Monthly Archives: August 2012

Farewell to Summer

It’s the last day of August. Forget the technicalities, I always think of this day as the last day of summer. The British weather has that odd habit at this time of year of offering tantalising glimpses of warmth (typically in the middle of the working week), only to dash those hopes with a sharp, fresh breeze and the first falling leaves drifting past your window (usually at the weekend). You fancy that you can still sit outside in the evening for dinner, but it’s just a little bit too nippy to manage that in complete comfort (although at such times, wine and deep-fried Camembert provide a rather good form of rapid insulation). Change is in the air.

However, to mark the passing of what has been an amazing summer in London, I thought I would post about the drink that we’ve been using to cheer ourselves through the Jubilee, the Olympics and now into the Paralympics. It’s called the Aperol Spritz.

In terms of appearance, this drink is not subtle. It really is that luminous orange colour. It is made with Aperol, an Italian aperitif infused with bitters and citrus, topped up with Prosecco, then served on ice with a wedge of orange. It it light, fizzy, perfectly chilled and the orange-and-bitter combination has a nice sweet yet bitter flavour to stimulate the appetite. That, and the bright orange colour makes it look just so, so cool.

I’ve actually had a bottle of Aperol in my drinks cabinet for a while. I first came across Aperol Spritz when I was visiting Milan a couple of years ago. I saw it in a bar during aperitivo time, and it really seemed like the perfect summer drink. The only downside was that it was rather too easy to drink, and in that lay hidden dangers when endeavouring to catch an early train to Switzerland the next day…although I did manage to swing by a wine shop and pick up a bottle to bring home with me.

I was also reminded of this drink again on a visit to the Gilbert Scott bar near work. We were not taken with anything on the menu (it was all lovely, but we were in the mood for something more celebratory). The idea of the Aperol Spritz popped back into my head, and yes, the waiter told us that they had Aperol behind the bar. Two of these, and we were enthusiastically toasting Team GB’s success that day at the Games. Any excuse…

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve been drinking the Aperol Spritz all summer long, it has also been popping up in magazines and on the web rather a lot. I’ve seen some discussion about what you should add to the liqueur to add the fizzy spritz element. Prosecco is the classic, but some people seem enamoured with the idea of using champagne. Surely better, yes? Well, I tend to disagree. While I would normally say each to their own, first off, this is a waste of good champagne. Second, I find Prosecco is lighter and lends itself to this cocktail rather well, and I am not sure the brioché or fleur d’amandier notes of Champagne come out as delicately when you mix them with an orange liqueur, add a slice of citrus and serve on the rocks. Just a hunch!

So do as the Italians do, and stick with Prosecco. Designer shades optional. And if you see it on holiday, pick up a bottle. You’ll be glad you did. Basta!

To make Aperol spritz:

• 1 part (50ml) Aperol
• 2 parts(100ml) Prosecco
• dash of soda water (optional)
• orange slice
• ice

Mix the Aperol and Prosecco plus soda water (if using), pour over lots of ice and serve with a wedge of orange.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Drinks

Eton Mess

I’ve become a total flag waving maniac over the last few weeks, which culminated in a flag-and-chocolate-gold-medal arrangement in my front window for the duration of the Olympics. I’m sure the sight of chocolate just out of reach annoyed many a passing child! Earlier in the week, the Paralympic flame was lit in Trafalgar Square and the overnight torch relay is underway, so the fun starts all over again from tomorrow – and yes, I’m lucky enough to have more tickets!

But while the venues were amazing, the sport so far has been amazing and the Tube has kept on tubing, I’m going to say it…the London Games managed to get something rather wrong. It was the food, and all I can really say is “oh dear”!

OK, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but where, oh where, was the Best of British? The proper tea shop, selling scones, clotted cream and jam? Summer desserts? Bowls of strawberries? I really think they missed a trick here – I suspect Japanese visitors would have loved the sight of miniature Battenberg cakes and Bakewell tarts, although just how popular that Scottish legend, the deep-fried Mars bar, would have been remains unclear.

To counter this, and to get into practice for the Paralympics, I’ve dug out my old recipe for Eton Mess, which is essentially whipped cream, fruit and meringue. This might sound like an odd name for a recipe, but it has the benefit of being a complete doddle to make and tastes great. The fact that it is all “messed up” means that you can make this recipe with zero creative skills, but I would imagine that in most cases, the urge to artfully swirl the mixture will take hold. Whether all that meringue and cream really suits a major sporting event is another matter…

There are two ways to make this dessert. Either you can buy the meringues, then just crush them, mix with some whipped cream and chopped strawberries, and that’s it.

