Sunday, 21 December 2014

Wanderlust: Amsterdam and Utrecht


Back in November Des and I decided to take a short trip to the Netherlands in an attempt to escape house renovation woes. We decided to stay in Utrecht, a large city around 20 minutes (by train) south of Amsterdam. 

Much like York, the medieval city is built upon the site of an old Roman fortress. It is now a bustling university city with a multitude of cultural landmarks, tourist hotspots and a popular restaurant/shopping scene.

I actually spent 6 months studying at Utrecht University in 2011/12, so the trip was also a great opportunity for me to revisit old stomping grounds. Due to Utrecht's excellent transport links, we were also able to hop on the train to Amsterdam and spend two days exploring the Netherlands most famous city.

I thought I would share with you some of the pictures we took during our trip and give some insights into visiting Utrecht and Amsterdam. Hopefully it also proves a relaxing way to spend a few minutes on a pre-Christmas Sunday evening!

I also hasten to add that we did indeed eat rather a lot during the trip, there will be a post specifically on some of my favourite Dutch foods coming just after Christmas.

Enjoy!


Utrecht
Dutch Countryside, taken just outside of Utrecht
Autumn Leaves in Dutch Countryside
View over Utrecht City Centre
I just loved this cat's expression too much.... I couldn't help but include it!

I thought I would give a little bit of a background on the next few photos, (please excuse my history related enthusiasm...)

The Dom Tower: This tower was once connected to the nave of St Martin's Cathedral, however due to lack of funds, the nave was never completed. Total and permanent separation occurred in 1674, when a tornado destroyed the still unfinished nave.
Dom Tower
Inside the main body of the Cathedral, the interior very much reflects the tumultuous religious past of the Netherlands. The Cathedral was originally built as a Catholic place of worship, however this catholic past is almost virtually untraceable in the contemporary interior.

In 1566, the Beeldenstorm or Iconoclast Fury swept across much of the Low Countries, justified by the Calvinist belief that statues in a house of God were idolatrous images which must be destroyed. As a result, many of the ornaments on both the exterior and interior of the cathedral were defaced.


Amsterdam
Sculpture by unknown artist, Oudekerksplein, Red Light District
Me and The Nightwatch at the Rijksmuseum 
Beautiful inlay at the Rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum: The stone on which William, Prince of Orange, first stood upon when landing in England in 1688.
Canals just by the Red Light District
Some Christmas decorations

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Recipe Hack: Peanut Butter Gravy


The above scene is a snapshot from my recent trip to the Lake District, where a group of us spent the weekend walking, eating and drinking! The trip also coincided with my Birthday, which was marked by a fabulous roast dinner cooked by Jonny, a man known for his mean pork

Not content to be the mere master of crackling, Jonny apparently has a variety of cooking tricks up his sleeve. It was through him that I was introduced to a secret previously unbeknownst to me... the secret to amazing gravy.

It's all about the PB. 

The trick is to add 1 - 2 large tablespoons of the stuff to the juices and stock, then gently bring to the boil whilst stirring. The result is unbelieveable morish.....

It's no small secret that my addiction to peanut butter is both rampant and ever growing. I can't get enough of the stuff! My current favourite has to be Meridian Crunchy Peanut Butter - which doesn't contain any unnecessary added salt or sugar.

Importantly Meridian does not use palm oil - the cultivation of which has been responsible for the endangerment of primate habitats, notably orangutan, in indonesia. There are many different varieties of peanut butter available which do not contain palm oil, any traces of which should be disclosed on ingredients lists. 

I would urge people to make an ethical choice to buy non-palm oil PB where possible!

I hope you will agree that this gravy hack is both uncomplicated and easy! Let me know if you give it a whirl, I have a suspicion that it would be especially delicious with chicken.....

I will leave you all with some snaps from the trip, as the weather on the second day was stunning - with intermittent snow showers and sunshine!






Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Recipe: Christmas Chocolate Loaf (with Hagelslag!)


On our recent trip to the Netherlands I picked up one of my favourite Dutch specialities, hagelslag. 

Hagelslag was invented in the Netherlands in 1935, and are still used as a popular filling for sandwiches. They also make a pretty outstanding toast topping (it all melts, it's heavenly, oh god I miss it....)

These small pieces of confectionery are pretty much the same as the chocolate sprinkles you would find in the baking aisle. The Dutch enjoy a variety of flavours, from different types of chocolate to the more acquired aniseed sprinkles.

Having bought a packet home, I decided that instead of using them atop some bread, I would invert things a little and experiment with baking them into the bread. 

