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27
Dec

The Great Gorgonzola

IMG_7330On a misty, damp December evening I found myself under the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, beautifully illuminated and rising majestically into the dark sky.  I was searching out the prestigious cookery school, l’Atelier des Chefs, who were to host a ‘cook and dine’ event on behalf of the Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Gorgonzola (the Gorgonzola Cheese Consortium), founded in 1970.  It turned out to be only a matter of yards away and I was given a warm Italian welcome of a glass of prosecco and an apron!  A good start to an informative and enjoyable evening.

IMG_7595My fellow travellers were a convivial bunch and we chatted away awaiting the call to cook.  I was to learn from them that I was far from the only one who, though aware of Gorgonzola cheese having eaten it from time to time, was rather ignorant of its status.  Its production still follows centuries-old methods and since 1996 it has born the coveted DOP mark – denominazione de origine protetta (Protected Denomination of Origin).  There are also two types:  piccante (80 days cure) and dolce (50 days cure), the first of which was new to me as I was only familiar with the creamier, milder ‘sweet’ version.

Soon the busy prepping around in the cooking area had slowed down and we were invited to try our hand at the special recipes created by the chefs.  (There are links to all of them below, so there’s no need to take notes!)

IMG_7421First up were mini pork burgers, topped with the cheese of course, served in a brioche bun and topped with caramelised pears.  To call it a type of burger would have been a great injustice – MacDonalds couldn’t possibly dream up anything as flavoursome and succulent as this combination offered!

Next came the opportunity to make some pastillas, a samosa-shaped parcel of North African brick pastry (though filo can be substituted) filled with shredded butternut squash, shallots, herbs and a touch of gorgonzola). Delicious!  In fact, all the recipes just needed a touch of the cheese as it really is quite powerful stuff, particularly the piccante version.

Then came a break from cooking with wonderful home-made ciabatta bread or roast potatoes to dip into a fondu made simply with gorgonzola (plus a small amount of gruyere to enhance the consistency), white wine and thyme.

More wine was also provided to help wash it down, along with some wonderful éclairs filled with the cheese and topped with honey, sunflower seeds and bacon bits – an interesting combination that worked very well.

IMG_7603Our final stint at a savoury dish was a flavoursome cut of beef, bavette, marinaded and then cooked rare and sliced thinly, served with sautéed purple sprouting broccoli and topped with a gorgonzola foam.

This last item was my only disappointment during the evening – it seemed to have lost the intense flavour of the cheese during the conversion to the foam, but I have to say that others were not of my opinion!

Another chance to mingle and chat, including the charming Luca who had come all the way from Northern Italy to represent the consortium.  And then it was dessert time – not having a sweet tooth, and, in any case, being replete with the previous offerings, I could only watch as an interesting tiramisu was created (interestingly, with no addition of cheese);  however, I did accept a marshmallow coated in chocolate from a flowing fountain that was very acceptable!IMG_9099

Before the evening I must admit that my image of gorgonzola was of a cheese somewhat dated, a throwback to the Seventies, along with prawn cocktails with marie-rose sauce and Black Forest gateau.

I left the venue, armed with factsheets, recipes, and a small piece of dolce with a greater appreciation of what is an extremely versatile and great cheese.

www.gorgonzola.com

jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette NelsonArts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.  

5
Dec

Twelve Thoughtful Gifts for Christmas

These gifts are good to give any time – they are our absolute favourites – they might just appeal. We make no apology for the gardening flavour … we dedicated gardeners just have to pass on details of products that work for us.

Plant theatre

Plant theatre

Plant Theatre  The Dobies catalogue is full of goodies for the gardener, and we really like the Plant Theatre they sell. We have put our new collection of streptocarpus cuttings in our Plant Theatre, although  traditionally used to show off auriculas.

