the compulsory entertainment charge of £4 for an authentic Greek band (including electric lute), three lip-synching Greek beauties for the vocals, a little plate smashing and then apparently a belly-dancer-which didn't turn up.

However due to various dietary requirements and appetite issues we opted to order off the menu, therefore whatever we ordered came with a price of about £10 each...'you want Greek salad for the table' 'you want more wine' 'you need some water for the table' 'you need dips and burnt pita bread' all our wants and needs in terms of food seemed to be answered, they were laughing all the way to the bank.

An expensive dinner, but the best company you could ask for including some Aussies and the lovebirds from Waterloo Station (previous post). Nat arranged for a lovely chocolate cake for the b'day girl, Jono and Richie turned up and added another 2 patrons to the empty dining room.

Sands, this was one b'day bash I wont be forgetting in a hurry...girls get onto the restaurant sites today and write some reviews...we were had last night!!!!

Happy Birthday my very good friend, lots of love, Bunny xo

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Greek style
It is my b-day tomorrow and we are going to a Greek restaurant to break plates, drink Ouzo and eat Greek food. If you are not familiar with the Greeks you should see the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding - very funny if you are of any type of Mediterranean descent. These cookies are ones that Eleni's mother made and they are my favourite!

Kourambiedes - Greek cookies

Yield: 50 servings

1 c Sweet butter
1/2 c Powdered sugar
1 ea Egg yolk
2 tb Brandy or Cognac, (optional)
1 ts Almond extract
1 ts Vanilla extract
1 ts Baking powder
2 1/4 c Sifted cake flour; (or more)
3/4 c Ground almonds; toasted
1 lb Powdered sugar; sifted

Some rules to eating these:
-Do not inhale near these as the powered sugar will go up your nostrils; this is very embarrassing and has happened to me while at a Greek fair trying to look cool in front of some Greek boys.

-Don't keep them too close to your nostrils/mouth as when you exhale the icing sugar goes all over the person standing in front of you

So basically, try and take a bite and move away from the cookie! Am sure the Greek's have it down pat but us non-Greeks are still trying to master eating them without having a layer of white powder all over our faces and clothes.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Brit Barbie
Guest poster -Nat!

Here is a plate full of the delicious offerings that my parents served up at my farewell barbecue on Sunday. It includes the now somewhat elusive "special" salad, key ingredients sweetcorn, avocado, prawns and red onion... It's a bit special because mum is never really sure what was in the salad last time she made it! We had an earnest debate about ingredients that have made special guest star appearances in the past: mushrooms, pine nuts, crab meat...

My mum is an excellent cook and dinner parties at our house are always eagerly anticipated, with the speciality being summer barbeque's. Maybe it's the African in her... My dad's in charge of the coals and what goes on them - on Sunday he got to use one of his 60th birthday presents for the first time: a lovely set of wooden-handled bbq tools. He was chuffed to bits but maybe now the most important piece of equipment, the braii itself, needs to be enhanced to fit in with the swanky tools - it's made out an oil drum cut in half. We don't do airs and graces in Croydon!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Minty fresh

A cuppa mint tea does wonders for you after a large meal. It is light and refreshing and also has several health benefits. This mint tea was served at Masala Zone.

The secret to Momma Dolce's meatballs is also a sprig of mint chopped finely and added to the mixture. It is easy to grow mint as it seems to come back each year stronger and stronger once planted in a sunny spot.

Chop it when it starts growing out of hand, lay it to dry in the sun and keep it for use throughout the winter. In Italian it is called mentha.
Buy a little pot from your local garden shop and enjoy it grow wildly and also provide you with a lovely smell. Use it with lamb, chicken and other dishes, the list is endless.

Yoghurt with fresh mint, cucumber and garlic is an amazing sauce to use on boring grilled chicken or just to eat with pita bread. It is divine and the cucumber keeps the yoghurt cool which is v.refreshing. Or take some sprigs and pour some boiling water and have a lovely tea.

Men in Sicily usually take a sprig and keep it in their mouths like a cigarette and chew on it and roll it around. I haven't seen anyone do that in a while but I recall clearly my dad and grandfather doing that each time they went to the garden to putter around.

Am off to go buy a plant!

Ramsa's mint/yoghurt combo.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Boat to BBQ in 6 hours…

Today we are lucky to have a guest poster, Bunny!

This is one of the fine specimens of fresh scallop gathered off my Dads boat in a secret location off the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. My good friend Pete (aka The Show Pony) was only too pleased for an early New Years Eve dive to feed the masses gathering back at base preparing for celebrations at the Whitianga pub.

