Give Away # 8 : Dr. Oetker's Edible Decorations & Baking Products

I used Dr. Oetker's Shimmer Sugar to decorate cupcakes and you can imagine how popular the sparkling little cakes have been with kids. It is little details that make baking pleasurable adding a pretty lustre finish by springling pink, white, purple &  blue decorating sugars, inserting stars moons and hearts on the icing is in a way not much but it makes all the difference.

However very often we buy one or at a strech may be 2 decorating products,  it is why I am ever so pleased to announced July Give Away : A lovely bunch of Dr. Oetker's decorating products which will go a long way especially now that schools are out and that kids are once more trying their baking skills.
One lucky winner will be send a parcel containing the following exciting Dr. Oetker's baking and decorating products :

One jar Shimmer Sugar, to give a glimmer finish to cakes 

One Cake Release Spray, a vegetable oil spray used by professional bakers 

Two packs of Chocolate Fudge Chunks, perfect for baking in cookies & muffins

One pack of  Chocolate Stars, Moons and Hearts, Ideal for sprinkling on desserts, cakes, buns, biscuits and ice cream

This giveaway will run until the 8th August at 22.00h. Products are offered by Dr. Oetker and it is opened to all readers residing in the UK & Ireland.

The winner will be chosen using an online randomiser and announced on the 9th August, I'll contact the winner soon after the draw to get a postal address & Dr. Oetker's PR will be responsible for sending the prize
There is one main way to enter: leave a comment on this blog to tell me what is your favorite bake from cookies to cakes there is plenty to choose from.
For a second chance to win: please tweet the following sentence and comment telling me you have done so
Click here for a chance to enter Pebble Soup  latest give away and win decoration and baking products @SolangeWeb
For a third chance to win: Please follow me @solangeweb on Twitter and comment below to tell me you have done so.

Last but not least my thanks to Dr. Oetker for offering their products

Chard - RIP -

This post will have no photo, not many words either. It was a sad day today at the allotment as Chard which got winched out of its socket last week, died. I am told that squirrels pull plants out to eat their roots. Be aware of the little rodents.

Baking Betty Crockers' Cupcakes

I was asked if I wanted to review one of Betty Crocker's must-try product. At this stage, I could make things up for language fioriture sake and tell you that Betty Croker asked me to help her out but:

a) Betty Crocker never existed - it is a made up name-
b) I have to be careful about lexis as this story shows.

The product in question: Cupcake mix. Not being sure how I felt about cupcakes but going to a BBQ and in need of food which would travel easily on two buses I found the offer opportune and gladly accepted. I knew I was not going to produce what I understand is called Gourmet cupcakes, larger cupcakes based around a theme, the type one sees in specialists' shops.

I was happy  to settle for standard cupcakes as long as they rose which has always been my problem with cakes, they often look as flat as  yes .... pancakes. It was my chance to shine and rise, except that I do not own a cupcake tray. Off to the neighbours and back with 9 silicon moulds which looked like a rainbow when lined up on an oven tray.

The instructions at the back  of the Betty Crocker packets indicate that I would only require 10 minutes to get the mix ready for baking and then 16 minutes for baking- I needed to add water, oil, milk, and two eggs- my first effort concentrated upon the lemon mix which stretched as far as 8 cupcakes, not the promised 9. They did all rise and though it took me 20 minutes to mix, it worked well.
Should I have been able to make cupcakes without the mix. The obvious answer is yes but remember the pancake effect.

The icing - was the bit that amazed me - I have never been able to make a proper icing and here it worked without effort. Now I understand that the secret is to keep working that icing sugar with very little liquid.

I have one grumble : the fluted paper cups, it would not cost much more to include coloured paper cups instead of plain white after all cupcakes thrives on their looks. Moreover the paper cups are far too large and little cupcakes looked a bit drowned.

Attempt number two with the chocolate mix, produced more or less the same results, relatively faster. The acid test was always going to be  in the eating. Back to the neighbours with 5 empty silicon moulds and 4 cupcakes. They loved them, praised their moist textures and I now get great big grins when I met my neigbourgs in the street. Personally I thought that the taste of the baking powder was slightly too strong.

