Tea Saturday with Nigella

If you have followed my blog for sometime, you would know that I am a big fan of Young and Foodish pop-up events, having been to (and blogged about) quite a few already.

Last Saturday, I attended Tea Saturday with Nigella Lawson and as usual I had a great time! I have been waiting for Daniel to organize a “Coffee Saturday” for quite some time, in the end I had to settle for Tea Saturday instead! ;) And of course, there was a special guest chef, the beautiful Nigella Lawson.

Nigella recently launched a new book, Nigellissima, a copy of which was included in the event goodie bag. I didn’t even know I would get a copy (I have the bad habit of buying tickets to events without even checking what they include!), so I was pleasantly surprised! I also got the chance to meet Nigella and get my book signed!

The book contains stunning photography by Petrina Tinslay and Italian-inspired recipes. They all seem simple, quick and unpretentious recipes for Italian food with an Anglo-twist. I will try some and let you know how they work out! :)

The location of Tea Saturday was announced only the day before the event: Andrew’s Cafe in Chancery Lane, where I attended Burger Monday with Disco Bistro in April. The café windows were covered up with Italian flags, to hide the TV star from the paparazzi!

We started with a glass of Prosecco (served to our table by Nigella herself), followed by tea and Illy coffee. The food was a selection of savoury bites and party-sized cakes. All the recipes were taken from Nigellissima book and I’m sure many of Saturday’s guests will try them for their Christmas parties!

Parmesan Shortbreads and Panettone Stuffing Squares.

Cappuccino Pavlova, Mini Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake and Italian Christmas Pudding Cakes.

I liked everything, though as usual my preferences went for the sweet stuff! The chocolate cheesecake was my favourite (I had two…shhhhhh!), though the Italian Christmas Pudding Cakes really made an impression on me! What looked like a scone, was instead a soft panettone sandwich filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. Therefore, I have renamed them Mini Panettone Cassata! :) Now that’s an idea I will copy this Christmas!!

Caravan King’s Cross

Hello! It’s been a long time…

Sorry for the lack of updates on Mondomulia lately, but I am trying to adjust to a new routine of life: working as Account Manager in Frankfurt during the week; living in my new home in Clapham, London during the weekend. We have bought our first house, which is great, though it meant leaving our adored little flat. It was heart-breaking as I have so many beautiful memories about that place. But life goes on and now we have embarked onto this new phase of life called “married life and acting as a responsible adult with a mortgage”! ;)

We are renovating the new house, so at the moment we have no furniture and live out of boxes, while carpenters knock down walls and build new rooms! Hence the lack of baking and new recipes on the blog…

I have also been working as freelance food photographer for Market Quarter and as market trader for Olive Branch, which means that things have been pretty busy lately. Thankfully, I am going on holiday to India next week! Wedding number three is happening soon! :)

I have been meaning to tell you about the beautiful Caravan King’s Cross since visiting it for brunch at the start of September. Caravan King’s Cross is the big brother of Caravan Exmouth Market, known among brunch lovers as the best place to go for a weekend meal.

About the new Caravan, I love the warehouse building with open kitchen and coffee roastery, big windows and lots of light coming in; and the location in the revamped King’s Cross area. Exit at the back of King’s Cross Station and you will discover a new street (King’s Boulevard) and, across the Regent’s Canal, a new square.

I went during the Ice-cream festival weekend and Granary Square was crowded with kids playing with the water fountains.

On Granary Square, an impressive Victorian building stands out. It is the new home of Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. A cool location for cool people, right? On the ground floor of the Granary Building, you will find Caravan.

Quoting from Time Out magazine, the “conversion of the Grade II listed Granary Building, by architect Paul Williams, has been handled with great integrity. The brick façade is unimpeded, while the back of the building gives way to a glass and concrete modernist construction. Inside, it’s the epitome of warehouse chic with painted brick and high, pipelined wooden ceilings. In Caravan’s expansive dining room, office workers and art school hipsters sit side-by-side at pine and metal tables, arranged canteen-style in long lines”.

Caravan King’s Cross is only a few months old and is already very popular. We waited for about half an hour at the brew bar, where only the lucky ones get a stool (yes, that was me)! ;) We waited, sipping a good Flat White and taking photos of the interiors.

Caravan roast their own coffee and the big roasting machines occupy the space at the back of the cafè. Bags of coffee beans and ground coffee can be purchased at the bar.


After some time we got a table and ordered some food. I tried the Caravan Fry: eggs, mushrooms, tomato compote and bacon with grain toast.

My friend Serena, of Into the F World tried the Raclette and Spinach French toast with bacon and watercress (though it was served with rocket) while my husband Sandy went for the vegetarian option: Jalapeno corn bread with fried eggs, black beans and tomatillo (not pictured).

Sandy also ordered a dessert, Espresso Affogato with Vanilla Ice-cream, while I finished the meal with a Macchiato.

Despite feeling a bit over-whelmed by the crowd, noise and wait at the time, I have kept a lovely memory of the day and I am looking forward to visiting Caravan again. Though it is a perfect brunch spot, Caravan is also a nice lunch and dinner destination to keep in mind!


