The River Cottage Canteen, Bristol

Any trip to Bristol is a good trip to me, and on a recent jaunt to visit my friend she introduced me to the River Cottage Canteen, part of the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall empire.

Now I like a bit of Hugh, a little bit of me wants to live at River Cottage, spend my day making bread and cooking fabulous food grown on my land, but then I suddenly remember I do not like gardening and I get bored easily so me and the countryside only ever have a short romance. Hugh in the city is just what I need.

In this relaxed and open plan restaurant you are greeted by cheerful staff who make you instantly relaxed. Set out on two levels we sat within view of the almost now traditional open kitchen. The restaurant was busy but in this bright and breezy open plan converted 19th Century church it never felt crowded.

River Cottage CanteenRiver Cottage CanteenThe menu is of course seasonal and simple. Not over loaded with too many options but enough that if you came regularly you wouldn’t get bored.

The delightful menu at the River Cottage Canteen in Bristol

The delightful menu at the River Cottage Canteen in Bristol

The menu is set up as small plates and big plates. Small plates are a great size to share. We went with the Merguza sausage and fava bean houmous and the Slow Cooked cauliflower with cumin, yoghurt , almonds and flat bread. They were just the right size before tucking into our bigger plate of pork shin ragu with Orecchiette pasta. I would have prefered the ragu if the pork was smaller as the chunks were quite big and a tad on the dry side but the sauce was bursting with flavour and the wild garlic was so good. Of course after all this there was still room for desert – chocolate torte!

Merguza sausage and fava bean houmous

Merguza sausage and fava bean houmous

Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower

Bursting with flavour, Pork shin ragu

Bursting with flavour, Pork shin ragu

Chocolate torte with ice cream and caramel

Chocolate torte with ice cream and caramel

This was a lovely meal. It felt home cooked, it was warming and filling. If you find yourself in Bristol or at one of their other venues then dive on in to River Cottage Canteen for their relaxed and friendly menu.

Enjoy! xx

(ps. since writing this I have been back again- different menu but just as lovely!)

The Sloane Brothers Frozen Yoghurt

It’s the hottest day of the year, and it only seems to be getting hotter, what is going on! I am typically British wishing for the sun, then complaining as soon as it gets over 20 degrees. So of course it made perfect sense to take up an offer of checking out a new frozen yoghurt place that has just opened on Brick Lane, the Sloane Brothers Frozen Yoghurt.

There I was wandering over to Brick Lane trying my best not to look like I have just walked through a desert, when I came upon the bright airy shop, instant relief. The shop was empty, but it was only just 6pm so the after work crowd hadn’t started pouring in yet, but the staff instantly greeted me with a smile.

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Now I do not like yoghurt, never have, but I am open to the concept of frozen yoghurt. The plain one has that tang of yoghurt, but flavoured ones are good. There is one near my office who have been going crazy with samples now the sun is out, and it would be rude not to try! The question was could the Sloane Brothers completely convince me of their product, could they win me over?

One thing I wasn’t sure about when looking at the website and menu before arriving was that they only offer 3 flavours, Vanilla, Chocolate and Dulce de Leche. They do have a dairy free option as well made with coconut milk which I thought was interesting. Many frozen yoghurt places offer many more flavours so I wondered what did these guys had to offer up to make themselves different when they only had three flavours. That question was answered rather quickly on meeting the owner Joseph, Biscuits!!!!

Yes that is right biscuits, the best of British, bourbons, custard creams and jammi dodgers to name a few. Joseph explained that the idea behind the frozen yoghurt shop was best of British, something that instantly made me warm to him. As written on the wall of the shop, legend has it that Frozen Yoghurt was invented right here in London, in the east end no less, and not the USA which many presume. It was created by accident by the Sloane Brothers. With frozen yoghurt being British he wanted to make sure it was British, so the yoghurt is British made, all the fruit is sourced from local providers, the biscuits all British, and the cakes are locally made.

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So you may only have 3 base flavours ( they do occasionally do guest flavours) but you get a whole host of toppings, from sauces, to fresh fruit to the best of British biscuits and baking. I was overwhelmed with the choice. All three flavours, and the dairy free were refreshing. The chocolate one tasted of chocolate and was rich and creamy and the dulce de leche was sweet and creamy, and quickly shot to the favourite spot. Flavour picked I stared at the topping cabinets… so many choices. After much debate I went with bourbon biscuits and crumbled red velvet cake. This definitely was no longer fat-free but it was delicious!!

