Hey friends! The next time we talk, we’ll have celebrated Christmas. It’s come on so fast this year, and I’m still not ready. I will be wrapping and baking and decorating like a whirling dervish in the next couple of days, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m watching Gossip Girl repeats and drinking Sloe Gin, so it’s a pretty merry time. Last night we went on a Christmas pub crawl, all decked out in our Christmas finery – it’s wonderful to have so many of my favourite people in one place, even if we are in dingy pubs. How have you been celebrating the festive season?
- I am so into the idea of a capsule wardrobe. So stylish. So easy.
- I think my main goal for 2015 is to go back to Norse. It may be the best restaurant in Yorkshire.
- What would happen if you lived your life according to Pinterest?
- I’m in love with my Kitchenaid – their maker story is pretty interesting, too.
- The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds is pretty much the most incredible thing.
- Slovenia is pretty high on my ‘to-visit’ list – doesn’t it look gorgeous?
- It’s definitely one of my aims for 2015 to get better at food photography, so I’ve bookmarked this guide to get started with.
- One of my favourite blogs this year was My Scandinavian Home – so much pretty.
I have dreams of opening a chocolaterie. This is a new dream, borne of reading ‘Chocolat’ too many times, and certainly not one that is likely to come to fruition any time soon, my chocolate-making skills being what they are. But the thought of being surrounded by the smell of melting chocolate all day, tying boxes of treats with luxurious ribbons and spreading joy with truffles and caramels is definitely a tempting one. To keep the dream alive, I bought the ‘Chocolat’ recipe book and satisfied my chocolate cravings by losing myself in its pages and then opting for the simplest recipe – Chocolate Fudge. I’ve made three batches so far, with different ratios of dark/milk chocolate, and each one has been devoured by colleagues, friends and, um, me within hours of opening the tin. It’s just irresistible. If you’re looking for an easy DIY present for Christmas, or just fancy putting a smile on someone’s face, make this fudge, and be sure to snaffle a few pieces before you give it away.
- 300g dark chocolate
- 100g milk chocolate
- 397g sweetened condensed milk
- 25g unsalted butter
- 100g icing sugar
- 40g cocoa powder
- Line a square baking tin with baking paper and leave to one side.
- Place the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and leave to melt, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat when fully melted.
- In a separate saucepan, gently heat the butter and condensed milk until the butter is melted and the mixture is warmed through.
- Mix together with the chocolate. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl and stir together until fully combined.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin and use a knife to smooth the top. Place in the fridge for at least an hour until set.
- Remove the fudge from the fridge and cut using a knife warmed under the hot tap for a minute (it helps cut through). Dust with cocoa powder and enjoy!
This month I joined the library. It’s taken me far too long to do so – I’ve lived in this city over 3 years – and I’d almost forgotten the joy of them. My local library is a dream, housed in the old Police Station and stocked with ancient shelves that look just how a library should. Being able to read books totally for free is an absolute privilege and it makes me sad that there are library cuts across the country – not least because it means that the chances of me getting my hands on Leeds’ copy of The Hunger Games is a little thin on the ground. It makes me miss my University library – a true Beauty-and-the-Beast, Hogwarts-style library with racks and racks of ancient wooden shelves and every book you could imagine (apart from that one about Aristotle that I really needed that one time…). Either way, I am grateful that libraries exist – and even then, I am probably less grateful than the elderly gentleman who was learning to use a computer from the librarian whilst I was there. What an absolute joy that libraries exist.
The Lollipop Shoes, Joanne Harris
2014 is officially the year that I discovered the work of Joanne Harris – and I am so pleased that I did. The Lollipop Shoes is the sequel to her bestseller, Chocolat, and is equally as wonderful. It has a slightly darker edge than Chocolat, with a much nastier antagonist – Zozie de L’Alba, a glamorous woman who barrels into the lives of Vianne, Anouk and Rosette and befriends them but with a sinister ulterior motive. I spent a lot of this novel frustrated at Vianne, who has lost a lot of her sparkle and confidence – I just wanted her to stand up and do what she really wanted, to tell the truth and sort herself out. That was the point, of course, and the tension was built beautifully to the showdown at the end – you’re not entirely sure whether there will be a happy, or satisfying, ending. I absolutely loved this book, and have picked up the final novel in the trilogy to enjoy over the Christmas break – I can’t get enough of Vianne Rocher and her chocolaterie.
