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A back street haven – The Richmond Tea Rooms Review

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Not one to miss out on a new place in town I visited The Richmond Tea Rooms today to discover the wonderland of tea and cakes.

I defy anyone who doesn’t walk into this place and break out in a smile. It’s a treasure trove of loveliness and as we entered I found it hard to walk past the beautiful display of cakes to my seat.

Every detail is beautifully thought from the table decorations to the vintage tea cups with its “Tim Burton inspired design” making it a real haven from the village back streets.

I ordered a Scottish Breakfast Tea and the Cheese and Onion Pie from the specials board. The tea was very nice, served in a tea pot and using traditional loose tea. The pie was everything I could have hoped for; great homemade pastry with a velvety cheese filling (I find cheese and onion pie hard to master, having attempted it myself and failed miserably, so I take my hat off to them).

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The boy ordered Alice’s rarebit which was much to his liking with a latte to finish it off.

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I managed to avoid the cake selection this time as I had a Manchester Tart awaiting me at home for dinner (thanks Dad!), but I’ll be going back to this place again soon, and yes I will eat cake!

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Food 9/10
Price 9/10 very reasonable at £16 for lunch for 2.
Service 7.5/10
Ambiance 10/10
Overall 35.5/40 a new Manchester favourite, a real wonderland.
Richmond Tea Rooms on Urbanspoon
 

The Law and Order of Balsamic Vinegar

The Law and Order of Balsamic Vinegar

My purchasing habits of balsamic vinegar before visiting Florence were a quick glance of the prices and going for any that were at the cheaper end or on offer. I hadn’t yet discovered that the name is protected and the fancy looking seal on expensive small bottles actually mean something.

My experience of this fantastic vinegar began on the first leg of my cooking course in Florence when we visited the amazing indoor market. Our chef, Giovanni, had planned a visit to a stall for some balsamic vinegar tasting.

I never knew there were so many variations of balsamic vinegar to try, some of them had a thick, deep flavour, others were lighter with varying sweetness and oak tastes.

It was here when we were given some history into the vinegar and how it is produced. The fascinating fact is that there is only one true type of Balsamic Vinegar which is made in Modena, Emilia Romagna in Italy.  To protect the authenticity of the product the production is governed by Italian Law, the “Produzione Certificata Aceto Balsamico di Modena” to be exact. It is certified at all stages of the production, fermented for a minimum of 12 years and must pass an examination by a panel of just 5 tasting judges.  Well that explains the expensive price tag then!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Traditional-Balsamic--12-tradizionale-100ml/dp/B00318LYJ4/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331501818&sr=8-1-fkmr1

tradizionale balsamic vinegar

There are also other ‘non- tradizionale’ balsamic vinegars called ‘Condimento’ which uses the exact production methods but are produced outside the Modena and Emilia Romagna region or made by producers who decide to release the vinegar before the minimum 12 year fermentation. These are still quality vinegars and you get more balsamic for your money compared to the tradizionale price tag. On the end of the spectrum are the cheaper mass produced vinegars which are made using concentrated grape juice with caramel colouring. These types can be good if you don’t need an intense flavour, but they are far from authentic.

Good selection in Carluccio's

Following my Florentine experience I now really study the labels when purchasing balsamic vinegar. I’m yet to own a bottle of the real-Modena-deal due to the price and unless I get bought some as a present (yes, I am that sad that this would be a great gift in my eyes!) so I’m not likely to justify the purchase anytime soon, but I’ve found that our supermarkets and delis do offer some great ‘Condimento’ alternatives.

Here are my balsamic vinegar ‘don’t be fooled by the label that I got’ purchasing tips…….

Check the label, the cheaper alternatives usually state that it is made up of concentrated grape juice and caramel colouring… whilst this might be ok for your needs make sure you don’t get ripped off by any fancy looking labels.

If you want the real deal you need to check for the word ‘tradizionale’ and the seal of approval which is an inverted tulip shape for the Reggio Emilia or a ball with a neck for Modena.

Don’t be fooled by those using ‘Modena’ on the label, such as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. This is a good value bottle for everyday cooking but it isn’t the real thing.

Buy a ‘decent’ balsamic based on your budget, I really recommend not just going for the cheaper versions, see what the label says on how long it has been fermented (longer the better for a deep oak taste) and go for one slightly more than you usually pay.  Try it on salads, strawberries, ice-cream and popcorn (tip from the stall holder in Florence!) or just as a dip with bread, you really will tell the difference.

If you do see the real balsamic vinegar for sale in a market or deli then ask if you can taste it, then you’ll understand why I’ve just dedicated a whole blog post to it!

Y…McGregor Altrincham review

Y…McGregor Altrincham review

 

On a recent trip to Altrincham on a potential future house hunt with the boy we stumbled upon Y…McGregor. This cute little cafe is situated near the tram stop and is a small haven from the busy Stamford New Road traffic.

Offering local, organic, fresh, and all those other things that make you feel good inside, food and drink we decided to try it out.

Now I always think you can tell a lot about a place by their coffee and Y…McGregor have a very good fair trade, organic offering. I had a very delicious latte that was so huge I almost lost the rest of my appetite, almost.

