Tag Archives: food

Plate Lickers take on Umbria and Tuscany…

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m not particularly good at getting away on holiday, however, I can confirm that I managed to escape and truly relax for 5 whole days on a recent trip to Citta della Pieve in Italy with my Plate Lickers Supper Club co-host Ivana (Miss Igs). As you may expect when two food obsessives are let loose in such a gastronomically plentiful country, we did a LOT of eating! And here’s a (not so) little summary of our adventures in Tuscany and Umbria.

We flew into Pisa and drove via a gorgeous little hill top town called Volterra, straight into a huuuge thunder storm. The weather went completely mental on us but Ivana did a sterling effort at keeping our little car on the road and as we arrived in the town of Citta della Pieve, the sun came out to greet us…

Sunshine after the rain

We had arranged our accomodation through AirBnB and were staying in a beautiful little cottage on an agriturismo called Cimbolello, a short drive out of town…

Our gorgeous abode

We couldn’t believe our eyes…we thought we’d arrived in heaven…

View from our front door

My meditation station

After we’d unpacked and settled in we headed into Citta della Pieve to find our first meal. Francesco and Luisa had drawn us a map and highly recommended that we head for Trattoria Pizzeria Serenella. We located it easily and as we entered the full restaurant, all eyes were on us! It wasn’t a tourist haunt (definitely a good thing) but our obvious foreignness and lack of command of the Italian language made us stick out like a sore thumb! (which is why I didn’t take any photos) 🙂 We persevered and were found a seat and read the menu at lightning speed. Ivana had heard about Pici, a local hand rolled pasta that looks like fat spaghetti but is 100% better, which we had with a simple but amazingly meaty ragu and a lasagna bianco…the stuff cheese dreams are made of! Serenella is a no frills establishment with paper table cloths and abrupt but swift service, the food was delicious and 2 main courses + 2 beers came to 15 Euro!

Back at the ranch the next morning, we woke up to bright sunshine. Our hosts had gifted us with a basket of freshly laid eggs & after a successful trip to the supermarket for a few more supplies, our breakfast was well and truly sorted…

Breakfast #1 before

Fresh tomatoes, of the variety that taste sooooo much better than we will EVER get hold of in our own country :), smoked speck, pecorino, creamy butter and our home-layed eggs, whipped up into a delicious omelette…

Breakfast #1 after '

with a strong espresso of course!

Breakfast #1 after

With our bellies full, we decided to head to Montepulciano, across this beautiful countryside…

Montepulciano

We meandered the streets…

Montepulciano

and stumbled on the Talosa wine cellar…

Montepulciano

We were directed to a stairwell, which felt like it went down forever but eventually ended up in the most amazing cellar full of the biggest oak barrels I have ever seen (see Ivana for scale)…

Talosa wine cellar

After sampling some of their wines we found our favourite and bought a few bottles of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The very helpful guy in the shop directed us to his favourite restaurant for lunch and although we were still quite full from breakfast, I’m sooo glad we followed his advice. We found ourselves on the terrace at Osteria del Borgo with this awesome view…

The view from Osteria del Borgo

Eating a selection of Cinta Senese (an ancient Tuscan breed of pig) cold cuts…

Selection of regional cold cuts at Osteria del Borgo

The most amazingly fresh Pappa al pomodoro (stale bread and ripe tomatoes, flavored with garlic, onions, and basil)…

Stale bread with tomatoes & garlic served warm at Osteria del Borgo

and the all round winner…cheese with honey and walnuts that had been grilled in an earthenware dish giving it amazingly crispy, golden edges…

Baked sheeps cheese with honey and walnuts at Osteria del Borgo

After lunch we strolled around and picked up a few more goodies including our first taste of panforte packed full of juicy fruits and nuts, homemade seeded flatbread, aged pecorino, our wine from Talosa and…2 gorgeous black truffles, bought from a little man on the street market in Citta della Pieve! We were both so chuffed with our truffle purchase and haven’t stopped planning what we’re going to do with them! So far I’ve shaved it on top of my scrambled eggs and made truffle honey…I also have plans for a classic truffle topped risotto…

Goodies picked up in Montepulciano

That evening, we continued our eat-fest and headed for dinner at Saltapiccio in Citta della Pieve, which had a beautiful roof terrace…

Saltapicchio in Citta della Pieve

The menu was pretty impressive, making it very tricky to make a decision on what to have…

Menu at Saltapiccio

The waitress was very helpful even though I did go against her recommendation of tartare.

