Monday, 12 November 2012

A Secret Garden Meal at The Witchery

Special occasions call for special treatment. So, one crisp Sunday afternoon we treated ourselves to a special meal.

It was a strongly recommended little place called The Witchery located at the base of Edinburgh Castle.

This was part of a whirlwind Edinburgh weekend which included a few of my favourite things: running, fantastic company and good food. What more could a girl ask for?

We found the entrance to the Secret Garden at The Witchery down a quirky little alleyway in the basement level of an old building.

Our lunch venue had timber beams and hanging vines, white tablecloths and many, many candles (which I imagine would have been an amazing addition to the atmosphere in the evening). It felt quite secretive and special.

This place was highly recommended by online reviews (ie: Tripadvisor) for providing delicious dishes made from high quality local ingredients.

I was excited about trying the Three Course Set Lunch which looked as though it offered a glimpse into their amazing menu at only a fraction of their a la carte price.  I do enjoy a bargain! 

The set menu also helped to narrow down the selection which was a bit mind-boggling.  

For my first course I chose the Salt Cod with Crostini and Potato. 

Served on a black slate, the creamy potato lump with two crostini masts poking out was a slight disappointment.  

I'm not sure what I expected but I could not taste anything that was noticeably definable as salt cod (nor could I remember what vegetable I was eating).

Sadly, the only flavor coming through was from the fresh dill. 

The identity of this velvety smooth puree remained a mystery until I saw the menu again at the end of our meal...ah yes, potato.

Across the table, my lovely dinner date was tucking in to his picture perfect first course.  I wanted to reach across and steal it. 

The Roast Partridge with a Scotch Quail Egg was right up there with what the reviews had said about the level of quality food to expect.

It had flavour combinations and textures which all came together perfectly in the forkful I tasted. 

I was having some serious food envy but I had two more courses to make up for a less than perfect first course.  

My second course of Pan Roasted Mullet with Celeriac was centred on my plate like a fish fillet planet surrounded by mini roast potato moons (drizzled with a delicious rich mustard cream sauce). 

I was back in the running with this course. 

I was curious to see the second course choice on the other side of the table, Braised Ayrshire Beef Cheek with risotto and greens. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find it was not some grinning bovine head straight from a horror movie.  Instead it was a succulent hunk of tender beef on top of creamy risotto with an amazing tasting gravy.     

Dessert was up next and it was the best course yet.

In an unusual twist, suppressing my sweet tooth, I opted for the cheese plate.

From the choices available, I decided on an incredibly stink-tastic soft goats cheese.  Oh boy did it whiff! 

Each biteful was so delicious when combined with the fig jelly, chutney and oat cakes.   

Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, the Knickerbocker Glory which arrived looked amazing with it's glassy sugar accents and brightly coloured syrup.

To summarise, the highlight of my meal was definitely the horrendously whiffy cheese course which was the envy of my table.  

Even with this superb course forever etched into my taste bud memories, my first course of bland potato mush, which was unmemorable for the most part, has tainted my overall Witchery experience.

That said, if I win the lottery anytime soon I will be heading back to sample their a la carte menu with my bushel basket full o' cash.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

It's All Greek to Me....or German?

Having recently returned from a sunny week spent relaxing in Kos I can now say that I enjoy a hot & sunny vacation, on occasion.

Up until this point I have been someone who dives into the shade as soon as the sun peeks out from behind a cloud and have preferred sticking to cultural city breaks rather than poolside lounging. 

I'm now the gal lathered in factor 50 who happily wears a humongous wide brimmed sun hat, scooting my sunbed to readjust as the parasol shade moves throughout the day.  

Now moving on to the delicious side of the vacation....

The well catered hotel subscribed to my ethos of the glory of cake and afternoon tea.

Each day at 4.30 a selection of cakes and hot beverages were laid out and allowed us to partake in a caffeinated sugary energy boost.

There was also an air-conditioned Coffee Bar on site (think walk-in freezer).  Not only did it offer espresso based drinks and yet another selection of sweet things to tickle our taste buds but it was also a very welcome blast of cool to help us in our daily battle against melting in the Grecian heat (30+ C / 90+ F).

I freely admit that I was quite giddy when we found this place.

Of course we ate proper meals as well as cake.

Every meal offered a large selection of grilled fish, skewered meats, and Mediterranean vegetable dishes as well as the familiar stodgy carb fest (french fries & spaghetti bolognese) for those who were creatures of habit. 

Random German dishes could also be found sprinkled in amongst the Greek delights. Various Schnitzel, gherkin salads, cabbage dishes and rye bread meant my buffet plate was truly internationalised at each meal.  

The uniting factor for each of these meals of course, was that they always included sweets of some kind. 

