Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Dorsett Shepherds Bush - My thoughts

How has it been almost two months since we went to London for my birthday?! It's become something of a tradition that we always head to London for the night around my birthday. I love London, the buzz and constant activity makes it exciting and invigorating. My mum was a Londoner and moved back up when I was seven so I have memories of going up on the train to visit her and my relatives. Unfortunately I've lost touch with them all now, but there's always a sense of being that little bit closer to them whenever I visit.

As this trip was for my birthday Sion took responsibility for booking our hotel and wow the boy did good! We always look on a number of travel websites and are registered to Secret Escapes, which is where this gem showed up - The Dorsett Shepherds Bush

A short five minute stroll from Shepherds Bush tube station this 317 roomed hotel is in a converted Grade 2 listed 1920s cinema, overlooking a tree lined green.

Dorsett Shepherds Bush Lobby

The influence of it's Asian owners is obvious to see in the beautiful, calming interior of the public areas. We arrived early and asked if we could leave our bags and check in later. Elina, the receptionist who helped us, very kindly told us that our room was already available and that we had been upgraded to a deluxe room - and what a room it was! Being on the top floor and a corner room, the views from the two walls of windows were stunning. Once you enter a bedroom there are more chic touches, with gold furnishings and oriental prints and accessories. Our room in particular was light and airy, with the aircon set to just the right temperature for an August day in London!

Dorsett shepherds Bush Exec Room

Dorsett Shepherds Bush Room work area

Dorsett Shepherds Bush lamp

Our room had a beautiful bathroom attached with a separate bath & shower cubicle. Unfortunately the design of the shower door meant that it leaked quite badly, but the thick bath mat shopped the floor from getting slippery. The bathroom had plenty of marble top space for you to leave your toiletries out and there were more than enough towels for us both.

It was almost a shame that we didn't spend that much time in the hotel, we had so many planned activities for the two days that we were in the city. One thing we did make time for was happy hour (5-7pm) cocktails in the Jin lounge, Luis poured two stunning cocktails for us, I had the sweet Dorsett Duchess, while Sion went for a gin based Smoking Negroni. This wet our appetites and I'm not ashamed to admit to returning the following night to try more! Whether it was the later time slot or the relaxing effect of the evening, I spent most of my time unelegantly slouched in my seat, looking up into the stunning gold atrium. At night gentle up lights really show off the space (little tip - even room numbers overlook the atrium, while odd numbers have external views)

Breakfast was taken in the Pictures dining restaurant, that runs along the side of the hotel. We arrived quite late in the service but there was still an excellent selection of continental breakfast and hot buffet items. Sion was especially impressed to see that Chinese congee and noodles were available too! The Dorsett also has the Shikumen restaurant serving Asian cuisine for lunch and dinner, although we unfortunately had prior plans so didn't eat here ourselves.

We loved our stay at the Dorsett Shepherds Bush, we felt it was good value for money and while not a central London location, it was perfectly placed for Holland Park, Notting Hill and Westfield Shopping Centre. We'll definitely be back!

We paid for our stay and all food and drink ourselves and were not asked to write a review, all thoughts and opinions remain our own.

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Monday, 5 October 2015

GBBO Week 9 - Chocolate Pavlova

How quickly have these past nine weeks flown by? I feel very proud that I've baked along every week so far - sometimes by the skin of my teeth! As well as watching Bake Off for baking inspiration I've also found plenty of new blogs to read and enjoy. I know we get a little longer for our final bake week so I thought I'd say thanks ladies for all the fab recipes you post week after week...and of course huge thanks for Jenny, not only organising and keeping us all up to date, but for all of her incredible work behind the scenes with brands - you deserve a golden mixing spoon all of your own!

I don't know how I feel about this week's Bake Off. I think Flora was always in danger of going, but Paul seemed particularly scathing in her bakes - even breaking apart her showstopper to prove a point. It almost seemed like he was bullying her a little and made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure what he would have thought of my entry this week!!

I used chocolate pastry in week 6 for my chocolate, orange & pear frangipane and I had a particularly busy week so time was in very short supply. I had already arranged to have friends over for a "Come Dine With Me" style dinner so I tweaked my dessert to fit (loosely) into this week's category. Luckily Jenny has let me use this as an entry!

I used this BBC Food recipe as a basis for my meringue but tweaked it to the recipe found below.

Chocolate & raspberry pavlova

For the Meringue
3 medium egg whites or 6 tablespoons of prepared egg whites (I use Two Chicks)
175g caster sugar
25g dark chocolate
2tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp white wine vinegar

For the topping
350ml double cream
75g icing sugar
1 vanilla pod, deseeded
300g fresh raspberries
Chocolate Sauce (I used ChocShot)
Grated dark chocolate

Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas 4, line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Whisk in the sugar one tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated and the meringue is glossy.

Using a metal spoon fold in the chocolate, cocoa & vinegar. Spoon the meringue onto your baking tray and flatten the middle slightly.

