Thursday, 27 November 2014

My book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party is published today!

I'm very proud to announce the publication of my new book MsMarmiteLover's Secret Tea Party today. Published by Square Peg, part of Random House, it is a thick luxurious volume with gold lettering and a red gingham cover with a silky red ribbon as a bookmark. It contains tips how to hostess the perfect tea party with craft workshops, how to lay a tea table, the best way to make a cup of tea, teapot cocktail, savouries hot and cold, including sandwiches and of course cakes. There are recipes for small cakes, big cakes, icecream cakes and plenty of guest recipes from other secret tea room hosts around the UK.
Nobody does afternoon tea better than the British and every visitor should make a booking to a home tea room which often has better baking and is certainly a better deal than afternoon tea in a hotel. Remember at secret teas, just like at supper clubs, you can often ask for seconds. No stingy portion control here.
I'm a great believer in the hot savoury; so there are recipes for tea cakes, crumpets, tartlets and Shetland bannocks. I also think the ultimate tea party needs a little bit of alcohol to make it go with a swing, so apart from the always popular glass of champagne, you will find recipes for tea time cocktails.
This is a wonderful present for Christmas for wives, girlfriends, sisters, mums, daughters and any man that is dead keen on tea and baking. (Strangely I've found this to be more the case in the north than in the so-called metrosexual south. Up north, men don't feel dainty china and cakes to be a threat to their masculinity!). 
Order at your local bookshop or buy it here online from Random House: MsMarmiteLover's Secret Tea Party £20
This Saturday I'm doing a honey themed bee tea at my house in Kilburn, London. Tickets £50 include a signed copy of the book. 
Menu will include: honey coated pretzels, mini baklava cakes, madeleines (traditionally made with honey), blueberry honey cherokee cake, home-made crumpets slathered with butter and honey, a honeyed champagne cocktail and more. Plus there will be a talk on natural bee keeping by Elke de Wit who makes beauty products from beeswax and honey. 
I do hope you enjoy my book, it's been a long time in the making and I'm very pleased with it. 
Again here is that link to buy: MsMarmiteLover's Secret Tea Party 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Secret Tea Party in Manchester

The full afternoon tea is something quintessentially British; no other country does it as well as we do. If you are a visitor to this country, you can do no better than visiting a private tea room in someone's house. In Britain, we have a tradition of the best food emerging from houses rather than restaurants. The supper club movement and it's offshoot, secret tea parties continues this tradition of brilliant home cookery and baking. Gwyneth Brock runs a secret tea party in Manchester called Vintage Afternoon Teas. Her house, garden, kitchen, crockery and collection of tea pots are a sigh-inducing pleasure. As well as really tasty sandwiches with unusual fillings, you'll get scones and cakes that are as beautiful to look at as they are good to eat. Gwyneth is a superb baker: I include one of her guest recipes in my book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea party, out on Thursday.  In the back of the book is a list of secret tea party tea rooms around the country, including Gwyneths.  

 Teapots of every shape and size
 Gwyneth combines tea with crafting and sewing workshops called the 'crafternoon tea party' that she does with Jo Johnston of French Knots Craft Studio. I really enjoyed this, conversation and concentrating in a sewing circle, very therapeutic.

 I made a little lavender cushion in the shape of a house. Yeah I know the stitching isn't that neat but I got there late and had to hurry to catch up. Otherwise it would have looked professional, of course ;)

 Perfect sandwiches
Mini bakewells and cucumber and strawberry cupcakes
 Light scones and clotted cream. Ladies, paint your nails and dress up for afternoon tea. Wear a satiny tea gown in the style of japonaiserie, wear your hair in a chignon, adorn yourself with silk flowers, don gloves and lace, relax in your femininity, drink tea and gossip. 
 Sitting back after a great spread
A well dressed tea table has flowers amongst the buttery crumbs
A glittering shiny collection of teapots.
Gwyneth's kitchen, all cream and bunting.
And at the end, the washing up....

Visit Gwyneth Brock's Vintage Afternoon Teas in Manchester. 
Book through her site: 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Stir up Sunday: plum and ginger duff recipe

I always forget how easy it is to make a steamed pudding. It seems like a pfaff...finding a pudding bowl, paper, string, cloth, setting it in a water bath to cook. But while this is a very slow method of cooking, once you have gathered the ingredients and unearthed the equipment, withdrawn from neglected corners of your kitchen, it's effortless. You stir it all into a greased and sugared bowl, no fuss, and leave it to cook for three hours or so.
Traditionally pudding were boiled in a cloth tied at the top and then hung to dry and mature so if you don't have a pudding bowl you can shape your pudding in that way. But I do love ceramic pudding basins, such as these from Mason Cash, which you can buy in different sizes. I've used a '24'. If you aren't eating it on the day but saving the pudding for Christmas, re-heat by steaming for an hour and a half. Turn it out of the bowl and douse with plum brandy such as Umeshu which is a delicious Japanese plum liqueur, or Slivovitz, an Eastern European plum brandy. Light the pudding.
For the plums, it's a little early for the South African season which starts in December which is a shame because South African plums are so much easier to handle, not having a clingstone, a right pain to remove from the fruit.

