Trove, Levenshulme

trove2Recently, I have made a pact with myself not to waste my days off. Rather than indulging in a 10 hour netflix binge and emerging in a cloud of self loathing and social media-induced jealousy, I want to spend the few golden hours a week I get to myself immersed in the kind of laissez-faire activities worthy of an amaro filter and 35 likes on Instagram. (Incidentally I have never had more than 10 likes on Instagram for anything so this is highly ambitious).

It was in this vein that I spent my Saturday a few weeks ago perusing the Antiques in Levenshulme. The cavernous Levenshulme Antiques market holds a wealth of treasures, none of which I parted with money for. Antiquing isn’t really about spending money it is more an imaginary, life sized game of the sims where one party points at an object and says something like, “if we didn’t live in a tiny, mouldy one-bedroom flat and had £200 I would definitely get that”, and the other replies “yeah, or if we had a billiard room”.

antiques marketIn order to make up a morning of truly sickening, rom-com montage-worthy perfection, my boyfriend and I grabbed “a bite” at nearby Trove. We chose Trove because of course it is more trendy than a soya flat white drinking vegan with a beard but also because it is directly opposite the Antiques Market and pretend can be extremely hunger inducing.

Trove is primarily a bakery and I believe it stocks a large number of Manchester’s independent cafes, if the ubiquity of their tiny overpriced croissants is to be believed. However, at the headquarters of their enterprise they have set up a tiny, bustling cafe. The atmosphere is not comfortable, it is not a ‘wile away a sunday reading the paper kind of cafe’. The space is minute, as are the tables, many of which are furnished with stools, not the epitome of dining comfort. Having said his, you do get the feeling of eating inside an engine, the steam from the coffee machine fogs the windows and the space s filled with the chatter of conversation. It is exactly the type of place one hope to stumble upon in the pissing rain.

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As to the food, the menu at first sight may appear unremittingly pretentious, as if its creator were awarded points for the number of super-foods he could stuff into one dish, but this is unfair. For the most part, it is not pretension for pretension’s sake. The food tastes good, really good in fact. My salt beef bagel was just what it should be, beautifully soft, pink beef piled high on mounds of puckeringly sharp sauerkraut and pickles served in a soft chewy bagel. My boyfriend had poached eggs and bacon on toast. Unsurprisingly the bread was the star of the show, a yeasty, crusted slab of sourdough riddled with holes and crisped to perfection.

My only gripe was that the earl grey tea I ordered came not as a cafetiere of beautiful dancing tea leaved but a Twinings bag dumped in a mug. This is indicative of a wider trend of coffee triumphing over tea, however, an issue into which I should not delve here. Furthermore, I am reliably informed that their coffee is some of the best.

Cost: £9 a head for brunch and coffee (or tea).

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Simple Borscht for Flu Season

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Everyone seems to be getting ill at the moment and I am no exception. I have a cold and I hate having a cold because all I want to do is watch terrible, antiques-based day time TV, while cradling a lemsip laced with whiskey. And yet because I am not physically unable to do other things, like shower or go to work, I am expected to them, without complaint.

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Also, when I am ill, all I eat is soup. This is partly because, if I am forced to make my own meals, anything more complicated than emptying a can and microwaving is far too taxing. Additionally though, there is something supremely comforting about a steaming hot bowl of savoury liquid accompanied slabs of bread and butter. This means that even when the illness is coming to an end and I am functioning well enough to put a pan on the hob, soup is still my meal of choice.

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This recipe is really easy. It has far fewer ingredients than traditional borscht, meaning it won’t be too much of a shock to the system after being out of the kitchen for a bit. Also, the deep, earthy beetroot flavour makes a bit of a change if you’ve been living off tins of heinz for a week.

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Bacon, Apple and Potato Hash with Eggs.

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A full English breakfast is one of the world’s most glorious things. It is one of the only meals that is appropriate to eat “all-day” and it is pretty much the only thing that can truly help to cure a hangover. Whether you are a ketchup or brown sauce person, whether you love or loath black pudding and whatever accompaniments you think should be included, be they potato cakes, potato farl, tattie scones, oatcakes or lava bread, pretty much everyone loves a good fry up.

apple bacon hash3Having said that, there are some downsides to having a full breakfast every weekend. Aside from the inevitable damage to your coronary arteries, fry ups are a bit of a faff to make and they are not cheap either, due to the endless roll call of varying pork products required. For this reason, I have decided to lay off the fry ups for a bit and try out some lighter, cheaper and less complicated breakfasts for my lazy Sunday mornings.

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This hash ticks all of the boxes, it is really cheap and quick and only includes one cancer bearing pork product, which must surely be a good thing. It is also entirely made up of stuff that most of us have lying around meaning that hellish, hungover/ half-asleep traipse to the local supermarket can be avoided.

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Healthy Eating, The Finns and Food Positivity

cropsListening to BBC Radio Four’s “The Food Programme” a few weeks ago, I was informed, for the first time of a truly amazing story, one which I feel compelled to share. The story is this; in the 1970s, Finland had the world’s highest rate of mortality for heart disease, its national diet was one of the unhealthiest on the planet, being almost entirely made up of meat and dairy products. However, today, through the pioneering efforts of a small group of scientists and legislators, the rate at which its people die from heart disease has been reduced by 60%.

Those tasked with tackling this problem, achieved success by galvanising a vast range of organisations, from national government to local housewives associations; they have involved educators, health care professionals, the media, producers and retailers. They understood that in order to truly change the way people think about food, every part of society must change. In addition, and what is so truly exciting about this story, the message that permeates every initiative and every individual piece of policy put forward is one of hope, optimism and positivity.