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YUM!

I would highly recommend the Sloane Brothers if you are in the mood for some frozen goodness in the Brick Lane area. It’s a friendly place that offers lovely frozen yoghurt at a reasonable price. These guys have been open for less than 2 weeks and in that first week ran out of frozen yoghurt more than once due to the high demand. With the biscuit selection it is offering something a little bit different from your normal fruit or sprinkles. Joseph wants to create a firm British brand that provides great quality British products. This is a friendly establishment offer a great product so head on over and give them a go, I certainly will be going back whenever I am in the area!

Tomato and Za’atar Couscous

I love a simple recipe, something that can be whipped up quickly but tastes delicious like you spent hours making it. I especially love a simple but delicious dish on a sunday evening when you are faced with the prospect of returning to work in the morning, the fun of the weekend is almost over and the sun is starting to dip. For me couscous is a saving grace of many a lunch or dinner. It takes only a couple of minutes to prepare (boiling water and some seasoning) and you can add almost anything to it.

On this particularly sunny Sunday I decided to raid the somewhat bare cupboard and see what I could make from the sparse looking contents. As is always staple in my cupboards I found chickpeas, but of course chickpeas!! they bulk out many a meal so why not add them to my couscous. Throwing in a mix of herbs and a good helping of Za’atar I had myself  a fresh couscous salad that was going to make a lush dinner and of course enough for lunch in the week ( a good lunch is salvation to being locked in an office when the sun is out).

This is a super quick salad, and can be adapted to include a range of other things depending on what you have in the fridge and cupboard. You can serve it warm or cold if making it in advance or taking it for lunch the next day.

Tomato and Za'atar Couscous Salad

Ingredients

100g couscous ( dried)

Boiling Water

1 chicken or vegetable stock cube

1 tin of chickpeas (400g)

2-3 sundried tomatoes

handful of mini plum or cherry tomatoes ( if using big ones 1/2 should be fine)

2 teaspoons of Za’atar

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 lemon ( juice)

olive oil to drizzle

1. Put the couscous in a large bowl, sprinkle the stock cube over the couscous and cover with boiling water ( twice as much water as couscous). Mix with a fork and then cover for 5 minutes ( or as the packet instructions).

2. In a smaller bowl put the drained chickpeas and then sprinkle over the za’atar and herbs, lemon juice and drizzle with the olive oil. Give it a good mix. Put to one side.

3. Chop the sundried tomatoes and fresh tomatoes into small pieces and mix into the chickpeas. Taste at this point and add more za’atar if necessary.

4. Once the couscous is cooked, give it a stir with a fork to break it up ( it should be nice and fluffy), then mix in the chickpeas. Taste and season if necessary.

There you have it a fresh and delicious salad that took no time at all.

Tomato and Za'atar Couscous salad

Serve it with some fried halloumi and roasted vegetables. It will also go well with a green salad. A fabulous summer salad full of flavour that takes as long to cook as a microwave meal!

Enjoy xx

The Secret Garden

Now I think it’s fair to say from previous posts I am a fan of the lovely chef Jimmy Garcia and his wonderful food. His new summer pop up launched a couple of weeks ago and I was lucky enough to snag a table on opening night (hectic days has caused a delay to this being posted!). Called the Secret Garden, it leads your imagination to think of all things summer, and even though it was raining the night we went, I do believe the restaurant exudes summer!

The Secret Garden

Buzzing the bell to get in you make your way up stairs through the vines, candles are lit and you are on an outside terrace. As you make your way inside and are greeted by the front of house you are not quite sure what to expect as the diners are behind a set of double doors. Walking in you are greeted by quite a dark room, lit with candles, the floor covered in grass ( the fake kind, don’t worry ladies no mud to be had in this garden), vines and flowers hanging from the ceiling and there in the middle in all its grandeur a beautiful wooden tree. Its like the kind of garden everyone wants, low maintenance, no bugs or mud and it has a bar in it!

The centre of attention, the grand tree of the Secret Garden

The centre of attention, the grand tree of the Secret Garden

Sitting at a table by the bar, long grass created a bit of a divider from the bar area which was a nice touch, we had a view of the whole place. It was busy, and tables continued to empty and fill throughout the evening even though we didn’t sit until 9pm proving the popularity of this pop up chef.