As for the BBQ, it may not have been a great choice of cake. On arrival the host told me, "you should not have bake fairy-cakes on my account." I knew the host was gay and that in Australia cupcakes are called fairy cakes but it never occurred to me ....anyway, on the spur of the moment, the only answer that came to my mind  was "I didn't bake them, Betty Crocker did."

My verdict : 
+ the mix is really convenient, and can be used with kids
- the taste of baking powder comes through a little bit too much
+ there is a lot of fun recipes on the Betty Crocker's website
- Paper cases are not pretty and too big
+The icing is really good and easy to make
+ The cupcakes are moist and light
+ cupcakes mixes are available from ASDA,Waitrose and Morrisons RRP £2.15. which adds up to £0.23 per cupcake.

You may have noticed that some of the cupcakes were sprinkled with glittering sugar and decorated with Daisies stay posted as these sparkles are going to be Pebble Soup's next Give Away

Mint Ice-Cream with Bourbon, Chocolate and Meringue Nuggets

Mint. I associate mint with tea and hot summers, it is always a pleasure to  inhale mint's flagrant fresh aroma. In Greek mythology Mint was known  as the herb of hospitality a perfect  fit for Maison Cupcake blogging event, hosted by a delightful blog: Soul Curry.

I have very little time for  Nigella, I can't really see the attraction though Sarah of Maison Cupcake has tried to explain it to me on several occasions. But that was not going to deter me to enter her Forever Nigella event. I had to bid my time a little and wait for a topic which I felt comfortable enough with so not to have to trawl through piles of Nigella's recipes.
As you may have noticed I am going through a phase of ice-cream mania - I was pretty certain that Nigella would have a recipe for mint ice-cream and lo and behold, she did.  The interesting addition to her mint ice-cream is Bourbon, my own added nuggets are chocolate and crushed meringue.

When adding alcohol to ice-cream is lowers the point of freezing same with sugar- therefore it takes longer to freeze. Now pay attention that's the scientific bit: too much alcohol and it will not freeze at all. So refrain to add an extra splash you need only to add enough to be able to taste it-
For the non-scientific bit: nothing stops you to have a glass on the side. In her recipe Nigella adds 1/4 cup of Bourbon. Why can't metric be used? that defies my understanding (though Nigella's website has a table of conversion) but there you go, it is 65ml.

Bourbon Mint Ice-Cream with Chocolate and Meringue Nuggets


250 ml whole milk 
65ml Bourbon
150 g caster sugar
500 ml double cream
100g plain chocolate (70% cocoa) chopped
30 g chopped fresh mint leaves
2 large egg yolks
Warm the milk, cream, Bourbon and the mint, turn the heat so that it almost boil. Reduce and cook gently for 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature until it cool slightly.

Strain the mint-infused mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium saucepan (the milk will be a lovely shade of emerald). Press on the mint leaves to extract as much of the flavor as possible, then discard the mint leaves.

Meanwhile in a separate heatproof bowl , beat the eggs and sugar, using an electric whisk, until thick and pale. Gradually beat the milk mixture into the egg mixture. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and continue stirring until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove the bowl from the heat and cover the surface directly with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming allow the custard to coool completely before refrigerating for at least 1 hour.

Once chilled, chum in an ice-cream maker, stop 5 minutes before the end to add chocolate and meringue. Transfer to a freezer bowl and leave in the freezer.

Chard Alert

You will never believe this in a million years- Yesterday, I left Chard  in companie of newly planted giant pumpkins. I was pretty certain that Chard will be able to hold its own grounds even if the pumpkins are really giant.

Today, at lunch time, I thought that I should check anyway. Lo and behold, somebody had attempted to steal Chard. Steal to steam, I bet.

When I got to the park Chard looked like so. All unearthed with some of its branches broken and its roots up in the air.