PS: all photos were taken with a Nikon D800 camera, which I had rented for the weekend, and a 50mm f/1.4 lens. I can’t take my eyes off the photos taken with that camera, absolutely gorgeous colours! Hope you’ll love them too!

Risotto with Grana Padano Ice-Cream

Back in September I attended an interesting event to promote the Grana Padano Consortium. During the lunch and cookery workshop, which were held at Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone, I discovered more about the heritage and uses of this famous cheese.

I learned that Grana Padano has been used in Italian cooking for more than 1,000 years! I can speak from personal experience when I say that you will find a piece of Grana in every Italian household. Usually it is grated over pasta at lunch time, but I also often eat just with a piece of bread, as a snack before dinner.

Grana Padano cheese obtained the “Protected Designation of Origin” P.D.O. in 1996. This is a sign of quality awarded by the European Union to regulate and protect the production of selected foods. It means that the production, grating and packaging of Grana Padano P.D.O. cheese is strictly limited to the Po river valley (Valle Padana) in Northern Italy.

Over 15 litres of partially skimmed milk are required to produce one kilogram of Grana Padano and each wheel of cheese is almost 40 kilos. 4.6 million wheels of cheese are made each year and sold worldwide. The Grana Padano Consortium ensures that, after the appropriate aging period, every wheel is individually tested with regard to its aroma, flavour and age of maturity.

Once a wheel of Grana Padano is made, it has to age for at least 10 months to be savoured. This cheese will have a delicate and subtle flavour. After 16 months, its water content is reduced and the cheese gains a distinctive savouriness, due to the advanced maturing of the milk proteins. After a lenghty maturing period of 20 months, Grana Padano is known as Riserva and a special fire-branded mark is applied to the wheels. This cheese has a grainy texture that causes it to fracture into slivers; the flavour is rich and full. At this age, the cheese is perfect for grating.

Grana Padano should be stored in the fridge, wrapped in good quality cling-film or in a freezer bag. To enjoy the maximum aroma and flavour of Grana Padano, you need to take it out of the fridge one hour before consuming.

After the presentation by Carlo Canale of the Grana Padano Consortium, it was time for Giancarlo Caldesi to present recipes for a four-course meal based on Grana Padano cheese.

Giancarlo, an Italian chef who has worked in the UK since 1974, is famous for his friendly and outgoing personality and his humor. I have met him a few times and always enjoyed his witty comments and funny jokes.

Giancarlo worked in several restaurants before opening his own “Caldesi Tuscan” restaurant in Marylebone in 1993. This expanded over the years with “Caffe Caldesi”, “Caldesi in Campagna” and “Cucina Caldesi”, which was voted number one cookery school in the UK by The Independent newspaper.

Giancarlo, who has starred in a TV series and co-written two cookery books, has long been an advocate of Grana Padano, and has developed many recipes with this cheese.

My favourite dish from the lunch was the risotto with Grana Padano ice-cream. It was so good I helped myself to a second serving! It’s such an original recipe and it tastes so delicious, that I had to share it with you.

Recipe by Giancarlo Caldesi

Grana Padano Ice-Cream

Ingredients

* 250ml whole milk
* 100ml double cream
* 2 bay leaves
* 125g Grana Padano, shaved
* 2 tbs Marsala dolce (sweet)
* 250g ricotta
* salt (if necessary)

Preparation

Put the milk, cream and bay leaves in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from the heat and add the shavings of Grana Padano, stirring to melt them into the milk.

Add the Marsala and then transfer to a freezer proof container to cool. Remove the bay leaves and add the ricotta, whisking it in to smooth out any lumps.

Put the container in the freezer (I usually leave the whisk in too). After 30 minutes, whisk again to make the consistency lighter and fluffier. Repeat the freezing and whisking a couple of times, then remove the whisk and leave in the fridge if you are going to use it that day. Otherwise freeze completely and remember to bring it out of the freezer and put into the fridge the day before you need it.

Risotto al Grana Padano

Ingredients

Serves 4 as a main course.

* 80g butter
* 1l good quality vegetable, chicken or fish stock
* 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
* 400g Arborio rice
* 50g Grana Padano
* salt and pepper

Preparation

Melt 50g of the butter in a large saucepan. Have the stock simmering next to you over a medium heat. Add the onions. salt and pepper to the saucepan with the stock and sweat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, Add rice and toast it for 3-5 minutes until all the grains are covered in the oil and have become very hot but not burnt. Keep stirring. Add 500ml of the hot stock, and stir quickly into the rice. When a crescent moon shape appears in the bottom of the pan while you stir, add more stock, a few tablespoons at a time.

After about 20-25 minutes and when you have used almost all the stock, taste the rice to see whether it is done. Stop cooking when the rice grains retain the merest hint of crunch in the centre. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

To finish, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the Grana Padano. Cover the pan and allow the risotto to rest no longer than a few minutes or it will become too thick.

Serve the risotto in a plate with scoops of Grana Padano ice-cream.

