Food: how to make Italian meringue

Since I bought my new stand mixer, I’ve been aching to try out a whole load of new recipes and techniques. Although making bread is high up on the list, I couldn’t resist having a stab at Italian meringue and I’m so glad I did. Italian meringue is different to the more common place French meringue. French meringue is simply made by whipping up eggs whites and then gradually incorporating caster sugar – you then bake it off. This type of meringue is commonly found in pavlovas, shop meringues and toppings of lemon meringue pie. I love this meringue because, when cooked well, you get a delicious chewy toffeey centre. The Italian meringue is the French meringue’s more sophisticated cousin and, as such, is harder to make – it involves using very specific temperatures and making a sugar syrup from scratch  The end result is a very light and fluffy meringue with no hint of sugar crystals (an almost marshmallow texture) which is used to top fancy cakes and pastries. The Internet is surprisingly sparse in terms of offering suggestions on how to make it: I used several recipes for inspiration including this and this.

I used my Italian meringue as an alternative to topping cupcakes. It made a much lighter and less rich topping compared with buttercream. I approved and will definitely be making it again. The quantity below will easily top 12 standard cupcakes. I piped the meringue on and then used a blow torch to toast the meringue to give a lovely caramelised flavour.

A note on equipment:
Italian meringues are tricky to make – it is ESSENTIAL that you have the following ‘special’ pieces of equipment: a cooks’ thermometer and stand mixer – they simply will not work without.

you’ll need a stand mixer, cooking thermometer, saucepan and jug

Ingredients
4 eggs whites
200g caster sugar
200ml water

1. Begin my placing the sugar and the water in a saucepan. Place the cooking thermometer into the sugar syrup. It is important that you do not stir the mixture – instead simply swirl the saucepan.

use a cooking thermometer to make your sugar syrup

2. Heat the sugar syrup gently until it reaches 100 degrees celsius.
3. At this point, place the egg whites into the perfectly clean bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed with either the paddle or whisk attachment.

whisk the egg whites

4. Whisk until the egg whites become stiff.

eggs whites should be firm enough to hold upside down

5. Continue to heat the sugar syrup until it reaches 121 degrees celsius (firm ball stage).
6. Pour the sugar syrup into a jug to make it easier to pour.
7. Dribble the sugar syrup onto the egg whites, beating all the while. It should take around 3 minutes to incorporate all the syrup i.e. do it very slowly. Try to avoid dribbling it on the edge of the bowl  you want to be pouring it into the egg whites themselves.

pour the sugar syrup into the middle of the egg whites

8. Once all the sugar has been incorporated, continue to whisk on a medium to high speed for 15-20 minutes by which time the sugar will have cooled and you will have a beautifully light Italian meringue.

italian meringue

9. Use a piping bag and nozzle of your choice to pipe the meringue onto your cupcakes and then toast using a blow torch.

Advertisements

Beauty: L’Occitane Evening

L’Occitane Putney

My friend Julia has just finished her medicine degree. She found out she passed yesterday and is now a fully qualified doctor – congratulations Dr Hine! We thought it would be fun to go and celebrate by going along to a L’Occitane evening at her local store in Putney. It was advertised in the Stylist magazine which can be found free on the tube every Wednesday. Tickets were £10 but this included a goody bag worth £50.

The evening itself was great. It was two hours long and included unlimited prosecco and chocolates as well as demonstrations from the friendly L’Occitane staff. We had a hand scrub followed by a cuticle and nail treatment. The sugar hand scrub was especially brilliant and left my hands feeling super soft and supple. We then got shown a mini facial – complete with cleanser, toner and moisturiser.

Julia enjoying the unlimited prosecco

All in all, it was a fabulous evening  I would highly recommend any similar events you see advertised. The L’Occitane lady said that the often hold ladies’ evenings – I think it would make a great hen party. My favourite part was receiving my goody bag at the end of the evening – it was just like being a kid again with the best ever party bag! Check out its contents below. I was so pleased with it that I didn’t buy any other products which was definitely a bonus for my bank account.

Hmm – how do I rotate this??

Have you had any pampering lately? What’s your favourite skincare range?

Food: choosing a stand mixer – KitchenAid or kMix?

my new acquisition/baby 

Eeeks. I’m very excited  After much research I’ve just purchased a stand mixer in the form of a Kenwood kMix. It took me ages to decide which to go for – the kMix or KitchenAid. In truth, I’ve been dreaming about owning a KitchenAid my entire life (that, and a Dualit toaster). However, in the past year, I’ve seen a little sense and realised that it’s important not to buy things just because they’re beautiful and as such inevitably overpriced. It’s important to do proper research on the topic and not to buy things just because of a name or certain look. However, one thing I do know, is that all my friends who own a KitchenAid are absolutely in love. I’ve never heard a bad word said about them, but what comes with that, is a hefty price tag – £469.95 on Amazon.