I am being told that it may be the wicked doings of an animal........or may be, just may be the giant pumpkins but look at them, they look so sweet, butter will melt on their skin.

After a little bit of restoration, a few bucket of earth (and by the way, nothing like an old cementery to get good earth) I left chard looking much happier

Guest Blog Post : Benefits of Food Hygiene Training Online

Sometime ago, I started a food hygiene training which sadly I never completed, wrong course, lack of support. Since then, I could have made use of the certificate, so here is a guest post which I hope you'll find useful:

Benefits of Food Hygiene Training Online
Food safety training is vitally important for any business dealing with food; this could be catering, manufacturing or in a retail capacity. Getting the right food hygiene certificate is essential too and High Speed Training provides training and certificates for each sector.

The benefit of their service is based in the flexibility and convenience available in completing the training online. When you buy a food hygiene course from High Speed Training, you are given login details so you can access the syllabus from anywhere, even the comfort of your own home.

This is proving to be vital for food managers who need to get their staff trained up to the right standard. Find the right course online now.

How Long Does a Food Course Take to Complete? 
When you buy a food hygiene course online with High Speed Training you can soon have the correct level of food safety training. Typically, the course, whether retail, catering or manufacturing based, will take around two hours complete.

What’s more, because you are given your own set of unique login details you can complete the course whenever you want. You can even save your progress and return to it at a more convenient time should you need to.

High Speed Training will also allow you to print out a copy of your certificate upon completion as proof. They also offer a number of bulk purchase discounts; ideal for managers who need to train up a lot of staff.

Find the right Food Hygiene Course on the cie website.

Bistro du Vin

Working on Pebble Soup I get to visit some good restaurants and taste some fine food. Writing for Boutique, I got to interview Robert Cook, the CEO of  Hotel du Vin and Malmaison.  A man with a seriously impressive work ethic and an ambition to establish a strong focus for Du Vin brand. A focus in which food and wine play a huge part. Check-in at any Hotel du Vin and you will possibly end up eating in their restaurant.

Now we don't have to check in anywhere as Robert Cook's vision for Du Vin brand expansion includes Bistro du Vin. During our interview Robert Cook explained that he believed in fresh products, homegrowned not flowned. However, often enough, what the head thinks has a tendency to dissolve and  the message gets lost down the line.
Not here, I was expecting good food, nice presentation, we got much more than that. It was an experience, with us, the diners, at its heart.

I find eating out very much a balancing act, it is nice to be looked after but you don't want a waiter to watch your every move or do a Houdini act on you when you need something. At Bistro du Vin the staff has found the right balance. Being known for zooming around,  When he and I arrived, we were asked if we wanted to go directly to our table.

But that evening there was no rush, and that was immediately picked up upon. We were presented with Chase 'Summer fruit punch' and seen to a comfortable seat by the bar. William Chase distillery has created this official cocktail for the opening. This bespoke creation may be a little pricey (£10) but just look at the ingredients: borage, lemon and orange peel, rose petals, elderflower, raspberry, blackcurrant and other summery ingredients oups almost forgot Chase Vodka

Having had time to peruse the menu, we got a tour of the glassed room where cheeses and cured meats are stored and sampled but more about this later.

After some friendly negotiations among ourselves, he ordered Foie gras & chicken liver parfait (£7.95) and I looked forward to eat Cornish crab and toasted sourdough (£9.50).

Bistro du vin offers good value for money.
My crab dish was definitely full of flavour and super-fresh, sourced from Cornwall.  his parfait/foie gras arrived in a "bocale" which added a rustic touch. In effect all the dishes on the menu reminded me of my childhood in Lyon minus "lots of cream and butter" which seemed to be part of the Lyonnaise diet when I was growning up.

Mains consisted of Sole Bonne Femme (£13.50). The fish was perfectly boned, I love the delicate texture of sole but overcook it and it crumbles that was not the case, my sole was firm rolled into a little parcel, accompanied by mussels and clams of which they were plenty on a light creamy sauce- simply delicious - he seemed perfectly pleased with veal parmigana (£18.50) and I promised to make it and share the recipe with you. steamed vegetables and thin crisp chips completed this course. On recommendation we drunk Menetou- salon 2010.