These are the raw product from the above photo after being expertly shelled by Dad. The white part is my favourite although the red roe is also good. Mum has added some garlic butter to them also.

That’s my brother Kent's fat fingers turning the scallops on the BBQ. Here they are wrapped in bacon and smeared in garlic butter then put on the hot plate for 2-3 mins and then are ready for scoffing. Scallops are my favourite shellfish and when they are this fresh you can’t get anything better!!!!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Brits & their beer

They love it and only need this one thing at the pub to have a good time. It is a highly social ritual where everyone goes down to the pub after work for a 'swifty' or a quick pint before heading home. Theo (in pic) even started the swifty club at work a special email for a select few to be invited to these random meetings at the pub after a long day at work. In some cases it turns into 2, 3 4 or 9+ pints but it is all in good fun and no one seems to get out of control - just happy.

The Feathers Pub (where we were on Fri) doesn't serve much food, just some crisps and some meals for those who have not trained their stomachs to survive on the protein and energy from beer alone. Since I am not a Brit I have to sometimes munch on the crisps and get a sneaky sandwich from the deli before the pub. The Guinness drinkers are the ones that claim to be the healthiest from drinking beer, Jed said to me on Friday that he gets all his vitamins and nutrients from his Guinness.

In England men and women alike drink pints, some girly drinkers like Princess K and I drink other drinks or shandys but it is not taboo for a woman to hold a large pint of beer. In Canada, Julia, Mil and I were the odd ones out drinking pints as it is doesn't seem to be as accepted - but men do comment, 'wow you drink beer?' umm..'yes it's actually a shandy!' which is not a common nor do many bars in TO know how to make a proper shandy. I have converted a few friends to drinking shandy so perhaps this summer the shandy team will grow.

Nat's leaving do was a great affair at the pub and it was a great gathering of old work colleagues. Lots of beer was consumed and all had a good time!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Organic teether
Who needs expensive toys and gadgets to help with teething? Give kids a big crusty piece of Italian bread and they can eat and at the same time releive some of their teething pain.Just like the cardboard box toy, works every time! Andrew loved it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

This was the dirty weiner that was consumed by someone after a large night out.

With Nat's leaving do happening this weekend on both Fri and Sat night these veiners may need to make an appearance again. This one is actually a little posh as it has some mozzarella on it. Guess who the chef was?!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Waterloo Station
Ladies it is just like a scene out of a movie!

Lovely Female goes to train station to meet up with someone from a charity that she works with to exchange goods. Stranger Male is at train station waiting for someone too.

Lovely Female does not know what charity person looks like so asks people she may think is the person, 'are you Charity Man?' and after a few embarrassing asks she receives a reply from Stranger Male, 'No, I am not a charity man, but I am Mr. M, and would you like to have a coffee?' Well that happened after a bit of banter.
Lovely female is hesitant as she still has to meet Charity Man, she then receives phone call from Mr. Charity saying he can't make it and apologies for keeping her waiting at the station.

So off Stranger Male & Lovely Female go for a coffee and the rest, as they say, is history! After a few months they are living along the river with this spectacular view and he is a great cook! He made us a great Indian meal, of daal and a potato and spinach dish which wasn't deathly spicy like our Indian Chinese food experience and he is a superb host. She erm...'made' the chapati.

So girls get out to Waterloo Station and pretend that you are waiting for Mr.Charity.

Thx for dinner D & M.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Festa di San Giuseppe

Yesterday was la Festa di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's Day) which is a big feast day in Italy. So if you know anyone with any name descendant from Joseph (like Juisy, Josie, Josephine, Joe, Giuseppa (hi Zia E!) etc.) then you should've called them and given them your best wishes. My sister Josephine, was lucky enough to have fresh zeppole delivered to her home by our lovely Uncle Frank -awwh so sweet!

It was St. Paddy's day on Saturday too - that was quite a day. Around London you could see lots of green clothing, shamrocks hanging from everywhere, kids with faces painted, lots of Irish flags and lots of Guinness being consumed. The pubs were full and there was a lot of dancing and celebrating for the Irish saint. Anyhow, we digress....St.Joseph's Day is celebrated with the usual Catholic stuff, church, prayers, parades and lots of food.

The feast gives thanks to St. Joseph/San Giuseppe for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought, and the people of Sicily prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and they prepared a large feast to celebrate. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation, and is a traditional part of St. Joseph's Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph's Day custom. And eating a pastry called zeppole -yum!