Put into your oven and turn the temperature down to 150C/Gas 2 straight away. Bake for 45 minutes then leave to cool in a cooling rack.

Whip the cream and icing sugar together until you have soft peaks, then fold in the vanilla seeds and a third of the raspberries.

Drizzle your chocolate sauce over the meringue base, then spoon over the cream. Top with the remaining raspberries and grate chocolate to serve.

Linking up with

Mummy Mishaps

Cook Style #GBBO

Monday, 28 September 2015

GBBO Week 8 - Mokatine Eclairs

How quickly does this series of Bake Off seem to be going? Eight weeks in already and yet there's still so many bake categories that could come up! I have missed the enriched dough week from last year, perhaps it will make a return next year?

This week was Patisserie, never one of my strong points, but I was determined to give it a go. I did like the idea of the cream horns, but after making puff pastry in an earlier week I needed a different challenge. Not being able to decide between Mokatines or an eclair tower I decided to blend them together to make Mokatine eclairs - coffee creme patisserie, encased in a choux pastry, topped with coffee fondant icing and crushed walnuts.

A side note before the recipe - The original choux recipe that I used suggested baking at 160C. This meant my choux didn't really puff up, instead making more delicate fingers. To get a bigger eclair bake at the temperature stated in my amended recipe below;

Mokatine Eclairs - Makes approximately 15 eclairs

For the Choux pastry
250ml water
100g Stork with Butter
Pinch of salt
200g Strong white flour
4 whole eggs

For the Coffee Creme Patisserie
500ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split in half
100g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
50g cornflour
50g Stork with Butter
2 tsp Coffee Extract

For the icing topping
100g Fondant Icing sugar
1tsp Coffee Extract
3 tbs water
Chopped walnuts


Preheat your oven to 200C Gas 6. On baking parchment draw lines 12cm long and 5cm apart. Turn over and place onto a baking sheet. You will need to spread the eclairs over two or more sheets depending on size. Set out all your ingredients as you will need to add things quickly.

Place the water, Stork (or alternative) and salt into a large saucepan and heat over a medium heat until it boils. As soon as it is boiling, quickly pour in the flour and immediately beat with either a wooden spoon or an electric whisk until you have a smooth ball of paste that leaves the saucepan sides clean.

Transfer to a stand mixer and slowly add the eggs, one at a time. Mix on a low speed until each egg is incorporated, before adding another. Continue to mix until you have a thick glossy paste. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large holed nozzle.

Pipe onto your paper using the lines as a guide.

Bake for 10 minutes, then increase the heat to 220C Gas 7 for a further 15-20 minutes until the buns are crisp and golden and hold their shape. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.

Next, put the milk & vanilla into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. In a mixing boil whisk together the eggs and sugar until light & fluffy. Tip in the cornflour and combine well.

When the milk is boiling tip into the sugar mix in one go, through a sieve to catch the vanilla pod. Whisk together to blend and transfer back into the milk saucepan.

Cook over a medium heat for 3 minutes until thickened, stirring continuously. Transfer to your stand mixer and whisk on a high speed until cooled completely. Whisk in your Stork with Butter and coffee extract, taste to check coffee levels and whisk again for at least two minutes. Transfer to a piping bag with a narrow nozzle fitted.

With the tip of a nozzle or a sharp knife piece each eclair three times. Pip in your Creme Pat gently. If any escapes, wipe away with a butter knife. Once all have been filled set aside in the fridge to set for 20 minutes.

Make up your fondant icing by adding the coffee essence to the icing sugar and slowly adding water in small amounts until you have a thick icing that is liquid but still holds a peak for 3 seconds. Pipe over your eclairs or spread using a butter knife. Sprinkle chopped nuts over the top.

I was kindly sent a voucher to try out new Stork with Butter on a recipe of my choice. This produced a tasty, evenly baked product that was as good as bakes made previously with traditional butter and I would happy use this again.

Linking up with

Mummy Mishaps

Cook Style #GBBO

Friday, 25 September 2015

River Cottage - A piece of heaven in Devon

I was recently one of the lucky bloggers selected by Foodies100 to spend the day at River Cottage, made famous by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I knew the day would be interesting, but I didn't realise how inspiring and engaging it would be.

I'm lucky enough to live only a few hours from River Cottage HQ, a little different to Foodie Quine who have the mammoth journey from Aberdeen to make! On route I picked up my two newest blogging friends, Grace of Eats Amazing and Sara-Jane of Keep Up With the Jones Family. The car ride to and from River Cottage was like a blogging session in itself - these ladies know their stuff and I learnt so much from our chats!

Pulling into the car park we had a few minutes to say some more hellos, gather up our cameras and climb up into a big trailer for the bumpy ride down through the valley to the instantly recognisable farmhouse. I think the fact that there was still some lingering morning mist made our first glance of the farm even more special.

