Party Food (& Alliteration): Parma Ham and Parmesan Palmiers

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I hope you’ve had a fabulous Christmas… mine was lovely but too short! Now it’s nearly New Years Eve, and if you’re off to a party then I have an easy recipe for you 🙂

These alliterative canapés are very tasty, the combination of parma ham, parmesan, mustard and pastry is very more-ish and quite salty, so they’re perfect with drinks.

They’re not too difficult but look impressive (which is one of the best combo’s in my opinion).

Recipe taken from Red Online

Parma Ham & Parmesan Palmiers

Makes about 40 Canapés

Ingredients

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

6 slices of parma ham

2 tbsp parmesan cheese (plus extra for topping)

dijon mustard

1 beaten egg

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Preheat the oven to 200C. Unroll the puff pastry sheet and leave on the paper it was rolled in (this makes it easier to roll back up later). Arrange so one of the longest ends is facing you. Spread a thin layer of mustard over the pastry, then sprinkle over the parmesan cheese.

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Next, top with the slices of parma ham – they should cover the whole of the pastry sheet.

Starting with one of the long horizontal ends, begin to roll tightly into the centre. When halfway, turn the sheet round and roll the opposite side in until the two rolls meet. Brush the touching bits of pastry with the beaten egg, and pinch together lightly. Roll back up in the paper and put into the freezer for 20 minutes to chill.

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After 20 minutes take out of the freezer and cut into thin slices just under 1 cm in width – this is easier if you flour your knife after every slice. Place the slices onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. If the slices appear a bit misshapen you can coax them back into shape on the baking tray. Sprinkle with a little extra parmesan if desired and put into the oven for approx. 10 minutes or until golden and crispy.

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These are delicious just out of the oven, but are also tasty served cold.

They can be prepared in advance if desired – just make up to the freezing stage and keep until needed.

Palmiers are great, versatile canapés as you can pretty much put any filling in you wish – pesto is another good one, or nutella if you want a sweet version.

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Have a great New Years… See you in 2015!

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Christmas Gift Ideas: Last-Minute Salted Butter Caramels

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It’s entirely possible (and preferable), that anyone reading this is doing so snug at home, relaxed and ready for Christmas with the presents all wrapped, the food all bought, drinks all chilling in the fridge… if so, I salute you and you can keep that smug smile on your face for as long as you like!

If you’re a present or two short, or you want that homemade touch without bags of effort then I hope I can help. Firstly, who doesn’t like salted caramel? Or homemade sweets? Secondly, these homemade salted caramel sweets are quick and pretty easy to make (if you keep an eye on them), and they only need a couple of hours to set, so they can be made this evening or tomorrow morning and be ready in time for Christmas day. Thirdly, they are made from things you probably have lying around the house anyway – the only exception possibly being a sugar thermometer*.

*In which case, a jar of salted caramel sauce would also make a nice present for someone – just follow the recipe until the sugar thermometer goes in, and instead, cook on a medium heat for another 3 minutes, then pour into a jar or bottle.

So without further ado, I give you:

Salted Butter Caramels

85g granulated sugar

100ml double cream

40g butter

30ml honey

1/2 tsp salt (plus extra if desired)

You will need a sugar thermometer and a loaf tin (or equivalent) for this recipe

Recipe taken (and adapted slightly) from A Beautiful Mess via Rachel Khoo

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Line a loaf tin or square tray with baking/greaseproof paper and set aside – this will be what the caramels set in. Put the sugar in a medium saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a medium/high heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble. Keep cooking the sugar syrup until it turns a dark amber colour (see photo above). This can take a few minutes but the colour/smell can change quite quickly so keep an eye on it and take it off the heat as soon as it looks ready.

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Once you’ve taken it off the heat, add in the rest of the ingredients – the mixture will bubble up and may spit at you so be a bit careful! When stirred in, put the saucepan back on the heat and add the sugar thermometer. Heat the mixture until the temperature on the sugar thermometer reaches the ‘hard ball’ stage (260F). As soon as the temperature hits 260F remove from the heat and pour into the prepared loaf pan or dish you are setting the caramels in. If you wish, you can add some more flaked sea salt to the top of the caramel.

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Let the caramel cool for a couple of hours before cutting into squares or strips and wrapping in baking/greaseproof paper. I found cutting with a greased knife made it a smoother process.

