Sunday, 30 December 2012

Chorizo, kale and mushroom pasta

After a Christmas comprised of sheer gluttony and wild food adandon, my thoughts have turned, true girl style, to my waist and those flabby bits that have appeared on my upper arms, which are commonly known as 'bingo wings' - with that in mind my post Christmas eating has become somewhat restrained, hence the inspiration for the following recipe.

Packed with kale and mushrooms it's full of much needed nutrients like essential B vitamins, which, coupled with the garlic/onions are great for your immune and circulatory system (both which could do with a massive boost at this time of year); the wholewheat pasta keeps you fuller for longer and contains fibre to 'ahem' deal with the meat overload that's rotting in your gut and the sprinkling of chorizo/parmesan adds extra flavour and a feeling of indulgence without too many extra calories/sat fats - but if you're being super keen, just leave these last two out.

I'm using mafalda corta as the pasta here - it's not the best for this type of dish, but a) I had it in and b) I really like how it looks/feels - the philosophy behind this restrained eating is to make it as pleasurable as possible, so you don't feel like you're cutting back (when you most certainly are). In this recipe use the very best you can afford, therefore packing a full flavoured punch to keep your mid-winter post-Christmas-restraint-blues eating interesting.

Chorizo, kale and mushroom pasta

serves two - prep five min - cooking 15 min


 - 75g chorizo (not cooking chorizo though you can use it here if you prefer), cubed - try and find an iberico bellota ring, it's more expensive, but tastes much better and the meat is much higher quality
 - 1 small onion, finely diced
 - 150g wholewheat pasta, I used mafalda corta, but feel free to use any wholewheat pasta you like - I would say use a good quality brand like Napolina as some basic lines of wholewheat pasta are very worthy/soggy/awful
 - 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
 - 1 pack of cavolo nero (about 150g), rinsed - can use normal kale, but cavolo has a better flavour/texture
 - 2 portobello/large chestnut mushrooms, sliced
 - extra virgin olive oil
 - sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
 - parmesan, to garnish
 - cooking olive oil as/if needed


1. Put a frying pan on a medium heat and immediately add the chopped chorizo - adding it to a cold pan and letting it heat up with the it will cause the paprika spiced oils to melt out in to the pan, adding loads of flavour. Put a full kettle on to boil.

2. Once the oil has come out a little, add the onions and cook until soft. After a three minutes or so, add the garlic and keep stirring every now and again to stop the onions/garlic catching - you may need to add a splash of cooking olive oil if not much is coming out of your chorizo (it's a natural product, so each one varies). Whilst the onions and garlic are softening, put the boiled water in a large pan and add a generous pinch of salt.

3. As the water reaches a rolling boil (ie very fast and bubbly), add the pasta and stir to stop it sticking on the bottom - make sure you keep the pasta on a fast boil and stir every now and again. Cook to the packet instructions, but a minute or two before the end of the cooking time, test to see how done it is - you want it al dente (slight bite).

4. Whilst the pasta is cooking, cut the mid-ribs out of the cavelo nero and slice finely - add these to the frying pan. Keep stirring to stop the onions/garlic sticking. Cut the leafy bits of the kale in to fine ribbons and set aside.

5. After a minute, add the mushrooms to the frying pan - mushrooms absorb all the tasty juices, but also make the pan very dry when they are first added, so you may need another splash of cooking olive oil, just to stop the onions/garlic catching.

6. In the last three minutes of the pasta cooking, add the reserved kale leaves to the pasta water and cook with the pasta.

7. Drain the pasta/kale in a colander and add back to the cooking pan (minus the water). Keep the pan off the heat and dress the pasta with a sprinkle of sea salt, a good grinding of pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add the contents of the frying pan and stir through the pasta.

8. Divide between two bowls, check the seasoning and grate over some parmesan - if you use a fine microplane, you'll use a lot less cheese and it will be more of a seasoning than a fattening additive (which is the idea here).

9. Enjoy your healthy food, without cutting back on taste or essential nutrients. Bon appetit.

Ps The meat and cheese in this recipe are merely seasonings and not the main components of the dish, so if the amount of these looks small in relation to the pasta/veg, that's how it's meant to look!

NB this recipe is also on the cheap side, great for restrained wallets as well as restrained diets.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Chocolate, Cherry and Almond Bread Pudding Recipe - Booths Cheers Secret Mission

If someone sends you some free booze with a ‘Secret Mission’ envelope strapped to it, what do you imagine is in there? Booze related nudity? Tequila based humiliation? A night in the cells/hugging the porcelain/day off work?

For the last few weeks I've been joining Booths (that wonderful Northern 'grocery store' and purveyors of fantastic produce) and other bloggers on Twitter to taste and discuss booze selected for us by Booths. It's been a fun way to meet new people, up my wine tasting skills and makes me feel like I'm not really drinking alone in my house mid-week (I'm with Twitter people, it's not alone!). This week Booths threw down the gauntlet and sent us bloggers a secret mission as well as the usual booze consignment.

Where all the cool kids have been hanging out!
The booze in question was a bottle of Crofts Indulgence Reserve Port and the secret mission was to create the ultimate comfort food to match it. Oh and to top it, for this mission I’d be pitting my creation against a recipe devised by Linzi from Lancashire Food. A competition? Competing? Going head to head? How could I say no to this? (Please don’t ever attempt to take me to a pub quiz or play board games with me, you have been warned).

I got the old grey matter working and, in the name of pure gastronomic/recipe research, got out the port glasses (ok, Moomin water glasses) and got my tastebuds on the case too – team effort, well done body! This port has a big berry nose and this translates down to the mouth; I was getting plums, cherries and currants with a bit of a chocolate note – little thinner than an LBV, but actually very good considering this is about half the price of an LBV!

The booze we're drinking this week - my picture was rubbish, Booths very kindly took a good one!

Initial thoughts were to run with the whole stilton, port and nuts thing – very classic, very Christmassy, very comforting and some big flavours to match the port. However, that chocolate back note got me thinking – I like to sup port in the evening, or after dinner, often after pudding AND I LOVE CHOCOLATE. How about I make a big comforting pudding that would match perfectly with the port? Shazam! An idea formed… (and then I went in to the kitchen, made it, ate it as soon as it came out of the oven and have subsequently received third degree burns in my mouth for my effort in bringing you amazingness. I am such a martyr for my art...).

Chocolate, cherry and almond bread pudding –

Serves 6 – 30 min prep, 30 min stand, 30 min cook

(Please note, I made this as a 2 person and scaled up, however I have made the recipe for plain old chocolate bread and butter pudding from this recipe before, so know it works for 6. It’s a tinkering of a Delia recipe I based my plain choc one on, which I now use all the time – good old Delia!)


• 9 slices of day old white bread, crusts removed, cut into triangles (the white sliced loaf from the supermarket bakery works well, the pappy packet stuff just tends to disintegrate)

• 250g dark chocolate

• 75g butter, unsalted – plus extra for buttering the bread/dish

• 425ml whipping cream

• 4 tbsp amaretto – or a few drop of almond essence if you want to omit the alcohol

• 110g caster sugar

• 3 large eggs

• Half a jar of pitted morello cherries in syrup, drained and cut in half

• 100g whole almonds

• Cream or custard to serve

• Shallow 18x23cm dish (mine's a few cms off this and it still works well)


1. Lightly butter the inside of the dish and each side of the bread.

2. If you are naughty like me – put the butter, cream, 150g chocolate and sugar in a pan on the LOWEST heat possible and melt them together. Stir when you see the chocolate and butter melting so the chocolate doesn’t burn. Take off the heat and stir all the ingredients together and then stir in the amaretto.