We were brought a selection of simple crostini…

Crostini at Saltapicchio

For mains, we’d decided on ‘Lo Stinco d’agnello al forno con polenta e raddichio brasato al vino e miele’ lamb shank with polenta and radicchio cooked in wine and honey…

Lamb shank, polenta and radicchio at Saltapicchio

and ‘La bresaola di chianina con ricotta affumicate’ bresaola (air-dried, salted Chianina beef) with smoked ricotta…

Bresaola and smoked ricotta at Saltapicchio

We headed home to drink some of our Talosa wine and plan the next day’s trip to Florence, a destination that we were both very excited about.

Now, you may think that eating a big breakfast before heading on a food tour of Florence is a bit of a silly idea but hey, we were here to eat, so eat we did. Breakfast #2 was a quesadilla…2 olive oil tortillas filled with fresh tomato, pecorino and speck with a special sprinkling of truffle salt, fried in butter (natch)…

Breakfast #2

Breakfast #2 quesedilla

Ivana had found us a food tour online (link here) that we used as a base to explore Florence and after a 2 hour drive on the alarmingly fast Autostrada we arrived at Sant’Ambrogio market, where believe it or not, I had my first taste of fresh figs…

Figs at Sant'Ambrogio market

Before we started our exploration of the indoor market and our Florence adventure we fulfilled an item on my ‘must do’ tick list and drank a strong, black espresso, whilst standing up at a counter in the middle of the market with the locals and traders…

Espresso at Sant'Ambrogio market

The indoor market was packed full with a plethora of stalls selling meat, fish and pasta amongst other delicacies…

Sant'Ambrogio market

Sant'Ambrogio market

Next we moved on to a little street side cafe for a bit of refreshment and couldn’t resist a cannoli and pistachio eclair…

Morning snacks

There was so much to look at everwhere we turned. I loved this ice lolly shop, although I didn’t get to sample any of the goods…

Ice lolly shop

We momentarily battled with the hoards of tourists to get our holiday shot at The Ponte Vecchio…

Our tiny bit of being tourists

before hastily retreating into the back alleys and our next gourmet pit stop at Venchi for a gelato. We tried the caramelised fig and mascarpone and an Aztec chocolate…they were both delicious and a great combo!…

Gelato at Venchi

Next stop was Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, an amazing little place…

Cantinetta dei Verazzano

Just check out their coffee machine!…

Cantinetta dei Verazzano

We were already getting full but we couldn’t walk past this slice of foccacia topped with mozzarella cheese, courgette flowers and a liberal sprinkling of salt…

Zucchini flower foccacia in Cantinetta dei Verazzano

We’d been saving space for a very special delicacy of Florence…Lampredotto, the fourth stomach of a cow served in a roll! When Ivana first told me about it I point blank refused to try it but by the time we located the Lampredotto street food van on the Corner Via Dante Alighieri & Via dei Cerchi and having had a few days to psych myself up, I was well and truly ready for it!

Lampredotto stall, Florence

I loved the van and the father and son team who ran it…they had a lot of banter with their customers, mostly local workers on their lunch breaks…

Lampredotto stall, Florence

Look away now if you’re squeamish! When we were in the food market we located Lampredotto in its uncooked state, I’m not sure I should have looked at it but I’m stubborn so there was no backing out now…

Lampredotto before

And here is what a panino lampredotto looks like once cooked…

Lampredotto after

The stomach is boiled in a vegetable broth. When you place your order, they take a piece of lampredotto from the broth and chop it up. Then dip a crusty roll in the broth before filling it with the lampredotto and topping it with salsa verde and chilli sauce. We perched ourselves on stools at the edge of the van and got stuck in! I have to say, I nearly backed out when I caught a whiff of it but I was actually very pleasantly surprised by the taste, which I would liken to hot pate. I was ok as long as long as I didn’t look at it 🙂 I’m not sure I would be in a rush to recreate it at home (Plate Lickers Supper Club guests can breathe a sigh of relief) but I was glad we got to try such a local delicacy.

