Saturday 2 March 2024

In My Kitchen: March 2024 - holiday kitchens in Europe

As regular readers will know, we are recently back from a month long holiday in Edinburgh, Rome, Zurich, and London.  We are still jetlagged and feeling a bit out of kilter.  It is great to be in our own kitchen and we are making some old favourite meals but there is not much to report from the home front.  So this month I will report on what we were eating in our holiday accommodation (mostly with kitchens but not always).  As you will see, we had lots of fun trying food we could take to our temporary homes.

The top photo is out last dinner in Rome.  We had a lovely feast of these pizza slices, arancini and suppli that I bought from the nearby Pizzhoria Appio.

I am sure the planes ply us with more snacks these days than they used to do. These are snacks that made their way into our luggage after flying from Melbourne to Edinburgh.  A pretzel mix with roast corn, almonds and soya crisps, Kit Kat, Tim Tams, Blueberry muffin, Soy crisps.

We were excited to go to the large Sainsbury's supermarket at Cameron Toll near our hotel in Edinburgh.  Our purchases included: Tablet popcorn, cheese bread roll, Branston baked beans, Muellers corners yoghurt, Haggis and black pepper crisps, and Golden syrup porridge.

To drink, we bought Cloudy apple juice and a festive Merry Berry mulled punch.  I didn't have a kitchen in Edinburgh so I took the punch to Rome where I had it warmed in the microwave some nights.  It was very nice.

When we arrived in Rome it was exciting to be able to buy food we could store in the fridge or heat in a microwave or stovetop.  We went to our local Supermarket Tigre and bought Emmental cheese, red pepper, rocket, Muellers corners yoghurts, pickled vegetables, canned minestrone soup, mini potato pizzas and blueberries.

We have fond memories of Muellers corners in Edinburgh but were surprised to find them in Rome as well.  I preferred the yoghurt in the Italian version, which seemed less sweet than in the British version.

Here is one of Sylvia's meals.  I think the baked beans were brought over from the UK as we could not find them in Rome.  They went very well with the potato pizzas and the blood orange juice.

Sylvia had done very thorough online research on Rome's food options and found that McDonalds sold Panarotti: pizza pockets with tomato and mozzarella.  We saw a lot of McDonalds on our travels (sigh) and had one close to our apartment and so she went there one night.  The portions were tiny but they were nice.  

It was a more successful night time walk than the one where we went to a close by gelato shop where Sylvia got an eggnog and berry gelato.  As we walked back 'home', she was making faces as she avoided the surprisingly strong rum (or whisky?) in the eggnog gelato and I was in my pyjamas and my winter coat (because I had just planned to take garbage out to the big black bins on the footpath).

I found these Misura wholewheat crackers in the supermarket.  I enjoyed them with some nice cheese (maybe provolone?) on a few nights in Rome.  I planned to carry them with me on travels, especially as they came in small packages (good for travel but not for the environment) but the leftovers were too bulky and got cast aside.

This dark bread was purchased at the Forno Campo de' Fiore in Rome.  It had amazing flavour and was so so soft with a chewy crust.  I was surprised that they were willing to cut the loaf in half and just sell me what I needed.  This is great for travel when you are not stopping long.

Sylvia took this photo of some of the chocolate that we bought at the Lindt Factory when in Zurich.  I am not sure we ate any of the chocolate at all.  Some was given as presents and quite a bit is still in our kitchen back in Melbourne.  We weren't in Zurich long enough to need much in our kitchen.  Sadly I did not get to try the hot plates that folded away when not in use.

When Sylvia stayed in our hotel one day while I was out visiting museums in London, she ventured to the local Kensington High Street and bought herself lunch from Wasabi.  This is one of the franchises that sold Japanese food.  There is a lot more of it than when I lived in London.  She had cucumber sushi (or hosomaki), seaweed onigiri, apple juice, vegetable gyozas and strawberry cheese mochi.  The sushi and onigiri was nice, the gyoza would have improved if she had been able to heat it and she was amazed by the mochi.  I feel like saying the apple juice is pretty safe purchase but Sylvia had an apple juice in Rome that she hated.  I had never thought I would see the day.

