Category Archives: Foodie Finds

Dinner at Crafthouse, Leeds

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I’m not really very good at birthdays – a combination of being busy,  childhood memories of party guests sticking peanuts in my cake, and the fact that I will never be able to top the present my mum and brother gave me on my 11th birthday! (And why try? It was the most beautiful white mountain bike, and the gift had such a big impact on me that all these years later I am still incredibly grateful for their kindness.)

So anyway, it was my birthday and it seemed like a good opportunity to eat a dinner. I usually find a reason to eat a dinner everyday, which is handy.

I popped into Bradford to run a few errands as the rain poured down with grey gusto, so I took shelter from it in a time warp cafe, getting the evil eye from a characterful woman who raspily laughed on her mobile phone as she told the caller the details of a court case she was reading from her newspaper. I was intrigued.

Heavy rain dampened the day, but by the evening the sun was shining and bright. Once we’d found our way to Crafthouse (it’s not easy!) we entered through the heavy ribbed-glass doors and were greeted by cooled air and chilled tunes.

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Stepping into the airy sanctuary above the shops, with a bright and spacious style, I busily admired the space for its lovely marble counter and odd tables, the simple string screen, the bread baskets in copper, the cut crystal glasses… lovely, lovely.

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We sat by the window (it would have been hard not to!) and admired the view, eating fresh soft warm bread and enjoying it.

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My seat was so low that they bought me a cushion. A fur cushion, that looked like a cat. I reached for my stash of googly eyes and felt pleased with my efforts. 

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I started with Duck Liver Terrine – cherry texture, doughnut, Manuka honey. The strong, perfectly balanced flavours packed a pretty-as-a-picture punch. The peppery Nasturtium leaves, the creamy smooooth pate, that aromatic florid honey, the rich cherry and that tiny doughnut of great power – really good. I mean really. 

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Adam opted for the silky smooth East Coast Lobster Veloute – kummel, lobster, borage flower, poured from a small neat copper pan into a crisp white china dish. Creamy and delicate in texture, but rich in flavour.

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Straight from the Josper Grill I chose the 35 day dry aged Rib Eye with an Heirloom tomato salad and peppercorn sauce.

I was delighted with the bowl of the prettiest tomatoes, a mixture of colours, some rich orange and marbled like a bowling ball, others dark red and green, yellow, red and just beautifully enjoyable to the eyes and to the palette.

The steak was a perfectly cooked cut of excellent quality. Rich and flavourful, with that Josper touch, it was crisped on the edges, soft, and eaten with ease.

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Adam’s choice was the flavourful Duo of Lamb – roasted rack, crispy shoulder, stewed Basque style peppers, black olive, with a side of buttered potatoes. Another winner.

Of course, he had to follow this with one of his all-time favourite puddings, Creme Brûlée served with a lemon shortbread.

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They’ve been serving delicious creme brûlées since the beginning of Crafthouse. It’s a forever thing. A classic. The shortbread was exceptional. With crisp sugar on top it was very light, lemony, and buttery.

Where I have the rather unclassy ‘Harvinator Scale of Burger Appreciation’, Adam has his ‘Creme Brûlée-ometer’ which scored this creamy, creamy beauty a superb 9/10.

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I was pretty chuffed when my Whipped Valrhona Milk Chocolate – salted caramel, chocolate sable breton arrived. Will you look at that?!

My first thought was that I should wear it on my head like a magical party crown.

I had two choices and only one pudding, so I ate it.

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I chose wisely. Such creamy mousse, so cool and smooth, so chocolatey. I was chomping happily through the biscuity-cakey-base and then BOOM! I met with a centre of silky smooth salted caramel. Result!

I think I have said creamy and smooth too much today. I can’t help it. Crafthouse are texture experts!

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All of that lovely food was followed by the nicest cup of tea I have ever had in a restaurant. Perfect tea for me! Refreshing and clean tasting with good water, accompanied by the madeleine of your dreams.

Sticky and crispy on the outside, so soft in the middle. Lemony and delicious. ‘How is that possible?’ Adam asked with almost disbelief, ‘Butter!’ I said as I popped the rest of it in my mouth with a contented smile.

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The service was attentive, but not intrusive. We were looked after by Christophe, with the salmon tie. He was a total delight, a charming man.

The Crafthouse experience was an excellent one. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more, from the ambience to the decor, the food to the service, I couldn’t fault a thing.

The lofty location and the non-obtrusive signposting to Crafthouse made it feel, to me, a bit like a private members club, like Kensington Roof Gardens perhaps, but without the flamingoes.