The boy had one of the daily specials which was cheesy chicken rarebit. He was served first and I was served with major food envy. The filling was full of delicious chicken, cheese and parsley and the fresh bread was lightly toasted to perfection. On the side was a lovely homemade coleslaw and salad.

I ordered the mediterranean roasted veg and feta jacket potato. The veg was well flavoured by the feta but not over cooked so it had a crunch left to it. The plate was very well served with a salad.

The cafe had a laid back feel and the staff we very pleasant. It wasn’t very busy when we were in there so it lacked a bit of a vibe. I’d like to see what the cafe is like for brunch on a Saturday.

Food rating 8/10

Price rating 7/10 at a reasonable £15.20 for 2 with coffee

Service rating 8/10

Ambiance rating 7/10

Overall  30/40 Good food, good coffee and nice to see a place doing the whole local/organic thing well at a decent price.

 

Taste the rainbow

It looks like we’re all in need of some comfort food at the moment. Currently  ‘cake’ is  the most searched for term on bbcgoodfood.com, replacing ‘chicken’ which has been knocked off the top spot. Has it been the new year blues that have made us turn to our sponge friend? Or is it thanks to the likes of the Great British Bake Off and Lorraine Pascale’s French Fancies ? Either way I think we should be embracing the cake!

Another food trend I’ve seen in 2012 is the introduction of rainbows. Take the Rainbow Cake I found in the window at Drink Tea Eat Cake  (Teacup’s pop up shop)  on Mosley street. Who could pass this by?

Rainbow Cake Drink Tea Eat Cake Manchester

Rainbow cookies anyone?

via The Baker Chick

And how about injecting a bit of rainbow behaviour to a fruit salad?

And one for the road.

 

via neatorama.com

This is the year of the rainbow everyone, and the cake, of course.

Spice Of The Month

Ras el Hanout is a Moroccan spice mix which has a lovely fragrant aroma with a strong peppery taste. I first used this spice in the Jamie Oliver Beef Tagine Recipe from his Jamie Does… book.

What struck me about this spice blend was the amount of spices that goes into its creation. I can only describe it as a Moroccan Christmas! The blend includes black pepper, coriander, ginger, paprika, allspice, cardamom, mace, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne and cloves. This is widely used in Moroccan dishes and especially in tagines but it can also be used as a meat/fish/chicken rub (especially with some lemon) or to flavor couscous.  I’ve seen quite a few recipes online on how to make this yourself but I’ve found  Seasoned Pioneers  which I don’t think I could make any better myself. This version also features in Delia’s  ‘Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon’s and Chickpeas’ ( in the How To Cheat At Cooking book).  This blend also includes rose petals which makes the mix look lovely.

Here are some top Ras el Hanout facts:

The spice mix originates from the villages of North Africa

The name means ‘top of the shop’ in Arabic; so the trader would select their finest spices for this mix

Some Ras el Hanout mixes include over 20 ingredients which each shop having their own secret combination

Some mixes have been known to include Spanish Fly suggesting Ras el Hanout is an aphrodisiac!

The mix can also be used for kefta mahchiya (Moroccon spiced meatballs).

 

 

Carluccio’s at Spinningfields

One of the most recent and welcome additions to Manchester is Spinningfields. Set behind Deansgate this new development took a while to establish itself and draw in the crowds but this summer it has really flourished and is now one of my favourite weekend places to visit for a spot of lunch.

My favourite place to eat is Carluccio’s  offering “…quality authentic Italian food at sensible prices.” I’d add that it also offers a good ambiance; the interior is well dressed but chilled and the waiting staff exude this. I often go in with a plan of ordering one of their cioccolata’s but it soon turns into a perusal of the primi menu.

On my last visit I ordered the calamari  fritti “crispy calamari, lightly floured and fried, served with a wedge of lemon” along with focaccia which is served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  The batter on the calamari was light and the calamari was fresh and well seasoned. The focaccia was good if a little dry (I’ve had better there) but was washed down very well with the olive oil and balsamic dip. I finished it off with a cioccolata (of course!) which is undoubtedly the best hot chocolate in town.
Carluccio's Manchester on Urbanspoon

Eton Mess – How to make your friends like you even more

We had company around on Friday night so I made Eton Mess which is such a simple dessert to make but it is a real crowd pleaser.  Eton Mess dates back to the  19th Century when it was made at Eton College for the annual cricket game with Winchester College. There is more about this delicious dessert on Wikipedia.

Ingredients, serves 4 

300ml double cream

200g fresh British strawberries cut into quarters with a few spare for decoration

teaspoon of rose water (optional)

2 teaspoons of caster sugar

4 meringues 

1. Whip the cream until it starts to thicken

2. Use a fork to mash the strawberries and add in the rose water and caster sugar and mix

3.  Mix the strawberry mixture into the cream

4.  Just before you are about to serve break the meringues into the mixture and give it a careful stir to mix

5.  Add the remaining strawberries to the top for decoration

6. Serve and see how quickly it gets eaten up!

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