Animus - Portuguese Wine - An Aldi Find

At Pebble Soup HQ, we are trying hard to smile but after seven weeks of lockdown, we are really missing our international freedom of movement. We dream of times when traveling will be possible again, but in the meantime we  also recreate the taste of a country from our home. So last week we 'went to' the north of Portugal.
The Douro Valley photo credit RRuiCunha courtesy of the Portuguese Consulat 
No prize for guessing the number one thing visitors bring back from the area around Porto: Port wine of course, a fortified wine produced with distilled grape spirits exclusively in the Douro Valley.
Portuguese Wine, Aldi Animus

At Pebble Soup HQ, Port is not a favourite, but recently we tried Aldi Animus red wine. Animus is not fortified. Still, it is produced in the same area, the Douro Valley, with the same blend of grapes than Port, and let me tell you this wine tasting session was a success. We found Animus to be a great table wine, full bodied at the amazing price £4.99. Highly recommended.

Pairing AnimusWhat do Twitterers think: 

Stay safe, drink moderately and let me leave you with a quote from Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese author: “Life is whatever we make it. The traveler is the journey. What we see is not what we see but who we are.”

Disclaimer: this post is a review commissioned by Aldi in return for samples, no money was exchanged, words and opinions are my own

Vanilla Currant Loaf /Quick Bread

Vanilla Currant Loaf, quick Bread,
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I published this quick bread recipe 12 years ago, with the lockdown and all things homemade, I thought it was time to give it an airing. 

I love new bread recipes, this one has a very smooth texture which is the trademark of "quickbreads". 

Pay attention here comes the background bit:
Quickbreads differ from cakes which are made creaming butter/sugar/eggs or from breads made with yeast. Quickbreads are often associated with "Afternoon tea" a tradition started by the Duchess of Bedford in the mid 19th century. It is said that the Duchess could not wait from lunch till dinner, don't we know the feeling, so she requested to have a pot of tea with bread and small cakes. Very likely, finding it boring to eat and drink on her own, she started to invite her "aristo-mates" and started a trend.

Tips for you
In the quickbreads family, you will find scones, muffins, sodabreads, teacakes and other fruit or veg loaves such as pumpkin. Dead-easy to make, perfect for beginners, can't really go wrong, remember to sift the flour and make sure that the oven is preheated to 180C (350F/Gas 4) that is all. Ah! and mix the ingredients in the order the recipe tells you, quick breads allow neither anarchy nor cosmic order allowed.

Vanilla Currant Loaf

250g plain (9z/ 2cup) (all purpose) flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
60g (2 ½ oz) cold unsalted butter, chopped
115g (4oz/ ½ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
75g (2 ½ oz/ ½ cup) currants
1 large egg
170ml (5 ½ fl oz/ 2/3 cup) milk
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
sifted icing (confectioners') sugar, for dusting, optional
butter or cream cheese, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/Gas 4). Grease a 21 X 7 X 8 cm loaf (bar) tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar and currants, then make a well in the centre.

In another bowl mix together the egg, milk and vanilla, then pour into the well in the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until just combined.

Spoon into the prepared tin, smoothing the top. Bake for 45 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Just before serving, dust with icing sugar if desired.
Slice and serve with butter or cream cheese.

Vanilla currant loaf is best eaten on the day it is made, but can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 8 weeks.

This recipe was reproduced from Leanne Kitchen's "the Baker"

My Valentine's Day Gift Guide

Fun, Affordable, and Yummy, here are some gift ideas for Valentine's day.

Flowers arrangements and bouquets may be expected on V. Day, so what about keeping the floral theme but make it fun, funky and red-hot by opting for a gardening kit.  Sowlush has 7 kits to choose from. Their Chillies 'n' Spices kit includes the following:
I also like their Cool Cocktail Seeds Kits containing herbs and Cucamelon seeds.
You will find the kits here, at £14.95 each.

So near Christmas, you don't want to break the bank but on Valentine's Day, you wouldn't wish to look mean either. How about putting together a hamper? This is exactly what Wilko suggests, think of it as a Pick and Mix for grown-ups.

My personal choice is for soft, cosy and smelly nice. Oh yes, treats have to be fragrant. I opted for a luxurious crushed velvet effect throw in soft silver (£20). It looks very effective draped over the bed.

