Yottam Ottolenghi loves his olive oil. He even reviewed them for the Guardian and here’s his conclusion:
“Cost-wise, it makes sense to have two or three oils on the go at once – a cheaper variety for basic dressings and frying and a more expensive one for that final drizzle. The oil I want to dip my bread in or use to finish off a dish is highly aromatic but with the freshness of newly cut grass. The oil I drizzle over a simply cooked bit of fish is, similarly, smooth, velvety, fresh and balanced. The oil I use for everyday dressings, on the other hand, is less grassy and aromatic, and more one-note: punchy flavours can be brought in from garlic, honey, mustard, and salt.”
Olive Branch Olive Oil is his oil of choice, it’s used by him in his restaurants and delis and hails from a family farm in the Lasithi province of Crete.
It’s run by Yiannis Koinaki and his daughter and founder of Olive Branch Oil, Maria. The farmers work in a co-operative, growing the Koroneiki Olive, harvested at the same time each year and cold pressed in the community co-operative. The process is fully managed from the field to the bottle.
Producers in Greece and Italy have experienced a bacteria that’s wiping out olive trees. Tunisia has suffered low levels of rainfall. Tunisia you say? Yes, the North African country has taken the top olive oil exporter spot and is the second-largest producer after Spain. All this, coupled with Brexit, could mean trouble ahead.
America is clamping down on labelling. And why wouldn’t they? The country has become something of a dumping ground for fraudulent products, particularly olive oil. No one can control the 350,000 tonnes entering the country, mostly from Italy. Today, even after the news, scandals and general awareness, adulterated bottles of oil are still on supermarket shelves. Olive oil is commonly marketed as Italian. More often than not, it’s grown elsewhere and is just packaged in Italy. If you see the words ‘bottled in Italy’ on the label be wary. Some have been mixed with seed and are actually making customers poorly. Oils are also being coloured, mixed with chemicals and blended before being sold as olive oil. America wants to sample all foreign olive oil to determine whether they’ve been adulterated or misbranded.
So why does this matter to the producer in Crete? Well, it has profound effects on the market of authentic virgin and extra virgin olive oil that are more expensive, for obvious reasons. So there’s no real incentive for anyone to stock the great stuff if they can get ‘Olive Oil’ cheaper in the supermarket. Everyone’s got used to the low price, whether it tastes great or not. A real shame. When you get to taste a great Olive Oil, it’s like a fine wine.
This piece is to encourage you to try this small producer from Crete. It has a story, here are the pictures. It also has a Great Taste One Star. I’ve tasted it and can see why Ottolenghi gives it his stamp of quality. Put your mind at rest, support the small people and reap what they sow.
Flower piping nozzles put to the test ….
Decorating cakes is a skill I’ve never fully mastered so if there’s a corner to cut you have my attention. Russian Piping Nozzles or Flower Piping Nozzles from Amazon are huge in size, in comparison to conventional piping nozzles and the ‘flowers’ they produce take up a pretty large area on any cupcake or fairy cake. They also look pretty impressive.
I bought this set from Amazon. It comes with a silicon piping bag, disposable piping bags, a coupler and a set of 13 Russian Tips. I’ve only tried a couple of the nozzles, but my favourite has to be the rose bud. I added some foliage with a Wilton leaf nozzle number 352.
A regular buttercream 350g icing sugar/175g unsalted butter works perfectly well until the bag and icing start heating up and then the results aren’t great. When it starts to show signs of softness, give it 5 or 10 minutes in the fridge. The icing has to be firm, not runny for some of the flower tips, especially those with fronds. The idea is to pull up, not too quickly, and wiggle the bag to release the flower.
I’m sure meringue buttercream would work with a few of the nozzles but with a more confident hand.
A great tip for piping, if you want a two-tone buttercream or want to change your bag, is to roll the buttercream in cling wrap.
Secure both ends like a sausage, snip the end going into the piping tip and slip straight into your piping bag. Paint the cling wrap with a couple of stripes to add an extra depth to your flowers. Pipe onto a piece of kitchen towel to get the flow started and keep it to hand to remove any failed splurges. These can be easy lifted off with a knife and set aside.
This takes time. Practice and practice before you let yourself loose on the cupcakes. Some ice a layer of buttercream on top of the cake but it’s quite a lot to digest so I just leave mine with a sponge top. It really does depend on the look you’re going for.