Now the menu has changed a bit since we first went, the indoor BBQs have unfortunately gone and the menu is now a standard Starter, Main and Dessert using the dishes that made up the small plates element of the original menu. Do not let this put you off because we had the small plates (which are now bigger plates) and they were great. The menu like with Jimmy’s other pop ups are seasonal, using as much local produce from small producers as possible and of course his dad’s Spanish chorizo. The meat on the menu is varied using a range of game and fish such as pigeon, rabbit, Guinea fowl and sea bass, which adds a varied depth to the menu and when paired with ‘garden’ inspired foods you have delicious plates.

‘Run Rabbit’ Wild Rabbit Loin, Pickled Baby Veg, Rabbit Veloute, Rabbit Pop Corn

‘Run Rabbit’ Wild Rabbit Loin, Pickled Baby Veg, Rabbit Veloute, Rabbit Pop Corn

'Porky Beans' Belly, Smoked Eel Beignet, Fava and Bacon Beans, Carrot Puree

‘Porky Beans’ Belly, Smoked Eel Beignet, Fava and Bacon Beans, Carrot Puree

Papa G’s Chorizo, Guineafowl ballotine, Chorizo and Parmesan risotto, skin shard, cherry tomatoes and Spinach

Papa G’s Chorizo, Guineafowl ballotine, Chorizo and Parmesan risotto, skin shard, cherry tomatoes and Spinach

Seared Sea Bass, Deep Fried Oyster, Radish, Squid Ink Aioli, Chardonnay Foam

Seared Sea Bass, Deep Fried Oyster, Radish,
Squid Ink Aioli, Chardonnay Foam

As always presentation is faultless. The plates are delicate and beautiful even though some are carrying these hearty and robust meats on them. My favourites were the ‘Run Rabbit’ rabbit ballotine and the Chorizo and Guinea fowl, both hearty, delicate and busting with flavour.

If you have room for dessert then go for it. The Edible Garden is lovely and chocolate heaven while the Ice Cream Factory allows you to fill your face with sugary goodness and throw caution to the wind for any future dental visits!

This is definitely a must try so if you can get yourself a reservation do, as this is great food in a cleverly put together theme.

 

Memories of Nepal

The beautiful land of Nepal has been in the press an incredible amount since Saturday due to the horrific earthquake that struck. This has been the worse quake in over 80 years and has caused awful damage throughout the country and an incredibly loss of life. The current death toll is over 5,500 people but this will only continue to go up as they clear the rubble and slowly get to the communities outside the capital. I know for friends and myself who have traveled there and have worked with the Nepalese for years it has been shocking to see the images flash across the tv and media. Luckily everyone we know out there is ok but with infrastructure damaged its going to be a long road to recovery for the country.

I visited Nepal for the first time in 2008 as part of a trip that went through North India and into Nepal. When I crossed that border it was an odd experience, leaving the chaos and mayhem of India behind and entering the tranquil world of peaceful Nepal. The first stop was Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha so of course there was an air of peace around the place. We then headed to Chitwan, onto Pokhara and explored the Annapurna region and then onto crazy Kathmandu. I have such great memories of the country, so great that I am supposed to be going back in October to trek up to Everest Base Camp. With the devastation going on at the moment I have found it hard not to think about my time there, the country I have worked with for so long and a place I desperately want to return to as its such a welcoming country with wonderful people.

With all this in mind I thought I would share some of my favourite images and memories to remind people of the country it was and how the people need help to get back on their feet and recover. It will be hard, it’s a poor country who cannot simply snap their fingers and quickly rebuild everything. The world community will have to help!!

Leaving the chaos if India behind for the peaceful boarders of Nepal

Leaving the chaos of India behind for the peaceful boarders of Nepal

Lumbini - the birth place of Buddha - this is one of the most tranquil spots I have ever been. Prayer flags coat the trees and on a sunny day it is all just rather lovely to sit under a tree and listen to them gentle rustle in the wind!

Lumbini – the birth place of Buddha – this is one of the most tranquil spots I have ever been. Prayer flags coat the trees and on a sunny day it is all just rather lovely to sit under a tree and listen to them gentle rustle in the wind!