I read a lot of reviews on both the KitchenAid and kMix. The problem with reading reviews is that people obviously tend to own either the KitchenAid or the kMix, never both. They may have used the opposing machine at some point, but very rarely have they used both machines for an extended amount of time. It’s therefore difficult making a comparison. People are understandably very biased towards the machine they own –  spending over £300 for a mixer is not something many people will do lightly and obviously they want to feel like they made the right decision.

In the end, I found that the fundamental difference between the machines was the size, power and cost. The kMix mixing bowl holds 4L while the KitchenAid holds 3.8L. Not a large difference, but still, it’s there. In terms of power, the KitchenAid has a 300W motor, while the kMix has a 500W motor – a significant difference. Finally the cost, Amazon supplies KitchenAid’s at £469.95, while the kMix is priced at £299.99. In my opinion, some people are reassured by a high price. I think KitchenAid gets away with charging such a lot because people will immediately assume that a KitchenAid is better, because it is more expensive. I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to fall into that trap as it is something which I have definitely done in the past – think hair straighteners  MP3 player, toasters etc. In terms of reviews, both received almost 100% 5 stars. Customers were in agreement that both machines worked brilliantly and revolutionised cake, bread and meringue making. There were a few comments about the kMix being very noisy and the KitchenAid being less sturdily built is more recent years due to a change in supplier.

Personally, I decided on the kMix – for two reasons – firstly, the larger wattage and volume of mixing bowl, and, secondly, it’s hard to justify spending an extra £180 on a machine just for appearance sake. Yes, I would have adored having a brightly coloured Artisanal KitchenAid sitting on my worktop, but I’m not in the position to spend that much more money for aesthetic reasons. It must be pointed out, as well, that I am by no means disappointed with the appearance of my kMix. To me, it’s beautiful too –  a lovely almond cream colour which certainly improves the look of my kitchen.

I can’t give a full review of the kMix as I’ve only just purchased it, but I will say that I’m loving it so far. I made Martin some cupcakes for his birthday and never has it been so quick and easy. I love it for making icing especially. The large beating attachment means I get extra fluffy icing and the guard is amazing. No more fine layers of icing coating my entire kitchen, from the kettle to the toaster. I hate that so much.

PS I bought my kMix from John Lewis for £299, because it had a free 5 year guarantee. Bonus!

Martin’s birthday cupcakes
attachments – there’s also whisk – not sure why I forgot to put it in this photo. Also, does anyone know what the middle attachment is for?

Which do you own – a KitchenAid, kMix or other stand mixer? How is it and how did you make your decision?

Food: Pea, Mint and Halloumi Fritters and a Quick Chinese Stir Fry recipe

Pea, Mint and Halloumi Fritters

pea, mint and halloumi fritters

I’m in the middle of setting up a gourmet petite cupcake company (exciting times!) so apologies for the reduction in posts, but I wanted to share with you this amazing pea and halloumi fritter recipe. It’s fresh and healthy and makes a great alternative to potatoes or pasta as a side dish. They’re even more delicious when cold, so Martin’s been sent off to work with them for his lunch – no complaints so far!

Serves 4 – takes 15 minutes

100g peas
handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
100g halloumi, cut into 1 cm cubes
100g plain flour
150ml milk
2 eggs
2 spring onion, finely chopped
a little vegetable oil (for frying)
salt and pepper

1. Boil the peas for 3 minutes, crush half of them. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
2. Add the flour, egg yolks and milk to a large bowl. Use a balloon whisk to mix together thoroughly.
3. Whisk up the eggs whites separately in a large clean bowl until a stiff peak is reached.
4. Fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter.
4. Stir in the peas, halloumi, mint, and spring onions. Season generously.
5. Heat a large non-stick frying pan. Add a little oil. Drop tablespoons of batter into the frying pan and cook on a medium heat for 3 minutes each side, until golden.