However, you can opt to go posh (and I suspect that at Eton they do, rather). Make your own meringue according to preference, then mix with softly whipped cream infused with whatever flavours you like (vanilla or even a tiny dash of booze). Then the fruit – prepare it ahead if time and allow to macerate, and you end up with a gloriously rich, sweet, fragrant mush then combines seductively with the rest of the pudding.

Whichever option you take, I recommend assembling this pudding at the last possibly moment – that way, you get to enjoy the soft cream, crisp-and-chewy meringue and ripe fruit. However, if you leave it for more than a few minutes, the meringue will start to dissolve and you’ll lose all the contrasting textures and flavours.

Strawberries are traditional in this dessert, but you can make changes depending on what you have to hand and what is in season. Raspberries add some sharpness that balances the sugar, stewed rhubarb goes well with the strawberries, and brambles are great later in the year. And all this talk of fruit brings me to my final tip – make sure you have the fruit at room temperature when you are making up the pudding – you’ll get the best flavour that way.

So now…sit back…and let the Games begin…again!

To make Eton Mess (serves 8):

For the meringue:

• 2 egg whites
• 100g white caster sugar
• pinch of salt
• few drops vanilla extract

To finish the pudding:

• meringues
• 1 pint (450ml) double cream
• 1 pound (450g) strawberries

To make the meringue:

1. Preheat the oven to 130°C and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the pinch of salt, then whisk until you get to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar, a quarter at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add the vanilla and whisk on full power until the mixture is smooth, white and stiff, and you can’t see any sugar crystals (allow a good five minutes for this).

3. Place tablespoons of the mixture on the baking sheet. Put the meringues in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 110°C. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat. Leave the meringues in the oven until cold (overnight is ideal).

To prepare the dessert:

1. Clean and trim the strawberries. Cut into quarters and put in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Stir and leave to sit at room temperature for an hour (covered with cling film to keep insects away!).

2. Break the meringues into chunks (between 1 and 1/2 inches) and place in a bowl.

3. Whip the cold cream until you have soft peaks, then add to the meringue pieces. Add 2/3 of the fruit. Fold the mixture together gently – aim for the mixture to have a rippled look.

4. Divide the mixture between the serving bowls, and top with spoonfuls of the remaining strawberries. Serve straight away.

3 Comments

Filed under Les saveurs de l’été, Recipe, Sweet Things

Olympic Moments

I’ve already put down some of my thoughts around the London Olympics, and I promised to share a few pictures too. If you’re an Instagram user some of these will be rather familiar, but I still think they do the trick nicely.

As you can see, there is a bit of London decked out in flags, statues of the mascot Wenlock, the Olympic park and inside at a few of the events – swimming, hockey and athletics. Enjoy!

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Olympic Gold

World, there you have it! We’ve spent seven years in the build up to the London Olympics and in just two weeks…it’s over!

I truly hope you have enjoyed our Olympics, and I know that I certainly have. I shared some of the fears that all Londoners had – would it all be OK? Would the venues look good? Would the Tube cope? What about the weather? Well, in the end, it was all, quite frankly, amazing. Sure, we had a few showers, but mostly we’ve had warm, sunny days with fluffy clouds, drama, royalty, Pimm’s, a curiously British opening ceremony, and in my case, the rare experience of getting sunburned at the hockey venue between 8 and 10 in the morning!

If you’ve been following my tweets, you’ll have seen that I might have been on the very verge of “losing it” in the midst of a chaotic house move (the week before it all kicked off – how was that for planning?), but I’ve still been in there waving the Union flag over at the Olympic Park. I was lucky enough to see swimming (Michael Phelps! Rebecca Adlington!), hockey (NZ, SA, Australia and South Korea!) and athletics (Jessica Ennis!). I also got to hang out in front of one of the giant screens to watch a bit of equestrianism in the middle of a flower meadow (in Stratford – who’d have thought?). Even at work, we’ve had the Olympics on in the background (by which I mean “on all day, glued to the screen”), with frequent cheers going up as the UK took gold. And Charlotte Dujardin and her horse Valegro competing to Land of Hope and Glory and James Bond themes in the dressage? Unmissable!