After breakfast of pastries and omelette bites we split into our groups to start our sessions. I was in the red group and was excited to see that Annie Spratt (Mammasaurus), a blogger I've long admired was also in my group. Our first session was learning brilliant styling and photo tips from Lucy Heath (Capture by Lucy). I immediately took my camera off full auto mode and vowed to learn how to take pictures on manual settings!

By this point the sun was out in beautiful early Autumn glory, perfect for our tour around the farm and gardens with Will Livingstone, Head Gardener. He told us so much about the farm and methods they employ that can easily be used in our own home gardens and the passion he and his team have was so evident.

All this walking and chatting was making me hungry so I took little persuading to head into the dining room for our lunch. A table plan stopped us eating in our usual groups of friends, so I put my shyness to the back of my mind and spoke to everyone around me.

Our lunch was made using ingredients reared, grown and foraged at the farm. Beautifully aged Dexter beef, slow cooked and served in a wholemeal ravioli on a bed of vegetable ragu with bread baked that hour and seasoned corn on the cob.

A fennel infused meringue, damson plums and a vanilla and coffee ice cream, served with salted apple caramel.

The doors to the kitchen had been open all morning and we were all encouraged to come and watch, take photos and ask questions.

Our final session of the day was a practical one. Gill Meller, Group Head Chef helped us make soda bread using spelt flour, flavoured with cheese, herbs, apples and blackberries that we had picked ourselves. As the last group of the day our foraging skills were really put to the test, but we all managed to find enough! The real magic of this session was making rolled butter using only double cream and flavouring it with peppery nasturtium and marigold petals.

All too soon it was time to climb back aboard the trailer to take us back to our cars. I like everyone else looked back down the valley, until River Cottage disappeared from view and we were back in our normal day to day life again.

I learnt so much at River Cottage HQ that one post could never cover it all. Over the next few weeks I will be doing further posts on the things I learnt - food styling tips, organic growing & making your own bread & butter.

Thank you Foodies100 & River Cottage HQ for putting on such a special day for us all - this is one day I'll never forget!

Monday, 21 September 2015

GBBO Week 7 - Hot Crust Pork, Chicken & Egg Pie

Oh Matt, Matt, Matt...from Star Baker to Sent Home in one short week. I'll miss him on the show, as I've said before he seemed the most realistic of home bakers...most week's there was at least one bake he had never heard off and he flew by the seat of his pants on more than one occasion, but he did it with good humour and a decent dose of reality!

Another new category this week saw Victorian Dishes in the spotlight. My plans for a lovely few relaxing evenings of baking while Sion was on a course were quickly squashed when our oven decided to blow it's element. After a number of frantic calls the oven was back up and running the afternoon before we went on holiday for a week! My Chocolate tart from last week was first in the oven on the Friday evening and a 6.30am alarm call was set for the Saturday morning to get my bake for this week cooked!

None of us were a fan of fruit cake and transporting a sponge finger and jelly creation to Dorset was a recipe for disaster, so a nice solid pie was called for! My Grandmother used to make a beautiful bacon & egg pie so this is my homage to her.

Hot crust Pork, Chicken & Egg Pie

For the filling

300g sausage meat
About 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme leaves
Generous amount of salt & black pepper

250g cooked ham hock, cut into small cubes
250g cooked chicken breast
4 medium eggs, hard boiled

For the Pastry
450g plain flour
100g strong white flour
75g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
100g lard
200ml water
1 egg yolk, beaten

Preheat your oven to 200C/Gas 6
Grease a 10cm x 20cm loaf tin with a little extra lard then line with baking parchment that overhangs the sides.

Prepare your fillings. Combine the sausage meat with thyme & seasoning and mix well. Cook a little in a frying pan to check seasoning levels and add more if necessary. 
Take a thin slice of egg off each end so that they will sit alongside each other with no gap.
Set the fillings to one side while you make the pastry.

Combine the two flour types and rub in the butter lightly with your finger tips. Add all other patry ingredients into a saucepan and gently heat until the lard has melted and the mixture is almost boiling.

Create a well in your flour, pour on the water/fat mix and stir with a spoon. Once it is cool enough to handle tip onto your work surface and knead into a dough.

Working quickly roll out two thirds and use to line the loaf tin. leaving any excess hanging over the edges. Roll out the final third to a large enough piece to cover the top and cover with a layer of clingfilm to hold warmth.

Put half the sausage meat mix into the tin, then layer thinly with chicken & ham. Place the eggs end to end and use more chicken & ham on the sides to hold the eggs in place. Finish with a final layer of sausage meat.

Brush the pastry edges with egg yolk and cover with the pastry top. Trim & crimp the edges.

Decorate the top with pastry shapes and use more egg as a wash over the top. Finally make three steam holes, before baking for 30 minutes.

Reduce the temperature to 180C/Gas 4 and bake for a further hour.
Leave to cool completely in the tin before turning on it's side and easing the pie out.

Despite the sides falling apart, it was a really tasty pie - I think Gran would have enjoyed it! 

Next week - Patisserie!

Linking up with

Mummy Mishaps

Cook Style #GBBO