Wednesday, December 22, 2010


On Friday I celebrated my graduation from Manchester University School of Education for my PGCE course. Bailey and my parents came to watch my proud moment and afterwards we went to a Japanese restaurant we had never been to before called Samsi. Bailey was the one who found out about Samsi and suggested it, knowing I would be drawn in by its claims of being "one of the UK's healthiest restaurants". We had booked the table ages ago and were really looking forward to it.

As it was (below) freezing cold at graduation, we decided to arrive at the restaurant an hour early at 5pm, so weren't surprised to find the place absolutely empty. Aída and I soon warmed up by ordering a pot of green tea which was amazing as it came in a really cute teapot and as it was made with green tea leaves tasted really nice.

To help us recover from the cold we also ordered a round of Miso Soups alongside some grilled kebabs and tempura vegetables.

I had the grilled salmon kebab which arrived with some salad and teriyaki sauce. Both of my starters were really tasty, I really enjoyed the salty miso soup which warmed me up a treat after being out in the cold and the salmon kebab was delicious, as was the chicken kebab apparently, really fresh and perfectly cooked - crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. The tempura vegetables Bailey and my parents had were really crispy.

For my main course, I decided to be daring and go for a mixed platter of sushi- nigiri, sashimi and norimaki. It stated on the menu that this is never the same as they prepare the dish depending on what is fresh that day, which appealed to me!

This was only the third or fourth time I had tried sushi so wasn't sure exactly what to expect. However I'm really glad I went for the mixed platter as it gave me the chance to try a wide range of different things, particularly some of the ones I wouldn't have ordered.

When the sushi arrived I was really excited about the beautifully presented colourful dish before me.

What made my dinner all the more exciting was that I wasn't really sure what anything was. Looking back at the sushi menu I *think* the nigiri sushi I had were prawn, mackerel, octopus, sweet egg and squid. I was a little bit frightened of the octopus and squid ones but actually the octopus one was delicious - even the texture. However the squid I was not so keen on and gave some to Aída (and she didn't like it either). That one was only for the bravest of sushi / seafood lovers! However the rest were delicious. I particularly liked the sweet egg sushi.

The salmon sashimi (sliced raw fish) was absolutely amazing and I think this was the restaurant's real test which it passed with flying colours. Amazing.

I think my favourite thing in the dish were the reverse maki rolls which had the rice on the outside as well as some tasty seeds. They were so flavoursome, I would definitely recommend these.

Also in the dish were some norimaki seaweed rolls which were also really tasty and perfect for vegetarians.

I would definitely order this platter again (but just request no squid please!) I really did enjoy every minute. Amazing!

All in all I am really happy that we chose to go to Samsi. There was a really nice atmosphere, great food, brilliant service and it felt very nice to go somewhere a bit different. Everyone else said their food was delicious and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Can't wait to go back there!

Samsi on Urbanspoon

Red Velvet Cake

Bailey's 30th birthday was the week before last and we celebrated by going away for the weekend with his friends. I am ashamed to admit that I had completely forgotten about cakes of any kind until we were in the supermarket buying the food for the weekend and Bailey sheepishly asked "So am I making my own birthday cake?"

Remembering how much Bailey had enjoyed the red velvet cupcakes we had eaten at The Little Cupcake Café in Belfast (he ate one, then immediately purchased a second one), I decided to try and recreate them in large cake form.

Trawling the Internet, I found a red velvet cake recipe that looked good. Many people actually asked me what red velvet cake actually is... in truth I still really don't know what exactly gives it its unique flavour and I don't think I could describe its flavour if I tried. The best description Bailey has come up with is "American style"... I guess you just have to taste it to know. The icing is very similar to what I topped my Winter Berry Cupcakes with, and I of course used Milky Bar in it once again - only the best will do!

Anyway, I spent my afternoon off making the cake by candlelight in a very leisurely fashion. It wasn't difficult to make at all even though I only had one suitable cake tin and therefore had to bake the two layers of the cake in two goes.

I think the cake was a success, it was polished off at the party in one sitting anyway, and Bailey was very happy with it. The only thing I would say is that this recipe did not produce a lovely bright red colour in the actual cake like the ones we had in Belfast which was a little disappointing. Still I don't think that made much of a difference to the taste.