Serves 6-8

150g self raising flour
100g of candied ginger
100g sultanas
100g breadcrumbs
100g dark brown sugar
100g vegetarian suet or freeze the equivalent amount of butter and grate it. 
1 tsp mixed spice powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
250g plums, stones removed, sliced thinly
1 apple, cored, grated
75ml dark rum
2 eggs
225ml milk
Plum brandy for dousing

Mix the flour, Sultanas, breadcrumbs, sugar, suet, spices together then add the fruit (plums and apple) the rum, the eggs and the milk.
Thickly butter a size 24 pudding bowl and sprinkle with sugar (this helps it to be lit if you want to set fire to it when serving). Butter and sugar a piece of greaseproof paper big enough to cover the top of the pudding bowl. Then pour in the batter. Cover the bowl with the greaseproof paper then a layer of tinfoil. Smooth it down so that it makes a seal. Then tie a string around the lip of the pudding bowl, knot it and make a ‘handle’ by looping the string over to the other side of the bowl then tying it again. 
Prepare a pan deep and wide enough for the bowl to sit in with a lid that will fit over the top. 
Place the pudding bowl in the pan and fill halfway up the bowl with hot water. Place on a medium heat and steam the pudding for at least three hours (although you can steam it for up until five hours), checking every so often to make sure the water hasn’t run dry. 

After three hours, remove the bowl from the pan and serve immediately. If you want to keep it until Christmas day, replace the greaseproof lid and you can add more rum to keep it moist. To reheat, steam it for another hour and a half. 
Serve with brandy butter or clotted cream

Saturday, 22 November 2014

12 Christmas present suggestions for foodies 2014

My annual Christmas list for foodies.

Hatchet and Bear's site is a treat for those who love unique handmade objects, especially from wood. Last year I featured the hand turned wooden bowls from the aptly named Robin Wood; I even use mine in the microwave, for a portion of noodles or porridge. I like the feeling, the sensation of eating from natural materials. One of the most unusual looking objects for sale on the Hatchet and Bear site is the spatula. It looks a bit like an axe. £18

I like turquoise and blue for photographing food. Look for a bowl that has a colour or pattern on the inside rather than the outside. This handmade porcelain pouring bowl by Linda Bloomfield is attractive and useful. £24
Not necessarily something you'd use in the kitchen but a foodie themed 'Elspeth chocolate skirt' from I saw one of the ladies that works with this online shop wearing one of their stunning print dresses at Britmums Live conference earlier this year, and immediately asked 'Where did you get that from?'. I discovered quite a few of their clothes; the stripy tights, the nicely shaped cardigans, beautiful shades of petticoat, all quite Sweeney Todd/cartoonish, a look I like. £85 for the skirt and £134 for the dress

I'm a pasta freak and like all the bits and bobs you can buy to make the shapes. How about these rolling pins from to make pappardelle, tagliatelle and spaghetti? £4.50p each
How about a feminist oven glove? From the £11.95
Do you know about Meyer lemons? These perfumed almost sweet lemons are grown in America; any cook, dessert maker, jam and preserve maker or ex-pat American will adore these as a gift. Order them from the, a Californian orchard owned by Karen Morse. (Thanks to Gloria Nicol for alerting me to this). Shipping is included! Between $10 and $65.
 Photo: Gloria Nicol
Now you will need to wrap those presents so how about this incredible Plantable Broccoli Wrapping paper from £4.99 a sheet. Mine has just arrived, it's thick and luxurious. As someone pointed out, it's a gift in itself. Why not give someone a beautiful bunch of broccoli, wrapped in this paper?

A subscription to a food magazine. I suggest Cherry Bombe, a biannual that celebrates women in food. One year $38
Biscuit cushions from Not on the High St. These are cheerful as heck. Just right for lounging on with a cup of tea and a biccy. £22 each
For those foodies who a) like to eat in bed b) and blog about it from the same location, how about this 'ibed lap desk'
"Check your emails or watch a movie whilst your iPad or tablet comfortably sits on your lap along with a bowl of popcorn and a drink. The iBed features padding to comfortably rest on your lap, a slot to firmly hold your iPad and just enough surface space to hold a plate or two. Use it in bed, on the couch or travelling, and with most tablet computers." What's not to like? From the Science Museum £10