After all, at Christmas everything, including bread, needs to be at least 10X more decadent! This loaf is oozing with chocolate, which is molten and gorgeous when straight out of the oven. The mixed nuts add bite and texture and the nutmeg seals everything in a warm Christmas glow.

I would alike it to christmas brioche, stuffed with chocolate and laden with nuts.

Simply put, this stuff is dangerously tempting, especially as an afternoon snack. But hey, sometimes you deserve a treat after a serious present wrapping/Christmas decorating session, right?!

Please feel free to add more/different fillings to this recipe, dried fruit would prove a worthy addition, as would the combination of white chocolate and cranberries.


Recipe
 (N.B I made this in a breadmaker, however it would also work if made by hand)

Wet Ingredients
200ml warm water
2 Eggs
2 Tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
1 tbsp runny honey

Dry Ingredients
1 tsp ground nutmeg
500g strong white bread flour
1 sachet dried yeast (1 1/2 tsp fast action yeast)

Filling
100g hagelslag (or grated chocolate)
100g chopped mixed nuts

1 egg to glaze

1. Put all wet ingredients in the bottom of the bread maker pan and then top with dry

2. Set breadmaker to dough cycle and leave it to work its magic! If baking by hand, Paul Hollywood has a pretty good methodology on the BBC Recipe website here.

3. Once the cycle has finished, roll out the dough into an oblong shape, with the short end roughly matching the length of your loaf pan

4. Top your rolled out dough evenly with the mixed nuts and hagelslag/grated chocolate and begin rolling from one short end, making sure everything is tightly packed as you go.

5. Placed your roll into a loaf tin and glaze the top with a beaten egg

6. Bake for 35 minutes at 180C, then leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto the rack






Slice and enjoy with a cup of tea (or go the whole hog and have a hot chocolate - after all, it's Christmas!)


Monday, 15 December 2014

Winter Berry Smash: Qcumber Winter Sparkle Cocktail Recipe*


With Christmas just around the corner, our house has been turned into a hive of food based activity. This is somewhat hampered by the fact that we are still minus a hob (though we do have a fridge, whoop whoop!!)

Drinks and cocktail making is an important part of this, especially as the stress of decorating the house often requires a small nighttime alcoholic indulgence....


Running my coffee business means that I am always interested in new and innovative drinks products. There seems to be a real renaissance in the sparkling drinks market at the moment, with lots of new, British made, products being released.

I actually came across Qcumber at the Farm Shop and Deli show earlier on this year and took away a sample bottle, this most certainly ended up in a G&T during the summer. It provided a refreshing alternative to a standard tonic, with a crisp and delicate taste. 

Upon further research, I discovered that it is a blended soft drink with natural cucumber essence and naturally sparkling spring water. Importantly for me, there are no artificial sweeteners, as I am really making the effort to cut these out of my diet completely.

After experiencing the drink at the FS&D show, I certainly saw the value in Qcumber as a summertime mixer. I was therefore very intrigued when Qcumber contacted me with the challenge of making a winter cocktail. 


I decided that I would go down the route of partnering it with Pimm's Winter Cup No.3, as this has spice and citrus notes that would compliment cucumber well.

After some initial testing, I became certain that next best step would be to add to the citrus overtones and ended up deciding that lime was definitely the way to go.

I'm personally a huge fan of the combination of raspberry and lime, (FYI they make an excellent fruit salad combo) so naturally this also had to be incorporated! The result it a deliciously light and sharp cocktail, which also retains a sweetness and winter hint.


Winter Berry Smash Qcumber Cocktail Recipe

This recipe is for individual drinks, double or triple for extra guests! The ratio is approximately 1:3 of Pimms to Qcumber

50ml Pimm's Winter Cup No.3 (Double shot)
150ml Qcumber 
Dash of Lime Juice
3-4 Raspberries
Twist of Lime

Chill your glasses beforehand, as this will help keep your drink pleasantly cold.

To start the cocktail, gently crush the raspberries into the bottom of each class and add a dash of lime juice (1 tsp for those who like accurate measurements! Though please feel free to adjust to taste)

Pour over the Pimms and then top up the cocktail with Qcumber.

Finish with the twist of lime




I was actually surprised by how well the cucumber worked, it was surprisingly vibrant and didn't get lost in the melange of more acidic ingredients which gave bite to the drink.

The cocktails were very much the perfect antidote to a day of decorating and general DIY and certainly will come out again come Christmas/Boxing Day! 

 A second batch were even requested to compliment an evening work session. 


