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If I was only able to use one word to describe The School of Artisan Food that word would be special. Before you even go through the gates as you drive through some of the UK's prettiest countryside the feeling of excitement and privilege builds, then you're into the estate and it's like you've entered another world. It really is a feeling of privilege and luck, like I have access to a secret domain that encapsulates all of the things I love that I feel when I head here and that is rightly so - where else can you learn techniques and skills from some of the most brilliant food artisans in historic surroundings as gorgeous as these?

On my second visit to the school these feeling hadn't dissipated and it was with practically a spring in my step that I walked up the steps of the school to the main dining room where my class was meeting. Of course you need to fuel up for a full day of learning on your feet and so the spread that greeted us was most welcome and of course all made at the school - I grabbed a coffee and a lovely fruit bun topped with apple before sitting down and chatting to some of my fellow students. The relaxed atmosphere is one of the nicest things here, even in the classroom you go at a pace that isn't rushed, you're free to ask any questions you wish and the teachers frequently visit your station to see how you're getting on.  



The class I attended on this occasion was all about the afternoon tea and the day was spent making five delightful treats that would plate up as a perfect sweet selection for that most British of eating events. On the menu were macarons, friands, tuille pastries filled with flavoured cream, possett and of course scones - all with a twist and using all natural ingredients of the best quality. We were fortunate enough to be being taught by Graham and Rose Dunton, two professionals who have been working in patisserie for over 30 years in some of the most predigious establishments such as The Dorchester and The Connaught and The Hyatt Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge. To say that I felt honoured to be learning from Rose and Graham was an understatement and they were wonderful teachers peppering the recipes with ideas for other ways to use the elements, alternative flavour combinations and professional tips and techniques that you'd only dream of hearing outside of these walls.

The morning began with macaron shell making which is something I'm familiar with but is definitely a big draw for a lot of people since they have been one of the trendiest - and difficult to perfect  - delicacies on the scene for a few years now. We then moved on to baking our friands and Graham even showed us how to make the jam that he has used for years, a different take that is much quicker to make and leaves you with a beautiful zippy fruity blend that would probably make a piece of polystyrene taste great!

Time flew by and before I knew it we were at lunchtime so we wandered back into the dining room where two lovely ladies had spent the morning cooking us up a feast of quiches, tarts, roasted potatoes and a myriad of salads. I must say that the wild garlic quiche was just gorgeous and I'm actually planning on recreating it this weekend along with the refreshing fennel and cucumber salad.






After a chilled out meal and a chance to rest our feet for a while we were back at it in the kitchen whipping cream, spreading out langue du chat paste and (briefly) kneading our scones before we were on to topping, filling and gussying up our completed treats. As happens in any kitchen we had a couple of hiccups along the way with some naughty macaron shells that cracked and rolling up cigarette pastries that were a tad too short to join around the moulds, but honestly a kitchen is a place full of the opportunity for mistakes. With that many students creating such a spread of different patisserie I'm frankly amazed that's all that went awry and Graham and Rose did a brilliant job of explaining what my have gone wrong and ways to rectify it which is far preferable to your trying on your own at home and having no clue what went amiss!

By the end of the day everyone had brains full of tips and inspiration and cars full of delicacies to take home - I could barely fit it all in my fridge when I got home. There was no doubt that everyone had had a thoroughly enjoyable day and I left with renewed invigoration for baking and a mind whirring with different ways I could flavour and switch up what we had made during the day. 






I absolutely will be returning to the school to do more courses in the future and if you are a food and cookery fan I know that you would just adore a day or two of learning just like me. It's not just baking that you can learn here either, the range of courses cover butchery, cheesemaking, preserving, brewing, chocolate making, food photography and more so you are sure to find a subject that tickles your fancy. Personally I'd love to do the Classic Culinary Skills course with Justine Kanter and I'm keeping my eyes on the Fermentation Masterclass with Sandor Katz!

It's safe to say that I fall more in love with this place on each visit and I can't wait to come back to explore the rest of what the Welbeck Estate has to offer like the farm shop, microbrewery and the gallery. It's safe to say that if I ever ended up working here at some point in my life I would be a very happy woman - it's nice to have goals eh?

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*This post contains items that were gifted for review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.

