Sunday 31 August 2014

Salvi's Cucina, Manchester

Salvi's Cucina, Manchester
Every so often I find somewhere that blows my little socks off. I have been aware of the existence of Salvi's Cucina for some time, yet it had slipped under the radar because I am generally nonplussed with Italian food. This is partially my own fault as I always have the same thing whenever I go to an Italian restaurant. The only one to ever really wow me was the long departed Italia, and I have been bereft ever since.

Last weekend my friend Lee and I may have got a little drunk at the food festival gala dinner, and started grilling Gordo about his favourite places to eat. He recommended Salvi's Cucina, and despite being slightly inebriated, I remembered.
Salvi's Cucina, Manchester
Cue the line 'where do you fancy eating on Saturday?' And there she blows, Salvi's popped right into my head. We arrived nice and early and were given a pretty little spot in the window. We had drinks in hand within five minutes and a jolly chap with a strong Italian accent brought us some menus. I liked him. The dining room is small, but was filled with the scent of sauce and fresh bread, and is home to many bottles of wine, hams and vegetables in crates.
Salvi's Cucina, Manchester
Everything on the menu sounds delicious, but it didn't take us long to decide what we were ordering.

Carpaccio di Manzo Rucola e Grana - beef, rocket and parmesan  drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, finished with freshly squeezed lemon: So simple yet unbelievably heavenly.
Salvi's Cucina, Manchester - Carpaccio
Bruschetta con Taleggio: Home baked bread with beautifully melted Taleggio cheese. I could eat this all day.
Salvi's Cucina, Manchester - Bruschetta
Home made potato and ricotta gnocchi with Italian pork sausages in a light Mediterranean tomato sauce: Eat these if you are starving, hung over, cold or sad. As you chew the gnocchi imagine them spreading happiness from the inside, because that is what is happening.
Salvi's Cucina, Manchester - Gnocchi
Lamb ravioli: This was one of the 'ravioli of the day', the other being mushroom. I would never normally pick pasta from a menu, but I had to give it a bash. I can honestly say that this was the best pasta I can ever remember eating. Little parcels of fragrant lamb in a creamy tomato sauce with miniature lamb meatballs. I'm doing that thing again where I get angry that it's no longer in front of me. I ate every scrap.
Salvi's Cucina, Manchester - Ravioli
Almalfi lemon tart: Half cake, half tart, smothered in rich chocolate sauce. We shared this because the pasta nearly killed us, yet we still polished the whole thing.
Salvi's Cucina, Manchester - Lemon Cake
My husband has declared Salvi's Cucina to be his new favourite place in Manchester. I have to say that I agree. Go for a relaxed dining experience, and expect fresh, authentic Italian food served by people who love what they do. Adored it.

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Wednesday 27 August 2014

Bill's, Manchester

Bill's, Manchester
I've always fancied trying Bill's when we've been in London, but with so many exciting shiny restaurants, it's always been missed off the list. To be honest I've been pretty busy with work recently too, so didn't even know that they had opened a restaurant in Manchester until we drove past on our way to the Botanist. I had to give it a go.

Serving 'breakfast to bedtime' you'll be right at home whether you want a fancy fry up or a meaty burger. My husband is a big fan of the former, myself the latter. Luckily for us we could have both! The restaurant itself is huge, but has been split into smaller dining spaces so it's neither loud or invasive of personal space - I'm not a fan of either. 

Dried chillies hang on the walls, there's an array of oversized lampshades, and quintessential kitsch accessories fill every available space. Many of the shelves are decorated with the brightly coloured jars, packets and bottles of Bill's signature produce too. 
Bill's, Manchester
We were greeted by a friendly face and seated next to the window overlooking busy John Dalton Street. It was really weird, because despite being sat in the middle of Manchester city centre, we both got a feeling like we could have been in a burger bar in San Francisco. Not sure why...

Bill's breakfast - cumberland sausage, fried free range eggs, beans, black pudding, smoked streaky bacon and toast (sans tomatoes and mushrooms): It's a thing of beauty. As far removed from the greasy spoon with a milky brew as you can get. His only complaint? They forgot his sausage! However, this was dealt with swiftly and it had half gone before I even got change to snap the bugger.
Bill's, Manchester - Breakfast
Bill's hamburger with monterey jack cheese, red onion, tomato, lettuce, horseradish mayonnaise and skinny fries: Remember in 1999 when Burger King did ace fries? No? Maybe just the Middlebrook one then - you'll have to trust me, they were outstanding. Well these fries hit the nail on the head. Perhaps these legendary fries only exist in a clouded vodka-infused memory. Anyway, a rather pleasant burger with crisp, salty chips. My only criticism was it came well done when I ordered pink. Still tasted pretty good though.
Bill's, Manchester - Burger
Bill's is the ideal spot for a lazy brunch. In all honesty I'd still go to the likes of Almost Famous for a burger, but that breakfast was fantastic. I can't believe there are still enough punters around to fill all these new restaurants, but with a new food blogger springing up weekly, I think we'll keep them in business for some time yet! They're not doing anything groundbreaking or causing a ruckus on Twitter, but we enjoyed it all the same.

