Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Roundup

2012 has been an amazing year for us and we are still really enjoying keeping our blog. Seeing as we have always written the blog mainly for ourselves and our friends it's a constant source of surprise that other people are reading it! We are stoked that writing the blog has helped us make a few new friends so we are looking forward to more of the same in the new year.

Hosting Christmas in our new (first) home!
Throughout the year Bailey has very diligently maintained a list recording all the places we have eaten and ranking them in order of preference. As part of our roundup of the year we thought we would share our Top 10 meals of 2012.

Pan-Fried Sea Bream at The Wig and Pen
Just remember this is Top 10 MEALS - we haven't taken into account any return visits and HAVE taken into account how much fun we had at the meals (which may of course have been influenced by the friendliness of the staff, alcohol, the company etc etc etc!) - this is all about our overall experience!

Salt Beef Stovey at The Beagle
Top 10 Meals of 2012
Meal 10. Workshop, Clerkenwell, London
Meal 9. The Parlour, Chorlton
Meal 8. Ceviche, Soho, London
Meal 7. Bakerie, Manchester Northern Quarter
Meal 6. The Beagle, Chorlton
Meal 5. Mughli, Rusholme
Meal 4. SoLIta Bar & Grill, Manchester Northern Quarter
Meal 3. The Rose Garden, West Didsbury
Meal 2. The Spice Club, a secret location, North Manchester
Meal 1. The Wig & Pen, Sheffield

Peruvian Tapas at Ceviche
Now we don't really like to be negative but on some occasions a meal has failed to hit the spot for us in 2012. This has usually been because we've heard good things about a place and have walked through the door with very high expectations which on occasions had led to us feeling disappointed.

In no particular order, the restaurants that came in at the bottom of our list...

EastZEast, Manchester
Kosmos Taverna, Fallowfield
Room, Manchester

Although we feel really lucky to have been for so many meals, we didn't get the chance to hit as many of the places from our list (55 eateries in Manchester alone, more if you include the North West and the rest of the country!). So now that a time-consuming house move and an expensive Christmas is out of the way, we are looking forward to getting back to normal in 2013 - spending plenty of time finding out about new places and going for meals with our favourite people. Any recommendations or foodie gossip you have for us will be gratefully received!

Rare Breed Hamburger at Workshop
So that's all about eating out... what about eating in? Although we probably didn't cook as often as we would have liked to this year, we still managed to try some new things. 2012 saw Bailey cook and prep his first lobster as well as a brace of pheasants, to varying degrees of success! Suffice to say, lobster will be back on the menu... pheasant maybe not!

I had my first jam making experience and hosted my first afternoon tea party featuring our Clandestine Cake Club friends. I loved doing both and have done both things again since!

Tigré Cakes, Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies and Mojito Cupcakes for our afternoon tea party 
The happiest cooking moment of 2012 definitely has to be the moment we upgraded from what was possibly the world's pokiest kitchen to a much more pleasant kitchen with full cat-swinging capabilities.  I can tell you that moving from a cooker with three hobs to six hobs has reduced stress levels immeasurably.

2012 has been such a great year that I'm sure it will be difficult to top. We are going to give it a good go in 2013 though, and it looks like it will be working our way through an ever-growing pile of cookbooks, taking on some more cooking challenges, getting away for some gourmet adventures and maybe even a foodie venture?! We simply cannot wait!

I am so pleased we now have a shelf for our cookbooks rather than them being piled up on a sideboard! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mary and Archie

In the run up to Christmas we had so many festive activities planned at times it was hard to keep track. One festive activity we had been particularly looking forward to was a trip to the cinema with our chums Tom and Heather to see Gremlins.

On the day we decided grab a bite to eat beforehand. The only problem was that no matter how much we racked our brains and asked for recommendations on Twitter, there didn't seem to be anywhere jumping out at us as a good Didsbury/Burnage area pre-cinema meal location, seeing as we were already booked into Mud Crab Café for the following day.