On another night in London, I wanted something with lots of vegetables after lots of carbs.  I went to Itsu, hoping to see some of the bento boxes I had admired at a Heathrow Airport Itsu, but could not find them.  Instead I went to Wasabi where I bought a Sesame Tofu Bowl for 8.75 pounds.  It comprised Tofu, avocado, pickled red cabbage, edamame bean salad, charred pepper, broccoli florets, crispy onion, mixed leaves, sesame seeds, sesame dressing.  I loved it.

I noticed that there was a Whole Foods Market on Kensington High Street near our hotel.  Having heard a lot of bloggers (especially in USA) mention this franchise, I was curious to try it.   I was surprised that it had a lot of fresh food that either needed a fridge or to be eaten fairly quickly.  Many of the health food stores in Melbourne have a lot of grains and other products that are shelf stable in the pantry.  

I took a hot food tub back to our hotel.  It was filled with rice, lasagna, a Korean stew, mac and cheese, lentils, capsicum and zucchini, greens and coleslaw.  Of course it was too much but there were so many options at the hot bar.  I also got a pomegranate flavoured karma kombucha.  It was delicious and welcome because I didn't see much kombucha on my travels.  I also bought some black truffle crisps which were ok but not brilliant. 

When we went to our Edinburgh apartment with a full kitchen, it was great to go to Cameron Toll Sainsburys again and buy some ready meals we could keep in our fridge, rather than having to buy dinner each night.  Unfortunately it was a trek from out apartment and but mini-marts near us did not have special dishes like Truffle mac and cheese or my favourite Sainsburys Green Vegetable Selection (broccoli, cabbage and peas) with mint butter.

This meal was from the Wasabi franchise but sold in the supermarket rather than a cafe.  This one was the Pumpkin Katsu Curry.  The oven at our Edinburgh apartment was excellent.  I baked my meal in the oven and had really crispy breaded pumpkin as well as curry and rice.  I also added some of the Green Vegetable Selection.  It was one of my favourite ready meals of the holidays.

Again we bought Muellers Corners.  The banana yoghurt with chocolate flakes was our favourite on this holiday.

For breakfasts, Sylvia loved the instant golden syrup porridge from Sainsbury's.  We both love baked beans but only I was excited at the baked beans with vegan sausages.  Although the sausages in the tin are boiled rather than my preference of fried or barbecued, I still find it magic that you can buy such things in the UK (unlike Australia).  And they bring back good memories me of living in London with a single mother and her kid.  I can still hear the mother saying "Do you want beans and sausages for tea?" to her kid.

This last photo is some of my haul from the Edinburgh Farmers Market.  The Perthshire raspberries were amazing and far superior to the Morocco raspberries that Sainsburys sold.  I love the pretzel and the Japaense pineapple bread.  The Tablet was for E, which he loved.  The Bramble and Blackcurrant Jam is to have in Melbourne to remind me of the UK.  The cheesecake was really soft but in convenient tubs and nice for dessert.  I loved the cheese pretzel and had the vegan sausage roll with some soup for dinner one night.  It was filling.

I had hoped to have some nut roast in the UK, other than in a pub, but didn't find much.  Mock meat now seems to be far more easy to find than old-school nut roasts.  I also brought home souvenirs but have decided to write it up as a separate post because there are so many photos.  I am gradually getting through the travel posts I plan to write but it might be some weeks before regular service resumes.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event. If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens and her gorgeous hand drawn header.

Friday 1 March 2024

London: Borough Market and The Mudlark pub sunday roast

I was delighted that my sister from Dublin was able to meet us in London for two days.  We partly planned our time by messaging but kept it open to serendipity.  A morning at Borough Market was our first destination.  Both Sylvia and I had read about it online and Chris loves going there when she comes over to London.  We loved it so much we stayed for a Sunday roast lunch at a nearby pub.