Qcumber is available in 2 useful sized bottles - 330ml (RRP £1.49) and 750ml (RRP: £2.39) and can be found in Tesco, Booths, Ocado, Harrods and leading health stores.

For more information, follow Qcumber on Facebook and Twitter

*I was sent a hamper which included Qcumber and Pimms for the purposes of creating a cocktail and reviewing the drink. As always, all opinions are based on my own honest experience of the products. For more information on my disclaimer policy, please see my page detailing my disclaimers policy.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Review: La Cachette Restaurant and Wine Bar, Elland, West Yorks*

31 Huddersfield Road
Elland
HX5 9AW

I start my evening off in a rather bad mood, the M62 is jam packed and the weather is abysmal. 

I find myself on a gloomy, and so far mundane, Thursday hurtling towards West Yorkshire. Upon invitation* I am seeking out a supposed hidden gem of a restaurant in the small town of Elland, north west of Huddersfield. This is not the direction I would usually travel to seek out fine food, however I am curious to see what lies this side of Yorkshire!

I arrive at the restaurant hungry and frustrated from my journey. The outside is somewhat unremarkable, however as soon as I step in the door I am greeted with a comfortable heat and a hearty smell (always a good sign.) The restaurant is pleasantly full and there is a lively buzz from other diners, I am surprised by how busy it is for a Thursday - again all good signs.

I am seated with a warm welcome and shown the Menu Du Jour, a reasonably priced fixed menu which showcases the restaurants approach to French and British cuisine.

I'm not usually a big fan of having a soup to start, often I find them bland, however I am willing to take a chance on the sound of the soup du jour, smoked ham with white beans and mushroom. There is no disappointment to be had here! The soup is full of smoky flavour and well presented with crispy smoked ham and croutons. This is off to a good start.

For my main I am tempted with the beef braised in guinness - this was an excellent choice it seems! The beef melts in my mouth and is imbued with a rich caramelized depth from the guinness. The horseradish mash gives everything a good kick and the onion rings are fried with a crisp, non-greasy finish. The carrots balance everything with a sweetness, however the beef in undoubtedly the star of this dish and is definitely cooked in a kitchen which knows its stuff.

For dessert I go for the warm poached plum which comes out wonderfully plated. The plums are delicately spiced and tender and are well complimented by the parfait, which sits atop a hidden crumble base. What I loved about this dessert is that it felt light, yet also indulgent - the toasted almonds adding texture and bite.

Overall I have to say that I honestly did have a rather wonderful meal, one which stands out in my recent restaurant experience. I would go back definitely, and will be back soon I am sure of it!

If something is able to tempt me across the highest and (in my opinion) most hellish motorway, it's got to be good.

One thing I did notice on the menu was the lack of supplier information. The food here is undoubtedly of very high quality and it would be nice to have some more details on its provenance. 

Luckily the Head Chef Glen was on hand to answer a few further questions I had about my evening and kindly took a few minutes out of the busy kitchen to talk to me about his approach to food at the restaurant.

-How long have you been at La Cachette?
I've been here for around about two years now

-  How would you describe the offering at the restaurant
I think the best way to describe La Cachette would be as a French restaurant with strong Yorkshire roots and influences!

- How do you develop your menus and where do you find your culinary inspiration from
I've had a very varied background from working in top end French fine dining restaurants, to brasseries and high end pubs and I've taken lots from that. French food is another big one for my inspirations and the same goes for this great region we are in now.

- Do you use any local suppliers
Here at La Cachette we use a number of local suppliers for all sorts of different things including Bolster Moor Farm Shop and Round Green Farm venison. We use the best ingredients from a close a source as possible.

- What is currently your favourite dish served at the restaurant
Now that is a tough question for me - I think I will have to go with the venison, which is served with Wild Mushroom and Potato Mille Feuille, Celeriac Cream and Star Anise Jus

- How do you see the restaurant developing looking forward into the new year
At the moment our main focus is to carry on developing creative and delicious food. We are also looking to hold more special and one off events in the New Year as these always do well when we have them. Hopefully we might see you at one or two!

Soupe Du Jour - Smoked Ham, White Bean and Mushroom Soup


Beef Braised in Guinness, Horseradish Mash, Sweet Carrots and Onion Rings


Warm Poached Plum, Iced Vanilla Parfait, Toasted Almonds


Personally I feel that La Cachette represents honest fine dining. They serve very good food, well presented, yet also unpretentious. The stand out part for me had to be the beef braised in guinness, I think this is actually a dish that I will remember for quite a while to come. The restaurant also scores highly with me for it's environment, I enjoyed the decor/ambience and even overheard other diners complimenting the atmosphere!