It was then that Tom suggested Mary and Archie, a quirky but relaxed boozer on Burton Road which I had been told was one of the nicest places to drink in West Didsbury. I thought this a splendid idea, I hadn't even realised they did food and as soon as I saw the words "craft beer" on their Twitter profile I knew Bailey would be sold.

This particular night was one of those nights that it's so cold that even walking a few yards from the car to the front door of the pub is enough to chill you to the bone. It was fortunate then that Mary and Archie was so cosy and inviting. As soon as we got in I ordered myself a lovely hot cappuccino complete with crunchy Amaretti biscuit, while the others worked their way through the good selection of draught beers. Bailey commented that the selection was great "for such a teeny tiny place" and was very impressed that every available space that could be used for ales, was being used for ales.

Onto the food and we were very lucky to have stumbled into Mary and Archie on a Tuesday which happened to be Pizza Night - when a pizza and a bottle of beer will set you back a mere 7 quid.

Cue a bit of a wait on food but we didn't mind as all the staff who had dealt with us were so friendly and once the food did arrive it was all freshly prepared with love. For example any annoyance we might have felt when the extra order of jalapeños were missed of Tom's Americano Pizza was prevented by the most lovely of waitresses delivering an apology from the chef with a plate piled with jalapeños (many of which went into my belly).

The pizzas went down rather well - good bases topped with a tasty pizza sauce and a generous smattering of toppings on all of them. After having decided against ordering a pizza myself I found it hard to resist the last slice of the Funghi Heather couldn't eat which was lovely though it had gone a bit cold (greedy).

I had ordered the Carribbean Fish Stew which was a great choice for a cold winter's night. Given that I would later fill my face with Minstrels at the cinema I felt very good about chowing down on tasty fish, loads of flavoursome, nicely spicy, well-cooked veggies and a hearty portion of rice and peas.

Even the side orders of chips (hand cut, absolutely huge, fluffy on the inside), wedges (covered in cajun, some normal and some sweet potato and all delicious) and side salad (fresh and nicely dressed) were all great.

As we paid for our meal I got into a lovely chat with the barmaid about lampshades from Pop Boutique and it was all very nice and we left feeling very happy and full of good food.

Sometimes the most relaxed meals are the best and this was one of those occasions. We really enjoyed our trip to Mary and Archie and will definitely be returning for some more of their honest, home-cooked food. Their quiz has also been recommended to us and seeing as we do love a good quiz I'm sure we will be heading over for that too.

Mary and Archies on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 28, 2012


2012 has been a great year for us and looking back we had some great meals and 'dining experiences' but IMBC (as it will now be referred to so that wear and tear on my keyboard can be saved) might just be my favourite.  The organisers (the bright sparks behind Port Street Beer House) got everything right, the venue, the beers, the organisation, the food, the atmosphere.  Some people really would benefit from taking a leaf out of their book.

Let's start with the venue.  WOW.  WOW WOW WOW.  I'd walked past the Victoria Baths a number of times and thought it was a beautiful building from the outside but when I saw how it looked from the inside with the sun shining down into the cavernous pool areas I was absolutely blown away, it must be one of the most unique venues in England and as a result even before an ounce of ale had passed our lips we were already on a high.

Although the building itself is still only partly restored the rough edges didn't take away from the undeniable charm of the structure.  Nice little touches included the changing rooms, the Turkish baths and the galleries that afforded everybody a seat away from the hustle and bustle of the two main floors.

A good venue wouldn't have been much use without the beers would it?  Luckily they had also thought to bring along one or two. It wasn't just the everyday beer that made it to the pumps at IMBC, there was plenty of room for the weird and the wonderful and very little room for the average and the boring.  I think we sampled about 25 beers between myself and Jules and probably only one or two were in any way average or boring.  The vast majority were absolute stunners with interesting flavours and textures that I hadn't experienced in beer form before, there were also a couple of disagreeable beers that tasted pretty darned foul to me but that's okay because I was trying new things and they were great talking points!