In Between the Sheets, Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is one of my favourite novelists and has written some of my favourite books of all time – Sweet Tooth and Atonement are both on the list – but I’ve not really explored much of his earlier work. This book of short stories is, as you’d expect from McEwan, dark, disturbing and unsettling. I struggled to get through some, not sure on the point that he was trying to make, and it’s clear that he’s developed so much as a writer since these stories. I read a review that calls these stories ‘B-sides’ and I think that description is apt, but perhaps ‘literary experiments’ would be a kinder way to describe them. If you’re a McEwan fan then they are worth a read but otherwise I would pass by and try something else (such as Alan Bennett’s ‘Smut’, which are also short stories about sexuality but are infinitely better and a lot less disturbing).
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Yet another of my many re-reads this year, I was not sold on this book the first time around. I don’t think I was sold on it the second time around, either. Look away now if you don’t want a spoiler – but the ‘twist’ that they are clones to be harvested for human organs feels a little clunky the whole way through. There is so much that goes unexplained until right at the end when – bam – their ex-headmistress tells all in a spiel that’s supposed to be thought-provoking about human nature but feels a little too convenient. Kathy is also an annoying narrator – don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me next, just tell me! That said, I did enjoy the parts set at school in the beginning of the novel, and the relationship between Kathy, Ruth & Tommy. Ruth in particular was a fascinating character and I kind of wish that she’d been telling the story. I feel like I’m being overly critical of this novel – so many laud it as a great work, and I can see what they’re getting at but I just didn’t warm to it at all. I’d like to read Ishiguro’s ‘Remains of the Day’, which is supposed to be excellent but I think this one is going to the charity shop.
The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year, Sue Townsend
I have loved Sue Townsend’s work for a long time, and I was very sad when she passed away earlier in the year. This is the only book of hers that I haven’t read, so when I spotted it in the aforementioned library I immediately squirrelled it home with me. I’m a little sorry that I did so – although only a little. This book is unmistakably Sue Townsend – the sharp observations, the wit, the slight absurdity – but it has a melancholy note to it that is absent from a lot of her other work (except, perhaps the final Adrian Mole book which did not end the way I wanted it to…). This book does what it says on the tin – it’s about a woman who goes to bed for a year. Whether it’s a nervous breakdown, depression or just a refusal to conform to society’s rules, Eva goes to bed on the day her children go to University and doesn’t get up for a year. When you find out more about her life, it feels understandable, but as time goes on and she misses out on so much, slowly boarding herself up in her room, it feels very bleak. Not one to read if you’re in a fragile emotional state.
We are big fans of Prosecco in this house; we don’t save it for special occasions as there’s not denying that a little bit of fizz does your heart good (in the metaphorical, rather than the literal sense). Because we drink it regularly, it needs a little something extra to make it special, which is where this Sloe Gin Fizz comes in. Sloe Gin is delightfully festive, whether you make your own or just buy it like I do, and it just adds a little something extra that is perfect for celebrations. You can add more juice for a fruitier flavour, or leave it out for a more sophisticated taste, but I’m sure that this little number will become a fast favourite!
P.S. Find more cocktail recipes right here!
- 1 shot Sloe Gin
- 25ml Cranberry & Pomegranate Juice
- Pomegranate Seeds (optional)
- Pour the sloe gin into a champagne flute, followed by the juice.
- Top up with prosecco and finish with pomegranate seeds, if using.
Hey friends, how’s it going? I hope you’re having a good day! I’m recovering after The High Tea Cast Christmas party. Hanging out with awesome ladies is the absolute best, and totally worth the early morning tube journey on only three hours of sleep. I am fully in the Christmas spirit now – which is probably a good thing, as there’s not long left to go – but I’ve definitely not finished my Christmas shopping. Everyone might just end up with various bottles of booze. I hope that’s okay. Tell me I’m not the only disorganised one?
