Monday, 25 March 2013

Competition time! Cake and Bake Show Manchester Tickets!

There are many smells I enjoy and most of them involve food - garlic and onions softening, broad beans flowers on a hot morning, my fingertips green and fragrant from torn basil; but nothing beats that warm, homely, sweet smell of a baking cake.

I've been experimenting with cake flavours lately - I'm not a lover of sweet cakes; those oozingly, cheek-achingly, filing-creating clouds of fluffiness smothered in buttercream, dripping white chocolate and iced within an inch of their life - in order to not just keep knocking out lemon drizzle cakes and boring the socks off my friends.

This cake is light and perfumed, the flavours barely there, just the odd floral note tripping across the tongue. I'm pretty proud of it and those nice people at the Cake and Bake show are proud of me inventing new cake recipes so have given me TWO TICKETS to Manchester's Cake and Bake Show (which runs April 5-7 - more info HERE) to give to you happy readers.

So read my recipe and then, to be in a chance with winning, comment on the blog or send me a tweet @northwestnosh with the title of your favourite/most unusual cake recipe (no need to post the whole recipe) - the most creative/yummy sounding wins. IT'S THAT EASY! Comp closes Fri 29th March - good luck!

Gluten free Rosewater and Orange cake

Rosewater and orange cake (nb this is an orange and not a rose icing, hence the colour!)


3 large free range eggs, at room temperature - separated
160g unrefined caster sugar
80ml light olive oil (not heavy or EV as it will cover the flavour of the cake)
50ml rosewater
Zest and juice of half an orange
Pinch of Doves Farm baking powder (this is gluten free)
Pinch of salt

Once the cake is cooked

50ml rosewater

For the buttercream

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g icing sugar
1-2 tblsp rosewater

For the icing

125g icing sugar
1 tblsp rosewater
Red food colouring

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, the mix will go pale and creamy. It may seem long-winded 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 rosewater. 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 like 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 will get 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 a skewer can be inserted and comes out clean.

8. Take the cake out and let it rest in the tin for five minutes, then take the cake out of the tin but leave it in it's paper and leave to cool on a rack.

9. Whilst the cake is cooling, make the buttercream by putting the butter in a bowl and whisking till light. Add in the icing sugar and beat again. The add the rosewater and, you got it, beat again. Give the butterceam a taste and add more sugar/rosewater 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).

10. Once the cake is pretty cool, slice in half and drizzle each cut side with the rosewater and then sandwich the cake together with the buttercream and set aside whilst you make the icing.

11. To make the icing put the icing sugar in a bowl and add the rosewater a little at a time until the mix coats the back of a spoon, add a tiny drop of red colouring to make a light pink colour. Really it's that's easy. Leave to thicken for a few minutes and then pour over the cake and garnish with a rose petal if you have one.

12. Serve with a cup of fragrant earl grey or chai tea and eat in a summery garden, or (in reality) the warmth of the kitchen!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Street Food Chef - Sheffield

If you're an avid reader of this blog, or if you follow my Twitter feed, you'll know one thing (well, apart from that I'm a greedy guts), that I bloody love burritos.

Manchester has five places where I can satisfy my infatuation; Pancho's, traditionally excellent; Margo and Rita's, from a van and pretty ace; Luck, Lust, Liqour and Burn, tiny well-thought mouthfuls; Barburrito, fast food but at least it's fresh and (last AND least) Taco Bell, shit and full of horse meat.

However, I've been hearing for some time that there was a contender to Pancho's title of best burrito in the North and it's not over here in the West - in a first for the blog, I bravely ventured over them there Penines, into the badlands of The East; all because I love you readers so much I'd risk my life on the frontline of food for you.

So who is this worthy contender and in which wilds can you find them? Named Street Food Chef, they're found in Sheffield; it's owned by Richard and Abi, who are passionate about food and ensure they use local suppliers, fresh ingredients and make everything from scratch in front of the customer. You can certainly taste the care and quality in the food they produce.

I hunted out the Arundel Street Canteen (they also have a burrito bar on Pinstone Street and a stall for markets too), the largest of their premises and slap bang next to Sheffield Hallam University in the centre of town. All I can say is those lucky, lucky students having this place right on their doorstep.