Vacation is the time to indulge, so why not have a sugar ball infused waffle with your breakfast muesli & fruit?

Why not pair up your healthy dessert of fresh melon with baklava & creme caramel?

Why not indeed. 

Long live fun in the sun or should I say a warm welcome to it finally, whichever the case may be.



Sunday, 8 July 2012

Favorite Meal Out in Tours: Le Turon

Any excuse for a good meal really. Perhaps for a half birthday, a monthiversary or maybe one week has passed since I bought a particular pair of shoes and yay, no blisters. Whatever reason to make it a special occasion works for me.

One week into our visit to France, and our last night in fabulous Tours (what, no new shoes to celebrate?) we decided to dine at Le Turon. 

We'd already experienced La Souris Gourmand, the strongly recommended fondue place down the street with the mice & cheese theme running throughout, even in their toilets.

So we opted for another recommendation hoping it would be just as enjoyable. 

Le Turon was listed in the top five restaurants in Tours by reviews on TripAdvisor and it definitely sounded like it would have a delicious selection of local dishes.  

We were seated at one of four tables on the street and enjoyed our bubbly aperitif complete with tapenade snackage while we perused the impressive Menu Gourmand.  

It is always amusing to order from a menu in a language other than your own. 

Luckily we seemed to manage alright with the language barrier and we even successfully ordered scallops, one of my favorites. Someone seemed to know a lot more French than he originally let on to knowing. 

These were the most amazingly delicious scallops with chorizo and lime.  They just melted in your mouth.

Across the table, the local pate with a blop of fruit chutney and crostini was being enjoyed.

You may note that the number of wine glasses seems to be slowly multiplying.

My main dish was a winner as well. Giant prawns with coconut rice and creamy sauce complete with quenelles of green stuff. We had no clue what they were made from but I suspect it was of the vegetable family. 

The beef with chunky chips and cream sauce, also accompanied by the green quenelles, was enjoyed as well.  

I can happily report that there was not a speck of green mystery stuff left on our plates at the end of the meal. 

Then it was time for dessert.

Ahh.....the desserts.

It was nearly too beautiful to eat (OK, nothing is that beautiful) but it was definitely crying out to be photographed.

Fruit coulis and custardy creme backdrop to a warm apple mixture tucked inside the crepe with caramel ice cream plopped on top.

It was the perfect dessert for my taste buds after such an amazing meal.

Had I not chosen the apple crepe I might have indulged in this chocolate option, but as I did not taste it myself I cannot comment on anything other than its glorious appearance. 

I do have it on good authority that it was very much enjoyed and received a big thumbs up.

Food that is good enough to photograph always makes me smile and Le Turon sure provided its fair share of photogenic food.

It lived up to the positive reviews and even though I'm thinking that the variety of wine enjoyed throughout the meal helped make my opinions extra enthusiastic, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a special meal to be had in Tours.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Pierre vs. Patrick

Macaroons are a very popular favourite for those of us inflicted with a wicked sweet tooth. These sweet morsels of awesomeness are the perfect combination of pretty and delicious.
They make you smile even before you’ve had the tiniest taste.

I was fortunate enough to be in France recently, and depending on which source you cite, it is the home country of one of the prettiest types of macaroons around.

The coconut variety is the first type that pops into my mind when hearing the word macaroon which is probably my American heritage coming through, but I am actually referring to the delicate pastel creations made mainly from egg white and ground almond.

We ventured out in the pouring rain to hunt down these brightly coloured highly recommended little nuggets of deliciousness from well known chain patisserie Pierre Hermes.
Unfortunately my main memory of these will be the slightly off-putting air of snootiness that overwhelmed the tiny shop front where we bought them.
I had spied a multipack which I thought would maximise the tasting opportunity and before I realised it I was given the pre-packed box o’ macs. 

Yes, it came complete with a little menu booklet with each of their macaroon flavours listed and I wrongly presumed the box consisted of a “one of each” idea.
But no, there were duplicates which was a big letdown.

To be honest, they were delicious, but I was not entirely sure which flavours I tasted since the ones in the box didn’t easily match up to the ones shown in the menu. So I was slightly disappointed (and slightly confused).

Due to the rain, the original plan of eating the macaroons on a park bench was scuppered and in fact, they were eaten sitting in our pokey little fourth floor hotel room.

The fluorescent lighting wasn’t optimum for the photos but indoors or outdoors, I really can’t complain since it was still Paris! 

A beautiful selection of sweet and savoury flavours was available in this brightly coloured one-off cafe shop in Tours.

The friendly assistants were seemingly happy to let customers take their time to mull over the choices. 
I couldn’t help but stand in front of the display case slack jawed, staring as I hemmed and hawed over which flavours to choose.