What a way to commute to work!

What a way to commute to work!

The humble tuk tuk!

The humble tuk tuk!

A family who live within Chitwan National Park, we visited their village and their farm while we were on safari there. They were so welcoming.

A family who live within Chitwan National Park, we visited their village and their farm while we were on safari there. They were so welcoming. It is not only the people initially effected by the earthquake that will suffer. Those that escaped the damage will have the knock on effect of tourism stopping, supplies not getting where they should.  They may not have lost their home or a loved one but they may be loosing their lively hood as so many people in Nepal rely on tourism to put food on the table.

The beautiful Pokhara Lake

The beautiful Pokhara Lake

Pashupatinath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, it is where Hindu's come to say good by to their dead. On the banks of the river funeral pires are lit and the bodies washed away with the river.

Pashupatinath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, it is where Hindu’s come to say good-bye to their dead. On the banks of the river funeral pyres are lit and the bodies washed away with the river.

boudhanath stupa - the eyes on this stupa are synonymous with Kathmandu, they seem to watch you from wherever you are standing, it is a wonderful structure

Boudhanath stupa – the eyes on this stupa are synonymous with Kathmandu, they seem to watch you from wherever you are standing, it is a wonderful structure

I like this image as it shows old Kathmandu against new Kathmandu. The stunning architecture of Kathmandu's past against a modern building in the background. This is like much of the city, and is part of the problem they have now as so many buildings are old and they just were not able to withstand the earthquake.

I like this image as it shows old Kathmandu against new Kathmandu. The stunning architecture of Kathmandu’s past against a modern building in the background. This is like much of the city, and is part of the problem they have now as so many buildings are old and they just were not able to withstand the earthquake.

The narrow chaotic streets of Kathmandu, shops pouring out onto the streets, people selling things from everywhere. It can feel a little chlostraphobic but you get used to it - this is a way of life that has not changed, the warren of streets that spread through the city.

The narrow chaotic streets of Kathmandu, shops pouring out onto the streets, people selling things from everywhere. It can feel a little claustrophobic but you get used to it – this is a way of life that has not changed, the warren of streets that spread through the city.

 

It is such a beautiful and charming country, if you are able to help then please do through the many charities and organisations raising money!

 

Chorizo Sausage Rolls

The sun is out, spring is here which can only mean one thing, summer is on its way and picnic season is upon us!

I love a picnic, it’s all about grazing, sitting in the sun and grazing as you watch the world go by. Hell, I like any meal that’s about grazing maybe that’s why I end up in the local Lebanese a little too often. I was inspired to make these fabulous chorizo sausage rolls after an afternoon tea at the Ham Yard Hotel, I had never had them before but combined some of my favorite things, sausage, chorizo and pastry! I immediately went home and started looking at recipes.

Depending on what equipment you have, you can blitz the chorizo up with the sausage meat or dice, depends whether you want a full on red roll or just chunks. Adding the chorizo just adds another layer to home made sausage rolls. If you get a good quality chorizo you will have those wonderful spices, the deep red running through the meat and of course that sweet paprika smell.

This is a fairly easy recipe and the best thing is you can freeze them so you have a supply ready at all times. See no excuse not to be whipping up a batch!
Ingredients

Filling

25g butter plus extra for greasing

dash of olive oil

150g peeled shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp granulated sugar

450g pork sausage meat

2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley

100g cured chorizo cut into small cubes

1 tbsp fresh soft breadcrumbs

black pepper

Pastry

375g sheet of ready rolled puff pastry

plain flour for dusting

1 large beaten egg to seal and glaze

 

1. For the filling heat the butter and oil in a frying pan and add the shallots. Gently fry for about 5 minutes until they have softened. Sprinkle in the sugar and continue to cook over a low heat for another 10-15 minutes until they have caramalised. Remove from the heat and allow them to cool.  At this point pre heat the oven to 200 degrees/180 degrees fan. Lightly grease a baking sheet and line with baking paper.

cook the onions until they are sweet and caramalised

cook the onions until they are sweet and caramalised

2. Put the sausage meat in a large mixing bowl and add the parsley, chorizo and breadcrumbs and season with black pepper. Then mix it all together really well so the chorizo is well dispersed.