Reed diffusers are a great hit at Pebblesoup HQ but the cheap ones don't smell much and the more luxurious reed diffusers are rather expensive. Wilko's option cost only £4.00, the glass holder looks gorgeous and the scent truly is indulgent.

And when it is time to dim the light, lit up a 3 wick candle. Perfection in a hamper.

Of course, it wouldn't be Valentine's day without gorgeously presented, good quality food. Take a look at this:

There you have it, 2020 Valentine's Gift Guide.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post - I was sent some of the products in order to review them. As always opinions are my own.

Homemade Goat Cheese

At Pebble Soup HQ, we started to make our own goat cheese. It's not complicated, I would go as far as saying that with a good goat's milk, and a few tips, this disappearing ancient craft, could be easily revived, in your own kitchen.

Homemade Goat Cheese

At first, it was trial and error but a visit to a goat-farm put me right. There I learnt that the key is the goat's milk. Unpasteurised is best unless your immune system is deficient or you are pregnant. However raw milk is not easy to source, and for this reason, pasteurised full-fat goat milk will do. The keyword is full fat, anything but whole milk won't do.

My next point is almost as important as the first. Hygiene: everything, including your hands, has to be squeaky clean, soaked in boiling water, obviously not your mitts.

Things you'll need which you might not already have:
a jam/dairy thermometer, one which clips by the side of the pan, at least know how to recognise when the turning off the heat point is, a cheesecloth or muslin (I get mine from the chemist) and last but not least citric acid.

Firm and Crumbly Goat's cheese
4 pints whole goat's milk
1tsp citric acid
1 to 2 tsp salt

optional herbs or flavouring


Dissolve 1tsp of citric acid in 50 ml of water and leave this to cool to room temperature.

Pour the milk into a large pan, clip the thermometer to the pan and heat slowly to 190F/88C. Stir frequently. Turn the heat to low but don't remove the pan from the heat source. Before the foam subsides drizzle in the citric acid solution. Stir and cook for 30 seconds.

Now remove from the heat and continue to stir until you can see the curds.

Line a colander with the cheesecloth. Slowly pour in the curds and drain for 10 minutes. At this stage mix in the salt and any herbs or flavourings if desired.

Gather the cheese into a mound. Fold the cheesecloth corners and press very very very gently. Add a heavyweight or a pan full of water over the cloth and let it drain for at least an hour.

Mould your cheese into any shape you fancy and use immediately or leave it to chill in the fridge in a clean airtight container for up to a week.

Goat Cheese

Here is a recipe I made using the homemade goat cheese: Borek

Peanut Butter Cookies

Everyone who has followed my food column in the Greenwich local newspaper will know that I am mad about the food calendar - check 2020 list of National days here. National days always spur me on and National Peanut Butter Day is no different (24th January 2020).

This time around, I have another reason to take to baking: Antoine is coming back from his travels, 8 months in South America, it is time to get the peanut butter out and make his favourite, basically anything with peanut butter.

Sadly as you also know, I am not the greatest of bakers, help is often required. When I want a recipe, I tend to search in the blogosphere, then I cross-reference with recipe books or Chefs' sites.

I like Emma MT's blog: Cakes, Bakes and Cookies. Luck will have it that she had published one of her childhood-memory-recipes, all about peanut butter. After cross-referencing her instructions, it was time to bake.

Cross-referencing allows to adapt the recipe to your own requirements but it also adds to the general knowledge. Here, for example, the reference site explains that "apparently the traditional criss-cross pattern on top of peanut butter cookies is so you can distinguish them from other cookies" really quite useful for allergy sufferers.

Recipe-wise : Emma uses self raising flour, easier than having to make your own and 1/2 the amount of peanut butter.

The result couldn't have been better an empty biscuit tin by the time Antoine flew back to his beloved Savoie.

peanut butter, cookies, biscuits

  • 125g                    Butter (unsalted)
  • 140g                    Unrefined light muscovado sugar       
  • 1                          Egg (free range)       
  • 150g                    Self raising white flour
  • 125g                    Peanut butter (crunchy)
Preheat oven to 180C or 150 fan oven - Line two baking sheets with baking paper
In a bowl or a food processor, beat the peanut butter with sugar add the butter and process until smooth, gradually add the egg and the flour
When this is done, using a tablespoon take enough dough to fill the spoon and roll into ball, place on the baking sheet leaving a gap. 
Press with a fork until you get the desired thickness usually 1cm. Bake for
15 minutes.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Pay attention here are the eco-facts:

Each time you eat a PB&J for lunch instead of red meat, like a burger or a ham sandwich, you’re shrinking your carbon footprint by almost 3.5 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. You’ll also save 133 gallons of water and 24 square feet of land per each peanut butter and jelly lunch.