Don’t expect to master these tips immediately, it takes a little practice, but you will get the hang of it. I piped a fair few cupcakes and I was pretty pleased with my first attempt.
How are your piping skills? Have you got any flower nozzles or particular skills to share when it comes to icing? I’d love to hear from you.
February was Robinsons Fruit Drop month – a scheme to encourage us to drink more water by drinking Robinsons squashes. Did you know that 85% of UK adults reported they drink less than the recommended eight glasses of fluid? Guilty as charged. Water is bland, and if you want me to drink it, it either has to have another dimension, usually bubbles, or flavour, often cordial. Squash is for the kids, isn’t it?
Robinsons Squashes: No Added Sugar
Well, it’s not. Robinsons have come quite a long way since the squash of my childhood years, and the strong depth of flavour and ingredients is far reaching. Dietary requirements are also a huge consideration, and since 2015, 95% of their entire range contains no additional sugar. Just two products have added sugar, and these are the classic Barley Waters. Squash isn’t so bad for your teeth either; the British Dental Association recommends squash as the next best thing after water and milk and if like me, you hate both then it’s my number one.
They’re even suitable for vegans and vegetarians. I was sent a crate of squash flavourings to give a whirl, and I’m glad I did I signed up for the trial, it’s worth the effort.
I even bought myself a water bottle to encourage me to drink more at my desk. And guess what? I’m drinking at least 2 litres a day. Something I’d never have done before the trial. I even took in a bottle to share with colleagues, and it lasted a day. Here’s my colleague Tom with a Robinsons Mocktail, I even made some paraphernalia from our tea stirrers.
Robinsons Squashes: The Range
Of the three flavours
Peach Fruit and Barley – ripe and fruity peach mixed with a Barley twist
Orange and Pineapple – juicy with the perfect balance of sweet and sour
Lemon and Pink Grapefruit – zesty pink grapefruit with a soft citrus lemon
The latter was a particular favourite. Sweet, but not teeth-on-edge sweet, this had a distinct taste of lemonade with a hint of sharp grapefruit. The other flavours were all perfectly fine and I enjoyed them all.
Squash’d are small squeezy, handbag-sized bottles available in 7 fruity flavours. Depending on your pour, there are 20 servings to help you out wherever you are. There are 3 calories or less in each 250ml serving.
Orange – intense fruity orange
Apple & Blackcurrant – crisp apple with sweet blackcurrant
Summer Fruits – plummy summery blackcurrant with a hint of strawberry
If you’re a tennis fan, you’ll know that Robinsons Barley Water is used to refresh thirsty champions and has done since 1934. In fact, their long established relationship is secured until the year 2020 so you’ll continue to see bottles of squash and Barley Water on the court at the AELTC during the Summer months.
You don’t have to wait until June to start enjoying Robinsons. Take a look at their website for more information or grab a bottle next time you shop.
The Hotel Byblos turns 50 but every year’s a party at this St Tropez haunt of the rich and famous. I celebrate a little earlier, here in the capital.
Happy Birthday, Hotel Byblos
If you’ve ever visited Hotel Byblos in St Tropez, then I won’t need to tell you how amazing it is. This year it turns 50, and from what is planned, it doesn’t intend to slow up or slow down at any point. In fact, I don’t know another hotel who flies over the Head Chef to London to help those who can’t make it, celebrate.
A 720° experience
The hotel has launched an app which is downloadable, both for iPhone and android, which allows the visitor to enter the world of the Tropezian palace. It gives the visitor the freedom to book a table at the Hotel’s Ducasse Restaurant, Rivea, or at the B. It’s a 720° experience which includes a visit to the famous nightclub Caves du Roy. A list of must-visit places, recommended by the Hotel’s Head Concierge helps you make the most of your stay, including events in the town and locale.
Early Birthday Party
We began, pretty much like you would at Byblos, around the pool, with a glass of wonderful champagne. A series of appetisers came around, including market-fresh crudites with the Hotel’s anchovy paste.
As you would in St Tropez, a short stroll from drinks to the restaurant for a marinated sea bream dish, uses a limited edition Olive Oil No 50 commissioned for the celebrations.
Sisteron Lamb is tender and incredibly tasty. The meat is light pink and has a very delicate flavour. Flocks graze on large natural pastures. From the plains of La Crau to the summits of the Alps. They feed on the natural grasses and herbs which include thyme and rosemary. Flown in and served with Capoun de Blette, a speciality from Nice, and a herbed jus.
Cheese was from Banon in the region and a soft Tomme.