Zeppole are like flat cream puffs filled with custard or cheese, sprinkled with icing sugar then topped off with a cherry. They are delicious and Cousin Basilio gave me the recipe for them!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The big cannoli
So every winter my father goes to Sicily for two reasons only:

1) to visit his 85 year old mother and

2) to eat cannoli.

Cannoli is a Sicilian dessert pastry which my father swears can only be made properly in his tiny town of 4,500 people, Delia. These delectable desserts which originated in Sicily are filled with ricotta cheese mixed with lots and lots of sugar. Those who mix other ingredients, according to my father, are destroying the tradition.

The secret to these desserts is the outer shell of fried pastry dough. These tube shaped shells must be filled at the very last minute, otherwise the shell becomes soggy and losses all its flavor. Italian-Canadians have been trying to replicate this recipe ever since emigration started but, according to my father, no one in North America has been able to duplicate this delicacy.

My father’s desperation for this dessert results in my mother packing a suitcase full of shells and a frozen Tupperware container with ricotta cheese every time they return to Toronto. Canadian customs would have a feast (literally) if they ever opened up their luggage. As for this massive sized cannoli – according to my father, this too was destroying the original Cannoli tradition! But we ate it anyway.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Shrigley for your lunch break
Not food related but I love the work of David Shrigley and wanted to post this...have a look at his site for entertaiment. David is a Glaswegian artist who does some funny, fun and interesting stuff with drawings, words, scultptures and more.

I guess I can relate this to food by saying, check it out on your lunch break!


Friday, March 16, 2007

Fresh out of the wood burning stove
These pizzas were made last week in in Sicily for festivities for Zia Concetta's 80th birthday. Happy Birthday Zia! Clara, Silvia, Mark and the gang went there for their gran's birthday and had a lovely time.

Apparently since they were the special guests they were served elaborate fare; grand dishes of fish & funghi(mushrooms must've been in season)and more Sicilian treats; but...poor Mark went all the way to Sicily and couldn't get a plate of pasta?! Poverino, so his mother in law made him a special meal when he got back to Canada.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Masala Zone
Don't these thali pics speak for themselves? Masala Zone is a great restauarant in London which serves great Indian food. My old neighbour Sunil who owns The Punch Tavern (will do a review of them soon-they have a great new website!)always recommended Chutney Mary,owned by the same family. He said it was the best place to get an Indian and would go there every Sunday. Still have not been to Chutney Mary but have frequented Masala Zone and each time I am impressed with the service (our waitress last week was so sweet and helpful it was beyond words), food (we ate those dishes in a very short time and as you can see dug in before we could take any nice photos), price (not bad on the wallet), and atmosphere (there always seems to be a buzzing crowd).

In 2005, Masala World won the Restaurateur of the Year Award in the Tatler 2005 Restaurant Awards, the first time this has been awarded to a Group serving non-European food. Serving over 550,000 customers a year they must be doing something right. Thx Sunil for the recommendation!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Open concept condo cooking
Don't you wish this was your new kitchen? Mass is enjoying pretending that this is his cool pad.

Am not sure how you would cook in there as with this open concept style condo, any smells would stick to all your trendy gear but I am sure you could manage. You could then eat dinner on the tiny patio overlookiing the city...awwh how nice. Email me if you want to buy this place - Mass is your man and he can cook a mean Terroni like dinner once you move in.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pound a bowl

In norf London I paid 75p (1.65CDN) for two bananas yesterday at a little convenience / corner shop. I thought that was a bit outrageous, I think I used to pay 25p each before and I guess in the last few months banana prices have inflated?!

At the market in Walthamstow in East London you can get bowls of fruit for 1pound (2.20CDN)which gives you a fair bit. The market was filled with people last Saturday and is one of the longest in Europe. You can get everything you can imagine there for such dirt cheap prices and along side the market there are massive pound shops where you can also buy anything for a pound -it is baffling. This is where you need to rent a car and go to the market for a big shop and store it in your 10cm x 10 cm fridge and miniature storage closet :)

Most people don't have those big 'American' fridges over here. My sis and I laughed at two British designers who were on one of the home shows a few weeks ago, they walked into a home and were amazed at the enormous 'American' fridge.

London is a very expensive city and I was just reading in the London paper about a city broker who was also complaining that things were getting too expensive. And city brokers are doing fairly well in London earning anywhere from 20-200K in bonuses alone. So if he was complaining what are the rest of us doing. He even wrote in his article what I always think, 'How are the average workers, students, seniors and others in lower income brackets making ends meet?'

