All Posts Filed in ‘Cooking / Food

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The Best Cafe In Skipton

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I’m very particular about coffee. I don’t drink instant coffee because it tastes terrible. I’ll drink Starbucks coffee when I don’t have a choice as the coffee is OK (in my experience about 1 in 3 cups I buy from Starbucks has had the coffee burnt by the barista). If I’m out for a meal at a pub or restaurant (even expensive ones) I’ll always turn down the offer of coffee after dessert as I know it’ll always be average at best. I have my own espresso machine, only buy quality coffee that’s ground in front of my eyes and keep the coffee in a plastic container in the fridge to maintain optimal freshness. As I say, I’m very particular about coffee.

I’ve gone to many a cafe over the years and my absolute favourite has to be Bean Loved in Skipton. It’s a family run cafe that is exactly how I imagine Starbucks was when it started (before it became hugely successful, global and consistently mediocre worldwide).

For me a good cafe requires either good food or good coffee. Bean Loved has both. They have a selection of paninis which (unlike Starbucks paninis) are varied in terms of ingredients and always delicious (the minted lamb one is my current favourite). I should probably write a separate article some time about my obsession with muffins and my pursuit of the perfect muffin, but let’s just say the the blueberry cheescake muffin Bean Loved sell is right up there (it combines the classic blueberry muffin format with cheesecake mix in liquid state – delicious)! And the coffee is excellent, and looks as good as it tastes:

Two Lattes And A Blueberry Cheescake Muffin

What I particularly like is the attention to detail. If you order a take-away coffee they do this pretty swirly pattern on the top – even though it has a lid on it! I’ve never had a burnt cup yet and I can see as the coffee’s being prepared that every bit of care and attention is taken (since I have my own machine I know how to get the best out of it and they certainly do).

The cafe itself has ample seating, some sofas, some wooden chairs, nothing uniform – which I like. The staff are very friendly and helpful and I can feel the real enthusiasm that comes from people who actually care about what they do (something you don’t get in certain global corporations I could mention).

So if your find yourself in Skipton and fancy a coffee then take a wander along Otley street, just off the high street (next to the pedestrian crossing) and go visit Bean Loved:

Bean Loved From The Outside

You won’t be disappointed! Oh and before you ask: no, I am in no way affiliated with Bean Loved other than being a happy customer. 🙂

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They’re Much Sweeter When You Grow Your Own

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We decided to take some of Jamie Oliver’s advice and grow our own strawberries in hanging baskets this year.

We have (or rather my good lady has) been taking good care of them as they’ve grown from little shoots. We kept looking out for little green strawberries to appear and when they did we were counting the days until we could eat them! Unfortunately the local bird population had other ideas so we netted them up after one particularly juicy strawberry disappeared without a trace one day (and my good lady swears she didn’t eat it).

More and more red strawberries looked almost ready for eating and then last night we decided enough was enough – it was time to harvest! As the title suggests, they really do taste sweeter when you grow your own. We’ve bought a few boxes of strawberries lately but they didn’t taste half as nice as the ones we picked – they were delicious!

Of course my good lady’s creative talents with food presentation made them taste even better:

So if you’ve got hanging baskets filled with boring pansies or some other tedious flowers then why not throw them in the bin and plant something you can later eat? That’s my kind of gardening! And if you don’t like strawberries then not to worry, invite me round your house and I’ll eat them for you! 🙂

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Coffee, Apple And Subliminal Messages

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Now that I’m predominantly working from home I am unrestricted in the amount of good coffee I can drink and the amount of singing I can do while listening to some of my favourite music. (In an office full of people it’s not really a good idea to burst into song unless you’re starring in a musical or can actually sing – I qualify in neither of those categories).

For the coffee I use my wonderful Gaggia Classic machine using freshly ground coffee from my local coffee shop (it’s one of those places that I love going to as the beautiful aroma of dozens of types of coffee fills the air when you walk in). And for the music I use my recently-bought iPod Touch (which is still a great piece of kit) wired up to play through my stereo.