I was hoping for the signature dessert but the Head Chef, Vincent Maillard, did exceptionally well with the small space he had. A marvellous Citrus Tian, a Provence speciality is a fabulous alternative and Summer in a dish.
The Hotel closes for the winter but gird your loins. Grab your oversized sunhat and Hermes pool slides, Louboutin’s and floor length slip dress (white of course) because The Byblos reopens on April 13.
The queue wasn’t too bad to see a small but iconic collection of Diana’s dresses. There aren’t too many, with a handful of rooms in the Palace displaying dresses, gowns and separates, so here are my 5 Must See Princess Diana Dresses.
To save time, you can book your ticket online, in advance here. The tickets are slightly cheaper (£17.10 instead of £19,00) and you can avoid the queues and dates that are totally sold out. Your online ticket is exchanged for a paper ticket and that way the staff can keep an eye on numbers.
To mark the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, her former home at Kensington Palace is now home to a brand-new exhibition of her outfits from the frilly to the public appearances which showed ahem, a little more than a member of the Royal family ought to. There are 25 outfits, alongside original designer sketches.
This will always be a popular exhibition so expect to be waiting as you visit the four or so rooms. Make sure you take a bottle of water, the rooms get quite hot. When you’ve finished, your ticket allows you to look at the other parts of the Palace.
There’s always been a fascination about Diana, and in 1997, just months before her death, she auctioned off many of her frocks for AIDS charities. One of the dresses you can see on display was sold to the chief executive of a chain of boutiques who wanted to remain anonymous. A mother of three sons and a huge Diana fan secured the Travolta Dress. She paid a record-breaking $222,500. The only other woman who courted such publicity was the sale of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ possessions. Prince William suggested his mother auction her gowns, closing a chapter on her royal life and style and focussing on charitable work. We’ll never know how the next chapter was to be. The Princess died on 31 August 1997, following a car accident.
6 Must See Princess Diana Dresses
The Princess often commissioned designers to create garments for specific appearances. She’d brief them and they’d prepare sketches for her approval, alongside fabric swatches.
Together they’d finalise the end item and Diana would often make notes on the sketches. Some of these are on display.
The Princess needed no excuse to set the flashbulbs popping but when she wore a version of this Murray Arbeid gown she caused something of a media furore. She wore one black and one red glove to contrast the black velvet bodice dress and red taffeta skirt. She surprised both the media and the public. The dress was recycled when she visited Spain.
Pussy Bow Blouse
Photographed by Lord Snowdon for the February 1981 issue of Vogue, the article was published to coincide with her engagement. Designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the pair went on to make her wedding dress.
Bill Pashley Tweed Suit
One of the most famous photos taken of Charles and Diana just after their wedding while the pair were honeymooning on Balmoral. Sadly, Bill Pashley died three years ago aged 80 after a lifelong career of making dresses for the rich and famous. At its height, he specialised in wedding dresses. Diana and Sarah Ferguson were among his clients.
Catherine Walker was by far the Princess’ favourite, and she wore over 500 of her designs. The London-based designer was a traditional dressmaker who specialised in bespoke pieces, and it’s her the Princess turned to for her tour wardrobes. Worn on an official visit to Saudia Arabia, this stunning cream silk dress screams respect without saying very little. Its high neckline and sleeves cover skin. The Falcon is, of course, the country’s national symbol and they dominate the otherwise very simple dress.
This glitzy sea green sequinned dress was worn for the state visit to Austria in 1986 during a trip to the Vienna Burgtheater and to the film premiere of Biggles in 1993.
The so-called Elvis dress is a beaded two-piece from the designer, Catherine Walker, who dressed the Princess until she died in 2010. Her work continues with her husband taking over as Head Designer. Said Cyrus continues Catherine’s legacy, focusing on bespoke items for clients. Take a look at the colour and you’ll see where it gets its name. It was for an official visit to Hong Kong in 1989. A strapless white silk-crepe dress, covered in sequins and pearls.
Mario Testino Shoot
It was to be her last large portrait session and she chose Mario Testino. Vanity Fair commissioned the photographer to work with the Princess and these were published in the magazine 12 weeks before she died. These are some of the most natural, glamorous and unposed photographs you’ll see of the Princess, outside of the family scrapbook. She chose Catherine Walker for many of the dresses that feature.
The gates of the Palace remain a shrine to the Princess who died in the Summer of 1997.
The exhibition runs until 28th February 2018.