Check out Walthamstow on the weekend as the market is full of character, bargains, gadgets and stuff that you never knew existed and could buy for a pound.
Princess K is queen of the markets and should give guided tours -if you are interested I can connect you with the Walthamstow resident.

This is what Wikipedia says about the market,
'Walthamstow Market is the longest (though not the largest) daily open market in Europe, stretching for around a mile (1.2 km). Started in 1885, it has over 500 stalls.

The market near the town square has kept a traditional cockney feel whilst absorbing influences from the diverse cultures of the area. Stalls and shops on the market sell goods such as south Asian foods and Caribbean music alongside one of London's most famous pie and mash outlets, L. Manze, which opened in 1929.

The traditional market, which is lined with small shops, is always lively. The market, offers fruit and vegetables, cheap clothing, leather, fabrics, and household goods'

Monday, March 12, 2007

Get to this place Clafouti Patisserie et Café, it is a cute little cafe on Queen W. where you can get fresh breads and pastries. There are only 3 little tables at the front which are in demand and hard to come by. Prego and I luckily got one and enjoyed a great latte with some lovely butter croissants, which were supposed to be for Prince Matthew but were eaten by us instead.

Apparently the croissants baked by French pastry chef Olivier Jansen-Reynaud sell out early on weekends-so wake up early folks. We picked up some bagels and tarts treats for the rest of the week. (Gryfe's bagels are still the best!)

For a tiny shop there are many tantalising treats to buy. Pain au chocolat, brioche or little fruit tarts look so cute and flavourful along with larger cakes which are calling your name and look like they are made with luscious chocolate. You can also grab duck pâté or lovely cheese, ham and other, typically French, sandwiches.
Prego & her latte

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More jamon & vino?
It aint lookin pretty for poor ol' Nat after a night of jambon and vino in Granada. I love this pic. Sorry Nat but this is a fun reminder of our new acid theory so remember on your world travels to stick to it.

This post is for you Jil, this is what I was talking about when you go to Spain, many places have these legs of cured ham hanging over the bar and all over restaurants. The cured ham on the plate with cheese was a tapas that was given free to patrons at a tapas bar in Granada. It is a pretty good deal as you can nibble on some fantastic tapas which are made from local produce, meats and fish.

Tapas can vary from just a few nuts or a small dish of olives to almost a mini meal in itself. One of the greatest pleasures of being in Spain is to go out with your friends for tapas. It's a healthy way of drinking because as you drink you eat! Also you stay in each tapas bars for one or two drinks and then visit several others in the evening which gives variety.

In a bilingual dictionary the word "tapa" means lid, cover, top, cap, etc. Many people will tell you that the word tapa originated because the glasses of wine were physically covered by a small plate of food or a piece of food. Others say that the word "tapa" was used because it "covers" the appetite.

Types of tapas:
champiñones (mushrooms)
setas (wild mushrooms)
patatas bravas (spicy potatoes)
patatas a lo pobre (potatoes slowly fired in oil)

Tapas in taverns or bars are for people in Granada a social ritual and is called the “tapeo granadino.” Get to sunny Spain, I missed this last trip but will get there soon!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

He's so frothy
If you watch this little coffee van in the mornings and calculate the amount of coffees he serves and do the maths, I think these two gents are making a great living. Like Ernie, the hot dog vendor at Rye High who made 100K+ during his years in front of the university, this coffee van is probably doing just as well.

The only downfall for the coffee van or any outdoor business is inclement weather but Brits don't usually mind a bit of rain so am sure the loyal customers still make it out to the van. When I used to work in the area only on a few really miserable days would Mr. Frothy not pitch up but 99% of the time he was there. For the last few years this van has been in Spitafields market on Sundays and from Monday to Friday outside ABN-AMRO one of the large investment banks in the city. The van is located a few minutes from Liverpool Street Station off of Bishopsgate Road which is part of the bustling financial district.

The two that operate the van are very Italian with their v. Euro dress sense, uber cool side burns and I-tai accents. It is also across the street from Starbucks and sometimes you can see people debating which queue to stand in. Will try and do some more investigations and report back.
Oh and the coffee is good!
Cookbook Cafe

What a great concept; enjoy a fantastic meal and browse through several cookbooks while sipping on your favourite vino. This is what you can do at the Cookbook Café at the Hotel Intercontinental on Park Lane in London. So if you didn’t get a good look at that cookbook in the shops while waiting for your train or you haven’t been able to get to that specialty cookbook shop to see some of the great or obscure cookbooks not stocked at your local bookshop you can eat drink and read all without any hassle. I love it.