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And Voila! You have another tasty little homemade gift for someone 🙂

Here’s a photo of my salted caramels and Limoncello/Arancello bottles ready to be given to family this Christmas!

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All that remains is to say:

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Because if a clown and hoop la-ing pigs doesn’t say Merry Christmas, what does?!

Quite Easy Mince Pies

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I’m typing this with the mixed scents of freshly baked mince pies and pine trees in my nose, and the sound of Otis Redding singing ‘White Christmas’ in my ears… it’s safe to say I’m finally feeling Christmassy 🙂

Buying a real tree has definitely helped this year, although we misjudged the size of the tree versus the size of our living room, and now can’t really see the TV. Oh well, the tree is prettier!

If you remember, a while back I posted a recipe for homemade mincemeat – now it’s time to make the mince pies. I make these mince pies every year, and they always get good comments – the pastry is very short which makes them lovely and crumbly, and obviously the mincemeat is delicious 😉

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They’re not the most professional-looking mince pies, but they make up for that in taste.

The recipe they come from calls them ‘unbelievably easy’ mince pies, and although they aren’t rocket science, I would say they aren’t as easy as the title would have you believe – that’s why I’ve called them ‘quite easy’! There’s no need for a food mixer, just your fingers, and the pastry doesn’t need rolling out, just pressing into the trays – this makes them easier (and fun for kids to do), but they do take a while to assemble because of this however, and when trying to make the lids by just squashing them in your palms, there are invariably some cracked lids when they come out of the oven. I ended up rolling out small amounts of the pastry for the lids as I could control the size/thickness of them better that way. I also had half a packet of sweet shortcrust pastry left in the freezer which I used for some of the lids, this meant I could make 24 mince pies instead of 18. (Don’t judge me for cheating slightly!)

They are ridiculously tasty, so without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Recipe taken from BBC Good Food

‘Quite Easy’ Mince Pies

Makes approx. 18

Ingredients

225g cold butter, diced
350g plain flour
100g golden caster sugar
280g mincemeat
1 small egg
icing sugar, to dust

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For the pastry: Put the cold cubed butter and the plain flour into a large bowl and rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. (It’s good to have cold hands for this bit!) Add the golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt, and combine well.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

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Lightly grease a cupcake tin (or 2). As the dough is pretty dry and doesn’t have egg or water added to it, I find it easier to knead a small amount at a time, rather than all in one go – a walnut sized piece is enough for each mince pie and a good amount to knead at a time. When pliable, push each ball of dough into your cupcake tin with your fingers.

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Now it’s time to add the mincemeat – about a teaspoonful is a good amount.

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Next, either roll out a small amount of the dough (after kneading briefly) and cut out circles for the lids – a 68mm cutter is perfect, or form a circle from squashing a small ball of the dough in the palms of your hands until it’s the right size (it’s good to have warm hands for this bit). Top the mince pies with their lids, pressing down at the edges to seal – you don’t need to seal them with anything as they’ll stick fine on their own. Brush each mince pie with some of the beaten egg, and put into the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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When ready, take out of the oven and allow to cool for at least ten minutes in the tin, they’ll be easier to take out once cooler. When removing from the tin, you may need to trim the edges of each hole, and ease the knife down the side to help release the pie – they should come out easily after this. You can trim the pies after removing them too, to give them more of a uniform shape. Leave on a rack to cool down completely (if you have willpower…)

NB: The mince pies without the cracked lids are the shop-bought pastry tops.

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When ready to serve, dust liberally with icing sugar and make a pot of tea – or some mulled wine. Delicious!

I have plans for one more last-minute Christmas gift idea before the big day, but in case I run out of time…

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Gift Ideas: Limoncello and Spiced Arancello

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It’s two weeks to Christmas! I’m trying my hardest to get into the festive spirit, but it’s taking time this year – I wish I had time to make more presents and sing carols and eat mince pies, but it’s all being crammed into evenings at the moment, when I actually just want to flop on the sofa… This weekend we are buying a real Christmas tree which I think will help me get into the festive mood – I’ve always had an artificial tree, and been fine with it, but this year I want the scent of pine to lift my mood and make me feel Christmassy!

One Christmas gift I’ve squeezed into an evening or two this year, is some Liqueurs – Limoncello and Arancello. Limoncello is an Italian sweet lemon liqueur, and Arancello is the orange version. The Arancello has the added flavours of cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom to give it a spicy, almost mulled, flavour. I’ve made the Limoncello before and it was a success, but the Arancello is  new to me so I’ll be interested to see how it tastes.