250g butter
600g golden caster sugar
6 eggs
2 tbsp red food colouring
375g plain flour
250ml buttermilk
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Half a teaspoon salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp vinegar

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C and grease your baking tin(s). Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time. Mix in the food colouring and cocoa. Add flour alternatively with the buttermilk before adding the vanilla and salt.

Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the vinegar and stir into the mixture. Divide between your cake tins and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until lovely and fluffy.

For the cream cheese icing:
2 200g tubs of Philadelphia cheese
350g Milky Bar
250g butter

Melt the white chocolate and add to the butter and cream cheese. Whisk together before icing your cake with a palate knife. To top the cake, I used caramel curls from Morrison's.

Here is a picture that I like because Sid seems to be enjoying eating the cake, as do Blob and Steve in the background.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Icing the Amazing Christmas Cake

Some of you may remember that two months ago I took great pleasure in making Gwen Morris' Amazing Christmas Cake in preparation for this year's festive celebrations. Since that day, the cake has been tucked away in my cupboard in an airtight container maturing. However, the cake has by no means been out of sight out of mind. In fact, every time Bailey has had his friends over for a bottle of rum, the next day I have been 'feeding' the cake with generous glugs of said rum before resealing its container. Every time I pick it up, the cake seems to have doubled in weight which is of course very exciting.

Yesterday the time came to ice the cake ready for eating on Christmas day. As soon as the cake was taken out of its box, the room was filled with an amazingly delicious boozy, fruity aroma. This caused Bailey and I to become slightly obsessed with smelling the cake...

...and sniffing the piece of foil the cake was wrapped up in...

This may sound rather odd, but I tell you if only Smell-O-Vision had been invented, you would definitely understand.

Anyway, once we had gotten over the amazing pongs emanating from the cake, it was time to ice the cake. First I covered the top of the cake with a thin layer of apricot jam.

Next, time to add two layers of icing. I had never used marzipan or royal icing before and had planned to make both from scratch. However I make no apologies for the fact that in the end, what with everything that's going on at the moment I couldn't justify the time and just strolled into Asda and picked up both in ready to roll packets.

First to be rolled out was the marzipan. Actually more difficult to roll out than it looks, probably because "room temperature" (which is what you're meant to roll it out at) is pretty low at the moment in our house. This led to a debate between Bailey and me about whether or not I was about to break the dining room table. He won said debate and I relocated to the kitchen.

Getting the marzipan to the right size and shape was pretty tricky, as was putting it onto the cake without it breaking in half, however I soon realised it doesn't really matter as no one is going to see it and once it's on the cake you can pretty much sort out any little problems with your fingertips.

Once the marzipan was on the cake and tidied up, all that was needed was for the excess edges to be trimmed off ready for the royal icing to be added.

The royal icing was even more difficult to shape for some reason, after several attempts and one instance of the icing getting completely stuck to the kitchen work surface, I would recommend rolling the icing up into a ball, flattening out into a circle like a pizza base and taking it from there.

Finally, I added the royal icing to the cake and again trimmed off excess edges.

Et voila! A sweet smelling, boozy fruity cake ready for Christmas Day. I do seem recall several occasions on which I helped Nan out as a child by adding several decorations to her cakes such as ribbons, signs saying "Merry Christmas" and festive figurines. However as I don't have any grandchildren to help me my family will just have to enjoy the cake as it is.

Cheese Soufflés

Having been told time and time again how difficult soufflés are to get right, I decided to rise to the challenge of making some yummy cheese ones for our dinner.

As it was my first attempt at making them, and I have seen countless episodes of Masterchef in which people's best attempts at soufflés are ripped to shreds, I had very low expectations.

The soufflés were at the very least dead fun to make: as you may know, I do enjoy making any dish in which the instruction "whisk to soft peaks" appears in the recipe, I was given the rare opportunity to use our lovely ramekins from Clas Ohlsen and they actually turned out a lot better than I hoped.

The soufflés were fluffy, cheesy and yummy and didn't collapse which was great. However, I think next time I have a bash at this recipe I will definitely leave them in the oven a little longer as they turned out a little runny, perhaps too runny even by John and Greg's standards. I think I was panicking quite a lot about overcooking the wee things but at the same time was worried about opening the oven door too many times to check on them and think I just served them before they were ready which was a shame.

Anyway, served with a leafy salad, perfectly cooked or not, these cheese soufflés were really rather scrummy.

Oh, by the way, I apologise for the poor quality of the photos in this entry. All the panicking must have affected my ability to take a half decent photograph!