Find more information on La Cachette on Facebook, Twitter and their Website

I sampled the Menu Du Jour

2 Courses £15.95 / 3 Courses £19.95

Price Below Includes a Half Bottle of Red, White or Rosé
2 Courses £20.95 / 3 Courses £24.95

Available
Monday – Saturday 12 – 2.30pm
Monday – Thursday 6.00-9.30pm
Friday – Saturday 5.30 – 7.00pm


*I was kindly invited to sample the Menu Du Jour and offer my thoughts. As always, my opinions are honest and I was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Honest lessons I have learnt whilst setting up a business


Fresh out of university in 2013 I decided to start my own business, Vincent's Coffee
I wanted to build a company that was responsible, ethical and rooted in offering quality products.

The past year has been a mix of ups and downs (a lot of downs if I am honest.) However here I am, still going, ready to launch new products this weekend and putting in place exciting plans for 2015.

The past year has without a doubt been one of the hardest of my life. Sacrifice is a key word any small business owner will undoubtedly recognise and one that I am now intimately familiar with. I have had to take on extra jobs, cut back all expenditure to the bare minimum and put my all into an idea which, despite all effort and intention, might not work out.

1. Estimate how long you think things will take - multiply this result by at least 10 (I'm really not joking here...)

I'm the kind of person who likes quick results - maybe that's why I love cooking, as you get to taste the fruits of your labour on small timescales.

Business may be portrayed as a fast paced world in the media, however in reality you need to be prepared for the fact that all businesses rely on people, and people are not 24 hour machines. Things take time, often a lot of time.

You need to account for extra time in everything, getting orders, people paying invoices, deliveries, even your own ability to complete tasks. At times things can seem stagnant and you can feel like no progress is being made. In my experience, this is often not the case - progress is always being made, even if it seems imperceptible.

2. Sometimes using your friends in a professional capacity is a bad idea (unless you define the professional boundary) 

In the early stages I was really screwed over by a couple of people who I felt were good friends. They charged me a lot of money for some extremely shoddy and frankly unusable work. At the time I felt unable to challenge them due to our friendship and the fact that from the beginning the work had not been discussed in a professional context.

I would urge anyone using a friend in a professional capacity to define what this relationship will look like whilst you are effectively a client. Sit down and have a chat, formalise timescales, payments and what you expect from them, write this down and agree on it. It may seem drastic, however if both of you are clear on expectations, this means that disagreements can be avoided later on.

3. You can't do it on your own

Remember the somewhat cliched line "No man is a island"? For a long time I felt like I could be a all-encompassing-one-woman band, taking on everything and without the need for advice and guidance.

Oh how wrong I was.

We need to interact and collaborate with others, human society is built upon this. Not only did I burn myself out with trying to do and be everything, I also felt extremely isolated and lonely.

The entrepreneur is often portrayed as the lone wolf, someone who strives out on their own, ahead of all others. This may be true for some, however my overwhelming feeling is that you need a strong support network if you are to embark on your own business venture. Things will get tough and then they will get tougher, you will need someone - I spent a whole week crying almost constantly on my also exhausted partner.

Build a strong support network for yourself (I would advise against leaning on just one person, they might need a break!) - speak to friends, family, partners, even consider getting a professional mentor if you think you need more guidance!

My last and biggest piece of advice would be to keep on going - it will be hard, you will feel shit and it might not work out. However you will learn so much along the way and this will enrich your life both professionally and personally. It's worth it, even if you fail at the end.

For more information on what I actually do - Vincents Coffee - See our website here

For lots more, find AoF on Twitter and follow on Bloglovin


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Launch of York on a Fork!

This is an exciting project I've been collaborating on for the past few months with a whole host of other talented writers, bloggers and graphic designers.

I'm really excited to now be able to share Issue One of York on a Fork with you all!

York is such an amazing city for foodies - we are spoiled for choice with an amazing Food Festival, local quality producers and wonderful independent restaurants.

This vibrant culinary scene inspired the ezine, which looks to showcase what the city has to offer.

We would love to continue with the ezine and produce a second issue for early next year, so please let us know any feedback you might have on what we could improve and what you want to see less/more of.

If you are a local York business who has something different to offer to our food scene, please get in touch and let us know what you are up too.

You can email me (audacityoffood@gmail.com) or tweet @audacity of food / @yorkonafork

Many thanks again to everyone who made this project possible. I'm so chuffed with issue one and already looking forward to the next one!


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