Your three main ingredients, sausage meat, chorizo and lots of parsley

Your three main ingredients, sausage meat, chorizo and lots of parsley

Mix everything together

Mix everything together

Until it is well combined

Until it is well combined

3. Lay out the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and cut in half lengthways. Divide the shallot mix in half and spoon one portion onto each piece of the pastry in a 5cm wide strip lengthways down the centre. Divide the sausage meat mixture in half and shape each into a sausage shape as long as the length of pastry. The lay it on top of the shallots. Brush the long edges of each pastry piece with beaten egg then take one long edge and roll around the meat and shallots to encase. Pinch the pastry together to join and cut away any excess. Turn each roll over so that the join is underneath.

spread the caramalised onions onto the pastry

spread the caramalised onions onto the pastry

then top with the sausage meat

then top with the sausage meat

and roll that bad boy, roll!

and roll that bad boy, roll!

4. Brush each roll with beaten egg and cut the long sausage into pieces. I got about 8 small sausage rolls out of each roll but you can make them as big or as small as you like. ( If you are going to freeze them then do not do the egg wash just cut them up and wrap them up and pop in the freezer, only egg wash when you are read to cook them)

Cut to your desired size

Cut to your desired size

5. Place the sausage rolls onto the pre prepared baking sheet and bake in an oven for 25-30 minutes. Make sure you give them space on the baking sheet as the pastry will puff up and you don’t want them sticking together.  Once cooked all the way through and golden brown remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.

Golden brown gorgeous sausage rolls!

Golden brown gorgeous sausage rolls!

Yum!!

Yum!!

Serve these delicious sausage rolls as a snack or with a salad or accompaniment to a fabulous picnic.

Enjoy xx

Berlin: New Food Discoveries

Having the luck of being to Berlin many a time now I have started to branch out and explore the food scene of this great city much more. As much as I love Bratwurst mit Brot as a lunch time stop there has to be more to Berlin than sausage. This trip I ended up having the least German food of any of my trips to this fabulous city but it just shows the diversity that Berlin has, that like London you can find any cuisine, fun restaurants and great people watching.

First stop on the trip The Bird. Now this restaurant come recommended by my sisters friend. I am always one to check out a new burger place especially as Berlin does them so well.  We headed out to the Kreuzberg branch ( they have two one in Kreuzberg and one in Prenzlauer Berg ). As it was a Friday night the place was packed and from recommendation we booked a table and glad we did because walking in and getting a table would have meant a long wait or no table at all. Turning up 10 minutes early we waited at the bar and all the staff here spoke English and seemed to prefer to communicate in English rather than my terrible German. So beers in and our table was ready. The list of burgers is vast, and there is really something for everyone. They also offer a range of steaks that come all the way from the US of A!

One of the longest burger lists I have ever seen

One of the longest burger lists I have ever seen

Having wandered through the restaurant to get to the table I saw the burgers and they looked good, so was excited to get one ordered. However, this is where the issues started. We ended up having one of the weirdest experiences of bad customer service I have ever had in a restaurant. We were ignored, then inundated with apologies, food didn’t turn up, and then we were asked to vacate our table before our allotted 2 hours was up ( you are told on booking you have the reservation for 2 hours!). I would like to say it was because it was busy, but this is the kind of restaurant that is always this busy so therefore should know what they are doing. Thank goodness the food was good because otherwise we maybe wouldn’t have seen the funny side of how terrible the service was.  The burger, 250g of premium German beef, was great, the meat juicy and full of flavour . Cooked to order and served in what looked like an English muffin it was piled high with toppings.This was an outrageously big meal but good as a rare occasion. The fries were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, but were huge in number. The size of the meal was like you were in the States. The second beer may have been a mistake, not enough room in the old stomach.

The monsterous burger and fries at the Bird

The monstrous burger and fries at the Bird

Cheesecake, not the best, not the worst

Cheesecake, not the best, not the worst

However, as good as food is I would be dubious to return as I cannot bear paying my hard earned money on bad service!  This was a good burger, but there are burgers just as good in Berlin, such as the one at White Trash, so with bad service marking it down I am not sure about returning any time soon. Maybe I will try the other location before closing my door to The Bird altogether, we will see.