They’re both made with vodka (again), as it’s the spirit with the least flavour, lemon or orange peel, and sugar syrup.

They take two weeks to make, so you’ve just got time to whip up a batch for Christmas day! (If you want to give them as presents before Christmas day, remember to put a ‘best after’ label on them…)

I bought one litre bottle of vodka and made half-and-half of these, but I will put the amounts for each recipe down as though you’re just making one or the other, then you can choose what you do!

Recipes taken from BBC Good Food here and here.

Both make approx. 2 litres of liqueur.

Limoncello

1l bottle vodka

5 unwaxed lemons

750g caster sugar

700ml boiling water

Spiced Arancello

1l bottle vodka

5 large oranges

1 cinnamon stick

2-3 cardamom pods

1 vanilla pod

600g caster sugar

500ml boiling water

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Remove the zest from the oranges or lemons using a peeler, try to make sure none of the white pith is left on the peel as it will make the drink taste bitter. You might need to scrape this off with a sharp knife.

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Put the zest into one big jar, or several smaller ones if giving to multiple people. If making Arancello, add the cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla pod also. Add the vodka to the jars/bottles and leave for a week, shaking the jar each day.

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After a week, you can add the sugar syrup. Put the sugar in a heatproof jug, then pour over the required amount of boiling water, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into the vodka mixture and leave for another week, shaking the jar regularly.

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When the two weeks is up, strain the liqueur into your bottles, and throw away the peel (and spices). These drinks will keep bottled for 6 months, but I doubt they’ll last that long!

Limoncello is delicious ice-cold from the freezer, but I suspect the Arancello would be nice warmed up… I’m looking forward to trying them 🙂

El Celler de Can Roca Part 3: The Land

And now it’s time for the meat courses!

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This plate was a bit of a cross-over dish: ‘Surf and Turf’. It looked like a piece of sardine, but that was a cunning ruse to make you think you were still on the fish courses. It’s actually pork jowl, with sardine skin, a charcoal-grilled sardine-bone broth, suckling pig sauce and chervil oil. It was ridiculously beautiful to look at, with the shimmering sardine skin and the pink of the jowl – i’d like a clutch bag in similar shades 😉 The pork jowl is a very fatty cut, but it worked well with the sardine, and the sardine flavour wasn’t strong enough to overpower the dish which was great.

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Another ridiculously pretty plate (slab?) of food – ‘Spicy mandala of artichoke flower, milk-fed lamb belly, lamb sweetbreads, curry yoghurt, beetroot, spinach, turnip, lemon, tangerine, sweet potato, leaves and flowers’. That is a bit of a mouthful for a dish that is only a little bigger than a mouthful! Mandala is actually the pattern made by this dish rather than an ingredient – it’s a hindu and buddhist symbol representing the universe. The lamb in this dish was melt-in-the-mouth, and it was nice to have lots of different flavours to combine and eat it with – a bit like the skate dish earlier in the evening.

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This next dish was the OH’s favourite of the night – ‘Veal shin with St.George’s mushrooms, marrow, tendons, avocado and truffle’. The main thing I thought whilst eating this was ‘the ultimate roast dinner’. Ok so it was missing some roasties, but it had that rich, comforting taste to it that I associate with a good roast dinner – and a bit of earthiness too. I know it says tendons on the menu which could put people off, but I’m guessing it was in a puree because I couldn’t see anything resembling a tendon! Plus, I adore bone marrow, and truffles, so it goes without saying this dish would be enjoyed.

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‘Pigeon trilogy’

This last meat course probably would have been my favourite, but I was getting pretty full by this point so it was hard to thoroughly enjoy it. Despite this, one part of it did blow me away a bit. The full description of this dish is: ‘Pigeon heart and the cloud of rice, pigeon stock. “Botifarró” and Tatjé pigeon breast. Botifarró is blood sausage, and the pigeon ‘heart’ was actually pâté made to look like a heart (on the black slab). The pâté was the best I have probably ever tasted – so velvety, smooth, rich – utter deliciousness on puffed rice. The rest of this pigeon dish was equally rich, and almost as delicious. It was served with a small amount of pigeon stock in a glass, and the wine that came with this course was from 1986! (Pesquera Janus 86 D.O. Ribera del Duero). This felt pretty decadent.