Crispy Potato & Lamb Hotpot

Have you noticed how much attention we pay to the first...the first...anything, really. But in this context, the first blogpost of the year. Like a needy person, it demands your entire attention. It is important to get it right, to make sure that it will keep the readers entertained. It needs to reflect the correct trend and set the tone for the rest of the year.

On the other hand, the last post of the year could be ....whatever, nobody would notice as long as it ends with a resounding Happy New Year. Though in the case of the Crispy Potato & Lamb hotpot, to ignore it, would be a mistake. Take it as a Lancashire Hotpot which has had a make-over, with its potato swirl, it is very pretty. One of the most succulent dishes, I made this year. And last but not least it is very easy to here we go.

Crispy Potato and Lamb Hotpot
700g lamb leg steaks
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, sliced
225g carrots, diced
1 celery stick, diced
800g potatoes, not peeled and evenly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (plus extra sprigs)
50g black pudding, cut into chunks
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
500-600ml hot lamb stock
25g butter, melted

Heat a tbsp of the oil in a lidded casserole. Add the onions, carrots and lamb, fry for no more than 10 minutes until the meat turns brown and the onions are soft.
Season with black pepper and stir through the flour.

Add the bay leaves and Worcestershire sauce to the pan, stirring to catch any bits sticking to the bottom. Add the stock, bring to simmer then cook with the lid on for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.

Meanwhile, slice the potatoes as thinly as you can.

Take the casserole dish off the heat and arrange the potato slices upright on top, your slices will need to be in small stacks, don't bother to separate. Create a few swirls. Drizzle with the remaining oil, season with pepper and top with 2 sprigs of thyme.

Cover the dish and cook in the oven for 1h30 mins. Remove the lid and cook for another 45 minutes. The potatoes will turn brown. Sprinkle with thyme and parsley before serving.

Happy New year - Thank you so much for visiting in your thousands to read this blog in 2019 - Just last month there was just over 21 000 of you popping in, and that is a lot of people...Thank you again. Hope to see you soon

Review : The Bay Tree Hotel - Broadstairs

A 10 metres tall, magnificent bay tree standing in a gorgeous patio, inspired the name of this newly refurbished Broadstairs' Hotel. The tree is said to be the oldest, the largest of its kind in Kent....and I managed to blank it out. I swear, I never saw that beauty. Was I sick? yes, I was harbouring a nasty flu. But, there was no way I would pass the opportunity to re-visit Broadstairs where I was told a fabulous hotel had recently opened: The Bay Tree Hotel.

The Bay Tree Hotel - Broadstairs

The story starts in 2016, when owners Alistair Dixon and Robert Stone bought their dream Victorian house overlooking Stone Bay, a few minutes walk from Broadstairs' centre. Three years and a considerable financial investment later, the pair have got their hotel the way they imagined it: furnished with repurposed antiques, impeccably decorated, with 'a sprinkle of magic', but more about this later.

As we arrived, we were greeted by Ben standing on a stunning Minton floor. Ben is the couple's Bedlington Terrier, fast becoming a little star on social media.

Bedlington Terrier

The Rooms:
The hotel is comprised of 10 rooms, each named after British woods and many feature colours that reflect the sea and its surroundings. The balcony sea view room, English Oak, incorporates pastel blues to reflect the colours of the sea.

Alistair showed us to the Walnut Room which has a partial view of the sea through an Oriel window. The palette is grey, light aubergine with accents of yellow. My foggy brain refuses to register the connection between the colours and the named wood but my body almost flies to a comfortable, oh! so comfortable bed.

A visit to the en suite wet room later with its toiletry specifically designed for the Bay Tree and I'm as good as new. Down the 'magic staircase' again towards the library and the restaurant where Head Chef, Volodymyr Slobodyan is waiting for us. But, before meeting him let's pause for a minute.