I should have put this on my Christmas books list but it's such an important present for a foodie that it deserves a special place here. Any foodie that you buy this for will be forever grateful. Anyone that has ambitions to be a food writer/blogger needs this book. The Oxford Companion to food. £26 or £20 on kindle
A course such as cookery, bread making or food photography would also be welcome for any foodie at Christmas. One is always in a state of learning in cookery. Here are a few suggestions: 
Vanessa Kimbell's food photography course, 8th May 2015 £165, Northhamptonshire
Bake with Maria, baking courses from £85 to £145, London
Cookery, foraging and preserving courses Vale House Kitchen, Somerset. I did the wedding cake course with Sandra Monger £165
Baking, cooking and patisserie courses at Bertinet Kitchen, Bath, from £35 to £400

Have you any suggestions that a foodie might like for Christmas? Do let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

17 things I don't like about hotels

I love staying in hotels, I like the non-commitment of it. I love to explore the room, the features, the amenities, the hospitality, the view, the local surroundings, the fact that for once I'm not the one doing the cleaning. But some things do irritate me and here is a quick list.
  • No free wifi. Or no wifi in your room but only in common parts (this is so frequent). Wifi is not a luxury, it's a necessity. Difficult wifi where you need a million logins and passwords to get into it in the first place (we aren't all paedos) and then jumps out if you pause for a minute. 
  • No bottle of water next to the bed. So many hotels don't. People get thirsty in the night.
  • Early breakfast hours.  As a freelance, I don't have to get up early at home why would I want to do that in a hotel when I'm ostensibly supposed to be having a holiday or at least a nice time. Stressful.
  • Crap breakfasts: unimaginative muesli. Discount yoghurts. Cooked breakfasts. Sunny Delight rather than proper orange juice. They always assume everyone wants a full English cooked breakfast. No. I don't want to eat a big fatty meal at that time of morning. Small cups. I like big cups, mugs. And the worst: no marmite. There is never any marmite. Pretty much never. 
  • Awful vending machines. If you are going to have a vending machine then stock good stuff. I actually think fizzy drinks like coke should only used on special occasions, the odd night out or on holiday. (It's incredible to think that some people drink sodas several times a day: this would also be on my list of why young people have bad teeth. None of them drink tea anymore. Badly brought up.)
  • Over-fussy bedcovers. So depressing. They are probably chosen to hide the dirt. The bedcovers in Alaskan hotels were particularly grim. You'd want folky patchwork covers or bear skins or something, but you got old lady nasty fabrics.
  • Noisy air-conditioners. Air-conditioners that you can't figure out how to make work.
  • Noisy fridges. I just pull the plug out.
  • NO conditioner. Anyone would think the world was run by men. Women often have long hair. When you have long hair and you shampoo it, it becomes a tightly-knit fuzz around your scalp. You need conditioner to untangle it, if you try to do it with a comb or brush you tear it. Conditioner is a medical necessity. Oh yeah, and if you were thinking 2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner was sufficient, think again. It's not. It's crap at both shampooing and particularly at conditioning. Again I've noticed that's a short hair/man thing.
  • Bathroom mirrors placed too high. Anyone would think builders are all men. A mirror where I can only see the top/dome of my head is no good to me.
  • Too high showers. Anyone would think the world is designed by tall people (i.e. men). If I stand in a tall shower, by the time the water gets to my body it is a but a thin mist-like spray.
  • Hairs in the bath or sink. Yuck. They are so often left there by the cleaning staff. 
  • Terrible dining. Most of the worst and overpriced restaurants in the world are attached to hotels. Often you get that corporate businessmen's dining: mock Michelin star crap. It's nice however when the hotel restaurant agrees to serve you pudding in bed as recently happened to me. 
  • A fixed TV in the corner that is miles away from your bed. I mean c'mon. One of the luxuries of staying in a hotel is TV in bed. 
  • Good in-room snacks that aren't too expensive. The Ace hotel in Portland had great snacks: artisanal nachos, great salsa, a boutique chocolate bar, some home-made peanut butter cups. 
  •  No tea facilities, particularly in foreign hotels.  In America you sometimes get coffee facilities (but often unworkable). And too few milks. Or even, as in America, no milk. If they know the guest is British, they should put tea and milk in the room.
  • Freezing swimming pools. I stayed in a Cape Town hotel this year where they had an outside pool which was literally ice cold, even though the weather was good. Torture. Plus they had loads of horrible splashy kids threatening to splash you with said ice-cold water. An ordeal. 
  • Being treated as if I don't exist just because I'm a woman travelling on my own. This doesn't frequently happen but it does often enough to mention it here. Standing at reception and being ignored because they think you are the little woman behind the suited-up man standing there. So even if there is more staff, they ignore you.

What drives you crazy about hotels? What do you like to see in a hotel?