Prestige Flowers Bouquet

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Prestige Flowers is a leading UK florist online. As we know, the internet doesn't do any favours to its merchants and some trades come out of the experience without smelling of roses. As always it is important is to be able to redress the balance when feedbacks are not showing a company at its best, and it seems to me that Prestige Flowers is doing just that.

The bouquet I received to review was made with high quality stems arranged by trained florists. How do I know that? My very first job was in a flower shop. Prestige Flowers bouquet was an arrangement made to please, all in shades of pinks and greens.

My Lomond arrangement looked very much like its picture on the website. The bouquets are sized not by the stem, but by the worth of the flowers. Therefore the extra £5 for a medium bouquet is reflected in the value and rarity of the flowers.

The delivery was prompt and my instructions followed. The flowers were carefully packaged with a wet pouch around the tip of the stems to keep them watered. The box was strong and there was a card with essential tips and, a voucher for next time.

Disclaimer: I was sent this bouquet for this review. As always opinions are my own.

5 Recipes Celebrating the Humble Leek

The humble leek doesn't have to play second fiddle to the main ingredient. How about making leeks the star of your meal. Looking back at 12 years of recipes, here is what I found on Pebble Soup for you.

Let's start with Leek and Mustard Cheese Tart. This recipe is adapted from my signature dish Tarte á la Moutarde

Two for the soup fans: Leek and Chickpea Soup, a hearty, warming, one-course dinner which is comforting and low calories. The other couldn't be more different, it's a sophisticated cold soup, perfect as a starter for occasions, think St David's day, Mothers' day: Rocket Vichyssoise.

A savoury crumble where Leeks and Caerphilly are cooked down together in a gooey filing Savoury Crumble : Leek and Caerphilly/ Cheshire Cheese Crumble difficult to find a recipe more Welsh than this.

Fifth recipe but not least recipe, a classic Leeks au Gratin, an easy dish for when you are in a hurry seve with a salad or a thick slice of focciccia and you have a 10 minutes dinner preparation.

How do you celebrate Leek Season?

Pear Frangipane Tart

 Pear Frangipane Tart copyright Solange Berchemin

There is something definitely something a little quaint about Frangipane (butter, eggs, ground almonds creamed together). The sweet smell of ground almonds seems to be engrained in our collective memory if that makes sense. I read somewhere that in medieval times ground almonds was an essential ingredient and cooks used to sculpt marzipan into fantastic shapes.

In France, frangipane is best used on Epiphany for La Galette des Rois. Did I have the King's galette in mind, was it the meal at Drakes, or simply the few pears languishing in the fruit bowl? whichever it was, using a few shortcuts, a Pear Frangipane Tart was quickly whipped up.

                                              Pear Frangipane Tart

I used a shop-bought sweet pastry and I used it chilled, It's much easier all around.

For the Frangipane
175g soft butter
175g caster sugar
175g ground almonds
3 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 pears cut, cored and sliced.

Other recipes use plain flour. I didn't.

Preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5

Roll out the chilled pastry and line a 28 cm flan tin. Use a deep one if possible.

Cream all the ingredients together using a mixer, starting with the butter and sugar, then the sugar and last when it's all creamy add the eggs and the almond extract.

Spoon the frangipane mixture into the pastry case, level and arrange the pear slices on the top.

Cook for 45 minutes or until the filling is golden brown.

Enjoy with cream or vanilla ice-cream.

You may fancy something a little different, but still with pears, try this Pork Burger with Pear recipe

this recipe is link to
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Plates of Seduction at Drakes of Brighton

A visit to Drakes of Brighton starts at the bar with a pre-dinner apéritif. Select from the comprehensive list of bespoke cocktails and premium spirits and enjoy. An array of past and present celebrities have been known to do the very same. Indeed, it doesn't take much imagination to picture Cate Blanchett's reflection in the glazed cabinets or Sophie Dahl enjoying the stunning view of Brighton pier from the Regency lounge.  
Drakes Brighton Bar
Drakes of Brighton lounge bar picture courtesy of the hotel
To report on the best finds for special occasions, we need to experience them ahead of time. Christmas in July is now well known to Pebble Soup readers who, therefore, won't be surprised to read about Valentine's in January. 