The Magical Art Collection:

The hotel has partnered with Mina Lima, the official graphic prop designers of the Harry Potter films, to create a gallery of the artwork featured in the films.     Graphic designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima met on the set of Harry Potter in 2001 and have worked together ever since to produce all the artwork and props for the Harry Potter and more recently, the Fantastic Beasts films.      The owners of the Bay Tree Hotel have purchased 132 limited edition prints of Lima’s  Harry Potter artwork. The limited-edition prints are on display in the staircase, lobby and hotel’s library, with the collection rotating throughout the year.   
The Restaurant:
Back to Head Chef who comes to think of has a name worthy of a J.K. Rowling's character and infectious energy. At the start, Vlod is slightly concerned about my ability to eat a 3-course meal. I quickly reassure him, 'It will take more than the flu to keep me away from my food...and I do intend to be cremated with a knife and fork, just in case.....'. He looks half-convinced before presenting us with a ramekin of olive which he cures himself. Trained by Angela Hartnett, he joined The Bay Tree restaurant in Summer 2018.

Our starters, a Parsnip and Apple Soup for my partner and Scallops on Butternut Squash and Pumpkin for me had a hint of sweetness and both dishes were pleasant. My dish took another dimension thanks to the Homemade Seed Pesto. That was genius


Our mains Dover Sole and Pan-Seared Cod followed the same pattern, classic English dishes with seasonal ingredients and an innovative side dish. In my case, the chunky piece of cod with freshly picked samphire was almost enough, its tagine although I understand why it was there and was extremely well executed didn't add much.

Each dish was paired specifically. But, I'll let you discover the pairings for yourself, the restaurant does a 5-course tasting menu with wine pairing. Moreover, one doesn't have to be a guest to enjoy the restaurant. It is open to all.

Next morning after a restorative porridge for me and a full English for him, it was time to say our good-byes to Ben with the secret promise to meet again, after all, I still have to see 'The Tree'.


Want to know more about Broadstairs? click here: not planning a visit to Ramsgate too? Click here

The Bay Tree Hotel at 12 Eastern Esplanade, Broadstairs. Call 01843 862 502 or click here for the website Twitter: @baytreehotel - Facebook: Bay Tree Hotel Broadstairs Instagram: Baytreebroastairs 
Disclaimer : I would like to thank the owners and Head Chef for their hospitality. Accommodation and dinners were provided in order to write this review. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.

St Agur and Parsley Sauce

I first arrived in London roughly at the same time as Raymond Blanc emigrated to England. I grant it to you, emigrating the same year is a tenuous connection. However, when I was asked to write about one of Chef Blanc's St Agur Blue recipes I couldn't resist. On reflection, it might have been the opportunity to cook with St Agur which made me come out of blog-posting retirement. Whichever of the two, I am glad I did.

St Agur looks a little like Roquefort with its coloured mould veins, though the end product is far less salty and much creamier. It comes from the same area, L' Auvergne, the Velay mountains to be precise. But, if Roquefort goes back to 1411, cheese lovers had to wait for a little over 550 years to enjoy St Agur. This relatively new cheese was developed in 1988 a little after Raymond and I moved to England.

Cooking with blue cheese is not easy, one has to judge perfectly how much to add to the dish or the cheese will quickly overcome the other flavours. I thought a versatile Parsley Sauce would be a good bet for those who would like to jazz up their menu. Sorry, Raymond, your recipe was a tat too strong for our taste but it's easy to tweak.

For the vegetarian version think endives, as the slightly bitter taste will be mellowed by the strong flavour of the cheese

Here we go, and as a treat, I have added some of Chef Raymond Blanc's other suggestions

St Agur and Parsley sauce

25g butter, unsalted
25g plain flour
250ml whole milk
100g St Agur Blue Cheese (personally I would go for 70g and add more if necessary)
1 bunch parsley chopped finely

Melt the butter in a saucepan, 
Remove from the heat and stir in the flour, add the milk and whisk until the butter and flour have evenly dispersed.
Back on the heat and bring to boil, stirring all the time
Simmer for 2 minutes 
Take off the heat, whisk in the St Agur blue cheese and chopped parsley and place in a sauceboat ready to serve with ham.

More recipes on Pebble Soup with Blue Cheese
Pork Burger with Blue Cheese 

Disclaimer: I was contacted by St Agur's PR to review the recipes. I received samples for the trial, no money was exchanged, views are my own.


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