This week I’ve also been on tenterhooks about Serial. I cannot even with that show. I’ve also been making pastry (mine is really flaky, how do I stop that?!) and mourning the loss of my favourite jeans. It’s been an exciting week, for sure. How have you been?
- I think we all just want Britney to be happy. This article suggests that might not be possible any time soon. (via Sarah)
- Are you still looking for Christmas presents? This list of books for food lovers is super comprehensive!
- If you need a giggle then you need to read about this dating disaster (NSFW).
- Are we obsessed with being obsessed? (via Joy)
- Emma gives her advice on how to get into digital journalism.
- Relevant to my life: Does getting engaged making me a bad feminist?
- Taylor Swift is the Queen of Social Media. And of life.
- I am definitely going to Gothenburg next Christmas – it looks magical!
- Women’s football used to be super popular – what happened?!
- 2014 has been a year of badass women – here’s a list of some awesome women that you might not have heard of.
It’s Christmas time, which means that in offices everywhere people are bringing in dishes covered in foil and tupperware boxes filled with goodies to share. There’s something about buffet-style dining in the office that makes work feel festive – and this year I have coerced my colleagues into doing this three times in the name of Christmas cheer. Last Friday was the pre-Christmas-party fuddle (food huddle, for the uninitiated), yesterday was the big one – Christmas Jumper Day + Secret Santa + Festive Fuddle – and another is planned for the day before we ‘break up’ for Christmas. I appreciate their efforts, I really do – it’s not always easy to think of what to bring (some variation on beige food is always appreciated – cheese straws never go down badly) and to find time to cook or bake something in the evening before work the next day is no mean feat.
This Croissant and Cranberry Pudding was my contribution, but it would probably be better served as a dessert after an enormous roast, when you’re not sure you can fit anything else in but somehow you can manage a pudding covered in custard. It’s a festive variation on a bread & butter pudding – the croissants make it sweet and the cranberries add a delicious tartness to cut through the creamy, spongy goodness. Sprinkle some demerara sugar on top for a crunchy crust and you’ve got a total winner of a dessert. Side note: it’s also pretty good as an indulgent breakfast, microwaved for one minute and covered in cream. It’s December, it’s allowed.
- 100g fresh cranberries
- 100g mixed peel
- 50g golden caster sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- 6-8 croissants, slightly stale, torn into pieces
- 100g unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs
- 300ml double cream
- 150ml semi-skimmed milk
- 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
- 4 tbsp. demerara sugar
- Mix together the cranberries, peel, caster sugar and lemon zest in a bowl and leave to one side.
- In a separate bowl, cover the croissant chunks in melted butter and mix together to ensure an even covering. Leave for 5 minutes to soak in.
- In an ovenproof dish, layer the croissants and the berry mix - starting and ending with a layer of croissants. There's no precise science to this so it can be a bit haphazard!
- Whisk together the eggs, cream, milk and vanilla extract until they form a smooth custard. Pour over the pudding.
- Cover and leave to stand for at least an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Uncover the pudding and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Pop in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the pudding has puffed up slightly and gone golden brown.
- Serve warm with cream, custard or ice cream.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember what life in Leeds was like before Trinity opened; if you spend any time in the city centre then it’s hard to avoid walking through or around it (Leeds is not a big place) and it’s fast become a feature of days and evenings out. I know there have been some mixed reactions to its arrival, and not every effect it’s had has been a positive one – but I do think it signalled a bit of an upswing for Leeds. In the last year so many new restaurants have opened (not just in Trinity) and that trend seems like it’s set to continue for now. The latest arrival on the scene is Cabana – a Brazilian barbecue restaurant from London that’s finally made it up north to our fair city.
Right opposite the entrance to Trinity Kitchen, you can’t miss the bright colours of the sign – which signal the kind of eclectic, fun atmosphere you’re going to find inside. We dined on a weekday evening and whilst not packed to the rafters it was pretty busy and the music was energetic without being exhausting, if that doesn’t sound too middle-aged of me. The seats are made from recycled jeans and there’s a stand in the middle which, in a previous life, was a pop-up in Covent Garden. The staff are friendly and enthusiastic about the food, which is all you really want from a place like this, isn’t it?