And, because of it’s secluded and tucked-away position, I feel it’s got to be a destination place. I can’t imagine anyone just pops by – it’s on the roof top!

A well kept secret? Spread the word!

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You can find Crafthouse at  Level 5 Trinity Leeds, 70 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 6HW, and if you get lost, you can call them on 0113 897 0444!

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Thank you so much team Crafthouse for inviting us to dine with you, for putting up with me adding googly-eyes to your cushion, and for making it a birthday to remember for many good reasons! I really hope to see you again soon! 

Judging Italian Food at the Bellavita Awards (Show Me The Cheese)

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When somebody says ‘Italian food’ I think of simple, fresh, flavourful dishes, quality produce and traditional recipes. I’ve been disappointed many times by crappy pasta and metallic tomato sauce, served to me in so-called ‘Italian restaurants’ by men with moustaches and fake accents. I do have some really strong memories of Italian dining, but not necessarily for the right reasons. – there was that time in Tours where the waiter threw a steak knife at Adam and a little French man had a group of Scotts serenade his wife (seriously weird, Rachel put it on YouTube), and Hannah’s lovely birthday dinner in ASK where I found the foil wrapper of a bleach tablet in my salad. Fresh!

So, with all that in mind, can you imagine my excitement when I was asked along to the Bellavita Expo in London and invited to be a member of the judging panel for the inaugural Bellavita Awards?

Bellavita Expo in the UK’s biggest trade fair celebrating Italian artisan food, the Awards recognise excellence in Italian food and drink, and I like meat and cheese.

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Apparently, Bellavita is the first and only International Awards programme to be entirely dedicated to authentic Italian food and wine. I was totally dedicated to the food.

After all that hard work (eating and saying stuff) I thought it might be nice to share my top picks from my judgey judging.

I can’t tell you about the melons though, I didn’t try the melons. There were two melons, and only one was there to be judged. It was confusing, there was a man just stood there with two melons and nothing else. ‘Which melon?’ ‘Eat both the melons.’ ‘I can’t.’ ‘Okay, just forget about it!’  It was quite surreal.

Okay then! Onwards, to my top foody picks…

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Caseificio Ruocco. Mmmm, Mozzarella. The Fior di latte was deliciously light and really milky. And this thing that looks like a melon? (Top image, and above) A superbly tasty, creamy semi-hard cheese made of spun paste. The ‘Provolone del Monaco’ is aged for at least six months and made from the milk of the endangered Ageola cow. Fancy.

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Dorotea. Tasty little biscuits filled with sweet jam. I tried the apricot and it was lovely. Owner Maurizio started the business in 2005 when his hundred-year-old grandmother died. He used her name and her recipes. There are nine flavours in total and you can pick up a box in Harrods.

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Salsa per Amatori. Arturo Crispino (what a great name!) poured me a tot of thick velvety passata and I glugged it down. The ingredients – tomatoes and one basil leaf. No preservatives or enhancers, totally unassuming, really fresh flavour, not too strong, no nasty tang, beautiful rich red colour and just simple, traditional and nice. This is the weirdest shot I have ever drunk though!

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La Caveja Piadinerie. Wraps seem boring and generally just exist to hold other flavourful stuff together. This vegetarian 8 cereal wrap was actually tasty on its own too! They call it Italian street food. Apparently the young people love it. I quite liked it too.

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Di Sorrento. Too early in the day for booze, but never too early for cake. Hoorah!These little Limoncello Babas were delicious. Left for one day after baking and then soaked in Limoncello for 24 months. Looks like a poop, tastes like a dream. Could the Baba rival the Macaron and the Canale?

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Toscobosco. They make lots of tasty things, but I loved this truffley treat that they served with a creamy light Parmesan semifreddo. Pure cacao from Latin America and bianco truffle, with a touch of red pepper. Sweet, rich, peppery and incredible. Chocolate meets truffle, all in a little pot. Not for sale in the UK yet, but available by mail direct from the producer, somehow. I have to work out how to order some, I can’t not!

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Tartufia. Black truffle, from the Molise region, simply sliced and jarred in olive oil. Very simple, very flavourful. The Tartufia team are very proud of their product, and for using natural and traditional processes.The truffles are hunted by dogs, this is the kind of hunting I can agree with. They come from ’the land of truffles,’ Paolo told me, ’plenty of truffle.’

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Forno D’Asolo. This one wasn’t on my roster, but when I saw their beautiful display of pastry goodness I volunteered myself immediately. I particularly liked that they had their ovens on the go all day, wafting sweet pastry smells and bringing out soft, warm croissants. I sampled the Cornetto Vegano Albicocca, a completely vegan apricot croissant made with soya milk.

