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
Ingredients:
4 pints whole goat's milk
1tsp citric acid
1 to 2 tsp salt

optional herbs or flavouring

Method:

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

Ingredients
  • 125g                    Butter (unsalted)
  • 140g                    Unrefined light muscovado sugar       
  • 1                          Egg (free range)       
  • 150g                    Self raising white flour
  • 125g                    Peanut butter (crunchy)
Method
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 make....so here we go.

Crispy Potato and Lamb Hotpot
Ingredients
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

Method
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

Scallops

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'.

Extras:

Want to know more about Broadstairs? click here: www.enjoybroadstairs.co.ukWhy 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


Ingredients:
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

Method:
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.

Venison Meatballs with Molten Paté Centres

venison, meatballs


There are already two recipes for meatballs on Pebble Soup. One called Tzirani Gololig which is an Armenian recipe with an apricot sauce, and a family meatballs recipe straight from Morroco. Both are made with lamb. The one, I'd like to share today was provided by Wild and Game a not-for-profit company on a mission to boost game consumption.

What a week to choose to talk about game-meat, just as grouse shooting for sport is making the headlines. I'm not going to re-open the controversy with this post, primarily because I'm fairly ambivalent about shooting wild animals. I am among those who dislike the idea but, coming from a family of farm-hands whose hobby was hunting, I can't bring myself to condemn the activity irrevocably.

Having said this, introducing diversity in a meat-based diet seems to be a good idea. All of which leads me to venison. It contains about half the calories of beef and is high in protein. Funny enough, the term comes from the Latin verb venari meaning "to hunt".


And here is the recipe courtesy of Wild and Game

Meatballs with molten Wild and Game pate centres
 It makes a great starter or tapas dish and works beautifully as a sauce with pasta.
  
Makes 16-18 meatballs (feeds 4-6)

Ingredients

For the meatballs

3 slices (about 120g) white bread
500g pork mince and 500g beef mince – or for a richer version use venison for a leaner version use turkey or chicken
2 tsp mixed Italian herbs
1 tsp garlic granules
3 medium eggs
Salt and pepper – a couple of pinches of each
1 x 120 g tub of Wild and Game Pheasant, apple and Calvados pate, the centre can be substituted too with chicken liver paté
A generous glug of olive oil
  
For the tomato sauce (double this if you like a lot of sauce, or if you are serving with pasta)

1 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
1 pinch chilli powder
2 pinches ground cumin
1 pinch ground coriander
2 tins tomato
A glug of olive oil
Salt and pepper
  
Method

First, make the meatballs:

  1. Pre-heat the over to 200 degrees centigrade/gas mark 6.
  2. Tear the bread into pieces and place it in a food processor and whizz until you have fairly fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add all the other ingredients except for the oil, whizzing between additions, until they are all finely chopped and fully mixed.
  4. Using a dessert spoon, measure out a spoonful of the mixture, make an indentation in it with your thumb, and pop in about a third of a teaspoon of pate. Take another spoonful of the mix, place this on top, and roll in your hands until you have a ball. Place on a plate and repeat until all the mixture is used up.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a wok or large frying pan, and cook the meatballs, turning regularly, until well browned. As each one if browned, remove it and place it on a greased baking tray.
  6. Place all the browned meatballs in the oven for about 10 minutes until cooked through. Serve with the sauce.

To make the sauce:

  1. Chop the onion and crush the garlic.
  2. Fry in the olive oil until soft.
  3. Add the spices and cook for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 20 minutes.
  5. Season to taste.


Organic Coconut Milk Powder Review & Rice Pudding Recipe

Organic Coconut Milk Powder Review

What is Indigo Nutrition's Organic Coconut Milk Powder? It's an evaporated coconut milk in powder form which doesn't contain casein, therefore, perfect for vegans

How does it work? The powder can be made into coconut milk or cream, by adding hot water to the ratio of 3/4 tablespoons for 250ml of water.

How organic is it? As we now know, when considering how organic a product is, not only do we have to consider the origin but, also the packaging. This product comes in a pouch which we hope is recyclable. Although, nothing indicates this on the packaging. The coconut powder is 100% organic. 

Pay attention, here come the stats. (from BBC News)
A quarter of British people are now drinking non-dairy milks, according to market research firm Mintel, who spoke to 2,000 people.
The biggest users of non-dairy milk are 16-24 year olds - 33% are drinking them.
But plant-based milks make up just 4% of the milk market, with 96% of milk sales in 2018 being for cow's milk. "Concerns around health, ethics and the environment" are driving sales of plant-based milks, says Emma Clifford, who looks after food and drink research at Mintel.
Health was the reason why 37% of 16-24 year olds said they'd reduced how much cow's milk they've been drinking in the last 12 months. The impact on the environment was also a concern among that group - with 36% saying dairy farming isn't good for the environment. 

So plant-based kinds of milk are on the up and quite rightly so. 

At Pebble Soup HQ, we have been using coconut milk a lot, added to curries or dahl such as this Prawn Sambal recipe. But it has always been coconut milk in a tin.

curries, prawn, coconut milk

How does the powder differ from the tin?

The first thing I noticed was the waste management. This resealable airtight foil pouch eliminates the leftover half tins problem. It's easy to control the amount required. Tin milk appears richer but only because it is more concentrated. The powdered milk is light and doesn't overpower the other ingredients in the dish. However, for my taster recipe, I would add desiccated coconut to the dish next time to showcase the coconut taste.


Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk 
In India, rice pudding is flavoured with cardamon, in France with vanilla, For classical rice pudding, nutmeg is the spice of choice. Using Arborio rice didn't add to the taste but it baked as it absorbs more of the milk better than ordinary rice.

Rice Pudding, Coconut Milk

Ingredients
500ml of reconstituted coconut milk
70g of Arborio rice
1 tbs of sugar
a little coconut oil to grease the oven-dish
nutmeg (optional) see other options above

Oven temperature 160C

Method
Simmer the milk until hot, add the sugar.
Then the rice, let it cook for a minute
Prepare the ovenproof dish by lightly greasing the sides and bottom
Transfer the content of the pan to the dish
Slide the dish in the oven, after half an hour, take it out and give the mixture a swirl with a tablespoon.
Put back in the oven and let it cook for 45 minutes to an hour.
Serves with compote or jam.

Can be eaten hot or cold.
Rice Pudding, Coconut Milk


Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. The words are my own and this post reflects my opinion.













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