The second discovery was a much more peaceful affair. We discovered a little bit of Californian Mexican at Delores. This burrito restaurant with its neon sign, brightly decorated inside and music beckons you in from the cold winters eve. It’s counter service and it’s small inside but do not be put off by this because it’s fairly quick turn around, so loiter for a few minutes I am sure someone will have left. So with a table secured it was time to decide, burrito, quessadila, taco or bowl! Loving the simplicity and pleasure of a burrito I had to go all carb, choosing from a selection of meat fillings you place your order ( nachos on the side with a range of dips of course obligatory) at the counter and you are given your number so when its ready you just come back. This is great as it means the staff have time to prepare the food properly rather than the conveyor belt style you get in the UK and can sip your beer at a table. The staff were all rather chirpy which was a nice change to the evening before staff.

Dolores

The bright and welcoming decore of Dolores

The bright and welcoming decore of Dolores

The burritos turned up and they were fine, mighty fine. Big and bulging with their range of fillings. The nachos fresh and crispy and the guacamole was big and chunky, none of this smooth stuff you get from supermarkets, this bad boy was made by hand. Everything in the burrito tasted fresh and had flavour and the difference between the chain burrito places that are popping up all over the place.

Nachos!

Nachos!

The monster burrito

The monster burrito

Now I know burritos are not everyone’s cup of tea and certainly not the meal you think of when you go to Berlin, but as someone who goes at least once a year it’s all about discovering these hidden gems and avoiding the tourist traps.  It’s the perfect stopping point after a busy day sightseeing and being on your feet all day. It’s also the perfect location ( just behind Alexanderplatz) for a lunch stop. This place had a constant stream of people coming and going the whole time we were there. Gosh if you lived near by it could be dangerous.

The final find, was a meat haven. I love meat, and am always on the hunt for a new spin on meat. I have now found a new favourite, a new meat paradise and it is called Chicago Williams! It’s hard not to fall in love with this place straight away, as you walk in from the street you are beckoned to the bar area and offered a small cup of soup – perfect when its freezing outside, and the spicy corn chowder hit the spot. The guys working there were so friendly and explained how it all worked, the different things on the menu, instantly feeling like you have been coming here for years. The menu is easy, its meat, it’s all on one big black board and you order up at the bar.

Nothing beats a cup of welcome soup

Nothing beats a cup of welcome soup

Nice Wall Art

Nice Wall Art

Inside my new meat haven

Inside my new meat haven

What’s also great about CW is that it pairs great American BBQ with a great array of German beers, one of which they brew themselves. These are guys passionate about meat and beer – amazing!! And whats more they are happy to talk you through the beer selection so you find the right one.

Back to the meat, this is all about the meat now, its easy, your order your BBQ meat, be it ribs, pulled pork, sausage, brisket or chicken, then you order your sides. The mash was so creamy, and the beans full of flavour, I would recommend them both. There are the options of sandwiches or full on meat platters so you get a bit of everything to try. I went crazy and ordered the lady like ribs and I am glad I did. The BBQ glaze was brilliant, sticky, sweet and full of tang. The meat was tender and just fell off the bone, this was not a meal you had to work at. With everything turning up on a big plastic tray you could have through yourself at a BBQ joint in the deep south. I couldn’t fault this meal. It was everything it said on the tin, relaxed American BBQ with great German beers. This is somewhere I will keep going back to, because it was great good, great service and so relaxed!

No mess plastic tray ribs - dig in!!

No mess plastic tray ribs – dig in!!

Cheesecake with a frozen shot!

Cheesecake with a frozen shot!

This was a trip of many new discoveries and a couple that will be regular haunts. Berlin has so many great restaurants to try so do not get bogged down thinking you have to eat sausage and schnitzel every night. Do as the Berliners do and dive on into their great restaurant scene.

Easy Peasy Victoria Sponge

The first cake I always remember being in our house as children is the good old victoria sponge cake. Its moist vanilla sponge, the jam and the buttercream filling – yum! Its one of the first things I learnt to bake and its one of my favourite still to make and of course eat! I

This recipe is one my mum uses and she taught me to use and is incredibly adaptable should you want to make it a marble cake or chocolate sponge, or make little fairy cakes instead. This is the easy peasy all in one sponge mix – its quick, its easy and you can adapt it to your needs. It’s perfect as a weekend baking treat, or if friends are popping by.