Recipe (serves 4)
4 spring onions, chopped
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
113g parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tbsp spread
3 large eggs
255g fromage frais
200g quark
1 tsp English mustard powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Grease the inside of the ramekins with the spread and a teaspoon of parmesan cheese for each and coat the sides evenly by rolling the cheese around. Separate the eggs and place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Place the egg yolks in a separate bowl with the fromage frais, quark, mustard powder, cayenne pepper and seasoning. Stir in the rest of the cheese. Whisk the mixture until it is combined and add the spring onion and parsley. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually fold the egg with a metal spoon. Spoon the mix into the four ramekins and place on a baking tray. Cook for 15-20 minutes until golden and risen. Serve immediately with a leafy salad.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oklahoma Café

Hidden away on a random corner of the Northern Quarter, Bailey and I have often stumbled across Oklahoma Gift Shop and have had many a leisurely browse of the quirky gifts and novelty items on sale. We always noticed the strange little café that is situated to the side of the gift shop - almost part of the shop itself separated only by a few shelves. Despite noting that it is generally "full of hippies", have always meant to go in for a bite to eat.

The other day the Oklahoma Café offered the perfect solution for our problem of being absolutely starving, tired of Christmas shopping and freezing cold. With barely a second glance at the menu we rushed inside to get ourselves warm.

Our first impression of the café was less than brilliant given that we sat ourselves down at a really shonky table which was barely safe to sit at with equally shonky chairs. Luckily we quickly relocated to another table and decided that it was all this dodgy furniture that helped give this café its unique character and the welcome feeling of sitting in a cool little bar in El Raval in Barcelona rather than boring old Manchester.

I was immediately intrigued by the chalkboard proclaiming that Oklahoma's baked sweet potatoes are "famous" and ordered one with organic baked beans, accompanied by a "Detox Tea".

My potato arrived in a battered vintage polka dot bowl which I really liked, despite it making my potato quite difficult to eat. The potato actually surpassed my expectations - who would have thought a baked sweet potato could taste so good? Sweet and soft with tasty, crispy skin.... Delicious! Definitely something I will eat again. My tea was also really nice. I have no idea what a detox tea consists of but it was much nicer and sweeter than other herbal teas I've had in the past and certainly made me feel loads warmer and healthier.

Bailey opted for a mozzarella, basil and sun dried tomato toastie and asked me to order him a Diet Coke to go with it. Diet Coke? No such thing here! The only soft drinks on offer were organic fizzy and fruit drinks. So an Organic Cola was swiftly purchased for Bailey.

Bailey really enjoyed his toastie, despite it arriving with a piece of paper attached to the bread (when querying this with the waitress, she informed us that the bread they use comes with a sticker attached and that as a rule they don't peel them off before making the sarnies. Hmm). It was piping hot, filling and healthy with no complicated flavours. His Organic Cola was a hit too.

Lunch and drinks for four of us came to £14 which isn't too bad, but not dirt cheap either. I would say Oklahoma Café is an interesting place to stop by at, especially when teamed with a visit to its funky little shop. However, despite it having lots of cool stuff on sale, I wonder if its quirkiness would put some people off. If you like sitting at tables that don't wobble and like sandwiches without stickers on I would perhaps steer clear.

Oklahoma on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Minestrone Soup

A few weekends ago when my parents came to visit, we had a long weekend of tramping about in the cold planned so I decided I needed to come up with the perfect warming winter soup. I cobbled together a minestrone soup that turned out to be delicious and filling (which was actually more the consistency of a stew) that certainly contained a fair amount of our Five A Day.

It was such a success that Bailey asked me yesterday "Could you make that soup again?" As it is such a simple soup to make - no blending or fussing required, I was happy to oblige!

Recipe (serves 4, or 2 greedy pigs like me and Bails yesterday):
2 small onions, cut into large chunks
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
4 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 yellow pepper, cut into chunks
1 green pepper, cut into chunks
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 carton of passata
2 litres of stock
6 handfuls of pasta twists
Salt and pepper

Fry onion, leek, carrot and celery for around five minutes before adding the other vegetables and leaving to fry until softened. Add the handfuls of pasta and the tin of plum tomatoes and leave to soften for a few minutes. Season with salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Add the carton of passata and stir thoroughly.