Let me tell you, do not go into a shop like this when you are hungry – you may end up walking out with far too many items!

I was especially proud for being so restrained (having felt sick from eating far too many the previous day in Paris) and decided on just a few unique flavours to taste including savoury ones. 

The choices included Fois gras and fig, Mint Chocolate, Pistachio and Tomato & Basil. The last one had a glittery swish of red edible paint which was pretty but made a bit of a mess with red blotches of glitter all over my hands.
These were eaten al fresco next to an open air riverside bar on a sunny yet cool afternoon in Tours (no rain, yay!) with a cute bandana wearing puppy frolicking nearby.

The macaroons were amazing, but the surroundings in which these particular beauties were enjoyed added an extra element to the whole experience, definitely a taste sensation to be remembered.

To summarise: I’d never turn down the opportunity to enjoy some macaroons of any kind whether simply as eye candy or as a tasty treat, but if I had both of these shops in front of me to choose from (oooh, one can dream!) I’d go with Patrick Midgeon every time.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Cherry Tree, Jesmond

In order to celebrate a special occasion in a truly special way one must do something different from their ‘norm’ and for me this means indulging in a fancy meal.

I am the first to admit that posh places make me a bit nervous. 

I would much rather spend an evening in a get-your-own-utensil hodgepodge combination of tables & chairs establishment where my loud American voice blends into the background rather than visiting a restaurant with flatware perfectly placed on blindingly white linen where you don’t want to interrupt the smooth jazz tunes by speaking. 

I’m also happy to admit that I am the simpleton who likes to eat dessert with a teaspoon and not even touch the huge spoon lined up ‘just so’ above my plate.

Contrary to the above, I am also a very open-minded individual and would always give a place a try at least once if the opportunity presents itself. I reserve actual judgement until after I’ve indulged my taste buds.

So, when the chance to celebrate a very special occasion gave me the opportunity to try this little gem of a place in Newcastle who was I to say no?  I was looking forward to the indulgence, even if I was nervous about it. 

The Cherry Tree was a lovely restaurant and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to take photos of everything I tried. Why not? It was extremely photogenic food.
The beet root risotto was amazingly pink, with shaved bits of parmesan and hints of leafy green while the tempura shrimp was crispy and succulent all in one delicious bite.

The fish dish came elegantly stacked on top of the creamiest puree accompaniment and the marbled slice of coarse pate arrived with a flourish of salad and chutney. What fun it must be to create these dishes!

Of course, no meal would be complete without the most mouth-watering pudding of all time. This is my first choice when it comes to British desserts.

Drum roll please...... Sticky Toffee Pudding!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Artisan Express, Gateshead

Tucked away in the railway arches on the Gateshead side of the high level bridge, it is quite the little gem of a coffee shop.
Artisan Express is my kind of place – it is cosy, welcoming, and the service comes with a smile. Contrary to national chains (which have their place, don’t get me wrong) this is a one off with a unique & local flare.
Of course it didn’t hurt that I happened to visit on a lovely sunny afternoon which gave it an extra warm & friendly glow.
The Mars Bar Slice and the Caramel Shortbread Square arrived at our table on sweet little china plates, while the Levu Latte(a latte with 3 shots) was served in a large white ceramic cup.  In contrast, my dainty Macchiato came served in a funky silver & glass espresso cup.  
I watched as other drinks were skilfully made at the espresso bar and each drink had its own individual personality.
The unique decor is reflected in the furniture as well combining large comfy cushions, cosy couches and wicker chairs with leather foot rest cubes. Whatever your mood may be, there is plenty of seating to choose from to suit.
I envision many an afternoon will be spent by folks relaxing, reading their newspaper or chatting whilst sipping their handcrafted coffees and tasting some local treats. 
Worth a visit for sure the next time you are near Gateshead!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Pumpkin Muffins

In recent visits home to the states I have had pumpkin lattes, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin (filter)coffee, pumpkin spice Hershey Kisses, pumpkin preserve on toast, pumpkin ice cream, and of course pumpkin pie. The delicious list of pumpkin related foods grows every time I visit, yet many Brits I know have not had the chance to try pumpkin flavoured anything.   

Thankfully Fenwicks Food Hall here in Newcastle seemingly has a love of American foods. They always seem to stock those odd American treats such as Marshmallow Fluff, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms cereal, Bisquick Pancake Mix and all variations of Jelly Belly jelly beans.  Since they are imported items these normally reasonably priced sugary delights cost a ridiculous amount over here.  
However much it may cost, I am just thankful to be able to purchase a can of Libby’s Pumpkin to bake some of my favourite pumpkin flavoured treats. These Pumpkin muffins have been well received by both friends and colleagues who have taste tested them, so they remain on my list of favourite recipes.