At Street Food Chef you order from the main counter, all the food choices are hanging above it - burritos, tacos, enchiladas, empanadas, nachos as standard. Then each dish has a choice of filling (brisket, slow cooked pork, chicken, veg or chicken mole) and on top of that there's sides and then choices of their homemade salsas with varying heat levels. For an indecisive greedy guts like me, it was hard work choosing when so many variants were on offer and all smelled so damn good - but the staff were patient and didn't mind me changing my mind a lot and my unending stream of personal dialogue - they didn't even send for a shrink/my parents.

I have a confession to make - I liked Street Food Chef and their wonderful fillings so much, I ate here on two consecutive days. The second day I even got there early for a breakfast burrito before I had to head back to civilisation, ahem, Manchester. Oh and I also shared all my food with my companion (or read, shared all my companion's food), so I could fully experience everything Street Food Chef had to offer. Don't judge me. This was research. For you.

Out of everything, I'd opt for the chicken mole burrito any day - don't let anyone ever talk you out of the mole; even if when you ask the staff, they say it has chocolate in it and you think this is weird. It's not weird; it's the most beautiful, smokey, intense, deeply flavoured and tender mouthfuls of wonderment that you will ever eat. And I'm not even exaggerating or nothing. The brisket and the slow cooked pork are pretty bob on too.

I'm in a quandary now - I love Pancho's, I undertake pilgrimages there whenever I can, I love the pork in adobo more than pancakes or life itself, but, and it's a big but - is Street Food Chef better? Having eaten extensively at both, having researched to the nth degree (research, not greed, remember...) I can only say... it's too close to call. Both are exceptional and I can say that I can unequivocally not choose between the two. Please don't make me.

Ps I know you all want to know - I pussied out and couldn't face the Hot Hot Hot salsa, I enjoyed tasting my food and the medium salsa picante instead.

Pps Drink some of the lime green Mexican soft drink they sell there - it's so tasty, probably not very good for you on account of the colour, but it's amazing!

Ppps I think they're missing a trick not calling it Street Food Shef... (hur hur, I'm so funny)

Price for a burrito is about £6 - I got over-excited and forgot to make a note of prices when I was there. On both times. It's a giddy-making type of food.

Food - 9/10
Service - 8/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Value for money - 9/10

Total - 33/40

Go again - Yes! Just need an excuse to head over the Penines again now....

The Street Food Chef, 90 Arundel Street, Sheffield S1 4RE - Facebook - Twitter

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Brownie Post

Chocolate - much loved, much craved and some would argue, much needed. Synonymous with giggly girls getting together and often heavily marketed towards the fairer sex; it can be both a cheap, sweet pick-me-up and and expensive, single-estate luxury that has critics melting it on the tongue and rolling it round their mouths.

Whatever the reason and whenever the occasion, chocolate is one of life's little luxuries that I just can't live without. I can eschew sweets and crisps. I can (sometimes) forget about wine and gin. I can even go without cheese for a while. But 3pm on a dull afternoon, or sitting on the couch with a movie, or if I need a little pick-me-up - a trusty bar of dark chocolate is the thing I'll always choose.

When offered a box of brownies from The Brownie Post; which are handcrafted with organic flour, local free-range eggs, quality chocolate and fair trade sugar in Didsbury by the people who run And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon Cafe - how could I say no? Especially when they offered to drop them off at work (prime chocolate eating location).

Delivered in a nifty envelope shaped box, opened at my desk (to admiring oohs/jealous sighs from colleagues), the brownies come tied up in paper and blue ribbon with a little card (with an amazing font) describing just what's in the box - a very pretty treat to brighten up any day.

Chocolaty and pretty - what more could I want? (notice amazing font under brownie)

Being of an indecisive mind, I had opted for both the plain chocolate and the white chocolate and pistachio, good decision if you ask me! I put some in my mouth, realised how heavenly they were, then did that thing where I slow-motionally turned to everyone and nearly wet myself in delight. Yes. I loved them that much.

The chocolate brownies were dark and dense, but not overly heavy or unpleasantly cocoa-powdery. A slightly bitter note ensured they weren't overpowering and they had a pleasing crispy crust to set off that soft (but not wet) inside. If the chocolate were a heady hit of cocoa, the white chocolate pistachio were a perfumed, floral delight. I had feared they would be more blondies, that they would be a super saccharine combination chock full of sugar and not much else (as you can tell, I'm not a white chocolate fan; it's a sickly sweet non-chocolate abomination created for people with tastebuds that stopped advancing age five).

LOOK! I did sharing! Note how fudgy the brownies are (and how small I cut them for people...)

