Review: Patisserie Valerie Afternoon Tea

There's always time for tea and cake, well in my book at least.

Hailing back to the 19th Century, Afternoon Tea was enjoyed by our foodie ancestor, Anna Duchess of Bedford. Deeming dinner time too late, and short of a green juice as a 3pm pick-me-up, Anna was known to nibble through tea and snacks in her room to tide her over till dinner. This developed into the Afternoon Tea we all know and love now.

I'd consider myself to be an almost direct descendant from Anna as I'm usually pretty good at the whole afternoon snack thing. My work locker and handbag are never void of a selection of snacks and tea.

To launch Patisserie Valerie's new Afternoon Tea Menu, their Soho venue hosted an Afternoon Tea Party.

Complete with finger sandwiches, mini quiches, scones, mini patisserie and a choice of tea or coffee for £25 for two, or £30 with a glass of Prosecco each. Possibly one of the most value for money Afternoon Teas I have come across - £25-30 for two people is pretty darn good.

My favourite parts include the chicken, pesto & sunblazed tomato sandwiches and mini tomato & mixed pepper quiches - I could have quite happily scoffed my way through a whole plate of those.

It goes without saying that the patisserie tier was also pretty special. Light and airy mousse slices of mixed berry and double chocolate. Perfectly formed mini Victoria sandwiches. Indulgent chocolate eclairs and fruit scones that Mary Berry would be proud of. 

I also did some window shopping on the way out and am looking forward to trying out their new custom cake creator tool when ordering celebration cakes (you can't make you're own birthday cake, can you now?!)

To see a full list of participating cafes, visit the Patisserie Valerie site. No reservation is needed for Afternoon Tea, but is advised for larger groups.

What's your favourite thing about Afternoon Tea?

Patisserie Valerie on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Thank you to Patisserie Valerie for inviting me, all opinions are my own.

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GIVEAWAY: Limited Edition Lindt Fashion Bunny

I'm sure these bunnies need no introduction. Lindt's signature gold wrapper and jingling bells are synonymous with Easter festivities. Although I like to think that a Lindt bunny is not just for Easter...

...they're a perfectly cheery treat to find at the bottom of your bag at the end of a long day or as a little gift to put a smile on a loved one's face. But if you're looking for some Easter gift ideas, then read on.

A jar full of bunnies tied up with a pretty ribbon. There's milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and hazelnut to choose from. They'd also make great treats to hide in the garden for an Easter Egg hunt or to mark your Easter Sunday table settings. 

A very special strawberries and cream silky smooth white chocolate egg complete with a little something for Lindt truffle fans. 

One for the 'grown ups' a hazelnut crusted milk chocolate egg, its heavenly name couldn't be anymore fitting. 

And the cherry on the top, Lindt's limited edition Fashion Bunny. This super-sized bunny comes in a limited edition animal print wrapper straight from the runway. Complete with the biggest bow and bell of them all. 

Are you a fan of Lindt's Gold Bunny collection? Well here's your chance to win a Fashion Bunny of your very own...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A quick turnaround so I can get it to you in time for Easter! (UK only please). 

Good luck xxx

Lindt kindly sent me these samples to feature. I was not paid and all opinions are my own. 

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Recipe: Red Velvet Cupcakes

To start, a disclaimer, these may not be the regular vibrant red velvets you'll see in shops. But I thought I'd share anyway. These cupcakes were made using regular supermarket food colouring, so just goes to show you really do need that fancy Superflair stuff to get that vibrant red.

Typically, although food colouring is used, the vinegar and buttermilk used in the recipe react to intensify this colouring. Hummingbird Bakery have a good FAQ on colourings here.

Aside from that, it was so good to go back to basics this weekend and do some baking. Its been a long time and I've missed it.

Red velvet cupcakes
(Recipe from Lisa Faulker's Tea & Cake, makes 12)

125g unsalted butter, softened
300g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
180g plain flour
2tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
125ml buttermilk
1tsp Superflair red food colouring
1tsp vanilla extract
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp red wine vinegar

150g white chocolate
200g full fat cream cheese
100g unsalted butter, softened
200g icing sugar, sifted
1tsp vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 170 degrees and line a cupcake tray with cases.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and salt and gently fold into the mix.

