“Puttin’ on the Ritz”

Last week it was my Mum’s Birthday. Normally it’s quite tricky to think of nice things to do – my Mum is a very busy lady and doesn’t really like a lot of fuss; a spa day or manicure would actually be her worst nightmare.

In December I was hooked on watching “Inside Claridges” on BBC2 but there was no time to pop back to London let alone book a table anywhere. Instead I spied a jolly looking tea set in the dresser and decided to make a swish afternoon tea for her at home.

Mum's Birthday Tea

Mum’s Birthday Tea

Designing the menu didn’t take too long. She much prefers classic, simple flavours so I went with cheese & tomato and cucumber & cream cheese sandwiches. But, just for good measure I cut the crusts off and made them lengthways like they do at those fancy hotels – well that’s what I think it said in the documentary and in this lovely little book on Afternoon Tea from the Ritz.

Sarnies

She also likes a cake called “Morning Buns” which they only make at Jarrold‘s restaurant but I didn’t have the required 6 hours for the round trip to Norwich either and I suspect the recipe is a closely guarded secret! In their place I made some rock cakes from a Dan Lepard recipe and they turned out brilliantly and very close to what I wanted (I used 160g of sultanas and a dash of vanilla extract in my batch).

Rock Cakes

For a splash of colour I made some mini fruit tarts. I only had about an hour to make everything (so whipping up a batch of Crème Pâtissière was not an option). Instead I made a little bit of vanilla butter cream to put into the bottom of the tart shells – just enough to prevent the fruit from falling out! There wasn’t quite enough time to sieve the apricot jam or wash up the pastry brush after the egg washing either so I just encouraged the warmed, lumpy jam to vaguely cover the fruit with a teaspoon (ssshhh, I hope there are no Roux brothers reading this!). I think I got away with it, they tasted lovely and took a fraction of the time of the real thing:

Fresh Fruit TartsFruit Tarts

Makes 12

150g plain flour

75g of unsalted butter, diced

1 egg beaten

1 teaspoon of caster sugar

2-3 drops of vanilla extract

cold water to bind

For the buttercream:

50g of unsalted butter at room temperature

icing sugar to taste

2-3 drops of vanilla extract

For the topping:

1 tablespoon of apricot jam

2 kiwi fruits

handful of grapes (or any berry fruit you prefer)

1) Place the flour and the butter in a bowl and rub together with your finger tips until the mixture looks like fresh breadcrumbs and the butter is evenly distributed.

2) Stir in the sugar, vanilla and half of the beaten egg.

3) Slowly, adding a little at a time, pour in some cold water. Mix until the dough comes together.

4) Wrap the pastry in cling film and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it and to allow it to rest a little.

5) Dust the work surface with flour and then roll out the dough to about 5mm thickness and cut into circles using a fluted cutter.

6) When all the tart cases are ready for baking brush them with the remaining egg wash and bake at 150-170°C for 15-20minutes or until lightly golden.

7) Place them on a wire rack to cool while you make the butter cream and slice the fresh fruit.

8) Mix the butter with a fork as you add dessertspoonfuls of icing sugar (I used about 2) and beat well after each addition until smooth. Taste it to check it is sweet enough and then mix in the vanilla extract.

9) When the pastry shells are cool place a small amount of the butter cream (about 1/2 a teaspoonful) into each one and then top with the sliced fruits.

10) Gently warm the jam (and sieve it if you have time) and brush the jam over the fruit to glaze.

11) Serve immediately

Fruit Tarts

Finally; the Birthday cake. Mum and Dad are still swamped in festive leftovers, there’s over half a Christmas cake still knocking around so I thought making a whole sponge cake would be decidedly unhelpful at this point. Instead I made individual muffin sized sponges, flavoured with caraway seeds and topped with lemon icing. A single candle in each one signified the celebration.

Seed Cake Birthday Cake!

Everything was washed down with lashings of tea from a proper pot and afterwards we escaped to St. Mary Mead by watching Miss Marple DVDs… but now I’m thinking we should have been watching Jeeves and Wooster instead – check this out Mum you’ll love it:


Boxing Day Sandwich Designer of the Year 2012!

Boxing Day Sandwich Design Competition 2012Firstly; THANK YOU!!! to everyone who entered this competition, we had some amazing designs and it was very difficult to choose the winner.

Another big thank you also goes to all of you who watched and shared the YouTube video, liked and shared Facebook reminders and for all your wonderful RTs on Twitter – without you social media dudes we wouldn’t have been able to do it. xxx

So, without further ado….I am pleased to announce that the miriamnice.com Boxing Day Sandwich Designer of the Year Award 2012 goes to:

Zara

Zara Gardner

who won with her “Merry Mushroom Melty” Sandwich

Congratulations!

Zara

What the judges said: “Sounds really tasty”, “would like to be at Zara’s house where there’s leftover ale and homemade bread!”

Well done Zara! I’m totally gonna make one of these this week!