Pumpkin Soufflés

Oh my…so many days have passed since my last post! I wish I had the time to write more often, but this crazy year just got a bit crazier! I was asked to relocate to Frankfurt for my job as Account Manager in advertising, so at the moment I am commuting from UK to Germany every week. I have also just bought a house in London with my husband and we are moving next weekend.

Honestly, I don’t know how I do it, but I am grateful for all the wonderful things and to have so many opportunities. I just have to get through every day, ticking all the boxes on my to-do list, and waiting for life to get a bit calmer (2013, I’m looking at you!).

In this chaos, I haven’t been able to keep my promise of baking every weekend and, now that all my cooking utensils have been packed up in boxes ready to be moved to a new home, I don’t think the chance will arrive soon.

I was hoping to occupy my lonely evenings in Frankfurt with baking, but unfortunately my ‘little Frankfurter kitchen’ doesn’t even have an oven! But before I take a break from cooking, let me leave you with a savoury and seasonal recipe to make these little Pumpkin Soufflés.

I was desperately looking for canned pumpkin puree a few weeks ago, when I made these pumpkin cupcakes. Several people told me to buy a pumpkin and make the puree myself, but I thought it would be a long task. Actually it is easier than I thought!

After buying a pumpkin for photographic purposes, I was left with it wondering how to cook it. This is the method I followed: cut the pumpkin in half, spoon out the seeds, place the two halves down in an oven tray filled with one centimeter of water, cook them for 45/60 minutes at 220°C. When cooled down, peel the skin off and mash the pumpkin into a puree.

I stored the pumpkin mash in the fridge for a few days, while trying to decide which recipe to use it in. Then I stumbled upon a recipe by Sonia of Nel Paese delle Stoviglie which was simple, quick and required a few ingredients that I already had at home.

The original recipe in Italian and called “Sformatini di Zucca”. I struggled to find the right English translation for “sformato”: it is not a pie as it doesn’t have pastry, I initially called it flan, but that seems to refer to a sweet dish. After reading this article, I decided to rename them soufflés (thanks Thunderstombun for the help).

I prepared the soufflés in about 20 minutes (plus cooking time) and it was a perfect side dish for our Sunday roast lunch.

Ingredients

* 300gr pumpkin puree
* 100gr potato puree
* 20gr grated Parmesan
* 15gr butter, softened
* 2 free-range eggs
* 2 tbs of bread crumbles

Preparation

Roast the pumpkin following the instructions above, then mash it. Boil a small potato, mash it and mix it with the pumpkin. Add the eggs, the butter and the grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the puree into small ramekins (I filled five), greased with butter. Sprinkle the bread crumbles on top of each soufflé. Place the ramekins in an oven tray surrounded by 1/2cm of water. Cook in the pre-heated oven for 30′ at 180°C.

La Maison du Chocolat at Le Balcon

Last week was Chocolate Week and, as part of the celebrations, French chocolatier La Maison du Chocolat launched an exclusive gastronomic experience at The Balcon. Housed in Sofitel Hotel St James, Le Balcon is a French brasserie in the centre of historical London, just a few minutes walk from St James’s Park and Buckingham Palace.

I was kindly invited to taste and review the luxury three-course menu and, I must say, it was the highlight of my week!

Now, I love hotels. Even more, I love 5-star hotels. I love Art Deco architecture. I love chocolate. And I love getting out of my office on a Thursday and spend two hours in a nice restaurant eating a gourmet meal with a friend! It was just the perfect opportunity for me.

I was expecting original combinations of ingredients and delicious food, which I found, but I was surprised to discover that the dishes were also filling and satisfying, like proper ‘comfort food’. I’m glad to read that Judith of Mostly About Chocolate felt the same about the menu being filling and good value for money.

The location was of course stunning: bright, elegant, spacious, crowded enough not to make you feel lonely, but not too much to get noisy. A formal setting, yet one where you immediately feel at ease.

The service was impeccable and a special thank you goes to the restaurant manager who recommended us two wonderful wines to accompany our courses: a Sauvignon Blanc Pouilly-Fumé Villebois Loire 2011 and a Chenin Blanc Coteaux du Layon ‘Les 4 Villages’ 2007.

The menu was created by the Executive Chef of Le Balcon, Vincent Ménager, and developed together with la Maison du Chocolat, who provided the chocolate used for the three dishes.

We started off with Seared Sea Scallops with Quinoa, Roasted Cocoa Nibs, Rocket Salad, Cocoa Dressing, Sweet Orange Tuile.

Second course was Roasted Rabbit Saddle with Black Olive and Rosemary, Butternut Squash Purée, Black Trumpets, Girolles Mushroom and Chocolate Mole Sauce.

For dessert, we had Molten Chocolate and Ginger Cake with Coconut and Saffron Cream.

As a final treat, we tasted some chocolate truffles by La Maison du Chocolat.

La Maison du Chocolat menu is available at The Balcon for lunch and dinner, from 9th to 23rd October at £35 per head (drinks not included).

I really loved the menu and I find the price a fair one, considering the quality/quantity of food, location and service. You still have time to try it, don’t miss the chance!

Disclaimer: I was a guest at the restaurant to review the menu. All views are my own.