In the next (and final) instalment, find out what we had for dessert, and if we managed to get out of our chairs at the end of the night…

El Celler De Can Roca Part 2: The Sea

And now back to the main event…

El Celler de Can Roca Part two:

The start of the menu! (Not all from the sea admittedly, but the majority was…)

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We had some delicious bread to choose from before the main menu started, and were encouraged to try at least three different types – I tried to only eat a teeny bit of each, as I was getting a bit worried about how much there was to come!

Luckily the first course was very light and refreshing. We started with a summer vegetable stock which was a joy to behold, I didn’t want to eat it as it was so pretty. But I managed it in the end. It was in-between sweet and savoury as there was mango in it as well as all the lovely vegetables, and it was served at a low temperature.

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Next came a white asparagus and truffle ‘viennetta’. Yes that’s right, savoury ice cream. The first mouthful was a little odd, possibly because my brain was trying to decide if it liked creamy cold vegetable ice cream, but from then onwards it was enjoyable – if still slightly strange! It was paired with a Riesling which was quite sweet and therefore further confused my brain as to whether this was dessert or not… but it’s good to try something completely different 😉

The Fish Courses

The OH and I aren’t the biggest fish/seafood fans in the world – I like fish as it’s long as it doesn’t taste too ‘fishy’, and i’ll try pretty much any seafood, but prawns are the only seafood I actively seek out on a menu – the OH doesn’t like them at all so that’s the only time i get to eat them! We decided therefore that there were a couple too many fish/seafood courses for us, as interesting as they all were, I would have been more excited about a couple more meat/vegetable ones.

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The first fish course was Mackerel – a ‘fishy’ fish! It was marinated in sugar and salt, served with pickled capers and chillies, fried tomato, mullet roe, and a mackerel sauce. It looked stunning – the mackerel sauce was made using the skin so that it glistened on the plate, and it was made to look like the pattern on the skin. Clever stuff. If you like mackerel i’m sure you would love this dish, I really liked the pickled bits with the mackerel as it was a nice contrast in flavours, but overall it’s just too fishy for me.

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Next up was the dish I was most scared of when looking at the menu: A salad of Sea Anemone, Razor Clam, Sea Cucumber and Seaweed in escabèche. I’d never tried any of the items listed except seaweed before, and the presentation of the dish didn’t particularly allay my fears either – it looked like everything was about to crawl out of the bowl! A good-looking bowl it was though. The actual taste of this dish was fine, although I didn’t think any of the seafood tasted of much – it seemed to be more about the texture. I would’ve been happy with about half of that amount. You did get to eat it with tweezers though which was pretty good fun!

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Next up was a dish entitled ‘A whole Prawn’. This was: Charcoal-grilled king prawn, crispy prawn legs, head juice with seaweed, and a seawater & sponge cake of plankton. I thought this was going to be my favourite of the seafood dishes as it had my favourite item of seafood as the main event – sadly i didn’t love it.(The OH liked it more than I did!) The crispy legs were pretty tasty, the head juice was ok, the plankton sponge cake was strange, and the prawn just wasn’t cooked enough for me – I really didn’t like the texture of it. Strange.

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Luckily the next few courses made up for the first few 🙂 Next up was Langoustine. This was brought to the table in a steamer with hot rocks underneath. It was then cooked at the table – the waiter poured sherry onto the hot rocks, then put the lid on the steamer – within about thirty seconds the langoustine was cooked. The sherry gave it a sweetness, and it was a nice touch to see it cooked in front of you. it was served with a bisque velouté that was utterly delicious – I could’ve drank another couple of cups of that at least! The wine pairing for this course was sherry (unsurprisingly). But surprisingly, it is that blob you can see on the spoon above. It had been reduced down to almost a caramel, so you had to just suck it off the spoon – another nice touch.

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The last of our fully seafood/fish-orientated courses was another good one: Confit Skate served with six different types of mustard. Doesn’t sound like much, but the Skate was melt-in-the-mouth, and the mustards all gave an interesting dimension to the flavour of the fish. There were hazelnut flavours, bergamot, honey, and more – it was fun to mix up the different sauces with the Skate and see what you came up with…

Next up: The Meat courses… (this really is turning into an epic!)

