Easter themed biscuit recipe

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to an Easter Baking workshop at the new Good Housekeeping Institute in Soho.

The evening saw me making eggs-ellent biscuits and hot cross buns in anticipation of the Easter bank holiday weekend, which remarkably I didn't find too difficult.

Here's their recipe for foolproof biscuits: hop to it!

1hr plus cooling time, cooking time 12 min, makes approx. 10 biscuits

Ingredients

75g (3oz unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease
100g (3.5oz) caster sugar
40g (1.5oz) condensed milk
I medium egg, beaten
Finely grated zest of ½ orange or lemon
½ tsp baking powder
200g (7oz) plain flour, plus extra to dust

For the icing
100g (3.5oz) icing sugar
Food colouring pastes


Method

Put the butter, sugar and condensed milk into a large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until pale and fluffy. Next, beat in the egg a little at a time, then add the zest, followed by the baking powder, flour and a pinch of salt. Bring together with your hands, then wrap in cling film and chill for 30mins



Lightly grease two large baking sheets with butter. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough to 5mm thick. Stamp out Easter trimmings, re-rolling the trimmings

Arrange the biscuits on the prepared sheets. If you later want to thread a ribbon through the top, make a 5mm hole in each biscuit with a skewer. Chill for 15 mins

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (160 degrees fan) mark 4. Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Loosen with a palette knife, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.



For the icing, sift icing sugar into a bowl and add just enough water to make a thick spreadable paste. Divide among small bowls and add colouring to each as needed. Pipe or spread over the biscuits and leave to set. If you like, you can thread ribbons through the biscuits and hang them up.

Social Media Insights | Notonthehighstreet

Friday, March 27, 2015

 

Last night I attended Immediate Future's social speak easy event with Ben Carter, Marketing Director of notonthehighstreet.

The evening gave some great insights into the online retailer's social media strategy. When Ben joined NOTHS social sales contributed to 1% of overall sales. Over the last 12 months this has increased to 5-6%.

Ben explained 50% of notonthehighst's traffic comes from mobile devices, and believes 2015 is the year of mobile and tablet. This trend has mainly been driven by social media referrals and the integration of a new easy-to-use mobile site/app.

NOTHS tailors content and strategy by channel as they believe they have very different audiences across their channels. They have found Twitter works for engagement and Facebook for conversion. Their Facebook fans are twice as likely to be a customer compared to any other channel, and surprisingly they found Pinterest drives browsers instead of converters.

Ben believes their channels are just as relevant to engage new fans as much as they are for engaging existing fans – their marketing emails, for example, are not used for lead generation and are only sent to existing customers. They do not participate in data capture activities, and rely heavily on social media to attract new customers.



Ben explained NOTHS taps into different trends for targeting on GooglePlus. The biggest revelation of the evening was that NOTHS’s GooglePlus account is managed by their search team rather than the social team - 70% of the retailer’s traffic is generated through organic or paid search.

NOTHS’s current growth strategy is to partner across Europe (starting with Germany) and to expand the current UK product offering. Ben revealed the company turns down 9/10 business that apply as they believe their offering need to remain unique - 60% of what they sell is personalised and 45% is unusual homeware. Scale is essential for the retailer to accept new product partners, and the ability to deliver during gifting occasions is of the upmost importance as most of their sales are in November and December for Christmas.

The company also realises the importance of digital to physical, otherwise known as ‘phygital’ - many of their competitors have seen huge success through click and collect (such as Argos teaming with Ebay). NOTHS can’t appear on the high street, so they are currently looking at pop-up stores to fill this gap with the help of Appear Here.

The final insight Ben shared was that TV adverts raised awareness of the NOTH with the public, however they found there needs to be strong digital channels in place to convert awareness into sales.

Pie in a Pot

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Pie in a pot: comfort food you can serve at a dinner party.

This idea was first introduced to me at the Friends of Glass cooking event last year where we learnt delicious recipes specifically designed to be presented in glass jars.

Glass jars and bottles are the best way to store and serve and store food as glass is non-toxic, enhances food flavour and is better for the environment (plus it looks impressive when displayed in the kitchen).

These pies are extremely easy to make, simply follow a normal recipe for a pie and the pour contents into a glass jar. Glass is 100% oven proof so can be used to display many other dishes - lasagne and Shepard's pie work well too - just ensure you remove any rubber seals.

The above pie in a jar is ham hock with a white sauce and winter vegetables. For summer my favourite variation is chicken, asparagus, pea and carrot due the the vibrant colours. I'd recommend to use a white sauce rather than a gravy to give contrast to the contents - gravy seems to make the ingredients look a little bland. 

Ingredients:
  • Skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Asparagus, roughly chopped
  • Frozen peas
  • Sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
  • Ready made white sauce (or if you'd prefer to make your own, follow this recipe)
  • 1 medium egg, beaten 
 Method:

Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan) mark 6. Heat some oil in a large pan and fry chicken for 8min until golden. Tip chicken out on to a plate and set aside.

Pour white sauce in a saucepan and allow to bubble for 3min. Stir in chicken, asparagus, peas and any other veg you have knocking around and check the seasoning.