They are uniquely flavoured but not offensive although I think it is difficult to describe them to someone who has never had pumpkin.  I will say that they taste best still warm slathered with cream cheese accompanying a cup of coffee but are equally delicious for afternoon tea with a cuppa (and don’t forget to make sure your pinky finger daintily points up).
Whatever the flavour you really can’t go wrong with homemade muffins.
Pumpkin Muffins
(from Muffins Fast and Fantastic, Third Edition 2001 by Susan Reimer)

Makes 10-12 standard-size

9oz(255g) plain flour (with self-raising flour, omit baking powder: do not adjust bicarbonate of soda)
1 tsp (5ml) baking powder
1 tsp (5ml bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp (2.5ml) salt
1 tsp (5ml) ground cinnamon
½ tsp (2.5ml) each of ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
4-6oz (110-170g) fine white granulated sugar
1 egg
4-5 fl oz (120-150ml) milk or water
2 TBSP (30ml) honey
Half of a 425g tin of pumpkin – that is, 7 fl oz (200ml) the remainder can be frozen in an airtight container
3 fl oz(90ml) vegetable oil or 3 oz(85g) butter, melted
2-3 oz (60-85g) chopped walnuts or raisins

Prepare muffin tins. Preheat oven to 375-400 F (190 -200 C) for a conventional oven, Gas Mark 5-6.

In a large bowl, sift together: flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, spices and sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat egg with a fork. Add milk/water, honey, pumpkin and oil/melted butter. Stir well.

Pour all of liquid mixture into dry. Stir just until combined and no dry flour is visible. Add walnuts/raisins during the final strokes.

Spoon batter into tins. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until tops spring back when pressed gently.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Pancakes for Brunch

A Sunday morning spent making thick American-style pancakes to smother in maple syrup and enjoy for brunch is my kind of weekend morning. 
Throw in a glass of fruit juice and share it all with loved ones and you’ve created the winning combination of great food & great company.   
It’s not difficult to achieve since pancakes are pretty straight forward to make.
All you need is the simple ingredients put together in the correct quantities and combined with the right technique.
I’ve included links to two simple recipes below for reference.
The main difference is that American pancakes use a thicker batter than their British counterpart (which is more like a crepe then the cakey American-style pancake, in my humble opinion).
I love the fact that each recipe uses similar ingredients but produces a completely different result.
Whichever type of pancakes you prefer, why not go ahead and make yourself some this weekend?

British Pancake recipe:

Friday, 17 February 2012

Another Make & Mend Market

It may already be obvious, but my favorite Saturday of the month is the one on which the Make & Mend Market is held at the Grainger Market in Newcastle upon Tyne. 
cookies from Poor Girl's Kitchen
This is simply because on these Saturdays I get to choose some beautiful (and tasty) treats to indulge in with no guilt what so ever ( theory there is no guilt). 
Bailey's Cupcake
I practically start drooling when I enter the market hall on these magical days as I imagine what delights I am about to set my eyes on.  The stall holders never let me down and for this I am always grateful. 
Vanilla Cupcake
The homemade treats are both visually stunning and absolutely delicious. I tend to focus on the edible delights, but let me tell you, there are amazing crafts, artwork, vintage items, quirky doodads and much more for anyone who ventures in to explore the stalls. 
Jammy Dodger Cupcake
It is quite a little gem of a market, and one to keep watch out for and make the effort to get to since it is only held in Grainger Market once a month.


Monday, 16 January 2012

A Weekend at the Hotel Du Vin

A little decadence is a big treat and a weekend away in festive Edinburgh is a great opportunity to try some of the local specialities. 
Fried Duck Eggs on Haggis
Staying at the Hotel Du Vin, described on its web page as "Nestled deep in Edinburgh's Old Town and housed within a former city asylum" was a treat in itself.

There was an eery feeling in the twists and turns of the corridor as though you might be sharing the hotel with former residents. The random deep nooks and crannies in the exposed stone walls didn't help matters in this particular department. 
Mini oat muffin with butter
The fancy-pants monsoon shower, fluffy over sized robes and underfloor heating in the bathroom plus the amazing breakfast was the icing on the cake (let me tell you I felt pretty darn spoiled and it wasn't even my birthday!). 

Along with the 'let's stuff ourselves' breakfast on offer, the Nespresso machine  was an unexpected extra bit of culinary fun in the hotel room (who expects to fall in love with a coffee-maker while on a weekend city break?).

Consequently I am now debating which cute colourful Nespresso machine will share my kitchen counter with my toaster & kettle, roll on January sales!