3. If you are a good girl then put the sugar, butter, amaretto, 150g chocolate and cream in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and don’t let the bowl touch the water. Take off when melted and stir to combine.

4. In a big, separate bowl whisk the eggs. Pour the chocolate mixture over the eggs, whisking as you go.

5. Put a 1cm layer of the chocolate mix in the bottom of the dish and then add a layer of bread triangles overlapping each other (use half your bread triangles for this). Pour over half the chocolate mix and use a fork or spoon to press it in to the bread and make sure every slice has a covering of chocolate custard.

6. Dot the reserved 100g of chocolate and the cherry halves all over this layer in a random pattern (or you can do it in exact lines if you have pattern OCD like me).

7. Add the remaining bread in overlapping layers and then spoon the remaining chocolate sauce over – again pressing and making sure each bread piece is covered in the sauce.

8. Cover with cling film and leave to stand for 30 mins on the work top or in the fridge. Whilst it is setting turn the oven on to 180c to warm up.

9. Take off the cling film and put the pudding in the oven for about 30 mins, it should be a bit crispy on the top and squidgy in the middle. Check after about 20 mins as the chocolate can sometimes burn and no one likes that taste! If it is catching, cover with a layer of tin foil/baking paper until it is ready.

10. Whilst the pudding is in the oven, put a heavy based frying pan on a medium heat. Once it is hot, add the almonds and toast till they are brown. Keep an eye on the as the oils in them can catch easily – you want them to be a nice golden brown. (You can do this in the oven at the same time as the pudding if you need to hob for other things; I just like keeping an eye on them on the hob).

11. Chop the almonds till they are slightly fine, but still with a bit of texture – you don’t want sand! Take the pudding out and dress with the almonds.

12. Serve warm with custard, cream or ice cream and a good measure of port.

Christmas Sparkle Hamper - Hampergifts

I love a good hamper – the pleasing creak of the wicker, the anticipation as you undo the sturdy leather straps, burying your hands in the oodles of filling to find the unknown treasures contained with in – and you can even use the hamper again once you’ve gorged on its innards.

I used to receive a hamper every year, however I’ve left that job and I know longer work for an employer who a) has a very small workforce and b) who believes sending us home on Christmas Eve with a bulging box of goodies is a worthwhile allocation of resources (you work for a charity – and no, the charity is not your belly – ed); so when Hampergifts asked if I’d review one of their hampers, well how could I say no?

How the hamper arrived

The Christmas Sparkle hamper is basically every accoutrement you’ll need for Christmas day; it would be great to take along with you to whomever is hosting you on the big day, or a good stock of things to send a house- bound grandparent or someone who’s celebrating alone.

My itchy little fingers pulled out three bottles of booze (and you know I like my booze) – a Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and a Crème de Blancs (ie a French sparkling wine made to the traditional method but outside of the champagne appellation). To line your tummy from all the booze there’s also posh pheasant pate and award-winning crackers, with mustard and chutney – you just need to supply the cheese.

What about sweet stuff? Don’t worry there’s a one person brandy pudding and a hefty wodge of Christmas cake. Not into the traditional sweetmeats of Christmas? There’s shortbread tails, fancy matchmakers (dark chocolate, mint covered things – may have eaten them as soon as the hamper arrived), perfumed Turkisk delight, toffees to pull out your dentures and a bag of fudge and raisins to keep the young folk quiet whilst you locate the spirits to dull the noise.

Everything you get - bar the Turkish delight, which I ate just after the chocolate sticks

And Hampergifts have also thought about the morning after – supplying bitter marmalade and strong ground coffee to slap you out of the post-Christmas Day booze food haze. How thoughtful!

Oh and there’s also a generous supply of nutmeg (with handy grater), because it’s illegal to have Christmas without nutmeg. FACT.

So how much is one of these hampers? It’ll set you back £84.95 – but considering you a) don’t have to go and shop for these things and mingle with OTHER PEOPLE b) the booze alone would set you back around £25 to start with c) you get it delivered so there’s no stress and d) you can use the hamper again (mine now has craft supplies in it, gee I sound so exciting) – it’s pretty good value. And it is Christmas after all.

Hurry, you’ve got mere weeks left to send a Christmas hampers from Hampergifts to granny! Just visit their site to get one.

Ps Hampergifts do a full range of gorgeous hampers, so there’s one to suit every budget .

Please note I was sent my hamper gratis but was not under any obligation to say nice things – I just liked what came in the box and had a few good days pretending Christmas had come early.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Umezushi - Manchester

Umezushi, Manchester’s newest sushi restaurant, has been on my radar for a while after hearing pleasing murmurs from a variety of sources. I’m a Japanese food lover and Manchester’s a little thin on the ground for great places to eat this type of food (Yuzu excepted), so as you can expect I went with my heart in my mouth and my tastebuds eager to be pleased.

Umezushi is hidden away in a railway arch at the top of Mirabel Street (by Victoria Station; I foresee them snaring me quite often on my commute home, damn them) – a small, simple, striped back interior ensures your whole concentration is focused on the balanced exactness that is the mainstay of Japanese food and which is recreated perfectly here.

Umezushi - the little hidden gem

And what food! A main gripe of mine about (now) living away from the sea is the lack of fresh fish – don’t get me wrong, restaurateurs in Manchester have access to an amazing market at Smithfields and at some places the fish is spanking fresh, trouble is it’s usually cooked (and I have a perchance for raw…) – still, many places are serving up flabby, rubbery, slimy lumps of fish I would think twice about cooking, let along snarfing down uncooked. Not at Umezushi; all the fish we had was tip top – firm, clean and plenty of iodine. To keep tastes fresh and of super quality, Umezushi has adopted an ever changing daily menu to reflect what’s best at market each day; often full of seasonal, British produce to boot.

To start, we were given a dish of homemade pickles; sweet, slightly sharp, with each piece of veg still retaining a satisfying crunch. Dishes come out when they are ready – so don’t go to Umezushi when in a massive rush, the food is prepped when you order it to ensure it’s super fresh, so there’s a little (but welcome) wait.

Fresh and clean - sweet little homemade pickles

Umezushi keeps things simple – you choose your fish first, then how you would like it prepped; sashimi, handroll, nigiri, maki etc, or you can leave it to the gods (well, chef) and chose the house selection. We ate buttery brill, softly melting sea trout, rich tuna, a lightly pickled horse mackerel and the rarest, most succulent slice of fillet beef. Only small issue is the rice, it’s slightly loose – much better than the claggy puddings you get elsewhere, but just a tad difficult to get in my mouth (I’m not the neatest of eaters in the first place, so a little assistance would have been appreciated).

Thing of beauty in taste and looks - brill handroll

To accompany the sushi (and to fill me up) we ordered miso (hot, salty and not minging = good), light as a feather tempura and, on the back of the success of the pickles, some homemade kimchee – a great wall of heat, relived by a sharp pickle slap, followed by that unmistakable fermenty fizz; if you can stomach spicy fermented brassicas then definitely order it as it’s some of the best I’ve had in Manchester.

Tiny tuna portion - was worth every little bite

Umezushi is a fab little find, I was in two minds about writing this up as it’s such a hidden gem with such limited space that I want to be able to get in when I next visit – however it’s so perfect that you need to know and of course, I need them to carry on trading! The food is exquisitely put together, the produce as fresh as can be, the staff are the perfect level of friendliness and it’s a comfy little bolt hole – the only (very tiny) negative is that portions are small for the price, but as I’ve said before, I’d rather have quality over quantity and you get simple quality by the bucket loads here.

Price for seven sushi plates, one miso soup, one kimchee, one tempura and two beers - £40.24

Food – 8/10

Atmosphere – 7/10 (we were there very early, straight after work)

Service – 9/10

Value for money – 7/10

Total – 31/40

Go again – Yes. I plan to become a regular. Maybe even with my own chair and special nod to the chef who just whips up his best/freshest/newest thing and hands it to me without a word (stop fantasising – ed).