Spoon mixture into your glass jars. Unroll puff pastry and position over top of pot to cover, trim if needed (you may need to brush egg yolk around the lid of the jar to allow it to stick). Brush pastry well with the remainder of the egg, then cook for 25-30min in the oven until pastry is golden and puffed up.

Searcys Selected Cuvée Launch

Friday, March 20, 2015



A few weeks ago I attended the launch of Searcys Selected Cuvée. Along with a roomful of fellow bloggers and journalists (and a rather tipsy PR Exec) we sipped the new blend in a private room at their elegant St Pancras International restaurant.

The drink is 47% Pinot Meunier featuring a crisp and distinctive taste. To my delight the blend contains only 2% Chardonnay grape, which removes the dry taste I dislike. I found it to have peach and citrus notes with a clean taste that I can imagine is very refreshing (and easy to drink) on a warm summer's day.

As part of a standard Champagne blend, Pinot Meunier contributes aromatics, fruity and spicy flavors. Champagnes with a substantial proportion of Pinot Meunier tend not to have as much significant ageing potential. It is therefore most commonly used for Champagnes that are intended to be consumed young, when the soft, plushy fruit of the Pinot Meunier is at its peak.


The new blend will be served in an innovative new tower of six glasses called the ‘Coupe Stack’. It will see a 750ml bottle (currently priced at £54) perfectly flow like a waterfall into half a dozen glasses that form a tower.

Searcys marketing director Rhian Phillips stated: “The drink is has a really distinctive taste which will be made even more memorable by being served in the Coupe Stack.”

If you're planning a celebration, I'd recommend ordering Searcys Selected Cuvée served in the Coupe Stack to add a touch of theatre to your evening. 

If, however, you're looking for a sparkling addition to a meal, I believe it would be best paired with fresh fish or seafood served with a buttery sauce. If you're looking for indulgence, I'd personally choose a champagne breakfast of Eggs Royal (poach eggs, smoked salmon and hollandais sauce) served with Searcys Selected Cuvée - a sublime mix of soft and fresh, lemony and crisp.

Hotel Xenia's Sicilian Guest Chef Event

Wednesday, March 18, 2015



Last week I attended the first evening of boutique Hotel Xenia’s guest chef event series at their South Kensington restaurant Evoluzione. The restaurant will host a different Italian ‘Guest Chef’ every six weeks to guide diners on a journey through different Italian regions, tastes and traditions, with each menu available for one night only.

The first in the series saw Michelin star-awarded chef Pietro D’Agostino take on Sicilian food with specific attention paid to organic and gluten-free produce. 

Sicily, Italy's most southern region, is a melting pot of all the different cultures that have occupied the island. One of the most important aspects of Sicilian cuisine is the quality of the ingredients used. Sicily, like many other areas of Italy, still follows the seasons very closely. It is virtually impossible, for example, to find non-seasonal fruit or vegetables in most greengrocer's. The result is that ingredients are fresh, fragrant and nutritious.

We were delighted, therefore, that our meal began with a beautiful olive oil from Sicily. The intense, full flavor and grassy aroma of the oil comes from the mineral rich soil the olives grow in, which has been fertilised by volcanic eruptions throughout history.

The meal: 

Amuse bouche by resident Chef Andrea Angeletti - Scallop Noodles with hints of orange and rocket

Although we couldn't taste much orange or rocket we enjoyed this novel dish. Served with a raspberry sauce, it was a tasty bite that set the tone for the evening.

King Prawns with onion salad; almond and orange sauce 

Easily the best meal of the night, the king prawns melted in the mouth. Decorated with edible flowers, the dish was a pleasure to both eat and admire. The smooth almond sauce is something that I will remember for a long time - delicate, creamy and well balanced. The onion salad was refreshing and light with a hint a sharp citrus zing.

Black Cod marinated in Masarla wine with potatoes, lettuce, capers

A delicate piece of fish like black cod really needs nothing but a grill or a pan. The simplicity of this dish was divine, and the addition of the olives and capers gave the dish a much needed salty injection, whilst the potatoes gave texture.


Just Pasta - seafood ravioli, capers, Sicilian wild fennel, and pistachios from Bronte.

A true taste of Sicily - this dish incorporates everything the region is notorious for: pasta, seafood and pistachios. 

Sicily is the only place in Italy where pistachios are grown, and have become quite expensive due to their limited production. The city of Bronte is perched at the top of slope of volcanic rock, located about half a mile northeast of Etna. The Arabs, who once controlled the region, are responsible for bringing pistachio trees to Sicily from the Middle East. 


Turbot with artichoke, calamari, and aubergine roasted

A well balanced dish with contrasting textures. The calamari was extremely fresh with crisp, light batter. Unfortunately my Turbot was raw in the middle, although what I did eat was delicious.


Desserts by pastry Chef Manuele Francesco: Panna cotta and traditional sponge cake

The evening finished with almond and orange infused sweet treats accompanied by wine. Throughout the meal we were served Sicilian wines, which are known to be strong and syrupy, like Marsala. The rose served with the fish dished in particular was extremely refreshing. 

To conclude, the evening was a relaxed affair which offered great insight into the Sicilian way of life. 

Details of upcoming Guest Chef events can be found here - at £65 they're an absolute steal.