This is how he came to savour a fragrant drum of light golden coloured 10 years old Ardberg from the Isle of Islay, while I opted for my favourite cocktail, a Love Potion, before moving on to the restaurant:

Don't be fooled Drakes isn't your round-the-mill 'Hotel-Restaurant'. It is one of buoyant Brighton's food-scene most popular and acclaimed fine-dining places. Still, it remains affordable. The quality of its dishes has not passed unnoticed, Drakes appeared in the Good Food Guide 2018, for the 10th consecutive year. 

I don't know about you, but when it comes to dining out, I relish with anticipation everything which goes with or prolongs the experience. My favourites are the small pauses between dishes, so much the better if they are filled with a few surprises. Which is exactly what happened at the start of the evening. To set the tone, our waiter delicately slid on the immaculate white table cloth, 'une assiette de foie gras' topped with a crispy nutty shard.

From the start, our sommeliere demonstrated extensive knowledge of wines and food pairing. She relished the challenge that was our choice of dishes. Indeed how do you pair foie-gras, scallops and soup with one wine? 
Pinot Gris from New-Zealand is the answer, and from then on, I knew that our pre-Valentine outing was in safe hands.

Seared scallops, Jerusalem Artichoke purée, Pancetta Jam and Salmon roe

Seduced by the name He had ordered a 'Crème Dubarry, Harrogate Blue Cheese Mousse and Walnut Oil'. 

Now pay attention, this is the background bit: 
Jeanne Du Barry was a high-class prostitute who had a liaison with King Louis XVI. She soon became his favourite and Marie-Antoinette's arch-rival. The moral of the story is they all lost their heads a little later, during the Revolution. 

And now for the foodie bit:
There is a difference between Crème and Velouté. The distinction resides in the liaison of the ingredient(s). Cream and egg yolk are used to bind a Velouté when a Crème calls for cream only.

Andy Vitez worked at Drakes as a Sous-Chef before accepting the position of Head-Chef. This is a chef who relishes working with local produce of the highest quality. Nowhere was it more apparent than with the Beef Fillet with Chateaubriand Sauce, a melt in the mouth, tender morsel, I was told, served with a glass of Carmenere, a wine harvested at 14% of alcohol, a happy moment.
Here, I could tell you a little about Monsieur de Chateaubriand but since this is our Valentine's date, I would not like to bore you. Let's therefore, continue with dessert: a Poached Pear Tart with Yogurt Ice-Cream. I wouldn't be surprised if a re-creation appeared on Pebble Soup HQ 's table soon.

Fillet of Steak at Drakes of Brighton

The accomplished range of dishes and the fantastic pairing are not the only reasons to choose Drakes for a special meal. With 40 cover only, the restaurant never feels packed. Moreover, the staff takes time to engage with every single diner, our waiter was knowledgeable, witty and discreet.

Dining at Drakes is an exquisite experience replete with chic and charm. With all the accolades received and its reputation for hosting celebrities, Drakes could be elitist but it's not the case at all, well-worth stretching the budget a little on a special day. 

Facts file:

A 2-course meal cost £37.00, £48.00 for 3 courses plus 12.5% service charge

At the bar classic champagne cocktails cost £10.50, Drakes will whip you up a treat from £8.50 less for a glass of spirit

44 Marine Parade, 
Brighton BN2 1PE
01273 696934

Disclaimer: Our dinner at Drakes was complimentary for review purposes. All views are my own. Pictures are my own unless stated otherwise. Please ask permission if you would like to use any of the content.

Sun-dried Tomatoes and the Dehydrator Conundrum

If you are keen on your snacks and contemplating a healthier regime? then, you may have been toying with the idea of investing in a dehydrator, I have. But, before parting with the kitchen cabinet's space which is at a premium made me think twice. A few experiments were called for.