Combine the buttermilk, colouring and vanilla extract and fold into the mix. In a separate bowl, mix together the bicarbonate of soda and red wine vinegar, it will fizz up slightly. Gently fold into the battle, being careful not to knock any air out.

Divide the batter between the paper cases, cook in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes. A skewer inserted should come out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to fully cool.

To make the frosting, gently melt the chocolate in the microwave in short 10-20 second bursts. Alternatively, melt in a bowl rested on a pan of barely simmering water. Once fully melted, leave to cool for a minute or two. Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and continue to mix. Beat in the icing sugar and vanilla until smooth and well incorporated. Cover and leave to chill in the fridge before frosting the cupcakes.

Once the cupcakes have cooled trim any raised tops and blitz in the blender to make crumbs for decoration. Spoon or pipe the chilled frosting onto each cupcake and top with a sprinkling of crumbs.

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My favourite blogs

I've been having a think about my favourite blogs recently, ordering my Bloglovin' collections and bookmarking some recipes and places to try. There's a whole heap of blogs I read, but I thought I'd share a few favourites from my most visited.

Supergolden Bakes

Lucy is a cake-making, photo-taking machine. I'm always inspired by the quality of her recipes, photos and just how frequently she posts. Its pretty hard to find photos more beautiful than hers. Her archive is pretty substantial and is a great source for any recipe you could possibly imagine, both sweet and savoury.

I love her recipes for giant apple roll with caramel, long island iced coffee and espresso caramel cheesecake brownies.

Lucy also hosts Cook Blog Share, a weekly recipe link up. The roundup is a great way of finding new blogs and for recipe inspiration.

Emily's Recipes & Reviews

Emily has a great balance of recipes,  product and restaurant reviews based in the Midlands. She's also pretty nifty at making pasta and sushi, and has some step by step guides full of photos to help you along the way. 

You'll also find a good mix of vegan, gluten free recipes in her posts which I like to bookmark incase I'm stuck for ideas when baking for others.

Rosie Posie's Pudding & Pies

With each new post I'm amazed Rosie has a review of another of Brighton's finest (and not so fine) - she truly leaves no stone unturned. For anything in the area you'll find a comprehensive archive of recommendations and even specific guides such as pizza and fry ups in the area.

And in case there's no restaurants left in Brighton, you'll also find a little on her favourite beauty picks, weekly roundups and recipes.

Her spicy chicken pho and duck and waffle recipes look equally great.

Joy the Baker

A baking oracle, although American based, there's a whole wealth of great pointers. Joy's Baking 101 series is worth of a book in itself. I also enjoy her more informal posts, Let it Be, a series of her favourite articles, Twitter trends and other Internet finds of each week.

Although I've not yet listened myself, Joy also has a series of podcasts and baking videos. And two recipe books - she's a busy lady!

For recipes, take a look at Joy's chocolate beetroot cake or spicy vegetarian tortilla soup.

SilverSpoon London

Angie's luxury lifestyle blog has heaps of London restaurant reviews. Her posts offer an extensive guide to London's finest and are packed full of photos. She also offers great tips on hotels and travelling, including her top 10 New York and Las Vegas guides.

Favourites include her top 10 restaurants of 2014 and a day exploring Victoria.

Other favourites include...

Hannah Gale; see 27 signs you're doing better at this whole being a grown up thing than you realise.

Little Magpie; see not just any denim.

Urban Pixxels; have a browse through paris is always a good idea.

The Mayfairy; check your March horoscope.

They Called it The Diamond Blog; this lemon, ginger and goats cheese cake is next on my baking list.

I'd love to know what your most read blogs are?
I'm currently loving Bloglovin's collections far more than Pinterest - have you started any?

Thank you to all those featured, all images are their own.

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Review: Asian Cookery at The Smart School of Cookery with LV=

Hopeful of warmer months to come, the slow cooker has been stowed (temporarily) and I've been on the lookout for some lighter, fresher meal inspiration.