At this point we were full to bursting point but on the way back to the car we stumbled on this little gem…

Dolci & Dolcezze

and had to buy a creme brulee for later 🙂

Creme Brulee from Dolce & Dolcezze

We got pretty good at locating public outdoor swimming pools during our trip and with our swimming gear always at the ready in the boot we managed to fit in a quick refreshing dip before hitting the Autostrada again!

Once home and still somehow thinking of our stomachs, we bought some fig mustard from Francesco and Luisa’s homemade stash…

Homemade fig mustard from our agriturismo

Snacks

and rustled up a simple but delicious dinner of pici with gorgonzola and a tomato salad…

Homemade pici dinner

followed by the guiltiest of pleasures…classy! 😉

Guilty pleasure dessert

We decided that the next day would be used for some much needed rest and relaxation without any huge car journeys. And in the evening we were very lucky to benefit from the pearls of Luisa’s wisdom and to work alongside her making fettuccine. It was the first time I’d ever made pasta…I’d imagined it to be a lot harder, but then we had a great teacher!

Ivana & Luisa making fettuccine

I made pasta!

I made pasta

Here’s a little video we made of our fettuccine making https://vine.co/v/hmzbhebeIJX and here’s the finished product…

Our fettucine

Then, what was my perfect lastnight of holiday ensued…Luisa cooked up the pasta we’d made and served it with her homemade basil pesto and ricotta, which was divine!…

Our fettucine with homemade basil and ricotta pesto

Francesco filled our glasses with his homemade red wine and later his homemade cognac and walnut liqueur and we tucked into huge wedges of their homemade pecorino, pizza, sourdough & chutney…

Tasting the pecorino

We all chatted into the evening in a mismatch of languages and with the help of plenty of hand gestures until the fireflies came out and it was time for sleep. Before we all went our separate ways we made arrangements to help milk the sheep at 8am the next morning, as you do!

So at 8am on the dot we all headed over to meet the sheep. Now, I have to make an admission…I didn’t attempt the milking myself as I’m not a great animal lover and there were a few too many inquisitive sheep sharing the pen…

Sheep

I was in charge of general encouragement and picture taking. But here’s proof that Ivana got stuck in…

Ivana milking the sheep

Even though it was so hot, their small flock produced about 8 litres between them…

Sheeps milk before

Luisa showed us how she makes pecorino by heating the milk and adding a vegetarian rennet type liquid made from artichokes, which separates the curds (solids) from the whey (liquids). The curds are scooped into moulds that have perforations up the sides so that the liquid escapes and the cheese compresses over time…

Sheeps milk after as pecorino

Here you can see the cheeses varying in age, the older ones are the darker ones at the bottom…

Francesco & Luisa's pecorino stash

which is what we had sampled the night before…

Tasting the pecorino

I love the fact that in Francesco and Luisa’s house nothing goes to waste. The whey that was left over after making the pecorino was boiled up and became ricotta…

sheeps milk after as ricotta

Oh to be so self sufficient!

The time had come for us to leave our Umbrian paradise but not before picking some figs for our journey…

Figs fresh from the tree

and saying goodbye to our wonderful hosts…

Goodbye Franceso & Luisa

On the way back to Pisa we stopped in at San Grimignano in the hope of sourcing some wild boar salami with pistachio’s that my father had requested. We searched high and low but to no avail, there was plenty of wild boar salami (salame di cinghiale) available but apparently pistachios are not a regional addition, so I had to back down on my mission :(. The little town was very pretty but chockablock full of tourists and overpriced cafes.

San Grimignano

We managed to find a little cafe slightly off the beaten track for a quick espresso and slice of marzipan topped panforte…

Marzipan topped panforte

before continuing our journey. We were both sad to be leaving and found Livorno to be a bit disappointing. It didn’t help that we arrived in the afternoon when all shops and restaurants were closed until the evening, which included ALL of the places on our to do list 😦 However, we enjoyed the last rays of sun by the coast before heading home.