We met Chris at our hotel and took the tube to Monument.  The underground station is named after the 17th Century monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666.  The tall monument was designed by Christopher Wren.

Then we walked across London Bridge with a splendid view of the iconic Tower Bridge.  

Interestingly the latter 19th Century suspension bridge is far more prominent in tourist literature about London but if you dig even a little into the history of London Bridge it has an amazing history.  While the current concrete bridge was built in the 1970s, it is at a significant location that has had bridges going back to the first wooden bridge in 50AD built by the Romans.  By the 17th Century the Medieval stone bridge was the location of many shops and houses that were built up to 6 stories, and the gatehouse was topped with spikes exhibiting severed heads of executed criminals.

We walked past Southwark Cathedral.  I wish we had had time to see the Shakespeare window but alas it was not to be.

Then we descended into the bustle of the Borough Market.  This photo does not show just how busy it was.  There were a lot of people on a grey Sunday in February.  And lots of twinkly lights among the iron girders    .

And so many tempting stalls.  Piles of baked good.  Big wheels of stinky cheese.  Colourful fruit and vegetables.  So many places that I wanted to stop and buy.  It was both a blessing and a curse that we were only in London a week and had limited space in our luggage.

The Borough Market shop was impressive.  I loved their aesthetic and bought a new double oven glove to replace our favourite red dotted one at home that is falling apart.

I was so busy admiring the old-school barrow and daffodils that it took me a while to notice that the roses in the background spelled out Love.  It was close to St Valentine's Day.

This spice shop was amazing.  I took away a sicilian lemon salt.  I wanted to walk away with a bagful of salts.  Sylvia got a matcha latte powder.

Rows and rows of bottled vinegars, sauces, preserves are such a beautiful sight!

This fruit and vegetable display was amazing.  At the top is a huge jackfruit and beside it are spiky orange cocoa pods.  Neither is a common sight in my world.

All that food made us hungry.  Chris went to queue forever for Ginger Pig sausage rolls.  They are a sensation at the market but a bit much meat for her liking.  Close by were venison sausage rolls with no queue at all.  Chris recommended coffees from Monmouth but it was closed.

Sylvia got a peach drink at a Turkish food van and I went to get us some empanadas at Portena (which we enjoyed) I went to eat them with Sylvia but the Turkish owners said that we could not eat something from elsewhere at their table.  We went, but not before photographing our food.

Then we walked on and passed by many food stalls.  Sylvia was most excited to see the famous strawberries with melted chocolate.  The stallholders were handing out samples.  We waited expectantly and watched the chocolate fountain but it seemed the samples had dried up.  Chris asked the stallholders if they were still handing out samples and they obligingly gave us some.  They were really good but we did not have the room in our stomach or our wallet for a cup of them at 8.50 pounds.

I had my eye on other treats.  Nearby was a place selling mulled juices.  I liked the look of the mulled orange and the mulled jolly fig but could not go past the steaming pot of Mulled Rhubarb and Quince Juice.  It was delicious and smelled so fragrant: perfect for a warming winter drink.

We loved this mushroom display and were very happy to taste some mushroom risotto.  It was as delicious as their mushrooms were pretty.

There were a few other viral sensations before we finished our stroll through the market.  One was Bread Ahead doughnuts.  You can see a picture of them in the top photo collage.  They looked amazing.  The queue made them less attractive.  We walked on to check out the Humble Crumble.  Such a great name!  It has a great flexibility with the 'Customise your Crumble' menu under the headings of fruit, crumble and toppings.  Unfortunately the queue again was so long that we didn't even consider it.

Instead we decided it was time to leave and find the Sunday roast I had promised myself.

We passed a few places that looked like great lunch places.  I read some recommendations online for this vegan restaurant called Mallow.

