Ice Breakers #3

moped

(Photo by Chalffy Chan)

Blogging is a rather one-sided process – I write, you read and that’s about as much there is to it. But I’m always intrigued as to who is behind the screen; some of you reach out to me with emails and Facebook messages and comments, so I know a little bit about you, but I’m always curious – I want to know more! So, let’s break the ice and share some thoughts. 

1. Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions? 

2. What was the best part of 2014 for you? 

3. Are there any foods that you just can’t stand? What are they? 

4. Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Why? 

5. Do you consider yourself more of an optimist or a pessimist? An extrovert or an introvert? 

 

1. You can read my New Year’s Resolutions right here, but my major one is reading 100 books. I’ve read 6 so far, which feels like good progress. I also really want to learn to crochet and be better at baking bread.

2. 2014 was my best year ever. I say that every year, but I think I really mean it this time around. Obviously, getting engaged to Paul was a pretty big highlight, and celebrating the weddings of so many of our friends is definitely up there. There are so many more that I could mention – running my first ever 10k, a lovely holiday in Bournemouth with friends, glamping on a hen do, stuffing my face at a cheese club, going to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. It really was a great year! 

3. Celery. It was my guinea pigs’ favourite food and the two are inextricably linked for me now – the taste makes me feel weird. 

4. This is a tough one! I’ve read so many wonderful non-fiction books, but I think fiction just surges ahead for me – the possibilities are endless and I love losing myself in a really good book. 

5. I’m definitely an optimist. I have my pessimistic moments but overall I like to think I have a sunny outlook on life – I think my endless enthusiasm is probably tiring for a lot of people, but it makes me happy, so I guess that’s all that matters. And I’m definitely an extrovert – I work better in an office full of people, I feel better after spending time with friends and family, and I feel antsy after too much time spent alone. 

How about you?

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Bilbao Bar, Leeds

Bilbao Bar Leeds

There’s something about tapas which demands sunny days, tables outside and leisurely lunches enjoyed with pitchers of Sangria. Something about these little dishes, so familiar and yet so foreign, conjures up that feeling of relaxation, of being slightly drunk in the middle of the afternoon, of that feeling your skin gets when you spend more time outdoors than normal – slightly windswept, slightly sunkissed (or sunburnt…). I was surprised, therefore, to find that tapas was the perfect antidote to a cold winter’s day in Leeds. Walk into Bilbao Bar in Granary Wharf and you instantly forget the snow and piercing wind that you battled to get there – all those summer holiday feelings come flooding back. 

Bilbao Bar Leeds

A small little restaurant tucked away inside the arches, the soft lighting, the blackboard drinks menu and the smells of tapas cooking transport you straight to Spain and in winter that is exactly what you need. The staff are relaxed and very friendly, noticing that you need a drinks top-up before you do – which impressed Paul no end! The food menu is small but perfectly formed – with the traditional dishes that you expect mingling with some more unusual and exciting ones. A word of warning, however – don’t let your hunger get away with you when ordering, these were the biggest portions of tapas I’ve ever seen. Five between the two of us was more than sufficient. Drinks-wise, the gin lovers amongst you will be impressed by their selection – with the usual culprits being joined by some Spanish gins. The cocktail list was small but perfectly formed – and I can recommend the Yorkshire Margarita for starters. 

Bilbao Bar Leeds

My one criticism would be, however, that rather than the traditional way of serving tapas – with all of your dishes crowding for room on the table so you can pick and share and mix to your heart’s content, each dish was bought out separately, one at a time. If you’re sharing dishes this might not be a problem, but Paul and I have very different tastes which meant that only one of us was really eating at any one time, which felt a little odd. 