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They supply coffee bars and cafes around the world, including Cafe Girasole , at 150 Seven Sister Road run by the lovely Eglal Gomaa (Find out more on Zomato) Whether you are vegan or not I think you’d be very happy eating this, they also do vegan pistachio croissants, and all sorts of other doughy delights.

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L’Antica Cascina. My absolute hands-down favouritest, best in show, tasty nice thing was their amazing CHEESE! Fermented amongst olive branches, in sealed terracotta pots for a month, the cheese is irregularly shaped, marked on its rind with the imprint of olive leaves and made with Ewe’s milk, the ‘Pecorino all’Olivio’ is delicious, moreish and full of flavour, but in no way overpowering. I reckon you really could just keep eating it, and I plan to hunt down a big chunk of it for myself.

If you’re down at Borough Market you can grab a slab (and one for me too please!) at Bianca e Mora. I don’t think you’ll regret it (unless you are dairy intolerant, of course).

I was more than delighted to hear that my favourite cheese of cheeses, became the overall winner of the food section of the Bellavita Awards. I knew it! (I didn’t! I just like nice cheese.)

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Bellavita Expo was massive – several thousand visitors and over 200 exhibitors. So much to taste and see. I was really lucky to be involved with judging such an array of incredible artisan products, but, I have to tell you, it’s not all truffles, cheese and limoncello, they made me judge lettuce. Twice. (That’s all I can say, too traumatised.)

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The enjoyment of the day was matched by the excitement of my journey home.

The trains were rather full as a couple had been cancelled. At Cambridge the first four carriages disconnect to go on to Kings Lynn, with the rest of the train stopping at Cambridge. I think it’s to do with the short platforms out in the Fens, or the fact that they think there’s not enough people to fill a proper train. Any way. I thought I was in the front four, but it turns out I was in carriage number five.

I rushed down the platform to the bursting front four. Passed the first two carriages assuming there’d be more space further down, but no. There was standing room only, and barely any of that. ‘Please, please don’t make me stay here!’ I said in desperation, followed, with slightly more confidence, by, ’Is there room for me? I’ve got a rather large bottom!’ Then the doors closed. I realised at this moment that I was neither on nor off the train. Those doors are more powerful than I ever knew. You’d think they’d stop when they hit body – they don’t. It hurt as I was crushed in their solid grip, and then two men prised me free and I popped forwards onto the train. ‘Hello!’ I said with loud excitement to the flush faces on the full carriage. I stood perfectly still, there was no room to move, we were all as still as stone. It seemed a bit quiet considering we were all so  up-close-and-personal with each other. I made a few random statements about my gratitude for not being squashed.

At the next station several people wished to disembark. I was stood in front of the doors. Some people looked worried, like they’d be trapped forever. I told them I was going to keep them there. I think they might have believed me, but then the doors slid open and I stepped onto the platform, ushering them off the train with a smile, ‘Go! Be free!’ I told them as they alighted hastily. A sweet little lady grabbed my arm and dragged me back onto the train.

Stop after stop the people got off, and I was soon left with an overly warm seat near the toilets. I felt happy and grateful. Clever British Rail!

(Not The) World’s Greatest Hot Cross Bun

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I made a promise that I cannot keep. I promised my cousin I’d make him the worlds biggest hot cross bun, but having googled my competition, for reasons relating to aesthetics and portability, I’ve had to break my promise and do something more handleable.

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This is not to say the process has gone without effort. There has been some trial and error. I’m not a seasoned bun maker.

I still let out a hearty guffaw when I pull back the damp tea towel to check the progress of the dough and prod the bulging lump that it has become.

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Today’s buns are an acceptable success, I’d say. I definitely think there’s room for improvement still. I’ve read a dozen recipes and compared them all. I’ve opted for standard good quality plain flour, over the strong bread flour suggested, and I’ve tripled the quantity of dried fruit. Next time I’ll add more cinnamon, and I will pre-soak the fruit so that the sultanas grow chubby and full. I have a plan.

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My previous attempt was not such a success. After hours of proving and kneading and proving again, the results were a disappointment, to say the least. They tasted like car filler and looked like jacket potatoes.

‘How am I ever going to give Alex a giant hot cross bun!’ I cried as I removed them from the oven.

I phoned my mum, ‘Delia’s trying to F us over!’ I exclaimed.

‘Stuff Delia!’ said my mum as she googled and found that I was not the only one who’d been tricked into making bricks by this tempting recipe. ‘I’m going near Norwich tomorrow,’ I continued, in a fit of bun rage, ‘I could put one of Delia’s windows through with her hot cross bun!’ My mum said that in court they would say it was justified.