Anyway, I just went downstairs to make myself a latte with some Hawaiian Kona as I’ve done many times before. The fun thing about making a latte is that you can create a pretty pattern like this one, although I don’t bother because every time I’ve tried I’ve completely failed. Until today where I managed to somehow create this:

Coffee and Apple combine

If I’m not mistaken I’d say that’s a pretty good representation of the Apple logo… I’m beginning to think I like my iPod and Macbook just a little bit too much and worry that their iPhone ads on TV are starting to get to me… 😉

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The Trouble With Trifles

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For a few years before I moved from Scotland down to Yorkshire I used to do a lot of swimming at the University of Dundee pool. Not just a few lengths followed by ages in the shower, but hours in the pool every day training with a variety of interesting characters from accountancy students (maybe it’s the monotony of counting strokes and lengths that attracted them) to a former representative of Scotland at the Commonwealth Games (who was an awesome athlete – I could write pages on his flawless butterfly technique) to a triathlete who competed in IronMan races (he was a scaffolder by trade, was built like a bodybuilder but had endurance like you couldn’t believe – which is essential for a 2.4 mile swim followed by 112 miles on a bike rounded off with a marathon).

Anyway, I used to train with these sorts of people, battling to keep up with them and their punishing sessions while acquiring quite a physique in the process (I’m sorry to disappoint you ladies out there but the v-shaped back, washboard abs and powerful shoulders are no longer quite there). The irony was that I learned to swim late preferring to burst into tears as a small child when presented with water like the wuss that I was. What I realised when I was 21 was that if my parents had been the pushy sort that pushed their kids into sport, I might have actually made a decent competitive swimmer. Ah well, I can always dream!

Right, I’m digressing somewhat (rambling comes with the territory when I take trips down Memory Lane). So I’d walk out of the pool from a tough session and my arms would feel like they’re about to fall out, my legs would feel like jelly and the goggle marks around my eyes would make me look like I was wearing eye liner. I was ravenously hungry. At the time I wasn’t drinking alcohol, was eating wisely, steering clear of junk food and high fat stuff, generally looking after myself. Except for one vice I allowed myself. Full sized trifles.

A bowl of delicious trifle

The saying “Never go shopping for food when you’re hungry” is spot on as if I went to the supermarket after a workout I’d inevitably come back with a family sized trifle. I’d remove the lid, get a dessert spoon out from a drawer and devour the whole thing (which would normally feed 4) in a matter of minutes.

Digression Number 2: I was at a party once where I’d just finished explaining this piece of gluttony to the hostess who said “I’ve got a trifle in the fridge, I don’t believe you could just eat the whole thing like that”. Cut to 10 minutes later and a horrified expression on her face when I’d done exactly that!

The way I figured it, since I was burning thousands of calories per day and was eating very healthily in general, I could get away with such a high concentration of Trifles Per Week (or TPW) and indeed I suffered no ill effects. Sadly when I moved to Yorkshire I couldn’t find anybody to train with who was at the level I was at so I eventually hung up my trunks and moved onto other things. And curiously, my obsession with trifles went too. I’m not sure whether it was the chlorine or the tight-fitting trunks, but as soon as I was no longer exposed to that lifestyle my desire to gorge myself on trifles disappeared.

