1, 2, 3….Cheese (club)!!!

Have you ever been involved in a cheese stampede?  It’s a unique but pleasurable experience that came about from our involvement in ‘Club Homage2Fromage‘.

Cheese club is a bit like fight club but with less violence (other than a few stray elbows).  They don’t ban you from speaking about it, but they do have rules.  Actual written rules.

Hello-walls-cheese-club

Homage2Fromage takes its cheese seriously. It isn’t a cheese and wine night, wine has no business jockeying for attention.  It’s all about the cheese, unsullied by alcoholic distractions (other that those you buy yourself).  Just because it’s serious about cheese, doesn’t mean that it’s a humourless event though.  Far from it.  In fact there were a lot of cheese puns going on (more of those later).

So far Liz has been to a Manchester event and I’ve been to events in Leeds and Bradford.  They all work the same way – you pay for a ticket, scoff as much cheese as you like, but you taste the cheeses blind to encourage you to be adventurous.  Afterwards the cheeses are revealed, so you can find out if you’ve been cheating on your trusty Stilton by declaring a Fourme d’Ambert as your favourite (a bit like blind swinging but with less serious moral implications).

Hello-walls-cheese-club

The Homage2Fromage folks know how to cheese complement and condiment.  The cheeses are lovingly arranged on rustic wooden and slate platters with an abundance of grapes, celery, tomatoes, apples crackers, breads and chutneys nestled in and amongst. Appropriate cutting implements for each cheese are provided and they are unwaveringly generous with portions.  You can eat like a cheese overlord for a measly £8-£10.

You get a plate, a stack of bread, and at the call of ‘1,2,3….cheese!’ it’s every man for himself as you rush towards the trestle tables.  Some show polite restraint in only cutting a sliver, most go for a small hunk, and some groups strategise and dissipate around the room to seek out priority cheeses in slabs big enough for 4 or 6 (an effective but less gentlemanly approach). You must queue, and you mustn’t touch the cheese before they call CHEESE – them’s the rules.

Hello-walls-cheese-club

Afterwards the cheeses are unveiled and lovingly described by Nick and Vicki (your hosts).  Occasionally there are cheese themed quizzes involved (not for the naive cheese eater) and at the 3rd birthday event we attended at the Adelphi in Leeds there was even a cheese themed joke contest (my personal favourite: Q. What kind of cheese do you use to disguise a small horse? A. Mascarpone).

Homage2Fromage currently run events in Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Harrogate and (most recently) Bradford and Farsley, so check out their website.  They’ve got French events lined up for July, but be quick – they sell out pretty fast (especially in Leeds and Manchester) – you wouldn’t want to miss out on the cheesy action.

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The burger mission continues…

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So guess what? I’ve been eating burgers again (the diet starts next week). This time my mission, as promised, took me to Get Baked Presents: The Joint (the new restaurant arm of the Meanwood takeaway Mr Nice Guys I reviewed in my last post). Upon arriving at the unique converted church the restaurant calls home (Woodhouse Lane in the Hyde Park area of Leeds), the huge gothic window illuminated by a Baz Lurhmann-esque neon Get Baked logo (Romeo & Juliet fans will know what I mean – churches, neon lights, symbolism blah blah blah), I knew I’d found the holy grail.

Get Baked Presents: The Joint

Excited at this experimental juxtaposition, the Mr and I ran in with breath that was bated. We were met with a cool, contemporary space complimented by a seriously relaxed vibe. High ceilings, mismatch furniture, a collage explosion of 90s cultural icons on the walls (the Mr particularly loved a Ren and Stimpy print he spotted – I drew the line at getting a replica for our house, man room or no man room) and a Leeds-worthy bar finished with huge chandeliers and a colourful wall of must have spirits, oh and a red telephone box thrown in for good measure, gave the place that on trend eclectic feel. With Nirvana’s MTV unplugged playing on the big screens and RUN-DMC playing on the sound system, it felt nostalgic and almost youth club like; comforting, a place where you could just ‘hang’ (do people still say that?!). The owner’s vivid imagination was evident throughout and this new hotspot was quite clearly a labour of love.