Add the stock to the mixture before covering with a lid and leaving to simmer. Check on the soup every five minutes and give it a good stir, making sure the mixture doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pan. When you see that the pasta is cooked to your liking, turn the heat off and leave the pan to stand with the lid on for about 10 minutes. The starch from the pasta will make the sauce all lovely and thick at this stage. Serve with hot sauce and some crusty bread.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spicy Sausage and Mushroom Pasta Bake

I know this sounds like student food but please stick with me. I learnt (through experimentation) a couple of months ago how to make my own pasta sauce from scratch and so thought I'd stick it up here just in case anybody wanted to have a crack at it. I have to say if you use the right ingredients then its far better than your usual Ragu/Grossman overpriced jar of sugar and tomatoes. Its also really versatile so if you use this basic recipe as a guide you can add whatever extra herbs and sauces you want at the frying or the simmering stage.

What you see above is the starting blocks of the sauce. On the left is 4 cloves of garlic. On the right is loads of onion. Chop both of them down quite small as above then whack them all into a pile and start chopping them together as small as possible, if you had one those fancy herb rocker blades that would be wicked at this point. We on the other hand only have a shonky bent Ikea knife so it takes us some time. You will need to chop them until they are quite small but the critical moment when you know you have chopped them small enough is when plenty of liquid appears on your chopping board. As soon as you see all these juices start to appear get everything in to a warm oiled frying pan and start to cook. This is opportunity 1 to season. I always add salt, freshly ground black pepper, oregano as standard but as I was making a spicy dish I also added a Habanero hot sauce and some paprika. I let these cook on their own for a little while but you dont want to brown the onion. At this point there should already be a cracking smell in the air, if there isn't you must be doing it wrong or you have no nose. Once they were cooked through I added some quorn sausage and roughly chopped mushrooms with a little bit more seasoning and oil. Again you can add whatever you want at this point. Stick in chicken, whole fish, beef, peppers, cherry tomatoes, aubergines, courgette or really good sausage. This just needs browning off quickly in the pan, don't worry too much about cooking your recently added ingredients through as they will have plenty of time to slow cook.

Your next step is to add the saucy bit. I added a can of chopped tomatoes and a carton of passata but if you were making a pizza sauce you could just add the passata and you'd get a much richer paste by the end of the process. This is opportunity 2 to season. I always add salt, black pepper and loads of roughly torn up fresh basil but for this sauce I added more hot sauce, italian herbs and, for cosmetic reasons, dry parsley. The next step is quite easy. Sit back and watch it reduce. It will start out very liquid but after about 30 minutes simmering the sauce will come down to a nice thick rich consistency. If by any chance you get your sauce to the right thickness before your pasta is ready then just spoon a few bits of water from your boiling pasta, the starch will make your sauce thicken on standing (in a pleasant way).

So you have your sauce and your pasta ready now so you could just combine them together on the plate with a nice bit of fresh bread and go for it. In our case though we wanted to beef it up a bit so we combined the pasta and sauce, transferred them to an oven proof dish and then added a layer of mozzarella and black pepper before sticking it in the oven for 15 minutes.

Like I say its a really useful recipe to have under your belt as you will almost always have the basic ingredients of garlic, onion and tomoatoes in any house. Lovely stuff.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Aimee's Black forest cupcakes

Well I'm honoured to be invited for a guest spot in Jules and Bailey's food blog!

After much talk of Black forest cherry cupcakes over Bailey's Birthday Weekend I became increasingly impatient and decided to give them a go myself... and i loved every minute of it!
I wanted to find some sort of kirch cherry type pie filling for the centre of the cupcakes but ASDA let me down, however i did find some very tasty black cherry conserve which turned out to be a perfect choice.

I decided to make the cupcakes chocolate like the traditional black forest gateau, and scooped a little spoonful of the black cherry jam in the centre.

Unfortunately in the first batch the conserve rised to the top but I'd made so much mix I made a second batch and they were perfect and it sat right in the middle, for a nice big jammy bit in every bite!

I decided on a white chocolate and fromage frais icing (also because we had been raving about fromage frais all weekend!) and I grated some white chocolate curls on the top. I bought ASDA's white chocolate because it cost much less than milky bar, but I was a little worried it might be a bit cheap and waxy tasting... however it turned out it was actually the best white chocolate I've ever tasted! I don't normally like eating chunks of white chocolate but I couldn't help myself it was so yummy!