Umezushi, 4 Mirabel Street, Manchester M3 1PJ – 0161 8321 852 –

Umezushi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Whiskey Tasting Night - The Violet Hour, West Didsbury

As many of my readership can attest, this is a lady who likes the odd tipple, and there's no tipple this lady likes more than Woodford bourbon (well, maybe some champers, but that's no surprise is it?).

So when good friend and the man with the BEST job in the world mentioned he would be conducting a Woodford/American whiskey tasting night at The Violet Hour in West Didsbury, how could I not pop along and show him my support by eagerly listening to his wisdom and tasting ALL the drinks he made. What a great friend I am hey?

The Violet Hour - wonderful photography from Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography

Premise of the night was very simple, Tom Vernon, the American Whiskey Ambassador for Bacardi Brown Foreman would introduce three of his brands; Gentleman Jack, Woodford and Jack Single Barrel by giving us a (large) measure of each to taste/savour/down. Then we'd get a classic cocktail made from each (and be shown how to make them too - now I'm going to look like a PRO at Christmas) and plenty of history, anecdotes and tasting notes along the way.

Not all these drinks were mine... (are you sure? - ed)

We were first introduced to Gentleman Jack, a Tennessee whiskey, NOT a bourbon; this is Jack Daniels given the posh treatment - gently mellowed in charred oak barrels for two years then re-mellowed through a unique charcoal filtering process (did you know the Jack Daniels distillery is the ONLY distiller with their own cooper - ie. they make ALL their own barrels? (See I was listening/not getting too pissed. Really. Promise.). Indeed it was pretty smooth, with that oakiness as a slight warm burn on the back of the throat and a good mouthful of stone fruits as well.

Gentleman Jack was given the whiskey sour treatment - very simply just whiskey (obviously), mixed with sugars, bitters, the sharp bite of lemon and some egg white to give you a nice creamy mouth feel (oi! I'm talking about booze you rude people!). See the bottom of the blog post to make your own whiskey sour.

Tom doing his thang - again thanks to the amazing Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography

Next drink was my favourite EVER - a Woodford. Even without Tom's spiel I can tell you that this bourbon is a far more punchy and layered little number as it contains much more rye than the Gentleman Jack (18% compared to Gentleman's 8% - ok, I didn't know the percentages until I got Tom's informative chat). Woodford is full of toffee and maple notes (that's why it makes such a good caramel for morning pancakes!) with some peppery, anise flavours to really perk it up at the end. Even though it's more punchy, it has less of an aggressive nose/throat than the Gentleman Jack due to the aging processes it goes through.

The Woodford was turned in to one of my top ten favourite cocktails; the quintessential prohibition drink that's gone through a massive resurgence lately, the stately and sophisticated (and darn right boozey) Manhattan. The story goes it was created at the Manhattan club for Winston Churchill's mother - how it was when she was pregnant and in France, no one knows, it's been lost in the mists of time...

Woodford Manhattan and terrible photo

The last whiskey of the night was the Jack Single Barrel - that's the super posh stuff that Jack Daniel's makes. As it says on the tin (ok bottle), this is a single barrel bottling; each batch is created from ONE single barrel (approx 250 bottles). This whiskey has oodles of flavour and a much higher abv (45%!) thanks to it being stored in the Angel's Roost - the top of the warehouse where the temperature differences are more pronounced, thus meaning the whiskey has had more interaction with the wood; the whiskey sucking in and absorbing all those charred oaky tannins and being softened by its interaction with the wood.

Each batch of Jack Single Barrel differs from the each other depending on what time of year it was made, where it has been stored in the warehouse and what the weather has been like whilst it's been in the barrel (yes, even little nuances like that make a whole lot of difference); each batch will have different tasting notes, different characteristics and different complexities - this batch was silky soft and mellow with burnt toffee and charcoal notes coming through on the finish. A smooth, complex and extremely exquisite drink, poo poohing those toffee noses who look down on American Whiskey as a second rate drink - and this little tipple nearly, ever so nearly knocked Woodford down from its lofty perch in my esteem (don't tell Woodford though...).

For the Single Barrel a very special, simple drink (that actually takes a little time and quite a bit of care to make properly) that can actually claim to be one of my very favourites and one of the very first cocktails ever created in them good ol' days; an Old Fashioned (yeah that one in Madmen. No I haven't watched Madmen. Yes I know I'm probably missing out. Thanks.) - whiskey, sugar syrup, bitters and a little twist of orange. Tom's version = perfection.

Thanks to Dan (left) and Tom for a wonderful, fun evening

The Violet Hour is a perfect little hideaway that has recently opened on Burton Road in West Didsbury - whilst I lived there (yonks ago whilst at Uni - not telling you how long that was), it had always been a derelict butcher shop, a broken down blot on the blossoming Burton Road scene. Thankfully owner/manager Dan had a vision to create a bustling little bar with a great selection of quality drinks and (soon to come) warming stews and creative nibbles (think home made pork scratching and gourmet popcorn, yum) - the pared back brick work and warm lighting creating a friendly, welcoming space - if you like a proper drink, this is the place to go.

So how much did supporting my friend (er don't you mean filling your boots with a ton of booze? - ed) cost? Pretty reasonable actually - for three (large) tasting measures, three exceptionally created cocktails (Tom is pretty skillful in that area) and more canapes than I could actually eat, I only had to shell out £15. I think it was more than worth it and will be booking myself and anyone who will come with me (and who wouldn't? Booze and food and ME hey?) on to the next spirit night The Violet Hour hosts (apparently there will be lots - check their Twitter and Facebook for more info/before they all sell out!).

All eagerly listening to Tom in the lovely surroundings of The Violet Hour -
again from Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography (who has a brilliant eye, check him out!)

The Violet Hour, 236 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 - Facebook - Twitter - 0161 434 9521

Ps Thanks to Carl Sukonik of The Vain Photography for letting me use his beautifully shot photos and for sparing you any more of my out of focus/blurry attempts. Check out his website and twitter for more info about how you can book this highly talented/lovely chap.

How to make a Whiskey Sour like Tom Vernon aka the jammiest man in the world

60ml Gentleman Jack
2 tsp sugar
20ml fresh lemon (and no, it is NOT acceptable to use the stuff in a bottle. EVER.)
Bitters to taste (get creative, there's a wide variety of bitters out there)
Egg white from one egg (save the yolk for your hangover cure the next morning...)
Cocktail shaker
Lowball glass with ice cubes in
Cheeky grin - optional

1. Pop all the ingredients bar the bitters in a cocktail shaker and shake about a bit dry ie. NOT with ice (don't just shake the shaker with nothing in, that's not how you make a cocktail).

2. Whilst shaking, regale people with anecdotes/facts about whiskey you have learnt from this blog - or in Tom's version, with amazing tales from having the best job in the world where you just get to talk a lot about whiskey, drink a lot of whiskey and fly out to America every three minutes (not that I'm jealous or anything).

3. Pour in to a low ball/old fashioned glass (the little short, squat ones) over ice and shake some bitters in over the top - you can prep the glasses by sugaring the rims if you want to be ultra professional.

4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel and serve with a winning smile. Lapping up praise - optional."> alt="The Violet Hour on Urbanspoon" src="" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:130px;height:36px" />

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sneak Preview - Miracle on High Street - Northern Quarter, Manchester

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – well it is at 100 High Street in Manchester's Northern Quarter; where festive bar with food, Miracle has popped up; spreading seasonal cheer, warming your cockles and trying to get you through the dark days/nights until Father Christmas actually arrives.