Bilbao Bar Leeds

The food, however, was delicious and, as I mentioned, very generously served. I wish we’d been able to try more dishes, as there were so many that I was tempted by – so we’ll definitely have to go back to give those a go. This time around, I opted for Patatas Bravas (obviously) and ‘Tartar de aguacate, langostinos y salmón ahumado’ (or avocado, prawn and smoked salmon tartar to you and me), and we shared a board of Iberico Ham, which was carved right in front of us and served with catalan style bread. The ham was perfectly salty, meaty and more-ish, the perfect starter. The tartar was very fresh and tasty, but I think the standout dish for me was the Patatas Bravas – usually an after-thought, Bilbao Bar’s had a delicious smoky sauce, unlike any Patatas Bravas I’ve come across before, and the potatoes were sliced rather than cubed which gave them a good crispy-skin-to-fluffy-inside ratio. I stole a little of Paul’s Chorizo cooked in Cider, which was succulent and flavoursome but gone before I could knick more than one piece! 

Bilbao Bar Leeds

So if you fancy a little escapism this winter – paired with some tasty tapas and a potent cocktail or two – then you know where to head. I’ve got my fingers crossed for another good summer, however, so I can enjoy Bilbao Bar in the sunshine – exactly how tapas should be. 

Bilbao Bar Leeds

Disclaimer: We dined for free at Bilbao Bar in exchange for this review, but I am always honest with you. Maybe it’s the Yorkshire Margarita talking, but those genuinely were the best Patatas Bravas I’ve ever had. I’m cooking a roast as I write this but I still feel like sacking it off and going back for more. 

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Slow-Cooked Pork Belly

Slow Cooked Pork Belly

There is something so decadent about Pork Belly. It’s full of flavour, slightly greasy and ever-so-satisfying. But it has to be cooked right; if it is undercooked then the fat remains rubbery and slightly off-putting where it should be melted on the inside and crispy on the outside. If done properly, the top layer of fat becomes crunchy hulks of pork scratching – almost impossible to chew through but worth the effort. So wrong, but so right. The delicious meat below becomes tender and oh-so-juicy, ready to be shredded and piled high on plates, covered in gravy and devoured with a sly grin. This is not the meat to eat when you’re on a diet – especially if, like me, you like to serve it with potatoes roasted in goose fat and a large glass of wine. This is for lazy Sundays and stretchy trousers, where you can gorge yourself silly and then nap in front of the telly. This meal is the exact opposite of green juice, and all the better for it. The problem is, it’s so simple that you’ll be knocking one up every week. Your roast dinners won’t ever be the same. 

  Slow Cooked Pork Belly

Slow-Cooked Pork Belly
Serves 3
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
3 hr 20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
3 hr 20 min
Ingredients
  1. Pork Belly, approx. 1.2kg
  2. Salt & Pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 150C and line a baking tray with foil.
  2. If not already done so by the butcher, score the top layer of fat with cuts approx. 1cm apart.
  3. Season the joint liberally - this is no time to be sparing with the salt and pepper!
  4. Place on the prepared tray and pop into the oven.
  5. After 3 hours, turn up the heat to 200C and cook for a further 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Leave to rest for at least 30 minutes whilst the rest of your dinner cooks.
  7. Serve by removing the top layer of fat (it's easiest to cut this with good quality kitchen scissors) and then pulling the remaining meat apart with two forks.
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/

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Weekend Link Love

boots

(Photo by Chelsea Francis)

Can we be British for a moment and talk about the weather. It is bumming me out. We’ve been so lucky up until now that winter’s been fairly manageable but it’s got to that time when I just want to hibernate. It’s snowed on and off all week.It is too cold and too dark. Bring on Daylight Savings, amiright? 

That being said, this week has actually been rather fun, in between dodging the icky weather. On Tuesday we went for some tapas at Bilbao Bar in Granary Wharf (watch out for a review later this week!), and then on Friday we gathered together some of our besties and headed to the cinema to see Into The Woods. I love a musical. We also had burgers at Five Guys which was really good – better than I expected, actually. It was rammed in there and felt like a proper American diner. The cheese was that plasticky American cheese which is kind of perfect on a burger. I know Leeds feels like its saturated with burgers at the moment, but I think these (five) guys are here to stay. 

