Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A tea fit for a Crumpet

Without going over board, I am lucky enough to have a truly wonderful girlfriend. Fun, supremely talented, incredibly generous and generally gorgeous to look at, I wanted to treat her to an equally lovely birthday.

Following an all too brief trip with friends to Bath, I could tell she was hoping for a quick return to the spa town, to indulge in her artistic passions in some of the best independent galleries around, as well as sampling some refined cuisine.

My plans centred on afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel.

Camouflaged in one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture the UK has to offer, the only suggestion of the Hotel's location is the dapper looking doorman to welcome the guests.

Once inside, the traditional decor is complimented by a supremely slick concierge team, and after the briefest of nods and dialogues we were whisked into the prime, luxurious seats, overlooking the garden (only slightly overshadowed by the occasional guest being escorted in a dressing gown to one of the many spa treatment areas - think mental institution for the rich).

We opted for the Royal Crescent Tea, with the additional glass of champagne that the special occasion warranted, as well as enough tea to sink even the hardiest WI.

Presented across three tiers, there were definite stars of the show; the smoked salmon sandwich was truly divine.

However, it was the patisseries which were incredible. Presented with a separate selection to account for her nut allergy (another excellent attention to detail), the lemon meringue cupcake with the secret lemon curd filling; and the scrumptious, buttery cherry flapjack were fantastic. It was though the passionfruit, with the shortest of short crust pastry and the rich, smooth filling, which made us wide of eye and still found its way into the fullest of bellies.

Post lunch, we strolled around the very quaint gardens, enjoying some of the more unusual effects.

My only criticisms: I'm a west country boy, I like lashings of clotted cream with my scones (and to be honest, any other sweet treat), so when the first pot disappeared quicker than Houdini, the requested additional pot never arrived, which was disappointing. Also, as you can see in the picture above, one set of sandwiches retained their crusts, which was lazy. Coupled with the rather dated restaurant decor, I would give the Royal Crescent Hotel a seven and a half out of 10.

As you can see though, the gorgeous setting, occasion, amazing patisserie...and probably the champagne, contributed to two very happy patrons indeed!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Baked goats cheese salad

Dear blog,

I'm so sorry I've neglected you this past month. You see, in an attempt to better myself, I decided to study, which is the reason you exist. But then study took over, leaving you to fester like all the other impulse fads and buys.

But unlike the toasted sandwich maker and the jumpers I never knew I had, I like you too much to push to the back of the cupboard to make friends with the moths and mold, and there's a multitude of cooking to tell you about...

Baked goats cheese salad for a baked spring day

With the mercury pushing 30c, and my Nicole Kidman-esque complexion drinking in the Vitamin D, the choice of dinner is a tough one.

Anything carby, creamy and generally heavy is a no - eating should be a pleasure, not a workout - and I've never been a big fan of salads, as the 'on trend' ingredient of choice is always rocket, which I can't stand.

However, a recent trip to Bath for Miss C's birthday significantly changed my outlook.

At the Riverside Cafe, a lovely little venue nestled in the cliffs overlooking the river, the birthday girl opted for a warm goats cheese salad, which as you can see looked great, and is even making me salivate looking at it now.

Being the incredible generous girl that she is, I was allowed a teaspoon sized portion and it tasted superb.

So, with renewed appetite and desire to sample a full sized portion, I created my own version, for which you will need:

2 whole goats cheeses (similar size to the above)
2 beetroot balls (ready prepared is fine)
1 spring onion finely chopped
2 generous handfuls of iceberg lettuce
1 generous handful of lambs lettuce

1 handful of fine green beans
1 small sweet potato, diced into 1cm cubes

Dash of balsamic vinegar
pinch of paprika
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon

The method

Begin by heating oil in a roasting tin in the oven at 220c. When it's reached the heat, add in your diced sweet potato, sprinkle on the paprika, and cook for 40 mins. This are going to be your croutons.

Ten minutes from the end, add your goats cheese to the oven to warm through and make gorgeously gooey .

Now, heat a frying pan with a generous knob of butter and add your spring onions to gently sweat on a low heat for a few minutes (this takes the edge off them, and makes conversation afterwards bearable!). In the mean time, assemble your plate with the lettuce leaves, ripped and evenly shared between the two plates, drizzling the balsamic vinegar over. Slice your beetroot and lay to the side of the salad.

Remove spring onions from the pan and place on top of the salad leaves - I really like the mix of warm and cool ingredients in a salad, hope you do too. In the same pan, toss the fine green beans to coat them in the warm butter for all of a minute to retain their structure, season then artistically place around the dish. By this point the goats cheese and the sweet potato should be ready so remove these from the oven, placing the goats cheese atop the leaves and the 'croutons' to one side. Squeeze the lemon juice over and you should have something that looks like this...

Goats cheese and beetroot is a classic combination. The green beans add the crunch texture, with the sweet potato croutons adding a bit of substance to reduce the likelihood of 'I'm still hungry' syndrome. The lemon and the balsamic bring the sour and sharpness to tie it all together. A perfect supper..or lunch for that matter...for a very warm day, 

So, I have discovered a salad I can get on board with, and reaquainted with an old friend. It's nice to be back.