What an epic blog post! Congratulations to those of you who made it to the end. I hope my enthusiasm and new found love for Italy came though in my words and pictures. I highly recommend a trip to Umbria…we only touched the tip of the iceberg in 5 days! I have a feeling I’ll make an excuse to go back as soon as possible!

A presto Italia!

x

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My January blues banishing London adventure…

However much I love Cambridge, there’s still a part of me that, a year on, yearns to be back living in London. The air of spontaneity and sheer amount of new and exciting places to visit never ceases to lure me in! Having found a food loving, Cambridge-based partner in crime in Miss Igs, we hatched a plan to banish the January blues by going for a day trip, visiting as many of the new places we’d been lusting over as possible. We soon realised we would need to limit ourselves and I set about making us an itinerary, which looked like this and would take us to Duck & Waffle, E5 Bakehouse, Violet Cakes, Salvation Jane and finally the mecca of the dirty burger…Meat Mission.

Once we’d agreed our route we set about trying to secure a reservation for lunch at Duck & Waffle…we were nervous wrecks waiting for the confirmation to come through, checking our phones constantly (not a rare occurrence anyway ;)), but finally it came and one sleepless night later we hopped on the train to the big smoke and headed straight to Heron Tower near Liverpool Street Station and up the frighteningly speedy lift to the 40th floor!…

I was (literally) in heaven!

We’d seen some chatter on twitter about some not so friendly door staff and a strict dress code and I am very happy to report that we didn’t experience any problems with either and couldn’t have been greeted or treated any better!

We’d been drooling over the menu on their website already so pretty much knew what we wanted to try…

Duck & Waffle menu

Duck & Waffle menu

We felt it only right to celebrate the day by starting with a Winter Negroni…Bombay Sapphire Dry, Martini Rosso, Compari and Anitca Formula, raisin, date and roasted chestnut – rested, bottled and capped…

It was divine and packed a real punch 🙂

We decided to order a few dishes and share them, starting with the foie gras ‘all day breakfast’…

IMG_4715

A slice of toasted brioche, spread with nutella and topped with foie gras, deep fried black pudding balls, gorgeously thin bacon and a quails egg. It may sound a bit random but I am here to tell you that it was AMAZING, who would’ve thought that all those flavours would work so well together, but they did!

Next up we were presented with a paper bag, sealed with the Duck & Waffle crest…

which held our bbq-spiced crispy pigs ears…

and then the dish that we’d both been really intrigued by, and who wouldn’t be…the spicy ox cheek doughnut with apricot jam…

A gorgeously spicy ox cheek concoction surrounded by melt in the mouth, fluffy doughnut and covered in smoked paprika and sugar. My only slight criticism of this dish was that the smoked paprika was so strong that it overpowered the more delicately spiced ox cheek. But nothing was going to stop me devouring my half!

We couldn’t go to Duck & Waffle and not try their signature dish, the Duck & Waffle…

Waffle topped with crispy confit duck leg, fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup…

The duck was so tender and everything worked so well together…the guys at Duck & Waffle really know their stuff!

I was totally bowled over by D&W, it was even better than I had expected, amazing food, friendly service and the most awesome view!

Just check out the private dining room…

Duck & Waffle private dining room.

I would recommend it to anyone and probably will bore everyone senseless by doing so for the next while!

We eventually dragged ourselves away to continue on with our day’s itinerary, next stop E5 Bakehouse situated in an archway close to London Fields Station, where they bake artisan breads on site as well as delicious looking cakes and coffee…

Much to our amusement we found ourselves in the middle of a photoshoot for a Scandinavian start up company and stayed a lot longer than anticipated thanks to our photogenic hands (luckily they were more interested in our hands and our addiction to our phones than our faces!). We finally managed to leave after signing a release form and being promised cloud based fame, not forgetting to pick up a loaf of Hackney Wild, a delicious pain de campagne style loaf, on the way out.