Christmas Gift Ideas: Homemade Vanilla Extract

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Think of this post as an ad break between the epic movie that is ‘El Celler de Can Roca’…

I’ll be honest, i’m struggling with motivation a little bit at the mo – blog-wise and life-wise, and now that Christmas is turning up pretty quickly, I’m realising I need to catch up with that too! I made Vanilla Extract last Christmas for friends and family, and I’ve had a request for more this year. This is fine, as it’s a really quick and easy thing to make – but it does need about two months to mature, so I really should’ve made it a month ago. It will be ok though, i’ll just give it to people with a little ‘Best after’ note so they know when to start using it!

Vanilla extract is made with only two things: Vanilla beans/pods, and alcohol. Commercial Vanilla extract can have sugar syrup in it too, but if it’s just used for baking there’s no need. Vanilla beans can be expensive in the supermarket, and you’ll need quite a few for this recipe (depending on how much you want to make), so I tend to buy them in bulk on Amazon or Ebay – this year I bought a pack of 10 ‘extract grade’ beans from here – they were £2.30 and they were perfectly good – not dry, and smelt amazing.

You don’t need to buy expensive alcohol either, I usually buy standard vodka as it has the least flavour, but I know people also use rum or bourbon which would be nice in baking too.

Anyway onto the super-easy recipe…

Homemade Vanilla Extract

70cl Bottle of alcohol of your choice (my vodka was 37.5%)

10 Vanilla Beans

attractive bottles/jars to gift them in

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1. Cut your vanilla beans in half length-wise with kitchen scissors or a knife – if you’re going to leave them in the jars/bottles to continue maturing, leave them connected at one end (it looks prettier!).

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2. Put them in your bottle of alcohol.

3. Leave for as long as possible!

If you have your gifting bottles/jars ready, you can make the extract straight into these – just divide up the amount of beans/alcohol, and make sure you sterilise the jars before using. I haven’t got round to buying nice bottles yet (told you I was disorganised this year!), so will be leaving mine in the vodka bottle until the last minute, and then decanting and fishing out the pods so they can continue to mature in their new bottles.

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Here’s a photo of the extract I made last year (excuse the phone quality)

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Even if you don’t want to give this as presents to people, it’s really nice to know you have an endless supply of vanilla extract to hand 🙂

P.s Vodka is an excellent base to make Christmassy liqueurs with too, and they only take 2 weeks – so i may be making limoncello or similar soon – watch this space…

P.P.S. Happy thanksgiving to any American readers!

El Celler De Can Roca Part 1: Snacking

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In September I took the OH to Girona for a special birthday. It’s a lovely little medieval city and has lots of places to get delicious food (as posted about here), but its most famous restaurant has to be El Celler de Can Roca – the three michelin star restaurant which is currently number two in the world – and the main reason we came to Girona.

The restaurant is owned by the three Roca brothers and first came to our attention when it featured on Masterchef: The Professionals three years ago. The food looked amazing, the space looked amazing, and the brothers seemed pretty interesting!

I booked a table at the restaurant back in October 2013 (when it was number one in the world!), as bookings open up 11 months in advance. It was a stressful morning with an expensive phone bill at the end of it, but i’d managed it hurrah! Now I just had to try and keep it a secret…

…and I managed that too :-). He found out on his birthday, which gave us a month to get excited together.

When it actually came to the day of the booking, I felt quite nervous – maybe because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations, and worried it wouldn’t be worth the (large) amount of money I would be paying for it.

Luckily, overall it was as amazing as we hoped it would be!

Below is a little description of the first part of our evening and what we ate…

The Venue

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The restaurant itself is a modern space, elegant but unstuffy – an elongated triangle-shaped dining room with an atrium in the centre, filled with silver birch trees. Most tables were placed to look out onto the trees, which was nice!

Each table had three rocks as decoration – to represent each of the Roca brothers.

We turned up early to the restaurant, and the concierge showed us round the kitchens which was a nice surprise.

The restaurant has two menus: The ‘Classic tasting menu’ which was 7 courses, or the ‘Feast Menu’ which was 14. Each are to be served to the whole table, so everyone has to decide on the same one, and there is the option to have wines matching each course.

Now there were some lovely sounding dishes on the classic menu, but if you’re coming all this way, making it a special occasion, surely you’re going to have the feast menu and the matching wine for each course?! Well we did anyway 🙂

The Snacks

Before the menu even started we were given a class of local sparkling wine, and then a succession of ‘snacks’ – one of which was possibly my favourite for the whole evening!