As well as all that, I finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl, which was brilliant and made me cry, finished off our wedding invites and slow cooked a delicious joint of belly pork. So all in all, a success. How was your week? 

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Gin & Tonic – Three Ways

Gin & Tonic Three Ways

Is there anything more perfect than a gin & tonic? Refreshing, aromatic and just ever so slightly bitter. It’s my drink of choice, and the more I learn about it, and the more I drink it, the more I like it. There are so many to choose from, each subtly different from the next, I’m sure I’m yet to find my absolute favourite. 

A gin & tonic is so simple but a few little additions can turn this drink into so much more.The botanicals, used in the distilling of gin lend it perfectly to being paired with herbs and citrus fruits. By picking out and enhancing particular flavours, you can make the same gin and the same tonic taste different every time. Some brands will list the sorts of botanicals that they use to make their particular gin, so you can use this to work out your garnish; Hendricks, for example, goes best with cucumber, and Portobello Road with grapefruit peel. These combinations will work with most gins – I just used the Bombay Sapphire we had in the cupboard – but you can use them as a jumping point for your own signature blend. 

Lemon & Rosemary 

A shot of gin, a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprig of rosemary & a twist of lemon peel, topped up with tonic. Use the rosemary sprig to stir.

Lemon & Rosemary Gin & Tonic

Lemon & Rosemary Gin & Tonic

Lime & Chilli 

A shot of gin, half a lime cut into wedges & half a chilli, sliced & deseeded, topped up with tonic. Give the limes a little squeeze to release the juices as you put them into the glass for extra flavour. 

Lime & Chilli Gin & Tonic

Lime & Chilli Gin & Tonic

Cucumber & Mint 

A shot of gin, a few slices of cucumber and some torn up mint leaves, topped up with tonic. Lots of ice for extra freshness.

Cucumber & Mint Gin & Tonic

Cucumber & Mint Gin & Tonic

 

How do you drink yours?

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Condensed Milk Cake with Raspberries

Condensed Milk Cake

 

Condensed Milk Cake

Sometimes we need to keep things simple. Stop messing around with what’s already good and just enjoy a slice of cake. There’s a time and a place for fancy layered cakes and brownies stuffed with every ingredient possible. This is not that time. January is hard enough as it is, let’s not complicate things. I had all of the ingredients for this cake in the house (#foodbloggerproblems) and it was in the oven before I knew it. Condensed milk is probably one of my favourite things – I could eat it by the spoonful – and it gives this cake a sweet flavour and a dense texture. Serve this cake fresh out of the oven with some warm raspberries. It’s really good, I promise. 

Condensed Milk Cake with Raspberries

Condensed Milk Cake with Raspberries
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For the Cake
  1. 397g condensed milk
  2. 4 eggs
  3. 150g plain flour
  4. 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  5. 50g melted butter
  6. Icing sugar
For the raspberries
  1. 100g raspberries, fresh or frozen
  2. 1 tbsp. caster sugar
  3. zest of 1/2 lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 175C
  2. Prepare a springform cake tin by greasing with butter or margarine and dusting with flour.
  3. Using an electric mixer (or a whole lot of elbow grease!) mix together all the ingredients, except the icing sugar, until the mixture is smooth.
  4. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, add the raspberries, sugar and lemon zest into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the raspberries have softened and warmed through.
  6. Once cooled slightly, dust with icing sugar and serve with the raspberries.
Adapted from Dr Ola's Kitchen
Adapted from Dr Ola's Kitchen
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/
Condensed Milk Cake with Raspberries

 

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Weekend Link Love

  wild horses

Photo by Bethany Legg

This week has felt like one long Wednesday. All my best intentions for January have kind of gone out of the window in favour of comforting chocolate puddings and nights spent under knitted blankets. Yesterday was a chance to blow the cobwebs away with a hearty – and rather blustery – walk with friends in Sheffield and today we’re off to a family meal for my father-in-law-to-be’s birthday. It’s okay. I’m okay. How are you getting on? 