Our plant theatre is on the floor of the conservatory at the moment but  will be erected on the wall as soon as possible to keep the plants away from draughts. Essentially woodland plants streptocarpus don’t like a lot of direct sunlight preferring to be kept lightly moist, bordering on dry. If you are interested have a look on the internet, there is a vast choice. You can buy cuttings on eBay as well. Some are absolutely beautiful and unusual.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.51.53Hi Lo 

If you know someone with hanging baskets who gets weary with lifting heavy watering cans, getting water up their arms,  puddles of water on the ground, our feeling is they would welcome a HiLo device. It allows you to lower the basket to a workable level for pruning, deadheading and watering. Then pulled up – carefully – to the height you want it. An essential item for any dedicated hanging basket fan. At the moment Dobies have a 3 for the price of 2 offer you might like to take up.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.18.17Know someone who is a keen ‘Grow your Own’ gardener? The Allotment Almanac provides a month by month entry to remind you, and look forward to, what could be done in your vegetable plot, big or small. A fascinating and infomative read written by Terry Walton,  gardening guru of BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. A pleasant read and good guide for both experienced and novice gardeners alike.

G&P 2014 coverKnow someone who is intrigued by the effect of the moon on plants and their development? Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2014: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers is out now and a fascinating read written by Nick Kollerstrom. Here we learn  the rhythms of the moon affect both crops and livestock. The gardeners at RHS Wisley have proved the benefits of the lunar effect under controlled research conditions. Increased yields of 20% – 30% are routinely touted. You won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to sow your carrots! Country folk know that planning their work in harmony with the rhythms of the moon produces better crops. It’s that easy. They get higher yields and better flavour in vegetables. Flowers produce stronger displays and heightened colour. This guide computes everything you need to know about the daily influence of the moon and the planets in the garden. With its full 15-month daily calendar, it creates an essential timetable for the year ahMead and a fine means of self-discipline for keen gardeners. More information on http://www.plantingbythemoon.co.uk

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 15.22.53We absolutely love the aromas from AromaWorks. Can’t say enough good things about them, from the candles to  reed diffusers,  body oil to bath oil,  room mists and essential oils.

We find it difficult to say which is our favourite but must note the mix of May Change and Sandalwood of the Nurture Room Mist is fabulous, and the aroma mix of Serenity is out of this world. The scent lasts for ages, it is highly concentrated, 100% pure but not overpowering. Even when we put have them away for a week or so we can still detect a feint scent for days.

These scents are well worth the money and the only room scent products we give as gifts, they are that good. See more details on AromaWorks.

Know a fan of Tolkein books? Then a series of epic stories that inspired Tolkein to write the Lord of the Rings has been published by Penguin.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.03.53

The five titles of the Legends from The Ancient North are:

  • Beowulf
  • The Elder Eddo
  • The Saga of the Volsungs
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The Wanderer: Elegies, Epics, Riddles

Each title is priced at £6.99. eBooks are £4.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.46.22A pair of secateurs is very useful when pottering around the garden . However  we have found a very useful pair of multi purpose scissors designed by Fiskars with so many features that makes it an essential item to carry around as well with you as well,  indoors and out. They are brightly coloured so less chance of losing them. I always tie a long red ribbon on secateurs which works for me.

Here’s a list of what the Cuts+More it is designed to cope with:

  • High-quality blades for trimming, pruning, opening packages
  • Power notch to cut light rope
  • Wire cutter for cutting light wire without damaging the blades
  • Twine cutter to cut twine cleanly and quickly
  • Pointed awl tip for piercing small holes in cardboard, plastic, matting
  • Titanium-coated, take-apart knife for cutting sheets of polythene, cardboard and sheeting
  • Cover includes an integrated ceramic sharpener and tape cutter
  • Bottle opener for a well-earned drink in the shed at the end of the day!

We love ours! Why not treat yourself and/or give a pair to a dedicated garden potterer?  Available from B&Q and independent home and garden stores.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.27.23Apple peeler/corer/slicer – its appearance does give the impression it is an instrument of torture! In fact it makes a job that can turn into torture into a breeze. And the results are so worthwhile and easy to produce I’m surprised it has taken us so long to find it!

When I lived in France Apple Flan was a regular and delicious treat. However that was in the days when we all had time to sit round a table to peel, core and slice apple ready for the tart to go in the oven and didn’t mind having brown stained fingers.

With this apple peeler everything is done in a trice.