After attending an Asian cookery class last week, I now have some new recipes to try out and add to my weekly repertoire.

LV= invited some bloggers to attend this class at The Smart School of Cookery as a way of promoting healthy lifestyles.

Not only was it great to meet and discover some new bloggers, I also learnt some pretty nifty cooking tips. The kind of tips that are so full of common sense once you know, you pretend you knew them all along!

I thought I'd share some of my favourite tips from the evening and some recipes. But of course, we knew it all before, didn't we...?

Katrina from Cool Bananas having a chopping lesson.

  • In order to remain tear free whilst chopping onions, breathe through your mouth. Your olfactory nerves are located close to your tear ducts, which essentially means breathing onion vapours through your nose is more likely to make you cry.
  • If you freeze whole fresh chillies, you can grate them straight into a pan. Then heat will defrost them instantly, you use only what you need and it saves a lot of mess and is easier if you're not so good with a knife. The same goes for ginger, including the skin.

Milly from Mini Adventures plating up our sticky rice with Chef Stu.
  • An easy way to cook rice is baked in the oven in a shallow pan, cover with water and a sheet of parchment. Fluff up and add more water if needed. Short grain rice is best for speed. You'll also get those nice crispy edges that the Spanish call socarrat in their paella.
  • Also, ensure you use rapeseed oil when frying anything. It has a higher burning point, when compared to olive oil. This means you won't be burning the oil and creating carcinogenic fumes. Leave olive oil for dressing and drizzle after cooking. (N.b I've found Sainsbury's own vegetable oil is in fact rapeseed oil and far cheaper. Although the more golden colour, branded bottles are noticeably better with things like potatoes and fish).
  • For a healthier way of adding chicken to dishes, poach the chicken pieces in a pan of water first before adding. Much healthier than frying in oil and also ensures your meat is super tender.

And now for the recipes...

Lime & chilli courgette ribbons served with Asian prawns and rocket.
Lime & chilli cured courgette ribbons

1 courgette
juice of 3 limes
1tsp chopped fresh chilli
1tsp garlic paste
1tsp ginger, grated (optional)

Use a vegetable peeler to peel ribbons from the courgette. Mix the marinade together in a bowl, season and add the courgettes. Give a mix to ensure the courgettes are coated and leave to marinade for 3 minutes before serving.

Asian prawns

3 medium raw tiger prawns (per person), deveined and butterflied
2tsp each of finely chopped chilli, garlic and grated ginger
juice and zest of 2 limes
1tsp turmeric
1tbsp rapeseed oil

Mix the chilli, lime, turmeric and oil together to form a paste and season. Marinate the prawns for 3 minutes before cooking for a few minutes on each side in a pan on a medium heat.

As a vegetarian alternative, use the marinade to cure cubed courgette.

Noodle broth with coriander crostini.
The noodle shot!
Noodle broth with coriander crostini

To make the stock,

Add a little oil to a hot pan and caramelise the 4 chopped carrots, 2 onions and 1 celery. Fill a stock pot, add the vegetables and bring to boil. Continue until reduced by half and sieve.

Alternatively, use 2 pints of shop-bought vegetable stock for 6-8 people.

To your broth add the following,

1 lemongrass stalk, scored
juice and zest of 1 lime
1tsp garlic paste
2tsp ginger, grated
2tsp galangal paste
1tsp finely chopped chilli
1tbsp fish sauce
1tbsp soy sauce

Soak a pack of egg noodles to remove wax before adding to the broth to cook for 5 minutes.

Slice a part-baked baguette, drizzle pieces with oil, season and toast under the grill until golden.

To serve, ladle noodles and broth into bowls, top with crostini and a generous sprinkle of coriander.

You can also add seared chicken pieces to make into a bigger meal.

