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Category: Food

Afternoon Tea at the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh: A Review

I visited with two lady-friends on a Sunday afternoon with a plan of spending an afternoon discussing books over tea-time treats – it was our High Tea Book Group session after all. Literature was discussed for a mere 15 minutes, and the rest of our 3-hour stay turned into a social afternoon talking about life and style. We were placed at a corner seat tucked behind some plants near the swinging door of the kitchen. It was supposed to have been a bustling spot but we were hardly bothered by the activity at all. The two waiters for our table were charming, attentive yet discreet. I was not very hungry so one of my friends shared a stand with me. The sandwiches were the classic ones with fresh salmon, honey roast ham, and notably, Scottish beef with red onion marmalade (a winner). The scones sat in the stand from the beginning and were not warm, but I was not very fussed about this; I dove straight for the sweet treats. What a disappointment the mini pavlova was; decorated with whipped cream and raspberries, it looked delicious but black pepper was added within – an experimental dessert by the chef perhaps? The supervisor came over and after I explained the issue, he did not appear to believe me. He took my plate back to the kitchen and returned with the explanation of the chef having tasted it and affirmed it did indeed contain black pepper, and that the meringues were made downstairs and not in their kitchen. What a spiel! He went back and forth to the kitchen a couple more times and then returned with a blueberry muffin which was warm, so presumably made in their premises, but something I did not really want then. The piano, which was situated diagonally to our table sat empty but a harpist played for the whole afternoon. Her music was subtle and created a calm atmosphere in the room. This, along with the sandwiches and company was a highlight, sadly the sweet treats and the staff’s attempts to appease did not suffice.IMG_0152

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The Delectable Sugar Apple (Ang Katakam-takam na Atis)

I am dreaming of our Atis tree in the garden of our Manila home. That’s right, I’m reminiscing about it in the middle of a Scottish winter. This could possibly be due to the Elizabeth Blackadder painting I saw of it at a recent exhibition (see my previous blog post here), or my mother’s constant mention of the tree itself during our video conversations. She deems it the most abundant tree in the garden that took root after a previous helper spread seeds in the soil after lunchtime, as she was not keen on food being wasted [they were (inedible) seeds but she still could not throw them away].

Its long name has rhythm, and can be easily overlooked: Annona Squamosa. It is a round green or dark red fruit with a bumpy texture similar to the hat of an acorn. You can find it in the tropics – most especially in Southeast Asian countries, India or the Carribean. It tastes very much like a pear, but with a subtle nutty flavour. With creamy, custard-y flesh, it can be eaten fresh, and it has potential to be a winning summer drink: as a shake it is delicious and refreshing and a wonderful departure from the more popular mango or banana shakes.

Photo credit: http://scentofgreenbananas.blogspot.com

An atis is ripe when it gives way when squeezed a little. Eating one fresh can be a bit of a chore, as the sweet flesh is embraced around the seeds themselves. The seeds are inedible so have to be discarded (in your garden, if you have the tropical climate for it!)

An overlooked usage for the fruit and its tree components are said to heal ailments and  I remember an auntie in Baguio, north of the Philippines mentioning this when I stumbled upon these posts by Cebuano Herbsman and Justmejojo.

Photo credit: http://justmejojo.wordpress.com

I would conjure up a recipe to make a tart out of it if I manage to get my hands on some next summer. Moving onto the next level of my daydream: A sugar apple tart served with vanilla custard. It will be scrumptious.

Afternoon Tea at the Montague Hotel, London: A Review

Served 12nn – 6pm, Monday – Sunday

The Montague Hotel prides itself on being a member of The Tea Council Guild and having received a special Award of Excellence from the UK Tea Council. This award recognises outstanding quality and consistently high standards of tea service for 2011.

A very good friend recently treated me to a beautiful Autumn Afternoon Tea. This is what it looked like:

Several elements of the meal itself intrigued us both. Among these was the special selection of teas on offer accompanied with a timer to measure the infusion of our tea. This was a thoughtful part of the tea-drinking that we were both unaccustomed to. It was enlightening and reminded us about the possibilities of over- brewing and under-brewing.

The meal began with an unusual opening of jasmine rice pudding with autumn fruit compote, which was lovely and delicate. The round-shaped corn-fed chicken with celery and almonds was a welcome addition to the finger sandwiches, but sadly disappointed after it emerged the filling tasted bland. I particularly enjoyed the smoked Scottish salmon sandwich as this was flavoursome. The scones (covered in the photograph) were served on the tiered stand from the beginning and the timing of this was overlooked by the kitchen. By the time we had finished with our sandwiches, the scones were stone-cold and the plate had to be sent back to the kitchen for warm ones. The cakes on offer were beautifully presented, and the black forest cup was outstanding. It was very light and the maraschino cherries were not laden with alcohol.