Wine is the very lifeblood of the bistro, their master sommelier is Ronan Sayburn. The group runs full-blown wine school week-end called "Ecole du Vin."

Back to the beginning, as we were on our way to the table, we were "diverted" towards a sort of "glass house" for cheeses and dried cured meats where        we were introduced to some 70 pre-selected cheeses. It was great fun to hear about Dolly the goat which kindly provided the milk for that very cheese. At the end of our meal the enthusiast person who had shown us around  came back with a specially prepared cheese plateau (£16 for 2).

Bistro du vin offers a plat du jour (averaging £12) which changes every day. The wine pairing is also very interesting, shame there is never enough time, if you visit any of the Du Vin establishments, don't hesitate to ask about the provenance of, well, of everything from drinks to glasses. Everything seems to have a story. For the readers who live outside London -the brand also has Pubs du Vin-

We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was curious, I am now a fan. The food could not be faulted, the service was impeccable and the staff seems to have a enthusiasm which is almost contagious.

Bistro du vin
36 Dean Street
London W1D 4PS
020 7432 4800

My thanks to the Bistro du Vin for having us as guests

Summer Bells with Chicken and Beans

Jill Dupleix, author of Lighten Up, has created a fresh and healthy recipe,  only problem and a clue is in the title Winter Greens with Chicken and Beans. Not wishing the summer away nor wanting to wait, with a little tweak this simple, and quick to cook dinner, became Summer Bells with Chicken and Beans.

Serves 4
2 red bell peppers
1tbsp olive oil
4 chicken drumsticks
2 chicken breasts, with skin
1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
600g (1lb 5oz) canned borlotti beans, rinsed
few thyme sprigs, plus extra to serve
300ml  hot vegetable or chicken stock


Deseed and chop the peppers

Heat the olive oil in a large, lidded frying pan. Sear the chicken, skin-side down, for 5 minutes on each side, until golden. Remove the chicken, season well and set aside.

Cook the onion in the pan for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the beans, thyme and stock, and season well. Return the chicken to the pan and cover the lid. Simmer gently for 30 minutes or until cooked.
Add the peppers and simmer for 5 minutes.

Mash a few beans into the sauce to thicken it. Scatter with fresh thyme and serve on warm plates.

Week-End Picture -

Definitely the girl for the job

This was a studious week-end, I was on an assignment in Bournemouth where I stayed at The Chocolate Boutique Hotel. A fun and lucrative concept.

Ice Cream! by Pippa Cuthbert & Lindsay Cameron Wilson

The idea behind getting Lakeland Kitchen ice-cream maker was to make lots of  sorbets and the occasional ice-cream and in doing so being able to control the calories provided by one of the most luscious desserts. But I needed a guide for my icy-desserts.  Ice Cream! by Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson provided just that and much much more.

From semifreddo to gelato, granita to sorbet, this book delves into the cool world of ice cream, exploring classic flavours like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry along with more unusual ones such as Apple and Rosemary frozen yogurt or Geranium Leaf sorbert and some even more than more unusual which will fire up the imagination such as Goat's cheese and honey ice cream.

Ice Cream! is beautifully presented, not every recipe has a photo but not every recipe needs one either. Having said that, there are plenty of pictures which give presentation ideas. After the introduction, the next 20 pages are devoted to the chemistry of ice-cream, ingredients, tips and types. Followed by over 80 ice cream recipes for all occasions.

Let's remember that an ice-cream is not only for summer, it is also great for celebrations whatever the weather, therefore, having a tub of homemade ice-cream ready is rather useful so is this book.

Ice Cream! is published by New Holland and written by Pippa Cuthbert & Lindsay Cameron Wilson retail price £9.99.

Ricetatouille- a Rice Ratatouille

When we first moved in together he came complete with a cookbook entitled Cooking for One. Back then, cooking was not ranking very high in my list of preoccupations but when I was eating, I was eating for five. So Cooking for One ended up in the cupboard till the other day.......