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To Burger, Or Not To Burger – That Is The Question

Gina-Z-banner

My answer? Definitely to burger. Long gone are the days of over-processed chains and late night greasy dives being our only options. The humble burger has undergone somewhat of a revival of late and a retro style icon is reborn. From posh to punk, brioche to bap, we’re spoilt for choice and the making of this go-to fast-food staple has become a bit of an art. I’ve been on a mission in the bright lights of Leeds to witness first-hand this booming burger scene…

 

FIve Guys Burgers

Five Guys: The All American Dream

Let’s start with Five Guys. When I want something quick and easy without compromising on quality, this is my new best friend and lucky for me, it’s conveniently located on my way home from work so to say I have become a regular is an understatement. The self-confessed ‘heaven in a brown paper bag’ is the new kid on the block in Leeds and harks back to the 1950s all-American dream where it all began for the simple hamburger. A basic palette of red and white décor makes the place feel fresh and crisp, much like the ingredients. With only four choices of burger on the menu (each available in two sizes; I opt for the ‘little’ which is plenty big enough) and only a dozen or so classic toppings to choose from, it’s the quality of ingredients and sheer simplicity of these foil-wrapped beauties that’s the winning formula. Served with a mountain of fries, made from the sacks of potatoes on show in the store, and a choice of over one hundred soft drinks (I highly recommend the cherry vanilla Coca Cola – very Sandy in Grease), this American import is a firm-favourite here to stay and certainly gives its famous red and yellow competition a run for its money. So much so, Elvis would have felt right at home here.

 

If you crave a vibrant party atmosphere and a few cocktails with your grub plus bold experimental flavours that pack a punch, Almost Famous is an in-your-face neon explosion with a cool electronic soundtrack to boot. My advice, come hungry. One of the most creative menus in town, each burger has its own aptly named label and comes stacked high, oozing with unctuous toppings and dripping with sauce (learn from my mistake and pick up enough napkins). The Johnny Mac is pure handcrafted heaven with not one, but two juicy burgers smothered in applewood smoked and cheddar cheese, bacon, grilled onions, crunchy cheese tortillas, million island dressing, chipotle ketchup and wait for it…a deep-fried mac and cheese ball on top. This spectacular combination of flavours will have your tongue doing a dance. Oh and don’t under any circumstances forget a side of Bacon Bacon fries; their famous ‘winning’ fries covered in baconnaise and bacon rain. Enough said.

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Etsy Picks: Sugar & Spice

ETSY-picks-sugar-and-spice

For the full list of our sugary treats and spicy delights head over to our Etsy Sugar & Spice treasury

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Brighton: Three is the Magic Number

I turned thirty last month and I like it. Admittedly this could have something to do with how much I’ve been spoilt by friends and family but so far so good – it’s only a number right?

To mark this milestone I’ve had my fair share of celebrations (some I can remember more than others) but on my actual birthday my partner Paul took me on a surprise trip to Brighton. We stayed for three days to commemorate my three decades of life and did my three favourite things: eating, drinking and shopping. It was excellent fun.

So sticking with this theme of three (otherwise I’d be here forever as there’s so much to tell) I thought I’d share my top three eateries, pubs and shops…

 

TOP THREE PLACES TO EAT

 1. 24 st George St

24 St georges brighton

(Apologies for the lack of photographic evidence on this one, as it was a special occasion I thought it best to leave the camera and phone at home)

This was the birthday night dinner, and boy was it good.  The restaurant itself is pretty unassuming, the place has a cosy front room feel to it but nothing to spark my interior interest. I soon realise though that there is no need for them to try too hard with the surroundings when the food is so tasty. Stick to what you’re best at right? I knew we were in for a treat as soon as we were given the poshest scotch eggs I’ve ever had as an ‘amuse-bouche’  – from memory I think they were quails eggs surrounded by mushroom pate then rolled in salted breadcrumbs.  They were delicious anyway and certainly set the standard for what was to come. It’s very reasonable too with mains costing between £13–£20, so book ahead and in advance –  it’s a very popular place.

 

2. Bill’s

Bills-brighton

Bill’s in Brighton

Set in an old bus depot this cafe/restaurant/shop was opened in Brighton in 2005. The founder Bill Collison started life as a greengrocer but after tragedy struck in 2000 and his small shop in Lewes East Sussex was flooded he was forced to start again but this time he added a cafe and has never looked back. Business is booming and there are now Bill’s produce and cafe shops all over the country, my home town Manchester included (although I never realised this).  Despite it now being a pretty big chain it still feels like a local spot, with charming staff, colourful surroundings and most importantly fantastically fresh produce. So whether it be for breakfast, brunch or dinner do make the effort to stop off at the old bus depot. Needless to say I will now be frequenting my local Manchester Bill’s, to test whether the  standard of food and the atmosphere travels.

 

3. Bona foodie

Bona-foodie-brighton

Sausage and mash in a pie. Yes you hear me correctly, a pie.

This deli was just down the road from our apartment and I found it very difficult to walk past without stopping. Their window display was packed full of cakes, pies, pastries, lasagnes and mouthwateringly colourful salads. It’s definitely more of a take-out than a eat-in kind of place, so we took our picnic down to the beach. Healthy salads aside their produce is not for the fainthearted, with offerings such as sausage and mash pie – the pie the equivalent of a potato waffle sandwich or a  sausage roll bap (SRB for short – it’s a Derry thing apparently). We needed a tub full of ketchup to wash it down, but being hungover from the previous nights birthday antics – it certainly hit the spot.

