Thursday, June 16, 2011


Last Friday, my dearest mum Aída Morris was visiting Manchester for her annual conference at the AQA HQ about the new Spanish GCSE. Therefore, Bailey and I arranged to meet her in the exact same spot we met her last year when she was on her annual conference at the AQA HQ about the new Spanish GCSE - on Saint Anne's Square.

Panicking on the way there because, as usual, we had forgotten to look for / ask around about a new place to take Aída to eat, we stumbled across the city centre branch of Croma. Astounded that the place was absolutely packed to the rafters at 5:30 pm on a Friday, we decided to check out the menu.

I have only heard excellent things about Croma - about the Chorlton branch from the kids at Chorlton High School and my colleague who lives up the road from there, and also about the city centre branch from my fellow NQT colleague who had gone there one Saturday night and happily waited an hour for a table because they knew the food would be good and such good value. Also it was voted one of the UK's Top 10 restaurants by The Times. So we decided that Croma it would be.

Once inside we were taken to our table upstairs by the friendly and attentive staff and marvelled at how nice the atmosphere was. We really liked the simple décor and the cute little spotlights that shone onto the little flowers in the middle of each table.

We all agreed that the place felt really relaxed but still quite fancy without being too posh.

What people have always told me about Croma is that it is really inexpensive to eat there and we were pretty surprised when we read the menu and saw that basically everything on there was priced at under a tenner.

I decided to order a Roast Vegetable Lasagne with a mixed salad on the side.

I was really looking forward to a tasty lasagne and the description on the menu sounded right up my street - plenty of yummy Mediterranean veggies like courgettes, aubergines and peppers. I know that sometimes veggie lasagnes can sometimes be quite dry and tasteless. But actually my lasagna was perfect. It was so gorgeous and creamy, with absolutely loads of cheese in - I couldn't put my fork in without a huge string of delicious mozzarella coming out and it was super decadent. Mmm!

Bailey decided to order the Chorizo Picante pizza.

Bailey was blown away by his pizza and said that his pizza dough was "the best he has ever had in the UK". The base was perfectly crispy on the outside and actually blackened in places so really rustic. The dough was also thick enough that there was still chewy dough in the middle which balanced it all our perfectly. Bailey wished he had gone for a slightly more adventurous topping a bit like the one he had at Dough that time.

Aída went for the Mushroom and Goat's Cheese Penne with chicken which she also really enjoyed and the waiter was happy to help her out with advice on the menu when she wasn't sure what to order.

Teamed with great service, the meal at Croma was a thumbs up all round. The only complaint we had was that all three of us agreed we could have eaten the whole meal again straight away after... it wasn't that the portions were very small, in fact they were fairly standard, but I think that firstly we were all pretty hungry as it had been a busy day for all of us respectively, but also as the food was so yummy, you just wanted to keep on eating it and eating it. Seeing as it is so cheap maybe next time I will order two lasagnes like the greedy pig that I am.

Anyway the meal came to a bargainous £31 quid something for the three of us which we thought was a steal. We filled in a little comment card and put that we thought everything was excellent which the waiter (according to Bailey who was spying on him) was very pleased about.

We will definitely be returning to Croma in the near future, in fact just today I strolled past the Chorlton branch and I really wanted to go in as it looked absolutely lovely - loads of ladies enjoying a glass of Pimms on the terrace.

I would recommend Croma to any lovers of Italian food who are looking for a bargain and a relaxed yummy meal.

Croma on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sushi Adventures

Last Saturday we were pretty hungover and therefore feeling pretty greedy so we decided to make enough sushi to feed a small army.

We used a basic recipe for Maki rolls like the one posted here by Jeni, except that we added a few extra ingredients to the rice to make it taste extra yummy - a bit of rice vinegar, salt and sugar.

It was very exciting preparing all the fillings to go in our maki rolls as this was the first time we had been able to use the brand new sushi knives that Bailey bought me for my birthday...

We found them to work really well, particularly for removing the skin from salmon and cutting it into neat little pieces.

It was also great for cutting up veggies as the knives were so sharp we could get perfect shapes and sizes for putting in our rolls.

So in our rolls we ended up using salmon, cucumber, prawns, peppers, tuna mayo, crab sticks and sweet omelette. Which is actually LOADS of fillings considering how little you actually need to put into the middle of the maki.

The sweet omelette was really yummy and also dead easy to make - just a mix of beaten eggs, sugar and rice vinegar made really thinly in a hot pan.

Making up the maki rolls was really fun and we had a bit of a production line going where I would roll them up and Bailey would cut them all neatly.

We didn't take into account that, as novices, making sushi actually takes a really long time and we didn't actually get to sit down to our meal until about 10pm by which time we were exhausted...

But this did mean that we wolfed down a bit of sushi before sloping off to bed and then as soon as we got up on Sunday we started on the sushi again, which made writing my year 7 reports a lot more exciting.

Now that we have made sushi twice I am definitely starting to feel a bit more confident with it and want to try something more adventurous. Next time I am going to try and do a few of the reverse maki rolls with sesame seeds on as they are my absolute favourite. It would also be great to get my mitts on some eel to make delicious grilled eel nigiri and also some of those awesome little tofu pouches they use to make those delectable inari sushi things. Yum.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Twix Cake

A couple of months ago I joined a new office at work. Word reached my new colleagues that I had in the past baked cakes and whatnot for the office and I don't think they actually thought I was capable of baking so last Sunday I had some spare time and thought I would have a crack at a new and pretty hardcore sweet treat.