Specialist machines for drying are not just for bananas and oranges, they can be used to make chips and dry herbs, but how often would that be done? After a little more research on how does this work? It was clear that the process of circulating dry air was not terribly complicated. In which case, would the oven be sufficient?

Sun dried tomatoes

He was the first to try the theory out, it took two goes but the dried peppered strawberries were a success. That was in the summer and nearing Christmas, the dried fruits are still on the window sill waiting for their allocation. I followed with cherry tomatoes at a time when there was a tomato glut.

Sun dried tomatoes

After two attempts, the tomatoes came out just so.

  • The first time, the temperature on the recipe was far too high. The correct temperature is 80C or gas mark 1/2
  • Slices need to be rather thick. Cut the tomatoes in half
  • Seeds can be taken out by turning the tomatoes on a plate, cut side down and squeeze. Though this is only for esthetic.
  • lay the fruits on a greased baking sheet, on a baking tray, preferably close to one another, but not touching.
  • and bake for 6 hours, yes, anything less will not work. 
  • When the tomatoes are cool, packed them in a jar and cover with oil
I didn't use salt but if you do, salt the tomatoes straight after cutting them up.

After the success of the oven method, the conundrum was settled, no dehydrator. It's a good idea but it would very much be a one minute wonder. 

Do you own a dehydrator? if so, please let us know in the comments box what are its advantages. 

Craft London, SE10 - The Magic of Christmas Menu

Craft London - Stevie Parle, Christmas menu

Go-on, ask me, 'Which is your favourite restaurant'? and you'll always get the same answer, 'Nothing beats Stevie Parle's combination of flavours, his inventiveness, seasonal dishes and Craft's choice of the very best of British produce'. Marina O'Loughlin, the restaurant critic, once wrote in the Guardian, 'I'll almost swim for Stevie Parle's Clay-Baked Duck'. No way I can top that as a short ride on the 188 bus takes me from home to the O2, but I would certainly skip all the way from North Greenwich station to Craft.

Craft London - Stevie Parle, Tom Dixon

The last time I visited Craft, I was wearing my the Greenwich Visitor Columnist's hat. We were shown to the bar-terrace on the third floor. It was a balmy summer's evening and Jared Brown, Sipsmith Gin's Master Distiller and founder, regaled us with his cocktails and life stories. On this wintery Monday evening, the bright and cheerful colours against the white background of the O2 had been replaced by sexy dark blues and copper hues. Craft London was designed by Tom Dixon who applied some spells of his own.

Craft London - Stevie Parle, Christmas snack

Stevie Parle was not in attendance but Thomas Greig, Head Chef was busy in the open kitchen.  When we got to say hello, Guess what? .......
Thomas asked me, 'Which was your favourite dish'? This time, I hesitated a little. Could I really say, the snack, probably not. But, I was spellbound, from the minute these two crackers, arrived on our table. Staged on top of dark green pine branches, topped with dots and translucid tiny bubbles, I didn't even attempt to find out the name of every ingredient, I didn't want to know; Magic was here.

The following course, IPA Devonshire Cured Trout with Kholrabi and smoked yoghurt didn't disappoint. At present, Craft smokes and cures in-house, waiting for Greenwich council to grant them the application needed to re-open their smokehouse. In a not-so-distant past, Parle used one of the small Greenwich Peninsular public parks as an orchard with bees. That had to move elsewhere as the developers moved in, forever adding to the density of this relatively new London district.

Thomas Creig was curious to hear what we thought of the duck pairing. Treacle Glazed Duck and Cherry Purée and though I would have preferred my duck slightly warmer, there were no worries to have over this dish. With its Pistachios and Figs, this is an inspiration for Christmas dinner, the BBQ Gem and  Pickled Walnut provided that little bit of crunch.

Next, our waiter who by then was my favourite waiter on earth (but that might change tomorrow) bought plates of 'Roasted Squash, Sage, Brown Butter and Foraged British Mushrooms'. At this stage, I really thought that Jeanne, who as always had been excellent company, had lost the power of speech. She was signalling with her fork, making strange 'yuumhmm' noises. No need to ask her which was her favourite dish. 