Overall the Montague Hotel’s Autumn Afternoon Tea covers a substantial and varied selection of tea and treats and made a delightful accompaniment to a sociable afternoon. Its tiny faults were easily redeemed by the knowledgeable and attentive waitress who was cheerful and open to suggestions. This helped make our afternoon meeting a memorable experience.

Chocolate Week 2011 in Edinburgh

Happy Chocolate Week 2011!

This is not some random event I have thought up and you ARE allowed to indulge in chocolate whenever you fancy. Chocolate shops and connoisseurs around the country are holding discounts, free tasting events and parties. Check it out at http://www.chocolateweek.co.uk/

My favourite shop Coco of Bruntsfield & more recently, Broughton Street have created a 64% dark chocolate bar infused with traditional haggis spices. Their description: It might sound unlikely – but the blend of spices that give Haggis that distinctive taste are actually delicious in dark chocolate. We promise there won’t be any nasty surprises, in fact this bar is vegan!

The reason why this is the shortest post so far is because I am off to Coco right now to sample this.

Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth person always lies. – John Q. Tullius 

Filipino Cuisine with a Western Twist

*Adobo is a Filipino dish whereby the prime ingredient is marinated in soy sauce, cane vinegar, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves.

 

We Filipinos are a very culturally dynamic people, and this shows in the versatility of cooking adobo with anything – chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, squid, shrimps, pork. There are also different variations of adobo based on the geographical locations in the Philippines. My husband can only eat adobo with tomato ketchup. He lived in Aklan for a short spell in the 1990s where the locals cooked the dish for him and added ketchup to the traditional soy sauce, white vinegar and bay leaf marinade. When I first heard this story, I thought it was a crime to meddle with the customary marinade with a foreign ingredient, until I tasted it four years ago. The sweetness of tomato ketchup reduces the strong notes of the main ingredients, and it helps create a rich sauce with different layers of flavour after simmering this with the meat. It goes wonderfully well with garlic rice crowned with sautéed spinach and promises a flavoursome, tomato sweet-imbibed adobo flakes the following day.

We both have different viewpoints on this addition of tomato ketchup to the adobo. He maintains this is how the locals always cooked the dish, and I believe it is to do with the locals trying to adapt the adobo to his western palate. Looking back on this exchange, I realised that some natives may always expect our cultural dishes to taste a certain way, but these could also be adapted to suit foreign taste. Foreign ingredients can ruin a dish or enhance it, and a western-infused Pinoy dish certainly requires one to have an open-mind about it. Either way, this adobo with tomato ketchup variation became a welcome addition to our household menu.

Depending on where you reside urges you to make the most out of the ingredients around you. A craving for lumpiang shanghai or fried spring rolls one afternoon inspired me to steal an appetiser called Haggis Spring Rolls from a local bar’s menu. A wonderful snack on its own for afternoon merienda (snack) and beautifully dipped in sweet chili sauce, or even as a main dish teamed with jasmine rice and a whisky-mustard sauce. Filipino, but with a Scottish twist.

One has also heard of improvising with ingredients in the absence of Filipino stores in your area. A resourceful idea includes substituting the sour component in sinigang with rhubarb or lemon in lieu of tamarind or kamias. These foreign fruits do not lend the same sharpness as our native ingredients yet as an alternative, they almost fit the bill.

Attempting to cook abroad, in another country away from your homeland allows plenty of discovery and experimentation with local ingredients. It can take a few efforts to come up with your own version of Filipino dishes infused with western ingredients. Whilst our cuisine continually evolves, new ingredients are always welcomed into the household cupboard that adds a western flavour to our native dishes. There is certainly nobody to stop us experimenting with the local cuisine and adapting this into our cooking. Filipino food is continually evolving throughout the centuries and the migration of Pinoys to different adopted countries has allowed ourselves to enjoy amalgamating the available ingredients in your new country with cultural dishes you are accustomed to. Those with traditional tastes might frown upon this emerging method but bear in mind that our food has its roots in Mexican adobo, Chinese noodles, and Spanish tomato-based dishes. Not to mention a few culinary delights gleaned from our own South-East Asian cousins.

In our continuing movements around the world and globalisation a recurrent theme, our lifelong quest of satisfying the palate results in this fusion of both western and Filipino cuisines.