Whenever I take a trip to London one of the first things I plan is where I'm going to be eating dinner. With such a wealth and variety or eateries it would be a shame not to take advantage of this, even though I do confess I have favourites that I'll head to time after time. A new restaurant opening however will never not be a source of excitement for me and so when I heard about the concept for Brasserie of Light before it even launched I knew I had to visit. 

Brasserie of Light is a stunning new restaurant set within the world famous Selfridges department store on Oxford Street, with its own entrance on the Duke Street side of the store. The double height space is occupies showers diners in light with the crowning jewel being a sparkling 24ft Pegasus encrusted in crystals, designed by the legendary Damien Hirst. I confess it definitely isn't the sort of piece that comes straight to mind when you think of Hirst but the incredible scale, intricacy and well, unexpectedness speaks of the artists reputation. 

An airy and truly opulent space filled with shining mirror and Art Deco flourishes, this has to be one of the prettiest spaces I've eaten in. Artistry and design are clearly of the highest importance and I was tentative to see how this was translated into the food which mixes British cuisine with internationally inspired flourishes and flavours - sometimes this can go very wrong but at Brasserie of Light it has gone so so right.




We started our meals with a drink of course, my sister choosing the Jasmine and Peppermint Gin and Tonic which mixed Monkey 47 gin, aromatic tonic, chartreuse washed ice, peppermint mist and jasmine pearls. I love Chartreuse and it was a treat to taste a whisper of its herbal flavour against the bitter gin and tonic and it made for a refreshing drink after a busy day of shopping, despite the peppermint and jasmine not really making an appearance.  

I chose the Black Lotus cocktail, a concoction of sake, apple liqueur, matcha syrup and more and let me tell you it was truly delicious. The bite of the sake with the sweet tart apple was perfect and the matcha green tea added a fragrant and unexpected extra note that worked perfectly. An A class long drink that would be a proud addition to any bar's menu.



With so many interesting options on the menu it must have taken us about half an hour to decide on what to eat but I finally settled on a starter of the Dorset crab salad with watermelon, radish and a lobster dressing. I've had watermelon salads many times but never mixed it with a a creamy delicate shellfish like crab. Let me tell you, it works. Creating a perfect forkful with a piece of watermelon, a sliver of radish, a swipe of lobster dressing and avocado puree and a generous scoop of the crab was a sheer delight. Sweet and crisp, creamy and decadent, the bite of savoury micro leaves. An experience I would like to have again and again.

Laura decided upon the avocado and sesame fried chicken with coriander and green tea, served with a chia seed and jalapeño dip and was not disappointed. The chicken was juicy and flavourful with a delicate crispy crust that gave way to a ghost like taste of green tea herbalness that paired beautifully with the spice of the dip and the little sprinkling of saffron fronds.



As a huge seafood fan that lives with someone that doesn't appreciate fish dishes these tend to be what I order most of the time when dining out, but cod has never been top of my list. The combination of ingredients in the blackened cod with sprouting broccoli, wasabi mayo, shaved fennel and truffle wafu dressing however really sparked my interest. I've honestly never eaten cod this good in my life. Everything worked. The fish was tender and moist (which is regularly is not the case for blackened dishes as they are often served grilled to the point of dryness) and the seasoning was perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the meat itself. When eaten with a few shavings of fennel and a dip of both the dressing and mayo it was a divine mouthful covering all the bases of sweet, sour, soft, crisp, fresh, rich... can you tell I'm a bit enamoured with this one? 

Wafu dressing if you are unfamiliar is an asian dressing with a citrus and umami profile and I adore it on vegetables such as the broccoli served here, especially with the extra special addition of truffle. I can't honestly say that the wasabi really came through in the mayo possibly because it was with such a variety of other taste bud tingling flavours but it was rich and luscious as a mayonnaise should be. Needless to say I would order this again and again. And again. 



My sister settled upon the roasted salmon with asparagus spears, herb sauce and caviar which I was pleased by as this was one of the other options I was toying with! When asked how the fish should be cooked she decided not to go for it pink and despite this the fish was still unbelievably delicate with just a touch of toasty brown crispness. I adore a creamy herbaceous sauce with salmon and this one was particularly good, amped up to eleven with a nice splodge of caviar for added texture and decadence. Dipping an asparagus spear into this luxurious yet zingy fresh dressing was another treat that should be experienced.

Because it's one of my favourite treats we also shared a basket of zucchini fritti and me oh my was this a good decision! Wonderfully thin matchsticks of zucchini were dusted in flour and fried to absolute perfection and when spritzed with lemon juice and a little salt made for the perfect accompaniment to our rich fish dishes. I was just sad that we couldn't finish the very generous portion!