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Book Club

book club

I often wonder if I will ever reach the end of my ‘to-read’ list – which currently stands at around the 200 books mark. With new books being published all the time on top of all the old classics that I’ve never gotten around to reading, it seems pretty impossible. I’m hoping that my goal of reading 100 books in 2015 will put at least a bit of a dent in it. The trouble is that re-reading books is often just as good, if not better, than reading them for the first time – there are so many that I’ve read once but want to delve into further, whether it’s to find something as yet undiscovered, or to revisit the comforting things I know are held there. Book-reading-wise, it will have to be the journey, not the destination, that really matters. 

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, Joanne Harris 

 I have now finished the ‘Chocolat’ series as it stands, but my hunger for more of Vianne Rocher’s adventures is definitely not satisfied. I absolutely adored these set of books – more than I even imagined I would. The wonderful characters, the mouth-watering descriptions of food, the slight touch of magic, I am totally gripped. Somehow Joanne Harris manages to weave the perfect story – keeping me on edge for page after page as I long for a happy ending for my favourite characters, and for a less-happy one for those I dislike. Absolutely perfect. 

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee 

I first read this book in a Booker Prize class a few years back, and whilst there’s no denying that this is a brilliant novel, I didn’t enjoy it as much this second time around. I think it’s the tired stereotype of the ageing literature professor, who somehow manages to seduce his beautiful student and then tries to make the encounter seem deep and meaningful. I’ve read that character too many times and I don’t care for him. That said, this book is incredibly artful – it’s set in post-Apartheid South Africa and deals with some pretty hefty stuff, like the possibility of redemption, the realities of violence, personal shame, animal rights. It’s packed in. There are moments of sheer brilliance as he snatches the book away from being a purely political book – which, given the subject matter, it could easily become – into something greater but I can’t help wishing the story was told from his daughter’s perspective, throughout. She was the far more interesting character. 

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Another re-read for me – I’ve been meaning to pick this book up again since the movie was released because I’d mostly forgotten it, and it’s always better to read the book before you see the movie. As I remembered, the language is stunning, the picture painted of Gatsby’s decadent, fabulous and yet shallow parties is inspired and the ending tragic. However, I found that the pace was a little fast and some of the revelations a little too convenient – it felt like it was over before it really began. Which is perhaps reminiscent of the very Jazz Age that it critiques, but I would have preferred things to be a little more drawn out. 

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen 

This was the first novel that Austen completed for publication, although I believe it wasn’t published properly until after her death. It certainly doesn’t feel as nuanced as Pride & Prejudice, and the main character, whilst charming in her lack of negative characteristics, is also intensely irritating as a result. This book is a classic comedy of manners, critiquing high society and the ‘marriage market’ of Austen’s day but, whilst the hero is one of Austen’s better ones, the romance feels a little forced and the circumstances that lead to the ending are quite far-fetched. I’ll definitely be sticking to her more popular novels in the future.  

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett 

How did I miss this book when I was a child? It’s absolutely glorious! Such a sweet, heart-warming tale – if there ever was a happy ending of a book then this is it. I don’t have much more to say than that – if you haven’t read it, you really must. 

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

This is another instance where I have been holding off on watching the movie until I’ve read the book, and I’m glad I waited because I loved this book! I borrowed the whole set off my sister at Christmas and read the whole first instalment on New Year’s Day. I’m not usually a young adult fan, but this was totally riveting. The characters are excellent and I love how they defy the usual stereotypes, with Katniss being the slightly-surly hero and Peeta being the charming, loved-up one. I was totally gripped until the very last page, and I am so ready to read the next ones! 

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Garlic & Thyme Mushrooms on Toast

Mushrooms on Toast

Sometimes the simple things really are the best. Fresh bedding. A hug. the first snowdrop of Spring. And Mushrooms on Toast. There’s no need to complicate it – this dish is simple and all the better for it. A chance encounter in an almost-empty fridge led me to this recipe and I’ve been hooked ever since. I don’t think anyone can resist a slice of hot, buttered toast – even more so when it’s topped with earthy mushrooms in a garlicky cream sauce. The perfect lunchtime snack for this bitterly cold time of year. 