 

The top three continues after the cut with my favourite places to drink and shop

 

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Cider With A Side Of Lunch – Holmfirth’s Pure North Cider Cafe

Outside of Pure North Cider Cafe

Holmfirth’s big claim to fame is having been home to Last of The Summer Wine for its run of eons and eons, but last month I found something else to put Holmfirth on the map.  I was visiting a stone yard in the area to scout for some reclaimed York stone paving for our back yard, and my huband scored major brownie points by proposing we stop at the Pure North Cider Cafe for lunch.

It’s located outside of the town itself, up a narrow, windy road which looks as if it’s about to reach a dead end before swinging a sharp right and petering out by a sign for the shop and cafe.  I hadn’t heard of Pure North before (it was a fortunate Trip Advisor discovery), but I was very excited to read that they press their own apples and make their own cider on site.  Not only that, but they don’t just ship in apples from down south – they press local, home-grown apples to create 100% pressed juice cider, and are currently cultivating their own orchards to expand their production and range.

Two glasses of ciderCider sampling at Pure North

What more could a cider lover want from a lunch spot? Well, lunch obviously, and in a nice location, and Pure North delivers on both accounts.  It was a lovely day when we visited so we sat out on the picnic tables in the garden area and soaked up the sun, but there was a also a covered porch area (with a basket of blankets in case the weather turns chilly) as well as tables available in the cosy shop and cafe.

Menu boardI’ll have one of everything please…

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Gift Ideas for Hosts With The Most

I’m not really convinced about the term ‘hostess’ gifts. It’s a bit 1950’s / Stepford Wives-ish and makes me think of the dubious ‘hostess’ badge that was on offer when we were Brownies in the early 90’s. I recall that it consistented of Liz and I making tea and sandwiches for adults, whilst holding polite conversation. Somehow I don’t think that the badge was on offer for the guys over in scouts…

In my mind host/hostess gift is basically a ‘thank you for feeding me / putting me up’, and the generosity of the gift is usually relative to the amount of time you’ve intruded on their hospitality. Take note: if you are someone who intends to stay a couple of days and is still crashing on your friend’s couch 6 months later, you owe you some serious gifting (or, you know, maybe some rent).

Booze, usually wine, is the obvious answer, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Plus it can be hard to buy for someone with an intimidatingly well stocked wine cabinet.   It also helps to get a bit creative if you’re staying for a longer stint and want to splash out to treat your hosts who may have saved you a hotel bill. So here are a few alternative ideas, and you can find the full Pinterest list here.

host&hostess-gifts

1.  Day of the Dead – Tequila Añejo 50ml £12.50 (+£6 p&p/collect in store) 2. Whitby Bone China Mug – Indigo £8 (£3.25 p&p) 3. ARV BRÖLLOP Serving stand with lid, clear glass  £15 (collect in store only) 4. Chocolate & Macadamia Biscuits £9.95 (in store/ £4.95 per delivery)  5.  Jersey Pottery Sardine Run Small Jug £19 (in store/£5.95 p&p) 6.  Raspberry Infused Gin £18.50 (+£6 p&p/collect in store)  7. Garden Recipe Cards £14.50 (£5.95 p&p/collect in store) 8. Pitt Cue Co. – The Cookbook £10 (free p&p) 9. Sinatra Stoneware Green reactive glaze platter | £30 (+£4.95 p&p) 10. Marbleised Servingware (Oval) £24 (in store/£8 p&p) 11. Amber vase £5.49 (+£4.79 p&p)

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Strano: Madcap Italian Pop Up In North Leeds

‘Strano’ is the Italian word for ‘strange’, and this pop up restaurant has certainly earned its moniker. Having now attended three different Strano events, I can attest that they’ve been increasingly weird (and wonderful) visual and culinary experiences.

For our first foray into Strano we came a bit late to the party, booking in for its second incarnation which was held above the ’Jam’ hair studio in Headingley, Leeds. The vestiges of a former bike shop and vintage brick-a-brac store had been transformed into a funky little vintage styled bar with leather armchairs and a suitcase full of vinyl records to take for a spin. Upstairs in the eaves of the building the space had been kitted out with a full kitchen (installed only the day before) and a simple and cosy restuarant area for the lucky 50 or so patrons with mismatched vintage chairs, exposed brick and some carefully positioned copper studio style lighting.  Our hosts were Italian by heritage but Yorkshire in accent and they were enthusiastic champions for unique and high quality food and drink with a flair for the theatrical.

When the first course came out on a giant ceramic hand, featuring salad in a shot glass and crostini with chicken skin as a base instead of bread (amongst other delicious bites), we knew we were in for a wild ride. The exquisite cooking didn’t let up over all seven courses. We had black pizza, crab spaghetti served with a teapot of broth and a tiramisu inspired desert which you compiled yourself.