With fairy lights twinkling their festive messages, walls clad in wood to warm your soul and food so hearty I’m sure it beats when placed in front of you; Miracle is attempting to take the seasonal emphasis off the Manchester markets/Spinningfields and bring some joy to the Northern Quarter.

Yeah and you knows it - crafty craft work by the audacious Crass Stitch

Primarily a bar that does food, Miracle is accessed through Socio Rehab and is a sister bar to Almost Famous and Keko Moku. Following in the footsteps of its family brand, Miracle concentrates on quirky cocktails and, like Famous and Home Sweet Home, easy but well thought out food that has been designed to be similar but different enough to the other establishments.

The food at Miracle is a cross between quirky takes on festive food (Christmas dinner in bap anyone? Replete with sprouts, roasties and cranberry sauce…) and hearty wintry fare - they have a list of eight stews on at all times and a chowder so thick its viscosity is being investigated by material physicists.

The Miracle Sandwich groans under the weight of the filling; out bursts plenty of buttery turkey (they slow cook it so it’s rich and moist), roast potatoes and bacon cooked sprouts with a lovely bitter edge from the slightly burnt edges – served up with pigs in blankets, it’s a meal in a bun.

Miracle sandwich, sprouts and all

Pork and cider stew is served in a bread bowl – big hunks of sweet pork and offset by the sweetly sour cider, the lid of the bowl a great tool for dipping and for ferrying the food to your mouth. Beef and ale stew on the other hand is served in a half pint glass with a bread lid (see what they did there?) – the beef could have done with slightly more cooking and the wholegrain with the beef and ale made it slightly too sweet and cloying for my tastes; still a lovely warming little pot to line your stomach for the vast quantities of cocktails they turn out here.

Pork and cider in a nifty bowl you can eat

As a sister bar to Famous and Home Sweet Home, there’s the signature sweet potato/potato fries you find on both menus (guess it makes ordering stock easier/cheaper) – this time jazzed up with a good dose of pepper/festive seasoning and a smattering of that moist turkey. And it wouldn't be a Christmas theme place is they didn't offer pigs in blankets... (so they do).

The aforementioned cocktails is where Miracle has put most of their creative effort; they're dressed up like fancy little presents and taste as sweet as the season – the Apres Ski tasting exactly like a melted mint vienetta and taking me back (happily) to sitting at my Dad’s kitchen table circa 1992. The Berry Merry Xmas is a big mouthy hit of berries and booze that’ll warm you up and put hairs on your chest before you step out in the cold weather (bit too fruity for me) and the Christmas in New York is one that really split the group - dark, chocolate stout with bourbon and a vanilla ice cream float; far too bitter and needed a sweeter/more creamy ice cream in there, but I'm a non-stout lover so that verdict should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Stout and ice-cream - acquired taste me thinks

My bugbear at Miracle is the service; basically it's a do it yourself thing - you decide on what you want to eat, go to the kitchen to order and go back to get it; great for saving on the wage bill, but I'm a grumpy lazy bones who likes to be waited on hand and foot (just saying). However the bar staff and the kitchen staff are very friendly, so a tick to them there.

Miracle isn’t Almost Famous; it’s her quieter, friendlier, more homely sister. If it was an everyday place, open every day of the year, then I'm sure I'd tire of it pretty quickly - however it's here for only one season, it's a happy little pop up that's trying to bring creativity and cheer to the Christmas menu, offering a great alternative to the flabby turkey and dull Christmas puddings on offer across the rest of the city.

And when can you try this out? This THURSDAY (22nd Nov) is the big grand opening. Which makes tonight CHRISTMAS EVE! And an opening couldn't happen without PRESENTS - the first 50 people through the door tomorrow night receive free sliders and the first 100 get a free drink. Looks like Father Christmas has come early. Check out the Twitter for opening times.

Price for one Miracle sandwich, three stews, one gobble gobble (turkey) fries, one pigs in blanket, one pudding and four cocktails (drinks £7 each) - £63.50

Food - 7/10 - for Christmas food it's pretty good
Atmosphere - 9/10
Service - 6/10 full marks to bar and kitchen, but I had to get up off my lazy arse and serve myself
Value for money - 7/10 big portions and small prices make this unusual in the Christmas rip of schemes (however the cocktails are a little pricey, try just drinking off the main bar to save cash!)

Total - 29/40

Go again - yes as it's a fun and quirky place that's full of Christmas cheer and a bit of an exciting alternative to the usual festive offerings

Miracle, Access through Socio Rehab, 100 High Street, Manchester M1 4HP - Twitter

Please note I was comped my meal here but am under no obligation to write anything nice.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Belvedere Vodka Trail, The Liqourists - Manchester

Booze, booze, booze – lots of booze on the blog lately and this post is no exception (and the next post might not be either…). But how can I resist from imparting to you my latest shenanigans with those professional booze hounds, The Liquorists, when it was a night out like no other?

Limiting itself to just one brand this time, Belvedere Vodka, the spirit trail started at the gloriously upmarket Lowry Hotel; we sipped Belvedere Pure (their premium vodka) amongst sumptuously dressed guests as we watched the lights ripple on the Irwell below. We tasted the brand’s signature cocktail, The Zephyr, a mouth puckering contrast of sharp grapefruit mellowed out with sweet almond syrup and ate delicate cubes of softly wobbling passion fruit jelly.

Classic, simple, sophisticated - Belvedere Pure at The Lowry

On to The Liquorists’ now eponymous headquarters, 22 Redbank; this time to sip the red peppery, spicy notes of Belvedere Bloody Mary. Made by macerating each different ingredient into the spirit so the actual essences are included (only premium brands do this, most only use flavourings) – this little shot was a fiery explosion of heady flavours that left you glowing all over.

To match the Bloody Mary vodka, what did The Liquorists do (apparently contrary to the advice of the brand), they made a Bloody Mary with it. Pretty good as far as Bloody Mary’s go; but it should be as Jody (of The Liquorists) used to own a bar that only specialised in Bloody Marys. To accompany these fiery drinks we ate platters of olives and chorizo, the salty food pairing perfectly with the savoury drinks.

Bloody Mary in a Bloody Mary - does that make it a Double Bloody Mary Squared?

Next stop Kosmonaut to sample the Belvedere Citrus – the brand uses both orange and lemon in this maceration to create a more rounded drink with layers of refreshing, perfumed flavour – this was my favourite of all the flavoured vodkas we tasted. Kosmonaut’s cheeky food pairing surmounted to the very posh and heady heights of Mr Kipling lemon fingers – well he does make exceedingly good cakes; it was good to see that they had put more thought in to the cocktail, The Belvedere Traingle; basically a rhubarb and custard in a glass. Belvedere Citrus mixed with rhubarb liquor, grenadine, clementine juice and egg white – creamy, sweet, vanilla, childhood memories in a glass.

Penultimate stop on the trail and very suitable for this upmarket jaunt through this premium brand, was champagne bar Epernay. Unlike the Citrus Belvedere, the Pink Grapefruit maceration we drank here only uses pink grapefruit to create as true a likeness to the fruit as possible – Belvedere have certainly got it right; this vodka has that same heady, floral, sharp sweetness as the fruit itself.

Staff handed round tiny squares of Black Forest gateaux with pink grapefruit vodka cream for us to daintily nibble whilst sipping the Hemingway Royale they created with Moet champagne (of course), pink grapefruit Belvedere (well of course) and kir soaked cherries. Decadent, delightful and playfully light, this cocktail was my favourite of the lot (well, this lady does have expensive tastes…).

Before you make insinuations, these weren't all mine...