I followed Jules' measurements for the recipe and added my own tweaks:

Recipe (makes 22)

110g butter
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self raising flour
120g plain flour
125ml semi-skimmed milk
Full bar of ASDA Dark Chocolate (bar a few cheeky squares me and mum tasted)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/ gas mark 4. Cream the butter and caster sugar together until there are no lumps, i used an awesome electric whisk which halves the effort. Add the eggs one at a time and mix. Combine the flours in a bowl. Add a third of the flour and mix in. Add a third of the milk and mix in. Repeat until all the flour and milk has been added. Melt the chocolate using half a pan of water with a glass bowl on top, put all the chocolate in the glass bowl and make sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the glass or it's likely to burn the choc, fold the chocolate into the mixture.

I spooned one teaspoon of the mixture into the cases, then I added a spoonful of the black cherry conserve finally trying to cover all of the conserve with more mixture so it doesn't rise to the top. Bake for 20 mins.

For the icing
500g of ASDA White Chocolate (save 100g to make white chocolate curls)
65g of Butter
250g of icing sugar
2-3 tablespoons of Fromage Frais

Cream the butter and icing sugar, and add the fromage frais gradually so its not too liquidy. Finally add the white chocolate, mix and ice the cakes as soon as possible. Use a knife and scrap down the chocolate to make some curls to put on top.


Thankyou Jules and Bailey for my guest spot, it's been fun, hopefully I can make you a little something for when you come down at the weekend!

Love Aimee!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Manchester Christmas Markets

The Christmas Markets here in Manchester are one of the city's most anticipated foodie events of the year. With delectable snacks, meals, drinks and treats from all over the world on sale, food lovers flock to this place year in year out to huddle around in the cold eating German sausages, Spanish paellas or French cheeses. I even think they must be becoming famous around Europe as when I was living in Barcelona two years ago there were adverts all over for Manchester's markets.

Last weekend my parents came to visit us and we decided to take this opportunity to check out the huge range of scrumptious foods that were on offer.

This year, the markets seemed to have increased in size (and popularity - and that is saying something) compared to last year. Despite it only being eleven o' clock in the morning, the markets were full of hot dog eating, mulled wine quaffing folk as far as the eye could see.

Despite having had breakfast less than an hour earlier, our first stop at one of the many chocolate stalls did not fail to make my mouth water. On sale were amazing chocolate kebabs:

and huge slabs of different chocolate:

Man alive.

Next stop was, of course, Roy Morris' old favourite, the jam and chutney stall. I should probably explain, Roy is a sucker for all types of preserve.

As we stopped for a taster of all the lovely things on offer, the man at the stall was very friendly and happy to tell Roy all about the different types of jams they were selling. While Roy was nattering away, Bailey and I suddenly realised that these chutnies were the very same chutnies made by Friendly Food and Drink that we bought in the summer from Eighth Day Vegetarian Café on Oxford Road- yes, that same amazing chutney that we ate a whole jar of IN ONE SITTING. Oh wow.

Next to catch our attention were the Macaroons looking amazing and coconutty and Christmasy.

Of course the main attraction at any Christmas market is for many the German sausage stand.

There must be at least five at the Manchester market alone and I was really impressed to take a closer look and see the way they are cooked using a sort of large barbecue and a hanging grill tray.

On one of the French stalls we found they were selling lovely little mini pancakes which I thought looked very tasty. I didn't try any but had a good nosy as was curious as to what they were and how they were served, but couldn't really find out as the dudes working there seemed a little busy!

Before too long we came to Aída Morris' favourite stalls which are those selling Spanish chorizo. They were giving away a large variety of different samples to the punters which Aída took full advantage of.

Other Spanish stalls that also looked brilliant were the ones selling barbecued chorizo hot dogs:

And the one cooking up the biggest paella I have ever seen:

Of course the stalls that most caught my eye were the cheese ones. Which were amazing. There were so many different types of cheese on offer in all different formats, including bubbling raclette grilling right before your very eyes, brie in giant wheels ready for a personalised chunk to be cut off and wrapped up for you right there:

Cheeses with unusual flavours that you would never see in the shop (the yummiest to me looked like Pesto flavoured cheese):

Mouth watering.

In conclusion, a trip to the Manchester Christmas Markets is an absolute MUST for food lovers in the area. Especially if you are looking to buy delicious presents for your nearest and dearest. I would recommend getting there early though as the crowds can become unbearably large. Perhaps pop there for your breakfast!


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