Ingredients

For the Sponge

225g Self Raising Flour

225g butter

225g caster sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp baking powder

For the Frosting

Icing sugar

80g butter

25ml milk

1 tsp of vanilla extract

 

1. Line and grease a two sandwich tins (20cm) and pre heat the oven to 180 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl add all your ingredients, the flour, sugar, butter, eggs and baking powder and mix them with an electric mixer or spoon until just combined. Be careful not to over beat the mix as you will knock all the air out and you won’t get a good rise.

so easy, all the ingredients in one bowl together

so easy, all the ingredients in one bowl together

3. Spoon the mixture evenly into the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and the sponge springs back when you press on it lightly.

4. Once cooked take out of the oven and allow to cool completely. While the cake is cooling you can make the frosting. Mix the icing sugar and butter together in a large bowl and once it comes together add in the milk and vanilla and turn the hand mixer up to full and mix until the frosting becomes light and fluffy ( you can leave it in the fridge until its needed).

Victoria Sponge5. Once the cake has completely cooled you can assemble it. Take one of the sponges and spoon the jam on – as much or as little as desired. Make sure the whole base is covered. Then spoon on the butter cream frosting and smooth over the whole base again. Then carefully place the second sponge on top. To finish dust with a little icing sugar.

Cover with jam - strawberry works well or maybe try blackcurrent!

Cover with jam – strawberry works well or maybe try blackcurrant!

Then top with light and fluffy buttercream

Then top with light and fluffy buttercream

Delightful Victoria Sponge

Delightful Victoria Sponge

There you have it, a quick and easy pleasing victoria sponge cake. Its light and fluffy and one everyone will love!

Enjoy! xx

Fusterland: A photo essay

Any visit to Havana is not complete without a visit to Fusterland, the home and studio of Jose Fuster. Having moved to the small town of Jaimanitas 30 years ago to set up his studio in this Havana suburb he has slowly created a living art gallery that no longer can be contained inside his own home but has spilled out onto the street.

This small fishing town on the outskirts of Havana has embraced the imagination of Fuster and over 80 of his neighbours have allowed him to decorate their homes with his paintings, mosaics and sculptures. As you walk around the streets they are filled with colour. Its stunning. Each painted tile or mosaic is different, everything coming out of one mans imagination.

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster's House

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster’s House

Cowboy

Cowboy

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Fusterland

Mojito anyone?

Fusterland Fusterland

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster's house.

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster’s house.

Fusterland

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Fusterland

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

Fusterland Fusterland Fusterland

This is one of the most stunning art galleries I have had the privilege of visiting. It’s so inclusive, everyone is welcome and that is what Fuster wants, art for all and not just those who can visit galleries or collect art.

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba!

The streets are alive with music! It’s everywhere, from the bands playing in cafes, the busker with his saxophone on a stoop to the radio playing in someone’s car. You cannot escape the musical beat that pumps its way around Cuba. This is an island full of life, soul and music, and you just do not want to leave.

Music everywhere!

Music everywhere!

Walking around Old Havana is like walking around a time capsule, the architecture, and the cobbled streets and of course the 50’s cars. It’s a city that exudes life. With the streets being narrow you find very few cars in and around the old squares which adds a tranquility to your wandering. One thing I found surprising about Havana and Cuba in general is their attitude to tourists, they are friendly and will ask you to look in their shop as you pass but there is no hassle, life just goes on in Havana. You would never think you are in one of the most visited destinations in the world. The streets are filled with people going about their business; in fact we are probably an inconvenience to them with tour groups filing through on walking tours. It’s by far one of the most relax capital cities I have ever visited.

The Capitol Building in Havana

The Capitol Building in Havana

With such architectural variety, from the colonial to the art deco you could wander around for days taking everything in. The amazing thing I found about Havana is, if a city was protected by UNESCO it could almost feel a bit Disney – everything a little too bright and shiny – but it doesn’t. The buildings are crumbling around you, a huge amount of restoration is going on, but people are still living in these buildings and life goes on. This is one of the contradictory things about Cuba and one of things that left me asking more questions. The Old City is protected and there is a huge amount of preservation going on but you have so many people living in these cramped buildings. Yes they are building new housing outside the historic centre but then you are in the suburbs and have to travel in (on highly unreliable public transport). Having all this amazing architecture protected is a privilege and it’s a reason tourist’s love Havana but with houses in need of dire repair how good is it for the actual Cuban people when they are being relocated out of their homes.

