Monday, 29 December 2014

Mince Pies

The mince pie is the quintessential Christmas food! This small fruit-based mince meat pie was traditionally served during the Christmas season. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices. Christmas would not be the same without mince pies, but please don't buy them! You must make your own, and, with our recipe, you can make perfect pies every time!

1 large jar mincemeat (about 600g)
2 satsumas, segmented
1 apple, finely chopped
zest 1 lemon
little icing sugar, for dusting
For the pastry
375g plain flour
260g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 large egg, plus 1 beaten egg for glazing
Place the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together to a crumb consistency. Add the sugar and the egg, and mix together. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and fold until the pastry comes together, be careful not to over mix. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 10 mins.
Scoop the mincemeat into a bowl and add the satsumas, apple and zest.
Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick. Using a round cutter (about 10cm), cut out 16 bases and place them into muffin trays. Put 11⁄2 tbsp mincemeat mixture into each. Brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg. Re-roll out the pastry to cut 7cm lids and press them on top to seal. Glaze with the rest of the egg, sprinkle with caster sugar, then make a small cut in the tops.
Bake mince pies for 15-20 mins until golden brown. Leave to cool before releasing them from the muffin trays and dusting with icing sugar. Serve.

The Legend of St. Nicholas

The image of Santa Claus has become synonymous with Christmas but not many people know the origin of him and his name. Let our blog fill in the blanks!

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married.

Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. 

In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularise the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Manuel Interview

Today I interviewed Manuel, our wonderful floor supervisor that has worked at Elena's L'Etoile for almost twenty years!

Originally from the small town of Tabuasco in Portugal, Manuel moved over to London in 1985. Although he was initially reticent, the promise of a good job was more than enough to sway him. Manuel started out as a comi waiter (someone who brings food from the kitchen to the table) before working as a bar man. Since then he's been working as a supervisor at Elena's L'Etoile for the past 16 years!

Manuel becomes misty eyed when previous manageress Elena, and namesake of our wonderful restaurant, is brought into the conversation.

He tells me the following: 'Elena started work at 14 years of age. She got to know all the customers and shared their secrets with her. She knew everybody and everyone knew her. She, personally, brought a lot of custom to the restaurant'.

Undoubtably this lead to Elena's tenure at L'Etoile being so very long. When asked about his own tenure at Elena's and whether he would ever wish to move on, Manuel's answer is a passionate NO!.
'I love this place!' he exclaims, 'if you're happy with your job, why would you move on?'

When asked why should people go to Elena's, Manuel is emphatic in his reply 'good food and good service - what more could you want?'. Manuel says that the most difficult thing about his job is the long restaurant hours - sometimes as many as 14 hours a day!

'So why do you stay, Manuel?' He answers with the following: 'anyone that works in industry accepts that long work hours are an integral part of it! But when you enjoy it as much as I do, and when you have a restaurant full of happy customers, you are happy and that makes it worthwhile.'

Indeed, Manuel can see himself here for the next 16 years!

Manuel then goes on to explain that Charlotte street has changed a lot in recent years. Many of the old restaurants have closed, and Elena's is the one of the only which still remains. Elena's orignally opened in 1896 and is still here today, over 100 years later.

In addition to his hectic life at Elena's, Manuel is also a father of two children - 10 month old baby boy, Tiago, and 6 year old Gabriel.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Sound Track to Christmas

Now that Christmas is just around the corner, it's time to get those Christmas tunes going! If you're struggling for inspiration, then look no further than our Christmas playlist!

White Christmas - Bing Crosby
Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer - Gene Autry
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jimmy Boyd
Jingle Bell Rock Bobby - Helms
The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
You're All I Want For Christmas Brook - Benton
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen
Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid
Step Into Christmas - Elton John
Have yourself a merry little Christmas - Judy Garland 
Jingle bell rock - Billy Idol
All I want for Christmas is you - Mariah Carey 
Fairy Tale of New York - The Pogues and Kirsty McColl 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Mulled Wine Recipe

Now Christmas is less than a month away it is time to well and truly embrace Christmas food and drink, starting with this fabulous winter warmer - mulled wine. Contrary to popular opinion, it's super easy to make and taste exactly like Christmas in a glass. The beautiful warmth comes from the use of festive spices: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix together all the ingredients over a very low heat to help all those Christmas flavours infuse.


To make this festive warmer, you will need:

2 clementines
1 lemon
1 lime
200 grams of caster sugar
6 whole cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
3 fresh bay leaves
1 whole nutmeg, for grating
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways
2 star anise
2 bottles of red wine


Peel large section of peel from your clementines, lemon and lime using a speed peeler.
Put the sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the pieces of peel and squeeze in the clementine juice. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and about 10 to 12 gratings of nutmeg. Add in your halved vanilla pod and stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar.
Let this simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine and then bring to the boil. Keep on a rolling boil for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until you've got a beautiful thick syrup.
When your syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low and add your star anise and the rest of the wine. Gently heat the wine and after around 5 minutes, when it's warm and delicious, ladle it into glasses and serve.