STRANO-visit1

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Best Kids Birthday Cakes (for novice bakers)

Owl Cake

I’m an average baker, with a great enthusiasm for the eating of cakes, moderate skill in the baking of them, and a lot more time for the former than the latter.

As such, I tend to value substance over style, so when I was asked to make a cake for my nephew’s first birthday last December, I initially had horrifying visions of having to get to grips with royal icing and create some masterly feat of artistry.

Luckily good old BBC Good Food came to the rescue and I found myself a medium I could comfortably work with; chocolate.  More specifically kids chocolate treats. The owl above is my faithful recreation of this recipe, which does wondrous things with Flakes, Buttons, Chocolate Fingers and marzipan that even someone with limited artistic skill can reproduce with a bit of patience.  More importantly it tasted delicious, and was well received by my nephew, who seems to be inheriting our genetic predisposition for all things sweet.

As a chronic hoarder of recipes, I have started to keep an eye out for kids’ birthday cakes which look the part but don’t take years of honed cake craft skills (or expensive equipment) to recreate. Here are my clippings for future nephews’ birthdays..

1. BBC Good Food Hedgehog cake  – a bit like the Owl cake, this cake deploys creative uses of chocolate treats to create this cute little spiky fella

2. Sprinkle Bakes for Betty Crocker: Despicable Me 2 minion cake – deceptively impressive and very endearing – I’d be thrilled if someone made this for my birthday.

3. Kit Kat Cake -easiest ever cake decoration – no visible icing involved! Just Kit Kats and M&Ms.

4. Butterfly Cake – this looks like it takes fancy cake moulds or cake shaping skills, but this butterfly results form a very simple clever trick with a single round cake

5. Nigella Bee cake – this is from Nigella’s gorgeous book ‘Feast’ and is also available on her website. It’s a simple chocolate honey cake with gloriously decadent sticky honey chocolate icing (not one for toddlers!). On top you fashion little bees from marzipan to buzz around the cake (and in my effort for my friend Ruth’s 30th above, I also added a 3-0 in the middle made of crushed-up crunchie bars). One for big kids and little kids alike.

chocolate cake

6. Overloaded Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake - probably one for the slightly older child who appreciates substance over form – this is basically the cake equivalent of a mash up of Ben & Jerry’s peanut butter cup ice-cream with their cookie dough ice-cream. Sugary heaven.

7. Caterpillar cake design 1 (need basic vanilla sponge recipe) and caterpillar cake design 2  – apparently M&S’s Colin the Caterpillar cake is all the rage at the moment, but if you fancy a home made attempt at a caterpillar, these recipes is nice and easy and uses cupcakes which can be less danuting than a full cake (and quicker to bake!)

8. And finally if a packet mix is as daring as you get in the kitchen, take inspiration from Jenny over at the Dinner a Love Story blog, who whipped up some chocolate brownies from a packed and topped them with some icing to make Birthday Brownies which she then used as the basis for ‘make it yourself’ Birthday Ice cream sundaes – genius!

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The Laundrette: Cocktails and Carbs

Laundrette Chorlton Exterior

Beech Road in Chorlton, Manchester is renowned for it’s parade of independent bars, restaurants, deli’s and boutique shops – it’s a mecca for young professionals. The Laundrette bar and eaterie, opened in Summer 2013, is a relatively new addition to the street but its welcoming atmosphere and promise of ‘cocktails and carbs’  have made it an instant hit.

The name ‘Laundrette’ pays homage to the buildings previous occupation (known then as ‘Soap Opera’. Genius). I do miss the old place, possibly because I’ve had to find a new spot to wash my sheets but mainly because I loved the smell of freshly tumbled laundry when walking past. The new occupants soon won me over though, and they’ve continued the Laundrette theme throughout – with starters referred to as ‘Prewash’, sides as ‘Extra Spin’ and all the pricing in halves and quarters (reminiscent of the old token system. Pretty confusing after a few of their cocktails though).

They’ve done a good job on the interior too. Exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood, bare lamp pendants and steel shelving at the bar give the place an industrial twist. And as I’m only 5.2″ the ‘spin to adjust the height’ stools that they have dotted around are a particular highlight. Practical and beautiful – you can find similar from Cox&Cox.

Laundrette Chorlton interior

Laundrette Chorlton interior2

In true Chorlton style produce is sourced locally. The menu is simple, with a focus on pizzas – i’ve sampled a few now and have never been disappointed. There is one reason I keep returning though and that is their rum passion cocktail. Funnily enough precisely what’s involved escapes me, but the ingredient that makes it so memorable is the fresh chilli.  It’s the steepest drink on the menu (£8.50) but worth every penny.

Rum passion

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