Chicken thai curry.
Hungry bloggers Tweeting at the dinner table *tsk*.
Chicken Thai curry
(Serves 8)

1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
4-6 green chillies, grated
1tsp galangal
5cm fresh ginger, grated
1/2 onion, diced
400ml coconut milk
2tsp garlic paste
2 lemongrass stalks, scored (or lemon zest when serving)
8 lime leaves (or lime zest when serving)
2tsp each fish sauce and soy sauce
1dsp palm sugar or honey
skinless and boneless chicken thighs, enough to serve 8
small bunch fresh coriander, blitzed with a little water to form a paste
zest and juice of 1 lime

To make the curry paste, add the cumin, coriander, chilli, galangal, ginger to a bowl. Season and add a little water to combine.

Heat a pan with 1tsp oil, add diced onion and cover with a drop of water to steam. Add the curry paste and heat before adding the coconut milk and the rest of the ingredients (except coriander and zests).

Cook the chicken first by poaching in a pan of water until cooked through. Add to curry with fresh coriander, lime juice and zest.

To serve with sticky rice, add 125g per 2-3 people to a shallow pan. Add 2 cups of water per 125g of rice. Stir to release starch, cover and cook in oven for 15-20 minutes.

As a vegetarian alternative, use 2 cans of chickpeas.

During the class Chef Stu took us through the steps for each dish whereby we all had a turn in stirring, chopping, seasoning and tasting throughout the evening. Knowledgable and relaxed, Stu had time for each and every one of our questions which is a lot for a relatively big group of around 20 bloggers (and cameras)!

A big thank you to LV= and Joe Blogs for inviting me, I can't wait to get cooking a recreate some of these dishes!

Take a look at LV='s Love Life page, you'll find articles and tips on Living a healthy, happy lifestyle including their blog post of the evening.

You can also find out about The Smart School of Cookery classes and venues here.

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Review: Mother's Day Afternoon Tea with Virgin Experience Days

Mother's Day is just around the corner and what better way to spend it than with some quality time with your Mama. Whether it be an indulgent Afternoon Tea, a spa pamper or some sightseeing, its a great excuse to get out, have some fun and let Mum be Queen for the day. Because, she's worth it *hair flick*!

An experience or vouchers for an outing may be easy to book, but are a good excuse to do something different and to spend some time together. When Virgin Experience Days offered us the chance to choose an adventure, we hopped at the chance of a tour on BB Bakery's Afternoon Tea Bus.

You know Mum's have golden rules like, 'you can't eat cake for tea Sophie!'...well its nice to break the rules once in a while.

Mum met me from work where we walked around the corner from Waterloo to pick up the 5:30pm bus tour. When we arrived at the bus stop there was no one to be seen. It turned out our hosts were quietly scurrying around preparing the bus, practicing their London trivia and getting the kettle on.

Our friendly French hosts ushered us to our seats, gave us a quick pep talk and away we went. By pep talk, I mean the kind where they assure you to sit back, relax and let them rush back and forth bringing you more cake and tea to save you rolling around the back of the bus as it navigates Trafalgar Square.

To ensure a smooth ride, our tea was served in flasks, we had drinks holders and even our plates were stuck to the table. 

We each had a selection of mini sandwiches, quiches, macarons, cupcakes, scones and pastries. All expertly made by their French bakers. 

Dusk was a pretty special time to go, the sights looked even more impressive.

The route takes you round London's biggests sights including The London Eye, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St James's Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Royal Albert Hall, Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus and everything inbetween. 

Due to traffic, we were a few minutes late to our drop off by Waterloo. Great news for us as we travelled back over Westminster Bridge to the chimes of Big Ben at 7pm. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our sightseeing tour. Especially from the warm comfort of an old Routemaster bus. We may have giggled each time other passengers on regular buses turned around in shock...but hey, when you're Queen for the day you only travel in style!

We both would recommend this tour to any other Queens, who just like us love a spot of cake for tea.

Alternatively, Virgin host a heap more experiences which look equally fun for when you want to overrule Mum's golden rules.

For example, Mama says 'if you stay in the bath too long, you'll get wrinky'...well when she's Queen for the day she won't mind popping for a spa day, will she?

Have a look and see the experiences for yourself here

BB Bakery - Covent Garden on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Special thanks to Dan who kindly booked this for us on behalf of Virgin Experience Days. Although I was asked to review the Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, all opinions are my own. And, honestly, something I've always wanted to book for Mum and I!

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