On to our final destination, we landed on the slopes at Ski Club, Manchester’s newest winter bar that’s popped up at Spinningfields, bringing the style and sophistication of the winter playgrounds of the rich and famous to Manchester’s…er…sodden streets. The last vodka was the Belvedere Unfiltered – a heady, musky, almost after-sex bedroom smell to the nose and a rich, heavy warmth in the mouth.

Unfortunately the cocktail and food pairing at Ski Club didn’t match up to the brand or the rest of the (as per usual) faultless tour – the Ski Club’s take on a mojito was far too dominated by rosemary and sugar, basically like licking a Sunday roast created by someone who’s over-Jamied a lamb joint by stuffing a whole rosemary plant up its jacksie. The cheese and meat platters were good (but it’s hard to fuck up food that you take out of packets), but the accompanying fondue was claggy – the pots they are using are warmed by three small tealights meaning the cheese is not at the right temperature (plus it could have done with some extra garlic if I’m being picky).

Fon-don't at Ski Club (nice 70s arty shot to go with the old-skool ski club theme)

However by this time we were merry and warm so this little downer didn’t detract once again from an excellent, fun and fact filled night from The Liqourists. Raise your glass to many more!
Booking is EASY - just click HERE and see what other wonderful trails The Liquorists have got to tantalise your tastebuds with.

Ps I was comped this spirit trail, but I wasn't under any obligation to write anything nice about it - however I had a brilliant time and still think the trails are one of the best after-work activities you can get up to in Manchester AND for a very reasonable price too. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tequila Trail - The Liquorists, Manchester

Tequila, it makes you happy? Not really - if like me and 99.7% of the UK population, your only tequila experiences are the usual cheap shots on a night out/lime/salt/floor; then no, tequila does not make me, you or anyone, bar cleaning product manufacturers, happy.

The Liquorists, Manchester self-styled sauce specialists do not agree with my above statement/experinces; they believe that tequila can be as good a sipping drink as a first rate scotch and as sophisticated as a high-end vodka. I did not believe them when they started spouting this poppycock - that was until I joined them for their latest spirit session, The Tequila Trail.

Starting at 22 Redbank, The Liquorists' now not so secret headquarter, Tom and Jody welcomed us warmly and in true Liquorists style, started handing out the first drinks along with a bucket full of information on the world of REAL tequila (you can read some of the facts in another article I wrote HERE).

To start off the evening we were given a Jose Cuervo; but hang on! Stop pulling those faces from grim recollections of running to the club toilets - this was a Traditional ie the good version they've only just started shipping to the UK. Made from 100% blue agave (this is important in ALL tequilas, otherwise what you're drinking is basically some good tequila with a bunch of cheap spirit alcohol mixed in - so beware of labels with the word mixto on them) and rested from 3-12 months in wooden barrels; it was a softer, sweeter drink than I remembered any tequila being, with toffee and vanilla notes and it actually tasted alright (well, pretty damn good to be honest).

And to dispel then myths around margaritas (NOT frozen, NOT blended, NOT with salt all around the rim), Jody flexed his drinks mixing skills and served us all a bang on margarita alongside plenty of food to line our stomachs before the rest of the tequila hit it (VERY WISE) - oh and as this is a food blog I suppose you want to know what we ate? Crispy fish tacos with a rich/piquant lobster sauce, crispy nachos with lashings of guacamole/salsa/sour cream/cheese and charred, salty, delicious corn on the cob - arriba!!

The premise of a spirit trail is to not only show off the best examples of each spirit, but to introduce you to the best drinking dens that Manchester has to offer. The Tequila Trail was no different; we hopped from great bar to excellent bar, with reserved tables and drinks awaiting as we did. Where did we go?

1. 22 Redbank - you know the story.

2. Apotheca - atmospheric, moody and a veritable potion palace; here we sampled the beautifully toffee-ish vanilla sweetness of the Don Julio Reposado; the cocktail at Apotheca was an exact taste match of a solero, otherwise known as the mango/passion fruit margarita.

3. Socio Rehab - a sophisticated stalwart of the Northern Quarter cocktail scene; out came the peppery, green, agave tasting El Jimador Blanco (unaged, so no softening in wooden barrels) and a Palemro with Ting.

4. Hula - tiki time was replaced by tequila time as we sipped another blanco, the Plata Judura, this time brewed using natural yeasts from the air; again very fresh, but with a lot more coffee and vanilla notes mixed in with that peppery green industrialness. Our cocktail pairing was a Tommy's margarita - very famous apparently, but I still preferred Jody's one at 22 Redbank.

5. Last stop was at Northern Quarter newbie, Kosomonaut for the best tequila (in  my eyes) of the night. The Tapiteo anejo is aged for over a year in wood - soft, silky, smooth with a spicy, muskiness reminiscent of a victorian dresser - The Liquorists are right, a great tequila can be a great sipper - I'd consider this over ice on a night out.

And with that we drifted off in to the night (or in my case the last train home) and yes, finally, the saying 'Tequila makes you happy' really did ring true.

The Liqourists spirit trails happen pretty often and range from about £30-40,  which is bloody cheap if you consider you get five shots, five cocktails, five food pairings, reserved tables, history/information/geeky facts about the drinks AND a full meal. Couldn't replicate it anywhere other than Weatherspoons and the only facts you learn there is how many guys Sharon copped off with last Saturday and why Amy's got a bruise on her arse.

Booking is EASY - just click HERE and see what other wonderful trails The Liquorists have got to tantalise your tastebuds with.

The Liqourists,, Twitter

Ps Photos soon, not got them here.

Pps I was comped this spirit trail, but I wasn't under any obligation to write anything nice about it - however I had a brilliant time and still think the trails are one of the best after-work activities you can get up to in Manchester AND for a very reasonable price too. Oh and Tom and Jody are lovely chaps too, so that makes it super good.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sneak Preview! Italia, Manchester

Italia? Is that a new restaurant? Well technically it's ancient, as old as the modern Manchester dining scene, as old as the manky hotdogs in the window of the hotdog cart on Market Street and nearly as old as the hills themselves...

So what's all this about a sneak preview? Italia, or Rustica as it has been known over the years, has been trading at the top of Deansgate since 1977, when the UK's perception of high class Italian cuisine and sophistication was a thick based pizza and an overly creamy lasagna. Unfortunately as tastes changed Rustica didn't, still churning out those solid, staid staples to an ever ageing/dwindling clientele; that is until Fraco Sogitu, the guy behind Solita, stepped in.

Rebranded back to its original name (it opened as Pizzaria Italia), Italia aims to make take proper Italian food and deliver it Manchester, whilst keeping traditional staples (albeit with a little twist/taking the recipes back to their proper Italian versions) and doing it all at a price that is accessible to everyone. So here we have Carbonara minus cream and bolognase with tagliatelle/ragu (see, they know what they're doing).

Located in a building that’s earmarked for ‘development’ (ie bulldozing), Franco hasn’t pumped millions of pounds in to a glitzy face lift or hired in a celebrity chef from Milan to transform the menu – indeed many of the original 70’s fittings are still there – instead he’s given it a kick up the arse to create a laid back, true to its roots place that uses the best quality and regional ingredients to create dishes us Northern folk would label 'proper tasty.'

Original 70s dessert trolley (don't worry, the pudding is freshly made)

A plate of mixed bruschetta to start with – pear and gorgonzola a sure fire favourite for its sweet and tangy contrasts; smoked mozzarella and anchovy worked exceptionally well and lardo (cured pork fat) was a lighter, tastier version of bone marrow on toast.

Lots of bruschetta for my little tummy to contend with

Next were risottos – both cooked properly al dente (unlike most of the manky, soggy crap you get in Manchester). The butternut squash and fontina-full Invorno; light, silky, sweet and given an extra taste/texture dimension with the inclusion of crushed amoretti – inspired, but I could only eat a small portion. And the yet unnamed simple, yet stunning (although still slightly too cheesy) caviar risotto, made with farmed sturgeon from France (yes I thought it was impossible too); this will eventually appear on the specials menu when they’ve finished tweaking those cheese levels.