Quick and Easy Chinese Stir Fry

quick and easy chinese stir fry

Serves 2 – takes 10 minutes

For the stir fry sauce, combine the following:
1 dessertspoon corn flour
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Pack of stir fry vegetables e.g. bean sprouts, mangetout, mini sweetcorn, cabbage, edamame, carrot….
200g deep fried tofu pieces
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely sliced
1 chili, finely sliced
oil

1. Using a wok or large frying pan, add 1 tbsp of oil and fry off the chilli and ginger
2. Add the tofu and vegetables and stir fry sauce
3. Stir fry on a high heat for 3 minutes

Serve with brown rice

Restaurant Review: Cucina Asellina

Cucina Asellina

My friend Laura and I were looking forward to a long overdue girly catch up last Friday and decided to go to Cucina Asellina, a restaurant hotel on the Strand. I’ve been before and I enjoyed the food and vibe – perfect for a Friday night. We clearly weren’t the only people with that idea. We were sandwiched on a table for 2 between 2 other pairs of girls.  Cucina Asellina is one of those places where the tables are longer than they are wide and they’re placed relatively close together. This means you can hear your neighbours’ conversation better than your own.

We didn’t mind at all though, the strong cocktail included in our offer probably helped. We dined on the bookatable deal, 3 courses plus a cocktail of your choice (no rubbish cheap cocktails here and we didn’t have to pick the same, bonus!). The set menu itself was pretty varied- at least 6 different mains to choose from.
My starter was divine – veal meatballs – very tender, as you would expect, served in a fresh tomato sauce. Laura chose the baked aubergine tortino which she didn’t seem to be too enamored with. This was accompanied by some delicious focaccia, music bread and bread sticks. I then had the chicken paillard, aubergine, olives, capers and grape tomato. This sounded more promising than it actually was. It was effectively chicken schnitzel with a green salad. Perfectly fine but nothing special. Laura ate a mediterranean pizza which, excitingly, was rectangular shaped as opposed to circular.
As with my last visit, the dessert was the best course. My initial choice – gianduja semi freddo had already sold out, so I chose a passion fruit cheesecake. This was very well done and I particularly enjoyed the mini fruit salad which came with it – the dragon fruit was a delicious and unexpected addition. Laura’s raspberry sorbet was fresh and a perfect palate cleanser. 
Ok, so Cucina Asellina isn’t the BEST italian food you’ll ever eat, but it’s pretty good. I quite like the lively, noisy vibe and three courses (including cocktail) for £25 is certainly excellent value. Recommend.  

PS the service, I almost forgot! That tells you that it was a bit blah – nothing dreadful, but nothing that made it standout amazing.

Life: How I bought my Samsung Galaxy S4

Galaxy S4

Sorry, if this posts seems pretty boring, but I wanted to tell you about my new phone and how I went about deciding how I would pay for it.

I like technology (I might not be very good with it), but I really enjoy owning a smartphone. I rely on it so much – obvious things like calling and texting people, but also checking my emails, getting directions via google maps, downloading skobbler as an inexpensive and accurate satnav, and using it to entertain myself on journeys with games/music. I’ve owned a couple of iPhones in the past and have loved them dearly. I still remember the massive buzz I got when I purchased the first one 4 years ago – it was so very exciting. When I bought my next one (the iphone 4), I was still pretty happy but I didn’t have the same buzz. I put that down to my age and the fact that although it was a far quicker and more modern version – fundamentally it was still very much the same phone, so there wasn’t all the fun of exploring its new features.

I’m pretty brutal with my phones – they get pretty bashed. When I was working at the Ginger Pig, I was always cooking so some of the food on my hands inevitably transferred itself onto my phone. Annoyingly, some got stuck under the home button and ever since then it’s been hugely temperamental. Basically, I’m the only person who knows the exact pressure to get it working! After 26 months of ownership, I was on the look out for a new phone. I decided upon the new Galaxy Samsung S4. I’m not going to go into a huge review of the phone as this post is about paying for it, not the phone itself. I’ll just say that the phone confers far more autonomy than my old phone – it really feels like it’s Hazel’s phone due to the huge number of options you can use to personalise it. So far, I have changed around the menus, greeting and keyboard to suit my needs and I’m sure they’ll be lots more to discover.

So how did I decide which network to join?

Firstly, I tell you about the sort of tariff I was after. I wanted unlimited texts, some minutes (I don’t call very many people) and plenty of Internet data. In terms of the phone itself, I wanted a 16Gb Samsung Galaxy in white. Here’s a comparison of the most suitable tariffs.