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Almond Butter Bundt Cake

Almond Butter Bundt Cake
When I set the theme for our last cake club, I was convinced that 'The Nutcracker' would be easy. The problem was choice. I had a few ideas in my arsenal, but was struggling to decide on just one. Then I remembered I had squirrelled away a jar of almond butter for just such an occasion. I like to collect nice ingredients because I know one day they will be transformed into something magical. 

It turns out that this cake is popular with the fellas. It's a big cake with a dense yet moist crumb, and has a decent weight to it when held. The cake itself isn't too sweet (despite 425g of sugar!) but the light icing and fruit on top just give it a gentle lift. Although it can also be made with peanut butter, I think the almond makes it that bit more interesting. 

  • 275g unsalted butter 
  • 425g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 150g almond butter (I used Meridian). Give it a good stir before using.
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp low fat plain yogurt

  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • Cherries and whole almonds to decorate

  1. Grease and flour a regular sized bundt tin (2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch). 
  2. Soften the butter then add in half of the sugar and beat for about a minute. Then add the rest of the sugar and beat until fluffy.
  3. Beat in the almond extract.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time on a low speed.
  5. Using a spatula, blend in all of the almond butter. It will look a bit sloppy... 
  6. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
  7. Fold in half of the flour mixture, followed by the yogurt, then the rest of the flour. 
  8. Give the whole thing a quick whizz for about 10 seconds just to combine everything properly.
  9. Pour the batter into the tin and smooth out. 
  10. Bake your cake at gas 4/180 C for 45 minutes, then turn the temperature down to gas 3/160 C for around another 25-30 minutes. As aways, you'll know it's done when a skewer comes out clean and the cake is shrinking from the edges of the tin.
  11. Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out.
  12. Allow to cool completely before icing. I mean it. Unless of course you want a soggy mess.
  13. To make the icing add the almond extract to the icing sugar, with enough water to make a runny icing. Tip it over the cake with confidence! It knows... 
  14. Decorate with fresh cherries and a few whole almonds.
Almond Butter Bundt Cake
BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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Tuesday 26 August 2014

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - The Nutcracker

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
So I'm playing catch up after a week of gallivanting. Last week we had a nutty themed cake club in the shape of 'The Nutcracker'. This was a theme picked by the club members, as it was decided (whilst eating cake) that they bloody love a moist, nutty bake.

This month we went to the Doffcocker Inn in Bolton; a proper old world drinker's pub with a fantastic function room. I think most of the regulars were pretty bemused by a tribe of bakers heading upstairs with huge cakes. Worry not - we assisted with the soaking up of alcohol by sharing our cake with them!

Despite losing a couple of people to illness, we still had twelve beauts. They included:

  • Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake
  • Almond and Pistachio Cake
  • Chocolate, Caramel and Nut Cake
  • Walnut Loaf Cake
  • Almond and Pistachio Cake with Lemon Drizzle
  • Almond Butter Bundt Cake
  • Pistachio Loaf
  • Nectarine and Almond Cake
  • Peanut Butter Cup
  • Semolina Lemon and Almond Cake
  • Sugar Plum Fairy and Almond Cake
  • White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cake

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - The Nutcracker
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - The Nutcracker
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - The Nutcracker
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - The Nutcracker
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - The Nutcracker
Cake club organisers, I can highly recommend a nutty theme! These cakes were amongst some of the best we've had. Thanks to our wonderful group for yet another brilliantly diverse range of cakes. See you next month...

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Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014

I'm cream crackered. I've spent the last few days consuming more food than I've eaten in the last fortnight, drinking so much fizzy stuff that I should have floated away, and generally laughing to the point of tears.

The weekend of Bolton Food and Drink Festival is always a colourful one. We got all frocked up for the Magnificent Seven Gala Dinner, took selfies with John Torode, boogied with some 'old ladies' on stilts and motorised shopping trollies and sampled lots of lovely food. I thought photos would explain far better than words ever could, so here's a sample of the items I located on my phone once I was back in the land of the living... 
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Menu
My friend Lee and I sat and chatted to the lovely Keith Davies (Director of Development and Regeneration at Bolton Council), Councillors John and Lynda Byrne and that cheeky Gordo character from Manchester Confidential. The bubbles were flowing, there were cardboard cut outs to be papped with and the food was just delicious.
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Gala Dinner
Pan seared scallops with Morcilla sausage (top) and terrine of local cured meats and bits to 'make your own' (bottom)
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Gala DinnerThe Morcillo sausage on the scallop dish was unbelievably good, and I really have no words left for Andrew Nutter's terrine, which came served with homemade beans and hush puppies. All agreed that we could have eaten a full plate of those puppies.