Here are my Eleven Easy steps:

  • Wash cooking apples – it’s amazing how much dirt is removed in this one step.
  • Wipe dry, roughly.
  • Push onto the prongs
  • Turn handle
  • Watch the peel just fall down – straight into the compost bin!
  • Remove the peeled and cored apple
  • Cut in half
  • Lay straight onto pre-cooked pastry in the flan dish (some people put in a non stick cake tin liner to make sure the baking beans are all removed.
  • At this point some people put a layer of apple puree before adding the apple slices – this makes it all rather gorgeous!
  • Brush the apple slices with lemon juice – you could put them under the gril to brown them a little before brushing on a thin apricot jam syrup
  • Serve with beaten Light Philadelphia, or 0% fat greek yogurt. Yum!

Phew! That’s so easy! And quick! And looks so impressive!

Widely available on the web, where we bought ours.

We found several recipes on one website http://www.joyofbaking.com/FrenchAppleTart.html that you could adapt to suit.

One aspect of a kitchen sink is the space the draining board takes up, permanently, and the fact is we find it is not an easy space to use for anything else.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.08.21When we had a kitchen installed recently we asked for just a sink bowl and bought a Joseph Joseph flip side draining board – available in grey or white. This can be put away once finished with, leaving a clean, flat surface to use for other work which looks so much nicer. Ideal for two, but not very practical for a family.

Know someone who is worried about draughts and high energy costs? This is just one item we have found that really made a difference to the temperature in our hallway. It’s the EcoFlap. Fitted on the inside of the letter box it stops the draughts getting to your radiator thermostat.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.45.26We’ve just moved house and our new letterbox did leak air, seeped rain, rattled, snapped, and crumpled our mail! We quickly installed another Ecoflap – inexpensive, easy to install and effective. Can’t praise this enough!

Know someone who always has cold feet? We have tried three different products. The Carnation Silversocks made with pure silver fibre are said to relieve the pain of diabetes, chilblains, epidermolysis bullosa and circulation disorders, we like the idea of the anti bacteria element. They were rather too tight round the ankles for us, however would be fine for those with thinner legs.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.56.47Workforce socks fit the bill for when we are in and out of the cold, it doesn’t matter whether we are using boots or shoes in cold weather, they are comfortable and warm with a really comfy sole – a hit with husband!

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 16.52.32Then we came across goats’ woollen socks – they are wonderful! By far the most popular in our house. The socks come in long, medium and short. Plus topless, ideal for anyone who doesn’t like a mark on their leg or who might have circulation problems. Available from Wiggly Wigglers whose reviews are excellent, so it’s not just us who love ’em! Here is one: “These socks are quite simply the warmest socks that I have ever worn. They wash and dry well, and do not shrink. They also make great bedsocks!!! The weather outside is doing its worst (this is eastern Scotland after all!)  but my feet are warm and toasty!” Grown by Goats … for Toasty Toes … See more reviews and full details here.

5091David Austin roses  Whoever you give a rose to will be reminded of you for years to come. We love David Austin roses and have given so many as gifts over the years and never fail to find an excuse to give another! Our favourites are the ramblers and this year we have planted Creme de la Creme, a beautifully scented climber on the pergola. We have planted a white wisteria to complement it and between these two plants we are anticipating pleasant rests in the sun.

Compiled by Val Reynolds, Christopher Johns, Liz Lovell, Rose Monro

We’ll write something about the most successful presents we have given and received this Christmas. You might like to contribute!

4
Dec

An Easy Parmigiano Reggiano and Cherry Tomato Tart

237553Here’s a simple recipe we picked up in British Tomato Week earlier this year using two of the most popular ingredients – Parmigiano Reggiano and Cherry Tomatoes

Pre-heat oven to 200 °C  Cut puff pastry sheets into squares and spread with a little pesto sauce.

Divide cherry tomatoes between the tarts and sprinkle over Parmigiano Reggiano. 

Brush the pastry edges with beaten egg and bake for 15 minutes. 

To finish, top with pine nuts and bake again until the pastry is risen and crisp.