When I was looking for a bit of inspiration. You see this book is a thin but solid, no nonsense, type of recipe book with some innovative recipes such as Beef Crumble and more traditional others such ratatouille , a  dish which has long been a  favourite of mine.

This is rustic and "clever" ratatouille. The rice is cook in the same pot as the vegetables so there is no need for several pans -clever-. It takes about 25 minutes, it is full of  vegetables and the starch in the rice water give this dish a nice consistency.

Rice Ratatouille
You can ommit or add ingredients according to how you feel or what is in your veg basket. serving suggestion: fish
this is for 2/3
280g cooked rice
1 small green pepper, seeded and diced
2  courgettes, diced
1  medium tomatoes, diced
1  aubergine, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1/2 pint of stock made with vegetable powder
2 tablespoons oil
ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the green pepper, onion, garlic, tomato, courgettes and the aubergine slices. Fry all together for 10 minutes. Add the rice, stock, salt, pepper and herbs. Pour the stock in. Cover for a further 25 minutes by the end of the cooking check that it is not drying out if so add a little more water.

Ora - Thai Restaurant -

Ora is a Thai restaurant in a back street of Oxford Circus. Blink and you'll miss it. Behind the unassuming exterior lies a lobby with comfortable sofas, golden sculptures and low tables. It is where I met up with Michelle as in Greedy Gourmet who had arranged for a get together and a review of the place.

As we waited for Jeanne of Cook Sister! and another friend, we perused the long cocktail list. If there is something  very impressive about Ora it is their cocktail bar.
I was lucky with my first choice vodka based Watermelon drink, so much so that I ordered another cocktail but this time their non-alcoholic, Ora Lover which should not remain a secret, it is fresh to the palate with its hints of Lychee, watermelon, elderflower and cranberry juice.

The service throughout was smiling and certainly very attentive, the waitress shown us to a tablein a dark and sultry dining room with low pink lighting. By the time we finished our meal the room was buzzing.

The menu reads like these in the Mango Tree or the Busaba Eathai where the executive chef  Tamas Khan comes from. Thai meals are all about balance and subtlety layered flavours, and my meal was all this. My friends were far less lucky. The mixed starter platter or Silk Trader to give it its proper name was filled with fried dishes Prawn Tempura which I liked, the rest: Corn Fed Chicken Satay,  Pork Dumplings,  Crab Cakes and Vegetable Spring Rolls were unremarkable.  My favorite starter by a mile was the Mien Nam dried Shrimps on Betel leaves with Ginger, Lime, Coconut, Pomelo and Peanuts.

For main I went with the recommendation Pla Paow, grilled sea-bream wrapped in a Banana Leaf with herbs & Sweet and Sour sauce - the fish was cooked to perfection and I loved the flavours. The other dishes were Kaeng Ped Phed Yang, Red Duck Curry with Lychee, Cherry Tomatoes, Chillies and Sweet Basil Hoy Shell Pad Nam Prik Paow, Fresh Scallops with Thai House Spicy Sauce and Sweet Basil and my least favorite Ped Yang Nam Makam, Grilled Duck Breast with Sweet & Spicy Tamarind Sauce.

Could we fit anything else? oh yes. Again I am glad I went for the Sarm Sa-Hai, a selection of traditional Thai desserts with ginger tea as the gorgeous looking Pavlova, the Chocolate Cheesecake and the Pineapple Pie didn't meet with our approval.

Our meals were on complementary basis and I would like to  thank Ora's management for the opportunity to enjoy their restaurant. Prices at Ora are high. Service is delightful but so it is in most of the Thai restaurants I have visited. I loved the attention to details. The main courses were very well prepared and good as for the cocktails, starters and the desserts, the quality varied too much between drinks/dishes making it a hit or miss affair.