Carrying on with the rice and cheese, we literally pulled apart the Suppli al Telefonica – pillowy soft rice and mozzarella sticks, covered in a light breadcrumbs and fried – I guess these will be my downfall one day; when they cut me open they will be pulling out big strings of mozzarella from these (that’s how this dish gets its name – telephone wires).

Suppli al telephonica served on a bed of kick ass tomato sauce to cut through the cheese

Dish of the night was gnocchi coda di bue brasta (gnocchi baked with oxtail) –I haven’t had such light as cloud gnocchi like these since I was last in Italy and being cooked for by my Dad’s friend’s Nonna (she's amazing, but pretty scary). Beefy and thick; softly, softly rich; comforting and delicious…drooling just thinking about it.

Food porn - seriously - just go order this now

There’s an inka grill installed at Italia (like Solita) and Franco was determined to show it off – three large tiger prawns with nothing more on them than the charred skins on their back – they didn’t need anything as the succulent woody char they picked up from this ingenious (and expensive) bit of kit was enough.

It wouldn’t be an Italian without the pasta – firstly a menu dish, Zitti Contadino – so called the most messy pasta in Italy as the long tubes wiggle all over the place. It may have been messy (and very fun), but the sauce was sublime simplicity; tomato and vegetable shot through and pepped up a good dose of piquant gorgonzola. Then for something special – naked spaghetti with bottarga grated over the top (that’s dried tuna/mullet roe) – sounds a bit ming, but is in fact very tasty (if you miso soup or anything very savoury then this will suit you) – not a dish that’s on the menu, but it may sneak on to the specials, so keep your eyes open!

And then pudding. Or three puddings to be exact – cannoli, oranges with ice cream and cheesecake. All perfectly lovely, but by this point in the tasting I was calling for the torture/pleasure to stop and rolled my fat belly down the conveniently placed hill to the station and then ultimately to a stuffed and satisfied sleep.

Torture - I mean freshly made cannoli and gelato

As is apparent from the menu, Italia is not about fancy pants dishes or charging exuberant costs for fiddly food – it’s about Italian classics/traditional dishes, cooked well and for a fair price with a specials board for those dishes that are a little different. With very competent chef Tim Shirley (ex-Jamie's Italian and Piccolinos) in the kitchen and a dedicated, knowledgeable and enthusiastic floor staff it looks like they have all the ingredients for success.

Please note Italia is not fully open yet and the menu is not finalised, so I’m not going to score on this occasion. However from what I’ve seen it’s fair to say the food is of a very high quality for a pretty decent price.

Please note I was comped all the food in this piece, but as you know from other places I been and slated, I’m under no obligation to say nice things, I just thoroughly enjoyed the food and good company.
Italia, 40-42 Deansgate, Manchester M3 1RH - Twitter - Website

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Happy Seasons - China Town, Manchester

Taking a tip from a fellow food lover I followed my nose and took my grumbling tummy to Manchester's brightly coloured, richly smelly, hustling and bustling China Town to search out a long-standing little gem called Happy Seasons.

I have to admit, I've never been to Happy Seasons; never giving it more than a quick glance as I moved on to the pared back Japanese cuisine at Yuzu or the face-melting dishes at Red Chilli. It's rammed in to Faulkner Street between a dozen other dining dens and only manages to catch your attention because of its fuck off neon sign. Oh and the guy chopping meat in the window.

Big sign/bad photo

How I never managed to spot a place with peking ducks hanging in the window and a man permanently chopping different BBQ meats (don't question this, we have done tests, he is always there, always chopping. We have visited numerous times to confirm this), I don't know, especially as I've been next door to Wasabi about 400 times. I shan't miss it now though, not that I know it's there.

Meat window - chopping man got shy but you can still see him hiding - here Mr Chopping Man

Happy Seasons is very much like Handmade BBQ Noodle King - you don't go there for the decor. In fact many weak-stomached mortals who rather like shiny new chain restaurants (ooh...well ya knor jus wot yers getting even if yer go to like another town int it?) would take one look inside and condemn the place faster than an over zealous food hygiene officer. It's shabby, it's ramshackle and it's painted hospital green - but as I said, you really don't go there for the decor.

Wow, look at this amazing decor...NO LOOK AT THE FOOD, it's what you're there for

What you do go to Happy Seasons for is BBQ meat. There's a big menu with other un/usual dishes, some of it looks amazing, but nothing touches the BBQ meat. Ever. Well maybe the Char Sui buns, but you can have them for starter so let's not worry about it.

Due to the extreme amazigness of the smells coming from the kitchen we got giddy and ordered rather too much for our stomachs (don't worry, we got a doggy bag and ate it later on) all of which came  at once - I'm sure our little corner table gave an audible groan as the plates were laid upon it.

Prawn dumplings were little (well actually quite big, two bites I'd say) steamed dim sum - super hot, but gorgeous and stuffed full with large chunks of prawns with a good dose of seasoning; we suffered burnt mouths almost with glee to get these in.

Char sui buns were some of the best I've had in China Town; super fluffy and soft, oozing with sweet/salty/unctuos char sui (roast pork) - again lava hot, but again we didn't care and merely shovelled in jasmine scented tea to deal with it.

Char sui buns - don't even think about eating anything else (apart from the BBQ meat)

BBQ pork was divine and arguably the best - chucks of dense belly pork with only a little fat topping each piece off (I prefer this less fat/more meat ratio) with a crispy, crunchy crackling top. The BBQ sauce is super salty with that indescribable umami satisfaction taste wrapping itself around your tongue and smothering you with savouriness, all partnering well with the sweet pork fat/meat and the bland boiled rice we'd ordered to sop up all the lovely juices running off the meat (this is imperative. DO NOT lose/leave behind those juices - fight your table companions/the next table for them and guard them with your life).

Pork back, duck front - FIT

We ordered the duck in this BBQ style as well - not as successful as there was far too much fat and the dish left your lips overly greasy and a little sickly. Plus we'd already eaten so much pork we couldn't give the poor old duck as much attention as we liked so it had gone a little cold and hard by the time we got to it - in fact, each of the meats was served a little cold, but the rice was so hot it didn't matter at all.

Don't march down Faulkner Street dismissing places that don't conform to the perceived ideas of cleanliness or fancy decor - Happy Seasons (as well as Handmade BBQ King) is a proper hidden gem and is proof that sometimes it's the food that should be concentrated on, not the dining room.

Ps Ask for the spring onion dipping sauce - just spring onion, ginger and fish sauce bashed together. Amazing to cut through the fatty sweetness of the dishes, but you will need to drink about three gallons of water during the following night or you'll wake up with a face like a prune.

Price for two starters, two mains, one rice and tea for two - £26.40.

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere - 9/10 (packed and full of very talkative Chinese families)
Service - 6/10 (functional but probably better if we spoke Chinese)
Value for money - 10/10 (seriously massive portions and minimal price)

Total - 33/40

Go again? Yes! Yes! Yes! I need more of that BBQ pork and those Char Sui buns.

Happy Seasons, 59-61 Faulkner Street, Manchester M1 4FF - 0161 236 7189

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Big Chilli Coook Off - Almost Famous

The first time I attempted to make chilli con carne was for my first proper boyfriend. I was playing domestic goddess whilst my Mum was away; ready to surprise him with a bottle of wine, some home cuisine and a night of unbridled teenage passion.

This isn’t a happy story – after using a state of the art Shwartz seasoning shake I duly burnt the mince so we had a chemically, fag-burn pile of grey mince with soggy veg to wade through; plus he wasn’t a fan of wine and I don’t think my crying over the meal helped. Needless to say the relationship didn’t last for long.