Dessert was a course I was very much looking forward to mainly because of the photos I'd seen online and so I was very chuffed when Laura ordered the 'Orbit' - a chocolate sphere filled with chocolate mousse and salted caramel ice cream, served with milk foam, honeycomb and popping candy plus salted caramel pearl chocolates. Yes it did indeed look incredible when it arrived at our table but the proof is in the tasting and it lived up to the magnificence of its appearance admirably. I don't know how they made that milk foam but I would like a bucketful delivered each week please and thank you. The light foam balanced out the voluptuous chocolate and caramel elements and the combination of sweet and salty cold ice cream, rich chocolate mousse, airy milk foam and crisp chocolate shell was a masterclass in pudding...ing. 



I have a real thing for tarte aux pommes so I couldn't resist ordering the saintly named 'Golden Apple' tart with candied pecan nuts and cinnamon sprinkle, topped with salted caramel ice cream rolled in gold fuilletine and golden dried apple slices. Another gorgeous addition to any menu it was a buttery rich treat with crisp pastry, tender apply, crunchy nuts and soft creamy ice cream. Not the best apple tart I've ever eaten but definitely an impressive offering that I would happily order again.

We concluded our meal with coffees including a 'vanilla shakerato' of espresso shaken with ice and served in a glass like an espresso martini



As you have gathered by now I'm sure we were very happy ladies as we left after a meal of this caliber. The creativity and interesting flavour combinations left me aching to try more and I've been recommending Brasserie of Light to many friends since our visit.

One comment that I would make is that the menu wasn't very vegan friendly, although a table near us had some allergy requirements that the waiting team helped with very well. Perhaps with the next menu review the addition of some more options will occur for our vegan friends ticking even more boxes.

So in a nutshell my words to describe Brasserie of Light would be beautiful, decadent, fun, artistic, delicious, creative and, well, all round magical.


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*This meal was complimentary in exchange for my review, but all opinions given are, as always, 100% honest and my own. 
For more information head to my disclaimer page.

If you're a long time reader you'll know that I find it hard to resist a good bit of kitsch and Valentines Day has to be the kitchiest holiday out there. My husband and I don't really make a big deal of it as it's very close to his birthday, is my sister's birthday and is a month after our officially being a couple anniversary but you better believe that I use it as a reason to treat us to a good dinner and a few nice drinkies - any excuse eh!

My love for the cocktail has had a bit of a renaissance over the last few months, mainly I think because our booze cabinet got a lot of new additions over the holiday season and that sparked back up my love of drink creating (and taste testing, hic). After learning about iconic brand Luxardo's exclusive first venture into gin with drink experts 31 Dover I knew that I just had to use this ruby red cherry infused delight in a Valentines drink. Luckily I also stumbled upon 31 Dover's champagne selection and it became obvious - a twist on the classic French 75 was the way to go.

The Luxardo Sour Cherry Gin* is an absolute treat, not at all syrupy like a liqueur but with the true juniper bite of a good gin and a slightly spicey warming range of botanicals behind it that finishes in juicy cherry with a pronounced sour zing. It's gorgeous as is over ice and it works a treat with a softer tonic that lets the cherry sing, but I know it will be finding it's way into many a cocktail over the next few weeks.

Thanks to my Mum my champagne of choice is usually a bottle of Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial* as its what I always remember her drinking, but go for whatever you fancy and can afford. I'm also a big fan of Pol Roger and Veuve Clicquot.

Please do feel free to serve this drink in a flute as is the norm, I just much prefer drinking out of a coupe or champagne saucer and so I do. As we're in blood orange season I simply had to use them here but feel free to use normal orange if you can't find it or if you like things really sour go for lemon juice instead.


French Kiss 75
Makes 1 (because Valentines Day is a great excuse for celebrating self love too)

Ingredients
25ml Luxardo Sour Cherry Gin
15ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice
10ml simple syrup (I make my own using this recipe but you can buy it)
Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial to top
Orange zest twist or cocktail cherry to garnish

Method
Put the cherry gin, simple syrup and blood orange juice into a shaker with some ice and shake vigorously, then strain into your glass. Top up with Moët and finish with a strip of orange peel or a cocktail cherry if you wish - I forego this and just squeeze the zest strip over the drink to release the scented oils so I can drink it quicker, ha!