Once the chickens got over the fear of being crushed by a raisined boulder they pecked away at them, so at least the weren’t wasted.

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I was so very nearly put off, but I am glad I persevered, as this morning we got up, made tea, toasted our homemade hot cross buns and it was lovely.

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Happy Easter! May your hot cross buns be sticky and soft, and your chocolate at room temperature.

(Apparently, this bun has ‘smashed the record’ of the bun I linked to above, but that’s not a giant hot cross bun if you ask me, it’s just a lot of buns in a novelty shape, and I’m not happy about that!)

Pudding Time with Mrs Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book

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It was Sunday afternoon, the winter sun was low in the sky, bright and hopeful, casting long shadows across the room.

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One of the things that marks the passing of winter is when the chickens start laying again. With a bumper batch of eggs and a beautiful new recipe book, I set about making a decadent sounding pudding.

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Mrs Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book is a delight, full of an interesting array of Victorian recipes and accompanying annotations. It’s quite special to see her handwriting, I nearly made the Nesselrode Pudding purely because of this, but then Lady Skymarston’s won me over.

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It was a simple recipe to follow, involving just a few ingredients – sugar, milk, eggs and vanilla. Sounds like a kind of egg custard, yes? Good. But not as good as the name, Lady Skymaston’s Pudding, say it again!

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Emma Darwin’s original notebook is housed in Cambridge University Library, if you are interested you can see the whole manuscript here.

Being born of the Wedgwood family I bet Emma set a rather special table. I did my best to honour her with a bit of 1930’s Royal Paragon and some beautiful daffodils from my friend Fiona.

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Who was Lady Skymarston? I don’t know, but her pudding is a bit like an upside down creme brûlée gone wrong. Not decadent in any way, but interesting and very much of it’s era, very Victorian.

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Apparently February 12th is ‘Darwin Day’. Maybe you could knock up a Victorian pud and celebrate?

Mrs Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway is published by Glitterati Incorporated.

Thank you to the team at Glitterati for kindly sending me a copy of Mrs Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book, and to Sandra chicken for the egg input. Onwards, to the next pudding!

Chickens Win Prizes & So Do I!

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On Sunday, whilst I was competing in the Speed Championship at Hethel, I was also involved in another competition.

For the past two years I have spent the first Sunday of August at the Wimblington and Stonea Horticultural Show with my friend Liz, pimping my produce and judging the Children’s and Art categories.

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It was weird to be all dressed up in my race suit and helmet at the Hethel track, secretly wondering how my bacon muffins were performing.

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Last year I was quite successful. My Lemon Curd got a 1st, my herbs got a 1st, my honey recipe (a lovely sponge cake that I will share here soon!) came 2nd, my Victoria Sponge got nowhere, but most excitingly, Cheryl and Sandra chickens came 1st and 2nd in the egg category, bringing home the egg cup!

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Poor lovely Cheryl chicken died a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t going to say, because I like to just share the happy things, but it happened and it was very sad. She got ill and we tried to help her, did everything we could, but one morning Adam came down and found her dead. He buried her tiny body in the garden, next to the chicken house.

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She was only just a year old, but she’d had a lovely year of joy and gallivanting around, hanging out with Sandra and their friend Jonathan in his garage up the road, eating strawberries in the sun, sheltering from hail in the chicken condo, launching herself through my studio window and rushing to see us and squatting down ready to be picked up and cuddled. She really was a lovely chicken, a dear little creature and rather exceptional for an animal with such a small brain.

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We entered Cheryl’s last egg into the competition, along with one from Sandra and one from April, and, guess what? My little trio of chickens all took podium places! (Shame I can’t get some of their skills for the Sprinting!) April won 1st, Sandra 2nd, and Cheryl 3rd. That great big egg cup will be back in our kitchen soon!

I also got a 1st for my herbs, which weren’t particularly exciting, but they were colour coordinated!

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I got a 1st for my honey recipe – you have to create the recipe yourself, I made Smokey Bacon and Honey Muffins – yum. I used the special Willington Hall honey that I brought home last week, which I think made all the difference! Apparently I get to share the honey cup, I guess it’s like the egg cup, but it sounds a bit more weird.

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And I got 2nd place for my Lemon Curd.

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Last year, rather amusingly,  my prize-winning lemon curd got pinched – we think it was sent off to the lab for analysis by my rival! So in a way it was nice to come 2nd and know that Liz and I will be able to tuck into some fresh bread and lemon curd for lunch when we meet up this week!