Friday, 8 August 2014

A Midsummer's evening with Marcus Verberne ...at ours

A few months ago myself and @bmcboy attended the Marine Conservation Society's fundraising dinner. There was an auction and amongst the prizes some really cool foodie things: a dinner for two at the Duck & Waffle donated by Dan Doherty and a meal for 12 at the winner's house donated by Roast's Marcus Verberne. Tough choice! 
Tipsy as I was, I managed to bag Marcus' prize. I'd have loved it for it to raise more money than I paid for, however I was absolutely chuffed with my win. Marcus and his wife were also guests at the dinner and we'd had a chance to get to know them a bit, so it was quite easy to then plan a meal with him. 3 courses and canapes, cooked in my own home. I couldn't wait.
We settled on a date in August, which seemed really far back in April but here we are. The time had come! Marcus arrived straight from Roast laden with bags and food... and knives! Immediately he set to work in my relatively small kitchen, while myself and @bmcboy tidied up, cleaned up and laid the table for 10 people... the kitchen soon began to look almost professional and the food started to smell amazing. 

A couple of hours later, a couple of hiccups later, our guests arrived and we enjoyed the canapes in the garden with a G&T (Fever Tree and Sipsmith Summer Cup). 
Marcus has prepared a great selection of British charcuterie from Cannon & Cannon and pickled beetroot:


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And a delicate Gin cured salmon with pickled cucumber, which was of course, perfect with the drink we were having. 


Once everyone arrived, we were ready to sit down for the meal proper. The first course was an incredibly fresh and summery Devon crab salad with samphire, watermelon, green chili and mint. It was bursting with flavours and colours and was a great way to start the meal. 

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The main that followed was also really good: Char grilled fillet of lamb neck, organic spelt, preserved lemon and herb salad with cucumber and yogurt relish. I am really getting to love lamb neck, it's a great cut and versatile and the fillets Marcus prepared were so tender and full of flavour, while the spelt was the right texture complement to the meat. We also enjoyed a Minted bean salad with it, another very seasonal dish. 

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And dessert time arrived. Marcus refrained from swearing at my old and slow oven, and cooked the dessert to perfection: Soft-centred chocolate pudding with sea-salted caramel ice cream. Oh my gosh! This was heaven, chocolate and sea-salt caramel heaven. The pudding were super gooey in the middle and really intense and rich, while the ice cream was superb, creamy and so so good, with hints of butterscotch and honeycomb. I was devastated as there was some left over. I had to have some the next day of course. 


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Cleaning the kitchen the next day was quite a fun task but I take it as a sign we had a great night. The food was fantastic; having a professional chef in my very own home is a fun and really interesting experience. Him and his wife dined with us which was also an opportunity to find out more about 'life as a chef' and of course, ask him food related questions. I loved watching how he plated up and dressed the dishes, and I tried to make the most of it for when I host my next supper club (watch and learn!). 

Marcus then presented the guests with a signed copy of his book 'Roast - a very British cookbook' which contains some of the recipe of the dishes from our dinner. 

I am glad both myself and Marcus have been able to help fundraise for Marine Conservation Society and I am thankful to my guests who also made a donation towards yet another marine charity (bite-back) as a thank you for such a wonderful evening. 

For more information on MCS and bite-back campaign see:

http://www.mcsuk.org
http://www.bite-back.com/

Of course the fish used by Marcus was sustainable! For more information on how to choose fish in a sustainable way, please see http://www.fishonline.org/

More photos from the evening from @bmcboy on Flickr  

Monday, 4 August 2014

Coffee and the workplace - team tasting with Nespresso

At a time when employees are working longer hours and feeling more stressed, new research shows just how much small perks play an important role in improving the daily work life of employees. Nearly nine in 10 (87%) UK workers[1] state that small perks in the office (such as high quality coffee, fresh fruit and snacks), are crucial to retaining good staff. 


I work in the City, for a fairly large corporate. We are surrounded by coffee chains, some better than others: we have Taylor Street Baristas just around the corner, but sadly I do not  like their antipodean coffee style. We have Manon and Ravello, more European in spirit but I do not actually enjoy their coffees either, nor sometimes, their attitude in the case of the former. If I have enough time for a longer walk, I go and grab a cappuccino in very Neapolitan Piada (who use Kimbo brand, the same used in my family) or the Venetian Enoteca where Illy is used. Both these places are to me, the best options around here and they are as independent as you can get. 
We also, of course, have plenty of Caffe’ Nero and Costa (including one within our own building) and the omnipresent Starbucks but I hardly ever enter those shops. Our regular is now perfectly located Apostrophe: they opened a nice branch just one minute walk from our front door. The coffee is decent, they do a coffee card to entice you to buy regularly (which I do) and have comfy chairs and tables for those work related chats that require some more privacy (relatively speaking). Unfortunately the independent coffee van across the road is not good at all – after a few well intended attempts to support him, I gave up. 

But what do we do when we have no time to walk outside? We have plenty of free coffee on offer on each of our floors. A ‘bean to cup’ machine which produces pretty horrible results, a LavazzaBlue machine which produces fairly terrible liquid for 50p. When I think about it, we all often talk about coffee one way or the other. Before a meeting, we need a coffee. On a Friday morning when the mood is somehow lighter, we go get a coffee. After a big lunch, we grab an espresso. Coffee is a big part of myself and my colleagues’ work day indeed. It made sense when I received an interesting research article from Weber Shandwick and Nespresso on the role that coffee plays for office workers:

The research, commissioned by Nespresso, reveals that coffee lovers expect quality coffee both at home and in their workplaces - even with a growing cafe culture in the UK, where quality coffee is not only more available but more in demand than ever. The recent research findings reinforce the UK as a nation of coffee connoisseurs, with more than one quarter (26%) of UK workers stating that they assess the quality of a company by the standard of coffee it provides. Could this mean coffee is the new business currency in Britain?


I know my manager likes Nespresso. I know we have some sneaky Nespresso machines in some of the floors. So I decided to start a Friday with a team coffee tasting session with a few of the Nespresso blends. What better way to end the work week (and pleasing the manager, which is always helpful?)
We had fun making the different coffees to the different tastes. My manager was the barista, we all were tasters. The blends we tried were Rosabaya from Colombia (intensity 6, Arabica beans); Vivalto Lungo, a blend from South America and East African Arabica beans (intensity 4); Indriya from India (Arabica with a hint of Robusta, intensity 10) and finally one of Nespresso most popular blend, Kazaar (Robusta and Arabica from South America and Central America, intensity 12). 


Opinions? Divided on some, in agreement on others. For example we all thought the Vivalto was possibly too weak for a pick me up of caffeine when drank long but when we made it short, it was loved by most. 

Ahhh, the joy of disposables
Rosabaya was the one that mostly divided opinions: some thought it smelt 'vegetably / starchy', however when drank with added sugar it didn’t feel as vegetably. Yet this was my manager’s favourite one. Indriya also saw some conflicting opinions: while some loved the aromas, almost like a tea, others found it a bit too bitter without enough body.  
Kazaar was, as expected, the pick of the team. A couple of the guys preferred it with milk, and really enjoyed it. It was also my favourite, drank with some brown sugar and short. 

We had a good team session over coffee, we had fun tasting the various blends and we have now decided that we’re going to invest in a Nespresso machine for the team!




Thanks Weber Shandwick and Nespresso for providing the tasting capsules.


Research was conducted by ComRes and commissioned by Nespresso.  For full research findings, please visit: www.comres.co.uk    

[1] When used in this context staff/workers refer to UK workers surveyed across the following five sectors: Technology / IT; Creative/Communications; Financial; Legal; HR