6 Little Portland Street

Ora Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chard and Baby Leaves

It has been brilliant to know that every week, I have a couple of hours when I can switch off, dig earth, plant things and moreover watch Chard grow. I have wanted to do this for a decade but the size of our garden and the lack of light does not allow it. Just stating facts, not complaining, one can't have every thing.

Sometimes, little, non important, events have an impact. It was the case when I noticed that not only chard was growing but also was having baby leaves. There is something to be said for getting satisfaction out of gardening. Though it is not immediate reward, it is not far off. Capital Growth has projects all over London, if you are interested here are the details of Capital Growth project 761 go back a couple of notches on the website type in your postcode, you never know.......

Red Lentils and Sweet Potatoes Hummus

3 years ago the Lebanese government tried to make a copyright claim over hummus accusing Israelis to have ursuped "It".

When I was a kid, I lived part-time at my grand-father's, the flats in his tower block were occupied mainly by immigrants. Muslim and Jewish families were for ever lending a helping hand to one another and hummus would travel up and down the stairs carried by the likes of us (the little ones) as a thank you token. Therefore the whole incident of claiming hummus as one country's property strikes me as bizarre since hummus has been part of middle eastern meals for centuries.
I was reflecting on that the other day whilst try out a new kind of hummus made with red lentils and sweet potatoes. It is obviously different but as good as. It is also an excellent alternative to the real thing so may be we should put this one forward as the real hummus, would not help peace in the middle-east but at least it would stop silly arguments.
Red Lentils and Sweet Potatoes Hummus
• 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks• 250g  red lentils
• 1/4 fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)• 2 or 3 T Tahiti• 2 T olive oil• 2 t ground cumin• 1 garlic clove, chopped• Coarse salt and pepper
• paprika (optional)• Pita bread and/or veggies, for serving

Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add sweet potatoes, garlic,  cumin and paprika and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Stir in water to cover and lentils and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer until lentils and sweet potatoes are soft, 15 to 18 minutes and you get a sort of "mush" 
Transfer contents of pot to a large bowl and set aside to let cool. 
Once cooled transfer the mixture to a food processor add tahini and juice of lemon mix
Serve  sprinkled with paprika and  warm pita bread on the side

Tea Tasting with Tetley

It has been a fortnight full of events, one of which was rather unusual: a tea-tasting session. Tetley launched a new tea a redbush tea. Having read a few of McCall-Smith's "The Number 1 Ladies Detective agency" I was familiar with Redbush tea. This is the beverage one needs gallons of to solve a silly case.

But let's travel from Botzana to South-Africa where Red Bush tea is also drunk possibly by gallons. Rooibos (redbush) is a type of grass, atraditional ingredient used in South Africa for centuries since the indigenous perspective would centre around fruits, nuts, leaves and wild games. 
Press pack tells us that "rooibos is used in South Africa as it is believed to help alleviate allergies, asthma and dermatological problems including eczema and acne." also that it is a super-food "A natural source of antioxidants which may help to fight free radicals and maintain a healthy lifestyle, redbush is said to contain low levels of minerals including zinc which can help to promote a glowing complexion."

On arrival, I was shown to the Sanctum's top-floor open terrace,  greeted by a professional Tea-Taster. Tea-tasting is a little like wine-tasting, using cups with a lead. After brewing the concoction which in our case is a couple of Tetley tea bags, Mr T-T  poured the liquid carefully in lovely lidded little cups

Tipped the lot in white round cup and after 3 minutes for a light brew, 6 minutes for a stronger one

we were able to sip spoonfuls of the clear tea, make a strange noises as we absorbed oxygen and tea at the same time

If you want a alternative to ordinary tea or coffee, this is a good one. OK it is lacking the caffeine but that's the point. It is fresh on the palate and if you drink it  regularly enough of it, you get the benefits of additional calcium, manganese and fluoride being low in tanine it will not disolour teeths. One can also cook with it - canapes and delicious other dishes all cooked one way or another with the addition or rooibos tea were on offer -here is a graphic strip-

It is also used in beauty products - Sorry no photos here as I enjoyed a relaxing neck and shoulders massage.



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