The colourful streets of Havana

The colourful streets of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

IMG_6034Havana is a city with so much to see and take in that it can be hard to leave, but leave you must as there is still so much of this country to see. Setting out we headed to Las Terrazas, a community and nature reserve named a biosphere reserve in 1985 by UNESCO. It’s a beautiful place. This community tries to be as self-sustaining as possible and was a dream of Castro’s soon after the revolution when he ordered a reforestation programme due to the heavy deforestation that had been taking place over the centuries. It’s like a small paradise in a bubble, the standard of living here is higher than in much of Cuba but you cannot simply move to Las Terrazas, there is a waiting list as they do not want to over populate the area. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by a community working together and by using what they have around them to attract visitors it creates an income for the community. I would certainly not hesitate going back and staying within the community for a short time in their hotel, the Hotel Mako. Leaving the lush green forests we headed further west to the Vinales valley and its stunning karst landscape which is encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome like limestone outcrops (mogotes). The moment you descend into the valley and you get your first view of the mogotes you want to whip out your camera and start taking photos, but resist you must because there will be plenty of opportunity for photos in this photogenic landscape. With much of the land being fertile this is a key tobacco growing region, but also home to more than one organic farm that is striving to promote vegetables and growing your own, something Cubans need to take on board because eating their greens is something they are not doing. If more people grew their own food then they wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on rationing as they would be able to supplement their food much more easily, but with a diet focused on rice, beans and meat getting them to eat their greens may be a long term project for the government. In fact the food at one of these organic farms was the best food I had the entire time we had in Cuba, farm to table in a matter of hours!

Vinales doesn't have a bad angle

Vinales doesn’t have a bad angle

The stunning Vinales

The stunning Vinales

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A beautiful organic farm

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

Vinales is one of those places I could have quite happily meandered around for a few days but alas our time there was short and having done a cave tour and tobacco farm visit we had to leave after 2 nights. With the quaint little town full of paladars to try this is definitely somewhere to take your time, rent a bike, go for a walk, explore the valley do not rush it. With the forests and valleys done we headed towards the coast and the colonial town of Cienfuegos, the only town in Cuba to have been settled by French colonists. The long roads, colonnaded walk ways and squares this is a chilled out town. The brightly coloured buildings entice you to explore.

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

From Cienfuegos it’s the perfect opportunity to head into the mountains and to Topes de Collantes National Park. Here you are overwhelmed by the views you get climbing high into the mountains to the dense forest that cover these mountains. There is an abundance of flora and fauna and the birds, oh the birds, if you like birds this is the place to come and look. As someone who isn’t too bothered by twitching, having hummingbirds flutter around you is just breath taking, stunning miniature creatures.

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Disappointingly we had to leave being this landscape and head down to the coast and the beautiful town of Trinidad. This sleepy colonial down a short drive from white sand beaches is an ideal place to settle down for a couple of days. Take in the colourful cobbled streets, enjoy the delicious food of the paladars and take your book down to calm crystal waters of the Caribbean. Trinidad is an ideal place to relax and take in everything you have experienced in Cuba so far.

The colonial square of Trinidad

The colonial square of Trinidad

Cuba

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

IMG_6289Before heading back to the happening city of Havana we headed to Santa Clara, the home of Che. His memorial and mausoleum is the main point for passing through. It dominates. It certainly made me wonder what they have planned for when Fidel dies. It certainly makes you think about the part he played in the revolution, his drive and passions for the communist and socialist movements. He is much more than just a face on a t-shirt that has become a bit of a fashion statement. This is a man who is an idol, a founder of modern Cuba, the respect for this man can be felt as you enter his mausoleum and walk around his memorial. It’s certainly thought provoking. Cuba

The monumental Che

The monumental Che

Arriving back into Havana I scrambled to fit in the last bits of sightseeing but just didn’t have enough time. There are still lots of galleries to explore, streets to wander and bars to try out. Cuba is a country that just keeps on giving, the friendliness of its people, its culture, and the way it makes you think about your perceived thoughts about its politics. There are so many reasons to return to Cuba. I have so many unanswered questions, and things will only keep changing and evolving there, especially if the continuing talks with the USA hold. Hopefully things will not change too quickly for the sake of the people and the islands innocence. Cuba