I love Millionaire Shortbread. I love the french type where the caramel is the consistency of warm butter. I love the super market kind which always has a savoury biscuit base. I also love the new Twix Caramel Slices. Because of these facts I decided I'd have a go at a twix-esque cake.

The cake is made up of three layers which are shortcrust pastry then caramel then chocolate ganache. The bottom one is easy. There really is no point in making shortcrust pastry from scratch, it is a massive ball ache and probably won't be as good as the premade stuff. Take a sheet and line the bottom of a glass dish with the pastry making sure you get a good coverage across the bottom of the dish as the pastry will shrink! Cook it for ten minutes or until it goes golden brown then stick it in the fridge to cool.

The second layer is also pretty easy. Stick butter, dark brown soft sugar and condensed milk in a pan on a low heat until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved in to the mixture. Then bring it to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering for about 5 minutes stirring continuously. While its still hot you'll need to get it into the dish. Before you pour it over though here is a tip. Remove the cooked pastry sheet from the dish and place a big sheet of baking paper on the bottom and covering the sides before putting the pastry sheet back in. This will make it super easy to remove the cake from the dish once it has chilled. Once your pastry is back in the bottom of the dish with the paper underneath it slop your caramel on there making sure you get a fairly equal spread of it. Don't panic if it looks a bit messy though as this is not supposed to be a pretty delicate cake!

You will want to leave your caramel in the fridge for a couple of hours before starting the final layer, the chocolate ganache. The reason the for this is that we are going to pour warm ganache on to it shortly and if the caramel was already too warm then the two layers might mix or the caramel might split causing butter to run out of the sides. The ganache too is really really easy to make. Stick the cream and the chocolate in a pan and put on a medium heat, stir until all the chocolate has melted. At this point you want to take it off the heat and give it damn good whisking. Don't stop whisking until it looks super smooth, glossy and mega thick. Now take out your chilled base and pour over the chocolate sauce. Put it back in the fridge overnight and you will have your final twix cake, it only needs removing from the dish and cutting in to the requisite shapes and sizes.

I was quite happy with my finished dish. The plus points were that the three layers really worked together well and it was really really rich but in a good way. The negative points were that it looked quite ugly and this was mainly due to the caramel being a little soft so it tried to escape from the other two layers when I applied pressure to cut it. This really really is a super easy cake to make but please don't gorge on it if you are concerned in the slightest about your waistline.


Pastry base
One pack of pre-made pastry

Caramel layer
100g of butter
100g of dark brown soft sugar
2 400g tins of condensed milk

Chocolate layer
200g of chocolate (I used milk but dark would be just as good)
200ml of double cream

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Small World Café

Opposite the Students Union of Manchester University is the awesome Small World Café. I first discovered this fantastic wee place when I was teacher training and me and my fellow trainees were all pretty fed up of getting dry paninis from our building at lunchtime. I can't remember who it was who discovered the "International Café" as we initially thought it was called (idiots), but once we had been there once, I actually started really looking forward to university days so that I could have my lunch there.

What is ace about Small World Café is that it's one of the only places I know of that does exactly what European restaurants do at lunchtime which is what makes European restaurants ace.

It has a simple menu with limited choices that changes every day I guess depending on what produce they can get fresh that day. The result is a really yummy choice of main meals - always including a veggie option which is usually an amazing curry - served in a no-frills canteeny style way. The portion sizes are ace and you can tailor pretty much any meal to your tastes as you have a choice of chips, rice or potato to go with each one.

The salads are awesome too. I always used to get those when I was at uni. They basically have a wee chart that has all the stuff on it that you can choose from including fish, pulses and cheeses so you build your own personal perfect salad. You'd think for the price you pay for the salad you'd get a really grotty selection of stuff but it's always lovely and fresh and crunchy and way better than any salad I could ever hope to make myself. Topped with their yummy crispy onions and dressings that you help yourself to it's the perfect lunch.

I'm pretty jealous of Bailey as he goes there quite a lot given that he works just down the road, so as I am on half term this week we thought it would be nice to meet up for lunch there. Yesterday I met Bailey just after 12 (if you get there any later than that the queue gets huge, it's worth the wait though) for a quick bite to eat.

On offer were a load of yummy things as usual...

... but for some reason we were both feeling pretty boring and both decided to go for jacket potatoes. I think we've been eating quite a lot of rich and yummy food lately so fancied something simple.

But of course the Small World Café know how to absolutely nail the most simple of things and it was, unsurprisingly a truly outstanding jacket potato.

Perfectly soft potato in a crispy skin... mmm! My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The salad I had with it was gorgeous as usual too.

Looking back I kind of wish I had gone for something a bit more exciting seeing as I hadn't been in so long but that jacket potato really hit the spot.

The Small World Café is an absolute must visit for anyone who works around Oxford Road. You will really struggle to find a quick lunch as good for that price pretty much anywhere in South Manchester.


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