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During the colder months when my cottage is toasty warm from the central heating I just love to make (and eat) fresh bread. For some reason I never really feel like making loaves in the Summer and favour flat breads and pittas but when it's chilly outside filling my home with the smell of baking  bread is my favourite thing to do, plus it makes my husband very very happy as he is a true bread fiend! 

I always seem to make olive oil enriched breads and this is no exception - it's basically my favourite foccacia recipe baked into a loaf with added layers of deliciousness that make it a meal in its own right. Because it's a soft and slightly sticky dough it can seem a bit of a faff to stretch it out to make the three layers but it's honestly worth it and feel free to experiment with your fillings, I'm a bit addicted to the smoked shredded beetroot that Tesco have started selling so I always use that, also because it removes the need for me to grate the 'troots myself which I hate doing. The subtle vinegariness also works wonderfully with the creamy soft cheese and my husband loves to eat the finished loaf with wafer thin slices of parma ham. I like it as is served as part of a picking board with olives and marinated veg like artichoke hearts and roasted pepper slices, a big bunch of fresh fresh basil leaves and a selection of salamis and cured meats.


Beetroot and Cream Cheese Bread
Makes one large loaf

Ingredients
420ml warm water (not hot or boiling)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (I use Saf Levure)
1 tbsp sugar
600g plain flour
1 tbsp salt
120ml olive oil
150g grated cooked beetroot with the juice squeezed out (I use this smoked shredded stuff)
150g cream cheese at room temperature
1 tsp garlic granules
black pepper

Method
I use my stand mixer to make bread but there's no reason you can't do it by hand.  Put your warm water into a bowl and add the year and sugar, then set aside for ten minutes for the yeast to activate - you'll know it has because it will start to foam. If you're yeast doesn't start to foam after ten minutes it likely means that it is old and so you need a new tub.

While the yeast is activating mix the flour and salt and make a well in the middle, then when the yeasty water is nice and foamy add it to the flour along with the olive oil and mix until combined. Now turn up the speed on your mixer (if using one) and knead the dough for 5-6 minutes until its soft and smooth.

Lightly oil another bowl then form your dough into a ball and drop into the oiled bowl, turning over so both sides have an oily coating. Cover the bowl with cling and place somewhere warm to rise until it has doubled in size - the warmer the place you put it the quicker it will rise. Near the end of your rising time put the cream cheese into a small bowl and stir in the garlic granules and a few grinds of black pepper, then pop to one side and oil your loaf tin - mine is 12" x 4.5" in size.

Gently punch down the risen dough and divide into three. Put a third of the dough into your oiled tin and press out with your finger tips top cover the base of the tin, then spoon over half of the cream cheese and spread it over the dough and finish by evenly sprinkling over half the grated beetroot. Stretch out another third of the dough a little and put on into the tin, again spreading out to the edges of the tin and repeat the cream cheese spreading and beetroot sprinkling before covering with the final third of the dough. Cover with cling film and put back in a warm spot to rise for another hour while preheating your oven to 220 C / gas 7.

When the prepared loaf has rested and risen for another hour take off the cling film and drizzle a little more olive oil over the top along with a sprinkle of sea salt flakes, then bake in the preheated oven or 30-40 minutes until golden on top and cooked all the way through. It will sound a hollowish when you tap the underside, although not as hollow as a plain loaf as it has the baked in filling.

Allow to cool and serve in thick slices, drizzling with a little olive oil and sprinkling with chopped chives if you so desire.


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Blue Monday is nearly upon us, what is apparently the most depressing day of the year. As someone who suffers from clinical depression I can't really comment on the truth in this and some say it's a PR stunt, but even if so we can use it for good if we take it as an opportunity to properly address our stress levels, workload, social life and more and hopefully recognise and acknowledge that we all need a break every now and again. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get annoyed by the chirping of duvet days and self care days being the cure for depression because that just isn't true, but I can't deny that when I'm feeling run down and 'sad' a day or evening where I can push work completely out of my mind is a great tonic.

I've put together a little list of some of the things that I consider to be my cosy time treats, the kind of goodies that either I don't have very often or that just seem special and fill me with a feeling of warmth and joy. Granted mine may be very different to yours, so why not make a list of the things that you would include in your perfect cosy day at home?