Our next stop was Violet Cakes, who tempt me daily on Twitter with their cake porn…

It was great to see where the magic happens and although it was very sweet, the atmosphere was slightly lacking during our visit :(. We sampled a very yummy (if slightly overpriced at £2.80) cinnamon bun…

Our penultimate stop was Salvation Jane, sister cafe of Lantana (which I love and blogged back in 201o here). Our visit turned out to be at a bit of a strange time of day, when lunch had finished and dinner was yet to begin, and we had the place practically to ourselves…

We were happy enough to sit back and relax and peruse the menus for next time! I was also very happy to discover that there sold Little Creatures, a pale ale brewed in Freemantle, Australia, where I spent a very memorable birthday a few years ago…

It was probably a good thing that we didn’t get to eat at Salvation Jane as we needed to save as much room as possible for our burger eatathon at Meat Mission

Meat Mission is the newest member of the Meat Wagon, Meat Liquor and Meat Market family. I don’t know how I’ve managed not to visit any of the above, that is, until now!

We arrived for an early dinner at 6pm and got to choose out seat. We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on the BEST thing on the menu so asked our lovely waitress for her advice…she told us that the Dead Hippie burger was the must-try burger and highly recommended the monkey fingers ‘battered fillets of marinated chicken slathered in house-made chili sauce with blue cheese dip’. We finished off our order with a 2 pint flagon of Brooklyn Lager, which was so big it took a joint effort to pour 🙂 and some deep fried pickles (or gherkins to me).

The Monkey fingers were ridiculously tender and had a good after burn on them, which worked really well with the blue cheese dip. The mysterious dead hippie sauce was a nice addition to the burger, a kind of tangy mayo. Although it was definitely a good burger, I think I’d put the idea of it on such a pedestal in my mind that it would have been bloomin hard for it to measure up!

Full to the brim and overflowing with inspiration we got on the train back home to the Bridge. Hopefully the first of many ‘research trips’…we’re already planning the itinerary for the next so watch this space!

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Family Easter…food glorious food!

Easter with my family at home involves a few very important components…

hand decorated eggs…

which go into our Easter basket…

which contains all manner of Polish traditions…

including Polish Cheesecake called Sernik

The common theme to all of these components is food! lots and lots of food…

Even my 12 year old cousin, Indy, got in on the baking action with these amazing biscuits…it must run in the family!…

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Reacquainting myself with an old friend

Last Thursday I was running early (as usual) for a Businesslink course in London Bridge, the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with my old friend Monmouth Coffee.

I used to be a pretty frequent Saturday visitor to Borough Market when I lived South of the river but since I defected oop North visits have been few and far between. Now, for those of you who have not been educated in the delights of Monmouth, it is, in my opinion one of the best coffee’s you can get your hands on in London. Their coffee menu is simple and unfussy – I highly recommend their flat white but on this occasion I decided to go for a filter coffee. I really like the look of the racks and rows of filters lined up on the counter and I love the fact that you can’t rush a filter coffee – the water takes it’s own sweet time to drip through taking the most delicious coffee with it – 

The wait is always worth it at Monmouth – 

The perk of being in Borough Market on a Thursday was that it was relatively quiet and I had the chance to wander around and see what was new since my last visit. I was drawn to a little stall owned by The Cinnamon Tree Bakery

and especially to their Pecan and Orange Shortbread (a light and flaky shortbread with fresh orange zest and a sweet pecan and orange crust)

After much deliberation I decided to try a Tweet Tweet Cookie (Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, raisins, dates, tahini and malt extract), which was divine! It was chock-full of wholesome ingredients and still managed to be the most delicious cookie with a very satisfying, not too syrupy, not too crumbly texture. Just what I needed to help me through 4 hours of lectures on starting a business 🙂

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The light at the end of the tunnel

It’s been a bleak old week in my world but the black cloud that has been stationed above my head, much like the volcanic ash cloud which is lurking over Britain, has finally started drifting away. I’m a simple soul and in most cases like this a good coffee, cake, yummy meal or in this particular case, a trip to a fantastic cafe is the answer!