It’s a shame really as I’d become quite an expert on trifles having eaten so many varieties (things like varying the ratio of sponge thickness to custard to cream can make all the difference in advanced trifle design and manufacture). Strangely I’ve managed to replace the swimming / trifle combination with a similar football / tiffin obsession so I suspect that different sports have different complementary foods that you (or strange people like me) crave. I may have to do some experiments to find out – huge waistline here I come…

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Yorkshire Folk Do Like Their Food

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I’ve never really been that into food. Sure, the sort high quality food you can get in a swanky restaurant or hotel definitely gets me interested – such as a trip to my local Aagrah curry house. But things like going to a carvery, or eating pie and peas, or fish and chips or any of that sort of thing doesn’t enthuse me at all. They’re bland, average, uninteresting meals that I consider fuel rather than any kind of interesting eating experience and you’d never catch me fantasising about pouring gravy on a Cumberland sausage and mash. This attitude didn’t prepare me well for when I moved to Yorkshire however…

When I was originally courting my good lady we’d go out for meals with her parents or her family and the thing I noticed was that they talked about food all the time. We’d be eating a meal and they’d be discussing the next meal they were going to eat in intimate detail. I thought maybe it was just them but every Yorkshireman (and Yorkshirewoman for that matter) seems to be exactly the same. A conversation about a recent holiday in the sun can go along the following lines (you may find it easier to read the conversation aloud as I’ve tried to use the correct regional dialect where appropriate):

ME: “I say, how was the holiday? Did you get some jolly good sunshine?”.

THEM: “Oooooo. We ad a raaaa’t good taaam. The food were raaaa’t luvly. On the first naaat they ad plates of sausages as far as the eye could see. And buckets o’ gravy. And the potatoes – eeeeee. They had roast, boiled, jacket and loads of others I’d n’er seen before. Then we had a full English the next morning and the bacon were to die for! And then we went out for lunch at an all-you-can-eat carvery and……..”

ME (CUTTING IN): “Goodness me old bean, that sounds interesting! So did you go to <Insert Landmark Here>? I hear it’s one of the 7 wonders of the world and is quite a sight!”.

THEM: “Ye, it were alright. But on t’way back to t’hotel we saw a raaa’t good English pub in t’middle of <Insert Foreign Country Here> and we ordered scampi and chips and it were bloody luvly, joust laak home…….”

By this point my mind would have wandered off somewhere while they spent the next 10 minutes telling me about every piece of food they’d eaten without actually telling me a thing about the holiday.

I was brought up talking about pretty much everything except food when at the dinner table. Such topics could include any of the of the following:

  • How our respective days went
  • Some interesting piece of gossip or news
  • My brother and I winding my dad up
  • Being shouted at by my dad about our table manners
  • A frosty silence
  • My brother and I winding up my dad some more

But sitting talking, obsessing, fantasising about food would definitely not be one of them. Food just isn’t that interesting! I initially found it a culture shock sitting eating food and everybody talking about nothing but food.

However over time I’ve managed to adopt a strategy that allows me to blend in as though I were a Yorkshireman myself (albeit with a very un-Yorkshire accent). Instead of talking about blandiose food (note: I’m pretty sure I invented the word blandiose many years ago but I note that someone else thought of it too) I try to steer the conversation to food of a higher quality and reminisce about fine meals I’ve had in some lovely restaurants. Unfortunately the experience has slowly changed me and I now find myself eating out with friends who’re not from Yorkshire and having to stop myself talking about food!

You know what they say, “when in Rome….”. And I hear the food’s raaa’t luvly too! 😉

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Something Tasty You Probably Don’t Know About Me

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Some spices ready for cookingIt tends to surprise most people but actually – and I’m only saying this because I’ve been told, not because I have a sky-high ego – I’m not a bad cook.

This isn’t the result of any form of training or any skill that’s been passed down from generation to generation in my family and it’s definitely not as a result of me spending years trying to perfect the art. No, I have a tried and tested technique that pretty much never fails. It goes something like this:

  1. Always follow the recipe exactly.
  2. Never deviate from the recipe.
  3. Stick to the simple stuff John, you’re not a chef and you never will be.