A cheeky little fish dish (top) and Lake District beef fillet, braised ox cheek, celeriac puree, girolle mushrooms and a Madeira sauce (bottom)
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Gala Dinner
The beef main was stunning. The whole table went very quiet at this point. Rich and warming with a delicate Madeira sauce, which was just perfect as despite it being August, it was freezing outside.
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Gala DinnerBolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Gala Dinner
Elderflower gel, granola, soft cheese and pine cone extract (top left), sticky toffee pudding tart with bits for you to add (top right) and cheese from the Saddleworth Cheese Company (bottom)
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Gala DinnerMike Harrison's Elderflower gel was so good that Lee nicked the rest of mine when I was flagging! She's a good egg. Debbie's sticky toffee pudding was joint winner for me with Nutter's terrine. Utterly delectable in every way. Corrie's own Sean Wilson also produced some fantastic cheeses; I'm not going to lie to you, I think Lee's parents may have about a kilo of it in their fridge still... 
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - Magnificent Seven Gala DinnerAfter Lee's birthday celebrations on the Saturday night, Sunday was all about John Torode. Good god he was funny. I've learned three things about John this weekend; he likes to buy nice shoes, he enjoys interviewing the interviewers (much to our amusement) and he bloody loves a good selfie! It also turns out that his cardboard cut out was actually Gino D'Acampo's body with John's head superimposed on it - and I quote 'I would never buy shoes like that!' He even gave Lee a big birthday kiss! I'm confident she won't remember much of the show. 
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - John Torode Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 - John Torode
John did a rather entertaining cook off between 'Chef to Go' Mike Harrison and Manchester House's Aiden Byrne. I think poor Aiden was terrified of him at times! Lee, Sarah and I sat watching the show whilst horrifically hung over, but proved that laughter is indeed the best medicine. By the time we had left the tent we were off to see Jackie at The Hungry Gecko for some much needed nourishment.

Jackie was a finalist on Masterchef, and has been cooking up a storm in her little mobile kitchen ever since. I first tried her food at the festival two years ago, and have dreamed of her mango lassi ever since. Girl did not disappoint. Lee and I both sampled her Bombay Frankie with auberine and potato masala, whilst Sarah had the Rendang for the second time in three days.Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 The festival itself was teaming with people enjoying the sunshine, sampling the vendors wares, drinking beer and generally having a good time. There were lots of familiar faces too, many of whom are friends I have met through the festival.
Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014 Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2014
A huge thank you goes to Bolton Council and to Keith's team for putting on yet another belting Food and Drink Festival. Once again it brought the town to life, is the reason why I now have several pork pies in the fridge, and had to book today off as leave to recover. Next year Lee and I have decided that she is going to sell her legendary cheese toasties on a Local Artisan Craft Cheese Toastie Stall (snappy eh?). We might even let Sean Wilson provide the cheese. Oh and Councillor Byrne, we may have been drunk, but we've not forgotten about that ice bucket challenge...

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Wednesday 20 August 2014

Cane and Grain, Manchester

Cane and Grain, Manchester
What do you get if you mix the folks behind the Liar's Club, Blackdog Ballroom and Dog Bowl together, add a heart stopping amount of rum, meat and beer, and pop it in the Northern Quarter? You got it. A new 'down with the kids' rib joint called Cane and Grain. Please don't assume that this is a bad thing either - on the contrary.

I actually went here the week it opened, but due to a heady mix of laziness, melancholy and work based mania, I have been a little absent from my blog. But fear not, for I have returned full of tales of meat and the general excess you have become accustomed to.

My friend Emma and I popped into Manchester on a school night to sample the above mentioned ribs. I was expecting something half decent, albeit cut from the same mould as the likes of meat-fests Reds, Solita and Beef and Pudding. We were pleasantly surprised to find it had a bit of a personality all of its very own.
Source: Cane and Grain
We were instant fans of the atmosphere and friendly staff. Our waitress Emily was an absolute darling, and went through the menu in animated detail - paying special attention to the yellow sauce. We ordered a nice bottle of Pino Grigio and deliberated over the type of ribs to order.
Cane and Grain, Manchester
Eleven inch rib roll, Carolina slaw, pickles, fries and porter beer bbq sauce: Gee whizz. This was a behemoth. Look at it. This could feed two people! It was packed with juicy meat and crunchy coleslaw.
Cane and Grain, Manchester - Rib Roll
Beef short rib with fries and bourbon yellow cue sauce: I don't mind telling you that I only ate one rib's worth of meat. I was demolished, it was not. Emily wasn't wrong about that tangy yellow sauce either! I loved the fact that the ribs came served with tiny pickled vegetables too.
Cane and Grain, Manchester - Ribs
Look at the inside of that rib... This was easily up to the standard that I would have expected from barbecue experts like Reds.
Cane and Grain, Manchester
Sides: apple and gingernut slaw, mac and cheese, dill pickles, smoked pit beans and burnt ends: We were all about the sides. This is what I love about barbecue restaurants! A good mixture of meat and sides is like a tasty version of tapas. I'm easily bored by standard tapas...
Cane and Grain, Manchester - Sides
This is the ideal food to share in a group, with the added bonus of more people equals more sides. We barely dented the vast amount we ordered, but that massive rib was kindly packaged up for me to take home! The food was fantastic, the staff were equally as wonderful and the atmosphere was bob-on. Go to Cane and Grain and enjoy a bit of everything with friends.

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Disclaimer: I was invited to sample the menu by Cane and Grain, but was under no obligation to rant and rave about their wonderful ribs. I have done that because they were genuinely smashing!

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