We had some smashing runners up too:

Sarah

Sarah

Runner Up: Sarah’s “Euro Teaser”

Raj

Raj

Runner Up: Raj’s “Turkey Tikka”

Hayley

Hayley

Runner Up: Hayley’s “The Fabulous Vegetarian Tree Topped Roll”

Congratulations to the winners and runners up and thank you again to everyone who sent in designs, here are a few more delicious ideas:

Bradley

Bradley’s “Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich”

Helen

Helen’s “Big Boxing Basco Bagel”

Jon

Jon’s “Raiders of the Lost Fridge Bagel”

Richard

Richard’s “Nice to Meat you”

I ran this competition in association with Total Greek Yoghurt (who very kindly donated the prizes and tweeted like mad on our behalf!) to raise awareness of my chosen charity Action Against Hunger. The competition was centered around using up leftovers from all of our wonderful yuletide feasting so it felt right to set up a page on Just Giving to ask people to donate to those for whom leftovers aren’t really a thing. Please do give what you can by clicking on the “sponsor me” button below. And here is some more information on how Action Against Hunger use your donations.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Christmas in Wales

28000_10152346016920291_410788205_n

Seasons Greetings!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful time!

Richard and I were in Wales this year with his family and despite the floods we had a warm and cosy Christmas. Richard’s Mum did an excellent job of the Christmas Cake, Decorations and the Turkey Dinner and Richard’s Dad expertly dug up a Christmas Tree and smoked a salmon!

581341_10152346030460291_1652885850_n321214_10152346023425291_1874378419_n

399996_10152346048565291_782079758_n

321116_10152346033370291_765619141_n

On the night we arrived there was a big party with all their friends from the area. We had an enormous buffet, sing along and a performance from a skiffle band!

By Boxing Day the leftovers were piling up from all the revelling so we all made sandwiches…

Massive hint alert!

There’s still time to enter the Boxing Day Sandwich Competition which I’m running with Total Greek Yoghurt, you’ve got until the 6th of January to draw or photograph your sandwich design.

The first prize is my ultimate sandwich making kit worth £50 – perfect if one of your resolutions for 2013 is to take a packed lunch during the week. All the details for the competition are here along with the downloadable template. It’s free to enter but please do give generously to the charity Action Against Hunger.

406684_10152348354270291_1954637649_n

Happy Sandwich Making and a Happy New Year!

xxx

When Jack came to stay.

Jack is my sister-in-law’s brother…or my brother’s brother-in-law . . . surely there has to be a shorter way of saying this.

Anyway, Jack has been asking for my help to prepare for his new university course in digital games design. His background is in engineering which, excitingly, means all his digital designs of trains and cars would actually work if made in real life. The other students on the course are likely to have come from art courses and Jack wanted to hang out with me and try and get up to speed on arty fartiness! I found a timeline of art history, selected some examples of key pieces I like and why, and came up with this analogy to help him evaluate works of art.

“Lashings of Orange Juice & Lemonade”

The best thing I could come up with was “orange juice and lemonade”. Normally this is a mocktail, perhaps chosen by designated drivers down the pub or anyone in need of a quick thirst-quenching sugary hit.

I use it to explain art (I promise there is method to this madness):

  • The orange juice represents the conceptual integrity of the work, the idea, story or message that the artist wishes to communicate with the viewer.
  • The lemonade is representative of the aesthetic quality or the level of technical skill required to produce the work.

And finally:

  • The glass in which these liquids are poured is my perception of the piece.

For example; I feel that a painting like John by Chuck Close would be a full glass of lemonade – this is because of the incredible photorealistic quality requiring enormous technical skill. Fountain by Marcel Duchamp is a urinal (which he didn’t make himself, basically he just chose it to exhibit to challenge the art world). In its historical context this is a brilliant and humorous thing; a big glass of orange juice for me! Another of my favourite paintings is Empire of Light by René Magritte. In my opinion this is a large glass of both orange juice and lemonade in equal quantities. Check it out if you haven’t see it before.

I use this analogy because it reminds me to split my evaluation into an analysis of the concept and of the aesthetic quality. Also, it’s a little less risky to go around a small gallery whispering to your friend “barely a drop of orange juice in this one, no lemonade either” rather than “that’s a rubbish painting, the message it is trying to convey is weak and it’s not very well drawn”.

We spent the rest of the day loading up on coffee and creativity. We discussed conceptual art in the Tate Modern, grabbed a quick lunch from the stalls at Borough Market and then went sketching in the V&A. We arrived home with sensory and caffeine overloads and completely drenched from a downpour.

After a quick change I took a look in the kitchen cupboard to see what I could do for dinner. We were due at a party that evening; a fundraiser for the production of As You Like It which my boyfriend Richard is currently performing in – catch it quick before it ends on the 19th of May!

The party was 1920s fancy dress and aptly named Jazz You Like It! Knowing there would likely be a number of cocktails (and we all still needed time to get dressed up) a speedy-stomach lining meal was required. Manwiches seemed the only answer!

Manwiches

  1. Roast a selection of your favourite root veggies, garlic and onions in olive oil or cold pressed rapeseed oil.
  2. Toast some thick slices of bread and spread both sides with hummus (store bought is fine)
  3. Pile in the roast vegetables, sprinkle with zahtar mix and some crumbled feta and form the sandwich with the other slice of toasted bread.

Scrummy! If you are about to go out on the tiles I suggest you scoff these before you get your glad rags on- they’re mighty messy!

The party was brilliant, there was a raffle and Jack won an hour of personal martial arts and fitness training! We donated a dinner party for 4 which we shall be cooking in the winner’s house…a blog post for another day I predict.

Happy cooking!