Luckily the white chocolate was a mere scattering of chunks, dotted through the usual dark chocolate brownie alongside crunchy nuggets of pistachio - the whole thing was lifted up by the heady, almost soapy, exotic fragrance of cardamon - an excellent addition and a taste I am very fond of.

Being the generous soul that I aim (read, watching my figure) - I taste-tested the brownies at the office (with a crowd of drooling faces gathered round my desk, it was hard not to). Opinion was split between whether the plain were better than the white/pistachio/cardamon; but all agreed they were some of the best brownies they had ever tasted and even better that they had magically arrived in the post.

Whether it's a birthday, a cheer up, a thank you, MOTHER'S DAY (ALERT, less than seven days!!) or just as a present to yourself - Brownies by Post is a tasty, if somewhat naughty treat. They're not the cheapest in the world; but they're made by hand, from excellent quality ingredients, they last for five days and postage is included in the price - all in all each brownie works out way cheaper than the ones you can buy in a cafe.

All gone, very quickly...

Guess what? The Brownie Post whole range can also be ordered gluten free - great to see a company catering for as many people as they can.

And how do you get your hands on these amazing bites of beautifulness? Go online HERE and order yourself some. It's chocolate, it's fab, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Price for six brownies (massive choice of flavours) inc postage - £12.95

Please note, I was sent my brownies for free - but you know that I'm a grumpy curmudgeon, so you know I'd slag them off if they were anything but perfect.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Drinks Enthusiast Spirit Tasting Night - 24/7, Manchester

There are worse things to do of an evening, than spending your night with a group of new people, learning about spirits and tasting drinks. No, really, there are.

And that’s the premise of The Drinks Enthusiast’s Spirit Tasting nights – book your ticket, turn up, meet new people, taste spirits, learn lots of interesting facts and then end of with a cocktail created especially for the night.

Oh, but it’s much more than that – Dave, aka Drinks Enthusiast, is a passionate, eloquent speaker who knows more about the brands he’s teaching you about, than the brands do themselves.

First up were two gins, both from G-Vine – the first gins to be distilled in France, apparently and, interestingly, made from grapes. We sipped both the green Fluraison version (hints of apple, green cardamom and floral sweetness) and the grey Nouaison (muskier, deeper and full of nutmeg overtones). Flouraison is marketed at the lay-dees and the grey for the gents – because of course, girls have no ability to appreciate a heavier drink and have to be all floral and twee. I for one, with my upright equalist principles, found this is a little insulting (although very good marketing) and rebelled and preferred the Nouaison. So there, clever marketing peoples!

Next in the tasting list was the June grape liquer – also made by G-vine; I’m guessing that this one is only marketed at the girls. Peach colour-way on the bottle, super sweet taste like frostie sweets/artificial peach flavouring – no way I was going to like this one. But to give it it’s due (and to look cool sprouting facts that I actually learnt from Dave...) it’s a grape liquer blended from three different types of grape and is very special because grape liqueuers are very rare. Still mings though.

Lastly we tasted a Roberto Cavalli vodka from Italy – yes, as in the fashion designer Roberto Cavalli. It’s Italy’s first vodka, so they got a well-known name in to design them a swanky bottle and give it some gravitas (oh and a £60 price tag). It’s clean, it’s smooth, but that’s where it ends – like high-edn fashions, this drink is all style over substance – it would make a great mixer, but with that price tag I’ll be sticking to the Smirnoff (which is actually decent as a mixer, just don’t start drinking it neat, I’d suggest a Belvedere for that..).

We finished the night off with a cocktail created especially by Allan Hudd, Bar Manager at 24 Bar and Grill for the tasting session (actually there was a choice of two, lucky us). I opted for the Nouaison Basil Smash as the other on offer was something with the June liquer. Heady, aromatic perfumes wafted up from the smashed basil and the over-powering pepperiness was toned down by the warm muskiness from the gin; the spicy notes in both complimenting perfectly – great choice by moi (yeah taking all the credit…!).

A spirit tasting night is a great alternative to throwing unknown, cheap drinks down your neck and being pawed at by strangers who think wearing a hat indoors is ok – at £15 a ticket it’s bloody good value too; ok you might not be taken by all the drinks you taste, but when else would you be bold enough to order something you’ve never heard of before?

NB The June liquer actually tasted gorgeous in the cocktail that was created with it, so not all bad.

Ps I was given my ticket to the trail for free, but was in no way obliged to say nice things about the night – please see HERE for examples of freebies that haven’t received such a glowing review (ouch!).