The important thing was that it was clear that the cask list had been put together with thought and with passion.  Favourite beers of the day?  Darkstar Critical Mass and the Quantum/NTP collaboration spring to mind but there were loads of highlights.

The organisation?  This isn't a very sexy topic I know but I think it's important to point out that the whole thing was brilliantly put together.  Pre event there was plenty of information and we knew exactly what to expect.  On the day we didn't wait for a moment at any point, we were whisked through the entrance with a smile and a joke and with glass in hand hit the bars but again there was no messing about, as soon as you arrived a kind gent or young lady would appear to ask what ale you desired and if you didn't know they used their psychic powers to tell you what beer you should have (they were always right).

The decision to have lots of hands on deck is a sign that they weren't cutting corners but my favourite element of the day was that it wasn't in anyway oversold, there was never any elbowing or pushing and shoving and everybody had their personal space.  I think this was one of the biggest contributing factors to the great atmosphere.

Something that is definitely normally overlooked at beer festivals is the food and to us it's a key element.  Again they didn't just set up a stall selling Walker's crisps and pork scratchings.  No they thought about what would work with beer, what would be interesting, who uses good quality ingredients, will there be any vegetarians coming along (the answer to that one was yes) and most encouragingly what LOCAL INDEPENDENT FOOD TRADERS should we all be supporting.  The answer to all those questions led IMBC to select a super veggie friendly Sindhoor alongside two of our favourite meat based food proprietors Fire & Salt BBQ and Dirty Dogs.

Across the board the food was fantastic and the queues were evidence of this but actually they didn't matter because you just got yourself a beer to tide you over through the queue and just had a nice chat with the other dudes around you.  There should be special mention to one of the beer providers who were dishing out a matched cake (supplied by And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon) with their stout, a treat.

What did all of the above create?  It made happy people and that was the brilliance of this event and why I enjoyed it so much.  The atmosphere was simply brilliant, everybody was having a great time, at times it really didn't feel like a professional event but a gathering of friends.  It felt like the very best of DIY events that seek to take the profit away from the big boys and distribute it to the little folk instead.  Now I'm no fool and I'm sure a profit was made on the event but at the very least instead of going for the quick buck they invested a lot of time and money in to an event that I know will run and run and run.  I already have the date in my calendar for the release of tickets for the 2013 session.  The best Manchester beer festival ever?  Yes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mud Crab Café

As Cineworld Unlimited members, Bailey and I spend a lot of time at Parrs Wood Centre. However, we never really combine this with a meal due to the main options being Wetherspoons, Chiquito and Bella Italia... Didsbury Village is only around the corner but the uninspiring selection of eateries has never tempted us to go out of our way for a bite to eat. That was until the opening of Mud Crab Café - a cosy diner with a mouth watering menu. We already had their Sheffield branch on our list of places to visit after having heard friends rave about it so we were delighted when our friends Tom and Heather told us they had been for an excellent breakfast at Didsbury's very own brand new Mud Crab Café.

The perfect opportunity for us to visit Mud Crab arose at the beginning of December as we were going to see a preview screening of Seven Psychopaths with the lovely Rob and Kat. We decided to pop in for a post-movie meal and Bailey had already emailed the manager who had been very nice and sent us a copy of their menu.

I had previously seen the folk at Mud Crab tweeting about their top notch mulled wine so mulled wine lovers Kat and I decided to go for one of these each. The mulled wine was great and I think came in at second place in my Manchester Mulled Wine Mega List (just behind Soup Kitchen - although full of bits of cinnamon stick theirs is the booziest and most warming mulled wine I've had this year, although Kat actually said of Mud Crab's "Ooh this is better than Soup Kitchen's" so there you go!)