Craft Christmas menus come in two sizes, 3 courses or 5 courses. The mains on the evening we visited were Leicestershire Guinea Fowl or Monkfish Tail. Here three courses can easily become five and five eight as there is not only one but two desserts. If you are looking for a Christmas menu to remember, Stevie Parle's Craft is the place and please ask me anytime which is my favourite restaurant.

Craft London Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10, 020-8465 5910. Christmas menus run until the 21st December.

Disclaimer: We were guests of Craft. I was in no way influenced by any commercial initiative, words are my own. This article contains an affiliate link which means I earn a small commission for clicks and purchases.

Houghton Lodge Gardens' Apple Rooms in the Test Valley

'When the situation gets tough, the tough go fishing'. Mid-summer, I started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I was facing: 111 Places in the Lake District You Shouldn't Miss. So, when the opportunity to take a couple of days off arose, I jumped at it. Packed a few things, took Him by the hand and we were soon warmly welcomed at Houghton Lodge Gardens.

Houghton Lodge Gardens in the lovely Test Valley renowned for its fishing. It is only an hour and a half from Central London, the local towns are Winchester and Andover.

The House, home to the Busk family for more than a century, is set in 14 acres of gardens. What was once a barn is now a collection of six individual rooms, each beautifully designed and named after an apple.

The Apple rooms calming pale greens and soft reds furnished with antique pieces, most being more than 300 years, offer a sense of well-being as soon as one steps in. That doesn't mean that modernity has been ignored. Each room has a state of the art bathroom. The Cox's room has a bath in the bedroom. All have a kitchenette, some with a microwave, and to top it all each room in fronted by own terrace facing the lawn where the sunshine or a simple picnic/meal can be enjoyed.

Needless to say that this is the perfect setting to recharge batteries, and I am not referring to any tech. It is not surprising that this place is a favourite for weddings either.

The accommodation is tastefully done, private but convivial, the grade II listed Houghton Lodge self and its gardens are stunning.

Benefiting from a century or so of clever gardening, there is a display all year round. The walled garden offers one the longest espalier fruit trees in the country and 32 different varieties of apple trees.

It is an inspiration for gardeners. I would well recommend visiting if you were starting a vegetable garden as the raised beds and their flowers-companion planting are second-to-none.

If this was not enough, the Test Valley is famous for its fishing and the Houghton Lodge Gardens offers the opportunity to tickle trouts, grayling and pike. Having not fished for too many years, there was great anticipation when our fishing guide from Simon Fishing Breaks came to pick us up. Half a day of fun and discovery ensued.

I caught a trout in the first five minutes, to the cheers of 'Beginners Luck' but the giggly fishermen were soon proven wrong as two other wiggly fish were rapidly hooked in succession.

I hasten to add that they were promptly returned to the waters. We were shown how to use flies and our instructor let us use all the equipment necessary.

 We learnt how the River Test gave its name to the valley and we visited the eel traps with their walkway and fishermen thatched huts. A landscape to remind us of a lost way of life when the traditional British Jellied Eels and Pie & Mash were Cockneys' staple diet and dishes. Eels and eels liquor on pies were social levellers enjoyed by the richest and the poorest. They have long disappeared from the menus along with tripes and offals, though Pebble Soup HQ is joining modern chefs in their campaign for the revival of meat by-products. It's about time we stop wasting food, start using whole animals and vegetables and make the most of what is on offer. But this is another story..........

Disclaimer: We enjoyed two nights at the Houghton Lodge Gardens and half a day with Simon Fishing Break and would like to thank everyone involved. There

Facts Box

Houghton Lodge Gardens
SO20 6LQ
07973 215407 

Garden Admissions- Visit and information 01264 810502
Adults - £6.50
Children -3 years plus- £3.00

Simon Fishing Breaks
Simon Cooper - Founder & Managing Director
The Mill, Heathman Street, Nether Wallop,

Stockbridge, Hampshire SO20 8EW
01264 781988.



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