How’s that for speed? Suits me! And the result is so, so tasty! If it appeals to you the full recipe is below. It’s just one of many in a recipe book available

Other recipes: Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, known as ‘Parmesan’, is one of the world’s oldest and richest cheeses – still produced today as it was nine centuries ago.  Totally natural – it’s the only cheese with  an extensive maturation that improves the nutrition, aroma and taste. The use of raw milk and the richness of natural ingredients make this cheese a unique and superior product. It takes 16 litres of milk to produce one kilogram of cheese! The minimum maturation time for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is 12 months, but only when it reaches approximately 24 months of age, is it at its best.  As well as having fantastic nutritional qualities, it’s easy to digest and is high in calcium.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product. PDOs are defined and protected by European Union law in order to defend the reputation of regional foods. This mark ensures that Parmigiano Reggiano cheese can only be produced in designated areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the west of the Reno River and Mantua to the east of the Po River.

For more information on Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, please visit www.parmigianoreggiano.com

This recipe is so easy and quick it is a great lunch when you are really busy, or when the oven is cooking something else. Provides respite at Christmas as a respite from turkey!

Louise MacLaren, Guest cookery writer

CREDIT:

The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano           

Photography and Reportage: Steve Lee      

Recipe and Food Styling: Sue Ashworth

2
Dec

Take a Magical Walk Round Kew Gardens at Christmas

Santa's Grotto at Kew Gardens

Santa’s Grotto at Kew Gardens

Many years ago, in my youth, public displays of Christmas in London would amount to festive scenes in department store windows and a visit inside to Santa’s grotto. Selfridges and Harrods spring to mind, though I’m sure there must have been others as well. The main shopping streets in London, Oxford Street and Regent Street, would be adorned with Christmas lights, and that would be about it.

These days it’s very different.  Every main street in the neighbourhoods, as far out as the suburbs, boasts Christmas lights (the splendour of which depends on the affluence of the area).  Somerset House, some years ago now, hit on the idea of an outdoor skating rink surrounded by flickering torches and the beautifully illuminated old buildings surrounding the courtyard (which not many years previously had been a car-park for inland revenue officers).  Now it seems almost every venerable institution with the space has gone along with this idea and skaters are spoilt for choice of where to go for their double axels and salchows.  Also, for the last few years, Hyde Park has had its own Winter Wonderland, with a Magical Ice Kingdom, Christmas Market and Big Wheel.

And this year Kew Gardens is also getting in on the act with Santa’s Grotto, some Christmas Market stalls, a Helter Skelter and a lovely old-fashioned carousel. But its main attraction is unique:  an evening 1.4 mile illuminated walkway has been created amongst the trees with imaginative light and sound installations.

Illuminated walk

Illuminated walk

Particular trees have been picked out with glorious colour that enhance their bark and leaves.  A Mediterranean Garden is alive with birdsong and hung with colourful glass lanterns.  Tall bamboos grace the Asian garden where the wintery atmosphere reflects the shapes, noise and growth of bamboo. And after a secret cluster of beech trees where you can create your own sound and light show, a strong scent of incense leads you to the Fire Garden. This is ablaze with flames from 300 torches creating a huge circle of fire in the shape of a Mandala, a spiritual symbol  in Hinduism representing the universe.

Sound and lights

Sound and lights

Along the way, to keep younger (and young-at-heart visitors) amused, are wonderful ‘plant whisperers’, surrounded by the paraphernalia that allows them and those they invite to participate to communicate with the greenery that surrounds.  The lakes shimmer with light and reflections, the coots adding to it all by gracing the evening waters in what they perhaps believe is a strange daylight. The grand finale is the famous Palm House with changing light colours and haunting soundscape.

The Palm House Illuminated

The Palm House Illuminated

It’s a magical, almost mystical experience, only slightly marred by the sound of too many low-flying jets on their way to nearby Heathrow;  we were however assured that that particular flight-path is not used every day!

Notwithstanding the planes, in this age of hustle and bustle, Kew is a haven in the capital to commune with nature, on display in all her glory.

The Christmas at Kew evening trail ticket costs £12.50 for adults and £8 for children, with family tickets for 2 adults and 2 children aged 5 – 16 at £38.  Under 5’s go free.  It opens at 4.45 on the following dates:

  • 28 November – 1 December
  • 5 December – 8 December
  • 12 December – 15 December
  • 19 December – 23 December
  • 26 December – 4 January 2014

Full details on the Kew website

jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette NelsonArts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

Images provided by RBG Kew

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