Just over a month ago I was doing a recce of Kaffeine with a friend and we got chatting to a guy on the neighbouring table, who wondered why I was taking photos of my coffee. He enthused about a little cafe in Charlotte Place called Lantana and told me that the owner had started a blog about her experience of starting her cafe from scratch. As people who know me are probably all too aware, this subject is very close to my heart, I’m very happy to chew anyone/everyone I meet’s ear off about my own cafe dreams! So, as soon as I got home I googled Lantana and found the blog in question. I started from the very beginning and read every post until I was up to the present day – it had me hooked! This, along with inspiration from reading Gary Vaynerchuks book ‘Crush It’ was what made me start this very blog.

But anyway, I’m going off on a tangent…the point of this post is that I finally made it down to Charlotte Place on this most gorgeously sunny Saturday morning and here’s what I found…

I think I must have been looking a bit lost because I was trying to decide whether to sit outside in the sun or inside where I’d feel more of the atmosphere of the place. But I was soon approached by a lovely friendly waitress who sat me at a vast varnished plywood bench at the front of the very shop, where the window was wide open, looking out onto the street so I got the best of both worlds – perfect! To top it off I had a selection of every weekend magazine/newspaper available laid out right in front of me.

I ordered a flat white to tide me over while I perused the menu

the coffee was nothing short of dreamy. It was smooth, creamy, not to mention a work of art. The menu was a nightmare though because I wanted EVERYTHING on it! I finally settled for a ‘grilled haloumi stack, mushrooms with herb pesto, corn fritter, sautéed spinach, and roast tomatoes served with wholemeal sourdough toast’ and was assured by the waitress that I’d made the right choice.

When it arrived I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed –

Every single element of the dish was delicious and the only criticism I have is that I had to add a bit of salt to the sweetcorn fritter, which wasn’t the end of the world!

After devouring my brunch and all of the weekend papers, I was toying with ordering another coffee but decided that that would be a little bit excessive and anyway the cafe was really busy, with people queueing for tables. I took pity on a lady who obviously had her eye on my window seat and eventually dragged myself away, stopping by on the way out to tell the owner how much I had enjoyed it! Great work Shelagh! There is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back!

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Man what a View…….

Me and my friend Kim, a fellow lover of good food, try to make a monthly appointment in our diaries to make the most of some of the great offers on toptable. It gives me the chance to visit places that I would never be able to afford otherwise and…everyone loves a bargain. So far, courtesy of Toptable I’ve visited Maze Grill, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Babylon at the Roof Gardens and last but most definitely not least, a cheapy but definitely one of the best…Ziloufs.

Last night we ventured to the 28th floor of the Hilton on Park Lane to visit Galvin at Windows and what a view we had from those windows! I think I could get used to sitting, watching the sun set over Buckingham Palace, being treated like a princess by being personally guided to the ladies, having my chair pushed in for me and all the while being served the most amazing morsels of food. We had the set menu of 3 courses for £35.

The whole experience was kicked off with an amuse bouche courtesy of the chef of pea puree in a shot glass topped with mashed potato and served with a minature silver spoon. I’m not really doing it justice but I can assure you it was absolutely delicious! I’m not usually the type to be overcome by shyness but I wasn’t sure it was the ‘done thing’ to take photos of your food in such classy establishments. However, the moment didn’t last long and for the rest of the meal I was snapping away so I could share the experience with you….

For starter we both chose the Roast spiced quail, baked potato foam, confit leg & French bean salad

Followed by the Roast fillet of Loch Duart salmon, wild black rice, broccoli & vanilla velouté for me

and the Confit belly of organic pork, lentils du Puy, Vichy carrots,
cinnamon & clove scented jus for Kim

By the time the deserts were rolled out I was getting a little bit over excited but I think you’ll agree that the Caramelia ganache, mango & pineapple minestrone even manages to look yummy when blurry 🙂

and Kim had the mascarpone cheesecake, hibiscus syrup & blood orange sorbet

and it didn’t end there…..we were brought petit fours and finally a whole jar of home made lime and raspberry marshmallows.

I would highly (no pun intended) recommend Galvin at Windows – every mouthful was a dream and I left with with an extremely satisfied palate and apetitite and definitely think it was worth every penny! The only problem is now I’ve realised I’ve got an apetite for how the other half live…roll on the next Toptable deal!

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