I don’t cook that often (my good lady does most of that since I’m too lazy) but when I do I try to do a decent job of it. For example, we had some friends round on Saturday night and this was the menu:

Starter

Seared scallops with black pudding served with
sweet red onion sauce and pesto

Main Course

My mother’s classic prawn pathia served with
long grain and wild rice

Dessert

Home made apple crumble (made by my good
lady who didn’t want to feel left out)

Followed by coffee from El Salvador (mmmm, nice)

Our guests agreed that the whole meal was delicious. I was genuinely thrilled to see everyone clear their plates and go on about how delicious it was. But frankly I don’t take any credit for things like that – it’s the person who wrote the recipe that did the work, I just followed it to the letter and didn’t get imaginative. If the recipe demands 100g of dessicated coconut, that’s exactly what I’ll add. If it says to sear the scallops for a minute or so until it’s golden on each side, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Any time that I deviate from a recipe with thoughts like “I’m sure another dash of cinnamon will make it better” or “ach, that’s way too much sugar, I’m not putting all that in there” or “yeah, this meringue’s fluffy enough – I don’t need to do all that whisking” then I’m always proven to have been wrong.

While my friend Stuart was beating me at squash for the umpteenth time a few years ago he told me the key was to “play the percentages”. I never did learn to do that with squash but with cooking that’s exactly what I do. Pick something pretty simple, follow the recipe, don’t get creative and while I’ll never create a masterpiece, I can knock a pretty decent meal together. So when I hear people say that they can’t cook – I know they’re just not trying hard enough and they’re not doing what the recipe says. If I can cook then anybody can!

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Too Much Of A Good Thing

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It’s been a scorcher of a weekend. The temperature got as high as 31.5C around here on Saturday (which is 88.7F) which is far hotter than I ever remember it being in Britain before. It got as high as 37.9C down south on Sunday but that doesn’t count because I live up north. Anyway, it was plenty hot enough and far too hot for activity like mountain biking, although I did manage to get in a game of 5-a-side football that had me drinking litres of water for the rest of the day – it was damn hot.

So what better way to celebrate than attending a “dessert party”? My friend Torrie is a New Zealander. He’s tall, good looking, super-fit (can beat me both up and down any hill on a mountain bike), can dance like John Travolta, is well travelled (being a Kiwi), is a really nice guy and is an excellent cook. He’s also single so all you single girls out there have no excuses for not finding Mr. Right! Anyway, he spent most of last week cooking a variety of exotic desserts in preparation for over a dozen guests coming over and eating them. All we had to do was turn up and bring some alcohol.

I’d heard mutual friends mention his famous white chocolate cheesecake recipe before and how unbelievably tasty it was. I wasn’t sure – given than I don’t actually like white chocolate – but the enthusiasm with which it was described had me intrigued. And so, at 8.27pm on Saturday the 9th of August 2003 I finally got the chance to sample what, it turns out, is the finest cheesecake on planet earth. Bar none.

I said that I don’t like white chocolate and that’s true. I ate too many white chocolate buttons one time when I was a kid and I’ve never been able to touch the stuff since. In fact I start to feel ill just thinking about it now. I do, however, like cheesecakes. So it’s fair to assume that while I like cheesecakes, my dislike of white chocolate should mean that a white chocolate cheesecake isn’t going to be one of my favourites. But it was. And it now is. It’s really difficult (nigh on impossible) to describe what something tastes like, especially a dessert. It’s like describing feelings – you can only do it by using other feelings (try it with something like the pain of stubbing your toe).

Note that the cheesecake was only one of a number of highly addictive sweets that were on display including the richest chocolate cake ever (richer than David Beckham and Michael Schumacher combined). Anyway, I spent Sunday feeling somewhat ill, not being used to eating that much sweet food in one year never mind one evening. I did manage to take a large portion of the remains of the cheesecake in question home and between bouts of feeling sick I’d stuff down another slice of it. I told you it was addictive!

Anyway, I’ve got the recipe and I’ll be trying it myself soon – although I’m going to have to wait until my blood sugar level drops back to normal. I wouldn’t want to turn myself into a diabetic on account of Torrie’s White Chocolate Cheesecake…