Mushrooms on Toast

Garlic & Thyme Mushrooms on Toast
Serves 1
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Ingredients
  1. a big knob of unsalted butter
  2. 6-8 mushrooms, sliced
  3. 1 clove of garlic, minced or finely grated
  4. 1 sprig of thyme, leaves only or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  5. 30ml double cream
  6. 1-2 slices of toast
  7. Parmesan, to serve
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the mushrooms. Cook over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes until the mushrooms are starting to soften, adding more butter if they start to stick.
  2. Add the garlic and thyme and stir together. Cook for 2 minutes more until mushrooms are soft and the garlic has cooked through - try not to let it brown.
  3. Pour in the cream and stir. Leave for a minute, stirring occasionally, until the cream has thickened.
  4. Serve the mushrooms on top of a slice or two of toast with a liberal grating of Parmesan.
Notes
  1. I used a mixture of button mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms but really any mushrooms will do!
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/
Mushrooms on Toast

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Cheap & Free Things to Do in Leeds

roundhaypark1

January can feel like such a bummer after the decadence of December. Budgets. Healthy Diets. Exercise. It’s hardly twinkly lights and champagne, is it? But it doesn’t have to be all bad – here’s some fun things you can do in Leeds that will fit with your New Year budget and help you explore this amazing city we live in! 

Take a Walk 

If we’re lucky, January will throw us some sunshine – and I’m not sure there’s anything better than bundling up in cosy layers and enjoying the crisp air on a sunny winter’s day. There are plenty of places to take a scenic walk in Leeds; my personal favourite is Roundhay Park for the excellent puppy-watching opportunities (so cute!) but I also love the dramatic ruins of Kirkstall Abbey. You can also saunter along the canal for more of an urban landscape, or take a visit to Rodley Nature Reserve to discover Leeds’ wildlife. Meanwood Valley Urban Farm is also a great day out if you’ve got kids – it’s a couple of quid but totally worth it to feed the animals and explore their gardens. 

Enjoy Some Culture 

Leeds is chock-full of museums and galleries, and I’ve barely stepped foot in any of them – much to my shame. If you’re at a loss one afternoon then there are plenty of options – Leeds City Museum, Leeds Art Gallery, The Royal Armouries to name but a few. My favourite is the Gallery at Munro House, which is attached the Café 164 so you can grab a cup of coffee and a slice of cake (their apple flapjack is amazing) whilst you enjoy the art. The Tetley is also worth a look and they often have free events on. 

Grab a Bite 

Whilst eating out can get pricey, there are plenty of places to grab a cheap meal in the city – and you might find a new favourite! The obvious choice is Trinity Kitchen, where you can sample some of the best street food for under a tenner, but venture further afield and you’ll find some other great eats like Café Moor, Fuji Hiro, or Dough Boys pizza at Belgrave Music Hall, which is half-price if you know what time to go. If you’ve got a little more money to spend, both Shear’s Yard and Blackhouse have 50% off food in January if you book in advance – a total bargain. 

Test Your Knowledge 

Any pub worth its salt has a good pub quiz, and if you don’t go overboard on the booze then it can be a cheap night out. Plus, if you play well you could go home richer than you started out – some of the jackpots are pretty hefty! I like the pub quizzes at The Mustard Pot, Outlaws Yacht Club and The Pour House but you’ll find one local to you with no problem. If you’re really feeling the pinch, the pub quiz at The Hop is free and comes with a complimentary supper. You can’t say fairer than that! 

See a Show 

The Brudenell Social Club is one of the coolest places in town, and one of the cheapest. They have a full programme of live music and tickets are rarely more than a fiver, so if you fancy something a bit different then head over to Hyde Park and relive your student days. 

What are your favourite cheap and free things to do in Leeds?

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