Over the years I’ve honed my chilli making skills to be somewhere near passable – I like the results anyway – but it’s nowhere near authentic; my version has a satisfying savoury sweetness with a smoky/spicy kick and is cooked low and slow for a melt in the mouth finish – but this isn’t about my chilli, this is about the latest speciality night at Almost Famous.

Digressing from burgers and their usual Thurs-Sun opening policy, The Big Chilli Cook Off pitted three of the Famous chefs (yes, even burger joints have chefs) against the two owners, with Manchester’s joe public (well those that paid for the pleasure) judging/scoring each chilli.

Straight through the door and we were presented with a Lil’ Sloppy Juan, which was meant to be a slider, but was almost the size of a regular Almost Famous burger – pink as per usual, the patty was cajun spiced and slathered in crispy onions, cheese, chipolte paste, famous sauce and plenty of chillies.

Lil' Sloppy Juan - sloppier than your Mum

Then the chillis – you controlled which order you ate them in; with no hint as to taste/spiciness, so each bowl was a gastronomic gauntlet, that was both fun and tongue trembling scary at the time. You got as much guacamole/cream cheese/salsa etc as you could fit in your bowl/mouth/tummy to enhance/cover up the flavour and to dip the unlimited nachos in - take it from me, totally filling. A rundown of the chillies was thus and in order of my favourite (least first, favourite last):

• John Wayne – from the name I expected a large, swaggering chilli that was going to sternly yet respectfully slap me round the chops before lingering on my taste buds until disappearing off in to the sunset – I found this chilli a little under seasoned and without much depth of flavour. Good, but no cigar, pardner.

• Ben’s Bad Ass Chicken Chilli – I have issues with the meat here, call me snobby but I like red meat in my chilli. This was the fiercest of the chillis, apparently the recipe was loaded with plenty of scotch bonnets thrown in for the chilli fiends, however this made it a bit too spicy for me, but good flavour (once you got past the heat) and I enjoyed the non-textbook inclusion of sweetcorn.

• Mad Dog’s Meaty Feast – this seemed more like a stew than a chilli; no bad thing as it was full of gamey, winey, umami flavours with super tender meat and a mellow spicy tickle underneath from the added chorizo. I got two bowls of this, not technically allowed, but so what, I’m a rebel/glutton or something.

• Jailbreak/bait – Very nearly my favourite chilli; this was a super smoky mouthful of tender beef with a bit of a kick at the end to make you sit up and listen. Topped with pulled BBQ pork, which added a whole extra dimension of flavour/texture it certainly was a contender for the top spot and was the one that received the most votes over all.

• Flippin fuckin bloody chilli – Just beating jailbreak/bait for the extra depth of flavour and a slight tone down in the spice, I loved this chilli and damned myself for eating it last - when I snuck back for an illegal second helping it was all gone.

Chilli bar - I wish all bars were this meaty

So you just went and judged what chilli was best was it? No, remember we were at Almost Famous so there was some audacious theatricals to keep the punters happy- as the night was an homage to southern style eating, food contests and general Man Vs Foodness then the only thing for it was a hot wing eating contest.

These singed my nose hairs - not sure what it did to the people eating them

Hot wing eating? Ah this was no volume/speed challenge though – this was a sheer, bloody minded heat/pain contest; the winners those that could make their way up to the hottest chicken wing and successfully keep it down/not die. Call me a masochist, but there is nothing more pleasurable than watching 13 grown men gasping, tears running down their face and calling out for their Mummies. I don’t know how they made it to the end as even the penultimate wings singed my nose hairs and made me gag as they were walked past. Brave men, we will remember them all.

Chilli Cook Off wasn’t as formal or busy as Pig Out, but was a whole lot of fun – I went home full of meat and booze; stuffed and happy that I had watched a table full of grown men reduced to blubbering wrecks. It’s the simple things in life.

Almost Famous, nondescript wooden door between Keko Moku and Socio Rehab, 100 High Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1HP – Twitter

Please note I was given my ticket to this event, but I was under no obligation to write nice things, I just really enjoyed myself and thought it would have been well worth it for the £15 I would have paid.

Almost Famous on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 October 2012

Old Fashioned Cake (gluten free) - Whiskey and Orange and BOOM

What's this? Another recipe from me? What have become a recluse and stopped writing about going out and stuffing things in my face? No I just got on a recipe kick this week and I've been blasting huge amounts of bourbon in to things and bloody enjoying it - so thought you would too. And it's my blog, so I can write what I want, can't I?

"What's an Old Fashioned cake," I hear you cry? It's not a dusty tea loaf from your spinster aunt's kitchen, full of cat hair and ten year old raisins; no, this cake has been inspired by my very favourite cocktail - an Old Fashioned - basically bourbon whiskey, sugar syrup and orange peel; smoky, sweet, short and a little perfume kick, delicious really.

So enough waffling as this cake recipe is super scrumptious and amazing (like me) and you should all rush out and make it now. Plus it's like the pancakes, it's legitimising booze DURING THE DAY - and most of the booze in this one isn't cooked, so you get a lovely warm kick of it with each and every slice.

And yes, I'm using Woodford again - the booze isn't cooked off here, so I wanted the cake to taste of something nice rather than that £8 crap from Aldi. This is a gluten free cake - but just replace the GF flour with normal self-raising and congratulate yourself on being about to metabolise this protein.

Nosh's Old Fashioned Cake - or Whiskey and Orange Cake

3 large free range eggs, at room temperature - separated
160g unrefined caster sugar
80ml light olive oil (not heavy or EV as it will make the cake taste ming)
25ml Woodford or other bourbon/whiskey
Juice of one and a half oranges
Zest of two oranges
190g Doves Farm gluten free self raising flour
Pinch of Doves Farm baking powder (this is gluten free)
Pinch of salt

Once the cake is cooked
Juice of half an orange
50 ml Woodford/bourbon/whiskey

For the buttercream
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g icing sugar
1-2 tblsp Woodford/bourbon/whiskey

For the icing
125g icing sugar
1 tblsp Woodford

1. Preheat the oven to 180c (fan) and grease/line an 18cm cake tin

2. Beat the egg whites to peaks and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl add the sugar and beat in one egg yolk at a time on the lowest whisk setting. Once all the eggs are in, work through the whisk setting, spending about a minute at each speed. Will go pale and creamy. It may seem a blag but the whole idea is to get as MUCH air as possible in your cake as gluten free flour doesn't rise in the same way and can be pretty flat.

4. Pop the orange zest in the bowl and then start your whisk on slow - whilst it's running drizzle in the oil, followed by the orange juice and the bourbon. As in step 3, work through your whisk's settings.

5. Add the flour, salt and baking powder to the bowl and fold in - I tend to do this in two separate amounts to make it easier. Be as gentle as you can to keep all that precious air in. I would advise against eating the batter right now - gluten free flour is pretty grainy and it tastes a bit land sand; DELICIOUS.

6. Add the egg whites is three separate amounts and fold in gentle gentle with a spatula or metal spoon (wood will knock the air out). Make sure you ensure it's properly incorporated otherwise you get random rubbery white bits throughout the cake.

7. Pour the mixture in to your tin, it will be wetter than a normal cake batter, but this is normal - then pop it in the oven for 35-40 min. It's ready when you do the whole clean skewer test thing.

8. Whilst the cake is cooking; get the ice out of the freezer, pop four cubes in a whiskey glass and pour yourself a large measure. Relax, you're half way through and no one is home for the next two hours.

9. As the cake is baking you can be a super goody two shoes and wash up, plus it's a brilliant time to make the butter cream, or you can just carry on drinking if you like.