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Caramelized Olives were the first thing brought to the table, hanging on a bonsai tree. These were delicious but strange – who would’ve thought anchovies and caramel would go? We also had a black ‘bon bon’ each (just pictured in top photo) – filled with grapefruit and black sesame – these literally melted in the mouth and were very refreshing. Following these were prawn crisps on a mini fishing net, which were very crisp and nicely prawn-y. It was a good start, and we were excited about what would be coming up next….

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…Next came what was probably my favourite of all the dishes that evening – ‘The World’. A paper globe opened to reveal a tiny morsel from 5 of the countries the brothers have most recently visited or been inspired by. From top: China – crispy pancake with pickled veg and plum cream. Mexico – mini burrito with beef, mole poblano & guacamole. Morocco – tiny pastilla filled with almond, rose, honey, saffron, ras el hanout & goats yoghurt. Korea – Panko fried bread with bacon, soy sauce, snow peas, kimchi & sesame oil. Turkey – Vine leaf ‘tartlet’ with lentil puree, eggplant, goats yoghurt & cucumber.

These were so tiny and perfect, each one an explosion of flavour that really captured the tastes of each country for me – I would’ve been happy with another 20 rounds of them. But surely we’d be on to the menu next…

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… not yet! The next ‘snack’ was two different types of ‘tapas’ on spoons, resting on a silver coral sculpture. You can probably guess these were both seafood. The top was pickled barnacle with bay leaves & albarino (a white wine grape), the bottom was Mediterranean lobster ceviche. I was quite sceptical about eating barnacle, and not terribly excited about raw/cured lobster either. They were perfectly edible, but I’d say a spoonful was enough for me! I like a bit of seafood, but probably only actively order prawns or mussels in a restaurant, and the OH isn’t particularly enamoured with any of it, so if you speak to a seafood lover they may well be in raptures about these two snacks…

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This next ‘snack’ sorted us both out though – truffles of the savoury kind – one of my favourite things. The little things in the stone bowl were truffled bon bons – made to look like truffles found in the wild, they had a crunchy outside and creamy truffle inside – yum. The two little spheres on the slab were a type of brioche dough filled with and topped with truffle. And again I say yum. Truffle is a strong flavour, and if you’re not a fan it would be a bit overwhelming, but for me it was delicious.

And then it was time for the 14 courses (and wine) to begin!

Part 2 coming up…

Christmas Mincemeat

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First of all let me apologise for using the C word… but some Christmassy things are better done before December – Mincemeat is one of those in my book. The flavours have more time to develop and the mixture gets stickier the longer you leave it, which makes it all the more tasty.

For the last three years I’ve made mince pies with homemade mincemeat, and it’s all come from one batch! So once you put the effort in, it’s definitely worth it – not least because people are always impressed you’ve made it yourself (even if it’s pretty easy to make – sshh). It’s an ideal weekend job, as you have to leave it overnight, then pop it in the oven for three hours the next day. Be warned – it smells so good cooking in the oven, it might make you feel a bit Christmassy 😉

The recipe I use is Delia’s, but i tweaked it slightly to make it cheaper – instead of buying all the currants, sultanas etc separately, I used a kg bag of mixed fruit and added some extra peel.

Recipe taken from Delia Online

Makes 6 lb (2.75 kg)

Ingredients
1 lb (450 g) Bramley apples, cored and chopped small (no need to peel them)
8 oz (225 g) shredded suet
12 oz (350 g) raisins
8 oz (225 g) sultanas
8 oz (225 g) currants
8 oz (225 g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped
12 oz (350 g) soft dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice 2 oranges
grated zest and juice 2 lemons
2 oz (50 g) whole almonds, cut into slivers
4 level teaspoons mixed ground spice
½ level teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 tablespoons brandy

You will also need some preserving jars to store the mincemeat.

Method

Put all the ingredients (except for the brandy) in a large ovenproof mixing bowl, then stir and mix them together thoroughly.

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Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave the mixture in a cool place overnight or for at least 12 hours, so the flavours can mingle and develop.

The next day:  Pre-heat the oven to 225°F /110°C.

Cover the bowl loosely with foil and put in the oven. When three hours is up, remove the bowl from the oven. Don’t worry about the amount of fat in the bowl, this is how it should look.

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As the mixture cools down, give it a stir it from time to time – the fat will thicken and coat all the other ingredients.

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When the mincemeat is completely cold, stir well again and add the brandy. Pack in sterilised jars.

* To sterilise your jars: Wash the jars and lids in warm soapy water, rinse well, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea cloth. Put them on a baking tray, and in an oven preheated to 350°F/180°C  for 5 minutes.*

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And there you have it! Told you it was easy.