CANDLES


After meeting some of the Aromatize team at a conference last year they've become my favourite place to grab candles, wax melts and essential oils to burn at home. I'm a very scent oriented person (my perfume collection testifies to this) and so making my home smell comfy and luxurious is really important when I want to relax. Here are three of my current favourites:


BATHING TREATS


I'm definitely a shower girl most of the time, but I do believe that reading in the bath by candlelight is one of life's pleasures. Whether you'll be enjoying a glass of vino or a hot chocolate while in the tub, a lovely smelling soak that makes your skin super soft is a must and these are some of my faves:


READING MATERIAL


Is there anything more world transporting and relaxing than reading a good book? My fictional tastes are pretty much entirely for stories set pre-1960, in particular anything that is wonderfully descriptive about the fashions, foods and differing cultural norms of those times. The odd biography will also grace my bookshelf but I confess that my largest collection is of cookbooks which I love to snuggle in with and read like most people would a story - Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater's books are fabulous for this as they talk so nostalgically about food and how it is more than just fuel. Three of my top picks are as follows:


DELICIOUSNESS

Obviously from this little selection you can tell that I am very in tune with my sweet tooth, but honestly another of my favourite homebody meals is a big selection platter of delicious nibbles. Cured meats, pickled veggies, cheeses, breads, fruit - a real mix to be picked at while watching a film or flicking through a favourite magazine. If you too like a bit of the sweet stuff though, you can't go wrong with these beauties:


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Divisive as they are, to be honest I was pretty neutral on the subject of brussel sprouts until one Christmas I challenged myself to cook them in a way that my husband Pete would like. I decided to just treat them like I would a cabbage and so I shredded them up with the slicing disk in my food processor, although now I quite enjoy cutting them into slices by hand - weird I know but I find it kind of relaxing as they have a satisfying texture that's nicer to slice than a carrot or my most hated veggies to chop, a butternut squash or a celeriac. Am I rambling? I'm definitely rambling. 

Anyway... my foolproof way of cooking any type of cabbage to create the most delicious side dish is to shred it, fry it with a small sliced onion, a few rashers of bacon and some garlic n a mix of oil and butter, season with salt and pepper and a good few splashes of Hendersons Relish (or Worcester sauce) and then stir through a splash of cream right before serving. The most important thing is to let the mix fry for a good few minutes without letting it scorch so it sort of caramelises together as it deepens the flavour and makes that all important layer of burnished tastiness on the bottom of the pan that the Hendo's will pick up when its added. Without fail I make this for every Christmas dinner because I don't want a family riot on my hands, but I think it's too good for just one day out of the year so like to whip it up regularly throughout sprout season.

This year I had a had some of this magical mixture left even after several leftover sandwiches and dinners but was craving something a little less stodgy, so the thought came to me to add it to a broth to create a soup. It just so happened that when I was putting this together and wishing I had some parmesan to throw over the top I spotted a bag of teeny dried cheese tortellini I had grabbed at my wonderful local Italian shop Vincenzo Pasquale so I threw a few handfuls into the broth too to add that important cheesy element that I felt it was missing. Feel free to add a drizzle of cream when serving if you wish, I do!


Brussel Sprout and Tortellini Soup
Serves 2

Ingredients
small knob of butter and a few drops of olive oil for frying
2-3 rashers bacon, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly diced
large clove of garlic, crushed
300g brussel sprouts, sliced
1 tbsp Hendersons Relish or Worcestershire Sauce
750ml good chicken or vegetable stock
100g mini tortellini or cappaletti
2 tbsp double cream
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Method
Fry the bacon in the oil and butter until crisp, then add the onion and garlic and fry for a few more minutes until they've started to soften. Now add the shredded sprouts and stir well, letting it all fry over a medium heat for about 5 minutes stirring every now and again. 
The sprouts will have wilted down some, so now splash in the Henderson's or Worcester sauce with a few tablespoons of the stock and clamp on a lid, leaving it to cook down for another minute or so before giving it another good stir making sure you scrape as much of the richness from the bottom of the pan as possible.
Pour in the rest of the stock and bring to a gentle rolling boil, then add your pasta and cook as directed - dried will take longer than the vacuum packed kind. When the pasta is done spoon the soup into two bowls and sprinkle over the spring onions for a fresh zing, then drizzle over the cream if you're using it.

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This has become a quick and filling lunch for us and I'll be sad when sprout season is over. Do let me know what you think if you give it a try yourself!

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