10. For the buttercream, put the butter in a bowl and use your electric whisk to beat till light. Add in the icing sugar and beat again. The add the bourbon and, you got it, beat again. Keeping it simple for this part as I'm not sure how large that measure was you just poured yourself. Give the butterceam a taste and add more sugar/bourbon as needed. This recipe makes slightly more than you will need so you can eat a big spoon of it when no one is looking (if you want to cover the whole cake in buttercream, then just double the recipe, it works, I've done it).

11. Take the cake out and let it rest in the tin for five minute - be careful because it's hot - you may feel invincible from your post-baking drinking, but singed finger are not good. After five minutes, take the cake out of the tin but leave it in it's paper and leave to cool on a rack.

12. Once the cake is pretty cool, slice in half and drizzle one cut side with the juice of half an orange and the other with whiskey. Sandwich the cake together and set aside whilst you pour yourself another/make the icing.

13. To make the icing put the icing sugar in a bowl and add the whiskey a little at a time until the mix coats the back of a spoon. Really it's that's easy. Leave to thicken for a few minutes and then pour over the cake and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

14. Congratulate by pouring yourself a Woodford and tucking in to a healthy slice before anyone comes home and finds you slumped over the cooker with no dinner on and cake crumbs round your mouth.

If you want to serve this with the cocktail that inspired it get a whiskey glass (or an old fashioned one, it actually has a certain glass!), add ice, a few drops of bitters, 1 tsp sugar syrup/gomme and 50ml of bourbon - I'd go with Woodford, but the according to the Woodford/Jack ambassador a Jack Daniels Single Barrel is better as it's less heavy on the rye. However you drink it, ENJOY!

By the way, as I've said before, the content on this blog and then recipes are my own that i have slavishly worked on to make work - especially with this bastard of a cake. If you would like to reproduce it then do ask and I'm sure I won't hesitate to say yes as long as there's links/references/sexual favours for me. If you do reproduce without my permission then I will lift myself off the cooker, wade through the Woodford fog and probably do something I will regret in the morning. Thanks.

Monday, 24 September 2012

BBBadass Breakfast - Bourbon Banana Bacon Pancakes Recipe

What's this? A recipe with booze in it? Yeah I like drinking in the morning and am always looking for excuses. Plus I just got introduced to bourbon by The Liquorists and T.Vernon and guess what? I'm putting it in everything like the rebel/teenage girl with a crush, because I'm a grown up and I can.


This recipe tastes amazing (I would say that), is super comforting and gives you an excuse to a) have alcohol in your breakfast and b) drink the said alcohol whilst cooking, for quality control/fuck yeah reasons. So if you've had a heavy night, are semi-alcoholic, or are having to get through a breakfast with with children, then knock this easy recipe up 'cos it's way more classy than sucking the dregs out last night's wine glasses/bar towels/your shirt.

It's pretty easy to bang out, but if you're anticipating something epic the night before then you can make up the batter and leave it in the fridge - it'll keep for a few days like that; you might just need to add a splash of milk to get it to the right consistency - and if you're drinking/eating alone, then you have batter for a few days - win.
This is what you are giong to make and then the world will be ok

This recipe calls for bourbon, you can either leave it out (er, what? The whole point of this breakfast is to revel in spirits and keep the party going) or replace it with a single malt or even another spirit. If you do, you won't get the same toffee caramel sweetness with a smokey hint of vanilla, that a bourbon brings to the mix - but it's up to you and I'm no food nazi (btw dark rum works amazingly here).

Btw I'm using Woodford in the recipe - mainly because I can and I don't live by the 'don't put expensive booze in food' rules; not because I'm rich/exclusive/up my own arse dahlink, but because I have this in the cupboard and can't be arsed getting a cheap bottle in. Woodford does give the recipe a mellow spicy edge that I've not found before and it is my FAVOURITE bourbon that I can actually afford - but yeah, go get the £8 bottle from Aldi if you're going to make this constantly (TIP: the £8 Aldi bourbon is great for cooking/punches) .

Oh and using Woodford means I don't have to get two bottles out and can just drink/cook with the same one - IMPORTANT if it hurts to even consider breakfast, let alone make it.

Ingredients in visual form - may help when it hurts to read

BBBadass Breakfast - Bourbon Banana Bacon Pancakes
Serves 2 - prep 5 min - cooking 15 min

For the pancakes
125g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
10g golden caster sugar
1 large egg (free-range please)
150ml milk - but you won't need all of it
20g melted butter

For the syrup
50g butter
4 tbsp soft brown sugar
4 tbsp granulated sugar
150ml bourbon - I used Woodford, but you can use whatever you want (you might need more to thin out/taste)

You will also need
Two bananas - cut in half length ways
Four rashers of smoky bacon

1. Get some ice out of the freezer, get a nice glass and pour yourself a large measure - this will make you feel like golden syrup and make the rest of the day seem ok.

2. Pre-heat the grill on medium, put a frying on a low heat and add the butter.

3. Put all the dry ingredients to a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break the egg in to the well and then add about half the milk. Using a balloon whisk, whisk the mixture gently (so as not to hurt your head more/spill your drink) and then add more milk, whisking all the time until you get a consistency of slightly thicker double cream (so you may not need all the milk, I usually have a little left over).

4. By the time you have made the batter the butter should have melted. Add this to the batter and give it a stir. Set to one side for the time being. You may need another drink at this point.

5. Put the bacon under the grill and cook until crispy. Whilst the bacon is grilling, add the butter to a frying pan and the sugar on a medium high heat - do not stir it and put the bananas on top - as the sugar caramelises, the bananas will too - give them about 30 sec on each side and then put them to one side on a plate.

6. Add the bourbon and butter to the sugar, then bubble away until you get a light syrup. DO NOT stick your fingers or tongue in unless you want third degree burns and try explaining the A+E that you were a) stupid enough to do that and b) that you love booze so much you have it as soon as you get up and stick it in your recipes - won't look good.

7. Take the syrup off the heat, your bacon out from under the grill (if you haven't already) and set aside - this all looks like a faff, but you need to get everything ready for the pancakes and then BOOM it's all ready to eat.

8. Put a non-stick frying pan on a high heat and when it gets to temp wipe a piece of kitchen paper dipped in oil around the inside of the pan. Put back on the heat and add two dessert spoons of batter to the pan - these are the thick American/Scotch pancakes type of thing so do not swirl around (hence why we've made a bit of a thicker batter than for crepe style pancakes). When you see bubbles forming on wet/top side of the batter, flip it over using a plastic fish slice or spatula and cook for another minute, then take it off and put it on a plate to keep warm. If you have a small pan, cook one at a time and if not, squeeze two in - you want each pancake to be the size of a saucer and no bigger, but not tiny small.

9. As you are cooking the pancakes, put the syrup back on the heat and warm/thicken up - cook the bacon in the syrup until the bacon is sticky, but don't overcook the syrup (add more bourbon if needed). When you finish the pancakes (cover them to keep warm btw), add the bananas and bacon to the pan you used for the pancakes and caramelise on a high heat for half a minute. Whilst this is happening, stack the pancakes on two plates (make sure you make an equal amount!).

10. Take the bananas and bacon out and put on top of the pancake. Drizzle the syrup over and serve with another glass of Woodford, whilst you're still in your dressing gown and haven't taken your make up off. This breakfast takes the pain out of having children, but is best enjoyed out of their presence, as are most things in life.

Tuck in/drink up

This is my recipe and I'm pretty proud of it, so it's under copywrite. If you want to use it get in touch or when I can be arsed/am not drunk I will come round and enact some Hunter S Thompson style of retribution. If the timings etc suck then let me know and I'll correct them in a begrudging and grumpy manner.