I was hellbent on a vegetarian roast dinner (by which I mean with nut roast) at a pub.  Sunday roast seems to be a thing in London at many pubs.  We passed The Mudlark pub (Montague Close, London, SE1 9DA) near the market.  It was built in the mid 19th Century and today offers a Sunday Roast including a nut roast option.  It seemed what we were looking for (and we were too hungry to travel to the Mall Tavern in Notting Hill Gate where I had planned to go).

I was first drawn to the name.  Mudlarks harks back to Dickensian times when people made a living by finding treasures in the mud of the Thames.  A sign also told us that the pub had been a backdrop in scenes in films such as Bridget Jones Diary and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Inside the pub was cosy and welcoming.

Both my sister and I ordered the roast dinner with a nut roast.  The "nut and vegetable roast" was described as made of almond, walnuts, sweet potato and root vegetables.  It was served with glazed parsnips, thyme roasted carrots, long stem broccoli, a Yorkshire pudding and rich gravy.  I liked that they noted that the nut roast came with vegetarian gravy.  It's good to be clear on this.  I also had some cauliflower cheese on the side (because it is part of my family roast tradition).  The nut roast was a bit softer than I prefer but it was an excellent lunch.  Those potatoes were pleasingly crispy and it was a great novelty to have pillowy Yorkshire puddings.

For drinks we had a coke for Chris, a cafe latte for Sylvia and a Fentimans ginger beer for me.Sylvia decided she would just taste my roast dinner and order herself a baked macaroni cheese served with garlic sourdough flatbread.  She also had roasted garlic mushrooms on toast, which was a bit soggy.  We also had a really lovely waitress who was so charming and friendly.

I loved all the timbered beams in the interior.  The Mudlark is one of the Nicholson Pubs franchise but it still retained character.

We walked back across London Bridge, admiring the sight of St Paul's Cathedral as we headed for the underground station to travel back to our hotel.  We wanted time to rest before going out to Leicester Square to see the most recent Mean Girls at the cinema.

Wednesday 28 February 2024

London: Holiday Inn High Street Kensington

I did not quite have enough Qantas frequent flyer points for two return flights to Edinburgh so I decided to use them for one flight and then put the rest towards a week in a hotel in London.  This meant that we had to go through the Qantas holiday site which gave less options.  After discarding a couple of cheap-as-chips hotels, I decided on the Holiday Inn - High Street Kensington. 

It is the sort of hotel I would consider when travelling for work rather than holidays but it was close to the West End with good amenities and transport options.  While staying anywhere for a week I often like an apartment for a kitchen, London is different.  I have lived in London and also visited as a tourist.  I decided that location and comfort were our main aims.  And if we could make this affordable, so much better.  I didn't know I had booked breakfasts as well until just before we arrived.  A week of comfortable beds and a fry up each morning in a great location for $787 (after frequent flyer points) was great value in London.

We had twin beds with a bathroom, as well as a tv, hairdryer, kettle and bar fridge.  And of course wi-fi.  Upon checking in, I was relieved that the room seemed larger than it looked on the Qantas website.  I was surprised that they did not have temptation of a minibar in our room but we were well catered for with food.  We had options of cooked breakfasts in room or in the restaurant, a bar, room service and a Starbucks, as well as a good range of food to purchase near the hotel.  Sylvia also loved the pillow menu and sleeping next to a window that opened.  Actually I think we were happy to be in London where people spoke our language.

We arrived late in the afternoon following over 8 hours of train travel from Zurich, including a local train between stations in Paris.  We were tired after navigating the tube ticketing system (which had changed in the 20 years since I had last been there) and dragging suitcases up the stairs at Kensington High Street underground station.  London was dark and rainy so we had dinner at the hotel.

I didn't love the menu.  Sylvia was delighted to have the options of generic pasta and pizza, even after a week of eating the good stuff in Rome.  She ordered the Pasta Arrabiata, penne pasta in a slightly spicy tomato sauce.  She loved it and the garlic bread that we shared.