The Cookbook Café has a market table (pic) which lays out a great spread for lunch, it looked divine and apparently a great spot for Sunday brunch. They are bringing in a special demonstration table from Australia for future cooking lessons, demonstrations and more. They even have a blog and you can sign up for podcasts, how very advanced, non?

The hotel is in the final stages of a 70 million pound renovation and it looks fab and sleek and their other restaurant is run by none other, Theo Randall former chef from the River Café. He apparently even taught Jamie O some of his stuff. His menu looks like a dream for any foodie, although I still haven’t got around to eating pigeon and I know Julia Child was always skinning them in her kitchen and cooking them for friends. I would love to try his Pannacotta with baked champagne rhubarb,blood orange and moscato - mmm! Erm…perhaps this is a subtle hint for where you can take me for my birthday.
Thx to Jennifer, their lovely PR guru for meeting with me this week, we both have extremely difficult last names to pronounce :)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bergy's chicks
Our good friend, Mr. Andrew Bergmanski (Bergy), once a city dweller is now farmer extraordinaire. His property in Wales is dreamlike with a long bumpy lane that you need you need to traverse before you reach his home which looks out over rolling hills. His dog Dillon, greets you happily with lots of kisses and paws everywhere.

His old house is under a major reno so it is quite an adventure manovering around but am sure when it is done it will be splendid -last time I was there I had a bath in a bathroom that looked like it belonged in a thriller movie and which Princess Kshama would not be able to brush her teeth in. Berg told me that he is having lead flashes at the moment; I thought it sounded dangerous but he said it is something to do with his leaky chimney.

Well, if you are looking for free range eggs or hatching eggs Bergy's farm is that place to find them. He delivers to us city dwellers and the hatching eggs to other farmers but if you are ever near Clunderwen, Wales look him up for a cup of tea. His chicks are treated well, he lets them out in the morning to peck at the apples and drink from the pond and run around amongst the ducks and the dog and then he rounds them up in the evening and locks them snugly away in their little homes.

Free range eggs are much better than farmed ones where the chickens do not move from a tiny confined space so if you are concerned about animal welfare then choose free range. More info on Bergy's eggsporting to follow!


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dear Gordon
This is our local pub, well one of four in the Maida Vale neighbourhood. We visited last night and enjoyed a Magners with good friends. We mingled with a mix of young and old, posh and not and a little bit of everything else. The oldies next to use were drunkenly arguing about Margaret Thatcher and some vain young man was also trying to be funny with some bad chat up lines. The Warrington is a great pub with a stunning interior which as I am told was once a brothel. It had a Thai restaurant upstairs, which wasn't great and a fabulous outdoor patio that in the summer is always full. Gordon Ramsay TV Chef extraordinaire, is a British TV chef famous for using the 'F' word a lot, has now purchased this historic building and half the neighbourhood is for it and half against. The Thatcher crowd will complain about rising beer prices and expensive food but the trendy crowd will welcome a larger selection of beers & decent food - the Thai and peanuts/crisps don't cut it and perhaps an improvement to little things like the lous, service and more will make it an even better place to go. It will be interesting to see what happens. As you can guess, this comment card is from the anti-Gordon team or just silly, ignorant boys who frequent the pub.

Get to it now before it changes in July for the old Warrington feel. Then re-visit in July and see what is new and improved. Stay tuned.

BBQ hangover cure

New Years Day in New Zealand. A big fry up at the Hale beach house which was prepared by Robbie to cure the hangovers of the Hale clan. I always like seeing the southern hemisphere celebrate Christmas and New Years wearing shorts. I only did it once in Mexico and our family didn't really enjoy it, I guess we missed the egg nog and family chaos that happens at our house, but I think I could get used to it. Maybe just sprinkle more fake snow around to make it look cold. The Hale's are a family of six and one cat- the one in the freezer has been removed :)

Once Rexi gets Paul McKenna to hypnotise her she can visit NZ and stay at the Hale's without cat problems. Why does a greasy breakfast always cure a hangover? There is no scientific evidence to prove it but it does seem to work...well, off to get a bacon bap.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ciao for now
Seonara, Ciao, Bye Bye snow!
Off to the markets in the UK - with a balmy 12-15 degree temp. Have lots of New Zealand food postings coming.

xDolce Jr.