Contracts

O2 – 24 months – 1 Gb data – unlimited calls – unlimited texts
£37 a month
Total = £888

3 – 24 months – unlimited data – 500 minutes – 5000 texts
£35 a month + initial cost of £49
Total = £889

EE – 24 months – 1 Gb (4G) – unlimited calls – unlimited texts
£41 a month + initial cost of £280
Total = £1264

giffgaff – no contract – 1 Gb – 250 minutes – unlimited texts
£10 a month
Subtotal = £240 + cost to buy Samsung S4 sim free and unlocked from Amazon £552
Total = £792

In the end, I went with who I have been with for the last 2 years – giffgaff. It was the cheapest option, by a considerable margin. I bought the phone from Amazon unlocked and then ordered a SIM from giffgaff.

giffgaff SIM card
the giffgaff SIM has a nano SIM incorporated into it – you just need to pop it out

The best things about giffgaff are the fact that the coverage is great (they run on the O2 network) and there is so much freedom. You simply buy a goodybag once a month to suit your needs. I buy the £10 a month because it gives me unlimited texts, 250 minutes and 1Gb of data. However, if I was to go away and not take my phone then I wouldn’t bother buying one and, equally, if my usage suddenly increased I’d buy a more expensive one like £15 a month (400 minutes, unlimited data and texts). It’s worth pointing out that giffgaff doesn’t have a phone helpline – instead you refer to the online forum. This works perfectly for me – no hanging about on the phone waiting for someone to pick up and I’m yet to have a query that the forum can’t answer. Finally, it is a large initial expense – if you’d rather split the costs over 24 months, then one of other options is probably better.

PS I didn’t bother to look up Vodaphone. Martin’s work iphone is on Vodaphone and he has the most appalling signal ever (in the middle of London!). He has to stand on a stool in the kitchen every time he calls his parents in Manchester to prevent his phone cutting off. Rubbish.

Restaurant review: The Marylebone Hotel

108 restaurant

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had previously eaten afternoon tea at the Marylebone Hotel. Whilst I was there, I took a peek at the restaurant and I liked the look of it. When I got home, I checked out the menu online and found it to be mostly made up of steaks and grills. I’ll be honest – the main reason as to why I was keen to eat here is that I saw that the steaks came from the Ginger Pig butchers and the cheese on the cheese board was from La Fromagerie. I used to work at the Ginger Pig in Marylebone and know how incredible their meat is. I also used to walk past La Fromagerie every time I left work. It’s always looked so tempting, but so far I’ve never ventured in.

The Ginger Pig specialises in rare British breeds and it’s always a real treat sampling any of their meat. However, even with staff discount it was still a little too expensive for me and very much an infrequent treat. Since leaving the Ginger Pig (and sadly losing my discount), buying their meat has no longer been an option. At the Marylebone Hotel I see that they charge £30 for an 8oz fillet steak and £8 for a cheese board from La Fromagerie. So yes, a lot of money. I was therefore incredibly happy to find a dining offer on Top Table which was 50% off the a la carte menu as long as you dined before 7pm. The great thing about this offer is there are no restrictions on the day of the week or what you’re allowed to pick on the menu. I can’t stand set menus where there’s barely anything to choose from and what options there are cheap cheap – in terms of ingredients.

My bacon and asparagus starter was delcicious – the soft boiled egg which came with it was divine – a beautifully soft yolk. I followed this with the 6oz fillet steak with pepper corn sauce, chips and spinach. The spinach was very dull – simply boiled baby leaves. The chips were disappointing – they tasted overdone and as if they’d been sat around for quite a while. The peppercorn sauce was tasty but overly salty. The steak itself was delicious, cooked medium rare (my preference), and nicely seasoned on the outside. For dessert, Martin had a very uninspired fruit platter while I chose the La Fromagerie cheese platter. Sadly the platter was disappointing. None of the cheeses were particularly exciting or tasty for that matter and it could really have done with a strong blue cheese. The tomato chutney it was served with however was to die for.

In terms of atmosphere, 108 is a tastefully decorated with a nice hum of conversation  As far as hotel restaurants fair, 108 compares favourably because there was none of the clinical blandness you get in some hotel restaurants. Our waiter was friendly and helpful too and didn’t make you feel like you were on a voucher in the slightest. I hate it when restaurants make you feel rubbish because you’re dining on a discount voucher.

All in all, 108 restaurant is a really good dining experience as long as you use the voucher. Three course (including fillet steak, cheese platter and asparagus), plus a glass of Riesling for less than £30 is exceptional value. We also greatly appreciated the freshly baked focaccia and fudge petit fours. You really can’t complain at all. Also service charge was charged on the reduced bill as opposed to the full bill before discount. I would still have enjoyed it if we’d paid the full price, but the whole experience is enjoyed all the more knowing that you’re getting such great value for money.

Where have you dined out recently? Do you know of any restaurants with particularly good offers or ones which are generally just great value?

PS I just downloaded the Great Gatsby sound track off Amazon, priced £9.99, and it’s greeeeeat. Highly recommend.

Music from Baz Luhrman’s Film The Great Gatsby