I was struck when I was at each of the venues just how great the atmosphere was. Flag waving and proud nationalism, but also the crowds were cheering all competitors. We wanted the winners to win, we wanted them all to finish, and you just will each competitor to give their best and deliver a performance that allows them to go home with their heads held high. Having sampled that atmosphere, it made watching in TV so much more special, as you could imagine what it was like to be there.

The atmosphere has been something that everyone has commented on, and if you have been lucky enough to visit, I hope that you agree. No matter which part of the country you are from or where you live, you will have seen us Brits at our best, and I think we can all be proud of that. I’d even go so far as to suggest that Londoners have gone from being rushed, pushy and impatient to being – gasp – helpful and friendly. Who’d have thought? Well, I think we all knew that under the surface there was gold to be found.

What has been truly inspirational is that the faith of the crowds was met by team GB bringing back an impressive medal haul, involving 29 golds – our best performance as a nation since 1908. Apart from a horse that can win a gold medal while performing to Live and Let Die, apart from Jessica Ennis, apart from Mo Farah…oh, apart from so many special moments, I loved some of the heats in the cycling Omnium – combining skill and judgement to remain in contention, while conserving every for the final sprint without ending up too far back in the pack and getting knocked out. Laura Trott did us proud in that event!

Now that it is all over, however, life seems just that little bit less exciting. I loved all the visitors on the tube that did not know where to go. I loved pointing Italians the correct way to the Victoria line. I loved showing people how to find the Javelin trains to the Olympic Park from St Pancras station. I loved the buzz, the excitement, the flags, the organised chaos, and now – something so major in our lives has gone. We are no longer the host of the next Olympics. That honour has passed to Rio de Janeiro. And that is a feeling we will all miss. Life seemed just a little bit less colourful today, and it was not just the muggy, cloudy skies over London. How could it be over?

Well, the truth is, it isn’t over. You might notice that I’ve referred to the “London Olympics” and not “the Games” or “London 2012”. This is entirely on purpose. For you see, we’ve become just a little bit addicted to the excitement of seeing athletes and medal ceremonies and soaking up the great atmosphere in the city. I was coming back from work today, and the tube seemed strangely empty. For it seems we want more. And more we will get. The Paralympics start in just over two weeks, and I think people are excited. They want to feel that buzz in the crowd, the packed venues, the breaking of records and the chance to cheer on some inspirational sportsmen and women. So in fact, it’s not over. We’ve just reached the half-way mark. And you know, I think the prospect of more to come is just what we need! It also makes me so proud to think that the London Paralympics will be sold out.

So on that positive note, and in honour of the 29 golden moments we’ve just had (and with the hope of a lot more to come) I’ve paid a little tribute of my own, with my top 29 posts to date (this is a food blog, after all). In true Olympic style, I’m happy that there is a good mixture of counties represented below, albeit that the UK is pretty well represented in this list too. And if you want a little soundtrack as you check them out, I suggest the classic Gold by Spandau Ballet or the slightly more disco-tastic Gold by Amanda Lear.

  1. Poffertjes (little Dutch pancakes)
  2. Easy Lemon Cheesecake
  3. Spicy Mixed Bean Stew
  4. Let’s make a Crunchie bar…
  5. Pan-Fried Feta
  6. Salted Caramel Macarons
  7. Ecclefechan Butter Tart
  8. Macaroon Bars
  9. Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)
  10. Easy Poffertjes
  11. Boterkoek (Dutch Butter Cake) for Koninginnedag!
  12. Making Paneer
  13. Take it sloe…
  14. Maids of Honour Tarts
  15. Quince Jam
  16. Galettes Bretonnes with Mushrooms
  17. Welsh Cakes
  18. Macarons à la framboise
  19. Semlor (Swedish Cardamom Buns)
  20. Lentil and Chick Pea Curry
  21. What to do with windfall pears?
  22. Pfeffernüsse
  23. Split Pea and Lentil Soup
  24. Oatcakes
  25. Horchata de Chufa
  26. On Location: Nordic Bakery (Soho London)
  27. Tonka Bean Macarons
  28. Red Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini
  29. Gooseberry Fool

That’s all for now, but I promise to include a few pictures from the various events I’ve attended shortly.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized