Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Cookbook Cafe - Unlimited Champagne!

What do you do when a friend gets engaged? Crack open the champagne. What's the best way in which to do that? When the champagne is unlimited.

I kid you not. I was hunting around for a decent venue to celebrate my friends recent engagement and I came across an absolute corker on TimeOut. The Cookbook Cafe, which is part of the Intercontinental on Park Lane, were doing an offer of £44 per person for a 3-course meal and unlimited champagne. UNLIMITED. As most people probably would, I thought this was way too good to be true so I rang ahead before paying online... no issues from what I could tell apart from you had to be willing to have your table for a maximum of two hours, which was fine. I can drink a lot of champagne in two hours. 

We had a relatively early booking so that we could go on somewhere else once our two hours were up. Off we trotted to Park Lane with visions of Lambrini being secretly dispensed into champagne bottles. Nope! It was all genuine Mercier Champagne, kept on ice, in an endless supply. Once being seated in the pretty much empty restaurant (it was only 6.45pm) we chinked our first glass to celebrate the engagement and the fact I'd just been asked to be Maid of Honour (didn't even have to get her drunk! Bex, you are so going to regret this... I have strippers on speed dial already). Once I'd recovered from being blinded by the stupidly nice ring on her finger, we decided to browse the menu. Normally with set menus, I feel as if nothing is what I would choose to eat. However, this menu was different. They hadn't put the "cheap" options on the menu and the choices for each course all looked genuinely lovely. Obviously, I imagine this menu changes quite regularly but if this one is anything to go by, then I'd definitely be keen to see what else they have on offer.

Both of us went for the starter of the lobster croquettes with roasted pepper aioli. I'm not going to lie, I can't honestly remember eating these as we were so busy talking wedding stuff, but I do remember thinking they were nice! Completely useless information for you all there...

There was only one winner of main courses in my opinion. Roasted sea bass on fried Jerusalem artichokes and crab. I'm going to put it out there... this is possibly one of the best main courses I've had when eating out. It was SO GOOD. The sea bass was cooked perfectly with really tender meat but a crispy skin. The crab was quite subtle but gave the dish an extra element of flavour as well as a really nice level of saltiness. And it looked pretty on the plate (which is obviously the most important thing).

The other main of choice was the slow braised Blade steak with a Merlot jus. It came with a side dish of winter vegetables and roast potatoes which, to be honest, was a bit of a carb overload considering there was already mashed potato on the plate. The meat itself was incredibly tender due to the method of cooking so there were no complaints overall.

We decided to go for both a sweet and savoury dessert. First up, was this flourless chocolate cake with jaffa cake ice cream and a white chocolate cream. This isn't something I'd normally go for as I'm not a huge chocolate fan but it was so light and not ridiculously sickly like I was expecting it to be. The fact it's gluten-free is an added bonus for those with gluten allergies.

Finally, we opted for the traditional British cheese board which came with a chutney and an absolute mountain of crackers. We barely made a dent in them. A cheese board is a cheese board... not too much to say about this but it rounded off the meal nicely!

Overall, I would say our entire evening at The Cookbook Cafe was better than we could've hoped for. The service was incredible, the food was lovely and the staff were there topping up your champagne glass as soon as it was getting low. It really was a bottomless glass. To make things even better, we weren't asked to leave after 2 hours. We spent so long nattering and quaffing champagne (as you do) that we didn't end up leaving until 11.30pm. 

I would strongly recommend checking regularly for this offer, as it is a common feature for the venue. Everyone, including myself, thought we had missed the small print somewhere but it really is a great deal. I will certainly be going back.


Friday, 6 February 2015

Coconut & Cinnamon Raisin Bread

A while ago, I bought some coconut oil to use for my Coconut Garlic Kale Chips, and I've been looking for an excuse to use it ever since - it's not the cheapest product to buy in the first place so I want to make the most of it! I came across this recipe for Coconut & Cinnamon Raisin Bread and thought I'd hit the coconut jackpot. Using coconut oil, coconut flour and coconut flakes, it seemed well worth a try. Coconut oil is a great all-rounder. Not only has it been proved to be a great quick source of energy and improve brain health, it is also an amazing natural beauty product! It can be used as an intense moisturiser for skin and as a conditioner for hair. Plus it smells amazing. Coconut flour is rich in soluble fibre and packed with protein. It's low glycaemic index also makes it a suitable alternative to flour which suits both diabetics and those with a sensitivity to gluten. Again, it's not the cheapest product in the world (£3.99 for a 500g box) but it can be quickly used up in any home-baking. The chia seeds are also an added bonus to this bread, adding even more fibre and a source of omega-3 fatty acids. 

This recipe contains no added sugar, thanks to the bananas and raisins. Personally, for saying it's a raisin bread, I think it could do with a few more raisins in the recipe so I suggest adding slightly more! The same goes for the cinnamon. I though a tablespoon seemed quite a lot but the flavour didn't really come through so I'd perhaps add half a tablespoon more next time. The denseness of the coconut flour and bananas make this bread so ridiculously moist (love that word). You can top it with jam/honey/butter if you prefer but it's also good on it's own. Give this one a go...

You Will Need:
-300g bananas
-60ml coconut oil
-60ml almond milk
-4 large eggs
-65g coconut flour
-40g chia seeds
-1 tbsp ground cinnamon
-45g raisins
-2tsp baking powder
-pinch of salt
-coconut flakes  to top

Before you begin, preheat your oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Line and grease a 2 litre loaf tin (you may want to check you actually have some greaseproof paper. I didn't so had to use extra oil). Combine the bananas, coconut oil, milk and eggs in a blender and mix until smooth. This can easily be done by hand but will obviously take a little longer. In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients - coconut flour, chia seeds, cinnamon, baking powder, raisins and salt - and mix together with a spoon. Slowly start to add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine well until smooth.

Leave the mixture to stand for about 5 minutes to allow the chia seeds and coconut flour to absorb some of the moisture. Spoon into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle over some coconut flakes (this is optional. You can leave out a topping altogether or add something different like nuts). Bake for 50 minutes before checking with a skewer to see if it comes out clean. Depending on your oven, it may take a little longer, but seeing as ours is like the burning pits of hell at the best of times, 50 minutes was fine for me! If you notice it starting to brown too much, cover with file for the remaining cooking time.

Leave the loaf to cool for a while before removing it. It's nicer when served warm but is also great cold and can be stored in an air-tight container for up to a week. Enjoy!