I needed more than carbs and had the choice between soup and salad.  I went with the Superfood and Quinoa salad: white and red quinoa, grilled courgettes, green asparagus, green beans, sundried tomatoes, dried apricots, roasted almond flakes and sumac dressing.  When it came I could not believe that it was mainly baby spinach, nuts and Turkish dried apricots with very little quinoa and other vegies.  In the end Sylvia and I shared our pasta and salad and they worked well together.  However at 16.50 pounds I expected much more than the salad I got. 

On our first morning, we headed down to breakfast.  Our room number and name were checked by the staff member at the counter with bright pink orchids and a sign saying "Good morning.  All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast."  This foretold of the queues on most mornings, probably partly because the latter part of our week was in half-term break for UK schools.  The breakfast room (Boulevard Restaurant) was huge and queues would move quickly. 

Upon arriving each morning we would start by getting a small glass of juice.  I liked to mix the cranberry and apple juices but was also pleased that cold water was available.  Neither of us spent time at the tea and coffee station.

Next we went to the hot food area to serve ourselves a hot breakfast.  Most mornings we had an English breakfast (aka a fry-up). 

These were my favourites: baked beans, vegetarian sausages, roasted baby mushrooms and hash browns.  Sometimes I had grilled tomatoes.  Sylvia loved the eggs too.  I tried the pancakes one morning but they were either too tough or two soft.  I topped them with some yoghurt, prunes and stewed peaches.  The worst morning was when there was a problem with the stove and hot food was scarce.

The toast machine was over the other side of the room to the hot food.  I usually spent time waiting for slices of bread to slowly travel between the red hot elements and slide out as toast.

Next to the toast were the toast toppings and the baked goods: croissants, pain au chocolat, pain au raisins, and muffins.  Some mornings we wrapped a few baked goods in a serviette for later.

It took a few days to find the cereals station.  I would have liked to try cereals with yoghurt and fruit but was always drawn to the hot food. 

Here is my breakfast on the first day.  As I have said, it was good value and I was pleased they catered to vegetarians.  It was a great way to start each morning, and as breakfast closed at 10.30am on weekdays and a little later on weekends it meant we didn't sleep in too much.

I loved the walk to tube on the first morning.  Firstly it was only a few minutes walk.  Despite some roadworks we had a lovely walk past typical West London flats.  The first place I stayed when I first arrived in London was Notting Hill Gate where my sister worked in a pub, and later I lived in Shepherd's Bush.  It is an area of London that is very familiar to me and I felt quite at home.

As I said the breakfasts could changed on different mornings.  This was the sort of breakfast that Sylvia loved with toast, fried eggs, cheese, hash brown, beans, tomato and rocket.

On only one morning I found these really cute little glass jars with muesli, yoghurt and berries.  I was so pleased to have it for when I finished my fry up but was so full I could not eat much of it.

When we checked in, we were given a choice of bath and shower.  I chose the latter.  It amused me that the hand soap and body wash were parsley stalk fragranced.  (I am not sure if parsley leaves have a different aroma to the stalks but maybe it was a sustainability project to use us leftover stalks.)  

I am used to little shampoos and soaps in hotels and holiday houses but on our trip I found most places had large bottles and at the Holiday Inn had them locked down.  It seemed that we were being encouraged from taking them as souvenirs.  I loved the sign directing us to place the non-slip bathmat securely on a dry surface before turning on the water.  Bathmats strike me as very British and unnecessary but I assume this was an anti-litigation sign.

Our stay was not without challenging.  This is our final collection of keycards to let us into the room.  (Well, almost all, as I found one in my wallet when I got home.)  We got locked out of our room a few times and staff were very helpful in replacing them but it was frustrating.  I got told that mobile phones could unset the coding.  It seems a problem when it was intuitive to put our phone and key card together in a safe place.  We also had a leak in the bathroom that was siliconed up and a blown light bulb that could not be changed.  The upside was that there was always someone on the room phone or reception desk who could help us.

I am happy with our choice of hotel.  I ate well, slept well and found it easy to get a bus or underground train to our destination each day.

Holiday Inn High Street Kensington
Wrights Lane, London, W8 5SP