As we began to peruse the rather intriguing menu (think of a menu you'd expect from a fancy American diner, which had then been gatecrashed by a few Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours) everyone faced some gut-wrenching decisions. Mud Crab's menu is so full of delicious sounding treats - particularly for the meat lovers - that you find yourself thinking there are too many dishes you are dying to try and the only way to fit them all in will be on a return visit. I know both Bailey and Rob were both struggling to choose between a couple of different options!

I was really torn between the Crab Tartlette and the Kumara Sweet Potato Frittata starters but eventually settled for the Frittata and what a choice this was! I was never expecting to be presented with such a beautiful board of food - I loved seeing my frittata in the little frying pan with such an appetising salad. The fritatta was light, perfectly oily and smooth with a lovely smoky flavour, complemented perfectly by the crunchy salad and crispy shallots. The refreshing, yogurty tahini dressing tied everything together perfectly. I absolutely loved this and honestly spent most of the next day thinking about it.

However, it wasn't just my starter that was beautifully presented - our little table was like a colourful feast for the eyes. Both Bailey and Rob's starters came in a little Chinese takeaway box (like in the movies) which I was so jealous of. Bailey was very impressed by his choice of Grinch Wine Bar Special Fried Chicken - super crunchy chicken in a peppery, almost spicy batter served with a plummy, sweet and tangy barbecue dip. His only quibble was that he would have liked more dip.

Onto the mains and Bailey had really struggled to choose between the Pulled Pork Burger and the Calzone. In the end he chose the Calzone which was deliciously sweet and indulgent but Bailey felt lacking in crunch - possibly a few more moments in the oven would have helped. Like the other dishes, it looked brilliant but I know he did get a bit of meal envy of Kat who had ordered the burger which looked amazing and was served with the most fabulous of super salty, super spicy, super crispy fries. Drool.

Despite also having faced a difficult menu choice, Rob had eventually decided to go with his "gut instinct" and order the Slow Cooked Beef Brisket Chilli which looked brilliant- I was very interested in what looked like the crispiest of 'Home Style' cornbread. Rob was very pleased with his choice and thoroughly enjoyed his chilli.

My choice of main was relatively simple - by not being a meat eater my choices were (luckily) more limited, I was in the mood for something hearty to warm me up on a cold wintry evening and therefore had ordered the Aubergine and Puy Lentil Cottage Pie. After the meal Rob said he felt a bit sorry for me when my main arrived as it didn't have as much wow factor as the others but it made up for this in deliciousness. The mash was creamy and cheesy and the filling packed full of flavour. Great stuff.

After all this good food we couldn't resist dessert, although I was quite good and decided to share with Bailey and try out a cup of Fallen Angel decaf coffee which was perfectly pleasant. Bailey chose the Pear and Frangipane Tart which was pretty good but not quite as exciting as the other food we'd eaten - nicely presented with good pastry but a bit too dry - we could have done with more sauce.

Rob and Kat were both pleased with their desserts - Rob very much enjoyed the Home Made Oreos with Peanut Butter Milk while Kat had the Baked Alaska and very kindly gave me quite a few tastes - we both liked the little bits of crunchy cookie crumb which were mixed up with the strawberry and ice cream filling.

So the food at Mud Crab had been really good and the restaurant's atsmosphere was perfect - although quiet, there is nothing quite like sharing the good company of great friends like Rob and Kat in a relaxed environment. However, there was one low point about the meal which didn't particularly mar our experience, but was a bit of a disappointment. Less than a week earlier we had paid our first visit to The Beagle and had experienced such excellent service so we were definitely comparing Mud Crab to that. Unfortunately we felt the service really let Mud Crab down - the waiting staff seemed quite disinterested and there were never any checkbacks on food, empty glasses weren't cleared up and we weren't offered any drinks. I know reading that you may ask why we didn't just get someone's attention to ask for more drinks but it felt like if the waiters weren't bringing our food over (I find when delicious food arrives at the table you are distracted and forget to ask for another drink which is why I always appreciate being asked!), they were nowhere to be seen. We spent considerable amounts of time with dirty plates in front of us, we had to pretty much wave a waiter down for our dessert order to be taken and during the long wait for our payment to be taken, someone pointed out that we could genuinely have walked out without paying and no one would have noticed. Tom and Heather, who have now been in twice on busy Saturdays, said they'd always received good service so we concluded that perhaps that as it was quiet, the waiting staff had been given too many jobs to do - one waiter spent a good portion of the evening polishing cutlery with his back turned to us.