If you don’t need so much mincemeat, or don’t want to keep it in a cupboard for three years (which is what i do!) then feel free to halve the recipe, that should make quite a few batches of mince pies this Christmas anyway!

Give yourself a pat on the back for being so organised, and i’ll tell you the ‘worlds best mince pies’ recipe a bit closer to December…

Bake-off Wednesdays: The Final!

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So, it’s the big one. Only 3 people left – who’s going to win? My money’s on Richard…

Part of me is sad it’s the end of my bake-off challenges, I’ve learned some new techniques and have some new recipes to add to my repertoire which is great. The other part of me is happy to get back to a life that doesn’t involve baking and eating baked goods every week! I’m a bit baked-out, and feel like I need to eat better for a while  – there’s only so many times you can foist your cakes/tarts etc on friends and family over 10 weeks (maybe I don’t have enough friends?!).

Anyway, as well as it being the final, it is also my 20th post on this blog – that calls for a celebration cake right?

I went back to my comfort-zone this week with cake, but jazzed it up to try and make it final-worthy… and came up with:

Fig & Almond Mini-cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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I love figs and when I spotted a punnet of big juicy ones in the supermarket I pounced. I looked for fig cakes on pinterest and found lots of delicious-sounding ones, but not so many worthy of presenting to Mary or Paul – they had more of a rustic look, which is absolutely fine with me, but I was trying to go for a more polished look for the final.

I found my inspiration in this beautiful cake from dolly+oatmeal which is fig and hazelnut. It’s dairy free & gluten free so worth a look if that interests you, but I decided to change it a bit so I could use ingredients I either already have in the kitchen, or would use on a regular basis.

I used an almond cake recipe from Happy Home Baking, as I think fig and almond are a tasty combination. It makes one 22cm cake, but I used cookie cutters to make it into four layered cakes. I then filled it with cream cheese frosting and the fig compote from dolly+oatmeal, covered it in cream cheese frosting, and decorated with fresh figs and toasted caramelised almonds.

I really liked this cake – it has a great flavour to it, the sponge is really moist, and when made into mini cakes it works for dessert as well as afternoon tea. You could even go smaller with the cookie cutters and make them into sweet canapés 🙂

Mary and Paul would probably still think it’s not refined enough in the looks department, but I think it’s pretty good!

Recipe below:

Fig & Almond Mini-cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients (makes one 8″ cake or approx. 4 mini filled sponges)

160g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and left to soften (keep 50g for frosting)

140g caster sugar

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

100g ground almonds

 40g self-raising flour

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon amaretto liquer or vanilla extract (optional)

approx. 4 figs, roughly chopped, plus 1 or 2 extra for decoration

1 tablespoon maple syrup

juice of half a lemon

150g cream cheese

50g icing sugar

a handful of flaked almonds & a sprinkle of brown sugar (optional decoration)

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease a 22cm springform cake tin and set aside.

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Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or by hand. Beat in the eggs, add the ground almonds, flour, milk, and amaretto or vanilla extract (if you wish), and beat until light and fluffy. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and spread the batter evenly. Bake for 30-35mins, or until the sponge just springs back when pressed, or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool for 5 minutes, then release from the tin. Run a knife around the bottom plate of the tin,  then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool.

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Whilst the cake is cooling, make the fig compote. Put the chopped figs, maple syrup and lemon juice in a saucepan. Simmer over a medium flame and stir until the figs soften and release their juices. Cook for about 15-20mins, letting the figs fall apart and the compote thicken. Take off the heat and let cool.

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Whilst the fig compote is cooling, make the cream cheese frosting and cut out the mini-cakes. Beat the butter until really soft, then add the icing sugar, cream cheese and an optional teaspoon of amaretto or vanilla extract, and continue to beat until smooth. Cut circles out of your almond sponge using a cookie cutter (mine was 2 1/4 in). Toast your flaked almonds with a sprinkle of brown sugar (if using).

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Assemble your cakes – spread some frosting over the bottom layer, top with a blob of fig compote, and sandwich. Use a palette knife or spatula to cover your cake in cream cheese frosting, then decorate with the fresh figs and caramelised almonds.

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I’m excited to use figs in lots of recipes this season, but this is a pretty tasty one to start off with!

What are your favourite recipes using figs?

Enjoy the final…