As with most Brazilian places, this probably isn’t the place to bring your veggie friends – the menu is meat-heavy with a focus on skewers – beef, chicken, pork or lamb in varying combinations. The starters are a little more interesting – and difficult to choose. We sent the waitress away at least three times because we hadn’t made up our minds yet about what to order, plumping at last for the ‘Spicy Malagueta Prawns’ and the ‘Crispy Cheese Pockets’ to share between us. The Malagueta is their signature sauce and you can buy it in bottles to take away if you fancy – it’s got quite a kick but not so much that you can’t taste the prawns (or indeed, of whatever else you’re eating it with). I have to say, though, those crispy cheese pockets were divine – comfort food in the best way, with a light salsa to make them feel a little bit less indulgent. Cheese + Pastry – it’s a winning combination in my books.
The main course arrived before we’d even finished our starter – which I don’t feel you can complain about, really, but a little breather would have been better. I’d opted for the 8oz hanger steak which arrived on a ‘skewer’ (which looked a little bit like a weapon…) – and was then placed on a plate before me. It’s a little gimmicky, perhaps, but fun – and the steak was juicy and tender. I’m usually a fillet steak kind of girl (which makes me sound kind of fancy, I know) but I this was meatier and more robust than my usual, which I enjoyed. Emma went for the Picanha Beef Burger (with extra cheese, natch) and the exclamations of joy from the other side of the table confirmed that it was definitely a good one! We opted for some ‘Farofa and molho’ to go with our meals – a kind of spiced breadcrumb and a fresh salsa; the breadcrumbs went well with the steak but I think another sauce would have been better than the salsa for me (perhaps the chimichurri). The sweet potato fries definitely trumped the regular ones too, if you’re wondering.
If that hadn’t been enough of a feast, we shared some Chocolate Raindrop Doughnuts for pudding – fried dough stuffed with Nutella. I don’t think you need me to tell you that they were damn good. However, I’ve not yet mentioned the Caipirinhas and I think they deserve some airtime because they were my favourite thing about Cabana. Between us we tried four of the flavours – Strawberry, Classic, Passion Fruit and Pineapple – and all of them were delicious. The strawberry was my definite favourite, probably because of my sweet tooth, but the classic was a strong contender for the best version in Leeds. I’ll definitely be back for another one of those sometime soon.
Cabana is, in my opinion, good value for money. Our meal would not have been cheap – starters, desserts and cocktails do add up – but if you just wanted to pop in for a refresher after a day of shopping then you could spend less than £20 a head, so make of that what you will. I’ve not got kids but I do think it would be a good place to take them – there’s a dedicated kids menu and it’s a really fun place to eat with a laid back vibe. How Brazilian!
Disclaimer: We dined at Cabana for free in exchange for a review, but I am always honest with you. Especially when it comes to Caipirinhas – they’re my favourite and that strawberry one really was excellent. I’ll be heading back there, for sure!
We’re 17 days out from the big day, and I may not have put up any decorations or done any Christmas shopping but I have created a little something special just for you. You might have noticed that over the past week, I’ve been sharing some recipes and tips for creating an epic Christmas dinner. I know that it can feel a bit overwhelming having to juggle so many dishes in such a short space of time, especially if you haven’t got a lot of kitchen space, but if I can cook a Christmas dinner for 10 people in my student digs then you can definitely do it, too! The key, as with most things, is getting organised – writing lists, being prepared, roping in volunteers. So I’ve created a little guide that helps you do just that – get organised! It includes a comprehensive shopping list for Christmas dinner (add your own chocolate boxes and alcohol requirements as needed), an equipment list, a detailed list of what to do when and some recipes to help you create a spectacular Christmas dinner. It’s designed to serve around 6 people (with generous leftovers) but you can adjust it as necessary. Good luck – you’ve got this!
Download Christmas Dinner – Get Organised right here!