As I say this didn't mar our evening and I did still spend the next day thinking about the delicious food we had eaten and recommending the place to my colleagues, but the story doesn't end there. As is customary, we had given our 144 character review on Twitter on the night and had mentioned the disappointing service. We were very reassured to receive an email from the manager asking for full details of why we were disappointed, to which we responded. The manager was genuinely aggrieved to hear of our experience and invited us back to show us what their service should be. This is the kind of offer we very rarely take advantage of but in this instance, as we were so desperate for Mud Crab to become our regular pre-cinema eatery and the food was so good, we decided to go for it. Suffice to say the service was great on our return trip - not only for us but also for the tables nearby, as we kept our beady little eyes on what was going on elsewhere. We were really pleased the manager responded so positively to the feedback; hopefully the kinks in their service have now been ironed out and we won't have any grumbles in that area on any of our return trips. The food was great again on the second visit - I particularly enjoyed the Roasted Beets with Ricotta and Bailey finally got his burger!

Mud Crab Cafe & Co on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Boozy Mincemeat

I made this Boozy Mincemeat way back in October half term, which is when I usually try to do a good bit of the Christmas cooking. This definitely has to be one of the most enjoyable cooking moments of the year for starters it was one of the first times I fully enjoyed our new kitchen, after putting in a lot of hard work getting it exactly how we wanted it. Also, after having made this and Vimto Jam for Christmas pressies as well as a Christmas Cake all in the same week, I started to  feel really festive even though it was only October and as a result really started looking forward to our first Christmas in our new home.

This Boozy Mincemeat was safely stored away in the cupboard above our pantry until yesterday when I got it out to decorate with Christmas fabric ready to be give to nearest and dearest.

I hope people will enjoy using our Boozy Mincemeat for all their mince pie needs during the festive season - I have to say it was very lovely and filled the kitchen with Christmasy smells when we made it. Bailey and I both enjoyed taking in the aromas of the freshly cooked mincemeat and I enjoyed eating the little bowl of the stuff that was leftover after I'd jarred it all up!

Unfortunately I can't take credit for the recipe, it was given to me by a very talented lady at school who is the master of making Christmas cakes and the like. I did add a few extra glugs of sherry for good measure though!

2 Bramley apples
110g veggie friendly suet
500g mixed dried fruit
175g soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 orange
100ml sherry

Core then chop the apples into little cubes and add to a large oven dish.

Add the suet, dried fruit and spices to the dish also. Grate the zest of the orange into the dish, before juicing said orange and adding the juice to the bowl along with the other ingredients. Stir thoroughly.

Cover the dish with some clingfilm and leave overnight in a cool dark place, somewhere like my wee pantry is perfect.

The next day, remove the cling film, give it another stir and place the dish in the oven at the super low temperature of gas mark 1/2 or 130 degrees C for 2 hours. Leading up to the 2 hours mark, the kitchen will smell like lovely Christmas itself.

Take the mincemeat out of the oven and pour the sherry in, giving it a really good stir. Then transfer to sterilised jars - this made about 3 jars worth for me. Place little disks of greaseproof paper on top of the mincemeat before closing the jars and storing somewhere cool and dry.

Use the mincemeat to make lovely mince pies or some other exciting desserts! We hope the recipients of our mincemeat will love it and eat it all up and feel dead Christmasy!


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