They did not preach about cutting back or cutting out. Instead the population was made to feel excited about new foods, healthier options were opened up to them and they were taught to broaden their horizons rather than merely give up the fats and sugars upon which they had become so wholly dependent.

Today, despite their unprecedented success dealing with heart disease, Finnish childhood obesity rates have remained stubbornly high. To combat this, Finland has rediscovered its optimistic nutritional message. An initiative now being rolled out across the country encourages children to question, play with and think about food in an entirely new way, as Bee Wilson describes in her new book, The First Bite. Children’s food education has become multi-sensory; they explore all aspects of ingredients from feel of a soft fluffy peach, to the spine-tinglingly sharp flavour of raw cranberries, to the bright jewel colours of beetroots and raspberries.

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This kind of attitude, it struck me, is one that is wholly lacking in British food culture. In schools, children are introduced to food by pie-chart style diagrams of “the perfect plate” or unceasing chants of “five-a-day”, and in the media, eating healthily is consistently linked to moderation or “self-control”. This is especially true of the healthy eating craze that has blown up in the last few years. Felicity Cloake, in her recent article on the #eatclean movement, depressingly hit the nail on the head when she wrote “what all of the various clean regimes have in common… is a hefty helping of self-denial”.

Whether its Gwyneth Paltrow telling you to cut out meat, fat, gluten, dairy, nightshades and pretty much anything edible from your diet or Deliciously Ella advising you to steer clear of “anything processed” (whatever that means), it seems that healthy food in the UK has become synonymous with restraint and restriction.

Around a quarter of the adult UK population are now obese and over half are overweight. For children the story is even more depressing, nearly 10% of those aged 4-5 are obese and this figure doubles by the time they reach the age of 10. We are in a horrifying situation and currently our only solution seems to be “just say no”. Any yet, when someone says to you, “you really shouldn’t have a second slice of cake”, doesn’t that just make you want to polish of the slice in one bite and shove the rest of the cake into their smug little face?

Telling people to cut down, cut out, steer clear of or control themselves is not a viable solution. We need to start educating about food in an exciting way, showing people the possibilities, offering delicious, colourful, interesting alternatives and options rather than restrictions at every turn. We need to learn to be a little bit more positive, a little bit more like Finland, after all they are the country that brought us saunas, a plethora of heavy metal bands and Angry Birds, they must know a thing or two.

Crispy Chicken Goujons with Homemade ‘Slaw

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Just as spring shows its first signs of bursting forth, and with easter just around the corner, I, much like Jesus Christ himself, have chosen to be born again. After 5 months maintaining the pretence of adulthood, with a real job and commuting and stuff, I have returned to Manchester and part-time work. This has allowed me far more time to both binge-watch Netflix, and re-indulge in everything to do with food.

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To accompany my glorious resurrection, I chose to make something tasty and unhealthy as a shameless two-fingers to all of those seed-munching prigs who are smugly still sticking to their new-year’s resolutions. In all seriousness though, this recipe is not actually as bad for you as it looks, because nothing is deep fried. Neither is it that much of a faff to make and yet it remains a fairly decadent mid-week treat.

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To accompany my crispy little chicken pieces, as the Americans call them, I made some coleslaw with all of the odds and ends I had in my fridge. It was pretty delicious but do not worry too much about sticking staunchly to the ingredient list, and certainly don’t go out and buy things especially.

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Smoked Mackerel and Beetroot Risotto

Beetrootrisotto1Over the last few years, food fashion has shifted away from the quirky and sometimes crazy molecular gastronomy of the last decades to a focus on fresh, local produce cooked at its best. I am not about to don my wellies and skip off down a country path in search of dandelion leaves, although leaving a juicy blackberry on a bush is pretty much sacrilege. Really, though, this new fashion has had very little impact on the way I cook except that I have started to pay more attention to the ingredients of the season.

In part, this focus on seasonality is due to the fact that my parents have a vegetable garden, which provides me with a plentiful source of free food. However, if you grow it yourself, you can’t get asparagus in December. This puts me in a bit of a bind because the veg selection gets a little bit more limited at this time of year; there are only so many ways you can cook a carrot!

beetrootrisotto2Beetroot is one thing that comes into its own in winter though and its earthy flavour is a really comforting addition to many dishes. This dish is a really simple mid-week supper that makes great use of seasonal produce. It’s warming and comforting without being too heavy, meaning it is a great antidote to the plethora of stews and pies and puddings that will have you heaving your gut off the floor come January.

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Mediterranean Stuffed Loaf

stuffedloaf1I have been a bit rubbish at posting recently because, although I have still been cooking like crazy, having a full time job hasn’t given me much time to sit down and write. This weekend though I found myself with a bit of time on my hands and I thought I would make a proper lazy Sunday recipe and tell you all about it.

stuffedloaf3Bread is one of those things that most people don’t even attempt to make at home. People think it is too specialist, takes too long and involves too many annoying little stages.  Well bread does take a very long time to make but it is not really specialist or fiddly. In fact, if you stick to a basic recipe it is pretty difficult to go wrong.

stuffedloaf2This recipe is a bit of a twist on a classic loaf. Stuffing a loaf like this means that it can become an entire meal rather than just a side dish. This bread is perfect thing for taking on a picnic or serving as a centre piece at a buffet or BBQ. This recipe is for quite a small loaf so double up the quantities if you are feeding more people. For the filling you can use pretty much anything, I chose these flavours to bring a bit of mediterranean sunshine to these gloomy November days but anything you have got in the fridge will probably work. Just avoid things that are quite wet because they will stop the dough from cooking.

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