Hey, everyone! It’s nice to see you again. I hope you’re starting to feel sufficiently festive – this year I’m definitely not feeling the Christmas spirit as much as usual but some Christmas tunes in the office and the wearing of tacky jumpers has definitely helped. As you read this, I’ll probably be quite hungover – it was my work Christmas do last night and I’m sure that much alcohol was consumed. We’re going to an alpine ski lodge pop up somewhere in the depths of Harrogate, and the menu looks incredible so I’m pretty excited!
This week, I also went to the first ever Leeds Food & Drink Awards, hosted by Leeds List. The awards ceremony took place in the Leeds City Museum, which I’ve not been in before – it’s a gorgeous building and it felt rather grand. You can see all the results here – I was pleased that some of my favourites won awards but, as always, not everyone can be a winner and there were some deserving names which I felt missed out. It was a fun night though – I got to finally try some of Fu-Schnikens buns and chatted to someone with a supper club. My obsession persists – as soon as I have the space, then I am definitely starting one! I also had a mini Serial Podcast listening party on Thursday night. I am totally addicted – if you’ve not listened then you definitely need to! How was your week?
- Everyone’s obsessing over the cover, but you should read this #BreakTheInternet interview with Arabelle Sicardi – I’ve loved her work for a long time.
- Let’s get heavy for a minute, because this is important: First world problems? Not a thing. (via Rachel Hills – whose book has a release date & a front cover, and I’m very excited about it.)
- What does it really mean to invest in yourself? It’s so important, but I think most of us aren’t doing it enough (myself included).
- “Being brave isn’t about doing scary things without fear – it is acknowledging how utterly terrified you are, and doing it anyway.” – 36 Ways to be Braver.
- Lil wrote a very thought-provoking piece about diabetes and conception. You should read it.
- This is the sweetest idea ever – who wants to do a Leeds version with me?
- Is Mindy Lahiri the greatest TV character of the year? I think the answer is probably yes. She makes me laugh so hard.
- Some food for thought (if you’re a blogger): Why I’m Not a Professional Blogger.
- Would you drink Bulletproof Coffee?
- North Korea is endlessly fascinating and horrifying – Suki Kim explains what it was like to teach North Korean graduate students to write essays.
I have a confession: I don’t actually make the Yorkshire Puddings in my house. I live with a Yorkshireman who is very particular about them, so I am not allowed to meddle in this part of a roast. We should all play to our strengths, after all. I have, however, plundered his knowledge so I can share some tips and tricks with you for this very important part of Christmas Dinner. Frozen Yorkshire Puddings are an abomination, and you should go without rather than have them grace your plate on the big day, but I can see the appeal; making Yorkshire Puddings involves hot fat, some tricky manoeuvring and a little bit of patience, all of which is quite difficult just when everything else is coming to the boil. They are, however, quite simple in design – just three ingredients (plus oil) and a fast cooking time. I’ve got some extra tips coming on Monday on how to fit everything together so you don’t get in a flap, but for now, here’s how to cook your Yorkshire Puddings:
- Stick to the Formula - 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk & 1 egg. Every time. We use a standard sized mug & a large egg, which makes more than enough batter for 12 Yorkshire Puddings.
- Whizz it Up! If you have a hand blender or electric whisk, now is the time to use it. The more air you can get into the batter, the better your puddings will be. Mix until smooth and then keep on mixing. Alternatively, prepare to put in a lot of elbow grease.
- Use a Jug - I know it’s extra washing up, but pouring the batter into a jug will make the whole process so much easier (and a little safer, too).
- Get it Nice & Hot – This is the tricky part so it’s time to concentrate! Place a cupcake tin (or Yorkshire Pudding pan, if you have one!) onto the hob and turn them on so it’s heating through. Pour a good amount of oil into each hole, and wait until it just starts to smoke. This is when you should pour in your batter – there should be enough so each hole is about level. Turn off the heat and transfer it to the oven, which should be heated to 200C.
- Don’t Open the Door – As with sponge cakes and souffles, keeping the door closed will allow your Yorkshires to rise nicely and go a nice brown colour. This is where a little organisation comes in, because ideally you don’t want to open the door for the 10-15 minutes the Yorkshire Puddings will take to cook.
- Enjoy! Once they’re ready, just pop them out of the oven and serve. Cover in gravy, dip in sauce, or just eat them as they are!